“Cripple”

When conceiving of my project, I knew I wanted to understand how 18th and 19th century New Englanders thought about disability. To get a grasp on their thinking, I have been running word searches through Early American Newspapers. This is a database that allows someone to, you guessed it, search digital copies of newspapers published in early America. I had been tracking the word disabled between 1692 and 1840. But, todayI thought if I read one more article about a disabled ship I was going to scream. So, I picked a new word. I know that New Englanders from my period would use the word “crippled” to describe the loss of a limb, so I ran the present tense “cripple” through the database. The choice of the present tense was simply from my knowledge of the database’s search engine. The search feature will pick up the past tense if the present tense is entered as a term, although it will not necessarily alway pick up the present tense if the past tense is entered.

The first few entries were what I thought they should be. The newspaper articles described people whom we might today describe as disabled. I carefully added these articles into my highly sophisticated Excel spreadsheet. Then I found some advertisements for a ship whose name had “cripple” in it. I thought “oh great more ships” since I ran this search to avoid articles about ships. Then something strange happened. I found an article that was selling land. Ordinarily, I might think this was a false hit, but sure enough the word “cripple” appeared in the advertisement. It was used to describe an area of the land that might be turned into meadowland. As in it has some “cripple for meadow.”

Now I often will describe the past as a foreign country. Although I live in New England in 2013, 18th century New England is as familiar to me as Italy. I use Italy because I studied abroad there and have some understanding of the culture, as I have some understanding of colonial New England because I have studied it a lot. Still, there are things about Italy that confuse me just as I am often baffled by colonial America. Therefore, when I first saw “cripple” in reference to a meadow, I assumed it was a weird reference I did not understand. I did not think much of it, but it kept popping up “cripple for meadow.” So I flew to the Oxford English Dictionary online. Turns out that in the United States cripple can mean “a dense thicket of swampy or low-lying ground.” Who knew? Now I do and you do.

I must make a confession here. I was not studying early New England today; I was studying colonial America in general. I wanted to get a sense of how the colonies used terms and how that compared or contrasted with how New Englanders used terms. The word “cripple” to describe land appears to have been used exclusively in the Pennsylvania Gazette out of Philadelphia. I use appears since I have not completed my research on the word yet. New England papers used “cripple” as a descriptor of a person. New York papers tended to advertise “cripple curing oils,” which should be fun to learn more about later. I am left with the question: is “cripple” to describe land a regional term as it appears to be? I will investigate this further. Now I am just excited to learn a new meaning for a word.

Tomorrow I will once again troll Early American Newspapers. Maybe I’ll get back to “disabled” and see how many more ships were labeled “disabled.” (People were too.) If I find any more new definitions for words, I will let you know.

Thanks for reading!

P.S. If you are interested in why meadows were important for early American farmers see Brian Donahue’s A Great Meadow.

And So We Begin

Hi to all those in the ether of the World Wide Web.

As this is my first post, I thought I’d share the purpose of this blog and where I am in the process of my researching and writing my dissertation.

I have just finished the 4th year of my doctoral program at the University of Connecticut. I consider myself an Early American historian specializing in the history of British Colonial North America. My interests are in the histories of disability, gender, and New England.

In December of 2012 I passed my comprehensive exams and have spent the spring writing the prospectus for my dissertation. After one more revision (hopefully), approval by the history graduate program committee (made up of faculty), and approval by the graduate school I will be an official candidate. My revision will be done in a few weeks, and then it can move through the next two phases of approval.

This is all to say that I have a pretty good idea of what my dissertation will look like if all my sources tell me exactly what I think they will tell me. At the end of the process, we will see what the dissertation actually looks like.

My dissertation arose out of a research project I completed in my Research and Writing graduate seminar when I was just a first year graduate student. In that class, I looked at the petitions sent by disabled veterans to the Massachusetts Provincial Legislature between 1727 and 1755. What I found is that the legislature gave men disabled in war a pension based on the perceived severity of their injuries.

From that project, I have broadened out, and the dissertation will focus on all types of men with disabilities in New England between 1720 and 1840. I plan to use race, masculinity, and class as the categories of analysis in the project. I also will look at the cause for the disability and the age at which the men became disabled.

This summer I am taking my first major research trip to Boston to look at source material.

I will discuss my sources bases and the reasons for my categories of analysis in future blog posts.

Stay Tuned!

ned