Guest Post: Disaster, Death, and Distilleries

Today’s guest post comes from Jordan Smith, a PhD Candidate in Atlantic History at Georgetown University. His dissertation, “The Invention of Rum,” investigates the development and production of rum in the seventeenth and eighteenth-century Atlantic World.

Warning: This post contains graphic accounts of industrial accidents.

RumOn a recent research trip to Barbados, I stopped by the Mount Gay Visitors Center. There, between tastes of a variety of rums, tour guides regaled me with a heroic tale of Barbados’s place in the invention of rum. Afterwards, I was handed a brochure which proclaimed Mount Gay to be “the rum that invented rum.” The reasoning for this marketing strategy is simple enough—Mount Gay is one of many distilleries that makes a financial killing off of linking their product to a happy history of ingenuity and originality. Yet accounts of eighteenth-century distillery disasters suggest that this invention and innovation of rum was often undergirded by shocking violence.   Continue reading

Murder!: Entangled History, String Theory, and Narrative

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On a dark and stormy night in July of 1729, a vicious murder occurred in the port city of Veracruz. Okay, I don’t actually know if it was stormy on that night, nor was the murder particularly vicious but, for narrative effect, bear with me. On the evening in question, a Dominican priest accompanied by an entourage of the town’s residents walked to the trading factory of the British South Sea Company to pay the factors a visit. According to Inquisition records, as the group approached the factory, shots were fired from within the building, and the Dominican priest fell dead. The man who fired the fatal shots—William Booth[1]—claimed that he had not recognized the priest and fired in self-defense. As Booth argued, marauders frequently roamed the streets after dark and he assumed the visitors wanted to rob him. Booth was sentenced to five years hard labor in North Africa—a veritable death sentence—and the South Sea Company’s factory in Veracruz barely survived the incident, which reached the diplomatic tables of Europe.[2] Continue reading

Guest Post: [Enter Catchy Title Here]: Working towards a Book Title

Today’s guest poster, Christopher Minty, is a Bernard and Irene Schwartz Postdoctoral Fellow at the New-York Historical Society and Eugene Lang College at The New School for Liberal Arts. He received his PhD from the University of Stirling. His current book project examines the role of popular partisanship and its effects on New Yorkers’ allegiances on the eve of the American Revolution. He is also the author of two previous guest posts at The Junto, “The Problem of Loyalism before the American Revolution” and “Working on the Papers of Francis Bernard.”

UntitledI like eye-catching book titles. Who doesn’t, right? A good title should run of the tongue without too much fuss, while also championing the main argument(s) of the book. Recent books with titles that caught my eye include Benjamin Irvin’s Clothed in Robes of Sovereignty, Jessica Roney’s Governed by a Spirit of Opposition, and Albrecht Koschnik’s “Let a Common Interest Bind Us Together.” To be sure, there are others, and they are held together by a common thread: Despite looking at different periods with different objectives, each title offers a snapshot of what the reader can expect to find. Continue reading

The Spy Who Came in from the Confederacy

1862_LON_14_1862_NPL_P385[SVC1]He was, at first, another young shadow hurrying through Westminster Hall. He carried flimsier credentials than most, papers hastily sent by a new nation called the Confederate States of America. It was November 1862, and, since spring, he had stretched expenses to accommodate the bare $750 granted to fund his secretive mission. Still, regular sightings of the worn, 29 year-old Swiss-American stranger, who had shipped to London via the fiery newsrooms of Richmond and Mobile, caused a flutter of concern among British peers. Within weeks, the constant American shadow near Parliament became a very real worry. “He is but a private gentleman, it is true,” one M.P. fretted, “yet he may leave his card at the Foreign Office, and possibly find his way upstairs.” Continue reading

The Great Moose Massacre

Moose _CrossSouthern Connecticut is not exactly moose country. So I had to hide my disbelief when one day my boss claimed that he sat in traffic after a car hit a moose on the Merritt Parkway. How lost would a moose have to be to find itself in suburban Connecticut? Turns out, my boss told the truth. I welcomed any distraction from that boring summer job and followed this story pretty intently. It was a sad story—the moose had to be put down after the accident—but also a memorable one. I thought so at least. (Anytime I give someone directions to take the Merritt, I still warn them to watch for moose). The accident received a bit of coverage in local newspapers, while some outlets reprinted the AP coverage.[1] Every so often a reporter discovers the story when they learn that Connecticut is home to a sizable moose population.[2]  Mostly, though, the story is forgotten. Continue reading

The Problem of Southern Indians’ Allegiance in the American Revolution

So you know what’s hilarious? Trying to revise your dissertation into a book during the semester. I will admit that I am in the middle of editing my worst dissertation chapter, and am yelling out of a metaphorical pit of despair that’s been dug by a combination of bad prose and end-of-the-semester angst. Part of these struggles have to do with the fact that even after writing the chapter, submitting it, and defending it, I’m still not really sure what this chapter’s argument needs to say. This problem is directly tied to the fact that I found (and continue to find) myself befuddled by late-eighteenth-century Southern Indian affairs. So many factions! So much switching of sides! So many different ways I manage to mis-type Scots-Creek go-between Alexander McGillivray’s last name![1] Continue reading

Contested Rites

continental_prayerJoseph Yesurun Pinto, a 31 year-old Anglo-Dutch émigré in the autumn of 1760, had led New York’s Shearith Israel synagogue for barely a year when the second notice appeared in the papers. To re-commemorate the British conquest of Canada, all “Christian societies” and “houses of worship” would celebrate a day of thanksgiving on Thursday, October 23d. Over the past decade, New Englanders and their neighbors had held at least 50 fast days, many to lament God’s judgments against America, or to reform their wayward behavior. The proclamation of a thanksgiving day likely brought some measure of relief and joy.

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