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Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Right to Life

This is not about history or about writing, per se. It's about the right to life, to choose the course of my life without someone else charging me a fee for it.

Doctors are often given certain freedoms because we so often trust them with vital parts of our lives. However, doctors are just human beings. We are human beings as well. And we all have the capacity to judge for ourselves in many cases, including some medical issues. Take blood pressure for instance. I have high blood pressure and I check that pressure twice a week myself, on a meter that I purchased at a pharmacy. It's a pretty accurate meter and hasn't given me a wrong reading yet. I have medication that I take every day... the same medication that I have taken for years and will take until the day I die.

The timing of my eventual death is now pretty much in the hands of someone else, not a supernatural deity whom most of us would agree has greater resources at his command than any doctor on the planet. If I don't show up at my appointment, pay my usual fee, then I don't receive that little slip of paper that gives me the right to continue life for another six months.

In most parts of the world, they call this extortion... receiving money for no particular reason but for the fact that you can. And they hold our lives in the balance.

Seeing a doctor on a regular basis is not just a good idea. It's a requirement. The argument goes... that without doctors, I would be dead right now because my hypertension is a natural part of my life cycle. Now that I have reached the point in my life that I would naturally be dead, I no longer have control over my own fate. I must pay a doctor $280 a year for no other reason than to check my blood pressure, my weight, ask me how I feel, and basically operate a "toll booth." I check all of these things anyway. I can tell my doctor when I walk in the door what they are, and that I'm feeling fine, say "just give me my permission slip so I can continue to live," and then leave. Or not, in which case I'd die.

I'm not saying that it's not a good idea to have regular appointments. But, my life is no longer mine. I am now required to pay for its continuance. And this is America. We're supposed to be free. Guess it's like the seatbelt issue, you now have to wear it or get a ticket. Yet, if you are the only one in the car, isn't it your choice to take that chance? Like motorcycle riders having a choice in some states to ride without a helmet. It's not smart, no. But, it IS their choice. Because they have the freedom to make that choice... a choice that only involves their own lives.

Must I continue to pay for my life? Is that right? Or do we give doctors far too much privilege? I agree that they earn a great deal of it. I do. But, once the diagnosis has been made, nothing is ever going to change it. I've known some people who take gobs of vitamins and supplements in an effort to avoid the doctor's control of their lives. They want to take back the control. Unfortunately, they often delude themselves into thinking that they can do it without prescription drugs. In most cases, that's simply not true. Delusions can kill us and very often do. If these people had control over the vital medication that they need, they may still be alive today. But because they chose freedom instead, they sacrificed their lives.

Doctors take advantage of their privilege in this way, operating a "cash cow," an extortion service. And they hold our very lives over our heads.

I want my freedom back. I no longer have it. I am shackled to a doctor who bleeds me of my money for no reason whatsoever. This is wrong.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Real History

I was asked once about the human side of history. The question came about because this person, having read one of my papers, felt the need to criticize my approach to "professionalism." He was concerned that perhaps I was not analytical enough, that I put too much "feeling" into my words.
It all started me to re-analyze my method. I've reached some conclusions. Our history is the history of people who lived and died, just like we do, they laughed and cried, just like we do, they fought and loved, just like we do. Can we, as historians, NOT try to locate the human story in each chapter?
Isn't that what "revisionist" history is all about? As a middle-aged man, I rarely remember hearing stories about how European disease decimated whole native populations in America... or the psychological effects that it had on the survivors. I surely remember playing "cowboys and indians" with my brothers. It was only right that the "cowboys" won. Why? Because "cowboys" wrote the story. Natives were relegated to a subservient position and thrust aside by American destiny and pride. Some revision is needed there, I think.
Colonial times in America are also hard for us to understand because it's difficult to imagine a world like that. Our usual routine of coming home from work, watching TV, eating dinner and going to bed is a recent phenomenon. What did we do before TV?
I got an early introduction into this world. Many of my relatives would think it ridiculous for me to regard this as unusual, I think. However, I was between two worlds... one pre-TV and the other, a modern, technologically progressive one.
I loved computers. Even owned an old Atari 800. My friend had a Commodore 64. Those were great times.
But, so was the times I spent with my grandmother in Burgaw, North Carolina. She had a TV, but there was so much more to do there. Most people would think me crazy for saying that. But, I loved the old world, too. Playing in tobacco barns, mud-puddles, building "forts" in the woods... these fascinated me and gave me as much pleasure as my Atari 800. Don't tell on me about smoking in those old barns with really flammable hay, etc.
The point is... I know what it's like to enjoy my life without TV, to live and play like some kid in colonial times. I understood farm life and the difficulties in not being able to feed your family. These were real, tangible, very human and emotional times.
Isn't that the kind of thing you expect in revisionist history? To learn that cowboys didn't always wear bright colored chaps and have horses for best friends? Mr. Ed really doesn't talk, either. Crushing times for me!
And much of the older historiography that I read during my research reflects these seemingly ancient ideas... aristocratic claptrap designed to build pedestals for personal heroes.
It's time we told the real story. Still, those old histories are entertaining. It's nice to dream, to imagine idealistic times, romantic stories of the past. So, do we dispense with things like "Columbus discovered that the Earth wasn't flat" or "George Washington chopped down his father's cherry tree" or "He never tells a lie?" Well... yeah! That's not true, none of it is.
Still, those stories tell another side of history. Maybe we shouldn't throw them away. They tell us more about ourselves and what we desire to believe. And, that is just as important as the truth.
My grandmother surprised me one day. Well, two days. I bought this book, sort of a family medical guide, published in 1888. I found it at a local flea market. It represented the current medical "know-how" in 1888 and my grandmother could have written it! She knew almost every cure and remedy in that book. And her and her oldest daughter sat at the picnic table in her back yard with me, and conferred with each other like doctors over a patient! I was floored!
The other time, I was eleven years old, playing in Grandma's yard, as usual. While I was sort of hidden in a ditch by the road, she came out of the house with a hatchet, proceeded to the chicken coup, grabbed a feisty bird and proceeded to snap its neck with one quick motion! Then, she carried to a large hickory stump in the yard, about two and a half feet thick, laid the accosted bird on the stump, raised that hatchet over her head, chopping that helpless bird's head clean off!
It took me only a split second to get over this scene of horror (I was sort of a city boy) when I saw that chicken literally running around the yard without its head. The old wives-tale was true! They can really do that! The scientific fascination I had over this revelation even allowed me to eat the fried chicken we had for dinner. Truth be told, I was a ravenous fat kid.
My grandmother was not regarded as a genius. However, my impressions of her are full of awe. Why? Could it be, that in the days before TV, we had more time to focus on learning things... practical things that we would use everyday. We might have gained more of a woodsy-wise knowledge of our world. That world is still around us. Don't ask me anything about medicine though. I'll say, "Call a Doctor." When my grandmother was alive, I might have said, "Ask Grandma..."
What does that say about our modern distractions and how much help they are to our understanding of the world? I don't like to think about that. I sure do remember that headless chicken, though! And I sure do remember Dr. Mary Rivenbark of Burgaw, North Carolina!
That's real experience. And, that's what we get when we play outside and what our ancestors experienced everyday. I will continue to tell this side of the human story because it is truth... not made up to please the winners. These are real, human stories of our past. They can still be learned in the old ways today. Just stay away from the TV once in awhile... unless History Channel is on. :)

Friday, August 07, 2009

North-South Carolina Boundary Problems

Figure C-1: George Burrington’s interpretation of the South Carolina border as advertised in “Timothy's Southern Gazette, Oct. 21, 1732,” recorded in Colonial Records of North Carolina 5: 372-4. Robert Johnson, governor of South Carolina, interprets Waccamaw River to be the border between the two colonies, with a direct westerly line running from the head of the river (Lake Waccamaw) which would eliminate much of South Carolina’s northern territory. South Carolina Governor Robert Johnson interpreted it as thirty miles south of the mouth of the Cape Fear River, running roughly in the direction of that river with its head, then to the west (approximate current boundary). Previously, South Carolina officials considered the Cape Fear River as their colony’s northern boundary. This portion of Emanuel Bowen’s 1747 map reflects this interpretation. [George Burrington and Robert Johnson, “Declarations by George Burrington and Robert Johnson concerning the North Carolina/South Carolina boundary,” Colonial Records of North Carolina (September 11, 1732 - November 01, 1732), 5: 372-4; graphics by Baylus C. Brooks, July 18, 2009.]

The Rice Industry in Colonial America


[Reprinted from S. C. Statutes at Large. Vol. 1. P. 406.]

Timothy's Southern Gazette, Oct. 21, 1732.

Source: George Burrington and Robert Johnson, “Declarations by George Burrington and Robert Johnson concerning the North Carolina/South Carolina boundary,” Colonial Records of North Carolina (September 11, 1732 - November 01, 1732), 5: 372-4.

“Notification of George Burrington, Governor of North Carolina.

“I am informed that several persons in South Carolina, have taken out warrants there, to survey lands on the North side of Wackamaw river, and on the lands formerly possessed by the Congerree Indians, which are within this government. Therefore to prevent unadvised people from parting with their money to no purpose, and to give satisfaction to all persons whom it may concern, I have transcribed his Majesty's instruction for ascertaining the bounds of the two governments of North and South Carolina.

“The King's instructions, 104.

“And in order to prevent any disputes that may arise about the Southern boundaries of our Province under your government, we are graciously pleased to signify our pleasure that a line shall be run by Commissioners appointed by each Province, beginning at the Sea, thirty miles distant from the mouth of Cape Fear River, on the South-west thereof, keeping at the same distance from the said river, as the course thereof runs to the main source or head thereof, and from thence the said boundary line shall be continued due West as far as the South Seas.

“But if Wackamaw lies within thirty miles of Cape Fear River, then that river to be the boundary from the Sea to the head thereof, and from thence a due West course to the South Seas.

-------------------- page 373 --------------------

“For the satisfaction of all men that bought land of the late Proprietors (before the King's purchase was compleated) scituated on the North side of Wackamaw River in any other part between Cape Fear River and the line given by his majesty to this government, I give notice their rights and titles to all lands so purchased as aforesaid, are deemed and allowed to be good and lawful by this government.

“N. B. The above recited instruction, is the same in his Excellency Governor Johnson's and mine, except the word “Southern” before boundaries, which is altered to Northern in his. The head of Wackamaw river is within ten miles of Cape Fear River, and is not distant so much as thirty miles in any place, but a few miles before it runs into Winyaw Bay.


“North Carolina, Sept. 11, 1732.

“The above is transcribed verbatim from the Gazette of the day.

“To this, Robert Johnson, Governor of South Carolina, issued a counter-proclamation, which follows, copied from Timothy's Southern Gazette, Nov. 4, 1732.

“Governor Johnson of South Carolina. I being very much surprized at his Excellency Governor Burrington's advertisement in this paper of the 21st instant, relating to the boundaries of the two Colonies of North and South Carolina, and his manner of interpreting his Majesty's instructions relating thereunto, think proper for the better information of those concerned, to publish what I know concerning the intention of his Majesty's said instruction, which is as follows:

“Governor Burrington and myself, were summoned to attend the board of Trade, in order to settle the boundary of the two Provinces. Governor Burrington laid before their Lordships Col. Moseley's Map, describing the Rivers Cape Fear and Wackamaw, and insisted upon Wackamaw river being the boundary from the mouth to the head thereof, &c.

“We of South Carolina, desired their Lordships would not alter their first resolution, which was thirty miles distant from the mouth of Cape Fear River on the South-west side thereof, &c. as the first instruction published by Governor Burrington sets forth; and their Lordships concluded that that should be the boundary, unless the Mouth of Wackamaw River was within thirty miles of Cape Fear River; in which case, both Governor Burrington and myself agreed Wackamaw River should be the boundary. And I do apprehend the word Mouth being left out of the last part of the instruction, was only a mistake in the wording of it.

-------------------- page 374 --------------------

“And I think proper farther to inform those it may concern, that I have acquainted the Right Honorable the Lords of Trade, of the different interpretations Governor Burrington and myself, have put on his Majesty's aforesaid instruction, and have desired his Majesty's further order.

“November 1, 1732.

The Rice Industry in Colonial America
Robert L. Meriwether (Professor of History, University of South Carolina), The Expansion of South Carolina 1729-1765 (Doctoral diss., Columbia University, 1940), 248:
The Waccamaw rises within ten or fifteen miles of the Cape Fear, but 
flowing southwestward enters Winyah Bay more than eighty miles from 
that river. The proposed revision would have brought a long finger of 
North Carolina territory within sixty miles of Charleston, and would 
have given several hundred square miles of South Carolina sea coast and 
river swamp in exchange for a smaller area at the head of the Waccamaw. 
Johnson later claimed that the addition to the instruction should have pro- 
vided that the Cape Fear be the boundary unless the mouth of the Wac- 
camaw were within thirty miles of Cape Fear River, and it is possible that 
this was the case. The fact, however, that the wording was the same in 
each rendering of the clause indicates that the inadvertence was Johnson's 
own, and that he failed to realize the construction that would certainly be 
placed upon it. In October 1732 Burrington published a notice in the 
South Carolina Gazette declaring that Johnson was granting lands within 
the northern province, and quoted his boundary instruction, omitting, 
however, the clause which stipulated that the line should, from the head 
of Waccamaw River, parallel the Cape Fear River to its head. Two weeks 
later Johnson replied in the Gazette with a vigorous argument in support 
of his contention, but his letters to the Board of Trade were somewhat 
Finally in January 1735 Johnson and the council laid the matter before the Commons, and a joint committee of both houses went into the question at length, putting the best possible face on the South Carolina arguments for a line paralleling the Cape Fear. In March three commissioners were sent to meet those already appointed for North Carolina and after six weeks of consultation "the Friendly interposition" of Gabriel Johnston, now governor of North Carolina, brought about a compromise. The boundary thus defined was to begin on the seacoast thirty miles southwest of the Cape Fear, and it was to run northwest to latitude thirty-five, thence west to the South Seas, with a provision that the Catawbas and Cherokees should be included in South Carolina. For a strip of land fifty miles long and from three to fifteen miles wide the southern commissioners yielded up a claim to the immense area north of the thirty-fifth parallel and west of the Cape Fear River.