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“To Ensure that He Not Give Himself Over to the Indians”: Cleanliness, Frenchification, and Whiteness

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image of Journal of Early American History

In 1739, when the voyageur Jean Saguingouara entered into a contract for a trip from the Illinois Country to New Orleans and back, he negotiated for his laundry costs to be paid on arrival in New Orleans. This was an unusual contractual clause that was especially significant for the fact that Saguingouara was half-French and half-Indian, and had been brought up by an officer of noble origin legally married to an Indian woman convert. Saguingouara’s insistence on a laundry clause signaled his performance of European standards of cleanliness (premised on the act of changing into laundered linen rather than washing the body) rather than indigenous ones. This concept of cleanliness is also crucial for understanding how colonists apprehended indigenous bodies and how they rationalized differences in skin color. Bodily care practices helped construct identity and whiteness, revealing how racialization depended on material culture.

Affiliations: 1: University of Notre Dame, E-mail:


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