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William Penn and America’s Lost History

For anyone remotely connected to Pennsylvania the question seemed absurd: “Who is this William Penn?”

The young man was serious. I met him at the Downingtown Farmers Market on a recent Saturday morning. Don Ervine, owner of Tally Ho Coffee, introduced us. Don and the man, who recently moved to the area, were talking history and Don thought I might enjoy joining the conversation.

The young man was schooled in Connecticut and said he was taught very little about the settling and the founding of the nation other than what took place in New England. To his credit, he professed an interest in delving into the nation’s past. In his defense Don indicated the man was not born in the United States.

If William Penn is fading from history, what about Bayard Taylor? The connection between Penn and Taylor came earlier this week as I was working on a book on Gettysburg with Craig Caba, who controls the fabulous J. Howard Wert Gettysburg collection. Wert, who was involved in the Battle of Gettysburg and collected priceless items from the battle and other important events in American history, was friends with Taylor, an internationally acclaimed writer in the mid-19th century. Taylor’s brother was killed during the Battle of Gettysburg.

When I told Craig of the movement to take Bayard Taylor’s name off the Kennett Square library, Craig was appalled. Taylor was one of the nation’s leading men of letters, Craig pointed out. If William Penn is lost to history, will Taylor be far behind if his name is wiped from the library’s title?

My third thought on America’s lost history came on Thursday during a discussion with antiques dealer, David Taylor. We talked about the waning interest in historical items, and how the antiques trade has suffered in the last two decades. People don’t value historical items.

Dave said he had to close his shop outside of Kennett Square several years ago because he couldn’t sell enough items to pay his one employee, let alone other fixed costs. One item he specifically mentioned was trench art. He said at one time trench art – art crafted by soldiers during a time of war – was highly collected. The articles told a lot about the feelings of the common soldier. If the art isn’t valued, it will be discarded.

The United States is losing sight of its past and we are suffering in so many ways.

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