Sep 132009

Joshua Claybourn at In The Agory has posted an article titled “Why Your Children Won’t Remeber 9/11“.

It immediately brought to mind the book I’m now reading, “The Stolen Village : Baltimore and the Barbary Pirates” by Des Ekin (2008). My daughter gave it to me on 9/11, for my birthday.

The sack of Baltimore in 1631 was in some respects like the attack on New York. The author describes it as “the most devastating invasion ever carried out by the forces of the Islamist jihad on Britain or Ireland” and says it “was recognized at the time as an unprecedented act of aggression by the Islamist empire.”

He might be overplaying the “jihad” and “Islamist” aspects of what happened in 1631, but there is also another possible similarity: I bet most people don’t remember it. I hadn’t even heard of it until a few months ago, when I was listening to book about Stephen Decatur and heard a brief mention of Baltimore. Time will tell in the case of New York. (Read the article for an explanation.)

The mention in the Decatur biography caught my attention because we had visited Baltimore ten years ago. I can’t find my own photos of the visit, but my wife took some snapshots.


That’s me, looking down toward the same Baltimore harbor to which the Barbary pirate ships had come.


This is more of the harbor. I’m not sure if it’s the same place where the ferry to Cape Clear docked. It doesn’t seem quite like it. The next day after this photo I let the others go on ahead to the island while I did some bicycling around Baltimore, than caught a later ferry to join them. I remember some confusion about when and where I should carry my bike onto the ferry, and this doesn’t quite seem like the place.


The ruins of the O’Driscoll castle are in view not only here, but also from the place where we sat overlooking the harbor and drinking Guinness. I remember wondering just briefly at the time of our visit about the history and the vulnerability of Baltimore on the extreme southwest of the Irish island. A few days earlier the wind had blown me to Spanish Point, where a part of the Spanish Armada had been destroyed in the famous but unsuccessful invasion of 1588. (I hadn’t intended to go there, but had gotten lost while riding my bicycle over some of the ridges toward the ferry at Shannon. I then took the course of least resistance and ended up at Spanish Point, from where I had maps to help me find my way.) Thinking about Spanish ships off the coast of Ireland in 1588 made me think of how exposed a place like Baltimore was.

Des Eskin’s book does a good job of connecting the story to the present. On page 65 he writes:

It was a profitable business, and no-one took more advantage of this trade than the Great O’Driscoll clan. They were a powerful mafia, one of three major sea-roving families who operated a racket of piracy, smuggling and extortion around the Irish coastline. The name still dominates the district: the joke is that you can’t throw a stone without hitting an O’Driscoll, and in view of their fierce temperament it wouldn’t be the wisest thing to do.

Last night I was informed that the B&B where we stayed on Cape Clear belongs to an O’Driscoll. I don’t recall that she was very fierce of temperament, but then I wasn’t throwing stones, either.

Jul 312007

There is a review of Amity Shlaes new book, “The Forgotten Man : a new history of the Great Depression” in the July 30 issue of The Weekly Standard. You have to be a paid subscriber to read the whole article, but here’s the link anyway.

The reviewer, Stephen Schwartz, says in one place: “While the outcome of the New Deal was perceived as beneficial, and was unaccompanied by repression, it has long been observed that the emergence of the American social welfare state had elements in common with Mussolini’s fascism, Hitler’s state-directed economic revival, and Stalinist compulsory agrarian collectivization and central planning.”

Unaccompanied by repression? Well, it certainly didn’t have repression on the scale of those other examples listed, but something was in the air at the time, world-wide. It wasn’t just Stalin who was doing central planning that resulted in dislocations of populations.

Last year when on a bike tour that passed through one of the TVA projects of the 1930s, I was surprised to learn of the level of resentment that still exists over the human dislocations undertaken in that not-so-successful experiment in central planning. And then I learned there is a literature about it, too.

I blogged about it here: Alabama trip, Day 4, Wednesday March 29, the Trace — Part 1.

I quote here about one of my discoveries on Jstor:

Another is this: TVA and the Dispossessed: The Resettlement of Population in the Norris Dam Area. By Michael J. McDonald; John Muldowny

The AHA reviewer says this: “Using oral-history techniques as well as a vast array of documentary evidence and statistics, Michael J McDonald andJohn Muldowny have skillfully and judiciously analyzed these failures. They conclude that even though the numerous long-run benefits can be cited legitimately as a result of TVA operations, there should nevertheless have been a more active and aggressive planning program…[But, G]iven the circumstances described by the authors, it is extremely difficult to imagine how the adverse impact of relocation on the people of the Norris Basin could have been significantly minimized.”

It sounds as though Amity Shlaes didn’t get into that aspect of the New Deal.

And why is it that these trends seem to cross national borders? This is one reason why it’s so worrisome to see Vladimir Putin and Hugo Chavez eliminating the free presses in their countries. Trends like that have a way of leaking out over the entire world. In our country we already have McCain-Feingold and the recent attempts to reinstate the so-called Fairness Doctrine. What more is coming?

Jun 082007

In a Reuters news item, David Alexander makes much of the misspellings in a newly found manuscript by Abraham Lincoln, written after the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

“…A misspelling showed the rudimentary education of the 16th U.S. president, who was largely self-taught….”


“…Plante said in other writing Lincoln sometimes misspelled the word “literal” and sometimes spelled it correctly….”

Or maybe it’s Trevor Plante, the archivist who found the manuscript, who made much of it.

I wonder, though. Were these misspellings really the mark of a person with little formal education? Or were they pretty much typical of almost anyone at the time?

My impression, probably from reading books like Daniel Boorstin’s, “The Americans: The Colonial Experience” is that spelling took on an increasingly important role in American education throughout the 19th century. Noah Webster’s dictionary and spelling reform attempts helped get it going early in the century. But is it really the case that spelling would be such a big deal already by the 1860s?

I don’t have any manuscript transcripts in my office from that period, but I have some from the 1820s and 1830s. No, the 1830s are not the 1860s, but it’s something to look at. Ellen Whitney’s. In Ellen Whitney’s manuscript transcripts from the Black Hawk war there is a private letter from Lewis Cass dated Nov 30 1832 in which he writes, “I am allways happy to receive…”. Cass had been educated at Phillips Exeter Academy, which I presume was a cut above the log cabins where Lincoln went to school.

There are letters from Zachary Taylor that contain misspellings, but Taylor’s education probably was similar to Lincoln’s, so that doesn’t help much.

So far I haven’t found any misspellings in any of Gen. Winfield Scott’s letters. And there is a long letter from Cass to Scott with nary a spelling error. (I don’t count the occasional dropped letter in a word in a handwritten manuscript as a spelling error.)

On the other hand, other letters from people who presumably had a lesser education are full of spelling errors.

So maybe Plante is right. Maybe by the 1860s an educated person would consider it important to get the spelling right. I still don’t know for sure, but I certainly don’t have evidence to contradict what he said.

Edited formatting, 8-Jun-2007