Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Bunch of This and That: Tying Up Loose Ends of Previous Bilgrimage Stories

This is an "odds-and-ends" posting tying up loose ends of previous postings, or glossing them in some way. This tying up of loose ends or glossing former postings is all that the items below have in common--and they may well bore most readers, so please be forewarned. As I see it, the obligation to deal with dangling threads is one of the prices I pay for trying to live out loud via a blog--an ethical obligation of sorts, which is about seeking to follow threads of truth wherever they lead me.

1. At Queering the Church, Terry Weldon offers a thoughtful and instructive response to my recent posting reflecting on questions about the experience of gay family members invited over and over again to straight family weddings, when they themselves are excluded from the right to marry. The heart of Terry's response:

The whole point of the word “heteronormative” is that this is the way the world is constructed, based on a single, majority way of seeing things – without ever considering that another perspective is possible.

2. I mentioned two days ago something I've been vaguely aware of for some time now, but haven't informed myself about as much as I need to do: this is the choice of the Choctaw tribe to send money to the people of Ireland during the Irish Famine of the 1840s. What's noteworthy about this gift is that it came from a group of people with almost no resources of their own, who had just been herded across the face of the United States on the Trail of Tears as they were dispossessed of their lands in the 1830s.  

I'm now informing myself a little more about this historical incident that, to my mind, richly bears remembering. As I do so, I'm compiling a cache of online resources that may interest any reader who wants to know more about this story: 

  • A 1992 article by Mike Ward notes that in that year, to demonstrate their gratitude for the Choctaw gift to the Irish, eight folks from Ireland walked part of the Trail of Tears, gathering money as they did so for the starving people of Somalia.
  • In 1995, Irish president Mary Robinson visited the Choctaws in Oklahoma to express her gratitude for their people's gift to Ireland in the 1840s, and in a keynote address to the International Conference on Hunger the same year, she commented eloquently on this story.
  • Irish singer Damien Dempsey has written a song, "Choctaw Nation," celebrating the Choctaws' gift to the Irish, and here's a You Tube clip of him performing the song.
  • Derek Walsh has written a song entitled "Trail of Tears" about this story, as well, and it's available online here.
  • A Facebook page called "Choctaw Irish Famine" has been set up to gather resources to remember this historical story.

And there's probably much more to be found online by anyone seeking information re: this noteworthy historical story.

3. A month ago, I blogged about a rendition of the Alma de Maria icon with which I was taken, and as I did so, I promised readers that if I could discover more information about the artist who had created the particular image that had intrigued me, I'd do so. And I'm pleased to report that I've tracked down the artist's name: it's Mary Jo Madrid. She's a santera trained in the tradition of Russian iconography, and Steve and I actually have a little tin-mounted icon of St. Francis that's her work, though I didn't connect this with the Alma de Maria when I saw the latter in a shop weeks back. Here's a biography of Madrid from the website of the Museum of New Mexico Foundation.

4. Finally, a long time back--and this was in a Disqus thread, and I don't know how to retrieve the particular conversation and link to it now--I responded to a statement of Father Joseph O'Leary about Puritanism with the observation that I myself have no Puritan roots at all, since almost all of my ancestral lines in America run back to colonial Virginia and Maryland, with a sprinkling of ancestors who came to the middle colonies and moved South, one who emigrated from Ulster to South Carolina in 1767, and Irish ancestors who came to New Orleans in the 1850s.

And I now discover I was spectacularly wrong in what I told Joe O'Leary, and I'm obliged to issue a correction. As an offshoot of the research I've done for my forthcoming book about the 19th-century Arkansas freethinker Wilson Richard Bachelor (it will be published this coming March), I've been delving into the roots of Bachelor's (and my own) family in Virginia. That research has led me to the discovery that a considerable proportion of my roots on the family lines of three of my four grandparents lead back, in fact, to an early Puritan colony in the southeastern Virginia counties of Lower Norfolk, Nansemond, and Isle of Wight.

I've long known of that colony, and I knew of it at the time I told Joe O'Leary that I don't have any Puritan roots in the least. What I didn't know at that time, though, was that these Virginia Puritans were the same people as the Puritans who came to New England, and were thickly associated with the New England Pilgrims. I had somehow gathered that the Virginia Puritans were Puritan-leaning Anglicans and not outright religious dissenters.

After months of reading, which have culminated in a whopper of a paper that amasses all the evidence, I find that the Puritans who began founding a colony in southeastern Virginia in 1618 were in no way distinguishable from their cousins in New England, and the same streams of migration that brought Puritans to New England brought them to southeastern Virginia. What does set the Virginia Puritans apart is that they were a cultural and religious minority in a colony in which the Church of England was established, and as a result, many of them (including some of my own ancestors) migrated to Anne Arundel County, Maryland, in the late 1640s when the government of Virginia began to hound the Puritans of that colony.

The Virginia Puritans and their offshoots in Maryland also differ from the New England ones in that the Southern set became, almost to a man, woman, and child, Quakers when that movement reached Virginia in the final years of the 1650s. While the Puritans of New England actively persecuted the Quakers . . . . And not a whit of this will be of the slightest interest to most readers, nor should it be, perhaps. 

It catches my eye because, as I say, I've continued research I began for my book on a 19th-century free-thinking relative of mine. As I've followed his (and my) family's trek from Virginia to North Carolina and then through Tennessee into Arkansas, something that has attracted my attention is a persistent strain of religious dissent among members of this family. In seeking the roots of that dissent, I've found my way back to the Puritan community in southeastern Virginia in the early 1600s, with its extension in Maryland--a community that then became a Quaker hotbed after 1658, so that I'm convinced these English folks arrived in the colonies as people who stood against whatever was the dominant religious mainstream of the period, and took advantage of any opportunity that came along to express their disaffection from the established church. And that this strain of dissent follows down the line of my Batchelor family to Wilson R. Bachelor, my 19th-century free-thinking uncle several generations back.

Whose immigrant ancestor Richard Batchelor was transported to Virginia by one William Goldsmith, who shows up in Lower Norfolk County records in the 1660s being prosecuted along with his wife and daughter for attending Quaker meetings . . . . And who was himself brought to Virginia by one John Gaither, a Puritan who made the trek to Maryland in the late 1640s after Virginia had cracked down on its Puritan citizens, and who was closely associated with other Puritans who became Quakers after their move from Virginia to Maryland . . . . Richard Batchelor, who married Ann Biggs, daughter of John Biggs, who was himself part of the Puritan colony in Lower Norfolk County, and who was then prosecuted for refusing to have his children baptized and refusing to swear an oath in court, since he had become a Quaker . . . . 

All of which I'm boring readers by recounting now, and recounting solely because I misspoke in what I said to Joe O'Leary here lo these many months ago, and perhaps my several Puritan-Quaker bloodlines make me scrupulous about telling the truth, even (or especially?) when doing so casts me in the light of a feeble sinner prone to whopping mistakes who must frequently make public confessions about precisely where he's gone wrong.

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