Friday, September 18, 2015

Who Would They Be in the Future? Felicity and Elizabeth


Faithful Friends Forever Be

So I'm finally back to the series people ask me about the most-the series where I predict the future of the American Girl characters. It's been a while since I've written one of these, for a couple of different reasons.

The first is that they take a lot of effort. That sounds lazy but I have two jobs, a husband, and all that comes with adulting. Oh how I hate adulating...Plus this isn't my only writing thing-I like creative writing-so I have to divide my time between the blog and that.

The other is that I have a feeling this post is going to be very unpopular. I know a lot of people picture Felicity and Elizabeth together in the future. I do not. I see Felicity with Benjamin. This isn't because I don't like gay relationships either, since I do ship Nellie and Sam. But not every close friendship equals homoeroticism to me (or heteroeroticism-I don't see Kit with Stirling), and this is one of those. I always sensed something between Lissie and Ben.

I don't have an issue with people who ship Felicity and Elizabeth. It's just not for me, and I guess YMMV.

So on to my prediction.

Life expectancy during the American Revolution was only 36 (don't you love modern sanitation and medicine?). How depressing.

In 1775, Mr. Merrinan promised Ben that he could be a soldier the following year if there was still a war going on. Sadly there was, and Ben set off to be a Patriot in the fall of 1776. He was 18. Felicity, by then 11, had developed a girlish crush on the older teenager, which her parents encouraged. After all, it was suitable since the two were close in social stature. The two exchanged letters, which became more romantic as the years went on. Ben wintered with George Washington at Valley Forge, and Felicity worried about him-that was an awful winter for the soldiers. She was also very proud of him-he had found a way to honor his promise to her father while also fighting for the cause they both deeply believed in.

He would not return for several years. As a military wife, all I can say is that I'm thankful that, even in wartime, my husband would come home more than once every six years and that I could contact him in real time. Those luxuries were of course not available to Felicity and Ben. When he finally came home in the fall of 1781 to finish out his apprenticeship, Felicity was sixteen and Ben twenty three. He owed Mr. Merriman two more years of service, which he completed as agreed. During that time, Felicity and Ben became engaged. She liked the way Ben never questioned her independence, and Ben thought Felicity epitomized the feisty American spirit he had fought for. When his contract was over, the couple married, set up a store of their own in Yorktown, and lived quite happily. They worked side by side in the store, which everyone said was very odd, but neither cared. Their marriage worked for them. Felicity always owned and rode horses, most of them descended from Penny.

They had six children. Two girls and one boy survived to adulthood. The girls were named Elizabeth (after Felicity's best friend) and Martha (after Felicity's mother and the wife of the first American president). The boy was named George, after the president.

Of course, there was a dark side to their life. Like her parents before her, Felicity owned slaves. Since they were not rich land owners, they owned two-a man to help in the store and a maid of all work to help Felicity run the house. Again, I realize this isn't what people want to read about their beloved characters, but it is the historical reality of the time period. I would like to think they weren't the absolute WORST people to their slaves, but all slavery is wrong, and there is no such thing as a "kind" master.

To go off on a rant, I am so tired of that legend of the "kind" master  and the "happy" slave being used as a defense of the south. I see it all the time-whenever there is a news story about the Confederate flag, someone invariably comments that we "Yankees" who live up North (amazing how they always assume I'm from up north when I disagree with displays of the flag on private property, this despite the fact that my family has lived in the south since before the American Revolution, owned slaves, and fought for the Confederacy-as if the lives of ancestors I never met are going to change my moral views) just don't understand that lots of slaves were well treated and that so many African Americans fought for the Confederacy (fact check-the number of African American men who fought for the south by choice can't be determined, but it was an extremely small percentage according to every academic source I have ever consulted).

Not a history book. Just an extremely biased work of fiction. You would never know that to see certain comments on Facebook.

Do I think there were slave owners who didn't kill and maim their slaves? Sure. Do I think there were some slaves and masters who formed complicated emotional bonds, like say the children who grew up side by side?  Sure. The human heart is a strange thing and knows no bounds on love-for example, Frederick Douglas wrote to the master he ran away from asking about the children of that master, since he had grown up with them. He told his master that he loved him but hated slavery. I'm not going to write that off completely.

This is from a later period, but my point still stands. I can't say for sure how that woman feels toward that white child in her lap-I know that her lack of a smile isn't necessarily because of the child, people didn't usually smile in photographs back then. She might love this child; she might hate this child. I think it's likely that the feelings are mixed. On the one hand, it is hard to hate a small baby. On the other hand, she's busy raising this child for a life of privilege while her own children, if she has any, are being raised to be slaves. Either way, don't see this and think that the Mammy myth is accurate.

But that's the kicker isn't it? Douglas still hated being a slave, no matter how much affection he felt for the children of his master. No matter how complicated those bonds might be, slavery is such a fundamental robbery of human dignity that it is inherently wrong, no matter what the conditions of that slavery might be. Slave masters abused their slaves by default, because to hold someone in bondage at all is abuse, even if you don't kill them or beat them. There is no "benign" slavery. There's just perhaps different degrees of cruelty, and I like Felicity and Ben enough to say that perhaps they weren't the absolute worst slave owners. And again, I wouldn't judge them by the same standards that I would judge myself.

Remember her? They might have called her a "servant" but it was obvious that she was a slave. There might have been some love between her and Felicity, but any relationship in which the adult calls the child "Miss Felicity" and the child responds by just using the first name of the adult is bound to be tainted. Rosa likely had a hand in raising Felicity and perhaps had those same mixed feelings towards her that I described above. Don't mistake her politeness for friendliness-she has to be friendly, she is a slave.

The Merrimans owned slaves, it was right there in the books. They didn't outright call them slaves in the stories, but it was heavily implied and outright confirmed in some of the material. Again, no judgment against them-different historical times, different codes of morality. I'm just tired of these myths coming back to be used as a defense for racism.

Felicity died in 1800 at the age of 35. She died, like many women did in her day, of childbirth, and the baby was stillborn. Ben never remarried but instead ran the store on his own. He lived a comparably long life, dying at the age of 50.

And what of Elizabeth? When the American Revolution ended with the colonists victorious, the Coles decided to remain in America. They wanted to leave after the treatment they were given by the colonists, but Annabelle had married an American man, and Loyalists who had created roots in the colonies were unlikely to be among the perhaps 10% of Loyalists who left.

Elizabeth went on to marry a plantation owner named James in Virginia-since her family was wealthier, she was destined to marry into the ever wealthier aristocracy that was quickly developing in the south. Just like Felicity and Ben, she owned slaves, though she owned a great deal more. Felicity visited the plantation from time to time, but it was a bit of a difference from York. Their friendship was mostly conducted through letter.

Unfortunately, Elizabeth died very early on from illness when she was only in her twenties. She had only given birth to three girls-Felicity, Charlotte, and Annabelle (she became closer with her sister as they grew older). Even though James remarried, Felicity still took an active role in the lives of Elizabeth's three girls.

Felicity never quite recovered from the death of her best friend. Though she had a loving husband, a family, and a successful business, things were never quite the same once Elizabeth was gone. Later, George, Felicity's son, married Elizabeth's youngest daughter Annabelle. In that way, Felicity and Elizabeth had mutual grandchildren and their friendship was honored in that way.

Until the day she died, Felicity would always remember how she and Elizabeth promised to be "faithful friends" forever. They kept that promise, despite differences in wealth, class, location, and ideology.


  1. Love this spin on the Felicity story and their friendship continuing on through their children.

    1. Thanks! I like thinking that my female friends and I will have children who marry, giving us mutual grandkids. My kids might have arranged marriages :)

  2. The thing with age expectancy is it's more of an average among all infants, not a "average age of death" thing. I used to think it was the other way too. What really brought average life expectancy down was young deaths. Generally if you could get past ten, you'd make it to 70. So with so many children keeling over from everything from "germs" to "fell in the fire", the live expectancy was pulled down. A life expectancy of 35 was more accurate to say "out of these six babies, half of them will die before age one and half will live to 70+."

    I learned that here:

  3. The interesting thing is that I just learned that as well, like a week ago, but from a book! Oh well, I guess all the characters die young. I'm obviously morbid lol. I guess all the characters from Addy on will have longer lives.

  4. Very interesting points you made about the slavery thing. (I like how you don't sanitize the past, because just because you enjoy history doesn't mean you can't admit that it sucked sometimes.) Yes, there were slave owners who were decent to their slaves - meaning not terribly cruel, not beating and raping them - but at the end of the day it's a case of "Not As Big A Jerk As You Could Have Been."

    1. Thank you! I actually really thought this out (and really thought out Kirsten's reactions to other Native Americans that she may have encountered).

      I think a big plus in depicting beloved characters doing morally bad things is that it acts as a morality lesson, and one which I think we often miss. People who are villains and do bad things don't think they are the bad guys-they've justified it somehow. Usually.

      It's very easy to look at the people doing these awful things and write them off as unfeeling monsters-because it distances the realities from us and takes away our own moral responsibilities. Acknowledging the humanity of the perpetrators means that we have to reflect on what we are doing that, despite our good intentions, is harming others.

      In 500 years, if I become famous which is doubtful, I promise that people are going to judge me for horrible things that I am doing. I have no idea what they will be judging me for but keeping that in mind forces me to grapple with the injustices that I inflict on others. It doesn't allow me to become morally lazy.

      So while I don't know how appropriate that would have been for kids (it would smack too much of romanticizing slavery), I do think adults can and should handle nuance.