Latest News From Beaufort Inlet

The Queen Anne’s Revenge Shipwreck Project has posted a summary of their 2010 fall field season:

A total of 122 objects were recovered from the wreck site during the field season. Sixty-five concretions of varying sizes have the potential for containing hundreds of individual artifacts. These concretions will be X-rayed at the conservation lab to help identify what may be contained within. Some artifacts readily apparent on gross external examination include: cannon balls, cask hoops, a pewter plate, and the largest object recovered this season — multiple segments of a deadeye strop with the wood deadeye intact, likely from the port side main mast chain plate.

Drawing of the QAR from the Project’s 1999 management plan.

Lost in Plain Sight

Recently I attended a biannual meeting of The Association for the Study of Connecticut History where I heard Marta Daniels speak about her co-discovery of the first tract of land owned by Venture Smith. Smith, if you’ve never heard of him, was an 18th-century African slave who, through sheer acumen and industry, died in 1805 a free and wealthy Connecticut landowner. His autobiography is the only existing testimony in which the narrator describes his childhood in Africa, his subsequent capture and servitude in America, and his life as a free man. He’s becoming something of a folk hero here in Connecticut, as he should be.

Daniels, an antiquarian, described how she and hydrographer Nancy Byrne pinpointed Smith’s original land in Stonington. The general area of the tract was known but previous researchers had made several critical errors in interpreting Smith’s deed, leading to the wrong piece of land being attributed to him. What stumped historians was that the deed clearly noted the parcel’s four corners were marked by rocks with certain initials carved into them — but no one could find the rocks. By returning to the original deed and using GIS, Daniels and Byrne were able to correctly identify the shape and location of the parcel. The women then plunged into the muggy, mosquito-choked forest to test their theory, and sure enough, located the markers. The revealed parcel further demonstrates Smith’s business sense. As a rocky hillside, the 26 acres were probably perceived as junk land by whites, but for Smith, who made his money lumbering and trading, they were a trove, thickly wooded and providing access to the Sound. He sold the land four years later at a profit.

Daniels gave a longer version of the same presentation on C-SPAN.

Getting Your 18th Century On

Living in coastal New England is to be surrounded every moment by the architectural and geographic echoes of the colonial era. This year, the family and I took it further by tripping back to the 18th century with several historical vacations. What follows are some tips if you’re planning your own getaway.

Colonial Williamsburg is the Jerusalem for pilgrims of Revolutionary history. The foundation prints weekly calendars, available in the hotel lobbies, chock full of events and presentations. Whatever you do, don’t miss the Public Audience with a Founding Father, which usually occurs at 10 AM Tuesday through Thursday behind the Governor’s Palace. The depth and context provided by the actors (portraying Washington, Jefferson, and Patrick Henry) is amazing.

The website says reservations are required at all of the taverns, though we had no problem being seated at 11 AM at any of the three serving lunch. The food at all of them is fine, though I was partial to Shields Tavern. We found it impossible to get into Christiana Campbell’s without a reservation; you may want to book well ahead of time (like, several weeks ahead of time). I also strongly recommend the Blue Talon just beyond the colonial area. I had the curried goat special washed down with burnt-sugar ice cream and a glass of Calvados.

We stayed at the Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel just north of the historic area, and strolling under the bowers and past the frog pond on your way to 1775 is a pleasant way to begin the morning. There is a serious drawback: the only bar on the premises is a rinky-dink restaurant that’s closed more than it’s open, which nearly gave me a case of the DTs. If you too drink like a Founding Father, you may want stay closer to the taverns or Merchant’s Square.

What’s fantastic about Strawbery Banke is that it isn’t frozen in one period. Rather it shows the Portsmouth, New Hampshire neighborhood of Puddle Dock throughout its lifetime, from 17th-century settlement to 20th-century slum. The Shapley-Drisco House is a duplex with one side depicting a 1790s general store and the other a 1950s family home, complete with flickering television set and ash trays aplenty. Another building is furnished as a World War II-era grocery, ration lists posted on the wall. Kids should check out ye olde toys and games in the Jones House.

There’s only one restaurant on the premises plus a summertime ice cream shop, but being in the heart of Portsmouth means you don’t have to go far for great food. For breakfast, run — do not walk — to The Friendly Toast on Congress Street and order the pumpkin pancakes with Raisinets. For lunch I recommend RiRa Irish Pub in Market Square. History buffs may also want to visit the home of Declaration signatory William Whipple on Market Street.

And because our family just can’t get enough tricornes and sedition, we stopped at Old Sturbridge Village on our way home from Portsmouth. Whereas Colonial Williamsburg excels at recreating the climate of the Revolution, OSV complements it by exhibiting what folks did when they weren’t loitering in the colonial capitals debating taxes and insurrection. The working sawmill — slowly but persistently cutting a tree into planks with every turn of the water wheel — fascinates me. There’s also a cidery, a print shop, a shoe shop, and more.

When I was a kid, my family made a point of eating at the nearby Publick House whenever we passed through, a tradition that continues with my own peeps. The Oliver Wight Tavern, located at the entrance to OSV, is very good as well. The massive gift and bookstore adjacent to the restaurant always sucks us in for at least half an hour.

As the Marquis de Lafayette might have said, Bon voyage et bon chance.

Good Riddance, Robert Byrd

Robert Carlyle Byrd was born in North Carolina in 1917. After his mother’s death the following year, he was adopted by his aunt and uncle and raised in West Virginia.

In 1942, at the age of 24, he joined the Ku Klux Klan, where, according to Byrd, his felicity for bureaucratic politics was discovered. But by the early ’50s, Byrd announced he was no longer a dues-paying member.

Frederick Lewis Allen on the 20th-century rebirth of the Klan:

At first, in the South, white supremacy was the Klan’s chief objective, but as time went on and the organization grew and spread, opposition to the Jew and above all the Catholic proved best talking points for Kleagles in most localities. (Only Yesterday (New York: Perennial Classics, 2000), 58)

Remember that back in the day, “Catholic” was shorthand for Italians, Irish, Hispanics, and Poles. In other words: immigrants. Further, the KKK, just like Hitler, conflated “Judaism” with “Communism.”

R.A. Patton, writing in Current History, reported a grim series of brutalities from Alabama: “A lad whipped with branches until his back was ribboned flesh; a Negress beaten and left helpless to contract pneumonia from exposure and die; a white girl, divorcee, beaten into unconsciousness in her own home; a naturalized foreigner flogged until his back was a pulp because he married an American woman; a Negro lashed until he sold his land to a white man for a fraction of its value.” (Ibid., 59)

Byrd and 18 other senators (17 of them Democrats) filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 — a bill introduced by fellow Democrat John F. Kennedy, shepherded through the House and Senate by Democrats, and eventually signed into law by Democratic President Lyndon B. Johnson. Byrd also voted against the Voting Rights Act the following year, though he did vote for the Civil Rights Act of 1968.

Byrd also voted against the nominations of Thurgood Marshall (appointed by Johnson) in 1967 and Clarence Thomas (appointed by George H. W. Bush) in 1991. These men are the only two African-Americans to ever sit on the Supreme Court. Byrd was age 49 at the time of the first vote; 74 at the time of the second.

So in most of these negative votes, Byrd voted against his fellow Democrats. He wasn’t toeing a partisan line, but instead was motivated by something else.

But he changed, say his supporters! Byrd wasn’t a racist! He apologized, disavowing his previous prejudices and actions.

In 1982, Byrd’s grandson died, which apparently provoked a crisis of conscience in the 64-year-old senator. Byrd, when asked in a C-SPAN interview what vote he would change if he could, replied that he would switch his vote on Kennedy’s Civil Rights Act. He explained:

I lost a grandson in 1982. Fine-looking young man. Six-feet five, three hundred pounds, seventeen years old. Loved the outdoors. I lost him. He died in a truck crash. I won’t go through all the deep valleys that I tread during the following two years. I was majority leader then, I believe, at that time, which did take my mind away from that great tragedy to some extent. Anyhow, it came to my mind at that time how I loved this grandson. And it also came to my mind that black people love their grandsons too. And I, the more I thought about it, I thought, Well now, suppose I were black and my grandson and I were out on the highways in the mid-hours, the wee hours of the morning or midnight, and I stopped at a place to get that little grandson a glass of water or to have it go to the restroom, and there’s a sign, Whites Only. Black people love their grandsons as much as I love mine, and that’s just not right. And so we, who like myself were born in a Southern environment, grew up with Southern people, knew their feelings about the Civil War and all these things, I thought, My goodness, we ought to get ahead of the curve really, not have the law force us to do it, we ought to take down those signs. Well, that is what made me come to the conclusion that if I had to do it over again, I’d vote against that. I’d vote against that law.

Byrd realized black people love their grandsons too. In 1982. At age 64.

He wanted “to get ahead of the curve” on civil rights. In 1982. The same year my angel was the centerfold and Rocky Balboa was pounding on Clubber Lang.

Today the lilies of the Internet and the MSM bloom with memorials and eulogies to Robert Byrd. He was the longest-serving senator ever! He wrote a four-volume history of the Senate! He voted against the Iraq war! Byrd was also a hillbilly racist elected to the House and later the Senate in the 1950s by capitalizing on bigotry and kept there, in part, by the same. Only decades later, when his views became untenable to his comfortable lifestyle, did he claim to abandon them. In his prime, Byrd would have loathed me, my family, and just about everybody I know based on our ethnicities and/or religions. And today I’m supposed to feel reverence or get dewy-eyed for this POS?

Passage from the C-SPAN interview is my transcription. Byrd’s response begins around the 18:00 mark of part 2.

Happy Birthday, Nathan Hale

Whilst driving in Long Island to visit the in-laws, the subject of Connecticut state hero Nathan Hale somehow arose. Mrs. Kuhl informed the boys and me that Hale came ashore and was seized by the British in her hometown, in a neighborhood since dubbed Halesite. I was astonished; I knew the story, but didn’t realize he was captured in the Loyalist stronghold of Huntington. Upon asking if there is a plaque commemorating the event, I learned that not only is that the case, said memorial lies but a hundred yards from my father-in-law’s boatyard.

The tires squealed and a detour was made. We disembarked and examined the marker — whereupon we realized coincidentally today is the 255th anniversary of Hale’s birth.

So happy birthday, Nathan Hale! Though your career in espionage was short, we remember you many years after your murder.

And hey, New York — how’s that King George thing working out?

From the Halls of Massapequa to the Shores of Port Jeff

Michael Trinklein, author of the book currently topping my Amazon queue, says the scheme for Long Island to break from New York has legs:

Seceding from the nation is illegal and, practically speaking, impossible. But seceding from a state to form a new state is allowed by the U.S. Constitution — and the specifications are straightforward. Article IV Section 3 says a proposal first needs to get the approval of the existing state legislature. Dozens of plans have been debated in statehouses over the years, and in a handful of cases, legislatures have passed measures to split their states. In 1819, for example, the Massachusetts legislature voted to release its northern district — unconnected to the rest of the state — to become the new state of Maine.

Trinklein goes on to argue that potentially liberal new states — likely to send more Democrats to Washington — need to pair themselves with conservative secession attempts elsewhere to encourage bipartisan Congressional approval. That’s reminiscent of state-making efforts early in our country’s history, when the southern states agitated for the creation of Kentucky and Tennessee to balance the addition of abolitionist Vermont.

Trinklein’s essay in the WSJ here. Me on Lawng Island secession here.

Lost States has a bonus backstory further endearing it to my heart: the original edition was self-published. Yet more disproof of the corporate lie that self-publishing is harmful to a writer’s career.