Thursday, June 21, 2018

What were high ways in pre-modern times?

Highways Defined and How They Morph

In the 1790s the US Postal Service published standards to be met to qualify to be a postal coach stop.  Among the first was a requirement that your establishment must be situated on 'an all season, all weather road.'  By this, I believe they meant on a high road or high way.  So what did that mean?  What was a high road or a high way?  In short, I believe it meant a road that passed streams high in their course where a passage was seldom if ever obstructed by flood and hewed as close as possible to ridge tops.

Highways probably shifted over time as transportation modes and road technology changed. For example, as draft animals grew ever larger in the 19th century so too did payloads. The increased weight tore up dirt roads so counties imposed tire dimension minimums; the heavier the cargo the wider their iron tires needed to be. And the greater the cargo weight the more restricted will be the options for fording streams; hence a route change.

As an example of a high impact road technology change, culverts will serve. Until the arrival of corrugated steel piping and half-piping culverts were made like mini bridges, wooden planks laid down over stacked rock piers. Like bridges, in the Southeast of the US, they rotted and needed to be rebuilt about every seven years if they didn't wash away in the meantime. The "Nissen hut" made such bridging obsolete.

During World War I a British officer named Nissen devised a portable easy to erect structure using a corrugated steel half pipe. It didn't take troops long to figure out that sinking a Nissen hut it in a trench and covering it with dirt or sandbags would shelter you from more than rain. Wartime demands increase production so that after the war there was a considerable excess of halfpipe around and it came to be a staple farm building in most of the British Empire.

Americans picked up on the value of corrugated steel during the war and it didn't take long before corrugated steel pipes and half-pipes replaced wood and stone culverts. The low cost and excellent use-life allowed culverting in places where it was previously impractical, especially along the base of a ridgeline. Ridge roads quickly slipped from ridge tops down to the ridge bases after World War I; hence routes changed.

Oh, and the Nissen hut was rebranded for American consumption as the ubiquitous Quonset hut in recognition of the site where they were built at Quonset Point in Rhode Island.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Slaving Native Americans: Recommended reading


One way of dealing with disgrace is to pretend it didn't happen, another is to create a false narrative that exonerates the disgraced for what happened in the first place. When considering our Native American populations Americans tend to do both. To our credit, we are conscionable enough to feel disgraced and rightly so as we have throughout our history treated our Native brethren as "other," thus of little or no consequence to our story. Lately, a flood of books has arrived to prevent us from forgetting our past and allow us to revise our narrative to more closely approximate historical facts.

A Seldom Noted Fact

The bare fact is that much, perhaps most, of the reduction in Native American populations after the European invasion of the Western Hemisphere can be directly and indirectly attributed to slaving the Native population.

Our traditional narrative asserts that quite by accident, Europeans introduces diseases against which native peoples had no natural immunity. That is true,  and that horror story is well told by Lil Fenn in Pox Americana: the Great Smallpox epidemic of 1775-1778 (1999), and others. But 1775 is rather late in the game of conquest. In the early years of conquest, just war theory conveniently allowed conquerors to enslave and sell native captives. For example, we are all aware that the Moore cousins and John Barnwell, the mercenaries hired by North Carolina to remove the Tuscarora from the path of progress took their pay in captives, as did their mainly Siouxan "native levies." 

This subject's Time Has Come

What we generally haven't recognized is that this was a general practice from the Gulf of Mexico to the northernmost outposts of empire. By one account, in the 17th century, 10,000 per year were shipped out of Mobile alone into the Sugar Islands of the Carribean where they were sometimes swapped for Africans. Though Europeans left this out of their narrative until recently, Native Americans never forgot, and the internet has allowed them to promulgate their truth in, for example:
This sort of ad hoc reporting may have stimulated some  professional scholars to take a closer look, such as:
Whatever the reason, scholars now have the bit firmly in their teeth and we have a growing number of titles on the subject. Here without comment in no particular order is a summer reading list rooted in an email from Peter Wood received some weeks ago:
  • Reséndez, Andrés (2016). The other slavery: The uncovered story of Indian enslavement in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.(2016)
  • Gallay, Alan (2009). Indian Slavery in Colonial America. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
  • Schneider, Dorothy; Schneider, Carl J. (2007). "Enslavement of American Indians by Whites". Slavery in America, American Experience. New York: Facts On File.
  • Lauber, Almon Wheeler (1913). Reséndez, Andrés (2016). The other slavery: The uncovered story of Indian enslavement in America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  • Snyder, Christina. Slavery in Indian Country: The Changing Face of Captivity in Early America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press 2010.
  • Daniel H. Usner Jr.Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783 (Published by the Omohundro Institute of Early American ... and the University of North Carolina Press)Jan 1, 2014
  • David La Vere. The Tuscarora War: Indians, Settlers, and the Fight for the Carolina Colonies. Chapel Hill:UNC Press Oct 21, 2013
Bon Appetit

PS - Don't forget our GoFundMe campaign to underwrite expenses incidental to the book we're writing.