Posts Tagged With: american history

‘Love & Hate In Jamestown’ Highlights Power Struggles Among Key Players

loveandhateinjamestownIn my effort to better understand my heritage I read a wide range of book styles and lengths, and I always appreciate a fast, to-the-point, concise read.

Love and Hate in Jamestown: John Smith, Pocahontas, and the Start of a New Nation by David A. Price fits the bill perfectly. Although I am familiar with the Jamestown story at a bare-bones level, after reading the book I have a much better understanding of all the key players in the British American settlement.

Price examines the major disagreements and episodes that defined – and at times – almost destroyed the colony. Jamestown’s history is often romanticized as is Captain John Smith’s rescue by Pocahontas – but Price effectively bypasses this approach and gets down to the essentials.

Individualism Is Born

One trait often equated with ‘being American’ is individualism. Ralph Waldo Emerson highlights the trait in Self Reliance. But as Price shows through the various events of Smith’s life, plenty of labels could be attached to Smith. He was a soldier, a planner, an instigator, to name a few, but his most enduring trait was his individualism. This ability to rely on his own skills and intellect led him to the brink of death several times, but it also carved out his rightful place in history.

Do What Needs To Be Done

Smith was pragmatic and not idealistic. During the Colony’s era that was grimly named the Starving Time, Smith details his irritation and disdain for the gentlemen class – the bulk of the colonists – by blandly noting the men had resigned themselves to their fate (death) instead of working to survive. This underscores why Smith butts heads with investors back home in London. He quickly tired of the Company’s protocol of sending gentlemen to the colony instead of skilled and unskilled laborers. The colony almost died out because of this policy. Smith not only engaged in manual labor, he went on expeditions, mingled with the natives — learning their languages and customs at a rudimentary level. It was largely through his efforts that the colony survived those first few years.

Colonial Myth

Long ago I tired of the argument that the Founding Fathers believed this or that — or the Constitution says this or that, because the words seem to come from people who have neither read the Constitution nor could name 10 Founding Fathers. Books like Love & Hate – and Albion’s Seed — provide a clearer understanding of America’s beginning. Despite modern politicians and their followers assertions that America was founded on (fill in the blank), in the beginning the British American colonies were filled with a plethora of ideas, philosophies and often contradictory agendas.

In Jamestown, the goal of the Virginia Company was gold. It was not religious freedom or democracy. It was simply a business venture complete with advertising and marketing materials that highlighted the good and omitted the bad. When the venture failed to produce a profit and investors were no longer supplying money — the Company began a lottery.

John Smith’s Legacy

Oddly enough, the Jamestown experience was a small blip in Smith’s life – although one he always cherished. After he left the colony in 1609, Smith returned to Britain and over the course of several decades wrote numerous books about New England. He never lost his love for the region – always promoting its merits. His last attempt to come back to North America in 1617 was thwarted by bad weather.

He died fourteen years later, in 1631, at the age of 51.

Rated 5 out of 5. This is a nice, quick read filled with the significant episodes of Jamestown’s history. Although the book is heavily researched, the footnotes are not intrusive, and the author includes several pages at the end explaining — and often dispelling — common theories about the Colony.


Trivia

Smith never married and he had no children.

Categories: American History, Books I have read, Colonial Era, Colonial Period | Tags:

U.S. President with previous experience as hangman? Absolutely.

rope

Growing up in Ohio I knew seven U.S. presidents were born here and I knew from high school history class that Grover Cleveland was the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms. But, what I didn’t learn in history class was The Buffalo Hangman performed two executions during his three years as sheriff — apparently to save $20.

In 1870, Cleveland was elected sheriff of Erie County, New York. One of the responsibilities he had as sheriff was to make sure death sentences were carried out. Although not required to physically do the execution, (he could pay a deputy $10 to perform the task) for whatever reason Cleveland chose to be the one to open the trap door for two prisoners.

According to a New York Times article [pdf], dated Sept. 7, 1872, the first man Cleveland executed, by hanging, was Patrick Morrissey.

The rope was adjusted and the black cap drawn over his face, when the signal was given to the Sheriff, who sprung the trap at 12:05 o’clock.

The article continues saying that Morrissey died instantly. Although, the next few sentences seem to contradict the statement.

At eight minutes after dropping the pulse ceased, and at 12 minutes the heart ceased to beat, and life was pronounced extinct by the physicians.

Although the concept of a president as an executioner seems very unique, Morrissey’s story and crime unfortunately were not. Morrissey, who was born in Ireland, came to America as an infant with his parents. His introduction to a life of crime started at 11 when he spent six months in a detention center. By his late teens or early 20s, he was sentenced and served three years in prison for larceny.

Murder
At the age of 29, he was convicted of killing his widowed mother in her own home. Apparently around 2 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon, Morrissey had drank a little too much and was inebriated. His mother was in the dining room using a carving knife to cut some meat she had cooked. An argument ensued, she order him to leave, he grabbed the knife and stabbed her in the chest. He did not attempt to escape, and was taken into police custody.

But drinking and violence must have run in the family, because at the trial, two of his sisters testified that their mother would get drunk, angry and that all the children had ‘marks of wounds’ received from their mother.

On the day of his death, Morrissey read a statement taking full responsibility for the crime, saying though he did not remember committing it and advised those present to avoid ‘intoxicating drinks and evil associates.’

Cleveland’s second and last execution was on Feb. 14, 1873 when John Gaffney was hanged — also for a murder conviction.

Grover Cleveland Facts:

Categories: American History | Tags: , , ,