Pelagie Farribault’s Island: Marriage and the American State in Early Nineteenth-Century Dakota Country

Lecture Description

In 1820, Pelagie Farribault, a Dakota woman, received ownership of an island in at the junction of the Mississippi and St. Peter’s Rivers in a Dakota-U.S. treaty. Pelagie’s presence in the document tells us a complicated story. While treaties were instruments of imperial expansion in the hands of the U.S. government, this treaty also indicated – through Pelagie – the strength of the cultural systems already in place in the region, and the ability of native and mixed-heritage individuals to frustrate the transformation of Indian country into an American state. In Euro-American law and custom, Pelagie should not have received land in her own right. But she did, and she not only received it but maintained ownership over it even as Euro-Americans became more populous in the region and insisted that a married woman of French and Indian ancestry should own nothing at all. As late as 1858, the United States government paid Pelagie’s heirs $12,000 for the land. It is through Pelagie’s life, and the lives of other women like her, relegated to the fringes of the documentary record, that we discover a more complex story than many conventional histories allow.


Family Women

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