Saturday, October 12, 2013

Closing Up Shop

For a number of reasons I am slowly closing down this blog by shifting its contents to my new site at  For longer pieces, that go beyond the sort of reflections that were posted here, and are now at my WordPress site, visit, and for videos check out my C-SPAN work at  For much shorter items, usually quotes and other passages that strike me as especially relevant to the 18th-century British world, please join me at  And, of course, you can always follow me on Twitter at Cheers!

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Religious Intolerance in an Age of Reason

On November 24, 1738, the printer of the Virginia Gazette published this diatribe against Quakers.  Religious intolerance, even against "tolerated" dissenters, was then rampant across the British Atlantic world, but enmity against Quakers reached something of a pitch in Williamsburg among the less enlightened sort of Anglicans when Quakers were exempted by law from military service (although they still had to furnish a substitute, which was hardly a proper accommodation).  In the midst of all that, William Parks came across these venomous lines and chose to publish them.

Instructions how to make a perfect QUAKER

FIRST, take a handful of the Herb of Deceit, and a few Leaves of Folly, and a little of the Rose of Vain-Glory, with some of the Buds of Envy, and a few Blossoms of Malice, with a few Formality Flowers, and a Spring or Two of idle Conceit; take some of the Seeds of Pride, and some of the Seeds of Hypocrisy, and some Seeds of forbidden Pleasure, and some of the Bark of Self-Will, an put them altogether into a Mortar of Defiance, and pound them with a Pestle of Head-Strong Wood: Also take an Ounce of Ill-Manners, and Three Quarters of an Ounce of Cheat-Seed, a good Quantity of the Roots of Ambition, and the Pith of Self-Conceit, together with some Plumbs that grow on Runagate Hill, and some of the Grapes that grow in the Suburbs of Sodom, and some of the Spice of Babylon; and then take these Twenty-Sorts, and stew them altogether in a stony-hearted Jugg; over the fire of cold Zeal, and pour in a little of the Water of the Wild Fountain; and when they are all simmer'd and soak'd together enough, grate in a little Folly-Powder, and strain it through a Cloth of Vanity, and look every Morning thro' a Spout of Ignorance, and in a little Time it will raise the Spirit, and you will quake, and shake, and smite on your Breast, and so you will become a perfect Quaker.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Robert Bolling on the Portrait of George III Hanging in the Governor's Palace at Williamsburg

On the King's Picture (drawn by Ramsay) in the Palace of his Excellency the right hon: Lord Botetourt in Williamsburgh

George IIICou'd we behold that happy Day
When on this late contented Shore
But now forlorn, the chearful Ray
Of Freedom check'd by no stern Pow'r
Wou'd once more mild benign revive
Those Blessings it alone can give
What Raptures wou'd elate his Heart
His Face what Splendors wou'd adorn
Who did that vital Light impart
Great Friend of us & those unborn!
Behold that friendly pleasing awful Brow:
By Heaven it seems to make us happy now!

[Robert Bolling mss, c1771, Brock Collection, Huntington Library]

Monday, February 21, 2011

"How thankfull am I to think that you are not in America": The Worries of Mary Bogle

In 1776, Mary Bogle was a young woman worried about what was happening to her world. For several generations her close-knit Glaswegian family had been working hard at establishing themselves as transatlantic merchants, posting brothers, cousins, and friends to Virginia, India, and London to take advantage of the explosion in eighteenth-century trade that followed the Peace of Utrecht and which lowland Scots appear to have been uniquely adept at managing.

But on February 21, 1776, all that seemed to be coming apart in ways that did not seem to make sense to Mary. Writing from Daldowie, the Bogle family home built with tobacco money just outside of Glasgow, she expressed her angst to her brother George, then on the other side of the world in Calcutta, in terms that reveal not only the distress of a young Scottish woman, but the grip the troubles across the Atlantic had on the British people. She wrote, "How thankfull am I to think that you are not in America at Present, the Disturbances in that Country Engross the attention of every body; God alone knows when or where it will end, it certainly is a Most unatral rebelion: the People who have friends there are much to be pittied: but I wont write any More on this Subject as it never fails to throw a Damp over My Spirits whenever I think of it." She wasn't alone in her worries, though, as close friends had family members in the thick of the disturbances. Mary pointed out that the Hamiltons, for example, "are in great Anxiety about their Brother Douglas who is in Virginia; he is a vastly good lad, & I hope shall be preserv’d from Danger.”

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Grand Revolution: Peyton Randolph and the End of the Robinocracy

This date in 1742 (1741 if you're sticking to the old style calendar) marked a remarkable event in British history, a true end of an era: The 21 years of the Robinocracy came to a close when Sir Robert Walpole, having finally lost his majority in the House of Commons and facing a increasingly vehement opposition, resigned as First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer. For Williamsburg, Walpole was a major figure, both in terms of imperial politics and personal relationships. He and his brothers clearly understood the importance of the tobacco economy to the empire's interests and did all they could to protect and promote it. On a more intimate level, evidence suggests that there was a close relationship between Walpole and Sir John Randolph, one that extended to their families and which lasted through the American Revolution.

We're rather fortunate to have a glimpse into that relationship and this event in the form of one of the few extant letters written by Peyton Randolph. The Randolph who wrote of Walpole's fall was a much different figure than the stout statesman encountered in Revolutionary Williamsburg. Only about 20 years old in 1742, he had already been in London for almost three years, having begun his legal studies at the Middle Temple of the Inns of Court in 1739. The nature of eighteenth-century legal studies being what it was, young Randolph had a great deal of time on his hands to study or to attend sessions of Parliament or the law courts. Mostly he had the opportunity to soak up the rich political culture of Augustan England, which Walpole had done much to shape. It this Randolph, full of humor and vitality, who writes to John Custis IV in Virginia of the "grand Revolutions" of 1741/2, chief among which is the resignation of "Sr Robert":

“The year 41 has been as memorable as that just a Century ago. We see all the Courts of Europe in an Uproar, & grand Revolutions in many of them. Here has been a very great one, as little expected before the Sitting of the Parliament, as that I shall come to be Grand Signor. Sr Robert being no longer able to keep a Majority in the House, was obliged voluntarily to give up all his Places; which was the most honorable Way of parting with them. He has taken the title of Lord Oxford, by which he will be entitled to a Trial by his Peers in case of Impeachment; where it is said he has a great Majority.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Affective History, Effective Truth

The latest issue of Rethinking History includes an article by Emily Robinson that explores the relationship between emotion and the practice of history. It bears reading several times for the ideas it contains, especially regarding the nature of historical practice as an intellectual process, but one of its most intriguing implications lies in what the "affective turn" means for places like Colonial Williamsburg and the people who are, in many ways, on the front lines of the historical field. In the scholarship of Early American history, interesting works about the role of feeling and sentiment in the revolutionary era--such as Sarah Knott's Sensibility and the American Revolution and Nicole Eustace's Passion is the Gale: Emotion, Power, and the Coming of the Revolution--have begun to appear with regularity. My own dissertation (Constitutional Sense, Revolutionary Sensibility: Political Cultures in the Making and Breaking of British Virginia) is in many ways an exploration of the epistemological tensions between reason and feeling traced in transatlantic political thought and behavior in the eighteenth century.

The "affective turn" has hit those who practice public history especially hard. Much of CW's regular programming, such as Rev City and the "In the moment" tours of the Capitol and Palace, seek to connect visitors with the conflicting, contingent emotions generated by important events in America's revolutionary history. It also shows up in other living history museums, such as Plimoth Plantation. On the other side of the ocean, BBC Two is devoting much of its history programming this fall to shows that attempt to do the same thing. Chief among them is Amanda Vickery's "At Home with the Georgians," in which she wants to "breathe life" into eighteenth-century buildings and other spaces.

In trying to make the past more present and immediate (BBC Two's pithy tag line is "The History of Us, Then") historians should chase effective truth as we follow the affective turn. To approach a verrita effetuale (Machiavelli's concept central to those of us interested in the study of discourse and put to such valuable interpretive use by J. G. A. Pocock) of the revolutionary world requires us to understand it, as nearly as possible, in all the ways in which it actually was, not as our visitors and others wish it to have been. It requires us to make a special, interdisciplinary effort to reconstruct the varied ways in which people experienced their world and developed their many faceted understandings about it.

Such an approach demands as much attention to reason as to passion, to the ideas that inspired extraordinary actions, and to the deeply personal nature of that process. It is understanding both the sense and the sensibility of America's revolutionary world, and the intensely intimate nature of the ways in which people negotiated the two, that is to me the most interesting challenge that public and academic historians (those with and without a mass of letters after their names) face. As we endeavor to find innovative, multimedia ways to engage visitors, students, and readers, we should remember that the foundation of our collective effort is an attempt to reach their minds as well as their hearts.