The first in a series of “True History” portraits of my ancestors

 

R Love in truth

For several years I’ve wanted to make faux-historical-style “engravings” that told the true stories of some of my ancestors. Here’s my first one! (If you click on the image you can see it larger.)

 

The standard histories will tell you that Robert Love (my gr. x 4 grandfather) tell you some version of this: “Colonel Robert Love (11 May 1760 – 17 July 1845) was an American Patriot, Frontiersman, Statesman, Benefactor and Founder of Waynesville. He would conduct the 1820 Robert Love Survey, establishing the North Carolina and Tennessee border.”

 

He did fight in the Revolutionary War. But in 1776, at the age of 16, he was a wagoner on the Christian Expedition that systematically destroyed Cherokee towns, burned all their crops, and killed any Cherokee who got in the way. After that he became a “frontiersman,” which means he moved into Cherokee territory, took their land, and killed the Indians who were defending that land. He was a “benefactor” because, after taking Indian lands, he became a slave owner and got rich on the exploitation of enslaved Africans and their descendants.

 

So this is my true portrait of Robert Love.

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4 thoughts on “The first in a series of “True History” portraits of my ancestors”

  1. Your entry reminds me of how we view the past with our modern eyes. By our standard today what happened in the past is wrong, we live very different lives today in a world our ancestors could not imagine. My ancestor coming to Canada in 1662 did pretty much the same thing. Came to the new world to make a fortune and succeeded. The natives on the North shore of the Saint-Lawrence were the Huron who allied themselves with the French simply because it was practical in their wars against the Iroquois on the South shore of the river. My ancestor being a soldier of the King went to war agains the English in what is Vermont today. The Iroquois were a threat to the French and they were dealt with. Up to a few weeks ago our landlord was a Iroquois elder, a very decent and nice man, best landlord we ever had. I never told him about my ancestor, I was embarrassed, though his actions in the 17th century New France has nothing to do with me today, still you are mindful of the past and its repercussions. I am sure that Natives are often angry at White folks for past history.
    That is the dilemma of reconciling the past and our views today. My ancestor’s behaviour was probably not wrong in his eyes at the time and society around him re-enforced what he believed in. Same today about our behaviour, I wonder what people in 100 years or more will think of us.
    I have the same situations at the Art Gallery, people ask about a painter who lived in the 15th Century and their view of him is through modern eyes. One asked, was Caravaggio a pedophile. I was very surprised by that question. It is true that he painted a lot of young boys (12-15) and they appear semi nude. I had to remind this person that some 500 years ago life was a lot shorter than today and the concept of childhood did not exist as it does today. Also what we call teenagers today where adults of marriage age then. Many of his models were his friends. There is no evidence to support such an idea.
    I also wonder what would the ancient think of our assessment of them and their world if they could hear us. Would they say to us, You are here today because of what I did back then, for better or for worse.

    1. Laurent – Yes, these are very complicated issues. I’m sure that my ancestor, Robert Love, and all my other ancestors who did terrible things, saw themselves as completely justified. What troubles me is not so much what they thought of themselves, but how the narratives of today repeat those self assessments. Here in America, my ancestors believed unquestioningly in Manifest Destiny and the moral imperative we “civilized” people had to spread that civilization to the benighted natives (and make a shit load of money while doing it!).

      We, in the present, know that Manifest Destiny was a great justifier of genocide. My ancestor Robert Love is widely heroized (in the small pond of western North Carolina at least) and his actions are universally recounted in the best possible light. He is called a military hero, a benefactor, a pioneer, frontiersman, or Indian fighter. I want to turn use other words to describe them, words that, in the 21st Century, seem more correct. I’d actually like to figure out a way to do it interactively so people could choose different descriptors of the same activities, and see how that made them feel about him.

      Also, I think your former landlord would have probably appreciated talking about your shared and difficult history. Working on this project, I’ve been reaching out to all different kinds of people – black, white, Native American – to talk about our shared histories. Much of what we share is terrible but a matter-of-fact and undefensive on my part attitude really helps. In fact, I often start such talks with something like, “Oh my God, my ancestors were such assholes!” Usually puts people right at their ease!

  2. Kirk, I happened upon your blog today while google searching for information on my gggg grandfather Col. Robert Love. I believe we are cousins! I have enjoyed reading your thoughts about Robert and the way he used his wealth and influence. I am very saddened to read about how many slaves the entire family owned. I descend from Col. Robert’s son, Dillard. He had 8 illegitimate children with a woman named, Delilah Ingram. She was part Indian and your description about Cherokee indians having dna that shows up as Middle Eastern explains the 6% Middle East dna in my ancestry profile that had me stumped! I look forward to reading more about your family stories. Jeanne Love Elmer

    1. Jeanne, Hi! This is Elizabeth Thomas, the co-writer of our book project, main blogger here, and also your distant cousin. It’s wonderful to cyber meet you. I’ll email you shortly!

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