You shall see rude and sturdy, experienced and wise men, keeping their castles, or teaming up their summer’s wood, or chopping alone in the woods, men fuller of talk and rare adventure in the sun and wind and rain, than a chestnut is of meat; who were out not only in ’75 and 1812, but have been out every day of their lives; greater men than Homer, or Chaucer, or Shakespeare, only they never got time to say so; they never took to the way of writing. Look at their fields, and imagine what they might write, if ever they should put pen to paper. Or what have they not written on the face of the earth already, clearing, and burning, and scratching, and harrowing, and plowing, and subsoiling, in and in, and out and out, and over and over, again and again, erasing what they had already written for want of parchment.
In 1839, two years out of Harvard, Henry David Thoreau and his brother John took a week to row a boat from Concord, Massachusetts to Concord, New Hampshire. Thoreau published his observations from that trip in the aptly named, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.
The above passage is his reflection on the farmers he observed in the fields along the river, great men whose stories were never written down.
This is what makes genealogy so exciting to me, when we can recover and tell the story of those who walked the streets and worked the fields of New England, men and women long past, who labored, laughed, loved and died, and where no living memory remains but some lines in a dusty volume in some town hall basement or courthouse. Through genealogy we can provide the parchment and finally put pen to paper on their behalf.
Photo Credit: Mary E. Robbe, “Upton’s Potato Field in Dublin New Hampshire,” ca. 1900, Keene Public Library and the Historical Society of Cheshire County.