The Author’s Corner with Fred Witzig

41WNTjQqz9L._SX312_BO1,204,203,200_Fred Witzig is Professor of History at Monmouth College. This interview is based on his new book, Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden (University of South Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: I was introduced to Alexander Garden by George Whitefield. My interest in Whitefield and the Great Awakening began when I was an undergraduate and never ended. But I quickly noticed that while the scholarship on Whitefield is lively and expansive, historians had never even begun to adequately assess the enormous efforts of clergy who worked against him. Foremost among them were New England Congregationalist Charles Chauncy and the commissary of the Church of England in the Carolinas, Alexander Garden. Chauncy largely failed in his efforts against the Awakening, and he’s famous among historians today. Garden went after Whitefield with more creativity and energy than Chauncy did, and, impressively, he succeeded in squelching the Awakening in South Carolina. More broadly, Garden arrived in South Carolina at a seminal moment in its development; in the aftermath of the Yamasee War, the white colonists shifted the economic foundations of their colony squarely onto African slave labor. Garden lent his considerable leadership skills to this endeavor, and in the process made a place for the Church of England, and Christianity in general, in the South that would last for more than a century. Yet, historians sometimes confuse him with the botanist Alexander Garden, and his only biography—until now!—is an unpublished dissertation from almost forty years ago. I think it’s time he gets his due.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Alexander Garden marshalled the resources of the Church of England in support of the burgeoning slave plantation economy of early South Carolina and applied a veneer of spiritual respectability to carnal exploitations of slave labor. In the process, Garden smothered the fires of a more egalitarian evangelical revivalism, burdened possibilities for the amelioration of the conditions of slavery with a Christianized paternalism that prevailed until the Civil War, and made the Church of England in the colony more influential than ever before.

JF: Why do we need to read Sanctifying Slavery and Politics in South Carolina: The Life of Alexander Garden?

FW: Are you interested in the long and sometimes sordid history of the entanglement of Christianity and slavery in North America; the history of the Christian Church, and especially the Church of England, in the South; the development of the southern social order that prevailed at least until the Civil War; the early efforts to educate and evangelize slaves (Garden founded the continent’s first major slave school); the reasons why the Great Awakening flourished and then died out in the Carolinas and Georgia; and the way non-evangelical colonial leaders challenged and shaped George Whitefield’s evangelical ministry? If you are, this is your book. I wrote it with undergraduates in mind, as well, so that faculty teaching courses on Southern history, evangelicalism, slavery, and other such topics could assign it to their students. In the preface I call it a dual biography: the story of the tragic but productive relationship between a refugee from Scotland and his colony on the edge of the British Empire.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

FW: Two events stand out. The first was when I visited Appomattox Courthouse with my family when I was probably seven years old. Standing outside on the rutted road there in Virginia, my dad told in dramatic fashion the story of General Grant’s meeting with General Lee, and then Lee’s surrender of his troops in the next couple of days. I knew then that history was the most fascinating subject anyone could ever study. The second event was when I was twenty-six and decided to change careers and become a teacher. What else would I ever want to teach?

JF: What is your next project?

FW: I’ve had a strong interest in public history for . . . years. Recently I started two websites. One is an attempt to reach smart but non-expert adults with thoughtful histories of the United States, the church at large, and a smattering of other topics. Eventually it will host resources for homeschooling high schoolers who, in my view, are at the moment stuck with a choice between ultra-nationalist Christian histories or secular histories that ignore or denigrate religious impulses in America and the world. The second website, not yet public, will host podcasts of conversations between me and a historian friend talking about Christians of the past whose stories can challenge us to evaluate current American evangelical assumptions.

JF: Thanks, Fred!

Mary Beth Norton Was the First Historian to Use the Word “Gender” in *The William and Mary Quarterly*


The phrase “African American” was not used in the WMQ until 1999.

Check out Michael McDonnell‘s piece at Panorama on the William and Mary Quarterly‘s searchable index.  For those of you unfamiliar with the William and Mary Quarterly, it is the premier journal of early American history.

Here is a taste of McDonnell’s piece: “Historiographical Revolutions in the Quarterly: From Research to Teaching“:

The origins of the index lay in the research that David Waldstreicher and I began doing for the article that would eventually become “Revolution in the Quarterly?: A Historiographical Analysis” in the special joint issue of the WMQ and JER entitled “Writing To and From the Revolution.”

As we began work, we soon discovered that there was no single “at a glance” listing of the articles that have been published in the journal. Sure, we could have browsed J-STOR’s holdings, but only issue by issue. The Omohundro Institute’s own listing of Quarterly articles also needs similar unpacking, and does not link to full-text versions. (

To weigh up and assess the place of the Revolution in the pages of the Quarterly, we wanted a more accessible and assessable list of titles. To expedite our research, we asked a research assistant to put a spreadsheet together of the articles. We have recently put this online at, and are happy to share this work in the hope that it will help further historiographical research and teaching and access to the Quarterly essays.

In the first place, of course, readers can use the index to test or examine our research results. While we focus mostly on the content of articles about the American Revolution in the main essay, we discuss our methodology in an accompanying piece available via the OI Reader. The entire special issue, our original article, and our methodological appendix including the tables we drew up are freely available via the Reader. No subscription is necessary.

As we explain in the essay, we used the index to compile lists of essays on or about the Revolution, and as a helpful way to dive deeper in to the full-text versions to examine the content of articles, but also to check if an essay on the Great Awakening, for example, was also an article on the coming of the American Revolution.

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with Sam White

51eyPpHtiAL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Sam White is associate professor of History at The Ohio State University. This interview is based on his new book, A Cold Welcome: The Little Ice Age and Europe’s Encounter with North America (Harvard University Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write A Cold Welcome?

SW: About seven years ago, I finished a book about climate and crisis in the Middle East—The Climate of Rebellion in the Early Modern Ottoman Empire. Researching that book had meant a lot of time away from family reading through difficult records in archives in Turkey and Europe, and so this time I wanted to work on something closer to home. Colonial American history also attracted me because, while its narrative may seem familiar, a closer look reveals that there is always so much more going on underneath the surface and more ways to find it out.  By bringing in new perspectives from ongoing historical, archaeological, and scientific research, I could tell a story much more compelling than the one I had learned in school—and much more relevant to the present day.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of A Cold Welcome?

SW: In A Cold Welcome, I show how the first European explorers and settlers came to North America unprepared for the continent’s stronger seasons and the extreme weather characteristic of the Little Ice Age. Thanks to new research, we can understand how those challenges shaped colonial history in ways both subtle and profound.

JF: Why do we need to read A Cold Welcome?

SW: First, these early colonial ventures make for fascinating stories. I wrote A Cold Welcome to be a book that anyone could read and enjoy. Second, the rapid climatic and environmental change of our own times means that we need to rethink the ways we look at the past as well. We have new climate data that can give us remarkable new insights into historical events. Moreover, I believe there are lessons in our history as we confront global warming, and these lessons are not as simple or straightforward as we might imagine. 

JF:  When and why did you decide to become an American historian? (Or if you are not an American history, how did you get interested in the study of the past?)

SW: That’s a long story—and even with the book out, I’m still not sure I’d call myself an American historian. To me, A Cold Welcome is not so much a story about America as a story about the confusion of people from one continent encountering a new continent with different climates and environments. It was that historical experience—and its parallels to our experience of rapid environmental change—that concerned me most as I wrote this book.

JF: What is your next project?

SW: At the moment, I’m mostly working with historical climatologists on technical issues of how we can combine natural records (such as tree rings) with man-made records (such as weather diaries) in order to better reconstruct historical climate variability and its impacts. I’m the lead editor of a big textbook on that subject, The Handbook of Climate History, which is coming out in early 2018. Beyond that, I’d like to write a book about disasters and migration to the United States from colonial times to the 20th century.

JF: Thanks, Sam!

John Turner’s Forthcoming Book on Plymouth

John Turner

George Mason University historian John Turner is a versatile historian of American religion.  He has written books on 20th-century evangelicalism, 19th-century Mormonism, and is now writing a book on the Plymouth Colony. It is scheduled to be released in 2020, the 400th anniversary of the landing of the Mayflower.

Over at The Anxious Bench he gives us an update:

Certainly, many historians, politicians, and others have mischaracterized the Plymouth separatists over the last two hundred years. They were not sailing to the New World for anything approaching our ideals of democracy or religious freedom. The separatist leaders sought liberty, by which they meant organizing their church according to their understanding of the Bible. They asked kings James and Charles for “liberty of conscience,” but at first only as a means of ensuring their colony’s survival. In a letter written shortly before the colony’s dissolution, Thomas Hinckley explained to officials in New England that residents of New Plymouth enjoyed religious freedom, as long as they were not “Papists” or “Quakers” (whom he defined as not Christians). Those who dissented from the established orthodoxy were left in peace, as long as they helped support the town minister from whom they dissented. One can read the correspondence of Plymouth’s Quakers for a sense of how that went.

In the end, even as historians question everything from landmarks to outdated interpretations, the Pilgrims have retained their importance. It helps to be associated with turkeys and football, for sure. But the Pilgrim myths created in the early nineteenth century have stuck in part because the story itself is so good. A tiny religious minority sets off for “northern Virginia” under incredibly inauspicious circumstances. They cannot finance their voyage on their own. They cannot obtain a royal patent. One of their boats proves unseaworthy. A portion of the group stays in England (a larger portion had chosen to stay in Leiden). They leave too late in the fall and show up on Cape Cod in the midst of winter. Half of them die. And yet the colony survives.

Read the entire post here.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 6


Very happy teachers!! Gilder Lehrman “Princeton Seminar” participants enjoying their last day on campus

The 2017 Princeton Seminar on the “Colonial Era” wrapped-up yesterday.

The day began with lectures on the “Enlightenment in America” and the “First Great Awakening.”  The Enlightenment lecture focused largely on the lives of Philip Vickers Fithian and Benjamin Franklin.  The teachers read my The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America and spent a lot of time on Wednesday touring Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia with historian George Boudreau.

The First Great Awakening lecture focused on George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Charles Chauncy, Gilbert Tennent, James Davenport, and the legacy of evangelicalism as it relates to American oratory, American religion, the transatlantic world, and colonial education.


My attempt at drawing a primitive graph illustrating the spike in church membership during the First Great Awakening

After lunch we wrapped things up with a lecture titled “From Colonials to Provincials: The American Colonies on the Eve of the American Revolution.”  This lecture is adapted from Ned Landsman’s From Colonial to Provinicals: American Thought and Culture, 1680-1760, but I also take it in a few different directions.  In this lecture I try to get the teachers to understand the Anglicization of the British colonies and the sense of British nationalism pervading the colonies at the end of the French and Indian War.

During the rest of the afternoon the teachers met together to discuss the lessons plans they designed during the seminar:


Throughout the week I wanted the teachers to think about British colonial America on its own terms, rather than through the grid of the American Revolution.  We tried to imagine what the story of the colonies might look like if the Revolution had never happened.  Those who took this exercise seriously began to move from a Whiggish, civics-based view of the era, to an approach defined by the “unnatural” act of historical thinking.  This is not easy for most teachers and I appreciated their efforts to reorient their thinking and their lesson plans in this way.


Another Princeton Seminar is in the books. It was a great week of teaching, learning, and collaboration with 35 K-8 teachers from around the country.  Special thanks to Nate McAlister, my partner-in-crime, master teacher, heart and soul of the Princeton Seminar, and an all-around great guy.  I couldn’t do it without him. Nate is a history machine! Next week he will be in Mount Vernon doing research on George Washington and Native Americans. I also want to thank the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History for giving me the honor to lead this seminar.

And I am also happy to announce that the Gilder Lehrman has informed me that we will be back again next year!  Stay tuned for more details.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 5

Rare Books 1

Princeton rare books librarian Eric White breaks out a first-edition collection of Phillis Wheatley’s poetry and the teachers transform into the paparazzi

It was another busy day at the Gilder-Lehrman Institute‘s “Colonial Era” teacher seminar at Princeton University.  We covered a lot of ground yesterday and traveled through three different regions of British colonial America:

  1. We started the day discussing women and dissent in colonial New England.  We talked about Anne Hutchinson and the “Good Wives” made famous by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich.
  2.  We had a great day in Philadelphia on Wednesday.  On Thursday we discussed Philadelphia in the larger context of the Middle Colonies with a specific focus on Pennsylvania as a Quaker and liberal colony.
  3.  After lunch we discussed the emergence of slave culture in the rice fields of colonial South Carolina.

We ended the day in the Firestone Library’s Rare Books Department where curator Eric White showed the teachers a host of first editions from the 17th and 18th centuries.  We got to see a copy of John Eliot’s Algonquian Bible and works by William Penn, Cotton Mather, John Locke, George Whitefield, Phillis Wheatley, Samuel Richardson, Laurence Stern, Addison and Steele, and others.  It is always fun to watch the teachers’ eyes light-up as they are exposed to these books.

One more day left!

Rare Books 2

Notes were taken


2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 4


Yesterday the 2017 Princeton Seminar spent the day in Philadelphia.  Our host for the day was the legendary George Boudreau, the man who I consider to be the greatest Philadelphia history tour guide of all time!!

George gave us a phenomenal introduction to the colonial city.   We made several stops along the way:

  • Welcome Park:  George oriented us to the layout of William Penn’s city.
  • Christ Church:  The teachers got their photos taken in George Washington’s pew and we paused at the gravestone of Elizabeth Graeme Fergusson where George told us about her life and taught us about the vulnerability of women in colonial America.
  • Betsy Ross House:  George told us about George Washington’s visit to “Mr. Griscom’s upholstery shop.”
  • Arch Street Quaker Meetinghouse:  George told some gruesome tales of Philadelphia Quakers building this meetinghouse atop the meeting’s graveyard.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s Court:  The teachers spent some time in the museum, George signed copies of his book, and George and Ben Franklin sang us a song.
  • First National Bank: This was not part of our “colonial” tour, but all the teachers are obsessed with “Hamilton” so we had to make a quick visit here.
  • Carpenter’s Hall
  • The site of Anthony Benezet’s school for women and African Americans,
  • The American Philosophical Society:  George rattled off several dozen collections held by the society.

We ended the day at the Pennsylvania State House.  In the early 19th-century people started calling this place “Independence Hall.”

We are back in the lecture hall today.


I introduce the teachers to George Boudreau


George tells us what we can expect in Christ Church


Sometimes we let the teachers break out of the 17th and 18th centuries


We met Ben

Princeton Seminar 2017: Day 3


The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History “Colonial Era” teachers seminar (aka the “Princeton Seminar“) is rolling along.

This morning in the lecture hall we finished our discussion of colonial Virginia. I made the connection between mercantilism and tobacco culture and challenged the teachers to consider the social and cultural influence of tobacco on race, social structure, gender, and labor in the seventeenth century colony. We ended this lecture with an examination of Bacon’s Rebellion.

Midway through the morning session we turned to colonial New England.  We did a lot of background work today.   My lecture developed along these lines:

  • The settlers of New England were Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were Calvinist Protestant Christians
  • The settlers of New England were English Calvinist Protestant Christians

We then discussed Winthrop’s idea of a “City Upon a Hill” and how Puritan theology influenced politics and regional identity in Massachusetts Bay.  On Thursday, when we return to New England, I am hoping to say a few words about social life in the region, drawing heavily from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s Good Wives.

The teachers spent the afternoon with master teacher Nate McAlister.  He continues to work with the teachers on their lesson plans and the use of primary documents.

After dinner we all headed over to the Princeton Cemetery.  I gave a very brief lecture at the graves of the early Princeton presidents–Aaron Burr Sr., Jonathan Edwards, Samuel Davies, Samuel Finley, and John Witherspoon.  For some reason the grave of Aaron Burr Jr. got more attention than it has in years past. 🙂

We will be in Philadelphia tomorrow with George Boudreau!


2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 2


Today the teachers got a tour of early American Princeton

Monday was a long and busy day at the Princeton Seminar.

We began with a morning of lecture and discussion about how we should think about “colonial America.”  I tried to get the teachers to think historically about the colonies and try to rid themselves of a Whig-centered interpretation of the period.  In the process we spent a lot of time talking about the difference between a “civics” approach to the past and a “historical thinking” approach to the past.   I challenged the teachers to try to understand the colonial American past on its own terms and, at least for a week, pretend that the American Revolution never happened.

I also introduced the teachers to what has been called “The New Indian” history.  What might our understanding of colonial America look like if we examine it from the perspective of native Americans?  I focused this lecture around three concepts: “Facing East” (Dan Richter), the “Indians’ New World” (James Merrell), and the “Middle Ground” (Richard White).

Finally, we got started with a lecture on the colonial Chesapeake and tried to make sense of why so many people starved to death in the early years of Jamestown.  We will be finishing this discussion today by carrying the Virginia story through Bacon’s Rebellion.

In the afternoon, Nate McAlister introduced the teachers to their lesson-plan assignment. Every teacher needs to pick a primary source from the colonial era and write a lesson that they can use with their students.   It is always fun to see the documents that they choose and the lessons that they design.

After dinner we split into two groups and got a historical tour of Princeton.  My tour guide, Leslie, was excellent.  She took us through Princeton University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the home of Albert Einstein, the home of Richard Stockton (Morven), and the Princeton Battlefield Monuments.  We got caught in the middle of a thunderstorm while visiting Einstein’s house, but Leslie pushed us through.  There we were–standing outside of Morven in the pouring ran listening to Leslie expound upon the life of Stockton.  These teachers are real troopers!

About half of us ended the night at the Yankee Doodle Tap Room at Princeton’s Nassau Inn.  This is the place where the Princeton Seminar goes to solve all world problems. Tonight was no exception!

Looking forward to day 3!  Stay tuned.

2017 Princeton Seminar: Day 1


The Gilder-Lehrman 2017 Princeton Seminar on colonial America is underway!

Last night we held our opening dinner with the teachers.  A few teachers had some difficulties with flights, but everyone is now here and settled into their rooms on the Princeton University campus.  This year we have 35 history teachers representing 20 states: Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhoda Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

My partner-in-crime Nate McAlister (did I mention he was National History of the Year in 2010?) got the teachers started on a gargoyle scavenger hunt on the Princeton campus. We also took a brief tour of the eighteenth-century campus.  All of the attendees read The Way of Improvement Leads Home and seem eager to see sites related to Philip VIckers Fithian.

The teachers will be busy this week. In addition to morning lectures on colonial America and afternoon sessions on interpreting primary sources, we will be spending the entire day on Wednesday touring colonial Philadelphia with LaSalle University public historian and tour guide extraordinaire George Boudreau.

On Monday afternoon we will be teaming-up with the Historical Society of Princeton for a tour of early American Princeton. On Thursday afternoon we will spend a couple of hours with a rare book librarian from Princeton University’s Firestone Library.  I have asked the librarian to pull first editions of every book Fithian read during his short life and most of the books I will discuss in morning lectures.  This is always one the highlights of the week.  Finally, we are hoping to spend some time at the Princeton cemetery where the teachers will get a chance to visit the grace of Aaron Burr Jr., Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, and others.

It is going to be a great week!  Stay tuned for updates.  Check out pics at @princetonsemnr

Princeton Seminar Is About To Kick-Off Its Fourth Year

36167-nassau_hall_princetonNext week I will be at Princeton University to lead a Gilder-Lehrman Institute seminar of the “Colonial Era” for history teachers.  This is the fourth year that I have joined my partner in crime, 2010 National Teacher of the Year Nate McAlister, in leading this seminar. The Princeton Seminar (as we call it) has become one of the professional highlights of my year.

Stay tuned for updates as the week progresses.  In the meantime, here are some pics from previous Princeton seminars:

Welcome Park

The 2015 Princeton Seminar at Welcome Park in Philadelphia


George Boudreau of LaSalle University, the man who many believe to be the greatest tour guide of colonial Philadelphia that has ever lived, will be back in 2017!


Nate likes to take the teachers into Einstein’s old classroom


There is plenty of time for impromptu tours of the 18th-century Princeton campus


Teachers spend a lot of time working with primary sources

Fithian Wall

The teachers read The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  The ghost of Philip Vickers Fithian (Princeton class of 1772) hovers over the events of the week


Our visit to the Princeton Cemetery (Aaron Burr, Jonathan Edwards, John Witherspoon, etc.) is always a highlight–rain or shine.


One my favorite moments of the week is when we take the teachers to Firestone Library to look at rare 18th-century books


And yes, there is the occasional lecture

Revolutionary-Era Political Satirists Make Saturday Night Live Look Tame


Over at History New Network, Andrew Wehrman, a historian at Central Michigan University, discusses the role of political satire in the 1760s and 1770s.

Here is a taste:

The cartoon-like representations of Donald Trump and his advisors Sean Spicer, Kellyanne Conway, Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and perhaps especially Steve Bannon on Saturday Night live point to a crisis of constitutional authority perhaps not seen in American popular culture since America’s first constitutional crisis during the tense decade prior to the American Revolution. Americans have developed a familiarity with the President’s advisors — their characters, agendas, and foibles — similar to the way in which Americans made sense of Great Britain’s policies prior to the Revolution. Saturday Night Live’s depictions of Trump’s narcissistic know-nothingness, Sean Spicer’s weaponized podium, Conway’s “alternative facts,” Ivanka Trump’s complicity, Jared Kushner’s speechless power-grab, and, of course, Steve Bannon’s ominously skeletal grim reaper, harken back to early fears that constitutional checks and balances do not protect a nation from nefarious advisors, ministers, family members, and interlopers.

While the policies, issues, and people differ greatly, these representations echo with the ways in which political satirists in the 1760s and 1770s warned colonial Americans of an impending constitutional crisis. Just as Americans point at Steve Bannon’s influence for the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement or the “Travel Ban,” colonials did not initially rail against King George directly, but rather his ministers, especially the dark, sinister, and now largely forgotten Earl of Bute.

Read the rest here.


When Did Americans Start Talking Without an English Accent?


This is an interesting piece from linguist Chi Luu.  She asks “When Did Colonial America Gain Linguistic Independence?

The story of America’s linguistic independence is not so simple as some believe. Of course, most colonial Americans certainly did not sound like your average modern Brit does today, but nor did they sound like the Queen. By the time America was ready to consciously uncouple itself from the mother country, it had long since achieved a kind of linguistic independence. Thanks to a remarkable kind of linguistic melting pot process, early Americans spoke with a standard dialect all their own that was often met with approval by English observers, in contrast to how certain American accents are sometimes judged today.

American colonists often surprised their British counterparts by the fairly uniform and standard way they had of speaking, across the colonies, regardless of their regional, family or class backgrounds. In 1770, an English visitor remarked:

“The colonists are composed of adventurers, not only from every district of Great Britain and Ireland, but from almost every other European government…Is it not therefore reasonable to suppose that the English language must be greatly corrupted by such a strange admixture of various nations? The reverse is however true. The language of the immediate descendants of such promiscuous ancestry is perfectly uniform, and unadulterated; nor has it borrowed any provincial, or national accent from its British or foreign parentage.”

From the early eighteenth century, way before any political independence even a glint in John Adams’s eye (especially since he hadn’t actually been born yet), this apparent linguistic homogeneity and egalitarianism was noted by observers as proof that, while British English speakers could easily reveal details about their background through their speech, it was much harder to pinpoint an American speaker’s background in the same way.

Read the entire piece at JSTOR Daily.

What is Going on at Colonial Williamsburg?


Don’t forget the hatchet-throwing site, Jim!

Colonial Williamsburg appears to be in trouble.  The mecca of American history tourism is laying off workers and outsourcing its operations.  Last year it lost $148,000 a day.

Here is a taste of the AP report that American Historical Association Director Jim Grossman references in the tweet above.

The foundation that operates the eastern Virginia attraction is in final negotiations with four companies that will manage its golf operations, retail stores, much of its maintenance and facilities operations and its commercial real estate, President and CEO Mitchell Reiss said.

“For a variety of reasons – business decisions made in years past, less American history being taught in schools, changing times and tastes that cause us to attract half the visitors we did 30 years ago – the Foundation loses significant amounts of money every year,” he wrote in a letter shared publicly.

The foundation’s operating losses last year totaled $54 million, or $148,000 per day. It also borrowed heavily to improve its hospitality facilities and visitors center and ended 2016 with more than $300 million in debt, Reiss said.

Combined, those factors put pressure on the foundation’s endowment, with withdrawals reaching as high as 12 percent per year. At that rate, the approximately $684 million endowment could be exhausted in just eight years or perhaps sooner.

Reiss said in an interview that the foundation’s financial straits meant its mission of historic preservation “was at risk, quite frankly.”

Colonial Williamsburg is the world’s largest living history museum, with costumed interpreters who re-enact 18th century life amid more than 600 restored or reconstructed original buildings.

Read the entire piece here.  We asked this same question back in October.

I am not expecting a search for Philip Vickers Fithian anytime soon.


The Author’s Corner With Doug Winiarski

WinarskiDouglas Winiarski is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at the University of Richmond.  This interview is based on his new book Darkness Falls of the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakenings in Eighteenth-Century New England (University of North Carolina Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Darkness Falls on the Land of Light?

DWAn earthquake, actually, and a stunning discovery at a public library in Massachusetts. I was a master’s student at Harvard Divinity School looking for some interesting texts to study for a paper I had planned to write about popular religious responses to the famed Great Earthquake of 1727. On a broiling hot summer day in 1995, I drove up to the public library in Haverhill, Massachusetts—which was located near the epicenter of the earthquake—hoping to examine the town’s earliest Congregational church record book. The archivist gruffly informed me that the original volume was too delicate to be retrieved from their vault. But after a little prodding he wandered into the back room pulled out a small bundle of manuscripts: hundreds of neatly trimmed slips of paper bearing short religious narratives written by nearly everyone in the community, from wealthy merchants and Harvard graduates to obscure single women and African Americans.  Half of them had been composed during the surge of church admissions that followed the earthquake. The Haverhill relations turned out to be one of the richest—and certainly one of the largest—collections of religious autobiographical writings composed in British North America prior to 1750. And only a handful of scholars had ever seen them. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. I knew instantly that I had a story to tell about the religious experiences of ordinary people in eighteenth-century New England. Figuring out what that story was, however, required more than two decades of archival work in New England and abroad.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument Darkness Falls on the Land of Light?

DWThe rise of trans-Atlantic evangelicalism during New England’s era of great awakenings sundered an inclusive and flourishing Congregational establishment. The key agents inciting this dynamic and divisive change were not prominent ministers and theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, but ordinary people who learned to experience religion in extraordinary new ways over the course of the eighteenth century.

JF: Why do we need to read Darkness Falls on the Land of Light?

DW: Darkness Falls on the Land of Light is the first book to examine both the thriving Congregational system in provincial New England and the shattering of that system entirely through the religious experiences of lay men and women. The book features an eclectic cast of fascinating characters and unusual events. And it’s built on a vast array of remarkable manuscripts. Although Darkness Falls on the Land of Light is primarily a study of the transformation of New England Congregationalism, readers will come away with a greater appreciation for the diversity of denominations in the region by the time of the American Revolution: Anglicans, Baptists of varying stripes, sectarian groups, and “nothingarians,” or people who held all religious institutions at arm’s length. Above all, I devote considerable attention to examining the costs of the so-called Great Awakening revivals of eighteenth century, something that scholars have been slow to acknowledge. The “people called New Lights”—progenitors of today’s evangelicals—were religious insurgents, troublemakers, radicals; and many of them were bent on breaking apart the Congregational establishment. New Englanders struggled to come to terms with the marketplace of fractious and competitive religious groups that emerged from the revivals. It’s as important a story today as it was during the eighteenth century.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

DWI guess you could say I’m a child of the American Bicentennial. I was caught up with the celebrations and pageantry of my home town in 1976. Four years later, my mother took me on a trip to visit Revolutionary War sites in Boston. I can still remember walking the Freedom Trail and visiting the Old South Church for the first time. I had no idea that these places would play such a prominent role in my professional life. It wasn’t until the final week of college that one of my mentors encouraged me to connect my interest in early American history with my recent undergraduate training in religious studies by applying to graduate school. Suddenly, everything seemed to fall into place.

JF: What is your next project?

DWI am currently working on a new book that explores the fascinating but troubled relationship between the earliest western Shaker converts and the followers of Tenskwatawa, the controversial Shawnee Prophet and brother of the famed war captain Tecumseh, during the years leading up to the War of 1812. The story of the Shakers and the Shawnee Prophet—at least as I envision it at this early stage—is about a religious culture that might have been, one that could have taken shape in the crucible of the early American frontier. It’s a tragic tale in which two notorious groups of dangerous religious outsiders briefly discovered common ground and mutual respect within a racially charged and violent backcountry world. Perhaps when it’s finished, the book may offer a cautionary message for our own times about how we, as a society, should think about religious difference and the relationship between religion and violence. We’ll see.

JF: Thanks, Doug!

The Author’s Corner with Kristalyn Shefveland

anglonativevirginiaKristalyn Shefveland is Associate Professor of History at the University of Southern Indiana. This interview is based on her new book, Anglo-Native Virginia: Trade, Conversion, and Indian Slavery in the Old Dominion, 1646-1722 (University of Georgia Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: During my PhD program at the University of Mississippi, I took two seminars on the American colonies, with emphasis on the Southeast. One was a history seminar in which we discussed at length the Chesapeake school and the evolving issues of race, particularly as it related to the work of Edmund Morgan and Winthrop Jordan, and the seminal work of Powhatan’s Mantle. The other was an anthropology seminar in which we were introduced to the body of scholarship on the Eastern Woodlands and the emergence of the trade in skins and slaves. Out of these two courses I came away with many questions about the Stegg/Byrd family and the role of Virginia in the Indian slave trade. I was inspired by the work of Alan Gallay, Robbie Ethridge, and Charles Hudson and wanted to know more.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: Anglo-Native Virginia argues that attempts to regulate and control trade and indigenous peoples via a tributary system was at the foreground of Virginia’s native concerns from Governor Sir William Berkeley to Lieutenant Governor Alexander Spotswood. This tributary system and its accompanying categories and rules represent an era of deep upheaval in the indigenous communities of the coastal plain and piedmont, resulting in the enslavement of native peoples as the colonies used the frontier exchange economy to finance their emerging plantation complex.

JF: Why do we need to read Anglo-Native Virginia?

KS: As an interdisciplinary work of ethnohistory, I hope this book finds an audience in a number of venues, including but not limited to scholars of Atlantic trade, colonial settlement, Southern Studies, slavery studies, and Indigenous peoples. The book asks us to consider the central role that indigenous and colonial interaction played in the larger narrative of the plantation South. It asks us to look more closely at how trade with Native peoples shaped Virginia history as it transitioned from a fledgling colonial outpost to a settler society dependent upon slave labor. I argue that the Southeast cannot be understood without understanding Virginia and one cannot understand Virginia without understanding the tributary system. The framework of this project came from my interest in demonstrating the importance of Native history for broader narratives. Until fairly recently, Native peoples of Virginia have been in the background of important studies that have focused on the Atlantic slave trade, mercantilism, and the plantation economy. A full understanding of the important role that Virginia tributary and foreign Natives played in the trade in skins and slaves as it relates to the Atlantic economy and mercantilism has been the subject of important recent scholarship and I think my work complements this emerging field.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

KS: I started writing stories at an early age and they always had a historical element. I split my childhood between the small Mississippi river town of Wabasha, Minnesota and a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio. I was always drawn to the historic sites of the two very different communities, one barely 2,500 people and the other a sprawling rustbelt town where suburbs converged into one another. In Minnesota, I was raised on the history of Euro-Native interaction, trade and settlement, and the folklore of the river valley. Across the river in Wisconsin was the Big Woods that Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about and the town of Maiden Rock. In sum, I always loved a folktale and a yarn, a lifelong love affair that my parents greatly encouraged by going through historic towns and stopping at roadside markers, even when it added an hour or three to our regular road trips to Minnesota or Florida. In Ohio, I had the opportunity to work with an incredible high school teacher, Steven Abbey, who allowed me to take independent studies on a wide variety of historical topics and then I had the pleasure to attend Bowling Green State University where I studied under the Great Lakes historian, Edmund Danziger. He fostered my love of stories and helped to guide my scholarship towards the field of ethnohistory. In his seminar courses as well as the eye-opening classes I got to take with the Latin American historian, Rob Buffington, I knew that I wanted to pursue the field of history beyond undergrad. I was lucky to land at the University of Mississippi to work in interdisciplinary collaboration on indigenous peoples with Sheila Skemp and Robbie Ethridge. In a bit of kismet, I moved south to study peoples who came originally from Lake Erie.

JF: What is your next project?

KS: I am currently at work on a book on historical memory of indigenous peoples in Florida, particularly the town of Vero Beach, on the Indian River. This is a project of personal importance to me as it is a place I have known all my life and yet its deeply manicured history of settler pioneers and adventurous rogues reveals an incomplete narrative. I came to this study because of a large Spanish-mission style building that overlooks the town center with a relief carving of Pocahontas. Indian River produce advertisements from the 1880s-1970s depict idyllic jungle scenes, complete with friendly and noble Indians of vaguely Plains motifs—a vision at odds with the region’s indigenous past. Yankees, calling themselves pioneers and colonizers, moved to the region in waves throughout the early 20th century, viewing Southerners with scorn as the wealthy Northern investors built empires of citrus and sugar.

The Indian River Farms Company of Davenport, Iowa made the greatest strides toward conquering Florida. While settling the region, the company created a romantic narrative to sell land to potential Yankee colonizers. Street names included Seminole, Osceola, Cherokee, Mohawk, Kickapoo, and Ute. Buildings included the Chief Sleepy Eye Lodge and the Pocahontas Arcade. All names considered “picturesque” by would be settlers. Situating these endeavors within the broader context of Yankee imperialism in the Caribbean, particularly Cuba, I am reconsidering the legacy of a colonial southern past alongside the emergence of the vacation south to explore its potential impact on studies of the Indigenous south.

JF: Thanks, Kristalyn!

The Author’s Corner with Patrick Spero

frontiercountryPatrick Spero is the Librarian and Director of the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia. This interview is based on his new book, Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).

JF: What led you to write Frontier Country?

PS: Frontier Country began with my fascination with the Paxton Boys’ Rebellion. The conflict began in December 1763, when a group of frontiersmen massacred the Conestoga Indians in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  A larger group of colonists from the frontier counties of Lancaster, York, and Cumberland then marched to Philadelphia in what was likely the largest political mobilization in colonial Pennsylvania’s history.  I wanted to know what led these men to commit this heinous act and to figure out what the larger significance of the event was for the coming of the American Revolution.  As I dug deeper into archives, I soon discovered a number of important related events, like a border war between Maryland and Pennsylvania, that preceded this event, and began to see how the legacies of this earlier history shaped the Paxton Boys’ movement and how these events also helped inform the coming of the American Revolution.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Frontier Country?

PS: Frontier Country argues that the imperial crisis on Pennsylvania’s frontier, which was marked by rebellions, open violence, and apparent anarchy, only makes sense if you understand the profound political disagreement that was happening between self-described “frontier people” and those who governed them over the location of frontiers and the government’s responsibility to such zones.  To fully understand the coming of the American Revolution in western Pennsylvania, I suggest we must understand what frontier meant to colonists and governing officials living in early America.

JF: Why do we need to read Frontier Country?

PS: Frontier Country tells some remarkable and largely unknown stories that, together, I hope tells a history of colonial and revolutionary Pennsylvania that will seem new to historians and Pennsylvania history enthusiasts.  For instance, the book includes a chapter on a war Pennsylvania fought with Maryland in the 1730s and a chapter on the wars the colony later fought with Virginia and Connecticut.  These episodes have often been studied on their own, but I hope by putting them together in a single history, colonial Pennsylvania itself will look very different.  I like to say it is a history of Pennsylvania as told from the perspective of the west.  By doing so, we can have a greater understanding of the politics in Pennsylvania, especially the way in which the interplay between western settlers, eastern elites, and Native Americans created a dynamic and explosive situation in the 1760s and 1770s in the Middle Colonies.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

PS: I discovered what I wanted to do as an undergraduate at James Madison University.  I always liked history.  I remember reading the Diary of James Cook as, I think, a fifth grader for a book report.  But it was in a research seminar at JMU that being a historian, rather than a student of history, really clicked.  In that course, I was given the freedom to find a topic to write a paper on, to use primary sources to come to my own conclusions, and then use these sources to make an argument all my own.  It was an extraordinarily liberating experience – to research and write on my own and to try to say something new about the past that other people could read and respond to. I enjoyed it so much that I wanted to figure out a way to keep doing it.  Reading primary sources and giving them meaning, which is what I consider is the work of a historian, remains one of the most exciting things to do.

JF: What is your next project?

PS: I have just completed a manuscript tentatively titled 1765: The Struggle for Independence on the American Frontier which builds on my first book by focusing on the Black Boys Rebellion, which was a frontier rebellion in 1765 that is relatively understudied, and the figures that collided during this event.  The Black Boys, so called because of the charcoal frontiersmen used to hide their identity, destroyed a pack train of goods intended for a peace treaty with Native groups who had been at war with Great Britain.  They then laid siege to a British fort and created an inspection regime that searched all travelers in the area.  Meanwhile, imperial officials were desperately trying to squash the rebellion and establish peace with Native groups.  It is a very dramatic event that, as I hope to show, reveals a great deal about the origins of the American Revolution on the frontier.  I could only use a small amount of the material I came across on the Black Boys in my first book.  I hope this second project will be a “popular” book, which is to say shorter than my first book and potentially of use to undergraduates in their courses and of interest to educated but casual readers of history.

JF: Thanks, Patrick!

Plymouth Settlement: Found


Archaeologists from the University of Massachusetts-Boston have uncovered evidence of the original 1620 Plymouth settlement.  Here is a taste of an article at the UMASS-Boston website:

Kathryn Ness is the curator of collections at Plimoth Plantation, UMass Boston’s partner in this project. She says this discovery is huge.

“Finding evidence of colonial activity inside the original 1620 Plymouth settlement is an incredibly exciting discovery that has the potential to change dramatically our understanding of early European colonization in New England. For the first time, we have proof of where the settlement was located and what kinds of items the Pilgrims owned and used,” Ness said. “At Plimoth Plantation, the team’s findings will help us further refine our exhibits, as we use archaeological evidence and historical documents as the basis for our portrayal of the past and to ensure that our buildings, activities, and reproduction objects are as accurate as possible. We are looking forward to learning more about their discoveries and seeing what they find next season!”

Read the entire article here.