A Student of History

May 24, 2007

Still a Hoax after all these Years

Filed under: NC History — John Maass @ 6:40 am

In the Charlotte Observer from 5/20, there is an article on the so-called Mecklenburg Declaration, which purportedly declared the county independent over a year before the Continental Congress did on July 2, 1776. 

The problem is that there is no contemporary evidence of the Meck-Dec at all, just confused memories from the early 19th century.  A society now in existence claims the evcent happened like this:

On May 20, 1775, a group of Mecklenburg leaders met at the county courthouse at the crossroads of Trade and Tryon. They declared themselves independent from Britain in several documents, the foremost of which is a document known today as the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence (or “MecDec”). It was a reaction to the news that colonists had been massacred by the British at Lexington. On May 31, they drafted a second document—a set of resolves further outlining their independence and organizing their new governance.

A young tavern owner, Captain James Jack, volunteered to carry the documents 600 miles to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. It was a courageous act. He knew that if he were caught in possession of such seditious documents, he would be hanged. On horseback, Captain Jack slipped past British regulars and Tory spies. When he arrived in Philadelphia, he demanded that the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence be read into the record at the Continental Congress.

May 20th became a monumental date—it is displayed prominently on the North Carolina state flag and has been celebrated with great fanfare since the early 1820s. While the authenticity of the MecDec is questioned by some, the Spirit of MecDec is beyond doubt.

Either way, the article is an interesting read.

May 23, 2007

Join the Tanks!!

Filed under: NC History,Wars — John Maass @ 9:53 pm

Two striking World War I posters from the Poster Collection of the N.C. State Archives are available for purchase from the Historical Publications Section of the state Office of Archives and History. Each poster is enhanced with information about its purpose and about its artist.

The “Treat ۥEm Rough! Join the Tanks” poster (ca. 1917) was created by the artist August William Hutaf (1879-1942), an advertising executive best known for his commercial artwork. It was used as a recruiting poster for the U.S. Tank Corps. The dramatic poster, which measures 25½ x 40 inches, features an attacking cat leaping over a tank, which became (and remains) the trademark of the Tank Corps. The stark, colorful graphic design elicited strong emotions and remains a vivid reminder of the First World War.

Order from Historical Publications Section, Office of Archives and History, 4622 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-4622.

May 14, 2007

Spanish Martyrs for Virginia

Filed under: Early America,The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 7:38 pm

When I was a kid growing up in Virginia, I was always intrigued by the story of the Spanish mission near Yorktown.  Probably because of the English success in Virginia, as opposed to the Spanish lasting but a few years, along with a healthy dose of anti-Catholicism within the very “reformed” state as far as what gets taught and celebrated in the Old Dominion’s history lessons, the friars’ story gets short shrift.  Granted there is a historocal marker nearby, and the evidence is not as overflowing as that with regard to John Smith, Jamestown, and the Indians.

I have recently run across an an article that is 4 years old, but is a detailed account of the Spanish in Virginia in the 15th century by Matthew Anger.  It looks like he wrote the piece after some renewed interst in the mission in 2002, and I quote here the first few paragraphs of his lengthy article:

In 2002, the Diocese of Richmond opened the cause for the canonization of the Spanish Jesuit Martyrs of Virginia. This has renewed interest in the fascinating, almost fantastic, tale of a lost Spanish colony in Virginia and the men who died trying to convert the Ajacan Indians. In 1571, Fr. Segura and his seven companions were killed by hostile tribesmen at the St. Mary’s mission sited on Virginia’s Lower Peninsula, near the Chesapeake Bay. This was close to the spot where the English would permanently settle just thirty years later. Fr. Russell E. Smith is the postulator for the martyrs’ canonization and a judge with the diocesan tribunal. Fr. Smith learned about the Jesuit settlement while growing up in historic Williamsburg, Virginia and as a priest he took up the matter with the postulator general for the Society of Jesus, in Rome. The Virginia Historical Society and the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities have also lent their scholarly support for evidence of the Spanish mission. Meanwhile, the Richmond diocese has designated St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in New Kent County as the new Shrine of the Jesuit Martyrs.

Dilema Resolved

Filed under: Ireland,New books — John Maass @ 7:18 pm

A few days ago, I wrote about having to chose a book to take along on a trip.  I have decided to take Iron Kingdom, by Chris Clark.  Its a history of Prussia, from 1600 to WWII.  So far it reads incredibly well, whereas William Freehling’s second volume on secession was just to jarring and tortured in its prose.  And, if you write a 700 page book on just 6 years, the presumption must be that you have written too much and have fallen victim to the writer’s primary vanity–not knowing what to leave out of a book.  It is staying home….

Montpelier Dig

Filed under: Historic Places — John Maass @ 3:38 pm

This story from the Rocky Mountain News tells of digging at the James Madison estate at Montpelier, in Va.

After digging around James Madison’s sprawling Virginia estate, Matthew Reeves, an archaeologist, has determined that the former president spent a lot of time and money preparing for guests to arrive. Anticipating visits from hundreds of academics and dignitaries once he returned home from the White House, Madison undertook massive efforts to revamp his estate. He directed his slaves to build an artificial lawn, almost unheard of at the time, by moving thousands of tons of earth.

He also built several structures on his 5,000 acres, including a terraced garden and a neoclassical temple that sat over an ice house.

“They’re going to be receiving guests and having parties,” Reeves said. “They’re essentially making the family home not just into a functioning plantation, but something that would be a destination for visitors.” As the head of archaeology at Madison’s Montpelier estate, Reeves has started to research the gardens and lawns as part of a reconstruction project.

And like a lot of archaeologists trying to reconstruct early American estates, he is finding that these landscapes reveal a lot about life in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The third member of the Virginia Dynasty of Presidents, Madison built his Montpelier in Orange County to the north of Jefferson and Monroe. Their plan was to have this layout of estates across the rolling Piedmont region of central Virginia. Only about an hour’s driving time from Monticello and Ashlawn, Montpelier is a magnificent site. As you approach it across the single lane bridge and the private access road, you truly experience the vast expanse of a Virginia plantation estate. Across acres of lush green rises the prominent yellow house which is much more imposing than either Jefferson’s or Monroe’s homes.

Pope’s Strong Words

Filed under: The world today — John Maass @ 9:44 am

Pope Benedict XVI condemned globalization and Marxism as the causes of many of Latin America’s ills on the final day of his trip to Brazil, and lamented the wide gap between the region’s small elite and its poor masses.

“The Marxist system, where it found its way into government, not only left a sad heritage of economic and ecological destruction, but also a painful destruction of the human spirit,” the pope told a bishops’ conference on Sunday in Brazil.  Marxism also influences some grassroots Catholic activists in Latin America, remnants of the liberation theology movement Benedict moved to crush when he was a cardinal.

Liberation theology holds that the Christian faith should be reinterpreted specifically to deliver oppressed people from injustice.

Benedict also lashed out at unbridled capitalism and globalization. He warned the two could give “rise to a worrying degradation of personal dignity through drugs, alcohol and deceptive illusions of happiness.”

Out of the Office

Filed under: Ireland — John Maass @ 9:00 am

Please be aware that I will be out of town for 8 days in Ireland doing important research, so I will not have any new posts until after May 23rd.  I include below a photo of the library reading room where I will spend most of my time.  

Is it Jamestown?

Filed under: Early America — John Maass @ 8:55 am

From the Washington Post:

The colonists landed, short of food and supplies, after a long and harrowing transatlantic voyage. The initial exploring party stole a large quantity of corn that the Indians had carefully stored away for the hard winter. They then dug up some graves, looted items that had been buried with the dead and ransacked Indian houses. Furious fighting with the natives soon ensued. Once they had selected a site for their settlement, the migrants endured a winter of death in which they lost more than half their number.

Ah, of course, you’re thinking — Jamestown. All that looting and fighting and stealing and death. It’s the creation story from hell. But think again.

Read the rest of Karen Kupperman’s column here.

“Whatever You Resolve to Be”

Filed under: New books — John Maass @ 8:55 am

FYI, my recent review of Wilson Greene’s Whatever You Resolve to Be: Essays on Stonewall Jackson (University of Tennessee Press, 2005) is now posted at H-Civil War, here.


May 12, 2007

Go See Hopper

Filed under: Art — John Maass @ 10:10 pm

The first comprehensive survey of Edward Hopper’s career to be seen in American museums outside New York in more than 25 years is coming.

[Edward Hopper, Gas, Museum of Modern Art, New York]

In fact it just started in Boston.  Here are all the dates:  Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, May 6–August 19, 2007; National Gallery of Art, Washington, September 16, 2007–January 21, 2008; The Art Institute of Chicago, February 16–May 11, 2008.

The exhibit website states:

Edward Hopper was one of the foremost American realists of the twentieth century. In etchings, watercolors, and oil paintings, he portrayed ordinary places–drugstores, apartment houses, and small towns. Both commonplace and mysterious, these haunting images led many to praise him as the most American of painters.

Hopper’s career blossomed during the 1920s, when critics were calling for a distinctly American art. By the 1930s he was hailed as one of the great American Scene painters, along with Grant Wood and Thomas Hart Benton. Hopper insisted, however, that his work was primarily an expression of his personal feelings rather than an attempt to portray a national experience.

Hopper was born in Nyack, New York. As a child he enjoyed the solitary pleasures of reading and drawing. After high school, he studied illustration and then fine arts, attending the New York School of Art from 1903 to 1906. His teachers there were Kenneth Hayes Miller, William Merritt Chase, and Robert Henri, the latter a realist painter who urged students to depict all aspects of urban life. Early in his career, Hopper had to rely on the sale of his etchings and illustrations for income. But at age forty-two, he achieved success with an exhibition of watercolors portraying New England towns and was able to devote the rest of his career to painting.

Hopper established early the style and subject matter that brought him fame. He enjoyed exploring New England by car, and his paintings of motels, gas stations, and hotel lobbies evoked the moods and places of a tourist’s experience. Frequently he painted people alone or isolated from one another in introspective scenes that seemed to find modern life bleak and lonely. Sunlight also fascinated Hopper, and he used it masterfully to set mood. An avid theatergoer, he often created a suspenseful silence in his paintings, as if the curtain had just risen on a drama.

For more info, go here.

Edward Hopper, Railroad Sunset, 1929

Long may it wave?

Filed under: The strange place called the South — John Maass @ 11:18 am

 “The Flag” is still dogging some presidential candidtates in South Carolina.  While the issue seems to have faded somewhat in the Palmetto State,  “still, it’s never more visible to the rest of the nation than every four years when White House hopefuls troop through this early primary state and field questions about the flag. Candidates typically arrive with similar, scripted answers that only vary depending on their party affiliation.”

The NYT has a short article about this perplexing matter here

May 11, 2007

Top 10 Battles of All Time?

Filed under: Wars — John Maass @ 10:36 pm

From the History Place, a list of the “top ten battles” of all time, by LTC Michael Lanning, a retired soldier.  These things are ahistorical to say the least but they are fun to consider.   Lanning claims that these battles are a “ranking of battles according to their influence on history.”  Note that #7 is not a battle at all.  How come Antietam gets maned but not Gettysburg?  And if #4 was so decisive, why was there a #9?  And should Yorktown be included rather than Saratoga?

Has he never heard of Quebec (1759) at all?  Without that one, Yorktown never happens……..

Battle # 10 Vienna
Austria-Ottoman Wars, 1529

Battle # 9 Waterloo
Napoleonic Wars, 1815

Battle # 8 Huai-Hai
Chinese Civil War, 1948

Battle # 7 Atomic Bombing of Japan
World War II, 1945

Battle # 6 Cajamarca
Spanish Conquest of Peru, 1532

Battle # 5 Antietam
American Civil War, 1862

Battle # 4 Leipzig
Napoleonic Wars, 1813

Battle # 3 Stalingrad
World War II, 1942-43

Battle # 2 Hastings
Norman Conquest of England, 1066

Battle # 1 Yorktown
American Revolution, 1781

Michael Lee Lanning retired from the United States Army after more than twenty years of service. He is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, where he served as an infantry platoon leader and company commander. The ‘Top Ten Battles’ article presented here is from his latest book: “The Battle 100: The Stories Behind History’s Most Influential Battles,” illustrated by Bob Rosenburgh. Lanning has written fourteen books on military history, including The Military 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Military Leaders of All Time.

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