Tuesday, September 14, 2010


In 1814, America had been at war with Great Britain for two years. The War of 1812 had begun largely because of British interference with American trade. During 1814, American army and navy forces won several battles that eventually brought peace between the two countries. But the most dramatic event of the war occurred in 1814 with the British attack on America’s capital city, Washington.

In August, 1814, a British force landed in Maryland, scattered the weak American forces there, and on August 24, marched into Washington. President James Madison and other government officials fled the city. Before she left, First Lady Dollley Madison rescued the portrait of George Washington that hung in the White House.

British General Robert Ross ordered Washington’s public buildings to be burned. The British piled furniture up in the White House’s drawing room and set it afire; the inside of the mansion was gutted. The Treasury and War Department buildings were burned next. When the British set fire to the Capitol, it’s interior was destroyed and its roof collapsed. Repairs to Washington took years. Not until 1819 was Congress able to meet again in the the Capito..

The only government building in Washington not burned in 1814 was the patent office; it’s precious drawings and models were sparred.

The Dutch in America

The Dutch – people from the Netherlands – came to America in two waves. The first wave came at the very beginning of the period of European settlement. These Dutch established the colony of New Netherland in 1624, only a few years after the English arrived in Virginia and Massachusetts.
They founded settlements along the Hudson River and on Long Island in present-day New York, and in nearby New Jersey. In 1626, Dutch settlers bought the island of Manhattan, at the mouth of the Hudson River, from local Indians. There they established the village of New Amsterdam (now New York City). It soon became a thriving town.

When the Dutch surrendered their colony to the English in 1664, hundreds of Dutch families remained. Descendants of those families – the Vanderbilts and the Roosevelts, for example – have played an important role in the nation’s history.

A second wave of Dutch immigrants began arriving in the nineteenth century. They came seeking more opportunity than the crowded Netherlands could offer. Many settled in Michigan and other Midwestern states. They were admired by their neighbors for their hard work and good sense. Today, one famous celebration of America’s Dutch heritage is the annual Tulip Festival in Holland, Michigan.

Many place names in southern New York State – Brooklyn, Harlem, Flushing, the Catskills, the Bowery – are based on Dutch words.

John Paul Jones

John Paul Jones has been called the “fightingest sailor in American naval history.” Born in Scotland, Jones sailed to America as a ship’s boy when he was 12 years old. He commanded merchant ships by the time he was 22. When the American Revolution began, he promptly joined the new Continental Navy. Ships under his command captured British vessels and made daring raids on English coastal towns.

Jones’ greatest victory occurred off the English coast on September 23, 1779. In command of an old watership, the Bonhomme Richard, Jones attacked the British frigate Serapis. The Serapis had more gunpowder and was much larger than Jones’ ship, but Jones drew close to the enemy and succeeded in hooking the two ships together with grappling irons. For three and one-half hours on a moonlit night, the two ships exchanged fire.

The Bonhomme Richard was burning and filling with water when the British called on Jones to surrender. His defiant response is famous: “ I have not yet begun to fight.” And fight on he did, until the captain of the battered Serapis surrendered. The Bonhomme Richard was too badly damaged to save. It sank after Jones and his men boarded the Serapis. But John Paul Jones had won one of the greatest naval victories of the Revolution.

After the American Revolution, John Paul Jones served as a rear admiral in the Russian navy.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

North Carolina

From the stormy coast of the Atlantic to the highest mountain in the Appalachian range, North Carolina stretches 500 miles east to west.  It is the tenth largest state in population, yet it has no large cities, and most of its people live in or near small towns.  In recent years, the population grew rapidly as people moved there to enjoy its moderate climate and economic opportunity.

North Carolina was one of the original 13 states.  During the Civil War, thousands of its men died for the Confederate cause.  In 1903, the Wright Brothers chose its windy beach at Kitty Hawk to test their first airplane.  For much of its history, North Carolina was an agricultural state.  It is still the largest producer of tobacco.  But its largest business is textile production.   In the 1980s major electronics firms locates offices in the Research Triangle between Chapel Hill, Durham, and Raleigh.

Each year, millions of vacationers visit North Carolina's Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which covers a huge area in the far western corner of the state.  Cape Hatteras National Seashore is also a major attraction.  It preserves a wild stretch of the Atlantic coastline where pirates once lurked.

No one is sure why North Carolinians are known as Tarheels.   Perhaps it is because their soldiers in the Civil War "stuck" during battle and would not retreat.

Peter Minuit Buys Manhattan

In the summer of 1626, Peter Minuit made one of the best deals in realestate history.  He bought an island at the mouth of the Hudson River from Native American leaders for cloth, beads, and other goods that would be worth about $24 today.  The Native Americans called the island "Manhatta" - heavenly land.  Today we know it as Manhattan, the heart of one of the world's greatest cities, New York.

Minuit had been sent by the Dutch West Indian Company to take charge of the scattered Dutch settlements in present-day New Jersey and New York.  Minuit decided to move most of the settlers to the southern tip of Manhattan.  After buying the island, he built a crude fort and about 30 houses there.  Minuit returned to Europe after five years, but the settlement continued to grow.  Known as New Amsterdam, it became a busy port and the center of a thriving colony.  It was renamed New York by the British, who seized it in 1664.

As for Peter Minuit, he returned to the New World in 1638, in the service of Sweden, and made another smart purchase.  He bought land along the Delaware River from Native Americans.  Today that land is the site of Wilmington, Delaware. 

Peter Minuit was killed in a hurricane in 1638, while on a trading expedition to the West Indies.

Santa Fe

Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in the United States.  It was founded in the winter of 1609-1610 by Spanish settlers from Mexico as the center of Spain's royal colony of New Mexico.

Four four centuries, the central plaza has been the heart of Santa Fe.  Today, Native American artisans sell their jewelry, rugs and pottery along the plaza's walls.  A monument in the plaza marks the end of the famous Santa Fe Trail, which brought trading caravans to the city from Missouri. 

The four hundred year old Palace of the Governors on the plaza is the oldest government building in the United States.  This sprawling structure now houses a museum of New Mexico's history. 

Santa Fe is one of the nation's most popular tourist destinations.  Visitors are attracted by the city's rich mixture of Spanish, Mexican, Indian, and American cultures.  Its spectacular setting at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains; and its dry,sunny climate.  Tourists love exploring Santa Fe's picturesque streets and adobe buildings, dining in the city's superb restaurants, and shopping in its dozens of art galleries.  Annual events include the Santa Fe Opera, a chamber-music festival, a film festival, and the Fiesta de Santa Fe.

American troops took Santa Fe from Mexico without opposition in 1846.  During the Civil War, Confederate forces controlled the city for two weeks.


Baltimore’s fine harbor has always been the heart of the city. Shipping and shipbuilding thrived there before the Revolution. In the 1800s, sleek sailing ships called Baltimore clippers carried the region’s tobacco and flour to customers around the world. Goods of all kinds poured into the busy port first by wagon along the Cumberland Road and later on the nation’s first railroad, the Baltimore and Ohio.

In 1814, during the War of 1812, British troops bombarded Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor. To commemorate the event, Francis Scott Key, who witnessed the attack, wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

Today, shops and restaurants line the rebuilt waterfront at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Visitors can see ocean creatures at the National Aquarium and tour the Constellation, which was launched in 1797. It is the oldest US warship still afloat.

About half of Maryland’s people live in and around Baltimore The city is a manufacturing center for electronics, chemicals, and steel. It has more than 30 universities, including John Hopkins and its famous medical school. Several renowned art museums and a symphony orchestra enrich the city’s cultural life. Baltimore’s showplace stadium, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, is home to the Baltimore Orioles. Enthusiastic fans often wear orange, the team’s color; some even paint themselves orange!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Frederick Douglass

In 1841, at an antislavery meeting in Massachusetts, a tall young African-American named Frederick Douglass stood up to speak. He knew about slavery, for he had been born a slave and had escaped only a few years earlier. People were moved by the young man’s story and his eloquent delivery. In the coming years, Douglass became a national leader in the antislavery movement and the most famous African-American of his time. He was a hero to many, black and white. But those who favored slavery considered him a powerful enemy.

In 1845, Douglass published his life story. Millions read it. But his old master in Maryland threatened to have him returned to slavery. He sailed to safety in England, where he earned enough money to buy his freedom. He returned to the US a free man. For many years, he published an antislavery newspaper, The North Star, which was widely read in the North. He made hundreds of speeches condemning slavery. And he helped slaves escaping to Canada on the Underground Railroad.

During the Civil War, Douglass recruited blacks for the Union army. When the conflict ended , he continued to speak out for the rights of African-Americans and women. He died in 1895, and remained a hero to those who continued his fight against racism.

He also served as US minister to Haiti from 1889 to 1891.