Friday, December 22, 2023

Gathering the Bones, XXIX: Nose to Tail


So while I ordinarily don't work very much Christmas week because my contract guarantees me two stat days and my work place is closed on Christmas Day, it has not often been the case that my schedule is written to allow me to enjoy my holiday with holiday visits, and I have plenty of well-spaced time to write during the holiday week. That is not the case this year, and I am off to Vancouver Island tomorrow morning, back on Wednesday. Happy holidays to everybody! However, to satisfy my OCD and discuss an interesting thing which  has come up, here is a somewhat culinary, somewhat technological/economic thing which has come up. 

Livonia is a "village" of 7000 people on the
outskirts of Rochester with a Seneca history
Historical writing has a problem with periods, even in the most bizarre cases. American colonial history extends less than two centuries from Jamestown to the Revolution, at which time the self-identifying American population was less than that of contemporary Belgium. (Austrian Netherlands less Liege --you know what I mean!). Not a long time, not a lot of people. One would think, therefore, that a historian's grip would be equally securely on 1620 as on 1776, but that is not the case, and if you want to read into the Revolution you may find Pontiac's Rebellion, never mind the partition of East and West Jersey, to be a obscure background details in a breathless dash to 1776. I suppose it is better than entire monographs devoted to 1859 and 1939, but it can lead to strange places as you are reminded that the Seventeenth Century actually happened. When I first learned that Philadelphia had been previously named Shackmaxon I had a suspicion that it had a history before William Penn showed up; I had no idea that it was considerable enough to host the diplomatic conference where Governor Andros settled the Susquehannock a decade before Penn's Great Treaty, or that it had a  Swedish Lutheran (now Episcopalian) church of almost 30 years standing.

And so it is with the Seneca towns of upstate New York. The Seneca were the westernmost of the five, later six nations of the Haudenosaunee League and the "Western Doorkeepers of the League," and in strategic terms acted from the heads of navigation of the Western Branch of the Susquehanna inthe south to the Niagara frontier in the north, and presumably controlled Haudenosaunee communications with the Ohio country. In spite of this, they seem a remote and uncommunicative people in the run up to the Revolution, when Mohawk elites seem to have controlled access to the more populous western Haudenosaunee confederates. The Seneca notably sided with the British in the War of Independence and were the subject of Sullivan's raid, after which, in spite of their numbers, hey seem to have receded, perhaps in part because the Seneca emigration to Canada came under Mohawk patronage at the Six Nations Reservation, so that there was no Seneca nation in exile to  maintain its rights. Whcih is strange considering that both Cornplanter and Handsome Lake were Seneca.  Geographically speaking, it does not seem to be the fashion to draw the full Seneca claim on maps, perhaps to discourage people from having ideas. The scope of those ideas might be illuminated by maps that are plentiful, of the Phelps Gorham Purchase notoriously ruled legal by the Supreme Court (Vintage of 1896) in Seneca Nation of Indians versus Christy because [giant eyeroll]. 

The upshot here is that I was surprised to learn that in the Seventeenth Century, there were Jesuit missions in the Seneca towns, albeit not ones with surviving records, so they may have been mostly wishful thinking. The Jesuits were expelled in 1684 as part of a general reaction in Haudenosaunee country, perhaps reflecting the very different political climate along the frontier during the period of Franco-British entente and alliance that came to an end in 1688. If the Seneca were inclined to be isolationist they did not show it when British diplomat Wentworth Greenhalgh* passed through Ganondagan, just outside Rochester, in 1677. (His unfortunately brief report has been posted online by the State of New York.) We are left with some pretty basic questions, such as whether the "houses" Greenhalgh uses as his basic demographic unit are extended-family long houses or the "simple cabins" described by de la Salle in 1669. It is interesting to note that the four Mohawk "castles," already with their historic names but probably in different locations from the ones in which they were found from 1700 on, were heavily fortified places containing at most 30 "houses," while the four Seneca towns are all unfortified and have more than 100 houses each, although Ganondagan and Totiakton are located on defensible eminences. 

So how did Grande Nation respond to the expulsion of the Jesuits at a time when the Haudenosaunee had not locked down their southwestern frontiers? Not well, and this brings me to my point, which is that the Governor General of Canada, Marquis de Denonville seems to have been cast in the mould of more recent holders of the office, in that he was a flaming asshole, and that this was bad news for the Seneca, as in those days His Excellency was allowed to command armies in the field as well as throw tea parties. (Remember in the Eighties, when the Globe and Mail experimented with a Canadian court circular? Good times.) After seizing the entire ruling council of the League and bundling them off to France, it says here as galley slaves, which apparently even the Governor General thought was a bit much, and is, perhaps, a distortion of the actual course of events, in which what Denonville was actually trying to do was to bring the Council Fire of the League back to Fort Frontenac, where it  had been located for some time previous before the Haudenosaunee moved it to Onondaga. Like I said, the more you look at the details, the more complicated the Seventeenth Century seems.

Anyway, assuming the traditional account is correct, this would seem to be pretty much a declaration of war, and Denonville in 1687 conducted an expedition against the Seneca with 2100 men by established strength in 400 bateaux and canoes. After routing a desperate Seneca levee en masse (reported to third parties by Seneca participants as 800 strong by virtue of enrolling boys and women)

Denonville's force burned 1.2 million bushels of stored and standing corn and, and this is central to my point, killed "a vast quantity of pigs." For some reason this denouement is deemed a failure and not an attempted genocide on par with the Sullivan expedition, but as on Denonville's side there was no hope of continuing the war, he wrote the King, without 4000 men with two years of provisions in hand, there needed to be either peace with the Haudenosaunee or a campaign of conquest against New York, which seems a bit spicy with the Duke of New-York about to ascend to the British thrones as Louis XIV's most reliable foreign ally! Perhaps the narrative in the Canadian Dictionary of National Biography has leaped forward two years to the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution? (The paragraph in which "The spring of 1689 became summer" has Edmund Andros as Governor of the Dominion, when in fact he and the rest of the leadership were arrested by rebels in April of 1689. so maybe the timeline of the article needs some editorial revision? Bill Eccles was a better historian than this, but he might not have spent very much time on the article. 

Okay, so the point: We all know, of course, that the North American Indian lived in harmony with the land growing beans, corn, and squash together in Three Sisters agriculture (female-centric and crypto-vegetarian!) until drink, degeneracy and disease caused them to disappear and be replaced by White people, all of whom are descended from Cherokees. Meanwhile, over in Europe, farmers kept one pig (two pigs?) year round, breeding them in fall, with a litter in spring that valiantly kept the ground rooted up and the agricultural waste in check until they had put on as meat as was efficient, in late fall. Whereupon they were slaughtered, put up for the winter with plenty of salt in the most exquisite of farm-to-table charcuteries from "nose to tail."

I have eaten blood pudding, and I do not mind blood pudding. But I think that it is safe to say that if there is one word that does not describe traditional American Midwestern agriculture, it is "charcuterie." And if I had to throw in a few more, they'd be along the lines of "cheesemaking" "vintnering," "brewing," "noodle-making" and even "baking." "European-American farming" has many similarities to European farming in terms of basic technique and crops, but it most distinctly lacks pretty much the whole of the more skilled foodmaking techniques that people are so unsufferable about today. 

This is not to say that Midwestern farming lacks pigs, of course. It has pigs galore. Pigs are, if anything, more essential to Midwestern farming than to Atlantic European farming. No fooling around with a single family pig, either. Your quarter-section corn belt farm operation has herds of pigs, which, in the days before trains and trucks, were herded through the chestnut forests to industrial-scale slaughter in broad-shouldered towns like Cincinatti, Chicago, and, yes, New York City, where the meatpacking district ran from West 14th to Gansevoort and from the Hudson River to Hudson Street, which will hopefully locate any New York residents. It looks like it might have been the edge of town and might even be centred on the original "Manhattanhenge" orientation of Gansevoort Street, which was laid out on a pre-existing trail. Fascinating! Anyway, it might not have been associated with meatpacking before the early Nineteenth Century.   

Prior to refrigeration, slaughtered pigs became salt pork, and barrels of salt pork are the traditional definition of political patronage in North American politics for good reason. We might not eat fancy charcuterie here in the Western Hemisphere, but we do put salt pork in with our beans and our peas and our eggs and our grits and our greens and our Johnnycake. (That last a bit of an acquired taste in my experience.)

So, and pardon my King's French, what the fuck were the Seneca doing with all those pigs? It seems pretty inescapable that they weren't hanging hams and sausages to dry and making blood pudding, if those skills did not cross the Atlantic and take root amongst self-identifying American farmers. So they must have been herding the pigs somewhere and slaughtering and storing them industrially. We know that there was a pemmican industry supporting the Upper Country trade, and we can see why barrels of salt pork were not an alternative to the much more compact pemmican. But everyone needs to live in winter, and there is a reason pigs are so important to Midwestern farming. Corn is a hungry and late planter, you want a dressing of manure (in the American sense of the word), which might have to hold on the ground until as late as the first week of July for late-harvest sweet corn, which implies cover crops; or you want to plant in rotation with beans. Either way, you end up with a lot of product better fed as pig fodder than as human food, and that's before taking silage into account. In short, it makes sense for the Seneca to embrace the pig when it arrives on the scene. It is just that it seems like it implies the development of some scale of industrial  organisation and development, possibly to include barrelmaking, which would seem to imply that someone was making hoops. Who? Where? In the Haudenosaunee towns?

Rochester, of course, is very much an industrial city. The urban nickname, it says right here on Wikipedia, was "the flour city," thanks to numerous mills on the Genesee River, and after that you have the flourishing growth of the optics industry, which tells you right there about the copious amounts of salt available locally, which I will not pursue further this sunny afternoon. Rochester was founded on the Mill Yard Tract on the Upper Falls of the Genesee by "Ebenezer 'Indian' Allen," an active patent older in the long  succession of defaults that ended with Colonel Rochester and colleagues, who somehow rounded up all the previous ownerships and defaults by buying out Allen's abandoned grist and saw mill, which couldn't have been that abandoned if they had to pay almost $2000 (1808 money) for it. In some mysterious way the 100 Acre Tract became a flourishing community under Rochester as it had never managed to become before. The Wikipedia article celebrates land agent Enos Stone and settlers Hamlet Scranton, Jehiel Barnard and Abelard Reynolds as the first citizens of Rochester, and then in the late apology section at the end notes that the partners had six enslaved persons with him when he arrived in Rochester, and enough in "the late 1810s" to contemplate relocating to Missouri to avoid the New York manumission laws. We are told that the politics of Rochester in its first generation were dominated by conflict between Yankees and Episcopalians, so very much Fenimore Cooper country; and as far as I'm concerned that's two flavours of ethnogenesis and the place to look for a pre-existing town Americanised as Rochester. The Wiki article links to William Farley Peck, History of Rochester and Monroe County, New York, of which I have no high hopes of succinctness since these old county histories often bury the interesting details in a gazeteer treatment, but hey, look at this!

From the sounds of things, the antiquarians that the Rochester press anointed the historians of the town's earliest times had a great deal of Ebenezer Allan to expunge, for which we can again resort to the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, and my guess would be that his descendants and collateral relations learned very quickly to be quiet about their particular memories of the early history of Rochester. Whether that included a "broad shouldered" phase of pork packing is at best a guess.   


*Greenhalgh isn't exactly a common name, but it isn't uncommon, either. It took a minute or two to Google up John Greenhalgh (d. 1651), A Mancunian, lord of the manor of Brandlesholm Hall, governor of Man as from 1640, a Stanley client, and a Royalist veteran of the Civil War. While not necessarily Wentworth Greenhalgh's grandfather, it would seem to be the way to bet.  

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