This Day (Mea Culpa Edition)

Published:November 1, 2012 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1611, William Shakespeare‘s players presented the first recorded performance of The Tempest before King James I and the royal court at Whitehall Palace. The play was in part based on an account, by William Strachey, of the shipwreck of the Sea Venture, a ship bearing colonists to Jamestown.

(Click here to see the first page of Strachey’s original, handwritten narrative.)

On this day in 1831, the lawyer Thomas R. Gray met his newest client, an enslaved preacher named Nat Turner, in the Southampton County jail. Turner was accused of leading a slave uprising that led to the deaths of fifty-five white people, and Gray eventually published what he said was Turner’s confession. More than a century later, William Styron turned the bloody episode into a novel and, almost forty years after that, Kyle Baker drew a graphic novel (see the above images).

On this day in 1861, the fifty-three-year veteran and Dinwiddie County–native Winfield Scott resigned as general in chief of Union armies. Early the next morning, the newly minted commander, George B. McClellan, escorted Scott to the train station.

“The sight of this morning was a lesson to me which I hope not soon to forget,” McClellan later wrote to his wife.*

I saw there the end of a long, active, and industrious life, the end of the career of the first soldier of the nation; and it was a feeble old man scarce able to walk; hardly anyone there to see him off but his successor. Should I ever become vainglorious and ambitious, remind me of that spectacle.

It’s unclear whether Mrs. McClellan ever did.**

Dimitri Rotov argues that McClellan’s “letters to his wife” deserve to be scare-quoted. The historian Stephen W. Sears, who collected said letters, responds.

** Same Mr. Rotov confronts the traditional take on McClellan—that ambition provoked him into stealing Scott’s position.

A version of this post was originally published on November 1, 2011.

IMAGES: Nat Turner meeting with his lawyer, Thomas R. Gray, from Nat Turner by Kyle Baker