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Possession: Indian Bodies, Cultural Control, and Colonialism in the Pequot War


This essay interrogates key aspects of the Pequot War and its aftermath, when bodies became contested sites of cultural control that pivotally reshaped colonial New England. The rhetoric and justifications of an offensive English war against the Pequots relied on the image of contested manhood in warfare, household, and husbandry; after the defeat of the Pequots, male Pequot bodies continued to be treated as hostile and threatening. Pequot women and children also became subjects of English cultural ideologies. Viewed as nonthreatening and domestic, they were enslaved, but within the boundaries of English plantations. This treatment revealed English gender ideologies: whereas Pequot men could not be governed and might well rematerialize as a military force, Pequot women and children would prove naturally submissive and servile to English authority. Thus is the extent of English cultural blindness to Pequot autonomy and identity revealed. The treatment of Pequot women as universally submissive starkly contrasted with the subjection of English captives to Native American female authority throughout southeastern New England tribes. Pequot women proved resilient and resistant to their enslavement. This study contributes to recent provocative work that has drawn attention to the body as an important site of scholarly examination and suggests that by drawing on overarching themes of governance and its modes of operation, we might see connections between events heretofore assumed to be unrelated.

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