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

Clear off the Coal Ash, then do your homework.

The following conversation was between myself and a person very close to me. Identities are changed since they’d like to remain anonymous and I’d like to respect their wishes.

But make no mistake, it’s true that back in the day (read: 1960s), cleaning off the power plant’s coal ash that blanketed your home was as daily a chore as tidying up your room, or washing the dishes. Or doing your homework.

Myself: How often did y’all have to clean off the cars and sun porch from coal ash? Was that [coal ash] also from Duke Power?

Lucy: It was Duke Power. They would vent the [coal] ash at night if memory serves and if the wind was blowing in a certain direction there would be gray dust all over the screen porch that we would have to hose off. I can ask [Schroeder] about it. [They] may remember more than I do.

Myself: Good grief. How often did they do this?

Lucy: Don’t know. Fairly regularly I would guess, but cannot say with any authority.

Myself: So it wasn’t every week. Was the community trying to get them to stop?

Lucy: I don’t think so. I think that’s just the way business was conducted at the time. For a bit of perspective- we moved into the house on […] in the fall of 1966. Environmental issues did not begin to come to the forefront until the first Earth Day in 1970. I was a sophomore in high school at the time.

Myself: Did Earth Day have a big impact or was it more of a curiosity? What did [Linus] and [Snoopy] think of it?

Lucy: [Linus] just got tired of having to clean ash off the porch. [They] would get the hose and wash off the cement floor and then shoot the water [from the hose] through the screens to wash them off. Then we’d wipe down the furniture that was out there [on the porch]. Not sure about Earth Day. To the high school students it was new and exciting and we got out of class to go around town picking up trash and cleaning up stuff.

Myself: That’s cool. Did that happen every year?

Lucy: I think it did happen every year for a while. Don’t know what happened after I graduated.

Coal ash is pretty toxic. And this conversation only covers the air. I haven’t begun to ask them about the waterways they were drinking from that would also have been highly affected by the toxic coal ash.

Copyright Off The Porch History 2021. Don’t reproduce without permission. Lucy wouldn’t like it.

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

Scarlett O’Hara. FFS she’s not a CEO.

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”.

Huh.

Well.

My first thought: “Lord help us, it’s that thing again.”

And then: “Huh. Well. I ain’t never read it.”

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 those orange-boxed ones were…Maxell?…TDK?…anyways, it was recorded off of ABC or CBS. Some public, widely available television channel. Prime time, y’all. Seems unthinkable today. And this was the 90s (the latest decade to make a nostalgic commercial comeback).

I distinctly remember that as the years rolled on, the greatest enjoyment of watching our VHS copy was not the actual film, but the commercials featuring rather quickly-dated fashions and technology. Plus 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 connections to Gone With the Wind would have been passed down. This makes my family sound far 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 then proceeded to paint the word “Tara” over the pen.

I mean.

There you go.

I defy you to find a White, Southerner, particularly Female family history that doesn’t have some similar story nearly intoning the impact this book, and this film made on a particular generation of the South.

If Ye Olde BuzzFeed were abuzz in 1940 (when Gone With the Wind premiered), then ye “BuzzFeed quiz” question of that WWII White Southerner Female Generation would not determine which Disney Princess you were (I think it was basically just Snow White at that point), but instead, you would discover if you were more of a Melanie or a Scarlett. God forbid you were an India. And what a relief (in their minds) if you were Belle, so then you could sleep with Rhett to your heart’s content. Allegedly.

Ew.

Anywhos, I can only testify as to what has been passed down to me as a White Southern Female born of many generations of (surprise, surprise) White Southern Females. And yet, unlike past White Southern Females in my family line, I have never read That Book. Seen the movie. Should (?) maybe (?) read the book.

Here goes.

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

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 and ask a Park Ranger.)

I’m really reading this book in an effort to get off the porch, and understand why my grandmother felt the need to paint “Tara” over the pigpen. What spell did this book weave? Especially that of 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 historically pop out of people’s mouths:

“Where’s your accent?” (SIGH.)

“So, you’re like Scarlett!” (um…….no.)

I mean!

For land sakes, Scarlett O’Hara was an unapologetic racist! How is it a compliment to be compared to her?! Why do you feel the need to lead off with that comparison, boo bear? You gonna compare the men in my family to David Duke?

But if you just feel like shimmyin’ on past that fact that she was a racist, Scarlett O’Hara Twenty-Five-Thousand-Married-Names was as mean, unflinching, and unapologetic as Lucy Parke Byrd, the first wife of William Byrd II.

September 6, 1710: “My wife against my will caused little Jenny [a woman enslaved by the Byrds] to be burned with a hot iron…”

January 31, 1711: “My wife quarreled with me about not sending for Mrs. Dunn when it rained [to lend her John]. She [Lucy Parke Byrd] threatened to kill herself but had more discretion…”

February 5, 1711: “My wife and I quarreled about her pulling her brows. She threatened she would not go to Williamsburg [Virginia’s colonial capital] if she might not pull them…”

February 27, 1711: “In the evening my wife and little Jenny had a great quarrel in which my wife got the worst but at last by the help of the family Jenny was overcome and soundly whipped [for her resistance]…”

From the “Diary of William Byrd II of Virginia, 1709-1712”

Forget the pedestal persona of Scarlett as a Fortune 500 businesswoman with “admirable ambition.”

Scarlett O’Hara was not a Fortune 500 CEO, CFO, or COO. FFS, she was far more like Lucy Parke Byrd; claiming a woman was her property, and beating her with a hot iron, while her husband and family would have the same woman whipped (tortured) without a second thought.

WHY do we “pedestal” this person?

I don’t know. But I need to know since people keep referencing her so much whenever they discover that I am White, Southern, and Female.

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

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 what she thinks is wisdom, gospel even, to little children who sit around while she reads to them. Like a saint. Like their savior.

She who reads, reads to black and brown children. She sits above, 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.

Those little children. The book she reads from states she owns them. This book, maybe the law, maybe a Bible is being intoned as proof that this female owns them. Perhaps she values one more than the others. Perhaps she’s more careful with The Family Bible.

Safe and secure. The only threat is their freedom.

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 an anchor to their lives? What happens to the white, female, 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 so-called Lady of Arlington degraded Arlington’s enslaved people as “ungrateful” men, women, and children, “beguiled off by the Yankees” into freedom.

In her mind, wouldn’t these enslaved men, women, and children choose to stay with her? Wasn’t Arlington their home, too? They had built it, hadn’t they?

Surely they would not abandon this lady’s kindness; a compassion that her mother taught her, that she would teach to her own daughters, to show. She had read to these people, “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.

This “Lady of Arlington” is Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee. She fascinates me. I think I know what to do with her, and then I read remarks from her family and friends, preserved in the words of their letters. I see traits of her personality and recognize them in myself.

I read her own words and she repulses me.

The descriptions of her from 1823 and 1824, by those who knew her [preserved in Reading the Man, a biography of her husband Robert Edward Lee  by the late Elizabeth Brown Pryor] make me realize that we, 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.”

Her own words reveal herself 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 are her own words, written in the spring of 1867 .

I would not like Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee.

She and I deeply disagree on fundamental beliefs of 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, could we be the same? As much as I sit in judgement, if thrown in her circumstances what repulsive 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 never actually listens, it only justifies.

Examples:

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

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

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

“All will be well. I know what Urban Dictionary is.”

“All will be well. I saw Black Panther. And I saw Crazy Rich Asians. 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. When my ancestors kept yours in bondage they shared their front porch to save your souls. God be with you, brothers and sisters.”

Blind Kindness is done to you, but for me, so that I and my ancestors may sleep in peace.

No justice. No peace.

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?

[2021 Edit: I only recently watched Segregated by Design. I’m beginning to realize how much I have been fundamentally lied to in my life.]

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

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