David Wood, Curator
The Concord Museum

Interviewer: Michael N. Kline
Also Present: Carrie N. Kline
Date: 8-04-09
Place of Interview: Concord Free Public Library
Transcriptionist: Samuel Bollier

David WoodMichael Kline: Okay, today is August 4, very beautiful day in Concord, and we're at the Concord Free Public Library. And would you please say, "My name is," and tell us your name?

David Wood: My name is David Wood.

MK: And we never ask people's ages, but if you'd give us your date of birth, maybe we could put this in some sort of historical —

DW: 10-27-1950.

MK: 10-27-50. Okay. And maybe to begin, would you tell us about your people and where you were raised?

DW: I guess from about six to 18 or so I lived in Connecticut, in Weston, Connecticut. So you know, that's a majority of the school years, public school years. And prior to that, lived in Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. But my mother's family was from Connecticut, and my father's family from New York City. And like that.

MK: Were there siblings? Were —

DW: Have I? Oh, yeah. I have four brothers, four brothers. Yep. All older but one.

MK: And how did your parents make their way in the world?

DW: My father worked for the American Cancer Society for most of his career.

MK: His name was?

DW: Gilbert Congdon Wood. And let's see, he was with some national research group when we were in Virginia. I was born when he was in graduate school at Cornell, so that's in Ithaca. And he was at Cornell following his service during the War. He was a staff sergeant, served on Liberty ships and shuttling prisoners from North Africa to Italy for a while.
MK: Imagine that.

DW: Yeah. Well, he described some of his experience to a degree, so I was able to imagine it. He was a noncombatant because his family are Quaker. And so he was noncombatant, noncommissioned officer. Medical. He was sort of a medical something-or-other.

MK: Mm-hmm.

DW: And he was pursuing his graduate degree in entomology, which he took from Cornell, 1952. And then went to work for some government agency. I can't remember which; if there was an NSF, it might have been that, but I don't remember which initials it was. And then American Cancer Society, where he worked 25 years or so. Something like that. So he worked in the city; we lived in the suburbs. And he spent half of each day on the train, I think. Kind of like Emerson. [laughs] Emerson spent an appalling amount of his life on a train. It's amazing.

MK: I hadn't thought about that.

DW: Yeah. He was on the go like six months of the year, eight months of the year some years. Pretty amazing. If they had frequent something miles on the railroad, he would have cleaned up. He owned stock in the railroads, so I guess he cleaned up.

MK: And your mother?

DW: Well, let's see, her family was from Connecticut, but she lived in Manhattan when she met my father during the War. She lived in Manhattan with her mother and stepfather and ran into him somewhere through her brother. He was on leave, that kind of thing. 1943, I guess that was. And my mother worked for a little while during the War as a — I wouldn't say nurse, because she hadn't taken the degrees or anything. But she was at Bellevue during the war, and then also worked for a while in the 1960s as a—I don't remember the distinctions, but she wasn't LPN. She was not a licensed practical nurse, but she was some kind of nurse.

MK: And her name?

DW: Janet Elizabeth, and she was born Robinson. But she took the name Wood. Yep.

MK: So you're a curator at a museum. When did this interest develop for you in history and artifacts and all the things related to what you're doing now? Give us a sort of a developmental sketch of your own.

DW: Okay. It can be hard to figure out how people become curators. There isn't any course of studies for it, so it's an accidental calling. I was — let's see — I got a degree in printmaking from University of Iowa. That was the Mauricio Lasansky Studio, an etching studio, a traditional etching studio, which are now gone, is my understanding. So I learned etching more or less the way Goya practiced it. And you know, that was Lasansky's thing. That's what he did. So he trained many, many generations of traditional printmakers and —
MK: His name is spelled —

DW: L-a-s-a-n-s-k-y. He was a Peggy Guggenheim protégé at University of Iowa, starting in the 1940s. Late 1940s, I guess.

MK: Now etching is —

DW: Is when you take a plate of copper and you put an asphalt ground on it and scratch through it and then put it in acid. And that makes lines. I don't see an etching in here. That makes lines in the plate that you can fill with ink, run it through a press, and then you get lines on the paper.

MK: As in a dollar bill? Or —

DW: Yeah, that's engraving, rather than etching.

MK: That's engraving.

DW: But they're —

MK: What's the difference?

DW: - related. They're both intaglio processes. Engraving you use a burin, a little chisel-like tool, and you're going like this all the time.

MK: And in etching?

DW: In etching it's more like drawing with a pencil on a sheet of paper, only you're drawing with a needle on a prepared copper plate. So.

Carrie Kline: What drives a person to study printmaking?

DW: It's something to do, I guess. I don't know. You have to kind of care about the technical side of things. And so this was —. I'm getting around to why I became a curator, see. [laughs] So there's a technical aspect to it. But it's also possible to really explore the paper. You can look into the paper, about how it's made and what its history is, and you can look into the techniques involved in etching. There's not much to it, actually. It's fairly simple stuff, but it wasn't really worked out until about 1500 or so. But, you know, then it was. And it essentially didn't change since then. So that's kind of interesting. The prints that people made, I mean, you know, Rembrandt's etchings, and Goya's etchings, are there among the more moving monuments in the history of art. So all you have to do is look at some of those things. Now you can't emulate them necessarily, but it adds a lot of interest to the technique. So I explored those things a good deal and similarly explored some avenues in ceramics. Ceramics is the same sort of thing, only it's clay, which is a lot like glass, instead of this print process. So it has got all sorts of aspects to it that are interesting technically, and so I looked into a lot of those. But then I went into an art history program after the printmaking program.

MK: At —

DW: Boston University. And it made sense at the time. [laughs] It was somehow a continuation of what I was doing with those media, working in those media. And then while I was there I was given an internship at the Museum of Fine Arts in the American Decorative Arts, the department was called then, and Jonathan Fairbanks was heading the department, so I sort of got hooked on that topic. And then I came here from there. After I worked for maybe two or three years in that department, soft money, various grants for two or three years, and then came here from there.

MK: Because a job opened, or because there was something —

DW: A job opened here, yeah, a curatorship. And this collection is a good collection; it's an old collection,.

MK: This collection?

DW: The Concord Museum collection is one of the older collections of the artifacts of everyday life, more or less, because the collection was begun around 1850, and that's as far back as that interest goes, about 1850. And so it was a good collection, rich in many, many different aspects. And so since then I've been looking at a variety of aspects of Concord's history through the material that survives, and we've got a lot of it.

MK: Yeah, that was my next question. What do these things tell you about earlier life?

DW: Well, the earliest things tell us everything we know about the cultures that they come from, so we have about 10,000 stone artifacts from the people who lived in Concord starting about 12,000 years ago —

MK: Wow.

DW: - up until about 1,000 years ago, or I don't know, 500 years ago. And you know, that is all that survives from those early cultures, is the stone artifacts. But there isn't all that much that survives from the 17th century in New England, really. But there's some very good 17th-century things in the museum, and lots of 18th-century things. For instance, on the mill dam, about two blocks from where we are, the mill dam starting in 1790 was a manufacturing place. There was a trip hammer and wire-drawing mill on one side of the mill dam.
MK: A what?

DW: A trip hammer and a wire-drawing mill. A trip hammer is a water-powered big hammer for forging out things. So it was semi-heavy industry around 1800, let's say, around 1800. And then across the street were a bunch of cabinetmakers and clockmakers, and they are all collaborating on making clocks, and they made lots of clocks. Concord made a lot of clocks in that 1790 to 1820 period. And we have a lot of them in our collection. You were asking what the artifacts have to say. Those particular artifacts are particularly rich in information about one of the most interesting periods in American economic history, that transition from bench-level manufacturing, which is kind of —. Bench-level manufacturing is technology more or less on the same level as that etching process I was describing. You can do that with almost no capital and with very little in the way of specialized equipment. You need the press. That matters, but not too much else. And that's kind of the way it is with clock making. You don't need any capital; you can start out very small, just you and your tools; that's enough. If you get an order, they started from that.

The father of the benefactor of this library started out that way as a cabinetmaker, but then he made a transition around the year 1812 into another manufacturing, and that was pencils. And that made a huge difference. His income increased tenfold, and he more or less became a much more recognizably modern individual. I mean, it's difficult to relate to the life of a craftsman in 1790, because it's just a foreign country, you know. They start out when they're 12 years old, and they work 10 hours a day, and their skill level is, I mean, it's unbelievable. And so he could do that, but then when he saw the opportunity he switched over to something else, and that's where he starts to look a little more modern. Here he can do this wonderful handcrafting, which you have to imagine is deeply satisfying on every level, especially if you read somebody like William Morris. He says, "This is where the dignity in labor is," in this kind of work. And so the guy who was doing it said, "I don't want any part of it," and he was quite right. If he'd stuck to the bench, he would've probably died in debt. But he didn't stick to the bench, and he thrived and prospered. So we've got the artifacts that document that transition, and a lot of the story is told in the artifacts and no place else.

(17:28) So it's a similar circumstance as that which holds for the stone artifacts, where the stone artifacts tell us everything we know about the culture they come from, because the language doesn't survive; the things that they made in bone and skin and wood don't survive, but the things that they made in stone do survive. So that's all we got. And when it comes to the kind of manufacturing that Concord was doing in the early 19th century, most of the business records are lost. But all that survives are the objects. But the objects themselves, if you learn the syntax, the objects themselves are filled with information. And so that's sort of what we do at the museum, is use the objects as the database to reconstruct the aspects of Concord history that seem to matter. And since Concord's history has this tendency of crossing over from the local to the global on a few occasions, like April 19th, 1775, and also like the 1830s and '40s when Emerson and the people around him were in Concord. The subject matter is almost limitless, so it's — I don't know. It keeps it interesting.
MK: In this period of — from 1790 to 1820, do you see technical development in —

DW: No, not really.

MK: - clock making?

DW: Nope. Nope. They were making clocks the same way people had been making clocks since the 1690s. It's almost impossible to distinguish an eight-day clock movement of 1790 from one of 1690. You have to be an expert to tell the difference. And the elements that really count didn't change. The things that are regulating the pace of the clock, they didn't change. Later they did. After the middle of the 19th century there were some developments in mechanical clock making that were a little different, but not hugely different. And then, finally, mechanical clock making was abandoned altogether in the 20th century, but — I forget what the question was.
MK: Well, just the —if you could trace improvements or developments in —

David WoodDW: Well, see, that's the thing. In a way, when you see the kind of activity—. I mean, these people are at a certain point. They were making hundreds of clocks a year. And so you think, "Well, that must take—. You need a facility, you need capital and everything." But they didn't need any of those things to do it. And they also didn't really need any technical improvement along the lines of the things that economic historians tend to study. Generally they're looking at things from a little later in the century, but the people who were working here, they used waterpower. They got a little assist from waterpower in a couple of aspects, but they didn't use steam; there was no need for it. That was an example of technology they didn't need. Some of the technology they were using was, I would say, 17th century. But they're still working here in 1800, 1810.

And then it ended. It ended completely with no issue; nothing came of it. The clockmakers left; they didn't turn into railroad manufacturers or makers of light bulbs or any of that sort of thing. William Monroe became a pencil maker, and the people who stuck to the bench died in debt, but they had made a contribution that has yet to be worked out. It's like well, what were they doing—. And the clocks themselves are beautiful and admired and so on. But that may just be nostalgia. Don't know. That's among the things that make them continually interesting, I would say, is that they—. Collectively, they're illustrating a way of getting a living that as I say is in part only told through the objects themselves. Because like I say, most of the documentation is missing. And the academic historians are decidedly people of the book. If it's not written down in words, it's usually invisible to them. And so that's—. As I said, part of the challenge is to first work out—. The syntax and the taxonomy of American decorative arts has been very competently studied for half a century now, anyway. I mean —
MK: What does that sentence mean exactly?

DW: The —

MK: The taxonomy.

DW: Well, if you have, say, a chest of drawers, an anonymous chest of drawers, or let's say a card table. You've got a card table, and you look at it, and it has got a bunch of features, every one of which you can describe. And then if you look at the record that has been assembled on material like this, as I say in the last 50 years, then you'll find that that pillar in the center means that that's a relatively late card table in the series of card tables. And then some aspects of the carving would suggest just looking at it from here—. I'm not looking at the base, but looking at it from here I'd say it comes maybe from upstate New York, or it's possible it comes from Massachusetts. I'd have to turn it upside down to tell. But the reason I can suggest that is because these are all taxonomic features.

It's just like when you're bird watching. Does it have a red breast? Well, it might be a robin. And that's it. You just have your key list, and you just check the stuff off. So there are great collections of the—. As I said, the Concord Museum's collection was begun around 1850, which is very unusual. Most collections started much later than that. And the great collections were begun after 1900, really. The big museums didn't get into the American decorative arts game until the 1920s, and they started building American wings. But they made a real effort to gather together all the good stuff they could find, and what constitutes good is a moving target over the years. The collectors changed their notion of what mattered, generally going from a purely aesthetic approach to a mixed approach, which is kind of where it is now. But they pulled all this stuff together and spent a lot of time describing it very carefully, and that's the taxonomy. That's what you get out of that. Does it walk like a duck? Does it quack like a duck? And so on. And so you can use that to begin to read these objects for other information that's in there. There's that matter of training, as I said. You start young. You're maybe 12 years old when you start doing this stuff. And you learn certain things, and you never have to relearn them. You learn certain things once, and never learn them again, things like cutting a dovetail, let's say. You learn that once; you never learn it again. There are rare exceptions, I expect, but generally speaking you don't learn it again.

So you can follow an individual through objects that way. That's something that an art historian named Morelli worked out with respect to primitive Italian painting in the middle of the 19th century that, don't look at the face. The face gets repainted. The face is very sensitive to fashion. That's sort of the enemy of understanding these objects, fashion, because fashion is not regular. It's not regular. It's discontinuous. But there are aspects to furniture making that are much more continuous than fashion. So you have to not look at fashion; look at something else. And so as a consequence, a lot of the things that were made in America for use in the home can easily be sorted out into time and place of manufacture, with a lot of accuracy. And very fine detail. In our case here, I can tell you which side of the block certain things were made on. [laughs] But like I say, Concord's an unusual place. [laughs]

CK: What do you mean?

DW: Well, the cabinetmakers were only on one side of the street, on the mill dam. But who was on the other side of the street? The blacksmith was on the other side of the street. So you can tell which side of the street certain things were made on. And you can do that for Newport, Philadelphia, New York, and that's because of all this work that has been done on typing these things out, so you can get it down to the individual level, down to the level of the individual. And that's when things get interesting, because these are real people; they conducted real lives.

And that was something, for instance, that interested Henry Thoreau. And Thoreau expressed an interest in that subject in his journal, a sustained interest in that he made the claim, Thoreau did, that the sort of thing that he read — not in the official histories of Rome, which tells you what battles they fought and what borders they established. But Thoreau liked to read the pastoral poets: Virgil and Varro and Calumella and made the comment that that was real life. He sees people in Concord's fields every day conducting their lives exactly the way the people that Varro described were conducting their lives, and it puzzled him that they were invisible to the historic record. So he looked around for these people. He also saw them in the street in Concord, and nobody else seemed to see them. He would see people that were non-entities, and they don't show up in the official record, it's true. They didn't have jobs. They didn't own property. They didn't hold public office. They didn't have higher education. There's no permanent record. But Thoreau would meet them, talk to them. Found them interesting. He would learn from them, and it puzzled him that they weren't to be found in history. So he actually used some of the same records that a material culture historian would use, things like account books. Thoreau would read account books; he would read diaries, and Court of Common Pleas records, Probate Court records. He did that anyway as a surveyor. But he learned things about everyday life that really interested him, that made everyday life look to him more like the life of nature that he was recording at the same time.

I mean, this is all going on at the same time that he's making that very extended series of very close observations of, for instance, blooming time of plants in Concord. For, I think, a twenty-year period he recorded the blooming times of 500 different species. That's amazing. That's an amazing thing to do. It taught him something about the world. Emerson said — and I think it was true —that Thoreau once told him he could, if he woke up in Concord out of some coma or trauma—he didn't say coma—but if he woke up in Concord, he could tell what day it was in the year, even if he really had no idea, by looking at what was in bloom. And that, toward the end of his observational life, that was true, it was true; he could tell within a day or two. So he was making a similar set of observations about history at the same time for, as far as I can tell, for the same reasons that we make similar observations at the museum.

There's no other record, but we do have these objects. And as it turns out, they have things to say about the way people conducted their lives in the past that you can't find anywhere else. And on some occasions, it's significant. On some occasions it's just sort of adding color to a black-and-white image. But in some cases, again using the example of the stone artifacts, in some cases it's all you got. In the case of clocks, the documentation is very, very scarce. So all you have is the clocks, but you can read them. You can read their movements, and you can read their cases, and you can reconstruct ways of living that, like I say, are otherwise invisible. And since some of those ways turned into the modern world, unquestionably, the exercise can have a little value to it. For instance, what things didn't work? It's still of concern for economic historians, is what are the blind paths, what are the paths that lead nowhere. Things like bundling debt. Doesn't lead anywhere. We tried it. We gave it a real good try. Didn't work. And hopefully that'll be a lesson remembered and —
MK: Bundling debt?

DW: The thing that's responsible for the recent turmoil in the financial markets.

MK: They already knew it back then in Concord?

DW: No, they probably would've tried it if it had occurred to them. They did similar things. It's an interesting point. Let's say you could imagine that the roots of that behavior can be found in the economic life of Concord in the 18-teens. What the heck. Let's say that's the case. There's enough evidence to make some progress along answering that question. I think the answer would turn out to be inconclusive. But they were doing—. What you would learn along the way, is that they were—. They had attitudes toward debt and profit and pay that just don't make sense to us. So for instance, a craftsman who could do wonderful work was generally only paid for time and materials. And you really have to wonder why, why they were doing it.

There's a passage in The Voyage of the Beagle where Charles Darwin describes the life of miners in Chile in the 1830s. And what these guys would do was go down a 400-foot vertical shaft by means of notched poles that were let in angles along the wall. They'd go down there with this pack on their back, and they would load 200 pounds of copper ore into that pack. Darwin lifted one of them; he said he could barely lift it, and he weighed it: 200 pounds. So they would carry these 200 pounds up these notched poles, 400, 800 feet vertically. 400 foot at least. Darwin also says 800 feet, but that was for gold mining. But whatever. [laughs] You're carrying a pack vertically for 400 feet. And they would do it 12 times a day. They would come to the top, wipe off the sweat and go back down, and repeat that 12 times a day. And on the weekends they would get drunk. So why did they do that? [laughs]

And it's kind of like that for a cabinetmaker, like William Monroe. Why would he—? And that was the thing that he confronted in his own life and decided, this is a stupid idea. Why would you only work for time and materials? You're never going to get anywhere. You just—. And that's it. He could charge about a dollar fifty a day for his labor. If he charged more, people wouldn't pay it, because there were a bunch of guys in Boston, including a bunch of expatriate English who were driven out by economic conditions in England, who would work for a dollar fifty a day, and do beautiful work for a dollar fifty a day. So he has got to compete with that. And so that would be an example of a lesson that has yet to be explored. It won't get you to the derivatives markets. But there are—. If you go a little later on, say around 1907, you will find people in Concord who are participating in the global economic market at a very sophisticated level. They still are now. And there is a certain continuity there. They're the same families in some degree, to some extent. Same families.
MK: This is absolutely fascinating.

DW: That's why I think. [laughs] That's why I do it. [laughs]

MK: Were the pencils, were Monroe's pencils in any sense mass-produced? Was that beginning —?

DW: Well, you'd have to—

MK: What began to make his money for him?

DW: You'd have to redefine mass-produced, because he actually used the same tools and technologies that he was using for furniture making early on. But there is something that happened. This is something that Adam Smith actually talks about in the first chapter of Wealth of Nations, that there is a certain invention activity that's carried out at the bench level. So in other words, the craftsmen at the bench, the guy who's sawing something out, or hammering something out, or something like that, he will spontaneously, according to Adam Smith—. And there, spontaneously is a tricky word, but it just means you're not adding any more energy to the system to get more out of it. And so— or at least something different out of it. So spontaneously, these workers—. This is Smith's account— would invent things to make their task easier. His example was— and he cites this as a true example— a young craftsman at the bench, and his job was to regulate some machine that at a certain point, and this is in the 1770s, so his job is to—. At a certain point he's got to throw a little something or other, and then the machine will keep on doing what it's doing correctly. Well, he wanted to play with his friends. Thirteen, fourteen year-old kid, probably. So he invented a little jig that would automatically pull that thing, whatever it was, at the right time. In other words, he put a feedback device onto his machine. And so that's going on all the time at the bench level. There's a continual process of invention.

And that was the case with Monroe. They invented little things to make the task easier, but basically it's the same. He was taking thin planks of cedar. He was making regular grooves in them, square notch — or, you know, angled notches in them. He was slitting them; he was filing those angled notches with a preparation of graphite, then gluing two sides together, and then separating all those things out. You've got a whole big bundle of almost-pencils, and then you cut those up and sell them as pencils. So he was doing that. But he was taking orders as early as 1815 or so. He was taking orders for 20,000 gross of pencils. That's 20,000 times 144. And he said he could deliver it. That guy failed, so he didn't have to deliver it, but he delivered thousands of gross of pencils. And so they could do that without any—. There's no machines there, really. There's little tricks in the shop that made things a little easier, but he never had to build a mill; he never had—. He didn't use waterpower, although he may have used waterpower to saw out the cedar, it's not clear. But he certainly didn't use steam power. He didn't need any capital, didn't have to borrow any money from a bank or from anybody else. He did it; he came out of that bench tradition and grew this other thing. Now that changed, finally. That did change, but it wasn't his work. He made pencils that way, started buying stocks, and then moved out of pencils, and by then he had half a million dollars, which is a ton of money in 1850. So, but he did it.
MK: Did he have an advertising department in the shop?

DW: Nope.

MK: How in the world —

DW: He sold them wholesale. He developed a network of people who would buy them. He started out, he had one customer, a guy named Benjamin Andrews in Boston. And that was enough. That was in 1812. And Andrews was taking orders. He was fulfilling orders for Andrews of 250 dollars a pop. Several different—. One right after the other, orders for 250 dollars apiece. Prior to that, the biggest order was about 38 dollars for a piece of furniture. That's about it. So he just made this big leap right off the bat. And—.

MK: And what the pencils sell for on the street?

DW: A few cents. But he didn't do that selling. He didn't sell retail; he sold wholesale. And they'd go to stationeries, mostly in New York, and then they would sell them, maybe two cents apiece, about two cents apiece.

MK: Were other pencils available at that time?

DW: Yeah. He benefited from the interruption with the British trade between 1807 and 1815. That's when he grew his business. So he benefited from the interruption of the English trade. The English made better pencils than the Americans. And the Germans made better pencils, but they were more expensive, and he was able—. And they were not available with the embargo, so he was able to put this business together and get enough customers and then ride it out when the English pencils were available again. Didn't make any difference to his customers. They could still get as good a pencil as they wanted from Mr. Monroe, and they were satisfied, so.

MK: Well, given the traditions of writing in this town, it seems—. It's just so interesting that this is where the pencils—.

DW: Well they didn't write with pencils. They wrote with pens. [laughs] Yeah, that's the other question, then, that it'll be for other people to sort out. Why was there suddenly a big market in pencils just around the year 1812? Because there was, where there wasn't before; suddenly there was a big market for pencils. And it might have something to do with the public schools. There was a big demand for children's books at just the same time, and then—. And the production of children's books went from a very few to a tremendous amount. The difference between 1780 and 1810 is several orders of magnitude when it comes to children's books. In 1780 a few very lucky children would have a book made specially for children. In 1810 every kid in America had a book made specially for a child. So that's a big difference, and maybe pencils go along with that.
MK: So that's who was using pencils, children?

DW: Maybe. Don't know. I actually don't know. Haven't had to figure that one out yet.

MK: Carpenters?

DW: [laughs] Carpenters used pencils, it's true. And they may — and ship carpenters used pencils, and they made special pencils for carpenters, but the bulk of the pencils were—. They were just pencils. There were others who made fine art pencils, pencils meant for drawing. Those were expensive, and they were specially refined and everything like that. And you could get colored pencils and things like that too, but the general pencil—. It's not clear to me where they were going. I think it's an easy question to answer; I've just never looked into it. But I know, for instance, that in the 1760s one big order of expense for a school—this is John Tileston's North Writing School in Boston —a big expense for him was quills. He was buying them by the thousand. So at some point the pencil replaced the quill. And there was a big crash in the goose feather market, and everybody who'd invested in goose feathers was busted. I'm kidding. I made that part up. [laughs]
MK: What are some other areas to talk about in the terms of the artifacts of the museum? What other —

DW: Oh, there's lots.

MK: For example, do you see any technological advances in the stone artifacts over, from 12,000 years ago to—?

David WoodDW: Yeah. That's outside of my—. You can see changes. The difference between 12,000 years ago and 3,000 years ago is—. Even I can see it, and I don't specialize in that department at all. The difference between 3,000 years ago and 1,000 years ago in a stone artifact, I can't tell the difference. One thing that you get 1,000 years ago that you don't get 3,000 years ago is a ceramics technology, in this area anyway. You get ceramics earlier elsewhere, but in this area it's 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 years ago. Well, 2,000, 2,500 years ago, you get ceramics, you get bone. Sometimes bone things will survive. Maybe they were there earlier on and they don't survive. Don't know. It's hard to say.

But the introduction of stone technology has a beginning. The introduction of people into this area has a beginning. It was as soon as the glaciers left, people moved in. They brought a stone technology with them that they probably—. I mean a good guess is that it came from the Southwest, the technology did. But it didn't happen here. But you'll get areas where there are these sudden—. It's kind of like the Cambrian level, where all of a sudden you're — where before that, there's no variety in life forms, and then at that level there's enormous variety in forms. There's certain areas like along the Mississippi where there's huge variety in stone technology. Not here. And that —. And also those were short-lived little things. I don't—. It's not an area I study, so I'm not even sure how people are theorizing about what was going on there. But you don't—. There is a history of technology there, but it's a rather slow-moving one, I would say, for the most part. And the end came quite suddenly. The advent of the Europeans ended the stone tradition. Completely.
CK: And the makers?

DW: Moved west.

CK: Abruptly, you were saying?

DW: Yeah. Yep.

CK: What's the story there?

DW: What do you mean?

CK: Well, who was here, and where did they go, when and why?

DW: Well, there were people who spoke languages in the Algonquin group, apparently. And they used to live in an area that stretched, over the course of a year, that stretched from upstate New York to Gloucester, say. And then, let's see, where did they go? Most of them died in a series of plagues, especially the 1627 plague. About one in 10 survived that encounter with European disease in this area. Different in different parts of the country. But in this area, all but about one in 10 died. And then some of the remnants became Christianized, and there are still a few people around. But there wasn't any—. I wouldn't say there was any, at least that I've never heard of any migration out of this area. In other words, it would be like one family group at a time. So after that big die-off, and after the—. There were wars, and we took the land away, and pushed them out, and stuff like that. But there wasn't anything like the Cheyenne, like marching the Cheyenne from Florida to Oklahoma. There was nothing like that up here. You'd asked where those people went, but I don't know. That's not really my area. But that's as close as I know to where they end.
MK: Well, let's get back to your area. Yesterday Rick Wheeler took us to his home and showed us, among other things, a shooting piece hanging on the wall, and he said that Concord was a great producer of firearms over the—.

DW: Well, there was one little episode of firearm manufacturing on the mill dam, a guy named Alvin Pratt, and he did all right. He made thousands of muskets and rifles for the militias. Almost every young man was a member of a militia, needed a firearm. And he also made sporting guns. There was a lot of sport shooting in this area in the early 19th century. And he had a kind of specialized product. He made very accurate sights and found a niche market for that. But that was about it.

There was a little bit of manufacturing before that. There was gearing up for the revolution. There was a little bit of manufacturing. A guy named Samuel Barrett, and there were probably one or two others. Earlier on there was a barrel maker in Concord as early as 1710 or so. And there were probably a few others that I just don't know about. But it was never, I mean, this wasn't any Springfield or anything like that. It was never a big trade, except for that little period in the 18-teens and twenties when Alvin Pratt was — was doing a lot of business.

MK: Did he sell rifled barrels?

DW: He did, yeah. We have his rifling bench in the collection actually.

MK: Where does rifling begin?

DW: In Germany.

MK: About the same time?

DW: No, no, in the — well, 17th century.

MK: Wow.

DW: 16th century. Depends on who you talk to. But it wasn't used commonly until the early 19th century, put it that way. There were a few rifles available in the 1770s, but they were uncommon. Conversely, in the 1840s, rifles were common. And then by the middle of the century or a little after, most of the muskets used in the first three years of the Civil War were smoothbore. They weren't rifled. Probably saved a lot of lives. [laughs]

CK: What do you mean?

DW: Rifles are much better at killing people than smoothbore things are. So.

MK: Because they're much more accurate?

DW: They are. Yep. Concord was a depot for military stores beginning in the 1640s. So there was probably always a little kind of fringe kind of stuff going on. But numbers were always very small. That great leap forward had yet to come. And most of the needs could be provided with imports, satisfied with imports. So it wasn't until later. But, anyways, I'm not sure what episode Rick might have been talking about, but probably Alvin Pratt. That was the biggest, most organized, and it wasn't very big.
CK: How and when were those decisions made? When do we—? Should we import or should we become a self-sufficient manufacturing crafts community?

DW: Nobody ever asked that question. They just got on with it. [laughs] Until much later on. Much later on it became an issue. That is certainly part of the prelude to the Revolution, is that part of the philosophy, the mercantile philosophy is that your colonies ought not to manufacture. They had figured that out. They knew the difference between raw goods and manufactured goods, and they knew that the profit was in the manufacturing. And the shipping. And so there were actual legal organized efforts to not allow Americans to manufacture for themselves. So there was a lot of cheating. [laughs]

For instance, the iron—. You weren't allowed to make iron in America. But Concord had an iron foundry by 1678 or so. So what do you say? But it really was the case that they weren't supposed to do that. And it got worse and worse as time went on. And then it became a political issue, say, in 1786, '87, '88, the time of Shays' Rebellion, that notion of imported goods became a moral issue. And the rhetoric, at least, was, "Don't buy these imported fancy goods. It's not good for your soul, for one thing, but it's not good for the economy, for another thing." They knew that by 1787, and so would pass resolutions. The legislature passed resolutions to that effect. Don't buy Chinese export porcelain. Well, if you don't buy Chinese export porcelain, then Salem goes out of business, so it didn't really catch on. But they were aware of that fact, but it didn't become—. It's probably—. It's still not solved, obviously. Should we manufacture cars or import them? What's the answer? We'll have to ask Washington. Should we manufacture cars or import them? So I'd say the question is still unanswered, and still only imperfectly asked, even. They're not quite—. I would almost guarantee that none of the present legislators are aware of the fact that they're debating a question that their like has been debating ceaselessly for 250 years. But it is kind of the same question.

CK: And so as an historian, I mean, how do you regard that notion? Which sustains community, in Concord, in particular?

DW: Right. And it changes over time. Concord has had a couple of episodes of that idea of sustaining community. Concord has had a couple of manufacturing episodes. This one on the mill dam that disappeared entirely about 1822, '23. Vanished. Gone, never to come back. They actually drained the mill pond, widened the road; it's over. They put up new buildings for new purposes: insurance and banking. And so manufacturing left the center of Concord. But it didn't leave West Concord.

There was a textile mill in West Concord that was quite active in the middle of the 19th century. Then the railroad junction came there, and the prison came there, and this little manufacturing community grew up there. And for a while, in the early part of the 20th century, right through to the maybe 1960s, almost every kid in West Concord worked either in Boston Harness Company, or the Concord Woodworking Company, or Bluine. Bluine made bleach and sold it by an interesting marketing process. They would enlist children to sell this stuff door-to-door and give them premiums for it. They were doing this by the 1860s. And they lasted for quite a while, '70s, I guess. But they always needed somebody to put the stuff in the little paper things and fold them up, and that's what you'd do after school in 1920. And so it did make for a sense of community. There are echoes of it in the oral history project. Plenty of that goes in the oral history project, Concord's oral history project, so far, that sense of community, absolutely. It's like everybody participated one way or another. Now that's not the case.

And as I say, it was the case in Concord, especially for boys. Boys had license. They had more license than girls did. And they would wander around. They would just wander around. And they were allowed to poke into almost anything. It's really kind of interesting. And so they would wander into the manufacturing shops on the mill dam. You'd walk into the blacksmith's shop and watch him work. I'm sure it was great fun. I'd do it at Sturbridge Village. I just watch that guy work. I don't want to talk. I just want to watch him work. [laughs] And they'd pick stuff up. They'd learn stuff from that. Now, they're not going to be a blacksmith, but they'd learn stuff. And I'm sure they'd pick up the gossip. But they were ubiquitous.

It's something that Thoreau writes about, because he was one of them. He grew up on the mill dam when the mill dam was an active place. And he used to wander around town and just poke into everything, and so he knew everything. They all did. And then he still writes about it in his journal. He'll be talking about something like: it's time for the huckleberries. The boys have already been there, he'd say. The boys have already been there. So they've already found the bushes; they already knew they're ripe. They're already there. Here's Thoreau, the best naturalist America's ever produced: The boys got there first. And same with bird nests. And when the powder mill blew up in Acton, Thoreau— We're about two doors down from Thoreau's house—. He saw the mushroom-shaped cloud from his house, about two blocks from here. Powder mill blew up in Acton. And so he heard the boom, and then he saw the cloud. So he walked over there. The boys were already there! There were literally pieces of people hanging from the trees, and the boys were just— they were there, checking it out. See what's going on.

And there was that community. They were sort of integrated into those aspects of life with this amazing amount of freedom. I mean, there was nobody checking their movements. I mean, when they're in school, when they're working, that's one thing; but a lot of these kids in the middle of town aren't actually working as farmers. They're doing something else. They're probably going to school. And they might go to Harvard. But when they're boys, they have this license, and they took advantage of it.

Prior to the oral history project there was that series of Social Circle Memoirs. Some of that information comes from those Social Circle Memoirs, because these are people in the 1860s and '70s writing about what Concord was like in the 18-teens and '20s. And they mention that we used to do this, we used to do that. Not enough of it; I wish they had put down more. But it's still there. They're rare accounts, and regrettably, there's almost nothing from women that's comparable. Almost nothing. So that is too bad. But I don't think there were packs of girls wandering around Concord's fields and woods and the mill dam and stuff like that. At least, I've never seen any account of it. But the boys were out there.
MK: They chose packs rather than gangs?

DW: Well, I don't—. I've never seen any evidence of the kind of bonding activity that I would associate with a gang. These were casual congregations, as far as I can tell. There was a little bit of organized stuff to it. For instance, skating on the mill pond was slightly organized. We have the testimony of one boy as to who was the best skater on the pond. So you would know that. You'd know who the best skater was. But it was Henry Thoreau in his day. It was a guy, the son of a clockmaker in 1810, was the best skater on the mill dam. So that's—. I don't think "gang" would be the right word.

And what relationship this activity has to the urban activity, where packs of apprentices are actually making history—. That's the people that Samuel Adams and James Otis enlisted to be the mob in Boston. It's a similar activity; it's similar. The apprentices—. And the apprentices are 12 to 16, 17 years old, and they would hang together. And occasionally they would behave coherently politically. So it has probably got some relationship to it, but just what it is, I've never seen elucidated. But again, there aren't too many—. There just aren't any resources like the Social Circle Memoirs for other communities, generally. You'll get one account, and then very often there'll be one minister who pays attention to these things and gathers, starting in the 18-teens, and — William Bentley in Salem is a great example — will gather all the information he can about everyday life in the old days. But it's just one at a time, and not—. It's just not the same, the same statistical—. There's something statistical about the Social Circle Memoirs that makes it slightly more valuable, I guess, in that regard.

CK: Is that a class-based document? Sort of the name implies a social circle.

DW: It's a dinner club that has 25 men who met for dinner on Tuesdays during the winter months, basically, starting in 1783, more or less, and still going. But there was an initiative in the middle of the 19th century to write memoirs of deceased members. And they did it. They stuck to it. They had to write the memoir; they had to reconstruct the memoirs for the first couple of generations, but they got some remarkable information. There are things in there that just aren't known for any other reason. There's a silversmith in Concord who was a member of the Social Circle, and — I'm pretty sure it's still the case that the only reason I know that he had a journeyman in his shop is because of the Social Circle memoir. And I found that name, and then I found out who this guy was, and where he was trained, and everything, but otherwise he doesn't show up. He doesn't show up in the Assessor's records. He never held town office. He wasn't a member of the First Parish, and so on. So he was not in any of those social structures that leave marks, that leave tracks. But he didn't escape the net of the Social Circle memoirs. So that's what it is; it's this sort of finer net for the accidents of history, those that are unrecorded in other media generally. So that's what they are. And as I say it's really an antecedent for oral histories.
MK: Fascinating.

CK: They're oral?

DW: Mm-hmm. Yep. In a way, I think, in a way. Yeah. Because they don't—. They're not using written records to construct them. It's just like it would be somebody saying, "I remember when I was a boy on the mill dam we used to do this," he says. "The ‘Jours' were a hard set." He was talking about the journeymen. They were tough guys. That's the only place that I have ever seen that information, and when—. As soon as somebody says it, you go, "You know, I bet he's right." Because the journeymen, they don't own property; very often they're not married. They're not in the church. They're not in the militia. They're not in the Fire Department. Who are these guys? Bunch of tough guys, and you stay out of their way. [laughs]
CK: And what do we know about circles of women and the craft of women's lives, or do we—?

DW: Well, I would say it starts up right here, exactly where we're sitting. And that's Mary Merrick Brooks and the Anti-Slavery Society. The record starts becoming really, really good, and you can see what Concord women were doing. But prior to that, it's very, very hard to find out. We've got many, many examples of what girls did when they were in school. We have a wonderful collection of schoolgirl needlework. And you can read from those certain networks. You can see where they went to school. The rich Concord girls went to school in Boston. And some didn't. And so you can read that from the artifacts that survive. But I'm trying to think, where else is it? Where else is it? It's parallel to William Monroe in a way. He could do this wonderful, wonderful work with woodworking. And he stopped. He said, "This isn't what I should be doing; I'm not going to do this anymore." And women could do wonderful, wonderful work with ornamental needlework. And then they would stop. They would get married and have a family, and they didn't do the ornamental needlework anymore. And for us, it's difficult. You go, "Wow, if you could do that, why wouldn't you do that?" These things are beautiful. Well, they—

MK: They didn't take it up again in old age?

DW: Generally no. There's an exception that we have represented in the collection, and she really is the exception, one woman in Connecticut. There are others, but I mean, there's one kind of standout where she was really—. I don't know, it's a complicated subject and complicated by the fact that early on it was men's work; the professional ornamental embroidery was men's work. The amateur ornamental embroidery was women's work, and that goes back to Penelope, doesn't it? Wasn't Penelope working at her loom when Ulysses came home? The professionals were men. And that, I think, held, with only a few exceptions, in the American experience too.

But that richer record of women's lives in Concord does begin in the 1830s. And then the record gets real good indeed. [laughs] And there are people who have been doing wonderful work within those circles. That includes Thoreau's family, his aunts and sisters and so on.
CK: You look at these homes and you think, there must have been a lot of women working to maintain them. Can you talk about that—

DW: Right.

CK: --class of people and those . . . women, or whatever you want to say, that would parallel—

DW: Well—

CK: - the free men?

DW: Who were they? Well, people had help in their homes. I'm trying to think of an example. I mean, there are exceptions, but they're kind of treacherous, because as soon as you see a woman, say, in the 18th century behaving in a modern way, it has certainly tempted historians in the past to attribute all sorts of other modern attributes to whoever it was. And you do see that. But that's just error. That's just a mistake. But that doesn't mean that they weren't modern people. All it means is that the evidence isn't surviving. And what I'm thinking of when I say that is a member of the Barrett family who gets credit for all sorts of things, all of sorts of activity in the onset of the Revolution that really probably she didn't do. [laughs] But that doesn't mean that she wasn't an interesting person, and it certainly doesn't mean that she didn't participate. I believe she did. But she wasn't Molly Pitcher; she wasn't Mrs. Adams. But because there are examples like that, they tend to get projected onto those people. So it's just obscure. They're out there, but boy are they hard to see. They're just hard to see.

So what's going on in the houses? In the 18th century, even if you've got an intact 18th-century house with all its furnishing. Let's say the Old Manse. It's not entirely intact, but it's pretty good. It's close. It's a good approximation; the fabric of the house itself is quite good, the furnishings are in part the 18th-century furnishings, and the decoration is in part the 18th-century decoration. But the work wasn't done by women and the decisions weren't made by women. What color the walls should be, it wasn't a woman who made that decision in 1768. It was the guy. That didn't change until the 19th century.

We have another example then in the Emerson house. If you look at the Emerson house, Mr. Emerson had nothing whatever to do with the interior of that house. Not a thing. He didn't choose the carpets; he didn't choose the furniture; he didn't arrange the pictures on the wall; he didn't do a thing. So that transition happened between 1768 and 1850, let's say. But the work itself—. I'm trying to think of what we've got — yeah, I don't know. It's very difficult to reconstruct, but things don't survive. There's no written record, and then the artifacts tend to be — where — where is the pie? Where's the pie? Well, somebody ate it. There ain't no pie. But somebody made that pie, and it wasn't a guy. Except in the cities. In the cities men were cooks.

But every now and again there'll be a pocket, which is something that you tie around your waist underneath your petticoat. You keep your scissors and a few other things in there. And so every now and again that—. And that's almost as close as we can come to an artifact of the working life of an 18th-century woman or a 17th-century woman. Lack of literacy makes it difficult. There were clearly literate women in Concord, but nothing—. We don't really have any diaries until the 19th century. So it gets very hard to reconstruct. And like I say, unfortunately that makes it a playground for certain kinds of history that you can—. And with the lack of evidence you can make up anything you want. So that's an impulse that you just sort of try to recognize. The example would be American Girl. Do you know the American Girl series? American Girl? It's almost as big as Disney now, I think. But it's this series of what are called "optative history books," in other words, what history would be like if I was there then, and they had penicillin.