To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839 / Edition 1

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When nineteen-year-old Harriett Gold, from a prominent white family in Cornwall, Connecticut, announced in 1825 her intention to marry a Cherokee man, her shocked family initiated a spirited correspondence debating her decision to marry an Indian. Eventually, Gold's family members reconciled themselves to her wishes, and she married Elias Boudinot in 1826. After the marriage, she returned with Boudinot to the Cherokee Nation, where he went on to become a controversial political figure and editor of the first Native American newspaper.

Providing rare firsthand documentation of race relations in the early nineteenth-century United States, this volume collects the Gold family correspondence during the engagement period as well as letters the young couple sent to the family describing their experiences in New Echota (capital of the Cherokee Nation) during the years prior to the Cherokee Removal. In an introduction providing historical and social contexts, Theresa Strouth Gaul offers a literary reading of the correspondence, highlighting the value of the epistolary form and the gender and racial dynamics of the exchange. As Gaul demonstrates, the correspondence provides a factual accompaniment to the many fictionalized accounts of contacts between Native Americans and Euroamericans and supports an increasing recognition that letters form an important category of literature.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Anyone interested in epistolary practices, miscegenation, or Cherokee studies will find To Marry an Indian a valuable read."
American Indian Culture and Research Journal

"The marriage of Elias Boudinot and Harriett Gold was important not only to the principals, but also to their families and to the Cherokee Nation as it went through one of the greatest periods of turmoil in its history. This collection of letters gives us a glimpse into the Indian-white dynamics of the time from the most human perspective possible. (James W. Parins, Sequoyah Research Center, University of Arkansas at Little Rock)"

"As presented by Theresa Strouth Gaul, these letters break new ground in the study of racial and gender boundaries in America. They also read as a surprising and poignant epistolary novel. (Phyllis Cole, author of Mary Moody Emerson and the Origins of Transcendentalism: A Family History)"

Library Journal
It might as well be a brief epistolary novel, this sad story told in letters of a star-cross'd early 19th-century affair between Harriet Gold, a young Connecticut white woman, and Elias Boudinot, a visiting Cherokee Indian. With different degrees of racism, both families stoutly opposed the union (Harriet's brother even burned her in effigy in protestation) but gradually and grudgingly came to accept it. Elias became a journalist, the editor of the first Native American newspaper, and a conscientious spokesman for Cherokee acculturation. He was assassinated in 1839, three years after Harriet's death at age 31, leaving behind their six children. The introduction accounts for almost one quarter of the book, and it's a good thing, too, as this allows editor Strauth Gaul (English, Texas Christian Univ.) to place the letters the couple exchanged and sent to family members in their complex historical context. Full of interesting information about middle-class American life in the 1820s and 1830s, the introduction includes such details as how married New England couples shared space on single sheets of writing paper. Because this slight volume is at once a lesson in American history, sociology, and psychology, it is highly recommended for all libraries.-Charles C. Nash, Cottey Coll., Nevada, MO Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807856024
  • Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
  • Publication date: 5/16/2005
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 0.57 (d)

Meet the Author

Theresa Strouth Gaul is associate professor of English at Texas Christian University.

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First Chapter

To Marry an Indian

The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823-1839

The University of North Carolina Press

Copyright © 2005 The University of North Carolina Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8078-2941-2

Chapter One

Connecticut Letters, 1823-1826

Herman Vaill to Harriett Gold, 22 August 1823

HLVC, m.

[Addressed to:] Miss Harriet R. Gold, / Cornwall / Connecticut

Rutland N.Y. August 22. 1823.

Dear Sister Harriet,

As I shall have an opp. to send to Ct next week, I can hardly refrain from dropping you a line.

The general incidents of my journey & labours, you have doubtless learnt from my weekly epistles to Flora; ergo, I shall in this letter make some desultory remarks upon topicks perhaps especially interesting to you. You know that I used to love to keep school; & teach young ideas how to shoot. By the by, how many & how various were the ideas that I learned taught to shoot, when I kept school in Cornwall. (Some ideas that begun to shoot that winter, have continued to grow ever since. Ask Flora if it isn't so.)

I love to visit schools still; I have visited 3 the present week; & several others before. In this region, I find that, generally the teachers are not thoroughly qualified to teach even Webster's spelling Book; & his "Easy Standard of Pronunciation," is very far from being strictly followed. For instance, in Diaphragm Table, the teacher puts out wordsthus, "definite," "perquisite" &c, & the same inconsistencies go thro every table in the Book. In the method of instruction, there is no pains taken to make children understand the reason of things. Everything is done by rote, and children learn their a, b, c, from top to bottom, and from bottom to top, without knowing perhaps a single letter, but round o and crooked s. They are not learnt to pronounce their [abc?]-nor to keep their own place-& in short their whole system, (Parents, & Teachers, & children) seems to be going wrong. Still there may be some exceptions-but I have found only one that I tho't come anywhere near the right way. In the schools which I have visited, but one teacher professes religion. She is a Baptist; but does not pray in her school; nor is such a thing as a catechism, nor indeed any kind of religious instruction, known. I trust you would change the face of things, were you here. This subject I conclude must be somewhat familiar, if not interesting to you-but from it, I will turn to one which I suppose, by this time, to be more familiar, if not more interesting; Both I guess.

Poor Harriet, I am sorry that you are so attractive, that every old bachelor who owns land near you, & every old widower that comes along in search of minerals, should fix their eyes, on you. They come up, I suppose, & stare at you, just as if you were a Guide Board; & I dare say they think they can read on you, the road they would choose to walk in. The Col[o] reads, The Direct & nearest road to a State of Second Youth, & the name of Dada-while Mr H_ reads, The nearest road to "Mine Mountain," & I suppose he thinks there is Gold there. The latter object of remark it is said is poor; I believe he has lost his property; But Poverty, honestly come by, is no disgrace; if it were your brother Vaill would be disgraced to the uttermost. He [end of page 1] wished for Gold to mend his fortunes, or to aid him in bearing his mis-fortunes & perhaps Mr H. wants it for the same reason; & you know any man would rejoice if while he was looking out for minerals in the earth, he should discover a solid junk of Gold above ground. & dear sister, I do not know but thee will make him a good wife. Dost thou affection him, verilie & trulie? marry him, & let others talk. You have intrinsic, & extrinsic worth & he has "great larnin." He can make Almanacks, and your children can peddle them.

You see I do not urge you to "Forbear"-choose who you please, white, or black, or red. Give by all means, my best, & warmest love to your sister Flora, & accept the sincere, & fraternal regard of your friend

Herman L. Vaill

* * *

Dear Flora, I should write to you by Judge B. but he may go thro' Goshen, & I choose to send to you direct, by mail,. I hope to hear from you next Monday night. You may expect one from me per mail of Wednesday after next. Should he call, either way-thank you to send me one pair of Drawers by him, without fail. I am well as usual; love my wife as usual, or rather more; wish to see her as usual, or rather more; & hope to see her before long, as usual. Your affectionate husband-Herman L.V.

[LM 1] I took a severe cold last night and today am almost sick.

[RM 1] Saturday-P.M. Dear wife-Upon second thoughts I would thank you to send one of my flannel wrappers, as well as a pair of Drawers by Mr Bronson. I shall want both on my journey. If convenient, you can perhaps leave them done up at Mr Harveys-unless you see Mr B. on his way down.

1. Flora Gold Vaill (1799-1883), Harriett's older sister, married Rev. Herman Landon Vaill (1794-1870) in January 1823. Herman courted Flora while acting as a teacher and assistant to the principal at the Foreign Mission School.

2. Noah Webster's The American Spelling Book: Containing an Easy Standard of Pronunciation, first published in 1783 and reprinted frequently thereafter, was a widely used textbook in American schoolrooms in the early nineteenth century.

3. The o and s in the preceding sentence were written in a decidedly darker and wider stroke. I have used italics to replicate this emphasis.

4. The Oxford English Dictionary gives a British meaning for "junk" of "lump or chunk."

Stephen Gold to Herman and Flora Gold Vaill and Catharine Gold, 11 June 1825

HLVC, m.

[Return address:] Cornwall Ct. / June 13th [Addressed to:] Rev. Herman L. Vaill / East Hadam / Millington Soci [Postage:] 10

Cornwall June 11[th] 1825

My verry dear Brother & Sisters

The dye is cast, Harriet is gone, we have reason to fear. Yes. She has told Mr Harvy that she was engaged to that Indian E. and that she is determined to marry him. O!! dear!!!

Last Tuesday, Mr Brinsmade made his suspisions know to the Board, and it made them (as he expressed it,) "as white as sheets." Mr Stone rose up and said it was a lie, but upon hearing Mr B reasons, his mouth was stop'd. Mr. Harvey was over yesterday, purposely to talk with Father and Mama and H_ left a letter, that in full expressed her determinations. Mr H. is going to preach hear to morow, & is going to hand H_ a letter, which she is to answer by the next Thirsday-on that day, the committy meet for no other purpose, than to publish to the world what they know, & their surprise! or should H_ give up her purpose, to enjoin secrecy.

Words cannot, no. let imagination only express, the feelings of my heart.

Your brother

Stephen J. Gold

[LM] (Now if you can help do)

1. Stephen Johnson Gold (1801-80), Harriett's older brother, wrote this letter to their sister Flora and her husband, Herman Vaill, as well as to their sister Catharine (1803-1888), who was visiting the Vaills in Millington when the news of Harriett and Elias's engagement became public.

2. The Reverend Joseph Harvey, minister in Goshen, Connecticut, and an agent of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall.

3. Elias Boudinot studied at the Foreign Mission School from 1818 to 1822. Born in 1804, Elias had been educated from the age of six at missionary schools in the Cherokee Nation and was viewed as one of the most promising scholars at Cornwall. He had hopes of going on to study at the Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, but ill health forced him to return to the Cherokee Nation in 1822. Elias and Harriett's courtship progressed entirely through correspondence.

4. Harriett's brother-in-law, General Daniel Brinsmade (1768-1862). The husband of Gold's older sister Mary (1794-?), he was an agent of the Foreign Mission School. A family history describes him as "a tall slender man of nervous, active temperament" (Brinsmade 20).

5. Members of the Board of Agents for the Foreign Mission School were appointed by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), an organization comprised mainly of Congregationalists and Presbyterians, to oversee the operation of the school. Lyman Beecher, father of Harriet Beecher Stowe, was one of the agents.

6. Timothy Stone (1774-1852), the minister of Cornwall's Congregational Church.

Harriett Gold to Herman and Flora Gold Vaill and Catharine Gold, 25 June 1825

HLVC, m.

[Return address:] Goshen Ct. / June 27 [Addressed to:] Rev. Herman L. Vaill / East Haddam / Millington Society [Postage:] 11

Saturday P.M. June 25, 1825

Dear Brother & Sisters,

I expected to spend a principal part of the day in writing to you but have been so much troubled with the toothache that I have not been able to do much. In the first place I thank you for your letter & friendship thus far. I am truly rejoiced to learn that you are so pleasantly situated. May a kind providence ever smile upon you & make you happy and useful. Now what shall I make the subject of my letter? A painful one to you no doubt but you will not be so much surprised as I hear you have been to Windham. Yes it is so-the time has come when your Sister Harriett is already published to an Indian. If you have seen Mr Stone quarterly report you have seen our names and intentions. Pen cannot describe nor language express the numerous & trying scenes through which I have passed since you left us. But I trust I have had that support through them all, which the world could not give. Never before did I so much realize the worth of religion & so much pity those, who, in time of trouble were without this inestimable treasure. I have seen the time when I could close my eyes upon every earthly object & look up to God as my only supporter, my only hope-when I could say with emotions I never felt before, to my heavenly Father, "other refuge have I none, So I helpless hang on thee" I still have the consolation of feeling that I have not acted contrary to duty & that what I have done as respects forming a connexion is not adverse to divine approbation. I know that I appear at present to stand alone, the publick, "good people & bad," are against me. I cannot say that all are against me-there are many who are still my friends, but the excitement at present is such that they dare not have it known that they are on my side. You can have no idea of the scenes we have witnessed the week past. Yes, in this Christian land. The members of the M.S. many of them said [end of page 1] it was more than they ever knew among the heathen & I should not wonder if people said that such could not be [termed?]. But it was not done merely by the wicked world-professed Christians attended & gave their approbation. I will give you a brief description. Mr. Brinsmade gave information to the Agents that another Indian wedding was in contemplation-consequently I soon received a long letter from Mr. Harvey which after prayerful consideration I answered & the result was known far & wide as speedily as the wings of the wind could spread it & wednesday last was appointed for the day when great things were to be and [illegible] were effected. It being thought unsafe for me to stay at home I left the night before & was kept in a chamber at Capt. Clarks where I had a full prospect of the solemn transactions in our Valley. In the evening our respectable young people Ladies & Gentlemen convened on the plain to witness and approve the scene & express their indignation. A painting had before been prepared representing a beautiful young Lady & an Indian; also on the same, a woman, as an instigator of Indian marriages. Evening came on. The church Bell began to toll one would conclude, speaking the departure of a soul. Mr. John C. Lewis and Mr. Rufus Payne carried the corpses & Brother Stephen set fire to the barrel of Tar or rather the funeral pile-the flames rose high, & the smoke ascended-some said as it were it reminded them of the smoke of their torment which they feared would ascend forever. My heart truly sung with anguish at the dreadful scene The Bell continued to toll till 10, or 11 O'c This much is accomplished. The transactions were a few rods east of the Mission School-house. In that very season the members of the school were assembled in their Academy praying & I trust earnestly & sincerely for their enemies. Brother Roberts has since told me, he never knew a more quiet & peaceable time in school than now. Within a few days & since this tumult began between 2 & 3 thousand dollars have been given to build the new Academy. But it is true we are in many respects in gloomy circumstances There is a great division of feeling among many but especially in our family. It appears as though a house divided against itself could not stand. Ma is almost worn out she feels as [end of page 2] though her children had no tenderness for her & instead of comforting her were ready to fill up her cup of affliction till it is more than running over. (Sabbath eve.) I attended meeting to-day as usual. As I had been requested to leave the singers seat that I need not disgrace the rest of the girls I took our pew. Church Communion is put off on account of some difficulty occasioned by the Report. I fear the Agents will be in trouble, but I feel it my solemn duty publickly to contradict what they have there stated I do know it to be false. Whatever you, or others may think I do know that no individual whoever has in any way influenced me in forming a connexion. Mr & Mrs. Northrop do suffer most cruelly & unjustly. They feel grieved to the heart. Mrs. N & her family have left Cornwall for the present-it being unsafe for her to be here. Many of the good people of this place do feel greatly [wounded?] by the proceedings of last Wednesday eve. I fear Brother Stephen has, to prevent scandal brought a real scandal upon himself which cannot easily be wiped off. Even the most unprincipled say, they never heard of any thing so low even among the heathen as that of burning a Sister in effigy. Tomorrow eve. is appointed for another meeting what will be done I know not. The Lord reigns & I often repeat these comforting words

Through waves & clouds & storms, He gently clears the way, Wa[it]

[th]ou his time-so shall this night, Soon end in joyous day

Could I see you I could say many things to you. I cannot by one letter give you any idea of my feelings or circumstances. Brother Vaill you doubtless well remember the morning of my birthday when I was 18. We walked in the garden. A thick, dubious cloud o'ercast the sky. Do you not recollect our conversation? The time has come & I see a thick cloud & although you then said you would sympathise with me, as you so little expected such things-I do not expect that sympathy. The few friends I now have are dearer to me than ever-many delight in showing disrespect, others take uncommon pains to notice & respect me. I feel as though I had wronged no one. I have done nothing but what I had a perfect & lawful right to do. I need say nothing of going to Millington-after reading this-you will not desire it. Ma says Catharine must do as she pleases about coming home.


Excerpted from To Marry an Indian Copyright © 2005 by The University of North Carolina Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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