Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Rumsfeld’s Mount Misery

Wow. I’m not sure what to think about this. It’s too easy to take the easy cheap shot on this, but it still gives me the creeps, mostly because of the connection to Frederick Douglass. And I just can’t imagine why anyone would want to live in a place like this. Donald Rumsfeld’s summer home on Chesapeake Bay is a place known to locals as Mount Misery. It was originally owned by a notorious slaveholder named Edward Covey, who was known as a “Negro breaker”. Other slaveowners would send their slaves to him to have their will broken so they would be docile and submissive from that point on. Among those went to Mount Misery was Frederick Douglass, who later escaped and became one of the world’s most brilliant and eloquent voices against slavery. Douglass wrote of his time there in a book published in 1855 called My Bondage and My Freedom. For the relevant portion of the book, click here. Can you imagine living in such a place, a place infamous for the unimaginable cruelty and oppression that took place there? I can’t. It would be like buying Auschwitz for a summer cottage.

Comments

  1. #1 Miguelito
    October 27, 2006

    Well, considering that the Bush administration can’t give a rat’s ass about the civil liberties of Americans or even give basic human dignities to their opponents, why should it be a surprise that Rummy can ignore the great oppression that once occurred on his property?

  2. #2 J-Dog
    October 27, 2006

    Is it a cheap shot to say that the history of the place was the deal maker for Rumsfeld? I personally could not live in this place, and I like to think that most Americans feel the same.

    Nov 7 is coming right up, and we have chance to let others know how we feel about the current administration.

    Vote Early. Vote Often. (I’m from Chicago, so it’s okay, it’s tradition.)

  3. #3 Rev. BigDumbChimp
    October 27, 2006

    I wonder if Rummy has ever read that passage from Douglass’ book?

  4. #4 Julia
    October 27, 2006

    Preserving the name while being indifferent to its past seems unpleasant.

    But I have to say here that if everyone in my county and surrounding counties refused to live on land once occupied by people who owned slaves, or even just on land where something very bad once happened, most of the area would empty out. Essentially all of the land in my city was once part of one or another of a network of plantations worked by slaves, including the land my house is on. The plantations where parks or preserved homes, etc. are located usually in some way recognize the history, and several have extensive historical displays for the public.

    Perhaps what happened at Mount Misery was unusual enough that it should be open to the public as an historical, educational park.

  5. #5 Jeff Hebert
    October 27, 2006

    It seems icky to me too — I doubt I could live there — but as Julia says, if we were to abandon every site where something awful happened, there are parts of the country (and the world) where you almost couldn’t live anywhere.

    If I were looking at Rumsfeld charitably, I could make the case that he is taking over a place of shame and transforming it into a place of hope and glory. Maybe he thinks he is draining the evil out of the place by living there while carrying on the great cause of extending freedom to other nations and cultures, essentially consecrating a former altar of evil with the promise of liberty for people who found themselves in a situation much like Douglass’ — oppressed by powers they could not control, and bound to the yoke of tyranny.

    I mean, that’s probably not the case (especially since judging by his stance on torture, Rumsfeld would probably admire the slave-breaker’s coercive interrogation techniques and get him to write a new chapter in the CIA Field Manual), but I don’t think automatically tarring Rumsfeld with the worst possible interpretation is fair (and to be clear, that’s not what Ed did).

  6. #6 Ed Brayton
    October 27, 2006

    As I said, I think the cheap shot – “Rumsfeld is a horrible person who obviously likes slavery” – is far too easy and almost certainly inaccurate. But it still gives me the creeps. Obviously we can’t avoid living on all land that had slaves, but this was a uniquely bad place, a place infamous for its cruelty and inhumanity. It’s the equivalent of Auschwitz or Dachau, in my view. I just couldn’t imagine living in a place like that.

  7. #7 George
    October 27, 2006

    I think the way to really get to some understanding of this is to ask the question: Who other than Rumsfeld would live at this place?

    Living there takes a tremendous lack of sensitivity.

  8. #8 Jim Ramsey
    October 27, 2006

    Does anyone else see the other parallel and irony?

    Mount Misery failed to break Frederick Douglas and that failure contributed to destruction of slavery in the U.S. (P.S. Yes, I know, slavery still exist, including in the U.S., but not legally).

    Likewise our efforts to terrorized our enemies with torture have met with failure. First, we don’t reliably identify our enemies, and second, our actual enemies lie to us under torture and lead us down blind alleys.

  9. #9 Chuck
    October 27, 2006

    Perhaps this will buy some traction for the administration among the unreconstructed Confederate wing of the Republican Party (the ironies of history abound).

  10. #10 Jeff Hebert
    October 27, 2006

    Great point, Jim Ramsey.

  11. #11 CPT_Doom
    October 27, 2006

    As I said, I think the cheap shot – “Rumsfeld is a horrible person who obviously likes slavery” – is far too easy and almost certainly inaccurate. But it still gives me the creeps. Obviously we can’t avoid living on all land that had slaves, but this was a uniquely bad place, a place infamous for its cruelty and inhumanity. It’s the equivalent of Auschwitz or Dachau, in my view. I just couldn’t imagine living in a place like that.

    I know if I acquired that property, the first call I would make would be to a priest for an exorcism. I am not normally a new-agey type of person, but the history of that place would make me believe that there would be a residue of evil in it.

  12. #12 Michael Suttkus, II
    October 27, 2006

    I’d live there. A place like that should have someone willing to make good memories about it.

  13. #13 Seth Manapio
    October 28, 2006

    “It’s the equivalent of Auschwitz or Dachau, in my view. I just couldn’t imagine living in a place like that.”

    ————–

    Wow, Ed, I have to disagree with you here. I read the passage in Douglas’ book, and slaves were not sent to Covey’s to starve to death and die. It was a place meant to break the spirit, not an factory of murder. And nothing took place there that didn’t take place on any number of plantations all throught the south… as Douglas mentioned, at least there was enough to eat at Covey’s.

  14. #14 george
    October 28, 2006

    Well now, at least there was enough to eat. I suppose Mount Misery would be better called Club Slave….

  15. #15 Seth Manapio
    October 28, 2006

    “Well now, at least there was enough to eat. I suppose Mount Misery would be better called Club Slave”

    ————

    My point was twofold.

    1. People sent to Aushwitz were worked to death. They were starved to death, beaten to death, gassed to death… it was a place of horrifying torture with no purpose other than cruelty and no release other than death. Mount Misery was not such a place. The man running it would have been held to some account if he seriously injured, much less killed, a slave entrusted to him, the slaves on the property knew the length of their indenture to him. The people were treated like animals, but at least they were treated like valuable animals.

    2. The institution of slavery itself was evil enough to only be made marginally worse by extra flogging. Nothing took place at Covey’s farm that would be considered unusually cruel by the standards of southern slavery, and Covey himself was no harsher a man than Douglas’ master Thomas Auld, who beat and starved his slaves. Douglas describes this cruelty exceptionally well:

    Master would keep this lacerated woman tied up by her wrists, to a bolt in the joist, three, four and five hours at a time. He would tie her up early in the morning, whip her with a cowskin before breakfast; leave her tied up; go to his store, and, returning to his dinner, repeat the castigation; laying on the rugged lash, on flesh already made raw by repeated blows.

    Practically every large ante-bellum home in the southern United States was owned by a man who kept slaves. Those slaves were commonly whipped, raped, tormented, and worst of all owned. You can’t single out one place as being extremely worse then the others if nothing happened there that didn’t happen everywhere else.

  16. #16 Brian X
    October 28, 2006

    I’d say Rumsfeld is oblivious more than anything else. His performance in the Iraq war definitely indicates he doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to anything but his agenda.

  17. #17 Kristine
    June 27, 2007

    Well, I don’t believe in ghosts or vibes or hauntings or whatever, but the question is, shouldn’t Rumsfeld? Isn’t he religious?

  18. #18 Coin
    June 27, 2007

    Maybe he got a really good price on it.

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