Franklin’s Family

One of the interesting things we learned this summer in Philadelphia is that Benjamin Franklin lived in a common-law relationship with his wife Deborah Read, from 1730 until her death in 1774. Was this on account of Franklin’s principled unorthodoxy, the same spirit that impelled him to reject organized religion and to appear at the court of the French king wearing a rustic fur hat? Not really – it was simply that Read could not prove that her first husband was actually dead, and could thus not remarry without committing bigamy. Franklin and Read spent much time apart, however – allegedly she hated sea travel, and so did not accompany Franklin on his many trips to Europe. Another theory “suggests that a debate over the failed treatment of their son’s smallpox was the culprit.” See an extensive article in this month’s Smithsonian Magazine for more details.

Franklin already had an illegitimate child by another relationship before he set up house with Read; this was William Franklin (d. 1813). William grew up to be the last colonial governor of New Jersey and interestingly, remained a steadfast loyalist during the Revolutionary War. He ended his days in London unreconciled to his father.


Christians like to believe that they are the heirs to the covenant, but they don’t like you confusing them with the original holders of the covenant. Thus they retain some Jewish practice, but they make sure to change it in certain ways, e.g.:

• they take one day off per week, but it’s Sunday, not Saturday.

• they use the Psalms in worship, but will often Christianize them by adding the Gloria Patri at the end of each one.

• Easter, like Passover, is a moveable feast, but Christians have arranged things so that Easter is never on the same day as Passover.

• something that until recently escaped my notice: a detail from the seal of Dartmouth College:

The Hebrew reads “El Shaddai” and means “God Almighty,” but note what it’s on – a triangle, obviously referring to the Holy Trinity. It’s as though to say, “Look at us, we know Hebrew! But please don’t confuse us with actual Hebrews.”

If you’re interested, more information on the Dartmouth seal may be found in “Notes from the Special Collections: The Dartmouth College Seal,” which appeared in the April 1997 number of the Dartmouth College Library Bulletin. I’m still proud of my first real article but I would like to note that Sir William Johnson, 1st Baronet, was not an Anglican priest, the mangled Hebrew in figure 1 does not look like “Arabic” (or any script at all really), and the seal of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, on which the Dartmouth seal is based, looks like this (this image was not included in the original article):


The Autobiography

Some good ones from Ben Franklin. I pasted these Quotations from the Project Gutenberg e-text, which unfortunately does not preserve Franklin’s eighteenth-century Custom of capitalizing Nouns.

• His reason for writing:

“And, lastly (I may as well confess it, since my denial of it will be believed by nobody), perhaps I shall a good deal gratify my own vanity. Indeed, I scarce ever heard or saw the introductory words, “Without vanity I may say,” &c., but some vain thing immediately followed. Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others that are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life.”

• Not rational, but rationalizing!

“So convenient a thing it is to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”

• Thus always to nay-sayers:

“There are croakers in every country, always boding its ruin. Such a one then lived in Philadelphia; a person of note, an elderly man, with a wise look and a very grave manner of speaking; his name was Samuel Mickle. This gentleman, a stranger to me, stopt one day at my door, and asked me if I was the young man who had lately opened a new printing-house. Being answered in the affirmative, he said he was sorry for me, because it was an expensive undertaking, and the expense would be lost; for Philadelphia was a sinking place, the people already half-bankrupts, or near being so; all appearances to the contrary, such as new buildings and the rise of rents, being to his certain knowledge fallacious; for they were, in fact, among the things that would soon ruin us. And he gave me such a detail of misfortunes now existing, or that were soon to exist, that he left me half melancholy. Had I known him before I engaged in this business, probably I never should have done it. This man continued to live in this decaying place, and to declaim in the same strain, refusing for many years to buy a house there, because all was going to destruction; and at last I had the pleasure of seeing him give five times as much for one as he might have bought it for when he first began his croaking.

• Eighteenth-century Deism:

“Tho’ I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He us’d to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administrations, and I was now and then prevail’d on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday’s leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforc’d, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens.

“At length he took for his text that verse of the fourth chapter of Philippians, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, or of good report, if there be any virtue, or any praise, think on these things.” And I imagin’d, in a sermon on such a text, we could not miss of having some morality. But he confin’d himself to five points only, as meant by the apostle, viz.: 1. Keeping holy the Sabbath day. 2. Being diligent in reading the holy Scriptures. 3. Attending duly the publick worship. 4. Partaking of the Sacrament. 5. Paying a due respect to God’s ministers. These might be all good things; but, as they were not the kind of good things that I expected from that text, I despaired of ever meeting with them from any other, was disgusted, and attended his preaching no more.”

• Useful advice for advancing in the world:

“I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto [the literary society he founded], the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix’d opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I adopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny’d myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear’d or seem’d to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engag’d in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos’d my opinions procur’d them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail’d with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.”

• On female education:

“On his decease, the business was continued by his widow, who, being born and bred in Holland, where, as I have been inform’d, the knowledge of accounts makes a part of female education, she not only sent me as clear a state as she could find of the transactions past, but continued to account with the greatest regularity and exactness every quarter afterwards, and managed the business with such success, that she not only brought up reputably a family of children, but, at the expiration of the term, was able to purchase of me the printing-house, and establish her son in it. I mention this affair chiefly for the sake of recommending that branch of education for our young females, as likely to be of more use to them and their children, in case of widowhood, than either music or dancing, by preserving them from losses by imposition of crafty men, and enabling them to continue, perhaps, a profitable mercantile house, with establish’d correspondence, till a son is grown up fit to undertake and go on with it, to the lasting advantage and enriching of the family.”

• On vaccination:

“In 1736 I lost one of my sons, a fine boy of four years old, by the small-pox, taken in the common way. I long regretted bitterly, and still regret that I had not given it to him by inoculation. This I mention for the sake of parents who omit that operation, on the supposition that they should never forgive themselves if a child died under it; my example showing that the regret may be the same either way, and that, therefore, the safer should be chosen.”

• Famous advice:

“I therefore did not like the opposition of this new member, who was a gentleman of fortune and education, with talents that were likely to give him, in time, great influence in the House, which, indeed, afterwards happened. I did not, however, aim at gaining his favour by paying any servile respect to him, but, after some time, took this other method. Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.” And it shows how much more profitable it is prudently to remove, than to resent, return, and continue inimical proceedings.”

• On how we manage to serve both God and Mammon:

“My being many years in the Assembly, the majority of which were constantly Quakers, gave me frequent opportunities of seeing the embarrassment given them by their principle against war, whenever application was made to them, by order of the crown, to grant aids for military purposes. They were unwilling to offend government, on the one hand, by a direct refusal; and their friends, the body of the Quakers, on the other, by a compliance contrary to their principles; hence a variety of evasions to avoid complying, and modes of disguising the compliance when it became unavoidable. The common mode at last was, to grant money under the phrase of its being “for the king’s use,” and never to inquire how it was applied.”

• An astute observation:

“Human felicity is produc’d not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day. Thus, if you teach a poor young man to shave himself, and keep his razor in order, you may contribute more to the happiness of his life than in giving him a thousand guineas. The money may be soon spent, the regret only remaining of having foolishly consumed it; but in the other case, he escapes the frequent vexation of waiting for barbers, and of their sometimes dirty fingers, offensive breaths, and dull razors; he shaves when most convenient to him, and enjoys daily the pleasure of its being done with a good instrument. With these sentiments I have hazarded the few preceding pages, hoping they may afford hints which some time or other may be useful to a city I love, having lived many years in it very happily, and perhaps to some of our towns in America.”

• Another one (although I don’t quite agree with this; busy work to no real end is also demoralizing):

“This gave me occasion to observe, that, when men are employ’d, they are best content’d; for on the days they worked they were good-natur’d and cheerful, and, with the consciousness of having done a good day’s work, they spent the evening jollily; but on our idle days they were mutinous and quarrelsome, finding fault with their pork, the bread, etc., and in continual ill-humor, which put me in mind of a sea-captain, whose rule it was to keep his men constantly at work; and, when his mate once told him that they had done every thing, and there was nothing further to employ them about, ‘Oh,’ says he, ‘Make them scour the anchor.'”

• You attract more flies with honey than with vinegar:

“We had for our chaplain a zealous Presbyterian minister, Mr. Beatty, who complained to me that the men did not generally attend his prayers and exhortations. When they enlisted, they were promised, besides pay and provisions, a gill of rum a day, which was punctually serv’d out to them, half in the morning, and the other half in the evening; and I observ’d they were as punctual in attending to receive it; upon which I said to Mr. Beatty, “It is, perhaps, below the dignity of your profession to act as steward of the rum, but if you were to deal it out and only just after prayers, you would have them all about you.” He liked the tho’t, undertook the office, and, with the help of a few hands to measure out the liquor, executed it to satisfaction, and never were prayers more generally and more punctually attended; so that I thought this method preferable to the punishment inflicted by some military laws for non-attendance on divine service.”

• On arranged marriages:

“I inquir’d concerning the Moravian marriages, whether the report was true that they were by lot. I was told that lots were us’d only in particular cases; that generally, when a young man found himself dispos’d to marry, he inform’d the elders of his class, who consulted the elder ladies that govern’d the young women. As these elders of the different sexes were well acquainted with the tempers and dispositions of their respective pupils, they could best judge what matches were suitable, and their judgments were generally acquiesc’d in; but if, for example, it should happen that two or three young women were found to be equally proper for the young man, the lot was then recurred to. I objected, if the matches are not made by the mutual choice of the parties, some of them may chance to be very unhappy. “And so they may,” answer’d my informer, “if you let the parties chuse for themselves;” which, indeed, I could not deny.

• The Fundamental Disagreement:

Accordingly Mr. Hanbury called for me and took me in his carriage to that nobleman’s, who receiv’d me with great civility; and after some questions respecting the present state of affairs in America and discourse thereupon, he said to me: ‘You Americans have wrong ideas of the nature of your constitution; you contend that the king’s instructions to his governors are not laws, and think yourselves at liberty to regard or disregard them at your own discretion. But those instructions are not like the pocket instructions given to a minister going abroad, for regulating his conduct in some trifling point of ceremony. They are first drawn up by judges learned in the laws; they are then considered, debated, and perhaps amended in Council, after which they are signed by the king. They are then, so far as they relate to you, the law of the land, for the king is the Legislator of the Colonies.’ I told his lordship this was new doctrine to me. I had always understood from our charters that our laws were to be made by our Assemblies, to be presented indeed to the king for his royal assent, but that being once given the king could not repeal or alter them. And as the Assemblies could not make permanent laws without his assent, so neither could he make a law for them without theirs. He assur’d me I was totally mistaken.


Obviously I would need to read others’ opinions of Franklin before coming to my own judgment of his character. But I quite like the image he presents of himself in his Autobiography. He is constantly striving for improvement, in himself and in the world around him, which is how he came up with all the inventions for which he is famous. He even lists thirteen virtues that he would like to cultivate in himself, and keeps a chart recording how he exercises each one on a daily basis, much as my kids get a chore chart on the fridge. (Not everyone acts this way, of course, but an unwillingness to accept the world as it is, and to seek to change it through work and ingenuity, seems a particularly American trait.) And yet through it all he never loses his wry sense of humor (which is not American, but something I certainly appreciate).

Washington’s Teeth

An update to the post below about Mount Vernon, in particular about the nature of George Washington’s dentures. A web comic that goes by the name of The Oatmeal, earlier this year, used Washington’s false teeth as an example of beliefs that fundamentally challenge us. I recall that this one was widely shared on Facebook. The relevant bits:

You may have heard that Washington had wooden teeth. He lost most of his teeth in his twenties and had a set of dentures made out of wood.

Except it isn’t true. In 2005, at the National Museum of Dentistry in Baltimore, laser scans were performed on Washington’s two-hundred-year old dentures, and found them to be made of gold, lead, hippopotamus ivory, horse, and donkey teeth.

Upon learning this information, how did you feel about George Washington’s teeth?

I stated a thing, I provided evidence of that thing, and presumably you now believe in the thing I stated. Presumably, your belief in the composition of George Washington’s teeth has changed with little or no friction.

But what if I told you George Washington had another set of false teeth? What if I told you this other set wasn’t made from wood, ivory, or any of the aforementioned materials?

What if I told you it was made from the teeth of slaves? (Source 1, Source 2, Source 3)

Now, let’s try this again. How did it feel to learn this fact about George Washington?

Any of the friction I mentioned earlier?

You may have noticed that the first fact about George Washington’s teeth was rather easy to accept. But when I told you the second fact, you immediately checked my sources and are now furiously composing an informed-yet-incendiary retort which you will boldly deliver to me in the form of a sour, blustering Facebook comment.

Matthew Inman, author of The Oatmeal, goes on to examine this so-called “backfire effect,” which occurs when we encounter beliefs that fundamentally challenge us and prompt our limbic system to respond as though we are being threatened with physical danger. This phenomenon deserves wider attention, if only to make people ashamed of it and encourage them to get over it, perhaps through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. After all, we cannot have universities, devoted to the free pursuit and communication of ideas, if everyone is running around being “triggered” by ideas they disagree with, equating those ideas with “violence,” requiring “safe spaces” as protection from them and soothing expressions of parental concern from the university administration, who have better things to do. Alas, this fundamentally adolescent mode of behavior is becoming all the more common in American academia, doubtlessly because the anti-bullying movement has encouraged people to believe that any difficulty they encounter is not only unpleasant, but morally illegitimate (requiring “emotional labor” to overcome), because university staffers feel the need to justify their employment by “doing something” about whatever is brought to their attention, and because liberal academics are desperate to be seen as being on the correct side of things politically.

But I digress.

I swear that I was not particularly upset to discover that Washington’s dentures were made of the teeth of slaves, although it doesn’t reflect all that well on him. My first thought was that surely they extracted them from dead bodies, in an early form of organ donation? Apparently not! But the evidence is somewhat oblique. It comes in the form of an entry in one of Wasington’s account books, which:

details Washington’s purchase of 9 teeth from “Negroes” for 122 shillings. It’s not clear if Washington intended to use these teeth as implants or within a new set of dentures or if he employed the teeth at all. While this transaction might seem morbid to a modern audience, purchasing human teeth was a fairly common practice in the 18th century for affluent individuals.

“Source 2” above (the Washington Papers Project at UVA) provides more information:

The only documentation of which we are aware of George Washington purchasing teeth from slaves is a brief notation in his ledger books. The physical evidence, a pair of Washington’s dentures that includes human teeth, is part of the collection at Mount Vernon. As to the circumstances surrounding the creation of these dentures, the best historians can do is make an educated guess.  Like all historical theories, this conclusion should be grounded in historical context, supplemental primary and secondary documents, and sound reasoning. But without further documentation, it is impossible to describe the scenario in definitive terms. We are not even entirely positive that the teeth whose price is recorded in the Ledger Book are the same as those in the dentures.

Lund Washington, George’s distant cousin who managed Mount Vernon during the Revolution, made a notation in the plantation ledger books for May 1784: “By Cash pd Negroes for 9 Teeth on Acct of Dr. Lemoire.” This “Dr. Lemoire” was almost certainly George Washington’s dentist, Dr. Jean Le Mayeur, who corresponded with George Washington about his visit to Mount Vernon that summer.

Wherever Dr. Le Mayeur practiced, he sought out through newspaper ads “Persons who are willing to dispose of their Front Teeth.” While in New York, he advertised that he would pay two guineas each for good front teeth; in Richmond, he stipulated “slaves excepted.” That could explain why the price noted by Lund Washington was so low. Nine teeth sold for two guineas each would be worth almost nineteen pounds; Washington paid only slightly more than six pounds.

Without further documentation, we can only speculate on the sequence of events leading to the inclusion of human teeth in George Washington’s dentures. Perhaps Dr. Le Mayeur offered George Washington a deal in which Washington saved on teeth by buying them at a much-discounted rate from his own slaves rather than from Dr. Le Mayeur. It is also possible that George or Lund Washington forced one or more of their enslaved people to part with their teeth, paying them a drastically reduced price. Under Virginia’s laws at the time, no plantation owner would have faced legal consequences for such an action.

Sad, if true. But at least he paid something for them, rather than just taking them without any compensation at all…


Happy to have experienced Philadelphia for the first time this summer. Unfortunately, we did not get to spend too much time there, but we did get to see the two biggest historical attractions: the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall. As a bonus we got to learn something about Benjamin Franklin.

The Liberty Bell, so-called from the 1830s, was cast in London for the legislative building of the Province of Pennsylvania (now designated Independence Hall). The idea is that the bell was rung to announce the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, although there is no documentary proof that this actually happened. Its distinctive large crack developed some time in the early nineteenth century, rendering it unringable – but granting it a great amount of what Stephanie Trigg would call “mythic capital.”

You get to see it in the Liberty Bell Center, run by the National Parks Service, located across the street from Independence Hall. Annoyingly, you have to pass through an airport-level security checkpoint to get in, but the NPS does give you information about the object’s history and its place in the American psyche – it used to go on tour throughout the country, and in the nineteenth century became a symbol of the desire for liberty by African-Americans and women, in addition to being reproduced countless times in various media.

UPDATE: I just received this in the mail:

Also, I saw these at a local supermarket:

Here are a couple more:

Independence Hall isn’t quite as well-known a symbol as the Liberty Bell, but it certainly has been influential architecturally (see buildings at Dartmouth, Berea, Mercer, Rust, Dearborn, etc.)

The building’s original function was as the seat of the colonial legislature of the Province of Pennsylvania. The first floor housed the supreme court on one side, and the legislative chamber on the other. It was in the latter of these that the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence (July 2, 1776), and members of the Constitutional Convention drafted the Constitution in the summer of 1787.

Our NPS interpreter (a recent Temple University BA in English) explains the room’s history.

A fun fact: the Declaration of Independence was printed before it was handwritten. The representatives spent two days debating what exactly they were going to accuse George III of before sending it to the printer on July 4 (the reason that this date now marks Independence Day); they regathered in August to affix their signatures to a manuscript copy, which is now on display in the National Archives in DC.

(Related: the first printer of the Declaration was John Dunlap; in 1777 Congress commissioned Mary Katherine Goddard of Baltimore to print a new edition [the “Goddard Broadside“] including the signatories’ names; she boldy printed her own name at the bottom.)

Walking down the street afterwards we were accosted by Ben Franklin (a.k.a. actor Rick Bravo), with whom we had a good chat.

He enjoined us to visit his house further down the street. Not much of it still exists, although a “ghost house,” designed by architect Robert Venturi, now outlines where it once was, with concrete hoods that allow you to view the foundations of the original structure.

On the west side of this “Franklin Court” is the Benjamin Franklin Museum, a brutalist structure put up for the bicentennial in 1976. The National Parks Service has recently redone the exhibits, and they provide an informative and interactive view of Franklin’s career. To the north end of the court is a print shop (one of Franklin’s jobs was as a printer), where NPS employees will demonstrate the use of an eighteenth-century printing press. An adjacent working post office (Franklin served as the first Postmaster General) will allow you to send letters with specially designed cancellation marks.

Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography is now on my reading list for the summer.


Via Instapundit, an interesting article on pirates, from Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities (so you should probably visit the site while you still can):

A Lot of What Is Known about Pirates Is Not True, and a Lot of What Is True Is Not Known

By Mark G. Hanna

In 1701, in Middletown, New Jersey, Moses Butterworth languished in a jail, accused of piracy. Like many young men based in England or her colonies, he had joined a crew that sailed the Indian Ocean intent on plundering ships of the Muslim Mughal Empire. Throughout the 1690s, these pirates marauded vessels laden with gold, jewels, silk, and calico on pilgrimage toward Mecca. After achieving great success, many of these men sailed back into the Atlantic via Madagascar to the North American seaboard, where they quietly disembarked in Charleston, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York City, Newport, and Boston, and made themselves at home.

When Butterworth was captured, he admitted to authorities that he had served under the notorious Captain William Kidd, arriving with him in Boston before making his way to New Jersey. This would seem quite damning. Governor Andrew Hamilton and his entourage rushed to Monmouth County Court to quickly try Butterworth for his crimes. But the swashbuckling Butterworth was not without supporters.

In a surprising turn of events, Samuel Willet, a local leader, sent a drummer, Thomas Johnson, to sound the alarm and gather a company of men armed with guns and clubs to attack the courthouse. One report estimated the crowd at over a hundred furious East Jersey residents. The shouts of the men, along with the “Drum beating,” made it impossible to examine Butterworth and ask him about his financial and social relationships with the local Monmouth gentry.

Armed with clubs, locals Benjamin and Richard Borden freed Butterworth from the colonial authorities. “Commanding ye Kings peace to be keept,” the judge and sheriff drew their swords and injured both Bordens in the scuffle. Soon, however, the judge and sheriff were beaten back by the crowd, which succeeded in taking Butterworth away. The mob then seized Hamilton, his followers, and the sheriff, taking them prisoner in Butterworth’s place.

A witness claimed this was not a spontaneous uprising but “a Design for some Considerable time past,” as the ringleaders had kept “a pyratt in their houses and threatened any that will offer to seize him.”

Governor Hamilton had felt that his life was in danger. Had the Bordens been killed in the melee, he said, the mob would have murdered him. As it was, he was confined for four days until Butterworth was free and clear.

Jailbreaks and riots in support of alleged pirates were common throughout the British Empire during the late seventeenth century. Local political leaders openly protected men who committed acts of piracy against powers that were nominally allied or at peace with England. In large part, these leaders were protecting their own hides: Colonists wanted to prevent depositions proving that they had harbored pirates or purchased their goods. Some of the instigators were fathers-in-law of pirates.

There were less materialist reasons, too, why otherwise upstanding members of the community rebelled in support of sea marauders. Many colonists feared that crack-downs on piracy masked darker intentions to impose royal authority, set up admiralty courts without juries of one’s peers, or even force the establishment of the Anglican Church. Openly helping a pirate escape jail was also a way of protesting policies that interfered with the trade in bullion, slaves, and luxury items such as silk and calico from the Indian Ocean.

Much more at the link. It’s interesting how such popular violence was a part of life in early America.


As regular readers know, I am a great fan of heraldry, flags, and identifying emblems in general. On a recent road trip from Georgia to Texas and back again, I was pleased to note a lot of historic flags in use.

1. As we passed into Texas on I-10, we saw six flags flying at the Welcome Center, representing the six sovereign entities that have ruled Texas in the past.


These are, from left to right: the United States, Texas, the Confederacy, Mexico, France, and Spain. Some notes:


Flag of Texas (Wikipedia).

• Texas, of course, acted as its own country from 1836 to 1845, between its secession from Mexico and its joining the USA. It retains this former national flag as its state flag. The design is wonderfully simple, even striking, and consequently flown quite a lot by Texans (including massive ones at car dealerships). This positively reinforces civic pride, as Roman Mars notes.


First national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Confederate Flag flown is the first national flag with seven stars, which is appropriate as Texas was one of the original seven signatories to the CSA in early 1861. Displaying the Stars and Bars helps to avoid the appearance of the ever-controversial Confederate Battle Flag, which appears on the canton of the second and third national flags.


Second national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).


Third national flag, CSA (Wikipedia).

• The Mexican Flag (Texas was a Mexican state between 1821 and 1836) is actually the version flown in the 1820s, i.e. this:


Flag of the Mexican Republic, 1823-1864 (Wikipedia).

And not this:


Flag of the United Mexican States, from 1968 (Wikipedia).

I appreciate such attention to detail!

• Bourbon France is represented by Argent semé de lys Or, i.e. a white field strewn with gold fleur de lys, one of the flags that the regime used:



The “Six Flags” display is popular in Texas; other royal French flags employed elsewhere include Argent three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a white field with only three gold fleur de lys on it) and Azure three fleur de lys Or (i.e. a blue field with three gold fleur de lys). This last one makes for the best flag in my opinion – you want a dark color to contrast with the sky, and with the fleur de lys, even though this one is technically a banner of arms, and not a flag. Here it is at the Alamo:


• Finally, there are several options for the flag of royal Spain. The flag displayed, according to Wikipedia, is Spain’s “navy and coastal fortifications flag 1785-1843, and national flag 1843-73 and 1874-1931.”


Ensign of Spain, 1785-1843 (Wikipedia).

Elsewhere, Texans fly a quartered flag of Castile and Leon:


Outside the Bullock Texas State History Museum.

An elaborate war ensign:


From a display at a Spanish mission in San Antonio.

Or, best of all in my opinion, the Cross of Burgundy Flag. It’s simple, distinctive, and historically accurate.


At Misión San José in San Antonio.


From a display in Misión San Francisco de la Espada in San Antonio.

2. The Louisiana Welcome Center on I-10 flies two flags, the current Louisiana flag, and the Bonnie Blue Flag (apparently upside down!).


The Bonnie Blue Flag was used by some Confederates as an unofficial emblem; it is immortalized in a song. What people tend not to realize, however, is that this flag had been used earlier by Fulwar Skipwith’s breakaway Republic of West Florida for a few months in 1810, and the I-10 welcome center is in one of these so-called Florida Parishes.

Interestingly, in the Louisiana State Capitol, the Bonnie Blue Flag is shown as light blue. Apparently this was the actual shade of the flag of the Republic of West Florida. Thus, it appears that the RWF and Somalia have something in common.


3. To the immediate left of the Bonnie Blue Flag in the photo above is a flag the reader has probably not seen before.


Flag of Louisiana, 1861 (Wikipedia).

This is the flag flown by Louisiana between its secession from the Union, and its joining of the Confederacy, in 1861. Not a bad design – I wish they had kept it as their state flag, in the mode of Texas.

(You’ll also note the flag of Republican France on the right in the photo above – Napoleon reacquired Louisiana from Spain in 1800, but then sold it to the United States in 1803.)

(You’ll also note the third national flag of the CSA. It would not surprise me if this gets changed sometime soon.)

4. A similar situation prevails in Mississippi. We drove most of the way from Mobile, Ala. to New Orleans, La. along a coastal scenic route. We thus passed Beauvoir, President Jefferson Davis’s retirement home and now Presidential Library. I did not get any pictures, but Beauvoir doesn’t mess around: flying out front are large versions of the Bonnie Blue Flag, the three national flags of the CSA, the Confederate Battle Flag, the current Mississippi flag, and the Magnolia Flag:


Magnolia Flag (Wikipedia).

According to Wikipedia, this flag was Mississippi’s official flag from 1861 until 1865; it remained in unofficial use until 1894, when the current state flag was adopted. And we all know the problem with the current flag.


The Confederate Battle Flag on the canton survived a referendum in 2001, but I would have no problem with the governor changing it by fiat anyway, because Confederate symbols have no place connected to current symbols of sovereignty. Furthermore, the Confederacy lasted all of four years, was in defense of a horrible cause, and went down in flames. (Why not a canton of the Union Jack, or the Cross of Burgundy? Those were also episodes in Mississippi’s history – and probably happier ones.) The Magnolia Flag is a nice design and especially appropriate to the state: eleven states were in the Confederacy, but there’s only one Magnolia State.

In the meantime, when displays of all the state flags are needed, the Mississippi flag should probably be placed a little more discreetly than it was at the Superbowl this year:


Or at this citizenship ceremony:

immigration5. The City of New Orleans has a nice flag, even if it has gold fleurs de lys on a white background:


6. In 1965, Thomas J. Arseneaux designed the flag of Acadiana, that is, a flag for those of Cajun ancestry:


I was pleased to learn about this one, because there is a similar flag in Canada: the flag of Acadia is a French tricolor, defaced with a gold star.



7. We spent the night in Gonzales, Texas, and thereby discovered the existence of the Gonzales Flag.



In 1831, the Mexican government had given the residents of Gonzales a cannon for defense. At the outbreak of the Texan Revolution in 1835, however, the Mexicans sent a force to take it back, and the Gonzalans replied with a suitable Laconic phrase, embroidered on an improvised flag. The Battle of Gonzales was the first military engagement in the Revolution, and inspiring for the Texans, as the Mexicans were forced to retreat without their cannon.

I’m surprised that this flag is not more popular among right-leaning Americans (cf. “Don’t Tread On Me“). Current residents of Gonzales certainly cherish it:

IMG_2746IMG_2748 IMG_2750

8. Finally, the Louisiana state history museum exhibits an unofficial flag celebrating Louisiana’s admission as the eighteenth state of the Union in 1810.


You’ll notice that this flag has eighteen stars – and eighteen stripes! Actually the official flag of the United States stopped with fifteen stars and fifteen stripes when Kentucky was admitted in 1792, but people kept adding both stars and stripes anyway out of pride. Only in 1818 did official word come down that the number of stripes should revert to thirteen, and the number of stars increase to twenty, for the number of states by that time.

Albion’s Seed

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex provides an excellent synopsis of David Hackett Fischer’s great book Albion’s Seed. Intro:

In school, we tend to think of the original American colonists as “Englishmen”, a maximally non-diverse group who form the background for all of the diversity and ethnic conflict to come later. Fischer’s thesis is the opposite. Different parts of the country were settled by very different groups of Englishmen with different regional backgrounds, religions, social classes, and philosophies. The colonization process essentially extracted a single stratum of English society, isolated it from all the others, and then plunked it down on its own somewhere in the Eastern US.

I used to play Alpha Centauri, a computer game about the colonization of its namesake star system. One of the dynamics that made it so interesting was its backstory, where a Puerto Rican survivalist, an African plutocrat, and other colorful characters organized their own colonial expeditions and competed to seize territory and resources. You got to explore not only the settlement of a new world, but the settlement of a new world by societies dominated by extreme founder effects. What kind of weird pathologies and wonderful innovations do you get when a group of overly romantic Scottish environmentalists is allowed to develop on its own trajectory free of all non-overly-romantic-Scottish-environmentalist influences? Albion’s Seed argues that this is basically the process that formed several early US states.

Fischer describes four of these migrations: the Puritans to New England in the 1620s, the Cavaliers to Virginia in the 1640s, the Quakers to Pennsylvania in the 1670s, and the Borderers to Appalachia in the 1700s.

Read the whole thing, which proceeds to extrapolate current voting patterns from Fischer’s thesis.

Thoughts I have had while lecturing

I. An interesting shift: at one point African-American slaves took inspiration from Moses leading the Hebrew slaves out of bondage from Egypt, hence the spiritual:

When Israel was in Egypt’s land, Let My people go!
Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let My people go!
Go down, Moses, Way down in Egypt’s land;
Tell old Pharaoh To let My people go!

But of course Egypt is African, or judged to be representative of Africa, so starting in the twentieth century African-Americans began to look back with admiration on ancient Egypt, partly as a riposte to the European idealization of Ancient Greece (this is where the Afrocentric charge that the latter “stole” everything from the former comes from). Thus, for example, Alpha Phi Alpha, the nation’s first black fraternity, founded at Cornell in 1906 and which:

utilizes motifs from Ancient Egypt and uses images and songs depicting the Her-em-akhet (Great Sphinx of Giza), pharaohs, and other Egyptian artifacts to represent the organization…. This is in contrast to other fraternities that traditionally echo themes from the golden age of Ancient Greece. Alpha’s constant reference to Ethiopia in hymns and poems are further examples of Alpha’s mission to imbue itself with an African cultural heritage.

(This despite the fact that they use Greek letters to identify themselves – why not a couple of hieroglyphs?)

I suppose the fall of slavery in the United States lessened the appeal of the ancient Hebrews, allowing the shift toward sympathizing with the Egyptians.

II. One of my favorite records when I was in college features the novelty song “Istanbul (not Constantinople),” which dates from the 1950s and is (I suppose) a celebration of the rise of nationalist Turkey. By way of explaining the name change of that county’s most famous city, the song points out a parallel situation:

Even old New York, was once New Amsterdam.
Why they changed it I can’t say, people just liked it better that way.

But perhaps a more accurate assessment of this name change is that the British defeated their continental rivals the Dutch and took possession of the New Netherlands in 1664, and promptly changed the names of New Amsterdam and Fort Orange to New York and Albany respectively, after the Duke of York and Albany, the future King James II. Fort Orange was so called, of course, on account of “Orange” being the name of the ruling house of the Netherlands.

What’s ironic is that James II was a Catholic, and didn’t have the good sense to keep it to himself, and provoked the Glorious Revolution of 1688, whereby Parliament invited his daughter Mary Stuart to become queen, and her husband to become king… that husband being none other than William of Orange, king of the Netherlands. These two reigned as co-monarchs, hence the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

So an Orange was replaced by an Albany, who was replaced by another Orange (who opened up Ireland for Protestant settlement, hence the Orange Order, and Orangeman’s Day).

Dartmouth and Canada

Ron Good apprises me of an interesting article by Thomas Peace at Borealia: A Group Blog on Early Canadian History entitled “Dartmouth College and Canada: The Problem of National Historiographies.” As a Canadian and a Dartmouth alum, I was naturally curious – and pleased to see that Peace deals with Joseph Brant, UE (alias Thayendaneaga), the Mohawk chieftain who was educated at Moor’s Indian Charity School (the precursor to Dartmouth), who sided with the British during the Revolutionary War, who relocated to Brantford, Upper Canada following the war – and who subsequently sent his own sons back across the border to be educated at Dartmouth. If ever I have enough money to donate a building to Dartmouth College (admittedly a highly unlikely possibility), I would name it Brant Hall, after Joseph and his sons, representative of the connections that have existed between Dartmouth and Canada from the beginning. Peace points out, however, that Brant was one of several such people, and that their cross-border existence has been obscured by the fact that historians tend to focus on writing either a history of Canada, or of the United States. I sure hope he makes more of this.