They Gets a Bad Name by the Widow: Dinah Sisson’s Disbanding of the Free African Union Society

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Recovering the voices of 18th-century African-American women can be a difficult task since few primary sources were intended to document their lives.  Elyssa Tardif will explore this topic during her lecture “They Gets a Bad Name by the Widow”: Dinah Sisson’s Disbanding of the Free African Union Society.

This talk will explore how unconventional genres can help us to recover voices of individuals like Dinah Sisson, a free African-American woman who lived in 18th-century Newport. After her husband dies, Dinah Sisson attempts to reclaim the money she believes the Free African Union Society owes to her and her late husband, a former member. When the Free African Union Society claims that, in fact, the Sissons owe money to them, Dinah launches a smear campaign that results in the Society’s disbanding. The minutes of the Free African Union Society, although intended for other purposes, provide us with a glimpse of a woman whose strongly voiced opinions wreaked havoc on some of the most respected members of Newport’s African-American community.

Elyssa Tardif, Ph.D., is the Director of the Newell D. Goff Center for Education and Public Programs at the Rhode Island Historical Society.  Previously she taught Composition and American Literature at Purdue University. Her dissertation project explores unconventional genres that uncover the voices of marginalized 18th-century New England women.