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.


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.

Something Historical

Below, from our summer travels, a photo of the Peterborough Lift Lock, a marvel of Canadian civil engineering. It is the tallest lock of its kind in the world and remarkably contains no metal reinforcement. It is part of the Trent-Severn waterway, a series of canals and locks connecting Lake Ontario with Lake Huron. This was going to be a cunning way of getting around Niagara Falls, but it was never economically viable and soon put out of business by the railroad and the Welland Canal (which can accommodate much larger ships). Still, it’s good that Parks Canada maintains the waterway for tourism and recreational boating.

Another picture: one of several Martello towers guarding the harbor at Kingston, Ontario, built in the wake of the War of 1812: