UPDATE

An update to a recent post: according to an article in the Daily Mail, the depiction of St. Michael as used by the Order of St. Michael and St. George was changed in 2011 to make the devil more light-skinned. Click the link to see before and after images of the new design. But people like Sir Michael Palin, KCMG, are still opposing it currently because it’s too reminiscent of the death of George Floyd and police brutality in general. 

Time to make Satan more dragon-like, I guess. Or would that also be bad? Would it be reminiscent of the gratuitous killing of wild animals that Tony Blair tried to curtail with his anti- hunting laws? Then they could go after St. George, too!

I suppose I shouldn’t give them any ideas…

Kingston

Kingston, Georgia, is a city of some 600 souls found between Cartersville and Rome. Its name does not reflect any residual American loyalism on the part of its founders, but is a memorial to John Pendleton King, U.S. Senator from Georgia (1833-37). Its incorporation in 1850 suggests that its existence and location are on account of the Western & Atlantic Railroad, which had recently opened for business and which still runs through the center of town. 

One cannot mention the Western & Atlantic without mentioning the Great Locomotive Chase of 1862, a famous and exciting episode in the Civil War (although one of little strategic or tactical consequence). According to a historical marker, Andrews’ Raiders:

were forced to side-track here & wait for S. bound freights. After long delay, the “GENERAL” continued N..

Pursuing from Big Shanty, Capt. W. A. Fuller (Conductor), Jeff Cain (Engineer), & Anthony Murphy, — using a push-car — reached the Etowah, where the engine “YONAH” brought them to Kingston; pursuit was resumed on the Rome R. R. locomotive “Wm. R. SMITH.”

The next stop on the Chase was Adairsville, which also revels in this history

Kingston is significant to the Civil War in other ways. Like Cassville, it was the site of a Confederate hospital. The Kingston Wayside Home, according to a marker, was established in August 1861 by the Soldiers’ Aid Society, and treated over 10,000 sick and wounded soldiers over the next three years. Some 250 of these men “known but to God” who succumbed to wounds sustained at “Perryville, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, and in the Dalton-Kingston Campaign” are buried in a plot in the Kingston Cemetery. The obelisk was put up by the Ladies’ Memorial Association in 1874 and restored by “SCS Camp GA-13” in 1937 (note that it appears on the town seal under the label “Heritage”). 

Plenty of other historical markers throughout Kingston record other events in the Civil War, including the operation of the Kingston saltpeter mine (whose product was used to make gunpowder), the arrival of Federal troops under William T. Sherman and James B. McPherson on May 18, 1864, the fact that Hargris House on Main St. served as Sherman’s headquarters May 19-23, 1864, and that Sherman received orders at Kingston to begin his March to the Sea on November 7, 1864. Then on May 12, 1865 at Kingston (i.e. over a month after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox), Brig. Gen. William T. Wofford, CSA, headquartered at the McCravey-Johnson residence on Church St., negotiated the surrender of some 3000 Confederate troops to Brig. Gen. Henry M. Judah, USA. But not before the establishment of the first Confederate Memorial Day, which Kingston is proud to claim:

(I would not be averse to revising that last clause….)

Finally, there is Queen Chapel, located on the south side of Kingston. It is billed as an Independent Methodist church, but it seems that at one point it was an African Methodist Episcopal church. Note the deleted letters in these two plaques:

I would be curious to know what the story is here.

The church cemetery boasts the grave of Melvinia Shields, who was born into slavery in Clayton County, Ga. in 1844 and whose three-greats granddaughter is former First Lady Michelle Obama.

Out and About in Bartow County

Sometimes you can find interesting things in your own backyard.

• Not far from where I live is Rowland Springs Baptist Church. Nearby is the Rowland Springs Estates subdivision. Both of these take their names from a nineteenth-century resort located between them, a historical marker for which I discovered this week on Simpson Circle just before it gets to Harvey Knight Road (marked with a red star on the map). A chapter devoted to the resort and the personal connections made there appears in Ken Wheeler’s forthcoming book, which also deals with the fact that Rowland Springs was largely constructed by slaves, something ignored by the sign.

Google Maps.

Curious about whether anything remained of Rowland Springs resort, I went exploring around the pond, which is indeed approximately one third of a mile east of the historical marker. But I’m afraid that I didn’t find much.

“Rowland Spring,” marked on the southeast of the pond on the map, has had something built around it.  

It appears that the pond is man-made; on the south end of it is a wall, with a spillway over it.

The only evidence of actual buildings may be found on the northwest side of the pond. But I have no idea if these are remains of the resort, or if so, what buildings they might have been. 

Seems an ignominious end to the “most exclusive resort in Georgia”!

• The town of Euharlee may be found about nine miles to the west of Cartersville, in the shadow of Plant Bowen. Euharlee is famous for its wooden bridge, built in 1886 by Washington King, son of freedman Horace King. 

A view of the interior reveals the wooden “town lattice” design. Of course, no vehicular traffic traverses the bridge anymore – the newer car-bearing concrete bridge crosses Euharlee Creek a little further downstream, allowing this bridge to remain as a memento of yesteryear.

More information on the bridge can be read on these two signs. Actually, much of Euharlee is quaint and historic, with plenty of signs like one the above explaining such things as the Lowry Grist Mill, the Lowry Family Homestead, the Granary and Commissary, the Mercantile and Blacksmith shop, and the Black Pioneers’ Cemetery. It’s worth a stop if you’re every passing through. 

• Bartow County’s Confederate memorial still stands on the front lawn of the county courthouse. It has not yet been toppled or even defaced by vandals, although Cartersville has had some pro-BLM protests. It is fairly typical of the sort of Confederate monument one finds in small towns across the South, and includes the usual helping of gaseous nineteenth-century “elevated” diction:

I am no fan of the Confederacy and I do not agree with any Lost Cause idealization of it, but I am still not in favor of taking down this monument. It’s fairly unobtrusive – you don’t even realize it’s a Confederate monument until you get up close to it – and it’s just sitting there; it is not in continuous use to represent Bartow County (unlike, say, Mississippi’s flag or the star of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, both of which have become politically unpalatable). Like other monuments, it does not accurately represent the Confederacy, but it does reflect the era when people wanted to uplift Confederates. In that way, it certainly is “historic.”

Wikipedia.

As you can see, a great surge of monument building took place in the first decade of the twentieth century, I suppose as a result of Confederate veterans dying off. (Jim Crow had been well established by then and I don’t think it was under threat by the federal government – unlike in the the 1950s and -60s, which produced the second blip.) 

However, I would not be against the installation of a plaque explaining this historical context, and suggesting that such lines as “there were men whom power could not corrupt” or “the state has preserved the priceless treasure of her memories” are not to be taken seriously. 

I have stated before that I am in favor of leaving monuments alone, and constructing more monuments to things that we currently approve of. I have not changed this opinion, and I am pleased to note that Cartersville agrees with me in its way. Not far away from the county courthouse is the city hall, and since 2018 its front lawn has featured this sculpture, entitled Pathways to Freedom: A Story in Every Stitch, by artist Przemyslaw Kordys. The nine squares represent different quilt patterns which held coded meanings for slaves traveling to freedom along the Underground Railroad. A nearby plaque explains them. For instance, the square at the top is designated the North Star (“prepare to journey north to freedom”), the square on the far left is called Crossroads (“referring specifically to Cleveland, Ohio, code named Station Hope”), and the square on the bottom is Wagon Wheel (“pack provisions for traveling by wagon”). More information on the African American Quilt Documentation Project of Bartow County, which sponsored this monument, may be read on the website of the Etowah Valley Historical Society. 

I am glad that the Underground Railway existed, and we all ought to know more about it, but this monument proves, in its way, that we are no less prone to mythologizing than ex-Confederates were c. 1910. The idea that quilts were ever used to give coded instructions to runaway slaves, while inspirational, seems to date from the 1990s at the earliest. I am not in favor of taking down this monument either, but we should probably not condescend to the past if we too are going to indulge in expressing things that we want to be true but whose existence is not supported by primary source evidence. I’m pleased to note that even the plaque for this sculpture states that “The patterns in the quilt motif are believed to have been used by enslaved Africans in their escape to freedom. Legend holds the quilt patterns were given code meanings to aid slaves” (emphasis added).

• This ruin, located just north of Kingston, serves as a silent witness to the existence of the Howard Hydraulic Cement Company, which employed fifty men around the turn of the twentieth century. It even provided the name of the local town: Cement, whose charter was repealed in 1995.

• Actually, I wonder, given the spirit of the times, if “Bartow” won’t soon revert to “Cass” – or be named after some other person (or better, thing), given that it was named after Lewis Cass in the first place because, as Andrew Jackson’s Secretary of War, he was in charge of implementing Cherokee removal. (He also turned out to be staunch a Unionist, thus the name change in 1861.)

Hail, Lafayette!

A story for an election year, by Ronald Bailey on History Net (hat tip: Wanda Cronauer). Who would play such a role in 2020?

The spirit of 1776 had faded as America expanded westward. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 papered over festering sectional rivalries by balancing Missouri’s admission to the union as a slave state with Maine’s admission as a free state. But by setting a geographical boundary on slavery, the compromise also effectively defined a line on which the nation might split apart. Lafayette’s old friend Thomas Jefferson likened it to “a fire bell in the night [that] filled me with terror. I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.”

The first months of Lafayette’s tour coincided with a bitterly divisive presidential campaign, which brought James Monroe’s two-term Era of Good Feelings to an end. Monroe ran unopposed four years earlier, but now the host of candidates who threw their hats in the ring seemed unable to agree on anything but the apparent certainty that the union was on the verge of collapse.

America was in desperate need of a hero….

When Lafayette arrived in America, newspapers were filled with vitriol as the presidential campaign devolved into a contest pitting the interests of the North—represented by John Quincy Adams—and the South and West—represented mainly by Andrew Jackson. But soon Lafayette’s tour “paralyzed all the electoral ardour,” observed James Fenimore Cooper. “At the public dinners, instead of caustic toasts, intended to throw ridicule and odium on some potent adversary, none were heard but healths to the guest of the nation, around whom were amicably grouped the most violent of both parties. Finally, for nearly two months all the discord and excitement produced by this election, which, it was said, would engender the most disastrous consequences, were forgotten, and nothing was thought of but Lafayette and the heroes of the revolution.”

Lafayette himself, in a letter home, concluded that his trip had “contributed to tighten the union between the states and to soften political parties, by bringing them all together in common hospitality toward a ghost from another world.”

Flag of Mississippi

News of the Times: Mississippi’s Lieutenant Governor Delbert Hosemann says: 

I, like the majority of Mississippians, am open to changing our current flag.

In my mind, our flag should bear the Seal of the Great State of Mississippi and state “In God We Trust.”  I am open to bringing all citizens together to determine a banner for our future.

An illustration accompanying the article shows what such a flag might look like:

Mississippi Business Journal.

But we feel compelled to state that this is not a good design! A seal does not make for a good flag. This isn’t quite a SOAB (“seal on a bedsheet”), as so many state flags are – Mr. Hosemann has retained the tricolor background of the current Mississippi flag (although note that Missouri also has such a flag). But a seal is detailed and intricate and belongs on official documents or on the wall behind the governor as he takes questions from reporters, not on a flag, which should be “so simple that a child can draw it from memory.” On that front, the Stennis flag has this flag beaten hands down.

Wikipedia.

Apparently the Stennis Flag now has an official status as Mississippi’s “hospitality flag,” and you can get it on a license plate. I reckon that it’s only a matter of time before it becomes Mississippi’s official state flag.

Wikipedia.

I still prefer the Magnolia flag as a design, although it’s probably too Confederate for current taste. It is a version of Mississippi’s secession flag, and was used by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the nineteenth century. (Georgia might have been able to adopt a version of the first national flag of the CSA in 2003, but I doubt that such a thing could happen today.) 

Wikipedia.

It’s a shame that this flag lost a referendum in 2001. It retains the horizontal tricolor of the current flag, but eliminates the Confederate battle flag on the canton for an array of twenty stars (the large central one for Mississippi, the other nineteen for previously admitted states to the Union, as in the Stennis flag). 

Vulcan at Work

From Mental Floss (hat tip: Tom MacMaster):

A Massive Volcanic Eruption in Alaska May Have Doomed the Roman Republic

The fall of the Roman Republic gave rise to the Roman Empire, making it one of the most significant events in Western history. According to a new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it may have been hastened by a volcanic eruption on the other side of the world.

The year 43 BCE was a time of social unrest in ancient RomeJulius Caesar had been assassinated a year earlier, sparking fights for political control that led to the fall of the Roman Republic and the Ptolemaic Kingdom. This was also a period of devastating climate change. Accounts from the era describe crop failure, famine, and disease plaguing the Mediterranean region as temperatures dropped. The new study from an international team of scientists connects these disasters to the massive eruption of an Alaskan volcano around the same time.

Researchers looked at Arctic ice cores containing millennia of geological data and found that a volcanic eruption—one of the largest of the past 2500 years—occurred in 43 BCE. Further analysis of the volcanic material inside the cores linked the event to the Okmok volcano in Alaska. Using Earth system modeling software, researchers digitally recreated the impact of the volcanic activity on a global scale. The model showed colder, rainier weather patterns in the Mediterranean for two years following the eruption, with seasonal temperatures dropping more than 10°F below normal in some places.

Read the whole thing, including speculation that the eruption of the Icelandic volcano Hekla triggered the Bronze Age Collapse. Of course, it’s difficult to establish conclusive proof for either of these, but both are quite plausible. (Query: did an eruption event cause the Great Famine of the fourteenth century, and if so, have any candidates been proposed?)

The Practice of History

A friend writes:

In practice it seems to have become a norm to say “historians agree,” when when that is not true, or sometimes just on the basis of some recent article or paperback, and which is popular with a certain crowd.

There is almost a tendency to present history as an activity in which some set “findings” have been made that have a fixed meaning.

Such a reality is not true even in many experimental social sciences which at least use statistical significance as a guide to reliability. It is even less the case with history where the nature of the profession precludes such statements. The very historians who do the most detailed archival, philological, and novel work are so often overwhelmed with that that they do not have a very good grasp of other areas of history, and even less the findings of social, psychological, and natural sciences. Whereas those who, because they come across well on camera, who speak most generally often simply do not have enough scholarly depth.

And for people on the left who really really feel that some piece of historiography has totally transformed historical understanding so that they know something that hoi polloi don’t, always keep in mind the sad case of Michael A. Bellesiles [link added].

My favorite example of this phenomenon is provided by Noel Ignatiev’s book, How the Irish Became White (1995). Ignatiev used “white” metaphorically to mean “part of the dominant group.” But since then it has become conventional wisdom that “the Irish weren’t even considered white in the nineteenth century!” One must use metaphors carefully. 

“Kindly Call Me God”

The Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George was established in 1818 by the Prince Regent, who two years later became King George IV. It was an aspect of Britain’s meddling in the Mediterranean following the defeat of Napoleon, and used to recognize British allies in the region. People are now appointed to it for “extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country” or “important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs.” For instance, those prime ministers of Canada who received knighthoods (e.g. Abbot, Thompson, Laurier, or Borden) were mostly Knights Grand Cross or Knights Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.* It has everything one expects in a British order of chivalry: a chapel (in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London) with stall plates, crests, and banners, elaborate costumes, regalia, and rituals, a motto-circlet for a member’s coat of arms, and various officers with quaint names (e.g. chancellor, King of Arms, or Gentleman Usher of the Blue Rod).

Badge and Star of a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

I do not know why the order was dedicated to St. Michael and St. George in particular (nor why a winged lion – the symbol of St. Mark – appears on the order’s collar).† Obviously Michael and George are warrior saints, although the Order is more for diplomats than soldiers. In its regalia the order seems to alternate between depicting St. Michael and St. George, as shown above in the sketch of the badge and star of a Knight Commander: St. George is on the badge, St. Michael on the star. 

Star of a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Wikipedia.

Here is a better rendition of the Order’s star, in this case for a Knight Grand Cross. Note that in this one St. Michael actually has wings, given that he is an angel. Note also what St. Michael is standing on, which became controversial this past week. From the Guardian:

Campaigners are calling for the redesign of one of Britain’s highest honours personally bestowed by the Queen because they say its badge resembles a depiction of a white angel standing on the neck of a chained black man.

The Order of St Michael and St George is traditionally awarded to ambassadors and diplomats and senior Foreign Office officials who have served abroad. 

The imagery on the award’s badge portrays St Michael trampling on Satan, but campaigners say the image is reminiscent of the killing of George Floyd by white police officers in the US that led to worldwide protests.

Both St. Michael and St. George kill dragons, but because St. Michael specifically killed the “old serpent, that is called the devil, and Satan,” his dragon is often more humanoid than St. George’s dragon.** An old post on this blog intended to illustrate different versions of St. Michael’s coat of arms also illustrates the variety of creatures that he subdues, some of which look like proper dragons, others of which look more like men (although grotesque). It is unfortunate that the Order’s standard depiction of the dragon is both humanoid and dark, while St. Michael himself is light-skinned, which is not a model we want for contemporary race relations. And in general, it is most unfortunate that one of the side effects of mediating reality through sight, as humans do, is that in many cultures lightness is “good” and darkness is “bad.” If you’ve got light you can see, if you don’t you can’t – thus does light come to be identified with knowledge and awareness, and darkness with ignorance and insecurity. Note the Roman anxieties about nighttime, reflected in their laws. Furthermore, in a time before the widespread availability of bleach it was expensive and difficult to keep white garments looking white, thus is whiteness associated with status and cleanliness. Such things have, unfortunately, influenced the reception of human skin tone. Although the amount of melanin in one’s skin is purely an evolutionary artifact of one’s ancestors’ exposure to sunlight, those with lighter skin found it flattering to believe that they were morally good in a way that those with darker skin were not. (Traditionally, among white people darker skin also indicated that one worked outdoors, and thus had less status than someone who got to stay inside – only with the advent of jet travel to sunny climes in winter did suntans become fashionable for white people.) In this way did Early Modern Europeans come to justify their version of slavery – it might be bad, but it’s not quite as bad to enslave those people, who are clearly morally inferior. It is true that in the European Middle Ages, some saints were regularly depicted as black, showing that Europeans knew about the subsaharan phenotype and that they believed that its possessors were capable of sanctity and salvation. But it is also true that they regularly depicted the devil and his minions as black, in a general reflection of the cultural significance of that color. Courtesy Paul Halsall, here are two images illustrating this phenomenon:

I think that this artistic convention has seen its day, and I am absolutely not against redrawing the dragon as it regularly appears in the insignia of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Make it more dragon-like, or keep it humanoid and make it some other color – green or red, perhaps. Heck, make St. Michael himself black! There’s no reason why he can’t be. It’s not a bad thing to dissociate “white” from “good” and “black” from “bad.”

Ethiopian St. Michael. Pinterest.

***

The post title is from a joke about the supposed arrogance of membership of the Order, deriving from the post-nominals for the three grades: CMG (Companion), KCMG (Knight Commander), and GCMG (Knight Grand Cross), which are jocularly interpreted to mean “Call me God,” “Kindly call me God,” and “God calls me God.” 

* Though note that Sir John A. Macdonald was a Knight Grand Cross of the Bath, and you can see his stall plate in Westminster Abbey. He was appointed to the Bath just before the Victorian expansion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George beyond its Mediterranean origins.

† UPDATE: The seven Ionian islands, under British protection from 1815, had been part of the Venetian Republic until the 1790s; St. Mark is the patron saint of Venice. According to The Gazette, the Order’s badge:

showed St George for England on one side, with the Archangel St Michael trampling on Satan on the other, in an allusion to Napoleon being crushed by the allied powers. Both saints were surrounded by the motto auspicium melioris aevi, which is usually rendered as ‘token of a better age’, and perhaps reflected [Secretary of State for War Henry] Bathurst’s hope for the future of his Mediterranean enterprise when he signed the founding patent in 1818.

** Revelation 12:7-9: “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”

Rainbow

One thing I like about the Pride flag is that it shows a properly stylized rainbow – the three primary colors red, yellow, and blue, and the three secondary colors orange, green, and purple, producing a flag with six horizontal stripes (preferable to vertical stripes since that’s the way a flag flies). 

Of course, the spectrum contains an infinitude of colors, but showing six of them is a logical and visually appealing abstraction. But didn’t we learn in school that there were seven? Doesn’t the mnemonic “Roy G. Biv” stand for Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet? Where does this “Indigo” come from? Wikipedia informs us that:

Indigo was defined as a spectral color by Sir Isaac Newton when he divided up the optical spectrum, which has a continuum of wavelengths. He specifically named seven colors primarily to match the seven notes of a western major scale, because he believed sound and light were physically similar, and also to link colors with the (known) planets, the days of the week, and other lists that had seven items. It is accordingly counted as one of the traditional colors of the rainbow.

Ah, Newton. One of the great geniuses of the previous millennium, but still not entirely a man of science as we now understand that term. The designation of “indigo” as a color of the rainbow simply to get to the number seven seems similar to a hypothetical situation in which we decided that five is a special number, and so imagined five cardinal directions – North, East, South-East, South, and West. 

But I wonder whether this seven-color Newtonian version – the product of a man who believed that the “Supreme God is a Being eternal, infinite, absolutely perfect… and from his true dominion it follows that the true God is a living, intelligent, and powerful Being,” as he says in the Principia – might not be a way to distinguish the rainbow for those who wish to “take it back” from the Gay Pride movement. It would certainly fit with the Christian idea that six is the number of “man” or “imperfection,” and seven the “totality of perfection” or “completeness.” So a seven-striped rainbow could be “Christian,” and a six-striped rainbow could be “gay.” 

In the meantime we do wish everyone a happy Pride Month!