To me, immersing myself in history is pure joy. Yes, it’s a bunch of dates and facts and innumerable people but to me it is awash with emotion. Actual human beings did these things, said these things, experienced horror beyond imagination or pursued great glory and attained it. We all grew up with ABC’s Wide World of Sports as they proclaimed those exhilarating words, experience the “Thrill of Victory, the Agony of Defeat”.
Yet, with all this emotion, history can be more a pleasure-sport than meaningful in life. It can be like sitting in front of a fan in blistering hot weather. The cool wind keeps coming, pleasantly passes over you, but then its gone. The only solution is to get more wind coming over your skin and so you’re stuck there unable to do anything else lest you lose that ‘feeling’.
But as Robert Campbell recently stated in an As I See It editorial was very thankful for “In history, I found teachers who taught reasons behind the development of nations”. It is one thing to learn everything to know about the Peloponnesian Wars and quite another reason why you’re learning about this in the first place!
Recently, the Clipper Heritage Trail website and the mobile tours were unveiled. The beautiful granite markers are now in position about the city and yet – as you read the website and follow along with the mobile tours; you realize that reasons are never discussed, only inferred.
I spoke with a recent tourism professional who constantly works in that industry not just here but in other countries. She indicated that Newburyport drives her batty in that no one wants to tell you why our history is significant. “Tell me why,” she cried out. “Why is Newburyport more important than any other place!”
Our visitors sincerely want to know. Turning on a fan of historical wind won’t satisfy them. They want to point to Newburyport and say, “This significant thing occurred there.” “That is the powerful lesson that I learned from visiting this city.”
As another visitor demanded from me as I stood at Market Square, “Give me the cliff notes!”
So, here they are:
We are the Birthplace of the Coast Guard
We are the birthplace of the Clipper Ship
We are the birthplace of the Tea Party
First shipbuilding center to donate a ship to the fledgling Navy.
We were once a major center for Piracy and Privateering
We were a major center of illegal smuggling – hence our “tunnels”.
We are the Birthplace of the Bill of Rights
We were once the fifth most important city in America, in wealth and in political power.
We were once one of the epicenters of the “Great Awakening”
We were once a huge shipbuilding center
We were once a center for international trade
We were once the center of silversmithing
Why does Newburyport look the way it does – Great Fire of 1811 & John Bromfield’s Will.
We were once one of the major points on the Triangle Trade, rum being our major product.
Because of that The Curse, is still upon us. (And not because of the rum!)
We were once one of the most dangerous “stations” on the Underground Railroad
In spite of that, the Abolitionist Movement flourished here.
We had the third most corrupt mayor in the country during the 1930’s.
We were the first community in America to use historic preservation as an urban renewal tool.
We have the second largest collection of 18th & 19th century homes in America.
And that doesn’t include our famous people:
Caleb Cushing, writer of two treaties to China and Japan, Union champion and kept the British and French out of the Civil War.
Donald McKay, Inventor of the Clipper Ship and famed for some of the fastest sailing ships on the ocean currents.
John Bromfield, Wealthy merchant who went on to gain a huge wealth in Boston.
John Patton, Father of the Modern Biography
John Marquand, Pulitzer Prize Winning contemporary of Ernest Hemingway, Hollywood darling and writer.
Theophilus Parsons, Creator of the idea of the Bill of Rights, championed Checks and Balances in the MA & US Constitutions.
Lord Timothy Dexter, wealthy eccentric, “Greatest Philosopher of the Western World”
Rev. George Whitefield, International Evangelist, the Forgotten Founding Father of America, the Source of the Great Awakening
Adolphus Greeley, Arctic Explorer, co-founder of the National Geographic Society and The Explorer’s Club
William Lloyd Garrison, Abolitionist, who started the careers of other abolitionists such as John Greenleaf Whittier and Frederick Douglas.
Rufus Sargent, Regional architect famous for Italianate and Second Empire styles
William Graves Perry, designer of the Williamsburg, VA restoration effort and motivator for the restoration of Newburyport.