Thursday, August 8, 2019

Portrait of Jules Verne

Jules Verne  18 x 24 inches, Acrylic 2019

Jules Verne (1828 - 1905) was a renown French author who is best known in the English-speaking world as the originator of science fiction novel.  Jules was born in the city of Nantes in western France on the Loire River, 30 miles from the Atlantic coast.  His father was an attorney and his mother came from a family of shipowners and was partly of Scottish descent.  Jules’ teacher at boarding school was the wife of a sea captain who had been lost at sea, but who, she believed, had been cast upon a desert island and would eventually return.  Young Jules was intrigued by this story; he would never forget it and would use the theme of the castaway in many of his stories.  He would be fascinated by the ships that plied the Loire and sailed out to sea.  There is a story that he tried to run away from home to be a cabin boy on a ship bound for the Indies, but the tale is probably apocryphal.

When he finished his schooling, mostly in a religious seminary which he hated, Jules Verne was resolved to become an author, maybe another Victor Hugo, France’s greatest literary figure and the author of The Hunchback of Notre Dame  and Les Miserables.  His father took a dim view of his ambitions and insisted that he, as the eldest son, follow in his footsteps as a man of law.  In 1847 Jules was sent to Paris to study law and also to put some distance between Jules and his cousin Caroline, for whom he professed love.  Caroline married an older man, while Jules, keeping his mind on his studies, passed his first-year exams.  Back in Nantes his studies were interrupted when he fell in love again, this time with a young lady named Herminie.  His love for her was intense, and she was the inspiration for the poetry he wrote at the time.  His feelings may have been returned, but Herminie’s parents disapproved of Verne, a poor law student, and married their daughter off to an older, wealthy landowner.  Young Verne was devastated by the turn of events and his disappointment in love haunted his future life and writings.

When he returned to Paris to complete his studies, the government was in turmoil and there were barricades in the streets.  The Revolution of 1948 eventually resulted in the establishment of Second Republic and the presidency of Louis Napoleon (who would make himself Emperor in 1851).  Verne, though, generally stayed out involvement in politics.

At this time he was plagued by medical concerns, stomach cramps and facial paralysis caused, we now suspect, from middle ear inflammation, perhaps Bell’s palsy.   Verne, an ardent pacifist, was luckily spared being drafted into the armed force.  The law student spent a lot of his time attending literary salons and writing plays, as well as doing research at the Bibliothèque national de France, the national library.  He was able to meet the great writer Alexandre Dumas and became friends with his son Alexandre Dumas, fils, who had already written his famous novel  La Dames aux Camélias (Camille).  The two collaborated on a play that was produced in June 1850.

Verne received his law degree in January 1851, but was much more interesting in pursuing a literary career.  Through the younger Dumas, Verne became secretary of the Théâtre Lyrique and helped write many of the operas that were performed there.  He also found an outlet for his short stories.  He was able to make the acquaintance of Pitre-Chevalier, a writer also from Nantes who was editor of Musée des families, a magazine devoted to popular science.  In the summer of 1851 he published two of Verne’s stories, The First Ships of the Mexican Navy, written in the style of James Fenimore Cooper, whom he admired, and A Voyage in a Balloon, an adventure tale with science elements.  This second story, which drew upon Verne’s knowledge of geography and history and love of detailed research, revealed his niche as a writer.

Verne’s father, who did not countenance Jules’ literary career, insisted that he come home and commence a career in law.  In January 1852 he offered his son his own law practice, but Jules adamantly refused to accept it, telling his father that he knew his own mind and that his future lay in writing.  During the early 1850s Verne continued to write plays, although most of them were never performed.  He wrote stories and articles for Musée des families, but after a quarrel with Pitre-Chevalier he did not contribute to the magazine until after his death in 1863.

In May 1856 Jules Verne traveled to Amiens (75 miles north of Paris) to attend the wedding of an old friend from Nantes and ended up staying with the bride’s family.  He was well received by them. The bride’s brother offered him a chance to go into business with a broker and work on the Paris Bourse, the stock exchange.  He accepted readily, not only because it allowed him to make some real money, because it gave him an opportunity to be near his new beloved, the bride’s sister, Honorine de Viane Morel, a 26-year old widow with two children. A broker, Verne was now a respectable businessman with a regular income; even his father approved of his situation.  And he was able to court Madame Morel, with the result that they were married in January 1857.

Verne left his position at the Théâtre Lyrique, but he continued to write and research — in his spare hours.  For the first time he had the opportunity to travel outside of France.  Aristide Hignard, a composer from Nante who had been his neighbor during his early years in Paris and with whom he had collaborated, took him along on two sea voyages paid for by his brother.  Verne went to Liverpool and Scotland from Bordeaux in 1858 and traveled to Sweden and Norway in 1861.  Verne, who always made the most of his experiences, was very impressed by what he saw and would draw upon it in writing his novels.

Jules’ long-held idea was to develop a new genre of fiction, the Roman de la Science, the science-fiction novel, with an emphasis on travel.  He had finished one novel along this line, Voyage en Ballon, and was able to show it to a publisher, Pierre-Jules Hetzel.  Hetzel, a cabinet minister during the Second Republic had published the greats, Balzac, Hugo, Zola,  Presently he was putting together a magazine that would be called Le magasin d’éducation et de récréation, directed toward families and featuring stories that would foster scientific education.  Verne was exactly the kind of writer he was looking for.  With revisions suggested by Hetzel, Jules Verne’s first novel, Three Weeks in a Balloon, concerning three Englishmen who travel explore Africa in a hydrogen balloon, was published on January 31, 1863.  The book was highly successful and made Verne’s fortune.

Verne and Hetzel had a good working relationship, at least at first, and were bound to each other with a long-time contract.  Verne was obligated to submit three volumes each year, which Hetzel would purchase outright.  They would be presented to the public in serial form, to be published in the biweekly Le magasin d’éducation et de récréation.  After completion of the serial, the story would be published in book form, usually in three formats, an inexpensive volume without illustrations, a small volume with some illustrations, and a deluxe edition, large and with many illustrations.  These would ideally come out at the end of the year so that they could be bought as Christmas presents.

Jules Verne saw his science fiction novels (and science fiction fantasies) as part of a series he called Voyages extraordinaires.  (There would eventually be 54 of them!)  He tackled the subject matter of the genre with a boundless ambition.  Among his most famous novels are, in addition to the aforementioned Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) was Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864), From the Earth to the Moon (1865),  In Search of the Castaways (1867), Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea  (1870), Around the World in Eighty Days (1873),  The Mysterious Island (1875),  Michael Strogoff (1876), and Robur the Conqueror (1886) and its sequel Master of the World (1904)  There were many more, lesser known works; Verne’s output continued to his death in 1905.  Only one early story, Paris in the Twentieth Century, was rejected by Hetzel who deemed it too pessimistic.  It was eventually published in 1994 and revealed Verne’s prescience in seeing how future man would rely inordinately upon technology in his everyday life.  In his published novels Jules Verne predicted inventions such as the submarine, air and even space travel. 

Verne also adapted some of his stories to the stage.  The play Around the World in Eighty Days was particularly successful and from it Verne earned more money than from his novels, despite their wide popularity.

Verne’s most famous character, save perhaps for Phileas Fogg, the hero of Around the World in Eighty Days, was Captain Nemo, who appeared in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea  and The Mysterious Island.  A scientific  genius, Nemo constructs a submarine, the Nautilus, with which he sails the seas sinking ships to avenge slave-trading, militarism, and imperialism.  An enigmatic Indian prince, Captain Nemo was first conceived by Verne as an anti-Russian Pole, but he reluctantly altered the character to appease his publisher Hetzel, whose interference, at this point, was not appreciated and often ignored.

Wealthy and famous, Jules Verne was able to satisfy his childhood ambition to take sea voyages.  Beginning in 1867, he purchased a series of yachts (all called Saint-Michel).  Although his permanent residence was Amiens, he spent a lot of time on his yachts and did much of his writing while at sea.  He sailed up and down the Atlantic coasts of France and England and, in Saint-Michel III, a steam yacht with a crew of 10, he ventured into the Mediterranean and to Scotland. 

Jules Verne was honored by being made a Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur in 1870 and in 1892 was promoted to Officier de la Légion d’honneur.  However, it was a source of disappointment to him that he was never inducted into the Académie Française, as a writer of his stature would have expected.  The snub was calculated.  While he had his admirers, such as George Sand, many literary figures, Émile Zola for instance, dismissed Verne as merely a popular author.  His novels were not “literature.”  He wrote genre fiction and his popularity with the masses meant that his work could not possess any real merit.

As he grew older, Jules’ books became somewhat darker in tone.  He had abandoned the Catholicism he grew up with; he remained a deist, but not a Christian.  His relationship with his son was troubling.  Michel was a disappointment: against his father’s wishes he married an actress, then had children by an underage mistress.  (And naturally he was always in debt and wanting money).   Later in life,  Jules and Michel reconciled.  Causing even more trouble for him was his mentally deranged nephew, Gaston, who, in 1886, confronted Verne with a pistol and shot him in the left leg, causing him to limp for the rest of his life. 

Jules Verne, in addition to the limp, suffered from various health problems that were not effectively addressed or treated.  He had chronic digestive problems, high-blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes.  He succumbed to these ailments and died on March 24, 1905.  He was 77.

Jules’ son Michel managed his father’s literary legacy after his death and arranged for the publication of Verne’s unpublished works.  Michel, however, made many alterations in the stories, even to the extent of rewriting them.  He had not been the only one to distort his father’s work.  Verne’s books were extensively translated in his lifetime and afterwards.  Many of the translations, though, were inaccurate or abridged.  Some changed character names and even modified the stories.  In English-speaking countries, where Verne was regarded as an author for children, shortened and simplified translations were the rule.  Even in France, after his death, unabridged editions of Verne’s novels became rare.

Verne’s literary reputation rose decades after his death when scholars began approaching Verne’s work with a fresh eye.  In 1935 Société Jules-Verne was founded.  The  Voyages extraordinaires were becoming literature, worthy of academic study.  Faithful, full-lengthed editions of his novels were reappearing.  By the 1960s and 70s Jules Verne had attained a cult status.  In the United States interest in Verne was piqued after the release in 1954 of a film version of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea produced by Walt Disney and starring Kirk Douglas and James Mason as Captain Nemo.  In the next few years several films loosely based on Verne’s stories followed, among them a lavish star-studded Around the World in Eighty Days, produced by Mike Todd, Twentieth-Century Fox’s Journey to the Center of the Earth also with James Mason, From the Earth to the Moon with Joseph Cotten and George Sanders, The Mysterious Island with monsters devised by technical effects master Ray Harryhausen and with Herbert Lom playing Captain Nemo, and Master of the World starring Vincent Price.  Hollywood has remained enamored with Jules Verne and now versions of his famous stories are constantly appearing.  It is through the media of film that he is best known today.  He is admired less as a literary stylist than as an uncannily accurate prophet of future technology.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Portrait of Lady Franklin

Lady Franklin  20 x 16 inches, Acrylic on cradled panel, 2019

Lady Franklin (1791- 1875) was, famously, the wife and widow of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin.  She was born Jane Griffin, daughter of John Griffin, a wealthy silk manufacturer who would become the governor of the Worshipful Company of Goldsmiths, one of London’s traditional guilds.  Both John and his wife Jane Guillemard, who died when she was three, had Huguenot ancestry.  Young Jane grew up comfortably in Bloomsbury, London.   When she was 12, she attended a boarding school for ladies in Chelsea.  Intelligent and well-behaved, she was an excellent student, even if she sported a mischievous streak that belied her serious demeanor.  Her greatest education was in traveling  abroad, as was the custom among the wealthy.  Jane, with her father and sisters, journeyed extensively throughout western Europe.   Restless and curious, she developed a virtual passion for travel, exploration, and adventure.

At an early age Jane Griffin showed evidence of a strong, resolute, and disciplined character.   She shunned the traditional and expected activities of the fair sex, like needlework, housekeeping, teas and balls, reading romantic novels, and gossiping.  She preferred hiking, mountain climbing, sailing.  She rigorously devoted herself to reading, studying, and attending lectures.  She took notes on everything she experienced, kept diaries and journals, and wrote copious letters. 

Although she avoided the societal obligation to marry and have children, she might have done so.  A striking, petite, blue-eyed brunette beauty with a lovely complexion she must have caught many an eye, but she obviously was much too much for the average man.  She did develop romantic interests in two scientific gentlemen, one, a medical student, the other, the noted London physician Peter Mark Roget, who is best known for the thesaurus that bears his name.  Nothing, though, came of her interests.  Nevertheless, at a time of her life when marriage was no longer expected, she felicitously  found her soul mate.  It came about thus.  A friend of hers was poetess Eleanor Anne Porden, a remarkable woman who in 1822 had published a two-volume epic poem, Coeur de Lion or The Third Crusade.  Although in poor health, the 28-year old Eleanor got married to Arctic explorer Captain John Franklin in August of 1823.  An explorer, Franklin seemed romantic to her and when they met in 1818, he inspired her poem, The Arctic Expeditions.  She had his child, but, shortly after her husband had set off on another expedition to the Arctic, she succumbed to tuberculosis and died on February 22, 1825.  

When the widowed Franklin came back from the Arctic he struck up a friendship with Jane.  Despite his adventurous profession, Franklin was a rather dull, dour, humorless fellow.  Short, portly, and balding, he was not exactly dashing.   Realizing, though, that they were kindred spirits and that their disparate personalities complemented each other, Jane and John fell in love.  On November 5, 1828 they were wed.  Jane was 36, John was 42.  Franklin had agreed to allow his first wife to continue her literary career.  And so it was understood that Jane would not be relegated to a drab domestic existence, but allowed her own pursuits.

John Franklin, born in Lincolnshire in 1786, had entered the Royal Navy as a boy.  He had gone on an exploratory voyage to Australia and had participated in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.  He would reach the rank of captain.  He had commanded a ship in an 1818 expedition that attempted to reach the North Pole.  He led two land expeditions (1819-1822 and 1825-1827) that explored northwest Canada.  These perilous ventures added a great deal to geographic knowledge of the area and made him something of a national hero.

During the early part of their marriage, the Franklins spent much time apart.  John, now Sir John — for he had been knighted in 1829 — was serving in the Mediterranean as commander of the H.M.S. Rainbow, a small 28-gun warship.  Jane, now Lady Franklin, spent a great deal of her time traveling, through Spain, Turkey, Greece, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine.  Such travel at that time entailed considerable hardship, if not danger, but also furnished much in the way of adventure and a chance to acquire knowledge not otherwise attainable.

When Sir John returned to England in 1833, he lobbied for some significant post, ideally the command of an Arctic expedition.  The government, though, at that time was no longer sponsoring polar voyages and had given up on what was seen as a vain quest for the Northwest Passage.  Instead, Sir John Franklin was given the governorship of Van Diemen’s Land, an island off the coast of southern Australia and  now known as Tasmania.  This was no plush assignment.  The island was mostly a hell hole, a refuge for convicts and paupers.

When the Franklins reached Tasmania in 1836, they immediately tried to ameliorate conditions there.  Lady Franklin was tireless in her efforts to help the female convicts and to improve relations with the aborigines.  She tried to provide education and culture for the residents and, in a word, to civilize the place.  Lady Franklin even had ambitions of setting up a university.  Many of her humanitarian efforts, however, were greeted with indifference.  She had built a classical temple to serve as a museum for Hobart (the capital), but it was a hundred years before the building was used for anything more than a storage shed for apples.  

During her years in Australia, Lady Franklin took time to travel and explore.   She journeyed through areas of Tasmania that no white woman had gone before.  Mount Wellington, Tasmania’ highest mountain at 4000, she climbed, the first woman to do so.  She was also the first woman to travel overland from Melbourne to Sydney, 440 miles as the crow flies.  She visited New Zealand and was inspired to study Maori language and customs.  (Her curiosity was boundless and her energy and vitality for a woman pushing 50 was extraordinary).

Sir John was popular with the people, but was considered an inept outsider by much of the colonial establishment that did not welcome Franklin’s reforms and resented Jane’s unorthodox conduct.  When Franklin had a dispute with his  colonial secretary, Captain John Montagu, and ended up dismissing him,  the establishment and the press took Montagu’s side.  Montagu, from a prominent family, returned to England and used his influence to have Franklin recalled and replaced. Thus the Franklins set sail for England in January 1844.

Back in England, Sir John felt that he had been disgraced and feared there was no means of recouping his reputation.  Yet, he was still renown as an heroic Arctic explorer.  Fortuitously, the British government, with a renewed interest in polar exploration, was planning a new expedition to complete the mapping of the Arctic coastline and perhaps at last find a Northwest Passage, a clear sea route from the Atlantic to the Pacific.  Although Franklin was not the first choice to command the expedition, he was offered the position and gratefully accepted it.  Sir John, however, was scarcely fit for the physically demanding task: he was almost sixty, overweight, and out of shape.   Yet, he had much experience — and certainly, guts.

The Franklin Expedition was to be a well-equipped venture: two ships, the HMS Terror and HMS Erebus, (both over 100 feet) and 134 hand-picked men.  There would be food for 3 years and a library of 1000 books.  The ships, state-of the art, were equipped with steam engines, a heating system, and boilers that distilled fresh water.

The expedition departed England on May 19, 1845, sailing to Aberdeen, the Orkney Islands, then to Greenland.  On July 26, 1845 the two ships were seen moored to an iceberg in Lancaster Sound (north of Baffin Island) by a whaler.  There was no further outside contact with the expedition.  It was later determined that Franklin’s expedition spent the winter of 1845-6 in the harbor of Beechey Island, northwest of Baffin Island.  In September of 1846 the Terror  and the Erebus became trapped in the ice off King William Island, which lies north of continental Canada, a considerable distance southwest from Beechey Island.  The ships never sailed again and the men of the expedition, some of whom tried to walk to safety, all perished of disease, exposure, and malnutrition.

Back in England, when two years had passed without word of the expedition, Lady Franklin lobbied the Admiralty to send a rescue party.  But since the expedition was supposed to have had a three year supply of provisions, an expedition to search for what would soon be called the Lost Franklin Expedition was not mounted until 1848.  There were several government sponsored expedition to find out what had happened to the Franklin; the Admiralty offered a 20,000 pound reward.   Over a period of decades Lady Franklin herself would inspire and even fund many expeditions to search for her husband. 

In 1850 evidence that Franklin’s expedition had wintered on Beechey Island was discovered.  There was still much hope that the members of the expedition had survived.  And there was much public interest in the expedition.  The Admiralty was so confident of Franklin’s survival that they promoted him to rear admiral.

In 1854 a Scottish explorer John Rae, while doing survey work for the Hudson Bay Company, learned from the native Inuits the fate of the Franklin Expedition.  He was told that he ships had become ice bound, and that the  crew had all died, but not before resorting to cannibalism.  When his report was made known, Rae was excoriated by the British public and by an outraged Lady Franklin.  The mere suggestion that Englishmen could possibly become cannibals was offensive in the extreme.  Later research, however, would confirm that some of Franklin’s men, those who had left the ice-bound ships, had indeed turned to cannibalism. 

In 1857 Lady Franklin sent out Irish polar explorer Francis McClintock in the ship Fox to replicate Franklin’s voyage.  He eventually reached King William Island and interviewed Inuits who confirmed what John Rae had previously learned.  Notes found there revealed that Franklin had died on June 11, 1847, before his surviving men left the ship and set out on foot.   (Therefore, Franklin would not have become a cannibal). When he returned to England in September 1859, McClintock was hailed as a hero who had at last found the Lost Franklin Expedition.  He was even knighted. 

The mystique of the Lost Franklin Expedition was not diminished and some of its mystery still remained. Expeditions would continue in the hope of finding not only the lost ships and men, but Franklin’s records.  More men were lost searching for the Lost Expedition than on the original expedition itself, but  much valued knowledge was gained of the seas and the islands of the area north of Canada.  Lady Franklin can claim credit for providing much of the impetus for Arctic exploration in the mid 19th Century.  It was she who encouraged the Americans to become involved in polar exploration. 

While Lady Franklin was obsessed with learning the fate of her husband  and devoted to preserving his memory, she continued to travel, often with her husband’s niece, who was her companion and secretary.   Probably no woman of her time traveled so extensively.  At one point she journeyed to the Shetland Islands, the northernmost part of England, just so that she could be as close as possible to her missing husband.   After she learned of her husband’s tragic death, she did not spend her widowhood in isolation and mourning.  When she died on July 18, 1875, at age 83, she was awaiting the return of another polar expedition she had helped to outfit.

Jane, Lady Franklin was probably the most famous widow in Victorian England, save for Queen Victoria herself.  The Royal Geographical Society awarded Lady Franklin its Founder’s Gold Medal  in 1860.  She was honored and remembered in Tasmania as well as in England.  While many geographical features have been named after Sir John Franklin, there is a Lady Franklin Bay on Ellesmere Island, north of Baffin Island.  The force of her indefatigable character, her brand of valiant femininity, and the depth of her wifely devotion continues to arouse admiration.

 Around 1850 a folk ballad named Lady Franklin’s Lament appeared and was quite popular in its day.  It has been recorded by several contemporary artists,  including Sinéad O’Connor and Connie Dover.  Much has been written of the Lost Franklin Expedition, and there are several biographies of Lady Franklin.  A 2018 AMC TV horror series The Terror presents a fictionalized account of the Franklin Expedition with Ciarán Hinds as John Franklin and Greta Scacchi as Lady Franklin.

Swiss painter Amélie Munier-Romilly executed a chalk portrait of  Jane Griffin when she was 24.  Another chalk drawing was made of her by Australia’s first professional artist Thomas Bock when she was 46, but Jane, camera shy, had no photo portraits taken of her.

The ships Terror and Erebus were only recently located. The submerged wreck of the Erebus, which Franklin captained,  was discovered in 2014 in Queen Maud’s Bay, west of King William Island.  The wreck of the Terror was found in 2016 off the southwest coast of King William Island, 57 miles of south of where it had been abandoned and 31 miles from the Erebus.  Artifacts have been recovered from both wrecks.  Great Britain claimed possession of the artifacts, but conferred ownership of the ships to the Canadian and Inuit governments.

In 1906 the long-sought Northwest Passage was finally traversed by sea.  Franklin’s dream was achieved by the greatest polar explorer of them all, Norwegian Roald Amundsen, who would be the first to reach the South Pole and among the first to fly over the North Pole.  Unlike Franklin and others, Amundsen used a small boat with a shallow draft and a crew of only 6 men.  But like Franklin, he was iced in on the shore of King William Island.  He remained there for two years.  Only after a third winter did he eventually reach Nome, Alaska.  From there Amundsen, alone, skied 500 miles east to Eagle, Alaska, on the Canadian border, the nearest telegraph office from which he could announce his success to the world.  He then skied the 500 miles back!  The expedition took three and half years.  The passage Amundsen had discovered was, though, too shallow and ice prone to be of commercial value.   (There is a thought that with recent warming of the polar regions an accessible Arctic passage from Atlantic to Pacific might at last become a reality).

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Portrait of Chief Tecumseh

Chief Tecumseh 20 x 16 inches  Acrylic on Panel 2019

Chief Tecumseh (1768 - 1813),  one of the most celebrated Native American chiefs, was born in a Shawnee village in what is now Ohio to Pukeshinwa, a minor war chief of the Kispoko band.  Tecumseh’s name means “blazing comet”, “shooting star,” or something to that effect.  It is commonly, but erroneously believed that he was born in Chillicothe, Ohio.  It is more likely that his birthplace was Old Piqua on the Mad River in west central Ohio.

In 1774 when Tecumseh was still a small child, his father Pukeshinwa participated in the Battle of Point Pleasant, the major engagement of Lord Dunmore’s War.  Scotsman James Murray, the Earl of Dunmore was the royal governor of Virginia and hoped to extend the colony’s territory westward into the Ohio Valley.  This was permitted by a treaty recently made with the Iroquois.  But the Shawnee tribe, which actually lived in the area, was not consulted and objected to abandoning land they considered ancestral hunting grounds.  To lay claim to the territory and to protect the white settlers who had already moved there, the English/Virginians mounted an invasion.  They approached from two directions.  Lord Dunmore himself commanded the force that departed from Fort Pitt (now rechristened Fort Dunmore), located at the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, the source of the Ohio River and the site of modern Pittsburgh.  Another force of 1000 men led by Colonel Andrew Lewis, a veteran of the earlier French and Indian War, came from the southeast and made its way down the Kanawha River, a tributary of the Ohio River flowing through the central part of what is now West Virginia.  The Shawnee found few allies in their opposition to the Virginians, but mustered a fighting force of maybe 500 men commanded by Hokoleskwa, or Cornstalk.  Cornstalk, hoping to avert the meeting of the two Virginian armies, attacked Colonel Lewis’ force before it could cross the Ohio River.  On October 10, 1774, at Point Pleasant a day-long battle consisting  mostly of hand-to-hand combat raged.  The Virginians suffered over 200 casualties, with 75 men killed, but the Shawnees were eventually driven from the field with greater losses.  Among the dead was Pukeshinwa.  Chief Cornstalk acknowledged defeat and signed a treaty ceding control of the Ohio River to the Virginians, paving the way for white settlement of Ohio and Kentucky. 

During the American Revolution Cornstalk maintained neutrality, even as many of his people sought to use the war between white men as an opportunity to exact vengeance and reclaim lost lands.  When, in the autumn of  1777, he visited Fort Randolph, now Point Pleasant, West Virginia, to parlay, he was arrested without cause or authorization by the fort’s commander.  Some soldiers in the fort, outraged by the murder of a militiaman by some unidentified Indians, brutally murdered Cornstalk, his son, and two other Shawnees.  This was a great loss not only to the Shawnee, but to the white men who had admired Cornstalk and had been impressed by his dignity, judgment, and oratorical ability.  Patrick Henry,  governor of a now independent Virginia, was outraged and put the assassins on trial.  However, their fellow soldiers would not testify against the killers and the guilty men were shamefully acquitted.

There is a legend that Point Pleasant, West Virginia, was supposedly cursed by Cornstalk before his death, though there is no contemporary account of this.  At any rate, the area has long been a place of misfortunes and disasters.  In late 1966 and throughout 1967 there were a large number of sightings of a large man-like, red-eyed anomalous flying creature dubbed the Mothman.  Never satisfactorily explained, it was seen as an omen of disaster, a harbinger of the collapse of Point Pleasant’s Silver Bridge, which spanned the Ohio River, connecting Point Pleasant WV and Gallipolis OH.  The disaster, which occurred on December 15, 1967, resulted in the death of 46 people.  It is connected by some with the Mothman appearances and the curse of Cornstalk.

It was the death of his father and the assassination of Chief Cornstalk that colored Tecumseh’s whole life and spawned his inimical attitude toward the white man.  After the death of Pukeshinwa, his wife Methoataske joined Shawnees that journeyed West to settle in Missouri.  Her son Tecumseh was left to be raised in the family of his older sister.  He was taught to be a hunter and a warrior by his older brother Chiksika.  They lived first in a village of Chillicothe (in Ohio) under Chief Blackfish, who had defied Chief Cornstalk and refused to accept the terms of the treaty he had made with the Virginians.  After the murder of Cornstalk, Blackfish had made raids upon white men living in Kentucky and had captured the famous frontiersman Daniel Boone.  Boone, though, a great hunter, was admired by the Shawnee and actually made a member of the tribe, even as he was kept a prisoner.  After a few months, Boone escaped when he found out that Blackfish was planning an attack upon Boonesborough.  (This was a village Boone had founded, one of the first permanent white settlements west of the Appalachian Mountains).  Blackfish laid siege to Boonesborough in September 1778, but despite the advantage of numbers, the siege was woefully ineffective, and he was unable to defeat Boone’s force, which consisted of only a dozen white men, but more than 400 Indian allies.   In retaliation for the attack on Boonesborough, Kentucky militiaman raided Chillicothe in spring of 1779 and left Blackfish with a leg wound that would eventually cause his death.
Subsequently, Tecumseh’s family settled in another Shawnee village, which, worse luck, was destroyed in 1780 by forces under the commander of the Kentucky militia, George Rogers Clark.  Tecumseh  was witness to the Battle of Piqua, a large Shawnee settlement of 3000 persons.  The fierce battle and the din of artillery frightened the 12-year old boy and he fled.  He would never be frightened or run away again.

The family of Tecumseh next moved to Sanding Stone, but Clark followed and attacked the village in November 1782.  Next they relocated to another Shawnee village near what is now Bellefontaine, Ohio in west central Ohio. 

At the end of the Revolutionary War many Shawnee were still determined to evict the white man from their country.  At age 15 Tecumseh joined a band of fellow Shawnee warriors who attacked flat boats proceeding down the Ohio River and became a bane to river traffic.  By 1788 Tecumseh, who began to show leadership skills, headed his own guerrilla band.  Mentored by his older brother Chiksika, he joined him in journeying south to join the Chickamauga Cherokee who were waging war against the new United States of America.  On the trip south Tecumseh fell off his horse and broke his leg.  It never mended properly and he sported a limp for the rest of his life.  During his two years with the Cherokee, Tecumseh took a wife.  She bore him a daughter, but he did not stay with them.

Tecumseh and Chiksika were a small part of a widespread uprising of Native American tribes that instigated the Northwest Indian War, lasting from 1785 to 1795.  In the treaty with Great Britain granting its independence, the United States was given sovereignty over Ohio and  Illinois, what was then called the Northwest Territory.  But its authority was not accepted by the Indian tribes.  President George Washington ordered military action to subjugate the Northwest Territory.  The native tribes, though, were able to unite as never before and were still aided by the mischief-making British who sought to undermine the new nation they had reluctantly acknowledged.  The ill-trained United States Army, a collection of ragtag militias, and its uncertain Indian allies were at first an ineffectual fighting force, but after 1792, when General “Mad” Anthony Wayne took charge of the army, the tide turned. 

In September of 1792 Tecumseh’s brother Chiksika was killed in a raid.  Tecumseh filled his place and assumed leadership of a band of Shawnee and Chickamauga raiders.  Back in Ohio, he participated in many of the battles of the Northeast Indian War, including the last one, the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794.   Near what is now Toledo, Ohio, United States forces under General Wayne, supported by Kentucky militiamen, 3000 men, faced warriors of the Indian confederacy and a company of British troops, about 1300 men, on land recently ravaged by a tornado.  Although the battle lasted only an hour and only about 75 men were killed, it was a decisive victory for the United States.  The subsequent Treaty of Greenville (which Tecumseh refused to sign or honor) and further treaties affirmed American control over the Northwest Territory.   Indian tribes ceded most of Ohio and areas of Indiana for what amounted to $20,000 in goods.  There was peace in the area for a time.

Tecumseh married and in 1796 had a son who would be reared by Tecumseh’s sister when the marriage failed.   Tecumseh nurtured his grievance against the white man and hoped for the opportunity to fight against them again.

It would be Tecumseh’s younger brother Lalawethika who would now have a profound impact upon his life.  Lalawethika, as a young man, was an aloof and troubled introvert, a failure and an alcoholic.  Somehow he turned his life around and became a prophet, assuming the name  Tenskwatawa, meaning “open door.”  He preached that the Indian should reject the outsiders and return to a traditional way of living, eschew the customs of the white men, their manner of dress, as well as firearms and alcohol.  No more should he give away his lands.  He also subscribed to the view of earlier Native American prophets, that if the Indian remains uncorrupted by the Europeans and their ways then the Great Spirit will send an apocalypse to wipe them out.  The Prophet Tenskwatawa set up a settlement for his followers near what is now Greenville, in southwest Ohio.  Tecumseh was skeptical at first, but joined the group when Tenskwatawa accurately predicted the solar eclipse of June 16, 1806.

Tenskwatawa, a fanatic, was a stern and brutal leader who demonized anyone who did not accept his teaching.  He caused tensions not only between the Native Americans and the white settlers, but among the Shawnee themselves.  The Shawnee chief Black Hoof, once a fierce warrior who had fought against the Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, realized that it was futile to make war against the white man and that survival was contingent upon accepting his culture.  His best efforts to preserve peace, however, were being undermined by Tenskwatawa’s radicalism.  In 1808 he demanded that Tenskwatawa and his people move away.  They did and settled just north of what is now Lafayette, Indiana, at the confluence of the Wabash and Tippecanoe Rivers.  The settlement was called Prophetstown (by Europeans).  The community was a great success and attracted not only Shawnees, but members of the Delaware, the Potawatomi, and many other tribes.  Its size, 3000 inhabitants, soon became a source of alarm to the white settlers.  Of concern as well was Tecumseh himself, the obvious military leader of the community, and his professed scheme of forming a pan-Indian alliance that would expel the white man from the country.

After the governor of the Indiana Territory, William Henry Harrison, negotiated another treaty, the Treaty of Fort Wayne, that ceded more Indian land to the white man, Tecumseh was outraged, especially since this involved land belonging to tribes some of whose members were part of the Prophetstown community.  He rightly protested the methods of negotiation: Indian representatives were often plied with alcohol before treaty talks and were frequently personally bribed.  He regarded signers of the treaty as traitors to their race and excoriated them.  Using his considerable skills as an orator, Tecumseh sought to persuade his fellow Indians to acknowledge that they were a single people, not just a collection of discreet tribes, that they all held the land in common ownership — and, most importantly, they should resist the white man.

In August of 1810 Tecumseh, with an entourage of 400 warriors, dressed in war paint, confronted Governor Harrison at his plantation-like home Grouseland at Vincennes, on the Wabash River in southwestern Indiana.  Tecumseh (who did not speak English) demanded that he rescind the Treaty of Fort Wayne and other treaties through which the Indians were compelled to cede land.  Remarkably unintimidated, Harrison, a proud Virginia aristocrat, argued that he had no business interfering with relations between the United States government and individual tribes, that the Indian tribes did not constitute a single nation, that the terms of the treaties concerned only the signatories, that the tribes in question were satisfied with the terms and resented his unwelcome interference.  Tecumseh made an eloquent response that Harrison did not understand.   Tecumseh’s people became agitated and seemed to threaten violence.  Harrison was forced to draw his sword and his guards brandished  their weapons.  A chief of the Potawatomi, Winamac defused the tense situation and urged the Indian warriors to leave in peace since they had come in peace.  (Tecumseh would later call him a “black dog” for taking the white man’s side).  Tecumseh, with a parting shot, told Harrison he would seek an alliance with the British if the Treaty of Fort Wayne was not nullified.

There were further talks between Tecumseh and Harrison, but they were fruitless. Tecumseh  insisted that he wanted only peace, but his actions invited suspicion.  Harrison, remaining unimpressed and unsympathetic, felt that Tecumseh was merely spoiling for a fight.

Tecumseh traveled south to try to recruit to his side the so-called civilized Indian tribes, the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw,  Creek, and Seminoles, who tended to favor at least some assimilation into European culture.  It was a failure.  Although Tecumseh was indeed a persuasive orator, he possessed an abrasive arrogance that turned off some Native American leaders.   In particular the great Choctaw chief  Pushmataha strongly rebuffed his scheme and argued the cause of the United States government.  Only  a break-off faction of the Creeks, the so-called Red Sticks, were receptive to his message of resistance and war.  The Red Sticks would incite the Creek War of 1813, which involved the United States and Great Britain, but which was primarily a civil war among the Creeks.  The Red Sticks were eventually defeated by state militias commanded by Major General Andrew Jackson and Choctaws led by Pushmataha at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, in east central Alabama, on March 27, 1814.  The Creeks were forced to cede more territory to the United States government and, later, most of the tribe was transported across the Mississippi to be settled in Indian Territory.

William Henry Harrison secured approval from the Department of War  to take military action against the Shawnee when it was learned that they had formed an alliance with the British and had smuggled in firearms from Canada — in contradiction to Tenskwatawa’s former prohibition on using white man’s weapons.  Knowing that Tecumseh was absent, Harrison marched a force of 1000 men to Prophetstown to intimidate the Shawnees into abiding by the peace.  He arranged to parlay with Tenskwatawa on November 6, 1811.  Instead of going to the conference, Tenskwatawa, in direct contradiction to Tecumseh’s orders, launched a preemptive strike upon Harrison’s force.  Tenskwatawa commanded 500 warriors of the Shawnee and other tribes, but the prophet was no general and exercised imperfect control over his diverse forces.   The attack was foiled when Harrison’s army held its ground.  Harrison lost 62 men, the Indians probably less.  Tenskwatawa had promised his people that a spell he had cast would render the red men invincible.  It hadn’t worked.  Tenskwatawa blamed his wife for the ineffective spell and promised to cast another, while urging his men to make another attack.  They, however, would have none of it.  Instead, the Indians abandoned Prophetstown.  Harrison’s forces burned it to the ground and destroyed stored food supplies — but did spare an elderly Indian woman who had been left behind.

This engagement, though hardly decisive, was the beginning of the end for Tecumseh’s confederation and his dream of expelling the white man from Indian lands.  It was later ballyhooed as the Battle of Tippecanoe when the presumed military hero William Henry Harrison ran for President in 1840.  (He even called himself “Old Tippecanoe”).  The battle resulted in Tenskwatawa losing prestige and enraging his brother.  It’s a moot question how important a role he would continue to play in the Indian Confederation.  Scorned and ostracized, he moved to Canada.  Nature did come to Tecumseh’s aid, though,  when the New Madrid earthquake of December 1811 and the appearance of the great Comet of 1811, visible in the fall of that year, were interpreted by some as signs that Tecumseh was fulfilling the will of the Great Spirit.

In June of 1812 the United States and Great Britain formally took up arms and the conflict with Tecumseh, a British ally, merged with this war.  When a British force Under Major-General Sir Isaac Brock invaded the Northwest Territory from Canada, Tecumseh, with 400 warriors, joined it.  At the siege of Fort Detroit the appearance of Tecumseh’s Indians created great alarm.  The impression that there was a greater force than there was caused the fort commander, Brigadier General William Hull, to surrender Detroit in August 16, 1812.  (Hull, a hero of the Revolutionary War, was court-martialed for cowardice and sentenced to death, but President Madison commuted the sentence to dismissal from the service).   Tecumseh was either made a brigadier general in the British army or at least regarded as such.  He did not, however, wear the British uniform, although the most famous depiction of him shows him doing so.

In April 1813 British forces, supported by Tecumseh and his strong supporter Wyandot Chief Roundhead with their 1250 warriors, besieged Fort Meigs.  The fort in northwestern Ohio across the Maumee River from the site of the Battle of the Fallen Timbers, had been newly constructed and was commanded by William Henry Harrison, now a Major General in command of the Army of the Northwest.   Harrison’s forces suffered heavy casualties, but the British were unsuccessful in taking Fort Meigs and raised the siege on May 7th.  Afterwards, American prisoners, who were supposed to be exchanged, were being killed by the Indians. It is reported that Tecumseh, who apparently disapproved of unnecessary cruelty (unlike, sadly, most of his race), berated the British commander, Major-General Henry Proctor, for not stopping it.  He put an end to it himself, supposedly telling Proctor, “I conquer to save, you to kill.”  This act is seen as evidence to support the later contention that Tecumseh was a “noble savage.”

On September 10, 1813 American naval commander Oliver Hazard Perry scored a victory at the Battle of Lake Erie and accepted the surrender of an entire British squadron.  He reported to Harrison, “We have met the enemy and they are ours.”  This disaster, from the British perspective,  left control of the lake in the hands of the Americans and imperiled General Proctor’s position and supply lines.  The British commander, therefore, decided to withdraw to Canada and not risk any further engagements. Like the British soldiers who served under Proctor, Tecumseh had little use for him and strongly disagreed with the decision.  Tecumseh wanted to press the fight against the Americans and retake tribal lands, but he reluctantly followed the British in their retreat.  He and his ally Roundhead could do nothing else.  But at Tecumseh’s insistence, the British, with their troops ill-fed and demoralized, did make a defensive stand, at Moraviantown, an Indian settlement on the Thames River in southwestern Ontario. 

General Proctor had only 800 troops, supported by 500 Indian warriors.  Harrison, who was in pursuit of the British, commanded a force numbering over 3700 men, including 1000 cavalry, mostly Kentucky volunteers under Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson, a member of the House of Representatives.  He had support as well from the United States Navy on nearby Lake Erie.

After dawn on October 5, 1813 the British attempted to draw a line of battle around a single 6-pound canon they had, while Tecumseh’s forces more astutely assembled in a swamp.  At the first charge of the Americans the British forces either threw down their weapons or fled, having the opportunity to fire their canon only once.  The Indian forces fought valiantly on, but futilely.  Both Tecumseh and Roundhead were killed.  When word was received that their chiefs had been lost, the Indians gave up the fight.  The Americans had won the battle.

There were differing reports as to casualties, but they were light, a handful of Americas and few dozen of the enemy.  Harrison’s forces captured almost 600 British soldiers, though.  Despite the scale of combat the Battle of the Thames was a pivotal engagement in the War of 1812 and a decisive engagement in the war against the Tecumseh confederation.
How Tecumseh came to his death is not known, but there were several who claimed to be his slayer and several contradictory accounts of his death.  Colonel Richard Mentor Johnson, while on horseback, had fired a fatal pistol shot at an Indian who was attacking him with a tomahawk.  He boasted that this had been Tecumseh, although the dead man was more likely a Potawatomi brave.  The reputation for being the man who killed Tecumseh was helpful to Johnson in his election to the Vice Presidency of the United States in 1836.

After the battle Harrison marched back to Fort Detroit.  There he received the surrender of demoralized Indians that had opposed him.  He simply told them to go home.  With the death of Tecumseh the Indian Confederation had collapsed, never to be resurrected.  The conclusion of the War of 1812 found the United States of America in control of the Northwest Territory  with most of its Native American inhabitants soon to be banished beyond the Mississippi River. 

While William Henry Harrison was immediately proclaimed a hero for his defeat of the British and the Indian Confederation, he quarreled with President Madison and resigned his commission as major general. 
Later, apologies were made and Harrison was awarded a gold medal by Congress.  Continuing in public life, William Henry Harrison ran unsuccessfully for President as a Northern Whig in 1836, but he and his running mate John Tyler won in landslide against President van Buren and Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson in 1840. Harrison, the wealthy southern aristocrat, portrayed himself in the campaign as a humble frontiersman and used the log cabin as a symbol of his candidacy.  He particularly emphasized his military career and his role as the heroic vanquisher of Tecumseh.  “Tippecanoe and Tyler, Too” is still remembered as his winning campaign slogan.  At his March 4th inauguration the hale and hardy 68-year-old refused to wear a hat or an overcoat as he delivered a long, two-hour address in cold, miserable weather.  Later, on March 26 he was caught in a heavy rain and came down with a cold which worsened to what doctors thought was pneumonia.  Medical treatments, which included bloodletting, only exacerbated his weakened condition, which was probably due to typhoid from the bad drinking water in Washington.  William Henry Harrison died on April 4, 1841 after only a month in office, serving the shortest term of any American President.  He was succeeded by his Vice-President,  John Tyler.  Harrison left a large family and one of his grandsons,  Benjamin Harrison, would be elected the 23rd President in 1888.

Tenskwatawa remained in Canada for some time after the defeat of Tecumseh.  At the request of the government, he return to the United States to assist in the removal of the Shawnee people to a new reservation in Kansas, near Kansas City.  Though unable to regain his stature as a revered prophet, he lived there until he died in 1836 at the age of 61.   George Caitlin, who specialized in Native American subjects, painted his portrait from life in 1830. Although he had exercised considerable influence for a time, he was generally regarded not only by the white men but by most of his own people as a charlatan and an opportunist.

In death Tecumseh became a legendary figure.  With his Indian Confederation no longer in existence and no longer a threat, white people found it comfortable to admire him.  For example, a judge of the Ohio Supreme Court, Charles Robert Sherman, named his son, the future Civil War general, “William Tecumseh Sherman.”  Although Chief Tecumseh was a great orator, the speeches attributed to him are mostly bogus.  A political as well as a military leader in more than a tribal sense, Tecumseh was unique among Native American chiefs in the 19th Century.  He possessed a vision that was more than parochial, a world-view that was vaguely modern.  While his ambitions failed, they can be regarded as, if not noble, at least understandable and worthy of sympathy.

As part of the Tecumseh legend, it has been theorized that he put an Indian curse on William Henry Harrison and his Presidential successors.  The curse demands that Presidents elected in years ending in zero (every 20 years) will die in office.  Curiously, the curse has been accurate: William Henry Harrison (1840) died of illness. Abraham Lincoln (1860) James Garfield (1880), and William McKinley (2000) were all assassinated.  Warren G. Harding (1920) died of a heart attack and Franklin D. Roosevelt (1940) passed away of a cerebral hemorrhage.  John F. Kennedy (1960) was also assassinated.  The curse eventually lost its potency, though.  Ronald Reagan (1980) was shot by a would-be assassin, but survived, and George W. Bush (2000) was unharmed when a dud grenade was thrown at him, a little-known assassination attempt made in the Republic of Georgia in 2005.  Only Zachary Taylor, who was elected in 1848 and died in office, does not fit the pattern.  However compelling the supposed curse, there is no evidence whatsoever that either Tecumseh or Tenskwatawa was connected with it.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Portrait of Lillie Langtry

Lillie Langtry 20 x 16 inches, Acrylic on Panel  2019

Lillie Langtry (1853- 1929) Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, called “Lillie” because of the whiteness of her complexion, was born on October 13, 1853 on the island of Jersey, one of the English Channel Islands, located only 14 miles from the coast of Normandy.  Her father, the Very Reverend William Corbet Le Breton, the dean and rector of Jersey, and mother Emilie Martin had 7 children, Lillie, being the 6th and the only daughter.  Mrs. Le Breton was a noted beauty; Lillie, a statuesque redhead, would take after her.  Dean Le Breton, despite his station, was a notorious ladies man and the father of several illegitimate children, for which reason his wife eventually left him in 1880.

Lillie received a good education from her brothers’ tutor, a French governess chosen for her despairing of reigning in her somewhat rebellious spirit.  A lovely young woman, Lillie received several offers of marriage which her father turned down.  At a ball Lillie met Edward Langtry, an Irish gentleman and landowner whose family were in shipping.  She was less attracted to the man, a boring chap, than to the fact that he owned a  a 100-foot schooner called the Red Gauntlet, a means of escape from her cloistered life in Jersey.  Edward, born in 1847, had been married before, to Jane Price, sister of the future wife of Lillie’s older brother William.  But Jane had died in 1871.  On March 9, 1874 Lillie, at age 20, married Edward Langtry, with her father, perhaps reluctantly, presiding over a simple service.

Langtry was very shy with few social skills.  His weak features, walrus mustache, stout build, and diffident manner led most to regard him as a characterless sort of person.  Like his father, he was a yachtsman and wished to be regarded as a sportsman, but woefully lack the color and dash needed to carry off the part.  Whatever personality he had was eclipsed by that of his vivacious wife.   During the Langtry’s first year of marriage they lived in Jersey and spent a lot of time with Edward’s yacht, the Gertrude, a 60-ton yawl, a two-masted sailing boat that participated in many regattas.  Under pressure from Lillie’s family, Edward cut back on his yachting activities, even selling his beloved Red Gauntlet.  Lillie’s family came to dislike Edward thoroughly and estranged themselves from the Langtrys.

While the Langtry’s were staying at Southampton, a port on the south coast of England, Lillie became ill with typhoid.  After she recovered, doctors recommended that she have a change of air.  Edward obligingly took her to London, where the air was decidedly worse, but which provided an environment much more exciting for a young woman.  In 1876 the Langtrys rented a flat in Eaton Square, Belgravia, an expensive district in central London.

In spring of 1877 the Langtrys were invited to an exclusive reception at the Belgravia home of Sir John and Lady Sebright.  The invitation came from Thomas Heron Jones, the 7th Viscount Ranelagh, a rakish military officer whose illegitimate daughter Alice had just married Lillie’s brother Clement.  At that time Lillie was very depressed and was in mourning for her younger brother Reginald, who had died in a riding accident.  Consequently, she appeared at the party wearing only a simple black dress, no jewelry, and her hair simply done.  The contrast with the other ladies, elaborately gowned and jeweled bedecked, was striking.  Despite Lillie’s attempt to be inconspicuous, her charm and beauty attracted considerable attention.  Frank Miles, a wealthy young artist, had previously seen her at the theater and, inspired by her beauty, he had sought to meet her.  He was able to do so and made several sketches of her that very night.  John Everett Millais, a respected artist in his late 40s, was impressed, too, and sought to paint her.  In a single evening Lillie Langtry, hitherto unaware of the impact of her person and her beauty, had become a star of high society.

Championed by Lord Ranelagh and Frank Miles, Lillie quickly became the rage of London.  The Langtrys were invited to all the “best” parties and met all the “best” people.  No one cared for Edward: he was just a tag-a-long.  People, though, were captivated not only by Lillie’s looks and personality, but by her intelligent conversation and by her refreshingly outspoken opinions.  Her little black dress became a trademark.  (Never had a woman traveled so far in society with so little wardrobe).   The famous would pay court to her; she met Frank Miles’ Irish boarder from Oxford, Oscar Wilde, who would become her good friend.  She dined with Lord Randolph Churchill, Winston’s father.  Leopold, the King of the Belgians, came to call on the Langtrys just to see her.  Prime Minister Gladstone, who met her when she was posing for Millais, became a friend and mentor.  She even aroused the interest of the 36 year old Prince of Wales,  who, to the horror of his mother Queen Victoria, had already become notorious as a womanizer.

At a dinner party held on May 24, 1877, Edward, Prince of Wales arranged to sit next to Mrs. Langtry.  This was a fateful night for Lillie.  Although she was scared to death to meet him, Prince Edward was immediately captivated by her.  Lillie soon became mistress to the heir to the British throne.  Princess Alexandra of Denmark, Edward’s wife, who had become accustomed to his infidelities, graciously accepted Lillie’s position.  Even Queen Victoria allowed Lillie Langtry to be presented to her.  Society, too, accepted Mrs. Langtry as the Prince’s companion, while the dull husband Edward faded into the background. 

Comfortable in her position, Lillie did not demure to breech propriety.  She called the Prince “Bertie-wertie” in public.  Once she made him drink champagne with a flea swimming in the drink.  On another occasion she put ice down the back of his collar.  She became famous for engaging in spirited high jinks such as sliding down stairs sitting on a silver serving tray.  Such antics, though, were common at exclusive parties at that time, but some thought she went too far.

Artists were at her feet and queued up to paint her.   Frank Miles’ sketches of her became popular postcards.  John Everett Millais, who was also a native of Jersey, executed the most famous portrait of her, entitled  A Jersey Lily.  The title was soon assumed by Lillie herself, but, ironically, the flower depicted in the painting was, in fact, a Guernsey lily.  The portrait, when exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1878, created a sensation and mobs came to see it, a simple picture of what seems, to the modern eye, an ordinary-looking woman in a sombre black dress.  Edward Poynter and Edward Burne-Jones also painted her.  Many photographs would  be taken of what the age would soon regard the apotheosis of feminine beauty.

Adolphus Rosenberg, a newspaperman, had claimed that Edward Langtry intended to divorce his wife, naming the Prince of Wales, among others, as co-respondents, but that he was being bribed to halt the action by being offered a diplomatic post abroad.  Langtry testified in court, denying the accusations, but no doubt was humiliated to do so.  Rosenberg was found guilty of libel in this case (and in a separate case involving  a former mistress of  the Prince of Wales) and sent to prison for 18 months.  Scandal, though, did not tarnished the Jersey Lily, but merely made her a more intriguing celebrity.

After a couple years, the liaison between the Prince of Wales and Lillie Langtry cooled, for neither seemed constitutionally suited to fidelity in such matters.   Lillie had no difficultly attracting men, even those of the highest rank.  In April 1879 Lillie had a brief affair with Prince Louis of Battenberg, a naval officer who would eventually become the Royal Navy’s First Sea Lord and the father of “Lord Louie” Mountbatten, uncle of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s husband.  In July 1879 Lillie had an affair with the 18-year old Earl of Shrewsbury.   She had ideas of running away with him, but they came to naught.  A longer-lasting romantic relationship was forged with Arthur Clarence Jones, an illegitimate son of Lord Ranelagh.  When Lillie became pregnant, it was probably Jones who was the father.  However, Lillie led Prince Louis to believe that he was the one so that she might wheedle a little money from him.  She did and Prince Edward, who remained her friend and supporter,  helped her financially as well.  While she went into confinement in Paris, her husband was got out of the country for a time so that he might never know that his wife was giving birth to a child that was not his.  A daughter was delivered to Lillie on March 8, 1881.  Named Jeanne Marie, she was left with Lillie’s mother to be reared.

The Langtrys lived lavishly and were running into debt.  Edward Langtry’s income had dried up, for his properties in Ireland were costing him money instead of providing income.  With the Prince of Wales no longer paying the bills, the Langtrys were indeed in financial straits.  In October 1980 Lillie sold many of her possessions to forestall her husband declaring bankruptcy.  It was not enough.  In 1881 Lillie separated from her husband, although he, still not knowing of her child, adamantly refused to grant her a divorce.

Lillie was not content to rely upon lovers for her living.  She desired a more reliable source of income.  Her friend Oscar Wilde, who would become one of England’s most successful playwrights, suggested that she try her hand at acting, since she certainly possessed the requisite popularity and star quality.  Under the tutelage of experienced actress Henrietta Hodson, she studied drama.  She appeared with Hodson in a small amateur production on November 19, 1881.  It went well and, after some further coaching, Lillie Langtry made her London debut at the Haymarket Theatre in a leading role in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, a comedy written more than a hundred years before.  The public loved her, even if all the critics did not.  The Prince of Wales promoted her and attended her performances.

By early 1882 Lillie Langtry was touring England with her own theatrical company.  Later in the year Lillie booked a tour of the United States through American impresario Henry Abbey, a theatrical manager and producer who had just arranged an American tour for the celebrated French actress Sarah Bernhardt.  Lillie Langtry arrived in New York in October and was met there by Oscar Wilde, who was in America lecturing on aestheticism (a philosophy that literature and art should exist for its own sake and not necessarily serve some social or moral purpose).  While performing in New York Lillie fell in love with one Fred Gebhard, a 22-year old playboy and sportsman of a wealthy and socially prominent family.  Henrietta Hodson, who was accompanying and mentoring Mrs. Langtry, disapproved of Gebhard.  She and Lillie quarreled about it, resulting in a bitter separation.  Gebhard instead accompanied Lillie Langtry on her tour.

The Langtry American tour was a huge success, more profitable than that of the Divine Sarah Bernhardt.  Critics were dubious when she tackled such fare as Shakespeare’s As You Like It, but the adoring public was forgiving of any deficiencies she might have had as an actor.  Lillie, though, was not so vain of her talents that she did not strive to improve her acting skills.  Upon returning to Europe in 1883 she spent six weeks at the Conservatoire de Paris to receive instruction in acting technique.  By 1889 she was confident enough to assume the role of Lady MacBeth in a production of Shakespeare’s MacBeth.

While in America again in 1888 she and Fred Gephard bought adjoining farms in northern California, Lake County, north of Napa Valley.  Lillie turned her property into a winery, and while she eventually sold it (in 1906) Langtry Farms still produces its own rich, full-bodied red wine. 

One of Fred Gephard’s hobbies was thoroughbred racing and he got Lillie interested in it.  In 1885 they brought a stable of American horses to England.  In 1888, though, an effort to transport a string of race horses across America resulted in tragedy.  In Pennsylvania the car holding the horses derailed, rolled down an embankment, and burst into flames, killing a human and 14 of the 17 horses.  Despite the setback, Lillie continued as a stable owner and made herself knowledgeable in matters concerning the turf.  She imported horses from as far away as New Zealand and had some winners, such as the Australian chestnut stallion Merman, who had a splendid career, winning the Ascot Gold Cup in 1900.  To be near her stables in Suffolk in southern England she took as her residence Regal Lodge in the town of Kentford.  She lived there until 1919.

By 1891 Lillie Langtry’s relationship with Fred Gephard soured.  Living together for nine years, each hoped that they would eventually marry, but Edward Langtry would not consent to a divorce.  At a racing event in April 1891 Lillie met another sportsman with a great deal of inherited wealth, a man to take his place.  George Alexander Baird was an avid horseman and stable owner,  He was even an amateur jockey, riding under an assumed name.   Lillie and Baird became friends and then lovers.  Baird was kind and generous, but also erratic, jealous and violent, especially when drunk.  Their relationship was tempestuous.  Once he beat Lillie up but, to compensate, gave her a 200-foot, three-masted  luxury steam yacht, which he renamed the White Ladye

In March 1893 while Lillie was sailing the Mediterranean on the White Ladye she heard the news that Baird had died in New Orleans of pneumonia.  He was only 31.  He had been in America to set up possible boxing matches between English prize fighters Charley Mitchell and Jem Hall and the current heavy-weight champion, American “Gentleman” Jim Corbett.   He did arrange a match between Hall and future champion Bob Fitzsimmons, a Britisher, but Hall, his man, lost.  Disappointed, Baird went out drinking  — too much — and fell ill the next morning.  He died on March 18, 1893.  Lillie would no longer use the yacht he had given her, and sold the White Ladye in 1897.

During her trips to America, Lillie Langtry became a US citizen.  Using her citizenship, she successfully obtained a divorce from Langtry in May of 1897.  Edward, though, refused to accept the decree.  Since their separation he had been living in obscurity, apparently sailing and fishing and little else.   The divorce increased his depression and his drinking.  While crossing on a ferry from Ireland to England he fell and sustained a head wound.  He eventually ended in a hospital and then an asylum where, after several days, he died.  It was October 15, 1897 and he was 49.

It was thought that Lillie might now marry Prince Louis Esterhazy, an Austrian general and another horse racing enthusiast.  The newspapers were counting on it, but instead,  Lillie chose as her second husband Hugo Gerald de Bathe, son and heir of a baronet and former general.  They were married on July 27, 1899.  Hugo was 28, Lillie was not quite 46.  Soon after the wedding de Bathe volunteered to fight in the Boer War.  He was made a lieutenant in a horse brigade.  When his father died in 1907, he inherited many properties and became the 5th Baronet de Bathe.  Much to her pleasure, Lillie assumed the title Lady de Bathe.

Lillie Langtry was perhaps the first modern star and international celebrity.  She was famous for her private life, her love affairs being fodder for the press, and she was famous for her professional career, her acting achieving a popularity well beyond what it might have otherwise merited.  She was regarded by the world as a new kind of royalty.  She always traveled in style, if not on a yacht then in a luxurious private railway car.  She was given and acquired many residences.  There were fabulous jewels as well as gowns made for her by the House of Worth, the top couturier of the time.  Like the modern star, she was not averse to seeking profits, even making paid endorsements of products such as soap.  Lillie was a canny businesswoman.

From 1901 to 1903 Lillie Langtry was the manager of the Imperial Theatre in London after she refurbished it with the financial backing of a friend, Edgar Israel Cohen, whose many business interests included Harrod’s department store.  In 1903 she returned to United States to star in The Crossways, a play which she co-authored.  There were later tours of America in 1906, 1912, and 1917.  At one point she toured with the young and soon to be legendary American stage actor Alfred Lunt.  She even starred in a silent motion picture made there in 1913.  She maintained not only her verve and vitality, but her looks, owing, she claimed, to her habit of daily physical exercise.

During her travels Lillie Langtry acquired many friends and fans.  Her most ardent fan was eccentric Westerner Roy Bean (1825-1903) who had set himself up as a judge in a Texas town on the Pecos River called, coincidentally, Langtry, but named after George Langtry, a railroad engineer and work crew foreman who was not related to Lillie’s husband.  In the 1880s and ‘90s Bean glorified his role as purveyor of “Law West of the Pecos” that he administered from his saloon named the Jersey Lily in honor of lillie Langtry.  He decorated its walls with magazine pictures of  the actress he idolized.  He even built an opera house in the hopes that one day Lillie Langtry would perform in it.  Legend portrays the colorful Bean as a hanging judge, but there is no evidence he hanged more than one man.  He was, in fact, a lenient judge and a kind-hearted man, although his ethics were a little suspect (he pocketed all the fines he imposed rather than forwarding them to the government).  Lillie Langtry heard about Judge Roy Bean during one of her later trips to America and made a point of stopping at Langtry, Texas, on a train trip from New Orleans to San Francisco.  Unfortunately she arrived in Langtry a little late.  The original Jersey Lily had burned to the ground in 1896 and the Judge had drunk himself to death in 1903, the year before.  Langtry residents, though, received her like royalty and presented the actress with the late Roy Bean’s six-shooter.  Lillie, an ever gracious star, was appreciative and donated money and books to the local school. 

In 1917 Lillie retired from the stage at age 64.  In 1919 she sold the Regal Lodge.  She and her husband left England to reside elsewhere, but in different places.  Their separation was amicable and they occasionally met socially.  But Hugo lived in Venice, while Lillie, independently wealthy, resided in a villa in Monaco, a tiny principality on the French Riviera.   There she gambled at the famous casino, danced with gigolos, and otherwise devoted herself to reading and gardening.  She lived only with a woman companion. 

Lillie Langtry, Lady de Bathe, aged 75, died of pneumonia on February 12, 1929.  Condolences were sent to her family by King George and Queen Mary of  England.  (Her lover Prince Edward had died in 1910).  She was buried in the graveyard of the church in Jersey where her father had preached.

After breaking with Mrs. Langtry, Henrietta Hodson married her long-time lover, Henry Labouchére, theater owner, magazine editor, campaigner against public immorality, diplomat, and Member of Parliament. Labouchére’s major legislative achievement was the Labouchére Amendment to the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which criminalized male homosexual relations.  Oscar Wilde, whom Labouchére had dismissed as “an effeminate phrase maker,” was convicted in 1895 of violating this law and sentenced to two years hard labor.

Fred Gephard married in 1894 and again in 1907.  His wealth squandered, he ended up trying to support himself selling wine.  He died at the age of 50 in 1910.

Lillie’s daughter Jeanne Marie, who always sought to distance herself from her mother, married Scottish politician Sir Ian Malcolm in 1902.  Their daughter Mary Malcolm was, from 1948 to 1956, an announcer for BBC television, one of the first women to do so.  A son, Victor, was the first wife of British film actress Ann Todd.  Jeanne, Lady Malcolm died in 2010 at the age of 92.

In addition to a 1909 novel, All at Sea, Lillie published a memoir, The Days I Knew, in 1925.  Although heavy into name-dropping, her autobiography is hardly the controversial, scandalous tell-all book common today.  It leaves much to the imagination.  In it she never even acknowledges that she was the mistress of the Prince of Wales!  Many biographers have taken on her fascinating life, and there have been many films in which her character appears.  Lillie,  a highly successful BBC miniseries from 1978, all of  672 minutes in length, covers the entirety of her life with reasonable accuracy and stars the luminous Francesca Annis as Lillie Langtry.   

Friday, May 31, 2019

Portrait of Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby  20 x 16 inches Acrylic 2019

Harriet Quimby (1875-1912)  was an aviation pioneer and the first American woman to become a licensed airplane pilot.  She was born in a small town in Michigan at a time when the sole form of aviation was the hot-air balloon.  After the failure of the family farm, the Quimbys, nevertheless well-to-do, moved to San Francisco area.  As a child, Harriet was a strong-willed tomboy.  An adult Harriet, independent and intent on supporting herself, worked as a stage actress and then secured positions on several San Francisco newspapers as a journalist.  In 1903 she moved to New York City and got a job as a writer and photographer for Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly.  In a few years she became its  theater critic.

In 1906 Harriet, who had a taste for adventure, took the opportunity to ride in a race car and, loving it,  purchased her own automobile — still very much a novelty.  Aviation, though, would become her passion.  In October 1910 Harriet Quimby attended an aviation competition  held at Belmont, New York, and became fascinated by this new and still experimental form of transportation.  (The first flight of a heavier-than air ship had been made by Wilbur and Orville Wright on December 17, 1903).  There, Harriet made the acquaintance of pilot who had competed in the events,  John Moisant.  Moisant, born in Illinois in 1868 of French Canadian descent, had acquired some wealth from sugarcane plantations in Central America.  By 1909 he had taken up aviation as a hobby and learned to fly in France.  While still a novice, he had flown across the English Channel on August 17, 1910, the first to do so with a passenger — accompanied as well by his pet, a small cat named Mademoiselle Fifi.

Full of enthusiasm for airplanes, Harriet decided to take flying lessons along with Moisant’s sister Matilde at an aviation school John and his brother Alfred were  operating on Long Island, New York.  Unfortunately, on December 31, 1910, John Moisant, while competing at an aviation event in Louisiana, was thrown from his plane by a gust of wind while attempting a landing.  He died, falling 25 feet and breaking his neck.  The two women were nevertheless undeterred and decided to go ahead with their plans to be fliers.   (Harriet got her newspaper to pay for her lessons!)  On August 1, 1911 Miss Quimby passed her test and was awarded an aviator’s certificate of the Federation Aeronautique Internationale via the Aero Club of America.  (Based on the Aero Club of France, it was founded in 1905, if not earlier, to promote aviation and to award pilot licenses, which were necessary for participation in most aviation demonstrations and sporting events).   Harriet became the 37th licensed American airplane pilot, but the very first woman.   Matilde became the second American woman to receive a pilot’s license.  (In March 1910, Frenchwoman Elise Raymonde de Laroche became the first female pilot internationally).

After getting her license Harriet Quimby joined Moisant International Aviators, which employed a team of pilots to perform in air exhibitions all over the country.  Flying was still a dangerous enterprise, but very profitable, for the public were obsessed with airplanes and flight.  For her debut, Miss Quimby flew over Staten Island at night for 7 minutes with 15,000 (or 20,000) spectators watching.  Her efforts netted her  a cool $1500 (this, at a time when a working man would be lucky to make $400 a year).

Harriet naturally attracted attention and press coverage because of her gender.  Not lacking in feminine appeal, she had flare and pizzazz and knew how to present herself.   Although petite, Harriet cut a fetching, if not dashing figure in a flight suit of her own design, a bright plum-colored satin, wool-lined jump suit — blouse, hood, and knickerbocker pants tucked into high laced boots, set off by some antique jewelry and, of course, aviation goggles.  Her fair, flawless complexion earned her the nickname of the “China Doll” and the “Dresden China Aviatrix.”

While flying, Harriet continued to write articles for  Leslie’s Illustrated Weekly, many of them, not surprisingly, about aviation and woman’s place in it.  She also authored several screenplays for short films produced at Biograph Studios in New York in 1911.  The films featured major actors such as  Blanche Sweet and were all directed by the legendary D. W. Griffith.  Griffith’s wife, Linda Arvidson, had been a friend from Harriet’s time as an actress on the stage in San Francisco.  In 1909 Harriet had a small part in one of Griffith’s shorts, which starred Linda Arvidson and also featured Mary Pickford in a bit role.

While flying in Mexico in ceremonies honoring the inauguration of President Francisco Madero in November 1911, Harriet Quimby got the idea of flying across the English Channel.  Frenchman Louis Blériot had flown the Channel in July 1909, but no woman had thus far done it.  By spring she was ready to make the flight.  On April 16, 1912 Harriet took off from Dover, England with the intention of landing in Calais on the other side of English Channel.  She had never flown over water before and had never relied upon a compass.   It was a dangerous passage even for an experienced pilot.  Harriet, though, was all but fearless.  The flight was not without difficulty.  Running into a cloud bank she lost her way, but an hour later she able to land 25 miles from Calais on a beach in Herdelot, France.  The natives, realizing her accomplishment, bore her in triumph on their shoulders.  However, the feat was barely recorded — bad timing.  Only two days before, the RMS Titanic had sunk, struck by an iceberg in the North Atlantic.  The enormity of the disaster, the loss of 1500 passengers, was only just realized and preoccupied the press, otherwise very interested in accomplishments in the field of aviation.

In September of 1911 pilot Cal Rodgers had made the first cross country flight in a biplane called the Vin Fiz Flyer.  The Armour Meat Company was now marketing a new grape soda they dubbed Vin Fiz and they used Rodgers and his image to market it.  When Rodgers was killed in a crash in April 1912 after flying into a flock of birds, the company searched for another endorser.  They decided upon Harriet Quimby.  Her flight-suited image would adorn Vin Fiz advertisements and enhance her status as a celebrity.

On July 1, 1912 Harriet Quimby participated in the Boston Aviation Meet at Squantum, Massachusetts.  She was flying a new plane, a two-seater Bléliot monoplane.  The organizer of the meet, William Willard, was her passenger.  She flew her plane to the Boston light in the harbor and returned to circle the airfield.  At the altitude of 1000 feet the plane, for some reason, pitched forward with the result that Willard was ejected, falling to his death in the sea.  Harriet righted the plane, but only for a moment.  It pitched forward again and, despite having some sort of seat restraint, she was tipped out of the plane as well and fell to her death.  The plane crashed surprisingly intact on the muddy beach.  Spectators found Harriet’s lifeless body on the beach as well.  Although much debated, it has never been determined what caused the tragic accident.

Harriet Quimby was only 37 when she died.  She had been a pilot for less than a year, yet she made a huge mark on the history of aviation.  She was an inspiration to those who came after and is still remembered as a heroine and female role model.        

Her friend Matilde Moisant broke what was then the altitude record (1200 feet) during an airshow on September 1911.  However, she crashed her plane on April 14, 1912, two days before Harriet was to make her historic flight across the English channel.  Matilde recovered from her injuries, but never flew again.  She lived to the age of 85, dying in 1964 in California.

Portrait of Leif Erikson

Leif Erikson 18 x 24 inches Acrylic 2019

Leif Erikson (970 - 1020)  is considered to be the first European to set foot on the North American continent, doing so hundreds of years before Christopher Columbus opened up the Americas to exploration and colonization.  (There are numerous other claimants to this achievement, but none widely accepted). 

Leif’s grandfather Thorvald Ásvaldsson was exiled from Norway in about 960, during the reign of King Haakon the Good.  Apparently he had killed several people and as punishment was exiled to Iceland, a large island to the west that had been discovered by Thorvald’s great grandfather’s brother and was now a thriving Norse settlement.  Accompanying Thorvald was his 10 year old son Erik the Red (red referring to the color of his hair and beard).  

Around 982 Erik the Red was sentenced to three years in exile for killing the man who had slain several of his thralls (slaves).  He consequently left Iceland and sailed west, reaching  a huge land mass that had yet to be thoroughly explored or successfully settled.  He spent his three years in exile there and when he returned to Iceland he promoted settlement of the land that he called “Greenland” (the name stuck).    With arable land in Iceland running out, he was able to attract many potential colonists and led a fleet of 25 ships to Greenland.  Although only 14 of the ships reached Greenland, two permanent settlements were established there on the southwest coast.  Its population soon reached a few thousand individuals.  Erik the Red established himself as the chieftain of the so-called Eastern Settlement and became an honored and wealthy man.

Among the four children of Erik the Red and his wife Thjodhild (a descendant of an Irish king) was Leif, who earned th epithet, “the Lucky.”  Leif grew up in Greenland, but Erik was a mostly absent parent.  Leif was raised by his father’s thrall, Tyrker, who, not Norse, may have been of Germanic, Slavic, or even Hungarian derivation. 

In 999 is when we first hear of Leif Erikson.  He set sail at that time for Norway, but blown off course, he landed in the Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland.  Staying there for the summer, he fell in love with a noblewoman named Thorgunna, who bore him a son.  Marriage with her was not practical, but she did eventually send their son, Thorgils, to Greenland. 

At last arriving in Norway, Leif was presented to King Olaf Tryggvason at his capital of Trondheim and became his hirdman, one of his retinue of warriors and household companions.  It was there that Leif, to please his king, converted to Christianity, renouncing the traditional Norse religion, which featured the gods Thor, Odin, Freyr, and so forth.  King Olaf succeeded in what his predecessor King Haakon had tried but failed to do, convert the people of Norway to the Christian religion, even if Olaf often had to do it forcibly. 

Leif Erikson returned to Greenland in the spring, but on the voyage back home his ship was blown off course and ended up farther west that was intended.  Leif and his men saw a strange uncharted land that had reportedly been glimpsed many years before by an Icelandic merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson on his voyage to Greenland.  Erikson rescued some shipwrecked seamen who also claimed to have seen this land.  Significantly, the land sighted by Erikson and Herjólfsson was forested.  Greenlanders, who lacked timber, were, therefore, interested.  So was Leif.  Possessed by the curiosity of the explorer, which many Norsemen of the time were amply endowed with, he was determined to find it again.  With the support of the Greenlanders, he mounted an expedition to voyage farther west and explore the newly found land.  He recruited a crew of 35 men and purchased the very boat Bjarni Herjólfsson had sailed in when he had made his sighting.   Erik the Red had been persuaded to join the expedition, but when he fell off his horse riding to the ship, he begged off, deciding the omens were against him.

The Greenland explorers set out in the fall of 1000 or 1001.  The voyage of Leif Erikson was indeed successful.  He made landfall first at what was probably Baffin Island, a rocky, desolate place he named Helluland (flat-rock land).  Continuing south and west he landed on a  country well forested.  He dubbed it Markland (forest land).  This was probably Labrador on the coast of what is now Canada.  Next, two days sailing to the south, he found country where the climate was milder, the landscape lusher, and the waters teeming with salmon.  Here he decided to stop and spend the winter.  Half of his men, though, led by Tyrker, were sent out to conduct explorations.  It was Tyrker who found a welcoming land distinguished by its vines and grapes.  The Norse moved there to winter and named it Vinland  (land of vines).  The settlement built there was later called Leifsbudir (Leif’s booths).  It was probably located on the tip of the northern peninsula of the island of Newfoundland.

With a cargo of timber and grapes, Leif Erikson returned  to Greenland in the spring.  He then followed through with his mission to Christianize the country.  Erikson, perceived as a man of strength, character, and wisdom, was respected and listened to when he brought word of this new religion.  Therefore, he was generally successful in his efforts to convert the people of Greenland to Christianity, (although it is probable Christianity had already taken root there).  His mother was quick to embrace the new religion and had a Christian church built, but his father, Erik the Red, rejected it and stubbornly clung to his belief in the old Norse deities.  (As a result of this religious disagreement between husband and wife, Thjodhild denied Erik her bed).

Vinland was visited by other Norsemen, but problems arouse when contact was made with the native Inuit inhabitants, who the Norse called skraelings.  Many of these encounters were hostile.  Leif’s brother Thorvald first came upon them in 1004.  Armed conflict resulted and Thorvald was killed.  Trade was conducted with the skraelings, but any future settlements were imperiled by their general hostility to foreigners.  It is conjectural how many further Norse settlements were made in America or how far from Vinland they might have been.  It is established that for centuries after Norsemen did make expeditions to Markland, particularly to acquire timber.  It was probably an open secret among mariners that such lands did exists to the west, although after the abandonment of the Norse settlements, no one deemed it worthwhile to travel there.  Christopher Columbus visited to Iceland in 1477 and may have been privy to and inspired by stories of Vinland and lands to the west.

 The last Norse settlements in Greenland were abandoned in the early 14th Century and the onset of the Little Ice Age made the island virtually uninhabitable due to the lower temperatures and the consequent inability to grow crops there.  Other factors, though, are believed to have contributed to decline of Norse Greenland.

It is not certain how many voyages Leif Erikson might have made to Vinland.  After the death of his father from the plague in 1004 he assumed a role as chieftain in Greenland and probably remained there after that time. The date of Leif Erikson’s death is uncertain, sometime between 1019 and 1025.  He was succeeded as chieftain by his son Thorkell.  (The identity of Thorkell’s mother is not known).

Icelandic sagas written in the 13th Century are primary sources for accounts of Erik the Red and Leif Erikson.  But there are some earlier, more reliably historical accounts such as that of Adam of Bremen, a German scholar who wrote in the late 11th Century.   Norse discovery of the New World  would eventually be corroborated by archaeology.  In the early 1960s Norwegian explorer Helge Ingstad and his archaeologist wife Anne Stine uncovered remains of a Norse settlement dated to 1000 AD in the northern tip of Newfoundland at a place known as L’Anse aux Meadows.  It was probably the site of Leifsbudir.  While further archaeological evidence suggest that Vinland was in the Gulf of St. Lawrence area, its location remains a matter of controversy.  Cape Cod, for instance, is believed by some to be the Norse Vinland.   There are, in fact, many theories regarding the extent of the Norse presence in America, some supported by evidence that is intriguing, but others based upon dubious, even spurious assumptions.

Nothing is known of Leif’s appearance.  We know that he had a grandson, but no further descendants have been identified.  Leif Erikson, though, remains an iconic hero, especially to Scandinavians in America.  Sometimes cast as a competitor to Columbus, he maintains the advantage of possessing a reputation that is unsullied  — save for the illegitimate Scottish offspring!