Posts Tagged ‘American history’
Everyone loves a good Western. Whether it be a novel, TV show or movie, the Western is a uniquely American genre. How many times in countless films has the lone gunfighter faced seemingly insurmountable odds and come out victorious in the end? The hero (or anti-hero) of the Western has become so woven into the fabric of the lore of the United States that it is often hard to separate fact from fiction. While there are many false stories floating around about Wild Bill Hickok (many of them invented by Wild Bill himself), it appears that James Butler Hickock was the real deal. In fact, the image of the lean, tall laconic gunfighter comes mostly from contemporary accounts and descriptions of Hickok. Born in Illinois in 1837, Hickok moved to Kansas Territory in the 1850s. During the Civil War, he fought for the Union in a vigilante group known as the Jayhawkers. It was there he met William Cody, who would later become Buffalo Bill. It was also during the War that he began to call himself William Hickok (or Haycock) instead of James. After the war, his reputation as a scout, lawman, gunfighter and gambler began to grow. He became marshal of Abilene, known to be one of the toughest towns in the West. His fame was solidified after a shootout in Nebraska during which he shot three men. A story about the gunfight was printed in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine under the title “Wild Bill Hickok.” The name stuck.
Hickok carried two Colt Model 1851 Navy revolvers in a red sash around his waist, their ivory handles turned forward for an underhand “twist draw.” His numerous shootouts in several western towns earned him the notoriety of being a man not to be trifled with. Wild Bill loved to gamble. It was also his habit to sit in a saloon with his back to the wall so that no one could sneak up on him from behind. On August 2, 1876, in Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon in Deadwood, Dakota Territory (now South Dakota), the only chair left at a table put Hickok’s back to the door. He asked Charles Rich to change seats with him. Rich refused, forcing Wild Bill to sit with his back exposed to the swinging doors of the bar. Not long afterwards, in walked Jack McCall who had lost heavily playing poker with Hickok the previous day. McCall pulled a pistol and shot Wild Bill in the head from just three feet away. The men were playing five-card draw at the time of the murder, and the cards that fell from Hickok’s hand were a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights, which have ever since been known as the “Dead Man’s Hand.”
Many of the Old West legends are just that…folklore, fabrications, exaggerations and tall tales. Just like this blog, some parts may be true, some not so much. Why don’t you do some research in eLibrary in these waning days of summer and discover more about the myths and realities of the American West.
On May 24, 1607, about 100 men and boys disembarked their ships and established Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in the New World.
Okay, right off the bat we need a couple of explanations. First off, the date of the establishment of Jamestown is a bit confusing because of the differences between the Julian and Gregorian calendars. Many sources cite the date as May 14, and this is what the colonists recorded because they were using the Julian calendar. However, today we use the Gregorian calendar, which offsets the date by ten days, making the the date May 24 in today’s terms. (After much searching around online for a definitive answer to this question, it is still murky, with some actually going the other direction, placing the date at May 4. In his writings, George Percy wrote, “The fourteenth day [of May], we landed all our men …”. Since England did not adopt the new calendar until 1752, it makes sense to me that the corrected date is May 24. And, it looks like the Library of Congress agrees. (See note number 1.) Let this be a lesson that history is sometimes messy, and you should get your information from multiple and reliable sources.)
Secondly, you’ll note that I said “permanent” settlement. There were a couple of settlements that predate Jamestown–the most famous being Roanoke–but they failed fairly quickly. So, Jamestown wasn’t the first, but it was the first to endure.
And now, back to our story.
Arriving under the charter of the Virginia Company of London, the colonists’ three ships had spent some time sailing up the James River (which they named after King James I) looking for a suitable location, and they chose a spot on a peninsula that they determined would be defendable against attack. Fortunately, it was not inhabited by natives; unfortunately, the swampy area was a terrible place to grow crops.
After building a fort, the colonists began suffering great losses due to disease and food shortages. The Powhatan Indians helped with gifts of food until a supply ship arrived in 1608. The settlement was nearly wiped out again in the 1609-1610 winter’s “starving time,” during which two-thirds of the colonists died from starvation and attacks by the Powhatan, whose relationship with the settlers had turned sour. It was during this period that, archaeologists say, some inhabitants of the fort resorted to cannibalism. Relief finally arrived in May of 1610, when a much-delayed ship brought more provisions. Later that year, the decision was made to give up on Jamestown, but the abandonment was short-lived, as a fleet of ships arrived, bringing more supplies and settlers.
A number of industries were attempted at Jamestown, including glassmaking and wood production, but fortunes improved only after John Rolfe began growing tobacco, which became America’s first cash crop.
Rolfe married the Chief Powhatan’s daughter, Pocahontas, bringing about a period of peace with the Indians. The relationship became strained once again after the deaths of both Pocahontas and her father and the continued encroachment of farms onto native land. Intending to undo the colonists once and for all, the natives attacked and killed more than 300 in what became known as the Indian Massacre of 1622.
In 1624, King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter and made Virginia a royal colony. After Jamestown was burned down during Bacon’s Rebellion, the capital of the colony was moved from Jamestown to Williamsburg.
Efforts to preserve find and preserve aspects of Jamestown’s history began in the late 1800s, and in 1994 archaeologists began rediscovering the original settlement, which had been thought to have been claimed by the James River.
The flames … ascending her rigging and masts, formed columns of fire, whilst the discharge of her guns gave an idea of some directing spirit within her.”
This was the scene in Tripoli Harbor on February 16, 1804 as the USS Philadelphia burned during the first Barbary War. But it wasn’t the enemy who set her afire; it was an American party led by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, Jr., the 24-year-old son of the very naval officer who commissioned the Philadelphia four years before.
The war against the Barbary states arose from President Thomas Jefferson‘s refusal to continue to pay tribute (payments) to those states for protection of American merchant ships from pirates. A number of prior attacks had meant ever-increasing ransoms demanded by the pirates. Years earlier, in a letter to John Adams, Jefferson had called for the use of naval forces to deal with the situation. In 1801 Jefferson sent ships to the area, and in 1802 Congress granted authorization to seize ships and protect American vessels, and the war was officially on.
The Philadelphia, commanded by William Bainbridge, ran aground on a reef in Tripoli Harbor and was eventually surrendered after Bainbridge attempted to make the ship unusable by the enemy. The Tripolians managed to get the ship afloat again, and Commodore Edward Preble ordered Decatur to try and repossess the ship or destroy it.
Sir, you are hereby ordered to take command of the prize ketch Intrepid. It is my order that you proceed to Tripoli, enter the harbor in the night, board the Philadelphia, burn her and make good your retreat … The destruction of the Philadelphia is an object of great importance. I rely with confidence on your intrepidity and enterprise to effect it.
The Intrepid, previously named Mastico, had been captured from the Tripolians, and Decatur disguised the ship as a merchant vessel run by a small Arab-speaking crew. Decatur and most of the men hid below deck. Under the ruse that the ship had lost its anchor, permission was sought to tie up to the Philadelphia. When the two ships were aside one another, Decatur and the other men burst out and onto the Philadelphia, easily overcoming the crew aboard. In a matter of minutes, 20 of the enemy were dead and others had jumped ship. The Americans then proceeded to send the ship up in flames and quickly retreat to the Intrepid.
The gun deck was all of a sudden beautifully illuminated by the numerous candles of the crew. The squads … repaired to their stations. After the lapse of a few minutes Captain D demanded at every hatchway, from forward to aft, whether they were ready, and-on being answered in the affirmative from below-returned to the hatchways as before, giving the word succinctly at each, “Fire!”-in order of insuring the simultaneousness of setting fire to every part of the ship alike.
Decatur was deemed a hero, with legendary Admiral Horatio Nelson reportedly declaring “his actions “the most bold and daring act of its age.” The young naval officer became a celebrity. Towns and ships were named after him, he was the subject of paintings and busts, and his image even appeared on household items like cups and pitchers. His career took off, and he took part in many other military engagements, including the Second Barbary War and the War of 1812.
Unfortunately, his distinguished career was cut short in 1820 when he died in a duel with Commodore James Barron, whom Decatur criticized over his conduct in an engagement with the British known as the Chesapeake–Leopard Affair.
The links in the text above provide a mere sample of all of the great information to be discovered in eLibrary. So, get searching in eLibrary and browsing in our ever-expanding list of Research Topics.
No matter what your calendar says, there is no federal holiday called “Presidents Day.” It is still officially “Washington’s Birthday.” While many states have adopted their own holidays to honor various combinations of presidents, the third Monday in February, technically, honors our first president.
George Washington’s birthday is February 22, which was celebrated even when he was still alive, and in 1879 the date was made an official holiday by an act of Congress. This continued until the 1968 Uniform Monday Holiday Act shifted the holiday to its place on the third Monday of the month, consequently ensuring it would never fall on the actual date of Washington’s birth. The term “Presidents Day” (or “Presidents’ Day,” depending on where you are and how you feel about apostrophes) was first coined in the 1950s during an effort to create a holiday to honor all presidents, and it was considered in a rejected version of the Uniform Monday Holiday Act that would have changed the holiday to honor Abraham Lincoln as well. Over the years, many states began declaring their own Presidents Days to honor Washington, Lincoln and their own native sons, and in the 1980s advertisers began promoting the term “Presidents Day,” adding to the confusion about the holiday. There continue to be efforts to return to focus to George Washington and to move the date back to February 22, with many complaining that the holiday, which most associated with a day off of work and discount sales, has lost its effect as a way to honor Washington and Lincoln and as a tool to foster historical literacy.
However you feel about the name of the holiday and whom it should honor, eLibrary has all of the bases covered. First, we stuck to the federal designation when we created our Washington’s Birthday Research Topic page, which can give you the basics on the holiday itself. Then, there are RT pages on George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and all of the presidents (if you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings). Just type the name in the eLibrary search box. (You can watch for autocomplete drop-downs to aid you while typing.) We also have many RTs related to presidential elections, aspects of the presidency and even the often-forgotten vice presidents. Examples: U.S. Presidential Election, 1960, American Presidency, Vice Presidency, Charles Curtis.
Research Topics and other resources can be found by clicking the “Topics” button in the bar at the top of the page in eLibrary. Here, you can search for and click on underlined words to drill down into subject headings. You can always click on underlined words in the topic string at the top of the page to widen or narrow the scope. An item with a star next to it in the outline or in the topic string will display a Research Topic page directly related to it. Here are some headings to get you started on this topic: Presidents, Vice Presidents, First Ladies, Presidential Elections, Holidays.
To many in the U.S., Veterans Day just means a day off of work or school, and while many may actually give some thought to the idea of honoring those who served in the military, do they know why and when the holiday came into existence?
The holiday has its roots in World War I. On November 11, 1918, the war ended with the signing of the armistice between the Allies and Germany, and the following year, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson declared November 11, 1919 Armistice Day to pay homage to the heroism of those who died in the struggle.
“To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.”
In 1926, Congress passed a resolution calling for another observance and ceremonies, and in 1938, it passed legislation making Armistice Day an annual U.S. holiday. Although World War I was called “the war to end all wars,” unfortunately, World War II proved that it wasn’t. So, in 1954, Congress decided it would be fitting to make November 11 a day to honor all veterans and changed the name to Veterans Day. The man who led the push for the change, Raymond Weeks, was given the Presidential Citizenship Medal by President Ronald Reagan and declared the “Father of Veterans Day.”
When the Uniform Monday Holiday legislation went into effect in 1971, Veterans Day was moved to the fourth Monday in October. This proved to be an unpopular decision, and President Gerald Ford signed legislation to move it back to its original date, starting in 1978.
Today, Veterans Day is still celebrated on 11/11 with parades, services and proclamations of thanks to all of those who have served in our armed forces.
For lots of information on Veterans Day and just about any other topic, search in eLibrary, follow the links in the text above and see the resources below:
Subject browse sections (Click on underlined words to widen or narrow the scope and click on “View Results” to see eLibrary resources. Items with stars next to them will display Research Topic pages.):
The lives of American women are very different now than they were centuries, even decades, ago. Did you know that there was a time when women were not allowed to serve in the military? Or that it was illegal for a woman to vote? Or that wives were once considered their husband’s property? Because of the work and dedication of many strong women, those things have changed. Women have more rights than they had even fifty years ago, and women today keep striving for equality in every part of life. March is a great time of year to honor the many women who have furthered women’s rights by making important changes in our country.
Join SIRS Discoverer’s March Spotlight of the Month in honoring Women’s History Month. Learn about the women’s suffrage movement in the United States, meet African-American women who have changed history, read about early female politicians, follow women’s increasing role in the military , and celebrate women’s scientific achievements. Perhaps you will become inspired to thank a woman who has made a positive impact in your life!
African-American history is integral to the history of the United States. Our nation and its ever-evolving notion of “freedom” rests on the backbone of the African-American experience. Stories of Black Americans overcoming great odds are interwoven into the fabric of the American experience. Consider the personal histories of such people as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr.: the strength, resiliency, and wisdom of these individuals have inspired countless Americans and forever will be synonymous with the America’s heritage and culture. The American notion of “freedom”–what it stands for and what it means to society–reflects the struggles and triumphs of these and many more African Americans.
Join SKS during the month of February in celebrating Black History Month. Learn about and commemorate the achievements of African Americans throughout history and today.
Today in the United States, we commemorate the independence of the nation. On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress. To celebrate, citizens will have family barbecues, listen to patriotic music, go to a parade, or watch fireworks. See patriotic websites in Featured Websites in SIRS Issues Researcher.
The American Civil War was fought 150 years ago. At that time, in 1863, the country was divided over the issue of slavery. Many people in the northern states believed that slavery was wrong and that slaves should be granted their freedom, while many Southerners felt that slavery was integral to their region’s economy. As a result of this disagreement, the country went to war. The North, represented by the Union Army, fought against the South, represented by the Confederate Army. The war raged for four years, ending by presidential proclamation in 1865.
There were many battles during the war, and all were significant. But there is one that is considered to be the war’s decisive conflict: the Battle of Gettysburg. On July 1, 1863, General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army invaded the North near the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. General George Meade’s Union army held their ground and the Confederate troops retreated on July 3. More than 51,000 soldiers were killed or injured during combat. This year, the nation is honoring the battle’s 150th anniversary. Gettysburg National Military Park oversees the battlegrounds, its memorials, and commemorative sites, providing a place of education and remembrance. Take some time this summer to learn about this pivotal event in American history in this month’s Discoverer Spotlight of the Month.
Even though most students are enjoying the freedom of summer right now, the school year and American history lessons will be here before you know it. So, as the U.S. prepares to celebrate its birthday, it’s a good time to note some eLibrary resources related to the American Revolution and Independence Day.
eLibrary has thousands of Research Topics (collections of articles and other documents), and many of them are related to American history. Just use the search function (many variants of the RT title will work, and many will appear in the drop-down list as you type), and you’ll likely get a page on the topic. RTs can also be found by clicking Browse Research Topics. Here is a sampling of those related to the Fourth of July, but keep in mind that there are many, many more.
eLibrary’s book collection includes a number of titles that would be useful in learning about the nation’s struggle for independence. They can be accessed using the Publication tab or by typing all or part of the book title into the publication field on the Advanced Search page. It helps to have only the Books source type checked. To narrow a search to a particular topic, also use terms in the main search box. (Tip: Many of these books have tables of contents with links to the individual chapters.) Here are few Revolution-related book suggestions:
The American Revolution: A History in Documents: This book uses primary sources to chronicle the lead-up to the Revolution, the war and the aftermath. It not only tells the story, but also helps provide an understanding of how primary source documents are used in looking at history.
Landmarks of the American Revolution: This books takes a tour of the places where the Revolution unfolded. Buildings, neighborhoods and battlefields are highlighted using photographs, maps and historical context.
Thomas Paine: Firebrand of the Revolution: Paine, who provided inspiration for the colonists’ decision to declare independence, is profiled in this book, which includes many images that provide context.
So, get out the hand-cranked ice cream maker, light up those sparklers and visit eLibrary for some Fourth fun.