Saturday, April 18, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- "Point of No Return"

The First Continental Congress, meeting in September 1774, adopted a non-intercourse agreement similar to that passed by Virginia’s Burgesses.  It called for the establishment of association enforcement committees in the counties of the respective colonies.  The Congress adjourned in October.  It would reconvene in the spring of 1775 because of Britain’s failure to redress their grievances.  Delegates from the counties of Virginia met in Richmond March 20, 1775, to decide upon what policy Virginia should now take in its relations with Great Britain.

At the convention Patrick Henry introduced a resolution that called for the immediate raising of a “well regulated militia” to defend the colony.    The proposed resolution caused a stormy debate.  Many of the moderate members considered the measure premature and dangerous.  Friends in London had sent favorable reports about British intentions.  Henry’s supporters argued that the hope of a favorable change in British policy was delusive.  Virginia must defend herself against whatever dangers might arise.

Richard Henry Lee delivered an eloquent speech in defense of the resolution.  Thomas Nelson then rose, for the first time as a burgess to take an active part in a serious debate.  Edmund Randolph later wrote that Nelson “convulsed the moderate by an ardent exclamation, in which he called God to witness, that if any British troops should be landed within” his county, “he would wait no orders, and would obey none, which should forbid him to summon his militia and repel the invaders at the water edge.”  Randolph recalled that Nelson’s temper, “though it was sanguine, and had been manifested in less scenes of opposition, seemed to be more than ordinarily excited.  His example told those, who were happy in ease and wealth, that to shrink was to be dishonoured” (Sanderson  287-288).  Soon afterward Patrick Henry delivered his famous “give me liberty, or give me death” speech, and the Convention adopted the resolution with a majority of five votes.

The business of the Convention turned to the election of delegates to the Second Continental Congress.  The delegates to the First Congress were reelected.  Falling short, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Nelson were eighth and ninth in the balloting with 18 and 16 votes respectively.

Governor Dunmore had been watching the activities of these leading men of the colony with great concern.  Now the Richmond Convention delegates had voted to defend the colony.  “Between three and  four o’clock on the morning of April 21, Captain Collins of the armed British schooner Magdalene carried out the governor’s order to remove the entire powder supply of the colony from Williamsburg and place it on board his vessel anchored at Burwell’s Ferry on the James River” (Evans 46).  The seizure caused an immediate and violent reaction throughout the counties.  “One thousand men poured into Fredericksburg, six hundred of them ‘good riflemen’ attired in hunting shirts with tomahawks in their belts.    In Hanover County Patrick Henry was also raising an independent company.  Several patriotic leaders, including Peyton Randolph and George Washington, prevailed upon the Fredericksburg and Albemarle companies to disperse; but Henry, after haranguing his volunteers at Newcastle on May 2, began a march on Williamsburg” (Evans 46). 

Dunmore “sent his wife and children on board an English-bound schooner in the York River, placed cannon in the Palace yard, armed his servants, and asked for a detachment of marines from the man-of-war Fowey, anchored at Yorktown” (Evans 46).  Before daybreak May 4, the Fowey’s Captain Montague and a party of marines roused Thomas Nelson’s aged uncle, Secretary Nelson, from his bed.  Montague warned that if they were molested by any of the townspeople the ship would fire upon the town.  The ultimatum enraged the inhabitants of the surrounding countryside.  Not only was the threat of bombarding the town considered barbaric.  The person who would suffer most from such a bombardment would be Thomas Nelson, who had assumed the responsibility of meeting Henry and his troops (fifteen miles outside Williamsburg) to prevent harm to Dunmore from occurring. 

Although most of the colonists did not know it then, the time for peaceful conciliation with Great Britain had passed.  Anger and the desire for reprisal had dislodged reason.  The contentious events of the past ten years had pushed many colonists to a willingness to bear arms against the soldiers of their mother country.  On April 26, Virginia had received the news that Massachusetts militiamen had fired upon British soldiers in route to Boston from Concord.  Massachusetts’s military governor General Thomas Gage had sent an army of 700 redcoats to Concord to seize stored munitions and gunpowder.  America had reached a point of no return.  She would take a little while yet to realize it.

The crisis of the confiscated powder was settled soon after Montague’s ultimatum.  Several Virginia patriots – Nelson included -- bought the seized gunpowder for 320 pounds.  The ship Fowey remained off Yorktown.  On June 6, Dunmore and his family went aboard, never to set foot in the colony again.

On June 17 British soldiers and Massachusetts militiamen clashed in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

On July 17, the representatives of the counties of Virginia met for the third time during the course of a year.  They passed an ordinance that called for the raising of three regiments of regular troops, to be commanded by a colonel, lieutenant colonel, and major appointed by the general convention.  Patrick Henry, Thomas Nelson, Hugh Mercer, and William Woodford were looked upon as candidates for commander-in-chief of the regiments and colonel of the first regiment.  Henry openly solicited the appointment.  Mercer, born in Scotland, had some degree of military experience.  Nelson acknowledged Mercer’s abilities, said he would not oppose Mercer’s appointment, and declared that he hoped he would not be voted for.  Woodford also supported Mercer.

Seeing that Mercer would be his chief adversary, Henry sought to undermine his qualifications, instilling in the minds of many the thought that Virginia had to be sure loyal patriots commanded her forces.  On the first ballot Mercer received 41 votes, Henry 40, Nelson 8 and Woodford 1.  Henry won a run-off election by a small majority.  Nelson was appointed lieutenant colonel of the second regiment.  Woodford was appointed the major of the third regiment.

The Convention then turned its attention to the election of delegates to the next session of the Second Continental Congress.  Of the seven delegates who had been previously elected, Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, Benjamin Harrison, Edmund Pendleton, and Richard Bland were considered eligible for another term.  George Washington had been appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.  Patrick Henry, as head of Virginia’s forces, was also considered ineligible.  Pendleton asked to be excused from serving due to ill health.  Three positions were open for new delegates.  They were filled by Thomas Jefferson, Nelson, and George Wythe.  Bland later declined his appointment because of infirmities of age and was replaced by Francis Lightfoot Lee.  After Nelson had been appointed, he declined the command of the second Virginia regiment.  Woodford was appointed his replacement.

One of the most dramatic periods in American history was rapidly approaching.  Thomas Nelson, wealthy merchant and country gentleman, steadfast opponent of British economic and political authoritarianism from its inception, would be an active participant in Virginia’s struggle to attain independence.  “Yet the course he chose to follow was not an easy one.  He felt close to the mother country for many reasons.  He had spent eight years of his life there, and he had many friends and several relatives who still lived in England.  Furthermore, the patriotic cause by no means had the full support of all Americans … Nelson’s wife’s brother, John Randolph Grymes, left Virginia because of his sympathy for the British position.  Both Thomas and Lucy Nelson were related to the Randolphs, and they saw that family torn apart when John Randolph, the attorney general, left Virginia with Dunmore, while his son, Edmund, remained a firm patriot” (Evans 49, 50).  For Nelson, the loss of natural and constitutional rights mattered above all else!

Works Cited:

Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Williamsburg, The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1975.  Print.

Sanderson, John.  Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence.  Second Edition. Philadelphia, William Brown and Charles Peters, 1828.  V.  Print.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Geography

To begin to develop an understanding of the Algonquian people that inhabited North Carolina’s Outer Banks and coastal shores of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds and the lower portion of the Chowan River in the 1580s, you must start with a map.  Not a modern map but one that attempts to identify tribal groups and villages.  This map is the best that I can provide.

Print this out, if you would, for reference as you read this and future posts.

The Outer Banks, which are narrow extensions of sandy terrain, extend about 175 miles from the boundary line between Virginia and North Carolina to below Cape Lookout (not revealed on your map). The Banks are separated from the mainland of North Carolina by broad, shallow sounds at the most thirty miles in breadth. Here and there shallow, narrow inlets cut through the banks, allowing river water to escape into the Atlantic Ocean. These inlets are in a constant process of change.

At Cape Hatteras (see #5 village Croatoan), the banks jut far out into the ocean.  Gulf Stream currents flow close by, creating a warm atmosphere that permits tropical fruits and plants to thrive. North of the Cape, the Gulf Stream swerves away from the coastline and meets cold water coming down from the Labrador Current, resulting in much turbulence and a serious threat to shipping.

The raw sand of the Banks contains mineral content necessary to stimulate the growth of abundant vegetation. Frequent rainfall has forced the salt content of the sand downward and to the sides of the Banks, and a shallow water table of fresh water exists between the salt water table level and the surface of the Banks. Shallow wells are able to draw fresh water upward from almost any location on the Banks.

Pamlico Sound dominates that area of water between the Banks and the mainland of North Carolina. It is the hub of an extensive network of smaller sounds as well as bays, rivers, creeks, lakes, and ponds. Into Albemarle Sound, to the northwest, flow the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers. Roanoke Island marks the most northern extent of Pamlico Sound.

Inlets to the sounds are filled primarily by southbound ocean currents. New openings are created by the force of fresh water seeking access to the sea. Autumn, more specifically September, is when inlets are usually opened or enlarged.

As the eye of a hurricane approaches the Banks from the Caribbean, winds from the east blow great quantities of ocean water through the existing inlets and push this water as well as much of the water in the sounds well up into the many bays and estuaries of the mainland. When the eye of the hurricane moves north of the Banks, the winds’ direction reverses. Water is pushed across the shallow sounds against the Banks. Old inlets are reopened; new ones are formed.

The number of inlets has varied considerably over the years. At times there have been as many as eleven small inlets that release an average of fifteen billion gallons of water each day into the Atlantic. At other times three fairly large inlets have done so. Since the Banks became a part of recorded history, twenty-five different inlets remained open long enough to receive names and appear on maps. The inlet named Port Ferdinando is the inlet that Captains Amadas and Barlowe used to enter Pamlico Sound just south of Roanoke Island in 1584.  It closed sometime before 1657.   It was the main entry point of men and supplies for the 1585-1586 Roanoke colony.  Oregon Inlet, about a mile south of where Port Ferdinando had existed, was created by a violent hurricane in 1846. During the storm, a ship, the Oregon, was caught on Pamlico Sound.  Its crew witnessed the sudden formation of the new inlet and reported it upon reaching safety.  Oregon Inlet exists today.

Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds are very shallow.  Albemarle Sound’s average depth is 12 to 13 feet.  It lies east/west, with prevailing winds from the southwest and west.  Any winds over 15 knots can produce steep, uncomfortable seas.  The rivers and streams that empty into the Sound’s waters are clear but tea-colored, from tannic acid created by decomposing vegetation along their banks.  Here are links to several pictures.

The Chowan River is nearly two miles wide as it empties into Albemarle Sound near present-day Edenton (town #26 Warawtan on your map).   The river begins at the North Carolina-Virginia border where the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers meet.  Flowing some 65 miles, it is fed by numerous swampy creeks and streams.  Along with the Roanoke River, it supplies most of the fresh water of Albemarle Sound.  Surrounded by one of the most extensive swamp forests in the state, the Chowan River supports black bears, river otters, warblers and bald eagles.  Lined by bald cypress trees, the river, running mostly north to south, hosts some 18 different species of fish: largemouth and striped bass, white perch, sunfish, catfish, black crappie and more. The lower Chowan River is at its most scenic during the winter months and rarely freezes over. It is home to an abundance of migratory waterfowl in the winter.  Here are links to several pictures.

The Roanoke River stretches for 137 miles across North Carolina's coastal plain.  Its headwaters are in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwestern Virginia.  The river flows generally east-southeast across the Piedmont of southern Virginia and enters northeastern North Carolina near the Roanoke Rapids’ fall line. The river then zigzags southeast across the coastal plain and then turns north to enter the western end of Albemarle Sound (see Indian village #24, Tandaquomuc).  “The river’s floodplain contains the largest intact and least-disturbed bottomland hardwood forest ecosystem remaining in the mid-Atlantic region. The middle section of the Roanoke River is characterized by alluvial forests and large backswamps, while the lower section contains vast tracts of bald cypress and water tupelo swamp forests. The Roanoke River provides a haven for a host of plants and animals, including more than 200 bird species” (Roanoke River Region 1).  Because the river originates in the mountains, unlike the Chowan River, its current is strong.  Native American inhabitants, experiencing deadly spring floods, called it the "River of Death."  Here are links to pictures.

Pamlico Sound, 80 miles long, is no more than 30 feet deep in places and very wide, up to 30 miles.  It has an average depth of about 5 to 6 feet, even well offshore.  A person cannot see the mainland from the Outer Banks because he cannot see low-lying land within 20 miles due to the curvature of the Earth.  The coastal plains of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds are flat and very swampy.  There is little increase in elevation on the mainland for at least 100 miles, where a traveler might reach a height of 500 feet.   Considered an estuary itself, Pamlico Sound hosts a number of small estuaries along its west coastline.

An estuary “is any place where freshwater joins and mixes with saltwater. But more typically, an estuary is defined as a partially enclosed coastal body of water, having an open connection with the ocean (for example, via a river), where freshwater from inland is mixed with saltwater from the sea. Estuaries typically occupy coastal areas where effects from the ocean are reduced but still influential.    Estuaries contain salt water and fresh water in different proportions over the length of the estuary and over the course of the day, with more salt water during high tide and less at low tide. Because they are shallow …, sunlight penetrates the water, allowing plants to grow. The rivers that feed the estuaries deposit sediments rich in nutrients, which settle onto the sand and mud of the estuary floor. These conditions create unique habitats for both plants and animals, and provide an environment for biological diversity in species (of fish, shrimp, crabs, clams and oysters) that are able to adapt to the brackish conditions. Estuaries are also good nurseries as they provide a place for these species to hatch and grow before they migrate to the sea to live out their adult lives.   

“Sand bars buffer the impact of waves, while plants and shellfish beds anchor the shore against tides. Swamps and marshes take the initial impact of high winds moving in from the ocean, soak up heavy rain and storm surges, and release the extra water gradually into rivers and groundwater supplies. 

“Swamps and marshes along the edges of the coast provide feeding grounds and shelter for many adult fish and shellfish. Cypress, tupelo, and swamp maple trees grow in swamp forests, whereas grasses such as black needlerush and cordgrasses predominate in salt marshes. Freshwater marshes support cattails, bullrushes, and reeds. River herring spawn in the swamps, while adult river herring, Atlantic menhaden, and bluefish live in the open water” (Harrell 1).

Here are links to pictures of estuaries and marshes in Pamlico Sound.

Here are links to pictures of trees frequently found in swamps.

The Algonquian natives of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds were water people well adapted to their environment.  They utilized large canoes hollowed out of tulip trees and white cedar.  In deciding the locations of their villages, they “tended to favor the northern shores of the region’s sounds and rivers.  In summer, the prevailing breezes come out of the south, blowing the northern shores free of mosquitoes.  Winter storms originated in the Northeast, with the southern shores lying much more exposed” (Oberg 12).

Historians use tribal names to differentiate Native American populations.  A North Carolina Algonquian “tribe” was usually a loose confederation of two or more villages whose inhabitants accepted the authority of one leader -- called a weroance – who made decisions to preserve intra- and inter-village harmony and achieve and maintain peaceful relations with rival tribes.  On your map, take notice of these “tribes’: Chawanoke, Weapemeoc, Roanoke, and Secotan.  The weroance of the Roanoke tribe in 1584 was Wingina.  When the English made contact with the Roanokes that year, Wingina’s main settlement was Dasemunkapeuc (#6 on your map).  The island of Roanoke (#20) was under the province of his brother Granganimeo.  Croatoan (#5), allied with the Roanokes, was semi-independent.  Some historians believe that Wingina also had dominion over Pomeiooc (#17), Aquascogoc (#1), and Secoton (#23) and that he moved annually from village to village taking up temporary residences.

The Weapemeoc villages were all located along the northern bank of Albemarle Sound.  Their head weroance in 1584 was Okisko.  He had installed his highest subordinates over “the towns of Pasquenoke [#16], Chepanoc [#4], Rickahokinge [not on the map], and Masioming [#8] … Still, Okisko could not control all the inhabitants in these villages” (Oberg 17) …  The Weapemeocs were not particularly friendly with the Roanokes.

The Chowanokes were the most powerful and influential confederation of the coastal North Carolina Algonquians.  Their weroance, Menatonon, was a frail old man when the English encountered him in 1586.  Nevertheless, he had under his authority hundreds of warriors.  Villages located on both sides of the Chowan River comprised his confederation.  Okisko, the weroance of the Weapemeoc, had sworn obedience to him.  “The Choanoacs’ power rested on their access to trading routes in the interior that linked peoples across the Carolinas and Virginia together in an elaborate network of exchange.  Occupying this position meant conflict, and the Choanoacs [many Algonquian villages have alternate spellings] fought with the powerful Powhatans [of Jamestown fame] on occasion.    Menatonon also remained an important rival of Wingina, who like him sought opportunities for his people to engage in surprisingly widespread networks of exchange that linked communities across the interior of the continent” (Oberg 17).

The Moratuc are believed not to have been Algonquian.  Tribes west of Algonquian settlements – Mandoag, Eno-Shaikori, and Tuscarora – were either Iroquois or Siouans.  Aggressive traders, they were the Algonquians’ worst enemies. The Pomouik, probably not Algonquian, were hostile to the southern Pamlico Sound Algonquians.  Several years before the English made their first appearance on Pamlico Sound, they had killed in a singular act of treachery many Secoton (#23) villagers.

These are the villages and the sounds, rivers, waterways,”swamps, swamp forests, bare sandy deserts and fertile oases” (Quinn 44) that will appear in my historical novel “Alsoomse and Wanchese.”  What historians know about these Algonquians and the events that transpired after Englishmen first encountered Wingina’s people and what they speculate may have happened thereafter offer people who write stories about the past rich material.     

Sources Cited:

Harrell, Waverly and Godwin-Myer, Jennifer.  “Estuaries in North Carolina: A Primer.”  Learn NC: K-12 Teaching and Learning from the UNC School of Education.  Net

Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  University of Pensylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2008.  Print.

Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606.  The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1985.  Print.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

"The Living"
by Annie Dillard

“The Living” by Annie Dillard portrays the numerous hardships and the strengths and weaknesses of character of the original white settlers and their immediate descendents in the northwest corner of Washington State during the last half of the Nineteenth Century.  Her novel begins in the fall of 1855 with the arrival of a fictitious pioneer family, the Fishburns, and ends in July 1897 with a celebratory gathering of second and third generation friends that include a Fishburn son and granddaughter.  It is a historical novel that informs us, that engages us with its interesting characters, and that tests our patience. 

The novel’s authenticity is one of its strengths.  It is evident throughout that Annie Dillard knows her subject matter.  One example is how early settlers felled huge Douglas fir.  The fastest way was to use fire.  They would augur one foot long holes downward into the massive tree trunks.  They would then bore holes laterally to connect with the downward-angled holes.  Next, they would insert burning sticks into the downward holes,  the lateral holes to serve as a draft for smoke to escape.  The next day “deep inside, the fired trees were burning.  Weak yellow flames curled low from their trunks.”  The following day “the trees started to fall, one after the other, and shook the earth so the house jumped.    The house rose, and everything in it rose, too … Shreds of cast green lichens, like bits of beard, blew into the house, with twigs, bark, sawdust, and plain dust. … The charred stumps kept burning.  … The fir roots were so pitchy that a man could burn them right in the ground.”  Not once did I doubt the novel’s setting or historical accuracy.

We who have lived life into our senior years know well what human existence is about.  We are brought into this world without our consent, as children we are taught (or not taught) how to survive, if fortunate we live to adulthood, we procreate, and we survive until we don’t.  The quality of our existence is more often determined by factors beyond our control -- governmental decisions, economic forces, groups of people, individuals, chance -- than by our force of will.  We, nobody else, determine our lives’ value.  This appears to be the central theme of the novel.  I appreciated how Dillard’s characters grappled with difficult burdens, endured unexpected tragedy, and strived to ascribe meaning to their lives.  “The Living” is a dark story that offers little optimism that man will ever ascend beyond his baser elements.  Strive as we may to make better the lives of our family members, friends, and neighbors, stronger forces ultimately restrict if not defeat our brave efforts and force us eventually to live safe lives of avoidance of that which may be harmful.  I prized this aspect of the novel.

The main characters were well developed and, at times, intriguing.

Ada Fishburn loses her three-year-old son Charley on the wagon trail west. Standing by the front passenger barrier of his parents’ wagon, he topples over.  “… their own wheels ran him over, one big wheel after the other, and he burst inwardly and died.”  She and her husband Rooney carve out a plot of land amidst the enormous, ever-present firs.  Six years after their arrival from Illinois, their four-year-old daughter Lettie dies of an ear infection.  Eleven years later Rooney, digging a well, releases a stream of poisonous gas and instantly succumbs.  Ada’s second husband dies accidentally three years later.  She reaches old age, a good woman in every respect.  “The more time God granted her on this earth,” she reflects near the end of her life, “the more she saw it rain, but He mustn’t think she wasn’t grateful, because she was grateful – only if He was giving out time, why not pass some to people who needed it?”

Ada’s son Clare learns the ways of existence in and outside the local towns of Whatcom and Goshen, survives childhood, and becomes a somewhat shallow-minded but helpful, generous adult.  An event occurs after he has married and fathered a daughter that causes him to anticipate sudden death.  Previously caught up in a land development boom, having accepted the prevailing attitude that life’s prime purpose is to acquire wealth, Clare is forced to contemplate what is most important about life.

In 1879, thirteen-year-old John Ireland Sharp participates in an expedition led by his grandfather up the Skagit River into the mountains to seek a pass through which a transcontinental railroad might be built to reach the Pacific shores.  The party comes upon a dying Indian youth impaled on a pointed stake embedded in the ground.  John Ireland is shaken by the experience.  Two years later, hard times having come to the Whatcom area, the boy’s father moves his large family to Madrone Island, of the San Juan Islands in Rosario Strait.  Soon after their arrival John Ireland is severely beaten by Beal Obenchain, a large-sized local boy.  Two of John’s ribs are broken.  He recovers.  The bully’s lies about the cause of the beating are believed; he is not punished.  The family ekes out a primitive existence.  One day John Ireland remains on shore while his parents and brothers and sisters board their skiff to go to Orcas Island to see a man who sells tulip bulbs.  The sky has the look of rain.  Hours later Beal Obenchain’s father spies the skiff adrift, empty.  All of John Ireland’s family is lost.  He carries with him over the succeeding years this thought: “the people you knew were above water one minute, and under it the next, as if they had burst through ice.  They went down stiff and upright in their filled gum boots and soaked skirts; they stood dead on the bottom and swayed with the currents like fixed kelp, his mother and father and sisters and brothers standing in a row on the ocean floor.”  John is adopted by the Obenchains, kind people, notwithstanding Beal.  Eventually, John leaves the island, grows into manhood, and embraces socialist principles.

Beal Obenchain is psychotic.  He is driven by an overpowering sense of unworthiness.  To stave off episodes of psychological impotence he commits violent acts, receiving from them sufficient energy temporarily to face everyday that which diminishes him.  At various places throughout the book we witness his cruel acts; and we yearn to see his come-uppance. 

1874, Baltimore, Maryland.  Minta Randall, daughter of U.S. Senator Green Randall, marries Eustace Honer, a young man of nearly equal social standing but afflicted by impractical dreams of engaging in adventurous enterprises.  Minta, who is physically unattractive, forces her reluctant parents to consent to this marriage, Eustace deemed by them and the parents of other eligible debutantes to be an undesirable match.  Scorning the stilted life of wealth and privilege, their imagination fired by brochures extolling the virtues of Puget Sound, Minta and Eustace move to Goshen and buy property (320 acres) next to Ada Fishburn and her adult son Clare.  Minta and Eustace adapt well to their demanding environment.  Despite their wealth, they are accepted by the local inhabitants.  They produce children. 

Eleven years after their marriage, in 1885, the local community decides to clear a huge log jam on the Nooksack River.  “The jam was three quarters of a mile long – a city of trees and logs … It had been there as long as anyone … could remember.  A forest straddled the river on top of the jam.  Fifteen or twenty feet above the waterline, Douglas firs and silver firs with trunks four feet thick were growing a hundred feet high from soil trapped in the smashed mess of logs.  Birds nested in the trees.”  It takes three months to clear the jam.  Near the end of the work Eustace slips on a log and falls into the water.  Its current takes him under a layer of logs.  He drowns.  His nine-year-old son Hugh witnesses it.

Minta is devastated.  Her parents travel to the Northwest to console her.  On the evening of their arrival by steamboat, Minta prepares to meet them at the Goshen dock.  Hugh builds a fire in the fireplace to warm the house.  She and Hugh travel by coach to the dock.  Minta’s two younger children are left at home to sleep.  The fire that Hugh has built consumes the house, and his siblings within.  Minta is reduced almost to a catatonic state.  Ada Fishburn tells her, finally: “Hugh has not been going to school, and when he’s here you don’t see him, bless his heart, and with the help of God you must stir yourself.  For you have a child still living.”  Minta must contend both with her loss and, again, with her parents’ objectionable wishes.  Move back to Baltimore, they say.  There is a suitable man you once expressed love for.  He has not married.

Three years later Hugh discovers Ada’s second husband dead of a broken neck, the result of a riding accident suffered while traveling during a rainstorm.  It seems to Hugh that he is predestined to continue to witness death.  Watching a community celebration of the launching of a locally built racing yacht when he is seventeen, recognizing that he is damaged, he reflects: “People seemed so joyous tonight, yet it was the same world it ever was, and they all had forgotten.  When a baby is born its fuse lights.  The ticking begins, and the fire starts fizzing down its length.”  He has fallen in love with Ada Fishburn’s granddaughter Vinnie.  Greatly influenced by what has happened to him, he must make a decision. 

These characters kindled my emotions.  Their fates mattered to me.  Yet it took me two months to read this book, mostly because of what I will call thick narration.  Part of the narration’s “thickness” is due to the author’s considerable use of description, most of which, unlike the passage below, is not sharply visual. 

He saw that darkness was spreading from the land.  In the dark, five or six bonfires were going.  People sat lighted by flames, and from a distance the live sparks that rose over the fire seemed to emanate from the people; the yellow sparks turned red and, as they met the darkness, went out.

Part of the “thickness” is due also to the author’s too frequent explication of abstract thoughts.

Marriage began to strike him as a theater, where actors gratefully dissimulate, in ordinary affection and trust, their bottom feeling, which is a mystery too powerful to be endured.  They know and feel more than life in time can match; they must anchor themselves against eternity, as they play on a painted set, lest they swing out into the twining realms.

Also bothersome to me was that the main characters’ story-lines moved slowly.  For example, it took seemingly forever for Beal Obenchain’s fate to be revealed.  Deleting much of the information provided about unimportant characters would have quickened the novel’s pace.

But then I would come upon an excellently narrated scene like this: 

In every corner of their big house she stumbled into Eustace’s precisely shaped absence, and in the yard, the woods, the fields, garden, and barn.  She carried herself carefully, like a scalding bowl – plain Minta, whose neck sloped straight from her linen collar, whose clear forehead and high brows stayed fixed.  By herself and for herself, she tried to be splendid.  Only secretly, as she tended the quarreling younger children and worked the ranch, did she whisper to herself deep in her mind, “I am dished.”  For where, exactly, had he gone, and the intensity of his ways?

“The Living” is a substantial undertaking that, somewhat flawed, captured my interest and gained my respect. 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- "Necessity Demands"

Parliament’s passage of the Tea Act in the spring of 1773 was the catalyst of a series of contentious events that culminated in colonial America’s war with Great Britain that began two years later and its declaration of independence in 1776.

The Tea Act granted the foundering British East India Company the right to import 18,000,000 pounds of surplus tea that it had stored in its London warehouses directly into the colonies without payment of any export tax.  The Company would use co-signees appointed by royal governors in Massachusetts, New York, and South Carolina and the proprietors in Pennsylvania rather than local merchants to sell its tea.  The American tea merchant was legislated out of business.  Even though consumers would still have to pay the tax on tea imposed by the 1767 Townshend Acts, they would be paying a price lower than that charged previously by American merchants and tea smugglers.  With the Tea Act, Prime Minister Lord North hoped to accomplish two purposes: provide motivation for colonialists to accept the Townshend Acts tax on tea and reinforce Parliament’s authority to impose taxes of any sort on the colonies.  In both particulars he failed.  Colonial merchants of every kind recognized that they, too, could be legislated out of business.  Colonial representatives objected to any tax imposed on the colonies by Parliament without their consent, regardless of whether the public benefited as to cost of product taxed.  In Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, they, fearful merchants, and disgruntled consumers deprived of choice of purchase were determined to prevent the off-loading of new East India Company tea onto their docks.

Resisters in New York and Philadelphia caused appointed co-signees to resign and ship captains to return their vessels to England with their unloaded cargo.  In Charleston co-signees were also forced to resign and the cargo was left to rot on the unloaded ships.  Boston had a very different outcome.  

The tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November.  British law required the Dartmouth to unload and pay import duties to customs officials within twenty days of its arrival.  Massachusetts’s governor Thomas Hutchinson persuaded his co-signees, two of whom were his sons, not to resign.  A mass meeting led by Sam Adams passed a resolution that urged the captain of the Dartmouth to send the ship back to England without paying the import duty.  Governor Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave without paying the duty.  Two additional tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor.  Hutchinson also refused to allow these ships to leave.  On December 16 (one day before the twenty day deadline was reached) at a meeting attended by about 7,000 people at the Old South Meeting House, Sam Adams declared: "This meeting can do nothing further to save the country" (Boston Tea Party 1).  That evening a crowd of what later was roughly estimated to be 30 to 130 “Sons of Liberty” boarded the three East India Company tea ships.  The entire cargo -- 342 chests of tea – were dumped into the water.  This flagrant act of defiance impelled Parliament to pass several punitive measures that the colonists came to call the “intolerable acts.”  The first measure, the Boston Port Bill, closed the port of Boston until the destroyed tea was paid for.  The other three measures sought to cripple the political rights of the colony, transfer the trial of capital offenses to England, and renew the quartering of British troops in Boston.  Massachusetts would be made the example of what British authority could do to rebellious colonies.  Instead of being cowed, the twelve witnessing colonies, especially Virginia, made Massachusetts’s cause their own.

Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, Richard Henry Lee, and other members of Virginia’s House of Burgesses saw the necessity of arousing the Virginia people “from the lethargy into which they had fallen” (Henry 176) the past three years following Parliament’s repeal of all but the one that taxed tea of the Townshend Acts.  The group decided to have the House declare “a day of general fasting and prayer” to be observed June 1, 1774, the day the Boston Port Bill would go into effect.  The House passed the resolution.  Two days later Governor Dunmore dissolved the legislative body.

Eighty-nine burgesses, Thomas Nelson among them, assembled the following day (May 27) at “The Raleigh” Tavern, formed a non-importation association, and called for a meeting to take place at a later date at which time all House members could determine what else they could do to aid Massachusetts.  Days later that meeting was scheduled for August 1 in Williamsburg.  Meanwhile, Burgesses would meet with their constituents to formulate resolutions to be presented at the general meeting.

Thomas Nelson was moderator of the meeting of free holders in his county, York.  He opened the meeting July 18 with a lengthy address that called for careful consideration of the resolutions about to be formed.

“You will know what it is to be FREE Men.  You know the blessed privilege of doing what you will with your own, and you can guess at the misery of those who are deprived of this right.  Which of these will be your case depends upon your present conduct.  We have found already that petitions and remonstrances are ineffectual, and it is now time that we try other expedients.  We must have those who are endeavouring to oppress us feel the effects of their mistakes of their arbitrary policy; for not till then can we expect justice from them” (Virginia Gazette July 21, 1774).

Nelson doubted that the colony could stop her exports without serious harm, “but that imports ought to be prohibited necessity demands, and no virtue forbids.  It is not supposed that we can do this without subjecting ourselves to many inconveniences; but inconveniences, when opposed to the loss of freedom, are surely to be disregarded” (Ibid.).

Then, Nelson the merchant spoke: “It is true, we must resign the hope of making fortunes; but to what end should we make fortunes, when they may be taken from us at the pleasure of others” (Ibid.)?

Following the address, the county of York formed its resolves.  They first defined the rights of the American colonies, coming to the ultimate conclusion that although British America was under voluntary subjection to the crown, every British parliamentary edict of taxation, custom, duty, or impost on the American colonies without their consent was illegal.  The resolves declared the Tea Act illegal and the Boston Port Act unconstitutional, the latter due to the fact that Boston was only defending “their liberties and properties” the night the tea was thrown overboard.  All imports would be stopped “with as few exceptions as possible.”  The question of stopping exports would be settled at the August convention.  Lastly, a subscription would be “immediately opened for the relief of the inhabitants of Boston” (Ibid.), under the direction of Thomas Nelson and his fellow burgess, Dudley Digges.

Nelson ultimately obtained 49 subscribers who pledged bushels of wheat and corn, barrels of flour, and shillings.  In a not altogether trustworthy record kept by Massachusetts authorities, ten subscribers’ contributions were specifically noted as not having been delivered.  This was due to no fault of Nelson.  He had the contributions of twenty subscribers shipped to Boston at his own expense.  The subscribers’ contributions averaged 4.8 bushels in wheat and 5.4 bushels in corn per person.  Nelson sent 100 bushels of wheat.

Thomas Nelson and the delegates of the various other counties met in Williamsburg August 1.  They agreed to cut off all British imports to the colony after November 1.  They would also cut off their own exports to Britain if the mother country did not redress “American Grievances” before August 10, 1775.  The Convention ended its business by electing seven of its leaders to represent Virginia at the First Continental Congress, which had been called to meet in September in Philadelphia.  They were Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison and Edmund Pendleton.  Nelson returned to York to spend what would be his last few months of peaceful living for the next four years.

Works Cited:

Boston Tea Party.”  Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia.  Net.

Henry, William Wirtz.  Patrick Henry’s Life, Correspondence and Speeches. Vol. I.  New York: Charles Scribners and Sons, 1891.  Print.

Virginia Gazette (Rind) July 21, 1774.  Microfilm.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Introduction

One reason that I retired from teaching at the age of 56 was to take advantage of my school district’s generous early retirement package.   If I were to provide my school a specific number of hours of curriculum development during the first five years of my retirement, I would receive during those years additional retirement compensation.  One of the projects I undertook was to write a somewhat novelized account of England’s first attempt to establish a colony on America’s Atlantic coastline.   I refer to the colonial settlement of Roanoke, Walter Raleigh’s endeavor to establish a base that would serve two purposes: raid Spanish treasure ships passing through the Caribbean islands and discover, extract, and export to England gold, silver, and other valuable natural resources.

My “novel” was about 150 pages long.  It was essentially a work of non-fiction whose people thought, spoke, and acted.  Years later, after my Revolutionary War novel Crossing the River was published (2011), I reread my Roanoke manuscript to assess its flaws and decide whether I wanted to revise it.

I was disturbed that I had committed probably the worst of a novice writer’s sins.  My narration summarized (told) too much; it did not demonstrate (show) enough.  Here is an example. 

            The watch had alerted Arthur Barlowe of the sighting of Indians.  Yes, he saw them, three, standing by a canoe that they had beached on the island near where Barlowe's ship and that of Philip Amadas had anchored two days before.  They were staring back at him.  Unabashedly.  As though inviting him to communicate. 

Barlowe decided to initiate Walter Raleigh's other instructions.

            He had not yet found in the great sound of water that Verrazzano had called the "Inland Sea" an island that they could easily defend.  He and Amadas had left Plymouth April 27, 1584, piloted by Simon Ferdinando, the same Portuguese seaman that had explored Norambega for Humphrey Gilbert five years earlier.  The two ships had picked up the trade winds at the Canary Islands, arrived at Puerto Rico in the Caribbean to take on fresh water, avoided the Caribs on Guadeloupe, entered the Gulf Stream off Cuba, and sighted the Carolina banks between Cape Fear and Cape Lookout July 4.

            For nine days Ferdinando had searched for an inlet before finding one with scarcely twelve feet of water at high tide.  Subsequently, the two ships had entered Pamlico Sound and anchored off Hatarask Island.

            Barlowe, Amadas, and Ferdinando had immediately rowed ashore, and Barlowe had declared possession of the land in the name of the Queen.  Almost immediately he had noticed the profuse growth of wild summer grape, dominating the low, sandy terrain, reaching to the very edge of the water.  He believed this to be an important economic discovery; for Englishmen drank great quantities of wine, imported mostly from Spain.  Here was a land that benefited from, he suspected, a warm Mediterranean climate.  Additionally, there were trees, lots of trees: cedar, pine, cypress, sassafras, and tupelo.  For shipbuilding.   For excellent furniture, perhaps.

            On their second day of discovery one of Barlowe's men had fired his arquebus at a flock of cranes.  Huge flocks had ascended like an undulating wave, issuing an echoing cry, like an army of men shouting all together, Barlowe had thought.  If the savages are not already aware of our presence, that sound will inform them! he had thought.  He was encouraged to see their quick willingness to bear witness.

Another flaw was that I had focused almost entirely on English characters.  The few native characters that appear in the manuscript are one dimensional.  What were their fears, aspirations, internal conflicts? I asked myself.  It was as though I had considered these natives superfluous.  The characters in the excerpt below are essentially bodies with names.  My purpose here was to provide important historical information through the use of dialogue.  Conspicuously lacking is individuality of character.  The scene is, succinctly stated, an information dump. 

           “The white men are not gods,” Wanchese repeated.

            Several of Wingina’s advisors nodded agreement.

            “I believe they are men of an old generation many years ago,” Granganimeo responded, “dead men returned to this world again. That they remain dead for a certain time only. That another generation is now in the air, invisible, waiting to follow them.”

            “If they are of the sprit world, they have very large appetites,” declared Osacan, Wanchese’s friend.  “They are men only lacking color, from a distant land. And their god is not to be feared.”

            “Their god is to be feared.  His power is in Hariot’s sword and looking-glass.”

            The others faced Ensenore, Wingina’s frail father.

            “Why then are they without food, helpless and starving with food about them?” Wingina asked quietly.

            Ensenore spoke carefully. “They came without women and they refused our women so we believed they were gods, pale spirits as Granganimeo has said. I do not know if they are gods. If they are men, their god has given them great power over us. He has given them the skill to kill any of us without a weapon and from any distance. We suddenly are ill, and then we die. Their god wishes that we give them food. If we do not, he punishes us.”

            Wingina stared at his father without speaking. He was not convinced. He wanted Lane’s men gone from his island forever. If they did not leave voluntarily, he would find a way to destroy them.

Finally, not one person in the manuscript is a fictional character.  Any novel that attempts to recreate some aspect of the past needs invented characters.  How could I portray effectively the Carolina coastal Algonquians’ way of living and thinking without them?  I needed to tell stories about individual people to create a mosaic, a context to make more meaningful those major events that did occur when Englishmen and Algonquians came together and eventually clashed. 

What had subjectively attracted me to this subject matter was clearly missing.  Rewrite it, or chuck it?  I decided to accept the challenge. 

I want to explore themes like the clash of incompatible cultures, the exploitation of the vulnerable, man’s need to conquer and control, the dangers of resistance, man’s overall purpose, his need to adhere to religious beliefs.  I want to create fully-dimensional characters, individuals with whom readers can identify, human beings deserving emotional judgment.  I want to present specifically the Algonquian point of view.  I want to write a novel that demands the best of what I am able to produce.

I may not get there.  I’ve barely begun.  I’ve written five chapters.  At this later stage in my life writing another novel gives me a special purpose.  I will be posting in future installments my difficulties and how I have attempted to surmount them.  It would be fun to hear from you.  My email address is

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Observing, Learning

Less than a year after his return from England, Thomas Nelson married Miss Lucy Grymes, a daughter of Philip Grymes of Brandom, in the neighboring county of Middlesex.  They settled permanently in a commodious house built for them by Nelson’s father, the new house nearly opposite his own.  In between his yearly trips to Williamsburg as a burgess representing his county, York, Thomas lived in a style of great elegance and hospitality.  Upon Thomas’s marriage his father had been given him an independent fortune and taken him into the family business.  From his long resident in England, Thomas had acquired some of the manners and pursuits of its country gentlemen.  He would ride out daily to his plantation, a few miles from York, with his fowling piece and an attending servant.  He kept a pack of hounds at a small farm near the village, and in the winter his friends and neighbors would join him once or twice a week to participate in a fox hunt.  Young Nelson’s home became the center of genteel hospitality.  It was said that no gentleman ever stopped an hour in York without receiving an invitation to it.

Nelson found time during his residence in Williamsburg as a burgess to further his education.  For a short time he attended William and Mary College.  It was here that he met a young law student from Albemarle County, Thomas Jefferson.  In 1763 Thomas’s father took under his care his orphaned niece, Rebecca Burwell.  The twenty-year-old Jefferson, four years older than Rebecca, fell in love with the girl, and during their rather sporadic courtship became quite intimate with the Nelson family.  This relationship was to be maintained through the Revolutionary War.

As a burgess, Thomas Nelson served his country from 1761 to his appointment to the Continental Congress in 1775.  He did not take an active part in the debates of the Assembly during the stormy years prior to the American Revolution.  There were many gentlemen in the Assembly who were older than he and who possessed greater political experience.  Better that he receive his training and acquire political wisdom by observing others and working quietly in various committees of the Assembly.

At the end of May 1765, following the passage of the Stamp Act, Patrick Henry managed to push through the Assembly several resolutions that, in essence, denied the right of Great Britain to tax the colonies.  There is no record of how Nelson voted on the resolutions; but, considering his political feeling and actions following the Stamp Act, we can assume that he supported them.  Following the repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766 the British Parliament passed the Townshend Acts.  The new measures were designed to raise a revenue by taxing common articles used by the colonies: glass, lead, paper, and tea.  The House of Burgesses rose again in opposition, sending to the king in 1768 a petition and to Parliament a memorial and remonstrance.  In 1769 it passed resolutions claiming the sole right to tax the colony's inhabitants.  The governor dissolved the Assembly following each action taken.  In 1769, the members met in The Apollo Tavern, where they signed a non-importation association written by George Mason and presented by George Washington.  They pledged not to import or have imported any of the Townshend goods until the duties were repealed.  A merchant, standing to lose more in material gain than most of the Burgesses, Nelson signed the agreement. 

Following the repeal of all of the Townshend duties (except that on tea) in April 1770, the colonies and the British government enjoyed a brief period of relative peace.  However, the winter of 1772-1773 was not a good time for Nelson.  His father died November 19.  Thomas’s religious upbringing is reflected in a letter he wrote soon afterward to his father's friend, Samuel Martin.  “It falls to my lot to acquaint you with the death of my father …  His death was such as became a true Christian, hoping through the mediation of our blessed Savior to meet with the reward promised to the righteous” (Meade 210).  The funeral sermon delivered by a Mr. Camm, the president of William and Mary College and minister of York, summarized the qualities of the elder Nelson.  “… his own gain by trade was not more sweet to him than the help which he hereby received toward becoming a general benefactor.  He is an instance of what abundance of good may be done by a prudent and conscientious man without impoverishing himself or his connections, nay, while his fortunes are improving” (Meade 209).

President Nelson left to each of his five sons – Thomas, Hugh, William, Nat, and Robert – landed estates and servants.  But to his eldest son, Thomas, he left 40,000 pounds, equivalent to $133,000 at that time.[1]

Work Cited:

Meade, Bishop (William).  Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia.  (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1891).  I.  Print.

[1]  Ibid., 208.  Page, Genealogy, 152