- Fostering the Future:Lydia Maria Child's Environmental Engagements in The Juvenile Miscellany and Beyond
Natural history and Native Americans figure among early-nineteenth-century white Americans' most significant obsessions. Often conflating the second into the first—depicting Indigenous peoples as "natural" and aligned with nonhuman animals—they authored histories, poems, novels, and tracts for both adults and children.1 Editing and writing for The Juvenile Miscellany—as well as contributing children's books and essays outside that venue—Lydia Maria Child spoke beyond her contemporaries' norms, reinventing imperialist natural history discourses, captivity narratives, and histories of America's settlement. Child educated young people and their mothers about early relations between settlers and Native Americans and problematized conventional notions of "civilized" and "savage," as she invested Indigenous peoples with personhood and told harsh truths that would propel Americans toward a more just future. In doing so, she promulgated several ideas that, more than 150 years later, would be included among the concepts that define environmental justice. These principles include "mutual respect and justice for all peoples"; "the education of present and future generations" on social and environmental issues; resistance to the exploitation of lands, peoples, and cultures; fair public policy; and recognition of the "special legal and natural relationship of Native Peoples to the U.S. government through treaties, agreements, compacts, and covenants affirming sovereignty and self-determination" ("Principles"). Child's work thus comprehends the interconnections among racial justice, environmental access and agency, cultural and political sovereignty, and human rights that drive contemporary social justice activists.2
Child tests her innovative ideas in nascent form in her early story "Adventure in the Woods," in which she promotes mutual respect and education. The story depicts how immigrant children Rachel and Benjamin, lost in the forest near their Boston home, encounter an Indian woman to whom Rachel and their mother have earlier provided food. Terrified because adults have told them many "frightful stories" concerning their Indigenous neighbors' "wickedness [End Page 13] and cruelty," the children fear her (7). But Child rejects the standard captivity narrative plot: her Native woman, whom the author suggests is maternal (and hence civilized), returns them to their worried family and visits them annually thereafter. Although Child invokes the Noble Savage, she nevertheless rejects fabricated stories that stress Indians' violence, educating future Americans—protagonists and readers—that they need to build a respectful interethnic community.
She develops more complex views about land appropriation and Native sovereignty three years later in The First Settlers of New-England: or, Conquest of the Pequods, Narragansets and Pokanokets. As Related by a Mother to Her Children (1829). Like "Adventure in the Woods," this book foregrounds a mother figure to help child readers reimagine troubling histories and explore just citizenship. First Settlers constructs a pedagogical dialogue between "Mother" and two daughters that revises normative histories of settlement and Indian wars, inverting the categories "civilized" and "savage." Child ventriloquizes her sentiments through the children's observations. Daughter Caroline, for example, asserts, "I think, mother, it is somewhat extraordinary, that the colonists should complain with so much bitterness of the Pequods [sic] having punished with severity those who stole their corn, and burnt their hay or grass, and shot their game; after they themselves had so inhumanly destroyed the dwellings, killed the people, and refused to comply with the request of the Pequods to lay aside arms, and hear what their chief had to propose" (40–41). Depicting the resource wars waged against America's Indigenous peoples, Child underscores important environmental justice principles that include resisting exploitation of Indigenous peoples, honoring their treaties, and affirming their sovereignty.
Child also published essays in the Miscellany that emphasized environmental justice. In May 1829 she issued one of a series of dialogues between the pseudonymous Aunt M. and her nephews. "American History" begins by praising Roger Williams and continues by relating the New England colonies' troubled histories, focusing finally on Connecticut. Although Aunt M. excuses the Pequods "for being savages," she contends that "it is much more difficult to excuse the cruelty of the English settlers, who had been educated in principles of Christian humanity" (202). The settlers attack the helpless Pequods, setting fire to...