Friday, July 7, 2017

Summer Vacation Battles

Willey House photograph ftramed with pen and ink sketch of rustic boardsIn July 1864, a group of wealthy women and one gentleman set off on an excursion "to rusticate a few weeks among the mountains." They brought along a camera and took pictures along the way. When they returned, they had a book privately printed, a copy for each member of the party, with photographic prints framed with hand done decorations.

Image of one of the tirp participants framed with pen and ink ivyIt is an exquisite book commemorating their travels, but one has to wonder about their sense of place and time. While they rusticated and admired the natural wonders of the White Mountains, the country was still in the midst of the Civil War, when battles were being waged across the South. At one point the author notes a parallel, but one that reflects a distance from reality:
From this point it had been our purpose, if possible, to make the ascent of Mt. Washington on horseback, a method more congenial to our taste than the usual, though less fatiguing, one in a carriage from the Glen. But the haze! that pertinacious foe, adopting Gen. Sherman's tactics, had constantly flanked us since we started from Bethel; now, with provoking tenacity, it seemed to be taking position in our front up the mountain, and concentrating to dispute our passage.
Eventually they made it to the top, but the "battlements" of a storm came upon them and they had a "council of war" in the hotel parlor to decide what to do. In despair, they settled on a retreat to the bowling alley for nine pins. The rhetoric of war is not surprising, but it is a bit shocking how they could compare their lack of a view with the horrors of Sherman's march. Perhaps these families were more insulated from the war than most.

photo of flowers fromed with pen and ink drawing of tree branchs
The book is a fascinating view into their lives, views of nature, and their sense of adventure in a time of national calamity. To see it, ask for White Mountains F41.32 A465.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Dissolution of a Confederacy

First page of two of Washington's letterThis Fourth of July, we celebrate the 241st Independence Day of the United States of America. However, despite the traditional association of this date with the birth of our nation, the battle for independence had begun more than a year before in April 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord. Soon after, fearing an invasion from the north, the Continental Congress authorized the invasion of Quebec. This campaign, which culminated in the Battle of Quebec on December 31st, 1775, was a disastrous failure and resulted in the death of American General Richard Montgomery and the wounding of Benedict Arnold. After many months of a protracted siege of the city, the Americans retreated in disarray in May 1776 amidst a smallpox outbreak within their ranks.

One of the major concerns of the Continental Congress which prompted the ill-advised invasion of Canada was the question of whether the Native American tribes in the region would choose to side with Great Britain or with the colonists. The Iroquois Confederacy, or the Six Nations as they were known then, was a particularly powerful regional alliance of the Mohawk, Onondega, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora tribes. The Iroquois weren't in a position to stay neutral for long, although they initially endeavored to do so; their lands were too close to the theaters of war and they were wary of further encroachment by either the British or their colonists should they stand by and do nothing.
Second page of two of Washington's letter
Aware of the importance of sustaining the Six Nations' neutrality for as long as possible, George Washington wrote a letter to them in February 1776, during the Continental Army's siege of Quebec. The letter is addressed to Joseph Johnson, a "missioner to the Six Nations," and asks him to communicate to the Iroquois that "we can withstand all the force, which those who want to rob us of our lands and our houses, can send against us." Washington further emphasizes that they can look upon him, "whom the Whole United Colonies have chosen to be their Chief Warrior," as their brother. He asks the Iroquois to stay neutral so that "the chain of friendship...should always remain bright between" them. However, despite Washington's hope, the Six Nations ultimately dissolved their confederacy, with some tribes siding with the colonists and the others taking up arms for the British.

To see this letter, and other letters by George Washington, come to Rauner and ask for the George Washington Collection (MS-1033), Box 1.