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In order to understand where Americans came from and what life was like in the 19th century, we must have some sort of window into the visual past. Our forefathers did not fathom the realm of recorded history. They understood their policy decisions in forming this nation, but they were acting upon the present and future for their record keeping. The term "historian" had not yet been born.
There are ways to record history and in colonial times one of them wasn't with a camera. Can you imagine the wealth of information that could have been gathered if we would have had photographs? Art is a possibility but limited. History is recorded by folklore, legends, journals, and recorded facts such as tax records, birth and death certificates, court records, and newspapers. Folklore and legends are fun to read and tend to preserve myths; however, they should never be accepted as factual. Recorded facts are only a small window into the life of the early American. Our best view of early life can only be obtained by journals recorded by the common man.
Colonial Sense feels that by bringing you those journals from various writers, you will get a much better sense of where we have come from as a nation. We do not rely only on colonial documentation since our nation was still forming in the 19th century. You cannot ignore writers during this time when Germans were still emigrating to this country and could not understand the language spoken by the Pennsylvania Dutch. This culture was still forming in the thirteen colonies. It is our goal to bring you the assimilation that took place in early America.
There is no greater influence on folk art life than the Pennsylvania Germans. The early collectors such as the Rockefeller family of colonial Williamsburg, Elektra Havemeyer Webb of Shelburne Museum, and Henry Francis du Pont of Wintertthur understood the influence of folk culture early on in history. Our first journal we offer to you in a series is from one of those Germans, an unknown schoolteacher traveling through Pennsylvania in the 1820's, Johann Heinrich Jonas Gudehus.
The account of Gudehus is a window into the church, school life, and folk living of the Pennsylvania Germans. It does not excel like George Washington's journals, but it is a peek into the mundane activities of the everyday common man. His recorded experiences to share with his fellow Germans were detailed, even to the point of explaining his appreciation for apple cider or taking a journey into the darkness of a thick forest.
Had it not been for the wonderful translation of Larry Neff of the Pennsylvania German Society in 1980, this account may have been lost forever. The account of Heinrich Gudehus's travels was published in 1829 in German. Apparently there is only one recorded copy in the New York Public Library. The translation was recorded in the Pennsylvania German Society Series 14- Ebbes fer Alle- Ebbes fer Dich, Something for Everyone- Something for You, 1980. We owe a depth of gratitude to the work of Larry Neff and the individuals who helped him in his analysis.
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