[To complement last week’s series on pre-Revolutionary histories, this week I’ll AmericanStudy some of the many compelling writers and voices from the nation’s exploration and colonial eras. Leading up to a special Guest Post on a wonderful new anthology of Native American writing!]
Three layers to the case for recovering the Revolutionary-era poet.
1) The Literary: First and foremost, Stockton was a very talented, engaging writer. Her poem “A Sarcasm against the ladies in a newspaper; An impromptu answer” (1756) exemplifies her witty and impassioned voice, her clever and effective use of rhyme and structure, and her ability to move effortlessly between tones and themes within even a short work. And that’s only one of the hundreds of unique and compelling poems Stockton produced in a career that rivaled those of Anne Bradstreet and Phillis Wheatley for the most prolific and significant by an American poet before the Revolution. Stockton should be in our collective literary memories because without her that tradition is impoverished.
2) The Historical: Just as Bradstreet and Wheatley offer us vital windows into social, cultural, and historical issues in their Americas, so too does Stockton. As I wrote in this We’re History piece (and I apologize for quoting myself, but the histories remain the same!), “Stockton, wife of the New Jersey lawyer and Declaration signer Richard Stockton, was famous in the era for her political activities: the only woman elected to the secret American Whig Society, she safeguarded the group’s papers during the Revolution at her Princeton estate, where she also hosted George Washington and other luminaries.” Moreover, she was also a long-term member of the era’s Mid-Atlantic Writing Group, alongside future Prospect Poets Philip Freneau and Hugh Henry Brackenridge along with many other writers. Remembering Stockton better connects us to these vital Revolutionary-era political and literary histories.
3) The National: Those histories aren’t just relevant to understanding the Revolutionary era, however; and neither are Stockton and her poety just a part of our literary tradition. At the end of the day, the canon is more than what we read in a classroom or about whom we produce scholarship—it’s about what narrative of our nation we construct and share. Ever since their own era, the nation’s framers have been portrayed as originating visions of what America is, of identity and community in this new and evolving place. I’m not here to contest that portrayal, but rather to argue, as I have in this space many times, for expanding it. Why can’t our vision of the framers include Annis Boudinot Stockton as well as Richard Stockton? And if it did, think of how much else in the stories we tell of ourselves would change and grow as well.
Guest Post this weekend,
PS. What do you think? Early American writers or works you’d highlight?
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