Friday, December 5, 2014

Let's not have any g-d- swearing here

Guerrilla war was the norm in Kentucky as white settlers tried to move in on the Shawnee and Cherokee in the 1770s. I've been reading John Mack Faragher's biography of Daniel Boone (no reason except he's a wonderful historian -- nobody with the slightest interest in Sangamon County, Illinois, should miss his Sugar Creek).

Boone's life was researched quite a bit by interviewers late in his life and while those who knew him were still alive. So there are quite a few first-person accounts of the siege of Boonesborough in September 1778. And it is known that the settlers and the Indians frequently exchanged profane insults during the battles -- but it is mostly not known what exactly they said.

Why not? Because the language offended the researchers conducting the interviews. Faragher writes,

"Vulgar gibes were tossed back and forth, although nineteenth-century decorum kept even the best of collectors from recording much of this language. One salty-tongued Kentuckian informant, reviewing the notes that one antiquarian had taken during his interview, protested the absence of the profanity, arguing that the story simply couldn't be told 'without these necessary ornaments.' The interviewer, however, defended the expurgation, maintaining that the swearing was 'repugnant to good taste, and renders the narrative obnoxious to persons of refined and Christian feeling.'"
Have you ever left out part of the historical record for such reasons -- or any reasons?

John Mack Faragher, Daniel Boone: The Life and Legend of an American Pioneer (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1992), 196. 

Harold Henderson, "Let's not have any g-d- swearing here," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 5 December 2014 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]


IsraelP said...

Good one , Harold. This is very funny.

Geolover said...

Happily, at least one compiler regarding frontier history conducted interviews by mail. In the Lyman Draper manuscripts (Wisconsin Historical Society) one can often find the actual respondent letters.

It is good to see a historian reporting on bowdlerization.

Barbara said...

Ah, yes, let us not offend the [insert religion here] sensibilities of our readers!!

As a 'modern' reader, I think that kind of writing makes these hideous events seem tame, like they were produced for children's television. If they were actually told in all the gruesome detail, maybe war would be taken more seriously as the G**awful thing it is!

I have put things into client reports that made them unhappy. S*** happens!

:-D Barbara