What’s in your name? Colonialism.

Colonialism is in a name.

Enslavement. Enslavement is in a name.

In 1800, Virginian Edmund Jennings Randolph (of constitutional Virginia Plan fame) was mortgaged to the hilt.

To satisfy creditors and manage his finances and those of his family, he made the following agreement:

“…Now this Indenture witnesseth that in order to secure the payment of the debts aforesaid more effectually and the sum of one dollar in hand paid by the persons first named, he the said Edmund Randolph hath bargained, sold, aliened, assigned and transfered, and by these presents doth bargain, sell, alien, assign and transfer to the said Thomas Jefferson, Foushee, Hylton, William DuVal, Samuel Macraw, Lewis and Philip Norborne Nicholas their executors, administrators and assigns the following slaves partly in the possession of the said Edmund Randolph, and partly in the possession of Wilson Cary Nicholas on a hire for years, to wit; Dick, Judy and their children Sukey and Lucy and Sam, Aggey and their children, Succordy, Mourning, Edmonia, Lewis, in the said Edmund Randolph’s possession; the following negro slaves hired by the said Edmund Randolph to Wilson C. Nicholas for a term of years, and especially Blenheim, and his wife Phillis and children Charles and Moses, Harry and Nanny his wife and children Watt, and Billy and Jemmy and his wife Dolly and child Lydia and Jenny Willard Lewis and their increase present and future…”

“….on a hire for years….

Dick, Judy and their children Sukey and Lucy and Sam, Aggey, and their children, Succordy, Mourning, Edmonia, Lewis….

and especially Blenheim, and his wife Phillis and children Charles and Moses,

Harry and Nanny his wife and children Watt, and Billy and Jemmy and his wife Dolly and child Lydia and Jenny Willard Lewis

and their increase present and future…”

So.

Let’s examine that, even if you have not found any indication, any evidence (yet) of your ancestors outright owning, enslaving people under the American race-based slave system, that doesn’t mean that your ancestors could not have hired or rented enslaved men, women, and children. The way Edmund was “hiring,” renting out these people to “Wilson C[ary] Nicholas for a term of years.”

That the American race-based slave system supported the rental of human beings. The way you can rent furniture today.

Let’s focus on Blenheim.

Blenheim is a battle. A vital English military victory. It is an event.

Blenheim is an English palace. It is a home. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Blenheim is this man’s name.

Blenheim is a father of two men, Charles and Moses.

He is recognized to be the husband of Phillis. Since churches under America’s race-based slave system did not acknowledge the marriage of “property” (as enslaved people were deemed to be property under 1800’s law and social practices), Blenheim and Phillis would not have been given their right of marriage recognition. It is likely that they jumped the broom.

Whatever America said, Blenheim and Phillis were united under God. So were Harry and Nanny. So were Jemmy and Dolly.

How does an enslaved man, deemed legal property under America’s historic laws and social practices, carry the name of an English palace, an English military victory?

Perhaps Blenheim (the man, the husband, the father) was born on the date of the Battle of Blenheim‘s victory. Perhaps Blenheim’s birthday was 13 August. Or 2 August. Depending on Julian or Gregorian calendars. Either way, maybe Blenheim’s name gives us Blenheim’s birthday.

Maybe Blenheim was named simply because whoever named him had been reading up on English history and decided Blenheim was an excellent name for an English victory, and an enslaved man.

Maybe they simply liked the way “Blenheim” sounded.

But consider, this enslaved man was of African descent. His heritage, his history was likely African. I say likely, because we do not know his parentage. And we know that American enslavers could force privileges with enslaved women under their legal and social power. There is no evidence that anyone in Edmund’s family fathered Blenheim. But we do know that extended members of Edmund’s family fathered enslaved children with women they enslaved.

This enslaved man, of African descent, through his name, carried the history of his colonial enslavers all the days of his life.

But Blenheim lived his own life. I am sure he made his own life, beyond the history of his name. I am sure that Phillis, Charles and Moses, they were Blenheim’s light. They were Blenheim’s life.

In researching names of enslaved individuals, consider the origin of their name. Consider that colonialism, and enslavement could imprint itself on this person’s name.

Hearing your name called, imagine every time you hear it, you know it is not your history or your heritage being honored, but the history and heritage of those who captured and continually suppressed your heritage, and oppressed your ancestors, your descendants, and your own life.

Copyright Off The Porch History 2021

You’ve Seen The Film! Now Read The Book!

In (still) trying to come to terms with Season 8 of GoT (Tormund’s there. Let’s focus on Tormund.), I ran across this in my fandom-Google-stumbling:

Sansa Stark and Scarlett O'Hara in Game of Thrones and Gone with the Wind

Courtesy of David Crow’s piece “How Gone With the Wind Influenced Game of Thrones“, published on Den of Geek. Copyright May 2020.

Apparently “George R.R. Martin frequently mentions Gone With the Wind in interviews”…

My first thought was a simultaneous cacophony of “Lord in Heaven, help us one and all” and “FFS”.

Then I thought, “Well. Damn. I ain’t read that…thing.”

Make no mistake, I grew up on the movie. I defy you to find a White Southerner, particularly female, who didn’t see it at least once in the 90s. My memory of Gone With the Wind did not come from a marketed VHS copy, but from a VHS you could record on, the ancestor of DVR, a…whatever-the-hell those orange-boxed ones were…Maxell?…TDK?…anyways, it was recorded off of ABC or CBS. Some publicly, widely available television channel. Prime time. I distinctly remember that as the years rolled on, the greatest enjoyment of watching our VHS copy was not the actual film, but in the quickly-dated fashions and technology in the commercials. And the M&Ms commercials. Y’all should’ve seen how much we loved M&Ms and those original Mac computers.

Even if I didn’t have a copy of the film, the stories of my family connected to Gone With the Wind would have been passed down anyways. This makes my family sound more “connected” than we actually are, but what I mean to say is that no, we weren’t extras lying on stretchers in that famous scene in Atlanta, and no, we weren’t extras at Twelve Oaks flouncing around in those bell skirts. But. One of my grandmothers fell in love with the idea of Scarlett to the point that she christened the hog on the farm she was raised on “Scarlett.” And painted the word “Tara” over the pen. Yup. Y’all. Welcome.

I mean.

I just.

There you go.

And I defy you to find a White, Southerner, and particularly female family history that doesn’t have some similar story connected to the impact this book and this film made on a particular generation of the South. The “BuzzFeed quiz” question of the White Southerner Female Generation of 1940 (when Gone With the Wind premiered) was not what Disney Princess you were, but if you were more of a Melanie or a Scarlett. God forbid you were an India. At least if you were a Belle you got to sleep with Rhett. Allegedly.

Anywhos, I can only speak for the White Southerners. I can only testify as to what has been passed down to me as a White Southerner. And that’s what I aim to challenge myself to do by reading the damn book this whole thing was based on, and then influenced the generations who influenced me.

Full disclosure, Pt. 1, I visited Margaret Mitchell’s home in Atlanta once. That’s about all I know about Margaret Mitchell.

Full disclosure, Pt. 2, beyond visits to battlefields and poring over National Park Service materials that were published for the recent 150th observations and anniversaries of the 1860-1865 American Civil War (I specify the years, because I still maintain that America’s War for Independence was America’s first civil war), I am by no means, an expert on that American Civil War. I am not reading Gone With the Wind to examine its historical content. (You want historical-accuracy examinations of this novel, honey, I’m sure they’re out there. Godspeed. Ask a Park Ranger.)

I’m reading this book in an effort to get off the porch and really face this thing. Especially Scarlett “That Woman” O’Hara.

That woman has been my shadow whether I blessed-well like it, or not. As soon as folks figure out where I’m from, and how long my family’s been below the Mason-Dixon, two things usually, historically pop out of people’s mouths:

“Where’s your accent?” (SIGH.)

“So, you’re like Scarlett!” (…….n.o.)

I mean, for L.A.N.D. S.A.K.E.S, Scarlett Bless-ed O’Hara was a piece of shit racist, and if you just feel like shimmyin’ on past that fact, she was about as mean as twenty cottonmouths in the middle of summer and a few Mama-Bears-Who-Think-You’re-About-To-Threaten-Their-Cubs-So-You-Better-Run-Forrest-Run combined! Why in the WORLD do we “pedestal” this person?

Welp. I aim to figure that the fudge out. Because like it or not, being a Southern female means you have to face the Specter of Scarlett. Thanks, Margaret Mitchell. And David O. Selznick. Sigh.

Lord in Heaven, help us one and all. Amen.

And, Full Disclosure, Pt. 3, I will be following up my virgin-reading of Gone With the Wind, with Alice Randall’s The Wind Done Gone.

Copyright Off The Porch History 2021

“Previous to 1861…

…there weren’t any policeman, but there were [slave] patrollers instead.

Their duty [of the slave patrollers] was the same as that of the policemen today.

If the slaves had a corn-shucking party or a prayer meeting, and if they made too much noise, the patrollers would arrest them.”

-Testimony of Jane Pyatt

[“[Jane Pyatt was] Age 89 when interviewed by Thelma Dunston in Portsmouth (Virginia)… Mrs. Pyatt was born in Middlesex County. At only three months of age, she was sold with her mother to a Norfolk slaveholder who shortly moved to Portsmouth.”]

All quotations from We Lived in a Little Cabin in the Yard, ed. Belinda Hurmence, part of the Slave Narratives of Virginia (WPA, Federal Writers Project).

copyright Belinda Hurmence, LOC/WPA and Federal Writers Project, and Off the Porch History 2020

“…the true way of imitating…”

“…the wisdom of our forefathers is, not to tread exactly in their steps, and to do the same things in the same manner;

but to act in such a way as we might

with reason

suppose they would, did they live in these days, and things were so situated as they are at present.”

Thomas Sheridan, British Education: Or, The Source of the Disorders of Great Britain. Being an Essay Towards Proving, that the Immorality, Ignorance, and False Taste, which So Generally Prevail, are the Natural and Necessary Consequences of the Present Defective System of Education. With an Attempt to Show, that a Revival of the Art of Speaking, and the Study of Our Language, Might Contribute, in a Great Measure, to the Cure of Those Evils. In Three Parts [available for free, in its entirety, with Google Books]

Copyright Thomas Sheridan 1756 and Off The Porch History 2018

“By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.”

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly implore his protection and favor- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to ‘recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.’

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks- for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation- for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war- for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed- for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted- for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then united in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually- to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed- to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord- To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us- and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington [President George Washington]”

Well, Lord have mercy. “[R]eligion and virtue [and] science” can co-exist. By George [“Washington” and possibly, probably Hamilton]! They can! Don’t believe me?

That’s it. As the pig says, ‘That’s all, Folks’!

There are beautiful moments like this when words defy time and situation, and speak for themselves.

copyright Off The Porch History [plus the National Archives’ Founders Online, George Washington, and Alexander Hamilton (possibly, probably)] 2018 [and 1789].

Remember, remember the 6th of November

Women’s Representation: it’s not just for widows anymore.

“The doctrine of representation is a large subject…Perhaps ’twas thought rather out of character for Women to press into those tumultuous Assemblies of Men where the business of choosing Representative is conducted. And it might also have been considered as not so necessary, seeing, that the representatives themselves as well as their immediate Constituents, must suffer the Tax imposed in exact proportion…This then is the Widows security as well as the never married Women who have lands in their own right, for both of whom I have the greatest respect, and would at any time give my consent to establish their right of Voting, altho I am persuaded that it would not give them greater security, nor alter the mode of Taxation you complain of.”

-Richard Henry Lee to elder sister Hannah Lee Corbin, 17 March 1778

 

Hannah Lee Corbin may have been an 18th century Virginia anomaly, but she was certainly ahead of her time.

The letter that she wrote to her younger brother Richard Henry Lee does not survive though from his response [above] to this lost letter we can infer that Hannah was proposing [or as Richard so fraternally puts it: “complain(ing)”] that women who held property and had to pay taxes on their property, should have had direct representation in how such taxation was managed on the government level.

Women who owned and managed property in Hannah’s 18th century world were most likely widows, or femme soles [i.e., unmarried women who perhaps inherited property, or most likely owned and managed a professional business in their own right].

Hannah may not have advocated for universal women’s representation or universal women’s suffrage. Her letter is lost [at this time, although I do have a Culper-esque hope that it will be found in an attic somewhere] and if it is truly lost, so are the answers to what precisely she was proposing to her brother. She may have simply advocated for what was in her best interest and pushed only for the representation and suffrage of women like herself: gentry, upper-class, educated, well-connected, mother, widow.

And yet, it is amazing how she has become a smaller-scale women’s rights figure in the tradition of Abigail Adams.

The same way that Abigail Adams and her quote of “Remember the ladies” has become a rallying cry for women’s suffrage and women’s rights movements, Hannah Lee Corbin’s quest for direct representation is slowly but surely turning her into a symbol of women’s rights, a symbol that she may not have intended, or dreamed of becoming.

For better, turning Hannah Lee Corbin into a symbol places her back into our national conversation, shedding light on her life, and the lives and world of those around her.

For worse, turning her into a symbol may conveniently shade over the true nature of her proposal of representation, and perhaps other parts of her life and the lives of those around her.

Hannah may have advocated for women’s representation and suffrage, but in her world, in an age of enslavement where women of color were deemed property under the law, the bold lines of this issue suddenly become blurred.  In order to identify women’s representation, you first have to identify those who society identifies to be women. And if society also identifies its people as equal to its property. Often such society will not regard how its citizens within identify themselves.

I am sure that the enslaved women of Hannah’s world and on Hannah’s earthen property did not identify themselves as living property, though that was how society would label them. I am sure that they would rightly identify themselves as educated [yes, many enslaved women in 18th century Virginia could read. and write. and work mathematical problems. and think for themselves.], they were mothers, widows, wives, lovers, sisters, friends.

Within the society that bound them, here I find another parallel, another lesson of the past to apply to our issues of the present. Though the institution of slavery has been banned out in the open of our present society, the physical hierarchy and mental abuse brought about by a society arbitrarily putting others above others still winds its way through our daily lives. And like Hannah’s lost proposal, I’m not sure of the truth. I don’t have all the answers.

But whether you identify as a woman, a female, a sister, a wife, a mother, a widow, a widower, a man, a male, a friend, a lover, whether you live as she, he, they, or simply use your own name as the best descriptor of your identity: I hope you vote today and represent yourself.

copyright Off the Porch History 2018

 

 

 

 

A 355’s work is never done.

Deceit. Sacrifice. Bravery masquerading as stupidity. A lady‘s work is never done.

Nor is the work of the Culper Ring.

If you don’t know The Culper Ring, have never heard of Nathan Hale, George Washington, John Andre, Benedict Arnold, black petticoats, or TURN: Washington’s Spies [which AMC created and now streams its four seasons on Netflix], click “lady” above. Read on below.

The Culper Ring was Washington’s needed intelligence network. An intelligence network needed to combat the spies and double agents Britain sprinkled throughout its theatres of war as it battled the Americans for their independence.

The Culper Ring was not commonly known until [as I understand it] an attic in Long Island was being cleared out in the 1920s and 1930s and a discovery was made of an old, odd book with numbers matched to words: The Culper Ring’s cypher book, orchestrated by a New York 25-ish year old named Benjamin Tallmadge in 1779.

Tallmadge and others of the Culper Ring matched the subject needed to be communicated to Washington, to the subject’s number in their cypher book.

[i.e., Write the number, not the word.]

So then, if these numbered letters were intercepted by British spies [paging James Bond’s 5th great-grandfather], so long as British intelligence never discovered the Culper’s cypher book and distributed such valuable findings to their individual agents, the cypher would never be undone and the Americans would buy themselves at least one more month of rebellion.

In the Culper’s cypher book you find the numerical equivalent of everything from “my” [“379”], to “infantry” [“309”], “ignorant” [“304”], and “ear” [“159”]. I think even “love” is written in as “348.” And there is “355,” simply meaning “lady.”

                 “I intend to visit 727 [“New York”] before long and think by the assistance of a 355 [“lady”] of my acquaintance, shall be able to outwit them all.”

– August 15, 1779. Abraham Woodhull [“Samuel Culper” or “722”]  to Major Benjamin Tallmadge, Sheldon’s Horse, 2nd Regiment, Continental Light Dragoons [“John Bolton” or “721”].

Rumors have been tossed around since the cypher book’s discovery as to whether “355” was a specific lady, devoted to this American fellowship of the Ring, or if this was a lady who was doing a one-time sting for the Ring.

Rumors still abound.

In our 21st century the words lady and woman are nearly interchangeable in daily conversation. In the 18th century, i.e. 1779 when Benjamin Tallmadge crafts the Culper Ring’s cypher, one never dares to call a lady a woman. You did not dare, and neither did the cypher.

A “woman,” as written “701” in the Culper’s cypher book, would be a female who we may classify as middle-class or lower-class. Since Culper writes not “701,” but “355,” I assume the Ring means a lady, a female who we would classify as upper-class: either wealthy in power or in resources, and if she’s trusted by the Ring, rich with valuable information.

Regardless of who she was, she is presently one of the many nameless who we owe our present and future to; one of the many nameless who were braver and stupider than we, and so put themselves through horrible dangers to gain what is never absolutely defined, but what absolutely none of us can survive without: liberty.

Stupid for putting herself in such horrors, likely ending her days rotting aboard a British prison ship. Effectively floating in a cesspit of disease and dead men that bobbed along in New York harbor until the British evacuated New York, November 25 of 1783; four years after Benjamin Tallmadge and The Culper Ring launched their cypher book into their closely watched circulation.

Brave and daring that she would end her days rotting for us who have no hope of knowing who she was or why she lied and deceived for 304 [“ignorant”] and ungrateful posterity.

May we all be so stupid if it means we are also brave.

Our freedom, our future dies in fear. A lady and a Ring would not accept fear.  But to “outwit them” who would spread fear, they instead spread much-needed and far more valuable information, and information sustained America’s rebellion.

Rule “355”: “Outwit them all.”

Dear 355, whoever you be, we 348 you. And the Culper Ring.

copyright Off The Porch History 2018

 

 

Get off the porch

Welcome.

There is an old American image.

You know it.

Angelic, white face. Eyes cast down to look upon delicate female hands, gently holding a book. This book is read aloud in a birdsong voice while it is gently cradled among lithe white feminine fingers.

There are rosebud lips, parted to impart wisdom, a particular knowledge, to little children who sit around she who reads the book.

She who reads, reads to dark, small children who sit on a wide wooden porch.

The porch is usually white-washed, columned as an ancient grand temple. The porch, the invitation to sit, is meant as a temporary welcome. Dark little children surround their demi-goddess: that is the idea, spoken through these and other rosebud lips.

Those little children. The book, the knowledge imparted, believe that this female owns them, same as she owns the book. One for the other. Perhaps she values more than the others.

Safe and secure. Only the threat of freedom rising is imagined to be powerful enough to shake its foundation. Such a threat is kept at bay by words held in books, held in hands, held in minds, spoken through rosebud-lipped generations, all from a porch.

And when the children who are read to, when they and their families choose to leave? When they are not dismissed back to commanded duties, but venture beyond the wooden floors that have been the rock of their lives? What happens to the rosebud-lipped generations they leave on the porch?

Example:

Some may find it odd, on having learned of the fate of her childhood home of Arlington and the emancipation of the many enslaved people whose work sustained it, that the Lady of Arlington degraded Arlington’s enslaved people as “ungrateful” men, women, and children, “beguiled off by the Yankees” into free lives.

Wouldn’t these enslaved men, women, and children choose to stay with her after their emancipation? Surely she thought that they would not leave her home, surely they would not leave Arlington. If Arlington was the lady’s home, wasn’t it their home, too?

Surely they would not abandon her kindness that was shown through their bondage. She read to them, “done all [she] could” for them. Her daughters taught their children on the grounds surrounding Arlington’s monumental porch, sitting together in a room covered in the shadow of its monumental walls.

She and her family had found freedom at Arlington. Couldn’t the enslaved stay and find their freedom at Arlington with her family?

The ‘she’ of whom I write is Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee. She is fascinating to me because I don’t know what to do with her. I read about her personality and recognize similar traits in myself. I read her words and am repulsed.

In reading descriptions of her harvested from those who knew her and preserved in my favorite biography of her husband Robert Edward Lee [the biography is Reading the Man by the late and truly great Elizabeth Brown Pryor], I discover that she and I share “[an] artist temperament.”

“She [and I] spoke whatever [temper] came in her mind- but it was over in a moment.”

“She [and I] has wit & satire too, when they are required.”

These words are taken from letters written in 1823 and 1824 by contemporaries of Mary A.R.C. Lee.

Reading the words of Mary A.R.C. Lee reveals something more to me:

“a set of lazy idle negroes who roam about by day marking what they may steal at night & are kept  attending political harangues of which they understand about as much as the African Gorilla.”

These words are taken from a letter written by Mary A.R.C. Lee in the spring of 1867 .

Revelation: I would not like Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee. She and I deeply disagree on very basic beliefs of decency and humanity.

But we share the same “artist temperament” and “wit & satire too, when they are required.” We pray to the same Savior. If we share the same personality, the same spirituality, are we the same? As much as I sit in judgement, if thrown in her circumstances what shades of myself would appear?

After all, I, too, have been bewitched into believing my own gold-star superiority; my own sort of Blind Kindness.

Blind Kindness is not true kindness. Blind Kindness smoothers [as in]: “All will be well if I can drown your sorrows,” “All will be well if I say so.”

Examples:

“All will be well because even though my ancestors kept yours in bondage, I respect and listen to Pac and Kendrick.”

“All will be well because while I quote the Declaration of Independence, I admit that Jefferson fathered kids with Sally Hemmings.”

“All will be well because I know what ‘woke’ is.”

“All will be well because I can Google things on Urban Dictionary.”

“All will be well because I saw Black Panther. Twice. And I saw Crazy Rich Asians, twice. AND I can hum three songs produced by A Tribe Called Red, AND I have more than one non-white, non-Protestant friend.”

“All will be well because when my ancestors kept yours in bondage they saved your souls and taught you your words, all from our own family’s porch.”

Blind Kindness is done to you, but for me, so that I and my ancestors may sleep in peace, and I have to wonder: how much am I the same as my ancestors and their contemporaries? How much of our present history, that is daily made around me do I choose not to see?

How much can I understand about our world if my mind has never gone “off the porch” to see our history not as I think it is, but how it is?

So I need to get off the porch. It’s time. It’s done past time.

Welcome.  Let’s step off.

copyright Off The Porch History 2018