Rokeby. Ms. Williamson uses real letters and diaries to show that the Underground Railroad in Vermont was very different from the myths of heroes, victims, and rescues that commonly occur to people when you say the words "Underground Railroad." Vermont's history and its independence created a Green Mountains world where black people -- often called Africans -- formed communities early in America. Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina, another dedicated researcher, gives us a vivid picture of Africans as Vermont immigrants and settlers in the 1700s, in her book Mr. and Mrs. Prince.
Fergus Bordewich's book Bound for Canaan gives a broad-brush picture of American's Underground Railroad years, the lead-up to the Civil War. But it's the details that Williamson, Gerzina, and others bring forward that shows us the reality of, say, 1750 or 1850 in Vermont.
One reason this is so important is that "myths" continue to flourish. I often hear people around me describe Vermont as a "white-bread place," a place where people have "always" been white-skinned, of Protestant faith, and of English and Scottish heritage. But that's about as far from the truth as possible. Still, it gets woven into the eyes and ears with which people meet this landscape and its heritage.
For instance, the photos here show an "open house" at the 100-year-old barn labeled "Locust Grove Farm" that took place yesterday. We say that "the camera doesn't lie" and it is easy to assume the people at the farm are of that "New England" image from the myth. Actually, many of them are relatives of people who built the barn (one great-great-grandson and his wife and son were there), or settled the farm -- Charles Johnston Wark, born in 1866, with both his father and mother born in Ireland, and his wife Lizzie Ellen Owen -- or those who worked it most recently, the Patenaude family, whose ancestors came from Quebec (Patenaude may be a later-day version of Patenotre). Neighbors include many of Native American descent, especially among those whose roots are French Canadian. And through this town passed people from Syria, Russia, and China -- and by this, I mean "passed through" in the 1800s. Some stayed, like Sam Wah, born in northern China, whose stone in a nearby cemetery marks his death at age 75, in 1921.
By all means, let's celebrate summer in New England. The real New England -- with all its diversity of heritage and thought. We can only be richer for seeking and valuing the truth.
In the writing room right now ...
In the writing room right now ... I am working on book #3 in the Winds of Freedom series, a teen adventure series set in the 1850s in North Danville, Vermont. My 1852 Vermont adventure THIS ARDENT FLAME is scheduled for June 2021 publication with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you updates and early order information as soon as I know! I'm also writing a memoir; revising a mystery; in the midst of a novel about a grandmother and her granddaughter; and always writing poems. Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?
Saturday, July 16, 2011
Today, summer is three moons long. I try to pay attention to each of them. The golden luminous full moon last night, rising above the crest of the hill, stopped my breath for a moment.
In The Secret Room the story unfolds through Shawna's eyes. But in this start of a poem, it nestles in the words and thoughts of Shawna's best friend Thea, also in eighth grade:
THREE MOONS OF SUMMER
There are more than three, of course: one for tonight,its faint sorrow hanging over the cornfield,one for the next night, slim and paleas though throwing up dinner made her intoa waxed princess, faintly glowing. Thea knowsthere are more than three moons. Especially now.Summer lasts almost forever.
Across the road, close enough to hearif she yelled from her window, her best friend sleeps.It’s so unfair.
Want to hear more? I'll be reading the finished poem tomorrow in Brownington, Vermont, as part of the "Kingdom Perspectives" poetry gathering at the Congregational Church, sponsored by the Old Stone House Museum and the Orleans County Historical Society.
Posted by Beth Kanell at 11:12 AM