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FEBRUARY 2020

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Beginnings

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..

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

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