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The year was 1786, the setting, Boston’s Bunch of Grapes tavern where former officers from the War of Independence gathered. Among them was the Reverend Manasseh Cutler, with doctorates in medicine, law, and divinity. Such opens David McCullough’s historical novel, The Pioneers—The Heroic Story Of The Settlers Who Brought The American Ideal West (2020).

Besides writing of notables in American history, McCullough wanted to present patriots, unknown to history, whose critical influence directed its development. One of these was the Reverend Manasseh Cutler (1742-1823), First Congregationalist pastor in Ipswich Hamlet, Massachusetts. His vision for the Northwest Territory (north and west of the Ohio River) included the prohibition of slavery, the freedom of religion, and state-funded public education, all of which occurred, despite bitter disputes in the Capitol.

McCullough’s discovery of the archives at Marietta College, located in Marietta, Ohio—the first settlement of the pioneers—gave him access to the diaries and letters of Manasseh Cutler and four other families, together with newspapers, pamphlets, and other books. All of which the author wove into a compelling story of ingenuity and daunting hardships: the virgin terrain to clear for log cabins and farms, the extremes of weather, diseases and accidents, clashes with Chief Pike of the Seminoles, the British threat during the War of 1812, and the lack of funds, also in the country, as a whole.

Despite such hardships, the settlers, many from Puritan backgrounds, rarely gave up. Just got up the next morning and saw what was left and started over.

Knowledge of their perseverance attracted thousands of American and European settlers wanting to experience this world of rich soils with their bountiful produce. Live was different here.

David McCullough, now in his mid-eighties, keeps alive the innate goodness of America’s foundation and development in his historical novels and reminds us to be grateful for our heritage.

“I’m so sorry, Mrs. Talbot, but we did all we could—Your husband’s heart just gave out on us,” said the emergency room doctor to the silver-haired woman sitting across from me. She gasped, then sagged onto her lap, while still rubbing the slim gold band on her finger, a gesture that seemed to quiet her during our long wait in the cry room for news. Earlier, her husband had collapsed onto the breakfast room table where paramedics revived him.

After a pause, the doctor slipped next to her on the couch and gently touched the back of her tweed coat. Stunned, she looked up, her ashen jowls mouthing speech, her dark eyes in bondage to angst. “I think I remember that your sons are on the way, that you’ve already made arrangements?” he said looking softly at her while smoothing his tie beneath his medical coat.

She nodded, then searched the confines of the room, grabbed a magazine from the coffee table, then threw it down. She was beside herself: her tears glacier-hardened. It had been that way the whole time I was with her.

Then, with balled fists, she sprang from the couch and shuffled toward the lobby. Outside, earlier snow showers had turned into whistling wind-capped snow spirals. From their midst emerged three figures, shoulders hunched, attentive to icy patches on the ground. She, too, saw the figures and with reckless abandon headed toward them, her arms outstretched, again drenching her flats. In the next moment, the sons slipped off their overcoats and raising their arms, tented their mother from the snow; then, hugged, their bodies swaying like a wind-up toy: release.

I watched for long moments–one of my favorite chaplain stories from the 1980s….

Available on Amazon

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