Sarah Kemble Knight

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Sarah Kemble Knight
Born (1666-04-19)April 19, 1666
Boston, Massachusetts
Died September 25, 1727(1727-09-25) (aged 61)
Norwich, Connecticut
Occupation teacher, business woman, court scrivener
Spouse(s) Richard Knight (d. 1703)
Children Elizabeth (Knight) Livingston
Parents Captain Thomas Kemble and Elizabeth Trerice
Relatives Caleb Trowbridge, John Livingston
Signature
Signature of Sarah Kemble Knight courtesy of The Gilder Lehrman Collection (The Livingston Papers)


Sarah Kemble Knight (April 19, 1666 – September 25, 1727) was a teacher and businesswoman, who is remembered for her diary of a journey from Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony, to New York City, Province of New York, in 1704–1705, a courageous and unusual adventure for a woman to undertake on her own.

Biography[edit]

Knight was born in Boston to Captain Thomas Kemble and Elizabeth Trerice.[1] Her father was a merchant of Boston. In 1689, Sarah married Richard Knight. They had one child, Elizabeth. Having been left a widow after her husband's death in 1703, Knight assumed the responsibility of managing her household. In 1706 she opened a boarding house and taught school, which gained some reputation in Boston. She is described as “excelling in the art of teaching composition.”[2] Unverified rumor has it that the Mather children and Benjamin Franklin were included among her pupils, but Kathryn Zabelle Derounian-Stodola, a professor at the University of Kansas at Little Rock who specializes in Early American women writers, speculates that this “writing school attended by Benjamin Franklin is more likely rumor than fact.”[3] For additional income Knight also made copies of court records and wrote letters for people having business with the court. Historians have recently noted that Knight’s civil engagement is not as exceptional as it once seemed, for in the early eighteenth century many women played significant economic roles.[4]

In 1713, Knight's daughter married John Livingston, of Connecticut, and Madam Knight moved with them to New London, where she continued her business and land dealings.[1] Madam Knight, as she was generally called as a mark of respect, spent the rest of her life either in New London or Norwich, Connecticut. She owned several farms in New London, and had a home in Norwich. She ran an inn out of the Livingston farm in New London.[5] In 1718 the Norwich town record says she was “taxed twenty shillings for selling strong drink to the Indians,” but it adds “Madam Knight accuses her maid, Ann Clark, of the fact.”[6] When she died in 1727, she left her daughter a large estate,[1] “attesting to her shrewdness and skill as a businessperson.”[7]

Sarah Kemble Knight is buried at Ye Antientist Burial Ground, New London.[citation needed]

Journey from Boston to New York[edit]

approximate route of Sarah Kemble Knight's Journey, 1704-1705

Having previously worked as a court scrivener, Knight possessed a basic working knowledge of legal matters. In 1704, she took it upon herself to "settle the estate of her cousin[,] Caleb Trowbridge[,] on behalf of his widow," [8] and began her journey, on horseback, from Boston, Massachusetts to New Haven, Connecticut, an unparalleled feat for a woman at this time. She recounted her experiences during the five month journey in the “journals” that have made her known to students of American colonial literature and history. The small diary of her Boston–New York journey passed into private hands and lay undiscovered until 1825 when it was published posthumously as The Journal of Mme Knight by Theodore Dwight.[9] The Journal of Madam Knight has subsequently been reprinted by others with additional biographical information.[10]

Her Journal[edit]

Her journal remains noteworthy both for its larger-than-life central character (Knight) and its telling of a trying journey not normally undertaken by a woman.[11] The discomforts of primitive traveling are described with much sprightliness and not a little humor, including poems of gratitude and relief about finding moonlight, and poems of frustration about the loud sounds of drunken-men late at night.[10] The journal is valuable as a history of the manners and customs of the time, and is full of graphic descriptions of the early settlements in New England and New York. At the same time, it is interesting for its original orthography and interspersed rhymes.[12]

Structure[edit]

Knight's journal is largely a ledger of the places and people she encountered during each day of her trip. Expository information such as, "About three o'clock afternoon, I begun my Journey from Boston to New-Haven; being about two Hundred Mile. My Kinsman, Capt. Robert Luist, waited on me as farr as Dedham, where I was to meet ye Western post," is interspersed with poetic interludes and extended scenes Knight found worthy of noting.[13]

The extended scenes highlight remarkable or memorable interactions, usually with people that Knight has strong opinions about. For example, early in the journal, crosses a swamp with a man she describes as "honest John." She embellishes this account with references of how impressed she was with him, citing stories he told of adventures that convinced her that he was "a Prince disguis'd." Upon reaching the next stop, Knight is confronted with this man's eldest daughter, who interrogates her with "silly questions" referring to the unusualness of a woman being on such a journey, to which Knight responds curtly, calling her rude. These instances of hyperbole and character judgment contrast with other, apparently less remarkable interactions, such as the following account of a transaction between two postmen (one of which was her guide), in which she does not even name her guide: "About 8 in the morning, I with the Post proceeded forward without observing any thing remarkable; And about two, on, Arrived at the Post's second stage, where the western Post mett him and exchanged Letters." This account, however, is immediately followed by a detailed description of a meal Knight was served, which appears to have been notable for its unpleasant appearance and aftermath. Extended scenes describing Knight's unpleasant encounters with food occur often throughout her journal.

Some moments during the journey appear to have had a profound impact on Knight. These experiences are marked by distinct poetic interludes in her journal. In one instance, Knight finds herself riding her horse in the pitch-dark woods alone late at night. She feels intensely fearful until the moon reveals itself and lights her way, after which she experiences an epiphanic sense of relief and gratitude toward the moon. She unpacks this moment with the following prose:

   Fair Cynthia, all the Homage that I may  
   Unto a Creature, unto thee I pay;  
   In Lonesome woods to meet so kind a guide,   
   To Mee's more worth than all the world beside.  
   Some Joy I felt just now, when safe got or'e  
   Yon Surly River to this Rugged shore,  
   Deeming Rough welcomes from these clownish Trees,
   Better than Lodgings wth Nereidees.  
   Yet swelling fears surprise; all dark appears–  
   Nothing but Light can disipate those fears.   
   My fainting vitals can't lend strength to say,  
   But softly whisper, O I wish 'twere day.  
   The murmer hardly warma the Ambient air,  
   E' re thy Bright Aspect rescues from dispair:
   Makes the old Hagg her sable mantle loose,  
   And a Bright joy do's through my Soul diffuse.  
   The Boistero's Trees now Lend a Passage Free,   
   And pleasent prospects thou giv'st light to see.  
   

Later, she encounters a very poor family, for whom she seems to feel an overwhelming sense of empathy. She unpacks the emotional nuances of this epiphany as follows:

   Tho' Ill at éase, A stranger and alone,  
   All my fatigues shall not extort a grone.  
   These Indigents have hunger wth their ease;   
   Their best is worn behalfe then my disease.  
   Their Misirable butt wch Heat and Cold  
   Alternately without Repulse do hold;  
   Their Lodgings thyn and hard, their Indian fare
   The mean Apparel which the wretches wear,  
   And their ten thousand ills wch can't be told,  
   Makes nature er'e 'tis midle age'd look old.   
   When I reflect, my late fatigues do seem  
   Only a notion or forgotten Dreem.

Although written as a journal and despite her occasional poetic expressions, Knight's writing is primarily focused outward, concerned with taking stock of her surroundings as she travels. In one instance, she notes that some of her experiences and stories are "not proper to be Related by a Female pen," suggesting that even though she wrote privately, Knight was aware of the possibility her work might be read by an external party. [14]

Danger, Courage, and Determination[edit]

Knight's journey was a difficult one, and both the dangers and her courage and determination throughout the journey are illustrated in multiple moments throughout her journal. Knight’s shrewd business savvy and determination is apparent early in her account of her journey when she writes about an exchange concerning payment for an escort. She tells the woman attempting to get more money from her simply that she “would not be accessary to such extortion.” [15] In the end, Knight stands her ground and is able to bypass the negotiator, deal directly with the would-be escort, and arrange a price she feels is fair. Aside from having to negotiate her interactions with other people, Knight must traverse some rather dangerous landscapes unfamiliar to her. Along the way, Knight may seem to feel fear or apprehension, but she urges herself on, conquering her fears as she crosses rivers, swamps, and woods, in canoe, on horseback and by foot. Before crossing a particularly hazardous river, Knight cannot rid herself of thoughts of drowning, writing, "The concern of mind this relation sett me in: no thoughts but those of the dang'ros River could entertain my Imagination, and they were as formidable as varios, still Tormenting me with blackest Ideas of my Approaching fate–Sometimes seeing my self drowning, otherwhiles drowned, and at the best like a holy Sister just come out of a Spiritual Bath in dripping Garments."[16] However, Knight appears to realize she must conquer her fear, writing, “I now ralyed all the Courage I Was mistriss of, Knowing that I must either Venture my fate of drowning, or be left like ye Children in the wood.” [17] This is not the last danger water presents during Knight's journey. Near the end of the journey, she has a rather close call when she writes, "But in going over the Causeway at Dedham the Bridge being overflowed by the high waters coming down I very narrowly escaped falling over into the river Hors and all wch twas almost a miracle I did not." [18] In addition to the danger posed by the rivers, Knight writes about the less than ideal roads on which she must travel. She explains in her straight-forward manner that "[t]he Rodes all along this way are very bad, Incumbred wth Rocks and mountainos passages, wch were very disagreeable to my tired carcass."[19] These examples provide just a sampling of the dangers faced by Knight on her journey as chronicled in her journal. Knight is not exceptional in that she does not feel fear throughout her journey, but that she appears to be strong enough to know what must be done and overcome that fear. Within the journal, Knight shows both determination and courage as she undertakes a difficult and unusual journey for a woman in early America.

Humor[edit]

Despite the hardships of her journey, Knight infused humor into her journal as she traveled. The clearest picture of this humor is the poem to rum that she wrote one night in an inn when she could not sleep. The men in the kitchen next to the room in which she stayed were quite loud and drunk and so she composed the following:

   I ask thy Aid, O Potent Rum!.  
   To Charm these wrangling Topers Dum.  
   Thou hast their Giddy Brains possest. 2   
   The man confounded wth the Beast  
   And I, poor I, can get no rest.  
   Intoxicate them with thy fumes:  
   O still their Tongues till morning comes! [20] 


After she has asked rum to do her this favor she states, "I know not but my wishes took effect, for the dispute soon ended wth 'tother Dram; and so Good night!"[21] Although her circumstances are rough, Knight finds a moment to allow humor to assist her in working through the hard spots in her accommodations.

In addition, many scholars of American Literature cite Knight's picaresque[22] characterizations and her satirical tendencies as reasons to consider her an early precursor to "the sort of broad humor and characterization that would be typical of later American writers,"[23] such as Mark Twain.[24][25]

Racism and Class Concerns[edit]

While readers can celebrate the way she documents her endurance on a difficult journey and reflects upon her accomplishments as a business woman, Sarah Kemble Knight was a complex human being with early American racial and class sensibilities. Although her work receives recognition for its feminist implications, scholarship also addresses the racist and classicist inclinations it presents. However, it should be remembered that the social norms of Knight's world inevitably shaped her thinking and her writing. As an example, in accordance with the views of her era, Knight refers to racial interactions between slaves and whites in a very disturbing light: "But too Indulgent (especially ye farmers) to their slaves: sufering too great familiarity from them, permitting ym to sit at Table and eat with them, (as they say to save time,) and into the dish goes the black hoof as freely as the white hand."[26] Another instance of racism occurs in Knight's description of her encounters with Native Americans: "There are every where in the Towns as I passed, a Number of Indians the Natives of the Country, and are the most salvage of all the salvages of that kind that I had ever Seen: little or no care taken (as I heard upon enquiry) to make them otherwise."[27]

With regard to class concerns, Knight comments that a certain country gentleman is animal-like and uncouth. She says that country people, like cows, "seldom Loose their Cudd." [28] She also describes the previously mentioned country gentleman as "spitting a Large deal of Aromatick Tincture, he gave a scrape with his shovel like shoo, leaving a small shovel full of dirt on the floor, made a full stop, Hugging his own pretty Body with his hands under his arms, Stood staring rown'd him, like a Catt let out of a Baskett."[29] Clearly, Knight's account of the strangers she met on her journey would conflict with more modern understandings of how we should treat our fellow human beings. However, as an early American writer, Knight's writings offer scholars a view into the controversial complexities of eighteenth-century life.

One specific way Knight attempts to prove her superior class status during her journey is by critiquing the taste of those she perceives as lower class. [30] In the case of her journal, 'taste' often refers to food. Generally speaking, when Knight stays at the home or inn of early American colonists whose mannerisms signify their being of higher class, Knight finds their food edible. For example, when Knight arrives at Mr. Havens, she is met "very civilly" by a "good woman;" here her dinner of chocolate and milk was "effected to [her] satisfaction." [31] On the contrary, a Landlady "with her hair about her ears, and hands at full pay scratching" served mutton, "but it being pickled, and my Guide said it smelt strong of head sause" Knight refused to eat it. [32] As these examples show, Knight's 'taste' in food allowed her to expose those colonists she found to be of lower class and applaud those colonists who she saw as being bourgeois, as she was.

Relevance and Reception[edit]

Since its publication, The Journal of Madam Knight has been valued as both an historical and literary document. As a travel narrative, it recounts the dangerous and primitive conditions of travel in the colonies at this time period. Furthermore, Knight’s detailed descriptions of New York, New Haven, and the many small settlements she travels through across Connecticut, shed light on colonial life at the turn of the 18th century. She documents eating habits, architecture, religious diversity, and various fashions of the people of New York and New Haven, as well as the living conditions found in rural settlements between Boston and New York. Despite her outward focus in describing her travels, however, the diary is also colored by Knight’s own middle-class judgments and values — particularly her attitudes towards slaves, Native Americans, and others of the lower classes. Frequently, her own opinions on race and class conflict with the social norms she observes, as when she criticizes the people of New Haven for their strict laws and punishments, or when she is appalled by a slave being served at his master’s table. [33] In this way, her diary provides a window not only into daily life of the time period, but also into the variety of social norms and hierarchies present in early 18th century New England, enabling historians to understand more completely what life was like at this time in American history.[34]

Knight’s diary has also been important in the field of women’s history and literary recovery, both of which are movements that seek to recover narratives often forgotten or neglected in favor of more mainstream, canonized works.[35] As a woman’s diary, The Journal of Madam Knight represents a deviation from the traditional masculine canon. While her status as a feminist figure remains open for debate, Knight’s diary has merited study for its record of an unusual situation (a woman traveling alone through the New England wilderness); for its uncharacteristically outward focus (as opposed to the typical, inwardly reflective, Puritan diary); and for the unique judgements and strong personality contained within it. [36]

While many critics and scholars have praised Knight's Journal as an historical account, some scholars, such as Robert O. Stephens, believe it should also be read as an imaginative and creative work. Stephens asserts that "By recognizing the mythic implications of Madam Knight's Journal, even at the expense of its mimetic and outwardly historical impact, we are able to place the work more clearly in the fruitful tradition of colonial American, and particularly New England, literature...Identification of the individual mythic allusions is only a matter of reading, but seeing the tantalizing pattern they fall into is an indication that this innocent and rough-mannered journal has meanings that a literal reading cannot guess at." [37] By reading the Journal as a mythical account, Stephens hopes to align Knight's work with the narrative style of Nathaniel Hawthorne.[38]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Sidney Gunn (1933). "Knight, Sarah Kemble". Dictionary of American Biography. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 
  2. ^ "Unit 3: Utopian Promise; Authors: Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)". American Passages: A Literary Survey. learner.org. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  3. ^ "‘Wee made Good speed along’". History Matters: The U.S. Survey Course on the Web. gmu.edu. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  4. ^ The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 7th ed. Vol. A. 368
  5. ^ Geraldine Brooks (1900). Dames and daughters of colonial days. T.Y. Crowell & Co. p. 100. 
  6. ^ Frances Manwaring Caulkins (1852). History of New London, Connecticut. p. 372. 
  7. ^ "Unit 3: Utopian Promise; Authors: Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)". American Passages: A Literary Survey. learner.org. Retrieved 23 September 2012. 
  8. ^ "Unit 3: Utopian Promise; Authors: Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)". American Passages: A Literary Survey. learner.org. Retrieved 30 September 2014. 
  9. ^ "<http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/320359/Sarah-Kemble-Knight> Sarah Kemble Knight". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2014. Web. 03 Oct. 2014.
  10. ^ a b  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Moore, F., eds. (1905). "Knight, Sarah Kemble". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. 
  11. ^ Waisman, Charlotte S.; Tietjen, Jill S. (2008). Her Story. Collins. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-06-124651-7. 
  12. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Rines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Knight, Sarah Kemble". Encyclopedia Americana. 
  13. ^ Knight, Sarah Kemble. "The Journal of Madam Knight." The Puritans. Ed. Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson. New York: American Book Company, 1938. Web.
  14. ^ Knight, 37.
  15. ^ Knight, 4.
  16. ^ Knight, 13.
  17. ^ Knight, 15.
  18. ^ Knight, 56.
  19. ^ Knight, 28.
  20. ^ Knight, Sarah Kemble. Journal of Madam Knight. Ed. Perry Miller and Thomas H. Johnson. New York: American Book Company, 1938. Web.
  21. ^ Knight, 19
  22. ^ Thorpe, Peter. "Sarah Kemble Knight and the Picaresque Tradition." CLA Journal 10.2 (Dec. 1966): 114-121. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. James E. Person, Jr. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
  23. ^ Stanford, Ann. "Sarah Kemble Knight." American Colonial Writers, 1606-1734. Ed. Emory Elliott. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 24. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
  24. ^ Cate, Hollis L. "The Figurative Language of Recall in Sarah Kemble Knight's 'Journal'." in The CEA Critic 43.1 (Nov. 1980): 32-35. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. James E. Person, Jr. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
  25. ^ Bush, Sargent, Jr. "Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)." Legacy 12.2 (1995): 112-120. JSTOR. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
  26. ^ Knight, 36
  27. ^ Knight, 37
  28. ^ Knight, 41
  29. ^ Knight, 41
  30. ^ Pierre Bourdieu,"Introduction." Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Trans. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1984.
  31. ^ Knight, 19
  32. ^ Knight, 29
  33. ^ Knight, 32, 36.
  34. ^ Bush Jr., Sargent. “Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727).” Legacy 12.2 (1995): 112-120. JSTOR. Web. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25679166
  35. ^ Marsden, Jean I. “Beyond Recovery: Feminism and the Future of Eighteenth-Century Literary Studies.” Feminist Studies 28.3 (Autumn 2002): 657-662. JSTOR. Web. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3178795
  36. ^ Stern, Julia. “To Relish and To Spew: Disgust as Cultural Critique in The Journal of Sarah Kemble Knight.” Legacy 14.1 (1997): 1-12. JSTOR. Web. http://www.jstor.org/stable/25679210
  37. ^ Stephens, Robert O. "The Odyssey of Sarah Kemble Knight." CLA Journal 7.3 (Mar. 1964): 247-255. Rpt. in Literature Criticism from 1400 to 1800. Ed. James E. Person, Jr. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988. Literature Resource Center. Web. 5 Oct. 2014.
  38. ^ Stephens, 247-255

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