Friday, August 21, 2020

The Civil War in Atlantic Canada

Maybe there will not be a Tallahassee Festival in Halifax any more.

CBC Nova Scotia has a well-reported history and journalism story about the origins of the Tallahassee name that adorns schools, community centres, and a festival along the Eastern Shore close to Halifax. Here's where the name association comes from:

The iron-sided [Confederate] steamer Tallahassee launched a raid against Union ships in the summer of 1864 and wrecked about 29 vessels before breaking its mast and running out of coal. In August, it sailed into Halifax harbour, which in the years before Canadian Confederation was a neutral British port.

Old salt Jock Flemming
The risky departure of the Tallahassee through the narrow, shallow Eastern Passage out of Halifax harbour -- to avoid Union warships expected just offshore -- became a legend of Nova Scotia shipping and sailing -- as so did Jock Flemming, the local pilot who achieved the feat of navigation.

Most of the information about the Tallahassee and its reception in Halifax comes from University of New Brunswick historian Greg Marquis and his book In Armageddon's Shadow: The Civil War and Canada's Maritime Provinces.  

On shore, the Halifax Journal urged its readers to remember "the treatment of defenceless Southern women and children by Yankee ruffians" while Halifax's Sun newspaper dismissed the Confederates as "thieves, felons and freebooters."
Marquis said his research found Halifax's elite citizens tended to support the South, while many others supported the North. "The people who fought for the Union far outnumbered anyone who fought for the Confederacy," Marquis told CBC News.

But a festival named for a ship committed to treason in defence of slavery? It seems to be going out of style in Halifax. Festival committee organizers are looking for a new name. Slavery scholar Charlene Nelson:

"This conversation about the Tallahassee is so timely because I think we are thinking about, 'Who do we honour in our society? Who's worthy of heroization?'" she said. "To put the name of something or a person on a school, on a rec centre, on a festival — we generally don't do that with people that we despise or histories that we despise."

By the way, Marquis' book that covers the Tallahassee incident turns out to be more than twenty years old (still in print and ebook too).  (That common complaint -- "It never gets mentioned in the history books!" -- so often turns out to mean, "We haven't read the history books.")  The whole story is new to me, and also to my informant, Eastern Passage boy Mark Reynolds  -- thanks, Mark.

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