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Prejudice for Profit: Escaped Nun Stories and American Catholic Print Culture

Prejudice for Profit: Escaped Nun Stories and American Catholic Print Culture Prejudice for Profit Escaped Nun Stories and American Catholic Print Culture KARA M. FRENCH During the sweltering summer of 1834, a gang of working- class men—brickmakers, sailors, apprentices, and firemen—surrounded the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The crowd, acting on rumor that Sister Mary St. John Harrison “has been secreted or abducted” to Canada against her will, threatened to burn the convent to the ground unless she was released. When Harrison did not come for- ward, they set fire to the convent and school with “twelve nuns, and fifty-seven female scholars” inside. Newspapers from Maine to Maryland reported how the rioters stole the Mount Benedict ciborium, smashed the sisters’ expensive musical instruments, and converted the personal library of Boston’s Bishop Fenwick into fuel for a bonfire. As a final act of desecration, the mob “burst open the tomb, and ransacked the cof- fins” of dead nuns, searching for the bodies of Sister Harrison and the Ursulines’ young Protestant pupils, rumored to have been murdered behind the convent walls. Tales of illicit sex and abused women rose from the ashes of the Charlestown riot. Just as the Charlestown rioters were being brought to Kara M. French is associate professor of http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the Early Republic University of Pennsylvania Press

Prejudice for Profit: Escaped Nun Stories and American Catholic Print Culture

Journal of the Early Republic , Volume 39 (3) – Aug 9, 2019

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Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
Copyright
Copyright © Society for Historians of the Early American Republic.
ISSN
1553-0620

Abstract

Prejudice for Profit Escaped Nun Stories and American Catholic Print Culture KARA M. FRENCH During the sweltering summer of 1834, a gang of working- class men—brickmakers, sailors, apprentices, and firemen—surrounded the Ursuline convent in Charlestown, Massachusetts. The crowd, acting on rumor that Sister Mary St. John Harrison “has been secreted or abducted” to Canada against her will, threatened to burn the convent to the ground unless she was released. When Harrison did not come for- ward, they set fire to the convent and school with “twelve nuns, and fifty-seven female scholars” inside. Newspapers from Maine to Maryland reported how the rioters stole the Mount Benedict ciborium, smashed the sisters’ expensive musical instruments, and converted the personal library of Boston’s Bishop Fenwick into fuel for a bonfire. As a final act of desecration, the mob “burst open the tomb, and ransacked the cof- fins” of dead nuns, searching for the bodies of Sister Harrison and the Ursulines’ young Protestant pupils, rumored to have been murdered behind the convent walls. Tales of illicit sex and abused women rose from the ashes of the Charlestown riot. Just as the Charlestown rioters were being brought to Kara M. French is associate professor of

Journal

Journal of the Early RepublicUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Aug 9, 2019

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