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I suppose it’s just a happy coincidence that this is the day after Columbus Day, but I was delighted to learn whilst reading my Francis Parkman on the history of European exploration of North America this morning that the area around what is now extreme southeastern South Carolina was first colonized by a French Huguenot named Jean Ribault, who established a fort on what is now Parris Island, just across Port Royal Sound from Hilton Head, in 1562.  My parents lived on the north end of Hilton Head for a number of years (indeed, when the wind was in the right direction, the Marine artillery training used to rattle the windows in the house) and I know the area pretty well.  It was a real pleasure to read about Skull Creek, Calibogue Sound, Hilton Head itself and the like as they were first explored by Europeans almost 500 years ago.

The Parris Island settlement, called Charlesfort, like so many other early footholds of its sort did not last very long.  And indeed, the French only maintained a presence on the Florida/Georgia/Carolina coast for a few years before the Spanish under Pedro Menendez de Aviles – who sounds like one seriously mean motorcycle – rolled in and crushed them.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in 1066, in which William the Conqueror and his army of Normans defeated the Saxons under Harold – King of England or Earl of Wessex, depending on your sympathies – who was killed in the battle. William’s subsequent crowning as King of England was the final act of an extremely messy year in the kingdom’s history following the death of Edward the Confessor in January, with half a dozen different claimants vying for the throne. William was, in effect, the last man standing, but it could have gone very, very differently.

Here is a nifty little YouTube video animation of the Bayeux Tapestry, which depicts the invasion.

Of course, as a Celt myself, I tend to look on the whole mix of Saxons, Normans, Vikings and the like with a certain amount of residual contempt and little sympathy for their dynastic bickering.

Oh, and here’s a nifty bit of linguistic trivia for you that illustrates the societal fallout from the Conquest:  The words we use for the various barnyard animals – pig, cow, chicken and the like – have their origin in Old English.  The words we use to describe the prepared versions of these animals that show up at table – beef, poultry, pork, veal and so on – have their roots in Norman French.  Which shows who had the responsibility for taking care of them and who got to eat them.


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October 2008