Anyone else feeling déjà vu with a hangover?

Not too long ago, the counterculture of the late ’60s and early ’70s looked like ancient history, especially from our grandkids’ perspective.

Not so now.

Here we are again, with a paranoid tyrant in the White House, a nation divided, police gone rogue, civil rights denied, and frustration erupting in protests. Only this time, the situation looks worse, much worse, than it did then, even before we add climate change and the environment to the mix.

We had more community connections, for one thing. And there were more voices of reason, for another. In what we saw as the Revolution of Peace & Love, the gloom and doom before us was often counterbalanced by experiences of joy and unity, often via its outpouring of vivid music in public festivals and rallies. I don’t see that now. Too many people are simply isolated, and the Covid restrictions aren’t helping.

The closest rallying cry for the American dream I’m sensing is BLM. Think about that and how many middle-class, suburban lawns where its signs are sprouting on lawns and in windows.

In retrospect, as I’ve long argued, there was no standard-issue hippie and no creed to subscribe to. Some were outright apolitical, while for others, peace and social justice activism were paramount.

Once again, activism is high on the agenda, across all generations.

My novel Daffodil Uprising: the making of a hippie describes the transformation as it happened, more or less, fifty years ago on a college campus in Indiana and likely elsewhere. Not all of it was hippiedelic, not by a long shot. Things were generally grim.

A neighbor reading the book said some of the scenes regarding the school’s administration and its disregard for the students sound like those his daughter is complaining about at a prestigious university in Greater Boston. Some things never change, or won’t if we fail to nurture a culture of vigilance. Frankly, we got lazy in the intervening years, or at least distracted.

All I can say is that I expect the next month to be one of the most important in our nation’s history. Wise elders, seasoned over time, are needed in the fray. How many of us are willing and ready to stand up?

The making of a hippie

In what seemed like an open-and-closed case

Genealogy research often leads to unexpected lessons, some of them unrelated to the family at hand. Recently, I had one of those in opening a link to online transcribed court records provided by a reader’s comment at my Orphan George blog.

The item I was checking involved my great-great-great-grandmother, who often turns up in the records with any of three maiden names. I had finally cleared up two of those when I came across a court ruling in which the man I had suspected of being her father was named … and ordered to pay support to the unwed mother of his child. The new link now pointed me to a judicial ruling in which she is a ten-year-old orphan placed under the care of a family whose name she would also go by. So now all three surnames are accounted for.

There are a few other turns before she marries into my line that still baffle me.

~*~

But that wasn’t what popped up when I opened the link. What I wanted was much further down in the file and would take some scrolling.

No, the first item was this:

“State of North Carolina Guilford County At a Court Called and held for the County of Guilford at the Courthouse in the Town of MartinVille on Monday the second day of February AD 1801 for the purpose of Trying a Negroe Man Slave the property of Sally Tait Wilson & relict of John Tait Deceased—”

After naming the judge and attorneys, the entry continues:

“The State of North Carolina vs Jim a Negro Man Slave Charged with having Committed a Rape on the Body of Sally Colscott Wife of Thomas Colscott in her own House about Midknight on the Twenty Ninth day of October AD 1800—

“To which Charge the prisoner plead not Guilty— When the Court directed the Sheriff to call on the Jury and the following persons attended as such—”

The jurors are named.

“Who being Impaneled & Sworn To Try the [word illegible] aforesaid Find the Defendant Guilty in manner & Form as Charged &c The Court proceeded to Judgment and Continued the prisoner to be Hanged on Monday the Seventeenth day of the Instant between the Hours of Twelve & One Oclock PM & the Sheriff of this County is to [word illegible] the said Order or Pentance as aforesaid— John Hamilton Clk”

And that’s it.

You know the outcome from three words – “Negroe,” “Man,” “Rape,” even before getting to “Wife.”

Somehow, the entry wouldn’t let go of me. I kept returning to it.

I’m struck by the implied overwhelming presumption of guilt on his part and of innocence on hers. And that’s before allowing for the widespread supposition of Black male libido and virility.

But wait!

What was Jim doing in the Colscott household in the first place?

My guess was that he was hired out, for cash income, a common practice, which then raises another question:

What was he doing in the house at midnight?

The plot thickens. I doubt he was staying on the property overnight, between shifts, and if he were, it wouldn’t have been in the house but rather a barn a or shed.

Either way, for him, any thought of sexual activity with a white woman would have been terrifying, suicidal, crazed.

So what was he doing inside the house? And where within it? As I recall from other research, most of the dwellings at the time were pretty modest.

Were the Colscotts and Wilsons/Tates neighbors?

Possibly, if Sally Tate was now the wife of Amos Wilson, whose household included two slaves in the 1800 Census. Another neighbor was Caswell Tate, age 16 to 26, with eight slaves and no other members of the household, male or female. I’ll venture he’s her son.

Let’s now look more closely at the four main characters.

Sarah Colscott, the pivotal figure: Sally was the common diminutive for Sarah, who shows up with her estate papers being filed in 1816 in Guilford County.

In the 1800 Census, both she and her husband, Thomas, were at least 45 years old. A male, 16 to 26, and a female, ten to 16, were the other members of the household, likely their children, although hired help would be another possibility. The surname does not appear in the 1790 or 1810 Census.

We don’t know the state of the marital relationship between the Colscotts, but I would at least consider the possibility that she was dissatisfied in it. Jim could have found himself in a no-win situation akin to Biblical Joseph in his sitution with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:5-40). He could have even been in the house by invitation, with no way to refuse. Discovered by her husband, she may have seen a cry of rape as her best option for saving some semblance of honor.

Thomas Colscott, her offended husban: Where was he in the time leading up to the incident? Asleep in their bed, assuming they shared one, while his wife may have been up, reloading the fire when she chanced upon an intruder – in which case flight rather than sexual assault would have been Jim’s more rational reaction. Or was Thomas getting home from somewhere else, which would seem a likely possibility to me if he were a large slaveholder.

Is Thomas really an injured third party, as we might assume, or are other factors at play? I keep coming back to that midnight hour.

Sally Tait (Tate) Wilson, owner of the Negro Man Slave: I have not found her maiden surname, but in 1801 she was the remarried widow of John Tate, per the court document at hand. (Mr. Wilson’s first name is still undetermined, though I have mentioned Amos. The other slaveholding Wilson in 1800, Andrew, has no white females in her age range.)

In 1775, John Tate is a major in a company of minute-men raised by Guilford County. The 1790 Census lists Widow Tate as head of a household with one white male age 16 or above, two under 16, and four white females plus nine slaves. The other Tate household is Zepheniah, with one white male 16 or older, two white males under 16, and eight white females, plus 11 slaves. In 1800, there were again just two Tate households, as mentioned, and two in 1810, where A. Tate owns four slaves and William, none. Where did the other males go in the interim? As for the shrinking number of slaves?

The picture that emerges is of an elderly woman at the time of the incident. The two Tate households in 1790 owned 20 slaves, which would place them among the larger slaveowners, though not the largest.

The loss of a black male slave would have been a significant economic hit, one sometimes surpassing the assessed value of a white yeomen farmer in the county. I doubt that Sally, her husband, or her son(s) took this injury easily. Were there resentments, even retribution, that followed?

The Wilsons, by the way, were a large, extended family in Guilford County at the time, but in 1800, only four of the households owned slaves, totaling of 14.

Jim, the prisoner: While it took three months for the case to come to court, while he no doubt languished in jail, the execution was swift, 15 days later.

By the way, we have no idea of his age.

~*~

As you can see, I’m left feeling something’s quite fishy here.

What’s your take?

There aren’t many big metro areas in the Pacific Northwest

Like Joshua and Jaya in my novel Nearly Canaan, I was surprised by the relative importance of smaller urban areas in the Pacific Northwest. Look how quickly the population figures drop.

Looking at the states of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, here are the ten largest cities by metropolitan area population. These figures have mushroomed since I lived in the region four decades ago and even desert communities have been deemed desirable destinations for retirees. As for geographic perspective, remember that the Seattle standard statistical metropolitan area includes the wilderness of Mount Rainier National Park. Anyplace else have an active volcano?

~*~

  1. Seattle, 3.9 million. Ranked 20th in the U.S. Feels more like Boston, Chicago, or Atlanta in its impact.
  2. Portland, 2.4 million. Ranked 30th in the U.S.
  3. Boise, Idaho, 730,426
  4. Spokane, Washington, 559,891
  5. Salem, Oregon, 432,102
  6. Eugene-Springfield, Oregon, 379,611
  7. Olympia, Washington, 286,419
  8. Tri-Cities, Washington, 296,224
  9. Bremerton, Washington, 269,805
  10. Yakima, Washington, 251,446. The major metropolis for the middle third of a large state.

~*~

Note that six of the ten are west of the Cascade range. None are in the eastern half of Oregon.

Just to the north, Vancouver, British Columbia, has 2.4 million population, making it Canada’s third largest metropolis.

~*~

What would your community match on the list?

Coronavirus fuels a news storm unlike any other

The Covid-19 pandemic is an ongoing news story unlike any other we’ve seen.

Most news reports are about things that have happened – past tense – but this one is more a matter of watching things coming our way, threatening to happen in the near future.

Add in the two-week period between the time of infection and the appearance of symptoms, there’s even a sense of something ghostly in the air, a present tense that’s uncomfortably ethereal.

The closest similar coverage I can think of comes in sportswriting, as in anticipating an NFL game coming up, say, next Sunday. There, though, there are only two possible outcomes, it’s a limited time span, and a score will settle the matter.

The unhealthy emphasis on public opinion surveys regarding upcoming political elections might also fall into this future-tense focus, though we still see reports of candidate appearances and policy positions along with charges and countercharges.

With coronavirus, though, the scope spreads across many beats rather than something only on the sports desk or political reporter. It’s not just medical and health fields but also stock markets and economics,  education, transportation, technology, even lifestyles as well as sports and politics as we go into lockdown and shelter-in-place. Americans aren’t used to being confined anywhere, especially with their mate.

Well, we are also seeing potential major changes in the way we do many things in the years ahead. How much will online meetings catch on, for instance? Or what will happen to local retailing? It’s all fascinating.

~*~

There’s one other ongoing story that might emerge along these lines. Climate change.

Let’s see if experience with one leads to an increased interest in the other.

Ten distances from their part of the Ozarks

Few Americans know much, if anything, about the Ozarks, where Jaya and Joshua resettle in my novel Nearly Canaan.

Here are some driving times to points from Fayetteville, Arkansas, to major cities.

~*~

  1. St. Louis: 5 hours, 20 minutes.
  2. Memphis: 4 hours, 39 minutes.
  3. Tulsa: 1 hour, 55 minutes.
  4. Dallas: 5 hours, 13 minutes.
  5. New Orleans: 9 hours, 41 minutes.
  6. Kansas City: 3 hours, 32 minutes.
  7. Nashville: 8 hours, 47 minutes.
  8. Denver: 11 hours, 53 minutes.
  9. Chicago: 9 hours, 52 minutes.
  10. New York: 12 hours, 17 minutes.

~*~

Frankly, the Ozarks is more isolated than I’d thought. I’m surprised that its center is almost as far from New Orleans as it is from Chicago or that it’s halfway between St. Louis and Dallas. Looks like a long way to anywhere, actually.

How long does it take you to get to a major destination?

Inspired by a Shaker spirit

In my novel NEARLY CANAAN, Jaya searches in her spare time for an means of personal expression that isn’t quite poetry or prose but somehow truer to her spiritual stirrings. After I finished drafting the book, I came upon an exhibit of Shaker gift drawings and writings channeled by one member of the monastic community to be presented to another. Sometimes these would also originate as song, and an unique form of musical notation also arose.

Here are a few examples.

Spirit Message from 1843 appears to be a random series of letters or perhaps a new language akin to speaking in tongues.

 

Thus saith Holy Wisdom, detail

 

A Tree of Life, a central Shaker concept

 

Detail, To Sally Lomise, 1847

 

Mystical letters and images

 

What do you know about the Ozarks?

In my novel Nearly Canaan, Joshua and Jaya leave Prairie Depot and settle into a place unlike anything they would have imagined. It’s not where they promised themselves that they’d relocate, but it would have to do. At least it was hilly and wooded.

It’s hillier and more forested than I had expected.

Here are a few of the things they discovered.

~*~

  1. The Ozark Mountains, also known as the Ozarks Plateau, stretches into five states but is situated mostly in southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. It’s the highest land between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains, having some peaks of more than two thousand feet elevation.
  2. Technically, there are two mountain ranges: the Boston Mountains of Arkansas and the St. Francoise Mountains in Missouri, the latter having some of the oldest rocks in the United States.
  3. The majority of the region is forested. Logging is a major industry.
  4. The plateau is laced with underground caverns. Found deep within some of them is the species of Ozark blind cave salamanders, which lives nowhere else in the world.
  5. The shoreline of the Lake of the Ozarks is longer than the coastline of California. The man-made lake covers 61,000 square miles and is a popular vacation site.
  6. The Ozarks has a distinctive culture, architecture, and dialect deriving from its backwoods heritage. Square dances were a popular social activity, as was storytelling.
  7. Historically, the Ozarks were predominantly Baptist or Methodist in faith. Today, the Assemblies of God and Baptist Bible Fellowship International have their world headquarters in the region.
  8. Big-name live musical entertainment has made Branson a major tourist magnet.
  9. Fayetteville, home to the University of Arkansas and with 77,000 population, is the third largest city in the state and is the principal metropolis in the Arkansas part of the Ozarks. It claims to defy many stereotypes about Southerners and could well be the model for Dolomite Center in my novel.
  10. Wal-Mart is headquartered in Bentonville, a short drive from Fayetteville.

~*~

What can you add to the list?