History & Politics

The Year without Summer: 1816 and the Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas P. Klingaman

The Year without Summer: 1816

This volcanic explosion was worse than Vesuvius, Mount St. Helens, or Krakatoa. When Mount Tambora exploded in Indonesia in 1815, it started a chain of events that would alter the course of global history. In the Klingamans’ The Year without Summer, the authors detail how the resulting clouds of ash led to disastrous weather conditions which affected communities’ histories around the world… and led to the birth of Frankenstein.

A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans: Pirates, Skinflints, Patriots, and Other Colorful Characters Stuck in the Footnotes of History by Michael Farquhar

A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans

A Treasury of Foolishly Forgotten Americans, by Michael Farquhar, is a fascinating series of cleverly-penned essays on true-life characters whom you’ve probably never heard of but definitely are a part of American history.  Meet Jack Billington, the Mayflower Murderer. Not all of the passengers on the Mayflower were sterling souls. He may have signed the famous Mayflower Compact, but Billington never kept his end of the deal. He was a foul-tempered wastrel whose son almost (accidentally and stupidly) blew up the ship on the way over and Jack had the gall to badmouth Miles Standish. For this he was bound, neck to ankles, at which point his bravado lessened considerably. But Jack Billington did not learn from that experience and went on to meet a knave’s fate.

Union Church of Falmouth: The Power of Preservation

When the storm destroyed Union Church’s roof in 1950, there wasn’t much to be done about it. It had not been used since 1935, after all, and rebuilding a church requires a committed congregation. But churches are centers of the community, and during its lengthy, active history, Union Church was established as an important part of Falmouth’s past--and America’s, too. So, in an effort to preserve what they could, local people bricked up the narthex (the front of the church) to house a few things from years gone by, including a bell and a pew dating to just after the Civil War. What we see today is a slice of the original building, but that building has quite a history and what was preserved will soon be shared at the new National Museum of African American History on the Washington Mall.

Kind Acts and Courage at Chancellorsville

Now that the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville is upon us, it seems a fitting time to look at how the lives of a family of mainly young women were affected by being suddenly thrust into a war zone and how they were able to survive with the aid of an enemy officer. Sue Chancellor was only fourteen when the area around her home became a bloody battlefield. Their house, called Chancellorsville, was used for a headquarters by first the Confederate and then the Union army while the family continued to live there.

In the Beginning... A Checklist for Genealogical Neophytes

Crash Course in Genealogy

Genealogical research is a profession for some and a hobby for many.  With the advent of TV shows such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and the multitude of resources available online, there are some interested novices entering the field who need a little help knowing where to start.  The following brief overview is for these beginners.

From Pens to Pistols

Free Lance, Tuesday, March 6, 1888

VIRGINIA EDITORS IN A DEADLY DUEL

A Newspaper War Ends in a Tragedy—Ellis Williams Shot Through the Heart, and Edwin Barbour Seriously Wounded— [illegible]

CULPEPER, VA, March 1. — One of the most desperate and deadly shooting affrays that ever happened in this vicinity occurred here this morning, between Edwin Barbour, editor of the Piedmont Advance, and Ellis B. Williams, son of Governor Williams, editor of the Culpeper Exponent, resulting in the death of Williams and the serious wounding of Barbour.  Both are young men and their families are highly-connected. The cause of the trouble seems to have grown out of a newspaper article, in the shape of a letter, dated from Washington and Signed “Jack Clatterbuck,” which was published some weeks ago in the Piedmont Advance.  The letter made some sharp and caustic allusions to Mr. Williams, of the Exponent.  Last Friday’s issue of the Exponent contained a bitter article denouncing the editor of the Advance and all connected with it, saying the editor was more an object of pity than of resentment, and that he was not the principal, but was put up to it by someone else.  To day’s issue of the Advance contains an editorial in which the editor brands Mr. Williams as a liar, and further says that “his conduct in this matter has been cowardly in the extreme, and highly unbecoming a gentleman, of which class we shall no longer consider him a member,” and winds up the article in this wise “At times it becomes necessary for a gentleman to turn and strike the dog that is barking at his heels.”

Books for Women's History Month

Book cover of Not for Ourselves Alone by Geoffrey Ward

For Women's History Month, we've gathered books about intelligent, brave, and resourceful women through the centuries. Some are well-known. Some are not. Some wore jewels and silk. Some wore lab coats. Some were spies and soldiers. Others were athletes, politicians, and hearth-keepers. All are fascinating.

Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book, edited by Lily May Spaulding and John Spaulding

Civil War Recipes: Receipts from the Pages of Godey’s Lady’s Book

By the mid-1800s, American middle class women frequently turned to Godey’s Lady’s Book for household advice, sewing patterns, and recipes. Although founded by Louis Godey, from 1837 to 1877, it was led by Editor Sarah Josepha Hale and under her leadership, circulation rose dramatically. In Civil War Recipes, Lily May and John Spaulding have done a very nice job of selecting recipes from the first part of the 1860s run of the magazine and presenting them along with enough culinary history to make for an interesting read.

The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized American Cuisine by Dave DeWitt

The Founding Foodies: How Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin Revolutionized Ame

The Founding Foodies, by Dave DeWitt, is an easy-going chat on matters historic and gastronomic in the Old Dominion and beyond. DeWitt dismisses some food writers’ contentions that colonial food was poor stuff.  Having attended Mr. Jefferson’s university and being thus familiar with the third president’s many accomplishments, he knew that this common opinion was surely an overgeneralization.  Jefferson, as well as Washington and Franklin, were trend-setters—learned men who easily absorbed and promulgated cultured styles of fashion, philosophy, architecture, and, yes, food, derived European trends, especially their French allies.

Besides these Founding Fathers’ culinary preferences, DeWitt also looks at curious historical periods of Virginia history where food, or lack of same, played a noteworthy role.  At Jamestown, the horrors of spoiled ships’ rations and the colonists’ inexperience with hunting and fishing made them very dependent on the native tribes’ shared knowledge. They did learn to hunt and fish which was well since the supply ship was delayed, nearly resulting in John Smith being hanged.  Desperate to turn a profit in the days before tobacco, the settlers took up fishing on a grand scale—thousands of pounds of salted cod to England and dried fish to Spain.

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart

Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army and Other Diabolical Insec
The amateur naturalist in me was piqued when this book came up in my Goodreads list. I was certainly not disappointed. Wicked Bugs is a fascinating presentation of the darker side of our relationship with bugs. Amy Stewart presents a small sampling the most dangerous, painful, destructive and horrible ones that humans have encountered. 
 
Bugs have indeed changed the course of history from the louse that wiped out Napoleon’s army during the French Invasion of Russia to the locust that wiped out crops in the Great Plains. You cannot read this book without developing a deeper respect for nature or learning something new.