Fred Reed, Tidewater Cavalier

I really enjoyed Fred Reed’s latest essay on his Tidewater origins:

“If the reader will permit me this once a somewhat personal and idiosyncratic essay–heretofore I have never been either personal or idiosyncratic–I will promise never to do it again. No one can doubt the reliability of my promises.

I have played in writing over the years with my birth in West Virginia and my consequent but imaginary possession of twelve toes. (Most readers will not care where I was born, and a fair few clearly wish that I hadn’t been. Well, this isn’t your day.) Anyway, I entered this world in Bluefield General Hospital, McDowell County, West Virginia, because my mother was staying with her father, a medical doctor in Crumpler, an unincorporated coal camp up the holler from North Fork, while my father was gunnery officer aboard a destroyer in the Pacific.

In fact, my people are the pure Cavalier stock of the Virginia Tidewater. I am Frederick Venable Reed Jr, my mother’s maiden name being Betty Venable Rivers–a cousin marriage, which some will suggest explains a lot. The Venables were prominent in the gentility of Southside Virginia. …

The Cavalier society of Tidewater was perhaps the high point of American civilization. The people were extraordinarily literate, steeped in the thought of the Enlightenment, imbued with a profound and kindly Christianity. From them came the Washingtons, Jeffersons, Madisons, the Lees, and Custises. It is hard to imagine any modern politician, or his ghost writer, writing either the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, the latter being the framework, enduring until perhaps 1960, of an entire nation. The Virginians did.

They bore little resemblance–I might almost say “no resemblance”–to the wild and barbaric Scots-Irish of Appalachia or the communal-minded, meddlesome, and brutally intolerant Puritans of New England or, really, to anyone else in America.

Theirs was a hierarchical society. A happy quality of aristocratic rule is that graft and the sordid occupations of the lower classes are viewed as humiliating, noblesse oblige being expected. Manners and morals were not optional. No perfect ordering of humanity exists, but this was about as close as it comes”

Have you ever noticed that you can read and relate to some people a lot more than others? I read all sorts of people who I can’t relate to like David Brooks. I don’t understand their mindset. It is alien and unfamiliar. I guess I just don’t share their culture or their identity.

As for the Virginians, it seems clear to me that they suffered from a failure of imagination. They took so many things in their culture for granted that it never occurred to them to spell it out in the Constitution. They were articulating a form of government for a new nation. They weren’t concerned with more primordial issues of identity which remained intact from the colonial era. American identity before and after the American Revolution was English, Christian, White and free.

33 Comments

  1. “They took so many things in their culture for granted that it never occurred to them to spell it out in the Constitution.”

    That, right there, is classically Southern. I took for granted the culture all around me. Unfortunately for us, the Virginians made the Union. But they made it in good faith with those who weren’t acting in good faith.

    I’ve read and enjoyed Fred Reed’s essays for years.

    • The Virginians were split into the Traditionalist and Godless Enlightenment Liberals camps. Unfortunately for us the Traditionalists didn’t write our laws and only one of these good Virginia Traditionalists was President, George Washington, The rest Jefferson Madison and to a lesser extent Monroe were part of the godless Jeffersonian bunch

      Thanks to the Scots Irish and Andrew Jackson, Conservatism finally triumphed but not before the damage had been done

  2. What is missing is Mr. Reed’s explanation for how his illustrious people brought us to this point. We typically see Fred Reed rant on about hispanics and asian “super-achievers.”

    Perhaps the issue is that the caste of whites who established the USA has believed in keeping the vulgar classes vulgar. “The American Dream” is that each generation supposedly does better than the last, but in some respects, looking at family history, it seems that each generation has become more vulgar and anti-intellectual than the last. I say this as someone with a brother who is a neurosurgeon, with many successful relatives, but the truth is that American culture has been vulgarizing And looking at Fred Reed himself, could he deny it?

    Why do we have this perverse education system, and why are whites in such abject submission to it?

  3. Two things. First, I love that when I loaded OD, the old header format was back with the Dixie flag logo. Second, I enjoyed this piece.
    When I first started reading about the South, from guys like the blind to the (((Tribe))) Kennedy brothers, I got the impression that the South was heavily Scottish. I have come to understand that there was a lot of English, especially in what Jefferson might term the “natural aristocracy”. I have not read a lot of Clyde Wilson yet, but he seems to be Celt centered and Judeophilic.
    Disclaimer: I am of English, German, and Scottish lineage -with a tad bit of French and Welsh. I do not want to start a Celt version Anglo typing match here with my comment. I appreciate all my ancestors. I identify as an Amerikaner (as people who read my blog already know).

  4. You could have an American Silver Knot for the ECW. I think there were a couple of skirmishes between Royalists and Roundheads in the colonies.

  5. I’m probably acquainted with some of Reed’s distant Venable cousins. I have nothing, but, good to say about them, as I remember them.

  6. My ancestry is from the Virginia Tidewater notedly New Kent and Henrico Counties and from there moved inland to Goochland County. From there they migrated throughout Dixie, though my branch went west into Tennessee namely Clairborne and Grainger Co TN and from there into Harlan County KY. Following the War Between The States, the part of Harlan they lived in was formed by the Kentucky Legislature into Bell County. I been through Goochland once in 1984 when I was 8 on the way to Virginia Beach, but the Kentucky branch of the family kept ZERO records of the family so I didn’t know until like 20 yrs ago that’s where we lived originally. Unfortunately being in Harlan which was largely PRO-UNION most of them ended up on the wrong side of the conflict. 🙁 The Virginia cousins were so numerous there was a regiment nicknamed for them in the Stonewall Brigade.

    • I have written extensively on OD about the Tidewater/Piedmont Aristocracy in Eastern Virginia and how unfortunately degenerate a good part of it was.

      You could split the Virginia Aristocracy really into TWO CAMPS. Camp One were the Traditionalists, typified by George Washington and the Lee Family. These folks tended to be Anglican (later Episcopalian) and were totally devoted to the customs of Rural Aristocratic England. The second camp were the romantic idealists typified by Jefferson and Madison, who hated Anglicanism and traditionalism and desired to create a society where reason and law reigned supreme over Christianity and tradition. This camp had become more numerous by the Revolution and afterward dominated Virginia politics. Following the war they were the driving forces behind the new ideas such as Abolitionism, Education for Women, and De-Christianization. Virginia’s Statute For Establishing Religious Freedom was their High Point. Jefferson later wrote that he didn’t care whether a man was a Mahometan, Hindoo Jew or unbeliever so long as he was a good citizen.

      Many in this bunch emancipated large numbers of slaves and sent them north into Ohio because until the 1850’s a good percentage of Ohio actually belonged to the Commonwealth of Virginia When Virginian John Randolph’s 518 slaves were emancipated and a plan was hatched to settle them in southern Ohio, the population rose up in indignation. An Ohio congressman warned that if the attempt were made, “the banks of the Ohio … would be lined with men with muskets on their shoulders to keep off the emancipated slaves.” Eventually Randolph’s political pull allowed the Negroes to move there where they settled near modern day Piqua OH. Randolph was an ally of Jefferson. Later other Virginians like Ed Coles who was the SECOND Governor of Illinois brought all of his slaves to the Prairie State.

      • Virginia was gratefully saved by the Scots-Irish from becoming the Second Massachusetts with all of its horrid liberalism. As the Scots-Irish in the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah became dominant, they pushed the liberal Jeffersonians out of power and as this coincided with the Second Great Awakening, they placed Christianity in unsailable prominence.

        Almost the entire South west of the Appalachians was settled predominantely by Scots-Irish, who made these lands much more Conservative. There was a slight split among the Scots Irish as the more isolated ones over time became Pro-Union, but the majority served the CSA proudly. STONEWALL JACKSON aka the man who probably single handedly saved the Battle of First Manassas from being a Union Rout and likely saved the Southern war effort the next year from McClellans horde was a Scots Irishman. The dean of Southern Statesmen before the war John C Calhoun was a Scots Irishman as well.

        There is a reason why the SCOTS IRISH=DIXIE. The Scots-Irish politically defeated the limp-wristed Jeffersonians settled every state west of the Blue Ridge and gave it their culture, their religious values and their bravery. Without them, the South today would be every bit as degraded as everywhere else.

  7. The Tidewater Cavaliers need better press.

    The Scots-Irish get most of the media attention and are endlessly celebrated for settling the frontier.

    The preppy Caribbean privateer-adventurers from Barbados who first settled Charleston and South Carolina and Lower South still enjoy considerable influence.

    • The Tidewater Cavaliers were the first Southrons to become godless liberals and the Hugenots in Low Country South Carolina engaged in quite a bit of immorality and miscgenation and SOME became liberal as well re:Grimke Sisters. They were by and large good folks. BUT the Scots Irish ARE Dixie.

    • “The preppy Caribbean privateer-adventurers from Barbados who first settled Charleston and South Carolina and Lower South still enjoy considerable influence.”

      Thank you for explaining why a Nancy Boy like Lindsey Graham exists.

  8. Is this the guy who burns a lot of calories trying to be hip and who tries to imitate Hunter S. Thompson and who is a miscegenationist who loves Mexico? Or am I mistaken?

    • Haha, yes.

      He’s fallen far short of the Cavalier ideal. I’m sure he would grant the point though.

    • Yup, that’s Fred Reed! I think he even wrote a farewell column at Takimag saying he was sick of the racist Palecon Commentariat at Takimag.

  9. I think we can safely say that unfortunately Imperfect Secession was and is the only solution. In a perfect world, either New England would have seceded in 1814 or in 1860 the Knights of the Golden Circle would have overthrown the government and shot all the Yankee politicians and been done with it. The sad thing was in 1814 it was the South who was all about #MUHUNION #MUH-USA and in 1860 had their been a bloody coup, most of the Southern Officer Corp and political establishment would have sided with the Union. There were talks of a coup in 1860 among the Knights of the Golden Circle according to some apocryphal accounts, but they realized that a coup would alienate most of the South, so Secession was chosen instead.

    The proverbial Rock and a Hard Place. Either way you land its going to hurt some, so you try to figure out which one will hurt less.

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