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12 posts categorized "#EcclesFellows"

25 September 2017

Following Sarah Royce

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In 1849, Sarah Royce left her Iowa home and set off with her husband and daughter for California. Reading Royce’s stoic memoir, A Frontier Lady (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932; shelfmark: 010409.ee.40) I wondered how she really felt as she crossed America in pursuit of her husband’s dreams. My curiosity evolved in my second novel, which follows two women from Chicago to California during the Gold Rush.

HannahRoycebook 4jpg

 Sarah Royce. A Frontier Lady: Recollections of the Gold Rush and Early California. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932. (Shelfmark: 010409.ee.40) 

I’ve been studying first-hand accounts of other women who made that very journey—from the good-natured letters of Mary-Jane Megquier to the pessimistic journal of Mary Bailey. But though these accounts are often vivid, I’ve struggled to imagine the landscapes they describe—the blankness of the plains, the bitter waste of the desert, the steep green relief of the Sierras. So, with the support of the Eccles Centre, I decided to make the journey myself.

The California Zephyr train travels the 2,438 miles from Chicago to San Francisco. It broadly follows Royce’s route; but where Royce’s journey took six months, the train takes fifty-two hours. It was a thrill to watch scenery I’d previously encountered only in books—the lonely prairies, the great bloody sunsets, the strange sunken rivers of the high desert.

Hannahprairie

The prairies of Iowa. Image, author's own.

Seeing the landscape first-hand made a journey that was previously only an idea, a reality. And while I often encountered the unexpected—I hadn’t grasped that the trail was continuously flanked by mountains from the onset of the Rockies, nor had I anticipated that the Utah desert would look so like the moon—much of the landscape was as I had pictured it in the library.

Hannahsunkenriver

A sunken river in Utah. Image, author's own.

The trip was revelatory; but it also gave me confidence to write what I’d already imagined. For me, confidence is one of the most important outputs of researching fiction. As Zadie Smith said, “It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself.”

Hannah Kohler

Hannah is a joint winner of this year's Eccles British Library Writer's Award. More information about this Award, and all of the Eccles Centre's activities, can be found at www.bl.uk/eccles-centre 

Sources: Apron Full of Gold: The Letters of Mary Jane Megquier from San Francisco, 1849-1856, edited with an introduction by Polly Welts Kaufman. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994 (shelfmark: YA.1995.a.22660); Ho for California!: Women's Overland Diaries from the Huntington Library, edited and annotated by Sandra L Myres. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1980 (shelfmark: Document Supply 80/24701).

 

20 September 2017

‘Stealing Signs’: Baseball, Past and Present

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Cheating in baseball is as old as the game itself. Whether a pitcher doctors the ball with saliva making it difficult to hit, a runner deliberately spikes an opposing fielder as he slides into base, or a batter uses a ‘corked’ bat to get extra propulsion on the ball, underhand practices are part and parcel of America’s national pastime. But recent allegations that the Boston Red Sox unlawfully used high-tech Apple watches to gain an advantage over their biggest rivals, the New York Yankees (New York Times, 5 September 2017), has reignited the debate about the blurred line between gamesmanship (bending the rules) and outright cheating.

The case against the Red Sox centres on allegations of ‘stealing signs’ from their opponents – spotting the coded gestures made by the fielding team which indicate what type of pitch is likely to be thrown - and relaying them to the batter via an Apple watch worn by one of the Red Sox coaches. In baseball’s complex code of honour ‘stealing signs’ is acceptable, but using electronic aids to help you do so is officially foul play.

While the baseball authorities ponder what punishment, if any, to impose on the Red Sox, they may find themselves considering a remarkably similar case of technology and cheating, which made headlines more than a century ago. The story involves a Philadelphia Phillies coach called Pearce ‘Petie’ Chiles and an electronic buzzer buried beneath his feet.

Pearce_Chiles

Pearce Chiles. Wikimedia Commons.

It is recalled in detail by Joe Dittmar in the 1991 edition of The Baseball Research Journal, one of multiple volumes of the annual Historical and Statistical Review of the Society for American Baseball Research held in the British Library’s Mike Ross Collection of baseball books and memorabilia.

The scheme to ‘steal signs’ deployed by Chiles back in 1900 was ingenious and surprisingly sophisticated: a co-conspirator sat in the stands equipped with a spyglass to spot the signs made by the opposing catcher. He then sent a signal to an electronic buzzer in a wooden box buried beneath the spot where Chiles stood to coach on the third base line. Each sequence of buzzes represented a certain type of pitch and Chiles would tell the Phillies batter what pitch to expect next. The subterfuge was only uncovered when an opposing fielder’s suspicions were aroused by the strange jerking movements made by Chiles each time the buzzer went off. The fielder dug up the ground with his spikes and struck the outside of the buried box, revealing a mass of wiring. The Phillies had been caught red-handed, but there was no admission of guilt and no official reprimand. Today’s Red Sox will be hoping for similar leniency.

Stories of deceit, dishonesty and playing fast-and-loose with the rules are woven into baseball folklore and recounted in numerous items held at the Library: from John McCallum’s account of the legendary Ty Cobb sharpening the spikes on his boots just to inflict injury on opponents in The Tiger Wore Spikes: An Informal Biography of Ty Cobb (New York,  1956; shelfmark General Reference Collection, Mike Ross 144) to Eliot Asinof’s classic narrative of the ‘fixed’ 1919 World Series, Eight Men Out: The Black Sox and the 1919 World Series (New York, 1963; shelf mark DSC W55/1273).

1919_blacksox

Chicago White Sox, 1919. Image in Wikimedia Commons. PD-US

While the Commissioner of Baseball and president of Yale, Bart Giamatti, loftily pronounced baseball ‘a living memory of what American culture at its best wishes to be,’ perhaps Dan Gutman’s compilation of stories about baseball’s shadier side captures the essence of the sport’s moral ambiguity rather better: It Ain’t Cheatin’ if You Don’t Get Caught (New York, 1990; shelfmark General Reference Collection, Mike Ross 304).

Baseball ain't cheatin

 Dan Gutman. It Ain't Cheatin' If You Don't Get Caught. New York: Penguin Books, 1990. Shelfmark: General Reference Collection, Mike Ross 304.

Chris Birkett is undertaking postgraduate research on the Clinton Presidency at King's College London, where he is a Professor Sir Richard Trainor Scholar, supported by the Eccles Centre at the British Library.

 

14 August 2017

Black Power: Reading, Roots, and Rhythm in the British Library

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Rowan Hartland is a 2017 Eccles Centre Visiting Postgraduate Fellow and a doctoral candidate at Northumbria University. He will participate in the Eccles Centre Summer Scholars seminar series on 14 August, with a paper titled 'Black Power Culture in the American South 1967-1975'.

I have just finished a successful research trip to the British Library supported by an Eccles Centre Fellowship. The project, Black Power Culture in the American South 1966-1975, examines Black Power organising and activism in the under-researched and often marginalised regions in the American South. Black Power culture, rather than politics in the South, is largely excluded from historiography despite its national and international legacies. I have been able to solidify my argument and conduct research from a range of databases, catalogues, microfilm collections, and magazines at the British Library. Here is a snippet from my week.

Monday 14 August (2)

Free Southern Theater publicity image, c. 1970.

 

My first point of reference were two bibliographical booklets; the invaluable resource created by Jean Petrovic from the Eccles centre, United States and Canadian holdings in the British Library Newspaper Library [2719.k.1795]; and the online resource also created by Petrovic, African American History and Life: 1877-1954 [m02/16735]. The latter resource did expand chronologically to include early 1960s works, which were useful for a framework for my Black Power study, and also provided a geographical index of published works- useful for my work on the South. The United States and Canadian Holdings resource led me to the Mississippi Free Press and Inside New Orleans newspapers (located in the ‘African American Newspaper Series 1827-1998’ section on the e-resources) which I delved into whilst on the computers in the Reading Rooms. For anyone working on African American history pre-1966 or post-1978, these collections will provide fruitful material; and I hope to utilize these in the future.

Second, the vast Tuskegee Institute News Clippings File [MFM.MA410] spanning the turn of the twentieth century to 1966 (reference book in the Newsroom). This microfilm collection provided a range of themes and locations for research- prolific in 1930s and 40s material, as well as Civil Rights material and introductory Black Power news reports. The themes, ranging from Race Relations and Organisations, to Juvenile Delinquency and Riots, cover the whole of the US and are rich in Southern material. I spent close to two days glancing through these slides and found dozens of articles portraying the roots and articulations of Black Power culture (N.B. ask the folks in the Newsroom- they are super helpful).

After engaging with sources on race riots, southern police brutality, armed defence, and Black Power ideology a lot earlier than 1966, I moved into some research of magazines and ephemera. Whilst trundling through the main catalogue can be both daunting and arduous, it can provide some gems (advice- do all the sifting before you come to the BL!). Using the online databases to build a framework of search terms, then using the multi-functional filters on the sidebars makes life a lot easier. One magazine, which has left me with more questions about Black Power in the South than answers, is Rhythm. Whilst the BL only retains one volume (I am sourcing more), it is a rich piece of history with spasms of visual delight. It tells the story of the commitment of ‘revolutionary Pan-Africanism’ in the South whilst looking eagerly towards a new Africa of the twenty-first century. It is truly the personification of the heights of Black Power Culture in the South- ‘Rhythm sees African people as having no moral or legal responsibility to the west except to oversee its destruction.’ There are many newspaper and magazine titles available for those interested in mainstream and Northern Civil rights and Black Power, to name a few- Negro Digest, The Crusader, and The Menard Times (an interesting collection of prison newspapers).

The ‘Archive of Americana’, ‘History and Life’ online databases, and ‘African American Newspaper Series’ have provided an abundance of material for my project, from Black Power’s violence and rioting, to singing, poetry, performance and art. I intend to further delve into magazines and newspapers including Life, Billboard, The Chicago Defender, and Amsterdam News on my next trip for more mainstream perceptions, in addition to well-planned catalogue trawling and possible examinations of the databases ‘Underground and Independent Comics Collection’ (online) and ‘HAPI’ (online). The first-hand accounts provided in the magazines, newspapers, and records are invaluable evidence of Black Power in the South. This initial research has provided foundations for my research in the US and further research at the BL, and has provided sources for my Summer Series talk at the BL in August. Finally, a special thank you to Mercedes Aguirre and those at the Eccles Centre. I would not be able to research so efficiently and proficiently without their support and wonderful insights.

Rowan Hartland

14 June 2017

George Washington’s Legacy of Liberty 

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I recently had the great pleasure of spending time at the George Washington Library at Mount Vernon, where I both researched for my new book on Benjamin Franklin –  the subject of my Eccles Centre Makin Fellowship – and contributed some new material to the  George Washington Digital Encyclopaedia.  Another joy of Mount Vernon is the house tour.  This is not just because of the interest of the house itself and the glory of its position overlooking the Potomac, but also due to the warmth of the regard of the American visitors for Mount Vernon’s most distinguished owner. The Americans are proprietorial in the nicest possible way: not nationalistic, but personal.  Stories about Washington abound, as they talk of him as a greatly-admired ancestor.  That of course, as the “Father of his Country”, is what he is.

Washington is seen as part historic figure and part icon.  Emanuel Leutze’s painting ‘Washington Crossing the Delaware’ depicts a general truth above individual details. Certainly, the actual boats used in Washington’s famous river crossing were more steeply sided and higher in the water.  The ice in the river did not resemble arctic icebergs and even the men’s clothing was rather different.  However, the portrait was painted as a propaganda piece, three quarters of a century after the event, by a German American who hoped that the campaigners for reform in  the country of his birth would take inspiration from America’s own liberation.  Yet it is the iconic image of Washington that grabs the attention – and rightly so.

The image is iconic because the Washington characteristic that the Leutze portrait conveys so strongly is his leadership. Washington’s solid stance and foot thrust forward dramatically reflect his  ability to inspire. He is the still calm centre of the painting, anchoring the frenzied activity of all those moving urgently around him, while serving his and his new nation’s purpose in mounting a hazardous raid following a succession of defeats.  

The success of the crossing, and victory in the Battle of Trenton that followed, rekindled belief among the American patriot forces and provided a turning point in the War of Independence. The key to Washington’s success was that he was able to withstand  that run of defeats and to appear steadfast until the tide of the war turned, when Benjamin Franklin secured the support of the French and when the Battle of Yorktown was won.  The authority Washington  gained never left him.  It served him well as President of the Constitutional Convention:  he was crucial in reconciling the substantial differences between the States.  It perhaps latterly served him too well, as he was persuaded to serve a second term as President and reluctantly but dutifully did so. 

It is partly that sense of Washington’s authority that accounts for some of the appreciation of him by those visitors to Mount Vernon, but there is more to it than that. Like the Roman general Cincinnatus, he gave up retirement on his farm to take up arms and return to public service once more.  Unlike Cincinnatus he was unable to return to private life after a season, but had to wait for more than quarter of a century before he could finally, and gratefully, do so.  He thus astounded the   European monarchs who expected him to be like them and to die in kingly state.    The Cincinnatus story was well-known at the time, hence the foundation of the Society of the Cincinnati, an organization for officers who served in the Revolutionary War, with Washington as its first President.  But that was in 1783, well before Washington became President of his nation.     

It is perhaps the fact that Washington was determined to limit his power as President that is responsible for his reputation today. This was made clear by his actions, but the key to his approach is outlined in the most precious book in the George Washington Library -- one acquired by the Library at vast cost and added to their already extensive collection of George Washington’s books.   It is Washington’s own copy of The Acts of Congress including the United States constitution, marked up with his own notes on what he was empowered and not empowered to do.  It is evidence of a very happy conjunction of man and measures and why, both in America and around the world, there are so many statues to Washington and constitutions based on the American model.    It is also, of course, an important ongoing guide to executive action for his successors as President.   

Washington1

George Washington’s  personal copy of The Acts of Congress containing the US Constitution and his own annotations on the extent and limits of presidential power

 

Washington2

The Rare Books Vault at the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon with The Acts of Congress in pride of place. The Library, opened in 2013, is centred around the books and legacy of George Washington, every bit as much as the British Library has the Library of George III, Washington’s great opponent, at its centre. 

 

Washington3

George Goodwin sharing George Washington’s view from the porch at Mount Vernon 

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George Washington’s annotated version of The Acts of Congress  is available online

George Goodwin is the author of Benjamin Franklin in London: The British Life of America’s Founding Father (see British Library catalogue) and 2017 Eccles Centre Makin Fellow at the British Library

Further Reading at the British Library:

Douglas Bradburn, The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the creation of the American Union, 1774-1804  (Charlottesville & London, University of Virginia Press, 2009) [m09/.28708]

Ron Chernow, Washington:  A Life (New York, Penguin, 2011;  London, Allen Lane, 2010) [YC.2011.a.12554]

Joseph J. Ellis, His Excellency, George Washington (New York, Vintage; London, Faber 2005) [YC.2008.a.3908]

Flora Fraser: George & Martha Washington:  a Revolutionary Marriage  (New York, Knopf; London, Bloomsbury, 2015) [DRT ELD.DS.72252]

John Rhodehamel, George Washington:  The Wonder of the Age (New Haven & London, Yale: 2017)  (Soon available from Explore.bl.uk )

02 May 2017

Women in the California Gold Rush

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I’m using my 2017 Eccles British Library Writer’s Award to research and write my second novel, Catspaw, which follows two women from Chicago to the Sierra foothills during the California Gold Rush. Women are largely excluded from the mythic-historic narrative of the Gold Rush. Those that do appear are marginal, stereotypical characters: the long-suffering, godly pioneer mother (Sarah Royce), or the savvy prostitute (Belle Cora). I want to tell a story of two women who don’t conform to these stereotypes.

Helen Carpenter Hannah blog

Portrait of Helen Carpenter (Courtesy of the Edward E. Ayer Collection, the Newberry Library, Chicago), from Ho for California!: Women's Overland Diaries from the Huntington Library, edited and annotated by Sandra L. Myres. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1980 Shelfmark: 80/24701

Women were in the minority in the 1849 migration west; but they were there, and they encountered difficulties and opportunities that were unimaginable back east. I wanted to understand the experiences of these women in their own words. Sarah Royce’s renowned memoir, A Frontier Lady (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1932; shelfmark 010409.ee.40) left me with more questions than answers. Written at the urging of her philosopher son Josiah Royce, it tells the story he wanted her to tell—one of Christian fortitude as foundational to California. It left me wondering how she really felt as she left Iowa with her somewhat hapless husband and toddler daughter, bound for the unknown. John Irving wrote that "all memoir is fiction"; but I wanted to read female first-hand accounts that weren’t so starkly in service of a higher narrative.

Mary Jane Megquier small

Portrait of Mary Jane Megquier, from a daguerreotype about 1853, from Apron Full of Gold: The Letters of Mary Jane Megquier from San Francisco, 1849-1856. Edited by Robert Glass Cleland. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1949. Shelfmark: W.P.9803/40

The Eccles Centre’s bibliographical guide, Women in the Trans-Mississippi West, 1840-1900 (London: British Library, 1999; shelfmark YC.2000.a.575 ), helped me locate these accounts. From the letters of the outspoken Mary Jane Megquier, with her longing for "a line" from home and her good-natured complaints of "jiggers in [her] feet, a small insect that lays its eggs in your flesh"; to the witty journal of Helen Carpenter ("there is nothing in sight to merit the name Rocky Mountains—no rocks"); to the letters of Louise Clappe, with her sheer enchantment with "this solemnly beautiful wilderness"—these first-hand accounts are invaluable in helping me develop the voices of my female protagonists. I can’t imagine writing my novel without them.

Hannah Kohler

References: Apron Full of Gold: The Letters of Mary Jane Megquier from San Francisco, 1849-1856. Edited by Robert Glass Cleland. San Marino: Huntington Library, 1949. (Shelfmark: W.P.9803/40); California in 1851: The Letters of Dame Shirley, introduction and notes by Carl I. Wheat. San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1933. 2 vols. (Shelfmark: YD.2004.a.1634 & YD.2004.a.1493); Ho for California! Women's Overland Diaries from the Huntington Library, edited and annotated by Sandra L. Myres. San Marino, CA: Huntington Library Press, 1980. (Shelfmark: 80/24701

15 February 2017

The Tale of Josefa

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Hannah Kohler is one of this year’s Eccles British Library Writer’s Award winners. She is researching her novel, Catspaw, which follows two women during the California Gold Rush. In researching female criminals and vigilante justice in California, she came across the tale of Josefa.

Josefa Segovia—also known as Juanita and Josefa Loaiza—was the first and only woman to be hanged in California. A Mexican woman living in the mining town of Downieville, she was accused of murdering Frederick Cannon, a miner, on 5 July 1841, and was summarily hanged from a bridge over the Yuba River.

Hanging of the Mexican Woman

William Downie, Hunting for Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893. Shelfmark: X.809/2834

Contemporary accounts are conflicting, but suggest Cannon entered Josefa’s house on 4 July, possibly assaulting her.  The following day, Josefa and José Loaiza, with whom she lived, confronted Cannon. Cannon called Josefa a whore; she challenged him to insult her inside her own home; he followed her inside, whereupon Josefa fatally stabbed him. An impromptu judge and jury were assembled, but the man defending Josefa was rolled down the hill in a barrel. Within hours, Josefa was executed.

The story first appeared in the Daily Alta California four days later. Referring to Josefa only as ‘the Spanish woman’, it noted her extreme anger, stating that when Cannon came to her door to ‘apologize,’ she met him with a ‘large bowie knife, which she instantly drove into his heart’. Subsequent accounts called her by the generic Mexican name ‘Juanita’; most dwelled on her beauty; many implied she was a prostitute. Underlying these narratives was an assumption of Josefa’s culpability, implicitly or explicitly linked to her ethnicity and sexuality. In his memoir, Hunting for Gold (San Francisco, 1893; shelfmark X.809/2834), William Downie lamented the incident in a chapter named ‘Lynching a Beauty’, calling it ‘one of those blots that stained the early history of California’.

Lynching a Beauty

William Downie, Hunting for Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893. Shelfmark: X.809/2834

Josefa’s treatment – both her lynching and the way in which her identity and version of events were obscured – reflects the oppression of and violence towards Mexicans in mid-nineteenth-century America. However, in recent years, Chicano scholarship has sought to restore Josefa’s identity and reputation. In 1976, Martha Cotera demonstrated that Josefa’s last name was Segovia. Further scholarship contested the notion that she was a prostitute, and established that she was likely married to Loaiza, who appears to have filed a claim in 1868 against the United States for the murder of his wife (he lost).  The remaining details of Josefa’s experience are likely lost to history. She is consigned to Gold Rush lore, and on websites dedicated to the Old West, she has become a ghost story, her specter drifting along the Yuba River, haunting the old gold country.

Gold Region of California

 C. D. Gibbes, A New Map of the Gold Region of California. Stockton, CA. & New York, 1851. (Shelfmark: Maps 71865 (3)) 

Hannah Kohler

Sources: Irene I. Blea, U.S. Chicanas and Latinas Within a Global Context: Women of Color at the Fourth World Women’s Conference. Westport, Conn; London: Praeger, 1997 (Shelfmark: Document Supply 98/02749); William Downie, Hunting For Gold. San Francisco: California Publishing Company, 1893 (Shelfmark: X.809/2834); Ken Gonzales-Day, Lynching in the West, 1850-1935. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006 (Shelfmark: Document Supply m06/42195); F. Arturo Rosales, Chicano! The History of the Mexican American Civil Rights Movement. Houston, TX: Arte Publico Press, 1996 (Shelfmark: YA.1997.b.3535); Maythee Rojas, 'Re-Membering Josefa: Reading the Mexican Female Body in California Gold Rush Chronicles', Women’s Studies Quarterly, 35: 1/2  The Sexual Body (Spring/Summer 2007) pp. 126-148 (Shelfmark: Document Supply 9343.705700); Kerry Segrave, Lynchings of Women in the United States, The Recorded Cases, 1851-1946. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, 2010 (Shelfmark: YC.2011.a.9418).

Eccles British Library Writer’s Award: For more information, please see www.bl.uk/ecclescentre

08 September 2016

Cabin Fever: Deconstructing the Log-Cabin Myth of Appalachia

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Kevan Manwaring is an Eccles Centre Postgraduate Fellow and a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is currently undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester. His practice-based research is a novel set in Appalachia & Scotland.

As an historical artifact and as a cultural meme I set out to explore the phenomenon of that quintessential icon of American pioneering spirit, the log cabin.

Lincoln_Log_Cabin

Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site. Photograph by Daniel Schwen [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The homely shack hacked out of the primal wilderness, or so the myth goes, the log-cabin has been called ‘a symbol of democracy’ (Shurtleff: 5). Synonymous with self-reliance, hard-work, and grit the cabin has a taken on a metaphorical dimension. How has it become the crucible of the American Creation Myth? Every state seems to have at least one of these iconic structures where their most famous son or daughter started out. Perhaps the most hallowed of these was at Walden Pond, in Massachusetts, where, on the 4th July, 1845, Henry David Thoreau went to build a cabin. And live there he did, for a couple of years, cultivating his legumes and legend; but the nature of his dwelling – now enshrined in American culture and replicated countless times across the nation – is not exactly what it seems. It needs interrogating and deconstructing somewhat – but not to undermine Thoreau’s achievement or legacy – but to examine the foundations of this most enduring and beloved icon.

This ‘log-cabin myth’ (as Harold R. Shurtleff defined it in his 1939 Study of the Early Dwellings of the English Colonists in North America) is ‘an American belief that is both deep-seated and tenacious’ (Shurtleff: 5).

Let us look at the history of the Log-Cabin. At the risk of seeming disingenuous, I think it’s necessary to remind ourselves of what a log cabin is defined as: ‘a small house made from tree trunks’ (Cambridge Dictionary online). This is important, especially when considering Walden (it was not). It is a term that is often bandied about and misapplied.

 

But when was the log cabin first seen in the New World?

From current evidence we can deduce that the first dwellings built of round or square logs was raised by the earliest Scandinavian settlers in 1638 – primarily Swedes, but also Eastern Finnish, bringing with them the skill-set of the Savo-Karelian culture (Jordan; Kaups, 1992). German immigrants constructed their own variants, independently, from about 1710. The Scots-Irish arriving in large numbers after 1718, took up this new opportunity (having been unable to build timber-houses at home due to the lingering restrictions of that Norman construct, ‘forest’, and the financial cost) and ran with it. It seems likely they invented the term ‘log cabin’ (one belonging to a James McGavock is identified in an Irish community, Virginia, 1770). Before that, the most common one was ‘log house’ (Maine, 1662; Maryland, 1669; Massachusetts, 1678; North Carolina, 1680; New Hampshire, 1699). Via this new wave of migrants, the log cabin went ‘viral’: ‘From and through the Germans and Scotch-Irish it spread rapidly through the English colonies and by the American Revolution had become the typical American frontier dwelling from Maine to Tennessee.’  (Shurtleff: 4), to the point that, as John Alexander Williams observed: ‘The log house is the most enduring symbol of Appalachia’ (2002: 5). Cheap, convenient and quick to construct from readily available materials, with only an axe, a pair of hands, a mouthful of nails, some cussing and a lot of elbow grease, it is small wonder the log cabin or house flourished.

In summary it seems likely, that whoever got there first (and the degradable nature of the material means we will never know for certain), that ‘each group of European colonist in the seventeenth century erected the sort of dwellings they were accustomed to at home.’ (Shurtleff, 209).

Yet were they bringing coals to Newcastle, for it is noted by William Byrd in 1728 how he found ‘Indians’ in Virginia and North Carolina in the traditional lodges of their ancestors, what he called ‘Bark Cabanes’, wooden dwellings. This suggests the possibility of cross-fertilisation – that the ‘log cabin’ was the product of syncretism.

And so we can see how the notion of the ‘log-cabin’ is a constructed one, one with several influences. As a metaphor for the quintessential hybridity and Old/New World recycling of America, it is fit-for-purpose.

 

As a cultural meme, the log-cabin has extended its influence far beyond its humble parameters. It has been taken up by politicians, writers, singers, film-makers, eco-campaigners, artists and architects…

A seminal example of this is the ‘Lincoln Log Cabin’ – the humble family home of the 16th President of the USA. At Knob Creek Farm, La Rue County, Kentucky, a neighbour’s farm was relocated to the approximate spot and turned into a heritage ‘shrine’, evidence of the Lincoln myth, and by extension, the dramatic arc of the American dream – from log cabin to the white-house.

Such ‘repackaging’ has precedent, which can be seen if we dial-back to the 14th Presidential Election Campaign. In what became known as the Log Cabin campaign of William Henry Harrison, we can see the repurposing of the log cabin for political capital. Evoking an American Arcadia, the log cabin symbolized a return to good, simple virtues, to an uncomplicated, uncorrupted way of life.

Image1

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie (New York and London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1935). Illustrated by Helen Sewell [20054.d.28.]

We see this representation of the log-cabin in classics of American literature such as Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s 1852 reformist novel; Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884); Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward Angel! (1929); the ‘Little House’ books of Laura Ingalls Wilder (1932-1943); Woody Guthrie’s recently rediscovered House of Earth (1947); Wilma Dykeman’s Appalachian trilogy, The Tall Woman (1962); The Far Family (1966); Return the Innocent Earth (1973); and Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain (1997). These and many others create a sub-genre of what could be called ‘Log Lit’. 

Extending its influence far beyond Appalachia, the log-cabin offers us a place of renewal, a taste of a more authentic, embodied, embedded and sustainable life.

 

Kevan Manwaring

NOTES: 

Davis, Donald E., Homeplace Geography: essays for Appalachia, Mercer University Press, 2002

Lee, Hannah Farnham Sawyer, The Log Cabin: or, the world before you, Appleton, 1844

Grant, Richard E., Ghost Riders: travels with American nomads, London: Abacus, 2003.

Jordan, Terry G. & Matti E. Kaups, The American Backwoods Frontier: an ethical and ecological interpretation (creating the North American Landscape), John Hopkins University Press, 1992.

Shurtleff, Harold R., The Log-Cabin Myth: a study of the early dwellings of the English colonists in North America, Harvard, 1939

Teale, Edwin Way (ed.), The Wilderness World of John Muir, , Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. 1954

Thoreau, Henry David, Walden, or a Life in the Woods. Boston: Ticknor & Fields, 1854

Weslager, C.A., The Log Cabin in America: from pioneers to the present (1909-1994), New Brunswick, N.J., Rutgers University Press, 1969

Williams, John Alexande,  Appalachia: a history, The University of North Carolina Press, 2002

 

Eccles Centre resources:

Imagining the West: a guide to the literature of the American West

 

26 January 2016

An Irish Account of the First Days of the American Civil War

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'It is not in the nature of an Irishman to fight with four or five pounds of boiled pork and biscuit banging at his hip' – so beings the third and final part of the short, thirteen page account of The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia: A Narrative in the Three Parts (General Reference Collection 9604.aaa.10.), written by then-Captain Thomas Francis Meagher in 1861 during the early days of the American Civil War. It is one of a number of archive holdings the British Library has relating to the conflict and the involvement of Irish American men and women in the fight for the survival of a United States between 1861-1865, an area which forms the foundation of my doctoral research, with the generous fellowship support of the Eccles Centre for American Studies.

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Thomas Francis Meagher, The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia: A Narrative in Three Parts (New York, 1861), title page. Image in the public domain.

Meagher, a former Young Irelander who had escaped exile in Van Diemen’s Land and migrated to America in the early 1850s, was one of the most prominent Irish-born soldiers during the war. He rose from a captain attached to the 69th New York State Infantry Regiment to founder and commanding general of the Irish Brigade, the bastion of Irish American military service, with its constituent regiments present at every major battle of the brutal conflict. The 69th New York formed the Brigade’s foundation. They were born from a state militia regiment whose pre-war fame originated after the refusal of their commander Colonel Michael Corcoran (also Irish-born and later himself a prominent Union general) to march the past Edward, Prince of Wales during the future king’s visit to New York City in 1860. The exploits of Meagher, Corcoran, the 69th New York and the Irish Brigade’s military service during the Civil War were widely known in contemporary Union and Confederate societies and were recounted in several of the memoirs, accounts, newspaper records and ballads. Some of the songs relating to the Irish experience of the conflict can be seen in the Library’s online gallery collection of digitized American Civil War archives.

Meagher’s Last Days of the 69th in Virginia details events the 69th New York Infantry participated in from 12-18 July 1861 – the days leading up to the First Battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Virginia, the first major battle of the Civil War. It thus gives a fascinating and unique insight into the mobilisation and immediate experiences of thousands of soldiers rallying to the impending front-line, completely unaware of the battle and the subsequent four long tortuous years of war that would soon be upon them. Meagher chose to focus on the days preceding the battle fought on 21st July because its “incidents and events, the world, by this time, has heard enough… the battle, the [Union] retreat, the alarm and confusion of the Federal troops, columns and volumes have been filled”. Instead, Meagher’s writing reveals the journey of the 69th New York from their base at Fort Corcoran on Arlington Heights outside of Washington D.C., to the fields around Manassas, travelling through the Virginian town of Centreville, made famous in a wartime photograph taken by Timothy H. O’Sullivan showing its use as a Confederate supply depot and war’s scarring on the land. The image was published in Alexander Gardener’s collection of Civil War photography, of which the Library holds a copy (General Reference Collection 1784.a.13.). Meagher was not particularly complementary about Centreville, describing is as a 'dingy, aged little village' with a 'miserable little handful of houses. It is the coldest picture conceivable of municipal smallness and decrepitude…One is astounded on entering it, to find that a molehill has been magnified into a mountain.'

Captain Thomas Francis Meagher

Captain Thomas Francis Meagher, later General Meagher, commander of the Union Army’s Irish Brigade (1861).

Someone else turned into a mountain in Civil War histories is 'our Brigadier, Colonel Sherman, a rude and envenomed martinet' who, for 'whatever his reasons for it were…exhibited the sourest malignity towards the 69th'. Meagher spoke here of William Tecumseh Sherman, more famous as the general who led the Union advance through the southern states in the final years of the Civil War. A colonel at the First Battle of Bull Run, Sherman’s continual ordering of the Irish soldiers to bivouac on “the dampest and rankest” of ground led Meagher to state that the then-colonel 'was hated by the regiment'. Despite no love being lost between Meagher and Sherman, the former unwittingly included a rather pointed note of historical irony about the latter. He described how advancing Union soldiers passing by farmsteads on the road to Manassas were 'forbade' to touch the 'cocks of hay and stacks of corn'. The people of Georgia would have surely wished that this version of Sherman had marched through their state in 1864.

Alongside derogatory descriptions of southern towns and fellow Union Army officers, Meagher detailed the exhausting march and Confederate skirmishes through the Virginian countryside in the July heat. Bivouacking subjected the men to night-time humidity, which caused the Stars and Stripes to become 'damp with the heavy night dews'. In the day the men of the 69th New York dealt with 'heat and dust and thirst'. His account paints a sensory portrait of the Union Army mustering to face the Confederacy; a visual 'splendid panorama, those four miles of armed men – the sun multiplying, it seemed to me, the lines of flashing steel, bringing out plume and epaulette and sword, and all the finery of war, into a keener radiance, and heightening the vision of that vast throng with all its glory'. He spoke similarly about aural imagery: 'the jingling of the bayonets, as the stacked muskets tumbled one after another… The sound was so like that of sabres slapping against the heels and spurs of charging troopers'. Amongst those on the march was the 79th New York Infantry Regiment looking 'stanch and splendid'. Led by Colonel James Cameron, the regiment were nicknamed 'The Highlanders' in honour of their connection to New York Scottish fraternity organisations.

The Library’s copy of The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia was 'published at the office of the '"Irish-American"' in New York City by Lynch and Cole, publishers of the Irish-American newspaper, the foremost Irish organ for the largest community of Irish men and women in America. It was subsequently circulated in other Irish newspapers in the country, namely the Boston Pilot. The account is in three parts, leading to the suggestion the publishers serialised Meagher’s writings before producing a book form sometime in the last summer/early autumn of 1861. It is possible that it was used as part of Meagher’s promotion tour of Irish American communities in New York, Boston and Philadelphia while he was galvanising support for the formation of the Irish Brigade. Very few copies of the account in this book form exists today and although it appears in the bibliographies of Irish American, wartime and Meagher histories, it is rarely quoted from, with scholars choosing newspaper accounts of his numerous wartime speeches and Michael Cavanagh’s Memoirs of General Thomas Francis Meagher (General Reference Collection 10882.g.1.) as their primary source focus. With limited personal wartime writings of Thomas Francis Meagher available, The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia provides a revealing insight into one prominent Irish American’s contemporary account of the initial days of the American Civil War. It helps show how the Irishman’s gift of rhetorical skill transposed itself to his writing, despite his friend Captain W.F. Lyons stating in his book Brigadier-General Thomas Francis Meagher (General Reference Collection 10882.aaa.29.) that 'journalism was, in fact, not Meagher’s best field of action…[which] he had abandoned…for the stormy life of the soldier'.

What The Last Days of the 69th in Virginia demonstrates is that Meagher’s writing of the actual field of action was extremely eloquent. He could switch from the humorous – describing how Corcoran’s horse 'was greedily eating newspapers' on the morning of the First Battle of Bull Run – to the patriotic fervour that became commonplace amongst lyrical expressions of Irish American dual identity in the nineteenth century. He also provides a perfect description of why such a source is important for American Civil War scholars. Meagher’s account created 'a picture far more striking and exciting than any I had ever seen. War, assuredly, has its fascinations as well as its horrors…and so emboldens and spurs the tamest into heroism.'

Catherine Bateson