F20 Black Atlantic: Resources, Pedagogy, and Scholarship on the 18th Century Black Atlantic

The Female American

Appearing in 1767, The Female American, published anonymously under the moniker of the novel's main character, Uncashed Eliza Winkfield, joins a long line of "Robinsonades," narratives inspired by Daniel Defoe's 1719 adventure novel Robinson Crusoe. Taken on its own, The Female American is an intriguing study of the intersections of gender, race, and European imperialism. Unca is a biracial woman, the daughter of an English colonist and plantation owner at Jamestown, Virginia, William Winkfield, and an indigenous princess, also called Unca, who, saves him from death at the hands of her people. After the death of her mother, Unca is raised and educated in England, after which she returns to Virgnia at the age of 18. Upon the death of her father, Unca essentially becomes an independent woman of means, sought after by several suitors whom she turns down. One such suitor, the ship captain whom she hires to convey her back to England, retaliates against Unca by leaving her stranded on a remote island. While there, Unca becomes self-sufficient, surviving in the unfamiliar terrain, interacting with the indigenous population, whom she eventually converts, and flouting the gender roles related to domesticity, marriage, and child-rearing that would be expected of a female protagonist of her time. Although she eventually marries, she does so on her own terms, determining for herself when her cousin, whom had previously been one of her suitors, proves himself to be worthy of her hand. Unca thus stands out as an anomaly in the tradition of Robinsonades: a mixed-race American woman who travels freely and independently and uses wit and cunning to survive.

Furthermore, the narrative articulates an American female identity that is undeniably bound up in imperialism and colonialism. Unca is a product of British colonization in North America, and her relationship with the indigenous inhabitants of the island is one of manipulation and trickery through which she reinforces what she perceives as her natural superiority over them. This uneven relationship is exemplified in Unca's erasure of their indigenous religious practices, her coerced conversation of the priests and their people to Christianity, her installation as their queen, and her ultimate destruction of their religious "idols." Unca's success on the island is secured in much the same way that European colonists throughout the so-called "New World" were able to gain control of vast swaths of land inhabited by indigenous people: through manipulation, domination, and cultural and ideological violence. 

Several important digital humanities projects have emerged around Robinson Crusoe and its publication history, including "Digital Crusoe," "Visualizing Crusoe," "Pirating Texts," and "Crusoe@300." I think another useful project would place The Female American within the context of the Robinson Crusoe and the full body of literary Robinsonades. Such a resources could use text mining and data visualizations to compare and illustrate the various locations, character types, and narrative tropes that appear across each of the the texts. It might also attempt to create and layer maps of the adventures depicted in each of the text, producing an image of the collective geographical world of the Robinsonades. This resource would underscore The Female American's distinctiveness in the canon of Robinsonades, but would also invite exploration of its resonances with other texts in the canon.

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