la-me-hood-sisters-mural-pictures-20141013[A beautiful bilingual mural painted by the HOODsisters collective in Pacoima in honour of Toypurina. Photograph found on the LATimes website]

Today’s HHBlog post is dedicated to someone who probably most people in the USA have not heard of in their mainstream public history education, Toypurina. Toypurina, born in 1761, was a Tongva medicine woman and resistance fighter from the village of Jachivit. In 1771, at the age of ten, Toypurina’s world would be drastically changed when the San Gabriel Mission was founded in present day California, just kilometres from her home village. She spent the next several years of her life living within the world of these Spanish missionaries and soldiers, alongside countless other Indigenous neophytes. At the age of twenty-four Toypurina helped lead the warriors of approximately seven villages in rebellion against the San Gabriel Mission on October 25, 1785.

The rebellion was quickly put down by the San Gabriel Mission’s guards, and all involved were subjected to twenty-five lashes of the whip and roughly twenty of the Indigenous warriors were imprisoned, including Toypurina. When Toypurina was put on trial she is quoted in the work of Kelly Lytle Hernández as having said that she was “angry with the Padres and with all of those of this Mission because they had come to live and establish themselves in her land.” The Mission found her guilty of insurrection, after which she spent two years imprisoned and then was banished from her homelands in the Tongva Basin (part of present-day Los Angeles). During her time imprisoned at the Mission, her name appears in the baptismal records, with a new name, Regina, given to her. It is unclear whether or not she converted willingly, but her Indigenous husband did not convert. They were forced to annul.

Following her banishment, she lived in exile at the San Carlos Borromeo Mission of Carmel, where she partnered with a soldier named Manuel. In 1799, after having birthed four children in exile, Toypurina passed away.

Here at the HHBlog, we raise our fists and tip our hats to Toypurina and all the Indigenous women of Turtle Island who have fought tooth and nail against the multilayered colonialisms that have carved new borders and wrought new violences on these lands.

~ M


Hernández, Kelly Lytle. City of Inmates: Conquest, Rebellion, and the Rise of Human Caging in Los Angeles, 1771-1965. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

Rasmussen, Cecilia. “Shaman and Freedom-Fighter Led Indians’ Mission Revolt.” June 10, 2001. Accessed December 15, 2017.


Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita

It’s the third Friday of Black History Month, and in that spirit we’re highlighting another lesser-known black historical figure. This week, it’s Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita, a Kongolese noblewoman, prophet and religious-political leader.

Beatriz was born to noble parents in the Kingdom of Kongo (present-day Angola) in 1684. Europeans had disseminated Catholicism throughout the kingdom about two centuries before, and Beatriz was raised Catholic, but she did not take a passive role in her religion. She did not accept Catholicism as Europeans presented it. Instead, she promoted a Kongolese brand of Catholicism.

During Beatriz’s lifetime, Kongo was in a state of civil war that dated back to Portuguese military upheaval of the region in the 1660s. In 1704, Beatriz underwent a powerful spiritual experience that led her to assume a prominent role in the conflict as a religious and political leader. While ailing in 1704, Beatriz reported having visions of St. Anthony. These culminated in what she called her death: St. Anthony now occupied the body that once belonged to Beatriz, who had been trained as an nganga marinda, a community member who interacts with the supernatural realm in the interest of the community at large. In the body of an African woman, St. Anthony claimed to have a special and interpersonal relationship with God, who commanded that Kongo must be a united kingdom with one ruler. “The Kongolese Saint Anthony” (as they are called by biographer, John Thrornton) appealed to two of Kongo’s kings, but neither heeded the message. Having failed on this score, the Kongolese St. Anthony amassed a peaceful following and occupied São Salvador, the former capital.

In addition to sending missionaries out with their message, the Kongolese St. Anthony created their own religious doctrine, which they asserted was Catholic, but of a specifically Kongolese kind. They rewrote both the Ave Maria and Salve Regina (Salve Antoniana) to reflect Kongolese spiritual needs and priorities. And, particularly noteworthy this month, the Kongolese St. Anthony not only refuted that there were no existing black saints and insisted that Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other major Christian figures were in fact Kongolese, but also admonished priests who argued otherwise.

Predictably, the Kongolese St. Anthony, having undermined the authority of various established powers in the region, was executed for heresy by those loyal to one of the Kongolese kings in 1706. Though their life was cut short, the Kongolese St. Anthony’s approach to religion is an important reminder that, though European colonisers brutally enforced their ways among colonised and/or converted peoples, this process was not just passively received. On the contrary, colonised and/or converted peoples not only reshaped religious movements and doctrine to suit their own ways of knowing, believing and being, but also influenced the ways of life of the very peoples that sought to repress them.




Alexander Ives Bortolot, Dona Beatriz: Kongo Prophet, In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2001-.) (October 2003; accessed 19 February 2016).

John Thornton, The Kongolese Saint Anthony: Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita and the Antonian Movement, 1684-1706 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

Dona Beatriz Kimpa Vita

Elizabeth Caton

In 1732, Elizabeth Caton was tried for stealing a watch from a gentleman identified as C. B. Caton’s trial is typical of contemporary English pickpocketing cases. To begin, the defendant was a woman and the prosecutor (who, in the contemporary criminal justice system, was also the victim) was a man. In addition, although the charge was for theft and not soliciting sex (which was not strictly illegal at the time), sex nonetheless featured most prominently in the testimonies. C. B. alleged that Caton had lured him into a pub under the guise of sharing her company, all the while intending to filch whatever she could. In her defence, Caton testifed that C. B. took her to a private room, offered her money for sex (to which she admitted to acquiescing out of financial necessity) and asked that she “go and fetch some Rods to whip him.” C. B. denied this, but the judge was sceptical. He asked C. B. outright if he was in the habit of “pick[ing] up Women, and carry[ing] them into a private Room without any Design?” The jury was equally unimpressed; the record shows that Caton was acquitted despite having been discovered with the stolen watch concealed on her person.

Caton’s crime was a capital one.* Considering the gravity of the situation, it initially seems surprising that Caton chose to discuss sex unabashedly in her defence. As a poor, early eighteenth-century English woman, Caton’s character (her credibility, her employability) hinged on her reputation for chastity. Yet she did talk about selling sex, and it is this choice, not her theft, that gives her some features of a historical hottie.

Eighteenth-century England had jury trials. And, since there were property restrictions controlling jury eligibility, juries were comprised mostly of men of the middling sort. Like today, most defendants came from the working classes, and were thus tried by their “social superiors.” Certainly, this was the case with Caton, who discussed her poverty openly. Within this judicial system, Caton’s options were: 1) to convince the jury that she was reputable, or 2) that C. B. was even less reputable than she. Caton recognised this and worked the system to her advantage by giving testimony that cast doubt on C. B.’s sexual reputation. She accused him outright of harbouring sadomasochisitic desires. Or, in the eyes of contemporaries, of outlandishly subverting the social order by allowing a woman, especially a “socially inferior” one, to dominate him.

It is important to be mindful that, although Caton benefitted in the courtroom by defaming the sexual morality of C.B., she was also tarnished by the mutual sexual defamation. Nevertheless, she played a patriarchal and deeply status-based judicial system against itself. By convincing a jury of her “social superiors” that a gentleman—a man with the responsibility to exemplify goodly morality to his social inferiors—had fostered this kind of disorderly behaviour, she used repressive tropes to her own advantage and saved her life.


*Judicial discretion in this era was notorious, however women thieves were sometimes hanged, imprisoned or transported to penal colonies, so it was by no means a foregone conclusion that a pardon, full or otherwise would be forthcoming.


OBPO, 14 January 1732, trial of Elizabeth Caton, (accessed 4 December 2015).

John M. Beattie, Crime and the Courts in England, 1660-1800 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), 35.

Olwen Hufton, The Prospect Before Her: A History of Women in Early Modern Europe (London: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 267-269.

John H. Langbein, “The Criminal Trial Before the Lawyers,” University of Chicago Law Review 45, no. 2 (Winter 1978): 305.

———. The Origins of Adversary Criminal Trial. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Robert B. Shoemaker, Prosecution and Punishment: Petty Crime and the Law in London and Rural Middlesex, c. 1660-1725 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991),

Elizabeth Caton

The Publick Universal Friend

This image is in the public domain.
This image is in the public domain.

Think challenging social conventions surrounding sex and gender is the province of twentieth and twenty-first-century people? Allow me to introduce you to Jemima Wilkinson/the Publick Universal Friend.

In 1752 Wilkinson was born in the colony of Rhode Island, the traditional land of the Narragansett, Niantic and Wampanoag peoples* (listed alphabetically), into a family of strict Quakers (the colloquial name for the Society of Friends). In 1776, Wilkinson took ill and apparently succumbed to some mystery sickness. While Jemima Wilkinson was no more, her body remained alive, but it was become host to a new spirit sent by God. The Publick Universal Friend emerged from her sick/death bed.**

Despite occupying Wilkinson’s body, the Friend did not affiliate with any sex or gender. To enforce this, the Friend eschewed the use of gendered pronouns and wore voluminous, black, gender-neutralising clothing, garments which also suited the Friend’s vocation as a preacher. Indeed, the Friend had not entered Wilkinson’s vacated body simply to upset conventions around sex and gender. The Friend’s mission was a religious one: to preach adherence to a very strict interpretation of the Ten Commandments, apocalypticism, perfect friendship among all human beings and complete sexual abstinence. This last message challenged the traditional Protestant view that marriage and procreation were highly important, since celibacy was the precursor to sins of the flesh wrought by repression of human carnality.

It is worthwhile here to note that the Friend enjoyed a position of relative privilege when it came to self-comportment and to spreading God’s message. In essence, the Friend used Jemima’s body and her social standing among New England’s more radical Christians (i.e., colonisers) to espouse a religious message that was not indigenous to the continent’s original peoples. Indeed, the Friend effectively preached equality to audiences whose very presence in New England came at the expense of the territory’s indigenous peoples. This is not to suggest that The Friend’s message was disingenuous, nor that it was wholeheartedly welcomed.

Predictably, the notion of a “woman” preaching and directing the religious lives of others ruffled the feathers of many contemporaries. However, the Publick Universal Friend did not become persona non grata; the Friend remained in the embrace of Wilkinson’s family (despite regarding them no more as relations than any other human beings) and quickly developed a considerable following. Many attended The Friend’s public sermons and sought out the Friend for religious direction. Pamphlets that contained print-versions of the Friend’s sermons were also very popular, though, it should be noted, these pamphlets also highlighted the Friend’s unconventional genderlessness. The Friend, rich in followers, ultimately founded a religious settlement in the state of New York (originally home to the Abenaki, Cayuga, Erie, Laurentian, Mohawk, Mohican, Mohegan, Munsee Delaware, Oneida, Onondaga, Poospatuck/Unkechaug and Seneca peoples*).

The Publick Universal Friend openly flouted—indeed, transcended—late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century conceptions of gender. For this, and for preaching ceaselessly the message of perfect friendship among all human beings, the Publick Universal Friend definitely qualifies as a historical hottie.

~ Spirit

*According to

**There is controversy around Wilkinson’s illness and death (spiritual and physically), but this piece adheres to the Friend’s version of events.


Bronski, Michael. A Queer History of the United States. Boston: Beacon Press, 2011.

Wisbey Jr., Herbert A. Pioneer Prophetess: Jemima Wilkinson, the Publick Universal Friend. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1965.

The Publick Universal Friend