Hello, history mate.
This month I welcome about forty new folks to the readership. If you’re a newcomer, know that my installments arrive in your inbox each mid-month and will usually feature a pair of History Nuggets. To wit:
“Worthless, and Half-Savage.” The Underground Railroad drew wide support in the North — not! That is among the stubborn falsehoods historians and educators have worked hard to debunk. For instance, here is Scholastic Press’s warning in its Myths of the Underground Railroad teacher guide: “Myth: Most people in the North supported the Underground Railroad and welcomed runaway slaves into their states. Truth: Only a small minority of people in the North worked on – and even supported – the Underground Railroad. In fact, many did not welcome fugitives into their states. In 1804, Ohio passed a law prohibiting runaway slaves from entering the state.” Such animosity also prevailed in Northeastern Pennsylvania, venue of my history book Embattled Freedom. Though a few towns like Waverly had brave UGRR activists, the region was awash in hostility to black people and abolitionism. A weekly in nearby Kingston captured the sentiment in 1838, scorning black people as “a degraded, worthless, and half-savage race.” As I write in the book and say in my author talks, we may like to believe the best about our forebears, but the counter-evidence is loud on this score.
“The Solicitude of Certain Gentlemen.” Waverly’s little black church hosted outdoor revivals that drew interracial crowds from near and far for decades into the early 1900s. While these were spiritual affairs, there also seemed to be a bit of sly spiritousness occurring on the side, according to a 1905 item from The Defender, Scranton’s black newspaper of the era. The Defender’s witty correspondent “took notice last Sabbath at the Waverly camp meeting of the solicitude of certain gentlemen toward their horses. The gentlemen in question, which we are pleased to note were from our own dear Scranton, were comfortably supplied with all the elements necessary to make a man feel a peculiar tinge of pride. Eatables in abundance, the association of charming women, etc. But they were not content with these luxurious privileges. They had the welfare and comfort of their beasts at heart, and at frequent intervals would jump up and exclaim, ‘I must go to the barn and look after the horses, they may need water or feed.’ And out they would go, sometimes singly and sometimes in couples, to care for their poor, dear, neglected horses. Strange to say, however, the animals did not seem to profit by their frequent feedings, as their exterior condition gave no evidence of the tender care and solicitude of these charitable gentlemen. The constant exercise seemed to tell on these gentlemen’s joints and countenances as they oftentimes appeared shaky upon emerging from the barn where their dear hungry horses were stalled.” What, pray tell, were those fellows ever up to?
Book News. I was honored to be among the presenters at the Northeastern Pennsylvania History Conference on Oct. 6. The event was recorded by the Pennsylvania Cable Network, and you can watch the proceedings on Thursday, Oct. 12, beginning 7 p.m., on PCN-TV. Go to pcntv.com for details. Also, I’ll be at the big York Book Expo, which takes place Saturday, Oct. 21, 11 to 4, at the Wisehaven Event Center in York, Pa. Come on down if you can, and bring a friend.