Friday, June 29, 2012

Recap of Today

Today was such a busy day! My morning started very early, and after breakfast we loaded up the vans and drove to Richmond! Our first stop was at Monumental Church, and we got to go downstairs to visit the crypt where all 72 victims of the Richmond Theatre Fire are buried. It was a neat experience to be able to see that (and fairly claustrophobic!), but I became quickly fed up with people claiming that glare from other's flashes were ghosts. Our tour guide was wonderful though, and it was such a pretty church.

After Monumental Church, we went to see John Marshall's house. It was a very nice house, and done in the Federal style. Everything was tall, straight lines and sweeping arches. We heard a lot about Marshall's history, and I really enjoyed seeing all of the little details that were present in the house. Currently, the museum that runs it is trying to raise $65,000 in order to preserve his robes, because the dye is eating away at them. It makes me feel so sad when I think of all of the important artifacts that are out there that aren't getting the attention and preservation they need because of a lack of funding. :(

Following Marshall's house, we went on to tour the John Wickham house. Wickham was a judge in Richmond, and lived literally down the street from Marshall. His house was done in the Neo-Classical style, and it was absolutely amazing! Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take pictures in either one of the houses, but hopefully I'll have some time this weekend to find pictures on the internet of my favorite features of the houses. An interesting fact about Wickham was that he was actually a British supporter, even following the Revolutionary War.

We returned to Williamsburg for lunch, and then had class. After making a trip (taking an adventure) to the bookstore, stopping along the way to play in sprinklers, we headed to our evening lecture, which was on the dig that we'll have the opportunity to go on tomorrow! It was fascinating, and I can't wait to get started. We'll be digging on Fairfield Plantation, and the site that is currently being worked on is right between the house and the kitchens (and in the shade!) which sounds to me like a great place for a dig!

Well, I have a big day tomorrow, so I should probably get my sleep. Good night!

What Held Members of the Southern Elite Class Together?

In the south after the Revolutionary War, the gentry class (mostly planter elite, political figures, and lawyers) was considered the best that there was. They didn’t always agree politically or religiously, but they stuck together when they had to. They would not let their personal prejudices spoil their upstanding reputations or their own fortunes. To be a member of the gentry class was special, and at every moment you had to be careful to protect that – something that often meant closing ranks. At first glance though, it seems unlikely that these people who made up the very top of society could get along at all. There were Federalists and Anti-Federalists, those with sprawling plantations and those with upscale town houses, and those who worshiped at the Baptist churches while their neighbors attended the Anglican churches. They were wildly different, and the only (big) apparent similarity was their wealth. So what kept them together?

In a way, money was at the root of all of their bonds. They were rich, so they could afford leisure time. A common practice at the time was to hold social meetings, where people like John Marshall and John Wickham could come together and play games like quoits, or just socialize. This sounds like a recipe for disaster, but one rule kept everything light and easy – no talk of politics or religion. Just like that, these people could come together and simply enjoy all the pleasures of being well-off. (Marshall House and Wickham House tours). The other major thing that kept the members of the southern elite together was the fear of class failure. If something should happen to one of them, it could potentially damage all of them. When stories broke in the newspapers about scandalous doings with regard to one of the wealthy, all of the others would come together to make sure that the stories weren’t regarded highly, and that there was nothing more said on the matter. If one was involved in a scandal, chances were that they all were, and no one wanted to risk allowing their prized positions in society to slip in such a way.
Gentlemen Playing Quoits

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A New Dress!

I never really paid much attention to James Madison before, and I gave even less attention to his wife, Dolley. I should have though, because ignoring them for this long meant overlooking Jefferson's close friends, and an entirely different era of fashion. An era of fashion that I am currently enamored with, and absolutely need to sew, I might add. I saw Dolley Madison at Montpelier today, and I loved her dress. I also loved the dresses that I saw on display there, and I just knew that I had to make one. So, I think that when I get home, after I finish my corset, I will start on a turn of the century Dolley Madison dress! I can't wait! :)

Was James Madison a Worthy Opponent without Dolley?

When thinking of James Madison, it is hard to separate thoughts of him from thoughts of his wife, Dolley. She was almost always at his side, and did quite a lot to help him win political support. As Pinckney famously said, “I was beaten by Mr. and Mrs. Madison. I might have had a better chance had I faced Mr. Madison alone.” This quote by Pinckney makes me wonder – was James Madison a worthy opponent without the help of his wife Dolley?

James Madison is known as the ‘Father of the Constitution,’ in honor of all the work he put in to it. He spent four months working in his library, researching past republics to analyze what made them great and what brought them down, and used that knowledge to frame what he worked to turn America into. He also came up with the Virginia Plan, to give America the three branches of government. At the Constitutional Convention he became the unofficial scribe, writing everything out in short hand, and copying it into long hand in the evening. He also spoke over 100 times at the convention, an d provided sound, reasonable, passionate arguments to back up his stance. When the Federalists and Anti-Federalists disagreed about the Constitution, the amendments, and the Bill of Rights, Madison (working with Hamilton and Jay) drafted The Federalist Papers in order to garner support and educate the public. Clearly, Madison was a dedicated and passionate man who was willing to work hard for what he believed in. His speeches were powerful (if quiet) and he was very convincing.

However, James Madison was lacking in one area, and that was in terms of his public relations. He gave many speeches over that winter in churches and town halls to gain support, but it was really his wife, Dolley, who bought him the most ground in terms of the public. Her parties and social calls were famous, and her charm endeared her to many, on her husband’s behalf. Dolley went around, gaining support for her husband James, and won him quite a lot of favoritism, especially in a district slyly rearranged by Patrick Henry to include as many Anti-Federalists as possible. While Madison and Hamilton did strike a deal that allowed Madison to find favor with New York and win valuable votes there, Dolley’s work should not be taken for granted. James was brilliant, and good at what he did, but he didn’t have as much of Dolley’s charm and charisma to win favoritism. It’s very likely that James Madison could have found success without Dolley helping out behind the scenes, but without all of her work it is doubtful that it would have been as great of a victory for him, and it certainly would have been even harder won.

Dolley Madison, the ever charming hostess, at her Montpelier home

Sources: Montpelier, A National Trust Historic Site; Kenneth Bowling, “A Tub to the Whale”

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Slavery - Was an End in Sight?

Apologies regarding the institution and use of slavery have been sweeping America in recent years, and many people have been casting criticisms towards the founding fathers, questioning why they did not free their own slaves and end slavery when America was first founded, instead of waiting almost one hundred years for it to be ended with the Civil War. However, was the end of slavery really a plausible thing in the late 1700’s?

A house at Hot Water Settlement, an example of what free blacks would have lived in after the Revolutionary War

Colonial America relied on its slaves in many ways, especially in the south. Apart from their obvious use as field hands for harvesting crops to sell, they were a sign of wealth. Money wasn’t in banks; it was in the form of human beings, in the forms of the slaves. The number of slaves you had showed your wealth, more than your tobacco harvest ever could. Freeing slaves was like burning money – it was just gone, there was no refund. This connection between slaves and wealth was especially evident in the upper classes, where how much you owned was important. When people like Robert Carter III didn’t seem to care about their wealth, and when they freed their slaves it upset the gentry classes, because the social order was no longer as clear as it once had been, and was potentially worthless. (Andrew Levy)

Thomas Roderick Dew, in his speeches and writings, gave reasons relying on logic that ended talk of gradual abolition. First of all, no one knew what to do with the slaves after freeing them – throw them out of the state? Out of the country? And, what would the slaves themselves do once freed? Dew argued that they wouldn’t have a good chance at making their own way in the world, as they were lacking many of the advantages whites had. Finally, there was the pressing economic argument. Abolishing slavery would mean major price inflation, and that would be hard on America, being the brand new country that it was. (Alfred Brophy)

It’s like Abraham Lincoln said in his “Gettysburg Address”: “…a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.” America has always been dedicated to the idea that all men are created equal, but even close to one hundred years after the founding of America the country still struggled greatly with the abolition of slavery. If the much more stable nation of the 1860’s barely made it, I don’t think it is fair to expect that from the brand new nation of the late 1700’s.

Sources: Andrew Levy, “The Anti-Jefferson”; Alfred Brophy, “Considering William and Mary’s History with Slavery”

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Journal Entry for Yorktown

Were women actually important in terms of the war effort?

It's a well-known fact that war has always been considered a manly thing, and that a war zone is no place for women. However, the presence of women seems to have aided the troops quite a bit during the Revolutionary war. Women were allowed to follow their husband’s army, a fact which some praised and many bemoaned. The three biggest arguments against allowing women to attach to regiments were issues of rations, focus, and time. Many superior officers felt that women, especially those who were not in the upper class, were an inconvenience to the military. The biggest issue was that of rations. Women needed rations just like their husbands did, and with women also came children, needing rations as well. That meant that valuable military supplies were going to people who weren’t enlisted in the army to fight. The second problem was that of the soldier’s focus. Many worried that having women around would serve as a distraction, when full attention was meant to be on the fighting. In addition, the attachment of women to the regiment was also costly in terms of time, because travel took much longer.

A sign displayed at Yorktown, advertising various laundry services for the soldiers.

However, the woman more than made up for this. Apart from the obvious instances of women joining the front line that everyone is familiar with (Molly Pitcher, anyone?), women contributed so much behind the scenes to the war effort. In colonial America, everyone knew their place – men were protectors and providers, while women were the mothers and housekeepers. For men to be asked to do a job that was typically women’s work was insulting, and could cause strife within their regiment. However, when women followed their men into battle, there were suddenly people to do the laundry, sew, cook, and all of those other chores men didn’t normally do. Things could now run smoother, and the men of the army had more time to focus on their tasks. An increase in women really meant an increase in manpower. And the presence of wives was not necessarily a distraction; it may have led to untroubled thoughts instead. Husbands did not have to worry about coming home to find their families gone, forced to flee; instead, they knew that their family unit was remaining intact. So, while some will argue that women only hindered the war effort, it seems that instead they helped it along. They worked behind the scenes so that men didn’t have to, enabling soldiers to focus fully on fighting, and eventually winning, the war.

Sources: Holly Mayer, “Retainers to the Camp”

NIAHD Welcomes You!

Hello! I am spending the next three weeks at William & Mary, in Williamsburg, Virginia, studying American history from the time of the Victory at Yorktown through the Civil War. I'll be going to different historical sites every weekday morning, and then having seminars on the sites and the readings I've been assigned in the afternoons. Saturday mornings are for archeology, and Sundays feature church and a short afternoon lecture. I will also be taking colonial dance classes while I'm here, which I am especially excited for.

As part of my class, I am expected to keep a daily blog. Every day I need to write a short paragraph on what I'm currently studying, and on weekends I will have much longer writings. The actual blog I will be graded on is not open for the public to see however, only my instructor and classmates, so I will be posting the same things on here, along with some other stuff.