"The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright" by Ann M. Little

The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright Ann M. Little

The Lewis Walpole Series in Eighteenth-Century Culture and History
Publication date:
29 May 2018
Yale University Press
304 pages:
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An eye-opening biography of a woman whose life intersected with three distinct cultures in eighteenth-century America: colonial New England, French Canadian, and Native American

“Esther Wheelwright’s journey—from Puritan girl, to Wabanaki captive, to mother superior of the largest Catholic convent in French Canada—is one of the most fascinating personal stories in the annals of what we call ‘colonial history.’ Deeply researched, and wonderfully contextualized . . . [this book] opens a wide window on three major cultural venues, whose interplay defined and shaped a whole era.”—John Demos, author of The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America

Born and raised in a New England garrison town, Esther Wheelwright (1696–1780) was captured by Wabanaki Indians at age seven. Among them, she became a Catholic and lived like any other young girl in the tribe. At age twelve, she was enrolled at a French-Canadian Ursuline convent, where she would spend the rest of her life, eventually becoming the order’s only foreign-born mother superior. Among these three major cultures of colonial North America, Wheelwright’s life was exceptional: border-crossing, multilingual, and multicultural. This meticulously researched book discovers her life through the communities of girls and women around her: the free and enslaved women who raised her in Wells, Maine; the Wabanaki women who cared for her, catechized her, and taught her to work as an Indian girl; the French-Canadian and Native girls who were her classmates in the Ursuline school; and the Ursuline nuns who led her to a religious life.

Ann Little is professor of history at Colorado State University and the author of Abraham in Arms: War and Gender in Colonial New England. She lives in Greeley, CO.