Blog

2019 May

A-Hole: A Historical Meditation

In 1850 a young country doctor stopped in for a “fine mess of melons” at a Mississippi homestead belonging to a poor white family: “Here I beheld what I was astonished at,” the doctor later wrote in his diary. “All the little children were allowed a seat along with the adult company, each one (there were about seven) as dirty as the earth could make them and the smallest ones with their dressing tucked up behind, exposing their posteriors, [each] with a swarm of gnats after it.” Staring into a scrum of gnatty asses, the doctor wondered, ‘who are these people?’ “Thus live thousands,” he marveled, “and as happy as queens and Kings.” [1]

2019 May

Birth of A Conscience

On March 23, 1869, a Virginia newspaper editor announced the arrival of a new word to the American political lexicon: scalawag. “Living languages grow,” the editor of Staunton Spectator opined. “With new exigencies fresh words are coined or old ones receive new application to answer the demand.” [1]

2016 Apr

Reviews and Notices of CSI:D

CSI:Dixie has received reviews and notices in the The New York Times ("New Databases Offer Insights Into the Lives of Escaped Slaves" by Eve M. Kahn) , Slate ("The Hundreds of Life Stories Found in Coroner's Reports From the 19th-Century South" by Rebecca Onion), and the Journal of the Civil War Era ("CSI: Dixie: A Grim Archive of Slavery's Violence" by Blake McGready).

2016 Feb

Reconstruction Gothic

On February 11, 1853, two armed men set off for what they correctly predicted would be a violent confrontation with their neighbors. One of the men was L.W.R. (Rochelle) Blair, a thirty-two year old planter. The other was his thirty-five year old slave Hiram.

Blair was tall, the son of the ‘Waxhaw Giant,’ a six-foot-seven, 350-pound bear in breeches whose splendid body had finally succumbed to alcoholism, a morphine addiction, and a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. Hiram was a big man too, five-foot-ten and heavy-set with scars on his hand from both a burn and a knife. Both carried double-barreled shotguns tightly loaded with buckshot. Both were determined to end the series of ‘affrays’ and ‘outrages’ being committed by some of the slaves from a neighboring farm owned by Jane D. Young.

2016 Feb

The Hamburg Massacre

On July 4, 1876, the United States uneasily turned one hundred. At the end of the day, there were those who complained that it had been a gaudy, “overgrown and spread-eagle Fourth of July.” The cumulative effect of the Panic of 1873 and the emerging scandals of Grant’s administration had sharpened the knives of the journalists and soured the public mood. How could the country justify public expenditures on patriotic frippery when millions of Americans were jobless, homeless, or starving? Amid the revelations of presidential corruption and corporate predation, the centennial seemed just another “gigantic fraud,” a final embarrassment for Grant’s presidency. “Various administrations have closed in gloom and weakness,” claimed the great historian Allan Nevins, but “no other has closed in such paralysis and discredit as … did Grant’s.” [1]

2016 Feb

The Boykin Mill Pond Incident

On the evening of February 3, 1860, Ralph Goodrich, an aspiring teacher in Owego, New York, received a letter from Alexander Leslie McCandless, superintendent of the Pine Grove Academy in Camden, South Carolina. “McCandless wants me to come immediately,” Goodrich wrote in his diary, “I shall start as soon as I can.” Goodrich traveled first by train to New York City, where he bought a ticket for Wilmington, North Carolina. His route would not be direct, however. His first hop was a short one by train to Philadelphia, where he caught a ferry across the Delaware to an omnibus that took him to another train to Baltimore. There he picked up another ferry that took him across the Susquehanna into Washington, D.C., where he caught a steamer into Richmond and then traveled overland to Petersburg and finally to Wilmington.

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