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Remembering the past and a debt that's owed

August 13, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last Saturday afternoon, a group called the National Society of the Daughters of the American Colonists dedicated a plaque at Hagerstown's City Park to commemorate "The Warriors' Path," the great North-South trail used by Native Americans hundreds of years ago. The recognition that what we now know as U.S. 11 began as a simple footpath should spark more interest in the culture of these ancient people and the early Americans who came after them.

This past April, local historian Roger Swartz told The Herald-Mail the story of how the Tuscarora tribe used the route to travel north in the years after 1713, following a war with the state of North Carolina and the Cherokee Indians.

That route was also known as the Iroquis Trail, Swartz said, and in 1744, a treaty was signed that allowed the Iroquis to join forces with the colonists against the French. To avert a major Indian war in 1744, Pennsylvania got Maryland and Virginia to recognize a "passport" issued by the Keystone State that allowed the Iroquis to travel the Warriors' Path.

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Is it important to know this sort of history? Yes, because it reminds us that everything that we have now, including the blacktop on U.S. 11, is there as the result of someone else's hard work and sacrifice. Someone blazed a trail on foot, negotiated an agreement that allowed all to use it and thus opened up a route that was useful for trading purposes as well as for escaping the encroaching arms of civilization.

The tendency of some modern historians is to measure early Americans against the yardstick of modern behavior. Using such standards is useful in one respect because it shows us how much our society has changed, hopefully for the better.

But on the other hand, it obscures the fact that despite their flaws, the labor of these early Americans provided stepping-stones on the path to the future. As long as we acknowledge the flaws and the rough edges of all who came before, we can honor what they did to bring us this far.

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