Have the remains of a Rev War ship turned up in the Savannah River?

It sounds likelier than not:

Perhaps the cannons were tossed overboard or they served as ballast. Maybe the old artillery pieces are related to a Civil War ironclad, which was scuttled by its Confederate crew. The Corps doubts that theory.

Archaeologists and Britain’s Royal Navy are offering an even more intriguing and exciting possibility.

They told CNN last week that — based on measurements and appearance — the cannons may be from the HMS Rose, a famed British warship that mixed it up with colonists during the revolution or, as the UK calls it, the War of Independence. Nearly 250 years ago, the British scuttled the ship in the Savannah River to block the channel and prevent French ships from coming to the aid of colonists trying to retake the city.

If this is the Rose, then it’s a significant find. That ship’s crackdown on Rhode Island smugglers at the outset of the Revolution prompted that colony to outfit vessels for the protection of American shipping, which in turn laid the basis for the Continental Navy.

After playing a role in the fight for New York in 1776, the Rose’s career ended at the bottom of the Savannah River three years later when British forces defending the city scuttled her to prevent French ships from navigating the channel. The Franco-American assault on the city in 1779 was, of course, one of the allies’ greatest disasters.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution, Archaeology

New and forthcoming Rev War books of note

The TBR stacks keep getting higher. Here are a few Rev War titles to add to your list, if you haven’t put them there already.

  • Back in 2019 I directed your attention to a forthcoming book on Banastre Tarleton. It looks like it’s coming out this summer. This is a Savas Beatie title by two authors who’ve done good work on militia from the South Carolina backcountry. Definitely looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this. And if you’re a fellow Tarleton buff, hold your (dragoon) horses, because…
  • …Westholme just published a study of Tarleton’s British Legion by John Knight. Looks like a major reappraisal of the green-coated Tories who battled their way through the South, and most welcome.
  • Speaking of the Southern Campaign, Westholme is really spoiling us Carolina aficionados. To the End of the World is a new examination of the Race to the Dan River by Andrew Waters.
  • Donald Johnson’s Occupied America looks at the ways civilians navigated British military rule in Revolutionary cities, and the effect of occupation on allegiances. I’ve long been interested in civilian experiences during the Rev War, so I’m excited about this one.
  • Robert Parkinson’s Thirteen Clocks, due out in May, makes a case for racial fear as a critical factor in the movement toward independence. Parkinson has already written acclaimed scholarship on the role of race in the making of the Revolution, and I suspect this new book is one we’ll be talking about for quite some time.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution, Historiography

Civil War bibliophilia

Over at the Savas Beatie blog, Mark Wade reflects on his hobby of Civil War book collecting:

If you take the time, really take the time, to appreciate the physical books you discover each has its own personality. Like your kids, they look different, and speak to you differently. Getting shelves to organize and display them is a real pleasure. They are part of you and your home. You leave notes inside some, bookmark certain locations.

They become old friends. When I have a spare hour I often crack one open and reread an Introduction or Conclusion. It’s like picking up the phone and calling someone you haven’t spoken with in a long time. You know the saying “A home without books is like a person without a soul.” Truth. 

After a while—and it doesn’t take long—you begin to have favorites. Mine are my first editions written by Maryland veterans. And I love seeing them out. While I enjoy hitting the battlefields with good friends, I really loved visiting a good used bookstore or going to a Civil War Book and Relic show to search for titles to build my collection. I traded books there for others, bought and sold some, and really got to know the market.

A lot of you folks would probably agree with those sentiments. We history buffs tend to be book lovers, since (to paraphrase Lincoln) the things we want to know are in books. One of the things I’m looking forward to doing when this pandemic is under control is visiting my favorite used bookstore in Knoxville.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Support the University Press of Kansas and treat yourself to a book

Here’s some alarming news about a fine academic publisher:

The University Press of Kansas wrote to its authors this week to say that its trustees “have initiated an independent review to propose direction for the press’s future amid significant financial challenges.” Richard Clement, former dean of the College of University Libraries and Learning Sciences at the University of New Mexico, was hired as an external consultant to complete that review by March 1. “The trustees will then decide how or if the press will continue to operate,” the note sai

This is especially worrisome for readers of military history, since Kansas is one of the best presses in the field. But they put out darn fine Civil War, Western, and presidential history books, too.

Might I suggest ordering one or more of their titles? Think of it as an opportunity to treat yourself to a good read while supporting a worthy cause. Here are a few of my favorites that I’d recommend to any history buff:

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hal Holbrook on playing Lincoln

The acclaimed actor passed away late last month at the age of 95. He played the 16th president in a TV adaptation of Carl Sandburg’s biography, in the miniseries North & South, and in a revival of Sherwood’s Abe Lincoln in Illinois. More recently, he made a memorable appearance as Francis Preston Blair, Sr. in Spielberg’s Lincoln–a darn fine performance in a movie chock full of darn fine performances.

Here are Holbrook’s own (mildly NSFW) reflections on his Lincoln portrayals.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Revising Native American history with radiocarbon dating

Well, all hell broke loose in the nation’s capital between the time I typed this post and the time I intended to publish it. But for what it’s worth, here it is.

Archaeologists have relied on the presence or absence of European trade goods to estimate dates for Native American sites. Turns out some of those dates are wrong. Sturt Manning explains how the Dating Iroquoia Project is rearranging the chronology of colonial America:

Our radiocarbon tests came up with substantially different date ranges compared with previous estimates that were based on the presence or absence of various European goods.

For example, the Jean-Baptiste Lainé, or Mantle, site northeast of Toronto is currently the largest and most complex Iroquoian village excavated in Ontario. Excavated between 2003–2005, archaeologists dated the site to 1500–1530 because it lacks most trade goods and had just three European-source metal objects. But our radiocarbon dating now places it between about 1586 and 1623, most likely 1599-1614. That means previous dates were off the mark by as much as 50 to 100 years.

Why was some of the previous chronology wrong?

The answer seems to be that scholars viewed the topic through a pervasive colonial lens. Researchers mistakenly assumed that trade goods were equally available, and desired, all over the region, and considered all indigenous groups as the same.

To the contrary, it was Wendat custom, for example, that the lineage whose members first discovered a trade route claimed rights to it. Such “ownership” could be a source of power and status. Thus it would make sense to see uneven distributions of certain trade goods, as mediated by the controlling groups. Some people were “in,” with access, and others may have been “out.”

Fascinating stuff, and a great case study in how assumptions can blind us to misinterpretations.

Wikimedia Commons

Leave a comment

Filed under Archaeology, Colonial America

Financial support for struggling museum workers

COVID-19 has been hard on museums–and especially so for museum workers who were already financially vulnerable when the pandemic hit. The folks at Museum Workers Speak are putting a fund together to help out folks in the profession who have been furloughed, laid off, or otherwise impacted. Click here to donate, and here to learn more or apply for support.

Please chip in a donation if you can. Thousands of dedicated, talented professionals keep American museums going, and too many of them work for low wages and without benefits. We can’t just toss them out and leave them and their families to ride out this crisis on their own with no income.

Leave a comment

Filed under Museums and Historic Sites

Help save three Rev War battlegrounds in the South

Here’s a fantastic preservation opportunity from the American Battlefield Trust. Land from three Rev War sites is in play, including a crucial acre at Great Bridge, VA–site of the Patriot militia’s 1775 victory over Lord Dunmore’s forces. Every dollar you give will net an 80-to-1 match!

Leave a comment

Filed under American Revolution, Historic Preservation

Ship of Theseus, shark of Spielberg

You know that old thought experiment about the ship Theseus used to sail back to Athens from Crete? The story goes that the Athenians kept the ship as a relic, and as the original planks rotted they replaced them with new ones. This being Athens, it became the subject of a philosophical debate. If the ship kept deteriorating to the point that all the planks had to be replaced and none of the original wood was left, was it still the ship of Theseus?

For museum professionals, this question becomes practical. One of the things that draws people to history museums and historic sites is authenticity. Visitors want to have a firsthand, genuine encounter with the past. You’d think this would be a pretty straightforward matter. Either an object on display is real or a replica. Either something is the original or it isn’t.

But sometimes it gets complicated. An object might have undergone so much restoration and replacement over the years that you run into the same question as the Athenians. Is it really the room Washington slept in when the whole building has been gutted, restored, and stocked with reproduction furniture? Is it Billy the Kid’s original gun if the cylinder, grips, and trigger have been replaced?

And even when the materials or components are all original, the question of whether the object itself an original can be difficult to answer.

Take Bruce, for example. He’s the Jaws shark that just took up quarters above the escalator in the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, and the only surviving model cast from the original molds used to make the sharks in the movie.

The provenance is as solid as it gets. It’s undeniably an authentic object.

But it’s not from the film’s production. All three of the sharks that appeared in the movie had deteriorated by the time Universal Studios realized they had a hit on their hands. After the film’s release, they used the molds to cast a more durable shark in fiberglass and set it up as a photo op for studio visitors. This fourth Bruce is the one at the Academy Museum. After his tour of duty at Universal ended, he ended up in a junkyard for twenty-five years before getting trucked to the museum and hoisted up over the escalator.

The fiberglass Bruce never appeared in the movie, and played no role in the production; indeed, it didn’t even exist when the movie was made. But since it’s cast from the original molds and all the screen-used props are gone, it’s as close as you’re going to get. And it does date from that initial rush of Jaws mania following the movie’s release.

As a piece of memorabilia and an artifact of the history of cinema, it’s certainly significant and worthy of preservation. Is it an “original” Jaws shark? Is it really Bruce? Depends on how you approach the question.

And these are the sorts of questions that interpreters at history museums and historic sites face all the time. Authenticity isn’t always as simple as documentation and provenance. Sometimes it boils down to the very meanings we associate with the word “authentic.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Museums and Historic Sites

WATE on historical happenings at LMU

YIKES! Has it really been that long since I’ve posted anything? I suppose it has, since we’ve been up to our eyeballs in the museum renovation at the ALLM.

Speaking of which, Knoxville’s ABC affiliate WATE came out last week to do a short piece on the museum, our reconstructed log village, and LMU’s own history. Here it is:

Leave a comment

Filed under Abraham Lincoln, Civil War, Museums and Historic Sites