Evolution of an Historian
History is something I grew into. I majored in Humanities at Providence College – German and English literature. Then I went off to my adventure and love affair with the Army and was selected for the Russian Foreign Area Officer Program. My Ph. D. at Georgetown imparted an appreciation for the sweep of Russian history.
When we moved to the Shenandoah Valley nine years ago and I became a docent at Belle Grove, I learned that six of the plantation builder, Major Isaac Hite’s, grandsons died fighting for the Confederacy. I wanted to find out more and discovered one enlisted at 14 years of age and died before his next birthday. Moreover, four grandsons, plus two grandsons gave “the last full measure,” and nine more fought and survived, while a great-grandson lost his arm fighting at nearby Fishers Hill. This was the subject of my first book, War’s Cost: the Hites’ Civil War. I also discovered that there was no public education throughout the South until 1870, so the ‘damned Yankees” introduced this as part of Reconstruction.
By then I was bitten by the history bug. I decided to write a book about my mother’s family, who the family always regarded as Dutch. It took me a couple months to understand that they were Walloons, French-speaking Huguenots, forced to leave France due to religious persecution. They fled to Leiden, in The Netherlands, the same time the Pilgrims were there. This resulted in book two, Manhattan’s Walloon Settlers: Jesse DeForest’s Legacy.
Which leads to my just-completed third book, Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid — African Americans’ 400 Years in North America, 1619-2019. I knew of the existence of the Fifteenth Amendment and could not rationalize this with Jim Crow and the near-total disenfranchisement of black citizens for nearly a century. The story I uncovered is ghastly, but nearly 450 pages and 850 footnotes document its veracity in detail. This history is not what we were taught in school — it is radically and disturbingly different!
I hope you will join me on my blogging journey and comment as you are moved. History is a living, breathing process, and it is vital to our future!