Friday, July 24, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Raising Troops
 
The American victory at Saratoga was of first importance for it convinced the French that the Revolution in America could be successful.  France officially entered the war against Great Britain in May 1778.
 
The news of General Burgoyne’s surrender October 17, 1777, was received in Williamsburg with great jubilation.  A battalion was formed and reviewed by Nelson; members of the upper and lower houses of the new Assembly spoke to the congregated citizens.  The Virginia Gazette reported that “joy and satisfaction … was evident in the countenance of every one; and the evening was celebrated with the ringing of bells, illuminations, &c.” (Gazette 1)
 
About to go into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Washington was, naturally, pleased with Burgoyne’s capture.  But he had failed to keep General Howe from capturing Philadelphia, and he wrote Nelson that he now regretted not accepting Nelson’s offer to send him some of the Virginia militia.  None of the joyous exuberance seen in Williamsburg following the Saratoga victory existed in Washington’s camp.  Washington could only say that the victory in the north would make a winter camp against Philadelphia possible if “our ragged and half naked Soldiers could be clothed” (Fitzpatrick X, 27).
 
While Washington was facing the prospect of a dismal winter, Nelson was officially thanked by the two houses of the Assembly for the services he had rendered during the British fleet scare.  He was thanked in such glowing phrases as, “actuated by noble principles and generous motives and exemplary diligence and alertness in performing the duty were such as became a virtuous citizen” and officer.  Nelson replied that he hoped he could continue to deserve “the good opinion” and discharge his duty in any office “they may think me worthy of” (Gazette 1).  Nelson would have many opportunities to do just that.  But, for the present, he could only worry about the progress of the war.
 
The want of men and supplies was a serious handicap for the revolutionaries throughout the war.  In late 1777 the Virginia House of Delegates was considering the passage of a bill that would alter how single men could be drafted into the regular Virginia army.  “Each county was given a quota of men necessary to fill Virginia’s line regiments.  All single men were eligible, and on a specified day they were to report to the courthouse where slips were to be prepared for all the able bodied.  If the quota of the county happened to be thirty, then thirty of the slips would be marked ‘Service’ and the remainder “Clear.’  All would be put into a hat and every man would draw a slip, those getting ‘Service’ slips being obliged for duty. The term of service would be one year.   Substitutes were still allowed, but on a one-to-one basis.  The person obtaining the recruit was exempt from the draft for the period of time, after the discharge, that the man had actually served” (Evans 73).
 
Simultaneously, Nelson pushed to have included in the bill a plan to raise 5,400 volunteers to serve six months under the command of brigadier generals appointed by the governor.  Nelson used in argument “Washington’s passing comment, after the defeat of Burgoyne, that he wished he had given more serious consideration to Nelson’s earlier offer to join him with militia.   … as late as December 19, Nelson thought the proposal was lost because many delegates feared ‘it would interfere with compleating the Regular battalions.  … by December 26 authorization to raise volunteers had been approved.    No more than fifty-four hundred volunteers could be raised, for six-months duty, they were to remain eligible for the draft until they actually marched to join the Continental army, and they would be exempt from the draft for six months after their discharge” (Evans 73-74).  The entire bill would become law on January 9, 1778.  To encourage enlistments, Nelson was appointed to be one of the two brigadier generals. 
 
Rather than serve in the next session of the Continental Congress -- which Washington urged that he do -- Nelson remained in Virginia.  “He had developed a near compulsion to lead troops in the field; and he felt certain that a sizable addition of troops would enable the Continental army to quickly defeat Howe, which would, in turn, bring an end to the war.  In his inexperience, he did not comprehend that it was wiser to add men to Washington’s regular forces, where they would serve under seasoned officers and with battle hardened troops, than to bring in a body of untrained soldiers who would be commanded by novices.  The general as much as told his friend this.    Fill up the regular regiments and provide the food to feed them, Washington was urging—then we can talk about separate forces of volunteers.    By the early spring of 1778 the volunteer plan had failed and Nelson was searching for an alternative” (Evans 76). 
 
On March 2, 1778, the Continental Congress passed a resolution that called for the wealthy men of the states to step forward in the service of their country and raise troops of light cavalry.  Each member of a cavalry group would be expected to provide his own provisions, as well as forage for his horse.  All other expenses would be paid by the person who raised the cavalry.
 
When news of the Congressional resolution reached Virginia, Nelson published an address calling for young men of fortune to meet with him in Fredericksburg, May 25, to organize themselves into a cavalry unit.  He also desired to have join with him men with less fortune, but with as much patriotism.  Nelson wrote that it was a “pity that they should be deprived of the opportunity of distinguishing themselves!”  To enable them to enter the service, “I propose that such should be furnished with a horse and accoutrements by subscription in their respective counties; and surely those who remain at home, enjoying all the blessings of domestic life, will not hesitate to contribute liberally for such a purpose” (Sanderson 57-58).  In May the Virginia Assembly gave state support to the plan.  It passed a bill authorizing the raising of a regiment of 350 horses to be commanded by Nelson.  Members of the regiment “would receive the same rations and pay as members of the Continental army.  Those who could not furnish their own horses and equipment would be supplied at public expense” (Evans 77).  Nelson received 4,000 pounds to expend for arms and an equal amount to purchase horses.  Many people believed that at best he would receive half of the 350 volunteers desired.
 
About 70 gentlemen appeared at Fredericksburg, including two of Thomas’s brothers, Hugh and Robert.  In a letter to Washington Nelson vented his frustration.
 
“So great is the aversion of the Virginians to engaging in the Army that they are not to [be] induc’d by any method.  I cannot say they are in apathy for view them in the mercantile way, and they are as alert as could be wish’ed, or rather more so, almost every Man being engag’d in accumulating Money.  Public Virtue & Patriotism is sold down to South Quay and there shipd off in Tobacco Hogsheads, nevermore, in my opinion, to return.  The number of resignations in the Virginia line is induced by officers, when they have returned, finding that every man, who remains at home is making a fortune, whilst they are spending what they have, in defense of their Country.  If a stop be not put to the destructive trade that is at present carried on here, there will not be a spark of Patriotic fire left in Virginia in a few Months” (Evens 77).
 
Washington was happy with the prospect of being reinforced.  The last campaign had greatly reduced his cavalry.  As to the disappointing turnout, he wrote this:
 
“I am sorry to find such a backwardness in Virginia in the Service of the army.  Perhaps it is fortunate for the cause, that our circumstances stand in less need of the great exertions of patriotism than heretofore, from the changes in foreign councils, and the open interposition of the French in our favor.  But I am convinced you have left nothing undone, of encouragement, for the increase of your corps, …” (Fitzpatrick XII, 203).
 
“Through June and July, with the temperature hovering around one hundred degrees, the general tried to whip his volunteers into shape at Port Royal” (Evans 77).  On the eve of the cavalry’s departure to join Washington, Thomas gathered his men about him and tried to assure them there was some hope for remuneration for expenses incurred in the country’s service.  Then he asked if anyone was in need of money; he would like to have that person consult him in his quarters.  A number of men did, and Nelson supplied them personally.
 
When Nelson and his cavalry arrived in Philadelphia during the first week of August, they learned that the cavalry was no longer needed.  Howe had retired from the city and had been on his way to New York.  Washington had intercepted him June 28 at Monmouth, New Jersey.  Although Washington had failed to win a decisive victory, the war in the north was finished.  The colonists did not know it, but they felt reasonably secure.  Nelson’s cavalry had arrived in Philadelphia too late to serve a useful purpose.  Nevertheless, the congressmen were appreciative of Nelson’s efforts.  On August 8 they passed a resolution publicly thanking him and his men for their service.  But they advised that the cavalry return to Virginia.  Nelson had lost a good sum of money in this venture.  Yet he made further advances of money to those who required it to enable their return to their homes.
 
Greatly disappointed, Nelson searched for some way to be of service to Washington.  He offered a favorite horse as a gift.  Washington refused, Nelson persisted, and the commander-in-chief relented.  With great feeling Washington thanked his generous friend.
 
“In what terms can I sufficiently thank you for your polite attention to me, and agreeable present?  And … with what propriety can I deprive you of a valuable and favourite horse?  … as a proof of my sincere attachment to, and friendship for you, I obey with this assurance, that from none but a Gentn. for whom I have the highest regard, would I do this, notwithstanding the distressed situation I have been in for want of one” (Fitzpartick XII, 341).
 
Washington was angry at the dismissal of Nelson’s cavalry.  He felt that since the expense of getting the cavalry to Philadelphia had already been incurred, he should have received it.  The assumption that Nelson’s men would save money by disbanding rather than staying on, he felt to be “very erroneous.” He felt keenly disappointed over the resolution, but hoped he would soon see Nelson in camp.
 
Thomas Nelson returned to Virginia a healthier man.  The physical exercise of raising and delivering his cavalry to Philadelphia seemed to have restored his health.  Consequently, he accepted an appointment as delegate to the Continental Congress and took his seat February 18, 1779.
 
Nelson’s appointment greatly pleased Washington.  His comments are worth quoting.
 
“I think there never was a time when cool and dispassionate reasoning; strict attention and application; great integrity, and … wisdom were more to be wished for than the present …  Unanimity in our Councils, disinterestedness in our pursuits, and steady perseverance in our nation duty, are the only means to avoid misfortune” (Fitzpatrick XIV, 246).  Washington believed Nelson embodied those qualities.
 
“Early in February, the weather turning unseasonably mild, he [Nelson] left home to assume his duties.  Peach trees were beginning to blossom and others to bud, while shrubs were in full bloom.  But the pleasure of an early spring contrasted starkly with the dismal prospect facing the country.  The depleted ranks of the army forced Washington to remain on the defensive.  Neither the necessary men nor supplies were forthcoming from the states.  Inflation continued and Congress, unable to find an alternative, persisted in printing paper money.  The French alliance of early 1778 had given the country hope that the war would end soon, but the events of the year that followed did nothing to encourage this hope.  The best of congresses would have been severely tested, and this one was no more than mediocre.  A general feeling prevailed that the members of Congress were more interested in Philadelphia’s social life than in the pressing business of the country.  Such was the situation into which Nelson stepped” (Evens 79-80).
 
 
Sources Cited:
 
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Charlottesville, Virginia, The University Press of Virginia, 1975.  Print.
 
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed.  Washington to Nelson, November 8, 1777.  The Writings of George Washington.  Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933, X.  Print.
 
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed.  Washington to Nelson, July 22, 1778.  The Writings of George Washington.  Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933, XII.  Print.
 
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed.  Washington to Nelson, August 20, 1778.  The Writings of George Washington.  Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933, XII.  Print.
 
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed.  Washington to Nelson, March 15, 1779.  The Writings of George Washington.  Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933, XII.  Print.
 
Sanderson, John.  Biography of the Signers to the Declaration of Independence,
Second Edition.  Philadelphia, William Brown and Charles Peters, 1828). V.  Print.
 
Virginia Gazette (Dixon and Hunter) October 31, 1777.  Microfiche
 
Virginia Gazette (Purdie) November 14 and 21, 1777.  Microfiche.
 


Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Boy to Man, Hunting
 
Every reader of historical fiction wants to believe that the detail a historical novelist includes in his narrative is true to what is known about the people and time about which he writes.  The novelist must do considerable research to warrant such belief.  My “Writing Alsoomse and Wanchese” posts have provided you different aspects of how and where coastal Carolina Algonquians lived in 1584 when they first encountered English explorers.  I will eventually write about my decision-making concerning characters, plot, and specific difficulties that I have encountered, but not yet.  I need to provide additional context.
 
A man’s role in Algonquian society was that of fisherman, hunter, and protector.  Women grew and harvested the crops, collected the nuts and berries, gathered the shellfish, and prepared all sources of food for every inhabitant’s consumption.  Men provided the necessary fish, fowl, and meat so vital for survival especially during the months when food that women provided was not available.  Because Man is innately war-like, village survival also required that Algonquian men be fearless warriors.  This post will discuss the training of boys to become hunters and warriors and how Algonquian men hunted.
 
A man’s success was measured by the wealth of the food he provided.  Being an excellent provider required skill, endurance, and courage.  How well a man was regarded in the village depended on his success as a hunter.  Great exploits as a warrior gained him high favor with his weroance (ruler) and often a seat at village council meetings.  It was therefore incumbent that boys’ parents trained their sons early to become skilled hunters.
 
Boys practiced boy and arrow skills at a young age.  Any boy lagging in the development of accuracy might have his mother deny him breakfast until he was able to hit moss tossed into the air with an arrow.  Games were played that involved shooting accuracy: for instance, shooting competitively arrows through rolling reed hoops.  Boys learned how to construct bows and arrows.  They learned intimate knowledge of local terrain and plant cover that attracted certain animals.  They accompanied their fathers and older relatives on hunting expeditions, learning by observation and by trial and error that which was expected.
 
Psychological pressure was put on them.  All children were given birth names.  As they matured, they could be given replacement names that reflected a noticeable aspect of their emergent character.  The names reminded everybody in the village of how much or how little they had progressed as good providers, future warriors, and men of worthy character.  Here is a sampling of Algonquian boys’ names.
 
            Algonquian Name                  English Translation
 
            Anakausuen                            worker
            Askook                                    snake
            Askuwheteau                          he keeps watch
            Kesegowaase                          swift
            Kitchi                                      brave
            Matunaagd                              fights
            Mekledoodum                        conceited
            Pannoowau                             he lies
            Segenam                                 lazy
 
Sometime between the ages of 10 and 15 every boy participated in an initiation into manhood.  The Virginia Powhatans called the initiation huskanaw.  The very few Englishmen that commented about Carolina Algonquians rituals in the 1580s made no mention of a coming of age ritual, but it was common among Algonquian tribes elsewhere so we can assume that something quite similar happened in the villages by Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds and the Pamlico and Chowan Rivers.
 
The ritual was a rigorous test of endurance.  It began with a morning-long dance and feast in which the entire village participated.  Two huge dance circles were formed about a large fire.   People, dressed in their very best, led by their weroance, danced four in a rank, seemingly endlessly, one circle moving clockwise, the other counter-clockwise.  Four principal men of the weroance stood in the middle of the two circles.  They would hit with a bundle of reeds anybody who lagged as he or she danced.  A group of men wearing horns and holding green boughs danced inside the two circles.  Without warning they would suddenly stop, make a hellish noise, throw aside their boughs, run up a small tree while clapping their hands, and tear the tree to the ground.  They would then resume their dancing.  Eventually, the boys who were to be initiated, their faces painted white, were presented.  They were brought into the circles.  People danced around them and sang.
 
In the afternoon the boys were led to a tree and told to sit next to it.  Men guarded them with reed bundles.  The guards then formed a lane of two lines away from the tree.  Boys who had recently been initiated led the boys, one by one, through the lane.  The guards, pretending to be furious (as if what was happening was an abduction), struck the initiated boys with their bundles.  The neophyte boys were taken to another tree and ordered to sit.  The ritual was repeated.  At least one of the two trees about which the young boys had sat was torn apart by the “enraged” guards.  Female spectators from a distance mourned loudly.  They had beside them items associated with a funeral: dry wood, mats, skins, and moss for preparing the dead.
 
Next came the boys’ “death” ceremony.  They were taken to a valley or ravine where the weroance was waiting.  A feast lasted 2 or 3 hours.  Men then formed another lane through which the boys had to pass.  The boys were ordered to lie lifelessly about a tree.   The men danced around them for awhile and then sat in a circle around them.  The weroance ordered dry wood to be brought to construct a makeshift steeple that was to be burned.  All of the day’s activities were attempts to frighten the boys and test their courage.
 
The final part of huskanaw began a day or so later.  The boys were taken into the woods for several months under the supervision of grown men, called “keepers.”  Shut in a cage – a tall lattice-constructed enclosure shaped like a cone -- the boys were given a concoction of ground up, poisonous, intoxicating roots.  The mixture made them crazy.  They drank the concoction for 18 to 20 days.  They were repeatedly beaten.  They were released finally from the cage and for several weeks brought gradually off the drug.  They were brought back to the village in a zombie-like state to show that they remembered nothing of their boyhood existence.  If a boy exhibited any recollection of his past – such as recognizing a parent – he was taken back into the woods to repeat the final ritual.  Usually the boy did not survive.
 
###
 
Hunting of deer was done by stalking and surrounding.  “Deer stalking was done by lone hunters and demanded tremendous skill; it earned a successful hunter considerable prestige.  Stalking was done with a dummy deer, made of a deerskin with the head stuffed and the body slit on one side to admit the hunter’s arm.  The hunter ‘wore’ the skin as he approached a browsing deer, creeping from one tree to another.  If the deer became wary and stared at him, the hunter moved the head in a natural, deerlike way …  [He] would make deerlike movements and allay the suspicions of the deer, which would then allow the hunter to come near enough to shoot” (Rountree 39).
 
Surrounding, or “fire-hunting” done by the Powhatans of Virginia “required more people and killed more deer.  There were two variants.  In one, a group of men would find a herd of deer and then spread themselves in a circle around it.    They built fires between their stands and began shouting.    Panicked, the game fled the fires, only to find that between the fires were shouting, shooting men.  Soon the deer would be running in a circle … while the men picked them off one by one” (Rountree 40).  John Smith estimated that 6 to 15 deer were killed in a single fire-hunt.  Deer could also be trapped on a peninsula surrounded on three sides by water.  Cutting off a herd’s only means of retreat, a group of hunters needed only to advance and shoot the deer either at the end of the peninsula or in the water from land or canoe.
 
Large-scale hunting trips were taken in the late fall to places not overhunted.  For the Powhatans, those places were located near the major Virginia rivers’ fall line.  Roanoke Algonquian group hunts probably took place in the swamp lands south and west of Dasemunkapeuc.  Up to 20 to 30 hunters participated.  “While the men hunted by day, women and children carried equipment, set up temporary households at previously arranged places (probably on the way to the site of the following day’s hunt), and processed the carcasses as the men brought them in.  Living conditions in the camps closely approximated those in the towns.  Housing was similar … and so was the cuisine, for the women brought their mortars and supplies of dried corn and acorns and (probably) pots into the wilderness with them” (Rountree 41).
 
The gear of a Powhatan and, most likely, Carolina Algonquian hunter consisted of a bow, arrows, a quiver, and a wrist guard.  Bows were made of witch hazel.  “English records say nothing of sinew backing or other strengthening devices.  As with other forms of Powhatan woodworking, the wood for a bow was worked by scrapping it with a shell.  Bowstrings were made from deer gut or from twisted thongs of deer hide.    John Smith wrote of arrows made of ‘straight young sprigs’ headed with a bone head two or three inches long, which were used against squirrels and birds.”  He observed that some arrows were in several parts: a reed shaft, a wooden foreshaft, and a head.  Arrowheads were variously made of ‘splinters’ of ‘christall’ or stone, wild turkey spurs, sharp bird bills, splinters of deer bone, ‘an oysters-shell,’ or ‘the ends of Deeres hornes.’”  Stone arrowheads are mentioned in detail only by William Strachey, Secretary of Jamestown in 1609.  He wrote that they were “‘in the forme of a heart’ barbed and jagged.  The majority of points … that have been found archaeologically are small and triangular.  Stone projectile points were ‘made … quickly’ with a small piece of antler that hung from the hunter’s wrist guard, and they were bound onto their shafts or foreshafts with deer sinew and then glued with a waterproof glue made of deer antlers boiled down into jelly.  The overall length of Powhatan arrows was about forty-five inches, and they were fletched with turkey feathers cut to shape with a sharpened reed knife.  The nock of the arrow was grated in, using a hafted beaver tooth” (Rountree 42).
 
Powhatan bows were strong enough to shoot arrows 40 yards with accuracy and 120 yards at most without accuracy.  Quivers “were tubular containers more than two feet long and made ‘of small rushes.’  Wrist guards … were made of the tanned hides of wolves, raccoons, or foxes” (Rountree 42, 44).
 
Here is John White’s painting of a Carolina Algonquian hunter.  http://www.firstcolonyfoundation.org/history/images/white_01.jpg
 
Work cited:
 
Rountree, Helen C. The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.  Norman, Oklahoma, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.  Print 


Monday, July 6, 2015

Blog Entry Recommendation
 
I enjoy reading M. K. Tod’s “A Writer of History” blog entries.  Here is a thoughtful entry about what historical fiction readers statistically prefer to read: fiction that features ordinary people, not the famous.  M. K. Tod is the author and blogger who conducted recently a comprehensive survey (which I provided access to and the results of – click “Survey” under “Labels” found in the right margin of my blog page) about historical fiction readers and their preferences.  I invite you to read her entry, “Historical Fiction without the Famous, Part Two,” by clicking http://awriterofhistory.com/2015/07/06/historical-fiction-without-the-famous-part-2/.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Book Review
"The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture"
by Helen C. Rountree
 
If your intention is to write a novel about the settlement of Jamestown, Helen C. Rountree’s The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture would be an essential resource.
 
If your intention is to write a novel about the Algonquian natives that lived at and near Roanoke Island (North Carolina) in 1583 and 1584, Rountree’s book would be an important resource.  Being that the cultural ways of the Powhatans and the coastal Algonquians of North Carolina are believed to be similar and being that historians are more knowledge about Powhatan culture than about the culture of the coastal Carolinians, reading about the Powhatan culture would be beneficial.
 
If you are a reader with a special interest in early colonial history and have read about Pocahontas and John Smith, you might appreciate this book’s factual content.  If you are none of the above, you should probably read something else.  This book does not entertain.  It is a slow read the primary purpose of which is to inform. 
 
The author divides her book into eight subject-matter chapters.  Here is a little bit of what you learn from each of the first seven chapters.
 
“Subsistence.”  Cutting utensils were sharpened reeds, spurs from wild turkeys, bills from sharp-billed birds, beaver teeth attached to sticks, the sharp edges of mussel shells, and quartz, quartzite, and flint west of the fall line of Virginia’s rivers acquired by trade and honed into cutting tools.
 
“Towns and Their Inhabitants.”  The right side of a man’s head was shaved to prevent his hair from interfering with his bow string while he hunted.  Women, using the edges of two shells -- like tweezers -- did the shaving.  The left side of a man’s head was grown long, up to 45 inches and was usually combed.  It was oiled into sleekness with hickory oil.  It was done up into a knot and stuck through with ornaments: deer antlers, a dried hand of an enemy warrior, wings of a bird, copper crescents, the skin of a stuffed hawk, long feathers, and shells that tinkled.  The hair at the top of the head was cut into a moderate-sized roach, which on special occasions might be augmented with deer hair dyed red.  Facial hair was rare, Native Americans having light beard growth.  What growth occurred was plucked.
 
“Manliness.”  Boys were continuously trained and socialized to fulfill the roles of provider and warrior.  They were trained by both parents to become hunters.  Mothers would refuse them breakfast until they passed archery tests.  Moss was thrown into the air for them to hit with arrows.  They were taken on hunting and fishing expeditions at an early age.  Their names were changed periodically to induce them to strive harder to fulfill tribal expectations.  The name given to a boy at birth would be changed to reflect how much or how little he had progressed.  The weroance (ruler) of a village would bestow on him a befitting name if he performed a great exploit.
 
“Sex Roles and Family Life.”  A man could not acquire a wife until he had proved himself to be a provider.  He sought to attain female interest by providing the subject of his interest gifts of food.  A feast followed her agreement.  He was required to provide bride-wealth – material possessions: mortar and pestle, mats, pots, bedding, beads -- to her parents.  The bride was brought to the groom’s dwelling.  Her father – or father substitute – brought the couple’s hands together.  The groom’s father broke a long string of shell beads over their heads.  They were now married.  A feast followed.
 
“Social Distinctions.”  Important visitors were accorded lavish hospitality.  Upon their arrival, townspeople prostrated themselves, faces to the ground, fingers clawing the earth.  The villagers then formed two parallel lines.  As the visitors passed between the lines, the villagers, gesturing joyously, sang loud tunes.  The visitors were seated on mats opposite the town weroance.  They were accorded high praise by village orators.  They partook in a great feast.  They were privileged to smoke with the village’s personages.  Townspeople danced to entertain and honor them.  The celebration ended with each visitor being escorted to a sleeping accommodation that included a young woman companion painted red and oiled.
 
“Law, Politics, and War.”  Weroances had life and death power over their subjects.  Capital crimes were stealing from one’s own people, murder of a fellow Powhatan, infanticide, and being an accessory to these crimes.  The perpetrator was brought to the weroance’s house.  A great fire was built.  The executioner cut off the long hair on the left side of the criminal’s head to signify that he had been deprived of his manhood.  The criminal’s bones were then broken by beating.  While he was still alive, he was thrown into the fire.  Or, instead, he might be clubbed to death and then thrown into the fire. 
 
“Medicine and Religion.”  Eliminating large accumulations of water in the body involved sweating.  Several methods were used to release the water.  One involved sitting in a sauna-like sweathouse.  An attendant heated three or four stones until they were red-hot.  The rocks were placed on the house’s hearth.  The inner bark of white oak, mashed in a mortar, was placed over the rocks.  People suffering from edema, swellings, aches, fever, and chills were brought into the house and seated.  The attendant exited, closing the door behind him.  Minutes later the attendant returned, threw water on the rocks to create steam, and sprinkled water on the people to forestall fainting.  The people stayed in the house for about 15 minutes, then dashed outside and plunged into the nearby stream.  Afterward, they anointed their bodies with a mixture of bear’s oil and pulverized angelica and puccoon (a medicinal root) to close their pores even more and to keep away flies and lice.
 
I am very appreciative of the author’s scholarship and contribution.                   


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- At War
 
Thomas Nelson must have left Philadelphia in the fall of 1776 harboring doubts about the future of his country’s newly proclaimed independence.  Surely the doubts must have increased as General William Howe pushed George Washington’s outmanned forces out of New York into New Jersey.  Would America’s independence for which its signers could quite probably lose their lives be so terribly short lived?  Nelson had cast his lot for independence quite early, regardless of consequences.  If those consequences were bad, worse than bad, he would be a man about it.  He would fight for his country’s future until it was no longer possible to fight.  His aid might not accomplish much, but he would do what he could.  Earlier in the year he had provided for a number of families in York that had been driven from their homes by Lord Dunmore’s troops.  Now, as Washington was retreating across New Jersey, Nelson would travel north, to help his former House of Burgesses friend some way.  Then it would be time for the Continental Congress, again, to meet, providing it had a place to meet.  Nelson was 39.  Many people that winter would not live to see their next birthday.
 
Washington was not about to relinquish his country’s future.  Having put the Delaware River between Howe and himself, the Virginian re-crossed it, struck detachments of Howe’s forces at Princeton and Trenton, and netted Americans two great morale-building victories.  Howe retired to New York and Washington established his winter quarters at Morristown, New Jersey, 30 miles from the big city.
 
Following the victory at Trenton, Nelson, in Baltimore, sent a letter to his friend Thomas Jefferson, in Virginia, that reflected clearly the renewed hope of the revolutionaries.  “Our affairs have had a black appearance for the two last months, but they say the Devil is not as black as he is painted.  We have at last turn’d the Tables upon those Scoundrels by surprise…”  But the country’s situation was very dangerous; Nelson knew it.  All the hate for the British comes forward as Nelson continues: “Could we but get a good Regular Army we should soon clear the continent of these damn’d Invaders.  They play the very Devil with the Girls and even old Women to satisfy their libidinous appetites.  There is Scarcely a Virgin to be found in the part of the Country that they have pass’d thro’ and yet the Jersies will not turn out.  Rapes, Rapine, and Murder are not sufficient provocations I despair of anything working them up to opposition” (Boyd 3).
 
With Howe in New York, the Continental Congress left Baltimore, where it had fled, to convene in Philadelphia.  Placed on several committees, Nelson worked in his customary energetic fashion.  On May 2, while seated in the hall of Congress, he was suddenly seized with a violent headache which forced him immediately to leave the room.  His ailment persisted.  Nelson wrote to his friends that his memory was so impaired that he had great difficulty recollecting things.  He was reluctant to leave his post, hoping that he would gradually recover.  Recovery did not occur; he resigned from the Congress May 22.
 
Nelson returned to York, and then to his simple plantation, Offley Hoo, “located far back in Hanover County, where, separated from the world’s problems, he could hope to recover his health in peace and quiet.  … his system that spring of 1777, sustained a shock from which it would never fully recover.  … But the possibility of an enforced absence from political life did not stop him from fretting about the critical situation of his country.”  To George Wythe, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, he urged “that a delegate be appointed speedily to fill his place in Congress, … ‘now engag’d in forming the [Articles of] Confederation, in which Virginia is deeply interested.’  In closing he made this apology: ‘Nothing but necessity could have induced me to leave Congress at this critical time, and I hope I shall stand excus’d’” (Evans 64). 
 
Neither the Virginia House of Delegates nor General Howe allowed him the opportunity to rest.  Before he had returned home., the freeholders of York County had elected him (and Joseph Prentis) to be their representatives in the House of Delegates.  In late May, Nelson journeyed to Williamsburg to begin his state legislative duties.  He sponsored a bill to provide tents or barracks for the housing of state soldiers instead of allowing the continuance of quartering them in private dwellings.  Nelson was elected to the newly created, influential Council of State.  On June 27, the last day of the Assembly, he declined the position and returned to Yorktown to spend what he hoped would be a quiet July. 
 
The British high command, meanwhile, had devised a plan, mostly of General John Burgoyne’s making, to bring a swift conclusion to the war.  Burgoyne would bring an army of approximately 10,000 men “south from Canada into New York. Making their way along Lake Champlain to the Hudson River, they would continue south, eventually reaching Albany (a mid-sized port city and convenient meeting point). Once in Albany, they would set up winter quarters and open communications lines with the City of New York, also in British hands” (Saratoga 1).  A second British army was to depart from Lake Ontario and invade New York via the Mohawk River.  It was to join Burgoyne’s army at the Hudson River.  General William Howe’s forces, situated in New York City, would push north up the Hudson River toward Albany.  “The American forces would, in theory, have no choice but to divide and address both invading armies at the same time. It was hoped the smaller American force facing Burgoyne would provide little resistance; the small American force further south would become stuck between then-British held Albany and British held New York City” (Saratoga 1).
 
“Howe realized a potential flaw in the plan. American General George Washington, whose forces had been chased out of New York City the year before, were somewhere in the north part of New Jersey. If Howe proceeded northward into New York, Washington could conceivably retake New York City. His solution was to attack Philadelphia and draw Washington's army into open battle” (Saratoga 1).  Rather than travel by land, he would attack Philadelphia from the south, transporting his soldiers up the Chesapeake Bay to land them in Maryland, leaving behind a residual number of soldiers in New York City under the command of General George Clinton. 
 
It was on the 16th day of August that the government in Williamsburg learned of a British fleet entering the capes.  The first real British invasion of Virginia soil seemed imminent.  The county militias, approximately four thousand in number, were quickly ordered to march to Williamsburg, York, Portsmouth, and other places that seemed likely to be attacked.  Virginia’s commander-in-chief in 1775, Patrick Henry, was now governor.  Responsible citizens favored Nelson as the new commander-in-chief.  The Council of State appointed him a brigadier general in full charge of Virginia’s forces.  Nelson accepted the appointment August 19, refusing to receive a salary.  The Virginia Gazette’s report of the appointment was very flattering.
 
“The appointment of a gentleman so universally beloved and esteemed for his zealous attachment to our sacred cause, cannot fail of giving the most unfeigned pleasure to every friend to his country, who reflects, that, except our noble general in the north, there is not a native of America to whose standard so great a number of warm friends and respectable persons would repair as to that truly noble and worthy gentleman’s” (Virginia Gazette 1).
 
Six days after the British fleet had been sighted in the Capes, Nelson sent a letter to George Washington in which he expressed his fear that his lack of military experience might hinder his efforts to defend Virginia.  Nelson explained how he had divided his troops among Portsmouth, York, Hampton, and Williamsburg.  Washington’s return letter offered Nelson thoughtful advice.
 
“The want of military experience you mention, is no obstacle to your serving your Country in the Capacity in which you have undertaken.  In our infant state of War, it cannot be expected, we should be perfect in the business of it; But I doubt not, that your zeal and assiduity will amply supply any deficiency, your diffidence of yourself leads you to suppose …  It is without doubt a disagreeable task to Command Militia, but we must make the best of circumstances, and use the means we have …  The reasons you assign for a garrison at Portsmouth are good; but I can by no means think it would be prudent to have any considerable Stationary force at Hampton and York.  These by being upon a narrow neck of land, would be in danger of being cut off.  The enemy might very easily throw up a few ships into York and James’s River … and land a body of men there, who by throwing up a few Redoubts, would intercept their retreat and oblige them to surrender at discretion” (Fitzpatrick 163-164).  Washington’s warning, ironically, foreshadowed British General Henry Cornwallis’s surrender to Washington on the York Peninsula in 1781. 
 
After it became evident that Howe’s intention was not to invade Virginia, Nelson fell out of favor with the House of Delegates’ Council of State.  For financial reasons, the Council wanted Nelson’s militiamen disbanded; Nelson, fearing a reappearance of the enemy, wanted a majority of the militia kept on duty.  By the thirtieth of September all were discharged.  Nelson, thanked for his “Activity, Diligence & good Conduct,” was discharged as well.  He pressed the Council to send Virginia forces, 5,000 men, to reinforce Washington.  Persuaded, the Council ordered the state quartermaster general to gather tents, camp utensils, horses, and wagons to accommodate such a force.  Washington received Nelson’s letter relating his desire to reinforce the Continental Army September 12, a day after the Battle of Brandywine Creek.
 
Washington had made a stand against Howe’s advance toward Philadelphia, had been outflanked, and had retreated northward.  Howe captured Philadelphia September 26.  On September 27, Washington responded to Nelson’s letter: “I am exceedingly obliged by your readiness to afford me any assistance in your power.  Were the Season not fast approaching when the Weather will be cold, I should perhaps request it.  But as that is the case, and the Militia cannot be provided with the necessary Clothing and covering, I must decline it” (Fitzpatrick 271-272).
 
By then, the execution of the British high command’s plan to split the colonies in half had reached its climax.  Burgoyne had advanced as far south as the upper Hudson River.  In early September, after a brief stay at a supply depot (Fort Edwards) on the river, his army had resumed its march southward.  Soldiers marched on the river road, while many of the supplies were floated on boats down the Hudson.”  On September 12, the Northern Department of the American Army, commanded by General Horatio Gates, had begun “to build formidable defenses on Bemis Heights. This ridge of bluffs, two miles north of the village of Stillwater, overlooked both the Hudson River and the river road.    Cannons there could hit the river and the road. Fortified lines on the flood plain controlled the road. The natural ‘bottleneck’ in the river valley would funnel the British right into American gunsights. Nor could the British go east around the position, for the rough terrain there and lack of good roads prevented much movement.”  On September 19, fighting had begun “on the farm of John Freeman, a loyalist who had gone north to Fort Edward to meet up with Burgoyne's army.”  On September 22, Burgoyne had gotten word from Clinton that he could send troops north from New York City. Expecting assistance, Burgoyne had thereupon ordered his troops to dig in and wait. 
 
While Thomas Nelson read and thought about George Washington’s letter declining Virginia reinforcements, Clinton's men, moving northward, were capturing several American forts.  Then, in mid-October, Howe, occupying Philadelphia, worried about what Washington might do to him from New Jersey, believing he needed reinforcements, ordered Clinton back to New York City.
 
“Burgoyne's army grew short on time, supplies, and manpower; their now 6800-man army had been on half-rations for the last two weeks, and winter wasn't far away.”  Burgoyne ordered a tentative attack on one position of the now 13,000 men American defenses.  It was beaten back.  Eventually, Burgoyne’s army attempted to retreat northward.  “They trudged through cold rain, mud, and hunger until reaching the village of Saratoga. Finding themselves boxed in by American militiamen north, west, and east of the village, they set up a fortified camp and waited. Two days later, the Americans had completely surrounded them” (Saratoga 1).  On October 17, 1777, after a week of negotiations, Burgoyne surrendered.
 
Works Cited:
 
Boyd. Julian P., ed. “Nelson to Jefferson, January 2, 1777.” The Papers of Thomas Jefferson. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1951. II. Print.
 
Evans, Emory G. Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian. Williamsburg, Virginia: The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, 1975. Print.
 
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed. “Washington to Nelson, September 2, 1777.” The Writings of George Washington. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933. IX. Print.
 
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed. “Washington to Nelson, September 27, 1777.” The Writings of George Washington. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933. IX. Print.
 
Saratoga: History and Culture.” National Park Service.  http://www.nps.gov/sara/learn/historyculture/index.htm. May 30, 2015. Net
 
Virginia Gazette, May 23, 1777.  Microfiche.   


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Algonquian Food
 
Carolina Algonquians in 1584 subsisted on a seasonally determined, environmentally controlled diet.  They hunted, gathered, and grew food.  On the Outer Banks and the shores of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds and the banks of the rivers emptying into them survival required good fortune, specialized knowledge, hard work, and a reckoning of the passage of time. 
Historians do not know how Wingina’s people marked time.  Likely they identified it like their Algonquian neighbors to the north, the Powhatans, who divided the year into five seasons.  According to John Smith, winter was called Popanow, spring Cattapeuk, summer Cohattayough, the earing of their corn Nepinough, and the harvest and the falling of leaves Taguitock.   Additionally, they marked shorter passages of time by a year’s succession of full moons.  Algonquian people across the Eastern and Northern parts of North American named twelve full moons and, periodically, a thirteenth moon.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac provides this identification.
Month             Moon Name in English          Why the Name
 
January           Wolf Moon                             Hungry wolf packs howled at night
February         Snow Moon                            Heaviest snowfalls in the middle of winter
March             Worm Moon                           Start of spring as earthworms are eaten by
                                                                             birds
April               Pink Moon                              An early spring flower called “moss pink”
                                                                             started to bloom
May                 Flower Moon                          Many types of flowers bloom
June                 Strawberry Moon                   Strawberries were ready to be picked
July                 Buck Moon                             New antlers of buck deer began to form
August            Sturgeon Moon                       Sturgeon, found in the Great Lakes, were
                                                                             easily caught at this time
September       Harvest Moon                         Farmers could continue to harvest under
                                                                             the light of the moon
October           Hunter’s Moon                       Hunters tracked and killed prey by
                                                                             moonlight
November       Beaver Moon                          Time to set beaver traps before the swamps
                                                                             froze
December       Cold Moon                              The cold of winter sets in
 
Tribal groups related their full moons to specific activities and environmental events.  Tribes that inhabited dissimilar areas of North America identified their moons differently.  For instance, the Passamaquoddy of the Great Lakes called January “whirling wind moon.”  The Abenaki of the Northeast called February “makes branches fall in pieces moon.”  The Shawnee of the Midwest called March “sap moon.”  The Cheyenne of the Great Plains called April the “moon when the geese lay eggs.”  The Cree called their May moon “frog moon.”  The Choctaw called June “blackberry moon.”  The Comanche called July “hot moon.”  The Passamaquoddy called August’s full moon “feather shedding moon.”  The Omaha called September “moon when the deer paw the earth.”  For the Abenaki, October was “leaf falling moon.”  For the Potawatomi, November was “moon of the turkey.”  The Winnebago called December’s moon “big bear’s moon.”  The Powhatans of Virginia had “the moon of stags,” “the corn moon,” and the first and second “moon of cohonks” – “cohonks” being the sound made by geese.  Nobody knows what Wingina’s people called their moons because no Englishmen that visited Carolina, not even the meticulous Thomas Harriot, recorded it.
 
What did Wingina’s subjects eat and when did they eat it?
 
“In the late winter and early spring, Wingina’s people lived primarily upon fish.”  According to Harriot, there was plenty of sturgeon as well as herring.  “Alewives and shad began their run in March, and might have remained available into June.  Wingina’s people used weirs to trap fish, but also speared them in the shallows or from their dugout canoes.”
 
“Different species of fish preferred waters of different salinity and depth, so doing this vital work required an intimate knowledge of the environment” (Oberg 22).  Herring could be smoked to last for a considerable length of time. 
 
Because fishing was so vital to their survival, coastal Algonquians were masters of the construction of dugout canoes.  “A group of thirty of these canoes was recently discovered in the mud of Lake Phelps (in what is now Pettigrew State Park, north of Lake Mattamuskeet) where they had been stored over the winters between 2400 BC and AD 1400”  (Sloan 108). 
 
According to Thomas Harriot, the construction of a dugout canoe began with “the slow patient process of burning through the trunk so as not to damage the main body of the tree.  When the tree had fallen, every branch (and, of course, the top) was carefully removed by fire.  The tree trunk was then lifted and placed on a stand, made from branches laid between two sets of crossed and tied poles like a saw-horse.  The bark was scraped off and the hollowing process begun.”  In John White’s painting “sharp shells, conch and scallop we suspect, are shown being used as scrappers, first to remove the bark and then, after fires have been lit in the trunk, to hollow out the interior by scratching at the charred wood, until the whole interior of the tree has been excavated.  The wood of the white cedar and the tulip tree was especially suited for this purpose as the inner layers are not necessarily as hard as the outer.  The art and craft of making these canoes … was a task for the winter, when leaves were off and the sap was down” (Quinn 194). 
 
“The finished dugout was a long, round-bottomed, thick-walled craft … The biggest canoes were about four feet deep and up to fifty feet long, with a carrying capacity of some forty men.  However, most canoes were smaller, with room for between ten and thirty people with baggage.”
 
Some evidence exists that Algonquians used fire in their canoes to attract fish at night.  “… the fire was made [on a raised hearth] at the bow of the canoe, and the canoe was paddled through the shoal water near the shore.  The fish which gathered about the canoe were speared” (Rountree 34).
 
The use of weirs was essential.  The purpose of a fish weir is to obstruct the direction that fish swim in shallow, tide-influenced waters and direct them into an enclosure that makes it difficult for them to escape.  Thomas Harriot described the Carolina fish weir as “a kind of weir [a fence-like structure] made of reeds which in that country are very strong [cane stakes].”  John White [in one of his paintings] “shows [a weir] in detail, with the traps inserted in the long line of staked obstructions” (Quinn 171).
 
 
“Algonquians also hunted small game during this portion of the year – turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits – and they could harvest crabs and shellfish, the latter in abundance” (Oberg 22).
 
In May and June the Algonquian natives began planting their fields.  “They lived on acorns, walnuts, and fish during these months, along with whatever corn reserves they still had on hand” (Oberg 22).  They supplemented their food supply with fish, crabs, oysters, turtles, berries, and meat that they could obtain hunting.  It was the leanest time of year.  Men and women broke the upper part of the ground to uproot weeds, grasses, and the stubble of cornstalks.  After the fields were cleared, the women set about planting corn seeds, beginning in one corner of the plot, poking holes in the ground and inserting four corn seeds in each hole.  Corn and beans would be planted up to three times “through mid-June, so that in a good crop year there was ripe corn to eat from August … through October” (Rountree 47).  The women would leave about a yard of space between each hole for the planting of beans (their vines would climb corn stalks), squash, and sunflowers.
 
During the remainder of the summer Wingina’s people “continued to live on fish, shellfish, and small game, as well as the walnuts, acorns, and berries that had been dried and preserved over the course of the year” (Oberg 23).  Deer, rabbits, black bear, and waterfowl were hunted.  As the crops grew, boys served as live scarecrows.  Seated on small, covered scaffolds in the fields, they would shout and wave away hungry predators.
 
 
Late summer and early fall was a time of abundance. 
 
 
“Each cornstalk bore two ears, on the average, with between two hundred and five hundred kernels per ear.  The squash ripened from July until September.     When the crops were ready to be harvested, they were gathered into hand baskets and eventually stored in huge baskets in the houses or in storage pits … for later use in cooking” (Rountree 47, 49).
 
“Food gathered in any season could be prepared in a variety of ways.  Food taken on long-distance trips consisted of dried meat, which was eaten” with acorn oil and Indian corn parched and beaten to flour.  “Men who journeyed away from home usually expected to live mainly off the game they could shoot …  Nuts, berries, oysters, and the juice from green cornstalks were often consumed raw.  The cornstalk juice, which was sucked out, was as sweet as cane juice.  All other foods were cooked.”
 
 
“Oysters, clams, and mussels were roasted; fish were roasted, ungutted and unscaled, either … over a fire or else on a spit.” 
 
 
“Drying these foods was accomplished simply by placing them farther from the fire.  Fish and shellfish alike were smoked as they were dried …  The Powhatans dried oysters and mussels by hanging them upon” sinew strings in the smoke.  “Shellfish were also boiled in a bisque that was thickened with cornmeal, while fish were frequently boiled in a stew, the broth of which, like the broth of meat stews, was drunk with relish.    Venison could be either dried in smoke or boiled for immediate consumption” (Rountree 50, 51).
 
The historian David Beers Quinn describes how the cooking pot was constructed and utilized.  “The shell tempered clay was coiled from the bottom upward and was shaped as it was built by fabric (string wound around dowels) tools, which left impressions on the pot.  At the bottom tip a cap or point of clay was placed to complete its conical shape.  The art was in maintaining an evenly balanced structure and then baking the pot upside down on a slow fire.    For cooking purposes the pot was placed on a heap of earth, point (or knob) downward, to keep it from falling over, and then sticks of wood were placed carefully around it so that the heat reached the pot evenly” (Quinn 195).  The pot was filled with water, the food items inserted, and the contents brought to a boil. 
 
Sexual division of labor was clear-cut.  “In general, men’s responsibilities took them away from the village.  Women’s work focused on the village and its surrounding agricultural fields” (Oberg 23).  Women made mats, baskets, pots, and mortars, made clothing, pounded corn, made bread, prepared meals, gathered shellfish, and planted and harvested crops.  Box sexes worked hard.  “Skeletal remains from Late Woodland sites in the Virginia Tidewater indicate that arthritis began to afflict Indians in their thirties, and that their bodies by this age were beginning to wear out.  Life expectancy hovered at around thirty-five years.  Few women, it seems, lived long enough to experience menopause, and between a fifth and a third of all children died before age five. 
 
Men hunted and fought.  Their role as hunters and warriors shaped their identity as men and their relationships with other beings in the Algonquian cosmos.  Men killed in order to preserve, protect, and sustain life.  While men killed, women created life.  They planted, raised, and tended the crops.  They gave birth, creating life anew.  They raised the children.”  The Algonquian world was a “world of balance where every being was supposed to have its place” (Oberg 23-24).  How food was obtained was part of that balance.
 
Works Cited:
 
Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  University of Pennsylvania 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.
 
Rountree, Helen C.  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.  University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.  Print.
 
Sloan, Kim. A New World: England’s First View of America. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2007.  Print.