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Saturday, April 24, 2010

Time to put on your genes!

We're southerners and we have one hell of a tradition. Part of that tradition, however has been to stick our collective head between our knees. I've been a genealogist for long enough now to be aware of a change in the accepted method that we genealogists use. For many years , we were taught to ignore certain parts of census records because they did not apply to us. Blacks, whites, and mulattoes have always been distinct groups. Science progresses and old methods are replaced by newer, more valid ones. It goes for history or any discipline, really. Genealogy is becoming a countrywide sensation these days thanks to DNA. However, for the longest time, genealogy was more popular in the South than it was in the North or out west. Why the attention on Southeastern America then?

We wanted to reaffirm our "purity" and record it definitively for all time. Were we worried about our heritage? I think we might have been and where there's smoke, there's fire. Recently, we have begun to accept some blending in our genetic sense of purity. It has become a delight to discover that Indian connection. Accepting the Indian connection, however, opens doors we southerners might not want to walk through. DNA virtually slams the door behind us, in fact!

The South is ground zero for the American invasion and that's where the trouble first started. The invasion was typified by English raiders (well, that's what they were). Indians (now the accepted "P.C." phrase) were pushed back and disregarded for the entire colonial period. I've lately been part of a "fact-finding" group at East Carolina University, interested in re-discovering the Indians of our earliest days. In that process, my findings (collecting Indian-related colonial records) have begun to show similar results found by both Stephen Feeley in "Tuscarora Trails" and Noeleen McIlveena in A Very Mutinous People. These records show that North Carolina started off as a "black sheep" colony and that Virginia and South Carolina, with better port access, were much more favored by English authorities, interested in taking advantage of the sea trade before the Revolution. Only since our progress in building road access and intra/inter-colonial trade through the colonies (in other words, not with England) did we climb out of the hole.

Still, that time spent in the netherworld of English disdain was critical for this state's cultural development. Yes, I said "cultural." We are very different from other states today for the very reason of being left to ourselves for so long. If you have any doubt of that fact, I encourage you to get a copy of Rob Christensen's A Paradox of Tarheel Politics and you will come away with a huge "OH....," that travels lightyears in helping us understand the enigma of Jesse Helms, among others. This was a "cultural" difference.

Now, I'd like you to ponder what that implies. I can tell you that while England's desire for settlement of America was simply financial, the Indian was completely disregarded in the accounting books, except as a supplier of certain goods (deerskins, beaver pelts, etc). These became the rage in English, French, Dutch... well, European societies. North Carolina needed the money and, so cultivated a relationship to obtain these articles. Different subsistence technologies aside, we liked Indians. Even after the Tuscarora War, we tried to maintain a congenial relationship.

One thing that South Carolinians were known for was Indian slavery. Alan Gallay, Stephen Feeley, and Neoleen McIlveena can explain this aspect best. The gist of it is that South Carolinians (and other colonies) collected Indians that they didn't want, "freighted" them to Charles Town for transfer to New England or the West Indies, anywhere but mainland America where they could continue being a nuisance to the colonists here. South Carolina was known
for this, but they were by far not the only colony to observe these practices.

Except , for the most part, North Carolina (during the colonial period, that is). What I have been seeing as I dove into the colonial and British records, is that North Carolina applied (comparatively) the greatest efforts of any colony to work with the natives that they had to share this land with. In my opinion, the fact that North Carolinians received no favors from the English government contributed greatly to their need to seek other partners and allies. The various nations next door served that purpose admirably well: Tuscarora, Bear (Bay) River, Meherrin, Nottoway, Saponi, Coree, ... the list goes on. Even after the Tuscarora War of 1711-1713 (some use 1715, but the fighting was largely over by 1713), in which South Carolinians, in an effort to make use of Tuscarora slaves before Virginia could make another "border-tribe" out of them, kidnapped several hundred, reducing the native population to a "manageable" level in North Carolina. They did this supposedly as an "aid" to the North Carolina government, desperate to survive Indian attacks, but it was a political maneuver designed to profit from the slaves. My "friend" for the past year and a half, Mr. Edward Moseley, was instrumental in that effort, being an "adopted" young castaway to Charles Town elites like the Goose Creek Moores, of which Maurice Moore was a son. His efforts as a government official in North Carolina helped The Goose Creek Indian slavers to prevent aid (thus, any future influence) from Virginia. Indeed, he may have instigated the war to obtain those slaves in the first place. Gov. Robert Johnson of South Carolina implied the use of those tactics in a 1732 note to the Board of Trade in London. Boys will be boys, as they say. Personally, I'm trying to chastise Mr. Moseley, surprisingly held in great regard by North Carolina for the past two centuries. Apparently, making a map will get you lots of kuddos!

Why do you suppose that we viewed Moseley as such a "Great Man" all these years. For instance, D.H. Hill quoted George Davis as saying, “Of all the men who watched and guided the tottering footsteps of our infant State, there was not one who in intellectual ability, in solid and polite learning, in scholarly cultivation and refinement, in courage and endurance, in high Christian morality, in generous consideration for the welfare of others, in all true merit in fine, which makes a man among men, who could equal Edward Moseley.” ---- Putting this into perspective, let me tell you that Mr. Davis was a secessionist, a slave owner, a lawyer and a politician. My impression of D.H. Hill is no better because of it, either.

North Carolinians of the late 19th and early 20th century tended to view their state as an already established, fully-functioning and organized colony in 1704 when Moseley first arrived to take over in Governor Henderson Walker’s stead as the next husband of the wealthy Ann Lillington. It was not. It was a wilderness filled with exotic natives and great uncertainty, a backwoods quarry for the larger and more popular colony of South Carolina. It’s in this paltry backwoods world that Edward Moseley should be viewed, as an opportunist in a colony of opportunists. Moseley was not well-regarded by his contemporaries (nearly convicted I should say) but was later crowned as a “king” by romantic North Carolina historians. This has much to do with national ethnocentrism following the Revolution. Anything English was thrown out with the bathwater and anyone opposed to English rules was not only accepted, but often glorified. That answers the Moseley question.

What does this have to do with genealogy? I knew you were going to ask me that so let me tell you that it's so complicated that it needs a setup like this. As I said, DNA is making tremendous changes to the art of genealogy. It has already forced my family to re-evaluate the traditional lines and we've lost many "cousins" as a result simply because we have a similar last name. This is another change of perception not unlike turning Edward Moseley from a King into a crook. Losing "family" is just one part of the impact. And, thanks to the "Hippie" generation and "Civil Rights," some southerners might be ready to hear this.

The Lost Colony Genealogy And DNA Research Group has identified several haplogroups (roughly equal to ethnicities or branches of ethnic groups) in the DNA samples of many surnames in eastern North Carolina. These surnames also may have a connection to Indian groups like the Lumbee, who traditionally claim to be descended from the Lost Colonists themselves. Q and C haplogroups have the greatest connection to Indian groups, but there were other groups present as well. Haplogroup R is representative of southern Indians, the Muskogean stock. A few generations ago, it was not cool to have Indian blood. Today, it's exciting to make that discovery! Fickle of us isn't it? Is it exciting also when you hear about early Indian tribes and ex-slaves co-existing as a single entity, intermarrying with each other? Indians accepted everyone into their culture. Horticultural societies like Indians saw no color differences like agricultural Europeans who made cultural judgments based upon it, like "racist" ones. Charles W. Chestnutt wrote in 1904 an article titled, "The Free Colored People of North Carolina" in which he said, "Another source of free colored people in certain counties was the remnant of the Cherokee and Tuscarora Indians, who, mingling with the Negroes and poor whites, left more or less of their blood among the colored people of the state"(Chestnutt, 1904, 138). What Chestnutt did not say definitively was that Native Americans also contained African blood as well. After all, it was 1904...

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, if you want to open Pandora's genetic box and find Indian, you will also discover the absolutely irrefutable truth (made possible by scientific evidence), that most of us are a mix of genes comprising European, Indian, and African. There's not only milk in the coffee, but perhaps a little coffee in the milk... maybe a little cinnamon thrown in for an extra zing! And, it's even more common than we (or even Chestnutt) thought. Our ancestors did not write down everything they were doing... do you? Just like you father's critical accusing stare, you can't hide from DNA.

So, it's time that we shut up and get along, kiddies. We are all family. Let's just get used to it. America has suffered more than any nation on the planet because of racism... and there's never been a valid reason for any of it. We've lied to ourselves since day one. Slavery was money... capitalism... political. Just like Edward Moseley. Certain things were hidden about his past for political reasons like acquisition of wealth. But, no longer at least for Moseley thanks to serious research. Now, DNA is helping us to grow up a little more. Past preconceived notions are being shot down. But, the South still has a huge emotional stake in the "race" issue despite modern progressiveness. A teacher of mine told me about the meaning of the word "race." After he did, I realized that it never applied to the difference in color; in fact, it really does not apply to human beings at all. Color is simply a factor of melanin in the skin. Red flowers still pollinate yellow flowers. Apparently, we can pollinate each other across the world and did. And, if you have any doubts as to how this was accomplished, please read William Byrd's 1728 Secret History of the Dividing Line for a description of "free love" in the 18th century.

It kinda thickens the soup in the "melting pot!" You could say that since most North Carolinians (probably most multi-generation Americans) are blends of Blacks, Whites, and Reds, that we're sort of... "Biter" varieties of the American "mutt."

Sunday, April 18, 2010

National Conference on Undergraduate Research

Also subtitled, "Trip to another world, Missoula, Montana." Two groups of us came from East Carolina University to this land of the big - big land, but also big personalities and hearts. This is a place like no other. I've met more friendly and interesting people here in such a short time. From Cliff and his genuine interest in every student that climbed aboard his bus to Leann, Sue, and Delores, who treated us like family in the hotel, it has been a fantastic experience. The weather has been great, almost spring-ish even though we arrived on the tail end of a snow storm (saw patches of it still in many places. The daily temperatures easily compare to those we left in Eastern NC.

Speaking of buses, another group from North Carolina, from Western Carolina University, had 70 students accepted at NCUR and had to take a bus to Montana (cost of air travel prohibitive). They spent 45 hours on the bus to get here! That's a trip to remember, I'm sure.

Of course, the presentations were all excellent and I'm amazed at what human beings can learn in such a short time. It may not seem that short to them, however. :) They worked hard to get here and deserve the opportunity. I have to say that it is an opportunity quite rare. Our undergraduate conference even drew the governor of Montana! He seemed like a really cool guy, wearing casual attire and followed by a little dog that stuck to his heels all the way. But, what he said about renewable energy and taking it easier on Mother Earth meant a lot more to me. Alternative sources of energy are well within our grasp as we speak. The task is really to convince millions of Americans of another way to accomplish their travel objectives. Oil is not necessary. We've only just begun this debate and it will consume a great deal of time before we can all agree on the solution. But, at least, it's beginning.

Of the presentations that I saw in our group, I spoke about Brunswick Town and Wilmington (not a surprise, I know) and Sarah spoke about microbiology (a very knowledgeable treatise on bacteria on smoker vents in the inner space, benthic world of submarine spreading zones). Ellen gave her presentation on iron supplements to countereffect the loss of learning ability from the effects of alcohol-using mothers. Megan and Jacqueline told us about the shoe company Nike and their effect on the global market from their base in China. A bit of recent Chinese history came to light in this presentation - the recent trend to enter the world market and increased westernization. What effect the largest country in the world will have in the world market is somewhat worrisome, although it could be positive. Hopefully, they won't make the same mistakes that we did. Tiffany and Parteek work in the same lab and so, had different angles on the same topic. While Parteek studied the effects of Poxvirus on specific organs, Tiffany looked at "studying viral replication in organs of mice that were infected with either a 'wild type' or our deletion mutant...." This is how it was explained to me. See what I mean about learning so much in so little time? I did not get a chance to hear Deepak's presentation because he went first thing on Thursday. I will say this about Deepak, I hear him speaking to family in his native language, then to us in English, and to a waiter at Rowdy's in Spanish. He's quite the linguist. If he weren't headed for a medical career, I'd say "go linguistics!" Learning about all cultures is the best part of a trip like this, from exploring genetics, medicine, inner-space and deep-sea environments to history, astronomy and protecting the environment. Truly, the planet is in the care of these terrific guys. I'd joked with Ellen (who plans to be a Clinical psychologist) about what discounts she plans to offer (may need those one day). She is currently working as a crisis counselor to have an immediate influence on our world.

Last, but not least, I'd like to thank Dr. Mary Farwell for all her diligent efforts to get us here. She has driven us all over Montana and guided treks across the campus and even up a mountain and out to see Bison in the wild. Thank goodness she didn't have to resort to a bus across the country! Two food places I should mention are Rowdy's (the really cool Mexican restaurant with animals in the lobby) and the Big Dipper, a very popular ice cream shop with lines of customers across the parking lot on both nights that we went. For myself, I'd like to thank Dr. Wade G. Dudley for his very important contribution to my own historical exploratory talents. Without the occasional "kick in the pants," I may have floundered from time to time. He's been a guiding influence to many of us. Thank you, Dr. "D."

Well, time to hop on the plane to return to the "Old North State" and my pretty wife, Julie. We must say so long to the wide open spaces, the very roomy interstates (seriously, no fighting or crowding of cars or jammed traffic), and the friendliest and most laid back state I've ever been to. But, it will be good to get back home. See ya there!

Friday, April 09, 2010

A Tale that's Worth the Time

We came to the Phi Alpha Theta undergraduate research regional conference in Conyers, SC today. I gave my presentation on “Captain James Wimble: American Merchant, Founder, and Privateer.” We had comments afterward. One of the judges offered me some wonderful compliments on the research. I was flattered and thankful for that recognition. It’s relieving to get that after so much work. We students question what we do every day. A friend of mine told me that that’s what makes a good student… that you always believe you didn’t do well on a test but, it almost always works out that you did. You question everything you do. Still, this judge had a criticism. One comment he had was on the necessity of having a thesis to work from. I gave him some pat answer, like “Oh, I’ll remember that” or something like that. It occurred to me later in the hotel, in fact just a half hour ago, that I didn’t write it for that purpose. My story about James Wimble did not need a thesis to be important to me. And, I don’t think it needs one for any other reason, unless it needs to be pitched to someone. But, that’s not why I wrote it. In fact, I didn’t write it for a class. I wrote that piece because I was genuinely fond of Wimble’s story, that he had endured so much, and lost so much time, pride, and money to Spanish privateers and then took it back with heart-felt anger… no, not anger or vengeance, but something that I heard in a movie once. He demanded a “reckoning.” This was nearly biblical for Wimble. Evil (namely, the Spanish) lurked and threatened until it was smote by the Archangel Michael. For Wimble, there was never any failure in the Board of Trade to give him his due from all those Spanish privateers and hurricanes. It was somehow Spain’s fault.

You have to realize that I read letters, journal entries for the Board of Trade, wills and deeds. I dove head first into Wimble’s world and didn’t come up for air. I imagined a man that consistently blamed Spain for his troubles and never once felt that politicians were simply using the system against his claims for the money’s sake. James Wimble believed in a higher ideal… Wimble gave his life for that belief. There was something noble in that story, if a bit naïve. Still, there was this larger than life hero figure that looms above the normal tale and I simply believed it had to be told. The whole misconstrued, narrow focus on the historical Wilmington needed to be revised completely.

To tell the truth, I cared nothing for a thesis in this story and I don’t believe that anyone else should either. Unless you consider that this was the thesis… that James Wimble’s life was indeed common, but that how he responded to adversity was enormously instructive. His tenacity was extraordinary. I felt anger myself that this man has not been given the credit he was due simply because his story was English. But, I will argue that it was more than English, more than American… it was an uncommon human tale and North Carolina historians have been hogswaggled for decades over this wall around the historical realm of the state. This wall was impermeable to any of the outside effects from South Carolina, Virginia, and especially from the other side of the Atlantic. The story had to be North Carolinian or nothing and I couldn’t help but think that North Carolina fought as the underdog for so long that perhaps this affected our intellectual pursuit of history too. Wimble only got a single coastal hazard named after him, “Wimble Shoals.” It’s not even complimentary.

Revisionism has begun. Several recent historians have retold tales of this state as tales of a larger family, English, French, Spanish, Native American, and most certainly, African. When I speak like this, my impression of this revision is wearing round, colored sunglasses and singing “Imagine.” This is the way truth absolutely must be, not political or subjective in any way, but told for the benefit of all. REAL heroes are men who stand out from others, who seek their “reckoning” after enduring great injustice, men like James Wimble. I know he wasn’t perfect, but he certainly was better than most.