Thursday, April 20, 2017

When Sebastian Moran was born, American-style.

When if comes to the doings of Sherlock Holmes and his folk, we like to focus on London, that great city with such a rich history. In 1840, for example, Professor Moriarty's lieutenant Sebastian Moran was born there, London was the largest city in the world then, having not-all-that-recently taken the title away from Beijing, which held it for about a century after taking it away from Istanbul. Moran was born a big city boy.

This evening, however, for completely non-Sherlockian reasons, I was exploring a less urbanized area of the world and what things were like there about the time Sebastian Moran was getting slapped on the bottom for the first time. (Of course, Watson left out the part of "The Adventure of the Empty House" when Holmes slapped Moran on the butt as Lestrade and company dragged him off to jail. How do I know this? Well, you have your tin dispatch box, and I have mine . . .)

So while the son of Sir Augustus Moran was being welcomed into the world, here's what was going on over here in Peoria-land. Peoria was here, with just under 1500 people, about a third the size of Chicago, which was only number 92 in America's largest cities. (New York City, first. Baltimore, second. New Orleans, third.) And why not? The Mississipi river above St. Louis marked the edge of the frontier. Only ten years before, Black Hawk and his Sauk warriors were trying to reclaim parts of Northern Illinois, coming back from the Iowa Territory.

With twenty-six states in the U.S., Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana were are far as U.S. civilization went. The American map on Sebastian Moran's date of birth is something to see.

Joseph Smith was still alive and in Nauvoo, Illinois when Moran was born (though they only named it "Nauvoo" in April of that year, having just bought the town the year before when it was still "Commerce, Illinois," and the Jefferson Hopes of St. Louis were all still in St. Louis, probably still gabbing about the Missouri Mormon War not long before, and Joseph Smith going to talk to U.S. President Martin Van Buren after getting kicked out of Missouri, in hopes the president would intercede and force Missouri to take Smith's 20,00 settlers back.

Pa Doran, father to Hatty Doran, was surely a child somewhere east of the Mississippi River, but where or how old, it's hard to say. Doran families were scattered all over the U.S. in 1840, with plenty even in Indiana, where the Clients were not nearly as Illustrious in those days.

It's hard to say, too, whether or not Elias Openshaw had come to the Florida Territory to seek his fortunes by 1840. The guerilla war that the Seminoles had undertaken against settlers was pretty well over by then, so if Openshaw hadn't arrived, he had probably heard that the territory was a little less dangerous. (Which is truly ironic, given how later dangers of the area would follow him back to England.)

For all the fancy credits on Colonel Sebastian Moran's resume, it should surprise no one that a man born in 1840 still had so much of a wilderness hunter in him. There were still frontiers to be explored, especially for those born in the big city of London.

And to a modern American, some of those were right in our own backyard.

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