Remnantology

Dedicated to the examination of the remnants. Phil Levy's words in reference to history, archaeology, Judaism, academe, music, outdoorsing…

Barbados Day Six (and Five Too) (Very late!)

I just noticed that this was in my drafts folder. No idea why…

Well, Day Five was a Saturday so that meant Saturday stuff including sleeping late, reading, napping, and taking a walk. Day Six though began with some interest. I was awakened around 7am by the smell of smoke. IMG_3103.JPGAt first I ignored it, but it got stronger and stronger. I went out into the living room and there was visible smoke in the room! Nothing seemed amiss, but I could see that two houses down someone had decided to set the yard on fire. They were burning dried palm fronds and yard waste, but the dry grass had caught fire and the two hapless yard enflamers were now using a garden hose to try to delineate a perimeter. The long and short of it is that the wind carried most of the smoke into my apartment. Windows closed and all was well—but everything smells of wood smoke.

With that matter settled I headed back up to the north end of the island to find some more old stuff and see the hills once more. Lots of driving for half the day again with an eighteenth-century map and some historical travel narratives as guides, and some old stuff was found. IMG_3109.JPGThere are lots of older buildings in varying state of ruin while some are very well cared for. All are in private hands though. My wanderings took me into some of the ritziest zones—the places where the homes cost 5 mil British pounds! I also found the very opposite, but that is pretty easy here. I was very interested to get to the highest points and one of my new friends—Adrian the Kisok Guy in this case—directed me to Harrison’s Cave in St Thomas Parish. I ferreted it out, but I did not want to pay money to see the cave, so what I really did was look for views on the hills. There are these sort of upland savannahs here that are a total contrast to what is on the lower altitudes and great views everywhere. I also sought out the older churches of which there are quite a few. Busy drive.

I recovered back at Oistins from too much road time for a bit and then thought that it made good sense to end this trip with an afternoon at the beach. Aviso: I am not a beach person. Growing up in Brooklyn we went to the beach once in a while when it was hot. The beaches of my formative years were made up of sand, chicken bones, cigarette butts, and plastic tampon dispensers all mixed in equal proportion. It was years before the idea of the beach did not leave me vaguely nauseated. The Outer Banks of NC helped me warm a bit to beaches—but just a bit—still covered in dead fish and plastic grocery bags. Florida has some nice beaches (so I am told) but I have not really found them yet—maybe the barrier islands near Pensacola. But the beach near where I am staying is actually very nice. Not many people, really clean pinkish sand, and the water was lovely (no condoms and cigarette butts floated by). I did the beach thing and then watched the sunset before going and buying more oranges. I am not going to be able to finish all I need to do on this trip. That means a return visit. Not the worst thing.

Fredericksburg’s Farmers’ Bank II

The Free Lance Star reported yesterday that on Monday the city issued a stop work order on the demolition of the 1950s drive-through bank additions behind the Farmers’ Bank on Princess Anne st. farmer's bankIt seems though that the order was almost literally a day late and a dollar short. Last year, developer Mike Adams purchased the property from PNC Financial Services and floated a few plans for the building and lot. The latest is to turn the bank building into a restaurant and offices and put seven town houses in the lot. The former seems like a reasonable low-impact use of a historical structure, the later through still threatens to overwhelm the lot and over shadow the old building. The project began with the removal of the drive-through, but at the last moment the city’s Architectural Review Board–frequently a site of preservation battles–has thrown cold water on Adams’s plans. He has replied with a suit, and the city returned fire on Monday by sending over the cops to enforce the ban. From what I saw though, there was not much left to cry over. IMG_4297.jpeg

Magic Means Stay Asleep

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How well did that magic multi-roadway bridge work out in that image future?

Wow–look at how technology will solve our traffic problems! Sensors, slots, half autonomous cars whizzing past each other with barely a thought from the driver of each one: it’s like future magic. Too bad we don’t have a simple tried and proven technology for just reducing the number of cars on the road in the first place. If only we had something like that, then we could address this problem right away and not have to imagine some mystical future where our ENTIRE road network is remade AT PUBLIC EXPENSE to accommodate new gewgaws. Oh well, I guess I am just a head-in-the-clouds dreamer and lack the down-to-earth practical problem solving skill of geniuses conjuring up star trek road ways for some imagined future.

Mount Vernon Living

I have not commented much here on my time at Mount Vernon. I have been in residence here since the start of December and loved every moment. As this phase of my work winds down it is time to share some thoughts and insights. First some background. On September 27, 2013, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association cut the ribbon on the new Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington. It is a long title, true, but it is a pretty impressive place so it is worth enunciating all the syllables. The idea was to create what amounts to a presidential library for Washington—an idea he actually imagined before his death. The result is a gentle modern toned glowing paneled library with a subtle W footprint, nestled amidst some tall trees on a rise of ground across the road from the entrance to the Mount Vernon grounds.

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The main reading room of the library. Even though fellows have fine offices in the wing off on the right, I prefer to be here as much as I can. Wouldn’t you?

The collections digital, special, and circulating are large—although much of what Washington wrote and owned (book wise) was scattered soon after his death. Bit by bit, elements of that collection are returning home, and when they do, they are housed in a state-of-the-art facility managed by a professional staff as committed to collection management as they are to facilitating scholarship. Everything about this place is both an exhortation to produce scholarship and an efficient organism for making it happen. I have been blessed to meet many wonderful and highly engaged people—both on staff and passing through—during my six months living “on campus.” My work has developed and matured, my horizons widened, and my friends list lengthened. While my focus is GW and details of his world, the library really is rapidly becoming a hub for all manner of issues related not just to GW, but the founders and the founding largely. A short review of the cast of fellows past, present, and future shows the kind and quality of work happening here. The energy is so strong that the place almost hums aloud!

What’s in a Date? Or, Barbados Time.

Washington had a hard time reckoning time while he was on Barbados. Many of the dates he listed in his diary are off—and not even in a single predictable way as if he had miscounted by a day or two and pushed the error forwards. Instead, he was off by two days and sometimes four in November, and then one day off in December and so on. On top of that, we have to factor in the great change from the Julian calendar to the currently prevalent Gregorian one (with apologies to Ethiopia) in 1752 that pushed dates eleven days ahead. Washington was born on the 11th of February before the date change which makes us think of his birthday as the 22nd. Likewise, the dates in the diary also have to be pushed forward if were interested in commemoration for example.

One has to have a good reason to keep a close reckoning of the passing of time. The long term cycles—months and years for example—pass by slowly enough to be missed. They matter in agricultural settings, but primarily as seasons. 11days8.jpgThe fact that today for example is the 14th and not the 17th will not cause to miss my planting or harvesting. The coming and goings of commerce give months and dates a bit more immediate consequence as certain expenses must needs be met at certain times or ship arrive and set sail (weather and tides permitting) at certain days. Confusing the 14th for the 17th in this case could cause me to miss a ship’s sailing. The actual days of the week though are rather more immediate and easier to keep a handle on. Even today, we can ask on a given Tuesday “what day of the month is it?” and not get the odd looks we might get if were to walk up to someone and say “what day of the week is it? For that reason it is easier to believe Washington when he said that he dined with the Clarke’s on a Wednesday even if his November 6th was really the 10th. It is hard to pin down just what caused this error. It may that he was jus wrong about his dates. It also may be that he filled in some details later (as we know is did on some parts) and just made errors along the way. It also may be that the whole “original” is a copy of a lost older original and things just got confused in the interim. In any event, it is clear that Washington’s sense of the calendar was a rather dynamic object.

There is another reason that made it easier to keep the days of the week in focus, and that reason is spiritual. The Sabbath marks a break with the routines of the week, and even when Washington did not attend St Michael’ s Anglican parish church in Bridgetown, the change in the larger community regime would have marked Sunday as distinct and made it easy to know just were one was day-wise for the rest of the week. The spiritual calendar is another reason as well an individual or a community might pay close attention to the passing of dates and months. The cycles of religious devotions that must happen at certain times require constant counting.

For these reasons I found it interesting that Washington wrote that he was “strongly attacked with the small pox” on Saturday, November 16, 1751. I believe him when he claimed the disease overtook him on a Saturday, but it was more likely the 20th than the 16th given his miscounting. That fateful Saturday would have had a totally different set of calendar and spiritual meanings for a community of Barbadians living only a mile or so from where Washington lay suffering.

The Jews of Barbados had their own calendar and reckoned it with great care. While experts in England were already discussing the merits of exchanging their Roman calendar for a newer Christian one, the Jews world wide were still using the same counting system they had for millennia. By that reckoning of time, Washington fell ill on the 2nd of Kislev, in the year 5512.

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Treating the “Speckled Monster”

Even if Washington was having a hard time keeping his dates straight—the Jews were not. Restricted to something very much like a ghetto in Bridgetown and limited by law in their trading options, the community maintained the count of days and marked the significant ones as they came and went. As Washington lay ill, the “holy month” of Tishrei would have only recently ended and the Jews would have completed a holiday routine that begins with a new year, and ends with restarting the annual cycling of reading weekly sections of the Torah—the Five Books of Moses. In the middle of that was a fast day in which they would have tried to look all of their misdeeds in the face, accept upon themselves the guilt for having done them, and plead with God to postpone the well-deserved execution sentence for one more year. “Who in the upcoming year would die by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by illness” they had asked in solemn liturgical tones. There would have been no answer yet, but they could take comfort in the verse reminding them that that prayer, repentance, and charity lessen the harshness of heaven’s judgment. They also would sing three times a prayer that would exempt them from future vows when those vows were or a certain nature. This rather distinctive request was originally penned to provide a backdoor way out for Jews forced to accept Christianity at sword point or on pain of the flames—an experience all too familiar to the great grand parents of many of Bridgetown’s Jews. Coming out of that intense, absorbing, and emotionally roller coaster of a month, Bridgetown’s Jews were settling into a long period with no significant holidays—only the weekly reading of the Torah made the counting of spiritual time obvious on a day-to-day basis.

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Map of Bridgetown showing the synagogue marked with a red star. Thanks to Colonialgyrabbit.com for the image.

The day Washington took ill was Shabbat, the 2nd of Kislev. That week the Torah Parsha (weekly reading from the Five Books) was Parshat Toldot—the sixth division of the first book which began with the creation of the world. During those weeks, the Jews of Bridgetown had been reading some of the most familiar stories in the Bible. Since the creation, God had flooded the earth and seen it repopulated with people. Avraham has met God and Sarah had a child despite her age. Avraham and his son Isaac showed what faith meant and also showed that God abhors human sacrifice. In Parshat Toldot we begin to see the growth of Isaac’s family—the people for whom he dug all of those wells. Early in Toldot there is a passage in which God tells Rivkah that she is going to have twins. The congregant singing out the weekly reading would have intoned the words for all in the Bridgetown synagogue to hear (my guess is that he would have sung it at about 10am), and they are as follows:

[Bereshit/Genesis 25:23] And God said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two kingdoms will separate from your innards, and one kingdom will become mightier than the other kingdom, and the elder will serve the younger.”

These are the words the Children of Isaac heard in synagogue that Shabbat morning in 1751/5512 as George Washington took ill only a mile or so from the constrained world they called home. The younger kingdom will become mightier than the other. What a line! I would not want to suggest that this was prophetic—maybe poetic is a better way to see it. No one could have connected that line in the Parsha with the nineteen-year old off-islander settling into what could easily have been a fatal illness, but time has allowed us to. I write this in a year in which the 2nd of Kislev was once again on Shabbat, and as in 1751/5512, Parshat Toldot was once again heard in synagogues the world over.

I need to think more about just what it means that Washington had his dates so wrong. But it helps to keep mind that there were others in that world carefully counting dates, and hours, and moon phases to make sure that times were reckoned correctly and that promises were kept and that words were sung in their appropriate times.

Washington in Barbados (or a Long Post About a Short Trip)

George Washington was famously well-traveled. His careers as a surveyor and soldier of the King gave him a detailed familiarity the Appalachians and Alleghenies. Riding at the head of the Continental Army brought him to and through cities and communities all along the eastern seaboard, and once elected president he used travel as a way to see and be seen by the people of the new United States.

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Walter Kerr Cooper’s imagining of GW in Barbados.

But for all of this travel, he only left the continental US once in his life. For four months at the end of 1751 he accompanied his sickly brother Lawrence to the British Colony of Barbados. The trip was meant to address his older brother Lawrence’s weak lungs by bringing them from Virginia to the softer, breezier, less humid, supposedly more healthful air of the Caribbean. Lawrence’s problems had actually begun years earlier in the Caribbean, but the view that changing one’s air could change one’s health was one was tenet of one of the competing regimes of medical logic confronting an ailing eighteenth-century Briton looking for relief. The Washington brothers had already traveled up to the Appalachian foothills to seek out the warm springs and cool dry air of what is now Jefferson County West Virginia. But that had limited effect at best. The Barbados trip was another attempt clean out, air out, and dry out Lawrence’s failing lungs.

And so it was that the two took bunks on a Barbados-bound vessel. There is some disagreement about just what ship this was. Some advocate a trip from a Potomac port aboard the Success, while others have argued that the sailed from Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock about the aptly named Fredericksburg. The George Washington Papers project at UVa and the Fred W. Smith Library at George Washington’s Mount Vernon are in the later stages of creating a new and probably authoritative edition of the small, damaged, and fragmentary journal Washington kept during his trip.

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A little section of GW’s navigation note courtesy of The Washington Papers

Project Editor Alicia Anderson has made it her business to master enough trigonometry to be able to use Washington’s navigation notes to plot out the pace and path of the voyage. The chart she will create will go a long way towards settling the port of embarkation question. While we wait though, the most commonly read copy of the Barbados Journal is the one edited by J.M. Toner and published in 1892. It is full of oddities and errors, but it works. I have kept a copy of it on my phone so that I can refer to it on the fly while on the island. The George Washington Diaries also handled the Barbados Diary with a very good descriptive essay and a facsimile of the original which resides in the Library of Congress. The book I am now writing has a chapter on the Barbados trip and soon the new edition of the Diary will be out. Erin Holmes also will be pairing Washington’s homes and Barbadian homes in her University of South Carolina dissertation comparing plantation landscapes in Virginia, South Carolina, and Barbados, so GW’s time on the island is really happening!

The Brothers W arrived at Bridgetown in late October (or so it seems—the first actual entry on the island is dated November 4th, but pages before it are missing). They had a fairly calm crossing in which they enjoyed the swells of the sea and ate dolphin—a Caribbean favorite which smart marketers have renamed Mahi Mahi so that no one thinks they are eating a porpoise. In arriving at Bridgetown, Washington landed in the most cosmopolitan British city he had ever seen. The two colonies were roughly the same age, shared a somewhat similar history, had long-standing and extensive trade connections, and bore a superficial resemblance in government and society. Before sugar took over the island’s acres, planters had made a short- lived stab at tobacco planting hoping to recreate Virginians’ early seventeenth-century success. Like Virginians, Barbadian Britons could talk of an assembly, a governor and his council, they lived on plantations, and relied on enslaved African labor to keep themselves fed and have their fortunes made.

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Henry Partleton’s 1880 photo of Bajan cane cutters. Partleton.co.uk.

 

On top of that, the mix of Britons and enslaved Africans was a bit like that found along Virginia’s rivers. But that was where the similarities ended. Bridgetown was nothing like any place in Virginia graced as it was with in-town homes of wealthy planters, an English-style church, well-built and fully manned military instillations, and large a Spanish and Portuguese descended Jewish community of merchants. An upcoming blog entry will deal a bit more with Washington and the Jews of Barbados. But even though Washington was something of a city kid by Virginia standards having lived most of his life at the doorstep of the small city of Fredericksburg, Bridgetown was something new.

The countryside was different as well. Sugar production led to a very different form of African enslavement and called into being very different cycles of labor. And Virginia was big: really quite big. That size—especially on its western edge—had already defined a significant part of the lives of the Brothers W and would soon offer even more. Even where Virginia settlement was dense it was never particularly crowded. By contrast, Barbados was a tiny island packed tight with actually fairly small sugar plantations and the distinctive stone windmills used to grind the valuable juice out of the cane. Washington noted that “scarcely any part” of the island “is deprived of a beautiful prospect both of sea & land.” (Toner, 58). He was correct, and his observation is of course still true today—but the many views only emphasize the tiny scale of the island.

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St Philip’s Church in the early 19c. The church I think is later than GW’s visit, but the landscape is more or less the same. I doubt GW got this far from Bridgetown though. Pentleton.co.uk

But the young Washington was thrilled at what he saw on this grand adventure. On his trips into the countryside he was “perfectly enraptured with the beautiful prospects” which presented themselves to he and Lawrence and he marveled at the “fields of cane, corn, fruit-trees &c. in a delightful green”(Toner, 42). Washington took note of landscape and vegetation on these country forays. He commented on soil quality, the scale of sugar production, and agricultural practices. This was more than a mere curiosity. Sugar was a far more lucrative crop than was Virginia’s tobacco—partly accounting for why comparatively small island holdings could yield profits enough to even allow some planters to live well back in England. By way of context, a large Barbados plantation would be about 400 acres–that was the size that Washington said were the largest plantations. Henry Drax though owned 705 acres at the end of the seventeenth-century. His was one of the largest holdings on the island and one that allowed him to live back in England. On the other hand, John Dottin’s Mount Edge was 166 acres in 1759—a far more typical holding for a nice plantation. Plots of 10 acres though were not uncommon though. Compare that with the close to 1000 acres Washington inherited when his father died (himself owning l close to 10,000) of the 18,000 acres Washington took control of when he married Martha. Washington was just then making his first money though land surveying—an enterprise that rested on the availability of ever more new lands. To a Virginian, Barbados’s planters and their agricultural system working a tiny patch of land in the middle of nowhere seemed to hold the key to a sort of magical alchemy for making a fortune. At the same time though, Washington seemed astounded that so many planters were in debt or even lived poorly–a foreshadowing of his own unease with debt.

Washington also brought some book learning to his descriptions. He referenced Griffith Hughes’s 1750 The Natural History of Barbados and matched his own descriptions of plants to those of Reverend Hughes. When and where Washington saw the book is unclear. A copy did not end up in his library, but there may have been one at the Fairfaxes’. It is also possible that he had a copy (or bought a copy) on the island itself. However he laid his hands on Hughes’s work, it is one of the earliest examples we have of Washington employing reading in this fashion.

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A folio of Hughes from the Barbados Museum. Washington was interested in nature enough to have even come home with a small bit of coral.

The brothers settled into a simple one-story rented house which sat on a rise of land a short distance east of Bridgetown. For the cost of 15 Pounds a month paid to an officer of the garrison, they had the run of the place—but they had to pay for their own liquor and laundry. The home was close to the stone coral fort at Needham’s point and close to the garrison’s parade ground. It also afforded a superb view of Carlisle Bay with its ships riding at anchor. This home is now restored to an eighteenth-century appearance and serves as a museum dedicated to the Washingtons’ time on the island. The home is larger than it was then and has had a second story added to it, but the feel is there. The area around it is completely changed as well. The commanding view is blocked by trees and a new building cut directly into the limestone hillside. The garrison has changed considerably too. What began as useful flat near Needham’s Point grew in the nineteenth-century into an expansive military complex ringing a large turf race course. Today it all is the home of schools, government buildings, the Barbados Historical Society and museum, and the Barbados Defense Forces who, by the way, have a legal monopoly on the wearing of camouflage on the island. Colonial Williamsburg conducted excavations at the home in 1999 and 2001. These mainly concentrated on the steep ravine to the east of the home—a logical place for centuries’ worth of trash to accumulate. Virginia students still return here to do some digging in the ravine to this day. The artifact assemblages though cover a large swath of time, and apart from some very familiar 1740s and 50s white salt glazed stoneware plate, nothing has emerged dating with any precision to the years of the Washington visit—nor is anything much likely to. Nevertheless, the lower parts of the house—and especially its cellar with its hewn stone and wooden beams—are good links to the eighteenth century.

While the purpose of the trip was largely medical, the Washingtons did a considerable amount of socializing with the local gentry. Their main contact on the island was Gedney Clarke, a player in the local commerce and governance as well as being Lawrence’s wife Anne’s stepmother’s brother (head spinning as that connection seems to us, eighteenth-century English families were pretty used to these extended networks of kin by blood or marriage).

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Agostino Brunias’s “The Barbadoes Mulato Girl’ circa 1765. This depiction of Barbadian women captures very much the sort of enslaved people Washington would have seen.

Clarke had a thriving trade with William Fairfax and sent not only sugar and rum to the Potomac, but also procured enslaved people and goods for the Fairfaxes and other members of their extended commercial family—including both Lawrence and George. Clarke opened society’s doors, and with his aid Washington toured fortifications, dined with several prominent families (sometimes with their daughters deliberately placed front and center), attended the theatre, went to church, and rode into the countryside when he could. It is not clear just how far northward Washington actually ventured. His descriptions best match the rising hills of the south, and nowhere did he mentioning the rather astounding natural features of the north. He did nevertheless refer to people who at least had land there even if Washington never made it that far above the Bridgetown area.

Washington clearly was matching what he saw on the island against what he knew at home. “The ladys generally are very agreeable” he wrote, but also felt that they were prone to “affect the Negro style” perhaps in speech and manner—something the young Virginian saw as a liability compared to the women he knew back home. (Toner, 61). This racially inflected haughtiness was no doubt one of the reasons that he did not return home with a Barbadian bride or a prospect in mind. He noted the level of militia service and how men were apportioned in some detail, and he also discussed the island’s defenses noting that “they have large Intrenchments cast up wherever its possible for an enemy to land.” (Toner, 62). I find it very interesting that Washington paired concerns about race and fortifications in his journal—something that I will be discussing in the upcoming book’s Barbados chapter.

Clarke—or rather, someone in the Clarke household—was responsible for the most enduring outcome of the Barbados trip—George’s bout with small pox. The Washingtons knew that someone either at the Clarke plantation house or the in-town house had the disease, but they risked a dinner visit nonetheless. Once the illness had passed Washington could record in the diary that on November 17th, he “was strongly attacked with the small pox.” (Toner, 53). As these things went, it was on the mild side and obviously could have gone far worse. But that would have meant nothing to a young man sweating out a renowned deadly fever far from home and attended by caring, though ultimately unfamiliar people.

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Sugar cane was generally ground to produce cane juice which could be boiled to make sugar. English Barbadian planters used either wind, oxen, or horses to move the grinders. The windmill was so common a sight little images of them adorn over a century of maps. Today only one wind mill still functions–Morgan Lewis on the north eastern side of the island. Image from the George Grantham Bain collection.

He spent most of November in bed—the diary is understandably silent. By December 12th he was recovered enough to visit the Clarkes in Bridgetown and thank them for their care and visits during his illness. The consequences of Washington’s smallpox are difficult to pin down. There are those who like to say that that fevered island month inoculated George against the disease, and thus ensured that he would not die of it before, or even during the Revolution. That line of reasoning’s implications are clear: a small amount well-timed body fluid contact preserved Our Washington and in so doing secured the fate of the Republic. There are a lot of “ifs” in that charming premise, but one can understand how such a view could take root. The other often-cited consequence was that the fever rendered Washington incapable fathering children. This outcome is the opposite of the former outcome. In the former, Washington is saved to be the Father of the Country, whereas in the later he is denied the ability to be a father. And of course there is a relationship between the two outcomes. The challenge here is the uncertain relationship between small pox and male sterility. The simplest version of this relationship is that there is none—small pox does not cause sterility. The fever itself though can do permanent damage and other opportunistic illnesses can do their horrid work while a body’s defenses are down. The answer though is that we cannot say with any real certainty that the lack of direct line little Washingtons was because of that poorly timed dinner at the Clarkes’s.

As this rather long entry shows, I have quite a bit to say about Washington and Barbados—here I just spun out a few of the themes I am working with. And I have not even touched yet on Washington memory on the island long after the famed visit. A few important take aways though are the value of the Barbados Diary as an early and quite revealing Washington foray into the world of words. Another is the chance to see the Virginian mind (some may say gaze) examining a place similar enough to grant purchase, but alien enough to captivate. Still another is what we see of the island itself. The Barbados trip is usually a quick moment in most Washington literature. I am glad I am giving it a bit more page space than is usual.

The Zombies Were Out

Today was a terrible pedestrian day on the bike path. It is normal for people to be walking slowly on the Mount Vernon trail bike path–especially at the little parks along the way. It is easy to call out “on your left” and slide past. No biggie–you just unclip and slow down when you get to the traffic areas and see the crowds getting thick. There are often a few people not keeping their kids on the safe side of the path and the occasional dog on too long a leash who want to jump out under your tire. But with some care and conversation it is easy for everyone to share the space. But there are also people who are so in their own heads that they are real hazards to themselves and others. Today there were at least three people who were just walking towards the path and starting to cross without even looking up or either way–like they were just walking across their bedroom! One can spot them up ahead before it is too late and in my mind I am just thinking–he is gonna stop…isn’t he?

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It is a sort of a road–don’t you think? Pic from the Examiner.com

But they don’t. In one case it was some guy who seemed to be talking to people the other side of the path, in another it was just some older guy looking at his shoes with his wife behind him was looking at hers. There also was a guy who just wanted to walk on the path but felt no need to look to see if anyone was there already. Amazing. When that happens I  just holler “heads up” as loud as I can and hope I can scare the crap out of them so they will not get slammed into next time. You have to yell loudly because so many people have earbuds furthering their isolation and even at low speeds sudden stops can be very bad. Do these people walk onto roads that way? The Mount Vernon Trail is a paved path with a broken yellow line down the middle–it is pretty darn official looking and no one can imagine that that it is something other than what it is. But once it gets warm there are these somnambulists who just zombie their way into potential harm. Use brains, don’t eat them! Here is the thing Zombie Man–when I slam into you it is really going to hurt. Let’s work together to keep that from happening. My job is to be super alert to what walkers are doing along the path, your job is to look both ways before you cross. Ok?

Then at the end of the day, I stopped to check something on my phone. I was on the dark nighttime street next to the Starbucks in Alexandria. There was a tourist guy who wanted to ask me about my LEDs and that is fine. The problem was that he came up behind me with the five other people he was with and sort tapped my shoulder from behind. Jeepers! I told him in no uncertain terms that approaching people from behind on dark streets is not a good idea at all. Spring is in the air and people are being weird.

Mount Vernon’s Rev War Weekend

This weekend is Mount Vernon’s “Revolutionary War Weekend.” This is a new event MV is putting on for the visiting public and the visible glee of about 700 Rev War reeneactors from all over the land. I took a pleasant walk over the grounds in the company of several thousand visitors and caught the tail end of the afternoon skirmish of what I called the Battle that Thankfully Never Happened, or HMS Savage Day. Reenactments need not a battle site to be visually compelling and educationally engaging for the general public, and I would be lying if I said that I did not feel just a little bit homesick walking quietly amidst the wall tents and the cook fires. I never dabbled though in Rev War eventing. When I was more active it was a much smaller hobby dominated by older men in glasses. In those days it was rare to see three men in a company in the same uniform—and they would usually be highlanders in full kit! One of the main appeals of Civil War reenacting—particularly in portraying United States soldiers as I invariably did—was the very real possibility of massing together lots of men attired in almost identical kits.

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That’s me on the lower left in this iconic Claude Levet print with (clockwise from me) Paul Carter, “Reservetta” painted by Ron Tunstall on Mike Thompson’s blanket (an admittedly singular object if ever there was one), Mike Thompson (with frying pan), Mark McNierney, and Hugh Cadzow. The camp hats that Paul and I have were knitted by his grandmother–half the company had one by her hand. Fabulous uniforms being put to no good purpose.

I know that is an odd thing to care about, but anyone who served time in the Pretend Army knows that I mean. It was the plainness of the ten-a-penny United States soldier in a regular issue sack coat and trousers that was worth emulating, and then using the tiniest of details to be distinctive and express individuality. The angle of a hat, a camp hat at night, or the carefree cuffing of trousers—these are what soldiers did to say “I am me” and that much is clear in so much war time photography. The more flamboyant the uniform, the more it was disparaged by others with this mindset. Be plain or go home!

To me, the Rev War hobby always suffered a bit from a lack of the repeatable. A mix and match company made up of two guys in kilts, three with buff facing, two with yellow and bastion lace, one loyalist in green, two Hessians in mitres, one grenadier with a bearskin, and three light infantry—oh, and maybe a jaeger too—was a sight that made me cringe. So, I was sort of pleased by what I saw at Mount Vernon today. For one thing, this was a major event. It was nothing for there to be a few thousand men at a Civil War event, but Rev War has always had a hard time reaching anything close to that scale.

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Another Claude Levet classic of me. This one made the cover of Camp Chase Gazette–the reenacting equivalent of Time Magazine.

The going count of 700 participants is impressive and the afternoon’s showing had a few hundred in evidence. Best of all though, there were a few groupings that had good numbers. There was one company of British Light Infantry who really looked great. Their coats were non-synthetic in color and tightly cut. They were mostly young guys so they were appropriately skinny and one of their number was black—adding a nice hint of the war’s underlying racial politics. It helped that one or two of the gents had faces that could have been drawn by Hogarth—the 18c equivalent of all of that Civil War photography. They were not as many as one might hope, but enough to convey scale, and they cut a good form (no pictures from me though since it was Saturday–maybe tomorrow).

I am not called back to the ranks—it is hard to imagine what that would take. But, Mount Vernon’s event was, so far, a really big hit for both participants and spectators.

A Maddening Experience to Which all Historians Can Relate,

Here Told in Narrative Form and Entitled The Hunt, or, a Tale of Relentless Page Turning in Order to Find That Which Should Have Been Made Clearer at the Outset, or, To Every Quotation There is a Citation Which to Locate I Must Turn, Turn, Turn.

Dedicated to the irritating writers everywhere who feel a need to cleverly reinvent to their own purposes and in their own fashion the perfectly fine system of citations outlined in that Good Book from Chicago.

Zounds, says I, Indeed, a more helpful quotation on this topic I have not yet seen. Let me stray from my reading and peruse the origin of the handy tidbit so as to read more of it from its place of origin. I see it is listed here as endnote two. Two? I muse—that seems odd as it appears on page 50—surely mine good literary host has included citations before this one in 50 hearty pages of writing? Lo—he has! But he has chosen to begin the numbering of each chapter’s citations anew chapter by chapter! What purpose does this lunacy serve? No matter, all I needs do is look at the top of the page to see what chapter I am amidst and then turn as needed. But what is this? No indication at all on the page to show in which chapter we the poor readers are marooned! I must turn back to the start of the chapter to know its designation. But I know not where it began, for it is the index that is my native guide though this texta incognita—or was the author so arrogant as to think that we readers would actually slog though his prose to find what we want? Each page must be carefully turned back lest I miss the one place where the chapter name in listed. At last, here it is, and written in Roman Numerals—what a kindness Tullius Maximus Iackuss has offered to those of his readers who, by some miracle, hail from antient Rome. There it is, Chapter XIV. Now all I needs do is turn turn turn to locate the vicinity of the book where the notes are hidden—what a lucky hap for me that I have nine fingers on one hand so that I can keep my increasing number of places. At last, I arrive at the citation—and what do I see? GHY: 20: 7. What on earth is that supposed to be? Ah! It is an abbreviated indication of some larger collection, and in goes another place marking finger and begins again the turning turning turning, this time back to locate the start of the series of citations to find my goal. But what is this? Our author has chosen to divide his list of abbreviations into three separate subgroups aligned along category lines that he, and only he, could find meaningful. To your beleaguered correspondent’s chagrin, each of three different alphabetical lists must be consulted before the arcane reference is finally spied in the third of the three lists. At last I have the citation—it of course, is for something singular and housed only in an archive across the sea in England!

With a heavy heart, I move to write down the reference, but find that my fingers are twisted in knots and bound up within the execrable monograph to such an extent that it takes the aid of a comrade to extricate the poor curious digits.

The lesson is clear dear friends, and please let my sad experience be a warning to all who venture into the game of citation production. For the love of all that is holy and good in this weary world, create citations that will help and not hinder

Barbados, Day Four.

Today was more local and less busy than the other days. I spent much of it in Bridgetown looking (and largely not finding) certain older buildings. Washington’s Barbados diary does not offer much to show where he was, and even though the town’s street plan is more or less the same, there has been considerable replacement of older buildings. One nice exception what is locally known as the Gedney Clarke house on his Belle Plantation just outside of town. With some help I was able to locate the home and even wander around inside of it. IMG_2988.JPGClarke was a member of the Governor’s Council and a prominent merchant planter on the island. He also was the brother of Deborah Clarke, William Fairfax’s second wife and mistress of Belvoir during Washington’s visits there. This connection made Clarke the Washington brothers’ main contacts on the island. On arriving they were welcomed by Major Clarke–Toner’s transcription of the GW Diary identifies him as Somers Clarke, but there is good reason to think that it was actually Gedney Clarke. As a side note here, we can all be thankful that the Washington Papers at UVa are right now in the process of re-transcribing and annotating a new edition of the Barbados Diary. It will prove invaluable and correct many of Toner’s foibles.

The Washington brothers dined at Clarke’s home several times despite the fact that someone in the family had small pox. On one of these visits GW caught the illness and by Nov 17th 1751 he recorded in his diary that he “was strongly attacked with the small pox.” He lay in bed for close to a month attended by local physicians and visited by local friends. It is not clear just which of the Clarke homes the Washingtons visited, but this Clarke home is a contender.

A quick look about showed it be what may be an 18c core with extensive later additions off the back. The stairway was clearly 19c but could easily have replaced an earlier one. Whatever the date, it’s clear that the home had undergone extensive renovation and had things like door hinges and fittings replaced. Nevertheless, it was an impressive place and though derelict, in pretty good condition in most important respects.

After poking around I wanted get a good look at the GW House cellar. So headed back and Martin escorted me below stairs. One thing I had not thought about was that these cellars had to be carved out of the island stone. The GW House has carved wall and bricks-in-course to fill the gap up to the framing members.

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Carved stone in the GW House cellar with whitewashed bricks visible on the left above the stone.

I spent part of the afternoon back in Bridgetown and eventually wended my way back to the synagogue to get a few more gravestone pictures. The less maintained yard has a large number of stone fragments just scattered around. A few have a word or two—most do not. It is clear that the whole are though is filled with graves, mostly unmarked now. I gathered up a bunch of the little stone orphans and arranged the to form the word “Chai” (life) in Hebrew. Now there is something more intentional than a scatter sitting atop the graves.

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…ve kayam!

After that and with only a little daylight left, I went back to where I am staying and went—for the first time—to the nearby beach. I am not a big beach fan, but it was nice.

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