"In terms of pioneering, Northampton is credited with a lot of 'firsts.' The Academy of Music was the first municipal theater in the country, where Sarah Bernhardt and others came from Europe to perform. Too, women's basketball had its start at Smith College, and Smith has recently established the first women's engineering program in the country."
"Yes," said Mr. Buckley, "and Northampton's baseball team, the Florence Eagles, won the first World Series."
"No, they beat the Army of the Potomac in 1865. Actually, Northampton had a professional baseball team right up to the 1930s and the Depression. They would play Boston and win 31-0. Those were the rip-roaring days of barnstorming baseball."
"Our readers would be interested in knowing what it was like to live in Northampton 350 years ago."
"Imagine that, at least at first, there was a trading relationship between the Europeans and the Native Americans. As long as the Native Americans had fur and food to trade, the relationships were actually fairly even and fairly balanced. Except, I mustn't forget to mention that the Europeans carried smallpox and basically decimated the Connecticut River Valley in the 1630s, which made it possible for the Europeans to settle there. The Native Americans remain to this day, however. They didn't disappear at the end of the smallpox epidemic or at the end of King Philip's War. [King Philip was a Wampanoag leader who in 1675 started a rebellion against English settlement that resulted in a retaliatory massacre a year later of 400 Native refugees.]"
"Yes, that corroborates what Margaret Bruchac, Abenaki, writes in her essay, 'Native Presence in Nonotuck and Northampton,' where she dispels four erroneous myths created about the local Native Peoples; i.e., that the area was only wilderness before colonial settlement, that non-farming Native sites were temporary and nomadic, that the Algonkian peoples were inferior to their Iroquoian neighbors, and that local Indians had abandoned these lands.
"Isn't 'Nonotuck' Northampton's original name, an Indian word for 'in the middle of the river?'"
"Yes, and in those early days, you see an agrarian community, a transferal of rural England to the banks of the Connecticut River. You begin to have artisans like blacksmiths and joiners, who also farmed for a living. The land was very fertile and so there was certainly something that drew people to live here, but it was still a Puritan society. There were century laws regulating dress and behavior, and the eyes of the community were always on one. Things like hard thoughts and jealousies could land you in trouble. Joseph Parsons was himself accused of things like 'lascivious carriage [to some women of Northampton]' and use of inappropriate language.
"So if you want to think about a society, a faith-based society, you might want to look at Puritan New England where witches were burned and people were thrown in jail for their attitudes and the clothes that they wore. There was a kind of thought police or behavior police that existed during that time.
"In terms of what daily life was like, you get a real sense of it from John Demos's chapter on the Goody [short for Goodwife] Parsons witchcraft trial. If you ignore the sensational aspects of it, it's about gossip, according to Demos. It's about the declining fortunes of one family and the rising fortunes of another, and the fact that a woman from a good family in England who found her fortunes plummeting, looked at a woman from much humbler circumstances in England, not only marry well but be extremely productive in terms of having children, and all the kinds of things that symbolized prosperity."
"I found the essay by Kevin Sweeney on 'the river gods' fascinating. Can you tell our readers who they were?"
"This essay," said Mr. Buckley, "is describing patterns of ownership and social patterns in a colonial era. Reinforced by all the values of a colonial society, it was all very hierarchical so that those who became powerful in the community passed that power along to their children and shared it with their families. These were the large landowners, who had connections with the royal authorities. They were the magistrates, the ministers, the captains of the militia, and sometimes also the merchants. They were all interrelated. They controlled society from top to bottom -- family connections, court connections, that's how you got your jobs, your appointments and this kind of thing. The river gods epitomized that kind of colonial society. When the Revolution occurred, the world turned upside down because those who lost power were precisely those river gods, the landed squirearchy. You have the story of one of them, Israel Williams, being thrust into the smokehouse and basically nearly suffocated overnight.
"Interestingly enough, after the Revolution you have nostalgia about it, looking back at the river gods as a kind of easier way of life where a man's word was his bond and where a debtor wasn't pressed to the wall if he were a few years late on paying back his workload to the squire. In the new society after the Revolution, if you couldn't pay your taxes in cash you lost your farm, which led to Shays's Rebellion. So there are two sides of a divide there. The river gods reflect the colonial way of life, for better or for worse."
"In speaking of the American Revolution, I think that all those currently reading 1776 by David McCullough and those interested in the Civil War would enjoy the essays 'Revolution in the Neighborhood' by Gregory H. Nobles and David W. Blight's 'When This Cruel War Is Over,' for they bring the larger realities right home to Northampton and its surrounding towns and countryside."
"The point I wanted to make about so-called 'local history' is, paraphrasing Tip O'Neill, that all history is local. I'm convinced that one way to get at the bigpicture issues is to cast down your bucket locally and look at historical experience through the lens of your community. There are all kinds of stories that people can find to illustrate these larger issues. I mean that even in a fairly recent statehood like California, there's a history going back thousands of years.