Kenneth McNeil

Roots/Routes: Scottish Connections in Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

Much recent criticism on Mary Seacole’s Wonderful Adventures charts the complex negotiation of race, gender, and nationality in her account, describing her subjectivity as alternately hybrid, liminal, or creolized, as she both resists and is complicit in imperial ideologies of the self. Yet this criticism has generally ignored or elided Seacole’s Scottishness, collapsing it—even as it draws attention to her claims of having “good Scotch blood”—as the British/white/colonizer, (and even “English”) aspect of her identity. Such a reading obscures the unique condition of subjectivity shaped on the margins of empire, and the transperipheral connections that brought Seacole’s Scottish father to Jamaica and Seacole herself to the Crimean war theater. At the same time, because Seacole’s Scottishness crosses both imperial spatial and racial boundaries, she represents an alternative to a Scottish imperial subject who, in many recent accounts, is white and, for the most part, male, standing in contrast to the non-white colonials whom they play a key role in subjugating.

My paper highlights two key elements in the making of Seacole’s imperial subjectivity. One is the importance of imperial networks—routes—as Seacole’s self-identity is shaped by the particular Scottish Atlantic networks that brought her father to Jamaica and that also conditioned her career as a globetrotting nurse/doctress and sutler. The other is the importance Seacole herself places on blood and kinship—roots—as the foundation for her investment as a citizen of the British empire. Her claim to a Scottish ancestry speaks both to a legacy of intimacy between Scots and free and enslaved blacks in the Caribbean and to the unique preoccupations and cultural politics of black and brown society in post-emancipation Jamaica.

Kenneth McNeil, Eastern Connecticut State University, USA