Monday, 26 January 2015

Letters and Journals of Narcissa Whitman

The letter discussed here is from a pioneer's wife, Narcissa Whitman, to her family back home.

On 30th Match 1837, Whitman wrote home to describe the birth of her baby daughter a fortnight earlier. Interestingly, she mentions that the she gave birth on her own birthday.

Whitman mentions that during the winter she was able to work, suggesting that it was not unheard of for women to work throughout pregnancy, as long as they were healthy. She then describes symptoms of an inflammatory rash and bleeding a week prior to the birth, and mentions a Mrs Pambrun, who had also been ill and had visited two weeks prior to Whitman falling ill - although Whitman doesn't specifically suggest it, it can be inferred from this that Mrs Pambrun may have infected Whitman with the illness. Mrs Pambrun is revealed to be a Native, when Whitman mentions that she was accustomed to dressing babies "in the native style."

Whitman then goes on to describe the baby's disposition for the first few nights. The baby cried the second night, and Whitman says it was because "she was hungry, and [they] did not think to feed her soon enough", a curious thing to hear today, as we are accustomed to knowing that babies should be fed almost immediately.

Whitman praises her husband's role throughout the labour, and mentions that he did the washing and cooking while she was unable to. She then describes how a group of Indians arrived, and many were curious to see the baby, having no doubt never before seen a white newborn. One of the Indians, Kee-low-ki-ke, tells Whitman that the baby is a "Cayuse te-mi (Catuse girl)." Interestingly, the pioneers here and the Indians appear to have a friendly relationship.

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