With a state named for the first president, counties that honor Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, and towns like Mt. Vernon, perhaps it was only time before the Northwest should host a full-blown Northwest Colonial Festival complete with Concord Bridge battle reenactments and Early American grain demonstration plots courtesy of WSU/Mt. Vernon and Palouse Colony Farm. You may recall from blogs posted earlier this year that in partnership with Glenn Roberts of Anson Mills, founder of Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina, and Stephen Jones and Steve Lyon at WSU/MV, we embarked on a marvelous adventure to (1) document specific grain varieties raised by George and Martha Washington, John and Abigail Adams, and other “Founding Farmers,” (2) find any samples that had been kept vital in US and world germplasm collections, (3) begin propigating them, and (4) share samples with the dedicated heritage-minded folks at Colonial Williamsburg, Mt. Vernon’s Living History Farm, and the National Arboretum in Washington, D. C.
Among our most recent partners in this special endeavor has been Dan and Janet Abbott, proprietors of the George Washington Inn, a five-star B&B situated on fifteen acres overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca between Washington State’s coastal communities of Sequim and Port Angeles. The inn is an incredible full scale replica of President Washington’s Virginia estate mansion with exquisite period interiors, only with updated conveniences! Lois and I were guests of the Abbotts this past winter and marveled at the meticulous care taken to develop the building and grounds as a tribute to the democratic ideals and legendary hospitality of the Washingtons and other Founders. We were even joined for a breakfast by General (Vern Frykholm) Washington himself in full uniform and in keeping with the occasion we supplied the Colonial White Lammas wheat flour for the pancakes. The Father of our Nation said he hadn’t tasted anything so delicious in over 200 years.
Dan and Janet spearheaded the first Northwest Colonial Festival in August, 2016, and with such an overwhelming public response made plans far in advance of this month’s August 10-11 event that attracted reenactors throughout the country including regiments of British regulars and American colonist soldiers. Dan and friends had built a model of the famous Concord Bridge just east of the inn and I’m happy to report that once again the patriots managed to drive the Redcoats back and claim victory. A vast encampment is set up along the long driveway from the Finn Road entrance and organizers and participants go out of their way to make for a family-friendly experience where kids can experience how colonial families lived, worked, played, and ate. There are games, music, marching soldiers, demonstrations on Early American printing, spinning and weaving, cooking, and a host of other crafts so you might want to mark calendars for August, 2018, in case you missed it this time around.
My special interest was in the grains of Early America and Dan invited Steve Lyon from WSU/Mt. Vernon and me to present on this topic at one of the afternoon sessions. We met folks who had come from as far away as Arizona and I especially enjoyed getting to know Dr. and Mrs. Benjamin (Mr. and Mrs. Gregg Hardy) Franklin from Utah who go to great length to fully dress and act the part. Dr. Franklin reminded me that his brother was a prominent New England farmer and that he had great interest in “agricultural improvement” by introducing new techniques to improve soil fertility and bringing new grain varieties to the colonies from Europe. I was heartened to hear that others who took part in the festival had heard of the work we had done this past year through Palouse Heritage to reintroduce Virginia White May wheat and Scots Bere barley to the National Arboretum and Colonial Williamsburg. George Washington and Benjamin Franklin lauded the fertility of American soils in their correspondence, as did Thomas Jefferson when writing of the Piedmont region in his Notes on Virginia (1785). He also also famously proclaimed, “Those who labor in the earth are the chosen people of God,” and the haven of “substantial and genuine virtue.” Jefferson envisioned a vast network of yeoman farmers who would be rendered self-reliant and virtuous through possession of private property. Widespread appreciation for both commerce and cultural heritage grounded in religious values is evident in Early America’s many weekly and monthly newspapers and other popular publications.
Although a confirmed Philadelphia city-dweller, Franklin visited farms throughout the area and turned his scientific mind to experiments with grains and grasses and crop rotations. He famously proclaimed, “The great Business of the Continent is Agriculture,” carried on extensive correspondence with Scottish agricultural improver Henry Home, Lord Kames (1696-1782) and through interest and influence circulated ideas as well as seeds to promote more productive farming. Franklin was also the prime mover in establishing The Library Company of Philadelphia in 1731, predecessor of American public libraries, to promote members’ literary and political knowledge. Franklin served for a time as the organization’s librarian and gathered numerous agricultural titles that were widely circulated.
Agrarian allusions were common in the expressions of Franklin’s Poor Richard who observed that the divine call to “Places of Dignity and Honour” went forth to those who cared for land and livestock: “David keeping his Father’s Sheep,” “Shepherds feeding their Flocks,” and “Gideon from the Threshing Floor.” The same 1756 edition of the Almanack and Ephemeris offered verse that resonated with the prevailing Protestant work ethic of Franklin and his readers:
Learn of the Bees, see to their Toils they run
In clust’ring Swarms, and labour in the Sun:
…Unless you often plow the fruitful field,
No grain, but mix’d with Thistles it will yield.
…Plough deep, while Sluggards sleep;
And you shall have Corn, to sell and to keep.
The pithy sayings and light-hearted verse that made the Almanack a best-seller in colonial America reflect Franklin’s creed regarding liberty of persons as a “key freedom” so Americans could own property and enjoy the fruits of their labor in the philosophic tradition of John Locke and John Milton. But in Franklin’s view, such freedom should have reasonable limits since unrestrained personal liberty could transform into exploitation that threatened the public good through radically unequal distribution of wealth. While touring Scotland and Ireland in 1771, diplomat Franklin had seen firsthand the widespread abject poverty of the countryside which he attributed to absentee landlords and exploitive farming practices. He proposed an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution of 1776 to limit the large concentrations of farmland and other property which he believed would be “destructive to the Common Happiness of Mankind.”
Franklin’s designs for paper currency in 1775 as an expression of growing spirit of American independence also incorporated familiar agrarian imagery. TRIBULATIO DITAT (Threshing Improves It) proclaimed the banner of a circular shield in the center his two-dollar bill that featured a flail above a sheaf of grain. Invoking the colorfully stirring rhetoric characteristic of Franklin, he described the image as symbolic of “enriching virtues” in an anonymous submission to the Pennsylvania Gazette: “…[T]ho at present we are under the flail, it blows, how hard soever, will be rather advantageous than hurtful to us: for they will bring forth every grain of genius in arts, manufactures, war and council, that are now concealed in the husk…. And threshing, in one of its senses, that of beating, often improves those that are threshed.”