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During Reconstruction, racial tensions developed a new dynamic. Freed slaves, though deemed equal to any American citizen by governmental law, were still inferior according to social law. Therefore, several Southern communities developed separate institutions in order to keep controversy to a minimum. Avoidance was by far easier than confrontation, but the effect was that early segregation become imbedded in these societies, which in turn caused more problems in the twentieth century. Northern sympathies spurred assistance from “northern whites who traveled south during and after the war in a massive movement to aid the freedpeople, and emotional encounters,” like black reaction to Lincoln’s assassination, “helped further tie northern radicals and African Americans together” (Blum 51). A bitter South was unable to accept interference by the North. As churches were the center of towns and stood in for educational institutions, Southern Baptists used religion and education (most often one in the same) in order to assert dominance, both over the region and over the freedpeople. The primary attitude of white citizens was that black members of the church may remain members, but may not hold any positions within the church. They believed this would create an environment where they could observe and control freedpeople, by keeping them in subservient roles and influencing how they were educated. Aided by Northern missionaries, freedpeople created institutions of their own (such as the A.M.E. church) which came with social hierarchies within their congregations that placed emphasis on issues directly connected to the struggles of African Americans during Reconstruction.
“The railroad industry realized dramatic growth from its birth in 1830 until the 1920s, due to the lack of effective transportation alternatives and the reliance upon railroads to develop large geographical areas of the United States as well as to serve its rapidly growing agricultural and industrial base” (Rocky 5).
According to George S. Gibb most old school textbooks imply that the Industrial Revolution came from England to America with Samuel Slater in 1789, and became important to American life with the growth of the textile factories after 1807 (Gibb 104).
Bishop is correct: the term cracker is a pejorative term that signifies a social class of white, Southern yeoman (i.e., “the ignorant whites,” and “de poor white trash”); the term carries positive, negative, and neutral connotations. Bishop’s definition, although somewhat accurate, fails to portray the demographic’s full social agency. Bishop is not alone, the etymology of the term Cracker is still debated.
Noted in Volume 22 Issue 3 of The South Carolina Historical and Genealogical Magazine, the first recorded use of the term in South Carolina was in The South Carolina and American General Gazette on August 7, 1677. The record goes on to suggest that the term is borrowed from those in the colonial Georgia provinces. Bishop attaches the term to the diet of the lower yeoman class (“hog and homminy,” i.e., pork and corn). His understanding of the term comes from the act of cracking corn on which the lower yeomen subsisted. Although some accounts support this, others suggest the term originated from Floridian cattle drivers and their daily habit of cracking a bullwhip. These cattlemen eventually homesteaded in various parts of the South. Others have found the term in Middle English to describe someone of Celtic (be it Irish or Scottish) origin (St. Clare).
Although in some a cases, the term “Cracker” is celebrated (by those who hold the title, more specifically, by Floridian Crackers) it is a term that, at Bishop’s moment, undeniably equates to the lowest common denominator: a Cracker was not a bourgeois yeoman who may someday gain capital, acquire a stock of slaves, and rise in rank of social order: social mobility was not a foreseeable reality.
Though popular culture is quick to assert that the title stems from only one connotation, i.e., the use of a bull whip on African American slaves, in actuality, a substantial amount of Crackers did not actually work above or along African American slaves (especially in the position of overseer). Regardless, this origin cannot be overlooked because it is in fact how the African American slave community internalized the term, especially during Reconstruction. Making up the majority of white Southerners, Crackers were a socially ostracized group, standing outside of existing social classes more so than below them. Before and after Reconstruction they produced nothing in exchange with the market, and subsisted by whatever means possible: often in competition with slave labor.
Labor competition strained race relations between Crackers and slaves in the Antebellum period, which carried over into Reconstruction. In some cases, Crackers were reportedly treated worse than slaves by the Southern aristocracy and some Crackers even sat lower in social rank to a slave: despite the horrors of chattel slavery, a slave was provided with some essentials. A Cracker was left to his own devices. Crackers became an expendable workforce. Although a Cracker might have more in common with a slave, he often exhibited more aggression to his enslaved counterpart than to the land owning Southern aristocracy (Otoo).
In 1984, David Smith establishes “racial discourse” as a term that has multiple layers: “When I speak of “racial discourse”, I mean more than simply attitudes about “race” or conventions of talking about “race”. Most importantly, I mean that “race” itself is a discursive formation, which delimits social relations on the basis of alleged physical differences. “Race” is a strategy for relegating a segment of the population to a permanent inferior status. Though scientifically specious, “race” has been powerfully effective as an ideology and as a form of social definition, which serves the interests of Euro-American hegemony. In America, race has been deployed against numerous groups, including Native Americans, Jews, Asians, and even-for brief periods- an assortment of European immigrants.” (Smith 4).
In this passage from Bishop, we see him representing through language and characterization a perspective on the inferiority of African American communities that would have been shared by many in the North and South at this time.
Through certain time periods, including the present day, latent and manifest Eurocentric, and even Anglocentric, biases seep through the pages of certain texts. To explore the motivation to critically read texts with these biases (that many a reader would claim deem this text unreadable), it is appropriate to look at the famous debate over the validity of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness — a controversial canonized text which many critics defend on the grounds of its literary complexity as a historically and socially viable primary source. Michael Lackey explains that “if radical developments in Marxism, poststructuralism, feminism, and postcolonialism have posed serious challenges to traditional approaches to literary studies,” then “Conrad and Conrad scholars have proven to be more instead of less relevant with each new intellectual development”; furthermore, recent scholarship “rather than being narrow and trendy, bring[s] together a variety of theories in an attempt to honor the complexity and integrity of Conrad’s text” (143). The same focus should be paid to Bishop’s text, because the same theories and perspectives used to question the work also serve as openings for rich interpretations.
We can look briefly at an aspect of criticism of Conrad’s text to see how the same criticism is suitable for Bishop’s text. In “An Image of Africa” Chinua Achebe notes that airs of racial and cultural supremacy from natives of New England has trickled into the present day. In his essay, Achebe reflects on a “young fellow from Yonkers,” who possessed more or less the same curiosity in geography as Bishop. This youth from Yonkers, wanting to know about the odd custom of Achebe’s African tribesmen, however, was “obviously unaware that the life of his own tribesmen in Yonkers, New York, is full of odd customs and superstitions and, like everybody else in his culture, imagines that he needs a trip to Africa to encounter those things’’ (1613).
Achebe has only touched the surface of Conrad’s text when he points out a worldview that is prevalent in Bishop’s text. Achebe suggests that this is because there is a “desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa as a foil to Europe” (1613). With this in mind, it is apparent that, like the Yonkers student and Conrad’s need, or desire, to set up Africa as a foil for the West, Bishop’s desire, or need, was to set up the South as a foil for the North.
According to Nathaniel Bishop in his introduction to Voyage of the Paper Canoe, boating trips became an enjoyable hobby for canoeing enthusiasts around the same time he began this voyage from Quebec to the waters south of Florida on July 4th, 1874. In addition to satisfying his desire for adventure, Bishop also intended to use this trip as an example of how well one could navigate natural and artificial waterways with as few portages as possible. He found the most trouble and the largest amount of portages (carrying the canoe using another form of transportation) on the Southern east coast, largely over the period discussed in this chapter. In order to navigate areas he was unfamiliar with, he utilized United States Coast Survey Bureau charts, but as noted in this chapter, the South appears to have less mapping throughout the rural areas. Once Bishop finished the trip in the Gulf of Mexico, the maps created from his voyage were engraved by the Bureau and put on display for the public. Bishop proceeded to take two similar voyages, and met with only one accident in the sometimes dangerous waterways.
The railroad image to the left is an overview of the passenger and river terminals of the Wilmington Railroad.
The image to the left is a photograph of a coastal Carolina plantation house in ruin (Library of Congress).
The image to the left is a photograph of a South Carolina rice mill (Library of Congress).
“Although white southerners-both male and female- might insist that politics was not, even in the changed circumstances of wartime, an appropriate part of women’s sphere, the female slave manager necessarily served as a pillar of the South’s political order. White women’s actions as slave mistresses were crucial to Confederate destinies, for the viability of the southern agricultural economy and the stability of the social order as well as the continuing loyalty of the civilian population all depended on successful slave control.” pg. 54, Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War, Drew Gilpin Faust.
After the Civil War, women were situated in an unparalled state of mobility. Women’s rights, particularly married women’s rights, began to blossom, especially noticeable in the conservative South. They gained the “right to retain their wages, operate businesses, bequeath property, and file lawsuits independent of their husbands’ control” (Ranney 118). For women who had taken on the responsibility of overseeing plantations while fathers and husbands were away at war, this legally retained some of the perks they experienced as “landowners”. As the war came to an end and the men returned to find their plantations maintained in the wake of the abolition of slavery, women were seen in a new, though still reserved, authoritative light. The land indenture featured in the link to the left shows a land indenture between a father and his unmarried daughter, bestowing 300 acres of “the Barony” to Miss LaBruce, though she had two brothers. The eldest brother did later maintain the plantation and land, but the importance of land inheritance and property rights were markedly changing from the inherited English feudal system the South tended to favor.
The National Park Service describes the activities of rice cultivation: “African women brought three rice cultivation techniques to the Carolina plantations: sowing in trenched ground, open trench planting and tidal rice cultivation. In the 18th century, they used techniques very similar to those used in the 19th century American South and in present day African countries” (nps.gov).
“The idea of preserving African American religions in North America proved to be very difficult. The tough circumstances under which most slaves lived: high death rates, the separation of families and tribal groups. White owners during this time period also tried to eliminate all forms of ‘heathen’ (or non-christian) behavior which weakened the preservation of African American religion. Isolated songs, rhythms, movements, belief in the power of roots and the efficacy of a world of spirits and ancestors survived well into the 19th century as well” (Kipp 1).
When Bishop is escorted by the yacht, the outsider/insider dynamic collapses. He is a northerner venturing into the South, and is accepted by them. Bishop’s voyage on a paper canoe is worthy of recognition by the wealthy, Southern landowner.
very nice work
Turpentine distilling became a profitable business after the Civil War, but exploded during Reconstruction. Located primarily in the Carolinas for decades following the war, turpentine distilleries employed a large number of African American men looking for work after being freed from slavery. Conditions were fairly good, offering competitive wages and better-than-most living conditions in a business that grew exponentially up until the turn of the century. However, the forests that housed the trees used for collection of sap became over-harvested and sap collection declined. The business had to move west and many black workers followed to live in camps or commuted as time permitted. As the trees died, so did the business, and companies had to find ways to salvage their remaining wealth and keep the best employees within their workforce. White owners and operators sent “trusted black employees…into competitors’ territory to persuade workers to leave with them, even though to be caught on such a mission was to risk one’s life” (Ayers 126). Though black workers were compensated well for their work (and the danger they were put in), the exploitation of the Southern workforce was still dominant.
This map in the link to the left is from Robert Mills’ Atlas of South Carolina. The South Carolina Department of Archives and History describes the publication of this atlas as new and groundbreaking. “The 1825 publication of Robert Mills’ Atlas of the State of South Carolina marked an American cartographic first. This volume is the first systematic atlas of any state in the union. Remarkably, too, no other state atlas of South Carolina was published for the next century and a half” (SC Department of Archives and History).
Dialect differences were a language barrier for Bishop. He was unfamiliar with southern vernacular and often misinterpreted words exclusive to the area. In the section prior titled “Night at the Turpentine Distillery,” he describes being afraid of wretches, or “rough women.” However, in this section, he explains his difficulty in understanding “wretches” as “reaches,” or bends in the river.
The image to the left is a photo of a typical Cracker cabin and smoke house (University of South Florida).
According to Anthony Szczesiul, “Southern hospitality first existed as a narrowly defined body of social practices among the antebellum planter classes, but it also exists as discourse, as a meaning-making story continually told and re-told about the South. This discourse has its own historicity divorced from historical origins and social practice.”
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See in context
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This website is made available through Creative Commons. Nathaniel Bishop's Voyage of the Paper Canoe: the Carolinas Chapter is a digital project of English 312 at Coastal Carolina University.