Thursday, December 5, 2019

Book Review 414: Twilight on the South Carolina Rice Fields

TWILIGHT ON THE SOUTH CAROLINA RICE FIELDS: Letters of the Hayward Family 1862-1871. Edited by Margaret Belzer Hollis and Alan H. Stokes. 427 pages, illustrated. South Carolina $39.95.

Cotton was King in the old South but rice was more profitable. It was not as important because the area where Carolina rice could be grown was restricted to the portions of tidal creeks between southern North Carolina and northern Florida where the rising and falling water could be used to flood and drain Fields. Only brackish water suited.

By building levees, sluices and gates the planters could grow wet rice. The greatest difficulties were first, labor; second, malaria; and third, coastal storms and runoff from upcountry.

When Nathaniel Hayward died in 1855 he owned about 2,000 slaves, the most of any American. His plantations were divided among several sons who could not stand each other. One, Barnwell "Barney" Hayward, was the author of most of the letters in this collection.

As it opens in 1862 he is preparing to marry a second wife, Catherine "Tattie" Clinch. We do not have many of her letters, only a few written to her stepmother and sister as she prepared to marry at the very late age of 35.

From these highly affected and silly letters it is difficult to get any sense of her, but she sounds like an airhead. Her husband's letters to her, which make up the bulk of the book, don't show much respect for her brain, either, at least not until a crisis in 1869.

Barney and Tat wrote each other twice a week when they were apart, which was for most of their marriage. Letters to him were not saved.

His letters to her during the war are of only marginal interest, though they do set up the character of Barney as a querulous, somewhat childish, pompous and fashionable young man. A good deal of what was wrong was wrung out of him by the stresses of postwar life.

Unfortunately for us, there are no letters from the end of the war, when he returned to Tattie from the army until 1867 except a few business letters. One lists 200 people who had been his slaves and were still on his land.

1865 and 1866 were turbulent, dangerous years when freed slaves tried to find a footing and former masters trying to figure out how to get labor from them in an atmosphere of terror and uncertainty from bands of deserters turned into bandits, guerrillas and ax-grinders using the trouble to settle old scores.

Not much got planted in these years. My ancestors were rice planners somewhat to the north of the Haywards and my great-grandmother starved to death in 1866. The Haywards were somewhat better off than the Thompsons but only just.

Here is where the real interest of the letters lies. We don't know what Barney's experiences were or how his thinking evolved but by 1867 he was treating his ex-slaves differently from almost anyone else in the rice country. Instead of cash wages he was sharecropping plus giving his workers a "square" of riceland to plant for themselves.

According to his letters to Tattie he had more and more reliable workers then any other planter, including his brothers and cousins, although in 1867 almost all were women. He set up a store -- two stores eventually -- on his plantations because his workers wanted cloth and some food delicacies.

This rings true because that was exactly the experience the Bolsheviks had with the Russian peasants in the 1920s.

(The Bolsheviks had a very hard time with the cloth and the dainties but they did teach the children of the peasants and sometimes the peasants themselves to read, which was a thing the South Carolina landowners never dreamed of -- at least not until 1877 when they had to appeal to black voters.)

As things settled down Barney began to be able to bring in crops of rice and he began writing of visions of re-establishing his family's wealth by planting more and more rice. In the meantime he almost cheerfully sold off the family silver to pay the bills, though by 1868 it was touch and go whether he would go bankrupt.

Capital from speculators in Cincinnati plus some securities from his wife's family saved him.

In 1869 he made a pretty good crop but then it all went smash. Tattie died in 1870 of a long, painful illness, according to her obituary, that never appears in Barney's letters. Barney died the next year of causes unspecified although there is a letter from Saratoga, a health resort, in which he says he is determined to get well "this time."

It seems likelybthat at least part of his troubles were from malaria.

Carolina rice was finished anyway. It had been on the decline from the 1850s when European colonial powers began driving exports from Indochina and other parts of Asia. After the war more progressive farmers in the Midwest begin growing rice in Louisiana, east Texas and especially Arkansas and by 1913 rice was gone from Carolina.

But the laborers lived on. In 1927 the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction was awarded to Julia Peterkin for "Scarlet Sister Mary," a story about people we now call Gullah-Geechee. Barney's letters do not do too much to personalize the 200 or so African-Americans who continued to live on his land but they do provide a bit of insight into the distinct culture that Peterkin fleshed out and that inspired another Hayward -- DuBose, author of "Porgy."

One anecdote involves some young blacks on bird-scaring duty when Barney shot a marsh hen over the water. He told the kids to go get it and the boys raced off ,but the one girl present did not move. Hayward told her there was nothing wrong with getting her dress wet and, according to him, she splashed in as joyfully as the boys. We don't have their side of the story. The water must have been cold.

The Haywards and the Thompsons and the other white people are long gone from the rice country, but the African-Americans are still there weaving their famous sweetgrass baskets and farming. Today Georgetown, the center of the rice district, is no longer malarial and attracts wealthy retirees who are pouring tons of money into restoring the houses of America's richest planters.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The anti-Harry Hopkins

Whenever I think we have learned the absolute bottom limit of Republican depravity, along comes someone like Robert Marbut.

RtO has often quoted Harry Hopkins that, "People don't eat in the long run, they eat every day."

In 2012, [Marbut] pushed the Florida city of Clearwater to stop “renegade food” donations from churches and other charitable organizations. At the time, he characterized Clearwater as the second-most enabling city in America.

“No one has got out of homelessness just because they got fed,” he told the Tampa Bay Times. “That has never happened.”
 He never read Matthew 40:25, or if he did, it didn't impress him.


It comes in different guises.

William Barr is about my age and it is been a puzzle to understand why at this stage of his life he decided to remake himself is a toady, liar and pliant tool of a despicable political demagogue.

It's funny how information flows. Not long after posting about Marbut's depravity, I opened a solicitation letter from the Center for inquiry which quoted from the speech Barr gave at Notre Dame recently.

He said:

In short, in the Framers' view, free government was only suitable and sustainable for a religious people who recognized that there was the transcendent moral order antecedent to both the state and man-made law and to have the discipline to control themselves according to those enduring principles.

And he said:

How does religion promote the moral discipline and virtue needed to support free government?

First, it gives us the right rules to live by. The Founding generation were Christians. They believed that the Judeo-Christian moral system corresponds to the true nature of man. Those moral precepts start with the two great commandments  -- to Love God with your whole heart, soul, and mind; and to Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself.

But they also include the guidance of natural law -- a real, transcendent moral order which flows from God's eternal law -- the divine wisdom by which the whole of creation is ordered. The eternal law is impressed upon, and reflected in, all created things.

And he said:

I think we all recognize that over the past 50 years religion is been under increasing attack.

On the one hand, we have seen the steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.

On the other hand, we see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism.

By any honest assessment, the consequences of this moral upheaval have been grim.

Virtually every measure of social pathology continues to gain ground.

In 1965, the illegitimacy rate was 8%.  In 1992, when I was last attorney general, it was 25%. Today it is over 40%. In many of our large area urban areas it is around 70%.

Along with a wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic. 

(Did you hear the dog whistles?)

And he said:

If ever there was a need for a resurgence of Catholic education -- and more generally religiously affiliated schools  -- it is today.

I think we should do all we can to promote and support authentic Catholic education at all levels.

I heard such jeremiads 60 and more years ago at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. Father Shwa did not believe them then though he made money off of them; and Barr does not believe them now though he makes money -- power, too -- off of them.

The Center for Inquiry fact checks Brar but I'll pick just one zinger:

As to out of wedlock births, the two states with the highest rate are Mississippi and Louisiana, which are among the top states for church attendance.

If we hadn't seen Barr lie was such a straight face to Congress about the Muellar report we might be surprised at how easily he lies to the Catholics at de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture.

I recommend that you fast forward to the 17 minute mark and contemplate carefully who he describes over the next few seconds.

Earlier I said information comes in curious coincidences. I learned about Barr's reverence for the moral uplift provided by religion and particularly his Roman Catholic religion just a few hours after learning that the Roman Catholic bishop of Buffalo had been forced to step down when he was discovered to be protecting child rapists and lying to the lawful authorities about it.

Ah, yes, the good ol' days of Judeo-Christian ascendancy when our moral preceptors were rapists on the same scale as senators of Imperial Rome. Who wouldn't want to go back there?

Retirement is about as much punishment as the bishop is going to endure. I doubt he will miss any meals.

It is -- even to someone like me who knows more about the history of the Catholic Church than  almost any Catholic -- surprising to watch them ignore great crimes. They do not ignore small ones.

For the great moralist Barr has hitched his wagon and reputation to, we must suppose he thinks he is a leader in the field of morality -- a lying, fornicating, cheating, stealing, irreligious scoffer at the law, married (for the moment) to a racist model for lesbian pornography.

Just the people to teach children "the discipline to control themselves."

Monday, December 2, 2019

An opening for the god-botherers

For years Evangelicals have been trying to push their version of moral law into the secular space. But there moral law is bulky and persons who respect the Constitution have noticed the plot.

What if the Law we're more compact? Perhaps then they could sneak it into the courthouses and schoolrooms without causing such a fuss.

Well, it is more compact than it used to be. No one who grew up among evangelicals, as I did,  believes their preachment's because they don't believe them. Do as I say not as I do is the 11th Commandment; or perhaps the Zeroth Commandment of the evangelical Christian.

Until fairly recently evangelicals tended to stay out of the political sphere; meddling, they thought, interfered with the main goal of Salvation. However, for a generation now the holy joes have been baptized -- full immersion not just dunking -- in politics.

This has clarified values immensely. We now have numerous public actions and firm declarations about what evangelicals regard as moral behavior. Let us see how much of the Decalogue remains.

  1. “I am the Lord thy God, thou shalt not have any strange gods before Me.”
    Possible keeper. This would depend on whether you think that making fun of the Lord your god amounts to putting a strange God before him.

  2. “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”
    Definite keeper. Trump has a potty mouth but is not a blasphemer.

  3. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day.”
    Possible keeper, depending on your opinion of golf.

  4. “Honor thy father and mother.”

  5. “Thou shalt not kill.”
    No longer in effect. No surprise here; rightwingers have never liked this one.

  6. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

  7. “Thou shalt not steal.”
    The Catholic Church, whose Decalogue I borrowed, elaborates: "Embezzlement, fraud, tax evasion, and vandalism are all considered extensions of violations of the Seventh Commandment." No longer in effect.

  8. “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”
    No longer in effect.

  9. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife.”
    No longer in effect.

  10. “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s goods.”
     No longer in effect.

    There now, not such a burden even when carved in stone.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Meet the Little Russians

It is not comfortable to have Ukraine as an ally. It does not make any historical sense to demand it be reunited with Crimea. History does not support the idea that Ukraine is embracing western values, at least not the western values that we want to have embraced. Ukrainians twice greeted German invaders with bread and salt, then promptly set about murdering Jews.

Political Ukraine is in fact a creation of German despotism.

On the other hand, we must feel sorry for the Little Russians, a people who, along with the White Russians, have suffered as much as any ethnic groups over the past century.

Considering that we are now fixated on the country, it is remarkable  how little we know and have ever known about it.

Ukraine first entered the consciousness of Americans and western Europeans when it fell victim to a terrible famine engineered by the tsarist bureaucracy in 1892. That led to the creation of one of the first international efforts to succor a starving population.

That step into modernism has been almost completely forgotten, leaving even so well educated a person as Skipper unable to find a report of it on the Internet. Which goes to show the advantage of having a library of real books printed on paper.

I'm still opening the boxes of books from our move from Hawaii and I just found my copy of Chambers Encyclopedia of Universal Knowledge published in 1889, before the famine, before the large immigration of Little Russians to the United States and before the world had any special reason to care about these Russian provinces more than any others.

Following is the entire article in Chambers. It isn't long it and  does not mention the important fact -- never mentioned in the context of today's disputes -- that Ukrainians and Russians do not share a religion.

If Americans know anything about Ukrainians, it is that they paint over-the-top Easter eggs, and if they think about it perhaps they imagine that Ukraine is like Great Russia in its obsession with rituals with Easter rituals.

So it is, but there is a religious divide nevertheless. In the western provinces including Lwow the majority of the population adheres to the Ukrainian Greek Orthodox Church which is in union with Rome. The membership today is something over 5 million, small in a state with 44 million inhabitants.

The eastern districts, the ones being invaded by Russia, are generally Russian Orthodox now.

 It is not only a national war, a cultural war and an ethnic war. It is a religious war.

Here is all that Chambers had to say:

UKRAI'NE (Slav. a frontier country or March),  the name given in Poland first to the frontiers towards the Tartars and other nomads, and then to the fertile regions lying on both sides of the middle Dnieper, without any very definite limits. The U. was long a bone of contention between Poland and Russia. About 1686 the part on the east side of the Dnieper was ceded to Russia (Russian
U.); and at the second partition of Poland, the western portion (Polish U.) also fell to Russia, and is mostly comprised in the government of Kiev. The historic Ukraine forms the greater part of what is called Little Russia (a name which first appears about 1654), which is made up of the governments of Kiev, Tchernigov, Poltava and Kharkov.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Book Review 413: Soul by Soul

Soul by Soul: Life Inside the Antebellum Slave Market, by Walter Johnson 283 pages, illustrated. Harvard, $98.32.

In every slave state except one, slaves were personal property and when bought or sold left no more traces in the legal records than the sale of a mule. In Louisiana, slaves were real property and transactions had to be recorded by a notary.

That combined with the fact that New Orleans was the largest slave market left a large body of evidence about what day-to-day life in the slave pens was like.

All slave states had a sort of lemon law -- called redhibition -- that allowed buyers up to a year to force a seller to take back a defective slave or pay compensation for a dead one. Louisiana's redhibition law with more favorable to buyers than most, generating another mass of legal papers, especially in appeals to the state supreme court.

These along with other evidence including slave narratives constitute the evidence for Walter Johnson's "Soul by Soul", a history that treats the slave trade as a "technology of the soul."

In another arresting image, Johnson repeatedly describes slave owners is being "made by slaves," and he provides plenty of evidence that this was so. People who participated in the trade were categorized by society by how they did so.

Buyers claimed to have good eyes that would detect hidden injuries or diseases or bad attitudes like "propensity to run away." Buyers also needed to be able to detect the tricks of the traders.

They were also judged by the kinds of slaves they sought to acquire, whether field hands, house servants or drivers to conduct a carriage and four. A man with no slaves announced his intention to move into a new level of society when he acquired one slave; and if he said he did so to relieve his wife of daily chores, that was a signal that she was to move into a more genteel realm.

Despite the increasingly frantic defense of the propriety of slaveholding as the 19th-century wore on, the business of slave trading continued to have a low social status. Genteel slaveholders often pretended to have nothing to do with it even if they needed to acquire or dispose of slaves. Johnson exposes this pose for the sham it was.

Everyone possessing slaves participated in the trade in some way, including women who were never seen inside the slave pens  -- buildings with blank brick walls 30 and even 40 feet high..

The black laborers themselves were desperate for information with little advantage in acquiring it. Johnson shows that slaves did exchange information, on their home farms, during the long journey south and in the pens in New Orleans. They needed to know the character of who was thinking of buying them, where he was taking them and what he intended to do with them. Work in the cane fields was virtually a sentence of death.

To some extent slaves were able to manipulate buyers, as by showing a propensity to run away if they were destined for a remote plantation and preferred to remain in the city. Sometimes they were able to prevent the breakup of their families, although not often.

There were 4 million slaves in America and in the National Period (1800 to 1860) about 2 million changed ownership with 600,000 entering the trade, which was almost entirely from the declining agricultural states of Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky to Mississippi, Alabama, Arkansas, east Texas and the parts of Louisiana that had not earlier been given to sugar.

The hunger for slaves in those districts was inexhaustible and what was wanted most were prime field hands -- healthy, strong young men to clear the land. It was a smaller market for trained house servants -- cooks, laundresses, seamstresses, hairdressers and the like; and a much smaller market still for the most expensive slaves, "fancy girls" sold as sex toys.

Some of these beauties went for more than $5,000 when a prime field hand fetched something over $1,000.

Children were hardly wanted that all even though it was usual to put them to work at age 4 or 5. It was thought that they did not repay the cost of feeding and clothing.

It was an information society before the Internet. Traders in the pens attempted to present slaves as individuals, marketing one as a good driver or another as an experienced hairdresser, but their long supply chain forced them to come up with a grading system that was entirely impersonal.

In some court cases, expert witnesses claimed to be able to assess the value of a slave they had never seen simply on the basis of a grade that had been given by some trader who they also had never seen.

The slave pens in New Orleans were an irresistible magnet for visitors from the North, from other parts of the South and from overseas who left pen portraits, watercolors, sketches and oils of what they thought they saw. It may be doubted how well they understood. Even the people in the trade seem scarcely to have understood what was going on, with the slaves in the worst position of all to know.

In "Soul by Soul" at least part of life of the trade has been recovered.

Monday, November 18, 2019

A candidate for fragging

About 35 years ago I had a job interview at the New York Times. I was asked what I admired about the paper and what I disliked.

I said I thought it devoted way too much space to East Side socialites and that I most admired the reporting of Tom Friedman. I was thinking of his work from Lebanon in those days.

No one said anything, but when I brought up Tom Friedman's name there were scowls on the faces of my interviewers. Later a friend at the times told me that the managing editor who asked the question wanted nothing more in the world than to become a member of East Side society.

I wasn't offered a job there.

In the '90s Friedman wandered off into areas that did not interest me and I have not paid much attention to him in a long time, but he had column in the Times today that was absolutely right.

 How can Pompeo think he’s got what it takes to make the hard decisions needed to lead a nation as president, and send soldiers to war, when he can’t make a clear-cut easy decision to protect one of his own diplomats from being smeared by people acting outside our system.

It is a good thing that Mike Pompeo did not graduate at the top of his class in 1969 the way William Taylor did. Had Pompeo commanded an infantry company in Vietnam in those days he'd have had a grenade thrown into his tent.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The wheels on the bus go round and round

I went to pick up my grandchildren from school today. There was a long line of yellow buses out front, and at the end of it was a sodden pile of blue gabardine. A closer look revealed it to be Rudy Giuliani.

Where's Rudy?

If Alexander Chalupa did the things that Republicans are accusing her of, why isn't she being prosecuted?