Big History in Little Places: Hometown Glimpses of the Human Web1
Michael A. Marcus
This essay explores ways in which the global is
also local. It raises the question of whether a course in World History
is truly such if it fails to incorporate our students' hometown connections
to persons, places, objects, activities, or events that reflect the emergence
and growth of North America as one hub of the new, modern world system.
Teachers and textbook authors, of course, are mindful of the highly visible,
broad strokes of revolutionary change that everywhere signify modernity,
but no single one of them can possibly deal with the multiple ways in which
these changes were locally realized or experienced. To convey this sort
of history in the classroom, it is necessary to examine the pasts of the
localities in which our students reside, with an eye toward connecting their
lives and those places with the rest of the world. By simply doing what
we ask our students to do—look closely! listen closely! make connections!—teachers
will find paths out of the classroom leading to virtually everywhere, and
only one step is needed to instill a passion for lifelong learning. Our
students, after all, daily live, think, observe, experience, question and
speculate in a hometown world where a wide range of artifacts, buildings,
ideas, languages, and individual life-histories can be made, through their
own and their teachers' imaginative and creative efforts, to yield useful
connections to the spinning of what William and J.R. McNeill have called
humanity's most recent and cosmopolitan "single global web…of cooperation
|It is easy to make connections between the local and the global by starting with what is, literally, right in front of students' own faces, and even what often seems to matter most to them—their clothing and accessories—can be eye-opening. In the early 90's, for example, when many young people wore necklaces of millefiore, I took the opportunity to explain how for centuries, glass beads from Venice and elsewhere crossed the Sahara Desert or were brought the shores of the Gulf of Guinea. Ask kids where their ipods come from, and (remaining faithful to the pattern of geographic nomenclature bequeathed to us by generations of textbooks) we can begin to talk about Asia as America's new frontier, the "Far West." Cowries provide the teachable moment for explaining how objects from the Maldives became the shell money of the Atlantic slave trade. Indeed, China and India, especially, were the "center of gravity" at the time of the modern hub's emergence, and their influence will loom large in our students' economic futures. 3 Africa and Native America constitute two other axes of crucial importance to local and regional developments. Teachers must therefore subvert the institutionalized divisions that exist between national histories, grade levels, and even disciplines. Such categories and habits of mind, still deeply entrenched, only instill and reinforce students' perceptions of a false disconnect between their own worlds and those of people far away or long ago. To introduce my argument, I will share a recollection from my own experience as an eighth-grader in the public schools of New Haven, Connecticut. It shows clearly how nearness, familiarity, and perhaps even prejudice caused an important connection between my own neighborhood and an event of major importance to remain hidden in plain sight. My more recent explorations into subjects as diverse as the global dimensions of Chinese food 4 and Central Asian textile designs 5 have strengthened my belief that key aspects of "the big picture" are often right in front of our own and our students' faces, but we remain uncertain of how to incorporate them into existing conceptual frameworks and convey them meaningfully.||2|
In 1963, on a field-trip to the New Haven Colony
Historical Society, my American History class was shown exhibits of items
that were part of Yankee daily life in the 18th and early 19th
centuries, especially finely-made cabinets and other pieces of furniture,
teapots, silverware, porcelain plates, and even clothing. Probably the words
"China Trade" were used to explain the growth of New Haven's harbor and
the arrival of the tea and the blue-and-white dinnerware on the Eastern
Seaboard. As we walked upstairs toward one of the galleries, I noticed a
painting on the wall above the landing that portrayed a black man dressed
in foreign garb, holding what I took to be the shaft of a spear, and standing
in a landscape that to me, at first glance, appeared local. I asked myself,
"Who is that African and why is he standing in front of West Rock?" I continued
up the stairs and forgot about my question for over twenty years.
|I remembered my first encounter with the painting and learned who its African subject was only after another tour of the Historical Society in the early 1980s, and subsequent publicity surrounding efforts to commemorate New Haven's role in the Amistad case and to recreate the schooner at Connecticut's Mystic Seaport. Sengbe Pieh, a Mende (Sierra Leone) rice farmer and leader of the 1839 shipboard uprising, was known to most American history teachers (if at all) as "Joseph Cinque." Whether or not my eighth-grade teacher had ever heard of Cinque, my classmates and I—including the niece of the first black woman to be named a federal judge in the United States—were taught neither about him nor about any other of his thirty-eight fellow captives. Knowledge about where African-Americans had come from or who the slaves were was simply not part of mainstream learning at that time. This neglect occurred in a junior-high school that not only had an African-American enrollment of about 20%, but actually stood less than one mile from the county jail in which Cinque and the other Africans were first imprisoned, at the foot of the New Haven geological landmark known as "West Rock Ridge." On the other hand, of course, West Rock's historical significance as the hideout of three English judges who had to flee to the colonies after sentencing King Charles I to death had been well conveyed to us in elementary school. I do not know if it was the intention of Nathaniel Jocelyn, the contemporary, pro-abolition painter of Cinque's portrait, to have something that resembled (at least to me) the reddish-orange colored West Rock appear in the imaginary Sierra Leone setting for his proud and unyielding subject, but it hardly matters. More significant is the fact that the nearby footprints of West African rice farmers and their families were not made visible to us. Neither was the Amistad case raised in my eleventh-grade American History course, but I did have a wonderful teacher who taught me, for life, how to read a text for its main points. Surely, the conflict between teaching what to learn and teaching how to learn remains a daily classroom issue.||4|
|Of course, teachers and curricula are products of their time and culture. In my schools before 1963, classroom experience included daily recitations of the Protestant version of "The Lord's Prayer" by the children of largely Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants. Even after Stephen Spielberg's high-profile film treatment of the Amistad story in 1997, many teachers elsewhere may simply choose not to dwell on it in favor of equally worthy topics. Of course, this is not the case in New Haven's public schools today (the district is now largely African-American), and a statue of Cinque now stands in front of City Hall. Yet I still wonder: how much of the global significance of local and regional history as it is taught in schools goes unrecognized? The Amistad lesson that never happened in my eighth-grade classroom has turned me into a hyper-vigilant seeker of even the faintest of worldwide webs, whose outlines may become visible only when lit from certain angles. I therefore urge teachers of any kind of history to not take the local scene for granted. But clearly, in order to know what to look for, and to be able to discern traces of the global in the local, a survey course in World History that emphasizes connections in time and space must be made part of teacher education at the graduate level.||5|
While it takes very little digging to unearth the
story of Cinque and the New Haven County Jail at West Rock, more effort
is needed to explain why (turning to other aspects of the slave trade) Carolina
planters were eager to purchase farmers from Africa's "Rice Coast" to begin
with, 6 or why today there are descendants of New England's
Indian tribes living on islands in the Caribbean. 7 Could not such disparate,
even unsuspected connections between the local and the global be exposed
in virtually anyone's hometown? While I also cannot undertake such a massive
endeavor, in what follows I will show how the near and the far meet in the
history of Berlin, Connecticut and its region and the hometown of the students
I teach. I touch upon topics that range in time from the early 17th
century to the present, from the latter part of what world historians designate
as the first global age" through the "age of revolutions" and present "globalization."
In the earlier periods, as the webs of human conflict and cooperation were
becoming increasingly complex, "world trade … featured [the] half-dozen
major specialties" of silk and porcelain (China), spices (Southeast Asia),
cotton cloth (India), slaves (Africa) and sugar (the Americas)."8
Connecticut underwent a series of radical transformations, from a place
of Indian sovereignty into an outpost of Puritan agrarian civilization,
then into a land of "Yankee Dreamers and Doers" 9 whose glory did not fade
until the decline of manufacturing in the latter decades of the 20th
century. The present, on the other hand, clearly evinces a renewal of Asia's
importance in the world economy and the future employment prospects of our
I hope that this exercise may inspire others to
seek out and uncover similar stories or facts that will help young people
to gain a bird's-eye view of their own localities. First, I will present
a brief account of what I would call Berlin's conventional claims to fame.
Following that, I will discuss less known or discussed aspects of central
Connecticut's past that tie it more substantially to broad global themes
and social forces. The marvelously local / global story of Joseph Pierce
epitomizes my argument and appears toward the end. I stumbled upon it through
the process of serendipitous discovery that is possible only in this "Age
of Google." In other words, I learned something extraordinary only because
I was looking for (and not finding) something else. I hope that other
teachers will have similar experiences.
|Tinpots and Tinkers|
Over twenty years ago, a professional historian
and Berlin town resident wrote that "historically, in other than a local
context, Berlin has no great significance," and that indeed, "no stirring
events" had ever occurred there. 10 From a conventional
perspective, this is undoubtedly true, but from an anthropological perspective,
it is precisely the mundane and the ordinary that constitute one of the
unifying, core subjects of world history. In his classic examination of
the material culture of early American life, In Small Things Forgotten,
archaeologist James Deetz showed how even the most un-noteworthy of everyday
objects, including ceramic ware, could be made to reveal how people of the
past viewed themselves and their world. Along these lines, the relatively
widespread diffusion of North America's first tin-plated pots, pans, and
other utensils, and the development of a unique mercantile system for distributing
them, can be traced to an event that occurred in what is now the town of
Berlin. This was the decision, made around 1740 by the Scotch-Irish immigrant
Edward Pattison, to manufacture tinware there instead of farming for a living.
Since the English colonies were commercial ventures connected to the triangular
webs of the Atlantic economy almost from the very start, Pattison's idea
to make money by going into business for himself was hardly revolutionary.
11 Having learned
the relatively new trade in his native England, from which a good supply
of the otherwise rare metal could be mined and exported, Pattison went from
house to house in the Berlin area selling his stock. After some years, other
town residents followed his example, with the result that soon "most of
the homes [in Berlin] had a trained tinsmith and his apprentices." 12 Individuals in neighboring towns soon
also established shops, but it was Berlin that earned a reputation as the
most noisy "bang-all" place to live. By the early 19th century,
"so much tinware was being produced that it became necessary to dispose
of it beyond the local market," 13 and it was thus that Berlin became
the home of the original "Yankee Peddler," whose ubiquity in the early 19th
century can perhaps be seen as a precursor to Wal-Mart. The new technology,
products, machinery, and distribution system that gradually emerged had
a significant impact on the domestic economy of both rural and urban-dwelling
American families, replacing utensils made of iron, pewter, and wood.
Enshrined today on Berlin's town seal and laying
the foundation for a manufacturing network and distribution system "that
enabled them to re-supply their stock at warehouses and Connecticut-managed
workshops from Ohio to Georgia," 14
the early tinsmiths, blacksmiths, peddlers (and eventually, the manufacturers
of tools and machinery for making tinware), it could be argued, established
Berlin as one harbinger of New England's transformation from a rural to
an industrial landscape. Simeon North, originally a farmer, turned an old
sawmill into a forge where he started making tools and eventually pistols
under United States' government contract. Eli Whitney may be better known
for the first "assembly line," and Hartford's Samuel Colt for firearms,
but it was North who invented a milling machine for the shaping of metal
that made interchangeable parts and mass production possible. Eventually
new turnpikes for wagon transport, canals for river freight, and finally
railroads widened the market for these entrepreneurs' products, which remained
vigorous until the late 19th century when competition from Malaysian
mines and cheap Chinese labor negatively impacted the industry. For a long
time, until only recently with the publication of research dealing with
"the myth of northern innocence," Connecticut's tales of tinplate bangers,
blacksmiths, peddlers, and inventors formed part of the "American" self-image
propagated by New Englanders who vaunted their own values of industriousness
and entrepreneurship as superior to those prevalent in the slave-holding
and foundationally racist South.15
Hometown claims to fame such as those just described
constitute common knowledge as transmitted by local historical societies
and elementary or middle-school curricula. Without much further research,
however, they cannot (and ultimately may not) figure as crucial to any webs
of global significance, nor even to any thick description of events in either
Berlin specifically or central Connecticut generally. Despite its faraway
origins, the same applies to nutmeg, another famous commodity traded by
Yankee Peddlers and to which Connecticut owes one of its nicknames. Some
naïve buyers, not knowing how to extract the spice, apparently thought that
Connecticut peddlers cheated them by selling them nutmegs made of wood rather
than the genuine article. Indeed, the story of nutmeg makes for a fascinating
tale in world history, 16
but apart from the manufacture of tin nutmeg grinders, there isn't much
of local significance that can be hung onto it. Central Connecticut, however,
does have deeper, less well-known ties to persons and events that
reflect four major topics relevant to the world's transformations in both
early modern and more recent periods: genocide, slavery, civil wars heralding
the decline of one empire (China) and the rise of another (the U.S.), and
the long-distance migration of large numbers of people. It is to these that
I now turn.
Whether or not Jared Diamond's conclusions about
the causes of world inequality as presented in Guns, Germs, and Steel
are accepted, the course of modern world history has everywhere involved
the domination of the have-nots by the haves, and often the outright immiseration
of indigenous populations by more powerful newcomers. Because of its associated
cultural genocide and species depletion, extinction, and exchange, the rise
of the West entailed uses of political and economic power that differed
substantially from how these were deployed in either the so-called simpler
societies or the civilizations that were, before 1500, at about equal levels
of technological development. After this date a New World environment was
in the making socially as well as geographically, as the growth of the Atlantic
economy created boundless opportunities for self-made men "to rival the
old landed elites in wealth."17
|These forces are evident in even the earliest colonial history of Connecticut, when treaties stipulating land cession after both the Pequot War (1636-37) and King Philip War (1675-76) removed the inconveniently located Indians (estimated to have been fewer than 5000 in number) outside the zone of English settlement, despite initially "friendly" encounters and the apparent desire of the local Indians to have English settlers nearby as a buffer against their Mohawk and Pequot foes. 18 The first Dutch and English inhabitants of Connecticut possessed precisely the advantages over Native Americans that Diamond identifies as crucial to the making of the modern world's asymmetries: firearms that changed completely the nature of warfare and hunting, bacterial immunities that changed completely the region's demography, and the metal tools and specie that transformed the meaning and distribution of wealth. While the Dutch at Hartford in the 1620s and 1630s sought mainly to trade, English settlement in the Connecticut River Valley followed the pattern established earlier in the Massachusetts Bay, where as early as 1620 (Plymouth's founding), "the thriving, populous agricultural villages [of natives] that [were earlier] seen were empty and deserted," replaced by a new communal and economic enterprise.19 Throughout southern New England, the Indians' adoption of a more nomadic lifestyle corresponded with an increase in the number of beaver pelts demanded by the foreign traders, and the settlers' introduction of new livestock and seeds on the most desirable lands. The net result after contact was to make them dependent upon the manufactured goods that trade with Europeans brought, which were then incorporated into indigenous systems of cultural meaning as they "began to participate in the systematic slaughter of animal populations with which they had formerly cultivated symbiotic and spiritual relationships."20||12|
|Southern New England's fur resources would, in the end, prove limited compared to those that could be hunted elsewhere, and even those larger quantities of beaver pelts proved only secondarily important to the accumulation of European capital. 21 Timber and fish would soon replace it as the colony's first cash-producing commodities. Yet, in Connecticut they were briefly the focus of an intense conflict between Holland's mainly commercial pursuits and the desire of the English United Colonies to remove the natives entirely. By 1667 the Dutch forfeited their claims in North America, but the role played by Native American hunters in adorning, if not actually creating the Netherlands' "embarrassment of riches" is noteworthy. 22 At the very least, upon being shown a Vermeer or perhaps some other Dutch genre painting from its Golden Age, a student could be led to inquire if a woman's fur collar or the felt for the hat worn by some "merry cavalier" came originally from an amphibious rodent that may have once lodged not far from his or her own home!||13|
|Indian defeats cleared the way for the Connecticut colony to take its part, albeit much smaller than that of Massachusetts and Rhode Island, in the Atlantic Triangular Trade. Bloody conflicts early established the abusive pattern of treatment that expanding American government eventually would apply to all Native Americans. The Pequot War demonstrated English military superiority to the Indians and dispersed those it did not kill. There was some lingering resistance, evidenced by the imposition of a fine by the colony's General Court of a half fathom of wampum upon "whatsoever Indean shall medle with or handle any Englisheman's weapens of any sorte," and eventually it was forbidden to trade any items made of metal to the Indians who "growe insolent and combyne themselves together, being suspected to prepare for war." 23 Yet by the late 1660's, "the independent and roving existence of the Indians had ceased … they were little more than the subjects and tenants of the white men." 24 Among "the little sagamores [who] sold land and performed other acts of sovereignty on their own authority" at that time was a certain Terramuggus, "chief of the Mattabesett," a clan of the Wangunks, from whom militia Sergeant Richard Beckley (today deemed the first settler of what would later be Berlin) "purchased" a tract of some 300 acres around 1660 (an act which nevertheless did not free him from the danger of theft). 25 Fear of Indians remained widespread, and in 1687 militia Captain Richard Seymour built, for the inhabitants of "The Great Swamp Settlement" of Christian Lane (i.e., the church society of Kensington, now part of Berlin), a fort of palisades sixteen feet high as "protection against sudden attack from Indians or wild animals." 26||14|
|Travel to worship under armed guard also kept parishioners safe. Gradually, however, as they did everywhere throughout New England, the Indians in central Connecticut "settled into anonymity, constructing brooms, bottoming chairs, weaving woodsplint baskets, and carving pudding spoons that they traded in Yankee towns." 27 In Berlin, Indian men might occasionally be seen well into the 19th century, "begging for cider" or for food and a night's lodging in the barn, and being given it, for "people were careful not to offend [them] … with their long memories and revengeful dispositions, one never knew when the blow might fall." 28 As for females, "a lone Indian woman, probably one of the last of the Mattabesett tribe" was known to inhabit a grove along the Sebethe River, where "her occupation must have been stringing beads and making baskets" for sale to the whites. 29 Other Indians in Berlin are known to have made baskets which they "sold … in Hartford for rum and when they returned the squaws used to go and stay with Mrs. Goodrich until the braves were peaceful again." 30 Though anecdotal, such references to itinerant and "disappearing Indians" were common in the early 19th century. 31 It is known that in the 18th century, Indian servitude survived in Connecticut "as a curious relic," probably as the result of a law requiring that the indigent "be disposed into service." 32 All such data evince the modern, globally-visible pattern of indigenous reduction, impoverishment, and socio-cultural if not entirely physical disappearance as a result of conquest by more powerful outsiders.||15|
|After agriculture, shipbuilding was one of Connecticut's largest industries in the 18th and 19th centuries. Shipyards located in the ports of Mystic and London and at various locations along the Connecticut River specialized in making "cotton packets" of 700-1000 tons that sailed to the Gulf of Mexico.33 Mr. Norris Peck, a Berlin selectman, farmer, and merchant with ties to Alabama cotton growers and thus to African slaves and their African-American descendants, was but one of the many Connecticut investors in the cotton packet trade. Other local merchants conducted business with counterparts in North Carolina, including members of the Wilcox family, who would later play a leading role in turning the town of Meriden, next to Berlin, into a center of "International Silver." Such ties were neither new nor distasteful to early Puritan or later Congregationalist minds, for West Indian cotton was available for spinning by New Englanders as early as the 1640's. It is possible that the first cotton thread to be made in America was hand-loomed in a Berlin shop owned by one of Pattison's sons. 34 Much later, in what is now called East Berlin, Elishama Brandegee (whose father had sailed the seas and brought back "a little negro boy from Guinea" 35) established a large spool cotton and thread mill that "gave employment to forty girls" and is the subject of a rustic factory landscape painted by Charles Doratt in 1840. 36 It, too, was but one of the many textile or textile-related factories that proliferated throughout Connecticut in the early 19th century and that owed their existence to "the millions of pounds of slave-grown cotton they imported from the Southern states." 37||16|
|Still another connection to the larger Atlantic world is suggested by one of the several other nicknames for Connecticut besides "The Nutmeg State," one which is not as well-known or remembered. Despite the collapse of the American economy during the revolutionary war, farmers in Connecticut supplied substantial foodstuffs for the Continental Army, which made it "The Provision State." However, another meaning can be attributed to this name, less enshrined in the public's awareness of identity and history. Again, although Connecticut's share of shipping was small compared to that of other colonies/states, its navigable rivers put at least some of the products of its fields and forests into the larger webs of the Triangular Trade. Indeed, apart from domestic subsistence, some production for the local market, and the production of flaxseed for export to Ireland, it was the West Indies that were for a long time "the one main market" in farmers' minds. 38 Connecticut's urban merchants, like so many others throughout New England, thrived at least partly because they traded the foodstuffs and forest products of the rural areas to England's "sugar islands" of the West Indies, without which the slave plantation economies could not have survived. Local farmers produced corn and kiln-dried it, while mills in Kensington and East Berlin ground it into flour. Some quantity of that meal was sent by teams to Middletown or further south to New Haven, and then shipped to the Caribbean where, along with dairy products and preserved fish, it was used to feed slaves. A local historian who was active in the early 20th century, and who was descended from a sea captain who later owned a store that "ran vessels from Rocky Hill to the West Indies," informs us that "corn was ground [in Berlin] and meal dried and shipped to the West Indies… great trunks of trees were sawed into lumber," but it is impossible to know how much.39 However, "shipping records indicate that [Connecticut's] farms were feeding West Indian slaves by the tens of thousands," while forested areas throughout central Connecticut were cleared in order to provide the shingles, barrel staves, and casks in which the corn meal was stored.||17|
|New England Puritans had actually begun trading for slaves with the West Indies in 1638 and initiated direct trade for slaves in Africa as early as 1644. At first, Indian slaves were imported from other colonies, but they were difficult to control and the practice was soon abandoned in favor of Africans, who "had no place to run to, no tribe to assist them in a rebellion, and…seemed more able to adapt to European ways." Special recent supplements to the Hartford Courant and a newly-published book have been devoted to what has been, until now, the utterly neglected topic of slave-holding and the economics of slavery in Connecticut. 40 And despite its small part in the trade, Connecticut had the largest number of slaves (6,464) in New England on the eve of the Revolution.41 Twenty-two Africans were officially counted as living in Berlin in 1801. 42 Exactly what they did and who they did it for cannot be known without further research, but their work was undoubtedly servile and some were most likely owned by traders or merchants. It is known that about a half-century earlier, "as far as possible from the pulpit," seating was reserved in one church "for the negro servants [sic]… not because [it was] thought they had any souls worth saving but because [their owners] did not like to leave them at home."43 Even after the American Civil War, fortunes were made in the state on the backs of the countless African slaves who carried ivory tusks to Zanzibar, from where they were transported to factories on the Connecticut River that turned them into piano keys, combs, and brush handles. It might be added that without West Indian molasses, spices, and rum, and the risks associated with its importation, Hartford would not have become "The Insurance Capital" of America. But those are other places and other stories, and do not fit within the scope of this article.||18|
|As is well known, the British went to war twice against China in the first half of the 19th century because of an unfavorable balance of trade and the Qing Emperor's refusal to allow Canton's merchants to continue exchanging beneficial products (silk, tea, porcelain, human labor) for harmful ones (opium and life as a "coolie" in the Americas). Demand for silk was so great that attempts were made during the late 18th and early 19th centuries to replicate Chinese success in the American colonies. Americans in large numbers started planting mulberry trees, breeding silkworms, and spooling the silk. Ezra Stiles, president of nearby Yale College, was one enthusiastic promoter of silk production, and among the notable results of his efforts was the formation, in 1788 in the town of Mansfield, of the first U.S. corporation devoted to manufacturing. 44 The 1820's and 1830's, in particular, witnessed a sericulture "craze" that prompted dreams of fast riches through home production throughout New England. 45 In the Berlin/New Britain area, Elijah Tinsdale had a mulberry orchard and a silkhouse that was, following a pattern common since King James' command that silk be produced in Virginia, promoted and partly subsidized by state government. 46 The mother of Elishama Brandegee, the aforementioned factory owner whose other business interests were in the West Indies, not only ran the family general store but raised silkworms and tended a mulberry orchard on Worthington Street while doing so, exemplifying both the adoption of Chinese technology and the tendency, at this time, of New England women of all social classes to "[define] their lives through work."47 But once again, as with the tin industry, local enterprise was thwarted by conditions prevailing far away, and colonial silk production reached a dead end: "The hitch appeared when it became clear that, even with the cost of freight … factored in, New Englanders would not perform the delicate work of unwinding cocoons for rates that could compete with Chinese wages." 48 The one major Connecticut success story was that of the Cheney Brothers, who turned Manchester into a company town with a silk mill that remained active until the early 20th century.||19|
|America's maritime Clipper Age coincides with the defeat and humiliation of the Chinese "Celestial Court" by the British, and the onset of a long period of foreign intrusion and civil war in China. Connecticut shipyards built many of the vessels that sailed out of New York, and many sea captains of the China trade came from Connecticut families. The town of Berlin plays a part in one profoundly American and virtually unknown story from that period. In 1852, one year after the founding of the rebel Taiping Heavenly Kingdom of Great Peace and somewhere along the endemically hungry, flooded, people-exporting coast of southern China, a Chinese boy of about ten years old was sold to Captain Amos Peck, son of the aforementioned Norris Peck. On the return voyage round the Horn, the cabin boy was named "Joe" by the ship's crew, and was brought back to Berlin along with whatever goods Amos purchased as his father's agent. Joe was raised together with Amos Peck's younger siblings in his parents' home (an 18th century central chimney house that is still standing). Joe attended school with them, but instead of taking the Peck family name he was given the surname "Pierce," after the President then in office. Years later, family members would tell conflicting versions of why, where, and even for how much Joe was purchased. But Connecticut had officially abolished slavery in 1848, the Pecks were—at least in principle—locally known to be against it, and Joe was neither thought of nor treated as a slave during the years he spent in town.||20|
|Pierce grew to manhood in Berlin, and, following President Lincoln's call in 1863 for "300,000 more," enlisted in the 14th Connecticut Volunteers. Manchurian pigtail tucked under his blue Union kepi, he saw action at Gettysburg and elsewhere, ultimately witnessing Lee's surrender at Appomattox. After the war, he married into and lived entirely within central Connecticut's white American society, eventually finding employment (undoubtedly through Peck family connections with the Wilcoxes) at the nearby Meriden Brittania Company. Besides teapots and spice boxes, Meriden Brittania made all kinds of vessels and utensils for the burgeoning railroad, steamship, restaurant, and hotel industries whose development corresponds with increasingly tightening webs of modern world interconnectedness. As a highly-skilled engraver of Britannia and silver-plated holloware, Pierce's custom work differed vastly from the labor of virtually all the other Chinese who labored bitterly as mere coolies in the United States in the decades prior to and during the infamous years of official Chinese Exclusion (beginning in 1882). Still, despite his wartime service and his adoption of Yankee identity, he could not become a citizen, nor is it likely that other Americans allowed him to forget that he was "yellow." Pierce died in 1916, leaving a wife and two sons, but apparently no trail other than documents related to his residence, employment, and military service. 49||21|
|Finally, evidence of more recent connections between the near and the far may be seen up and down the Berlin Turnpike (State Route 15), which prior to the completion of the federal interstate highway system in the 1960's was part of the main route connecting New York, Bridgeport, New Haven, Middletown, Meriden and Hartford. Decades of commercial decline along this highway ended with the influx, since the late 1970's, of what is now a significant bloc of local commercial property owners and tax-payers. Families from western India's Gujarat state (mainly the areas around Surat and Ahmedabad), with centuries of experience in property ownership and cross-cultural trade, are today the proprietors of motels, filling stations, convenience stores, and "Gandhi Plazas" virtually everywhere. This demographic pattern has been replicated along secondary roads throughout the United States. Elsewhere throughout the area (and through much of New England) small Chinese take-outs, owned and run by families from Fujian Province, have become ubiquitous. In 2004, more persons of Asian Pacific race/ethnicity (313) resided in Berlin than the total of Native Americans (10) and African-Americans (94) combined, and these are mainly South Asian Hindus and Muslims. 50 Because of its central location in the state, Berlin is also the home of Connecticut's largest mosque. It is too early to tell what future trends may connect local realities to Asia even further, but at least one local multiplex now features regular screenings of "Bollywood" films, while perhaps as many as two hundred thousand Connecticut jobs in both low-tech (manufacturing) and high-tech (information) sectors have been outsourced to Asia. It is estimated that by 2008, U.S. corporate involvement in India alone will involve 1.2 million workers and $23 billion in revenues. 51 One hint of things to come may be seen in the recent growth of the Chinese population in the town of Norwich. Relocated to New York City's Chinatown from Fujian, and then to eastern Connecticut after the devastating impact of the events of September 11th, 2001 on businesses in lower Manhattan, their main source of livelihood now lies in the casino, resort, and entertainment industries developed over the past fifteen years or so by Pequots and Mohegans. If the past is prologue, this particular confluence of people and economic opportunity is truly mind-boggling.||22|
|Yet Connecticut's connections to India specifically did not begin with the emergence of what is jokingly called the "Patel Motel Cartel." Though it may seem tenuous, without a link to South Asia there would have been no such thing as a Yale education—legal, divinity, or otherwise—for many central Connecticut luminaries of the 18th and 19th centuries. Born in the New Haven Colony in 1648, Elihu Yale's gift to a school that was at first located in the town of Saybrook included "25 pieces of garlic (a kind of cloth), 18 pieces of calico, 17 pieces of worsted goods, 12 pieces of Spanish poplin, 5 pieces of plain muslin, and 2 pieces of black and white silk crepe," which, when sold, raised 562 English pounds for the construction of the new College in New Haven."52 The fortune behind this largesse, and possibly even much of the cloth itself, was made in Madras, where Yale served as a governor of the East India Company. Buried in his father's native Wales, Yale's 1721 epitaph spins a worldwide web all its own: "Born in America / in Europe bred / In Africa travel'd / and in Asia wed / Where long he liv'd and thriv'd; at London dead."53||23|
|In this article, I have sought to raise questions, suggest methods, and illustrate by example the kind of path that others might explore in order to make connections between the local and the global. Certainly, places other than Connecticut would not have developed as they did without the nearly complete removal of native inhabitants from the most desirable lands, and without commercial ties to other parts of the United States and the world beyond. From its earliest days, much of Connecticut's manufacturing depended upon exotic, imported raw materials (tin, sugar, silk cocoons, ivory, etc.). Moreover, Connecticut could never have become famous for firearms without the Chinese invention of gunpowder long ago, its spread to the Islamic world and thence to Europe. If we fail to make these connections into "teachable moments," then we are missing opportunities to bring World History home, which, paradoxically, is where it belongs. Our students' worlds, after all, are not only "out there," they are also (especially for adolescents) "right here." Material culture, accessible and tangible, is the place to start. We youngsters on that field trip years ago weren't being deliberately misled when our attention was directed to New Haven Colony's fine furniture, utensils, clothing, and decorative objects. We simply weren't being told the full story of where they came from and how they got here.||24|
|Biographical Note: Michael Marcus, Ph.D., teaches World History and Anthropology in Berlin, CT. He has taught at both the secondary and college levels for over 20 years. He spent four years in North Africa and the Middle East as a student, teacher, and researcher, participated in Fulbright teacher seminars in China and India, and was the recipient of the WHA 2004 Teaching Prize.||25|
1 Thanks to The Mohegan Tribe for a 2005 Challenge Grant that made it possible for me to learn more about Connecticut's Native Americans, to Kathleen Murray, Berlin Town Historian, for assistance in researching local history and the story of Joseph Pierce, to Mark Williams and Allen Ruff for the insights of Americanists, to my teaching colleagues in Berlin for their questions and comments, and to Al Andrea for his wise counsel.
2 J.R. McNeill and William H. McNeill, The Human Web: A Bird's-Eye View of World History (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2003), 5.
3 David Christian, Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History (Berkeley, University of California Press, 2000), 361.
4 Michael A. Marcus, "Teaching Food in World History: The Chinese Example," Bulletin of the World History Association 19:2 (Fall 2003), 28-31.
5 Michael A. Marcus, "Steppes to Civilization: Tracing the World History of 'Global Systems' through Textiles and an Interdisciplinary Approach," Bulletin of the World History Association,
20:2 (Fall 2004), 16-20.
6 It was the only cash/food crop suitable for the climate; see Judith Carney's magnificent Black Rice: The African Origin of Rice Cultivation in the Americas (Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 2001).
7 Along with habitual white criminals, they were sold as slaves to English planters following the Pequot War and King Philip's War in the 17th century. See Colin G. Calloway, New Worlds for All: Indians, Europeans, and the Remaking of Early America (Baltimore, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), 147.
8 McNeill and McNeill, The Human Web, 201.
9 This is the title of a book by Ellsworth S. Grant. Yankee Dreamers and Doers: The Story of Connecticut Manufacturing (Connecticut Historical Society, 1996).
10 Willard M. Wallace, An Historical Sketch of Berlin, Connecticut (Berlin, CT, Bicentenntial '85 Steering Committee, 1985), 9.
11 "There was no period when [New Englanders] were disconnected from the larger Atlantic economy;" Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, The Age of Homespun: Objects and Stories in the Creation of an American Myth (New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001), 39.
12 Shirley Spaulding DeVoe, The Tinsmiths of Connecticut (Middletown, CT, Wesleyan University Press, 1968), 3.
13 DeVoe, The Tinsmiths, 6.
14 Diana Muir,
Reflections from Bullogh's Pond: Economy and Ecosystem in New England
15 See the informative article with that title in the Hartford Courant, Northeast Magazine, September 25, 2005: http://www.courant.com/news/local/northeast/hc-complicity-excerpt-0925,0,1498485.story.
16 Giles Milton, Nathaniel's Nutmeg or, The True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History (New York, Farrar, Straud and Giroux, 1999).
17 McNeill and McNeill, The Human Web, 205.
18 My son attended a school in another district that is named after "King Philip" (whose real name was Metacomet). He may have heard about him at some point in his elementary or middle-school years, but could not tell me who he was when I asked him. In Berlin, there is a street named "Metacomet Drive," and I suspect that questioning residents there would yield the same result.
19 Douglas R. McManis, Colonial New England: A Historical Geography (New York, Oxford University Press, 1975), 22.
20 Calloway, New Worlds for All, 15; see also Nan A. Rothschild, "The beaver is all things": Mohawk and Dutch policies of interaction in the Hudson Valley, New York, in Symposium: The Early Immigration Experience in Archaeological Perspective, World Archaeological Congress 4 1999, http://www.wac.uct.ac.za/wac4/symposia/papers/s036rth1.pdf.
21 Eric R. Wolf, Europe and the People Without History (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1982), 158.
22 See Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988).
23 David N. Camp, History of New Britain with Sketches of Farmington and Berlin Connecticut, 1640-1889 (New Britain, CT, William B. Thomson & Co., 1889), 14-15.
24 John William De Forest, The Indians of Connecticut from the Earliest Known Period to 1850 (Hamden, CT, Archon Books, 1964 ).
25 Emily S. Brandegee, "The Early Industries of Berlin, Connecticut," in Emily S. Brandegee, ed., Historical Papers (Berlin, Conn., 1928) 6-7,22. The meanings of "purchase" in this and many similar cases undoubtedly differed from settler and Indian perspectives, but it does appear that some land transfers were agreeable in the sense that Indians retained hunting and fishing rights along with whatever goods were also obtained in the exchange (see also Camp, History of New Britain, 9).
26 My emphasis; Camp, History of New Britain, 28.
27 Ulrich, The Age of Homespun, 314.
28 Catherine M. North, History of Berlin, Connecticut (New Haven, The Tuttle, Morehouse & Taylor Company, 1916)127, 69.
29 Emily S. Brandegee, "The Early Industries of Berlin," 34.
30 Emily S. Brandegee, "The Early History of Berlin, Connecticut," (Berlin, Conn., D.A.R., 1913), 21.
31 Ulrich, The Age of Homespun, 354.
32 Jackson Turner Main, Society and Economy in Colonial Connecticut (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1985), 82.
34 DeVoe, The Tinsmiths, 51.
35 North, History of Berlin, 202.
37 Frank 2005:4.
38 Lang 2002: 63.
39 Emily S. Brandegee, "Early History of Berlin," 34.
40 Anne Farrow, Joel Lang, and Jennifer Frank, Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited from Slavery (New York, Ballantine Books, 2005).
41 Douglas Harper, "Slavery in Connecticut,"2003, http://www.slavenorth.com/connecticut.htm; see also David L. Parsons, "Slavery in Connecticut, 1640-1848" (New Haven, Yale New-Haven Teachers Institute, 2000; http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1980/6/80.06.09.x.html.
42 Wallace, "An Historical Sketch."
43 Brandegee, "Early Industries of Berlin," 10-11.
44 Kim MacDonald, "Silk in Connecticut," http://www.smith.edu/hsc/silk/papers/macdonald.html.
45 Ulrich, The Age of Homespun, 378; Muir, Reflections, 110.
46 Camp, History of New Britain, 64.
47 Ulrich, The Age of Homespun, 376.
48 Muir, Reflections, 110.
49 These have been admirably researched and compiled by Mr. Irving D. Moy, the results of which appear in "Joseph Pierce, Co. F, Fourteenth Regiment Connecticut Volunteer Infantry : A Chinese Yankee Soldier." This 1997 typescript has been catalogued into the historical collection of the Connecticut State Library in Hartford.
51 Adam Maxwell Jenkins and Seth Green, "Outsourcing: Connecticut Jobs in a Global Economy," http://www.macneil-lehrer.com/btp/newhaven-backgrounder.doc.
53 George S. Roberts, Historical Towns of the Connecticut River Valley (Schenectady, NY, Robson & Adee, 1906), 32.
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