Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hiram Powers, "The Greek Slave"

In 1844, American sculptor Hiram Powers completed a sculpture he called, “The Greek Slave”, which was to become one of the most popular art works of the 19th century.  The statue is of a naked young woman, bound in chains.  In one hand she holds a small cross.

Powers described the work:

The Slave has been taken from one of the Greek Islands by the Turks, in the time of the Greek revolution, the history of which is familiar to all. Her father and mother, and perhaps all her kindred, have been destroyed by her foes, and she alone preserved as a treasure too valuable to be thrown away. She is now among barbarian strangers, under the pressure of a full recollection of the calamitous events which have brought her to her present state; and she stands exposed to the gaze of the people she abhors, and awaits her fate with intense anxiety, tempered indeed by the support of her reliance upon the goodness of God. Gather all these afflictions together, and add to them the fortitude and resignation of a Christian, and no room will be left for shame.”

The statue became a rallying symbol for a number a groups.  In 1848, Lucy Stone saw the statue and broke into tears, seeing the statue as the symbol of man’s oppression of the female sex.  Stone took up the cause of women’s rights.  Abolitionists drew parallels between the plight of The Greek Slave and the plight of slaves in the American South.

Hiram Powers' studio produced six full-scale marble versions of The Greek Slave for private collectors.  The statue is now on display at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., among other places.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Washington's Prayer at Valley Forge

Arnold Friberg painted "The Prayer at ValleyForge" in 1975 in time for the Bicentennial of American Independence. The painting has become a modern icon.  Friberg visited Valley Forge during the winter to immerse himself in the conditions faced by Washington and the American patriots.
The original  story of Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge may be apocryphal, having originated with an account by Reverend Nathaniel Snowden which began to circulate in the early 1820s.  Reverend Snowden recounted that one of Washington’s soldiers, a man named Isaac Potts testified to him: 
“I tied my horse to a sapling and went quietly into the woods and to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at Prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his Divine aid, as it was ye Crisis, and the cause of the country, of humanity and of the world.

“Such a prayer I never heard from the lips of man. I left him alone praying. I went home and told my wife. I saw a sight and heard today what I never saw or heard before, and just related to her what I had seen and heard and observed. We never thought a man could be a soldier and a Christian, but if there is one in the world, it is Washington. She also was astonished. We thought it was the cause of God, and America could prevail.”
Many historians question Reverend Snowden’s story, if not that Washington was a man who prayed.  Snowden is seen as another storytelling clergyman like Mason Locke Weems (1759 -1825), known to history as Parson Weems, who invented the famous story of George Washington and the cherry tree in 1800 (“I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.”).  Weems wrote biography to amplify his subject. His subject was “... Washington, the hero, and the demigod.”  It has been said of his writing, “If the tales aren’t true, they should be. They are too pretty to be classified with the myths.” 
There are numerous examples of Washington invoking the blessings and protection of the Almighty, including at the time of his leaving the Army:
“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my Official life, by commending the Interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.”

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fake News in 1931

Stanley Baldwin

Fake news has been around a very long time, and its’ methods haven’t changed much.

In 1931 British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin blasted the press with unusual harshness,

“They are engines of propaganda for the constantly changing policies, desires, personal vices, personal likes and dislikes of (hostile press barons Rothermere and Beaverbrook).  What are their methods?  Their methods are direct falsehoods, misrepresentations, half-truths, the alteration of the speaker’s meaning by publishing a sentence apart from the context….What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, and power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot throughout the ages.”

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Book Review: Romancing the Folk: Public Memory and American Roots Music

In Romancing the Folk, Benjamin Filene traces the development of the folk music movement since 1900. His primary focus is the cultural “middlemen”, who discovered folk musicians and promoted them as exemplars of America’s musical roots. These individuals made judgments about what constituted America’s true musical traditions, helped shape what “mainstream” audiences recognized as authentic, and inevitably, transformed the music that the folk performers offered. (Filene, 5)

What is fascinating about these cultural brokers is how their endeavors reflect one of the ongoing themes in American history, the dichotomy between the vision of man in society versus the vision of the noble savage, the individual in a simpler more natural time. The earliest folklorists were bent on cataloging and preserving original songs. These early catalogers saw the propagation of folk culture as a means of knitting society back together and restoring it to a simpler era. John and Alan Lomax went farther, recording the sounds of authentic performers and introducing authentic performers to the public.

Industrial development in America increasingly diminished the autonomy of the individual in favor of the demands of industrial discipline. Technology forced the worker into what the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) called, “a common servitude of all workers to the machines which they tend”. Disillusioned with bourgeois culture’s corrupt materialism and constraining standards of propriety folklorists depicted roots musicians as the embodiments of an anti-modern ethos. The appeal of folk performers to the public was their non-middleclass “otherness”. In his public persona Huddie Ledbetter (aka “Lead Belly”), an ex-convict singer John and Alan Lomax brought to public attention, was cast as an archetypal ancestor, pre-modern, emotive, non-commercial. The “outsider” was the persona expected of the folk performer, even though many of the performers themselves, including “Lead Belly” and “Muddy Waters” ( McKinley Morganfield) were both willing and anxious to adapt their music to be more commercially viable.

During the great national crises of the Depression and the Second World War, the folk music movement was officially embraced by the government as a method of enhancing national pride and cohesion. Folk songs were identified with Americanism. The ruling elite used a cultural tool to energize crowds to identify with the prevailing ideology of the elite. After the war, the official embrace of folk music faded and folk music resumed its role as an activity of “otherness”.

One of the primary forces in the folk movement in the post-war years was Pete Seeger. Pete Seeger and his followers, constituted an early wave of the 1960s counterculture, pushing against the empty homogeneity of bourgeois life. Interestingly the two most influential figures in the folk movement, Seeger and Bob Dylan were not, in fact, of the working class. Seeger was the son of privilege, the product of elite eastern prep schools, and Harvard. Dylan (Robert Zimmerman)was the product of a conventional middle class family from Minnesota. Both donned working class clothes and developed an ersatz working class lifestyle, despite background and income, rejecting even bathing and hygiene in a quest for “authenticity”.

In many ways both Seeger, Dylan, and the folk movement can be seen as part of the tradition of the nineteenth century utopianism, hankering after a simpler and nobler American community.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Historic Blenheim: Civil War Graffiti

Historic Blenheim

As fighting surged across Northern Virginia during the four years of the American Civil War, many curious reminders were left behind for future generations to ponder. Near the City of Fairfax, for example, the historic mansion “Blenheim” boasts the largest collection of Civil War graffiti in the nation. Blenheim was a new and luxurious home at the beginning of the war, having just been completed in 1859. During the course of the war the Union army occupied the property on three separate occasions, with at least twenty two different regiments of the Union Army using the house at one point or another. For almost a year Blenheim was used as a convalescent hospital. The Union soldiers passing through Blenheim left a "diary on walls" providing insight into typical soldier life during the Civil War. One soldier from 4th New York Cavalry wrote along the walls of a staircase,

“First month’s hard bread, hard on stomach.”

“Second month, pay day. Patriotic-hic Ale. How we suffer for lager.”

“Fourth month: no money, no whiskey, no friends, no rations, no peas, no beans, no pants, no patriotism.”

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Washington Crossing the Delaware

In 1851, German American painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze painted the iconic picture Washington Crossing the Delaware, which portrayed the events of the night of December 25-26, 1776.  The river was icy and the weather severe.  Two detachments of soldiers were unable to cross the river, leaving Washington with only 2,400 men under his command to launch a surprise attack on the Hessian garrison at Trenton, New Jersey. The Hessian garrison was caught off guard early on the morning of December 26.  After a short, sharp battle, most of the Hessian’s surrendered.  The victory at Trenton came at a critical moment.  Badly battered over the course of several months, the morale of Washington’s army was collapsing.  This much needed victory boosted the Continental Army's flagging morale, and inspired re-enlistments.
Leutze painted three versions of Washington’s crossing.  One version, hanging in Germany, was destroyed in a bombing raid during World War II.  The other two versions are now in the possession of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Minnesota Marine Art Museum.

Friday, May 26, 2017

The Art of Sword Fighting

                                                               The Rapier

The art of sword fighting has been a vital part of life for centuries and remains a popular hobby even today.

The following video takes an in-depth look at historical sword fighting:

Medieval Combat

The wearing of chain mail has been an effective means of protection in combat. Its use dates back to the Roman Empire. The medieval era knights are best remembered for their elaborate chain mail in different designs. The most important period of chain mail armor use ran from about the early 1300's to about the mid to late 1500's.

The following videos give detailed insights into Medieval combat:

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

George Washington: Freemason

George Washington in Masonic regalia

Freemasonry became very popular in colonial America. The earliest of American lodges were the First Lodge of Boston, established in 1733, and one in Philadelphia, established about the same time.  Benjamin Franklin served as the head of the fraternity in Pennsylvania, as did Paul Revere and Joseph Warren in Massachusetts. Other well-known Masons involved with the founding of America included John Hancock, John Sullivan, Lafayette, Baron Fredrick von Steuben, Nathaniel Greene, and John Paul Jones. 

George Washington joined the Masonic Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia at the age of 20 in 1752. His Masonic membership, like the others public titles and duties he performed, was expected from a young man of his social status in colonial Virginia.  Not much is known of Washington’s Masonic life during the quarter century following his induction into the fraternity.  Tradition puts him in various military lodges during the time, but because of their traveling nature, there remains no record of his attendance.

Washington returned to Mount Vernon in 1783 after the Revolutionary War.  He was invited to joint Lodge No. 39 and later became the first Worshipful Master of the newly established Grand Lodge of Virginia (Lodge No. 22).  He served some twenty months in this post.  During his tenure as Worshipful Master of the Grand Lodge of Virginia, Washington was inaugurated President of the United States, becoming the first and only Mason to be President of the United States and Master of his lodge at the same time.

President Washington took his oath of office on a Bible from St. John's Lodge in New York, at his first inauguration in 1791.  During his two Presidential terms, he visited Masons in North and South Carolina and presided over the cornerstone ceremony for the U.S. Capitol in 1793, laying the cornerstone of the United States Capitol in Masonic garb, as chronicled by the Alexandria Gazette of September 25, 1793.  In retirement, Washington sat for a portrait in his Masonic regalia, and in death, was buried with Masonic honors.

Neither Martha Washington nor the women of the South’s leading families were marble statues, they had the same strengths and weaknesses, passions and problems, joys and sorrows, as the women of any age.  So just how did they live?

These are the often overlooked stories of early America. Stories such as the roots of racism in America, famous murders that rocked the colonies, the scandalous doings of some of the most famous of the Founding Fathers, the first Emancipation Proclamation that got revoked, and stories of several notorious generals who have been swept under history’s rug.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Civil War Unknowns Monument at Arlington National Cemetery

The first memorial constructed at Arlington national Cemetery was the Civil War Unknowns Monument which was meant as a tribute to Union soldiers.  Bodies of 2,111 dead soldiers were collected within a thirty five mile radius.  Most were full or partial remains discovered unburied and unidentifiable. An inscription on the west face of the memorial describes the number of dead in the vault below, “Beneath this stone repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers gathered after the war from the fields of Bull Run, and the route to the Rappahannock.  Their remains could not be identified, but their names and deaths are recorded in the archives of their country; and its grateful citizens honor them as of their noble army of martyrs. May they rest in peace! September. A. D. 1866.” This site was once a grove of trees near one of the estate’s flower gardens.

Originally, a Rodman gun was placed at each corner, and a pyramid of shot adorned the center of the lid.  By 1893, the memorial had been redesigned.  The plain walls had been embellished, and although the inscription had been retained, the lid was replaced by one modeled after the Ark of the Covenant.

Several hundred Confederate dead were buried at Arlington by the end of the war in April 1865. Some were prisoners of war who died in custody.  Some were executed spies.  Some, because of the inability to identify remains, were probably buried in the monument to the Union dead. 

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Confederates in Brazil

Dom Pedro II Emperor of Brazil

The under-populated Brazilian Empire saw an opportunity in the collapse of the Confederacy to develop its vast wilderness interior.  Emperor Dom Pedro II, encouraging the southern colonization societies that sprang up throughout the South after the war, offered to pay one third of the ships passage of all emigrants from any southern port to Rio de Janeiro.  The Brazilian government also agreed to sell land at modest prices in any locality desired by the colonists.

To some southerners the Brazilian offer seemed heaven sent.  It was a land where they could live with dignity.  The climate was mild and good for cotton.  Land and labor were cheap, and Brazil protected the institution of slavery (which was not abolished until 1888).  The people were easy going and receptive to strangers.  In a short time some of the emigrants had already become wealthy.  The Rev. Joshua Dunn, for example, had acquired one and a half million square acres of coastal land for rice and sugar cultivation and was instrumental in establishing three new navigation companies by 1867.

The man fated to make the most lasting contribution among the Confederates in Brazil was the indefatigable Colonel William Hutchinson Norris.  Norris, the image of a Biblical patriarch, with his great beard and flowering mane, set out for Brazil in 1866, at the age of 65.  A native Georgian, and former Alabama State Senator, Norris was not easily intimidated by either man or nature.  Settling in Sao Paulo state, Norris burned back the jungle, built his shelters, and set about introducing modern agricultural techniques to Brazil.  He soon turned a profit growing both cotton and watermelons.  Other Confederates emigrants, many of whom had tried earlier to establish themselves in other parts of Brazil and failed, soon learned of Norris’ good luck and moved to this region to join him.  The harder Norris worked the luckier he became.

Nine years after the arrival of William Norris a railroad was extended from the city of Sao Paulo to the area where the Confederates were living.  The place became officially known as Vila Americana.  Later it was incorporated as the city of Americana.  Today, Americana, a prosperous little city of eighty thousand, has only three hundred Confederate descendants who still have ties with the city.  Four times a year they celebrate a Protestant religious service, enjoy a picnic of southern fried chicken, pecan pie and cornbread.

General George S. Patton once said, “Compared to war, all other forms of human endeavor shrink to insignificance.” Here are four stories about the history of the world IF wars we know about happened differently or IF wars that never happened actually took place.

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Confederates in Mexico

Matthew Fontaine Maury

In the summer of 1865 some southerners facing economic ruin, military occupation and possible imprisonment, decided to emigrate.  Commodore Matthew Maury, one of America’s greatest experts on oceanography before the war led hundreds of ex-Confederates into Mexico to put their services and experience at the disposal of the Emperor Maximilian.

Maximilian had come to the throne in 1863, under the guarantee of the Emperor Napoleon III of France, that the French army would remain in Mexico until an independent Mexican army could be trained and equipped. 

Maximilian was anxious to welcome honest and hard-working colonists from the devastated southern states, and offered the colonists fertile land, particularly suited to the cultivation of tobacco, at the nominal rate of one dollar an acre.  The Imperial Mexican government pledged itself to provide free transportation for those unable to pay their own fares and to exempt all immigrants from taxation for a period of ten years.  The new colony was called the “Carlota Colony”, in honor of the Empress.

Maury was appointed the first Imperial Immigration Commissioner, but his dreams of a new life in Mexico were no to be.  Soon the United States was trying to oust Maximilian.  The United States began providing massive amounts of arms to rebels hostile to Maximilian, while simultaneously threatening the French.  The French army withdrew.  The Imperial Mexican army was unable to fill the vacuum in the face of massive American pressure.  The Empire collapsed and the Emperor was executed on June 19, 1867.  Maury and his Confederate followers found themselves once again dispossessed.

The last death agonies of the Confederacy captured in pictures.

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

George C. Round and Manassas: Doing Small Things With Great Love

George C. Round

“We can’t all do great things, but we can all do small things with great love.”  Do small things matter?  The life and career of George C. Round suggests a model for ordinary people in turbulent and contentious times.

During the Civil War, Union army Lieutenant George C. Round passed most of his service on southern soil. He became attached to the southern people. After the war, Round moved to Virginia to help build up the territory that he, as a soldier, helped in destroying.

In 1869, Round moved to Manassas, Virginia, the site of the first major battle of the Civil War, where he opened a law office. The area around Manassas was a scene of utter devastation.  The skeletons of ruined buildings and abandoned entrenchments crumbled in the weather.  Many families had moved away.  There was hardly a house, barn, or church that had not been used as a hospital.  Federal troops seemed to delight in using churches as stables and would often burn them when they left.  The population of surrounding Prince William County dropped by almost half and would not reach its prewar level again for nearly sixty years.

It was George Carr Round (1839-1918), a Union Army Signal Corps veteran and lawyer from New York, perhaps more than any other single person, who helped create the town of Manassas. He had shade trees planted all over the rapidly growing town. The courthouse was relocated to Manassas in 1894, largely through his efforts, and built on land given by him for the purpose.  This brought jobs and prosperity. He made it possible for Manassas to have the first public school in Virginia, which was established in 1869. It was through his solicitation that philanthropist Andrew Carnegie donated the funds necessary for the creation of the town and school library in 1900.  He ensured that the town had one of the first public high schools in 1907.

Round was the driving force in making possible the golden anniversary of the first battle of Manassas, “The Peace Jubilee”, which was celebrated on July 21, 1911, “when a northern President, William Howard Taft, and a southern Governor, William H. Mann, of Virginia, shook hands during the exercises and, like the 1,000 veterans of blue and gray present, symbolized the cementing of the two sections.”  This was the first time in history when survivors of a great battle met fifty years after and exchanged friendly greetings at the place of actual combat.

Round was an early an ardent supporter of creating a national park at the site of the Manassas battlefield.  Round died before the establishment of the Manassas Battlefield National Park.

By his death in 1918, Round had become one of the town's most beloved citizens. The thriving modern community of Manassas is a living legacy to this tireless and compassionate man.

Judge Arthur Sinclair remarked at the  dedication of the Manassas Museum, 24 May, 1976, “Foremost to me, Manassas was its people….It must have been the only town in the country where the streets bore, as they still do, the names of gallant men who once opposed one another on the field of battle.  And it was done deliberately, and it was done, I’ve been told, by George C. Round, to signify that peace and unity prevailed where enmity once existed, thus proving that men can be bigger than causes.”

Love, Sex, and Marriage in the Civil War

A brief look at love, sex, and marriage in the Civil War. The book covers courtship, marriage, birth control and pregnancy, divorce, slavery and the impact of the war on social customs.

The last death agonies of the Confederacy captured in pictures.

Lord Fairfax and The Strange Odyssey of the Lost American Peers

Thomas 6th Lord Fairfax

Thomas Fairfax was created Lord Fairfax of Cameron in the Peerage of Scotland on 4 May 1627.  Another Thomas, the 6th Lord Fairfax succeeded to the title in 1709, at which time he came into the family estates in Virginia, some 5 million acres.  The 6th Lord Fairfax moved to Virginia to oversee the source of his wealth.  Fairfax was the only British peer to take up permanent residence in North America.

In 1748 Lord Fairfax employed the sixteen year old George Washington, a distant relative, to survey his lands in western Virginia.  During the American Revolution, Lord Fairfax remained loyal to the crown, but did not leave America.  His lands were confiscated, and the eighty eight year old peer died less than two months after Washington’s victory at Yorktown in 1781.

Lord Fairfax's title descended to his only surviving brother, Robert, who received cash compensation from the British Parliament for the loss of property during the Revolution.  The settlement was a small fraction of the value of the confiscated land.

Robert died in 1793.  An American cousin, Bryan Fairfax claimed and was granted the title.  Bryan Fairfax became the first American-born holder of a British peerage, although he did not actually use the title, choosing to become an Episcopal priest.

In 1802 Thomas Fairfax inherited the title 9th Lord Fairfax of Cameron after his father’s death.  He lived the life of a country squire overseeing his 40,000 acres. His grandson Charles succeeded to the title.  Charles’ brother, John, succeeded his childless brother, becoming the 11th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. 

By the late 19th century the family had largely forgotten about the title.  This all soon changed.  In 1900, Albert Kirby Fairfax succeeded his father.  In 1901, he was summoned to attend the funeral of Victoria, the Queen-Empress of the British Empire.  The Committee of Privileges of the House of Lords confirmed Albert Fairfax as the rightful 12th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.  The newly recognized Lord Fairfax became a naturalized British subject on 17 November, 1908.  The family resettled in Britain after an interlude of some 150 years.

Nicholas John Albert Fairfax, is now the 14th Lord Fairfax of Cameron.

These are the often overlooked stories of early America. Stories such as the roots of racism in America, famous murders that rocked the colonies, the scandalous doings of some of the most famous of the Founding Fathers, the first Emancipation Proclamation that got revoked, and stories of several notorious generals who have been swept under history’s rug.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Politicians Who Shot it Out

Andrew Jackson

Today’s partisan bickering seems mild compared to the political roiling of the early Republic, where policy differences could end up with bullets being exchanged in the early morning hours.

 John Randolph was a Virginia Congressman who was one of the primary spokesmen of a faction of the Democratic-Republican Party founded by Thomas Jefferson.  Randolph’s faction wanted to ensure social stability with minimal government interference, and decried “creeping nationalism”.  He once said, "I am an aristocrat. I love liberty, I hate equality."  In 1825 he entered the Senate.  In 1826 Randolph made a fiery speech in the Senate denouncing the foreign policy of President John Quincy Adams.  Specifically he was against the President sending a delegation to the Panamanian Congress of Latin American Republics.  Randolph railed against the President and the Secretary of State, Henry Clay, intimating that Clay was a scoundrel.  The Secretary of State took offense at this insinuation and challenged Senator Randolph to a duel.

Both Clay and Randolph had been involved in previous duels.  Clay fought a duel while a member of the Kentucky state legislature.  Randolph fought a duel while a student at the College of William and Mary and again in 1815 while in the House of Representatives.  By 1826 dueling was illegal in Virginia where the duel was to be fought, but a little matter of the law was not about to deter lawmakers Clay and Randolph from fighting.

Dueling politicians were not rare in the young republic.  Andrew Jackson fought over one hundred duels before becoming President.  In those days, if you called the President a liar you were likely to have to back up your words with a sword or a dueling pistol.  Dueling in America flowed down from the ancient practice of trial by combat developed in the Middle Ages.  A test of arms between two opponents was deemed the surest way of knowing which party God favored in a dispute. 

These are the often overlooked stories of early America. Stories such as the roots of racism in America, famous murders that rocked the colonies, the scandalous doings of some of the most famous of the Founding Fathers, the first Emancipation Proclamation that got revoked, and stories of several notorious generals who have been swept under history’s rug.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Civil War Odyssey of George Washington's Silver


     George Washington Parke Custis, and his sister “Nelly” were raised at Mount Vernon by George and Martha Washington.  When Martha Washington died in 1802 her will bequeathed, "all the silver plate of every kind of which I shall die possessed, together with the two large plated cooler the four small plated coolers with the bottle castors," to her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis.

Custis died in 1857 and the silver passed to his daughter Mary, the wife of Robert E. Lee.  Mary and Robert E. Lee lived in Arlington House until 1861 when Virginia seceded from the Union and Lee went south to join the Confederate army. The Washington silver was packed into trunks and sent to Richmond.  Lee then sent the trunks on to the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia for safekeeping.

Here the silver remained safe until June 1864, when Union General David Hunter raided the Valley of Virginia and advanced on Lexington.  The Washington silver was saved from destruction by the actions of the VMI Superintendent, Francis Smith and ordnance sergeant, John Hampsey. As Federal troops advanced on Lexington, Smith ordered Hampsey to bury the two large trunks that held the Washington silver.  As the buildings on the VMI campus burned, the Washington silver lay safely beneath the ground.

After the war, Robert E. Lee became the president of Washington College in Lexington (later Washington and Lee University).  In the fall of 1865, as the Lees settled into their new home, they called upon their "trusty friend," John Hampsey, to help unearth the two large chests of buried treasure.
Hampsey escorted Robert E. Lee, Jr., to the burial site, and the General's son later reminisced: "I was sent out with him to dig it up and bring it in. We found it safe and sound, but black with mould and damp….”

The Washington silver remained in the Lees' home at Washington College until Mary's death in 1873, after which the silver was bequeathed to all branches of the family.  Some of the descendants have donated pieces to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, the custodians of George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate.

The Civil War Wedding, an entertaining look at the customs and superstitions of weddings during the Civil War era.

Neither Martha Washington nor the women of the South’s leading families were marble statues, they had the same strengths and weaknesses, passions and problems, joys and sorrows, as the women of any age.  So just how did they live?

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Vice in Colonial Philadelphia

Independence Hall, Philadelphia

When we think of the America of colonial times and the days of the early Republic, we seldom think of the word vice.  And yet behind the fa├žade of graceful mansions and quaint cobblestone streets, vice lurked.  As early l720, when Benjamin Franklin first came to Philadelphia, the atmosphere of that city was already both permissive and hazardous. Franklin later wrote “that hard-to-be-governed passion of youth had hurried me frequently into intrigues.”  One of these intrigues resulted in an illegitimate son, whom Franklin subsequently raised.  Not all illegitimate children were so lucky. Out-of-wedlock births had become, as one contemporary put it, “extremely common in Philadelphia.” Unwed pregnancies often left poor women on the street fending for themselves.  Some turned to prostitution.  Readily available in taverns and brothels or outside in thoroughfares and byways, these “ladies of pleasure” were so numerous, observed a visitor to the city, “that they flooded the streets at night.”

The price of sexual freedom was often very high.  Venereal disease was rampant.  In Philadelphia, for example, a significant number of those admitted to the almshouse (9% of the men and 16 % of the women) were described in the register as “venereal,” “highly venereal,” or “eaten up with the venereal disease.” Infected men and women arrived at the almshouse gate because they were too sick to support themselves.

A quick historical look at murder most foul in the Virginia of colonial times and the early Republic. Behind the facade of graceful mansions and quaint cobblestone streets evil lurks.