Hengist and Horsa

Richard Utz on Medievally Speaking:

Adventures in Anglalond: Angles, Saxons, and Academics

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress determined, among many other and more important matters, that a committee of three, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson, should recommend a seal for the new United States of America. By August, each of the men suggested different designs, with scenes and symbols deriving from the usual suspects: Classical mythology, the Bible, and the Middle Ages. Adams settled on the figure of Hercules as he contemplated abstractions of Virtue and Sloth; Franklin imagined Moses extending his hand and destroying Pharao and his armies; Jefferson agreed with seeing Moses and Pharaoh on one side of the seal or medal they were considering. On the reverse, however, he added a surprise element: “Hengist and Horsa, the Saxon chiefs from whom we claim the honor of being descended, and whose political principles and form of government we have assumed.” None of the three proposals ended up being picked, and several other versions were also rejected, including one with a shield flanked by the maiden America and a medieval knight in armor.

Clearly, certain ideas and tropes of the medieval past loomed large in the imaginary of the country’s late eighteenth-century founders. Jefferson’s anchoring of American claims of self-determination with a pair of mythographic Germanic settler-colonizers, whom he seems to credit with creating a form of self-rule in early medieval Kent, is rather ironic. After all, his own grandparents on his father’s side had immigrated from Northern Wales, a region that became part of the “Celtic fringe” (roughly today’s Cornwall, Ireland, Isla of Man, Scotland, Wales, and Brittany) into which the indigenous Romano-Celtic inhabitants of the ‘British’ isles retreated as the Angles, Saxons, and Jutes expanded their territories.

Of course, historical accuracy and exact genealogy were not priorities when a late eighteenth-century politician yearned to demonstrate the manifest destiny of his nation. Jefferson’s priority was to unite the new nation behind what he felt was a linguistically and culturally plausible ‘English’ national heritage of entrepreneurial colonizers. And as nationalism gradually increased during the nineteenth and early twentieth-century, the practitioners of medieval studies in the U.S., European countries, and many of their colonies worked within similar nationalist paradigms. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say that medieval studies would never have succeeded at finding broad acceptance at the modern university if it had not been in lockstep with these very paradigms: The heavy research focus on national epics (Song of RolandNibelungenliedEl Cid), the use of linguistics to prove ‘ownership’ of medieval texts (Beowulf as a Danish, German(ic), or English/British narrative), or nationalized methods of textual editing (Karl Lachmann vs. Joseph Bédiér) provide evidence for the long-standing interdependence of nationalism and medieval studies. Numerous critical evaluations, from Reginald Horsman’s Race and Manifest Destiny: The Origins of American Racial Anglo-Saxonism (1981) through Mary Dockray-Miller’s “Public Medievalists, Racism, and Suffrage in the American Women’s College” (2019) demonstrate the same interdependence in the area of “Anglo-Saxonism”. 

I did not know about Jefferson’s proposed seal, nor about the place of Hengist and Horsa in the American “imaginary” – although I would point out that Jefferson does not talk only of “descent”, but also of “political principles and form of government.” This may not have been entirely accurate either, but it was’t necessarily racial, as Tom MacMaster comments:

Respectfully, I think this post is both wrong and misleading. It misses the important dimension that Jefferson (et al.) weren’t particularly interested in the racial/ethnic identity of Hengist & Horsa but were steeped in ideas related to the English Civil War and the notion of the Norman Yoke. Occluding that discussion (which most of these endless discussions of the evilness of Anglo-Saxon have done) misses a really important aspect of the use of the term (when used as an endonym; quite a lot of the ‘oppressive’ aspect also is its use as an exonym, e.g. by French political theorists or sociologists like Andrew Hacker, the popularizer of the “WASP” acronym). Pretending otherwise only aids in pushing a mendacious narrative favored by a group of pseudo-leftist ideologues and stochastic terrorists who are bent on destruction of the academic study of the middle ages.

I would also like to say that Medieval Studies, as a discipline, may have been associated with nineteenth-century nation-building, but I take it for granted that the entire field is not forever tainted. I am glad for the existence of the publications of the Early English Text Society and the Rolls Series which, whatever their origins, are extremely useful in illuminating the past. 

Mason-Dixon Line

The Mason-Dixon Line, which separates Pennsylvania from Maryland, became emblematic of the divide between slave and free states prior to the Civil War (thus is it sometimes erroneously called the “Mason-Dixie Line”). It was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon to end a territorial dispute between the Province of Maryland and the Province of Pennsylvania.

Wikipedia.

What I did not know is that this dispute actually broke out into violence in the 1730s. From the Wikipedia entry on Cresap’s War:

Hostilities erupted in 1730 with a series of violent incidents prompted by disputes over property rights and law enforcement, and escalated through the first half of the decade, culminating in the deployment of military forces by Maryland in 1736 and by Pennsylvania in 1737. The armed phase of the conflict ended in May 1738 with the intervention of King George II, who compelled the negotiation of a cease-fire.

I do not know how many people actually died as a result of Cresap’s War (which is also gloriously known as the Conojocular War, after the Conejohela Valley where it was fought).

The American Heraldry Society posted some pictures of the demarcation stones of the Mason-Dixon Line to Facebook:

These feature the arms of the respective colonial proprietors: William Penn on the left, and Lord Baltimore on the right.

Anne Good and Madeline Gray ’18

On February 14, Associate Professor of History Anne Good and alumna Madeline Gray ’18 presented their research on “Mrs. Knight’s Receipt Book, 1740,” at the February Community Gathering. The Center for Engaged Teaching and Learning funded a trip to the Folger Shakespeare Library in November, where they examined Mrs. Knight’s book in person. It contained more than recipes for food – humorism was alive and well in the eighteenth century, and many home remedies based on this theory were also included. Attendees, however, were treated to gingerbread treats made according to the book.

Vegetation

A couple of interesting BBC links:

1. Alastair Sooke investigates the so-called “Green Man”:

A mask-like face engulfed in undergrowth, leaves sprouting eerily from his wretched mouth. Sometimes beautiful, often sinister, this mysterious figure – so common in medieval sculpture – is known as ‘the Green Man’.

In his heyday, the Green Man could be found glaring in churches across Europe. Since then, he has permeated folklore, popular culture and literature.

But who is he? And where did he come from? Is he a positive symbol of springtime renewal? Or an image of dereliction and decay – a dark reminder of man’s mortality?

Find out more at the link. The video references a 1978 book on the topic by Kathleen Basford, which is still in print.

2. News from Somerset:

Bath’s Sydney Gardens to be restored

Georgian pleasure gardens which were loved by Jane Austen are among six parks to have been awarded a total of £13.8m in lottery cash.

Sydney Gardens in Bath, which have fallen into decline, have been given £2.74m to help with restoration.

The novelist lived near the park when she moved to the city in 1801.

Other parks to get cash include South Cliff Gardens in Scarborough, Castle Park in Bishop’s Stortford and Ellington Park in Ramsgate.

Fairhaven Lake and Gardens on the Fylde coast and Stevens Park in Quarry Bank, Dudley, have also received Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) money.

The Grade II registered Sydney Gardens were designed in the late 18th Century, and became Austen’s local park when she moved to the city.

More at the link.

November 5

On November 5, 1605, the House of Lords was supposed to have been blown up by a group of Roman Catholic conspirators who were disappointed that the newly-crowned King James had not relaxed the anti-Catholic policies of his predecessor, Queen Elizabeth. Had the plot succeeded, James would have been killed at the State Opening of Parliament, along with a good many other English grandees. But the plot was exposed, and the principal conspirators, including Guy Fawkes, who was found guarding 36 barrels of gunpowder that had been placed in the House of Lords, were all arrested, convicted, and executed.

“A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot.” Wikipedia.

Since that time, the Fifth of November has been celebrated as a triumph of British Protestantism against the wicked forces of papistry. To this day, it serves an excuse to throw a stuffed “Guy” (or even a pope) onto a bonfire, or at least set off fireworks (I lived in London once, and can attest to this). I assume that the anti-Catholicism of the celebration has been downplayed in recent years, and that the fifth of November is simply the British equivalent of Hallowe’en – an occasion of autumn revelry.

“A contemporary engraving of eight of the thirteen conspirators, by Crispijn van de Passe. Missing are Digby, Keyes, Rookwood, Grant, and Tresham.” Wikipedia.

I have always been curious why the Fifth of November fell out of favor in the American colonies. Why don’t we celebrate it here anymore? Why did the Irish custom of Hallowe’en take off in from the nineteenth century? Apparently George Washington found it embarrassing. As he wrote in 1775:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form’d for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain’d, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.

Alas, such consideration was not enough to win the French colonists to the cause of Revolution (thus does Canada exist today!), but apparently it had a permanent effect.

But as I wrote before, the casting of Guy Fawkes as a sort of anarchist freedom fighter has been one of the more remarkable transformations I’ve ever witnessed.

How the States Got Their Shapes

Some Wikipedia discoveries about internal territorial disputes in the United States.

1. “The State of Franklin was an unrecognized and autonomous territory located in what is today Eastern Tennessee, United States. Franklin was created in 1784 from part of the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains that had been offered by North Carolina as a cession to Congress to help pay off debts related to the American War for Independence. It was founded with the intent of becoming the fourteenth state of the new United States.

“Franklin’s first capital was Jonesborough. After the summer of 1785, the government of Franklin (which was by then based in Greeneville), ruled as a “parallel government” running alongside (but not harmoniously with) a re-established North Carolina bureaucracy. Franklin was never admitted into the union. The extra-legal state existed for only about four and a half years, ostensibly as a republic, after which North Carolina re-assumed full control of the area….

“Soon thereafter, North Carolina once again ceded the area to the federal government to form the Southwest Territory, the precursor to the State of Tennessee.”

2. “The Walton War was an 1804 boundary dispute between the U.S. states of North Carolina and Georgia over the twelve-mile-wide strip of land called the Orphan Strip. The Orphan Strip was given to Georgia in 1802. Georgia and North Carolina thus had a shared border. Problems arose when Georgia established Walton County in the small piece of land, because the state boundaries had never been clarified, and it was unclear as to whether the Orphan Strip was part of North Carolina or Georgia.

“The Walton War remained a dispute primarily between the settlers and the Walton County government until John Havner, a North Carolinian constable, was killed and North Carolina’s Buncombe County called in the militia. By calling in the militia, North Carolina effectively asserted authority over the territory, causing the Walton County government to fail. In 1807, after two years of dispute, a joint commission confirmed that the Orphan Strip belonged to North Carolina, at which point North Carolina extended full amnesty to previous supporters of Walton County. The Walton War officially ended in 1811 when Georgia’s own survey reiterated the 1807 commission’s findings, and North Carolina took full responsibility for governing the Orphan Strip.”

3. “The Republic of West Florida was a short-lived republic in the western region of Spanish West Florida for several months during 1810. It was annexed and occupied by the United States later in 1810 and subsequently became part of eastern Louisiana.

“The boundaries of the Republic of West Florida included all territory south of parallel 31°N, east of the Mississippi River, and north of the waterway formed by the Iberville River, Amite River, Lake Maurepas, Pass Manchac, Lake Pontchartrain, and the Rigolets. The Pearl River, with its branch that flowed into the Rigolets, formed the eastern boundary of the republic. A military expedition from the republic attempted but failed to capture the Spanish outpost at Mobile, which was situated between the Pearl and the Perdido River, farther to the east. Despite its name, none of the Republic of West Florida was within the borders of the present-day state of Florida, but rather entirely within the present borders of Louisiana.”

4. “The Toledo War (1835–36), also known as the Michigan–Ohio War, was an almost bloodless boundary dispute between the U.S. state of Ohio and the adjoining territory of Michigan.

“Poor geographical understanding of the Great Lakes helped produce conflicting state and federal legislation between 1787 and 1805, and varying interpretations of the laws led the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim jurisdiction over a 468-square-mile (1,210 km2) region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip. The situation came to a head when Michigan petitioned for statehood in 1835 and sought to include the disputed territory within its boundaries. Both sides passed legislation attempting to force the other side’s capitulation, while Ohio’s Governor Robert Lucas and Michigan’s 24-year-old “Boy Governor” Stevens T. Mason helped institute criminal penalties for citizens submitting to the other’s authority. Both states deployed militias on opposite sides of the Maumee River near Toledo, but besides mutual taunting, there was little interaction between the two forces. The single military confrontation of the “war” ended with a report of shots being fired into the air, incurring no casualties.

“During the summer of 1836, Congress proposed a compromise whereby Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and about three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan. Voters in a state convention in September soundly rejected the proposal. But in December, the Michigan government, facing a dire financial crisis and pressure from Congress and President Andrew Jackson, called another convention (called the “Frostbitten Convention”) which accepted the compromise that resolved the Toledo War.”

Finally, “Cascadia is a bioregion and proposed country located within the western region of North America. Potential boundaries differ, with some drawn along existing political state and provincial lines, and others drawn along larger ecological, cultural, political, and economic boundaries.

“The proposed country largely would consist of the Canadian province of British Columbia and the US States of Washington and Oregon. At its maximum extent, Cascadia would stretch from coastal Alaska in the north into Northern California in the south, and inland to include parts of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, as far Southeast as Colorado, and Yukon. More conservative advocates propose borders that include the land west of the crest of Cascade Range, and the western side of British Columbia.

“The Doug flag, also referred to as the Cascadian flag or the Cascadia Doug flag and nicknamed “Old Doug” or simply “the Doug”, is one of the primary symbols and an unofficial flag of the Cascadia region…. It was designed by Portland, Oregon native Alexander Baretich in the academic year of 1994-1995. It is named after the Douglas fir, featured on the flag.”

Irish Discoveries

A couple of interesting finds on Wikipedia:

Conolly’s Folly is an obelisk structure and National Monument located near MaynoothCounty KildareIreland. The folly was built within Castletown Estate (containing Castletown House), which contains two follies, both commissioned by Katherine Conolly, the philanthropic widow of Speaker William Conolly, to provide employment for hundreds of the poor of Celbridge when the famine of 1740–41 was at its worst.”

The Wonderful Barn is a corkscrew-shaped building on the edge of Castletown House Estate, formerly of the Conolly family, in CelbridgeCounty KildareIreland. The barn itself is formally in neighbouring Leixlip. Flanked by two smaller dovecote towers, the barn was built with the stairs ascending around the exterior of the building. The barn was built in 1743 on the Leixlip side of the Castletown Estate.

“Several purposes are suggested for the unique structure:

“One theory is based on the custom in Georgian times of using doves as a delicacy when other game or animals were not in season, and suggest its use as a dovecote.

“The height of the structure would also lend itself to sport shooting, supporting another theory of its use as a shooting or gamekeepers tower.

“The tower is seen from the east windows of Castletown House, so it filled that vista, possibly as a folly.

“However, a central hole through each of the floors supports the generally accepted theory of its use as a granary. The barn was built in the years immediately following the famine of 1740-41, as there was a need for new grain stores in case of another famine. The Conollys owned Kilmacredock and rented it out, so the barn was also useful for their tenants.”

Horse Racing

Mike Huggins talks about his newly-published book Horse Racing and British Society in the Long Eighteenth Century at Proofed, a blog of Boydell and Brewer:

I had not realized how important the annual racing week was in the leisure calendar of so many county and large market towns during the eighteenth century, helping foster consumerism and the urban renaissance. For many women of the middling classes for example, the racing was almost incidental, but was looked forward to for weeks before with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. It offered many social opportunities; socializing with the titled and the county set, attending assemblies, balls, the ordinaries or the theatre, appearing in the grandstand, and dressing up, demonstrating status and conspicuous consumption.

Racing was equally significant politically. The early Jockey Club was much more than a racing club. Its members were mostly Protestant, Whig and committed to the defeat of Stuart Catholicism, and were usually MPs or otherwise leading figures in the political elite, like the Duke of Bolton. Racing played across divisions of Whig and Tory, court and country or Hanover and Jacobite in complex ways. Hanoverian sons demonstrated their independence against their father by spending money racing. Race meetings were sites of assembly for political discourse where prospective and current parliamentarians lobbied for support, exploited the dynamics of patronage, or used attenders as focus groups.

More at the link.

Real Independence Day

Gail Heriot on Instapundit (emphasis added):

RIGHT SENTIMENT, WRONG DAY:  On this day in 1776 (and not July 4th), the Continental Congress voted for independence from Great Britain.  The next day, in a letter to Abigail, John Adams rhapsodized:

The Second Day of July 1776, will be the most memorable Epocha, in the History of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival. It ought to be commemorated, as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.

Yes, we did eventually come to celebrate Independence Day with parades, bonfires and illuminations. But we chose the 4th of July (the day the Declaration of Independence was adopted and signed) rather than the 2nd of July when the vote for independence was taken.

Here’s one way the difference might matter:  Choosing the 4th made Jefferson the most significant figure in the story, since he wrote the Declaration. If the 2nd had caught on as the day to celebrate, it would have put Adams more at the center, since he was the more important oral advocate for independence.

Pirates and the Metric System

From Taking Measure, a blog of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (via Slate Star Codex), an interesting historical anecdote offering a reason why the United States did not adopt the metric system.

Pirates of the Caribbean (Metric Edition)

September 19, 2017
by Keith Martin

To save his own life, Joseph Dombey had an idea. As two pirate ships surrounded the ship he was on in the Caribbean Sea in 1794, Dombey scrambled below deck, disrobing as he went. He appropriated the outfit of one of the ship’s many Spanish sailors and prayed that he had picked up enough of their language during his trips to South America to blend in. Dombey shouldn’t have been in this position. In fact, he shouldn’t have been in the Caribbean at all. None other than Thomas Jefferson himself was expecting to meet with Dombey in Philadelphia at that very moment.

Dombey’s fate that day arguably delayed the adoption of the metric system in the United States by almost a century and left us as one of the few countries in the world still using non-metric units for our everyday measurements.The marauders now swarming Dombey’s ship were a particular breed of pirate: British privateers— the state-sponsored terrorists of the 18th century. These waterborne gangs had the tacit approval of the government in London to harass and plunder other countries’ maritime commerce and keep part of the spoils as their profit.

After seizing control of the ship, the pirates came across a sailor speaking Spanish with a curiously French accent—Joseph Dombey. A French physician and botanist acting under orders from the French government, Dombey had left the port city of Le Havre, France, weeks earlier for Philadelphia and the meeting with Jefferson, the United States’ first secretary of state and future president. But storms had pushed Dombey’s ship off course and deep into pirate territory.

France had supported the United States against the British in the War of Independence, and now they intended to build closer economic ties with the new American nation. Dombey was to negotiate with Jefferson for grain exports to France and to deliver two new French measurement standards: a standard of length (the meter) and a standard of mass called, rather ominously, a grave, to be considered by the U.S. for adoption. (The grave would be renamed the kilogram a year later in 1795.)

In many ways, Dombey was an excellent choice for this mission. Having already been on several trips to South America to collect botanical specimens, he was an experienced trans-Atlantic traveler. His knowledge of plants would also be of help in his agricultural trade negotiations with Jefferson. And Dombey’s scientific training as a physician and botanist gave him an understanding of the importance of accurate weights and measures, so it was highly likely that he would be able to convince Congress to adopt the new French standards, which would later come to be known as the metric system.

Despite his qualifications, Dombey lacked one important attribute: luck. His previous trips had all ended in failure. He had spent two years in Peru collecting plants that could be usefully cultivated in France, only to have the shipment captured by the British. A second collecting trip, this time in Chile and in collaboration with Spain, fell apart over a business dispute, with Spain keeping all the valuable specimens. But Dombey’s voyage to Philadelphia would turn out to be his most disastrous.

Upon learning his true identity, the pirates imprisoned Dombey on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. Unfortunately, Dombey died before they were able to ransom him to the French, and the units of measure in his charge never made it into Jefferson’s hands.

Some historians view this event as a tragic missed opportunity whose consequences we are still living with today. When the U.S. became an independent nation, it inherited an inconsistent collection of traditional British weights and measures. Congress was aware of the flaws with its British measures, and a congressional committee was formed to recommend solutions. Thomas Jefferson, an admirer of French scientific ideas, lobbied for a measurement system similar to that of France. But Congress didn’t adopt it, and the British-influenced system took hold in the U.S. instead. However, If pirates hadn’t intercepted Dombey on his way to Philadelphia, the situation might be very different today.

More at the link.