Lessons from History… If “You Didn’t Build That” Then Who Did?

“Now, we can look abroad and see large cities, handsome villages, fine fields, and rich gardens. We see good, smooth roads, strong bridges, and well finished houses.”

One of the greatest challenges with humanity is the personal and corporate failure to learn from history.  When we experience a natural disaster, or calamity we often say, “wow, this is the worst event since…” or “I’ve never seen anything like this…”  However when we say such things, we join in on the failure to know and remember history, and to look at the good and the bad.  Without both, we cannot learn from the mistakes of previous generations.  But we also cannot honor and remember the legacy of those who have paid so great a price in order to give to their posterity a place to call home.

You might look at the quote above and say it is from recent news broadcasts regarding political speech… but if you were to conclude such it would be mistaken as well.  Several months ago, I was looking through a local antique bookstore and I discovered a book (pictured on the right) and it intrigued me.  It didn’t list a title on the binding, and in fact, the cover appeared to be fabric, not plastic.  I pulled this unassuming book off of the shelf (approximately 4″x5″ in size) and opened it to discover a treasure.  This book was priced at $7.50 and I immediately held onto it once I discovered what it was.

The book was a child’s book – likely ignored by many because if its title, but it was more than a book.  It was a guide to our history.  The book was entitled: “The Child’s History of the United States – Designed as a First book of History For Schools” By Charles A Goodrich.  This was not just a random history book.  This was the version that was “improved from the 31st edition”, dated from 1864 – during the middle of the American Civil War.  This book was printed the year after Gettysburg in Philadelphia, the city where the American Declaration of Independence was written and signed.  I did a quick search on my phone for this book and quickly discovered its significance.  This was the edition of the book that was reprinted 2 years after the death of the Author, during the Civil War.  It is quite likely that the book I found was a school textbook read by students during the Civil War, and since I discovered the book in a town in  Virginia, it may have even been a book read by Virginians in that time.  We may never know, but the legacy of this book, rooted in faith and history, and sustaining itself for over 30 editions all point to this book being a foundation in schools.

In fact, it was so loved that several people continued the author’s work to attempt to update the book in future years.

So this takes us back now to the original quote listed at the top:

“Now, we can look abroad and see large cities, handsome villages, fine fields, and rich gardens. We see good, smooth roads, strong bridges, and well finished houses.”

Pages 34-36 – The Child’s History of the United States – Goodrich (1864)

“1. Children of the present day know little of the toil and trouble it cost our fathers and mothers to settle these states. Now, we can look abroad and see large cities, handsome villages, fine fields, and rich gardens. We see good, smooth roads, strong bridges, and well finished houses.
2. It was not so once. Indeed, it was not. When these states began to be settled, the country was all a wilderness. For hundreds of miles it was one unbroken forest. Not a city, not a town, was to be seen — not a village — not a house, excepting here and there a few Indian wig-wams.
3. Even the frame of the first house built in Connecticut, was made at Plymouth, in Massachusetts. It was made by John Holmes. When finished, he put it on board a small vessel, and set sail for Connecticut river.
4. Sailing up that river, he at length came where Hartford now stands. Just in that spot, he was much surprised to see a kind of fort, standing near the banks of the river. Some Dutch people from New York had built it, for the purpose of preventing others from settling near them. They had planted a cannon upon the fort, to fire upon any one who should attempt to sail higher up the river.
5. When Holmes came along in his vessel, the Dutch came out from the fort, and hailed him. “Stop,” said they, “and pull down your sails;” and while they said this, they loaded their cannon, and brought fire from the fort, and told Holmes that they would blow him through, if he did not stop.
6. Holmes saw the Dutch, — saw their cannon, — saw them loading it, and heard them call. Little cared he; he was a bold man. A fine wind was blowing, and his little vessel went on, like a bird in the air. Besides, he knew that the Dutch were no marksmen at all; and he went on, leaving them quite vexed, that powder and ball would not scare an Englishman. On reaching Windsor, he put up his house, and thus led the way for the settlement of Connecticut.”

Pages 34-35

Page 36

How many of you knew history like this? Is it “politically correct” in our time today? Definitely not, but was it politically correct as well to continue sailing up the river in the face of cannon fire? How does that relate to your situation today, in the face of storms and people shouting you down saying “it can’t be done” or “you can’t do that.. you need to do it this way”. It’s time to learn some from history as well, looking back at previous storms we’ve faced, and looking at how we as people have overcome those storms. Disasters didn’t start after the Red Cross was founded (by the way, the book is older than the Red Cross – founded in 1881). Economic depressions didn’t start in the 1930’s with the Great Depression. And droughts most certainly didn’t begin this year as well (Link to Post on “Worst Drought Since 1956”). Until we learn that history matters in the context of disasters, and in the course of our daily lives, we will continue to have to “learn the hard way” by repeating history.

Regardless of your reasons for reading this post… you know of the areas where you need to learn from history. Seek out those answers. Make inquiries. Challenge everything that you know, and when you’ve found answers continue to dig deeper. As each of us does that in our own lives, we as a people become stronger because we know both the good and the bad. We’ve had plenty of “bad” in recent years with disasters, but what are you going to do so that future generations don’t have to go through the same mistakes that we’ve made?

Your turn to act…


One comment on “Lessons from History… If “You Didn’t Build That” Then Who Did?

  1. I too am a history enthusiast. For the past several years i have been working on a history of emergency management in the U.S. See: “Emergency Management; the American Experience, 2900-2010.”

    Claire B. Rubin

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