"Sharp, quirky, and occasionally nettlesome", Walking the Berkshires is my personal blog, an eclectic weaving of human narrative, natural history, and other personal passions with the Berkshire and Litchfield Hills as both its backdrop and point of departure. I am interested in how land and people, past and present manifest in the broader landscape and social fabric of our communities. The opinions I express here are mine alone. Never had ads, never will.
This blog has now reached its 7th Anniversary. Thanks to Facebook, a regular newspaper column, and a much happier home life, I do not use this blog as I did in the early years as my primary creative and social outlet. Still, I am pleased by the connections it continues to make for me and for others, and from time to time find new reason to post things here. The long form post, in the end, still has a place in the blogosphere despire all the Tweets and Likes that predominate elsewhere. And like any archive, it still requires a curator.
Walking the Berkshires reached its 6th Blogiversary today. While we are not what we once were (and who is), there is still some of the old fire and new fuel for the imagination. Facebook continues to siphon off the short and social stuff and drive traffic back to the occasional pieces that still grace these pages. The local newspaper gets the science and nature writing that was the original inspiration for WTB. Much of what remains is dedicated to my living history passions and research into the American Revolution.
As a good archivist, I am starting to think about the future of this blog, ensuring that the 1342 posts that continue to attract an average of 278 daily page views (545,000 lifetime) with very infrequent posting remain accessible when the time eventually comes, as come it must, to draw the curtain.
We are not through yet, though, and there is more to say and share. To you who have been my friends and readers during all or part of these past six years, I remain eternally grateful.
Please permit us to pause for a moment in the midst of our ongoing series on Sullivan's Staten Island Raid to note that the March Early Modern Edition of Carnivalesque is now up at the blog Contemporary Jacobean Society; where among other fascinating posts you can revisit Part the Eighth of my Sullivan's Island series concerning the alleged sexual misconduct of Continental soldiers during that fight.
Walking the Berkshires has reached its 5th Blogiversary today. Traditionalist readers are welcome to send gifts of wood (I accept nickels and nutmegs only, please). There have been 1233 posts and 2246 comments since I began blogging here, although now that I link back to Facebook many additional comments happen there. I am pleased by this ratio, since I write as much to connect as to inform (or entertain).
Particularly with regard to connections, I have made some very special friendships along the way. One longtime reader gifted me with his homemade Single Malt Marmalade, and another welcomed me to his home and showed me where my ancestors are buried. Yet another has shared an extensive interest in Revolutionary war history and reintroduced me to the world of historical reenacting. And I have met someone very special who was a longtime admirer from afar and who has opened my eyes to the possibility for new found joy. All this and more, from these eclectic and erratic musings. I am very grateful.
In retrospect, I really had no idea what WTB would come to mean to me, nor the form and content it would assume over time. With interests as broad as mine, readers are as likely to encounter a series on a little known episode in American history as they are an irreverent look at Presidential fashion (the one post that launched an Instalanche) or the occasional revelation of personal transition. It is a lot to ask, and I am touched that so many of you check in from time to time for whatever the catch of the day (or every third day or so) may be.
I do have some personal favorite posts. If I were to update this 2008 vintage greatest hits list, it might well include the following:
There are some additional posts of mine that attract daily visits from people searching for information on obscure historical incidents for which WTB has become something of an authority by virtue of what I have aggregated and analyzed. Searching for "Morro Castle Disaster" leads to this post, while I get considerable traffic drawn to a post regarding this image of Canadians at Vimy Ridge. Without question, the casual visitors are largely looking for images, but some of them stay for content. Even when I have added nothing for days, there are 200+ unique viewers and 400+ page views here.
That last observation has lead me to think long and hard about the future of WTB. There was a time when I felt driven to write something new every day - a time, it is fair to point out, when blogging was an escape as much as a passion. I have other interests, now, and outlets for my writing. It has been good while since I had the time and interest to delve into another long and engaging historical series, much as I still have that interest. Much of my nature writing ends up in the local paper. WTB has eased into comfortable middle age, and is resting on its laurels. Perhaps it has lost its edge.
In any case, I have no plans to discontinue this blog, but I will be taking some time to consider its future. Whichever way that path leads, I will be glad of your company.
The Graveyard Rabbits Carnival is out with a plethora of posts on forgotten cemeteries, including 2 from me regarding the Christopher Williman graveyard that recently came to light in SC.
The venerable History Carnival has its March (Olympics edition) at Disability Studies, Temple U, with a post from my Matthias Ogden Court Martial opus regarded one of those called to testify at his trial: Captain (or is it Major) John Polhemus.
It has become fashionable in some circles to reimagine the status of enslaved African Americans who accompanied confederate forces as both willing participants and de facto southern soldiers. The master/servant relationship is clouded by a sort of benign paternalism that has deep roots in antebellum slaveholding America: roots that are far deeper, and far more complex , than a perspective limited to the 19th century affords, let alone a 21st century perspective based more on nostalgia than academic rigor.
One of the most notable examples of this sort of comradeship between owner and slave in the Revolution, and the "veteran status" accorded to the slave by white patriots after the war, is the case of George Washington and his manservant William Lee. At the time of the Revolution, there were few if any African Americans as widely recognized as Lee,who accompanied the great man himself in the field and was so closely associated with Washington that he was included in one of the wartime portraits of the Commander in Chief, shown in a 1780 Trumbull painting at right. Washington provided for Lee after the war, who was disabled during his peacetime service. Lee remained very popular with postwar visitors to Mt. Vernon, and is said to have relished conversations with veteran callers. Whether they admired him in his own right, or because he was a tangible link to the venerated Washington long after the President had died, is a question that deserved further scrutiny.
George Washington did not initially favor the inclusion of African Americans in the Contintental Army, prohibiting their enlistment after assuming command of the forces besieging Boston. Nonetheless during the couse of the war, African Americans served in integrated units as well as segregated companies raised in the northern colonies and in the south. Some served as substitutes for their masters, while others enlisted with the promise of manumission after the war. Freemen could enlist without arms in southern militias as early as 1775. It was still illegal inthe south to enlist slaves, though some middle states and northern ones made provision for slave soldiers as substitutes. One contemporary estimate stated at 25% of Washington's force at Yorktown was comprised of black soldiers.
A very large number of slaves, perhaps as many as 20,000, enlisted as loyalists with that same motivation. There were 115 African Americans, largely recruited in the south, who served in Hessian regiments. It is estimated that as many as 100,000 African Americans may have died during the Revolution, many of whom followed the British Army much as "contrabands" did the Union forces during the Civil War, and were decimated by smallpox and other diseases.
In the decade following Independance, with the need for manpower in the armed forces no longer an accute matter of survival, states both north and south enacted prohibitions against African Americans serving in the militia. The promise of freedom and other veteran's benefits still required both effort and luck to secure. In 1783 the Virginia Assembly:
"passed a bill condemning owners who "contrary to principles of justice and to their own solemn promise" kept their soldier substitutes as slaves. They were freed by legislative decree with instructions to the attorney general of Virginia to act on behalf of any former slave held in servitude despite his enlistment. how many slaves received their freedom as a result of this bill is not known, since a slave could not himself initiate legal proceedings for his own manumission. But if the number of slaves freed by the legislature as a reward for nonmilitary service is any indication, they were few. Eight slaves are known to have been granted freedom by the legislature for service in the Revolutionary War."
African American loyalist soldiers and their families fortunate enough to be evacuated by the British and Hessians had their own challenges, and over 1,100 were ultimately resettled from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone.
It would be worth considering how the decades following the Revolution affected the status of African American veterans of the patriot forces, free and unfree alike. Were they respected by their former comrades in arms, or expected to return to their former subservient status? How many were able to secure veterans pensions in the first decades of the 19th century when these benefits became available? With slavery in decline in the northern states and on the increase following the transformative invention of the cotton gin in the southern ones, were African American veterans with military experience seen as a threat rather than as fellow patriots to whom society owed a debt? I, for one, would like to see more serious scholarship in this area, and see it inform today's debate about the status of African Americans who accompanied confederate armies.
It is generally agreed that the motivations for African American service as loyalists or patriots - that is, when the service member had any control over his enlistment - were driven by which path offered the means of manumission. There were no such enticements for African American slaves in the confederate army until the final months of the war. The greatest difference between freemen who served in the Revolution and their decendants who labored on southern earthworks or accompanied their masters in the field was the fact of involuntary servitude. Unless there is strong evidence that a measureable number of southern freedmen voluntarily participated as noncombatant "soldiers" in confederate armies, all this talk of "colored confederates" is both myopic and delusional.
Two years ago, I discovered some fascinating information about the little known Williman branch of my family tree and posted it here.
Yesterday I received a telephone call from a gentleman in South
Carolina who read the post and with masterly understatement told me had
new information to share.
What he had found was simply extraordinary. He is an historian
working in part of the greater Charleston area, who was contacted by a
utility company which had found old grave markers in one of its rights
of way. The images which appear in this post were taken by him, but
out of respect for the sensitivity of the site which he is trying to
document and preserve I will refrain from revealing either his name or
Suffice it to say that in a tucked away corner of wooded land are the remains of three of my direct ancestors and several of their relations by marriage. There are eight grave markers,
most of which were installed as horizontal slabs and all of which are
now on the ground, as well as clear evidence of more graves that either
lacked permanent markers (possibly those of tenants, servants or
slaves) or where such markers are now missing. The eight remaining
markers appear with identifying numbers in the image at right.
My new friend in South Carolina was lead to me by my post that concerned Christopher Williman (1746-1813).
Being a good researcher he also found my cellphone and home telephone
numbers - thank heavens I didn't treat him like a telemarketer calling
bright and early on MLK Day! Christopher Williman is buried in the
grave in the picture at the top of this post. The grave is also marked
at right with the number seven, and at #8 is his wife Mary (Walther)
Williman,who died in 1804 at age 40. These are my 5th Great Grandparents.
I was told that another of my relatives mentioned in that blog post,
Angus Bethune (more on him, below), was also buried here, but did not
receive the pictures until later that evening. In the meantime, I
spent the day doing my own research, greatly facilitated by a
propensity of at Google to scan anything that isn't nailed down and
post it at Google Books. Under various copywrite agreements, a great
deal can be viewed and even more can be queried using this tool, and by
the end of the day I had reconstructed the names and marriages of all
of the Williman children and some of the grandchildren. Then I
received the photographs, and discovered that I had identified three
more of the names on the graves as well!
Great Aunt Margie, whose family archive of genealogical material I
inherited in 2003, would have been utterly captivated by these new
finds. She knew the bare bones of the Christopher Williman line, but
Angus Bethune was listed simply as the husband of one of the daughters:
Margaret (Williman) Bethune. Now, thanks to the surviving top half of
his gravestone, I know that my 4th Great Grandfather, Angus Bethune,
was 46 years old when he died on December 20, 1813. I also found several courtcases
in which he was involved, and details of his house on Broad St. in
Charleston from a city inventory. He was a prosperous merchant, like
the Gracie family into which his grand-daughter, Elizabeth Davidson Bethune, subsequently married.
And speaking of "Davidson". I now know the origin of that middle
name. Grave #1. belongs to Gilbert Davidson, the second husband of
another Williman daughter, Eliza. She married Gilbert Davidson on Jan
15, 1801, the same day as her sister (my 4th Great Grandmother) married
Angus Bethune! This double wedding suggests a close relationship
between these siblings - at least until the family estate was divided - and six years later my 3rd Great Grandmother was given Davidson as her middle name.
There is an Eliza Williman associated with Grave 6, but she was
Eliza (Merritt) Williman, daughter of James Merritt and 1st wife of
Christopher Williman, Jr. She lived just 26 years (1789-1814). Grave 4
belongs to Sarah Cleiland Williman, a three year old child who died in 1819,
suggesting a second marriage for Christopher Williman, Jr. who I
believe was the only male child of his parents to have issue.
Grave 2 belongs to Joseph de Jongh (sometimes appearing in court records as Jough). His stone (at right) reveals
that he was a native of Ostend, Flanders, and died on June 15th, 1823
in the 46th year of his age. Gilbert Davidson died that same month,
which may indicate an outbreak of one of the malignant fevers at that
time. I found a snippet reference at Google Books from a Liverpool business and
Market journal of his marriage in 1810 to a "Miss Harriet Williams
(sic), daughter of Christopher Williams (sic), esq., of South Carolina."
Harriet Williman (b. 3/4/1784) was yet another Williman daughter,
bringing to 4 the number of spouses of Williman children buried here.
Grave 3 (at left) is broken where the name was originally inscribed and will require more study to determine whose grave is marked by the slab. There is also a grave in the space between stones 1 and 6 that probably once had a marker.
The information which has been unearthed in South Carolina and in the electronic ether will help document and hopefully preserve this 200 year old family burial ground. It
is amazing that it has survived, unremarked and unremembered, for as
long as it has. It is more amazing, still, that so much evidence
exists to document the lives of the principle remains, though we may
never know the identifies of those at the lowest rungs of their society
who are buried here as well. I am deeply grateful to my new friend in
Charleston who has taken on this project with the sort of passion and
dedication that I can only hope I would show to his ancestors had our
roles been reversed.
For the Record:
Johan Christof (Christopher) Williman)(1746-1813) (Grave 7) and Maria Rumpf (Walther/Walter) Williman (abt. 1764-1804) (Grave 8) had the following known descendants:
1. George Williman (b. 1/18/1772 - not still living as of his father's will of 12/26/1813)
2. John Jakob Williman (b. 9/4/1774 - d. 1804) married but no issue
3. Maria (Mary) Williman (b. 12/7/1776) m. 11/7/1795 William Peter(s), esq. of PonPon, St. Paul's Parish - d. before 12/26/1813
4. Eliza Williman m. 1) 11/20/1793 Dr. George F. Habnbaum, 2) 1/15/1801 Gilbert Davidson (Grave 1) d. June 1823
5. Margaret A Williman (b. 4/14/1782) m. 1/15/1801 Angus Bethune (Grave 5)
d. Dec 20, 1813 age 46 They had children, including Elizabeth Davidson
Bethune (1807-1864) m. Archibald Gracie, Jr. (d. 1865) of NYC,
Elizabeth, NJ and Mobile, AL. Their daughter, Esther Gracie, married
Dayton Ogden, whose son Archibald Gracie Ogden married Margaret Stearns
Olmsted, and whose daughter Athalia (Ogden) Barker (1911-2007) was my
6. Christopher Henry Williman (d. young abt 1783)
7. Harriet Williman (b. 3/4/1784) m. 1810 Joseph de Jongh/Jough(d. June 15, 1823 age 46.) They had a sole male heir, William F. D. Jongh/Jough (Grave 2) , still living in 1850.
8. Christopher Williman, Jr. (b. 4/23/1786 - 1864) m. 1) Eliza (Merritt) Williman (Grave 6) (1789-1814) They had two daughters who survived to adulthood:
a. Maria Williman (b. 9/5/1810 - d. 9/19/1877 in GA) appears to have had three marriages. The first was apparently to a Mr. Johnston. The second
was on 8/19/1826 to Wilbrandt Schmidt esq. The thrid was on 7/27/1838
to Alexander Inglis. Their son, Alexander Inglis, Jr., served in the
Confederate Army from Georgia.
b. Harriet Eliza Williman, who in May 1838 married in New York
Bvt. Maj. James Alex Ashby of the 2nd Dragoons who fought and was
severely wounded in the Second Seminole War and died in Charleston
7/30/46, supposedly of complications from wounds suffered 10 years
Yet more evidence of why J.L. Bell's Boston 1775 is one of the very best history blogs: inquisitive, insightful, and a master of investigative reporting where his particular academic specialties are concerned. Read bothposts and see for yourself.
Congratulations to the five blogs and esteemed historians whose efforts represent the very best of History blogging. The 2009 Cliopatria Awards include a best writer award for our blogfriend 'The Headsman' at Executed Today. I had the privilege of putting him in nomination in this category and could not be happier for him and for the history blogging community that the judges were as taken with his work as I am.
"Given its format — the story behind a different historical execution,
every day — Executed Today could by rights be monotonous and depressing.
It is testament to “The Headsman’s” skills as a writer and storyteller
that his blog is nothing of the sort. An engaging and astonishingly
prolific blogger, The Headsman writes witty and accessible prose, jumps
from continent to continent and century to century with ease, and
despite two years of daily blogging he is still finding new things to do
with his premise."