Category Archives: Virginia

Wordcatcher Tales: Chuckatuck, Nottoway

During my recent trip to see relatives in southeastern Virginia, I got curious about some of the Native American placenames and the languages they came from. Eventually I came across a very comprehensive article in Wikipedia on Native American tribes in Virginia (whose main contributors have the usernames Til Eulenspiegel, Parkwells, and—early on—Sarah1607). In it, I found that those tribes include not just descendents of Algonquian speakers (like the Powhatan Confederacy), but also a few far outliers who once spoke Iroquian and Siouan languages. The area I was visiting was where the three language types once met.

The village of Chuckatuck is now a borough of the city of Suffolk (the “World’s Largest Peanut Market” and home of WLPM-AM), formed out of what used to be called Nansemond County. As an English colony, Chuckatuck dates back to 1635. Chuckatuck Parish church (now St. John’s Episcopal Church) was established in 1642, and George Fox himself established Chuckatuck Friends Meeting in 1672. (Some of my ancestors show up in Chuckatuck Monthly Meeting records, but there is no longer a Friends Meeting there, as I discovered on this visit.) A Chuckatuck grist mill operated continuously from 1676 to 1972.

Despite being a tiny riverport and crossroads town, it has its own Greater Chuckatuck Historical Foundation, and Chuckatuck Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1995. According to the Foundation’s website, the village name comes from Chuckatuck Creek, “or Crooked Creek as the Indians called it” (a tributary of the James River). Those Indians must have been Algonquian-speaking members of the Nansemond tribe. The Virginia Algonquian language is also known as Powhatan, and was the source of such English words as hickory, hominy, opossum, persimmon, and (corn)pone.

Nottoway Parish was the original name of Southampton County, Virginia. It was named after the Nottoway River, which was in turn named for the Nottoway Indians who lived along it. The name Nottoway appears to come from an Algonquian word for peoples who were not Algonquian speakers. The same name shows up elsewhere in two counties named Nottoway in North Carolina and Louisiana, streets named Nodaway in Iowa and Missouri, and Nadoway Point in Michigan, where it faces Iroquois Island in Whitefish Bay, Lake Superior. The wide-ranging Algonquians had many foreigners in their midst.

We know the Nottoway used to speak an Iroquian language because someone collected a wordlist in 1820 from one of the last elderly speakers and sent it to Thomas Jefferson, who shared it with Peter DuPonceau, one of the earliest experts in the indigenous languages of North America. A few more words were added to the list, but they are the only trace we have left of the language. Nevertheless, they suffice to show that Nottoway was closely related to Tuscarora, which is much better documented but now highly endangered.

Two other groups of Northern Iroquian speakers lived in the area. The Meherrin Nation once lived along the Meherrin River in Virginia, but migrated south to North Carolina during the early 1700s. They signed several treaties with the colony and are now one of the eight indigenous nations officially recognized by the state of North Carolina.

The Tuscarora people once lived around the Roanoke, Neuse, and Tar Rivers in North Carolina, but began migrating north after the Tuscarora War of 1711-1713. Those who reached New York became the sixth nation of the Iroquois who are nationally recognized in Canada and the U.S. But other descendants of the Tuscarora have remained in North Carolina, and some have moved to Oklahoma.

Of the eleven tribes recognized by the State of Virginia, only three groups are not of Algonquian heritage. The Nottoway Indian Tribe of Virginia, Inc. and the Choreonhaka (Nottoway) Indian Tribe of Southampton County both descend from people who once spoke the same Iroquoian language.

The third group claims descent from speakers of Eastern Siouan languages (also known as Catawban). The Monacan Indian Nation gets its name from one of two historic tribes, the Monacan and Manahoac (or Mahock), who once lived in Piedmont Virginia and spoke languages (now extinct) closely related to Tutelo. The Tutelo fled north in 1740 and were adopted by the Iroquoian Cayuga in 1753. The ethnologist Horatio Hale, working among the Cayuga in Ontario, was the first to discover that the Tutelo language from Virginia belonged to the Siouan family. (He was also the first to identify the Cherokee language as Iroquoian.) So the Siouan language family once extended as far east as Virginia and the Carolinas and as far south as Biloxi, Mississippi.

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Early ‘Plantations’: Settlers, Not Crops

From Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830, by John H. Elliott (Yale U. Press, 2006), Kindle Loc. 292-308:

Effectively, Cortes‘s company was composed of a cross-section of the residents of Cuba, which was deprived of nearly a third of its Spanish population when the expedition set sail. It was therefore well acclimatized to New World conditions, unlike Newport‘s party, which, within six months of arrival, had lost almost half its number to disease.

The fact that the company on board Newport’s ships were styled `planters’ was a clear indication of the purpose of the voyage. For the English in the age of the Tudors and Stuarts, `plantation’ – meaning a planting of people – was synonymous with ‘colony’. This was standard usage in Tudor Ireland, where `colonies’ or `plantations’ were the words employed to designate settlements of English in areas not previously subject to English governmental control. Both words evoked the original coloniae of the Romans – simultaneously farms or landed estates, and bodies of emigrants, particularly veterans, who had left home to `plant’, or settle and cultivate (colere), lands elsewhere. These people were known as `planters’ rather than `colonists’, a term that does not seem to have come into use before the eighteenth century. In 1630, when the British had established a number of New World settlements, an anonymous author would write: `by a colony we mean a society of men drawn out of one state or people, and transplanted into another country.’

The Spanish equivalent of `planter’ was poblador. In 1498, when Luis Roldan rebelled against the government of the Columbus brothers on Hispaniola, he rejected the name of colonos for himself and his fellow settlers of the island, and demanded that they should be known as vecinos or householders, with all the rights accruing to vecinos under Castilian law. A colon was, in the first instance, a labourer who worked land for which he paid rent, and Roldan would have none of this. Subsequent usage upheld his stand. During the period of Habsburg rule Spain’s American territories, unlike those of the English, were not called `colonies’. They were kingdoms in the possession of the Crown of Castile, and they were inhabited, not by colonos, but by conquerors (conquistadores) and their descendants, and by pobladores, or settlers, the name given to all later arrivals.

The English, by contrast, were always `planters’, not `conquerors’. The discrepancy between English and Spanish usage would at first sight suggest fundamentally different approaches to overseas settlement. Sir Thomas Gates and his fellow promoters of the Virginia Company had asked the crown to grant a licence, to make habitation plantation and to deduce a Colonic of sundry of our people’ in `that part of America commonly called Virginia …’ There was no mention here of conquest, whereas the agreement between the Castilian crown and Diego Velazquez in 1518 authorized him to `go to discover and conquer Yucatan and Cozumel’. But the idea of conquest was never far away from the promoters of English colonization in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.

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The Fourth Battle of Winchester, 1866

From This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War by Drew Gilpin Faust (Knopf, 2008), Kindle Loc. 3803-3814, 3829-3836 (pp. 241, 243):

The northern reburial movement was an official, even a professional effort, removed by both geography and bureaucracy from the lives of most northern citizens; it was the work—and expense—of the Quartermaster Corps, the U.S. Army, and the federal government. In the South care for the Confederate dead was of necessity the work of the people, at least the white people; it became a grass-roots undertaking that mobilized the white South in ways that extended well beyond the immediate purposes of bereavement and commemoration.

Winchester, in the northernmost part of Virginia, had been a site of almost unrelieved military activity, including three major Battles of Winchester, one each in 1862, 1863, and 1864; the town was said to have changed hands more than seventy times in the course of the war. The dead surrounded Winchester as they did Richmond, and women organized similarly to honor them. Fanny Downing, who assumed the presidency of the Ladies Association for the Fitting Up of Stonewall Jackson Cemetery, issued an “Address to the Women of the South” that echoed Richmond’s Mrs. William McFarland. “Let us remember,” her broadside cried, “that we belong to that sex which was last at the cross, first at the grave … Let us go now, hand in hand, to the graves of our country’s sons, and as we go let our energies be aroused and our hearts be thrilled by this thought: It is the least thing we can do for our soldiers.

On October 25, 1866, a crowd five thousand strong gathered to dedicate Winchester’s Stonewall Cemetery, graveyard for 2,494 Confederate soldiers who had been collected from a radius of fifteen miles around the town. Eight hundred twenty-nine of these bodies remained unknown and were buried together in a common mound surrounded by 1,679 named graves. General Turner Ashby, a dashing cavalry commander and local hero who had been killed in 1862, served as the ranking officer among the dead, as well as a focus of the day’s ceremonies. His old mammy was recruited to lay a wreath on his grave in a pointed celebration of the world for which the Confederacy had fought. The American flag flying in the adjoining national cemetery, where five thousand Union soldiers had already been interred, provoked a “good deal of rancor” from the crowd, and the members of the U.S. Burial Corps, caring for the Federal dead, were jeered and insulted. Twenty-five hundred Confederates on one side; five thousand Yankees on the other: perhaps this was the Fourth Battle of Winchester, the one in which the soldiers were already dead.

Just over fifty years ago, my family arrived in Winchester (on furlough from Japan) just in time for the Civil War Centennial, which sparked my interest not just in the Civil War, but in history of all kinds everywhere.

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Winchester, Virginia: My First American Hometown

Fifty years ago this month, I arrived in a snow-covered city I would come to think of as my first American hometown, Winchester, Virginia. I had just spent most of my elementary school years in Kyoto, Japan, which I still think of as my Japanese hometown. My parents were missionaries. I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, where my father was in seminary, and I later attended first grade there during our first furlough while he finished his coursework toward a Th.D. But our two-and-a-half years in Winchester gave me my first prolonged exposure to life in small-town America.

Amherst St. house, Dec. 1960

Mom in front of our house on Amherst St., Dec. 1960

For 7th and 8th grades, I walked to my mother’s alma mater, Handley High School, where I soaped the windows of my homeroom one Halloween, and had a classmate whose parents threw a grand Bat Mitzvah party, for which I learned to jitterbug when other kids were just beginning to dance the Twist. We two oldest brothers were baptized in my mother’s home church, First Baptist, where my parents had gotten married and my father now served as associate pastor during our extended furlough. He would draft us to help shovel snow off its sidewalks along Piccadilly and Washington Streets. My brother and I both had paper routes, delivering the Winchester Star on the way home from school each afternoon. I joined the Boy Scouts, advancing to Life Scout and marching with my troop in the annual Apple Blossom Festival parade. My mother’s two brothers lived a few miles down the Valley Pike, while her sister lived up the Pike outside Martinsburg, West Virginia.

House on Henry Ave., Winchester, Va.

Our house on Henry Ave., c. 1962

My parents resigned after their regular furlough year (partly from burnout), and we moved into a smaller house near Quarles Elementary School, where I had earlier finished the last half of 6th grade. Without a missionary salary, my father supplemented his earnings at First Baptist by substitute teaching at the county high school (James Wood) and serving as interim pastor at a tiny Baptist church in Gore, Virginia (birthplace of Willa Cather and Patsy Cline, I later discovered).

Meanwhile, my mother had her hands full with five kids. Our family car was a Rambler station wagon with an extra rear-facing seat in back. One summer we drove it to Sebago Lake in Maine, where our pastor let us use his summer cabin, where in the evenings my mother would read to her own five children from The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew (one of whom—in each family—was named Joel). My mother, who had dropped out of Berea College after her junior year to get married and become a missionary, always felt inferior to the more educated missionary wives, especially the registered nurses at the Japan Baptist Hospital in Kyoto, where my father had served as chaplain. Perhaps she compensated to some extent by being somewhat of a Japanese-style kyōiku mama (at least where I, her eldest, was concerned).

But I remember those years as the least bookish, most outdoorsy era of my life. We went sledding on the slope above our big old house on Amherst St., and built igloos and snow forts behind our smaller house on Henry Ave. One summer, Uncle Bill took us waterskiing on the Shenandoah River. Dad took us oldest boys along for a campout in Monongahela National Forest with a group from his little country church in Gore. With Boy Scouts, I took a 50-mile hike along the Appalachian Trail through the Shenandoah Mountains, and I remember one Camporee that got hit by such a heavy rainstorm that many parents came to rescue their boys and a few boys abandoned their pup tents to spend the night in the scoutmasters’ vehicles.

Sometime during 8th grade, I started to show signs of near-sightedness. I don’t think it was while trying for my rifle-shooting merit badge in the old Winchester Armory. I think I first noticed it when I had trouble reading the blackboard from the back of the classroom during algebra class or my tryout semester of Latin. But Uncle Bill likely noticed it sooner when I accompanied him on trips to Baltimore to bring back a tanker of gas for his filling station. He used to ask whichever nephew accompanied him to be on the lookout for certain road signs, landmarks, or maybe patrol cars, and I don’t think I was as good at spotting them as he was—or as my brother was. I went for an eye exam and got a prescription for contact lenses (newfangled and expensive at the time), which were soon replaced by regular eyeglasses after I lost one down the drain.

Sometime during that same school year, my parents opted to return to the mission field, this time to Hiroshima, which became the Japanese hometown of my three youngest siblings. We two eldest sons went off to boarding school in Kobe, and I began my evolution into the most bookish nerd one can ever hope to become.

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Wordcatcher Tales: Kohada-zushi, Konosirus punctatus

From Edo Culture: Daily Life and Diversions in Urban Japan, 1600–1868, by Nishiyama Matsunosuke, trans. and ed. by Gerald Groemer (U. Hawai‘i Press, 1997), pp. 170-171:

At the end of the Edo period the charming sight of sushi vendors selling kohada-zushi (sushi topped with a small gizzard shad) could be seen in the streets of Edo. Nigiri-zushi—bite-sized sushi made by squeezing a small amount of rice in the hand—was an Edo specialty that appeared during the Bunsei Period (1818–1830). This sushi soon became all the rage. The most conspicuous nigiri-zushi vendors sold kohada-zushi. These hawkers covered their heads with a hand towel in Yoshiwara fashion; they wore narrow-striped kimono tucked up behind, short coats with broad stripes and black silk collars, sashes known as Hakata obi, cotton leggings with white socks, and sandals made of straw and linen. Such a unique outfit made kohada-zushi vendors quite striking in appearance. From the start of spring until early summer sushi peddlers sauntered through the streets and called out in a mellifluous voice, “Sushi! Hey! Kohada-zushi!” …

Nigiri-zushi was also sold by “Atakematsu” of Atakegura in Honjo; eventually this sushi came to be known simply as “Matsu’s sushi.” … Most were mere street stalls, but true restaurants existed as well. At any rate, sushi was highly popular. From Edo the sushi fashion spread to the Kamigata area. In the late 1820s a restaurant called “Matsu no sushi” appeared south of Ebisubashi in Osaka. This was the first Osaka outlet of Edo sushi: but before long this specialty was sold at shops throughout Osaka.

Kohada (小鰭) and shinko (新子) are young and younger stages of konoshiro ‘dotted gizzard shad’, Konosirus punctatus (Temminck & Schlegel, 1846), according to Japanese Wikipedia, but a species utterly missing from English Wikipedia, where gizzard shad is summarily redirected to American gizzard shad (Dorosoma cepedianum), in a genus limited to eastern North America. The other five genera of the subfamily Dorosomatinae (gizzard shads) are not covered at all. The systematics of shads appear to be extremely complex.

I first heard of shad from my youngest uncle, who had a cabin down by the James River near the site of Virginia’s peculiar political gathering, the Shad Planking.

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Fractured Historiography of the Confederacy

In the latest issue of Civil War History (Project MUSE subscription required), University of Virginia professor Gary W. Gallagher reviews major trends in the historiography of the Confederacy. Here are a few excerpts about some of the key earlier trendsetters. Explaining defeat is always more challenging than explaining victory.

Thirty years have passed since Emory M. Thomas’s The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865 appeared on the historiographical landscape. Some of its themes had been present in his earlier The Confederacy as Revolutionary Experience, and together the two books heralded the emergence of a major figure in the field. Factors weakening the Confederacy loomed larger than evidence of Rebel persistence or strength in the scholarly literature at that time, but Thomas took seriously the idea of national sentiment in the seceding states. When defeat apparently stalked the slaveholding republic in the spring of 1862 and “their national experiment seemed almost a failure, Confederate Southerners began to respond to their circumstances by redefining themselves—or, more precisely, by defining themselves as a national people.”…

David Williams’s Bitterly Divided: The South’s Inner Civil War traverses much of the same ground as Thomas’s work, offering a convenient point of departure to consider the trajectory of recent scholarship on the Confederacy. The author or editor of four previous books dealing with various aspects of Confederate history, Williams complains that generations of historians have emphasized the war “waged with the North” rather than exploring how the “South was torn apart by a violent inner civil war, a war no less significant to the Confederacy’s fate than its more widely known struggle against the Yankees.” Resolutely focused on that “inner civil war,” Bitterly Divided creates an impression of overwhelming internal fracturing that renders the presence of U.S. armies strangely irrelevant….

Internal fissures serve as the interpretive touchstone of a rich body of older work, a brief review of which reveals that Bitterly Divided plows in deep existing furrows. As early as 1867, editor Edward A. Pollard of Richmond’s Examiner denied that northern manpower and resources had settled the issue. “The great and melancholy fact remains,” Pollard observed in The Lost Cause, “that the Confederates, with an abler Government and more resolute spirit, might have accomplished their independence.”…

In 1937, while Margaret Mitchell’s pro-Confederate epic Gone with the Wind sold in huge numbers, pioneering African American historian Charles H. Wesley challenged the Lost Cause narrative of noble Rebels struggling against impossible odds. “Historians of the Confederacy have based their works mainly upon the military subjugation of the South and the heroic actions of its defenders and have neglected the contributing social factors,” maintained Wesley in The Collapse of the Confederacy….

Twenty-eight years later, Carleton Beals reprised much of Wesley’s argument in War within a War: The Confederacy against Itself. “This book is about those people who resisted, because of their love for the Union, or civil rights, or because they believed the struggle to be a ‘rich man’s war, poor man’s fight,’” wrote Beals, who featured “mountain people,” opponents of conscription, African Americans, and others at odds with the Confederate government….

Two historiographical waves established a durable framework within which many advocates of internal failure have examined the Confederacy. Between the mid-1920s and the mid-1940s, a number of scholars joined Wesley to mount a powerful collective assault on Lost Cause mythology. Although they sometimes deployed simplistic class models to support the idea of a rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight, their findings contributed importantly to topics such as conscription, state rights as a divisive ideology, desertion, persistent unionism, resistance among slaves (what W. E. B. Du Bois called “The General Strike”), class tensions, and corrosive guerrilla warfare. The fact that all major titles by these authors have been reprinted at least once suggests their continuing influence.

A flurry of studies in the 1970s and 1980s, spurred in part by the new social history’s emphasis on people outside the traditional power structure, expanded on the earlier literature. Some of this work can be read as a direct or indirect response to Thomas’s The Confederate Nation, 1861–1865. Authors and editors drove home the point that no one should think of the Confederacy as a society united across boundaries of region, class, race, and gender. In a category by itself was Why the South Lost the Civil War, by Richard E. Berenger, Herman Hattaway, Archer Jones, and William N. Still—a detailed and thoughtful, if not ultimately persuasive, brief for the centrality of internal causes of Confederate failure. This prize-winning study attributed defeat to the impact of southern religion, an absence of nationalism, and, despite a level of commitment that absorbed the deaths of approximately one-quarter of all military-age white males in the Confederacy [emphasis added], weak popular will….

Drew Gilpin Faust weighed in on the topic of Confederate nationalism at the end of the 1980s. Suggesting that the “creation of Confederate nationalism was the South’s effort to build a consensus at home, to secure a foundation of popular support for a new nation and what quickly became an enormously costly war,” she identifies religion as critical to a conception of nation predicated on defining Confederates as God’s chosen people. Faust also notes the centrality of slavery to the Confederate consciousness and warns against working backward from Appomattox to yoke discussions of nationalism to those about why the Rebels failed. Her conclusions, however, stress the ultimate weakness of nationalistic sentiment in the southern republic….

The more recent “cutting-edge” literature on internal dissent … has appeared at a steady rate over the past dozen years. A full discussion lies beyond the scope of this essay, but some trends are evident. It has long been a commonplace that the hill country and mountains of the Confederacy functioned as centers of antiwar and anti-Davis administration activity. An array of recent scholarship has examined the war in Appalachia, confirming deep divisions in mountainous regions but also finding evidence of strong support for the Confederacy. Works on North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, and Georgia create a composite picture affirming John C. Inscoe and Gordon B. McKinney’s observation that “within the southern highlands, the war played out in very different ways for western North Carolinians than it did for East Tennesseans or north Georgians or western Virginians or Eastern Kentuckians.” The authors might have added that within each of these five populations the variety of reactions to the war and its trials also defy easy characterization.

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Hogs, Ham, and (U.S.) History

Virginia hams hold a hallowed place in the culinary lore of my hard-eating heritage. During my childhood as a missionary kid in Japan, we would receive a smoked ham every Christmas from relatives back in Virginia and stretch out the eating of it as long as we could. The current issue of Common-Place now puts Virginia hams in fuller historical perspective in a fascinating article by David S. Shields entitled “The Search for the Cure: The quest for the superlative American ham“:

No food in colonial Anglo-America declared gustatory adequacy at the world table more forcefully than ham. Travelers to the English territories, such as Rev. Andrew Burnaby, declared American pork superior in flavor to any in the world. With the establishment of the republic, the ingenuity of a population of artisanal food producers fixed upon improving the most estimable of American products, ham. Eminence in the sociable world of the agricultural societies, distinction in the market place, and victory in the food contests at the burgeoning world of fairs stimulated innovation in the curing of hams. Here we will chronicle the articulation of two schools of ham production: the dry-cure sect, who would increasingly view themselves as purists and traditionalists, and the wet curists, who regarded themselves as experimentalists in taste, economy, and scientific agriculture, yet whose pork brined in a barrel was the staple of the common household.

Antiquity conveyed the ur-cure, the primordial method of preserving meat. Salting and drying meat prevented the decomposition of flesh because moisture is a requisite for most bacterial reproduction and salt (sodium chloride) draws moisture from flesh. Unfortunately, sweating meat in rock salt turned muscle tissue gray and tough. It was discovered, however, that certain types of rock salt—salt with impurities—kept meat red and somewhat moist. This impure form of salt—called saltpeter—was sought out and admixed with salt for meat preservation until the Middle Ages when smoking was added to salt and saltpeter to impart flavor and to counter insect depredations. The method practiced by Europeans at the time of the settlement of Jamestown—common to Westphalian ham and Jamon de Iberica—was the “three s method”: salt, saltpeter, smoke.

Ham modernity dates from the erection of what Wolfgang Shivelbusch has called the first global drug culture—the oceanic trading system that made the exchange of sugar, spice, tea, coffee, and chocolate the engine of the world system. Only after the explosion of the world sugar supply occasioned by the consolidation of the Brazilian cane plantations in the sixteenth century was the commodity cheap enough for trial and error in the kitchen and smokehouse. Indeed, there was decidedly a sugar moment in Western cuisine, when sucrose was added to everything as the pangustatory element. When added as the fourth s to the ancient cure, sugar mellowed the harshness of salted flesh. Sugar-cured hams became the bedrock of American porcine cuisine….

Ever since Hernando DeSoto brought his thirteen hogs into Florida, swine have flourished in North America. The earliest breeds did not resemble today’s industrial pink pig. Indeed, the first settled hogs, the Iberico Black hog, the Old English breed, do not resemble their breed descendents, the Spanish Black and the Hampshire. Of these early types there is only one extraordinarily rare example left in America: the Ossabaw Island pig, a mottled descendent of the pigs that Spaniards loosed on the islands of the Caribbean and along the southeastern coast. One population survived into the twenty-first century on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia. Slow-growing, irritable, and the most efficient fat-producing mammal known to science, the breed has become the fascination of biologists working on obesity studies….

Testimonies about the quality of New World ham date from 1688 when Rev. John Clayton, reporting to the Royal Society his observations on the commodities of Virginia, declared the meat as good as any to be had in Westphalia. This is a far more informative claim than it might appear on the surface, for it reveals much about the mode of preparation. Traditional Westphalian ham is made from hogs fattened with acorns from the oak forests of western Germany and then dry cured and smoked over a cold fire of beechwood and juniper boughs. The original Virginia ham derived its flavor from an acorn mast and dry curing. It was smoked. This is worth noting because during the eighteenth century there would be disagreement about the proper feeding of pigs and a related alteration in the method of curing….

William Byrd (1674-1744), the Virginia gentleman who championed an ethic of agricultural improvement, criticized the habit among country farmers (typified, for him, by the lazy North Carolinians described in his Histories of the Dividing Line) of letting hogs roam free in the forests to graze on roots and acorns. The semi-wild hog developed stringy muscle from its robust wandering life, and the farmer lost the benefit of its manure. Byrd would keep his pigs penned and fed on dung heap scraps. But with this diet, the meat of his animals, while more tender, risked becoming less palatable. What mattered more, taste or economy?… Feeding hogs on corn was pioneered in Pennsylvania at the end of the eighteenth century. In Virginia, where the taste of the mast-fed pig haunted the gustatory imagination, traditionalists followed the old country practice of letting swine loose in the woods. The practice continued until the early twentieth century when peanut mast was found to instill in pork something like that piquant yet mellow flavor infused by acorns….

Saltpeter, while essential for the preservation of hams, proved equally if not more important as an ingredient of gunpowder. In June 1642 the General Court of Massachusetts ordered every town to erect a shed and “make saltpeter from urine of men, beastes, goates, hennes, hogs and horses dung.”…

Putting chilled, freshly butchered hams in salt was the only part of the process that did not suffer alteration in any of the schools of dry-cure preparation. European tradition usually had the slaughter of winter meat occur on St. Martinmass Day, November 11. But because of the importance of cool weather in the curing of hams, it took place substantially later in the American South: December in Virginia; January in the Carolinas. The fresh-butchered meat had to be cooled to about forty degrees Fahrenheit when salting was begun. Traditionalists would follow salting with the other two s‘s of the “dry cure”: saltpeter and smoke. The proportions varied, but J. Q. Hewlitt’s formula of one thousand pounds of meat, three pecks of Liverpool salt, and four pounds of saltpeter presented a norm. The hams were packed in tubs or casks. These were often perforated to allow liquid to drip out during the minimum of three weeks sitting. At the end of the salting period, during which fresh salt was often added to the tubs, the ham would be extracted and the salt coating washed off. Hewlitt then smoked the hams in a closed room using green hickory chips. It was important that the smoke be cool, so as not to cook the hams. Temperature in the smokehouse was not to exceed human body temperature. At the end of February the hams would be sewn up in bags for protection.

And that’s how they were shipped to us in Japan. We had to soak each ham about 24 hours before cooking and eating any of it.

via Arts & Letters Daily

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The Guilty Pride of Our Betters

From Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class, by Lawrence Otis Graham (Harper, 2000), pp. 8-9, 18:

One of my first encounters with an early pioneering family in the black upper class was meeting members of the aristocratic Syphax family from Virginia. I had grown up hearing my father tell me about their family history, as one of his father’s business associates had known several family members. Talking to Evelyn Reid Syphax at a Links meeting that my mother had brought me to, I learned one way in which some black families—including her own—gained wealth and a place among the upper class. “My family had owned fifteen acres of the land where the Arlington National Cemetery now sits,” Syphax explained as she recounted the history of her family, which can be traced back to Maria Custis, the mulatto child of First Lady Martha Washington’s grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, who owned the mansion that sits on the cemetery today. “Custis fathered Maria with Ariana Carter, one of his female house slaves,” explained Syphax, a well-to-do, retired real estate broker who lives in Virginia, “and when Maria asked her father, who was also still her owner, for permission to marry Charles Syphax, a black slave who worked for her father, he released both from slavery, gave her a wedding in the mansion, and offered her and her new husband fifteen acres of the Arlington estate. That mansion and the surrounding property—minus Maria Syphax’s fifteen acres—was later given by Custis to his white daughter, Mary Custis, who eventually married Confederate soldier Robert E. Lee—thus making the house a famous building in the southern state.”…

One can find both pride and guilt among the black elite. A pride in black accomplishment that is inexorably tied to a lingering resentment about our past as poor, enslaved blacks and our past and current treatment by whites. On one level, there are those of us who understand our obligation to work toward equality for all and to use our success in order to assist those blacks who are less advantaged. But on another level, there are those of us who buy into the theories of superiority, and who feel embarrassed by our less accomplished black brethren. These self-conscious individuals are resentful of any quality or characteristic that associates them with that which seems ordinary. We’ve got some of the best-educated, most accomplished, and most talented people in the black community—but at the same time, we have some of the most hidebound and smug. And adding even further to the mix are those of us who feel we need to apologize to the rest of the black world for our success and for being who we are. For me, the black upper class has always been a study of contrasts.

I think the same is true of every type of elite in these normatively egalitarian times. Among fellow members of your elite, you perform rituals of solidarity that distinguish you from your inferiors–gratuitous political swipes being among the most common solidarity rituals on college campuses (or in news rooms, apparently) where everyone who matters can be assumed to be of like mind. Those who are more sensitive take care to repress those same ritual behaviors when face to face with their inferiors–most especially when seeking votes or funding from those less like-minded.

My wife and I were witness to many impressive rituals of elite solidarity over last Memorial Day weekend when we attended graduation events at Yale–where the ritual of playing Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance at graduations began at Woolsey Hall in 1905. We had both graduated from little no-name colleges in North Dakota and Hawai‘i, respectively, before completing graduate degrees at a cheap, run-of-the-mill state university (Hawai‘i).

Our first event that Saturday was a Phi Beta Kappa induction ceremony in Battell Chapel. Before it began, the mistress of ceremonies came down the aisle chatting up the audience of parents and friends of the inductees. When she found my wife and me with our noses in books, she exclaimed how you could be sure that Phi Beta Kappa parents were avid readers. She asked me what I was reading, and I showed her the cover of Lawrence Graham’s Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class. That stopped her cold, and she quickly moved on to my wife, who was evaluating Graham Salisbury’s juvenile novel Blue Skin of the Sea for possible use in an ESL class. That allowed our emcee to retreat into the comfort zone of noblesse oblige, expressing concern that Yale was not doing enough for some of its rising numbers of foreign students whose mastery of English was not up to earlier standards. Later in the ceremony, while explaining the not-so-secret Phi Beta Kappa handshake, she managed to adopt just the right tone of irony that allows one to perform required social rituals while purporting not to take them seriously. It was a tone we heard again and again from public speakers throughout that ritual-soaked weekend.

I had planned to begin reading Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class as we traveled through the South during our road trip in May—for which my Minnesota in-laws had prepared by reading up on plantations, slavery, and riverboat gamblers. But Yale was the better venue for it. In fact, it provided belated but valuable context for the tome I bought and read when our daughter matriculated there four years ago: The Emperor of Ocean Park, by Yale law professor Stephen Carter.

I acquired a measure of elitist pretentions during my four years at an international high school in Japan. That was where I eliminated the last southernisms I was aware of in my American accent. (Few Americans can guess my family heritage from my accent.) My ambitions at that time were more literary than academic, but my journalism professor at the University of Richmond—where I started college with little enthusiasm and later dropped out—told me that I wrote more like a scientist than a journalist. He had been a practicing journalist, not an academic, so I’m not sure it was intended to be a compliment.

Although Our Kind of People is a case study of the cultivation and preservation of America’s black upper class, much of it would also seem to apply to the care and maintenance of exclusivity among other types of elites. His final chapter on light-skinned blacks who “pass” as whites is particularly poignant, especially his tales of those who chose to abandon their relatives and engineer their own equivalent of a witness-protection program—and pray like hell their kids don’t turn out too dark.

As a “no-accent” white of expatriate southern heritage who has spent a lot of time among academics, I think I have some sense of how blacks who “pass” episodically or by accident feel when they happen to encounter demeaning or disgusting attitudes from interlocutors who aren’t aware of their hidden heritage.

When we took our daughter to visit Carleton College in Minnesota after her junior year of high school, I overheard another family doing college visits tell about how frightened they were at the prospect of driving through Virginia to Norfolk on highways (I-95 and I-64!) that they imagined to be filled with crazed pickup-driving rednecks taking potshots at cars with northern license plates. I dearly wanted to speak up and assure them, in my best Hollywood southern accent: “Why we wouldn’t shoot y’all! The most we’d do is mebbe take out a headlight or taillight, mebbe aim for one of yo’ rear tires or yo’ Yankee license plate. But we wouldn’t shoot at people, even if they was Yankees!” But, of course, I kept my trap shut, not wanting to ruin my daughter’s chances at the college that was then at the top of our list of prospects.


Filed under education, U.S., Virginia

My Father’s Mule

Mules were like members of the family. We were dependent on them for plowing and for pulling the carts used to haul things on the farm, and the wagons used to take us to town, to church, or to visit relatives in distant places—as far as ten miles away! Feeding, watering, and caring for them were among our more important daily chores. We spent much time with them, talked to them—I preached my first sermon to a mule—and planned our work according to their ability to work. Mules are stronger than horses and smarter, contrary to the opinion suggested by the phrase “horse sense.” They are also stubborn, but they are less temperamental and therefore more predictable than horses. I do not ever remember our farming with horses; we always used mules.

In 1946 when I went on a cattleboat to Poland, I had to care for horses. I discovered then what I had already suspected, namely, that the derogatory reputation of mules relative to horses was quite mistaken. “Mule sense” might be a better term than “horse sense” to describe common sense. For example, when the sea got rough and the boat rocked the horses panicked, and when they got seasick, they lay down and would not try to get to their feet. Even when we helped them to their feet, they fell again. They gave up, and 30 of the 800 horses on board died during our trip to Poland and had to be dumped overboard. Mules would have stubbornly fought to stand and would not have so easily given up.

One thing that can certainly be said of mules is that “they have a mind of their own,” but they are not really stubborn. They can seem lazy because they will not put themselves in danger. A horse can be worked until it drops, but a mule has better sense. The “stubborn” streak is just the mule’s way of telling humans that things are not right. Mules are very intelligent and it is not a good idea to abuse them. They will do their best for their owner, with the utmost patience.

I remember one mule from my childhood especially; his name was Blackie. He was not a big mule or a very healthy one, so I don’t know why we had him. He had a very bad sore on his face which was raw most of the time and made it difficult for him to wear a bridle. The two larger mules did most of the work. They were stronger, browner, more like horses than donkeys, and we didn’t have pet names for them.

Blackie did odd jobs. He seemed to be the one assigned to me for the plowing, cultivating, etc., which I did when I got home from school in the afternoon or on Saturdays. He really didn’t seem to like to work. Maybe that’s why I felt it appropriate to preach my first sermon to him. However, when the work was done and we headed towards the house he seemed to have plenty of energy so that it was hard to keep up with him. I remember that my brother, Murray, and I sometimes hooked up Blackie to the buggy on Sundays and went for a ride. So Blackie was my workmate and my playmate. I remember him more vividly than any other mule we ever had. When he died we mourned as for a friend.

SOURCE: My father, who was raised a Quaker in rural Southampton County, Virginia, but became a Baptist preacher and then a missionary to Japan, where my siblings and I were raised.

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Multiple Religious Secessions in Virginia

I can well predict the reactions of many secular progressives to the latest news about religious secession in Virginia.

The efforts of Episcopal Church leaders to bring about reconciliation within the troubled denomination suffered their biggest blow yet, as eight parishes in Virginia voted this weekend to sever ties with the church.

While the actions involved only eight of 7,200 Episcopal congregations, they showed that traditionalists in the US and Africa are intent on raising the pressure within the Anglican Communion. These pressures will likely come to a head next February, when the 38 top Communion leaders meet in Africa. Some have said the disagreement are so basic that they cannot sit down with the new US leader, Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori.

As the US branch of Anglicanism, the church has been a lightning rod within the global community over its 2003 consecration of a gay bishop, with traditionalists threatening schism unless the church’s convention repented its decision.

A small number of conservative US parishes had formed a network within the church – the Anglican Communion Network – to press for a return to traditional teachings. But this weekend’s actions amounted to a dramatic secession involving two of the largest and most historic congregations. (One of them can say, “George Washington worshiped here.”)

The Falls Church and Truro Church in the northern Virginia suburbs voted overwhelmingly to join the Convocation of Anglicans in North America (CANA), a group connected to Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria, the most prominent and outspoken leader of traditionalists.

The office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual leader of the Communion, issued a statement after the votes clarifying that CANA was “a ‘mission’ of the church of Nigeria. It is not a branch of the Anglican Communion … nor has the Archbishop of Canterbury indicated any support for its establishment.”

National churches within the Communion are autonomous, and rules prohibit one national church from interfering in the affairs of another. This tradition has been strained as US conservatives developed ever closer ties with church leaders in Africa and elsewhere. One congregation in Texas recently left the Dallas diocese and put itself informally under the bishop of Peru.

Earlier this month, the 10,000-member Diocese of San Joaquin in California took the first step toward changing its constitution to sever ties with the church.

After the June election of Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori, seven dioceses petitioned Canterbury for “alternative oversight.” Some oppose female leadership in the church; others say they cannot work with the new leader because she favors blessing same-sex unions and a role for gay bishops.

What many secular progressives (and regional bigots) may not realize is that many moderate Virginians have already seceded from the politically conservative Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) for similar reasons: an objection to the polarizing politics of their respective elites.

As the SBC moved toward religious fundamentalism during the 1980s and 1990s, many Southern Baptist congregations redirected their offerings to more moderate organizations such as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and the Mainstream Baptist Network. After the SBC withdrew from the Baptist World Alliance (headquartered in Falls Church, VA) on the grounds that the BWA was “too liberal,” two of the most powerful of the dissident Southern Baptist state organizations, those in Virginia and Texas, applied to join the BWA.

In what would be a first for the Baptist World Alliance, state associations of Southern Baptists in Virginia and Texas–who at times assert their independence from the Southern Baptist Convention–have been recommended as full members in the Baptist World Alliance, the organization that the SBC left last year in an ideological dispute.

British Baptist Alistair Brown, who sits on the BWA membership committee, said in March that it is “the committee’s unanimous view that both be recommended” to the BWA General Council to become full member bodies of the worldwide group of Baptists.

The Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which are already major financial contributors to the Baptist World Alliance, in January joined the North American Baptist Fellowship, one of BWA’s six regional groups.

Both state groups relate to the Southern Baptist Convention, as well as to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and other nationwide missions organizations.

But if “the recommended membership is approved by the BWA’s General Council during its meeting in July, it would mean the two state conventions would become members on the same level as CBF, the American Baptist Churches, or any of the 200-plus other national and regional Baptist groups that make up BWA’s membership. They would be the first U.S. state conventions to join.

The moves by the two conventions come after the SBC voted last year to leave the global fellowship amid charges that it was too liberal, a charge denied by BWA leaders. “Both bodies express sadness at the withdrawal from membership from the BWA of the Southern Baptist Convention,” Brown told the assembled BWA leaders. “And they said that the withdrawal from the BWA had removed from them a means of fellowship with Baptists from around the world.”

And the same goes for the Episcopal Church, whose leaders have drifted too far left, while the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention have drifted too far right in relation to substantial numbers of their respective coreligionists. Both sets of elites are starting to feel the backlash.

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Filed under religion, U.S., Virginia