Today I am immodestly showing off a web page of my own teaching-oriented research: A Colonial Abortion Drama. The page is a collection of grand jury testimony surrounding a 1741 Connecticut incident in which an unmarried young woman named Sara Grosvenor became pregnant and . . . well, you can read what happens. It is sadly fascinating tale.
I became aware of the Pomfret case from reading Cornelia Hughes Dayton's groundbreaking article, "Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an Eighteenth-Century New England Village," which appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1991 (here is the JSTOR link). It was Dayton who uncovered the case and she uses it to show us how gender relations and attitudes towards illegitimacy were changing in 18th-century New England.
Dayton quotes from the grand jury testimony only selectively, but it was clear from the article that the full testimony was riveting. I am from a village in Connecticut a few towns over from Pomfret, so on a trip home I visited the cemetery and made a couple of trips to the Connecticut State Archives to photocopy the documents and do some additional research.
After months of transcribing and editing from the testimony I finally got the webpage up--and discovered that very day that Woody Holton at the University of Richmond had beaten me to it with his own excellent site on the trial. It is interesting to me how we differed in presenting the material. Holton provides not only the testimony but also a "cast of characters" and chronology page. I didn't do these because I want my students to figure out those things for themselves. And yet I hold my students hands with a historical introduction to frame the documents, and an after word about what happened to some of the major characters and how I became interested in the story. I even managed to get George Washington in there.
My page on Sara Grosvenor was to a part of a larger project, tentatively titled Voices from the Margins: A Multicultural Reader for United States History. The idea is to create a primary source reader for college history classes that highlights documents from peoples, regions, and events that are either neglected or misrepresented in standard textbooks. Also, the book is meant to go heavy on sex and violence. I created three chapters about five years ago before I was distracted by my involvement in Teaching American History grants. I hope to get back to the project soon.
(I will feature my other two completed chapters in subsequent posts.)