A brief but strange wiki jaunt today: I was wondering about the etymology of “mammoth”, so I looked it up and it’s from Russian and believed to derive from a Uralic language, which is wild! But the wiktionary etymology also offers this tantalizing aside: “Adjectival use was popularized in the early 1800s by references to the Cheshire Mammoth Cheese presented to American paleontologist and president Thomas Jefferson.”

Wait, what? So I had to look that up and it’s, I guess, a giant wheel of cheese that was produced by the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts, by combining the milk of every cow in the town, as a kind of weird political stunt. According to Wikipedia, it was inscribed with the motto “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God.“ The article goes on to say:

Given the political landscape of the time, there was a fear that the more Republican Jefferson, considered an “infidel of the French Revolutionary school,” would harm the religious interests of the citizenry, and that “the altars of New England would be demolished, and all their religious institutions would be swept away by an inrushing and irresistible flood of French infidelity.”

One pastor in Cheshire, Elder John Leland, opposed this line of thought. A beleaguered minority in Calvinist New England, the Baptists were perhaps the strongest advocates in the early republic of the separation of church and state. Leland had met Jefferson during his time in Virginia and the two grew to have a friendly relationship. Leland remembered this as he served in Cheshire, and campaigned strongly for Jefferson.

Leland, believing that his efforts helped Jefferson win the Presidency, encouraged his townspeople to make a unique gesture to Jefferson. He urged each member of his congregation “who owned a cow to bring every quart of milk given on a given day, or all the curd it would make, to a great cider mill…” Leland also insisted that “no Federal cow” (a cow owned by a Federalist farmer) be allowed to offer any milk, “lest it should leaven the whole lump with a distasteful savour.”

The last part may require the clarification that the Federalists were one of the two viable parties at the time, the other being Jefferson’s “Democratic-Republican” party; this is not to be confused with the current system where the two parties are Democratic and Republican and both are federalist.

In any case, I appreciated the sheer Americanness of the anecdote. It feels very much like a story someone would invent to make fun of American history, so it is extremely gratifying that it actually happened.


#history #home of the brave #food #language

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