Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Privatising History: A Million Gnadenhuttens

Now, I don't exactly value my insights into American politics highly, because I'm wrong virtually every time I  open my mouth. All that matters here for me is still the fact that people are talking about how crazy it is that a Mormon could get so far in American politics. I've known exactly one Mormon well. He was a math major with a Mohawk haircut and a taste for punk music, and we played Dungeons & Dragons together. I'm recalling, off the top of my head, exactly one monograph by a scholar who made his Mormonism an issue. It's an awesome book.

The Mormon faith believes crazy stuff? Join the club. (Which, arguably, is what they were trying to do.)

Of course, I'm not trying to marginalise this stuff, like we do with, say, the story of Jericho. I'm saying that the pseudohistory of the Book of Mormons is a fictionalised history of America, in the same way that Cooper's Pioneers is a fictionalised history of his family.  The names have been changed to protect the innocent, recalling that there are a great deal of innocents to be protected here. It's a history so awful and awesome that one side can't bear to express it except esoterically, while the other wants to privatise it.

 Here's a Google Map screenshot of the unincorporated town of Gnadenhutten, Ohio, centred on the National Historical Service-registered Memorial Park.

In the words of the anonymous Wikipedia contributer: the Pennsylvania militia who occupied this Moravian mission town on the Tuscarawas River in east-central Ohio on March 7th, 1782, took some 100 prisoners:

"The next morning on 8 March, the militia tied the Indians, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalpingcuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. They piled the bodies in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages. Two Indian boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre.
The militia collected the remains of the Lenape and buried them in a mound on the southern side of the village. Before burning the villages, they had looted, gathering plunder which they needed 80 horses to carry: furs for trade, pewter, tea sets, clothing, everything the people held."

The Gnadenhutten Massacre, the burial mound at Aztalan, and the "Battle of Nauvoo." (Somewhat) similar episodes: that's what I'm saying. The whys and wherefores are a little difficult to discern at this distance. Keat Murray takes his insight in a different direction than I would, but his basic suggestion is that the massacre at Gnadenhutten worked two ways. It enforced the authority of the Moravian leadership by punishing the people who returned to Gnadenhutten, and it implicated the lower social orders who supposedly carried out the massacre at their own initiative.

Today, Gnadenhutten is formally memorialised by a stone obelisk inscribed to the martyrs who "triumphed through death." At the time, though, it was through a practice familiar through many an archaeological report on Southern Cult sites. First, people were stunned with mallets. Then, they were killed by scalping. Then, their bodies were burnt. Then, the bones were collected and buried in a mound. Then, a village was laid around the mound, such that today the memorial park faces the back campus of Indian Valley High School, the back side of Gnadenhutten Cemetery, and the backyards of Walnut Street and Spring Street West.*

This isn't a private site by any means. County Highway 10 will take you directly to the interpretative centre. I'm hanging the perfection of my little thesis about the memorial park being informally private on the fact that to get to the actual mound you have to take a right or left turn off the highway (or Cherry Street, as it has become in the town grid.) The site isn't profaned by traffic driving directly by, but there's no sense in which you can't drive right by it. You just have to make an effort.

 This idea of "private history" started with the suggestion that the fact that the Hill of Cumorrah was on private property was a telling fact about the early history of Mormonism. I wish that I could remember the scholar who made that suggestion, but it was interesting enough that I've made some effort to count the number of such places, because there's nothing like large numbers to stun people into acquiescence, like a mallet brought down upon their heads.

In theory, this is something that could be done scientifically. The NHS Register of Historic Places is now in the process of being made into a searchable online database. It's just not very searchable, because the site reports are being done up as PDFs, and most of them haven't been uploaded yet. So in the end I gave up on the scientific and went with the  impressionistic. It's self-indulgent, something that I don't normally go in for here, but what the heck.

For a final word on privatising public spaces before the jump, I turn things over to Steve Earle.

Generally, the idea of the "Moundbuilders" is that mysterious earthworks and effigy mounds brood over small, Midwestern towns. I started with Gnadenhutten because they're a bigger deal than that, and a lot more mysterious. But now I will go east, because they're also more geographically expansive. It's perhaps because people are so studiously incurious that I have to start with something as flaky as this: a very old site (that's Internet time) dedicated to Fort Hill, an earthwork complex in the middle of Auburn, New York. I'm guessing that it's part of the Pomeroy Park that shows up on Google Maps, along with Fort Hill Cemetery, in the middle of which is a 70 foot stone obelisk, erected by the Fort Hill Cemetery Committee, with a plague reading, "Who is There to Mourn for Logan?"

Now, I'm not starting in the Finger Lakes area of western New York state for geographical reasons. In fact, I'm starting in Orange County, New York. I'm just stopping in Auburn along the way to make another point. Which is to first remind you that I have (another) crazy theory, which is that this  whole esoteric/exoteric reading thing isn't some scholarly affectation, but pretty basically human. Long before there were politics, there was the human heart, all fragile and fearful of changes in routine and rejection, all weak and demanding of cloaks and indirections. So you write something, you leave it where the girl or the boy can read it.

And then, well, it depends on where you are in your life. Because you can go one of two ways with your hidden, esoteric reading. You can make it all subtle, so that you have deniability. In that case, the person who reads it is left doubting themselves. Is there a secret message here, or am I just crazy? That's the wimp's way out, but we're all wimps sometimes.

Or you can write "there is a secret message here" on a mallet,** and you can whack people over the head with it while dancing around them yelling. Which, it seems to me, is what the Fort Hill Cemetery Committee people are doing here. So I'm setting aside the possibility of me being crazy and suggesting that, well, there's a secret message here.

As the Fort Hill Historical Society have figured out. Logan the Orator, Cayuga by his mother's side, but son of an Oneida,*** has to be one of the most famous American Indians of the Eighteenth Century, by virtue of "Logan's Lament," if not for his obscure role in the obscure era of American history between the end of the Seven Years War and the Revolution. At least, obscure if you don't read it as pure prolegomena to the Revolution proper. This Logan has a connection with Auburn, and so, presumably, does the larger lineage of the great Shikellamy, a man with many descendants named Logan. (I'm honestly not sure where to take the modern fame of this name.) I'm reading the obelisk as saying that there are people of that ilk on the Committee. But, hey, I would say that, wouldn't I?

So, anyway, Orange County. (New York, that is.) I actually got here rather indirectly, while trying to find a Gnaddenhutten-style mound associated with an Indiana massacre in the run up to the War of 1812. One of the settlers was a big deal, and in trying to find out why he was a big deal, I was led back to the people who were probably his grandparents, Orange County pioneer couple Sarah Wells and William Bull.**** At this point I gave up on my faint Indiana trace because of much more tantalising information about the "Burying Hill" on the Wells estate in Hamptonburgh where the two, and their descdendants, are buried near the stone house that survives today as the legacy of Bull's work. The site to which I link, you will note, commemorates the faithful commemoration of generations of genealogy-minded descendants as it does the founding couple itself.

Private burial place? Check!
[Stone] Architecture? Check! So. What is this "Burying Hill?" Unfortunately, I don't know. (Although it is most certainly centred on a burial mound.) Eager wasn't nearly as interested in Indian antiquities as some of the other New York county historians, so the only one that he notices around Hamptonburgh is the one on the Archer farm. And a laborious crawl through this establishes that private burial grounds on family farms were very common in Orange County, New York in the 1880s.

So what? The fact of private burial grounds might established privatised history, but even if we grant that Eager is trying to tell us that his distant ancestor, Sarah Wells, was actually the Indian princess whose hereditary claim greased the Indian side of the transaction that established the Denn and Bull estates at Hamptonburgh --even if you grant that, I haven't proven anything about anyone else.

So what I will take away from Orange County is this, instead. That a country flowing in beaver streams was transformed at the turn of the 1700s into a meadow country centred on the production of beef cattle for the New York market. This was accompanied by the widespread "patenting" of land by substantial investors, many of whom established well-capitalised farms in this country, while simultaneously and in a not-so-clear way gaining Indian acquiescence, bearing in mind that this region was still subject to destructive raids as late as 1758.

Set aside this story of the essential nature of race being linked to certain economic lifestyles, and look at it the other way. It's not that Indians hunted and trapped beaver and grew a little corn, while incoming Euro-Americans grew wheat and raised cattle to provision ships and Caribbean sugar plantations. It's that the people who did the former adopted Indian identity; and that those who did the latter took on Euro-American identity. That's all, a priori, that we know. And the reason for challenging the received narrative is very simple. I suspect that the way that this transition was managed ensured that social elites gained a disproportionately large share of the good land.

We're not talking about a racial wave of settlement coming in from the sea. (Well, we are, but not quite in the way so far conceived, but more on that later.) We're talking about a real estate swindle.

So now I can move on to Ohio.

The first settler to come over to Ohio to "hunt the buffalo" was, of course, Daniel Boone. (Obligatory pre-clicking irony alert.) Boonesborough was actuallly in Kentucky, and is certainly not private history now. They don't exactly emphasise that the Quaker pioneer built his pioneer town on top of a Fort Ancient earthwork enclosure, though.

So since I'm doing this for impressionistic effect, I'll move on to the type site, Fort Ancient, a hilltop earthwork enclosure at the junction of the Little Miami with Turtle Creek in Washington Township, Warren County, Ohio. Typically of ancient hillforts, archaeologists have some difficulty understanding how it functioned, and the archaeoastronomers have been at it, along with, more plausibly, the rituality specialists. One thing that walls certainly create is privacy, and privacy is clearly an important part of some ceremonial. That being said, I find it  hard to believe that so much work was put into something with no intention of organising the landscape. Ritual organisation may be enough, but have we sufficiently considered its possible uses for a hunting people? Yeah, I know. Shut up and leave the specialists alone.

Anyway, Fort Ancient used to be private history. There was a village between the heights and the Little Miami during the Nineteenth Century, but it's gone now, disappeared about the time that the site became the first Ohio state park in 1891. All that's left of it is the former Crossed Keys Tavern, also now a historic site, which is where, I suppose, a researcher would go to better understand that era. Wikipedia is almost sterile of more useful information, and I'd have to, gasp, go look for local history monographs to learn more.

Well, except for this. It turns out that the landscape has been made to commemorate Little Turtle, great war chief of the Miamis and father-in-law of William Wells. Remember how I was blathering earlier about early settlement-era elite members Christopher Denn and William Bull, who might have associated themselves with  "Indian princesses" and certainly ended up with vast landed estates and political influence? Remember how you doubted me? A comparable episoded is as good as proof! It also works the other way, apparently. I'd love to link Little Turtle's grave at Fort Wayne, Indiana, back to the land's Nineteenth Century owners, but no can do right now.

But enough small sites: here's a few big ones. Rufus Putnam, the Revolutionary general and military engineer, subsequently decided to get into the Ohio settlement game, while other members of the family rusticated back east. To do so, he established himself at Marietta, Ohio, at the confluence of the Muskingum River and the Ohio, lived a  life in early Ohio politics, and was buried at Indian Mound Cemetery. Because Marietta was built in the midst of, and with its town grid aligned with, a massive array of Hopewell-era earthworks. The Daughters of the American Revolution's monthly noticed Marietta in 1900, declaring that more officers of the Revolution are buried at the Old Mound Cemetery than any other cemetery in the United States. (Per Wikipedia. I have no idea whether it's true or not, but it seems like one of those things that the DAR would know!) The custodial task evidently overwhelmed the city fathers of Marietta, as all that survives now is the mound overlooking the graves of the heroes. The mound hasn't been excavated, and the earthworks won't be, but here's a summary of what early visitors found, thrown on the web a very long time ago.

Here's an even bigger one: Mound City, or, as it is now called (mostly, some of it is still on private property), Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. Mound City is the site of the excavations that Martin Byers uses. So, you know, blame it for all my "Gather the Bones" blather.***** Mound City is famously near Chilicothe, Ohio, about which subject the city is alternatively clear and coy.

This is the "pictures" display from Google Maps, centred around Chilicothe. Did you know that there's a caboose that you can climb on in the city park? Cool! What I can't find here is bleeding Mound City. I'm not alleging any conspiracy of silence here: someone's uploaded a picture of the Tar Hollow burial group to the northeast of the city. It's just a weird absence for a UNESCO world historical site only four miles from town. It's also a somewhat odd town, having been platted right on top of a Shawnee town by another of the Ohio country's early patriarchs, Nathaniel Massie, as obscure a fellow as one can imagine for a man of his station. (Notice that the Wikipedia biography doesn't even know of the children who are McDonald's major source for the general's life, and that neither know the name of his mother. Just to be clear here, we don't know the name of the mother, wife, or children of the first President of the Ohio Senate, the one who was nearly elected state governor in 1807.)

Chilicothe, Ohio, is supposed to have been connected to the earthworks at Newark, Ohio, by an enclosed avenue, although the portion near Chilicothe was indetectable by Massie's time.  The Newark works, notoriously, are on the grounds of a country club. Talk about private history! Only the Wright Memorial portion is in public hands, and it is  named, of course, for the pioneer family that donated it. The name is, of course, famous in Ohio, and I would never even think to bring up the way in which the Wright Brother's claims to their patents depend not on their ill-documented flights at Kitty Hawk, but the numerous testimonial of fellow Ohioans to have seen them flying near Dayton in later years. Never.

Then there's the Grand Village of the Natchez, which became the Fatherland Plantation, now actually within the city limits of Natchez, Mississippi. How exactly a village turned into a plantation is unclear, although some laborious googling revealed the family name of the owners as Bingaman, and in the tradition of random Wikipedia facts, I report that Adam Lewis Bingaman, patriarch and owner, c. 1790--1860 was, apart from being a Harvard alumni, the partner of a "free Black woman" who gave him six children. (He was also married to Judith Sargent Murray. I hope for the sake of her happiness that I'm write in reading between the lines that he was her beard.) I'm going to take this fact as an excuse not to toil any further in the Internet's genealogy country in hopes of closing up the gap between the disappearance of the "Grand Village" and the appearance of the plantation, although I notice that there were plantations crowding the settlements even before the last Natchez war in 1725.

This all sounds so Southern and Faulknerian. You just know that the story is going to have an aging madwoman with a body on her bed upstairs. How about going somewhere northwards and cool, and, apparently, an educational bargain, too? Beloit College, Wisconsin, is not only the 55th ranked American liberal arts college and a U.S. News and World Report educational "Best Value," but the site of some 23 effigy, conical and linear mounds on campus. The Turtle mound apparently even gives a nickname (the nickname? My appetite for alumni magazines is limited) to the school team, not that you'd know it from the college Wikipedia article. The worthy who wrote that is much more interested in the age of the earliest Beloit College campus buildings, apparently older than any academically-purposed buildings north of Chicago or some such.

Exactly how a college campus came to be erected amongst so many mounds is unclear. Given how many of them there were in Wisconsin, it may have been unavoidable short of building on bedrock. Beloit's appropriation of pre-Columbian American history may not be original, but it is certainly continuing. (I'm especially struck by the assumption that all of the mounds are Woodlands Horizon. Surely Wisconsin Indians continued to bury their dead after 500AD.)

I could go on. But I have a thesis, and it's time to lay it bear. There are two histories of the settlement of America.

The first is the public one. It goes like this: "First, there were Indians. Then, they went away. Don't know how, but it's probably our fault, and  I feel guilty about it sometimes. Then there was a wave of hardy, self-reliant White settlers (also Black! And I feel guilty about that, too!) who came to the virgin wilderness. They exempted land, all of about equal size and fertility insofar as their eye for the land was good. And then they prospered according to their merits."

This is the explicit history, the history that's told.

Then there's the private history. It's never told. I'm going out on a limb to suggest that it even exists as an  intimated, suggested, and sometimes implied history. As to why, I think we just need to point to that whole race thing, and I think we'll find that it went underground in the generation before the Civil War. It goes like this. "We own this land. We've always owned it. The first humans on this land were, to be sure, Indians. We were the chiefs and the nobles, and the other Indians were our tenants. Then new tenants came from overseas, tenants who could pay much higher rent. So we replaced our Indian tenants with those new tenants. The new tenants, of course, came from the lands of our peers, the aristocrats of Europe. And, of course, we intermarried with them. Our peers, I mean."

"But don't tell anyone. There's this thing with race, and it's getting to be a pain in the ass."

That implicit history is written in part in sly hints, in part in the landscape  itself: the landscape of a million Gnadenhuttens.

And the last person to try to break the truth to us was Joseph Smith. Eventually, he even broke into the great treasure vault of Cumorrah and brought back documentary proof. Sure: he made it up. It pretty much just is a science fiction novel. But that doesn't make it wrong.

 *Seriously? This stuff just writes itself sometimes.
**Or a mug of chai.
***The 'People of the Pillar.' Enough with the mallet already, Fort Hill Cemetery Committee!
****Speaking of subtle like a mallet, Samuel Watkins Eager on his (I think) great-great grandmother: "Sarah was active . . . .  [the resulting] exposure . . . deepened the color of her sanguine complexion. Her eyes were neither large nor prominent, but dark, playful and sparkling." Sarah is introduced in one traditional history of the County as its first white woman, which one county historian notes is highly doubtful, without noting which part is doubtful. But if you can make sense of the way (per Eager) in which Sarah secured land patents for her foster father and husband without using the phrase "Indian princess," I invite you to try.
*****But, Jeez. We've got to do something with the weird way that our pre-Neolithic forebears used human remains. We're not going to get anywhere by assuming that they were "just like us" when they did so many "not like us" things with human bone. 


  1. For a post in which you meander, this is probably the one with the clearest exposition yet of your hypothesis. And it is very good.

    BTW, "Gnadenhutten" translates as "huts of mercy".

    Eventually, he even broke into the great treasure vault of Cumorrah

    I broke into the tomb, but the casket was empty! There were no jewels, no nothing. I felt I'd been had. Where does Bob Dylan fit in here?

  2. Bob Dylan? With the Cossacks. At some point, when I dare to turn this thesis into a lukewarm defence of Andrew Jackson, I'm going to drill down into all this talk about Indians and "border warfare." And perhaps even Brigham Young's doomed attempt to escape beyond the border.

    As for the clarity, bleeah. I wrote this over five hours yesterday, because that's all the time I had for it, researching as I went. Somewhere in the world there's this great storehouse of time. The writers of all those brilliant, perfectly-pulled-together jewels of historiographic insight have the keys. All I have is a Wednesday off work to wrestle with my ideas. If I just had that time, I would be as clear and straightforward...

    Oh, who am I kidding? And if anyone's wondering, Nathaniel Massie's wife's name was Sarah Meade, daughter of Colonel David Meade of Kentucky, and his mother's name was Elizabeth, no maiden name known.

  3. I do sometimes think your blog could do with less redrafting, rather than more.