Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Thomas Nelson -- Invasion, Insolvency
“On February 18, 1779, Nelson presented his credentials to the [Continental] Congress and immediately entered into the business of government.  He was terribly concerned with the critical situation of the country.  Never, ‘since the commencement of the war,’ he wrote, had America ‘been in so much danger’” (Evans 80).  The British had turned their attention from the north and now looked to the south as a means of bringing an end to the war.  They had captured Savannah in December of 1778, and soon they would be marching though the Carolinas.  Equally frightening was the depreciation in value of the Congress’s and the state’s paper currency and both governmental bodies’ inability to raise money to finance their efforts to wage war.  Nelson “was regular in his attendance, served on a variety of committees, and took part in the two serious debates during his stay in Philadelphia” (Evans 80): what should America’s demands be in a peace settlement with Great Britain and how to settle an emerging conflict between the Southern and New England states regarding free navigation of the Mississippi River and fishing off the banks of Nova Scotia.
To the end of his life close confinement and severe mental exertions preceded Nelson’s illnesses.  A relapse in early April provided him the opportunity to leave Congress, which seemed incapable of accomplishing anything, to serve more meaningfully his state.  “He later told Washington that he left Congress ‘with reluctance,’ but it is reasonably clear that he had always intended to resign and run for a seat in the House of Delegates.”  It is puzzling that as with previous sicknesses in Philadelphia, “Nelson returned home to take on tasks as strenuous as those he left behind” (Evans 81).
Not long after Nelson had returned from Philadelphia, sails were sighted in the capes, as they had two years earlier.  This time the enemy did not sail up the Chesapeake.  Commanded by Major General Edward Mathew, the British landed 2,000 men at Portsmouth, captured Norfolk, and then marched 18 miles to Suffolk.  At Suffolk they burned all buildings except a church; in Portsmouth they seized 3,000 hogshead of tobacco.  Altogether, their operation destroyed 100 small vessels.  Over 2,000 militiamen were called up to respond to the invasion. 
Whether or not Nelson -- elected to the Assembly in May -- commanded the militiamen is open to debate. Many members of the General Assembly had wanted General Charles Scott -- one of Washington’s brigade commanders and a Virginian who, fortuitously, was in the state -- to take command.  Some of the members had “felt that to appoint Scott would be treating Nelson unjustly.”  Hearing of the Assembly’s preference, Nelson “announced that he would be honored to serve under General Scott for the duration of the invasion.  … The record does not show whether Scott was actually named” (Evans 82).  In any event, Nelson did collect what militia forces he could, stationing most of them at Yorktown, where he expected that the main attack would occur.  Striking instead south of the James River, Mathew’s soldiers had met little opposition.  Having accomplished what they had intended, on May 26 they left the Portsmouth area on British ships to return to New York. 
Although Nelson had been able to do little about the raid, he made sure that the families of the poorer men in York County that had been called into the militia would not suffer from their absence.  Nelson sent all of his York plantation laborers and some of his domestic servants to assist them until their men returned.
Mathew’s raid made clear that Virginia’s vast coastline with its many rivers emptying into Chesapeake Bay and the sparse population that inhabited the area made invasion by the British an easy endeavor.  Worse, Virginian had little resource to defend itself.  It possessed a flotilla of four little vessels with a total of five dozen guns, and three armed boats.  “Nowhere was there fortifications strong enough to resist a stout British frigate” (Padover 48).  And what military forces there were consisted mostly of poorly armed, untrained, and undisciplined militia.
In June Patrick Henry’s third term as governor expired.  The new state constitution prohibited the governor from serving more than three consecutive yearly terms.  A new person had to be elected to replace him.  Succeeding Henry may have been one of the reasons why Nelson had wanted to quit Congress.  His two opponents for the office were Thomas Jefferson and John Page.  Nelson and Jefferson had been friends since the 1760’s.  To each, John Page was a closer friend.  Page had been an intimae friend of Jefferson’s at William and Mary.  Nelson had come to know him when Page had settled in York.
On the first ballot Jefferson received 55 votes, Page 38, and Nelson 32.  Jefferson had received a plurality, but not a majority.  Nelson withdrew from the race and Jefferson received a sufficient number of votes to win - 67 votes to Page’s 61.  Jefferson’s political support had come chiefly from the back counties where he was regarded as “being with Henry rather than against him” (Malone 303).  Nelson and Page had been favored by the Tidewater voters.  Page had served as lieutenant governor under Henry.
“Certainly he [Nelson] was disappointed and he may have been miffed by the fact that Page, who had taken a far smaller part in the Revolution, had killed his chances of election.  Nelson was ambitious and he wanted to serve the American cause to the fullest extent possible.”  Rather than to devote all of his attention either to the military or to politics, he had chosen to do both and, thereby, had not been entirely successful with each.  “Military service agreed with him and he told Washington that he had ‘often lamented … not taking the field with you at the commencement of this War.’  But now it was too late, … ‘for to enter in a subordinate rank would not suit my own feelings,’ and to take a rank higher than those ‘who had borne the brunt of the war’ would indicate ‘a want of generosity’ on his part.  On June 4, perhaps to rest and restore his wounded feelings, he got permission to be absent from the House of Delegates for seven days” (Evans 82, 83). 
In June the General Assembly spent a considerable length of time debating whether to move the capital to Richmond.  The Tidewater members violently opposed it; the “up country” members, in the majority, pushed it.  Of more importance were the army’s need for men and supplies and the necessity of controlling inflation.  The legislature eventually amended previous legislation to allow the sale of British estates, the proceeds of which would go to the state.  In July the legislature adjourned.  The freeholders of York County met to discuss ways and means of helping the government restore the value of paper currency.  “Nelson served on a committee of fourteen that recommended a ceiling on prices.  The suggestion, though sensible, seems to have gained no support.  To be effective, it would have had to be not only statewide, but nationwide, almost an impossibility considering the weakness of the Continental Congress” (Evans 83).
In September the Continental Congress stopped issuing paper money.  This placed the main burden of supporting the war on the states.  The state assembly during its fall session tackled its insolvency problem, with little success.  Seeing no alternative to agreeing to a “humiliating, inglorious and disadvantageous peace,” the assembly “authorized the state to borrow 5 million pounds from its citizens and, to provide for the interest and principal on the loan, they fixed a tax of ‘thirty pounds of inspected tobacco’ per year for the next eleven years on every tithable person, except free white tithables between the ages of sixteen and twenty-one” (Evans 84).  The legislation that had authorized the sale of British estates was amended to correct the problems of estate purchases being tied up in the courts and the estates of Virginia citizens absent from the country being seized and auctioned.  The estates of absent citizens were protected, litigation proceedings were streamlined, and buyers of estates were given “ironclad guarantees respecting the validity of their purchases.    Returns from the sale of British estates and the payment of British debts were meager and the money that did come in was rendered almost worthless by the continued depreciation of Virginia currency” (Evans 84-85).
Saddled now with a 26 million pound debt, in February 1780 the state floated a loan of 5 million pounds.  “But very little money trickled in because people who had funds could get as high as 20 percent interest on private loans, whereas the state paid only 6 percent.    Jefferson and the Council … appealed to Virginia’s citizens to support the loan drive.  The government also requested certain individuals, who were concerned with the plight of the state, to solicit loans” (Evans 85).  Nelson did so.  He encountered great resistance.  People doubted the government’s ability to repay the loans.  Consequently, Nelson, and others, pledged to pay back what the government could not.  Nelson managed to raise 10,974 pounds out of the total of about 60,000 pounds raised for the state.
Prices rose.  People with money bought “back lands on the river Ohio” and complained about heavy taxation, and candidates for state office who promised tax relief – “men of mean abilities and no rank” – were predominately elected.  The newly-elected assembly met in 1780 in Richmond, the new capitol.  The Continental Congress had asked the states to continue to raise 15 million dollars monthly for its use.  On May 30 the Congress requested an appropriation of $1,953,200 by June 15.  “A large French expeditionary and naval force was expected soon to act in conjunction with the American army, and congress did not have the funds to support any offensive action” (Evans 86).  The Assembly on June 1 resolved that money be borrowed from private individuals and be supplemented by the sale of 600,000 pounds of state tobacco.  Those who loaned cash were to be repaid in December or have the amount discounted from their taxes at the rate of 6 percent.  Nelson was one of seven men authorized to receive the loans.
He canvassed vigorously his own locality and, afterward, solicited south of the James River. “As was the case in February, Nelson found that many people were unwilling to lend money on the shaky security of the state.  Again Nelson pledged his own security for the payment of these loans in case the state was unable to fulfill its obligations” (Evans 87).  He raised 41,601 pounds.  Altogether, Virginia raised $1,430,239, some $500,000 short of its goal.
“Nelson’s contribution, over the past three years, toward American independence had been exceptional.    Thomas Nelson had ‘exerted every nerve,’ and rarely had he allowed his own personal interests to interfere with those of the country.  His fortune, time, energy, and considerable political influence had all been enlisted in the cause.  Much had been asked of him and he had given freely.  Yet the end was not in sight” (Evans 87).
 Sources Cited:
Evans, Emory G.  Thomas Nelson of Yorktown: Revolutionary Virginian.  Charlottesville, The University Press of Virginia, 1975.  Print.
Malone, Dumas.  Jefferson the Virginian.  Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1948.  Print
Padover, Saul K.  Jefferson.  New York, A Mentor Book, 1953.  Print.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Writing "Alsoomse and Wanchese" -- Religion
Fervid belief in spiritual powers controlled the lives of coastal Carolina Algonquians.  Two gods were especially important.
Algonquians believed in the existence of a distant, benevolent creator.  The Powhatans of Virginia called him Ahone.  William Strachey, Secretary of the Virginia Council at Jamestown from 1610-1611, wrote that Ahone was believed to be a “‘good and peaceable god’ who required ‘no such dutyes, nor needs to be sacrificed unto, for he entendeth all good unto them, and will doe no harme’” (Oberg 24).  Ahone made the sun rise.  He had created the moon and the stars to be his companions.  Having provided what was good in the universe, he did not interfere with the activities of humans.  He was not, consequently, feared.
The second primary god was a frequently malevolent force that the Carolina Algonquians called Kiwasa.  He was the cause of sickness, disappointments, losses, hunger, every misfortune that humans suffered.  It was incumbent that Kiwasa be placated, appeased, bribed.  “Wingina’s people engaged in ritual to appease Kiwasa and deflect his wrath …  These rituals, Strachey observed later, the Indians considered so essential ‘that if they should omit them they suppose their Okeus [Kiwasa] and all their … other gods [of lower station] would let them have no deare, Turkies, Corne, nor Fish’” (Oberg 25).  Kiwasa was present in the air, in the thunder, in storms.  Anyone who displeased him was punished, even for minor offenses.  He caused -- among other misfortune -- illness, the loss of crops through storms, and the infidelity of wives.  He could reward hunters by showing where game was present.  He could punish them by letting them be scratched by briars.  People made offerings to him when they were faced with difficulties and they rendered thanks to him when their problems were eliminated.
“Specifically qualified specialists -- overseers of the religious life of the village -- ensured that the people properly performed the necessary rituals.”  English observers indentified them as priests and “conjurors.”  “Both had acquired special bonds with the immense variety of natural and supernatural forces in the Algonquian cosmos” (Oberg 25).  Thomas Harriot, who reported so much of what we know about the Carolina Algonquians, described them as men “‘well stricken in years’ … Their dress and appearance distinguished them from the rest of the community.” 
“Priests wore ‘their heare cutt like a crest, on the topps of their heads as other doe, but the rest are cut shorte, saving those which growe above their foreheads in manner of a periwigge.’  Priests hung objects from piercings in their ears, and wore ‘a shorte cloke made of fine hares skinnes quilted with the hayre outwarde.’  They wore nothing else” (Oberg 25).  See artist John White’s depiction: http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry_html/white41.html.  They spent most of their time alone contemplating in temples dedicated to Kiwasa.  A human image of Kiwasa was prominently displayed.  They maintained a fire in the temple near to its east end, where the sun rose.  They had great power and status.  They communicated with Kiwasa and, therefore, were believed capable of predicting favorable and forestalling adverse outcomes.  Powhatan weroances actually competed to bring the best of priests to their villages.
“When priests left their temples, “they remained apart from commoners.  They wandered along the rivers, ‘to kill with their bowes, and catch wilde ducks, swannes, and other flowles,’ creatures who could move between the realms of earth, air and water” (Oberg 25).
Conjurors dressed differently; they wore nothing except a “‘skinne which hangeth downe from their girdle and covereth their privities,’ and they affixed ‘a small black birde above one of their ears as a badge of their office.’”  http://www.virtualjamestown.org/images/white_debry/white_48_big.GIF.  “They had been called to their position and given special powers by forces in the spiritual world.    They could predict the actions of enemies and disorient their opponents.  They could find lost objects and foretell the future.  They could cure disease and detect its cause.  With proper rituals, they could control the weather” (Oberg 25-26).
John Smith “wrote that during violent storms the ‘conjurors’ ran down to the shore, if they were not already in canoes, and after making ‘many hellish outcryes’ threw tobacco, puccoon, or copper trinkets into the water to appease the god causing the storm.”  On one occasion in 1611 Englishmen, exploring new territory, met resistance from the Algonquian Nansemond tribe.  “The Nansemonds saw their arrows merely ricocheting off the Englishmen’s armor, and knowing that English guns used fire or sparks, they called on their priest [or conjuror] to make rain that would neutralize those weapons.  Accompanied by a ‘mad crew’ of dancing warriors, the priest ran along the shoreline with his rattle, throwing fire into the air out of a censer [a vessel made for burning incense] and making ‘many dyabolicall gestures’ and incantations.  An Indian accompanying the English expedition recognized the ritual and announced that there would soon be rain.  And so there was, ‘exceeding thunder and lighteninge and much raine,’ but it fell five miles away” (Rountree 132-133).
Some conjurors, while communicating with their spiritual helpers, became possessed.  The conjuror in John White’s painting wore an animal skin pouch at his right hip that probably contained tobacco, and, perhaps, curable herbs.  Native tobacco had a high nicotine content.  Ingestion triggered “an ecstatic visionary-trance state.”  Hariott wrote “that they believed it was beloved of their gods and cast the precious powder on the water and in the air as a sacrifice to them: ‘but all done with strange gestures, stamping, sometimes dancing, clapping of hands, holding vp of hands, & staring vp into the heavens, vttering therewithal and chattering strange words & noises’” (Sloan 128).
Priests and conjurors were believed to have curative powers.  They possessed an extensive knowledge of vegetative and herbal remedies.  For instance, Liquidamber Styraciflua (sweet gum) was used by the Rappahannock for dysentery; the Cherokee for diarrhea, sores, and ulcers; the Carolina Indians for herpes; and the Lumbee for loose teeth.  Symplocarpus Foetidus (swamp cabbage) was used by the Delaware as a local anesthesia, the Mohegan for epilepsy, and the Dakota as an expectorant for consumption.  Typha (cattails) was used by the Pawnee for scalds and burns, the Delaware for kidney stones, the Ojibwa for boils and carbuncles, and the Algonquians for wounds.  In “Alsoome and Wanchese”-- my work in progress -- a conjuror applies a salve made from the rhizomes of cattail to a wound caused by the passage through the thigh of the arrowhead and part of the shaft of an arrow.
Ritual was considered essential to preserve order and balance in the cosmos.  Rituals were performed “to acquire the spiritual power necessary to prosper.  Rituals surrounded the conduct of warfare.  Priests and conjurors provided the weroance with advice on tactics and strategy.  They carried, according to Harriot, a statue of Kiwasa into battle, asking it for support and strength.  If the Indians treated Kiwasa with respect, and followed the accustomed rituals, they did not believe that misfortune could find them.    Wingina’s people celebrated as well elaborate, demanding, and time-consuming rituals of death and the afterlife” (Oberg 26-27).  Death was believed to be an important part of life.  
Algonquians believed in punishment and reward after life.  Harriot “learned of two occasions where Algonquian individuals had traveled beyond the earth, one to a region called Popogusso, an Algonquian hell, and the other to a celestial paradise.  Both spiritual voyagers returned from their journeys with vital information to teach their ‘friends what they should doe’” (Oberg 29).  The first man had been “dead and buried, after a wicked life [but had returned] to earth after being saved by one of the gods from ‘hell.’”  The second man, “rising from the dead,” had given “an account of a pleasant and homely ‘heaven’ where he met his father, but was given leave to return to earth to extol the pleasures of the other world” (Quinn 225).
“The bodies of weroances and, perhaps, other high-ranking individuals received elaborate treatment after death.  Working on scaffolds erected in the temples, priests disemboweled the body and removed the internal organs.  Then, according to Harriot, they removed the skin in its entirety, and ‘cutt all the fleshe clean from the bones, wich they drye in the sonne, and well dryed they inclose in Matts, and place at their feet.’  They covered the bones, ‘remayninge still fastened together with the ligament whole and uncorrupted’ with leather, and worked to shape it ‘as yf their flesh wear not taken away.’  Finally, they wrapped each corpse in its skin, and laid the body next to ‘the corpses of the other cheef lordes,’ which also were preserved in the temple.  Kiwasa stood guard, keeping ‘the dead bodyes of their cheefe lordes that nothinge may hurt them.’”  Mumbling prayers day and night, priests “watched over the community’s deceased leaders” (Oberg 27).   http://blog.encyclopediavirginia.org/files/2012/11/white_temple.jpg
Non-elite Algonquians received ordinary burials “with the deceased wrapped in skins and mats and buried in the ground.”  At an archaeological site on Roanoke Island some “were laid in their graves on the left side, in a semi-flexed position.  Others were buried after receiving much more extensive mortuary treatment—the removal of the skin and the soft parts of the body.”  This site may have been an ossuary burial, “a ‘collective, secondary deposit of skeletal material representing individuals initially stored elsewhere,’ which contains ‘the remains of all or most of the members of the group who had died since the last collective burial’” (Oberg 27-28).
“Ossuaries are common along the Carolina Sounds.  They hold the remains of men and women, young and old.  They include fully articulated remains and entirely disarticulated bundles, as well as a scattering of bones.    We know from descriptions of the ceremonies accompanying ossuary reburial in other locations that it required the participation of the community.    The ceremony took time, the expenditure of resources in the form of gifts, and a commitment to care for and tenderly clean the decayed remains of dead ancestors.  [The first scene of the first chapter of “Alsoomse and Wanchese” has the seventeen-year-old lead female character Alsoomse cleaning the bones of her deceased mother]  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 ceremony served to unify the community and tie it to the land it lived upon.    All belonged, and all were worthy of being remembered and reintegrated after death into the village community.  Ossuary burial … helped set things right, and preserved balance between the world of the seen and the unseen, the natural and the supernatural, and the living and the dead” (Oberg 28).
Works cited:
Oberg, Michael Leroy.  The Head in Edward Nugent’s Hand.  Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008.  Print.
Quinn, David Beers.  Set Fair for Roanoke.  Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 1985.  Print.
Rountree, Helen C.  The Powhatan Indians of Virginia: Their Traditional Culture.  Norman, University of Oklahoma Press, 1989.  Print.
Sloan, Kim.  A New World: England’s First View of America.  Chapel Hill, The University of North Carolina Press, 2007.  Print.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

"Into the Savage Country"
Shannon Burke

I enjoyed Shannon Burke’s “Into the Savage Country” for many reasons. I appreciated the complexity of its important characters, I acquired a better sense of the fur-trapping business and its operations in the drainages of the Rocky Mountains during the late 1820s, I applaud the author for visual authenticity of terrain and frontier settlements, I enjoyed his succinctness of dialogue and the uncluttered flow of first person narrative, and I compliment his creative selection of resolution-demanding crisis situations.  The novel entertained me.  I have only one criticism.
The novel is an adventure story and, secondarily, a love story.  It begins in St. Louis in June 1826.   A young man from a farming family in Pennsylvania, rejecting his father’s expectation that he devote his life to farming and his criticism that he is “fainthearted and vacillating,” driven by the desire to seek adventure, test himself, and obtain fortune to prove his father’s criticisms to be false, William Wyeth joins a fur-trapping company preparing to leave St. Louis.  Before leaving he meets Alene Chevalier, an attractive French woman of one-quarter Indian ancestry.  His attempt to initiate a romantic relationship is rebuffed.  The brigade to which he is assigned consists mostly of veteran trappers.  He earns quickly their acceptance.  He is wounded in a large buffalo hunt and is cared for by his companions.  They move him to a frontier settlement to recover.  Here he meets, again, Alene.  Eventually, they become engaged.  As spring approaches, rather than return to St. Louis with Alene to be married, William decides to spend the ensuing spring, summer, and fall months in the wild trapping for a newly-formed fur company.  His quest for adventure and need to validate himself compel him to exact an agreement from Alene.  She will wait for him until the beginning of winter.  Should he not return by then, she will depart for St. Louis to live her life without him.  Much happens during the interim: battles, victories, reversals, competitions, heroics, treachery.
Strong character portrayal is a major dynamic to the success of the novel. 
William Wyeth is a perceptive person who abhors selfishness and treachery yet is able to find some measure of good in the most flawed individual.  Because of this attribute he is able to grow beyond preconceived opinions to forge, ultimately, beneficial relationships.  He perceives the 19-year-old greenhorn Ferris to be a conceited, know-it-all attempting to win favor with the members of the brigade by correcting inaccuracies they make or by imparting information of which he believes they should be cognizant. 
William describes Ferris at first this way: “that he secretly set himself above us.  Ferris’s father, we’d all heard, was a physician and a man of wealth, and Ferris had paid a lump sum to the taken on, as they’d not thought he’d make it halfway up the Missouri.  The knowledge of this pampered upbringing along with his self-satisfied manner damned him in my mind.”
Eventually, William discovers that Ferris is an extremely perceptive person, curious about many things, courageous, unwilling to enable injustice, kind, and thoroughly reliable.  Ferris becomes William’s closest friend.  He is one of three characters vital to the plot.
A character that initially William despises but eventually tolerates and finally appreciates is the mercurial Henry Layton, a St. Louis dandy whose father owns half the warehouses along the waterfront of the city.  William describes him as “an infamous bachelor: a twenty-four-year-old dandy considered to be the most intelligent, unpleasant, and mischievous young man in St. Louis.”  Encountering Layton at Alene’s residence, wearing new leggings and deerskin to impress her prior to his departure, William is mocked by Layton, who is wearing a black tailcoat and white cravat.  “What brings you here in that costume, Wyeth?  Are you off to hunt squirrels and water rats?”  Layton eventually funds a new fur-trapping company, appoints himself its captain, entices William, the companions of his first season of trapping, and Jedediah Smith to sign on by promising huge personal profits for their labor. 
Alene warns William that accepting Layton’s offer is a major mistake.  “… you only see the charismatic side now.  The part when he persuades.  When he wheedles.  When he promises.  When he uses all his charm and cunning and good nature and energy and cleverness to arrange things so men follow him …  But when it is necessary for him to fulfill his promises he will feel the necessity as a form of bondage and he will wilt and turn sour and ugly.  Then you will see the weak, contemptuous part of his soul.    He has chosen you because he saw I was partial to you.  Now he means to ruin you.”
Layton proves in fact to be imperious, mercilessly fault-finding, and selectively cruel.  His men quickly hate him.  William gradually learns that Layton knows that he is psychologically damaged and desires to overcome his “demons.”  He proves he is worthy of respect when he engages in crisis situations but he is at his worst when he is inactive and bored.  He has the capacity of achieving unparalleled success but equally capable immediately thereafter of snatching from it utter defeat.  Layton drives the direction of the plot.
My sole disappointment with this novel is that near its end several very improbable outcomes of important events occur.  For instance, Ferris, the best shot of the brigade, must hit an arrow staked in the ground from an impossible distance to prove to Indians the effectiveness of his Pennsylvania long rifle.  He himself states that it is an impossible shot.  Lives depend on his accuracy.  His shot cuts the arrow in half.  One very unlikely occurrence may be acceptable to tolerant readers.  Several occurrences should not.  Still, I enjoyed the book.