Author Archives: Stan Deaton

Let the Big Dog Eat

It’s that time of year again my friends. College football season begins this weekend. I’m not sure how that’s possible, but there it is. It’s been 7+ months since our beloved Dogs finally slayed the big bad Bama dragon back on January 10 and won the National Championship. The final score, lest you’ve forgotten, was Us 33, Them 18. You can watch all the glorious highlights here.

Full confession: no matter how much I love college football, I’m never ready for the season to begin. Never.  I don’t look forward to it. There are many reasons for that.

I’ve written about the joys of college football elsewhere on this blog, particularly the difference between the college and pro game, and since I don’t believe in re-inventing the wheel, I’ll just repeat myself:

“College football is more exciting [than the pro game] and more fun to watch, in my humble and uninformed opinion.

The rivalries are much more intense, and the game-day atmosphere at big-time college football games is unmatched in any other sport.

For game-day excitement, try the Big House in Ann Arbor when Michigan plays Ohio State (ask Michigan alum Tom Brady about it). Or the Horseshoe in Columbus when it’s played there. Or in Oklahoma during Bedlam. Utah during the Holy War or Oregon’s Civil War. Also try finding cool names like these for NFL rivalries. You won’t.

The NFL has nothing—nothing—to compare to the Iron Bowl. Or the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party. Notre Dame vs. Southern Cal. Texas and Texas A&M (though temporarily suspended). Catholics vs. Convicts.

I’m not saying there aren’t great rivalries in the NFL—the Redskins and Cowboys, Patriots and Jets, and Packers and Bears all come to mind.

But it’s not the same as the blood feuds in college football, where many of these rivalries go back 130 years. The NFL has been around since the 1920s, but most franchises barely predate the 1960s. And rivalries are divisional (Cowboys-Redskins) not geographical, like Florida and Florida State, and don’t have nearly the emotional intensity of a life and death college football grudge match.”

And it’s that last part that always makes it difficult for me to welcome the college football season—the “emotional intensity”. Let me explain.

Long-suffering readers of this blog know I love baseball. I love the rhythm of the game and the leisurely-ness of the season, as it meanders across 7 months of the year. If you don’t win today’s game, no big deal. There’ll be a hundred more to play, for months yet, nothing to get upset about. And the rivalries are fun, not death grudge matches [Game 7 of the World Series is another universe]. Yes, Braves fans don’t like the Mets or the Dodgers and vice-versa but it’s not civil war. It’s baseball. Have a hot dog. Relax.

But college football is different, especially now that UGA has won it all. Nothing less will do now, and if you lose one game, that’s it, your season is done. No trip to the College Football Playoff for you.

Yes, I know that’s not literally true, but you have to be very careful when you lose that one game. Georgia lost to Bama in last year’s SEC championship game and still made the Playoff only because we went undefeated through the rest of the season. Gasp. One little slip-up against Kentucky or South Carolina would have spelled doom. Pro football teams can lose 7 or 8 games and still make the playoffs, even win the Super Bowl. Not in the college game, and not even close.

The intensity of the season, of every play, every dropped pass, every boneheaded fumble by our “college” QB (who’s old enough to draw Social Security), every missed field goal, every interception, every blown pass coverage—everything is always on the line, waiting to derail the entire season.

And unlike in baseball, there’s no 3-game series to make up for a bad loss. There’s no pre-season to work out the kinks in the offense, or begin to gel as a team, as in the pros. It’s all or nothing all the time, beginning with the very first snap.

Even then you have to count on a bit of luck to wind up in the top four and get invited to the Playoff. Teams ahead of you in the rankings have to lose to someone they weren’t supposed to. You have to catch a lucky break. Sometimes it’s pure chaos, and yes, that can be enormously fun to watch—and it is—if it doesn’t give you an ulcer in the meantime.

Then there’s the sheer amount of good ‘ol fashioned hate that you constantly harbor for all your opponents. I’m talking seething, teeth-clenched, can’t stand those a-holes hatred. Florida. Bama. Auburn. Tennessee. Texas A&M. LSU. Kentucky. South Carolina, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Arkansas, Georgia Tech.

Not to mention the teams not in your conference that you don’t even play but that you just have to hate on principle, like Ohio State, Clemson, Oklahoma, USC, Notre Dame, Michigan, Texas, Penn State. Some of these teams you hate because they’re just arrogant; some because their coach is a jackass; some because their coach is an arrogant jackass (every Florida coach till now, and maybe the new guy too once we get to know him). Not to mention, what grownup goes by the name Dabo or Jimbo? C’mon man.

For some reason, the level of jackass-ery among college coaches is astounding. They often run their mouths denigrating other teams at a level that you never see in any other major sport. There are the occasional NFL jackass coaches (see Rex Ryan), but they don’t usually last long. No major league baseball manager denigrates other teams. But college football coaches do it all the time. Partly that’s a function of there being only four playoff spots, and no parity of strength of schedule, so coaches often talk up their team while denigrating others.

But jackass coaches long pre-date the current playoff system. The college game just seems to attract them. Steve Spurrier at the University of Florida is the primo example, and of course he’s long gone. Many others have taken his place, and many of them coached at Florida. Incidentally, I can hear my mother’s voice saying, “Stanley, you don’t hate anybody!” But this is college football hate, and it’s different. Even God hated Steve Spurrier.

As you can see, it’s all mentally and emotionally exhausting. But it must be done if you’re going to follow the sport, week in and week out, from August till January. There’s just no other way.

By now you’re thinking, geez Stan, get a grip. No one is making you do this. And you’re right. I’ve tried in the past to just be a casual fan. Why put my emotional state in the hands of 18–22-year-olds? Who cares if we lose to Florida? It’s not the end of the world. No big deal. Have a hot dog. Relax.

But in college football, that just doesn’t work. For reasons that only psychologists can explain, there’s an emotional attachment that fans feel towards college football teams that is different than any other American sport (though I believe it holds in European football as well).

Let the trash-talking, complaining about weak schedules, wailing, and gnashing of teeth begin. A short slate of games kicks off this weekend, then #3 Georgia will tee it up against #11 Oregon on September 3 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. The madness will continue through the National Championship game next January 9, five months from now.

Keep the crying towel handy. Grab your foam fingers, order a side of tranquilizers, and hang on.

The Small Light Still Burning

My aunt Corine turned 95 on Sunday, August 7. She is my father’s oldest sister, the last remaining child of nine born to my grandmother and grandfather, who were both born in the first years of the 20th century, 120 years ago. As a historian, I probably appreciate this kind of longevity in a different way than most people.

Corine was born on the first Sunday in August in the summer of 1927, when Calvin Coolidge was president. He was the 30th president of the United States, and we are currently on number 46 (and remember that FDR served four terms). Coolidge has been dead since 1933, 89 years.

When she was born the Great Depression was still two years in the future. World War II was fourteen years away—and has been over now for 77 years.

Consider this: There were nearly 400,000 veterans of the American Civil War still living when she was born, a war that had ended 62 years earlier.

The very first major talking motion picture, The Jazz Singer, debuted that year on October 6. Philo Farnsworth transmitted the very first electronic television image in history on September 7. Charles Lindbergh flew the first solo nonstop airplane flight across the Atlantic in May. Forty-two years later she would witness the moon landing. The 1927 New York Yankees, widely considered to be the greatest baseball team in history with its famed Murderers Row that included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, won 110 games that summer and then the World Series. Forty-seven years later she saw Hank Aaron break the Babe’s homerun record, and 47 years after that she watched the Braves win the World Series again.

She was born into a region where segregation and all its ugliness would reign supreme for another 40 years, and in an era when many of those formerly enslaved were still very much alive. She lived long enough to see the first African-American president serve two terms.

Corine remembers the 1936 Gainesville tornado, the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, and the day President Roosevelt died in 1945.

She also remembers the sound of people’s voices who were born more than 150 years ago. She is the last living person on this earth who knew my great-grandfather (her grandfather), the man she called “Grandpa Deaton,” born in 1873.  He died in 1943, almost 80 years ago. She remembers not just him, of course, but every other relative alive then, all of them now only names on a family tree, their voices long silent. In her memory alone they survive as flesh-and-blood people.

Mother Teresa said that “In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.” Corine’s life has been a life of service and sacrifice. She was the oldest girl in a family of sharecroppers—six boys and three girls—with long years of hard toil in hot Georgia summers. (Dad used to jokingly tell listeners, “There were six of us boys in the family, and we each had three sisters.”) She revered her mother and father and lovingly helped to raise the seven siblings born after her. Indeed, she witnessed the entirety of those seven lives, literally from cradle to grave.

She labored as hard as her six brothers on that farm and remained on a first-name basis with work throughout her life. One summer afternoon years ago my father and I were repairing the roof on the garage at her house, and I went down the ladder for more supplies. When I climbed back up, there was Corine on the roof next to Dad, hammering away. She had seen her opportunity and didn’t miss it. Whenever Dad went to her house to do some work, he’d inevitably turn and find her by his side, whether yardwork, carpentry, or something mechanical. They were cut from the very same cloth. 

Her cooking is legendary, and for good reason. Generations tucked in at her table, always groaning with fried chicken, fresh-cooked vegetables, delicious cakes and pies, every mouth waiting for her gentle invitation to “take out and eat.” Not for her the cookbook or the recipe on a 3×5 card. It’s all in her head and every attempt to learn how she makes her biscuits (unmatched), or her sage cornbread dressing (a Christmas staple) was met with a laugh: “Lord, Stanley, I don’t know, I just make it like mama always did.”

Corine (top right in the photo above) is now the last of Hubert and Reba’s nine children still alive, a singular fate that she neither understands nor welcomes but accepts without complaint. Age gains ground, little by little, and then in bursts. She is still in strong mind if faltering body, still living alone though lovingly cared for by two of my cousins, Susan and Kelly, who are surely angels on earth. She is a lone messenger from a long-distant and irretrievable past, the last living link to a vanished time and place, to the people who passed through those years with her, who laughed and prayed and sang and loved, now all left behind with tears and a promise to meet again.

Corine’s long journey continues, day by day. As she has always done, she faces the future squarely, with courage, strength, and quiet dignity, patiently awaiting the summons, prepared, as Elizabeth Gray Vining said, for the great change that comes after this life of so many changes, whenever that may be. She enjoys life, and she endures it.

On her birthday and every day, we honor her and all that she represents, the living embodiment of the love that shaped her and has radiated outward to all of us through all those years and the lives that live on through her. She is dearly loved and treasured.

The Freshest Advices

Hello again. It’s been 8 months since I last spoke to you directly in this space, and a lot has happened since then. A lot. War in Ukraine. A landmark court case. Historic Congressional committee hearings. Divisive legislation in state houses across the country. FBI searches. Monkey pox. The University of Georgia won the College Football National Championship. The Major League Baseball season began. Our beloved Braves are winning though still underperforming. Better Call Saul is ending. I discovered honest-to-goodness Keto bread at the Red and White.

Much has also happened at the Georgia Historical Society, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading on this blog about some of the great scholars who have been visiting our newly renovated and expanded Research Center and the interesting projects they’re working on. We’ll continue to do that from time to time.

There’s a lot to catch up on regarding history in the public arena, and I hope to do that in this space very soon. To say that we live in interesting times would be an understatement.

For now, besides re-introducing myself here, I would be remiss if I didn’t note two recent deaths, one quite well known, the other less so but equally deserving.

Just this week, on August 7, we lost David McCullough, one of our very finest public historians, whose work in print and on television touched millions over the last 50 years. The large pile of books that he click-clacked out of his 1940 Royal manual typewriter in his small writing shed on Martha’s Vineyard were all deeply researched, beautifully written, and magisterial in scope. Two won Pulitzer Prizes. Every word was written for the public, not other scholars, and few practitioners of Clio’s craft did it as well as he. He proudly carried on the tradition of William Prescott, Francis Parkman, George Bancroft, Esther Forbes, Margaret Leech, Allan Nevins, and Bruce Catton. He will be sorely missed.

On July 29 Fred Mingledorff died, one of the last surviving combat veterans of World War II living here in Savannah (or anywhere else, for that matter). Three years ago, on the 75th anniversary of the invasion of Guam, in which he fought, I had the privilege of interviewing him for a podcast. He shared his vivid memories and nightmares about The War and his hopes and fears for the future. He had earlier donated to the Georgia Historical Society many of the artifacts he brought home as a US Marine from the Pacific, now preserved for educating future generations . It was honor to know this gentle, kind man, beloved by his family, friends, and the community that he served so long and so well. Fred Mingledorff, Marine Corps veteran, one of our last living links to the generation that saved the world in the darkest period of history, lived to be 98. Well done, sir. Semper Fi.

My long disappearance from this space may have prompted you to fear or hope that I had gone to seed somewhere, never to return, moldering blissfully away glass in hand, whiskey-sodden in a malaria-infested backwater or mountain-top aerie. No such luck for you. As this blog has attested over the previous months, work here at GHS has been busy, and summer hiatus is now over. Long-suffering readers will once again be afflicted with blogs, podcasts, videos, book and movie reviews, articles about history and sports, food, or whatever else is on my mind.

Stay tuned and stay safe, and as always, thank you for reading.

Visiting Scholars: Dr. J.E. Morgan

Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of the scholars researching in the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center. This week we’ll spotlight Dr. J.E. Morgan, an NEH-ARP Postdoctoral Fellow at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia, and, beginning this fall, a Visiting Assistant Professor at Emory University.

Tell Us About Yourself: I’m originally from Georgia and completed a B.A. at Georgia State, an M.A. in English at the University of Missouri, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in history at Emory. This spring, I wrapped up a year of teaching at the University of Florida as a Visiting Assistant Professor, and I’m currently an NEH-ARP Postdoctoral Fellow at the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia. At Emory and UF, I’ve taught courses on U.S. history from the colonial period to Reconstruction; histories of race and gender history in the Atlantic World and Revolutionary era; and, last spring, an undergraduate research seminar on the archive of slavery. In the fall, I will return to Emory as a Visiting Assistant Professor and am looking forward to teaching a course on the era of the American Revolution and another on women’s history in the colonial era through 1800.

Tell Us About Your Current Project: Currently, I’m working on my manuscript, entitled American Concubines: Gender, Race, Law, and Power. This project examines the shaping of southern society and culture around a practice that has long been called “concubinage.” This term shows up in manuscripts and print materials from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, in historiographical sources, and in many other sources on slavery in the Atlantic world. Because this term appears in so many contexts and can be ambiguous in terms of its usage, an important part of my project is investigating the definitions of “concubinage.” I also examine the development of concubinage as a practice stemming from and reinforcing the power imbalance that informed sexual relations between White men and enslaved women in British slave societies. Many sources reveal that enslaved women often contested this imbalance in various ways and that it was occasionally upset by their actions. Conversely, enslavers used instances of contestation to strengthen their power over enslaved people and impose more stringent measures to ensure that enslaved women and their children by White men would be excluded from protections granted to White women and their children.

What Are you Finding at GHS? I’ve been researching at GHS since beginning my doctoral work, and it has been great to return year after year to work in the archive. During this time, I have collected information from documents connecting the development of slavery in Georgia to slavery in earlier British colonies. These include legal and state documents relating to slavery in early Georgia and family papers that include personal letters, diaries, and financial records that trace the development of a system of slavery in Georgia that drew upon plantation slavery in Carolina and the British Caribbean. Also valuable in many of these collections are correspondence and other materials that reveal specific cultural attitudes of eighteenth-century British Caribbean colonies regarding race and gender that influenced the development of laws regarding slavery in early Georgia. Some of these collections include Georgia and South Carolina Court Declarations; judicial records of various Georgia counties just after the American Revolution; and individual and family papers such as the Stanford Brown Collection (GHS 2564); the Joseph Vallence Bevan Papers (GHS 0071); the Couper and Wylly family papers (GHS 1872), the Jones family papers (GHS 0440), and the Sheftall family collection (GHS 1414).

Together, these kinds of sources can show us how laws were being written and interpreted in ways that both reflected and shaped the culture of early Georgia. They reveal the development of a system of slavery that drew upon those of Jamaica, Barbados, and Carolina. They also complicate understandings of how enslaved women in particular navigated their precarious positions within such brutal systems where security and safety were as elusive as freedom itself.

I’m grateful to everyone at the Research Center during my time there and look forward to future research trips!

Visiting Scholars: Dr. Carl Herzog

Off the Deaton Path would like to introduce our readers to some of the scholars researching in the Georgia Historical Society’s newly expanded and renovated Research Center. This week we’ll spotlight Dr. Carl Herzog, Public Historian at the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, Massachusetts.

Tell Us About Yourself: I came to a career in history a little later in life, so my career path has been a bit different. I’m originally from South Florida, did my undergraduate in journalism at the University of Florida, and started life as a newspaper reporter. Then I ran away to sea on a tall ship. I ended up spending a long career working as an instructor and deck officer on traditional sailing ships conducting college semesters-at-sea and other educational programs. I taught traditional seamanship, celestial navigation, and maritime history. I really enjoyed the history aspects of that work and eventually decided to go back to school. I earned a master’s from the University of Rhode Island and a doctorate from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. For the last five years, I’ve been the public historian for the USS Constitution Museum in Boston, a position that combines a lot of my previous sailing-ship knowledge and skills with public history and historical research.

Tell Us About Your Current Project: USS Constitution’s framing is made of southern live oak timbers that originally came from St. Simons Island. To supplement the workforce of New England timbermen, the Navy initially hired enslaved people from the plantation owners whose property the trees were coming from. So, some of the timbers that still make up the ship today were made possible by enslaved people. One of the missions of the USS Constitution Museum is using the ship as a lens to explore broader topics of maritime history and the American experience. We wanted to explore this story in more detail, learning what life on the coastal islands was like for enslaved people at the time, and learn more about the property owners who provided this enslaved labor as well as the trees to the fledgling U.S. Navy. A grant from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities funded my travel to come to Savannah and a couple other archives as well as visiting the St. Simons properties where the timber was cut. The immediate result of this round of research will be a report that helps inform our future programming and exhibits on this topic.

What Are you Finding at GHS? GHS is home to a diverse range of collections and assets that have been profoundly helpful with this work. The collections of St Simons property owners, Leake, Hamilton, and Couper have all provided insight into the nature of life during a pivotal time of transition on St Simons Island. The property owners were eager to clear live oaks off their land in order to begin planting sea island cotton, a cash crop that quickly came to dominate the island and led to a boom in its enslaved population for the first half of the 19th century. The plantation journal of Richard Leake (MS 0485), in particular, helped me confirm his personal engagement with the Navy captains sent to Georgia to oversee the timber work. In addition, a number of early secondary sources and GHS’s collections of research papers of those authors have provided context and details on others involved in the Navy’s work. It also provided an interesting window into the growth of local pride and legends surrounding the region’s role in contributing to the construction of Constitution. As a result, my work at GHS has been able to greatly inform my visits to St Simons as well as initiating new threads of ongoing research at the National Archives.