The French on the Mississippi

Arms of Bourbon France, above the main entrance to Fort de Chartres, Randolph County, Illinois.

The City of St. Louis, founded on the west bank of the Mississippi River just south of its confluence with the Missouri River, and named for the thirteenth-century French King Louis IX, is probably the most prominent French-derived place-name in the American Midwest. But the city was only founded in 1764, i.e. right after France ceded the rights to almost all its North American territories either to Britain (east of the Mississippi) or Spain (west of the Mississippi). So St. Louis may have been founded by French people (the entrepreneurs Gilbert Antoine de St. Maxent, Pierre Laclède, and Auguste Chouteau, to be exact, who would rather have lived under the Spanish than the British), and was predominantly French in culture, but it was only ruled by France for the two years between France’s reacquisition of the Louisiana Territory in 1801 and the Louisiana Purchase by the United States in 1803. 

For earlier French-sponsored settlement along the Mississippi, one must travel south from St. Louis, where one finds evidence of it on both sides of the river. We were pleased to be able to visit some of these sites this past weekend. 

Google maps.

1. The blue star on the map marks the location of Fort de Chartres, in Randolph County, Illinois. The fort was founded in 1719 as an administrative center for Illinois and named after the duc de Chartres, son of the Regent of France at the time (Louis XV had succeeded to the French throne at age five in 1715). Illinois itself had recently been transferred from Canada to Louisiana, and hopes were high for the territory: not only could its wildlife be hunted for furs, but its alluvial plain could also serve as a breadbasket for New Orleans. Under the direction of the financier John Law, the territory became the object of a great deal of economic speculation; this “Mississippi Bubble” burst in 1721, thenceforth to become one of the case studies in Charles Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds (1841). But the territory survived as a French possession, and so did the fort. In fact, it was rebuilt twice, the final time in limestone in the 1750s.

A reconstructed version of this fort is what visitors see today:

The onsite museum is pretty good, as are some of the recreated interiors:

The fort passed to the British in 1763, who renamed it Fort Cavendish; they abandoned it in 1772 when they recalled its troops to Philadelphia. The United States did not make use of the fort; an encroaching Mississippi took its toll on the wall facing the river, and subsequent locals treated the fort as a quarry. The site was acquired by the state of Illinois in 1913; significant parts were reconstructed by the WPA in the 1930s. 

2. The red star marks the location of Fort Kaskaskia, Illinois. Kaskaskia was originally a Jesuit mission founded in 1703. According to a sign, in the 1730s French officials hoped to replace Fort de Chartres with Fort Kaskaskia, but instead ended up rebuilding Fort de Chartres, leaving a mere “earthen fort” at Kaskaskia. 

In 1763, along with the rest of Illinois, the fort was transferred to the British, who made no use of it. However, a “local bandit” named John Dodge made it his headquarters in the 1780s, and the U.S. Army occupied it between 1803 and 1807. It was last used during the War of 1812 as a refuge for local residents.

Not much remains of it today, although you can make out its shape by the earthworks. 

3. The black star marks the present location of the town of Kaskaskia, Illinois. This site is currently on the west bank of the Mississippi, but it was not always, and the state boundaries do not shift with the river, thus the large blob of Illinois one sees to the west of Chester, Ill. Kaskaskia only had fourteen residents in 2010, but for a year following Illinois’s admission to the union in 1818 it actually served as the state capital. 

Kaskaskia is home to the so-called “Liberty Bell of the West,” which is housed in a purpose-built structure next door to the Church of the Immaculate Conception (where Mass was being celebrated when we visited; there were a lot more than fourteen people in attendance, so it is clear that the parish has a bigger catchment area than the town itself). 

If you press a button, the door swings open, but the metal bars remain in place, so this is the closest you can get to the bell.

It was cast in New Rochelle in 1741 and given by Louis XV to the church in New France. It was rung to celebrate the capture of Kaskaskia by a company of Virginians on July 4, 1778, and continued to be rung on that date for many years afterward. It is interesting how the French of the Mississippi valley were apparently pro-American during the Revolution, when the French of Quebec remained with the British. 

I was amused to discover that this bell, like the other Liberty Bell, has a crack in it. Did someone deliberately create this, I wonder? It is claimed that the floods of 1973 and 1993 exacerbated a hairline crack first noticed in 1948. 

4. The green star marks the location of Ste. Geneviève, Missouri. In contrast to Kaskaskia, Ste. Geneviève is a thriving tourist town. 

Statue of Sainte Geneviève, above the west portal of her namesake church in her namesake town.

It was founded in 1735 and has one of the best collections of French colonial architecture in the United States, including three “poteaux-en-terre” houses. 

Louis Bolduc House, 1780s.

Green Tree Tavern, 1790s.

Jean-Baptiste Valle House, 1790s.

In the 1930s, historian Charles Peterson proposed that Ste. Geneviève developed a distinctive architectural style that blended influences from French Canada (chiefly the internal structure) and from the West Indies (chiefly the galeries, i.e. the porches). 

The National Parks Service Welcome Center has a great museum that explains all of this in some detail. Definitely worth a visit if you’re ever passing through. 

Of course, once the Mississippi valley became American, Anglophone settlers came flooding in, and absorbed the Francophones like the Borg in Star Trek. Nonetheless, some customs remain: it seems that the Roman Catholic Church is thriving in these parts, and locals still participate in the New Year’s Guiannée ceremony. 

Some Historic Flags

A day out yesterday in Illinois and Missouri allowed us to see some interesting things, including some historic flags. As is my habit, I carefully collected them for display here!

At the Fort de Chartres museum, Randolph County, Illinois.

Prior to 1763, both sides of the Mississippi were claimed by France, which could be represented, believe it or not, by a plain white flag. White, symbolizing purity, was the color of the Bourbon dynasty; the white band in the French revolutionary tricolor derives from this flag. (No, I am not going to indulge in the cheap shot that a white flag is appropriate for a people who so readily surrender. The French have more than their share of military victories.) 

At the Kaskaskia Bell State Memorial, Kaskaskia, Ill.

Still, it’s probably better to deface the white flag with something else. Here, it’s been adorned with three gold fleur de lys, that preeminent symbol of the French monarchy. This flag was used, although it is not a good design, for in heraldry one is not supposed to put gold on white because the colors do not contrast enough.

At the Ste. Geneviève Welcome Center, Ste. Geneviève, Missouri.

This is the best option, in my opinion, when representing New France – a banner of the royal arms, i.e. Azure three fleur de lys Or. The gold fleur de lys contrast nicely with the blue background, and the flag itself contrasts with the sky. 

At the Ste. Geneviève Welcome Center, Ste. Geneviève, Missouri.

In 1763, the Louisiana Territory (west of the Mississippi) was acquired by Spain, and there are several options for a flag represent that colonial power. The one on display at the Ste. Geneviève Welcome Center is said, by Wikipedia, to be the Bourbonic ensign (1760–1785).

At the Fort de Chartres museum, Randolph County, Illinois.

At the Kaskaskia Bell State Memorial, Kaskaskia, Ill.

The territory east of the Mississippi became British in 1763, and so the Union Jack might have flown there. It’s good that the local museums actually remembered to use the pre-1801 version (i.e. without the red diagonals representing Ireland). I have seen other historic Union Jacks with thin crosses of St. Andrew like the one at the top.  

At the Fort de Chartres museum, Randolph County, Illinois.

Here is a flag I had never seen before, a series of thirteen horizontal red and green stripes. This is the George Rogers Clark flag. Clark was a Virginia officer who captured Kaskaskia in 1778 and Vincennes in 1779, as part of the Illinois campaign in the American Revolutionary War. 

At the Fort de Chartres museum, Randolph County, Illinois.

At the Kaskaskia Bell State Memorial, Kaskaskia, Ill.

At Fort Kaskaskia, Illinois.

Three versions of the earliest flag of the United States, with thirteen stars and thirteen stripes. Two of these flags arrange the stars in a circle (the “Betsy Ross flag”), the other does so in an array. Either one would have been acceptable. 

At Ste. Geneviève, Missouri.

I do not know who designed the flag of Ste-Geneviève, Missouri, or when. It’s not the best design. Once again we see gold on white – and writing on a flag should be avoided too (if for no other reason it’s backward half the time). But if they got rid of the writing, and substituted a dark-colored symbol for Ste. Geneviève in the place of the cross (making it more specific to the town), it would not be a bad flag. 

At Ste. Geneviève, Missouri.

This year marks the 200th since Missouri was admitted to the Union, as a result of the Missouri Compromise of 1820. You can see a bicentennial flag in celebration of this event flying here and there in the state. Again, there’s too much writing, and a map does not make for a good flag, but it’s not offensive as such. 

The Florida Panhandle

Enjoyed a weekend on the Florida Panhandle, with its fine white sand, Spanish moss, palm trees, marine wildlife… and fascinating history!

One interesting site is San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in Wakulla County. The museum is great, although not much remains of the fort itself. San Marcos was built at the confluence of the Wakulla and St. Marks Rivers, about five miles inland from Apalachee Bay. The fort was held successively by four powers: Spain, Britain, the United States, and the Confederacy, thus the historic flags that greet you as you walk in (all of which were flying at half-pole for Memorial Day). But one flag not flying is that of the State of Muskogee, whose representatives briefly seized the fort in 1791. 

I had never heard of this effort but it is one of a number of short-lived, self-declared states in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century America, such as the Republic of West Florida, the Trans-Oconee Republic, or the Republic of Fredonia. The State of Muskogee was the project of one William Augustus Bowles (1763-1805), a former Loyalist who, with British backing, set himself up as “Director General of the Muskogee Nation” and fought against the Spanish. But he was captured and starved himself to death in Havana in 1805. 

Who doesn’t love a good lighthouse? The one at the top is St. Marks Light, located within the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on Apalachee Bay, and it still functions. The one at the bottom is the Cape St. George Light, and it exists more as a statement of civic pride than anything. Originally situated at the western end of St. George Island, it was decommissioned in 1994 and toppled by erosion 2005. The locals then salvaged as much of it as possible and reconstructed it in 2008 so that it welcomes you to St. George Island as you drive in on the causeway. 

We had seen the Florida State Capitol before, but I was happy to get this photograph as we were driving through Tallahassee, showing both the Old Capitol (1845) in the foreground and the New Capitol (1977) in the background. 

The Public Universal Friend

Portrait of the Public Universal Friend (1821). Wikipedia.

A Wikipedia discovery (hat tip: Robert Black):

The Public Universal Friend (born Jemima Wilkinson; November 29, 1752 – July 1, 1819) was an American preacher born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, to Quaker parents. After suffering a severe illness in 1776, the Friend claimed to have died and been reanimated as a genderless evangelist named the Public Universal Friend, and afterward shunned both birth name and gendered pronouns. In androgynous clothes, the Friend preached throughout the northeastern United States, attracting many followers who became the Society of Universal Friends.

The Public Universal Friend’s theology was broadly similar to that of most Quakers. The Friend stressed free will, opposed slavery, and supported sexual abstinence. The most committed members of the Society of Universal Friends were a group of unmarried women who took leading roles in their households and community. In the 1790s, the Society acquired land in Western New York where they formed the township of Jerusalem near Penn Yan, New York. The Society of Universal Friends ceased to exist by the 1860s. Many writers have portrayed the Friend as a woman, and either a manipulative fraudster or a pioneer for women’s rights, while others have viewed the preacher as transgender or non-binary and a figure in trans history.

Read the rest of the article for more on this fascinating character. 

The Seal of the Public Universal Friend. Wikipedia.

The Dismal Swamp

From Smithsonian Magazine:

Deep in the Swamps, Archaeologists Are Finding How Fugitive Slaves Kept Their Freedom

The Great Dismal Swamp was once a thriving refuge for runaways

The worse it gets, as I wade and stumble through the Great Dismal Swamp, the better I understand its history as a place of refuge. Each ripping thorn and sucking mudhole makes it clearer. It was the dense, tangled hostility of the swamp and its enormous size that enabled hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of escaped slaves to live here in freedom.

We don’t know much about them, but thanks to the archaeologist hacking through the mire ahead of me, we know they were out here, subsisting in hidden communities, and using almost nothing from the outside world until the 19th century. The Dismal Swamp covered great tracts of southeast Virginia and northeast North Carolina, and its vegetation was far too thick for horses or canoes. In the early 1600s, Native Americans fleeing the colonial frontier took refuge here, and they were soon joined by fugitive slaves, and probably some whites escaping indentured servitude or hiding from the law. From about 1680 to the Civil War, it appears that the swamp communities were dominated by Africans and African-Americans.

Read the whole thing.

New Echota

On Saturday we had the pleasure of visiting New Echota State Historical Site near Calhoun. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation from 1825 until 1838, when U.S. government forces, under the command of Winfield Scott, rounded them up and forced their removal to Oklahoma. This is the infamous Trail of Tears, and a monument commemorates this as you arrive at the visitors’ center.

The flag on the left is that of the United Keetoowah Band, and the flags on the right are those of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation, the three federally-recognized Cherokee tribes. (The United Keetoowah Band and the Cherokee Nation are headquartered in Tahlequah, Okla., while the Eastern Band is headquartered in Cherokee, N.C.)

A plan of the site. Alas, the Worcester House (8) is the only original building here. This was the home of Samuel Worcester, a missionary to the Cherokee and publisher of the Cherokee Phoenix (see below). Convicted by the state of Georgia for living in Cherokee territory without a license, Worcester appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found the Georgia law unconstitutional, as it was the federal government that had the exclusive right to treat with Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson is reputed to have said in response that “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!” Worcester went west with the Cherokee and died there in 1861.

Other buildings are reconstructions, like the Council House (3), where the Cherokee legislature convened…

…or the Supreme Courthouse (4), which doubled as a school.

What made this visit especially pleasurable was to see Reinhardt history graduate Cole Gregory, now employed with the state parks service. Here he is in the Vann Tavern (9), explaining how it worked (an interesting detail: a window on the back served as a drive-thru for people that the manager did not want coming in). James Vann was a Cherokee leader who owned several taverns; this one does date from the early nineteenth century but was originally located in Forsyth County and moved here in the 1950s.

The reconstructed Print Shop (11) represents the locale of the famous Cherokee Phoenix. A friendly and knowledgeable volunteer explained things to us. The newspaper was largely written by Elias Boudinot, who believed that relocation to the west was in the best interests of the Cherokee and who thus signed the Treaty of New Echota with the federal government. This “Treaty Party” represented a minority of the Cherokee Nation, and the signatories, including Boudinot, were assassinated not long after they arrived in Oklahoma.

You can buy a copy of Vol. 1, No. 4 in the gift shop. This one contains notice of Cherokee laws passed, news of ongoing negotiations with Washington, poetry, and news of the escape of some missionaries from Maori cannibals. As you can see, it is printed both in English and in Cherokee, using Sequoyah’s syllabary. (We learned that they type foundry had changed some of his characters for easier casting – and that archaeologists at New Echota had recovered a cache of individual letters [“sorts”] at the bottom of a well, into which they had been thrown by U.S. troops in 1838.)

We were pleased to find this book in the gift shop. John Ross was a Cherokee leader who opposed forced resettlement in the west; his house is in Rossville, Georgia, less than 1000 feet from the Tennessee state line. Jeff Bishop is Reinhardt’s new director of the Funk Heritage Center and, as you can see, an expert in Cherokee history.

***

On our way home we stopped at the Rock Garden, situated behind Calhoun’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The Rock Garden is the creation of one DeWitt “Old Dog” Boyd, and features sculptures made up pebbles glued together to form miniature buildings. My favorite was this interpretation of Notre Dame cathedral, complete with flying buttresses, but I loved the whole thing – I respect anyone with the vision and the patience to realize art like this, like Howard Finster and his Paradise Garden.

No More Vice

Gail Heriot on Instapundit:

AND TYLER TOO: President William Henry Harrison died on this day in 1841, only 31 days into his term. He was the first President to die in office. Here’s the Constitutional quirk: In those days, the Constitution simply said that in case of the President’s death “the Powers and Duties of the said office” “shall devolve upon the Vice President.” It didn’t say that the Vice President BECOMES the President. Tyler, however, took the position that he WAS then the President, and got royally (or at least presidentially) pissed off when some people disagreed. It wasn’t until the 25th Amendment, ratified in 1967, that it was made clear that the Vice President actually becomes the President upon the death, resignation or removal of the President.

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…