Tuesday, 26 January 2021

Mission Impossible: Reverend Francis LeJau in South Carolina

"There is one thing wherein I find the people here generally like those in the West Indies, they are so well persuaded that what they do is well, as to be very angry when their mistakes are shown to them and they will find cunning arguments to oppose truth itself." Francis Le Jau, 1709

Francis Le Jau was a French Huguenot who fled to England c. 1685 to escape religious persecution under Louis XIV. After his arrival, he was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, earning a doctorate. He then became an Anglican minister. 

The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG), founded in 1701, sent him to St. Christopher in the West Indies and then to South Carolina as a missionary. (Image: portrait of Le Jau, by Henrietta Johnston)

Le Jau arrived in Charleston (then Charles Town) in 1706. He was 41 years old and in good health. The colony, slightly younger, was not. The colonists had just driven off a combined French and Spanish attack, and were expecting another soon. Anglicans and Protestant Dissenters were feuding with one another over an act making the Church of England the established religion in the Carolina colony, which then included what is now North Carolina. [Image: A View of Charleston in 1773]. 

In addition, Charleston was suffering from a deadly epidemic of yellow fever. Samuel Thomas, the first and thus far only SPG missionary to have come to the colony, was among the hundreds of dead. Local officials whisked Le Jau away to his rural parish, St. James, Goose Creek, to escape the pestilence. 

Despite this grim beginning, Le Jau was optimistic. People had told them new arrivals commonly experienced a bout of sickness during the warm season of their first year of residence. They called it the "seasoning," as if one was being preserved like a piece of meat. 

"When I am seasoned to the country, I hope I'll do well," he wrote his SPG superiors in London. In the winter months, he proclaimed, the climate was the finest he had ever experienced, pleasant and productive. The people were prosperous and generous.

With the advance of summer, the tone of his reports to London began to alter. He suffered his first bout of fever, probably malaria. His family arrived that summer and all became sick. 

At first, he blamed the seasoning, and anticipated a speedy recovery of health. Instead, he remained seriously ill for more than a year with fevers and fluxes (dysentery or severe diarrhea). For months he was unable to perform his clerical duties.

Notes of disillusionment crept into his letters. His disappointment extended to his neighbors. They were not the good Christian folk he had at first thought, but consumed by greed. They would "do any thing for money." They treated their  enslaved Africans and "Indians" (many of whom they had also enslaved) barbarously. The colonists fomented conflicts among the various tribes and then bought war captives as slaves. 

The mistreatment of the Native Americans led to the Yamasee War in 1715, during which an alliance of several tribes nearly destroyed the young colony. They attacked Le Jau's Goose Creek parish, and he and many of his neighbors fled to safety in Charleston.

Le Jau's animosity towards his neighbors deepened when his white neighbors failed to help him in his time of need. Few had honored pledges to supplement his meager income, or to finish building him a house and a church. After six years it was still unfinished. [Image: St. James, Goose Creek]

"They deceived me more than I can dare say," he wrote to the SPG, and he urged them to inform other missionaries coming to Carolina to be warned that they "must be prepared to suffer great hardships and crosses."

For ten years, Le Jau was plagued by fevers, fluxes, and other diseases. In August 1716, he was attacked with a fever and digestive disorder that confined him to bed for months. In March 1717, he reported that he expected to die soon. His body was "worn out with labour in this sickly and desolate country." He died a few months later in the Carolina Lowcountry's cruelest month, September. 

Le Jau did not understand all of the connections between South Carolina's economic system and its deadly disease environment, particularly that between disease, enslavement of Africans, and rice production. 

Yet he sensed the root of the problem: "This would be a pleasant place if men were but willing to make themselves easy and improve the fruitful soil where anything grows without much trouble ... but they all aim at riches which are hard to be got and they neglect the peace of their conscience and life."


Frank J. Klingberg, ed., The Carolina Chronicle of Francis Le Jau (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1956)

Papers of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, London (Microfilm copies available in many academic libraries; a treasure for historians of colonial America)

Peter McCandless, Slavery, Disease, and Suffering in the Southern Lowcountry (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011, pbk, 2014)

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Is America's Tragic Flirtation with the Confederacy Finally Ending?

 As a boy growing up in Chicago, Illinois, the Land of Lincoln, I fell in love with the Confederacy. Why? I saw little lead Civil War soldiers in a toy shop. I bought boxes of Confederate ones because I liked their uniforms better than the Union ones. They were more colorful, more “romantic” than the Yankee uniforms. I thought it was sad that they had lost the Civil War. 

I was nostalgic for something that had never existed, at least in the way I envisioned it. General Lee should have had the ultimate victory, I thought and would have, if it hadn't been for those nasties Grant and Sherman, who played dirty. 

That is about the level of thinking that exists in too many parts of America today, though with less innocence than my thinking at the time. I was just an ignorant little boy, with malice toward none. I knew nothing about the reality of slavery and the causes of the war.

Later I learned about those realities, and the viciously racist society that followed so-called emancipation. I learned that the greatest tragedy of the Civil War was not that the wrong side won, but that the victors did not go nearly far enough to ensure equality and justice. 

"Reconstruction" of the Confederate states was abandoned too early, leaving white elites in firm control, and free to pass rigid segregationist laws, violating the human rights of the emancipated. For decades, most people in other states looked the other way or were openly sympathetic. Many joined in bloody race riots, especially in the 1920s, in places like Chicago and Detroit.

Between the Civil War and the 1960s racist and racialist ideas flourished in the USA, with little if any check from government. Lynchings became common events. Many films and stories, such as Gone with the Wind and Birth of a Nation, romanticized the “Old Plantation South” and glorified “The Lost Cause.” The phrase "Moonlight and Magnolias" summed up this misplaced nostalgia. 

Defacto segregation was a fact of life in non-southern states. In the 1940s, Americans, white and black, fought a war against fascism and racism abroad, but nothing much changed at home. 

But some minds were changing. Significant institutional and legal change, accompanied by many a tragedy, finally came with the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Unfortunately, much of the progress made then has been rolled back by Trump’s neo-fascist regime. 

Under Trump, it seemed the Confederacy had won the Civil War after all. Trump's defeat in the November election to Biden and Harris may herald the Confederacy's ultimate fall. The recent mass BLM protests and the taking down of statues of Confederates and prominent slaveholders are a sign of that. Let us hope so. 

Tuesday, 12 January 2021

Fascism and Trumpism


The "presidency" of Donald Trump has catapulted the word “fascism” into everyday use these days. Many people claim that Trump and many Trump supporters are fascists in ideology or action. The recent attack on Washington, DC has sharpened these claims, with some justice.

So, what exactly is fascism? Defining fascism is a bit like picking up jelly in your hands. It is difficult to produce a rational explanation of something that is fundamentally irrational. “Fascist theory” is essentially an oxymoron.

The term “fascism” derives from Benito Mussolini  (1883-1945), who used it to describe his mishmash of political ideas, as well as the party he founded at the end of  World War I, the Fascist Party of Italy. The word “fascism” comes from a Roman symbol, the fasci, an axe around which are tied a bundle of sticks. The fasci represents the idea of strength through mass unity, an idea Mussolini stressed endlessly.

The Italian fascists under Mussolini were also the first to gain political power, in 1922, through a famous bluff, the “March on Rome.”

As thousands of his fascist supporters moved toward the capital, establishment politicians caved into Il Duce’s threats of violence and made him Prime Minister. Presto! Trump was clearly hoping for a similar result when his followers stormed the US capitol on January 6, 2020. It is worth remembering that many observers in 1922 thought Mussolini was too much of a clown to succeed in his coup d'etat. 

(Image: Mussolini, in a pose Trump has copied, sans the helmet).

Mussolini’s success made him a global celebrity and produced a horde of imitators in other countries, including France, the UK, and the USA. Fascist or fascistic regimes took power in a number of European and Latin American countries.

The most extreme and most dangerous fascist regime, of course, began its reign of terror in 1933 when Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) became Chancellor of Germany, vowing to ”make Germany great again.” 

Like Trump, Hitler never won a majority of the German vote. He 
became Germany's Chancellor due to the support of other right wing parties and appointment by the senile largely figurehead president, Paul von Hindenberg.

Another thing that makes fascism difficult to define precisely is that it took different forms in different countries. One reason for this is that all fascist movements embraced extreme nationalism, which by its nature is localistic. Nationalists emphasize differences, what makes their nation "better" than others.

Fascists dressed up their rhetoric in a fervent devotion to national traditions, many of them old myths or new ones invented to enhance fascist domination. Nostalgia for a mythical past is central to the fascist appeal. So is the belief in a Supreme Leader who will restore a lost national greatness (Rome, the Second Reich).

                              (Hitler as medieval knight in shining armor)

Fascist movements had several other things in common. They denounced democracy, liberalism, socialism, reason, tolerance, free expression, feminism, and scientific method. They are thoroughly anti-intellectual. 

Fascism thus was – and is -- largely defined by what it was/is against. But not entirely. In addition to exalting the nation-state, fascists posed as the defenders of traditional values, especially “traditional” religious and family values. They usually have the support of at least some religious authorities. Hitler promised to protect Christianity 

"as the very basis of our collective morality.  We want to fill our culture again with the Christian spirit.  We want to burn out all the recent immoral developments in literature, in the theatre, and in the press ... in short, we want to burn out the poison of immorality which has entered into our whole life and culture as a result of liberal excess during the past few years.
The Speeches of Adolph Hitler, 1922-1939, Vol. 1, pp. 871-872 (London: Oxford University Press, 1942)

                                          (Hitler as Christ-like savior figure)

Nazi propaganda also promoted the family unit, motherhood (the source of cannon fodder), and healthy living, as can be seen in the following posters.

Fascism can be endlessly confusing because it appeals to the emotions, not the intellect. Fascist propaganda is often illogical because is based on the premise that most people do not think but feel. Fascists do not worry about truth or logic, because they are convinced that the masses will accept the most glaring contradictions and outrageous claims without difficulty.

Fascism is always bursting with contradictions. Fascists denounce modern science while embracing technology based on science, especially military and surveillance technology. They are anti-intellectual, ridiculing experts and all knowledge that doesn't advance their power. 

In Mein Kampf, Hitler claimed that a Jewish world conspiracy controlled both capitalism and communism. Jews had created Soviet Russia to enslave and degrade the pure and non-existent "Aryan Race." The United States, the UK, and all liberal, capitalist countries were also tools of the Jewish Conspiracy.

“The danger to which Russia succumbed is always present for Germany ...  the striving of the Jewish people for world domination …In Russian Bolshevism we must see the attempt undertaken by the Jews in the twentieth century to achieve world domination.”
Mein Kampf, 1926

Hitler denounced both capitalism and communism as Zionist tools. Yet he received money and support from wealthy businessmen and landowners. In power, he favored the rich and powerful, as long as they did his bidding. He crushed trade unions. 

One of the problems in assessing fascist leaders is the extent to which they believe(d) their own rhetoric. Mussolini, Hitler, and other fascists embraced the concept of the “Big Lie.” This is the belief that if you repeat something outrageous often enough, and loudly enough, people will begin to believe it  -- especially if it coincides with their existing prejudices. In this sense, fascism is not "forced" on people. They accept it willingly, often enthusiastically. In this sense Trump is a typical fascist leader, his supporters willing fascist accomplices.

Untangling fascist propaganda from fascist policy and “principles” can be infuriatingly difficult. Will this leader do what he says he will do, or is it just a lot of hot air? History is not comforting. A glass of wine, please. 

Thursday, 7 January 2021

Tourists Visit Washington, 1814 and 2021

In 1814, thousands of jolly British tourists descended upon the new American capitol in Washington, DC. Having just dispatched Napoleon Bonaparte to Elba after two decades of war, the British decided to celebrate and reward their soldiers and sailors by sending them on holiday to see the White House and the Capitol building. They were well armed but well intentioned, eager to do the new nation a well-deserved service. 

They ransacked, looted, and burned the White House, and other buildings. "It was a great tour," one said. "I haven't had so much fun in years!" The sentiment was echoed by numerous others on the trip. Needless to say, they took away many souvenirs of their visit. [Image: British tourists enjoying their trip.]

On January 6, 2021, American Trumpistas sought to repeat the British feat. The idea came from the fertile head of Donald J. (Jenius) Trump, who had recently been unelected as POTUS. He was thoroughly bummed to learn that the British had toured the capital with so much gusto, but not Americans. 

The Trumpistas took the cue. And how! They beat up police. They broke windows. They smashed down doors. They chased the legislators and staff who fled in terror. In other words, they thoroughly enjoyed themselves. All in the name of patriotism.

Democrat sourpusses poured piss on the Trumpista celebration, as they do, by fussing about the damage to lives and property. When will the US capital learn to welcome tourists with proper charm and dignity? 

[Image: Trumpista Tourists finding new ways to enter the Capitol building.]


Saturday, 2 January 2021

The Brexiteer's Guide to English Ancestry

"A Brexit victory's a contradiction, In speech an irony, in fact a fiction." (Apologies and thanks to Daniel Defoe,1660-1731)

Brexit is real now, sort of. Devout Brexiteers proclaim, in near holy terms, that the UK has finally achieved "independence." By the "UK", however, they really mean England. 

Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland must reconcile themselves to being dragged about by the whims of English nationalists. British companies are in the same boat. The immense costs of Brexit for those trading to Europe are becoming distressingly clear. 

Narrow English nationalists are the big winners for now. It remains to be seen what they have actually won. In fact, Brexit is a triumph of extreme nationalism, aided by ignorance and lies, over economic rationality. 

Much of the pro-Brexit vote in 2016 stemmed from xenophobia, a hatred of foreigners. In this case, "tyrannical" foreigners in Brussels. Of course, not all who voted for Brexit were motivated by by xenophobia. Yet the rhetoric of hard Brexiteers is often based on the assumption that people who are "Not English" are somehow "lesser breeds," not to be trusted and certainly not listened to.

England found itself in a similar situation more than 300 years ago. The thrones of Britain were occupied by a foreigner, the Dutch prince William of Orange. He and his wife Mary had become joint sovereigns in 1689 following the Glorious Revolution, in which he and the Dutch military had played the pivotal role. (Image: William III, of Orange)


Despite being hailed as the savior of English Protestantism, William III (II in Scotland) was never much liked in England or in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, of course, he is still idolized by people who remain imprisoned in a time warp, the eponymous "Orangemen." 

William became thoroughly unpopular in England after Mary died of smallpox in 1694. People not only disliked him but the Dutch soldiers, politicians, and merchants who followed him to London in particular. They were the target of numerous vitriolic pamphlets and poems. 

In 1701, Daniel Defoe took up his sharp pen to defend the Dutch king and his countrymen. He did so in a long satirical poem that was highly successful in its time. "The True-Born Englishman" is not read much today. Perhaps it should be, at least some of it. 

Defoe was a prolific writer, mostly of political pamphlets at this time. Later he made his name as the author of Robinson Crusoe (1719) and other novels. (Image: Defoe)

The target of Defoe's satire was not Englishness per se, but anti-Dutch xenophobia. To clear up any misunderstanding about that he added an explanatory preface two years later. In it he declared "that an Englishman, of all men, ought not to despise Foreigners as such ... since what they are today, we were yesterday, and tomorrow they will be like us." 

The English were themselves foreigners, invaders who eventually assimilated into one nation. The Dutch newcomers would assimilate as well, given the chance, Defoe implied. 

The English, far from being racially pure, were in reality a mongrel race. The "English" were a people forged from the union of Celtic Britons, Romans, Scots, Picts, "Anglo-Saxons," and Danes. Somewhat oddly, Defoe left out the Normans, here wearing the latest in 12th century fashion.

Defoe pulled no punches. The "union" he meant was sexual. Englishness originated "in eager rapes, and furious lust." The "rank daughters" of the land "Receiv'd all nations with promiscuous lust." The "nauseous brood" that resulted contained the "well extracted blood of Englishmen." 

In reality, the "True-Born Englishman" did not exist: "A true-born Englishman's a contradiction, In speech an irony, in fact a fiction."

Defoe understood the biological and cultural reality of Englishness 300 years ago. Why do so many people today continue to champion a view so much at variance with history and biology? They should check the ancestry of their leader, True-Born Boris.

Further Reading: Daniel Defoe, The True-Born Englishman (London, 1701 and later editions)