Tomorrow is the 4th of July in America.
When I was a a kid, in school I was fascinated by history, geography and stories. Something that was missing in how I learned history, I think, is a common gap in how many kids learn history. History was taught by focusing on big personalities and big events in history and often within the framework of the big events, there’d be some sort of sequential timeline for those big events, but then we’d move on to some other big personality and some other big event.
I was missing a big picture timeline in how I was learning history in school. Many parents purchased a set of encyclopedias when I was a kid. My parents bought the 1972 set of World Book Encyclopedia, which I now have. Having this set allowed me to look up all sorts of things and to begin piecing together larger spans of history and try to figure out how previous events led to the current big event I was learning about. It’s important to understand the background of how we got to events rather than just jumping from loud sound bite to loud sound bite.
In 1976 Americans celebrated America’s bicentennial and our country was awash in information and popular entertainment centered on America’s founding. I began reading more to try to understand a longer timeline of American history However, it wasn’t until many years later when I read through the first volume of John Marshall’s five volume set of The Life of George Washington, that I really felt like I had a better understanding of the timeline of how America’s Independence Day came about. John Marshall was the first Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Here’s a paragraph from the preface at the free guterberg.org site that explains:
“Many events too are unnoticed, which in such a composition would be worthy of being introduced, and much useful information has not been sought for, which a professed history of America ought to comprise. Yet the history of general Washington, during his military command and civil administration, is so much that of his country, that the work appeared to the author to be most sensibly incomplete and unsatisfactory, while unaccompanied by such a narrative of the principal events preceding our revolutionary war, as would make the reader acquainted with the genius, character, and resources of the people about to engage in that memorable contest. This appeared the more necessary as that period of our history is but little known to ourselves. Several writers have detailed very minutely the affairs of a particular colony, but the desideratum is a composition which shall present in one connected view, the transactions of all those colonies which now form the United States.”
Once I read through Marshall’s volume 1, all sorts of things I’d learned in school and read about early American history made more sense and more pieces of history fell into place for me. Rather than a big event here or a big event there, the American story became a much larger story with lots of chapters.
The bigger takeaway is the American colonies were filled with people who adapted not only their daily lives to survive in a harsh and unforgiving new land, but they were people who experimented with differing types of social organization and governance.
This 4th of July, our country is going through a period of growing divisions and global economic storms beginning to hit land here too. Many Americans are understandably concerned about the near future, like how expensive will gas be in a few weeks, let alone a few months or how bad will food shortages get this fall, or how on earth to afford heating oil this winter.
I’m still optimistic for America’s future, because everywhere I’ve ever gone in America, I’ve met innovative and creative people. I’ve lived around the Army community since 1979, even now I live in a town by a large US Army post and most of my neighbors are retired military or active duty military, from all over the country. Even though some may vote D and some may vote R, at their core, I know they put being American first. This same American spirit still thrives in rural America, in small towns, and although I try to avoid large cities as much as possible, I suspect there must be some glimmers of that American spirit there too.
The American experience didn’t start in 1776, it started in the late 1400s. Shortly, after Columbus’s voyage to the New World, in 1497, John Cabot, sailed out of Bristol, England and headed to North America too.
We live in a world where information travels around the globe in the blink of an eye and it’s easy to feel unsettled with so many dire events hitting us faster than raindrops in a strong storm, but if we slow down, take a deep breath, and just ponder how many lifetimes were spent since 1776 building our great country, defending our great country, and persevering against what has to seem insurmountable odds, I still believe there are enough Americans, who will pull together when the going gets very tough.
Many children, especially little girls, have loved the Laura Ingalls Wilder Little House on the Prairie children’s book series, based on her childhood in the late 1800s, as her family moved to the Midwest amid the great American expansion westward and struggled to homestead in a harsh and unfamiliar land.
Wilder wrote those books during the Great Depression and facing serious family financial hardships, Wilder’s daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, who had left home in her late teens and had worked tirelessly to become one of the highest paid female journalists of her era, encouraged her mother to write these stories and then she worked to get her mother’s stories published. There’s some dispute about how much editing and rewriting Lane did, but the stories themselves are definitely based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s childhood.
Wilder had struggled throughout her adult life dealing with failed farming efforts, moving, and her husband being disabled from side effects from diphtheria. When they settled on their farm in MO in 1894, it took 20 years for them to turn that farm into a profitable dairy and fruit farm. Along with the farm to work, Wilder spent decades writing a column for a farm journal.
There were no overnight success stories involved with anything Laura Ingalls Wilder did – she worked tirelessly for years, as did her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane. Even the Little House series started with Lane trying to get her mother’s stories published as adult novels, but after numerous rejections and advice to rewrite the stories as children’s stories, the first Little House book was published in 1932. This book series reversed the financial fortunes of both Laura Ingalls Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, who had both been wiped out financially in the 1929 stock market crash. After the Little House success Lane wrote some very successful novels themed on homesteading in the Midwest during the late 1800s too.
Lane later went on to write books on politics and became a thought leader within the libertarian movement. Her work Discovery of Freedom is brimming with optimism for American liberty. Along with her journalism and writing career, Rose Wilder Lane was an expert needlewoman. In 1963, Woman’s Day published the Woman’s Day Book of American Needlework, with the narrative written by Rose Wilder Lane. It’s not just a how-to guide of various needlework techniques with some dry historical tidbits, but a unique soaring narrative about the American spirit and American liberty.
Writing about patchwork quilting Lane wrote:
“Poverty came across the ocean with the immigrants. Here on the farthest rim of the known world, it became direst need. The smallest scrap of cloth was precious to a woman who could have no more cloth until the trees were cut and burned, the land spaded and sown to flax or to grass for sheep, then next year the wool sheared, washed, combed, carded and spun into flax pulled and carefully rippled, retted, dried, beetled, scutched, heckled, spun, and at last the loom made, the warp threaded, the shuttles wound and the cloth woven.” (p. 14)
“In the wilderness thousands of miles from home, depending only upon themselves for their very lives, these poor immigrants learned the inescapable fact that a person is the only source of the only energy that preserves human life on this planet. With their minds and hands they made houses, they produced food, they wove cloth and built towns, and each ceased to think of himself as a bit of a class in a nation. They knew that each one was creating a neighborhood, the town, the colony.” (p.14)
“To women who knew this, every precious scrap of cloth had a new meaning; they thought of what the small pieces, together, could make. And they began to make a pattern of them.” (p.14)
American patchwork quilting broke the rules of English quilting, with new patterns, like the Log Cabin, Bear’s Paw, Tomahawk, etc.
That brings us to something to think about this 4th of July. Lane commented that for more than a century students of folk art admired the Old World’s peasant crafts and she wrote, “Only recently have curators of American museums seen American needlework. Yet in 1776 its spirit of freedom was nearly two centuries old.” (p.14)
With our current economic situation many Americans are learning about how people survived the Great Depression and WWII ration meals, but the American timeline of struggling is much longer and filled with mostly forgotten stories of the daily toils and struggles of brave and stalwart people who dared to set forth in wild unknown lands to be free. That is our America heritage, that we should occasionally think about a bit. Those seeds of liberty came to America with the first settlers and we owe it to our children and grandchildren to continue to sow them and tend to them all across this great land.