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Sunday, August 30, 2015


I would call him a prime example of the past being prologue. Timothy Pickering (above) was a hot headed right-wing nut the President had been forced to include in his cabinet to appease the ultra-conservatives who threatened to tear his administration apart. In this case the President was George Washington and the appeasement was part of the Federalists “New England” strategy. When the Federal capital moved from New York to Philadelphia in 1791, Pickering was tapped to run the Post Office. During Washington's  second term, from January to December 1795, Pickering was appointed the Secretary of War. Then he became Secretary of State, a post he held into the next administration , until May of 1800 when President John Adams fired him because Pickering wanted to declare war against France.
This was the namesake of  Fort Pickering.  And it was appropriate that “his” fort, standing on the bluffs (above) along the Mississippi River, was half military establishment and half private enterprise, which sold and distributed goods to the Chickasaw Indian nation. They called this hybrid a “factor”. Captain Meriwether Lewis had commanded this post for awhile back in the 1790's, and now as Governor Lewis he was back. But his was a far from triumphal return. He had to be carried into the post on a stretcher.
The fort stood back from the Mississippi River, atop the fourth of the Chickasaw bluffs, in the midst of what is today Memphis, Tennessee. It was not a prime landing spot, but at least it had fewer mosquitoes than the New Madrid,  and once there Lewis began to improve quickly. The day after his arrival, on Saturday September 16th 1809, Lewis wrote to President James Madison that “I arrived here yesterday...very much exhausted from the heat...but having taken medicine, feel much better this morning.”
The medicine he was taking was a combination of opium and alcohol, known as laudanum. It was highly addictive and the Governor was not merely feeling better, he was probably high. He wrote to the President that he was not continuing down the Mississippi as planned, but rather would be coming overland via the Natchez Trace. Then he mentioned his real reason for all this effort. “I bring with me”, he wrote, “duplicates of my vouchers for public expenditures... which when fully explained...will receive both sanction and approbation and sanction.” Did I mention he was probably high? As a final needling point, Lewis included in his letter those territorial laws he had translated into French, the rejection of the $12 bill for which had inspired this horrendous journey.
Lt. Gilbert Russel, the current commander of Fort Pickering, had ordered the post medic to prevent Governor Lewis from drinking anymore laudanum. Under this regimen, wrote Lt. Russel, “all symptoms of derangement disappeared and he was completely in his senses...”. Within a week the Governor was ready and eager to continue his journey. But Lt. Russel thought he ought to accompany him. Lt. Russel's accounts had also been questioned by the bureaucrats back in the War Department, and Russel was awaiting permission from his boss, General Wilkerson, Governor of New Orleans,  so he could also have it out in person with those annoying bean counters. In fact, I suspect, that it was Russel who convinced Governor Lewis to change his travel plans and proceed overland. It would be far more effective for both of these men to make their appeals together, and safer for Governor Lewis if he had someone to watch his laudanum consumption during the trip back.
However, almost two weeks went by, and still there was no release from General Wilkerson. Lewis was anxious to get moving and, suspected Russel, to get back to his "medicine". But just when it seemed as if Russel would have to send the Governor off into the wilderness alone, a seeming savior arrived at Fort Pickering; James Neelly; agent to the Chickasaw Indians, and an ex-army major.
Neelly was supposed to be a delivering  white prisoner to be shipped down to New Orleans for trial. He had brought the man from his post at the Chickasaw nation, some 100 miles south-south east of Fort Pickering. And by what seemed at the time to be a happy coincidence, Neelly now had urgent business in Franklin, Tennessee, just 20 miles south west of Nashville, Governor Lewis' intermediate destination. Perhaps Neelly could accompany Lewis and watch over him. But there was a catch, of course.
Neely was not good material for a guardian angel. He was an alcoholic and the worst kind of gambler, which is say an inveterate one. He gambled on cards, horse races and he was also, of course a land speculator. And like most gamblers, he usually lost. His gambling had put him in debt to just about everybody he knew, even his boss, General James Wilkerson. And just the month before he had asked the penny pinching Secretary of War, William Eustis, for a loan. Good luck with that. But if James thought he might put “the touch” on Governor Lewis, he was quickly dissuaded.  Lewis was also a land speculator, and also broke.  
On Wednesday, 27 September 1809,  Lt. Russel signed the paperwork loaning Lewis two horses and a saddle from the Fort's herd, and gave him a personal check for $100. In return Governor Meriwether Lewis signed an IOU for $379.58. This trip, undertaken to settle his financial problems, was putting Lewis deeper in debt.
Before dawn, two days later, Governor Lewis and James Neelly, along with their servants, an Indian interpreter and a few Chickasaws, left the fort by horseback. Three had days later, on 3 October,  they reached Big Town, a village not much smaller than St. Louis. This was the main Chickasaw town. There were about 1,000 residents in 300 log cabins, interspersed between fields of corn, rice, tobacco and cotton. The fields were worked by African American slaves, something the Chickasaws had in common with the Americans, along with their religion. These savage natives had largely converted to Christianity. It was not going to help them. In the end the American President Andrew Jackson would steal their land and ship these Christians across the Mississippi.
In Big Town Lewis and Neeley picked up the Natchez Trace, the “Devils Backbone” trail that wound north-eastward through the dark and ominous forest to Meriwether Lewis' final destination.
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Friday, August 28, 2015


I started out thinking nobody could be a worse villain than royal toady John Bampton, Minister of Parliament and Justice of the Peace. He descended on the little Essex village of Brentwood at the end of May 1381 to collect over due taxes and delivered neither justice nor peace. Within 48 hours Bampton's ministrations had set off a riot, gotten six of his own clerks and several loyal citizens beheaded by a mob and barely escaped himself, tail between his legs, back to London. Who could be a bigger villain than that?
The immediate answer was the arrogant royal toady Sir Simon de Burley. On Monday, 3 June, 1381, two sergeants dispatched by the villein de Burley entered the Thames side village of Gravesend, to arrest escaped Peasant Robert Belling. However Belling must have been more than a mere peasant because he offered to buy his own freedom. But Sir de Burely demanded his rights of lordship, and had Belling thrown into the dungeon of Rochester Castle. Three days later a mob showed up outside Rochester Castle and the warden thought it better to free Belling rather than have his tiny garrison murdered. Was this rebellion really caused by the villain Sir Simon de Burley?
Between the Black Death, which had killed over half of all English peasants during 1348-49, and the Hundred Years War with France (they were right in the middle of it) , the long suffering and few remaining peasants of England were, by 1381, fed up with having to feed and clothe and supply weapons and soldiers for their arrogant masters in the nobility In early June 60,000 peasants from Essex in the northeast, and 40,000 from Kent in the southeast, were marching on London, determined to have their complaints heard by the King himself.
The English nobility were shocked and stunned. Because of the war in France and the never ending Scottish threat, there were few soldiers left in England. And those that were, were not trustworthy, as the warden of Rochester Castle had shown. 
And worse, the King, chosen to rule by divine right , was the 14 year old Plantagenet blue blood Richard II, a tall and gangly youth with a “white, rounded and feminine” face. He was a smart lad, but had a nasty stammer, and his noble “handlers” were not sure he could lead them out of this crises, whoever was to blame for starting it..
The nobility's first nomination for the responsible villain was the “mad priest of Kent” the heretical Father John Ball. He had often challenged the very foundations of feudalism, asking , “When Adam dug and Eve spun, where was then a gentleman?”  Ball dared to argue “all men by nature were created alike.” It was not God who chose Kings, said Ball, but “naughty men.” 
Sir Simon Sudbury, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of England, had locked up Ball in Rochester Castle (above).  As the Kent rebels moved west, they looted the Archbishop's properties in Canterbury, blaming him for the taxes piled upon them.  But this was also where a third villain joined the rebellion, who would give his name to the entire revolt: Wat Tyler. And once having reached Rochester, he freed both Berling and Father Ball.
Here was the nobility's real villain, then, and a proper villain too, being a free resident from a village. It was said Tyler was a member of the roof tiler's guild, or a blacksmith. It was said he had served in the King's army in France. And it was said a tax collector tried to strip his 13 year old daughter, to prove she was old enough to pay the 1 shilling poll tax, the poll third in four years, laid on every person over 14. years of age, and that Tyler then beat the man's brains out. 
Whatever the truth,  it is fact that on 7 June, 1381, Tyler was elected to lead the rebels up the Old Kent Road to London. And from that day the Peasant's Revolt became Wat Tyler's rebellion. Four days later, 11 June, 1381, the crowd reached the high ground at Blackheath, 3 miles southeast of London.
This “bleak site”, named for its dark soil, was a tradition camping spot, and young King Richard II's advisers had anticipated the rebels would pause there. They loaded their royal charge onto a barge, and with four barges of soldiers as escort, set out down the Thames to overawe the “rebels” and order them to disperse. Seeing 40,000 angry peasants armed with longbows and axes, the courtiers panicked. The King did not get off the boat (above),  and the royal forces did not stop rowing until they were all locked safely behind the walls of the Tower of London. 
Caught on the outside, the Lord Mayor William Walworth ordered the gate houses at both ends of the 900 foot long London Bridge, the only crossing over the Thames River, to be closed and its drawbridge raised. This should keep the peasants on the south bank.
On Wednesday, 12 June, 1381, when Wat Tyler and his 40,000 member “mob” approached London Bridge, Walter Sybyle, a fishmonger and city alderman, ordered the gates at both ends lifted and the drawbridge lowered. Pausing only to post their own men in the gatehouses, peasants streamed past the west door of St. Magnus-the-Matyr Cathedral and invaded the capital. 
Fleet and Newgate Prisons were raided and the prisoners were freed. Legal offices were ransacked, lawyers and clerks were butchered, and thousands of contracts, property records and mortgages were burned. The mobs also ransacked the homes of recent Flemish immigrants, and many were killed. And the Savoy Palace (above),  the ostentatious home of the arrogant and incompetent general John of Gaunt, was captured. “What could not be smashed or burned was thrown into the river. Jewelery was pulverized with hammers...” But a disciplined core of Tyler's force marched directly to Aldergate, in the eastern city wall. There the man entrusted by Mayor Walworth, Thomas Farington, threw that gate open as well.
Tyler's force advance a mile outside the city walls and camped in the open fields at Mile End. And there, on the following day, Thursday, 13 June, 1381, they were met by the larger force of peasants from Essex. A hundred thousand rebels, equal to London's population, had now occupied the capital, trapped the King and his ministers in the Tower, and accepted Wat Tyler as their sole leader..
The situation was unstable. Tyler must find food and water for his massive “army”. And so must the King's much smaller force in the tower. And with the daily markets disrupted, Mayor William Walworth must do the same for the city. The King's party panicked first, and asked for a meeting the next day, Friday 14 June 1381, at the rebel encampment at Mile End, to hear what Wat Tyler wanted.
Tyler wanted everything – the end to the slavery of serfdom, the right of peasants to buy the the land they worked, and to sell what they made and grew, the right to punish the royal advisers who had oppressed the people, and a general pardon for the peasant army. Grant these humble requests, said Tyler, and the peasant army would return to their villages. The King made a show of offering a few objections before agreeing to everything. It was the strategy Tyler expected, as he had no doubt Richard II meant to betray the promises. So Tyler had not waited for the King to betray his last promise.
While these “negotiations” were still going on,  400 rebels marched on The Tower. Again, the guards offered little more than token resistance. It was the first and last time the Tower of London fell to an invading force.
Chanting "Where is the traitor to the kingdom?” the rebels dragged their number one villain, the fat Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir Simon Sudbury,  and a dozen of other royal advisers, outside The Tower's Walls, to Tower Hill, where they were all beheaded. 
It took 8 blows to carve through Sudbury's thick neck, as his battered skull still shows.. When Richard II saw his adviser's head being paraded on a pike,  the King abandoned The Tower, and hurried instead to his apartments in Blackfriars, in south-west London.
That night, while the heads of the murdered royal advisers were bobbing atop the southern gatehouse of London Bridge, Mayor William Walworth came to the Richard with good news. First, a large part of the Peasant army had already started for home, trusting the King to fulfill his promises.  And second, the merchants of London had raised a militia of 5,000 armed men, whose loyalty could be trusted. In the morning, Saturday 15 June, 1381, Richard sent word he wanted to meet again with Tyler, to seal their agreement. But this time, he asked, the meeting be held at at Smithfields, where he felt safer.
For 800 years Smithfields, north west of the city walls, bordered by the Fleet River and shaded by elm trees, had been the open air livestock market for the city, and occasionally an execution place for rebels like Scotsman William Wallace. But being from out of town, Wat Tyler was probably unaware of this last purpose. Late that afternoon, Wat Tyler and a few followers crossed the Fleet River, leaving his peasant army on the eastern shore, and rode to meet the King and his 200 supporters..
Was Tyler drunk? Had he gone mad? Or did he sense, with the loss of most of his men, how this story was destined to end?  Richard II asked why the peasants had not all gone home. Tyler responded they were waiting for the promised laws to be signed by the King.  A valet named Ralph Standish then called Tyler a thief. At the insult the Kentish villain drew his only weapon, a knife.  The Mayor drew his sword. Tyler slashed out, but the Mayor was wearing armor, as was the King. Tyler was not. Whereupon Standish ran Tyler through with his sword. 
While the struggled continued the young King spurred his horse across the Fleet River, and addressed the rebels directly, calling them his friends. He invited them to follow guides to Clerkenwell Green, where they would be fed. Trusting their King, and not being able to see what was happening to Wat Tyler, the peasants followed.
It was a trap. The peasants arrived in Clerkenwell to find themselves hemmed in by run down apartment buildings and narrow streets, all escape routes guarded by the Mayor's militia.  As darkness approached, the King appeared, followed by Wat Taylor's head atop a spike.  It had been 9 days since Wat Tylor had been elected leader of the rebellion, and with his death the shrunken army of the poor lost heart.  The peasants fell to their knees and begged forgiveness. The King granted it, but withdrew his promises to end serfdom and grant freedoms. He also knighted Mayor Wentworth and Ralph Standish. He then ordered the peasants to be escorted back across London Bridge, and allowed to return home. And then he unleashed his anger..
John Ball, whose words would inspire Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, was executed at St. Albans. His final words were, addressed not to the the King who was there to witness his agony, but to his “fellow citizens”.  He advised them to “...stand firm while you may, and fear nothing for my punishment since I die in the cause of liberty.”  
He was then hung until almost dead, taken down and slowly drawn and quartered. Over the next five years around England some 5000 rebels would be hung for their uprising. The increasingly tyrannical Richard would sneered at his subjects, “Rustics you were and rustics you are still. You will remain in bondage, not as before, but incomparably harsher” But there would not be another poll tax in England, until the 20th century.
Sir William Walworth, Lord Mayor of London, would die four years later, in December of 1385. In his will he left his wife all the income from his rents, including those of the whore houses he owned on the south shore of the Thames, rebuilt after Way Tyler's rebels burned them down. 
Seven years after the death of Wat Tyler, the arrogant Sir Simon de Burley was impeached for treason by Parliament, and executed by beheading. 
And in the 22nd year of his reign, Richard II, King of England by divine right, would be betrayed by a cousin, and would die of starvation as a prisoner in February of 1400. His death was barely noted, and he was almost completely forgotten by both the nobles and peasants of his kingdom..
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Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I have learned that whether your story is considered a drama or a tragedy is often determined by where you chose to end it. Consider the tale of the Great Stink of 1857, which concluded with the construction of the London sewers, conquering cholera and typhus by pumping the fecal focus eastward to the Thames estuary. It was for the 19th century Londoner a glorious conclusion, the return to the Garden of Eden toilet – flushed out of sight, out of mind. But a mere 50 years (1907ish)  later there was so much human crap in the estuary, it was beginning to stink up even the North Sea.. And a nation that lived on fish and chips began to worry their story might yet turn into a Cockney Oedipus Rex. But England – and the human world - was offered salvation when the British East India Company moved their headquarters from Calcutta to the west coast of the subcontinent.
Over sixty years, beginning in 1687, the civil servants of the British Raj used native labor to transform seven islands into a new city and port, built and organized to English standards, and overwhelmingly occupied and operated by Indians. 
By 1890 Bombay was a metropolis of almost a million inhabitants. To Mr. C. Carkeet James, Chief Drainage Engineer for the Metropolitan District, there were “...few if any cities in India of greater interest or higher educational value to students of sanitation.” Along Bombay's wide boulevards and narrow winding streets, trained English soldiers and engineers rubbed shoulders with a rising Indian middle class and uneducated textile workers, and even afflicted beggars. And it was the latter who inspired the so called Lepers Acts.
By the end of the 20th century we realized the only way to contract leprosy is to be in the 5% of the population with the genetic defect that makes you vulnerable to the bacteria leprea or lepromatosis. But as late as the end of the 19th century, leprosy was still one of humanities' most feared infections. Seemingly at random, perfectly healthy individuals would suddenly display skin lesions, which gave the disease its Latin name, lepra or “scaly”. The illness progressively destroyed the nervous system. Extremities would lose feeling. Injuries went unnoticed and untreated, often leading to the loss of toes and fingers, even ears and noses. Most suffers eventually became blind. Long before then, the afflicted were expelled from their communities, unwanted and considered unclean, drawn to the cities where they could survive only by begging.
Under the various Lepers Acts all sufferers in Bombay were prohibited from handling “any article of food or drink or any drugs or clothing intended for human use, bathe, wash clothes or take water from any public well or (or)...ride in any public carriage.” Thus ostracized, most lepers were reduced to starvation, and local police were empowered to arrest “without a warrant any person who be a pauper leper.” Noted a journal at the time, “One of the results has been to free the city of Bombay from the beggars who used to extort alms by the exhibition of their sores about the public buildings, schools, water tanks, etc.”
Mitigating its cruelty, the act also ordered the creation of leper colonies, where an infrastructure of professionals could feed and clothe the afflicted - “chiefly vagrants and beggars”. And in typical Victorian fashion, the staff also tended to their moral shortcomings by providing work that gave them a sense of dignity and helped to mitigate the expense of their care. 
In 1890, in the Matinga section of Bombay , the recently abandoned quarters of an artillery battery, were converted into leper colony dormitories (above). The barracks stood on thick concrete foundations, raising it above the mud and filth. The dormitories for the patients were outfitted with running water, a kitchen and mess rooms.
At the end of May 1891 Mr. W.M. Acworth, local Commissioner for the Metropolitan Asylums Board, informed his sponsors back in England, “With accommodation for 190, I had yesterday 226 inmates, but fortunately a new ward has just been completed, and this over crowding will temporarily cease, though only temporarily. If I had room for 500 I could fill the asylum in a week.” In not much longer than that, maximum capacity was reached, 68% male, 32% female, and about 40 children. But the corporation that governed Bombay resisted fully funding the colony. The first year's monsoon caused the colonies' cesspits to over flow, and the flood of fecal waste from the lepers alarmed the surrounding population. By May of 1892 “The Times of India” observed, “ The Matinga Asylum is seriously overcrowded with lepers... (because of a) lack of for the extension of the asylum lie still idle... Unless something is done to remedy this state of things, our streets will again be overrun with homeless lepers, and Mr. Acworth’s labors in the cause of these afflicted people will practically be brought to naught.”
Public and political pressure forced the East India Company to open its purse. With acquisition of the additional land, and additional funding, Mr. Acworth turned to the chief drainage engineer, Mr. James (above, 2nd from left) for a solution to the colonies' cesspit problem . What Mr. C.C. James built was a chemical-mechanical stomach to re-digest the human waste, much the same way a cow's multiple stomachs re-digests their feed.
First, Engineer James built several enclosed 19,000 gallon (settling) ponds. Here the solids sank to the bottom, where the oxygen loving (or aerobic) bacteria converted the poop into a black sludge, and pooped out their own waste, carbon dioxide. This bubbled to the surface, forming a scum which was periodically skimmed off. When the slowing production of scum indicated the aerobic bacteria had eaten themselves to death, the oxygen depleted sludge was pumped uphill into one of several air tight holding tanks, where the slow anaerobic (oxygen hating) digestion began. An American engineering journal cheerfully explained the processes, as if in a new car brochure. “The anaerobic bacteria are provided along with the sewage and practically no difficulty arises in retaining their services on the works beyond providing them with space and time in which to carry out their labors.” Their work reducing the sludge could take up to six weeks at an ambient temperature between 78 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit, all the while pooping out methane gas. And this was where Mr C. Carkeet James showed his engineering skills.
At the Matinga colony the methane was captured, and feed to 3 horsepower 4-stroke methane gas motors (above) designed by German engineer Nikolaus August Otto. The Otto engines required 22 cubic feet of methane per hour to slowly raise the sludge the 8 feet between the settling pools and the anaerobic tanks. As figured by engineer James, each patient produced 3 – 4 cubic feet of methane per day, meaning that on a good day each engine needed 7 to 8 patients visiting the latrine for each hour of pumping – a goal easily met. In fact, so much methane was produced the engines could also provide electricity to light the dormitories.
After 6 – 8 weeks each anaerobic tank was left with a bottom layer of carbon heavy sludge covered by “gray water” - clean but not pure enough for human consumption. The sludge was compressed and used for land fill. 
The “gray water” was allowed to cascade down hill, during which it was aerated again, and used to irrigate and fertilize the colony's 6 acre farm. The workers were patients/inmates, who were 84% Hindu vegetarians – and 9% Muslim and 10% Christians. Besides feeding themselves, the bumper crops were sold, and, according to Mr. Acworth, “Profits from the farm wholly maintain 50 lepers located therein”. In 1904 the colony was renamed the Acworth Leper Asylum, and after World War Two, the Acworth Hospital. It still operates in modern Bombay, renamed Mumbi.
The process was not self supportive, but was publicly heralded as an example for the world. But the world did not beat a path to the lepers' back door. It was still cheaper to just dump your poop in the nearest river or bay, even when it occasionally washed right back into your front yard. It was not until the middle of the 20th century that many in the industrialized world began to realize that the Garden of Eden toilet has always been a myth.
According to the World Health Organization, exposure to human waste kills a child somewhere every 20 seconds - 1.4 million dead children each year - “more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined”. Of the world's 7 billion human beings, over 2 ½ billion are still living surrounded by their own (200 million tons of) poop. World wide, according to author and sanitation authority Rose George, 20% of girls drop out of school because they have no safe place to relieve themselves. “Providing a latrine can mean the difference between illiteracy and education.” Providing every human being with a way to treat, clean and reuse even a high percentage of their poo, would not make humanity self supporting. But it would be a step in the right direction.  And in the long run, cheaper than pretending we can clean up the mess by pretending it isn't really  there. 
It is true that shit happens. But it is not true that you just have to live with it. Because in the case of shit, you can't.
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