February 16, 1804  The Most Daring Act of the Age

Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called Decatur’s raid the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

Historic accounts differ as to the early success of the Islamic conquests.  Contemporary Christian sources saw them as God’s punishment for the sins of fellow Christians.  Early Muslim sources describe the rising empire as evidence of divine favor, reflections of the religious zeal of the conquerors.

Be that is it may, Islamic expansion enveloped the Arabian Peninsula in the last ten years of the life of Muhammad (622-632), at the expense of the Roman Byzantines and the Sassanid Empire of the Persians.  Syria fell in 634, followed by Egypt, Mesopotamia and Persia.  By 750, the Umayyad Caliphs had subjugated much of the Balkan states, part of the Indian sub-continent, all of North Africa, most of Spain, and parts of Southern France and Sicily.  By the age of Columbus, the Mediterranean was a place where you traveled at your own risk.

Those of us of European ancestry owe our heritage, if not our existence, to the Christian warriors who defeated the Jihadist time after time. There was Pelagius, who stopped a military force of the Umayyad Caliphate at Covadonga in 722, without which there would be no Reconquista, no Ferdinand and Isabella, and we wouldn’t know the name of Christopher Columbus.

The father of Charlemagne, Charles “The Hammer” Martel, blocked the Muslim advance into Western Europe at the Battle of Tours, in 732.

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If Marcantonio Bragadin is remembered at all, it is for being betrayed, tortured and skinned alive by Lala Mustafa Pasha. Yet, it is Bragadin’s stubborn defense of the eastern Mediterranean outpost of Famagusta in 1571, which gave European principalities time to assemble naval forces in numbers sufficient to defend the European coast, near a place called Lepanto.

The 1683 Siege of Vienna, at the crossroads of eastern and western Europe, was a hard fought contest which could have gone either way, until the arrival of a Polish army under King Jan Sobieski. The Ottomans were defeated and turned back from the conquest of Eastern Europe by the largest cavalry charge in all of history, 18,000 horsemen of the Polish King and the Holy Roman Emperor, thundering down the hill and into the lines of Mustafa Pasha.

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Throughout the period, “Saracens” plundered everything that could be carried away: animals, provisions, fabrics, precious metals and money:  especially men, women and children who could be sold for a good price at the slave markets.  Redemption of captives being among the corporal works of mercy, the “Mathurins” Order of the Holy Trinity was founded in 1198 for the purpose of paying the ransom of Christians held captive by non-Christians, as a consequence of crusading and pirating along the southern European coastline.

Even Ireland, with its northern latitude, wasn’t immune to such raids. The renegade Dutchman-turned Barbary pirate Murat Reis attacked the village of Baltimore in County Cork, in 1631. With him were pirates from Algiers and armed troops of the Ottoman Empire, who captured all the villagers they could find, taking 107 away to the slave markets of North Africa.  Years later, three women were ransomed and returned to Ireland.  The rest lived out their lives as slaves, or locked away in harems or inside the walls of the sultan’s palace.

From-Baltimore-to-Barbary-the-1631-sack-of-Baltimore-2
“Engraving of a Moorish slave auction from Pierre Dan’s Historie van Barbaryan en des zelfs Zee-Roovers (Amsterdam, 1684). There they were paraded, chained and nearly naked, while prospective buyers inspected the merchandise”. H/T Historyireland.com

Sidi Muhammad ibn Abdallah, Sultan of Morocco, opened his ports to trade with the fledgling United States in 1777, making Morocco the first country whose head of state publicly recognized the United States.  Abdallah saw the future for his country in foreign trade, and actively sought a treaty relationship with the US, well before war ended with Great Britain.  The treaty signed by Thomas Barclay and Sultan Muhammad III in 1786 and ratified by the Confederation Congress the following July is still in effect today, the longest continuous treaty relationship in United States history.

Diplomacy had succeeded with Morocco, but not with Algiers, Tunis or Tripoli, each of which demanded $660,000 in tribute.

Algeria captured the schooners Maria and Dauphin in 1785, the captured crews held in conditions of slavery for over a decade. The sum negotiated for their release exceeded $1 million, more than 1/6th the entire budget of the United States.  Eleven American ships were captured in 1793 alone, their crews and stores held for ransom.

Yusuf Karamanli, Pasha of Tripoli, demanded $225,000 in tribute on President Jefferson’s inauguration, in 1801.  At this time, Federal revenues were barely over $10 million.  Jefferson refused, resulting in the first Barbary War, a conflict memorialized in a line from the Marine Corps Hymn “From the Halls of Montezuma to the Shores of Tripoli”.

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USS Enterprise, Barbary war

Limited to small confrontations for the first two years, more sustained combat began in June 1803 when a small American force attacked Tripoli Harbor in modern Libya.

While giving chase and firing on a pirate vessel, USS Philadelphia ran aground on an uncharted reef, two miles outside of Tripoli.  Fearing the 1,240 ton, 36-gun frigate would be captured and added to the Tripolitan navy, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur led a daring expedition into Tripoli harbor to destroy the captured vessel.

hqdefaultOn the evening of February 16, 1804, Decatur entered Tripoli Harbor with a force of 74 Marines.  With them were five Sicilian volunteers, including pilot Salvador Catalano, who spoke fluent Arabic.  Disguised as Maltese sailors and careful not to draw fire from shore batteries, Decatur’s force boarded the frigate, killing or capturing all but two of its Tripolitan crew.  Decatur and his marines had hoped to sail Philadelphia out of harbor, but soon found she was in no condition to leave.  Setting combustibles about the deck, they set the frigate ablaze.  Ropes burned off, setting the Philadelphia adrift in the harbor.  Loaded cannon cooked off as the blaze spread, firing random balls into the town. It must have been a sight, when gunpowder stores ignited and the entire ship exploded.

By that time Decatur and his men had slipped away, without the loss of a single man.  Even a former adversary couldn’t help but admire the feat.  Days later, British Vice Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson called Decatur’s raid the “most bold and daring act of the age.”

December 29, 1895 If

The younger Kipling would not survive his father. He entered the First World War, and disappeared in the Battle of Loos, in 1915. His body was never found. The elder Kipling’s gift would live on, the words of fatherly advice to an only son, in a poem he called “If”.

It was the 9th of February, 1853, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Robert William Jameson went for a walk, while his wife and mother of his 11 children, a woman with the unlikely name of Christian Pringle, labored to deliver their 12th child. Jameson slipped on a grassy embankment and into a frigid canal, where he would have drowned if not for the kindly stranger who fished him out. The man said he was an American, named Leander Starr.  Before the day was over, Starr was godfather to a newborn Scottish baby boy.  Leander Starr Jameson.

ec213-afrForty years later and half a world away, what would one day become South Africa was divided into four entities: the two British possessions of Cape Colony and Natal, and the two Boer (Dutch) Republics of the Orange Free State and the South African Republic, better known as Transvaal. Of the four states, Natal and the two Boer Republics were mainly agricultural, populated by subsistence farmers. The Cape Colony was by far the largest, dominating the other three economically, culturally, and socially.

There was considerable friction between Dutch and English settlers, stemming largely from differing attitudes toward slavery. British authorities passed legislation back in 1828, promising equal treatment for all under the law, regardless of race. Boer farmers argued that they needed forced labor to make their farms work, and that slaveholders were too little compensated upon emancipation.

Cetshwayo,_King_of_the_Zulus_(d._1884),_Carl_Rudolph_Sohn,_1882
Cetshwayo, King of the Zulus (d.1884), by Carl Rudolph Sohn

The situation was exacerbated in 1867, with the discovery of vast diamond deposits near modern day Kimberly, in Orange Free State territory. The Cape soon annexed the territory as its own, which I think is a fancy term for “stole”.  The Boers found themselves between the proverbial rock and a hard place, pressed by the British from the south and west, and by the Zulu “Impi” (army) of King Cetshwayo kaMpande to the north. War broke out between the two sides in 1880-81, called the “First Anglo-Boer War” by one side; the “First Freedom War” by the other.

Gold was discovered near Johannesburg in 1886, massive amounts of it, drawing tens of thousands of “Uitlanders”:  English, American and Australian foreigners, in search of employment and fortune.

Governor of the Cape Colony Cecil Rhodes wanted to incorporate the Transvaal and the Orange Free State into a single federation under British control, while the Transvaal government of Paul Kruger feared just that. Soon outnumbered by Uitlanders two to one, Transvaal limited the right to vote to those having many years’ residency, and imposing heavy taxes on gold mining profits.

By mid-1895, Rhodes had concocted a plan. In a scheme which could only be described as hare-brained, he would send an armed raid into Johannesburg, inciting an uprising of Uitlanders, with the aim of stepping in to take control. Back in London, the father of future Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, thought that was a swell idea, and did everything he could to encourage it.

On December 29, 1895, 400 Matabeleland Mounted Police and 200 assorted volunteers crossed from Rhodesia into Transvaal, with Leander Starr Jameson at their head.

Leander_Starr_Jameson

The raid was a humiliating failure.  They cut a wire fence, thinking it was a telegraph wire.  Transvaal authorities were tracking them from the moment they crossed the border. Meanwhile, Chamberlain got cold feet, saying that “if this succeeds it will ruin me. I’m going up to London to crush it”. Chamberlain ordered Sir Hercules Robinson, Governor-General of the Cape Colony, to repudiate the raid, threatening Rhodes and calling on British settlers in the Transvaal not to lend any aid to the raiders.

After several sharp encounters with dug in and well-prepared defenders, what remained of the raiders entered Pretoria on January 2, in chains. The Transvaal government received almost £1 million compensation from the British South Africa Company, turning their prisoners over to be tried by the British government. Jameson was convicted of leading the raid and sentenced to 15 months in prison.

During the whole ordeal, he never revealed the degree to which British politicians supported the raid, or the way they had betrayed him in the end.

Chamberlain Tries to Avert the Jameson Raid
Boer cartoon: Chamberlain Tries to Avert the Jameson Raid

So impressed was the poet, Rudyard Kipling, with Jameson’s display of stoicism under adversity, that he wrote a poem about it in 1895, later giving it to his son, Lieutenant John Kipling.

The younger Kipling would not survive his father. He entered the First World War, and disappeared in the Battle of Loos, in 1915. His body was never found.

The elder Kipling’s gift would live on, the words of fatherly advice to an only son, in a poem he called “If”.

if-poem-by-rudyard-kipling-claudette-armstrong

December 27, 1865 Confederados

The numbers are hazy, but port records indicate that somewhere between ten and twenty thousand former Confederates moved to Brazil in the twenty years following the Civil War. A great uncle of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, was one.

Most of us grew up learning that 600,000+ Americans were killed in the Civil War.  618,222 to be precise, more than the combined totals of every conflict in which the United States has been involved, from the Revolution to the War on Terror.  Recently, sophisticated data analysis techniques have been applied to newly digitized 19th century census figures, indicating that even that figure may be understated.

The actual number may lie somewhere between 650,000 and 850,000.

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The cataclysm of the Civil War would leave in its wake animosities which would take generations to heal.  “Reconstruction” would be 12 years in the making, but some never did reconcile themselves to the war’s outcome. Vicksburg, Mississippi, which fell after a long siege on July 4, 1863, would not celebrate another Independence Day for 70 years.

In 1865, Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil wanted to encourage domestic cultivation of cotton.  Men like Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee advised southerners against emigration, but the Brazilian Emperor offered transportation subsidies, cheap land and tax breaks to those who would move.

Descendants of American Southerners wearing Confederate-era uniforms pose for a photograph during a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War in Santa Barbara D'Oeste, Brazil
Descendants of American Southerners wearing Confederate-era uniforms pose for a photograph during a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the American Civil War in Santa Barbara D’Oeste, Brazil,

Colonel William Hutchinson Norris, veteran of the Mexican American War and former member of the Alabama House of Representatives and later State Senator, was the first to make the move.  Together with his son Robert and 30 families of the former Confederacy, Norris arrived in Rio de Janeiro on December 27, 1865, aboard the ship “South America”.

The numbers are hazy, but port records indicate that somewhere between ten and twenty thousand former Confederates moved to Brazil in the twenty years following the Civil War.  A great uncle of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, was one.

Confederate flag rally at Stone Mountain Park

Some of these “Confederados” settled in the urban areas of São Paulo, most made their homes in the northern Amazon region around present-day Santa Bárbara d’Oeste and a place the locals called “Vila dos Americanos”, and the inhabitants called “Americana”.  Some would return to the newly re-united states.  Most would never return, and their ancestors, Portuguese speaking Brazilians all, remain there to this day.

Confederados earned a reputation for honesty and hard work, and Dom Pedro’s program was judged a success by immigrant and government alike.  The settlers brought modern cultivation techniques and new food crops, all of which were quickly adopted by native Brazilian farmers.

Small wonder.  Mark Twain once wrote “The true Southern watermelon is a boon apart, and not to be mentioned with common things. It is chief of this world’s luxuries, king by the grace of God over all the fruits of the earth. When one has tasted it, he knows what the angels eat. It was not a Southern watermelon that Eve took; we know it because she repented”.

That first generation kept to itself for the most part, building themselves Baptist churches and town squares, while traditional southern dishes like barbecue, buttermilk biscuits, vinegar pie and southern fried chicken did their own sort of culinary diplomacy with native populations.

Slavery remained legal in Brazil until 1888, but this nation of 51% African or mixed-race ancestry (according to the 2010 census), seems more interested in understanding and celebrating their past, than tearing their culture apart over it.

Today, descendants of those original Confederados preserve their cultural heritage through the Associação Descendência Americana (American Descendants Association), with an annual festival called the Festa Confederada.  There you’ll find hoop skirts and uniforms in gray and butternut, along with the food, the music and the dances of the antebellum South.

There you will find the Confederate battle flag, as well.  It seems that Brazilians have thus far resisted that peculiar urge which afflicts Isis and the American Left, to destroy the symbols of their own history.

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In 2016, the New York Times reported on the May celebration of the Festa Confederada, of Santa Bárbara d’Oeste:

‘“This is a joyful event,” said Carlos Copriva, 52, a security guard who described his ancestry as a mix of Hungarian and Italian. He was wearing a Confederate kepi cap that he had bought online as he and his wife, Raquel Copriva, who is Afro-Brazilian, strolled through the bougainvillea-shaded cemetery.  Smiling at her husband, Ms. Copriva, 43, who works as a maid, gazed at the graves around them. “We know there was slavery in both the United States and Brazil, but look at us now, white and black, together in this place,” she said while pointing to the tombstones. “Maybe we’re the future and they’re the past.”’

Brazil Confederates

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“A woman in a traditional hoop skirt walked past graves adorned with Confederate battle flags in Santa Bárbara d’Oeste, Brazil. An annual celebration of the area’s many Confederate settlers was held in the cemetery last month”. Hat tip to Mario Tama/Getty Images, New York times, for this image

November 25, 1841 Amistad

ICYMI – A former President and son of a Founding Father, John Quincy Adams, argued the case, in a trial beginning on George Washington’s birthday, 1841.

By 1839, the international slave trade was illegal in most countries, though the “peculiar institution” itself, was not. In April of that year, five or six hundred Africans were illegally purchased by a Portuguese slave trader, and shipped to Havana aboard the brig Tecora.

Fifty-three members of the Mende tribe, of the modern-day country of Sierra Leone, were sold to Joseph Ruiz and Pedro Montez, who planned to use them on their Cuban sugar plantation. The Mendians were given Spanish names and designated “black ladinos,” fraudulently documenting them to have always lived as slaves, in Cuba. In June, Ruiz and Montez placed the Africans on board the schooner la Amistad, (“Friendship”), and set sail down the Cuban coast to Puerto del Principe.

On the fourth night at sea, Joseph Cinqué, also known as Sengbe Pieh, led a number of captives in breaking free of their chains and seizing control of the ship. They killed two of their captors, losing two of their own in the struggle, while two others escaped in a boat. The cabin boy, who really was a black ladino, was spared and used as translator.

Revolt-Aboard-Ship

The Mendians forced the two remaining crew to return them to Africa, which they pretended to do by day. But they were betrayed, the two slavers would steer the ship north by night, when the position of the sun couldn’t be seen. Amistad was apprehended off Long Island by a U.S. Coastal Survey brig and taken to New London, Connecticut, where the Africans were put in prison. Connecticut was still a slave state at that time.

The Spanish Ambassador demanded that Ruiz’ and Montez’ “property” be returned and the matter settled under Spanish law. President Martin van Buren agreed, but the matter had already fallen under the jurisdiction of the courts.

amistad-trial-1841The district court trial which followed in Hartford determined that the Mendians’ papers were forged, and they should be returned to Africa. The cabin boy was ruled to be a slave and ordered returned to the Cubans, however he fled to New York with the help of abolitionists. He would live out the rest of his life as a free man.

Fearing the loss of pro-slavery political support, President van Buren ordered government lawyers to appeal the case up to the United States Supreme Court.  The government case depended on the anti-piracy provision of a treaty then in effect between Spain and the United States,

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A print of Joseph Cinqué appeared in The New York Sun newspaper, August 31, 1839

A former President and son of a Founding Father, John Quincy Adams, argued the case, in a trial beginning on George Washington’s birthday, 1841.

In United States v. Schooner Amistad, SCOTUS upheld the decision of the lower court 8-1, ruling that the Africans had been detained illegally,  ordering them returned to their home. John Tyler, a pro slavery Whig, was President by this time. Tyler refused to provide a ship or fund the repatriation, so abolitionists and missionaries did so, returning 35 surviving Mendians to Africa on November 25, 1841.

In arguing the case, President Adams took the position that no man, woman, or child in the United States could ever be sure of the “blessing of freedom”, if the President could hand over free men on the demand of a foreign government.

152 years later, Bill Clinton, Eric Holder and Janet Reno kidnapped six-year-old Elian Gonzalez at gunpoint, sending him back to Cuba over the body of the mother who died bringing him to freedom.

amistad replica
In 2007, a near-replica of the Amistad left its home port in Connecticut, on a 16-month, 14,000-mile voyage to Nova Scotia, Britain and Africa.

November 6, 1860 A Peculiar Institution

From the earliest years of the “new world”, every economy from Canada to Argentina was, to varying degrees, involved with slavery.  Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the new world in 1501, establishing the new world’s first international slave port in Santo Domingo, modern capital city of the Dominican Republic.

From the earliest years of the “new world”, every economy from Canada to Argentina was, to varying degrees, involved with slavery.  Spanish and Portuguese settlers brought the first African slaves to the new world in 1501, establishing the new world’s first international slave port in Santo Domingo, modern capital city of the Dominican Republic.

Hundreds of thousands of African slaves entered the Americas through the sister ports of Veracruz, Mexico, and Portobelo, Panama, “products” of the “Asiento” system, wherein the contractor (asientista) was awarded a monopoly in the slave trade to Spanish colonies, in exchange for royalties paid to the crown.

The first such contractor was a Genoese company who agreed to supply 1,000 slaves over an 8-year period, beginning in 1517.  A German company entered into such a contract eight years later, with a pledge of 4,000.

Richard Schlecht
Painting by Richard Schlecht, National Geographic

By 1590, as many as 1.1 million Africans had come through the port of Cartagena, Colombia, sorted and surnamed under the “casta de nación” classification system.  To this day, black residents of the Colombian interior bear names like Kulango & Fanti, indicating their origins on the Ivory Coast or Ghana:  Musorongo, Loango & Congo, (Congo Region), or Matamba, Anchico & Ambuila (Angola).

In the American colonies, 17th century racial attitudes appear to have been more fluid than they would later become.  The first black Africans, 19 of them, came to the Virginia Colony in 1619 not as slaves, but as indentured servants. Their passage, involuntary as it was,  was paid for by a term of indenture, a sort of ‘temporary slavery’, usually lasting seven years.

John Punch ran away from his term of indenture in 1640, along with two Europeans. The trio was captured in Maryland and sentenced to extended terms of indenture. Alone among the three, Punch was punished with indenture for life, effectively making him the first ‘slave’ in the American colonies.

Born in Angola in 1600, Anthony Johnson was one of that original 19, captured by an enemy tribe and sold to an Arab slave trader.  Johnson was sold to a Virginia planter at the age of 21, paying off the cost of his passage with a seven-year term of indenture.  As a free man, Johnson himself became a successful planter, going on to “own” indentured servants of his own.

One of them, John Casor, sued for his freedom in 1655, claiming to have completed his indenture of “seaven or Eight years”, plus seven more.  The court ruled that Casor himself was considered “property” and not his contract, making him the first person arbitrarily ruled a slave for life.

Map-of-Slave-Trade

The unthinking view of history holds American slavery to have been a strictly southern-states phenomenon, but it isn’t so.  As late as the eve of the Civil War, “northern” slavery was more widespread than you might expect. The 1860 census reported 236 slaves in New Jersey, 90,368 in Maryland, 2,290 in Delaware, and 3,680 in Washington, DC. There were slaves as far north as New Hampshire as late as 1840. New York wouldn’t legally emancipate its last slave until the following year.

Massachusetts became the first American colony to legalize slavery in 1641, with the passage of the ironically named “Massachusetts Body of Liberties”.  Slavery was legal at one time or another, in all 13 original colonies and even before, when slavery of and by native Americans, was commonplace.

In 1637, the Pequot tribe of southeastern Connecticut was all but wiped out in a bloody war with an alliance of English colonists from the Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth and Saybrook colonies, and their native American allies of the Narragansett, Mohegan, Niantic and Montauk tribes. Surviving Pequots were forced to become slaves in English households, or shipped to Bermuda or the West Indies, and exchanged for Africans.

Indigenous and African slave populations in northern climates were small compared with the more agricultural economies of the south, which were themselves a drop in a bucket compared with the slave economies of central and south America.

An essay from the New York Public Library (nypl.org) gives a sense of scale to the transatlantic slave trade. “As a whole, the transatlantic slave trade displaced an estimated 12.5 million people, with about 10,650,000 surviving the Atlantic crossing. Thus, even though a substantial number of Africans actually reached the United States, they were only a small proportion, about 3.6 percent, of the total number of Africans who were brought to the Americas. More Africans went to Barbados (435,000), while almost three times as many went to Jamaica (1,020,000). The number of Africans arriving in North America was considerably less than those who were taken to Brazil (4,810,000)“.

The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 opened vast new territories. The fight for which would be free and which would permit slavery, would go on for years.

The philosophical underpinnings of southern secession was borne of the Hartford Convention of December 1814 – January 1815.  There, delegates from Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, along with “unofficial” delegates from New Hampshire and Vermont, met to discuss New England’s secession over the War of 1812. The convention reported that New England had a “duty” to assert its authority over unconstitutional infringements on its sovereignty, putting forth a legal position very similar to the later nullification position taken by South Carolina.

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Protective tariffs were instituted in the wake of the War of 1812, intending to help domestic manufacturers compete with foreign imported goods. Instead, they tended to help northern manufacturing economies, while increasing the cost of manufactured goods to the southern states, and making it more difficult to export cotton.

By this time, cotton was becoming the chief cash crop in most southern economies, and tariffs hit South Carolina particularly hard. Throughout the colonial and early national periods, the Palmetto state climate sustained a strong agricultural economy. South Carolina’s fortunes were hit hard with the panic of 1819, and slow to recover as the gulf states increasingly entered the cotton markets.

The Tariffs of 1828 – ’32 lead to a nullification crisis in South Carolina, where the state told the federal government to pound sand, and mobilized military assets to defend itself against federal enforcement measures sure to follow.

That time the crisis was averted, but a pattern had been established for events to come.

CaningSectional differences grew and sharpened in the years that followed. A member of Congress from Kentucky killed a fellow congressman from Maine.  A Congressman from South Carolina all but beat a Massachusetts Senator to death with a cane, on the floor of the Senate. A fist fight involving at least 30 Congressman broke out on the floor of the US House of Representatives.

Southern states talked about secession as early as 1850. Senator Stephen A Douglas proposed the Kansas-Nebraska Bill, in theory allowing a territory to determine its own free or slave status. This effort to “democratize” the issue led to the brutality of the “Bleeding Kansas” period, where pro-slavery Missouri “Border Ruffians” and anti-slavery Kansas “Jayhawkers” crossed one another’s borders, primarily to murder each others civilians and burn out one another’s towns.

Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech on June 16, 1858, in which he said “A house divided against itself cannot stand”.  A year later, John Brown was holed up at Harper’s Ferry, trying to start a slave insurrection.

After 57 ballots, the Democrat’s convention of 1859 adjourned without selecting a candidate for the Presidential election. Northern Democrats nominated Stephen A Douglas, while southern Democrats nominated John Breckenridge.

Republican Abraham Lincoln was elected 16th President of the United States on November 6, 1860, on a platform confusingly specifying “That all men are created equal”, an “abhorrence of all schemes of disunion”, and “The maintenance inviolate of the rights of the states, and especially the right of each state to order and control its own domestic institutions according to its own judgment exclusively”.

One year later, to the day, former United States Senator and Secretary of War Jefferson Davis was elected to a six-year term as the first President of the Confederate States of America.

 

 

 

November 4, 1914 Battle of the Bees

Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck came to loathe Adolf Hitler, and tried to establish a conservative opposition to the Nazi political machine. When offered the ambassadorship to the Court of St. James in 1935, he apparently did more than merely decline the job. He told Der Fuehrer to perform an anatomically improbable act.  Years later, Charles Miller asked the nephew of a Schutztruppe officer about the exchange. “I understand that von Lettow told Hitler to go f**k himself”.   “That’s right”, came the reply, “except that I don’t think he put it that politely”.

When WWI broke out in 1914, a map of Africa looked nothing like it does today. From the Belgian Congo to Italian Somaliland, most of the continent was carved into colonies of the various European powers. France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Spain.  All administered parts of the African continent.

The 2nd Battalion of the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment was stationed in Bangalore, southern India, at the outbreak of war.  By mid-October, the more experienced of their Indian allies had shipped off to France, Egypt and Mesopotamia.  Little but leftovers were assigned to the German East African invasion.  Many had never even fired a rifle, let alone a machine gun.

Since August, there had been an informal agreement that the African territories would be left alone. That changed on November 2, when an allied force of 8,000 British troops and their Indian allies arrived at the seaport town of Tanga, in what is now Tanzania.

Deutsch-Ostafrika, Askari im KampfThis invasion force, commanded by General Arthur Aitkin, spent that first day and most of the second sweeping for non-existent mines, before finally assembling an assault force on the beaches late on November 3rd. It was a welcome break for the German Commander, Colonel Paul Emil von Lettow-Vorbeck, who had assembled and trained a force of Askari warriors around a core of white German commissioned and non-commissioned officers.

The Germans used those 2 days to bring in more defenders, increasing their number from two companies to almost a thousand individuals. The German and Ascari defenders were well situated and very familiar with the terrain, unlike the British-led allied forces, who had conducted no reconnaissance whatsoever.

The fighting of November 4 met with mixed results. Several columns bogged down in the swamps approaching town, leaving much of their lines in disarray. The harbor contingent had some successes in the fighting that followed, with Gurkhas of the Kashmiri Rifles and the 2nd Loyal North Lancashire Regiment capturing the customs house and Hotel Deutscher Kaiser.

Though outnumbered 8 to 1, the defenders managed to turn their attackers when they got some help from an unexpected direction. Millions of bees, agitated by the gunfire, had joined in the fight.

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Charge of the Bengal Lancers

“Killer” bees are a strain of western honey bees that have been “Africanized”; cross bred with larger, more aggressive African bees, in order to produce more honey in tropical conditions.

The honey producers who crossed these creatures in the 1950s quickly learned what Aitken’s men could have told them in 1914. These things are aggressive, they swarm, and, if angered, they will chase you for a mile and more.

The Germans got some of it, but the bees spent most of their wrath on the British and the Indians, who found themselves pelting for the beaches at maximum speed. I don’t know if it’s true or just a story, but I’ve heard of one radio man who stayed at his post, directing the beach withdrawal as he was stung to death by thousands of bees. According to the story, he received the Victoria Cross, posthumously, for gallantry “while sustaining aerial attack”.

The Battle for Tanga was a humiliating defeat for the British. The Royal Navy refused to carry heavy machine guns back, fearing that they might damage their small landing craft. The guns would be left behind, for future allied forces to deal with.  It was a gift for Lettow-Vorbeck, whose forces found enough modern rifles for three Askari companies, along with 600,000 rounds of ammunition, 16 machine guns, several field telephones and enough clothing to last the Schutztruppe for a year.

Askari-on-MarchColonel, and later General Lettow-Vorbeck, was called “Der Löwe von Afrika“, the Lion of Africa. He never once had more than 3,000 Germans and 11,000 Askaris under his command, yet he wore the allies out, leading no fewer than 300,000 British, Belgian, and Portuguese troops in a four-years long wild goose chase all over equatorial Africa.

The Lion of Africa returned to Germany a conquering hero at the end of WW1.  Of all German field commanders in all theaters of the war, von Lettow alone was undefeated in the field, acclaimed as leading “the greatest single guerrilla operation in history, and the most successful”.

lettowvorbeckportraitPaul von Lettow-Vorbeck came to loathe Adolf Hitler, and tried to establish a conservative opposition to the Nazi political machine. When offered the ambassadorship to the Court of St. James in 1935, he apparently did more than merely decline the job. He told Der Fuehrer to perform an anatomically improbable act.  Years later, Charles Miller asked the nephew of a Schutztruppe officer about the exchange. “I understand that von Lettow told Hitler to go f**k himself”.   “That’s right”Came the reply, “except that I don’t think he put it that politely”.

Persecuted by the Nazis, the Lion of Africa was a broken man by the end of WWII, surviving only due to his former hero status. His home was bombed out and his two sons Rüdiger and Arnd, were dead.

Lettow-Vorbeck would get back on his feet, but for a time he had to depend on food packages from England, sent to him from Sir Richard Meinertzhagen and General Jan Smuts.  Two who took to feeding the man, so great was their respect for their former adversary in the earlier war.

October 20, 1952 Mau Mau

The violent uprising of the early 50s was called “Mau Mau”, an anagram of Uma Uma, translating as “Get out, Get out”.

By the 1940s, the Kikuyu people of Kenya had been under British Colonial rule for nearly fifty years.  At this time, there were primarily three political blocs among Kenyan Africans.  First, the conservatives, who tended to support the status quo. Next were moderate nationalists, those who sought an orderly return to indigenous rule over African soil.  Last were the radical nationalists.  These wanted African rule, Right Now, no matter the cost.

The first attempt to form a country-wide political party began in 1944, with the formation of the KASU, the Kenya Africa Study Union. KASU was anti-colonial from the beginning, becoming increasingly radicalized through the WW2 period and into the late 1940s.

mau mauThe violent uprising of the early 50s was called “Mau Mau”, an anagram of Uma Uma, roughly translating as “Get out, Get out”.  The first “blow against the Colonial regime” was struck on October 3, 1952, when a white woman was stabbed to death near her home in Thika, in the Kiambu County of Kenya.

Senior Chief Waruhiu wa Kungu was shot to death in his car less than a week later. Governor Evelyn Baring declared a state of emergency on October 20, arresting hundreds of suspected leaders of the uprising.

There was little reason and less restraint in the events that followed. Thousands of black Africans were hacked, burned or shot to death by Mau Mau militants, many of them mutilated and horribly tortured before death. Militants attacked the settlement of Lari on the night of March 25-26, herding Kikiyu men, women and children into huts before setting them on fire. Anyone who tried to escape was hacked with machetes, and thrown back into the flames.

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BRITISH ARMY OPERATIONS AGAINST THE MAU MAU IN KENYA 1952 – 1956 (MAU 867) At the Naivasha Rifle Range the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers give members of the Rift Valley Home Guard the chance to handle modern weapons including a Vickers machine gun. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205212530

The scene played out on dozens of occasions. Massacres were met with retaliatory raids by African security forces, at least partially overseen by British commanders.
There was even biological warfare, when Mau Mau radicals used the poisonous milk of the African milk bush, to kill cattle.

Displeased with the government’s response to the uprising, settler groups formed their own “Kenya Police Reserve’s Special Branch”.  God help the unlucky militant who fell into their hands.

Black Africans were victims of most of the violence, their deaths numbering in the thousands. Combined with those who “disappeared”, their number may have run into the tens of thousands, by the time the violence ended in 1956. 62 Asians, predominantly Indians, were also killed, along with 58 whites.

Barack Obama wrote in his memoir “Dreams from my Father”, that his grandfather Hussein Onyango Obama was captured and tortured by British authorities during the Mau Mau uprising. The now-former President wrote that his father was “selected by Kenyan leaders and American sponsors to attend a university in the United States, joining the first large wave of Africans to be sent forth to master Western technology and bring it back to forge a new, modern Africa“.

The elder Obama’s real history seems to differ from the public version, though the American media is remarkably quiet on the subject. The UK Daily Mail reports, under the headline “Obama’s grandfather tortured by the British? A fantasy (like most of the President’s own memoir)“, that Onyango was inclined to create “[H]istory to conform with the image he wished for himself…Following on from his forebears on both sides”.

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If you’re interested in a little pop culture sauce for this turkey, the Mau Mau uprising inspired a number of similar rebellions throughout the region. One of them occurred in the East African coastal city of Zanzibar.

Thousands of Arabs and Indians were murdered in the 1964 Zanzibar rebellion, while thousands more fled for their lives.

Among those to escape were Bomi and Jer Bulsara, along with their 17-year-old son, Farrokh. The Bulsaras were Parsis from the Gujarat region of India, who had sent Farrokh to piano lessons from the age of 7.  By the time he was 12, the boy had formed a school band, called “The Hectics”.

freddiestoryFarrokh was attending St. Peter’s boarding school at the time of the rebellion, and calling himself “Freddie”.

After fleeing Zanzibar, the family settled in Feltham, Middlesex, in England. Freddie Bulsara resumed his studies while joining in a series of bands through the late sixties. First “Ibex”, then “Wreckage” and finally, “Sour Milk Sea”.

In April 1970, Bulsara changed his name to “Mercury”, forming a band with guitarist Brian May, bassist John Deacon, and drummer Roger Taylor. The group went on to record 18 #1 rock music albums, 18 #1 singles and 10 #1 DVDs. The group sold close to 300 million albums, being inducted into the Rock & Roll Music Hall of Fame in 2001, as “Queen”.