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September 27, 2012

The Great New England Vampire Panic #longread

I'm going to experiment with putting hashtags in our titles, since we get so many readers via twitter and facebook. The Great New England Vampire Panic | History & Archaeology | Smithsonian Magazine
Children playing near a hillside gravel mine found the first graves. One ran home to tell his mother, who was skeptical at first—until the boy produced a skull. Because this was Griswold, Connecticut, in 1990, police initially thought the burials might be the work of a local serial killer named Michael Ross, and they taped off the area as a crime scene. But the brown, decaying bones turned out to be more than a century old. The Connecticut state archaeologist, Nick Bellantoni, soon determined that the hillside contained a colonial-era farm cemetery. New England is full of such unmarked family plots, and the 29 burials were typical of the 1700s and early 1800s: The dead, many of them children, were laid to rest in thrifty Yankee style, in simple wood coffins, without jewelry or even much clothing, their arms resting by their sides or crossed over their chests. Except, that is, for Burial Number 4. Bellantoni was interested in the grave even before the excavation began. It was one of only two stone crypts in the cemetery, and it was partially visible from the mine face. Scraping away soil with flat-edged shovels, and then brushes and bamboo picks, the archaeologist and his team worked through several feet of earth before reaching the top of the crypt. When Bellantoni lifted the first of the large, flat rocks that formed the roof, he uncovered the remains of a red-painted coffin and a pair of skeletal feet. They lay, he remembers, “in perfect anatomical position.” But when he raised the next stone, Bellantoni saw that the rest of the individual “had been completely...rearranged.” The skeleton had been beheaded; skull and thighbones rested atop the ribs and vertebrae. “It looked like a skull-and-crossbones motif, a Jolly Roger. I’d never seen anything like it,” Bellantoni recalls. . . .

Was Nat Turner Right?

I love it when people cut through the myth and the propaganda and the bullshit and pull out actually primary sources to make their case. Ta-Nehisi Coates is especially good at this. Here he is looking at the effect of Nat Turner's rebellion on the political climate of Virginia in the 1830s. And at the very weird definition of "emancipation" the politicians of Virginia were considering passing, which was less like freedom and more like exile. Was Nat Turner Right? - Ta-Nehisi Coates - The Atlantic
Continuing the thread on Nat Turner from yesterday, it's long been held that Nat Turner's revolt, essentially scuttled any chance of manumission in the South. The early 1830s in Virginia were the last time when emancipation was taken up for debate before the Civil War. For those who believe that the Civil War was tragic, the Virginia debates stand out as a good point to plant a counterfactual. But should be clear about what Virginia meant by "emancipation." Here's Virginia governor John Floyd in 1831: I shall in my annual message recommend that laws be passed to confine the slaves to the estates of their masters, prohibit negroes from preaching, absolutely to drive from this state all free negroes, and to substitute the surplus revenue in our treasury annually for slaves, to work for a time upon our railroads etc. and then sent out of the country, preparatory, or rather as the first step to emancipation. So what we have is a curious emancipation--repression, apprenticeship, and then exile. Eric Foner actually concludes that far from stifling talk of emancipation, Turner's revolt fueled this spirit of repression and abolition: It has been an enduring myth in historical literature that in 1831 Virginia was on the verge of abolishing slavery and that Turner's revolt prevented such action. As recently as 1970 Frank Vandiver wrote in his history of the Confederacy that Turner "killed the debate for manumission." Yet the very opposite is true: far from killing the debate, Nat Turner opened it. In the closing months of 1831, petitions poured into the Virginia legislature from throughout the state. Some called for the removal of all free blacks from the state blaming them for fomenting unrest among the slave; some demanded new restrictions on the black population; but many, arguing mainly from the fear and insecurity the Turner revolt had created and point to the continuing increase of the black population, called for the gradual emancipation of the slaves and their colonization outside the country. This gets us right back to the question of the Civil War. Would such repression, paired with indentured servitude, and then the effective exile of Virginia's black population have been preferable to the Civil War? The question itself is rather bizarre. I suspect that there are actual reasons why emancipation never came to the state, though it seemed ripe for it. At the time of Turner's rebellion the locus of slaveholding was moving West.

September 21, 2012

FYI, there's some useful research on trauma recovery buried in this movie review

(The review also features a really odd use of the...

This is almost certainly the most terrible thing you will read today

I'm not excerpting anything, because it's all pretty bad. The...