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Roots: The Legend of Igbo Landing

To be clear, in the 19th century, African slaves cannot fly. Neither can they walk on water. It is difficult to tell fact from fiction in an oral tradition, but let's try. A ship carrying slaves from West Africa lands on a small island near Savannah, Georgia. (NOT in Louisiana as Alex Haley suggests in his book, Roots.) The slaves are mostly from the Igbo tribe, a well-known militant group. They are transferred to a ship, southbound for St. Simons Island. As the ship comes in sight of the Island, the slaves overwhelm the crew and throw them overboard, drowning them. (FYI, I am definitely OK with that.) The ship grounds on a sandbar in the Glynn marshlands. At this point, the story gets a little weird, but let's roll with it. The Igbo have mastered the art of flight. By uttering a few magic words and avoiding the ingestion of salt, an Igbo can fly. The Igbo slaves take a vow never to be taken alive, and step out into the water singing to the water god for their salvation. At least 10 Igbo drown. The rest are recaptured and spread the legend of the flying Igbo. [1] [2] [3]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
These sort of flight fantasies are common amongst oppressed people. The story of Superman is one of them. Although he didn't start off as a flying man, he was strong enough to leap over tall buildings. His creators were Jewish high school students of the 1930s. In those days it was believed that Jews were physically weak and that one's body defined one's destiny. Some people were called "useless eaters" and it was suggested that they be forcibly sterilized or gassed. Here is a quote from George Bernard Shaw in 1931 on justifying one's existence to society. He was part of the "Let's gas them" group. [4] [5]
I think it would be a good thing to make everybody come before a properly appointed board just as he might come before the income tax commissioner and say every 5 years or every 7 years... just put them there and say, "Sir or madam will you be kind enough to justify your existence... if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little bit more then clearly we cannot use the big organization of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive. Because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself." [YouTube video] [6] [7]

Let's Make a Deal! The Louisiana Purchase

President Thomas Jefferson doesn't like spending the taxpayer's money on frivolous foreign entanglements, but Napoleon needs a quick infusion of cash as he continues his conquest of Europe. France has recently signed a treaty with Spain where the Louisiana Territory is returned to France. (France has not held the territory since 1762.) A few weeks later, Napoleon turns around and offers it to President Jefferson for $11 million in cash and forgiveness of France's debt. (Mark your calendars. It is the 4th of July!) Jefferson agrees to the terms and documents are signed before Napoleon can change his mind. (He actually does change his mind but it is too late.) The Federalists scream bloody murder, and call it plain dumb luck that Jefferson has had such a deal fall into his lap. In a backhanded way, the Federalists have co-signed the Purchase. The deed is done. Jefferson has become the Imperial President. [8]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
In a modern context, we are talking about buying most of Montana, the Dakotas, Wyoming and Colorado. Included were parts of Canada, Northern Texas, Louisiana, New Mexico and Minnesota along with the entirety of Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa. Historian Joseph Ellis pointed out that at about 3 cents an acre for half a continent, the Louisiana Purchase was a better deal than buying Manhattan from the Indians for a few dollars and some trinkets. A US President is not empowered to buy land, but Jefferson argued that he was allowed to do so under his authority to negotiate treaties. I'm calling BS on that one. The authorization to spend money is SUPPOSED to originate in the House of Representatives, but heck, committing the United States to a 15 million dollar price tag to buy the territory ranging from the Gulf Coast to Canada was a great deal! In 2015 it would have been $297 million. That is still a great deal! Certainly, it was less money than the U.S. would have spent taking it from France, not to mention the cost in lives. The Mississippi Valley was of vital strategic interest to the United States. If Jefferson had not taken the deal, the war with France would have been inevitable. [9] [10]

Watch Out for Shrapnel. He is Going Far

Lieutenant Henry Shrapnel has produced a hollowed out cannon ball that he calls a shell. He fills the sphere with musket balls and rigs a fuse so that after it clears the muzzle of the cannon, it will NOT explode until it is over the battlefield. Then the explosion rains metal and terror on the enemy without losing speed or energy. Currently, if you shoot grapeshot out of a cannon, it tends to slow down rapidly, losing its effectiveness. Using a shell allows small projectiles to become long-range weapons. It works so well at killing the enemy that the British Army promotes Shrapnel to colonel this year. The military will modify his design, creating an elongated shell rather than a sphere. These fragmentation shells will be called shrapnel almost immediately. The design will remain in use well into World War One after which high explosives will be more effective than shrapnel. [11] [12] [13] [14]

My Take by Alex Shrugged
Henry Shrapnel eventually reached the rank of Major General and received a substantial pension in recognition of his efforts. The fragmentation shell was definitely a significant improvement in mayhem. So many of the improvements over the centuries seem obvious to the modern mind, but someone had to think of it first. Sometimes seeing the obvious can be the hardest thing to do. [15] [16]

In Other News

  • Robert Fulton builds a commercially viable steamboat. The emphasis is on "commercially viable". He didn't invent the thing. He improved it. [13]
  • Ohio becomes a state... in 1953! Congress approved Ohio's borders and state constitution. Thomas Jefferson signed the bill, but Ohio was never formally acknowledged as a state until 1953 when someone noticed the oversight. (Does that mean that Ohio got their federal taxes refunded? Forget about it.) [13]

This Year in Wikipedia

Year 1803, Wikipedia.

See Also


  1. Igbo Landing - Wikipedia (2014). Retrieved on 28 December 2014.
  2. Ciucevich, Robert A. (July 2009). GLYNN COUNTY HISTORIC RESOURCES SURVEY REPORT (PDF). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “Information collected since 1980 in Africa and the United States, including a detailed account by the slave importer who had sold the Igbo, has verified the factual basis of the legend and its historical content. (Text by H.A. Seiber)”
  3. Wilentz, Gay (Spring 1989). "If You Surrender to the Air: Folk Legends of Flight and Resistance in African American Literature". MELUS (Oxford University Press on behalf of Society for the Study of the MultiEthnic Literature of the United States (MELUS)) 16 (1, Folklore and Orature): 21-32. http://www.jstor.org/stable/467579. Retrieved 7 June 2016. "Interestingly, the people who have the power to fly are most often identified in this version of the tale as Igbos from eastern Nigeria, and this is also true in the literature.". 
  4. Eugenics - definition of eugenics (2016). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “The study or practice of attempting to improve the human gene pool by encouraging the reproduction of people considered to have desirable traits and discouraging or preventing the reproduction of people considered to have undesirable traits.”
  5. Phrenology - definition of phrenology (2016). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “The study of the shape and protuberances of the skull, based on the now discredited belief that they reveal character and mental capacity.”
  6. Sir, or Madam, now will you be kind enough to justify your existence?. YouTube (2016). Retrieved on 7 June 2016.
  7. George Bernard Shaw - Wikiquote. en.wikiquote.org (2016). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “I don’t want to punish anybody, but there are an extraordinary number of people who I might want to kill…I think it would be a good thing to make everybody come before a properly appointed board just as he might come before the income tax commissioner and say every 5 years or every 7 years…just put them there and say, 'Sir or madam will you be kind enough to justify your existence…if you’re not producing as much as you consume or perhaps a little bit more then clearly we cannot use the big organization of our society for the purpose of keeping you alive. Because your life does not benefit us and it can’t be of very much use to yourself.’ 'George Bernard Shaw reopens capital punishment controversy', Paramount British Pictures, (March 5, 1931)”
  8. Louisiana Purchase - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 8 June 2016. “Before the purchase was finalized, the decision faced Federalist Party opposition; they argued that it was unconstitutional to acquire any territory. Jefferson agreed that the U.S. Constitution did not contain explicit provisions for acquiring territory, but he asserted that his constitutional power to negotiate treaties was sufficient.”
  9. Measuring Worth - Results (2016). Retrieved on 8 June 2016. “In 2015, the relative value of $15,000,000.00 from 1803 ranges from $297,000,000.00 to $553,000,000,000.00.”
  10. Ellis, Joseph J.. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. Vintage. ISBN 9780679764410. 
  11. Henry Shrapnel - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “He intended the device as an anti-personnel weapon. In 1803, the British Army adopted a similar but elongated explosive shell which immediately acquired the inventor's name.”
  12. Shrapnel shell - Wikipedia (2016). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “Shrapnel shells were anti-personnel artillery munitions which carried a large number of individual bullets close to the target and then ejected them to allow them to continue along the shell's trajectory and strike the target individually. They relied almost entirely on the shell's velocity for their lethality. The munition has been obsolete since the end of World War I for anti-personnel use, when it was superseded by high-explosive shells for that role.”
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Grun, Bernard. The Timetables of History: A Horizontal Linkage of People and Events. Simon and Schuster, 376-377. 
  14. March 13, 1842: Henry Shrapnel Dies, But His Name Lives On. wired.com (March 13, 2008). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “In developing his shell, Shrapnel married two existing weapons technologies, the canister shot and the delayed-action fuse. Canister shot, in use since the 1400s, burst upon leaving the gun's muzzle and was originally used in small arms at close range against infantry. Shrapnel's refinement carried the shell intact to the enemy's lines, where it detonated above the heads of the troops with much more devastating effect.”
  15. Convert Pounds Sterling (GBP) and United States Dollars (USD): Currency Exchange Rate Conversion Calculator. coinmill.com (2016). Retrieved on 7 June 2016. “This Pound Sterling and United States Dollar convertor is up to date with exchange rates from June 8, 2016.”
  16. Alex Shrugged notes: I enjoy reading science fiction novels and on the subject of development of weapons systems from the matchlock to the breech-loader I recommend the Safehold series by David Weber beginning with "Off Armageddon Reef". An expedition from Earth lands on the planet of Safehold with their memories erased. They have the bare knowledge to build a world of the middle ages. Only one member of the original crew remains. Her mission is to pull the human race out of the middle ages and into the future. Her first step is to show them why flintlocks are better than matchlocks and how a cannon would work better if you just put a couple of knobs on the side and elevate the muzzle as you please. Shells come later.

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