Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Fourth of July

On July 4, 1777, the night sky of Philadelphia shone with the blaze of bonfires below. Candles illuminated the windows of houses and public buildings. Church bells and volleys from ship cannons broke the quiet. The city was celebrating the first anniversary of the founding of the United States. One year earlier, on July 4, 1776, American patriots had signed the Declaration of Independence, which announced to the world that the 13 colonies no longer belonged to England.

The Fourth of July soon became the main patriotic holiday of the entire country. Veterans of the Revolutionary War made a tradition of gathering on the Fourth to remember their victory. In towns and cities, the American flag flew; shops displayed red, white, and blue decorations; and people marched in parades that were followed by public readings of the Declaration of Independence.

Declared a federal holiday in 1941, the Fourth of July is still a day for celebrating America's birth. It is also a day for picnics, parades, swimming, and games. In the evening, many Americans gather to watch fireworks that light up the sky.

John Adams, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and the second President, thought that Americans should observe " a great anniversary festival with pomp and parade....with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations...from time to time forward forevermore."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


The name "Kentucky" comes from an Iroquois Indian word, kenta, which probably meant meadowland. If so, it is a good name for a state that is famous for its meadows. Some of the world's fastest racehorses have grazed on Kentucky's bluegrass pastures. The grass isn't really blue. But in spring, it produces tiny blue flowers that give a blue cast to the lush fields and lawns.

Kentucky's first people, the Cherokees and other Native Americans, were pushed west after white settlers began arriving in the 1770s. Daniel Boone guided some of the first settlers across the Appalachian Mountains into Kentucky.

Over the years, Kentucky became known for its coal mines, tobacco fields, bourbon whiskey, and racehorses.

The Kentucky Derby, one of the world's top horse races, is run each year at Churchill Downs near Louisville, the state's largest city. Kentucky has other special places, too. Mammoth Cave National Park, in central Kentucky, is the largest cave system in the world. And at Fort Knox, near Louisville, the U.S. government stores billions of dollars' worth of gold in heavily guarded vaults.

Two men born in Kentucky led the opposing sides in the Civil War: Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States and Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Anne Hutchinson

Freedom of religion is a constitutional right that many Americans take for granted. But in the early days of settlement, it was dangerous to disagree with the religious views of colonial leaders. One person who had the courage to stand up for her beliefs was Anne Hutchinson.

Hutchinson and her family came from England to the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1634. The Puritans who controlled the colony believed that people could win salvation only by obeying the teachings of the Bible and the Puritan ministers. Hutchinson believed that people could communicate directly with God, without the help of a church or a minister. She held meetings in her home to explain her beliefs and began to attract supporters. The colony's governor, John Winthrop, and the Puritan clergy saw Hutchinson as a threat to their church. They tried her for heresy (denying the teachings of the church) and forced her to leave the colony in 1638.

Anne Hutchinson and her family moved to Rhode Island, a colony that welcomed freethinkers and allowed religious freedom. Later, she moved to New York, where she was killed in an Indian attack in 1643.

Anne Hutchinson came from a family of religious dissenters. In England, her father was twice suspended from the Anglican church for questioning its teachings.

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Puerto Ricans in America

In parts of New York City and other cities in the Northeast and Midwest, Spanish is heard as often as English. These cities are home to many of the 2.7 million Puerto Ricans who live on the U.S. mainland. Like the 4 million people who live in Puerto Rico, they are U.S. citizens.

The U.S. gained control of Puerto Rico in 1898 in the Spanish-American War, and by an act of Congress, Puerto Ricans became citizens in 1917.

Puerto Ricans form the second-largest Latino group in the U.S., after Mexican-Americans. Some Puerto Ricans came to the U.S. before 1945. But after World War II, the number of arrivals swelled.

The establishment of regular airline service  made the trip easy and inexpensive. Because economic conditions on the island were bleak, many Puerto Ricans moved to the mainland in search of work.

Many found life hard in American cities. They faced discrimination and poverty. Today, some Puerto Ricans still lead difficult lives in the U.S., but others have overcome their hardships and have established themselves in America's mainstream, while still observing their cultural traditions.

Many Puerto Ricans travel back and forth between the mainland and the island on a regular basis.

Notable Americans of Puerto Rican birth or decent include performers Rita Moreno, Jimmy Smits, and Rosie Perez; talk-show host Geraldo Rivera; and the late baseball star Roberto Clemente.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The U.S. Air Force

Five years after Orville and Wilbur Wright made the first successful airplane flight in 1903, they signed a contract with the U.S. Department of War for the first military airplane.

From that small start grew the U.S. Air Force, one of the most powerful fighting forces in the world.

At first, military aviation was part of the U.S. Army. During World War I, pilots such as Captain Eddie Rickenbacker, who shot down 23 German planes over France, became national heroes. But few people foresaw the crucial role air power would play in future wars.

One who did was General Billy Mitchell, who urged the U.S. to create a strong air force. He was proved right during World War II, when the ability of the U.S. to control the air was a key factor in its victories.

In 1947, the U.S. Air Force became a separate branch of the U.S. armed forces. Since then, its pilots have performed expertly in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, and wherever  conflicts have arisen.

Also in 1947, the U.S. Air Force pilot Chuck Yeager, flying a rocket-powered X-1, became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound.

Air Force men and women have placed key roles in the development of new aircraft and technology.

Today, about 500,000 people serve in the U.S. Air Force, which is divided  into 12 commands, including the Strategic Air Command and the Tactical Air Command.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Nat Turner's Rebellion

On the night of August 21, 1831, Nat Turner led a small band of fellow slaves into the Southhampton, Virginia, home of Joseph Travis, his owner. The slaves killed Travis and his family, and launched the bloodiest slave revolt in American history.

Nathaniel Turner was born into slavery on October 2, 1800. Recognizing the boy's intelligence, Travis allowed him to learn to read and write -- skills forbidden too most slaves.

When he was in his twenties, Turner began to have visions. In one, he saw "white spirits and black spirits engaging in battle". He knew, he later said, that he had been chosen by God to lead the slaves to freedom.

Turner himself planned the uprising. On that deadly night in 1831, Turner first killed the Travis family and then headed for Jerusalem, Virginia, enlisting more slaves along the way. During the next two days, violence reigned.

Some 70 slaves were killed nearly 60 white men, women, and children before the rebellion was stopped. As a result of the revolt, more than 100 slaves, many of them innocent, were shot to death or later tried and hanged. Turner was captured on October 30 and hanged on November 11, 1831.

As a result of Turner's rebellion, southern states enacted harsher slave laws. But the revolt strengthened the antislavery movement in the North.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Signing of the Mayflower Compact

After two long months at sea, the mood on the Mayflower was as foul as the weather. The ship had left Plymouth England, carrying two groups of passengers. One group, the "Saints," wanted to practice their religion far from England's established church. The other, the "Strangers," came to America seeking  a better life. Now, with land in sight, the two groups argued about how they would run their colony.

William Bradford, the leader of the Saints, worried that the Strangers would not obey a government created by his group. So he proposed that all adult men on board pledge to accept whatever government was formed in the new colony. The Strangers agreed.

On November 11, 1620, the Mayflower Compact was signed by 41 men, Saints and Strangers.

In the compact, the groups agreed to "...combine ourselves into a civil body politic, for our better ordering and preservation....and to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal shall be thought most...convenient for the general good of the colony."

With the Mayflower Compact, the Saints and Strangers created a model for people, who voluntarily came together to form a democratic government.

Today, the Saints and Strangers are known as the Pilgrims. Among the original Strangers were Captain Myles Standish, John Alden, and Priscilla Mullins.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Samuel Langley's Aerodrome

On May 6, 1896, spectators lined the banks of Washington’s Potomac River to watch the grand experiment. Using a catapult on top of a houseboat, Samuel Langley launched  his “aerodrome,” a 16-foot-long, 25-pound unmanned aircraft with two sets of silk-covered wings. Powered by a steam engine and two propellers, the craft rose 100 feet above the water and flew half  a mile down the river before dropping gently to the water. This was the first sustained flight by a heavier-than-air, powered vehicle.

Langley was an astrophysicist whose studies of solar radiation had earlier won him international recognition. In 1887, he had become secretary of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington. There he began studying how surfaces move through the air. Working with model planes powered  by rubber bands, he experimented with different designs until he launched his “aerodrome” in 1896.
Langley’s efforts to launch an aircraft with a man aboard were not successful, probably because  of structural weaknesses in his designs. But he lived to see his dream of manned, powered flight come true when the Wright brothers made their historic flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, in 1903.

The U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, the USS Langley, honored Langley’s pioneering work, Langley Air Force Base in Virginia is also named for him.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Cubans in America

Before Fidel Castro's Communist regime took power in Cuba in 1959, only 50,000 Cubans lived in the U.S.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of Cubans have fled the repression and economic problems of their homeland. Today, there are more than one million Cubans in the United States.

Many Cuban-Americans live in New York City, New Jersey, and California. But the vast majority live in and around Miami, Florida. There, about  150 miles from Havana, Cuba's capital, Cuban culture has taken root.

The heart of Miami's Cuban community is an area known as Little Havana. Spanish is the language of commerce there, and the Cuban way life prevails. Because many Cuban immigrants are well-educated professionals and skilled workers. Cuban-Americans are among the most prosperous of immigrant groups. They are a vital link between the United States and Latin American business communities, and a powerful political force in Florida and the nation.

American culture has been enriched by such Cuban-Americans as actor Andy Garcia, singer Gloria Estefan, writer Oscar Hijuelos, and the late Desi Arnaz, co-creator of television's I Love Lucy.

Although some Cuban-Americans look forward to returning to Cuba when Castro's government collapses and economic conditions improve, most plan to remain in their new homeland.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon in northern Arizona is nature's greatest sculpture. Up to 18 miles wide, a mile deep, and 280 miles long, this breathtaking gorge contains fantastically shaped peaks, buttes, and ravines.

Equally spectacular are the canyon's colors. The overall red glow changes in hue depending on the time of the day and the cloud cover. The many layers of rock sometimes glisten int he sun and make up dazzling rainbow of purples, pinks, greens, grays, and yellows.

The "sculptor" of the Grand Canyon is the winding Colorado River. Its rapid current sweeps tons of sand and gravel over  the riverbed every minute, scraping and pounding as the grit tumbles downstream. Over the eons, the river has cut steadily downward, while volcanic and seismic forces have thrust the earth upward on either side. Amazingly, the rock layers exposed by the river reveal nearly two billion years of geological history.

More than four million visitors view the Grand Canyon each year. Some hike the Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of the canyon. Others descend by mule, or ride through  on river rafts. Park headquarters and year-round campsites are found on the South Rim. Because of heavy snow, the thickly forested North Rim is closed in the winter.

The land that is now the Grand Canyon once lay beneath a sea. As a result, fossil hunters can find the remains of prehistoric sea creatures in the canyon's walls.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Triangle Fire

In the early 1900s, immigrants poured into New York City. They took whatever jobs they could find. Many worked long hours at sewing machines in sweatshops which were often crowded lofts that turned out clothing for the garment industry. One such sweatshop was the Triangle Shirtwaist Company. It occupied the eighth, ninth and tenth floors of a building in Manhattan.

On March 25, 1911, as 500 of its young women workers were preparing to leave for the day, a fire broke out on the eighth floor. Within minutes, the fire had spread out of control. Workers panicked. Some crowded into freight elevators. Others rushed to the narrow stairwells. There, they found their way blocked – the company had locked most exits to prevent workers from stealing. A single fire escape collapsed under the weight of the fleeing women.
Fire trucks rushed to the scene, but their ladders were too short to reach the loft. Horrified bystanders watched as workers, many with their clothes and hair on fire, jumped from the windows to their death on the street below.

In less than 30 minutes, 146 people were killed. Investigators failed to determine the cause of the fire. But they found many people at fault – the factory owners, the fire department, and city officials. The tragedy drew attention to unsafe factory conditions and helped start a reform movement.
After the fire, New York City passed laws to improve workplace safety.

Monday, February 4, 2013


Some of 1997’s news headlines seemed to come straight from science-fiction novels. Scottish scientists produced the first clone of an animal, a sheep; a robotic vehicle, the Sojourner, toured the surface of Mars, sending back close-up pictures; and comet Hale-Bopp, a brilliant three-tailed visitor from space glowed in the night sky.

Americans mourned two much-loved world figures in 1997. Diana, Princess of Wales, died in a Paris car crash on August 31. Widely admired for her warmth and her charitable work, the former wife of Prince Charles of Britain was just 36 when she was killed. Then, on September 5, news came of the death of 87-year-old Mother Teresa, a Roman Catholic nun who had devoted her life to helping the poor and sick in India and elsewhere in the world.
U.S.  President Bill Clinton started his second term amid a controversy over campaign financing, and investigations continued through the year. In April, Minnesota and the Dakotas were hit with devastating floods after a severe winter. And in June, a jury found Timothy McVeigh guilty in the 1995 bombing of a federal office building in Oklahoma City – the worst terrorist act in U.S. history.

Tara Lipinski, 14, became the youngest-ever world figure-skating champion in 1997; and Tiger Woods, 21, became the youngest pro to win the prestigious Masters golf tournament.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Shay's Rebellion

Daniel Shays was angry. The Massachusetts farmer had fought bravely in the Revolution. But five years after the war, he believed that he and his neighbors were being treated unfairly by the state. Farmers were earning less and paying more taxes. Many were deeply in debt. They asked the state for relief, but got none.

So Daniel Shays took action.
Late in 1786, Shays led 600 angry people to the courthouse in Springfield. They wanted the judges to stop putting debtors in jail. The state militia scattered the crowd, but the unrest spread.

In January, 1787, Shays led a band of men against the arsenal in Springfield. The militia opened fire and routed the rebels. Shays fled to Vermont and conducted raids across the border. But he was soon captured. Although he and 13 others were condemned to death, they were eventually pardoned.
Shays’ Rebellion pointed out the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, the loose association of states that was adopted after the Revolution. Many Americans felt they needed a stronger federal government, with the power to deal with the rebellions that crossed state borders. When the new U.S. Constitution was proposed in 1787, it was quickly ratified by Massachusetts.

It is rarely taught that Daniel Shays had fought during the Revolution and while doing so he met the Marquis de Lafayette.  The Marquise gave Shays a valuable sword.   Unfortunately, Shays had to sell the sword during the postwar hard times.
The image with this post is Daniel Shays, on the portrayed  in Bickerstaff's Boston Almanack.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Hurricane Andrew

Every year between May and November, people in the eastern U.S. watch for hurricanes. These vast tropical storms in the Carribean Sea travel northwest, striking at the Caribbean islands and sometimes at the mainland of North America. One of the most terrible of these storms was Hurricane Andrew, which struck in August of 1992.

Andrew first hit the islands of the Bahamas and then moved northwest toward Florida. Modern weather prediction gave people a day or two to prepare. But there was no way to prepare for a storm as large as Andrew.
The center of the storm struck south of Miami on August 24. With wind gusts up to 165 miles an hour, Andrew leveled whole communities in a few hours. The winds uprooted trees, threw trucks on top of buildings, and reduced mobile homes to splinters. Driving rains flooded low-lying areas an swelled rivers to torrents.

The storm lost force as it crossed Florida, but when it reached the Gulf of Mexico it regained strength. On the evening of August 25, it slammed into the coast of southwestern Louisiana, causing still more destruction.
Andrew killed 14 people and left 250,000 homeless. Damage was estimated at $30 billion, making it the most destructive storm in U.S. history.

Andrew was the first storm of 1992.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Paul Revere's Ride

During 1775, the year the American Revolution began, tensions rose between the American colonist and the British army. The situation was most explosive in Massachusetts, where the Patriots were organizing to oppose British rule. In April, 1775, the British general in Boston decided to march his troops to the villages of Lexington and Concord to seize the Patriot leaders and capture their weapons.

Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith learned of the British plans. On the night of April 18, Revere set out on horseback for Lexington and Concord to warn the Patriots. Through the moonlit night Revere galloped, spreading the alarm. “In Medford, I awaked the Captain of the Minute Men,” Revere said, “and after that, I alarmed almost every House, until I got to Lexington.” There Revere warned two important Patriot leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, that the British were coming; the two escaped.
Later, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow made Paul Revere’s ride famous in a poem known by every American schoolchild:

Listen my children, and you shall hear,
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere……

Paul Revere would be famous even if his midnight ride had never happened. He was a superb silversmith, and today his silver bowls and other works may be seen in leading museums.
This website has several images of Revere silver including this one:

It’s a silver tea set that was made in 1799, and presented to Edmund Hart who was the man who constructed the ship Boston. The tea service can be seen at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Donner Party

In July, 1846, a group of 87 westward-bound pioneers made a bold decision. They would take a new shortcut to California instead of using the Oregon Trail. Named for its leader, George Donner, the Donner party was seeking a new life in a new land. Instead, it found disaster.

The new trail turned out to be no shortcut. The trip was hard and slow, and some families had to abandon their supply wagons. The party also had to travel west across Utah’s  Salt Desert. Food was scarce when the party reached the Sierra Nevada mountains in October, much later than it had planned.
The trail the Donner party followed  was called Hastings Cutoff. It was named for Lansford Hastings, a well, known western guide. A book by Hastings praising the shortcut helped convince the Donner party to take the trail.

An early blizzard trapped the Donner party in the mountains. The settlers hoped the weather  would improve, but more snow fell. In December, some party members left on snowshoes to find help. The rest ate their animals and then the animals’ hides. Some of the settlers starved to death. Some survived by eating the flesh of their dead comrades. Only 40 people survived the terrible winter in the mountains.
You can access a teacher’s guide and some other information here and find diary entries here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

John Wesley Powell

John Wesley Powell was one of the most daring explorers of the American West. In 1869, he personally financed and launched a bold expedition to study the Colorado River and the Grand Canyon. Powell’s four-boat flotilla completed the perilous 900-mile journey down the Green and Colorado rivers in 14 days.

The expedition was so successful that the U.S. government financed a second trip in 1871. This time, the party included photographers, and the images they captured gave most Americans their first look at the splendors of the West. Later, as a member of the U.S. Geological Survey, Powell made more than 30 trips through Arizona, Colorado, and Utah. His detailed reports and precise maps set the standard for generations of geographers.
In 1878, Powell had turned his attention to preserving the land he knew so well. He sought government protection for natural resources and lobbied against irrigation, which he predicted would disrupt the fragile ecology. Powell also worked to preserve the culture of vanishing Native American tribes. He created the first classification system for Indian languages and, in 1878, became the first director of the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution.

While Powell is remembered for his exploration and preservation exploits it is not as well known that during the Civil War he served in the Union army and lost an arm at Shiloh.