Tag Archives: Colonial America

INSP is going colonial for Memorial Day

INSP, the cable network specializing in family programming, is going to air a colonial-themed miniseries starting at 7:00 P.M. on Memorial Day.  The show is called Courage, New Hampshire, and it’s set in the late eighteenth century.

It apparently originated as a direct-to-DVD production put together by a couple of guys who met through a Tea Party rally.  The guy who financed the first episode is into living history, so it might be worth a look.  You can find a few short clips on YouTube.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution, Colonial America

Ladies and gentlemen, meet your newest national historic landmarks

Thirteen new sites just made the list, including Camp Nelson in Kentucky, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house in Connecticut, Honey Springs Battlefield in Oklahoma, and an eighteenth-century frame house in Virginia.

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War, Colonial America, Museums and Historic Sites

Birth of an assassin nation

Yesterday a longtime amigo of mine picked up Assassin’s Creed III, the new installment of the wildly popular historical video game series set in the era of the American Revolution. I headed over to his place to check it out.

ACIII utilizes open-world gameplay, so instead of following a particular path and smashing whatever turns up in your way, you’re free to explore your environment and interact with its inhabitants. A few historic figures put in appearances, some of them obscure to anyone who isn’t familiar with the period, which indicates that the folks behind the game did a little homework. (William Johnson isn’t exactly a household name.)

When you wander around Boston, the architecture is all period, right down to the paneling on the interior walls. Some of the buildings themselves are historical; one of the game’s protagonists plans his missions at the Green Dragon Tavern. The town criers shout out actual eighteenth-century news, and there are animals roaming around the streets. Step in front of a British patrol, and you’ll find yourself brusquely shoved out of the way.

There are only a couple of minor things that undermine the illusion. Characters in ACIII aren’t quite as conscious of rank and deference as you’d expect a colonial American to be, and there’s a little too much facial hair for the 1700′s.

Other than that, it’s pretty nifty, sort of like a virtual Colonial Williamsburg with the added risk of getting killed. If you’re a history buff who’s into gaming, you’ll probably get a kick out of it. ( I’m more of an old school Galaga sort of guy, so I’ll just watch.)

4 Comments

Filed under American Revolution, Colonial America

Toil and trouble

In 1663 Connecticut authorities hanged Mary Barnes for witchcraft, and now her great-great-great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter wants her ancestor’s name cleared, along with those of ten other executed witches.  It must be a lot harder to live down a family scandal in Connecticut.  “Uh-oh, Mildred, here comes that woman whose seventh grandmother was hanged for being a witch.  I hope she doesn’t try to sit next to us.”

From The Witch of Salem, by Freeland A. Carter via Wikimedia Commons

This effort has attracted the attention of the Connecticut Wiccan & Pagan Network (suggested motto: “Loki is Our Homeboy”), which wants a proclamation from the governor.  They’re sending postcards—I’m not making this up—with the message, “I am a Pagan/Witch and I vote. Clear the names of Connecticut’s eleven accused and executed witches.”

I’m assuming the descendants of the condemned witches want their ancestors declared innocent.  If that’s the case, it doesn’t really seem helpful to have the witch/pagan lobby involved.  If the point is that grandma was executed for something she didn’t do, wouldn’t you want to keep people who affirm the okayness of what she was accused of doing from appropriating her as a symbol?

Oh, and if you’re thinking that Connecticut was still a colony when it was executing witches and the aggrieved parties should therefore take their case to the British Empire, the CWPN already tried applying to Queen Elizabeth II for a pardon.  Gotta admire their persistence.

(Hat tip to John Fea)

1 Comment

Filed under Colonial America, History and Memory

The collapse of Carter’s Grove

About the time I was first getting seriously interested in early American history, my parents and I took a trip to Colonial Williamsburg.  We planned to visit Carter’s Grove, the plantation home of Carter Burwell (and before that, site of a seventeenth-century English settlement excavated by famed archaeologist Ivor Noel Hume), but it was only open on certain days of the week and we got our schedule mixed up, so we missed it.  CW sold the property five years ago.

Now it’s falling apart, because Halsey Minor, the tech investor who bought the place, has evidently overextended himself and can’t afford to keep it up.

Inspectors from the Virginia Department of Historic Resources have been monitoring the property and have noted in reports the continuing deterioration of the mansion.

“Very little general maintenance work has been conducted,” inspectors said in a March report to the court after a visit to the mansion earlier this year.

“Of critical importance is the need for repairs to the failing HVAC system,” the report says. “During this site visit, there was visible standing water in the mechanical room in the basement, emanating from the chiller water pump. The risk for flooding is very high and could result in an explosion should water make contact with the gas burner.”

The inspectors found water leaks and worsening signs of rotting, cracking and mold throughout the mansion. It was unclear, they said, whether recent repairs actually stopped the water intrusion.

On the outside, they found more shingles missing from the roof, more bricks missing from the walls and more mortar cracked.…

[A court-appointed trustee] discovered that the insurance on the property had lapsed, the property’s caretakers had not been paid in a month, and that utility companies were threatening to shut off the gas, electric and water services for lack of payment. The Carter’s Grove bank account had only a few dollars left.

Pretty sorry outcome for one of the most significant pieces of architecture in the country.

1 Comment

Filed under Colonial America, Historic Preservation

They’ve got forts all over the place in Virginia

The Confederates built Fort Pocahontas atop the site of the 1607 Jamestown fort, so now they’re excavating the former to get at the latter.

Leave a comment

Filed under Civil War, Colonial America

Colonial America was the place to live

…if you were looking for economic equality and a high standard of living.  Assuming you were white, of course.

Leave a comment

Filed under Colonial America

Kirk Cameron has found the “secret sauce” that made America great

It’s apparently made of seventeenth-century religious dissenters.

“I want to know the secret sauce,” he recently told MSNBC.  “Tell us what it is so we can move forward with it. What I discovered is the seeds that blossomed into this great nation really began with the faith of the Pilgrims.”

This is the subject of his upcoming movie Monumental, which hits theaters March 27.  It’s an appropriate title; judging by the trailer, it does have a lot of monuments in it.

If I’m not mistaken (someone correct me on this if I am), the particular monument highlighted near the end of that clip is the National Monument to the Forefathers, dedicated to the memory of the Pilgrims in 1889.  It’s also prominently featured in the film’s  poster.  You can see it just behind Cameron’s arm, the one in which he’s not clutching the American flag like it’s a piece of carry-on luggage.

Cameron’s opinion that you should look to the Pilgrims if you want to find the “secret sauce” that made the American character is a pretty common one.  Many Americans who dig down in search of the nation’s moral foundations stop once their shovels hit Plymouth Rock, assuming that there’s nothing else to excavate. This has always interested me, because when you think about it, the Pilgrims and the Puritans don’t sum up even the colonial experience, much less the entire history of early America.

I mean, why them?  They were neither the first settlers to set up shop in America nor the most typical ones (assuming there was such a thing as a “typical” group of colonists).  Why should we consider the Pilgrims normative, rather than the Jamestown colonists, the Dutch inhabitants of old New York, the Cavaliers of Virginia, the Germans of Pennsylvania, the Scotch-Irish settlers of the Carolina backcountry, the Irish immigrants of the mid-1800′s, the southern and eastern Europeans of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and so on?

Partly, I think, it’s because the Puritans left an extensive paper trail, and thus colonial historians wrote more about them.  But I suspect it’s also because the Pilgrim past is a more useable one for people who believe Americans have tumbled from some towering religious or moral height.  As I said some time ago, conservatism seems to me to be a philosophy that is fundamentally restorative—the goal is to return to the good old days when all was right with America.  In order to hold this belief, one must first assume that the good old days were indeed good.  To folks who want to build a more cohesive, moral, and purposeful nation, the Pilgrims are a pretty good model.  From this perspective, the Pilgrims were the essential ingredient in the creation of America.  It’s easy to forget that they weren’t the only game in town.  In fact, as Jack Greene argues in his book Pursuits of Happiness, New England was in many respects downright atypical when you look at to early American development as a whole.

For more on the Monument to the Forefathers and the selective nature of how we remember history, I recommend this 2008 post at American Creation.  I should note that personally, all snark and nitpicking aside, I like Kirk Cameron.  He’s maintained his integrity and decency while working in the entertainment business, and that’s worthy of admiration.  As for this film project, I think his heart is in the right place, but I’m guessing that both the American past and the American future are a little more complicated than he’d have us believe.

Leave a comment

Filed under Colonial America, History and Memory

A colonial romance movie

…is shooting this fall in Virginia.  It’s based on Mary Johnston’s 1900 novel To Have and to Hold, about a Jamestown settler who marries a girl pledged to a nobleman.  The book was wildly popular when it was first published, and was the basis for two silent films. You can read it online for free, if you’re so inclined.

Leave a comment

Filed under Colonial America, History and Memory

I don’t think we’re in Plymouth anymore, Toto

I’m getting ready to teach an undergraduate course on colonial America this fall.  That means I’ve been digging back into Alan Taylor’s fantastic American Colonies (New York: Viking, 2001).    I first read it when I was about to start grad school to prepare for a readings seminar in early America.  To me, “colonial America” meant a handful of English settlers hanging for dear life onto the eastern seaboard.

I was in for a surprise.

I was over one hundred pages in before the first Englishman planted his foot in Virginia, there was a whole chapter on the Great Plains, and to top it all off, there was a final trip around the late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century Pacific.

As Taylor puts it, “To write a history of colonial America used to be easier, because the human cast and the geographic stage were both considered so much smaller” (p. x).  Learning and teaching about colonial America used to be easier, too.  If you find yourself wanting to do either, Taylor’s American Colonies is the best place to start.  Have a peek.

2 Comments

Filed under Colonial America, Historiography