Patricia Appelbaum: Protestant Blessings and Cultural Change

appelbaum_stFrancisWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Patricia Appelbaum, author of St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America’s Most Popular Saint. How did a thirteenth-century Italian friar become one of the best-loved saints in America? Around the nation today, St. Francis of Assisi is embraced as the patron saint of animals, beneficently presiding over hundreds of Blessing of the Animals services on October 4, St. Francis’s Catholic feast day. Not only Catholics, however, but Protestants and other Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews, and nonreligious Americans commonly name him as one of their favorite spiritual figures. Drawing on a dazzling array of art, music, drama, film, hymns, and prayers, Appelbaum explains what happened to make St. Francis so familiar and meaningful to so many Americans.

In anticipation of the annual Feast of St. Francis and the blessing of the animals this Sunday, October 4, Appelbaum shares the history of giving blessings—a practice that began with Catholics and spread to Protestants.


It’s the season of blessings again. In many places there are blessings of backpacks for the new school year. Here and there, bicycles that were not blessed in spring will have another chance. On October 4, religious groups all over the country and around the world will hold “blessings of the animals” in honor of St. Francis of Assisi. What I find remarkable is how many of these ceremonies take place in Protestant churches.

It wasn’t always like this. When I was growing up, Protestants did not bless things. Events like the “blessing of the fleet” or the “blessing of the cars” were strictly Roman Catholic. We outsiders thought they were kind of quaint. There were exceptions, of course: many Protestants asked blessings on meals, and Methodists and Lutherans sometimes blessed houses. But these practices were small-scale and largely private, not large public events. Blessings were generally for people, not for things.

Protestant worship books confirm this absence. For example, the Book of Common Worship of 1932—an ecumenical collection of model services—has no blessing rites at all. The Congregational worship book for 1948 included only the blessing of a civil marriage. Presbyterians in 1966 provided for table grace, but not for services of blessing. Into the 1980s, the pattern was similar.

By contrast, the Catholic Encyclopedia of 1907 says, “Inanimate things that subserve the equitable needs and conveniences of society may receive from the Church the stamp of her benediction.” Catholic clergy could bless seeds, working animals, mills, telegraphs, and steam engines, among other things. Today, American Catholic practice allows for an entire book of authorized blessing rites.

In the mid-1980s, though, things began to change for Protestants. Continue reading ‘Patricia Appelbaum: Protestant Blessings and Cultural Change’ »

UNC Press Fall 2015 Book Deals!


Back by popular demand: fall colors, pumpkin spice lattes, and our UNC Press book SALE! Enjoy the latest in religious studies books—like those featured here—for a whopping 40% off! Simply use discount code 01REL40 at checkout for BIG savings. But there’s more: book purchases of $75 or more are shipped FREE!

Visit out our sale page to feast your eyes on our entire religious studies collection. Plus, our 01REL40 code applies toward ANY UNC Press book, in any subject! (Warning: The viewing of our catalog may cause some book lovers to experience excessive amore, delight, and/or infatuation.)

Note: Forthcoming books will be shipped as soon as they are published. 

St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint, by Patricia AppelbaumThe Last Puritans: Mainline Protestants and the Power of the Past, by Margaret BendrothMigrating Faith: Pentecostalism in the United States and Mexico in the Twentieth Century, by Daniel RamírezThe Transnational Mosque: Architecture and Historical Memory in the Contemporary Middle East, by Kishwar RizviStrangers Below: Primitive Baptists and American Culture, by Joshua GuthmanWho Is Allah? By Bruce B. LawrenceThe Long Shadow of Vatican II: Living Faith and Negotiating Authority since the Second Vatican Council, edited by Lucas Van Rompay, Sam Miglarese, and David MorganGuaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism, by Timothy GloegeChristian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, by Michael J. McVicarReforming Sodom: Protestants and the Rise of Gay Rights, by Heather R. WhiteSacred Interests: The United States and the Islamic World, 1821-1921, by Karine V. WaltherWhat Is a Madrasa? By Ebrahim MoosaHittin' the Prayer Bones: Materiality of Spirit in the Pentecostal South, by Anderson BlantonWhat Would Jesus Read? Popular Religious Books and Everyday Life in Twentieth-Century America, by Erin A. Smith

Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia: From Conflict to Collaboration

The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, by Elizabeth Hayes AlvarezWe welcome a guest blog post today from Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez, author of The Valiant Woman: The Virgin Mary in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, which will be available in April 2016. (Click here to be notified when The Valiant Woman is published.) Nineteenth-century America was rife with Protestant-fueled anti-Catholicism. Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez reveals how Protestants nevertheless became surprisingly and deeply fascinated with the Virgin Mary, even as her role as a devotional figure who united Catholics grew. Documenting the vivid Marian imagery that suffused popular visual and literary culture, Alvarez argues that Mary became a potent, shared exemplar of Christian womanhood around which Christians of all stripes rallied during an era filled with anxiety about the emerging market economy and shifting gender roles.

In today’s post, Alvarez watches her hometown of Philadelphia welcome a visit from Pope Francis and places the current positive reception in the context of the city’s religious history.


storefront sign reading "We welcome the pope to Philadelphia"

photo by Marcus Alvarez

As I walk around Philadelphia this week, I marvel at the signs, merchandise, and promotions welcoming Pope Francis. There seem to be no limits—of religious affiliation or taste—to pope fever. From the Wawa convenience store to the Potbelly Sandwich Shop, to pope memorabilia pop-up shops, Philly businesses are enthusiastically embracing (or cashing in on) Francis’s popularity. It’s hard to believe that just over a century and a half ago, Catholics were the target of violence in this city.

In the Philadelphia “Bible Riots” of 1844, dozens of people—Catholics, anti-Catholic nativists, and militia—were killed, and over a hundred injured. The riots began when nativists held a rally in the heart of the Irish Catholic neighborhood of Kensington denouncing Bishop Francis Kenrick’s request that Catholic schoolchildren be allowed to use the Catholic Douay Reams version of the Bible instead of the Protestant King James version. This request, nativists claimed, was really an attempt to remove the Bible, and with it, “true” Christianity, from Philadelphia’s public schools. That rally set off events that culminated in twenty-five deaths and the destruction of Catholic homes, a firehouse, a market, two Catholic churches, and a convent. Two months later, riots resumed in another Philadelphia neighborhood, Southwark, resulting in fifteen more deaths.

How did we get from an anti-Catholicism so virulent that blood ran in the streets and churches were burned to the ground, to Philadelphia businesses competing to outdo each other in their enthusiastic welcome of the Catholic pope?

St. Augustine's Catholic Church, Philadelphia, set on fire by anti-Catholic nativists in riot May 8, 1844

St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Philadelphia, set on fire in riot May 8, 1844

Just a few decades ago, people still called marriage between Protestants and Catholics “mixed marriage.” Underlying this sense of difference was a belief that clear boundaries divided these communities. And, in fact, cultural and institutional boundaries did exist to enforce the divide. After the riots, Philadelphia Catholics constructed their own “cradle-to-grave” institutions, from orphanages to schools, to hospitals, to convalescent homes. But it was not just institutions that separated Catholics and Protestants. Catholics also cultivated distinct cultural forms, combating the Protestant emphasis on individualism with a consistent counter-message emphasizing mutuality and the common good. In light of virulent anti-Catholicism, physical and cultural separation was not surprising. America’s religious communities form subcultures—and even countercultures—with distinctive characteristics and values. However, Americans are also shaped by the same dominant culture, face the same regional and national economic crises, and experience the same social shifts. In reality, the boundaries that divide Americans are never as clearly drawn as they imagine. Continue reading ‘Elizabeth Hayes Alvarez: Catholics and Protestants in Philadelphia: From Conflict to Collaboration’ »

Bridgette A. Lacy: Sunday Dinner Traditions

lacy_sundayWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Bridgette A. Lacy, author of Sunday Dinner: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook. Lacy offers an ode to a meal that, notably in the Sabbath-minding South, is more than a meal. Sunday dinner, Lacy observes, is “a state of mind. It is about taking the time to be with the people who matter to you.” Describing her own childhood Sunday dinners, in which her beloved, culinary-minded grandfather played an indelible role, Lacy explores and celebrates the rhythms of Sunday food traditions. But Lacy knows that, today, many who grew up eating Sunday dinner surrounded by kin now dine alone in front of the television. Her Sunday Dinner provides remedy and delicious inspiration any day of the week.

In today’s post, Lacy reminisces on past Sunday dinners and shares a few tips on how to start your own Sunday dinner tradition.


Food tastes better shared. That’s what I learned at my grandparents’ table many years ago. Grandma and Papa seasoned their crispy fried chicken, buttered yeast rolls, fresh green beans, and potatoes with their unconditional love for me.

Sunday dinner was the place where I heard tales of family history. It’s often the place where one generation transfers knowledge and experiences to the next.

These are among the lessons I share in Sunday Dinner: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook.

When I left my parents’ home for good in 1986, the lure of Sunday dinner was never far from my heart. I have carried the tradition with me throughout my life’s journey.

For me, Sunday dinner is nourishment for the mind, body, and soul. As a single woman, I’ve had to reinvent the meal I used to share with three generations of family members. I have sought out friends and colleagues to join my culinary communion, especially on Sundays. Continue reading ‘Bridgette A. Lacy: Sunday Dinner Traditions’ »

April Merleaux: The Subtlety of the Sugar Babies

merleaux_sugar_PBWe welcome to the blog a post by April Merleaux, author of Sugar and Civilization: American Empire and the Cultural Politics of Sweetness. In the weeks and months after the end of the Spanish-American War, Americans celebrated their nation’s triumph by eating sugar. Each of the nation’s new imperial possessions, from Puerto Rico to the Philippines, had the potential for vastly expanding sugar production. As victory parties and commemorations prominently featured candy and other sweets, Americans saw sugar as the reward for their global ambitions. Merleaux demonstrates that trade policies and consumer cultures are as crucial to understanding U.S. empire as military or diplomatic interventions. Connecting the history of sugar to its producers, consumers, and policy makers, Merleaux shows that the modern American sugar habit took shape in the shadow of a growing empire.

In today’s post, Merleaux reflects on Kara Walker’s art installation, A Subtlety, presented in Brooklyn during the summer of 2014, in the context of the history of race, sugar, and childhood. (Warning: contains graphic images.)


Last summer, to celebrate finishing the manuscript of my book, Sugar and Civilization: American Empire and the Cultural Politics of Sweetness, I went to New York to see artist Kara Walker’s installation A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby, in an old Domino sugar factory in Brooklyn. Walker is known for making bold art that calls on viewers to consider histories of racial violence in the United States, and A Subtlety did just that. Sugar, Walker points out, is historically tied to race in many and multiple ways.

With 160,000 pounds of sugar donated by the Domino company, Walker’s work attracted large crowds and a steady stream of media attention. Much of that attention focused on the giant mammy-sphinx with exposed genitals and the ridiculous selfies many people took with it, apparently oblivious to the narrative of racial and sexual violence to which it alluded. Lots of people who attended the exhibit behaved poorly, something which Walker secretly anticipated. Some activists organized to shift the racial dynamics in the room by inviting more people of color to attend (I was there on one such day). Others reacted not only to the racial politics among the viewers, but also to the apparent lack of engagement with very real issues of gentrification and labor in Brooklyn. The installation inspired teach-ins, rants, an endless stream of blog posts, and will no doubt be fodder for not a few dissertations.

When I was there in the Domino factory, A Subtlety made me cry. It was not the sphinx. It was not even the selfies.

It was the children. The children, scattered throughout the factory, were molded from brown, caramelized sugar. Continue reading ‘April Merleaux: The Subtlety of the Sugar Babies’ »

Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit

veit_modern_PBAmerican eating changed dramatically in the early twentieth century. As food production became more industrialized, nutritionists, home economists, and so-called racial scientists were all pointing Americans toward a newly scientific approach to diet. Food faddists were rewriting the most basic rules surrounding eating, while reformers were working to reshape the diets of immigrants and the poor. And by the time of World War I, the country’s first international aid program was bringing moral advice about food conservation into kitchens around the country. In Modern Food, Moral Food, Helen Zoe Veit argues that the twentieth-century food revolution was fueled by a powerful conviction that Americans had a moral obligation to use self-discipline and reason, rather than taste and tradition, in choosing what to eat.

In the following excerpt from Modern Food, Moral Food: Self-Control, Science, and the Rise of Modern American Eating in the Early Twentieth Century (pp. 157-163), Veit explores the ideas and events in American history that transformed American standards of beauty, desirability, diet, and success.


Sometime in the 1910s, a woman named Nina Putnam decided to go on a diet. She had been slim as a young bride, and for a few years she had stayed that way by cleaning her own house and doing all her marketing on foot. But as her husband’s salary increased, they acquired new things: a vacuum cleaner, an automobile, an apartment in a building with an elevator, and a maid to do the housework. Putnam grew much less active and much less slim, eventually coming to feel like a “hippopotamus” and worrying she was in danger of becoming a “mere wife, instead of a sort of standardized best girl as heretofore.” After finally deciding to lose weight, she saw ads for weight loss products everywhere and tried scheme after scheme, from a reducing corset to an electric massaging roller to special mail-order wheat buns to a dance regimen that involved wearing little but a small towel and a large rubber band. Eventually, seeing that nothing was getting smaller except her bank account, Putnam had a revelation. All those dieting companies were selling, she realized, was “nothing in the world but my own strength of mind” and “a visualization of the courage necessary to diet carefully.” Putnam decided to diet relying on nothing but willpower, and it was then that she really began to lose weight. She restricted herself severely, eating no potatoes, bread, pasta, cake, pie, pastries, ice cream, cheese, mayonnaise, nuts, olives, grapes, or bananas, and allowing herself only extremely small amounts of soup, sauces, milk, butter, cream, bacon, and sugar. She was always a little hungry, and she considered that a mark of her success.[1]

Nina Putnam eventually lost fifty pounds and was so delighted with the triumph of her will that she wrote a book about it. Tomorrow We Diet was published in 1922, and in it Putnam shared the secrets of her success, detailing her list of forbidden foods and stressing that readers could never have a lapse in dieting, any more than they could have a lapse “in ethics or true religion.” To get thin and stay that way, self-control was needed at every turn, at almost every moment. “You can get as slim as you want to,” Putnam wrote, but “two things are required of you—two little eenty weenty things. Self-control and intelligence.” Of course, she fully realized that there was nothing tiny about either, and she related her own desperate struggles with her appetites: “There have been times when the sight of a potato . . . has brought tears of longing to my eyes! Times, too, when I have reached out a trembling hand and surreptitiously patted the soft cheek of a Parker House Roll.” Her willpower won out over her passing desires, however, and she stressed that all her suffering was nothing compared to “the subsequent heavenly, sublime joy” of changing her body, feeling youthful and energetic, and throwing out old clothes that were too big.[2]

Putnam’s weight loss narrative touched upon many of the themes underlying Americans’ changing ideas about bodies and bodily mastery in the 1910s through the 1930s: the open deprecation of the overweight, the difficulties of dieting and the preeminent importance of willpower in doing so successfully, the joy in being thin, and the centrality of thinness to sex appeal and marital happiness, particularly for women. Weight loss testimonies were not new. They had appeared in the mid-nineteenth century in a few tracts aimed at men, most famously in William Banting’s popular Letter on Corpulence, first published in 1863 and then many times thereafter.[3] But it was only starting in the 1910s, as thinness became the dominant beauty ideal for both men and women, that weight loss narratives saw their full flowering as a popular new kind of success story, a kind of success obtainable by almost anybody, in theory. In these narratives, those people with enough determination not only changed their bodies for the better, but they transformed their entire lives. Weight loss supposedly led to greater beauty and personal appeal, prolonged youthfulness and improved health, more energy and efficiency, heightened intelligence and ambition, and subsequent benefits like success in business and pleasure in marriage.[4]

While the Great War had lasted, pronouncements about self-discipline and sacrifice as ends in themselves had been nearly ubiquitous. In fact, such pronouncements had been so commonplace and so potent that they nearly muffled associations between food conservation, weight loss, and a growing conviction that thinness was the physical ideal. Yet these associations existed, and they were gaining enormous cultural power during the era. The notion that wartime food restrictions might result in Americans becoming desirably thin was an idea unthinkable during Civil War food shortages. Its attractiveness in the 1910s shows Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Modern Food, Moral Food, by Helen Zoe Veit’ »

  1. [1] Putnam, Tomorrow We Diet, 7-8, 30, 34-35, 42-48, 52, 70-72.
  2. [2] Ibid., 79-80, 66, 74-75, 90.
  3. [3] See Vester, “Regime Change,” 39.
  4. [4] For more on the history of diet, weight reduction, and the thin ideal, see Schwartz, Never Satisfied; Vester, “Regime Change”; Bargielowska, “Culture of the Abdomen”; Forth and Carden-Coyne, Cultures of the Abdomen; Jou, Controlling Consumption; Stearns, Fat History; Seid, Never Too Thin; Gilman, Fat; and Lowe, “From Robust Appetite to Calorie Counting.”

Bob H. Reinhardt: Having the Vaccination Conversation

reinhardt_endWe welcome a guest post by Bob H. Reinhardt, author of The End of a Global Pox: America and the Eradication of Smallpox in the Cold War Era. By the mid-twentieth century, smallpox had vanished from North America and Europe but continued to persist throughout Africa, Asia, and South America. In 1965, the United States joined an international effort to eradicate the disease, and after fifteen years of steady progress, the effort succeeded. Reinhardt demonstrates that the fight against smallpox drew American liberals into new and complex relationships in the global Cold War, as he narrates the history of the only cooperative international effort to successfully eliminate a disease.

In today’s post, Reinhardt recommends that parents and vaccination experts approach vaccination with more holistic perspectives, placing the conversation in the context of past, present, and future.

This article was originally published in Willamette Magazine, Summer 2015, and is republished here with permission.


Parents sometimes hear about “routine childhood vaccinations,” but the current discussion about vaccines is anything but routine. In addition to pediatrician offices, the vaccination conversation is happening in unexpected places: the legislative halls of Oregon, California, and other states trying to stiffen childhood vaccination requirements; Twitter, where author Sherman Alexie invoked Native Americans’ historic experiences with deadly contagious diseases and railed against “superstitious, selfish anti-vaccination ***holes”; and late-night TV, where Jimmy Kimmel joked that parents in Los Angeles are “more scared of gluten than they are of smallpox.” Alexie’s vitriol and Kimmel’s barb invoke the history of smallpox and its eradication, a remarkable story that holds unexpected insights for today.

We are fortunate to live in a world without smallpox, a disease that once wrought terrible horror and death. Although some victims experienced only slight rashes, many more suffered greatly from fever, pustules, and hemorrhagic bleeding. Most people survived the experience with scars and sometimes blindness, but smallpox killed around 25 percent of its victims—an estimated 300 million deaths in the twentieth century. There was and is no cure for smallpox—only a preventative vaccine, which the U.S. Communicable Disease Center (now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC]) and the World Health Organization (WHO) used to wipe out the disease in the 1960s and ’70s. In 1980 the World Health Organization officially declared smallpox eradicated—the only human disease (so far) deliberately wiped off the face of the Earth.

Today’s vaccination defenders like to point to smallpox eradication as an example of the importance of vaccination. But they misunderstand how the way we talk about vaccination has changed. Continue reading ‘Bob H. Reinhardt: Having the Vaccination Conversation’ »

Angela Pulley Hudson: On Racial Passing, Posing, and Posturing

hudson_real_PBWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Angela Pulley Hudson, author of Real Native Genius: How an Ex-Slave and a White Mormon Became Famous Indians. Weaving together histories of slavery, Mormonism, popular culture, and American medicine, Hudson offers a fascinating tale of ingenuity, imposture, and identity. While illuminating the complex relationship between race, religion, and gender in nineteenth-century North America, Hudson reveals how the idea of the “Indian” influenced many of the era’s social movements. Through the remarkable lives of Tubbee and Ceil, Hudson uncovers both the complex and fluid nature of antebellum identities and the place of “Indianness” at the very heart of American culture.

In today’s post, Hudson discusses racial shifting and cultural appropriation, comparing Rachel Dolezal’s controversial claims to a similar instance of misrepresentation by a white woman named Laah Ceil during the mid-1800s. 


“There’s nothing so certain to succeed as imposture, if boldly managed…” Buffalo Courier, 1851

Earlier this summer, the internet exploded with news about the racial imposture of Rachel Dolezal, an activist whose parents publicly denounced her claims to African American ancestry, asserting instead that she was and always had been a white woman. Social media hysteria led to national television coverage, and a wide range of writers and scholars weighed in on the controversy. Many critics were incensed that Dolezal had appropriated black culture to advance her own goals, achieving a leadership position in the Spokane NAACP and lecturing in African American studies at Eastern Washington University. Some observers noted the ways that her claims resembled other famous figures who have also been accused of cultural thievery. Others drew attention to Dolezal’s additional assertion that she is part Native American, linking her to a long history of indigenous appropriation in the United States. Her apparent ethnic fraud subsequently rekindled a long-simmering conversation within Native American and Indigenous Studies about scholars who claim American Indian ancestry despite not being claimed by American Indian communities.

Dolezal’s purported blackness (and Indianness) was not a temporary costume, but was more like the racial shifting that anthropologist Circe Sturm and a number of other writers have outlined and it is not uncommon in the history of the United States. In Real Native Genius, I examine this phenomenon through the lives of Okah Tubbee and Laah Ceil, two apparently non-Native people who remade themselves as Indians during the mid-19th century. Like Dolezal, Laah Ceil was raised as a white woman, and the two cases raise similar questions. Why would a white woman abandon the abundant privileges of whiteness to pass as a racial minority, particularly given the long and brutal histories of white supremacy and settler colonialism that did and do endanger people of color? What combination of fantasy and necessity enabled their transformation? What benefit(s) did/do they derive from their imposture? Continue reading ‘Angela Pulley Hudson: On Racial Passing, Posing, and Posturing’ »

Excerpt: Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900, by Catherine W. Bishir

bishir_crafting_PBFrom the colonial period onward, black artisans in southern cities—thousands of free and enslaved carpenters, coopers, dressmakers, blacksmiths, saddlers, shoemakers, bricklayers, shipwrights, cabinetmakers, tailors, and others—played vital roles in their communities. Yet only a very few black craftspeople have gained popular and scholarly attention. Catherine W. Bishir remedies this oversight by offering an in-depth portrayal of urban African American artisans in the small but important port city of New Bern. In so doing, she highlights the community’s often unrecognized importance in the history of nineteenth-century black life.

In the following excerpt from Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900 (pp. 38-43), Bishir highlights the life of artisan Donum Montford, a free black man in nineteenth-century New Bern who possessed land, trained his own apprentices, and even had the right to vote.


The notice in the New Bern newspaper described a small object in simple terms intended to restore it to its owner. The wording also implied much about the owner’s identity and the community in which he lived and worked. The specialized tool indicated that he cut and installed window panes as part of his trade. Its diamond head, for scoring precise lines, identified it as an implement of high quality, and its monogrammed handle suggested his attachment to it. The reward of $1.50—a day’s pay or more for a skilled worker—revealed his strong desire to regain the lost object and his financial capacity to offer such a sum. The laconic reference to the location where he had lost the glass cutter revealed that the community was small enough and Donum Montford and his place of residence so well known that newspaper readers would know where to look for it.[1]

At the time he placed the notice in 1810, plasterer and brickmason Donum Montford was about forty years old, a newly married head of household, and a master craftsman who had five local children as his apprentices. He and his wife, Hannah, made their home among white and black neighbors, and they became members of Christ Episcopal Church. He owned slaves and real estate, and as a male taxpayer he qualified to vote.

In 1810 Montford had been a free man for just over five years. It is easy to imagine that he had received his diamond glass cutter as a gift on the occasion of his manumission in 1804 or bought it himself as a token of his status. However he came to own it, he likely valued it for more than practical reasons. The possession of craft tools was an established symbol of artisan identity. During and after the American Revolution, urban white craftsmen in the North brandished the tools of their crafts as they marched in parades, trade by trade, to assert their patriotism or defend their economic position. Although such a scene was seldom replicated in North Carolina, artisans here, as elsewhere, understood the meaning as well as the utility of owning tools.[2] When a master artisan presented his graduating apprentice with tools to begin his trade, or a parent bequeathed tools to a child who followed in his or her craft, the transfer marked a life stage as well as meeting a practical need. Seldom did apprentice bonds specify the items to be given, though in one case in piedmont Rowan County in 1805 the county court bound Sam, a free boy of color, to Joseph Clarke to learn the blacksmith’s trade and ordered Clarke to give Sam “when of age an Anville, Sledge & Hammere Shoeing tools, & two pr. of Tongs.”[3] In contrast to a slave, who legally owned nothing, not even himself, a free artisan took pride in owning his tools. Whether Montford retrieved his glass cutter or not—which, as we shall see, he may have done—his initials on it, like his advertisement for its return, denoted his attachment to this emblematic possession of an artisan.[4]

Montford’s advertisement for his glass cutter also leads us into the complex world of black artisan life in early national–period New Bern. As a man who spent roughly half of his life in slavery and half in freedom, Montford shared many experiences with the thousands of enslaved and free black craftspeople who constituted much of the skilled workforce of the urban South. In slavery and in freedom, he participated in dimensions of black artisan life that New Bern had in common with other southern cities. But his experiences also reflected the city’s particular character and circumstances: during the decades following the American Revolution—later recalled as the town’s “golden age”—New Bern’s prosperity and especially the values and actions of its illustrious white and black leaders combined to create an era of unusual opportunity for artisans of color.[5]

For most black artisans in the antebellum South, being born into slavery placed clear limits on their future. No matter how skilled they might be, seldom could enslaved artisans expect to trace the customary path from apprentice to master that white artisans pursued. For Montford, as for a remarkable number of his fellows in New Bern, however, the timing and circumstances of his birth together with his skills, industry, ambition, and relationships enabled him to realize such hopes as he moved from slavery to freedom and became a master of apprentices and slaves, a property owner, and a voting citizen. Only as Montford’s life drew to its close in the 1830s did he and his fellow artisans of color witness Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Crafting Lives: African American Artisans in New Bern, North Carolina, 1770-1900, by Catherine W. Bishir’ »

  1. [1] I have used a skilled worker’s day’s pay as the principal benchmark for comparison of monetary amounts. This has proved more accurate for New Bern than reference to current dollar amounts based on inflation over the years. Not only did relative values of specific items vary markedly from present-day values, but the inflation-based charts suggest overall cost multipliers much smaller than New Bern figures indicate. Inflation-rate sources generally indicate a multiplier of about 15 times between 1810 and 2010. However, comparison of actual costs of labor, property, and goods in ca. 1810 New Bern and those of 2010 show a multiplier of at least 100 and sometimes twice that. For example, in 1810–20 a skilled white or free black carpenter or brickmaker in New Bern made from $1 to $2 per day (typically upwards of 10 hours per day). Today a good carpenter or brickmason in a mid-level North Carolina city earns from $20 to $35 per hour. Costs of such items as real estate, tools, clothing, and food rose at various rates. A modestly priced town lot sold for $50–$80 in 1820 and a prime one for perhaps $500 to $1,000. A custom-tailored “great coat” for a rich lawyer cost $6.25 in 1834. Comparable items cost at least 100 times as much in 2010, and land runs higher.
  2. [2] On the significance of artisans’ tools, see Sidbury, “Slave Artisans in Richmond,” in Rock, Gilje, and Asher, American Artisans, 49, 55, and Gilje, “Introduction,” in ibid. For a rare instance of such artisan displays in North Carolina, see Bishir, Brown, Lounsbury, and Wood, Architects and Builders in North Carolina, 187–88, on the activities of craftsmen constructing the State Capitol in Raleigh in the 1830s.
  3. [3] Minutes, Court of Pleas and Quarter Sessions, Rowan County, North Carolina, vol. 7 (1800–1807), p. 299, May 7, 1805, Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, N.C.
  4. [4] Donum Montford, Estates Papers, Craven County Estates Papers, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh.
  5. [5] “A Citizen,” New Bern Spectator, December 9, 1831, on New Bern’s “golden age.”

Sandra A. Gutierrez: An Ode to Beans and Field Peas

gutierrez_beansWe welcome to the blog a guest post by Sandra A. Gutierrez, author of Beans and Field Peas: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook. Robust and delicious, beans and field peas have graced the tables of southerners for generations, making daily appearances on vegetable plates, sideboards, and lunch counters throughout the region. Indeed, all over the world, people rich, poor, or in between rely on legumes, the comforting “culinary equalizer,” as Gutierrez succinctly puts it. Her collection of fifty-one recipes shines a fresh light on this sustaining and infinitely varied staple of ordinary life, featuring classic southern, contemporary, and international dishes.

In today’s post, Gutierrez shares a delicious selection from her cookbook—perfect for a hot day!—along with anecdotes about her yearlong obsession with beans and field peas.


I was thrilled to have been invited to write this book, Beans and Field Peas: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook published by the University of North Carolina Press. I seldom get the chance to immerse myself into the study of a single subject for a long period of time. In this case, legumes in the form of beans, field peas, and green beans offered me an opportunity to investigate and retrieve their historical origins, extoll on their cultural importance in the foodways of an entire region, and put them into a global perspective.

For over a year, beans and field peas became my obsession. I sought them in farmers’ markets all over the South, bought them at farm stands by the roadsides as I traveled, and cooked them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! I read about them, talked about them, wrote about them, ate them, and even dreamed of them.

I jokingly like to say that it took a Latina to write about the importance of beans in the South. After all, beans have been part of my life since childhood, from the little black beans that made it to my family’s table every week, all the way to the beautiful, thin, and crispy haricot verts that I learned to julienne and cook in butter as a young girl.

However, that’s only part of the reason why I was happy to take on this project. Truth be told, the subject of field peas really clinched the deal for me. Field peas in all of their glory were, for the most part, unknown to me when I moved to North Carolina thirty years ago. Surely, I had enjoyed plenty of bowls of rice and pigeon peas (which I knew as arroz y gandúles), and certainly gobbled down platefuls of black-eyed peas and lima beans in my lifetime. However, the gargantuan array of southern field peas was a discovery to me.

Field peas at market. (Photo by Sandra A. Gutierrez.)

Field peas at market. (Photo by Sandra A. Gutierrez.)

I marveled at the different colors of the field peas, from lime-green butter beans and purple peas with white specks, to golden yellow-eyed peas. I rejoiced in the textural differences between a creamer and a crowder pea, one velvety when cooked, and the other retaining a slightly more toothsome quality. Finally, I delighted in the varying pot likkers that each kind produced.

Then of course, there was the matter of exposing true southern green beans that get better the longer they’re cooked. I don’t mean the dark green, bean-less, and hollow variety of Blue Lakes that we find in modern supermarkets today. I mean those that grow in the gardens of southerners, on poles or in bushes: greasy beans, Kentucky wonders, white or green half runners, and other pods. I mean the kind that bulge with immature seeds inside and that rupture when cooked long and slow, allowing said little beans to escape into the likker while yielding a good dose of protein and delightful textural contrast.

It is my hope that you too will delight in the world of southern beans and field peas and that you learn to cook them the southern way, the new-southern way, and the international way, so that your table is always brimming full of healthy and succulent goodness.

Here’s a recipe to get you started:

Butter Bean, Corn, and Tomato Salad

Continue reading ‘Sandra A. Gutierrez: An Ode to Beans and Field Peas’ »

Victoria E. Bynum: A New Glimpse of the Cinematic Free State of Jones

bynum_freeWe welcome to the blog today a guest post by Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War. Across a century, Bynum reinterprets the cultural, social, and political meaning of Mississippi’s longest civil war, waged in the Free State of Jones, the southeastern Mississippi county that was home to a Unionist stronghold during the Civil War and home to a large and complex mixed-race community in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Featured below is a crosspost from Bynum’s blog, Renegade South: Histories of Unconventional Southerners. In her post, Bynum shares behind-the-scene photos from the movie The Free State of Jones, which is scheduled for release early next year.


The movie The Free State of Jones, starring Matthew McConaughey as Newt Knight and Gugu MBatha-Raw as Rachel Knight, is scheduled for release on March 11, 2016. Almost a year previous to that day of projected release, the following photos were taken on the movie’s set in Covington, Louisiana. You’ll likely recognize the director, Gary Ross, of Hunger Games and Seabiscuit fame. Perhaps you’ll recognize the Confederate officer and nurse too!

BTS: Director Gary Ross with author and historian Victoria Bynum (author of “The Free State of Jones”). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

BTS: Director Gary Ross with author and historian Victoria Bynum (author of “The Free State of Jones”). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment


Confederate officer (Gregg Andrews) and hospital nurse (Victoria Bynum). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

Confederate officer (Gregg Andrews) and hospital nurse (Victoria Bynum). Photo courtesy of STX Entertainment

And for your listening pleasure, I give you “Jones County Jubilee,” a musical version of the Free State of Jones by Doctor G and the Mudcats.

Victoria E. Bynum is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of history at Texas State University, San Marcos. She is author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies and Unruly Women: The Politics of Social and Sexual Control in the Old South. Her book The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War is now available.

Interview: Cecelia Tichi on Jack London’s Fight for a Better America

Cecelia Tichi, author of Jack London: A Writer’s Fight for a Better America, talks with Gina Mahalek about the novelist’s role as a public intellectual.


Gina Mahalek: Jack London is well known for his adventure novels, like The Call of the Wild. But apart from tales such as the one about a dog in the Yukon, who was he? And why does he matter today?

READ poster campaign portraits Various people posing with their favorite books for a poster campaign for the library. (Vanderbilt Photo / Daniel Dubois) Professor Celia Tichi READ poster campaign portraits Various people posing with their favorite books for a poster campaign for the library. (Vanderbilt Photo / Daniel Dubois) Professor Celia Tichi

(Vanderbilt Photo / Daniel Dubois)

Cecelia Tichi: Jack London (1876-1916) was the most popular U.S. writer of the early 20th century, the first to earn $1 million. In a career spanning twenty years, he published fifty books, hundreds of short stories, and numerous essays. His books sold well internationally and have been translated into several languages. He continues to be one of the most famous and esteemed writers in the world—arguably better known and respected abroad than here in the United States.

GM: So is his longstanding popularity the main reason to revisit his career?

CT: The deeper reasons for that popularity, yes. Appreciation for literary skill is, of course, a given. But Jack London’s importance today concerns the sociopolitical influence he had at a critical time in U.S. history, a time that is very much like our own.

GM: Meaning—?

CT: Meaning that the United States is experiencing conditions that mirror those of London’s lifetime: vast disparities of wealth, high unemployment and underemployment. Add to these our record-breaking levels of incarceration, the blight of factory farming, and other sociopolitical and economic problems. London’s career speaks directly to these issues. His lifetime spanned the post-Civil War Gilded Age to the Progressive Era of the 1910s, and his incredible output of fiction and nonfiction supported efforts that helped eliminate child labor, promote safe workplaces, raise wages, and shine the spotlight on other inhumane conditions in urgent need of correction.

GM: So are you saying that Jack London was writing in the tradition of the exposé? That he was somehow allied with the journalists we call muckrakers?

CT: To be clear: London’s output, with his self-imposed production quota of 1,000 words daily—fiction and nonfiction—was a vivid lifetime report from his many American “lives” as a child laborer, a jobless hobo, a prison convict, a sailor. When he became financially successful, he continued to report on troubling socioeconomic and cultural conditions that he faced as an adventurer, an undercover journalist, a war correspondent, travel writer, sports reporter, photographer, rancher, and lecturer.

GM: In this roll call of identities, didn’t he spread himself thin?

CT: Jack London’s career borders on the incredible. To capsule it here, in brief: his failed quest to discover gold in the Yukon Gold Rush of 1897-98 netted him plots and quirky characters for popular novels and stories. And his seafaring adventures as a crew member and, later on, as master of his own custom yacht yielded a treasury of material for fiction about Hawaii and the South Sea islands where he sailed. That sea voyage was a marine comedy of errors, and he wrote about it with good humor, making himself the butt of many jokes.

London also covered the 1904 Russo-Japanese War for the Hearst newspapers (and the Mexican war in 1914). As a journalist, he went undercover in 1903, disguising himself as a luckless American sailor in order to expose the shameful London slums of imperial Britain, supposedly the most civilized people on earth. Some have criticized him as a racist, but London’s stories show support for underdogs of every race. When he covered the racially charged 1904 championship prizefight between white Jim Jeffries v. the black Jack Johnson, he hailed the winning Johnson outright as the superior boxer. Realizing that he had become dependent on alcohol, London penned a much-admired autobiography, John Barleycorn. His superb eye for a good photograph is evident in his hundreds of photos, many recently published in a large-format volume, Jack London: Photographer. To this day, his Beauty Ranch in California’s Sonoma (today a state park) is a testament to Jack London’s determination to raise crops and livestock without chemicals. Ahead of his time, he was committed to sustainable agriculture.

In all of these endeavors, let’s not forget, London exposed social ills and championed progressive reform. With direct relevance for the twenty-first century, he speaks to us today as an American public intellectual.

GM: The Jack London resume leaves one breathless. But was he really a public intellectual? Can that label fit somebody who’s best known as a writer of fiction?

CT: Yes, indeed. Consider the American benchmark novels and authors who fall into this category: Harriet Beecher Stowe with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle with its revelations about the horrible meatpacking conditions in Chicago. In recent decades, Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged have been highly influential in the conservative political movement. So we can think of a public intellectual as a figure who can reach a broad public on matters that have political or ideological weight, and do so by speaking in terms that people understand, terms that are easily accessible. Jack London fits that definition.

tichi_jackGM: Doesn’t he also fit the classic rags-to-riches American story? You say the rich and famous author started life as a child laborer. How did that all come about? Continue reading ‘Interview: Cecelia Tichi on Jack London’s Fight for a Better America’ »

Sam Miglarese: Looking Ahead to the Visit of Pope Francis

vanRompay_long_PBWe welcome a guest post today by Sam Miglarese, coeditor, with Lucas Van Rompay and David Morgan, of The Long Shadow of Vatican II: Living Faith and Negotiating Authority since the Second Vatican Council. With the Second Vatican Council (1962–65), the Roman Catholic Church for the first time took a positive stance on modernity. Its impact on the thought, worship, and actions of Catholics worldwide was enormous. Benefiting from a half century of insights gained since Vatican II ended, this volume focuses squarely on the ongoing aftermath and reinterpretation of the Council in the twenty-first century. In five penetrating essays, contributors examine crucial issues at the heart of Catholic life and identity, primarily but not exclusively within North American contexts. On a broader level, the volume as a whole illuminates the effects of the radical changes made at Vatican II on the lived religion of everyday Catholics.

In today’s post Miglarese anticipates Pope Francis’s upcoming visit to the United States, forecasting a message from the Pontiff that may ruffle the feathers of some observers and bring comfort to others. 


Ever since Pope Paul VI initiated international papal travel with his ecumenical visit to Jerusalem in 1964 and to the United Nations in 1965, every subsequent Pope has followed suit and embraced pastoral visits as a means of staying connected with the People of God and promoting their agenda of core Christian values. These groundbreaking papal visits to all parts of the world are now an integral part of the role of the Pope as pastor of the Roman Catholic flock.

Each papal visit to the United States is unique and is very much tied to the personality and agenda of the particular Pope visiting. The same will be true for Pope Francis’s upcoming visit. It will carry the stamp of his charismatic personality and pastoral agenda. Make no mistake about it, he is a political activist as his latest encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Praise be to you”) on the care for mother earth shows dramatically. He calls for action by means of political engagement at all levels. He wants us to hear and act upon “the cries of the earth as well as the cry of the poor.”

There is a great deal of anticipation for the first visit of Pope Francis to the United States in September. He intends to participate in the closing ceremonies of the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia, whose theme is “Love is our Mission: The Family Fully Alive.” This event is held every three years and for the first time in the United States. But this is not just another visit of the Bishop of Rome in an age of international Papal travel. It is appropriate to ask, What is it about this visit among all the other papal visits that will be unique?

Francis in his young papacy has already tipped his hand about a clear pastoral approach to issues that have driven his flock into divisive camps of confrontation on marriage and sexuality: contraception, abortion, premarital sex, homosexual unions. Even though he remarked, “Who am I to judge?” in an interview on issues of homosexuality in the first months of his papacy, we should not look for any significant change in the moral teachings or canonical discipline of the Roman Catholic Church. What Francis will likely offer is Continue reading ‘Sam Miglarese: Looking Ahead to the Visit of Pope Francis’ »

Excerpt: Radical Relations, by Daniel Winunwe Rivers

rivers_radical_PBIn Radical Relations: Lesbian Mothers, Gay Fathers, and Their Children in the United States since World War II, Daniel Winunwe Rivers offers a previously untold story of the American family: the first history of lesbian and gay parents and their children in the United States. Beginning in the postwar era, a period marked by both intense repression and dynamic change for lesbians and gay men, Rivers argues that by forging new kinds of family and childrearing relations, gay and lesbian parents have successfully challenged legal and cultural definitions of family as heterosexual. These efforts have paved the way for the contemporary focus on family and domestic rights in lesbian and gay political movements.

In the following excerpt from Radical Relations (pp. 153-157), Rivers shares the stories of children who grew up in lesbian feminist families in the United States during the 1970s, exploring some of the particular challenges faced by those living in rural, conservative areas.


The Experiences of Children in Lesbian Feminist Households: A Generation of Bridge Workers

As the children of lesbian mothers and gay fathers had in previous eras, the children of lesbian feminist families often acted as mediators between their families and a larger society that saw their homes as deviant. Unlike in previous eras, however, the children of lesbian feminist families in the 1970s negotiated the distance between radically open lesbian families and a dominant heterosexual society. Whereas in earlier decades, children of lesbian mothers had moved between their families and mainstream heterosexual society tacitly, the children of lesbian households in the 1970s were much more visible because their families demanded the right to openly exist. These children were bicultural in that they belonged to a vocal oppositional minority culture but also had to operate within the dominant culture that questioned the viability of their families. These children grew up in lesbian households that were more assertive than those of earlier decades, but compared to children of the later lesbian and gay baby boom, they still found their home and family lives to be very separate from mainstream society.

Children who attended public schools in rural, often conservative areas were often on the frontlines of cultural change, negotiating the unmitigated homophobia they encountered at school or elsewhere and the radical lesbian feminist principles they learned at home. Many of them had been uprooted from a more anonymous urban environment into a rural one where all eyes were on their families. For some children, these conflicts proved stressful. Adrian Hood and her mother, Alix Dobkin, moved from New York City to Schoharie, New York, when Adrian was almost five. Alix and her partner, Liza, were out lesbians, and Adrian remembers that older children called her “lezzie” while other children teased her on the school bus, saying that her mother and Liza “looked like boys.” Eventually Adrian returned to Manhattan to live with her father.[1]

Similarly, an eleven-year-old child growing up in the rural area around the Northern California town of Willits in 1977 later described the tenuous acceptance and fear that characterized the school experience of many children living on lesbian land: “When I first moved to the land I was very scared. The next day Sage enrolled me in school. That year was fine. . . . The next year wasn’t as good as the first.” Her explanation of what happened that second year reflects the lack of safety these children often felt in their relationships with their peers: “I had made friends with Chris, who was in the 6th grade. . . . I told her about Sage and the other women I live with and that they were lesbians. She promised that she would not tell a soul. And she didn’t until one day we got into a fight. Then she told her friend and it got around school.” She went on to describe her mother’s efforts to mitigate the stigma the child was suffering at school: “It was very bad until Sage told my teacher, who is a man, that she wanted me to have a woman at school to talk to. Now I see Mrs. Norman, the school nurse. She is a big help to me. Now it is not so bad. Maybe they will get bored and stop.”[2]

What was true for women and children transplanted from urban areas to rural communes was also true for individual lesbian feminist families living in more rural, conservative areas. A self-identified radical feminist lesbian mother, speaking anonymously in 1983, described her daughter’s decisions to be open or not about their home life in the public schools of a “small Southern town” in the 1970s as “extremely tricky.”[3] Children of lesbian households also had to mediate between hostile, and often homophobic, local authorities and their families. Kate Alfaro, who lived with her mother in Searsburg, in rural upstate New York, remembers the police coming to her house after she wrecked her car in 1986. Alfaro told her mother and her mother’s lover to stay in bed because she was terrified of the reaction of the small-town police to her mother’s lesbianism. Alfaro, who felt isolated in the rural community, remembers finding solace in relationships with teenagers from heterosexual counterculture families who did not care that her mother was a lesbian and who also felt like misfits in the rural, conservative setting.[4]

Although children of urban lesbian households often enjoyed larger support networks that might include other children growing up in lesbian families, they nonetheless faced Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Radical Relations, by Daniel Winunwe Rivers’ »

  1. [1] Adrian Hood and Alix Dobkin, interview with author, New York, NY, April 12, 2005. See also Majoie Canton and Rogi Rubyfruit, “Alix Dobkin and Liza Cowan on Money, Motherhood, and Mutes,” Lesbian Tide, July/August 1977, 12.
  2. [2] Lesbian Connection, March 1977, 11.
  3. [3] “A Lesbian Tells Her Daughters to Forget Labels,” Poughkeepsie Journal, March 27, 1983, 28.
  4. [4] Kate Alfaro, interview with author, Ithaca, NY, July 29, 2005.

New Books for Fall 2015

We’ve got loads of great new books scheduled for publication this fall! To see what’s in store, scroll through the interactive catalog above or visit our website to see what’s new in subject areas that interest you. All fall books are now available for pre-order. Most books will be available as e-books, too, at the time of print publication. If you want to stay on top of what’s new each month in your favorite subject area, sign up for our monthly eNews announcements.

Here’s a sample of what’s in store. Browse the catalog for more great reads to look forward to.

St. Francis of America: How a Thirteenth-Century Friar Became America's Most Popular Saint, by Patricia AppelbaumLittle Rivers and Waterway Tales: A Carolinian's Eastern Streams, by Bland SimpsonFlorynce "Flo" Kennedy: The Life of a Black Feminist Radical, by Sherie M. RandolphCold Harbor to the Crater: The End of the Overland Campaign, edited by Gary W. Gallagher and Caroline E. JanneyAbortion after Roe, by Johanna SchoenHaitian Connections in the Atlantic World: Recognition after Revolution, by Julia GaffieldBeans and Field Peas: a SAVOR THE SOUTH® cookbook, by Sandra A. Gutierrez

Excerpt: Southern Water, Southern Power, by Christopher J. Manganiello

manganiello_southernWhy has the American South—a place with abundant rainfall—become embroiled in intrastate wars over water? Why did unpredictable flooding come to characterize southern waterways, and how did a region that seemed so rich in this all-important resource become derailed by drought and the regional squabbling that has tormented the arid American West? To answer these questions, policy expert and historian Christopher J. Manganiello moves beyond the well-known accounts of flooding in the Mississippi Valley and irrigation in the West to reveal the contested history of southern water.

In the following excerpt from Southern Water, Southern Power: How the Politics of Cheap Energy and Water Scarcity Shaped a Region (pp. 47-50), Manganiello tells the story of a southern power company that did not wait for the demand for hydropower to emerge, but instead created their own market.


After 1900, New South energy companies invigorated the process of mill and town building that William Church Whitner contributed to in the 1890s in the upper reaches of the Savannah River valley. Numerous companies—including the independent Tennessee River Power, Alabama Power, Georgia Power, Duke Power, and other smaller companies—planned and developed multiple-dam and sometimes multiple-purpose projects across the region to redirect river energy to factory hands and machines. “Water power,” Rupert Vance declared in Human Geography, was “the one unifying force underlaying industrial development” in the southern Piedmont.[1] Vance observed this development through North Carolina’s James B. Duke (1856–1925), and Duke Power Company was among the first and most successful corporate enterprises to couple waterpower and industrial development. Dr. Walker Gill Wylie (1849–1923), a South Carolina native, New York City physician, president of the Catawba Power Company, and Whitner’s former business partner, presented the self-made American Tobacco Company king with the idea of developing a series of hydroelectric dams and reservoirs on the Catawba River.[2] Together, Wylie and Duke tapped William States Lee (1872–1934), a Citadel graduate and engineer who had previously worked alongside Whitner at Portman Shoals and who had completed Wylie’s Rock Hill (S.C.) Catawba Power Company hydroelectric project in 1904, to provide the technical know-how.[3] Not unlike other company founders who merged technical skill, river knowledge, and financial resources, the Duke trio started building a system in 1905 and within six years had linked four hydroelectric plants (three on the Catawba River) and two auxiliary coal-fired steam plants in the Carolina’s Piedmont.[4] By then, Duke Power Company’s Catawba (Lake Wylie) and Great Falls projects stored water behind dams before turning falling river water into energy for distribution over 700 miles of transmission lines to reach more than 100 cotton mills.[5]

James B. Duke did not wait for markets to emerge to justify massive capital investments in hydropower; he cultivated industrial consumers.  Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Southern Water, Southern Power, by Christopher J. Manganiello’ »

  1. [1] Rupert B. Vance, Human Geography of the South: A Study in Regional Resources and Human Adequacy (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1932), chap. 12 (“Piedmont Crescent of Industry”), esp. 281.
  2. [2] Robert F. Durden, The Dukes of Durham, 1865–1929 (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1975), 177–83.
  3. [3] “A Hydro-electric Power Development on the Catawba River, near Rock Hill, S.C.,” Electrical World and Engineer 44, no. 4 (July 23, 1904): 129–32; Augustus Kohn, The Water Powers of South Carolina (Charleston, S.C.: Walker, Evans, and Cogswell, 1911), 82–83.
  4. [4] Robert F. Durden, Electrifying the Piedmont Carolinas: The Duke Power Company, 1904–1997 (Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 2001), ix–x, chap. 1. The companies I will call Alabama Power, Duke Power, and Georgia Power throughout this chapter changed names though consolidation, new ownership, incorporation, or holding company transfers throughout the twentieth century. These names will be used for simplicity and to illustrate the current corporations’ histories. Today, Georgia Power is one of four companies—including Alabama Power, Gulf Power, and Mississippi Power—under the umbrella of the Southern Company (established in 1945). Duke Power was initially known as the Southern Power Company (established in 1904 and having no affiliation with the current Southern Company), became Duke Power in 1924, merged with Progress Energy in 2012, and is currently known as Duke Energy. For corporate histories, see Wade H. Wright, History of the Georgia Power Company, 1855–1956 (Atlanta: Georgia Power Company, 1957); Jack Riley, Carolina Power and Light Company, 1908–1958: A Corporate Biography, Tracing the Origin and Development of Electric Service in Much of the Carolinas (Raleigh, N.C.: Edwards and Broughton, 1958); Durden, Electrifying the Piedmont Carolinas; Martha Elrod and Julie Groce, Energizing Georgia: The History of Georgia Power, 1883–2004 (Macon, Ga.: Indigo Custom Publishing, 2004); Leah Rawls Atkins, “Developed for the Service of Alabama”: The Centennial History of the Alabama Power Company, 1906–2006 (Birmingham: Alabama Power Co., 2006); and Dub Taft and Sam Heys, Big Bets: Decisions and Leaders That Shaped Southern Company (Atlanta: Southern Company, 2011). Duke did not invent the term “white coal,” which was already in global circulation. David Blackbourn charts a history of water, energy, and nationalism in Germany during the 1890s, where “‘white coal’ was cheap, clean, hygienic, and modern, not like smoky, sooty coal.” See chapter 4, “Dam-Building and Modern Times,” in Blackbourn, The Conquest of Nature: Water, Landscape, and the Making of Modern Germany (New York: Norton, 2006), esp. 201 and 219.
  5. [5] C. A. Mees, “Development of the Rocky Creek Station of the Southern Power Company,” Engineering Record, Building Record, and Sanitary Engineer 59, no. 14 (April 3, 1909): 462–69, esp. 462.

Daniel J. Tortora: The Grant-Middleton Duel and the Aftermath of the Anglo-Cherokee War

tortora_carolina_PBWe welcome a guest post today from Daniel J. Tortora, author of Carolina in Crisis: Cherokees, Colonists, and Slaves in the American Southeast, 1756-1763. In his engaging book, Tortora explores how the Anglo-Cherokee War reshaped the political and cultural landscape of the colonial South. He chronicles the series of clashes that erupted from 1758 to 1761 between Cherokees, settlers, and British troops. The conflict, no insignificant sideshow to the French and Indian War, eventually led to the regeneration of a British-Cherokee alliance. Tortora reveals how the war destabilized the South Carolina colony and threatened the white coastal elite, arguing that the political and military success of the Cherokees led colonists to a greater fear of slave resistance and revolt and ultimately nurtured South Carolinians’ rising interest in the movement for independence.

In today’s post, Tortora shares the important but unfamiliar account of the feud between a South Carolina provincial troop commander and a British colonel during the Anglo-Cherokee War.

No one knows for sure what happened on the morning of December 23, 1761, in a field on the outskirts of Charles Town (today Charleston), South Carolina.

An obscure letter, one of many manuscripts cited for the first time in Carolina in Crisis, offers a brief clue. In it, Henry Laurens writes that the friends of South Carolina’s provincial commander, Colonel Thomas Middleton, were soon “alledging & industriously insinuating” that “a G”—British Colonel James Grant—“at 12 ¼ Yards distance . . . fired over an M’s Calabash.”

The Grant-Middleton duel took place just five days after South Carolina and the Cherokee Indians had signed the Treaty of Charles Town. Chapter 10 details the making of both the duel and the treaty. Let’s take a closer look at the duel and its significance.

In June of 1761 Grant marched a British and South Carolina army to the Cherokee Country and defeated a massive Cherokee army. Then he burned and destroyed fifteen Indian towns in a matter of weeks. The provincial commander, Middleton, resigned in a huff and returned to his Charles Town residence. Months of accusations and emotion-laden correspondence ensued between Grant and his supporters, and Middleton and his supporters. In Middleton’s corner was the fiery assemblyman Christopher Gadsden, who emerged as a spokesperson for colonial rights and privileges.

The dispute was highly personal.

In a series of lengthy letters, Grant called Middleton a fair-weather soldier, and a poor one at that. Middleton and his supporters called Grant a condescending, petulant, and inept officer. Grant embodied what many colonists had come to resent about British authorities. A Scottish aristocrat, he had a penchant for fine wine, the latest fashions, and expensive haircuts. He shunned democracy and saw others’ advice as “not worth a shilling.” Middleton, on the other hand, symbolized to many colonial elites the heroic colonial public servant slighted by British authorities. Continue reading ‘Daniel J. Tortora: The Grant-Middleton Duel and the Aftermath of the Anglo-Cherokee War’ »

Cartoon: Jesse and Frank James Discover the Risks of Railroad Robbery, by M.W. Summers

summers_ordeal[This article is crossposted at]

This post is part of our series of political cartoons by historian and illustrator Mark Wahlgren Summers, author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction.

On Thursdays, we feature a new cartoon—hand drawn by Summers—that offers a creative, satirical spin on Reconstruction history. Each cartoon is accompanied by brief commentary from the author/illustrator to help put things into context. These cartoons stimulate your brain, tickle your funny bone, and bring history to life in a whole new way. 

Today’s cartoon features two businessmen of the Wild West who eclipsed even the notorious Jesse James in their exploitative conquests. (Click image for full size.)

jesse james

“Jesse and Frank James Discover One of the Biggest Risks in Railroad Robbery.” Most people think of the Wild West and Reconstruction as if they were separate eras. They weren’t. The Abilene Trail began just as Congressional Reconstruction got under way. Jesse James’s gang grew out of Civil War bushwhackers; the great failed bank robbery in Northfield, Minnesota, took place just as South Carolina and Louisiana freedpeople were fighting for their lives and right to share in the political process in 1876. Custer’s last stand happened barely a fortnight before a quite different massacre in cold blood of black militiamen in Hamburg, South Carolina; and that same summer James “Wild Bill” Hickok was felled from behind in Deadwood, South Dakota. He was holding aces and eights, a combination since known for that reason as the “dead man’s hand,” and perhaps the main reason why he would be inducted into the Poker Hall of Fame in 1979.

But the James Brothers were pikers when it came to railroad robbery. The biggest thieves sat in corporate boardrooms, notably Jay Gould and his partner Jim Fisk, who looted and ruined the Erie Railroad and swindled rival railroad chief Cornelius “Commodore” Vanderbilt out of tens of thousands of dollars. Like Jesse James, Fisk was shot to death, though in his case his mistress’s other lover did the deed. Gould went on to become a railroad builder and consolidator and the most hated of all the so-called “Robber Barons” of the later 1800s.

Mark Wahlgren Summers is professor of history at the University of Kentucky. He is author of The Ordeal of the Reunion: A New History of Reconstruction, A Dangerous Stir: Fear, Paranoia, and the Making of Reconstruction, and many other books.

Excerpt: Hotel Life, by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl

levander_hotelWhat is a hotel? As Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl show us in this thought-provoking book, even though hotels are everywhere around us, we rarely consider their essential role in our modern existence and how they help frame our sense of who and what we are. They are, in fact, as centrally important as other powerful places like prisons, hospitals, or universities. Guiding readers through the story of hotels as places of troublesome possibility, as mazelike physical buildings, as inspirational touchstones for art and literature, and as unsettling, even disturbing, backdrops for the drama of everyday life, Levander and Guterl ensure that we will never think about this seemingly ordinary place in the same way again.

In the following excerpt from Hotel Life: The Story of a Place Where Anything Can Happen (pp. 39-42), Levander and Guterl explore the world of Eloise, the six-year-old heroine from Kay Thompson’s book series for children, to show how a hotel can resemble a home.



The hotel’s ability to foster trust and nurture people who are otherwise temporarily homeless and dependent has been a long-standing feature of the modern landscape, and this functionality makes the hotel an irresistible magnet for those across the entire socioeconomic spectrum. Kay Thompson famously captured the hotel’s imaginative allure for the vulnerable wealthy in her 1955 fabulously popular Eloise stories, and the resulting marketing of these stories as a distinguishing feature of the hotel she—and her creator—called home attests to the hotel’s ability to incubate new kinds of identity and self-making even for those guests who seem to have it all. A ward of New York City’s Plaza Hotel, the six-year-old Eloise roams the hallways of one of the world’s finest hotels, her mother perennially absent. Without the protecting spaces provided by the hotel’s public and private venues, Eloise would be alone in a dangerous and unprotecting world, but in the generative habitus of the hotel she invents a world rich with play at self-making. If her room is depicted as messy and boring, filled with toys and books, each a discarded substitute for the missing affections of her mother, it is still filled with sunshine and with “Nanny,” her aged British minder. Leaving the suite, Eloise endlessly wanders the floors of the hotel, plays with guests and the staff, and explores, through the hotel, how to exist as a solitary self in a larger world. Long a favorite of young girls, Thompson’s Eloise demystifies the labyrinth of the hotel and suggests, instead, that the indomitable spirit of one particular six-year-old can triumphantly make a happy home even in the least sincerely domestic spaces of the world, and even in the absence of her mother.

The Plaza, as Thompson describes it through Eloise, is a home, a family, and a neighborhood—a microcosm of the larger world that Eloise will ultimately inhabit when an adult and thus a testing ground for a modern subject in formation. But Eloise has help with her self-fashioning—the hotel offers a series of surrogates and stand-in communities that enable and enliven her progress. She and Nanny routinely enjoy room service, and never cook for themselves. During the day, when Nanny is apparently otherwise occupied, Eloise tours the entire hotel. She attends weddings. She plays with the busboys. She boasts that she has been to “56 affairs including Halloween.” She is the unofficial charge of legions of stewards, bellhops, concierges, and guests. Instead of the proverbial neighborhood block, she has an endless supply of hallways, each door a gateway to another temporary “home” at the hotel. When young Eloise playfully scoots down the hall, rapping a stick against the woodwork or stomping her roller skates, a row of doors opens, and the proto-neighborhood awakens to watch, to instruct, to “parent” collectively. We see a man with a mixed-drink and striped pants, a comely woman behind him, and another man, wearing a bathrobe, shaving cream still on his face, and a third man, fastidiously dressed for business, with a small dog. Behind closed doors, the Plaza is full of discrete domestic spheres. Once the doors open—in this case, to make it possible to attend to a playful young girl—an alternative public emerges, a neighborhood constructed not through sidewalks and the front stoop, but through Continue reading ‘Excerpt: Hotel Life, by Caroline Field Levander and Matthew Pratt Guterl’ »

Video: Country Soul Playlist by Charles L. Hughes

Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American SouthCharles Hughes, author of Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South crafted a YouTube playlist to accompany his book. The playlist features country and soul music discussed in his book, as well as modern songs made possible through the birth of country soul music. We’ve selected a sampling from Hughes’s list to feature here. Be sure to check out the full Country Soul playlist on YouTube.

Want to know more? Read our interview with Hughes, where he shares some of the history behind these songs.

Now, grab another cup of coffee, sit back, and explore the sounds of well-known and hidden gems that shaped the trajectory of American music.

“I Was Born Blue” by Jerry “Swamp Dogg” Williams

“Color Him Father” by Linda Martell

“Hold On” by the Alabama Shakes

“I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers

“Country Music, That’s My Thing” by O. B. McClinton

“I Ain’t Easy to Love” by Candi Staton, Jason Isbell, John Paul White, and the Swampers

Charles L. Hughes is director of the Memphis Center at Rhodes College. His book, Country Soul: Making Music and Making Race in the American South, is now available. Follow him on Twitter @CharlesLHughes2, and check out his Country Soul playlist on Spotify, too.