Keeping the Cornish Heritage Alive

I am Catherine Locke Whitford, and I am a full-blooded Cornish woman. We are here in Mineral Point, Wisconsin, which is my second home, having been born and raised in Linden, six miles away. At one time that was the largest Cornish settlement in all of Wisconsin.

Photos by Megan Monday

Catherine Locke Whitford | Mineral Point, WI

“I’ve grown up always knowing that I was Cornish, and I’m very intense about being Cornish. We’re intense about things that we believe in.

My grandfather on my father’s side came from Cornwall in 1872. They came over for the mining, and they settled in Linden.

 I am my grandfather’s youngest grandchild, the only remaining grandchild still alive at 87, and doing pretty well.

On my mother’s side, my great-grandfather came in 1842. He had been the mine captain of the largest lead mine in all of Europe, which was in Wales. He was born and raised in Red Roost, Cornwall, and once he came here he was a captain in the Civil War.

The Cornish are well known for their mining expertise, lead and zinc. My family did some of that, but we ended up as farmers, and I grew up on a farm.

I was the youngest, and I was my father’s shadow. He was a jack of all trades. He kept the electricity and the mechanical things going in the mines. Early on I learned that you can do something out of the ordinary any given day if you followed dad down to the mines, so I loved to go along with father. But, ‘Now you stay in the truck, don’t you touch anything’ is what he’d say.

I remember specifically one spring day I was with father. He said, ‘Now you stay in the truck.’ Of course I didn’t. The spring floods had begun and had washed out the bank. I popped out of the truck onto that bank, which looked nice and firm on top, but the next thing I knew I was apples over apple cart. The bank had fallen away. Father pulled me drifting out of the stream of water, and I was soaked to the bone.

It was a breezy day, and we set my clothes up flying in the breeze from the truck, and in no time they were dry. So it worked out just fine. I learned a lot on those adventures with my dad.”

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"One thing in the Cornish tradition people tend to know about is our pasties. Now, that’s pasties with a SHORT A, don’t get confused. Pasties with a short 'A' are the stuffed pie crusts of the Cornish tradition. Pasties with a long 'a', that's what the strippers wear.

My father would cut fence posts in the wintertime. So mother would make a large pasty, like in a 9-by-13 pan. On two thirds of it she’d lay out the regular ingredients, meat and potatoes and so forth, but in the other third…if she had fresh apples in the basement, or fresh pears, she’d slice those up with a dot of sugar and butter. Then when she brought the crust over, she’d just set the side of her hand down between the two so that the juices didn’t commingle. Then, there out cutting fence posts he’d have his main meal, and his dessert, too!”

“A Cornish Bard is someone selected to be an ambassador of the Cornish traditions. Being a bard means that you are inspirational, and you promote and try to keep the Cornish heritage alive. That’s what I do. The invitation came out of the clear blue sky. You can’t request to be a bard, they just have to hear about you.

I believe in promoting Cornish heritage so much because all too soon things pass by and are gone. All my life I've known that I was Cornish, and I have always felt that it was important that everyone else know about their heritage, as well.

You know, we’re a mixed bag of cats here. We have the Italians. We have the Irish. We have the Mexicans. Everybody is just a little bit different, and that’s okay. In fact, we should be proud of it. We should remember our mother tongues and so forth, keep our heritages alive.

For me, what’s interesting is once you know your heritage, it can illuminate things for you. Like maybe you have always been drawn to the blue willow pattern on dishes, you go back and realize blue willow dishes are wherever you look in Cornwall. All of a sudden it comes back to you, this is what my people liked!

Now that I’m a bard, I wear this pendant. It’s taken me a while to get comfortable with it, as I’m a behind-the-scenes person, you know. The columns are for air, earth, and water, and the meaning is Awen. Awen, in Cornish, means inspirational.”

-Catherine Locke Whitford | Mineral Point, WI 

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