| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Ann Eliza Bleecker
Ann Eliza Bleecker never published anything in her lifetime.
Instead, she enclosed her numerous poems and narratives in letters that she
circulated among a small group of family and friends. With her fictionalized
Indian captivity narrative, The History of Maria Kittle, she took this
strategy one step further, presenting the story itself as a letter to her half-sister
Susan Ten Eyck. She begins with the salutation “Dear Susan” and interrupts the
plot intermittently to address Susan directly and comment on the action. In
addition, Bleecker later included the narrative in another letter to her
cousin, where she suggested that, like Susan, her young cousin might also
benefit from the story. Indian captivity stories, such as those of Hannah
Dustan and Mary Rowlandson, were tremendously popular in the late
eighteenth century, and Bleecker’s fictionalized account invigorated the genre
by giving it an explicitly didactic dimension that links it to the emerging genre of the didactic novel. Bleecker’s mode
of expression was influenced heavily by the eighteenth-century British cult of
sensibility, and she wrote in the mannered, often hyperbolic, language of
feeling popular in didactic fiction.
Bleecker was born in
October 1752 in New York City to Margarette van Wyck and Brandt Schuyler, a
prosperous merchant, and at a young age she acquired a local reputation for her
precocious poetic talent. She often composed “extempore” in the midst of
company and at the request of friends. Her poetry ranged from the sophisticated
and witty to the satirical and sentimental, as illustrated by the samples in the Heath Anthology. . At seventeen she married John J. Bleecker, and the couple settled on a
bucolic estate in Tomhanick, a town eighteen miles north of Albany where John
Bleecker had inherited land. Geographically isolated and far from the familiar
urban context of her family and friends, Bleecker addressed all her work to
friends to alleviate her loneliness. The move to Tomhanick represented the
first in a series of losses that seemed to Bleecker to characterize her life.
Her involvement in her grief suggests that she was self-consciously fashioning
a poetic identity that drew heavily on the era’s “sentimental” virtues.
The central event that
provoked Bleecker’s melancholia occurred early in the American Revolution, in
the summer of 1777. Threatened by the approaching British troops of General
John Burgoyne, who led an expedition from Canada against the colonies, the
Bleecker family was forced to flee on foot to Albany with their two daughters,
six-year-old Margaretta and the infant Abella. In the course of their journey,
Abella died of dysentery. They continued on and were joined by Bleecker’s
mother in Red Hook, who also died on the journey. This death was followed by
that of Bleecker’s sister, Caty Swits, who had joined them for their return
trip to Tomhanick. Every generation in Bleecker’s supportive circle of women
had been devastated. Four years later, in 1781, John Bleecker was kidnapped by
a band of wandering British soldiers. Though he was soon returned to his
family, the trauma of the event led Bleecker to miscarry. From that summer in
1777 until her death in 1783, Bleecker suffered from intense bouts of
depression, and maternal loss figures prominently in much of her writing.
contains many typical features of the Indian captivity narrative: it presents
graphic scenes of violence, depicts Native Americans as treacherous savages who
mercilessly slay infants and women, and recounts the hardships of Maria’s
journey as a captive. Yet in the last third of the narrative, Maria Kittle
diverges from the genre by representing Maria’s experiences in Canada after she
has been redeemed. Indeed, the story of her captivity carries less emotional
weight than this final section in which three colonial women tearfully recount
their tales of maternal loss to a sympathetic group of British and French
women. Significantly, these stories bear a number of similarities to Bleecker’s
experience of losing her own daughter as a result of the invasion of
anti-insurrectionary British troops. In transposing her tale of maternal loss
onto the Indian captivity narrative,
Bleecker expresses the desire for a redemptive community of women who
achieve a degree of agency through the acts of telling, hearing, and responding
“appropriately” to stories. Yet this agency relies on the racist conventions of
Indian captivity narratives that demonize Native Americans, and Bleecker
deploys the powerful rhetorical strategies of sentimentalism in the
construction of a national identity.
After her death in
1783, her daughter, Margarette Faugères, also a poet (see her poetry in this
anthology), published a significant portion of Bleecker’s work, which included
twenty-three letters, thirty-six poems, an unfinished short historical novel, The
History of Henry and Ann, and The History of Maria Kittle. This
material first appeared in The New-York Magazine in 1790 and 1791 and
then in a collection entitled The Posthumous Works of Ann Eliza Bleecker
in 1793. That Maria Kittle was republished separately in 1797 attests to
New Mexico State University
University of Rochester
Claremont Graduate University
In the Heath Anthology
On the Immensity of Creation
Written Before the Retreat from Burgoyne
from The History of Maria Kittle
[n.b., Written, first published 1790-1792 in installments, 1793 in whole]
The Posthumous Works of Ann Eliza Bleecker
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The Words of a Woman
Several poems by Bleecker.
Virtual Museum of History
A brief biography.
Chris Castiglia, Bound and Determined: Captivity, Culture and White Womanhood from Mary Rowlandson to Patty Hearst, 1996
Julie Ellison, "Race and Sensibility in the Early Republic: Ann Eliza Bleecker and Sarah Wentworth Morton," American Literature, 65, 1993: 445-474
Allison Giffen, "Ann Eliza Bleecker" in Dictionary of Literary Biography: American Women Prose Writers to 1820, vol. 20, 1999.
Allison Giffen, " 'til Grief Melodious Grow': The Poems and Letters of Ann Eliza Bleecker," Early American Literature, 28, 1993: 222-241