Sunday, March 3, 2024

How old is your city?

So I was chatting with friends on Facebook, as one does, and the definition of "old" came up -- not in terms of people, mind you, although we talk about that a lot, too, but in terms of cities. Specifically, how Europeans marvel at the way Americans marvel at their castles, and how new most of America is in comparison.

I mean, Europe has some really old cities. The oldest city in Europe is generally recognized to be Plovdiv, Bulgaria, founded in 6000 BCE. Athens, founded in 3000 BCE, is a relative newcomer. (The oldest city on that list that I've been to is Seville, Spain, founded in the eighth century BCE.) In short, Europeans think it's normal to share space with really old stuff.

Compare that to the oldest city in America -- St. Augustine, Florida, founded in 1565 CE. Second oldest? Why, that would be Santa Fe, founded in 1610, give or take a year or three. It's also the oldest state capital in the country, and the loftiest, at 7,199 feet above sea level (yes, we're higher than Denver). 

In 1882, Santa Fe had already been a capital city for more than 250 years.
Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain 
And yet those people on the East Coast are so impressed with how historic their cities are. I mean, I used to be impressed, too. I grew up near Chicago, which was incorporated in 1837; cities on the East Coast are venerable by comparison. New York City was founded by the Dutch as New Amsterdam in 1624; the English seized it from the Dutch 40 years later*, and it stayed in British hands until we declared our independence from England.

This topic always seems to crop up around Thanksgiving, when the annual bickering starts over the first Thanksgiving. It was the Pilgrims, right? Plymouth Rock and all that? Eh, not so fast. The famous feast in Plymouth happened in 1623, but Berkeley Plantation in Virginia claims their Thanksgiving occurred in 1619.

Note, if you will, that 1619 is nine years later than the founding of Santa Fe.

Last fall, I attempted to point this out on a Facebook post about the Berkeley Plantation event. Other commenters were not amused. "We're talking about colonial America," one fellow said. So if the Spaniards founded it, it doesn't count?

Another person put it more bluntly: "What's your point?" 

To which I replied, "I'm told I don't have one." See, I'd belatedly remembered that famous quote by some Virginian whose identity has been lost to the mists of time: 

To be a Virginian, either by Birth, Marriage, Adoption, or even on one's Mother's side, is an Introduction to any State in the Union, a Passport to any Foreign Country, and a Benediction from Above.

And you thought Texans were impressed with themselves.


Don't get me wrong - I lived in Virginia for more than 30 years, and both my kids were born there, so I guess I qualify as a Virginian by adoption. And it's a lovely state (sorry, commonwealth). But ... yeah.


*Among the English sailors who liberated New Amsterdam was Capt. Edmund Cantwell -- the first Cantwell of our line in America. I guess that means I could join the DAR if I wanted to?


These moments of state-pride blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Stay safe!

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