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  • Method in the Madness

    Method in the Madness

    Richard Lansdown

    Methodism gained great popularity in the 18th century, but its followers were thought enthusiastic to the point of insanity, posing a serious threat to the established church.
    Writing 20 years after the death of John Wesley, William Warburton, Bishop of Gloucester, claimed in 1811 that the founder of Methodism had invented ‘a new trade’ – that of ‘turning fools into madmen’.A paper published the previous year listed the causes of insanity of 863 patients at London’s Bethlem Hospital, about one third of those admitted between 1772 and 1787.That religion should be mentioned as a cause of madness among Bedlam inmates is not a particular surprise. There is a well-established link between religious belief and mental illness. It is common, for example, for those diagnosed with schizophrenia to report some kind of religious delusion: they have talked directly to God, they are God, they are possessed by the devil or his demons.But why single out Methodism? The mid-17th century had seen a proliferation of zealous religious sects, yet Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Baptists, although persecuted, seem not to have behaved in a way that brought about charges of insanity. On the other hand, Quakers, so named for their shaking as they heard the spirit speaking to them, or Fifth Monarchists, who saw Christ’s kingdom coming at any moment, and others of similar vein were frequently declared mad. Methodists were the latest in a long line.Methodists were deemed crazy because what they said, what they stood for and what they did were seen as threats. John Wesley himself, with a frequency that makes one think of a self-fulfilling prophecy, told his followers that they were likely to be seen as having taken leave of their senses.‘Methodist’ was a baggy, slippery term in the 17th century. It embraced evangelical groups, some Anglicans and anyone who seemed to take religion seriously. But during the 18th century it had come to describe a group, which became an organisation, which became a denomination, slowly built up by Wesley, his brother Charles, the great hymn-writer, and George Whitefield. Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, became Wesley’s chief patron and supporter. Converted in the 1730s, she was ‘a kind of godmother to many of the Revival leaders’. An evangelical movement within the Anglican Church, Methodism was based firmly on the ‘born-again’ principle that Christ had been sent to save us from sin – not just those we committed, but the ‘original sin’ we were born with. The emphasis was on personal belief: personal responsibility for saving oneself.Wesley, an ordained Anglican, never formally severed his connection with the Church of England. The year before he died, he wrote: ‘I live and die a member of the Church of England … I never had any design of separating from the Church. I have no such design now … I declare, once more, that I live and die a member of the Church of England, and that none who regard my judgment or advice will ever separate from it.’ But by the time of Wesley’s death in 1791, there were 470 Methodist chapels with 300 full-time itinerants and around 2,000 local preachers. In 1795, just four years later, the Methodists split from the established religion and, just like the Baptists, the Congregationalists, the Presbyterians and the Quakers, became a separate, dissenting church.Methodists’ behaviourFrom the outset there had been rumblings that Methodists were mad. While undergraduates, Wesley and his followers attracted ridicule. John declared in 1727 that ‘Leisure and I have now taken leave of one another’, referring to his devotion to a pious and proper way of living. The Wesley brothers were the centre of a small group at Oxford, set up originally by Charles. They lived by strict set rules and apportioned their time carefully to study and religious duties, allowing as little as they could to sleeping and eating. It is hardly surprising that their fellow undergraduates thought them odd; they gave the group’s members a number of names, including the derisory ‘The Holy Club’. They also made up a rhyme:By rule they eat, by rule they drink,By rule do all things but thinkAccuse the priests of loose behaviour,To get more in the layman’s favour.Method alone must guide ’em allWhen themselves Methodists they call.The critics’ conviction that the club members were making excessive demands on each other and were possibly insane was confirmed when one member of the group, William Morgan, went mad and died tragically in 1732. Critics appear to have ignored the fact that members of the ‘Holy Club’ visited lonely people in prison, took food to poor families and taught orphaned children to read.Accusations of madness were also made about the behaviour of Methodism’s early congregations, where there was much shouting and screaming, crying and swooning. They could at various times and in various places convulse. On one occasion a woman ‘cried out aloud as in the agonies of death’, two others ‘were seized with strong pain and roared with disquiet of heart’. Wesley himself reported scenes of the Acts of the Apostles reproduced with demon-possession, visions and healing.The claims and beliefs of some of Wesley’s followers did not help. George Bell, for example, claimed in 1761 that he had been converted following a vision of Christ. He went on to say that he had cured a woman with painful lumps in her breast by prayer, a claim supported by Wesley. Bell and others around him went on to declare that they were exempt from death and that they could give sight to the blind. Bell took things a step too far when he predicted the end of the world on 28 February 1763, for which he was disowned as a Methodist. As Wesley’s biographer H.D. Rack concluded in 1989, the George Bell episode showed how difficult it was in early Methodism to distinguish religious zeal and visionary spiritual gifts from ‘pretending to special revelations’ and insanity.Enthusiasm The educated elite of the 18th century lived in dread of a return to the previous century’s civil war and revolution, in which religious sectarianism played a major role. They disliked, too, what they saw as primitive beliefs in astrology, witchcraft and demons that had been common, turning instead to the cooler, rational thought exemplified by the founding of the Royal Society in 1660. Above all, the Establishment, feeling its way towards Enlightenment, loathed and feared ‘Enthusiasm’.This pejorative term was coined to cover the extreme emotion and zeal, characteristic of many of the 17th- and 18th-century dissenters, which was essential to them as both a confirmation and a demonstration of religious experience. These were people who would interrupt a service to inform the preacher and his congregation of the error of their ways, who would cure illness not with medicine but with prayer. They preached that an omnipotent God had done everything and had left nothing for humanity to do but believe as, without faith, good works were of no avail.It is no accident that Rack’s biography of Wesley is entitled Reasonable Enthusiast. Alexander Knox, who knew Wesley well, said: ‘He would have been an enthusiast if he could.’ As Wesley put it: ‘Whatever is spoken of the religion of the heart, and by the inward change by the Spirit of God, must appear enthusiastic to those who have not felt them.’William Hogarth, in his 1762 satire Credulity, Superstition and Fanaticism (originally engraved in 1761, with the title Enthusiasm Delineated), poured scorn on a Methodist preacher (possibly George Whitefield) rousing his congregation to paroxysms of religious fervour. Presiding from a great height, the preacher-performer terrorises his congregation with a pair of puppets representing the devil and a witch. The text beside him reads: ‘I speak as a fool.’Wesley responded to accusations of Enthusiasm by pointing out that he and his followers were simply abiding by scripture. He was scathing about the word itself, arguing in one of his sermons that it was ill defined, little understood and often used in contradictory ways. He preferred ‘fanaticism’. To him, fanaticism was, indeed, a disorder of the mind, a sort of madness, not part of religion: ‘Quite the reverse. Religion is the spirit of a sound mind and so it is the very opposite of madness.’But there was more to Enthusiasm than religious zeal. Enthusiasts were also seen as agents of political and social upheaval, arguing for the need for individuals to change themselves and, by extension, society. Loyalty to the king and support for the status quo could not be guaranteed among those who saw their loyalty to God as paramount.E.P. Thompson, in his classic 1963 study The Making of the English Working Class, sees Methodism as anything but a threat. He writes of a reactionary religious terrorism, suppressing progressive political activity:Nothing was more often remarked by contemporaries of the workaday Methodist character, or of Methodist home-life, than its methodical, disciplined and repressed disposition … Energies and emotions which were dangerous to social order, or which were merely unproductive … were released in the harmless form of sporadic love-feasts, watch-nights, band-meetings or revivalist campaigns. Thompson, however, was describing the Methodism of the late 18th and 19th centuries. The picture from earlier times was different.Jacobite brushAlthough Wesley was at least outwardly loyal to the status quo, Methodism became tarred with the Jacobite brush. The Jacobites, traditionally understood to be those who saw William and Mary as interlopers and wished a Stuart to return to the throne, also included those who believed firmly in the sanctity of hereditary kingship. Many Tories saw themselves as heirs to the Cavaliers and were natural Jacobites (supporters displayed pictures of both Royalist and Jacobite heroes in their homes). Both Wesley’s mother, Susanna, and Charles demonstrated more than a hint of Jacobitism. The latter was at one point taken before the Yorkshire magistrates for praying for ‘the Lord’s absent ones’. John distanced himself from such criticism by proposing a somewhat equivocal oath of allegiance to the king, in which he stated: ‘We are ready to obey your Majesty to the uttermost in all things which we conceive to be agreeable thereto.’In Britain, Methodism flourished selectively in terms of occupation and social status, attracting in particular craftsmen and urban industrial workers. By the 1790s, 62 per cent of male members were artisans. These were people less bound to their employers, pastors and masters than labourers and less likely to be deferential. The desire among Methodists for social change was evident: Wesley and his followers violently opposed slavery and they even had women preachers. Philip Embury, a Methodist preacher who emigrated to America, became notorious there for the strange goings-on in his house: ‘Women often prayed and even stood up and made speeches just like the men.’Conservative members of the Anglican Church found, in some areas, their congregations diminishing, as did the Baptists. One commentator claimed Wesley had made a takeover bid for growing religious groups, satisfying a need for a religion of the heart.The threat of Methodism’s rising popularity led to physical attacks, particularly in the 1740s and 1750s. Sometimes the attackers were no more than a few rowdies breaking up Methodist meetings, frightening women and throwing the preacher into a duck pond. One can imagine that, for the perpetrators, this would have been construed as having a bit of fun. But there were also more organised mobs egged on, sometimes with free ale and money, by the local Anglican clergy and landowners, seemingly designed to deter would-be Methodists from joining the movement.John Trelford gave a graphic account of one of the more aggressive mob assaults:On 25 January 1742 … the rabble made all the noise they could and pushed violently against the hearers [of Wesley]. They struck some of them and broke down part of the house. [They] began to throw large stones, which forced their way through the roof and fell with the tiles among the people. Wesley saw that the people were really in peril of their lives.Wesley offered a simple response to such attacks. In one of his sermons he preached that holiness brings persecution: ‘This is a badge of our discipleship, a seal of our calling … The meek, serious, humble, zealous lovers of God and man are of good report among their brethren; but of evil report with the world, who count and treat them “as the filth and offscouring of all things”.’Religious melancholyReligious mania and melancholia were recognised well before the 18th century. Timothie Bright had written in 1586 of ‘that heavy hande of God upon the afflicted conscience, tormented with remorse of sinne, & feare of his judgement’. Richard Burton, in his 1621 Anatomy of Melancholy, wrote of ‘an anguish of the mind’, in which fear and sorrow were inseparable companions. He coined the phrase ‘religious melancholy’, which he saw as resulting from the Devil working through ‘superstitious Idoloters, Ethnickes, Mahometans, Jewes, Heretickes, Enthusiasts, Divinators, Prophets, Sectaries, and Scismatickes’. He lists ‘too much devotion, blind zeal, fear of eternal punishment, and that last judgement, for a cause of those Enthusiaticks and desperate persons’.The most cursory reading of Wesley’s sermons offers explanations of why those of his followers susceptible to depression or mania could well have been tipped over the edge; why they, too, suffered ‘a holy terror and despair of the promise of salvation’. Justification by faith was the fundamental tenet of Methodism: no matter what good work one has done, if one is not born again in the realisation that Christ died to save one from sin, then one would be taken by the devil and spend eternity in hell. Wesley preached:How can we enjoy life, either here or in the hereafter, while we are afraid of God’s anger towards us? … who can appear before such a judge as God, who is quick to spot the smallest divergence from the fullest obedience to the law? … One single breach of the law destroys our whole claim to life. If we have ever offended in a single point, this righteousness is at an end.Listening to such sermons must have led many to the conviction that they were, indeed, bound for hell. Or, if they had been born again, they rejoiced and wanted to tell everyone they met, in what we would now see as a manic phase. Sarah Jones, an 18th-century American Methodist, summed it up in a letter to a friend, describing her thoughts on a typical day: during an hour of prayer she suffered ‘acute agony’, she ‘plunged into a sea of self abasement and self abhorrence and groan[ed] … for the deepest measure of profound humility’. But later, when recalling that Christ was ‘ointment for every sore’, she became ‘buried in wonder, swallowed up in extatic joy and gladness’.To quote Wesley again: ‘If you aim at the religion of the heart … it will not be long before the sentence is passed, “you are beside yourself”.’ He was right.Richard Lansdown is a retired psychologist.
  • We Speak French Here

    We Speak French Here

    Imogen Marcus

    French was the only language worth speaking in medieval Britain – and not just by the upper classes.
    Medieval Britain was a multilingual place. Alongside English were Welsh, Cornish, Irish, Scots, Norse, the now extinct Germanic language Norn, Latin and, after the Norman Conquest in 1066, Anglo-Norman French. Anglo-Norman French was the variety of French spoken in the British Isles from the Conquest to the end of the 14th century. It differs grammatically from the French spoken in France itself at the time,and has often been classed as a deviation from the ‘proper’ medieval French of the Continent. Scholars thus used to label it an imperfectly learned jargon. More recently, however, the idea, developed by historical linguists such as Richard Ingham, that this form of French was a viable, legitimate variety of the language, shaped and influenced by its direct contact with English, has come to be accepted.The traditional narrative is that, after the Conquest, Anglo-Norman French was used by people at the very top of medieval society: in the royal court and government, the law and among the nobility, including the bishops. It is usually held that it never took hold outside these spheres and that its use decreased from the late 1200s. Yet, despite the fact that it was supposedly losing out to English by the late 13th century, the number of practical, administrative and other documents, such as letters and medical texts, written in Anglo-Norman French actually increased.These documents allow us to discern a flourishing bilingual culture in the professional circles of later medieval Britain, one that continued until at least 1400. Anglo-Norman French was not, therefore, restricted to the elite levels of society. Nor were its speakers just those with a Norman pedigree and a landed inheritance. It was used across a range of contexts where accurate and efficient communication was essential. To get ahead in British professional life post-1066, it was important to speak French.French in the professions It is thought that young boys probably acquired French at ‘song’ school, where they were taught singing and reading, before moving on to study Latin at ‘grammar’ school. Probably the most well-known practical application of the resultant bilingualism in the professions is in the legal domain. Anglo-Norman French was used in the legal Year Books, compilations of law reports or ‘pleas’. It was also used for the readings (lectures) and moots (academic debates) in the Inns of Court in London, held for the education of young male lawyers. The Paston letters, a large collection of letters written by members of the upwardly mobile Paston family in Norfolk, include letters by the judge William Paston, written in both French and English. Knowledge of French was not just restricted to lawyers, however. Thomas Dru, commissioner of the peace in Wiltshire, wrote to the Sheriff of Oxfordshire in 1378, in French, requesting that he hold a murder suspect in prison:Par quei, Sire, voillets garder le dit William tanque vous eyet bref et commaundement de le court de lui mander es Bank le Roy ou altrement devaunt les justices de la deliverauncez el counte de Wilts. Sire si ren voilletz de moy qe faire puisse ceo serrez prest.[‘Therefore, Sir, kindly keep the said W. until you have a letter and instructions from the Court to send him to the King’s Bench, or otherwise before the prison release justices in the county of Wiltshire. Sir if you desire anything of me that I can do, it will be accomplished.’]Although commissioners of the peace typically came from the gentry and were not required to have legal training, it is clear that their duties included dealing with legal matters and, as a result, they needed to make use of French. This also seems to have applied to their personal affairs, because the wills of those belonging to the gentry were quite often written up in Anglo-French by the 14th century.Central government officials and municipal administrators often had legal training and could converse in French. There are numerous accounts, memorandum books, corporate registers and ordinances that attest to this. For example, in 1354, Daniel Rough, the town clerk of Romney in Kent, wrote official French language letters to the representative of the nearby town of Hythe concerning a dispute over fishing nets (‘spindlers’):Com le dit W. fust peschant en la myer ove ces spindlers... cy vynt la tempeste de la mier sur lui, par kai en salvacioun de lui et de sa companye, lessa ces spindlers et se trea al haven de Romene.[‘As the said W. was fishing in the sea with these spindler nets... there came upon him a sea-storm, so seeking his and his company’s safety he left these nets and withdrew to Romney harbour.’]What, though, of other professions? We know that a large quantity of medical recipes (which sometimes include some questionable advice) were written in Anglo-Norman French, as can be seen below:Esclarciemenz as oylz: Pernez freses meures e les gardez tant que ele seient purries...[‘Clearing the eyes: Take fresh plums and keep them until they are rotten...’]In fact, there were no medical recipes written in post-Conquest English until the 15th century. It is unlikely that doctors spoke French to their patients, but medical knowledge seems to have been compiled in it, which suggests that English doctors had at least some knowledge of the language. The same can be said of architects, who specified building contracts in French. In these contracts, the appearance, proportions, materials and other aspects of the building to be constructed are in French, meaning knowledge of it was essential.Estate management, probably the biggest professional sector in medieval England due to its predominantly agricultural economy, involved a number of different occupations, including landholders, stewards, bailiffs and reeves. Vast amounts of manorial records, especially accounts, survive. These are mainly written in Latin (with sections in English and French increasingly appearing as the medieval period goes on). Letters dealing with practical things, such as arrangements for the sowing season and the provision of locks for barns, however, were often written in Anglo-Norman French. Clear evidence of this is found in the letters of the Abbot of Westminster, William of Wenlock, who, around 1300, wrote many letters of instruction in this variety of French to the bailiffs and reeves of the various manors held by the abbey. Similar letters survive from Canterbury Priory and the bishoprics of Exeter and Bath and Wells, among others.These letters paint a picture of an organised structure of managerial responsibilities and suggest that, to perform these responsibilities, a good working knowledge of French was required. This evidence has implications for how we view the literacy of bailiffs and, in particular, reeves in medieval society. A reeve was a manager of individual manors, responsible for overseeing the peasants. The office was typically held by a man of lower rank. It is therefore sometimes supposed that reeves would not have been literate and would have needed to keep a record via tallies. Although some reeves may not have been able to read or write, the fact that William of Wenlock wrote, in French, to a dozen reeves in the various manors held by his abbey as sole addressees indicates that they were not only literate, they were bilingual as well.Medieval merchantsTrade and commerce were domains where French was used for both domestic and international communication. Merchant guild regulations were often drawn up in Anglo-Norman French. These key regulatory documents would have been required reading for a range of merchants and traders and, in order to understand them, they would have needed at least a working knowledge of the language.Some surviving correspondence in ecclesiastical registers suggests that when business transactions needed to be effected in writing, for example in the linen trade, French was preferred to Latin or English. It is also thought that English merchants used French for business dealings with overseas merchants by the mid-13th century, not only to negotiate business deals, but also to arrange travel, lodgings and food. European trading communities were deeply interconnected during the period, predominantly via shipping, and French was used as the lingua franca of medieval maritime law, not just in the British Isles, but throughout the Atlantic and Northern seas. The maritime historian Maryanne Kowaleski argues that French would have been understood by a lot of European merchants and seamen, illustrated by the fact that the 1317 legal proceedings launched against the Flemish pirate John Crabbe in Yarmouth, which involved an inquest jury of Flemish merchants, were conducted in French. She does note, however, that for the most part we simply do not know which language was used by seamen from different countries within the British Isles (she mentions two Italian merchants arrested in York, who had wandered the city for three days because nobody could understand them).Further evidence of the importance of French in trade comes from the many trade-related words borrowed from French that found their way into Middle English (the form of English spoken and written between 1100 and 1500). These words include truken for ‘barter’, purchasen, ‘to buy’, surchargen, ‘to make excessive charges’, marchaundise, which could be the practice of trading itself, achatour and wastour for buyers, marchaunt, ‘a shopkeeper or a merchant’, pessoner, ‘a seller of fish’ and fruiter, ‘a seller of fruit and vegetables’. There are also French-origin Middle English words for different kinds of coins, such as scute, real and noble, the word merchaundise for goods and various words for specific kinds of goods, such as haberdashrie. Words related to pecuniary value include value itself, valour, meaning ‘price’, allouen, meaning ‘to estimate or value something’ and enhauncen, meaning ‘to raise in price’.The merchants and traders of medieval England must have understood these borrowed words, otherwise they would not have been used in Middle English texts concerned with trade. Thus, although the accounts or other private documents of traders do not usually survive in large numbers or in readily available form, these words add to the evidence that the French of England was a practical, oral language, used by professional merchants as well as those working in other professional domains. Furthermore, while these words may have started out as part of the occupational argot of trade, a number of them remained within everyday English and became part of common usage, recognisable today, including, for example, haberdashrie, merchaundise and marchaunt.Why did people use French, anyway?Since these professionals would normally have been native English speakers, the question is: why did they communicate in French? First, Middle English was full of linguistic variation, so much so that it was often near impossible for people from the north of England to understand what those from the south were saying, and vice versa. Given this extreme diversity, it may often have just been easier to speak Anglo-Norman French, as long as all parties could basically understand it, in order to ensure comprehension and agreement on business particulars.Second, as the economic historian Richard Britnell pointed out, it may be that the use of French in the professions was simply an established cultural habit. Latin was conventionally used as the language of written record and was also spoken in some religious and academic contexts, but was rarely used as a vernacular language on the street, i.e. as a language spoken or written by the ordinary people of the country. There is, however, evidence to suggest that Anglo-Norman French was actually spoken by the people using it and was therefore more of a vernacular, living language than Latin. That explains why French might have been used over Latin, but why was it chosen over English? Even though English would seem to be the vernacular language of choice for texts such as practical letters or administrative documents, there was a long-established tradition of French for official, administrative and business-related documents by the 14th century. Therefore, despite the fact that were no native French speakers in Britain by then, Anglo-Norman French was associated with officialdom and appears to have been a preferred written (and potentially spoken) medium in certain professional communities. Indeed, it may well have been used as a kind of neutral professional language, much as English is used around the world today, in sectors such as finance, business and IT. It may also have served to confirm the higher occupational standing of those employing it.Language, ideology and identityTwo wider points can be drawn from this exploration of the dynamic language situation in medieval Britain. The first concerns the development of the English language itself. Traditional accounts of English have tended to build a monolingual history that emphasises uniformity and purity. However, the fact that many English speakers during the Middle Ages were bilingual, and sometimes multilingual, suggests that these accounts are rather anachronistic. The English we know today emerged within a multilingual Britain and any account of its development needs to be open to that reality.The second concerns the connection between language and identity. It has been claimed that language is the primary indicator of national identity. If you speak Hungarian, you are Hungarian, and so on. In later medieval Britain, however, the association between language and national identity was much looser and more fluid than that. Anglo-Norman French was used in the British Isles, was distinct from Continental French and was arguably shaped by its contact with English. It can therefore be considered one of the languages of medieval Britain, one that allowed its bilingual speakers the chance to achieve practical things. French did not just belong to the French. It belonged to whoever wanted to speak it, write it and use it to their advantage.Imogen Marcus is Senior Lecturer in English Language at Edge Hill University.
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  • National Gallery: Nevada

    National Gallery: Nevada

    Rhys Griffiths

    From the taming of the ‘Wild West’ to the lucrative wages of sin.
    In October 1864, with the nation embroiled in civil war, the world’s longest telegram was dispatched west to east across the United States. Its content was the Constitution of Nevada and it was an urgent transmission: the Constitution – required for Nevada Territory to become a state – had originally been sent to Washington by post, but had not arrived. Anticipating Nevadan support, the incumbent president, Abraham Lincoln, was keen to grant statehood in time for a crucial election on 8 November, a deadline met with just days to spare on 31 October. This picture essay takes Nevada as a case study in which many of the broader themes of US history have played out: the taming of the ‘Wild West’; the displacement of native peoples; the pursuit of wealth; exploitation of the land; freedom and the federal system; the Atomic Age; boosters, bravado and, in the leisure pursuits for which the state enjoys notoriety, the lucrative wages of sin.THE STATE OF THINGSNevada’s statehood was controversial: according to the Northwest Ordinance of 1783, states required a population of at least 60,000. Nevada had under half that figure and many of its settlements – such as Ruby Hill, pictured above – were mining towns vulnerable to boom and bust. Destroyed by a storm in 1910, Ruby Hill became one of the state’s ghost towns. In the early 20th century, with population falling, critics questioned whether Nevada merited representation in Congress. Other calls to revoke statehood centred on questions of decency – or Nevada’s lack of it.FEELING LUCKY?‘Luck has shaped Nevada’, as the historian Michael Green puts it. Gambling is near synonymous with the state, but the original Constitution prohibited it, along with theatres, racetracks and cockfighting. Hoping to win big, the state legalised gambling in 1931, just as other states (including neighbouring California) were clamping down on it. The bright lights of Las Vegas were among its winnings.FADING FRONTIERFor those people for whom the New World was indeed new, Nevada was an arid, mountainous expanse of land to be crossed – often as quickly as possible. In the 16th century, the Spanish found nothing of interest in Nevada, which they named for the snowy mountain range which would later prove an obstacle to ‘Manifest Destiny’ – the 19th-century belief that America’s settlers were destined to expand across the continent. In 1846, pioneers trying to reach California, known as the Donner Party, became stranded in the Sierra Nevada, resorting to cannibalism to survive.THIS LAND IS YOUR LANDNevada has been described as ‘a laboratory for how Americans define freedom’. When settlers arrived, the land’s native peoples broadly comprised the Northern and Southern Paiute, Washoe and Western Shoshone people. In 1860, the Pyramid Lake War was fought between allied native forces and victorious US Army-backed settlers, who had been exerting their freedom by usurping Paiute grazing land and disrupting food supplies.GOD’S OWN COUNTRYFounded by Joseph Smith in New York in 1830, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – the Mormons – were among Nevada’s earliest settlers, moving beyond then-US borders under the leadership of the ‘Mormon Moses’, Brigham Young. Built in 1855, the Mormon fort at Las Vegas is Nevada’s oldest surviving building. The Church established colonies throughout the ‘Mormon Corridor’, but with mass settlement came statehood and a ban on certain Mormon practices – see poster.THE HAND THAT FEEDSNevada’s history might seem driven by the illusion of luck, but the development of its infrastructure was not down to chance. Michael Green identifies another Nevada tradition: ‘supporting limited government while craving federal dollars to fund infrastructure and generate jobs’. The state’s highways – which, like the railway in the late 1860s, transformed the state, facilitating new towns and tourism – are one example of how Nevada has benefited from federal funds. In 1916 the Federal Aid Road Act encouraged states to establish a highway department by offering to match spending on new roads. Nevada spent $10 million on highway construction in 1926, partly funded by a gasoline tax. Grander federal projects followed.ROARING THIRTIESArguably the most recognisable project undertaken during President Roosevelt’s New Deal public works programme, the Hoover Dam – dubbed the ‘eighth wonder of the world’ – was built between 1931 and 1936 on the Colorado River at the Arizona-Nevada border. Boulder City, a federal town built by the government, was created to house the workers (whose wages were often spent in nearby Las Vegas). Surprisingly, the Great Depression could be seen as a boom period for Nevada, which received more money from the New Deal per resident than any other state.MOTHER LODEDiscovery of the Comstock Lode is a defining moment in Nevada’s history. A rich source of silver ore, it generated almost $300 million in the decades following 1859, earning Nevada its nickname ‘the Silver State’. Thousands of miners (and other entrepreneurs) arrived in the nearby boomtown, Virginia City; as the saying goes, fortunes could also be made ‘selling shovels’.MAN’S WORLDThe mining influx was overwhelmingly male. Pictured here, singer and dancer Fanny Hanks died in November 1893. Her obituary reveals a harsh story of boom and bust: ‘In her palmy days enthusiastic miners used to throw her gold’, but, ‘she married John Woodard, a worthless gambler, who was killed when he was found beating her’. Her popularity waning, she ‘lost her money in stocks’.ATOMICIn the 1950s, the US government began testing atomic weapons in Nevada. The first was dropped in 1951; 100 more would be tested at the Nevada Test Site before the explosions began to be detonated underground. The effect of the tests severely damaged Nevada’s relationship with the federal government, forging a legacy of mistrust: the increase of cases of cancer in local communities sat at odds with the government’s denial that bomb testing was dangerous.HEAVEN OR LAS VEGASLas Vegas first bloomed with dollars spent by workers on the nearby Hoover Dam. After they left, it was promoted as a frontier town with slogans like ‘The Old West in Modern Splendor’. The first resort opened on ‘the Strip’ – a stretch of road outside city limits – was El Rancho in April 1941. The rustic frontier image was soon eclipsed – under the influence of mobster ‘Bugsy’ Siegel – by the (gaudy) glitz which attracted Hollywood stars, the Rat Pack – and millions of less famous tourists.FOR A GOOD TIME, NOT A LONG TIMEWhat do André Breton, Jack Dempsey, Rita Hayworth, Bela Lugosi, General Douglas MacArthur, Norman Rockwell and Orson Welles have in common? They were all divorced in Reno. In the 20th century Nevada legitimised – and made unique selling points – of its insalubrious characteristics: this postcard reveals some of its various tourist lures. After 1931, divorce in Nevada required just six weeks’ residency in the state; more than enough time to enjoy the city’s other attractions.

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