Holidays and History

Years ago, I wrote a short article for a local on-line newspaper, entitled “Governor Andros, Christmas and New Year’s Day.” The piece tried to provide some historical context for our holidays, and Williamsburg, where I live, is steeped in early history.

I’m not sure who read my first piece or why, but it has always bothered me that I published it without doing proper research.  I have since done quite a lot of reading about the period and have published four historical novels that rest on the facts that I’ve discovered.  While my novels don’t mention religion in history and holidays, Gov. Andros is an important character in my first, The Wealth of Jamestown.

Cover, The Wealth of Jamestown

This being New Year’s Day, I’ve decided, finally, to correct the record. Thus, this piece is a long time New Year’s resolution for me.

I never questioned the history related in my first piece. I comfortably simply repeated what historians claimed. Now, after much work, I realize that historians of the eighteenth century and earlier served the people who paid and employed them.  They arranged the facts to project the elite’s agenda. The story  about history and holidays first related about Gov. Andros, repeating these historians, was incorrect.

The Truth about Edmund Andros

My first article described Governor Andros as follows:

“Edmund Andros (1637-1714) served, at various times, as royal governor of New York, New Jersey, New England and Virginia. He descended from the feudal aristocracy, was a strong royalist with powerful connections at the king’s court in London, and one of the most reviled and despised of colonial royal governors.”

 

Sir Edmund Andros. Rhode Island State House collection.

 

Born in 1637, Edmunds Andros came from the island of Guernsey. His father, of low-level nobility, served as Bailiff of Guernsey and Marshall of Ceremonies to King Charles I. The king’s Marshall of Ceremonies, a military figure who appeared in full dress uniform, organized the ceremonial greetings for visitors to the royal court. As a result, Edmund, the eldest son, received his education in London at court along with the other children of the royal household.

The Andros family, as royalists, supported the Church of England in the English civil wars of the seventeenth century. They suffered much, as forces loyal to Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell besieged Castle Cornet where the Andros family lived on Guernsey for nine years.

The Andros Family and Oliver Cromwell

The Andros family, though not actively religious, supported the king and the king’s religion. Most importantly, they upheld the old order, with the emphasis on feudal honor and duty among respected military leaders. They opposed Cromwell not on the basis of religion, but because he radically opposed the old order.  Cromwell  replaced the king and appointed himself as Lord Protector.  He was anti-bishop, anti-Pope and anti-King. Cromwell and his rump parliament beheaded King Charles I in 1649.

Oliver Cromwell

 

In 1649-50 the Andros family escaped Cromwell’s siege. They sailed from Guernsey to Jersey and from there to Holland. In Holland, Edmund’s mother joined the court of the Queen of Bohemia, the  sister to the deposed and beheaded King Charles. Edmund’s father became part of a court in exile and his uncle served as captain of the exiled Horse Guards.

As a teenager, Edmund befriended William of Orange who lived in Holland, as well as Mary, daughter of Charles I, who William later married. William and Mary became monarchs of England after the removal of King James II by the parliament in 1689.

Edmund Andros, Colonial Magistrate

When Charles II returned to power in 1660, Edmund Andros came back to England as a member of the Royal Militia. Over the next twenty years he built a distinguished military career. Though not a university graduate, he had strong diplomatic skills and could speak several European languages, including French, German, Dutch and Danish. He conducted a number of diplomatic missions as a skilled negotiator.

In 1674, Andros’ father died, and Edmund became Bailiff of Guernsey. By then he’d married, but had no children. He became a dedicated colonial governor and administrator in Barbados, New York, and New England.  King James II knighted Andros for his work in achieving a treaty with the Indians while Andros served as governor of New York (1674 to 1681).

In 1681 colonists in New York charged Andros with financial irregularities and favoritism and he was recalled to London to stand trial.  Once home in London he didn’t stand trial and instead returned to North America with a promotion: Governor of the Dominion of New England, a territory stretching from Massachusetts to New Jersey. At the time, if he was despised by anyone, it was by Puritans loyal to the beliefs of Oliver Cromwell. In London, Edmund Andros was highly respected and honored.

History and Holidays: Governor Andros and Christmas

In 1582 Pope Gregory decreed January 1 as New Year’s Day, but the British Empire (which included the American colonies) did not accept the new calendar until 1752. So, Christmas in the British colonies remained a stand-alone holiday, though it lasted for twelve days, from December 25 through January 6.  New Year’s Day came two months later in March.

The British pursued many disputes with the Pope and Catholic monarchs of Spain and France, including not accepting the Gregorian calendar. Kings sat as heads of state and heads of religion, completely intertwining politics and religion. Royal governors took strong positions on religious issues like holiday celebrations. History and holidays form part of the backdrop to European religious warfare of the time.

The Puritans of New England disapproved of the celebration of Christmas, and banned it from Boston from 1659-1681.  Andros. as governor of New England in 1686, revoked the ban and also revoked the ban on festivities on Saturday nights.

Puritans detested Andros for these acts. In addition, he limited individual colonial legislatures to one meeting a year, and used his powers to overturn certain colonial laws and customs. After all, he was Governor of New England. not simply of the historical individual colonies. Connecticut despised him so intensely that his name is still excluded from the state’s list of colonial governors.

Overthrow of James II

In April 1689 the parliament overthrew King James II  and Andros attempted to escape New England dressed as a woman.  He was caught when someone spotted his boots beneath his dress. Once again, he was sent back to London for trial. On arrival in London, he was immediately released again, and later returned to the colonies as Governor of Virginia (1692-1698).

Andros had been a good Anglican all his life. He’d built and supported Anglican churches throughout New England, New York and the Jerseys. By the time he got to Virginia, Andros had terrible memories of dealings with the Puritans in Massachusetts.

Andros, like many others of his generation, remembered the horrors and bloodshed over differences in religion during the time of Oliver Cromwell. Andros wanted to keep religion out of politics as much as possible. For him, the defense and economic strength of the colony overrode all other issues.

After six years of peace and strong economic development Andros retired as Governor of Virginia in 1698 . He’d never used his position as governor to amass property as many other colonial governors had before him. He retired reasonably well off, but not wealthy.

Conclusions about Governor Andros

My first article stated:

“The tale of Governor Andros leaves us with a few thoughts on the New Year.  He certainly had many opportunities to succeed, but failed every time.  Was he repeatedly sent back from London to       the colonies, every time without trial, because his supporters wanted him out of London?  Did he receive the first “golden parachute” on North American soil?”

Andros died in 1714 at the age of seventy-six. Toward the end of his life, he saw the end of the war of the Spanish Succession, with the conclusion of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. Over the course of that war some 400,000 people were killed in Europe.

Sir Edmund Andros, in his lifetime, had seen peace only in Virginia. He lived to see the Act of Union in 1707, which brought Scotland into the United Kingdom. He’d lived an honorable life and was recognized in death for his accomplishments.

 Andros as a Model Chief Executive

Andros was buried with honors with a marching retinue of sixty-six men each carrying a white branch light. They were followed by twenty men on horseback, and six mourning coaches, each pulled by six horses. He was buried at St. Anne’s Church in Soho, a building destroyed by the Nazi blitz of London in World War II.

Historians wonder where George Washington got the idea that he could refuse being a king and instead serve out a legally set term of office.  During Washington’s lifetime, the rest of the world consisted of monarchies and empires based on the idea of the divine right of kings.

Washington didn’t have far to go to find a model.  Edmund Andros had served as governor of Virginia. As the local chief executive, Andros codified local laws, enforced them, maintained defenses, and avoided dealing directly with issues related to religion. He allowed and didn’t interfere with holiday celebrations. He didn’t use his office to plunder, and opposed absentee land ownership.  After six years he voluntarily retired to go back to his farm in Guernsey.

 

Religion, History and Holidays: a Final Thought

“I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up…. They have no holidays”. (Henny Youngman).

 

Thanksgiving’s History: A Short Review

Consistent with Thanksgiving’s history, this year, 2020, hasn’t been one to rave about. Thanksgiving is about remembering that things could be worse and that we should be thankful that we are here. This year, we’ve survived  a contested national election, an epidemic, and harsh responses by government to the epidemic. COVID-19 took many lives and many small businesses  lost their customers and disappeared.  Children stayed home during lockdowns and spent a school year outside the classroom. But we’re still here, and looking forward. We are thankful.

According to current rules we’ll have fewer large capacity feasts and massive parades this year. People are beginning to ignore rules, but everyone still is aware of the dangers of contracting the virus.

About ten year’s ago in a year full of feasts, parades and football, I published a brief history of Thanksgiving for northernneck.com, a local on-line newspaper. The following is what I wrote then.  History doesn’t change: Thanksgiving has always been about people recognizing that things may be tough, but we’ve survived.

Thanksgiving’s History

Historians believe that the first Thanksgiving by Europeans in North America took place in Florida in 1513, when Juan Ponce de Leon landed on the coast.  He claimed the land for Spain and offered a prayer of thanks for safe passage. Later, on September 8, 1565 Spanish settlers in Saint Augustine, Florida, sang hymns of thanks, celebrated Mass, and fed themselves and local Indians with food from ships—hardtack, beans and wine.

Native Americans celebrated Thanksgiving festivals for many centuries before the arrival of Europeans.  Thanksgiving’s history for English-speaking Europeans began in Virginia on September 4, 1619 at Berkeley Plantation. There thirty-eight settlers, all men, gave thanks and proclaimed that thereafter the day of the ship’s arrival would be observed as a religious day of Thanksgiving.  In Massachusetts, Plymouth’s first Thanksgiving in 1621 was a harvest feast, and involved the Wampanoag Indians. The menu is uncertain, but foods available included wild fowl and venison.

Jamestown Interpreter Baking Fish over                                  Open Fire

The 1621 Pilgrim feast wasn’t repeated, but Thanksgiving’s history progressed. Over the years New England developed an annual tradition of thanksgiving prayers after the harvest.  In 1817 New York State adopted Thanksgiving Day as an annual custom and by the middle of the 19th century many other states did the same.  In 1863 President Abraham Lincoln appointed a day of Thanksgiving as the last Thursday in November.  Since then every President has issued an annual Thanksgiving proclamation.

Thanksgiving: An Official Legal Holiday

Finally, in 1941 Congress established Thanksgiving as an official national holiday to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November.  World War II raged, and President Roosevelt delivered a famous speech celebrating four freedoms:  for speech and worship, and from want and fear.  Norman Rockwell created four paintings commemorating the speech.   He depicted “Freedom from Want” as a family Thanksgiving feast of roast turkey.

Four Freedoms

The Norman Rockwell paintings were published by the Saturday Evening Post in 1943.  The Treasury Department toured the paintings around the country, selling over $130 million in war bonds.

Thanksgiving today is a secular holiday, characterized by parades, football games and turkey dinners. The Friday after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday or the official start of the retail Christmas season.

Thanksgiving Parade

Thanksgiving dinner normally consists of roast turkey, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. The National Turkey Federation estimated that about 46 million turkeys were consumed by Americans last year at Thanksgiving.  Cranberry sauce is a very American tradition. The cranberry is one of only three fruits—the others are blueberries and concord grapes—to be native to American soil.

Thanksgiving Feast

A Thanksgiving Story

Aside from the old question, “Why did the turkey cross the road?”  (Answer: it was the chicken’s day off), there are many turkey tales.

A pro football team once finished daily practice, when a large turkey strutted onto the field. While the players gazed in amazement, the turkey walked up to the head coach and demanded a tryout.   Everyone stared in silence as the turkey caught pass after pass and ran right through the defensive line.  When the turkey returned to the sidelines, the coach shouted, “You’re terrific!!! Sign up for the season, and I’ll see to it that you get a huge bonus.”  “Forget the bonus, the turkey said, “All I want to know is, does the season go past Thanksgiving Day?”

 

Communication and Dictatorship

My newspaper this morning delivered the news about dictatorship in the world, and the role of communication in supporting or defying it.  The stories told about actions taken by dictatorial bosses who did not consult the general public. Consequently, whether they liked it or not, dictators had their acts communicated to the public.

For example, three unconnected stories illustrate similar truths:

  • The dictator Lukashenko in Belarus called out troops to put down protestors who claim he stole a recent election. In the old days, he would have shot a few people and gotten away with it.  The protestors are organized and communicating with each other and the international press. Subsequently, Lukashenko alerted his Russian patrons that he may need military help. In a timely way, I’m reading about it in my newspaper.
  • Israel imposed a national lockdown forbidding large groups from gathering, on the eve of the Jewish high holidays. Most importantly, the lockdown will last till October, making impossible worship of the holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur by large groups of people sitting together. Ultra-religious Israeli citizens are very angry, and my newspaper presents the details.
  • The Dallas Symphony for the first time during the pandemic held a concert in its usual concert hall for some of its subscribers. The symphony hall holds more than 1800 seats, and this concert played for about seventy subscribers. The program consisted of three relatively short Beethoven pieces, short because no intermissions were allowed. A famous pianist played with an orchestra of 35, under an Italian conductor who entered the U. S. by special arrangements. First steps taken against rules imposed by government, and now people everywhere know about it.

 

Communication has Changed Form

This blog is about as old as the current pandemic lockdown. In a way it’s a child of current trends in communication. In my lifetime, communication has moved from newspapers, radio and movies, to television, and to digital communication. Print media gradually faded into the background, replaced by cable television and digital media.

Many newspapers, book publishers, and movie theaters failed well before the pandemic lockdowns. However, fifty years ago the communications media provided widely watched and respected national news, as well as high quality popular entertainment and artistry. Newspapers and books printed educated commentary and thoughtful essays.

Newspapers Used to be Numerous

Today, instant images of events, distributed to a world-wide audience by electronic devices, stand in the place of the news reported in the old media. The time consuming business of creating thoughtful commentary  today is replaced by partisan shouting on television and in newspapers. As a result, newspapers keep dying and the old broadcast television and theater-based movie businesses continue to shrink. In other words, we are seeing a Gresham’s Law in communications: bad news drives out good news.

Communication and Dictatorship

Like most complex changes, there are pluses and minuses to the transformation of modes of communication.  In days when literacy wasn’t widespread and small elites owned the newspapers, newspapers could sway national leaders and affect policy. Elites monopolized national communications and could excite the public. They created fervor for whatever interested them. Newspapers could start wars. Dictators also used them  to support their actions and abuse opponents..

The old dictatorships manipulated radio, movie and print communication.  If they didn’t like a newspaper, they sent thugs to destroy the printing presses.  They could forcibly take over radio stations and stop the showing of movies they didn’t like.

The dictator has a harder time monopolizing thought and communication when everyone is a communicator. For example, if Lukashenko sends in troops to support his rule, the images of the event will appear on cellphones and mobile media instantly and world-wide. His Russian patrons know that.

Cell Phones Tell the News When it Happens

Lukashenko can’t stop cell phones from working in Belarus and throughout the world. When Israel decreed the lockdown, the government couldn’t stop loud complaints.  When the Dallas symphony took small steps at reopening, it was reported not only in Texas but in The Wall Street Journal.

 

Forms of Communication and Content

About eighty per cent of the readers of this little blog use mobile devices. In other words, people are reading this mainly on smart phones. Since I’ve already reached my 80th birthday this delights me, At my age, the feeling of being relevant is very enjoyable.

The digital world has no geographic limits.  My readers live in India, the Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, as well as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other places.  Because I write in English, and mostly about the lessons of American history, I’m not surprised my readers live mainly where English is spoken.

I can’t tell which blogs do best in which place.  I guess comments about the contributions of women to history and visions of grandchildren are appreciated everywhere.

 

Communication and the Breakdown of Dictatorship

As everyone probably knows, state governments have imposed a pandemic lockdown on those of us living in the United States. We are also enduring a national election.

Local governors have seized emergency powers, without resort to public approval. They are miniature dictators, imposing rules by emergency decree. They dictate the size of group gatherings, spacing for social distancing, and the opening or closing of various businesses.  Governors decree what size of group can meet where and where people are required to wear masks. State governors decree whether restaurants can open and when they can serve indoors. They dictate the distances people must observe when out in public. Governors make decisions about placing sick people in nursing homes or quarantining nursing homes.

These rules vary from state to state. Some states permit large numbers of people to carry on public protests. If protests become too violent, governors make the decision whether or not to call out the national guard. Social media report  events in real time, instantaneously. Newspapers and television follow up with partisan shouting and little objective analysis.

It is hard to measure the effects of widespread instantaneous communication. How soon do people make decisions on elections? Do they wait for debates?  Which is more prone to partisan manipulation and outright deceit: newspapers, television news reports, or social media?

Dictators have a harder time with social media.  They can’t ban the use of phones and digital media without harming the general economy: business requires regular communication and ease of data collection.  But with that, you get twitter, and personal tweets from the president down (or up?) to everyone, including children, and the reverse.

It’s the reverse that counts: dictators now can hear what people are saying and can’t control everything that’s said.

Learning About History: The Place of Women

Why do people care about history? What do they think knowledge about the old days will tell them? Men and women look at history a little differently.  They imagine what the world might have been for each of them.

After several years as a docent at Jamestown Settlement and fielding questions from people from all age groups and parts of the country, I think I understand what we, both men and women, want to learn about history. Jamestown Settlement is a living history museum commemorating the arrival of three English ships in 1607.

Children learn the history: warfare, Pocahontas, starvation, lots of murky action.  Jamestown Settlement is a park, a fort, an Indian village, and a dock on the James River holding replicas of the three ships.   Children enjoy playing outside where chickens and wild turkeys roam and crafts are demonstrated in the Indian village.

But adults don’t come to Jamestown simply to entertain the children.  When they enter the museum they ask questions. They want to know where they fit into the mosaic that makes up American history.  Did their ancestors arrive in Virginia four hundred years ago?  Unlikely, in physical terms, for most people asking. But they still feel an affinity with the first settlers; somehow they feel a connection.

Susan Constant docked on James River

History and the Need for Women

The first settlers were young men and boys who spent a lot of time fighting with everyone, including themselves. After all, they came to fight, and thought they would fight the Spanish. Sometimes they succeeded in killing each other.  These people didn’t have descendants.

So when does American history begin? In my opinion, it happened when the first young settlers realized that to survive, they couldn’t rely on rescue ships from the mother country. To thrive in the new world, they needed to build more than a lonely fort.  They needed a place to live and begin families. For that, they needed women.

In the beginning, the only women around Jamestown came from the native tribes who lived in the area.  Archaeology tells us that native women did a lot of the cooking in Jamestown fort.  Historians estimate that about a third of the original settlers who arrived on the first ships married Indian women.

Indian Cooking Site outside Jamestown Fort

 

After a hundred years or so, with substantial intermarriage with the Indians and the arrival of some women from Europe, Virginia developed a family structure.  The wealthy landowners created plantations on which they raised and sold tobacco. There were very few towns; religion was observed in small parish churches paid for and controlled by local parishioners who lived on plantations. Though the colony received a charter to establish a university in 1622, Virginia didn’t get around to accepting that idea until 1693.

Virginia tobacco was highly prized in the mother country and all over Europe, and Virginia planters became wealthy.  From 1619 they were also self-governing by an elected House of Burgesses.  The mother country sent over governors who were advised by an appointed Governors Council; the more raucous elected House of Burgesses passed all legislation, including tax bills.

Women in Colonial Virginia

This is all basic stuff, but think.  What and who were represented in the Virginia House of Burgesses? After about a hundred years the colony numbered about fifty thousand people.  Two representatives were elected from each borough and they, all men, represented the plantations.

The plantation was Virginia’s basic unit of society. It contained everything that was necessary for life and the beginning of a family structure:  the plantation raised the food, prepared it, made the furniture and the tools necessary for the crops, and sold the product. It also provided security from bandits and incursions by foreign tribes. A representative of a plantation spoke for everyone living there: rich, poor, male, female, free, indentured or slave.

Tobacco brought wealth and nice houses located on the rivers from which tobacco was shipped. Tobacco traded internationally; Virginia credit purchased many products for the use and enjoyment of the plantation residents. It also paid for tutors for the children.

Because the men went out to the fields and served in the local militia, Virginia plantations often were run day-to-day by women. Women frequently outlived their husbands and powerful, wealthy women operated in international trade.  Women were important participants in deciding who their children should marry, and Virginia plantation society featured close family ties. Many members of the Governor’s Council and the House of Burgesses were closely related. It was a government of cousins who knew each other well.

History Continues: Women still Watch out for the Children

Is that so different from what we have today?  Women still write a lot of the checks and run most households.  They have the children and raise them.  They also run a lot of small businesses, as they did in colonial Virginia.  When a tourist visits Colonial Williamsburg he and his family can eat in a number of restaurants in the colonial area.  Historically, almost all of them were owned and operated by women.

Women exercised their property rights early, and generally they did so to protect their children. Jamestown Settlement’s museum displays a legal document from the 1650s which describes what today would be described as a prenuptial agreement.  In it, Mrs. Hannah Bennett Turner Tompkins Arnold states that she will marry her third husband, but that certain parts of her acreage will be set aside for her children. She buried three husbands and kept her farm and property together for her heirs by legal deed.

This is all detailed to a certain extent in my book, The Wealth of Jamestown. The star of that book is, of course, Sarah Harrison, daughter of a great planter, who in her marriage ceremony to the Rev. James Blair, clearly stated “No obey” when asked if she would love, honor and obey him.  From that, the plot thickened.

Women didn’t often get their names and dates recorded, but they were there. We’d have no history without them.