- Historic Sites
Postscripts To History
June 1974 | Volume 25, Issue 4
We announce with regret the recent death of Dr. Sylvester K. Stevens, a member of our editorial board since the founding of this company in 1954, an event in which he played an important role. Dr. Stevens had helped to launch one of our sponsoring organizations, the American Association for State and Local History; he had been its president and took part in the negotiations through which the association’s paper-covered quarterly, American Heritage , founded in 1949, became the present hard-covered bimonthly in 1954. He was a champion of local history and had served sixteen years, until his retirement in 1972, as executive director of the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. Our readers may recall that Dr. Stevens was the center of a cause célèbre in 1967, when Miss Helen Clay Frick sued to force him to alter or suppress his book Pennsylvania: Birthplace of a Nation because she disapproved of its account of her father, the late steelmaster Henry Clay Frick, and his part in the bloody Homestead steel strike of 1892. Historians rallied to his defense, both as to the facts of the case and as to his rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution, and he was at length vindicated. Dr. Stevens was a valued counselor and member of our board of directors and will be greatly missed.
We are happy to report that James “Cool Papa” Bell (“How to Score from First on a Sacrifice,” August, 1970) has been announced as a member in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Many consider Bell to be the fastest man ever to play baseball; he could circle the bases in twelve seconds, and one momentous season he stole a hundred and seventy-five bases. The great Satchel Paige said that Bell was “so fast he could turn out the light and jump in bed before the room got dark.”
For all this, Bell, a black man, never played in the major leagues. During his twenty-nine-year career he never earned more than two hundred and twenty dollars a month. “Life was that way then,” he said.
I lived in that time. When we went to major league games, we couldn’t always sit in the stands. We had to sit in the bleachers. But even so, I didn’t feel any difficulty. It was that way when I was born in Starkeville, Mississippi; it was that way when I worked in the packing-house in St. Louis before I played baseball. People lived that life before I did.
When Jackie Robinson broke the major-league color barrier in 1947 Bell was too old to play. Now, at seventy, he has retired from his job as a night watchman in the St. Louis city hall. He took the announcement of his membership in the Hall of Fame with the customary calm that earned him his nickname. When asked if it was his biggest thrill, Bell replied: “No, it’s my biggest honor. My biggest thrill was when they opened the door in the majors for the black players.”
Marvin Pave, a reporter for the Boston Globe , has written to tell us of an extra-ordinary document that has turned up in the office of the tax assessor for Templeton, Massachusetts. It is a broadside dated June 17, 1774, calling for the sum of five hundred pounds to send four delegates to the First Continental Congress. In that long-ago summer copies were sent to selectmen in every town in the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the Provincial House of Representatives. They were signed by the House clerk, Sam Adams.
Adams, Robert Treat Paine, and Thomas Gushing were eventually sent to Philadelphia for the opening session in early September despite the opposition of the luckless British military governor, Thomas Gage.
The copy of the broadside dispatched to Templeton was kept among the town records along with some fifty other pre-Civil War documents. Four years ago Wilfred Dennis, the chairman of Templeton’s assessors, came upon the old papers. In the fall of 1972 he lent them to a high-school history teacher who, in turn, mentioned them to the Massachusetts state archivist, Dr. Richard W. Hale. Hale asked to see some of them, and the teacher sent him the 1774 broadside, a 1763 assessment for French and Indian War expenses, a 1787 amnesty proclamation for participants in Shays’s Rebellion, and a 1791 tax bill.
Hale was most impressed by the broadside. “There are only three other 1774 broadsides that we know of,” he said. “One is in Boston Public Library, another belongs to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, and the third is in the Samuel Adams Collection of the New York Public Library.”
As we go to press the documents are still the property of the assessor’s office, and their fate has not been decided. It is interesting to speculate on how many other important documents lie gathering dust in the archives of the small towns where the first stirrings of our independence took place.
We have received the sad news of the death in January, at eighty-nine, of Caroline Weir Ely (Mrs. G. Page Ely), who appeared as a little girl in a painting by her father, J. Alden Weir, on the cover of our December, 1973, issue.
Writing in reply to William Styron’s letter in the February, 1974, Postscripts, Stephen B. Oates (“Children of Darkness,” October, 1973) has this to say about his research into Nat Turner’s turbulent career:
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.