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.