Monday, November 30, 2015

George Washington and Billy Lee

George Washington bought William “Billy” Lee, his brother Frank and two other slaves in 1768.  Billy Lee was eighteen.  Frank became the butler at Mount Vernon, while Billy became Washington’s valet.  Billy also became the keeper of Washington’s pack of hunting dogs. 

Fox hunting was an important part of the social life of Virginia’s gentry, and Billy Lee distinguished himself as a huntsman at Washington’s side.  An eyewitness described Lee during a hunt, “Will, the huntsman, better known in Revolutionary lore as Billy, rode a horse called Chinkling, a surprising leaper, and made very much like its rider, low, but sturdy, and of great bone and muscle. Will had but one order, which was to keep with the hounds; and, mounted on Chinkling ... this fearless horseman would rush, at full speed, through brake or tangled wood, in a style at which modern huntsmen would stand aghast.” 

Washington took Billy Lee to war with him, where he served at Washington’s side for eight years.  After the war, between 1785-1789, Lee injured both of his knees and found himself back at Mount Vernon.  William Lee was freed under the terms of Washington’s will for, “his faithful services during the Revolutionary War”, and received a substantial pension for the remainder of his life and the option of remaining at Mount Vernon.  Lee lived on at Mount Vernon until his death in 1828.

Who were the slaves of the Founding Fathers? What do their individual stories tell us about the Founding Fathers as men?

Lincoln's Flying Spies

War presented special problems for the world of ladies’ fashion in the Confederacy, as is best described in the words of General James Longstreet:

“While we were longing for the (reconnaissance) balloons that poverty denied us, a genius arose... and suggested we.... gather silk dresses and make a balloon. It was done, and we soon had a great patchwork ship.... One day it was on a steamer down on the James River, when the tide went out and left the vessel and balloon high and dry on a bar. The Federals gathered it in, and with it the last silk dresses in the Confederacy.”

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader. Technologically, the American Civil War was the first “modern” war, but medically it still had its roots in the Middle Ages. In both the North and the South, thousands of women served as nurses to help wounded and suffering soldiers and civilians. A few women served as doctors, a remarkable feat in an era when sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medical education, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues at every turn.

Cemetery Iconography

     Matters of life and death converge at a cemetery.  In death, the everyday distinctions of race, class and religion disappear.  Cemeteries are where the rich and poor, the young and the old, the famous and the not-so-famous come together in the end.
     Those who conceived the idea of the modern cemetery anticipated the movement for public parks.  Cemeteries provided the public with beautiful outdoor gathering spaces during a time when parks were scarce. Out of the movement to beautify cemeteries arose a custom of gathering in these new public spaces. Families picnicked near gravesites, and children played there. Somewhere along the way, this practice fell by the wayside.  The appreciation of cemeteries has made a comeback in the digital age.  Many genealogists have been using the Internet and GPS systems to locate the graves of long lost ancestors.  This renewed interest in cemeteries has spread to an interest in photographing tombstones, the growth of in-depth historical research, and even cemetery tourism.

     Historic cemeteries are a treasure trove of art, biography and philosophy, one’s last chance to shout out to posterity “This is who I was, this is what was important to me”.  Art, symbols and inscriptions are called upon to succinctly capture the essence of life in a beautiful and meaningful way.

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Beast of Gum Hill

     A Bristol man recently claimed that he and a hunting companion encountered a Bigfoot type beast near Gum Hill in Washington County.  The two came across a large figure sitting on a rock.  As the men approached, the figure rose, whistled and made other noise and then ran off.  The witness described its face as “Neanderthal.”
     For generations, there have been sightings of Bigfoot like creatures across America.  The legend grew in popularity in 1967, when two men in California filmed a huge and hairy beast in the woods, walking on two feet, and at one point turning directly toward the camera.  The film clip is known as the “Patterson-Gimlin film,’’ named for the men involved in the filming.  Over the years, the film has been surrounded by controversy, with many experts concluding that the subject captured on film is non-human, while others have judged it “a man in an ape suit.”
     In Virginia, a man named Billy Willard runs the Sasquatch Watch of Virginia, a Bigfoot and wildlife scientific field research group.  The group conducts field investigations and field research of reported encounters or habitual recurring encounters of Bigfoot in Virginia.  Willard’s group has identified thirty eight counties in Virginia that have reported Bigfoot like sightings.
    This account from Spotsylvania County is typical of the type of sightings that the Sasquatch Watch of Virginia documents:

     “It was following a foxhunt and we were getting up hounds about the edge of dark. My husband, my granddaughter and I were on one side of the pond when suddenly I saw movement on the other side. I observed what appeared to be a 7 foot man in black walking slowly across the field towards the woods....I blinked to try to get a better focus while at the same time saying ‘what the hell is that?’ About that time my husband and granddaughter caught sight of it and my husband swung the truck around to try to get closer. He said ‘is it a bear?’ At this time the ‘thing’ started running, and when I say running I mean RUNNING! I have never seen such a large animal/person be able to run so swiftly nor so gracefully! It was almost as if it ‘glided’ across the ground. Upon realizing that a bear could never run like that on two legs we were baffled as to WHAT this ‘thing’ is. I have never seen anything like it before and if someone asked me to describe it the best way I can I would have to say it looked like a gorilla but was taller but leaner and much more graceful and swift.”

Mind bending stories from the Old Dominion. A collection of Virginia’s most notable Urban Legends, many include the true stories behind them.