Entries by Brian Halpin

The Forgotten History of the Oregon Trail

  Perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of America’s past is the history of westward migration. Who exactly rode west in those wagons? There was almost no colonisation effort on the western American frontier which didn’t begin with squatters and “outsiders”. Squatting was a tricky game – people had to squat lands not yet […]

Covid, Cotton Mather, and Cultural Cross-Pollination

  Regular followers of this blog will know that as a history geek, I never neglect an opportunity to frame today’s events through an historical lens. Which is why, upon the occasion of receiving a Covid-19 booster vaccine, my mind wandered back to the 17th century…   *****   Cotton Mather was a Puritan minister […]

The Mechanics of Colonialism

  During the 11th and 12th centuries, in an age before gunpowder, the Normans were able to conquer England by constructing forts (motte-and-bailey “castles”) on newly occupied land. The exact same method – colonisation by fort-building – was employed in Southern Appalachia by land-hungry Americans in the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. Settlers were not […]

Blonde Bombshells and “Damaged Goods”

  Legendary film star Marilyn Monroe was born in 1926 to a mother who was first married aged only 14. We can only speculate what role, if any, this child marriage played in the later mental health issues which would plague Gladys Pearl Monroe. Gladys was actually born in Mexico to railway worker Otis Monroe […]

Paint Me A Picture

    Painters, not unlike musicians or actors, need patrons or a paying audience. This might seem obvious, but it has a direct bearing on how we view history. English society has been notoriously class-conscious since the first Norman warlords began erecting their stone fortresses – aka castles – among the peoples of England after […]

The “Scots-Irish” and Appalachia, Part 1

  After all these years of being told that the “Scots-Irish” are the embodiment of Southern Appalachian culture, that the “Scots-Irish” are the progenitors of mountain music, that the “Scots-Irish” virtually built America, that the “Scots-Irish” were “born fighting” and thus the reason for feud culture and honor killing in the hills and hollers… No.  […]

Speaking Chinese in the Wild West

  The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was America’s first, and possibly only, federal law explicitly forbidding the immigration of a specific ethnic group. Intended to remain in place for a period of ten years, many Americans might be unaware that this legislation, in one form or another, persisted until 1943!! Even after this, the […]

“Old Mix” American Surnames – “Cates”

  When researching early American history, it is important to remember that many, many families whose ethnic and linguistic history was “non-Anglo”, almost reflexively seem to have referred to themselves in the plural or patrynomic form of their chosen surname. Perhaps this was a reflection of differing cultural attitudes to names, family, and community? This […]

Mapping “Old Mix” Appalachia

  There are innumerable multi-ethnic communities and population groups in the USA, many with their deepest roots pre-dating the Plymouth and Jamestown colonies. Southern Appalachia had its own particular set of circumstances leading to the formation of multi-ethnic communities there.  Origin stories for these groups have been put forth over many decades, and each story […]