Saturday, November 03, 2018

Daisey Lesson 3 - Shades of Washington

I'm going to have to say this - I'm not going to be able to keep up. I'm talking about Mike Daisey's A People's History. He's performing it here in Seattle at the Rep in the form of 18 different monologues and has made performances available to individuals by audio recording, provided we talk about it.

And I want to talk about it, since his work (and Zinn's original) fires off so many neurons and connections and memories about the entire process. The Lovely Bride and I will be attending the performance tomorrow afternoon (4 November), and I will go into more detail about the nuts and bolts of the live performance there .For the moment, I'm reacting to the 3rd Monologue - call it "Fireworks", since it starts there.And he talks about how we have totally screwed up the world, and it is primarily the fault of (usually) white, (almost always) male, (exclusively) rich people. And the definitions of those three terms have some flex in the story he is telling, but rest assured, the bog-standard history you learned in school? No really accurate.Not completely false, but a lot of bits get left out which serve the interests of white male rich people.
This is a detail of a statue called "Points of View". It is on Mount Washington,
overlooking Pittsburgh, and shows Washington meeting with a leader of the
Seneca, Guyasuta. They did not meet on this spot. The meeting happened in
1750, four years before the events that kicked off the Seven Years War. No one
really knows what they talked about. Welcome to History.

And that gets me to George Washington. Really, several George Washingtons. I am from Pittsburgh, and a lot of our history is wrapped up with this Virginia planter. We have county named after him. We have a mountain named after him. We have river crossing named after him. We have a major road named after him. We have all sorts of weird stuff named after him. And he has left deep, personal, marks in our area.

But I say there are several Washingtons. The first is the one we meet in the school books, the mythologized one. You know - cherry tree, never lies, crosses the Delaware, wooden teeth, great general, Valley Forge, BOOM! he's president. He's the guy you see on the dollar bill and huckstering for President's Day sales. And like certain other childhood mythologies, you grok after a while that he was not all that, and that these are stories, mostly elaborating upon or made up entirely in the nineteenth century to exalt our past and cover up the darker stuff.

Then there's the darker Washington. Zinn and Daisey know this guy. Really rich. Lot of land (52,000 acres at his death, scattered all over the place, including Western PA), Lots of Slaves (317 living people owned at his death, but we are told that some of them were his wife's, and some were on loan. As if that makes things better). And he had a mouthful of teeth from his black slaves. The wooden teeth? Pretty much debunked. Hippopotamus teeth, I've heard later. But most recently, there's been a fessing up and his dentures were made from the teeth of enslaved black men.

It is horrible and dark, but the story being told here is horrible and dark. I think I mentioned that at the beginning. Zinn's work  is measured, carefully meting out the genocide and charnel foundations of our nation. Daisey leaps into it, and makes you really, really uncomfortable that you have this guy's face on your money. People reject that truth, and that's understandable. But it is still a truth.

Another Washington, though, is the Doof. Tall guy, athletic, not the brightest knife in the shed.. And that worked for him over the years. Hardly the homespun backwoodsman, his adventures in the West made his name,  his ability to survive let him rise in the ranks, and his very non-political nature while leading a REVOLUTIONARY ARMY made him the go-too man for the first Presidency. While not a saint and not a sinner, that's a comfortable version for a lot of people.

And then there is the Washington that kicked off the Seven Years War. He's the guy I want to talk about here.

Yeah, as Daisey notes, we lay out stuff like that in broad daylight, we just don't direct your attention to it that much. But long before the Revolution, Washington was big part of the development of Western PA, with pushing the natives around, and with kicking off a war with the French. And the Indians. In fact, we call the Seven Years War, our first really global war, the French and the Indian War because that's what we worry about here in the provinces. And it started twenty years before the Revolutionary War.

Western PA, better known in those days as the Forks of the Ohio, was a bit of a territorial football in those days. We had natives inhabitants - the Seneca and others. We had the French, whose approach was to set up camps and trade, turning those natives into employable resources. And we had the English. Two competing groups of English at that - The Virginians and the Pennsylvanians.

Which group of Englishman was supposed to have a claim to the Forks was a bit of a mess - they were running off crappy maps back in England. Virginia's colonial grant was huge, including the chunk of land south of the Mon. The Pennsylvanians ALSO claimed that land. Both colonies were giving out grants and sending in surveyors to divvy stuff up.(my part of PA, south of the Mon, was actually part of this Virginia claim, and had its own county after the war - Yohogania (nope, didn't know about that until I started researching this posting). Washington, in his Young Surveyor capacity, had been one of the Virginians getting the lay of the land. So when the French built Fort Duquesne, the Virginians dispatched Washington to make them back off.

And they found a French scouting party and ambushed them. Then they negotiated with the French, and during the negotiation, Washington's Native American guide, one Tanaghrison, who was on the outs with the tribal leaders on the French side, killed the French commander. Much badness descended. and Washington got out of the territory by signing a confession accepting culpability for the assassination. People point out that Washington could not read what he was signing, but that just feeds into the Doof narrative. He was trapped in hostile territory with people who were REALLY mad at him about the death of the French Commander (including the commander's half-brother). So yeah, he signed a confession in the middle of nowhere and that was the end of it. The date was July 4, 1754.

Except that WASN'T the end of it, of course. The confession got back England, and the English dispatched a couple regiments to clean up Washington's mess, and, yeah, take the Forks of the Ohio for the British. General Edward Braddock, came up from Virginia and got his clock cleaned by the French and the indigenous population. Washington was part of Braddock's forces. Then they sent General John Forbes with more troops, who came in along the Pennsylvanian route. The advance stalled when Major James Grant got HIS clock cleaned by combined French and Native American forces from Fort Duquesne. While Forbes holed up, the French decided that it was probably best to book out and leave their allies hanging. The Brits get the Forks, build Fort Pitt (after the British politician) and we get Pittsburgh. Elsewhere, things quickly got out of hand, and we ended up with the Seven Years War.

Braddock, Forbes, Grant. These are well-known names to native Pittsburghers. I grew up in what had been, 200 years previous, a war zone. It never really clicked until years later.

By the way - My primary source material on all this? Fred Anderson's Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (2000). Good book. There's a shorter version, The War That Made America, by the same author.  Strongly recommended.

And Washington? He came out of it just jake, and when the Virginians were looking for someone to lead the troops against the British, he there, already a war hero and an adventurer of Indiana Jones-level. 

But Washington is not done with Western Pennsylvania. I don't know if Daisey is going to mention the Whiskey Rebellion, but I will. Eventually. 

Daisey's monologue on Chapter 3 repeats on November 8 at 7:30 On Thursday, unless it is sold out. Apparently there's a lot of that going around.

More later,