Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Closing the Trap
Let us leave temporarily Thomas Nelson’s efforts to support George Washington’s attempt to trap British General Cornwallis and focus on the French naval contributions and British naval and military blunders that led to American and French victory. 
The Battle of the Capes, so vital to George Washington’s victory at Yorktown, commenced September 5.  Luck played a considerable part in the French naval victory.
Here are four useful maps.
British Admiral George Rodney, responsible for neutralizing the French fleet in American waters, prior to returning to London because of ill health, had sent a dispatch to Admiral Mariot Arbuthnot in New York warning him that a large French squadron was heading west across the Atlantic and that “you may be upon your guard.”  By the time the dispatch reached New York, Arthunot had been replaced by Admiral Thomas Graves, a self-important, lackadaisical, obdurate commander.  Ignoring Rodney’s warning, Graves sailed his fleet along the Atlantic coast north of New York in search of a possible French convoy of merchantmen rumored to be transporting to America money, clothing, and military stores, the convoy “escorted by one ship of the line, another armed en flute, and two frigates.  … The admiralty [had] advised Graves that the British Government felt a most serious blow would be struck if the colonies were deprived of these essential succours, and gave orders to the commander of the North American fleet to keep a sharp lookout for the convoy and to determine upon the most likely places to station cruisers for the purpose of intercepting it” (Capes 1).  Graves, therefore, was absent when a second dispatch sent by Rodney, declaring that French Admiral Francois de Grasse was in the West Indies and Graves should take his fleet to Virginia, arrived.  The captain of the sloop of war that had carried the dispatch to New York had thereupon sailed eastward in search for Graves.  Attacked by three Yankee privateers, he was forced to throw the message overboard.
Admiral Samuel Hood, in the West Indies, had thereafter replaced Rodney.  The “energetic Hood—who knew that de Grasse was somewhere in the vicinity, but who was unsure whether he had sailed for the mainland or was still in the Caribbean—headed at once for New York with fourteen warships, determined to join Admiral Graves and seek out de Grasse or [Admiral Comte de] Barras [at Newport, Rhode Island] before they [de Grasse and Barras] could combine forces” (Ketchum 188).  En route he looked in at the Chesapeake Bay and saw only several picket vessels on patrol for General Cornwallis.  De Grasse had left the West Indies almost a week ahead of Hood but had sailed up the American coast past Charleston, where he captured three British ships.  Hood, some distance out in the Atlantic, had sailed past de Grasse without seeing him.  As Hood sped for New York, de Grasse, hugging the coastline, entered Chesapeake Bay with his transports carrying 3,000 soldiers and supplies and thirty warships.
Arriving in New York, Hood discovered that Graves believed that de Grasse had probably gone to Havana to join the Spaniards and Washington and Rochambeau were in motion in the Jerseys to threaten Staten Island.  Hood declared “that no time was to be lost, that they should sail immediately” for Virginia.  That evening Graves received a message that Barras had left Rhode Island and was sailing south.  However, Graves, feeling the need to repair five of his ten warships, delayed leaving for the Chesapeake.  When his fleet departed, he had nineteen ships, carrying nineteen hundred guns.  It never caught sight of Barras’s much slower force, which succeeded to elude him.
The squadron arriving off the Chesapeake on the morning of September 5, the lookout of the lead British ship “called out that he saw a forest of masts in the harbor, about ten miles distant.  The captain didn’t believe him; they must be trees, he said.  It was soon apparent, however, that they were not trees but French ships, and they were putting to sea with decks cleared for action.  De Grasse had twenty-four ships of the line, carrying seventeen hundred guns” (Ketchum 190).
It was the hurricane season along the Virginia capes.  The outcome of the impending battle would be determined substantially by the quirky winds and currents.  Around three o’clock “the French ships were ordered to run full so the entire fleet could produce the heaviest possible fire when they came alongside the British; about an hour later the action began” (Ketchum 190) at a distance of a musket shot.
At five o’clock the wind shifted and de Grasse signaled his captains to lay on canvas and head after the enemy as best they could.  Graves’s squadron, severely punished, took advantage of the wind and kept its distance until sunset when the engagement ended.  On September 6, the wind being feeble, both fleets made repairs.  The following day was also calm.  Repairs continued.  On September 8 the wind shifted and Graves attacked.  De Grasse reacted immediately.  Recognized his peril, Graves ordered his fleet to turn and run before the wind.  By the night of September 8, the two fleets had drifted about a hundred miles to the south to the latitude of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  No longer seeing the British fleet, de Grasse, fearing “a change in the wind might permit the British fleet to get ahead of him and attack Barras, who was carrying the vitally important siege artillery, signaled his captains to return to the Chesapeake” (Ketchum 191).
“Luck—or Providence—had been with the Americans in every instance that counted.  First of all, Graves never received Rodney’s warning.  Then, inexplicably, the British under Graves failed to attack de Grasse’s ships one by one as they emerged from Chesapeake Bay.  Another stroke of luck was that the lethargic Graves—not the aggressive Rodney-- … was commanding the British squadron.  Yet another was that Barras and his ships made it safely from Rhode Island to Virginia without detection by either Hood or Graves.  In the naval engagement that decided the Yorktown campaign, only one ship was lost, and that was scuttled by the British” (Ketchum 191-192).
Early on, General Cornwallis had had the opportunity to escape the planned allied entrapment.  “At the moment the French fleet appeared on August 31, Cornwallis’s avenue of escape was wide open.  De Grasse had not disembarked any troops, and the army under Washington and Rochambeau was several weeks’ march away….”  Cornwallis, however, stayed put.  ”His best chance of keeping his army intact would have been to attack Lafayette’s weak force …, but at this moment he received Clinton’s promise of relief and opted for inaction, while his soldiers continued working day and night on the outworks …” (Ketchum 204).
“As late as September 8, Cornwallis had no reason to think he would not be relieved and rescued.   French troops [de Grasse]—3,800 of them—had landed.  Lafayette was at Williamsburg, and reportedly the allied armies would arrive soon.  Nevertheless, the British were ready for them and had taken a very strong position just outside town …” (Ketchum 206).
The following day Admiral Graves sent a shocking message to Commanding General Henry Clinton.  He “was sorry to inform the general that ‘the enemy have so great a naval force in the Chesapeake that they are absolute masters of its navigation.’    The French appeared to have suffered, he continued, but his fleet had taken much heavier damage” (Ketchum 206).  On September 14, having received Graves’s message, Clinton held a council of war.  The key questions to be debated and answered were that since Cornwallis’s “garrison could evidently defend the post for at least three weeks, was it advisable to commit a reinforcement of five or six thousand men ‘to the hazards of the sea during our present inferiority and endeavor to relieve Lord Cornwallis at all costs” or “should they await further accounts from Admiral Graves and see how Admiral Robert Digby’s squadron [reportedly to have left England] might affect their chances of success” (Ketchum 207).  After much discussion their decision was to wait for more favorable accounts from Graves or for Digby’s arrival.  “How these senior military officers could possibly imagine that Graves would give them a more favorable account is difficult to imagine, but since Digby had not been sighted and no one knew how many vessels he had with him, surely it would be safe to delay decision until he arrived” (Ketchum 207).  (Digby arrived September 24 with three ships of the line)  On September 17 Clinton held another council of war.  Having been informed by Cornwallis that he had provisions for six weeks, “once again they stalled for time, deciding that any attempt to ‘throw in supplies and reinforcements ought to be deferred until it could be undertaken with less danger than at present.’  … Since an army could not act there alone without the cooperation of the fleet, it would be ‘highly improper to add considerably to the numbers already in Virginia’ until such time as the presence of the fleet became practicable” (Ketchum 208. 209).
On September 16, Cornwallis wrote to Clinton: “‘I am of opinion that you can do me no effectual service but by coming directly to this place’” (Ketchum 208).  “Given the situation in which the possibility of rescue was virtually nil, he [Cornwallis] had only one option, which was to escape at any cost before the arrival of Washington’s [and Rochambeau’s] troops shut the trap.  … Major Alexander Ross, Cornwallis’s aide, persuaded the earl that Clinton’s promise of relief left him no choice but to hold his post.  This was absurd, and Cornwallis had to know it …” (Ketchum 205). 
Having arrived in Virginia September 13 ahead of their armies, Washington and Rochambeau met almost immediately with de Grasse on the admiral’s flag ship.  De Grasse told them that he had been instructed to leave on October 15, “but he would, on his own, stretch that until the end of the month.  That gave Washington almost six weeks in which to force Cornwallis to surrender” (Ketchum 210).  Several days later, having learned that Admiral Digby had arrived in New York, de Grasse informed Washington by messenger “that since the enemy was now nearly equal to him in strength [not so] and it would be imprudent to remain in a position where he could not readily attack them, he would leave several frigates to block the James and two ships at the mouth of the York while he put to sea with the fleet.  ‘I will sail with my forces towards New York,’ he said, ‘and I may possibly do more for the common cause than by remaining here as an idle spectator.  … I shall set sail as soon as the wind permits’” (Ketchum 211-212).  Washington sent Lafayette immediately to meet with de Grasse to attempt to change his mind.  Rochambeau sent a letter to de Grasse via Lafayette.  Before the Frenchman arrived, probably because his officers had expressed their disapproval of his plan, de Grasse recanted his decision.
On September 28, Washington, Rochambeau, and the two allied armies began their march from Williamsburg to the environs of Yorktown.  The French had about 7,800 troops.  The Americans (counting 3,000 Virginia militia commanded by Thomas Nelson) had 8,845.  “Astonishingly, … the roads that the British should have defended foot by foot were uncontested” (Ketchum 214).  The army “formed camp in a great curve extending from York River.  … The French held the left flank while the Americans held the right.  Nelson and his troops, stationed at the extreme right, made up a reserve for Lafayette’s regulars” (Evans 118).  Countering the French and American forces were about 7,200 British soldiers.  The trap was set.
Works cited:
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  (Charlottesville, Virginia: The University Press of Virginia, 1975).  Print.
Ketchum, Richard M.  Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution.  (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004).  Print.
“Second Naval Battle of the Virginia Capes (1781).”  Net.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- First Chapter
Every fiction writer strives in his first chapter to pique his readers’ interest.  Here is the first sentence of the first chapter of my work in progress, “Alsoomse and Wanchese.” 
Using her moistened scrap of deerskin, Alsoomse removed decayed skin cells from the left humerus of her mother’s skeleton.
Seventeen year old Alsoomse is preparing her mother’s skeletal remains for ossuary burial.
North Carolina Algonquian ossuary burials were conducted every several years.  They were ritual reburials of the remains of loved ones who had died and been interred after the previous community ossuary burial.  Historian David Leroy Oberg explains their purpose.
“Death, and the resulting grief, could disrupt a community, leaving those who mourned bereft of reason.  The reburial of all who had died since the last [ossuary] ceremony served to unify the community and tie it to the land it lived upon.  Whatever the differences in status in Algonquian communities, all could expect the same treatment in the end.  All belonged, and all were worthy of being remembered and reintegrated after death into the village community.  Ossuary burial, a ritual that required the participation of all in ways that must seem foreign to us, helped set things right, and preserved the balance between the world of the seen and the unseen, the natural and the supernatural, and the living and the dead” (Oberg 28).
Alsoomse has chosen to cleanse her mother’s bones without her cousin’s assistance.  Her labor is a deeply emotional experience.  She confides to her mother, Nadie, her needs, anxieties, and aspirations.  “Tell me everything I have forgotten.  Help me,” she declares.  She asks her mother questions and imagines receiving answers.
“How do you know who to marry?  How will I know who is kind?”
“What does a man like Father see in a woman’s soul?”
“Why must weroances, priests, and husbands decide who I must be?”
“How much of life’s misery is the result of the wishes of the gods?”
All the while Alsoomse labors and grieves, she begrudges the absence of her brother, Wanchese. 
Was their mother’s final burial so unimportant? She needed him. He needed to be the worthy brother she craved.
How often he had disappointed her! Pivoting on her right knee, she stared through the stately trunks of long-leaf pine toward the water’s edge hoping to glimpse a canoe approaching from Dasemunkepeuc, the village where their weroance Wingina -- Wanchese’s substitute father and mentor – mostly lived. Where Wanchese spent most of his time striving to advance himself!
Wanchese is indeed one of four Algonquians crossing Pamlico Sound from Dasemunkapeuc ( to attend the ossuary burial.  The others are Wingina, the chief weroance of six mostly coastal villages including Dasemunkapeuc and Roanoke; Eracano, Wingina’s brother-in-law; and Wanchese’s disliked distant cousin, Askook.  As Wanchese and Askook paddle the canoe across the Sound, Wanchese reflects upon how his father’s murder by the Pomouik (See my Oct. 16 post “Two Important Events) and the death of his brother Kitchi have affected him.  He admits that he has not been supportive enough of his mother and sister.
How he had raged after his father’s murder! How he had imagined brutal retribution! He, fifteen, had not yet become a man! How his mother had comforted him, needing herself to be consoled. He wondered now if all her efforts to soothe him had helped her. He wanted to believe that it had!
 It was after Kitchi’s death that she had needed him most. Instead, he had moped, bristled, raged. Alsoomse had loathed him. His aunt had lectured him. His best friend Osacan had tried to reason with him. Granganimeo himself had spoken to him, had then sent him across the shallow waters to his brother, Wingina, who had succeeded their father Wematin as chief weroance. Wingina had put him to work. Gradually, Wanchese had emerged from his funk.  Not soon enough to show Nadie that he was worthy of her devotion.
About Alsoomse: How much thought had he given about how she had suffered? How often had he sat beside her the past thirteen moons, he across the great waters fixated in his sphere of pain? She needed somebody better than he. She needed a husband, who would cherish and protect her.
None of his friends had showed an interest in Alsoomse.  It was not that she was less desirable looking than most of the maturing girls he had seen at Roanoke or Dasemunkepeuc. What was she now, seventeen? A bit old. Opinionated. Too much a questioner. Too much the meddler. Why couldn’t she accept who she was, a female meant to do female work for her village’s benefit?
We learn of Wanchese’s activities away from Roanoke.
Living in Dasemunkepeuc, he had at Wingina’s behest traveled with two older companions to distant villages outside the weroance’s confederation to deliver and receive personal messages.  He had traveled also to Secotan – his mother’s childhood village – and Aquascogooc and once to neighboring Pomeiooc, whose weroance was now challenging Wingina’s authority. Wanchese was proud of these assignments.  Other braves his age native of Dasemunkepeuc were entirely capable of doing this work. “Wingina is training you,” Tetepano had told him during his, Cossine’s, and Wanchese’s recent trip to Weapemeoc. Wanchese hadn’t asked why.  He knew that Wingina’s father Wematin had relied on Wanchese’s father Matunaagd to lead his braves in battle. Whatever his purpose, Wingina had chosen to elevate Wanchese’s status.
The chapter ends with Wanchese’s arrival at his aunt’s (and before her death his mother’s) long house.
Permitted to break away, Wanchese strode up the sandy bank toward the pathway that lead to the village. Shadows of pine branches moved across his bare shoulders. Drifting smoke marked his entrance to the village grounds. Up the lane separating the nine houses he hurried, oblivious of the sounds of Askook’s footfalls behind him. He saw the top of his aunt’s long house. Three women – Alsoomse, his aunt, and his cousin Sokanon – were bent, their arms and hands working, over a reed mat. He hoped they were mostly finished.
Alsoomse glanced his way; she saw him. She rose, took two tentative steps, rushed to him. They embraced.
“You came,” she murmured, the right side of her face pressed against his chest.
He stroked her hair. “I’m here to stay,” he said. For awhile, he thought.
Like every writer of fiction, I am hopeful my first chapter will cause curious readers to want to read the entire book.
Work cited:
Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand: Roanoke’s Forgotten Indians.  (Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008).  Print.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

"Caleb's Crossing"
by Geraldine Brooks
The narrative skills of this Pulitzer-Prize winning author impressed me.  There was not one occasion when I paused to note an awkward phrase or cringe at stilted or unnecessary dialogue.  All of the important characters were well-rounded and authentic to the second half of the 17th Century yet universally identifiable.  Sensory detail was evocative.  The thought processes of the narrator character were interesting and realistic. 
Here is an example of narrative eloquence.  Late in the story the main character, Bethia Mayfield, an old woman soon to die, tells us: “God is gathering me, little by little.  He has already taken much but he has left me my sight, and for that I am thankful.  I can still see the glory of his sunrise through the wavy panes of my chamber window.  I can still watch the wind riffle across the water, the osprey’s sudden plunge from the sky, the thunderheads gathering in billowing, wine-dark blooms.  I sit here, propped up like a poppet, and I watch.  I watch, and I remember.  Now, when everything else has gone, this is what remains: vision and memories.”
At the story’s beginning Bethia, twelve, lives with her preacher father, housekeeping mother, and jealous, discontented brother Makepeace on what today is Martha’s Vineyard.  Her father’s purpose in life is to convert the Algonquian “salvages” living on the island to Christianity.  “‘For several years I drank the dust of those huts, helping in whatever practical thing I could do for them, happy to win the ears of even one or two for a few words about Christ.  And now, at last, I begin to distill in their minds the pure liquor of the gospel.  To take a people who were traveling apace the broadway to hell, and to be able to turn them, and set their face to God….  It is what we must strive for.  They are an admirable people, in many ways, if you trouble to know them.’”  He had taken to live in his house an outcast of the local tribe, a man named Iacoomis, possessing a quick mind, to learn English.  The native, in turn, sought to teach Preacher Mayfield Wampanaontoaonk speech to assist Mayfield’s mission.  Bethia, possessing also a sharp mind, “confined to the hearth and the dooryard as adult business ebbs and flows around her,” had learned Iacoomis’s language faster and better than her father.  It is both her ability to speak the native language and her independent spirit and thirst for knowledge that causes her to live a life fraught with inner and external conflict.
It is Bethia’s independent nature and aversion to obey Puritan dictates especially concerning the role of girls and women that cause her to explore secretly the far reaches and shorelines of the island.  During her explorations she encounters a local native boy approximately her age.  Being able to speak his language, they develop a friendly relationship that becomes strong and enduring.  His English name will be Caleb.   Part of the fascination of this novel is how their lives intertwine.  Many of the best scenes in the novel are the interchanges they have that reflect both their divergent cultural viewpoints and their deep friendship and great concern for each other’s welfare.  Their relationship transcends the bigotry toward “salvages” prevalent among the British settlers and the resultant hostility harbored by the native inhabitants, protective of their territory, culture, and religious practices and beliefs.  Bethia’s actions at the end of the novel regarding Caleb’s welfare epitomizes the singularity of their relationship.
Of particular interest to me were the conflicts, inner and external, that Bethia must confront. 
She abhors not being afforded the right to make her own decisions.  A female’s role in her society was predetermined exclusively by men.  Girls were not to be educated beyond the ability to become good housewives.  Bethia’s father stopped her education when she was nine while her plodding brother Makepeace continued to be educated, laboriously, for admittance into Harvard College.  The father tells Bethia, “‘I would do you no favor if I were to send you to your husband with a mind honed to find fault in his every argument or to better his in every particular.  A husband must rule his home, Bethia, as God rules his faithful.’”  Her father and grandfather choose for her to marry (when she is of a proper age) the son of a prosperous, upstanding neighbor.  After her father’s death, Bethia’s grandfather arranges to have her indentured to a Cambridge school master to pay for Makepeace’s college preparatory instruction.  For four years she is Master Corlett’s housekeeper.  Late in the book, speaking to her master (and future father-in law), she reflects: “My father had loved me dearly; Master Corlett, I believed, felt true affection for me.  Both were learned men who devoted their lives to teaching others.  Then why not me?  Why did they want to confine me in the prison of my own ignorance?    Once again I had spoken too freely.  I seemed too dense witted to learn the simple lesson: silence was a woman’s sole safe harbor.”  When her future husband challenges her independent spirit, she declares hotly: “‘Since God has seen fit to take my parents from me, I see no one left above me whose views on my conduct matter more to me than my own.’”  
Bethia must also deal with her society’s belief in an authoritative, punitive God.  Her faith in His existence is constant, but her nature is such that her conduct often strays beyond His dictates of behavior.  Tragic events that occur to her she believes to be God’s punishment.  Her mother dies in childbirth.  It is God’s punishment for Bethia’s sinful behavior.  “I broke the Commandments, day following day.  And I did it knowingly.    Like Eve, I thirsted after forbidden knowledge and I ate forbidden fruit.    Every inlet and outcrop of this place, I love.  We are taught early here to see Nature as a foe to be subdued.  But I came, by stages, to worship it.  You could say that for me, this island and her bounties became the first of my false gods, the original sin that begot so much idolatry.”  After her mother’s death, Bethia believes it is her duty (her reparation) to assume at age fifteen all of her mother’s duties.  After her father’s unexpected death, she feels it is God’s expectation that she accept indenture to Master Corlett to enable her brother’s continued college preparatory instruction.   
Hers, however, is an inquiring mind.  She questions, at the age of fifteen: “Who are we, really?  Are our souls shaped, our fates written in full by God, before we draw our first breath?  Do we make ourselves by the choices we our selves make?  Or are we clay merely, that is molded and pushed into the shape that our betters propose for us?”  About her father and grandfather’s selection of her future husband, “There was a little ember of anger inside me when I thought this, a hard black coal that could be fanned into a hot flame if I chose to let my thoughts give it air.  Most of the time, I did not do so.  I went on, dutiful, trying to keep in mind what father preached, that all of this was God’s plan, not his, not his father’s, nor any man’s.”  Caleb had embarked on his solitary journey into the deep woods to find his spirit guide, which would “enlighten his mind and guide his steps in myriad ways, until the end of his life.”  She, her father, and their Puritan neighbors looked upon spirit guides as manifestations of the devil.  She questions God’s supervision.  “… did God make no design for the heathen?  If so, what was father about, in his ministry to them?  Perhaps it was pride, merely, to seek these souls that God had chosen to abandon.  Perhaps it was in itself a sin….  But no.  Surely my wise father could not err so.  And why had God brought Caleb into my path if I was not meant to save him?  Why had he set us down here at all?”  Inquiry reveals incongruity, which, in turn, produces confusion, doubt and, perhaps, anger.
My criticism of “Caleb’s Crossing” – that Bethia is a rather contrived character – is mitigated by the fact that she is a damned interesting person whom every reader will care about.  The fact that she approximates a modern liberal-minded human being living in a three hundred fifty year old, close-minded society makes her especially appealing.  Because the author must adhere to the facts that are known about the historical person -- Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck – the first native graduate of Harvard University, and she has chosen to narrate the story from Bethia’s viewpoint, she must contort the events of Bethia’s life to maintain her close proximity to him.   This novel was an ambitious undertaking.  The results should mostly be applauded.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Trapping Cornwallis
In order to appreciate the great contribution that French soldiers and war ships made in forcing British General Charles Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, we must go back several years.   
“Ever since the rebel victory at Saratoga, in 1777, had convinced France to sign a treaty of alliance with the United States, George Washington had been waiting and praying for French intervention to come soon, but as the weeks and months passed with no sign that help was on the way, his hopes waned.    Fortunately for the patriots, the young French aristocrat Marquis de Lafayette, a volunteer who had been serving in Washington’s army, returned to Versailles in 1779 and came back to America a year later with the welcome news that seven French ships of the line, ten to twelve thousand veteran troops led by Comte de Rochambeau, and a war chest of 6 million livres were on the way and should arrive in Rhode Island in June [1780]” (Ketchum 9, 10).
Washington’s army had spent a desperate winter camped at Morristown, New Jersey, “twenty-five miles west of New York City, on high ground protected by the Watchung Mountains, overlooking the roads between New York and Philadelphia.”  When Lafayette rejoined Washington at Morristown, he was appalled at what he witnessed: “‘An Army that is reduced to nothing, that wants provisions, that has not one of the necessary means to make war.’ However prepared for such squalor he may have been by his knowledge of past distress, ‘I confess I had no idea of such an extremity,’ he wrote” Ketchum 10).   Demonstratively, Washington could accomplish nothing without French troops and a large fleet.
Ships carrying Rochambeau’s soldiers were sighted off Newport, Rhode Island, July 11, 1780, the fleet having sailed from Brest May 2.  Washington’s immediate hope was that with considerable French assistance he could attack and defeat British commander-in-chief Henry Clinton’s army, situated in New York City.  The timely arrival of British Admiral Thomas Graves with six ships of the line to augment British Admiral Arbuthnot’s fleet, giving “the British a thirteen-to-eight superiority over the French fleet” (Ketchum 27), thwarted Washington’s plan.
Subsequently, Washington learned that the French ships unloaded at Newport had “carried no arms, no gun-powder, no uniforms for his destitute, half-naked veterans.    Washington’s troops did not have enough horses and wagons to join the French in an operation anytime soon.  … So lackadaisical were the states about providing food for the army that the commander-in-chief was obliged to authorize a program he detested.  Here it was the harvest season, a time of abundance, yet appeals to the states had produced no results worth noting, forcing the General to resort once more to scavenging his own country” every few days moving “his camp, letting the men forage for anything within reach, and when the area was striped clean, move on to another and repeat the process” (Ketchum 28, 29).
Rochambeau wrote to his government that the real strength of Washington’s army was three thousand men and the country’s currency was worthless.  He urged that he be sent troops, ships, and money.  “Washington’s plan for an attack on New York was foolhardy, he observed – preposterous, in fact, and very likely the last gasp of a desperate commander” (Ketchum 31).
Months of inactivity ensued.  A second French fleet at Brest was kept from departing by a British blockade.  On September 24, 1780, Benedict Arnold fled his command at West Point after his communications with the British about turning West Point over to them had been intercepted.  Rewarded by General Clinton with a brigadier general’s commission, Arnold was placed in command of 1,600 troops sent to Virginia in December.
Desperate appeals were made to the French government for immediate, essential assistance.  Lafayette wrote: “With a naval inferiority it is impossible to make war in America.  It is that which prevents us from attacking any point that might be carried with two or three thousand men.  It is that which reduces us to defensive operations, as dangerous as they are humiliating.”  Washington wrote: “If France delays a timely and powerful aid in the critical posture of our affairs it will avail us nothing should she attempt it hereafter.  We are at this hour suspended in the Balance; not from choice but from hard and absolute necessity.”  Rochambeau sent his son to France to plead for assistance.  It was Benjamin Franklin, ambassador to France, however, who succeeded most in persuading the King to renew French assistance.  “Shrewdly, the old man reminded Vergennes that if the English were to recover their former colonies, an opportunity like the present one might not recur, while possession of the vast territory and resources of America would afford the English a broad basis for future greatness, ever expanding commerce, and a supple of seamen and soldiers that would make them ‘the terror of Europe’” (Ketchum 137).
On May 8, 1781, a French frigate docked at Boston carrying the news that Admiral Francois Joseph Paul de Grasse had left Brest March 22 with 26 ships of the line, 8 frigates, and 150 transports, their immediate destination believed to be the West Indies.  Aboard the ships were 6 million livres designated to satisfy the needs of Washington’s army.  Washington and Rochambeau set about immediately determining how best to utilize this transfusion of military and naval assets.  Rochambeau wanted to focus on the Chesapeake Bay.  Washington looked upon that operation only as an alternative to attacking New York City.   Rochambeau forthwith sent a dispatch to de Grasse urging that the admiral sail not to New York City but to the Chesapeake Bay where he should expect to be joined by Rochambeau’s and Washington’s combined forces.  Believing that a combined French and American attack on New York was imminent, Clinton ordered General Cornwallis, now in Virginia, to send him all the troops he could spare and to establish a defensive position.  Washington, eventually taking Rochambeau’s viewpoint, sent a trusted officer to the West Indies to find de Grasse and impress upon him the necessity that he sail immediately to the Chesapeake.
Washington and Rochambeau were taking a great risk.  Acting on the assumption that de Grasse would reach the Chesapeake without being intercepted by a large British fleet and that he would be able to place his ships in a position that would prevent Cornwallis’s army’s escape by sea, the two generals would march their armies from Newport and the Hudson Valley all the way into Maryland, transport them by boats to Richmond, march them to the York peninsula, and have them encircle Cornwallis’s forces.   “On June 10 the first brigade of French troops stepped off on what proved to be a 756-mile march to the South” (Ketchum 143).  On August 14, Washington and Rochambeau learned from de Grasse that he was sailing for the Chesapeake.  Once there, “he planned to stay until October 15—no longer—when he would have to return to the West Indies with his troops.  It was clear at once to Rochambeau and Washington that they had a window of opportunity of four or five weeks at most in which to make use of the French fleet—if the British navy did not interfere” (Ketchum 150).  The next day Washington wrote an order for Lafayette, in Virginia, “to position his force in such a way as to prevent Cornwallis from returning to North Carolina” (Ketchum 151).  Rochambeau’s forces joined Washington’s troops at White Plains, New York, August 22, and the combined armies commenced their lengthy journey.  
More than two months earlier, June 12, the Virginia legislature had elected as its new governor Thomas Nelson.  There had been a good deal of informal talk among the legislators at Staunton about establishing a dictator.  Possible candidates had been Patrick Henry, George Washington, Nathaniel Greene, and George Nichols, a young Hanover County representative with considerable military experience.  The talk came to nothing, but the feeling remained that the new governor should be given broader powers to exercise.
The legislature vested Nelson with powers that his predecessor Thomas Jefferson had labored without. “His feelings on receiving the news are not known, but later he remarked that to ‘have declin’d the appointment might have indicated timidity.  I, therefore accepted it with a determination to exert every power that I possess’d to give energy to Government and security to the inhabitants of the State” (Evans 103).
Nelson was given the power, with the consent of the Council, to impress provisions of any kind necessary for supplying the militia and Continental armies.  It gave Nelson the freedom to act immediately at critical moments.  He was empowered to “call out the state militia in such numbers as he saw fit and to send them where their services were required; … to seize loyalists and banish them without jury trial; to redistribute the property of persons who opposed laws for calling up militia …  Additional legislation provided the death penalty for desertion and empowered the governor and Council to lay an embargo on exports from the state, to declare martial law within a twenty-mile radius of the enemy or American camps, and to strengthen militia regulations so that six months might be added to the service of those who failed to appear when originally summoned” (Evans 103, 104).
Nelson could not legally exercise this new power without the consent of the Council, consisting of 8 men elected periodically by the legislature.  During the time Nelson was governor, only four members (the bare minimum required for carrying on business) were able to meet.  They had difficulty meeting regularly.  Frequently, Nelson chose to carry out his legislated powers without the Council’s consent.
“… state officials had little choice but to resort to impressment in order to get the necessary food and equipment.  This frequently involved the threat of force, for Virginia farmers were loath to exchange their produce for vouchers which stated the appraised price and were redeemable at a future date.  The situation was worsened by a long dry spell culminating in a poor harvest.  Even when provisions were acquired a scarcity of wagons made if difficult to get them to the army.  Owners often hid their wagons and refused to transport supplies unless they got protection from impressment and assurance that they would be paid for their services” (Evans 107).
“Assuring that all men eligible for militia duty reported for service when called was much more difficult in areas distant from Richmond, particularly in the western part of the state.  In counties to the west of the mountains, where the Indians were a greater threat than the British and where there were large pockets of Loyalists, the evasion of militia duty in some instances reached the point of virtual insurrection” (Evans 109).
Virginia had reached its lowest point in the Revolution.  Washington regretted that he had not been able to come to his state’s aid.  Nelson’s election had pleased him.  From Dobbs Ferry, New York, on July 25, Washington had written a letter to his step-son, John Parke Custis, praising him for “your choice of a Governor.  He is an honest man, active, spirited, and decided, and will … suit the times as well as any person in the State” (Fitzpatrick XXII, 178).”  Washington’s words would be proven prophetic.
Nelson had placed himself and his militia under General Lafayette’s command.  As governor, he planned to take the field, but would yield to Lafayette’s decisions.  It is interesting to compare the thoughts of these two men concerning their military situation during the summer months.  In a letter to Brigadier-General Morgan, Nelson expressed his reluctance to call out the county militia at “the approach of harvest; but I have my hopes that some capital Blow may be struck time enough to enable the Commander of the Troops to dispense with their services at that time” (Nelson Letters 61).   In a letter to Nelson, Lafayette expressed the opinion that the more reinforcements Virginia sent to General Nathaniel Greene in North Carolina, the better the situation would be for Virginia.  “Whether he [Cornwallis] continues in his present situation, commences fresh ravages in the State, we shall find that to succor General Greene we shall want them [the militia] here [with Greene].  Indeed, it is one way of compelling the enemy to leave us, or at least force him to detach …” (Lafayette V, 380).
The answer to the question of what Lafayette and Nelson should do with Virginia troops – gather them to strike Cornwallis or send them to Greene into the Carolinas –- was answered by General Henry Clinton’s order to Cornwallis to establish a defensive position.  On August 5 Nelson reported to the Virginia House of Delegates in Richmond Cornwallis’s movement from Portsmouth to the York River, where he could command both the York and Gloucester shores.  Lafayette thereupon placed his forces not far below Richmond where he could march either northward or southward, “as their movements should make necessary …” (Nelson Letters 64).
Cornwallis was now camped on the neck of land upon which Washington had warned Nelson five years ago never to place a large detachment of soldiers.  The roles of attacker and defender were now reversed.  If the British had not the sense to see the danger in their position, Washington would not provide them much time to discover it.  He gave Clinton every indication that the movement of his and Rochambeau’s armies was a prelude to an attack on Staten Island.  Clinton was cognizant of the existence of de Grasse’s fleet, rumored to be somewhere in the West Indies.  Would it arrive off New York to participate in a massive attack?  On August 21, the Comte de Barras, commander of the French fleet at Newport, Rhode Island, set sail for Virginia to augment de Grasse’s fleet, “making it superior to anything the British could muster, but even so, questions remained.  The allied generals now knew when and where they would march, but the fiction of an attack on New York had to be maintained lest Clinton assail them while they were on the move, and at a certain moment the British general would know with certainty that they were bound for the South” (Ketchum 158).
On August 27, Washington informed Nelson that he was coming south with American and French troops and to expect the arrival of a French fleet of war ships.  He was concerned about being furnished with sufficient supplies to sustain him through his campaign.  He would need most salted provisions, beef, forage, and the means of transportation.  “Let me entreat your Excellency that every exertion may be made to feed and supply our army …” (Fitzpatrick XXIII 55-56).  Nelson would need to concentrate his activities on procuring the essential food and supplies.   With his own troops present, Washington would have little need of the militia.
On August 30, de Grasse’s fleet, consisting of 28 ships of the line and six frigates with 3,000 land forces, dropped anchor in the mouth of the York River.  Nelson wrote confidently to Governor Lee of Maryland: “In all human Probability, Lord Cornwallis has nearly finished his career, and will shortly receive his reward.”  Nelson then got down to the real purpose of his letter.  He asked for flour, something “with which your State, I imagine, can easily and plentifully furnish me” (Nelson Letters 10, 11).
Nelson had begun a very tedious, frustrating, essential task.  Virginia troops had always been short of supplies.  Now Nelson had to raise supplies and food for Washington’s army.  He sent out various requests to agents in the Virginia counties for specific commodities.  From Smithfield he requested “large supplies of Vegetables and Vinegar;” from Caroline and the adjacent country “all the flour you can procure;” from Isle of Wight and the neighborhood flour, meal, spirits, and vinegar; and from Richmond entrenching tools.  However, by September 12, there was not “a grain of meal in Camp” (Nelson Letters 12, 22-25).  Nelson wrote that he did not know how Virginia could remedy such shortages in time.
On September 2, while Washington’s troops were marching through Philadelphia, Clinton “sent a message to Lord Cornwallis: ‘By intelligence which I have this day received, it would seem that Mr. Washington is moving with an army to the southward, with an appearance of haste, and gives out that he expects the cooperation of a considerable French armament.  Your Lordship, however, may be assured that if this should be the case, I shall endeavour to reinforce your command by all means within the compass of my power …’” (Ketchum 163-164).
On September 5 Nelson placed an embargo on the shipping of all beer, pork, bacon, wheat, Indian corn, peas, and other grains and flours.  Eight days later he would order the roads in the counties of Fairfax, Prince William, Stafford, Spotsylvania, Caroline, Hanover and New Kent to be put in order for the advance of Washington’s army.  On the same day he asked Governor Burke of North Carolina for salt and beef, and Gloucester County for added salt.  To one state official, Nelson wrote: “‘I think the trust my country has repos’d in me demands that I should stretch my powers to their utmost extent, regardless of the censures of the inconsiderate or any other evil that may result to myself from such a step [and] attain by the strongest methods of compulsion those necessaries which cannot otherwise be procur’d and from the want of which alone we can have any reason to fear that our enterprise will fail’” (Evans 115).
On September 5 a large British fleet appeared off the Virginia capes.
Here is a useful map.
Works cited:
Evens, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  (Charlottesville, Virginia: The University Press of Virginia, 1975).  Print.
Fitzpatrick, John C., ed.  The Writings of George Washington.  (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1933).  XXII.  Print.
Ketchum, Richard M.  Victory at Yorktown: The Campaign That Won the Revolution.  (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2004).  Print.
Lafayette to Nelson, July 29, 1781.  The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography (April 1898), V.  Print.
Publications of the Virginia Historical Society, New Series, No. 1.  “Letters of Thomas Nelson, Jr.”  (Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, 1874).  Print.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Characters Real and Imagined
As I stated in my last post, most of the Algonquian characters in the novel that I am writing are fictitious.  This is because historians know very few of the names of the natives with whom Englishmen interacted at or near Roanoke Island in the 1580s.  Most of the names actually reported by explorers or colonizers come from one source: Ralph Lane, governor the English colony on Roanoke Island from August 1585 to June 1586, when he and his colony left for England.  Lane almost single-handedly destroyed the tentative friendship that Captains Arthur Barlowe and Philip Amadas had developed with the local natives during their brief stay on the Outer Banks in 1584.  Delusional, paranoid, Lane came to believe that a great alliance of coastal Algonquian tribes was being organized to exterminate his colony.  He named at least 14 natives in his report to Walter Raleigh following his return to England.  I make use of all of these names.
First and foremost was Wingina, the chief weroance of the villages of Roanoke, Dasemunkepeuc, Croatoan, and, probably, Pomeiooc, Aquascogooc, and Secotan.  (See the map provided by this link:  It was Wingina with whom Lane contested to obtain food during the winter and spring of his tenure as governor.  It was Wingina who, he believed, was organizing an alliance to destroy him.
Lane mentioned two leaders of other confederations of villages: Okisko of the Weapemeoc and Menatonon of the Choanoac.  When Lane took an exploratory party to Menatonon’s primary village, Choanoac, in April 1586, he confronted Menatonon to obtain information about the location of valuable mineral deposits.  He took Menatonon’s young son, Skiko, back to Roanoke as a hostage.  Skiko had been captured by the fierce, Iroquois-speaking Mangoaks west and southwest of Choanoac but had escaped.   
Arthur Barlowe, a co-leader of the first expedition to Roanoke (1584), mentioned information told to him about Piemacum, weroance (chief) presumably of the village of Pomeiooc.  Some historians believe that Piemacun was the leader of the non-Algonquian speaking Pomouik, which through trickery had murdered many braves of Secotan, a village that may have been under Wingina’s authority.  (See my October 16, 2015, post: “Two Major Events”)  Historians do agree that Wingina and Piemacum had a hostile relationship. 
Lane also indentified individual Algonquians who were related to or were important subordinates of Wingina.  There was Granganimeo, Wingina’s brother and weroance of Roanoke.  There was the two brothers’ father, Ensenore, Dasemunkepeuc half-priest and influencial advisor.  Lane also listed principal subordinates.  Tetapano, Eracano, and Cossine guided Lane’s party (and probably acted as Wingina’s spies) to Choanoac in April 1586.  We are told that Eracano was married to Wingina’s sister.  She was not identified.  Osacan was a brave who attempted to rescue Kisko (Menatonon’s son) from Lane’s fort prior to Lane’s leave-taking to England.  Lane wrote that Tanaquincy and Andacon were going to lead a party of twenty braves across Pamlico Sound from Dasemunkepeuc to “attack Lane’s house at night, set its reed thatch on fire, and kill Lane as he ran from the burning building.  Other parties would do the same for Thomas Harriot’s house, and for the remaining individual houses in the ‘town’ (the only case where we hear the word used).  At the same time larger parties, presumably, would attack and overwhelm the guards at the defensive works of the settlement” (Quinn 126).  Historian Michael Leroy Oberg identifies Taraquine and Andacon as the two leaders that Lane believed would lead the assault on his house.  He places Tanaquincy with Osacan and Wanchese as principal men advising Wingina to take hostile action. 
All of these identified Indians appear in my novel.
When Arthur Barlowe returned to England in the summer of 1584, he brought back with him two natives: Manteo and Wanchese.  Manteo was the son of Croatoan’s weroansqua (female chief).  Her name was never reported.  All that historians know about Wanchese prior to Barlowe’s and Philip Amadas’s appearance in 1584 was that he was from Roanoke.  These two individuals were to be taught English so that they could be interpreters when Lane’s men built a fort and settlement at Roanoke in 1585.  Wingina’s choice of them had to have been self-serving.  Manteo was probably very intelligent.  Indeed, he took to English culture readily and upon his return to America behaved more like an Englishman than an Algonquian.  He was Ralph Lane’s interpreter, participated in Lane’s destructive acts, and became Governor John White’s closest native ally in 1587 when White’s colonists were especially fearful of an Algonquian attack led by Wanchese.  Wingina probably chose Wanchese to go to London because Wanchese must have been a highly regarded warrior.  A weroance’s principal men were almost always experienced, esteemed hunters and warriors.  Wingina would have wanted such a man to learn everything he could about England’s far superior weaponry.  Wingina was in particular need of such information given the apparent fact that his authority was being challenged within his own sphere of influence.  (In my novel I have a rebellion beginning to occur in 1583 led by Piemacum of Pomeiooc)  Historians tell us that while Manteo flourished during his instruction in London Wanchese was resistant and sullen.  When the two natives were returned to the Carolina coast in 1585, Manteo stayed with the English and worked for Lane; but Wanchese immediately reported to Wingina and disassociated himself from the English.  During his year’s tenure as governor Lane suspected repeatedly Wanchese’s desire to see the colony and Lane destroyed.
I am certain that Manteo and Wanchese never liked each other.  I indicate this in an early scene of my novel.  Both men are attending a council meeting called by Wingina during a corn festival at Dasemunkepeuc.
Inside his long house Wingina was conducting an informal council.  Attending were his brother, Granganimeo; his brother-in-law, Eracano; his father, Ensenore; three of his best warriors, Tetepano, Andacon, and Mingan [a fictitious character]; Manteo, the son of Croatoan’s weroansqua; Granganimeo’s closest friend, Tanaquincy; and Wanchese. Wingina and Granganimeo were smoking long-stemmed clay pipes. Flashes of the great fire outside danced on the matted reed walls that provided its occupants ventilation. Soon to be twenty summers, Wanchese recognized he was the youngest of the men present. Most had to have seen twenty-five or twenty-six summers, Wingina, Granganimeo, and Eracano at least thirty, and Ensenore more than fifty. He was gratified that he had been included, but he was uncertain of its meaning. He was convinced there was a specific purpose. What that would be he would probably be told after the council. His conduct would be that of respectful listener and, if asked to speak, of a deferential fact-giver. He thought it highly unlikely that these mature men would solicit his opinion.
“With the growing season ended, we need to address our problem with Piemacum.” Withdrawing his pipe stem from his mouth, Wingina glanced at his brother, then at Andacon, his fiercest warrior.
Eracano nodded. He repositioned himself on the long bench he shared with his two sons and son-in-law.
Granganimeo spoke. “Piemacum is your age, Andacon. Too ambitious for his loin skin. He wants power more than he wants wives.”
“He plans to take away our trade,” Andacon said.
Wingina nodded.
“I think he wants an alliance with the Pomouik,” Tanaquincy volunteered.
“We don’t know if that is true.” Wingina raised his pipe. He examined it at chin level. “But we should assume so.”
Manteo half-raised his right hand. The top portion of the large turkey feather embedded in the groove above his forehead bobbed. “I know that Piemacum wants a friendship with the Neusiok. It follows that he needs an alliance with the Pomouik.”
Wanchese watched Manteo out of the right corners of his eyes.  Manteo was seated three braves to his right on the bench opposite that of the senior tribesmen. He had had little acquaintance with this rather tall, self-important behaving Croatoan. What he had seen of Manteo he hadn’t liked. Interjecting himself into this discussion with information that Wingina probably knew was an attempt to gain stature. It contributed nothing to solving Wingina’s problem.
Wanchese’s weroance nodded. His pearl earrings swung. “How do you know that?”
“He has spoken to my mother.”
“Then I will need to speak to her.” He frowned, folded his arms slowly across his bare chest. “She should have told me.”
“He visited her four sleeps ago. I came here especially to tell you.”
“Deliver to her, then, my gratitude.”
Manteo’s upper torso straightened; he appeared to grow. Resentment stirred in Wanchese’s throat.
I have provided specific character traits to all of these real people.  I have given Wingina and Granganimeo wives and children that I have been obliged to name and assign age.  I have given Ensenore a deceased brother that I have named Wematin.  Wingina has succeeded Wematin as the chief weroance (mamanatowick) of the six coastal villages I have mentioned above.
I have provided Wanchese a deceased father and mother, a deceased brother, a deceased sister, and a living sister, Alsoomse.  I have provided a family history.  I have given Wanchese and Alsoomse two cousins – Nootau and Sokanon – brother and sister.  Both are rather important secondary characters.  I have also provided Wanchese and Alsoomse friends and neighbors and several personal enemies.
I chose the names of my fictitious characters from a list of names for Algonquian children.  (  An Algonquian’s name reflected something about the person’s appearance or trait of character.  Algonquians could change their names.  For instance, Wingina changed his name to Pemisapan when he withdrew his Roanoke villagers to Dasemunkepeuc after his relationship with Governor Lane had become especially hostile.   
            Alsoomse means “independent,”
            Kitchi (Alsoomse and Wanchese’s deceased brother) means “brave,”
            Kimi (Alsoomse and Wanchese’s deceased sister) means ‘secret.”
            Matunaagd (Alsoomse and Wanchese’s dead father) means “He who fights.”
            Nadie (Alsoomse and Wanchese’s deceased mother) means “wise.”
It became necessary for me to create a chart of the names of these characters with ages indicated and relationships defined to enable me to narrate my story. 
Here is much of what I decided about my two protagonists before I began writing.
Alsoomse is an independent-minded, creative young woman of seventeen years who feels constrained by the limitations placed on her by her restrictive culture and by the fact that she is female.  She speaks her mind.  She defends those who are abused and vulnerable.  She craves a male relationship.  She feels especially the loss of her mother, who died when Alsoomse was fifteen.
Wanchese is a quick-tempered, impulsive-acting young warrior of twenty.  He suffers both the loss of his father, when he was fifteen, and the death of his brother Kitchi, a year after the father’s death.  Wanchese feels partially responsible for Kitchi’s accidental death.  Wanchese is a skilled hunter and warrior, he is ambitious, and he is loyal (yet privately critical) to his chief weroance (Wingina).   He respects courtesy and generosity and disdains pretension and bullying.  Because of his sister’s independent behavior, he is often at odds with her; but they share important character traits.
Next month I will be more specific about Alsoomse’s and Wanchese’s activities and conflicts and the plot direction that the novel so far has taken.
Work cited:
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke: Voyages and Colonies, 1584-1606.  Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.  Print.