Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Jefferson’
129 years ago today, on July 4th, 1886 my paternal grandmother, Gertrude (Smith) Brindle was born in England in Accrington, England. That’s her sitting In the chair.
As you can tell, she was the product of the Victorian Era. I don’t recall her as a particular warm person and she was a lousy cook but I do recall her cozy, old-fashioned kitchen with a big, black iron coal-fired stove and her attempts to make me happy.
However, I didn’t start writing this today to reminisce about my grandmother. Instead, what struck me was that only 60 years prior to her birth, on July 4th, 1826 both Thomas Jefferson and John Adams died on the 50th anniversary of July 4th, 1776. (You’ve probably heard the “Jefferson Lives” story when Adams didn’t realize that his friend had already died).
To the kid in this picture, sixty years would have seemed like an eternity. To the man who he’s become, it doesn’t seem so long ago. Top put that in perspective, sixty years ago today was July 4th, 1955 when Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” and Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” were playing on the radio.
Understanding that my grandmother’s life wasn’t that far removed from those two Founding Fathers helps me feel a little bit less out of touch with American history.
Thanks, Grandma. Rest in peace.
I’ve just finished Jon Meachan’s biography, “Thomas Jefferson-The Art of Power”. It reminds me of the inadequate job that our education does in making history interesting and engaging for the teens in our school systems.
Did you know that there were people who wanted to impeach George Washington? That Jefferson received letters with death threats while he was President? That Meriwether Lewis of the famed Lewis & Clark originally was an aide for President Jefferson prior to being sent on the famous expedition and many years later reportedly went insane and committed suicide (or was murdered)? I didn’t.
As I listened to the audiobook version of Meacham’s book, I kept thinking how much more I would have taken away from my history courses in high school and college had my instructors explained the stories in context with events that were going on in the world at the time rather than on the this was the date/ this was the event/ this was the result approach.
I was also thinking about how great it would be if HBO reunited members of the cast from its John Adams series to recreate the same roles in a mini-series version of “Thomas Jefferson-The Art of Power”.
Writer Bill Bryson owns a house in the English countryside. While searching through his attic one day, he discovered a door which led to a small roof and a view of the surrounding area. The experience led Bryson to start thinking about the history of his new community and his new home. Those thoughts, in turn, led to his study of the various rooms in which we live, the contents of those rooms, and their origins. Here are a few of the insights which Bryson shards:
*The dining table was originally just a plain board which was put up at meal time. Eventually, the term “board” came to signify not only the table but also the meal itself. Thus, the expression “room & board”. Also, expressions such as “above board” meaning honest because ones hands were visible and “under the table” meaning dishonest.
*The creation of the fireplace changed everything. It enabled a building to have two stories which added more rooms and the opportunity for privacy.
*In 1884, just 128 years ago, a New England company introduced the concept of preserving food during ocean voyages by using ice from Wenham Lake in Massachusetts.
*Thomas Jefferson created the American French Fry.
*English clergymen preached against eating the potato because it grows underground (the domain of the Devil) and because the potato wasn’t specifically mentioned in the Bible.
*Ironically, people like Thomas Chippendale whom we no admire for their craftsmanship are also the people who created mass manufacturing.
*Christopher Columbus never set foot on the American continent. One significant accomplishment of Columbus’ voyages, however, was to introduce syphillis to the population of Europe.
*The Pacific Ocean was much bigger than Magellan anticipated. His crews ran out of food and were reduced to eating a mixture of rat droppings and wood shavings in order to stave off their hunger. (Yummy!) Only 18 members of Magellan’s original crew of 260 men survived the voyage. They became the first humans to circumvent the globe.
*60% of the world’s food varieties today originated in the Americas.
*The first coffee shop was created in London in a shed behind a church in 1652 (very pre-Starbucks!)
*In his diary entry for September 25, 1660 Samuel Peeps recorded the first known English language mention of tea.
*Bryson suggests that classes on the history of marketing begin with the story of how the British encouraged opium sales in China.
*If you flush a toilet with the seat up, germs linger in the air for up to 2 hours.
*During the early days of indoor plumbing, water closets were reserved for the servant class. The upper classes thought indoor toilets were demeaning and preferred outhouses.
*In 1716, Thomas Jefferson built Monticello on the edge of the known world. It’s telling that he faced the front of the house toward the wilderness rather than toward civilization.
*When Jefferson died on 7/4/1826, he was $ 100K in debt. His daughter tried to sell Monticello for
$ 70K but eventually sold it for only $ 7,000.
*Prior to the Revolutionary War, the British enforced a law which ordered that goods sold to America had to first pass through England. Consequently, something produced in Cuba would have to first travel across the Atlantic to England and then back to the American colonies.
*Falls from stairs rank as the 2nd most common cause of accidental death.
*Amazingly, we’ve had electricity and phones for as long as we’ve known that germs cause disease.
*The invention of the cotton gin by Eli Whitney, who lived in Massachusetts and was a Yale grad, increased the amount of slavery in the South. Prior to the cotton gin’s invention, slavery was on the decline. Its invention also turned child labor into a necessity because the kids were small enough to access problem areas and paved the way for the Civil War. (Talk about unintended consequences).
*Bryson makes Charles Darwin’s sometimes tragic story come alive in a way that I’ve never heard it told before.
*It takes the average citizen of Tajikistan a whole year to produce the same amount of carbon emissions as it does for the average European to produce in 2.5 days and for an average American to produce in just 28 hours.
These are just a few of the interesting insights which Bill Bryson brings to our attention about many of the things we take for granted in our daily lives. If you’re as fascinated about this stuff as I am, I think you’ll enjoy this book.
In closing, Bryson gives us something to think about: Is it possible that in our endless quest to fill our lives with comfort and happiness that we’re creating a world that has neither?