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).

 

Blackbeard and the Use of Power

My book, Blackbeard’s Legacy, recounts a fictionalized story of Blackbeard, otherwise known as Edward Thatch or Teach. Set in the early 18th century, it presents a story of Blackbeard’s use of power, the people who knew him, and his business.  His eventual conflict with Governor Spotswood of Virginia forms the backdrop of the tale.

Blackbeard, a real person, commanded a fleet of over forty ships at the height of his power. He rivaled the navies of many countries of his day.  For example, he blockaded Charleston harbor and lifted that blockade in exchange for a chest of medicines.

Blackbeard knew what he was doing. He visited most major ports on the east coast and corresponded with governors and attorneys-general.  He had regular customers who paid for the goods he sold. There has never been evidence that he killed anyone.

Blackbeard was and still is genuinely popular. For example, he became captain by election by his crew. He was a popular commander, and seamen wanted to sail with him. Sailing with Blackbeard was safer and more profitable than sailing with weaker, lesser armed vessels..

Pirates are Popular

Blackbeard is known to everyone as a pirate. Museums up and down the east coast are dedicated to his story, especially about where he lived and how and where he died.  The towns of Bath, Beaufort, and Ocracoke in North Carolina are very proud of their connections to Blackbeard. There you can see coves where he anchored and houses in which he supposedly lived.

At a book signing about a year ago, people from North Carolina with family members named Teach came to see me.  They claimed to be relatives and descendants of Blackbeard and they were proud of the connection.

Why do people enjoy stories about pirates? A very old and rich literature depicts pirates as fiercely independent.  They’re described as violent people, maimed in many battles but surviving them. They have lost eyes and limbs, show deep scars, suffer bad teeth, and wear peg legs. In the literature they prey on women, hide treasure chests, and leave complex coded maps.  Little boys visiting the pirate museums love dressing up to the part: they wear eye patches, three-cornered hats, and shout “Aargh!!!” while waving little swords.

Young Pirate

Blackbeard’s Use of Power: Reality Check

A pirate, by definition, is a seaman operating outside of the law. During Blackbeard’s day, local governments insisted that ships entering their ports be certified. They required ship operators to obtain licenses or pardons for which they paid. With the pardon, they were privateers; without the pardons, they were considered pirates.  Accordingly, local governors collected fees from legal ship operators and shared in their profits.

In the eighteenth century, ships at sea had to fear larger better-armed ships wherever they went. On the sea, no law enforcement existed. The famous pirates who were caught and executed for crimes, for example Captain Kidd, were seized on land surreptitiously, not at sea.

Blackbeard’ use of power benefited his business. Whether or not he broke laws, he was very successful at what he did: he delivered goods to virtually every port at prices that people were happy to pay.

When he was assassinated in 1718 by hitmen hired by Governor Spotswood of Virginia, Blackbeard lived in North Carolina and held a legitimate royal pardon. Spotswood never consulted with the governor of North Carolina, disregarded Blackbeard’s pardon, and simply wanted a share of Blackbeard’s wealth. Who was the criminal then?

Have you heard of Spotswood? There’s a Spotsylvania County in Virginia and a golf course in Williamsburg that carries Spotswood’s name. In comparison, when Blackbeard died, he was a king of his day known virtually everywhere, and remains so. Benjamin Franklin in his autobiography mentions that he wrote poems about Teach when he began his newspaper writing career.

 

Blackbeard’s Popularity: His Flag

Blackbeard’s fleet of ships sailed under Blackbeard’s individual flag, easily recognized by many people in many locations. Today, we would call that marketing, and Blackbeard was clever at self-promotion.

From southeastern Virginia to Charleston there are numerous small museums devoted to Blackbeard.  The stories they tell are multiple, and they sell a flag that is supposed to be the one he sailed under:

Blackbeard’s Flag

 

 

Does this flag frighten you? The skeleton wears a crown, is shaking something like a large drink in one hand, while his arrow points at a heart that he’s not looking at. He’s also smiling; in fact, the whole skeleton seems to be shaking with laughter. Was Blackbeard a comedian?

Some stories say that Blackbeard had fourteen wives.  Others say his only wife was fourteen when they married.  Apparently if a tavern maid could claim to be Blackbeard’s wife, that claim was good for business. That may explain why he’s said to have so many wives!!!

 

First Review for Washington’s Shadow

Washington’s Shadow, which was officially published on October 15, 2019, has been reviewed by BookTrib, an on-line  source of book news and book reviews.  Here is the review:

https://booktrib.com/2019/10/life-after-the-revolution-in-washingtons-shadow/

 

“In a cozy Virginian parlor in 1810, a widow, her daughter and two servants stare at a box containing letters from the Revolutionary War written by Col. Leven Powell, who had fought with George Washington at Valley Forge. Now, in the throes of grief after his passing, Powell’s family struggles with how best to capture his legacy, piece together his story from the letters, and in the process define their own futures.

In Washington’s Shadow (Gatekeeper Press), author Barbara N. McLennan submerges readers into our nation’s start like no history book ever could.

At the forefront of McLennan’s novel is the question of who controls Powell’s story and how it gets told. Should his biography be written by sons Burr and Cuthbert Powell, both politicians? Perhaps, but they hand the project off to their sister, Jane, who enlists the help of the other women.

Sally (Powell’s widow), Jane and the free servants Nancy and Dorothy act as a chorus for the reader. Amid letters about Native American wars, smallpox and slave armies, the women amend Powell’s words to account for the people most overlooked. In this way, McLennan expertly brings alive the Revolution by making the reader feel the immediacy of it.

But amid all the domestic work of mending, cooking and feeding relatives, the women are weighed down by the task. After all, women were not at the front lines but at home keeping businesses running and their families from starving.

McLennan’s novel is uniquely meta-textual; just as we are shown transcripts of letters describing major battles in the war, we see the women’s lives intersect behind the scenes. They know they are in the shadows of their husbands and that Col. Powell was in Washington’s shadow, but that their loyalty and talents are just as crucial to the success of the young country.

And when Jane’s brother Billy is hunted down for debt by one of Thomas Jefferson’s infamous hit men — the same who drove Aaron Burr out of the country — the past gets personal. Jane isn’t just reminiscing about her father anymore, but trying to piece together how her father’s involvement with Washington has made Billy a target.

Sally’s teenage grandkids are sent off to find Billy, following ancient Native American trails on their ponies and fighting back against thugs and thieves. It’s not quite a road trip by today’s criteria but just as riveting and atmospheric as the best of them.

Reading Washington’s Shadow is like being transported back in time and seeing a country where adventure and danger lurked at every turn. Part love story, political intrigue and coming of age novel, McLennan has created vibrant characters that will stay with readers long after the book ends.

As Edward, a house servant, explains the significance of Jane as the primary storyteller, “Make believe she’s Washington on his white horse. Show some respect.”

Washington’s Shadow is available for purchase.”

 

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Nation Building and Washington’s Shadow

Washington’s Shadow is my fourth historical novel and probably the last.  All of my books focus on  American nation building in our early history.  Generally early American history is not being taught in elementary schools and later grades.

I’ll be addressing the process by which I produce these books at a discussion panel at the Williamsburg Book Festival on Saturday, October 5. Nation building is a subject that has always interested me. Virtually everything I write discusses some aspect of it. The people who build the nation have to be strong enough to understand they can’t do everything alone, by themselves.  They have to risk danger in moving ahead, but they have to communicate with each other. They have to build coalitions and marriages.  Nations, in my way of thinking, always begin with families and extended families and how they learn to deal with individual members and each other.  Washington’s Shadow is about how Washington visualized the country and how the people who followed him interpreted the idea of nation building in his image.

 

I’ve spent a good part of my working life in and out of government jobs.  I’ve worked as staff in the US House of Representatives and  the US Senate. I held positions in the US Treasury Department, and the US Commerce Department. I worked for several  Washington law firms and lobbies. I know how our government is supposed to work.

When I retired and moved to Williamsburg, Virginia, I met many people from outside Washington DC. I was surprised by how little most people knew about the practical working origins of the US government.  More shocking was how little actual research had been done to explain and understand our history. There are very few serious books that explain the political institutions of the early colonies.  There are publications, fictional and non-fictional, about Pocahontas, colonists starving, and the exploits of famous pirates.  For the most part these are designed to entertain children and give little historical context.

What Americans Know About Nation Building and their History

On retirement I took a position as a volunteer docent in the museum at Jamestown Settlement. Jamestown as a city no longer exists.  Jamestown Settlement, a modern park, is situated near the James River. It includes a gallery,  a model fort, an Indian village, and a port holding three ships. The facility is designed to explain the founding and development of the first English settlement in the new world. I learned there that most people have heard of Pocahontas. However, many believe the three ships that arrived in Jamestown in 1607 were the Nina, the Pinta, and Santa Maria.  The next Virginian most people can identify is George Washington, who lived a hundred and fifty years later.

Visitors  coming to Williamsburg from Washington DC are often surprised by the familiarity of the old government buildings and institutions of colonial Virginia. Most people don’t know that Jefferson, who designed the US Capitol, previously served in Virginia’s House of Burgesses, as did George Washington. When they learn some facts, they begin to understand that our government didn’t somehow fall out of the sky. The American government was the product of long experience and practice.  The US Constitution was written by people who knew what they were trying to do.

Nation Building and the Founding Fathers? Who Built the Nation?

The Wealth of Jamestown, The Wealth of Virginia, and Blackbeard’s Legacy are three short novels to the early 1700s. The books describe men and women, young and old, native Americans and settlers, the educated and the uneducated living  almost a hundred years before the US Declaration of Independence. The characters are not European; they are American. They are engaged in politics and commerce on a grand scale.  Blackbeard, the king of international trade in his day, was as much a Founding Father as Thomas Jefferson. Each of these books required at least two year’s research into original documents and obscure writings and sources.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Washington’s Shadow tells of people living at the edge of a wilderness in a time soon after the Revolutionary War. These people knew Washington. They are a later generation of Americans. They moved west to build towns and communities. They faced away from Europe with its wars and dynasties, a movement of people that began in 1607.  Though taking place in 1810, Washington’s Shadow is the latest chapter in my fictional explanation of nation-building, American style.