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With a Hat Tip to American Shipbuilding, USS West Virginia Returns from the Bottom of Pearl Harbor Fit to Fight

Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 Battleships West Virginia (BB-48) (sunken at left) and Tennessee (BB-43) shrouded in smoke following the Japanese air raid. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photograph Collection. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.

Battleships West Virginia (BB-48) (sunken at left) and Tennessee (BB-43) shrouded in smoke following the Japanese air raid Dec. 7, 1941. Courtesy of the U.S. Naval Institute Photograph Collection. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.


From Naval History and Heritage Command, Communication and Outreach Division

Part two on a 3-part series about the salvage operations that brought USS West Virginia (BB 48) back to the fleet Sept. 23, 1944 after being sunk in the attack at Pearl Harbor.

 “We keep them fit to fight”

When the smoke cleared after the attack Dec. 7, 1941, 19 ships berthed at Pearl Harbor were severely damaged and in various stages of sinking or had sunk. Battleship West Virginia (BB 48) was among the worst of those to be salvaged. The hulls of USS Arizona (BB 39) and USS Utah (BB 31) remain in the harbor. USS Oklahoma (BB 37) was brought up, but determined too damaged for repair. She was salvaged of her armament and whatever other materials that could be reused on other ships.

Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard of the sunken battleship. Note extensive distortion of West Virginia's lower midship's superstructure, caused by torpedoes that exploded below that location. Also note 5"/25 gun, still partially covered with canvas, boat crane swung outboard and empty boat cradles near the smokestacks, and base of radar antenna atop West Virginia's foremast. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Sailors in a motor launch rescue a survivor from the water alongside the sunken USS West Virginia (BB-48) during or shortly after the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard of the sunken battleship. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Perhaps West Virginia’s saving grace was that she remained upright from where she sank in around 40 feet of water. The action reports filed by her surviving commanding officers were grim. The ship had been struck by seven 18-inch torpedoes on her port (left) side, blowing out a series of gashes. Bombs caused one deck to collapse. The rudder had been torn asunder by a torpedo. The ship had burned 30 hours before sinking, causing the bottom of the ship to “wrinkle” after settling on the harbor floor.

The Pearl Harbor ship salvage effort through most of 1942 was directed by Capt. Homer A. Wallin, Material Officer for Commander, Battle Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. USS West Virginia would prove the most challenging.

The battleship’s multi-layered, anti-torpedo side protection system had been completely broken through, making it impossible to raise the ship without the use of extensive external patches. These structures, called cofferdams, were huge wooden sections braced with steel, attached to the ship by divers working inside and out to attach them to the ship and each other. Then 650 tons of special concrete that hardens in water, called tremic, was poured down hoppers to seal the bottom. It hardened around the cofferdam, making the ship watertight.

In order to help the ship float, the salvage operation removed 800,000 gallons of fuel oil, projectiles and powder for 16-inch guns, and other supplies. With excess weight gone water was pumped out of the ship, inch-by-inch, a fresh ring of fouled oil marking the progress on the cofferdam.

USS West Virginia approaching drydock, June 8, 1942. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

USS West Virginia approaching Pearl Harbor’s drydock, June 8, 1942. After six months under 40 feet of water, she was finally afloat. Naval History and Heritage Command photo

On June 9, 1942, a little more than six months after she was sunk, “Wee Vee” entered Pearl Harbor Navy Yard’s Drydock No. 1. From there began the task of clearing away and replacing the torpedo and fire-damaged structure, including large plates of heavy side armor. It took small sticks of dynamite to remove the cofferdam that got her afloat.

“The spectacular salvage is re-floating. The hard work is cleaning up, then the repair,” according to Rear Adm. William R. Furlong from a New York Times article in 1943 about the restoration West Virginia and the other Pearl Harbor ships. The 6-part series, never published due to wartime censors, is now part of the archives of the Library of Congress.

In drydock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, June 10, 1942, for repair of damage suffered in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese air raid. She had entered the drydock on the previous day. Note large patch on her hull amidships, fouling on her hull, and large armor belt. Photographed by Bouchard. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

In drydock at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard, June 10, 1942, for repair of damage suffered in the Dec. 7, 1941 Japanese air raid. She had entered the drydock on the previous day. Note large patch on her hull amidships, fouling on her hull, and large armor belt.
Photographed by Bouchard.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, National Archives Collection.

Furlong had even more reason to hope West Virginia could be salvaged. He had served as the ship’s commanding officer from 1936-37.

That job would prove to be incredibly difficult. Much of the weight removal, as well as recovery of nearly 70 human bodies found in the ship and the immense task of cleaning her oily and filthy interior, was undertaken by the ship’s residual crew of around 370, including 60 Marines. Although 800 men had been requested for the “beggardly” job of cleaning, Wallin said it was rare to have more than 500.

Removal of a dud Japanese bomb found in USS West Virginia while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor. The bomb is visible at the bottom of the view, half-buried in grime. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

Removal of a dud Japanese bomb found in USS West Virginia while she was under salvage at Pearl Harbor.
The bomb is visible at the bottom of the view, half-buried in grime.
Official U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection.

The filthy oil-soaked water left a residue on every surface of the ship. Their first job was the removal of wreckage, then wash it down with a high pressure hose, followed by a caustic solution that cut the oil coating, and finished with a fresh-water rinse. Much of this work had to be carried out in gas masks to guard against the ever-present risk of toxic gasses from rotten food and the refrigeration tanks and hydrogen sulfide that was created by polluted water on paper products. It was found in every compartment of the larger ships, often in lethal doses. Two men had died during the refloat process for USS Nevada (BB 36). From then on, each salvage worker wore litmus paper on his tank suit to reveal the presence of gas.

The cleaning crew also removed ammunition from turrets and magazines. West Virginia yielded a reservoir of powder that was suitable for re-blending and may have been used to finally return fire at the Japanese upon her return to the fleet.

As for repairing the electric-propelled ships, Wallin quoted the saying “necessity is the mother of invention and the mainspring of action.”

The ship’s turbo-electric drive powerplant underwent painstaking disassembly, drying and preserving as the water was removed from the machinery spaces, and then reassembled. Alternators and motors were salvaged and rewound and their iron elements restocked.

After three months in drydock, West Virginia was again watertight. Work continued pierside until April 1943, when the battleship left Pearl Harbor under her own power for Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Wash., where she received permanent repairs and extensive modernization. USS West Virginia rejoined the active fleet in July 1944, arriving back in Pearl Harbor on Sept. 23, 1944. She took active part in the battles of Leyte Gulf, Palau Islands, Iwo Jima and Okinawa in the Pacific War’s final year, a stronger, better ship than she had been Dec. 7, 1941.

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

Rear Adm. William R. Furlong, Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, and Capt. Homer N. Wallin inspecting the salvage operations at Pearl Harbor.

“We built her new from the inside out,” Adm. Furlong said in the unpublished New York Times article. “We went right to the bottom, like a dentist drilling out a rotten tooth, and we burned away all the damage, then renewed the hull and decks.”

The final part of this 3-part series will reveal how the salvage operation foritifed the base, and lessons learned from the Great War helped reduce the damage caused by the attack on Pearl Harbor.

New blog on Collecting in the 17th Century


It’s that time again: another course started; another blog to go with it. This one was inspired by me reading Francis Haskell’s book (along with a few other volumes) on Charles I and art collecting in 17th century Europe. First instalment here.

10 Wealthiest Presidents

I found this list of the 10 wealthiest US presidents. Most are not surprising (Washington was the wealthiest), but I will admit one surprised me:

4. Andrew Jackson
> Net worth: $119 million
> In office: 1829 to 1837
> 7th president
While he was considered to be in touch with the average middle-class American, Jackson quietly became one of the wealthiest presidents of the 1800s. “Old Hickory” married into wealth and made money in the military. His homestead, The Hermitage, included 1,050 acres of prime real estate. Over the course of his life, he owned as many as 300 slaves. Jackson entered considerable debt later in life.

Navy dolphins find rare early torpedo

Yes, the United States Navy has teams of bottlenose dolphins trained to detect mines, other undersea objects and enemy divers. During training in the Pacific off the coast of San Diego, California, last month, a dolphin named Ten alerted his handlers to the presence of a suspicious object in an area where the trainers hadn’t planted anything. A week later a second dolphin, Spetz, alerted in the same area. He was sent back with a marker to pinpoint the precise location so the object could be retrieved. When the Navy divers recovered it, they found it was a Howell torpedo broken into two pieces.

To train the dolphins, Navy specialists sink objects of various shapes in rocky and sandy undersea areas where visibility is poor. The shapes mimic those of the mines used by U.S. adversaries. [...]

The dolphins have found unexpected things in the past, including a mine-shaped lobster trap during a mission off Canada with the Canadian navy. But a torpedo that was more than a century old and that the divers and trainers needed to consult explosives experts — and Google — to identify?

“We’ve never found anything like this,” said [head of the marine mammal program Mike] Rothe, his voice full of admiration for the marine mammals. “Never.”

The Howell torpedo was the first torpedo to be produced in any quantity by the US Navy. It was invented in 1870 by Navy Lieutenant Commander John A. Howell, head of the Department of Astronomy and Navigation at the U.S. Naval Academy, but development took almost two decades. In 1889, the Navy ordered 50 Howell torpedoes from the Hotchkiss Ordnance Co. of Providence, Rhode Island. Powered by a flywheel that was spun at high speed before launch, the 11-foot-long Howell required no fuel, left no visible wake for the enemy to detect and could be surface-launched from battleships or launched underwater by torpedo tubes. It had a range of 400 yards and could reach a speed of 25 knots. Its flywheel acted as a stabilizing gyroscope to keep it on target.

It had some marked disadvantages however. It was unwieldy, hard to load and hard to charge. The flywheel had to be spun by massive winches to get it going and once it was finally in the water, the flywheel was so loud it obviated the stealth advantage of wakelessness. In 1892, American manufacturer E. W. Bliss Company secured the rights to producing Whitehead torpedoes. Invented by English inventor Robert Whitehead in 1866, over the next few decades Whitehead torpedoes became established in the Navies of Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and China. They were more expensive, but they were self-propelled with three-cylinder engines.

For a while, the Navy tested both Howells and Whiteheads side by side (see this 1894 New York Times article about just such a test in Newport, Rhode Island), but by the late 1890s, the Whitehead was the undoubted victor. The Howells never made it past that initial 50 unit order.

Before the kickass trained dolphins did their thing, there was only one known surviving Howell torpedo on display at the Naval Undersea Museum in Keyport, Washington. The discovery of a second one, by dolphin no less, is thus nothing short of epic.

The newly recovered Howell is stamped “USN No. 24″ which puts it right in the middle of the production run. Explosive experts have examined it and found that its century plus in the Pacific has rendered it inert. It’s at a Navy base right now being cleaned and prepared for shipment to the Naval History and Heritage Command in the Washington Navy Yard.


Looking at the Early Days of the US Court System

The first law passed by the newly created Congress of the United States was the Judiciary Act of 1789. This set down the organization of the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts, and District Courts of the United States. Learn more with this article on the early development of the US Court System

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Early Modern Atlantic World

When I entered graduate school, I had no idea what the word “historiography” was. The thought that historians had debates, schools of thought, and responded to one another was totally foreign to me. Thankfully, a senior student mentioned to me “Grob and Bilias … they’re your salvation” and they were. Now, I love historiography. I admire our profession and discipline so much that I try to nibble and sample whenever and wherever I can. In the last few days, I have put on about 10-15 lbs of historiographical weight because of Linford Fisher and his graduate students at Brown. They provide a pot-luck of epic proportions (I mean, we’re talking Pioneer day proportions) on the Early Modern Atlantic World and Religion.

Here is the link … but clicker beware, you may want more than seconds.

Early ‘Town’ Found in Bulgaria

Professor Vassil Nikolov has been working on an ancient settlement near the Bulgarian town of Provadia, and according to Sofia Globe, he’s confident enough to call it the oldest urban settlement in Europe. Now obviously we have to wait for others to agree, but based on excavations this summer he dates the settlement to 4700 to 4200 BCE. It had walls three metres high and two metres thick, and would have housed around three hundred to three hundred and fifty people. The obvious reason for such a settlement is the salt which was produced nearby.

Early Life of Mrs. McKinley

I just finished Ida Saxton: The Early Life of Mrs. McKinley, as well as reading all of the President at Home booklet I quoted in an earlier post. Since I give tours of the Saxon House, these have been on my “to be read” pile.  The booklet is pretty neat and a nice history of the house and McKinley’s life there…if you plan on going to the house, this is a neat read.  Otherwise, well, not….I’ll be honest.

Now the book…first, notice the link.  If you want this book, buy it through the NFLL. It was privately printed and so really this the only place you can find it.  It was privately printed for a reason…there just isn’t much here.  There is no “meat.”  This is mostly based on conjecture and based heavily on the little we know. For instance, there is a lot on their European trip because we have a bunch of letters.  For me, giving tours, this was a book I needed to read.  Unless you really care about Mrs. McKinley, this probably isn’t the book for you.  It really deserved to be another booklet, not a book.  Supposedly, another part is coming….I’m not holding my breath.  

Early Runes found on German Comb

A comb excavated in central Germany has been discovered to contain the oldest engraving of runic characters known to the region. The deer antler comb, which was excavated seven years ago but only cleaned and examined recently, has runic letters saying ‘Kama’, which meant comb. They date from 150 CE, and were found in the Saxony-Anhalt region. The Local has a picture.

The Early Struggle for Neutrality

Soon after the adoption of the Constitution in 1789, the United States had to face its first real foreign policy tests. France became a republic and declared war on England. The Democratic -Republicans and the Federalists had different views on whether America should support its old ally, France. Washington struggled to maintain neutrality, knowing that being involved in a conflict like this so soon after independence would be a bad thing for the nation. Learn more with my newest article:

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Early Development of the United States Court System

The first law passed by the newly created Congress of the United States was the Judiciary Act of 1789. This set down the organization of the Supreme Court, Circuit Courts, and District Courts of the United States. Learn more with this article on the early development of the US Court System

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SciAm’s early archives free and patent models galore

Scientific American has recently digitized its archives, every issue of the magazine from the first one in August 28, 1845 to the most recent. Most of them can only be accessed by subscribers to the print edition, educational institutions with a site license or on a pay-per-view basis. There’s brief window during which those of us of a historico-nerdly bent can wallow as deeply as we please in all of the oldest issues free of charge. Until November 30, all of the Scientific American issues published between 1845 and 1909 will be available for free.

Each issue has a table of contents of individual articles that you can read or you can download the entire issue in a single pdf, which is what I’ve been doing because the cover and the advertisements are just as cool as the articles. SciAm’s Anecdotes from the Archives blog has an interesting entry on the first issue, which was tailored to appeal to people from many walks of life, not just scientists and inventors. There were book reviews, poems, even what appear to be News of the World-style tall tales categorized as “interesting news of passing events.”

In the three 1845 issues I’ve read thus far, new patents take a prominent position both in column-inches and in advertising. Little wonder, because the mid-19th century was a boom time for patents and new inventions. Patent models were exhibited in galleries and gazed upon like Old Master art.

Those days are upon us again, albeit in far reduced form, thanks to an exhibit of patent models at the Smithsonian that just opened on November 11. Inventing a Better Mousetrap: Patent Models from the Rothschild Collection will be at the Smithsonian American Art Museum until November 3, 2013. That’s the perfect location seeing as the building that now houses the American Art Museum (and the National Portrait Gallery) was authorized by President Andrew Jackson in the Patent Act of 1836, to serve as a fireproof patent office.

Jackson signed the bill on the Fourth of July. On December 15, 1836, while the new fireproof building was still in the early stages of construction, a fire broke out at Blodgett’s Hotel where the Patent Office shared space with the General Post Office and Washington City Post Office. Although there was a fire station right next door to guard against just such an eventuality, the engines had been equipped in 1820. The leather hose fell apart in the firefighters’ hands and the pump never even started. The Patent Office, the only building that the British left alone during the Burning of Washington in 1814 thanks solely to the intervention Dr. William Thornton, architect of the United States Capitol, inventor, physician and first Superintendent of the Patent Office, who convinced the British command to spare the Patent Office because of its importance to mankind, burned with all its contents.

All the patents and patent models kept since the creation of the office as per the U.S. Constitution (Article I, Section 8) and the Patent Act of 1790 were destroyed. The only patent records left were in a book that had been removed from the premises against Patent Office rules by a draftsman named William Steiger and whatever was in the memory of the sole patent examiner. That’s 10,000 patents, most of them lost irretrievably. There was an attempt to put the archive back together using private files and reproductions of the models. The Patent Office wrote to every inventor it could think of asking them to recreate models and paperwork. In the end, they were able to restore 2,845 of the 10,000 lost, all of them reissued with a patent number beginning with “X.” The patent numbers began again with “1″ starting with ones issued in July because all of the most recent patents had been easily recovered from the inventors’ records.

Once safely ensconced in the new building, the patent models were put on public display. Admission was free and with the explosion of industrialization in the mid-19th century, inventions and mechanical models drew big crowds. Approximately 100,000 people a year visited the Patent Office in the 1850s to view the models held in three tiers of nine-foot-high display cases. In 1880, the Patent Office stopped requiring inventors to submit a model. It had accumulated 200,000 patent models by that date.

At the turn of the century, as the Department of the Interior grew and expanded into the Patent Office’s space, the models were removed from display and put in storage. Then, in 1924, Congress, which had once passed laws to help the Patent Office recover the records lost in the Great Fire, suddenly became concerned about the exorbitant cost of storing these “useless” models. It allocated $10,000 to get rid of that immense collection of the history of American ingenuity, mechanical science, industry, play, posthaste. The families of the inventors claimed some. Whatever museum asked for any got them (the Smithsonian claimed 2,500). The rest were all sold at auction in 1925.

Sir Henry Wellcome, founder of Wellcome Pharmaceutical Company (now Glaxo Smith Kline) and London’s splendid Wellcome Collection of medical artifacts and curiosities, purchased the entirety of the United States Patent Office’s models at the auction. He intended to build a museum of the patent model, but the Wall Street Crash of 1929 stopped him in his tracks. After his death in 1936, the trustees of Wellcome’s estate sold the patent models to a Broadway producer for $50,000. He sold it for $75,000 to a group of businessmen who also planned to build a museum, but they were forced to file for bankruptcy in 1941 and the models were sold to, of all people, an auctioneer named O. Rundle Gilbert for the measly sum of $5,000. Needless to say, after that, the models were sold to collectors far and wide.

It wasn’t until the 1970s that aerospace engineer Cliff Petersen bought all the crates Gilbert had left, 800 of them still in their 1926 packaging, and donated 30,000 of the models within to the United States Patent Model Foundation. He kept about 5,000 models for his personal collection.

Alan Rothschild, an inventor in his own right and model collector, bought the bulk of Petersen’s collection in the 1990s. He opened the Rothschild Petersen Patent Model Museum in 1998 to house the almost 4,000 patent models in his collection. Space at the museum is very limited, so the models are not on public display but only viewable upon appointment. They are regularly loaned to other institutions, however, and some are part of a travelling tour called The Curious World of Patent Models currently winding its way through the United States. You can find dates where the exhibit will be at a museum near you on this page.

Thirty-two of the models in the Rothschild Collection are part of the Smithsonian exhibit. Alan Rothschild himself will be at the American Art Museum for a lecture on December 1, 2011, 7–8 PM, along with curator Charles Robertson to discuss the patent models on display, their inventors and the period. Admission is free.

You can search the Rothschild Petersen Patent Model Museum’s collection online. They have an extensive database with featured items of interest as well as links to the original patent applications complete with explanations and drawings. The Smithsonian exhibit has a small but sweet picture slideshow here.


Three Early American Studies

Three items in the latest issue of Early American Studies caught my eye last month because of their Revolutionary-era content:

The Wheatleyan Moment
David Waldstreicher
Despite the recent profusion of interest in Phillis Wheatley by literary scholars, who increasingly recognize her artfulness and her challenge to slavery, she has not been seen as a political actor in real time. This essay argues for her canny timing and careful interventions in the politics of slavery from 1772 to 1784. The “Mansfieldian Moment” in the politics of slavery can also be called a Wheatleyan Moment, when leading whites were forced to respond to the art and politics of slaves and their allies. Wheatley garnered specific and consequential responses from Lord Dartmouth, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson. A more interactive approach to the politics of slavery explains much about Wheatley strategies as well as the range of specific responses to antislavery among participants in the American Revolution—responses which cannot be ascribed merely to racism or the lack thereof.

Rattlesnakes in the Garden: The Fascinating Serpents of the Early, Edenic Republic
Zachary McLeod Hutchins
This essay considers the various ways in which writers and visual artists deployed the rattlesnake in order to advance and, later, destabilize nationalist agendas between the French and Indian War and the Civil War. During the intervening century the rattlesnake, with its powers of fascination, evolved into a multifaceted symbol used to represent a wide range of ideas: British colonial unity; American national identity; (white) fears of interracial conflict and miscegenation; and the lingering belief that original sin represented a serious threat to a secular republic whose well-being could only be insured by the virtuous behavior of its citizens. Between 1751 and 1861 visual artists like Benjamin Franklin and Charles Gadsden, together with writers such as J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur and Oliver Wendell Holmes, made the rattlesnake a symbol of the national transition from imported art to endogenous culture, from indigenous inhabitants to European emigrants, from innocence to experience.

(Some Boston 1775 discussion of the rattlesnake starts here.)

The First Gerrymander? Patrick Henry, James Madison, James Monroe, and Virginia’s 1788 Congressional Districting
Thomas Rogers Hunter
While the term gerrymander was coined following Massachusetts’ state Senate districting in 1812, many scholars have posited that it was actually Patrick Henry who first practiced this art, by designing an unnatural district that would ensure rival James Madison’s defeat in Virginia’s first Congressional elections in early 1789. Historians have ample evidence to buttress such claims, for numerous Founding Fathers bitterly complained that Henry was going out of his way to design a district for Madison’s defeat. Through hard and smart campaigning, however, Madison managed to defeat his opponent James Monroe — thus marking the only Congressional election in American history pitting two future Presidents. This article closely examines Virginia’s 1788 Congressional districting, and finds that contrary to the accepted wisdom, “ingenious and artificial combinations” were not used to design Madison’s district, for it was composed of a compact group of whole counties entirely within the Piedmont region, and bounded on all sides by natural geographic features; Madison’s true problem was not the district’s formulation, but that he lived in an area that was predominantly Anti-Federalist. In fact, Virginia’s entire 1788 districting scheme shows no marks of partisan purpose, for it was both fair politically, and one of the most geographically logical plans in all of American history.

Starting tomorrow, I’ll share some thoughts on Phillis Wheatley and her reception in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

Early Hungarian Church found in Romania

Hungary used to be much bigger than today, and so you sometimes get stories about medieval Hungary from nearby states. This is true about excavations at Alba Iulia in Romania, which has discovered a medieval church which may be the oldest known to be built in Hungary during the medieval period, circa 1000 CE. According to reports like this, the ruins will be reburied, and the outline traced in a park above it.

Witchcraft in Early North America

Paul Harvey

Some of you may be looking for a good classroom resource for teaching about popular religion or witchcraft in early America. If so, this might be the book for you, so I’ll reprint the Choice review below of Alison Games, Witchcraft in Early North America, put out as a pretty short classroom-usable volume by Rowman & Littlefield in their “American Controversies” series, edited by excellent historian Douglas Egerton. These volumes come with primary document selections, chronologies, and other pedagogical helps. (I have a volume coming out in late summer or so in the Rowman & Littlefield African American History series, entitled Through the Storm, Through the Night: A History of African American Christianitymore on that as the pub. date gets closer, but the experience of the close editing of that book, with an eye towards readability for a general non-expert audience, gives me confidence in these other volumes that R & L is putting out).

Anyway, here’s more on this volume, and check the book’s website here for table of contents and more info. What particularly attracts me here is the clear effort to provide a broader context for popular religious beliefs in the supernatural throughout 17th century America, and including Natives and African peoples as well as British North Americans. In other words, this isn’t your father’s Buick, the usual Salem-centric story of witchcraft in the colonies.

Games, Alison. Witchcraft in early North America. Rowman & Littlefield, 2010. 216p index afp; ISBN 9781442203570, $36.95. Reviewed in 2011jun CHOICE. Games (history, Georgetown Univ.) makes a vital contribution to the pedagogical resources on early American witchcraft. With its introductory essay and interdependent collection of primary materials, the book demonstrates how accusations of witchcraft mediated colonial encounters between mutually illegible cultures: characterized by flagrant “coercion and cruelty,” such conflicts demanded justification and frequently provoked resistance, and therefore lent themselves to prevailing supernatural explanations and persecution. Games’s historical introduction broadens the scope of witchcraft study beyond New England to incorporate less familiar outbreaks in New France and New Spain. The author traces as well the conflicting beliefs European, Native, and African peoples brought to these encounters. A modest selection of Salem materials are among the 29 brief primary documents, which include legal documents, reports of first encounters, and possession narratives from across the continent. Games’s premise is that the historical record tells the story slant; accordingly, this volume represents a necessary and ethical, albeit brief, attempt to counter the Anglo-centrism that has characterized witchcraft historiography. The author resituates episodes of witchcraft in the context of cultural contact and conflict in which they occurred, incorporating them into larger scholarly trends in the study of early America as a space of contact zones. Summing Up: Recommended. All readers.A. T. Hale, University of Puget Sound

Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America

Paul Harvey

Congratulations to our contributor Chris Beneke, and to Christopher S. Grenda, whose edited anthology has just come out: The First Prejudice: Religious Tolerance and Intolerance in Early America (Univ. Pennsylvania Press, 2011).

(Incidentally, a shout out to U. Penn Press, which has been putting out great stuff in American religious history over the last several years, ranging from this book to Janet Lindman’s Bodies of Belief to Ed’s religious biography of Du Bois to Steven Miller’s study of Billy Graham).
Chris has posted here before on some recent scholarly discussions on religious tolerance and intolerance generally in the early modern world, a subject that has produced a number of landmark scholarly works in the last few years. And quite a long time ago we blogged about this particular book, then in its “forthcoming” state (click on the link for the table of contents), and blogged also about Chris’s seminal text Beyond Toleration: The Religious Origins of American Pluralism.
With this new edited anthology, featuring twelve essays from many of the top scholars of this subject, the conversation continues. I’ll have more to say about this volume later after I have time to digest all of it, but suffice for now to say that it provides just the kind of first-class scholarly analysis that one would hope for, and will be an absolutely essential text for university libraries. Perhaps most importantly, the editors don’t try to elide or explain away the differing arguments put forth by the various authors, but include a sterling introduction which explains and sets in context some of the major debates in this field. The editors propose a “co-existence” framework, one that was neither “tolerant” nor “intolerant” per se, and then suggest a research agenda that should warm the hearts of historians: get thee to the archives!
If this volume can bring mainstream religious history and its focus on identity and practice into a fuller dialogue with the traditional concerns of church-state history and its focus on ideology and law, it may become possible for teachers and scholars to communicate more confidently about the history of tolerance and intolerance in early America. There is hard work ahead. To understand how religious differences were lived in early America, we may need to resuscitate a long neglected tradition in American religious historiography: town and parish studies. That would mean renewed attention to local records . . . It would also entail investigations of the many sites where inter-religious interaction took place, including the unlikely places that recent cultural and social history has equipped us to probe such as homes, shops, taverns, and the streets.

In short: playing around on Google Books is no substitute for the hard historical research required in exploring this topic.
The editors are self-consciously bringing together two disparate forms of inquiry which have been pursued simultaneously but without a lot of dialogue in recent years: the social history of religion in early America (including lived religion), and the intellectual/constitutional studies of church and state, primarily concerned with ideas rather than everyday behavior. The editors explain that the authors of the chapters in the anthology “depart from both recent scholarship on the history of religious culture and the venerable study of church-state relations by their willingness to relate changes in law and rhetoric to the social experience of religious differences across British America and the early United States. They gaze broadly across the vast expanse of tolerance and intolerance in America, at the many varieties of persecution and the various manifestations of toleration, at the groups that were immediately affected by constitutional guarantees of religious liberty, and those that were not.” The intent is to help “identify intersection points where the tangle of regulations, rhetoric, and customs that governed relations between early American faiths can be addressed without reflexively defaulting to the languages of toleration, religious freedom, or church and state.”
Any number of recent works, including David Sehat’s Myth of American Religious Freedom and the edited primary source anthology Religious Intolerance in America, have documented the substantial history of religious intolerance/repression in American history, while much older scholarship and newer works such as Chris’s Beyond Toleration have explored the history of relative freedom and toleration. The dialogue continues renewed and afresh in this terrific new anthology. For my own research interests, I especially appreciate the inclusions of essays by Jon Sensbach and Richard Pointer on what “toleration” meant for Natives and African Americans. The last two essays, by Chris Beneke and Christopher Grasso, provide wonderfully contrasting examples of “America’s moderate religious revolution,” on the one hand, and the “boundaries of toleration and tolerance” experienced by religious skeptics and “infidels,” on the other.

George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures

George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures, David A. Clary; Simon & Schuster; 352 p.

George Washington was a brash, self-confident, driven, and often daring and dashing young man, he was also at times indecisive and prone to make a bad judgment call or two. David A. Clary’s George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures is a well balanced presentation of a young Colonel Washington who cut his teeth on the back-country of Virginia and the Ohio Valley, the future speculator and Revolutionary war hero thrived on achieving personal advancement and success. Washington earn some of what he wanted, but ultimately realized he could never get all of it as a “provincial” member of the British Army.

However, controversy did surrounded the young commander, such as the massacre of French soldiers near Tanaghrisson by Mingos after they had surrendered to Washington. Yet, by the end of his journey during the French and Indian War, and his heroic leadership during Braddock’s blunder, and the retreat, Washington had gained the confidence and learned what true leadership was.

George Washington’s First War: His Early Military Adventures is an excellent read and an insightful look at the growth of an American legend, though as the author notes, he was just a boy who became nothing more than just a man.

God In America, Part One: An Exercise in the Evangelical Whig View of Early American Religious History

 By John Fea

Cross-posted at The Way of Improvement Leads Home

I just got done watching Part 1 of the PBS series “God in America.” I know I am behind (Part 2 aired tonight), but such is the life of a blogger, professor, and a new department chair.

The series begins with the Franciscan attempts to convert the Pueblo Indians to Christianity in the 17th century.  This, of course, is a sad chapter in American history.  The Spanish friars were militant.  Their evangelistic zeal led to the destruction of Pueblo sacred sites and all sorts of brutality.  The high point of this story is the Pueblo revolt of 1680, the Indian rebellion that put an end to the Spanish presence in the west and proved that Christianity would not come to America unchanged.

This is a nice way to begin, but it has absolutely no connection to the rest of Part One’s narrative.  One gets the impression that this was just tacked on to the beginning of the program because SOMETHING needed to be said about native Americans.  The story line of the native Americans, and the Spanish for that matter, are quickly dropped in favor of what I call in the title of this post the “evangelical Whig view” of American history.  This script could have been written by George Bancroft.

And where is slave religion?  (Let’s hope it is discussed later in the series).

The Puritans are next. Steven Prothero of Boston University establishes himself as our guide through this history, but we also hear from a star-studded lineup of historians that include Michael Winship, Frank Lambert, Mary Beth Norton, Stephen Marini

Much time is spent on Anne Hutchinson. Too much time.  Prothero is very good at showing the Protestant individualism of the Puritans and how Hutchinson, in some ways, seemed more Protestant than the Puritans.  Hutchinson is clearly the star.  There is more time spent on her story than on the Puritans who removed her from the colony.  Was the Hutchinson trial really the most important moment in 17th century New England history? Would the people living in Puritan New England have seen it this way?  Absolutely not. The Halfway Covenant, King Philips War, the Salem Witch Trials, and a host of other events would have been more important to the Puritan “city on a hill,” but these events do not fit easily into the Whig narrative.

The portrayal of the Hutchinson trial is well-acted and the trial transcript is used as the script.  Winship claims that during this trial Hutchinson “rips him (John Winthrop) to shreds.”  Norton celebrates the rebellious spirit of Hutchinson.  Prothero concludes that Hutchinson is the future of America–she represents liberty of conscience and religious freedom.

The documentary then jumps to George Whitefield. Marini stresses the individualism of evangelical religion. (By the way, I would love to take a class with Marini–so much passion and energy!)  Harry Stout mentions Whitefield’s appeal to the emotions and the imagination.  Lambert connects Whitefield’s evangelical, individualistic Protestantism to that of Hutchinson.  A clear intellectual and spiritual genealogy is developing here.

The discussion of the First Great Awakening does a great job of explaining evangelicalism as a real and powerful religious movement that impacted people’s lives.  The documentary uses a host of quotes from the diaries of Whitefield converts to make this point.  Very well done.

But overall the treatment of the Great Awakening is blatantly Whig. One is left with the impression that the Great Awakening was more of a political movement than it was a religious movement. Stout talks about the way Whitefield’s evangelicalism challenged “the old aristocratic order” and even suggests that the Great Awakening led to the popular idea that “we are the people.”  Then Daniel Driesbach talks about the way that the Great Awakening brought the colonies together.  One clearly gets the impression that these historians are setting us up for the American Revolution.  I tell my students that the Great Awakening created a transatlantic religious network that made the colonies more British and Protestant.  “God in America” would prefer to see it as the seedbed of individual liberty, revolution, and American identity.

And then, in the last three minutes of Part One, we get the triumph of the evangelical Whig narrative or, what Jon Butler has called “Born Again History.”

The narrator states that people began to insist that it was their right to worship in the church of their choice.  Evangelical religion is said to have provided the American Revolution with a sense of “moral” urgency. Prothero says that following the First Great Awakening, the Revolution was “inevitable” and “perfectly logical.”

In the end, the story of “God in America”–at least early America– is best told by following a direct line between Hutchinson and Whitefield, culminating in the American Revolution.  At times I thought I was sitting in a lecture at Glenn Beck University.