Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Mad, Bad, & Sad: The French & Indian War

Next Up: looking into the French and Indian War (1754–1763).
(I'm going to do the communications book too, which I mentioned a while back, but this project comes first.)

I chose the war from a list of possible U.S.-history topics because I don't know anything about it.
Do you?
Or, rather, because I know that what I half-know must be a jumble of misinformation,
and sorting out the junk drawer of my brain is fun.

Like, I figured no way did General James Wolfe, one of the British commanders, die as beautifully as Benjamin West imagines in his famous painting The Death of Wolfe (1770).

(click to embiggen; from Wikipedia)

Wolfe was a complicated guy, I learned, of whom King George II supposedly said, on hearing gossip that Wolfe was mad:
"Mad, is he? Then I hope he will bite some of my other generals."

In the painting, the guy in green, on the left, is a Rogers' Ranger, one of a colonial militia whose members, among other things, wore snowshoes to battle in the snow. (Reminds me of the Finnish Ski Patrol troops.)
The rangers attack on an Abenaki town on the St. Francis River during the F&I War was made into a Hollywood movie, Northwest Passage (1940).

In contrast with the Indian warrior of West's painting, here's a watercolor of a jolly-looking Abenaki couple by an unknown artist, from the 1700s.

This morning I also learned that Wolfe wasn't feeling well at all, most of the time.

In 1758, the year before he died, he wrote, “I am in a very bad condition, both with the gravel & Rheumatism," and the next summer, he recorded, “Sad attack of dysentery...”

I'm always amazed how much historic people accomplished without even aspirin.

I must read Simon Schama's literary historical work Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations (1991)--in it, he writes about Wolfe's death and Benjamin West's painting,
exploring the gap between a "lived event and its subsequent narration."


femminismo said...

No aspirin, no antidepressants - just moldy bread in a saddle bag to apply to those open wounds.

Margaret said...

Maybe part of the reason they accomplished so much was BECAUSE of the lack of aspirin and other such remedies. I suppose they knew the pain wasn't going anywhere, so there was nothing to do but cuddle up next to it and keep going.

rr said...

Ooooh! Ooooh! Ooooh! This is so exciting! A period about which I know basically almost nothing *except* that I'm descended from Molly Brandt (sister of Joseph Brandt) and Willian Johnson and am therefore fascinated by the politics of the Iroquois Confederacy.


If you come across anything fabulous about this particular aspect of the situation would you pass me on a reading list?

Fresca said...

Perhaps one day, someone like Dr. McCoy will look back at our times and be horrified by all the pain and inconveniences humans in the 21st century lived with!

RR: Wow, that's amazing!
What a fascinating family history.
I will for sure keep my eyes peeled for your relatives and let you know if/when I meet them and what I find.

In fact, I chose this topic partly hoping I could look more closely at the Iroquois Confederacy.
I'll surely be blogging about all this as I go along.

rr said...

I thought further on the asprin aspect of this post (they did have it, of course, it's derived from willow bark which people have been chewing as an analgesic for centuries along with all sorts of other medicinal plants) and I hope very much that the putative Dr McCoy will look back on the surgery and chemo and radiation which we currently use to treat cancer as we now look back on the methods of amputation in the past. With shock and pity that people had to endure such treatment, but with the knowledge that it was the best that was available at the time.

And w000t about the confederacy. I went to a small, dark and dusty museum of "American Indians" in New York about 20 years ago which was epic FAIL (I hope things have improved) and came away with a cornhusk mask. That's about as close as I get to my, uh, heritage.

Fresca said...

Good point about the willow bark etc., RR!
That might make a really good section in the book--a sidebar or something about medicine.

(But still, if I have to travel to the past, I'm taking my bottle of 500 ipuprofen capsules with me!)

Yes, one day I hope our poisonous medicines will be on the junk heap of history because we will have found something as liberating as penicillin once was.

Rick said...

I have nothing useful to add to this conversation, except to mention that I used to hang out at a bar in a hotel called The Abenaki. It was on the Indian reservation on the outskirts of my hometown (Truro, Nova Scotia). I'm pretty certain that Wolfe never stayed there. ;-)

Fresca said...

You sound like an Important International Journalist, hanging out in hotel bars, like in the movies.
I have to admit, I'd never heard of the Abenaki before--as a people or a bar.