Belinda Coles (Cortlandt, New York) and Belinda Coles (Millsburgh, Liberia)
This interlude imagines a sponsor-child connection through an elaboration of historical sources. Belinda Coles was a woman in upstate New York and “Belinda” was a girl she renamed after herself at Ann Wilkins’s Methodist school in the 1840s. I draw on extant letters that Wilkins sent to Coles and to Mary Garrettson (also in upstate New York) about two other girls at the school. While all the events discussed took place where the girls lived, I have imagined how they may have felt. I also make an educated guess that “Belinda” was from the Queah tribe and I call her Donyen, which means beautiful in Kru languages, a variant of which was likely her mother tongue. I hesitated about imagining a name for her, but ultimately I decided it was important to signal how her life exceeded the sponsor-donor relationship and the name conferred upon her in that context. My hope is that this interlude will spur readers’ thinking in a few respects. From a methodological perspective, it raises the possibility of experimental approaches to writing when globally dispersed sources are incomplete. From a narrative perspective, it offers a sense of the rhythm of child-sponsor relations forged through sporadic communication. In either case, the larger point is to foreground how absences constitute even the most intimate global projects—for scholars and for the people we study....
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