Myth #146: In early America, firefighters wouldn’t put out a house fire unless the building bore a fire insurance plaque.

May 13, 2017

Legend in Charleston, SC, and other cities says that a fire company would not put out a house fire unless there was a marker on the building proving that fire insurance had been paid. This is a myth.

I want to acknowledge Stephen Herchak, president of the Charleston Tour Association (a group representing over one hundred tour guides), and Dr. Nic Butler, archivist and historian for the Charleston County Public Library system for their research on this subject. Everyone who looked into this topic found the legend highly improbable. According to Herchak: “This never made sense to me, given the great threat a burning structure poses to the rest of the city, and as you’re probably most likely aware, here in Charleston there were numerous disastrous fires (the Great Fire of 1740, as does all other Charleston fires, pales in comparison to the fire of 1861, but, nonetheless, it destroyed more than 300 buildings and bankrupted the first fire insurance company in America, established here more than a dozen years before the one organized by Franklin, who’s widely and erroneously given credit — there’s another myth buster topic for you — for organizing the first fire insurance company in America).” 

Dr. Nic Butler concurs.In my extensive research on a wide variety of topics in early Charleston history, examining primary source materials like old newspapers, colonial and post-colonial government records, and the like, I have not found any description or reference to the purpose of these plaques or marks or markers, whatever you call them. The idea that a fire-fighting company would NOT extinguish fires on buildings without markers simply defies logic. In a densely-built urban environment like Charleston or any other town, every fire, large or small, endangered the safety of the entire community. The notion of NOT fighting a blaze simply because the house was not insured is so utterly irresponsible that it could not have been tolerated.

“As early as 1785, the City of Charleston had a fire ordnance that levied a substantial fine on anyone who refused or neglected to assist in the fighting of any fire, or who impeded the fighting of a fire. The city’s fire ordinance was updated and revised over the years, but the mandate for citizens to assist in the fighting of all fires remained constant. A perusal of the fire reports in the newspapers of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Charleston shows that fire companies and citizens in general responded consistently and promptly to battle any blaze, whether it was at the home of a rich family or of an enslaved family. Every fire endangered the lives and property of everyone.”

Fire mark, Smithsonian Museum of American History

The Smithsonian’s Museum of American History has fire marks in its collection, including the one pictured above, and museum literature says nothing about firefighters allowing unmarked buildings to burn down. “Beginning in the 1750s, some American insurance companies issued metal fire marks to policyholders to signify that their property was insured against fire damage. The fire marks bore the name and/or symbol of the insurer, and some included the customer’s policy number. The company or agent would then affix the mark to the policyholder’s home or business. For owners the mark served as proof of insurance and a deterrent against arson. For insurance companies the mark served as a form of advertising, and alerted volunteer firefighters that the property was insured. [my italics] The Charleston Fire Insurance Company of Charleston, South Carolina issued this fire mark in the early 19th century. The oval mark is made of iron, and consists of an inner image of intact buildings on the left, and buildings engulfed in flames on the right. A figure of Athena guards the intact buildings from the fire, and has a shield by her feet emblazoned with a Palmetto tree. There is a text above the intact building that reads, “RESTORED.” The outer rim bears the text “CHARLESTON FIRE INSURANCE COMPy.” The Charleston Fire Insurance Company operated from 1811 until 1896.”

Herchak also interviewed Henry Lowdnes, owner of C. T. Lowdnes Insurance agency and the fifth generation at an agency founded by his family in 1850, who agreed that “due to the huge threat posed by a spreading fire, it’s absolutely false that firefighters would have stood around and let a building in an urban setting burn because it didn’t bear an insurance marker.” Lowndes did provide some new information about rewards, however. “Rewards to fire fighting companies — volunteer or professionals of insurance companies — were common, both from city government for arriving first and from insurance companies for saving insured structures. In an urban setting where fires often are not limited to a single structure and entire streets or neighborhoods burned down, upon arriving at the scene of this type of blaze threatening multiple structures — which are firefighters going to first combat fire or protect — one that pays a reward or one that doesn’t? . . . But this is most likely never going to be backed by any sort of documentation other than the chance finding of a stray line in a newspaper of the time or the discovery of a personal letter mentioning and discoursing on it.”

So where does the myth originate? Could the existence of rewards in Charleston have led to the idea that firefighters might prefer an insured building over another, which could have led to the conclusion that they allowed uninsured buildings to burn? Perhaps. Or, as Dr. Butler points out, there was a practice in England which might have led to such a conclusion. In England, some fire insurance companies apparently did create their own fire-fighting units, and so fire insurance markers might have a special meaning to them. But the case is different here. The city of Charleston never had a fire-fighting company associated with any fire insurance company.” 

Dr. Butler continues, “In his book Charleston Is Burning: Two Centuries of Fire and Flames (History Press, 2009), Daniel Crooks concludes that the fire insurance markers were merely a form of advertising. In the event of fire damage, an insurance marker on a house that was later rebuilt or restored was a visible sign that the insurance company had fulfilled its pledge to protect the owner’s investment. I had several conversations with Mr. Crooks (who has a small collection of historic fire insurance markers) about this topic while he was researching for his book, and I support his conclusion that the markers–at least in Charleston–were merely a form of advertising.” 


Revisited Myth # 106: They made everything for themselves in the olden days.

January 7, 2017
Ships brought  manufactured goods to the colonies

Ships brought manufactured goods to the colonies

(Also see the related Myth #99: Early American women spun and wove their own fabric.)

This week Katie Cannon has agreed to tackle a myth that has pestered her for years. She has more than a dozen years of experience working in history museums as well as a masters in Museum Studies, and she currently works at Mount Vernon. Katie admits she is especially fond of living history, having never quite grown out of playing dress-up.

This is something you hear all the time, about different places and times in American history. While I will certainly not dispute our ancestors’ ingenuity and skill, and many people did make a variety of objects for their own use, it is simply not true that anybody made everything— or even most things— that they used. Pre-Industrial Americans were part of a global economy and were consumers as well as producers; you can see this in all three centuries of early American history.1

The 1600s

When the first English settlers arrived on American shores, they thought they were landing in an untamed wilderness full of savage beasts and “savage” men. (Not true of course, but that’s a topic for another discussion.) This meant they were totally on their own and had to fend for themselves, right?

Wrong.

While they could not purchase the manufactured goods they were used to on this continent, they eagerly awaited regular ships bringing them European goods: cloth, thread, sugar, salt, furniture, paper, etc. etc. That romantic image of Priscilla Mullens industriously spinning wool while John Alden stumbles through wooing her? A bit difficult since there is no record of fiber processing tools in the colony until the late 1630s (and the two were married over a decade earlier).2

Here is an excerpt from a letter by Edward Winslow, 1621. He is writing to a friend and advising him on what to bring to the new colony:

“…bring good store of clothes and bedding with you. Bring every man a musket or fowling-piece…Bring juice of lemons, and take it fasting; it is of good use. … If you bring anything for comfort in the country, butter or sallet oil, or both is very good. …Bring paper and linseed oil for your windows, with cotton yarn for your lamps.”3

The 1700s

The 18th century saw the birth of the United States of America, land of the free, the brave… and the avid consumers. Prior to the Revolution, this country was heavily dependent on British imports; England even forbade the colonies from producing certain goods themselves, ensuring that they would be England’s customers.4

For political reasons around the time of the Revolution there was a push for “homespun” and other goods produced locally.5 This did not mean that everyone could be self-sustaining, however. Just think of all the tools and knowledge necessary to make every single item in someone’s home! An encyclopedia published in the 18th century shows images of craftsmen and their tools; take a look at what was required to make a single pin, necessary for sewing and fastening clothes:6

Image link: http://artflx.uchicago.edu/images/encyclopedie/V21/plate_21_5_2.jpeg

If you look through probate inventories of the time, even for those in the lowest income brackets, you get the sense of all the many trades (needing years of training and specialized tools) that went into making that inventory. Consider this inventory of Patience Gilbert from 1742; she is listed in the lower wealth category of the York County, Virginia, probate inventories.7

Her list of possessions includes:

3 kettles, 2 frying pans, 1 copper kettle, 1 brass candlestick, and other metal items that would have been made by various smiths
Several items of clothing but no loom or spinning wheel so she at least purchased the fabric if not the finished clothes
Tea that she could not have grown in this climate
A looking glass which she certainly did not make
… and so forth.
You will find similar inventories for other years, wealth categories, and locations.

The 1800s

Ah yes, the self-sufficient pioneers, heading off into the frontier for a fresh start away from any outside assistance! … or not.

Becky Lauterbach, Senior Facilitator at Conner Prairie Interactive History Park whose specialty of over 20 years is early life in 19th century Indiana, says, “they were able to get to a store in Indiana, and it probably wasn’t all that difficult. Fur traders… had been in the area for 200 years. Even the Native Americans had become dependent on manufactured goods. St. Louis, MO was the “Gateway to the West” by the 1830’s. People moving on to the “frontier” could stop there to stock up and could no doubt buy anything they needed (and plenty of things they didn’t). Most settlers never intended to be self-sufficient, but were willing to “rough it” for a while to gain the advantage of being first on the scene.”

She also provides this list of just a few items offered at an Indiana store in 1834-35:

Guns and the gunpowder to fire them
Lead – While balls could be molded easily, you needed the bar lead to start with.
Salt – so necessary for preservation.
Glass
Pottery
Metal items – tools, at least the heads, cooking pots, cooking utensils, horse shoes, nails, …
Paper
Dye stuffs for colors like blue, red, purple
Cotton – not grown in large quantities around here
Why does this matter?

I won’t deny that before the Industrial Revolution all items had to be made by a person, whether it was a person working with hand tools or operating a machine such as a loom. But, no single person was able to make everything they owned, nor did they have to; they could purchase items made locally or shipped from abroad, the same as we do today.

We honor the self-sufficient aspects of our ancestors quite readily; I think we should also recognize them as active consumers of a global marketplace, lest we do a disservice by diminishing the scope of the world they lived in.

Notes

1 I will be focusing on American history starting with European colonization. Pre-European contact also involved extensive trade networks, but this is meant to be a short article, not a doctoral thesis!

2 Jill Hall. “The Truth About Priscilla, Spinning in Early Plymouth Colony,” Spin Off. Winter 2010. Available online at http://www.sail1620.org/history/articles/220-truth-about-priscilla-spinning-in-early-plymouth-colony.html

3 Dwight Heath, ed., Mourt’s Relation: A Journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth (Bedford: Applewood Books, 1963), p. 86. Many thanks to Elizabeth Rolando of Plimoth Plantation for providing the quote.

4 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun (New York: Vintage books), pp. 84, 159.

5 Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. The Age of Homespun (New York: Vintage books), p. 176.

6 The Encyclopedia of Diderot, 1751-1777. Available online at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/d/did/

7 York County Probate Inventories, provided by Colonial Williamsburg’s digital library. http://research.history.org/DigitalLibrary/BrowseProbates.cfm accessed January 19, 2013.

COMMENTS:

7 Responses to Myth #106: They made everything themselves in those days.
Elaine says:
February 24, 2013 at 10:42 am (Edit)
HOORAY!!!!
I’m delighted to have someone else recognize this as a myth and try to tackle busting it.
The most common related myth I encounter is women of the mid-19th century doing all the sewing, including and especially making clothing, for their family members. The historical record just doesn’t support this lovely romanticized notion. Continuance of this myth does a grave disservice to the dress-makers, seamstresses, tailors, seamsters, and ready-made merchants of this era… and especially the dress-makers who, as female business-owners, made great strides in pioneering women taking roles outside of the home as both owners and consumers.

Reply
Iain Sherwood says:
February 24, 2013 at 4:36 pm (Edit)
In every town in the colonies (of any size) there was a blacksmith, a cooper, a tinsmith, a draper (cloth seller), a butcher and tanner, several joiners (carpenter), tilers (roofer), seamstresses, tailors, cordwainers, and other ‘domestic’ trades. On the coast there were plenty of fishermen and. later, whalers (I’m from New England), and there were numerous shipyards along the New England coast building cargo ships to carry lumber and goods up the rivers and along the coast.

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Daud Alzayer says:
March 24, 2013 at 11:46 am (Edit)
Not to mention the large portion of goods that were imported.

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janice says:
February 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm (Edit)
reading Farmer Boy by Laura Ingles Wilder encouraged me to feel that the women did alot of their own work. the mother weaves cloth for making coats.

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Jennifer says:
March 6, 2013 at 2:54 pm (Edit)
Almanzo’s mother was just one out of many people. In upstate New York they had access to a lot. There’s a point where they talk about the fine store bought fabric Mother had used to make Sunday clothes. I had the feeling that what the family made on the farm was because they thought they could do it better and cheaper than buying. Mother’s cloth was known to be water tight and finely woven, but it is only for the boys to wear. They are not yet allowed the fine store bought. Perhaps she made it because it wore well with no holes in knees, etc.

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Jennifer says:
March 6, 2013 at 2:56 pm (Edit)
Very nicely put together piece. It is good to remember that the “good ol’ days” are not the ideal we think it is. Early in our history many items were made by and purchased from craftsmen, so our consumer history is very long.

Reply
Elaine says:
March 12, 2013 at 11:30 am (Edit)
Mrs. Almonzo Wilder also denotes how unusual it was for a family of the Wilder’s position and economic standing to have the Housewife weaving cloth.
It was simply a case of Mrs. Wilder, Sr. doing a craft she enjoyed very much… on a small scale.
Consider it similar to a Mother today who bakes cupcakes for children’s school celebrations… for her own and her friends’ children… because she enjoys it, not because her family cannot afford bakery-made ones.

 


Huzzah! The mispronunciation of a cheer

December 11, 2016

boston_tea_party_slideshow

Randolph Bragg, who works as a costumed interpreter at Mount Vernon, shares his pet peeve with us this week. “It’s not really a myth, but I wish you’d try to help bust it anyway,” he writes. “I hear this waaaaay too often [at Mount Vernon] and it sets my teeth on edge every time.” What is it? The mis-pronunciation of the colonial era cheer: Huzzah! (Our version of Hooray!)

Here’s what Norman Fuss of the Journal of the American Revolution has to say about the cheer: 

“Go to any Revolutionary War period living history program or reenactment and you hear it again and again. “Huzzah for Great Washington and the Continental Congress!” “Huzzah for good King George and Parliament!” Huzzah this and Huzzah that all day. If our forefathers could come back to one of these events, they would be mightily puzzled. “What is this ”huzzah ?” they might say. “When we cheered, it was Huzzay.” Huzzay? Yes. Not Huzzah.”

How does Norman Fuss know this? His evidence comes from rhymes in poems and songs and is overwhelming. Read his complete article here. And from now on, make sure you say Huzzay! 

 


Revisited Myth #96: Because trans-Atlantic communication was so slow, the Battle Of New Orleans occurred after the War of 1812 had ended.

August 20, 2016

 

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Thanks go to Ralph Eshelman, a historian who specializes in the War of 1812 and who busts this common myth, below. It’s one we find in many history books. I confess, when I was teaching, I presented this to my students as fact. Sorry kids . . .

This commonly held myth is based on the fact that the American and Great Britain peace commissions agreed to terms of a treaty on December 24, 1814. But the British were fearful of the US Congress failing to agree to the recommendations of their own peace commission such as occurred with the Jay Treaty. So the British demanded that all hostiles would cease only after the treaty had been ratified and exchanged by both countries.

This is very clear in the wordage of the treaty as found in the first sentence of Article 2: “Immediately after the ratifications of this treaty by both parties, as hereinafter mentioned, orders shall be sent to the armies, squadrons, officers, subjects and citizens of the two Powers to cease from all hostilities.”

Great Britain ratified the treaty on December 30. The treaty did not reach Washington City until February 14, 1815 and was not ratified by congress until February 16. The United States and Great Britain exchanged ratifications of the treaty on February 17. At this time the treaty became binding. The Battle of New Orleans took place on January 8, 1815, forty days before the war was officially over and hostilities were to cease.

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Revisited Myth # 94: Hair receivers were dressing table accessories meant for gathering hair with which to make hair art.

July 30, 2016

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Thanks go to Ashley Rogers who sent this question: “I work in a historic home where I wrangle a corps of 30 volunteers, and keeping their wandering myths in line is a full-time job. I’ve gone through your site, and to my knowledge, I haven’t found anything about hair receivers. This is a contentious collection piece in my museum, because just like at most historic homes, many of my docents tell visitors that hair receivers were for gathering hair with which to make hair art. Bunk, I say! And here’s why: the hair that came off of a brush would be too tangled and broken to make fine hair art with. Also, hair art is so often associated with Victorian mourning practices that very often these pieces were made from locks from the deceased. Where do you weigh in on this issue? I’d love to see it covered, if the mid-to-late Victorian Era is not too far past your preferred time period.”

You’ve answered your own question so nicely, Ashley, that I consider this a “guest blog.” I can only add to your conclusion something that I located in the library, a book you may have seen: THE ART OF HAIR WORK (1989), which reprints Mark Campbell’s 1875 book plus excerpts from Godey’s Lady’s Magazine. These pages show how to make numerous braid patterns and jewelry, specifically rings, necklaces, and bracelets, from hair. But all the hair is to be purchased from suppliers or, less commonly, cut from the head of a loved one, living or deceased. A nice thick, long strand is required, not broken, short, single strands collected from from a brush or comb. Those could not be gathered into a hank of hair suitable for jewelry-making.

So what happened to the hair in hair receivers? This tangled mess of hair could be saved until there was enough to stuff in a tiny pillow for use as a pin cushion or into a hairnet to make a ratt, a ball of hair that could add height or fullness to one’s hairdo. “While some say that hair saved in receivers was also used for hair jewelry, love tokens, and mourning mementos, Lori Verge, curator of the Surratt House Museum in Clinton, Maryland, states those items required straight, not tangled hair. She believes that women used cut hair (rather than combed out hair) for those purposes. Ms. Verge also reports that her grandmother used a hair receiver as late as the 1950s.” (www.go-star.com/antiquing/hairreceivers.htm) Also see http://www.hairwork.com/remember.htm (the official Victorian Hairwork Society website) for an article by Susan and Jim Harran for Antique Week, Dec. 1997.

COMMENTS:

Melissa Nesbitt says:
August 25, 2012 at 9:49 am (Edit)
I’m glad to see an answer to this. We also have hair receivers in our historic house museum. I’ve never been told they were used for making hair art but rather the ratts as you said. But I’m glad to know how hair art was made as I had not researched that before. Speaking of hair, we have in our collection a long blonde braid that is a false hair piece though made from human hair. It’s interesting to me that hair pieces are not a “new” thing at all. 🙂

Reply
Eric Koontz says:
December 7, 2012 at 10:59 am (Edit)
Hair Receivers were used to make a hair Switch or as you say hair piece.

Reply
Cassidy says:
August 25, 2012 at 10:12 am (Edit)
Ever since I started looking into hair jewelry for an exhibition I worked on, I’ve noticed that people really, really like the idea of it as personal mementoes. Nearly every piece of hair jewelry I’ve come across with a provenance has a story about it being someone or other’s hair and they made it themselves, etc. I guess it’s more interesting than “this bracelet was bought in a store” or “this watch chain was made with hair from a supplier”.

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Kathy Bundy says:
August 25, 2012 at 11:38 am (Edit)
Thank you for using the word “hank”, as in hank of hair. Also thanks for the correct spelling of ratt. Details make all the difference.

As a sentimental mom, I have saved hanks of hair I harvested from my children when they were nearly grown, my son’s is a braid of about 12″ long. Don’t know if I’ll make jewelry, but it’s sure to freak somebody out after I’m gone. We won’t even talk about baby teeth.

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Erin says:
August 25, 2012 at 3:03 pm (Edit)
This is the first time I’ve ever heard of a hair receiver! What a great idea. I wish I’d had one on my dresser when I had long hair. Question for you and Kathy: what’s the spelling history of rat/ratt? The OED only gives the former spelling, and all seven example sentences (from 1863 to 1996) use the word with only one “t” (also, the OED says it’s a “U.S.” term rather than “chiefly U.S.” — so what are hair pads called in the UK? Canadians also say “rat[t]”.

Reply
marymiley says:
August 27, 2012 at 1:15 pm (Edit)
Sorry, Erin, I can’t answer that question about spelling. I can only say that in almost every instance when you see the word in print, it is spelled both ways, like “ratt (also rat)” or vice versa. Since the more scholarly-looking places seemed to prefer the double T, I used that one. Also it makes for less confusion. I wondered if this term had anything to do with the phrase “rat’s nest,” something my grandmother would say back in the ’50s when my hair was all tangled, but I haven’t seen any solid connection.

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Mary Miley says:
August 30, 2012 at 8:06 am (Edit)
Now I’m getting ads from China in my email box, trying to sell me human hair!

Reply
Gemma says:
September 1, 2012 at 4:51 pm (Edit)
Erin: I’ve never noticed this before (and will definitely use in the future) but to the right of the definition of many words in the OED is a link “thesaurus”. For rat it suggests: roll (1532), cushion (1774), toque (1817) and system. Each links straight to the relevant definition of the word with quotations.

Reply
Mary Miley says:
September 2, 2012 at 2:06 pm (Edit)
You must be talking about the online version of the OED, which I have never seen. I just use the huge, multi-volume set at the library. That feature sounds wonderful. I wish I had access to it.

Reply
Carlos Talavera says:
December 3, 2012 at 10:13 am (Edit)
As a costume designer having done some research for period dress/styles; Ratts were used to roll the hair into pretty elaborate styles during the late Victorian and into the Edwardian period (think of the Gibson Girl illustrations with the hair almost twice as wide as the face). Not every woman was blessed with a ridiculously full head of perfectly setting hair. I am not sure if they did offer “rolls” of hair for sale that you could use (much later they were made of nylon mesh over a wire frame) but what better than your own hair that matched your color perfectly?

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Sarah Kirton says:
October 7, 2013 at 8:09 pm (Edit)
My grandmothers both hung the wads of collected hair outdoors for the birds (and probably the squirrels) to use in their nests, starting in early spring to a bit after mid-summer. They both used hair receivers.

Reply
Mary Miley says:
October 8, 2013 at 8:43 am (Edit)
Hi, Sarah. My grandmother did that too. Only she would gather the hair from her hairbrush and put it on a tree near her bird bath and feeders. She could call the birds and they would come. It always amazed me to watch. Thanks for the nice memory!

Reply


Revisited Myth #86: Paul Revere rode through the countryside shouting, “The British Are Coming!”

June 5, 2016

 

800px-J_S_Copley_-_Paul_Revere

Thanks to guest blogger Ceci Flinn for busting this week’s myth. Ceci recently received her PhD in history and has given tours of Boston for twenty years, so if anyone knows the truth about Paul Revere, it is she!

Standing at a library counter at a university in Canada, I explained what I had been looking for when the e-catalog failed. I gave the person working the front desk increasingly specific information – U.S. History, Early American History, Revolutionary War/War of Independence – until I reached my final description: Paul Revere’s ride. “Oh!” he said, “The British are coming!” When I told the retired history professor I was visiting about this, she said: “That’s all we know about it.” (“We” referring to ordinary Canadians, of course, not herself.) Americans are often the same. It is an amazing example of the strength of historic myth, that this simple phrase could be so prevalent and so . . . wrong.

When Paul Revere, William Dawes, Dr. Samuel Prescott, and others, rode to warn rebel leaders in Lexington and Concord that soldiers were heading their way, looking mainly for the stores of ammunition that were being stockpiled by rebel colonists and an excuse to arrest the leaders, they would never have shouted “The British are coming!” because, simply put, they were all still British. Imagine someone running down a road in Concord, MA today shouting “The Americans are coming!” and you’ve got the idea.
800px-Paul_Revere's_ride
In April of 1775, there was plenty of agitation, and many historians argue that the first shots of the revolution had already been fired in New Hampshire the previous December. But one thing had not yet changed: the colonies were still British. They were still overseen by a faraway king and his parliament, and the composition of the “Declaration of Independence” was over a year in the future. So, what did Revere and his compatriots actually say? In their depositions they stated that they had warned residents “the Regulars are out.” British soldiers, such as those stationed in Boston under General Gage, were referred to as “Regulars,” or colloquially as “Redcoats” or “the King’s men”, or even derogatorily as “Lobsterbacks.” But they were certainly not called “the British.” Nor were colonists yet referred to generally as “Americans,” more often terms like “Yankees” or “provincials” were used.

It is easy to see why the myth came about since in hindsight, we refer to the parties involved in the Revolution that created a new country as “British” and “American” to identify the two sides. The expression was apparently used as early as the 1820s. For example, a man called Elias Phinney published a book in 1825 about the events of April 1775, and in his descriptive text he used the term “British.” Yet looking further to his appendices, where he reprints the depositions of colonists, the text quite clearly says “Regulars.” These depositions are available today on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website. Still, the myth is persistent,and not even the respected historian David McCullough did enough to prevent further perpetuation: in the HBO mini-series dramatizing his book John Adams, a messenger rides up to Adams, working outdoors at his farm, and shouts “The British are marching on Lexington!” Another history “fail”, though admittedly, for clarification’s sake, perhaps an understandable failure.

800px-Paul_Revere_Statue_by_Cyrus_E._Dallin,_North_End,_Boston,_MA
References:
David Hackett Fischer, Paul Revere’s Ride, 1994 (p 56, 109)
Elias Phinney, History of the Battle of Lexington, 1825 (p 15, 33)
http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=gZch0tpbLtMC&redir_esc=y
Massachusetts Historic Society: http://www.masshist.org/revolution/lexington.php
Revere’s deposition:
http://www.masshist.org/revolution/image-viewer.php?item_id=98&img_step=1&tpc=&mode=transcript&tpc=#page1


Revisited Myth # 68: Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare.

January 23, 2016

240px-Shakespeare

Okay, this isn’t an American history myth and I probably shouldn’t be dealing with it in this blog, but the topic was so current when I first wrote this post in 2011 (because of the new movie “Anonymous”), I had to go with it.

You simply must read the short article by Stephen Marche, a Shakespeare expert, former professor, and prolific writer who is horrified at the myth perpetrated by the movie “Anonymous.” For those who haven’t heard of it, the movie is about the “real” author of Shakespeare’s plays, an English earl named Edward de Vere. This is a theory that has been bantered about for decades and, says Marche, “has roughly the same currency as the faked moon landing does among astronauts.” I think all of us who lament the hardiness of these history myths can sympathize with Stephen Marche . . . I know I do. Thank you, Mr. Marche, you are one of my heroes. And I’ll enjoy the movie all the more, thanks to the myth-busting details you provided!

Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare? http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/23/magazine/wouldnt-it-be-cool-if-shakespeare-wasnt-shakespeare.html?pagewanted=all 

And yet, in typical myth fashion, the debate rages on. 
Comments from earlier post:
Prof. Marche, or his editors, could have been gentler in his conclusion. I disagree that. “some people deserve to be marginalized and excluded.” Ideas, theories, objections all might deserve exclusion, but never people.

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marymiley
mmtheobald@comcast.net
24.125.51.143 In reply to F.V..
That’s a point I hadn’t heard before! (about inbreeding)

When I hear people make this argument about an uneducated man being incapable of doing genius work, I think of Charles Dickens, dirt poor, uneducated, and probably the English-speaking world’s greatest novelist. I’m sure we can all think of others, too.

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F.V.
gunnjon@nff.is
194.144.111.17
Shakespeare conspiracy theories are 100% classism based solely on the fact that a “commoner” could not have been such a great writer.
Of course one would think that if anything all the inbreeding would make the aristocrats less capable then commoners at just about everything.

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Chris
Chris@talktalk.net
86.163.49.237
No one disputed Shakespeare’s authorship until the 1850s. I find the idea that only an aristocrat could have written ‘aristocratic’ plays unconvincing and unappealing. Emily Bronte had limited experience of romantic love and yet she wrote the greatest romantic novel in the English language. People under estimate the rigour of English grammar school education of the period. A 14 year old grammar school student from Shakespeare’s time would probably know as much about the classics as a modern post graduate student. Also Shakespeare’s geographical knowledge is flawed. He makes many mistakes about European geography. Shakespeare wrote convincingly about all social classes right down to grave-diggers. You could turn the question around and say ‘how could an aristocrat write about the life of a grave-digger?’

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Howard Schumann
facebook.com/profile.php?id=1325650167
hschumann@shaw.ca
24.85.252.243
There is only one myth here, that is the myth of the uneducated genius from Stratford who, against all odds, rose to become the greatest writer in the English language. This mythology has been perpetrated on a gullible public for hundreds of years without a shred of evidence that has ever shown that William of Stratford was a writer.

There is nothing ever discovered in his name except for six unreadable signatures. No correspondence, no letter to or from, no diaries, no descriptions, no one ever claimed to have met and talked with the man.

It is a comforting story and we are reluctant to give it up. In spite of the fact that the powerful throughout history have been wealthy, we still have a picture of the haughty aristocrat which doesn’t meld with our ideal Shakespeare, the cipher who we can ascribe any personality to that we want.

But the truth isn’t always the way we want it and any open minded look at the evidence will discover that it strongly points to Edward de Vere as the true author. This may not please the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust or the academic establishment, but the issue should be only one thing – Is it true? To me, it seems very much to be.

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William Ray
wjray.net
wjray@sonic.net
98.207.240.19
I suggest you do a great deal more reading before you dismiss this topic so blithely. There is much wrong with the inherited story that academia has endorsed as fact, making it a form of customary truth. Shakspere of Stratford was never a writer. He was a poacher, a runaway from his marriage to a woman eight years older, a money-lender, a grain and hops broker, an investor, a litigant over small sums, and a witness in a trial wherein he could not remember what year in which he was born. This was a prudential rather than artistic personality. The received wisdom is therefore suspect. There are many other indications and proofs. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford was a prodigy, wrote poems and plays from childhood, owned and sponsored play companies and produced plays nationally on assignment from Queen Elizabeth before the expected Spanish Armada. These became the Histories, which formed the foundation myth of the English nation. He used numerous pseudonyms and proxies since his station did not include writing for the masses, it being a taboo. There was no need for a massive conspiracy because the majority of plays were written anonymously and pseudonymously , his among them and recognized covertly in the record by many literary figures. But this information was suppressed at the time because his life was a departure and an embarrassment to the government and his class, especially his bastard-born son by Elizabeth I, who was the recipient of dedications to three major works, the only person so honored. The Shakespeare canon reflects the life of the writer, and obviously it had nothing to do with Shakspere. He came into the picture, first as a pretender HE wrote the plays because a variant of his name was on the quartos and playbills, then as a decoy when the works were finally published, and the government wanted to be certain Oxford would not be associated with the subversive work he had done concerning individuals and government policies of his time. Hamlet is perhaps the most autobiographical work ever written, in the biographical and spiritual sense. Again it has nothing to do with Shakspere. There is only one way to overcome the ignorance displayed on this website, which is to study the issue, and books and websites have been formed over time for that possibility among the educated and the youth. It is hardly propaganda and is not fanciful. There could be no more fanciful depiction of an artist of universal importance than the present description of the author, rationaized because it is so much a part of our national and cultural belief system.

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marymiley
mmtheobald@comcast.net
24.125.51.143 In reply to Deborah Brower.
I do remember this incident! Some crazies tried to dig up the graveyard in 1991 because they were trying to prove that the original versions of Shakespeare’s writings were buried there and that Sir Francis Bacon wrote them. And earlier crazies actually did excavate the graveyard in the 1930s but found nothing. See the Virginia Gazette article for details at
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1686763/posts

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Laurie
teacupsamongthefabric.blogspot.com
lahbluebonnet@gmail.com
69.255.146.246
Thank you for sharing this. I homeschool my kids and we will be studying Shakespeare in a few months. I know my kids would have brought this movie up, having seen the trailers. You have saved me a lot of time researching. I’ll bookmark this.
Laurie

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Deborah Brower
eirdrum@hotmail.com
75.192.2.233
I think it fits well with American Myths. I was down in Williamsburg many years ago and they doing some archeology in the yard at Bruton Church. When I asked about it they said they were working on the foundations of the earlier church. Then told me that periodically nut jobs start poking around looking for a secret vault.
Shades of Dan Brown! I even remember something about someone trying to sneak in with heavy machinery.

The vault is supposed to contain the original manuscripts of Shakespeare’s plays with absolute proof that Bacon wrote them. According to this whopper they were brought to America for safe keeping during the English Civil Wars along with other super secret documents.

It had become a big enough problem that the foundation of the later church was threatened by people digging. Silly CW to think that serious science would put a goofy myth like that to rest. People who believe this stuff are so entrenched they’ll just find another even more outrageous twist to the tale to explain the lack of evidence. I think the person who came up with this was named Marie Baur Hall and it might have something to do with Edgar Casey too. If anyone out there knows the rest of the story I’d love to have my memory refreshed.

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