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  • Writer's pictureMaggie Meahl

An Evening with David McCullough

*Originally posted June 14th 2019*

The famous historian discussing his new book The Pioneers in Hamilton, MA (June 2019)

A very thoughtful friend of mine, Lindsey, took me to an author talk by David McCullough that was held tonight at the First Church in Hamilton, MA. Hamilton was the home of Dr. Manasseh Cutler, a minister, who led a pioneer group to the Northwest Territory (Ohio) in 1787. The admiration that McCullough has for Cutler and his son is palpable. Reportedly, they were one of the first, if not the first pioneer group to go west.

One of my favorite parts was when he talked about exploring the archives in Marietta, OH and how great an experience it was there–friendly staff with a cache of untouched documents. How the town looked so New-England like. And, fun fact, it was named after Marie Antoinette who Benjamin Franklin gave credit for helping get the French into the Revolution.

He still uses the word “Puritan” to describe these post-war New Englanders. But, one of the historical “facts” if you will, is that by 1787, pure Puritanism had been diluted (and morphed into other sects) after the Great Awakening. Instead, he should be branding them Puritan-descendants. I think it matters.

McCullough kept this history nerd enthralled, however, by giving these stern New England pioneers a shout out for not being complete nudges but very practical, hardworking people that believed in the power of education.

So, the word “Puritan” was not used anymore but of course, these pioneers who re-settled the West, for themselves, did so at the brutal expense of the native populations. McCullough admires these pioneers and reminded the audience to not judge so much by our own modern standards but to try and understand their mindset.

The Pioneers is getting mixed reviews but I have to say, the author, at age 85 gave a very elegant off-the-cuff talk about his latest book and related subject matter of which he is clearly very proud. He was impressive. The pews were crammed full of admirers and at the end he got a well-deserved standing O.

It must have been very meaningful for him to be in the town where Manasseh Cutler began his journey west.

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