Thursday, November 24, 2011

The REAL First Thanksgiving

We here in northeast Florida have known a secret for a long time. That secret came out but with little notice in 1965 when Michael Gannon, Ph.D., wrote The Cross in the Sand, his history of St. Augustine, Florida. That secret has been taken up by newspaper reporters looking for a feature story and then by a fifth-grade teacher in St. Augustine, who in 2007 wrote a children's book about it.

The secret? The first Thanksgiving on the North American continent was not in Massachusetts. My cousin Bill West of West in New England may want to scalp me, but the first Thanksgiving was here in Florida on 8 September 1565, when Pedro Menéndez de Avilés founded the oldest continuously-occupied North American settlement - St. Augustine, Florida.

The Spanish role in early American history is largely ignored in American History classes, even here in Florida.  In the fourth grade, we had a slim green-backed book called La Florida which was our Florida history text.  It was not very thorough, and probably not all that accurate, either.  For one thing, it told us that Ponce de León discovered Florida in 1513 while looking for the Fountain of Youth.

Well, let us analyze that . . .

  •  He did not discover Florida.   The Spanish knew it was here, already, because they'd been nosing about in the neighborhood for some 21 years, and had already established themselves all around the Caribbean basin and the Gulf of Mexico.  They just had not bothered to get off their ships and go take a look at it until León did.
  • 1513?  That may depend on whether one is using the modern Gregorian calendar or the Julian calendar.  The Julian calendar would have been in force in 1513, as the Gregorian was not called for until 1582.  In Spain, 1 January was selected as the beginning of the new year in 1556, years before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar.  But as of 1513, the new year may have begun on either 25 December or 25 March, depending on what the Catholic Church had felt like at the time (when most of Western Europe chose one or the other of those dates, during the Middle Ages).   To today's calendars, it could have been 1512 or 1514.
  • He was not looking for the Fountain of Youth.  He probably knew the legend, as most people in Europe were familiar with several legends, such as the voyage of St. Brendan in the 6th century, when he supposedly set sail to westward and found a land of bounty.  Or there was a legend about seven caves, which, when transplanted to the New World, became seven fabulous cities of gold -- Cíbola.  No, not the Fountain of Youth.
Ponce de León had already been governor of Puerto Rico, and had lost that post in a squabble with Diego Colón, son of Cristóbal Colón (whom we know as Christopher Columbus).  He went back to Spain to think of another means to make his mark in the new lands.  He obtained an asiento, or contract, from the king to be the adelantado, or head man with some really neat powers, of Bimini, part of the Bahamas.  But navigation in those days was uncertain at best.  They could calculate latitude with some certainty, maybe an error of plus or minus 5 degrees or so, and some did better than that.  Longitude, however, was not at all accurately computed in those days, and it was not until about the middle of the nineteenth century, really, that they could get an accurate longitude because it was not until then that highly accurate seagoing chronometers (clocks) were available.

So what happened was that Ponce de León's navigator missed Bimini and hit Florida.  So he decided to go ahead and take a look around.

Ponce de León -- yeah, that was his name.

So there is a definite need to bring the early Spanish role in American History to light, and one of those stories was that first giving of thanks for a safe voyage and landing in a strange and promising new world.

So whether you live in Florida, New England, or way out west, Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!

(But we did it first.)

Thankful for . . .

At the urging of Lisa Alzo, here is my list of things I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving.

1.  That I'm still here, despite my deteriorating health!  And along with this, I'm thankful for top-notch doctors taking care of me!

2.  A functioning brain that is being well-exercised.

3.  A husband I would readily nominate for best in the world, for giving me the chance to be all I can be.  He's been supportive of all my hare-brained schemes, and even is suggesting more!  (That's because I keep him entertained.)

4.  Terrific daughters, a fine son-in-law, and a silly grandson.

5.  Great and caring professors at one of the smallest great universities in the country.

6.  St. Augustine, Florida, and all the people of the Second Spanish Period, with whom I have become fascinated.

7.  An ability with words which has permitted me to write two books which have been given solidly good reviews.

8.  Having had the opportunity to serve my country (in the Coast Guard).

9.  A cozy little house with a state forest for a back yard.

10.  The flexibility to have been able to deal with the changes in direction my life has taken.

11.  All y'all, as we say in the South.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The "Bull" Connor of His Age

This post does not intend to advocate any particular political or social stance, but merely to comment on a similarity I have noticed between the "uprising" of the 1960s, which came out of the Civil Rights movement, and that phenomenon's direct descendant, the Occupy Wall Street movement. I am a historian-in-training, and this is intended merely as a comment on history.  It is, however, history to which I have been a witness, at both times, though from a remote distance, through television and now through the internet.  And, as a genealogist, I am keenly interested in the historical milieu in which my ancestors lived, as well as in commenting on the historical milieu in which I, now an "ancestor" myself to my daughters and grandson, have lived.

In the Civil Rights movement, there was an iconic figure: Theophilus Eugene "Bull" Connor, the Commissioner of Public Safety in Birmingham, Alabama. Connor became infamous for ordering police to use fire hoses to disperse peaceful black demonstrators, including children. The rest of the nation got a shocking look at what went on in the "Jim Crow" nation, as they saw on the television news reports helpless, peacefully assembled people whose skin happened to be dark tumbling down a city street, propelled by the powerful wash from a fire hose. It was a wake-up moment in which "Bull" Connor became a household name and a symbol of the violence, repression, and hate which blacks had suffered for centuries.

University of California, Davis, campus police officer Lt. John Pike has become the "Bull" Connor of his age for an unnecessary and arrogant act: pepper-spraying peaceful student demonstrators who had shown no overt act of violence. Pike is now also an iconic image, like "Bull" Connor. He is a symbol, unwittingly appearing as a bully, and, as the Occupy movement no doubt holds, a lackey of the corporate state. It is unlikely that he gave any conscious thought to what might be the consequences of his action in spraying those students. It is highly doubtful he had any notion of being compared to, much less becoming as iconic a figure as,"Bull" Connor.

In that moment, Lt. Pike lost control of his public image. A report on National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" yesterday (21 November) illuminates just how completely that loss of control has been. The story discussed the "casually pepper-spraying cop" meme which has swept the internet. In this meme, a photograph of Lt. Pike using the pepper-spray has been "photoshopped" into classic paintings, including one showing him at the assembly of the Founding Fathers signing the Declaration of Independence, pepper-spraying the document.

The actions of "Bull" Connor have been credited (in the article linked above at Connor's full name) by a historian writing for the Alabama Department of Archives and History, as having led to the passage of the most sweeping Civil Rights legislation since Reconstruction: the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  It remains to be seen where the actions of Lt. John Pike may lead.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Prezi: Presentation Software with Pizazz

As I earn a partial living by public speaking on genealogical and historical topics, I have used PowerPoint for several years now.  But in my time here at the University of North Florida -- where I am composing this blog entry between classes -- I have been introduced to a different presentation software.  It's called Prezi, and it moves!  Whereas PowerPoint is static, Prezi is dynamic.

Prezi moves.  It zooms in and out, it rotates, it swings from one concept to another.  You create your presentation on a single "canvas," rather than as a series of discrete slides, as on PowerPoint.  Prezi is a lot like mind-mapping, and if you like mind-mapping, you probably will like Prezi.  There are some tricks you need to know in order to use it efficiently and well.  The website has tutorials to help you learn how to use it.

It does not have available a lot of nice background templates like PowerPoint does, but you can import PowerPoint slides as part of a Prezi presentation.  It also does not have a very large color palette, nor does it have practical ways of drawing lines.  There is basically only one line form, which is rather thick and clunky.  Since Prezi is so dynamic, it would be great if there were a variety of lines which could be vectored to bend in different ways.

However, it is rather new, and I am sure that as it develops and as users provide feedback, those aspects will show much improvement.

Disclaimer:  I have not been asked by Prezi or anyone connected with it, or anyone connected with the University of North Florida, to give this review.  I have not been given nor promised any software, but obtained my copy of Prezi using the student license.  The opinions in this review are mine alone.  Prezi and PowerPoint are trademarks of their respective owners.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Morning Tech Routine? What Morning Tech Routine?

From Geniaus comes the question, "What's your morning tech routine?"

My answer:  I do not do morning, and I despise routine!

I'm a night owl.  It is very difficult for me to get up in the morning.  (Raising right hand:)  I am not now, nor have I ever been, a morning person!

I'm not a fan of routine, either, but there are some things I do on a fairly regular basis.  I get up on the mornings I have classes, shower, eat breakfast and take my pills (a routine I refer to as "first breakfast" and "second breakfast"), get dressed, get my books, and go. 

As I spend so much time in class or in the university library, I pretty much keep my cell phone turned off.  I do not allow my life to be ruled by machines; I see the cell phone primarily as something with which I can communicate if an emergency should arise.  But at least once during the class day, and sometimes twice, I do check for messages.  At lunchtime, I call my husband.

I also take my lighter laptop to school with me, and in the library I will check on e-mail from my friends & family e-mail account, my "public" account, and my university e-mail.  We are actually required to check our university e-mail at least once a day.  I take care of any that is pressing, leaving the rest for when I get home.  Then I get down to studying.

When I get home in the evening, I take care of the rest of my e-mail, do whatever studying I can, or if it's the end of the week, I play games.

On days I do not go to class, I sleep in.  When I get up, I check e-mail, then get into whatever I need to be doing.

I do not use my cell phone at home.  We live out in the country, and at our house, we do not get a signal!

And that's as close as I come to a routine.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A Child's Questions About Death

The other day, my husband sat with our 6-year-old grandson while Mommy went to pick up Daddy from work.  Grandson asked grandpa about death.  He asked if grandpa would die, and grandpa said that, yes, he would, someday, and that it is just another part of life.  Grandson also asked if his mommy and daddy would die, and grandpa said, truthfully but kindly, that yes, they would, someday.  Then grandson asked plaintively, "Who will take care of me?"

Grandpa answered that by the time any of this happens, grandson will have grown and learned to take care of himself and of others, too, as he will most likely have a family of his own; but that for right now, we are all here and we all will take care of him, and teach him how to take care of himself.

Grandson seemed satisfied with that, and the bottom line there was his worry about being cared for.  He asked the questions quietly and without fear, but with a legitimate concern in mind.  Grandpa answered truthfully and kindly.  His curiosity and concern satisfied, grandson then turned back to the more usual concerns of childhood -- play.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Correction and a New Cousin

Previously in this blog, I had mentioned a collateral relative on my mother's side, Merritt Wright Reed, and had lamented that he died in 2001.  That date came from an assumption -- and this is a lesson in never assuming!

The source of that information was the listing at Mount Hope Cemetery in Logansport, Indiana, which states that Merritt Wright Reed was buried on 4 April 2001.  Just because he was buried in 2001 does not mean he died in that year, I have found out to my chagrin.  But, lesson learned.

Here is the story, from a newfound Reed cousin who related to me his investigation into the death of Merritt Wright Reed, his grandfather:

It seems that Merritt Wright Reed died 14 August 1949.  He was cremated, but his remains were never claimed. My cousin went searching in 2001 and made this discovery when he contacted a successor to the funeral home which had handled the cremation and which had since gone out of business.  This successor firm inherited the building of the old firm but not the records.  They had a surprise for my cousin.

The ashes of Merritt Wright Reed were, and had been since 1949, in the basement!  After being given this news, my cousin says, "Needless to say, it was a few minutes before I could catch my breath and continue the conversation."  He could not take the ashes right then, but went home to research.  He went to Mount Hope cemetery and discovered that the family plot of our mutual great-grandparents, Francis Harvey ("Frank") Reed and Florence Elizabeth McKee, had an available spot.  My cousin contracted for the burial, bought a marker, and went back to claim the ashes that had sat in a basement for over fifty years.  Merritt Wright Reed finally had a resting place, in the bosom of his family.

 That certainly is an astounding story!  Thanks to my new cousin for the correction, and for a great family tale.  It is a bit strange, but the factual statement is:  Merritt Wright Reed, died 14 August 1949, buried 4 April 2001.

In a few minutes, I'll go get ready to get on the road.  My husband and I are driving down to Orlando, about 2.5 hours from here, to meet this newfound cousin.