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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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4. Spirit of Nationalism   

4. Spirit of Nationalism

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William Apess
- J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur
- Jonathan Edwards
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Benjamin Franklin
- Margaret Fuller
- Thomas Jefferson
- Susanna Rowson
- Royall Tyler
- Phillis Wheatley
- Suggested
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Authors: J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur (1735-1813)

The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in Kings Street Boston
[1889] Paul Revere, The Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in Kings Street Boston on March 5th 1770 by a Party of the 29th Regt. (1770), courtesy of the Library of Congress [LC-USZC4-4600].

J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur Activities
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Although his writings evince a reverence for pastoral, quiet farm life, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur led a restless existence marred by war, instability, and tragedy. Born in France to a privileged family, Crèvecoeur left for England as a young man and eventually traveled on to Canada. He worked as a surveyor in the French army during the French and Indian War and was wounded at the battle of Quebec. In 1759, Crèvecoeur immigrated to rural New York, where he found employment as a surveyor, trader, and farmer. He married an American woman and became a naturalized citizen, adding the names "Hector" and "St. John" to his given name, perhaps in an attempt to seem more English. The outbreak of the American Revolution marred Crèvecoeur's idyllic farm life. Suspected of harboring Loyalist sympathies, he was persecuted and threatened by his neighbors. He tried to sail for France to escape harassment and to secure his children's inheritance, but both the English authorities and the Revolutionaries found him suspicious and made his departure difficult. After being imprisoned by the English, he was finally allowed to leave for France in 1780.

Once he had arrived safely in Europe, Crèvecoeur published a manuscript he had produced while in America. His book, Letters from an American Farmer(1782), was an account of rural life and travels through America told in the voice of a naive, rustic narrator. These letters of "Farmer James" became popular in France and England and, trading on the book's success, Crèvecoeur became a minor celebrity. He was appointed a French consul to America and returned to New York in 1783. Tragically, he found his farm destroyed, his wife dead, and his children resettled in Boston. In 1790 he returned to France, where revolution and war once again tormented him. He lived obscurely in rural France until his death.

Although Letters from an American Farmer was initially read as a celebration of American culture and the American character, later generations of literary critics have puzzled over the exact nature of Crèvecoeur's attitude toward his adopted country. While his description of northern farm life is in some ways idyllic, later letters in the book engage the horrors of slaveholding in the South, the barbarity of the unsettled wilderness, and the terrors of revolution. A complex and ambivalent representation of American life, Letters from an American Farmer continues to challenge readers with its portrait of both the utopian and the dystopian possibilities of the nation.

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