- Historic Sites
Postscripts To History
June 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 4
Those historians who defend Styron’s vision of Nat Turner may be vastly more eminent than I, but that in itself does not make them or William Styron right. While his novel contains brilliant descriptions of the world of the Old South (its sights, sounds, smells, its contradictions and racial agonies), Styron nevertheless violated the truth—fictional as well as historical—in his portrayal of Nat himself. The fact is that Nat Turner had a wife and two and possibly three children, so that Styron’s depiction of Nat as a celibate bachelor given to masturbating about white women is a clear distortion of the truth and an insult to the Nat Turner who really lived. That, in my opinion, is what renders Styron’s treatment of Nat Turner unacceptable. My point is that a novelist, while free to speculate on deeper motivations, does not have the license to impose on real human beings ideas, temperaments, and physical traits which they did not have.
An unusual preservation project that bears directly on our Revolution has recently been launched far from our shores in a remote town in the Loire Valley in France. The town is Guerigny, and it was here that Pierre Babaud, Baron de la Chaussaude, created a foundry that eventually came to be the French navy’s main supplier of such ironwork as anchors, mast collars, metal sheets, and cannonballs.
When Admiral de Grasse defeated a British fleet in 1781, thereby making certain Washington’s momentous victory at Yorktown, the iron for his broadsides had been forged at Guerigny. That same year Louis xvi purchased the forges and christened them the Royal Forges of La Chaussaude. For the next century their name changed according to the political winds; they were called alternately the National, Imperial, Royal (again), and finally, after 1870, the National Forges of La Chaussaude. Until recently the huge complex supplied steel to the French navy, but in 1971 the government, feeling that the fleet no longer needed such vast capacities, sold the works to Durand International, a concern that manufactures heavy transmissions, gears, and axle drives for streetcars and railcars. However, the old buildings where the iron for the ships that won the battle of Chesapeake Bay was forged remain in government hands. The French government, unwilling to take on yet another expensive historical preservation project, is seeking to sell the old factories, as well as Ia Chaussaude’s chateau. A society of the friends of Guerigny has been created and is currently seeking to raise funds to buy and restore the historic buildings. We wish them all good luck, for, in the words of Napoleon’s marshal François Joseph Lefèbvre, “America owes its freedom, to a great extent, to the shops of Guerigny.”
Priscilla Ray Haley of Harwich Port, Massachusetts, has fleshed out our knowledge of “Mr. Ray,” the luckless driver whose machine has come to grief against the trolley car on page 52 of our October, 1973, issue. Mrs. Haley writes:
That “confused” gentleman photographed in an embarrassing situation by G. Frank Radway I believe to have been my father, the late Honorable Albert Hoyt Ray. Family history recounts such an accident about the time of this photograph. Before the acquisition of the demolished vehicle pictured in your article my father owned one of the first cars in Ashland, Massachusetts, complete with wicker umbrella stand and rear steps leading to the interior passenger space. For a ten-cent contribution to charity he used to drive curious citizens around the local town square.
That a democracy can be endangered as much by those chosen to protect it as by its foreign enemies was a fact well understood by the men who established our government. It was a worry that, unhappily, seems to have been more justified by events in our era than in theirs. Here, then, is an arresting statement on the subject by Samuel Bryan that appeared in the Philadelphia Independent Gazetteer four years after the end of the Revolution:
…universal experience demonstrates the necessity of the most express declarations and restrictions, to protect the rights and liberties of mankind from the silent, powerful and ever active conspiracy of those who govern.
Of all the people who posed jauntily on the brink of eternity at Glacier Point (“High Point of Your Trip,” April, 1974), none was so bold as one Antonio Gillette. Gillette visited Glacier Point in 1903 and demonstrated his contempt for this mortal coil by performing the hair-raising backflip shown below.