Sunday, 27 April 2014

Tangier Island

Photo by Albert Herring
Before the Europeans arrived in the 17th century, the name of Tangier Island is unknown. An island in the Chesapeake Bay, the land was used by the Pokomoke for their marine food sources of oysters, fish, and crabs. The tribe survives to modern times. They live in Maryland, but Tangier Island is regarded as part of Virginia today. Because there is no source for fresh water on the island, it's believed there were no permanent towns at that time.

The first known European to visit Tangier Island is John Smith in 1608. He named Tangier and another island in the bay Russell Isles after a Doctor Russell, who was on the ship with him. A storm forced his crew to seek shelter on one of the islands, but his diary is unclear as to whether it was Tangier. At the time, he stated the islands were unoccupied.

In 1644, paramount chief Opechancanough led an organized attack against the colonists like he had on March 22, 1622 because of their encroachment on the Powhatan chiefdom's land. Again he carried out the attack in typical Indian fashion by striking as quickly and as hard as possible, then retreated. Like the previous attack, hundreds of colonists were killed. Because there were many more colonists in 1644, his attack had less impact.

In retaliation, Governor Berkeley led strikes against the tribes in July 1645. They took many prisoners, and in August, the Virginia Council decided that all male prisoners over the age of eleven were to be abandoned on Tangier Island, in order "to prevent their returning to and strengthening their respective tribes." Berkeley used his own ship to transport the prisoners to Tangier. What became of them is unknown.

In the 1670s, two colonists used Tangier for grazing livestock. The historical record is unclear whether they actually lived on the island themselves or not, but it's generally believed they did not. Those who inhabit the island say the first permanent settlement was in 1686. Around 500 people live there today. Some claim their accent goes back to Elizabethan times. While there may be some remnants, the language has evolved since colonial times. Sadly with global warming and rising sea levels, Tangier Island will be claimed by the sea sometime in the next 50 to 100 years. I hope to make a research trip to the island this summer.

Kim Murphy

Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Battle of Vienna: 1683

The Battle of Vienna 1683

I have just returned from a 3 week jaunt to Greece and Turkey. While thoroughly versed in Ancient Greek and Roman history, the more modern history of that area has eluded me. It is only in recent years (researching different stories) that my research path has crossed that of the Ottoman Empire and a visit to Istanbul and the Topkapi Palace in particular has opened my eyes to the extraordinary power that was once wielded by the Ottoman Sultans.

As my historical interest has mostly been English history, I had not really investigated much beyond the shores of England until, ironically, I became involved in this blog. This is a naive approach to historical study because history is comprised of inter connected events and people and English history does not stand on its own without touching that of European history and European history in turn is intimately interested in the Ottoman Empire which existed on its edges for over 400 years and presented a very real and present danger, particularly to the Austro-Hungarian borders controlled by the Holy Roman Empire. Immediately you can see there is a conflict between Christian and Muslim interests and this continued to roll on right through to the nineteenth century (Crimean War - see my article on causes of the Crimean War HERE) and to the very start of the First World War.

But this blog is about the seventeenth century and so I propose a very quick look at one encounter between the Ottoman Empire and the Levant within the context of that century.

The Ottoman Empire in 1683
By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the Ottoman Empire controlled the Mediterranean through its mastery of  northern Africa, the Holy Land, Greece and the Aegean Sea. It also controlled the Balkan countries and Hungary.  Over the two preceding centuries it had risen to the zenith of its power and influence but the 17th century would begin to see its decline. The “Habsburg-Ottoman” wars had been ongoing conflict since the 15th century as the Habsburg dynasty defended its territories in Spain and in Austro/Hungary.

Vienna was the prize the Ottoman Empire sought for its strategic importance in controlling the Danube and land trade routes. It had come close to gaining it in the 1530s when the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent, laid siege to the city. Although badly outnumbered, Archduke Ferdinand, resisted stoutly and the Ottoman army withdrew, allowing Ferdinand to regain some of the lost territory in Hungary. By the start of the sixteenth century, Europe dissolved into the Thirty Years war (which I have written about in earlier posts HERE). The destabilisation allowed the Ottomans once more to set their sights on Vienna and in 1663 the Ottomans once more invaded Austria.

Their advance ended disastrously at the Battle of St. Gotthard, owing mostly to the intervention of the French on the side of the Austrians. Unfortunately the distraction of the French conquests on the Rhine did not allow the Austrians to follow through on their victory and the Ottoman Empire remained in control of Hungary, a predatory and restless neighbour.
Jan Sobieski/King John III of Poland

The Ottomans turned their attentions on Poland where they were comprehensively routed by the Polish commander, Jan Sobieski (to be elected King John III in 1674). A brilliant military commander, Sobieski’s forces roundly defeated the Ottoman incursion at the battle of Khotyn in 1673.

In March 1683,following agressive moves from the Ottomans in Hungary, the Polish King signed a treaty with the Holy Roman Emperor, Leopold in which the powers mutually agreed to come to the aid of the Vienna or Krakow, should the Ottomans attack again. In June of that year, Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha, his forces bolstered by troops from Transylvania and Tartars from the Crimea and invaded Austria and on 14 July 1683 laid siege once more to Vienna.
Grand vizier Kara Mustafa Pasha
 Despite being well prepared, the besieging forces cut off all outside resupply routes to Vienna and by September, the city was suffering severe hardship. Kara Mustafa could possibly have taken the city at that point with an all out attack but it is speculated that he wanted to take the city and all its treasures intact and an attack of that nature would inevitably lead to destruction and looting.

The Treaty of Warsaw had been invoked and in September Jan Sobieski and the Polish forces joined with those of Leopold. Command of the 70,000 allied forces was given over to Sobieski and he turned to confront the Ottoman forces of over 150,000.

Sobieski and the allied forces at the Battle of Vienn

The battle commenced at 4am on 12 September. The Ottomans had misjudged the Christian forces, allowing them to cross the Danube unopposed. The Ottomans launched an attack on the city hoping to take it before the Holy League forces arrived but they were too late. The brilliant leadership of Sobieski culminating in a massive cavalry charge, led to victory after a hard fought battle lasting well into the night. As the allied forces triumphed, the crescent moon disappeared behind a cloud, taken as a bad omen for the Ottoman forces.

Paraphrasing Caesar, Sobieski is said to have opined… “Veni, vedi, Deus vicit” (I came I saw, God conquered).

The execution of Kara Mustafa Pasha by strangulation

The Ottomans lost over 60,000 men as well as their entire baggage train. Kara Mustafa was executed by the Jannissaries in Belgrade and the defeat at Vienna marked the end of Ottoman expansion into Europe. By 1699 they had lost Hungary and Transylvania and in 1699 signed the Treaty of Karlowitz with the Holy Roman Empire.

And as a culinary legacy of this great battle, the Austrian bakers devised a pastry in the shape of crescent moon… a delicacy taken to France by the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette - the croissant. It is also said the “bagel” was also a legacy of this battle… a bread in the shape of a stirrup to commemorate the great charge of the Polish cavalry. 

 (Alison's next book, a regency set romantic suspense, LORD SOMERTON'S HEIR will be released by Escape Publishing on 1 May)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

The Bideford Witches

I’m researching 17th Century Exeter - again - a city I love because you cannot turn a corner without seeing part of it's amazing history. Rougemont Castle, named after the characteristic red stone prevalent to the area from which it was built, is a romantic looking ruin now tucked into the ancient city walls, but contemporary drawings show a substantial Medieval fortress designed to withstand a seige - where the Bideford Witches were tried in August 1682.
The Castle in a 19th Century Engraving

Mary Trembles, Temperance Lloyd and Susannah Edwards were convicted of witchcraft at the Exeter Assizes, and subsequently hanged - the last to be executed for this offence in England. Their chief crime appears to be that the three accused were female, old, poor and confused.

The Bideford Witch Trials

Lloyd was accused of causing the death of several persons through the black arts to which she confessed. Trembles and Edwards were accused of causing sickness through witchcraft. Trembles blamed Edwards for leading her astray and Edwards likewise blamed Lloyd. Lloyd confessed she had been a witch for 20 years, and that she had sunk ships at sea. She went to the gallows in the usual cart: "all the way eating, and seemingly unconcerned".

It appears the women made deliberately suicidal confessions, and their parish was determined to have them die rather than live on charity.

In his charge to the Jury Sir Thomas Raymond gave his opinion (as he recounted it in a later pamphlet) that "these three poor women were weary of their lives, and that he thought it proper for them to be carried to the Parish from whence they came, and that the Parish should be charged with their Maintenance; for he thought their oppressing poverty had constrained them to wish for death". An outcry by their indignant neighbours swayed the Jury, nevertheless, to convict.

In 1685, an Alice Molland was sentenced to death by Chief Baron Montagu at Exeter. She left for execution, but no record of the actual hanging itself exists. There is a plaque on the ruined gatehouse at Rougemont Castle that bears the names of Temperance, Susannah and Mary as well as Alice, which would suggest she was hanged.The inscription reads:

The Devon Witches. In memory of Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards, Mary Trembles, of Bideford, died 1682, Alice Molland, died 1685, the last people in England to be executed for witchcraft, tried here & hanged at Heavitree. In the hope of an end to persecution and intolerance.

Legend says there was an actual tree located a mile outside the city on Magdalen Road where hangings were routinely carried out. Heavitree - appears in Domesday Book as Hevetrowa or Hevetrove, and in a document of c.1130 as Hefatriwe. There was a known execution site at Livery Dole and has contained an almshouse and chapel since 1591, it is thought most likely to derive from heafod–treow (old English for "head tree"), which refers to a tree on which the heads of criminals were placed. Maybe the exact location will never be known.

"Livery Dole" is from the Old English Leofhere, a man who owned the land, and dole, meaning a piece of land. From 1531 to 1818 hangings were performed on a nearby site known as "Magdalen Drop".

Andrew Alleway's Mural in Exeter

A mural in Musgrave Row, Exeter, was painted in 2008 as part of the refurbishment of the city centre, represents the Bideford three in pointed hats round a cauldron with Rougemont Castle in the background.

The Gatehouse of Rougemont Castle
'Pardon Temperance Lloyd, Susannah Edwards, Mary Trembles’ is an online petition calling for the government to annul their conviction “for actions they could not have committed.”

It closed in August 2013 with 426 signatures.

Click here for a more detailed account of the 'Witch's' alleged crimes
Click here for the Petition to Free Them

Author whose latest release, ‘Royalist Rebel’ a biographical novel set in 17th Century England, is released by Pen and Sword Books under the name Anita Seymour

TWITTER: @AnitaSDavison

Sunday, 6 April 2014

LIVING HISTORY MUSEUMS: Portals to the Hidden Histories of Early America

Re-enactor at Historic St. Mary's City

In popular imagination, historical fiction seems to focus on novels illuminating famous figures of the past, such as Robert Graves’s I, Claudius and Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl. While countless readers, myself included, enjoy the vicarious delights of reading about emperors and queens, historical fiction can also be used as a tool for exploring the hidden lives of common folk who contributed just as much to the fabric of our history. Eminent historical novelist, the late Mary Lee Settle wrote, “Recorded history is wrong. It’s wrong because the voiceless have no voice in it.” The voiceless in history include most women, most people of non-European ancestry, and people of the servant and peasant classes. Some of the freshest and most moving historical fiction is written about historical underdogs, including Settle’s own classic Beulah Land Quintet.

What research tools exist for historical novelists who wish to give voice to neglected histories? When I was researching the lives of women, small planters, and indentured servants of the Colonial Chesapeake settlements for my 2006 novel, The Vanishing Point, I discovered that my best sources were living history museums. At Mount Vernon, George Washington’s birthplace, I learned about spinning wool and flax, and how even women of the wealthy elite spent their “leisure” hours spinning to keep their families clothed. In Colonial Williamsburg, I spent an entire day talking to various re-enactors about everything from tanning leather to period cures for consumption – cantering around on horseback was believed to be quite efficacious. The re-enactors at these museums don’t deal in dry facts or dates, but an entire way of life. The two museums that had the biggest impact on me were Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia and Historic St. Mary’s City in Maryland. Both these sites provide excellent inspiration for historical novelists and history lovers who would like to know more about the diversity of lives in Early America, not just the lives of “great men,” such as Washington and Jefferson.

Historic St. Mary’s City

How do you recreate a place that disappeared centuries ago? Historical novelists try to do this with research and imagination. Historic St. Mary’s City, tucked away in a remote corner of Southern Maryland, has recreated Maryland’s first capital through archaeology and primary sources. Researchers have used clues from ancient foundations and fragments of glass to reconstruct historic buildings and give visitors an idea of what life here was like in the years spanning 1634, when the settlement was founded, to 1695, when St. Mary’s City was abandoned for the present Maryland capitol of Annapolis.

The most remote part of the museum is Master Spray’s Plantation, a working colonial farm situated away from the other sites and also from Maryland Route 5 and most signs of modern civilization. “It’s easier to suspend disbelief and imagine you are in the 17th century,” Public Programs Director, Dorsey Bodeman explains. Spray’s Plantation is a first person site with interpreters in period costume and in character. “We give visitors the opportunity to step into their lives,” says Bodeman. “They will come upon interpreters doing tasks people would have done in the 17th century.” These interpreters include Master and Mistress Spray, and their indentured servants. Their tasks deal with home and hearth – things that that twenty-first century people can relate to. “Master Spray will talk about what he’s doing in the tobacco field,” Bodeman says. “This serves as an entry to the visitors asking him questions. It’s much easier to ask the interpreter questions than asking the same questions in a lecture hall. The discussion can then develop into a more in-depth discussion about, for example, the economies of tobacco planting.” Bodeman believes that visitors will have an easy time connecting with the interpreters, who are trained to make them feel at home. Other exhibits include Smith’s Ordinary, the reconstructed State House of 1676, and the Maryland Dove, a replica square-ribbed ship that brought colonists to the New World. Buildings recreated on the historical model are being added to the site each year. The rebuilt print house will open next spring and in the following year, the chapel will be finished.

Visitors can also learn about the ongoing archaeological sites. Archaeologists aren't present year round, but interpreters are on hand to talk about the archaeological background. “Visitors are very interested in behind-the-scenes information about how we know about a place that disappeared off the face of the earth,” Bodeman states. She admits that it is difficult to reconstruct people’s daily lives from archaeological artefacts alone. “Archaeology doesn't find many life-way things.” The only artefacts that survive in the ground for 400 years are things like stone, bone, metal tools, oyster shells, and glass. Some artefacts found on site, however, do open a window into lost lives. One is a container with small holes in it and a bone stopper. The container was probably filled with a noxious substance and worn to banish fleas in an era when whole families shared the same bedding, as did travellers at inns and ordinaries.

The museum is not focused exclusively on the lives of European settlers. At the Indian Village Site, staff in contemporary dress, who are not necessarily Native American themselves, discuss the lives of Native Americans in the 17th century. These interpreters practice what Bodeman calls “experimental archaeology.” Since very little about Native American history was written down, interpreters don’t just learn from books but from living on site and building Native American-style huts by trial and error. “The staff are out there living the life, learning to make fishhooks from the toe bones of a deer.” Bodeman adds that these were inspired by deer bone fishhooks found by archaeologists.

African-American history is not interpreted at the museum, because there would have been very few, if any, enslaved Americans present in the original settlement. Slavery did not become a major institution before the 1660s. Throughout most of the 17th century, European indentured servants were much cheaper and more readily available.

There were also very few European women. Bodeman states that in 1650, the white population in the colony numbered about 600 and fewer than 200 of those people were women. Even at the end of the 17th century, there were still three men for every woman. The bulk of people coming to the colony were male indentured servants. A handful of wealthy men, such as the Calverts, came over to get the colony started. Malaria took a huge toll on the population and high death rates impacted both sexes. This, coupled with the scarcity of women and with high infant mortality, meant that immigration contributed more to the white population than live births. Moreover, indentured servants would be around 30 by the time they were free to marry and this also served to curb the birth rate. Yet court records of the period prove that some female indentured servants had children out of wedlock. Their masters would then seek to prolong their indenture to cover the costs of feeding the child. Court records of midwives provide a further glimpse into these early women’s histories.

What does Bodeman hope visitors will gain from a day at St. Mary’s? “A connection to the people who came before us,” she says. “I hope they would go away not with just bits and pieces of factual information, but a connection to what life was like 400 years ago. What motivated people then – things like getting clothes, food, and shelter – wasn't different from what motivates people now. But how hard people had to work to get these things was very, very different.”

Those who are unable to visit St. Mary’s in person can take a virtual tour.

Colonial Williamsburg

In contrast to St. Mary’s serene backwater, Colonial Williamsburg is comprised of a monumental 301-acre Historic Area surrounded by a 3,000 acre greenbelt to help keep out 21st century intrusions. From 1699 to 1780, Williamsburg, Virginia was the capital of England’s oldest, largest, wealthiest, and most populous colony in the Americas. Named in honour of King William III and designed by Royal Governor Francis Nicholson, Williamsburg is one of America’s oldest planned communities. The restored city features no fewer than 88 original buildings and hundreds of others that have been reconstructed, most on their original foundations. Colonial Williamsburg portrays the capital during the years 1774-1781, the critical formative period of the American Republic. Also on site are Bassett Hall and the Wallace Gallery, which form the Museums of Williamsburg. The huge stores of collections include everything from period farm instruments to portraiture.

“The most unique thing about Williamsburg is our setting,” says Dr. Rex Ellis, vice president of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “It’s like a stage set to tell a three-dimensional story. It allows us to take in the good, the bad, and the ugly. The buildings and reconstruction, the collections and reproductions build and design and acknowledge history in a different way than a textbook. We use a variety of ways to tell the story of history.”

The diversity of Early American experience is in evidence from sites ranging from the Governor’s Palace, the seat of British authority in the colony, and the Capital, the seat of colonial power and home of Virginia’s vote for independence, to Great Hopes Plantation, a working farm, which invites guests to become part of the experience of 1770s-era enslaved Americans and middling white planters. In contrast, the Peyton Randolph House examines urban slave life through participatory programs.

First and third person interpreters play a crucial role in bringing history to life. “The buildings are just structures,” says Ellis. “It’s the people that bring life to those things, the people that animate the buildings. The artifacts and collections are just a backdrop.” Interpreters are available throughout the day, and visitors who stick around until the evening can watch performances with scripted presentations.

The African-American experience in colonial Virginia is brought vividly to life by interpreters playing characters such as Lydia Broadnax, cook and slave to George Wythe, who was a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and one of signers of the Declaration of Independence. Wythe eventually freed Broadnax, who chose to remain in his service until his death – one of his heirs poisoned him. Eventually she acquired her own house in Richmond. Another interpreter plays the role of Gowan Pamphlet, a slave owned by entrepreneurial businesswoman Mrs. Jane Vobe, who ran the King’s Arms Tavern. In her service, Pamphlet waited on the likes of William Byrd III  and George Washington. Gowan Pamphlet’s spiritual calling, however, steered his life in a completely different direction. He became a preacher, acting in defiance of laws not only forbidding persons of color to preach but also forbidding slaves to hold gatherings. After years of performing his ministry, including baptisms, in secret, he finally got his freedom and founded the First Black Baptist Church. Also interpreted is Ann Wager, a white woman who became mistress of the Bray School for African American children in 1760.

Third-person interpreters include costumed artisans representing the tradesmen and women of their day. These are professional, full-time artisans dedicated to specific trades, including carpentry, culinary arts, brick making, saddlery, apothecary arts, and gunsmithing. Guests can observe the artisans at work and ask them questions about their trade.

One program that Ellis believes no visitor should miss is The Revolutionary City. “This is the newest program we have to interpret history in a more responsible way,” Ellis explains. To convey the series of major events that illustrates Williamsburg’s central role in the American Revolution, each day consists of a two hour interactive program that portrays Colonial Americans’ transition from British subjects to citizens of a newly fledged American nation. This is conveyed in a series of scripted performances, such as a 30-year-old carpenter torn between family and war, and slaves weighing the ironies of the freedom their masters seek while denying the same liberties to them. Visitors will have the chance to connect to the characters’ personal stories. Ellis says he hopes this program will provide insight into the privilege and responsibility of being an American, and also an awareness of the sacrifices made by enslaved Americans, as well as European Americans, in the struggle for independence. “You can’t visit Williamsburg without being struck by the sacrifices made by our ancestors.” The Revolutionary City can also be experienced by video via Colonial Williamsburg’s website, details below.

I recommend devoting at least a full day to Williamsburg. There are plenty of hotels in the area and those who book ahead can enjoy a period meal in one of the taverns in the Historic Area. It’s an interesting experience to walk around the site in the evening after the crowds have gone home.

But even those who cannot manage to visit can learn a great deal through Colonial Williamsburg’s extensive website, which offers a variety of resources including virtual tours, podcasts, articles and online slideshows exploring African American history, children’s programs, an online research library focused on the 18th century and colonial period, and even a source list for 18th century costume design .

Reconstructed Powhatan village, Jamestown Settlement

Jamestown Settlement and Yorktown Victory Center

Close by Williamsburg are two additional living history sites, also superb. Jamestown Settlement has recreated the first English settlement in the Americas. Founded in 1607, Jamestown is currently gearing up for its 400th anniversary. Visitors can learn about the lives and trades of people in 17th century Virginia, including Powhatan Indians and European and African immigrants. Yorktown Victory Center is a must-visit for American Revolutionary War enthusiasts. The site interprets the lives of the men and women who witnessed the decisive Battle of Yorktown in October, 1781, which ended the six-year struggle for American independence. Information about both Jamestown and Yorktown can be found at the website.

(This article originally appeared in Solander, a publication of the Historical Novel Society.)