Saturday, October 31, 2015

Fort Necessity and Braddock's Defeat

Last week I attended the second annual meeting of the Mid-Atlantic Section of the American Physical Society in Morgantown, WV, but I saved a little money by staying in a hotel in Uniontown, PA.  It turns out this is close to the site of Fort Necessity, which I would have wanted to visit anyhow, but due to my recent interest in genealogy, it was almost a requirement.

The general location is in the middle of some high, steep hills, so one would expect the fort to make use of the terrain to make it more defensible.  Probably this would not have changed the outcome, but the fact is that Washington sited the fort in a level meadow with trees only a few dozen yards from the walls.  It was tiny and pathetic.  Just look at these "earthworks" -- too small to hide behind, let alone stop a charging enemy.  It's as though Washington thought earthworks are a necessary part of a fort, but he had no idea what function they were meant to play.  No wonder the American Indian allies he was trying to recruit were unimpressed and declined to stay.

The earthworks are presumably original, but the fort is reconstructed on the basis of archeology and, probably, the written accounts of witnesses. 

A "fort" was built by my ancestors either before or after the 1838 Indian raid that killed the elderly Thomas Cupples Richards, together with much of his family.  The historical marker says before:
Fort Place, forerunner of Wewahitchka, located one-quarter mile East was constructed in the early 1830's as a refuge from hostile Indians. It consisted of a hewn log blockhouse equipped with portholes for firearms, and was enclosed within a two acre stockade. No remains of Fort Place are visible today.
I never thought this sounded much like a "fort", but it was larger and apparently better defended than Fort Necessity. 

My genealogical connection to Fort Necessity is debatable.  I am maybe descended from Col. Joshua Fry, who was supposed to command the Virginia expedition but who fell off his horse and died in Cumberland, MD.  It all depends on whether Cherry Ann Nelson, who married Daniel Thomas Richards, was in fact the great-granddaughter of the Joseph Nelson (1750-1837) who married Catherine O'Bannon.  Most genealogies on indicate this, but on what basis I am not sure. Not only does she not appear in Descendants of John Nelson, Sr.- Mary Toby, Stafford County, Virginia 1740-1959 with Related Families, neither do her father (Joseph Nelson, 1806-1840) or mother (Sarah Ann McDavid, 1809-1860).

Close by is the grave of Edward Braddock, who was perhaps too honest, or more likely insufficiently diplomatic, antagonized the local Indians, and paid with his life.  According to his obituary, George Richards (1727-1818) was with Washington at Braddock's Defeat.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My Civil War Ancestors: James Wallace Conoly

All my previous posts in this series have been from my father's side of the family, but the stories from my mother's side are similar.  A natural place to start is with James Wallace Conoly (2 Jul 1840 -- 3 Jul 1922), because my mother's maiden name was Conoley (note the slight change in spelling).  In fact, I met his son, my great-grandfather William Furney Conoley (27 Sep 1871 -- Aug 1978) -- or, more accurately, I was in the same room with him and saw him, since I was a child with nothing to say to a man over 100, and he in turn was blind and mostly deaf.

The only stories from the meeting are ones I have heard from my dad, though I find nothing in my own memory to contradict them.  The first is that Great-Granddaddy Conoley kept asking for "something sweet in my mouth, please!"  Being blind, deaf, and confined to a wheelchair, good food was about the only pleasure left to him, but the food at the nursing home was what we have all come to expect from nursing homes:  bland, unsalted, and unsweetened.  The other is that there was a specific yell that had to be made right into his ear that would let him know that family had come.  This was a yell that had been used in his youth to announce that the person approaching was a member of the family, and not, I suppose, a potential enemy.   Theodore Roosevelt discusses in Through the Brazilian Wilderness how this same custom is practically universal among those who live in the wilderness:
The early Saxons in England deemed it legal to kill any man who came through the woods without shouting or blowing a horn; and in Nhambiquara land at the present time it is against etiquette, and may be very unhealthy, to come through the woods toward strangers without loudly announcing one's presence.
Regarding my great-great grandfather, James Wallace Conoly, though, I have no real stories, probably in no small part because my grandfather, Roy Conoley, Sr., was not particularly close to my brother and me.  At any rate, if he passed on any stories about his grandfather, they were not to me.  

This leaves me with just the historical record, which is quite bare.  In the 1860 census, James Wallace Conoly was living in a household headed by his mother, Ann (Patterson) Conoly (45) and a Duncan Matthews (72).  Since Ann Conoly's mother had been Sarah (Matthews) Patterson, this Duncan was probably an uncle of hers on her mother's side.  Two brothers and one sister of James W. Conoly rounded out the family.  As in each case I've been able to trace, there were no slaves owned by my ancestors at the time of the Civil War.

When the war started, he joined Company D of the 2nd North Carolina Cavalry, and North Carolina Troops 1861-1865:  A Roster contains only these few lines about him (on page 131 of volume 2):
Enlisted in Cumberland County at age 20, July 22, 1861 for the war.  Mustered in as Private and appointed Corporal April 1-September 30, 1864.  Present or accounted for through September 1864.
His pension application contains the statement,
During the fight in White Oak Swamp in Northern Virginia I was wounded in my right arm.  I cannot give exact date but it was in the month of September 1863.  However, my wound did not disable me for the remainder of the war.
James Wallace Conoly died in the same North Carolina county (Robeson) in which he had been born and to which his grandfather and great-grandfather, both named Daniel Conoly, had moved from Scotland.  His son William Furney Conoley moved to Florida about 1900.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pets and the Afterlife

By Virginia State Parks staff (Ghost Dog Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

This is a good time of year for some speculation about what role, if any, animals in general and pets in particular might have in the afterlife.  The traditional conclusion, of course, is that they have none, but until it can be shown to me that this is actually a binding Teaching of the Catholic Church, I will feel free to entertain other ideas.

Let me begin by putting forth a few thoughts and observations that can serve as the raw material for a hypothesis (though certainly not a hypothesis in any of the natural sciences).
  1. Ghosts are usually -- in fact almost without exception -- reported wearing clothes.  Most ghost stories are pure fiction, of course, and most sightings are the result of excessive imagination or some sort of altered state of consciousness, but anyone who believes in God, angels and demons, the survival of the soul, and the final resurrection should be open to the possibility that sometimes, for reasons that may not be clear to us, the spirits of deceased humans may have some business in our world.  The fact of ghosts wearing clothes, though, is frequently noted with surprise or even derision; after all, clothes are not actually a part of a living person, right?  Consider, though:  hair is also not living (at least above the root), and it likewise contains little DNA; hair is basically a kind of natural clothing that mammals produce for themselves.  No one seems to expect ghosts, should they appear, to appear without hair or nails, so why should clothing be any different?  After all, ...
  2. According to Peter Kreeft, though I forget in which book, it is a mistake to picture, as most people do, the body containing the soul.  A more accurate picture would be the soul containing the body.  In fact, Abbot Alois Wiesinger goes quite a bit farther in Occult Phenomena in the Light of Theology.  Wiesinger claims that the traditional belief is that Adam had the preternatural gift to understand and control objects outside his body.  He even claims that this remains possible after the Fall under certain circumstances, though he emphasizes that it is a very bad idea to attempt to extend the soul beyond the body.
  3. Back to reported ghosts.  One thing that stands out is that although animal ghosts are reported, they are almost always the ghosts of pets or of working animals (mostly horses, especially when ridden by a human ghost or pulling a ghostly wagon or carriage).  Wild animals and food animals seem not to leave ghosts.  The obvious objection is that if ghosts are the effect of psychological biases, or even disorders, it makes sense that we would most often see as ghosts the animals we interact with while they are alive; once again, I assume there is more to the story than that, though.  Also, I have to exclude "animals" that are believed to be demonic manifestations -- hell hounds, the Black Shuck, etc.
  4. Finally, animals that become cherished pets often behave in ways that are surprising for animals.  Part of this surprise is no doubt due to the inadequate credit we give animals -- wild elephants and chimps have been observed to grieve the death of family members, for example -- but again, nearly every culture has stories of dogs who guarded the graves of their masters until they themselves died.  On a less dramatic level, it has often been observed that pets and their owners start to look alike, even physically; much more obvious is that they begin to act alike, at least as regards being friendly, or suspicious, or nervous, etc.
The cat is also a ghost, as the full performance makes clear.

At this point my conjecture should be fairly obvious:  pets become extensions of their owners, and so they participate in some way in their owners' immortality.

If true, this would parallel our relationship to Christ.  The Church is, after all, called the Body of Christ, and each Christian is a member of that Body -- not by nature, but by adoption, because we are loved.  As such, we participate in His immortality.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Science and the Legend of Menelik of Ethiopia

There is a tradition in Ethiopia that their kings were descended directly from King Solomon through Menelik, a son he allegedly had with the Queen of Sheba.  The legend goes on to say that when he was a young man, Menelik visited his father Solomon, and when he returned he brought with him the eldest son of the high priest, 1000 people from each of the 12 tribes (and also from the Levites, no doubt), and the Ark of the Covenant.

Now I am not Ethiopian, and on the basis of 2 Maccabees I doubt the story about them having the Ark.  (I suspect they have an ancient copy of the Ark, which over the centuries has become confused with the original, with no intent to deceive being necessary for the confusion.)  However, there is an interesting story on in which genetics has shown that there was a 
mysterious migratory event which occurred roughly 3,000 years ago, known as the 'Eurasian backflow', when people from regions of Western Eurasia such as the Near East and Anatolia suddenly flooded back into the Horn of Africa.
Both the time and the place are a suggestively good fit to the Ethiopian legend.  Even if some of the details were later embellished, it appears the legend is a memory of a real event.

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.