Killed by “demons”

For anyone who’s seen the opening scene of Poldark then (spoiler alert) you’ll know it takes place in Virginia during America’s War of Independence.

Ross and others in his company (I assume company, cause there doesn’t appear to be enough British regulars sprinkled around the Virginia trees in that opening scene to deem it a battalion or beyond) are bored, gambling, and quickly ambushed by what looks to be American militia (likely under Wayne, Lafayette, and Nelson).

That scene has stayed with me. Not because of Ross. Well. Not just because of Ross.

It reminded me that the British died here. Sounds so obvious, but we spend so much time remembering the victorious American (and French, and Spanish) dead that we forget the so-called “enemy,” many of whom probably had a cousin, brother, mother, sister, wife, or some friend or business partner fighting for American liberty on the other side.

America’s War of Independence was America’s first civil war. It was brutal.

I never saw such fighting as God made me. The Americans fought like demons.

Lieutenant General Charles, Earl Cornwallis

As much as Americans died in our fight for independence, how many British (and French, and Spanish) never walked away from our battlefields, and lie unmarked beneath them now?

I was at Guilford Courthouse National Battleground in North Carolina. And there’s a spot where it’s estimated 500 men died.

If my understanding is correct (apologies if it isn’t), a vast portion of these 500 or so men died for Britain.

That made me pause.

I looked up, looked around, examining the trees around me.

It was noted that Guilford Courthouse was a heavily wooded area in North Carolina on March 15, 1781. The day 500 or so men died in a few hours, in the service of King and Country.

When they, this so-called “enemy,” were dying, could they have seen what I saw now?

The battle happened in March, so the leaves wouldn’t have been changing, but this could have been a similar scene, certainly the same area where around 500 British (and German, actually, from Ansbach-Beyreuth, Hesse-Cassel), those men, lay because they would not survive the hour, could not pick themselves up, though perhaps only to crawl maybe stumble as they attempted a run for cover, hand over their gushing wound because they were bleeding out, screaming, crying, gasping, writhing, dying.

Instead of home, they were trapped on a foreign battlefield. Did they just give up, lay back, and watch the tops of the pines above them? Was there a March breeze that swayed the pines back and forth? Did a breeze bring them comfort? Were they the only ones to see a bird shoot across the tops of the pines, as it fled the noise of the battle below? Did they look around them to see young and old trees barring their way to a shelter, or to a friend they could die with? Could they see anything through the powder smoke?

They died here. And what memory is left of them, beyond the land?

And these men who died, they likely knew someone (or knew someone who knew someone, six degrees and all that) fighting for the American side! Why did they have to be sent to die in a war where the enemy was their cousin, or best friend’s brother, or whatever, and in a land where some of them may even have been born? General Sir Henry Clinton grew up in New York, for heaven’s sake!

And the British troops dying and buried at Guilford Courthouse (with varying degrees of grace and ceremony, I’m guessing)…

Where in Britain were they from? Wales? England? There’s the 71st Regiment of Foot, or Frazier’s Highlanders, so we know there were definitely some Scots in North Carolina that day (I mean, obvi. It’s North Carolina. You’re always gonna find somebody with a connection to Scotland).

General Charles O’Hara (the officer who was charged with the surrender of Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown in October 1781) was of Irish and Portugese descent. Augustus O’Hara (who I believe was Charles O’Hara’s nephew and a British artilleryman) was killed at Guilford Courthouse. He was young. Or young enough.

Who did they leave behind? Did every “Ross” have a “Francis,” an “Aunt Agatha,” an “Elizabeth” waiting for their return? A “Trenwith” or “Nampara” that they were crying out for, wishing they could die in the comfort of a familiar place rather than on a brutal alien soil? Did every “Ross” who lay dying in North Carolina, have a “Demelza” back in England who they would never meet? Did they have kids waiting for their Dad to come home?

Americans fought like demons. We killed like demons, too. And not every British or German soldier was quite the demon that centuries-old propaganda (I absolutely love Jason Isaacs, but *cough* The Patriot *cough*) has made them out to be (Tarleton is however, excluded from my reprieve).

How many people were waiting in Bristol? In Liverpool? In London (I know of at least one family who was split between Virginia, and Kensington and Knightsbridge because of this conflict), in Ripon, in Peebles, or Dublin, or Cardiff? I mean, just pick one. But how many people were left waiting in Britain (or France, or Spain, or any of the German principalities) for soldiers now buried in an undiscovered, unmarked mass grave that’s now a parking lot?

Copyright Off The Porch History 2021

Social Distance. It’s Smallpox, Abigail Adams.

“I have attended publick (sic) worship constantly, except one day and a half ever since I have been in Town.”

Abigail Adams to John Adams, 5 August 1776

Even though her beloved John was fighting his own battle with the smallpox virus, even though John was experiencing “Pains, Achs (sic), [and] Qualms” and had an “Absolute Fear” of the “Paper” on which he was writing his wife, that “so much infected as it is,” if he sent it he feared the letter would cause Abigail and their children to die of smallpox, even knowing all of this, Abigail Adams attended worship and other public gatherings five days after her own inoculation against the virus.

Inoculation was incubation.

Abigail knew of the dangers of smallpox. Boston and Braintree, where she would worship and live was no stranger to the ravages of this virus.

John had less to fear about the “Paper” he would send to Abigail and their children since Abigail knew how to sterilize it. Abigail knew to use smoke to sterilize letters she received from John as she had done with letters received during their engagement amidst a 1764 outbreak of the virus.

As Elizabeth Fenn writes in Pox Americana,

Abigail Adams did not know about viruses or the way they worked, but like most colonists, she was clearly aware that smallpox was contagious.

Abigail Adams is not widely regarded as a stupid woman.

So…

It’s interesting.

She obviously knew what smallpox could do in her community. Smallpox had been attacking New England since at least 1722, twenty two years before she was born. This was not a new virus. Even before she “went with the Multitude (WHAT?!) into Kings Street to hear the proclamation for Independence read and proclaimed,” she had inoculated herself and her children against this virus in order to combat its virulence (gobsmacked parenthetical exclamation added). Twelve years before this she was sterilizing letters from her beloved John who was writing her through yet another epidemic.

She. Knew. What this virus could do.

And three days later she began experiencing “many disagreeable Sensations.” And she went “out to meeting” anyways.

It’s like Florida. Or Michigan. Or North Carolina. Or any other state in the Union.

Why, across the centuries, in the face of death do we still risk our lives and the lives of those we don’t even know (see, “Multitudes” above) to gather?

What innate human drive for community leads us to risk death?

Copyright Off The Porch History, 2021 and Elizabeth A. Fenn, Pox Americana (2001)

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

“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].

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

 

 

Have a Beautiful Hallows’ Eve

Nerdy History Halloween Publish

Beautys Lot

Adorn’d with Tates, I well could Boast, Of Tons and Macaronys Toast, Beautys Lot

I once was Fair, Young, Frisky, Gay, Could please with songs and Dance the Hay

Dear Bell’s reflect Ye Mortals see, As I now am so You will be.

[Pub. as the Act directs Feb 1. 1778 in N. 27, Great Castle Street, Oxfd. Markt.]”

Happy Haunting this Hallow’s Eve!