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The death of a Great Historian leads me to ask "Where did he come from? What was his muse?"

"[B]inary opposites fit nicely the formulation of history as written, but they do little to capture the messy, inchoate reality of h...

Thursday, October 18, 2018

A Career destroyed? A Movement diluted? What can we learn....

This is all a hot mess, but I find stories like Joseph M. Pierce's authenticate the harm being done by rigidity within populations that should embrace the complexities of heritage and identity, especially to the vast population who are products of non traditional relationships that carry a heavy burden, stigma of legitimacy of worth as human. I was told recently that I should shut up because I'm not a "practicing native".  No one cares what I have to say.  It's amazing how people will use a culture to culture shame another person. Hmmmm...

We need to be careful who we drag along with Elizabeth Warren's condemnation besides her, which is unacceptable and vicious, in my view. Discovering MORE about the past, who we are, what courses through our blood is important for many reasons regardless of whether "you" personally care or not. Many people don't care about the past and that's ok, but it is not ok to condemn others that do and not realize it is why we have historical dialog in the first place.  It also represents a white dominate past that many cannot see, viewed through white eyes, as anything but racist, with a valid point.

Yes, there are reasons to fight this past, but it is there and cannot be erased.  I am not a racist purely decided because I have predominantly Irish and British heritage, BUT there are many things I have been allowed to be oblivious of because of my whiteness and privilege. There were many white people much more privileged than I as well.  My immigrants were poor Irish, Scottish, not so poor-not so rich British, German, Swiss, etc...

Many families, including mine and my wife's were a huge melting pot of culture, and suppressed culture.  My step-dad from the age of 6 on was Mexican, my twin sisters 1/2 Mexican, my wife 1/2 Vietnamese, born in Vietnam. My nephews 1/2 black, 1/4 Vietnamese.  Who the hell are we all??  Does my embrace of bloodline discoveries demonize other "legitimate" populations?  Why?  These are valid questions that don't have definitive answers.

You can judge me on my authenticity more by my actions and ability to change. You will get nowhere by telling me my whiteness means I don't have a clue before you know anything about me.  Who is the judge and jury?  No one seems to care that what is genuine is Elizabeth Warren's family story.  She distances herself from tribal councils probably because it will be viewed as her attempt to claim something she doesn't want to do because how it will look.  What the hell is she supposed to do when everyone has a different opinion about what is the right thing to do?

What defines families for better or worse through many generations is what we are talking about.  It's a huge mucky mess, but we should talk about it.  As a genealogist it's a double edged sword.  Oral histories are wonderful starting points that many times turn out to be not what they seem.  Misconstrued information by just common error, or downright made up to 
hide other unpleasant events, or a variety of scenarios many times leading to having to change the "oral history" documentation to match real documents.  This doesn't mean there is not a purpose for oral history, without it the indigenous population is left with a scarce history. 

Sally Hemmings had children with Thomas Jefferson proven through extensive research, 
AND DNA. That is important to history. Documentation aided by DNA testing can be very important tools.  Diluting this by trying to say her descendants can't claim blackness or whiteness is a silly argument. Elizabeth Warren will probably be able to find the exact grandfather or mother, in time, who was full blood indigenous, it may prove to be Mexican indigenous, Cherokee indigenous or many of the other tribes that were forced into Oklahoma by white settlers, but not all whites. It's a messed up stew to make huge generalities.  What is White?  That term is a slippery slop.

How much blood is enough? DNA is a starting point to lead to more documentation, not a diffinitive test like all the testing sites claim it to be.  They were in the business of selling kits with bad marketing ideas. We are all paying for this greed.

How much blood is enough can never be answered, but yet we all seem to have an opinion on that. Why is the Dawes Roll, which was a government controlled census, used to determine authentic Cherokee admittance to the Cherokee Nation when history tells us how many people rejected this "white man's" census and were not counted? Why is this the gauge for purity? How do we all understand and parcel out heritage and culture?  Are they definitively separate and un-mutable?  Much of this is taken out of historical context.  Much of this is about helping a deeply depressed population have access to more opportunities.

How do we meld all the good intentions together without demagoguing individuals with good intentions?  I have lots of questions, while everyone around me seems to have deep opinions that don't answer these questions.  At least, not in ways that speak to a large swath of the population that is trying to understand this and not loose more connections to people.

I understand we are dealing with a hugely, enormous problem with a disparaged indigenous population that is on reservations. We are also dealing with people who want to use ethnic cleansing using this info for harm. I'm not going to say "so and so" is an expert on all of this, because quite frankly it could not be more complicated for experts as well.  But, we do need to listen.  All we have that is genuine and human is intent. Does a person intend harm with claiming a heritage ever so distant?  We can call a person on their mistakes and ask for a dialog about what this brings up. BUT, what has happened here is the ugliest form of tribalism from all sides. I hate joining clubs, religions, social groups.

I have many reasons based on "heritage" to belong to soldier groups from the most prestigious to common ones among big wars.  I come from a long line of warrior patriots that were very white.  I don't need to join an exclusive club to honor them because they had 
other attributes I'm not so proud of.  BUT, that is not why I don't join.  It's a huge complicated mess for me that causes me anxiety. I'm uncomfortable with people wanting to join the Mayflower Society.  But, I don't see why people can't celebrate this heritage, even though it is white, represents people who clashed with the native population.  I think people would join the Iroquois Confederacy Society if they could prove lineage, and it existed.  You can honor the past and see it's horrors as well.  It's when used as a weapon to suppress people that we have an issue.  BUT, for some damn reason we can't seem to parcel out the differences.  We's our damn nature.

What we need is MORE space to be authentic to our experiences, not less.

Thank you, Joseph, for sharing your experiences.  I'm hoping to spread your authenticity a little further.  Cheers!

Joseph M. Pierce"In the end, I am writing this to attempt to be authentic 
to my experience of self in the face of this unknowing but also this new
knowledge. It seems to me that to deny this legacy, this heritage, however 
distant and bureaucratic it has been, is to participate in the erasure of the 
Indian populations of the Americas. It is to continue to silence that history. 
It is inauthentic. My choice is not to do that. So I do say now that I am 
Indian. But I say those words with humility. I say those words knowing that 
they are part of a circuitous path toward Indigeneity. I say those words 
knowing that I do not speak Cherokee, knowing that I do not know so 
much about what it means to be Cherokee. But I also say those words 
knowing that not having access to our oral history is an authentic 
Indian experience."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

On the anniversary of the Hamilton/Burr duel let's look at the little known tragedy in Burr's life

Aaron Burr.  The name still makes people uneasy even though he was exonerated of any wrong doing in a supposed plot to overthrow the government, and went on to live a long life riddled with tragedy. 

I've read both Ron Chernow's book on Hamilton and Susan Isenberg's book on Burr and have concluded that both Burr and Hamilton were just as complex characters as Thomas Jefferson.  Hamilton, well know for his duel challenges, and Burr well know for his aversion to dueling.  Yet, there they were in Weehawken, NJ doing what irrational men do when their history of conflict reaches a boiling point. 

We can debate many aspects of Hamilton and Burr, but I would like to focus on Aaron Burr's relationship with his only child, Theodosia, and the tragedy of her very short life. 

One thing I found fascinating about Burr and his relationship with his young daughter was their practice of writing daily letters to each other.  Regardless of whether they were apart or together.  I have been using this practice with my son.  I have to say it has been a tremendous bonding experience that I hope to continue as long as possible.
Say what you will about Aaron Burr, but his devotion to making sure his daughter had every educational opportunity available to her was surprising for the time.  Not only that, Burr opened his home to foreign struggling artists and guests of all varieties, including Mohawk chief Joseph Brant1, giving Theodosia an upbringing many woman would have cherished for it's progressive atmosphere.  Not to mention the family background of philosophical and religious thought.  Aaron Burr was the son of a minister and president of Princeton.  His maternal grandfather was the famed Rev Jonathan Edwards. 
With this ready made lineage it's not a wonder why Alexander Hamilton may have felt defensive of his rocky family lineage and foreign birth, possibly feeling he had to work ten times harder than those of privilege.  Not an excuse, but a possible window into his "chip on the shoulder" attitude that had him challenging several individuals to duels, including the father-in-law of Albert Gallatin, Commodore James Nicholson.  Hamilton was a Federalist in the New York City area surrounded by up and coming Jeffersonian Republicans such as Gallatin, Nicholson, and Burr, with Clinton and Livingston seeing less influence in NY politics.  It's easy to imagine Hamilton seeing a connected vision to unseat Federalist, and against him.
The irony of Theodosia's upbringing cannot be more devastating than when, at age 17, she chose to marry a rich older man, whom by most counts she didn't really love or hardly knew, all to save her father from massive debt. Theodosia married Joseph Alston from South Carolina who was a wealth plantation owner.  Add to that the sale of her family estate to John Jacob Astor who parceled off the land, sold it for a huge profit establishing his rags to riches climb from fur trapper to entrepreneur, all under the eyes of Aaron Burr and his loss of status throughout his life2.
His beloved Theodosia died at sea, age 29.  While the duel with Alexander Hamilton started his downward spiral, it's hard to image surviving the loss of a beloved wife (1794), [remember the duel was in 1804] the trial for treason 1807, his daughter's death 1813, and his living until 1836, thus losing his entire past. 
I'm reminded when studying history that people are just as complex as I, sometimes much more so, but it is up to us to dig deep enough for a true glimpse into human beings, their flaws and their strengths.

                   Below picture is public domain painted by artist John Vaderlyn

1Fallen Founder: The Life of Aaron Burr, Nancy Isenberg, Penguin Books, 2007.  This is a very readable, in-depth study of Burr's life and is highly recommended.  The new work of Burr, The Aaron Burr Conspiracy, James E. Lewis, Jr., Princeton University Press, 2017, would be great additional reading on the trial.
2Albert Gallatin: Jeffersonain Financier and Diplomat, Raymond Walters, Jr., University of Pittsburg Press, 1957.  The Life of Aaron Burr, Nancy Isenberg, Penguin Books, 2007.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Planetary alignment and the meaning of July 4th

I know...astrology? really?.  Hear me out...

I'm not one that sees the world through the generic astrological charts of time, yet I do pay attention to the phenomenon that is astrology.  Something that many people do not realize, astrology is the intricate mathematical study of planetary alignments. You can ignore it completely and live a very full life.  I chose to learn from everything life has to offer.  For me, I find specifics in astrology that are hard to deny.  Generalities abound when you know very little about astrology.  Your sun sign is that generality, and you will find that definitions are way too misleading. You actually have many aspects to your chart that have significant influence, melded together giving you an interesting picture of planetary influence.

Most of July is the month of Cancer, the crab, the tribal self.  The planetary alignment of our country, if you use the event, July 4, 1776, 12 Midnight in Philadelphia, gives you 13 planetary alignments through a time continuum.  As a planet with many water signs we are a sensitive, tribal nation that the world sees as petulant, immature, and spoiled. So, let's look at the chart.

No surprise is the sun sign of Cancer, but also the strength of finding Mercury, Venus and Jupiter also in the house of Cancer.  Lots of water signs that represent feminine energy within, tribal, familial energy, and a hard shell to protect that sensitive, loyal self that can be stubborn.  I'm no expert, by any means, but I've learned a lot over the years by speaking to experts in the field, being surprised to find many that are very grounded, analytical, and more mathematician than spiritualist.

Something that is not talked about, in generic zodiac sun sign horoscopes, is the rising sign, which is how you are perceived to be, many times not reflecting your true inner self.  For the United States of America, our birth of July 4, 1776, we are an Aries rising, fitting perfectly into how we are perceived as petulant, immature, and spoiled by the world, yet courageous and impulsive.

On this important celebration day of Liberty, and the deaths of two of our most important founders, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, let us remind ourselves,of our true inner sovereignty that reflects our collective human family that is unlike any other country.  Let us celebrate our feminine wisdom at our core.  We will prevail against the tyranny we face and rise above our history of inner struggles for liberty, equality, and responsibility to life and the pursuit of happiness.

Happy 4th America!
Robin Williams and the flag

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The death of a Great Historian leads me to ask "Where did he come from? What was his muse?"

"[B]inary opposites fit nicely the formulation of history as written, but they do little to capture the messy, inchoate reality of history as lived." - Ira Berlin

We recently learned of the death of an iconic American historian, Ira Berlin.  I would like to delve into what you don't know.

The recent article in the Washington Post gives you a nice review of his groundbreaking work, as well as in the AP, New York Times, etc. Yet, I see history through a different lens.  I wanted to know more about the man and his early development.

Unfortunately, the web doesn’t give much background on the man himself, focusing on his illustrious work alone.  That’s too bad!  There is SO much left out!

Ira Berlin born May 27, 1941 in New York was the son of Louis Berlin and Sylvia Toby (Lebwohl).  Louis Berlin, Ira's father, was born in Russia in 1914 just prior to the Russia Revolution in 1917. Ira's grandfather, Morris, immigrated to New York in 1912 and the family followed in 1917.  There's a story there, but I could find no immediate immigration records (for a latter project).  The influx of Russian Jewish immigration to America around this time came from the Pale Settlement. This was western Russia in current day Latvia,Lithuania, and Poland. Not enough study of Russian history, especially Jewish Russian history is taught in our schools. It is important, and even more so today, to understand our own large Jewish American population. Interesting enough, you can learn a lot from another scholarly Berlin on philosophy, Russian history, and British/American alliances during WWII, Sir Isaiah Berlin. His history is worthy of another article!  He is a scholar amongst scholars!

But, most interesting...

Ira Berlin's youth was honed and developed at an illustrious high school in the Bronx, New York, DeWitt Clinton High.  If you are not familiar with this school you are really missing out.  The alumni of DeWitt Clinton is a litmus test for success and progressive thought, spanning the depth of black and Jewish activism of the 1930's on throughout the 1970's (makes me want to dig into the show "The Americans").  Alumni of DeWitt Clinton included James Baldwin, Baldwin's collaborator Richard Alvedon, Stan Lee, teacher Robert Meeropol (composer of "Strange Fruit"/Baldwin and others were his students), Norman Lear, Ralph Lauren, Burt Lancaster, Gary Marshall, Sugar Ray Robinson, Jerry Moss of A & M records, Edward Lewis (Essence magazine co-founder) just to name a few. Professor Berlin's mother was Ralph Lauren's accountant.  Ira Berlin graduated in the 1959 class at DeWitt Clinton High School, and Ralph Lauren graduated in 1957, so obviously they were well acquainted.  

Progressive socialist movements were well instanced in this area of New York dating as early as the 1930's.  The famous Rosenberg trial began in 1951, ending with the couples execution in 1953.  Their connection to Robert Meeropol (link above on Meeropol's name to my previous article) and W.E.B. Dubois leds to intriguing assumptions, I wish Professor Berlin were alive, to discuss.  The entire black and Jewish population in New York City and it's suburbs had to have been under great tensions during this McCarthy era time.

The school publication "the Magpie" was critically acclaimed throughout their illustrious history.  It's easy to see where one might be influenced to study African American history considering the surroundings of a young Ira Berlin.

I, for one, intend to study more of Ira Berlin's work and lectures/talks via the internet.  How about you?

Good reference for overall history of Russia:  A History of Russia, Nicholas W. Riasanovsky (student of Sir Isaiah Berlin at Oxford), various editions (1st edition, 1963, I have the 1969 second edition, most recently on it's 9th edition, 2000), Oxford University Press, London.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Addendum to Michener post

I love it when  you have a writing remembrance of place and time that gives you other gifts.  In my previous post, on my early readings of historical fiction, I discussed the influence James Michener had on me. Connections to Historical Fiction  Every morning I have my ritual dog walk along the ocean and Michener tapped me hard on the shoulder and presented me with something I have forgotten about for years. 

I have always been drawn to the ocean and have chosen to live as close by as possible.  While living in the Boston area I lived between the ocean and a marsh.  I now live between an ocean and a marsh... go figure.  Michener was a lover of the environment and ended his book the Chesapeake with the migration of Canadian geese.  I have had a relationship with Canadian Geese ever since reading that book.  In Boston, where I lived, the return and leaving of the seasons meant "the Canadians", as I called them collectively, would return to me to say there hellos before going on their journey.  

After some turbulent years of massive changes in my life I lost track of "my Canadians".  They may have been there, but I wasn't noticing.  After publishing my previous post to the world, I had my ritual dog walk.  The video is above.  "My Canadians!"  They came back to me with a message from Michener.  I chose to interpret the message to be, "keep writing, keep valuing your feelings, and stop and see the glories before you".  

Thanks, James Michener!

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Connections to Historical Fiction in my Youth

Recently, a discussion came up about how I became interested in the study of history.  My focus is on knowing as much about history as possible to inform genealogical research more deeply, and an obsession with studying slavery and race in particular.  I believe it is our duty as humans to learn as much as possible about what our passions are, how they mold us, and how we can use our knowledge to serve the betterment of society.  The difficulty with this type of journey is following this passion while providing enough to live a life unencumbered by worry about how to pay bills, emergencies, healthcare, etc.  We all are challenged by what we love and what we do.  When the two can meet harmoniously, you have a blessed life, indeed.  I'm not there yet, but it's my dream.

So, in thinking about who influenced my love of history, the first name that came up for me was James Michener.  His style of historical fiction spoke to me and has informed how I look at the world in many ways.  This connection may run more deeply within my DNA than I could have ever imagined.

I consistently get taken aback when serendipitous events coincide. My favorite Michener book was Chesapeake.  Spending a bit of time asking myself why this book specifically amongst his many, I found genealogical and historical answers.  Chesapeake, like all of Michener's books, begins with a place, city, state, or country.  While this sounds simple, Michener proceeds to teach you the history, through the eyes of fictitious and historical characters, of a place from it's beginnings to the present.  This book begins in 1500's Virginia along the Chesapeake Bay area with the native population.  If you have read any of my previous posts on my 7th great grandfather (William Taptico lineage), who was the last "chief" (Americanized name) of the Wicocomico tribe (which ceased to exist after Taptico's death in 1719), you know Michener was writing about the very region of my family heritage, that I knew nothing about when reading this book.  I traveled, back in 2003, to the specific area where my ancestors lived, not far from the Pawmunkey Reservation of today.  Mostly open fields, undeveloped, I walked silently and wept.  I don't know why I'm such a sap, but I have learned to own it over the years and not be ashamed.

I had a similar experience in Lisbon at a monastery and feel I need to delve into that research because I have suspicions there is a connection to the two.  Yes, I'm crazy!  We're not quite there DNA wise, but I did have a Iberian peninsula connection which makes sense with all of the probable invasions to the Chesapeake area from early Spanish and Portuguese ships.  My test proved the Taptico lineage by matching the exact chromosome at the exact location on that chromosome to many of the male direct descendant alive today and silenced all the controversy that permeated a long fight within the Tapp family.  A large contingency, wanting desperately to be descended from British white ancestors. And, believe me, historians of the past used documents within early VA records to try and fit Taptico into being a British man given an honorary "king" title from the Wicocomico tribe. Believe it or not, some still refuse to acknowledge the native lineage even with the striking DNA before them.  But...I digress...

Back to wondering about Michener's genealogy.  Wow!  James Michener was adopted and never knew who were his parents.  No one knows, as far as I can ascertain....hmmm...

In 2000, my journey into genealogical research began to devour my thoughts most relevantly when my grandmother was dying.  I became consumed with longing for who I was and whose lives and histories came before me.  Couple this with my life long pull towards historical study and you get a meaningful lifelong passion personified.  When I analyze my other historical fiction author, John Jakes, I continue to find not only genealogical parallels, but historical pulls as well.  John Jakes mythological character, Phillipe Kent, has a family genealogy that is followed throughout many volumes, who is a bastard of a poor French woman and an English Lord.  I am a bastard and this story melded my fantasies of a similar story for myself as I knew nothing about the father that abandoned me.  Phillipe begins his journey by searching out his father, just as mine did in 2000.  Phillipe was disappointed in what he found and because of the chaos that ensues jumps on a ship to Boston.  In 1989, I left the south behind and moved to Boston to start a new life.  Phillipe ends up having his life, and the lives of his lineage, entwined with American history.  The characters in american history that touch the fictitious

What led me to Michener, after Jakes, was Jakes treatment in his verse of gays, slaves, and lower class citizens in, what I viewed as, a very prejudice manner, but at least he had these characters.  Jakes first volume was published in 1974 (I didn't read them until later).  Michener wrote better and seemed to be far advanced for his views on progressive ideas, yet avoided the characterization pitfalls I found in Jakes works as far as I can remember.  They were products of their times for sure.

In the midst of all of this came Roots!  My southern history classes bored me to tears when discussing the Civil War era.  Why?  Dates, battles, generals, deaths, statistics was the focus.  Seeing the mini-series Roots changed everything.  I avoided the period and focused on American history before 1850.  Roots made me loathe any study of the Civil War because it was fake to me!  No one wanted to talk about slavery, then lynching, then human rights.  But, you could talk about the history of the "Civil War".  Last year changed everything for me.  I went to a conference on...."slavery and abolition", yes, not the Civil War.  That conference impacted me just the way reading Michener and seeing Roots did.

Historians of this period are doing profound work today!  I can't say that enough!  It's an exciting time, but it's also a difficult time.  Why?  It will require acknowledgement that this country has done horrible things for all the wrong reasons, but it is our history and we must acknowledge it, learn from it, and make sure we move forward with reverence for what that knowledge has taught us, AND continues to teach us.  Never forget!

While the historical field is exploding, so is the time for the genealogical field to walk hand in hand.  There is so much to learn from one another.  Slavery made genealogy difficult.  Genealogy relies heavily on documentation, but always searches for the oral histories, which take work to meld into source material.  This is the time to record those histories in the black community.  There are still people who are alive that have stories to share about their parents or grandparents who were slaves.  There is another part of history that is not discussed much that I would like to see more focus on, culture shaming.  In the early stages of immigration in the very late 1800's on through to today, it was the norm to withhold pride of your heritage.  Many first generation families who grew up in the 50's through the 80's were led to believe their heritage was un-American (there is a resurgence of this happening today and it must be resisted).  Languages were not passed down, traditions, if passed down, were kept within the family, feeling shame at sharing their traditions with outsiders, etc..  We all loose, heavily, with this lack of reverence for heritage and history.

I know this post is turning preachy, I'm sorry, but this is how I write posts, going with the flow of feelings.  We are at a point where we can follow a path of admiring, recording, and documenting truth in all its dimensions.  THAT is exciting to me, but it is frightening to those who are entrenched in deception.  This is what happens in regimes.  We have a choice:  we can embrace the difficulty of the past, reshape the future, and follow the difficult, bumpy road of uncertainty OR we can allow our voices to be silenced, chose not to get involved, chose to look the other way, WHICH is so much easier.  What shall we do?  For now, I'm going to study history, even if I can't make money doing it, and seek truth.

So, back to Michener's genealogy.  Without exhuming his grave, I must.....find....his....parents!
My musings for the day!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Getting enthralled with the TV series Victoria sent me down the rabbit hole

Serendipitous connections through time is my love and this one shows just how small connections can lead to wonderful historical finds even if there is no direct genealogical finding.  The more you learn about people, the era they lived, and collect information that may help now or in the future, the more your understanding of history and genealogy explodes.

I have been watching season one of the BBC Masterpiece series Victoria over the last few weeks when my radar was tweaked with Prince Albert's German family heritage.  Namely, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha as I knew there might be a connection to Indiana.  Indiana??  Specifically, New Harmony, Indiana! What??

What peaked my interest was Albert's speech before the June 1840 World Anti-Slavery Convention
Albert was quite the impressive influence on Queen Victoria, and England in general, for that matter. Had he lived longer, he died at 42, we may have seen more of his involvement in the american slavery issues, and his involvement with industrial progress. As to the  latter, he became involved with the Great Exhibition of Industry or the Great Exhibition in 1851 which he solely is credited.
At the World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840 his path crossed with William Lloyd Garrison who chose to sit with the women (Stanton, Lucretia Mott, etc) who were not allowed on the main floor to speak or vote.  This doesn't mean they met at all, but to be a fly on the wall! I would love to have known his reaction to Garrison's boldness!  His involvement in the Great Exhibition in London with his colleagues at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce show the depth of Albert's social commitments in his short life. Fellows of this Royal Society (RSA)were Charles Dickens, Ben Franklin, Karl Marx, Adam Smith, and Stephen Hawkings to name a few.

While finishing up this article I went to a lecture at the Yale Gilder Lehrman Center by British scholar Anita Rupprecht on Liberated Africans: Indenture and Resistance.  I talked to her after the lecture and discussed, among many things, the painting by Nat Turner of the wrecked slave ship from 1840.  I mentioned the time correlation with the 1840 World Anti-slavery Convention mentioned above.  She told me that the postmaster, I believe, in her town in Brighton is a descendant of one of the men in this Convention painting.  You see how the world puts me into serendipitous situations!!  Brilliant woman!  I hope to read her writings in the future.

So what about Indiana?  It's a stretch, but jump with me into the rabbit hole, shall we?

I had read somewhere a while back that a royal duke (the Duke of Saxe-Weimar) had been to New Harmony, Indiana back in the 1820's.  So I was motived to find out how he actually got there.  There were several Duke's of Saxe-Weimar and I had to find the right one.  This was Bernard!  Yes, royalty is complicated, but I wondered if there were any connections between Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) and Bernie (haha! not that Bernie) Bernard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar.

New Harmony, Indiana has a rich heritage of progressive movements, specifically utopian societies, both religious, and secular.  It was quite the draw in the 1800's.  My 4th great grandfather ran a store for the Rapp Society in the early 1800's, my 5th great grandfather helped the Rapp family secure the land in New Harmony, and was friends with many of the visitors to Robert Owen's intellectual experiment, i.e. Frances Wright, Charles Alexander Lesueuer (who drew a picture of my ancestor and his home in Vincennes).  I know...I digress...

In 1825 and 1826 Bernard, Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenbach (Germany/Belguim, etc), son of the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar, Karl Augustus (life long friend of Goethe), toured America.  Did you know that? You may or may not know that in 1825 the Marquis de Lafayette also toured America, and in 1831 Alexander Tocqueville, and yes there were other dignitary trips during this time period, many for that matter.  The Lafayette and Tocqueville tours are more well know and documented. Why is Bernard's tour important, yet not well known?

Well, this Duke, Karl Bernard,  the son of the Grand Duke of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenbach (Karl Augustus) wrote Travels Through North America 1825-1826, published in English in 1828.  The internet is a mecca of amazing things if you really dig.  This 2 volume journal is extremely extensive and descriptive, with many names, places, and details of life in America and free to read online (just click on the link above)!  Yes, free.  In reading this journal I found much that pre-dates Tocqueville, who came to study the prison systems in America.  I wonder if Tocqueville read Bernard's journal, and if so did it influence his tour, as Bernard toured many prisons and wrote extensively about them. Did Bernard find his influence in Lafayette's tour that barely predated his own?  Probably, not.  Did Albert, also, read Bernard's published travels as well as Lafayette's?  Digging for a future project.  AND...should we not have an international delegation of study of today's American prison systems?? Crap...I'm not supposed to get political in this post 😏

Bernard's travel journal is amazingly detailed from landing in Boston and visiting John Adams, less than a year before his death, John Quincy Adams (in DC) and his son, Charles, at Harvard (father of Henry Adams), his inquiry about Frances Wright and her published letters on America and the scathing feelings about her in Boston and America in general (seeing how a strong,  independent woman is vilified and ridiculed, influencing his views), Henry Clay, and many well known and not so well know people of the time.  What is most relevant are the countless names of people who may be of genealogical interest to people.  I don't think an index to this book exists, if so that would be of great value.  The two volumes are an interesting read. Bernard spent much of his journeys visiting prisons (which is why I wonder about his possible influence on Tocqueville), churches of many different faiths, his views on slavery after visiting the south extensively, museums, athenaeums, societies, military institutions, etc.  This journal is a very interesting read,  yet not for those who can't slog through 19th century writing!  His journeys on stage coaches, especially in Georgia, are quite fascinating!  Bernard also spends time in Canada, Quebec and Montreal most specifically.  The first 50 or so pages are details about his voyage from Ghent to Boston.

An example of the detail in this book of how even a Duke was enamored by the stardom of George Washington:

"At a winding of the stream we passed by Fort Washington, recently built upon a rock on the left bank, commanding the stream with its batteries. In an oblique direction on the opposite shore, we at last perceived Mount Vernon, beautifully situated. The water near the bank! being very low, the steam-boat stopped in the middle of tin stream, about a mile from the shore, and we landed in boats. We ascended by a very bad road to a place where cattle were grazing, which I heard was formerly Washington's garden. Between three oaks and some cypress trees, we saw a coarse wooden door about four feet high, in a very bad piece of masonry. I thought at first it was a spring-house. How great was my astonishment, when I learned that this was the entrance to the sepulchral vault of the greatest man of his time; the ornament of his age; of Washington!
 I picked up some acorns fallen from the trees which shaded the tomb; my object was to plant them when I returned home.
I look also from this sacred spot a twig of a cypress tree. The tomb is no longer opened, since strangers have nearly cut to pieces the whole of the pall covering the coffin, in order to preserve it as a relic. It was last opened at the time of General La Fayette's visit."1  Cool!!!!  Where else will you find this?

Back to a German/Belguim connection.  Bernard's son, William Augustus Edward was naturalized as a British subject and became the aide de-camp to Queen Victoria and Colonel in the Army  in 1855, and fought in the Crimean War.  Whether these two dynasties of Weimar and Coburg enjoyed each others company or had any connections during Albert's short reign (he died tragically of Pneumonia at the age of 42) I have yet to discover specific connections.  The two family connections are distant and of minor royalty compared to Britain, but both date back to the illustrious House of Wettin dynasty.  Someday I hope to find a closer brush with these two families.

Bernard's travels through Pennsylvania, especially the German areas, list lots of minor clergy and common people who might turn up in someone's German PA heritage.  An example:

"After the concert I remained a few hours with Mr. Seidel, his wife is a German by birth ; moreover, I made acquaintance with a preacher, Mr. Frueauf, a native of Dictendorf, near Gotha; he married a sister of Mr. Von Schweinitz, and lives on his income; I found in him a friendly old gentleman, who was rejoiced to meet a country man."2

And little known tidbits:

"In order to celebrate the day on which William Pcnn landed in the year 1683 in America, which was the origin of the state of Pennsylvania, those who respect his memory have established a society, which celebrates the 24th of October as a public festival. At this time the celebration consisted of a public oration in the University and a public dinner. Mr. Vaux called for me at twelve o'clock to go to the oration. The building of the University of Pennsylvania was originally intended as a dwelling for President Washington, who declined the present, and it was then used for the University."3

Bernard's visit with Jefferson at Monticello is detailed in this book which is another window into Jefferson's views, and the impact of seeing the Blue Ridge from atop Monticello from the eyes of a German visitor.  The fascinating story of Pocahontas that he was told and the carried down lineage through the Virginia Randolph families is a testament to oral history, fact and fiction. see how just a glimpse of a TV show sends me down interesting paths!  We forget to study the German houses of royalty and their influences not just economically and politically, but on philosophical thought, via Goethe4, Kant, and Schiller.  As to motives of these travels, you can learn more about current speculation on the subject via several current articles.  Jefferson Dillman, for example, has a good one in reference to this motive found on-line5.  It's clear in reading Bernard's journal that he had many a preconceived views and was influenced by many American biases of the time which makes for an interesting glimpse of the times.

North America has a rich heritage of connections throughout the world, but history tends to focus on larger North American connections unrelated to the rest of the world.   One's ancestry is not always the only focus.  When you add historical context to the time period, your ancestors and their world are much easier to understand.  Generalities leave loads of very interesting facts out.

You may say, "So WHAT?"  Oh, contraire!  I would argue, a lack of understanding of little events melded with the big events has kept us from lifting up our heritage and other countries, and I mean even the bad facts, to a deeper understanding and richness that will benefit us all.  Fear has in stanched a sugar coated history that has very little to do with reality.  This harms us all.

So....where were your ancestor in the mid 1820's?  How about the 19th century in general?  Might you get a glimpse of the time and events around their lives by reading the Travels of Duke Bernard?  Do you have German or Quaker immigrants to Pennsylvania?  Or possibly the enamor of New Harmony, Indiana on artist, geologist, philosophers, naturalist, etc.?
This article is by no means thorough in it's research, it's just a starting point for more discussion and digging.  Now...about that painting above of the 1840 Anti-Slavery convention.  Benjamin Robert Haydon, painter, apparently wrote extensively about art and his own life.  He became despondent and committed suicide.  I must read his autobiography.  See my problem!!!

1Travels Through North America, during the years 1825 and 1826 in 2 Volumes, Philadelphia, Carey, Lea, and Carey, 1828 translation to English., 
2Ibid, p. 153.
3Ibid, p. 158.
4Goethe: Life as a Work of Art, Ruddier Safranski, 2013, translated by David Dollenmayer 2017, Liveright Publishing Co., NY.  ISBN 978-0-87140-490-9.  
5For more in-depth study of 19th c. German travel writings, "Imagining North America:  Nineteenth Century German Travel Writers and Cultural Transfer, Jefferson Dillman, Traversea, Vol. 1, 2011, pp. 13-25.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Women's History Month: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker medal of honor restored by Jimmy Carter

Dr Mary Edwards Walker
Mary Edwards Walker
This woman should be in every history book!  Her daring exploits as a surgeon, yes, I said surgeon!.. during the civil war on the frontlines, serving both Union and Confederate wounded, being captured by Confederates, and insisting on wearing men's attire, because who can do her work in a dress?  Where's her movie???

Mary Edwards born 26 Nov 1823 in Oswego, Oswego, New York.  Mary married , she died 21 Oct 1919 in Oswego, Oswego, New York.  Oswego was a pivotal town during and before the Civil War as a port city for the Underground Railroad.  This area surrounding Oswego; Syracuse, Rochester (home of Frederick Douglass), Mexico (yes, there's a city in NY by that name), Seneca Falls (home of the Women's Suffrage movement); was a stepping off point to travel to Canada for runaway slaves.

I hope to someday, in my spare time, which I have little, look into her families connections to the movement or not.  There were those with moderate wealth living in the area that were not on the abolition and women's suffrage bandwagon, believe it or not.

Today, I celebrate this brave soul who had more cojones than most men!  Cheers, Doc!!