Friday, July 31, 2009

Teach the Controversy: Pangaea

Andrew Sullivan has a post up right now called "Looking at Race." It concerns a poll that asks Americans whether they believe that Africa and America were once part of the same continent.

At first, I thought, wtf does the existence of Pangaea have to do with race? Of course America and Africa were once part of the same continent, but the Atlantic Ocean has been around for about 100 million years, while our species is only a few hundred thousand years old. "Race" is not really a concept that maps well onto geologic time.

Then I looked at the breakdown of the results.
Yikes! Only 35% of white respondents said "yes," while 63% of black respondents agreed. I imagine that this gap is not reflective of overall scientific knowledge. Did all the white kids skip Earth Science? From this evidence, it seems that white people (particularly those who are Republicans, Southerners, or over 60) are less likely to accept the science of plate tectonics, perhaps indicating that they are still struggling with the idea that all people belong to the same species.
If it were just Republicans or Southerners who were willfully ignorant of continental drift, I might be able to explain it away by blaming Young Earth Creationism. But that racial gap is astounding.

White people do realize that our species originated in Africa, don't they? And that all humans of all races are related? Also — and I hestiate to point this out — white people are not actually from America originally.

One last thing — in his post, Sullivan says that he "would have said yes, but not too confidently." Really? Because I definitely covered Pangaea with my second graders. I thought that this was common knowledge, at least among elementary school grads.

Teach the Controversy 

Update: Some are saying that the question is flawed — that it doesn't really tell us how many Americans "believe" in continental drift. But that isn't the point, is it? The point of the question is to tell us how many Americans reflexively reject any idea that connects North America to Africa. It's a brilliant question because you can't just straight-up ask people if they are racist. Many people don't know what the term means, though they're pretty sure they aren't. You have to ask roundabout questions like this one.

"Changed this Life for a . . ."

In honor of the beer summit:
Yes, ok, it really says "beter," i.e. "better," but the first time I saw it, I did a double-take because I thought it said "beer." I've shown this to other people and they've done the same.

via Farber Collection

Jeff Davis, General Lee, and Stonewall J

When I first found Lavinia Meekins in the census, I thought that her family might be unique. After all, how many black Southerners had children named after Confederate heroes?

Actually, quite a few.

The more I looked, the more I found. So far, I have looked at the 1870 and the 1880 census records for all 11 ex-Confederate states. Here is what I've found*:
I was surprised to find 325 black children named Jefferson Davis in the 1870 census — I was expecting to find no more than a dozen. To put these numbers in perspective, there are about 2,000 white Southerners named Jefferson Davis in the 1870 census.

One interesting thing about this chart is the tremendous drop in the name "Jefferson Davis" between 1870 and 1880. It seems unlikely that more than half of the black children named Jeff Davis died in the intervening decade, especially since most of them were older than 5 in 1870, so they had a better chance of survival than infants. Did many of the boys named Jeff Davis decide to go by another name when they reached the age of 15 or 16?

Unfortunately, it is difficult to track any Southerner from census to census. I count 166 black Stonewalls in 1870 and 161 in 1880, but there is very little overlap between the two lists. This makes it difficult to generalize about the rising or falling popularity of a name over time. In my next post, I'll try to tackle this problem.

These three names seem to be the most popular, but a few others crop up from time to time. The 1870 census shows handfuls of black Southerners named Pickett, Longstreet, Wade Hampton, General Forrest, Zollicoffer, and Braxton Bragg. I haven't run the numbers on "Forrest" and "Beauregard," but, in initial searches, both seem to be almost as popular as Stonewall and Lee.

I won't overburden this post with specific examples, but here are a few notable examples of Confederate names given to black children during and after the war:

Secession Bants, b. 1862, Fredonia, AL
(one of four black children — two boys, two girls — named Secession, 1870 Census)

Confederacy Johnson, b. 1862, Livingston, VA

brothers, Zollicoffer Robinson, b. 1862 and General Lee Robinson b. 1864, Lancaster, KY (not included in statistics)

the McCullough family of Fairfield Co., SC:
Wade H. (b. 1862), Jefferson D. (b. 1863), Braxton B. (b. 1862), Beauregard (b. 1866)
(They have a little brother named Dempsey — any suggestions?)

*In this graph, "Jefferson Davis" includes black or biracial men and boys named "Jefferson Davis," "Jeff Davis," and "Jefferson D." living in the ex-Confederate states. "Stonewall Jackson" includes men and boys named "Stonewall Jackson," "Stonewall," and "Stonewall J." "Robert E. Lee" includes men and boys named "Robert E. Lee," "Robert Lee," "Bob Lee," and General Lee."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Black Children, Confederate Heroes

While working on a post about babies named after presidents, I came across Lavinia Meekins, a black woman in Virginia whose three young sons were named Jeff Davis (b. 1861), Robert E. Lee (b. 1864), and Andrew Johnson (b. 1867). I found this pretty confusing. Why would a black woman name her boys after the Confederate President, a Confederate hero, and the man who killed Reconstruction?

I knew I would need some context to make sense of this. Was Lavinia Meekins a single eccentric? Are these names part of a pattern? I dug into the census and found some surprising things.

I'll break this research up into several posts because the information is a little hard to digest all at once. I haven't made sense of the data yet and I'm not sure I can do that without some sources other than the census. Here are some of my initial observations:
  • Lavinia Meekins was not a lonely eccentric. Many black parents in the Confederate states named their children after Confederate heroes during the war years — Jeff Davis, Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, etc.
  • Fewer black parents named their children after Confederate heroes after 1865. White Southerners continued to give Confederate names to their children into the 20th century.
  • Some Confederate names (Jeff Davis, Stonewall) dropped off rapidly after 1865. Others (Robert E. Lee) gained in popularity after 1865.
  • At least nine families have one child named Jeff Davis and another named Abe Lincoln. Sometimes they are twins. 
  • Many white Southerners named their children after Northern heroes — U.S. Grant, Sherman, Lincoln, etc.
Over the next few posts, I will report on what I have observed, but I'm going to hold off on drawing broad conclusions for the moment. It would be simplistic to assume that just because an enslaved woman named her child "Jeff Davis" that she necessarily supported the Confederate cause. Off the top of my head, I can think of several alternative explanations:
  • Perhaps masters named children and enslaved parents had no say in the matter. That would explain the sharp decline in these names after 1865.
  • Perhaps enslaved parents named their children after Confederate heroes to feign docility. If this were the case, I would expect parents to rename/nickname the child after the war, which doesn't account for names on the 1870 census (unless feigning docility was still necessary during Reconstruction).
  • Perhaps some slaves really did support the Confederate cause. In any group of 4 million people, you're bound to find a range of political opinions. It's not hard to imagine that some people might prefer to preserve the status quo rather than gamble on an uncertain future.
  • Perhaps people named their children names from the news, regardless of the political associations. You see this in recent naming patterns when awful hurricanes cause bumps in popularity for their names.
  • Perhaps census-takers have odd senses of humor.
Let me say it again — these aren't my conclusions. They're initial musings and possibilities. If you have other interpretations of the forthcoming, I'm eager to hear them. I do believe that the names people give their children are markers of their values — I'm just not sure what they're trying to convey in these cases.

Data and Discussion:

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Tiny Books!

I don't have a dollhouse, but I could be persuaded to get one just so I could fill it with tiny books. Miniature Bookshelf has nearly 500 books the size of pennies. Most are classics, but there are a few modern children's best sellers (Harry Potter, A Series of Unfortunate Events). I love the vintage covers.

At this point, these are probably the only books I could possibly fit on my shelves.

via Shakesville

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I Heart Little History Nerds

After watching 5-year-old Wesley sing "Folsom Prison Blues" ("I shot a man in Weeno . . .") I clicked around a bit and found this original composition, performed at the same open mic night. Connor, age nine, is learning to play the guitar and write songs. His composition is called "Civil War," though "CIVIL WAR!" might be more accurate. Chorus: "CANNONBALLS! BULLETS!" I vaguely remember writing something similar when I was in third grade. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Charles Torrey, "Martyr for Liberty"

I've been watching Ken Burns' The Civil War this week as I update and revise my book lists for my general exams. Even though I know that Burns' reconciliationist narrative doesn't really fly with academic historians, I still enjoy the program. At the very least, it beats reading Battle Cry of Freedom again.

This time, as I watched, I reflected on how much Burns has shaped what I (and many others) know about the Civil War. For example, the murder of Elijah P. Lovejoy is a well-known incident in antebellum abolitionism that has undoubtedly enjoyed a resurgence in notoriety due to Burns' PBS series. Lovejoy was not the only abolitionist martyr of the antebellum period, but his inclusion in The Civil War has given his story new prominence in the minds of modern Americans.

Burns could just as easily have chosen to include the story of Rev. Charles Torrey in his documentary. I had never heard of Charles Torrey before I stumbled across his grave at Mount Auburn, but his epitaph made me think that I probably should have.
It reads:
CH'S T. Torrey
Born at Scituate
Nov. 21, 1813.
Graduated at Yale College
Aug. 1833.
Ordained at Providence
March 1837.
Arrested at Baltimore
June 24, 1844.
Died in the Penitentiary
of that City
May 9, 1846.
The friends of the
American Slave
erect this stone
to his memory
as a Martyr for Liberty.

Yale-trained minister dies in Southern jail as "Martyr for Liberty"? That seemed like something I should hae heard about.

Turns out that Torrey was actually jailed several times for crimes such as attending a slaveholder's convention as an undercover reporter and assisting the escape of nearly 400 slaves from Maryland and Northern Virginia. He was sentenced to six years of hard labor in Baltimore, but died of tuberculosis in 1846. You can read his memoirs and letters on Google Books.

Torrey's impressive obelisk has its own island in the middle of one of Mount Auburn Cemetery's internal roads, where it is surrounded by flowers. A bas relief of Torrey's bust (toga-clad, natch) embellishes the monument. Though the marble is cracking, it is still quite beautiful. 
A quotation of Torrey's is engraved above the bust. When he was offered a pardon in return for a public apology, Torrey reportedly told his lawyers,
It is better to die in prison with the peace of God in our breasts than to live in freedom with a polluted conscience.
Whoever erected the monument wanted to make extra certain that viewers understood that Torrey was a MARTYR, so he/she/they topped it off with a crown of thorns.

Though largely forgotten in our day, Torrey was a celebrated figure in New England's abolitionist circles. Rev. Amos Beman, an African-American minister from New Haven had a grandson named Charles Torrey Beman who fought with the 5th MA Cavalry in the Civil War (and kept a journal). I don't know whether Charles Torrey Simpson, celebrated botanist, was named for the abolitionist, but since he was born in June of 1846, I think there's a good chance that he was.

Maybe I can find some way to slip this into my general exams . . . it might convince certain of my examiners that I'm not just wasting my time wandering around old graveyards.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Mysteries of the Google

In the past two months, 44 Google searches for "Wayte-A-While Makepeace" have directed readers to this blog.

Is there a Wayte-A-While Makepeace fan club out there? If so, may I join?

Thursday, July 23, 2009


I just bought a Trivial Pursuit app for my iPhone. It is generally very good — a little easier than regular Trivial Pursuit (it's multiple choice), but still good.

I'm a little confused about EA Games' understanding of the "history" category, though. One of the "history" questions was "To whom is Ellen DeGeneres married?"

But that's not why I'm grumbling. I'm grumbling because one of the answers was WRONG!

Question: In which war were the most Medals of Honor awarded?
A: World War II
B: World War I
C: The Civil War

It said that the answer was WWII, but, in fact, way more Medals of Honor were awarded during the Civil War. Fewer than 500 Medals of Honor were awarded during World War II, while over 1,500 were awarded during the Civil War. I don't know whether that figure even includes the 864 Medals awarded to the 27th Maine (all but 300 erroneously) or other rescinded Medals.

I'd rather be right than win.

Update: I've played a bit more of this game and found the other categories equally dubious. The "geography" category includes questions such as "Where does Peter go in 'Forgetting Sarah Marshall'" and "Where are the villains in 'Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull' from?" It's pathetic. There's already an "entertainment" category — why must it spill over into everything else?

101 Ways, Part 97: "Fell in Battle at Molino del Rey"

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
This series has featured several variations on the verb "to fall." I'm sort of surprised that it's taken me this long to add "fell in battle," but I checked the intro page and it doesn't seem that I've used it already.
Moses Emery Merrill of Brunswick, Maine was a West Point grad, though not a particularly stellar student (he graduated 37th in a class of 41). He served with the 5th United States Infantry and was killed at the Battle of Molino del Rey during the Mexican-American War.

Fort Merrill, a shortlived outpost in Texas, was named for Moses Merrill.

Moses' son, William Emery Merrill (b. 1837), followed in his father's footsteps, attending West Point. William was a much better student — he graduated first in the class of 1859 and went on to be General Sherman's chief engineer during the Civil War.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Even Shakesville's Got the Cemetery Fever

The recent eruption of cemetery news has even reached the non-history blogs I read!

If this keeps up much longer, I'm going to have to find something even more obscure in which to specialize. Such is the inclination of the grad student.

Molly Fowler Gravestone Stolen?

 Thanks to Fritz for pointing me toward this story in the comments.

On Saturday, Richard Platt, the city historian for the town of Milford, Connecticut, noticed that one of Milford's most famous gravestones was missing. The stone, dedicated to Mary Fowler (d. 1792), is famous for its epitaph:

Molly tho pleasant in her day
Was sudd'nly seiz'd and sent away
How soon shes ripe how soon shes rott'n
Sent to her grave, & soon for gott'n

A picture of the full stone is available in the Farber Collection.

Thankfully, the stone was recovered today. It seems that someone may have dragged it into the woods before abandoning it. Those things are heavy.

This is just another reminder to be vigilant when you're in your local cemetery/graveyard. If you see something amiss or can't find a beloved stone, report it! Also, if you ever see a gravestone (or part of a gravestone) in an antique store or gallery, try to find out if it's a reproduction. If you're not sure, call your local historical society, preservation organization, cemetery commissioner, or police and ask them to check it out.

Name o' the Day

From the cemetery on Bath Road in Brunswick, ME:


I didn't catch her (his?) last name — this marker was in a family plot and I don't seem to have a picture of the main monument.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

More From Salon

The third article in Salon's series on "grave offenses" at Arlington National Cemetery is out today. I've been unimpressed by the series so far, but the newest installment does contain some actual examples, rather than vague allegations.

In 2003, Arlington workers dug into a plot that they thought was empty, only to find an unexpected casket there. The remains are still unidentified. The situation is unacceptable, but, as far as anyone knows, it is an isolated incident.

I don't mean to defend Arlington's director — he sounds like a tyrant — but I'm still not convinced that this constitutes the "malfeasance" that Salon alleges. The fact that the investigation has found only one screw up at such a gigantic, multi-century cemetery speaks to the generally high level of competence and care at Arlington. As the cemetery spokeswoman quoted in the article notes, the situation reemphasizes the need to update the records system, which is an ongoing project.

Of course, all efforts should be made to identify this unknown soldier. If they cannot identify him/her, he/she should be honored by burial in the Tomb of the Unknowns. There's an open spot.

I wonder how this story would have been different if Mark Benjamin and Salon had approached it in a less sensational, less confrontational way. Instead of accusing Arlington of "malfeasance" and punning about "grave offenses," Benjamin could have used the story of this newly discovered unknown soldier to explore Arlington's personnel troubles, budget limitations, and grave decoration policies. Instead, he went in guns blazing, screaming scandal. Instead of producing a well-written, insightful investigative report (like this one), he created a breathless, sensational piece. Piggybacking off the truly horrifying situation at Burr Oak is insensitive and irresponsible.

Salon is one of the organizations trying to prove that new media can do investigative journalism just as effectively as traditional newspapers. This series is not helping to make that case.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hidden Gems of the Bible

America is full of Davids, Johns, and Marys. Over the past decade, a few other biblical names have gained popularity — Jonah, Levi, Jacob, etc. There has even been a slight uptick in the incidence of Hezekiahs (#929 in 2008), Ezekiels (#241), and Nehemiahs (#364).

But how many Americans really dig deep into the Bible for baby names? How many Zelophehads do you know? How many Hazzelelponis? I've never met an Epaphroditus, though I have seen a few in the records.

One I've never seen before: Mehuman.
Mehuman Hinsdell
Deerfield, MA

Sunday, July 19, 2009

More Cemetery News

Apparently, cemeteries are the new Michael Jackson. I've never seen so much cemetery news in so many prominent outlets in the same week. On the heels of the Burr Oak tragedy and the unproven allegations against Arlington, the New York Times has a front-page (of the online edition) piece on Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The historian in me is very pleased. The hipster in me wonders when all of these tourists will go away.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

101 Ways, Part 96: Nobly Fell by the Impious Hand of Treason & Rebellion

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.

I love Massachusetts. One day, we're mourning the brave patriots slain by cruel, bloody, British oppressors and the next we're complaining about "the impious hand of Treason & Rebellion."

Meet Jacob Walker of Whately, MA. In 1787, Walker responded to a call for volunteer militia to put down Shays' Rebellion, an uprising of debtors in western Massachusetts that is best known for exposing the weaknesses of the federal government under the Articles of Confederation. Walker was killed by Jason Parmenter, a suspected ringleader who resisted efforts to arrest him.
Walker is buried in Hatfield, MA under a headstone that testifies to the malleability of political rhetoric in the Revolutionary era. Compare entry #28 to entry #96:

To the Memory
who respected by the Brave,
Beloved of his Country's Friends
Dear to his Relations,
while manfully defending
the Laws & Liberties
of the Commonwealth,
by the impious hand
of Treason & Rebellion,
upon the 17th February AD 1787
in the XXXII Year of his Age.
Citizen passing drop a tear
And dare to imitate the BRAVE.

I am of the opinion that gravestones do not merely reflect the evolving demands of loyalty to the new United States — as public monuments, they helped to create new standards for patriotism. Whoever composed this epitaph was making a political argument and trumpeting it in a public space.

As a work of art, this stone is particularly nice. The carver — the Farber Collection is unsure whether it is John Locke or Solomon Ashley — makes lovely letters, though he could have used a once-over from a better speller. I especially like those capital As.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mementos at Arlington

I've been reading Salon's series on "Grave Offenses" at Arlington National Cemetery and I have to say, I'm pretty underwhelmed. Despite the author's outraged tone, there seems to be little cause for the sensational titles. Coming in the wake of the Burr Oak disaster, I think it's somewhat irresponsible of Salon to sensationalize this series which, as far as I can tell, has uncovered no malicious intent or actual wrongdoing.

The first installment made a few serious (though unsubstantiated) accusations — some bodies are not buried beneath the correct headstones — that, if true, are truly troubling. Other complaints — the computer database project is taking longer than expected — are par for the course and hardly outrageous. The boss sounds like a jerk, and, should the investigation find that he did mistreat his employees, he should be punished. That said, Salon presents no evidence to back up its most sensational claims about the actual treatment of bodies at Arlington.

Today's follow-up piece examined the treatment of mementos left at veterans' graves. The author, Mark Benjamin, writes in high dudgeon about personal artifacts being "trashed" at Arlington, rather than catalogued and preserved as they are at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial:
The sun was out after several days of rain . . . Left out in the rain to rot were crayon drawings by children who had lost a parent, photographs of soldiers with their babies, painted portraits and thank-you notes from grade-school kids to fallen soldiers they had never known. Colors of artworks ran together. Photos were blurred and wilted. Poems and letters were illegible wads of wet paper. A worker in a brown uniform wandered among the graves, blasting the headstones with a power washer without regard to what was left of the mementos -- or the obviously uncomfortable mourners looking on. Some items got further soaked. The worker blasted others across the grass. Many of them would end up in a black trash bin in the cemetery's service area.
Benjamin goes on to interview family members who are "distraught" to discover that their grave offerings are destroyed after they are collected during regular cemetery maintenance. He is shocked at the paltry collection of artifacts preserved by cemetery staff — medals, uniforms, children's drawings — which pales in comparison to the vast collection of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. "What war stories had been lost forever? What words from a father to a son or wife to a husband were sitting in some landfill? What meaningful personal artifacts had been relegated to the Arlington trash bin?"

Benjamin has two major objections: the artifacts are treated disrespectfully and they are not being preserved for posterity. The first seems quite overblown — he admits that he visited after several days of heavy rain and the "disrespect" he witnesses seems to consist mainly of soggy letters that have blown about. Does he want Arlington to build a dome? And yes, items left at graves are often removed and discarded in order to keep the cemetery uncluttered. I don't think that this comes as a surprise to anyone. The word "trashed" seems harsh, but I haven't read anything that suggests to me that the Arlington staff has treated grave offerings with callous disregard.

The second complaint is more interesting to me. As an historian, I'd love to see every artifact ever created preserved, but that's a very selfish impulse.

I started out on Benjamin's side, but his over-the-top indignation lost me by the end of the article. His major complaint is that Arlington's collection policies are not the same as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial's. Of course they aren't. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial's policy of collecting, cataloguing, and preserving every photograph, flower, and teddy bear left by visitors is extraordinary, not routine. The collection is vast and growing and is already a valuable resource for scholars.

Benjamin laments that no similar collection exists at Arlington, but that strikes me as an unreasonable standard. No cemetery saves all of the grave offerings — how could it? Set aside the logistics of collecting artifacts from Arlington's 600+ acres vs. the VVM's 500 linear feet, set aside the logistics of cataloging and preserving all of those tons of artifacts, set aside the fact that Arlington has never made a commitment to building a collection (in fact, they ask people not to leave items other than flowers). Should Arlington save the offerings? I'm not so sure.

What is the function of a grave offering? Is it meant for the historian's eye? Or does the historian commit an act of violence merely by gazing? Does it do its work in an archive? Or is it the exchange between the bereaved and the beloved that matters?

As historians, we want to know everything, read everything, and speak for others. We want to dig below the surface, expose everything to the light, claim understanding. It is very hard for us to accept the sacredness of silence and the utility of decay. I would like nothing better than to dig up every body in the slave section of the Newport Common Burying Ground and count the beads, examine the bones, analyze the offerings. What stories I could tell! But I have accepted that those offerings are not for me. It's why I don't support the idea that gravestones should be removed from cemeteries in order to preserve the art — decay is part of the life of that object and it can never mean the same thing in a museum as it did on a hill overlooking the harbor.

Why should we save a letter left on a soldier's grave? Why is it disrespectful to let it dissolve in the rain, soak into the soil, or fly away in the wind?

Benjamin's article reminded me of a seminar I attended when I was in high school at a local historical society. A preservationist from the SPNEA was speaking about preservation techniques for textiles and furniture to an audience of amateurs with attics full of family relics. The preservationist's specialty was quilts, and her eyes widened with wonder when one elderly woman brought forward an ancient quilt that had passed from generation to generation in her family. It was a beautiful quilt — intricate, colorful, and very, very old by quilt standards. When the woman started talking about how their family uses the quilt for their annual family picnic, the preservationist's eyes just about fell out of her head. There was a lot of stammering about wrapping it mylar and NEVER EVER taking outside ever again. The woman looked at the preservationist like she was crazy and said something along the lines of, "everyone in my family for eight generations has sat on this quilt, and you'd better believe it's going to see nine and ten."

What is the value of a quilt? Should it be protected from moths and studied by professors? Or should it decay with use by a family that values it for what it means to them, not for what it tells us about the social and cultural history of quilting?

I'm a professional scholar of material culture. I love an old quilt. I love an old letter. If I had a box full of grave offerings from the 18th century, I'd faint with delight. But I'm not troubled by the treatment of artifacts at Arlington as described in the Salon article. The artifacts are not preserved, but they seem not to be mistreated. What's wrong with that?

Verbatim Pat Buchanan

"This has been a country built, basically, by white folks in this country."

Hingham Cemetery

Last Saturday was beautiful. Since there have not been too many beautiful days this summer, I took advantage of the sunshine by visiting Hingham Cemetery. After spending nearly an hour on Rte. 3A, I was not expecting the cemetery to be lovely, but it was.

I've seen some small-town graveyards that are still in use after 300 years, but Hingham Cemetery is different. The 17th- and 18th-century graveyard has been incorporated into the landscape of the 19th-century rural cemetery to create a beautiful and interesting time-collapsed environment. In this place, gravestones from the 17th century stand just a few steps from graves so new they have not yet grown grass. It was strange, but not unpleasant.

The old section of the cemetery is located on a hill behind the Old Ship Church (1681). The oldest surviving gravestone is from 1672, with the bulk of stones dating to the latter half of the 18th century. Many of these gravestones were carved by the Pratt family, whose tiny, bewigged and bonnetted faces always strike me as funny in their exaggerated solemnity.
If you visit Hingham Cemetery, don't overlook the 19th-century sections. It's no Mount Auburn, but there are some lovely monuments, including the marble statue of Civil War-era governor John Andrew.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Confederate Tennis

Here are some incidental favorites from my recent forays into Civil War naming trends:

Confederate Tennis
white male
b. 1864
1870 residence: Grafton, VA

Lee Grant Laughter
white male
b. 1869
1870 residence: Edneyville, NC
(note: 15 people listed in the 1870 census bear the first name "Lee Grant" — all but three were born after 1861)

General Lincoln Grant Shirely
white male
b. 1866
1870 residence: Frederick Co., VA

Emancipation Coggeshall
white female
b. 1863
1870 residence: Franklin Co., OH

Secession Seigler
black female
b. 1861
1870 residence: Hibler, SC

Confederacy Cypret
white female
b. 1861
1870 residence: Baldwin Co., AL

States Rights Gregory
white male
b. 1861
1880 residence: Chickasaw, MS

Gettysburg Battle
white female
b. 1878
1900 residence: Union Church, AL
(To be fair, if my last name were "Battle," I would be hard pressed to resist doing this to my children.)

What are the rules for Confederate Tennis?

Cryptic Symbols

Most of the gravestones in Hatfield's Hill Cemetery are slate, granite, or marble, but a few of the earliest are made of local red sandstone. Several of these were carved by Joseph Nash, who seems to have been a part-time or self-taught carver. His letters are rough and his stones have irregular shapes and barely any decoration. He does seem to have embellished stones by gouging out steps in the surface of the stone — a technique often used to cut out a mistake, but seemingly employed for effect on the John Belding stone (1725).

Some of Nash's stones are embellished with strange symbols:
To me, this looks like crossed bones, a skull, an hourglass, and a pick and shovel:

If I had to guess, I would venture that Nash was attempting to copy the much more intricate stones of the Boston carvers of the late 17th century. Their stones occasionally have rows of cryptic symbols just under the death's head:
Mary Goose, d. 1690
Granary Burying Ground, Boston, MA
Richard Kettell, d. 1680
Phipps St. Cemetery, Charlestown, MA
If that's true, I would guess that Nash may have lived near Boston at one time and remembered that style after he moved west. Those symbols are uncommon on Boston-area stones carved after 1700, but Nash was carving them on his family's stones in the 1720s. This may be an example of an old-fashioned style surviving in a rural area after it has fallen out of fashion in Boston.


 On the heels of the Burr Oak fiasco, Salon is running an article on possible misconduct at Arlington.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Lois Cook Bartlett, Matriarch

I haven't been able to track down any information on Lois Cook Bartlett of Brunswick, ME, but I was enchanted by her headstone.
Mother of
Clarissa Bartlett Spear
& Grandmother of
Elizabeth G. Spear Wing
& Great-Grandmother of
Louise E. Wing Varney
& Great-great-Grandmother
Luigino E. Varni Gardinier
"Arise Daughter and go to thy Daughter
for thy Daughter's Daughter has a Son."

An inscription on the gray stone underneath the marble notes that five generations of descendants attended Lois' burial.

Does anyone recognize that daughter's daughter quotation? I poked around on the internet and found a few similar quotations in New England captivity narratives, but I'm not sure of the source. It sounds scriptural, but, as far as I can discover, it isn't.

This stone is a late example of the practice of noting the extent of an elderly person's posterity on his/her gravestone. While not tremendously common, these stones crop up all over New England.
Daniel Tyler
d. 1802
Brooklyn, CT

A friend of mine who recently traveled to Utah for a grandmother's 90th birthday party assures me that modern Mormon gravestones often list the deceased person's children (you see this in New England sometimes, too). I don't know if that's a long-standing tradition that goes back to the Mormons' genealogical links to colonial New England or if it is a new trend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Luck in the Graveyard

Pete has an unusual talent for finding four-leaf clovers. His mom has a picture frame filled with pressed clovers that he collected as a child. Whenever he accompanies me to graveyards, he scans patches of clover and, more often than not, finds one. Maybe there's something about his engineer's brain that can easily recognize patterns in the chaos — he will occasionally spot a four-leaf clover and then ask me to find it, which I never can.
Happy anniversary, Pete!

Speaking of Civil War Names . . .

. . . is Senator Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III (R-AL) named for Jefferson Davis and P.G.T. Beauregard?*

I ponder this question as I watch the man confess a shocking ignorance of the history of American law while on national television.

In case you haven't been watching Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings, I will summarize Senator Sessions' remarks:
White men are neutral. Everyone else is prejudiced. The application of American law was TOTALLY NEUTRAL AND OBJECTIVE before women, people of color, queers, and their allies started messing everything up.
I watch CNN at the gym, but I had to turn it off this morning. I really could not stand to hear Senators Sessions and Grassley accuse Judge Sotomayor of "activism" in the Ricci case when her ruling was based on precedent and law while Justices Scalia and Alito created a new standard in order to satisfy their political imperatives and bent over backwards to ally themselves with a lawsuit-happy fellow Italian-American. I'm certainly no constitutional originalist (no is, no one can be, no one should be). I just could not stand to see those smug idiots display their prejudices so baldly while simultaneously claiming to be "objective."

They live in a fantasy world, where our national aspirations have already been wholly fufilled. Sometimes I wonder why I bother to study American history, but now I know — so I can laugh in the face of anyone who says that the history of American law is a history of objective decisions rendered by impartial marble men.

Senators Sessions and Grassley (and others, I'm sure — I just didn't watch that that far) have criticized Judge Sotomayor for saying that her experiences and her individual perspective will undoubtedly color her rulings. Of course they will. Just as Justice Scalia's color his. Just as Senator Sessions' color his questions. Are they against introspection? Reflection? Acknowledgment of the inescapability of bias?

What a disgusting display of willful, partisan, racist, historically-illiterate ignorance.

*To be clear, he'd be an asshat whatever his parents named him — I just have Confederate names on the brain.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Unionist Naming in the Postwar South

There's a very interesting discussion going on over at Civil War Memory about John Stauffer and Sally Jenkins' new book, The State of Jones. I haven't weighed in on the comments thread because John Stauffer is my department chair, so I feel it would be inappropriate for me to comment. Nevertheless, I have been following the debate with great interest.

I don't have much to add on the subject of Jones County, but if there's one thing we love here at VPI, it's onomastics! In their comments on Civil War Memory, Prof. Stauffer and Ms. Jenkins ask, "How many white Southerners do you know who, in 1868, named a son after Ulysses S. Grant?"

As it happens, quite a few.

I've been working on a series of posts about pro-Union naming among white Southerners and pro-Confederate naming among black Southerners. I'm still working on compiling the comprehensive data, but I can offer a few surprising tidbits here:

1) The 1870 census shows 103 men with the first names "Abraham Lincoln," "Abe Lincoln," or "Abraham L." living in the 11 ex-Confederate states. Most of the little Abes lived in Tennessee, Virginia, or Arkansas.
All of the Abraham Lincolns and Abe Lincolns were born during or after the war. Some of the men named "Abraham L." were born before the war (18%), but 82% were born during or after the war, which tells me that most of them were named after Lincoln.
2) Ulysses S. Grant was also a surprisingly popular name among white Southerners. There are dozens of them. Here are a few examples:
General Grant Norton, b. 1866, McMillans, Marion Co., SC

U.S. Grant Owens, b. 1869, Hawkins Co., TN

Ulysses S. Grant Harris, b. 1866, Hill Co., TX

I count 494 men and boys named "Ulysses S. Grant," "US Grant," "Ulysses Grant," "General Grant," or "Grant" in the 11 ex-Confederate states in the 1870 census. The vast majority of those are simply named Grant.
In some states (AL, LA, FL), the number of boys named Grant born before the war was about the same as the number born after the war, indicating that those born after may not have been named for the general. In states with strong Unionist naming trends (AR, NC, TN, VA), the number of little Grants shot up during and after the war, which indicates that many of those boys were indeed named for Ulysses S. Grant.

3) Like those parents who name their children after presidents, white Unionists in the South sometimes named their children in sets:

Twins: Ulysses Grant Clem and Schuyler Colfax Clem, b. 1869, Liberty, AR

Abraham L. Smith (b. 1863), Henry Sherman Smith (b. 1866), and Ulisses S.G. Smith (b. 1869), Wittenberg, NC

 Abe Lincoln Kennedy (b. 1865) and James Sherman Kennedy (b. 1868), Union, MS

Abe Lincoln Woody (b. 1863) and U.S. Grant Woody (b. 1868), Yahoola, GA

Union Holleman (b. 1862) and Abraham L. Holleman (b. 1873), Fayetteville, AR

This is just a smattering of the pro-Union names given to white children in the Confederate and post-Confederate South. From General Sherman Dobbins of Floyd Co., VA (b. 1866) to Abe Lincoln Britt of Henderson Co., TN (b. 1866), hundreds of boys (and a few girls) wore their families' pro-Union sympathies in a very public way. Some were clustered in commuities, like three little boys named U.S. Grant (b. 1867, 1869, 1869) living in Richland, AR in 1870.

How many white Southerners named a son after Ulysses S. Grant?
Several hundred.

Note: My charts do not include Ulysses Collins, son of Jasper Collins, because he is listed in the transcription of the 1870 census as "Ulysses L. Collins." This means that my current methodology probably undercounts Unionist naming in the South. My numbers include neither boys whose names are recorded simply as "Ulysses" nor those with the middle name "Grant."