Welcome!

Welcome! Put on the kettle while you get acquainted with Tea & Rebellion…

You’ll find great updates and tidbits about my books, reviews, spiritual thoughts, history, travel musings, and tea.  Sit back and enjoy a bit of rebellion while you sip.

-Tara

TARA COWAN has been writing novels since she was seventeen.  Southern Rain is her first published novel.  A huge lover of all things history, she loves to travel to historic sites, watch British dramas, read good fiction, and spend time with her family.  She writes novels set mostly in the historical American South, although she is not opposed to the occasional modern tale. An attorney, Tara lives in Tennessee and is busy writing her next novel.

 

Review: Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow

I was sitting in a law school classroom when it first hit me. It was my third year, and I was taking a class titled Law and Literature. We would read a piece of literature and then come to class and discuss the great questions of life and humanity that the readings provoked, much like a college English class (which was bliss to me!). I was surprised when I saw multiple Old Testament readings on the list.

We were a class made up of believers and skeptics, atheists and agnostics, the dormant and the devout. And when I opened my Bible to read the passages, that fact was all I could think about. For the first time in my life, I was having a Bible study with people who hadn’t been taught to think the “right” way. They were from all over the country, from deeply varying backgrounds, and a lot of them were reading those passages for the first time. And suddenly, that was how I was reading the scripture, too. I was stripping away everything, all of my own preconceived notions, every sermon I had heard preached on the passage, and every point I had ever felt compelled to prove, and I was just…reading. Because I knew when I got to class the next day, absolutely no one in that room would carry the same lenses to the table. And that was when it finally struck me: this was what I should have been doing all along.

What does this have to do with Amanda Hope Haley’s latest book, Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide? Everything. God’s revelation to me that I was reading scripture with “lenses” set me on a course of laying aside everything and simply searching for His character in scripture. What I didn’t know was that my cousin (yes, cousin!) was writing a book on that very topic!

Amanda delves deep into the very structure of the Bible, exploring how the holy manuscripts were written, compiled, and translated and teaching us to cherish each passage for its unique literary structure and voice. That contribution alone would have been enough, because she lays out that complicated history in such an easy-to-understand format that the reader leaves enlightened rather than overwhelmed.

But she goes deeper, teaching us how to view science’s relationship with the Bible in a healthy manner (the passages on creation literally made me tear up!), how to look at scripture in context rather than “cherry-picking,” how to read slowly and carefully, and ultimately, how to strip everything away, everything you have ever heard, everything you are “supposed” to read into scripture, and just listen.

Particularly helpful, I thought, was the chapter entitled “Too Many Cookbooks in the Christian Kitchen,” which talks about the problem, not new to our generation, of preferring to follow a doctrine, or a denomination, or legalism, or a man, which is so easy for us to do, isn’t it? I think a lot of times these problems start as we try to boil our beliefs down into a teachable message to take out into the world. But we forget to fluff the stew back up again to learn God in the fullness of His glory. Amanda does a wonderful job reminding us of just how important it is to do that.

Her tone is conversational and easy-to-read. I found that the scripture she used as examples throughout was particularly well-chosen. You feel like you’re in a really fun classroom and she’s the teacher at the front with a blackboard breaking it all down into understandable language. And finally, I will add that what Amanda does is more than just teach hermeneutics (a word we learn in the last chapter!). She presents the beautiful, awe-inspiring picture of God’s plan. It seeps in when you least expect it, moving you to emotion and prodding you to reflect on what an awesome God we serve.

Highly recommended! Mary Magdalene Never Wore Blue Eye Shadow: How to Trust the Bible When Truth and Tradition Collide is now available! See below for a link to your favorite retailer.

Amazon link:

Barnes & Noble link:
https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-amanda-hope-haley/1130410625#/

Books-A-Million link:
https://www.booksamillion.com/p/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue/Amanda-Hope-Haley/9780736975124?id=7747825568139

Target link:
https://www.target.com/p/mary-magdalene-never-wore-blue-eye-shadow-by-amanda-hope-haley-paperback/-/A-78288182

Wal-Mart link:
https://www.walmart.com/ip/Mary-Magdalene-Never-Wore-Blue-Eye-Shadow/229907139

Kissing Cousins?

History Behind the Story #5: Kissing Cousins: Did People Really Marry Their First Cousins?

The simple answer is: yes.

This is taboo in a lot of cultures these days, isn’t it? I remember my mom telling me as a child that Victoria and Albert were first cousins and thinking… Whoa. And yet, for most of history, and across all cultures that I have studied, cousin marriage has been a common occurrence.

If you’ve read Southern Rain, you’ll know that (spoiler alert!!!) Shannon’s brother marries their first cousin. This may have been a jolt for some of you. When I was looking about for something to ground the story in the historical era, I thought: yep, that’ll do it! You might think life wasn’t much different (and I do have a theory that people have been the same since time began), but boy howdy were their practices different.

I read a lot of British literature and novels, and I think the book that really pushes it on this subject is Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, where the couple not only share a set of grandparents but were also raised in the same house. When I read the book as a teenager, I thought, “Whew, that was odd!” and kind of filed that away in one of those unexplainable-historical-things-that-perhaps-never-existed folders. And then I got into Georgette Heyer. She plays not just with cousin marriage, but also with cousin love a lot. In Frederica, they’re distant relations, perhaps not really related, so you think, “Okay, no biggie.” But she goes for it full blast with The Grand Sophy and The Unknown Ajax. Keep in mind that Heyer was writing from the 1920’s through the 1970’s, so she was obviously looking back on the Regency Era and finding the same thing as Austen: cousin marriage was a way of life. I suppose I always heavily emphasized that was until I found a little-known short story by Heyer online called A Proposal To Cicely that was actually set in the 1920’s. The second line of the story lets you know that Richard is Cicely’s “first cousin once removed.” They were an extremely modern, fun couple, and the guy was hung up on his cousin. And that was when it hit me: it’s only very recently that this has not been a thing.

The temptation is really there for me to say that this happened a lot more in Britain and Europe than America. I certainly see it a lot more in European fiction, and it would make sense, given that the need that royalty and nobility engendered to make prudent political and financial choices often seem to push the same families into alliances over and over. That would, in turn, make the practice socially acceptable and even in vogue. And yet… Every time I formulate an argument to that effect, I find a strong counter-argument or example from American history that proves that the exact same thing was happening here.

For example, did you know that Ashley and Melanie Wilkes were cousins? Gone With the Wind has a character say that the Wilkeses and Hamiltons always marry their cousins. And it was actually set up for Ashley’s sister to marry Melanie’s brother (before Scarlett got her claws in him!). This isn’t hugely important on its own. I know these were fictional characters. But what is fascinating are the social implications Margaret Mitchell makes. She is trying to convey, I think, that the Wilkeses are a cut above the other gentry, the American equivalent of a British “old family.” They are supposed to be exquisitely cultured and naturally gracious. The only person in the community who is like them is, I think, Scarlett’s mother, Ellen, who was from Louisiana. Ellen ends up in this odd marriage to Scarlett’s father because her marriage to her cousin, Phillippe Robillard, with whom she was deeply in love, doesn’t go through. I think Mitchell is using cousin-love as the same plot device to convey the same thing: they were like royalty and had strong reasons for cousin marriage or were high enough up the ladder to be eccentric. And I have to say, it was effective: I knew exactly where the Wilkses and Robillards stood.

There is a lot of discussion in Gone With the Wind about whether cousins ought to marry, mostly having to do with washing out the blood and including some very humorous comparisons to horse breeding. But I actually think those conversations had more to do with Mitchell writing in the 1930’s than any real qualms people would have felt in the 1860’s. While cousin marriage wasn’t appalling in the 1930’s, I do think this general feeling may have begun to grow that it was much better to at least be second cousins. This would be supported by Heyer (in England, of course) making a point to add the “once removed” language for Cicely when she was writing just a few years before. Also, in the movie (but not in the book) Ashley goes on a long ramble about wine having been his father’s uncle Hamilton’s, who married so and so, who married so and so and later on connects it with the Wilkeses again. I remember watching that a few years ago and thinking that it was odd. This was during the war, so the only sense I could make of it was that Ashley was suffering from PTSD or very severe homesickness. But one of my sources suggests that, basically, the screenwriters needed to get it in there that Ashley and Melanie were distant cousins so that audiences wouldn’t be morally squeamish. That seems very plausible to me, given that the movie does seem to paper over the fact that Mitchell indicates they were very close cousins.  She just apologizes to her generation for it in another way in the book: by having the characters’ peers discuss it reasonably so you would know that she hadn’t gotten carried away with this idea or anything.[1] Apparently, some doctors today attribute the current bias against cousin marriage to the eugenics movement in the early Twentieth Century, which was obsessed with genetic perfection.[2] It would make sense that Mitchell was being sensitive to that.

So I think societal disapproval of first cousins marrying began in the 1920’s and has only grown stronger with every passing decade. In fact, in my childhood in the1990’s, I remember hearing that it was okay to marry your tenth cousin, because you were, you know, basically back to Adam at that point. But I’m not sure anyone would say even that today. In my lifetime, I have only heard of, and never known personally, two couples who were first cousins, even though it is legal for first cousins to marry in Tennessee.

Okay, so what’s my historical background for having Frederick and Marie marry? First of all, I used the same plot technique Mitchell did: nothing says really fancy Southern family in the Nineteenth Century like having cousins marry. I needed you to know that the Ravenels have a certain status, and regardless of history, I knew that would convey it. But there is history to back cousin marriage up.

John and Abigail Adams were third cousins. Their grandson, John Adams II, married his first cousin in 1828. Thomas Jefferson’s daughter, Martha, married her third cousin, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr. in one of those dynastic alliances. Jefferson’s other daughter married, apparently for love, John Wayles Eppes, whose father was her cousin and whose mother was her mother’s half-sister. (In case you were keeping count, that’s probably closer than first cousins.)

John C. Calhoun married his cousin, Floride, who was, you know, before their marriage, Floride Calhoun. Andrew Jackson’s adopted son, married his first cousin (yes, by blood), and when she died married another first cousin (yes, by blood). As one does.[3] We all know about Edgar Allan Poe. Robert E. Lee was married to his third cousin, the great-granddaughter of Martha Washington. I could go on and on. Did you know that Eleanor Roosevelt was a Roosevelt before she married? Okay, I’ll stop.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking: what about the kids??? When Charles and Sophy kiss and ride off into the sunset in The Grand Sophy, they are So Not Thinking Their Kids Could Have Six Fingers. Heyer almost seems to throw it in your face, her complete lack of concern or mention of genetic hazards. Obviously, we know a lot more today about the mutations that don’t get erased if there’s never fresh blood. But come on, they knew a lot about it when she was writing, and they had to have known a little about it throughout history. If you read biographies of some of the people I listed above, or novels like Mansfield Park written in the era in which they were set, I have to tell you that this really doesn’t seem to cross their minds. There’s a rather interesting conversation in Gone With the Wind about the fact that, if one really knew what one was doing, one could breed horses that were even closer than first cousins, if you know what I mean. So if you could do that with no harm, that may have been the only science they had to base it off of. Certainly, no one seems to have linked hemophilia with a straight-line family tree. There are even reports that Queen Victoria’s son’s hemophilia was blamed on her using morphine to ease her pain during childbirth.

And then there’s the question of whether this pre-conceived notion we have of mutations with cousins marrying is completely accurate. Did some of the above people have unhealthy children who died in childhood? Yes, they did. But so did everyone else. The above people also seemed to have had a lot of healthy children, too. A very fascinating New York Times article came out in 2002 stating that, yes, first cousins are somewhat more likely to have a child with health problems, but that “the increased risk is nowhere near as large as most people think”.[4]

There are certain communities where the rate of autosomal recessive disorders are extremely high, such as among the Amish of Lancaster County and Britain’s Pakistani community. Without a thorough scientific knowledge, my guess is that in such communities, rates are higher because there has been a tradition of first cousin marriage for many generations, and there’s almost no chance that an allele can mask and skip a child over. This could also explain the hemophilia with which royal families throughout history have struggled: those dynastic alliances stretched back for centuries. It was unlikely that you would ever marry someone who wasn’t your cousin, or that your children would.

And, there we are. It all comes back to politics and money, doesn’t it? And sometimes it would seem, love. Hope you enjoyed! Stay tuned for the next installment of History Behind the Story in which we experience the break-down in civilities between the North and South on the brink of war.

Also, here is a link to A Proposal To Cicely: (Note: some of the editing is a bit off because it seems to have been copied from an old serial newspaper, so just ignore that.):

https://janeaustensworld.wordpress.com/audio-visual-e-text-media/a-proposal-to-cicely-tweets-by-georgette-heyer/.

[1] Side-note: She may also have been sensitive to the common stereotype that Southerners marry their cousins. I don’t know when this stereotype started, but it certainly still persists today, since my Southern mama, when she heard I was writing this article, said, “Make sure they know it wasn’t just Southerners!”

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/04/us/few-risks-seen-to-the-children-of-1st-cousins.html

[3] See Jacob son of Isaac being married to two first cousins at the same time.

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/04/us/few-risks-seen-to-the-children-of-1st-cousins.html.

Sources:

https://relatedhowagain.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/104-o-cousin-what-art-thou/

https://www.nytimes.com/2002/04/04/us/few-risks-seen-to-the-children-of-1st-cousins.html.

The Genetics of Cousin Marriage

Photo Credit: JSTOR Daily: https://daily.jstor.org/the-genetics-of-cousin-marriage/

 

 

Quirky Charleston Customs

History Behind the Story #4: Quirky Charleston Customs and Tidbits

We’ve talked about Charleston history in some of our earlier posts, but what we haven’t discussed is Charleston’s social customs during the Antebellum Era.  The Holy City was founded way back in 1670 by English settlers and went on to become the largest city south of Philadelphia before the Civil War.  Richmond might beg to differ, but there is a strong argument that Charleston was the premier Southern city. Charleston had the wealth, culture, sophistication, population, and social life that few places in a largely agrarian region could rival, and that’s what makes it such a fun setting.

When I first began writing Southern historical fiction, I quickly realized that Southern, or even American, social seasons and rules of society were largely based on locality and weren’t quite as compulsory as European rules. For instance, New Orleans social life would have been very different from Savannah’s, whereas if I were writing a story set in England in the Nineteenth Century, I could find book after book with strict lists of rules because it was a much smaller territorial base, much more structured social hierarchy, and there was seemingly more willingness to conform among the British. For Southern social practices, the best you can do is glean what you can from tours of house museums and period letters.  And since that kind of research inevitably makes what you find a little random, I thought bullet points of random quirky customs were in order for this post. Here we go!

  • Sources tend to indicate that in many Southern cities, the social season took place starting right after Christmas and ran through the beginning of the planting season, when the men would need to leave and return to the plantation. This makes sense when we juxtapose that hypothesis with the fact that the London Season always began roughly in April with the opening of Parliament and ended roughly at the beginning of June when society fled London for their country estates to escape summer diseases. I compare the two because I notice a pattern: a social season taking place around the work schedule of the men as well as the danger, or lack thereof, of disease.
  • Speaking of diseases, the Lowcountry experienced what was called a “sickly season” every year. One quirk of Charleston is that, while the rest of the world was fleeing out of cities during the summer months, many people actually fled into Charleston, which was considered to be more salubrious and less at risk for fun things like Malaria and Yellow Fever. And this makes sense when you consider that Charleston is right there on the ocean.  If you had a plantation in the Sea Islands, like where my fictional Santarella was located, you would probably find it a safer bet in the summer even than Charleston and retreat there. But people from the outlying Lowcountry with plantations situated in the swamps would have to evacuate them for the sickly season, often going to Charleston. One thing I found interesting was that many of those with plantations in the swamps didn’t have Charleston homes, and so from the end of May until the first frost (which could be late September or early October), they led a nomadic existence, staying with friends and relatives or travelling. If you visit Charleston, you’ll find that if a plantation wasn’t on one of the Islands, the hot spot was the Ashley River Road, which is now actually within the city boundaries of Charleston but then was just a few miles outside of it.  The sickly season seems to have hit these plantations pretty hard, too. And so you had this almost comical situation where people owned vast plantations just a few miles away from where they owned mansions in Charleston.  Of course, this enabled those people to take part in Charleston’s social life, too, which was considered a benefit for sophisticated elites.  So Charleston was always fuller in the dead of winter and heat of summer, with various people either fleeing Charleston or coming into it for safety. You can see this is all very complicated!
  • Charleston was a bit of a pilgrimage spot for the state of South Carolina, with people crowding in during the social season from all over the state. One would be presented with a huge menu of events to fill one’s calendar– theater, opera, ballet, public concerts, not to mention parties, balls, horse racing, and morning social calls. Think of an isolated rural life in the Nineteenth Century, and compare it with such a modern social calendar– the two must have seemed like different worlds.
  • We know that when Southern Rain opens, Shannon’s brother has been on a year-long grand tour of Europe. This is one custom that is strongly documented. Young, wealthy Southern men would be sent upon reaching adulthood or graduation from university to the Continent in the hopes of giving them cultural exposure.  An alternative to this was that sometimes couples would be sent on a similar tour as a honeymoon or “wedding trip.” These trips could last for up to three years.  I remember touring a plantation near Charleston which had a beautiful portrait of a couple painted while they were on their honeymoon in Europe.  Also featured with them is their two-year-old son, who was born while they were abroad touring.  It’s a bit of a different concept of “honeymoon” from what we have now!
  • Speaking of babies… I’ve found at least one instance of a woman from a rural plantation going to Charleston to give birth.  The thought process was that there would be better access to medical care in case of an emergency.  My instinct tells me that this was fairly common: if you were wealthy enough to own a plantation, you were sophisticated enough to want the finest medical care of the day. Couple that with the fact that South Carolinian plantations were steeped in isolation due to geography, which is enough to scare you, especially if there wasn’t a decent doctor nearby, and it would just be easy logic if you owned your own house to go there to give birth.  But… In the documents I was reading, the couple didn’t own a house in Charleston and instead would stay with friends!  That seems like a lot to ask of your hosts, especially when you think of the horror that was childbirth in the Nineteenth Century, but it seemed like hosts and guests seemed to think nothing of it and were instead delighted by the couple’s social visit!
  • Okay, on to dining!  One thing that will be broadcast loud and clear if you tour plantations in the Lowcountry is that: DINNER TIME WAS AT THREE O’CLOCK. As in dinner.  As in the afternoon.  There were reasons for this (various and conflicting).  But one thing that struck me when we visited Charleston was that when we would try to beat the tourist crowd and grab dinner at three or four o’clock, we would find the restaurants so congested that we couldn’t move. We would look at each other thinking, Imagine what six o’clock is going to be like! But no!  At supper time, the bubble popped, and the restaurants were utterly deserted. And, so while I have seen no empirical evidence of modern-day Charlestonian eating customs, I’m pretty sure they still follow this rule!
  • If you lived on the Sea Islands, a lot of what you could do entertaining-wise was determined by the tides. If you couldn’t get your guests out quickly enough, they might have to spend the night (one possible reason for three o’clock dinners).  If the tides turned against you, you could be trapped with your guests for days or even weeks!
  • The connection between New England (John Thomas) and Charleston (Shannon) may seem tenuous except for the friendship between John Thomas and Shannon’s brother, but there were actually strong ties between the two regions given the fact that Northern mill owners bought their cotton from Southern planters. In fact, a society called the New England Society of Charleston was founded in 1819.
  • Elite children were generally sent to private academies from a young age, with girls like Shannon being sent to “female academies” where they would learn the basics plus special polishes such as music, dancing, and art, along with the usual running-a-household type courses.
  • The social season in Charleston continued even once the Civil War started. There were officers stationed at the three nearby forts, and they were welcomed at balls, weddings, and dinners.  The wealthy in Charleston weren’t deeply affected by the war (unless you lost a loved one) until the Union started chipping away at the surrounding Sea Islands, which caused panic in Charleston and rocked their world.

Okay, that’s a wrap for this one!  Let me know if you hear of any fun Charleston facts during your visits or research!

Photo Credit: http://cityofcharleston.blogs.wm.edu

Civil War Fashion

History Behind the Story #3: Civil War Era Fashion

The female lead in Southern Rain, Shannon Ravenel, is a very fashionable young woman. She was launched into society in Charleston, which was the largest city south of Philadelphia, and it was filled with extremely wealthy and cultured residents, where the marriage market was a bitterly-fought contest. So a girl’s gotta look the part! Shannon’s mother pushes her to make bold fashion choices which set her apart from the other girls hoping to snag a wealthy planter, and the Ravenels spare no expense on her wardrobe. Often, families such as Shannon’s would go as far as sending to Paris for cloths or even full gowns, and they would have been very sure that they were on the cusp of American fashion.

So what were the fashions? Hoop skirts, certainly– we all know about and are terrified by those. But there was a lot more to it, so let’s dive in!

First, I should note that the majority of women in the Victorian Era had only two or three dresses at any given time. However, wealthy women like Shannon would have changed dresses two or three times in one day alone. Women like Shannon and her mother would have had wardrobes full of gowns – day gowns, walking gowns, ballgowns, not to mention riding habits and mourning gowns.

So let’s start with underpants! These would have been called drawers and would have usually been white cotton or linen. Then we have the chemise, which is like a long nightgown that covers everything. After that, there would be garters on the thigh which hold up stockings (nothing but silk, dear), and then over the chemise there be the corset with whalebone boning, tightened with laces up the back or sometimes in the front. Then the hoops would have been attached by tying the top around the waist. What we typically think of is the wire-looking contraption that was made of whalebone or steel and collapses up or down and is covered with fabric petticoat. However, there were other options, including layering of voluminous petticoats (which is why ladies often say my skirts plural), as well as a crinoline, which might mean a cage crinoline like the traditional steel hoop skirt or might simply mean a really stiff fabric to give the dress structure. Then you would don the corset cover and voila! You’re ready to start getting dressed. (Unless you need to put on sleeve plumpers. Or a lace fichu. Or– this is exhausting.)

You would first don a morning dress, which was plain and was generally prim – buttoned up to the throat and perhaps featuring a print or just being plain. You would go up and shimmy that off if you had to step out to do some shopping or take a walk through an obliging field and put on instead a plainer, more sensible walking gown which had a matching fitted coat which ended halfway down the skirt and looks rather like a cute doctor’s coat. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget your parasol and hat. But wait! Your beau has called and would like to go riding with you (properly chaperoned, of course) and so you must run upstairs, strip down, and wrestle on your riding habit (these actually stay quite similar through the years with a fitted coat and long skirt to cover any accidental indecency caused by hoisting oneself over a side-saddle). Remember your hat, gloves, and riding whip. And if you are not too exhausted to make it to dinner or the ball, your evening dress will be of a more expensive material such as silk or satin and would generally be off the shoulders or almost so and have decorations such as lace, beads, flounces, artificial flowers, or even jewels. And don’t forget your shawl. And gloves. And jewelry. And hair décor. And reticule. And fan. And handkerchief. Do you have everything? With evening or ball gowns, you would wear slippers made of satin, velvet, or even crochet. And of course, if a near relative had died, all of this would be black for the appropriate time period.

Whew. On to color. Ladies were encouraged by popular magazines to engender harmony and nature and lalalala! So we see some wild colors like bright green and weird pinks, as well as bold patterns like stripes or plaids. But of course, we also see more traditional colors like creams and blues and reds. Shannon’s favorite color is a sort of emerald green because she knows perfectly well it is becoming with her rusty red hair.

Let’s take a break and talk fashion influences. First of all, ladies would have read fashion periodicals like Godey’s Lady’s Book, so American women were very much influenced by European fashion. There would be fashion plates which showed you the possibilities, and you can still find a lot of these in antique stores today! The perfect silhouette was the hourglass, with a tiny nipped in waist. The skirt reached its full breadth and bell shape right before the Civil War, and after that narrowed just slightly with an almost unnoticeable flattening in the front, which grew more pronounced as we get on toward the 1870’s. You would have been told that the wide pagoda sleeves were the most fashionable for morning and walking gowns and that a collar of a lighter fabric was also becoming. Also, there was also always this undercurrent influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites which encouraged medieval style like juliette sleeves. And there was Queen Victoria, who influenced fashion her whole life. There’s a lot going into the pot of stew here, isn’t there?

As soon as the Civil War kicked into gear, everything went military, which is a fashion I actually love. We see lovely double-rows of buttons marching down ladies’ bodices, structured shoulders, and military-style hats. We also see velvet patches on the shoulders or sleeves reminiscent of officers’ uniforms, as well as cuffs on the sleeves. Also, your winter coat would have had extremely wide sleeves and been reminiscent of an officer’s greatcoat. Gray seems to have been a very popular color for all of this.

Another way the war had its influence was in jewelry. The Victorians are known to be very sentimental, and their jewelry was no exception: you might carry the hair of a husband, beau, son, or brother in a ring or necklace if you were separated by the war or death. And of course, those items made the perfect accompaniment to your mourning wardrobe which, unfortunately, most women had to acquire over the course of the war.

Women were starting to flex their muscles as nurses, and if you were working in a hospital, more than likely you would have left off the impractical hoops and just would have worn a couple of petticoats, along with a white apron and white sleeve covers. And if you were a Southern woman cut off from Northern textile mills due to the blockade, your skirts, if you had new ones made, would have likely been a lot narrower because they simply didn’t have the fabric to spare. But for the most part, there was constant re-wearing.

Ladies’ fashion from the era is so intricate and fascinating that it would be easy to say blah, blah the men wore suits, but I’ll try to give a brief sketch. Basically, there were suits. But I have to say, they were really good suits. This is my favorite era for men’s fashion, actually. As long as you were tall and thin, you were destined to look elegant. Trousers were full length, often with a stripe down the side. Neckcloths were really wide and often tied into a floppy bow. Waistcoats were high to the chest but ended at the top of the hipbones.

Men had lots of wardrobe changes during the day, as well. Basically, there was the mid-length sack coat worn for business occasions, the morning coat for more formal day occasions, and the dark tail-coat and white cravat for evening wear. We all know about the top hat, but there were other hats, too, such as the bowler.

Okay, so that’s it for today, but there still a whole lot of information out there if you’re interested! Check out the sources below to learn more!

Sources:

Civil War Women’s Clothing, https://www.visit-gettysburg.com/civil-war-womens-clothing.html.

Monet, Delores, Women’s Clothing of the South in the American Civil War, https://bellatory.com/fashion-industry/WomensClothingoftheSouthintheAmericanCivilWar.
Image Credit: The Smithsonian Institution, http://www.civilwar.si.edu/life_fashionplate.html.

The Enslaved People of the Lowcountry

History Behind the Story #2: Enslaved People of the Lowcountry

If you’ve read Southern Rain, you met various characters who are enslaved, such as Shannon’s maid, Phoebe, who travels with her into the North and gains her freedom. Phoebe is one of my favorite characters from the series because of her strength, and I think, in a lot of ways, she is what Shannon wishes she could be.

A lot of times we tend to think of the enslaved in terms of the work they were forced to do since their living conditions were so bad. And yet, they were living, breathing people who got up in the morning, dealt with the frustrations that arise during the day, loved, lost, mourned, experienced great hardship, practiced religion, and built communities. There is a lot of rich and truly unique history to be explored with the enslaved of the Lowcountry.  So let’s delve in!

First, let’s talk ancestry.  In the early days of the colonial period, most who were captured and brought to the Lowcountry were from Kongo and Angola, which are two countries in central Africa on the western side bordering the Atlantic. Later, many were from just north of there on the Windward Coast in Senegambia and Sierra Leone. [1]

The climate was actually very similar to the Lowcountry’s in that part of Africa, which meant one key thing: rice. Long before it was grown in the Lowcountry, rice was king in West Africa, and those who grew it in Africa were experts in the tricky business of cultivating and keeping alive rice plants. This also meant that people from this region were targeted for capture since they would command a huge price in the Charleston Harbor.

So you know what happens. People were ripped from their families, tribes, and communities and stowed aboard ships where many died before they ever saw America. Conditions were hideous on the ships, and those captured were also susceptible to new diseases. If you made it to America, you were then quarantined on Sullivan’s Island (one of the Sea Islands) for a period before being brought into Charleston. During the peak period of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade (1783-1808), about 100,000 people from West African countries would be brought to Gadsden’s Wharf. Once there, they were kept in holding places, sometimes for months, which led to mass death. If you made it long enough to be sold, you might become a a domestic servant for Charleston homes, but the large majority would be sent to the rice fields.

There is quite a bit of evidence that the newly enslaved introduced many of the farming techniques key to the survival of rice culture in the Lowcountry.  Raising rice in the tidal regions required a great deal of engineering – things like levees, floodgates, drains, and cypress logs or “trunks” used to regulate the water’s flow.  The early red rice grown in the colonial Lowcountry is thought to be an African variety as well.[2]

While rice was dominant, indigo (another crop historically grown in Africa) was also introduced. And of course, ultimately there was cotton, still famously known as “Sea Island Cotton.”  So the type of work you would be doing on a daily basis was just luck of the draw depending on where you were born or bought. And rice seemed to be pretty much the worst plant to be forced to grow.  You would stand immersed in water up to the waist all day long, extremely hot on top and wet on the bottom, which led to various health problems. The work was extremely grueling, and life carried with it all of the instabilities that go along with slavery – the possibility of your children being sold, vulnerability to your owner, the possibility of harsh physical discipline, among others.

One day in my Civil War class, one of the students asked the professor which he would rather be – a house servant, or a field worker.  I kind of thought that was a no-brainer – no question the life of a house servant had to be more sheltered than that image we have of slaves in a hot field with an overseer watching closely.  But his answer surprised me: he drew a contrast in slave life for those in places like Tennessee and Virginia in the Upper South, where many slaves were domestic servants or at least in close contact with the owners on a daily basis, and those in places like Mississippi, Louisiana, and the Lowcountry, where you were much likely to be working in the fields with dozens, if not hundreds, of others.  He said that the latter actually found more mental freedom because they developed communities with other slaves, outside of and separate from their owners.  There was a bit more of a chance you could slip under the radar, outside of the notice of your owner.  And that was especially true of the Lowcountry, where often the Sea Island plantations weren’t traditional plantations, like you would think of in popular literature.  The master and mistress might stay there only a few weeks out of the year, if at all.  The plantations were the cash cow, but the owners tended to pass most of their time in fashionable cities like Savannah and Charleston, leaving the care of their lands and slaves to overseers.  Hence, Gullah Geechee culture arose.

Living so isolated from European/Western culture led to a very unique situation. You had people from various countries in Africa who all brought different languages and cultures with them, as well as some limited influences of the English language and American customs. Eventually, this led to a very unique language called Gullah (or Geechee in Georgia), which is still a living language today. Find that hard to believe? U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas spoke Gullah as his first language, and my sister is fortunate enough to have a professor who speaks Gullah. According to her, it’s a very flowing, lilting language which is not close enough to English that you can just follow along if you don’t know Gullah.

The Gullah-Geechee people formed kin networks, culture, and religious practices. It’s important to remember just how many enslaved people populated the region.  Charleston was the most popular port of disembarkation in all of North America during the North-Atlantic slave trade, which produced an African majority early on that persisted up until the time we see Shannon’s family with a lot to lose, worried, as war begins to look more likely in Southern Rain.  They were simply outnumbered, sometimes by as much as nine enslaved to every free person, which led to extreme hysteria about what could happen if the enslaved were freed.

It’s hard to talk about it in these terms, but to owners like Shannon’s family, the majority of your wealth could be caught up in your slaves, which gave strong pecuniary motives to hotly contest any argument, whether it be financial, political, or moral, for abolition. Perhaps owners in the Lowcountry were more worried than others, too, because the enslaved of that region had never really accepted the terms of chattel slavery but had instead grown up in a culture separate from their owners, which had to have undercut the owners’ power to some extent. You’ll notice in Southern Rain that Shannon is acquainted with the house slaves, on close but still unequal terms with a few of them, and entirely unacquainted with her father’s field slaves. She would probably be hard-pressed to recognize any of them, and this was not uncommon for the region.  Many of the field workers wouldn’t have spoken English, and the Ravenels only spent the late autumn until December on their plantation before going back to Charleston to participate in the social season and then to escape the summer illnesses which often festered in the swampy regions just outside of Charleston.[3]  And in any event, the life of a young twenty-year-old daughter of a master was as different from that of a twenty-year-old enslaved woman as could possibly be imagined.  Except that they were both twenty-year-old women with human emotions, some of which had to have been similar, which is rather interesting to explore with Shannon and Phoebe, two women of roughly the same age who go north together into a different world.

One last thought, which I hope isn’t too much of a spoiler for the second book: what becomes of the Sea Island slaves during and after the Civil War? Something really unique, actually.  Although Charleston was impenetrable to the Union until the very last days of the war, the Sea Islands were abandoned fairly early on by the owners, who feared invasion by U.S. Naval forces, who were squeezing tighter every day with the blockade of the South.  Union forces began overrunning the Sea Islands as early as 1861, which is years earlier than most slaves experienced freedom.  Many Gullah went on to serve in the Union army, but some stayed on the plantations in an experiment in which former slaves continued to farm the land and earn their own money.  As many as 195 plantations were involved in the experiment.  Abolitionists, many from the North, began to pour in to establish schools.  President Andrew Johnson did return most of the land to the original owners after the war, but many Gullah continued to live in relative isolation in the area. When my family and I visited McLeod Plantation in the Sea Islands, we learned that there were ancestors of Gullah slaves living on the plantation until the 1990’s. Similarly, at Magnolia Plantation on the Ashley River, we learned that there are ancestors still living and working there to this day.

I could write for days about the rich culture of the Gullah Geechee – their food, craftsmanship, dwellings, and family life.  If you would like to learn more, check out some of the sources below, especially the National Park Service’s page on African American Heritage and Ethnography. Let me know if you have any questions on the life of the enslaved as you read Southern Rain!

[1] There were many Indian tribes populating the Lowcountry upon contact, which were ultimately mostly extinguished due to disease and war, but many were also taken as slaves. There was intermarrying between those of African and Native American ancestry, so there was a very nuanced heritage at play, which contributed to the unique blending of cultures in the region.

[2] Ultimately, the go-to rice plant was the famous “Carolina Gold” variety.

[3] The Sea Islands were less likely to experience the harsh effects of the “sickly season” than the swampy regions around the Ashley and Santee Rivers due to a slightly more salubrious climate.

Sources:

Slavery in the Lowcountry, https://iaamuseum.org/history/slavery-in-charleston-and-the-lowcountry/.

African Passages, Lowcountry Adaptations, https://ldhi.library.cofc.edu/.

Africans in the Lowcountry, https://www.nps.gov/ethnography/aah/aaheritage/lowCountryA.htm.

Gullah History, http://www.beaufortsc.org/guides/gullah-history/.

Image Credit: Slavery in the Lowcountry, https://benjaminschwarz.org/1998/03/22/slavery-in-the-low-country/.

French Huguenots in South Carolina

History Behind the Story #1: French Huguenots in South Carolina

In celebration of the recent release of Southern Rain, I announced that I would be doing a series on the History Behind the Story.  Today, I bring you the first in the series: a look at French Huguenots in South Carolina!

It was very subtle in Southern Rain, but there were a few indications of the heritage I chose for the lead family, the Ravenels. I was surprised during my research of the Charleston aristocracy of the 19th Century to find that a huge proportion of them were descended from French Huguenots.  That was a bit of a head-scratcher: how did a people go from being oppressed, persecuted, and run out of their country to being at the very top of the food chain and oppressing others in just a few generations?  But first, what is a Huguenot?

Think 16th and 17th Century France.  A little event called the Protestant Reformation was happening after the bombshell dropped by Martin Luther. The ideas that were being espoused were things like personal faith rather than church intervention and that scripture alone was authoritative.  Obviously, the desire to reform the Catholic Church stirred up a lot of tension and threatened the power structure of Europe.

It’s important to remember that, while they were religious minorities, most Huguenots in France still had a great deal of wealth and power. The very term “Huguenot” is ethnoreligious and cannot be translated purely into the word “Protestant.” The Protestants in France, while largely ethnically similar to the Catholics, became almost a separate ethnic group, but one in which many of the members had aristocratic ancestries similar to the noble Catholic families.

In certain areas, tensions ran high, forcing the Huguenots to give up their faith or flee France as refugees.  A war was begun with the Massacre at Vassy, in which royal troops ambushed and murdered or injured hundreds of Huguenots in their place of worship.  Political intrigue and death ensued. Mass slaughters of Huguenots were enacted throughout France.

Happily, this conflict ended in the Edict of Nantes, which granted a great deal of concessions to the Protestants. For a time, there was peace (sort of). The peace was ruptured utterly by the Edict’s revocation by Louis XIV (The Sun King), which resulted in cultural or literal genocide of Huguenots, either by forced conversions, executions, or what many saw as no choice but to flee.

Do I see Charleston in the future of many of the Huguenots?  Yes!  Now, Huguenots were fleeing all over the world by hundreds of thousands, so the Lowcountry was just one refuge.  But it was a refuge that ultimately stuck for those who did immigrate to the area. A Huguenot Church was quickly established there and is in operation to this day!

The Huguenots settled throughout the Lowcountry near Charleston along the Ashley and Santee Rivers and near the Sea Islands. Anne LeClercq says of those who settled there, “The French Huguenot had come to Upper Saint John’s after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and found in the somber beauty of the Santee Swamp, with its forest walls of oak and cypress, an area inhabited only by wild animals and widely separated villages of Santee Indians.”[1]  They were no longer oppressed.  In fact, they thrived.

Those who settled the area were either of elite heritage or were highly skilled artisans and tradesmen. They quickly assimilated, often intermarrying with other settlers, and were very prosperous because of a mixture of hard work and industry, a background of knowledge of what it took to amass power and wealth, and a dogged determination to make something of the second chance they had been given.  In short, while the elite in Charleston were made up of families from all over Europe, the Huguenots quickly became one of the largest groups that made up the elites.  LeClercq names a few of the family names: “Porchers, Gaillards, Mazycks, Palmers, Ravenels, Cordeses, Marions, Dwights, and Gourdins.”[2]  I chose the surname Ravenel from a list of French Huguenot names since I wanted the central family to be of that heritage. The way I have heard it pronounced in Charleston in present day is Ravv-uh-nell, with a slight emphasis on the first syllable.

The Huguenot assimilated in another way, too: they affiliated with larger Protestant denominations and, in a generation or two, largely lost their Huguenot ties. You’ll notice when you read Southern Rain that the historical Ravenels are Presbyterian. You might be wondering about that, since that denomination is largely associated with Scotland, but that was one of the churches into which the Huguenots poured over in America. For one, they had the same roots (Presbyterianism also grew out of the Reformation), and they also maintained similar beliefs.

And what about the fact that the Huguenot and their descendants became some of the largest slaveholders in the South?  One would almost guess, based on the Huguenots’ oppression and commitment to faith, that they might have been friends of abolition, and perhaps some were. But in large part, they were not. The amassing of wealth and aristocracy in South Carolina happened quickly, but its full fruition did occur over the course of several generations. For instance, from the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 to 1859 when we see the height of the Ravenels’ wealth, five or six generations have passed, and the descendants were probably very similar in their beliefs to the majority of South Carolinians of European descent.  And yet, that isn’t to say that slaves weren’t owned by those of Huguenot heritage generations before the Civil War, or even by that first generation.  While one can’t say with certainty what initiated the slaveholding status of Huguenots, Nancy Maurer sees it as another evidence of the assimilation necessary to achieve wealth and status.[3]  And that may be largely true, since it quickly became obvious that the most successful occupation in the Lowcountry was that of planter.  By the third generation, nearly all South Carolinians of French heritage (and South Carolinians in general) were slaveowners.[4]  We’ll talk about the enslaved people of the Lowcountry in the next article, including their heritage and daily lives.

Many sources seem to indicate that the Huguenots assimilated so effectively that they lost all cultural identity as French and all cohesiveness as an immigrant group.  I don’t find that to be true. You have only to visit Charleston to find French influences in everything from architecture to naming, and especially in its unique and wonderful cuisine.

I’ll leave you with a bit of a cliffhanger! You’ll notice that in Southern Rain, Frederick Ravenel, who is the ancestor of the modern Ravenels, says with all of the political incorrectness of his era, “I wouldn’t want Catholic children,” and seems to hold to that determination throughout.  Yet, we know that the modern Ravenels are, in fact, Catholic. Hmm…how did that happen? Guess you’ll have to read the second book in the Torn Asunder Series to find out! 😊

[1] LeClercq, Anne Sinkler Whaley, An Antebellum Plantation Household (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006), pp. x.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Maurer, Nancy, The Evolution of French Identity: A Study of the Huguenots in South Carolina, 1680-1740 (2006), pp. 12.

[4] Ibid, 66.

Sources:

Reformation (2019), https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation.

Huguenot History, https://www.huguenotsociety.org/heritage/history/.

LeClercq, Anne Sinkler Whaley, An Antebellum Plantation Household (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2006).

Maurer, Nancy, The Evolution of French Identity: A Study of the Huguenots in South Carolina, 1680-1740 (2006).

Protestant Immigration to Louisiana, https://www.britannica.com/event/Reformation.

Image Credit:

Carolina, The French Huguenots, https://www.carolana.com/Carolina/Settlement/french_huguenot_settlers.html.

*P.S. I tried to include both scholarly and more readable sources. I have many more.  If you would like them, just ask, and I’ll get the links to you!

History Behind the Story Series

To celebrate the release of Southern Rain tomorrow, I am launching a series of fun articles dealing with the history behind the story.  I thought it might be fun to look at some the circumstances that molded the plot lines for the book and give you an opportunity to ask any historical questions you might have.  Right now, I’ll give the list of topics I’m planning to cover.  Let me know if there’s a topic you would like to see that isn’t mentioned, and I’ll cover it, too!

  1. French Huguenots in South Carolina
  2. Enslaved People of the Lowcountry
  3. Fashion on the Brink of the Civil War
  4. Societal Rules and Quirky Charleston Customs
  5. Kissing Cousins – Did People Really Marry Their First Cousins?
  6. A Break-down in Civilities – Rhetoric Before the War
  7. The Congregationalist Church in New England
  8. Abolition in New England
  9. The Navy Before the Civil War
  10. Rose O’Neal Greenhow