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One time several years ago in graduate school, I simply could not remember the word "syrup", so I called it "pancake gravy". That title was already taken(!), so I added "cane" because when I was a child in the Panhandle of Florida (aka Lower Alabama), my family grew sugar cane and made our own cane syrup.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Fallacy of Minority Dissent

Wednesday I came across the following passage:
For example, it takes a certain level of hubris for a man to take a public stand on the threat of global warming when he has no background in the subject, and when the evidence for global warming is sketchy.
Now here's the thing:  William Fitzpatrick, who made that quote about the Pope, appears to have "no background in the subject", as he says of the Pope.  That means that for him to say that "the evidence for global warming is sketchy" requires him to believe that it is not necessary to be an expert to determine whether the science behind climate change is valid or plausible; a layman such as himself must be reasonably able to make that call.  If he makes that admission, though, it applies as much to Pope Francis as to William Fitzgerald.  This really is a case of Tu Quoque; it shows that Fitzgerald displays his own hubris, by his own standards, in making the charge of hubris against Pope Francis.  Of course that doesn't prove that Fitzgerald is wrong, only that he exercised poor judgment in choosing this particular argument.

In some of the defense of Fitzgerald in the comments underneath his post, though, one finds a fallacy that seems to be quite common these days.  Undoubtedly it has a proper name, but it doesn't quite fit into any of the categories I have run across.  It is related to the appeal to authority.  The essence of it is this:  If any expert can be found who dissents with the consensus on a subject of his expertise, that is sufficient to prove that there is a reasonable doubt about the consensus view. 

There are two basic problems with this.  The first is that not all people claiming to be "experts" have equal claim.  Just because someone is a commercial pilot does not mean he is a good pilot; sometimes a bad pilot falls through the cracks.  The same is true of engineers, scientists, doctors, NFL coaches, generals, CEO's -- pretty much every conceivable specialization.  That's true even if we are talking about specializations with high standards and relatively objective criteria.

The second problem is the basic cussedness of mankind.  By this I mean every kind of pigheadedness, from the desire to contradict a personal or professional rival to what Edgar Allan Poe called "The Imp of the Perverse".  This cussedness is probably the best explanation why no idea is too ridiculous to attract at least some believers.

As a result, it is impossible to say whether objections to a consensus by the relevant experts are plausible and valid without actually understanding both the reason for the consensus and the reason for the objection.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Civil War Ancestors: Charles Wesley Hines

In the Eastern Orthodox Churches, a married man can become a priest, but a priest who is single or widowed is not allowed to marry.  The joke is, then, that any woman who desperately wants to find a husband should just hang around an Orthodox seminary in the days leading up to ordination, as the reality of "now or never" hits the seminarians.  Something of the same urgency is no doubt felt on the eve of any war by the men who will do the fighting; they may not lower their standards, but they are likely to be more prompt with their proposals.  Be that as it may, Charles Wesley Hines married Martha Ann Parrott (1842-1914) on 17 January 1861 -- just one day after the opening of the Georgia Secession Convention.  Their one child, my great-great grandmother Martha Wesley Hines, was born on 26 October 1861 -- just over nine months from the wedding.

Charles Wesley Hines was born on 3 November 1834 to Samuel and Susannah Hines.  His mother's maiden name was Miller, but her father's full name seems to have been lost; she was from Savannah, Georgia, and Mason Covington Miller's family had come from South Carolina, so they may or may not have been somehow related.  Regardless, they eventually became related, as her granddaughter Martha Wesley Hines married Levi Henderson Miller, Mason C. Miller's son.

The father of Charles Wesley Hines was one of a long line of men from Milford, Connecticut, named Samuel Hine, the final "s" being added after he moved to Georgia.  (I will write about the Hine family later, since they were involved in the Revolutionary War.)  As a result, although I have found no actual "brother vs brother" in my family tree (the desertion of Peter Pelt came close), it is practically certain that C. W. Hines had first cousins on the other side when he enlisted as a 3rd corporal in Company H of the 29th Georgia Infantry on 1 October 1861.

As is so often the case, all the really interesting stories appear to have been lost to time.  C. W. Hines worked his way up to full sergeant, but on 19 September 1863 he, like Daniel Thomas Richards, was wounded at Chickamauga.  Unlike Daniel Richards, he did not survive, succumbing to his injuries in a field hospital on 25 September 1863.  He is buried in the Marietta Confederate Cemetery.

One interesting thing is that although his widow Martha was eligible to apply for a pension from the state of Georgia, there is no record of her ever having applied for it.  This seems to have been the typical case; in fact, Mason Covington Miller is the only ancestor I know of who applied for a pension based on service to the Confederacy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

My Civil War Ancestors: Mason Covington Miller

Mason Covington Miller is simultaneously one of the most well-documented and one of the most mysterious of my ancestors.  He was born 12 March 1824 in Kershaw County, South Carolina.  He served as a private during the Mexican-American War, and his enlistment records give a physical description of him:  5' 8", with blue eyes, sandy hair, and a fair complexion.  He was a blacksmith, so he must have been strong, too.

During the Civil War he was in Company E of the 10th Georgia Infantry.  On 23 June 1864 he lost his right foot near Petersburg, VA.  After the war he received a pension from the state of Georgia for his sacrifice.  He died on 12 April 1903 and is buried in the Malachi Collins Cemetery

The controversy over Mason Covington Miller has nothing to do with his military service, though; instead it concerns his relationship with his first wife, Susan Ann Strickland (1828-1865), whom he married on 12 Jun 1853, as confirmed by Georgia marriage records.

The first question is, did Susan Ann Strickland have any children before her marriage to Mason Covington Miller?  The 1860 Census shows their household containing Bennet Miller (5), William Miller (3), Joseph Miller (2), Thomas Strickland (15), and John Strickland (11).  If the ages and dates are to be believed, Bennet Miller was born after the marriage.  However, the "consensus" of the Ancestry.com family trees shows that James Bennett Miller was their son in October, 1849, though it is not at all clear how this date might be documented.  There is a James B. Miller who appears in the 1870 Census as a 23-year-old living alone in Gordon, GA -- the other end of the state, and a member submitted a photo of "James Bennett Miller (1849-1929)"; but there is also a Bennet Miller, age 56, living in Cairo, GA in the 1910 Census.  It seems likely that James Bennett Miller was confused with Bennet Miller, who was the legitimate son of Mason C. and Susan Miller. 

What about the two Strickland boys?  A rather salacious post suggests that 
Grandmother Susan Ann Strickling was the mother of three children when Mason Covington Miller married her in June of 1853. Their names were Lusenda, born 1840, Thomas born 1845, and John 1859.
Note that (1) there is no one with a name like "Lusenda" in the 1860 Census and (2) 1859 is later than 1853.  The salacious post continues, 
It looks like Susan was taken advantage of as you can see her first child was born when she was only twelve years old. Her second one five years later and the third four years later. Susan was a Strickling, the 1850 Ga. Census shows Susan living with Neal Strickland note the differance the was these names are spelled, Susan Ann was not related to Neal Strickland, her father was Rubin Strickling.
That depends, of course, on Lucinda Strickland being the daughter of Susan, as Thomas and John are taken to be her sons.  The 1850 Georgia Census shows that Neal Strickling was 45, compared to the 22 year old Susan Strickling, with a string of other young people continuing down, apparently (the list continues on another page, but no adults are listed with the next group), to John Strickling (2) and Thomas Strickling (6).  We have already seen a John Strickland and a Thomas Strickland of about that age, and remember that in Georgia both "Strickland" and "Strickling" are likely to be pronounced "Strickluhn", so these are almost certainly the same name.  The only reasonable conclusion is that Neal Strickland / Strickling was the father of both Susan Strickland / Strickling and that Thomas and John were her younger brothers.  It is actually not that unusual for younger siblings to live in the household of their older sister if their mother has already died; in fact, my own mother and father took in my uncle for exactly this reason when they got married.

What about the claim that Susan Strickland is the daughter of Reuben Strickland?  Note the following passage:
REFERENCE: [JEFFERSON] REUBEN STRICKLAND FAMILY BIBLE EXTRACTS furnished by Mrs. Long with the above mentioned Family Group Records. First bible contains c1812 entries (i.e., from 2 pages) that list REUBEN STRICKLAND's children: a. NEILL, FLORAH, SUSANNA, SAVAGE, DAVID, LEUCREASY, and MARY. Also in this c1828 bible was a loose page that records the birth of a BULINDA STRICKLAND (b. Nov 18, 1820) [parents not identified], the birth of a grandson JOHN CONNER (b. April 7, 1828), son of WILLIS CONNER and his DAUGHTER SUSANNA; and a second SUSANNA STRICKLAND (b. July 2, 1822)[parents not identified]. 
Both of these two women named "Susanna Strickland" are older than "Susan Ann Strickland", but it is easy to see how they could be confused.  This is almost certainly what happened.  Also, note that although the will of Reuben Strickland makes reference to his married daughter Lucretia, it makes no reference to either a Susan or Susanna.  Susan was certainly still living at the time of Reuben Strickland's death in 1859, but perhaps his daughter Susanna was not.  The tone of the will does not incline me to believe he was merely getting in one last snub at a disappointing daughter.
In the name of God, Amen. I, REUBEN STRICKLAND, of the said State and County, being of advanced age and knowing that I must shortly depart from this world, deem it right and proper, both as respects myself and family, that I shall make disposition of the property which a kind providence has blessed me. I, therefore, make this my LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT, hereby revoking and annulling all others heretofore made by me. 
Item, First, I desire and will that my body be buried in a decent and Christianlike manner, suitable to my circumstances and condition. My soul, I trust shall return to rest with God who gave it as I hope for eternal salvation through the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 
Item, Second, I desire and direct that all my just debts be paid without delay by my executors hereinafter named.
Item, Third, I give and devise to my beloved wife, Clara Strickland, all the effects of my Estate, both real and personal, during her widowhood, or natural life, and at the termination of her widowhood, or natural life, the property, whatever it may be, both real and personal, I desire and bequeath that it may be equally divided between my four children, viz: Matthew M. Strickland, Thomas J. Strickland, Greenberry Strickland and Lucretia Strickland (Mrs. Josiah Lewis Perritt). 
Item, Fourth, I constitute my two sons, viz: Thomas J. Strickland and Greenberry Strickland [should be Matthew Strickland] my executors to this, my LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT this February 17, 1859. His Reuben (X) Strickland (Signed) Mark Signed, sealed and published by Reuben Strickland as his Last Will and Testament in the presence of us the subscribers who subscribed our names hereto in the presence of said Testator and of each other, February 17, 1859.
Sorry if you were hoping for a shocking scandal.  Mason Covington Miller had three more wives after Susan Ann Miller died in 1865, which may or may not be shocking, but there seems to be nothing amiss with Susan's part of the story.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

My Civil War Ancestors: Edward J. Thomas and Samuel J. Bradshaw

I've had pretty good luck tracing back most of my ancestors as far as the Civil War, but even at that recent date there are a few cases where the documentation is scant and the possibility for misidentification remains real.  Certainly I could not hope for surviving stories attached to them all.  You can imagine, then, how excited I was when, knowing I had an ancestor named "Edward J. Thomas" who lived in Georgia at the time of the Civil War, I found Memoirs of a Southerner by Edward J. Thomas.  

It's always best to find out how people in any place and time view themselves -- what they see as their strengths, what they see as their weaknesses, and what they consider too obvious to ever need to be mentioned explicitly.  That's true even when, as is the case in Thomas's book, the account is so infected with wishful thinking that it might remind us of a cartoon; we at least get to see how Thomas and people like him wished to think of themselves.  Bear in mind also that we also have cartoonish perceptions both of ourselves, and of those separated from us by time or distance.

Regardless, the Edward J. Thomas who was my great-great-great grandfather was born in 1806, whereas the author was born in 1840, so they are clearly not the same person.  What's more, the author's family owned several large plantations, whereas my relatives lived in a small household.

That household included a son Edward who was born in 1839, which is close enough for a possible match, given the records of that time.  However, records indicate that on 20 September 1862 he was deployed with the 5th Florida Infantry but had to be "left sick at a private house" near Richmond.  On 8 December 1862 he died in a Richmond hospital.  He did not survive to write a nostalgic retrospective of the antebellum South.

A similar fate befell Samuel J. Bradshaw.  He had been born in 1820 in South Carolina, and during the Second Seminole War he had come to Florida as part of Snodgrass' North Alabama Mounted Volunteers.  At the start of the War Between the States, he was still in Florida, and ended up enlisting as a private in Company B of the 8th Florida Infantry, although he was by then in middle age.  Whether his age contributed to his ultimate fate is not clear, nor is the particular ailment that felled him, but on 19 February 1863 he died, being subsequently buried in the University of Virginia Confederate Cemetery.  The records say he died, not that he was killed, so he also seems to have been a casualty of disease.  This was by no means uncommon; in most wars, disease has killed more men than combat.

Samuel J. Bradshaw left behind, among others, an 11 year old son named William Henry Bradshaw.  This son grew up to marry Louisa Thomas, the daughter of Edward J. Thomas and the sister of Edward Thomas; William and Louisa became my great-great grandparents.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

My Civil War Ancestors: The Pelt Family

Perhaps the saddest account I have yet come across in my family history from the Civil War era is that of the Pelt family.
In the 1860 census, a 45 year-old Jonathan Pelt (II) is shown in a household along with his wife Mary Barbara (née Taylor, aged 42), his children William (24), Obadiah (21), Robert (18), Jonathan III (13), Zachariah (10), Elizabeth (7), and Lucinda (5).  Also in the same household was Isaac Sims (15).  Elizabeth ended up marrying John Daniel Richards, the son of Daniel Thomas Richards, and became my great-great grandmother.

I'm not sure why Isaac Sims was a part of this household, as he does not appear to be a relative.  He is probably the Isaac Sims who was born around 1845 in Mississippi and came to live in Jackson County, Florida.  His son William Isaac (1876-1956) is listed in the 1910 census as white.  There is an application by Rhoda Sims to the War Department for a veteran's headstone for Isaac Sims, private in Company F (Daniel Richards was in Company G) of the 6th Florida Infantry, CSA (see Florida Soldiers:  CSA 6th, 7th Florida Infantry, 1st Florida Cavalry, page 164), indicating he died on 13 Feb. 1930 and was buried in the Sims Cemetery near Mariana.

I can find no record of Jonathan Pelt having served in the military at any time, which is actually rather surprising if he "was a noted blacksmith", something any cavalry would need.  William Pelt and two of his brothers were in the same infantry company as Isaac Sims.  William survived until 15 Nov. 1871.  The rest of the news is not so good.

In November of 1863, disaster struck.  The Company Muster Roll for Nov. / Dec. 1863 shows Obedeah/Obadiah Pelt to be absent by reason of "capture by the enemy Nov. 25, 1863"; the Jan. / Feb. 1864 Company Muster Roll shows his absence due to being "Missing in action at Missionary Ridge Nov. 25 / 63"; confirmation that he was in fact dead must have come shortly after that.  The death of Robert must have been confirmed even sooner.  A register shows him to have been killed on Nov. 25, 1863, with "Where and of what cause" marked simply "Bad Missionary Ridge".  News of their deaths must have come as a shock to the whole family -- a dozen years later, my great-grandfather, John Obed Richards, would be named after him -- and it may have contributed to Peter's fateful decision to desert in February of 1864.

Unlike his brothers, Peter had enlisted in the 2nd Florida Confederate Cavalry (Company G; John Richards was in Company A).  Desertion is, by the common consent of all armies, about the worst thing you can do, but becoming a turncoat and taking up arms for the other side is among the few worse things that are worse.  This is what Peter did, joining the 2nd Florida US Cavalry. This really became a problem for him when he was part of a Union force that attempted to occupy Tallahassee, precipitating the Battle of Natural Bridge.  

Warning:  Inconsistent Sound Volume!

Peter was among those assigned to remain in Newport to cover the Union retreat.  After a hard day's fighting, he and three other Union soldiers collapsed exhausted into a nearby building which they somehow assumed to be secure.  Later that night, a larger group of Confederate troops made the same decision.  The morning light revealed the situation, and the outnumbered Union soldiers were quickly captured.  Peter, along with Cpl. Asa Fowler, were recognized as deserters and turncoats, and after a brief trial, were executed by firing squad, stripped naked, and dumped into an unmarked grave.

The words of Confederate surgeon Dr. Charles Hentz do a good job of capturing the tragedy:
...They were halted close to me, as a hollow square for the execution was formed; some bandages, pinned around their eyes, were taken from my haversack; how dreadfully did I commiserate their awful condition. Pelt, whom I had known as a little boy...,was trembling in every fiber; his face was the hue of ashes - his lips quivering compulsively in prayer, his eyes closed and bandaged.
All this seems to indicate that Peter, who was only 19, was essentially just a scared kid, and it implies that his desertion was motivated by fear rather than principle.  Presumably he fell in with Union forces not so much because he supported them, but because as a deserter he had nowhere else to turn.  It is hard not to pity him.

I know that if I had been among the Confederate troops who captured him that day, I would have willingly joined the firing squad.  Peter had not exactly been blowing kisses at his former friends, neighbors, and comrades in arms the previous day.  I would have shot him, but I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.  The war was over just two months later.  As a deserter and a turncoat, Peter would never really have been able to go home again, but he could have moved out west and started over.  At least that would have spared his family some additional grief.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

My Civil War Ancestors: John George Richards and Daniel Thomas Richards

The recent hubbub over the Confederate flag has spurred me to investigate my Confederate ancestors, and from that I have moved on to a more general inquiry into my genealogy.  This is still ongoing, incomplete in places and probably inaccurate in a few places I'll mention when they come up.  Two Confederate soldiers on my father's side are pretty well documented, though:  John George Richards and Daniel Thomas Richards. That makes them a good place to start a new series of posts.
Daniel Thomas Richards (1825-1879), survivor of an Indian attack on Fort Richards/Fort Place, and son of Rev. John G. Richards of Wewahitchka, built Moss Hill Methodist Church in Vernon (1857), Chipola Primitive Baptist (1873), and organized the Chipola Methodist Church (1874) in his log home. In 1876 Daniel and his sons built a log church near this site.  -- Historical Marker at the Site of Altha Methodist Church, Florida
On this site are the remains of early area settlers, the Richards family. As a prominent Virginia Colonial family, George Richards (1727-1818) was with Washington at Braddock’s Defeat (1755), and with his sons in the Revolutionary War (1776). The family served in the War of 1812, Florida Indian Wars and Richards Company of Friendly Indians, settling Ocheese Bluffs, Wewahitchka, and Altha. As one of Florida’s first pioneer families and Interpreters for Andrew Jackson for Florida treaties, they built Fort Richards where George’s son Thomas C. Richards (1774-1838) was killed during an Indian attack. Thomas’s son, Rev. John G. Richards (1797-1876), built the church and named Wewahitchka, and served as Calhoun County Elections Inspector (1843), Clerk of the Court (1851) and in Company A 2nd Florida Calvary. His son, Daniel Thomas Richards (1825-1879), buried at this site, survived the fort’s attack and built Moss Hill, Chipola Baptist and Altha Methodist Churches. He was a Civil War Veteran (6th Florida Infantry Regiment Company G wounded at Chickamauga, Georgia in 1863) and Washington County Clerk of Court.  -- Historical Marker at the Site of Richards Cemetery, Florida
... Daniel Thomas Richards is reported to be the first white child born in Calhoun County.  Six weeks later he was left motherless when Eliza Porter Richards died of pneumonia.  Eliza was only 15 years old.  Daniel T. Richards was living in the fort at Wewahitchka, FL with his grandparents Indians attacked his Uncle James Richards home in 1838. His grandfather and sons built the first Methodist Church in Wewahitchka. It was a one room church of hewn logs. After his marriage, Daniel T. Richards and his wife continued to live in the fort. They moved to Washington Co. near Econfina Creek and made it their home for many years.  Later they moved to Jackson County, south of Marianna and then to Calhoun County. The Civil War forced Daniel T. to leave his wife and young children with no one to take care of his farm. He was mustered into the 6th Florida Infantry, Company G on March 11, 1862.  While he was gone, his wife welcomed other young women left with no means of support into their home. These women and children remained together for the duration of the war.  --  State Archives of Florida Online Catalog, "Richards Family photographs, 1865-1908."
At the time of the 1850 census, Daniel Thomas Richards was living in a small household consisting of himself, his wife Ann (née Nelson), their infant son John Daniel, and his wife's brother Rambling Nelson, who was 20 years old but was already a veteran of the Mexican-American War.  (If "Rambling" was a nickname, it seems to have been one he went by his whole life, including his military pension application.)  By the 1860 census Rambling had moved out and three additional children had been added.

The 1830 census shows the household of John Richards consisting of himself, one "free white woman" (his wife, the former Eliza Porter, who would have been about 20) and one child (Daniel Thomas, who would have been about 5).  The family had grown by 1840, and even more by 1850.

It appears that at no time did either John Richards or Daniel Richards own slaves.  (The two previous generations had owned slaves, especially George Richards, Sr., but I will go into detail about them in a later post.)  The Methodist Church, of which John Richards was a minister, was at least "in principle" opposed to slavery, with John Wesley having written against it, so perhaps this was a religious decision, or perhaps it was a part of a pattern of the growing distaste for slavery (few if any of my other Confederate ancestors were slaveholders), or perhaps Daniel and John Richards were simply land-poor -- it is not clear which.  Regardless, they had no direct incentive to support slavery, but they appear to have genuinely supported the Confederate cause.  This is not a surprise, because suggesting that the Confederate cause was only about slavery is as absurd as suggesting that Pat Tillman enlisted to fight for cheap oil.

They did not enlist until there was a general conscription in effect, but at that time they were 37 and 63 years old, respectively, which is beyond the ideal age for a private.  Daniel Richards obviously saw action, though, since he was wounded at Chickamauga. As for John Richards, my guess is that he was either mustered out (or into a kind of home guard), as too old to be useful at the front, or was assigned some sort of clerical duty, for which his previous public service indicates he was well-suited.  The other possibilities are that he served as a chaplain, but he seems to have been a private, not an officer, and he does not appear on lists of chaplains; or he might have just been exceptionally blessed, since he did survive the war.  (Update 7 Sep 2015: A John Richards appears as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Florida 4th Infantry Co. B, having mustered in on 30 Apr. 1861 and discharged in August 1864 for disability.  I am unsure whether this could be the same John Richards, but it is plausible, given his position in the community and his experience as a 1st Lieutenant in Richards' Company of Friendly Indians.  There are other surviving documents on Fold3.com that probably through additional light on the career of "John Richards", but the handwritten notes are too indistinct for me to read them.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Path to CItizenship for Superman?

After all, he was not born in America, and he did not pass through all the proper immigration channels when he arrived.  He is, in fact, an illegal alien.