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Book details
  • Genre:HISTORY
  • SubGenre:United States / Colonial Period
  • Language:English
  • Pages:234
  • eBook ISBN:9781667885445
  • Paperback ISBN:9781667885438


Imagining the Life of a Woman Enslaved in 18th-Century New England

by Diane Taraz

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In 1742 a child was brought to the town of Gosport on the Isles of Shoals, off the coast of New Hampshire, and enslaved by the town's minister. We know that her name was Candace but little else about her, apart from two brief church records. She spent her life in Gosport. Diane Taraz explores what that life may have been like, based on the experiences of others in Candace's situation, facts about the family that kept her in bondage, the records of the town in which she lived, and what we know about life in the New England colonies during the eighteenth century. These explorations are conjecture, but they are based on a wealth of research from primary source documents. Most of the book is about the world in which Candace found herself nearly 300 years ago. Taraz recognizes that she has no way of knowing anything about this woman's inner life and has tried to avoid taking liberties with her memory. But Candace can be placed in the midst of an ocean of facts, and it is worthwhile to envision her as a live person rather than just a fading bit of ink on a page. At least four other people were enslaved in Gosport. In the years leading up to the American Revolution they lived through a major earthquake, continent-wide warfare, a calendar adjustment, and growing conflict with Britain. They entered a new nation, conceived in liberty, that did not extend the right of liberty to all. The legacy of this injustice remains very much with us.
For decades Diane Taraz and her husband have attended week-long conferences on Star Island, off the coast of New Hampshire. She has always been interested in the history of the Isles of Shoals, of which Star is a part. Before the conference era that began in the 1900s, before the golden age of seaside resorts in the 1800s, Star Island was home to a village called Gosport, founded long before the American Revolution. The town and church records in the Star Island library let Taraz peek into the lives of the colonial residents. When she found entries showing that people were enslaved on Star, including a woman named Candace brought there as a child, she began to ponder what this woman's life might have been like. Most of this book is about the world in which Candace found herself nearly 300 years ago. It is based on a wealth of research, nearly all from primary source documents. The scenes that imagine her experiences are conjecture, and Taraz recognizes that she has no way of knowing anything about this woman's inner life. But Candace can be placed in the midst of an ocean of facts, and it is worthwhile to envision her as a live person rather than just a fading bit of ink on a page. This book is filled with everyday details about life in the eighteenth century, many from Taraz's extensive library of works about that time. The book "Black Portsmouth" was a treasure trove of knowledge about the continuous presence in New Hampshire of people like Candace, a rich history long ignored, belittled, and erased. But the real treasure was digitized archives containing wills and court records, and foremost the Gosport town and church records. Taraz made many passes through these records, each time with a different focus. She noted the dates of each annual meeting, which took place in March. Figuring out why they chose that month led to the history of off-kilter calendars that have plagued civilizations for millennia, along with a most unusual event that Candace experienced in 1752 when 11 days were left out of the month of September. Deciphering records that mention currency led to exploring how the colonies handled money, which was not very well. Noting when various names appeared and what those people were doing added another layer. The town had numerous concerns, from wayward livestock to maintaining the meeting house, a task done by a Black man named Charles, whose pay was noted in the minutes of two annual meetings. The parsonage was moved to the mainland after the Revolution and a photograph of it shows us the building in which Candace spent her life. Tucke's estate inventory reveals what was in the parsonage – the tools Candace used every day, the furniture that surrounded her. Taraz notes the interactions between the three populations that were mingling in New England -- Indigenous people, white colonists, and Black residents, both enslaved and free. She explores how they grappled with the basic organization of their lives, including how they measured days, years, and quantities; what they ate; what they wore; how they handled birth and death; what they taught their children; and how they ran their households and communities. Taraz has drawn on her own experiences in bringing Candace's world to life, from breastfeeding to hand-sewing to many weeks living on the Isles of Shoals. Books and plays from the eighteenth century give her the cadence of the Shoalers' speech. The lyrics of hundreds of folk songs rattle around in her head, steeping her in antique language and letting her glimpse the hearts and minds of people who lived long ago. I hope we all can benefit from knowing more about the origins of our society through this work of imagination anchored in a sea of facts.
About the author
Diane Taraz loves to discover the stories of those usually left out of historical accounts, especially women. She creates unique programs that use music to explore the past, including women's history, the American Revolution, the Civil War, the lives of New England millworkers, the First World War, and the life of Elizabeth Freeman, known as Mum Bet. Taraz is a fabric artist and hand-sews much of the apparel she wears for her programs. She plays authentic instruments when performing at museums, libraries, historical societies, and universities throughout New England. As an internationally known singer and songwriter, Taraz has hundreds of songs streaming on all the digital platforms. One of her original songs and her interpretation of a traditional carol have been used in television and film soundtracks. Her elegant voice brings out the essence of whatever style she presents, be it folk, pop, blues, or jazz standards, accompanying herself on guitar and dulcimer. For more than a decade Taraz has directed the Lexington Historical Society Colonial Singers; she produced two albums for them. For over two decades she sang Renaissance polyphony in Vox Lucens, an early music ensemble, and still serves as its president. For many years she sang in a women's a cappella group, writing and arranging songs for them, and was a longtime member of a band that played Celtic and sea music, performing at Boston's First Night, the USS Constitution Museum, and other venues throughout New England. She also collaborated with master musicians to record two albums of jazz standards. Taraz has worked as a copyeditor for Houghton Mifflin and other publishers. She edited the companion book to the documentary "Eyes on the Prize," the Unitarian Universalist Association's "Welcoming Congregation" guidebook, and many other works.