Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Martin, Martyrs and Marburg – The Cradle of the British Reformation?

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With so much attention on Martin Luther and Wittenberg this year, because of what is being marked as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation*, there is arguably a more important German town for our story. Marburg.

Situated between Dortmund and Frankfurt, and 260 miles west of Luther’s Wittenberg, 300 years earlier Marburg had been the location of the murder of a heretic hunter, Konrad von Marburg (1180–1233) a notorious inquisitor of the Albigenses. Marburg was one of the towns in the independent principality of Hesse-Marburg, ruled by the superbly-named Philip the Magnanimous (1504–1567). In 1517 a Franciscan priest named James Limburg briefly emerged as a voice for Reformation in Marburg, but he was ’disappeared’. In the huge changes brought by the Reformation, a new Lutheran university was founded in Marburg 1527

In 1527 & 1528, England’s William Tyndale was there. Scotland’s Patrick Hamilton was there. Their mutual friend the printer John Frith was there. And Martin Luther himself was nearby. In October 1529, Marburg would host the discussion meetings between Luther and Ulrich Zwingli which became known as the Marburg Colloquy.

On 8 May 1528, Tyndale published The Parable of Wicked Mammon with the printer ‘Hans Luft of Marburg’ named on the title page. However this, and two other titles from Tyndale, were probably actually printed somewhere else like Antwerp. In Joe Carvalho’s book Patrick Hamilton: The Stephen of Scotland. The First Preacher and Martyr of the Scottish Reformation (2009), he writes this –

“It is curious to note the presence of two English reformers, William Tyndale and John Frith in Marburg in the same year that Patrick Hamilton had gone there. Tyndale and Frith were profoundly engaged in the translation of the Old Testament in the English. Tyndale was also writing some of his famous treaties about the Reformation, in addition to other treaties, with the main intention of benefiting England with the truth of God. The result of this was that Tyndale and Frith could not have had permanent homes because they were always fleeing from one place to another with the aim of finishing the translation. Now they had asked for the help of Philip of Hess to receive and aid them in bringing some peace while they developed their important work. The young Patrick Hamilton, who was then 23 years old, saw the venerated Lambert (then 41 years old) and Tyndale (then 33 years old) as the fathers of the faith. Frith (22 years old), by way of being practically the same age as Patrick became like a beloved brother to the young Scotsman. Patrick saw something promising in the work of Tyndale and Frith, something that would bring great blessing, not only to his beloved Scotland, but also for Tyndale’s England.”

Hamilton’s writings from Marburg - entitled ‘Patrick’s Places’would cause him to be burned alive at St Andrews on 29 February 1528. Frith’s printings made him the next of the three to die, by the same method, on 4 July 1533 at Smithfield in London. Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English caused him to be strangled and then burned at Vilvoorde near Brussels, on 6 October 1536.

Regardless, Gospel ideas spread like wildfire across Europe. As was said at the time, “the reek of Master Patrick Hamilton infected as many as it blew upon".

"Works-religion" (where people strive to in some way make themselves right with God) is the mortal enemy of "Grace Alone" (where the believer realises they can never do that, but trust completely in Christ to do so on our behalf).

• Visit Marburg’s official tourism website here
• Swiss minister JH Merle D’Aubigne (1794–1872) compiled meticulous, respected, histories of the Reformation. His works have tonnes of information about Marburg.

* actually, there had been reform-minded people within the churches of Europe for many centuries before. A big story for another post perhaps.


Below: famous depictions of the martyrdoms of Hamilton, Frith and Tyndale. Patrick Hamilton Parting HRFrithTyndaleburn

Marburg has produced this commemorative booklet for 2017:Die von marpurg umschlag druck

and here is the title page of a Luther edition, printed in Marburg / Marpurg in 1541: Viewimage

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Scotch-Irish Society's 4th Congress, Atlanta, 1892

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‘Go big or go home’. Following the organisational problems of the Third Congress at Lexington in Kentucky in 1891 (previous post here), the Scotch-Irish Society of the USA was taking no chances next time round. It headed further south and booked the Georgia State Capitol Building in Atlanta (shown above), from 28 April – 1 May.

As the published Proceedings said, ‘no city in the South better exhibits the spirit of progress and development which pervades this section of the nation than Atlanta’. Small wonder. Less than 30 years earlier, in 1864, General Sherman began his infamous and brutal ‘March Through Georgia’ from Atlanta, his 60,000 men causing unprecedented destruction and leaving the city looking similar to Dresden in February 1945. Sherman later recalled:

“Behind us lay Atlanta smoldering and in ruins, the black smoke rising high in the air and hanging like a pall over the ruined city” 

But by 1892 ‘Reconstruction' was underway. The Georgia State Capitol building in Atlanta had been opened in 1889, architecturally reminiscent of its namesake in Washington DC. Ten railway lines radiated from the city, which it is said had the highest proportion of churchgoers of any city in the United States. The Governor of Georgia had attended the previous Congress at Lexington and there he publicly invited the Society, as did many of Atlanta’s civic organisations, to Georgia for the 1892 event. A chapter of the Society had been founded in Atlanta in 1890, its growth led mainly by its Secretary, Hugh Hunter, who was said to be ‘of pure Scotch-Irish blood himself’. The usual mix of judges, soldiers, ministers and businessmen swelled its membership.

Kimball House Hotel 1892

Official headquarters was the Kimball House Hotel (shown above), the Governor held a swish reception at his mansion. Mayor Hemphill extended the Freedom of the City to the society. Every meeting was held in the Hall of Representatives of the Capitol Building. For the Sunday service, the largest auditorium in Atlanta was booked - DeGive’s Opera House - and was ‘crowded to its utmost capacity’ – Wikipedia entry here.

The United States Artillery Regimental Band opened the event with a selection of ‘Scotch melodies’. One of the speeches was given by Henry Wallace, the grandfather and namesake of the future Vice President. Perhaps the most interesting address given this year was by Major Charles H Smith of Cartersville, Georgia, entitled ‘The Georgia Cracker’. From our vantage point, it is a clumsy attempt to acknowledge – perhaps for the first time in the Society’s events – that the Scotch-Irish people of the USA were not all heroic and gentrified success stories, that there was an lower class of people who belonged as well:

“what a mistake to say that these men were fighting for slavery; when not one in a hundred owned a slave; when in a single county that sent twelve companies to the war there were less than a hundred negroes in it; when nearly the entire voting population were Democrats … that much-maligned and misunderstood individual known as the Georgia cracker. I have lived long in his region, and am close akin to him”.

Newspaper accounts a week before declared that ‘an immense crowd is coming’. 5000 engraved invitations had been issued and 2000 letters sent to newspaper editors across the USA. However, in reading some of the accounts there’s no sign of a vast crowd of similar scale to the first three years, and no statistics on attendance were published as far as I can see. What it might have lacked in attendance from the general public was countered by a long list of hundreds of ‘distinguished guests’ from across the nation. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Sir Thomas Smith's failed English colony in North Down, 1572–75

Off to Donaghadee Historical Society tonight. 5th and final historical talk of 2017. Taking a break! This story is important as it shows the English theoretical gentrified attempt to colonise Ulster in stark contrast to the Scottish practical farmer class success which Hamilton & Montgomery began in 1606. They succeeded where Smith failed.


Saturday, March 25, 2017

"Poor white folk who, we were told, were rabid racists ... "


This is an outstanding piece of writing. The chapter ‘To Be Whole and Holy’ is not religious, but is a kind of confession of assumed prejudices and then the gradual dissolving of those. The focus of those prejudices was the 'poor white folks', her neighbours in rural Kentucky. The author, Gloria Jean Watkins, published Belonging: A Culture of Place in 1989. She is better known for her maternal grandmother’s name, ‘bell hooks’, with deliberate lower case initials. There is an institute in her name at Berea College, Kentucky -  a place that many posts here seem to gravitate back to.

• Read 'To Be Whole and Holy' - click here


Cutting Culture

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Local political tensions have been very high for quite some time. Just one of the ingredients, yet an absolutely critical one, has been the handling of two specific Irish language issues - firstly the renaming of a fisheries protection boat, and secondly a residential scheme for children. Both of these decisions were bad ones. The reactions and outcry were both justified and predictable. I have at least two sets of friends whose children have enjoyed the Liofa Bursary residential summer scheme - normal people who work in the creative industries and who enjoy this dimension of their heritage.

The reaction was additionally interesting because, in years gone by, Ulster-Scots funding streams have also been chopped, but these have had no equivalent reaction from the affected community, politicians or the media. Phone-in shows did not inflame the public mood. There were no lengthy 'think pieces' in the newspapers from academics and commentators about how outrageous this was. There was no queue of politicians asking hard questions about what on earth was going on. No high-profile protest campaigns from the arts & heritage sector about lost opportunity. And so there was no community outcry. Hardly anybody knows it even happened. The chopping was quiet and effective.

Ulster-Scots has been used for decades now to provide a 'sop' in umpteen political agreements. During the negotiations which led to the historic 'Good Friday Agreement' of 1998, the Prime Minister's right hand man was said to have laughed out loud at the notion of funding for Ulster-Scots, despite him reportedly having done a university thesis on the subject. Big announcements made, fig leaves handed out, but often minimal actual delivery. Swathes of promised funding ... but which then gets 'delayed', 'reallocated', 'handed back', ‘returned to the centre’, 'not spent'… suffocation caused by skilfully managed ‘process’ … there is much that could be said or disclosed but I had better not go any further.

It is sad that culture in Northern Ireland has been allocated a 'polarity' – Irish for one side, Ulster-Scots for the other side. In reality and practice, culture is not that simple – it ebbs and flows and overlaps in many directions across Northern Ireland. This also creates the impression of a kind of equivalence, whereas is reality there is a vast difference in how each is resourced. In February some stats were announced, which suggest a financial ratio of around 20:1. In terms of infrastructure, they are nowhere near equivalent - it’s like comparing junior league and Champions League.

Some of you will know that I was Chair of the Ulster-Scots Agency (June 05 – June 09) and it was far from an easy role. There is lots we didn't manage to achieve. There were legacy issues inherited, and fresh issues which arose, which limited the effectiveness of projects. We did some good stuff. But not enough as could have been done.

In my first meeting in 2005 with the top civil servants of DCAL (the Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure as then was) I pointed out to them that, despite being 7 years old, the Agency had still not appointed a Director of Communications, an unthinkable scenario for a public body whose core legislative function is "promotion of greater awareness”. I proposed that the Agency be gradually restructured to become more like the Health Promotion Agency, the only similar body within the public sector at that time. The civil servants did what I came to understand they did regularly - nod and murmur in agreement, take the minutes of the meeting, email them to you for approval - and do nothing. Here we are 12 years on and that post has never been approved, advertised or filled. During my term, which ended in June 2009, one of the other Director-level roles was vacated and, just the same, has never been filled.

For culture to be of present and future benefit to us all, this all needs to be re-thought. It needs to be approached holistically, treated with a common regard and respect – not 'weaponized' as a political football, not cleaved into two (very unequal) pieces and not selectively reported on by the wearying, controversy-seeking, elements of the media.

Chopping down other people’s things is not the same as nurturing your own.

Stop chopping. Plant some trees.

"Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree". – Martin Luther

“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them….Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.” – Winston Churchill

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The President who ordered West Virginia to be bombed by the US Air Force, September 1921


I am going to have to visit West Virginia. Read more here about The Battle of Blair Mountain, Logan County, 1921. It lasted for 10 days, a million rounds were fired, and in the end President Warren Harding authorised the Air Force to bomb the miners –

"... Private planes were hired to drop homemade bombs on the miners. A combination of gas and explosive bombs left over from World War I were dropped in several locations near the towns of Jeffery, Sharples and Blair. At least one did not explode and was recovered by the miners; it was used months later to great effect during treason and murder trials following the battle. On orders from General Billy Mitchell, Army bombers from Maryland were also used for aerial surveillance. One Martin bomber crashed on its return flight, killing the three members of the crew..."

The Library of Congress has a section about this story in their Chronicling America website - click here.

"... The Logan County Sheriff’s Office even hired multiple private airplanes that dropped homemade bombs onto the marching miners. A combination of gas and explosive bombs left over from World War I were dropped in several locations. At least one did not explode and was recovered by the miners; it was used months later to great effect during treason and murder trials following the battle ..." - source here

Blaming the old, the poor and the 'poorly educated' - Appalachia as scapegoat

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The portrayal of Appalachia as a ‘place apart’ from mainstream America has its uses. Following the election of Donald Trump, Appalachia has been blamed by urban media élites desperately seeking a scapegoat. This new article in by Elizabeth Catte - Liberal shaming of Appalachia: Inside the media elite’s obsession with the “hillbilly problem” - is a tour de force in destroying this new mythology.

Every generation of politicians, writers, analysts, academics and economists believes it has discovered something unique or horrible or paradoxical about Appalachia. And members of each generation of these thinkers is at war with themselves to decide if we’re worthy enough for their solutions to our problems. These solutions, however, never work because they’re almost always premised on the belief that Appalachia is fundamentally different than the rest of the country, not part of it. And so we repeat a frustrating cycle: Our self-appointed social betters interpret our reluctance to embrace their solutions as an act of bad faith and we suffer economically from their withdrawn support.

A similar piece by Jeff Biggers of the Huffington Post can be read here.

In a similar way, the ‘blame game’ on our side of the Atlantic has pinned the ’shame’ of voting for Brexit on the old, the poor and the ‘less educated’. Even before the vote, the left-of-centre Independent was acknowledging this. After the result, analysis confirmed it.

Appalachia has been the American scapegoat for generations. Elizabeth Catte’s writing helps expose the prejudices of the commentariat. Here is another superb example from October 16. which I have posted here before.

“We know Appalachia exists because we need it to define what we are not. It is the “other America” because the very idea of Appalachia convinces us of the righteousness of our own lives.” - Ronald D Eller, Uneven Ground (2013)

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bradley Kincaid - marketing mountain ballads and 'Scotch' identity in Appalachia, 1920s


Some of my Scottish friends do these days take some offence at the term ‘Scotch’, saying for example that it only applies to products that can be bought, like beef, lamb or whisky. Historically though there was never offence intended; the trem ‘Braid Scotch’ was used even within Scotland to refer to the Lowland Scots language. As Robert Burns himself wrote, 'I'll pledge my aith in guid braid Scotch’. Our own James Orr, a contemporary of Burns, used the same term: "To quat braid Scotch, a task that foils their art”.

Therefore it should be no surprise that the term is used historically in Ulster and America. One man whose products sold like hot cakes was the 1920s Kentucky singer William Bradley Kincaid (1895–1989). His father William, a farmer who sang in the local church, swapped a hunting dog for a guitar and so began Bradley’s musical career.

His 1928 booklet My Favourite Mountain Ballads referred to him a number of times as ‘Scotch’, that his great-grandfather had been a ‘full-blooded Scotchman, coming to Virginia from Scotland’. The booklet gave the songs an identity which was more inclusive than solely ’Scotch' – “these mountain ballads are songs that grew out of the life and experiences of hardy Scotch, Irish, German, English and Dutch natives”. It sold over 500,000 copies. A few pics of my edition are below.

Kincaid was educated at Berea College (a place I revisited last year), where a large archive of his papers is kept. He also served in World War One in France. Kincaid himself was offended by the term ‘hillbilly’, saying in a newspaper interview in 1936 that –

‘when I say I was the first to give mountain songs in the public, I don't mean the Hill BIlly sort. These are the creation of the very ignorant class. The songs that I bring to the public are those that were taught me by my mother. I remember her singing them to us as children as long ago as I can remember anything. They have been handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation. They consist of English, Scotch and Irish ballads, brought over from the old countries by our ancestors … the mountain people, although uneducated, have a poetic strain and naturally express themselves in this way. To these I have added some of the old hymns they sing.

When I can get the time to spare I go back in the Cumberland mountains and dig up more old songs. Since I have taen up this research I have become interested in all American folksongs … it makes me wrathy to see some entertainers fitting the songs of bums into the music of dear old mountain songs. For example they stole one of our melodies ‘Down In The Valley’ for ‘Birmingham Jail’

The same article reinforced the classic narratives:

“Bradley Kincaid’s ancestors were among the early settlers of Kentucky who were too proud and independent to endure the domination of wealthy planters and moved back into the Cumberland mountains to get away from them. They saved their independence but lost their contact with the rest of the world".

Other articles would say things like “the songs were born and originated around the hearth stones of the poor though proud early settlers who braved their way and settled in the Kentucky mountains". Kincaid would regularly talk about his Scottish ancestry during his shows, joking that he was “Scotch, but was born in this country to save travelling costs”. 

So even the mountain balladeer himself sought to attach some social status to his work, compared to ‘hill billy’ songs. He was a smart, educated man. Radio was taking off, as was the recording of music and therefore the need to market it to customers. Overall, the terminologies and careful definitions bear the self-conscious hallmark of the marketing-aware. He knew his ‘product’, and who he was selling it to, and used terminology to appeal to them. The nostalgia, the pastoral scenes, the hints of faith, all hearkened back to a remembered or maybe imagined past.

BUT - it is too easy to be cynical from our modern-day standpoint. Perhaps what he and his marketing people were saying was in fact true.

The music is good, his voice more polished than others from that early era of recorded music. His guitar playing is simple and steady, and some recordings have crisp mandolin accompaniment, such as on The Miner’s Song, Who knows what collected treasures are within the various Kincaid archives? It seems like only the tip of the iceberg were ever published in books or recordings.

• there’s an analysis of the story and image making of Bradley Kincaid in this book by Erich Nunn. He has an interesting paper available online entitled ‘American Balladry and the Anxiety of Ancestry’. It covers some influential work by William Goodell Frost, a one-time Principal of Berea College. You can see in this 1899 paper ‘Our Contemporary Ancestors in the Southern Mountains' where the ‘branding’ of Appalachia in Frost’s thinking could well have influenced the likes of Bradley Kincaid.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

"Scotch-Irish tradition, Baptist hymns and old Appalachian songs" - Frank Hutchison (1897–1945), the first white man to record the blues

Logan County, West Virginia. It was a place where white Scotch-Irish and black African-Americans mixed and worked together. The music blended, and one of those to popularise the fusion of styles, which came to be known as ‘country blues’, was Frank Hutchison. He picked up some tunes from black men like Henry Vaughan and Bill Hunt – “a repertoire of 19th century traditional tunes that blacks and whites had shared before the blues became fashionable”. In later years Hank Williams and Bill Monroe had similar formative influences from black musicians.

Hutchison was born in Beckley, Raleigh County, West Virginia (right in that region of mountains and valleys where West Virginia meets with Virginia, Tennessee and North Carolina) on 20 March 1897. From school reports of the county in 1875 it seems to have been a pretty dysfunctional place (source here).

• Family Background
Frank’s ancestry is murky. His mother was 16 year old Louvina Hutchison and his father 18 year old Frank Mankin. There’s no evidence of a shotgun wedding. About 18 months later in some crazy debauch on 10 November 1899, Frank Mankin and Wood Hutchison died of poisoning while drinking 'cinnamon drops’ (probably mixed with home-brew alcohol) and two others who were with them – Jerry McGrady and E. L. Smith – were left in a critical condition ‘and will probably die’. Mankin’s death certificate gave his marital status as ‘unknown’. (There had been a similar incident at Mattoon, Illinois on 22 December 1896 when a group of young men died from drinking a cocktail of cinnamon drops and an industrial ‘wood alcohol’ which they had stolen from the local gas works).

This would explain Frank Hutchison using his mother’s surname. Frank and his teenage mother decided to make a new start and moved to Logan County where she married Robert Lee Deskins, with whom she would have 10 children. Frank grew up and like so many men in that region he took a job in the coal mines. He also became a celebrated local musician and developed a slide guitar style, with the guitar across his lap and a pocket knife for a slide. 

• Recording Career
He recorded 32 songs for Okeh Records in the 1920s, becoming the first white guitarist to record the blues - a year earlier than Jimmie Rodgers. Hutchison was marketed as ‘The Pride of West Virginia’. One of his contemporaries, Ernest Stoneman, described him as ”a big red-headed Irishman” (source here).

However, in 1969 the Register and Post Herald from Beckley published a long genealogy of the Hutchisons of Raleigh County - saying they were probably English or Scottish. The first to settle in the county was Charles Hutchison (1795–1867) who arrived in 1829, and was a clerk in Coal Marsh Baptist Church, the first church in the county. His son A.J. was a Confederate soldier and a song leader at revival campaigns in the area.

In a later interview with Hutchison’s one-time fiancée, Jennie Wilson, she was asked “Was Frank very much interested in the old ballads, the English and Scottish songs?”, to which she replied “That was a strong interest that he had. Everybody around loved those songs like ‘Barbary Allen’ and he could really play them. He sang those songs as well as the ones he wrote”.

When he married Minnie Garrett in 1917, Frank gave his grandparents' names on the wedding certificate rather than his own biological parents. He and Minnie had two daughters, Louise and Kathleen. Frank Hutchison died in 1945 of liver cancer, his two daughters passed away in 2001 and 2006 respectively.

(NB the description in the post title comes from this book)

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