Miss Green Stockings

Eleanor Porden’s Valentine poem, which was posted by my colleague Lien earlier today, in which Eleanor imagines herself as a young native American girl, does go somewhat beyond the  usual ‘Roses Are Red, Violets Are Blue’ school of poetry. It suggests a young woman deserted by a faithless lover: though “the Night of the Grave” closes in on her, she still yearns for one who has calmly and cruelly left her; he will most likely fall for one of his own kind, one of “the daughters of Albion”, with their blue eyes and blond hair; the very thought of it causes emotions of vengeance and rage in her, but, no matter, if he returns, all will be well; she will gather together any “dainties” or animals he might want to eat, and the elements will no longer be against him, and even the ice will be swept from his path. All very Romantic with a capital R.

The circumstances surrounding the subject of the poem, however, have a darker side to them in reality. The poem has been called ‘The Miss Green Stockings’ poem, and it was named after a real person. She was known as Green Stockings after the way she dressed, and she was the daughter of an old “Copper Indian” guide, Keskarrah. They were among a party of native people, with whom Franklin and his fellow Arctic land expedition members spent several months during the winter of 1820-1821 at Fort Enterprise. This was an encampment built for Franklin and his party at the junction of Yellow Knife River and Coppermine River in north east Canada to see out the harsh winter conditions.

Keskarrah and Green Stockings, from John Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, published 1823

Franklin, in his published account of the expedition “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, went so far as to call Green Stockings fascinating, and records that she was considered a great beauty by her tribe. She was described by him as being an “object of contest” between her countrymen, and although she was under the age of sixteen, she had already belonged to two husbands. She was, however, not only an “object of contest” with her own countrymen but also with members of Franklin’s own expedition. Two of his midshipmen, Robert Hood and George Back, fell in love with her, and the competition between them to gain her affections was so intense that they would have fought a duel over her, had not another of the expedition members, John Hebburn, sensibly removed the charges from their guns. When Back volunteered to go on a trip to another fort to gather more supplies, it gave Hood the opportunity to take Green Stockings into his bed, which he duly took. The information on the love rivalry does come not from Franklin himself, unsurprisingly, but from the later reminiscences of Hebburn.

Robert Hood was himself the person responsible for providing the image we have of her. Artistic skills were valued on such voyages of discovery to record the landscapes, fauna, flaura and peoples of the places they went to. Both Back and Hood used much of their time to sketch and draw. Several of both men’s drawings ended up as plates to illustrate Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea” when it was published after his return. A number of the native people encountered on their travels ended up being depicted in it, including Green Stockings, whose portrayal was said by Franklin to be accurate.

When the expedition set off again to carry out its mission of exploration and mapping, it ultimately ended in tragedy, with the loss of 11 lives (out of a total of 20 men). Starvation was the primary cause for most of the deaths. Food was in desperately short supply in the harsh Arctic conditions, and men were forced to resort to the most desperate of measures. Tripe de roche (lichen) was the order of the day, which did provide some nutrition in spite of its being literally difficult to stomach, and people also ate the leather of old moccasins, shoes made from the skins of deer or moose, for the same reason. Franklin himself did, of course, become known as The Man Who Ate His Shoes.

Robert Hood was one of those to die, but his end was actually much more violent one. He was shot in the head on 21 October 1821 by Michel Terohaute, one of the expedition’s French ‘voyageurs’ (boatmen employed to transport goods and people). He was avenged soon enough by the expedition’s surgeon, John Richardson, who took the earliest opportunity available to summarily shoot Terohaute dead. He strongly suspected him of not only having caused Hood’s death but also possibly those of other members of the party who might or might not have been cannibalised. Hood had been in a wretched state of health at the time of his death, so it is likely that he would not have survived for much longer. He died without knowing that Green Stockings had been delivered of a daughter by him.

Silhouette of Robert Hood

As appeared in a later edition of Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, edition published 1829

There would be an ironic twist in the tale. George Back would return to the Arctic on several more expeditions. In the spring of 1834 he was in command of another land expedition, which, as it was making its way north, he came across a group of native North Americans. Among them he recognised the familiar figure of Green Stockings. When he called out her name, she laughed back and said she was an old woman (she would still have been in her late twenties and regarded as a great beauty). It now became the turn of Hood’s love-rival to take the opportunity to draw Green Stockings, who was pleased to sit for him.

 

As appeared in a later edition of Franklin’s “A Journey to the Shores of the Polar Sea”, edition published 1829

4 thoughts on “Miss Green Stockings

    • This is the passage from Back’s Narrative (published in 1836) which relates to her:
      In the midst of one of these groups was my old acquaintance and Indian belle, who will be remembered by the readers of Sir J. Franklin’s narrative under the name of Green Stockings. Though surrounded by a family, with one urchin in her cloak clinging to her back, and sundry other maternal accompaniments, I immediately recognised her, and called her by name; at which she laughed, and said “she was an old woman now,” – begging, at the same time, that she might be relieved by the “medicine man, for she was very much out of health.” However, notwithstanding all this, she was still the beauty of her tribe; and with all consciousness which belongs to all belles, savage or polite, seemed by no means displeased when I sketched her portrait.

      You would like to think Hood’s child was still with her. She obviously must have been a tough person to survive the way she had with a number of children in care for. Quite how bad her health was can only be guessed at, but I dare say she survived for quite a while yet..

    • I do wonder that as well! I am hoping very much that someone out there will be able to provide the answer or point us in the right direction.

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