This issue marks Firelands Media Group’s
fifteenth year of publishing Early American
Life! In the timeline of history, fifteen is
the blink of an eye, yet in competing with
the ever-expanding online alternatives to
reading words on paper, we consider it an
achievement to have rebuilt this magazine.
It wasn’t easy, or guaranteed. We started with essentially
nothing—our archives of issues and manuscripts
had been trashed, and our extensive library accumulated
over three decades-plus had been dumped into leaky,
rodent-infested storage. We worked off site for a year,
pulling that first issue together from articles that had
been readied but not printed and fielding telephone calls
from incredulous advertisers, subscribers, and vendors
astounded that we would ask them to pay for future issues
after they had just lost customers and money.
Still, when you received that December 2003 issue,
Firelands’ first, with our plea for faith and support in our
attempt to revive EAL, you responded. So THANK YOU,
dear readers, for sharing your outrage and then your devotion
by granting us that chance. In 2019 Early American
Life enters its golden year of publishing, proving that you
appreciate thoroughly researched, beautifully illustrated,
lively articles, and that the early history of this nation—its
ideals and principles, and those who re-create and restore
its material and social culture—still matter.
Along with the common bonds we share in preserving
America, several articles in our fifteenth anniversary
issue are connected in ways we hadn’t imagined when
we started putting them together. Consider how George
Washington pops up here and there.
In exploring the origins of country ham, Robert Moss
tells an informative tale of how Tidewater farmers produced
a delicacy revered worldwide when they improved upon
the centuries-old method of salt-curing pork by smoking it.
Who knew that these hams rivaled any produced in Europe?
Washington and Thomas Jefferson did, for starters. The
former served country ham on his breakfast table.
Washington also gets his due as one of America’s earliest
Freemasons in Christian Goodwillie’s examination of
the symbolism found on Masonic tracing board paintings
in lodges built throughout upstate New York. The little understood
symbolism was meant to bind men of different
faiths and cultures to a goal of bettering themselves and
their communities by following a divine plan. (Perhaps we
should all join?)
Washington, not our most quotable president, nevertheless
left us words worth pondering in today’s turbulent
political and social climate after a 1790 trip to Rhode
Island, where he visited Newport’s Touro Synagogue.
Writing to thank the congregation for their warm
welcome, the President reasserted their freedom to worship
as they wished, noting, “... happily, the Government
of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction,
to persecution no assistance, [emphasis mine] requires
only that they who live under its protection should
demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all
occasions their effectual support. ... May the children of
the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to
merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants—
while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and
fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
In Williamsburg, we take a peek into what might have
been the lifestyle of the author of those founding principles
of liberty and the separation of church and state. For nearly
four decades, Bill Barker has portrayed Thomas Jefferson
around the country. Along with sharing a remarkable physical
resemblance to the third President, Barker tells of a similar
family background and fascination with the natural world.
Imagine being one of the first women to set foot on
this continent in the 1600s, surrounded by men and an
unfathomable wildness and trying to carve out a life. It
took a spirit of tenacity, as a new exhibition at Jamestown
Settlement explains. Brenda OnShin understands a bit
about that spirit, living in a tiny cabin in the New Hampshire
woods with few modern comforts besides a water
pump. We tell her story here too.
We have more stories to tell in this issue, but you’ll
have to turn the pages, because my teaser ends here.