Sanders, Elizabeth Elkins

views updated

SANDERS, Elizabeth Elkins

Born 12 August 1762, Salem, Massachusetts; died 19 February 1851, Salem, Massachusetts

Daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth White Elkins; married Thomas Sanders, 1782, children: four daughters and two sons

Elizabeth Elkins Sanders came from a family of well-to-do colonial merchants, and, at the age of twenty, she married Thomas Sanders, who was to become one of Salem's most successful businessmen. They had four daughters and two sons. Sanders attended the First Unitarian Church of Salem.

Sanders was sixty-six when she wrote her first pamphlet, a plea for compassion for Native Americans entitled Conversations, Principally on the Aborigines of North America (1828). This unsigned essay is written in the form of a dialogue between a mother and her young daughter. Its publication coincided with the presidential nomination of Andrew Jackson, who sanctioned the confiscation of Native American lands. Sanders writes of the atrocities committed by federal troops against such tribes as the Creeks of Georgia, and suggests true Christians would not condone these acts. The pamphlet also includes a detailed survey of Native American culture, from Mexico to the Great Lakes. Sanders emphasizes the Native Americans' skill in medicine and agriculture. Her information was drawn from her extensive reading. The following year she wrote a second pamphlet on Native American rights, The First Settlers of New England (1829).

During the next 15 years, many of Sanders's articles, book reviews, and letters appeared in New England newspapers. She did not resume writing pamphlets, however, until she was eighty-two, with Tract on Missions (1844). This was followed by Second Part of a Tract on Missions (1845) and Remarks on the "Tour Around Hawaii," by the, Missionaries, Messrs. Ellis, Thurston, and Goodrich (1848). These essays convey her distrust of most foreign missionaries. In the last, Sanders cites Melville's statement that they converted native peoples, not into Christians, but "into beasts of burden." Sanders fears Europeans will destroy the natives' way of life in the Pacific islands, as they had done in the Caribbean during the 16th century. It is her belief that future generations will not feel that too little had been done for foreigners, but instead will regret "the golden opportunity has been lost…to perpetuate and improve our institutions, which it is feared are rapidly on the decline."

Sanders's writing style is characterized by its directness. She refers to Andrew Jackson as "a second Robespierre" and plainly states her distaste for what she calls "the gloomy doctrines" and "appalling formulas" of Calvinism. Undaunted by the refusal of her contemporaries to accept her values, this woman of advanced years persisted in voicing her concern for oppressed peoples.


Reference works:

Critical Dictionary of English Literature (1872). Dictionary of American Authors (1905). NAW.


About this article

Sanders, Elizabeth Elkins

Updated About content Print Article