Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Invasion, Insolvency
“On February 18, 1779, Nelson presented his credentials to the [Continental] Congress and immediately entered into the business of government.  He was terribly concerned with the critical situation of the country.  Never, ‘since the commencement of the war,’ he wrote, had America ‘been in so much danger’” (Evans 80).  The British had turned their attention from the north and now looked to the south as a means of bringing an end to the war.  They had captured Savannah in December of 1778, and soon they would be marching though the Carolinas.  Equally frightening was the depreciation in value of the Congress’s and the state’s paper currency and both governmental bodies’ inability to raise money to finance their efforts to wage war.  Nelson “was regular in his attendance, served on a variety of committees, and took part in the two serious debates during his stay in Philadelphia” (Evans 80): what should America’s demands be in a peace settlement with Great Britain and how to settle an emerging conflict between the Southern and New England states regarding free navigation of the Mississippi River and fishing off the banks of Nova Scotia.
To the end of his life close confinement and severe mental exertions preceded Nelson’s illnesses.  A relapse in early April provided him the opportunity to leave Congress, which seemed incapable of accomplishing anything, to serve more meaningfully his state.  “He later told Washington that he left Congress ‘with reluctance,’ but it is reasonably clear that he had always intended to resign and run for a seat in the House of Delegates.”  It is puzzling that as with previous sicknesses in Philadelphia, “Nelson returned home to take on tasks as strenuous as those he left behind” (Evans 81).
Not long after Nelson had returned from Philadelphia, sails were sighted in the capes, as they had two years earlier.  This time the enemy did not sail up the Chesapeake.  Commanded by Major General Edward Mathew, the British landed 2,000 men at Portsmouth, captured Norfolk, and then marched 18 miles to Suffolk.  At Suffolk they burned all buildings except a church; in Portsmouth they seized 3,000 hogshead of tobacco.  Altogether, their operation destroyed 100 small vessels.  Over 2,000 militiamen were called up to respond to the invasion. 
Whether or not Nelson -- elected to the Assembly in May -- commanded the militiamen is open to debate. Many members of the General Assembly had wanted General Charles Scott -- one of Washington’s brigade commanders and a Virginian who, fortuitously, was in the state -- to take command.  Some of the members had “felt that to appoint Scott would be treating Nelson unjustly.”  Hearing of the Assembly’s preference, Nelson “announced that he would be honored to serve under General Scott for the duration of the invasion.  … The record does not show whether Scott was actually named” (Evans 82).  In any event, Nelson did collect what militia forces he could, stationing most of them at Yorktown, where he expected that the main attack would occur.  Striking instead south of the James River, Mathew’s soldiers had met little opposition.  Having accomplished what they had intended, on May 26 they left the Portsmouth area on British ships to return to New York. 
Although Nelson had been able to do little about the raid, he made sure that the families of the poorer men in York County that had been called into the militia would not suffer from their absence.  Nelson sent all of his York plantation laborers and some of his domestic servants to assist them until their men returned.
Mathew’s raid made clear that Virginia’s vast coastline with its many rivers emptying into Chesapeake Bay and the sparse population that inhabited the area made invasion by the British an easy endeavor.  Worse, Virginian had little resource to defend itself.  It possessed a flotilla of four little vessels with a total of five dozen guns, and three armed boats.  “Nowhere was there fortifications strong enough to resist a stout British frigate” (Padover 48).  And what military forces there were consisted mostly of poorly armed, untrained, and undisciplined militia.
In June Patrick Henry’s third term as governor expired.  The new state constitution prohibited the governor from serving more than three consecutive yearly terms.  A new person had to be elected to replace him.  Succeeding Henry may have been one of the reasons why Nelson had wanted to quit Congress.  His two opponents for the office were Thomas Jefferson and John Page.  Nelson and Jefferson had been friends since the 1760’s.  To each, John Page was a closer friend.  Page had been an intimae friend of Jefferson’s at William and Mary.  Nelson had come to know him when Page had settled in York.
On the first ballot Jefferson received 55 votes, Page 38, and Nelson 32.  Jefferson had received a plurality, but not a majority.  Nelson withdrew from the race and Jefferson received a sufficient number of votes to win - 67 votes to Page’s 61.  Jefferson’s political support had come chiefly from the back counties where he was regarded as “being with Henry rather than against him” (Malone 303).  Nelson and Page had been favored by the Tidewater voters.  Page had served as lieutenant governor under Henry.
“Certainly he [Nelson] was disappointed and he may have been miffed by the fact that Page, who had taken a far smaller part in the Revolution, had killed his chances of election.  Nelson was ambitious and he wanted to serve the American cause to the fullest extent possible.”  Rather than to devote all of his attention either to the military or to politics, he had chosen to do both and, thereby, had not been entirely successful with each.  “Military service agreed with him and he told Washington that he had ‘often lamented … not taking the field with you at the commencement of this War.’  But now it was too late, … ‘for to enter in a subordinate rank would not suit my own feelings,’ and to take a rank higher than those ‘who had borne the brunt of the war’ would indicate ‘a want of generosity’ on his part.  On June 4, perhaps to rest and restore his wounded feelings, he got permission to be absent from the House of Delegates for seven days” (Evans 82, 83). 
In June the General Assembly spent a considerable length of time debating whether to move the capital to Richmond.  The Tidewater members violently opposed it; the “up country” members, in the majority, pushed it.  Of more importance were the army’s need for men and supplies and the necessity of controlling inflation.  The legislature eventually amended previous legislation to allow the sale of British estates, the proceeds of which would go to the state.  In July the legislature adjourned.  The freeholders of York County met to discuss ways and means of helping the government restore the value of paper currency.  “Nelson served on a committee of fourteen that recommended a ceiling on prices.  The suggestion, though sensible, seems to have gained no support.  To be effective, it would have had to be not only statewide, but nationwide, almost an impossibility considering the weakness of the Continental Congress” (Evans 83).
In September the Continental Congress stopped issuing paper money.  This placed the main burden of supporting the war on the states.  The state assembly during its fall session tackled its insolvency problem, with little success.  Seeing no alternative to agreeing to a “humiliating, inglorious and disadvantageous peace,” the assembly “authorized the state to borrow 5 million pounds from its citizens and, to provide for the interest and principal on the loan, they fixed a tax of ‘thirty pounds of inspected tobacco’ per year for the next eleven years on every tithable person, except free white tithables between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one” (Evans 84).  The legislation that had authorized the sale of British estates was amended to correct the problems of estate purchases being tied up in the courts and the estates of Virginia citizens absent from the country being seized and auctioned.  The estates of absent citizens were protected, litigation proceedings were streamlined, and buyers of estates were given “ironclad guarantees respecting the validity of their purchases.    Returns from the sale of British estates and the payment of British debts were meager and the money that did come in was rendered almost worthless by the continued depreciation of Virginia currency” (Evans 84-85).
Saddled now with a 26 million pound debt, in February 1780 the state floated a loan of 5 million pounds.  “But very little money trickled in because people who had funds could get as high as 20 percent interest on private loans, whereas the state paid only 6 percent.    Jefferson and the Council … appealed to Virginia’s citizens to support the loan drive.  The government also requested certain individuals, who were concerned with the plight of the state, to solicit loans” (Evans 85).  Nelson did so.  He encountered great resistance.  People doubted the government’s ability to repay the loans.  Consequently, Nelson, and others, pledged to pay back what the government could not.  Nelson managed to raise 10,974 pounds out of the total of about 60,000 pounds raised for the state.
Prices rose.  People with money bought “back lands on the river Ohio” and complained about heavy taxation, and candidates for state office who promised tax relief – “men of mean abilities and no rank” – were predominately elected.  The newly-elected assembly met in 1780 in Richmond, the new capitol.  The Continental Congress had asked the states to continue to raise 15 million dollars monthly for its use.  On May 30 the Congress requested an appropriation of $1,953,200 by June 15.  “A large French expeditionary and naval force was expected soon to act in conjunction with the American army, and congress did not have the funds to support any offensive action” (Evans 86).  The Assembly on June 1 resolved that money be borrowed from private individuals and be supplemented by the sale of 600,000 pounds of state tobacco.  Those who loaned cash were to be repaid in December or have the amount discounted from their taxes at the rate of 6 percent.  Nelson was one of seven men authorized to receive the loans.
He canvassed vigorously his own locality and, afterward, solicited south of the James River. “As was the case in February, Nelson found that many people were unwilling to lend money on the shaky security of the state.  Again Nelson pledged his own security for the payment of these loans in case the state was unable to fulfill its obligations” (Evans 87).  He raised 41,601 pounds.  Altogether, Virginia raised $1,430,239, some $500,000 short of its goal.
“Nelson’s contribution, over the past three years, toward American independence had been exceptional.    Thomas Nelson had ‘exerted every nerve,’ and rarely had he allowed his own personal interests to interfere with those of the country.  His fortune, time, energy, and considerable political influence had all been enlisted in the cause.  Much had been asked of him and he had given freely.  Yet the end was not in sight” (Evans 87).
 Sources Cited:
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia, 1975.  Print.
Malone, Dumas.  Jefferson the Virginian.  Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1948.  Print
Padover, Saul K.  Jefferson.  New York, A Mentor Book, 1953.  Print.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Religion
Fervid belief in spiritual powers controlled the lives of coastal Carolina Algonquians.  Two gods were especially important.
Algonquians believed in the existence of a distant, benevolent creator.  The Powhatans of Virginia called him Ahone.  William Strachey, Secretary of the Virginia Council at Jamestown from 1610-1611, wrote that Ahone was believed to be a “‘good and peaceable god’ who required ‘no such dutyes, nor needs to be sacrificed unto, for he entendeth all good unto them, and will doe no harme’” (Oberg 24).  Ahone made the sun rise.  He had created the moon and the stars to be his companions.  Having provided what was good in the universe, he did not interfere with the activities of humans.  He was not, consequently, feared.
The second primary god was a frequently malevolent force that the Carolina Algonquians called Kiwasa.  He was the cause of sickness, disappointments, losses, hunger, every misfortune that humans suffered.  It was incumbent that Kiwasa be placated, appeased, bribed.  “Wingina’s people engaged in ritual to appease Kiwasa and deflect his wrath …  These rituals, Strachey observed later, the Indians considered so essential ‘that if they should omit them they suppose their Okeus [Kiwasa] and all their … other gods [of lower station] would let them have no deare, Turkies, Corne, nor Fish’” (Oberg 25).  Kiwasa was present in the air, in the thunder, in storms.  Anyone who displeased him was punished, even for minor offenses.  He caused -- among other misfortune -- illness, the loss of crops through storms, and the infidelity of wives.  He could reward hunters by showing where game was present.  He could punish them by letting them be scratched by briars.  People made offerings to him when they were faced with difficulties and they rendered thanks to him when their problems were eliminated.
“Specifically qualified specialists -- overseers of the religious life of the village -- ensured that the people properly performed the necessary rituals.”  English observers indentified them as priests and “conjurors.”  “Both had acquired special bonds with the immense variety of natural and supernatural forces in the Algonquian cosmos” (Oberg 25).  Thomas Harriot, who reported so much of what we know about the Carolina Algonquians, described them as men “‘well stricken in years’ … Their dress and appearance distinguished them from the rest of the community.” 
“Priests wore ‘their heare cutt like a crest, on the topps of their heads as other doe, but the rest are cut shorte, saving those which growe above their foreheads in manner of a periwigge.’  Priests hung objects from piercings in their ears, and wore ‘a shorte cloke made of fine hares skinnes quilted with the hayre outwarde.’  They wore nothing else” (Oberg 25).  See artist John White’s depiction: http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry_html/white41.html.  They spent most of their time alone contemplating in temples dedicated to Kiwasa.  A human image of Kiwasa was prominently displayed.  They maintained a fire in the temple near to its east end, where the sun rose.  They had great power and status.  They communicated with Kiwasa and, therefore, were believed capable of predicting favorable and forestalling adverse outcomes.  Powhatan weroances actually competed to bring the best of priests to their villages.
“When priests left their temples, “they remained apart from commoners.  They wandered along the rivers, ‘to kill with their bowes, and catch wilde ducks, swannes, and other flowles,’ creatures who could move between the realms of earth, air and water” (Oberg 25).
Conjurors dressed differently; they wore nothing except a “‘skinne which hangeth downe from their girdle and covereth their privities,’ and they affixed ‘a small black birde above one of their ears as a badge of their office.’”  http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry/white_48_big.GIF.  “They had been called to their position and given special powers by forces in the spiritual world.    They could predict the actions of enemies and disorient their opponents.  They could find lost objects and foretell the future.  They could cure disease and detect its cause.  With proper rituals, they could control the weather” (Oberg 25-26).
John Smith “wrote that during violent storms the ‘conjurors’ ran down to the shore, if they were not already in canoes, and after making ‘many hellish outcryes’ threw tobacco, puccoon, or copper trinkets into the water to appease the god causing the storm.”  On one occasion in 1611 Englishmen, exploring new territory, met resistance from the Algonquian Nansemond tribe.  “The Nansemonds saw their arrows merely ricocheting off the Englishmen’s armor, and knowing that English guns used fire or sparks, they called on their priest [or conjuror] to make rain that would neutralize those weapons.  Accompanied by a ‘mad crew’ of dancing warriors, the priest ran along the shoreline with his rattle, throwing fire into the air out of a censer [a vessel made for burning incense] and making ‘many dyabolicall gestures’ and incantations.  An Indian accompanying the English expedition recognized the ritual and announced that there would soon be rain.  And so there was, ‘exceeding thunder and lighteninge and much raine,’ but it fell five miles away” (Rountree 132-133).
Some conjurors, while communicating with their spiritual helpers, became possessed.  The conjuror in John White’s painting wore an animal skin pouch at his right hip that probably contained tobacco, and, perhaps, curable herbs.  Native tobacco had a high nicotine content.  Ingestion triggered “an ecstatic visionary-trance state.”  Hariott wrote “that they believed it was beloved of their gods and cast the precious powder on the water and in the air as a sacrifice to them: ‘but all done with strange gestures, stamping, sometimes dancing, clapping of hands, holding vp of hands, & staring vp into the heavens, vttering therewithal and chattering strange words & noises’” (Sloan 128).
Priests and conjurors were believed to have curative powers.  They possessed an extensive knowledge of vegetative and herbal remedies.  For instance, Liquidamber Styraciflua (sweet gum) was used by the Rappahannock for dysentery; the Cherokee for diarrhea, sores, and ulcers; the Carolina Indians for herpes; and the Lumbee for loose teeth.  Symplocarpus Foetidus (swamp cabbage) was used by the Delaware as a local anesthesia, the Mohegan for epilepsy, and the Dakota as an expectorant for consumption.  Typha (cattails) was used by the Pawnee for scalds and burns, the Delaware for kidney stones, the Ojibwa for boils and carbuncles, and the Algonquians for wounds.  In “Alsoome and Wanchese”-- my work in progress -- a conjuror applies a salve made from the rhizomes of cattail to a wound caused by the passage through the thigh of the arrowhead and part of the shaft of an arrow.
Ritual was considered essential to preserve order and balance in the cosmos.  Rituals were performed “to acquire the spiritual power necessary to prosper.  Rituals surrounded the conduct of warfare.  Priests and conjurors provided the weroance with advice on tactics and strategy.  They carried, according to Harriot, a statue of Kiwasa into battle, asking it for support and strength.  If the Indians treated Kiwasa with respect, and followed the accustomed rituals, they did not believe that misfortune could find them.    Wingina’s people celebrated as well elaborate, demanding, and time-consuming rituals of death and the afterlife” (Oberg 26-27).  Death was believed to be an important part of life.  
Algonquians believed in punishment and reward after life.  Harriot “learned of two occasions where Algonquian individuals had traveled beyond the earth, one to a region called Popogusso, an Algonquian hell, and the other to a celestial paradise.  Both spiritual voyagers returned from their journeys with vital information to teach their ‘friends what they should doe’” (Oberg 29).  The first man had been “dead and buried, after a wicked life [but had returned] to earth after being saved by one of the gods from ‘hell.’”  The second man, “rising from the dead,” had given “an account of a pleasant and homely ‘heaven’ where he met his father, but was given leave to return to earth to extol the pleasures of the other world” (Quinn 225).
“The bodies of weroances and, perhaps, other high-ranking individuals received elaborate treatment after death.  Working on scaffolds erected in the temples, priests disemboweled the body and removed the internal organs.  Then, according to Harriot, they removed the skin in its entirety, and ‘cutt all the fleshe clean from the bones, wich they drye in the sonne, and well dryed they inclose in Matts, and place at their feet.’  They covered the bones, ‘remayninge still fastened together with the ligament whole and uncorrupted’ with leather, and worked to shape it ‘as yf their flesh wear not taken away.’  Finally, they wrapped each corpse in its skin, and laid the body next to ‘the corpses of the other cheef lordes,’ which also were preserved in the temple.  Kiwasa stood guard, keeping ‘the dead bodyes of their cheefe lordes that nothinge may hurt them.’”  Mumbling prayers day and night, priests “watched over the community’s deceased leaders” (Oberg 27).   http://blog.encyclopediavirginia.org/files/2012/11/white_temple.jpg
Non-elite Algonquians received ordinary burials “with the deceased wrapped in skins and mats and buried in the ground.”  At an archaeological site on Roanoke Island some “were laid in their graves on the left side, in a semi-flexed position.  Others were buried after receiving much more extensive mortuary treatment—the removal of the skin and the soft parts of the body.”  This site may have been an ossuary burial, “a ‘collective, secondary deposit of skeletal material representing individuals initially stored elsewhere,’ which contains ‘the remains of all or most of the members of the group who had died since the last collective burial’” (Oberg 27-28).
“Ossuaries are common along the Carolina Sounds.  They hold the remains of men and women, young and old.  They include fully articulated remains and entirely disarticulated bundles, as well as a scattering of bones.    We know from descriptions of the ceremonies accompanying ossuary reburial in other locations that it required the participation of the community.    The ceremony took time, the expenditure of resources in the form of gifts, and a commitment to care for and tenderly clean the decayed remains of dead ancestors.  [The first scene of the first chapter of “Alsoomse and Wanchese” has the seventeen-year-old lead female character Alsoomse cleaning the bones of her deceased mother]  Death, and the resulting grief, could disrupt a community, leaving those who mourned bereft of reason.  The reburial of all who had died since the last ceremony served to unify the community and tie it to the land it lived upon.    All belonged, and all were worthy of being remembered and reintegrated after death into the village community.  Ossuary burial … helped set things right, and preserved balance between the world of the seen and the unseen, the natural and the supernatural, and the living and the dead” (Oberg 28).
Works cited:
Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.  Print.
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke.  Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.  Print.
Rountree, Helen C.  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.  Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.  Print.
Sloan, Kim.  A New World: England’s First View of America.  Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.  Print.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Into the Savage Country"
Shannon Burke

I enjoyed Shannon Burke’s “Into the Savage Country” for many reasons. I appreciated the complexity of its important characters, I acquired a better sense of the fur-trapping business and its operations in the drainages of the Rocky Mountains during the late 1820s, I applaud the author for visual authenticity of terrain and frontier settlements, I enjoyed his succinctness of dialogue and the uncluttered flow of first person narrative, and I compliment his creative selection of resolution-demanding crisis situations.  The novel entertained me.  I have only one criticism.
The novel is an adventure story and, secondarily, a love story.  It begins in St. Louis in June 1826.   A young man from a farming family in Pennsylvania, rejecting his father’s expectation that he devote his life to farming and his criticism that he is “fainthearted and vacillating,” driven by the desire to seek adventure, test himself, and obtain fortune to prove his father’s criticisms to be false, William Wyeth joins a fur-trapping company preparing to leave St. Louis.  Before leaving he meets Alene Chevalier, an attractive French woman of one-quarter Indian ancestry.  His attempt to initiate a romantic relationship is rebuffed.  The brigade to which he is assigned consists mostly of veteran trappers.  He earns quickly their acceptance.  He is wounded in a large buffalo hunt and is cared for by his companions.  They move him to a frontier settlement to recover.  Here he meets, again, Alene.  Eventually, they become engaged.  As spring approaches, rather than return to St. Louis with Alene to be married, William decides to spend the ensuing spring, summer, and fall months in the wild trapping for a newly-formed fur company.  His quest for adventure and need to validate himself compel him to exact an agreement from Alene.  She will wait for him until the beginning of winter.  Should he not return by then, she will depart for St. Louis to live her life without him.  Much happens during the interim: battles, victories, reversals, competitions, heroics, treachery.
Strong character portrayal is a major dynamic to the success of the novel. 
William Wyeth is a perceptive person who abhors selfishness and treachery yet is able to find some measure of good in the most flawed individual.  Because of this attribute he is able to grow beyond preconceived opinions to forge, ultimately, beneficial relationships.  He perceives the 19-year-old greenhorn Ferris to be a conceited, know-it-all attempting to win favor with the members of the brigade by correcting inaccuracies they make or by imparting information of which he believes they should be cognizant. 
William describes Ferris at first this way: “that he secretly set himself above us.  Ferris’s father, we’d all heard, was a physician and a man of wealth, and Ferris had paid a lump sum to the taken on, as they’d not thought he’d make it halfway up the Missouri.  The knowledge of this pampered upbringing along with his self-satisfied manner damned him in my mind.”
Eventually, William discovers that Ferris is an extremely perceptive person, curious about many things, courageous, unwilling to enable injustice, kind, and thoroughly reliable.  Ferris becomes William’s closest friend.  He is one of three characters vital to the plot.
A character that initially William despises but eventually tolerates and finally appreciates is the mercurial Henry Layton, a St. Louis dandy whose father owns half the warehouses along the waterfront of the city.  William describes him as “an infamous bachelor: a twenty-four-year-old dandy considered to be the most intelligent, unpleasant, and mischievous young man in St. Louis.”  Encountering Layton at Alene’s residence, wearing new leggings and deerskin to impress her prior to his departure, William is mocked by Layton, who is wearing a black tailcoat and white cravat.  “What brings you here in that costume, Wyeth?  Are you off to hunt squirrels and water rats?”  Layton eventually funds a new fur-trapping company, appoints himself its captain, entices William, the companions of his first season of trapping, and Jedediah Smith to sign on by promising huge personal profits for their labor. 
Alene warns William that accepting Layton’s offer is a major mistake.  “… you only see the charismatic side now.  The part when he persuades.  When he wheedles.  When he promises.  When he uses all his charm and cunning and good nature and energy and cleverness to arrange things so men follow him …  But when it is necessary for him to fulfill his promises he will feel the necessity as a form of bondage and he will wilt and turn sour and ugly.  Then you will see the weak, contemptuous part of his soul.    He has chosen you because he saw I was partial to you.  Now he means to ruin you.”
Layton proves in fact to be imperious, mercilessly fault-finding, and selectively cruel.  His men quickly hate him.  William gradually learns that Layton knows that he is psychologically damaged and desires to overcome his “demons.”  He proves he is worthy of respect when he engages in crisis situations but he is at his worst when he is inactive and bored.  He has the capacity of achieving unparalleled success but equally capable immediately thereafter of snatching from it utter defeat.  Layton drives the direction of the plot.
My sole disappointment with this novel is that near its end several very improbable outcomes of important events occur.  For instance, Ferris, the best shot of the brigade, must hit an arrow staked in the ground from an impossible distance to prove to Indians the effectiveness of his Pennsylvania long rifle.  He himself states that it is an impossible shot.  Lives depend on his accuracy.  His shot cuts the arrow in half.  One very unlikely occurrence may be acceptable to tolerant readers.  Several occurrences should not.  Still, I enjoyed the book.  

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