Southern Road Trip #1: Virginia

Most Decembers, my mom, sister, sister-in-law, and I go on girls’ trips right after Christmas and return home on New Year’s Eve. In honor of Travel Tuesday, I thought it would be fun to tell you about our travel destinations so far and tell you a little about what we have done on our Southern Road Trips! The first road trip we took is detailed below, and I will try to post about each of the rest in succeeding weeks!

Stop #1: Virginia (December 2013)

In 2013, I was wanting to look at a couple of the law schools to which I had been accepted. My girls were up for a road trip, and thus the December trips were born. Right from the beginning, the trips were heavy on history. Our first stop was in Lexington, Virginia, where I had been accepted at Washington and Lee. Very friendly people! Lovely campus! Also, while we were there, we did a drive-by of VMI. Very impressive fortress! The town of Lexington was cute, and, of course, packed with history. Stonewall Jackson once taught at VMI and was very much a part of the Lexington community, and Robert E. Lee served as the president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee University) after the Civil War. Just be cautious about the stop lights! They are not above the car but are instead on the sidewalks beside you. We blew through about three of them before realizing they even existed.

From there, we drove to Charlottesville, where we had supper at a fabulous Mexican restaurant called Plaza Azteca. My sister-in-law spoke fabulous Spanish with the waiter, a gentleman who corrected me on my own Spanish and made exemplary guacamole at our table. Of course, the destination was Monticello. You park, and they take you in fancy little buses up Jefferson’s hill. The tour of the house and grounds is awe-inspiring. Monticello is actually a World Heritage Site now, and it’s easy to see why. As my mom said, “You can really feel Jefferson’s presence here.” Monticello was and is a very loved house. There is also a new exhibition on the Hemingses of Monticello, which was insightful. The staff operates like a well-oiled machine, and the gift shop is not to be disdained. I actually ordered a colonial-style wreath from them this Christmas, and it arrived all the way from Virginia in perfect condition.

Then we went just around the river bend to Michie Tavern, which is a revelation in and of itself. It was originally a tavern and inn, which continued in operation until around the time of the Civil War. It opened as a museum in 1928. Today, you walk up to the big wooden door, knock, and a person in period-appropriate attire comes and welcomes you in. Then you get in line and are given a trencher, which more costumed interpreters fill with typical Southern fare. Our favorite menu item is what we call “Jefferson’s tomatoes,” although we cannot establish whether he actually ever had the recipe. Basically, they’re stewed tomatoes with biscuits crumbled in and a dash of sugar added. Heavenly. You then go out into the tavern dining room, which is appropriately dimly lit, and you are served drinks from metal mugs. It is delightful and delicious.

From there, it was on to Richmond! Rain was pouring down, and our time was limited, so we only got to do two things. We drove down Monument Avenue, lined with mansions and monuments, which you have to do if you go to Richmond. We also went to Maymont, which is a Victorian estate. This is like touring Biltmore Estate in North Carolina or some of the cottages in Newport, Rhode Island. It is the same era, and every bit as fancy. The family story is fascinating, as are their antiques. The house and estate is beautifully preserved. It was very crowded the day we toured, and a little chilly, so I suggest that if you have to wait for your tour under similar circumstances, do not sacrifice your place in the gift shop (they will tell you when they are at capacity). Otherwise, absolutely get outside and explore the grounds, which are still intact with gardens, a carriage house, an arboretum, and some of the buildings used while it was a working estate. The tour is free, but they love donations.

Then we went on to Charles City County, a still-very-remote and untouched area where lots of historical movies are filmed. The destination was Shirley Plantation. However, my mom saw a sign for Berkeley Plantation and made a rapid left turn. We then proceeded down a driveway with no gravel while it continued to pour rain, wondering whether we would ever get out. My mom, however, was quite determined, and we made it. Berkeley was the home of the Harrisons of Virginia (as in Benjamin, William Henry, etc.). While there, we had an excellent tour from a man in an 18th Century waistcoat and tights, admired the odd pink color of the walls, and learned that the Harrison men were very attractive, or at least very photogenic in portraits. Taps was also composed and first played there, to top it off, while the Union Army was encamped there. Talk about worlds colliding!

Then we went to Shirley Plantations, which is *ohmygosh* FABULOUS. First of all, there was a cat in the gift shop called Tuna. How do you top that? Established in 1613, Shirley claims the title as the oldest farm in America and is still owned and operated by descendants today. Maybe it’s just the structure and architecture of the house that I love so much, or maybe it was the deeply colonial feeling of it when you walk in… Either way, it resonates!

And then, our final destination was Williamsburg. Our main point in going there was to see William and Mary, which I was considering attending. Beautiful campus! Amazing setting! We didn’t have time to tour Colonial Williamsburg (do you see a Part 2 coming soon? ), but we did drive around the stunning town and had a great supper at a swanky seafood place which was a little over our budget. But our waitress was really nice and told us about her home in Czechia, which was really memorable. We also went to the great university bookstore on campus and found a Scottish store with accessories in the crests and tartans of the original clans from Scotland (go Clan Colquhoun!). Sadly, the latter was closed, so we made plans to return.  And then…the fourteen-hour drive home!

Next time: Asheville, North Carolina!

The Congregationalist Church in New England

History Behind the Story #7: The Congregationalist Church in New England

Who were they? The Puritans. What was their creed? To make themselves The City Upon a Hill.

As a Southern girl, I was largely unacquainted with the Congregational/Congregationalist Church, for most of my life until learning about it in a Religious Studies class during college. And of course, once someone clued me in that the older name for the church was “Puritan,” the pieces fell into place. According to Sara Georgini, who authored Household Gods: The Religious Lives of the Adams Family, Puritans turned into Congregationalists by the 18th Century, and there was a bend toward Unitarianism among the more liberal wing by the 19th Century, although Congregationalism remained its own strain.

So I had two denominational[1] choices from which to choose (Unitarianism or Congregationalism) when carving out the background of my historical protagonist, John Thomas Haley. John and Abigail Adams, who are (fictional, of course!) ancestors of John Thomas, were Unitarians. Ultimately, I chose the Congregationalist wing because, having been raised in churches that believe in a Trinity, I didn’t want to misrepresent the Unitarians, who did not quite believe in a traditional Trinity.

This strain of Protestantism today is considered one of the more liberal churches in America, so, at first, the connection back to the Puritans was odd for me, until I really thought about it and realized that the Puritans have always been “progressive” during their eras throughout the generations. From breaking away from the Church of England to the abolition movement during the Civil War, it seems like you can always trace New England’s most famous voices back to a Puritan heritage.

So, how did they get their start in New England? Basically, the Puritans wanted to purify the practices of both the Catholic Church and The Church of England during the 16th and 17th Century. They were part of the Reformation movement that sought greater purity within the church. Their beliefs were “codified” in the Savoy Declaration in 1658, with the full title of: A Declaration of the Faith and Order owned and practiced in the Congregational Churches in England. For a more thorough look into the Reformation movement and the beliefs and ideas swirling around Europe during the Martin Luther era, see my post entitled History Behind the Story #1: French Huguenots in South Carolina.

The Puritans were dissenters from the Church of England and ended up having to worship on the down-low because dissenting was Not Allowed. Also, Puritans in Holland were being persecuted. Hence, the Mayflower. You’ve all heard of the Mayflower, I presume. English and Dutch Puritans made up a big chunk of the people who sailed for the colonies and eventually landed at Plymouth Rock, Massachusetts after trying to land initially in Virginia. And it’s crazy to think of that moment, of the serendipity of events, and the impact they would have 250 years later during the American Civil War. But more on that next week!

The Mayflower Compact was signed before they disembarked, and if you read the text of it, it shows already these New Englanders’ commitment to order, peace, democracy, and religion. It feels like you could almost draw a straight line in history from the Mayflower Compact to the Massachusetts Colony’s extreme chafing under British dominion in the days leading up to the Revolutionary War.

Now, keep in mind that these “Pilgrims” were a particularly devout strain of Puritans called “Separatists,” who believed that they could not worship or find full expression for their beliefs by reforming any other church but needed to be a separate body from any existing church. Each local church in New England ruled itself and was not answerable to a higher denominational structure. However, Congregationalism became the “state church” in the colonies where Puritans predominated, in which taxpayers supported ministers and only church members could vote in elections.[2] This led to some pretty restrictive practices since authority can so easily be abused. And, of course, this kind of compulsory society was unsustainable just a generation or two out.

Luckily for the Congregationalists, though, was the emergence of the First Great Awakening. You all remember “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?” Yeah, I bet you do! (*Shudders*) Jonathan Edwards was a Congregational minister. While ensuring the continuance of the Congregationalists, the First Great Awakening did lead to a split between the “Old Lights” and “New Lights” of the Church, but the depths of that chasm are beyond the scope of this post.

Not surprisingly, most Congregationalists sided with the Patriots during the American Revolution. I’ve noticed a tendency to confuse the Congregationalists with the Quakers, who were pacifists. However, Congregationalists were not pacifists and fought in the Revolution. (This was why I could craft the storyline of John Thomas building a career in the Navy later on in the antebellum period, and have his family be very much behind that career.)

Right from the beginning, Congregationalists were dedicated to education. They founded Harvard very quickly after landing in the colonies, and Yale was very much supported by the Congregational Church. Both seem to have placed an emphasis on training pastors and building a literate ministry in the early years. In order to give a nod to John Thomas’s Puritan roots, I had John Thomas’s brother-in-law, Jonathan, attend Harvard before entering the ministry.

In addition to higher education, there was an emphasis placed on the education of children. While reading David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, I was struck by the fact that one of John Adams’s first jobs while he was still a bachelor was teaching at a co-ed school. He noted that one of his sharpest pupils was a little girl. That admission alone would have been revolutionary in most places. And then, fast-forward a hundred years, and we see New Englanders pouring into the South after the Civil War to found schools for former slaves– men, women, and children. They had a strong commitment to the ideal that education was necessary both for advancement in the secular world and as Christians.

So, who were some famous New Englanders with Puritan roots? To name just a few:
-Louisa May Alcott (You may know that she was actually raised as a Transcendentalist, a movement which grew out of the Unitarian movement.)
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
-Emily Dickinson
-Harriet Beecher Stowe
-Henry Ward Beecher

Something that turned out to be really neat was that, while Shannon’s Huguenot roots which turned into Presbyterianism and John Thomas’s Puritan roots which turned into Congregationalism felt poles apart, they both arose out of Reformation Era movements.[3] Therefore, while their ancestors came from different countries and sects, both had a history of rebellion, of familial persecution, of commitment to faith, and of an unwavering confidence of beliefs. Likely the foundation for both attraction and turmoil!

Stop by next time for a look at how these roots and principles led to one of the strongest abolitionist movements in the world!

Image Credit: https://www.historicaltheology.org.

[1] I am using the term “denominational” in a way the Congregationalists probably wouldn’t have themselves. Rather, they saw each church as independent and autonomous from larger denominational ties.

[2] The Congregationalist Church wasn’t disestablished as the official church of Connecticut until 1818, of New Hampshire until 1819, and of Massachusetts until 1820! The Congregationalist Church in Massachusetts still received state funding until 1833, when, after the shift toward Unitarianism, the state constitution was amended to eliminate church taxes.

[3] There was even a Congregational-Presbyterian Union in the early 1800’s in which churches could hire pastors from either denomination, joint committees of Congregationalists and Presbyterians were formed, and there were even colleges born out of the union. This was largely due to the fact that in lesser-populated areas, it was difficult to get numbers or ministers for either denomination. Of course, the Union broke down due to theological and ideological divides, a major one being slavery.

Whoops!

Public Service Announcement: Error in Southern Rain!

A little while back, a reader brought it to my attention that there is an erroneous line in Southern Rain. The line reads, “Cervantes from the original Greek.” As many of you know, Cervantes wrote in Spanish, not in Greek. Some of you may have even read his novel, Don Quixote, which is one of the most translated books in the world.  We’re not sure how Cervantes weaseled his way into Southern Rain. We only know that he would be highly offended.   So we are tipping our (historically appropriate) hats to Miguel de Cervantes, and most humbly begging his pardon. The error has been corrected for future prints of Southern Rain.

Travel Tuesday: ROME!!

I would like to thank my sister, Hannah, for graciously agreeing to do this guest post following her study abroad trip.  Hannah, I cede the floor to you!

Ah, Rome. I can’t think of a city packed with more religious magnitude or culture. My study abroad trip consisted of deep historical research ranging from four hundred years pre-Christ to World War II. I am perfectly aware that this sounds impossible to accomplish in ten days, but, with a good pair of boots, my feet naturally led me to the ancient wonders all around. Shots of espresso didn’t hurt, either. The uneven cobblestones and massive hills presented me with layer after layer of the ancient world, and along with that, of course, followed much food exploration and failed attempts at navigation. There will always be too much to do and see in Rome, so hit the sites that are most poignant to you. You can do the other stuff the next time you go. Hopefully this blog post will help you on your own pilgrimage to Rome.

First, I will help you out on all things food (the most important thing, right?) If you’re a big breakfast person, I would suggest finding a café that advertises “American Breakfast”. And don’t worry about finding a café that suits you. Tables and cute tablecloths are outside under awnings, catching your eye. If that doesn’t work, each restaurant and café has a host who invites you as you pass to join them for a meal, telling you what is on the menu. Ignoring them isn’t an option, and sometimes listening pays off. Most cafés are open for breakfast, but they really only serves espresso and lunch items. Each café will be packed around 9 a.m. with Romans ready to have their caffeine fix before work, and after quickly downing it while standing at the counters, they leave having had no food. My American friends were continually appalled by this. I’m not a big breakfast person either, but the food I did order was much different. The pancakes came with marzipan, scrambled eggs were flatter and fried, and the bacon was a big piece of the best ham you’ve ever eaten.

I found that as I reverted to the things I knew while ordering lunch or dinner, I kept looking for Olive Garden menu items. I did this because sometimes the language barrier was pretty intense, especially since I opted for the less touristy restaurants in search of more authentic Italian food. The pasta is much thicker, the options at each restaurant more limited, and changeable per day, and the quality of the food is so much better. With that being said, I found that sticking with the tomato-based stuff was the safer option for tourists, mostly because the names of the dishes were more familiar. Anything with an olive oil base was definitely the way to go, if you’re feeling riskier, especially with breads. All the ingredients are so fresh, and your taste buds will thank you. Don’t forget to order seafood, too, because the daily catches are usually cheaper and much tastier. Bruschetta drizzled with olive oil is a must, as is any pasta with mushrooms. House wines will be poured regardless of if you order any, and water is very expensive. Oh! and the gelato is a great pick-me-up when you get a little tired from touring. I found that three gelatos a day kept the doctor away.

On my first night in Rome, I ambled around the Forum and stumbled on a beautiful cathedral (this isn’t difficult to do; I literally stopped counting the basilicas midway through the week). I quickly realized I had entered a Mass service, and I decided to stay, even though I am not Catholic. Do yourself a favor when you go to Rome and sit through a service. Growing up, my home church was very simple, but pretty, so I wondered why so much money was put into architecture and objects. In the back of my mind, I knew such beauty made me feel the sacredness of the space and the importance of worship. The next day I was fortunate enough to have tours of St. John Lateran, Santa Maria Maggiore, and St. Paul’s (three of five of the major basilicas in Rome!) by a Dominican Nun. She explained that beauty and ornateness in Cathedrals are meant to reflect the beauty and complexities of our God. Teary-eyed, I viewed the grandeur all around me through different lenses. This made my experience at St. Peter’s much more meaningful. My professor secured a behind-the-scenes tour of what lies beneath, circa 200 CE. It took my breath away, both literally and figuratively. There was very little air underground, and through near-suffocation, the nerdy historian and religious scholar within won out and was able to see Peter’s tomb, along with the perfectly preserved Roman city of the first, second, and third centuries. Needless to say, I completely freaked out. There was a little moment at St. Peter’s when everyone in my group was convinced we saw the Pope. Hey, it was a man in white walking toward the altar, surrounding by Swiss Guards. I’m sure he was some significant figure in the Church, but what else was my sleep-deprived brain supposed to think? If anyone asks, I saw the Pope at St. Peter’s.

The ceilings were my favorite thing in each basilica. Even though you feel like you’re in sensory overload, remember to look at your feet, too. Sometimes you find little treasures like the gold bricks in the Jewish ghetto pictured below. Placed outside of homes, each brick has the identification of the Jews who were pulled from their Roman houses and later killed during World War II. And though the city is filled with sad histories, the presence of God, and knowing the fight for Him through history, will give you chills. It was funny how randomly I would look up and find another breathtaking view, and I would become overwhelmed by the history of the city. And surprisingly, it is pretty easy to navigate. I tried to keep the Colosseum, the Forum, or the Capitoline Hill in mind to keep myself from getting too lost. The great thing is that you will get lost, if you tour by foot like me. I stumbled on the Via dei Coronari trying to find the villa my group stayed at, and, to my wonderful surprise, I found a Renaissance street lined with white lights, sweet cafés in the Roma style you see in Audrey Hepburn movies, artists painting the sites around them, acoustic musicians, and so much shopping. I’m talking handmaid ties, silk scarves, Italian leather, furs, vintage items, antique stores, and everything else your heart could desire but your luggage doesn’t have space for.

One last suggestion. When you go to Rome, don’t take too many pictures of the amazing architectural things around you. You can find better ones online, and you will want to experience Rome rather than seeing it through your camera. But do try to get pictures of you and the people with you in front of those amazing things. Castel Sant’Angelo is the best place to take photos with the city behind you! 😉

Ciao!

 

Review: Anne with an E

Review: Anne with an E

I should first confess that I am not a dedicated Anne of Green Gables groupie. I’ve never seen any of the adaptations before Netflix’s Anne with an E, and I haven’t read all of the books. I did read the first book when I was in Sixth Grade, but, unfortunately, its brilliance and subtleties were lost on me at that age. I am, however, quite familiar with the story, have a loose understanding of how the plot plays out, and have listened to The History Chicks Podcast episode on L.M. Montgomery (so that makes me an expert!). Okay, so that lets you know where I, a fairly neutral party, stand. (Note, I am going to give an honest critique, but keep reading, because I have lots of good things to say, too!)

I love any historical drama, so when Anne with an E popped up, I tried it, and I have since watched all three seasons. I know enough about the storyline to know that even the first season strayed from the books, but that didn’t bother me because it felt true to the spirit of them. I didn’t mind that the writers read between the lines and gave new dimensions to the story as long as they stayed grounded in the historical period and character of the books’ inspiration. For example, dealing with the trauma of being an orphan was great, and dealing with the prejudice Anne encountered as an orphan was really moving.

However, as we continued into the second season, we strayed from tackling the injustices of the historical era to using Anne with an E as a vehicle for the writer’s take on social/political issues of today. This is not a commentary on the issues that the writers chose, since this blog is strictly neutral on political matters. My concern, in any historical piece, whether it be film or literature, is accuracy, and accuracy becomes difficult to achieve when you place modern beliefs and mores on any historical era. You are playing with fire if you use a period drama for modern political purposes, especially if you are using someone else’s work. A writer wishing to forward his or her own causes (not an unworthy goal) should simply craft his or her own story, and not use the fame of a beloved classic as a vehicle for that goal. The parts where the writers strayed the most were, not surprisingly, the weakest segments because the stories didn’t resonate with historical truth. I have always found this to be the case in any historical book or film which paints with a modern brush. I should add that this wasn’t a mistake on the part of authors unacquainted with the historical era – they made this choice deliberately, as evidenced in the line of the opening song which says, “You’re ahead by a century!” So I am absolutely not accusing the writers of carelessness, just of using tactics which harmed the integrity of the show. Not only were current events tackled, but this was done in a heavy-handed way, which is a personal dislike of mine. I believe subtlety always wins the day.

There were so many times when I almost turned the T.V. off and said, “Done!” because historical accuracy is a make-or-break subject for me, and I tend to overlook a thousand good qualities if accuracy is not present. But I never could quite do that, because when the show shined, it really shined. Again, not surprisingly, this happened when it stayed true to the era and story. The absolute strength of the show was in the scenes with Anne and her friends, as they discover the wonders of becoming adults. Those parts rang so true and brought back so many happy memories. I absolutely loved watching those rites of passage into womanhood. It was beautifully nostalgic.

Anne (Amybeth McNulty) was a phenomenal actress. In fact, everyone was phenomenal. Some real standouts, though, were Marilla (Geraldine James), Matthew (R.H. Thomson), and Diana (Dalila Bela), who has my vote for Melanie if there is ever a remake of Gone with the Wind. But I could honestly go on and on about the cast. I loved the portrayal of Gilbert by Lucas Jade Zumann. Corinne Koslo’s portrayal of the snarky Rachel Lynde went a long way towards keeping the show grounded in the era. And Kyla Matthews, who plays Ruby Gillis, is also one to watch. You felt safe in the actors’ hands.

Not to be overlooked, also, were the costumes, which were beautiful (I was especially impressed with the men’s shirts this season, oddly enough!), and the scenery, which makes you kind of feel you are on vacation. The filming and production level were top notch.

And my thoughts on Season 3? More of the same: the straying from the spirit of Anne of Green Gables and the realities of the time period was overwhelming at first. Also, Anne became increasingly, screechingly militant, and I almost fell out with her when she screamed at Matthew (The Sweetest Person Ever) simply because he didn’t agree with her, which is what she did to anyone who didn’t immediately jump on board with her 21st Century beliefs. But then I reached Episode 5, which returned to the heart of the show: Anne and her friends as they come of age, and I loved it. And finally, as I watched Episode 10 (the final episode), and it reached its climax at the end, my heart soared, and I haven’t seen such good television since Matthew’s proposal to Mary in Downton Abbey (cue Downton music). It was absolutely fantastic! On the whole, I’m sorry to say goodbye to Anne with an E!

P.S. I really liked that the writers were interested in the historical fact that a lot of Indians/Native Americans/First Nations (Canada) experienced the unspeakable grief of having their children taken from them and put in Western schools, without their consent, in an attempt by the governments, to put it bluntly, to commit cultural genocide. I do not think this was actually covered in the original books, and I would submit that the story would have been more powerful in a different show (as it seemed to be a tack-on here), but I won’t complain because I think this is a part of history of which not many people are aware.

Until next time, Kindred Spirits and Bosom Friends!

-Tara

Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Book 2 of the Torn Asunder Series: Northern Fire – First Details Revealed!

Since Southern Rain was published in September 2019, the No. 1 question we have gotten is: “When will the next book be out?” I’m happy to say that Northern Fire will be available in the Late Spring of 2020!

Northern Fire was intended to be a sequel in a two-book series. However, ever since I conceptualized the story arc for this series, I knew there would be some difficulties determining the number of books in the series. So I just decided to write the story in its entirety as if it were going to be only one book and see how it worked out.

A few technical difficulties arose: the historical storyline took such a different path halfway through that it felt like it should be two books, while simultaneously the modern storyline was skipping along happily as one succinct-feeling book (the trouble with dual storylines!). But the biggest problem was the word count. The No. 1 complaint I have gotten about Southern Rain is that it is so big, which has me continually smiling since I’m a nerd who loves big books. But even trimmed down significantly, Northern Fire was finishing out at about 30,000 words more than Southern Rain.

So, with a wince of apology, I gave the behemoth to my sister, who is always my first reader, and told her to fix it. You can find ways to trim it down, right? – Okay, bye!

So she put on her harshest critic’s hat and set about finding scenes to shear. Her response was that we didn’t need to change a single thing. Nothing could go. Everything was necessary to tell the story in its full capacity. And we’re agreed that it has to be divided into two books, right? – Okay bye!

My sister, who has been my first reader and first editor for nearly ten years, has absolutely never led me astray in literary matters, and I knew I should trust her instincts. So there you have it! You will be getting two books, both roughly consisting of 70,000 words, rather than one book consisting of roughly 140,000 words. This will make Books 2 and 3 a little smaller than Southern Rain, but I’m guessing that won’t be a negative for most!

So what will the books cover? I don’t want to give anything away, since we haven’t developed the official blurbs yet, but here is the time frame:

Southern Rain covered:

Historical: October 1859 – November 1861
Modern: A few months

Northern Fire will cover:

Historical: December 1861 – April 1865 (roughly the end of the war)
Modern: The next few months

Book 3 (Title to be released at a later date) will cover:

Historical: April 1865 – November 1867 (well into Reconstruction)
Modern: The next few months

We’ll be releasing the blurb for Northern Fire soon and revealing more information over the coming weeks and months. In addition, we’ll be doing an FAQ interview for Northern Fire to follow up on our FAQ interview for Southern Rain. In the meantime, stay tuned! We’ll be giving a release date for Northern Fire soon!

-Tara

Civil War Rhetoric

History Behind the Story #6: A Break-Down in Civilities: Rhetoric Before the Civil War

I have recently been reading Ron Chernow’s very famous biography, Alexander Hamilton. The more I learn about the founding generation, the more I see that the Civil War first began brewing while the ink was still wet on the Constitution. Tensions between the North and South and a possible Civil War were alluded to several times in Hamilton. The regions’ economic interests were simply so different that suspicions began to develop in the Cabinet of George Washington, finding their expression in the very real and yet often-hilarious hatred between Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) and Alexander Hamilton (New York). When viewed in this light, the Civil War can be likened to friction between two brothers which has been building for years and then finally explodes, leading to a slugfest until one or both are nearly wiped out.

But there was more to the Civil War than a feud which was a long time coming. Hostilities spilled from the floors of Congress to the battlefield when they did for a reason. There was a reason idle threats of war from the last eighty years mobilized into armies and navies, into two separate countries with two separate presidents, when they did. Shear Davis Bowman says that “not until the winter of 1860-61 did a critical mass of citizens in the states of the…South become willing to quit the Union.”[1]

The reasons were linked to the occurrence of several events in history, a disastrous stew that made the situation ripe for drama: the growing debate over the economic interests between the North and South (linked overwhelmingly to slavery and its spread into the West), the South’s fear that it would lose a voice in the government to an economically superior North, the rise of abolitionism, the North’s loss of patience in appeasements to the South that often took the form of protecting slavery, and of course, the ultimate, hysteria-inducing fact that Lincoln was elected without a single Southern vote. But facts alone rarely make a war. There has to be drama and hype and legal justification. There has to be precisely the right rhetoric to tip people over the brink. And I have found in my research that such rhetoric almost always begins, like a children’s squabble, with name-calling.

Here are just a few names the South called the North or certain groups of Northerners:

  • Black Republicans (because of their determination to end slavery and Southern power in the Union and promote racial equality)
  • Aggressive
  • Cruel
  • Unjust
  • Wanton
  • Tyrannical
  • Fanatics
  • Radicals
  • Power-hungry

And here are a few of the North’s loving epitaphs to the South or Southerners:

  • Slave Power Conspirators
  • Slavocracy
  • Doughfaced toadies (Presidents Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan were called this for pandering to the South.)
  • Treasonous
  • Despotic
  • Dictatorial
  • Aristocratic
  • Privileged
  • Arrogant
  • Entitled
  • Rebels

The constitutionality of Secession was also put through the rhetoric grinder, with the South having to justify the legality of breaking away from the Union and the North having to justify making war on states which had seceded. While the arguments on both sides always seemed pretty even (except for the fact the North always had the moral upper hand in arguments pertaining to the slavery aspect of the War), I always had trouble understanding how the North sold its populace on taking war to the South and executing it over the course of four years and at a death toll eventually rising to the hundreds of thousands. We might understand a moral argument, but, unfortunately, the moral cause to end slavery did not, at least in the early years, form enough of a justification for the Northern populace to mobilize for war because the immediate abolition argument was just not taking hold. Obviously, the government had economic and territorial reasons to keep the South in the union, but how did they convince the populace of the legality of making war? Rhetoric. Not that it took too much convincing to fight in the early years. Both sides were positively chest-thumping for military battles (see brothers’ slugfest above). But it wasn’t until I really studied the North’s justification rhetoric for war that I finally understood.

To the North, simply losing an election or disagreeing with the new President was not cause enough to warrant the severance of ties to the union (a valid argument!). However, they still had to contend with the fact that the South had some pretty good legal arguments, such as the ability to revoke the states’ ratification of the Constitution and the principles enumerated of the Declaration of Independence. But the North itself could find nothing in the Constitution to justify secession and argued that secession had happened before the South’s interests had even been attacked. The South was sacrificing “a noble experiment in liberty” simply because they wanted to “perpetuate a distinct, distasteful, and anachronistic regional interest, black chattel slavery.”[2] That was a really good argument, and I imagine it was the one that convinced the North to mobilize for war and sustained them through its rigors. A simple argument of, “You just can’t do that,” is sometimes very powerful.

Both sides remained very “American,” tying their causes back to the American ideals which were fought for in the Revolution. Both sides talked of fighting for freedom. It was surprising for me to realize that “Americans in both North and South believed themselves custodians of the legacy of 1776.”[3] And there was also Christian rhetoric flying, with both sides preaching the justness of their cause, evoking God’s favor for their side, and using language of trusting that God would uphold them in their righteous endeavors.

The South (and I am generalizing here) believed that states had a sovereign right to secede and used the rhetoric of liberty (“the natural right of revolution against tyranny and despotism”) to back that up.[4] The North (generalizing again) simply didn’t believe that the Constitution created state sovereignty to the extent of powers to withdraw from the Union and offend the sovereignty of the real power, the United States. Therefore, any state which seceded, was technically in a state of treason.

While President Buchanan (the little-known President who was in office before Lincoln) didn’t think the Executive branch could coerce a seceded state back into the Union, Lincoln “did not rule out the propriety or necessity of ‘presidential and military coercion’ in response to palpable aggression against U.S. government sovereignty.”[5] You can see how semantics are everything: if the South acted aggressively, it provided the justification for military coercion back into the union. Similarly, the South would use military force if confronted with an unacceptable challenge from the U.S. government to their new government’s sovereignty. Hence, Fort Sumter. The bombardment was begun by the South because of the affront from the U.S. government in refusing to surrender the fort, which was in South Carolina’s waters. Likewise, the bombardment provided Lincoln with what he needed to constitute the South’s actions as an “unconstitutional insurrection ‘too powerful to be suppressed by the ordinary course of judicial proceedings.’”[6] And here we have the perfect stew for war. In the words of Bowman, “A rage militaire swept across slave states and free states alike…the war fever ‘cut across social classes, creating a heady sense of solidarity.’”[7] The North had been OFFENDED. The South had been OFFENDED. And it just proved to both that all of the rhetoric, all of the stewing hatred, had been correct, and both sides were swept up in a consensus. That’s the stuff wars are made of.

And so civilities began to break down and while, from our 21st Century seats, war seemed avoidable, with the provocative and sometimes hysterical language prevailing, it must have seemed inevitable at the time. It’s sometimes hard to imagine that in 1860, America was a united country, with an integrated economy and citizens who travelled back and forth freely across the Mason Dixon line and engaged in debate and attended the same universities. And then within a year they were killing each other. But that shows the power of words, doesn’t it? If you’re feeling depressed, we can console ourselves with two things: I don’t believe either side thought the war would be so long, or exact even a tenth of the toll it did. That seems to have been an entirely unintended consequence. And, of course, the institution of slavery did come to an end, even if the struggle for equality was just beginning– oh, no, I’m depressing you again! History can be like that: compelling and horrible all at once.

Stop by next time for a look into the Congregational Church in New England, in which my historical male lead, John Thomas, was raised. Adieu for now!

Photo Credit: New York Historical Society/Getty Images

[1] Bowman, Shearer Davis, At the Precipice: Americans North and South during the Secession Crisis. (The University of North Carolina Press, 2010), pp. 10.

[2] Ibid, 17.

[3] Ibid, 11.

[4] Ibid, 18.

[5] Ibid, 7.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

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