The Author’s Corner with Sarah Pearsall

Polygamy An Early American HistorySarah Pearsall is University Senior Lecturer in the History of Early America and the Atlantic World at the University of Cambridge. This interview is based on her new book, Polygamy: An Early American History (Yale University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Polygamy?

SP: When I started working on this project, fierce debates over same-sex marriage erupted at the center of U.S. politics, and marriage controversies also kept emerging in my research and teaching. In the course of research on my first book about Anglo-Atlantic families, I started to notice a negative version of the ideal marriage: the harem, supposedly ruled only by lust, greed, and fear, never true love. In an undergraduate course I was teaching on early American travel narratives, depictions of polygamy appeared over and over again. Why were people so fascinated—and sometimes so horrified— by other people marrying in what they felt was the wrong way? What did differences over marriage highlight about society and politics? Polygamy seemed a good way to open up these vexing issues. Yet I could find few books about it, and none focused on colonial America. With a few notable exceptions, most studies of early American colonialism treated disputes over polygamy as something like mere local color in the background of a borderlands drama. Yet sometimes different ideas about households were not the backdrop; they were the drama. I wanted to know more about this drama, and the women and men who shaped it.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Polygamy?

SP: Most Americans, even (early) American historians, presume the history of polygamy in North America only really began with Western controversies surrounding the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) in the nineteenth century. In fact, I argue that what happened to the Mormons was near the end, a decisive battle in a long-standing war for monogamy which reveals a great deal about women, men, households, and power in early modern encounters.

JF: Why do we need to read Polygamy?

SP: This book places women and men, and their intimate, sometimes physical, relations, at the center of an analysis of colonialism and nationhood. This somewhat unusual perspective yields some compelling surprises and fascinating stories. Many of the major actors in this narrative were Native American or African American. I hope that the book prompts readers to question their own assumptions about this allegedly “backwards” form of marriage. Even more significant, though, is that readers take away that centering marriage changes how we think about major events and processes, including the Pueblo Revolt (which I first discussed in an article in the American Historical Review), King Philip’s War, and even the American Revolution. The book ranges widely but deeply across many times and places, so even specialists should learn something new. Finally, one friend jokingly suggested that displaying a copy would make the reader look hip and attractive, but I could not possibly comment on that.

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

SP: Strangely, I became an American historian when I left the United States and went to study in England. I came to Cambridge University as a master’s student to study British history. While there, I increasingly felt the pull of early American history. An exceptional high school teacher, Melinda Hennessey, as well as many amazing teachers at Yale had already ignited my passion for history. I was fortunate to be able to return to the U.S. to do my PhD in early American history at Harvard with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, with a strong interest in British and Atlantic history. My first book reflects those joint interests. In the end, I fell in love with early American history because it is at once familiar and alien. It also involves so many rich and dynamic encounters between different people; for better or worse, these contacts continue to shape our world. I hope my new book gives a flavor of them.

JF: What is your next project?

SP: I have enjoyed working on this topic so much that I am now writing a global history of polygamy with a long temporal span. I also have a project on the American Revolution in the works, as well as one on slavery and marriage.

The Author’s Corner With Kelly Ryan

RyanKelly A. Ryan is Dean of the School of Social Sciences and Professor of History at Indiana University-Southeast.  This interview is based on her new book Everyday Crimes: Social Violence and Civil Rights in Early America (New York University Press, 2019).

JF: What led you to write Everyday Crimes?

KR: When I was researching my first book, I ran across records of abused wives in the revolutionary era and early republic who had the courage to report their husbands to a local justice of the peace. I was surprised by the activism of these women as we know that reporting abuse often leads to greater violence. I wondered about the resistance of slaves and servants –  two other groups categorized as legal dependents – and whether or not they had more or less success in stymying the violence of their masters. Focusing on these groups and newly freed African Americans from the colonial era through the early republic allowed me to get a glimpse of whose voices were privileged and the many ways that legally and socially subordinated individuals fought for their human and civil rights in a society that did not value them as highly as their social superiors.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Everyday Crimes?

KR: Everyday Crimes argues that the resistance of wives, servants, slaves, and free African Americans to violence expanded their human and civil rights.  Although it was dangerous to contest assaults, legal and social dependents obtained greater access to legal rights to sue and offer testimony, expanded divorce and separation options, saw alterations in slave codes, and the emergence of emancipation statutes.

JF: Why do we need to read Everyday Crimes?

KR: In the past few years, our society has grappled with whose voices are privileged in cases of assault and murder. Everyday Crimes shares stories of the victims of violence and the ways our legal and social system indemnified some prosecutors of violence from condemnation. It’s important for Americans to understand how our history is a legacy that continues in the modern era, even as African Americans, women, and children have access to civil rights. We must keep searching for ways to better protect Americans and prevent violence.

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

KR: Like most historians, my interest in history stems from amazing teachers in high school and college. Maryknoll High School in Honolulu, Hawaii had passionate instructors of United States, European, and Asian history who taught history as a way of understanding our modern world. I was interested in a great number of things when I arrived at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia as a first year student, but the history professors there, most importantly Lawrence Levine and Howard Smead, made history relevant to everyday life and taught with such great joy. It was infectious. Moreover, I felt that history allowed me to continue focusing on my love of art, anthropology, and literature because all are sources of inspiration and research for historians.

JF: What is your next project?

KR: After 15 year of being a professional historian, I have so many stories connected to sexuality and violence in early America that I have not been able to tell as part of my previous scholarship.  I’d like to bring more of a biographical focus to the men and women who have encountered our criminal justice system. I’m really interested in sharing some of the information I’ve gathered about how early constables and police have been victims of and prosecutors of violence. I also have two forthcoming chapters in planned series edited by other scholars in the Routledge History of American Sexuality and the Cambridge History of the American Revolution.

JF: Thanks, Kelly!

North Carolina General Assembly Session Records Are Now Online

NC Map

“History for All the People,” a blog of the State Archives of North Carolina, recently announced that the state’s General Assembly session records are now online.  Here is a taste of the post:

After three years, The General Assembly Session Records digital collection is now online!

This digital collection covers the session records from 1709 to 1814, located in the State Archives of North Carolina. The physical collection includes records that extend to 1999, but we wanted to highlight the history of colonial North Carolina and the days of early statehood. The documents include Senate and House bills, joint resolutions, propositions, filed grievances, boundary disputes, and petitions that typically discussed divorces, inheritances, name changes and emancipation.

Learn more.

The Author’s Corner With Benjamin Armstrong

ArmstrongBenjamin “BJ” Armstrong is Assistant Professor of War Studies and Naval History at the U.S. Naval Academy. This interview is based on his new book Small Boats and Daring Men: Maritime Raiding, Irregular Warfare, and the Early American Navy (University of Oklahoma Press, 2019)

JF: What led you to write Small Boats and Daring Men?

BA: As a naval aviator for sixteen years I flew helicopter missions and worked with Sailors on our amphibious ships, Marines, SEALs, allied navies, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration, international police units, and the rest of the U.S. armed forces on missions ranging from counter-piracy to anti-terrorism and counterinsurgency, and anti-smuggling and maritime law enforcement. At its most basic level I entered my academic research wanting to understand the contemporary missions I was involved with as a naval officer, and what their historical antecedents were. Along the way it also led me to questions of strategic theory, the U.S. Navy’s culture and self-image and its legacy of focusing on blue waters and battle fleets, and how our naval and maritime history fits in as a part of Early American history.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Small Boats and Daring Men?

BA: Rather than a secondary and lesser element of how the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps did their jobs in the era of the Early Republic, maritime raiding and irregular warfare were fundamental components of how they operated in both wartime and during peace. This suggests that the strategic concept of guerre de razzia, or war by raiding, was an important “third way” in naval warfare in the early 19th century, and may still be important for naval strategy today.

JF: Why do we need to read Small Boats and Daring Men?

BA: For those interested in the history of the Early Republic, Small Boats and Daring Men offers a view of the era’s maritime and naval history that looks beyond the big battles and oceanic missions where we tend to focus our attention. Instead it shows the less studied history of operations in the muddy waters of coasts and rivers, and does so with what Dr. Kori Schake from the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) called some “swashbuckling” great stories. For those who are more focused on our contemporary maritime world, and what some leaders have termed the return of Great Power competition, Small Boats and Daring Men offers a view of how navies participate in conflict and competition outside the traditional view of big “decisive” sea battles.

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

BA: My interest in history was initially sparked by my high school teacher Joe Thomas at West Morris Central High School in New Jersey. His classes forced me to begin to think in a wider context, and frankly to learn to start writing better. Knowing that I aspired to attend the Naval Academy, he was also the first person to hand me a copy of The Influence of Seapower Upon History and assign me to read it. (Mahan went way over my head as a high schooler!) But I don’t know that I can pinpoint a moment when I decided to “become” a historian. It just sort of happened as an interest and a personal pursuit while I continued to rise through the ranks as a navy helicopter pilot. After tackling each challenge (writing my first article on the history of the squadron I was serving with, studying for a Master’s degree, working on scholarship for peer-review, thinking about pursuing a PhD), the next one just presented itself naturally until one day, here I am with my own book of Early American history on my shelf.

JF: What is your next project?

BA: Last year I had the privilege of serving on the staff that supported the Secretary of the Navy’s Education for Seapower review study. Over a 7 month long effort, we completed an in-depth study of how and why we educate the sailors, marines, and officers in the Navy and Marine Corps. This involved looking at everything from the different schools like the Naval Academy and Naval War College, to the personnel policies involved, to the budget priorities and cultural values and views of education. It was fascinating work and over the next year it will be interesting to see what kind of reforms begin to improve what the services do and how they prioritize education. In parallel with that work I received a fellowship in the USNA Humanities and Social Sciences Division, sponsored by Ernst Volgenau (USNA ‘55) via the Naval Academy Foundation, to study the pedagogy of sea power. I’m looking at sea power historians and theorists like Alfred Thayer Mahan and Julian Corbett and examining their teaching methods and how they engaged with the public and with teaching, beyond the research and writing of their famous books.

JF: Thanks BJ!

Diary Entry of the Day

More James Craft from Burlington, NJ:

“[Saw] Man on a Hogshead with a Label fixed to his breast with these words: ‘I Thomas Butler, stand here, for unlawfully killing and stealing a Steer graizing in the Pines.”

James Craft Journal, November 5, 1771

Muslims Were in America Before Protestants

Portrait_of_Ayuba_Suleiman_Diallo_1050x700

Portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo, called Job ben Solomon (1701-1773) in African dress, with the Qu’ran around his neck via Wikimedia Commons
 

Yes, as Sam Haselby reminds us, this is true.  Here is a taste of his piece at Aeon: “Muslims of Early America“:

The writing of American history has also been dominated by Puritan institutions. It might no longer be quite true, as the historian (and Southerner) U B Phillips complained more than 100 years ago, that Boston had written the history of the US, and largely written it wrong. But when it comes to the history of religion in America, the consequences of the domination of the leading Puritan institutions in Boston (Harvard University) and New Haven (Yale University) remain formidable. This ‘Puritan effect’ on seeing and understanding religion in early America (and the origins of the US) brings real distortion: as though we were to turn the political history of 20th-century Europe over to the Trotskyites.

Think of history as the depth and breadth of human experience, as what actually happened. History makes the world, or a place and people, what it is, or what they are. In contrast, think of the past as those bits and pieces of history that a society selects in order to sanction itself, to affirm its forms of government, its institutions and dominant morals.

The forgetting of early America’s Muslims is, then, more than an arcane concern. The consequences bear directly on the matter of political belonging today. Nations are not mausoleums or reliquaries to conserve the dead or inanimate. They are organic in that, just as they are made, they must be consistently remade, or they atrophy and die. The virtual Anglo-Protestant monopoly over the history of religion in America has obscured the half-a-millenium presence of Muslims in America and has made it harder to see clear answers to important questions about who belongs, who is American, by what criteria, and who gets to decide.

What then should ‘America’ or ‘American’ mean? With its ‘vast, early America’ programme, the Omohundro Institute, the leading scholarly organisation of early American history, points to one possible answer. ‘Early America’ and ‘American’ are big and general terms, but not so much as to be nearly meaningless. Historically, they are best understood as the great collision, mixing and conquest of peoples and civilisations (and animals and microbes) of Europe and Africa with the peoples and societies of the Western hemisphere, from the Greater Caribbean to Canada, that began in 1492. From 1492 to at least about 1800, America, simply, is Greater America, or vast, early America.

Read the entire piece here.

Yes, There Was an “Evangelical” Movement in the Eighteenth Century and it Should Be Defined Theologically

Darkness(This is the first post in a series on the word “evangelical” in the eighteenth-century and today).

If the Jonathan Merritt dust-up had a positive result, it was that it got historians thinking again about the meaning of the word “evangelical.”  There has been a lot of good Twitter banter on the subject.

(Caveat:  My criticism of Merritt had less to do with the definition of “evangelical” and more to do with his attack on a historian I respect and the idea of historical expertise in general. If you go to his Twitter page he says that I attacked his credentials and platform.  He is right.  I did criticize his platform, but not because I don’t think he uses it well or it  is bad to have a platform.  I criticized his platform because I wanted to make clear that his Twitter followers and “influencer” accolades do not qualify him to denounce historians like Thomas Kidd, a historian who has spend his whole career studying a subject.  In other words, you cannot simply dismiss decades of scholarship in a few tweets.  But I digress).

In the age of Trump, everyone seems to have a definition of the word “evangelical.”  As Linford Fisher has argued in a recent essay in Religion & American Culture, the meaning of “evangelical” has been contested for a long time.

What is interesting to me is the way that evangelicals and former evangelicals seem to be so invested in the definition of the term.  Everyone is angling for a definition that will support their present-day understanding of American religious life.  Some are ex-evangelicals or progressive evangelicals trying to find a usable past to justify their belief that white evangelicals are racists, patriarchal, too wed to nationalism, etc.  Others are descendants of the neo-evangelical movement that emerged in the 1940s and 1950s and want to find a historic definition of evangelicalism that helps them strengthen that identity in the present.

There is nothing wrong with trying to find a usable past.  The past must always speak to the present in some way.  But when we get caught up in searching for a usable past there is always a danger of forgetting that the past is a foreign country.  This is especially the case when we start to dabble in eighteenth-century evangelical history, the subject of the debate between Kidd and Merritt.  And when you bring an African-American poet like Phillis Wheatley into the mix, the debates will take on added weight.

So let’s start first with the meaning of the word “evangelical” in the 18th-century British Atlantic World.  (I say “British Atlantic World” and not “13 Colonies” because historians of the 18th-century English-speaking world are in almost universal agreement that we cannot understand what is going on in British North America without understanding these colonies as part of a larger culture that spanned the Atlantic and included Scotland, Wales, Ireland, the Caribbean, and other so-called British provinces.  Today the students in my “Colonial America” answered a final exam question on this very topic.  My favorite book on this subject is Ned Landsman, From Colonials to Provincials: American Thought and Culture, 1680-1760).

As Fisher, and more recently Daniel Silliman, has noted,  the word “evangelical” has pre-18th century origins.  But in the 1730s and 1740s, a distinct Protestant culture emerged that was centered around a belief in the “new birth” or the “born-again” experience.  The phrase comes from the Gospel of John when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).  There was an eighteenth-century religious movement that rose-up around the idea of the “New Birth and the inward-looking pietism that came with such an experience.  Some used the adjective “evangelical” to describe this movement and to separate it from other forms of Christianity that may have still believed in something akin to a born-again experience, but did not privilege it.  (I should add that I am talking here about the word “evangelical.”  The word “evangelicalism” does not appear in any 18th-century works published in America in the 18th century or at least the books, pamphlets, and broadsides that appear in the Evans Early American Imprints database).

For example, in Scotland those who favored the new birth and the Holy Spirit-infused experiential piety that it produced were called, and called themselves, the “Evangelical Party.”  (As distinguished from a “Moderate” Presbyterian party that drew heavily from the Scottish Enlightenment and opposed revivalism).  It is telling that when the champions of evangelical religion who founded the College of New Jersey at Princeton needed a new president in 1768 they turned to the Scottish clergyman John Witherspoon because he was the leader of Scotland’s Evangelical Party.  There was clearly a transatlantic evangelical movement that was discernible and real and it was defined by a commitment to the new birth.

Some historians go even further when using the term “evangelical” in the eighteenth-century context.  Historian Douglas Winiarski is one of them.  Here are a few passages from his Bancroft prize-winning book Darkness Falls on the Land of Light: Experiencing Religious Awakening in Eighteenth-Century New England (Omohundro Institute/UNC Press, 2017):

p.8: “Darkness Falls on the Land of Light examines the breakdown of New England Congregationalism and the rise of American evangelicalism during the eighteenth century.”

p.15-17: “The…term ‘Whitefieldarians’ comes closest to naming those eighteenth-century Protestants who contemporary historians have identified as evangelicals.”

If I read him correctly, Winiarski thinks the Bebbington Quadrilateral” is weak because it does not do enough to define 18th-century evangelical religion as a predominantly spiritual movement.  (Tommy Kidd makes a similar argument in The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America.  Winiarski writes (p.16-17):

David Bebbington’s frequently cited quadrilateral definition–conversionism, biblicism, activism, and crucicentrism–masks far more than it illuminates the popular religious cultures of the eighteenth-century British Atlantic.  In New England, Whitefield’s fascination with conversion as an instantaneous event was quite unlike the more traditional seventeenth-century puritan morphology of conversion, which ministers and lay people often conceptualized as a lifelong pilgrimage through the wilderness of the world.  Although provincial Congregationalists were steeped in the scriptures, during the Whitefieldian revivals and the decades that followed new converts such as Hannah Corey learned to think of the Bible as a detextualized voice that pierced their minds with supernatural force…The “people called New Lights” diverged from their puritan ancestors in two specific ways: their preoccupation with Whitefield’s definition of the new birth and their fascination with biblical impulses.  

It appears that those scholars, like Winiarski, who do not have a political or religious stake in the historical meaning of the word “evangelical” today seem to have no problem using the term or identifying it primarily with a theological/spiritual definition.  Winiarski uses “evangelical,” “evangelicalism,” “New Lights,” and “Whitefiedarians” as synonyms.  Whatever “evangelical” or “evangelicalism” means today, it was always understood as a spiritual movement in the eighteenth century.

So Winiarski seems to think that there was definitely some kind of spiritual “movement” that we can describe as “evangelical.”  He is not alone.  These works also make a similar case:

Frank Lambert’s Pedlar in Divinity: George Whitefield and the Transatlantic Revivals (Princeton University Press, 1999)

Frank Lambert, Inventing the “Great Awakening” (Princeton University Press, 1999)

Thomas Kidd, The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical Christianity in Colonial America (Yale University Press, 2009)

Harry S. Stout, The Divine Dramatist: George Whitefield and the Rise of Modern Evangelicalism (Eerdmans Publishing, 1991)

Peter Choi, George Whitefield: Evangelist for God and Empire (Eerdmans Publishing, 2018)

Susan O’Brien, “A Transatlantic Community of Saints: The Great Awakening and the First Evangelical Network, 1735-1755,” The American Historical Review (1986)

Timothy Hall, Contested Boundaries: Itinerancy and the Reshaping of the Colonial American Religious World (Duke University Press, 1994)

Catherine Brekus, Sarah Osborn’s World: The Rise of Evangelical Christianity in Early America (Yale University Press, 2013).

Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Inter-Varsity Press,  2011).

John Fea, “Wheelock’s World: Letters and the Communication of Revival in Great Awakening New England,” Proceedings of the American Antiquarian Society, 2001).

So I think it is safe to say that there was an evangelical movement in the 18th-century.  It revolved primarily around a commitment to the New Birth.  All of the authors above would also agree that changes in consumer culture, print culture, increased human mobility, celebrity, and other non-religious factors became staples of this movement or helped it grow, but these are all secondary factors in explaining what the movement was, in essence, all about.

I will stop there.  In my next post I want to talk about some folks who want to define evangelical as primarily something other than a spiritual movement.  And I also eventually want to discuss how Phillis Wheatley may or may not be related to this eighteenth-century movement.

Stay tuned.

Father Junipero Serra is OUT at Stanford

Serra

Here is the Stanford press release:

Stanford will rename some campus features named for Father Junipero Serra, the 18th-century founder of the California mission system, but will retain the Serra name and the names of other Spanish missionaries and settlers on other campus features, based on the recommendations of a university committee of faculty, students, staff and alumni.

The Stanford Board of Trustees accepted the committee’s recommendations to rename certain campus features and also accepted a recommendation by President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to use the opportunity to honor university co-founder Jane Stanford. As a first implementation step, Tessier-Lavigne is initiating a process seeking approval from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service to rename Serra Mall, the pedestrian and bicycle mall at the front of the Stanford campus that serves as the university’s official address, as “Jane Stanford Way.”

The Serra dormitory and small academic building with the Serra name also will be renamed, with the new names to be determined. However, Serra Street on campus will retain its current name, and the university will pursue new educational displays and other efforts to more fully address the multidimensional legacy of Serra and the mission system in California.

After extensive research and outreach, the committee applied a rigorous set of principles that a previous Stanford committee had developed for considering the renaming of campus features named for historical figures with complex legacies.

Serra’s establishment of the mission system is a central part of California history, and his life’s work led to his canonization by the Roman Catholic Church in 2015. At the same time, the historical record confirms that the mission system inflicted great harm and violence on Native Americans, and Stanford has several features named for Serra even though he played no direct role in the university’s history.

Read the rest here.

Want to learn more about Serra?  I recommend Steven Hackel’s Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father.

The Author’s Corner with Cameron Strang

StrangCameron B. Strang is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Nevada-Reno.  This interview is based on his recently released book Frontiers of Science: Imperialism and Natural Knowledge in the Gulf South Borderlands, 1500-1850 (Omohundro Institute/University of North Carolina Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Frontiers of Science?

CS: Serendipity? Or, more precisely, I set out to write a dissertation on how Spanish precedents affected the ways science and expansion overlapped in the early United States. What I found in the archives, though, were a bunch of fascinating stories about how diverse Native, Spanish, French, African, Creole, and Anglo intellectuals throughout the Gulf South produced and shared knowledge. The book developed out of my growing conviction that such stories were neither aberrant nor insignificant but, in fact, were typical of the pursuit of natural knowledge in early America on the whole.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Frontiers of Science?

CS: Frontiers of Science argues that encounters inspired by imperialism shaped the production, circulation, and application of natural knowledge among the diverse peoples of America from the 1500s through the 1800s. U.S. expansion ensured that imperialism remained central to American intellectual life well after U.S. independence.

JF: Why do we need to read Frontiers of Science?

CS: Because I believe it ought to change how we think about intellectual and cultural life in the early United States. For a long time now, we have studied intellectual history and the history of science in the early republic with the idea that a post-independence context of liberty and democracy fully recalibrated how American men and women studied nature. But this perspective depends on a very narrow view of America and Americans, one that looks only at the eastern seaboard and free citizens. When we turn instead to the nation’s borderlands and the continental interior—vast and incredibly diverse parts of the nation—it becomes apparent that the pursuit of knowledge in the United States did not cohere around democratic politics or the influence of liberty. It was, as in other empires, divided by multiple loyalties and identities, organized through contested hierarchies of ethnicity and place, and reliant on violence. It is this thoroughly imperial context that, I suggest, ought to frame how we think about the intellectual and cultural history of the early United States.

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

CSI was a history major in college, but I didn’t take a single U.S. history course as an undergrad (I was much more interested in imperial China). I went to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire with the idea of doing an MA in museum studies, but I took an early America seminar with W. Jeffrey Bolster during my first semester and I was hooked. I was particularly taken with the history of borderlands and the Atlantic because, well, these fields seemed to have the most surprising stories. After finishing at UNH, I moved to the University of Texas to get a PhD. In short, I have never been all that interested in the big traditional narrative of U.S. history, but what excites me about the field is that there always seem to be unexpected and fascinating stories just waiting to be discovered that have the potential to change how we think about the big picture. Finding and telling those stories is what I love about this job.

JF: What is your next project?

CSI’m writing a history of Native American explorers, particularly Indians from the eastern United States who explored the West in the 1700s and 1800s.

JF: Thanks, Cameron!

Author’s Corner with Elisabeth Ceppi

CeppiElisabeth Ceppi is Associate Professor of English at Portland State University.  This interview is based on her new book Invisible Masters: Gender, Race, and the Economy of Service in Early New England (Dartmouth University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Invisible Masters?

EC: The project began as an essay I wrote in my first year of graduate school (so long ago: 1992-3!) about the 1672 case of the demonic possession of Elizabeth Knapp, a sixteen-year old residing as a servant in her minister’s household. Over the years I revised that essay multiple times; it eventually became my MA thesis, a chapter of my dissertation, and a journal article. But even so, I knew I had only begun to figure out what Knapp had to teach about the meaning of service in early New England. After finishing a term as English department chair in 2009, I began new research on the theology of service in sermons by the leading ministers of the first generation of Puritan migration, which led me to reconceive the project and convinced me that it needed to be a book, not a series of essays.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Invisible Masters?

EC: Perhaps because it is such a commonplace of Christian labor, the metaphor of Puritans as “servants of the Lord” has generated almost no scholarly attention; the book argues that it was the foundation of a complex discourse of obedience and authority that powerfully shaped the lived experience of covenant theology in New England households, churches, public governance, and economic relations. As they developed a moral language for a racializing culture of service, Puritans transformed the traditional lived metaphors of faithful service and its opposite, hypocrisy, into an ethic of mastery.

JF: Why do we need to read Invisible Masters?

ECAs I suggest above, it is the only study that historicizes and interprets service—and the figure of God as Master—as an essential concept in Puritan theology and social life. In doing so, it revises familiar accounts of early New England’s relationship to modernity, including the emergence of the “Protestant work ethic” and of the affectionate family model from the patriarchal “little commonwealth.” It contributes to the growing body of scholarship on racial slavery in early New England by emphasizing its embeddedness in religious culture, and by showing how “the public” emerged as a space of white mastery over racial others. It offers new readings of canonical works of early American literature, including Mary Rowlandson’s captivity narrative, Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography, and the works of Mohegan minister Samson Occom. Finally, I also hope the example of the Puritans invites us to question how and why we privilege mastery over service as values in our contemporary culture and provides some insight into how ideals of public service and self-mastery came to be bound to distinctions of gender, race, and class.

JF: When and why did you get interested in the study of the past?

ECI teach and study literature, but my decision to specialize in early American literature was a swerve. I went to grad school with the intention of studying modernism, but in my second term I took a class to fill a pre-1800 requirement, “Typologies of Gender in Puritan America,” taught by Janice Knight (this is where I first encountered Elizabeth Knapp). The class was a fascinating introduction to a world of ideas and language and genres that seemed alien and strange and not at all like my idea of literature, and yet at the same time felt so vital in its power to pose urgent questions to the present. I loved the challenge of using my skills at interpreting language and literary form to think historically, to try to understand what these texts meant to those who wrote them and those they wrote about, and also to explain why they still matter today.

JF: What is your next project?

EC: I have started working on an essay about Theodore Winthrop’s 1863 novel, The Canoe and the Saddle, a fictionalized account of his travels to Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia in 1853. The novel became a best-seller after Winthrop died in the Civil War but has been neglected by scholars. His depictions of his indigenous guides and the incursions of English culture on the romantic landscape both conform to and defy expectations in interesting ways, but I was particularly intrigued by a passage in which Winthrop’s narrator satirically refers to a troubled Englishman he encounters as a “drapetomaniac,” a notorious concept from scientific race management (devised by a Mississippi doctor, Samuel Cartwright) that pathologized the enslaved who sought to run away from their masters. The essay will examine what Winthrop’s extension of this term to the Pacific Northwest reveals about the role of travel literature in New England’s culture of management.

JF: Thanks, Liz!

The Author’s Corner with Victoria Johnson

AmericanEden+Final+Cover+DesignVictoria Johnson is Associate Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at Hunter College of the City University of New York.  This interview is based on her new book American Eden: David Hosack, Botany, and Medicine in the Garden of the Early Republic (Liveright, a division of W.W Norton, 2018).

JF: What led you to write American Eden?

VJEight years ago, in the course of research for a journal article on contemporary American botanical gardens, I came across David Hosack (1769-1835) for the first time (in Peter Mickulas’s Britton’s Botanical Empire). I love New York City, and I was floored to learn that Rockefeller Center had once been a botanical garden—the first founded in and for the young United States. I knew immediately that I wanted to write a book about Hosack. He was a polymath and involved in several dozen organizations (quite a few of which he helped found) and he was not famous enough to have had a critical edition of his papers published. Following his trail as I reconstructed his life eventually took me to about thirty archives in the US and Europe.

JFIn 2 sentences, what is the argument of American Eden?

VJ: There is a botanical garden two centuries old buried under one of the most iconic urban spaces in the world. The man who created it, David Hosack, is a forgotten architect of New York’s rise to civic primacy in the nineteenth-century United States, and his life story thrusts us into the post-Revolutionary generation’s battles over what kinds of institutions make cities and nations truly great and stable.

JF: Why do we need to read American Eden?

VJMany, many historians have written eloquently and rigorously on politics and natural history in the early Republic, and I’m deeply indebted to them for their scholarship. Because American Eden is a biography, we get to see through David Hosack’s eyes the very fraught political relationships all around him and to feel the excitement and heartbreak of institution-building and scientific inquiry. In the process, certain figures from the Founding era take on new complexity: not only the shadowy Hosack, long known simply as the attending physician at the Hamilton-Burr duel, but also Hamilton and Burr themselves, both of whom loved botany and horticulture. New York City likewise comes into clearer focus in American Eden. We don’t usually think of nature, agriculture, and natural history when we think of New York in the early Republic, but Hosack botanized right in the city as well as on Manhattan’s beaches and farms and in its meadows and woodlands. Finally, I’d add that while history is a field of intellectual inquiry that matters regardless of any explicit links we make to our present circumstances, I’ve found Hosack’s struggles enlightening as I try to make sense of contemporary American political culture and our divided views on science and nature.

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

VJ:  I’ll answer the “historian” part first and then the “American” part. My PhD is in sociology, with a specialty in organizational sociology, but I was drawn to historical research early. One of my dissertation advisors in Columbia’s sociology department was Charles Tilly, who had a huge influence on my choice of dissertation topic: political relations between the French government and the Paris Opera from Louis XIV to Napoleon. That became Backstage at the Revolution (Chicago, 2008). For my second book, American Eden, I crossed the Atlantic and began studying American history because of my fascination with David Hosack and his enormous, unacknowledged contributions to New York, his young country, and translantic scientific networks.

JF: What is your next project?

VJ: Book tour! I will be sharing Hosack’s story of intense civic engagement and devotion to science with as broad an audience as wants to listen, in both the US and the UK; I have talks lined up running through 2020. In the meantime, I’m slowly starting to think about what comes next (to quote a certain king).

JF:  Thanks, Victoria!

“Fake News” is an Old Problem

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Thomas Hutchinson

Jackie Mansky, the humanities editor at Smithsonian.Com, reminds us that “fake news” has a long, long history in the American republic.  Here is a taste of her piece, “The Age-Old Problem of ‘Fake News’“:

Earlier echoes of John Adams’ frustrations can be found in laments by figures like Thomas Hutchinson, a British loyalist politician in a sea of American revolutionaries, who cried that the freedom of the press had been interpreted as the freedom to “print every Thing that is Libelous and Slanderous.”

Hutchinson’s bête noire was Sons of Liberty leader Samuel Adams, whose “journalism” infamously did not concern itself with facts. “It might well have been the best fiction written in the English language for the entire period between Laurence Sterne and Charles Dickens,” writes media historian Eric Burns in his book Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism. (Burns borrows the title from the term George Washington used to refer to the media figures of the day. In a 1796 letter to Alexander Hamilton, Washington cites as a reason for leaving public office “a disinclination to be longer buffitted in the public prints by a set of infamous scribblers.”)

Hutchinson, for his part, wailed that Samuel Adams’ writing in Boston Gazette particularly slandered his name. He believed that “seven eights of the People” in New England, “read none but this infamous paper and so are never undeceived.” Among other epithets, the Gazette called Hutchinson a “smooth and subtle tyrant,” as historian Bernard Bailyn notes in The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson, whose purpose was to lead colonists “gently into slavery.”

In 1765, arsonists burned Hutchinson’s house to the ground over the Stamp Act though the loyalist was not even in favor of the hated tax. “They were old men, young men, and boys barely old enough to read, all of them jacked up on ninety-proof Sam Adams prose,” writes Burns about those behind the fire, the scene sharing eerie parallels to the 2016 shooting of a Washington, D.C. pizza shop provoked by insidious fake news reports.

Read the entire piece here.

Freedom on the Move

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Cornell University is the host of “Freedom on the Move,” a digital database of fugitive slave ads from North America.  Here is a taste of Allison Meier’s article on this resource at Hyperallergic:

Readers of the May 24, 1796 Pennsylvania Gazette found an advertisement offering ten dollars to any person who would apprehend Oney Judge, an enslaved woman who had fled from President George Washington’s Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon. The notice described her in detail as a “light mulatto girl, much freckled, with very black eyes and bushy black hair,” as well as her skills at mending clothes, and that she “may attempt to escape by water … it is probable she will attempt to pass as a free woman, and has, it is said, wherewithal to pay her passage.” She did indeed board a ship called the Nancy and made it to New Hampshire, where she later married a free black sailor, although she was herself never freed by the Washingtons and remained a fugitive.

The advertisement is one of thousands that were printed in newspapers during colonial and pre-Civil War slavery in the United States. The Freedom on the Move (FOTM) public database project, now being developed at Cornell University, is the first major digital database to organize together North American fugitive slave ads from regional, state, and other collections. FOTM recently received its second of its two National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) digital humanities grants.

Read the rest here.

Americans and Land

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Earlier this week President Donald Trump tweeted:

I responded with a couple of tweets:

and

Not everyone was happy with me:

I thought about this series of tweets again when I read H.W. Brand’s piece at the website of the History Channel.  It is a (very) short introduction to Americans’ relationship to the land.  Here is a taste:

Before long, a critical mass of Americans joined Washington in concluding they needed a government of their own. Complaints over taxation and other issues joined the land question in triggering the American Revolution, which ended with the Americans in possession of the Ohio Valley and much more.

The new land proved the British right about one thing: More western settlement meant more trouble with the Indians. To the tribes of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, American independence was a disaster. The Americans were more aggressive in seizing land than the British had been. Often tribes secured treaties from the governments of the white settlers, but those treaties rarely inhibited the whites from taking what land they wanted.

At times the Indians resisted. In the first years of George Washington’s presidency, an Indian confederacy that formed in the region between the Ohio River and the Great Lakes inflicted a series of defeats upon settlers and local militia groups. They received arms and moral support from the British, who, still stinging from the loss of their 13 American colonies, were happy to provoke trouble for the upstart republic.

Washington summoned one of his lieutenants from the Revolutionary War, Anthony Wayne, known as Mad Anthony for his impetuous style of command. Wayne led America’s first federal army under the Constitution, called the Legion of the United States, against the Indian confederacy and won a decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, near modern Toledo.

The victory allowed the settlement of Ohio, but it meanwhile foreshadowed a century of struggle between whites and Indians over land along the westward-moving frontier.

Read the rest here.

“Religion and Politics in Early America” Conference Recap

Yes–there was a conference in Saint Louis this weekend.  And yes, I was there.

I arrived early on Thursday morning (the first day of the conference) and got hit with food poisoning that kept me in my hotel room most of the day.  My plan was to attend sessions and catch-up with friends and colleagues on Thursday, give a paper on religious disestablishment in New Jersey on Friday morning, and chair another session on Friday at 2:30.  I was scheduled to fly out of St. Louis in the early evening on Friday and get back to Pennsylvania late Friday night so I could help preside over the PA District 8 National History Day competition at Messiah College on Saturday.

Then the Nor’easter hit the East Coast.

My Friday night flight was cancelled and American Airlines could not book me on another flight that would get me back to Harrisburg in time for History Day.  In the end, I gave my 9:00am presentation on New Jersey, caught a taxi to the airport where I rented a car, and made the 12-hour drive back to Pennsylvania.  It was the only way.  (I did shell-out the $6.00 for Sirius/XM radio so I had company on the drive).

I got home around 2am, caught a few hours of sleep, and was at Messiah College by 8am.

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With NHD PA Region 8 Coordinator Cathay Snyder at the awards ceremony at Messiah College

History Day

The students, teachers, and parents awaiting the start of the NHD awards ceremony

I was only able to do this because my friend Jonathan Den Hartog agreed to take my 2:30pm chair duties in St. Louis on Friday.  Thanks again, Jonathan!

And speaking of Jonathan, check out his post on the conference at Religion in American History blog.  Here is a taste:

On a related note, the conference was successful in bringing together both historians and literary scholars. Although disciplinary differences were on display–in one panel: unpacking one sermon vs. treating a long genealogy of ideas vs. considering both physical and written evidence–still good efforts were made to talk across borders and gain greater insights.  Further, presenters showed how different methodologies could illuminate a shared topic.

These two pieces–the critical mass and the conversation across disciplines–point to the energy in the field. These conversations are not only important in 2018, but they point to questions of enduring concern. Those digging into the topic are making great contributions, and I expect we will continue to see great results growing from this conference into the future.

Read his entire report here.

The New *Common-Place* is Here

Common Place

Here is the press release:

In the brand-new issue of Common-place, you’ll find a bounty of fresh and challenging ideas from both leading and rising historians. Carla Pestana’s revelations about maroon communities in colonial Jamaica offers a cautionary tale on the influence of “categorical thinking” on historians. In a rare rediscovery, Eric Gardner provides an analysis and full textual reproduction of the fiery and eloquent reconstruction lecture delivered in 1867 Philadelphia by Frances Ellen Watkins Harper. Exhibit design maven Richard Rabinowitz offers a ranging and challenging analysis of changing public expectations about history, and their implications for the training of future historians.

In Object Lessons, Paul Erickson probes Isaiah Thomas’s Paper Mill Account Book and inventory records to uncover an industrialist’s understanding of the materiality of texts. Matt White’s account of his important discovery in Charles Wilson Peale’s revolutionary war journal reminds us that no matter how accessible texts are in the digital world, there’s just no substitute for visiting the archive and viewing the original. 

Also in this edition of Common-place, Mary Kuhn tells the story of the extraordinary international popularity of an early 19th century novel about a man who falls deeply and passionately in love . . . with a flowering plant.  And Poet Terrance Hayes gives us the powerful and haunting poem “Taffeta,” which begins with the narrator talking to a t-shirt image of Frederick Douglass.
 
Turning to digital history, Liz Covart discusses the extraordinary public history potential of podcasting, using her successes creating the podcasts “Ben Franklin’s World” and “Doing History”. Will Fenton explores the potential and the potential confusion inherent in large-scale digital resource databases, offering the carefully-crafted introductory path to his website Digital Paxton as one guide to clarity.
 
You’ll also find reviews of new books on Cadwallader Colden, the African American festival Pinkster, the symbiotic relationship between American evangelicalism and New York City, and the roles played by regulated and deregulated meat markets in feeding the antebellum inhabitants of Gotham.

Finally, as the editorial term of co-editors Anna Mae Duane and Walter Woodward draws toward a close, there’s an important announcement from the American Antiquarian Society about the future, and possibly changing nature of Common-place itself.

It’s not just food for thought, but a banquet of thought-provoking ideas, all for you in the new edition of Common-place.
 
Common-place is co-edited by Anna Mae Duane and Walter W. Woodward at the University of Connecticut, and published by a partnership of the American Antiquarian Society and the University of Connecticut. It’s all ready for your computer, tablet, or mobile device right now at www.common-place.org.

“One Nation, Under the Gun”

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The good folks at the Duke Divinity School blog Faith & Leadership reminded me of this 2012 New Yorker piece by historian Jill Lepore.  Here is a taste of “Battleground America“:

The Second Amendment reads, “A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” Arms are military weapons. A firearm is a cannon that you can carry, as opposed to artillery so big and heavy that you need wheels to move it, or people to help you. Cannons that you can carry around didn’t exist until the Middle Ages. The first European firearms—essentially, tubes mounted on a pole—date to the end of the fourteenth century and are known as “hand cannons.” Then came shoulder arms (that is, guns you can shoulder): muskets, rifles, and shotguns. A pistol is a gun that can be held in one hand. A revolver holds a number of bullets in a revolving chamber, but didn’t become common until Samuel Colt patented his model in 1836. The firearms used by a well-regulated militia, at the time the Second Amendment was written, were mostly long arms that, like a smaller stockpile of pistols, could discharge only once before they had to be reloaded. In size, speed, efficiency, capacity, and sleekness, the difference between an eighteenth-century musket and the gun that George Zimmerman was carrying is roughly the difference between the first laptop computer—which, not counting the external modem and the battery pack, weighed twenty-four pounds—and an iPhone.

A gun is a machine made to fire a missile that can bore through flesh. It can be used to hunt an animal or to commit or prevent a crime. Enough people carrying enough guns, and with the will and the training to use them, can defend a government, or topple one. For centuries before the first English colonists travelled to the New World, Parliament had been regulating the private ownership of firearms. (Generally, ownership was restricted to the wealthy; the principle was that anyone below the rank of gentleman found with a gun was a poacher.) England’s 1689 Declaration of Rights made a provision that “subjects which are Protestants may have arms for their defence suitable to their condition and as allowed by law”; the Declaration was an attempt to resolve a struggle between Parliament and the Crown, in which Parliament wrested control of the militia from the Crown.

In the United States, Article VI of the Articles of Confederation, drafted in 1776 and ratified in 1781, required that “every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.” In early America, firearms and ammunition were often kept in public arsenals. In 1775, the British Army marched to Concord with the idea of seizing the arsenal where the Colonial militia stored its weapons. In January of 1787, a Massachusetts resident named Daniel Shays led eleven hundred men, many of them disaffected Revolutionary War veterans, in an attempt to capture an arsenal in Springfield; they had been protesting taxes, but they needed guns and ammunition. Springfield had been an arsenal since 1774. In 1777, George Washington, at the urging of Henry Knox, made it his chief northern arsenal. By 1786, Springfield housed the largest collection of weapons in the United States. In the winter of 1787, the governor of Massachusetts sent the militia to suppress the rebellion; the Springfield arsenal was defended. That spring, the Constitutional Convention met in Philadelphia. Among the matters the delegates were to take up was granting to the federal government the power to suppress insurgencies like Shays’ Rebellion. From Boston, Benjamin Franklin’s sister Jane wrote to him with some advice for “such a Number of wise men as you are connected with in the Convention”: no more weapons, no more war. “I had Rather hear of the Swords being beat into Plow-shares, and the Halters used for Cart Roops, if by that means we may be brought to live Peaceably with won a nother.”

Read the entire piece here.

Description of Past Solar Eclipses

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From the blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society:

Charles Francis Adams wrote about the eclipse he witnessed in Boston on 12 February 1831.

But as there must always be something or other to distract my attention, so today it was taken off by the eclipse of the Sun which took place about noon.  I spent some time in observing this phenomenon. The Sun was not entirely darkened as the eclipse was not total, consequently the light was but partially affected. The cold however was considerable, and the temperature did not recover it throughout the day. The sight is a splendid one…. Every body was looking and little was done. The appearance of the Streets was certainly curious. Men, Women and Boys all gazing at a spectacle the nature of which there were not many to comprehend.

The eclipse of 5 August 1766 is described in a newspaper.  A Boston newspaper published on 11 August 1766 includes a short piece about the eclipse. As was common at the time, newspapers would republish news from other locations, and the heading on the piece about the eclipse is: “Portsmouth. August, 8.”

Last Tuesday being fair Weather and very Hot we had a distinct View of the remarkable ECLIPSE of the SUN–At the Time of greatest Observation, it appeared larger than is represented in the Almanack–the Air was considerably darkned, so that some who did not know of the Eclipse, were surprised.

Read more descriptions here.

Should Philip Vickers Fithian Make His Debut in a Young Adult Nonfiction Book?

62a78-fithian2bbookI am always amazed when I talk to people who develop strong emotional connections to the characters in The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in Early America.  I did not expect the book to be a tearjerker. The title is long and technical.  It is published by a university press.  Most bookstores do not carry it.  When my first royalty check arrived, I spent it all on Christmas presents. When the second royalty check arrived, I spent it all on a nice dinner for my family.  Today I can still splurge for dinner with the annual check, assuming that the meal is eaten at Arby’s.

But since the book first appeared in 2008, a few dozen people have told me that they cried at the end.  This week at the Princeton Seminar, five teachers mentioned that the final chapter brought them to tears.

Philip Vickers Fithian’s story does have an emotional ending, but I am still surprised that a book about the Enlightenment in America resonates with readers in this way.

Last week several K-8 history teachers (and at least one school librarian) attending the Princeton Seminar strongly encouraged me to write a biography of Philip for the young adult nonfiction market.  I am taking their advice seriously.  I don’t know very much about this market, but I want to learn more.  After listening to these teachers, and thinking about this a bit more myself, I think that teenagers might find Philip’s story interesting for what it teaches us about everyday life in colonial America, the early years of the American Revolution, love and courtship, education, self-improvement, and life on the frontier.

Stay tuned.  And if you have any advice I would love to hear it.

On the Mission of Colonial Williamsburg

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The Editorial Board of The Virginian-Pilot has something to say about this:

A taste:

If that core mission is some variation on being a “tourist attraction,” an entity that helps support the local Williamsburg economy, that touts “a preserved Colonial neighborhood with musket echoes, horse carriage rides and actors playing the roles of early settlers,” as recounted in The Pilot last week, then it probably will slowly die.

And should. This was never the idea.

It only became the idea, in part, when so many people began showing up in the post-World War II era. That’s when much of the commercial growth occurred in areas surrounding Williamsburg. That’s when the collective mentality began to shift toward making money.

 

Now that the crowds have thinned and appear unlikely to return in grand numbers, this may be an opportunity to restore the purposes of the restoration, which was, in the words of John D. Rockefeller, Colonial Williamsburg’s great benefactor, so that “the future may learn from the past.”

What does that mean?

It means a style and approach to public and civic education unique to Colonial Williamsburg, that involves — first and foremost — seriousness of intent and technique.

It means providing a safe haven for scholars and professionals, ensuring that the passing whims of the foundation’s leadership do not come at the expense of the people who have given their careers to the study of early American Colonial life, meaning the ones who do the research, the writing and the instruction that effectively sets the foundation apart from some half-baked tourist draw.

It means less fixation on the needs of the local Williamsburg economy and vastly more on the civic needs of America and the extension of democratic ideals throughout the world.

It means that nothing — virtually nothing — occurs within the historic area of Williamsburg that has the effect of trivializing or diminishing the values that long distinguished the foundation’s work.

It means making Colonial Williamsburg “important” once again, by drawing to its historic venues authors and public figures who reflect the same civic excellence and commitment of those who first inhabited Williamsburg, brought it international fame and locked it into history.

Does that mean engaging and illuminating the American Revolution as both an historic and political event? You bet.

Read the rest here.  Sounds good to me.