". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Summer Screening: Bayou Maharajah - The Tragic Genius of James Booker

One of the perks of being in NYC in July and August is the number of film festivals.

Of the two screenings to which we were invited Monday was this one, Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker.

It is very good technically as documentary film working with so little archival film television materials. Fortunately, there are still many people in New Orleans -- and elsewhere, like Joe Boyd -- who knew James Booker, who worked with him. These are all deeply informed and articulate.  The audience enjoys their screen time as well.

Beyond that, Lily Keber (director, producer, cinematographer) remained focused on subject.  She communicates clearly James Booker, who suffered from so many demons, is of interest because he was a very great musician, not because he suffered from demons. The Harry Connick Jr. on-screen illustrations of what Booker on the piano, which so few musicians can,  drove that home. We felt that Lily Keber had put no more and no less emphasis on Booker's gay aspects than was appropriate to tell his story. Evidently there were sources she couldn't utilize because they objected to the homosexuality being in the film at all.

Thanks to el V, by now I've spent a lot of time with great piano players, more than one of them 'professors,' from the Valdez father and son, Bebo and Chuchu, to Mac. El V's been blessed with friendships with some of the best.  But most of all this film kept me thinking about a great composer and pianist, Julius Eastman, who Ned met in that failure to continue on with academia at the U of Buffalo, and with whom the friendship continued here in NYC. Julius too was a gay black man in that same era, deeply steeped in the White European classical music traditions, sharing so many of the demons that rode James Booker.  He too died tragically too early.  El V mourns him to this day.

As another friend, who spent much time with James Booker, and saw the film on Sunday, said, the film did seem to attract the converted. It was a good house for a Monday afternoon, with most of us claiming a prior knowledge of Booker. But these were also film heads, who spoke to the filmic aspects of it during the Q&A.

We had to leave before then though, because there was a screening of another film at the Cervantes Institute to which we were invited, ironically, from the makers of Chico and Rita.

Lily Keber is to be congratulated, for making a film about an iconic figure of New Orleans, who could only have grown his music out of the musical culture of this city.  This film is another installment in the musical history of New Orleans that makes me wish so much I had known New Orleans far earlier than I did

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Down By the Riverside + The Yearling

What the U.S. Civil War meant for those nearly four million most directly affected was absolutely clear to that four million from before the first shots were fired.  They knew it was planned for years of listening to shouting red-in-the-face white power elites while they served at dinner, drinks on the veranda, drove the carriages, held the horses while the cards hit the table, just for starters.

I've been going through the highly respected Down By the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community by Charles Joyner (1984 - 25th anniversary edition).  It's a problematical book about antebellum Sea Islands' culture, particularly in the South Carolina parishes of All Saints and Waccamaw.  The problematical consists of several parts.

This matters because the book is so admired, and it often is the only book most people consult when looking for information of what it was like to be a slave on the plantation. This is a book much cited by those who argue that "slavery wasn't bad, and slaves lived better than most people."  This is not the fault of the author, and in should in no way negatively impact the deserved esteem in which he is held.

First, the research was conducted prior to 1984.  Research focii and techniques that tell us origin points of populations have changed our knowledge in these matters considerably since then. Today, no one would include either Yoruba or Fon (from where comes Vodou) cultural folkways and religion in this region these days because we know better. Nor would the large numbers of Islamized peoples be ignored -- or just not seen. Yoruba never came to North America in any numbers that could impact the African folkways of the majority peoples from Senegambia  (both fresh out of Africa -- so many of them Muslim -- during that period of great importation between the Constitutional ratification and the end of the Atlantic trade in 1808 and the older populations culturally assimilated with English folkways out of Virginia), Ghana and always, Angolan (Gullah).

Second, Joyner describes a culture and folkways at a mature, rooted stage of development. Almost all of his references are from 1859, and those who were still living into the later 19th century.  So the descriptions he gives the conditions of living on the 'street" (the row of slave cabins) are charming even -- a kind of golden age English feudalism --  with more than ample food, possessions, stable, long-established families, and lots of time off, in which they make their own money.  It was a very different situation in the 17th and 18th centuries, digging all those trees out of the swamp, digging the canals and all the rest -- and in very many places, even in the 1840's, as Fanny Kemble's Journal of a Residence on a Georgia Plantation in 1838-1839. Ms Kemble's account of the slaves on her husband's plantation is one of horror.  She divorced Butler as consequence. If what Ms Kemble saw on Butler Island had been what Joyner describes on the Weston's plantation, Hagley, in All Saints -- the Westons accounted even by their own people, the 'bes massa'  --  it's unlikely Kemble would have been so horrified that she needed to leave the marriage (there were other reasons to leave Butler as well, but they were all rooted in his being a member of the rice plantations' unimaginably wealthy ruling slave power elite). As Joyner doesn't see the Islamic elements in the culture, he glosses over the constant threat of sale and violence. Yet, by now, South Carolina had long been a principal slave exporting state, as much as were Virginia and Maryland.

Third, this region is exceptional in the availability of wild food, for personal consumption and to sell -- with easy water access to markets such as Georgetown and even Savannah and Charleston. Rice is persnickity as to where it will grow -- it needs vast amounts of water, both salt and fressh.  Consequently, unlike in the Cotton Kingdom (or in the tobacco years of Virginia) where every possible square foot is given over to growing the cash crop, destroying the habitats of food animals and even fish, the rice plantations were surrounded by woods filled with food animals.  As well there were fresh water fish, and salt water fish, oysters and shrimps in bounteous measure, easy to get. The soil of the slaves' own provision plots was fertile and produced a wide range of food. Again, these are long-established plantations, held in the hands of the same families. In contrast, the cotton plantations were young, and there was a great churn of people and ownership going on. (Among this churn were the importation of slaves from this very region, which is how the black cat bone and the harmonica get to Mississippi.) The sugar plantations? They were death camps. 

Fourth, it's again rice.  Many skills from measuring water, to careful carpentry, even the threshing of it, are demanded.  Indeed, this is why the majority were Senegambians in origin, deliberately taken from homelands where the growing of rice had been community tradition for generations.  The plantation owners didn't have this knowledge. Unlike cotton or tobacco or sugar, rice couldn't be successfully brought to market via gang work.  Task work was how the labor was assigned on the rice plantations.  The worker, accomplishing his or her task, had the rest of the day free. Relatively better treatment of such skilled labor was demanded. You couldn't just show up in Natchez and find a replacement for a man who could build the sluice trunks that shut off or brought in the demanded salt water when needed or drained out the fresh water when needed -- and who knew the timing of the tides of the water, and timing of the season for salt, for fresh, for no water at all. The plantation owner wanted his people's children to survive, so their parents could impart their skills to the next generation.  Joyner seems not to take these imperatives into account when frequently including the relatively good treatment of these South Carolina slaves.

But there are excellent parts, that reveal Joyner does, of course, 'get' the most important thing -- people don't want to be slaves.  As one of Joyner's sources reports as the Civil War gets started, while on a visit to Hagley, even the Weston people knew what this war was about and looked forward to no longer being Westons' people:

In All Saints Parish blacks outnumbered whites nine to one. "Suppose," said Scipoio, "dat one quarter ob dese niggas rise -- de rest keep still -- whar den would de white folks be?"  The norther visitor observed that "most of you have kind masters and fare well." Scipo replied, "Dat's true, massa, but dat ain't freedom, and de black lub freedom as much as de ewhite.  De same blessed Lord made dem both, and He made dem 'like, 'cep de skin.  De black hab strong hands, and when de day come you'll see dy hab heads too!" All Saints slaves recognized slavery as an evil institution quite independently of whether the master, overseer, or driver, was "good" or "bad," was brutal or permissive.  A slave named Pompey told an English visitor:
"'pears to me Englad must be a good country to lib in." "Why so?" "All free dar, sa!" "Why you'd have to work harder than you do here, and have nobody to take care of you.  The climate wouldn't suit you, either, there's not enough sunshine.  You couldn't have a kinder or better master than Colonel -- I'm sure." "No, sa!" with a good deal of earnestness; "he fust-rate man, sa, data a fac; and Mass Philip and de young ladies, dey berry good to us. But --" and the slave hesitated. "What is it, Pompey? Speak out!" "Well, den, some day de Cunnel he die, and den trouble come, suah!  De old plantation be sold, and de hands sold too, or we be divide 'tween Mass Phil, Miss Jule, and  Miss Emmy.  Dey get married, ob course. Some go one way, some toder, we wid dem -- neber lib together no more. Dat's what I keep t'inking ob, Sa!"
Not so charming living without freedom after all; those who were property knew all too well the price they paid of living without freedom.

Worth reading in this context: the story by Rebecca Sharpless that begins "Dora Charles and Idella Parker, two black Southern cooks, were born nearly a half century apart . . . "  Paula Deen is just one in a long line of white women taking credit for what their black cooks do and create – while providing rotten working conditions and a lot of disrespect.  .  Yes, one of them is the author of The Yearling (1938), Book of the Month selection and best seller, edited by Maxwell Perkins.

The comments are unusually perceptive as well.  Things change clothes but stay quite a lot the same inside those clothes, it seems, particularly in the former slave states.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Roman Britain: History and Hoax + The Seven Years War + Last of the Mohicans

Under Another Sky: Journeys in Roman Britain, by Charlotte Higgins – review:

While surveying, Roy also indulged a passion: his deep interest in Scotland's Roman past. He took detailed plans of numerous forts, camps and the Antonine Wall, the barrier built between the firths of Forth and Clyde in the 140s by the emperor Antoninus Pius. Forty years later, his work on the subject – Military Antiquities of the Romans in North Britain – was published posthumously by the Society of Antiquaries. "Military men," he wrote in his preface, "are naturally led to compare present things with the past; and being thus insensibly carried back to former ages, they place themselves among the ancients, and do, as it were, converse with the people of those remote times."

The Military Antiquities is a joyous book. Aside from a beautiful mapof the Antonine Wall, there is page after page of meticulous bird's-eye view plans of Scotland's Roman forts and camps, with the slope of hills shaded in tones of graphite and woodland indicated by delicately drawn individual trees, each with its own shadow. The combination of the Roman geometries and the swollen contours of the landscape often makes these images resemble abstract works of art rather than functional maps. Roy's copious text, though, is much less impressive, for the writings of this scrupulously empirical, careful mapper of the land were fatally infected. In common with his great-and-good antiquarian peers, he had fallen for one of British historiography's most successful and most damaging forgeries. 

It really interesting to historians of the Americas, that the hoax has a connection to the Seven Years Wars, known here in the U.S. as the French and Indian War (1745-1763, and which, very likely, the very young trigger happy or deer fevered George Washington started on this side of the ocean.* This war re-drew the boundaries of European control in North America, and, as part of paying for it, the British government chose to tax  the Atlantic colonies and billet soldiers in colonists' homes, leading to the movement for the War of Independence.


* The French and Indian War led to James Fenimore Cooper writingThe Last of the Mohicans also, thereby starting that very popular for a very long time entertainment genre we have come to call the Western.  Which in turn caused a very large number of United States women to fall in love with a very young, very beautiful Daniel Day Lewis, who starred as Natty Bumpo a/k/a Hawkeye in the 1992 movie, (Bumpo, in the book, is anything but young and beautiful ....)

There's a BBC 1971 miniseries made from Last of the Mohicansshot muchly in the Scottish Highlands, which contains the most hysterically ludicrous, fading Sixties' choreography sensibility of Indians dancing around a campfire you will ever see. However, excepting that scene, the series is very good.

Friday, July 26, 2013

MD's Eastern Shore: Oldest Free Black Community in the U.S.?

Dig at Eastern Shore site, built by freed slaves, shows it may be U.S.’s oldest black community -- it may be older than New Orleans's Treme. There's a video that goes with this story from yesterday in the Washington Post, which provides another level of  visual commentary to it worth contemplating.

There is another of these not unusual for Maryland free communities outside of Chestertown, also still inhabited, called Wharton. There's been an archeological explosion of illuminating finds in the last ten - fifteen years of digging down into Maryland and Virginia's soils.

This isn't true only about African American or colonial English history either; there's bits and pieces of Spanish and French history to be found on occasion.  As for the First Peoples of the Chesapeake, there is far more to be found than previously believed could be discovered..
The thing about Talbot County is, it’s rich in history,” said Carlene Phoenix, president of Historic Easton, who lobbied for the neighborhood research. “But when it comes to especially African American history, it was always about slavery. But now we’ve got another story.”
The project researchers found that many Talbot County slaves were freed after the abolitionist Quaker preacher John Woolman came through Easton in 1766, urging fellow Friends to abandon slavery.
Easton sea captain Jeremiah Banning, who personally bought his 21 slaves in Senegal, freed them in his will.
And the researchers came upon the story of a slave, Grace Brooks, who purchased her freedom and that of her children and grandchildren with money she earned as a midwife.
Many of these now-free blacks probably made their way to the Hill, which was fast becoming an island of liberty surrounded by plantations, Green said.
Well, Maryland, after Virginia, was the mother of slavery. But it wasn't all slavery in Maryland, was it?  Which is even more interesting and illuminating to the discovery of our earlier national history.

These communities such as in Easton and Wharton, were instrumental in helping the enslaved escape.  One of those who escaped via such assistance was Frederick Douglass.  His first wife was a free woman of color who lived in this community. In the 1850's these communities were vital to the formation of 'safe houses' along the "Underground Railroad's" route out of Virginia and Maryland, to Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey, and then on to Canada.  (With the Fugitive Slave Act and southern bounty hunters and slave traders forever abducting even free people of color born and bred in the north for sale down south, it wasn't safe for an escapee to stay in the U.S.)

Easton is where we C'towners go on Easter morning for a splendid service of Gospel, followed by a splendid church breakfast.   The church pictured above was originally built by Quakers, and not that much later turned over to African Americans so they too could have a place of worship.

Then there is this response from a reader of the above-linked article that brings more historical information about these free communities:
We have a community here in Staten Island, NY called "Sandy Ground" that was founded by free blacks from the Eastern Shore. We had huge oyster beds and the "Oystermen", who learned their trade in Maryland settled here in the early 1800s. Many of their decendents still live in the area and get together yearly for the Sandy Ground festival. Nice to know the roots of Sandy Ground. Keep digging, history is fascinating!

Thursday, July 25, 2013


The anniversary is Ours.

We were not two ships passing in the night.

We were not two parallel lines that never met.

It turned out we were two circles that intersected for life.


I, at least, still do not understand how this happened.

In the meantime the temps have dropped about thirty degrees, the humidity has cleared up and the rain washed away the digusting stew the air had become. we revel in local cherries and watermelon.  This summer is creating one the best fruit and berries harvest the state has ever seen.

But, mostly we work.  October gets closer and closer!  So more writing today, but dinner out tonight.

(We did have Afro-cuban jazz last night though.)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

So, True Blood

Sookie and Warlow created the purple sparkle wompdoo.

Sookie's pregnant with the consequences in season 7.

Anyway, what else ya gonna do, when writers are finally stymied with no more sharks left even to jump, but to start the next generation?

But -- aren't Sookie and Warlow, like Sookie and Grampa Niall, relatives? (Isn't Jason adorable the way he says Grampa?)

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Bancroft Papers -- Better Than the Best Historical Fiction

Spending hours a week in them -- better than an historical novel, miniseries or movie.

It's frustrating that U. S. readers are so uninterested in our own history, either as historical fiction (unless it turns into romance-erotica bs) or television miniseries.

Our nation's history may not be as long as Europe's or Asia's, even when we take into account the First Peoples and all they did -- at least Europeans and Asians think so.

But as relatively short then, our continents' recorded histories may be -- when it comes to the depth, the scope, the range -- the endless parade of vivid, fascinating characters -- we need not take a back seat to any other country.

When the box is delivered to my table, I choose what to delve into. More often than one might think, I need to send the box right back. The papers' finding aids are usually worse than useless, they're misleading, because mislabeled, and earlier researchers have torn their order to pieces. Too often the box's contents are useless for my research, such as the scrapbooks of Frederick's brother's career -- he and Edgar were so close and so admiring of each other, that Frederick kept meticulous clippings and copies of every speech Edgar ever made. Frederick donated reams of his brother's career documentation, along with his own research papers. Frederick wrote most of Edgar's speeches, being an excellent writer, while Edgar's talent was for making money.  But interesting and useful as these boxes might be for a student researching the Gilded Age, they are of no use to The American Slave Coast.

But once I find a folder that is concerned with antebellum matters in the South, I fall, fall, fall ever deeper into another world that is more vivid to me than this one in every way.  I'm confronted by one new figure after another, all of them of great interest, all of them I wish to know more of.  Sometimes I do know more of them, but not always.  For one thing, there's more of the natural world, that natural world that's nearly gone, embedded in everything.

Wild Turkey, Edisto Island

I dream of these matters now, constantly, every night.

On the other hand, I also push far away the horror of the matters with which I'm most concerned.  Then, unexpectedly, something I read, something el V and I discuss, as last night at the Bistro over the perfectly chilled beers, while the rain poured and steam rose from the sidewalks, the horror grabs us both.  And we stare, into our glasses, and look at each other from the corners of our eyes.  The eyes of us both are damp, our stomachs clenched with shame that this is how our country was built.

Frederick Bancroft Tells Us How 18th Century Southern Planters Became Rich

FB captions this one –“Royal Land Grants to William Allston: How the 18th Century Planters Became Rich.”

Royal grant of the date of December 10, 1769 from King George III to William Allston gives him “one thousand acres situate in Prince George’s Parish, Craven County,” [South Carolinas] on condition that he shall yearly pay three shillings sterling; or four shillings proclamation-money, for every hundred acres, and on further condition that he “shall and do yearly, and every year, after the date of these presents, clear and cultivate at the rate of three acres for every hundred acres of land, and so in proportion, according to the number of acres herein contained.”
A royal grant of the date of December 6, 1769 gives Allston one thousand acres.
Another grant of the date of October 11, 1769 is for two hundred acres.
A grant for one thousand and five hundred acres is given to Allston on October 12, 1769.
On January 30, 1770 another thousand acres was granted to Allston.
This isn't the same Allston family (note spelling - Theodosia's Alston has a single el) into which Aaron Burr's beloved daughter, Theodosia, married.  But they were neighbors (Alston - All Saints Parish, on the Waccamaw)), situated around Georgetown, (the Allston's in Prince George's Parish - on the Black River),  which probably had more millionaires per acre than anywhere in antebellum America.

This William Allston was already a substantial landowner, as you can see by this will.  So, yes indeed, as Bancroft observes, this indeed is how a planter gets wealthy.  Them that has, get even more.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Independence -- What Did It Mean?

We spent most of the weekend reviewing and revising and editing the latest printout of The American Slave Coast (which we'll be doing for many more months, one revision after another, each time the various themes more focused and clear, hopefully).  Among the variety of discussions we had was this one: What were the most important changes and effects upon the former North American Atlantic colonies as a consequence of Independence from Britain?  How much emphasis should we give those in The American Slave Coast as our primary focus is the slave economy of the American South?  Some need more emphasis than others, since aspects that created the slave economy would only have happened with Independence -- and those in turn created huge strands of American culture in general, particularly music.

Separation of Church and State:

The most significant change was the disestablishment of the Anglican church, the separation of church and state, making for religious tolerance as the law of the land.  Disestablishment affected the North and South in different ways.

In the South it closed the Church as a path to political power and riches. In the South younger sons needed to become lawyers and / or slave dealers / breeders, as the quickest way to wealth and significance.  In New England there were colleges, a proliferation of schools, and professional enterprises beyond the law. In the North, as a non-slave trade based economy, there were mercantile, banking and shipping opportunities they lost no time in taking advantage of, not the least returning to the West Indies carrying trade to and from, with particular attention given to bringing back rum to slake the bottomless thirst of both the North and South. Too bad Jefferson screwed the pooch on that one, all over again, with his hated embargo, which brought all trade to an end, and had New England screaming to secede, and sent the newly solvent U.S.'s economy into full depression.

In the North, Methodists and Baptists and many others were no longer repressed by Quakers (in Pennsylvania), the Puritans' Congregationalists in New England, and Presbyterians and Anglicans in South Carolina and Virginia. Maryland was officially tolerant before the War of Independence, with the ruling elite generally Catholic, but before Independence Maryland still had to support Anglican bishops, priests, etc.  Church attendance was mandatory for everyone who wasn't excused by membership in another faith's congregation. Obviously this could not be enforced outside the small settled coastal enclaves. Already, before Independence, beyond the pale it was a lawless free-for-all, particularly as the 'west' attracted the very poor Scots-Irish imigrants and run-away indentures, as well as run-away slaves (slaves particularly ran to the Floridas, which under Spanish rule and non-slave, provided a haven of maronage). After disestablishment church attendence and membership soon stopped being mandatory.

Needless to say mandatory church membership and attendence did not apply to the enslaved, but long before Independence, the African American communities were enthusiastic attendees of Sunday church, both in white folks' churches and in their own services. Baptist and Methodist forms, and the Awakening's evangelical passions, provided African Americans a more traditional way into religious joy, with call and response preaching, singing, dancing aiding them to transcend their bleak daily existence and merge with the other world. Their traditional spiritual practices were unacceptable to whites, but this was allowed. (Still no drums though.)

In Virginia both the enslaved and free African Americans soon became Protestant, spoke English and had merged their various African folkways with those of their English owners for at least three generations before Independence (you find 'fetish' bundles secreted inside the sophisticated architecture of houses build in 18th century Annapolis, built by slaves who'd been sent to England for training in architecture, carpentry, cabinetry and other valuable building skills -- slaves who were Christian). They were gifted players of the fiddle (and the violin if their owners so pleased). Drums were strictly forbidden them, but they were allowed wind instruments.  The Maryland and Virginian aristocrats were fox hunters already in the early 18th century -- the houndsmen who blew the horn signals were their slaves. It was the same in Maryland, except that with its tolerance, Methodist and Baptist pastors had already converted large numbers of the both the enslaved and free African Americans.  But it wasn't until a few years after Independence that African Americans were able to build their own first AME churches, at about about the same time in Philadelphia and Baltimore.

It's out of these churches we get the musical traditions, much later labeled Gospel, that fed directly into what even later would be rock 'n roll. However, that's not all that is going on in the various African American religious and cultural communities, either before or after Independence

The African-Atlantic Slave Trade Abolished 1808; Domestic Slave Breeders and Traders Become Very Wealthy -- Which Was Already in Effect Before Independence -- the War Created An Abrupt Halt: It Returned the Moment the Brits Left the South:

But in the meantime, between the Constitutional Convention (1787), its ratification (1788) and 1808, the largest number of Africans in the shortest period of time were imported into the U.S., almost all of them to South Carolina's Sea Islands -- with a natural spill over to the same barrier island coast and money crops of  rice and long staple cotton in the Savannah region.

The consequence is that along this thin coastal line the white population was far outnumbered by its slave population. This population not only created the most massively wealthy Americans from rice and long staple, it also created an African American culture different in folkways, language and religion from the established African American cultures of upper south of Virginia and Maryland.

The English culture of the slaves bought from the Upper South's traders collided with that of the new imports, who (as did many of the ancestors of the upper South's African Americans) came primarily from the Sene-Gambian region -- though with many Ibos, Asantes and others as well. With them came what we come to call the banjo -- which also was already in Virginia. This helped give us the Blues when the domestic slave trade carried the players into the later Cotton Kingdom of the Mississippi Valley. The significant numbers of Islamist slaves among them brought the vocal style of melisma, currently way over-used, but also a defining characteristic of African American vocalization in both Gospel and popular music.  Religious traditions and other practices became known in the Gulf states as HooDoo. All these varieties, everywhere, were affected --  as everywhere in the New World -- by the fundamental culture of Kongo, which also poured into both the Blues and rock 'n roll.  All this  mixed and collided first in South Carolina.  Then in the Mississippi Valley via the following century and a half of the domestic slave trade.

They all mixed, including the San Domingue African American cultures that immigrated from the Revolution, in Louisiana.  In New Orleans, the biggest and most flashy slave market of them all, they brought a Frenchified culture and language, and some elements of the Vodou religion from San Domingue. As most of the slaves brought from their short stay in Cuba by their planter owners were women and children, very large parts of Vodou practice, particularly the rhythms, dances and songs, were left behind in Haiti. But in New Orleans they fraternized with the already established African-Indian religions created by the imports from Africa during the French and Spanish eras. They also met South Carolinian HooDoo practice (as South Carolina itself became a slave exporting state) and Virginian Protestant belief.  Always these religions, musics and beliefs mixed in evangelical church, churches from Roman to Baptist and everything in-between.

They also assimilated with each other at the shipping wharves and docks, particularly with music. The much later southern Italian immigration to New Orleans, with its cultural tradition of funeral parades with brass band, contributed, beyond organized crime, to the deep culture of New Orleans with second line parades. At the end of the Spanish-American war, the military bands (mainly composed of African Americans) left Cuba and re-entered the U.S. at New Orleans. They sold - pawned their brass instruments to finance their way back to their homes further away. The local musicians were able to buy these expensive instrument cheaply.  This was the essential step to the creation of jazz.  Jazz is syncopated, it swings.  You don't find that in Afro-latin music, any more than you will find melisma -- because the Senegambian slave trade did not go to the Caribbean, South America or Brasil, where the vast majority of the Africans were taken. (The number that came to what will be the U.S. directly from Africa was a tiny sliver of the Atlantic slave trade; most of them had arrived already by 1750 -- and New Orleans (1718) had barely been founded then.)

Primogeniture and Entail Abolished:

This is connected to the end of proprietary possession of the previous colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, South Carolina, and the most recent one, Georgia. There were still legal suits against the U.S. government by both the Penn descendants and the Delaware tribe pending in 2004 about the dissolution of the Pennsylvania Lords' Proprietor lands affected by this. There may still be -- I haven't checked since 2011.

The French Revolution, The Revolution in San Domingue and the Louisiana Purchase, i.e. Napoleon:

It was not just New Orleans that Napoleon coerced Spain into selling the U.S. -- but the entire vast Mississippi Valley, populated by Indians. These tribes communicated and traveled along their traditional migratory routes along the Mississippi River, from above the St. Lawrence Valley in Canada, down through Louisiana. During the colonial era, after defeating the French in Canada, their lands were protected by the British against North American expansion for the sake of the Indian trade -- from which the Crown took much revenue. Napoleon's strategy was to give New Orleans and this vast territory to the Americans, to force the Brits out. Anyone should have it, rather than the Brits.

Andrew Jackson, member of a Scots-Irish family from the borderlands of South and North Carolina, due to the treatment by the Brits of his family during the War for Independence when he was a small child, hated the British with a biblical fury. Andrew Jackson hated the Brits even more than Napoleon hated the Brits. He hated them the way the Irish hated the Brits.*  He finished Napoleon's task. He delivered all the new territory purchased from Spain from the Indians. Then he took more than the U.S. had bought, which it had wanted all along and far more than New Orleans, while Jefferson and Madison  pretended they'd bought it with New Orleans -- the Floridas, which were both British and Spanish possessions. Andrew Jackson: he made the Gulf and the Mississippi Valley safe for slavery, the domestic slave trade and  King Cotton. He pointed the way for the Mexican War to get Texas too.  Finally, what he did, making King Cotton safe, significantly fueled the Industrial Revolution in  northern U.S. and Britain.

All of this happened because of the domestic slave trade that made so many people so very very rich -- on paper anyway -- all at the expense of African Americans -- that took place after Independence.

Therefore it isn't a surprise that both before and after the Civil War African American communities were united in their refusal of that favorite "Solution of the Negro Problem" -- what was called euphemistically, colonization.** 

Jackson imposed a coerced colonization with the Mississippi Valley tribes. African Americans, slave and free, knew first hand what coerced colonization implied: more death, more suffering. Those other lands belonged to other peoples, people who spoke a different language, had different cultures and economies. They weren't welcome. They might well be re-enslaved -- which did happen in Africa and the Caribbean, when supposedly free people of color removed there, whether voluntarily or not.

African Americans earned this American land with generation upon generation of blood, sweat, suffering and skills. Why the hell should they go somewhere else -- with nothing -- after already having been brought here forcibly, with nothing, not even their names?  Haiti was a favorite place whites thought African Americans should go, even before the San Domingue Revolution, but who would want to go there, even after the Revolution, with the U.S. blockading it from trade, filled with people who spoke a different language, had a different religion and culture?  South America? Vastly outnumbered by those whites and Africans speaking Spanish,  Portuguese and African languages, practicing Roman Catholic and Afro-Catholic syncretic religions and others as well, the multiple cultures of Indians, Spanish and Africans?  Everything already owned? And resented as outsiders that no one invited in?***

Then there was that all-time favorite for colonization, i.e., Removal, like Indian Removal, to Africa. African Americans were not interested in re-locating to the mother country for all the same reasons they weren't interested in going to Latin America or Haiti. There were a few exceptions, that tiny sliver of African American missionaries (who by and large had horrible experiences, and, if they didn't die, often turned into slave traders themselves, supplying slave cargo for Latin America and Brasil). What mother country? Many didn't even have an oral memory from where came their ancestors, thanks to the domestic slave trade that constantly broke up families generation upon generation.

Even Marcus Garvey could not persuade African Americans to "go back to Africa," not even during the height of the Jim Crow era, the revived KKK and lynching.****

In other words, the domestic slave trade that blew up upon the end of the War for Independence and the end of the War of 1812, is what created so much of what we consider American culture, the American Century -- and even further -- the Modern.  It was that explosion of pent up African American creativity into the public sphere of the U.S. a generation after slavery that created so much for which this nation takes great cultural pride -- just for starters, its era's significator, Jazz.


Which explains the large number of Irish names found fighting on the side of the Spanish, in South America and the Caribbean. Alejandro O'Reilly is merely one of the better known of these.  He was  Inspector-General of Infantry for the Spanish Empire in the second half of the 18th century. O'Reilly served as the second Spanish governor of colonial Louisiana (1769), being the first Spanish official to actually exercise power in the Louisiana territory after France ceded it to Spain. He was the creator (after a a great fire of New Orleans) of New Orleans' so-called French Quarter (called that because the San Domingue refugees settled there). The now named Jackson Square is a reflection in miniature of Habana Vieja's Plaza de Armas.

*Colonization was mostly a sop of public conscience on the part of influential slave owners like Henry Clay and Thomas Jefferson, who had no intention to do anything about abolition or emancipation.  Colonization put dealing with slavery off to the hazy someday -- and moreover, made it the responsibility of the victim rather than the victimizer, as we see from an excerpt of an 1887 letter in the Bancroft archive, in which the writer expresses his anger that the negroes have not gone there (meaning Haiti):

Theo D. Jervey
Attorney At Law
No. 23 Broad Street
Charleston, S. C.

“The constant claim of their tremendous progress wearies. Some 9,000,000 new, with half a century of freedom behind them and not apparently the least desire to cross over to the land where half the number of their race has been struggling with anarchy after a century of freedom and redeem it, by taking possession by peaceful force of numbers.  But, if I do not hold myself in, I may inflict upon you what I subjected T. Thomas Forten to, some 15 years ago. .... "
*** Brasil, despite England and Portugal having been political and trade partners for centuries, would have been equally outlandish to African Americans -- indeed, many parts of Brasil were as African as Africa -- with less European modification than in Liberia, as in el Salvador.

***The only times African Americans would leave the United States voluntarily was when they were slaves and slavery was in full effect, as during the War of Independence, the War of 1812, and running away to Canada after Dred Scott and the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 (free people of color also moved in numbers to Canada during that period due to kidnappers taking them down South and selling them). Antebellum free people of color and African Americans after Emancipation wanted to left alone right here to make their homes and care for their families where they were born. Who can't understand that? They'd damned well earned that right.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Barbarians Loot Detroit

Watching the looting of a city by means other than military conquest -- corporate and legal.  Which means we can see it up close, as it happens in bureaucratic slow motion.

It's the treasures they go for first.

If you are a tiny town without treasures, as with Havre de Grace on the Eastern Shore of Maryland during the Brit blockade of the Chesapeake in the War of 1812 they'll take your baby's cradle and burn your house for good measure.

In Detroit that means the art, which booty is already being quarreled over.

Chicago, it's seizure of the public schools that are the opening battery.  In New Orleans it was the schools, and the hospitals, just like here in NYC, though here we've added the public library system to the list. Real estate is one reason. Teachers and nurses, their unions, i.e. their voting affiliations another. Then there are the pensions, which, as in Detroit, are found often already looted.  In other words, anything that is part of public, community service, pleasure and support is under relentless attack in the war to transfer all such assets everywhere to the private, i.e. corporate-real estate plutocratic oligarchy.

Friday, July 19, 2013

From the Richmond Enquirer, July, 1858

Virginia knew exactly what the stakes were for her personally, pro and con for secession.

I have long been wondering what the horse trading was that got Virginia to finally secede – it was a rush all through the south to push through secession -- like the way the dubdarth coalition shoved through war in Iraq, war on 'terrorism', the Patriot Acts, etc. in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.  Virginia dragged her feet on secession (and one entire part refused all together and seceded then, from Virginia, to become West Virginia). Without Virginia at the helm even South Carolina and Texas knew they stood not a chance of winning The Wah. One of the persuaders was that Richmond would be the capital of the CSA -- and very likely, after winning the Waw, of the new United States of Slavery.  It still rankled among the old Virginia aristocracy and their nouveau peers (like Woodrow Wilson's father and then Woodrow Wilson himself) that King James had taken away Virginia's Dominion.  Yet there must have been more, as we can infer from reading this opinion piece from 1858:

If a dissolution of the Union is to be followed by the revival of the slave trade, Virginia had better consider whether the South of the Northern Confederacy would not be far more preferable for her than the North of a Southern Confederacy. In the Northern Confederacy Virginia would derive a large amount from the sale of her slaves to the South, and gain the increased value of her lands from Northern emigration – while in the Southern Confederacy, with the African slave trade revived, she would lose two-thirds of the value of her slave property, and derive no additional increase to the value of her lands.  
We do certainly know that one of the horse trades was written into the CSA constitution: South Carolina would not re-open the African Atlantic slave trade.

One of the reasons the British army didn't do better in the South during the War of Independence is the South received so many supplies through the Spanish port of New Orleans -- in spite of as many of her slaves running to help the Brits as possible -- and the terrible atrocities the Brits committed, to which we can trace back Andrew Jackson's undying hatred of the Brits.  The Spanish could get supplies up to SC and VA via Georgia from the  Floridas by way of Cuba much faster than the Brits could get theirs.  Only the coastal parts were settled at the time, and -- that's very difficult country to traverse and out of which to supply an army.  Once you've raided out the plantations (Virginia didn't have cities, and Richmond was built on the Falls, past which the James is no longer navigable by ship, and South Carolina had Charleston -- the only Atlantic port for her -- which is a long way from the fabulously wealthy Sea Island rice plantations) -- you're kind of stuck in a real wilderness of forests, swamps, creeks etc.  Your only dependable route of transport is the huge Chesapeake.

But the people who lived there -- they knew the navigation and how to do it.

Thus the Brits held the colonial cities like Philadelphia -- but that did them no good.  They didn't own the country or the immense wildernesses.

And further west, it all belonged to Spain -- or France and Indians still, as with the Mississippi Valley (though at that period New Orleans was Spanish).

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Solomon Northup: Twelve Years A Slave

A trailer has been released  for the film made from Twelve Years a Slave: Narrative of Solomon Northup, a citizen of New-York, kidnapped in Washington city in 1841, and rescued in 1853, from a cotton plantation near the Red River in Louisiana (1853), by Solomon Northup as told to David Wilson.  Finally!  I've been looking forward to this for such a long time.

However, I'm not sure I'll be able to watch it.  Reading Northrup's account of his kidnapping from New York to be sold finally to a Louisianan plantation, was nearly unbearable. Reading it was that agonizing.  Living it a million times worse.

Cast list:

Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup
Michael Fassbender as Edwin Epps, a cruel plantation owner
Benedict Cumberbatch as William Ford, a Baptist preacher and a slave owner
Paul Dano as John Tibeats
Paul Giamatti as Theophilus Freeman
Lupita Nyong'o as Patsey, a slave on the Epps plantation
Brad Pitt as Samuel Bass, a Canadian carpenter
Alfre Woodard as Mistress Harriet Shaw
Sarah Paulson as Mistress Epps, wife of Edwin Epps
Quvenzhané Wallis as Margaret Northup, Solomon Northup's daughter
Dwight Henry as Uncle Abram
Adepero Oduye as Eliza
Michael K. Williams as Robert
Garret Dillahunt as Armsby
Ruth Negga as Celeste

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Heat & Longmire, Ep. 8 "The Great Spirit"

It's so darned hot!  Has been darned hot and humid and is going to be darned hot and humid until Sunday, They Say.

Last night I had to make soup since el V had suffered a dental ordeal and could not, or at least, probably should not, chew until today.  No way to avoid it;  much steam ensued during the process of making potato-leek-portobello mushroom soup -- run then, through the blender to make it all smooth.  Then a half cup of red wine was stirred into the mixture, to zest it up. A side of mashed avocado, with very fluffy scrambled eggs.

After, I felt as beaten and scrambled as the eggs.

I retreated into dim and cool, to watch the latest episode (#8 "The Great Spirit") of Longmire.  I'm liking that show more every week. It has murder plots that emerge plausibly from its fictional Wyoming county of Absaroka, replete with a Cheyenne reservation, mountains, plains, ranches, farms, forests and even a town (shot in equally spectacular New Mexico). This week's the background was illicet rodeo, Corporate Agriculture and migrant labor.

The series' photography in this episode is particularly is notable, as it should be, for a show located in the spectacular landscapes of the Far West. The opening scenes glowed with the Rubens or Van Dyke golden richness and occasional swatch of bright color. The camera's creative angles and positions match the color palette, remaining restrained though,  rather than splashy. The camera refuses drawing attention to itself, while leading our eyes to what it is showing us.

The characters of Sheriff Walt Longmire and his old friend, Henry Standing Bear, get fuller, more interesting -- and more mysterious -- as the series continues. it's an unusual relationship, and a most attractive one. Which brings me to some critical observations.

This episode, the deputy, female Vic from Philly -- her big scene consisted of impersonating sexed up girly to seduce information out of some fellow. It's really too bad the writers resorted to that kind of lazy writing. Nor does this fit Vic's methods during the past season and a half of Longmire. That the fellow is Mexican makes this scene even more problematic.

In this latest episode it is revealed that aging Walt is as good a cowboy as any of 'em, as he lassos an out-of-control, spooked horse.  That was fine, except Walt isn't smart enough to lasso at some point where he can snub the rope so he doesn't get dragged like that dead man through the cactus? What really wasn't fine is that horse was supposed to be an unbroken mustang.  So how did the saddle and bridle get on her? Why can she be halter - bridle led?  No farckin' way was that horse's behavior that of a feral.  Then we get a sentimental animal moment: Walt turns the horse out to her freedom. The horse returns to him.  Sheriff Walt Longmire -- the Man! We know that, fer pete's sake!.  The entire series exists for us to know that!

Come on Longmire writers: don't ruin this very good thing you are doing, OK?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Even Billith, Even Benlow

With all our vamps in Burrell's Vamp Camp, why can't Our Sookie now finally be safe?  But no, her father must try to kill her, taking over All Our Beloved Lafayette.

There is so much wrong with this.

Starting with they were all in Authority prison just a couple of days ago!

And that retroconning of the Warlow and Niall backstory, all the way back to 3500 BCE?  And yet I still had to use my brain, such as it is, to figure out that those silly looking people with tents were ... fairies?  Did you think they were fairies?  Why were they fairies?  What were they doing?  They weren't singing or dancing or anything, just one of them giantly preggers ... the product of which must have been Niall the Fairy Godfather, that little kid whining by the campfire, all that's left after Warlow eats all his clan -- the first fairy-vamp.  Really?  So .... why is he still existing?  And if he developed his hate for Lilith back in 3500 BCE, why hadn't he managed it all this time?  Why has it taken all these thousands of years to have a Sookie, when surely it would have been even easier to have in earlier days.  So Niall must be Warlow's own kid, which makes Warlow's plan to mate with Sookie incest, doesn't it?  Why must they fight it out here and now, in the form of poor old Bill the Vampire?  And why must poor Louisiana be so plagued by such wars?  Doesn't she have more than enough to deal with from Mother Nature and Big Oil?

And then ... AND THEN ...  HBO goes and renews this preposterousity for a season .  Holy cow!

Thank goodness for Pam.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Weather Commentary?

My apologies for not approving comments sooner -- I / we have just been so busy, and we are in another heat wave.  We got Friday and Saturday off from heat waves, but we're in it again today.  And this was a very busy weekend.

The Burr - Hamilton "Debate" was successful. You know it was because every single person there, including the participants, learned something s/he didn't know and / or came to consider something from a different angle -- such as considering Thomas Jefferson as the Founding Father who framed white supremacy.  (That seemed to shock some (white) people, while evidently agreed with by some (African Americans) others.  The friend I was sitting with kept cracking me throughout with his sotto voce remarks.  G, who has a fine collection of African at, whispered at that point, "This is news?"  The facial expression that went with the remark was so funny I had to cover my mouth from laughing out loud.

It was a lovely day for such an event. The heat had broken (it's back now, for another blistering, sweltering week), so it was pleasant in the Jumel mansion's music room and great hall, the breezes from the East River and the Hudson wafting through. This was an informed group who had gathered at the Jumel Mansion on this lovely afternoon with people from the neighborhood, early America historians, New York City tour guides, and members of the Hamilton Society and members of the Burr Society, between which there is friendly rivalry. Every anniversary they re-enact the duel at the Heights in Weehawken, New Jersey.

Afterwards we went across the street to K and C's to talk history with like-minded people. Present were two college students from an NYC college, as well as a couple of others who had come with their parents, and were on their way back to their studies in France. Very lovely those children. O, heartbreakingly lovely, so very young. So very talented and intelligent. They speak of their fear that they will never have work or positions that reflect their level of education. They will be stuck in the barista job that pays their rent, while students with the monied background that allows them not to worry about paying rent get to serve the unpaid internships that get them on the track to be hired to do what they are in college to be prepared to do.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp For Girls by Anton Disclavani (2013); Riverhead / Penguin is a discovery of the sort I seldom make these days: an immersive novel, written with assured literary skills, vision that knows when to pull into the foreground and expand out into landscape and horizon, an ear tuned to the subtleties of expression, of time and place.  Her sense of pacing is almost exquisite -- something learned from growing up as a rider, one wonders?

There seem to be two different jackets.  Perhaps the publisher felt the first cover was too girly?  But it broadcasts the era much better than the second one, which is the jacket on the copy I've got.  The first one is more appealing, with color and light.  This one is depressing.

However, the content of the novel is splendid, at least for this reader.  It's an historical novel (the Great Depression), set somewhere other than the usual favorite fictional locations, particularly for that era  (Florida and North Carolina) filled with a variety of girls and a narrator who must discover a larger world than family and horses, and filled also, then, with horses. Best of all, the voices of the characters are distinctly separate, despite the first person pov.

Our world has gone through so many changes since 1930: the Depression which resulted in FDR's New Deal and a federal social-financial safety network, bank and corporate regulations, World War II, the Civil Rights, Human Rights and Voting Rights acts, women owning their own businesses, holding local, state and federal offices, having all the necessary reproductive rights to which women are entitled everywhere.  None of this has taken place yet, in 1930. And currently? we're living in a time of perpetual war, in which all these progressive human rights achievements are under relentless attack, to be taken away.  Indeed, in many places -- particularly Florida and North Carolina -- these rights have already by-and-large disappeared, at least for those without any means to make up for what used to be rights, supported by the state(s) in which we live.

Full circle.  You cannot help but consider such matters, even while enjoyably submerged in a novel this well composed.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Hello, Young Lovers

Home from the library, running to the supermarket for a few things, under a thunder clouding sky.

Ahead of me on the sidewalk are two young Europeans, wrapped up in each other.

I catch up to them at the Houston  pedestrian crosswalk, where they, like I,  wait for our pedestrian crosswalk light.

At that moment the young woman leaps upon her lover, wraps her legs around his hips, her arms around his neck.  He is enthralled.

Automatically I throw up my arms to ward off being struck by two bodies. In this moment, the young woman cries, "I am so sorry!  Did I hurt you?  I am so sorry!  Did I hit you?"

I, under the spell of their charm and youth say, "Not at all."  She said, "I'm so sorry.  I should be more careful."  I smile. "Whatcha gonna do when you're young, in love and in lust all at the same time?"

The eyes of the young lovers get wide.  They smile.  The lovely young man asks, "Are you French?"  "No," I answer.

Then she looks at my Jamestown t-shirt, which says, "Got History." She says, "You are the sort who makes history!"

We cross the street together, talking about the difference among making history, being history and writing history

Where Arturo's has been for decades we continued our separate paths.

Sometimes, even now, this city surprises me in the most splendid way.  Let's hear it for young love! Young love, it is still in effect -- YAY!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

las aventuras de la casa

Making cold brewed coffee.  I have done so, with not as much mess as there might be. Next batch will appear more smoothly and with less mess. For one thing the beans are now on hand. For my first foray into cold brewing coffee the first step was to Bleecker Street and Porto Rico Coffees to get a pound of the right beans. I also had them grind a half a pound themselves since I wanted to make a large batch and the home grinder only grinds at most enough for two cups.  Those grounds to sieve and strain -- it is a messy business.  It wouldn't be as messy probably, in a real kitchen with a stainless steel deep double sink.  Nevertheless, I persisted. El V has announced the product to be delicious.

Now it remains to learn how strong the concentrate is. How much dilution?  El V takes his coffee very strong ... if I have to scrape him off the ceiling at ten PM he will not have diluted it with enough milk and cubes.  But then, he's going to the dentist in an hour, and that is a huge disruption in the normality of the day, so perhaps today's effects will be affected.

In further capers, this Saturday, July 13, el V is going to moderate a debate between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton. It is rumored, that, as this is the single subject upon which both gentlemen are in agreement, there shall be much fault found of Thomas Jefferson; otherwise, Hamilton supporters promise to be present in massive numbers ....

The Burr-Hamilton Duo

Saturday, July 13, 2013, at 12:30 pm
Kurt Thometz and Jimmy Napoli
will be representing Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr in a dialog on their common interests in
Thomas Jefferson, Federalism, Civil Rights, Women, Slander, Sedition and Treason, amongst other things.
Join us in a thrilling and fun-filled excavation of some Harlem Heights History.
Morris-Jumel Mansion
61 Jumel Terrace
New York, New York 10032
FREE with Museum Admission

Directions: A 30 minute ride from mid-town Manhattan over the following routes:
By Car – Up St. Nicholas Avenue to 160th Street, turn right one block or down Broadway to 160th, turn left to between St. Nicholas and Edgecombe Avenues.
By Madison Ave. Bus – M2 to 160nd St & Edgecombe Avenue, M3 to 160th & Amsterdam.
By Subway – IND 8th Ave – A train to Harlem, Local, C train to 163rd St. Station, use south exit at 161st St. and walk half a block south up the stairs to Sylvan Terrace and one half block east.
By I.R.T. Subway – Broadway 7th Ave. line (1) to 155th St. Station. Walk north to 160th St., then 2 blocks east.

Presented in conjunction with
The Historic House Trust’s Contemporary Art Partnerships
Thank you to our sponsors

Monday, July 8, 2013

True Blood -- Ben: I Waz Right

True Blood, the television series at least (I don't know about the books) from the start heavily borrowed from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starting with Sookie's looks and mannerisms.  In the first season, in many scenes it was as though the actor, Anna Paquin, was literally channeling SMG's Buffy.  As the seasons continued though, that kind of channeling faded.

However, True Blood's Authority last season and this season's Gov. Burrell and his secret compound where vamps are experimented on in order to create extra special weapons borrowed heavily from Buffy The Vampire Slayer's season 4's the Initiiative. (This is one of the seasons that Buffy true fans tend to dislike.)

It's even more so for True Blood's season 6.  It has blatantly swiped one of the big reveals of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's season 5, though in True Blood tradition, it couldn't wait to tell us, whereas it took most of the season for this particular big reveal to reveal itself.

But even before the big reveal we knew it.  The moment the mysterious Ben shows up, we knew. The writers couldn't even be bothered to give Ben a name that isn't Ben.  That's how tired everybody is, evidently.  So, big reveal? no reveal at all.

Will not say more due to spoilage.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Frederic Bancroft Definitely Not the Son of George Bancroft

Even though he is a fascinating figure, part of that cluster of young American historians in the next generation after George Bancroft, Frederick Bancroft (1860-1945) was not a relative of George Bancroft (1800-1891).

However , at one point in 1885 - 86, while a young post-grad gentleman-scholar in Berlin (like Henry Adams was, in 1859), Frederic called upon Leopold von Ranke (1795 - 1886),* the most renowned of German historians.

Young Frederic had no letter of introduction or any mutual aquaintance to introduce him to von Ranke. So, in order to call upon the great man, Frederic employed the ruse that he was the nephew of George Bancroft, still the dean of the American historians, and close friend of von Ranke.

Age 90, von Ranke's mind remained sharp and inquiring. Throughout the long afternoon, von Ranke reminisced to Frederic of his and George Bancroft's long, intimate friendship. As well von Ranke asked many questions about Frederic's curriculum at University and the other Americans who were studying there at the time.

Frederic Bancroft: Historian (1957) by Jacob F. Cooke, from which I gathered this information, researched and written presumably during the same years as Edmund Wilson's wrong headed, but still highly praised Patriotic Gore (1962), is notably before the transformation of the study of American history.  It comes, indeed, before there was a department called American Studies (which too, by now, has rather fallen to the wayside as African American Studies and the other Studies have turfed it out). But that is not the only reason that Cooke's text tends to frustrate the contemporary historian.

Cooke, does not approach the quality of writer that Frederic Bancroft would be. The material is poorly organized, without a through theme or focus around which to aggregate his research. Though Cooke refers to the Frederic Bancroft papers throughout, his interpretation of them feels to me, having read through many of the same folders to which Cooke refers, as well, mistaken. He also has little regard for Bancroft as an historian of either the South or the Civil War -- which may explain a great deal about the trajectory of F. Bancroft's publications, and why Slave Trading in the Old South wasn't published until 1931. But it remains baffling how historians of his own time and even after WWII see any, or at best only little, value in the enormous work of salvage, organization and number crunching Bancroft did in these matters -- while producing so much else, including a biography of Seward.

All of which makes me wonder why Cooke did this book, which he himself labels, "a minor monograph" on an "historian of little note."  My guess is the true subjects of Frederic Bancroft: Historian are the German universities' methods and German historians' influence on the practice of American historians writing American History in that era post Civil War through World War 1.

If so, even there Cooke missed the transformational influence on the practice of American History, that we would be seeing after World War I, that of the fledgling discipline of Anthropology. Columbia University figures such as Franz Boas systematized the methods. Though Cooke describes in detail young Frederic putting the methods into practice as he learned at Columbia, particularly the importance of interviewing people who were part of the scene of inquiry, he doesn't make the connection. For me, this leaped off the page. I felt genuine excitement to see this transformation in action. This is another way in which the methodology of historians has changed. To be good at it you need to have the tools of a multiple of disciplines.

Of course there is one area in which we as historians have degenerated since the days when American historians tended to be gentlemen-scholars who didn't make a living from their work -- few of us have any other language than English, which circumscribes our investigations, as well as limits our understanding.

Bancroft, Adams -- all these figures were fluent in at least French, and generally German too, and the best of them like Adams and Hay, were also fluent in Spanish. It's hard to do American history in its largest scope -- or even in the granular, as with Jackson and the Floridas, without being able to read Spanish, but few of us do. This inability then, to see ourselves as others saw us means we miss an enormous amount, which makes it even easier to adhere to our triumphalist interpretations that our country is never, has never, been anything but the best, the brightest, the cleanest, kindest, rightest, and most honest and god-blessed nation, who, only by our own bootstraps' virtue, was destined to own all the rest.


* George Eliot was as deeply steeped in Von Ranke and his circle's methods, as she was in German philosophy, biography and literature.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Frederic Bancroft's Unpublished Manuscript

This delighted me so much yesterday reading along in the unpublished yet complete book, I laughed out loud in the Archives' workroom -- the tart conclusion with which Bancroft ends Book Two's Chap. 8: “Longings for Manufactures & Commerce”

“…. In comparison with the constant enthusiasm for planting, the enthusiasm for diversified industries could only be ephemeral. The South was comparatively indifferent, rather than actually so, as Gregg charged, in regard to the very things she had so loudly called for.” ((29 De Bow, 624. ))

[C.'s notation -- here he means DeBow's Southern Review, published, starting in 1847 (or 1846, depending on how you classify the earliest volumes) through 1863, the leading statistical and commercial journal in the south, indeed the only one. DeBow moved north after the War, and continued publishing a version of the Review from there, with more or less success.  He died in New Jersey. Throughout the citations, Bancroft spells his name sometimes with and sometimes without a space between De and Bow, though in general usage there is no space.]

F. Bancroft's dry commentary on that cited passage is what made me laugh:

“The real contrast in interest was apparently increased tenfold by the fondness of planters and lawyer-politicians for conventions and their still greater fondness for highly-colored speeches."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Grit of Scholarship Under My Nails

What a series of humid and dreary days here, while the west continues a conflagration.

Have spent Monday and Tuesday in the Rare Books, Manuscripts and Archives
Room of Columbia University's Butler Library -- which MarLi designated scholars can do here in  NYC.  Speak of grit, despite the mandatory little white gloves for handling photos and other fragile materials, my hands and wrists still feel all -- gritty, from the acid paper crumbs. I went to wash them more than once, but as all my supplies beyond notebook, pencil and laptop were locked in a locker, no lotion.  This morning my hands still feel dried out and a little scratchy. Not to mention my eyes.  It could be worse though, as typewriters and typists were the rule by the time Frederic Bancroft was working.  But all his sidenotes, editorial commentary are hand written in the most tiny of calligraphy and with the finest of ink nibs. Next time I have to bring a magnifying glass.

The Frederic Bancroft archival boxes are in offsite storage (he, the extraordinary historian who wrote Slave Trading in the Old South, which was published in 1930. This work, without which no one can claim to be doing proper research into U.S. Slavery now, is filled with the interviews of  those who were still alive from antebellum days -- former slaves, traders, men on the street, etc. -- and with his own meticulous statistical work.  There was nothing like Slave Trading in the Old South before he published the work.  There could never that work after either, because those who lived it were dead.

It turns out there is a whole other book in his papers, one that has never been published, one no one has mentioned. It doesn't even have an actual title, but it is an actual book.  Could it be true that no one's ever looked at these papers since very early days, and not since the explosion in studies of American slavery? Could I have discovered this?  That cannot be, surely.

On the corner of one his ms in progress folders is written in blue pencil, Old South.  Was that a working title? It's more than worthy of publication today  He's such a good writer, both clear as water and vivid as an historical novel.  This isn't the statistical study that Slave Trading in the Old South is.

There is a box of personal photos, including those of him with President McKinley in the Carolina Sea Islands, with other famous people of his time. There's another of him on the 1913 anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, at Gettysburg.  He endowed the most coveted award for history in the U.S., the Bancroft Prize, at Columbia University. Yet, historians, at least until the 1960's, dismissed his work as of minor interest. It's hard to find out anything about him, because, as one of the very few essays about him that has come down says, "F. Bancroft was not an historian of note."  That rocks me back on my heels.

I've been trying to find out who his father was.  Could he have been George Bancroft, father of American History?  There's a book that has a short biography of Frederic Bancroft in NYU's Bobst catalog, but it is offsite, like all the interesting books, so I am going to have to wait until at least next week to find out.

F. Bancroft was central in those circles 19th and early 20th historians -- all of them, like him, deeply connected politically and with independent or very good fortunes, like Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Adams, to make of history a profession, particularly American history. They tended to toggle between writing and teaching history / and a political life, again, like Roosevelt and John Hay (he was the younger of Abraham Lincoln's two private secretaries, and John G. Nicolay, the older secretary, did the same thing, but as Nicolay didn't marry an heiress like Hay did, merely the well off Therena Bates, he toggled more between money-making journalism and politics).

In any case, in the course of The American Slave Coast, I've become
fascinated with all those early scholars and historians, politicians, literary writers and other historical figures, whose name recognition didn't make it into the pantheon. Considering what F. Bancroft's work was, we suspect the gatekeepers of American History and the Civil War, deliberately kept F. Bancroft out. He was working during the most virulent, smug self-satisfactions of neo-confederate revisionism,  white supremacy, bigotry and the Glorious Lost Cause sentimentalism we bathed in until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960's. Wilson was POTUS, Owen Wister's The Virginian, and D.W. Griffith ruled.  Bancroft's research was antagonist to the comfortable national narrative they'd constructed about slavery, the south, the Civil War, Reconstruction and Grant.

The minor figures of history, arts and letters often illuminate more clearly the days in which they wrote than the enshrined figures, as do the defeated in a war.  I'd love to do a book about the run-up  to the Civil War and the aftermath of the rewriting of that history, i.e. how the south won until the Civil Rights Movement, through the writers of the eras.

Unfortunately, archives and special collections' chairs and tables are anti-ergonomic, though they are all wired for electronic devices and internet (which wasn't true when I first began working in archives and special collections). In this soupy air, without sun, humidity rather than heat, I am hurting so badly I can't go back today. Damn!

I was shaken reading this morning about the U.S.'s highjack of the  President of Bolivia's plane.  That's what nations were doing back in the 18th and earlier 19th centuries. Those actions created wars -- see both the War of Independence and the War of 1812, and so many others. Evidently we feel safe executing an act of war upon a South American nation even now. Yet we repeat the same damned bathosations and platitudes about the War of Independence, on and on and, despite scholarship having proven the comfy bs to be just that, bs.

I hope you have an enjoyable July 4th.  We'll be here, just writing. And doing laundry. :)