Saturday, August 30, 2014

I have had to repost this blog entry.  The August 1 entry disappeared while I attempted to make a correction in its content.  The revised entry is below.

John White's "Lost Colony"

William Sanderson’s Moonlight and John Watts’s Hopewell arrived three leagues off Hatorask Island August 15, 1590. Watts’s five ships had wasted considerable time in the Caribbean harassing local shipping while they had waited for the great Santo Domingo treasure fleet’s appearance. Occasionally, one or two galleons of a great fleet lagged. These were the prize ships that privateers like the Hopewell’s Captain Cocke and other ship captains craved. As they had waited, July had passed into August. John White’s anxiety had reached its apex. Assuming that the Hopewell did sail to Roanoke, it would need to leave the Outer Banks no later than the end of August to avoid a winter crossing of the Atlantic.

It was August 18, the third birthday of White’s Roanoke-born granddaughter Virginia Dare, when White, Captain Cocke, and a contingent of sailors set foot on Roanoke Island. Climbing a sandy bank, they sighted on a tree branch the Roman letters CRO, signifying, White interpreted, the word “Croatoan,” the name of Manteo’s village of birth, some 50 miles distant on the southern part of Hatarask Island. White explained to the mystified sailors that prior to his 1587 leaving-taking, the settlers “had considered relocating.” Fear of further reprisal by local Algonquians for wrongs done to them and of sudden discovery by Spanish ships were weighing on them. “… they were prepared to remove from Roanoke 50 miles into the main.” And if he were unable to find them upon his return, “they devised a plan, a secret token agreed upon” that they would “write or carve on the trees or posts of the doors the name of the place where they should be seated. … I willed them, that if they should happen to be distressed in any of those places, that they should carve over the letters or names, a cross” (Miller 13).

Entering the village compound, they saw not a door, house, shed, board, or even a nail where the 1587 structures had existed. Standing before them instead, in the center of the compound, was “a high wooden palisade, artificially constructed of trees with curtains and flankers very fort-like. … On one of the chief trees or posts at the right side of the entrance to the palisade, where the bark is scraped away … was engraven CROATOAN … without any cross or sign of distress” (Miller 14). We can imagine White’s exhilaration, his anticipation of seeing his daughter and granddaughter and, God be willing, all of his friends and associates a day’s travel by ship thereafter.

Out at sea a great storm was building. With some difficulty the sailors rowed their scallops back to the Hopewell and Moonlight, anchored off Port Ferdinando. “Night passes fitfully, the ships plunging in the mounting swells. The next morning, despite the weather, Captain Cocke agrees to set a course for the island of Croatoan … The anchor spins away, taking a second down with it. Untethered, the ship drives fast into the shore. Toward the shoals. … By accident, sheer luck, they fall into a channel or deep water and avoid being dashed to pieces on the bar. … Only one anchor remains of an original four, and the weather grew to be fouler and fouler; our victuals scarce and our cask and fresh water lost” (Miller 16).

The idea of wintering in the Caribbean was considered. Decisions were made. The Moonlight would return directly to England, its crew declaring it to be “weak and leaky.” The Hopewell would remain in the West Indies! Hope yet! White could join his settlers in the spring! But then, “August 28 it happens. The wind shifts. … The storm blasts up off the Carolina coast from out of nowhere. … A wild storm, full of malice and greed. Howling winds buffet the ship, coiling the sails around the masts. … Wrenching the Hopewell away from its destination [Trinidad]. … The Hopewell is forced east in a direct line with the Azores. Away from the eye of the storm” (Miller 17-18).

“At Flores in the Azores the Moonlight is spotted riding with four English men-of-war. A surprise. The leaky hull only an excuse to rejoin the fray, dodging inactive duty at Roanoke. … And all the while, the enemy sea and her ally the wind continue to play havoc with his [Cocke’s] plans, preventing a landing for provisions … The Hopewell finally surrenders and sets a course for England.” The ship reaches Plymouth October 14. “The voyage is over. White’s last chance to contact the planters had come and gone” (Miller 18).

Sir Walter Raleigh could no longer help him. The continuous attacks directed at Raleigh by the young Earl of Essex and his friends had reduced considerably the Queen’s regard for him. And then, Raleigh utterly destroyed that which was left. In the summer of 1591 he seduced secretly Elizabeth (Beth) Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth’s maids of honor. In July they conceived a child. In the autumn they were secretly married. Beth left the Court in February 1592, gave birth to a son in March, and returned to Court in April. Rumors circulated. In July, “Queen Elizabeth, in a rage, hurls the lovers in the Tower. Raleigh’s disgraces leave him fair game for his enemies” (Miller 203). The radical English Jesuit Robert Parsons led Raleigh’s debasers. He had already, in February, charged Raleigh with atheism. A rash of vicious publications followed. Raleigh “is accused of the loss of life of voyagers and mariners, and of damaging England while enriching himself through militarism and ambition.” He is “an epicurean. A free-thinker. Separatist sympathizer. A loose cannon” (Miller 203).

Raleigh was released from the Tower in August (Beth in December) but was barred from the Court. “Nor did her {Elizabeth’s] displeasure abate, for he was obliged to live quietly … for the next five years at Sherborne Castle” (Weir 413) in Devon and on his estates in Ireland.

In February 1593 Richard Hakluyt received a letter from John White, who was residing on one of Raleigh’s Irish estates. Nearly two and a half years had passed since his tragic return from Roanoke. The letter detailed the events of his 1590 experience. “He commits his colonists to the merciful help of the Almighty. … White was never heard from again” (Miller 204).

Nor would John White’s settlers make contact with any European, as far as historians know. Working with only scraps of information, historians do speculate where John White’s “lost colony” may have relocated and what may have happened to them. Here is one historian’s theory.

David Beers Quinn, the author of Set Fair for Roanoke, believed that a small segment of the settlers went to Croatoan to await John White’s expected return, while the vast majority, perhaps 88 individuals, sailed to the south shore of Chesapeake Bay, the intended location of White’s voyage to Roanoke in 1587. Governor Ralph Lane had sent a detachment of soldiers to that area to live among the Chesapeake natives during the 1585-1586 winter. The success of that expedition was a major reason why Sir Walter Raleigh chose not to resurrect the Roanoke Island colony. Quinn stated: “it was not until Jamestown had been established for a year and a half that clear evidence emerged that the main body of the colonists had indeed joined the Chesapeake Indians as early as 1587 and had lived and perished with them” (345). Quinn estimated that the pinnace in their possession probably made three trips to the Bay and the 15 miles up the Elizabeth River to Skicoac, their chosen location.

“The moving of the colonists northward in September 1587 would make sense, as they would wish to be established before winter. … There would need to have been messengers sent, probably overland, to warn them [the Chesapeake Indians at Skicoac] of the approach of the colony, and one or two men must have spoken enough of their language to be able to communicate effectively with them, with, perhaps, the guidance of one of Manteo’s Indians. … The first winter and the first growing season would be crucial. It may be that a permanent village site was carved out in 1588 at some distance from the main Chesapeake town to allow the settlers to develop their own community life. … The settlers would have been buoyed up with hope that sometime in 1588 White [told of their location by colonists at Croatoan] would appear with wives and children and single men and women to add to their strength and increase the size of the colony” (347, 349). Because White never appeared, intermarriage and assimilation with the natives had to have taken place over the succeeding years.

The Chesapeakes had successfully resisted the growing power of the Powhatan and their ambitious chief Wahunsonacocks. Quinn wrote: “For several decades before 1600 he had been building up his authority in the Virginia Tidewater, subjecting by diplomacy or war, or both, tribe after tribe along the James and York rivers and on the Virginia Eastern Shore. Not all the tribes on the south bank of the James or the southern shore of Chesapeake Bay were prepared to acknowledge his authority … Among the tribes that evidently did not pay him tribute were the Chesapeakes. Moreover (if our assumptions are correct), they were harboring and making marriage alliances with a group of white refugees who had appeared many years before but had, apparently, not played any part in the politics or warfare of the area and so had not been molested. But the entry of a Spanish ship in 1588 into the Chesapeake Bay [see my blog entry: “1588-1590: Drake’s Failure, Raleigh’s Decline, White’s Dilemma” -- July 1, 2014] must have given Powhatan some grounds for alarm” (360). (Quinn uses the name of the large Algonquian nation -- Powhatan -- as the name of its chief) In 1603 an English ship commanded by Samuel Mace, making landfall, seized several natives presumably of Powhatan’s confederation. The natives were taken to London to be interrogated (as Manteo and Wanchese had been questioned in 1584) to obtain useful knowledge of the Chesapeake territory and its inhabitants. Powhatan’s priests prophesized that white men would come again to deprive Powhatan of his kingdom. After three ship commanded by Captain Christopher Newport entered Chesapeake Bay in April 2007, Powhatan took action. According to John Smith, Jamestown resident and explorer, and William Strachey, secretary of the Jamestown colony in 1609, Powhatan slaughtered the Chesapeakes and their assimilated white allies. Smith claimed years later that Powhatan himself had confessed this to him December 2008 at the two men’s last meeting. Strachey wrote of instructions given by King James I that Powhatan’s priests be executed and Powhatan’s confederacy be broken apart both as punishment for the slaughter and to establish dominion over Powhatan. This was never done, due to the weakness of the settlement. Jamestown officials, and Smith, did hear rumors of white survivors living in various locations in the North Carolina interior. Two half-hearted attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

Quinn wrote that “no concerted attempt was made to recover them.” A military operation would probably have been too risky given the weakened state of the Jamestown settlement. Quinn believed that emissaries could have been sent to bribe chieftains. This also was not done. By 1611 “it may have seemed mere sentimentality to expend any great effort to recover a handful of individuals. Under the Spartan regime of Sir Thomas Dale, from 1611 to 1616, this seems plausible. But we are left entirely in the dark. The survivors were deserted completely, so far as we know, for twelve or thirteen years … All this time we hear nothing of attempts to search the Outer Banks for colonists who had remained with Manteo. They are never even mentioned and pass into oblivion for the rest of the seventeenth century. We are forced to accept as a fact that they became Indians themselves, and their children and grandchildren wholly so, as the century went on” (375-376).

Next month I will present the theories of Michael Leroy Oberg, Lee Miller, and James Horn.

Works Cited:

Miller, Lee. Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony. New York: Arcade Publishing, 2001. Print.

Quinn, David Beers. Set Fair for Roanoke. Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1985. Print.

Weir, Alison. Elizabeth the Queen. London: Vintage Books, 1998. Print. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"A Circle of Earth"
by Patricia Weil
I have to go back years to think of a debut novel I have enjoyed as much as Patricia Weil’s “A Circle of Earth.”

First of all, this novel is excellent because Mrs. Weil knows people. Her characters are fully dimensional, authentic, neither entirely exemplary nor contemptible. We identify easily with them; and as with real people we invest our emotions and cast judgment.

Two married couples dominate the novel. Henry Gray marries Lillian McClinton, a dainty young woman a step or two above him in class. An empathetic person with an inquiring mind, restless by nature, Henry is forced by his father to do supervisory work at a cotton mill. Later, to support Lillian and his young family in the manner he feels they deserve, he buys a quarter ownership in a saw mill, in both instances stunting his potential intellectual growth. As his economic difficulties mount, he takes to drinking. We discover that he is an alcoholic. Emma Swann, a trusting innocent raised with compatible sisters by loving parents, protected, as if in a cocoon, from the harsh realities of Alabama life before 1914, is persuaded by Ralston Griffen, an unfeeling, self-absorbed, controlling young man, to become a rural farm wife and mother. Henry and Emma must deal with their deteriorating marriages, the economic hardships of the Great Depression, and the consequences of their own human failings. Indeed, the stories of Henry, Emma, and their spouses illustrate adroitly the universal truth that a person’s life is shaped always by time, place, parentage, the actions of other people, chance, and that person’s strengths and weaknesses of character.

In the novel’s first two chapters the author captures easily our interest by having Henry and Emma look back upon their lives from the vantage point of decades of experience. We are given glimpses of moments of crises that cause us to want to know everything about their experiences. For seemingly the first half of the novel Henry and Emma are featured in alternate chapters. The momentum of their stories accelerates. Emma’s basic conflict is resolved before Henry’s. The last several chapters are a satisfying denouement.

I was especially impressed with Mrs. Weil’s knowledge of her subject matter. Here are two prime examples.

Ralston Griffen has taken his innocent, young bride to the farm he has purchased. The previous owner has let the land go unattended. Ralston and Emma must harvest the corn and cotton crops, entangled by coarse, wild vegetation. “It was angry work, this work of ripping up and pushing apart that Black Belt soil, which was weighed with clay, netted with roots that drove deep, like knots of twine. He had worn out and replaced a plow point well before half of the rows were finished. Then had to go back over each foot of the fields with a harrow—between the furrows, the high grass had only been flattened, not pulled up. He began over the corn, matted with thick plants. Like the sour Jimsonweed that grew up to his shoulders. The rows were crisscrossed with thin, tickly grasses, in places scattered with morning glory.”

After Ralston abandons Emma and their children, Emma’s demeanor changes. “The children missed their leisure, the long Saturdays of baseball, train watching, the lengthy hikes to the places that were good to fish or swim. But more than these things they missed their mother. Nettie, especially. In the past, among themselves, they had joked about Emma’s carrying-on, all the little nonsense things—and the teasing. They didn’t understand that they relied on those things. There was no joy now in Emma. And, for the children, everyday life had thinned down into something gray and flavorless. When Emma tried to force the old humor, it was worse, somehow. The children felt the strain.”

To tell a story that spans at least 60 years, an author must narrate by “telling” much more than by “showing.” A skilled writer like Mrs. Weil does this clearly and intelligently. Here is an example.

From childhood Henry’s older brother Drefus had been his mentor and protector. Early on, the author writes: “There’d be hearty hugs and back clapping. And the two men would settle in the living room or on the porch, where they’d talk and smoke, sometimes far into the night. One or the other would produce a bottle. … Then Drefus would elaborate in great earnest on the subject of where he had been. They laughed out loud in the talk. Both were long-bodied men; both tended to draw up a leg as they warmed to a subject. Drefus was in love with flight—of Birmingham, Memphis, Mobile, New Orleans. Of train stations late at night, the goings and coming of strange, city people. His stories were the wonder and Henry the audience—it had always been that way. But the self-importance of each man was most warmed and gratified in the company of the other.”

“A Circle of Earth” is more a story of thoughts and emotions than action and dialogue. Mrs. Weil’s subjective narration is never dull; it is insightful and emotive. The scene that portrays Ralston’s return to Emma and the children, in which very little is said, is outstanding. Here is a brief excerpt.

“He had come back, it was true, to seek her out. And although Ralston had gone over the prospect of this hoped-for reunion again and again in his mind, it hadn’t occurred to him to prepare what to say. Nor had it occurred to him that there would be any special awkwardness—that when the moment came, he might not know what to do. …

“Come back. He had come back. Still, there was nothing to say. Emma didn’t move in her chair. But her feelings, now jarred loose, careened in opposing directions. The children. Safe. They would be safe again. They would no longer be hungry. But he had deserted them, left them to get by any old way that they could. His own blood—wife and family. There was also anger in the wild rush of feelings. And the shame of it. Bruising. She would never get over it. Emma’s emotions were crazy, in their sudden release. For so long it had been there: the dread that tugged at her mind like a tiny, malicious bite. Fear of the hunger. The cold. The mortgage money. The crops. All of it. But it was over, now. He had come back. For a few moments the welter of relief and long overdue anger jammed inside Emma. Then she was overcome by it all.”

There are many scenes in this novel, mostly serious and some light-hearted, that captivated me. These included the scene of Ralston’s return, the scene of Ralston’s courtship of Emma, Henry’s sessions with his psychiatrist, the scene in which Henry begs for food during a brief stop of “riding the rails” with Drefus, the brief, tender scenes that reveal Emma and Lillian’s growing friendship, and a scene in which Lillian converses politely with two senior high school boys that, on a lark, had come to her dilapidated house to check out Lillian’s attractive, easily humiliated, freshman daughter Elizabeth.

Finally, I compliment Mrs. Weil for her excellent use of sensory detail. Her characters always have presence. She employs imagery effectively in brief scenes like this one.

“At not quite 6:30 on a Sunday morning, the sound of the telephone woke Henry. The ringing was strange to his ears, and he lay for some time resisting it, sleep-soaked and perspiring. Night had brought no relief from the early heat spell that had lasted for more than a week. He and Lillian had tangled themselves in the bed sheets, which felt damp to the touch.”

And she employs imagery beautifully in lengthier passages.

“And how good it was to be out! … Henry stalked the old alleys as a schoolboy would do, senses alert for small discoveries. He passed carriage houses converted to garages, some with fraying buggies, discarded toy wagons or hobby horses that had once belonged to children as old, now, or older than he. He caught all the cooking smells from breakfasts and dinners, the sweetish stink of garbage, the sunny odors of soapsuds and warm grass, newly watered. He listened to the carryings-on of cooks and delivery men, the shrieks of children unsupervised behind houses. He occasionally overheard quarrels from anonymous upstairs windows. These were the smells and sounds of days going by, simple days in the everyday lives of people.”

“A Circle of Earth” is an outstanding novel.      

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Major John Pitcairn -- "For the Glory of the Marines"
General Gage had placed Major Pitcairn second in command of the 700 plus soldiers he would send to Concord April 19, 1775, to locate and destroy illegally stored gunpowder, cannon, and miscellaneous military supplies.  Having started their march later than what Gage had expected, the expedition’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith (see my blog “Fat Francis,” July 11, 2014), ordered Pitcairn to hurry six light-infantry companies ahead of the remaining troops to seize control of Concord’s two key bridges.  Entering Lexington on his way to Concord, Pitcairn encountered approximately 60 militiamen formed up in two lines on the village common.  Recognizing the threat they presented, Pitcairn ordered his soldiers not to fire but, instead, to “surround and disarm them.”  One or two musket reports came not from the common.  Insensitively employed  earlier by Smith, fatigued, in a temper, Pitcairn’s soldiers, shouting, cursing, wanted to fight.  The closest to the militiamen of the six companies redeployed itself.  The first rank fired a volley.  Over the shoulders of the kneeling first rank, the second rank volleyed.  Chaos ensued.  Here is part of the action as I envisioned it, taken from “Crossing the River.”
     He shouted, “Soldiers, do not fire! Keep your ranks! Sairround and dis-arrm ‘em!”
     A few faces turned to stare at him. Others, heads upright, necks stiff, ranted. This is the culmination, he thought, of months of confinement, of daily provincial abuse, of this day hours and miles of exhausting toil.
     “‘Pon my orr-der, sairround and dis-arrm ‘em!” he repeated.
     He saw that officers were relaying his message to the three companies behind. The 4th and 10th continued to rage. Let them, he thought. Let their profanity expend their wrath. Hardening himself, he rode toward the defiant sixty.
     Seventy-five feet away, feeling his own rush of temper, he drew his sword. Here was the source of his frustration. Why hadn't they separated?! Contemptible fools! Wanting to be blasted to eternity! “Dispairse, ye damned rebels! Lay down your arrms, ye damned rebels, and dispairse!” He jerked his reins sideways; his horse veered sharply to the right.
     Still they remained, rooted, obdurate. “Lay down your arrms, damn ye!” he shouted. Obscenities culled from years of service issued from his lips. “Bloody rebels! Why don't ye lay down your arrms?!”
     Veering left, he repeated his order. Two colonials, another, two more stepped back; three, crouched, were moving toward the Concord road. A beginning. Others would surely follow.
     A musket report!
     God’s blood in purgatory! Pot-boiling shit!
     Who?! Who had disobeyed his order?!
     He stared at the rebel line. Not one militiaman had fallen! Who, who had been fired at?!
     Looking right, he stared at the King’s Own. Its first rank was kneeling!
     Behind him, he heard the command, “Fire! Fire, damn you, fire!”
     Gunpowder along the battle line detonated! Smoke billowed.
     “Damn ye! God damn ye! Cease firing!” he shouted. Riding toward the 4th, he slashed his sword downward.
     Pitcairn was enveloped by rushing soldiers. Where the men of the 4th stood, a cacophonous second volley resounded.
     Swearing, bellowing, his voice lost in a maniacal roar, Pitcairn was swept along. Only when all but the dead and dying had fled the Common did many of the soldiers stop. The others, rabid savages, vaulting stone walls, searching yards, scouring woods, pressed on.
It is not my intention to chronicle every action Pitcairn took during the lengthy day’s events.  It is sufficient to say that at Concord, unlike Colonel Smith, he acted responsibly.  During the harrowing march back toward Lexington, Smith, wounded, called upon him again to perform a difficult, perilous duty: this time keep the soldiers at the head of the column in disciplined marching order despite the continuous fire they were receiving from both sides of the road.  Pitcairn’s action deserve your notice.  At the summit of Fiske Hill, just west of Lexington, ahead of the column, Pitcairn attempted to halt what would become a head-long, runaway stampede.  Again, my enactment.
     Hard riding took him past the front of the column to the top of the hill. Standing in his stirrups, facing the advancing soldiers, he shouted, “Halt! Ye will halt and forrm up!”
     He saw sweat-drenched, dust-encrusted soldiers possessing scarcely the strength to stand. How in God’s name am I to incite them? He began with six choice obscenities.
     “Beyond this hill is Lexington! We are the King’s soldiers! We are not afraid! Hear this!” His eyes scorched the faces of those closest.
     “We will have splendid fighting orrder! We will stay together! We will obey absolutely every officair! We will not yield! We will not succumb! Mark this! If we do these things, only if we do these things, we will prevail! Forrm up, two deep! Quickly now! Do it!” To the officers that had formed the restraining barrier behind him, he shouted, “It is imperative that ye enforrce this orrder down the column!”
     Off both sides of the road gunpowder blasted. Pitcairn's horse reared. Twisted in his saddle, Pitcairn toppled.
     Seated in the road, legs spread, he felt a sharp pain in his right hip, then in his right elbow.
     Had a soldier seized his horse’s bridle?! Ignoring the pain, standing, staring up the slope, he spotted his mount vaulting a fence, carrying to the rebels, holstered upon his saddle -- buggering crap! -- his prized, ivory-handled pistols!
    Desperate men were surging past him.
    Where was the fatigue he had witnessed?! Crazed, stampeding horses they were, charging down the long slope! Fleeing to Lexington hell-bent!
Unbeknownst to Pitcairn, Smith, and the beleaguered army, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Percy and approximately 1,000 soldiers had arrived just east of Lexington from Boston.  General Gage had sent reinforcements.  Colonel Smith’s reeling army was able to collapse within Percy’s hastily formed, secure perimeter.  Hours later, the combined forces reached Charlestown, to be rowed later across the Charles River to Boston.
The Committee of Safety of the illegal Provincial Congress decided thereafter to fortify Breeds Hill, the closer to Boston of Charlestown’s two abandoned promontories, their intention to shell the city.  Generals William Howe, George Clinton, and John Burgoyne had arrived by ship to assist Gage in quashing what had become widespread insurrection.  During the night of June 16 militiamen built a redoubt 160 feet long and 89 feet wide on Breeds Hill.  Supplementary ditches were also dug.  Informed to the activity, Gage approved of Howe’s plan to seize the hill by direct, frontal assault.  At 3 p.m. June 17, the first wave of Howe’s forces, each man wearing a 60 pound pack, was ready to ascend the hill.  Positioned behind stone walls and fences and crouched in ditches the provincials waited, ordered to hold their fire until the enemy closed to within 150 yards. 
Men fell “as thick as sheep in a field,” one observer would remark.  Survivors turned about, fled down the hill.  Howe, determined to take the redoubt breastwork, ordered a second assault.  The colonists waited again until the last moment to fire.  One British officer wrote: “An incessant stream of fire poured from the rebel lines.  It seemed a continued sheet of fire for nearly thirty minutes.”  A Connecticut private commented: “A sheet of fire belched from the fence with such fearful precision that whole platoons of the British were swept down.”
Major Pitcairn, leading a contingent of marines and elements of the 43rd and 47th infantry regiments, participated in the third assault.  Slowly they gained ground, advancing over rails, stone walls, old brick kilns, and hedges.  They reached a bend of fortifications where hedges and trees extended beside a low stone wall that paralleled a road.   The line of infantry that attacked this position was forced to fall back.  Pitcairn ordered the line to make way for his marines.  “Bayonet the buggers if they don’t,” he shouted to his men.  Waving his sword, he yelled, “Now, for the glory of the Marines!”  A number of them fell, including Pitcairn, shot in the chest.
While the redoubt was being taken, Pitcairn lay in the arms of his young son William.  Drenched by his father’s blood, William carried Pitcairn from the battle field.  A long boat transported Pitcairn to a house in Boston where he lay dying.  General Gage sent him the best doctor he could find available, a Thomas Kast.  The 25-year-old doctor informed Pitcairn that it had been General Gage that had sent him.  Pitcairn asked the doctor to thank the General for remembering him, but he believed he was beyond human assistance.  Kast wanted the sheet covering Pitcairn removed, but Pitcairn objected.  He wanted time to dictate messages to loved ones.  Afterward, he permitted Kast to open his waistcoat and remove material that had collected about the wound.  Blood poured forth in great quantity.  Kast removed the musket ball and dressed the wound.  Pitcairn died two hours later.
William returned to the hard-won field of battle.  He said to his fellows, “I have lost my father.”  Several responded, “We have all lost a father.”
Pitcairn was buried in the crypt of Christ Church.  A modern-looking plaque in the Old North Church reads:
Major John Pitcairn
Fatally wounded
while rallying the Royal Marines
at the Battle of Bunker Hill
was carried from the field to the boats
on the back of his son
who kissed him and returned to duty
He died June 17, 1775 and his body
was interred beneath this church.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Major John Pitcairn -- "A Good Man in a Bad Cause"
Major John Pitcairn is an intriguing historical figure.  The fact that he was respected by many north Boston patriots during his residence in the city prior to the Battle of Bunker Hill is evidence that he was not the stereotypical close-minded, arrogant British officer. 
Pitcairn was baptized at Saint Serf's Church in the flourishing merchant port of Dysart, Scotland, December 28, 1722.  He was the youngest son of Reverend David Pitcairn, cleric of St. Andrews in Dysart, and Katherine Hamilton, both of well-connected gentry families.  David Pitcairn had served as a chaplain in the War of the Spanish Succession 1701-1714.  He was Dysart’s minister for nearly 50 years. 
Raised in the church’s manse, which overlooked the Firth of Forth, the estuary of the River Forth where it flows into the North Sea, John Pitcairn entered the Crown’s service in 1746 as a lieutenant in the 7th (Cornwall) Regiment of Marines.  That same year he married Elizabeth Dalrymple.  They conceived a child, Anne, while living in Edinburgh.  The regiment was subsequently disbanded to save the Admiralty money.  It was not reformed permanently until 1755, at which time Pitcairn’s rank was confirmed.  The following year he was promoted to Captain. 
Pitcairn’s daughter Joanna was born the same year his father David died, 1757.  The Seven Years War had begun in Europe as had its counterpart, the French and Indian War, in North America.  Aboard the HMS Lancaster in route across the Atlantic, Pitcairn participated in the capture of Fort Louisburg, Cape Breton Island, in 1758.  During the 1760s, Pitcairn and his family moved from Edinburgh to Kent, where he joined the Chatham Division of Marines.  His family then consisted of four girls and six boys.  His oldest boy, David, would become a doctor and, eventually, the physician of the Prince Regeant.  His son Robert was the midshipman that sighted in 1767 an undiscovered, obscure Pacific island, which was named after him and where in 1789 the mutineers of the HMS Bounty hid after they had set adrift their captain, William Bligh, and 18 loyal crew members.  Robert was lost at sea in 1770.   Pitcairn’s youngest son Alexander would become a barrister.  His sons William, a marine officer, and Thomas, an officer of the Royal Artillery, were stationed in Boston in 1775.  Pitcairn’s daughters married army and naval officers.
Pitcairn was appointed Major of the Chatham Marine Division in 1771.  He arrived in Boston in December 1774 with 600 marines of the Chatham, Portsmouth, and Plymouth Divisions.  Parliament had passed the Coercive Acts to punish disloyal Bostonians for their defiance of royal and parliamentary authority, blatantly demonstrated December 16, 1773, with the dumping of 342 chests of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor.   Among the punitive measures enacted were the closing of the harbor and the quartering of officers in private residences.  Massachusetts military governor and North America’s commanding general Thomas Gage was charged with enforcing the Coercive Acts, which would remain in effect until the cost of the destroyed tea was paid and colonial rebellion was entirely quashed.
Pitcairn’s arrival did not begin well.  First, he was made aware of the ongoing rift between General Gage and Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves.  Among Graves’s duties was the task of transporting troops across water to land.  Pitcairn witnessed their argument about where the newly arrived marines were to be deposited.  Second, Pitcairn was displeased about the appearance of his men.  How poorly they looked, compared to the appearance of the King’s infantry.  They were small, too small; he would send a letter to the Admiralty advising that future recruits exceed five feet six inches in height.  Additionally, his marines lacked proper winter clothing and equipment.  And their white facing uniforms were forever dirty, owing to the dust and dirt of the surrounding countryside.  Worst of all his frustrations was his marines’ unruliness – animals, he called them.  Some had actually killed themselves, having drunk locally made, lethal rum purchased with the coin they had received selling their equipment.
Pitcairn’s immediate task was to instill self-esteem, a shared purpose, and unit cohesion.  To keep them sober he lived with them in their barracks for weeks.  With rare exceptions he did not flog malcontents.  He sought to inspire by example.  He drilled his marines continuously.  Gradually, he earned their respect.  It had become evident to them that he cared about them.  One of his last acts of compassion, demonstrated just before his participation in the Battle of Bunker Hill, was his request by letter to authorities in England that assistance be given to those he commanded that were destitute.
Pitcairn gained as well the respect of many of the artisans of north Boston, most of whom hated the British military and the punitive acts the army was assigned to enforce.  He attended Christ Church every Sabbath.  At the home of Samuel Shaw, where he was billeted, he held meetings with British officers and local citizens that included Paul Revere.  He socialized freely and listened to the viewpoints of all who attended.   He came to be regarded by the citizenry as trustworthy and honest.  Ezra Stiles, a clergyman and staunch supporter of the anti-British opposition, called Pitcairn “a good man in a bad cause.”
Notwithstanding, Pitcairn was fiercely loyal to his king and country.  He believed that colonial obedience to Parliamentary rule was right and just.  He saw the necessity of enforcing, militarily if needed, total obedience to that rule.  But on a personal level, he was fair-minded, almost empathetic.  He earned the respect of his anti-British host Samuel Shaw by stopping a duel from being fought between Shaw’s intemperate son and Lieutenant Wragg, an arrogant British officer also billeted at the Shaw house.  A quarrel had erupted at the dinner table.  Wragg had uttered an anti-American remark, something offensive, and the young Shaw had thrown wine on him.
Sometime before the evening of April 18, 1775, General Gage apprised Pitcairn of the assignment that would place Pitcairn’s name in every U.S. history textbook.  Pitcairn must have realized beforehand that he would be selected to participate in an expedition into the country to seize and destroy illegally stockpiled military stores.  Here is a scene from my novel “Crossing the River” that dramatizes the character of the man and the ambiguity of his thoughts.
     The day had remained cold, dreary. It will rain during the night, John Pitcairn predicted.
     He stood, as he often did, at the top of Boston Common, facing the River and its complement of ships. Across the River lay Cambridge. Beyond it were the towns of Menotomy and Lexington. He suspected that within the week he would be directing regulars through those villages to seize and destroy munitions stockpiled in Concord.
     The inactivity of his long stay in Boston had made him testy. He was a man that craved action. Little about his life, save his rank, had changed since he had fought the French. Notwithstanding his need for stimulation, he adhered to the belief that whom a soldier waged war against mattered. This particular day his divided perception of the present conflict had caused him, standing high and far above the river, to try to formulate a practical resolution.
     Folly! Beyond all help!
     He stepped off aggressively toward his lodging.
     John Pitcairn was a decisive man. In conduct and speech he did not equivocate. Negligent soldiers by the hundreds had suffered his infamous wrath. Yet his longevity of service and his consequent exposure to a wide gamut of people had been instructive. Over the years he had developed a certain tolerance toward courteous, honorable gentlemen that happened to espouse wrong-headed beliefs. He was not boisterous or waggish in their company as he often was with fellow officers. Instead, he was polite, even congenial. Being quartered amidst the plain-speaking, hard-working craftsmen of North Square hadn’t been a hardship. He had felt at ease with them. They, in turn, had been civil.
     The son of a minister, he attended weekly the services at Christ Church. Walking about North Square, he acknowledged always the presence of those individuals with whom he was acquainted. Occasionally, he engaged in good-natured, restrained banter. He never argued. Honorable men, not of the same mind, valued restraint.
     He knew what most believed. The basis of their entire quarrel with Parliament was that they were denied the rights of Englishmen. In that august body they had no representation. Thus Parliament inflicted injury upon them. So went their argument. He could have pointed out that the war against France on the Continent and here in America had been costly and that the colonies had benefited. They would continue to benefit. Why then should they be exempt from paying their share? Tough-minded, aggressive people they were. Englishmen in that respect. Interacting with them at a personal level had allowed him to feel on occasion a degree of kinship. Their generalized conduct, however, -- especially their contempt for the uniform -- ignited frequently his temper.
     To his Marine friend in England, Colonel John Mackenzie, he had written in December: “I have so despicable an opinion of the people of this country that I would not hesitate to march with the Marines I have with me to any part of the country, and do whatever I was inclined.” To Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, he had declared that stern measures must be taken. “One active campaign, a smart action, and burning two or three of their towns, will set everything to rights. Nothing now, I am afraid, but this will ever convince those foolish bad people that England is in earnest.”
     Tough words. To re-establish English law, to reaffirm Royal and Parliamentary authority, he would indeed slay his colonial brethren. But his personal contact with individual Northenders had given him cause, during quiet moments, to temporize, comportment in a major in the King’s service not to be countenanced!
     Anticipating strife, he passed reluctantly through the front doorway of Samuel Shaw’s house. Most probably Lieutenant Wragg would again antagonize at the family table the old tailor’s son.  Pitcairn would be forced to intercede, dousing temporarily the acute hostility that Parliament had created and Wragg stoked, volatile enmity perpetuated by colonial rabble-rousers and obnoxious junior and senior officers of the King.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Review
"Grenville & The Lost Colony of Roanoke"
by Andrew Thomas Powell
Andrew Thomas Powell’s "Grenville & the Lost Colony of Roanoke" was the fifth secondary source that I read to prepare myself to write a historical novel about the Algonquian natives and English colonizers of Roanoke Island (coastal North Carolina) during the 1580s. Mr. Powell is a former mayor of Bideford, a port city in West Country of England. He is not a professional historian. He is rather disdainful of the historians that have written books about Roanoke. I have read most of those books and believe he is off base. I do give him credit, however, for striving to achieve his purposes. His motives are sincere. He is conscientious. What he presents misses little that is known.  His book is quite readable.

I compliment Mr. Powell, also, for the biographical information he provides about Sir Richard Grenville, a long-time resident of Bideford and important participant in the Roanoke colonial endeavors. I fault him, however, for touching briefly on Grenville’s hot-temper, down-playing it, in my judgment, in his introduction – “I found him to be a complex man who no doubt had a temper if matters did not go his way.” Powell gives one brief example of Grenville’s temper in his biographical chapter. When he was twenty, Grenville killed an antagonist in a duel, in the words of the yeoman of the deceased, “running him throughe wit his sworde.” Two other examples appear in Grenville’s official report of his 1585 voyage. Mr. Powell makes no comment about Grenville’s exhibited temper.

On the Island of St. John in the West Indies Grenville and a band of soldiers met Spanish soldiers on a swampy plain to parlay. Grenville wanted the Spaniards to provide his fleet food and water. Intimidated, the Spaniards agreed to provide Grenville what he requested. On the day appointed for that to happen, the Spaniards did not appear. Grenville had the nearby woods set on fire.

A silver cup belonging to Grenville’s scouting party was stolen by an Algonquian native of the village of Aquascogooc on the mainland off Pamlico Sound. Grenville had a subordinate officer and several soldiers return to the village to demand the cup’s return. The inhabitants of the village fled. The subordinate, acting on Grenville’s orders – I am presuming -- had the village and its corn fields burned.

The bulk of Mr. Powell’s book consists of chapters of official reports written by the leaders of the several stages of attempted colonization and the relief of such. He transcribed the reports into modern English. This is helpful. That these sources are grouped together and easily accessible is also helpful. The author provides footnoted comments here and there to add collateral information and occasional perspective, much of it useful. The reports, however, leave out (heedlessly or intentionally) certain information that historians desperately need to narrate a fuller account of what transpired. For instance, who of Governor Lane’s colony actually participated in the voyage to the Chesapeake Bay during the winter of 1585-1586? John White? Thomas Harriot? Knowing this absolutely matters. Not provided important details in original sources forces historians to search those sources for clues to that information. Thus, we have interpretation and speculation.

Powell interprets and speculates somewhat in his last two chapters. Yet he criticizes historians for doing just that. This annoyed me. Near the end of his book (pages 221-222) he writes: “for all the documentation that exists, there remains a whole raft of debates, not only about what happened to the planters’ colony of 1587, but also about exactly what interpretations should be applied to the original accounts describing the whole series of events that took place during this period in English history. One of the great problems with this is the reliance of so many modern writers on the work of David Beers Quinn in his one-time authoritative book 'Set Fair for Roanoke,' first published more than fifty years ago. [See my August 1, 2014 , Blogs about English Settlements at Roanoke 1584-1590 entry] That reliance has led to a plethora of hypothesizing which, as time has passed by, appears to have become wilder and more fanciful; so much so that it could be argued it is difficult to unearth the original story.”

Is he saying that he believes these historians are presenting interpretations as fact? I have read four of their works; they haven’t. Without exception they delineate which is what. That Mr. Thomas does not like certain interpretations should not exclude them from being presented. I welcome them. The story of Roanoke needs a more complete accounting. Their interpretations stretch my imagination. They offer me possibilities that I may choose to utilize when I write my novel.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The First Year
I am going to try something new. 
I have just about run out of historical material that I want to post.  I have maybe two segments left about individuals that appear in my historical novel Crossing the River.  I have maybe four or five segments left about Algonquian natives and English settlers at Roanoke in the 1580s.  I have provided plenty of excerpts from my novel.  I am having difficulty reading and reviewing historical fiction fast enough to post one review each month.  I would like to feature every month a skilled, debut author of historical fiction.  That hasn’t been possible.  I need to introduce new subject matter. 
I was a public school teacher for 32 years.  Teaching remains in my blood.  I’d like to share with you some of my experiences and what I learned from them.  I want to present an accurate picture of who public school teachers are and what they do.  Teachers need to defend themselves given the vicious onslaught currently directed at them and public education by profit-driven, deep-pocketed, vilifying critics.
How I loathe what they say about us!  These corporate know-it-alls and their paid political allies excoriate low student achievement test scores.  It’s the teachers! they rant.  Bad teachers, teacher tenure, the damn unions!  Failing schools!  Clean house!  Out with the bad, in with the good!  We need charter schools!  Tough, uniform curriculum standards!  Demand!  Drill!  Test! 
Most adults view public education through the lenses of their own experience: what they remember of their own school days and what they know of their children’s experiences.  Very likely each of their children has had one, two, or maybe three weak-to-bad teachers through the elementary and secondary school grades.  My children did.  But is this fact of life justification to conclude that public education must be pulled out by its roots and thereafter privatized?  A certain percentage of the general population has always had (and always will have) a negative opinion of the teaching profession.  Teaching is easy, these people declare.  It isn’t a full-time profession.  Teachers are coddled.  They’re overpaid.  They whine.  The old saying “If you can’t do anything else, teach” goes back to when I began teaching in 1957.  Teachers have had to battle this perception for decades.  How easy it has been for the champions of privatization – who have produced the films “Waiting for Superman” and “Stand by Me” and who have never themselves taught -- to rally uninformed, innately critical people to their cause.   
I see public education through the lenses of my own work experiences and what I have observed of other teachers. I will be frank, and honest.  
My first year of teaching went badly.  I was mostly to blame.
Summer 1957.  I had attended UCLA an extra year to earn my general secondary teaching credential.  My teaching major was history and my teaching minor English.  I had student-taught an eleventh grade American history class and an intermediate grade remedial reading class.  I was to teach in the Los Angeles Unified School District at a combined junior and senior high school a 30 minute drive from Pasadena, where I lived with my parents.  I had been told that I would be teaching seventh grade history and a remedial reading class.  During the early summer I reviewed the seventh grade history textbook and made tentative plans of how I would utilize its content.  In August my parents and I took a two week vacation trip to Northern California, where we camped and played golf.  When we returned to Pasadena about a week before the beginning of the school year, I was informed that I would not be teaching history.  I had been assigned to teach seventh and ninth grade English, as well as the remedial reading course.   
I had a sketchy knowledge of the parts of speech and no awareness of their connection with standard usage of English.  I determined “is” or “are,” “I” or “me,” “quick” or “quickly,” and “wrote” or “written” usage entirely by what sounded right.  I judged the correctness of sentence construction by how the sentence sounded.  I knew only the most obvious rules of capitalization and punctuation.
What I remember especially about that year is that I taught most of my classes in portable classrooms, in trailer-like structures lined up behind the school’s permanent building.  I had to travel between periods to several one-period-a-day empty classrooms.  Except for my first period, this meant that I could not set up lessons earlier on blackboards.  Copying machines did not exist then.  If I were to type a grammar exercise to be used the following day by two or three classrooms of students, I needed the school secretary to use the school’s mimeograph or ditto machine to provide the necessary copies.  I was not permitted to operate either machine.  Also, mimeograph and ditto paper were considered a precious commodity.  The secretary was not an accommodating person.  This method of instruction was also closed to me.  What I had – I must have had; I don’t remember – was a state-issued grammar textbook.  (“Copy each sentence, underline each adjective, and draw an arrow from the adjective to the word it modifies.”) 
The students in my remedial reading class were eighth, ninth, tenth, and eleventh graders.  A few read at the second and third grade level.  They were mostly sight readers.  All had difficulty pronouncing consonant, vowel, consonant blend, and vowel letter combination sounds.  Years later I had to teach one of my grandsons to read.  I learned from that experience what and how a struggling reader needs to be taught.  I did not have that knowledge then, despite my student teaching.  I remember that I tried to teach them how to divide words into syllables.  I tried to familiarize them with suffixes and prefixes.  I tried to find old reading material that matched their different reading levels.  I remember wishing that I had the time to write individual stories that would be at each student’s age/interest level and slightly above his/her reading level.  I accomplished little.
I remember giving spelling tests to my English students.  Sitting on a table at the front of the room one day, I thought, “This is neat.”  Two ninth grade girls devised a way of getting 100 percent on every test.  I had been giving each student a ruled notebook sheet of paper on which to take each test.  These two had been copying each week’s words beforehand on a similar sheet of paper and submitting it.  Somehow I figured out what they had been doing.  The next week I handed out individually named, stapled together, booklets of ruled paper.  I kept the booklets in a cupboard between tests.  I regret to say this did not motivate them to study.
I knew so little about how to teach English.
I spent a lot of time drilling my students to identify parts of speech.  I didn’t think to teach standard usage until late in the year when a veteran English teacher advised me that I should.  I don’t recall what we read.  Surely we used some sort of anthology.  But then, maybe not.  I did have them write compositions.  Did I demonstrate how these compositions were to be structured?  I hope I did.  I recall that one ninth grade girl wrote particularly well.  She seemed to enjoy the assignments.  This made me feel good.  I remember sitting in a recliner at home one night grading compositions.  My father, a proof reader for a Los Angeles newspaper, was curious.  I had him read one of the graded papers.  He looked at me for several seconds and then told me what he thought.  “How about giving this guy a break.”
One of the most hurtful memories I have is about how I treated a big-bodied, quiet, ninth grade Latino boy at the end of the first semester.  He had asked me what grade I intended to give him.  “An F,” I replied.  He wanted to know why.  I told him that he had done none of the assigned work.  “But I haven’t made any trouble for you,” he responded.  That was true.  But, no.  The grade would stand.  Indolence should not be rewarded.  A good teacher would have investigated early why he was not doing the assignments, discovered what learning deficiencies were preventing him from attempting them, and worked with him to achieve some sort of success.  I was too ignorant to recognize that.
I did get along with my students.  It was the only gift I had.  Maybe it was because I was good-natured.  Maybe it was because I was 23.  That the administration had a good handle on student conduct certainly helped.  I had the radio antenna of my car snapped off, but nothing malicious was ever directed at me face-to-face.  One day a ninth grade girl stood up from her seat while I was conducting class, turned about, dropped her jeans, and mooned me.  Recovering from the shock, I considered the incident laughable and said and did nothing. 
I know that at least one of my seventh grade classes liked me.  At the end of the first semester that class was assigned to another teacher located in a nearby portable building.  I was to receive her first semester class.  The second semester began.  Then the powers-that-be changed their minds.  They informed the two of us that each would be teaching his/her first semester class.  The classes would switch classrooms the second day of the new semester.  That moment arrived.  I told my class of one day what needed to happen.  They filed silently out of the room.  Then, running down the pavement from the other English teacher’s portable building came my old class, cheering.  I felt both embarrassed and gratified.  And mortified about what my colleague must have felt.
I was a bad teacher that first year.  Bill Gates and the Walton family and Michelle Rhee would have dismissed me in a second.   It was not because of indifference or lack of application that I was bad.  Nor was I bad because the school had contributed in making my job more difficult.  I did not know certain things.  I was not prepared.  Although I did not believe so at the time, I was fortunate that I had been drafted into the Army during the school year.  I reported for basic training three days after the last day of school.  I was given two years to grow, expand my knowledge, and analyze my mistakes.