A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Protests and Riots and Murder in Colonial America: A Little History Is Good for the Soul

As I begin this post let me say as clearly as I can-- I do not condone vandalism and violence for any reason whether committed by the oppressors or the oppressed, those in power or those without. I reject such action because I am a Christian who is convinced that one cannot make sense of Jesus' ministry presented to us in the four canonical gospels apart from his insistence on nonviolence.

With that out of the way I would like to address the matter of ignorance displayed as knowledge, particularly on social media. All of us face and at times have succumbed to the temptation of speaking in ignorance about something we think we know about only to be embarrassed by somebody who is truly within the know. I can say from experience that it is really embarrassing.

With the recent racial tensions that have escalated because of African American males and their much publicized deadly encounters with law enforcement, people have taken to the streets in protest. While much of it has been tense but peaceful, there are those who have taken such events as a reason to vandalize and even do violence. It is understandable that there are those concerned by such destruction. The problem is when people in their ignorance attempt to express their concern by falsely comparing or contrasting previous and somewhat parallel events in history. Take for example the following meme that has been posted on social media:

The assumption is that the Patriots' response to the what was then perceived as British atrocities was not violent or destructive. (By the way, the patriot and lawyer, John Adams defended the soldiers of the Boston Massacre in court, saying "facts are stubborn things.") Of course, such an assumption begs the question as to what the American Revolution was if not violent and destructive, but in particular it is assumed that committing acts of violence against people and the destruction of property was never perpetrated by the freedom loving colonists.

Well... not quite,

First, there was that little matter that became known later on as "the Boston Tea Party," which was clearly an act of vandalism. On December 16, 1773 several dozen colonists boarded three ships anchored in Boston Harbor and threw 342 crates of tea into the water destroying it. The ships and the tea were privately owned. What has come down to us as a patriotic act forever etched into the annals of American history was in fact an act of vandalism. It must be noted that George Washington condemned the Tea Party and wanted the perpetrators to reimburse the East India Company for the damages, but that never happened.

But the destruction and violence didn't stop there.

Second, there was tar and feathering, a humiliating practice that too often led to further violence. On January 25, 1774 an elderly British official named John Malcolm was, according to his sister's report, not only stripped and covered with tar and feathers but, he was also "punched with a long pole, beaten with Clubs, led to liberty tree, there whipt with Cords, and tho' a very cold night, led on to the Gallows, then whipt again."*

But there's more:

In 1775, a physician named Abner Beebe was blistered by the hot tar poured upon him. The mob then "carried [him] to an Hog Sty & rubbed [him] over with Hogs [sic] Dung. They threw the Hog's Dung in his Face, & rammed some of it down his Throat."

In 1776, a Charleston mob took "John Roberts, a dissenting minister, [and] seized on suspicion of being an enemy to the rights of America, when he was tarred and feathered; after which, the populace, whose fury could not be appeased, erected a gibbet on which they hanged him, and afterwards made a bonfire, in which Roberts, together with the gibbet, was consumed to ashes."

In 1777 in South Carolina a group of women, who were part of a quilting bee tarred and feathered a young man for daring to speak against the Continental Congress.

Benjamin H. Irvin writes, "The punishment that had once been reserved for trade war culprits was increasingly applied to Tories and their sympathizers. In Georgia, New Jersey, and Connecticut, villagers were quick to feather any perceived "enemy to the rights of America."

Third, there was the destruction of property.

In 1765 a decade prior to the start of formal hostilities, things were heating up. Thomas Hutchinson, a Boston merchant and loyalist had his house burned down by a mob protesting the King's policies and some businesses owned by loyalists in Boston were vandalized or set on fire.

So, the point here again is not to condone violence and vandalism then or now, but to humbly suggest that before we wade into a particular history, it's probably a good idea to know a little bit about that period of history. And if we are going to condemn vandalism today we cannot also condone it when perpetrated by the sons and daughters of liberty over two hundred years ago.

And in the 21st century, we have little excuse for sloppy social media "scholarship." After all, we do have Google... and the sources for this post were found by searching Google... of course, we still need to be careful since Google can lead us to terrible sources... but there are good sources to be found as well.

Yes, indeed... a little history is good for the soul... and for the truth. Facts are indeed stubborn things.
*This incident and the following incidents reported and their citations can be found here.

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