Rifles and Rugs

The stories in this issue span a spectrum of topics, from warfare to warmth, that introduce people and places you might not find familiar. Consider the long rifle exhibition opening in June at Historic Rock Ford, the Lancaster, Pennsylvania, home of physician and Revolutionary War General Edward Hand.

Never adept at keeping the generals and battle tactics straight, I hesitated to delve into the rifle’s development (despite its connection to my home state) and impact (pun intended) on the outcome of the war for independence.

But learning about how the rifle turned potential routs into victories, and how much Britain’s battle-hardened army feared their effectiveness, held my attention. Hosting the exhibition enables Historic Rock Ford to tout its original owner, who helped recruit—and later lead—one of ten regiments of riflemen Congress established when it commissioned the Continental Army. The regimental flag and document seal that General Hand designed are rare artifacts even among the few surviving period rifles.

In 2019, the return of a long-missing 1775 rifle revealed one of the most astonishing instances of art theft in the country’s history. For half a century, the thief walked into museums and walked out with myriad antiques, mostly weapons. Some thefts went unnoticed, but the rifle’s reappearance led to an FBI investigation that finally nabbed the thief.

At the other end of the spectrum are woven rugs and coverlets, designed in the 18th and 19th Centuries to provide decoration and warmth in homes of all classes. As period art so often illustrates, wall-to-wall carpeting is nothing new—our ancestors imported it, sometimes wove it themselves, and certainly liked to show it off.

Comforting cousins, coverlets might have been the work of some of the same skilled hands who designed and wove ingrain carpet. We learn more about them from the experts—collectors Melinda and Laszlo Zongor. In 2006, they opened the National Museum of the American Coverlet to celebrate the importance of these colorful textiles. They help educate new and veteran collectors through exhibitions, workshops, and the annual Coverlet College as they continue to expand the museum’s collection to encompass makers and styles from across the country.

Bill and Sandy Otto of Ohio provide a lesson in perseverance, recounting the years of labor-intensive weekends they spent restoring an 1820s farmhouse and realizing their dream of building a period log house nearby on their extensive property. Sandy relied on her experience as a partner in an antiques shop to furnish both homes.

Despite spanning less than a square mile, the town of New Harmony, Indiana, encompasses a much broader space in America’s historical narrative through two centuries of European settlement. Two visionaries with wildly different notions of how to establish a perfect society settled on the frontier in the early 1800s to test their early theories.

Although both experiments ended much faster than other utopian communities, they left a lasting legacy in educational and scientific advancement. Today New Harmony’s 700-plus residents strive to live up to the town’s name and intent, working together to promote intellectual achievement and innovation and living to serve each other. It’s a story that gives us hope for the future.

Jeanmarie Andrews

Executive Editor

Click here to post a comment about this letter.
Subscribers Partners Advertisers About Us Contact Us
EarlyAmericanLife.com Copyright © 2023 Firelands Media Group LLC