Reviews prepared by staff members of the Library of Virginia
Sara B. Bearss, Editor
E. Thomson Shields Jr. and Charles R. Ewen, eds. Searching for the Roanoke Colonies: An Interdisciplinary Collection. Raleigh: North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, 2003. xv + 214 pp. $10.00 (softcover).
This compendium of sixteen interdisciplinary essays on the native viewpoint and on the arrival, struggles, and disappearance into the mists of time of the Lost Colony is absorbing, dynamic, and provocative reading. Contributed by scholars from several professions, these multifaceted essays introduce new perspectives or discoveries concerning the colonization experience under the categories of "Folklore and Literature," "History," and "Archaeology and Anthropology." Each case sparks new ideas about influential factors and events surrounding the Roanoke experience and the fate of the Lost Colony.
After an introductory essay by E. Thomson Shields Jr., the "Folklore and Literature" section begins with Karen Baldwin's exploration of how enduring legends of familial descent from the Lost Colony settlers and modern beliefs of assimilation among various native tribes are prevalent in literary high culture and folklore in eastern North Carolina. Baldwin investigates how the consciousness of the Lost Colony theme functions as a literary device to explain various events, such as the survival of an archaic tradition known as "Old Christmas," held at Rodanthe in Dare County. Lorraine Hale Robinson's character analysis of John White, the "very model of the consummate English hero," offers an excellent explanation of how White's self-portrayal in his narratives served as a form of self-validation against the backdrop of the power struggle between England and Spain. The examination of language to describe the "archetypical villain," Ralph Lane, in the Roanoke narratives forms the basis of E. Thomson Shields Jr.'s perspective. Such descriptions were, he argues, part of the prevalent sixteenth-century rhetoric. Such words as "vain" and "boastful" were actually a standard literary stance to reduce any criticisms of why expeditions were not more successful. Shields mandates that a full understanding of sixteenth-century literary tools in the context of English culture is necessary before any valid assessment of Lane's effectiveness as a leader in the Roanoke expeditions can be made. Kelley Griffith describes how literary treatments made Virginia Dare the ideal and iconic figure of romance.
Seven essays under the heading "History" demonstrate how looking at familiar material from new angles provides a better grasp of the sixteenth-century events on Roanoke Island and indicate new directions for further archaeological study and research. Joyce Youings studies the underlying causes behind the immigration of the Lost Colony settlers. William S. Powell's identification of individual colonists and sponsors of the Lost Colony reveals an emerging pattern through social, marriage, occupational, political, and parish networks, and a second essay by this author provides a detailed case study of Ananias Dare.
Simon Fernandez, the much-maligned Portuguese pilot, is the subject of Olivia A. Isil's essay. Various misunderstandings and misinterpretations of the primary and secondary documents, as well as subjective narratives, painted Fernandez as a villain in the history of Roanoke colonization. Isil's detailed analysis of his career clearly rebuts this false portrayal. Portugal, as one of the earliest and greatest maritime empires, produced highly skilled navigators who were in great demand. The well-known rivalry between Fernandez and John White was partially rooted in their struggle for control and authority.
Using the methodology of ethnohistory, Michael Leroy Oberg studies available documents from a Native American perspective. What was it like for the natives to encounter the English during their Roanoke voyages and for Manteo and Wanchese to travel to England with Philip Amadas and Arthur Barlow in 1584? Manteo, a Croatoan, reacted very differently from Wanchese, of Roanoke Island. Why was this? Oberg's examination of the natives' concept of mantoac—an immediate and pervasive sacred power manifested in things and beings, and higher than human beings—is a central and important contribution to our better understanding of the early Anglo-Indian interactions.
The section closes with essays by David Beers Quinn and Thomas E. Davidson. Quinn, in whose memory the book is dedicated, offers an intriguing proposal through his examination of the relationship between the English financiers of the Roanoke voyages and the New World colonists. England was not wealthy enough to maintain a large colony, which required annual and substantial capital with no prospects for quick profit for years to come. At the time, there was still possibility for success for a small-scale colony consisting of family-linked groups that would not seriously threaten native society. Thomas Davidson determined that the fates of the Roanoke and Jamestown colonies were not shaped by courageous colonists but by economic and political decisions made by the Virginia Company of London. Although the English investors behind the Jamestown venture fared somewhat better because of painful lessons learned from the Roanoke colony, Davidson's study reveals that these backers nevertheless failed to understand, never mind appreciate, that Jamestown would remain a serious financial liability for the next seventeen years. Davidson's scrutiny further demonstrates that the original sponsors were courtiers rather than merchants who believed the initial outlay of funds was sufficient for the colonization effort, that the colonists would soon recoup the investment, and that future investments would be funded through prompt profits from the colony.
The final group of essays on "Archaeology and Anthropology" opens with Bennie C. Keel's detailed review of archaeological investigations over the past century at the north end of Roanoke Island, the location of Fort Raleigh National Historic Site. In spite of numerous and well-placed excavations by well-known archaeologists, including Keel, no evidence has yet come to light concerning the location of the "Cittie of Roanoke."
The interaction of the English settlers and non-English societies forms the basis for the next two essays. John J. Mintz and Thomas E. Beaman Jr.'s line of inquiry concerned remnants of a Spanish olive jar found at the Fort Raleigh site. Through their analysis based on historical documents and archaeological evidence from Brunswick Town, Mintz and Beaman theorize that the olive jar could have been obtained as a remnant of a Spanish occupation, as a result of illicit trade by some English colonist with a Spanish ship during the war between England and Spain, or from inter-island trading among the Spanish, English, and other colonial powers in the Caribbean. Seth Mallios uses an anthropological approach to analyze different perceptions of trade and gift-giving between the Algonquian people of present-day North Carolina and Virginia and the Europeans who first encountered them. Part of their important intercultural exchanges includes the practice of unconditional and unsolicited gift-giving. One must be able to give, receive, and be reciprocated, and failure to do so meant loss of social status. As Captain John Smith shrewdly observed to Powhatan, "By the gifts you bestow on us [colonists], you gain more than by trade." By comparing the different reactions among tribes at Ajacan, Roanoke, and Jamestown regarding violations of gift-giving by the English, Mallios reveals the natives' deliberate manipulation of the English as unwitting pawns during their struggle for power and status within the context of their intracultural disputes. Mallios's thought-provoking study proves that events are not always what they appear to be in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-century narratives.
Fred Willard and Barbara Midgette, with E. Thomson Shields Jr., discuss the direction for future archaeological work on the Outer Banks in order to locate remnants of English expeditions. They stress the importance of documenting the location of Port Ferdinando before it is lost forever, because it rivals Jamestown and Plymouth Rock as one of the earliest English exploration and colonization efforts in the New World.
By examining the climatological evidence through cypress tree samples, Dennis B. Blanton hoped to learn more about the environment's role in the legendary hardships at Jamestown in 1607. The serendipitous discovery of an extraordinarily severe drought from 1587 to 1589 held deep implications for the Lost Colony as well as Jamestown. A drought of this magnitude would have had a serious effect on water and food supplies in colonial societies.
The collection closes with Charles R. Ewen's discussion of the colonial experience. Using the excavation of Puerto Real (1504) in Hispaniola as a parallel, Ewen stipulates that interdisciplinary endeavors should be an integral part of the overall investigation. As Ewen states, finding a site is not enough in itself. "We must constantly question our assumptions concerning the past."
All of these essays enlighten and challenge us about our long-held perceptions concerning the Roanoke voyages and native viewpoints. This collection of diverse views is a welcome addition to any library.
—reviewed by Katharine E. Harbury, Editorial Research Fellow, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Rhys Isaac. Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom: Revolution and Rebellion on a Virginia Plantation. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xxiv + 423 pp. $35.00 (hardcover).
The surviving portions of the diary of Landon Carter (1710-1778), of Sabine Hall, Richmond County, contain excellent accounts of agricultural practices and the slave economy on an eighteenth-century Tidewater plantation. They also contain descriptions of domestic discord, medical lore, master-servant relations, and reflections on how the changing politics of late colonial and early revolutionary Virginia affected the lives of the plantation's residents. A son of Robert "King" Carter and one of the wealthiest planters in Virginia, Landon Carter produced a revealing record of his times.
Jack P. Greene edited and published the diaries in the 1960s, and every student of late colonial Virginia has quoted them since, few more effectively and imaginatively than Rhys Isaac in his prize-winning Transformation of Virginia, 1740-1790 (1982). Isaac's Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom is the most extended and insightful scholarship based on Carter's diaries and papers. During a time of rebellion against the king, Carter found himself faced with what he perceived as rebellions by his children and his slaves. Carter was a paternalistic but very strict manager of a plantation that depended entirely on enslaved labor for its operation, and he saw himself in the role of the local monarch of his estates, making his transition from loyal subject of George III to active supporter of the American Revolution particularly uneasy as he strove to maintain his one-man rule over his own household.
It is no wonder that Carter's diary is full of complaints, angry outbursts, dour reflections, and eminently quotable observations. Even for readers who have driven themselves all the way through the hundreds of pages of Carter's diary, and certainly for the more numerous researchers who have sampled parts of it, Rhys Isaac's subtle and exhaustive analysis will provide new insights and understandings. Landon Carter's Uneasy Kingdom is as important a study of late colonial Virginia as has been published in many years.
—reviewed by Brent Tarter, Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Dayton Duncan. Scenes of Visionary Enchantment: Reflections on Lewis and Clark. Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. x + 202 pp. $22.00 (hardcover).
The author of two other books on the Lewis and Clark expedition, Dayton Duncan writes in his introduction that he discovered that he had more to say about that momentous event as the bicentennial of the Corps of Discovery approached. The resulting volume is a collection of essays based on speeches given by Duncan as he followed the paths that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark took across the western expanse and read the journals—those kept by Lewis and Clark, as well as those written by John Ordway, Patrick Gass, Charles Floyd, and Joseph Whitehouse—that provide the daily record of the journey. There are other books and documentaries that explore the history of the expedition and explain the context. Dayton's essays are musings on the Corps of Discovery and why this event continues to command our attention.
In "The Alexander Hamilton Willard Expedition," Dayton ponders the question of who, in the Corps of Discovery, snored. He notes that Lewis and Clark mention in their journals the difficulties of sleeping, including beavers slapping their tails on the Yellowstone and mosquitoes along the Missouri. Further, he writes that, although the journals are incredibly rich with details about the daily life of the Corps, there is much that members of the Corps chose not to write down. Ultimately the journals are daily records of a military and scientific expedition that provide few insights into the people of the Corps. And whereas the surviving journals do acquaint readers with certain members of the Corps, there are several—York and Sacagawea and others—who remain essentially voiceless. Dayton uses Alexander Hamilton Willard, a New Hampshire native and skilled blacksmith, as an example of someone who flits in and out of the expedition's journals with tantalizing tidbits about a journey fraught with danger and about Willard's own lapses of judgment.
In another essay, "The Lewis and Clark Guide to Leadership," Dayton examines the personnel management skills that enabled Clark and Lewis to guide their Corps into an unknown territory (to many white Americans) and return to Washington with detailed records and an astounding assortment of relics that documented the flora and fauna and the native cultures of the West. They managed to establish friendly relations with the western Indians and lost only one member, and that was to appendicitis. Based on his reading of the journals, Dayton suggests ten rules for the Lewis and Clark Guide to Leadership: have a clearly stated and understood goal, plan and prepare, "pick good people and give them the opportunity to prove themselves," understand that team building takes various techniques and time, "real men stop and ask directions," be open to what presents itself, keep going, lead by example, take calculated risks, and trust to luck. Good words to live by.
—reviewed by Barbara C. Batson, Exhibitions Coordinator
Merrill D. Peterson. John Brown: The Legend Revisited. Charlottesville and London: University of Virginia Press, 2002. xi + 195 pp. $23.95 (hardback), $14.95 (paperback). New in paperback 2004.
Continuing his series of works on the images of famous Americans in the public mind, Merrill D. Peterson, professor of history emeritus at the University of Virginia, turns his attention to John "Osawatomie" Brown. In six comprehensive chapters, Peterson reviews the martyrdom of John Brown, an Old Testament prophet come to judgment against the slaveholders of the South, and peels away the layers of legend surrounding Brown's life and his raid at Harpers Ferry that led to the emancipation of the slaves.
Peterson begins with an overview of Brown's path to Harpers Ferry through Bleeding Kansas and the reaction of both North and South to his raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry. From there Peterson recounts the influence of Brown's soul "marching on" throughout the Civil War and discusses Brown's growing legendary status in the various newspaper articles, histories, surveys of Northern response to Brown at Harpers Ferry, artworks, tributes, and poems produced during the war. The author concludes the chapter by following the trail of remembrance for Brown from his grave in North Elba, New York, through Massachusetts, and on to Kansas.
Brown's legend of righteousness in striking a blow against the evil of slavery suffered a reversal when in 1877 a war broke out over Brown's role in Bleeding Kansas. Was he simply a madman bent on murderous revenge or the hero of the Pottawatomie Massacre? Peterson explores both sides of the issue from Brown's supporters to the opposition from other figures in Kansas who wanted to discredit Brown and receive credit for their own roles. Through new biographies, essays, and poems, Peterson follows the growing literary assessment of Brown's antislavery career.
Peterson devotes his next chapter to the treatment of Brown in works created at the turn of the twentieth century, especially in the reassessments of historians. The author then discusses the research and writing of the definitive biography produced by Oswald Garrison Villard in 1910 and the critics' reaction to Villard's conclusions, particularly to deciding the moment when Brown determined to fight slavery and to his instigation of the Pottawatomie Massacre. From there Peterson looks at the reaction of W. E. B. Dubois and the NAACP to Brown's sacrifice and their attempts to place Brown in the pantheon of heroes for black citizens.
In a "Kaleidoscope" of media, Peterson next explores the Brown legend in the twentieth century from Stephen Vincent Benét's epic poem John Brown's Body (1928), through plays and other theatrical productions, paintings, sculpture, literary essays, and fictional works, to the negative reevaluation of Brown by historians during the 1940s. Peterson also assesses the exploration of Brown's blows for freedom for the bondspeople by African American artists and writers during which the white man Brown took his "place alongside the premier black liberators."
Peterson ends his story of Brown's life and legend with a discussion of the centennial commemoration of the Civil War and the National Park Service's transformation of Harpers Ferry into a national park. Included in the discussion are modern historians' reassessments of Brown's martyrdom and the uses to which that martyrdom was put during the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. Finally, Peterson notes, Brown received in 2000 more exposure to the public eye than ever before when the Public Broadcasting System broadcast a ninety-minute documentary film John Brown's Holy War.
Despite Brown's loss of reputation over the past century and a half, Peterson concludes that although "Brown will never again knock at the door of the American pantheon, he still answers to some of the most enduring moral quandaries and dilemmas of our national life, and these resonate through the image."
—reviewed by Emily J. Salmon, Copy Editor
Peter S. Carmichael, ed. Audacity Personified: The Generalship of Robert E. Lee. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2004. xxi + 174 pp. $24.95 (hardcover).
Peter S. Carmichael edited this slender volume and contributed the first of the six essays in the book. The text is not united by a central theme or organized within a particular framework. Rather, each contributor—William J. Miller, Gordon C. Rhea, Robert E. L. Krick, Max R. Williams, and Mark L. Bradley—was left to examine Robert E. Lee's legacy as he saw fit but with one constraint: that each use to the fullest extent possible the available primary sources rather than work from what Carmichael calls the "interpretive edifices," that is, constructions in the secondary literature that have evolved to the extent that they obscure the factual foundations on which the debate about Lee's generalship should rest.
In his preface, and particularly in his essay "Lee's Search for the Battle of Annihilation," Carmichael reviews the history and current state of the debate. He examines the unquestioning idealization of Lee after the war by Lost Cause writers and maps the evolution of revisionist reassessment of the commander following the publication of Thomas L. Connelly's Marble Man: Robert E. Lee and His Image in American Society (1977), the first in-depth attempt to penetrate the myth of Lee as the ideal Christian warrior.
Criticism of the South's most successful commander mounted in the intervening decades. The notion that Lee possessed the ability to anticipate his foe's maneuvers, a talent much admired by his biographer, Douglas Southall Freeman, was rejected. Revisionists contended that Lee did not understand the demands of modern war and that he insisted on using a headquarters staff too small to do its job adequately. He was said to be myopic, unable to imagine grand strategy or to think beyond the theater of war in which his army was engaged. He was revealed as a bloodthirsty commander so dedicated to offensive warfare that he was unwilling or unable to adapt to the changing military and political landscape and convert his tactical and strategic plans to defensive measures. Such misplaced aggression, it was suggested, was not simply a failure to understand military complexities properly, but also the result of an unbridled libido. According to this theory, Lee's sexual energy, harnessed by Christian virtue and suppressed by the manners of his class and station, did not find sufficient outlet in his well-documented teasing flirtations with young women but, transformed into martial energy, found explosive release on the battlefield in the headlong charges of his divisions. His greatest fault was that he came to know that the war could not be won, yet failed to persuade Jefferson Davis to stop the killing by arranging for surrender.
The essays in Audacity Personified sustain the reasonable reassessments of Lee's generalship while rejecting excessive revisionist claims. Most important, the book advances the debate over Lee's merits as a commanding officer by calling for a return to historical interpretation based on primary sources rather than on persistent assumptions in secondary sources. Refreshingly, even older interpretations such as Freeman's are not dismissed out of hand. Critics and defenders of Robert E. Lee will find the well-reasoned, tempered arguments in these pages both instructive and thought-provoking.
—reviewed by Donald W. Gunter, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Lisa Lindquist Dorr. White Women, Rape, and the Power of Race in Virginia, 1900-1960. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. viii + 327 pp. $49.95 (hardcover); $19.95 (softcover).
The elusive topic of social relations in the segregated South is at the heart of White Women, Rape, and the Power of Race in Virginia, 1900-1960. Lisa Lindquist Dorr draws from her 2000 University of Virginia dissertation and applies a markedly different approach to the study of men, women, sex, and power. Other historians have analyzed charges of black-on-white rape in the South through accounts of lynching and sham trials and have argued that white southerners routinely responded with violence when white women accused black men of assault. Dorr challenges this view with a careful study of 288 cases of black-on-white rape. She wrings an amazing amount of information from scattered legal records, newspaper accounts, and clemency files. Being accused of assault by a white woman put a black man in considerable jeopardy, she argues, but extreme punishment was not inevitable. Just six percent of the accused men in these Virginia cases (dating from 1900 to 1960) were killed through extralegal means; eighty-seven percent were convicted of a crime; and of those, twenty-two percent (fifty men) were executed. Nevertheless, most black men escaped with their lives, and many served only minor sentences or were later pardoned by the governor.
While some white southerners struggled to establish orderly and predictable racial boundaries, others tested the system and tried to negotiate within its limits. This book is bursting with heart-wrenching tales of women attacked and raped; women who tried to hide illicit relationships by crying rape; and children abused. In the end, these cases taken as a whole reveal the complexities and contradictions of a racially divided society in which white men struggled to hold on to the power of patriarchy by protecting "worthy" white women and policing interracial relationships. Women and African Americans likewise tried, with varying degrees of success, to claim their own ground.
Dorr uncovers a world where segregation did not always hold sway, and where white women and white men sometimes saw their interests in conflict. Rape, Dorr argues persuasively, all comes down to power—who has it, who wants it, and who feels it slipping away. Detailed endnotes, a bibliography of primary and printed sources, and a handy index round out this well-written and thoughtfully researched volume, which will prove useful for readers interested in the social history of the twentieth-century South.
—reviewed by Jennifer Davis McDaid, Archives Research Coordinator
T. Keister Greer. The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial of 1935. Rocky Mount, Va.: History House Press, 2004. xxvi + 916 pp. $54.95 (hardcover).
The story of the federal moonshine conspiracy trial in Franklin County, Virginia, is well known, but until now there has never been an in-depth study. T. Keister Greer has written an exhaustive account of this conspiracy trial, as well as the resulting jury-tampering trial and a related murder trial. Most of the more than 900 pages are daily transcripts from the conspiracy trial that occurred between April and July 1935, at fifty days reportedly the longest criminal trial in Virginia history. Although surviving transcripts do not exist, Greer compiled a daily account of the proceedings from government records, contemporary newspaper articles, and thirteen volumes of transcripts from the grand jury that handed down the indictments. Thirty-four men and one corporation were indicted on charges that they had participated in a conspiracy to deprive the federal government of taxes on distilled spirits. The defendants included a former Franklin County sheriff, four deputies, a former state prohibition officer, the Ferrum Mercantile Company, and Charles Carter Lee, the commonwealth's attorney who was the grandnephew of Robert E. Lee and great-grandson of Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee.
Thirty-one defendants were convicted and received sentences ranging from probation to prison terms. The three men found not guilty included Charles Carter Lee, but an investigation suggested that the acquittals were the result of jury tampering. A grand jury indicted twenty-four men on this charge but did not include Lee, who had just been reelected commonwealth's attorney. Following a six-day trial in May 1936, nineteen of the twenty defendants were found guilty. They received sentences that included prison terms and fines.
The Great Moonshine Conspiracy Trial next follows the three trials of brothers Hubbard Duling and Paul Duling for the murder of Thomas Jefferson Richards, a Franklin County sheriff's deputy, in October 1934. The crime initially was connected to the conspiracy trial because the murder occurred just weeks before the grand jury met and Richards, also a bootlegger, was potentially a prosecution witness. The Dulings' trials in 1937, however, demonstrated that they had killed Richards because they blamed him for the death of their brother—a bootlegger—years earlier. They were sentenced to ninety-nine years each for the murder and were paroled from prison late in the 1940s.
A retired Franklin County attorney, Greer provides an analysis of the cases, a glossary of legal terms, photographs of the participants, and a narrative chapter of the county and region to place the trial in historical and social context. Greer, who worked with Charles Carter Lee and was even a distant relative of the one of the defendants, is sympathetic with those brought to trial. Throughout the book he highlights several themes, seemingly provided as mitigating factors for those involved: overbearing federal laws, the pervasive poverty that existed in the South during the Great Depression, and the nature of conspiracy indictments that favored successful prosecution of defendants.
—reviewed by John G. Deal, Assistant Editor, Dictionary of Virginia Biography
Sara B. Bearss is senior editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography, published by the Library of Virginia.