CONTEXT

July 24, 2010

Departures

Filed under: Uncategorized — jchatoff @ 12:12 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Among the earliest settlers who came to the new world in search of religious freedom were the many dissenters from Germany – the Amish, Moravians, Mennonites, German Quakers and dissenting Reformed and Lutheran.  They had heard about William Penn and his policy of tolerance and so they headed for Pennsylvania.  On July 24, 1683, the first large group left aboard The Concord.

I imagine they looked a lot like the Amish shown in the photographs below, taken in 1941 and 1942 by WPA photographers.  The cultivator may be a modern invention, but the people would have been instantly recognizable.

Visiting Amish observing farming methods in Florida. Marion Post Wheeler, LoC PPD.

Pennsylvania Amish farmer in unmotorized cultivator with steel wheels. John Collier, LoC PPD.

A number of other significant events have occurred on this date:  Brigham Young and a band of Mormons reached the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the Supreme Court ruled the Richard Nixon had to release the Watergate tapes in 1974 and – best of all – the first political poll results were published in 1824.  The Harrisburg Pennsylvanian printed the results of a straw poll that showed that Andrew Jackson was the overwhelming presidential favorite, correctly as it turned out.

And it is Ambrose Bierce’s birthday.  Born in Ohio in 1842, he was well-known for his writing (The Devil’s Dictionary, Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge), respected for his Civil War service and famous for derailing Collis Huntington’s efforts to sneak legislation through Congress forgiving a $130 million loan to the railroad tycoon and his buddies.

Two things about Bierce are uniquely memorable: First, he was one of 13 children, all of whom had names beginning with the letter A – Abigail, Amelia, Ann, Addison, Aurelius, Augustus, Almeda, Andrew, Albert, Ambrose, Arthur, Adelia, and Aurelia.

Ambrose Bierce in 1866

Second, he went to Mexico in 1913 as an observer of Pancho Villa’s army, traveling with them as far as Chihuahua.  At that point he completely disappeared.  No trace of him was ever found. It is a mystery that frequently prompts fiction, notably Carlos Fuente’s The Old Gringo, which was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck.

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