It stands to reason that we can’t really understand our
history—be it personal or political—without digging
into the roots of how things started. That seems particularly
apropos for several articles in this issue.
Twenty-twenty marks the 400th anniversary
of the founding of Plymouth Colony. Among the
year’s worth of events celebrating the importance of
New England’s first permanent European settlement are
those that trace the Pilgrims’ origins in England and the
Netherlands. More importantly, several others encompass
the earlier history of the Native peoples who inhabited the
land for centuries before the Mayflower’s arrival.
As Plymouth 400 planners and participants note,
both cultures still co-exist, so to talk about the Pilgrims
without discussing the Wampanoag tribes omits half the
story. By presenting both sides, we can better understand
how these diverse cultures aided or hindered each other,
and how their continuous interactions will determine the
region’s future over the next four centuries.
In past issues we’ve looked at the ingenuity of Native
peoples’ survival skills—sharing them proved crucial to
the Pilgrims’ survival—and how we have adopted and
adapted them. Here we consider darkhouse angling, or
spearing fish for dinner through a thick layer of lake ice.
By the end of the 19th Century, spear fishing had proven
so popular a winter sport that some Northern states outlawed
or restricted the practice to preserve the rapidly
diminishing populations of game fish.
A related article explores the decoys Native fishermen
carved from bone and ivory to entice curious fish close
enough to spear. Some date to three thousand years ago,
making them older than better-known waterfowl decoys.
While sport fishermen carve and paint wooden decoys
that attract collectors, few of these prized art forms can
swim to serve their original purpose.
Other indigenous tribes and Mexican
immigrants who first settled the
southwest helped shape the culture of the
region we know as Texas. Casa Navarro
State Historic Site in San Antonio tells
the story of Tejano founding father José
Antonio Navarro and his people’s role
in securing Texas independence from
Mexico and its eventual statehood while
holding fast to their cultural traditions.
The private homes we feature also
have interesting roots. Barbara Metzger
fulfilled a lifelong quest to own a period
house in New England when she found the Jethro Coffin
House redux—a meticulously researched and constructed
reproduction of the 1686 original, both in Massachusetts.
As she builds on decades of collecting, the entire interior
will soon reflect the accuracy of the exterior.
The Grote home in Illinois—a fine brick mansion
with elements of Georgian and Greek revival architecture—
has a long family history. Fred Grote remembers
it as “Grandmother’s house,” where Almarina Grimshaw
lived for her entire ninety-nine years. Built by her father
in 1842, the house remains in the family.
That family history boasts ties to builder William
A. Grimshaw’s sometimes law partner, sometimes courtroom
adversary Abraham Lincoln, who purportedly
stayed at the home on his trips to Pittsfield. The property
is equally notable for Fred and Pam Grote’s meticulous
restoration and its beautifully landscaped gardens.
Speaking of Presidents, we pay homage to the man
whose birthday became a national holiday in the 1880s
(now commonly but unofficially called Presidents’ Day).
In life and long after his death, the face of George Washington
was enshrined in households throughout the country—
and often still is. We invite you to gaze at the serious
countenance of the man who set the tone for American
leadership and values and to discover some lesser-known
aspects of his life.
Digging up such nuggets confirms that American
history has its roots in the contributions of every person
who settled here—and that these beginnings are worth
strengthening and celebrating..