Friday, August 3, 2012

How a Professor of History Does ... History?

Bear with me, folks. This is going to be a long one.

On April 15, on his Crossroads blog, Brooks Simpson, professor of history at Arizona State University, posted this:

Support for Southern Separatism

He quoted the blog titled The Catholic Knight which included this passage:

"I do confess to having a strong biological connection to Southern culture through my mother, both in Southern English, Irish and Scottish descent, as well as a strong Cherokee ancestry which is deeply connected to Southern history."
Simpson snidely remarked,
"Someone ought to fill him in on who advocated the removal of the Cherokee Nation."
Implying (1) he didn't know and (2) having both Southern and Cherokee ancestry/heritage requires a person to choose one and reject the other.

I addressed this the following day, April 16, in the comments following Simpson's post:
Are you saying *you know* he doesn’t know who advocated removal? How do you know? He probably does know, and it probably doesn’t change things for him any more than it does for me. I have ancestors on several of the feds’ Cherokee census rolls — The 1817 Emigration Roll; the 1835 Henderson Roll; the 1851 Siler Roll; the 1852 Chapman Roll; the 1883 Hester Roll; and the 1909 Guion Miller Roll, and perhaps others. My grandmother is listed on the last two named here. She received payment from the feds in compensation for some offense or other it committed against her and her Cherokee ancestors. Twenty dollars in gold. She bought a sewing machine with it. Her relatives and descendants all self-identify as Southerners. It’s a Southern thang. New Yawkers can’t understand.
The verbal cowplops from Simpson and his "diversity"-worshiping and "tolerant" comment-drones were as filthy and smelly as they usually are:
Simpson: Thanks for admitting that you fashion a version of southern heritage to fit your own political agenda. Your ignorance of Indian removal, something instigated in the case of the Cherokee first by white Georgians seeking to make money from a gold strike, is stunning but not surprising. So in this case you confess you know nothing about your own heritage. Let’s keep that in mind the next time you tell people about the need to defend southern heritage … because you can’t remember your own.
(I admitted no such thing. I confessed no such thing. I simply documented my Cherokee ancestors and noted that they and their descendants identified as Southerners. But then, I can't find a better illustrator than Simpson that ... .liars gotta lie.)
John Foskett: Well, Connie is as confused about the Cherokee Removal as she is about Confederate history. As you point out, the Cherokees were ultimately forced to leave as a result of the Georgia Gold Rush, which saw white Georgians grabbing Cherokee ancestral lands. So what’s the “Southern Heritage” here – that of the Cherokees who ended up in present-day Oklahoma or that of the folks who drove them out and who stayed home in Georgia? Ironically, the most vociferous opposition to the removal came from the North. Must be a case of “Northern Heritage”.
Plop, plop, stink, stink.

Astute readers will note that my post didn't even address the Cherokee removal (** see my comment at the end of this post) except to note that it didn't change my self-identifying as a Southerner. The salient point, which Simpson and Foskett grandly, and dishonestly ignored, was "Her [my grandmother's] relatives and descendants all self-identify as Southerners."

On April 17, one day later, Simpson posted this on his blog:
Connie Chastain’s Family Heritage: A House Divided
by Brooks D. Simpson

Although Connie Chastain has changed the status of her Facebook group to closed, she continues to provide ample opportunity for readers of this blog to comment on her views … because she’s a frequent visitor and commenter here (it’s as if she’s never gone away). Recently she brought attention to her Cherokee ancestry, much as she’s in the past highlighted her family ties to Elijah Webb Chastain, a member of Congress from 1851 to 1855.

There is, of course, more to the story.

Elijah W. Chastain’s father, Benjamin Chastain, was born in North Carolina, moved to South Carolina, and then moved again to Georgia, where he served in the Georgia state legislature intermittently between 1826 and 1834. He also served as an Indian agent in the Toccoa Falls area. Fort Chastain was named after him: it was established to assist in the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia along the Trail of Tears. As one source put it, Benjamin Chastain “worked to help round up the Indians for the Trail of Tears.”

Connie Chastain delights in telling us of her Cherokee heritage. But she’s declined to reveal the role of some of the members of her family tree in deporting other members of her family tree … or perhaps she never knew about it. Now she does. Who do you think you are, Connie?

This is what we call history, not heritage.

By the way, some family members suggest that another Elijah in the Chastain family had a Cherokee mistress.
This, of course, elicited more smelly verbal cowplops from his myrmidons -- and, surprisingly, a few criticisms of Simpson. A sampling:
John Foskett: Not surprisingly, facts get in the way of a good family tradition. Or “heritage”. Connie started off okay in the “Southern and Romantic Fiction” category. It’s when she branched into “heritage” that things began to unravel. Once you depart the realm of fiction you need to get a good grasp on facts. That hasn’t happened here, all too obviously.
Brooks D. Simpson: She can celebrate whatever her little heart desires. But surely you would not want us to overlook the truth of the matter, right? That’s the difference between heritage and history.
Mike Moore, a Southern Facebook friend of mine posted:
So Comrade Simpson…can you elaborate on just where she has spoken or written an untruth about this issue?
Simpson replied:
I’m simply providing a more complete historical context.
Oh, really? LOL. Continue reading, folks, and let's just see how "more complete" Simpson's "historical context" is. But first, back to the comment thread. One of the commenters suggested:
"Perhaps posting about another’s ancestry is taking a personal confrontation just a bit too far? Especially if it is intended as a form of insult or belittlement?"
Simpson replied:
Neil–if posting a more complete story about the actual heritage of someone who has posted much about heritage is a form of insult or belittlement, then I find that assessment curious. Would you rather be misled by fantasy masquerading as “heritage”?
(There it is again -- Simpson's claim of posting a "more complete story" -- don't forget that, gentle readers. As for "fantasy masquerading as heritage" -- whose fantasy? Mine or the federal government's, whose Indian agents put my ancestors' names on the Cherokee census rolls?)
Connie’s brought her heritage into the discussion. She’s also brought into the discussion heritage versus ancestry, and it was she who mentioned her Cherokee ties. She opened the door. Presenting a fuller historical context helps illustrates the practical complexity of certain claims. History’s messy that way.
(There's another phrase to remember, folks -- Presenting a fuller historical context... As for history being messy -- maybe it depends on who is presenting history, and how they present it and -- as we shall see -- why they present it.)
But there are some people who would prefer to evade that issue by making every disagreement or discussion into a clash of personalities.
(Who's the one who started the clash with the snarky and highly personal insult: "Someone ought to fill him in on who advocated the removal of the Cherokee Nation"?)

Later, Simpson posts,
"And that’s the difference between heritage and history. Some people are all about heritage, which, as Connie freely admits, she shapes to serve her own personal agenda.
(I've admitted no such thing, freely or otherwise. Again, Simpson demonstrates that liars gotta lie.)
I prefer to explore history, and one of the results of that exploration is to show the complex relationship between heritage and history … including the dark stuff in the closet, which includes the Trail of Tears.
(This is an absolute SCREAM, folks, considering what I post later in this thread. Explore history to show complex relationships? Or show some and ignore some and twist some in order to attempt to embarrass somebody you don't like?)
As Connie opened the door in referring to her Cherokee connections, I found it remarkable to observe the history involved. If one would rather embrace the whitewashed fantasy known as made-to-order heritage, then to each his or her own.
(And if one would rather embrace partial and/or twisted history in order to embarrass somebody they don't like, then to each his own.)

Somebody named Sid posted:
"Brooks…me thinks you have a lot of spare time on your hands."
Simpson replied:
Not at all. It was a very simple piece of research. I am just efficient....
(Simple especially when you only post part of it .... )

So let's recap what Simpson says he found....

"As one source put it, Benjamin Chastain 'worked to help round up the Indians for the Trail of Tears.'"

The source, presumably, is the website Chastain Central, which notes, "Chastain Central was advised by Georgia historian Ethelene Dyer Jones that Fort Chastain was in what is now Fannin County, but was then Union County. She continues, "The fort was near the convergence of Star Creek with the Toccoa River in what became Fannin County. The site of Ft. Chastain was covered by the waters of Blue Ridge Lake. Benjamin Chastain, who was sent as an Indian agent, opened the first post office in 1837 in what later became Fannin County, called the Tuckahoe Post Office. The fort was named for him and he worked to help round up the Indians for the Trail of Tears. I did a good bit of research on this person, father of Elijah Webb Chastain."

Interestingly, I can find no source documentation for Jones' claims that Benjamin Chastain helped "to round up the Indians for the Trail of Tears," even among her own writings online. Even more interestingly, Simpson doesn't mention this! What a surprise, huh!

Excerpts from Jones's book, Through Mountain Mists, are online.

Here is an excerpt about Benjamin Chastain

And here is an excerpt about Ft. Chastain and the Indian Removal

Jones tells us Benjamin Chastain "was appointed" an agent to the Cherokee. She doesn't say by whom, but presumably he "was appointed" by the federal government during the Jackson administration.

She also says that the building and operation of a fort at the Toccoa River and Star Creek was a task "assigned" to Benjamin Chastain." Again, no identity of the "assigner" given, but presumably it was an agency of the federal government.

In "Fort Chastain and Indian Removal," Jones gives a description of the conditions in which the Cherokee were held in the removal forts prior to their departure on the Trail of Tears, but she does not substantiate that these were the conditions at Ft. Chastain. Presumably, we are just supposed to think that this description fits the Cherokee "held" at Fort Chastain.

However, other information about the fort, and the removal itself, cast doubt that Jones's description applied to Fort Chastain. (Simpson, of course, gleefully posted Jones's description without noting the doubts, so strong was his determination to embarrass me.)

First, Fort Chastain wasn't a "fort" at all. There were no buildings, no stockade, in which to confine the captives. Jones says the operation of this fort "was assigned" to Benjamin Chastain, but records indicate others (rather incompetent others) actually operated the, um, facility. From Georgia Trail of Tears
Chastain’s Station
County: Fannin
City: Blue Ridge
National Register of Historic Places: No
Local Designation: None.
State Designation: None.
Site Significance:

One of 15 removal posts in Georgia, Chastain's was one of five that were never stockaded. Its proximity to the North Carolina mountains where the most numerous conservative Cherokees lived made the post particularly important to the Georgia governor. The post was assigned to the Eastern Military District commanded by Gen. Abraham Eustis. Lt. Col. Camp commanded three infantry companies who were sent to a post "near Chastain's." One of the three was Capt. John Fowler’s DeKalb County militia company.

While Capt. Peake and his Tennessee company waited at the post for the Georgia companies, Gen. Charles Floyd received reports of their disorderly behavior, drunkenness, and tardiness. Floyd alerted Eustis and Camp resigned his command. The three companies remained at the post until relieved some time after the removal from Georgia was completed. They reported back to Gen. Floyd.

In 1930 a dam was completed across the Toccoa River forming Lake Blue Ridge and inundating the sites of Benjamin Chastain’s and the camp nearby.

Significant Dates: May 11, 1838 - July 5, 1838
Significant Persons:
Benjamin Chastain, store owner
Lt. Col. Benjamin J. Camp
A. P. Bush, Quartermaster, 2nd Regiment, GA Foot
Capt. John W. Fowler
Store owner? Store owner? But-but-but what about "rounding up" the Cherokees?

Here's some more very interesting information about "Fort" Chastain from Cherokee Removal: Forts Along the Georgia Trail of Tears by Sarah Hill ( A joint partnership between The National Park Service and the Georgia Department of Natural Resources/Historic Preservation Division)
The encampment at Chastain’s raises so many questions that the absence of records about the post has proven particularly frustrating. It seems the post’s establishment was not initially planned. No mention was made of northeast Georgia until late May when other companies were already underway with their collection of prisoners. The assignment of three companies to Chastain’s indicates the expectation of a high number of prisoners, yet the late assignment and failure of command suggest a lack of attention about their capture. The delayed arrival of Gen. Eustis to his command at Ft. Butler exacerbated the problems since no one was sufficiently near to monitor the post’s establishment. Most puzzling of all was the behavior of and toward the commander, Lt. Col. Benjamin Camp, whose leadership and discipline failed from the very beginning. Yet he was allowed to pass from Ft. Buffington to Ft. Floyd and on to Union County, with complaints following him along the route. Although he resigned his commission, it is surprising that he did not face a court martial. The discovery of additional papers, particularly those of Gen. Eustis, will be a welcome addition to this body of literature about the removal of Indians from Chastain’s.
Hill's account of this "station" or "encampment" (not fort) is found beginning on Page 46 of this document:

Interesting things to note. There was no stockade at this "fort" -- apparently no buildings at all. There was a "lack of attention"to the capture of prisoners (Cherokees) and a "failure of command" in that endeavor. And note -- Benjamin Chastain is not mentioned even once in this short narrative HISTORY.

It's possible that the "fort" (or encampment) may not have even been on Benjamin Chastain's land, as Hill notes, "In anticipation of the 1838 removal, Ft. Hetzel was established in Ellijay and a military encampment was proposed for Union County 'near Chastain's.'"

"Near" is not "on."

Chastain Central further notes: "... Chastain's is listed on page 22 as one of five posts that were not fortified. In fact, page 47 states that there is no record of any construction at Chastain's Encampment, and that the circumstances of the camp make significant construction unlikely. The late arrival of the militia there makes barracks unlikely, and there was no need for stables since the militia was infantry. Storage facilities would be necessary, but the report speculates that they may have used Benjamin Chastain's buildings for that."

According to the Georgia Trail of Tears website Chastain station operated from May 11, 1838 to July 5, 1838 and Benjamin Chastain's name is not listed among those of the officials who operated the encampment.


I mention all this not to exonerate my kinsman -- I don't know what his involvement was in all that, and I don't really care. But I do note that primary source documentation seems to indicate little to no involvement by him.

No, the reason I mention all this is to demonstrate the sloppy scholarship, the leaving-out parts of history that don't fit with the "historian's" agenda of personal attack -- and the indication of questionable ethics that underlie it all, stemming from personal animosity. I mention it to show something about Simpson's claims.

These claims --
" would not want us to overlook the truth of the matter, right? That’s the difference between heritage and history ... I’m simply providing a more complete historical context ... if posting a more complete story about the actual heritage of someone who has posted much about heritage is a form of insult or belittlement, then I find that assessment curious. Would you rather be misled by fantasy masquerading as “heritage”? ... Presenting a fuller historical context helps illustrates the practical complexity of certain claims. History’s messy that way ... I prefer to explore history, and one of the results of that exploration is to show the complex relationship between heritage and history"
-- are not only complete and total bullcrap -- they're smelly, slimy flat-out lies.

Is this how they do history at Arizona State University? Putting forth statements that have no source documentation? Ignoring documentation that doesn't estblish what you want established?

Simpson's lying-by-omission about someone's personal history, motivated by some kind of personal internet vendetta, establishes that his ethics are questionable -- just as the lies sprinkled liberally throughout his personal blog establish the same thing. And if ethics are questionable in one place, they're questionable, period. Which means ... how many lies has he told about the civil war and Southern heritage -- by omission or otherwise?


**Foskett and Simpson deliberately ignoring the point of my comment -- that my grandmother's descendants self-identified as Southerners -- in order to claim I knew nothing about the Cherokee removal, is particularly skanky evidence of a lack of ethics. In fact, I researched the Trail of Tears for a keepsake notebook I wrote for a family reunion of my father and his brothers back in 2000 or so.... As for the $20 in gold my grandmother received from the feds -- I don't know if that was compensation for her grandparents being sent west on 'the March" as my father called it (the Trail of Tears) or some other reason. The government compensated Indians for several reasons.

I also discovered information about Ft. Chastain at that time, so I've known for 12 years or so that there is no evidence that Benjamin Chastain "rounded up" Cherokees -- and that there is evidence that other people did so, and that the "fort" was named "Chastain" probably because it was adjacent to Benjamin's property.... But I guess if your aim is to smear somebody, if you are folks like Foskett and Simpson, truth is a triviality you can dispense with....

No comments :

Post a Comment

Comments are welcome, but monitored.