Abstract: Through a close reading of eighteenth-century personal writings and a comprehensive analysis of thousands of runaway advertisements, this essay moves beyond studies of assumed or symbolic notions of “the body” to understand how colonists described physical appearance in daily life. What physical features marked sex or race classifications, and how do they differ from our assumed physicalities of these bodily divisions? Analyzing specific representations of eighteenth-century bodies instead of our assumed categorizations allows me to question naturalized and essentialized notions of male and female. I argue that physical descriptions produced intertwined racial and gender boundaries, not by seeing opposing characteristics in the people around them, but by constructing incompatible terms of evaluation. In other words, colonists divided bodies by asking incompatible questions, not by expecting opposing answers. Colonial Americans reflected, and made reality, their own judgments under the guise of describing the people around them.
Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal – University of Pennsylvania Press