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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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3. Utopian Promise   



3. Utopian
Promise


•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William
Bradford
- Anne
Bradstreet
- Sarah Kemble
Knight
- Thomas Morton
- Samson Occom
- William Penn
- Mary
Rowlandson
- Edward Taylor
- John Winthrop
- John Woolman
- Suggested
Author
Pairings
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: Sarah Kemble Knight (1666-1727)

FISHER'S TAVERN IN DEDHAM
[7057] Annie Fisher, Fisher's Tavern in Dedham, courtesy of the Dedham Historical Society, Dedham, Massachusetts.

Sarah Kemble Knight Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
Sarah Kemble was born in Boston in 1666, the daughter of Thomas Kemble, a successful merchant, and Elizabeth Trerice, who descended from an old and established Massachusetts family. In 1689, she married Richard Knight, a sea captain considerably older than herself. Even before her husband's death, Sarah Kemble Knight assumed many of the family's business responsibilities, running a shop in Boston, taking in lodgers, and working as a court scrivener copying legal documents. Her familiarity with legal issues—as well as her habitual independence—probably underwrote her decision in 1704 to journey to New Haven, Connecticut, to help settle the estate of her cousin Caleb Trowbridge on behalf of his widow. The overland trip from Boston to New Haven was long and difficult in the early eighteenth century; although the route was an established one used by postal riders, the road was rough and travelers found it necessary to hire local guides to conduct them from one town or rural inn to another. At the time, it was unusual for a woman to embark on such a journey alone.

Knight was a careful diarist, resolving to "enter my mind in my Journal" at the end of each day of travel. The resulting record is a unique and entertaining document, both because Knight's experience was so atypical and because her lively, often humorous narrative voice marks a break with the more somber tradition of Puritan journals and narratives. The Private Journal is in fact very secular in its content, tone, and style, containing little moral didacticism and almost no spiritual self-examination. Instead, Knight is witty, worldly, and sharply keyed in to the social distinctions and class hierarchies that structured colonial New England. All of Knight's experiences are filtered through her sense of her own middling social and economic position. She is ruthlessly sarcastic about the ignorance and poor taste displayed by the rustic "bumpkins" she encounters in the country, and extremely proud of "the wonderful civility" shown to her in the city by members of ranks of society higher than her own. She condones slavery and is appalled that some farmers allow their slaves to "sit at table and eat with them." Throughout the Journal, she refers to Native Americans in dehumanizing terms, comparing them to animals. Despite her off-putting prejudices, however, Knight manages to paint a vivid and engaging picture of a broad cross-section of early American society, describing both backwoods and urban life with humor and an ear for colloquial language.

Knight ended her journey in March 1705, returning safely to her home in Boston. In 1714 her daughter married John Livingston of New London, and Knight moved with them to Connecticut, where she continued her business and land dealings. When she died in 1727, she left her daughter a very large estate, attesting to her shrewdness and skill as a businessperson.


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