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Monday, February 18, 2019

"Quest for Blackbeard" and the "Counterfactual" Politics of the South

Adapted from the Preface of the new edition of Quest for Blackbeard - an updated version to reflect upon America's continuing troubles as a "Commonwealth of Pyrates": 

I began my study of Colonial American History in a large part to understand my own Southern culture. As a young genealogist living near my family’s seat of Wilmington, North Carolina, I studied my mother’s ancestry. I found that a great grandfather of hers fought in the Civil War. He died at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863, the last day of the battle. John Spicer Meadows was a member of Company H, 55th NC Regiment and his captain was Edward Fletcher Satterfield, shown in center of the photo group below. That last day of the battle – largely regarded as the “turning point” for the Union against the Confederacy – was a time of great Southern loss and their odd reaction to that loss. Satterfield’s company, including John Spicer Meadows, had been considered for a high honor in the South: being “Farthest at Gettysburg” or closest to the Union line. Two companies were considered for this honor, finally settling on Satterfield’s:
Both North Carolina and Mississippi claimed the laurels for the farthest Confederate advance on 3 July. Based in part on the spot where Capt. E. Fletcher Satterfield of the 55th North Carolina reportedly fell dead, North Carolina later adopted as its state motto: “First at Bethel, Farthest to the front at Gettysburg and Chickamauga, and Last at Appomattox.” 

As a young North Carolinian, I was proud that my family had participated in such a significant part of my state’s history. But, I was to be greatly humbled – you see, I tend to research history much too thoroughly, it seems - much to my family's ire and consternation - just ask them! Expose to facts and reason always destroys the Southern Redeemer fictional rewriting of our history.

I looked for the number of deaths on the three days of the battle, and particularly, on the last day: July 3rd, when my great-great grandfather died. Out of a company of fifty, Company H lost forty-eight men on July 3rd! What happened, I asked? An article in Confederate Veteran Magazine explained that the entire company had been chosen for the high honor of “Farthest at Gettysburg.” A collation of data from several articles explained the entire story: that Capt. Satterfield and the remaining forty-eight members of his company, realizing the futility of their “lost cause,” hid themselves behind John Benner’s Barn, waiting for the 12th New Jersey line to advance over a rock wall adjacent to the barn and then, committed suicide en masse! “Captain  Satterfield and other North Carolinians of the Fifty-Fifth North Carolina fell within nine yards of that wall,” one reference stated, and “fairly earned the title ‘Farthest at Gettysburg.” Another author spoke with great pride, telling about how my great-great-grandfather’s company ran from behind that barn to surprise the “Yankees,” screaming the “Rebel Yell” and shooting, basically making a very expensive statement of defiance! The 12th New Jersey literally erased Company H from existence that day. So, yes, North Carolina was “farthest at Gettysburg,” but the entire story – told with gleeful pride by former Confederate soldiers at the turn of the twentieth century – was horrifying to my younger self! Southern writers after the war held them up as heroes – but, I greatly differed with that misplaced sentiment. 

Glowing pride in my family’s historical accomplishments forever hit a snag that day – but, I learned a valuable historical analytical method: research questions! What would make my great-great-grandfather and his entire company sacrifice their lives in such a useless and wasteful display of utter defiance? They could have lived to fight another day, but instead, they virtually committed suicide by firing squad – all of them – again, forty-eight people – all who remained of his company! As I learned, this was an unconscionable display of behavior so like many adherents to the South’s “lost cause.” Ever since, I’ve delved back centuries in our history trying to understand my family’s – indeed, my entire Southern culture’s – ideology and its resulting mortal recklessness. I began to see a definite trend from sugar and slaving for profit in the rough West Indies, the religious justification for that slavery, and the anti-government, self-serving, Stuart conservative Anglo-Americans who transfered that ideology to the Carolina swamps. These men regarded life as necessarily short, unimportant next to their greed, and best left in God’s hands. America – especially the Confederacy – truly was, and still is, a “Commonwealth of Pyrates!” We’ve simply traded the red bandana and eyepatch for a farmer's pair of overalls and then, when Southern Democrats joined the Republican Party in 1968, a business suit!

Colin Woodard’s American Nations was one such valiant effort to explain this. Quest for Blackbeard is largely the result of that same reasoning, correlated with Woodard’s ground-breaking work. Happily for me, he also happened to write pirate history! “Birds of a feather,” as they say.

I’ve found that much of our history has been told wrong – counter to the facts. Many of you familiar with Southern Redeemer rhetoric will understand immediately. In great contrast, the book you are reading now is not so much about pirate legends, whether West Indian or Confederate, but about distilling the honest search for our history virtually buried by the tremendous “counterfactual” weight of popular historical fiction.  This book also represents a social history, which can be fun, too – literally searching for buried ancestral treasure! Ok, well… about pirates and treasure, though, I should warn you that I’ve heard one archaeological pirate scholar tell an audience that pirates “never, ever, buried their treasure. Please, put down the shovel and stop digging up your neighbor’s yard,” or something to that effect. In other words, the wild legends that you’ve heard are often not real – though often were loosely based upon fact – this is from where Dr. Manushag N. Powell gets the term “counterfactual.” Any possible achievements of our ancestors have been hidden by the “white lies” of past writers with an agenda. The same occurred with pirates of the Caribbean, thanks to Johnson's General History of the Pyrates!

Associate Professor of English at Purdue University Dr. Manushag N. Powell, in "The Piratical Counterfactual from Misson to Melodrama (summary)" The Workshop, No. 5 (June 2018), 105-108 states that Nathaniel Mist was not telling a history, but writing an entertaining and experimental type of "piratical counterfiction." She regarded "Blackbeard, meanwhile, was popular in large part due to his sensational treatment as a theatrical, lascivious devil in A General History of the Pyrates (1724-1728)." Her treatise "The Piratical Counterfactual from Misson to Melodrama" properly explores Johnson or Mist's book as a work of fanciful historical fiction, experimenting with "a number of modes—including history and romance and, through their combination, counterfactual writing. This is more than just an interesting quirk of composition. It is radical experimentation, an extremely early and atypical example of the counterfactual mode... This is what counterfactual writing does: it plays upon readers’ willingness and even desire to invest in an alternative world in which we pretend a thing we know did not happen, did." This is also the point of Southern Redeemer fiction or MAGA "alternative fact" narratives today!

This sincere attempt at history is no easy task to accomplish because these legends have been popularized and modified over nearly 300 years of those Saturday afternoon outings. Another monkey wrench in the historical corpus is that many people have also tried to grasp a bit of the legend for themselves, altering whatever possible historical elements may actually have existed in the seldom viewed primary records. Yes, most of us are pirates at heart! And, those few of us who are not – well, we want our ancestry to be filled with pirates anyway! Genealogies evolved that include famous and infamous people, including Cherokee Indian princesses, Abraham Lincoln, gangsters, and, of course, pirates. Everyone had to have one in the family, you understand. History was lost in the personalized popular haze of self-serving legend. History was beaten and scattered among the literary landscape – often by personal and political agenda.

By far, the worst effects have been achieved through politics – yes, the dreadful and willful destruction of reality to gain power – pirate loot with a different shine. As this book will detail, the British began this effort against American pirates – or maybe just America in general – but after British anti-pirate rhetoric gained ground, we carried it even further against our own. Our ancestor pirates of the West Indies settled the mainland – through Barbadians of Carolina. Much of their Stuart conservative ideology transferred to the pre-United States and has remained with us throughout our history. From the focal point of Carolina, this ideology expanded throughout the Deep South and resulted in the harsh politics that created the Civil War and the Trump-era Republicans, willing to commit treason to maintain power! As I said, Americans have pirate blood.

The pirates’ narrative did not end there. At the end of the Civil War, their descendants, Southern Redeemers, have attempted to guard their version of history and they have perverted the historical narrative as a result. For North Carolina specifically, the “great men” of the Confederacy, usually ex-Confederate soldiers, became politicians and lawyers. They wrote volumes of amateur redeemer “history” that only represented their stubborn point of view. Pirate history was used and abused in this effort – especially Edward Thache, being North Carolina’s “own” pirate. These “great man” pseudo-historians never received training in the historical sciences – and never wanted to understand it – only to use it to support the “Lost Cause.” Ex-Confederate Captain Samuel A’Court Ashe positioned himself as North Carolina’s embodiment of redeemer history – and, we adored his valiant and forthright support of our heritage! We also adored his "counterfactual" rhetoric of the South as the original destroyers of "notorious" pirates! As a result, he was immortalized on a bronze plaque that still adorns a prominent street in Raleigh! Still, he lied.

So, why the heavy animus on pirates? Why did these redeemers turn on their own? What were they trying to say - or avoid - exactly? The intent seems vague – until you analyze the methods and results. A closer study can illuminate this expertly hidden connection and if you consider the politics of Civil Rights, you get to see what created our modern troubles with the modern Republican Party.

In 1968, the Republican Party suffered a troublesome waning of their constituency. Republican president Richard Nixon, recognizing a mutual identity with the conservatism - although an extreme version - of Southern Democrats, invited them to "re-people" the formerly more socially liberal GOP in his "Southern Strategy." Southerner's endless anger over the Civil Rights Act of 1964 caused conservatives of the South to despise Lyndon Baines Johnson, the Democratic president who signed the Act in 1964, and the Democratic Party to which they all once belonged and then despised! They then became modern Republicans. Yes, this is the same group of extreme conservatives who support the alleged criminal traitor to the United States currently in the White House! 

Educated students of history could better inform our electorate in every election so that we might avoid these inherited issues. The trick is to get MAGA to listen and learn!


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from BBC Radio Bristol

300 years ago on Thursday - 22 November 1718 - Bristol born Edward Teach (aka Blackbeard, the most famous pirate in the history of the world), was killed in a violent battle off the coast of North America. And after 300 years we can finally separate the truth from the myth. You can hear the whole story this Thursday at 9am in a one off BBC Radio Bristol special: BLACKBEARD: 300 YEARS OF FAKE NEWS. With new research by Baylus C. Brooks, narrated by Bristol born Kevin McNally - Joshamee Gibbs in PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN, and produced by Tom Ryan and Sheila Hannon this is a very different Blackbeard from the one in the story books...

Author Spotlight

#Blackbeard #pirate #twitterstorians


Three Centuries After His Beheading, a Kinder, Gentler Blackbeard Emerges - Smithsonian Online

By Andrew Lawler
November 13, 2018 about the final end of Edward Thache:
Murder at Ocracoke! Power and Profit in the Killing of Edward "Blackbeard" Thache

In commemoration of "Blackbeard 300 Tri-Centennial":

As always, drop by and check out the primary source transcriptions

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