Outside the lines

“Within the useless laughter of folly knowledge hears half its applause.” ~ George Eliot

Aaron Merritt Clark

From the times of hungry lions within the Colosseum to Maintaining with the Kardashians, the world of leisure has all the time been a curious combine. In historic phrases, and carrying over into genealogical ones, what constitutes “leisure” isn’t all the time a straightforward place to re-visit or perceive. It may be troublesome to analysis individuals, locations, or something of a ‘Thespian nature’ (sans these lions) with out utilizing modern-day judgments or, on the very least, a ‘current tense lens.’ One may say that the evolution of civilization calls for this, that the worth in what’s discovered to be ‘entertaining’ should additionally evolve. It may be mentioned that it’s a lot simpler to face on an ethical excessive floor when trying backward. The implication right here is that what’s ethical in leisure isn’t all the time static, however one thing that should essentially change and enhance. Whereas I suppose there isn’t any method that this could’t be true, at this juncture, the outcomes of such future modifications and/or musings have to be left to individuals much better and wiser than I.


The members of my prolonged Clark household have all the time been an “entertaining lot.” Certainly, music and the sector of leisure appears to have permeated their very chemistry for hundreds of years now. From my great-great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Merritt Clark,[1] an intrepid Civil Conflict-era century music instructor, to Billy Wilcox,[2] the ne’er-do-well grandson who performed tunes to the Outdated West’s saloons, to Aaron Clark’s descendant, actor/producer Larry Wilcox, this department of the household has usually risen to the problem of selecting up a notice or delivering a correct line or two. This kind of expertise (whereas maybe not as notable as in different households) hasn’t solely been an attribute of the boys within the household. Even my candy Aunt Jerralyn, an knowledgeable “quilter” if you’ll (and a Clark descendant), can play any instrument she places her thoughts to. Have I discussed how these specific skills have fully handed me by? Properly, by no means thoughts.

Studying that my ancestor Aaron Merritt Clark was a Civil Conflict-era music instructor was serendipitous.[3] I suppose I’d anticipated the standard kind of navy service in his life and profession. Not that there’s something extraordinary about “the standard” finds in navy analysis, solely that it’s uncommon for me to find a musician in my very own ‘rosters.’ The reality is that my ancestor’s occupation made me really feel fairly completely satisfied. I don’t know what kind of music instructor previous Grandpa Aaron was. By the look of him he could have been a stern schoolmaster stuffed with ‘no-nonsense’ Victorian methods, however maybe he was a happy-go-lucky kind of spirit who merely discovered his passions with extra severe ‘concord’ than most. Maybe he was a little bit of a jackass. (There are some rumors he could have been a philandering bigamist…[4])

In any occasion, I used to be happy to search out him. By some means, the concept of music in my household tree made just a few of these branches “sing out,” and look a wee bit higher. It was thrilling to trace his lyrical (?) methods as he moved west from Massachusetts to Wisconsin, Iowa, and to “Union” Missouri, with him surviving the Conflict of 1812, the Conflict with Mexico, and the Civil Conflict, then returning dwelling to New England for the ultimate chapters of his life. Right here I discovered a retired and aged Aaron dwelling together with his daughters Lizzie and Margaret in Cambridge within the 1880 census. Residing, too, together with his son-in-law, the “head of family,” a person by the identify of Luke Schoolcraft (1847-1893). Luke Schoolcraft, who listed his occupation as a singer. A retired music instructor dwelling with a singer? How cool is that? Properly, not a lot…

Now, I’ve no excessive expectations with regards to my household tree. I admit that I’ve turn out to be acquainted with the cringing feeling that overcomes me after I encounter any ancestor engaged within the enslavement of others. Luckily, by and enormous, I’m a Yankee. I really feel blessed to not have “to battle” plenty of roots aside from these cussed ones. If by stating this I’m someway attempting to assuage my ancestral guilt, I sincerely apologize. You see, sadly, I’ve discovered that my ancestral baggage comprises greater than the standard customary bearers of bunk plantation mentality. Little did I notice that in following the lifetime of my ‘musical’ great-great-great-great-grandfather Aaron Merritt Clark I’d come upon “The Nice Minstrel,” my great-great-great-great-uncle by marriage, Luke Schoolcraft. At first look, I actually had no thought of who (or what) I used to be . In any case, who the Hell was Luke Schoolcraft?

Born in Louisiana within the late 1840s to Henry Schoolcraft and Matilda Fontaine, Luke’s identify is now pretty properly misplaced to oblivion. Luke’s father Henry[5] was a seasoned character actor, and his mom, Matilda, was a “nice magnificence” with ties to the Taylors of Virginia.[6] Luke discovered his theatrical commerce early on, when he appeared on stage as a baby together with his father, and from there quickly grew in repute as one of the vital inimitable “negro delineators.”[7] Fortunately and regrettably, the time period “negro delineator” was one I needed to lookup. (I’m uncertain if my ignorance of such phrases is a legitimate excuse for needing to take action; nonetheless, should you’ve ever met me you’d perceive that I’m typically ignorant about an amazing many issues.)  Schoolcraft’s mimicry or minstrelsy didn’t cease there, however prolonged to different races and nationalities as properly.[8] It begs the query, Why is that humorous? In any occasion, on the time of his demise, “Uncle Luke ” is claimed to have been “probably the most well-known minstrel comic in America.”[9] At this level, as I attempt to underscore the chagrin seeping off the pixels of these previous census pages, I hope you’ll permit me to refer you again to the “final line of paragraph one” of this submit. At this second, sadly, it might be one of the best I can do.

What I’m going to do, although, is to aim to have a look at “the entire of Luke”…

Now, should you count on me to color a malevolent image of “Uncle Luke” proper about now, you’re little doubt studying the flawed weblog submit. Please don’t get me flawed; I actually have no intention of portray some  nineteenth-century “anti-hero” of any kind, or making an attempt to excuse any side of Luke’s ‘career.’ What I’m going to do, although, is to aim to have a look at “the entire of Luke,” and never simply the flashy bigoted self-appropriations of the nineteenth-century “burnt-cork” showman we solely see now with that “present-day lens.” Luke Schoolcraft, like all of us, was a mix of many issues. The person I found seems to have been much more than a track and dance man. The Luke Schoolcraft I’ve discovered appears to have had a giant coronary heart and been a faithful good friend. Oddly sufficient, he was thought-about a “heat good friend” and was an obvious confidant to The Boston Sturdy Boy, a man by the identify of John L. Sullivan.[10] Speak about “opposites entice.” Go determine. So simply who’re you, Luke Schoolcraft?

Click on on picture to broaden it.

It’s troublesome for me to inform. Now, I do know subsequent to nothing about John L. Sullivan. I’ve learn that he could have had a little bit of an issue with ‘the bottle,’ and to make certain was seemingly an out-and-out racist.[11] It’s true, too, that males are sometimes judged by the corporate they preserve, so the “Schoolcraft and Sullivan” friendship is suspect at finest. Nonetheless, Mr. Schoolcraft can also be described elsewhere as a person “Who received friendship wherever he went.”[12] (And, sure, this will imply that they had been associates who seemed “like him.”) Nonetheless, this was the identical Luke Schoolcraft who “housed” his aged father-in-law, Aaron Merritt Clark (that itinerant and allegedly bigamous musician talked about above); his spouse’s widowed sister; his spouse (after all); and his widowed mom all underneath one roof in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Household relations be damned, he may have simply instructed the in-laws to remain elsewhere. (His father-in-law Aaron had six dwelling grownup youngsters in 1880.) What begins to look is, properly, not a demon however, in a nutshell, a “human being.” He was additionally a person of appreciable (albeit tasteless, in our estimation) theatrical expertise. Now, I perceive that any remembrance could be a flowery exposé of a decedent’s life, however take into account the “different facet” of Luke Schoolcraft as he was described on this unsourced quote:

Personally, Schoolcraft was a extremely educated man, a lover of the nice and delightful, and probably the most modest and retiring man for one so distinguished in his career I ever met. He was dedicated to his invalid spouse and ‘from having identified the hand of affliction,’ was ever able to sympathize with a fellow-man in misery, and was by no means identified to fail to reply to charity’s attraction. These traits made him typically beloved by all who knew him. The world could by no means once more see his equal. He was the best impersonator the stage has ever produced.” ~ J. W. Campbell, Appearing Supervisor, 14 March 1893  

I suppose the evolving fact of the matter is that Luke Schoolcraft was a ‘combined bag.’ I’m actually not excusing any a part of him. We’re all a mix of ignorance and bias, of cruelty, expertise, love, and compassion, and we’re all very a lot individuals of our time. The crux of the matter is why was it ever (is or was) trendy or ‘okay’ to make enjoyable of others for leisure functions? Surprisingly, this can be one thing we haven’t fully outgrown. (Cue late-night tv.) Certainly, is it an inextricable a part of human nature to all the time rib the weak, “the totally different,” or that with which we disagree or don’t perceive? How unhappy is that? These attributes had been a big a part of the individual Luke Schoolcraft was; a person who discovered at an early age to revenue from debasing others in his personal self-aggrandizement. Did Luke know what he was doing? In all probability. Did Luke enact the mannerisms or eccentricities of these much less lucky than him out of some corroded or hateful place in his soul? In all probability not.

On this case, I need to channel some well-known entertainer or superstar on Discovering Your Roots. I can hear Henry Louis Gates asking his query: “How do you’re feeling now, figuring out…”  Sadly, I can solely supply that I didn’t know the person. So simply who was Luke Schoolcraft then? To me, Luke “is” you, and Luke “is” me. Relaxation in peace, Uncle. Could we study out of your ‘acts’ what the entire of an individual is, and certainly, how not to be so very far exterior the traces.


[1] Aaron Merritt Clark (1800-1892).

[2] Horace G. “Billy” Wilcox (1860-1930).

[3] Malcolm Clark Patten, Patten Family tree: An Elaboration Upon One Line Descending from William Patten of Cambridge, 1635 (Newport Seaside, Calif.: Powell & Taylor Publishing Firm, 1990), 231, discusses the musical occupation of Aaron Merritt Clark as taken from his Civil Conflict pension information.

[4] Grant County Witness (Platteville, Wisconsin), 13 June 1872, 3, states that Aaron M. Clark “was arrested final week on a cost of Polygamy…”

[5] Henry Schoolcraft married Matilda Fontaine on March 10, 1829, in Floyd County, Indiana.

[6] For the ancestry of Luke’s maternal grandmother Catherine (Taylor) Fontaine, see Horace Edwin Hayden and Rena Grey Fazel, Virginia Genealogies. A family tree of Glassell household of Scotland and Virginia, additionally of the Households of Ball, Brown, Bryan, Conway, Daniel, Ewell, Holladay, Lewis, Littlepage, Moncure, Peyton, Robinson, Scott, Taylor, Wallace, and others, of Virginia and Maryland (Wilkes-Barre, Pa.: E.B. Yordy, Printer, 1891), 678.

[7] Per The New York Clipper, 25 December 1915, 43 (https://footlightnotes.wordpress.com/tag/negro-delineator/): “Luke Schoolcraft … was inimitable as a negro delineator. We have now by no means seen his equal, neither is it seemingly we ever shall.”

[8] Luke Schoolcraft wrote and carried out “The Heathen Chinee” ca. 1870 and in addition promoted using German dialect songs. See The Louisiana Historic Quarterly 30 [1947]: 138: “… Luke Schoolcraft may play white-face elements as skillfully as he did the black-face ones. As a German dialect comic, he was and not using a peer.”

[9] Findagrave Memorial 187527952 for Luke Schoolcraft.

[10] “In Drink,” The Cincinnati Enquirer, 16 March 1893, 8.

[11] See newnewenglandhistoricalsociety.com/john-l-sullivan-america’s-first-superstar-athlete/.

[12] The Cincinnati Enquirer, 13 March 1893, 4.