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The Curious Case of John Punch

We do not know much about John Punch other than to say he was of African descent and was an indentured servant under Hugh Gwyn, a wealthy landowner and a member of the House of Burgesses. How he came to be a servant of Gwyn’s is not known or at least has not been well documented. He would go from being simply an indentured servant to the property of Gwyn based on one court decision.

At some point during the early 17th century, John Punch became an indentured servant to Hugh Gwyn along with at least two other men, a Scotsman named James Gregory and a Dutchman name Victor. These men provided cheap labor for four to seven years in exchange what was likely passage to the new world for James and Victor along with food, clothing, and shelter upon arriving. As for John, it may have been that he was rescued from a Pirate ship, thus was indentured in order to pay off his rescue and safe passage to North America, likely not the destination of his choosing. The freedom dues for these three men could have ranged from land, yearlong supplies, gun, clothes, and a cow. If these men were able to endure the harsh treatment of indentured servants, they stood to gain more than any new immigrant crossing over the Atlantic Ocean to the new world.

Life as a servant was harsh as the servant required permission for nearly everything from leaving the plantation to doing work for others. They were unable to marry or have children. They could be whipped for poor or unruly behavior. Living conditions were poor as some indentured servants struggle to acclimate to the new climate and succumbed to disease so that many of the servants never survived beyond their servitude. Escape was an option for servants in unbearable environments as it was easier for white servants to escape as they could blend in with society and typically spoke the language.

These three men represented just 3 of the 96,600 indentured servants sent to the English American colonies. Reasons for this system range from the English Poor Law of 1601 or the sentence placed upon convicts. It is possible that James Gregory was a Scottish felon found guilty by an English court.

Whatever their treatment and life was on Gwyn’s property, it had become unbearable enough for the three to run away in the Spring of 1640. We are not aware of whether or not the three transpired to depart together or if they ran at separate times, but it can be safely assumed they likely left together as the ran to Maryland. As early as June 4, 1640, Hugh Gwyn made a petition to the Council and General court of colonial Virginia to have his servants returned to him and the servants were to “received such exemplary and condign punishment as the nature of their offense shall justly deserve and then be to be returned.”

On July 9, 1640, the court ordered that the three servants of Hugh Gwyn “shall receive the punishment of whipping and to have thirty stripes apiece” and that Victor and James would “serve out their times with their master according to their Indentures, and one whole year apiece after the time of their service is expired. By their said indentures in recompense of his [Gwyn’s] loss sustained by their absence and after that service to their said master is expired to serve the colony for three whole years apiece.” Victor and James had an additional four years of servitude added for their act. For John, the sentence deviated after the whipping. John was not as fortunate as the other two as he had to “serve his said master or his assigns for the time of his natural life here or elsewhere.”

There has been an argument stating that Punch was already a slave, but this is very unlikely as the court’s decision specifically stated his punishment to serve his master until death. Had Punch been a slave, it would have been not only senseless but a waste of words to state the obvious or as one historian stated, Punch’s punishment was less harsh than the two white men. Historians have also argued over the different punishments meted out in terms of skin color as Tom Costa suggests. On the surface, this seems plausible, but the documented information is too erratic to provide a clear satisfactory solution.

One possible and likely reason why Punch received a lifetime of servitude is based on religious views. It has been suggested that Christians, under a law or common law, could not enslave a Christian. This is plausible even if there is no law against enslaving fellow Christians. It may have been an inherent belief that it was wrong or Christians would be doomed to hell if they were to enslave a Christian. As for Punch, it is very likely he was not Christian even if he were exposed to Christianity. Again, this, too, is more subjective as the information is limited and did English society have this stigma of not enslaving Christians?

One final factor of this could be the relationship between Punch and Gwyn. Was there a certain hostility between the two or had Punch stolen specific items that would enrage Gwyn enough to push for a lifetime of servitude? Like the previous two reasons, there is not enough information to say if this is what happened or not. As a member of the House of Burgesses, it is very conceivable that Gwyn dictated some of the punishment. We simply do not know.

I hold the view that John Punch was likely not Christian, thus alleviating any fear the Christian men would have about enslaving Christians. There is also the other factor at play and that is James Gregory and Victor were white and could with relative ease, in comparison to John Punch, assimilate into white society, especially farther North. Being Christian and white may have prevented the two from becoming enslaved for life. As for Punch, not being Christian may have been his worst enemy. At best, historians can only speculate as to why Punch received the punishment he did.

 

 

 

 

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Little Known Facts About Slavery

Listening and talking to people about slavery in the United States, I have discovered erroneous beliefs about slavery in the United States. Their history books, teachers, and media emphasize one aspect of slavery and at time deny facts that happened. Because some of what is true is hidden or ignored, most people are not aware of the facts as they are thought to not help in some type of ideological fight. I’ll list five facts that people either deny is true or have never been told.  The following five facts should not minimize what happened in North America or expunge the guilt of those supporting slavery.

  1. Only 3.6% of all slaves that came from Africa arrived in the United States. 361,425 people out of the 9,918,211 were placed on ships and taken out of Africa and sent to North America. This is an extremely low number. North America was late in the slave business as it did not receive their first slave by ship until 1655, which was nearly 150 years after the first recorded event, and that was rather sporadic until 1683. The numbers early on tended to be less than 200 with a few high numbers of slaves being transported but nowhere near the thousands being sent to the Caribbean or even Brazil. 1811 was really the first year where slaves were no longer being brought in, though there were four years were slaves did arrive but in very low numbers. The Atlantic slave trade was active in North America for a little over 156 years. Contrast this with 1516 being the first year slaves were shipped from Africa to the final year of 1866 which amounts to 350 years. North America was a small player as the Caribbean and Brazilian slave trade far exceeded what the states brought in.                                                                                                                    Most Americans would think that the bulk if not all the slaves coming from Africa arrived in America. Records show that this is not the case. The low numbers arriving from Africa should not marginalize what happened but put into a better historical perspective of the Atlantic slave trade and slavery in North America.
  2. Slavery was initially illegal in Virginia as well as the other colonies. The first charter granted by James I to Virginia claimed that ALL colonists “shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchizes and immunities within any of our other dominions, to all intents and purposes as if they had been abiding and born with the realm of England.” England had no tradition of slavery at the beginning of the 17th century whereas the Spanish were familiar with slavery dating back to the Moors where Muslims enslaved Christians. Blacks arriving in Jamestown were arriving as indentured servants and would gain their independence upon a specified term of servitude. This was no different than any other person within the English realm. Typically, these indentured blacks were taken from slave ships and had to “pay” for their passage. Indentured servitude, though not an easy lifestyle, was not slavery and was a method for the poor to escape their life of poverty in England.
  3. There were blacks that owned slaves. If we consider Saint-Domingue, the Jewell of the Antilles in the Caribbean, a former slave named Toussaint L’Ouverture was a slave owner. He was also a revolutionary who was given over to the French by his own supporters during a power struggle. In North America, there were also black slave owners. In fact, there was roughly 4,000 free black that owned slaves, and that is taking a rough snapshot in time. We can take the case of Anthony Johnson, the famous example used by many Lost Causers.                                                                        Anthony Johnson was a free black man who had been an indentured servant at one time and held a large number of indentured servants while living in Virginia. A dispute arose between Johnson and an indentured servant named John Casor which altered life in North America. Casor believed his time had expired and Johnson held onto to him illegally. Without going into detail, Johnson went to court over this and the court gave Johnson possession of Casor for the remainder of his life. This one event whether legal or not began the period of slavery in North America. Another example is William Ellison, a former black slave that owned slaves in South Carolina and who owned slaves into the American Civil War.
  1. Africans participated in the slave trade and even owned slaves before the Atlantic slave trade began. We can owe some of this to the Muslims but the African communities, like all regions at some point, participated in owning slaves. These were primarily the result of those captured from battle. Antera Duke is one such individual that participated in the slave trade and profited from it.
  2. In a modern sense, you could be white and a slave. The law at the time stated that a child of a female slave was a slave. You could be blue-eyed, blonde but be a slave if your mother was a slave. In our modern eyes, being black typically means dark skin, but the reality of the period was that there were different degrees of being black. Technically, you could be all white and a slave, however, I have yet to find any evidence of a pure European being a slave in this region. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but there is no evidence that I am aware of.

These facts should serve as a source for not only further learning but a better understanding of slavery in North America. Slavery evolved over time in North America and was influenced by other regions engaged in slavery as well as indentured servitude. When you learn more about the period and how people thought about life, you gain a better appreciation of how slavery was viewed and how the views changed over time.

Modern history and society purposely exclude elements of history that destroy the narrative that a prevailing group wants to display. Unfortunately, this deception creates distrust and lies which separate us. I would even further state that our society supports division between our black culture and white culture in the form of social justice and other such ideologies. If we wish to engage history then we must be willing to see the faults within all groups and accept the past as no matter how hard we may try; we can never change what happened. We can only affect the present and future and this is done by uniting.

I’m Henry VIII, I Am

There have been many characters from the human past that I detest and I must add that Henry VIII is high on my list. This man, for me, is truly horrible and not deserving of any praise. His negatives far outweigh what benefits I see. There is little interest in wanting to see his grave or even celebrate any part of him

Henry, as royalty, was really no different many other kings or even commoners. This is a man who was very complex and loved to divorce or execute wives. His brilliance has been attributed to Thomas Cromwell, Henry’s chief minister. If you are looking at brilliance, then you haven’t found it. He was likely no smarter than the average person.

His youthful and athletic build slowly morphed into an obese man that could no longer joust. As anyone with arthritis or some injury can attest, a leg injury can easily start the decline from athleticism to obesity where he had to be winched onto his horse. Having an ulcerous leg likely led to misery and a change in his personality. Aren’t most of us grumpy when we are not feeling well?

It is his bad temper that turns me away from him. One only needs to look at the number of people he executed. If we just put aside the innocent wives we can find one unfortunate woman. Margaret Pole is an example where she was told she was to die within the hour without knowing why she was being executed. Her execution was a debacle as she tried to escape at the block and was pinioned to the block, where the executioner took eleven blows to finally do the dead of beheading her.

Another example of his cruelty is a letter Henry dictated in 1536. In this letter, Henry ordered a monk’s execution by being “hung drawn and quartered” before changing his mind. This type of execution was not the type of execution ordered for priests that stopped Henry’s men from closing Norton Priory, but for traitors.

There are plenty of other reasons why I detest the man, but he will remain one of my least liked characters in history, mores o than some other that may deserve more dislike. He is one of the worst characters in history for me, but I would never want his grave removed or any monument defaced or removed. He is part of the past and will remain there. I don’t find the erasure of history to appease my sensitivity to valid. He’s just someone that I disliked, and I disagreed with some of his political and religious decisions. I do not like Henry VIII, I am.

 

Categories: History, Uncategorized Tags:

Two Side of Historians

Historian is one of those fields of study that can leave you wondering, “What is it that you do?” much like the scene from Office Space where one of the Bobs asks Tom,”So what is it that you’d say that you do here?” Most of us would say that a historian is someone that writes about the past, but that isn’t really it. In fact, there are really two types of historians.

The first type of historian is the factual historian. This person does in-depth research using primary material, if available, and constructs the narrative based on the facts. It can be dry as they are reporting on the past using the facts. My personal style leans towards this type of historian. There is no disputing the facts, however, one must be able to separate the chaff from the wheat. Primary documents are sometimes not as factual as we want as they hide the truth at times.

The second type of historian is the interpretive historian. This person looks at the facts and makes assumptions as to intent, desire, and relationship. It deals less with the facts as this historian is trying to make sense of the topic. We see this in modern history with how we treat past leaders and events, and this style of history is strongly influenced by societies viewpoints, thus making much of this field ideological. The past can become very cardboard-like or the people in the narrative become all too one-dimensional. It is very easy to tell a history that is rather black and white as the intent is to influence the audience. This is the more difficult style of history to do as a historian can stray beyond the facts and create more myth than truth.

Most historians share many of the attributes of the two and may lean strongly towards one area than the other. You can see evidence of this if you were to read multiple books about a specific event or person. You will come away with more than one viewpoint and indeed have ten different viewpoints. Being to fact-oriented, the historian is detached from the past in a sterile way. This is why the majority of historians are a bit of both.

There is a third type that many people think are historians but are not. These are the storytellers. They relate facts and really do not do analytical interpretations as their intent is to relate a story about a person or event. Shelby Foote is one such person that I would consider to be a storyteller. In fact, I doubt much of what he wrote and have never read his final two books. I sort of inherited the first one and found it dreadful. There are better storytellers out there with better and more accurate books that also list their sources.

Yes, there are two types of historians, but these are on the extremes of this field. All historians fall within these two and favor one or the other. When you read or listen to a historian, keep this in mind and question his perspective and you may discover where the historian is. History is built upon facts and how we interpret these facts constructs our view of the past. Todays history will not be tomorrows history.

Categories: History, Uncategorized Tags: ,

History Has Passed Me By, And I’m Better For It

April 20, 2018 Leave a comment

History, to me, has always been about the past and the collated facts that make up history. Throw in some unknowns where we generally know what was meant or happened and you have history. Gradually my view of history was one where it is nothing more than a modern viewpoint about the past, facts be damned.

Earning a Master’s in history was a great accomplishment for me, but there was a sour taste to it as I had to battle the forced entry of color, sex, and orientation. My successful arguments against much of this modern painting of history have not left me with a positive view of history. I am now more uninspired by history than ever. Any desire to educated at any level is gone for I do not belong in the world of farcical history.

Farcical history is where “historians” now construct a narrative to distribute queer theory,  feminism, or any number of other social justice ideas. You see the references to transgender soldiers or that all soldiers of this era were gay or that there were women Viking warriors who were more manly than men. We have historians attacking historical figures in a one dimensional way as we see in Robert. E. Lee, Lincoln, Churchill, Hitler, Caesar, Jefferson and any number of other individuals in history. Modern attack terms are applied toward Europeans as a way of explaining how evil Europeans were and are, yet Asian history or even African history is given a pass.

Historians are no longer historians but propagandists. I guess one could argue that they’ve always been propagandists. We do not have to go far in the past to see the false representations of history towards Amerindians, blacks, or even the Irish. All societies have this type of history from China to Russia to whatever society you select. Today’s history doesn’t reflect my historical beliefs, and it has left me behind.

I have come to understand that all societies are very similar no matter the region, era, or ethnic background they are. Every person from our past is three-dimensional with attributes we admire or hate. Emotionally, I become attached to people based on some attribute I like while others I dislike because of their attribute. Educating others about history requires me to check my emotions.

In terms of books, journals, lectures, and forums, history has taken a mythical turn with applying labels or researching modern culture in the past that never existed. This is why I argued with a professor that I do not agree with the terms gender and will stick with male and female. There is no other type of person. There is no gay ideology hidden within some Confederate soldier or even a Chinese nationalist of the early twentieth century. This stuff is fiction, and the journals that publish this material have begun to lose their reputation. I noticed an American Civil War journal spending more time about “gender” in the Confederate capital or some other irrelevant assumption.

This modern history can pass me by, and I gladly allow it to. My research will continue in a far substantial and realistic sense. I will answer questions about the past without some ideological belief that possesses my thoughts. The facts will remain facts and fantasy will be found in the fiction section of a bookstore.

Categories: Education, History, Uncategorized Tags:

Homosexuals Didn’t Make and Break the Roman Military

I was recently introduced to a discussion where a young man was spewing forth his historical knowledge and analysis of military history. He came across to most of his fellow listeners as an expert in knowing history but placing it into context. What he was really doing was disseminating erroneous data in the form of historical knowledge. What facts he distributed were buttressed by opinion and fallacies.

One of his tenets was that the Roman military was successful because of homosexuality. The gay soldiers fought harder for their male lovers. Now I can google this subject and find many sites where someone has perpetuated this tale to varying degrees. Historically, there were gay men in the military but it is highly doubtful they were all gay and fought harder for their lover standing next to them. In reality, warfare or general stress forms bonds between those experiencing the same stress. Throughout military history, there are countless episodes describing how men and even woman fought for their fellow soldier. It has been recounted so often that it has become a common theme in Hollywood movies.

The next element to his gay idea is, “Did the Roman soldiers become less gay and that was the reason Rome fell? Or were the Germans at the Battle of Teutoburg gayer than the Roman legionary?” We can explain Hannibal and Carthage’s defeat to not being gay enough. This idea of some pointless, minor fact accounting for a major event breeds historical fallacies taken as fact.

What the young man ignores is the Roman military evolution. Rome evolved to meet and defeat her enemies. The Greek phalanx initially worked against Roman enemies, but the tactics and strategy had to change to maintain success. The weaponry, armor, and formations had to change. We see the move away from the phalanx to the maniple and another modification of the Roman military formation. This is why we read about the Marian army reforms and the creation of the professional army of Rome. In fact, Marian’s reform was such an evolutionary advancement that no European group could effectively challenge Rome.

It doesn’t take gay people to make or break the Roman army.  What is needed is failures and innovation to make the Roman army and failure to maintain the innovation break the army and empire. What cannot be ignored are the non-military influences such as the empire’s wealth, ruling stability, population, and societal innovation. These can contribute greatly to how effective the military was, so to this young man, it was not homosexuality that created such a strong Roman military machine but innovation and adaptation that made the military machine of Rome.

October 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Listening to a podcast about Fred Korematsu, the man who sued the government, Korematsu v United States, the podcasters mentioned a difference between the treatment of the Japanese and Germans living in America. I am not sure which person mentioned German-American rallies in Madison Square Garden supporting Nazi Germany as evidence of bias, but I started thinking, how accurate is this and is it relevant? This isn’t about the right or wrong of interring Japanese-Americans, but whether or not there is a fair comparison between those of Japanese descent and German descent.

The first thing to understand is the fact the Japan attacked American held territory while Hitler was trying not to aggravate the Americans. Germany did declare war on America on December 11.  There is a huge difference between the two as one attacked and killed Americans in an aggressive act while Germany and America played a game without going to war. There is an understandable reason why America would target Japanese-Americans and this is evident by the draconian measures taken in Hawaii and the West Coast. Spying on Pearl Harbor was a real issue, so it was prudent, in the minds of leaders, to not only question the loyalty of Japanese-Americans but also isolate people that were relatively easy to identify.

For the German-Americans part, there were attempts by the Un-American Activities Committee to restrict any Nazi supporting rally. Prior to December 11, 1941, there was no reason to restrict any activities by German-Americans as the two nations were not at war and Germany had not attacked American territory with the intent of going to war. The only Madison Square Garden rally that I came across was a 1939 rally. This is clearly well before American and Germany went to war, thus there was no need to censor the German-Americans supporting Nazi Germany. In fact, it was before Germany invaded Poland. It was only after the declaration of war by Germany that we see the suppression of pro-Nazi feelings. In fact, Fritz Kuhn, the leader of the German American Bund, was targeted by Thomas Dewey and the White House. They were successful in taking down Kuhn as they got a conviction for tax evasion and upon his release in 1943, he was again arrested as an enemy alien. As for the Bund, it was defunct by 1941.

What we fail to recall is that 11,000 German-Americans were placed in internment camps during the Second World War, though not at the levels of Japanese-Americans. Latin America was pressured by America to arrest German-Latin Americans. There is also a failure to recall how German-Americans were persecuted during the First World War. What was being done to the Japanese-Americans was not uncommon as the past history of America shows the drastic actions America takes to protect herself.

Hawaii and the West Coast saw the worst of the treatment towards Japanese-Americans as the main threat from Japan came from the Pacific. Executive Order 9066 forced the Japanese-Americans to evacuate the West Coast. Fear was a key factor more so than racism, but we cannot forget how racism also affected the decisions made by those in power. When this event is discussed one term is often mentioned – paranoia. That is the prevailing issue after the bombing of Pearl Harbor much like of the fear and paranoia during the First World War.

I have several friends whose grandparents and even parents were interred at these camps. They have strong feelings about how people are treated as they are directly descended from wrongfully interred Japanese-Americans, and I know they do not approve of the distortion of facts to make this event sound even worse. How much worse can it get for those interred who had to suffer from the harsh conditions? Marginalizing or distorting what happened to the German-Americans does not help anyone understand why Japanese-Americans were interred, nor does it add to the event. I am not a believer of learning from the past as past issues are not similar to current issues. What I do believe is we can make drastic and horrible mistakes when we distort the past to satisfy, support, or validate an ideology whether it is political or social.