History -- 11/19/10

Thinking of those Sam Cooke lyrics...
Donīt know much about history
Donīt know much biology
Donīt know much about a science book
Donīt know much about the French I took

Well, the times I have been in France, struggling with my dimly remembered French, certainly confirms that, indeed, I don't know much of the French I took.

I am, however, fascinated by history -- always have been -- and I suppose I always will be.

What puts this topic in mind right now is the time of year.... Thanksgiving is fast approaching, less than a week away... and here I am living not much more than fifty miles away from the site of the first Thanksgiving feast. (Okay, that's if I had a helicopter to fly me in a straight line -- but Narraganset Bay is in the way -- so it's more like 85 or so miles by automobile.)

And just a few miles away from here is the site of the bloodiest fight in the bloodiest and most costly war (on a per capita basis) ever fought in North America. I am speaking of King Philip's War. And the 335th anniversary of that battle, the Great Swamp Massacre is only a few weeks away. If you are a long time reader of this site, you've seen photographs of parts of the Great Swamp -- our local bicycle path cuts across an edge of it.

And remember the stories you probably learned in elementary school about how Massasoit, chief sachem of the Wampanoag, saved the Pilgrims from certain starvation... and how he and other Wampanoag joined with the Pilgrims in that first Thanksgiving feast? Well, Philip was the English name taken by Massasoit's son, Metacom. Metacom became chief sachem of the Wampanoag and led his people in a war to the death against the colonists.

And speaking of history and wars, this is the sesquicentennial of the American Civil War. The American Interest Online (a non-partisan magazine of political analysis) is featuring a daily update of the latest political and war-related news from 150 years ago -- that is, they are showing a summary of the latest reports (which, despite the spread of the telegraph, may have taken days to arrive -- or even weeks in the case of news of European reactions). Walter Russell Mean had a recent piece ("The Weakest President Yet") there discussing the election of Abraham Lincoln, a president who failed to carry the vote in even a single congressional district south of the Mason-Dixon line, a president who won only because the Democrats had split and had run two competing candidates.

So... not today, but as that 335th anniversary gets closer, I think I may talk a bit here about that bit of local history and about a war that I'm willing to bet that few people who don't live in this area (or who didn't read Nathaniel Philbrick's book Mayflower that was out about four years ago) have even heard of.

(And I will try to avoid ranting too much about how abysmal the teaching of history is in our schools today.)

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