Tag Archives: History

A Seasoned Salt: Part 3


At the end of the war with England, John Paul found himself a naval officer without a ship. The Congress decided the country did not need naval ships in peace time. This was when John Paul accepted a commission as an admiral in the Russian Navy, on the condition that he was allowed to keep his US citizenship and position in the United States Navy.

In the Russian Navy John Paul was made an admiral and was quite successful against the Turks in the Black Sea. Successful enough that several officers spent more time trying to destroy John Paul than they did the Turks. They were partially successful in that John Paul was recalled to Moscow and faced charges of rape, but the charges were eventually dropped. He was awarded the Order of St. Anne, and left a month later an embittered man.

John Paul returned to Paris, where he lived out the rest of his life. On his death his body was escorted by a small group of servants, friends, and family to a small cemetery used by the French royal family. Over the years the cemetery was sold and used for a variety of purposes.

One hundred fifteen years later the United States Ambassador to France made it a one-man mission to find the grave of John Paul. After six months of dedicated work he was successful. The body of John Paul was sent back to the United States aboard the USS Brooklyn, three other United States cruisers and a squadron of French Naval vessels. On approaching the coastline of the United States the fleet was joined by seven battleships of the United States Navy. The body was temporarily interred at Bancroft Hall at the United States Naval Academy until his permanent tomb could be finished. In 1913, his body was interred in its final resting place at the Naval Academy Chapel in a vault under the altar.

The name that John Paul chose when he left British service was Jones. And that is the name by which he is known in the United States, John Paul Jones, the father of the United States Navy. His ship the Poor Richard, you have probably her of his ship under its French name, the Bonhomme Richard.

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The Way We Were ?!? Part One


There are two historical topics which I enjoy studying and am loathe to write about, ironically for the same reason. The first is RMS Titanic, and the second is the American Civil War or as it is known in the South, The War of Northern Aggression. The reason I do not like writing on these two topics is that they are fields of historical research where emotional attachment and opinion override evidence and logic. It is in these two fields of historical research where people make the strongest assertions that their opinion is not opinion but fact, and where the discourse between those of different opinions is the most disrespectful and caustic – at best. When all else fails, the intelligence of opponents is attack as if, you guessed it, these attacks (opinions) were also established fact demonstrated by evidence instead of what they really are, which is dogmatic opinions. And what are those opinions, really? In most (but not all) cases they are an attempt by someone losing an argument to bully an opponent into silence, or someone content to find “authorities” they agree with to mimic instead of researching the material themselves. This last group moves to the attack the quickest depending on how long their memory is. The fewer words of their hero they can remember, the sooner they launch into personal attacks.

Today I wish to discuss black (negro, colored, people of color, Afro-American, African-American, or whatever term your generation uses) who are veterans of the Confederacy. I am sure I will have something to say to upset everyone, at least a little bit.

I remember a long time ago I had an English teacher talking to me about essays. She said it is hard to prove a negative. You know what I mean, bigfoot doesn’t exist, space aliens don’t exits, God doesn’t exist (I’m not taking sides one way or the other on these, they are just examples). So, I am going to start with the negative “… did not happen,” side of this story and then move on to the “… it did happen” side of the story, and end with my analysis. Like I said, I’ll probably upset everyone a little, but if you read my articles two years ago on how I do research then you will not be surprised by my approach.

What got me started on this is an episode of The History Detectives on PBS. A show I thoroughly enjoy. You can go to www.pbs.org and watch this particular episode for yourself (aired October 11, 2011 : episode title “Chandler Tintype, Hollywood Indian Ledger, Harlem Heirs). It is one of the few programs on TV that I really enjoy, and I also like each of the show’s hosts. They all do very good work and their support team is very good at what they do. Wes Cowan hosted the segment I am going to use as my intro into this topic. Now, I need to be fair to Mr. Cowan, he is an appraiser and auctioneer, not a credentialed historian. But he does have a good foundation in history for his work, and (in my opinion) does an outstanding job on the show.

For those who do not know, viewers contact the show about an object they have. An object they know nothing about, someone told them about, or just something they want to know about that is or could be historical. The hosts then track down the historical evidence using primary source material to tell the owner what they have.

The part of this particular episode we are interested in is the first one and is about a Civil War photograph (not particularly rare), of two confederate soldiers (a little more rare), one of them black (ok, more rare), sitting side by side. Yup, this is very rare Andrew (white guy) and Silas (black guy) are sitting side by side. Normally even the union photos of blacks and whites always show the black man in a subservient position (standing behind the white guy or holding the reins of the horse the white guy is sitting on), never side by side as equals would be. The descendents of the two men explain the family history states the one man gave the other his freedom before the war started, and that they fought together in the same unit for the Confederacy.

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

Andrew (left) Silas (right)

There was also other questions they wanted answers to, but we are going to confine our discussion to Silas’ service in the Confederacy. So, these are the questions we will examine:

  1. Was Silas given his freedom before the war started?
  2. Did Silas fight as a Confederate soldier?
  3. If Silas did fight as a Confederate soldier, was he doing so as a slave against his will, or voluntarily as a freed man?

Mr. Cowan went to Dr. Mary Francis Berry, University Of Pennsylvania Historian, (who teaches the History of American Law, and the History of Law and Social Policy. She also advises students in African American History) to answer these questions.

Dr. Berry shared, quite correctly, there were free people of color who joined the militia at the beginning of the war, but those units never saw battle and were disbanded by the state legislatures not long into the war. She went on to say that Silas was not freed on the eve of the war, because in Louisiana it was illegal to give slaves their freedom by 1856.

Mr. Cowan and Dr. Berry go on to talk about the “myth of black Confederates.” When Mr. Cowan tried to say it not possible for Silas to fight for the Confederacy, Dr, Berry said it would be inaccurate to say there was no way they could not have fought, but they were not accepted by the Confederacy as soldiers. Blacks were used in supporting roles for the Confederacy (cooks, teamsters driving supply wagons, servants, construction and other support roles). It was also said that since these men were slaves, they were forced into service and did not have a choice in the decision of whether they would support the Confederacy or not. There support of the Confederacy was, in other words, compulsory.

Next, Mr. Cowan used the Civil War Roster web site, which is maintained by the National Park Service. This site listed Andrew was listed, but Silas was not listed. Mr. Cowan used this to support his conclusion that Silas did not fight for the Confederacy. He also checked the 1860 census for Chickasaw Parish Louisiana and found no listing of any freedmen in the Parish (Louisiana has parishes instead of counties). The pension that Silas received as a servant (slave) in the service of the Confederacy was explained as part of the “Lost Cause” justification common in the late 19th and early 20th century in the South as an attempt to justify the Civil War.

Next week we will discuss the side of the argument that there were freedmen and slaves who fought for the Confederacy. The third part of this series will be my analysis of the pro and con evidence given by the two sides.

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Captain James Cook – Part Two


In the navy, the commander of a ship is always referred to as Captain, regardless of his/her actual rank. Captain Cook, after his first world voyage, was promoted from lieutenant to commander. On his first voyage, Cook had shown that New Zealand was an island and, by charting the east coastline of Australia, he had shown that Australia was continent sized. However, the Royal Society did not believe that Australia was the fabled Terra Australis. The scientists at the time believed that the landmasses in the northern hemisphere were countered by landmasses of equal mass in the south. This was the Royal Society’s basis for believing that Terra Australis existed. Finding this fabled continent was the reason for Cook’s first voyage, and the reason the Royal Society and His Majesty’s Navy sent Cook on his second voyage (1772-1775).

Cook set sail in command of the HMS Resolution, with Tobias Furneaux commanding the HMS Adventure. This voyage he circumnavigated the world at a higher southern latitude. Cook also became the first man to sail below the Antarctic Circle, reaching 71 degrees and 10 minutes South. Cook turned back before reaching the Antarctic mainland, and became separated in fog from the HMS Adventure. Furneaux then sailed the HMS Adventure back to England.

Before leaving the Pacific, Cook visited Easter Island, Norfolk Island, and several other islands. Then he sailed round Cape Horn and across the South Atlantic, claiming islands (for Britain) while exploring, surveying, and mapping; before turning north for South Africa and England.

Cook’s reports in England put to rest the belief in the fabled Terra Australis, he was made a fellow of the Royal Society, promoted to post-captain and retired. Once again, Cook was honored and praised upon his return, painted by noted portrait artist Nathaniel Dance-Holland, awarded medals, and praised by Parliament. Cook resisted retirement, but had little choice.

Cook’s greatest accomplishment, for the seafaring community at least, was his use of Larcum Kendall’s copy of a John Harrison marine chronometer. In Cook’s day, finding a ship’s latitude, north or south, was a simple act of taking a sighting on the sun (daytime) or star (at night) and performing the mathematical calculations to arrive at your ship’s north or south position. East and west longitude was not so easy to calculate. The common way mariners navigated was to steer a course for an island with a known longitude and latitude, upon sighting the island they would sail for another known island. This way the navigator could do a fair job of plotting his ship’s progress. This method caused ship’s captains to sail much longer routes. What navigators needed was an extremely accurate timepiece, a chronometer. Many kingdoms around the world were offering prizes for the first person to create just such a marine chronometer, one that was portable and would stand up to the rigors of life at sea.

The way a marine chronometer is used to find the ship’s longitude is a simple matter. The chronometer is set to the time at a known place, on English ships this was Greenwich, England (known as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT). The ship would sight the sun with a sextant at the local noontime for the position they were in, this is the time when the sun is at its highest peak in the sky. The time for local noon would be noted, and the ships clocks would be reset to local noon, all clocks except the marine chronometer that is. Then the difference between local noon and Greenwich noon would be noted and the difference would be the difference in longitude.

If the local noon happened when it was 1 PM in Greenwich, then the ship was 60 minutes west of Greenwich, which is also 1 degree west of Greenwich or at a longitude of 179⁰ W. Latitude and longitude are divided into degrees, 180⁰ of west and 180⁰ of east longitude. Latitude is divided into 90⁰ north and south latitude. Time on a clock and position in latitude and longitude is directly proportional. One hour in time equals one degree in distance, minute for minute, and second for second. Each degree is divided into 60 minutes, and each minute is divided into 60 seconds; so that 23⁰ 45’ 8” N 119⁰ 17’ 11” W is read, “23 degrees 45 minutes 8 seconds north 119 degrees 17 minutes 11 seconds west.” What the marine chronometer did was to free ships to sail the most direct route from any point on the earth to any point on the earth, in some cases shortening sea voyages by months. This was a huge savings in supplies a ship would have to carry, and for the merchant marine, less travel time meant more voyages and more income. This also meant that ships could now sail anywhere in the world, and know precisely where they were, something never possible before.

A year later, a voyage was planned to find the fabled Northwest Passage. Cook, chafing in retirement, volunteered to lead the expedition. This was Cook’s third and last expedition, one from which he would never return. But, oh what an expedition it was. For now though, we will leave Cook in his unwanted retirement.

Have a great week and take care of yourself,

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Two Sons of Camelot


This is another of those pieces I wrote long ago. I wrote this after John died. I never thought of myself as a writer so I never kept anything.

John and I both came from Camelot, not the kingdom of so many centuries ago, or from the one thousand days of an American Presidency. But, from a surreal place, a place that was never meant to be surreal. A place that was always meant to be real and tangible, but never was, nor ever will be. This was a Camelot that was intended to expand — encompassing the whole world with its perfection.

John left Camelot suddenly, after a birthday party. My expulsion was slow. I never knew I had left, until one day I looked around me, realizing I was lost in an imperfect world.

I never knew John, but I would have liked to have shared a cup of coffee with him … just once. Maybe on a forgotten dock, where sandpipers played in the surf, their cries carried on an ocean breeze that caresses you ever so gently, both body and soul. We could have sat like long lost friends, and talked about nothing at all. Comforted by the fact that though we had little in common, we were both sons of Camelot.

The Last Defender of Camelot (2002 book)

The Last Defender of Camelot (2002 book) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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Titanic, In The News … and This I Like!


The violin of Wallace Hartley the bandleader of the Titanic. Found tied to his body when he was recovered. Photograph by AP

The violin of Wallace Hartley the bandleader of the Titanic. Found tied to his body when he was recovered. Photograph by AP

Wallace Hartley’s violin has been discovered and will be auctioned off, according to a story by the Huffington Post (click to read the article).

Yes, ladies and gentlemen … THE Wallace Hartley. The man who led his band in playing music as the Titanic sank to help keep the passengers calm. Even after these men were released from duty by Captain Smith they chose to stay and continue to play.

Mr. Hartley encouraged the other members of his band to save themselves, but they all stayed aboard Titanic, doing what they could to keep the calm and make it possible for as many people to be save as could be. If not for the courage of these musicians, it is possible that panic may have broken out aboard the ship with passengers rushing the lifeboats. That would have meant even fewer passengers saved than actually were saved.

Common men, doing a common job, in the face of certain death. Sacrificing their own lives so that others may be saved.

And that, to me ladies and gentlemen, is heroism.

 

English: Wallace Hartley, bandmaster and violi...

English: Wallace Hartley, bandmaster and violinist on board the Titanic. Français : Wallace Hartley, chef d’orchestre et violoniste à bord du Titanic, mort dans le naufrage. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Monument to Wallace Hartley, bandmast...

English: Monument to Wallace Hartley, bandmaster onboard RMS Titanic, Colne (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: RMS Titanic Musicians' Memorial, Sout...

English: RMS Titanic Musicians’ Memorial, Southampton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

 

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