When my wife and I were in London last summer, we visited the Natural History Museum to see the collection of plants that the naturalist, explorer, surveyor and sometimes fur trader John Lawson sent to the English naturalist James Petiver in 1710 and 1711.
My Journey into the Past
Sairyusha, a publishing house in Tokyo, Japan, has just put out a collection of my historical essays called Amerika Higashi Kaigan: Umoreta Rekishi o Aruku, which translates into English as My Journey into the Past: Stories from North Carolina.
The Linnean Society’s Venus Flytrap
Here at the Linnean Society in London, I have found an extraordinary treasure from the North Carolina coast: the first written record of the Venus flytrap in history.
Where They Remember
My daughter and I recently visited the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. It is the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the victims of racial terror and lynching.
On the Great Coharie River
When Dr. Linwood Watson and I visited last winter, he also told me about an extraordinary project that the Coharie Tribe in eastern North Carolina has undertaken to deepen their ancestral ties to the river and the land that has been their home for centuries.
At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum
In its thoughtful and deeply troubling new exhibit “Americans and the Holocaust,” the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum highlights Sen. Robert Reynolds of North Carolina because in 1939 he led a senate fight that prevented the U.S. from rescuing 20,000 Jewish children from the Nazis. At the time, Reynolds said that he did not want the Jewish children to come to America and take our jobs.
Escape through the Dismal Swamp
The most exciting historical source I found in coastal Maine this week was an old tintype portrait of an African American man named John H. Nichols who escaped from slavery on the North Carolina coast and settled in Lewiston, Maine, after the Civil War. In a 1921 issue of the Lewiston Journal Illustrated Magazine, I also found the life story of John H. Nichols....
The Fisher-Woman of Blue Hill
On the other side of Union River Bay, just west of where I am staying on Mount Desert Island, in a village called Blue Hill, the menhaden oil and scrap industry was born, if one can say it was born anywhere.
The Ice Trade
On our drive to Down East Maine a few days ago, we stopped and took a hike at the Lobster Cove Meadow Preserve in Boothbay Harbor. After walking a little ways down the trail through the lovely fall colors, we soon arrived at Appalachee Pond. To my surprise, there we got a glimpse at another historical connection between the Maine coast and the North Carolina coast: the ice trade.
A Sociable Time with the Rebs
While exploring coastal Maine's archives and museums this week, I’ve also found quite a few letters from Maine soldiers that served in the Union army or navy on the North Carolina coast during the Civil War. Those letters highlight a different kind of historic connection that ties coastal Maine and coastal North Carolina together.
On the Kennebec and Penobscot
A second connection between Maine’s shipyards and the North Carolina coast is grimmer: quite a few ships built in Maine came to their end in the waters off the North Carolina coast-- "The Graveyard of the Atlantic."
This week I’m in Down East Maine. It’s a beautiful part of the world and I’m not really here to do historical research. All the same, I am visiting some local maritime museums and historical societies and I am curious to learn if this far corner of the New England coastline has historic ties to the coastal world where I grew up in North Carolina.
A Jonkunnu Christmas at Historic Stagville– this Saturday!
My daughter Vera Cecelski just told me that Historic Stagville in Durham County still has a few tickets left for its Jonkunnu Lantern Tour! The Tour will include a Jonkunnu procession featuring incredible local drummers, some amazing dancers and lots of schoolchildren and it’s this Saturday, December 8th, at 5:15 PM! You can get tickets by calling (919) 620-0120.
Letter from Hiroshima
Tonight I am a long way from home. My wife and I came to Japan so that I could give lectures at Senshu University in Tokyo, but now that I am done there we are exploring the country for a few days. Guided by a Japanese friend, we have visited ancient Buddhist temples, hiked to a mountaintop Shinto shrine and explored back alley shops where a single family has made a certain kind of cookie or indigo dye or sake for centuries. Today we are in Hiroshima, where we visited memorials to the victims of the atomic bomb that fell on the city on August 6, 1945.
Annie Hooper’s Vision: From Hatteras Island to the Smithsonian
I found Annie Hooper’s masterpiece in a warehouse in a small town in eastern North Carolina: thousands of hauntingly beautiful Biblical figures made out of driftwood, seashells, putty and plaster. All of them are part of large, elaborate scenes depicting stories from the Old and New Testaments. I had been hoping to see them for decades, and when I finally found them, they were together for probably the last time.
Postcard from Tryon, N.C.: Celebrating Nina Simone
This weekend my family and I are in Tryon, N.C. and we are listening to Nina Simone. This is a small town on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains and her music just seems to be in the air in this place where she was born and first learned to make music and discovered who she was.