A Name to Conjure With: Mardi Gras Indians Keep the Faith through the Spirit of Sauk War Leader Black Hawk

The spirit of Black Hawk is alive and well and living in New Orleans. How does the influence of this Sauk war leader inform Creole identity over 250 years after his birth? The answer involves a rich gumbo of Native American and African American culture with dashes of American Spiritualism and the iconography of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

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Black Hawk (Muk-a-tá-mish-o-ká-kaik) was born to a prominent Sauk family in 1767 in Saukenuk, present-day Rock Island, Illinois. He distinguished himself in battle during numerous campaigns against other Indian tribes and thus became influential although he was not a hereditary chief. Life was good for Black Hawk’s band in the years leading up to the 1820s. But it did not last. Edwin D. Coe recounted Black Hawk’s trajectory in an 1896 pamphlet from Readex’s American Pamphlets:

A Name to Conjure With: Mardi Gras Indians Keep the Faith through the Spirit of Sauk War Leader Black Hawk

“The highlight of my ALA conference”: Librarians laud Readex-sponsored program by Civil War historian Amy Murrell Taylor

[Go directly to Prof. Taylor’s highly praised presentation.]

In the days following the start of the American Civil War, enslaved people immediately began fleeing plantations to seek refuge. In a captivating presentation on this topic at the 2020 American Library Association Midwinter Meeting, Amy Murrell Taylor, Ph.D., shared from her acclaimed book Embattled Freedom: Journeys through the Civil War's Slave Refugee Camps. An award-winning professor at the University of Kentucky, Taylor is an authority on the social and cultural history of the U.S. South in the 19th century.

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Taylor’s research, supported in part by Readex products, uncovers stories of the many thousands of men, women, and children who fled slavery and sought refuge behind the lines of the Union army during the Civil War. These untold stories of people seeking freedom shed new light on history of emancipation.

In a survey following her presentation, attendees offered overwhelmingly positive reactions:

  • Fantastic!
  • Best thing I attended.
  • The highlight of my ALA conference.

Taylor revealed in her powerful talk how she was struck over the course of her research by the way issues that people were wrestling with in the 19th century have become “eerily relevant to our lives today.” Listen as she describes the similarities.

“The highlight of my ALA conference”: Librarians laud Readex-sponsored program by Civil War historian Amy Murrell Taylor

The Great Blondin: ‘Crossing of Niagara on a Rope!’

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The acrobat whose name would become synonymous with tightrope walking was born Jean-François Gravelet in Saint-Omer, Pas-de-Calais, France. Generally known as Charles Blondin (1824-1897), the performer was also referred to as Jean-François Blondin, Chevalier Blondin, The Great Blondin, and, in his first public appearance, The Boy Wonder.

Blondin traveled to the United States in 1855, joined a circus, and became famous for crossing the Niagara Gorge, at times doing summersaults, on a tightrope. In a series of articles, originally reported in the Rochester Union and reprinted in the Washington, D.C., Constitution, the acrobat himself and his first crossing are described on July 6, 1859, this way: 

“About four o’clock M. Blondin arrived in a carriage decorated with the American and French flags, and was received with cheers from the multitude, music from the bands, and the firing of a cannon, which was answered from the Canada side. A ring was made by a rope, and within the ring was a tight rope six feet above the ground, upon which the preliminary exhibition took place.

The Great Blondin: ‘Crossing of Niagara on a Rope!’

Ties that Bind: The Role of American Railroads in Expanding and Connecting Vast Territories

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The political question of internal improvements challenged lawmakers in the earlier days of the United States with the majority supporting the federal government taking an active role in the construction of roads, canals, and railroads. This view prevailed. Many schemes were put forward to construct railways that would connect canals and other waterways.

In 1829, W.C. Redfield published a pamphlet proposing a route that would establish connections among New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and several territories.

The construction of a Great Western Railway...is recommended to the attentive consideration of every citizen who feels an interest in the prosperity of his country, and wishes to promote its rapid advancement in wealth and power, by the multiplication of those physical resources which constitute national greatness, and best promote individual happiness and prosperity.

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By the 1830s railroads were being proposed and constructed rapidly. Many of these were of limited scope but funded variously by regional commercial and civic interests or the War Department which had a sustaining interest in the nation’s defense infrastructure.

Ties that Bind: The Role of American Railroads in Expanding and Connecting Vast Territories

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