The Author’s Corner with Noeleen McIlvenna

Early American RebelsNoeleen McIlvenna is Professor of History at Wright State University. This interview is based on her new book, Early American Rebels: Pursuing Democracy from Maryland to Carolina, 1640–1700 (University of North Carolina Press, 2020).

JF: What led you to write Early American Rebels?

NM: All my work starts from the premise that the poor are not stupid. They know when they are being used and abused. But, in most eras on most continents, it’s very difficult to do anything about it. Power has all the weapons and they are relentless in their pursuit of more power and wealth. Working people have only numbers. And there is so much to fear: losing one’s livelihood, one’s health, the unknown future. So organizing ourselves to act collectively and then maintaining that solidarity over time and under varying pressures is a very tough road to climb. That’s why revolutions occur so rarely.

This is my third book on southern colonial history. As an immigrant myself, who grew up on one side of the Atlantic and crossed in my early twenties, I identify with the first generation of settlers along the North American coastline. I understand how one carries over cultural baggage and must adjust to a New World. So I write about those people: in North Carolina (A Very Mutinous People), in Georgia (The Short Life of Free Georgia), and now in Maryland.

Early American Rebels began as a prequel of sorts to A Very Mutinous People. While I was in the middle of the Georgia book, a genealogist contacted me and asked if I was aware that one of the Mutinous People protagonists had been in trouble in Maryland earlier. I was totally unaware; North Carolina historians had always felt that the first settlers came from Virginia. So when the Georgia manuscript had been sent to the publisher, I began to follow up, thinking I would write a small article about this story. But very quickly, I realized I had stumbled into a much bigger story: a whole network of activists had organized and organized and organized over two generations, struggling to establish a society based on Leveler ideals. Levelers were the radicals of the English Revolution: they wanted a society with a level playing field: no monarchy, no aristocracy; a vote for every man. Equality. We think of that as a basic American value, but it was revolutionary in the seventeenth century. And too often, Americans are taught that those ideals came from Virginia planters of the eighteenth century. But that is wrong. Poor indentured servants a hundred years before the American Revolution held those ideals and fought for them.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Early American Rebels?

NM: A network of settlers in the Chesapeake region fought for a say in their own governance in the mid-late seventeenth century. American democratic ideals are their legacy.

JF: Why do we need to read Early American Rebels?

NM: It is important for us to understand that we should look to those at the bottom of any society for leadership on how to change it. Early American Rebels gives us a guide on what it takes to create a more equitable world. It warns us how we might fail if the powerful separate us by race and make us compete for the crumbs. I hope you will get a sense of the playbooks of both the rebels and the elite.

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

NM: That occurred in several stages. The most important was the first day of eighth grade, back in Northern Ireland, when my new history teacher wrote the preamble to the Declaration of Independence on the blackboard and told us to copy it into our notebooks. When I got to the phrase, “it is the right of the people to alter or abolish [their government],” I looked up and met his eyes. I repeated the phrase to him and he nodded, smiling. As a poor Catholic girl growing up during the Troubles, no one had really said that clearly to me and I knew immediately its significance. We mostly studied European history for the rest of high school, but I was hooked on understanding how some people came to have power and some did not. If someone had told me that there was such a job as an historian and that a poor Catholic girl was allowed to have that job, I would have signed up for it at age thirteen. But I had no concept that such a thing was possible.

I studied History as an undergraduate in Northern Ireland, but still did not grasp that I could become a history professor. No women taught history at that university. It seemed that a woman who loved history had one outlet: teach the subject at the high school level. Fast forward some years, an emigration or two and a few adventures and I was working at the University of Tennessee as a staff archaeologist. I saw lots of women professors and graduate students. When my boss told me I needed an MA and history was close enough to archaeology to suffice, I walked across the parking lot to the History department. The first graduate class I signed up for was Colonial America. That was that.

JF: What is your next project?

NM: I want to write an economic history from the bottom up. That is, how did the seventeenth-century Atlantic World economy function, starting at the workplace of an indentured woman in the Chesapeake and moving up and out until we finish with the King, politicians and financiers in London. We would see how much work she does to earn enough to eat, how the tobacco she works on, or whatever she produces gets sold and resold, who enjoys the profit at what stage and so on.

JF: Thanks, Noeleen!

2015 Messiah College Graduate Grady Breen Is Doing What Messiah College History Majors Do

Breen

What can you do with a history major? You can offer leadership and a path toward social healing in the midst of a suffering community. This is what 2015 Messiah College history major Grady Breen, a social studies teacher and lacrosse coach, is doing at South Carroll High School in the Baltimore area.

Here is The Baltimore Sun:

Native Americans who grow up playing lacrosse hear stories of the game serving as medicine that can nourish one another.

South Carroll High School’s lacrosse program has been trying to come up with its own medicine this spring, with an entire community yearning to heal.

It’s how Cavaliers varsity coach Grady Breen used to talk with Noah Homayouni, one of his attackmen, before games. Breen wanted his players to use lacrosse as a way to feel better, mentally and physically, and carry it into other aspects of their lives. The coach referred to the Iroquois/Six Nations people playing lacrosse as a “medicine game.”

Homayouni was a big part of South Carroll’s offense, and entered his senior season as the team’s top returner in points (25 goals, 21 assists). The coronavirus pandemic got in the way of their season, however.

Schools closed across the state. Spring sports went on hiatus, and eventually got canceled. If not for Maryland’s mandated stay-at-home orders, Homayouni likely would have been at South Carroll on the afternoon of April 2, gearing up with his teammates for a varsity game against county rival Winters Mill.

He was home instead, on Bennett Branch Road in Mount Airy, when his neighbor’s estranged husband opened fire in front of their houses. Thirty-five-year-old Joseph Zujkowski of Gaithersburg shot Heather Zujkowski, 36, and Homayouni, 18, before returning to Montgomery County and killing himself.

Breen had more than 20 varsity players who needed each other, but the Cavs faced a few obstacles. They weren’t supposed to be gathering anywhere. They couldn’t meet up at school, or at Parker Field.

Breen wanted lacrosse to be their medicine.

“We have learned a lot about the community. … We have realized just how many people can step in and understand the grief and the sadness,” the coach said. “That has been beautiful.”

Seamus Kearney wasn’t about to let a pandemic keep him and his South Carroll teammates from each other.

The players went to a teammate’s house for a private ceremony. On April 6, the school honored Homayouni by turning on the stadium lights for 10 minutes, from 8 p.m. to 8:10 p.m., to recognize the senior’s jersey No. 10. The main fence along the entrance of Parker Field has been adorned with mementos and placards for Homayouni.

A GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign was created not too long after Homayouni’s death, with a goal to raise $15,000 to help cover funeral costs and other expenses. The total surpassed $44,600 as of Thursday afternoon.

Breen used cellphones and video conferencing as outlets for his players to connect and grieve as one. Their medicine might have been difficult to swallow, but it was necessary.

“We all got a phone call from our coach and we heard about it, and immediately everybody was like, ‘We have to be together,’” said Kearney, a junior defenseman. “We have this quarantine going on, but if we’re all by ourselves, we’re not a team. And we have to be together for Noah. That’s what we had to do.”

Read the rest here.

The Author’s Corner with David Graham

Graham LoyaltyDavid Graham is an assistant professor of history at Snow College. This interview is based on his new book Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory (University of Georgia Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?

DG:  My interest in Maryland and Civil War memory began when I visited Antietam National Battlefield in Maryland while in graduate school.  It was a dreary day with on and off rain.  I was practically alone on the battlefield and as I visited the various parts of the landscape and the different monuments, I became interested in learning more about the history of the preservation of the battlefield and the monuments that dotted it.  I ended up writing my Master’s thesis on the commemoration history of Antietam and that led me to look at Maryland’s place in the Civil War and American memory for my PhD dissertation at Purdue University.  This research formed the basis of my new book.

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?

DG: Maryland did not adopt a clear, postbellum Civil War identity.  The divisions within Maryland during the war persisted after 1865 and not only reflected the divisions of the country but also revealed the importance of the border state experience to American society decades after the Civil War.

JF: Why do we need to read Loyalty on the Line: Civil War Maryland in American Memory?

DG:  It is my hope that this book offers an important argument to not only the field of Civil War memory but that it can also help inform our current conversations about the legacy of the Civil War and the manifestations of that legacy in our public spaces.  In August of last year, the mayor of Baltimore made the decision to remove the city’s Confederate monuments.  There was intense reaction and debate regarding this decision.  I discuss these monuments in my book and add historical context to the current controversy.  One of the themes in the book that I think is pretty clear is that controversy surrounding Civil War memory, monuments and otherwise, is not new.  There is a long history of struggling with these symbols.  That is a major part of my book.

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

DG:  My interest in history was actually sparked by a high school English teacher.  I always enjoyed history but never thought of it as a career until her class.   She was a Civil War reenactor and her passion for Civil War history was clear.  We read The Killer Angels (one of the few books in high school I actually read from cover to cover).  I enjoyed the book but the life altering moment happened when we visited Gettysburg as a class.  Standing on the battlefield imagining the events of those three days in July 1863 was surreal.  The experience was heightened by the fact that we read the novel shortly before the trip to the battlefield.  At one point in the battlefield’s museum, I was left behind by the rest of my class because I lost track of time while gazing at the artifacts and I completely forgot what I was supposed to be doing.  From that point on, I knew I wanted to study history and I wanted to become a teacher of some kind.  Preserved historic sites and wonderful educators are the reason I am an American historian.

JF: What is your next project?

DG: My second book project centers on reunions of former slaves during the postbellum period.  In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, freedpeople and their descendants began holding reunions throughout the United States as a way to reconnect with those who they labored beside before the outbreak of the Civil War.  These gatherings indicate that the intimate relationships and neighborhoods that slaves cultivated during the antebellum period did not conclude with emancipation or the end of the war but persisted for the remainder of their lives.  I’m currently researching the motivations of these reunions, their frequency, and the response they generated from white southerners. Looking forward to see where the research takes me.

JF: Thanks, David!

18th-Century Shipwreck Found in a Maryland River

(Maryland State Highway Administration)

I can’t resist these kinds of stories.


Recently a Maryland road crew working to repair the bridge that crosses the Nanticoke River on Route 50 discovered the remains of an eighteenth-century ship.  It is unclear why the ship sunk to the bottom of the river.  It was either poorly constructed or shot down in a skirmish during the Revolutionary War.

Here is a taste of the report from Julie Zauzmer of The Washington Post:

The archaeologists speculate that the ship was built at a small local facility, not a major shipyard, because they can see some elementary mistakes in construction. An extra hole drilled in a log, a missing fastener that should have tightened the keel — those details are telling, centuries later.
Most evocative of all are the logs themselves. Scientists can date and locate trees with remarkable precision. The pattern in the rings of the oaks that became the ship tell archaeologists precisely when and where they were chopped down: 1743, somewhere in Maryland between the Potomac River and Annapolis.
“I was shocked that we could get that sort of detail,” Schablitsky said.
That means the ship was built sometime after 1743, probably soon after. And Schablitsky said it is clear that it went down before 1800.
It may have been purposely scuttled by because it was no longer seaworthy. But it may have met a more dramatic end.
Documents from the time tell of a Revolutionary War skirmish in the town of Vienna, Md. — where the wreck was found — in which British sympathizers shelled the town and sank several boats owned by colonists who supported the Revolution.
Intriguingly, the logs from the wreck were scorched, as if they had been burned just before sinking.