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.”

“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.”

Iron Furnaces of the Etowah Valley

Longtime readers will know that, prior to the Civil War, northwest Georgia was home to an iron-smelting industry – and that Reinhardt’s own Ken Wheeler has become quite an authority on it. 

be-roberts.com

I found this illustration at the website for B&E Roberts Photography. It shows a nineteenth-century smelter in action, with the dry-stone charcoal-fired furnace at the center, a causeway for the dumping-in of ore on the one side, a water-powered bellows on the other, and iron (and slag) pouring out the bottom. 

Wanda Pirtle Cronauer

Several of these furnaces remain in various stages of repair around these parts. The best preserved (and most accessible) is Cooper’s Furnace, at Cooper’s Furnace Day Use Area. I have seen this one before but the photo shown here is by my former student Wanda Cronauer, which is better than the one I took. 

Other furnaces are more decayed and more remote, and have a real “lost Mayan temple in the jungle” feel to them. I have made it a goal to see as many of them as I can during this time of enforced social distancing. Stamp Creek, which runs not far from my house, is home to a few of them. This one is called Pool Furnace.

This one is the Lewis Iron Blast Furnace, aka Oak Grove Furnace, aka Earl Brown Furnace, also on Stamp Creek.

It’s in pretty good condition and still has remnants of the interior firebrick chimney. 

Slightly downstream we find the Diamond Furnace, also known as the Fire-Eater Furnace, which has unfortunately collapsed in on itself. 

Nearby on Guthrie Creek one finds the Bear Mountain “New Stack” Furnace. 

I don’t know what makes it a new stack furnace but it features this small chimney behind and above the front door. 

Finally, this one is Donaldson Furnace on Shoal Creek, near the Georgia National Cemetery (whose director I thank for permission to access it). It was never used, and the story is that Judge Donaldson built it as a means of keeping his sons from being conscripted into the army of the CSA, since iron production was an essential wartime activity. But the war ended before it was finished. And because it wasn’t finished, you can easily go inside it and look up through the chimney, as though you’re in the Pantheon. 

Other images of these furnaces may be seen at the web pages for B&E Roberts Photography and the Etowah Valley Historical Society

The Auto-Icon

One of the stranger items on display at University College London is the stuffed remains of its spiritual founder, utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), who believed that education should be free of church influence (unlike Oxford and Cambridge, which at the time were restricted to members of the Church of England). Bentham called this his “auto-icon” (i.e. “self-image”). The auto-icon:

was inscribed in the late philosopher’s will, which requested that a number of fixtures be put in place to preserve his remains, that they be dressed in the clothes he wore in life, and that they occasionally be brought into meetings involving his still-living friends, so that what’s left of Bentham might enjoy their company.

You might be inclined to think that this was an elaborate joke on Bentham’s part, but he doesn’t strike me as the joking type. The auto-icon, according to the linked article in Atlas Obscura, has found a new and much more public home at UCL: in a glass case in the student center. (Previously it was in a closet that was only opened on request.) 

Bentham might have been an atheist, but it is interesting to note how the preservation of human remains is a custom that extends beyond religion. 

The Copper Pot

From the Charlotte Observer (hat tip: Judi Irvine):

19th-century shipwreck is suddenly turning up gold coins off South Carolina coast

A 180-year-old shipwreck popular with scuba divers is proving to be a trove of rare coins and artifacts for a salvage project launched 20 miles off the South Carolina coast.

Known to divers as “The Copper Pot,” the wreck is actually the Steamship North Carolina, which collided with another boat in 1840 with hundreds of gold coins stuffed in passengers’ steamer trunks.

The first of the newly found coins — “several” $5 gold pieces dating from the mid-1830s — were brought up in late September, along with 19th Century dinnerware and marble, according to Blue Water Ventures International based in Florida.

“I can’t believe what we’re finding,” Keith Webb, president of Blue Water Ventures, told McClatchy news group. “The coins look almost as if they were just minted and it’s blowing our minds. It’s because they were hidden by a large piece of copper and were not moved around in the sand by the current.”

Blue Water Ventures and its partner Endurance Exploration Group issued a report that contends “the aggregate loss in money was large” when the ship went down, and would today be valued in the tens of millions of dollars — mostly in gold coins. This includes one passenger who claimed he lost $15,000 in the incident.

However, Webb’s research suggests these won’t be the usual gold coins found on 19th Century shipwrecks. Many of the passengers were likely carrying coins from the newly commissioned U.S. Mint in Dahlonega, Georgia, which operated only 24 years.

Coins from the Dahlonega mint are rare and coveted by collectors and historians.

“Regardless of denomination, any high grade Dahlonega gold coin with a good strike… is a real treasure and based on past history has been a blue chip coin investment,” according to the DahlonegaGold.com.

The S.S. North Carolina was previously searched for treasure by an outfit called MAREX, which salvaged $700,000 worth of coins in the late 1990s. MAREX ceased working the site in part because the coins were difficult to salvage.

More at the link.

Circassians

May 21 is Circassian Memorial Day, when the worldwide Circassian community remembers the Russian-led Circassian Genocide of the 1860s, part of Russia’s attempt to expand into the Caucasus. Circassians (also known as the Adyghe) are largely Sunni Muslim, but their language is Northwest Caucasian, i.e. not Indo-European. Sochi, the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, was once the Circassian capital.

Wikipedia.

I have discovered that the Circassians fly a distinctive flag, which dates from the nineteenth century and was adopted as the flag of the Russian Republic of Adygea 1992. Apparently it was designed by David Urquhart, a Scottish diplomat serving in the Ottoman Empire. The stars reference the twelve Adyghe princedoms.

Joanna Southcott

This advertisement appeared in The Illustrated London News in 1968 (hat tip: Ron Good). Who is Joanna Southcott, and what might be in her box? The indispensable Wikipedia tells us that:

Joanna Southcott (or Southcote) (April 1750 – 27 December 1814) was a self-described religious prophetess. She was born in the English hamlet of Taleford, baptised at Ottery St Mary, and raised in the village of Gittisham, all in Devon, England.

Originally of the Church of England, in about 1792 she joined the Wesleyans in Exeter. Becoming persuaded that she possessed supernatural gifts, she wrote and dictated prophecies in rhyme, and then announced herself as the Woman of the Apocalypse spoken of in a prophetic passage of the Revelation (12:1–6).

Coming to London at the request of William Sharp, the engraver, Southcott began selling paper “seals of the Lord” at prices varying from twelve shillings to a guinea. The seals were supposed to ensure the holders’ places among the 144,000 people who would be elected to eternal life.

At the age of 64, Southcott affirmed that she was pregnant and would be delivered of the new Messiah, the Shiloh of Genesis (49:10). The date of 19 October 1814 was that fixed for the birth, but Shiloh failed to appear, and it was given out that she was in a trance.

Southcott died not long after. The official date of death was given as 27 December 1814, but it is likely that she died the previous day, as her followers retained her body for some time in the belief that she would be raised from the dead. They agreed to its burial only after it began to decay.

Her followers are said to have numbered over 100,000 at the time of her death. As for her box:

Southcott left a sealed wooden box of prophecies, usually known as Joanna Southcott’s Box, with the instruction that it be opened only at a time of national crisis, and then only in the presence of all 24 bishops of the Church of England (there were only 24 at the time), who were to spend a fixed period of time beforehand studying Southcott’s prophecies. Attempts were made to persuade the episcopate to open it during the Crimean War and again during the First World War. In 1927, the psychic researcher Harry Price claimed that he had come into possession of the box and arranged to have it opened in the presence of one reluctant prelate, the suffragan Bishop of Grantham. It was found to contain only a few oddments and unimportant papers, among them a lottery ticket and a horse-pistol. Price’s claims to have had the true box have been disputed by historians and by followers of Southcott.

Southcottians claimed that the box opened in 1927 was not the authentic one and continued to press for the true box to be opened. An advertising campaign on billboards and in British national newspapers such as the Sunday Express was run in the 1960s and 1970s by one prominent group of Southcottians, the Panacea Society in Bedford (formed 1920), to try to persuade the twenty-four bishops to have the box opened. According to the Society, the true box is in their possession at a secret location for safekeeping, with its whereabouts to be disclosed only when a bishops’ meeting has been arranged. Southcott prophesied that the Day of Judgement would come in the year 2004, and her followers stated that if the contents of the box had not been studied beforehand, the world would have had to meet it unprepared.

The Panacea Society was founded by a “clergyman’s widow, Mabel Barltrop, who declared herself the ‘daughter of God’, took the name Octavia and believed herself to be the Shiloh of Southcott’s prophecies. She and twelve apostles founded the Society, originally called the Community of the Holy Ghost.” It really was a community – some seventy members lived at its building on Albany Street in Bedford in the 1930s. According to BBC Travel, it was:

Dominated by single women in their 40s, 50s and 60s, [who] sent squares of linen that they claimed would heal any affliction to more than 120,000 believers worldwide….

These women were unable or unwilling to keep up with a period of intense social change, according to museum manager Gemma Papineau. “They had the mentality of scared people trying to protect themselves,” she said. “They built high walls around their campus, locked themselves inside it and made sure that everyone living with them believed exactly the same as them.”

The Panaceans were mostly conservative, right-wing, Christian ‘spinsters’, raised in the Victorian era and excluded from positions of authority within the church and in their lives. Part of the reason they fell in love with Joanna Southcott’s story, perhaps, was because of the power it granted to an ageing, childless, single woman. They went so far as to configure the Christian Trinity as a square, with Octavia as the Daughter of God. Just as Eve had first brought sin into the world, they believed, it was up to a woman to erase it – and provide mankind’s ultimate redemption.

Alas, the number of members dwindled over the years and the last one died in 2012. With that, the society’s assets were transferred to the Panacea Charitable Trust, which exists to promote research into millenarian movements and to help relieve poverty in the Bedford area. It also operates the Panacea Museum, which is devoted to the society.

What about the box? If you’re really interested, a replica box is on display at the museum, and a book by Frances Brown can tell you more:

If the name of Joanna Southcott strikes a chord today, it is usually in connection with her famous Box of Sealed Prophecies. But, if asked what that Box is, some will assure you that it contains the secrets of the second coming, while others say that it holds nothing more significant than a woman’s lacy night cap and a pistol. As to where the Box is now, some repeat that it was opened in 1927 in Westminster Hall and that it is now housed in the Harry Price Library in London. Others have suggested that its contents are in the British Library, while the Box itself languishes in a cellar of the British Museum. Still others maintain that the Box no longer exists – if, indeed, it ever did.

The truth is far simpler yet in some ways more mysterious. The Box does exist. The author has seen and examined it. There has been an unbroken chain of custodians from Joanna’s day to this, and the present guardians of the Box take their responsibilities every bit as seriously as their predecessors. Moreover, all the evidence suggests that Joanna Southcott’s Box has not been opened for at least a hundred and fifty years and that it contains prophecies which have been kept with their seals intact ever since her death.

This book, by establishing the provenance of the Box, dispels the falsehoods that have blurred its history. Joanna Southcott’s Box of Sealed Prophecies is locked, nailed and corded, its contents still awaiting examination.

Both Joanna Southcott and the Panacea Society sound very interesting and well worth further research. (Were they really a bunch of conservative spinsters, afraid of social change? The unconventionality of their faith would suggest otherwise.) Southcott herself reminds me of Hildegard of Bingen, Brigitte of Sweden, or Julian of Norwich – medieval women who received inspired messages, but of whom the Church had a great deal of suspicion. A website dedicated to reprinting Southcott’s writings may be found at joannasouthcott.com; judge for yourself if she was heretical. 

Cycloramas

Interesting article on Jstor daily (hat tip: Funk Heritage Center):

Cycloramas: The Virtual Reality of the 19th Century

Immersive displays brought 19th century spectators to far-off places and distant battles. The way they portrayed history, however, was often inaccurate.

In the fall of 1886, New Yorkers were transported to the Battle of Gettysburg. That is to say, they flocked to a circular structure in downtown Brooklyn. The inside walls of the curious room were covered with a 360-degree painting, on which soldiers charged and cannons fired. As Scientific American described at the time, the floorboards were covered with sod and “real trees, evergreens and others, with shrubbery, portions of fences, and the like are set about, and tufts of grass, wheat, and similar things, lend their aid to fill up the scene.” Skylights illuminated the canvas and props while leaving the spectator area dark, and mannequins were posed alongside the painted scene. So convincing were these dummies that the police got called one evening to stop a robbery and apprehended two fake soldiers.

This immersive installation, known as a cyclorama, was one of several that popped up around the United States and Europe in the nineteenth century. Civil War scenes were popular, but so were Niagara Falls, the Biblical Crucifixion, the Chicago Fire of 1871, and the Battle of Waterloo. They were the virtual reality of their time, combining art, lighting, architecture, and installations to convey viewers to exotic locales or the recent and distant past.

Irish painter Robert Barker is often credited with introducing what he described as a “picture without boundaries” in 1787, debuting his invention with a cylindrical panorama of Edinburgh. Cycloramas arrived in the United States by the end of the 1800s, and took off in the mid-nineteenth century. Because they required a specially-designed circular building, they tended to be long-term exhibitions. “Typically, a cyclorama stayed at one place until the local public lost interest in it and ticket sales dropped,” explains scholar Charles G. Markantes in Military Images. “Once the novelty wore off, some owners went bankrupt and were forced to abandon their paintings. Cycloramas remained viable attractions only where the location itself continued to attract visitors, such as the battlefield of Gettysburg or Atlanta.”

We visited Atlanta’s Cyclorama in 2015, and I’m pleased to say that it will be reopening next month at the Atlanta History Center.

Antebellum Newspapers

From Georgia Public Broadcasting (hat tip: Jeff Bishop), news of something interesting:

Georgia Newspapers From Before The Civil War, Now Online

Georgia newspapers spanning the years from the end of the colonial period to the start of the Civil War have been made publicly available via the internet.

The Digital Library of Georgia and the Georgia Newspaper Project digitized almost 54,000 pages of newspapers published before 1861 with the help of a grant from the R.J. Taylor Foundation. The papers range from the Royal Georgia Gazette, first published in 1779; the full run of the Cherokee Phoenix, the voice of the Cherokee Nation prior to Indian Removal; to some early African American papers.

Not to mention the Cherokee Advance, the Cartersville Express, and the Cassville Standard, other papers from around these parts. Check it out.

Emperor Norton

A Wikipedia discovery:

Joshua Abraham Norton (February 4, 1818 – January 8, 1880), known as Emperor Norton, was a citizen of San Francisco, California, who proclaimed himself “Norton I, Emperor of the United States” in 1859. He later assumed the secondary title of “Protector of Mexico”. Norton was born in England but spent most of his early life in South Africa. He sailed west after the death of his mother in 1846 and his father in 1848, arriving in San Francisco possibly in November 1849.

Norton initially made a living as a businessman, but he lost his fortune investing in Peruvian rice. Hoping that a Chinese rice shortage would allow him to sell at a steep profit, he bought rice at 12 cents per pound from Peruvian ships, but more Peruvian ships arrived in port which caused the price to drop sharply to 4 cents. He then lost a lawsuit in which he tried to void his rice contract, and his public prominence faded. He re-emerged in September 1859, laying claim to the position of Emperor of the United States.

Norton had no formal political power; nevertheless, he was treated deferentially in San Francisco, and currency issued in his name was honored in the establishments that he frequented. Some considered him insane or eccentric, but citizens of San Francisco celebrated his imperial presence and his proclamations, such as his order that the United States Congress be dissolved by force and his numerous decrees calling for the construction of a bridge and tunnel crossing San Francisco Bay to connect San Francisco with Oakland.

On January 8, 1880, Norton collapsed at the corner of California and Dupont (now Grant) streets and died before he could be given medical treatment. Upwards of 10,000 people lined the streets of San Francisco to pay him homage at his funeral.

Norton was buried in the Masonic Cemetery at city expense. In 1934, his remains, along with all others in the city, were transferred to a grave site at Woodlawn Cemetery in Colma, California.