"A grave and gracious woman": Deaf people and signed language in colonial New England

Breda Carty*, Susannah Macready, Edna Edith Sayers

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


This article discusses a new source about the lives of deaf people in the first century of the American colonies - Increase Mather's An Essay for the Recording of Illustrious Providences (1684). One of the chapters in his Essay describes a signing deaf couple, Sarah and Matthew Pratt. Born in 1628 and 1640, they lived several decades before the first record of a signing deaf person on Martha's Vineyard. This source gives new insights into the use of signed language in colonial New England, and the way laypeople went about educating deaf children before deaf education became the job of "experts". Sarah and Matthew Pratt seem to have had a high level of participation in the Puritan community at Weymouth, Massachusetts, throughout their lives. Mather also discusses a wide range of international sources on deaf people's education, communication and spirituality, giving us a unique picture of what people knew about deafness in the seventeenth century, and showing that even mainstream writers were starting to become interested in deaf people. This is a valuable new source which contributes to the history of deaf education, sign language linguistics, and broader cultural history.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-323
Number of pages37
JournalSign Language Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2009
Externally publishedYes


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