Common Bonds

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.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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