Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Suffering of Amos Humiston

The New York Times is running a five-part feature on Sgt. Amos Humiston, a New York soldier who was killed at Gettysburg. Humiston's remains were identified after several newspapers circulated details about an ambrotype of his three young children that was found among his possessions.

Errol Morris is investigating the Humiston case with an eye to both history and memory:
There were two separate searches more than a century apart, an initial search to identify the fallen soldier, and then a subsequent search to discover something about the man. There is also a series of implicit questions. The first question is: What is his name? The second question: Who is he? Tell me something about Amos Humiston. And then, there is a third question: “Who is he to us? What does he mean to us?” 
I'm especially interested in that third question. I wonder if Morris will recognize the Humiston monument as part of a reconciliationist narrative in the monumental landscape at Gettysburg.

Redcoat Holdouts Still Fighting the American Revolution

The Onion has the scoop.

. . . Local law enforcement officials said the soldiers are now considered suspects in a string of unsolved garden burglaries that began in 1838, as well as in the 2003 deaths of five Revolutionary War reenactors near Lowell, MA. The Centers for Disease Control is investigating whether the regiment may also be responsible for the recent deaths of several thousand New England residents from smallpox.

Monday, March 30, 2009

An Immature Post About How Immature I Am

I didn't blog when I was working as an elementary school teacher. Now, I sort of wish that I had — I'm sure I've forgotten 1,000 wonderful stories. I try not to blame myself, though — I know that I was working 18-hour days between teaching, prepping, and taking night classes, and that if I had tried to write about teaching during my precious sleeping time, I would never have made it through.

Today, a post on Failblog made me realize that I should write down some of my teaching stories before I forget them all. What follows is an account of my immaturity as a 21-year-old in that unexpected minefield of double-entendres: a 2nd grade classroom. Possibly NSFW.


The picture on Failblog could have been taken at L********* Elementary. In fact, I did a double-take and took a good, long look at that potted plant, trying to determine whether it was L*********. But no — I remember now — our "Cum" files were in the kind of cabinet with the very wide drawers and the files hanging sideways. For those of you not in the know, "Cum" is short for "Cumulative File" (aka "your permanent record") and is pronounced "kyoom." This file holds all of a student's most important school-related paperwork: end-of-year report cards, major disciplinary reports, promotion/retention paperwork, initial registration card, etc. As the end of the schoolyear approaches, teachers will be bombarded with increasingly shrill memos imploring them, "PLEASE update your Cums!" "All Cums must be filed by June 11th at 4:00!!!"

By the time I had to file my Cums, I was a pro at sucking in my cheeks to avoid wildly inappropriate laughter during school hours. I was 21, just a few months out of college, and had been instructed by my TFA supervisors that I must remain strictly professional in appearance and behavior at all times, lest I bring shame on myself, may family, my alma mater, the United States in general, and TFA in particular. I wore skirts and addressed other teachers as "Mrs. So-and-so" and was generally very businesslike, but I had one weakness: unintentional sexual slang used by straight-faced teachers/administrators. You'd be surprised by how often this is a problem at an elementary school.

My first major test was in October at my very first IEP meeting. An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan, a legally binding document detailing the interventions a school will provide for a student with special needs. It's a Very Official document requiring a Very Official meeting. (Side note: no matter how Official a meeting is, its seriousness is invariably undermined when the adult participants are forced to sit in tiny chairs.)

I arrived at the meeting early* and arranged all my Official-looking folders containing the Official diagnostic tests and observation notes I had collected to assess Tasha's** progress. I was soon joined by the district psychologist, the principal, the reading specialist, Tasha's 1st-grade teacher, and Tasha's grandmother. Pleasant hellos all around. First item: let's look at some diagnostic results to see how much progress Tasha has made since the last IEP meeting. First diagnostic test: the Woodcock-Johnson.

I might have snorted. No, I definitely snorted. I reached for a tissue to cover my face and managed not to go into full-on cackle, but let me tell you, it was a struggle. To this day, I have no idea how Tasha performed on her Woodcock-Johnson — all I could hear was a little voice screaming in my ear, "Don't laugh! Don't laugh!"

I'm not proud of myself, I'm just telling you what happened.

At least there were no students in the room. When I told one of my TFA buddies this story, she countered with one of her own:

Our district used a scripted reading curriculum called Open Court — all the 2nd grade classes across the whole 20-school district read the same story during the same week and are supposed to do the exact same activities, etc. If you have a hardass principal, it can be awful, but parts of it aren't that bad. The 2nd grade curriculum has some really great units (Fossils, Camouflage) and some terrible units (Kindness).

The people who developed Open Court were never children. They have no children of their own and have never met any children. Proof of this: the very first lesson in the 4th grade Open Court curriculum, week 1, day 1, is a vocabulary lesson including the words "cockpit" and "abreast." All fourth graders think this is amazingly hilarious. First year teachers who've spent all summer working on ulcers and reading about "classroom management" do not.

I had my own run-ins with Open Court vocab lessons. Fortunately, 2nd graders are a teeny bit too young to think twice about "cockpit," but that doesn't mean that Open Court didn't throw me a few curveballs over the course of the year.

Seriously, Open Court, what is it with you and woodcocks? Yes, I know, they are adorable little birds. But must they appear in every story? I never knew so many children's stories had woodcocks in them — did you seek these stories out? Did you commission special books just so you could shoehorn another woodcock reference into the 2nd grade reader? It was excessive.

I could have gotten through the woodcocks ok if it were not for that typo. The end-of-week quiz for Unit 3, Week 3 asks a question about the "woodchuck" in that week's story. There is no woodchuck in the story, just another woodcock (of course). I (first-year teacher!) did not notice this error until after I spent an hour coaxing the student copies out of our tempermental photocopier. It's not like the kids won't notice.

I have a plan: at the beginning of the quiz, I will calmly direct everyone's attention to the bottom of page one. Then I will direct them to cross out "woodchuck" and write "woodcock" in its place. I will demonstrate this on the board. It's foolproof. Just, please, nobody laugh.

I'm at the board, calmly crossing out "woodchuck" and calmly writing in "woodcock." From the back of the room, know-it-all Nasreen** pipes up, "Well, we should really just write 'cock'" instead of crossing out the whole thing." Ok, Nasreen, you do that. Lizbet**: "Yeah, me too, I'm just writing 'cock.'"

Keep it together, nobody's laughing, they're just being logical. Just focus on writing "woodcock" so the others have a model to follow.

A moment of silence, and then I hear it, "huh, huh, huh" — a low, staccato, grunting laugh. Oh no, it's Ramon,** one of the most mature kids, one of the ones I feared might make something of this. "Huh, huh, huh." I suck in my cheeks — if this snowballs out of control, it will not be because I started it. "Huh, huh, huh." I sneak a glance over at Ramon — he's got a big grin on his face:

"Huh, huh, huh. Woodchuck is a funny word."

Laughter bubbles up from every corner of the classroom. "Ha. Woodchuck. Good one, Ramon." "Tee hee, woodchuck." "Huh, huh, huh."

Immense relief. They're just little kids. So am I, apparently.

*TFA motto: "Early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable!"

**All names have been changed.

Blogging Through History

In this strange little cartoon-illustrated piece, CBS compares Publick Occurrences, 18th-century pamphlets, and 19th-century newspapers to modern blogs.

I don't know that I'm quite as optimistic about the "many voices" characterization of either the 18th century or the present as the CBS story. After all, no amount of friendly faux-crayon doodling will change the fact that this piece ran on CBS' national program, CBS Sunday Morning, which is broadcast over the public airwaves (for now), while this blog gets about 100 hits per day.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Beenanawell Gibbs

A few questions about this gravestone:

1) Is this baby's name really "Beenanawell"?*

2) What is the origin of the name "Beenanawell"?

3) Is it pronounced bee-NAN-uh-well or buh-NAN-uh-well or some other way?

I have no answers, but I do know this: Beenanawell Gibbs joins Godbert Godbertson, Wigglesworth Switser, and Orange Wedge on my list of all-time favorite New England names.

You can visit Beenanawell in the Newport Common Burying Ground in Newport, RI.

*There's a man named Benanawell Bradford who lived in Michigan in the 19th century — he is sometimes listed as "Benamuel." I've found several other Benamuels, though none in the Bible. Did they mean ben Samuel? The closest in the KJV is Ben-ammi, Lot's son/grandson. The name translates as "child of incest." 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Sealing Child?

Does anyone know what the term "sealing child" means in the context of LDS baptism for the dead?

I've been doing some research on Pete's ancestors and have run into the phrase several times. Here's a RootsWeb entry for Pete's great(8x)-grandfather, William Thompson Jenckes:
I've found some good information about LDS baptism for the dead, but am having no luck tracking down "sealing child." Any ideas?

Langley Children

 Earlier, I tried to link to a picture of the Langley children's gravestone, but soon realized that I had never posted them. This was clearly an oversight — this is one of the most famous gravestones in Newport and an excellent example of John Bull's extraordinary carving skills.
Like the Charles Bardin stone, the Langely children's gravestone shows that John Bull was a talented artist. I wonder what he might have done with European training.
The Childs children's gravestone in Lexington is striking, but the Langley children's stone is a masterpiece.

101 Ways, Part 78: Left It

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


Desire Bull, d. 1791
Newport, Rhode Island
Sacred
to the Memory
of
Mrs. DESIRE relict of the late
Capt NATHAN BULL Senr
who after a faithful discharge
of the duty asigned her in
this state of labour & trial
left it on the 9th of July
1791 aged 76 years.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

101 Ways, Part 77: Kill'd by Lightening

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

Daniel Bushnell, d. 1796
Hanover, CT
Mr. Daniel Bushnell of
Lisbon, was kill'd by
lightening, August 1st
1796. in the 50th Year
of his age.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Encounters With Jackass Priests, Part II

Readers of this blog will recall that I had a maddening encounter with a rude, inconsiderate, sanctimonious jackass of a priest at my grandfather's funeral back in July.

This shouldn't come as news to anyone, but it turns out that he isn't the only one of his ilk.

Before I get into the body of this story, there are two bits of background information you will need to know in order to appreciate it:

1) My mom is a life-long Catholic with 12 years of Catholic school under her belt and all her sacraments in order. She learned how take communion in the pre-Vatican II era (no chewing, no talking with the host in your mouth etc.)

2) In the 25+ years that I have known her, my mother has only ever worn her hair one way: in a long braid hanging down her back to her waist.

A few weeks ago, Mom attended funeral services for her aunt, Lucy, at St. Pius X in Wolcott, CT. During the service, the priest said several pointed things about the sanctity of the Eucharist and how only Catholics who were "without substantial sin" could receive communion. Fine, whatever. A slightly odd argument to bring up at a funeral, but the family thought he was targetting one of Lucy's sons, who has become an Evangelical Christian. I don't know that it's strictly necessary to scold someone publicly at his mother's funeral, but then, I'm an amoral atheist, so what do I know?

When it came time for communion, the grieving apostate remained seated (why would he want communion anyway?), but Mom got up and waited in line with her cousins, aunts, and siblings. She shuffled forward in line, held out her hands for the host, and put it in her mouth while turning away. As noted before, she did not chew it, having been instructed in childhood not to chew the Jesus.

As she started back down the aisle, she heard the priest yelling something, but had her mind on other things. She paid him no mind until he bounded down the aisle, seized her by the braid, and arrested her movement. "What did you do with the host!?!" he demanded, "Where is it!?!"

Stunned into uncharacteristic meekness, Mom just opened her mouth and pointed (remember, no talking!). The priest huffed and turned away — without an apology, I might add.

Of course, this incident was the talk of the repast. The waitstaff at the restaurant assured Mom that they get a lot of business from St. Pius X funerals and that she wasn't the first person who had been assaulted by that particular priest during communion. Several of my mom's cousins are eucharistic ministers — they tried to explain that the priest hadn't seen her put the wafer in her mouth because she was turning away as she did so and wasn't visibly chewing. That still doesn't explain the hair pulling to my satisfaction.

What the hell is this jerk's problem? Has he been on high alert since Cracker Gate? Even if the priest is paranoid enough to believe that middle-aged women are infiltrating funerals in order to steal consecrated wafers, what on earth would possess him to pull someone's hair in order to get her attention? Then again, I thought it was inappropriate for a priest to interrupt my reading and scold my cousins during Papa's funeral, so I am obviously not privy to the deep well of compassion that compels such pastoral behavior.


A PSA for all Catholic priests in Connecticut:
I have a boatload of elderly Catholic relatives who will, unfortunately, pass away over the next decade or two. I will attend many of their funerals. Let it be known that I will not stand for this fuckery again. If you decide to embarass a grieving relative, turn your homily into a rant on school prayer, or touch one of my family members in a non-comforting way, I promise that I will cause a scene (again). But next time, there will be less bursting into tears on the dais and more screaming at you as I storm out of your church and slam doors. Fair warning.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Richad

More adventures in r-dropping:

IN MEMORY of
Hannah ye Wife of
Richa(r)d Hayward
who died Novr. 29th
1758 in ye 64th Year 
of Her Age.
Newport Common Burying Ground 
Newport, RI

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Mitochondrial Eve

My wish for pterodactyls goes unfulfilled, but I was not too far off.

RIP, BSG.

Mansfield Center, Connecticut

As the weather continues to warm up, I find myself getting restless to hit the graveyards again. Hopefully, I'll get to take the camera for a spin next week, during my Spring Break.

Until then, here is a picture of the burying ground in Mansfield Center, Connecticut, taken just a bit after dawn on my birthday.

Husbband to . . .

During the eighteenth century, most New England gravestones encoded the language of patriarchal hierarchy into their epitaphs. White women, children, and enslaved African Americans of all ages were almost always identified in terms of their relationship to white, male heads of household. For example, you might find a series of gravestones with these epitaphs:

"Here lies ye Body of John Smith"
"Here lies ye Body of Ann Smith, wife of John Smith"
"Here lies ye Body of Nathan Smith, son of John Smith"
"Here lies ye Body of Violet, servant of John Smith"

It is very unusual to find a gravestone dedicated to an adult white man that mentions any other member of his family. The exceptions are typically young men (18-25ish) who are unmarried and still identified as sons and double stones commemorating both a man and his wife or child. In the latter case, the pattern still stands: "Here lies ye Body of John Smith died March ye 20 1745 also his wife, Ann Smith . . ."

In all of my gravestone hunting, I have only found one 18th-century carver — Obadiah Wheeler — who regularly identifies white men in terms of their relationships with their family members. Wheeler lived in Lebanon, CT and his work can be found in many of the surrounding towns, including Windham, Lebanon, Norwichtown, Coventry, etc. He doesn't always add "husbband" to men's epitaphs, but my informal, casual efforts have identified several examples:
"Thomas Huntington Esqr & Husbband to Mrs Elizebeth Huntington"
Windham Center, CT
—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—
"Decn Shubael Dimmuck Husband to that Worthy Gidly Woman Mrs joannah Dimmuck"
Mansfield Center, CT
—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—
"Capt Jon- Websters who was the loveing Consort of Mrs Elisabeth Websters"
Lebanon, CT
—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—
Sadly, I can't read the inscription of this one, but the words "Husband" and "Sarah" are legible:
Lebanon, CT
—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—
This is probably my favorite one, so I'll quote it in full:
Here lies ye Body of 
Mr William Moore who 
had been ye Husband 
of three Wifes Mrs Mary 
Moore & Mrs Mary Moore 
& Mrs Tamazon Moore 
Who died April 28 
1728 & 77 year of his age 
I pray God Bless my louing Wif 
My Children & my friends
I hope in Heauen to see you all
when all things have their ends

I should also mention that "Tamazon Moore" is going on the list of great names.
—*—*—*—*—*—*—*—
Wheeler's quirk didn't really catch on — later local carvers seem not to have replicated it much at all. I did find one exception. This stone was carved by Jonathan Loomis in 1776. Slater notes that Loomis was stylistically influenced by Wheeler, saying,
[Loomis' stones] are of large size with faces that are rather crude resemblances to those carved by Obadiah Wheeler. The Wheeler influence is also evident in the frequent use of the central Heart and stemmed six-rayed rosettes in the horizontal below the face (Slater, The Colonial Burying Grounds of Eastern Connecticut, 17).
"Mr Thomas Barrows Const to Mrs Esther Barrows"
Mansfield Center, CT

Here are some more examples of Wheeler's family identifications from the Farber Gravestone Collection.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

CBS: Come for the Basketball, Stay for the Comedy?

I grew up in a UConn-loving, basketball-watching family.

I am the sole NCAA basketball fan in my current household.

In exchange for enjoying the tournament, I am forced to endure a series of vile promos for Two and a Half Men where the only "joke" is that women don't like or understand basketball. It's tiresome.

I'm not even sure it's offensive. It's just embarrassingly lazy writing.

Comedy = Tragedy +Time?

I'm sitting here, watching the NCAA tournament, when I see a commercial for "kgb" — apparently it is a service where you text in a question and they send an answer.

I looked it up and their full name is "Knowledge Generation Bureau."

Why would you want your information-gathering agency to be known as "kgb"? Is it an intentional reference to the KGB and, if so, is it intended to be funny/cute? If it is intentional, it strikes me as more disturbing than anything else. It's not like naming your company out of something that used to be scary but is now potentially funny/benign, like, say, Vikings. The KGB was a) pretty scary and b) active recently.

What do you think? Too soon?

Willie, Mary, and Charlie

Willie, Mary, and Charlie
Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, MA

This sweet monument in Mount Auburn Cemetery is dedicated to three siblings, two of whom died within days of one another in 1849 and a third who was born after his siblings' deaths and died in 1856.

One interesting thing about this memorial is that it does not specify the children's family name. This caught my eye because, in the 18th century, children's grave markers almost always name the father and (usually) the mother. These Victorian children are not memorialized as dependents of earthly parents. Instead, they belong only to the God to whom they turn their smiling, noseless faces.

Windham Center Cemetery

Here are some random pictures of my hometown cemetery in Windham, Connecticut.
One of things I love about the burying ground in Windham Center is the high mica of content of the local stone. When the sun hits them just right, they sparkle.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Rezolved Stevens

Name of the Day:
Rezolved Stevens
Mansfield Center, CT
d. 1792

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Belcher Noyes

Remember our good friend, Belcher Noyes?

Turns out he grew up to be a JP. According to a 1769 newspaper item (which describes a fight at Cord Cordis' British Coffee House), that stands for "Justice o'Peace."


Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Scrubbing "Plantation" From Little Rhody's Name

Have you ever heard someone use the vile neologism "herstory"? It makes my skin crawl. Call me a hopeless pedant, but since the word history is etymologically unrelated to the pronoun his, I read "herstory" as a politically misguided malapropism.

Today, I came across a news story about a proposal to drop the word "Plantation" from "The State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations." A bill in the Rhode Island legislature would do just that:
At a news conference Thursday, the principal sponsors of the bills, state Rep. Joseph Almeida and state Sen. Harold Metts, said they want a all references to a plantation removed from the name, saying it harkens back to the days of slavery.
 No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

The "Plantation" in the state name is a seventeenth-century word meaning "colony," — it is in no way connected to the state's history as a slave state. Check out the text of the 1663 charter here.

In the 16th century, when England was just scouting out America, the terms "colony" and "plantation" meant slightly different things. To 16th-century ears, "colony" meant "overseas trading/resource extraction post with few settlers" and "plantation" meant "permanent settlement with women and kids and chickens, etc."

In the 17th century, when English began planting settlements in America, Jamestown would have been seen as a colony in the trading-post model, while places like Plimoth Plantation had families and farms.

The definitions of these terms evolved over the course of the 17th century and took their present forms during the 18th century.

The word "plantation" in Rhode Island's name is a 17th-century word. It is not a reference to large, industrial farms where enslaved men, women, and children were imprisoned and forced to labor.

This sort of thing makes steam come out of my ears. I am in no way denying Rhode Island's legacy of slavery — indeed, I am currently writing a conference paper on that subject. There were even plantations (in the 18th- & 19th-sense) in Rhode Island. Still, this bill strikes me as a tone-deaf proposal that should make any historian or etymologist cringe. The whole thing seems very like the continued dust-ups over the word niggardly.*

My opposition to the name change puts me in some very bad company. If you read any news story on this subject (or watch this video), you will encounter a dozen or more dumb, privileged, racist commenters whose contributions range from, "Don't you have anything better to do?" to "LEAVE IT ALONE!!!!11!!" to "I wish we could just stop talking about slavery!!!" I do not agree with these obnoxious morons. They are the same people who leave comments on my Pixar post telling me to go suck a dick.

I oppose the name change in Rhode Island not because I think the issue deserves no scrutiny, but because the bill makes a bad argument that is wrong on the history. I am willing to be persuaded that a name change is in order by an honest argument about how the meanings of words change over time and how once-innocent words/symbols accrue hurtful connotations. Unfortunately, that's not the argument that the bill's sponsors are making. They claim that "plantation" is a "vestige" of Rhode Island's slaveholding past, which is simply untrue. The most basic inquiry shows that this is a specious line of argument and such sloppy history drives me bonkers.

For pro-change arguments, visit We Are Not a Plantation.

*I should clarify here: Since controversies over the word "niggardly" began garnering national attention, people who continue to use the word instead of "stingy" often do so provocatively. I do not mean to gainsay those who are offended by modern usages — rather, I mean that these are similar controversies in that they both involve consideration of the original meaning of a word and confusion with its later homophones/homographs in which the modern conversations over modern usage distort the origins of words.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Isabella Nevins

I spent Friday with the James Murray Robbins papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Nestled among the business letters and school schedules, I found the most manipulative letter I have ever read. Isabella Nevins is writing to her younger sister (the letter is undated, but probably dates to the 1770s).

Here is how it starts out — no date, no "Dear Elizabeth," — just off to the races:
Whence cumes it my D[ea]r Sister that when one has most to say they often find themselves least able to speack and w[ha]t Justice for not answering my last of the 15th Desembr I could dwell on the disagreeable subject a wholl Day, & then conclude unkind Sister, thus to desert me when all comfort fail’d; & all friends ablandoned  me,
It's a little hard to parse, but basically, Isabella is scolding her sister for not replying to her letter. She continues,
it was throw no Imprudance of my own that I am strip’d of all that could make life tolerable, it is the finger of God that bears hard upon me, — Permiting, or comanding, still he of his wisdom suffers us to be humbled. my children has brought me to want, & Providence has hethertoo wink’d at my distruction, 
I love that: "wink'd at my distruction."
The Death of my Dr & well beloved Husband, — The youthfull folly’s of my young son James, — the unhappy Marrage of my lovely Daughter — & her worthless Husband Abbandonen her, — My eldest son not Applying to business — but spending the prime of his Life in Idelness, has want of Health, etc. & now last of all Oh hevy stock his Brother, my young Son, the hope of my Old Age, ye desire of my Eyes is taken away from me for ever, true he had faults, but I saw them with a Mothers Eye, & his youth plead strong in his behalf — Aless, Trouble, on Trouble persued me, Sorow, on Sorow Overtook me Want lade hold of me, & dispare thretend my totel overthrow, nor could my greatest speed outrun the aprotching danger, nor gratest care defend me from the humbling strock: Say I My Sister is their among ye Groop of your Acquaintance one more wratched then myself — but that Religion forbids — I shuld long since have took up Arms against a sea of troubles & by opposing  eded them, 
I realize that Isabella Nevins has had a tough life. Still, recounting the litany of sorrows that must have been very well known to her sister (we'll soon learn that this is not the only letter of this genre Isabella has composed) seems a little over the top, especially the Hamlet quotation there.
But my Good, my Guarden Angel, whispers me that I shall see better Dayes, thow I now weep &; write, &; writ, &; weep, I doubt not but my tears will sune be dry’d away, I fear I have been troublesome — I tould you too much in my last of my sufferings to which you did not indulge me with an answer when I so earnestly implord your intrest with my Brother send that money which would then in some shape have relived the most destres’d Widow that ever yet exested . . .
Again, scolding the sister for not replying to her last letter. If you read the whole letter without pausing for my asides, it becomes fairly apparent that Isabella has positioned her sister's unresponsiveness as the capstone to all her earthly troubles. Allow me to diagram her letter in shortened form:
  • You never write.
  • All the world, up to and including God, is against me.
  • Let me remind you of all my sufferings.
  • I'm contemplating suicide.
  • And still, you never write.
Am I being overly unsympathetic toward Isabella? Perhaps. After all, she's been through a lot.

But wait, what's this? A postscript!
P:S I have brock open thos Letters to acknolege recept of yours by Miss Murrow who delivered the Muney you was to give her in charge for me it came in a Good time, & I am much oblig’d to you
I am left wondering — if you wrote a doleful letter scolding your little sister for not writing or sending you money, but before you sent the letter, you received a reply from her that included the money you requested, why would you still send the letter?

Yep, Yep, Yep

See, I'm not crazy after all.

Also, the above article does a bit of analysis on the subject of race in American animated children's entertainment. Since Pixar films are governed by an assumption of "white=universal/neutral" that is at least as strong as their "male=universal/neutral" predilection, I think I may have another essay in me . . .

Is Battlestar Galactica Feminist?

I wanted to respond to Slate's recent post on the question, which got a lot of things very wrong, but I'm pretty busy this weekend. Thankfully, Amanda Marcotte said a lot of the things I wanted to say. One very important point (I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought this):
Natch, the point is that “BSG”, in my opinion, handles the topic [of rape] responsibly, which means treating rape like a crime of power and not that of a man who just got too horny and lost control.  Every single rape or attempted rape is tied directly to male domination or control of women’s bodies.  They show them raping prisoners because that’s what torturing prison guards do.  The only way they could have been more responsible is to show that they rape male prisoners, too

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Layered Places

This week, I am writing an essay about "place" — the assignment is to take the reader on a tour of some little corner of America c. 1770. I'll be covering the neighborhood near the Old Town House in Boston, from the Brattle Street Church (marked "F" in the image below) down through Dock Square, into Cornhill as far as the corner of School Street. This 1769 map shows the Old Brick Church (A), the Town House (a), and the Prison (behind the Old Brick Church).
As I work on this project, I am constantly translating back and forth between what is and what used to be. King Street is now State Street, Cornhill is Washington, and this whole area is "near the Aquarium" on Long Wharf.

The two overlapping landscapes are competing in my mind and have become a jumble of landmarks that seem to exist simultaneously. The layering reminds me of some photos I saw a few weeks back of the Siege of Leningrad layered with modern images of St. Petersburg. The artist Sergei Larenkov, has has combined images of the same location 65 years apart to create amazing, disturbing landscapes:

More here.

If only I had photographs of the corner of King Street and Cornhill, circa 1770. Alas.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Born in Africa

Over at Civil War Memory, a recent comment thread touched on the issue of slaves who endured the Middle Passage and lived to see emancipation. This experience was not uncommon in parts of the North — in Newport, for example, Salmar Nubia and Occramar Mirycoo were among the African-born men who led a repatriation effort after Rhode Island passed gradual emancipation in 1784. In the South, several decades separated the end of the legal international slave trade and emancipation, so the question is this: How many African-born ex-slaves lived in the South after the Civil War? And a follow-up: How many were born after the end of the legal international slave trade in 1808?

In the 1870 census, 2,178 Americans are listed as having been born in Africa. Of these, 938 were born in or after 1810. Some of these people may have been sailors or the children of missionaries, but many of them were probably brought to the United States on illegal slave-trading voyages or smuggled in through Mexico.

Here are a few examples:

Quilla Hutchinson, Camden, AL, born in Africa, 1847:

George African, Sumter Co., Georgia, born in Africa, 1845:

Zena Jack, New Orleans, LA, born in Africa, 1812:

Mingo Abney, Saluda, SC, born in Africa, 1844:

Abo Shiloah, Brazoria Co., TX, born in Africa, 1815:

We know for sure that ships carried illegal cargos of slaves to North American after 1808 (see the cases of the Antelope in 1825 and the Echo in 1858). I don't know whether anyone has done a careful study of African-born Americans during the reconstruction era, but the 1870 census has plenty of rich material for someone who might like to look into the matter.

It also strikes me that the 1870 census would be an interesting source for those looking at the late antebellum domestic slave trade — the birthplaces of different family members might yield some good data about pre-war slave trade routes as well as post-war mobility and family reconstruction.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Squirrel Crackers

Sometimes, when I'm working at home, I like to put crackers out for the squirrels. We've had so much snow — the poor things are looking a little thin.

When I open the box of crackers on the patio, little ears perk up all over the yard:
Then, I spend the rest of the afternoon laughing at the cat as she presses her nose to the screen door. It's like feline television.
Just thought I'd share.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bunker Hill Graves?

According to the Boston Globe, there may be a mass grave in Charlestown containing the remains of British soldiers killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. J.L. Bell at Boston 1775 has more.

Today in Unfortunate Naming . . .

I was searching for someone in the 1771 Massachusetts Tax List and came across a rather unfortunate name. See if you can spot it:
In case you're interested, the Widow Shitcock's real estate was worth 8 pounds per year.

Take this name with a grain of salt — it may be an artifact of the transcription. Other names indicate this may be the case, unless, of course, there really was a "Widow M'Question" living in Boston in 1771.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Moving Prose

Since beginning this writing workshop, I've been on the alert for examples of excellent writing. Today, I came across one such example: an essay called "Fatal Distraction" by Gene Weingarten for the Washington Post.


Weingarten tells the moving stories of parents who have inadvertently killed their children by forgetting them in cars that later overheated. He balances analysis and interview, public policy and private agony, questions of law, mercy, and compassion. Above all, Weingarten makes an important point: this could happen to anyone.

In less skillful hands, this story might have inspired smug self-congratulation in judgmental readers. Instead, he evokes heartfelt compassion without writing an apology.

It's a wonderful example of great writing. Read it if you have a chance.

p.s. Weingarten is also the author of "Pearls Before Breakfast" — a piece I think of every time I hear a musician on the T.

Maps, Maps, Maps!

Looking for some good maps of colonial Boston? The Doak family genealogy page has you covered. These nice folks have posted giant versions of maps from 1645, 1722, and 1775 that are zoomable. The 1722 map is especially nice for finding streets and landmarks.

You can buy paper copies from their gift shop, though the biggest copy is only 24"x30".

Here's another good map of Boston (1769).

Here's a good map of Cambridge, MA, 1760-1770.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Trumpets

Gravestone theme of the day: Trumpets!

Lydia Hartshorn, Providence, RI, 1776:

Elizabeth Clark, Chelmsford, MA, 1767:

Chandler Holmes, Plymouth, MA, 1831:

Margaret Cumings, Billerica, MA, 1790:

Jonas Clark, Chelmsford, MA, 1770:

David Payson, Wiscasset, ME, 1814:

More trumpets! And more, and more, and more!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms

One of my frustrations with my 17th-century British history field has been the accessibility of the writing. My professor is very focused on English politics, and it's a bit difficult to get into the field if you aren't already expert. The surveys are the size of cinder blocks and as clear as mud, while monographs are hyper-specialized. Since I am an ignorant American, I'm still figuring out basic stuff like "How is Parliament elected?" and "Why does everyone have four different names?" and can get a bit lost in the details of voting supply.

With that in mind, I recommend Tim Harris' Restoration: Charles II and His Kingdoms to anyone who finds herself in a similar boat. While derided by my professor as "airport reading," I found it very helpful for nailing down the chronology and the major players of the period. Harris also does a little *gasp* social history, which helped me to embed the political narrative in a richer context.

Harris has three fundamental arguments: 1) the populace was politically aware, politically literate, and engaged with issues of national politics; 2) it is necessary to put the Restoration in the context of the three kingdoms because of the problem of multiple kingdoms; 3) the real revolution in England was the Glorious Revolution of 1688-9.

Even if it is a Penguin paperback, this book is not slight. At 400+ pages, it is merely the first half of Harris' project — a second volume of similar length will cover the reign of James II and the Glorious Revolution. Still, I would rather read 400 pages of Harris than 400 pages of Woolrych or Collinson any day.

Friday, March 6, 2009

101 Ways, Part 76: Died Tryumphingly in Hops of a Goyful Resurrection

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
Well, I suppose that any Christian resurrection is, by definition, "goyful."

IN MEMORY of Mr.
PHENEHAS Son of
Mr. THOMAS & Mrs.
MARY BURNHAM,
who died
TRYUMPHINGLY,
in hops of a goyful
RESURRECTION,
in Dec. ye. 22nd.
AD: 1776
in ye. 23,d Year
of his Age.

Phenehas Burnham, East Hartford, CT, 1776
full photo at Farber Gravestone Collection

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Boston Massacre +239 Years

Today is the 239th anniversary of the Boston Massacre. I'm stuck in bed with the flu, but if anyone out there is healthy and interested, there will be several commemorative events over the next few days.

If you are looking for an excellent play-by-play account of the Boston Massacre, I can't think of anything better than Hiller B. Zobel's helpfully titled, The Boston Massacre. If you're looking for clear writing, extreme detail, and a fairly even-handed account, Zobel is for you. I particularly appreciate his efforts to put the "massacre" in the context of other violent incidents during the winter of 1769-1770.

If neither reenactments nor reading appeals to you, you can always stop by the Granary Burying Ground and place a stone on the monument dedicated to those killed on March 5, 1770 (and Christopher Snider, d. 2/22/1770). Just watch your step lest you get a little closer to the dead than you had originally planned.

101 Ways, Part 75: Received a Mortal Wound on His Head

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

This may be stretching my original parameters a bit since the real statement of death on this stone is plain old "departed this life." Still, I found the specificity of this epitaph intriguing enough to warrant a mention here.

Also, "Jedidah" is an unusual feminine name — I'm not sure I've ever seen it (outside the Bible) before.

Sacred to the Memory
of Amasa Brainard Ir
Son of Lieut Amasa & Mrs
Jedidah Brainard who
receivd a Mortal wound on his head
by the falling of a weight from the Bell
on Sunday ye 22nd of Apl. 1798
as he was about to enter the Church
to attend on divine worship
who Departed this life
April 27th in ye 20th Year of
his Age
In the midst of life we are in death.
Amasa Brainard, East Haddam, CT, 1798

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

101 Ways, Part 74: Rested From the Hurry of Life

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

Daniel Booth, Newtown, CT, 1777
(photo available at Farber Gravestone Collection)

The once well respect'd
Mr DANIEL BOOTH
Here rested from the hurry
of Life the 8th April AD 1777
aged LXXIII [73].
Could a virtuous, honest, & amia
ble Character, Could Blessings
of the Poor echoing from
his Gate, Could ye sympathetick
Grief of an aged Partner or the
softning Tears of a numerous offsp-
ring Disarm The King of Terrors
He had not died. What is Life,
to answer lifes great Aim.
From Earths low prison, from this vale of Tears
With age incumbered & oppress'd with years
Death Set Him free, his Christ had made his Peace
[Let grief be dumb]; Let pious Sorrow cease.

For genealogical information about Daniel Booth, click here.

Birthstones?

These are fun: stone monuments that mark a birthplace, rather than a grave.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

101 Ways, Part 73: Exchanged this for a Better Life

For a brief intro to the "101 Ways to Say 'Died'" series, click here.
Sarah Linkorn, Attleboro, MA, 177[9?]

Aha! The humanities aren't usually predictive but I totally called this one.

Underneath are the
Remains of Sarah
Linkorn, Born April
12, 1743. New Born,
March 18, 1764 [Ex]
changed this for a 
better Life March 5
177[9?]

That's a hair's breadth away from the three births I predicted back in #40.

The imageryon this stone is wonderful. The raised hands and swirling clouds imply that the deceased had a direct spiritual connection with God. The clothes appear to be a kaftan, a chunky necklace/choker, and (maybe) a headband. This is just a guess, but this attire may suggest a Holy Land/primitive Christian association.

Judging from the image (even without the epitaph), I would guess that Sara Linkorn belonged to a Methodist or charismatic Christian church. Since she converted in 1764, Sara may not have been a Methodist (Methodism reached New England a few years later). Does anyone know what other spiritual/charismatic/primitivist Christian sects were active on the MA/RI border in the 1760s?

Methodism had certainly reached Attleboro by the 1780s. Another gravestone in Attleboro (Marcy New, d. 1788) also features a face with raised hands, along with a Methodist hymn:
A guilty weak & helpless worm
on thy kind arms I fall:
Be thou my strength & righteousness
My Jesus & my all.
Also of note — I've been looking for a "Linkorn" family in Attleboro, but have had no luck yet. There is, however, a large family named "Lincoln" . . .