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Always Check the Footnotes

Updated: Jun 13

Good morning, Xplorers!

A young historian stands with her arms outstretched enjoying a beautiful day outside with her dog.
Our girl Emma loves some history!

This will probably come as a shock to all of nobody, but we here at TerraX are really just a bunch of total history nerds. We said it once in our last discussion on genealogy and we’ll say it again, Historians are cool! We’re not talking the stuffy, dull, out-of-touch professorial types. Of course not! Yes, we may still love a quiet reading nook and a dusty old book, but we’re totally tubular, rock your world, hip, if you will, kind of historians. Historians like those at Footnoting History.

Footnoting History is a podcast our History department at TerraX believes totally slaps. (See, we’re in with the times.) The show is all about the tiny details — the footnotes, if you will — that too often get left out of the history books. The good people at Footnoting History have a tagline:

“Because the best stories are in the footnotes.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! At Footnoting History, they’re all about paying attention to the events, people, and stories that are easy to overlook, including the lives and accomplishments of a lot of incredible women (which we will go into further detail later on. – Shout out to Dig Deeper regulars Emma and Margaret).

It’s great to know the broad strokes of history, and it’s helpful to understand wide, regional patterns when you’re talking about archaeology (particularly pre-contact archaeology). However, the real meat of historical research — and the real fun! — is in the nitty-gritty details — the ones you only find in the footnotes.

Pulling the Footnotes as a CRM Historian

As CRM historians, our experts spend a lot of time digging through the teeniest, tiniest details about properties, sites, families, individuals, and stories. Often, their best work happens when they find one small thread and pull it all the way to the end.

An issue of The Dahlonega Nugget

Remember the investigation into the Black Mines? Emma and Margaret spent days tracking down the entire history of the Land Lots on which the mines are located. Searching through archives, sale records, and old newspapers, they learned the names and the details of the people who, at one time or another, owned those Land Lots. Among our favorites from this project were the numerous articles from The Dahlonega Nugget, a local newspaper that our researchers combed through. We could have spent years digging into the history of this town, but with the time we did have, the articles laid out a clear context and gave us incredible insight into the formation of the gold mining industry in Georgia.

And let’s not forget the St. Amelia Plantation and the enterprising women who ‘full-on’ ran plantation operations. We loved working on that mitigation because it gave us the opportunity to learn about four enterprising women who ran plantation operations. (It’s true! It turns out a lot of women did in fact take part in what we imagine to be “men’s work” back in the day!

These kinds of details are important and deserve a spotlight. That’s why, at TerraX, we know the best part about historical and archaeological research is all about uncovering the hidden secrets of history, bringing them to light, and sharing them with the world!

We Know We’re a Little Ahead of Women’s History Month, But …

A black and white portrait of Mary Katharine Goddard wearing a bonnet and a ribbon around her neck

Speaking of details that deserve a spotlight, if y’all haven’t heard of Mary Katharine Goddard, you’re going to want to sit up and pay attention. This woman was EPIC! So epic that hers is the only woman’s name printed on the Declaration of Independence. (You heard me right.) If you look closely, at the very bottom, there’s a single printed line that reads:

Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard.

So how did this goddess of the printing press get to print one of the most important documents in American history? We’re so glad you asked because Footnoting History tells all. (We told you this podcast slapped.

According to Footnoting History, Mary Katharine grew up alongside an older brother who was a little bit of a wanderer. William Goddard was impulsive and more than a little irresponsible. He had a habit of moving from place to place, starting new print shops, then leaving when he got bored, burnt out, or had a new idea (He sounds like a real upstanding guy…). This often left Mary Katharine and their mother, Sarah, in charge of the old business. So it was that Mary Katharine to become the publisher of the Maryland Journal.

Mary Katharine quickly proved to be more than competent at running the publication (Because, of course) — in fact, she excelled, and she quickly used her platform to publish some of the Revolution’s most essential ideas. She reprinted Thomas Paine’s Common Sense in full, and she covered the Revolutionary War’s battles in striking detail. Overtime, Mary Katharine gained a reputation for being smart, savvy, and sympathetic to the cause of the Revolution.

So, when the Founding Fathers decided it was time to have their super duper secret men’s club document come out into the light — with their names printed on it, firmly tying them to the Revolution and securing their names as traitors to the crown — they chose Mary Katharine as their printer. They could have chosen any one of the many men-led print shops in the colonies, but they knew that if they wanted someone reliable, trustworthy, and totally supportive of their cause, there was no one better than Mary Katharine Goddard.

Text at the bottom of a printed edition of the Declaration of Independence reading, "Baltimore, in Maryland: Printed by Mary Katharine Goddard."

And Mary Katharine ‘understood the assignment’ (still got it). All too often in her profession, women would publish under their initials; Mary Katharine herself often published her articles under the name, “M.K. Goddard,” with the intention of concealing her gender from the readers. In that way, women could be assumed to be men and escape undue scrutiny or criticism. On this occasion, however, Mary Katharine knew that the document she was printing would shape history forever. She knew that this was not a moment for anonymity, and she understood the importance of staking her claim and listing her full name — revealing her identity as a woman and thus representing all the women of the new United States — on the Declaration of Independence. (The kind of footnote that hits different.)

Mary Katharine’s epic history doesn’t stop there, though. After the war and after Benjamin Franklin was appointed Postmaster General of the United States, Mary Katharine was given the job of being Postmaster to Baltimore, making her the new government’s first woman employee. Unfortunately, in 1789, Mary Katharine was relieved of her position as Postmaster — her higher-ups cited, “The travel will be too strenuous for a woman” as the reason for her deposition — but no matter. She’d already left her mark. In November of that year, 230 Baltimore citizens gathered together to petition for Mary Katharine to be reinstated as Postmaster. Their efforts were unfortunately unsuccessful, but even still — it was quite an achievement for a woman to have secured the loyalty of her community.

Keep Footnoting!

Mary Katharine Goddard encouraged and spurred on the Revolution, helped disseminate its key ideas, stirred up the people in support, printed the Declaration of Independence — allowing for its wide circulation — served as the United States’ first woman employee, and earned the loyalty and admiration of the people of Baltimore, Maryland — all as a single woman living in an age when women still wore petticoats. However, her story is all too often reduced to a mere footnote in the annals of American history. (Be honest — had you heard of her before today? We sure hadn’t!) That’s why we’re so thankful to the good folks at Footnoting History for telling her story! Through their work, Mary Katharine will be known and remembered — her accomplishments and significance will be understood and appreciated for generations — and that’s what we’re all about!

Footnoting History covers a wider range of historical subjects, eras, figures, and stories than any one CRM agency could possibly work within. So, if you’re interested in more, they have over nine years worth of content and have covered subjects ranging from a French silversmith who worked for the Mongols to Martha, the last passenger pigeon, and beyond. (We especially recommend their episode on cemeteries in Atlanta — that one hit a little closer to home for us!) But if you’re a history enthusiast, this will definitely scratch your itch!

Thank you so much for joining us for another edition of Dig Deeper! We hope you enjoyed another recommendation — look forward to more in the future. (We have no shortage of awesome history and archaeology content we’d love to gush about!)

Until next time, remember to reach out to us with any questions, comments, or recommendations of your own. We love hearing from you!

Keep digging, Xplorers!

— The TerraX Team


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