Abandoning Fort Necessity

Washington (all of 21) suffered his first defeat at the hands of the French, 1753.

His pride was humbled, and his young ambition seemed blasted in the bud.

He abandoned Fort Necessity and began a 52-mile retreat to the English outpost at Wills Creek, early in the morning of July 4. With that retreat, “Not an English flag now waved beyond the Alleghanies.”

Nine Indian tribes contributed men to the French victory: “… nearly all the Western tribes drew their scalping knives for France.”

Gosh! This is too darn exciting!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading MONTCALM and WOLFE, Ch. 5, p. 116

At this rate, self will still be reading MONTCALM and WOLFE in several months.

But why should she complain? It is an excellent book: the most exciting history she has read in a good, long while. It’s got everything: two stubborn opponents (the French and the British), conflicting allegiances, betrayals, mountains, lakes, forests, rivers, Iroquois, Miami, Ojibwa, Ottawa, and small glimpses of a 21-year-old George Washington receiving his first military command.

A British commander named Dinwiddie orders his men across the mountains, toward a branch of the Monongahela called Redstone Creek, “a distance of about a hundred and forty miles.”

A road for cannon and wagons must be cut through a dense forest and over two ranges of high mountains, besides countless hills and streams. Washington set all his forces to the work, and they spent a fortnight in making twenty miles . . .  By the end of May . . .  Dinwiddie learned that Washington had crossed the main ridge of the Alleghenies and was encamped with a hundred and fifty men . . .  at a place called the Great Meadows. A French detachment had tried to surprise Washington . . . and he had killed or captured the whole.

Killed or captured? Whelp! Strong stuff for a 21-year-old commander.

Washington was aided in this endeavor by an old friend, an Indian called the “Half-King,” (OMG the name!) who sent a runner to warn Washington that the French had been spotted nearby. The Half-King “had found the tracks of two men, and traced them toward a dark glen . . . ”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading MONTCALM and WOLFE Ch. 5 (1753 – 1754)

Among the many pleasures of getting to Chapter 5 is seeing a 21-year-old George Washington making his first appearance in the public sphere.

He is tall and slender but not otherwise prepossessing but then during a dangerous mission, he prevents one of his men from killing an enemy combatant, and later they fall into a frozen river and everyone spends a miserable cold night huddled on a riverbank but even back then, even at just 21, Washington already seemed to have that special something. Somehow the mission is successful. And that is a pretty remarkable thing for a 21-year-old tasked with his first assignment.

(Not two pages later, the 21-year-old is placed in command of 200 men, and he does not flinch)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading MONTCALM AND WOLFE, p. 79

Self is loving this book (she began it three days ago) so much. It’s about a battle that took place in French Canada, in 1759, a battle which culminated in a British victory.

The author, Francis Parkman, brings to life all the conflicting allegiances of that area. When he says “the Miami” and self realizes he’s referring to a tribe (not a city; not a university) — awesome.

An important ally of the British is an Indian chief called Old Britain, also referred to as the Demoiselle.

“. . . a fleet of canoes manned by two-hundred and fifty Ottawa and Ojibwa warriors” attacked an English fort, Pickawilanny, “about nine o’clock on the morning of the twenty-first.” The battle was one-sided: at the fort were eight British traders and fourteen Miamis, including the Demoiselle. Three of the British were caught outside the fort (no mention of what happened to them; self can only imagine) The other five managed to close the gate. The fort’s defenders held out manfully, “till the afternoon.”

Then, Parkman writes: “Seventy years of missionaries had not weaned them from cannibalism, and they boiled and ate the Demoiselle.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Conversion of the Iroquois

Montcalm and Wolfe is filled with references to the Iroquois. What happened to them? They were a mighty player in the French/British battles, with a capital city named Onondaga. And now they’ve just disappeared?

Self is suddenly consumed with curiosity.

An energetic French missionary named Fr. Piquet was particularly successful in converting them.

  • “The nature of the spiritual instruction bestowed by Piquet and his fellow-priests may be partly inferred from the words of a proselyte warrior, who declared with enthusiasm that he had learned from the Sulpitian missionary that the King of France was the eldest son of the wife of Jesus Christ.”

Since the Iroquois seem to have vanished, self has to assume that their conversion was simply a prelude to their — er, complete loss of agency, and eventual disappearance from the historical record.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

#amreading MONTCALM AND WOLFE by Francis Parkman

This book is about The Battle of Quebec, an epic battle which ended French rule in Canada. The two commanding generals, named in the title, were killed.

Self had never heard of historian Francis Parkman until a few months ago, when an article in the New York Review of Books made passing reference to him.

On p. 54, the French governor of territory disputed by the English sends a message to Queen Alequippa of the Iroquois, who is rumored to hold British sympathies:

  • They (the British) hide from you their plans, which are to settle here and drive you away, if I let them. As a good father who tenderly loves his children, and though far away from them bears them always in his heart, I must warn you of the danger that threatens you. The English intend to rob you of their country; and that they may succeed, they begin by corrupting your minds. As they mean to seize the Ohio, which belongs to me, I send to warn them to retire.

Love the way the “belongs to me” is uttered almost casually. About territory. Which belonged first of all to the native Americans.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

#amreading MONTCALM & WOLFE: The Decline and Fall of the French Empire in North America

France’s “manifold ills were summed up in the King. Since the Valois, she had had no monarch so worthless. He did not want understanding, still less the graces of person. In his youth the people called him the “Well-beloved,” but by the middle of the century they so detested him that he dared not pass through Paris, lest the mob should execrate him . . .  Louis XIII was equally unfit to govern; but he gave the reins to the Great Cardinal. Louis XV abandoned them to a frivolous mistress, content that she should rule on condition of amusing him . . . Madame de Pompadour . . .  filled the Bastille with her enemies; made and unmade ministers; appointed and removed generals. Great questions of policy were at the mercy of her caprices.

Montcalm and Wolfe, by Francis Parkman, p. 35

Against the Odds: The Daily Post Photo Challenge, 15 February 2017

An unexpected victory? A snapshot of an unlikely moment? This week, show us something that defines the odds.

— Michelle W., The Daily Post

Last year, on the 2nd day of self’s trip to the UK, her camera shutter stopped opening all the way. Rather than buy a new camera, self decided to see how far she could push that old thing. And it lasted till the very end of her trip.

One of the last places she visited before returning home was Bletchley Park, about an hour train ride from London. Bletchley Park is where the World War II codebreakers did their work. According to the visitors’ brochure, “the Codebreakers’ efforts helped to shorten the war by up to two years, saving countless lives.” The codebreakers worked year-round in unheated wooden huts. “The first Enigma ciphers were broken in early 1940.”

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Bletchley Park: June 2016

Self took the picture below in Chinatown. She forgets which street it was on. It was either on Grant or on Stockton. Look closer at the words, and it turns out to be about Filipino immigration: the first immigrants faced discrimination. Caucasian women were not allowed to marry Asian immigrants, most of whom were single men. Yet, those early immigrants endured. Their descendants are all over California.

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Wall Mural, Chinatown, San Francisco

Anne-Adele Wight coordinates a monthly reading series at Head House Books in Philadelphia. She is a published poet. Just before June’s event, she hurt her knee and had to wear a brace. But — the show must go on!

She is fantastic.

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Anne-Adele Wight introducing speakers at the Head House reading series, which she coordinates: Philadelphia, June 2016

So there are self’s examples of “Against the Odds,” which is a very, very interesting photo challenge.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

The Next 3 Books on Self’s 2017 Reading List

Self began reading Ape House, by Sara Gruen. It really plays with your head because right away, the bonobos are introduced with such clearly human traits, and we don’t see them as “animal.” (So what is the point? If they’re already human, why are we reading? Dare self say — because on p. 11 there are already seeds sown of a romance? Ugh. It’s not that self hates romance. It’s just that she wanted to read a story that was primarily about bonobos) But, no denying, Sara Gruen really goes for it. She bare-knuckles her story and you either buy her point of view or you don’t.

Self then began reading the next book on her reading list: American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. And, OMG, he doesn’t pull any punches either. He goes straight for the mythopoetic, quoting from a book on American folklore (and, eerily, finding the exact quote to reflect what self has been thinking all these years, which is: why are there no tikbalangs or mangkukulams in the United States? Is it because these creatures cannot get on a plane?)

So, because self is always searching for certainty, and she just finished reading Peter Lovesey’s Skeleton Hill and it was excellent, and self thinks she might be on something of a run, she decides to be truly daring and pick up the third book on her 2017 reading list: Phil Klay’s Redeployment. And here’s yet another writer who doesn’t pull any punches. His stories of men fighting in the front lines in Iraq — they will not thrill you. For instance, the title story: “We shot dogs. Not by accident.”

Which to read first? In point of fact, self already has six books lined up: the other three books on her current reading list are by Mary Beard, Francis Parkman, and Edward Gibbon. Eminent historians, all. Self hasn’t read so much history in a very long time.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Books About Eleanor Roosevelt: Reviewed in The Economist, 29 October 2016

  • Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After, 1939 – 1962, by Blanche Wiesen Cook (Viking)
  • Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady, by Susan Quinn (Penguin)

It is tempting to think that in a different era, Eleanor Roosevelt could have become president of the United States. Widely loved, the longest-serving First Lady was on the right side of history on virtually every subject including civil rights, acceptance of European refugees and the need to end Empires.


“She understood his needs, forgave his transgressions, buried her jealousies, and embarked on her own independent career . . .  FDR encouraged her independence and when he silenced her did so for reasons of state.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: The War Years and After, by Blanche Wiesen Cook

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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