Monthly Archives: August 2010

Texas History Controversy in Depth

The controversy over Texas history textbooks that emerged earlier this spring has been analyzed in more depth by Vote IQ.  The link to all the information well worth reading is:  http://www.voteiq.com/hot-topics/textbooks-intro

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Last Home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis Yields New Information

Story by April Williams, “Katrina Uncovers a Little History in Mississippi,” CNN, August 28, 2010

You can’t miss Beauvoir as you drive along scenic U.S. Highway 90 through Biloxi, Mississippi. Its grand staircase, with the railings scrolling outward, welcomes you like open arms.

The front porch wraps around the entire front of the home, supported by regal white pillars, common during the antebellum period.

It’s the kind of front porch where you can envision someone sitting in a rocking chair with a glass of iced tea, as the breeze from the beach offers the only respite from a humid August afternoon.

When Hurricane Katrina devastated Mississippi’s coastal areas, the storm tore up the home. But it also peeled back a little slice of history about Beauvoir that might never have been known otherwise.

Beauvoir was the last home of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Some call Davis a forgotten hero of American history. He was a graduate of West Point, a hero in the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican-American War, and a senator from Mississippi.

When Davis served in Washington, he helped get the Smithsonian Institution up and running after the founder, James Smithson, died.

In the months before the Civil War, Davis resigned from the Senate and was selected as president of the Confederacy.

When the war ended, he was charged with treason and, although he was never tried or convicted, he lost the right to run for public office.

He later settled in Biloxi, and purchased Beauvoir from a family friend for $5,500, although the owner died shortly after Davis made the first payment. It was his last home.

Five years ago, Katrina ripped the front porch completely off, taking part of the slate roof with it, and knocking down several support columns. Windows were blown out, and water flooded the interior. Furniture and pictures dating to the 1800s were waterlogged.

Winterthur Museum, out of Delaware, voluntarily restored the furniture and paintings. A paint historian surveyed the interior of the home after Katrina to ensure restoration was historically accurate.

This was a tedious project, involving Q-tips, paint remover, and a microscope. But the effort paid off, and with a bonus — because things were discovered about the home that might never have been revealed if Katrina hadn’t ravaged South Mississippi.

Then and now photos of Katrina’s devastation

The historian learned the white doors were originally painted a faux oak color. The director of Beauvoir, Rick Forte, explained that the doors were too large to be made from real oak, a heavy wood.

So the original owner opted for cypress and had the doors finished in “the king of wood” oak finish, as Forte described it.

The white mantles over the fireplaces in the home were originally painted a faux marble. The historian also discovered fresco art on the ceiling of the reception hall, the front parlor and the library.

The most revealing discovery was the architecture.

Beauvoir was built in the mid-1800s by James Brown. “We always wondered whether he was his own architect or if he hired one from New Orleans,” said Forte.

It turns out Brown was the architect, and in some ways, not a very good one. Many mistakes had to be repaired, in addition to the restoration work after the hurricane.

“It cost $4 million to restore the Beauvoir house, but it is a priceless house,” according to Forte.

Today, Beauvoir is anchored to the ground with a foundation of concrete and rebar. The last national historic landmark house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is fully restored to its original charm and splendor.

“It looks as good today as the day they finished it in 1852,” Forte boasts.

As many as 4,000 people toured the home for its grand reopening, but tourists are sparse now, thanks to the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. But Forte counts his blessings as far as the home’s survival of Katrina.

“It was like going from hell to heaven, to where we are now,” he said.

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Nazi Ballerina Spy Caused Allied Setback in Norway

From BBC News, August 26, 2010, “Blonde Nazi Ballerina Caused War Setback”:

The secret government papers suggest that Marina Lee, a blonde ballerina, stole battle plans which led to the fall of Norway to Germany in 1940.

According to the files, Germany was close to pulling out of Norway before Lee passed on details of the plan.

The documents were part of an archive released by British spy agency MI5.

Lee is said to have infiltrated the headquarters of the British Expeditionary Forces in Norway and obtained information about the plan drawn up by British commander Gen Auchinleck.

German commander, Gen Eduard Dietl, who was holding the Norwegian port of Narvik, was reportedly considering a withdrawal, but the disclosure of these details meant his forces could block the Auchinleck plan.

British, French and Norwegian troops were later forced to withdraw from German-controlled Norway.

The information about Lee was disclosed after Gerth Van Wijk, a German agent who had changed sides to work for the British, recounted the story he had heard from von Finckenstein, a German intelligence officer.

It was an account backed by another agent, KC Hansen.

Van Wijk said that “with these details in hand Dietl was able to rearrange his defence and to defeat Auchinleck”.

Born in St Petersburg, Russia, Lee was married to a Norwegian communist and had trained as a ballerina before becoming “a highly valued and experienced German agent”, according to the files.

She is described as “blonde, tall, with a beautiful figure, refined and languid in manner” and reportedly spoke five languages.

One account says she personally knew Stalin – leading to conjectures she was working for both Berlin and Moscow who, at that time, were on the same side, our reporter says.

The BBC’s Rick Fountain says the British force went to Norway to stop strategic material falling into German hands, hoping to bolster anti-Nazi resistance, and even maybe build an Allied force to threaten Germany from the North.

But the plan turned into a fiasco which brought down Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and brought Winston Churchill back to power, our reporter says.

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History4everyone

If you are interested in history, check out http://www.history4everyone.com.  There’s something there for everyone!  Book suggestions for adults and children, teaching advice, travel news, recipes, conference information, museum and historical websites, and more!

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Maryland Slave Plantation Excavation Reveals Brutal Slave History

L’Hermitage, a slave plantation with a brutal history, located near the Monocracy River in Frederick, Maryland, is being excavated by archaeologists and has been revealing clues to its past.   The full story is from the Washington Post, August 26, 2010, by Michael Ruane:

From the old road that crossed the Monocacy River, you could plainly see the slave cabins of L’Hermitage.

They were lined up in front of the plantation house, not hidden out back, as was the custom. And passersby could see the implements of oppression — whips and stocks — that the owners used to control their property.

Even in 1800, this was extreme for Frederick County, this brutal, Caribbean style of bondage, with its French emigre masters, aggressive displays of subjection, and its 90 slaves.

Last week, in the midst of a summer-long archaeological dig, experts using surface-penetrating radar found what are believed to be remnants of two cabins that once made up the small slave village that served L’Hermitage.

And the National Park Service says the find adds another page to the story of the mysterious plantation, whose tropical-influenced main house still stands, an unlikely witness near the banks of the Monocacy, more than 200 years after it was built.

“It’s a huge deal,” said National Park Service archaeologist Joy Beasley, cultural resources program manager for Monocacy National Battlefield, outside Frederick, where the plantation is located. “It’s an extraordinary site and very unusual, and I do not know of anything like it anywhere else.”

L’Hermitage, 748 acres at its height, was established about 1793 by the far-flung Vincendiere family. They were planters who probably fled from the revolution in France, whence they had gone before the slave revolts in what is today Haiti, where they had large plantations.

They were an unusual family: foreign aristocrats with many children, an absentee father, and a need for an inordinate number of bondservants whom they treated with singular brutality.

And they stood out amid the slave-holding farmers of German descent in central Maryland, where the land and climate called for smaller tracts and populations of 10 to 20 slaves.

The Park Service acquired land that had been L’Hermitage in 1993. In 2003, a survey found, just below the surface, a swath of artifacts that experts guessed marked the slave village. It was not until this year that there was funding for a dig, which began in June and is scheduled to run through September.

The stone foundations of four cabins have been unearthed, amid sweltering heat, and the mournful horns of trains passing nearby.

And artifacts — buttons, beads, pieces of dishware — are now being combed from the site, in what the Park Service says is a rare glimpse into one of the region’s most unusual historical saga.

“It’s emotional,” said Alex Brueggeman, 21, a Howard University anthropology major of Haitian descent, who volunteered on the dig. “The first time I came out I got the goose bumps and everything. It made me extremely proud to be Haitian. . . . This is an incredible experience on so many different levels.”

It is a story of international upheaval, racial oppression, family complexity and, perhaps, a touch of religious bigotry. And it is a classic account of slavery in the decades before the Civil War.

The Vincendieres were French Catholics, and they probably came to Maryland, in part, because it was a traditional refuge for Catholics. Hundreds of other French refugees had already fled there, project researchers said.

The household consisted of Marguerite Mangan de la Vincendiere, several of her children, and a man who may have been her husband’s cousin, Jean Payan de Boisneuf.

The family patriarch, Etienne Bellumeau de la Vincendiere, never joined his relatives in Maryland, opting, for unknown reasons, to relocate to Charleston, S.C., according to Beasley and a study of the site she edited.

The family brought to Maryland, most likely from Haiti, 12 slaves, the maximum allowed French refugees at the time. They included a 5-year-old boy named Lambert, an 8-year-old girl named Fillelle, two 16-year-olds — one of whom was born in Mozambique — and several adults.

But by 1800, the planters owned 90 slaves, making them the second-largest slaveholders in Frederick County at that time, Beasley said.

“That’s roughly 10 times the number of enslaved people that you would have expected them to have” for an area in which the main crops were wheat, flax and clover, Beasley said. Plantations with that many slaves usually grew cotton, tobacco or sugar.

“It’s a very unusual circumstance,” she said.

Beasley said that the family might have been dealing in slaves or renting them out or that it might have been trying to re-create the kind of harsh, large-scale slave system that brought status in Haiti.

Cruel treatment

A dark portrait of what is likely L’Hermitage appears in the 1798 account of the Polish writer and patriot Julian Niemcewicz, who happened to pass by in a carriage and probably was told about the plantation by his driver.

Niemcewicz reported that Boisneuf lived with many slaves “whom he treats with the greatest tyranny.”

“One can see on the home farm instruments of torture, stocks, wooden horses, whips etc.,” Niemcewicz wrote. “Two or three negroes crippled with torture have brought legal action against him.”

Beasley and another Park Service archaeologist, Sara Rivers-Cofield, now with the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory, point out that the account may be affected by anti-Catholic, anti-French feeling among the mostly Protestant county residents. But in sum it is probably accurate.

Members of the family were charged in nine state court cases with cruelty against their slaves, a remarkable occurrence when mistreatment of slaves was commonplace, Rivers-Cofield said Monday.

Boisneuf was accused of “cruelly and immercifully beating and whipping” slaves Harry, Jerry, Abraham, Stephon, Soll and George.

One of the Vincendiere daughters, Victoire, was charged with beating her slave, Jenny, according to court records.

Those charges were dismissed, Rivers-Cofield found. But in 1797 Boisneuf was found guilty of “not sufficiently clothing and feeding his negroes,” and of beating a slave named Shadrack.

L’Hermitage was sold in 1827. And over the years, as family members died, the Vincendieres gradually sold their slaves, including 17 for $2,925 to a buyer from Louisiana in 1825.

One of those was Fillelle, then 35, who had come with the family to Maryland when she was 8.

When Victoire died in 1854, her will ordered the eventual freedom of the remaining slaves in her possession. Of the 90 people once held in bondage at L’Hermitage, she had three left to set free.

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Well-preserved WWI Soldier Skeleton Found in Italian Glacier

Story by Nick Pisa for Daily Telegraph, August 25, 2010:

An amateur historian has discovered the mummified body of a World War I solider frozen into an Italian glacier.

Dino De Bernardin made the grim find as he walked in mountains close to his home, which had been the scene of bitter fighting between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops between 1915 and 1917.

At an altitude of 2,800metres, his attention was drawn to a ‘bundle of rags’ that he saw emerging from the melting ice.

When he went to investigate, he was shocked to find the soldier’s skeleton complete with rotting boots.
Remains of soldier in the snow

Mummified remains: An amateur historian made the grim find as he walked in mountains close to his home in north-east Italy. The area was the scene of fighting between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops in World War I

Police were called to the scene just below a cable car station at Serauta close to Canazei in the Marmolada mountain range of the Dolomites in north-east Italy. Close to the border with Austria, the area is a popular ski resort in the winter.

Alpine rescue teams were also alerted and the skeleton was carefully dug out from the glacier before being taken to the mortuary of the local hospital.

Today an emotional Mr De Bernardin, who is a collector of World War I memorabilia, said: ‘I couldn’t believe it when I realised that what I had found were the remains of a brave soldier.

At first I saw a bundle of rags poking out of the melting ice and then when I got closer to have a look I recognised the material as military leggings that were common among First World War soldiers.

’I dug away at the ice and then I saw the bones of the skeleton slowly emerging and I could see he was still wearing boots although they had practically rotted away and it was then that I realised I had found the corpse of a soldier.’

Mr De Bernardin added: ‘I have always been interested in the First World War and have been collecting memorabilia for years but this is the first time that I have found the remains of  a fallen soldier.

’It’s difficult to say what happened to him and how he died. But from talking to the police we think he was probably hit by shrapnel from a grenade or he could have stepped on a mine as the bones were not all in one piece – death in war is never pleasant.

’The head is also missing, the torso has been split in half and the legs are damaged.

‘But what struck me was how well preserved the uniform and the boots were – you could still see the nails in the soles and these factors for me suggest it is an Italian solider.’

Canazei Map

The remains were excavated by a police forensic team and taken back down in a zinc coffin where they will now be examined by a pathologist to determine the exact cause of death and his identity. He will later be buried in a military cemetery.

During the First World War the Dolomites were the scene of fierce battles between Italian and Austro-Hungarian troops. A characteristic of the fighting was the fact artillery was used at altitude with horses and donkeys being used to carry the guns up to 9,000ft.

Ninety years on: The town of Canazei, in the Italian Dolomites is now a thriving ski resort but during the First World War it was the scene of fierce battles, with military artefacts littering the hillsides around the townNinety years on: The town of Canazei, in the Italian Dolomites, is now a thriving ski resort but during the First World War it was the scene of fierce battles, with military artefacts littering the hillsides around the town

The area is still littered with military hardware and gas masks, helmets, berets, guns and ammunition. Unexploded bombs and hand grenades are often found as are bits of uniform – more than 9,000 soldiers died in the mountains from either fighting, avalanches or the cold.

It is not the first time a mummified body has been found in the Dolomites.

In 1991, the 5,000-year-old corpse of an Iron Age warrior was found and named Oetzi. He is now on display in Bolzano museum in a special temperature-controlled refrigerated cabinet. 

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Nuremberg Laws Acquired by National Archives

Michael E. Ruane, “Huntington Library to give original Nuremberg Laws to National Archives,” Washington Post, August 25, 2010

The laws are being transferred by the Huntington Library, in San Marino, where they have been held since they were placed there by Gen. George S. Patton Jr. in 1945.

Each set of the 1935 laws is typed on four pieces of paper, said Archives spokeswoman Susan Cooper. One set is believed to have been signed by Hitler.

One section, the so-called “laws for the protection of German blood and German honor,” forbade such things as marriages between Jews and Germans, and extramarital relations between Jews and “subjects of the state of Germany.”

Another section, the “Reichs Citizen Law,” decreed that a citizen was only a person “of German or German related blood who proves by his attitude that he is willing and capable to serve the German people and the Reich faithfully,” according to a translation provided by the library. Both laws extended Hitler’s brutal subjugation of the Jews that culminated in the Holocaust.

“It’s so simple, it’s bone-chilling,” Cooper said of the crude laws. “It makes your spine crawl.”

Cooper said the Huntington Library decided to hand the laws over to the Archives because the federal repository has the records of the famous Nuremberg war crimes trials, where surviving Nazi leaders were prosecuted after the war.

“It really does complete the collection that we have of the Nuremberg war crimes trial materials,” she said. “That’s the one set of documents that we’re missing.”

The Huntington Library “felt that these documents belonged in the National Archives,” Cooper said.

The formal transfer, from Huntington library president Steven S. Koblik to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero is scheduled to take place Wednesday at the library.

Cooper said the Archives hopes to exhibit the documents sometime this fall.

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