Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Slaves of Egypt

Aimee and I both enjoy books and read a great deal -- two or three serious books a week. I read more novels than she does, especially in summer -- as a natural-born scientist she doesn't understand why anyone would waste their time on a work of fiction.

My latest is Liberty Men and Great Proprietors by Alan Taylor, detailing the history of the Waldo Patent, originally a couple million-acre royal land grant of which this farm was for a few decades the epicenter.

American revolutionary war privateer Israel Thorndike succeeded to the patent title by buying out a mortgage in the name of General Knox. Knox won title to the patent by a series of manipulations, including marrying one of the heirs. Gaining the title in 1806 by default, Thorndike founded the Great Farm, and one way settlers worked off their mortgages was by working in his fields, or delivering produce, livestock, cordwood, or lumber to Thorndike's farm or to his mills and boat landings.

The settlers were an unruly crowd, according to Taylor, mostly Jeffersonian Republicans and Agrarians, whereas the hated Knox was a leading Federalist. This early American political argument recapitulates those taking place in England in preceeding centuries, between levellers, diggers, and such, and the aristocratic establishment. I haven't discovered yet whether Thorndike was a Federalist.

But local legend has it that his barn on the Great Farm was nicknamed "Egypt" because it was so huge. We think we may have the foundations of this building in one of our pastures.

According to Taylor, the settlers used a language of resistance, in which slavery, particularly the biblical Egyptian slavery of the Israelites, was a common metaphor for the land baron's hegemony. There was mayhem, violence, and even murder, before the Jeffersonians won the day in this part of Maine, and gained democratic control over towns and townships that were formerly in grasping proprietal hands, and of Congress. One consequence was the various homestead acts employed in the settling of the west.

Egypt, huh? It fits quite well. The settlers who worked off their mortgages on the great farm probably considered the produce they delivered to Thornike's personal proprietal tythe barn to be the product of their slavery.

And so the barn was obviously "Egypt." That throws a new light on an old legend.

I doubt Thordike would approve of our occupation of his treasured property. Not only is there the objection that we are obviously modern-day levellers and agrarians, but also that the life we lead is extremely modest and Jeffersonian.

I hope the old bugger is rolling in his grave.

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Welcome to our Farm Blog.
The purpose of this blog is for Aimee and I to communicate with friends and family, with those of our students, and other folks in general who are interested in homesteading and farming activities.

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