White Virginia May Wheat

Whites of Their Eyes, and White Lammas Wheat — The 2017 Northwest Colonial Festival and Early American Heritage Grains

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.

Colonist Encampment, 2017 Northwest Colonial Festival;   George Washington Inn, Port Angeles, Washington

Colonist Encampment, 2017 Northwest Colonial Festival; George Washington Inn, Port Angeles, Washington

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.

Early American Heritage Grain Plots;   George Washington Inn, Port Angeles

Early American Heritage Grain Plots; George Washington Inn, Port Angeles

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.

Festival Celebrity Visitor Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia,   AKA Gregg Hardy of the Colonial Heritage Foundation

Festival Celebrity Visitor Benjamin Franklin of Philadelphia, AKA Gregg Hardy of the Colonial Heritage Foundation

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.”

Franklin United Colonies Flail and Sheaf Two-Dollar Bill (1775);   Private Collection

Franklin United Colonies Flail and Sheaf Two-Dollar Bill (1775); Private Collection

 

 

From Colonial America To El Camino Real — The Great American Heritage Grains Adventure, April 2017 (Part 2)

This blog is a continuation of a series on my (Richard's) trip across the country visiting important sites related to heritage and landrace grain studies. View the other posts in the series here.


Hillwood Estate Museum, Ann McClellan, Interpreter

We’re big breakfast cereal lovers at the Scheuerman household! I still enjoy a good bowl of Post Grape Nuts or Toasties Corn Flakes, though I wish they would cut down on the sugar. I had some vague memory of the Post family’s association with Post cereals. C. W. Post was a man of humble origins and a passion for healthy living who built the Postum Cereal Company into a substantial empire. After he passed away in 1914, his only child and heir, Marjorie Meriwether Post, took over the family enterprise and transformed it into the General Foods Corporation and a host of other related concerns. In the 1930s Marjorie lived in Moscow as the wife of the U. S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies. She became fascinated by Slavic culture and began collecting treasures from Russia’s Imperial Age as many tsarist objects and works of art were sold at auction by the Soviet government in order to obtain hard currency. Ms. Post had special interest in Catherine the Great and was among the few who could afford the finest pieces which began the vast collection at her Hillwood estate west of Washington, D. C. She arranged to have the mansion and its treasures donated to the nation upon her death in the 1970s.

Russian Empress Catherine the Great (1729-1796) commissioned a breathtaking project to transform a vast area near the summer palace at Tsarskoe Selo (Pavlovsk), the “Tsar’s Village” west of St. Petersburg, into an allegorical landscape shaped by her conception of this Russian rural idyll. She found in Orthodox priest and agronomist Andrei Samborsky (1732-1815) a teacher with the proper background to tutor her grandsons and a small circle of privileged classmates like Prince Alexander Golitsyn. After graduating from the Kiev Academy in 1765, Samborsky had studied agriculture in England and served as chaplain at the Russian Embassy in London, married an Englishwoman, and returned to Russia to begin tutoring the Russian dukes in religion and natural science in 1782.

Buch Chalice with Gold Wheat Stem; presented by Catherine the Great to Nevsky Cathedral, 1791

Buch Chalice with Gold Wheat Stem; presented by Catherine the Great to Nevsky Cathedral, 1791

Hillwood’s Imperial Palace Service and Furnishings from Pushkin, Russia

Hillwood’s Imperial Palace Service and Furnishings from Pushkin, Russia

With the Empress’s support, Samborsky formulated plans for an Imperial Farm and School of Practical Agriculture on a thousand acres adjacent to Tsarskoe Selo which became an important state institution devoted to the improvement of crop and livestock production and farm management. An engraving from the time shows Samborsky plowing with an improved English implement as his distinguished Order of St. Vladimir medal hangs from a nearby tree. Open land in the vicinity was sown to wheat, rye, pasture grass, and other crops while workers labored nearby in the 1780s on Pavlovsk, the splendid summer palace of Catherine’s son, Paul I, and from 1792 to 1796 on his son’s Neoclassical residence, the Alexander Palace. The first structure built at Pavlovsk was the open air Temple to Ceres (later Catherine’s Concert Hall, 1780) by the empress’s favored architect Charles Cameron (1745-1812), a colonnaded Doric rotunda that originally contained a statue of Catherine as Ceres and painted panel An Offering to Ceres.

The Imperial Farm originally constructed from 1828 to 1830 featured buildings of Tudor Gothic country style designed by Scottish architect Adam Menelaws (c. 1750-1831) with a single story Cottage Palace built nearby as an izba containing rooms for visiting members of the imperial family. Outbuildings included a stone barn, stables, granary, and dairy, and a kitchen redesigned in 1841 to serve as a Grand Ducal School. The cottage was expanded to three floors in 1859 with the addition of bedrooms, and dining and drawing rooms to become the ocher-colored Farm Palace which Alexander II (1818-1881) used as the family’s preferred summer residence for the rest his life. When time permitted, Alexander especially enjoyed his Blue Study which displayed favored paintings of rural scenes and fine bindings, and where he signed the Emancipation of the Serfs decree in 1861.

 

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site

“I hope, some day or another, we shall become a storehouse and granary for the world.”  --George Washington, letter to Marquis de Lafayette, June 19, 1788

The great Business of the Continent is Agriculture.” --Benjamin Franklin, “The Internal State of America,” c. 1790

“I am never satiated with rambling through the fields and farms, examining culture and cultivators, with a degree of curiosity which makes some take me to be a fool, and others to be much wiser than I am.” --Thomas Jefferson to Marquis de Lafayette, April 11, 1787

 

I had day of splendid Virginia sunshine for the short drive from Washington, D. C., down to Washington’s Mt. Vernon estate overlooking the Potomac River where I made arrangements to visit the park’s living history farm and the nation’s most recently presidential library—the spectacular Smith Library for the Study of George Washington. Prior to leading freedom’s cause in the Revolutionary War, Washington first leased Mt. Vernon after the death of his half-brother, Lawrence, in 1754, and obtained full title in 1761 upon his sister-in-law’s death. Washington significantly expanded his holdings to 8,000 acres through acquisitions of Mansion Farm, Ferry Farm, Dogue Run Farm, Muddy Hole Farm, and River Farm. He began experimenting with various kinds of crop varieties in the late 1780s in order to move from tobacco to grain production in order to eliminate reliance on slave labor and in to improve the land’s fertility. My very helpful host was Lisa Pregent, who manages Mt. Vernon’s Living History Farm, where our Palouse Heritage Scots Bere barley will once again be growing after an absence of over two hundred years!

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site and Living History Farm, Lisa Pregent, Farm Manager, holding Palouse Heritage Scots Bere Barley Seed

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site and Living History Farm, Lisa Pregent, Farm Manager, holding Palouse Heritage Scots Bere Barley Seed

; and George Washington’s Restored Octagonal Threshing Barn

; and George Washington’s Restored Octagonal Threshing Barn

I continued down the winding road about five miles through the sparsely populated countryside to the recently rebuilt George Washington Gristmill and Distillery. (Someday soon they’d also like to reconstruct his farmhouse.) I arrived right at 5 PM closing time and the place was about empty, so thought my chances of any kind of guided tour were slim. But I was pleased when Head Miller Cory Welshans emerged along the lane leading to the mill with an inviting smile that seemed to say, “I’ll spare time for anybody with information about George Washington’s original grain culture.” And indeed he did show me around the grounds and invited me to return on my trip back from Williamsburg to meet Historic Trades Manager Sam Murphy.

Cory Welshans, Head Miller

Cory Welshans, Head Miller

Sam Murphy, Historic Trades Manager

Sam Murphy, Historic Trades Manager

In no tribute to my time management skills, I did return but this time a few minutes after closing hours though Sam and the milling team could not have been more accommodating to my interests. I got a grand tour of all three stories of the operating mill and found Sam, like Cory, to be a storehouse of knowledge and very interested the old White Virginia May wheat for milling and Scots Bere barley for both milling and brewing.

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site Gristmill and Distillery

Mt. Vernon National Historic Site Gristmill and Distillery

MtVernonGristmillDistillery3.png

Sam provided some valued insights into Washington’s agricultural know-how and business savvy:

"President Washington did many things as a political and military leader, but here we really emphasize George Washington the agricultural entrepreneur. He led the transition from tobacco to grain culture in this region and built the two-story octagonal threshing barn based on a European design that reduced his loss to soil and sky by traditional methods from 20% to less than 10%. He also experimented with new grains from Europe and Asia, and installed the first Oliver Evans stone milling and silk-sifting equipment in the country. The reconstruction here is the only one of its kind presently operating.

"Washington developed a very lucrative milling business by vertically integrating his operations. He raised high quality milling grains for that time and installed sophisticated silk-sieve sifting equipment to separate the flour into three products—superfine white flour for the best bread and pastry flour, middlings with the bran and endosperm, and “ship stuff” for making hardtack or sea biscuit. He traded considerable grain to Caribbean markets for rum which he sold here in the Colonies, and also used those profits to import goods from China. So he was into global trade and vertical business integration long before those terms became fashionable."

Thanks again, Lisa, Corey, and Sam, and I can’t wait to see these Early American grains once again flourishing where they did in the time of our Founding Farmers!

 

Williamsburg, Virginia

I continued to the southeast on my rental car expedition for some 170 miles via Richmond to Colonial Williamsburg, America’s famed and meticulously restored 18th century community with generous support from the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. family. I was invited to meet with Ed Schultz and Wayne Randolf who have managed Great Hopes Plantation there and who have been wanting to restore the period’s authentic grain culture to the farm. I found them to be very gracious hosts and incredibly knowledgeable regarding Early American agricultural history. Various Williamsburg museums and libraries also contained works relevant to my “Hallowed Harvests” study.

Great Hopes Plantation Rye Field, Ed Schultz, Journeyman Farmer

Great Hopes Plantation Rye Field, Ed Schultz, Journeyman Farmer

William Prentis Store Field

William Prentis Store Field

What’s more, I hadn’t dined at the King’s Arms Tavern since first visiting Williamsburg with my wife, Lois, our parents, and my sister Debbie in the 1970s. I was pleased to find the same colonial era wines, savory pot pies, and desserts on the menu that we found back then. Today, however, some craft ales said to be based on old recipes had been added to the mix.

King’s Arms Tavern Marquis, Colonial Williamsburg

King’s Arms Tavern Marquis, Colonial Williamsburg

But I really knew I was where I was supposed to be after checking in late at night to the Quarterpath Inn and finding a framed print of this work by the French artist Jean Millet that I had been writing about in “Hallowed Harvests” hanging above my bed. Below it are some lines I composed about its significance.

Jean Millet,  Harvesters Resting  (1854)

Jean Millet, Harvesters Resting (1854)

Millet sought to paint “pictures that mattered” and the work he considered his masterpiece, Harvesters Resting—Ruth and Boaz (1857), earned the artist his first medal and is among very few paintings he explicitly based on a biblical theme. The canvas bathes Millet’s aesthetic mission in a spiritually charged golden pink light that merges appreciation of nature with faith, while the complex composition reflects associations with precedents like Breughel’s The Harvesters. In this monumental idyll, Millet reinterprets biblical Ruth and Boaz with contemporary relevance in clothing and setting to illustrate the mutual respect born of her courage and his benevolence. A jarring disparity is expressed between rustic peasant piety and privation.

Painting from a carefully moderated palette of soft tones, Millet clothes Ruth in blue, the symbolic color of purity typically seen in Renaissance portrayals of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The artist almost certainly intended this in accordance with Boaz’s proclamation that Ruth be known as a woman of excellence. Boaz presents her to his laborers, most of whom recline and eat their fill from a communal dish while Ruth clings to her grain as if she were protecting a child. She is vulnerable, excluded, and poor—like those who exist on the margins of society in any age. Yet a man of means shows uncommon compassion and chooses her to be a member of his household and offers promise of a new life.

The pithy sayings and light-hearted verse that made Benjamin Franklin’s Almanack a best-seller in Colonial and Early America reflects his 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 views, such freedom should have reasonable limits since unrestrained personal liberty could transform into licentiousness 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. Franklin 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.”

Keep Within the Compass    Print   (Carrington & Bowles, 1784)

Keep Within the Compass Print (Carrington & Bowles, 1784)

Agrarian toil was likewise associated with moral wellbeing in Early America. The popular Keep the Compass allegorical broadsides, printed in England with separate versions for young men and women, depicted the benefits of proper behavior and hard work. Colorful scenes around a draftsman’s compass show the perils of vice beyond the instrument, while a harvest scene and church steeple inside represent keys to success symbolized by a sack of treasure. “KEEP WITHIN COMPASS AND YOU SHALL BE SURE,” the poster admonishes, “TO AVOID MANY TROUBLES OTHERS ENDURE.“


Stay tuned for the next installment of this blog series on Richard's "Great American Heritage Grains Adventure."

Richard's trip has been made possible by generous support from The Carolina Gold Foundation, Anson Mills and Glenn Roberts, Seattle Pacific University, the University of California-Riverside Department of History, and Palouse Heritage.