Monday, July 6, 2015

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


Thursday, July 2, 2015

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


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

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


Saturday, June 13, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Algonquian Food
 
Carolina Algonquians in 1584 subsisted on a seasonally determined, environmentally controlled diet.  They hunted, gathered, and grew food.  On the Outer Banks and the shores of Pamlico and Albemarle Sounds and the banks of the rivers emptying into them survival required good fortune, specialized knowledge, hard work, and a reckoning of the passage of time. 
Historians do not know how Wingina’s people marked time.  Likely they identified it like their Algonquian neighbors to the north, the Powhatans, who divided the year into five seasons.  According to John Smith, winter was called Popanow, spring Cattapeuk, summer Cohattayough, the earing of their corn Nepinough, and the harvest and the falling of leaves Taguitock.   Additionally, they marked shorter passages of time by a year’s succession of full moons.  Algonquian people across the Eastern and Northern parts of North American named twelve full moons and, periodically, a thirteenth moon.  The Old Farmer’s Almanac provides this identification.
Month             Moon Name in English          Why the Name
 
January           Wolf Moon                             Hungry wolf packs howled at night
February         Snow Moon                            Heaviest snowfalls in the middle of winter
March             Worm Moon                           Start of spring as earthworms are eaten by
                                                                             birds
April               Pink Moon                              An early spring flower called “moss pink”
                                                                             started to bloom
May                 Flower Moon                          Many types of flowers bloom
June                 Strawberry Moon                   Strawberries were ready to be picked
July                 Buck Moon                             New antlers of buck deer began to form
August            Sturgeon Moon                       Sturgeon, found in the Great Lakes, were
                                                                             easily caught at this time
September       Harvest Moon                         Farmers could continue to harvest under
                                                                             the light of the moon
October           Hunter’s Moon                       Hunters tracked and killed prey by
                                                                             moonlight
November       Beaver Moon                          Time to set beaver traps before the swamps
                                                                             froze
December       Cold Moon                              The cold of winter sets in
 
Tribal groups related their full moons to specific activities and environmental events.  Tribes that inhabited dissimilar areas of North America identified their moons differently.  For instance, the Passamaquoddy of the Great Lakes called January “whirling wind moon.”  The Abenaki of the Northeast called February “makes branches fall in pieces moon.”  The Shawnee of the Midwest called March “sap moon.”  The Cheyenne of the Great Plains called April the “moon when the geese lay eggs.”  The Cree called their May moon “frog moon.”  The Choctaw called June “blackberry moon.”  The Comanche called July “hot moon.”  The Passamaquoddy called August’s full moon “feather shedding moon.”  The Omaha called September “moon when the deer paw the earth.”  For the Abenaki, October was “leaf falling moon.”  For the Potawatomi, November was “moon of the turkey.”  The Winnebago called December’s moon “big bear’s moon.”  The Powhatans of Virginia had “the moon of stags,” “the corn moon,” and the first and second “moon of cohonks” – “cohonks” being the sound made by geese.  Nobody knows what Wingina’s people called their moons because no Englishmen that visited Carolina, not even the meticulous Thomas Harriot, recorded it.
 
What did Wingina’s subjects eat and when did they eat it?
 
“In the late winter and early spring, Wingina’s people lived primarily upon fish.”  According to Harriot, there was plenty of sturgeon as well as herring.  “Alewives and shad began their run in March, and might have remained available into June.  Wingina’s people used weirs to trap fish, but also speared them in the shallows or from their dugout canoes.”
 
“Different species of fish preferred waters of different salinity and depth, so doing this vital work required an intimate knowledge of the environment” (Oberg 22).  Herring could be smoked to last for a considerable length of time. 
 
Because fishing was so vital to their survival, coastal Algonquians were masters of the construction of dugout canoes.  “A group of thirty of these canoes was recently discovered in the mud of Lake Phelps (in what is now Pettigrew State Park, north of Lake Mattamuskeet) where they had been stored over the winters between 2400 BC and AD 1400”  (Sloan 108). 
 
According to Thomas Harriot, the construction of a dugout canoe began with “the slow patient process of burning through the trunk so as not to damage the main body of the tree.  When the tree had fallen, every branch (and, of course, the top) was carefully removed by fire.  The tree trunk was then lifted and placed on a stand, made from branches laid between two sets of crossed and tied poles like a saw-horse.  The bark was scraped off and the hollowing process begun.”  In John White’s painting “sharp shells, conch and scallop we suspect, are shown being used as scrappers, first to remove the bark and then, after fires have been lit in the trunk, to hollow out the interior by scratching at the charred wood, until the whole interior of the tree has been excavated.  The wood of the white cedar and the tulip tree was especially suited for this purpose as the inner layers are not necessarily as hard as the outer.  The art and craft of making these canoes … was a task for the winter, when leaves were off and the sap was down” (Quinn 194). 
 
“The finished dugout was a long, round-bottomed, thick-walled craft … The biggest canoes were about four feet deep and up to fifty feet long, with a carrying capacity of some forty men.  However, most canoes were smaller, with room for between ten and thirty people with baggage.”
 
Some evidence exists that Algonquians used fire in their canoes to attract fish at night.  “… the fire was made [on a raised hearth] at the bow of the canoe, and the canoe was paddled through the shoal water near the shore.  The fish which gathered about the canoe were speared” (Rountree 34).
 
The use of weirs was essential.  The purpose of a fish weir is to obstruct the direction that fish swim in shallow, tide-influenced waters and direct them into an enclosure that makes it difficult for them to escape.  Thomas Harriot described the Carolina fish weir as “a kind of weir [a fence-like structure] made of reeds which in that country are very strong [cane stakes].”  John White [in one of his paintings] “shows [a weir] in detail, with the traps inserted in the long line of staked obstructions” (Quinn 171).
 
 
“Algonquians also hunted small game during this portion of the year – turkeys, squirrels, and rabbits – and they could harvest crabs and shellfish, the latter in abundance” (Oberg 22).
 
In May and June the Algonquian natives began planting their fields.  “They lived on acorns, walnuts, and fish during these months, along with whatever corn reserves they still had on hand” (Oberg 22).  They supplemented their food supply with fish, crabs, oysters, turtles, berries, and meat that they could obtain hunting.  It was the leanest time of year.  Men and women broke the upper part of the ground to uproot weeds, grasses, and the stubble of cornstalks.  After the fields were cleared, the women set about planting corn seeds, beginning in one corner of the plot, poking holes in the ground and inserting four corn seeds in each hole.  Corn and beans would be planted up to three times “through mid-June, so that in a good crop year there was ripe corn to eat from August … through October” (Rountree 47).  The women would leave about a yard of space between each hole for the planting of beans (their vines would climb corn stalks), squash, and sunflowers.
 
During the remainder of the summer Wingina’s people “continued to live on fish, shellfish, and small game, as well as the walnuts, acorns, and berries that had been dried and preserved over the course of the year” (Oberg 23).  Deer, rabbits, black bear, and waterfowl were hunted.  As the crops grew, boys served as live scarecrows.  Seated on small, covered scaffolds in the fields, they would shout and wave away hungry predators.
 
 
Late summer and early fall was a time of abundance. 
 
 
“Each cornstalk bore two ears, on the average, with between two hundred and five hundred kernels per ear.  The squash ripened from July until September.     When the crops were ready to be harvested, they were gathered into hand baskets and eventually stored in huge baskets in the houses or in storage pits … for later use in cooking” (Rountree 47, 49).
 
“Food gathered in any season could be prepared in a variety of ways.  Food taken on long-distance trips consisted of dried meat, which was eaten” with acorn oil and Indian corn parched and beaten to flour.  “Men who journeyed away from home usually expected to live mainly off the game they could shoot …  Nuts, berries, oysters, and the juice from green cornstalks were often consumed raw.  The cornstalk juice, which was sucked out, was as sweet as cane juice.  All other foods were cooked.”
 
 
“Oysters, clams, and mussels were roasted; fish were roasted, ungutted and unscaled, either … over a fire or else on a spit.” 
 
 
“Drying these foods was accomplished simply by placing them farther from the fire.  Fish and shellfish alike were smoked as they were dried …  The Powhatans dried oysters and mussels by hanging them upon” sinew strings in the smoke.  “Shellfish were also boiled in a bisque that was thickened with cornmeal, while fish were frequently boiled in a stew, the broth of which, like the broth of meat stews, was drunk with relish.    Venison could be either dried in smoke or boiled for immediate consumption” (Rountree 50, 51).
 
The historian David Beers Quinn describes how the cooking pot was constructed and utilized.  “The shell tempered clay was coiled from the bottom upward and was shaped as it was built by fabric (string wound around dowels) tools, which left impressions on the pot.  At the bottom tip a cap or point of clay was placed to complete its conical shape.  The art was in maintaining an evenly balanced structure and then baking the pot upside down on a slow fire.    For cooking purposes the pot was placed on a heap of earth, point (or knob) downward, to keep it from falling over, and then sticks of wood were placed carefully around it so that the heat reached the pot evenly” (Quinn 195).  The pot was filled with water, the food items inserted, and the contents brought to a boil. 
 
Sexual division of labor was clear-cut.  “In general, men’s responsibilities took them away from the village.  Women’s work focused on the village and its surrounding agricultural fields” (Oberg 23).  Women made mats, baskets, pots, and mortars, made clothing, pounded corn, made bread, prepared meals, gathered shellfish, and planted and harvested crops.  Box sexes worked hard.  “Skeletal remains from Late Woodland sites in the Virginia Tidewater indicate that arthritis began to afflict Indians in their thirties, and that their bodies by this age were beginning to wear out.  Life expectancy hovered at around thirty-five years.  Few women, it seems, lived long enough to experience menopause, and between a fifth and a third of all children died before age five. 
 
Men hunted and fought.  Their role as hunters and warriors shaped their identity as men and their relationships with other beings in the Algonquian cosmos.  Men killed in order to preserve, protect, and sustain life.  While men killed, women created life.  They planted, raised, and tended the crops.  They gave birth, creating life anew.  They raised the children.”  The Algonquian world was a “world of balance where every being was supposed to have its place” (Oberg 23-24).  How food was obtained was part of that balance.
 
Works Cited:
 
Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2008.  Print.
 
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606.  The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 1985.  Print.
 
Rountree, Helen C.  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.  University of Oklahoma Press, 2013.  Print.
 
Sloan, Kim. A New World: England’s First View of America. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2007.  Print.    


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Survey
 
On April 26 of this year I posted survey questions asked by historical fiction writer and blogger A. K. Todd about male and female historical fiction reading preferences.  He has posted the results of his survey questions on his blog site.  I found his findings quite interesting.  You may read the results by clicking the link provided below or by accessing Mr. Todd’s blog site: http://awriterofhistory.com/
 – Harold Titus
***
The 2015 reader survey ran from April 23 to May 19 and reached 2033 participants from different parts of the world.
2015 Historical Fiction Reader Survey report summarizes results shedding light on preferences and habits of readers, particularly in the realm of historical fiction. The report includes unique questions for authors, bloggers and publishing industry professionals as well as a series of questions regarding social reading. Click here to access the full 24-page report.
Stay tuned for further insights regarding favourite authors -- more than 3600 entries to collate -- and favourite historical fiction -- more than 4000 entries to collate -- as well as deeper analysis from cross-tabulation of results.


Monday, June 1, 2015

Review
Favorite Daughter, Part One
by Paula Margulies
 
I was not entirely satisfied with Paula Margulies’s Favorite Daughter, Part One.  Certain aspects of the novel informed and entertained me.  Other aspects disappointed.
 
I commend the author for her selection of subject matter.  Historians know very little about Algonquian tribes that lived near the Atlantic coastal waters in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries.  Their knowledge is limited to what English explorers and colonial leaders chose to report.  The story about Pocahontas and John Smith that most people are familiar with – for instance, Pocahontas throwing her body over Smith to prevent his execution -- is Smith’s version of what happened.  Historians question Smith’s veracity.  The author has written a somewhat different account.
 
I compliment her additionally for detail she provides about Virginia Algonquian life. 
 
I was interested in the food the Algonquian Americans ate and how it was prepared.  The way the women carried water (in large, hollowed out gourds and in deer bladders) and how at least the elite villagers dried their hands (on downy bird feathers) intrigued me.  The author’s detail about ceremonial dances was informative.  For example, a successful group hunt was replicated afterward in the village by its women, representing the hunters, surrounding the men, dressed to represent the hunted.  Closing upon the increasingly clustered “animals,” the “hunters” sang songs that urged the prey to surrender.
 
How the Algonquians identified objects entirely foreign to them and how they identified the passage of time was also intriguing.  The Atlantic Ocean was called “the Great Waters.”  An English sailing ship was a “swan canoe.”  A musket was a “fire-stick.”  A year’s passing was called a change of leaves.  A month was a new full moon.
 
I appreciated the author’s portrayal of Powhatan.  He is not the stereotypical fierce warrior, intimidator, and intractable enemy of the Jamestown settlement as he is often depicted.  Fairly early in the novel the author has Powhatan say this to Pocahontas.
 
“In my sixty years, I’ve seen our people flee, to lie in the cold woods, feeding upon nothing but acorns and roots, with no rest, little food, and poor sleep,” he says.  “We’ve prevailed, but we’ve lost many, and still the outsiders return.  If our people are to survive, we must learn to live with the intruders.  It’s only through friendship and trust that we bring safety to the people.”
 
Finally, the author’s narration of events leading to John Smith’s capture and his averted execution did engage me.  Part of the appeal was the natives’ lack of knowledge about the Tassantassuk (the outsiders, i.e. the English).  How Powhatan chose to engage the English, recognizing that every option had its risks, encouraged me eager to continue reading.
 
Much as I liked certain aspects of the novel, I was not satisfied with the entirety of it.
 
First, although the author’s narration is professional enough throughout, in no specific place did I consider it exceptional.  I did like many of the similes Pocahontas uses because she relates sensory impressions to facts of nature.
 
            “still as stones at the bottom of a river”
            “limbs twisted like the oak tree”
            “her arms and legs brown and smooth like the skin of a water snake”
            “his hair hangs to his shoulders like wet vines”
 
I felt, however, that her presentation of sensory description in scenes involving dialogue could occasionally have been more precise, more what the senses actually experience than what the mind easily generalizes.  The narration in the example below is a good example.  It is adequate, not exceptional.
 
The urge to run after him is strong; I take a step in his direction and then stop when I see Winganuske [her father’s newest wife] at the door of my father’s house.
 
“What’s the matter, Pocahontas?” she murmurs.  “Is your future husband leaving you already?”  The smile on her face does not match the tone of her words.
 
“He is not my husband,” I mutter, the skin on my cheeks burning.
 
“And whose fault is that?” she asks.
 
“You don’t know anything about me and Kocoum,” I say, my lips quivering and my voice shaking in my throat.  “Why can’t you leave us alone?”
 
Second, I am not a fan of first person narration.  Pocahontas tells us her thoughts, feelings, understandings, and actions.  At the beginning of the novel she is eleven-years-old.  Her primary conflict, once we get past Smith’s averted execution, is her difficulty in making a life-changing choice.  Should she marry her handsome suitor with whom she has had sex and thereafter immerse herself entirely in the ways of her culture or pursue her remarkable opportunity (her friendship with Smith) to grow beyond the limitations of her culture by learning what the strange, intriguing Englishmen could teach her?  It is a worthy conflict around which an engrossing historical novel could be constructed, but I felt the author fell short of accomplishing that.  (Maybe her forthcoming second installment -- Part Two -- will succeed)  Instead, we read repeated questioning of whom she really loves, the suitor or Smith.  The novel ends without any progress being made toward resolving the conflict.  To pad content, the author invents other conflicts: her father’s newest wife clearly dislikes her; her best friend disappears after Powhatan chooses the girl to sleep with Smith, a native custom afforded guests.  After Smith is released by Powhatan to return to Jamestown, I lost interest in the novel.  The only question that I wanted answered was how much more would Powhatan tolerate being used by the English before he accepted the fact that he could not live next to them in peace.  Utilizing third person points of view that focuses on Powhatan and Smith as well as Pocahontas would have dramatized better the second half of the novel.



Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Independence
 
A stout man of 38 years sat waiting to affix his signature to a copy of the newly formed and approved Declaration of Independence.  Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia, had moved on June 7, 1776, that “these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States …” The Second Continental Congress’s Committee of the Whole had discussed Lee’s motion the following day and Monday, June 10, before deciding to postpone final consideration until July 1.  The middle colonies and South Carolina had not been ready to sanction the final break; but -- the Committee had believed -- given time, they could be persuaded.  A committee, which included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams, had consequently been formed to write a declaration of independence.  On July 2 a resolution for independence had been adopted.  On July 4 twelve colonies had approved Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. The New York delegation had chosen not to vote.  On July 15 New York had accepted the Declaration and Congress had ordered that it be engrossed on parchment and signed by the members. 
 
Thomas Nelson was one of the famous Virginia delegation that had won so much praise from the pen of John Adams of Massachusetts.  Washington, Henry, Pendleton, and Bland were all missing from that first group of delegates who had come north in the spring of 1775.  Nelson was one of four new men who had taken their places.  Adams described him “as a fat men … He is a speaker, and alert and lively for his weight.”  Pennsylvania delegate Benjamin Rush provided more information.  Rush wrote that Nelson is “a respectable country gentleman, with excellent dispositions in public and private.  He was educated in England.  He informed me that he was the only person out of nine or ten Virginians that were sent with him to England for education that had taken part in the American Revolution.  The rest were all Tories” (McGee 224, 226).
 
Before affixing his signature Nelson very likely recalled his position on independence during the previous twelve months. 
 
He had decided early that hostilities had progressed too far and that a final stand would have to be taken.  There remained, however, opposition to independence in Congress, especially from New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland.  “But events were pushing the colonies in the direction of independence whether all of them liked it or not.  In Virginia the militia commanded by William Woodford defeated a British force under [former Governor] Dunmore at Great Bridge, forcing the noble lord to abandon Norfolk; in Canada the combined American forces under Benedict Arnold and Richard Montgomery were repulsed before Quebec on December 31 [1775].  These occurrences, coupled with a royal proclamation of December 23 closing the colonies to all commerce as of March 1, 1776, made the breach between England and the colonies almost irreparable” (Evans 54).  On January 22 Nelson had written his friend in Virginia, John Page, how he wished he knew “the sentiments of our people upon the grand points of confederation and foreign alliance, or, in other words, of independence … We cannot expect to form a connexxion with any foreign power, as long as we have a womanish hankering after Great Britain; and to be sure, there is not in nature a greater absurdity, than to suppose we can have any affection for a people who are carrying on the most savage war against us” (Sanderson 51).
 
Soon afterward, Thomas Paine’s famous Common Sense had been published.  Nelson had sent a copy home to his friend, Thomas Jefferson, at Monticello.  Here was a stirring piece of work that Nelson must have embraced heartily.  No doubt he had hoped it would convince many in the states of the folly of striving for peaceful conciliation with Great Britain.  There were still many men in the Congress who needed to alter their thinking.  In February Nelson had written Page an intense letter that expressed his frustration.
 
Independence, confederation, and foreign alliance are as formidable to some of the Congress, I fear a majority, as an apparition to a weak, enervated woman.  Would you think that we have some among us, who still expect honourable proposals from the administration?  By heavens, I am an infidel in politics, for I do not believe, were you to bet a thousand pounds per scruple for honour at the court of Britain, that you would get as many as would amount to an ounce.  If terms should be proposed, they will savour so much of despotism, that America cannot accept them.  We are now carrying on a war and no war.  They seize our property wherever they find it, either by land or sea; and we hesitate to retaliate, because we have a few friends in England who have hips.  Away with such squeamishness, say I” (Sanderson 52-53).
 
Upon returning to Virginia in March to spend time with his family and to attend to business matters, he had discovered that a majority of the colony’s population favored independence.  The Virginia Gazette had “expressed the sentiment of many when, soon after his arrival, it declared: ”If we cannot enjoy the privileges of Englishmen when connected with them, let us instantly break off to them” (Evans 55).
 
On May 6, one hundred twenty-eight delegates had convened in Williamsburg to conduct the final business of the soon to be replaced House of Burgesses.  The Convention had elected Edmund Pendleton to be its president.  Nelson had been appointed to the important Committee on Privileges and Elections.  Jefferson had urged Nelson to raise in committee the issue of independence.  He had done so in his numerous communications with other delegates.  To one delegate (not identified) he had written “having weighed the arguments on both sides, I am clearly of the opinion that we must, as we value the liberties of America, or even her existence, without a moment’s delay, declare independence.”  There was no need to determine the opinions of France and Spain.  France would benefit from the separation.  Fear in the minds of some that England would give territory to either country on the condition that it not support the colonies was “chimerical.”  Nelson declared that the military “would abandon the colors if independence were not declared.  … the spirit of the people (except a very few in these lower parts, whose little blood has been sucked out by mosquitoes), cry out for this declaration” (Evans 56).
 
Quite surprisingly, Patrick Henry had been hesitant.   He had feared precisely what Nelson had dismissed – “that England would call on some European ally with the promise of a part of the colonies as a reward for helping to subdue them.”  Henry had believed that an alliance with France or Spain had to be affected before separation could be declared.  When he had recognized that “he would lose much of his support unless he lead the movement [for immediate independence], he took the initiative, allies or no allies” (Evans 57).  Consequently, he had devised a plan.  He would persuade Nelson to introduce a motion for independence and Henry would then work for its acceptance.  The plan had been effected.
 
Edmund Randolph had written later that Nelson “affected nothing of oratory, except what ardent feelings might inspire, and characteristic of himself he had no fears of his own with which to temporize …” (McGee 226-227). “He passed over the probabilities of foreign aid, stepped lightly on the difficulties of procuring military stores and the inexperience of officers and soldiers, but pressed a declaration of independence upon what, with him, were incontrovertible grounds; that we were oppressed; had humbly supplicated a redress of grievances, which had been refused with insult; and to return from battle against the sovereign with the cordiality of subjects was absurd” (Evans 57).
 
On May 17 Nelson had left for Philadelphia with the Virginia delegation carrying the resolutions that the Virginia convention had agreed upon., to wit that Congress “‘declare the United colonies free and independence states, absolved from all allegiance to, or dependence upon, the crown or parliament of Great Britain’” (Evans 58). 
 
Now, August 2, Thomas Nelson affixed his signature to the official document.
 
Nelson had much to lose financially.  He had written to a Virginia colleague three months earlier that “no man on the continent will sacrifice more than myself by separation” (Evans 56).  Yet quite early he had stood forcefully for independence.  He, like every delegate to the Continental Congress, also knew the personal danger of this position.  What real chance did a band of disjointed states, challenging the immense power of Great Britain, have of prevailing?  It behooved Nelson to work assiduously to achieve that outcome.
 
Works cited:
 
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  The University Press of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia, 1975.  Print. 
 
McGee, Dorothy Horton.  Famous Signers of the Declaration.  New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1955.  Print.
 
John Sanderson, Biography of the Signers of the Declaration of Independence, Second edition. Philadelphia: William Brown and Charles Peters, 1828.  V.  Print.