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?

At Fort William and Mary

The small New Castle lighthouse is one of two along the Piscataqua River as it links Portsmouth Harbor to the Atlantic.

This fortification guarding the mouth of the Piscataqua River in New Castle, New Hampshire, has a unique place in American history. It was raided twice by Patriots in 1774, and the gunpowder and cannons captured from the British were later deployed at the Battle of Bunker Hill in Boston. Its small lighthouse is one of two along Portsmouth Harbor.

The panorama view shows the lighthouse in context with fortifications originally built before 1632 and renamed Fort William and Mary around 1692.

What I see looking at a few more hippie novels

As I’ve previously posted, social critic Tom Wolfe was perplexed that the hippie era didn’t produce any great novels. He’s wrong, of course, starting with Norman Gurney’s deceptively modest Divine Right’s Trip.

Reactions to earlier Red Barn posts suggested that many of the most influential books were nonfiction, including Wolfe’s own Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test but extending to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the Whole Earth Catalogs and a whole lot more.

But there was notable fiction, beginning with Edward Abbey, John Nichols, and Richard Brautigan.

More recently I’ve come across ebooks at Smashwords that attempt to reflect the wide variations in experiences of the era.

One, for instance, takes a hermit’s perspective in retreating to the mountains outside Los Angeles. Another, the trials of being an activist. Yet another, the life of sex and drugs. And then there’s the spiritual trip. We even have descriptions of living the life in the deep South. You get the picture. Hippies came (and still come) in many varieties. No one size fits all, and I doubt any one novel could cover the range.

Naturally, I have my own fiction entries yet to be considered.

To get a taste of what I’ve been reading, see the book reviews at my Jnana Hodson at Smashwords page.

Got any related books to recommend?

So William Shakespeare wasn’t the writer?

The range of the bard’s vocabulary and situations long appeared to be beyond the possibilities of the man’s background and training.

Long ago I came to a sense that he might have simply been the recorder and editor of a more free-form ensemble, an improv troupe, if you will.

Now I’ve come across arguments that the real playwright was Amelia Bassano, and it’s far more convincing.

A digital search will point you to the arguments, pro and con.

Anyone else like the idea that the most important writer in the English canon was a woman? One of Italian and Jewish descent, at that?

A regrettable turning point in counterculture evolution

In reading others’ fiction about the late ’60s and early ’70s, my awareness of the span of hippie identity has only intensified. Each one seems to focus on a different identity. As I’ve long argued, hippies came in all varieties and styles, and still do. But these also show how little overlap there often was.

So much so that I no longer find the label useful. Period. It fails to convey the extent to which we differed within the rainbow.

As one friend insists, “I was never a hippie. I was a freak!”

To the straight world, of course, there was no difference.

For many, political activism was a central component, though not for all. And I’m thinking the evolution of that activism needs more exploration. It’s where we really failed the most.

For starters, too many saw protests as the route to pursue, rather than undertaking the hard work of holding office or attending meetings.

For another, we failed to clearly articulate our vision, other than tending to be left, as in what we called radical, rather than liberal, which seemed to support the Vietnam quagmire. We were reactionary, actually, at least against the military-industrial-financial-racist complex. The ’68 Democratic national convention in Chicago didn’t help anything, either.

Looking back, it seems that too much of our political expression was being domineered by the egotistical theatrics of Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin and the like. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

Woodstock seemed to shift everything. Yes, we had the Jackson State and Kent State shootings the following spring, along with the shutdown of college campuses and some big marches. But who were our avatars?

Or, put another way, why is the experience remembered more by the music than by the speeches?

~*~

Back to Woodstock.

Seems Hoffman wanted to be part of it, naturally, and demanded – get this – $10,000, 200 free tickets, tables for distributing literature, and the right to leaflet the audience. The event’s organizer, Michael Lang, initially refused but later relented.

But that wasn’t enough. High on acid, Hoffman took to the stage and started ranting. Never mind that it was in the wee hours of Sunday morning. After 20 minutes or so, he knocked over Peter Townshend’s microphone as The Who was coming onstage, and a miffed Townshend responded by whacking Hoffman with his guitar and shouting obscenities about getting “off of my fucking stage.”

That part’s well known.

The message, intentional or not, was that politics were not to interrupt the sanctity of art.

I sense the rift only grew after that.

The protest music I remember was by folksingers-songwriters, not rockers.

Well, maybe John Lennon proved the exception.

Help me, please.

Waking up to political reality

While the upcoming national election campaigns appear to be hold, or at least on simmer, a political firestorm is nevertheless brewing.

For starters, many of us are not pleased that the choice for chief executive is coming down to two white males in their 70s, but the differences between them are vast. As in HUGE. (I’ll save that rant for later, if necessary.)

We weren’t happy that the other remaining alternative was also a white male in his 70s, but the scarier part was the rabid stance of some of his followers that if he’s not on the ballot, they won’t bother voting. They say they’ll vote only for the Revolution, and some even say that it will rise from the ruins of what’s falling around us. I wish they’d see it’s not that simple or natural. When Rome fell, it was gone.

Another revolution has been taking root in the past four years, one that’s not yet completed but definitely threatening everything the Founding Fathers established. Not all revolutions end on a positive note, after all. Look at history and you’ll see how many have ended in dictatorships and/or social destruction.

~*~

So our political quandary is not all about Covid-19, either, or at least not directly, though the epidemic has been exposing some longstanding stress points in society.

Health care is one, though it still has a long way to go to work efficiently and equitably. Covid-19 is exposing many of its weaknesses and heroic strengths.

Education and student loan debt is another frontier, going back to the shortcomings of No Child Left Behind and a comprehensive understanding of just what education means, especially when we’re dealing with children born with a laptop or smartphone in their fingers. Those kids face the world in a whole new way. What on earth can play even mean for them? And a public school system designed to train them to work in factories that have long since left the USA is another obstacle. Is anybody talking about this in the public arena?

And then there’s the broader economy, beginning with the disconnect between investors and labor. More crucially, the disturbing awakening some conservative analysts are seeing between the gains of digital advances and the devastating losses of lowest level labor. This is going to be HUGE when the bills start amassing.

This shouldn’t be an arcane discussion.

Still, let’s look at the more pressing aspect. The biggest depression in a century? Combined with the makeshift payout, with one with the Donald’s signature on the checks.

Who’s paying for all this? Yes, we had to go back to get his unauthorized fricking egotistical name of the bills we’re paying.

Look, we’re lending free money to big banks, which in turn charge HUGE usury rates on their credit cards. WTF? No wonder we’re getting next to zero on our return on any savings. Real conservatives used to advocate personal savings. Far from that any more. The faux/Fox pseudo-conservatives are on that public-treasury gravy train. Besides, many if not all HUGE corporations aren’t paying federal taxes. Ditto for many of the super-rich who benefited from the so-called trickle-down tax reforms starting in the Ronald Reagan posturing.

Let us all eat cake, then. Does anyone else remember where that led? (Whack! Whack! Whack!)

By the way, whatever happened to antitrust actions? I ponder that every time I get my online server bill, which inches by dollars up every month. Not that this corporations has any real competition. This household is about to bolt to the only other alternative and swallow the quality difference.

‘Revolution or else’ from the fringe and other political lunacy

Maybe it’s all those years I’ve lived in places where I’ve been represented at the state and federal levels by some truly embarrassing public officials.

The ones I dutifully voted against, as a point of moral witness.

Note that I still voted, even when it often felt like a losing cause.

You can imagine my elation on those rare occasions when my candidate actually won office.

The U.S. representative who proved most satisfying was Kweisi Mfume, who was elected from my district in Baltimore shortly before I headed to New England. He was about as unlike me as you could imagine, apart from his voting record, and then he and I were in delicious harmony.

What I’m getting at is about my exasperation with those who insist they won’t vote unless it’s for somebody they agree with 100 percent.

At the moment, that means those in the Bernie camp who can’t accept anything less, except maybe Elizabeth Warren. Some of these are people I love dearly and respect, apart from their belief that it’s time for the entire system to crash and burn so it can magically resurrect in what they call “revolution or else.”

I hate to tell them this, but crash and burn rarely if ever leads to something better. There’s no Phoenix or Firebird. Look at Rome after the Visgoths and Huns. It was never again the same without the full Roman Empire, not that I’m a big backer of Caesar in any form. My sentiments are more in line with the Jewish resistance, not that it matters.

And, no, I definitely don’t believe in unicorns.

I know how hard it is to start an enterprise from scratch or even to turn an existing one in a new direction.

I heard a similar crash-and-burn argument from some who voted for Trump the last time around. Yes, they hated the way things were at that point, but they weren’t differentiating between crucial differences. One wanted something other than an entry-level job. I doubt she has even that now.

Me? I knew I’d much rather have someone in office whose positions meet me half of the time than one opposed to mine 90 percent of the time … or more. Take environmental protections or the independence of the Internet as current two examples.

I also knew I want someone who’s a problem solver, working with verifiable facts, than a problem maker, spouting off lies and superstitious gossip.

And I want someone who’s not in the pocket of the lustfully super-rich and their lobbyists. You know, money-sex-power, those who have it want more of it all … now.

I remember all too well Ralph Nader’s role in giving us the eight years of W that were so detrimental to progressive legislation in this country and its judicial benches, and also how Nader refused to acknowledge his part in undermining those positions. I’m also among those who chide Bernie for undercutting Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well, especially as we look at the devastation that’s followed. Look, I voted for him in the primary and have come to regret it.

The reality is that like dating and courtship, we’ll never find someone who can fit into everything we desire. As I’ve learned, a clone of myself is a very imperfect match. A successful working relationship is something quite different. A candidate who fully matches my stands would never, ever, get elected, not even if I lived in a lefty outpost like Cambridge, Massachusetts, or Berkeley.

Yes, I’m all for a revolution, but that’s within existing realities and resources, the way the call of ’76 turned out to be.

Anyone else have a soundtrack of “Hamilton” to play now?

For the first time since 1661, we won’t be gathering face-to-face

The clerks’ table in a previous year in Vermont. The presiding clerk, standing, is flanked by reading clerks and recording clerks as he attempts to summarize the “sense of the meeting” and recognize Friends in the auditorium who wish to speak to the item at hand.

The top level of governance in the Society of Friends is the yearly meeting, so-named because it gathers once a year in decision-making sessions. The constituent local congregations, in contrast, are termed monthly meetings, since they gather in business sessions once a month. (Yes, it’s confusing, since we sit together in worship at least once a week as well.) Everyone active at the local level is welcome to participate in the annual sessions.

Rather than having a single overarching yearly meeting, ours exist independently, originally on a regional basis. Something like the various strands of Eastern Orthodox, for that matter, with the Greek Orthodox and Russian Orthodox the best known of many.

Among Quakers, New England Yearly Meeting is the world’s oldest, founded in 1661, and was held in Newport, Rhode Island, until 1903. Since then we’ve gathered for a week each August on college campuses or other residential sites around the six-state region. In my time here, that’s been Hampshire in Massachusetts, Bowdoin in Maine, and Castleton in Vermont, and I’ve heard tales of the years the event was held in a camp on Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire.

It’s a solemn and joyous occasion, one that many participants – and many families – schedule their work vacation time around. It’s something like a huge class reunion, too, where you reconnect with many people you hold dear. And living in a college dorm, as most of us do, it’s not uncommon to find that random pairings among those of us who go solo turn into regular roommates, year after year.

So I’m still stunned by the announcement a few weeks ago that we will not be meeting in person this summer, due to the coronavirus. Yes, we will be attempting something online, but it won’t be the same.

Among the faces and late-night conversations I’ll be missing.

Just as jarring is the more recent cancellation of summer sessions at Friends Camp in Maine. For many of our kids, it’s a highlight of their year, and friendships they form there sustain them through high school and college. As one of our neighbors says, a camper who became a counselor, the news is a bummer.

Amen.