The Duality of Sir Walter Raleigh and His Times


William Segar’s 1598 portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh, now less the courtesan peacock and more the grizzled silverback with a map of Cadiz at his rear and the wounded leg from that campaign emphasized by his cane.  Wikimedia Commons

I am about halfway through a biography of Sir Walter Raleigh entitled, Sir Walter Raleigh: Being a True and Vivid Account of the Life and Times of the Explorer, Soldier, Scholar, Poet, and Courtier–The Controversial Hero of the Elizabethian Age (2004) by Raleigh Trevelyen. I was surprised that I had never read a biography of the “founder” of NC, a man who had sponsored the venture to Roanoke. But who was this son of Devonshire? Was he a hero or a villain? He appears to be hated by a great many people of his time, some because of his astronomic rise from base origins to a tight orbit of the Virgin queen and others because of his indifference or cruelty. Yet still others found him a brave and steadfast Captain of men.

sir walterSir Walter, or Water as Elizabeth called him, would have led the failed Roanoke expedition himself and maybe it would have ended differently if the Queen had not forbidden him from leaving her covetous sight. Therefore, John White led the undertaking, but White was a better artist than a governor and abandoned them to their fate.

And the Queen was certainly fond of him, for a time; until she got her first glimpse of the young Earl of Essex, Robert Devereaux. Raleigh was then spurned. Maybe this led to his getting married without her permission to lady-in-waiting, Elizabeth Throckmorton. But getting married without her permission was something everyone within the Queen’s sphere had to do, for she never gave permission to any that asked. Nevertheless, he went to the tower for his transgression and so did his wife. His star never rose back to earlier heights after that, but he poured himself into everything he did, be it fighting the Spanish, exploring the New World or writing poetry. However, his loss of Elizabeth’s affection seemed to give him a wound that nothing would heal.

Although I had never read a biography dedicated to the man, he was certainly on the periphery of many books I have read and sometimes front and center. In John Stubbs’ biography of the poet John Donne, Donne, the Reformed Soul (2007), John Donne serves with him at the great (for the English anyway) battle of Cadiz during the action christened the “Singeing of the King of Spain’s Beard” which is probably the best name for an operation ever coined. Donne also serves directly under him in Raleigh’s squadron during john donnethe mostly failed operation against the Spanish in the Azores. The poet is probably near him on an attack on the main town on the Azores island of Fayal where “…one shot ventilating the loose cloth of Ralegh’s breeches but miraculously taking nothing with it” (77). Donne also shares Raleigh’s circumstance of being gaoled for getting married. Their mutual friend and benefactor Henry Percy, the Earl and Wizard of Northumberland spilled the beans on John’s marriage to Anne’s father. Henry would later bowl with Raleigh in their shared stint in the Tower for treason. Although I really loved this book but there is no great description of Raleigh in it, he only looms in the background as a great Captain that Donne serves but shows an ambivalent attitude toward.

The next book, The Lion and the Throne: The Life and Times of Sir Edward Coke (1956) by Catherine Drinker Bowen is probably my favorite biography of anyone. I usually seek out history from below; history of the often overlooked people, and this National Book Award winning biography really captures Sir Edward Coke’s fight for the Common Law of England against an absolutist King James I and his son Charles I. Although Coke is certainly one of the elite he fights for the rights of the common man as well as the gentry. And Sir Walter Raleigh is one of the major players in the biography for his fate hinges on Coke’s worst moment in the book, the prosecution of Raleigh on trumped up charges of treason. But the lion and the throneCoke hates the accused former Captain and will do anything to end him.

Bowen’s description of Raleigh as he stands ready to bear witness against Essex for attempting to overthrow the government is masterfully written but unsparing as to the flaws in his character:

Sir Walter was known as perhaps the most independent-minded man in England. Unlike Essex, he had never made a step toward popularity. “There is none on the face of the earth,” he said, “that I would be fastened onto.” His manner was arrogant, ruthless; and it was generally said that he showed himself greedy of money, an oppressor of poor on his estates. He made enemies readily as Essex made friends—and remained perfectly indifferent to the reputation. Ralegh was forty-nine, Edward Coke’s age. Today he stood impassive at command, a soldier who wore his armor as it were a courtier’s dress. His sword belt was studded with gems, a diamond sparkled at the hilt. The dark, bearded face was inscrutable, the dark glance careless, poised (140).

Bowen never lets up on Raleigh even as he is led away to trial through the streets of London as the citizens shout and throw stones at him,

Ralegh was cold, contemptuous. “Dogs,” he said, “do always bark at things they know not” (188).

And later at the trial Coke screams at Raleigh, Thou art a monster! Thou hast an English face but a Spanish heart…(194).

Trevelyen is much more venerating of his namesake and ancestor. He makes pains to tell that he was loved by the tin miners in his native Devonshire and as well as by the sailors who called him Captain. The author relates of his generosity and kindness toward the Native Americans his party crosses path with during his expedition to Guiana. And he does show much affection for his wife Bess, who Trevelyen unfairly hounds for her phonetically written letters (read my earlier post on the many ways that Raleigh wrote his name, sometimes differently in the same document).

So where does he stand in history? My non-expert opinion is that he was a self-absorbed courtesan but was unfairly maligned by his contemporaries out of jealousy and classism. He was also an accomplished poet and a true renaissance man that was curious about the world and religion. But he was also a ruthless warrior that killed any Spanish common soldier he came across even if they thought they were under his protection as he did in his two voyages to Guiana, his attack on the Cadiz and the Azores. And he controlled 40,000 acres of Irish soil where he cruelly supplanted the native Irish from their ancestral lands for the plantation of Englishmen. He was really just a man of his time, a time that was trying to pull away from the repressive climate of the Middle Ages and into an Age of Reason. But still one foot was in the past so it was accepted to be learned but not to question the established church, the gentry were magnanimous to their equals in battle but common soldiers were killed with impunity, you could believe that the earth revolved around the sun but also accuse someone of witchcraft, a commoner could rise to the gentry but be relentlessly attacked by their peers because of their origins. It was a time of duality between the traditional, intolerant ways of the past and the more rationalist, humane future and Raleigh embodied it.

Post script- In the book by Raleigh Trevelyen he references De Naturae Philosphia Sue de Platonist et Aristototelis Consensione Liber by Sebastiani Foxi Marzilla, a book that was found in a house in Ireland that was supposedly in Sir Walter’s personal collection and is now  housed in the Sir Walter Raleigh Collection at UNC Chapel Hill.

World War II Fighter Plane Mechanic Cpl. Sidney P. Forbes

Cpl. Sidney Forbes hand drawn hydraulics schematics for a P-51 Mustang.

Cpl. Sidney Forbes hand drawn hydraulics schematics for a P-51 Mustang.

More P-51 schematics

More P-51 schematics

Sidney with his gift for der Fuhrer.

Sidney with his gift for der Fuhrer.

P-51 named Whacow

P-51 named Whacow

We recently received a box of  Wilson native Corporal Sidney Forbes’ WWII materials.  Sidney was a fighter plane mechanic in England during the war.  From the pictures it looks like he mostly serviced P51s and something that looks like a F6F Hellcat (although that was usually a carrier based plane in the Pacific theater).  After the war he opened his own service station called Forbes on Nash Street downtown.  All of his materials will be added to the Wilson County’s Greatest Generation Digital Project.

Evil Air: Malaria in the American South


Image shows the range of Plasmodium Falciparum in North and South America.
From 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created

Feb. 6, 1692: Taken ill a Seventh time:  with a Tertian Ague: about 3h p.m .it began & was of the same nature with my last which I had all January, but this was the worst.
Feb. 12, 1692: Before noon, a 4th fit. With which I shook about 3h p.m. & then went to bed: where I had a very violent Feaver; this being the worst fit of all: my breath very short; & delirious…
(Mann 2011, pg. 106)

Samuel Jeak, a merchantman in Southeast England, was suffering from an infection from a plasmodium.  The plasmodium is an insidious parasite that conducts a coordinated assault causing red blood cells to burst open with up to ten billion new parasites overwhelming the immune system and causing chills and fevers.  Although the immune system can eventually beat back the assault, the plasmodium will hide out in your liver for years waiting to attack again.  This is of course malaria, a disease that was endemic to the American Southeast at least until the 1940’s and had a strong hand in the formation of the South’s economy and culture.  Recently, well yesterday, I finished reading Charles C. Mann’s sequel to 1492, 1493: The New World that Columbus Created.  And although I had an extensive discussion of the entirety of 1492 in an earlier blog post I am going to focus on a chapter titled Evil Air.  The author, Charles Mann, does a superb job in drawing on resources to show how malaria impacted the Columbian exchange.

Malaria had impacts beyond the immediate sufferings of its victims. It was a historical force that deformed cultures, an insistent nudge that pushed societies to answer questions in ways that today seem cruel and reprehensible (pg. 116).

Could malaria be a reason that slavery became entrenched in the American South but died out north of the Mason Dixon line?  It’s an interesting question that Mann tackles expertly.

            The English word for malaria comes from the Italian word for evil air.  But the old Latin term for malaria is tertian fever which describes periods of fever and chills that occur in a forty-eight hour pattern. You are sick one day and then fine the next, fine the next day and then sick the following day.  The pattern continually repeats itself which is why it was it was given the Latin term for three days which follows the Roman pattern of counting time from the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next.

Malaria did not exist in the Americas before 1492.   Europeans brought the plasmodium vivax parasite to the Americas from southern England, where it thrived during the colonial period.  Europeans from areas where the plasmodium vivax historically lived acquired certain immunity to the disease if they suffered from it at some point in their life (and survived), which is called seasoning.  Therefore these Europeans did not suffer as severely as did the Native American population during the early years of colonization.  Even so the plasmodium vivax caused much suffering and death among European colonists who hadn’t been seasoned. However, a new type of malaria, brought over from Africa with the first African slaves, was devastatingly fatal to all Europeans as well as the Native Americans.  This was the plasmodium falciparum.

The original slave trade in the South was of Native American slaves.  The Mississippian Native American culture that dominated the Southeast was a culture that practiced slavery on a large scale.  They usually took slaves through ritualistic warfare.  Eventually  these slaves could become members of the tribe, or they could be killed in reciprocation for the killing of a tribe member.  The newcomer Europeans were quick to take advantage of this labor force made available through Native American slave catchers until its collapse in the early 1700’s as Native American populations imploded due to Old World diseases, which included malaria.   The possible replacements for Native American slaves were indentured servants from Scotland and Northern England and African slaves.

To the North, Colonial New England was a society that had slaves.  But slaves from Africa were expensive, much more expensive than indentured servants from Europe.  Adam Smith even stated that slaves were not economically viable.  This was true in New England where slavery eventually fell out of favor and the more economical indentured servants became the labor of choice.  However, indentured servants usually came from regions in Britain that did not have any malaria.  These newcomers that had never been exposed to any type of plasmodium died in staggering numbers soon after they arrived in the South, and with the introduction of falciparum, no European was safe.  In some parishes around Charleston three out of four children died by the age of twenty.  In the same period of these malarial fueled die-offs, there was a people that were increasing in number to the colonies that were almost completely immune (ninety-seven percent) to vivax and about fifty percent immune to falciparum.  These people were coming over as slaves from West and Central Africa.

The Southern plantation owners did not know that Africans had a strong resistance to malaria, nor did they know what malaria even was.  They just saw that Africans survived where Europeans and Native Americans died.  Still, Africans died in large numbers from brutality and other diseases that they were subjected to in the chattel slave society that existed in the South.  But when malaria and yellow fever (another deadly mosquito born disease that Africans have resistance to) outbreaks occurred the Africans were left standing while other populations withered away.  These outcomes gave the advantage to the large plantation owners with an African slave labor force over the small farmers with indentured servants.  Also, it just so happens that falciparum is very temperature sensitive and the dividing line where falciparum can live is below the Mason Dixon line.  Above the line is too cold for it to survive.  It is also no coincidence

General Wade Hampton III's plantation house ruins on top of Quinine Hill in Columbia, South Carolina.  The Hamptons went to their home in the North Carolina mountains during the fever season.

General Wade Hampton III’s plantation house ruins on top of Quinine Hill in Columbia, South Carolina. The Hamptons went to their home in the North Carolina mountains during the fever season.

that plantation homes with their high windows that let in a breeze (that kept away mosquitoes) were frequently on a hill with a manicured, treeless lawn that happened to keep away mosquitoes; nor that the plantation families usually went North to Rhode Island or to the mountains during the worst times of the year (fall) for malaria,  while the yeoman farmer and poor had to stay and suffer and die in the malarial zone, therefore creating a more stratified society.  African slavery was not caused by malaria but malaria offset the economic impediments as defined by Adam Smith. The author also documents a similar pattern occurring in the falciparum ravaged slave state of Brazil as compared to the falciparum free Argentina where indentured servants made up the labor force.

Mann also gives evidence for malaria helping to win the revolution by severely reducing the effectiveness of Cornwallis’ largely Scottish troops.  And may be a major reason that the Northern armies lost so many battles in the early years of the American Civil War marching into the falciparum zone where the tertian fever rate was calculated as high as 233% with soldiers suffering from fever 2 times or more.

To conclude, 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created provides a extremely well researched overview and analysis of the mosaic of the changes that happened as a result of the Columbian Exchange.  As well as an intense examination of how the introduction of Old World diseases such as malaria to the Americas was a large factor in the destruction of the Native American cultures and peoples that had existed for millennia and the helped to bring about the brutal enslavement of the Central and Western Africans.

Goodbye Mr. Chips, Woodbeade, Rummage and Nithercott


English surnames are still going extinct!  It all started when family patrilineal surnames began in England ~700 years ago.  Since then some people keep having daughters and then no more surname.  Roughly 200, 000 surnames have gone into the ether from England and Wales since 1901.  I hope that you have said your last goodbyes to Mrs. Butterworth as well as Mr. Portendorfer.

Source Daily Mail