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Archive for the ‘1800s’ Category

Marie Laveau (c. 1801-1881), also written as Laveaux, was the most famous voodoo queen of New Orleans. She was at her height from the 1830s to the 1850s and has since become a figure of legend. There are at least eight songs about her, like “The Witch Queen of New Orleans” (1971) by Redbone. She even appears as a character in Marvel Comics (as a white witch in black latex). If you visit her grave and draw “XXX” on it with chalk you can make a wish.

She had a daughter of the same name who looked very much like her. She is known as Marie Laveau II, also a voodoo queen. It is hard to tell where the mother leaves off and the daughter begins. It seems likely the daughter took over in the 1860s.

As a voodoo queen Laveau healed the sick, told fortunes and sold gris-gris, a voodoo charm. For $10 you could buy a love powder. For up to $1000 she would use voodoo to help you win an election. She sported a snake.

Some say her power came less from voodoo or any kind of magic and more from knowing the right things about the right people: she was a hairdresser who worked for the wives of the top men in New Orleans. It seems likely she knew all about their love affairs and business deals – either from the wives themselves or from their servants.

It is hard to know where fact ends and fiction begins with her. In what seems to be the truest story a man came to her desperate because his son was about to be sentenced to death by a judge. He offered to give her a house. A few days later, to everyone’s surprise, the son got off.

She was Creole, one of the French-speaking people of New Orleans, and a quadroon too, meaning she was one-fourth black: her father was a white planter, her mother was half white and half black (and maybe part Native American too).  Laveau was a free person of colour: she could own property but could not marry a white person.

She married her first husband in 1819, Jacques Paris, a free person of colour who fled the slave uprisings in Haiti. He died a year later and she became a hairdresser known as Widow Paris. Her next husband was Christophe Glapion. Because he was white their marriage was a common law one. Some say she had 15 children, but others say that some of those  were her sister’s, also named Marie Laveau.

Laveau was a believing Catholic and even went to mass every day. It was common in those days for people to believe in both Catholicism and voodoo at the same time.

There were sightings of her after she died. Some may have been her daughter, but some took place even after she had died too. Laveau’s ghost is said to appear on St John’s Eve, June 23rd, wearing a handkerchief with seven knots.

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Haiti was a land of the Tainos (Arawaks). But then one day in 1492 a white man named Columbus arrived from over the seas. He noticed they wore gold jewellery. He told them he would cut off the hands of any Taino over 13 who did not give him a certain amount of gold or cotton every three months. The Taino fled inland, but the Spanish followed, running them down with dogs and killing them, looking for the gold mines. They made girls into sex slaves. It got so bad that mothers were killing their own babies.

In two years half the Tainos were dead.  By 1555 they were all gone.

In 1505 Columbus’s son brought the first African slaves to the Americas, bringing them to Haiti. By 1519 there were already slave uprisings.

In 1697 France got Haiti from Spain and called it Saint-Domingue.

By 1789 Haiti produced three-fourths of all the sugar in the world, its black slaves producing more wealth than all of English-speaking North America. A third of slaves died within three years after arriving from Africa.

In the 1790s Toussaint L’Ouverture led a slave uprising that in time overthrew the French, making Haiti independent in 1804. The slaves were freed and the land divided among them. The 3,300 remaining French were killed and white was taken out of the flag, leaving red and blue.

For its loss France demanded payment of a crushing debt. France, Britain and America cut it off from overseas trade until it agreed to pay the debt. It took till 1947 to pay it off.

Like the Roman Empire, Haiti had no peaceful means for power to change hands. Often the government would be overthrown every few years.

From 1849 to 1913 America sent warships into Haitian waters 24
times to “protect American lives and property.”

Haiti was under American military rule from 1915 to 1934. Major General Smedley D. Butler said he hunted the Haitians “like pigs” and made Haiti “a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in.” American troops practised “indiscriminate killing of natives” while the American press called Haitians “a horde of naked niggers” in need of “energetic Anglo-Saxon influence”.

America rewrote Haiti’s laws so that Americans could buy up land. They sent 40% of Haiti’s income to American and French banks to pay back debts.

From 1957 t0 1986 Haiti was ruled by the Duvaliers: Papa Doc and Baby Doc. They ruled by terror through the paramilitary Tonton Macoutes. America backed them and opened factories there.

Since the fall of Baby Doc, Haiti has gone back and forth between military rule and democracy, with Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a country priest, as the star democrat. America sent in troops in 1994 to restore Aristide to power, but it seems likely they were behind his overthrow in 1991 and 2004.

Democracy was last restored in 2006. The government is backed by a UN force but it is still weak. On top of that Haiti was hit by hurricanes and tropical storms in 2008 that killed over a thousand and by an earthquake in 2010 that has killed 110,000 at last count.

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The following is based on part nine of Jacob Bronowski’s BBC series on the history of science and invention, “The Ascent of Man” (1973). This one is about evolution:

The theory of evolution was discovered independently by two men: Charles Darwin and Alfred Russell Wallace.

Both loved the English countryside, both loved beetles and both in their twenties found a way to make a living as a naturalist. There was a ready market in England for specimens of plants and animals from parts foreign. Both went to South America to pursue their profession.

Darwin went in 1831. For five years he served as the ship’s naturalist on board the Beagle, a survey ship of the British navy.

Wallace went in 1848 to the Amazon and for four years lived among the natives gathering plants and animals rare or unknown back in Europe. He set foot in a part of the world that no white man had ever seen before. He found 40 different kinds of butterflies in 40 days. But then, on the way home, the ship caught fire and he lost everything, the 40 butterflies, all of it, except for his watch, some shirts and a few notebooks – and his life. But two years later he set out for the Malay archipelago (Indonesia) and started all over.

Darwin saw the natives in South America as beastly while Wallace could imagine himself  becoming one, living the rest of his days in the Amazon where his children would be “rich without wealth, and happy without gold!”. To him they were not just a little above apes but just a little below philosophers.

Both Darwin and Wallace came back from South America persuaded that the species change: that lions and tigers, for example, were once just cats way back in time. But neither knew how the change came about.

Then one day Darwin read “Principles of Population” (1798) by Robert Malthus. Malthus said that more people are born than can possibly be fed, so some must die. That was it: only the fittest live to give birth to the next generation. That is how the species change.

In 1844, at age 35, Darwin wrote it all down in a book and told his wife to print it should he die and left it at that.

But then 14 years later, when Wallace himself was 35, lying sick on the island of Ternate in the Spice Islands, he read the same book and had the same idea. He wrote it up and sent it to Darwin for advice. Darwin’s hand was forced. He came out with his book, “Origin of Species”, a year later in 1859.

Neither Darwin nor Wallace had any idea of genetics. That came later. But in their time Louis Pasteur did prove that life is based on chemistry.

No one knows how life began but we do know that the chemistry that life is made from forms easily under the early conditions of the earth – and even, to a degree, in outer space where you can find, of all things, formaldehyde.

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Oromia

et-oromoOromia is one of the largest countries in Africa and yet few have heard of it – because it is inside another country, Ethiopia. Ethiopia was created as the empire of the Amhara. It is made up out of five or so other countries. The largest of these is the land of the Oromo, Oromia. It lies at the centre of Ethiopia and extends to the south and to the west. It is bigger than France but has only half as many people, about 30 million. In our own time it has become the scene of genocide.

OromiaRegionMapThe Oromo are much like the Somalis in language, custom and race. They speak Oromo, one of the top ten of the thousand languages of Africa. While the Somalis live in the eastern end of the Horn of Africa, the Oromo live just to the west of them in southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. But while nearly all Somalis are Muslim, only half of the Oromo are: the other half are Christians, though some do still practise the native Oromo religion.

Most were herdsmen raising cows until the 1800s. Many still are, but now most are small-time farmers, a change that began in the 1800s. Trade also increased then. That gave great power and wealth to those who could control it, so in the early 1800s Oromia was ruled by warlords. Then in the late 1800s the Amhara took over and made Oromia a part of their country, Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia.

OromoWomanIt was not enough for the Amhara simply to rule, collect taxes and keep the peace. They went beyond that. They saw the Oromo as savages, as backwards and violent. They tried to make them into good Amharas, speaking the Amharic tongue and worshipping in Orthodox Christian churches. Amharic became the language that school was taught in (till 1995). Some Oromo were ordered to become Christians or lose their land. The Amhara outlawed the practice of the old Oromo religion. They also outlawed the Oromo flag of black, red and white (pictured above).

The Amhara broke down Oromo society to weaken it – although it had already been weakening under the warlords. They sent settlers to live on Oromo land and wrote in their history books that it was the Oromo, not they, who were the newcomers to the region.

Losing one’s Oromo ways and taking on Amhara ways became the way to get ahead. Most of those who did not remained poor – probably proof to some that Oromo ways are backward.

A third of Christians in Oromia are not Orthodox but Protestant. That is high for Ethiopia, but part of the appeal of Protestant Christianity is that it is not the Amhara sort of Christianity.

People like to point out how Ethiopia largely avoided becoming a colony of the European empires – it was ruled by Italy for only five years. But to the Oromo the black man merely took the place of the white man. And he is still there.

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delaware-indians

The Delaware or, as they call themselves, the Lenape (leh-NAH-pay, meaning the “common or ordinary people”), were the Native Americans who lived in and near what is now New York and Philadelphia in the American north-east. They had lived there for at least a thousand years when Whites arrived.

Country facts (circa 1500):

  • Name: Lenapehoking;
  • Location: New Jersey and parts of neighbouring states;
  • Population: 30,000 to 85,000, maybe more;
  • Area: about 55,000 sq km;
  • Languages: Munsee in the north, Unami in the south, both Eastern Algonquian languages (related to those that Squanto and Pocahontas spoke);
  • Religion: ethnic;
  • Technology: Eastern Woodlands;
  • Government: decentralized, ruled by sachems (religious chiefs);
  • Currency: wampum.

The Delaware grew maizebeans and squash, gathered strawberries and hunted deer, bear and elk. They lived in long houses, sometimes in towns of up to 300.  They were not the wandering bands of hunter-gatherers that most Whites imagine, much less “savages”.

Whites began arriving from Europe in number in the 1600s. Many Delaware died of White diseases, like smallpox, cholera and measles.

Whites got their land in three main ways:

  1. war, preferred by the Dutch but practised by Anglos too, like George Washington, who fought them.
  2. purchase, like when Manhattan was bought for $24 worth of trinkets and glass beads – a statement so misleading as to be a lie.
  3. court cases – where White judges upheld fine print, where the Delaware had few rights or protection. Preferred by Anglos.

Money: mostly wampum, shell beads on a string. Whites sometimes call it “glass beads”, which is like calling their money “pieces of paper”.

The Delaware knew how to fight in the woods better than most White men did, and they even had guns (which were too slow-loading till the 1800s to be much better than bows and arrows). But one thing they did not have were numbers. More and more Whites kept coming over the seas every year. And whatever land Whites could not get by sale or the small print of a contract, they took by force.

An excuse to fight the Delaware could always be found. Once it was because one of them took a peach. Small things like that grew into years of war. Even those who had taken on Western ways were killed. Even those who had become peaceful Moravian Christians were killed. Even women and children were killed. It did not matter to Whites.

lifeam1The Delaware who had lived through the White diseases and the White wars were pushed west bit by bit - through Pennsylvania in the 1600s and 1700s,  Ohio, Indiana and Kansas in the 1800s and so on till most of them came to Oklahoma by the 1860s. Some, though, wound up in Wisconsin, some in Ontario. By 2000 there were about 16,000. Unlike other Native Americans, few married Blacks.

Languages: They spoke Unami and Munsee.  You can still hear them in prayers and in place names, like Manhattan, Poconos, Hackensack, Rockaway, Massapequa, Carnarsie, Parsippany, Minisink, Raritan and Jamaica (in Queens).

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Note: This post comes mainly from “Roll, Jordan, Roll” by Eugene Genovese, a Brooklyn-born Marxist historian. He is a white man who argues that it was not as bad as black  people think:

When you think of white men and black women back in slave days in America the thing that springs to mind is the rape of black slave women by white slavemasters. It is an image so striking and terrible that it is hard to get it out of your mind. In fact, the Mammy stereotype was pushed by the South to counteract it.

It is a fact of history: we have accounts of just such rapes. But while true, it was not as common as you might think. During the civil war when the Union army got to the large estates in the low country of Georgia and South Carolina the northerners were surprised by how unmixed the blacks were.

In our time something like 75% of blacks are part white, but at the end of the civil war fewer than 25% were. Most of the mixing of the races took place after the civil war, after the slaves were freed.

The government used to count mulattoes separately, those who were part black, part white. So we know where they lived and where they came from. They mostly did not come from the big slave estates in the deep South but from the towns and cities of the upper South, in states like Arkansas and Tennessee. As it turns out, these were the places where there was an oversupply of both white men and black women.

And just as we have accounts of rapes and of black children of white slavemasters, so we also have accounts of the opposite, of slavemasters who did not permit such things – not just according to the slavemasters themselves, but even according to their slaves after they were freed and had no reason to lie about it.

In fact, we even have the diary of one slavemaster, a 44-year-old virgin apparently, who complains about the lack of sex in his life – even though he owned slave women. When he thought about where to get it, he did not think about his black slave women but the white prostitutes in town.

Some slave women, called fancy girls, mostly light-skinned, were sold to work in the household with the understanding that they would provide special services.

While some white men did openly live with black women, most hid what was going on as something shameful. As late as the 1970s, more than a hundred years after the civil war,  we have court records where it is assumed that having sex with a black woman is so shameful for a white man that none would admit to it unless it was true.

In most cases slavemasters who had sex with black slave women were just using them, but it was not always that simple. From court records we know that sometimes it led to divorce and contested wills. While most white men did nothing to try to free their black children and black lovers, some did.

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Rosina Ferrara

Rosina Ferrara (1861-1934) was a beauty from the island of Capri off the coast of Italy. You see her picture in art museums all over the world because artists loved to paint and draw her, especially Frank Hyde and John Singer Sargent. For them she had an exotic beauty, one that reminded them of the women in ancient Greek art.

She had light brown skin, black curly hair and eyes like a panther. She looked like she was part Arab and part Greek. Some say that on her mother’s side she is related to Barbarossa, the Turkish pirate. She came from the town of Anacapri where the people are markedly Arab-looking.

Charles Sprague Pearce, a painter from Boston, said of her:

the tawney skinned, panther eyed, elf-like Rosina, wildest and lithest of all the savage creatures on the savage isle of Capri

Capri is a beautiful island near Naples. In the 1800s artists and writers loved to go there to do their work. The island was not only famous for its beauty, but also for its beautiful women, who looked exotic to the French, British and Americans. In the French imagination it was the sort of place where you might fall in love with a fisherman’s daughter (and later leave her).

And on that beautiful island of beautiful exotic women, some said that the most beautiful of all was Rosina Ferrara.

She was discovered by the French artist Chatran when she was about age 14. She became a model for Edward Vaux and then the British artist Frank Hyde.

Sargent arrived in Capri in 1878 when she was 16 or 17. He went to visit Frank Hyde, telling him what kind of model he was looking for. He showed her Rosina:

When he saw her he was so fascinated with her that he made three studies in profile of her, all of which he painted in my studio.

Sargent would go on to paint her 12 times during his year on Capri. Sargent tends to make people taller and thinner than they are, but he is good at catching their mood.

Sargent did not pay her for modelling, by the way. Instead he gave her a sculpture he made of her.

In addition to Chatran, Vaux, Hyde and Sargent, she has also been painted by George Randolph Barse (husband), Alfred Stevens (lover), Charles C. Coleman (good friend), Jean Benner and Charles Sprague Pearce (that painter from Boston). Many of these paintings are in private collections.

In 1883 she had a daughter, Maria Carlotta. No one knows who the father was. Some say it was a prince. She was famous enough and beautiful enough where that would not be out of the question.

In the middle 1880s she was the mistress of Alfred Stevens, a Belgian painter.

In 1891 she married an American painter, George Randolph Barse, and went away with him to live in America, in upstate New York in Katonah. She died of pneumonia at age 76 in Flushing, Queens in New York City.

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