Today's History Highlights Archive

Freedom fights, Fist fights and Combat fights in Today’s History Highlights – 7.31.2013

In 1829, Bostonian David Walker, a clothing store owner—and free black man—published a pamphlet exhorting African-Americans to fight for freedom and expose the moral failures of slavery. Called Walker’s Appeal in Four Articles, it was widely read, influential and anathema to southern plantation owners. Walker was found dead near his doorway. Author Stephen Kantrowitz, professor of history at the University of Wisconsin, discusses the pamphlet and the black struggle for freedom in Boston from 1829-1889 in an interview with Civil War Book Review at Louisiana State University: “Free black people are the freest and most equal in Massachusetts … than any other polity or context in North America, or at least in the United States. Black men have the right to vote, and have few formal restrictions on their lives. Therefore we get to see the limits of the possible.” The whole interview is here. Kantrowitz’s book on the topic is available here.

When we think of combat gear, images of camouflage, leather and Velcro spring into our heads. We do not think of navy blue cotton with lots of gold doodads. That, however, is what Oliver Hazard Perry wore during the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, the military engagement that gained him fame almost unparalleled in his day. You can check out Perry’s smart combat uniform in a portrait by Jane Stuart (daughter of Gilbert) at a new exhibit called Oliver Hazard Perry: The Hero of Lake Erie. It’s at the Redwood Library in Newport and runs until January 31, 2014. Perry, a son of Rhode Island, lived in a 12-room house at 29 Touro St. in Newport after he made his fame – and fortune – on Lake Erie. Perry was among scores of Rhode Islanders who made the winter trek to fight the Battle of Lake Erie. Read more about Perry and about the exhibit at OHPRI’s Captain’s Blog.

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From Stump to Ship isn’t your ordinary industrial film. It is a meticulous record of woodsmen and horses sawing logs, hauling logs, running logs, cutting logs and clearing logjams on the rivers of Maine. Filmed in 1930 by Alfred Ames, president of the Machias Lumber Company, it was used to document a fading era in Maine’s history – and to help Ames’ campaign for governor (he lost). The film was preserved by Northeast Historic Film, an archive in Bucksport, Maine.  Ames’ script was recorded by Maine humorist Tim Sample. On Sept. 20, 1985, the restored film was premiered at the University of Maine, Orono, in a premier so jammed that some of the 1,100 people who showed up that night almost resorted to fistfights to get in. Fortunately, as Janna Jones, an assistant professor at the University of South Florida tells us, a second screening was scheduled.

Today’s Flashback Photo is a portrait of Salisbury Vermont’s Columbus Smith from the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History’s Shard Villa and its People Exhibit. Smith was the Ed McMahon of his day. He was a lawyer who made a fortune searching out estates in Britain that had fallen into the hands of the government for lack of an heir. Smith’s special talent was reconnecting those estates with their American descendants. If Columbus Smith showed up on your doorstep, a big check was probably soon to follow. After settling down back in Vermont, Smith became one of the wealthiest men in the state and built a mansion that remains a monument to his successes and the spirit of Yankee ingenuity and hard work that he embodied. We’re featuring his story on the site.

Today’s Flashback Photo…

Portrait of Columbus Smith displayed in 2012 at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History

Portrait of Columbus Smith displayed in 2012 at the Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History

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