My Cliopatria Awards Nominations

for Best Group Blog: I like Savage Minds (notes and queries in Anthropology). Although SM is an anthroblog, many of the posts and discussions are very relevant to historians and their work. I especially liked the discussion of Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs, and Steel. In other group blogs, I like all the Frog in a Well blogs. Frog in a Well: Korea is the newest and has been pretty active.

for Best Individual Blog: I like Natalie Bennett’s Philobiblon, Respectful Insolence, Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, and Giornale Nuovo. This is going to be a tough category; there are several other blogs that could contend for this as well.

for Best Newcomer: Patahistory and Air-Minded.

for Best Post: two by Caleb McDaniel at Mode for Caleb: Jefferson’s Jesus Nation, and The First Twenty Minutes. At Rob MacDougall’s Old is the New New: Cyclons are the New Tribbles. At Cliopatria, Robert KC Johnson’s Gould and the Senate.

for Best Series of Posts: At Spinning Clio, an Introduction to Historical Method.

for Best Writing: Sharon Howard of Early Modern Notes on duels and duelling: here, here, here, and here. (I couldn’t nominate Sharon in the Best Series of Posts category, but all these on duelling were well-written and engaging and deserve some recognition.) And, Timothy Burke at Easily Distracted.

There are still many hours left in which to nominate! If you’ve got favorites in any of these categories, please do consider nominating them!


On Robert Sweat

Sluggo of Snail Races asks below in the comments what I might know about Robert Sweat. I really appreciate the question, and I’m flattered that Sluggo thinks I might be able to say something about him. So, direct from Chapter Four, everything I know about Robert Sweat:

In October 1640 Robert Sweat and an unnamed African woman were convicted of fornication. While Robert was sentenced to “do public penance for his offense at James City church in the time of devine service according to the laws of England,” the anonymous woman was publicly whipped. Which was the more humiliating punishment is an open and possibly unanswerable question. It is likely, though, that Sweat’s partner was not Christian and therefore not eligible to be punished by begging forgiveness before the congregation.

Part of my work for Chapter Four deals with the variety of punishments for interracial fornication prior to 1662, when a new law explicitly penalizing interracial sex went into effect. So, I was interested by Robert Sweat’s punishment because he got to do penance in church and his black partner was whipped. I infer a religious demarcation there. Why, you ask? A fair question; keep reading.

Sluggo points me to a resource on African-American genealogy. I didn’t know about this website before; it has some great information in it. This is what it has to say about Robert Sweat:

Robert Sweat, born say 1610, was made to do public penance during divine service at James City Church, James City Parish, Virginia, on 17 October 1640 because he “hath begotten with Child a negro woman servant belonging unto Lieutenant Sheppard” [McIlwaine, Minutes of the Council, 477]. He may have been identical to or the son of Robert Sweete, Gentleman, who was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses [McIlwaine, Journals of the House of Burgesses, I:ix, 51]. And the “negro woman servant” may not have been a slave. The courts also referred to indentured white servants as belonging to their masters. She may have been Margaret Cornish.

I agree–Sweat’s partner might not have been considered a slave. The legal status of Africans and African-Americans in very early Virginia was in a state of flux. Black people were often treated like indentured servants and earned their freedom, like English servants, after a certain period of time. But, then again, she might have been a slave. Clues to this: she is unnamed, and she is unpunished. Both circumstances suggest a person under the complete control of her master–a slave, not a servant with other connections to the community who could be punished for a violation of the community moral standard. This is why I’m not sure we can put a name to her. I also looked up the Cornish family history on this website, and the links between Robert Sweat, our punished fornicator, and the Margaret Cornish of Surry County look pretty tenuous to me. I’d have to read again in the Surry Records to be sure, but something just doesn’t seem right there. I’ve looked in the Surry records I transcribed, and I have nothing about a free black family associated with the name Cornish. Although I’ll qualify that statement–that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. All it means is that I didn’t see it when I worked in the Surry County Court Records. (The Surry records are notoriously damaged in the 1650s as well which makes it harder to rely on them for anything.)

So that leaves me back with my original information about Robert Sweat and his unnamed partner. I suspect her name wasn’t Margaret Cornish also because she was not allowed to stand penance like Sweat. In my experience with early court records, African women were named when they were to be punished, because they were servants, and because they were Christian. So, in a similar case in 1649 (and again, coming to you straight from Chapter Four)

Another Anglo-African fornication case occurred in 1649 and was punished quite differently. One Will Watts, presumably an Englishman, and Mary, “Mr Cornelius Lloyd’s negar woman,” were required to acknowledge their fornication by standing before the congregation of Elizabeth River Parish swathed in white sheets and carrying a white rod on the Sabbath. In this case, a white man and a black woman were punished together and equally, in the church, for their offense. The case implies that Mary was in some way a member of the congregation, as does the fact that she had a Christian name.

The name “Margaret Cornish” suggests to me a person who is both Christian and connected with an English family name, and therefore probably free. Had she been Robert Sweat’s partner, I think it likely that she would have been punished along with him. Sweat’s paramour, at least in this case, is probably someone else.

And, as always with early Virginia records, a caveat: my conjecture is based on lots of time with these records, but as always, is just an interpretation, open to argument and, in the presence of more documents, correction!

sources: Robert Sweat, McIlwaine, Conway Robinson’s Notes, Minutes of the Council, 477. Will Watts and Mary, Lower Norfolk Wills and Deeds, (1646-1651), fol. 106.

Sunday afternoon reads

Since I’m up to my eyeballs in Chapter Four (new title: “Such Shamefull Matches:” The Religious Impplications of Interracial Intimacy) and cannot write anything substantial today, here are some fun links to keep you busy:
* The New York Times proclaims that the Pen is Mightier than…other Pens.
* Verlyn Klinkenborg on the new exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History. I’m told that no corporate sponsors could be found to bankroll the exhibit, and that the museum could certainly use donations to cover part of the cost.
* Novelist William T. Vollman on the implications of the Lewis and Clarke expedition.
* And from Crooked Timber, advice on finishing your dissertation (like I need more of that). I would add to this advice: write longhand with a fountain pen. Your dissertation will seem infinitely more elegant if you do.

And, this week’s acquisitions:
1. Amy R.W. Meyers & Margaret Beck Pritchard, eds, Empire’s Nature: Mark Catesby’s New World Vision (UNC 1998). Acquired at Harvard Book Store’s fabulous remainder table.
2. Max Savelle, rev. Robert Middlekauff, A History of Colonial America (Holt, Rinehart,& Winston, 1964). Acquired at Henry Adams Club Book Sale for two bucks. Great example of an old-fashioned textbook (all words, no pictures).
3. George C. Rable, Civil Wars: Women and the Crisis of Southern Nationalism (Illinois, 1989). Acquired for one buck at the aforementioned sale.
4. John B. Boles, The South Through Time: a History of an American Region (Prentice Hall, 2004). Also acquired for just one dollar.
5. James Reynolds, A World of Horses (1947) FREE. I have lots of horse books but I didn’t have this one. I rather enjoyed reading it last night!

On Attempting to Work

I have a lovely new carrel in the CGIS South building. It contains a spacious L-shaped desk, bulletin boards for my calendar and dissertation materials, and, best of all, a confy chair with an adjustable lumbar support. I like working here, but I usually don’t come in on the weekends. I’ll work in the library or at home. But today I needed some material I store here and I thought, well, I’ll spend the afternoon writing here. I got to the front door, though, to discover my swipe card didn’t work. Here’s how I got into the building:

Rebecca (to security guard in neighboring building): Hi, I need access to my office but my swipe card won’t work.
Guard: OK, but I can’t let you in.
Rebecca: Can someone else let me in?
Guard: Let me call my supervisor.
(much talking and muttering)
Guard: I can’t let you in.
Rebecca: Let me talk to your supervisor.
Supervisor: I can’t let you in unless you obtain authorization from Harvard University Police.
(Rebecca calls HUPD)
Rebecca to HUPD: Hi, this is Rebecca Goetz in the History Department. I need you to please authorize me for access to my office.
HUPD: I don’t know who you are.
Rebecca: I know we’ve never met but I have a university ID you can look at.
HUPD: Yes, but I don’t know who you are.
Rebecca: Right, yes, I know that, but I need access to my office. Can you send someone down to let me into the building?
HUPD: Let me talk to the security guard.
(more muttering)
Security Guard: HUPD authorized you. I’ll get my supervisor down to let you in.
Rebecca (relieved): Thanks!
(Security Guard muttering to supervisor)
Guard to Rebecca: Well, I need to call HUPD back to they can talk to my supervisor and tell them you’re authorized to enter the building.
(more muttering into the telephone, Rebecca is starting to feel really uncomfortable)
Guard to Rebecca: HUPD doesn’t seem to understand the situation. I’m not sure what they want me to do.
(enter the Supervisor, from stage left)
Rebecca: Hi, I’m Rebecca Goetz, history department. I need to get into my office, but my swipe card doesn’t work.
(Supervisor carefully examines my ID card)
Supervisor: Did HUPD authorize this?
Guard: Well, sort of.
Supervisor: Because I can’t take responsibility for this.
Rebecca: I really need to get into my office. I promise I won’t vandalize anything or set the building on fire.
Supervisor: Well, OK, but just this once. You’ll have to get this fixed on Monday.
(Rebecca, to herself: What? I have to get this fixed? I forebear to ask about how I get in on Sunday)
(Supervisor escorts me to the building, lets me in, and escorts me to my office.)

Supervisor: Well, your key works, that’s a good sign.
(Supervisor inspects my carrel, and, finding a nice letter of acknowledgment from one of the universities I have applied to tacked to my bulletin board, decides that this really is my carrel, and leaves.)

This all took about forty minutes.

When Grand Juries Attack…

…and fail miserably in their mission of rooting out vice and raising revenue for the parish:

Thomas Chisman Sr being presented by the g. jury for not goeing to Church the Court being well satisfted that he is incapacitated by deafness is excused…Thomas Tyler having been presented by the g. jury for not comeing to church the Court being informed that he is antient & unable to travel is therefore excused. Thomas Overstreet this day appeared to answer the presentmt of the g. jury agst him for not comeing to church & alledged that he for a long time since hath been so deaf he could not understand what the parson said is therefore excused. Wm Rylands appearing to answer the presentmt of the g. jury agst him for not comeing to church according to law & acquainted the Court that he had been at Kicquotan Church within the time by law appointed & they finding what he alledged to be true is discharged.

After 1705, Virginia’s General Court insisted that county courts enforce laws mandating church attendance at least once every quarter. It seems, though, that either this particular grand jury was a bit overzealous in seeking out those who did not attend church, or the accused were becoming more creative in their attempts to evade the fine. One question: if one is too deaf to hear the parson, is one also too deaf to understand the court proceedings?

Source: York County Court Records, XIII, fol. 153-154 (26 July 1708)

Archaeology in Harvard Yard

Students in an anthropology class are excavating near Massachusetts Hall and Matthews Hall in hopes of finding evidence of Harvard’s seventeenth-century Indian College.

I’ve had an interest in archaeology ever since I was a little girl. PBS showed Michael Wood’s series In Search of the Trojan War when I was in second or third grade and I was completely caught up in the romance of excavating Troy. I think I really wanted to be Heinrich Schliemann (not having absorbed, of course, that Schliemann was a crackpot who probably destroyed what was left of the Troy of Priam and Paris). I never actually did any archaeology until the last six weeks of my senior year in college, when I enrolled in an historical archaeology course digging at Maine’s Fort Shirley.

What remains of Fort Shirley–an mid-eighteenth-century house that once served as a tavern and courthouse–stands high on a bluff overlooking the Kennebec River. Until the late eighteenth century, a palisade of logs with two blockhouses surrounded the courthouse. One blockhouse served as a jail. Our task was to try to find the footprints of the blockhouses, which would confirm the dimensions and layout of the fort.

What I discovered is that archaeology is dirty and itchy. In May clouds of black flies inundate Maine and our little bluff above the Kennebec was particularly attractive to them. The flies seemed to like the corners of my eyes and mouth and I frequently wiped my filthy hands across my face to get rid of the flies. Back in my dorm room in the evenings, my face was unrecognizable under a layer of dirt and fly and mosquito bites. Mostly my days were spent sprawled on my belly beside my pit, my arms quivering with the tension of slowly scraping my trowel across the dirt, every now and then kicking up some piece of debris: a shard of porcelain, enough redware fragments to make an entire dinner service, and, inexplicably, a seventeenth-century pipestem. (Where on earth did that come from??) On damp days the pits, even though covered, somehow absorbed water and instead of moving dirt we moved small clumps of smelly mud, mud that adhered to our bodies and clothes and made us even more filthy than usual.

Needless to say, I wondered why I had chose this activity to keep me busy during my senior Short Term. I resented the class more the deeper my pit got, until one fine morning towards the end of the five weeks, I was on my belly peering down into my six-foot-deep pit, when I noticed some shadows across the bottom. I scraped some more, and then called over the professor. Sure enough, I was looking at a thick cluster of post molds. A few more inches and the trace of a pallisade wall, ending in a thick cluster that was probably the corner of the blockhouse, were completely visible. That elusive structure for which successive generations of Bates students had been searching, was right in the bottom of my pit.

I was pleased as punch.

I’m glad I did the course now, because I can read reports of archaeological digs from Virginia and Maryland and have some sense of what the material means and what the limits of the evidence are. But I don’t envy those Harvard students now digging up the Yard. I prefer my status as an armchair archaeologist.

New Carnvial of the Feminists

The Feminist Carnival
is new to the carnivalsphere but I’m thoroughly enjoying it. I especially liked this entry from Redneck Mother (subtitle: “Raising Children, Lettuce, and Hell in Texas”–good for her! Texas needs a lot of feminist hell raised) about a proposed Virginia law mandating a police report for all miscarriages that happen outside medical facilities.

Yeah, if you’re reading now and saying, “Huh?” Redneck Mother is right there with you. I won’t sport with everyone’s patience by expressing my opinion on this piece of legislative stupidity…wait a moment, I will, for two sentences. 1. Generous assessment: Delegate John A. Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) clearly has no idea what emotional and physical pain miscarriages cause women and their partners and so has no understanding of how involving law enforcement would compound the unpleasantness of the experience. 2. Realistic assessment: Delegate John A. Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake) believes that women who miscarry must be criminals since their bodies have failed to do what he thinks they’re supposed to do.

Yep, I’m going with the realistic assessment too. Redneck Mom is right: our bodies are not machines.