Facebook Kaskaskia: Kinship and Social Networks in a French-Illinois Borderland, 1695–1735

Sunday, January 8, 2012: 11:00 AM
Superior Room A (Sheraton Chicago Hotel & Towers)
Robert M. Morrissey, Lake Forest College
This paper uses the technique of Social Network Analysis to explore how women created community through both marriage and Godmotherhood in the interracial community of Kaskaskia in the 18th Century Illinois Country. Using SNA software to chart the connections among 72 households of intermarried Frenchmen and Indian women, as well as Frenchwomen who arrived in the colony after 1719, I demonstrate some key characteristics of the resulting community, particularly the previously unknown role played by women in facilitating and apparently controlling aspects of community formation in Cahokia and Kaskaskia. Previous scholars have shown the important role that kinship networks played in helping Frenchmen enter the Algonquian cultural world—or habitus—of the fur trade. In this paper, I show how Frenchwomen and Indian women together created networks that functioned to bring Indian women and their families into an increasingly French, agrarian cultural habitus of Kaskaskia. Most importantly I show how the female domain of Godmotherhood was the most significant site for incorporating and managing cultural difference on this early American frontier. Women, not men, were the most powerful agents of cultural conversion and mediation. And kinship, a domain controlled most importantly by women, was the most important component of identity, even as the bicultural trade world became increasingly agrarian and “French.”
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