Antebellum Slavery Law on the Separation of Children from Parents

In the first edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with reasonably thorough historical annotation, by Phillip Van Doren Stern, he notes that Stowe’s “[s]aying that Eliza was only eight or nine years old when she was sold in Louisiana gave Mrs. Stowe a great deal of trouble. Louisiana readers were quick to point out that their state law forbade slave children under ten years to be separated from their mothers” (589).

William Gilmore Simms (1806-1870), a major antebellum southern writer and pro-slavery apologist, took pains in his Oct. 1852 review of Stowe’s novel to insist that Stowe was mistaken about slave law.[1] According to Louisiana’s Black Law or Code Noir, Simms explains, “Every person is expressly prohibited from selling separately from their mothers, the children who have not reached the full age of ten years” (637). Those found in violation could be subject to a fine of $1,000 and imprisonment for not less than six months.

In her Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), Stowe with considerable sarcasm protested that she did not buy these purported legal protections for the defenseless child. (For readers unfamiliar, Cassy is an enslaved woman, Butler the man who purchases her and betrays her into compliance by threatening to and then by selling her children.),

Suppose Butler wants to sell Cassy’s child of nine years. There is a statute forbidding to sell under ten years;–what is Cassy to do? She cannot bring suit. Will the state prosecute? Suppose it does,–what then? Butler says the child is ten years old; if he pleases, he will say she is ten and a half, or eleven. What is Cassy to do? She cannot testify; besides, she is utterly in Butler’s power. He may tell her that if she offers to stir in the affair, he will whip the child within an inch of its life; and she knows he can do it, and that there is no help for it;–he may lock her up in a dungeon, sell her on to a distant plantation, or do any other despotic thing he chooses, and there is nobody to say Nay.

How much does the protective statute amount to for Cassy? It may be very well as a piece of advice to the public, or as a decorous expression of opinion; but one might as well try to stop the current of the Mississippi with a bulrush as the tide of trade in human beings with such a regulation.

We think that, by this time, the reader will agree with us, that the less the defenders of slavery say about protective statutes, the better. [3]

We from 20th century forward have had a lot of faith in the protections of law–even when observed only in the eventual justice that follows after a violation and an extended court case–but you see, in the nineteenth century, pro-slavery apologists did not want the subtext (what Stowe suspected and knew) to be identified as the text. And they protested vigorously that Stowe misrepresented the practice, something the Trump administration declines even to do, not bothering even with “a decorous expression of opinion.”

That is, the Trump administration policy on separating minor children from immigrant parents lacks even what antebellum pro-slavery thinkers thought prudent, the fig leaf of law. I for one assume that should a policy revision be announced or another legal fig-leaf be instated, that will be no cause for relief that this barbaric practice would cease. What would then go on behind closed doors–even should the law expressly prohibit it–might well resemble what is clearly the intended policy. This administration and its apologists are ever on the lookout for ways to demonize non-white peoples—i.e., Trump’s “animals” and the now familiar “illegals,” a coinage that denies humanity to the persons so labeled—so to assume the same administration will change its attitude seems to me mistaken.

Sometimes I think the America’s favorite myth, that we are perpetually made new again, has as its pernicious obverse that we refuse to recognize a burden of the past, even when it’s staring us in the face.

[1] For the establishment that Simms was author of the unsigned review, see Charles S. Watson, “Simms’s Review of Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” American Literature, Vol. 48, No. 3 (Nov. 1976), pp. 365-368. JSTOR.

[2] Simms’s review in the Southern Literary Messenger is entitled “Literary Notices.” See, p. 637.

[3] See Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin,

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

George Harris’s “machine for the cleaning of hemp” and Eli Whitney’s Cotton Gin

I have been unsatisfied with how Harriet Beecher Stowe’s footnote on George Harris’s “machine for the cleaning of hemp” has been annotated in editions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Generally, editors annotate only Whitney’s cotton gin, the well-known antecedent to which George Harris’s supposed hemp-cleaning machine is compared, which oddly emphasizes explaining what everyone is supposed to know, Whitney’s gin, rather than what no one does, the unknown real-life counterpart to George Harris’s fictional invention. The unknown fact, the hemp-cleaning machine that is a parallel to Whitney’s invention and why that former might matter are the interesting parts–and will be the subject of this post. Editors who annotate for scholars and students assume first that we today do not know about Whitney’s invention, and some speculate about rumors that cotton gin was not solely Whitney’s invention. Below are several examples:

  • “In 1793, the American manufacturer Eli Whitney (1765-1825) patented the cotton gin, a machine that separated cotton from its seeds. There were persistent rumors in Stowe’s time that this cotton-gin was actually the invention of a slave or was based on a slave’s idea. Slaves, however, could not patent their own inventions by law” (Ammons, ed. UTC, 1st ed. [1994] 10 n3; 2nd ed. [2010] 10-11 n3).
  • “Eli Whitney (1765-1825) in 1793 patented the cotton gin, which mechanically separated cotton from its seeds.” (Yellin, ed. UTC [1998] 521).
  • “Eli Whitney patented the cotton-gin, a machine that removes the seeds from cotton, in 1793” (Railton, ed, UTC, [2008] 53 n10).
  • “In 1794, Eli Whitney (1765-1825) patented the cotton gin–a machine used to separate cotton from its seeds–but there were rumors during Stowe’s lifetime that the invention was actually that of a slave” (Diller, ed. UTC, [2009] 58 n1).

All four basically agree on the cotton gin information: excluding slight difference about patent date (gin invented and patent applied for in 1793, Whitney was granted the patent in 1794, though the term for the patent began in 1793)[1]; both Diller and Ammons note that contemporary rumor held Whitney’s gin to have been invented by an enslaved person, though they disagree about how “persistent” such rumors were. Ammons supplements with another historical fact, that humans legally designated as property could not own intellectual property. Ammons, Yellin, Railton, nor Diller supply sources for information in their annotation, so we’ll just have to trust that Ammons based her information on an unknown source. Yellin, Railton, and Diller presumably trusted Ammons.

But no one has provided annotation for the parts of Stowe’s footnote that would matter more, neither of the “young colored man in Kentucky” to whom Stowe attributes the non-fiction counterpart to George Harris’s invention, the mechanically advanced method for cleaning hemp, nor the reason why such a machine would be considered especially significant, comparable even to Whitney’s gin. Therefore, in order to annotate more usefully, I’ve tried to determine whether antebellum rumor attributed the invention of such a machine to an an African American man (enslaved or free), why a hemp cleaning machine would register as significant–a latter-day cotton gin–for Stowe’s antebellum audience (as note seems to imply), and what a hemp-cleaning machine was supposed to do and how.

I begin with the final, what a hemp-cleaning machine was supposed to do and how it was done. To my surprise, though I guess I should not be surprised, there is a scholarly monograph that covers a lot about the topic, James F. Hopkins’s A History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky (U of Kentucky, 1951). As Hopkins explains, in reference to antebellum period, “hemp was a crop of considerable importance to the farmers and manufacturers of Kentucky. The price of the fiber was undependable, but during the period under consideration it was usually high enough to encourage production, which reached its greatest height around 1850” (68). Coincidentally, I remind you, Stowe’s novel written right around top hemp prices. That is, the presence of a bagging factory in Uncle Tom’s Cabin is no throw-away fact.

In his chapter, Hopkins over six pages describes what the process of cleaning hemp consists and the general method for doing so during the period, both by machine and by hand brake,[2] obviously with more detail than is necessary for an annotation of Stowe’s work. One basic thing to be understood is that unlike with cotton, where seeds must be separated from the fibers, with hemp it is the woody stalks that must be removed so the longer and thicker fibers can be used for rope or twine: the remaining tow (refuse fibers, from short broken strands down to lint) would serve for bagging or cloth. To “clean” hemp is to separate the stringy fibers from the woody core, a process that followed the water-rotting of the stalks, either in a body of water or from snow or rain and dew in the fields.

In Kentucky, George’s machine would have automated the breaking and cleaning, generally performed with a portable hand brake, a process described as “monotonous and fatiguing, requiring considerable strength and skill on the part of the laborer” (Hopkins 61). Presumably, the design of George’s machine would either have consisted of a spinning conical shaft or vibrating and fluted rollers (58-59). George may also have designed an automated version of the hand brake, which consisted of smashing the stems between two pairs of wooden slats and then striking the fibrous mass against a stake or with a wooden paddle to knock the shattered wooden remnants free. (58). Below is a picture, which illustrates a hand-brake in use during the 1940s.


“Unknown African American male with a hand brake,” from John Winston Coleman, Jr. Collection on American Slavery, University of Kentucky Special Collections. More pictures at

That is back-breaking, dusty labor, a far cry from

…the mildest form of the system of slavery is to be seen in the State of Kentucky. The general prevalence of agricultural pursuits of a quiet and gradual nature, not requiring those periodic seasons of hurry and pressure that are called for in the business of more southern districts ….

Side note: No, it ain’t that. Maybe crushing hemp stalks with a hand brake did not quite compare to sugar cane processing, but that was some evil work. And still was evil work when picture above taken in the 1940s: don’t forget that a lot did not change between the 1840s and 1940s. The past ain’t past.

But on to the potential cultural significance of mechanizing the hemp-cleaning process when Stowe was writing her chapter in 1851. I think it’s helpful to consider this under two headings, comparable mechanical genius to a patented invention, Stowe’s emphasis, and the potential significance of each invention (cotton gin and hemp cleaning machine) for antebellum slavery and for American national pride.

Before either we need to understand hemp and its cultural significance in 1851. Midwestern farmers had difficulty supplying premium hemp, used for shipping, so premium hemp was typically imported from Russia: Riga hemp designates the quality stuff, named after the port in Latvia from which it originates. It’s an earlier Russia scandal. That domestic shipping and the U.S. navy continued to rely on foreign-sourced hemp was a sore spot in the antebellum midwest, a source for chauvinist complaint in newspapers. But Kentucky’s warmer weather (relative to Latvia) was a problem. Rotting hemp fibers in standing water produced a fetid smell, killed fish, and rendered the water unusable for livestock, so Midwestern farmers preferred dew-rotting and field-cleaning (as pictured above), a difficult-to-control process. In consequence, the fibers from field-processed Kentucky hemp had a higher ratio of tow to string. Bagging was used for purposes like to bag raw agricultural products, which your upscale coffee shop may flaunt in a decorative display of bagged beans–and poor people wore bagging as clothing. If you know this material, it’s probably by the name burlap.

To return to cultural significance–of Whitney’s gin and the proposed hemp-cleaning automation–as we gathered from annotations above, Eli Whitney at mid-century was celebrated as the famed American inventor of the cotton gin as well as automating fire-arm manufacture; his gin patent is for arguably most culturally significant early American industrial machine. Whitney’s gin rendered hand combing to remove cotton seeds obsolete and was both credited with spurring cotton production and, in anti-slavery discourse, blamed for spreading slavery, both results tied to how Whitney’s gin had increased dramatically the profitability of short-staple, also known as green-seed, cotton, which could be grown in upland areas so that cotton cultivation no longer restricted to flat coastland.

Why the invention of a hemp-cleaning machine mattered is less known. Kentucky hemp growers and processors were displeased that imported Riga hemp received a much higher price than Kentucky hemp. Because water-rotted, Riga hemp had longer fibers, which made it stronger and better suited for rope in shipping. The desired invention is an industrial process by which Kentucky hemp would qualify as premium stuff for shipping applications, instead of lesser-grade hemp for bagging. For a taste of this ongoing concern see sample articles in midwestern newspapers and magazines.[3] Those are just samples: search Chronicling America for “hemp” between 1845 and 1850, and there are many articles.

Stowe added this footnote for the first edition: it is not present in the Era serial. But from antebellum print sources I cannot substantiate Stowe’s rumor that a hemp-cleaning machine was invented by a black man from Kentucky–or that such a rumor had currency. There is reason to doubt that such a rumor had wide purchase: antislavery thinkers were critical of the cotton gin, an innovation associated with the domestic expansion of slavery. In a Congressional speech that Frederick Douglass reprinted in his newspaper (admittedly a bit later, 1854), Gerritt Smith, for example, argued that Whitney’s invention “came into operation and fastened Slavery upon our country.” Enslaved persons were of course denied the ability to own intellectual property like inventions, but it seems unlikely that an African American in the antebellum period would want credit for a machine were it projected to have a similar influence as Whitney’s, expanding the attractiveness of slavery in the hemp-growing regions of the Midwest as the gin had for cotton-growing regions in the south.

Since Stowe declines to document the footnote claim about the hemp-cleaning machine in her Key (1853), her invocation of a black counterpart to Whitney may have another purpose, to hint at southern perfidy. Denying George Harris the fruit of his labor has in Whitney a well-known parallel: in defiance of his patent, the Yankee inventor’s design was pirated widely, and southern courts declined to recognize patent infringement of similar designs.

In sum, I cannot confirm Ammons’s annotation claims that antebellum rumor held that “the cotton-gin was actually the invention of a slave or was based on a slave’s idea.” The attempts to recover the history of black inventors appears to have begun in earnest in the early 20th century, though rumor may date earlier.[4] However, I have found no citation evidence for antebellum observations about Whitney’s debt to enslaved mechanics or laborers, though it stands to reason that during his brief months among Georgia planters he would have observed the cotton cleaning process as practiced by enslaved black women. I do not hold that no one in antebellum period was capable of imagining a black inventor/mechanic’s contribution–and certainly Whitney’s gin derived in part from hand tools used by African American women to clean short-staple cotton–but that such a rumor was in print during Stowe’s day I cannot confirm.[5] Several free-born African Americans applied for and received patents in the antebellum period, but rumors that Whitney’s invention was aided by Francis Littlefield Greene[6] or by forgotten black informants emerged into print during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, when activist historians strived to recover undocumented achievements under the systematic oppression regimes that denied freedom and opportunity during the antebellum period.

Without further documentation, my current take on the evidence is that Stowe’s claimed rumor is the writer’s invention, a rhetorical flourish, which is not to deny that such a rumor could have been in currency when Stowe lived in Cincinnati, that it could have origins in African American oral culture, and that it may hint at the contributions of African Americans to Whitney’s gin design. More likely, Stowe’s jibe was intended to be politically inflammatory, but it seems that she missed her mark: other parts of her work were so inflammatory–such as that Tom was a Christ figure–that arcane debates about a hemp-cleaning innovation comparable to Whitney’s cotton gin seems to not have registered as particularly significant.

The underexplored counter-current here is that were a hemp-cleaning machine invented, the hemp industry in Kentucky had the potential to encourage the expansion of slavery into the upper midwest–just as Whitney’s invention had encouraged cotton production and led to expansion of slavery in south. To antislavery thinkers, this was a fault, not a feature. It seems impossible that an antislavery thinker in Stowe’s day could miss that implication, though the annotation our present editions does acknowledge that argument by implicit parallel, when discussing cotton-gin rumor. On the other hand, if the machine were invented by a black man, his inventiveness would (in 19th century antislavery terms) be considered a credit to his race. I guess Stowe’s possible point is that slaveholders were so cruel and stupid that they failed to grasp their own opportunity to profit from the inventiveness of better-treated chattel: as an antislavery argument it’s a crappy one, but not one particularly egregious for Stowe. After all, she also argued at end of novel for voluntary emigration to Liberia and that free African Americans on Shelby plantation would be better off and outright prefer staying in benevolent semi-enslavement under their reformed capitalist landlord.

Comments welcome.

[1] See “Patent for Cotton Gin (1794),”

[2] See pages 58-63 on Google Books if you’re interested. (Of course, cast your skeptical eye on his account of the pleasures with which enslaved persons are said to have performed these tasks.) Hopkins, History of the Hemp Industry in Kentucky, (1951) 61.

[3] R. Deering. “Hints to Young Growers.” The radical. (Bowling Green [Mo.), 16 Sept. 1843. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. G. W. W. “Hemp.” The Radical. (Bowling Green [Mo.), 26 Aug. 1843. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. <

[4] Negro Year Book: An Annual Encyclopedia of the Negro. Vol. 5, Negro Year Book Publishing Company, 1914. Google Books,

[5] I can be proven wrong, but I’m no slouch when it comes to this type of research. I checked every database to which I have access: APS Online, Chronicling America, Gale Historical Newspapers, ReadEx Early American Newspapers, Accessible Archives, NCCO, Google Books, etc.

[6] The earliest claim that a woman, slaveowner Catherine Littlefield Greene (1755-1814), “originated the idea” for which Whitney merely provided a mechanical model dates to post-Civil War suffrage movement. See Matilda Joslyn Gage, Woman as Inventor. Vol. 1, New York State Woman Suffrage Association, 1870. Open WorldCat, See page 3-7.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

A Close Reading of a George Will Editorial

I wasted three hours on this a while back, about twice as long as it took George Will to write the column that I analyzed. Out of the draft bucket and into the public, little commentary: it’s still a pretty good analysis of a fair portion of that blithering dolt’s columns.

George Will’s editorial, “Schools push a curriculum of propaganda”, a parodic analysis in five parts.

  1. Sarcasm
  2. Anecdote
  3. Nostalgic Platitudes
  4. Outrage
  5. Call for Action


So long as subject is not baseball, sarcasm is how we begin: climate science, public education, aid for the poor, racism, and national debt are subjects best served with slimy insults:

The real vocation of some people entrusted with delivering primary and secondary education is to validate this proposition: The three R’s — formerly reading, ’riting and ’rithmetic — now are racism, reproduction and recycling. Especially racism.

Mr. Will is feeling cheeky. Notice his closing gambit, “patois of progressivism,” which in addition to its clever alliteration offers dim-witted readers the pleasure of discovery: progressive speech is so larded with jargon and nonsense that is not up to English standard—it’s a patois, get it? One of those kinda-like languages but not really languages languages.


Does someone have a suitably obscure anecdote, preferably a recently-announced practice in some American hinterland that has been supported by rumor on some conservative web site? Can’t anybody find an anecdotes in which out-of-control progressives offend traditional religion or encourage educational change? OK, here we go:

In Delavan-Darien High School’s “American Diversity” curriculum, students were urged to verify white privilege by visiting a Wal-Mart toy section and counting the white and black dolls.

Bingo! Now we all know that this hinterland is the tip of the iceberg. Cause if today Delavan-Darien High School, tomorrow we’ll have an affirmative action president.

Nostalgic Platitude

In the good old days, it was not always so. The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice and the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research are trotted out, defenders of the days before people were employable in positions with titles like

“diversity,” “equity,” “race,” “ethnicity,” “sustainability,” “green,” “gender,” “inclusion,” “identity,” “interconnectivity,” “globalization,” “climate,” “campus climate,” “cross-cultural” or “multiculturalism.”

Do notice how cleverly Mr. Will slipped in “climate” before “campus climate.” While we’re purging the universities of liberals—weren’t we talking about high schools, Mr. Will? Oh, that’s right, ideas from transparently ridiculous California universities “trickle down” to Wisconsin high schools in same way that tax cuts for rich get pissed down on all of us—in Mr. Will’s world we need to expunge climate scientists lest their contributions to intellectual diversity start to infect campus.


Grab your opposite-sexed partner and sing along. Fire the administrators, fire the teachers, cut taxes, elect Republicans—lest things get out of hand (Don’t they have a Republican governor in Wisconsin? Shhh! This is a facts-free outrage joint). Oh please Mr. Will, can’t you find some straight-shooting Reagan-era education honcho to voice our outrage for us?

“If you serve a child a rotten hamburger in America, federal, state and local agencies will investigate you, summon you, close you down, whatever. But if you provide a child with a rotten education, nothing happens, except that you’re liable to be given more money to do it with.”

Oh, thank you, sir William Bennett. Rotten meat and food poisoning, preventing an occasional dead child or two—that, my friends, is the very soul of government overreach. As the good Dr. Swift once told us, how are we ever going to have a robust capitalist system if namby-pamby sticklers stop us from roasting little children and serving them to capitalists? Psst! Mr. Will and Mr. Bennett, the good Dr. Swift was kidding—poke, poke. Even conservative as Swift was, he still understood how satire worked.

Call for Action

Blow the trumpets, and call out the hounds.

But only until the soaring tuitions and taxes that fund this featherbedding for administrators of political correctness create a critical mass of parental and taxpayer disgust.

We taxpayers and parents must repel the threat, the possibility that racial privilege exists, or may have existed sometime, or could be imagined to exist as a thought experiment—which is urgent because we heard someone’s rumor about a thought experiment in one Wisconsin high school, in one class, in one assignment, though “After objections, the school district is reconsidering this curriculum.”

Cause remember, friends don’t let friends, coworkers don’t let coworkers, and white folks don’t let white folks think about racial privilege—cause if they do next thing you know they’ll be believin’ in climate change and forgettin’ ’bout ‘riting and reading and maths and baseball.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Despair and the Textual Scholar

Despair seems the most apt way to describe how I felt about my work when I drafted this post. And I’ve decided to rescue it from my drafts and clean it up a bit for public appearance. So here goes. One truism about editorial work is the every text and every project is different, and that’s true, which I notice when I compare my work on printed versions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin with Melville’s Billy Budd MS. I’ll consider the latter mostly in this post, which will prompt an observation on the former.

The major editorial problem with  Billy Budd is that the MS is in multiple states of revision. When we edit for the Melville Electronic Library, our transcriptions for the the most part mimic, in digital form, the Hayford-Sealts genetic text of Billy Budd. I say “our” transcriptions, meaning those provided by the editorial team, each assigned a few leaves. But the transcriptiosn are mostly their transcriptions, that of Hayford and Sealts. If you’ve ever looked at the Hayford-Seallts genetic text, the first thing you’ll think is that no one in his or her right mind would attempt to read this, though, if one is doing scholarship, to do so is nearly indispensable and “nearly” only because so many publish without doing it. Nonetheless, my only initial pleasure upon perusing their genetic text was the reassuring sense that someone actually did this. But now that I’ve spent a few months trying to encode Melville’s MS, I have read parts of the Hayford-Sealts extremely closely, and I am more often than not simply in awe. When the new transcriptions that I make of Melville’s awful hand are correct, they’re a digital re-encoding of Hayford-Sealts work. With only some 50 or 80 hours of work put into this, I don’t even bother disagreeing, even if I could quibble on whether a letter in cursive is fully formed.

But there’s a lot more than agreeing on how to read Melville’s cursive hand. For example, Hayford-Sealts have labeled Melville’s major stages of composition as A, B, C, D, X, E, F, G, p. Now, oftentimes, a single leaf will have multiple composition stages, and stages are often subdivided, so sometimes the revision stage for a single alteration is best described as p Da (pencil revision of the a sub-part of the D stage) or p Gb (pencil revision of the b sub-part of the G stage). When in TextLab, and you need to assign an alteration to a revision stage, you are presented with the following menu, which replicates the Hayford-Sealts stages.


Now, to be honest, I have no idea whether that portion of menu has all the Hayford-Sealts stages or whether tiny quibbles have led to refinements, but the simple fact is that every time I need to designate a stage, a Hayford-Sealts name fits the bill. Because each of these is a matter of judgment, I accept theirs. I know revision stages are an artificial interpretive construct (and I know the reasoning cannot be anything other than circular, that phrases in color ink on this page seem to have derived from Melville’s attempt to do X, which is based on attempt to classify revision moments into stages), but Hayford and Sealts did the work and I didn’t. So I’ll trust them.

When display of my XML re-encoding doesn’t match their text, I just assume I’m wrong and go back and examine the Hayford-Sealts genetic text. Basically, to encode a text digitally is to apply extreme punctuation, and our work is dependent on an alternate form of extreme punctuation in print format. We should not forget that, even though, more often than not, scholars during practice of encoding barely even consider conventions that have been settled upon: we just do it that way as the “right way” to do it.

When I’m doing my own scholarly work on Uncle Tom’s Cabin, there is by contrast no towering work of editorial scholarship in the background. Until I bring project near its final shape or present to funders, it’s up to me to decide which things matter, and which don’t.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What is Candidacy?

This is a memo that I sent to graduate students, to explain candidacy.

As this is a question coming up frequently, candidacy is permission to go forward with a dissertation, by passing what we call “qualifying” and what the university generically calls “comprehensive” exams.

After you pass both exams, all three, or navigate whatever hurdle your department puts up (it is instructive to view the variety of procedures in Kent State PhD programs), then you are a candidate.

To notify graduate school that you are a candidate, you file a form, signed by your advisor, entitled “Report of Candidacy” (follow link, second column top right in desktop browser view).

That form has the following field: “Probable title of dissertation (if known).” From that field we may conclude that to be a candidate one need not need have completed a prospectus and filed a dissertation topic approval form (next step).

The frequent term “ABD,” all but dissertation, means you remain in the academic equivalent of what the Baltimore Catechism of my Roman Catholic youth described as Purgatory, accompanied in my memory by stylized soul drawings with fires burning all around them. I believe this is the very illustration:

Heaven, Earth, and Purgatory, from Baltimore Catechism

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Annotating Nineteenth Century American Foods

Today I decided to annotate Aunt Chloe’s “tea rusks” and the “seed-cake” with which someone is often plying little Harry. And I stumbled across this wonderful digital repository of nineteenth-century cookbooks, Feeding America: The Historic American Cookbook Project, which is hosted by the library at Michigan State University,

And based on a quick review, the biscotti-like crispy toast typically served with tea or coffee today and the lemon poppyseed cake of my youth are not the baked goods that Stowe had in mind. Among the Feeding America cookbooks is one by Stowe’s sister Catharine E. Beecher, Miss Beecher’s Domestic Receipt Book: Designed As A Supplement To Her Treatise On Domestic Economy (Harper’s, c. 1846, 1850). And it seems a good bet that her sister’s recipes for “Caraway Cake” and “Egg Rusk” would be fair approximations for the bakery goods in Stowe’s novel. So here are my draft annotations for two instances.

For Chloe’s tea rusks (ch. 4):

An everyday, yeast-raised cake, from a stiff dough, baked individually on a buttered pan, served with tea. That Chloe brushes with egg white hints that hers are above common: Stowe’s sister Catharine Beecher’s “Egg Rusk” recipe, included with the “Plain Cakes” category of her cookbook, lacks an egg wash finish (145).

And for Harry’s seed-cake (ch. 17):

Any of a variety of cookie-like cake, rolled out and unleavened, flavored typically with a pungent seed, such as anise, coriander, or caraway. Stowe’s sister Catharine Beecher’s “Caraway Cakes” recipe is flavored with lemon zest (143).

To search by individual recipe through Eastern Michigan’s entire collection, go to and select the “Recipe Name” tab.

Posted in annotation, uncle tom's cabin | Leave a comment

“The worst use you can put a man to is to hang him.” Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin

As far as I know (and I’ve checked several editions, including Diller’s Broadview; the two Nortons, Ammons’ and Gates-Robbins’, and the two Oxfords, Sklar’s and Hedrick’s–the five most extensively annotated editions), no editor of Uncle Tom’s Cabin has identified the source for the above quotation-like paraphrase, which Stowe attributes to “a humane jurist.” Here’s what I can tell you about the probable source, after several hours rooting around in Dictionary of National Biography, Google Books, APS Online, Chronicling America, and ReadEx Early American Newspapers.

One version of this phrase, attributed to John Wilkes (1725–1797), is cited at the close of prominent Victorian novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford (1830) in the following form: “THE VERY WORST USE TO WHICH YOU CAN PUT A MAN IS TO HANG HIM.” Versions of this phrase–attributed to many–were common in nineteenth-century print after Bulwer-Lytton’s novel was published, especially in discussions of capital punishment. Wilkes was a British journalist, politician, and wit who served as an alderman, the mayor of London, and a member of parliament in the late eighteenth century. During a term as city sheriff, Wilkes opposed the death penalty for lesser offenses (DNB).

What I don’t say, in that citation-scarce annotation, is that there are several slightly variant versions, that Stowe’s other immediate sources include Charles Southwell’s The Confessions of a Free Thinker, the Lisbon, Ohio Anti-Slavery Bugle, the Maumee, Ohio City Express, as well as New York Herald, and I don’t say the quote was also attributed also to Massachusetts Governor Marcus Morton and to London journalist William Cobbett.

And the reason that I don’t do any of those things is because the earliest version of quote that I have found is the Bulwer-Lytton version, that appeared to proliferate in 1830s (after the novel published), and it’s for an annotation, for which I am informed that I as an editor am expected to speak in my ex cathedra voice, without sources. Now that the source of this quotation is no longer scholarship but has become a free-floating fact on the Internet, you may annotate your own edition of Uncle Tom’s Cabin without attributing the quotation to anyone.

Coda: The phrase appeared in Charles Dickens’s Household Words, in the form that Stowe gave it, on September 17, 1853, attributed perhaps archly to no one in particular: “forget what practical philosopher it was who said” (see Household Words version at this link). Given the date, the year after Stowe’s novel was an English bestseller, it seems reasonable to suppose that Richard Horne is recalling Stowe’s novel and quoting Stowe’s absence of a particular attribution.

Sep. 22, 2017 Updated: Remembered the fabulous Household Words project, and added the coda, replacing former speculation that it had appeared in Household Words but that I did not know when (thanks Google Books).

Posted in annotation, uncle tom's cabin | Leave a comment