Date(s) - 02/18/2014
4:15 pm - 5:15 pm
In this chapter Harris explores how unmarried and childless people thought about genealogy, lineage, and posterity in 18th century England. The chapter comes from a book that uses the rich archival sources left by the Sharp family to explore how marital status impacted family relationships. While marital status is the core of the book, the connections between marital status and gender are essential to its argument. At its heart this chapter considers the way gender influenced unmarried, childless women and men’s thinking about their lineage and genealogy. For Granville Sharp, a never-married man, creating a legacy was two-pronged. First, he connected himself to, and reproduced the writings of, a line of clergymen and authors within his family in order to perpetuate their intellectual legacy much as children would have perpetuated their physical legacy. Second, his connections among social reformers beyond his family provided him with figurative offspring who would live beyond him (including the slaves he hoped to emancipate). Where Granville’s approach was creative, it fit with an eighteenth-century, hierarchical and linear understanding of family lines. Elizabeth Sharp Prowse, childless widow, on the other hand, envisioned and preserved an entire geography of family connection, one that transcended linear descent and encompassed all family members: living, dead, married, single, with or without children. In the end, Elizabeth and Granville and their numerous siblings fashioned a posterity that even the childless could participate in – but they shaped that posterity in highly gendered ways.