The Evolution of Ichabod Crane

The pleasures of the ancestor quest  for me include discovery, puzzle-solving, and people’s names. Because I have mostly Irish Catholic roots – and those names are limited to church-approved saints, –  I treasure the novelty of my  Protestant ancestors. With their affection for the Old Testament (and their ability to read it), my folks named sons Obadiah, Ebenezer and Zephaniah, and their daughters Keziah, Hephzibah  and Phoebe.*

With Halloween at the end of this week, I was particularly delighted to add a ancestor name that evokes both Protestant tradition and a slice of classic American horror, – Ichabod Pain.

A clip from an image of an original document; Ichabod Pain is enumerated in the 1800 US census in Freetown, Massachusetts.

Ichabod Pain enumerated in the 1800 US census of Freetown, Massachusetts.

Oh, I know you were expecting Ichabod Crane, but with my family, Ichabod Pain (1766-1819) was as close as I could get. I do, however, have plenty of kinship ties to old New York where the writer, Washington Irving (1783-1859) set his 1820 short story, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. (Thus, I rationalize this bit of digression.)

When we carve jack-o-lanterns, disguise the kids to fool the neighbors (trick-or-treat), or see a movie that scares us silly, we’re paying tribute to the ancient past.  Many cultures incorporated the belief that ghosts and other supernatural entities, get a visitors’ pass to the mortal world on Halloween night.

Washington Irving’s time and place had its own practices. He also wrote a history of New York.  As an educated man, Irving’s sensibilities were aligned with Enlightenment values of science and reason. For his entertaining fiction, he drew on regional folk tales, superstitions, and universal human foibles to poke a little fun at unreason.

The original Ichabod Crane was a stern, psalm-singing school teacher. Irving gave him a homely face and awkward physique.  When Ichabod sets his sights on marrying the beautiful Katrina Van Tassel,  – though his affection may be genuine, he is also fully aware that the inheritance due Katrina from her wealthy father would greatly improve his circumstances.

As the story goes, Crane loses the girl to his rival, Brom Bones, – who is not necessarily a better man. Brom is a bully, but not a dummy. His epic prank,  – the ride of the headless horseman, exposes Ichabod’s credulous and cowardly nature. So, as first conceived, Ichabod Crane was a dork and a loser.

Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving. William J. Wilgus (1819–53), artist Chromolithograph, c. 1856

Ichabod Crane, Respectfully Dedicated to Washington Irving. William J. Wilgus (1819–53), artist, c. 1856

Irving would have loved Jeff Goldblum‘s Ichabod Crane in the 1980 NBC television version of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Before, on the cusp of  the 20th and 21st centuries, the classic tale vanished.

In Tim Burton’s 1999 movie, Sleepy Hollow, Crane was reimagined as his opposite,  a man of science, brave enough to overcome his fears, – and solve crime!  Within 20 years, pop culture transformed Ichabod Crane from zero to hero. While the gifted Johnny Depp imbued his character with a bit of authentic dorkiness,  – his movie idol, swoon-inducing looks obliterated the literary image of Ichabod Crane.

Johnny Depp & Christina Ricci in Sleepy Hollow.

Johnny Depp & Christina Ricci in Sleepy Hollow.

In 2013, we got a Fox TV series that is a sort of Sleepy Hollow / Rip Van Winkle mash-up. The latest Ichabod Crane is a refugee from the 18th century trapped in our time.  He’s educated and intelligent, has courtly manners, a scrupulous sense of honor, and a wicked sense of humor. On top of that is layered so much courage, that Crane’s job is keeping the world from going to the devil – literally. Not a hero, a superhero.

As played by the mesmerizing Tom Mison, – however preposterous the story line, a lot of educated and rational people are willing to suspend disbelief long enough to watch this incarnation of Ichabod Crane.

Tim Mison as Ichabod Crane - www.fox.com

Tim Mison as Ichabod Crane courtesy of http://www.fox.com

But before we part, a quick jump back to Washington Irving, the creator. He is thought to have named his  Ichabod Crane character for Colonel Ichabod Bennett Crane (1787-1857), a man Irving met in 1814. Colonel Crane went on to serve the nation an astonishing 48 years, – so he wasn’t a model for the protagonist’s flaws, – rather, Irving just really liked that name, Ichabod Crane.  — Happy Halloween!

1848 daguerrotype of Col. Ichabod Crane

Col. Ichabod B. Crane

* Protestant naming practices are also especially valued, because married women don’t always lose their birth names – as happens in Catholic families from the nineteenth century and earlier.

Leave a comment

Filed under American history, New York History

The Notorious George Barlow – Part 3

The Brute and Bully At Home

George Barlow’s life before 1657 is a void. He brought two sons, Moses and Aaron with him to Sandwich, but he had no wife.  Some researchers conjecture the marriage and births took place in England, and that George may have had other children. Presumably, his first wife died, and, presumably, of natural causes, but this article is about George’s life with a new wife.

The year 1657 was a milestone year, too, for Jane Besse, albeit a sad one. Her husband Anthony, one of the town’s original founders, fell ill in February and died in May. In the 18 years before, Anthony and Jane had built a house in the Spring Hill section, improved land, acquired livestock and other necessities that sustained a family of five girls and two boys.

Anthony Besse had a will, like most wills, a standard legal instrument that conveys property to heirs, but a few details stand out for me. Anthony names Jane his executrix, proof that he trusted in her judgment and abilities, but this was not uncommon. My attention was drawn to the bequests:

To Jane my wife, three Cowes… blacking Moose and Cherrey…

“To Dorcas my daughter two heifers… Nubbin and Spark and one more now

 which we call young moose;

“To Ann my daughter one heifer which we call pretty

To Nehemiah my son one heifer formerly Disposed to him Called Coll:

“… unto my two sonnes…Nehemiah and David…two steers…Burnett & Raven; 

“To my Daughter Mary one heifer wee call browne; 

“To my Daughter Jane one heifer wee call Daysey.”

Most seventeenth century wills designate livestock the same way as inanimate property, stating a number of cows, steers, horses, etc. That the Besse animals had names (Nubbin, Spark, Pretty, Brownie, Daisy…) recognizing them as unique individuals suggests the Besse family was good natured and caring.  Anthony knew his children’s favorites and assigned his gifts accordingly  – to make them happy. Yet, how hard it would have been for the Besses to be happy when this thoughtful and loving man was gone from their lives.

Some months after  she buried Anthony, Jane gave birth to his last child.  Coping with eight fatherless children, a house, farm, animals, and grief, would be daunting to the stoutest heart, and we don’t know how long the Widow Besse was on her own. It was normal that Jane would remarry, but that she (or any woman) would choose  the cruel and tyrannical George Barlow – may be beyond understanding.

The date of their marriage escaped record, but Plymouth County Court documents that tell us – it wasn’t going well. On March 4, 1661/62, Jane’s eldest daughters, Dorcas, Ann, and Mary Besse, went before the court for -

“crewell and unnatural practice toward their father-in-law George Barlow.”

Having failed to earn his stepdaughters’ respect at home, George handled them like he handled everyone who pissed him off, – he hauled them  into court. To be fair, details of the case suggest the girls were not entirely blameless,  and punishment was duly ordered. At the same time, the court recognized the Barlow household was getting out of control. George and Jane -

“were both severely reproved for their most ungodly living in contention with the other, and admonished to live otherwise.”

Conflict was inevitable when George moved in with Jane, – into the house built by and filled with memories of Anthony Besse. To make that work would have required a man of great sensitivity and delicacy, – not the man known from Cape Cod to Boston for his dickishness. George appears in court again, on  June 3, 1662 as evil stepfather.

You’ll recall that Anthony Besse’s will gave his daughter, Jane, a heifer the little girl probably named herself, Daysey (Daisy) and which she undoubtedly loved as a remembrance of her departed father. So George took it away. If he gave a reason, the court ruled it invalid:

“concerning a cow belonging to Jane, daughter of Anthony Bessey, of Sandwich, the Court have ordered G[e]orge Barlow, in whose hands the cow has been for some time, to return her to the overseers of the estate of the said Anthony Bessey, to be disposed of by them for the use and the good of the said Jane Bessey.”

Also in 1662, two of the Besse girls he took to court, Ann and Mary, got married, which would have decreased domestic tension. Then, in 1664, Nehemiah Besse, Jane’s eldest son, reached the age of majority and took over his father’s property. This prompted George and Jane to move some miles away from Spring Hill to Pocasset, (part of Bourne, Massachusetts today). A change of scene can mean a fresh start – and a chance to make life better, but George got worse.

On 6 March 6, 1665/66,  George was fined ten shillings for being drunk – a second time. Then in May 1665, he was accused of -

attempting the chastity of Abigaill, the wife of Jonathan Pratt, by aluring words and actes of force.”

It seems a bit surprising that after these public transgressions, Jane bore George two sons, John (about 1669) and Nathan (1670).  Because she was also cited by the court for the couple’s scream fights, it’s doubtful she meekly forgave her husband. And to suggest that George also used “actes of force” on his wife, is consistent with his character.  In 1677, he was back in court for being “turbulent, and threatening to drive away the minister, Mr. Smith.” He returned in 1678 for being a “turbulent fellow” and was bound over for the next court session.

Fanatical, delusional, or just plain mean, George Barlow believed he was always right. There’s no evidence he ever tried to reform his antisocial behavior, or ever regretted the suffering he caused, and he held grudges to the grave.  In his will, to Aaron and Moses, sons of his first marriage, George gave only five shillings each, adding, “that is all I give them,” – showing us the sadist who couldn’t resist a verbal twist of the knife.

A story that claims George Barlow “ended his days alone and in want,” is widespread and popular. A version in Quaker tradition says that George was reduced to begging for food, and was fed by the very victims of his religious persecution.  Such an end would be poetic justice, karma, and just deserts for this horrendously horrible human being, – the trouble with it is that it’s not true. For the Quakers, especially, this is a morality tale stressing the virtue of forgiveness, even for our worst enemies. In real life, the craven George Barlow got away clean.

As mentioned earlier, George had a will (August 4, 1684), because he had an estate. While it may have amounted to less than his neighbors, – eight acres, a house, farm stock and equipment, and household furnishings, – it refutes the notion that George was destitute and starving on the streets of Sandwich.

He wasn’t alone either.  The sons he had with Jane, John and Nathan, managed to stay in his good graces; he named them co-executors in his will. George left his house, land, livestock, and all remaining worldly goods to the boys and their mother. Time to make a will meant he also had time to make his spiritual reckoning, and prepare any arguments he’d might need for a heavenly court.

Despite all that passed between them, there’s little doubt Jane Besse Barlow dutifully nursed her truculent husband throughout his last illness.  The awful George Barlow likely died in his own bed, surrounded by family on a lovely fall day in 1684.  He would have imparted his final words, probably religious admonishments, and had a good death. – So the tale of George Barlow illustrates that life is not fair.

In parting, The Barlow progeny all appear to have been respected members of the community and some married into Quaker families.  John and Nathan, the ones in accord with their father at the end,  had seven sons between them, – but none of them carried the name George.

I imagine Jane a happier widow this time around. I picture her pausing between chores to gaze toward the hearth. The aroma of a meat and vegetable stew emanates from an iron kettle to mingle with baking bread.  Jane takes this moment before the children and the grandchildren come inside for the meal to revel in the unaccustomed peace in her home, – and gives her heartfelt thanks to God.

 

SOURCES:

Plymouth Court Records. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010)

 The Great Migration Begins: Immigrants to New England 1620-1633, Volumes I-III. (Online database: AmericanAncestors.org, New England Historic Genealogical Society, 2010)

Cape Cod, Its People and Their History, Henry C. Kittredge; 1930.

Sandwich Historical Society; http://sandwichhistory.org

The History of The Society of Friends on Cape Cod by James Warren Gould; http://www.capecodquakers.org/smm_history.html

George Barlow of Sandwich Massachusetts – From the research of Edson Barlow; Barlow Genealogy 1998-2004; http://www.barlowgenealogy.com/GeorgeofSandwich/georgemass.html

2 Comments

Filed under American history, Colonial History, Massachusetts History, social history

“The Notorious George Barlow” – Part 2

The Scourge of the Quakers – A Tyrant’s Rise and Fall

            In 1657, George Barlow, a stranger to town with two sons and no wife, swore the Oath of Fidelity in Sandwich, Massachusetts. George declared he was free of legal bond, a  member of the church (Congregational, of course), that he would defend the colony and vote on local governance issues. Thus, the forty-something single father, George Barlow met the standard for respectability, but his life prior to this moment seems lived off the record.

It happened that the term for the current Sandwich constable, William Bassett, was coming to an end.  On Bassett’s watch, Boston had disturbing reports that Plymouth Colony folks treated strangers with charity and tolerated differing views on Christianity as matters of conscience.

The Puritan masters lived in daily terror of eternal damnation and had documented sightings of Satan. They had reports of Quaker missionaries avoiding Boston for alternative routes into the country, so the government alert level was “code red.” And someone in Boston knew George Barlow was the blunt instrument they needed. On June 1, 1658, the General Court appointed Barlow constable for Sandwich – with a special mandate to harass religious dissenters, – and those who aided them.

The constable was tasked with jailing local offenders, administering punishment, and collecting fines and fees. He was also granted certain powers that included conscripting men to assist him. He could also appraise property and choose what goods to take in forfeiture when people had no money. A perk of the office allowed the constable to pocket ten percent of all monies collected. For a bully like George Barlow, was a dream come true. He could torment Quakers – and anyone else he liked, while making a good living for himself, and earning points with Boston.

A woman addresses an early meeting of Quakers. Few 17th Century minds could deal with the concept of equality.Image

Knowing their faith forbade them taking oaths (for loyalty belonged to god alone) and to harm others, George targeted Quaker men to conscript as deputies. He knew they must refuse, they wouldn’t fight, and they’d be fined. George impoverished several Sandwich families. From those with no money, George took what would hurt the most, –even to the essentials of living,  food, livestock, tools, household goods that included cooking pots. He sent men to prison in Boston, leaving behind women and children to fend off cold, hunger, and likely sexual harassment from…Constable George Barlow.

Image

Prominent Sandwich townspeople sympathized with the persecuted Quakers and helped the affected families. Non-Quakers also refused to serve Barlow as deputies and paid the price. We know of a few men who told George Barlow what they thought of him to his face.

 “At the 1 March 1658/9 Court “George Barlow complained against

William Gifford and Edward Perry in an action of defamation…”

 Thomas Clark told the court in June 1660 that “G[e]orge Barlow is such an one that he is a shame and reproach to all his masters; and that he… stands convicted and recorded of a lie at Newberry.”

Yet, on October 2, 1660, Boston promoted George to Special Marshal for Sandwich,  – and Yarmouth – and Barnstable:

“marshal Gorge Barlow shall have libertie to apprehend ant forraigne Quaker or Quakers in any pte of this Jurisdiction and to be prosecuted according to order provided in that case.”

However, at this point, Barlow’s career had reached its zenith. A few months after his jurisdiction expanded, George himself was fined 20 shillings by the court for cruelty to… wait for it…a Quaker!

            George had seized Benjamin Allen and locked him into the stocks at Sandwich overnight – with no legal provocation. He was also cited “for other wronges done by him unto the said Allin.” At the same court session, George was also ordered to return a shirt and other clothing he had taken from Ralph Allen. Additionally, the William Allen family was one of those impoverished, and not because William was a Quaker (at the time), but because he allowed Quakers to hold meetings in his home.

The political tide was turning. The legislature of Massachusetts Bay hanged four Quakers on Boston Common between 1659 and 1661 that included wife, mother and preacher, Mary Dyer. That year, King Charles II “explicitly forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism.” [2]

George Barlow was less and less able to pass himself off as respectable by any standard. He drank, he picked fights, he disturbed the peace, and he hauled family members into court. After his term in law enforcement ended and with it, his authority over others, George Barlow faded away. There is no record of the day he died. Ironically, the memory of George Barlow remains alive because of the people he victimized.

The Society of Friends established the oldest continuous monthly meeting in America at Sandwich, Massachusetts and its historians tell a story that is not a literal account, but one that captures the Quaker essence in a charming way. Scott Corbett in his book, Cape Cod’s Way, put it this way:

 “At a time when William Allen was in prison in Boston, Barlow paid a visit to the Allen home. He took the cow and all the food he could find, including some given to Mrs. Allen by neighbors. Then for good measure he confiscated the only kettle she had, and leered at her triumphantly. “Now, Priscilla, how will thee cook for thy family and friends? Thee has no kettle.

“George,” said Priscilla, “that God who hears the young ravens when they cry will provide for them. I trust in that God, and I verily believe the time will come when thy necessity will be greater than mine.”

Legend has it that Priscilla Allen was right.

***

Dear Readers, I’m surprised myself to announce a Part 3,  George Barlow – The Brute and Bully At Home,  is yet to come.

 ***

[1]  Title quote from The American Genealogist; Vol. XXVI, No. 4; October, 1950; Barclay, Mrs. John E.; Ann (Besse) Hallet, Step-Mother of Abigail (Hallet) Alden.

[2]  Boston Martyrs – Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs

Sources:

Sandwich Historical Commission; http://sandwichhistory.org/

Mass Moments: Quakers Outlawed in Plymouth; http://www.massmoments.org/moment.cfm?mid=347

Mary Dyer – Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Dyer

Boston Martyrs – Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_martyrs

Sandwich Monthly Meeting; http://www.capecodquakers.org/

Title page of book on the persecution of Quakers in New England (1660-1661); http://teachpol.tcnj.edu/amer_pol_hist/thumbnail11.html

Comments Off

Filed under American history, Colonial History, Family History, Massachusetts History, Uncategorized

“The Notorious George Barlow” – Part 1

I’m thankful for a sprinkling of heretics (or as they are politely called today, – Protestants) that add color to an otherwise monotonous Roman Catholic background. I owe the debt to my paternal grandfather, James Patrick Henry Roane, Senior who, in 1921, married a devout Baptist, Edna Mae Keirstead.

Nana’s line includes clergymen, even saintly men, who suffered for their faith, among them, the Reverend Obadiah Holmes, an ancestor of Abraham Lincoln. At the other end of the spectrum, is my ninth great-grandfather, George Barlow. His claim to fame is that he made people suffer for their beliefs, and worse, – he enjoyed it.

An illustration of the public whipping of Obadiah Holmes, a baptist preacher by Puritan authorities of Massachusetts.

Barlow made his mark decades after the Mayflower Pilgrims established their little commonwealth in Plymouth. As that colony’s population multiplied, the founders’ ideals gave way to a new generation’s lust, — the lust for land. Families spread out and new settlements sprang up. By 1640, another 20,000 English settlers had come to New England.

The most notable arrivals disembarked further up the coast in 1630. They were another group of reformers, the Puritans. While the Pilgrims were religious refugees, chased from England to the Netherlands, the Puritans voluntarily left an England they found too tolerant.

Backed by investors expecting a good return from Massachusetts Bay, the industrious Puritans did not disappoint. The industrious newcomers rapidly established Boston as the political, commercial, financial, educational and religious center of New England. Granted authority they were denied in England (and blind to historical irony), the Puritans introduced religious persecution to the New World.

They mounted a particularly vicious campaign against the Quakers, which always struck me as odd, as I suspect it does most of us. If we modern folks know anything about this small Protestant denomination, also known as the Religious Society of Friends it’s the following:

- Quakers hold silent devotional meetings;

- Quakers organize to relieve human suffering worldwide;

- Quakers go to jail rather than kill for warring nations;

- Quakers engage in nonviolent protests against militarism and environmental destruction.

So how could the Puritans, fellow Christians, treat these peaceful souls so barbarously? Well, it turns out that present day Quakers have changed considerably since the 17th century. Shiny new Quakers were fervent believers, like new converts in any century. Among the early leaders were zealous evangelicals determined to sow god’s latest message in New World soil. But it wasn’t simple religious heresy that enraged the Puritans, – Quaker ideas threatened the social order.

Quakers believe that each human being is born with “inner light,” and therefore, all men and women are created equal. At meetings, anyone might be moved to share a divine insight, and they did not have a paid clergy class. Quakers addressed others as “friend,” – whether rich or poor, black or white, titled or commoner. Furthermore, owing allegiance only to god, Quakers refused to swear oaths to civil authorities.

To Puritans who saw wealth and position as signs of god’s favor and expected have-nots and other moral inferiors to show deference to those god had placed above them, Quakers were more than disobedient, they made themselves downright obnoxious. Consider that –

- Quaker men did not remove their hats to their ‘betters’ (for in god’s sight, no man was better than any other);

- Quakers lined the streets of Boston to hoot and heckle the governor as he passed by;

- Quakers burst into churches, interrupting Sunday worship, and provoking arguments with clergymen in front of their congregations.

So while these offenses will never justify the atrocities the Puritans committed against Quakers (and other dissenters), they add a dimension that helps us understand (a little) how it happened. And it was under these circumstances, in 1658, that the General Court of Massachusetts awarded drunkard and bully, George Barlow, his dream job.

In Part 2 in which I’ll fill you in on my ignoble ancestor’s reign of terror on colonial Cape Cod!

SELECTED SOURCES:

The title quote comes from The American Genealogist; Vol. XXVI, No. 4; October, 1950; Barclay, Mrs. John E.; Ann (Besse) Hallet, Step-Mother of Abigail (Hallet) Alden.

Obadiah Holmes at Wikipedia; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Obadiah_Holmes

Quakers: Persecution in colonial Massachusetts;

http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/The_Great_Republic_By_the_Master_Historians_Vol_I/quakershi_dg.html

Persecution of Quakers in Colonial New England, Excerpt from The Beginnings of New England by John Fiske, 1892; edited by Dainial MacAdhaimh, 2005.

1 Comment

Filed under American history, Colonial History, Family History, Keirstead / Kierstead, Massachusetts History, Roane / Roan / Ruane, social history

Why did O’Flaherty plant boiled potatoes?

I was excited when I acquired a copy of the Ayer’s American Almanac. Not only was it published in Lowell, Massachusetts, the ancestral city of my Roane clan, it’s the 1859 edition, – the year my Irish immigrant couple, John P. and Mary (Hurney) Roane were married. I liked to imagined the little booklet sitting on a shelf in their home on the comer of Gorham of Summer streets.

The purpose of the magazine, “For the health of All Nations,” was trumpeted by an angel on the cover.  Its enterprising publisher,  “Dr. James C. Ayer, Practical and Analytical Chemist,” had equal interest in promoting his financial health. Lengthy  articles describe the powers of Ayer’s Compound Concentrated Extract of Sarsaparilla, Ayer’s Cathartic Pills, and Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, to ease everyday complaints, and to cure virtually everything from deafness, partial blindness, fits, paralysis and tumors –  to gout and syphilis.

Cover of Ayer's American Almanac 1859

The booklet measures 4 5/8 by 7 inches.

Despite the relentless advertising, the almanac had practical utility. The annual calendar incorporated the Christian observances of Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Trinity and Advent. It listed anniversaries of national significance,  such as “Franklin born, 1706″ and “Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811.” And it wouldn’t be an almanac without the weather. Predictions of wind, rain, snow and temperature would have interested city dwellers and rural folk, just as we check the daily forecast. The almanac also offered amusement. Each calendar page had extra space at the bottom. Some months filled it with run-over text. Other months featured aphorisms, witticisms, doggerel – and jokes.

In my mind’s eye, I’d  picture John in the parlor reading aloud to Mary (who was illiterate), or to a small group of Sunday visitors enjoying a break in the work week.  I’d imagine hearing their laughter and cups clinking (whether filled with tea or something stronger, I can’t say).

Then after I read the booklet through, I wondered if I was wrong about the laughter. What would any native of Ireland think and feel about the following?

            “How much did yees ask for thim buttons?” inquired an Irish customer.

            “Fifteen cents.” 

            “I’ll give ye thirty-siven.”

            “I didn’t say fifty ─ I said fifteen,” replied the honest dealer.

            “Bedad, an’ I’ll give you tin cints, thin.”

 

            “Why in the world do you plant boiled potatoes, Mr. O”Flaherty?”

            “Shure, yer honor, I’m goin’ to thry the ixpirimint of raising them already biled for my own aiting.”

 

            “Did yoar fall hurt you?” said Pat to his friend who fell with his hed from a high ladder.

             “No, Patrick, shure, it was hitting the ground that hurthed me.”

 

            The Irishman’s plan for casting cannon was, ─First take a hole, and then pour the iron around it. 

Today, this seems benign humor,  some gentle ribbing, – and no harm done. Certainly no reason to be upset, right? Now consider these other bits of fun from 1859:

            “Say, Pomp, you nigger, where you get dat new hat?”

            “Why at de shop, ob course.”

            “What is de price of such an article as dat?”

            “I don’t know, nigger, I don’t know; de shopkeeper wasn’t dar!”

 

            Sambo says, “Why am my belubed Dinah like de cloth dey make in Lowell? Cos she’s an unbleached she─ting.”

In both the Irish and the Black ‘jokes,’ ethnic speech patterns signal the low intelligence and low character of the subjects. Instantly recognized stereotypes provide the readers of the dominant culture with a good laugh. If the source of the humor is the same, – why is it only the last  two retain shock value?

In part, the ethnic slurs pop; but the rest of it is recognition that African Americans still do not enjoy the full-fledged membership privileges that Irish Americans have in modern society.

After the Civil War, things began to turn around for the Irish in America. They fought for the Union with distinction, and earned the gratitude of the nation. Gradually,  “real” Americans (white natives) became more accepting, and government jobs, – fire, police, public works, and other essential services were opened up to the Irish.

In 1888, John and Mary’s son joined the US Post Office and carried letters for 40 years. This modest post, paid John F. Roane enough to purchase a house and to raise a large, family. The Lowell newspapers over decades, reported the exploits of Roane grandsons – in  sports, the arts, the military, politics, and respectable Lowell society.

Yet  barely 20 years before his son got that post office job, John P. Roane died – and Lowell newspapers didn’t carry a word of his passing. Though a Lowell resident for 18 years,  an American citizen,  property owner and businessman,  the Irish native’s life went unremarked.

So we come back to Ayer’s American Almanac.  What do  its “jokes’ reveal about that period  – and about our own times?

I still wonder whether John Roane was angered by the characterization of the Irish in America or if being raised under English oppressors had inured him to insult.

I wonder, too, whether he felt sympathy for that other marginalized people – or whether he  laughed.

Notes:

1. The Old Farmers Almanac is still around and on the web – http://www.farmersalmanac.com

2.  There is a little bit about J. C. Ayer at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cook_Ayer

Comments Off

Filed under African American history, Ethnic humor, Irish History, Irish Immigrants to the USA, Lowell, Massachusetts, Massachusetts History, Roane / Roan / Ruane, social history

Mr. Murphy’s Beer

Moving into an old house is a bit like marrying into a family where instead of mingling blood, we mingle ink on property records. We redecorate; we inhabit kitchens, living spaces and bedrooms; we rarely think about the others who washed dishes, entertained guests, and slept within the same walls. However, every now and then we do, as I was reminded that my house used to be the Murphy’s place.

Pre-1962 Ballantine XXX Ale Can

Ballantine XXX Ale; matches the can I found.

Most original parts of this 1915 working-class bungalow have been replaced. The latest was the front porch. Over the years, I kept an eye on mortar crumbling and bricks sliding off piers through a basement window placed oddly (for the view), but fortunately (for monitoring) underneath the porch. Besides deteriorating structural elements, I saw only dead leaves, a green plastic flower pot and a couple of brown bottles, happily hidden from street view by lattice.

CCarling Black Label flat top can pre-1962.

Carling Black Label flat top can.

When the contractor crew finished digging for the new footers, they said they’d set aside some glass they thought was interesting. After they left, under cold, damp and darkening skies, I gazed upon the “interesting” heap of naked beer bottles and rusted cans. Ugh. I’d rather read about archaeology than do it, but this was my house history, even if it wasn’t news that folks enjoy drinking beer on the front stoop, – and sometimes opt for the most expedient disposal method. I got myself an empty recycle bin and began the filthy work.

Every bottle was dirt-smeared gray. Big clots of wet soil and decomposing stuff clung to some. Whitish bits… ghosts of product labels stuck to some bottles. Then a brown bottle with something green on the neck caught my eye. Though the paper was eroded at the edges, it showed a clear image of a harp behind lettering that read, Imported Guinness Stout.

Lower down on the face of the bottle, about two thirds of an off-white, oval label remained. There was the harp, in finer detail, but just half of it with “Trade Mark” barely legible. Around the edges in bold…

GUINNESS FOR… STOUT  ST JAMES’S GAT…DUBLIN

…and inside that…

Bottled by

Guinness Exports, Ltd

Liverpool, Eng.

So among the American beers before pop-top cans (after 1962) was an Irish import, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, also known as FES, and described by the company,

“Foreign Extra Stout is a beer like no other. The most full-flavoured of all. Singular and striking. Uniquely satisfying. Brewed with extra hops and roasted barley for a natural bite. Bitter and sweet. Refreshingly crisp.”

Good advertising-speak for a bitter and high alcohol (8%) brew. Though all the other labels had worn away, enough bottles matched for me to know that Dennis Murphy (1895-1977), the former owner, identified strongly with his Irish roots, – and liked a drink with a kick.
Guinness.FES.RoundLabel-1950s.2

Dennis Maurice Murphy was born in County Kerry, came to the US in 1915, fought in World War I and became a US citizen. He worked to support his parents before he married Anna, another Irish immigrant, in 1920. He made tires before he landed a job with the city fire department. On his pay, the Murphys were able to buy a house and raise three daughters. Dennis topped off his career as District Fire Chief, and well deserved to savor his special brew on occasion.

I tried to attach dates to Mr. Murphy’s Guinness FES. I studied label images never finding an exact match (though the image above is close), and what I read on history of Foreign Extra Stout in the United States was inconsistent. Some say the product was not popular when it returned here as Prohibition ended and  World War II stopped its import again until 1956 and it was withdrawn shortly afterwards. Perhaps liquor purveyors in this Irish “Hungry Hill” neighborhood, purchased extra stock to keep on hand for good customers  – like Mr. Murphy.

Guinness Trademark

Sources:
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinness_Foreign_Extra_Stout#cite_note-FAQ-3

Guinness in America https://sites.google.com/site/jesskidden/guinnessinamerica

Beer Cans http://www.rustycans.com/HISTORY/history.html

Guinness Collectors Club http://www.guinntiques.com/brandidentity.aspx

Guinness Company Site http://www.guinness.com/en-gb/thebeer-fes.html

A Bottle of Guinness Please; by David Hughes http://books.google.com/books?id=_tOZqDtYv9QC&pg=PT132&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

Comments Off

December 25, 2013 · 4:30 pm

One Band of Brothers

November is the appropriate month to let you see the full image of this blog’s current header  featuring my great grandfather and four of his five sons in uniform in 1918.

Five men in uniforms stand in front of  a large tent at Camp Devens, Massachusetts in 1918.

Click for full size

They are at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, better known as Fort Devens, but originally a temporary spot for quick training military troops from New England. The likely scenario is that the boys were awaiting, or had received orders to ship out to their respective duty stations.

Their widowed father, John F. Roane, Sr., made the journey from Lowell to say goodbye and every man looking toward the camera was acutely aware that war meant this might be the last photograph they would ever take together.

I read warmth and pride on the face of my great-grandfather, who is dressed in his US Post Office uniform. The three army enlistees look appropriately serious, but, under the seaman’s cap, John Francis Roane, Jr. looks kind of excited to me.

When John registered in the 1917 draft, he was a single man employed as an ice cream tester, which sounds like a dream job to me, but John may have wanted work with a bit more weight. He certainly found it, as he served on a submarine chaser out of Newport, Rhode Island.

John’s twin brother, Francis Roane, (on the other side of John, Sr.) had more reason to look serious look. His year-old son died of meningitits in 1916, and he was  supporting a wife and infant daughter as a machinist in the US Cartridge factory at draft time. The army sent him overseas.

In 1921, Frank went back to Europe with a group of American Legionnaires who were feted by the king of Belgium. Frank famously struck up a conversation with the monarch himself (Albert I),  who remarked he liked Frank very much. The incident became legend of “the Peach,” as he became known in Lowell. There is plenty of evidence that Frank Roane shook off his early tragedy and knew how to have a good time.

Paul Roane is the short fellow on the end in the cloth cap and was the eldest of this generation of Roane men. When he registered for the draft, he was unmarried, and a secretary at the offices of the Harvard Brewery.  I know little about his service, but that he was proud of it, as he had been elected commander of American Legion Post 87.

James P.H. Roane, Sr . is the tall man on the left in this shot and my grandfather. I have not delved into his service record yet. He was  single and out on the road as a representative of the Loyal Order of Moose, and in registered for the draft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Though, like his older brothers, he was  a member of the American Legion, I suspect his military experience wasn’t  satisfying.

I recall my dad, James P.H. Roane, Jr., telling me that his father advised him to enlist in 1942, the year he graduated high school, rather than wait to be drafted, because he would have  no power to choose the job he’s do. Consequently, my  father enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force, and was a flight instructor stateside for the duration.

We must not forget the service of women. My dad’s sister was a WAVE, which stood for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, but the branch was officially, the US Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), and I’m delighted to report she recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

2 Comments

Filed under Family History, Lowell, Massachusetts, Massachusetts History, Roane / Roan / Ruane