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Posts Tagged ‘Revolutionary War

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito”*…

 

mosquito

 

A month after the opening salvos of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the newly appointed commander in chief of the Continental Army, George Wash­ington, had a request for his political masters in the Continental Con­gress. He urged them to buy up as much cinchona bark and quinine powder as possible. Given the dire financial pressures of the squabbling colonial government, and the dearth of pretty much everything needed to fight a war, his total allotment was a paltry 300 pounds. General Washington was a frequent visitor to the quinine chest as he suffered from recurrent bouts (and reinfection) of malaria since first contracting the disease in 1749 at the age of seventeen.

Luckily for the Americans, the British were also drastically short of Peruvian Spanish-supplied quinine throughout the war. In 1778, shortly before they entered the fray in support of the American cause, the Spanish cut off this supply completely. Any available stores were sent to British troops in India and the Caribbean. At the same time, the mosquito’s mer­ciless, unrelenting strikes on unseasoned British troops lacking quinine during the final British southern campaign — launched in 1780 with the capture of Charleston, the strategic port city and mosquito sanctuary­ — determined the fate of the United States of America.

As J. R. McNeill colorfully contours, ‘The argument here is straight­forward: In the American Revolution the British southern campaigns ultimately led to defeat at Yorktown in October 1781 in part because their forces were much more susceptible to malaria than were the American. . . . [T]he balance tipped because Britain’s grand strategy committed a larger proportion of the army to malarial (and yellow fever) zones.’ A full 70% of the British Army that marched into this southern mosquito maelstrom in 1780 was recruited from the poorer, famished regions of Scotland and the northern counties of England, outside the malaria belt of Pip’s Fenland marshes. Those who had already served some time in the colonies had done so in the northern zone of infection and had not yet been seasoned to American malaria.

General Washington and the Continental Congress, on the other hand, had the advantage of commanding acclimated, malaria-seasoned colonial troops. American militiamen had been hardened to their sur­roundings during the Seven Years’ War and the turbulent decades head­ing toward open hostilities against their king. Washington personally recognized, albeit short of scientific affirmation or medical endorsement, that with his recurrent malarial seasonings, ‘I have been protected be­yond all human probability or expectation.’ While they did not know it at the time, this might well have been the Americans’ only advantage over the British when, after twelve years of seething resentment and discontent since the passing of the Royal Proclamation [of 1763 that prohibited land sales to colonists], war suddenly and unexpectedly came.

The Americans’ secret weapon– an excerpt from Timothy C. Winegard’s Mosquito: A Human History of of our Deadliest Predator: “George Washington, Mosquitoes, and the American Revolution.”

[via the ever-illuminating Delanceyplace.com]

* Dalia Lama XIV

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As we douse ourselves in DEET, we might recall that it was on this date in 1781– before the fall of Yorktown, but after a decisive week of fighting– that General George Washington wrote to the President of the Continental Congress to give an account of the recent action.  Three days later the Siege of Yorktown (as it became known) ended with the surrender of British forces under General Cornwallis.  It was the final major land battle of the Revolutionary War; the capture of Cornwallis and his army prompted the British government to negotiate an end to the conflict.

300px-Surrender_of_Lord_Cornwallis

Surrender of Lord Cornwallis, by John Trumbull

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“It is vain to expect virtue from women till they are in some degree independent of men”*…

 

After 20 years of roaming the Americas brawling, gambling and murdering close to a dozen people, the man known as Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán had one last option. Having often turned to the church for sanctuary when waist-deep in trouble, and now facing execution, the soldier and explorer chose the nuclear option: admitting to the bishop that he was actually a woman.

Now known as Catalina de Erauso, a mesmerizing and confusing figure in Basque history, the prisoner not only avoided being executed but also got to meet the pope…

The amazing true tale at “The ruthless conquerer who cross-dressed her way to infamy.

* Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

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As we speculate on the spectrum, we might send carefully-composed birthday greetings to Mary Katherine Goddard; she was born on this date in 1738.  A Colonial printer and publisher, she published the Maryland Journal, a revolutionary periodical, throughout the Revolutionary War.  She was also the second publisher of the Declaration of Independence (considered at the time a treasonable document by the British); her copy, the Goddard Broadside, was the second printed, and the first to contain the typeset names of the signatories.

She was the first female postmaster in the U.S., heading the Baltimore Post Office from 1775 to 1789, and ran a book store and published an almanac.

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Happy Bloomsday!

 

“A dull, decent people, cherishing and fortifying their dullness behind a quarter of a million bayonets”*…

 

BritEmpGlobe

On the heels of the Scottish Referendum, a meditation on the scope of the U.K…

Mitch Fraas, curator at the University of Pennsylvania’s Kislak Center for Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Special Collections, recently sent me this image and GIF of a moveable toy distributed by the Children’s Encyclopedia in Britain in the early twentieth century. The toy, which doubles as an ad for the encyclopedia, takes the old saying “The sun never sets on the British empire” and represents it physically, through the medium of a spinning wheel.

The Children’s Encyclopedia, one of the first such projects directed exclusively at young people, was first sold in Britain as a serial in 1908. The illustrated Encyclopedia addressed a grab-bag of subjects, structured not alphabetically but thematically, with each volume holding information on nineteen different topics (animals, history, literature, geography, the Bible). Like the text on this movable map, the overwhelming tone of the Encyclopedia was optimistic and patriotic, with the United Kingdom’s achievements in science, literature, and war always emphasized.

The Encyclopedia was republished in the United States as The Book of Knowledge,where (its publisher claimed) it sold three and half million sets between 1910 and 1945. Here’s a poem by Howard Nemerov about his childhood experience reading the project’s American edition, which he describes as “The vast pudding of knowledge,/With poetry rare as raisins scattered through/The twelve gold-lettered volumes black and green”…

 

More at the invaluable Rebecca Onion’s “‘The Sun Never Sets Upon the British Empire,’ Explained in GIF by an Old Children’s Toy.”

* George Orwell’s harsh judgement of British imperialism, in Burmese Days

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As we break for a cup of tea, we might recall that it was on this date in 1779 that John Paul Jones, a Scottish sailor who’d immigrated to America and was fighting for the Colonies in the Revolutionary War, became the first American naval hero when he won a hard-fought engagement against the British ships-of-war Serapis and Countess of Scarborough off the east coast of England.  Though Jones went on to serve in the Imperial Russian Navy, he is often called the “Father of the United States Navy” (an honorific he shares with John Barry).

A 1781 painting of John Paul Jones by Charles Willson Peale.

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Memento Mori…

It’s reassuring to know that one is only one-tenth as likely to die of bee/hornet/wasp sting as of air/space accident, but mildly chilling to know that a fatal tumble down stairs is five times more likely than electrocution…

From Daily Infographic, How Will You Die?

click here (and again) for full chart, enlarged

As we remember poor Yorick, we might also recall that it was on this date in 1776 that 21-year-old Connecticut school teacher and Continental Army Captain Nathan Hale was executed by the British for spying.  While Hale is credited with saying “I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country,” the story descends from an eyewitness account by John Montresor, a British soldier who spoke soon after the execution with the American officer William Hull about Hale’s comportment.  Some scholars believe that the now-famous mot is a burnishing of the less-well-measured “I am so satisfied with the cause in which I have engaged that my only regret is that I have not more lives than one to offer in its service.”

In any case, executed for spying:  what are the odds?

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Let’s get cynical…

 

"Cynic: an idealist whose rose-colored glasses have been removed, snapped in two and stomped into the ground, immediately improving his vision" - Rick Bayan

Cynicisn was, like the Doric column and the gyro sandwich, invented by the Greeks.  As Rick Bayan explains…

The first Cynics (we capitalize the name when we’re talking about the ancient ones) were students of a now-obscure philosopher named Antisthenes, who in turn was a student of the illustrious Socrates. Like Socrates, the Cynics believed that virtue was the greatest good. But they took it a step further than the old master, who would merely challenge unsuspecting folks to good-natured debates and let their own foolishness trip them up.

The Cynics were more blunt when it came to exposing foolishness. They’d hang  out in the streets like a pack of dogs (“Cynic” comes from the Greek word for  dog), watch the passing crowd, and ridicule anyone who seemed pompous, pretentious, materialistic or downright wicked. Fiercely proud of their independence, they led disciplined and virtuous lives. The most famous of the ancient Cynics was Diogenes, who reportedly took up residence in a tub to demonstrate his freedom from material wants. This cranky street-philosopher would introduce himself by saying, “I am Diogenes the dog. I nuzzle the kind, bark at the greedy and bite scoundrels.” He’d use a lantern by daylight, explaining that he was searching for an honest man. Even Alexander the Great didn’t escape unscathed. When the young conqueror found Diogenes sitting in the marketplace and asked how he could help him, the old philosopher replied that “you can step out of my sunlight.”

Bayan, who believes that cynicism is as important today as ever, has created The Cynic’s Sanctuary, one of whose fascinating features is the Cynic’s Hall of Fame; arranged chronologically, by date of birth, it begins with…

Aesop (c. 600 B.C. ) Was he real or legendary? We’re not absolutely sure. Aesop may have been a slave who lived on the Greek isle of Samos; it’s said that he was slain by irate priests at the Oracle of Delphi. (He probably got himself into hot water by mocking their beliefs.) His works weren’t assembled into book form until about eight centuries after his time. No doubt numerous ancient storytellers added to the collection along the way. But the reputed author of the world’s most famous fables — man or legend — has to stand as literature’s great proto-Cynic. His brief moral tales are sharp allegories of human folly — even when the characters are foxes, crows, mice, tortoises and hares. Aesop’s Fables teem with the wisdom and gentle mockery of someone who knows the human animal inside and out (especially our weaknesses). If you think Aesop is just for children, think again — and read him again.

Favorite quote:
“Familiarity breeds contempt.”

The roster continues through the expected (e.g., Rabelais, Voltaire, Mark Twain) and the not-so-expected (Jesus, Shakespeare, Schopenhauer)…

In times like these, it’s comforting to know that one can take refuge in The Cynic’s Sanctuary.

 

As we memorize our Mencken, we might recall that it was on this date in 1780 that General Benedict Arnold betrayed the US when he wrote British General Sir Henry Clinton, agreeing to surrender the fort at West Point to the British army.  Arnold, whose name has become synonymous with “traitor,” fled to England after the plot fell through.  The British gave Arnold a brigadier general’s commission with an annual income of several hundred pounds, but only paid him £6,315 plus an annual pension of £360 because his plot had failed.  After the Revolutionary War, Arnold settled in Canada, and turned his hand to land speculation, West Indies, trade, and privateering– none of them very successfully.  He died in 1801.

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Are you a man or a…

From the BBC, “Sex I.D.: The Brain-Sex Test“– complete a series of exercises, and discover whether your brain functions more like most men’s or most women’s.

As we ponder the mysteries of gender, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that South Carolina became the first American colony to declare its independence from Great Britain and set up its own government.

The Palmetto State clearly has an itchy trigger finger:  your correspondent’s ancestral seat was also the first state to declare its secession from the Union. On April 12, 1861, Confederate batteries began shelling Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, and the American Civil War began.

Revolutionaries fighting the forces of the Crown, Charleston, 1776
(U.S. Army Center for Military History)

… Oil that is– black gold, Texas tea…

With thanks to Suzanne Lainson for the tip, The Guardian‘s “From extraction to consumption: Oil, an exhibition by Edward Burtynsky.”

As we consider all things crude, we might recall that that on this date in 1781, Cornwallis, after a loss at Yorktown, surrendered to The Continental Army (and the French who’d joined them), effectively ending the Revolutionary War (as it’s known over here)…

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… then, just 31 years later, on this date in 1812, Napoleon threw in the serviette, and began his retreat from Moscow.

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