The Best of 2014

2014 has proven to be a busy and fulfilling year. In March, The History Press published our latest book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, and since that time I have been extraordinarily grateful for the positive reviews and interest in this title.

In April, we launched our book tour in East Tennessee on John Sevier's old stomping grounds in Johnson City and Knoxville, followed by stops along the way at Sevier's Marble Springs plantation home, Andrew Jackson's Hermitage, and William Blount's Mansion. I had the opportunity to appear on Maury County's "Page By Page" television program, wrote an article for the Nashville Retrospect, lectured to students and faculty at Cumberland University and at Austin Peay State University, and met several interested readers at the East Tennessee History Fair, and at the Southern Festival of Books, just to name a few of the venues we visited over the course of the year.

What has gratified me the most in this year on the road promoting our book has been the feedback from readers, and the knowledge that this book has filled a long-neglected gap in recent scholarship about Sevier and his impact on Tennessee history and memory. For everyone who invited us to speak, and to those who turned out to hear us talk about John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, we sincerely say, "thank you."

Young people have also taken an active interest in the book, as I've fielded several contacts from students and teachers with requests to learn more about Sevier and his leadership on the Tennessee Frontier. It just so happens that "Leadership and Legacy in History" is the National History Day theme for 2015, so to see this renewed interest in "Tennessee's First Hero" among students of history is very rewarding, and confirms my long-held belief that Sevier's leadership and legacy deserves further study.

2014 was also, sadly, a time of loss, as my former boss John Seigenthaler passed away in July. Mr. Seigenthaler was a scholar, mentor, hero, and friend to many in Nashville and throughout the country, and his impact on my life and career was profound. I miss him terribly, and I think of him fondly.

Next year, while we will continue to schedule events in support of our book projects, I am also making a resolution to spend more of my spare time assisting my wife, Traci, on our next book project. Be on the lookout for an announcement on that front in the coming months. Also in the upcoming year, I plan to publish more book reviews of titles old and new, and I will share excerpts from my ongoing research of the Indian Wars on America's first frontier. In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy this moment of reflection as I count down the ten most widely read blog posts on The Posterity Project for 2014.

May you have a Merry Christmas, a wonderful holiday season, and a Happy New Year!



Top Ten Blog Posts of 2014


  1. Dean Cornwell's artistic vision of John Sevier
  2. The Winning of the West: Theodore Roosevelt's "wonderful story, most entertainingly told"
  3. Personal Recollections of Michael Woods Trimble, Parts 1, 2 and 3
  4. Quote, unquote
  5. "See the Harvest" through John Sevier's eyes
  6. An "Admirer of Patriotism and Merit Unequaled"
  7. The last casualty of the Battle of Horseshoe Bend
  8. "They concluded that we came out of the clouds"
  9. "This effectually unmans me"
  10. A "picturesque" escape


 
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

Thankful for "the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies..."

The following blog post originally appeared on The Posterity Project on November 22, 2011. The words remain relevant, especially today, so I thought it appropriate to share them with you on this year of Thanksgiving. I pray that these words serve as a reminder in these days of strife to be thankful for "the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies" this holiday offers all of us, no matter what troubles stand in our way...

A day of thanksgiving and praise...


In our book, Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War, my wife Traci notes that throughout the Civil War, presidents on both sides of the bloody conflict frequently called for days of humiliation, fasting and prayer, and issued proclamations of thanks for victories in battle. It was not until 1863, however, when United States President Abraham Lincoln issued his Thanksgiving Day Proclamation that the holiday was established as a national annual event, occurring on the last Thursday of November.

Lincoln's words spoke to a nation in the throes of battle, torn apart by secession and war, yet united in its struggle to preserve the Union. He gave thanks for "the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies" and declared that "harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict." Of course, citizens of the South lived in the heart of this theater, and likely would have written a very different account of the war if given the opportunity. Lincoln's language carried deeply religious tones, calling on a wounded nation to heal itself in a manner "consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility, and union."

As you read President Lincoln's eloquent words, I urge you to be thankful for the blessings of liberty afforded to us by those who fought and died to preserve this nation. We are now a nation at war and in conflict with ourselves both politically and economically. It is tempting to believe that we have never been more divided as a nation than we are today, yet history has a habit of reminding us that the divisions that separate us in the present pale by past comparison...

Lincoln reading the Bible to his son.
Image credit: Library of Congress
   The year that is drawing toward its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften the heart which is habitually insensible to the everwatchful providence of almighty God.

   In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign states to invite and provoke their aggressions, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere, except in the theater of military conflict; while that theater has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

   Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defense have not arrested the plow, the shuttle, or the ship; the ax has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege, and the battlefield, and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

   No human counsel hath devised, nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the most high God, who while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

   It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently, and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American people. I do, therefore, invite my fellow-citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of thanksgiving and praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the heavens. And I recommend to them that, while offering up the ascriptions justly due to him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners, or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation, and to restore it, as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes, to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity, and union.

   In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United Stated States to be affixed.

PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S THANKSGIVING DAY PROCLAMATION, OCTOBER 3, 1863.


Gordon Belt is a public historian and author of John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. His wife, Traci Nichols-Belt, authored Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War. Both books are published by The History Press. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

December visits to Springfield and Chattanooga...

With the holiday season approaching, I have scheduled just two more book signings before the end of the year. In the month of December, I hope you'll make plans to join me for these two special events...

Robertson County Historical Society -- December 1st


On Monday, December 1st, I visit Springfield, Tennessee to deliver a lecture on John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero to the Robertson County Historical Society. The lecture begins at 12:00 p.m. NOON CT at the Robertson County History Museum located at 124 6th Avenue West, Springfield, Tennessee, followed by a book signing.

This is our second visit with members of the Robertson County Historical Society. In 2013 we delivered a lecture on Onward Southern Soldiers: Religion and the Army of Tennessee in the Civil War, so we're grateful to the historical society for their invitation to return to speak about John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero.


Chattanooga History Center -- December 4th


Our final event in 2014 is a return to my hometown. I hope you'll join me for my lecture and book signing at 6:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, December 4th at the Chattanooga History Center. Chattanooga has undergone a renaissance along the riverfront and throughout downtown, with the city's history taking center stage in its vision of the future. And soon, the Chattanooga History Center will open the doors to a brand new museum in the Spring of 2015.


An artist's rendering of the new Chattanooga History Center, scheduled to open in the Spring of 2015.
Image credit: Chattanooga History Center.


While the museum is still under construction, you'll have a wonderful opportunity to get a sneak peak inside the facility, and to hear me talk about John Sevier, a historical figure that has a rather interesting connection to the "Scenic City."

Make plans to join me at 6:00 p.m. ET on Thursday, December 4th at the History Center for this special occasion. The program will be held in the History Center's orientation theatre on the mezzanine of the new facility, which is accessed through the front of the building on the Aquarium Plaza.

Admission is free, but seating is limited and will be available on a first come, first served basis. For more information, or to register, call 423-265-3247, or visit the Chattanooga History Center's website for further details.


 
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

"This effectually unmans me"

   As John Sevier governed his state of Tennessee, he struggled to maintain peaceful relations with the Native American tribes living within the newly created borders of the state. Tennessee's territorial boundaries stretched from the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, and around two-thirds of that territory remained under the control of the Native American population. Managing diplomatic relations and negotiating territorial disputes between white settlers and the tribes of the region consumed much of Sevier's time and attention during his first series of administrations as governor. Congress also demanded that Sevier's citizens honor the federal government's own treaties with Native Americans, which proved challenging as land speculators and settlers extended their reach westward. Native Americans sought to defend their land and their way of life from the overmountain onslaught with frequent raids and violent assaults on established settlements. Tales of "savage" depredations against the white settlers reached every corner of the state and did nothing to help further the cause of peace.

"A map of the Tennessee government, formerly part of North Carolina taken chiefly from surveys by Genel. D. Smith and others. J.T. Scott, sculptor. American Edition of Guthrie's Geographical."
Image credit: Tennessee Virtual Archive (TeVA), Tennessee State Library and Archives


   In July of 1796, Sevier revealed his discontent with the violence that characterized life on America's first frontier when he declared:

   "I shall always be desirous of preserving and supporting peace between the frontiers and our Indian neighbors, by restraining, as much as possible, the former from intrusion and encroachments of every kind; at the same time hope the latter will be suffered to pass off with impunity, for any violences and depredations they may unprovokedly and wantonly commit. It is a well known fact and shamefully obvious, that all the erratic tribes are accustomed and habituated to licentiousness; and educated to a vagrant, lawless, debauched and immoral life, and nothing but a sufficient conviction of being chastised will ever deter those itinerant nations from their common desperate and rapacious practices."

   By the following year, Sevier's frustration with the federal government's insistence on restraint increased. In a November 26, 1797 letter to Tennessee's Congressional delegation, Sevier lamented, "Will the American Congress cramp and refuse to the Western Americans the great natural advantages Providence has designated for, and placed before them?" With this public proclamation, Sevier revealed a personal belief held by many of his fellow pioneers, that God's mighty hand had delivered the Trans-Appalachian West to its settlers and granted them dominion over all the Indian tribes who may reside within it.

   By the close of the eighteenth century, government officials looked to men of faith to quell the violence. Leading up to this moment, an effort to "civilize" the Native populations began in 1791 following the signing of the Treaty of Holston which called for the Cherokee nation to "be led to a greater degree of civilization" in order "to become herdsmen and cultivators, instead of remaining in a state of hunters." In succeeding years, the federal government embraced attempts to educate and civilize the Native American population. In 1797, President John Adams appointed an agent to the Cherokees with orders to instruct them in various methods of farming and domesticating animals. By the time Thomas Jefferson held the presidential office, his administration publicly endorsed religious missionaries in their efforts to educate and instruct the Cherokees.

Gideon Blackburn
Image credit: PCA Historical Center
   Within the state of Tennessee, Governor Sevier followed President Jefferson's determined lead. In 1803, with the cooperation of several Indian chiefs, Sevier authorized a Presbyterian minister named Gideon Blackburn to set up a school at Tellico Blockhouse, an early American outpost now part of the Fort Loudoun State Historical Area located along the Little Tennessee River in present-day Monroe County, Tennessee.

   In his book, Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans, Anthony F.C. Wallace described Blackburn's ambition "to convert the Cherokees to civilization and Christianity by educating their children. In 1804 he constructed a boarding school and in 1805 proudly presented his first class at a kind of graduation ceremony, where little Cherokees, dressed in white clothing, demonstrated their ability to read from books and sing hymns in English."

   In his own account of the ceremony, Blackburn recalled Governor Sevier's emotional reaction to what he had just witnessed. In a December 14, 1807 letter written to a fellow clergyman named Rev. Dr. Morse, Blackburn remarked:

   "...Few of the spectators were unmoved, and many shed tears plentifully. The Governor, a hardy veteran, who had often braved the dangers of war in the same forest, said to me, 'I have often stood unmoved amidst showers of bullets from the Indian rifles; but this effectually unmans me. I see civilization taking the ground of barbarism, and the praises of Jesus succeeding to the war whoop of the savage.' All this time the tears were stealing down his manly cheek."

   Similar civilization programs like Blackburn's continued throughout the American frontier. Over time, however, the federal government's experiments in cultural assimilation and religious education ultimately gave way to a national policy of forced relocation after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In the course of a single generation, Governor Sevier's tears of joy flowed into an ignominious "Trail of Tears" that came to symbolize our national government's callous treatment of Native Americans for generations to follow.


SELECTED SOURCES:

The Panoplist, Or, The Christian's Armory, Volume 3. "Religious Intelligence" Letter IV. Maryville, Dec. 14, 1807.

Bernard W. Sheehan. Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian philanthropy and the American Indian. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1973.

Grace Steele Woodward. The Cherokees. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.

Anthony F.C. Wallace. Jefferson and the Indians: The Tragic Fate of the First Americans. Cambridge, Mass. and London, England: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999.

John Sevier to Andrew Jackson, et al; Nov. 26, 1797, Williams, ed., "Journal of Sevier," East Tennessee Historical Society Publications, No. 3 (1931), 161.

Samuel C. Williams, ed., "Executive Journal of Gov. John Sevier," East Tennessee Historical Society Publications, No. 1 (1929), 113.


 
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

November lecture at Austin Peay State University

During the month of November, I am honored to have the opportunity to visit Austin Peay State University (APSU) in Clarksville on Wednesday, November 12th for a lecture and book signing sponsored by Phi Alpha Theta-APSU's Theta-Delta Chapter and the APSU History Department in support of our latest title, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero. Early in the afternoon, I will address history students and Phi Alpha Theta members in the classroom, answering questions about my book and discussing the public history profession. At 4:00 p.m. CT, I will deliver a lecture on my book at the Morgan University Center, UC 303 (Theater). This lecture is open to students, faculty and to the public, so I welcome you to attend.

Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tennessee. Image credit: APSU.edu


I want to publicly thank Dr. Minoa Uffelman for extending this invitation to me. Dr. Uffelman is an associate professor of history at APSU and the editor of The Diary of Nannie Haskins Williams: A Southern Woman’s Story of Rebellion and Reconstruction, 1863–1890. She is also a contributor to the groundbreaking new book, Tennessee Women in the Progressive Era: Toward the Public Sphere in the New South. Both titles are published by the University of Tennessee Press.

Minoa has been a supporter and friend for several years, and so I'm grateful to her for this opportunity to present John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero to her students and fellow faculty. I hope you'll make plans to join us in Clarksville for this special occasion.

 
 
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.

"See The Harvest" through John Sevier's eyes...

   Can you imagine the President of the United States delivering his State of the Union address through a series of four 15-minute videos narrated by an actor portraying George Washington? Likewise, can you imagine a sitting governor delivering his State of the State message through a similar dramatic method? Believe it or not, this actually happened in 1956, as Tennessee Governor Frank G. Clement used "a novel narration technique" to deliver his administration's progress report, conjuring up the ghost of John Sevier in the process to explain his accomplishments.

   Allow me to take you back in time to the following press release issued by Gov. Clement's office on December 1, 1956 announcing the premier of a film series entitled, See The Harvest...


   With the release this month of a film series titled See The Harvest, Tennessee embarks on a unique venture in state government, Governor Frank Clement said today.

   See The Harvest is a series of four fifteen minute films which will be shown on television stations across the state during December. The films depict the progress made in the major fields of state government during the past three and a half years.

   "This is what you might call a mid-term report to the people of Tennessee," Governor Clement told newsmen at his news conference today.

   The first of the series will be seen December 2, and shows progress in highway construction and traffic safety. The second film depicts developments in Education and Mental Health; the third, scheduled the third week of December, takes up the departments of Public Health, Public Welfare, Corrections, Agriculture and Conservation. The final film will reveal developments in the Tennessee National Guard, industrial expansion, the Employment Security Department, and state finances.

   Ten of the state's thirteen television stations have agreed to carry the series during December. The films are in color and will be available to schools, PTA groups, civic and luncheon clubs across the state upon request. The Governor said he hopes a showing can be scheduled for the 1957 General Assembly.


In See the Harvest, "Tom Carter," played by Richard Beauchamp, introduces "John Sevier," portrayed by veteran WSM announcer Grant Turner, to the progress made under the administration of Tennessee Gov. Frank G. Clement.
Image credit: Frank Goad Clement Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives.


   See The Harvest is a Division of Information project written and produced by Howard Anderson, and photographed by three veteran state cameramen, Paul Moore and Wallace Danley of the Conservation Department, and D.S. McCormac of the Agriculture Department.

   The idea of reporting the progress of this administration in such an unusual fashion was first discussed by Governor Clement in September. The series was then produced in a record two months at a cost of only $158 a film minute. Had the state contracted for the entire project with a film company the cost would have run between $500 and $1000 a film minute, Clement said.

   Maytag Productions, Kansas City, edited the series. The Calvin Company, also of Kansas City, did the necessary laboratory work, and Bradley Studios of Nashville contracted to record the narration.

   See The Harvest uses a novel narration technique. The viewer sees the progress the State government has made through the eyes of John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, played by Grant Turner, veteran WSM announcer. He is conducted on his movie tour by a typical Tennessee youngster, Tom Carter, who is acted by Richard Beauchamp, a senior at West High School, Nashville.

   Lost to time and distant memory, See the Harvest resides at the Tennessee State Library and Archives in its original 16mm format. Due to its age and somewhat brittle condition, archivists have taken measures to preserve See the Harvest for posterity, carefully storing the original film in a secure, temperature-controlled vault. Archivists have also preserved the documents created by government officials involved in the film's production, giving researchers a glimpse into the inner workings of state government at this important time in Tennessee's history.

   Gov. Clement knew that television could convey his administration's mid-term message to a broad audience far more effectively than any speech he might deliver. As indicated in the governor's press release, nearly every television station within the state of Tennessee aired See the Harvest during the month of December in 1956. In addition, documents within the Frank Goad Clement Papers at TSLA reveal that Gov. Clement's administration issued a memorandum to the heads of all departments and agencies within state government urging all state employees to view See the Harvest at Tennessee's War Memorial Building during a scheduled viewing on December 12, 1956. These aggressive publicity efforts ensured that citizens and state employees alike knew about Gov. Clement's accomplishments.

   Gov. Clement's surrogates throughout each state agency also wrote letters of praise for the film production. In a letter dated December 7, 1956, Commissioner Donald M. McSween of Tennessee's Department of Employment Security wrote, "Having seen all four films in the natural color in which they were photographed, I can attest to their high quality and effectiveness. In fact, it constitutes one of the best jobs of its sort I have ever seen and we understand is without parallel in any of the other states." Other commissioners wrote similar letters expressing pride in the film's production quality achieved at a significant cost savings.

   While See the Harvest received almost universal praise within state government, at least one official expressed concern about a scene in the film depicting a young boy "chained to a tree and scratching the ground" -- a scene meant to dramatically illustrate the state of child welfare in Tennessee and to communicate Gov. Clement's efforts to improve conditions in areas of education and mental health. Tennessee's Commissioner of Mental Health C. J. Ruilmann, M.D., responded to this concern in a December 27, 1956 letter. He stated, "I made some subsequent inquiries and found that the members of the group to whom I talked considered that particular scene to be excellent, hard-hitting photography and that they felt as I do that the scene should be left in. We agree that it is rather forceful but it does tell a story."

   Using this storytelling technique to deliver a "mid-term report" to the citizens of Tennessee and to state employees made perfect sense to government officials at the time, although by today's standards one might view the acting as amateurish and the information delivery method as a bit contrived. Still, See the Harvest spoke to not only how the Clement administration viewed television as a powerful communication medium, but it also spoke to how Tennesseans remembered their first governor. Within the state, many decades after his death, Sevier still captured the imagination of politicians and citizens alike. Bringing Sevier back to life in this creative way gave Tennesseans yet another way to embrace their very own frontier legend, Revolutionary War patriot, and "first hero."


SELECTED SOURCES:

Record Group 137 - Tennessee Department of Conservation, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

Frank Goad Clement Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives.

 
 
Gordon Belt is an information professional, archives advocate, public historian, and author of The History Press book, John Sevier: Tennessee's First Hero, which examines the life of Tennessee's first governor, John Sevier, through the lens of history and memory. On The Posterity Project, Gordon offers reflections on archives, public history, and memory from his home state of Tennessee.
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