I will be on vacation until the second week of October visiting my daughter in New Jersey after which I will resume posting historical information, book reviews, scenes from my novel, and commentaries about teaching.
E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair chronicles Edgar Altschuler’s recollections of his first ten years of existence, the growth of his childish awareness of the difficulties of life, and the personal handicaps placed on him as he attempts to acquire self-assurance and experience happiness. Edgar is a Jewish boy growing up in New York City’s Bronx during the rise of Nazism in Germany. His health is problematic. His family’s economic stability is tenuous. His parents’ relationship is combative. The younger son of the family -- a “mistake” baby, eight years younger than his brother and mentor, Donald – he is dominated by his parents and his sibling. He must forge his way through all of these difficulties to develop the self-confidence necessary to persevere against the adversities, both indiscriminate and deliberate, of his time and location.
As an infant, Edgar was asthmatic, allergic to everything, a great burden to his resolute mother. “I was attacked continually in the lungs, coughing, wheezing, needing to be steamed over inhalators. I was the mournful prodigy of medicine … I was plugged regularly with thermometers and soap water enemas.” Much later in the novel he suffers a burst appendix and must survive peritonitis.
Through most of the story Edgar’s father owns a record, sheet music, musical instrument, and radio appliance store in Manhattan. Later, he is forced to move his business and loses much of his clientele. Near the end of the novel he loses the store.
Edgar the adult confides that “the conflict between my parents was probably the major chronic circumstance of my life. They were never at peace. They were a marriage of two irreducibly opposed natures. Their difficulties created a kind of magnetic field for me in which I swung this way or that according to the direction of the current.”
Late in the novel Donald assesses his father. “Dad went off in all directions, he was full of surprises, some of them were good, some not so good. But it kept everyone on edge, Mother especially. … He was the kind of man to fool around, to philander. He was errant. He had a wild streak to him. He was generous to us … but he had his secrets and they came out of the same part of his character that made him dream big impractical dreams that he couldn’t realize.”
Edgar’s assessment of his mother appears fragmentally throughout the novel. “My mother ran our house and our lives with a kind of tactless administration that often left a child with bruised feelings, though an indelible understanding of right and wrong. … There was no mistaking her meaning—she was forthright and direct. She construed the world in vivid judgments. … Everything she did was a declarative act. … My mother wanted to move up in the world. She measured what we had and who we were against the fortunes and pretensions of our neighbors.”
Edgar overhears her understandable complaints to a visiting friend. “‘I have exactly three dresses that I wash and iron and wash and iron. … I haven’t bought a stitch of clothing in years. And he plays cards. He knows we need every penny and he plays cards. … He comes home at one, two in the morning. Where has he been? What has he been doing! I’m struggling here all by myself, trying to keep things going…. And when he is home he runs to Mama. [Believing her not worthy of her son, the mother-in-law is incessantly critical of her] … I’m a good wife. … I don’t think I’m all that bad a person to be with.’” The father’s retort to her criticisms is nearly always the accusation: “‘You’re a suspicious person, you’re always thinking the worst of people.’”
Edgar learns early of hatred toward Jews prevalent in poor Irish and Italian East Bronx neighborhoods, “where people lived in ramshackle houses with tar-paper siding amid factories and warehouses.” He has noticed from his bedroom window “strange youths not from the neighborhood … vaulting over the fences into our yard. They climbed the retaining wall and disappeared. These were the boys who hated boundaries and straight lines, who traveled as a matter of principle off the streets, as if they needed to trespass and show their scorn of property. … They were the ones, I knew, who chalked the strange marks on our garage doors.” Swastikas. “‘They’d like to be Nazis,”” Edgar’s mother warns him. “‘They carry knives. … They rob. You come inside if you see them.’”
Several years later Edgar, returning from a public library located close to an Irish, Italian neighborhood, is confronted by several such boys. He is threatened by a knife, forced to lie that he is not a Jew, and is robbed of the coins in his pocket. The incident is one of the major traumatic events of his young life, and it is the major catalyst of sudden growth of maturity and self-esteem, which he exhibits near the end of the novel.
World’s Fair is not among my most favorite historical novels. My interest in the story lagged in several places. For example, I would have appreciated less detail about the exhibits of the New York World’s Fair. I did not become connected initially with Edgar and his parents. I put the book aside for an entire month before I decided to finish it. However, I recognize entirely E. L. Doctorow’s skill as a writer. His depth of characterization, his richness of historical detail, the seriousness of his themes, his use of sensory imagery (Edgar’s trip to the hospital following the rupture of his appendix and his struggle not to succumb of ether was masterful), his use of humor (Edgar was critical of The Shadow because he would not use his special power either to observe ladies undressing or kill Hitler), the poignancy of several key scenes (Edgar knows that the children in his hospital ward are dying because the toys that they receive are expensive, elaborate, and not appreciated and they have excluded him from their friendship knowing they are dying and he isn’t): all of this is worthy of a ten-page essay replete with many examples. E. L. Doctorow’s World’s Fair is better than many books I read but not one of my top ten.
across broken fields, thrusting his way through branches of pine, lurking
behind boulders, tree trunks, and weathered barns, he had committed terrible acts.
He had killed his first soldier near Meriam’s Corner east of the little bridge,
having fired off three balls in two minutes. He had dropped another where Mill
Brook passed beneath a second bridge. He had participated in five minutes of
shooting between each of three evenly spaced houses near the by-road to Lincoln. The first of
these buildings had been a tavern. Outside a second tavern he had fired at a
looter devouring a hunk of bread.
Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord. It
was not! It was his! His alone!
God had killed his dearest friend!
twenty-five years James Hayworth had been Isaac Davis’s neighbor. James and his
brothers and sisters had been raised some twenty rods down Farr’s To Meeting
Road from the house of Ezekial Davis, Isaac’s father. James and his brothers,
Samuel Jr. and Paul, had played with Isaac. They had labored together. They had
taken their school lessons together, where James was now the school master. Every
Sunday they had worshipped at the Meeting House. Weeks had passed during which he and Isaac had communicated daily.
worthy a leader, so beloved a mentor, so magnificent a friend, husband, and
week ago God had delivered to Isaac an enigmatic message. Perplexed, Isaac had
permitted James -- who had come to the house to ask about Davis’s feverish daughter Mary -- to bear
want you to see something quite strange,” Isaac had said. “Come into the
had gestured at his musket, positioned across two wall brackets. Perched on the
musket barrel, its feathers ruffled, its dark eyes piercing, had been a barred
did it get in?!” had been James’s first question.
have no idea.”
think it would leave!”
been here since yesterday. Hannah and I found it here when we came home from
that Isaac had placed rags on the floor to catch the bird’s droppings, James
had said, “I’d drive it off.” He had wondered why Isaac hadn’t.
left the front door open. It refuses to leave.” For perhaps a half minute, showing
the strangest of expressions, Isaac had stared at the owl. Its reciprocal scrutiny
had been unrelenting. Turning to James, Isaac had said, “Ask your father about
him what, Isaac?”
him if this owl’s visitation is an omen.”
that afternoon James had related the incident. After frowning the Deacon had
resumed his repair of the kitchen chair, James presuming that he would
eventually comment. The following day the owl had flown out of Isaac’s house. That
same day Isaac’s younger daughter, Hannah, had become ill.
sore throat,” Isaac had informed James that afternoon.
night James had beseeched God to be merciful. The All-Mighty Father had already
taken to His house two of Isaac and Hannah’s children. The second child born to
them, Baby Hannah, had died eight years ago after living one month. Two winters
ago the infant Paul had survived but one week. Both of Isaac’s living daughters
had contracted a disease that had killed at least three dozen children during
could have foreseen what the owl’s visitation
tearing, James seated himself in the shade of a tall maple, at the base of
Fiske Hill. A corn shed belonging to a two-story, red-roofed house hid him from
the back half of the redcoat column, which was laboring past. Feeling
simultaneously God’s betrayal and Man’s innate cruelty, despising himself, he wept.
Like the Biblical rider upon the pale horse he
had administered horrific death!
For what purpose?!Isaac wasgone!
back of his head pressed fiercely against the maple’s rough bark, James heeded
the cacophony of battle.
We risk our lives to defeat tyranny! Why,
Lord, do You punish us?!
have slain Isaac, to serve Your selfish purpose! You are cruel, Lord, heartless! Now take Your vengeance upon
passed. His thinking shifted. A part of him asked, Who was he to pass judgment?
His father had once said that a man was but a mote of dust amidst God’s great
creation. He could no more fathom God’s design than he could the apostle John’s
account of the opening of the seven seals. Was God speaking to him now? Answering
him. Could he believethat God’s
purpose had not been punitive or selfish? That His action had been -- so
difficult for him to embrace -- necessary! Could he fire his musket again
without believing he was being tricked?!
by conviction, other men were fighting, whatever their inner turmoil. Should he
not also, if not for pure justice then for something approximate? Maybe. But he
would not. He had neither the strength nor the will. Nor the opportunity, the
fighting having traveled to Lexington
It was Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh, Earl Percy who saved General
Thomas Gage’s 700 men expeditionary force from capitulation or annihilation
during its retreat from Concord,
Massachusetts Colony, April 19, 1775. It
is a wonder that Percy thereafter played such a brief, insignificant role in Great Britain’s
subsequent attempts to vanquish its rebellious colonies.For that reason, perhaps, Percy has received
scant attention in general history books.His accomplishments and his character deserve our notice.
When he disembarked with his regiment in Boston July 5, 1774, Percy, already a
lieutenant-colonel, was a month short of being thirty-two years of age.An aristocrat with close ties to King George
III, he, like his father, the Earl of Northumberland, was a member of Parliament.His history and that of his father prior to
1774, although complicated, need to be presented.
Born Hugh Smithson August 14, 1742, Percy was the son of Sir
Hugh Smithson and Lady Elizabeth Seymour, heiress of the House of Percy.The last Earl of Northumberland had died in
1670, leaving his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Percy, heiress to the title.Upon her death in 1722, her son, Algernon
Seymour, had been created Baron Percy in recognition of her inheritance.Algernon died in 1750.His title, Baron Percy, and much of his
estate were bestowed on his daughter, Lady Elizabeth Seymour.Lady Elizabeth had married ten years earlier Sir
Hugh Smithson.Sir Hugh wanted the
heritage of his wife’s grandmother -- the Percy name and Northumberland title
-- bestowed on him and, eventually, his son.A special act of Parliament changed Sir Hugh’s family name from Smithson
to Percy.He became a knight of the
Garter in 1757, the Order of the Garter the most senior of all British orders
of knighthood, its membership limited to the monarch and 25 knights.In October 1766 the government awarded him
the title Earl Percy and the Duke of Northumberland.
When Hugh the father became the duke of Northumberland in
1766, Hugh the son was addressed as Earl Percy.He would become the Earl of Northumberland upon his father’s death.
Percy was educated at Eton
from 1753 to 1758.He volunteered for
military service in 1759 and purchased the rank of Captain of the 85th Regiment
of Foot at the age of 17.He
participated in several battles in Europe
during the Seven Years War.He purchased
the rank of lieutenant-colonel of the 11th Foot in April 1762.In 1763 he was elected to represent Westminster in the House
of Commons.He married July 2, 1764, Lady
Anne Crichton-Stuart, daughter of the influential Lord Bute, the King’s mentor.He was immediately appointed the rank of
colonel and the aide-de-camp to the King.He was all of 22.He was given
the command of the 5th Regiment of Foot in 1768, the regiment he would lead
April 19, 1775.
Percy was a physically unattractive man, very slight in
physique with a large nose.He had poor
eyesight.He suffered from chronic
gout.But he “was honorable and brave, candid and decent,
impeccably mannered, and immensely generous with his wealth” (Fischer 259).By 1768, both he and his father had distanced
themselves from the King’s policy of governance of the American colonies.Both men voted against the Stamp Act and voted
for its repeal.
opposition to his government’s administrative colonial policies, Percy chose to
accompany his regiment to America.Being of high nobility and military rank, he had
the option to decline.The Earl of
Effington had done so.The Earl of
Chatham had ordered his son to leave the army rather than go to America.Because he had chosen the military as his career,
Percy believed he was duty bound to serve wherever he was sent.
Like Major John Pitcairn,
he despised corporal punishment.“At a
time when other commanders were resorting to floggings and firing squads on
Boston Common, he led his regiment by precept and example” (Fischer 259).His regiment became devoted to him.
sympathized with the colonialists.Although
he socialized openly with individual Bostonians, he became contemptuous of them
as a group.General Gage bypassed him in
selecting Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Smith and Major John Pitcairn to lead the
700 men expeditionary force to Concord.The following scene from my novel “Crossing
the River” portrays Percy’s qualities of character and state of mind prior to
General Gage’s selection.
A heavy mist lay upon Boston Common. Hugh,
Earl Percy had been watching his soldiers perform their daily, except for
Sunday, early morning close-order drills. Once the refuse of the streets of London and the ports of
the Channel, rigorously disciplined, provided continuity, they had become good
soldiers, many, he believed, good men.
was cognizant of the acute discontent rampant in other brigades, evidenced by
the recent spate in attempted desertions. His own men were likewise weary of
the banality of barracks life, of the repetition of incessant drill. They, too,
had suffered the provocative insults of the town’s populace. Their generalized
discontent notwithstanding, they had maintained their allegiance to him. Long
ago, looking after their collective needs, he had won their fidelity.
before they had come to Boston,
Percy had given each man a new blanket and a golden guinea. Laying out 700
pounds, he had chartered a ship to transport to Boston their wives and children. Before
coming to Boston
and here as recently as three weeks ago, to inculcate fortitude Percy, a thin,
bony man suffering from hereditary gout, had on long training exercises
disdained the use of his horse.
officers revered him. He had honored their allegiance with frequent invitations
to his table, at the mansion at the corner of Tremont and Winter Streets,
formerly the residence of the royal governor, a fine wooden house surrounded by
connivance, without deliberate forethought, he had fashioned a loyalty that
other brigade commanders envied. An intelligent, attentive, generous aristocrat
in His Majesty’s service, Hugh, Earl Percy was an anomaly.
member of Parliament, a young nobleman who one day would become the Duke of
Northumberland, Percy, like his father, had opposed Parliament's tax measures
that had led ultimately to the destruction of tea in BostonHarbor.
Lord North's Tory government knew well Percy's liberal, Whig viewpoint; but
they knew as well his soldierly allegiance to English law and king.
had arrived off Boston
July 5 of the previous year, a month and three days after the closure of the
Port. He had initially approved of General Gage's restrained enforcement of
Parliament's punitive expectation that Boston
recant its destructive act. The General’s policy had approximated Percy's
accustomed mode of social interaction: respect people as human beings, mollify
discontent, seek reasoned compromise, in specific instances help the indigent.
immediate assistance he had given the Boston
family made homeless by a fire had been done without calculation. The
compliments he had sent to a merchant's wife on the excellence of her landscape
drawings had been sincere. He very much enjoyed the respectable people of Boston. He had entertained
many of the town's gentlemen. Often, after the early morning drills had been
completed, he had walked across the Common to the house of John Hancock to have
breakfast with the acknowledged rebel leader, his Aunt Lydia, and,
occasionally, Hancock's rumored fiancée, the spirited Dolly Quincy, who, if
gossip was truth, “fancied” him.
matters great and small the nobleman was percipient.
had entertained the thought that the king's ministers had sent him to Boston to serve by
example. If his presence reduced somewhat the hostility that much of the
citizenry directed toward British officers, perhaps in time, with other
officers emulating his conduct, reasonable Bostonians might modify their
adversarial judgments. Like rainwater percolating to the roots of parched
trees, their altered perception of British superintendence might, then,
permeate the minds of the less rational.
Thus, initially, his superiors may
have hypothesized. If he had mollified to any extent the hostility of even a
handful of righteous provincials, recent events had rendered moot that
During the past six months Percy had
written letters criticizing the General’s high-mindedness. “The general’s great
lenity and moderation serve only to make them more daring and insolent,” he had
written his friend, Henry Reveley, in England, after 400 New Hampshire
militiamen had seized royal powder and cannon from Portsmouth’s dilapidated
as he had been to individual inhabitants, his opinion of them as a group, upon
immediate exposure to them, had swiftly hardened. He had been appalled at the
nastiness of the Boston
mob. They and the people that incited them were bullies, cowards. “Like all
other cowards, they are cruel and tyrannical,” he had informed Reveley. The
Congregational clergy’s practice of denying Loyalists admittance to their
churches was abhorrent. These rebels are “the most designing artful villains in
the world,” he had written to his father. Selfish and strident in the pursuit
of their objectives, they were incapable of disciplined, cooperative
accomplishment. Town meetings were never-ending debates. Their town militias --
independent, jealous, wrangling entities -- talked much but accomplished
little. The best he had to say about his nine months amongst the people of Boston was that his tenure
had been instructive.
morning mist emblematic of attitudes contrary to his nature, he stared a good half
minute at the drab river.
Which day this week would General Gage
order the seizure of Concord’s
measures would the General take to forestall armed resistance?
exigencies should the commander of the expedition strive to anticipate?
he, Percy, be that commander (Titus 86-89)?
Hackett.Paul Revere’s Ride.New York: OxfordUniversity Press,
the River.BookLocker.com, Inc.,
A person doesn’t break through the egg of college graduation
a full-fledged, skillful teacher.It
doesn’t matter how bright and motivated the person is, he or she cannot achieve
immediately what experienced teachers accomplish. I was blessed to have been hired by an
excellent school district after my first year of teachng. I had mostly my lack of experience and a
limited knowledge of my subject matter to overcome.I became a competent teacher rather quickly.What I learned during my first five or six years
of teaching and my continued desire to improve as an instructor enabled me to
become a good teacher.The final ten
years of my career I was better than good.
As I stated in my August 6 Teaching blog entry -- “The First
Year” -- public school teachers are under fierce attack by corporate-funded
“reform” activists bent on ridding communities of veteran teachers, privatizing
public schools, making education a money-making enterprise for niche businesses,
and indoctrinating children with a corporatized, agenda-driven, by-the-numbers culture.Teach for America (TFA) -- a “reform”
organization that seeks to place highly motivated, high-achieving college
graduates in under-performing, largely minority populated city schools – serves
“Every year, TFA installs
thousands of unprepared 22-year-olds, the majority of whom are from
economically and culturally privileged backgrounds, into disadvantaged public
schools. They are given a class of their own after only five to six weeks of
training and a scant number of hours co-teaching summer school (in a different
city, frequently in a different subject, and with students in a different age
group than the one they end up teaching in the fall).… they are lured by TFA's promises that they
can help close the education gap for children in low-income communities.…An increasing
amount of research shows that TFA recruits perform at best no
better, and often worse,than their
trained and certified counterparts. What’s more, they tend to leave after just
a few years in the classroom” (Michna 1).
“… more and more TFA recruits
are now being placed in charter schools, where they are
isolated from communities of experienced local teachers who can help train and
ground them. “Veteran” teachers at charter schools administered by TFA alumni
tend to have only three to four years of experience under their belts. The
principals often have just a year’s or two years’ more experience than the
teachers.…TFA exists to support the corporate education
reform agenda, and that agenda is grounded not in creating better teachers but
in the de-professionalization of teaching” (Michna 2).
My purpose, stated again, is to cut
through the propaganda that poor teachers are the prime reason for low
achievement test scores, that veteran teachers are set in their ways and,
therefore, mediocre; and that, unlike traditionally hired new teachers today,
bright, enthusiastic, TFA college graduates will overturn dramatically the debilitating damages of poverty.I hope to do this by illustrating the natural process I (representative
of most teachers) followed to become a definite asset to my students, their parents,
my school, and the community.
Three days after I walked out of
the junior/senior high school where I had taught my first year, I was on a
train headed for FortOrd – adjacent to Monterey, California
-- where I would spend the entire two years of my military service and marry my
wife Janet.In the early spring of 1960
I sent interview requests to several San FranciscoEastBay
school districts, having decided to quit Southern
three invitations.My wife would also be
interviewing in the EastBay, finishing then her single year in Salinas, her third year overall
My first interview was with the
superintendent and assistant superintendent of the OrindaUnionSchool District.Orinda was
not my first choice.The district was
opening a second intermediate school that fall and was looking to fill five
classroom positions.(Three of the
positions would be filled by teachers from elementary schools in the
district)Each instructor was to teach a
self-contained seventh grade class.Each
person would be required to teach English, social studies, science, and
math.The following year, after more
classrooms had been built to accommodate both seventh and eighth grade
students, instruction would become more compartmentalized.English and social studies would be taught by
the same teacher, not by separate teachers.The same would be true of math and science.Upon the advice of my wife, I took to the
interview a list of questions.The first
words my interview said to me were, “Do you have any questions?”I asked every question on my list.I don’t believe they asked me one question.I left the interview thinking, “Hmmm.They’ve already made up their minds.Scratch this district.”
My next interview was at an
intermediate school in Antioch.The interviewer was somebody for the
administrative office.His first
question was, “What education books did you read while you were in the
army?”“None,” I responded.What a stupid question, I thought.Why would I want to do that?Much better that I be reading literature (I
had) to become better qualified to teach it.I don’t remember what else he asked.The interview was brief.Scratch
this district, I concluded.
My last interview was with the Mt.DiabloSchool District, their elementary, intermediate, and
high schools in or adjacent to Concord.The principal of one of the intermediate
schools escorted me about his campus and asked questions, none of which I
remember.I left thinking that I had
done reasonably well.That evening my
wife and I drove back to Monterey.Several days passed.I was nervous.What if none of the districts offered me a
contract?That seemed a distinct
possibility.My choice of the three
districts was Mt.Diablo. Soon enough a letter arrived in the mail.Orinda
wanted me.To this day I don’t know why.I could not have been more fortunate.It was a major turning point in my life.
So began my preparation to teach
four subjects.Three of them I thought I
could handle.Science was the fourth. I had never had any interest in and, consequently,
had little knowledge of the subject.My
wife’s advice was invaluable. “You will
need to group your students in reading and math.Here’s how you do it.This is how you do bulletin boards.This is the way you discipline.Here are some teaching techniques.”I had my own teaching mentor living with me.I got through that year, but it was
tough.Students smell an inexperienced
teacher.They will pounce.Well into the school year I overheard my
principal remark to somebody that I was tough but fair.At the end of the year I received a satisfactory
evaluation and was hired to teach at the school a second year.
I would be teaching English and
social studies (essentially Western civilization) to two seventh grade classes.Many of the students in one of the classes were
very intelligent.What a joy to
experience that!The other class was
heterogeneously grouped. Due
primarily to my lack of experience, some of the students were a challenge.I made a leap in competence that year.I researched and taught the elements of
fiction; I sought out excellent reading material; I mastered standard usage
rules and the identification of the parts of speech.I applied notions I had of how different
kinds of composition could be taught.
I began this second year (the
third of my career) searching for short stories that I could use to illustrate
characterization, plot development, point of view, theme, and irony.I had in my classroom several old anthologies
to pick through as well as the current seventh grade state-approved anthology
text book.Pick through them I did, not
content to follow the course of study that the editors of the anthologies had
designed.Developing my own curriculum
was my purpose.What my students would
read and what we would discuss I would own.
I remember one short story that I had
my higher achieving class read: “Lost Soldier” by Stanford Whitmore.An American Korean War soldier finds himself
alone behind enemy lines.It is
winter.He must get back to his
lines.He sees a Chinese soldier ahead
of him, behind a boulder, studying a road beyond them both.A group of two or three American soldiers,
patrolling, walk carelessly down the road.The Chinese soldier watches them intently.The “lost soldier” is ready to shoot
him.The Chinese soldier watches the
Americans pass.Now the lost soldier must
try to determine why the Chinese soldier hadn’t attempted to use his
weapon.The gunfire, he believes the
Chinese soldier reasons, would alert other American soldiers nearby and
increase the risk of his being shot.After much hesitation, the lost soldier shoots the Chinese soldier,
hurls the dead man’s weapon away, and leaves.I used this story to illustrate theme.I used it every year thereafter for twenty-nine years.I wonder how many of the boys that were in my
classroom in 1961 thought about that story seven years later -- whether they
were in the military or not -- during the Vietnam War 1968 Tet Offensive.
I had some of my best students
enter stories in a national short story writing contest.One of them received an honorable
mention.I typed and used years later
several of the stories as examples of good student short story writing.My students also wrote short essays.I remember having fun with them showing
various ways to write an introductory paragraph.“Always end your paragraph with your
statement of the essay’s main idea.Never state the idea in the beginning sentence.If the main idea is “Cats are wonderful
pets,” open with an arresting sentence, like “They may scratch the heck out of
upholstered chairs” or an informational statement like “Some people prefer dogs
to cats” or open with dialogue: “Do you know what your cat did this
I made definite progress that
year as a teacher, more so probably in what we read and discussed and what and
how my students wrote than in teaching standard usage and parts of speech.I had my moments of genuine satisfaction and
moments when I questioned whether I wanted to continue in the profession.Teaching is hard work. Students are not always willing receptacles of
learning.On any given day they can
choose to be quite the opposite.I had
to deal with personal problems, like students being picked on.One girl, who was not one of my students, had
brought a lot of peer disapproval and verbal abuse upon herself.I learned that one very nice boy in my more
talented class had said something insulting to her.She had lashed out at him.Talking to him privately, I advised him to apologize.
“Why?” he said.“You know what she’s like.She won’t believe me.”
“She’ll probably say something
bad back at you,” I said.
“She would.Why should I apologize?”
“You hurt her.Your apology is for you as much as it is for
He understood and
apologized.She wasn’t able to trust
him.Still, he seemed satisfied.The boy today is an important business office
real estate executive in the Danville/San Ramon area of ContraCostaCounty.
My second year of teaching in Orinda came to an end.The eighth grade class’s graduation ceremony was to take place on the
football field of the nearby high school.I decided to attend.Students of
my self-contained class of the previous year would be receiving their
diplomas.I had ended this second year in
Orinda dubious about staying with
teaching.But I was married.I would surely be having children.What else was I trained to do?I watched individual students I remembered
well walk across the stage when their names were called.I began to feel nostalgic.My emotions surged.Had anybody asked me a question, I would not
have been able to speak.These little
buggers were out of my life.That they
had been in my life mattered.
We know that historian David Beers Quinn believed that sometime in September the vast majority of John White’s 1587 settlers moved from Roanoke Island to a location near the southern shore of Chesapeake Bay, perhaps near the Chesapeake village of Skicoac, situated on the Elizabeth River. According to Quinn, the colonists lived in harmony with the Chesapeakes until late April of 1607, when three English ships transporting colonists entered the Bay. Warned by his priests that his vast Powhatan nation would be destroyed if these people were to establish themselves, Wahunsonacocks, fearful that the settlers would unite with John White’s transplanted colony, had White’s people and their host tribe, the Chesapeakes, massacred. (See my revised blog entry: “John White’s Lost Colony,” August 30, 2014). Maybe a dozen of White’s settlers, escaping, were adopted or enslaved by interior Carolina tribes.
More recently published historians – three that I will discuss -- disagree about where White’s people settled. One of them believes that Wahunsonacocks’s warriors did not kill them.
In "A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke" James Horn postulates that the settlers established themselves on high ground between the mouths of the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers. He agrees with Quinn that the settlers probably opted to send a small group to Croatoan Island to await John White’s return with supplies and additional settlers to be able to direct him to the colony’s new location. “Possibly soon after White left [for England in 1587], several of the colonists’ leaders set out with Manteo and a couple of dozen men in the pinnace to make arrangements with the Chowanocs for establishing a temporary settlement … The Chowanocs had been allies of the English in the summer of 1586, and the settlers’ leaders hoped the Indians would see advantages in trading with the English or would view them as potential allies against hostile Iroquoian peoples to the south and west. The pinnace, probably capable of carrying forty passengers, would have had to have made at least two trips to the negotiated location, “a superb vantage point for keeping watch down the length of Albemarle Sound” (Horn 226).
“Once they had prepared the ground …, the settlers could begin the job of constructing their new living quarters using the timbers and materials brought from Roanoke Island. With the help of the Chowanocs, they could have had the settlement substantially completed by late December …“ (Horn 227).
Unlike Quinn, Horn believes that after it was apparent that White was not returning, some of the settlers migrated to other locations: closer to the Chowanoc capital; along Cashie Creek, a tributary of the Roanoke River; and near the falls of the Roanoke River. “The timing of the settlers’ movements is impossible to determine, but it is likely that most of them had joined Indian communities by the early to mid-1590s” (Horn 230). Horn believes that Wahunsonacocks, for the same reasons Quinn cited, ordered his warriors to “track down as many of White’s colonists as they could find and kill them” (Horn 232). Horn makes no mention of the Chesapeakes. Perhaps ten years after 1607 the Powhatan chief Opechancanough, a brother of Wahunsonacocks, ordered attacks against the Chowanocs and the Tuscaroras, killing many warriors and, presumably, a few more of White’s settlers. Horn’s theory that some of the colonists migrated from their settlement between the mouths of the Chowan and Roanoke Rivers before 1607 accounts for why a few white men and women were rumored to be living along Cashie Creek and near the falls of the Roanoke River during the early years of Jamestown’s existence.
In "The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand: Roanoke’s Forgotten Indians” Michael Leroy Oberg proceeds cautiously in attempting to account for the disappearance of John White’s people. He writes: “Their disappearance was meaningful. It was significant. That these colonists vanished demanded an explanation, and many have since been offered for the colonists’ fate” (Oberg 126). He examines eight theories.
He rejects Quinn’s supposition. “None of the English sources stated clearly that the colonists moved to the Chesapeake. … the Chesapeake Indians did not entirely disappear [after Wahunsonacocks’s 1607 attack]. … Governor John White had said that the colonists intended to move fifty miles into the interior after he left. If they moved west rather than north, and ascended Albemarle Sound rather than Chesapeake Bay, this relocation could have placed them in the territory of the Weapemeocs” (Oberg 137). Oberg discusses the possibility that the Weapeneoc chief Okisco might have sheltered the colonists but determines it unlikely. Although he had pledged loyalty to Queen Elizabeth and Walter Raleigh in 1586, Okisco was not supported by many members of his tribe, many of whom were hostile to the English. He had too many enemies to make plausible the idea that White’s settlers would choose him to provide them protection. “He was a leader with few followers, a deposed weroance who saw in the acceptance of English authority an opportunity, however desperate, to secure protection against the hostility of his own people” (Oberg 138).
Oberg concedes the merit of the theory that most of White’s settlers relocated at the mouth of the Chowan River. “The fifty miles that White estimated the colonists would move could have placed them along the fertile banks of the Chowan River, in the territory of Menatonon, a weroance who had never taken any hostile action against Raleigh’s colonists” (Oberg 142). The Choanoacs had their enemies, which included the Powhatans to the north and the Iroquoian Tuscaroras (identified by some historians as the Mandoag) to the west. “They occupied a critical point in the east-west flow of trade goods. Coastal peoples sent foodstuffs, beads, and European trade goods into the interior, which Choanoac middlemen exchanged with people farther to the west. Trade goods—beads, foodstuff, furs, and copper—moved along a line from the interior to the coast. The English needed protection from these coastal people. Certainly through Manteo they would have told Menatonon that provisions and trade goods were on the way, and that once their governor returned they could provide Menatonon with an ample quantity of presents. The colonists could strengthen the position of the Choanoacs in regional trade networks.” (Oberg 142-143). Over the years, the settlers would have been assimilated into the Choanoac tribe, becoming in the eyes of their host, full members of the community.
“We know that the Powhatan chiefdom and the Choanoacs had contended for control of the interior, particularly with regard to copper, a critical indication of status in Algonquian societies. At times they fought, and at times they traded. But once the English arrived at Jamestown Wahunsonacock [spelling differs from Horn’s] may have viewed the colonists settled in his territory and the white people at Chaonoac as levers Menatonon’s people could use to undermine his power. So in 1607 the Powhatans fell upon White’s colonists and their Choanoac hosts. Most of White’s colonists died, but a few survived …” (Oberg 142), finding shelter in different towns in the interior. “Yet it may not have happened like this at all,” Oberg concludes. What he seems reasonably certain of is that “Wahunsonacock attacked the colonists and their Algonquian hosts [whoever they might have been] … Some of them survived. … The descendants of these few colonists would have been socialized in native village communities in the Eastern Woodland. They became Algonquians and were no longer English men and women” (Oberg 146).
Lee Miller in her book "Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony" also agrees that most of John White’s settlers relocated in Choanoac territory. “It was an ideal region southwest of the Dismal Swamp along the Chowan River. Amazingly rich, well wooded, plentiful. … Survival was the issue. Relocation to the Chowan River, therefore, was the best decision that could have been made. … when John Smith questioned the Powhatan about the Lost Colonists, their advice was to search among the Chowanoc [a different spelling]. Indeed, they seemed so certain that this was where White’s company would be found that Michael Sicklemore” was sent by John Smith in late December 1608 to investigate. He found no colonists. “Instead, the picture the country presented was one of massive depopulation. The land was fertile, yet the people few, the country most overgrown with pines. Villages were gone, old fields reverted to stands of pines, one of the first trees to reestablish” (Miller 229-230).
What had happened? A massacre of the Chowanoc? Miller believes differently. “Disease. Contagion occurred everywhere in the Americas that Europeans made contact. [It decimated Algonquian villages along the shoreline of Pamlico Sound, Thomas Hariot noted, after he and his surveying crew and other Englishmen had made contact with them] … Disease had struck the Powhatan. … The illness may well have spread north from the Chowanoc country. [Roanoke Governor Ralph Lane and a company of soldiers had made aggressive contact with the Chowanoc in 1586] Menatonon traded with the Powhatan. … Suppose the explanation was as follows: the main body of White’s colonists separated and moved inland to the Chowan River. The Powhatan confirmed this, claiming that they had settled at Ohanoac … well within Chowanoc territory. And there it must have happened. A sudden and precipitious population decline would account very well for the situation Michael Sicklemore encountered. Few people, few villages, old fields overgrown with pines” (Miller 230).
The colonists, however, were mostly immune. What became of them? Noting that the Algonquian Secotan (Pamlico Sound villages mostly, including Roanoke), Chowanoc, and Weaponeoc had been allied defensively in 1584 against aggressive non-Algonquian tribes situated in the interior, Miller believes that contagion destroyed the prevailing balance of power in the region. The contagion that spread throughout the tribes of the alliance never reached the fearful enemies to the west, collectively referred to as the Mandoags. “… the question we must ask is this: Did the Chowanoc, the nation closest to the Mandoag frontier, come under attack?” Miller’s conclusion: “Reduced by disease, the Chowanoc had been attacked on the frontier. By a life-long enemy. By the Mandoag. If this indeed happened, the Chowanoc would have lost. White’s colonists would have suffered the same fate’ (Miller 233, 234).
Miller believes the Mandoag attack occurred soon after the colonists’ relocation, not some twenty years later. Events “must have moved rapidly after the colonists’ relocation, after the sudden shift in the balance of power.” It was the custom of Carolina and Virginia natives to spare women and children in battle. They would also spare men who surrendered in battle and men who were leaders or whose labor was valued. “… we might suppose that a rather large number of English men, women, and children were whisked away into the interior, possibly around thirty-five …’ (Miller 236). Evidence of their existence were crosses and letters newly carved in the barks of trees, left for Jamestown residents Nathaniel Powell and Anas Todkill, dispatched into Mandoag territory by John Smith, to discover.
Meanwhile, Jamestown was in desperate straits. “Jamestown has no food. Supply ships come, but they also bring more colonists. Too many planters are unwilling to fend for themselves, despite their own looming mortality. They reach crisis level, then sink even lower. The winter of 1609 is Jamestown’s starving time. … May 23, 1609. Sir Thomas Gates is dispatched to Jamestown with authority to impose martial law, if need be, to reestablish order.” He is instructed by the Virginia Company, the colony’s London group of investors, to wage war on the Powhatan. He is told: “You are to seize into your custody half their corn and harvest and their weroances and all other their known successors at once. Their children are to be taken and reeducated so that their people will easily obey you. Priests are to be imprisoned so that they no longer poison and infect them their minds with religion. … The Virginia Council are adept manipulators. Brainwash the children, remove the religious leaders. Control a people. … War is declared” (Miller 219, 220).
Reports of atrocities reached England. “Jamestown soldiers prodded [Paspahegh Chief] Wowinchopunk’s children into boats, rowed them into the bay, and disposed of them by throwing them overboard and shooting out their brains in the water. Governor De la Warr had their mother arrested as a prisoner of war, then ordered her stabbed. Reports multiply. A Nansemond village was incinerated, temples looted, the royal corpses dragged out onto the sand and robbed of their pearl and copper adornments. … England erupts in massive protest. Critics condemn the theft of Powhatan land, charging that Jamestown is no better than Spain, glossing robbery under cunning and coloured falsehoods” (Miller 220).
The Virginia Company insisted that it had the legal right to take away Powhatan land, citing the precedence of the colony of Roanoke. Protesters were adamant. “It is clear that the only way to get the country behind the war is to turn the Powhatan into villains” (Miller 220). William Strachey, secretary of the Jamestown colony, did so, declaring that Wahunsonacock had murdered White’s settlers. What then of John Smith’s statement written years later, that Wahunsonacock had told him in December 2008 that he had ordered the settlers murdered? “The truth is that Smith never said that Wahunsonacock murdered the colonists. Samuel Purchas [a London compiler of travel narratives, a cleric who believed that the Powhatan were devil-worshippers] said so. “Powhatan confessed that he had been at the murder of that colony, Purchas wrote, and showed to Captain Smith a musket barrel and a brass mortar and certain pieces of iron which had been theirs. Hardly proof – the items could have come in trade from anywhere. … The explanation that the Powhatan murdered the Lost Colonists is too neat and tidy. Were it believed, then Jamestown could justify wiping out the Powhatan. The implications are profound: from the moment war is declared, no further searches are made. Stachey’s story and thirty years of ensuing hostility destroy any information we might have recovered” (Miller 224). The story holds for four centuries, Miller contends. Historians David Beers Quinn, James Horn, and Michael Leroy Oberg have perpetuated it.
Who were the Mandoag? Lee Miller asks. They were not a distinct tribe. The word is a term that means “stealthy” and “treacherous,” that means “enemy,” that means “snakes.” The Mandoag “region is large, the nations many” (Miller 241). They were not the Iroquoian Tuscarora, as some historians maintain. The nation that Miller identifies as the prime culprit is the Siouan-speaking Eno, who controlled access to the copper-producing region in the Carolina Piedmont. Very fierce and powerful, the Eno were mercenaries hired by the small but very wealthy Occaneechi nation to assist in protecting Occaneechi Island, a vital trading center and distribution terminus for products moving up an established trading path from the south. The Eno monitored entry onto the trading path and northern access to distant copper mines approximately 250 miles into the interior. Miller believes that the Eno took the English survivors to the Occaneechi trade mart, where they were separated and disseminated throughout the Piedmont among the Occaneechi trading partners and among Eno towns.
“Deep in the woods, far in the interior of a country called Mandoag, where the tall trees close in the darkness, melted copper runs in rivulets. … Cut off from any communication, dispersed one from the other, four men, two boys, and a young girl work the copper. Men have come looking for them. Englishmen, stumbling through the interior, from faraway Jamestown. Steam rising up from the fires of the melting copper reflects a sudden spark of hope in eyes dulled from drudgery – if only they can speak to the search party, if only they can cry out. ‘We are here! We are here!’ But the Mandoag won’t allow it. Through stinging tears, a man carves a cross on a tree, and another. And another. A forest etched with crosses.
“Power and politics are in Jamestown. No one understands the message. The search for White’s colonists is called off and a story fabricated. All hope is gone” (Miller 262).
Finally, an article, “Map’s Hidden Marks Illuminate and Deepen Mystery of Lost Colony,” printed May 3, 2012, in the New York Times deserves our attention. Here are pertinent excerpts.
The British Museum’s re-examination of a 16th-century coastal map using 21st-century imaging techniques has revealed hidden markings that show an inland fort where the colonists could have resettled after abandoning the coast.
The analysis suggests that the symbol marking the fort was deliberately hidden, perhaps to shield it from espionage in the spy-riddled English court.
The discovery came from a watercolor map in the British Museum’s permanent collection that was drawn by the colony’s governor, John White.
In the past there had been hints as to where the settlers might have gone — White himself made an oblique reference to a destination 50 miles inland — but no solid evidence had surfaced.
Even White’s map, which was included in a 2007 British Museum exhibition, appeared to hold no clues. But two small patches layered atop the map intrigued Brent Lane, a member of the board of the First Colony Foundation who was helping research the site of an American Indian village.
Mapmakers in the era often used the patches, overlaying new paper atop old to correct mistakes and repair damage. Mr. Lane speculated that one of the patches could mask an Indian village.
The British Museum agreed to investigate, and it used infrared light, X-ray spectroscopy and other imaging techniques to look beneath the patches. The larger patch, which was the focus of Mr. Lane’s curiosity, indeed appeared to show a correction to coastal topography.
What lay under the second one stunned Mr. Lane. The patch hid a four-pointed star outlined in blue and filled in red, according to the British Museum’s report. The patch also covered a smaller, enigmatic marking, possibly a second settlement.
To historians, the star where two rivers emptied into Albemarle Sound probably represented a fort or the intended location of one, and its discovery greatly increases the likelihood that the colonists retreated to the spot.
Quoted by The Virginia Gazette, historian James Horn commented: “I couldn’t have scripted it better. I was stunned when I heard the news. That’s exactly where I wrote they had gone.” Archeological excavation could probably prove whether an English settlement had ever existed at that location. Because a privately owned 18-hole golf course presently covers the land, this has not been done.