Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Tension Builds- Trouble with the Susquehanock

A picture of a longhouse inside the Yoacamoco village
in Historic St Mary's City, Maryland.

St Mary's Grows

You should go visit Historic St Mary's, about 2 hours south of Baltimore. It's got building reconstructions, period actors, and all that Jamestowney stuff.  As well as some reconstructions of the old colonial stuff, HSM also has a recreation of the old Indian village that St Mary's formed over. You can see the inside of a longhouse on the left.

Check out a review here.

Fallout from the Clash Between Colonies

a 1663 depiection of a public execution
in Charleston, SC
After the little naval battle, Clayborne must have been like, "Oh fuck, I might be in trouble" because he was back in England before the trial even started. Meanwhile, the survivors on his side of the battle were brought to trial for the murder of William Ashmore and general piracy , where they plead not guilty. Leonard Calvert apparently disagreed and  one of Clayborne's guys, Thomas Smith, was hanged. (64-66)

Back in England, Clayborne was still stirring shit up. He was asking the king and anyone he could to give him back Kent Island. And what's more, and this is kind of insane, he wanted land that would snake around Maryland and continue all the way up to the great lakes to all be considered Virginia. Obviously, he didn't get what he wanted so he even tried less respectable methods of getting the island back.(75) Nothing worked.

In 1638, Kent Island was apparently almost in revolt. We don't know the details, Kent Island wasn't much of a town, it was pretty much just a trading post and a fort for the fur trade.

Anyway, Leonard appointed Thomas Cornwallis, the guy who'd just made a name for himself by beating Clayborne's pirates, to go take care of it. With a bunch of armed colonists  he went to Kent Island and used whatever force necessary to put things right. Though we don't know for sure how he was successful, he probably wasn't very nice about it. Kent Island gave no further trouble after Cornwallis' mission, so we can give that guy another Win.

Trouble with the Susquehannocks

A visualization of an acre
Let me stop and tell you how Cecil was getting people to move to his new colony: by offering them a fucking shitload of land. 50-100 acres for one person, and 50-100 more for each person they brought with them. Cecil's system would have effectively turned Maryland into a true Feudalistic state. But what's really important about this is that it meant tons of new English were coming to Indian occupied lands and going, "Sup Natives, this is mine now so you hafta get off it."

Remember the Susquehanocks? The guys who'd been coming down and fucking up our buddies the Yoamacoans? They were getting a little tired of these new-comers stealing up all their land, and decided to start getting violent.. Though details of what was happening did not make it through the history (you'll find out why later), we know that several areas throughout Maryland were getting harassed by the Indians (largely believed to be Susquehanocks).

An early depiction of the Susquehannock from
John Smith's book in which he describes the
 Susquehannock as "gyant-like"

So the guys at St Mary's are like, "Oh shit guys, I think we have a problem." And then I guess someone else responded like, "Okay, let's go fuck some shit up, show em who's boss." So they sent a couple of those small river boats (pinnaces) one to each Kent Island to the Susquehanocks own area of the Bay. At home, things got serious. Every colonist living in the city was given a gun and trained to use it as a militia. They fixed up the city walls real nice and got ready for the attack they felt certain was coming. (162, 163)

And they were right to. Within a year, in 1642, the colony of Maryland would officially declare war on the Susquehanocks.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Founding of Maryland and the Trouble with William Clayborne

In 1632, a guy named Cecil Calvert, also known as Lord Baltimore, got permission to found a new colony in America from King Charles I. That was pretty exciting news for him and his kin because it meant, A) getting probably a shit ton of money and B) creating a safe-haven for English Catholics (who, admittedly, weren't actually in any danger under Charles, whose wife was a Catholic.)

Cecil was pretty gung-ho about the whole thing, and was right pissed off when the Virginians, (probably) under the direction of a Puritan dick named William Clayborne, protested the land-grant for the state of Maryland. Clayborne had managed to start new settlements in the land that would become Maryland, specifically Kent Island, so he was pretty fucking worried that he was about to lose a big part of his income source. What's more, those areas North of the Potomac that Clayborne said should belong to Virginia, were a good source of Indian trade for furs and other shit that the Virginians were making dough on.

Cecil Calvert's Brother
Luxiously-haired Leonard Calvert. 
Luckily, though, Cecil managed to convince the King that Virginia had no right to the lands North of the Potomac. So he had a green light. Time to go to America! "Except, oh wait, I changed my mind, my brother Leonard should go instead," Cecil might have kind of said.

So Leonard went with a bunch of other people and, taking the standard route up through the Caribbean and hugging the East Coast, landed somewhere in Virginia on the West side of the Chesapeake Bay. Okay, fine but, too far South, he realized. So they traveled up the Potomac River a little ways and took a right turn at a branch near the mouth of the river.

Early depiction of St Mary's City along the Potomac
There they found an Indian settlement, where they got out of their boats and introduced themselves.

The good news was that these Indians were friendly to the English, as many Indians in the area were. This is mostly because the Spanish reputation for being huge assholes had preceded them, and the English were practically at war with that country. "An enemy of my enemy is my friend."

The great news was that these Indians, the Yoamacoans, offered to share their little town with these newcomers. The reasons for such a gesture are not clear, but its probably because a rival tribe, the Susquehanock, had been raiding their settlement for some time and stealing their women. The Yoamacoans were pleased to have the extra protection.

The really great news was that the Yoamacoans said, "alright so we'll share this sweet-ass village with you guys til the end of the year, then we're gonna pack up and head, like, west, probably." This village eventually became St Mary's City!

So, while the Virginians who founded Jamestown had been attacked on their first night, the Marylanders were so charming and cool and awesome that they got a free village and about 8 months of hunting, fishing, and planting training from the New World Wise Yoamacoans. Cool!

One of our story's two main villains
William Clayborne:
Look at that mustache. Probably pulled at it
villainously while thinking of new evil plots
But all was not so cool. What had our villain, Mr Clayborne been doing all this time? Well, as the settlers and Indians shared a village, there suddenly came a day when the Yoamacoans were acting real pissed off and distrustful of their roommates. Apparently, Clayborne had been spreading rumors that these new Maryland settlers were actually Spanish in disguise! Oh fuck! The Indians were probably made to believe such retarded shit because the Marylanders were Catholic and shared some obvious symbolism and actions with their Spanish enemies (sign of the cross, etc).

Luckily, shit chilled out before anything bad happened and everyone was friends again, except Clayborne, who was still a dick. The Indians moved out and left the Marylanders to their own devices. The Marylanders, for their part, did awesomely, and managed to produce so much corn in their first two years
that they exported a frakking shit-ton to New England.

Meanwhile, Clayborne, pissed off that his plan of turning the Indians against the newcomers didn't work, devised a new and much more villainous plan. He was going to steal all their little disembarking ships (not that little, still had sails and guns), and patrol the Potomac looking for a fight. Lead by a man named Ratcliffe Warren, a group of pirate-like river jerks stole some of the Maryland boats. Luckily, St Mary's had been tipped off to such a plot, and so armed two of their own boats with some men and guns.

America's first naval engagement was fought in three
boats like this

The two groups met in the spring of 1635 and the encounter ended with 3 men killed, including Ratcliffe Warren. Thomas Cornwallis, the leader on the Maryland side, took the survivors of the encounter prisoner and brought them back to St Mary's City to await trial. Clayborne had been foiled again.

See what happens next week on: Virginians are Jerks!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Learning History: The New World

Life in the Early Colonies

America's history begins in Virginia. In 1607, three ships carried an all-male crew across the Atlantic Ocean in the hopes of establishing England's first successful -and permanent- colony in the New World. In 2005, Terrence Malick released his film The New World, a movie which tells the story of America's first English speaking settlement. 

Landing in Virginia
More specifically, Malick's story is about the famous, but untrue, romance between Captain John Smith and a Native American princess, of the Powhatan tribe, named Pocahontas. True, the film still suffers from the song-made and Disney enforced idea that 27 year-old John Smith managed to fall in love with an 11 year old girl, but it still has a lot to offer. Behind the errors of this made-up love-story is a valuable and visually stunning portrayal of life in Virginia for America's first English colonists. 

Malick, a director famous for making lofty, abstract, and deeply metaphorical films, has hidden a whole lot of information behind his pretty pictures. Let's have a look at what's good and what isn't.

What You Can Learn

An early depiction of an Eastern
Woodland village
  • John Smith did indeed arrive to the New World in chains and was nearly hanged. He was also nearly hanged when they made a short stop in the Caribbean. He was only released when it became clear that all hands would be needed to set up the new colony. The exact nature of his crimes has alluded historians, but it appears to have something to do with mutinous conspiracies
  • The film has an exact replica of the old Fort James, built across the river from today's excavation site 
  • Most of the people and their names correspond well to their actual role in the Virginia colony's foundation
  • It gives some glimpse of Powhatan culture, though it is flawed. The houses and other structures look true to their historical depictions, but most Native villages of the time would have been enclosed in a palisade fence.
  • Shows the fear the colonists would have felt upon their arrival in Virginia. They would have been in unfamiliar land and surrounded and totally outnumbered by possibly very hostile Natives. In fact, the colonists were attacked on their first night after landing, injuring two men
  • Pocahontas really is credited with throwing herself on John Smith as he was about to be executed, though some historians maintain that Smith fabricated the story. We do know, however, that she was at the head of every visitation to the Fort that brought food and helped the colonists make it through the winters
  • Shows the hardships endured by the colonists, especially in their first months. In one scene, barrels of food are shown to have been infested with worms and worse. John Smith wrote in his account of the founding of Jamestown that they buried 50 men "from May to September." The colony began with 100 men, so that 50 men were lost in four short months is a telling fact. Primary factors causing death were disease, exertion, and starvation. 

What You Need to Know Was Wrong

  • John Smith and Pocahontas had no romantic relationship, though she did in fact marry John Rolfe. Rolfe is the man credited with bringing Tobacco to England. There is some evidence to believe the love he held for Pocahontas was genuine, though some historians claim he used her as a ploy to market his brand of cigarettes 
  • Pocahontas was not given up by her father, but was actually kidnapped by the Jamestown colonists and held for random and to keep them safe from any attacks
  • The Natives held no notion of having made a deal that they would not attack the colonists if the colonists promised to leave in the spring. In fact, due to the language barrier, they would have had no means of communicating such an agreement even if they had wanted to!
  • Pocahontas came to visit the fort often with food, not just once
  • The burning of Powhatan villages did not occur until some time after Pocahontas and her father had both died
  • John Smith should have had a much bigger beard

Read more about Jamestown and John Smith

For more information about John Smith, Jamestown, Pocahontas, or the Powhatan, try these sources:

Thursday, May 8, 2014

1492: The Conquest of Paradise

There have been a lot of American films about Columbus' voyage of discovery, but too many have been based on Washington Irving' 1828 novel called A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus. One of the first written accounts of the event in English, Irving's version of the story still influences how Columbus is taught in schools. Namely, that Irving paints Columbus as a just and noble hero not just to the world, but specifically, somehow, to the United States of America.

Costumes were consistently inaccurate, but not enough to matter

Columbus Was No Angel

Ridley Scott's 1992 film 1492: Conquest of Paradise  paints a different, but equally flawed, picture. The film continues to portray Columbus as a hero, albeit an imperfect one. He is just and gentle with the natives in the film, though actual records of the man prove him to have been anything but. The most telling example of the difference between Columbus the man and Columbus the film character can be found here:
In the movie, Columbus' journal of 12 October states that if the natives are to be converted it will be with persuasion, not force, and that they should be treated with honor, respected and that pillaging and rape will be punished.
Conversely, the real Columbus' journal of 12 October reads "they ought to make skilled servants, for they repeat whatever we tell them" -- Columbus wrote this after discovering that the Lucayans were often attacked by the mainland to be taken as slaves. In the same entry he writes "they can be very easily made Christians, for they seem to have no religion," and noted their lack of advanced metallurgy, writing "I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern as I pleased."
In his journal, Columbus described the natives as being
completely naked, with short hair in the front but long in the back.
Like mullets, maybe?
 Still, there is definitely historical value to be found in the film. Here's a quick run down of the main stuff you can get a picture of from the film:

What You Can Learn

  • credited to Queen Isabella I and her husband Ferdinand, the Spanish had just beaten the Moors at their greatest stronghold of Granada and reclaimed the Iberian peninsula as a fully Christian/Catholic stronghold
  • the infamous Spanish Inquisition was ongoing at this time, a period during which all Jews and Muslims were made to convert to Catholicism or leave or die. Torture and burning were common at this time in order to "convince" people to convert.
  • the film does a great job of showing how very long voyages could be conducted and navigated
  • the dangers of disease in meeting new peoples
  • Cuba and Haiti were indeed among Columbus' original landing locations. Though some of the smaller islands are still disputed, they were probably members of the modern-day Bahamas.
  • The film shows the mistreatment of the natives mainly by the films antagonist. Whoever the culprit, the native people's of the Caribbean were indeed used by Columbus and his men as servants and slaves. The worst stories can be found in the report that ended in Columbus' arrest, recorded by Bartolome las Casas.

A map showing Columbus' probably route through the Caribbean
during his first voyage.

The Stuff That's Way Wrong:

  • Columbus was far less charitable toward the natives than is shown in the film
  • Columbus was devoutly religious. He cites in his journal many times that his key reason for the expedition is to show the natives of India the light of Christianity.
  • The movie hints at some kind of strange romance between Columbus and Isabella. There is no basis for this in real life.
  • Most even moderately educated Europeans knew the world was round but thought it far big to travel. The film even shows this attitude in the court scene, but Columbus the character earlier and later seems to think everyone says the world is flat. Bad writing, at best.

For more information about Columbus' first journey, check these great sources:

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Pre-Revolutionary War

1492: Conquest of Paradise

Gives a good sense of how Columbus's journey happened, who the key players were, and what the effects of discovery were for both the Native Americans and the discoverers themselves. Unfortunately, it also tries to show Columbus being an awesome hero with a noble heart. They replaced all of Columbus' real life misdeeds with some kind of semi-made-up antagonist that the Guardian suggested might accidentally represent Chris's schizophrenic insanity. 

There's lots of errors in small details like costumes, decorations, and time errors, but the movie will still give a good overall picture of Europe's first lasting foray into The New World.

The New World

The story of Pocahontas retold by the director who made The Thin Red Line and Tree of Life. Terrence Malick deals in the abstract, making his stuff seems like poetry. That means its not really a great place to find historical accuracy. (Though, I was told at my last journey down to Jamestown in modern day Virginia that the Fort used in movie was built just across the river from the ruins of the fort you can see today, and that it is painstakingly accurate )

This is mostly a retelling of the early American mythos, even giving us a scene that looks a whole lot like the Thanksgiving that should have happened up in Massachusetts.

The New World will give you a good understanding of the difficulties faced by early settlers both in dealing with a climate much harsher than their own and in dealing with an often hostile native population. I'd say this is a great film for understanding the culture of the time, despite some pretty hard to believe costume choices.

The Crucible

Based on Arthur Miller's play from the 50s. Daniel Day Lewis helps bring this story to life with his Daniel Day Lewisness. Apparently he was so in character that he built his home in the movie with his own two hands. That guy loves historical RP.

The Salem Witch Trials are an infamous story from American history in which women were accused of Witchcraft in a small town and sentenced to death (a commentary on the 1950's McCarthyism). And some men, too. Like The New World, this will give you a good idea of what life might have been like for people living through these times, and the excellent costumes and sets should help bring the whole thing to life.

Unfortunately, due to the scope of the story, you won't get much of a sense about what was actually happening at the time in the greater world.

The Last of the Mohicans

Based on a novel by almost the same name written in 1826, this tells the story of the last remaining members of the tribe called the Mohicans or Mohawk that inhabited the upper mid-Atlantic and parts of New England.

This film will give you some idea of the cultures of both natives and colonists of the time, and is also good for seeing some of the politics that would lead up to the Revolutionary War. Pay close attention to the colonists complaints in this film, as you'll hear shadows of them in the Rev movies. Decent costumes, great sets, beautiful shots (the last bit is filmed in one of North Carolina's great parks, take a trip!)

Like The Crucible, this is a fictional story, so you won't find much here for accuracy outside of battle tacts and world representation.