The Value of Internship

Museums are “a repository of objects dedicated to the promotion of tolerance and inquiry and the dissipation of ignorance, where the artifacts of one culture and one time are preserved and displayed next to those of other cultures and times without prejudice.”[1]

Internships within museums or archives are a vital learning tool for those students who wish to engage with the physical pieces of history. Those pieces give us a tangible connection to those persons and eras that touch our senses and curiosities, and compel us forward into the field of History. These artifacts and documents increase our knowledge of other cultures and instill us with empathy and insight into why actions and events happened. My journey toward becoming a Public Historian began as a child digging into the side of a hill to excavate treasures from a hundred-year-old root cellar. Today, as it was then, I can hold the objects in my hands and feel the individuals that may have touched and utilized these things.

This summer I was privileged to accept an internship at The Abraham Lincoln Foundation of The Union League of Philadelphia. My principal task was to organize and catalogue the manuscript collection of the Civil War Museum of Philadelphia. Even though that museum closed in 2008, its collections are being cared for and made available to the public through the efforts of the Gettysburg Foundation, the Gettysburg National Military Park, and the Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League of Philadelphia. Working with the documents and miscellaneous papers in numerous boxes has given me invaluable experience in archival applications. The detail-oriented work of archivists in managing a collection is paramount to researchers who seek historical documents for their projects; indeed, it is the expectation of all who access these resources that the integrity of the collection be meticulously maintained. Proper care of these items ensures that students of history and historians can offer to the public theoretical explanations as to why choices were made or why an event occurred.

Within the manuscript collection of the CWMP are the written words of soldiers and their families, as well as presidents and staff.  Each box and folder that I opened contained a small piece of Civil War history that had the potential of being lost to the ages if not made available to researchers. Tasked with sorting, cataloging, scanning and proper storage, I handled hundreds of items. My first task was one that has stayed with me since reading the first letter.

Supply List

The supply list of William “Billy” F. Thacher, 16th Regiment, Pennsylvania Cavalry, c.May- November 1863

 

William F. Thacher was a young farmer just nineteen years old when he enlisted with the 16th Regiment, Pennsylvania Cavalry. Born in Genesee County, NY, “Billy” was 5’10” and had gray eyes and dark hair. He was enlisted on September 12, 1862 at Erie Co., PA by Lieut. Hazelton for a period of 3 years. There are twelve letters in this collection, one from his sister Annie, and one from a 16th Cavalry comrade informing “Billy’s” family of his wound and amputation; the others are from William to his mother or “Parrents”[sic]. Each letter was written at a unique juncture in his service. From his first encampment and adjustment to life as a soldier, picket duty, his first wound (a saber cut to the wrist), his hospital stay, and finally attending Quaker City College in Philadelphia to learn telegraphing and bookkeeping. On July 28, 1864 William was wounded a second time when he took a ball to his arm while his regiment was “sharply engaged with the enemy Near Malvern Hill … three killed and fourteen wounded” at Deep Bottom, VA.[2] Two days after the fighting, William’s friend, Robert Blair wrote to the family with the news and words of encouragement: “he bore the pain like a brave Soldier Boy… Mrs Thacher you must not be uneasy about Billy for he will get along first rate and will soon be home …. Oh how lonesome I will be without him for we was always together…. His horse was wounded to[sic] in the foot”[3] William was finally discharged from the hospital and his service on June 15, 1865. He listed his place of residence after the war as Vineland, County Cumberland, New Jersey.

With the support of the Graduate Summer Research Fellowship, I spent two weeks in research at The National Archives in Washington, D.C. and College Park, MD. While there, I included William into my queries and learned that he was well-regarded by his superiors, having received a promotion to corporal. He was also unfairly disciplined and “tied up” while on picket duty. Regiment Commander, Lieut. Col. J. K. Robison requesting, “in justice to a good and faithful soldier, – and for the benefit of the service, a court of inquiry be had, – and the officer, if found over stepping his authority as Brigade Officer of the Day, and violating all orders of military discipline, be put under arrest, and charges preferred against him.”[4] I also found the list of supplies and clothing he requisitioned.[5]

 

 

I have not yet found all the pieces to the story of William F. Thacher, that will take many more hours of treasure hunting through online and physical archives. But the example here is how valuable an internship is to a student of History. My experience has not only taught me the important tasks of the archivist, such as analyzing, cataloging, and housing the artifacts, but it has also shown me how to make this information accessible to the public. When these pieces of history are made available for research, they not only teach us about past individuals and historic events, but also create potential for public conversations that can change the future.

 

[1] James Cuno, ed. “Introduction,” Whose Culture? The Promise of Museums and the Debate over Antiquities, 1-36. Princeton University Press, 2009. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7pgrk.4. Pg 1

[2] Janet B. Hewett, Supplement to the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies: Part II – Record of Events. Vol. 57, Serial No. 69. (Wilmington: Broadfoot Publishing Company, 1997) Pg 422

[3] Letter images courtesy of The Abraham Lincoln Foundation of the Union League

[4] Letter from Lieut. Col. J. K. Robison, Regiment Commander, to Lieut. John B. Maitland, Assistant Adjutant General, February 21, 1864; Regimental Letter – Endorsement, Journal, and Misc. Book, Vol. 4 of 9, 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Record Group 94; National Archives Building, Washington, DC.

[5] Regimental Order Book, Companies A – M, 16th Pennsylvania Cavalry, Vol. 6 of 9, Record Group 94; National Archives Building, Washington, DC. (image courtesy of the author)

Advertisements

Confederates, Memory, and NOLA pt. 2: Occupation and Abolition

The Confederacy, comprised of Southern states which decided to leave the still-young nation after the election of Abraham Lincoln, presumed that the president-elect intended to end slavery.  The contemporary revisionist argument is that the Confederates were fighting for states’ rights, period. It should be followed with an explanation: here “states’ rights” mean that states have the legal authority to decide whether or not their wealthiest white citizens were legally allowed to own African-born or African-descended individuals. The states in the south unanimously agreed they were, as did a few border states which remained loyal to the Union.

The state of Louisiana seceded from the United States of America on January 28, 1861, by a parish delegate vote of 113 to 17. Louisiana remained independent until joining the Confederacy of Southern States on March 21 two months later. Despite prior anti-secessionist sentiment, a “commitment both to slavery and opposition to federal interference with the institution” swung the vote.[1] Reporting for the London Times on “the dissolution of the American Republic,” William Howard Russell arrived in New Orleans in May of 1861, where he witnessed the oft-noted multi-ethnic culture of the city, as well as a conservative gentry conscripting soldiers and attempting to limit suffrage.[2] Many New Orleanians “occupied the gray spaces between the two politically committed ends of the [Unionist-Confederate loyaltist] spectrum,”[3] largely motivated by deeper commitments to personal financial issues and general political uncertainty[4]. While suspected of disloyalty by Confederate leaders – General Lovell was allowed to declare martial law in March of 1862 after a long run of suppression of the populace that included six-month sentences to workhouses for “treasonable language” [5] – the people of a voice in New Orleans were of and for the Confederacy.

Published in the Summer of 1992, Dr. Judith Gentry’s article “White Gold: The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana” tells the story of Louisiana’s importance to Confederate economic stability. “New Orleans was the major nineteenth-century port for the export of cotton,” at a time when cotton was the backbone to Confederate financial viability; it was used as security for loans in Europe as well as exported across the Atlantic and south of the border.[6] Those loans had a gold value of over $8 million in Europe; equal to $72,000,000 of devalued Confederate dollars.[7] The Louisiana Governor Thomas Overton Moore refused to allow more cotton into the port that could be immediately exported, limiting exposure to the eventual blockade by the Union. Even after the blockade prohibited large ships from transporting cotton out of the port, small ships continued exporting “until Union gunboats entered the Mississippi River in April 1862.”[8]

Between April 1862 and July 1863, federal troops gained total control of the Mississippi River by occupying New Orleans and Baton Rouge and raiding from Morgan City to Alexandria, taking Vicksburg and Port Hudson. Confederate troops took to burning cotton, rather than letting it by fall into Federal hands. This strategy proved ineffective; the Confederates overestimated the North’s demand for cotton.[9] Confederate higher-ups like Lieutenant Colonel William A. Broadwell – in charge of the newly-organized Cotton Bureau – began arranging for cotton to be smuggled through Texas to Mexico to be exported to Europe, to avoid enemy capture. However, the optics of burning cotton while the common civilian or soldier wanted for necessities – not knowing how the Confederacy was being strengthened by their sacrifice – deeply, negatively affected public morale.[10] Some Confederate officers were permitted to sell cotton to the Union if it was the only way of keeping their troops in the field, but the Union never paid in “army stores or gold;” rather with “medicine and small quantities of quartermaster stores.”[11] Overall, the smuggling through enemy lines for trade to pay for imports resulted in a trade imbalance with the enemy, further-devalued currency, and undermined respect for the Confederate cause by Confederate civilians.[12] The Union captured New Orleans did not end the war, but it fundamentally affected its course from nearly the very beginning.

Published in the February 1962 edition of The Journal of Southern History, Dr. James Merrill’s “Confederate Shipbuilding at New Orleans” argues that the Confederate attempt at creating a Navy was “a story of miscalculation and mismanagement, corruption and confusion.”[13] Essentially, a fleet that was to be the crowning achievement of Confederate military engineers took too long to build, was built in some cases very shoddily, and was eventually obliterated when Union Captain David G. Farragut’s squadron moved from the Gulf of Mexico up the Mississippi to capture New Orleans.[14]

New Orleans was captured by Union forces in April 1862 and held for the duration of the war. The first man to have the command, General Benjamin Butler, hung a man for taking a US flag down from the U.S. mint in town, and effectively proclaimed any woman in town could be treated as a prostitute “plying her avocation” for “insulting” Union soldiers[15]. The alleged intended meaning was that the soldiers did not have to treat the well-born of New Orleans like nobility when they were abusing soldiers[16], but there was the obvious – if unintended – implication of rape which the Confederacy, understandably, did not take kindly to.[17] Butler’s soldiers were “unusually well-disciplined during the occupation,” probably owing at least in part to the fact that he executed “several men for plundering” at the outset of the occupation.[18] Butler’s draconian manner with the occupied people maintained order after that, but his actions were under European scrutiny thanks to New Orleanian cultural ties to France and economic ties to England, leading to criticism which resulted in his replacement by the more-moderate Nathaniel Banks.[19] Banks was in turn replaced by this administration in the autumn of 1864 by General Stephen A. Hurlbut.[20]

benjamin-butler

Portrait of Gen. Benjamin “The Beast” Butler, the first Union Officer in charge of occupied New Orleans

Banks’ rule attempted some conciliation, but failure to exert sufficient pressure on the ruled populace because of field duty led to an inability to closely watch his subordinate administrators, as well as a general rejection of his “olive branch” by the local gentry.[21] Both Butler and Banks acted with thought toward their eventual legacy and the potential for future political advancement.[22] Their direct control over the occupied city was influenced by Lincoln’s policy of attempting restoration, as well as the general strategic importance of the city as an economic center and port.[23] In February 1863, “a group of spirited women, gathered on the levee as captured Confederate troops were leaving to be exchanged, were dispersed by Union troops,” in what came to be known as the “Battle of the Handkerchiefs;” General Banks forbade observation of Mardi Gras that year.[24] In July, the fall of Vicksburg saw a change in the spirit of local New Orleanians; more and more pledged the oath of loyalty to the Union and many that had already “became active Unionists.”[25]

The Latin Creoles of the city remained mostly-Confederate in attitude, with their anti-Federal sentiment derived from prior hesitancy to accept American rule. However, the practical economic sense among the ancient population required partnerships of business and marital manner with the Anglo-Americans who would become Southerners, and on at least one occasion a Latin Creole woman with a Unionist father married a Federal colonel.[26]

In many ways, the innate culture of New Orleans maintained itself and proved adaptable to the occupation. While the elites looked down their noses at the occupiers, the impoverished workers – largely immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Poland, and other parts of Europe – as well as the criminal underworld and the free men of color were among those among whom “the Yankee soldier could find all the fraternization he needed.”[27] There was certainly fraternization aplenty; Dr. Capers remarks that “soldiers acquire an unerring knack for ferreting out women, food, and drink.”[28] He adds to this time-tested colloquial truth that “[a]t times food might have been short in New Orleans, but women never were.” Indeed, between “50,000 and 100,000 days of service” were lost from the Gulf Department “as a result of venereal disease;” and enough men were married while in the city that combat pay became inadequate for subsistence.[29] Organized gambling became such a problem that General Hurlbut “closed all houses in 1864 and the theaters on Sundays as well.”[30] Union troops’ reaction to being among Blacks – many for the first time – varied from ardent abolitionist thought seeing “nobility of soul and opportunity for moral uplift” to disliking slavery but “want[ing] no contact with the freedman.”[31]

January 1864 saw the abolition of slavery in Louisiana through the military order, with the peculiar institution “formally outlawed” in the coming summer, though the Blacks of Louisiana could not yet vote.[32] Reconstruction came to New Orleans early, with the success of the Butler-Banks-Hurlbut restoration shown in the participation of New Orleanians in elections. The dawn of 1865 came with an awareness that the war and occupation would soon be over, though what that meant none could yet claim to know.

Bibliography

Capers, Jr., Gerald M. “Confederates and Yankees in Occupied New Orleans, 1862-1865.” The Journal  of Southern History 30, no. 4 (Nov. 1964) 405-426. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2204279

Gentry, Judith F. “The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana,” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 33, no. 3 (Summer, 1992), 229-240.  http://www.jstor.org/stable/4232955

Hunter, Howard. “The Politics of Resentment: Unionist Regiments and the New Orleans Immigrant  Community, 1862-1864.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical   Association 44, no. 2 (Spring, 2003). 185-210. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4233918

Jones, Terry L. “The Beast in the Big Easy.” The New York Times, May 18, 2012  https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/the-beast-in-the-big-easy/

Lang, James O. “Gloom Envelops New Orleans: April 24 to May 2, 1862.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 1, no. 4 (Autumn, 1960): 281-299.   http://www.jstor.org/stable/4230588

Merrill, James M. “Confederate Shipbuilding in New Orleans.”  The Journal of Southern History 28, 93.1 (Feb. 1962): 87-93. http://www.jstor.org/stable/2205536

Pierson, Michael D. “Confederate New Orleans, February 1861 to May 1862,” in Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans, 35-66. University of North Carolina Press: 2008. http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5149/9780807887008_pierson.6

[1]     “Louisiana’s Secession from the Union.” Know Louisiana. http://www.knowlouisiana.org/entry/louisianas-secession-from-the-union

[2]     Michael D. Pierson, “Confederate New Orleans, February 1861 to May 1862,” from Mutiny at Fort Jackson: The Untold Story of the Fall of New Orleans, 35-66. University of North Carolina Press, 2008. 38-40.

[3]     Pierson, “Confederate New Orleans,” 44.

[4]     “Many of these men would continue to eye the Confederacy with caution, wondering whether there wa any place in a slaveholders’ republic—with all its agrarian dreams—for city dwellers who owned neither slaves nor land. … would the Confederacy give them the promises of the old America: economic opportunity, political equality, and social and religious freedom?” Pierson, “Confederate New Orleans,” 40.

[5]     Pierson, “Confederate New Orleans,” 51-3.

[6]     Judith F. Gentry, “The Confederate Govenrment and Cotton in Louisiana,” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 33, no. 3 (Summer, 1992), 229. Emphasis mine.

[7]     Gentry, “The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana,” 230.

[8]     Gentry, “The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana,” 230.

[9]     Gentry, “The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana,” 231-233.

[10]   Gentry, “The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana,” 234-5.

[11]   Gentry, “The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana,” 236.

[12]   Gentry, “The Confederate Government and Cotton in Louisiana,” 238-240.

[13]   James M. Merrill, “Confederate Shipbuilding in New Orleans,”  The Journal of Southern History 28, no. 1 (Feb. 1962), 87-93.

[14]   Merrill, “Confederate Shipbuilding in New Orleans,” 93.

[15]   Gerald M. Capers, Jr., “Confederates and Yankees in Occupied New Orleans, 1862-1865” The Journal of Southern History 30, no. 4 (Nov. 1964), 406. This is seemingly the most widely-referenced article about this period, and is referenced heavily in this piece.

[16]   Terry L. Jones, “The Beast in the Big Easy,” The New York Times, May 18, 2012 https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/05/18/the-beast-in-the-big-easy/

[17]   Alecia P. Long, “General Butler and the Women,” The New York Times, June 18, 2012 https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/18/general-butler-and-the-women/

[18]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 422.

[19]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 407.

[20]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 406.

[21]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 408.

[22]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 409.

[23]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 407-9.

[24]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 415.

[25]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 417.

[26]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 418.

[27]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 412.

[28]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 420.

[29]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 420.

[30]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 422.

[31]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 425.

[32]   Capers, “Confederates and Yankees,” 426.

Richmond, a City with Monumental Problems

For the second stop of our series “Confederate Monuments and Memory”, Margaret Strolle ’18, guides us through the tensions of space and identity in Richmond, VA, the former capital of the Confederacy. Her investigation focuses on the historical development of Richmond’s Monument Avenue, a purposefully planned space where memories of a ‘heroic past’ could be eternally etched. Margaret also discusses the contemporary impacts of the space as the community debates the future of Monument Avenue.  

In mid-August, the eyes of the nation were focused on Charlottesville, Virginia after an “alt-right” rally and counterprotests concerning the removal of that city’s statue of Robert E. Lee, turned murderous when a car, driven by rally participant James Fields, fatally struck counter-protester Heather Heyer and wounded others. This event dramatically escalated the debate over what to do with Confederate Monuments in cities across the south, including in Richmond, the capital of Virginia and former capital of the Confederacy. Richmond is a city that for many decades proudly celebrated its Confederate heritage. In recent years, as the city government and tourism agencies pivot to celebrate itself as a culturally important and multicultural city, the numerous physical vestiges of the Confederacy pose a problem. Viewed as backward and racist by the black population and others, physical reminders of the Confederacy have ardent defenders in neo-Confederate groups. Even before the events of Charlottesville, one site particular drew controversy. Monument Avenue, described “as the South’s grandest commemorative precinct dedicated to the heroes of the Confederacy, the avenue itself is a monumental urban space, a mile and a half long and fully 180 feet wide between building lines, with a tree-lined mall down its center,” was the subject of debate and a city commission.[1] Presently, there seems to be a pause in the debate, which allows for some time to recount the history of the avenue and speculate on what its future may be.

1rich

The beginning of Monument Avenue was a mix of hero worship and the desire for real estate development and social. In the late 1880s, the heirs of a newly wealthy family, proposed their father’s estate as a location for both a high-end neighborhood and place for a statue to honor the very beloved son of Virginia, Robert E. Lee. The offer was accepted, and in 1890, the city erected a massive statue of Robert E. Lee, to great acclaim. A decade later, mansions of new Richmond elites started lining the boulevard. As this was in the Jim Crow era, only certain persons were allowed to build on the street. Christian whites were the largest group of the property owner, and Jewish citizens of Richmond were a not insignificant percentage making up 30% of property owners at the time.[2] Black Richmonders could not rent or own land under any circumstances, and could only live as domestics to a white family. Several other statues joined Lee’s in the early decades of the twentieth century: J.E.B Stuart and Jefferson Davis in 1907, Stonewall Jackson in 1919, and Matthew Fontaine Maury in 1929. Monument Avenue was not just vailed for its statues and homes, it had a “dual character as both an exclusive neighborhood and Richmond’s-even the South’s- primary theater of public ritual,” and was home to parades and other festivities.[3] After much debate and controversy, the sixth and last statue, depicting African tennis player Arthur Ashe was added at the end of the avenue in 1996.

Outside of Confederate worship circles, Monument Avenue has won praise for its aesthetics as a “planned neighborhood” and grand boulevard. The neighborhood and Jackson Ward, a predominately black neighborhood, are two National Historic Landmark neighborhoods in Richmond. These days, it is not so much the “aesthetic appeal” of the Avenue that concerns people but figures it depicts. As Richmond strives to be an up and coming twenty-first-century city, the statues represent a nineteenth and twentieth century past of slavery and Jim Crow.  Continuing debates over Monument Avenue led the city’s black mayor, Levar Stoney to form a commission to study possibilities for the future of the site with an initial focus on adding context, or signage, to the statues. Established in June, the commission’s members included Civil War historian Edward Ayers and Christy Coleman, CEO of Richmond’s American Civil War Museum. The commission held their first public meeting on Wednesday, August 9th, three days before Charlottesville. The meeting proved contentious and featured a predominately white audience. The timing of the event and the demographic turnout occurred for several reasons: whites had more leisure time to attend the hearing held on a weekday evening, Confederate heritage groups spread information about the hearing. Perhaps African-Americans in Richmond did not feel the event was worth their time since removing the statues was not an option at the time. Charlottesville would change that.

After the events in Charlottesville, Mayor Stoney stated that the commission would now be considering the removal of the statues. A second public hearing, scheduled for September 13th was postponed until November 14th. Undoubtedly, it will prove to be equally contentious, if not more so than the August event. As the city’s newspaper the Richmond Times-Dispatch noted: “Richmond is a city of monuments.” It concedes that “some monuments are no longer appropriate,” singling out the Jefferson Davis statue as one that should go, but arguing that the honorable Lee statue should stay.[4] Eventually, the commission will present its findings and recommendations, and we may get a clearer idea of the future of these statues. Since a 1997 state law protects the statues, and the Lee statue is on state land, outright removal seems unlikely as the state legislature is Republican. Perhaps signage will be added, or perhaps some statues might be removed, such as the one of Jefferson Davis, who was never truly popular as the Confederate president. (As a tour guide once told me at the White House of the Confederacy, a lot of visitors think that Robert E. Lee was the president of the Confederacy.) The statues’ immense size would require a sizeable outdoor site for relocation. Devotees of the Lost Cause narrative are unlikely to let the issue be settled quickly. At this point, it all remains up in the air.

Monument Avenue, much like the Confederacy, slavery and Jim Crow, is an undeniable part of Richmond’s past and legacy. The question the city faces is, does the boulevard need to be intact and dominating the landscape to be present in the city’s history. While the broader debate over Confederate monuments is a part of the national dialogue, Richmond’s discussion on its monuments will hopefully be decided by its citizens, white, black and others. In contrast to Monument Avenue’s past, its future must be a truly community decision.

 

For Further Information

Monument Avenue Commision Website:https://www.monumentavenuecommission.org/#home-section

American Civil War Museum’s Monument Avenue Website: https://onmonumentave.com/

[1] Kathy Edwards and Esme Howard, “Monument Avenue: The Architecture of Consensus in the New South, 1890-1930,” in Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture Vol. 6 (1997): 92.

[2] Ibid., 102.

[3] Ibid., 99.

[4] Editorial Board, “What next for Monument Avenue?” Richmond Times-Dispatch, published September 19th, 2017, accessed October 9th, 2017. http://www.richmond.com/opinion/our-opinion/editorial-what-next-for-monument-avenue/article_775a8d97-55cb-5921-b299-ada5d9fb9f63.html

All photo credits go to Margaret Strolle

 

The Epic Fail of the Virginia Company

There were times in American history when businessmen ran the government. Spoilers: it didn’t go well. One of such situations occurred after King James I granted a charter to the Virginia Company of London in 1607. The Virginia Company was not a company in a modern sense; rather, it was a bunch of companies and private entrepreneurs united to explore and exploit whatever they find in the land of Virginia. American historians often don’t bother themselves with the Virginia Company (if you decide to read more about it, there will be a lot of E-Z borrowing (and giving up)) – after all, it only functioned for 17 years until it was dissolved by the royal order since the venture turned out to be almost a complete failure.

Indeed, the members of the Company probably did not look as confident as in Disney’s Pocahontas movie:

disney

For glory, God and gold and the Virginia Company!

The riches they hoped to find in the Virginian soil were not there, and the hopes for the lucrative trade with the locals proved futile. The tobacco they planted thank to John Rolfe’s (newly born) agricultural skills were worse in quality that Spanish product and King James had to be persuaded to grant Virginia some kind of monopoly on selling tobacco to England. Sounds bad, doesn’t it? Wait, there’s more!

Virginian planters were so devoted to growing tobacco they neglected the production of food for themselves and had to rely on Indians and the supplies from England. The latter task was the job of one of the smaller companies in Virginia’s bunch: the Magazine. Indians were not always willing to trade with the colonists, and the Magazine occasionally appropriated more money from the treasury that they were owed.

As if it wasn’t enough, Powhatan Indians also massacred some colonists on March 22, 1622. Colonists had to abandon their plantations and get crowded to be able to defend themselves. Safety and food was their primary concern, and they begged the Virginia Company to help them handle these two pressing issues. The response was clear: your primary concern should be growing tobacco [1].

Since it was as bad as it sounds, the members of the Virginia Company started looking for the culprit, which in the hierarchy-oriented minds of 17-century Englishmen was the leader. But which leader was it – Sir Thomas Smith who led the company until 1619 or his successor Sir Edwin Sandys?

 

Candidates for the culprit. Edwin Sandys (left) probably looks eviler than Thomas Smith (right), but some people in the Virginia Company didn’t think so.

 

The true answer is: we don’t know, and neither did King James. Quarrels between various leaders of the Company and Virginian planters soon turned into an endless stream of petitions and proposals destined to bury the king’s desk under their weight. Alderman Johnson claimed that nothing but tobacco was produced because of Sandys. Captain Bargrave made the same complaint but blamed it on Smith. Planter John Martin asked the king to kick the Virginia Company out of Virginia. Nathaniel Rich begged James to investigate the manipulations of Sandys.

At some point, James finally had enough. In an unusually short note, he asks the House of Commons to follow his example and stop reading this gossip material [2]. Soon, the Virginia Company was dissolved.

3

This is how king James normally talks [3].

4

And this is how he talks if you drive him crazy [2].

 

We don’t have to pick between Smith and Sandys. The very thought that all these plan-producing, quarreling leaders were staying in London, perhaps never even seeing Virginia, can be eye-opening. It took 9 weeks to get from the Chesapeake  Bay to England and 6 weeks for a reverse trip (thanks to a handy current). What adequate response could the leaders provide to the colony’s problems given the very limited powers of the Virginia governor?

In any case, it was the Virginia Company who failed, not the Virginia settlers. Those continued growing their tobacco and, as it would become clear in 1776, preferring to be ruled by people who are actually from Virginia.

 

Sources:

[1] “Council in Virginia. A Letter to the Virginia Company of London. April (after 10), 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 611-615.
“Treasurer and Council for Virginia. Letter to Governor and Council in Virginia. August 1, 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 666-673.
[2] “James I. A Letter to the Speaker of the House of Commons. August 28, 1624,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1935. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume IV, Documents II,477-478.
[3] “James I. A Letter to the Privy Council. July 17, 1622,” in Susan M. Kinsbury, ed. 1933. The Papers of the Virginia Company of London, Volume III, Documents I, 653.

Confederates, Memory, and NOLA : Introduction

Credit for Featured picture: CNN report on Dylan Roof June 24th, 2015

 

Kevin Fox is a first-year graduate student in the MA history program at Villanova University. He finished his undergraduate degree – and spent the last three years living – in New Orleans, the subject of this piece and two more to come. This is the first in a series of articles and essays where we consider the contemporary consequence of Confederate statues and iconography.

 

The last two years have seen lots of attention focused on monuments dedicated to the Confederate States of America and its leaders. This is in large part a social response to a shooting in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015 – a massacre in a church by a remorseless young man by the name of Dylan Roof who also published online a manifesto on violent White Supremacy.[1] It is a text document full of the stunted logic and hasty conclusions of a political philosophy based on hatred.[2] The widespread social response was produced because of pictures of the young man draped in the banner of the Confederacy, one of it’s few battle flags which has stood the test of time, the “Stars and Bars.”

A time has come where the focus and rhetoric of the political Left, from the near-center to the far-and-active, includes a general request for this country to confront rather than ignore the hatred inherent to its cultural past and present. The political character of this country – and, in truth other parts of the West – has been exposed recently to a light which reveals an ugly current of White Supremacy at the core and along the edges of Western political culture. Nativism and xenophobia have been illuminated in the political rhetoric of Western states, as demonstrated by the United Kingdom’s pending exit from the European Union, Donald Trump’s election in the United States, Marine Le Pen’s apparent close-call with the presidency in France[3], and Geert Wilders’ popularity in the Netherlands[4].

As the march of progress toward the idea of human equity continues, there is a pushback of conservative thought which wishes to silence the voices crying loudly for change. The issues raised by the voices for progress are considered imaginary or unimportant by their respondents. Political movements on the far-right, populist neofascists, are being pushed into the limelight, lampooned by a media which gives them enough attention for momentum to carry them to high office. In Charlottesville, Virginia, there was a march at the beginning of the school year from the University of Virginia’s campus. The next day, continuous protesting and counter-protesting – with neo-Nazis and latter-day Confederates on one side and non-Nazis opposed to them – ended with several people being hit by a car and one person dying. The rhetoric of the American President has been sympathetic and nonconfrontational to White Supremacists, perhaps unsurprisingly.

 

New Orleans memorials commemorating (l-r): Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee, the Battle of Liberty Place, and  P.G.T. Beauregard 
Credit: Derick Hingle & Kandace Power Graves for Gambit Weekly bestofneworleans.com

 

Against the backdrop of the public exposure of hate, familiar conversations have arisen in this country. Questions about the meanings of Confederate iconography and remembrance have been asked. The Confederate flag came down at the state house in South Carolina two years ago. This year has seen the city of New Orleans remove three Confederate memorial statues and a statue commemorating a white mob rioting against the city’s biracial police force in the early 20th century. Through this series, I will consider the meaning of those statues in the “fuller context” that the City Council of New Orleans has requested[5]. Not solely the context of the contemporary national conversation about White Supremacy, but in the context of the history of New Orleans.

 

 

[1]    Lindsey Bever, “‘I’m just a sociopath,’ Dylann Roof declared after deadly church shooting rampage, court records say.” The Washington Post, May 17 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2017/05/17/im-just-a-sociopath-dylann-roof-declared-after-deadly-church-shooting-spree-court-records-say/

[2]    “Dylann Roof’s Manifesto.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/12/13/universal/document-Dylann-Roof-manifesto.html

[3]    Marysia Nowak & Becky Branford, “France elections: What makes Marine Le Pen far right?” BBC, February 10, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-38321401

[4]    Oliver Harvey, “The Dutch will be Nexit.” The Sun, January 28, 2017. https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2724868/meet-geert-wilders-the-donald-trump-of-the-netherlands-who-wants-to-lead-his-country-out-of-the-eu-and-shut-the-borders-to-muslims/

[5]    Clancy DuBos: “Now What for the Confederate monuments?” Gambit Weekly, https://www.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/clancy-dubos-now-what-for-the-confederate-monuments/Content?oid=2866315

The Ninth Annual Lore Kephart ’86 Distinguished Historians Lecture Series: Craig Harline, PhD: A World Ablaze

Tuesday evening marked the ninth annual Lore Kephart ’86 Distinguished Historians Lecture Series. Villanova was pleased to welcome Craig Harline, PhD, a professor of history at Brigham Young University, who gave a lecture on his most recent book, A World Ablaze (2017). His book departed from his earlier scholarship on little known individuals throughout Europe who participated in the tumultuous period of the Reformation. Rather, his research for A World Ablaze: The Rise of Martin Luther and the Birth of the Reformation focused on Martin Luther, the Augustinian Doctor of Theology who is most associated with the birth of the Reformation.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s publication of his ninety five theses in 1517 and has inspired reflections on the outcomes and relevance of the events that began the Protestant Reformation. Dr. Harline explained that, due to their magnitude, these initial events are often imbued with imagery beyond what the original actors would have recognized. For example, when we think of Martin Luther most of us imagine him defiantly nailing his ninety five theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church in front of a crowd. However, Dr. Harline compared the door to something akin to a campus bulletin board, where topics for disputations were routinely posted. Moreover, Luther may not have posted his theses for a disputation on indulgences, but instead circulated them, and the the disputation itself may have been canceled. It was not until years later that Luther directly challenged papal authority.

According to Dr. Harline, this distortion of events is problematic because it distances us from the actors, who become somehow mythical rather than deeply human. It also assumes that the events led to inevitable outcomes, rather than consequences resulting from the tenuous and fraught actions of individuals. By focusing on the specific details and nuances of Luther’s experiences, Dr. Harline described a world that was both strange and familiar. A world specific in time and place but nevertheless related to the world in which we live. We are grateful to the Kephart family and to Dr. Harline for an intriguing and informative evening that was immensely enjoyable. Many thanks to all who helped to organize and plan for the event in the months leading up to the lecture.