Saturday, June 30, 2012

Who's Heard of Queen Katherine's Day?

While reading through a colleague's recently completed dissertation, I ran across mention of a slave celebration that I had never heard of before and appears to have been unique to Kentucky.

Slave celebrations were certainly not uncommon in the nineteenth century South. Those situated around harvest time - although they still required work - usually occurred regularly so that they came with an air of anticipation by the participants. Work celebrations such as corn shuckings (or huskings) allowed slaves from neighboring plantations and farms the occasion to visit with one another and work together in a common purpose in an often less strict environment.

Those celebrations that occurred around the Christmas-New Year holiday season were most often attended to with great care. Various foods were prepared and served and often the master let down his guard as concerned alcohol consumption by his workforce. Dances also normally accompanied these festivities, where enslaved musicians played traditional instruments such as the fiddle, banjo, guitar and bones. However, this particular Kentucky slave celebration, called Queen Katherine's Day, apparently allowed an unusual opportunity for slave self expression, and to a degree, role reversal.

To the slaves who worked in the hemp industry - at least in some of Clark County, Kentucky's factories - Queen Katherine was a type of invented patron saint who allegedly ruled when the art of rope making was invented. It seems that slaves took elements of their own African culture and blended it with Euro-American traditions of charivari to create this unique holiday.

When I first read about this it reminded me of the shivaris or charivairs that the common people in early modern Europe were allowed by nobles to perform to display their displeasure of a rule or law in which they had no say or way to dispute. It was in essence a release valve for normally inexpressive frustration. It too reminded me of the junkanoo and carnival celebrations of the Caribbean. This opportunity and ability to unwind withe masters' consent appears to have been the goal for Kentucky slaves too. 

On November 25, Queen Katherine's Day, the slaves were allowed to parade through the streets making noise. They could draw attention to themselves by making speeches and didn't have to yield the street or sidewalk right of way to whites (within reason). They could honor their valuable but degraded labor in hemp manufacturing - which was usually referred derogatorily as "slave" or "nigger work," - with an air of respectability for this one day of the year.

The time of year for the Queen Katherine's Day celebration was carefully selected in order to coincide with a slow down in the hemp growing and harvesting cycle. Around this time each year the hemp underwent a rotting phase required to eventually obtain the desired fibers from the stalks. Kentucky hemp working slaves often did not get the Christmas-New Year holiday season off that other slaves received because that was an intensive time of labor when the hemp stalks had to be "broken" and "hackled." 

Whites for a time understood the value of Queen Katherine's Day. By allowing their slaves one yearly day to blow off steam and celebrate, they ultimately remained in more control of the bonded population. But, in the wake of Nat Turner's Rebellion in Virginia in 1831 and increased antislavery agitation in the Bluegrass State, a fear arose that squashed Queen Katherine's Day. Kentucky outlawed the importation of slaves in 1833 in order to curb the possibility of bringing in rebellious slaves. On the heels of that decision, just two years later, the town of Winchester in Clark County, ended the Queen Katherine's Day celebration; most likely in fear of its potential to spark an insurrection. The town ordnance read: "Whereas, the negro slaves engaged at the rope walk in the vicinity of this Town, are in the habit of celebrating the 25th day of November in each year as the anaversary [sic] of rope making as invented during the reighn [sic] of Queen Katherine, by parading and marching through the streets of Winchester. Therefore let it be ordained by the Trustees of the Town of Winchester, that the Town watch this day appointed, be and they are hereby ordered to prevent such parade hereafter in the limits of this Town." So ended Queen Katherine's Day.

I would be interested if anyone has more information on this celebration and if it was held in other hemp growing counties or parts of Kentucky or was strictly confined to Clark County. 

Image "The Hemp Brake" by S.I.M. Major courtesy of the Kentucky Historical Society    

Friday, June 29, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Civil War era gender studies have been receiving the proper attention they deserve for quite some time now, but this particular area of scholarship continues to produce significant and interesting books. Purdue University professor Caroline E. Janney's Burying the Dead but not the Past: Ladies' Memorial Associations & and the Lost Cause adds to this growing list. While the subtitle does not indicate it, the focus of the study is specifically on the ladies' associations of Virginia.

In this book Janney explains that the postwar Virgnina Ladies' Memorial Associations (LMAS) grew largely out of Confederate women's wartime efforts and contributions. Southern women had helped their men battle the enemy by performing numerous functions including, but certainly not limited to nursing, sewing and even raising funds to manufacture gunboats.

After the war, these women continued to serve the South proudly by organizing themselves into groups to see that their beloved Confederate soldiers who had died during the war received properly decorated graves and were reinterred in Confederate cemeteries. Like in wartime, they afterward too raised funds, but instead of having gunboats built, they worked to have monuments built to honor their Southern soldiers. As Janney explains, the Southern landscape, particularly that in cemeteries and around courthouse squares, would probably look much different than they do without the LMAS influence.

One major goal of the Virginia LMAS was to bring home soldiers that had been buried in places such as Gettysburg and Antietam. The women felt their soldiers could not receive the proper recognition and respect they were due buried in "foreign soil." In fact, the LMAS were so aggressive in this mission that they went into significant debt, a debt that they really never retired, trying bring their boys home.

The LMAS were not without conflict. Janney explains that during the Reconstruction years Confederate men let the ladies handle much of the memorialization effort because the women were viewed as largely harmless by the occupying United States armed forces and Republicans that ran state government. But, as Virginia was redeemed to home rule in 1870, the men started to take more control of Confederate commemoration, much to the LMAS chagrin. These women had worked had to have a prominent place in Southern society and they did not want to give it up.

If this threat to their memory hegemony was not enough, the LMAS also faced playing second fiddle to a new heritage organization; the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC). The UDC, founded in 1894, brought a youth and energy that the LMAS could not meet and the older generation was soon overtaken in popularity and membership by the newer group. 

Despite all of these challenges Janney explains that the contributions to the Lost Cause by the LMAS of Virginia were not insignificant. The Virginia LMAS accomplished much in a erea when money was scarce and most people's concerns were on just surviving and providing for their families, not perpetuating the Lost Cause. Among the accomplishments the ladies can claim was the reinterrment of thousands of Confederate soldiers, the creation of six major Confederate cemeteries, the founding of the Museum of the Confederacy, helping fund the building of the Lee and Soldiers and Sailors Monuments in Richmond, and making Blandford Church in Petersburg into a "Confederate shrine."

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Burying the Dead, but not the Past a 4.75. I highly recommend it to anyone that is interested in how the Lost Cause has maintained a grip on the South's Civil War memory.   

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Just Finished Reading

It sounds logical enough. If Congress had the authority to end the African slave trade in the Constitution, then shouldn't it have the power to abolish the domestic interstate slave trade in America? That is exactly what many opponents of the institution believed and attempted to do, and it is also what those that supported the system tried to fight.

In Slavery and the Commerce Power: How the Struggle Against the Interstate Slave Trade Led to the Civil War, author David L. Lightner examines the long and bumpy road to end slavery by the abolition of the domestic slave trade in the antebellum years.

When Congress finally stopped the African slave trade with a 20 year continuance after the Constitution was written, they probably didn't figure that calls would be made to also end the selling of slaves on the continent from one state to another. But, as the nation expanded westward, it did so both in the North and the South. In the South, of course, it was believed slaves were needed for labor to first tame the wilderness of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas, and then for the cultivation of agricultural products that brought untold wealth, and thus power, to that section's planters. Slaves not only moved West with their migrating masters, they also moved via slave marketers. Purchased in the Upper South states, mainly Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky - who had developed surplus slave populations - these laborers were floated on steamboats and flatboats down rivers, along the Eastern seaboard coast and also cross-country in coffles to major trading centers such as Vicksburg, Natchez and New Orleans.

To cut to the chase, Lightner contends in Slavery and the Commerce Power that antislavery proponents' agitation to end the interstate slave trade added to the South's fears of the further curtailment of the expansion of slavery. Combined with the rise of the Republican Party, which was dedicated to non-extension of slavery into the Western territories, the call for the end of the domestic slave trade contributed to the secession of the initial seven Southern states.

To make this claim Lightner provides a wealth of evidence. For a time this issue garnered significant debate in the nation's halls of Congress. Lightner makes good use of the congressional record as well as private correspondence of numerous legislators. And, naturally the issue was also argued in newspapers, both North and South, as well as in court cases too.

The rise of an antislavery political party, the Liberty Party, brought disagreement over the overall effectiveness of arguing the abolition of the interstate slave trade, and thus, in the 1840s, this particular strategy against slavery waned. But, it was revived by an unexpected avenue, a novel; Uncle Tom's Cabin. The portrayal of slave traders and the slave trade in widely read book, combined with the politics of Kansas/ Nebraska, and then Dred Scott, turned up the heat in sectional frictions.

Slavery and the Commerce Power is an insightful read. It sheds light on a under-examined area of contention between the North and South, which ultimately helped bring about the Civil War. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give it a 4.5.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Anthony Burns

Image courtesy Library of Congress

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Just Finished Reading

My favorite chapter of Kenneth Noe's book Perryville: This Grand Havoc of Battle (2001) was the final one, "The World Has Changed", which examined the repercussions of the October 8, 1862 battle. So, I was naturally pleased to hear a while back that my friend and work-colleague Stuart Sanders was going to publish on this very topic.

Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle reminds us that, although the Civil War has been romanticized over the last 150 years, it was in fact filled with wounds - both physical and mental - death, and destruction, which not only affected the soldiers fighting, but also those at home pining for their return, and those caught in the war's wake.

Sanders brings to light many stories that vividly illustrate the fury of this rather short (in terms of duration) but intense battle in central Kentucky. To start the book he provides a brief overview of the battle to help provide the reader with a proper context, and then fills the balance of the book with stories from Union soldiers, Confederates soldiers, and also civilians, of the damage the battle caused to both person and property.

A couple of these stories stand out in my memory. One was the spectacle that an artillery shot caused. Apparently, after the battle closed, it was discovered that - what I presume to be an arching solid shot - hit four charging Confederates killing them in a neat vertical row file. The first soldier was hit in the top of the head, which was taken off, the second was hit full in the face, the third in the chest and the fourth in the abdomen. This particular spectacle drew remarks from a number of visitors, both military and civilian.

The other story is that of Henry P. Bottom, who owned a significant amount of land on which that battle was fought. His property was damaged heavily from the fighting and one of his barns burned during the fight. Other Bottom buildings were used for field hospitals and army shelters. His crops were ruined and his animals were confiscated by the Union army for use or consumption. His post-war attempts to recover monetary compensation from the government for his losses covered many years, but ultimately proved unsuccessful. Bottom used part of his land to bury a large number of the unidentified Confederates killed in the battle. Today this last resting place for those Southerners is marked with a large memorial -provided by the sate of Kentucky in the early twentieth century - and stone fence at Perryville State Historic Site.

Perryville Under Fire not only covers the immediate town near where the battle occurred, but also the nearby larger town of Danville (which housed a significant number of wounded soldiers), the Shaker Village at Pleasant Hill, Harrodsburg and Bardstown. All of these local communities felt the impact of the terrible battle that left over 7,500 men killed, wounded or missing.

One benefit of the book that I especially enjoyed was the large number of images and pictures that are provided. These help the reader better understand the facilities that were available for doctors to use for surgeries and for soldiers' to use for recovery. Unfortunately a number of these structures are no longer around, but some, such as the Elmwood Inn in Perryville and Henry P. Bottom house on the battlefield have survived.

Although some mention is made about the battle's psychological damage to both soldiers and civilians in the book, I would be interested to find out more about how individuals coped mentally with the terrible scenes of death and destruction experienced at Perryville. For many of the soldiers (especially on the Union side) this was their first battle and I would assume there were cases of what we now call post traumatic stress disorder that incapacitated them for service. Service records and pension applications would probably prove fruitful resources.

I really enjoyed reading Perryville Under Fire. The number of accounts that have survived that mention this battle's intensity and destructiveness are amazing. As mentioned above, it is well that we are reminded of war's high toll. It not only demonstrates the large sacrifices that were made on both sides during the Civil War, but hopefully it also sticks it the back of our minds when we ponder present and future military actions.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Perryville Under Fire: The Aftermath of Kentucky's Largest Civil War Battle a 4.75.  Well done sir!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Just Finished Reading

When later research refutes a scholar's previous claim, it is refreshing that they admit their error and attempt to make the earlier mistake well known.  Such was the case with Deborah Gray White's Ar'n't I a Woman?: Female Slaves in the Plantation South. Originally published in 1985, this book was revised in 1999 with a new author's introduction that explained what she would have done differently if she had first published at that later date.

In that revised introduction White mentioned that since the publication of the book it had been found that the title phrase she used, "Ar'n't I a Woman?" was actually not spoken by Sojourner Truth at an 1851 women's rights conference in Akron, Ohio. Apparently, that account was a fiction created by period writer Frances Dana Gage twelve years after it was supposedly uttered by Truth. Among other things, White also explains that if she was publishing in 1999 she would now substitute the word enslaved (verb) for slave (noun) to show more positively that their condition was placed on them, and certainly not self-imposed or in most cases accepted.

When first published, this book, which was White's dissertation, was groundbreaking. Before its publication little attention had been given to the female enslaved population. In the years since much scholarship has been built upon it and has added to our understanding of women slaves' existence.

Ar'n't I a Woman? encompasses five chapters that look at various aspect of antebellum female slavery. The final and sixth chapter examines the transition from enslaved women to freed-women in Reconstruction and beyond. In the first chapter, "Jezebel and Mammy: The Mythology of Female Slavery," White looks at the dichotomy that white America placed on African American women slaves to make stereotyping more applicable. In the second and third chapters the various roles and life cycles of slave women are examined to provide a clearer picture of their daily existence and to refute the Jezebel and Mammy myths. The fourth and fifth chapters look at the relationship of slave women with each other and with men and their children.

White's conclusion is that despite all of the trials and tribulation that enslaved women endured - harassment, both physical and sexual from white owners, sons of white owners and overseers; debilitating and exhaustive labor, separations from family and children - black women have persevered, shown extraordinary resilience and have contributed to American society as few others have that endured similar circumstances.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Ar'n't I a Woman? a 4.75.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Images of Nicodemus, Kansas

Images courtesy Library of Congress

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Lt. Gov. Jacob's Rant at Paris, Kentucky

On or about the 4th day of April, 1864, the lieutenant governor of Kentucky and former Union officer, Richard T. Jacob, made a speech at the Odd-Fellows Hall in Paris, Kentucky. This particular speech was heard by several officers stationed in the town and who then reported it to higher authorities.

One officer, Colonel A.A. Clark of the 40th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry stated in an affidavit that he head Jacob "utter seditious language, and strive to provoke and excite the people of Bourbon county to forcibly resist the enlistment of negroes." Clark explained that he was so offended by the language that Jacob used, which was both "violent and insulting" that he left the building and as he was doing so heard Jacobs say, "I know that Lincoln's tools don't like to hear the truth; no Kentuckian who is not a slave will ever support him [Lincoln] in his lies or tyranny, but will resist him with arms in his hands."

Clark's statement was corroborated by his lieutenant colonel Matthew Mullins, who claimed he was present for the whole Odd-Fellow's Hall speech.  Mullins called the oration "inflammatory and seditious" and said it was attempt to instigate a civil war within Kentucky. Mullins's affidavit stated Jacob "advised the people of Kentucky to rise up in mass and resist with all their power the endeavors of 'Lincoln and his minions' to enlist negroes in the army of the United States. That the people in their might and power ought to rise up and go and hurl Abraham Lincoln, the despot, from his seat. That Charles the First of England had lost his head for less offence than Mr. Lincoln's [Emancipation] proclamation, and that he, Mr. Lincoln, might yet also lose his head."

Major Joseph Stivers of the same regiment too heard Jacob's rant and said the lieutenant governor called "Mr. Lincoln a usurper and tyrant, and the armies of the southern confederacy (so called) should never surrender to the abominable authorities of the United States government, for if they did they would be disgraced, and that if they now laid down their arms to the present administration these States would be unworthy of ever being received back again into the Union." Captain Charles R. Curtis, also of the 40th Kentucky was in addition present and claimed that Clark's and Mullins's statements against Jacob were correct and true.

In November 1864, Jacob, who had campaigned vigorously for George B. McClellan, was arrested at his Oldham County home and exiled to the Capital of the Confederacy. He appealed directly to President Lincoln in late December 1864 and was allowed to return to Kentucky in January 1865.

Image courtesy Library of Congress.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Just Finished Reading

Two years ago I presented a paper at the National Underground Railroad Conference in Topeka, Kansas. During the welcome and introduction it was explained that the location of the hotel where the conference was being held was formerly known as "Tennessee Town" and was an Exoduster settlement. Naturally, from the study of American history I had heard of the Exoduster movement of the late 1870s and 1880s, but I didn't have much of an understanding of how it developed or know many of the tragic stories that its participants experienced. Nell Irvin Painter's Exoduster: Black Migration to Kansas after Reconstruction did much to fill in the holes of my understanding and answered many of my questions.

Although this book was for sale at the conference, I passed on it at the time. Luckily I later found it for sale at my local library's "friends of the library" sale for next to nothing.

Painter paints a vivid picture of denied rights and physical violence toward African Americans in the South in the wake of the "Compromise of 1877," which landed Republican Rutherford B. Hayes in the White House in exchange for the virtual end of Reconstruction troops and government in the former slave states that had not already been "redeemed." Once the few federal troops were removed, little protection was afforded to the freed people.

African American leaders' demands for the right to testify in court, serve on juries and participate more fully in elections without threats and the experience of violence went unheard by state and federal officials, so solutions were sought to remedy the problem. Some leaders suggested a move to Liberia, but costs proved prohibitive. Others suggested a move west. Black leaders and their followers associated Kansas with a more free existence. They saw the Sunflower state as the initial battleground of the Civil War and where the black man's friend, John Brown, had battled pro-slavery forces.

I was a little disappointed that Painter focused so much on the migration from the Deep South states, especially Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi.  And, while the movement from Tennessee led by Nashvillian Benjamin "Pap" Singleton did come in for a good amount of coverage, the movement from Kentucky - one of the earliest Exoduster movements - received scant attention. The Kentucky contingent started probably the most famous Exoduster town of Nicodemus, Kansas. Possibly the Kentucky primary sources were not as available as those from Louisiana, but certainly the motivation from treatment of blacks from the Bluegrass state was terrible too.

I found it intriguing that, as Painter mentions, Frederick Douglass opposed the Exoduster's efforts. Douglass apparently felt that the worst that African Americans had experienced was over and that a brighter day was on the horizon. He felt they should stay put in the South and work to improve their lives where they were. Some Exodusters saw Douglass' sentiments as hypocritical in that the former great abolitionist had indeed fled slavery in Maryland and had moved to Massachusetts, then Rochester, New York, then Washington D.C. in effort to improve his lot in life.

Painter explains that comparisons between the Exodusters and the First Great Migration (roughly 1915-1930) are incorrect in that the Kansas movement was a rural to rural migration, while the First Great Migration was a rural to urban experience. The final paragraph of the book provides a thoughtful summary of the whole work:
"The Exodus presented proof that Afro-Americans did not quietly resign themselves to the political or economic order of the Redeemed South. They cared that their civil rights were extinguished; they missed public school education for their children; they minded that they were victimized economically unless they bargained away some of their rights. But lacking the classic took for public redress - the reasonably independent exercise of the vote - their alternative was flight. Exodusters on their way to Free Kansas said no, we do not acquiesce in Redemption; we do no believe that this is the way of American democracy. Yet, of the more than six million Blacks subjected to Southern rule, only a few thousand acted on their faith that a Promised Land of freedom and equality might exist for them somewhere in this country."

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Exodusters a 4.25.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Assassination of the Sage of Ashland

The artist conveys some of the profound disappointment and anger among Henry Clay's many supporters at the nomination of Zachary Taylor at the June 1848 Whig convention in Philadelphia. The convention's act was seen as a betrayal of the elder Whig statesman. In a scene based on act 3, scene 1 of Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," the artist portrays Clay's opponents as treacherous conspirators stalking the unsuspecting statesman. Clay is pictured seated in the library of his estate at Ashland in Kentucky, reading the New York "Tribune," whose editor Horace Greeley was a Clay stalwart. Ten men with raised daggers prepare to attack him from behind. These include various Whig powers Daniel Webster, editor James Watson Webb, former New York mayor William V. Brady, Pennsylvania congressman David Wilmot, Kentucky senator and former Clay ally John J. Crittenden, and New York state party boss Thurlow Weed. Webster: "How many times shall Caesar bleed in sport" Webb: "Liberty! Freedom! Tyranny is dead!!!" Wilmot: "Go to the Pulpit Brutus" Brady: "And you too Cassius" Crittenden: "Stand fast together, lest some friend of Caesar's Should Chance" Weed: "By the necessity of my Nature, Your Enemy".

Image and interpretation courtesy of Library of Congress

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Good Times at the SCWH

I thoroughly enjoyed my time yesterday afternoon and all day today at the Society for Civil War Historian biennial academic conference in Lexington, Kentucky. As is the case with most conferences that offer concurrent sessions, the most difficult thing to do there is choose from the great session offerings. Attending the conference had the added benefit of providing the opportunity to meet some great historians and catch up with some old friends I hadn't seen in a while.

Yesterday I was only able to attend the afternoon session, but it was excellent. The title of the session was "Black, White and Green on Trial: Race and Ethnicity in the Union Military Justice System" and featured panelists Ryan W. Keating of Fordham University, Andrew L. Slap of East Tennessee State University and Christian G. Samito from the Boston University School of Law.  Response was provided by Lorien L. Foote of the University of Central Arkansas. All of these panelists relied heavily on courts martial records for the majority of their evidence and provided some great stories of primarily Irish and African American soldiers' experiences.

The first session I attended this today was "The Transformation of Sectional Identity in the Civil War" and included scholars David Ross Zimring of Virginia Tech, Michael T. Bernath of the University of Miami and Jesica A. Cannon from the University of Central Missouri. The panelists covered such issues of how native Northerners that fought for the Confederacy adopted a Southern identity, how Northern born school teachers were treated in the seceded states, and how Maryland changed during the war from a Southern identity to a Northern one. An excellent response was provided by Jonathan Daniel Wells from Temple University.

The second session was titled "Consequences of the Brothers' War and included James P. McClure of the Papers of Thomas Jefferson, Jennifer Lynn Gross of Jacksonville State University, and SCWH president James Marten of Marquette University. This session examined the physical and psychological damage the Civil War caused and insightful response was give by Jeffrey W. McClurken of the University of Mary Washington.

The conference ended on a high note for me as the final session proved to be my favorite. It was titled " Reassessing Kentucky and Kentuckians in the Civil War Era: A Broader Look at a Border State." This extended panel included: Aaron Astor of Maryville (TN) College, Anne E. Marshall from Mississippi State University, Elizabeth D. Leonard of Colby College, Patrick Lewis of the University of Kentucky, Matthew E. Stanley of the University of Cincinnati and J. Micheal Rhyne of Urbana (OH) University. Much of the discussion revolved around race issues that the war raised for citizens of the Bluegrass state and how they dealt with them. Christopher Phillips provided a thoughtful response.

Any history conference is not complete with out University Press book vendors. I knew I wouldn't get away without a purchase or two so I tried to be wise and search out the best discount available. Luckily for me the University of North Carolina Press was offering a 50% off sale today so I picked up the following titles that I have had on my "wishlist" for a while.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Antebellum and Civil War Political Leaders on Capitol Hill

Last week I had the pleasure of accompanying a Teaching American History group to Washington D.C. for a research trip to the Library of Congress and the National Archives.  While in the Capital City we were treated to a tour of the Capitol building by a couple of Representative Ben Chandler's staff members. I was stuck by the number of statues honoring the great statesmen of the antebellum and Civil War eras. Just a few I was able to capture with photographs were:

John C. Calhoun of South Carolina

Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland

Abraham Lincoln of Illinois

Andrew Jackson of Tennessee

Daniel Webster of Massachusetts

Henry Clay of Kentucky

Thomas Hart Benton of Missouri

Jefferson Davis of Mississippi

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

My, How Quickly Things Changed

In March 1857 the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott Decision ruled that African Americans were not citizens. Therefore, they were not to vote, run for political office, or testify in court, and while as the saying goes, "all laws are local," and this ruling was ignored in some areas, still the court's decision stood-for a time.

The country's entrance into a terrible civil war brought not only death and destruction, it also facilitated enormous social and political changes. Just eight short years after the Dred Scott Decision, the first African American received authorization to argue a legal case before the highest judicial body in the nation.

John S. Rock was born free in New Jersey in 1825 and received a good education in the public schools of the Garden State. He studied medicine in Philadelphia and graduated from American Medical College in 1852. Apparently not content with only being a doctor, Rock studied law and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1861. During the war he helped raise the black regiments that the Bay State produced and in the war's final year, with the endorsement of Senator Charles Sumner, he became the first African American to present a case before the Supreme Court.

Rock's amazingly accomplished life ended too soon on December 3,1866 as he finally passed away after a long battle with lingering health problems throughout the late 1850s and into the 1860s.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Just Finished Reading

During my college years, I, like many undergraduate history students, read James McPherson's Pulitzer Prize winning Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. In that excellent book McPherson set the scene for the coming of the conflict by driving home slavery's importance as the root issue of the conflict. In doing so he used as part of his evidence the filibuster expeditions that occurred in the late 1840s and through the 1850s that slavery's proponents attempted to extend the institution, not only to the western territories of the United States, but also to foreign countries such as Mexico, Cuba, and Nicaragua; with leading filibuster William Walker taking center stage in his narrative.

This expansion-fever phenomenon has since fascinated me, so I was pleased to locate and read Purdue University professor Robert E. May's book, Manifest Destiny's Underworld: Filibustering in Antebellum America. May takes an intimate look at these extralegal expansion expeditions that garnered much attention in period popular culture, significant popular support for their efforts and some political promotion.

Of course the term filibuster has a much different meaning to us today, but in the mid-nineteenth century it was a modification of French and Spanish words that were basically derivatives of a Dutch word for "freebooter." And, while the term 'filibuster" was coined with the rise of the expansion impulse, Americans' attempts to gain territory by private military conquests certainly predates the word by decades.

In Manifest Destiny's Underworld May looks at several of these private military expedition land-grabs and examines the motivations of the leader-organizers, their loyal followers and those who attempted to stop them, both foreign and domestic. Interestingly, May explains that not all of the filibuster supporters were from the South. The North too, especially in areas such as port cities such as New York City and Philadelphia had a fever for the potential of expanding America's principles and style of government to foreign countries. However, the majority of the targets were in the tropics and the best known leaders were native Southerners. Tennessean William Walker, Mississippian John A. Quitman and a host of followers from Southern states sought to establish American rule in places such as Nicaragua and Cuba.

None of the filibuster expeditions ultimately proved successful for long, but Walker did hold power as president of Nicaragua  for a time. May emphasizes that these private military efforts led to long-term strained relations in foreign relations with Latin American nations.  Many difficulties between the U.S. and a number of Central American and Caribbean nations dates back to this era of filibustering.

Of special interest to me was May's conclusion at end of the final chapter of the book. He states: "Filibustering, to be sure, hardly caused the Civil War. But during the late antebellum period, some Southerners became increasingly discouraged about slavery's future in the Union because of filibusters' constant setbacks; and on the eve of the war, northern memories of filibustering helped to stymie a compromise that might have averted the conflict. Had Americans never filibustered, the Union might have weathered the storm."

I highly recommend this fascinating study. One can hardly understand mid-nineteenth century American history without examining the filibuster expeditions. On a scale of 1 to 5, I give Manifest Destiny's Underworld a 4.5.

Monday, June 11, 2012

A Visit to Christiana, Pennsylvania

Since reading Thomas P. Slaughter's Bloody Dawn: The Christiana Riot and Racial Violence in the Antebellum North about a year ago, I have wanted to visit the site of this little known fugitive slave battle.  Saturday, I finally got the opportunity when Michele and I made a short detour on a journey to visit with her parents in Pennsylvania.

With the help of the internet I had scouted out the location of a couple of historical markers commemorating the event. The most obvious marker in the area is an obelisk in the town of Christiana that was placed in the 60th anniversary year (1911) as a memorial to the event. 

To give an abbreviated version of the story; in August 1851 Maryland slaveowner Edward Gorsuch received word that two of his slaves that had fled two years previously were spotted near Christiana, Pennsylvania. On September 11, 1851, Gorsuch, his son, a deputy marshal and some others attempted to apprehend the two fugitives who worked on the farm of free man of color William Parker.   
Gorsuch had obtained a warrant to arrest the fugitives and return them to Maryland, but apparently the community had been warned that Gorsuch and his posse might be on the way. When Gorsuch and his party arrived and demanded the fugitives, they were denied and a warning horn was sounded by Parker's wife Eliza, which brought black and white neighbors within hearing distance to assist the resistance. The Parkers' neighbors came with whatever weapons they could find; including firearms and farm tools.
In the ensuing argument gunfire was exchanged and Gorsuch fell mortally wounded and his son Dickinson was hit too. The slave-catching party quickly retreated and Parker, his brother-in-law and the fugitives fled north to Canada. 38 community members were indicted for treason in resisting and refusing to uphold the Fugitive Slave Law. Castner Hanway, a white neighbor of Parker and the supposed community leader, was defended in court by abolitionist and U.S. Representative Thaddeus Stevens. Hanway was found not guilty after conflicting testimony was received by the court. 
This small marker to African American resister William Parker is near the 1911 obelisk.
It was interesting to see how the current community is choosing to commemorate this historical event. These banners were on electric poles throughout the small town. What 161 years ago a treasonous crime, is now celebrated. This is partly what makes history so fascinating to me; learning how things change over time.
A historic photograph of the William Parker House where the riot occurred. The house is no longer standing, but an archaeological study was completed a few years back and the foundation was located.
We searched in vain for this highway marker which is supposedly near the actual location of the riot outside the town of Christiana. According to the information I had we were in the right location, but the sign was not to be found.

This late-nineteenth century engraving of the Christiana Riot was printed in William Still's book on the Underground Railroad.

Here is short video of a local historian describing the event:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Just Finished Reading

When I came across this title while browsing through recently I was intrigued. Unfortunately, our local library didn't have it in it's catalog, so I got a copy through interlibrary loan.

In On Jordan's Banks, author Darrel E. Bigham, professor emeritus at Southern Indiana University looks at African American life in the cities, towns and counties - on both the north and south banks - along the Ohio River from Ashland, Kentucky to Cairo, Illinois. His study covers from the late antebellum era and 1860s to the 1880s, and then from the 1890s to the Great Depression in the epilogue.

Bigham brings up several interesting findings. For instance, using census records he found that after emancipation, while blacks on the north bank lived largely in black headed family households, on the south bank they often remained as part of white headed families working as servants and laborers.

The amount of statistical information that Bigham brings to life is amazing. And, the nature of settlement and life along the river lends itself well to comparative studies. For example, although usually different in population and demographic makeup, cities and towns opposite one another on the Ohio River provide good opportunities for comparison. Jeffersonville and New Albany, Indiana compared to Louisville, Kentucky; Newport and Covington, Kentucky as compared to experiences in Cincinnati, Ohio; or Henderson, Kentucky versus Evansville, Indiana all provide valuable insights.

But, one issue I had with the book is just this - numbers and analysis prevail, which after all is important, but human stories are too often missing. One paragraph, that has many similar to it in the book, is as follows:

"During and after the Civil War, moreover, African Americans tended to move from rural to urban areas because of job opportunities and the presence of Union troops and whites who provided a modicum of protection and encouragement. In 1870 (table 8) 21,024 African Americans lived in Kentucky towns of 2,500 or  more, and they  accounted for slightly below one-third of those dwelling in the state's river counties (table 7). Ten years later the number had risen to just above 30,000, or 41 percent. Across the river, 12,918 resided in towns in 1870, or 43 percent of the African Americans residing in north-bank counties (table 9). Then years later that number had risen to nearly 20,000, or just below half."

The above information is very helpful and educational, and combined with personal stories, makes for a well balanced study, however, too much of either may make for either difficult reading or lack of proper analysis.

I applaud Bigham for taking on this study. It is not an easy task writing history where so few personal primary sources (letters, journals, diaries) have survived - or never created in the first place. Therefore, it appears that he relied heavily on census records and secondary sources for his research sources.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I give On Jordan's Banks: Emancipation and Its Aftermath in the Ohio River Valley a 4.

Friday, June 1, 2012

How Realistic Is "Hatfields and McCoys"

By Christopher John Farley

Almost 150 years after their famous feud began, the Hatfields and the McCoys are trending.
The History channel miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys” has sparked new interest in the battling families. The show, which began last night and will air segments tonight and tomorrow, co-stars Kevin Costner (as Devil Anse Hatfield) and Bill Paxton (as Randall McCoy). Costner also worked as a producer on the project.
The miniseries was greeted with mostly warm reviews, but how realistic is it? We put the question to historian Altina Waller, professor emerita at the University of Connecticut, and the author of “Feud: Hatfields, McCoys and Social Change in Appalachia, 1860-1900″ (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988). She spent ten years studying the Hatfield-McCoy conflict; she also was interviewed for a documentary that accompanies the History channel movie on DVD. She answered Speakeasy’s questions via email.
How realistic is the miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys”? What has it gotten right so far? What has it gotten wrong?
Realistic or Accurate? In some ways the portrayal of mountain people in the post Civil War era is realistic in that it was a rural culture where everyone knew each other on a face to face basis. But this movie makes Appalachian culture more like the wild west without cowboys and Indians. For example, the town of Matewan did not become a town at all until after railroads and other industrial development. No saloon. People did not congregate in a saloon but mostly at the yearly election day festivities held in an open field. The film perpetuates the myth that the Hatfields and McCoys were two different entities, very clearly defined. In reality, there was a LOT of intermarriage – Roseanna and Johnse were not unusual in that regard.
Was the Hatfield and McCoy feud more about clan culture, or more about friction brought about by industrialization? What were the underlying economic forces behind the Hatfield and McCoy feud?
Since family relationships were not clearly defined, there must be some other explanation for who was loyal to Devil Anse and who was loyal to Randall McCoy when push came to shove. That explanation lies in the economic conflict brought to the region first by the opportunity to market timber and second by railroads and coal. Devil Anse was the first local, successful timber entrepreneur in the Tug Valley, employing 35-40 men to cut timber and float in downriver to Cincinnati. Many of the men on his timber crew were related to the McCoys and thus identified as “Hatfields.” Examples are Selkirk McCoy and his two sons. Randall McCoy and his father had been involved in the timber business but had failed dismally thus setting up Randall to resent the success of Devil Anse. This is a far more realistic explanation for feud hostilities than irrational family hatreds. What the film does seem to get right is Randall’s obsession with Anse Hatfield’s success and his willingness to reject his daughter for her involvement with a Hatfield. Randall was a quarrelsome and vindictive person though it is understandable why he would be so. Later, in the second phase of the feud, the building of a railroad and the development of coal mines intensify the conflict although it is not Randall McCoy who is responsible but rather Perry Cline. Cline is another example of the economic conflict. What the film does not show is that Cline grew up as a neighbor of Devil Anse and that he was deprived of his 5,000 acres of land by a court case which is briefly mentioned in the film. Cline was forced to leave West Virginia and move to Pikeville, KY where he became friends with powerful politicians. Later he was able to use those connections to restart the feud (which in 1888 had been over for 5 years) and take revenge on Devil Anse. As far as I know there is no evidence for his interest in marrying Roseanna as the film claims.
How close do Kevin Costner and Bill Paxton come to capturing the historical details of the men they’re playing? Are there any actors in the series whose performances stand out in terms of accuracy?
Costner seems pretty good at portraying the combination of arrogance and reasonableness of Devil Anse. Anse was swift in taking violent action when he had come to a decision but he also tried to prevent violent conflict whenever he could. Paxton, although portrayed as younger than he actually was at the time of the feud, is good at showing his obsession with Devil Anse and the irrationality he had in regard to the pig incident and his daughter’s affair with Johnse. Roseanna is well portrayed although she was a stronger person than you might think. In fact, she made the decision to leave Johnse when she discovered his affairs with other women and Johnse was certainly not a devoted or faithful lover/spouse.
How accurate is the portrayal of the story of the ill-fated lovers, Roseanna McCoy and Johnse Hatfield? Are there any interesting anecdotes about the couple that haven’t been shown in the miniseries so far?
Part of the answer is above. But the main point is that this story is a minor part of the story – it has been built up to loom much larger than it actually was. The only really strange part of the story is Randall’s refusal to take his daughter back when she wanted to come home after leaving Johnse. Most Appalachian fathers would have welcomed her home.
Why does the Hatfield and McCoy feud continue to capture the public imagination?
Wow! Difficult question to answer. Perhaps because at the time of the feud, Cline had enough influence to get the attention of the Governors of both states and thus get the feud into national newspapers where it was luridly portrayed. Coal and railroad developers wanted to show the mountain people as uncivilized and barbaric so that they would not stand in the way of economic development. Anse Hatfield, for example, did not want to sell his land to outsiders. But once the feud made the national press, then most Americans who knew nothing about the economic conflicts in the region saw in the feud their own anxieties about family cohesion and family violence.
Anything you’d like to add?
I have been thinking more about this and want to reiterate that the feud was not caused by Civil War rivalries.  Indeed, most of the McCoys as well as the Hatfields were Confederates.  The exception was Harmon McCoy who fought for the Union.  Thus, when he was killed no one in the Tug Valley, not even Randall, seemed much bothered by it.  The conflict came later with the Cline Hatfield timber court case in which Cline lost his 5000 acres.  However, that case did eventually lead to the second phase of the feud in which Cline was the leader, not Randall McCoy.  When Cline revived the feud and the legal pursuit of Anse Hatfield, he was able to draw on Republicans and Union supporters who lived in Pikeville, KY and who had, indeed, resented Tug Valley confederate supporters.  Thus, in reality, old Civil War loyalties did come into play but not in the manner portrayed in the film.  The key thing to remember is the second phase of the feud was really the Cline-Hatfield Feud, not the Hatfield-McCoy Feud.  We’ll see how well the Costner movie deals with this in subsequent episodes!
Also, checking some dates, I was reminded that Perry Cline was married long before the romance between Johnse & Roseanna.  Why the filmmakers decided to make him Roseanna’s suitor is beyond me.
Yet another point – the judge in the pig trial was Preacher Anse Hatfield, not Devil Anse’s older brother Wall (Valentine is his real name).  Preacher Anse lived on the Kentucky side of the river and was trusted by Randal McCoy and his family.  He was a cousin of Devil Anse but also related to the McCoys.  Yet another example of how intertwined the two families were.