April 18, 1906 American Plague

The disease process unfolded with horrifying rapidity. The Italian writer Boccaccio wrote that plague victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”

images (49)In the early 1330s, a deadly plague broke out on the steppes of Mongolia. The gram-negative bacterium Yersinia Pestis preyed heavily on rodents, the fleas from which would transmit the disease to people, the infection then rapidly spreading to others.

High fever would precede the appearance of “buboes”, a painful swelling of the lymph glands, especially in the armpit, neck and groin. Spots appeared on the skin turning from red to black, often accompanied by necrosis and gangrene in the nose, lips, fingers and toes.

In some cases, Bubonic plague will progress from the lymphatic system to the lungs, resulting in Pneumonic plague. Y. Pestis can progress to the blood stream as well, a condition known as septicemic plague. In medieval times, septicemic mortality rates ran from 98% to 100%.

medieval-life-the-black-death-bubonic-plague-black-plague-8-728

The disease process unfolded with horrifying rapidity. The Italian writer Giovanni Boccaccio wrote that plague victims often “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.”

Plague broke out among a besieging force of Mongols on the Black Sea city of Caffa, in 1346. Italian merchants fled with their ships in the Spring of 1347, carrying in their holds an untold number of rats and the fleas that came with them. One-third of the world’s population died in the five-year period which followed, equivalent to over two Billion today.

The Black Death of the 14th century is far and away the most famous, but it’s not the first. The Plague of Justinian, 541-542AD, centered mostly around the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) and Sassanid Empires, the disease resulting in the death of 25 million individuals. Roughly 13% of the world’s population, at that time.

150827150729-plague-explainer-cohen-orig-mg-00001604-full-169The Black death of 1346-’53 was a catastrophe unparalleled in human history, but it was by no means the last such outbreak.  The Third Pandemic began in China in 1855, spreading to Hong Kong and on to British India. In China and India alone the disease killed 12 million people. It then spread to parts of Africa, Europe, Australia, and South America.

In the newly formed Territory of Hawaii, the first signs of the plague began to appear in Honolulu in December, 1899. Not sure how to control the outbreak, city health officials decided to burn infected houses. Changing winds soon fanned the flames out of control. On January 20, 1900, an inferno consumed nearly all of Chinatown, 38 acres, leaving 6,000 homeless.

Honolulu_Chinatown_fire_of_1900
In January 1900, Honolulu’s Chinatown burned down in an effort to control bubonic plague.

In 1900, The ship Australia brought Yersinia Pestis with it from Hong Kong into San Francisco. The ship was immediately quarantined and, despite the escape of two stowaways confirmed to have the bacilli, there was no immediate outbreak. The quarantine seemed to work for a time, but there was no way to contain the rats on board. They are probably the reason that plague spread to the city.

norway_rats_on_ropeThe body of an elderly Chinese man was discovered in a Chinatown basement. An autopsy found the man to have died of plague. There were more than 18,000 Chinese and another 2,000 Japanese living in the 14-block Chinatown section of the city. Many called for a quarantine of Chinatown, but Chinese citizens objected, as did then-Governor Henry Gage, who tried to sweep the whole outbreak under the carpet. Business interests likewise objected to the quarantine. Except for the Hearst Newspapers, not much was heard about it.

100 confirmed cases of plague were discovered by the end of 1902, but Governor Gage was still denying its existence. There were a total of 121 cases with 113 deaths by 1904, but the outbreak seemed to be contained.

yersinia-pestis-plague-bacteria-pasiekaSan Francisco was hit by a massive earthquake on April 18, 1906, followed by a great fire. Thousands of San Franciscans were crowded into refugee camps with an even higher number of rats. For the first time, the disease now jumped the boundaries of Chinatown.

On May 27, 1907, a San Francisco sailor was diagnosed with bubonic plague. The epidemic spread aggressively over that summer, the New York Times reporting in November that “the disease increased with such virulence that it looked for a time as if the city were to be decimated as were medieval Europe”.

The plague popped up one last time, but local, state, and federal health officials combined to all-but eradicate the rat population, and with it the disease. It was all over by 1909.

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Reported cases of human plague in the United States, 1970 – 2012

Or was it. Nothing could stop the fleas from infected rats from transferring to wild rodents, squirrels, and prairie dogs, and permanently establishing plague bacilli in the western United States.

In 2015, the CDC reported 15 cases of Bubonic plague in the United States, as of October.  Four of them were fatal.  The bacterium is treatable with modern antibiotics, but I can’t help thinking about the massive quantity of anti-microbials used in livestock production. Given the apparent increase in multiple-drug resistant “superbugs”, I hope that people far smarter than I am, are thinking about it too.

 

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June 8, 793 The Viking Age

The Viking age lasted for almost 500 years, beginning in the late 8th century and ending only with the advent of the “Little Ice Age” in 1250.  In the end, the Vikings left their mark from Newfoundland, to Baghdad.

Lindisfarne Castle as seen from Harbour
Lindisfarne Castle as seen from Harbour

Two miles off the Northeast coast of Great Britain is the island of Lindisfarne, just south of the Scottish border.  Once, there was a monastery there.

The island’s monastic cathedral was founded a 150 years earlier by the Irish monk, Aidan of Lindisfarne. Known as the Apostle of Northumbria and spreading the gospel to Anglo-Saxon nobility and slaves alike, the monk was later canonized to become Saint Aidan.

Lindisfarne island had gifts of silver and gold, given to the monastery in hopes that such gifts would find peace for the immortal soul of the giver. There were golden crucifixes and coiled shepherd’s staves, silver plates for Mass, and ivory chests containing the relics of saints.  Shimmering tapestries hung from the walls.  The writing room contained some of the most beautiful illuminated manuscripts ever made.

Lindisfarne Castle Holy Island
Lindisfarne

1,224 years ago today, you could have looked to sea.  You would have seen a strange sight that morning.  Long ships with high prow and stern were lowering square sail as oarsmen rowed these ships directly onto the beach.

Viking Long ShipAny question you had as to their purpose would have been immediately answered, as these strangers sprinted up the beach and chased down everyone in sight.  These they murdered with axe or spear, or dragged them down to the ocean and drowned them. Most of the island’s inhabitants were dead when it was over, or taken off to the ships to be sold into slavery.  All of those precious objects were bagged, and tossed into the boats.

The raid on Lindisfarne abbey gave rise to what would become a traditional prayer:  A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine, “From the fury of the Northmen deliver us, Lord”.  The Viking Age had arrived.

These Viking invasions were repeated for over a century, until England was eventually bled of its wealth, and the Vikings began to take the land, as well.viking-ship

It wasn’t just England either. The King of Francia was tormented by Viking raids in what would one day become western France. King Charles “the Simple”, so-called due to his plain, straightforward ways, offered choice lands along the western coast to these men of the north, if they would leave him alone.  In 911 the Viking chieftan Rollo accepted Charles’ offer, and so created the kingdom of Normandy.  They called him “Rollo the Walker”, so-called because he was so huge that no horse to carry him, but that’s a story for another day.  (Like, August)

A period of Global Warming (yes, they had it then too), during the 10th and 11th centuries created ideal conditions for the Norse raiders, with a prevailing westerly wind direction in the spring reversing direction in the fall to become west to east.

Viking Axe ManViking travel was not all done with murderous intent; they are well known for colonizing westward as they farmed Iceland and possibly North America.

Many of their eastward excursions were more about trade than plunder.  Middle Eastern sources mention Vikings as mercenary soldiers and caravan guards.

Viking warriors called “Varangian Guard” hired on as elite mercenary bodyguard/warriors with the eastern Roman Empire.  Farther east, the “Rus” tribe lent their name to what would later be called Russia and Belarus.

The 10th-century Arab traveler Ibn Fadlan described the Rus as “perfect physical specimens”, writing at the same time that “They are the filthiest of all Allah’s creatures”.   Tattooed from neck to fingernails, the men were never without an axe, a sword and a long knife. The Viking woman “wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper, or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the husband. Each box has a ring from which depends a knife”.

Stamford Bridge
Battle of Stamford Bridge

The classical Viking age ended gradually, and for a number of reasons. Christianity took hold, as the first archbishopric was founded in Scandinavia in 1103.

Political considerations were becoming national in scope in the newly formed countries of Sweden, Norway and Denmark.

King Cnut “The Great”, the last King of the North Sea Empire of Denmark, Norway and England, together also described as the Anglo-Scandinavian Empire, died in 1035, to be replaced in England by Edward the Confessor.  Edward’s successor Harold would fend off the Viking challenge of Harald Hardrada in September 1066 at a place called Stamford Bridge, only to be toppled in the Norman invasion, two weeks later.

The Viking age lasted for almost 500 years, beginning in the late 8th century and ending only with the advent of the “Little Ice Age” in 1250.  In the end, the Vikings left their mark from Newfoundland, to Baghdad.

June 7, 1866 Fenian Raids on Canada

They were a state within a state. To this day, the Fenian Brotherhood remains the only organization to have publicly armed and drilled, on this scale, in United States history.

The Fenian Brotherhood was founded in the US in 1858, based on the idea that Ireland should be free of English rule to become an independent, self-governing Republic. The Brotherhood traced its lineage back to 1758. By 1866, much if not most of the membership were battle hardened veterans of the Civil War, ended only a year earlier.

Fenian 1Fenians invaded Canada no fewer than five times between 1866 and 1871. The idea was to bring pressure on Britain to withdraw from Ireland, so these attacks were directed toward British army forts, customs posts and other targets in Canada.

Irish Canadian Catholics were divided by the raids, with many feeling torn between loyalty to their new home and sympathy for the Fenians’ objectives. Canadian-Irish Protestants and French Catholics were generally loyal to the crown, and many took up arms against the raiders.

700 Fenians headed north to Campobello Island, New Brunswick in April 1866, intending to seize the island. The war party became discouraged and dispersed after a show of force by the British Navy at Passamaquoddy Bay, but they would be back.

Next, a group of 1,000 to 1,300 Fenians sabotaged the US Navy side-wheeler gunboat USS Michigan, and slipped across the Canadian border at the Niagara River on June 1. A Fenian ambush west of Ft. Erie led to the Battle of Ridgeway, in which 13 Canadian Militia were killed. 94 were wounded or incapacitated by disease.

Further fighting took place the following day, in which the Canadian Militia’s inexperience led to battlefield confusion. A number were taken prisoner. Realizing that they couldn’t hold their position, the Fenians released their prisoners and withdrew to Buffalo on the 3rd, but again they would be back.

Fenian Independence

This seems to have been the high water mark of the Fenian uprising. President Andrew Johnson began to crack down, dispatching Generals Ulysses Grant and George Meade to Buffalo to assess the situation. Their orders on the 7th of June were to arrest anyone who even looked like a Fenian.

The Fenian “army of liberation” may have had little effect on Irish Independence, but it served to fire up Canadian Nationalism.  Canada was more properly called “British North America” in those days.   It seems that the Fenian raids tipped many of the more reluctant votes toward the security of nationhood, particularly in the Maritime provinces.   Historians will tell you that Ridgeway is “the battle that made Canada.”  The Canadian Confederation was formed in 1867, uniting Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Quebec into one Dominion of Canada.

There would be several more Fenians raids in the years that followed, from Pigeon Hill and Mississquoi County in modern day Quebec, to the 1870 Pembina raid in the Dakota territory. Fenian 2

US authorities ultimately arrested the men and confiscated their arms, but many felt that the government had turned a blind eye to the invasions, seeing them as payback for British assistance to the Confederacy during the late Civil War.

The Fenian Brotherhood was a nation within a nation, organized for the purpose of winning Irish independence by force. A member of the British House of Commons rightly called them “a new Irish nation on the other side of the Atlantic, recast in the mould of Democracy, watching for an opportunity to strike a blow at the heart of the British Empire.”

In modern times, scores of self-styled ‘Militia’ have adopted the use of military style drill in this country, from the far-left Los Macheteros and Black Panthers, to Posse Comitatus and the far-right militia units of the nineties.  Yet, I believe it is accurate to say,  the Fenian Brotherhood remains the only organization in United States history, to have publicly armed and drilled on this scale.

“We are the Fenian Brotherhood, skilled in the arts of war,

And we’re going to fight for Ireland, the land we adore,

Many battles we have won, along with the boys in blue,

And we’ll go and capture Canada, for we’ve nothing else to do”.

Fenian soldier’s song

June 6, 1944 A Great Crusade

The amphibious invasion which began this day on the beaches of Normandy, was the culmination of the largest single endeavor in human history.

The amphibious invasion which began this day on the beaches of Normandy, was the culmination of the largest single endeavor in human history.

D-Day landing

3,200 reconnaissance missions were launched leading up to the invasion, to photograph vital locations. Other landing sites were considered, in fact Adolf Hitler expected the invasion to take place at Calais. Normandy was chosen because defenses were lighter, and because advancing troops would have fewer rivers and canals to cross.

“Exercise Tiger”, an earlier practice landing on the beaches of Slaptonkilled more Americans than many full-scale battles.

Five landing zones were selected along a 50-mile stretch of beach. Americans would attack at two points code named Utah and Omaha, British troops at Gold and Sword, and Canadian troops at Juno.

D-Day_map_2

On the eve of the invasion Eisenhower told his troops: “You are about to embark upon a great crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.” Conscious of his own role in the disastrous landings at Gallipoli of the earlier war, a nervous Winston Churchill said to his wife, Clementine, “Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning 20,000 men may have been killed?”

The invasion began in the early morning hours with 1,200 planes delivering gliders and parachute troops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Infantry. Eight different navies made up the invasion fleet, the sun rising that morning on 6,939 vessels along the coast of France.

160,000 US, UK, Canadian and Free French troops landed on the first day. Later invasion phases included forces from Australia, Greece, New Zealand, Netherlands and Norway, combined with the free forces of Nazi occupied Poland, Belgium and Czechoslovakia.

Normandy Landing

There were the “Mulberries”, the great steel structures built to form temporary harbors for landing vehicles and equipment, and floated across the 25 miles of the English Channel. By July 4, over a million men, 148,000 vehicles, and 570,000 tons of supplies had passed over them to the beaches.

Operation Fortitude DecoyIt was impossible to assemble the pieces of such a massive undertaking in secret, so an elaborate ruse called “Operation Fortitude” was launched to divert attention from the real objective. Fake field armies were assembled in Edinburgh, Scotland and the south coast of England, threatening attack on the coasts of Norway and the Pas de Calais. The real General George S. Patton was put in charge of the fake First US Army Group (FUSAG). The allied “Twenty Committee”, represented by its roman numerals “XX”, controlled a network of double agents, making the deception so complete that Hitler personally withheld critical reinforcements until long after they would have made a difference. It’s where we get the term “Double Cross”.

What had seemed like an inexorable Nazi tide had begun to slow with the reversal of the German armies in Soviet Russia and North Africa. The allies had gained their first European toehold with a successful landing in Italy nine months earlier. It had been 5 years since the beginning of World War II, 4 years almost to the day, since the National Socialist regime of Adolf Hitler had hurled the English and French armies from the beaches of Dunkirk. The Soviet Union had joined the side of the Allies 3 years earlier, and the United States 2½. The entire European subcontinent was either neutral or under Nazi domination.  The Allies needed to break down the door to get back in.Normandy, Battlefield Cross

Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) commander Dwight D Eisenhower had planned to launch the invasion on the 5th, but the weather was working against it. The invasion couldn’t be held for long, it had to be launched or turned back.

Allied troop convoys were at sea on the 4th, and the full moon which would bring high tides would soon be over. There was finally a break in the forecast, and the invasion began shortly after midnight.

Eisenhower had written two letters.  Only one would be delivered to his superior in Washington, DC, Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. The first announced the success of the invasion, the second taking personal responsibility for its failure. “Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.” Eisenhower dated the letter July 5 instead of June 5, a small indication of the enormous pressure the man was under.

eisenhower-in-case-of-failure-letter
Eisenhower labeled this backup letter “In case the Nazis won.”

Over 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded on that first day.  Almost a year of hard fighting remained before VE Day:  Victory in Europe.  On this day, General Eisenhower would be able to keep that second message, in his pocket.

American Cemetery, Normandy
9,387 Americans are buried at the American cemetery at Omaha Beach 3 Medal of Honor recipients, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., his brother Quentin who was killed in WWI, Army Air Corps crews shot down over France as early as 1942 and two of the Niland brothers, on whom the film Saving Private Ryan is based.

 

June 5, 1899 – The Dreyfus Affair

The Dreyfus affair has been called “a modern and universal symbol of injustice”.

Europe was embarked on yet another of its depressingly regular paroxysms of anti-Semitism in the late 19th century, when Alfred Dreyfus was arrested for espionage.

alfred dreyfus
Alfred Dreyfus

A French Captain of Jewish-Alsatian background, the “evidence” against him was almost non-existent, limited to an on-the-spot handwriting analysis of a tissue paper missive written to the German Embassy. “Expert” testimony came from Alphonse Bertillon, inventor of the modern ‘mug shot’ and an enthusiastic proponent of anthropometry in law enforcement, the collection of body measurements and proportions for purposes of identification, later phased out by the use of fingerprints. Though no handwriting expert, Bertillon opined that Dreyfus’ handwriting was similar to that of the sample, explaining the differences with a cockamamie theory he called “autoforgery”.

Chief Inspector Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Armand Auguste Ferdinand Mercier du Paty de Clam, himself no handwriting expert, agreed with Bertillon. With no file and only the flimsiest of evidence, de Clam summoned Dreyfus for interrogation on October 13, 1894. Dreyfus maintained his innocence during the interrogation, with his inquisitor going so far as to slide a revolver across the table, silently suggesting that Dreyfus kill himself. Du Paty arrested Dreyfus two days later, informing the captain that he would be brought before a Court Martial.Dreyfus-Affair

Despite the paucity of evidence, the young artillery officer was convicted of handing over State Secrets in November 1894.  The insignia was torn from his uniform and his sword broken, and then he was paraded before a crowd that shouted, “Death to Judas, death to the Jew.”  Dreyfus was sentenced to life, and sent to the penal colony at Devil’s Island in French Guiana, where he spent almost five years.

A simple miscarriage of justice elevated to a national scandal two years later, when evidence came to light identifying French Army major Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy as the real culprit. Esterhazy was brought to trial in 1896, but high ranking military officials suppressed evidence, and he was acquitted on the second day of trial. The military dug in, accusing Dreyfus of additional crimes based on false documents. Indignation at the obvious frame-up began to spread.

i-accuseMost of the political and military establishment lined up against Dreyfus, but the public outcry became furious after writer Émile Zola published his vehement open letter “J’accuse” (I accuse) in the Paris press in January 1898.

Zola himself was tried and convicted for libel, and fled to England.

Liberal and academic activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case. On June 5 1899, Alfred Dreyfus learned of the Supreme Court decision to revisit the judgment of 1894, and to return him to France for a new trial.french-prison-ile-st-joseph-in-french-guiana-devils-island--29946

What followed nearly tore the country apart.  “Dreyfusards” such as Anatole France, Henri Poincaré and future Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau were pitted against anti-Dreyfusards such as Edouard Drumont, publisher of the anti-Semitic newspaper La Libre Parole.  To his supporters, the “Dreyfus affair” was a grotesque miscarriage of justice.  A clear and obvious frame-up.  To his detractors, Dreyfus came to symbolize the supposed disloyalty of French Jews, the attempt to reopen the case an attack on the nation and an attempt to weaken the army in order to place it under parliamentary control.

The new trial was a circus. The political and military establishments stonewalled. One of Dreyfus’ two attorneys was shot in the back on the way to court. The judge dismissed Esterhazy’s testimony, even though the man had confessed to the crime by that time. The new trial resulted in another conviction, this time with a ten-year sentence. Dreyfus would probably not have survived another 10 years in the Guiana penal colony. This time, he was pardoned and set free.

Alfred Dreyfus was finally exonerated of all charges in 1906, and reinstated as a Major in the French Army, where he served with honor for the duration of World War I, honorably ending his service at the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

The Dreyfus affair has been called “a modern and universal symbol of injustice”.  The divisions and animosities left in the world of French politics, would remain for years.  The French army would not publicly declare the man’s innocence, until 1995.

June 4, 1939 Vacation Cruise to Freedom

So it was that a vacation cruise to freedom became the “voyage of the damned”. MS St. Louis returned to Europe

In 1933, the year that Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist party came to power, some 522,000 Jews lived in Germany. Fearing for their safety, some 304,000 of them emigrated in the first six years of the regime, including the physicist Albert Einstein. Jews were banned from holding professional jobs in 1936, effectively blocking them from German politics, education and industry, and relegating them to 2nd class citizenship. The SS-ordered “Kristallnacht” (Night of the Broken Glass), was carried out over the night of November 9-10, 1938. Jewish owned stores and offices were smashed and vandalized, and synagogues burned.

Many of Germany’s Jews had lived there since the time of Charlemagne. By the eve of WWII, only 214,000 remained.

msstlouispostcard
Postcard depicting MS St Louis

Part of this exodus, the Hamburg-America line cruise ship MS St. Louis departed Hamburg on May 13, 1939, headed for Cuba. On board were 937 refugees, seeking asylum from Nazi persecution.

St. Louis’ Atlantic crossing was described as a “joyous affair”.  A non-Jewish German and adamant anti-Nazi, Captain Gustav Schröder made sure that it was so.

A full-time nursemaid looked after small children while their parents sat to eat, uniformed stewards serving dishes which were rationed by this time in Germany. Swimming lessons were held for children on deck. They were even permitted to throw a tablecloth over the Adolf Hitler statue in the dining room. Lothar Molton, a boy traveling with his parents, described the experience as “a vacation cruise to freedom”.

The joyous affair came to an end on May 27, when St. Louis dropped anchor in Havana Harbor. Passengers had all purchased legal visas, but most had been retroactively canceled on May 5, due to a change in Cuban immigration policy. For six days they waited amidst bureaucratic wrangling. In the end, only 29 were permitted to get off in Cuba. Four were Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals. Another 22 were Jews with valid US visas. One attempted suicide, and was brought to a Havana hospital.

stlouisinhavanaharbor
Small boats surrounded the MS St Louis in Havana Harbor to prevent refugee passengers from committing suicide when denied landing in Cuba.

St. Louis then crossed the Florida strait, arriving off the coast on June 4 and hoping for better results in the United States. It wasn’t meant to be. “Sailing so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami”, passengers sent President Franklin Roosevelt an urgent telegram, pleading to be admitted into the country. Secretary of State Cordell Hull, who later won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in creating the United Nations, urged Roosevelt to reject the refugees, sending Coast Guard cutters to be sure that nobody jumped overboard and swam ashore. stlouistelegram

Roosevelt had his own politics to deal with. The Great Depression had left millions unemployed at the time and Americans were fearful of additional competition for scarce jobs. In Congress, the Wagner-Rogers bill, which would have admitted an additional 20,000 German-Jewish refugees over existing quotas, was being allowed to die in committee. Roosevelt was preparing to run for an unprecedented third term, and calculations of self-interest won out. He ignored the plight of the St. Louis.

Finally, a group of Canadian clergy and academics attempted to persuade Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, to provide sanctuary in Canada. The ship was, after all, only two days from Halifax. Director of Canada’s immigration branch Frederick Blair opposed the move. Blair must have been some piece of work. He had written a year earlier, that “Pressure by Jewish people to get into Canada has never been greater than it is now, and I am glad to be able to add that, after 35 years of experience here, that it has never been so carefully controlled”. Blair urged King against the decision. On June 9, the Prime Minister officially declined to admit St. Louis’ refugees.

Jedes Bild ist mir begegnet © Herbert Dombrowski / Galerie Hilaneh von KoriesSo it was that a vacation cruise to freedom became the “Voyage of the Damned”. MS St. Louis returned to Europe. Captain Schröder negotiated and schemed to find safe haven for his 907 passengers.  Anything but return them to Nazi Germany.  At one point, Schröder contemplated intentionally running aground off the coast of England. In the end, they all found refuge in Europe. 288 passengers were admitted by Great Britain, and 224 by France. 214 were accepted into Belgium and another 181 by the Netherlands.

Many of the St. Louis refugees were later swept up in the Nazi invasion of Europe. Scott Miller and Sarah Ogilvie of the Holocaust Memorial Museum have exhaustively researched the fate of these individuals, finding that “Of the 620 St. Louis passengers who returned to continental Europe, we determined that eighty-seven were able to emigrate before Germany invaded western Europe on May 10, 1940. 254 passengers in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands after that date, died during the Holocaust. Most of these people were murdered in the killing centers of Auschwitz and Sobibór; the rest died in internment camps, in hiding or attempting to evade the Nazis. 365 of the 620 passengers who returned to continental Europe survived the war.”

June 2, 1763 – Pontiac’s Rebellion

Pontiac’s Rebellion ended in a draw in 1765, but the often genocidal actions on both sides seem to have led both sides to conclude that segregation and not interaction should characterize relations between Indians and whites.

The Seven Years War, experienced in the American Colonies as the French and Indian War, ended in 1763 with France ceding vast swaths of the territory of “New France” to the British.

The fourteen Native American tribes involved in Pontiac’s Rebellion lived in a loosely defined region of New France known as the pays d’en haut (“the upper country”), which was claimed by France until the Paris peace treaty of 1763.

Unlike the French, who had cultivated friendships with their Indian allies, the British under Lord Jeffrey Amherst tended to treat indigenous populations with contempt. The first grumblings among the tribes could be heard as early as 1760. The full scale uprising known as “Pontiac’s Rebellion” broke out in May of 1763.

Pontiac's_war

Indian nations of the time divided more along ethnic and linguistic rather than political lines, so there was no monolithic policy among the tribes. Not even within members of the same tribes. Some of the fighting of this time resulted in the murder of women and children.  There was torture. There was even an instance of ritual cannibalism. At least one British fort was taken with profuse apologies by the Indians, who explained that it was the other nations making them do it.

The brutality was anything but one sided. The British “Gift” of smallpox infected blankets from Ft. Pitt was hardly the first instance of biological warfare in history, but it may be one of the nastier ones.

The siege of Fort Detroit which began on May 7 was ultimately unsuccessful, but the series of attacks on small forts beginning on May 16 would all result in Indian victories. The fifth and largest of these forts, Fort Michilimackinac in present Mackinaw City, Michigan, was the largest fort taken by surprise. Local Ojibwas staged a game of baaga’adowe on June 2, an early form of lacrosse, with the visiting Sauks in front of the fort.

Native American StickballNative American stickball had many variations, but the object was to hit a stake or other object with a “ball”. The ball was a stone wrapped in leather, handled with one or sometimes two sticks. There could be up to several hundred contestants to a team, and the defenders could employ any means they could think of to get at the ball, including hacking, slashing or any form of physical assault they liked. Lacerations and broken bones were commonplace, and it wasn’t unheard of that stickball players died on the field. The defending team could likewise employ any method they liked to keep the opposing team off of the ball carrier, and they played the game on a field that could range from 500 yards to several miles.

Fort Michilimackinac

The soldiers at Fort Michilimackinac enjoyed the game, as they had on previous occasions. When the ball was hit through the open gate of the fort, both teams rushed in as Indian women handed them weapons previously smuggled into the fort. Fifteen of the 35 man garrison were killed in the ensuing struggle, five others were tortured to death.

Three more forts were taken in a second wave of attacks, when survivors took to the shelter of Fort Pitt, in Western Pennsylvania. The siege which followed was unsuccessful, but a mob of vigilantes from Paxton village – “The Paxton Boys” – slaughtered a number of innocent American Indians, many of them Christians who had nothing to do with the fighting. Many of these peaceful Indians fled east to Philadelphia for protection, when several hundred Paxton residents marched on Philadelphia in January of 1764. Paxton_massacre

The presence of British troops and Philadelphia militia prevented them from doing any more violence, when Benjamin Franklin, who had helped organize the local militia, met with their leaders and negotiated an end to the crisis. Mr. Franklin may have had the last word on the collectivist nonsense we suffer from today, when he asked “If an Indian injures me, does it follow that I may revenge that injury on all Indians?”

Pontiac’s Rebellion ended in a draw in 1765, but the often genocidal actions on both sides seem to have led both sides to conclude that segregation and not interaction should characterize relations between Indians and whites.

October 7, 1763 proclamationThe British Royal Proclamation of October 7, 1763, drew a line between the British colonies and Indian lands, creating a vast Indian Reserve stretching from the Appalachians to the Mississippi River and from Florida to Newfoundland. For the Indian Nations, this was the first time that a multi-tribal effort had been launched against British expansion, the first time such an effort had not ended in defeat.

The British government had hoped through their proclamation to avoid more conflicts like Pontiac’s Rebellion, but the decree had the effect of alienating colonists against the Crown. For American colonists, many now found themselves on the road to Revolution. The Indian Nations, as they existed at that time, were on the road to ruin.