Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Retouching History

(Images in this post via unless otherwise noted.)

If you are in the mood for a little righteous anger this morning, head over to, where Jerome Handler and Michael Tuite have documented a disturbing example of how some Confederate sympathizers have used Photoshop to distort documents relating to the service of African-Americans in the Civil War. (Also check out Handler and Tuite's other project, "The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas: A Visual Record.")

The above image was widely distributed as a recruitment tool and is based on a photograph of African-American federal troops taken in Philadelphia around 1864:
There are several details that confirm that these are Union soldiers. First, the white officer is clearly dressed in a US Army uniform. Second, several of the soldiers are wearing US belt buckles and eagle breast plates, the former most visible on the sixth private from the left, the latter on the bearded soldier at center-right. Third, they are wearing Union insignia, including company letters and infantry horn insignia, on their forage caps (see the fifth private from the left).

But wait, I thought that Union soldiers wore dark blue. Why are their coats so light?
Behold, the Union military-issue great coat:
Ok, so we've shown pretty conclusively that these are UNION soldiers. But hey, if you crop out the officer, blur the insignia, add some misleading text, you get the first and only photograph of the fabled 1st Louisiana Native Guard, CSA!
After that, make some prints, slap it on a website, and all of your neo-Confederate friends can pat themselves on the back, knowing that the South was always more righteous than the North and the war had nothing to do with slavery.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From the Archives

Well, ok, not really this is not really from "the archives," unless you count Google Books.

In my wanderings, I came across an 1864 book called Songs of the Soldiers that includes the fabulous "Marching Song of the First Arkansas," which the editor attributes to Capt. Lindley Miller. Miller, a white officer, served with the 1st Arkansas U.S.C.T and is said to have written the song, though his comments suggest that he may have transcribed and submitted it rather than authoring it. The editor includes this footnote:
Captain Miller says the "boys" sing the song on dress-parade with an effect which can hardly be described; and he adds that, "while it is not very conservative, it will do to fight with."
While it is possible that Miller wrote the song either alone or in collaboration with some of his comrades, these remarks seem to indicate that he heard his troops singing, thought the song was worth writing down, and sent his version to the editors of the book. If this is indeed the case, I wonder whether there may have been other, even less "conservative," verses that Miller either did not hear or did not transcribe. Oh, to be a fly on that parade ground!

Look past the dialect and see the power, anger, and pride:

Marching Song of the First Arkansas

OH! we're de bully soldiers ob de "First of Arkansas,"
We are fightin' for de Union, we are fightin' for de law,
We can hit a Rebel furder dan a white man eber saw,
As we go marchin' on.

Glory, glory, hallelujah, &c.

See dar! above de center, where de flag is wavin bright,
We are goin' out of slavery; we are bound for Freedom's light,
We mean to show Jeff Davis how de Africans can fight!
As we go marchin' on.

We hab done wid hoein' cotton, we hab done wid hoein' corn,
We are colored Yankee soldiers now, as sure as you are born;
When de massas hear us yellin' dey'll tink its Gabriel's horn,
As we go marchin' on.

Dey will had to pay us wages, de wages ob their sin,
Dey will had to bow their foreheads to their colored kith and kin,
Dey will had to give us house-room, or de roof shall tumble in!
As we go marchin' on.

We heard de proclamation, massa hush it as he will;
De bird he sing it to us, hoppin' on de cotton-hill,
And de possum up de gum tree, he could n't keep it still,
As he went climbing on.

Dey said, "Now colored bredren, you shall be forever free,
From de first ob January, eighteen hundred sixty-three;"
We heard it in de riber goin' rushin' to de sea,
As it went soundin' on.

Father Abraham has spoken, and de message has been sent,
De prison-doors he opened, and out de pris'ners went,
To join de sable army ob de "African descent,"
As we go marchin' on.

Den fall in, colored bredren, you'd better do it soon;
Don't you hear de drum a beatin' de Yankee Doodle tune?
We are wid you now dis mornin', we'll be far away at noon,
As we go marchin' on.

My favorite line is from verse 6: "We heard it in de riber goin' rushin' to de sea." Although this could mean many things, and is, in part, a continuation of the natural imagery in verse 5, I think this line could also be read as referring to the "river" of self-emancipating slaves who heard about the Emancipation Proclamation when they were already part of an unstoppable movement.

What I like best about this song is that is far cleverer than most of the musical dreck that was published during the Civil War. Most of the songs and poems of the period were pretentious, glib schlock, but this song has more than one wry turn of phrase. My favorite is, "Dey will had to pay us wages, de wages ob their sin," which starts out as simple declaration of the privileges of free labor, and then pivots on the synonym and ends Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death." They'll take their money with a side of righteous revenge, thankyouverymuch.

Wordplay aside, the song's imagery is powerful. In verses 5 and 6, the whole world seems to be rejoicing over emancipation. I also like the image of floods of freemen streaming out of prison and straight to the recruitment office.

After finding this, I seemed to remember hearing a recording of this song many years ago. I poked around a little and found an mp3 on iTunes from Sparky and Rhonda Rucker's "The Blue and Gray in Black and White." As soon as I heard it, I recognized it - my parents must have a copy of the cassette somewhere. Check it out - it's worth hearing.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Puritan Name Award

Today's Puritan Name Award goes to

Dr. Cotton Tufts

of Weymouth, Massachusetts.

Although Dr. Tufts (1734-1815) was born in the 18th century, his name made me giggle, so he merits an honorable mention. I know you New Englanders want to honor the great men of your regional history, but if your last name is "Tufts," don't you think you'd stay away from "Cotton"?

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lee as Christ

by Clyde Broadway
Ogden Museum of Southern Art

I love this painting. With its allusions to Latin American religious icons, its succinct encapsulation of white Southern cultural identity, and its commentary on the relationship between history and myth, this is a striking and witty piece. At least, that's how I'm interpreting it. Is there a Poe's law corollary for neo-Confederates?

As I've been researching my paper on Confederate monuments, I keep running into Lee-as-Christ imagery. Here are a few choice words from Confederate Veteran Leigh Robinson's speech at the 1917 dedication of the Virginia monument at Gettysburg:
At the crisis of federal history, and of [Lee's] own, two crowns were offered to him, the crown of gold and the crow of thorns. He lifted the latter to his brow, and never was heard from him a murmur against the destiny of duty. Every gift of fortune had been showered on him, but he was greater than the gifts. Every blow of adversity was rained upon him, but he was greater than the blows.
It's not just Lee who is Christ-like — for Robinson, the whole Southern cause can be understood as a persecuted, yet gentle, savior:
It is my cherished faith that what is true of Lee is true of the cause we served, which pierced with wounds for us is sacred; and crowned with thorns for us is holy.
And, of course, for every Jesus, there is a Pontius Pilate:
Few things could be more sardonic than the crucifixion of Virginia by New England, with the approbation of Old England, for the sin of slavery.
And what of slavery, that most benevolent of institutions?
If the service of the slave had been compulsory, it was a compulsion which had liberated from degradation. The white man by his works had said to the black man at his back: "Brought to me by others as you have been, it is my part to afford the discipline, which, of yourselves, you are unable to acquire. The universe abandons you. I will protect and direct."
Yes, that's exactly how it happened.

The deeper I get into this Lost Cause stuff, the creepier it gets.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Stonewall Jackson: The Black Man's Friend

Submitted without comment.

Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves

From my recent posts, the casual reader might conclude that I have not been reading very much lately. Fear not, dear reader: my single-handed conquest of Widener's stacks continues, one moldy page at a time.

Today, in preparation for my upcoming paper on the monumental landscape of the Gettysburg battlefield, I am reading Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in Nineteenth-Century America by Kirk Savage (1997).

Savage has one basic point, which he makes persuasively: the post-war memorial landscape of the Civil War reinforced ideal American manhood as white, powerful, and independent by ignoring or subjugating the black body, particularly the bodies of black soldiers, in sculpture. In seven short, readable chapters, Savage discusses representations of the African-American body in antebellum art (both high and popular), monumental representations of slavery and emancipation, and commemoration of the ideal citizen-soldier. Throughout, Savage calls attention to moments of possibility and foreclosure, and explores the complex cultural work done by public monuments.

I thought that this was a great book and would recommend it to anyone who ever marched in a Memorial Day parade, visited a marble monument in Washington, D.C., or took a trip to Gettysburg with the Boy Scouts. Monuments are so familiar to us that we seldom stop to ask what work they are doing. Even though Savage is working within fairly standard frameworks of cultural history, I almost felt like I was reading an exposé: Does the seemingly benign memorial on your town greed have a sinister secret? The shocking truth revealed tonight at 11.

I found Savage's accessible explanations of classical sculptural referents particularly helpful. Since I have very little formal art history training, I would have missed a lot of the connotations conveyed by specific poses and compositions.

In short, I am pleased.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Land Use Workshop

I know it's probably a bit late to mention this, but there is a workshop called "People and the Land in the Atlantic World 1500-1825" on Saturday at Lamont Library. It's free, but requires preregistration (available here).

Bernard Bailyn is giving the opening remarks. I'll admit - part of the reason I'm going is just to see him. I hear that he's around campus, but I wouldn't recognize him, so this is my chance to remedy that situation. Rumor on campus is that Bailyn has, on at least one occasion, shown up to a random senior's thesis presentation and asked intimidating questions. I would cry.

John White watercolor via. Incidentally, this watercolor is currently on display at Yale's Center for British Art. I took my mom and sister to the exhibit back in March, and it is worth a visit. The pictures are striking in person - copies in books can't reproduce the iridescence of White's fish or the erasure marks around his dancing Native Americans. The exhibit is up until June 1st. Go see it if you can!

17th-Century Names

Today's Puritan name comes from Windsor, Connecticut, where
Jezabel Wilson

was born on February 24, 1673.

She's no Godbert Godbertson, but I think it's a little cruel to name a little girl Jezebel in such a religious community. Perhaps her parents (the more conventionally named Samuel Wilson and Mary Griffen) wanted to inculcate humility or emphasize the depravity of all people, even babies. Even so, imagine carrying that name into your pew every week.

Dore illustration via.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Confederate Apologists

I found a new blog today when I was rumbling around the tubes searching for more information on Lost Cause commemoration, Confederate Memorial Day, etc.: Michael C. Hardy's North Carolina and the Civil War.

Hardy is a thoughtful, well-meaning Confederate apologist, which is the kind that fascinates me most. He is earnestly devoted to preserving "Southern Heritage" and honoring soldiers who fought for the Confederacy. Of course, that means ignoring the nasty bits like slavery, patriarchy, and coercion. A search on his blog for the word "slave" is revealing: as of today at 3 pm, there are 272 posts about North Carolina and the Civil War on this blog and exactly 6 of them contain the words "slave" or "slavery." Of the six posts that mention slaves,
  • one complains that there are few interpretive markers at the North Carolina state capitol, and that "the few markers present are devoted to African-Americans"
  • one describes a loyal slave who brought his master's body back from Gettysburg
  • one is made up of quotes from 1860-1 describing reactions to secession
  • one is a post entitled "Happy 200th Birthday, Robert E. Lee" and mentions Lee's slaves, but goes on to declare, "his entire life is an example that should be emulated. In a day and age when we need heroes, when we need people to look up to, Lee should be one of those men who command our attention."
  • two chronicle that most elusive of apologist canards: the black Confederate soldier.
It would be beyond tedious for me to go through all six posts that mention slavery (let alone the 266 that don't), so I will confine my comments to the insidious myth of the black Confederate.

Some may argue that "myth" is an inappropriate word here. By "myth," I do not mean to imply that there were absolutely no African-Americans or Native Americans who fought for the Confederacy. There undoubtedly were a few.

Rather, the myth of the black Confederate reads something like this: during the Civil War, over 50,000 slaves and free black men served as soldiers in the Confederate army, which PROVES that the South wasn't racist, and, by the way, the North was racist too!
*Please note, this is NOT a quote from Mr. Hardy - I'll get back to him in a minute.*

First, the claim that 50,000 (or more - these guys say 100,000, this guy says "at least 100,000") African-Americans fought as soldiers for the CSA is flat-out bullshit. Many, many slaves worked for Confederate troops in service capacities and as manual laborers/drivers/gravediggers, etc., but many of them ran to Union lines as soon as they could (many bringing valuable information with them). Saner heads have found that, at most, a few hundred African-Americans may have fought on the Confederate side. Which, incidentally, is about the number of female soldiers who were able to join the army by dressing as men.

Second, the idea that finding black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy would prove that the war was not about slavery is silly. The war was about slavery. It was not necessary a war for emancipation, but saying it wasn't about slavery is unfathomable. Don't take my word for it - just ask Confederates circa 1861. Regardless of how many people of color may have fought, the idea that the war was not about slavery is a pillar of the post-war myth of the Lost Cause.

Third, lots of Confederate apologists like to stick in a gotcha: The North was racist too! Thing is, you'll find no argument here. The North was horribly racist - hell, even abolitionists were paternalistic, condescending racists. I fail to see how this makes the war less about slavery.

All of this is a lot of lead up to say something very simple: Michael C. Hardy is not a wild-eyed crazy person. It is easy to dismiss people who say insane things, but the myth of the Lost Cause does not always come wrapped in the Stars and Bars. From what I have read on his blog, Hardy is a considerate, well-intentioned person who is interested in research, history, and honoring his forebears. Still, he is not at all interested in slavery and posts information about black Confederates on his blog without commenting on the history of this debate.

The problem is that Hardy's vision of the Confederacy is a gentler, more reasonable version of the insidious Lost Cause ideology. When our focus is on honoring the men who fought and died, no doubt bravely, without ever really grappling with what they were fighting for, we don't learn anything. When we implicitly deny the horror of slavery and the continual betrayal of African-Americans during and after the war, we are setting ourselves up to accept racist fantasies in the present. When we fawn over Southern leaders like Lee and Jackson as models of American manhood, what we are really doing is yearning for a white, Christian, patriarchal past in which women and slaves knew their places and real men were subordinate only to God.

I realize that everyone has interests and doesn't necessarily have time to explore all of the problems that attend those interests. I don't have a problem with Michael Hardy if he wants to write primarily about military history. Still, his blog is a reminder of how the soft power of the Lost Cause myth continues to inhabit our mental landscapes.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Confederate Commemoration and the Lost Cause

Yesterday, Professor O'Donovan spoke on the subject of memorialization in the decades after the Civil War with particular attention to public monuments in public places. Anyone who has driven through a little town in Northeast will recognize the archetypical Civil War monument: a young, white, lone infantryman with an immaculate uniform and a rifle (and sometimes a flag) stands sentinel at the top of an obelisk. These monuments commemorate a particular version of the war — one in which vigorous Anglo-Americans fought for high ideals but, according to the monuments, did not suffer, die, have legs amputated. There are no slaves, no African-American soldiers, no hint of the reasons behind the war. Instead, the town square monuments celebrate an ideal American who defended an abstract concept of America at a time when immigrants, ex-slaves, and union workers were threatening middle-class visions of national unity.

After class, I started wondering what messages monuments send in places that have both Union and Confederate monuments, such as the Gettysburg National Battlefield. At Gettysburg, most of the monuments commemorating Union regiments were erected in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and many of those with sculptural soldiers follow the same patterns as town square monuments. A few of the Union monuments are more dynamic, interesting, or impressive, but they are generally pretty staid.

In contrast, the Confederate monuments are arresting, tragic, and glorious. This is partially a function of the periodization of these monuments: most Union monuments went up in the 1880s and 1890s and reflect the sculptural conventions of that time. Although the Virginia monument was erected in 1917 and the North Carolina monument was dedicated in 1929, most of the Confederate monuments have been erected since the 1960s. It's not just their modernity that makes these monuments more compelling. Let's take a look at some examples:

Louisiana (via):

Mississippi (via):

North Carolina (via):

Alabama (via):

The difference is incredible. The Confederates are struggling, striving, and even dying. In contrast to the remoteness of the Union monuments, the Confederate monuments evoke a visceral reaction. Who can behold the Mississippi monument without feeling sympathy for the barefoot, desperate, suffering men who are clearly fighting for their lives? Even though Gutzon Borglum designed the North Carolina monument in the 1920s, to modern eyes, it recalls the flag raising at Iwo Jima. These Confederates are eminently sympathetic. They are not traitors or slaveholders. They are noble, suffering men, and the contrast between them and their Union counterparts could not be more stark.

One interesting case is the Maryland memorial, which is supposed to commemorate both Union and Confederate soldiers. The two men on the Maryland monument are brothers - they aren't even armed! There is no better example of the racist narrative of Civil War commemoration than this: in this representation, there is no hint that the war might have been about slavery - it is merely a story of mutually brotherly struggle and reconciliation.
Maybe I'll get into the disgusting rhetoric of the dedication speeches another day.

Just one more thing: many Union monuments are located at the point of that regiment's farthest advance (i.e. Peach Orchard, Wheat Field). The Confederate monuments are arrayed along the battle line they occupied immediately prior to Pickett's Charge. At Gettysburg, the monumental landscape is permanently frozen just before the disastrous assault that spelled doom for Lee's hopes of invading the North. Discuss.

A People's Army Redux

Here is my full review of Fred Anderson's A People's Army (see unscholarly review here). Comments, suggestions, and criticisms are more than welcome, but please don't tell me about any typos, as I already handed it in.

Modern Americans seldom give much thought to the Seven Years’ War, and when they do, they generally remember it as a distant imperial struggle made up of dates and names that vanished back into oblivion immediately after the AP US History test. In A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years’ War, Fred Anderson attempts to bring the Seven Years’ War back into our national narrative as a pivotal moment in the formation of an American identity. By examining the experiences of Massachusetts’ provincial soldiers as they endured deprivation, argued for their contractual rights, and interacted with the might of the British Empire through contact with its military system, Anderson argues that “the war gave the provincials a sense, at a crucial point in their lives, of their identity as a distinct people” (223). This common experience enabled Massachusetts’ soldiers to conceive of themselves as Americans rather than as Englishmen, and opened mental space for them to consider separation from the empire in the 1760s and 1770s.

In its most basic argument, A People’s Army closely resembles T.H. Breen’s work in “Baubles of Britain: The American and Consumer Revolutions of the Eighteenth Century” and The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence. Both Anderson and Breen believe that common experiences translated into a shared language that united colonists and made it possible for them to communicate their outrage over the perceived excesses of imperial domination during the Stamp Act, Boston blockade, and Nonimportation crises. Yet, Anderson’s argument differs substantially from Breen’s in that he argues for a distinctive provincial identity that was based on outdated English principles that had incubated in an isolated American environment for over a century, while Breen emphasizes the Anglicization and interconnectedness of American culture after mid-century. These contrasting portraits of American identity offer radically different interpretations of the roots of American independence: the latter imagines a British people who feared becoming too dependent on the metropolis that was so important to them, while the former supposes a colonial population that awakens to realize that they have been their own nation all along.

Because he focuses so specifically on the observations and beliefs of ordinary soldiers, Anderson is more convincing in translating experience into action than is Breen. Whereas Breen’s central argument requires an alchemical transformation of shared material culture into shared political ideals, Anderson draws a concrete line between wartime experiences and later events. The most vivid of these examples is his discussion of provincial soldiers’ interactions with the purposefully cruel and arbitrary system of British military justice. After seeing imperious officers maim, kill, and dispense seemingly capricious mercy to common soldiers during the war, Massachusetts men were horrified to find Boston occupied by regulars in the 1760s. Without accounting for their experiences in the Seven Years’ War, colonial reaction to occupation might seem hysterical and unfounded, but when we consider their frame of reference, fear of what regulars might do to a civilian population seems entirely reasonable.

The crux of Anderson’s argument is that when provincial citizen-soldiers interacted with regulars, they recognized themselves as a distinct and morally superior people. The regulars, particularly the officers, responded in kind by imagining themselves to be professional and civilized in contrast to the dirty, disorganized, traitorous peasants who made up the provincial army. Since, in Anderson’s telling, the provincials had had little contact with native-born Englishmen for over a hundred years, they understood the regulars as representatives of Britain in general, and they did not like what they saw. Anderson highlights several aspects of British military life that were especially repugnant to provincials, including the class-based deference due to officers, vulgar behavior such as gambling and whoring, and the shocking impiety of officers and men who swore, ignored the Sabbath, and were generally irreligious. From these attributes, provincial soldiers constructed an unflattering portrait of what it meant to be British. Anderson argues that this perception overturned an older generation’s fond and largely illusory affinity with the realm and allowed the younger generation to see themselves as a separate people.

Anderson’s careful attention to the specifics of local conditions, customs, and beliefs contributes to both the strengths and the principal weaknesses of his argument. By confining his attention largely to the writings of common soldiers, Anderson fails to place Massachusetts’ pre-war history within an imperial context. His Massachusetts is a place of agricultural villages, neighborliness, and the ties of kinship, not a bustling Atlantic community with a shipping industry that tied it to the far-flung reaches of the empire and an ongoing relationship with metropolitan politicians. While Anderson is careful to stipulate that colonists did not inhabit “bucolic utopias,” his intense focus on local considerations implies a strict isolationism in the century before the Seven Years’ War (30). There can be little doubt that American colonists experienced a more intense imperial integration in the years after 1750, but it is important not to overstate their seclusion before that time.

Anderson’s local focus also reinforces two pillars of the standard narrative of the Revolution: the central importance of Massachusetts and the middle-class origins of appeals to universal rights. Although it is unreasonable to fault Anderson for focusing on a single colony, his argument is so firmly grounded in local conditions that it cannot be applied to other colonial populations. If resistance to empire was partially the result of the Massachusetts militia’s recruiting practices and the economies of independent farms, how can we explain Virginia’s or South Carolina’s participation? Anderson’s argument is convincing for Massachusetts, but it does not extrapolate well. Similarly, Anderson’s focus on the experiences of the sons of middle-class yeoman may obscure the Revolutionary contributions of laborers, sailors, and servants as explored in Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s “The Many Headed Hydra:Sailors, Slaves, and the Atlantic Working Class in the Eighteenth Century.” While Anderson finds several examples of middle-class men talking about their “rights” long before Linebaugh and Rediker would have predicted, he does not consider the possibility that “seamen in particular and wage workers in general were foremost among the most radical parts of the colonial population” (Linebaugh and Rediker, 235). A People’s Army tells an important story about the coming of the Revolution, but it is not the whole story.

One aspect of Anderson’s argument that might prove useful to historians of the later eighteenth century is his discussion of popular religious belief among provincial soldiers. Too often, historians explain Revolutionary-era ideology as exclusively rational, legalistic, and inspired by the Enlightenment without taking the colonists’ providential worldview seriously. If, as Anderson argues, young provincial soldiers were “accustomed to casting events into [a] providential framework,” it is unlikely that they would have abandoned this habit of mind twenty years later (199). Without further investigation, it is impossible to say definitively whether soldiers from other colonies would have shared Massachusetts’ fondness for interpreting events as signs from God. Still, Anderson makes a crucial point by casting popular religion as a political, as well as a cultural, phenomenon. Although any exploration of the faith of the “Founding Fathers’” generation is a political minefield for modern historians, Anderson’s work provides a reputable model for others who wish to explore the politics of popular religious belief.

A People’s Army makes a compelling argument and goes a long way toward restoring the Seven Years’ War to a place of prominence in early American history. Despite its limited scope, this book supplies important information about the relationship between Britain and her colonies on the eve of the imperial crisis. Anderson argues that the contest between pan-British and distinctly American identities was predicated on interpersonal contact and differing standards of personal and professional conduct, not just on official policies, taxes, or political ideals. By examining the defining event of their young lives, Anderson reintroduces us to the Revolutionary generation.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Dimond Fitteyplace

Also, Pete would like to recommend Mr. Dimond Fitteyplace (d. 1771) for a Puritan naming award, though we will have to look into his birthdate to see whether he qualifies for 17th-century honors.

Visiting Marblehead: Mission #4

Mission #4: Find evidence supporting or refuting the hypothesis that carvers created stockpiles of decorated blanks that were later inscribed with the name of the deceased.

Were gravestones made-to-order from start to finish? Or did stonecutters decorate stones ahead of time and add in the particulars late? I'm sure we could find a satisfactory answer somewhere in the secondary literature, but it's more fun to wander around the graveyard and look for clues.

Pete and I found several examples that seem to indicate that stones were sometimes made ahead of time.

One of the most convincing was the Mary Traill stone (1850), which is highly decorated in the neoclassical style (I apologize for the crappy picture - this stone was under a tree and we didn't bring a mirror). Many similar stones nearby have a poem carved in the blank space on the plinth, but Mary Traill's epitaph is confined to the oval in the middle of the stone. The rectangle where someone might carve poem is framed nicely, but there's nothing there. This, along with the elaborate decoration and resemblance to the other stones in the family plot, seems to indicate that the stone was decorated before the specifics were added.

Another clue comes from the Martha Hawkins stone (1761). This is an unusual stone because the side panels are elaborately and professionally decorated, but the death's head at the top is rough, unprofessional, and lightly inscribed. This particular skull and crossbones design is found nowhere else in this graveyard, and similar icons are much more skillfully rendered. The epitaph seems to be somewhere between professional and improvised — the letters are neat and well-cut, but oddly spaced between very visible guidelines. Might this be an example of an apprentice who has mastered lettering and can be trusted to inscribe pre-decorated stones trying his hand at decorating a stone? More research would be needed to make a solid case, but it's easy to make up a story that could explain this stone. Perhaps Margaret Hawkins' son or another relative cut letters for the local stonecarver and was able to obtain a half-decorated blank for his mother/aunt/cousin. Maybe the family couldn't afford a professional stone, but the letter-cutter did his best to finish the blank. This is just a guess, of course, but it is plausible.

Some stones were obviously custom-made, but I think that we found enough evidence to suggest that others were produced with stock designs and filled in later.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Visiting Marblehead: Mission #3

Mission #3: Identify examples of hybrid old style/new style dating on gravestones from the pre-1752 period.


Visiting Marblehead: Mission #2

Mission #2: Document examples of decorative motifs featuring breasts/gourds.

In Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and its Symbols, 1650-1815, Alan Ludwig devotes several pages to erotic imagery on gravestones, specifically breasts that "could symbolize the Scriptures, the Church, the ministry, or the divine milk needed to nourish the soul" (155). Ludwig also quotes a spiritual poem by minister/poet Edward Taylor that makes liberal use of breast-related imagery:
Lord put these nibbles then my mouth into
And suckle me therewith I humbly pray,
Then with this milk thy Spiritual Babe I'st grow,
And these two milke pails shall themselves display
Like to these pritty twins in pairs round neate
And shall sing forth thy praise over this meate.
In Marblehead, we found several boobalicious gravestones. These include the Mary Reed stone (1712/3), the Thaddeus Ridden stone (1690/1), the Joseph Reddan stone (1708), and the Elias Henley stone (1699). My favorite was the Benjamin Hills stone (1737/8), on which the pendant-like shapes have been modified into commas and appear to dance around the border (see below).

Visiting Marblehead: Mission #1

Mission #1: Find gravestones with misspellings, mistakes, and revisions that are literally carved in stone.

This turned out to be fairly straightforward, as at least a third of the pre-1800 stones had at least one identifiable error. These mistakes fell into two categories: first and most entertaining were the gaffes that contemporaries had identified as errors and tried to correct, second and less fun were the spellings that do not conform to modern standard English but were not necessarily "wrong" at the time.

A good example of the former can be found on the Elizabeth Russell stone (1771), on which the carver struggled with the words "Blessed" and "had." "Blessed was originally spelled with a long (or medial) s and a terminal s, but there is something else scratched in lightly between the letters s and e. Perhaps someone was unsatisfied with the long s and scratched in a second, lighter, terminal s. Maybe the terminal s was supposed to be carved farther to the right, but the carver adjusted the spacing. After blowing up the image and examining it more closely, I think it is possible that the carver may have begun carving the e before remembering (or being reminded) that "Blessed" needed a second s.
The other error on the Elizabeth Russell stone is the gouged-out letter (c? d? o?) that has been turned into an h at the beginning of the word "had." That part of the epitaph reads, "The Memory of the Just is Blessed. The Righteous shall be had in Everlasting Remembrence." The spelling of "Remembrence" probably didn't raise any eyebrows at the time (though the n is gouged out and recarved), but your guess is as good as mine for explaining the beginning of "had."

Other examples of mistakes include the Thaddeus Ridden stone (1690/1), on which the carver corrected a misspelling of the deceased's name and replaced the Gregorian date with a hybrid Julian/Gregorian date, and the Mary Brintnall stone (1688), where someone noticed that "Janury" was missing an a and stuck it in as best he could. We can tell that both of these mistakes were recognized as such in the seventeenth century because contemporaries attempted to correct them. The archaic spelling of "lyes" is not truly a mistake - it is merely one example of the many ways in which early modern English was not the same as modern standard English. In many cases, words (even names!) are spelled inconsistently within the same documents (or on the same gravestones). As long as the spelling was legible, it seemed not to matter too much whether it was consistent.

The Mary Brintnall stone is also a great example of how some carvers economized by using the vertical lines of some letters to serve as part of adjacent letters (click on the picture and observe the treatment of "here" and "the").

Probably my favorite mistake/misspelling example from this afternoon was the headstone for Samuel Cheever (d. 1724), the town's minister. The stone is obviously of lower quality than many of the later stones around it, but Cheever's family (or Cheever himself) seems to have wanted to commemorate his education with a Latin epitaph that was clearly beyond the stonecarver's skill. It is easy to imagine him hunched over a manuscript that made little sense to him, struggling to decipher the characters, and being forced to correct his work as he stumbled again and again. It's impossible to say whether the congregation was pleased with their minister's monument, but most of them probably couldn't read the epitaph anyway.

Visiting Marblehead

Today, my very understanding husband accompanied me to Old Burial Hill in Marblehead, where I indulged my craving for a little gravestone action. What better way to celebrate Patriots' Day?

Old Burial Hill is one of the best documented colonial-era graveyards in New England (you can take a virtual tour here). That means that there is less of a chance that you will discover something truly unknown, which lessens the suspense a bit. On the other hand, you know for sure that you will run into some of the classic examples of New England gravestone art.

While wandering around an old burying ground is enough fun on its own, it's even better when you are looking for something in particular. Today, we focused on identifying examples of these common gravestone elements:
Since it's a little tricky to publish multiple photos in Blogger, I'll make a post for each of these goals individually.

Friday, April 18, 2008

African-American Gravestones of Rhode Island

I love gravestones. I know lots of people do, but it was really gravestones that got me into this whole colonial America/material culture thing.

I grew up in eastern Connecticut, where colonial-era graveyards are a staple of the landscape, and I spent many hours wandering around in them. My mother participated in a project to document all of the graves of Civil War soldiers in our area, and my brothers and I would often spend weekend afternoons searching local churchyards for soldiers and men who were the right age for service. I always found the older stones particularly fascinating. Just writing this makes me want to put aside my paper prospectus, grab my camera, and head out to the nearest boneyard for a joyful afternoon.

Since I cannot justify that at the moment (damn you, homework!), I'll post some photos from Rhode Island. These are from the African-American sections of Newport's Common Burying Ground (Bull), Providence's North Burial Ground (Borden), and a cemetery in Bristol, RI (Burt).

Newport's merchants were rich enough to erect expensive gravestones for their slaves (you'll see the same thing in Marblehead), so the Newport Burying Ground is one of the best places to see funeral art commemorating 18th-century slaves. If you get a chance to visit, the African-American section is at the bottom of the hill near the corner of Van Zandt Ave and the appropriately named Farewell St.

The most interesting of these three stones is Patience Borden's. One can imagine that Borden may have written the epitaph herself, making sure that her identities as a free person, a Christian, and a wealthy, benevolent woman would be remembered by the community. If you are in Providence, you can find Patience Borden's monument (along with those of a few dozen other free and enslaved African-Americans) in the North Burial Ground about 100 ft to the west of the Stephen Hopkins monument.

Photo credits to Robert Emlen, who taught me the value of a well-composed slide.

Peoples of a Spacious Land

In Peoples of a Spacious Land, Gloria Main summarizes the historiography of the 17th-century New England family from the 1980s to the present. In general, she is attempting to provide a broad overview rather than make strong, original arguments. Where she does argue, Main supports those authors who have challenged the idea that Puritans were stern patriarchs, preferring to portray the Puritan family in New England as loving, cooperative, and resourceful in the face of unexpected challenges. Rather than a well-organized colony dominated by a powerful elite, Main emphasizes the improvised nature of New England’s development as residents responded to local environmental, political, and economic situations.
Main supplements her summary with readings from the diaries of leading men such as Samuel Sewall, Cotton Mather, and John Winthrop, as well as those of some lesser-known colonists. Main does not attempt to analyze these sources in depth — rather, she uses them to illustrate the arguments made by other historians.
I do not wish to imply that this book is without merit. In fact, it is very useful because it condenses the arguments made by Ulrich, Thompson, Fischer, Allen, Demos, Cronon, Anderson, Bailyn, and many others (including anthropologists/archaeologists who have studied pre-contact Native Americans) into a readable overview. This would be an excellent text to use as an introduction to New England history because it touches on so many of the debates in the realms of environmental, economic, and family history (it is noticeably light on religion and politics).
My major criticism of Peoples of a Spacious Land is that the promise implied by the plural “Peoples” is never realized. Although Main declares that her work “compares English to native ways in order to explore the influence of cultural values,” most discussion of Native Americans seems overly speculative and is not well integrated into the book. At times, Main seems to be struggling to find something to say about any Indian group (at times extrapolating possible features of Narragansett culture by mining scholarship on other groups, including modern natives of Paraguay) just to fit her initial framework. These pieces seem tacked on and are not very useful. She does not really discuss how English observation of Indian habits might have shaped the colonists’ thinking about themselves and their new home and vice versa. Instead, the reader is left to compare the cultural norms of the two groups, but without any meaningful discussion of how they might have interacted in the 17th century.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Puritan Names

Honorable mention in the 17th-century naming Olympics goes to:
Godbert Godbertson!

Godbertson, a hatter, died in Plymouth Colony in 1633.
see Gloria Main, Peoples of a Spacious Land, pg. 78.

On page 97, Main presents the story of the Rev. Justus Forward of Belchertown (Yale class of 1754), who misses out on the laurels only because he was born in the 18th century.

Update II:
I've changed my mind. After a few hours' consideration, I have decided that Godbert Godbertson is actually an even better Puritan name than Humiliation Scratcher. Not only am I incapable of reading or saying "Godbert Godbertson" without cackling, I think that the name cuts through the half-assed religiosity of naming your kid "Thankful" or "Hopestill" or "Hatevil" and goes straight for the gold. In addition, Godbert Godbertson is the perfect 17th-century counterpart to Benjamin H. Grumbles, Shakesville's Gilded Age correspondent.

So, congratulations, Godbert, and our condolences to Humiliation Scratcher, who will no doubt take his demotion in stride.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In Which I Disagree with Sarah Vowell

I've been listening to the audiobook version of Sarah Vowell's The Partly Cloudy Patriot (2002) in the mornings as I get ready for class. I love Sarah Vowell - my favorite book of hers is Assassination Vacation, and I eagerly await her new book on Puritan New England.

Vowell writes sly, funny books on topics that interest me. So why did I walk around all morning muttering to myself as I imagined what I would say to her if I could give her a piece of my mind?

It comes down to this: for someone who is a professional writer, Vowell can be frustratingly boneheaded about academic language. As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am an enthusiastic proponent of plain-style writing in academic books, but that does not mean I think that historians should avoid overturning conventional terminology when it becomes problematic.

Example: In the essay "God Will Give You Blood to Drink in a Souvenir Shot Glass," Vowell comments on historical sites that attempt to "rewrite [their] past[s]." Her example is a recreated Dutch plantation on the Hudson (presumably Philipsburg Manor) where the interpreters scrupulously refer to the plantation's slaves as "enslaved Africans." After describing her experience on the tour, Vowell goes on a wrongheaded rant about this insidious revisionism (transcript from audio - the punctuation may be off):
After a while, I couldn't stand it anymore, and cornered one of these shawl-wearing tour guides and asked why on earth nobody used the word "slave." And in that singsong dialect of teenage girls, in which every sentence ends on a question mark, she replied, "because 'enslaved Africans' describes slavery as something that was done to them instead of what they were. Enslavement was not their whole identity." "Um," I asked, "Isn't the whole point about being a slave that you don't have a choice to be anything else?" Prettying up the word "slave" with that adjective-noun construction makes "enslaved Africans" sound nonchalant, as in, "Those were the cabins of the jolly leprechauns!"
Sorry, Sarah, but I have to side with the tour guide on this one. Although Vowell portrays the site as a sort of backwater, campy tourist attraction, Philipsburg Manor is actually a fairly reputable educational facility. The project to incorporate the history of slavery in the North into their interpretation was part of a major National Endowment for the Humanities grant in 2000, and the museum overhauled its presentation to follow more recent scholarship on the history of Atlantic slavery.

While it is not incorrect to use the word "slave," the term "enslaved person," is preferable because it acknowledges the humanity of the person in question. The older terminology tended to naturalize slavery as an inherent condition and separate "slaves" from "people." Don't believe me? Do a Google search for "men, women, and slaves." Right. Because slaves were neither men nor women. They were something altogether alien.

Historians started referring to slaves as "enslaved men," "enslaved women," "enslaved Africans," "enslaved workers," etc. in an effort to define a terminology that simultaneously conveyed the coercive power of enslavement and its limitations. Other suggestions, such as Peter H. Wood's "pioneers" fell flat because they did not call adequate attention to the violence done by slavetraders and slaveowners.

"Enslaved person" is both historically accurate and historiographically useful. Vowell objects because "the whole point about being a slave that you don't have a choice to be anything else," which is a neat summary of what many 18th- and 19th- century masters hoped for, but it is not historically correct. The vast literature on slave resistance documents the myriad identities that enslaved people claimed for themselves through the clandestine exercise of religion, attempts to create and preserve families, and self-determination as skilled workers. Like many Americans, even those who are well-educated and interested in history, Vowell still subscribes to the Lincoln-freed-the-slaves narrative that defines slaves as passive, which is not really the cutting edge of social-justice-oriented historiography.

This passage grated on my nerves so much because it is tone-deaf in a way that Vowell's writing rarely is. She believes the tour guide is a poor, misguided soul (notice how she cuts down the guide's expertise by mocking her inflection and characterizing her as a "shawl-wearing" interpreter, thus implying that she is a well-meaning but untrained local volunteer) who is trying to whitewash the history of a site to make it more palatable. There are plenty of historical sites that are guilty of this type of revisionism, as anyone who has suffered through a tour of the White House of the Confederacy can attest, but Philipsburg Manor is not one of them. It is Vowell who is clinging to an outmoded and misguided terminology.

Also, before I cut this rant short and get back to assuring you that I think that Sarah Vowell is brilliant, I need to go on record as saying her equation of "enslaved Africans" with "jolly leprechauns" is profoundly stupid. "Enslaved" is in no way a fluffy, happy word. If all that is necessary to soften a term is an "adjective-noun construction," then there is little difference between "sadistic murderer" and "magical unicorn."

That said, Vowell is generally one of my favorite writers. I am super excited about her new book, The Wordy Shipmates, though I am crossing my fingers against a tired rehashing of the "omg the Puritans were persecuted in England and they came here for religious freedom" argument.

(Sarah Vowell pic via.)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction

Pete found an online seal generator, so from now on, I will be able to bestow a snappy image, as well as my gratitude, on any academic text that makes its point in fewer than 250 pages.

Today's recipient: Bernard Bailyn's The Peopling of British North America: An Introduction (1986). This slim volume provides a basic overview of the questions driving historians' investigations into European migration to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries. Bailyn is mostly concerned with migration from Britain, but also includes discussion of Germans who ended up in British North America.

Bailyn builds his argument on four propositions:
  • First, transatlantic migration was an outgrowth of a culture of internal migration that characterized early modern Britain.
  • Second, migration was not a single, unified process, but a combination of distinct, independent migrations.
  • Third, after the earliest phases of migration, subsequent emigrants crossed the ocean in order to fill the demand for (increasingly skilled) labor and to speculate in land.
  • Fourth, American culture is best understood as a backward-looking outpost of European culture, not as a forward-looking frontier.

With these points, Bailyn situates himself directly at the center of the prevailing historiography of 20 years ago. For the historians of the 1970s and 1980s, migration could be explained mostly in economic terms as a story of unemployed Englishmen, labor demand, and the free movement of free and temporarily unfree people to a land of opportunity.

Today, the scholarship is tending toward an emphasis on the coercive elements of migration. David Eltis, among others, has redirected the historiographical narrative to place involuntary migration at the center and to treat voluntary migration as the exceptional story in transatlantic migration history.

Wives for Virginia, 1621

As background for my essay on migration, I am reading "Wives for Virginia, 1621" (WMQ, Jan. 1991) by David Ransome.

It's a fairly straightforward little article which argues that the 57 women shipped to Virginia by the Virginia Company in 1621 as wives for the colonists were of a higher social standing than popularly supposed. Ransome bases this argument on some amazing documents that preserve the women's names, birthplaces, family conditions, and, in one case, letters of recommendation.

The documents are fun, but what makes this article post-worthy is its contribution to my list of favorite 17th-century names: Temperance Flowerdew. Now, Mistress Flowerdew can't quite challenge for the top spot, which still belongs to Humiliation Scratcher (see DHFischer, Albion's Seed), but she certainly earns honorable mention.

Do you have a favorite 17th-century/Puritan name? Leave it in the comments.

Colfax Massacre Anniversary

Today is the 135th anniversary of the Colfax Massacre, in which a mob of white Southern Democrats murdered at least 100 black men (exact estimates vary) in Colfax, Louisiana.

At this time, it seems appropriate to note how this event was commemorated throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The marker at left (via), which Richard Rubin once called "the frankest monument I have ever seen," still stands in the local cemetery. Although historians generally employ the term "massacre" when describing this event, the state of Louisiana still refers to it as a "riot" in its official commemorative marker (see right, via), which also declares that the violence "marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South."

For more information on this disgusting betrayal of the promises that the Federal Government made to African-Americans during Reconstruction, see Charles Lane's The Day Freedom Died or read a short version here.

Friday, April 11, 2008

A People's Army

I'm taking a quick break from reading Fred Anderson's A People's Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War (1984) to jot down some first impressions.

I've only read the first of three parts, but I am very impressed so far. Anderson writes clearly and insightfully, and his topic is of the utmost importance for the history of 18th-century America: How did provincial soldiers experience the Seven Years' War and how did that experience inform their actions during the Imperial Crisis of the 1760s and 1770s?

Anderson argues that the provincial army and its soldiers did not conform to British regulars' expectations of military order and professionalism because it was a manifestly different type of organization. Rather than the class divide that separated regular officers from enlisted men, the provincial troops were recruited in a way that guaranteed that officers and men were drawn from the same communities, occupations, and families. An officer might deserve the respect of his men, but that respect derived from his position as an older, more established member of the community (often an older brother or uncle of his soldiers), rather than from his hereditary privilege.

The British found this system incomprehensible and concluded that provincial troops were hopelessly undisciplined and degraded. In return, the Massachusetts men thought that the British were arrogant, controlling, and unjust. Their experiences during the war led the young provincials to distrust the regulars. In the 1760s and 1770s, these experiences would color their understanding of imperial policies and make it possible for them to break with Britain, which is something their fathers never would have done.

Beyond this book's fascinating topic and excellent research, it is engaging and accessible. A recipient of the VPI Grad Student Seal of Approval, A People's Army is written in a plain style that opens its scholarly arguments to a wide audience. Anderson is a solid writer, making good use of topic sentences and spicing up his prose with colorful turns of phrase.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in 18th-century America. It is not merely a narrow history of one colony's troops, but an enlightening exploration of the interactions between provincials and metropolitans that made the Revolution possible.