January 14, 1699 Witchcraft Hysteria

The witchcraft hysteria launched by the Spanish Inquisition would dwarf what was to come in the English colony.

Four years before the Salem witch trials of 1692, Goodwife Ann “Goody” Glover and her young daughter worked as housekeepers, for the Goodwin family of Boston.   13-year-old Martha, one of the Goodwin girls, accused the younger Glover of stealing fabric. Ann’s daughter ran out in tears, which earned Martha a rebuke from Ann Glover. Four of the five Goodwin children soon began to writhe and carry on in a manner destined to become familiar, four years later. Their doctor concluded “nothing but a hellish Witchcraft could be the origin of these maladies.”

The following trial, contained no small amount of anti-Catholic bigotry. Cotton Mather, the socially and politically influential New England Puritan minister called Glover “a scandalous old Irishwoman, very poor, a Roman Catholick and obstinate in idolatry.”

Glover’s Gaelic was far better than her English, and the two “Irish speakers” hired to translate, probably made some of it up as they went along.  For Ann Glover, the final straw was her inability to complete the Lord’s Prayer. What may seem to the modern mind as mere doctrinal differences were at one time matters of life-and-death. As a Catholic, she was either unable or unwilling to complete the prayer with the Protestant doxology, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever, Amen”. It doesn’t exist in the Catholic recitation.

Ann Glover was hanged as a witch on November 16, 1688.

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The Great Elm of Boston Common, toppled in a storm in 1876, once served as the city’s hanging tree.

The witchcraft hysteria to strike Massachusetts’ North Shore communities of Danvers, Ipswich, Andover and Salem four years later ended the lives of five men and fourteen women at the end of a rope, on Gallows Hill. As many as 17 more died in the tiny, freezing stone compartments that passed for jail cells. 81-year-old Giles Cory was “pressed” to death over two days and nights, as rocks were piled on his chest to extract his confession. Knowing that his possessions were forfeit to his tormentor should he confess; Cory’s only response was “more weight”.

A persistent myth holds that victims of the Salem witchcraft hysteria were burned at the stake, but English law in the North American colonies, forbade it. All the convicted witches of 1692, died by hanging.

Not so one hundred years earlier, across the Atlantic. The witchcraft hysteria launched by the Spanish Inquisition would dwarf what was to come in the English colony.

The Spanish Inquisition was one of several such inquisitions, launched to root out “heretics” between the 12th and 19th centuries. The Inquisitional system was based on ancient Roman law and carried out by the Latin church from Mexico to Peru to the Portuguese colony of Goa, in India. The overwhelming majority of sentences handed down by the inquisition, demanded penances such as wearing a cross sewn into the clothing, scourging, or going on pilgrimage. When a suspect was convicted of unrepentant heresy, the inquisitional tribunal was required by law to hand the condemned over to secular authorities for execution of sentence, which may include imprisonment, banishment, or burning at the stake.

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The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilee was tried by the Roman inquisition in 1633 and held under house arrest until his death in 1642, for the heretical belief that the earth revolved around the sun. The last victim of the Inquisition was in Spain in 1826, when schoolteacher Cayetano Ripoll was executed by garrote, for teaching Deism in his school.

Interestingly, there seems zero evidence that either the Greek or the Russian Orthodox Church, ever conducted an inquisition.

Belief in witches was widespread in pre-Christian Europe but largely absent from the first thirteen hundred years of Christian thought. The medieval Church distinguished between “white” and “black” magic, and local folk practice mixed with appeals to patron saints to ward off disease, protect livestock and ensure a bountiful harvest. The vehement denunciation of witches was more a product of the late medieval and early renaissance periods, due to plague outbreaks and changes in weather brought about by the Little Ice Age.

The Malleus Maleficarum or “Hammer of the Witches” written in 1486 by Dominican priest Heinrich Kramer, elevated witchcraft to criminal status and advocated for its extermination. Kramer himself was expelled from Innsbruck for his beliefs and described as “senile”, but the work would have lasting effect.

zugarramurdi-4_grandeEducated Spaniards of the era considered witchcraft to be a Protestant superstition. The Spanish Inquisition, launched in 1478 to protect Catholicism as the One True Faith, went first after forced converts from Islam (Moriscos) and Judaism (Marranos) suspected of lapsing into their prior faith.

In 1609, the French judge Pierre de l’Ancre conducted a massive witch hunt in Labourd, a formerly French territory in the Basque Provinces of Spain. De l’Ancre has been described as “ridiculous”, an “obsessed fanatic”. In the year of his judgeship, seventy people were burned at the stake including several priests. Even then he wasn’t satisfied, believing as many as 3,000 witches had escaped his grasp;  10% of the entire population of Labourd, at that time.

The following year, witch trials began in the northern Spanish cities of Logroño, and Navarre. In Salem, Puritans investigated only a few hundred suspected witches, resulting in the death of 20. During the Basque witch trials of 1610-’14, some 7,000 would be examined by the Inquisition on charges of witchcraft and sentenced to auto-da-fé, a ritualized, public penance after the performance of which, the condemned would learn their fate.

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Of 44,674 cases tried by the Spanish inquisition, 826 resulted in burning at the stake. Another 778 died by torture and were burned, in effigy.

In August 1614, the central office of the Inquisition ordered that all witch trials be dismissed in Logroño, and introduced new and more rigorous standards of evidence.  Back in Massachusetts, the state declared a day of fasting on January 14, 1699, in memory of the wrongful persecutions from 1688-’92.

Sometime in the 1830s, the writer Nathaniel Hawthorne added the “W” his name, distancing himself from his twice-great grandfather and Salem witch trial judge, John Hathorne.  None of it did a lick of good for the poor collection of oddballs and outcasts, done to death in the earlier period.

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January 13, 1997 Buffalo Soldier

From the second floor of a house, Lieutenant Fox directed American defensive fire by radio, adjusting each salvo closer to his own position.  Warned that his final adjustment would bring down artillery fire on his own head, the soldier who received the message was stunned at the response. 1st Lt. John Fox’ last known words, were “Fire it.” 

In September 1867, Private John Randall of Troop G, US 10th Cavalry Regiment, was assigned to escort two civilians on a hunting trip. The hunter became the hunted when a band of 70 Cheyenne warriors swept down on the trio. The two civilians were killed in the initial attack and Randall’s horse shot out from under him.

hardpicCornered in a washout under some railroad tracks, single handed, Randall held off the attack with his revolver, despite a gunshot wound to his shoulder and no fewer than 11 lance wounds.

By the time help arrived, 13 Cheyenne warriors lay dead.  Private Randall was still standing. Word spread among the Cheyenne about a new kind of soldier, “who had fought like a cornered buffalo; who like a buffalo had suffered wound after wound, yet had not died; and who like a buffalo had a thick and shaggy mane of hair.”

The US 10th Cavalry, formed on September 21, 1866 at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, was the first unit of “Negro Cavalry”, an all-black unit which would soon be joined by the 9th, 24th and 25th Cavalry, and come to be known as “Buffalo Soldiers”.

Several all-black regiments were formed during the Civil War, including the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry depicted in the film, “Glory”.  The “Buffalo Soldiers” were the first peacetime all-black regiments in the regular Army.

The original units fought in the American Indian Wars, the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Border War and two World Wars, amassing 23 Medals of Honor by the end of 1918.

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At one time, “Buffalo Soldiers” was a catch-all term, used to describe American troops of African ancestry. Today the term is used as a badge of honor only by those units who trace their lineage to the 9th and 10th Cavalry regiments. Here, the 92nd Division (segregated) in the Argonne Forest of WW1. The 92nd’s insignia is a buffalo: a tribute to their predecessors.

The old met with the new during WWII when Mark Matthews, veteran of the Pancho Villa Expedition, WW1, WW2 and the Battle of Saipan, was sent to train with the Tuskeegee Airmen.  In the end, Matthews would prove too old to fly.  A member of the Buffalo Soldiers Drum & Bugle Corps, Matthews would play taps at Arlington National Cemetery, always from the woods. Blacks of the era were not permitted at “white” funerals.  1st Sergeant Matthews retired shortly before the Buffalo Soldiers were disbanded, part of President Truman’s initiative to integrate United States’ armed forces..

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1st Lt. John Robert Fox

In December 1944, the segregated 366th Infantry Regiment of the 92nd Infantry Division was fighting in the vicinity of Sommocolonia, in northern Italy.  On Christmas day, German soldiers began to infiltrate the town, disguised as civilians.  A heavy artillery barrage began in the early morning hours of the 26th, followed by an overwhelming attack of enemy ground forces.  Vastly outnumbered, American infantry were forced to conduct a fighting retreat.

First Lieutenant John R. Fox, forward observer for the 598th Field Artillery Battalion, volunteered to stay behind with a small Italian force, to help slow the enemy advance.  From the second floor of a house, Lieutenant Fox directed American defensive fire by radio, adjusting each salvo closer to his position.  Warned that his final adjustment would bring down artillery fire on his own head, the soldier who received the message was stunned at the response. 1st Lt. John Fox’ last known words, were “Fire it.”

When American forces retook the town, Lieutenant Fox’ body was found with those of about 100 German soldiers.

The King James Bible translates John 15:13, as “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends“.  After the war, Sommocolonia erected a Memorial.  A tribute to nine brave soldiers who gave their lives, that their brothers might live.  Eight Italians, and one American.

In a January 13, 1997 ceremony at the White House, President Bill Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor, posthumously, to the family of 1st Lieutenant John R. Fox.

Memorial Day celebration in Washington, D.C.1st Sergeant Mark Matthews, the last of the Buffalo Soldiers, died of pneumonia on September 6, 2005 at age of 111.  A man who forged papers in order to join at age fifteen and once had to play taps from the woods, was buried with military honors at Arlington National Cemetery, section 69, grave #4215.

An American Hero.

The rank of General of the Armies is equivalent to that of a six-star general, the highest possible operational rank of the United States Armed Forces.  The rank has been awarded only twice, once posthumously to George Washington, and only once to an active-duty officer: John Joseph Pershing.

Then-1st Lieutenant Pershing served with the Buffalo Soldiers from October 1895 to May 1897 plus another six months in Cuba, and came to respect soldiers of African ancestry as “real soldiers”, in every way.  As West Point instructor beginning in 1897, Pershing was looked down upon and insulted by white cadets and officers, aggrieved over Pershing’s strict and unyielding disciplinary policies.

The press sanitized the favored insult to “Black Jack,” delivered, no doubt, behind the man’s back, but that’s not they said.

During WW1, General Pershing bowed to the segregationist policies of President Woodrow Wilson and Secretary of War Newton Baker.  It seems Pershing understood what the Connecticut academic and the Ohio politician had failed to learn, a principle the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. would spell out, some fifty years later:

“We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

January 10, 1927 Poison Hooch

It’s a crazy, mixed up world full of nut job conspiracy theories. This is not one of those.

prohibition3The Eighteenth Amendment establishing the national prohibition of “intoxicating liquors” was passed out of Congress on December 17, 1917 and sent to the states, for ratification. The National Prohibition or “Volstead” act, so named for Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Andrew Volstead, was enacted to carry out its intent.

At last ratified in January 1919, “Prohibition” went into effect at midnight, January 16, 1920. For thirteen years, it was illegal to import, export, transport or sell liquor, wine or beer in the United States.

“Industrial alcohol” such as solvents, polishes and fuels were “denatured” and rendered unpalatable by the addition of dyes and chemicals.  The problem was, it wasn’t long before bootleggers figured out how to “renature” the stuff. The Treasury Department, in charge of enforcement at that time, estimated that over 60 million gallons of industrial alcohol were stolen during Prohibition.

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War-propaganda

Not to be defied, the government upped the ante. By the end of 1926, denaturing processes were reformulated with the introduction of known poisons such as kerosene, gasoline, iodine, zinc, nicotine, formaldehyde, chloroform, camphor, quinine and acetone. Better still, Treasury officials required no less than 10% by volume of methanol, a virulent toxin used in anti-freeze.

You can renature all you want. that stuff isn’t coming out.

On Christmas eve 1926, sixty people wound up at New York’s Bellevue Hospital, desperately ill from contaminated alcohol. Eight of them died. Two days later the death toll was thirty-one. By New Year’s Day the number had soared to 400, with no end in sight.

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A copper still and bucket, like those used in the creation and renaturing of alcohol at home. H’T allthatsinteresting.com, and Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Many who didn’t die, may have wished it. Drinkers experienced hallucinations, uncontrollable vomiting, even blindness.

In its January 10, 1927 issue, TIME Magazine reported  a doubling in toxicity levels, from the new method:  “The new formula included “4 parts methanol (wood alcohol), 2.25 parts pyridine bases, 0.5 parts benzene to 100 parts ethyl alcohol” and, as TIME noted, “Three ordinary drinks of this may cause blindness. (In case you didn’t guess, “blind drink” isn’t just a figure of speech.)”

New York medical examiner Charles Norris was quick to understand the problem, and organized a press conference to warn of the danger. “The government knows it is not stopping drinking by putting poison in alcohol,” he said. “Yet it continues its poisoning processes, heedless of the fact that people determined to drink are daily absorbing that poison. Knowing this to be true, the United States government must be charged with the moral responsibility for the deaths that poisoned liquor causes, although it cannot be held legally responsible.”

Norris pointed out that the poorest people of the city, were most likely to be victims: “Those who cannot afford expensive protection and deal in low-grade stuff”.

The towering sanctimony of the other side, is hard to believe.  Teetotalers argued that the dead had “brought it on themselves”. Long-time leader of the anti-saloon league Wayne B. Wheeler claimed “The Government is under no obligation to furnish the people with alcohol that is drinkable when the Constitution prohibits it. The person who drinks this industrial alcohol is a deliberate suicide.”

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In the thirteen years of its existence, Prohibition was an unmitigated disaster.  Portable stills went on sale within a week of enactment, and organized smuggling was quick to follow. California grape growers increased acreage by over 700% over the first five years, selling dry blocks of grapes as “bricks of rhine” or “blocks of port”. The mayor of New York City sent instructions to his constituents, on how to make wine.

Smuggling operations became widespread, as cars were souped up to outrun “the law”. This would lead to competitive car racing, beginning first on the streets and back roads and later moving to dedicated race tracks. It’s why we have NASCAR, today.

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Organized crime became vastly more powerful due to the influx of enormous sums of cash. The corruption of public officials was a national scandal.

Gaining convictions for breaking a law that everyone hated became increasingly difficult. The first 4,000 prohibition-related arrests resulted in only six convictions, and not one jail sentence.

It’s hard to compare alcohol consumption rates before and during prohibition but, if death by cirrhosis of the liver is any indication, alcohol consumption wasn’t reduced by any more than 10 to 20 per cent.

In the end, even John D. Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong teetotaler who contributed $350,000 to the Anti-Saloon League, had to announce his support for repeal.

On December 5, 1933, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment, repealing the Eighteenth and voiding the Volstead Act, returning control over alcohol policy to the states.

Federal officials continued to poison industrial alcohol until the very end, resulting in the death of some 10,000 citizens.   They didn’t even pretend not to know, what was happening.  Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Seymour Lowman may have had the last word, among those who would say “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help”.  Lowman opined that, if deliberately poisoned alcohol resulted in a more sober nation, then “a good job will have been done.”

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

December 29, 1778 The Siege of Savannah

For the Americans and their allies, the frontal assault of October 9 was one of the bloodiest engagements, of the Revolution.  It could have been worse.  As battered American and French soldiers fell back, 500 free men of color known as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue stepped up, to cover their retreat.

Many of these Haitian soldiers went on to win their own war of independence, and credited their military experience, to Savannah.

As 1778 drew to a close, British military planners could look back on five years of trying to suppress rebellion in the American colonies, with little to show for it.   In March of that year, the British defeat at Saratoga had brought France into the war, on the side of the Rebels.

Two years of open warfare had centered mostly on the north.   Now, a “southern strategy” was devised to conquer rebellious colonies in the south, while isolating those to the north. Key to the Southern Strategy was Georgia and the colonial capital at Savannah, the southernmost commercial port of the thirteen Colonies.

General sir Henry Clinton dispatched a force of some 3,100 from New York under Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, along with an unknown quantity of artillery. Campbell arrived outside Tybee Island on December 23.

Georgia was defended by two separate forces at this time, units of the Continental Army under the command of General Robert Howe, and state militia under the command of Governor John Houstoun.  The two men had a history of squabbling for control and most of their troops, had yet to be tried.

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Lieutenant Colonel Archibald Campbell, British commander at the capture of Savannah in December 1778

The 850 under General Howe never really had a chance, against the battle hardened Regulars, Hessian auxiliaries and Loyalist militia, coming ashore on December 29.  Defeat turned to rout when Howe’s forces threw down their weapons and ran.  Campbell reported that “It was scarcely possible to come up with them, their retreat was rapid beyond conception.

Patriot forces suffered 83 killed, 11 wounded and 453 captured. Campbell suffered 7 killed and 17 wounded.

Howe was court-marshaled for the disaster, while Campbell bragged about being “the first British officer to [rend] a star and stripe from the flag of Congress

Brigadier General Augustine Prevost arrived from St. Augustine Florida two weeks later, with a mixed force of Regulars and Creek and Cherokee allies.   Campbell and a force of 1,000 would take the provisional capital at Augusta that February but soon retreated to Savannah, citing insufficient support among Loyalist and Native American populations.

American hopes soon fell back on their new-found alliance with France. During the following summer, French Admiral Count Charles-Hector Theodat d’Estaing captured St. Vincent and Grenada in the British West Indies, clearing the way to the Georgia coast. The powerful 47-ship French fleet arrived with 4,000 troops on September 1, surprising and capturing several British ships outside the mouth of the Savannah River.

french-shipsD’Estaing sent an ultimatum to British Commander Augustine Prevost on September 16, 1779. He was to surrender the city “To the arms of his Majesty the King of France”, or he would be personally answerable for what was about to happen. It could not have pleased General Benjamin Lincoln or his Patriot allies when d’Estaing added “I have not been able to refuse the army of the United States uniting itself with that of the King. The junction will probably be effected this day. If I have not an answer therefore immediately, you must confer with General Lincoln and me”.

“Bullet Head Prevost”, so called because of a circular scar on his temple, stalled for 24 hours, using the time in furiously building up his defenses and calling up 800 reinforcements from South Carolina.

Lincoln joined d’Estaing on September 23 with an army of 3,000 militia and Continental soldiers, laying siege to Savannah and the 2,500 British and Loyalist troops in occupation.

On October 1, a British relief column under one Captain French was coming to the city’s aid, camped on the banks of the Ogeechee River. Georgia Continental Colonel John White had two officers, a sergeant and three privates with him, when he tricked French into surrendering. These guys ran through the woods lighting so many fires that the British thought the entire continental Army was bivouacked around them. Captain French was unavailable for comment but, it must be a special feeling, knowing that you just surrendered 111 guys to six, without firing a shot.

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View of the siege works against the town at the Siege of Savannah September and October 1779 in the American Revolutionary War: contemporary picture by a French officer

Lack of horses and artillery carriages delayed the allies’ moving their cannon ashore, so French warships bombarded the city from the sea. At one point shortly after Midnight on October 3, with rum rations flowing far too freely, fire from French gunners became more dangerous to themselves than to the city itself.

For the Americans and their allies, the frontal assault of October 9 was one of the bloodiest engagements, of the Revolution.  It could have been worse.  As battered American and French soldiers fell back, 500 free men of color known as the Chasseurs Volontaires de Saint-Domingue stepped up, to cover their retreat.

Many of these Haitian soldiers went on to win their own war of independence, and credited their military experience, to Savannah.

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Franklin Square Monument remembers the contributions of the Haitian militia, in the Siege of Savannah

 The siege of Savannah inflicted untold misery among the population, but Patriot forces and their French allies, never did break the city’s defenses. The siege broke a short time later, amidst recriminations on both sides.   D’Estaing returned to France, where he lost his head to the guillotine in 1794.

Savannah would remain in British hands until the end of the war, finally evacuated on July 11, 1782. A coquina marker in a small Savannah park; that soft, seashell limestone common throughout the Caribbean basin to Florida and beyond, bears a small brass plaque, darkened with the patina of age.

COMMEMORATIVE OF THE BRITISH EVACUATION OF SAVANNAH 1782
PRESENTED TO THE CITY OF SAVANNAH
BY THE
LACHLAN McINTOSH CHAPTER
DAUGHTERS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
1904

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Attack of 2nd South Carolina Continentals on the Spring Hill Redoubt at the Siege of Savannah on 9th October 1779 in the American Revolutionary War: picture by A.I. Keller

December 26, 1776 Hell Ships of the Revolution

British and American forces and their allies fought no less than seventy-one major engagements from the April 19, 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, to the 1783 Battle of Arkansas Post.  The prison ships of the British killed more Americans than every single one of them, combined.

Since the first Geneva Convention of 1864, nations have attempted to codify a system of international law, concerning acceptable limits on the conduct of war.  These laws address a range of considerations including declarations of war, acceptance of surrender and proper treatment of prisoners.

Such discussions are nothing new, the earliest examples dating to the ancient Sanskrit epic Mahābhārata, and to the old testament (Torah) Book of Deuteronomy. The first Caliph, Abu Bakr, laid down ten rules of warfare for his Muslim army, in the 7th century.

In the New World British colony in North America, one of twenty-seven grievances enumerated in the Declaration of Independence was that King George IIIhas endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions“.

unknown-8-1489678956-1972The American Revolution was on its last legs in December 1776. The year had started out well for the Patriot cause but turned into a string of disasters, beginning in August. Food, ammunition and equipment were in short supply by December.  Men were deserting as the string of defeats brought morale to a new low.   Most of those who remained, ended enlistments at the end of the year.

General George Washington and a force of 5,000 performed the famous crossing of the Delaware River in the howling blizzard of Christmas day, 1776. The assault on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, was do or die. The cause of Independence needed decisive victory, or it was over. The pass word on that frigid night was “Victory”.  There was only one acceptable response: “Or Death”.

The tactical surprise was complete in the early morning hours of December 26.  Hessian losses were 22 killed, 92 wounded and 918 captured.  Only 400 escaped. The Americans suffered two who had frozen to death in the march on Trenton, and five wounded. It was the colonist’s first major victory of the Revolution.

What to do with all those prisoners was a new problem for Washington, who ordered his troops to treat them with humanity.  “Let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren who have fallen into their hands.”

Washington’s position on the treatment of prisoners was clear and consistent. On September 14 of the previous year, the General wrote to Colonel Benedict Arnold then in camp in Cambridge Massachusetts: “Should any American soldier be so base and infamous as to injure any [prisoner]…I do most earnestly enjoin you to bring him to such severe and exemplary punishment as the enormity of the crime may require.”

No such consideration was given American prisoners of his Majesty’s government.  King George III personally declared American revolutionaries to be traitors in 1775, denying them prisoner of war status.  Land based detention facilities in British-occupied cities such as New York, Philadelphia and Charleston quickly filled up when the hulks of spent vessels were brought into service as prison ships, little more than waterlogged coffins.

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Prison Ship HMS Jersey

Conditions on board these prison ships, were gruesome.  The stifling hold of  HMS Jersey alone held no fewer than 1,000 men in Wallabout Bay, modern-day site of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Authorities were loath to execute detainees for “treason” for fear of inciting sympathy.  Prisoners were left instead to wallow in their own filth, starved and tormented by most every disease and parasite, known to modern medicine.   The Connecticut Gazette recounted the experience of one Robert Sheffield in July 1778, one of precious few to escape:

The heat was so intense that [the 300-plus prisoners] were all naked, which also served the well to get rid of vermin, but the sick were eaten up alive. Their sickly countenances, and ghastly looks were truly horrible; some swearing and blaspheming; others crying, praying, and wringing their hands; and stalking about like ghosts; others delirious, raving and storming, all panting for breath; some dead, and corrupting. The air was so foul that at times a lamp could not be kept burning, by reason of which the bodies were not missed until they had been dead ten days. One person alone was admitted on deck at a time, after sunset, which occasioned much filth to run into the hold, and mingle with the bilge water …

Bodies of the dead were tossed overboard, ten or fifteen every day from Jersey, alone.  Thousands of dead fouled the brackish waters of Wallabout Bay, from which water was drawn to boil “soup” for survivors, more like a toxic sludge, sometimes augmented with moldy bread or rancid meat.

Even after Cornwallis’ surrender in 1781, prisoners languished in the holds of Jersey and other Hell ships until the Treaty of Paris formally ended the war, in 1783.

A host of place names enter the popular imagination, when we think of the American Revolution.  Bunker Hill.  Trenton.  SaratogaYorktown.  British and American forces and their allies fought no fewer than seventy-one major engagements from the April 19, 1775 battles of Lexington and Concord, to the 1783 Battle of Arkansas Post.  The prison ships of the British killed more Americans than every one of them, combined.

Thousands of remains washed up on the shores of Brooklyn.  Bones were still being found in 1801, during construction of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

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Prison Ship Martyrs Memorial Fort Greene Park Brooklyn

Locals collected as many as they could for burial in a local tomb.  The bones were eventually moved to a crypt in Fort Greene Park, a half-mile south of Wallabout Bay.  Today, a 149-foot martyrs memorial topped with an eight-ton bronze brazier marks the location of their Fort Greene crypt.

In eight years, an estimated eleven to twelve thousand men perished of the filth, abuse, neglect and disease of these Hell Ships.  Untold thousands more passed through their stinking holds, and lived to tell the tale.

That such men ever lived, may be counted among the blessings of Liberty.

Brooklyn Parks Commissioner Martin “Marty” Maher is quoted in Smithsonian.com“These were ordinary citizens, fighting for a country that had barely been born. Every man was offered freedom if he would swear to stop fighting. But there’s no record that anyone took up the offer. No prisoner renounced the revolution to gain his freedom. Not one.”

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If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

December 23, 1884 Lake Bacon

The meadows and the bayous of our southern lands shall swarm with herds of hippopotami

Only hours from now, families will gather from across the nation, for the Christmas table.  There will be moist and savory stuffing, and green bean casserole.  Creamy mashed potatoes and orange cranberry sauce.  And there, the centerpiece of the feast.  Slow-roasted and steaming in its tray, golden brown and delicious, the roast hippopotamus.

Wait…What?

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Water Hyacinth

On this day in 1884, the World Cotton Centennial and World’s Fair was beginning its second week, in New Orleans. Among the many wonders on display was the never-before seen, Eichornia crassipes, a gift of the Japanese delegation.  The Water Hyacinth.

Visitors marveled at this beautiful aquatic herb, its yellow spots accentuating the petals of beautiful delicate purple and blue flowers, floating across tranquil ponds on thick, dark green leaves.

The seeds of Eichornia crassipes are spread by wind, flood, birds and humans, and remain viable for 30 years.  Beautiful as it is to look at, the Water Hyacinth is an “alpha plant”, an aquatic equivalent to the Japanese invasive perennial Kudzu, the “vine that ate the south”.  Impenetrable floating mats choke out native habitats and species, while thick roots impede the passage of vessels, large and small.  The stuff is toxic if ingested by humans and most animals, and costs a fortune to remove.

This plant native from the Amazon basin quickly broke the bounds of the 1884 World’s Fair, spreading across the bayous and waterways of Louisiana, and beyond.

Eichhornia_crassipes_field_at_Langkawi

During the first decade of the 20th century, an exploding American population could barely keep up with its own need for food, especially, meat.  The problem reached crisis proportions in 1910, with over grazing and a severe cattle shortage.  Americans were seriously discussing the idea, of eating dogs.

Enter Louisiana member of the House of Representatives, New Iberia’s own Robert Foligny Broussard, with a solution to both problems.  “Lake Bacon”.

The attorney from Louisiana’s 3rd Congressional district proposed the “American Hippo” bill, H.R. 23621, in 1910, with enthusiastic support from Theodore Roosevelt and the New York Times.  One Agricultural official estimated that such a free-range hippo herd would produce up to a million tons of meat, per year.

Lippincott’s monthly magazine, waxed rhapsodic:  “This animal, homely as a steamroller, is the embodiment of salvation.  Peace, plenty and contentment lie before us, and a new life with new experiences, new opportunities, new vigour, new romance, folded in that golden future, when the meadows and the bayous of our southern lands shall swarm with herds of hippopotami”.

With a name deriving from the Greek term “River Horse”, the common hippopotamus is the third largest land animal living today.  Despite a physical resemblance to hogs and other even-toed ungulates, Hippopotamidae’s closest living relatives are cetaceans such as whales, dolphins and porpoises.

All well and good.  The problem is, these things are dangerous.

hippo-crocodile_1887702i

The adult bull hippopotamus is extremely aggressive, unpredictable and highly territorial.  And heaven help anyone caught between a cow, and her young.  Hippos can gallop at short sprints of 19 mph, only a little slower than Jamaican Sprinter Usain Bolt, “the fastest man who ever lived”.

To search the “10 most dangerous animals in Africa” is to learn that hippos are #1, responsible for more human fatalities than any other large animal, in Africa.

p-hippo-1_1467398cBe that at it as it may, the animal is a voracious herbivore, spending daylight hours at the bottom of rivers & lakes, happily munching on vegetation.

What could be better than taking care of two problems at once.  Otherwise unproductive swamps and bayous from Florida to Louisiana would become home to great hordes of free-range hippos.  The meat crisis would be solved.  America would become a nation of hippo ranchers.

As Broussard’s bill wended its way through Congress, the measure picked up steam with the enthusiastic support of two men, mortal enemies who’d spent ten years in the African bush, trying to kill each other. No, really.

Frederick Russell Burnham had argued for the introduction of African wildlife into the American food stream, some four years earlier.  A freelance scout and American adventurer, Burnham was known for his service to the British South Africa company, and to the British army in colonial Africa. The “King of Scouts’, commanding officers described Burnham as “half jackrabbit and half wolf”.  A “man totally without fear.”  One writer described Burnham’s life as “an endless chain of impossible achievements”, another “a man whose senses and abilities approached that of a wild predator”.  He was the inspiration for the Indiana Jones character and for the Boy Scouts.  Frederick Burnham was the “most complete human being who ever lived “.

Frederick Russell Burnham (left), Fritz Joubert Duquesne (right)

Frederick “Fritz” Joubert Duquesne was a Boer of French Huguenot ancestry, descended from Dutch settlers to South Africa.  A smooth talking guerrilla fighter, the self-styled “Black Panther” once described himself as every bit the wild African animal, as any creature of the veld.  An incandescent tower of hate for all things British, Duquesne was a liar, a chameleon, a man of 1,000 aliases who once spent seven months feigning paralysis, so he could fool his jailers long enough to cut through his prison bars.

Duquesne was destined to be a German spy and saboteur, through two world wars.  Frederick Burnham described his mortal adversary, thus:  “He was one of the craftiest men I ever met. He had something of a genius of the Apache for avoiding a combat except in his own terms; yet he would be the last man I should choose to meet in a dark room for a finish fight armed only with knives“.

in-1910-President-Roosevelt-supported-a-bill-that-would-have-released-hippopotamuses-into-Louisiana-to-eat-an-invasive-plant-species-and-to-provide-delicious-hippo-bacon-to-hungry-AmericDuring the 2nd Boer war, the pair had sworn to kill each other.  In 1910, these two men became partners in a mission to bring hippos, to America’s dinner table.

Biologically, there is little reason to believe that Hippo ranching couldn’t have worked along the Gulf coast.  Colombian officials estimate that, within a few years, the hippo descendants of drug kingpin Pablo Escobar’s exotic animal menagerie will number 100 or more individuals.

Hippo Steak

Broussard’s measure went down to defeat by a single vote, but never entirely went away.  Always the political calculator, Representative and later-Senator Broussard died with the bill on his legislative agenda, waiting for the right moment to reintroduce the thing.

Over time, the solution to the meat question became a matter of doubling down on what we’re already doing, as factory farms and confinement operations took the place of free ranges, and massive use of antibiotics replaced the idea of balanced biological systems.

We may or may not have “traded up”.  Today, we contend with ever more antibiotic-resistant strains of “Superbug”. Louisiana spends $2 million per year on herbicidal control of the water hyacinth. The effluent of factory farms from Montana to Pennsylvania works its way into the nation’s rivers and streams, washing out to the Mississippi Delta to a biological dead zone, the size of New Jersey.

13453_gulf-of-mexico-dead-zone-image-credit-noaa
Gulf of Mexico dead zone, image credit NOAA

That golden future of Lippincott’s hippo herds roam only in the meadows and bayous of the imagination.  Who knows, it may be for the best.  I don’t know if any of us could’ve seen each other across the table, anyway.  Not when the roast hippopotamus, got there.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.

 

 

December 19, 1843  A Christmas Carol

This quintessentially English tale is said to have drawn much from the work of Shakespeare, and others.  Perhaps the Old World drew inspiration from the New, as well. 

It’s hard not to love the traditions of the Christmas season.  Getting together with loved ones, good food, the exchange of gifts, and our favorite Christmas specials on TV.  I always liked a Charlie Brown’s Christmas, and of course there’s the Charles Dickens classic, “A Christmas Carol”, set against the vast brick factory buildings of Lowell, Massachusetts, along the Merrimack River.

Wait … What?

The 29-year-old Charles Dickens was already a well-known and popular author when he stepped onto the shores of Boston Harbor on January 22, 1842.  New Yorkers had literally lined the docks the year before, greeting ships bearing copies of the author’s latest, The Old Curiosity Shop.

“The Pickwick Papers,” “Oliver Twist,” “Nicholas Nickleby”; all were behind the young writer when he came to America, perhaps to write a travelogue, or maybe looking for material for a new novel.

LowellMillGirls
The “Mill Girls”, of Lowell

Dickens traveled to Watertown, to the Perkins School for the Blind, where Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan underwent their mutual education, a half-century later.  He visited a school for neglected boys, in Boylston.

Dickins must have thought the charitable institutions in his native England suffered by comparison, for he later wrote “I sincerely believe that the public institutions and charities of this capital of Massachusetts are as nearly perfect as the most considerate wisdom, benevolence, and humanity, can make them.”

In February, Dickens took a train north to the factory town of Lowell, visiting the textile mills and speaking with the “mill girls”, the women who worked there.  Once again, he seemed to believe that his native England came up short, in the comparison.  Dickens spoke of the new buildings and the well dressed, healthy young women who worked in them, perhaps comparing them with his own traumatic childhood experience of working in the mills back home, with his father confined in debtor’s prison.

v_Lowell_Offering_1The celebrity novelist enjoyed the finest sights of Boston and New York, and took in a steamship ride, down the Mississippi. He visited one of the great wonders of the natural world, the spectacular Niagara Falls.

And yet, the author described that visit to the industrial city of Lowell as “the happiest day” of his American vacation.

Dickens left the mill girls with a copy of “The Lowell Offering”, a literary magazine written by those same women, which he later described as “four hundred good solid pages, which I have read from beginning to end.”

More than a century and a half later, Natalie McKnight, professor of English and Dean at Boston University, noticed similarities between the two while preparing a talk for the Lowell Historical Society.

She read the same 400 pages as Dickens, and couldn’t help noticing parallels between the work of the mill girls, and “A Christmas Carol,” published about a year and a half after the author’s visit.  Chelsea Bray was a senior English major at the time.  Professor McKnight asked her to read those same pages.

v_Marleys_Ghost_John_Leech_1843
Marley’s Ghost, by John Leech, 1843

One story, “A Visit from Hope,” begins, “‘Past twelve!’ said a sweet, musical voice, as I was seated by the expiring embers of a wood fire. I turned hastily to see who had thus intruded on my presence, when, lo! I beheld an old man. His thin white locks were parted on his forehead, his form was bent, and as he extended his thin, bony hand toward me, it shook like an aspen leaf.”’

Makes it hard not to think of the ghost of Jacob Marley, Ebenezar Scrooge’s “dead as a doornail”, former partner.

Christmas,” another Lowell essay, describes Christmas as “the best day in the whole year” for what it brings out in people. The theme pops up again with Scrooge’s nephew, as in: “[T]he only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.”

Another piece, “The Blessings of Memory,” speaks of joyful recollections, too soon overridden by “unreal phantoms.” Scrooge’s redemption is all about Memory: Bray writes, “Scrooge’s conversion begins when the Ghost of Christmas Past makes him relive his memories and reconnect to past sorrows and joys.”

ChristmasCarol-OV_nov17-2

The research performed by the two was published in the form of a thesis, and later fleshed out to a full-length book:

“Dickens and Massachusetts
The Lasting Legacy of the Commonwealth Visits
(University of Massachusetts Press, 2015)

The book describes a number of similarities between the two works, making the argument that Dickens’ familiar story draws much from his experience in Lowell.  The authors specifically reject any accusation of plagiarism.  The Lowell essays possess neither the character development nor the linguistic richness of Dickens’ masterwork.

This quintessentially English tale is said to have drawn much from the work of Shakespeare, and others.  Perhaps the Old World drew inspiration from the New, as well.   Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Christmas Carol, was published for the first time 175 years ago today, December 19, 1843.

If you enjoyed this “Today in History”, please feel free to re-blog, “like” & share on social media, so that others may find and enjoy it as well. Please click the “follow” button on the right, to receive email updates on new articles.  Thank you for your interest, in the history we all share.