Back to gut issues

Once Cassia gets a clearer picture of her father’s past, she can ask her aunt Nita more pointed questions.

Here’s some of what she learned before the final revisions of my novel What’s Left:

He just felt Vietnam was wrong. Said he sensed it in his bones. I think he was beginning to identify some of his bloodlines that support pacifist witness, once he started looking into genealogy just a few years before his passing. These are all part of what he called the hidden histories that Americans need to know.

~*~

In another deleted passage, she hears her uncle Dimitri’s take on the newspaper work her father was doing:

The public doesn’t want to admit there’s corruption or deceit in their neighborhood. They’ll take umbrage at anything that would satisfy your pursuit of honest revelation or artistic perfection. No, why should you prostitute yourself?

~*~

In an early consideration of what Cassia’s father might do if he settled in with her mother’s family, we had this:

Nita interjects, Don’t you know I’ve been asking around? Would you believe there really are some opportunities for a first-class freelance photographer? And not just weddings or anniversaries? Even if you’ve never been to a football or basketball game, don’t forget you can shoot them and make decent bucks? How about a crying need in the performing arts, too, for somebody who knows the ropes?

Well, that seemed a bit unrealistic. Besides, his career — thanks to her family — was enabled to flow in a more fulfilling direction.

~*~

Cassia’s father is essentially struggling to find the right places to deal with the public. In his case, his talent with a camera is part of the equation.

Have you ever been pictured in the newspaper? What was the occasion?

~*~

Cassia’s roots included inspiration like this comedic figure from the province of Myrina (circa 330 BCE), based on a play by Menander. Unlike the Old Comedy Period, Meander wrote about everyday people, much in the style of a modern sitcom. It’s possible that this statue represents the character Knemon, from Menander’s play “The Grouch” (Dyskolos/Δύσκολος), Location: Louvre Museum, Paris. (Photo by Rennett Stowe via Wikimedia Commons.)

~*~

 

Remembering radical politics

As Cassia examines her father’s photographs in my novel What’s Left, she sees his generation from a fresh perspective.

Here’s her impression before I greatly condensed it in the final story:

That evening, back in her apartment, we sit down with more of the photos.

What I sense now is an unfathomable well of aimless, restless energy on the verge of erupting. The tattered crowd’s seated on the ground for a rock concert. It mills about, waiting for something to happen or someone to appear. It walks en masse down a city street or country highway. It’s lovers clinging to each other in desperation and escape. It’s an angry look while puffing on a cigarette — or a pipe or roach. It’s shirtless, braless, sunburned, tangled. 

There’s the happy streak too — defiantly so. And the frenetic dance that could become a tarantella. If only it had been channeled! Directed into sustainable communities, given meaningful work, paid livable wages, engaged fully in public service.

Some powerful forces have run hard against us, Nita says grimly. They set out to destroy it before it overran them.

And?

We were scattered. Not that our causes ever ended. You know, the peace movement. Racial and sexual equality. Educational alternatives. Environment and earth-centered economics. Natural and organic foods, even glutten-free. Fitness, spirituality, music, art … it all continues. You just have to pay attention.

~*~

As the passage relates, many vital social concerns remain.

What would you like to see happen to society in the future?

~*~

In the family, Cassia may have had food like this. Fried eggplant (“small crabs”) from Τα καβουράκια restaurant in Agios, Georgios, Santorini. Photo by Klearchos Kapoutsis via Wikimedia Commons.

~*~

 

Facts about the mills in Dover

  1. The Cocheco Manufacturing Company had the largest overshot flywheel in the world. It powered the looms and shuttles inside the long five- and six-story building.
  2. It was the scene of the first all-women’s strike in U.S. back in 1828.
  3. The mills once had 1,200 workers.
  4. There were more than 100 company-owned boarding houses.
  5. The town itself wrapped around the mills rather than to one side.
  6. Less than half of the mill complex remains.
  7. The printworks produced 1,000 new patterns a year.
  8. Mill workers received free milk from the company’s herd on Milk Street. Urine from the cows was essential as the fix (stabilizer) for dyes in the fabrics.
  9. Calico, sateen, velvet, and seersucker were the principal textiles produced.
  10. Fire was a constant threat, on occasion erupting spectacularly.

 

Uncovering alternative takes on real history

Textbook versions of history gloss over a lot of details, especially when it comes to the lives of common people rather than the powerful and rich. The biographies of great figures add to that top-down perspective.

One of the things I love about genealogy, especially in nonconformist traditions or ethnic subcultures, is the way it opens alternative understandings of the hopes, dreams, and struggles of life outside of the spotlight.

I look for it in fiction, too, as well as poetry.

My own novel What’s Left springs from that kind of investigation from a Greek-American experience. My new The Secret Side of Jaya adds three other takes from the agricultural prairie, the Ozarks, and finally Native American strands.

Maybe histories aren’t always told by the victors. Not if you look closer or take a longer timespan.

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.