U.S. Grant

Another nineteenth century presidential home and museum is the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site in Grantwood Village, St. Louis, Missouri. This one is run competently by the National Parks Service. (Grant’s papers are at Mississippi State University in Starkville, Miss.)

The house is called White Haven, and yes, it is green. That is because, according to our NPS guide, in 1874 Grant had it painted in the era’s “most expensive color” to show off his wealth! Grant himself was from Ohio, but started coming regularly to White Haven, the home of his West Point classmate Frederick Tracy Dent, when Grant was stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. Thus did Grant begin courting Dent’s sister Julia in 1844 – discreetly, since Grant’s family were abolitionists, and White Haven was a plantation powered by slaves and owned by an unapologetic slaveowner, Dent’s father Frederick Dent. Only after the Mexican-American War (in which Grant distinguished himself, although he claimed that there was “not ever a more wicked war”) could the couple marry, and even then Grant’s parents did not attend the ceremony. To support Julia, Grant remained in the army, and after stints in Detroit and New York, was transferred to the Vancouver Barracks in the newly-acquired Oregon Territory. Julia, now eight months pregnant, did not join him, and his three years on the west coast were not happy ones. He started drinking, a habit that contributed to his dismissal in 1854, although nothing indicating this fact was entered into his record. 

The next seven years were hard ones. Grant was happily reunited with his family at White Haven, but failed at most of the jobs he tried, whether farming, bill collecting, or even selling firewood. It was as though Grant was at heart a soldier, and so the advent of the Civil War represented a sterling opportunity for him, now 39 years old. Grant’s daring and competent service to the Union at the Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chattanooga are well known, and over the course of the war Grant rose from colonel to Commanding General of the United States Army. (Complaints to President Lincoln about Grant’s drinking prompted the memorable, although perhaps apocryphal, retort: “Well, I wish some of you would tell me the brand of whiskey that Grant drinks. I would like to send a barrel of it to my other generals.”) Following the Overland Campaign, Grant accepted Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865. Within a week, Lincoln was dead; his successor Andrew Johnson turned out to be more favorable to the Southern cause than he had initially let on, and Grant eventually broke with him – one of the reasons why Johnson was impeached in 1868. The episode certainly set up Grant to be nominated by the Republicans for the presidential election that year, and he won in an electoral college landslide, largely due to the votes of newly-enfranchised African-Americans. 

Grant’s presidency was characterized by making Reconstruction work, both by mollifying ex-Confederates and by ensuring civil rights for ex-slaves. He did this largely through enforcing the fifteenth amendment, passed in 1870, which guaranteed the right to vote, and by successfully waging war against the Ku Klux Klan. His second term was less successful – numerous cabinet members were implicated in various scandals, and although Grant himself was innocent, he generally kept the cabinet members in place, to widespread disappointment. Republicans urged him to run for a third term, but he declined, thereby setting the country up for the disputed election of 1876, the elevation of “Rutherfraud Hayes,” and the unfortunate ending of Reconstruction. There followed a world tour and business venture in which Grant eventually lost everything, even White Haven, which he had inherited following the death of his father-in-law in 1873. Thus did he compose his memoirs, largely in order to provide a source of income for his family. He completed this valuable primary source in 1885, right before his death from throat cancer at age 63.

Obviously the plantation has largely been sold off. (Most of it is occupied by Grant’s Farm, an animal reserve run by the Anheuser-Busch corporation.) The NPS only acquired the house in 1989, along with a large barn that Grant had built for his horses (Grant was an excellent horseman). The barn houses the museum, nicely done in a “spokes of a wheel” format. The separate visitors center has a theater which shows a short film about Grant’s life, and a well-stocked store featuring all the latest books on Grant. 

Definitely worth a visit if you’re ever in St. Louis. 

Jackson and Polk

A recent trip through Tennessee allowed us to see two presidential museums: Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage in Nashville and the President James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia.* Both are quite enlightening in their way.

The Hermitage, first acquired by Jackson in 1804, was little more than a log cabin until 1820, when he built a two-story Federal style mansion. This burned down in 1834, and was replaced by the Greek Revival building in the photo above. But this was simply the manor house for a thousand-acre plantation, with numerous outbuildings devoted to various functions –  including the housing of enslaved African-Americans, of whom Jackson owned up to 300 over the course of his lifetime. The whole thing is reminiscent of Mount Vernon or Monticello, other presidential plantations that one can visit. 

The visitors’ center gives more information on Jackson’s life and presidency. I did not know that he was a veteran of the Revolutionary War – he joined the militia in South Carolina at age thirteen, and was taken prisoner by the British shortly thereafter. A formative episode occurred when Jackson refused an order to polish the boots of a British officer, who then slashed him on the head and hand for insubordination. A Currier & Ives lithograph from the 1870s, “The Brave Boy of the Waxhaws,” depicts this event. Jackson carried the scars, and an abiding hatred for the British, for the rest of his life. 

Jackson’s mother managed to secure his release, but she died soon after from cholera, leaving Jackson an orphan (his father had died before Jackson was born). Despite having a rather ornery personality, he found a lawyer who took him on as an apprentice, and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1787. The next year he was appointed prosecutor of the western district (i.e. Tennessee), and moved to the new settlement of Nashville to take up the post. There he met Rachel Donelson Robards, whom he married despite that her divorce from her first husband had not yet been finalized, a situation that dogged him throughout his career. In 1796, he became a delegate to Tennessee’s constitutional convention, and on account of his participation there was elected the state’s first U.S. representative. Shortly thereafter, the Tennessee legislature elected him U.S. senator, but he grew bored with the job and returned to Tennessee to become a judge of the state superior court – and to engage in the sort of land speculation common on the frontier. It was at this point that he purchased and began to build up the Hermitage, but what really set him up for future notoriety was his election as major-general of the Tennessee militia in 1802. 

In this capacity, Jackson defeated the Red Stick faction in the Creek War at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1813, and most famously routed the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. This made Jackson a national hero.

He then proceeded to invade Spanish Florida in order to defeat the Red Stick refugees, runaway slaves, and Seminoles, some of whom were using it as a base to launch raids into Georgia. Jackson was ruthless and successful, and Spain relinquished control of Florida by the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819. For his efforts (not appreciated by everyone), in 1821 Jackson was appointed the first territorial governor of Florida, but the job was as appealing to him as being Senator from Tennessee, so he quit after a few months. Then followed his run for the presidency in 1824, when he was one of four Democratic-Republican candidates at a time when political parties seemed to be losing their importance. Jackson won the most popular votes, and the most votes in the electoral college, but he did not get a majority there, so the election was thrown to the House of Representatives. There, in a “corrupt bargain,” House Speaker Henry Clay, himself one of the four candidates, threw his support to John Quincy Adams, who was duly elected president – and who promptly appointed Clay Secretary of State. Stung by this rejection, Jackson almost immediately began campaigning for the presidential election of 1828. He won in a landslide, and then won again in 1832.  

Ralph Earl, The Tennessee Gentleman (detail), c. 1831.

To my annoyance the “Presidential Gallery” at the visitors’ center was closed, but presumably it would have dealt with Jackson’s boisterous inauguration, the Petticoat Affair, the battle over the Second National Bank, Cherokee Removal, the Nullification Crisis, and other things I vaguely remember from History 1. We did get to see a short film about his presidency, and it left me with the impression that he was a perfect embodiment of “he’s a nice guy, but don’t cross him.” He would not have been as successful as he was if had he not been immensely popular, but he also had a volcanic Scots-Irish temper, fought numerous duels, and held intense grudges (Wikipedia: “On the last day of his presidency, Jackson admitted that he had but two regrets, that he had been unable to shoot Henry Clay or to hang John C. Calhoun.”) One commentator in the film claimed that he represented “both the best and the worst” of the American national character. 

Lots of people liked to compare Trump to Hitler, but the parallels between Trump and Jackson are what always interested me. Both were extremely polarizing figures, rich but rough around the edges, with their base of support among commoners far from the centers of political power. (The difference is that Jackson was much more self-made than Trump, and had actual political and military experience prior to becoming president – which may be why Jackson got a second term while Trump didn’t.) 

Another thing that struck me as relevant was Jackson’s attitude toward political parties. He believed in them, and is considered the first Democratic president. The trouble is that he identified his party with “the People,” and a victory for the Democrats was a victory for “the People” – conversely, a defeat for the Democrats was a defeat for the People. Some would say that this attitude has not changed in almost 200 years. 

Jackson died at the Hermitage in 1845, and is buried on the grounds.

Right next to it is the grave of “Uncle Alfred,” Jackson’s “faithful servant.” Alfred was born into slavery on the plantation, and was put to work maintaining wagons and farm implements. After emancipation he continued to live there as a tenant farmer, and acted as a tour guide for people interested in seeing the Hermitage once it was turned into a museum in 1893. He died in 1901; his funeral took place in the main hall of the Hermitage, and he insisted on burial right next to Jackson, a wish that was granted. 

One interpretive sign mentioned that, in the late nineteenth century, Alfred was held up as a model ex-slave, who maintained affection for and loyalty to his old master’s family. I don’t doubt there were such people, but they’re not the whole story – apparently most of the slaves at the Hermitage sought refuge with Union troops when those troops were close enough. Jackson may have been a relatively benign slave master, but he had no compunction against chasing runaways, or offering rewards for whipping them. And in general, the enslaved people were simply invisible – more valuable than the cattle or the farming equipment, but otherwise treated as the property that they were. Modern researchers have had to work very hard reconstructing the identities of those who lived and worked at the Hermitage. One is reminded, once again, how great a moral crime slavery was. 

Jackson’s ally and protege James K. Polk won the presidency in 1844, somewhat by accident. The Democrats nominated him on the ninth ballot at their convention in Baltimore as a compromise candidate among their factions, and he went on to defeat Henry Clay in the general election that fall. He vowed to serve only one term, which he did – but that was enough to fulfill all his campaign promises, as his fans are proud to claim. 

Polk was born in North Carolina in 1795. In 1803, his family moved to the Duck River in what became Maury County, Tennessee, and came to dominate the county and its new town of Columbia. He received enough of an education that he could enroll in the University of North Carolina in 1816, and graduated with honors in 1818. He then moved to Nashville to apprentice as a lawyer, and upon being called to the Tennessee bar in 1820 he returned to Maury County to open a law office there. This practice provided him with a steady income, and the house museum in Columbia that one visits dates from this time (it is the only place where he lived, apart from the White House, that still stands). However, he always had political ambitions, and his marriage to the educated and graceful Sarah Childress in 1824 certainly helped on this front. From 1825 until 1839 he served in the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was eventually chair of the Ways and Means Committee and Speaker of the House. From 1839 until 1841 he acted as governor of Tennessee – always with Sarah’s unwavering and competent support.

Although he lost his bid for reelection as governor, and lost again two years later, fortune had bigger things in store for him. His presidency is most famous for its realization of Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States had the right to dominate the North American continent from coast to coast. His administration accepted Texas as a state, thus provoking war with Mexico – which the United States decisively won, thereby annexing what became the American southwest. As an extension of Texas most of this had the potential to become slave territory, so Polk was practically obliged to offset it by coming to an agreement with Britain about the free Oregon Country. This large area spread from the Rocky Mountains westward, from the latitude 54º40′ in the north (the southernmost extent of the Alaskan panhandle) to 42º in the south (the northern boundary of California). It was jointly occupied with the United Kingdom, and although “54-40 or fight!” was apparently one of Polk’s campaign slogans (i.e. either we get the whole thing or we go to war for it), he came to a deal with the UK simply to extend the already-existing boundary between the United States and British North America at the 49th parallel all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Some people may have seen this move as an admission of weakness, but it established unquestionable American title to the Pacific northwest, out of which were carved the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. 

(A fun fact: the British did not call the area the Oregon Country, but the Columbia District. Thus the part north of the 49th parallel, which the British retained, became “British Columbia.” Apparently before its admission to Canadian confederation in 1871, B.C. was sometimes called “British Oregon.”)

Other achievements of Polk’s presidency included the foundation of an independent treasury (a precursor to the Federal Reserve), the Smithsonian Institution, and the Department of the Interior, the issuing of the first U.S. postage stamp and a postal treaty with the U.K., the admission of Wisconsin and Iowa to the Union, the lowering of tariff rates, and the beginning of the construction of the Washington Monument. All this had an effect, which is apparent in the two portraits shown above, the first of which was painted at the beginning of his presidency, and the second at the end. 

Unfortunately Polk did not live long after he left office. He traveled by boat from Washington DC down the Atlantic coast, around Florida, to New Orleans, and thence up the Mississippi to Tennessee. Somewhere along the way he contracted cholera, and died of it in Nashville at age 53 on June 15, 1849. Polk thus set a number of presidential records:

• Shortest post-presidency (101 days)
• Longest surviving First Lady (42 years)
• First president to be survived by a parent (his mother)

Some others:

• Only president to have no children, either natural or adopted (it is reckoned that surgery as a teenager to treat bladder stones may have left him sterile)
• Youngest president elected until that time (49)
• The only president to have been Speaker of the House

I would be remiss in not mentioning that, like Jackson, Polk was a slaveholder, both in Tennessee and through the absentee ownership of a plantation in Mississippi. Although he recognized the evils of slavery he did not do anything to try to end it; in fact as speaker he instituted a gag rule to prevent the issue from being brought up in the House of Representatives. Polk’s personal slave, Elias Polk, was proud of his service to the former president and, following the Civil War, played the same “faithful servant” role that Uncle Alfred did for Andrew Jackson. But it’s useful to remember that the slaves at Polk’s Mississippi plantation, which he only occasionally visited, suffered an exceptionally high death rate. This is disappointing and an unquestionable blot upon the reputation of a man who had so many other accomplishments. 

It was fun to learn about both these presidents. The only drawback to these museums is that, being fundamentally house museums, they emphasize domestic affairs at the expense of a really detailed look at the president’s early life and time in office. But this is a minor complaint. See them if you can. 

* The earliest president to get a full-on NARA-sponsored Presidential Library and Museum is Herbert Hoover (1929-1933), and you can visit his if you’re ever passing through West Branch, Iowa. Presidents prior to him can have museums, but they’re variously run by states, the National Parks Service, universities, local history societies, or specific foundations; those presidents’ papers are also stored here and there. Such things were beyond the federal government’s concern in the nineteenth century. 

George Floyd Square

A trip to Minneapolis allowed us to see George Floyd Square, an urban autonomous zone parallel to Seattle’s CHAZ or “Free Derry” from the early 1970s. It is centered on the intersection of Chicago Ave. and E. 38th St., the spot where suspect George Floyd died while being subdued by Officer Derek Chauvin of the Minneapolis Police, the spark for last summer’s unrest. 

George Floyd Square, Minneapolis, Minn. Google Maps with annotations.

The four approaches to the intersection, indicated by yellow squares on the map, mark the boundaries of what the residents are proud to call Independent Republic of George Floyd. On the street they’re marked by sculptures of upraised fists. There is also one at the intersection itself.

I was pleased to see the appearance of the Pan-African Flag. In the background of the photo, on the northeast corner of the intersection, you can see the famous Cup Foods, where George Floyd allegedly tried to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. On the street in front of the store, is a sectioned-off memorial to which no single photo can do justice.

Other sorts of artwork, decorations, graffiti, chalkings, flags, and what not may be seen throughout the area. The locals actively patrol it, directing traffic and permitting (or forbidding) people from entering – in addition, it seems, to smoking lots of marijuana.

Whatever the politics, there is something deeply appealing to these sorts of impromptu and authentic demonstrations.

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 the one 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.)

Greensboro

I regret that I did not have time to visit the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. The walk between my hotel and UNC-Greensboro allowed me to snap pictures of a statue of the city’s namesake, Nathanael Greene…

…and of the city’s flag:

It’s a shame, though, that the Guilford Courthouse flag was nowhere in evidence. That would give the place some style points. 

Wikipedia.

Every university needs a carillon clock…

…and a statue of the founder.

I was pleased that Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom, featured so prominently on campus. I assume that this is a testament to the UNCG’s origins as a women’s college.

So I must say that I’m puzzled why UNCG’s sports teams are known as the Spartans. Like the words “automobile” or “television,” this mixes Greek and Latin! Plus, if the standard visual representation of the Spartan is the hoplite warrior, it’s sexist to boot. 

Fathead.com

Vacation Pics – Newfoundland

Cabot Tower on Signal Hill, overlooking the harbour into St. John’s. Built in 1898 to commemorate the four-hundredth anniversary of the voyage of John Cabot’s ship Matthew and the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria. The site also received, in 1901, the first transatlantic wireless transmission originating from Guglielmo Marconi’s Poldhu Station in Cornwall. 

Not far away from Signal Hill is Cape Spear, the easternmost point in North America. The historic lighthouse there really is a lighthouse

Always in the background in Newfoundland: the Dominion’s participation in the First World War, which was disastrous. Ninety percent of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment were casualties of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, which thereafter became Newfoundland’s Memorial Day (clashing somewhat with Dominion Day after 1949). Newfoundland’s university, founded in 1925, took the name “Memorial” on account of this sad event. At the Confederation Building, a book of remembrance is enshrined in the entrance lobby. The flag on the right is that of the Royal Canadian Legion.

Throughout the entrance lobby of the Confederation Building hang the flags of all the Newfoundland branches of the Legion, illustrating certain priorities.  

How we got here: recruitment propaganda on display at The Rooms, laying it on thick. 

The legislative chamber in the Confederation Building.

In the mezzanine of the Confederation Building, a series of busts of chief executives of Newfoundland, starting with Philip Francis Little at the granting of responsible government in 1855. The photograph is of Joey Smallwood, the “Last Father of Confederation” and Premier of Newfoundland 1949-72. 

In The Rooms: Joey Smallwood’s trademark glasses and bow tie. 

At our hotel: the Newfoundland coat of arms, which dates from the 1630s. The shield is great; the Beothuk supporters are “problematic,” in today’s parlance.

This piece of artwork, Jordan Bennett, Tamiow tle’owin (2016), is a play on Newfoundland’s coat of arms and is currently on display in The Rooms. The figure on the right holds a letter that begins:

Your application to be enrolled as a Founding Member of the Qalipu Mk’kmaq First Nation Band has been considered by the Enrolment Committee.

The Committee finds that you Do Not Meet the criteria for enrollment as set out in Section 4.1 of the Agreement in that you have failed to satisfy Section 4.1(a). More specifically, it is necessary for you to prove that you are of Canadian Indian ancestry.

I guess the artwork is asking who a real Indian is. Apparently the whole thing was an issue a few years ago.

The Micmac language is nowadays written in the Roman alphabet, although formerly Micmac hieroglyphs were used. This rendition of the Lord’s Prayer is on display at The Rooms. 

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in the city of St. John’s dates from 1855 and was named a basilica one hundred years later. 

This is what people come to St. John’s to see: terraced wooden housing, each unit of which is painted a different and often bright colour. 

The average fishing village will also feature brightly painted houses. This is a view of Trinity, on the Bonavista Peninsula. Generally houses aren’t built on straight streets or in much relation to each other, but that’s all part of the charm. The church is St. Paul’s Anglican. 

Newfoundland features some impressive seabird colonies on its coasts. This one is at the Cape St. Mary’s Ecological Preserve on the southwestern arm of the Avalon Peninsula. Many different birds are found here, including gannets, kittiwakes, murres, and razorbills

In Elliston, on the Bonavista Peninsula, a puffin colony that attracts quite a bit of human attention. 

The puffin is Newfoundland’s provincial bird, and you can buy souvenir plush puffins all over the place. People love their colourful beaks, their short orange legs, and their clownish movements.

At the tip of Bonavista Peninsula, the town of Bonavista itself. Its flag leaves something to be desired aesthetically, but it illustrates how the town got its name, from John Cabot’s words “O happy sight!” (“buona vista”). 

Bonavista has a lighthouse even more impressive than Cape Spear’s. 

Gros Morne National Park, on the western side of the island, features some stunning (and geologically significant) natural beauty. This is Green Point, which has been designated a “Global Stratotype” for the division between the Cambrian and the Ordovician periods.

We bought a linocut of Green Point by artist Christine Koch, who keeps a summer studio at Woody Point. 

Also in Gros Morne are The Tablelands. In the midst of all of the Park’s forested mountains is a short range completely denuded of vegetation and dark orange in color. It is apparently a remnant of the earth’s mantle thrust up some four hundred million years ago, and the reason why Gros Morne is a UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site. Its peridotite composition does not sustain much plant life, and I would say that it looks like the surface of Mars save for the bits of snow still present at the top of the hill, which form runoff creeks that were fun to wade in.

Vacation Pics – Quebec

Here’s a typical postcard view: the Chateau Frontenac from the streets of the Lower Town.

In the heart of the Lower Town: Place Royale and the church of Notre Dame des Victoires, built 1723. I was pleased to see this church appear in the film Catch Me If You Can

The Roman Catholic Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Québec, designated a basilica in 1874. It contains the tomb of St. François de Laval, the first bishop of Quebec, and from 2013 features a Holy Door

The arms of Laval are carved on a nearby wall.

The Anglican Cathedral of the Holy Trinity (armigerous). 

Monument to Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec, on the Dufferin Terrace. 

Vacation Pics – Prince Edward Island

The eight-mile Confederation Bridge, connecting Cape Jourimain, N.B., and Borden-Carleton, P.E.I., approved by plebiscite in 1988, made possible by constitutional amendment in 1993, and opened for traffic in 1997. 

Charlottetown City Hall, built in Romanesque Revival style in 1888. 

Charlottetown has a coat of arms – it also has a surf-and-turf themed seal, which can be seen here and there. 

St. Dunstan’s Basilica, the Roman Catholic Cathedral for the Diocese of Charlottetown, completed in Gothic Revival style in 1919. 

St. Peter’s, one of the two cathedrals of the Anglican diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island (the other is All Saints’ in Halifax). 

The Sunday service featured beautiful church music and liturgy conducted according to the Book of Common Prayer. I was very pleased! 

To the north side of the church: All Souls’ Chapel, designed in Victorian Gothic in 1888 by William Critchlow Harris and featuring sixteen paintings by his brother, Robert Harris. 

All Souls’ was designated a national historic site in 1990.

On the other side of the island, a literary landmark of some importance: Green Gables, the home of L.M. Montgomery’s uncle David MacNeill and the setting of her most famous novel, Anne of Green Gables (1908). 

In the interpretive center, editions of Anne of Green Gables translated into thirty-nine different languages. It really is a wonderful book.

In O’Leary, on the western side of the island: the Canadian Potato Museum. The fiberglass potato might be a little cheesy, but the potato is a very important crop in world history, and on the island in particular, and the museum tells this story very well. Recommended if you ever get to PEI.

Vacation Pics – New Brunswick

St. Andrews, New Brunswick is right across the border from Maine. As you might imagine, it was founded by refugees from the American Revolution; thus is All Saints’ Anglican Church quite “Loyalist” in tone. 

It even has a coat of arms, with the monogram of King George III at the fess point and the eminently Loyalist motto “Fear God Honour the King” (from 1 Peter 2:17).

A nearby Loyalist cemetery features the badge of the United Empire Loyalists’ Association of Canada, which also contains the cypher of George III. 

Now obsolete, but nevertheless still standing: a blockhouse and cannons guarding the border against Americans. 

To the northeast is Fredericton, the provincial capital. This is the back end of the provincial legislature (my photograph of the front end didn’t really turn out). 

The interior of the legislative chamber (Canadian provincial legislatures are all unicameral). I was pleased to learn that New Brunswick still has a Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod, who gets a door slammed in his face and who must knock three times to request admission to the chamber. 

Down the street, Christ Church Anglican Cathedral, also armigerous

Confederation

I am from Canada, and an historian, but I’m afraid that my knowledge of Canadian history is not what it ought to be. I was pleased, therefore, to be able to visit the Confederation Centre for the Arts in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, and to see their exhibit and film on the Charlottetown Conference of 1864. This event was the first formal step towards the union (“confederation”) of four British North American colonies into a new polity, which was granted home rule (“dominion”) status within the British Empire on July 1, 1867.* This “Dominion of Canada,” like the American union to the south, was expandable, eventually stretching “From Sea to Sea,” and all the way to the North Pole for good measure. It achieved legal equality with the UK in 1931 and full constitutional independence in 1982, and is today a first-world liberal democracy, a member of the G7, NATO, NAFTA, and “Five Eyes,” with a 1.8 trillion dollar GDP, a “very high” human development index, and an international reputation for inoffensive blandness.

But we can certainly be very proud of ourselves.

From 1859, the UK Parliament was under the control of the Liberals, who favoured both dominion status and confederation: they wanted to offload the expense of running the colonies onto the colonies themselves, and were prepared to allow them greater control over their domestic affairs as the price of doing so; they also wanted to strengthen “British North America” against the United States, engaged as it was in a bloody Civil War, which might turn north at some point. Thus the Charlottetown Conference, which was held September 1-9, 1864. It was originally called to discuss the possibility of the union of the three British maritime colonies of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, and it was held in PEI because that colony was the most initially recalcitrant: it was the smallest, and feared that it would be swamped in any proposed union; it also was doing quite well economically and saw only a downside to joining up with others. But politicians from the United Province of Canada heard about the conference and asked to join, and they ended up dominating it, with John A. Macdonald and George Brown presenting a suave and ultimately convincing case for a union that included Canada (i.e., Ontario and Quebec), in between lots of eating, drinking, and socializing. Canada was itself a victim of frequent constitutional deadlock, and was presumably hoping for a new arrangement that might break this unfortunate situation. 

The film (which I wish I could find on YouTube) makes apparent that this gathering was a men’s club; no women formally participated, and no Native people either. All the same, the Conference was a success, leading to the Quebec Conference the next month, at which the 72 Resolutions were adopted, outlining the framework for a proposed union that potentially included Newfoundland, British Columbia, Vancouver Island (at the time a separate colony), and the Northwest Territory as well. The central issue was whether the union would be a unitary state or a decentralized country on the model of Switzerland; the result was a compromise between these two poles, with an elected lower house and an appointed senate. 

Two years of debate followed before the London Conference of 1866, which hammered out the British North America Act for the three colonies still interested: Canada, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia. The BNA Act received royal assent on March 29, 1867, and passed into law on July 1 of that year. Prince Edward Island ultimately decided that it was not interested, and even the other maritime provinces had misgivings: in New Brunswick, the Anti-Confederation Party won the 1865 election, but was defeated the following year; in Nova Scotia, Anti-Confederates won 36 out of 38 seats in the provincial legislature in 1867, unfortunately (for them) too late to prevent Confederation from happening. The Anti-Confederates thought that the Maritimes would be overwhelmed in the new country. Their opponents claimed  that the Maritimes were powerless anyway, and union with Canada was their only hope of influence, a view that ultimately prevailed.

This is the facade of Province House in Charlottetown, where the PEI Legislature sits and where the Charlottetown Conference was held. As you can see, it is currently under restoration, so this is the only view of it I can provide.

In the Confederation Centre for the Arts, however, one can see a replica conference table for delegates…

…and (for now) a statue of an important participant and first Prime Minister of the Dominion of Canada, Sir John A. Macdonald. 

Prince Edward Island, as it happens, did join Confederation in 1873. In just a few years it went from prosperity to near bankruptcy, largely as the result of that archetypical nineteenth-century prestige project: a railway. The story was that the builders were paid by the mile, and that every small town on the island demanded railway access, so the railway took a meandering path across the island, raising its cost significantly. Canada agreed to take on these debts and to finish the project, and to provide a permanent link with the mainland; thus did PEI become a province, and Charlottetown can now boast that it is the cradle of Confederation. 

This was not the case in Newfoundland, which joined Confederation only in 1949. Newfoundlanders had heard of the Charlottetown Conference, but too late to attend it; they had come to the Quebec Conference, but only as observers. The Newfoundland election of 1869 was fought largely on the issue of Confederation, with the anti-confederates winning 21-9, and putting the issue to rest for the time being. It resurfaced in 1895 after the failure of Newfoundland’s Union and Commercial Banks, but no agreement with Canada could be reached, and Newfoundland retained its independence and weathered the financial storm. In 1907, as the result of the Imperial Conference that year, Newfoundland received dominion status within the British Empire – but this was largely a formality, as the colony had enjoyed responsible government since 1855. 

However, Newfoundland lost this status in 1934, and reverted to being a crown colony, the only dominion ever to do so. No longer did Newfoundland enjoy even responsible government – instead, it was run by an unelected seven-man Commission of Government, civil servants directly answerable to the British Parliament. The Great Depression had hit Newfoundland hard, and rather than default on its debt payments, it agreed to a suspension of its parliament until such time as it could become self-sustaining. But this never came to pass. According to Greg Malone in Don’t Tell the Newfoundlanders (2012), a secret deal was struck between Canada and the United Kingdom during World War II which would deliver Newfoundland into Confederation, in return for Canada forgiving certain wartime loans it had made to the UK. With Newfoundland a province, Canada’s strategic position could be improved – it would have the Gander and Goose Bay airfields, at the time essential refueling stations for transatlantic flights, and the risk of Newfoundland joining the United States and becoming a sort of eastern Alaska would be obviated. Disputes over the fishery would be minimized, and Canada would get its hands on the potential mineral and hydroelectric resources of Labrador. 

Malone claims that Confederation may have been inevitable, but he insists that Newfoundland should have had responsible government reinstated first, as had been promised. Then the place would have been in a much better bargaining position with Canada. As it stands, the British essentially negotiated with Canada on behalf of Newfoundland, not particularly caring for the details so long as it was no longer their problem. A referendum on the arrangements was still seen as politically necessary, however, and three choices appeared on the ballot in 1948 – continuation of the Commission of Government, a return of responsible government, or confederation with Canada. In the first round responsible government won, but it did not receive an absolute majority, so a runoff was held the next month, which Confederation won with 52.3% of the votes cast. The option of union with the United States was kept off the ballot, and the Confederates, led by the charismatic Joey Smallwood and secretly funded by Canada, enjoyed an immense tactical advantage. 

Referendum propaganda on display in The Rooms, Newfoundland and Labrador’s Provincial Museum and Art Gallery. “Canada’s social programs” formed a great deal of the appeal of Confederation to poor Newfoundlanders, who tended to see responsible government as control of Newfoundland by a clique centered on St. John’s. 

But whatever the details, the Newfoundlanders voted for it, right? Ultimately, there’s no arguing against the results of a referendum. The really shocking claim of Malone’s book, though, is that the vote was rigged; that responsible government really won the second referendum of 1948, and that dirty tricks, of the sort allegedly played in Illinois during the presidential election of 1960, ensured a surplus of about 7000 votes in favor of the correct outcome. Thus did Canada get control of Newfoundland’s fishery, which it has mismanaged, and of the development of the iron mines of Labrador, which employ many locals but whose profits flow elsewhere. The Churchill Falls Generating Station, a joint project between Newfoundland and Quebec, ended up being a terrible deal for Newfoundland, but according to Malone Ottawa forced them to ratify the agreement for the sake of bribing Quebec not to secede. 

The Confederation Building, St. John’s, Joey Smallwood’s monument to himself. Opened in 1960, it replaced the Colonial Building as the meeting place for Newfoundland’s legislature. It also houses several governmental departments. 

It was eye-opening for me to visit a part of Canada that has such genuine and persistent grievances against the federal government. This is very seldom an issue in my home province of Ontario. And yet, if the ubiquitous appearance of the maple leaf flag indicates anything, Atlantic Canadians are not hoping to secede any time soon. 

Many Newfoundland homes feature a cross-shaped “nautical” pole from which multiple flags fly; the flags of Newfoundland and Canada are both very popular. 

* It seems to me that the word “Confederation” has survived much better than “Dominion” has in the Canadian vernacular. “Dominion” now connotes a colonial junior-partnership, and was never really translatable into French. “Confederation” suffers neither of these drawbacks, and lives on in the names of such things as the Confederation Centre, Confederation Bridge, Confederation Square, etc. In my youth there existed a supermarket chain named Dominion which has gone the way of all corporate mergers, and I believe that at one point there was person known as the Dominion Geographer in Ottawa. Otherwise, I can think of no other everyday appearances of this word. Good thing Canada is a “Confederation,” though, not a “Confederacy.”