Caroline Affair

Reading Robert Bothwell’s Your Country, My Country, I was interested to learn about the Republic of Canada and the SS Caroline, historical details that had previously escaped me. In 1837, Upper Canada (that is, present-day Ontario) was rocked by a rebellion, led by William Lyon Mackenzie and directed against the so-called Family Compact that ran the place. Upper Canada had been set up in conservative reaction to the United States, and so had an established church and a government that was not actually responsible to its people. One did not need to be American to object to this situation, thus Mackenzie’s rebellion; it was unsuccessful, but an inquiry by Lord Durham recommended certain changes to the political situation to forestall future incidents, among them the union of Upper and Lower Canada into a single entity.

(When I first learned about this in grade eight, at my public junior high school, it was pretty clear that Mackenzie was supposed to be the good guy. What a surprise the next year when, playing sports for my private high school against Upper Canada College, I discovered a monument to its cadet corps, which had valiantly helped to defeat the rebels in the Battle of Montgomery’s Tavern. This was one of the many signs that I was now living in a different world.)

Mackenzie, defeated in Toronto, retreated with his men to Navy Island in the Niagara River where they proclaimed an independent “Republic of Canada” and where they were supplied from the American side by sympathizers who sent money, food, and arms to them on the steamboat Caroline. On December 29, 1837, however, Col. Allan MacNab (who was later the premier of the united province of Canada) led a party of militia across the international boundary, seized the Caroline, chased off its crew, set it on fire, and sent it over Niagara Falls! From Wikipedia, here is a depiction of the event by George Tattersall:

Destruction_of_the_Caroline

This was an international incident. President Martin Van Buren protested strongly to London, and in retaliation the next year a group captured and burned the British steamer Sir Robert Peel while in U.S. waters. But the Caroline incident has had a lasting influence: it has been invoked many times since in the justification of “anticipatory self-defense” a.k.a. the preemptive strike, like the one that the United States launched against Iraq in 2003.

Links

  • 155-year-old mousetrap, on display in the Museum of English Rural Life, claims its latest victim.
  • The Helgo Treasure, from Viking Age Sweden, includes a bronze Irish crozier, a Coptic ladle, and a bronze Buddha from the Indian subcontinent – a testament to how much Vikings were plugged into early medieval trading networks.
  • Related: a Viking woman was buried with a ring reading “For Allah.”

Museums

• Ron Good brings the Arabia Steamboat Museum to my attention. This sounds fascinating and worth a visit if you’re ever in Kansas City:

The Steamboat Arabia was built in West Brownsville, PA at the boat-yard of John S. Pringle in 1853.  At 171 feet long and capable of carrying 222 tons of cargo, she was considered an average-sized packet boat.  The 28-foot-tall paddlewheels could push the steamboat upstream at a speed of over 5 miles per hour.  Being a side-wheeler (having one paddlewheel on each side, rather than just one on the back) made it easier to maneuver around hazards like sandbars and snags… In her heyday, the Arabia was considered a dependable vessel and soon gained a reputation for speed, safety and comfort….

The Arabia traveled the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers for about two years until she was purchased for $20,000 by Captain John Shaw of St. Charles, Missouri in February of 1855.  Her first trip on the Missouri River took her to Ft. Pierre, South Dakota with 109 soldiers from Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas….

The most treacherous of the many river hazards were fallen trees lying hidden from sight just under the river’s surface.  These “snags” crippled and sank hundreds of steamboats, some even on their first trip up the river.  Of the estimated 400 steamboats lost to the river, about 300 were “snagged.”  The Arabia was one of those victims. [On September 5, 1856,] the steamer’s thick, oak hull was pierced by the end of a lethal snag.  The impact was tremendous, catapulting the bow from the water and throwing many of the shaken passengers to the floor.  As the Arabia’s timbers gave way, the log was thrust into the heart of the boat.  Water poured through the gaping hole, and the Arabia began quickly sinking.

Within minutes, much of the boat and virtually all 200 tons of precious frontier cargo lay at the bottom of the Missouri River…

All aboard were saved except for a solitary, forgotten mule that remained behind, tied to a piece of sawmill equipment on the deck.  The river bottom was soft, and the boat and cargo sank quickly into the mud and silt.  The next morning, only the smokestacks and the top of the pilothouse remained visible.  Even these disappeared in a few days, swept away by the tremendous force of the river.

Notorious for its shifting channel, the Missouri River cut a new path and moved east, abandoning the spot where the Arabia sank.  By the twentieth century, the steamboat was lying deep beneath a Kansas farm field.   Rumored to be filled with whiskey and gold when it sank, the Arabia drew the attention of treasure hunters and failed salvage attempts for many years.

Using a metal detector, weathered maps, and old newspaper clippings to guide the search, David Hawley located the wreck in July 1987.   Years of erosion and shifting sand left the lost paddleboat 45 feet underground and a half-mile from the present channel of the Missouri River.

David, along with his father Bob, brother Greg, and family friends Jerry Mackey and David Luttrell, would soon return to the farm and begin an adventure consuming the next 20 years.  The excavation resulted in the discovery of the largest collection of pre-Civil War artifacts in the world.

The Hawleys originally intended to sell these items but they quickly realized their historic value, and so opened the museum instead.

Some thoughts on improving historic house museums, courtesy Gene Harmon:

Picture in your head a historic house museum that you have visited.

Did you picture Mt. Vernon or Monticello? How about the historic house that you grew up down the road from? Did images of antiques and display cases flash through your mind, or was it the velvet rope barriers, musty smell, creaky floorboards, and dusty signs? I bet a majority of these things popped into your head because that’s what many people remember after they leave a historic house museum. I know that I have! The historical value of the museum is short term, but the memory of a musty old home you visited once as a kid will last you a lifetime. But it doesn’t have to be this way!

When historic house museums started popping up in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries their purpose was to educate immigrants about “American values and patriotic duties.” As the years went by and the surrounding communities changed, the museums stayed the same. As a result, historic house museums have been experiencing a steady decline in visitors and funding over the years. However, people like Franklin D. Vagnone and Deborah Ryan are on a mission to revive interest and relevance in these museums.

Vagnone, the executive director of New York City’s Historic House Trust and co-author of Anarchist’s Guide to Historic House Museums (published in October 2015), explained a core issue pertaining to historic house museums’ decline through the years: too many of them are offering a “beige experience,” he told interviewer Carol Bossert on September 18, 2015. Many museums are too similar in presentation, and the public possess a “you’ve-seen-one-you’ve-seen-them-all” mentality towards the museums. “One of the problems with house museums is you keep kind of circling back to the same people who come . . . Eventually they are going to die and there’s going to be no one coming to your parties,” Vagnone stated.

Vagnone’s co-author, Deborah Ryan, explained in the same interview with Vagnone and Bossert that, “Historic house museums tend to be inward focusing particularly on their collections, and what we have suggested is that the houses need to turn themselves inside-out. So, rather than expecting people to come to them, they need to make the community aware of who they are and make the community feel welcome.” Ryan also advised that historic house museums need to grow into “place-making” because places hold meaning for people. Museums should not just be “biometric space” that contain objects. Museums are places where activities happen; where families do things together, watch demonstrations, and get involved.

Some of the most memorable house museums that I have seen let me participate in the house’s history; a lot of the historical participation that I have taken part in was not even traditionally exciting scenarios. I love feeling included in the household and in the everyday rituals that would normally take place, like milking a cow, making soap, stoking the fireplace, or baking bread. I love learning about the clothing people in certain eras wore and how they would make or acquire these clothes. The little routines like that are what have stuck like glue in my mind.

Read the whole thing.

• A museum in Tallahassee, Florida is devoted to the art of Jack T. Chick, the author of some 250 religious tracts. You’ve probably discovered some of these left in public places, like the classic “This Was Your Life” or “Bad Bob!”

Whether you love him or hate him, you gotta respect Chick for sticking to his guns. Since 1961 (over half a century!), he’s cranked out tract after tract to help sinners “see the light.” He’s written over 250 different tracts, with more than 900,000,000* distributed worldwide (in over 100 different languages)! His influence is so vast that entire nations have passed special laws banning his comics. Even as Political Correctness reigns supreme, Chick seems unafraid to take on the sacred cows. He steadfastly exposes a conspiracy of Catholics, Masons, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, New Agers, Rock & Rollers, and any other group the devil might use to damn your soul. Chick also offends Jews and Muslims with previews of their fiery futures in hell (but only because he wants to save them). The more taboo a topic, the more likely you’ll see it covered in a Chick tract!

We don’t condemn Chick for his controversial nature. We celebrate it! It’s just one of his unique characteristics. Besides, he’s an Artist. They’re supposed to be provocative. (If he drew Christ in a Bowl of Urine, many of his critics would love him.)

Our goal is to SALUTE this dedicated demagogue and immortalize his work by assembling a complete library for fans and scholars to marvel at JACK T. CHICK!

According to Wikipedia, Chick was most likely influenced by the format (but not the content!) of Tijuana Bibles, of whose existence I was unaware.

Another Arctic Discovery

Hot on the heels of the discovery of one of the ships of the ill-fated Franklin expedition, the NOAA has announced the discovery of two nineteenth-century whaling ships on the north shore of Alaska. From the National Post:

Two whaling wrecks (worth $33M in today’s U.S. dollars) found off Alaska

When the ice opened for the last time, the local inhabitants urged the ships’ captains to get out before it returned and trapped the whalers against the northwest coast of Alaska for the deadly Arctic winter.

It was September, late in the season, but the wind had always kept an escape channel open that time of year. Plus, the whaling was finally going well. The Yankee skippers decided to wait.

It was a poor decision, which could have claimed hundreds of lives.

On Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that it had discovered the wrecks of two of the 32 ships that were crushed by the ice that late summer of 1871 in one of the 19th century’s worst whaling disasters.

More than 1,200 mariners and their families barely escaped in small whale boats through narrow and rapidly closing channels in the ice to reach rescue ships 130 kilometres away, according to NOAA and old newspaper reports.

But the trapped whalers, many of which were owned by merchants of New Bedford, Massachusetts, were destroyed, ruining the owners financially and damaging the 19th century whaling industry, NOAA said.

The loss of the ships equalled about $33 million in today’s dollars, Brad Barr, the project’s co-director, said Wednesday.

The vessels, with names such as Concordia, Eugenia and Minerva, were left behind in the ice with their American flags flying upside down, a sign of distress, according to an old account in the New York Times.

NOAA said the discoveries, near Wainwright, Alaska, were made possible, in part, because climate change had melted ice in the area and made wreck sites more accessible to archaeologists.

Barr said that scientists had gone to the remote shores of the stormy Chukchi Sea, above the Arctic Circle, in August aboard a chartered research vessel.

He said experts used state-of-the-art sensing techniques to locate underwater remains of the wooden ships, anchors and tell-tale implements carried by whaling ships of the 1800s.

Among other items, the researchers found the iron braces, or “knees,” that supported the brick box in which the huge iron “try pots” boiled blubber into whale oil.

The finds provided a fascinating glimpse into a forgotten era in seafaring history.

More at the link.

 

Hawaiian Fur Traders

At a lunchtime conversation today a colleague brought up a tidbit that he had learned: that “Canuck,” as a slang term for Canadian, came from the Hawaiian word for “person.” How on earth could such a word come into North American usage? It’s (currently) not on the Wikipedia page for “Canuck”, but one does find it on the Talk page:

Many moons ago, in Canada’s formative years when fur trading was all the rage, the fur trading companies searched for anybody they could hire who could wield a beaver trap. In the far west of Canada at that time, there weren’t a lot of crowds. There were several Hawaiian islanders who came to the western shores of North America… They worked out just fine. The Hawaiian word for “Hawaiian person” (or just a “person”) is “KANAKA”… [this eventually] became “Canuck.”

This etymology is derided by the next contributor as unreliable, and the main entry asserts that the word’s origins are uncertain. And yet, in the Wikipedia entry on “Hawaii,” we read that:

James Cook named the archipelago as the Sandwich Islands in honor of his sponsor. Cook published the islands’ location and rendered the native name as Owyhee. This spelling lives on in Owyhee County, Idaho. It was named after three native Hawaiian members of a trapping party who went missing in that area.

Furthermore, in the Northwest Hawai’i Times, we read about the City of Kalama, Washington, named after John Kalama from Maui. It also claims that:

Hawaiians had a big impact in the early history of the Pacific Northwest. Have you heard of the Owyhee River in eastern Oregon, or the Owyhee Lake and the town of Owyhee in Nevada, or the river and town of Kalama and even the town of Friday Harbor? These were named after “Kanakas,” otherwise known as Sandwich Islanders, or Hawaiians.

In the voyages of discovery in the late 1700s and early 1800s, ship captains found the Sandwich (named by James Cook for his benefactor, the Earl of Sandwich) or Hawaiian Islands a great port of call and quickly found the value of the “Owyhees.” This is why many Hawaiians became regularly employed on both merchant and whaling ships.

The first Hawaiians were recruited in 1811 by the North West Company, twelve for ship deckhands and twelve to work in the fur trade brigades. Part of their value was in their canoeing and swimming skills. The French Voygeurs had great canoe handling skills but could not swim. When a canoe flipped, everything would be lost, often even the men. But with Owyhees along, there would be excellent swimmers to save men and recover goods from the bottom of rivers. The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) which merged with the rival North West Company, decided, as a “safety device,” to put an Owyhee in every canoe with the French Voyageurs.

During the fur trapping era, Hawaiians made many trips into the interior, to Fort Spokane and beyond to the Grand Tetons. This is how Owyhee and other Hawaiian names were attached to a number of interior geographic features such as rivers, lakes and even mountain ranges.

Interesting – I had no idea!

 

From the Vault

The previous entry on the Cherokee Nation made me think of our visit to the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore, Tennessee, which my wife and I saw once. Seqoyah (c. 1770-1840) was a Cherokee silversmith who, impressed by the ability of white people to communicate with each other by means of “talking leaves,” invented from scratch a syllabary of eighty characters for representing the Cherokee language, which continues to be used.

Via Wikipedia, this is the most common portrait of Sequoyah, an engraving after an oil painting he sat for in Washington DC on a visit there once.

Unfortunately, the museum didn’t do justice to its namesake. The exhibits were not about him so much as they were about the Cherokee themselves, with the film they show you (an hour long, as it turns out) focusing heavily on Cherokee removal and mentioning only briefly such things as the tradition of “inter-clan violence.” The rest of the museum consisted of a meager collection of artifacts, rather poorly displayed. We both thought that if it’s being billed as a Sequoyah museum they should focus on him and then branch out into other issues that he represents: the historic identity of the Cherokee, their contact with Europeans, the whole question of what literacy does to people (including the history of the Cherokee Phoenix), and the question of acculturation: how do we deal with Europeans, by resisting them, or imitating them? Of course you then could still talk about how even the latter didn’t save the Cherokee, due to the stunning bad faith of Andrew Jackson, et al., but you could then follow Sequoyah out to Oklahoma and tell about how the band survives out there to this day.

Fun at the Funk

Enjoyed a talk at the Funk Heritage Center last night, entitled “The Cherokee Trail of Tears: Memory and Meaning” by Chief Justice Troy Wayne Poteete of the Cherokee Nation Supreme Court. Chief Justice Poteete is executive director of the National Trail of Tears Association and has served as a delegate to the Cherokee Nation Constitutional Convention.

L to R: Martha Hasty, Reinhardt Board Chairman Billy Hasty, Chief Justice Poteete, Funk Heritage Center Director Joe Kitchens.

The Funk Heritage Center is now a certified National Park Service Trail of Tears interpretive center, and has received a challenge grant from a foundation that will match donations up to $50,000 for the purpose of exhibiting artifacts excavated at the Hickory Log site in Cherokee County. Donations must be received by November 1, 2015. If you are interested in making a donation, please contact Barbara Starr at 770-720-5967 for information.

William IV

From the Facebook feed of the Canadian Heraldic Authority:

Today marks the 250th birthday of King William IV, who reigned from 1830 to 1837. Our illustration of his arms comes from a Canadian source, the Proclamation of the Lieutenant-Governor of Upper Canada announcing a reward for the apprehension of William Lyon Mackenzie, the leader of the unsuccessful rebellion in Toronto in 1837. The document was issued in the name of the new monarch, Queen Victoria, yet it still used William IV’s royal arms. Can you spot the difference?

King William died on June 20, 1837; William Lyon Mackenzie’s rebellion took place in October, November, and December of that year. The Proclamation for his capture is dated December 7.

The difference, of course, is the inescutcheon at the fess point, consisting of the Hanoverian arms (of Brunswick, Lüneburg, and Westphalia). Victoria, being a woman, could not inherit these territories, so they went to her uncle, Ernest Augustus I. The Hanoverian arms were then removed, leaving the British Royal Arms in the form they are found today (1 & 4 England, 2 Scotland, 3 Ireland).

Via Wikipedia, a color rendition of the Hanoverian inescutcheon, which itself has an inescutcheon featuring the Imperial Crown of the Holy Roman Empire, for the office of archtreasurer of the HRE.

Via Wikipedia, an engraving of the Royal Arms from the Order of Service for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, by Reynolds Stone.

I like the nineteenth-century custom of showing the supporters leaping out from behind the shield.

Waterloo

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo, when Napoleon did surrender. You can watch the reenactments live on the Internet for a modest fee. I do not know whether the sides will be designated “France” and “Seventh Coalition,” or simply “Team Red” and “Team Blue,” in the manner of the 200th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Trafalgar ten years ago. After all, we wouldn’t want to raise tensions, now, would we?! I was pleased to note that Belgium, on whose territory the battle took place, would have none of this bowdlerization of history:

Belgium has begun minting €2.50 coins marking the 200th anniversary of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo after France forced it to scrap a €2 coin with the same purpose.

Paris objected to the new Belgian coin, commemorating the French emperor’s defeat by British and Prussian forces, earlier this year, saying it would create tensions at a time when Europe’s unity is under threat.

Belgium was forced to get rid of about 180,000 €2 coins that had already been minted after Paris sent a letter saying they could cause an “unfavourable reaction in France”.

But Belgium has managed to skirt the French protests using a rule that allows eurozone countries to unilaterally issue coins if they are in an irregular denomination.

Another example of expression being tailored to politics is this series of headlines in the government newspaper, Le Moniteur, which preceded Napoleon’s second seizure of power in 1815. It’s rather amusing:

March 9
The Monster has escaped from his place of banishment.

March 10
The Corsican Orge has landed at Cape Juan

March 11
The Tiger has shown himself at Gap. The Troops are advancing on all sides to arrest his progress. He will conclude his miserable adventure by becoming a wanderer among the mountains.

March 12
The Monster has actually advanced as far as Grenoble

March 13
The Tyrant is now at Lyon. Fear and Terror seized all at his appeaance.

March 18
The Usurper has ventured to approach to within 60 hours’ march of the capital.

March 19
Bonaparte is advancing by forced marches, but it is impossible he can reach Paris.

March 20
Napoleon will arrive under the walls of Paris tomorrow.

March 21
The Emperor Napoleon is at Fountainbleau

March 22
Yesteday evening His Majesty the Emperor made his public entry and arrived at the Tuileries. Nothing can exceed the universal joy.

More Photos of Things Historical

1. The Round Church of Richmond, Vermont:

From its website:

The Old Round Church is actually a sixteen-sided polygon. It was built between 1812 and 1814 under the leadership of local blacksmith/carpenter William Rhodes to serve as a place of worship for five Protestant denominations: Baptists, Christians, Congregationalists, Methodists and Universalists. Members of each denomination advanced money to finance construction of the church. From the outset the building was used for town meetings as well as church services.

There are several legends concerning why the church has such an unusual shape. One claims it was to keep the devil out of the corner or to keep the enemy from hiding around the corner on the outside. Another legend holds that Rhodes had 17 workers—one for each side and the last for the belfry. A less fanciful explanation is that William Rhodes’s parents lived in Claremont, NH, which had an octagonal church of its own; perhaps he modeled this one upon the one in his hometown.

Within a few decades of the church’s opening, the founding denominations began to move out, some of them to build worship places elsewhere in the community. In 1880 the Old Round Church reverted to the Town of Richmond and continued in use as the town’s meeting hall until 1973, at which time safety concerns forced its closure to the public.

2. Emily Dickinson’s House in Amherst, Massachusetts. Nicely done and worth a visit, if you’re into nineteenth-century poetry.

3. Most of the town of St. Johnsbury, Vermont is a testament to the largess of the Fairbanks family, inventors of the platform scale and major employers there for many years. They founded St. Johnsbury Academy (which local students get to attend gratis), the Fairbanks Museum, and the St. Johnsbury Athenaeum (essentially, a combination library and art gallery).

The museum we especially enjoyed: Richardsonian Romanesque on the outside…

…Victorian splendor within!

The Athenaeum also contains some of the beautiful custom woodwork that was prevalent in the nineteenth century.