Sunday, February 26, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Author
 
Frederick was back home in Massachusetts at the beginning of the new year, 1844.  After a period of rest and reacquaintance with his wife and family he was once again active, touring Massachusetts as one of the Society’s premier abolitionist speakers.  The defense of slavery implied in the questions asked by members of the audiences was less strong than what he had recently encountered.  At no location was he threatened physically.  However, he was experiencing something new and it unsettled him.
 
At these recent conventions people without personal prejudice had taken to buttonholding him after meetings and whispering, Did he really expect shrewd New Englanders to believe that he had been a slave, brutalized in the manner he described: The masquerade was too transparent.  … He might convince people in the West that only five years ago he had been in the debased condition of which he spoke so eloquently, but not citizens of the Bay State.  They were attracted to him as a person and as a speaker, but if he offered himself as an example of the product of the slave system, he was actually helping the South.
 
They had also noticed, they pointed out, that he was never very clear about the place from which he had escaped, how he got away, who had been his owner, and the like.  This vagueness, coupled with the fact that he was in his own person a contradiction of much that he said, left even open-minded people with questions (Bontemps 93-94).
 
Now he understood completely why his white abolitionist friends had advised him not to be too “learned.”  Their fears were now being realized.  He was believed by many New Englanders to be an impostor.  He would not “put the plantation in his speech”; his pride would never permit that!  He would not put aside his intellectual gifts and eloquence.  They were a part of him as much as the experiences he recounted to illustrate the evils of slavery.  He would not be false to himself to appear genuine to his listeners.  Eventually, the solution to his problem occurred to him.
 
It was a daring thing to attempt.  Perhaps it was even reckless …. To answer those people who had begun to doubt his story, to silence the whispering that threatened to destroy his value as an abolitionist agent, he would throw caution away, he would put the full account in writing.  … He would write a book.  In his book he would tell the whole world just whose slave he had been, how he had squirmed and plotted in his chains, where and when he had escaped.  The only detail he would withhold would be the manner of his getaway.  … He would reveal everything and take his chances as a fugitive in Massachusetts.  But to disclose the maneuver by which he gave his owners the slip would be to close that particular gate to other slaves.  That he would not do (Bontemps 93-94).
 
The book, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, was published by the “Anti-Slavery Office” in Boston in June 1845 and was priced at fifty cents.  By fall, 4,500 copies had been sold in the United States.  Three European editions were subsequently published and in five years 30,000 copies had been sold to readers in Europe and America.
 
While he was writing his book, Frederick was tantalized with the thought of visiting England.  This coincided with what William Lloyd Garrison and Wendell Phillips were considering.  Douglass’s
 
word was too good to waste on Pendleton, Indiana, or even on Massachusetts; there was an international audience that should hear him.  … the immediate goal of the British was to get their American cousins to end slavery in North America.
 
Ties between abolitionists on opposite sides of the Atlantic had long been close, and the value of enabling people to see and hear a victim of the evil they were fighting was widely recognized.  Douglass was far from the first former slave or black man to appear on British platforms, but in 1845 he was the one that ardent antislavery people most wanted to have a look at and to hear (McFeely 177-118).
 
And, of course, his journey would place him beyond the grasp of slave catchers, who would now certainly know of his existence and location in Massachusetts.  With his book he had, in effect, challenged “the slave power to return him to bondage.  Could he depend on Massachusetts to shield him” (Bontemps 104)?  Neither he nor the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society could be certain of the answer.
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- The Pendleton Riot
 
In Pendleton [Indiana], the three men--one black, two white—were house guests of a local physician.  During the evening of September 14, 1843, they “learned that a mob had threatened to come down from … a miserable, run-drinking place [Andersonville], about six miles distant,” to drive the race-mixing abolitionists away.  Warned but not deterred, the three went the next morning to the Baptist church.  “Frederick spoke,” reported [William] White [a Harvard graduate of about Douglass’s age] in a letter to the Liberator, “and there was no interruption, though I observed a great number of men, such as do not usually attend our meetings”  The Baptists noticed them too; when the three speakers returned for the afternoon meeting, they were told they could not use the building because the church authorities feared it would be pulled down.
 
When the abolitionists tried to conduct their meeting from the steps outside the church, about thirty of the uninvited guests began to heckle.  A local man reasoned with them and achieved sufficient quiet for Bradburn to be heard.  His speech went on until a rainstorm abruptly did the hecklers’ job for them.  In the evening, the citizens of the town, opposed to slavery or simply embarrassed, met and passed a resolution that the men should be allowed to speak.  “The next morning being pleasant,” White continued, “we held our meeting in the woods, where seats and stands had been arranged.”  At the start of the meeting, White spotted only seven of their challengers among the hundred men and thirty women who had gathered.  The scene was very like that of a camp meeting.  The proceedings were opened with a song.  Then Bradburn rose to speak, and as he rolled into his attack on slavery, White and Douglass noticed that “the mob continued to collect, but were quiet.”  The men were menacing, their faces fixed in sneers.  White fixed his eyes on one man about his age who stood barefoot, a pair of homespun pants slung from his hips and a shirt slouched across his body so loosely that it bared his shoulders.  The nakedness of this insolence fascinated and terrified the well-bred eastern gentleman.  After several minutes, at a signal, the men got up and walked out.
 
“In a few moments we heard a shout, and saw the mob coming through the woods, thirty or more in number, two by two, armed with stones and eggs,” and led by a man in a coonskin cap.  The audience rose for a hasty exit, but White pleaded with them to sit down again.  A few of the men and all of the women did.  The cry from under the coonskin cap was “Surround them,” and the thirty circled the audience, some stationing themselves at the foot of the speakers’ stand.  Stones were thrown at the speakers, but did no real damage.  Old eggs were hurled and splattered on the speakers’ faces; the three endured the drip and stink in stoical silence.  The audience too was quiet, and the stymied hecklers were at a loss as to what to do next.  The peacemaker of the day before tried again, but as he spoke, one man called out to the speakers, asking why they didn’t go down south with their message.  Bradburn replied: his challenger, James Jackson, offered a rebuttal; and White invited him up onto the platform to continue the debate.  Jackson rose to the bait and made, said the Harvard man, “a most ridiculous spectacle, interlarding his speech with copious oaths, and ending off by saying he could not talk, but he could fight—that he had too much good blood in his veins to let us go on.”  On this point, another man jumped up onto the platform, saying that he saw that nothing would be done unless he did it, and seized hold of the table, overturned it, and began to pull the stand to pieces.  His buddies now all joined in the wrenching of timbers, pushing protesting members of the audience out of the way.
 
Douglass was sandwiched between two antislavery people concerned for his safety, but thinking White was in danger, he ran into the midst of the pulling and prying and grabbed a piece of lumber to use as a club.  In doing so, he violated not only the Garrisonian insistence on nonviolence, but also white America’s stern law that black men were not to raise weapons except against other black men.  There were screams: “kill the nigger, kill the damn nigger.”  Furious men pursued Douglass, who ran for his life.  White, not injured (and with his hat still on his head), followed in pursuit.  The swing of one club broke Douglass’s right hand.  Running up, White was able to grab and slow another piece of lumber as it was swung with lethal force; it could have killed the downed black man.  A stone hit White on the head; deflected by his hat, it nevertheless opened a gash that bled profusely.
 
Douglass never forgot those moments with William White.  In what may be the most affectionate latter he ever wrote, he recalled it all (three years later) for his friend: “I shall never forget how like two very brothers we were ready to dare, do, and even die for each other.  Tragic, awfully so, yet I laugh when I think how comic I must have looked when running before the mob, darkening the air with mud from my feet.  How I looked running you can best describe but how you looked bleeding I shall always remember.  … Dear William, from that hour … have you been loved by Frederic Douglass.”
 
With White on the ground, his head gashed and his mouth bleeding from a blow that knocked out teeth, and Douglass lying nearby cradling his painful hand, the attackers got on their horses and rode off.  Members of the antislavery audience helped Neal Hardy, “a kind-hearted member of the Society of Friends,” ease the men into his wagon.  Hardy took them home and with his wife got their wounds bandaged.  (The fracture was not properly set; his right hand bothered Douglass for the rest of his life.)  Two days later, they were on the platform in Noblesville, Indiana (McFeely 108-112).
 
Meanwhile the ringleader of the riot at Pendleton was arrested.  He pleaded guilty and was jailed in Indianapolis.  His cronies from Andersonville did not abandon him there, however.  Three hundred of them, mounted and armed with rifles, galloped into the city and demanded his release.  Governor Whitcomb promptly pardoned the man.
 
From that point onward the series of conventions seemed to run together in Douglass’s consciousness.  He spoke many more times in Indiana before leaving, and it is possible to follow the general direction of the return sweep through Ohio and western Pennsylvania in the antislavery press, but to Douglass the audiences began to look much alike.  Tumult and threats began to form a kind of pattern.  At the same time experience was adding to his own devices for dealing with hecklers and quieting bullies.  When tension became great, he introduced humor and convulsed the crowd with laughter.  When he had angered them with old testament denunciation till the lid seemed ready to blow, he cunningly struck a note of soft pathos.
 
… He did retain however some of the questions that were thrown at him most frequently.  Always someone wanted to know, often in a whining voice, if it was not true that slaves were better off in slavery.  Were they not content and happy?  An equal number of people in these western towns wondered if Negroes could take care of themselves, if given their freedom.  Others asked if the masters were not generally kind.  Wouldn’t most slaves choose to remain in slavery if given the choice?  Were not Negroes too lazy to work except in bondage?  On the other hand, wasn’t there danger that slaves, if emancipated, would all rush North and take work away from white men?  Shouldn’t they be returned to Africa?
 
 
… The voice droned on, a muttering debate between the slavery advocate and his conscience.  “They can’t be improved, the Negroes, they need masters to care for them.  They made no progress in Africa.  They are not like white people.  They are an inferior race.  And you—you are meddling with what does not concern you.  Mind your own business.  You abolitionists are only making the condition of the Negro worse by your infernal agitation.  You have pushed the relations between the races back fifty years.  You will never in God’s world put an end to slavery.  And there’s another thing—if God wanted slavery abolished, he would have done it long ago.  The Bible sanctions slavery.  The Savior said nothing against it” (Bontemps 87-88).
 
 
Works cited:
 
Bontempts, Arna, Free at Last, the Life of Frederick Douglass, New York, Dodd, Mead & Company, 1971.  Print.
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Editing
 
This past December I finished the first draft – 35 chapters – of my Roanoke historical novel manuscript and began the lengthy task of editing.  Here is some of what I want to say about editing.
 
Editing encompasses everything from placing commas correctly to word, phrase, and sentence selection.  Narrating dialogue is much easier for me to do than narrating character thoughts and emotions.
 
Initially, I edit five chapters, go back to the first chapter, and edit the five chapters again.  Then I edit the next five chapters, go back, and edit a second time.  Ideally, the double editing makes the writing much better.  That is not always the result.  Sometimes the revisions are not much better than the original.
 
I do my first writing without much regard for articulate expression.  It is enough for me to get the story into words on a sloppy disc.  Thereafter, I work mostly on expression until I feel satisfied with the result.
 
After the double read-through, I edit the entire manuscript without going back.  I always find original flaws overlooked or flaws added in the previous editing.  I liken this to weeding a large, overgrown planting area.  The tallest weeds have to go first.  Afterward, I am able to see the smaller weeds.  I want them to be entirely gone after the second read-through.  They never are.  Something always needs to be improved.
 
After I have edited the manuscript three times, I have my wife do a read-through.  She is a voracious reader.  I trust her judgment.  It is difficult judging your own work.  It helps considerably to have another pair of eyes assess it.  Those eyes must, however, belong to somebody who recognizes good writing.  After my wife’s involvement, I make necessary changes and read through the manuscript again.
 
I am currently double-editing chapters 21 to 25.  A year has passed since I wrote those chapters.  I had forgotten several scenes.  Reading them was like reading another writer’s work.  Most pleased me.  Here is one such forgotten scene (edited one).
 
Inside, darkness.  She could see along the walls, mostly because she was familiar with what was kept there, wooden utensils, Machk’s bows, cutting and sharpening tools, planting and weeding poles, mortar and pestle, scraping stones, baskets containing seeds for cattapeak planting -- dark shapes recognized by a once friend now considered a personal enemy.
It had been the injury to Machk that had begun her and Nana’s estrangement. It was, unmistakably, Samoset’s death that had closed all communication between them. Until now.
Nana, lying on her raised bed in the most distant corner of the back room, was watching her.
“Nana! Get up!”
Lying on her right side, she did not stir.
“Be useful! Keep the fire burning while Wapun pries upon oysters, while your brother fishes to add to the pot!”
Nana rose to a sitting position.
“You smell! How long since you bathed? Machk and Wapun have to sleep here, also!”
“What business is it of yours? I do not want you here.” Her tone was more factual than emotional.
“Our men are trained from boyhood to accept torture and flaming death without self-pity or complaint!” Alsoomse’s demeanor was harsh. “We are taught to accept what is not fair and to continue to perform our duties as though the gods favor us. Get up! Be a Roanoke woman! Samoset is not worth grieving!”
Anger flashed in Nana’s dark eyes.
“Yes, Samoset! He is not worthy of your grief, or whatever it is that makes you such a lifeless coward!  Get up! Get up if no more than to hit me, you ugly, manless imitation of a woman!”
Nana stood. “You!” She pointed. “With your deformed face!” She jabbed her forefinger. “You brought that on yourself! Machk could have been killed! Get out of this house!”
“No! Not unless you take your stinking body now to the creek!”
Nana stepped close.
“You do not have the courage to hit me!”
Nana swung.
Alsoomse caught and held high Nana’s right fist. “I am still here. Try again!”
“I hate you!”
“Of course you do!”
Nana yanked her right hand loose.
Alsoomse slapped her friend’s face.
Eyes large, Nana looked at her.
“That is for allowing Samoset to use you!” Alsoomse slapped her with her left hand. “That is for abandoning your friends, who did not abandon you!”
Nana swung. Alsoomse allowed Nana’s right hand to strike her deformed cheek. Despite herself, she winced. Pain coursed through the roots of her teeth.
Nana’s left hand covered reflexively her nose and mouth.
“Get it out! Get it all out,” Alsoomse exclaimed, ‘but go this time for the other cheek!”
Staring at her, Nana burst into tears.
 
 
I chose randomly a scene from an earlier chapter to illustrate the kinds of changes I make during my double read-through.  I have divided the scene into five parts, the end of each part marked with asterisks. The first section within each part is my original writing, the second section is the result of my first read-through, and the third section is the result of my second read-through.
 
 
According to Osacan, Nana had explained, Nootau had fallen in love with a Choanoac girl. Odina had looked across the indoor fire at Mushaniq, seated on a mat beside Sokanon. She is jealous, Alsoomse had concluded, as jealous as me. Sokanon had found her man! At Croatoan. She had found a face full of pain.
 
According to Osacan, Nana had explained, Nootau had fallen in love with a Choanoac girl. Odina had looked across the indoor fire at Mushaniq, seated on a mat beside Sokanon. She is jealous, Alsoomse had thought, as jealous as me. Sokanon had found her man! At Croatoan. She had found a face full of pain.
 
“Osacan said Nootau fell in love with a Choanoac girl,” Nana had explained in Sooleawa’s longhouse. Odina had looked then across the indoor fire at Mushaniq, seated beside Sokanon. Odina is envious, Alsoomse had recognized, jealous as I am, that Sokanon found her man! Where I found a face full of pain!
 
***
 
She would have to be fair-minded. Careful. She had lost – she hoped temporarily -- one best friend. Her other best friend, Odina, seemed uncertain how to relate to her. Sokanon’s good fortune and her misfortune were not her cousin’s fault. Sokanon was a far better cousin than she deserved. She wanted to speak her feelings, her thoughts!
“Will you tell us stories any more?” Pules had asked. “Not … yet” was all she had been able to answer.
 
She would have to be fair-minded. And careful. She had lost – temporarily, she hoped -- a best friend, Nana. Odina seemed uncertain how to relate to her. Sokanon’s good fortune and her misfortune were not her cousin’s fault. Sokanon was a far better cousin than she deserved. She wanted desperately to speak what she thought and felt!
“Will you tell us stories any more?” Pules had asked. “Not … yet” was all she had been able to answer.
 
She had also recognized that she needed to be fair-minded. And careful. Nana now disliked her. Odina seemed uncertain how to relate to her. Her particular misfortune had been nobody’s fault but her own. How despicable that she should begrudge Sokanon’s good fortune! Sokanon was a far better cousin than she deserved! She wanted desperately to speak what she thought and felt!
“Will you tell us stories any more?” Pules had asked.
“Not … yet” had been all she had been able to answer.
 
***
 
Sokanon had spoken privately to her mother before Alsoomse and the others had entered Sooleawa’s house, having gone first to Odina’s house. During the conversations that had crossed the fire pit Alsoomse had observed closely her taciturn aunt. Sooleawa had always treated Alsoomse distantly. Her disapproval had increased after Nadie’s death. At times Aunt Sooleawa had been somewhat distant toward her own daughter. Alsoomse had thought perhaps that such behavior at certain stages of a mother/daughter relationship was normal. This evening Sooleawa was joyous.
 
Sokanon had spoken privately to her mother before Alsoomse and the others had entered Sooleawa’s house, having gone first to Odina’s. During the conversations that had crossed the fire pit Alsoomse had observed closely her taciturn aunt. Sooleawa had always treated Alsoomse distantly. Her disapproval had increased after Nadie’s death. At times Aunt Sooleawa had been somewhat distant toward Sokanon. Alsoomse had thought perhaps that such behavior was normal at certain stages of every mother/daughter relationship. This evening Sooleawa had been joyous.
 
Sokanon had spoken privately to her mother before Alsoomse and the others had entered Sooleawa’s house, having gone first to Odina’s. During the conversations that had crossed the fire pit Alsoomse had observed closely her taciturn aunt. Sooleawa had always treated Alsoomse distantly. Her disapproval had increased after Nadie’s death. At times Aunt Sooleawa had been somewhat distant toward Sokanon. Alsoomse had thought perhaps that such behavior was normal at certain stages of every mother/daughter relationship. This evening Sooleawa had been joyous.
 
***
 
As for her own return, only Wapun and Pules seemed pleased to see her.
Alsoomse thought perhaps because she could not talk nobody wished to ask her questions. Without being conscious of it they had been excluding her from their conversations. She could understand why Machk did not want to provide details about his injury and its reason. No doubt Sokanon wanted to avoid doing so, also. Talk, therefore, had coalesced on one subject: how had Sokanon and Mushaniq met and how long did Mushaniq intend to remain at Roanoke.”Indefinitely,” he had answered, bringing color to Sokanon’s cheeks.
 
As for her own return, only Wapun and Pules seemed pleased to have her.
Perhaps because she could not talk, nobody wanted to ask her questions. Consequently, they were excluding her from their conversations. She could understand why Machk did not want to provide details about his injury. Sokanon wound not have wanted to speak about it, also. Talk, therefore, had coalesced on one subject: how had Sokanon and Mushaniq met and how long did Mushaniq intend to remain at Roanoke. ”Indefinitely,” he had answered, bringing color to Sokanon’s cheeks.
 
As for her return, only Wapun and Pules seemed pleased to see her.
Perhaps because she could not talk, nobody wanted to ask her questions. Therefore, they were excluding her from their conversations. She could understand why Machk did not want to provide details about his injury. Sokanon would not have wanted to speak about either injury. Talk, not surprisingly, had coalesced on one subject: how had Sokanon and Mushaniq met and how long did Mushaniq intend to stay? ”Indefinitely,” he had answered, bringing color to Sokanon’s cheeks.
 
***
 
Alsoomse’s moroseness was sundered by Tihkoosue’s sudden entrance. Seeing her, he froze. Recovering, he took two steps toward her, knelt on one knee, extended tentatively his right arm. His face contorted. He touched her left shoulder.
“I have missed you so much!”
Their liquid eyes communicated.
Alsoomse patted the vacant space beside her.
 
Noise came suddenly from outside. Tihkoosue burst into the room. Seeing Alsoomse, he froze. Recovering, he took two steps toward her, knelt on one knee, tentatively extended his right arm. His face contorted. He touched her left shoulder.
“I have missed you so much!”
Their liquid eyes communicated.
Alsoomse patted the vacant space beside her.
 
Noise came suddenly from outside. Tihkoosue burst into the room. Seeing Alsoomse, he froze. Recovering, he took two steps toward her, knelt on one knee, tentatively extended his right arm. His face contorted. He touched her left shoulder.
“I have missed you so much!”
Their liquid eyes communicated.
Alsoomse patted the vacant mat beside her.
 
***
 
I am not pleased with some of my changes.  I hope my single read-through beginning probably next month will produce better results.


Monday, February 6, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- Adversity on the Tour
 
Toward the end of January, 1842, Douglass returned to Boston to attend the annual meeting of the Massachusetts Society.  A feature of this gathering was the report of the general agent.  Collins assured the leaders of abolitionism that Douglass had proven his worth to the cause.  Together the two of them had visited more than sixty towns and villages, and Douglass had displayed a free and forcible manner of speaking, given unforgettable descriptions of slavery and flavored his discourse with humor and satire (McFeely 94).
 
The inevitable offer for him to continue was made; he accepted.  Soon he was off on another round of speaking engagements.  This time, in Massachusetts and western New York, his listeners would not be as receptive and sympathetic as those he had spoken to previously.  He and his fellow speakers would be reaching the fringes of anti-slavery sentiment, where abolitionists on the whole were not taken seriously.
 
The number of their adherents remained relatively small.  They were tolerated [in most places in the North] as a sort of lunatic fringe of their day, an absurd crowd working a bit too closely with a kindred outfit in the British Empire where slavery had already been abolished.  The North didn’t fear abolitionists; it scoffed at them.
 
 
Above all, the antislavery North was convinced that the abolitionist agitation was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.  Anyone could see that it did not change the situation one way or the other.  If these fanatics insisted on continuing their useless hullabaloo, they could only blame themselves when respectable people became irritated and refused to let them hold meetings in public auditoriums or when the police failed to protect them from ruffians who hurled eggs and overripe fruit at their speakers.
 
In the eyes of the South the number of abolitionists was not insignificant.  To the slave power they were neither quaint nor misguided nor lunatic.  They were criminal.  The South ignored the pious words [of the abolitionists] renouncing violence.  It wanted to hang Garrison and all his cronies.  For the abolitionists, alone among the advocates of freedom, had found the slaveholder’s exposed nerve; the moral issue.  By touching it over and over again they had begun to drive the South crazy (McFeely 70).
 
Yet Frederick Douglass continued to be effective.  By April his schedule of engagements was published in the abolitionist press, and his speeches were commented upon in Concord’s Herald of Freedom, New York’s Anti-Slavery Standard, and Boston’s Liberator.
 
A reader of the Liberator wrote to say how impressed he had been by a Douglass address at Northbridge.  Another, attending a meeting at Nantucket and hearing Douglass for the first time, offered a confession.  He hadn’t cared much for abolitionism or abolitionists in the past, and what he had heard about this runaway slave called Douglass had left him cold.  He had been totally unprepared to find the young man “chaste in language, brilliant in thought, truly eloquent in delivery” (McFeely 71).
 
Douglass now began to share rostrums with the most famous white abolitionists, including Wendell Phillips, the outstanding orator of the movement, and William Lloyd Garrison himself.
 
At the annual meeting of the New England Anti-Slavery Society in 1843 General Agent John A. Collins announced the boldest proposal in the Society’s history, “a series of 100 Conventions in the Western States.”
 
This called for a band of brave men, tried and true campaigners in the cause of freedom, to sweep through the towns of New Hampshire, Vermont, western New York, Ohio, Indiana, and Pennsylvania, awakening a drowsy people to the iniquities of slavery and enlisting new recruits  to the thin ranks of active abolitionists.
 
 
Of course Douglass was an obvious choice.  … If anyone in the abolitionist movement seemed naturally fitted to carry the flaming doctrine into untouched new areas, it was this gifted and personally impressive mulatto.
 
 
Collins had calculated that the tour would last six months, and the plan agreed upon was that the agents would work singly or in pairs in small villages and outlying districts, regrouping periodically in the larger towns for mass meetings which would consolidate interest thus awakened.
 
 
The first town they hit was Middlebury, Vermont.  To their surprise, Middlebury had prepared for their arrival.  The town was placarded with signs describing Douglass as a convict recently escaped from the State prison.  … The Vermonters, despite their long and tested fondness for freedom, stayed away in force.  The first convention of the One Hundred was a sorry failure.
 
 
Douglass and [Charles L.] Remond [a free black abolitionist] and the other companions of the unsuccessful Vermont attempt started the New York state series in Albany and worked along the Erie Canal.  The responses they received ranged from apathy to aversion.  Once or twice Douglass thought he detected a mob spirit, but hostility failed to reach a point of physical violence, and the conventions continued (McFeely 74-76).
 
Yet Frederick worked diligently and persistently.  He and George Bradburn, a Unitarian minister, were to speak in Buffalo.  A friend whose responsibility it was to make arrangements for their convention had obtained only a deserted, dilapidated room that had formerly been used as a post office.  Douglass and Bradburn appeared in this room on schedule for the first meeting and found but a few cabmen in work clothes there to pass time between jobs.  Bradburn told Douglass he would not speak to “such a set of ragamuffins,” and took the first steamer to Cleveland to visit his brother.  Douglass, however, remained a week, spoke every day in the old room; and his audiences grew in number and respectability each day.  Eventually, a church was offered to him, but his audiences had increased in number so much by then that he had to hold the Sunday meeting in the park.
 
Douglass, with George Bradburn rejoining him, and William A. White traveled into Indiana.  At Richmond, standing on the platform before a hostile audience, Douglass had his best clothes “spoiled by evil-smelling eggs.”  In the next town, Pendleton, Douglass narrowly escaped death.
 
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Saturday, January 28, 2017

Frederick Douglass -- On the Abolitionist Circuit
 
Immediately after the Nantucket meeting John A. Collins, general agent of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, urged Frederick to become a touring speaker.  He would be paid at least what he already made in New Bedford and the Society would ensure his protection.  Frederick, flush from his triumph but nonetheless caution, agreed to try it for three months.  He would tour the eastern counties of Massachusetts with a white abolitionist.  The two of them would hold meetings at which both would speak with Frederick telling the same story he had told at Nantucket.  Afterward, they would try to sell subscriptions to the Anti-Slavery Standard and the Liberator.
 
The meetings went well.  In most of the towns that the two abolitionists visited, local abolitionists had arranged for the public meetings, had assembled the crowds, and were themselves speakers.  They were not the reason why most of the townspeople came to listen, however.  Few had ever seen a fugitive slave, none had actually heard one speak of his experiences.  Frederick Douglass did not disappoint them.  As the tour progressed, the public meetings became livelier.  New converts were made to the cause.  Soon John C. Collins, a more prestigious abolitionist, replaced George Foster as Frederick’s touring companion.
 
Amidst the seriousness of the cause, the two used humor.  Collins would point at the handsome and dignified young fugitive and, grinning, refer to him as a “thing, a piece of Southern property, a chattel.”  After an appropriate pause, he would say, “it could speak.”  After the laughter subsided, Frederick indeed did speak.
 
He was especially effective using his gift of mimicry.  He became the Southern minister, speaking to the slaves gathered below him.  “Servants, be obedient unto your masters,” he would intone.  “Oh, consider the wonderful goodness of God!  Look at your hard, horny hands, your strong muscular frames, and see how mercifully he had adapted you to the duties you are to fulfill!  While to your masters, who have slender frames and long, delicate fingers, he has given brilliant intellects, that they may do the thinking while you do the working.”  Invariably this parody caused wild cheering.
 
Frederick relished his new work.  It seemed to him that he had found at last his calling in life.  The suffering that he had endured and what he had become because of it were now the tools he would use in a cause that seemed more important than life itself.  In the company of the white abolitionists with whom he traveled and whom he met he sought to broaden himself.  He talked with them, analyzed their ideas, formed his own, read constantly.  As he continued to speak, he began to express these thoughts, along with the recital of his own slave experiences.  As he continued this trend, he discovered that his abolitionist friends were becoming increasingly disturbed.
 
Collins advised him, before the beginning of one meeting, to “stick to the facts”; he and the white abolitionists would provide “the philosophy.”  Parker Pillsbury advised that it was better to “have a little of the plantation” in his speech.  Garrison, himself, suggested that Frederick should not sound too “learned.”  Otherwise, people might not “believe you were ever a slave.”  Frederick, however, refused to accept the limited role his white companions apparently had prescribed for him.  His continued effectiveness as a speaker ultimately silenced their objections.  He always remained within the boundaries to Garrisonian doctrine—that slavery and all institutions that tolerated slavery, including government and the church, should be denounced, that slavery should be combated as a moral issue and could be eradicated only when humanity recognized it as a moral evil.  Still, Frederick would not permit his independent nature to be checked.
 
To the surprise of many, he contradicted, to some extent, some of the stereotypical propaganda the white abolitionists had leveled at white slaveholders.
 
He made it clear to his listeners that slaves, far from having been brutalized into stupidity, were consciously and acutely aware of their oppression.  They only “pretend to be stupid,” Douglass told the people of Hingham, as they “commit all sorts of foolery and act like baboons and wild beasts in [the] presence of their master; but every word is noted in the memory, and told to their fellow slaves.”  And he observed, “Waiters hear their masters talk at table, cursing the abolitionists, John Quincy Adams, &c.; the masters imagine that their poor slaves are so ignorant they don’t know the meaning of the language they are using” (McFeely 94).
 
If the white abolitionists were incorrect about matters he knew about from first-hand experience, Frederick was forthright in correcting them.  He was equally forthright in his observations about what he perceived to be a terrible evil in the North.
 
If only his South could be granted the “quietness” of emancipation, it would be preferable to the North.  Northern people, he told one audience, “say we [black slaves] could not learn if we had a chance … but … [Southerners] do not believe it, or they would not have laws … to prevent it.  The northern people,” he continued, “think that if slavery were abolished, we would all come north.  … We would all seek our home and our friends, but, more than all, to escape from northern prejudice, would we go to the south” (McFeely 95).
 
At another meeting he said,
 
“Prejudice against color is stronger north than south; it hangs around my neck like a heavy weight.  It presses me out from among my fellow men, and, although I have met it at every step the three years I have been out of southern slavery, I have been able, in spite of its influence, ‘to take care of myself.’”  … With vivid descriptions of beatings and of how families were torn apart by sales, he did establish that the South’s treatment of his people was far worse than that meted out to him in the North, but unlike many white abolitionists, he seldom allowed his audiences the comfort of thinking their region was innocent” (McFeely 94).
 
Whenever he traveled by train, as he now increasingly did, Douglass had to contend with racial segregation.
 
On September 8, 1841, Douglass and John A. Collins attempted to sit together as they traveled to an antislavery meeting in Dover, New Hampshire.  The conductor ordered Douglass to go into the “negro car.”  When he refused, the conductor called for help, and four or five men dragged him away from his seat; Collins was also knocked around in the process.  Toward the end of the month Douglass boarded a first-class car of the Eastern line … at Lynn and was again confronted by a conductor—perhaps the same one, and certainly one with whom he had had an earlier discussion.  When told to move, Douglass said quietly, “If you give me one good reason why I should …, I’ll go willingly.”  The conductor, trembling with anger, said, “You have asked that question before” and Douglass retorted, “I mean to continue asking the question over and over again … as long as you continue to assault me in this manner,” and he asked it again.  The conductor hesitated before finally blurting out, “Because you are black.”  Then he called for reinforcements to “snake out the d—d nigger.”  Douglass clutched the bolted bench with his stevedore hands, and when he landed back on the Lynn platform, he still had his seat.
 
Work cited:
 
McFeely, William S.  Frederick Douglass.  New York, W. W. Norton & Company, 1991.  Print.


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Book Review
One-Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd
Jim Fergus
 

All historical fiction writers depend on their readers’ willingness to suspend disbelief.  Most readers will tolerate one or two difficult-to-accept situations or coincidental happenings if the writing is good, the characters are well-crafted, and the story engages their emotions.  They will accept a lot if the story provides accurate information about the people and culture of the narrated time period.  With “One Thousand Women” I was not able to be that charitable.
 
The writing is competent. The characters are imaginatively conceived.  The author integrates informational content about Cheyenne culture in his narration.  I have several quibbles about the narration, but my major objection is that the story too frequently strains believability.
 
Mr. Fergus took a huge risk in determining the concept of this novel.  In his “Author’s Note” he states: in 1854 at a peace conference at Fort Laramie, a prominent Northern Cheyenne chief requested of the U.S. Army authorities the gift of one thousand white women as brides for his young warriors.  Because theirs is a matrilineal society in which all children born belong to their mother’s tribe, this seemed to the Cheyenne to be the perfect means of assimilation into the white man’s world—a terrifying new world that even as early as 1854, the Native Americans clearly recognized held no place for them.  … the Cheyennes’ request was not well received, the Cheyennes went home, and, of course, the white women did not come.  In this novel they do. 
 
The author has the Cheyenne chief’s request occur in 1874.  Chief Little Wolf offers one thousand horses for the one thousand white women “to teach us and our children the new life that must be lived when the buffalo are gone.”  President Grant and his advisors see possible practical benefit in accepting Little Wolfe’s offer.  Here might be a peaceful solution to “the still explosive situation on the Great Plains.  … Besides placating the savages with this generous gift of brides, the administration believed that the ‘Noble American woman,’ working in concert with the church, might also exert a positive influence upon the Cheyennes—to educate and elevate them from barbarism to civilized life.”  The consequent “Brides for Indians” program  would “supplement an anticipated shortage of volunteers by recruiting women out of jails, penitentiaries, debtors’ prisons, and mental institutions—offering full pardons or unconditional release, as the case might be, to those who agreed to sign on for the program.”  May Dodd, the novel’s protagonist, committed to a mental institution by her rich parents for living with a man of low economic and social station and for having given birth to two children, accepts the government’s offer.  Her journals of her experiences are the novel’s content.
 
I could not suspend my disbelief that such an attempt to assimilate such disparate cultures could actually happen.  I did let pass (but not by much) my skepticism that incarcerated women might be willing to become Indian wives in exchange for their release and that wealthy parents might be so cruel as to commit their wayward daughters to mental institutions to gain control of their infant grandchildren.
 
I plunged into the story hoping that the forthcoming story and the author’s narrative skill would overcome my imitial reservations. They did not.
 
The novel is 434 pages, too long I thought.  It is told in segments.  The wives do not meet their husbands until more than 100 pages are read.  We must read first May Dodd’s angst about being incarcerated in the mental institution, her separation from her children, her indecision about how complicit her lover was in the relinquishment of her babies, her acquaintanceship with the other future Indian wives, and her budding love affair with Captain Bourke, assigned to command the detachment of soldiers assigned to deliver the women to Chief Little Wolf.  I believe all of this could have been accomplished in half the space. 
 
Certain passages appealed to me.  I liked this subjective narration about May’s frustration of not knowing what her lover’s role was in her parents' custody-taking of his and her children.
 
God only knows what has become of you, Harry.  Did they kill you or did they pay you?  Did you die or did  you sell us to the highest bidder?  Should I hate you or should I mourn you?  I can hardly bear to think of you, Harry, without knowing … now I can only dream of someday returning to Chicago, after my mission here is fulfilled, of coming home to be again with my children, of finding you and seeking the truth in your eyes.
 
I accepted the author’s need to spice up (add additional conflict to) the first 110 pages by creating a love affair between May and the principled Captain Bourke.  Some of the narration, however, seemed florid, too sensuous.
 
Page 85 – I still stared at the horizon, but I could feel the Captain’s dark eyes on my face, the heat of his arm against mine.  My breath came in shallow draughts as if I could not take sufficient air into my lungs.  “It is late, Captain,” I managed to say.  “Perhaps we should take our stroll another time.”  Where our arms had touched and now parted it was like tearing my own flesh from the bone.
 
Page 110 – When John Bourke kissed me, I tasted the faint sweetness of whiskey on his lips, and felt his deep moral reluctance giving itself up to my more powerful need for him. I felt us both being swept away together, and I held tight, held on for dear life, as if only the contact of our bodies could fix me in this time and place, as if only when his flesh and mine became seamless, seared together as one, would I be truly anchored to this world, the only world I know.  “Will you show me now, John,” I whispered into his mouth, “dear John, will you show me now,” I implored, “how a civilized man makes love?”
 
This one-time consummated love affair produces, improbably, May’s entirely white “Cheyenne” child.  The author thereby places in the reader’s mind – in a counterfeit way, I believe -- additional concern about probable disastrous outcomes.
 
I did like how the white women and May were assimilated rather easily into Little Wolf’s tribe.  Most of the natives were accepting and the white women were surprisingly adaptive.  All the white women were expected to learn their gender-determined domestic tasks and to work as hard as the native women.  Rather quickly, the white women developed an appreciation of the Cheyenne people.  May makes this comment on the day of her marriage.
 
… there is a universality to poverty that transcends culture; just as in our own society, there are among the savages both rich and poor—those who are successful hunters and providers who live in well-appointed lodges with many hides and robes and have a good string of horses, and those who have little and depend on the largesse of their neighbors.  And never have I seen a more generous, selfless people than these.  I believe that those unfortunates who came to our lodge that night … were the families of men who had been killed in battle, or possibly the families of some of those poor wretches whom we had encountered at the forts—the drunk and beggars who had deserted their wives and children.
 
During the large middle section of the novel, the author must sustain the reader’s interest.  He does this by inventing incidents – some credible, some, in my opinion, not so credible -- that characterize what we consider flaws of Native American culture. The Native American villain of the novel -- half-breed Jim Seminole -- buys whiskey from a trading post and, with destructive intent, distributes it to the men of the tribe.  Violent, destructive actions result.  Sometime afterward, the warrior element of the tribe raids a Crow village and brings back many horses.  Later, retaliating, Crow warriors abduct many of the white women, who are subsequently rescued by their husbands.  Lives are lost including a white women.  Much later, a band of Cheyenne warriors attack a Crow village and return with ten cut-off hands of Crow babies, done ostensibly to celebrate the birth of May’s baby and to ensure that the Cheyenne tribe would dominate the Crow in the future.
 
Given what actual history tells us of the conflict between Native American tribes and the U.S. Government and Army in the 1870s, we know before we start reading that the white women’s habitation with the Cheyenne tribe would be brief in duration.  The author uses the improbable relationship of May and Captain Bourke to inform us of that fact.  Concerned about May’s peril, Bourke, who is a harsh critic of Indian ways, warns May through a trusted messenger that the government has rescinded the Brides for Indians program and that independent tribes like Little Wolf’s must locate on designated reservations or be militarily destroyed.  Consequently, May must determine what to advise her honorable husband: remain strong and independent and fight injustice or be realistic, accept reservation habitation, and save many lives.  The issue of believability again intrudes.
 
“One Thousand White Woman” has its good sections.  I applaud the author for his research and his ambitious undertaking.  Too many perceived implausibilities and event contrivances, however, limited my enjoyment of the novel.