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‘Half Orphans’
Bill Carlisle, Lone Bandit an Autobiography
1946, Trail’s End Publishing, 220 pages
Bill Carlisle, Lone Bandit, is the autobiography of a friend’s ancestor, of a life of loneliness, wandering, crime and redemption that had mostly played out by a hundred years ago. I was not expecting to find so much Plantation America material here. Yes, I knew that children were being forced to work as slave labor in New York textiles factories until 1928 and that Priscilla Lightfoot had been sold by her parents around 1910 in New Mexico. I did not, however, know about the institution of half-orphanage, let alone agricultural slavery of children and teens in 1900 Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Maternal mortality and the great age of some fathers who took a wife or second wife in middle age, and the complete absence of any social welfare net other than the tradition of self-sale to the military as a slave soldier or sale of a child by a parent, had fueled Plantation America, with its sweating, bleeding and suffering human fuel. But to think that the 1890s and early 1900s were decades of socially sanctioned human trafficking—well, I had not thought so, but neither am I surprised, for America remains ever true to its foundation song, and rarely departs far from its font, from that gleaming Ever-ReFabricating Lie…
Page 9
“I was sent to a babies’ home. The home was a country institution where half-orphans could be placed for a small payment.”
Although historians wish us to believe that the poor never sold their children into bondage, Bill Carlisle’s father paid for him to be institutionalized. He cried in constant terror, of the night, the loud alarm buzzer and thunder.
Page 10
He was adopted out by relatives, who rejected and returned him to the home. He was adopted by more relatives of the cruel German type:
“At the age of three I was taken from the home and sent to a German community. I always wanted to escape…”
Escape, why ever would he want to “escape?”
“For eighteen months I was taken from home to home and always sent on. At last I was declared hopeless—I didn’t fit in, nobody wanted me. With many whippings and lectures in German [the wonderful nation that gave us child indoctrination in Kindergarten], which I failed to understand and appreciate, I was suddenly packed off, this time to an orphanage which was to be my home for the next three years.”
Bill slept under a large buzzer that would awaken the children to their industrial slavery…From age 4.5 to 7.5 Bill was kept in an orphanage, which he liked, explicitly because he had toys to play with and a Christmas tree at Christmas time under which to play with other children. Implicitly, when one finds that the nurses sometimes hugged him and seemed to limit their abuse to teasing him for crying, one wonders if perhaps, not being beaten every day—which was the norm in Protestant North America—might have been a reason for his preference of orphanage residence?
Page 11
Age 8 seems to have been the cutoff for being kept at the orphanage.
“Other children were adopted by families” [remember, when he was adopted numerous times he was beaten constantly] “, or sent to farms where they would HAVE [my emphasis] to remain until they were twenty-one.”
The typical required term of service in Plantation America, from 1617 through roughly 1820 when the documentation breaks down, for a person purchased before age 12 when they were regarded as able to do the work of an adult, was 18 for girls and 21 for boys. Children sold in infancy would be held for 31 years. Productivity was regarded as a net loss for children five and less, half work for children 6 to11 [such as demonstrated by Booker T. Washington’s lone work on the Virginia roads described in Up From Slavery] and a person of 12 was regarded as fully capable of doing an adult’s work. In traditional societies, a child becomes an adult at puberty, after a ceremony. But in slave societies, a child becomes a youth, a labor debtor who must repay his owners or parents for not committing infanticide and sinking less labor into a child’s survival than a child was capable of doing. The reason for the girl typically being released at 18 instead of 21 to 31 was that so she could be bred as a wife.
Racial hatred has almost nothing to do with bondage in Plantation America, though hatred for Irish and negroes did persist. The true hatred that fueled bondage in Plantation America, was hatred of youth, bitterness in a parent or owner’s stale heart that they had struggled to feed a person who was now capable of feeding themselves and who must now be forced to repay that misallocation of resources.
Bill is then taken by his father form the orphanage and is in a state of joy, that he will not be alone in the night and then betrayal—his father whips him almost daily. As a boy who is poorly dressed, alone and unknown, Bill was often attacked by older children and gangs of kids. His most common punishment for successfully defending himself was to be whipped by his father, who in a sane, traditional society would be his protector, but in America was his warden. Is it any wonder that the greatest crime an American can commit to this day, is successful self-defense?
The slave morality that underpins America of the Lie never leaves us and ever wells up.
Bill began to commit the crime of coal theft to prevent his family from freezing to death in the central Maryland winters. Added to his cruel father, was a list of enemies generally regarded as “kidnappers” being the police and railroad bulls who hunted children and left adult criminals generally alone.
The passage below was from before his coal stealing days, showing school and law enforcement as slave institutions which he learned to evade and would develop skills that would help him in his outlaw days.
Page 11
“Twice I was placed on trial but each time ran away, always waning to return to the orphanage. It was the only haven I knew.”
Really, trial?
The kid was 8!
By the tender age of eight, Bill Carlisle had been beaten more than any professional prize-fighter of the 20th century or any Gladiator who fought under Spartacus. And to think, he had narrowly avoided being owned until 21, owned by cruel Pennsylvania Dutch-Germans; who beat their own flesh and blood with daily fury. As bad as his life was, it could have been much worse, for by age 21 he was breaking horses, chopping wood for food and robbing trains for clothing money in the most beautiful part of America, rather than being whipped like a dog by some Pennsylvania peasant.
Below is where that outstanding horse breaker and train robber came from I his child’s heart:
Page 16
“It was wrong to fight—even when you were called insulting names—you were whipped for that. But the coal—the one great thing about that was—you weren’t to get caught.
“Be careful,” my sister would caution, “and don’t let the ‘kidnapper get you.”
One wonders how deep into Scottish history the relationship of coal heating and kidnapping go. Was this just an adaptation of that 1600s term for child traffickers, or is there a deeper connection?
As his father’s frustration and cruelty and beatings mounted, egged on by local men who hated Bill for scrounging a living out of selling papers and developing childhood rackets, Bill dreamed of returning to the orphanage. However, the love of his 13-year old sister, kept him at home, until she finally ran away due to the severity of Bill’s beatings. Thenceforth, Bill became a lone criminal, steeling coal, Christmas trees, finding coin catches, riding the “rods” with hobos and crooks and heading ever west to get away from law enforcement and to work on ranches.
It is remarkable how much Bill liked hard work and simple friendship and the economics of his decline into train robbing is well documented. The economics of the day were such that a man who worked with his hands and had to pay room and board and buy his meals, would not be able to replace the clothes he wore out on the job and was often one day from homelessness, one meal from famine and one shift from being unemployed. From the days when he was nine years old, selling papers at train platforms, buying dime novels for which his father fumed displeasure and even doing the voice over for a baying dog in a play of Uncle Tom’s Cabin so that he would get a free seat, Bill was forever looking for wage work, in a nation that was built on slave work, and finding that crime made more sense—that at least the math of crime worked, when the math of working for a dollar did not.
Bill is an engaging and compassionate writer that uses few tricks of the trade and expresses a clarity of humanity in his every passage. I have enjoyed this book very much and feel somewhat dirty for data-mining it for the American Spartacus project.
Bill Carlisle lived the Lie that was America, doing more to provide for his family than his father, who beat him every night before bed, and remaining invisible—him and all of his class of American castoffs—down to our day into the lie-shrouded future, a future that will recognize the suffering and toil of only one people’s past and into that bitter-dark memory hole mislabeled history our story will be callously cast.
Thanks to T-Rex for the lone of this book.
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