Photo above courtesy of William B. McCullough
May 12, 2019 by Hilary Jenison
On Saturday, May 11, the Hingham High School auditorium was buzzing with excitement and pride as a sold-out audience awaited the appearance of a man described as America’s greatest living treasure, two-time Pulitzer Prize award winner and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, best-selling author and Hingham resident David McCullough. The event was McCullough’s premiere New England appearance for his new book “The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the of the Settlers who Brought the American Ideal West.”
The event was hosted by the Hingham Historical Society in partnership with the Hingham Public Schools and Buttonwood Books and underwritten by Hingham Institute for Savings and Hingham Historical Society Board Member, Jane Carr.
After listening to melodies of the period played by a select group of Hingham student musicians, and poignant introductions by Rick Swanson, principal of Hingham High School and Deirdre Anderson, Executive Director of the Hingham Historical Society, McCullough took the stage welcomed by a roaring applause.
McCullough began by expressing thanks to the student musicians reinforcing that “Music matters. Music is part of our history, and history is about human beings, people, the arts, and the effect of the arts on us all.”
In “The Pioneers” McCullough rediscovers an important and dramatic chapter in the American story—the settling of the Northwest Territory by dauntless pioneers – including 20-year old Samuel Cushing of Hingham- who overcame incredible hardships to build a community based on ideals that would come to define our country.
The prevalent theme throughout his talk was the importance of education, particularly historical education, and gratitude for the subjects of his new work — the New England pioneers who settled in what is now Marietta, Ohio, and created the first public education system for elementary through University opening the first public college. As such, it was fitting that he chose to give his first New England appearance for his new book at Hingham High School, a place he noted that he and his wife Rosalee feel “an enormous bond” with as 10 of their grandchildren have graduated from the Hingham Public Schools system. Six of those grandchildren were present at the event.
McCullough shared with the audience that a recent review of his genealogy uncovered that five of his ancestors came from Hingham, and that he is extremely proud to say that “The Pioneers” is a Hingham product, written in his local home.
Photo credit: John Rice
McCullough went on to discuss many of the pioneers of Marietta, and the five main characters in the book, each of whom he believes we can all learn a great deal from. He shared that the Pioneers “believed in values -- honesty, kindness, generosity, humility, and creating community where everyone benefits, and everyone works together.” He reminded us of the importance of these values today. Interestingly, McCullough shared that the more he studies our past, the more important he views “the education we receive in the home – what children learn from their parents in everyday life, and around the dinner table.”
During the question and answer period, a few questions were asked about the role of women in education in Marietta, to which he answered: “Initially, women were not included in the college education system, and while they were one of the earlier establishments to include women in higher education, it was not early enough.”
This question led McCullough to talk about the importance of women in history, particularly his respect for Abigail Adams. He offered to come back and do a talk dedicated to her, and we certainly hope we can take him up on his offer!
In discussing the “adventure” of writing “The Pioneers,” he noted that “very few events of consequence ever happen alone. It takes many people to accomplish great things,” and he thanked many of his contributors and supporters who helped in creating the book, including many of his children and his “editor-in-chief and north star” his wife, Rosalee.
Photo credit: John Rice
In that spirit, many thanks to David McCullough, the Hingham Historical Society, Hingham Public Schools and Buttonwood Books for hosting such an incredible evening. It was an honor to be a student in Mr. McCullough’s classroom. It was a night that attendees will not soon forget.
David McCullough is most certainly a national treasure, and we are so fortunate that for us, he is now a local Hingham treasure.