When I was about seven years old I witnessed, for the first time, the sale of a human being. We were living at Prince Edward, in Virginia, and master had just purchased his hogs for the winter, for which he was unable to pay in full. To escape from his embarrassment it was necessary to sell one of the slaves. Little Joe, the son of the cook, was selected as the victim. His mother was ordered to dress him up in his Sunday clothes, and send him to the house. He came in with a bright face, was placed in the scales, and was sold, like the hogs, at so much per pound. His mother was kept in ignorance of the transaction, but her suspicions were aroused. When her son started for Petersburgh in the wagon, the truth began to dawn upon her mind, and she pleaded piteously that her boy should not be taken from her; but master quieted her by telling her that he was simply going to town with the wagon, and would be back in the morning. Morning came, but little Joe did not return to his mother. Morning after morning passed, and the mother went down to the grave without ever seeing her child again. One day she was whipped for grieving for her lost boy. Colonel Burwell never liked to see one of his slaves wear a sorrowful face, and those who offended in this particular way were always punished. Alas! the sunny face of the slave is not always an indication of sunshine in the heart.
— Elizabeth Keckley, Behind the Scenes; or, Thirty Years a Slave, and Four Years in the White House, 1868
Everyone in Lyndon Johnson’s family had the same initials: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Lady Bird Johnson, Lynda Bird Johnson, and Luci Baines Johnson. His dog was named Little Beagle Johnson.
Stonewall Jackson’s precepts for good conversation, from a book of maxims he collected in the 1850s:
- Ascertain in your conversation as well as you can wherein the skill & excellence of the individual lies & put him upon his favorite subject. Every person will of his own accord fall to talking on his favorite subject or topic if you will follow and not attempt to lead him.
- If you seek to improve in the greatest degree from the conversation of another, allow him to take his own course. If called upon, converse in turn upon your favorite topic.
- Never interrupt another but hear him out. There are certain individuals from whom little information is to be desired such as use wanton, obscene or profane language.
- If you speak in company, speak late.
- Let your words be as few as will express the sense you wish to convey & above all let what you say be true.
- Do not suffer your feelings to betray you into too much vehemence or earnestness or to being overbearing.
- Avoid triumphing over an antagonist.
- Never engross the whole conversation to yourself.
- Sit or stand still while another is speaking to you. [Do]not dig in the earth with your foot nor take your knife from your pocket & pare your nales nor other such action.
- Never anticipate for another to help him out. It is time enough for you to make corrections after he has concluded, if any are necessary. It is impolite to interrupt another in his remarks.
- Say as little of yourself & friends as possible.
- Make it a rule never to accuse without due consideration any body or association of men.
- Never try to appear more wise or learned than the rest of the company. Not that you should affect ignorance, but endeavor to remain within your own proper sphere.
- Let ease & gracefulness be the standard by which you form your estimation (taken from etiquett).
“Good breeding, or true politeness, is the art of showing men by external signs the internal regard we have for them,” he wrote. “It arises from good sense, improved by good company. It must be acquired by practice and not by books.”
In October 1864, a score of young men drifted into St. Albans, a little Vermont town just south of the Canadian border. They arrived in small groups by train and coach, took rooms in local hotels, and began to pass time around town, observing the daily routines of the citizens.
On October 19, they simultaneously held up three local banks. There they revealed themselves to be Confederate soldiers, and as they collected the money they required the bank officers to take an oath of fealty to the South. Then they made off across the border. “They must have either had a guide who was acquainted with the road or had made a personal examination,” wrote one investigator, “because there were places in the road where strangers would have gone the wrong way, but they made no mistake.”
In all, the raiders made off with $208,000, about $3.2 million in today’s dollars. They were apprehended, but the Canadian authorities refused to extradite them, and their leader, Bennett Young, traveled in Europe until it was safe to return to Kentucky after the war. His exploit became the northernmost land action in the Civil War.
Confederate officer Tod Carter had been away from home for three years when he found himself crossing into his beloved Tennessee in late 1864 with Lt. Gen. John Bell Hood. As they approached his hometown of Franklin, Carter received permission to pass ahead and visit his family, but he found that Federal forces had commandeered the house to serve as headquarters in the coming battle. Miserably he returned to camp.
On Nov. 30, while Carter’s family and friends cowered in the house’s stone basement, Hood’s forces collided with those of Union general John Schofield. The battle produced 10,000 casualties in five hours; around the house men fought viciously with bayonets, rifle butts, axes, and picks. Carter’s older brother Moscow later wrote, “While the terrible din of the battle lasted it seemed to the adults that they must die of terror if it did not cease, but when there was a lull the suspense of fearful expectation seemed worse than the sound of battle.”
As a quartermaster, Tod might have been spared the danger; his duties did not involve combat. But, wrote Ralph Neal in a company history, “It was on the first charge and when nearest the enemy’s works that Capt. Todd Carter dashed through our lines on his horse with drawn sword, made straight for his father’s house, and met his death as it were, on the very threshold of his parental home. He was perhaps not more than fifty feet from us when he fell; his horse was seen to plunge and we knew he was struck. Captain Carter was thrown straight over the horse’s head, his sword reached as far as his arm would allow toward the enemy, and when he struck the ground he laid still, and his brave young life went out almost at the door of his home.”
“The sight of home and all that makes home dear, and that home in possession of the enemy caused him to forget himself, and under the impulse of the moment he rushed to certain death.”
As Columbus approached the New World he was sailing west, but the captain of the Pinta spotted birds flying southwest and convinced him to follow them. He arrived in the Bahamas.
Had he continued west he would have landed on the continent, probably in Florida, establishing a destiny for North America that was Spanish and Catholic rather than English and Protestant.
“Never had the flight of birds more important consequences,” wrote Alexander von Humboldt. “It may be said to have determined the first settlements on the new continent, and its distribution between the Latin and Germanic races.”
On the first day of fighting at Gettysburg, an old man in a swallowtail coat and a high black silk hat presented himself to a Union officer, volunteering to fight. When asked if he could shoot, he said, “If you knew that you had before you a soldier of the War of 1812 who fought at Lundy’s Lane, you would not ask such a question.”
It was the town constable, John L. Burns, born in 1793 and now nearly 70. He exchanged his ancient musket for a modern rifle and joined the 7th Wisconsin volunteers, with whom he distinguished himself as a sharpshooter throughout the battle. “He was as calm and collected as as any veteran on the ground,” remembered Sgt. George Eustice. “He was true blue and grit to the backbone, and fought until he was three times wounded.”
After the war he was hailed as the “hero of Gettysburg” and visited by tourists, veterans, and dignitaries, and he even met Lincoln at the dedication of the National Cemetery. He died in 1872 at age 78.
An infantryman’s view of World War I combat, from veteran Henry Williamson’s 1930 novel Patriot’s Progress:
… Half the sky leapt alight behind them, there were shouts and cries, a cascade of sound slipped solidly upon them, seeming to John Bullock to swell and converge upon the place where his now very trembling body was large and alone. He saw a long pale shadow before him an instant before it vagged and vanished in the shock of the earth rushing up in fire before him. He was aware of men going forward, himself with them, of the unreality of all movement, of the barrage which was all-weight and all-sound, so that he was carried forward effortlessly over a land freed from the force of gravity and matter. As in a nightmare of rising green and white showers of light about the rending fire he shouted without sound in a silent world, and his senses fused into a glassy delirium which lasted until he realized that of the figures on either side of him some were slowly going down on their knees, their chins on their box-respirators, their rifles loosening from their hands. He was hot and swearing, and his throat was dried up. That sissing noise and far-away racketting must be emma-gees. Now the fire wall was going down under his nose and streaking sparks were over and he was lying on his back watching a great torn umbrella of mud, while his head was drawn down into his belly …
(The vacuum of a dud shell falling just behind him.) He retched for breath. His ears screamed in his head. He crawled to his knees and looked to see what had happened. Chaps going on forward. He was on his feet in the sissing criss-cross and stinking of smoking earth gaping — hullo, hullo, new shell-holes, this must be near the first objective. They had come three hundred yards already! Cushy! Nothing in going over the top! Then his heart instead of finishing its beat and pausing to beat again swelled out its beat into an ear-bursting agony and great lurid light that leapt out of his broken-apart body with a spinning shriek
and the earth was in his eyes and up his nostrils and going away smaller and smaller
and tiny far away
Rough and smooth. Rough was wide and large and tilting with sickness. He struggled and struggled to clutch smooth, and it slid away. Rough came back and washed harshly over him. He cried out between the receding of rough and the coming of smooth white, then rough and smooth receded …
Shell-shocked at the Somme, Williamson was invalided back to England in 1917, where he wrote seven novels about his wartime experiences. He died in 1977.
Letter from escaped slave Jackson Whitney to his former master, March 18, 1859:
Mr. Wm. Riley, Springfield, Ky. — Sir: I take this opportunity to dictate a few lines to you, supposing you might be curious to know my whereabouts. I am happy to inform you that I am in Canada, in good health, and that robbing a woman of her husband, and children of their father does not pay, at least in your case; and I thought, while lying in jail by your direction, that if you had no remorse of conscience that would make you feel for a poor, broken-hearted man, and his worse-than-murdered wife and child, and could not be made to feel for others as you would have them feel for you, and could not by any entreaty or permission be induced to do as you promised you would, which was to let me go with my family for $800 — but contended for $1,000, when you had promised to take the same you gave for me (which was $660.) at the time you bought me, and let me go with my dear wife and children! but instead would render me miserable, and lie to me, and to your neighbors (how if words mean anything, what I say is so.) and when you was at Louisville trying to sell me! then I thought it was time for me to make my feet feel for Canada, and let your conscience feel in your pocket. — Now you cannot say but that I did all that was honorable and right while I was with you, although I was a slave. I pretended all the time that I thought you, or some one else had a better right to me than I had to myself, which you know is rather hard thinking. — You know, too, that you proved a traitor to me in the time of need, and when in the most bitter distress that the human soul is capable of experiencing: and could you have carried out your purposes there would have been no relief. But I rejoice to say that an unseen, kind spirit appeared for the oppressed, and bade me take up my bed and walk — the result of which is that I am victorious and you are defeated.
I am comfortably situated in Canada, working for George Harris, one of the persons that act a part in ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin.’ He was a slave a few years ago in Kentucky, and now owns a farm so level that there is not hills enough on it to hide a dog, yet so large that I got lost in it the other day. He says that I may be the means of helping poor fugitives and doing them as much good as he does, in time.
This country is not what it has been represented to me and others to be. In place of its being cold and barren, it has beautiful, comfortable climate, and fertile soil. It is much more desirable in those respects than any part of Kentucky that I ever saw. There is only one thing to prevent me being entirely happy here, and that is the want of my dear wife and children, and you to see us enjoying ourselves together here. I wish you could realize the contrast between Freedom and Slavery; but it is not likely that we shall ever meet again on this earth. But if you want to go to the next world and meet a God of love, mercy, and justice, in peace; who says, ‘Inasmuch as you did it to the least of them my little ones, you did it unto me’ — making the professions that you do, pretending to be a follower of Christ, and tormenting me and my little ones as you have done — had better repair the breaches you have made among us in this world, by sending my wife and children to me; thus preparing to meet your God in peace; for, if God don’t punish you for inflicting such distress on the poorest of His poor, then there is no use of having any God, or talking about one. But, in this letter, I have said enough to cause you to do all that is necessary for you to do, providing you are any part of the man you pretend to be. So I will close by saying that, if you see proper to reply to my letter, either condemning or justifying the course you have taken with me, I will again write you.
I hope you will consider candidly and see if the case does not justify every word I have said, and ten times as much. You must not consider that it is a slave talking to ‘massa’ now, but one as free as yourself.
I subscribe myself one of the abused of America, but one of the justified and honored of Canada.
John Clem was only 10 years old when he ran away to win the Civil War. (“It was necessary that the Union should be preserved,” he later wrote, “and my help was obviously needed.”) Rejected by Michigan’s 22nd infantry regiment, he tagged along anyway as a drummer boy and rode into Chickamauga seated on a caisson and carrying a musket sawed off to match his size. When a Confederate colonel rode up and yelled “Surrender, you damned little Yankee!” Clem shot him, winning instant fame as “the drummer boy of Chickamauga.”
He went on to fight at Perrysville, Murfreesboro, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach Tree Creek, and Atlanta. After the war Ulysses Grant, now president, appointed him second lieutenant; when he retired as a brigadier general in 1915 he was the only Civil War veteran still on duty. “There is no more popular officer in the army,” wrote the New York Times. “Colonel Clem is the son-in-law of a Confederate veteran, and this fact he often cites in conversation with friends as proof of the fact that he is the most ‘united American’ extant.” He died in San Antonio in 1937.
From an 1863 interview with blacksmith Solomon Bradley regarding the punishment of slaves in South Carolina:
Q. Can you speak of any particular cases of cruelty that you have seen?
A. Yes, sir; the most shocking thing that I have seen was on the plantation of Mr. Farrarby, on the line of the railroad. I went up to his house one morning from my work for drinking water, and heard a woman screaming awfully in the door-yard. On going up to the fence and looking over I saw a woman stretched out, face downwards, on the ground her hands and feet being fastened to stakes. Mr. Farrarby was standing over and striking her with a leather trace belonging to his carriage-harness. As he struck her the flesh of her back and legs was raised in welts and ridges by the force of the blows. Sometimes when the poor thing cried too loud from the pain Farrarby would kick her in the mouth. After he had exhausted himself whipping her he sent to his house for sealing wax and lighted candle and, melting the wax, dropped it upon the woman’s lacerated back. He then got a riding whip and, standing over the woman, picked off the hardened wax by switching at it. Mr. Farrarby’s grown daughters were looking at all this from a window of the house through the blinds. This punishment was so terrible that I was induced to ask what offence the woman had committed and was told by her fellow servants that her only crime was in burning the edges of the waffles that she had cooked for breakfast. The sight of this thing made me wild almost that day. I could not work right and I prayed the Lord to help my people out of their bondage. I felt I could not stand it much longer.
From John W. Blassingame, Slave Testimony, 1977.
On Sept. 9, 1942, a lookout on Mount Emily in Oregon’s Siskiyou National Forest reported a plume of smoke near the town of Brookings. The Forest Service contained the fire easily, but investigators turned up something odd at the site: fragments of an incendiary bomb of Japanese origin.
It turned out that a Japanese submarine had surfaced off the Oregon/California border and 31-year-old navy officer Nobuo Fujita had piloted a seaplane into the forest, hoping to start a fire that would divert U.S. military resources from the Pacific. Recent rains had wet the forest, so the plan failed, but it marked the first time the continental United States had been bombed by enemy aircraft.
Fujita returned safely to Japan, where he opened a hardware store after the war, and he became an agent of amity with the United States. In 1962 he accepted an invitation to return to Oregon, where he donated his family’s samurai sword to Brookings, and he invited three local students to visit Japan in 1985. The city made him an honorary citizen shortly before his death in 1997, and his daughter spread his ashes at the site of the bombing.
In 1896 the U.S. Treasury introduced some beautifully high-minded currency — instead of American presidents, the “educational series” of silver certificates bear neoclassical allegories:
On the $1 note, the Goddess of History instructs a youth, pointing to the U.S. Constitution, a panorama of Washington D.C., and a roster of famous Americans, including Franklin, Longfellow, Hawthorne, and Emerson.
On the $2 note, Science presents Steam and Electricity (as children) to Commerce and Manufacture. The back bears portraits of Robert Fulton and Samuel Morse.
The almost impossibly glorious $5 note depicts Electricity Presenting Light to the World. She is flanked by Strength, Fame, and Peace. The New York Times wrote, “The arrangement of this composition, the grace of pose in each figure, and the idea connected with the designs of this artist entitle it to a place beside the finest allegorical designs in the world.”
Unfortunately, the Treasury got a new secretary the following year, one who favored simple, clear designs, and he canceled more than $54 million in certificates as they came into the Treasury. “It can be said authoritatively … that no more of the so-called ‘new certificates’ will be printed,” the Times reported sadly in May 1897. “Neither will fresco painters be called in to make designs for the substitutes.”
Benjamin West undertook this painting of the Treaty of Paris at the end of the American Revolution. The British delegation refused to pose, so he had to abandon it.
As its colonies and dominions won independence, Britain faced a curious legal problem: How can a sovereign release a subject from subjection? If it passes a law, then implicitly the law might someday be repealed, “revoking” the new state’s freedom. And if Parliament promises never to do this, then it’s denying the power of the British people to change their own laws. The 1931 Statute of Westminster solemnized Britain’s intent never again to legislate for the colonies, but in 1935 Parliament ruled that the statute could in principle be repealed. “This was a world-class cartoon of the child with flypaper on its fingers trying to shake it off,” writes Peter Suber in The Paradox of Self-Amendment. “England was learning that it is paradoxical to command another to be free or even to offer another their freedom as a gift.”
In the Philippine Independence Act of 1934, the United States promised that, when a suitable Philippine constitution was ratified, “the United States shall by proclamation withdraw and surrender all right of possession, supervision, jurisdiction, control, or sovereignty then existing and exercised by the United States in and over the territory and people of the Philippine Islands …” But, like Westminster, this is only a statute, and unless Congress can bind itself irrevocably, it might be repealed at any time. Suber writes, “If after a certain time repeal would have no effect on the independence of the former dependent, which is almost certainly the case, then legal formalism cannot explain the source of the independence.”
That’s not a gun, it’s a log painted black. Both sides in the Civil War used “Quaker guns” to frighten the enemy in order to buy time. “We were confronted by a mammoth gun that threatened to blow the Union clear over the north pole,” remembered one Indiana volunteer in 1894. “The mammoth gun proved afterward to be a log that had been mounted and painted to resemble a columbiad.”
Two further Civil War oddities:
Each side, improbably, had a general named Henry H. Sibley. Henry Hastings Sibley (left) spent most of the war protecting settlements from the Sioux on the western frontier. He went on to become the first governor of Minnesota. His counterpart, Henry Hopkins Sibley, also served in the west, leading the Confederate States Army in the New Mexico Territory. The two never faced one another.
In July 1863 Union general Edward H. Hobson captured most of Confederate general John Hunt Morgan’s forces at the Battle of Buffington Island in Ohio. Undaunted, Morgan tunneled out of prison and returned the favor, capturing Hobson and about 750 men one year later near Cynthiana, Ky.
Helen Thomas’ husband departs for war, 1917:
After breakfast, while he showed me where his account books were and what each was for, I listened calmly, and unbelievingly he kissed me when I said I, too, would keep accounts. ‘And here are my poems. I’ve copied them all out in this book for you, and the last of all is for you. I wrote it last night, but don’t read it now … It’s still freezing. The ground is like iron, and more snow has fallen. The children will come to the station with me; and now I must be off.’
We were alone in my room. He took me in his arms, holding me tightly to him, his face white, his eyes full of a fear I had never seen before. My arms were round his neck. ‘Beloved, I love you,’ was all I could say. ‘Jenny, Jenny, Jenny,’ he said, ‘remember that, whatever happens, all is well between us for ever and ever.’ And hand in hand we went downstairs and out to the children, who were playing in the snow.
A thick mist hung everywhere, and there was no sound except, far away in the valley, a train shunting. I stood at the gate watching him go; he turned back to wave until the mist and the hill hid him. I heard his old call coming up to me: ‘Coo-ee!’ he called. ‘Coo-ee!’ I answered, keeping my voice strong to call again. Again through the muffled air came his ‘Coo-ee’. And again went my answer like an echo. ‘Coo-ee’ came fainter next time with the hill between us, but my ‘Coo-ee’ went out of my lungs strong to pierce to him as he strode away from me. ‘Coo-ee!’ So faint now, it might be only my own call flung back from the thick air and muffling snow. I put my hands up to my mouth to make a trumpet, but no sound came. Panic seized me, and I ran through the mist and the snow to the top of the hill, and stood there a moment dumbly, with straining eyes and ears. There was nothing but the mist and the snow and the silence of death.
Then with leaden feet which stumbled in a sudden darkness that overwhelmed me I groped my way back to the empty house.
He was killed shortly after arriving in France. From her memoir World Without End, 1931.
On July 3, 1863, 20-year-old Pennsylvania seamstress Ginnie Wade was kneading dough in her sister’s kitchen when a bullet pierced the door behind her and passed through her heart, killing her instantly.
She was the only civilian casualty of the Battle of Gettysburg.
This item appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Oct. 19, 1863:
Whose Father Was He?
After the battle of Gettysburg, a Union soldier was found in a secluded spot on the field, where, wounded, he had laid himself down to die. In his hands, tightly clasped, was an ambrotype containing the portraits of three small children, and upon this picture his eyes, set in death, rested. The last object upon which the dying father looked was the image of his children, and as he silently gazed upon them his soul passed away. How touching! how solemn! What pen can describe the emotions of this patriot-father as he gazed upon these children, so soon to be made orphans! Wounded and alone, the din of battle still sounding in his ears, he lies down to die. His last thoughts and prayers are for his family. He has finished his work on earth; his last battle has been fought; he has freely given his life to his country; and now, while his life’s blood is ebbing, he clasps in his hands the image of his children, and, commending them to the God of the fatherless, rests his last lingering look upon them.
When, after the battle, the dead were being buried, this soldier was thus found. The ambrotype was taken from his embrace, and since been sent to this city for recognition. Nothing else was found upon his person by which he might be identified. His grave has been marked, however, so that if by any means this ambrotype will lead to his recognition he can be disinterred. This picture is now in the possession of Dr. Bourns, No. 1104 Spring Garden [Street], of this city, who can be called upon or addressed in reference to it. The children, two boys and a girl, are, apparently, nine, seven and five years of age, the boys being respectively the oldest and youngest of the three. The youngest boy is sitting in a high chair, and on each side of him are his brother and sister. The eldest boy’s jacket is made from the same material as his sister’s dress. These are the most prominent features of the group. It is earnestly desired that all the papers in the country will draw attention to the discovery of this picture and its attendant circumstances, so that, if possible, the family of the dead hero may come into possession of it. Of what inestimable value it will be to these children, proving, as it does, that the last thoughts of their dying father was for them, and them only.
The description was reprinted in the American Presbyterian on Oct. 29, where it was read by Philinda Humiston of Portville, N.Y., who had not heard from her husband since Gettysburg. She identified the unknown soldier as Sgt. Amos Humiston of Company C, 154th New York Volunteers. His body was removed to the Gettysburg National Cemetery, and the outpouring of sympathy for his children led to the establishment of a Soldier’s Orphan’s Home in Gettysburg in 1866.
This is a picture of which Captain Gordon McCabe of Richmond, Virginia, writes: ‘I send photographs of two bullets, one Federal, the other Confederate, that met in mid-air and flattened out against each other. The bullets were picked up in 1865 between the lines immediately after the evacuation of Petersburg.’
— Francis Trevelyan Miller, The Photographic History of the Civil War, 1911
In 1871 the House of Representatives was considering subsidizing railroads to serve the Midwest, including tiny Duluth, Minn. Kentucky representative J. Proctor Knott rose, produced a bucket of sarcasm, and began ladling:
Duluth! The word fell upon my ear with peculiar and indescribable charm, like the gentle murmur of a low fountain stealing forth in the midst of roses, or the soft, sweet accents of an angel’s whisper, in the bright joyous dream of sleeping innocence. Duluth: ‘Twas the name for which my soul had panted for years, as the hart panteth for water-brooks. But where was Duluth? Never, in all my limited reading, had my vision been gladdened by seeing the celestial word in print. And I felt a profounder humiliation in my ignorance, that its dulcet syllables had never before ravished my delighted ear. …
Nevertheless, I was confident it existed somewhere, and that its discovery would constitute the crowning glory of the present century, if not of all modern times. I knew it was bound to exist in the very nature of things; that the symmetry and perfection of our planetary system would be incomplete without it, that the elements of material nature would long since have resolved themselves back into original chaos if there had been such a hiatus in creation as would have resulted from leaving out Duluth.
In fact, sir, I was overwhelmed with the conviction that Duluth not only existed somewhere, but that wherever it was, it was a great and a glorious place. I was convinced that the greatest calamity that ever befell the benighted nations of the ancient world was in their having passed away without a knowledge of the actual existence of Duluth; that their fabled Atlantis, never seen save by the hallowed vision of inspired poesy, was in fact but another name for Duluth; that the golden orchard of the Hesperides was but a poetical synonym for the beer gardens in the vicinity of Duluth.
I was certain that Herodotus had died a miserable death because in all his travels and with all his geographical research he had never heard of Duluth. I knew that if the immortal spirit of Homer could look down from another heaven than that created by his own celestial genius upon the long lines of pilgrims from every nation of the earth to the gushing fountain of poesy opened by the touch of his magic wand, if he could be permitted to behold the vast assemblage of grand and glorious productions of the lyric art called into being by his own inspired strains, he would weep tears of bitter anguish that instead of lavishing all the stories of his mighty genius upon the fall of Troy it had not been his more blessed lot to crystallize in deathless song the rising glories of Duluth.
Yet, sir, had it not been for this map, kindly furnished me by the Legislature of Minnesota, I might have gone down to my obscure and humble grave in an agony of despair, because I could nowhere find Duluth. Had such been my melancholy fate, I have no doubt that with the last feeble pulsation of my breaking heart, with the last faint exhalation of my fleeting breath I should have whispered, ‘Where is Duluth?’
The bill was defeated. See American Notes.
n. a mass execution by drowning
adj. crying out together
adj. dying together or at the same time
J.M.W. Turner’s 1840 painting The Slave Ship recalls a brutal convention in the Atlantic slave trade — an insurance company would reimburse a captain for a slave who was lost at sea, but not for one who died of illness aboard ship. In 1781 Luke Collingwood, captain of the Zong, threw 133 sick and malnourished Africans overboard so that he could claim their value from his insurers. Turner displayed the painting next to lines from his own poem:
Aloft all hands, strike the top-masts and belay;
Yon angry setting sun and fierce-edged clouds
Declare the Typhon’s coming.
Before it sweeps your decks, throw overboard
The dead and dying — ne’er heed their chains
Hope, Hope, fallacious Hope!
Where is thy market now?
Britain had already outlawed its own slave trade when the painting appeared, but its impact encouraged the empire to oppose the institution everywhere.
When George Washington called for volunteers for the Continental Army in 1782, 23-year-old Deborah Sampson dressed as a man and enlisted in the 4th Massachusetts Regiment, giving the name Robert Shurtleff.
She served for 17 months, eating and sleeping with the troops and fighting in several battles in New York — she received a sword wound to the head and a bullet in the thigh, which she removed herself with a penknife.
A doctor discovered her identity when she was hospitalized with fever in summer 1783, but he kept her secret and she was discharged honorably shortly after the Treaty of Paris was signed in September. The government awarded her a pension for her service and extended one to her husband as well, declaring that the Revolutionary War “furnishes no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity, and courage.”
It was quickly forgotten. In 1861 Confederate general Richard Ewell remarked, “Women would make a grand brigade — if it was not for snakes and spiders! They don’t mind bullets — women are not afraid of bullets; but one big black-snake would put a whole army to flight.”
George Elgin’s “pistol sword,” patented in 1837, combines romance and efficiency:
The nature of my invention consists in combining the pistol and Bowie knife, or the pistol and cutlass, in such manner that it can be used with as much ease and facility as either the pistol, knife, or cutlass could be if separate, and in an engagement, when the pistol is discharged, the knife (or cutlass) can be brought into immediate use without changing or drawing, as the two instruments are in the hand at the same time.
This is one of the earliest U.S. patents — number 254.
Related: A gruesome piece of battlefield medicine from the Napoleonic campaigns of 1806 — a soldier’s face was transfixed by a bayonet that projected five inches from his right temple:
The man was knocked down, but did not lose his senses. He made several ineffectual efforts to pull the bayonet out, and two comrades, one holding the head, whilst the other dragged at the weapon, also failed. The poor wounded man came to me leaning on the arms of two fellow-soldiers. I endeavored, with the assistance of a soldier to pull out the bayonet, but it seemed to me as if fixed in a wall. The soldier who helped me desired the patient to lie down on his side, and putting his foot on the man’s head, with both hands he dragged out the bayonet, which was immediately followed by considerable hemorrhage, the blood pouring forth violently and abundantly. The patient then first felt ill, and, as I thought he would die, I left him to dress other wounded. After twenty minutes he revived, and said he was much better, and I then dressed him. We were in the snow, and as he was very cold the whole of his head was well wrapped up in charpie and bandages. He set off to Warsaw with another soldier; went partly on foot, partly on horseback, or in a cart, from barn to barn, and often from wood to wood, and reached Warsaw in six days. Three months after, I saw him in the hospital, perfectly recovered. He had lost his sight on the right side; the eye and lid had, however, preserved their form and mobility, but the iris remained much dilated and immovable.
From Paul Fitzsimmons Eve, A Collection of Remarkable Cases in Surgery, 1857.
In 1888 New York journalist David Goodman Croly published Glimpses of the Future, a collection of predictions “to be read now and judged in the year 2000.” Excerpts:
- “The accumulation of wealth in a few hands, which is steadily going on, will unquestionably lead to a grave agitation which may have vital consequences on the future of the country. I am quite sure that the American of the twentieth century will not consent to live under a merely selfish plutocracy.”
- “Exclusive lawyer rule will yet create violent disturbance. Our whole machinery of justice is out of gear, for it is becoming more costly and inefficient. … The legal machinery grows yearly more inefficient and wasteful of time and money. Vigilance committees will exist in every part of the country if this state of things continues.”
- “Marriage is no longer a religious rite even in Catholic countries, but a civil contract, and the logical result would seem to be a state of public opinion which would justify a change of partners whenever the contracting couple mutually agreed to separate.”
- “If the aërostat should become as cheap for travellers as the sailing vessel, why may not man become migratory, like the birds, occupying the more mountainous regions and sea-coast in summer and more tropical climes in winter? Of course all this seems very wild, but we live in an age of scientific marvels, and the navigation of the air, if accomplished, would be the most momentous event of all the ages.”
- “There will be a sub-city [in New York] under the surface of the ground for conveying people, not only from the Battery to the City Hall Park, but also from the East to the North River.”
- “True, the [chromolithograph] of to-day is looked upon as crude and inartistic; but I venture to predict that it will be so far perfected as to allow any well-to-do family to have art galleries of their own, in which will be found reproductions of all the great paintings of the ancient and modern world. The crowning glory of our age will be when the highest art is brought within the reach of the poorest purse.”
- “[In the novel of the future,] Robert Elsmere, Catherine Langham, and the other individuals, would all be reproduced pictorially. This would dispense with a great deal of description, and much of the verbiage could be cut out. Then the reader’s conception of the characters would necessarily be much more vivid. Nor is this all. Why should not a number of graphophones be made use of, giving the words of the various conversations in the tones they would naturally use? An author then would employ a number of men and women of various ages to personate his characters. They would be like the models of an artist.”
“I have no notion of being able to tell what the future has in store for us,” he wrote. “I propose simply to take up such matters as are of everyday importance, and try to think out the future with regard to them.”