#OnThisDay: President Kennedy was Assassinated, 1963

For those of us who were alive at the time, it just doesn’t seem possible that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated 58 years ago today. If you were at least six or seven years old on that day, it’s probably a day you’ll never forget.

US President John F. Kennedy; Photo credit: history in hd on unsplash.com

It was one of those life experiences like September 11, 2001. I’ll always remember where I was and what I was doing when I heard the news of that attack. My parents’ generation always remembered where they were and what they were doing when the news came over the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed on December 7, 1941.

I was in the fifth grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. It was a normal day at school. It was the Friday before Thanksgiving, so I’m sure I was counting the days until that holiday because it would mean a four-day weekend. I was a good student, but it’s no secret that I didn’t like school.

Shortly after one o’clock that Wednesday afternoon, the principal came to the door and motioned for my teacher, Miss Judy Ford. The school building was built in the mid-1920s and there was no intercom. There was no way for a general announcement to be made to all the classes, so the principal went from room-to-room to tell each teacher that President Kennedy had been shot and skilled and school would be dismissed a few minutes later.

At the time, I thought Miss Ford was old. We all did. She broke her foot playing basketball that year, and we all were aghast! She was 24 years old. What was she doing playing basketball?

Now, when I think back on that day, I wonder what had prepared that young, second- or third-year teacher to come back into the classroom and tell a bunch of 10-year-olds that the president of the United States had been killed. Nothing like this had happened in our lifetime. Nothing like this had happened in her lifetime.

As I recall, silent tears ran down her cheeks and she calmly told us the bare facts. We got our personal things together, and in a few minutes the bell rang signaling that school was dismissed. I rode the school bus home.

As I recall, some students seemed happy. They were probably just happy to get to go home early, but some of the children were possibly happy because they’d heard their parents said unsupportive things about the president. I think most of us were confused. We didn’t understand the gravity of what had happened, and we weren’t sure how we were supposed to react. Having seen my teacher in tears, though, had indicated to me that this was pretty serious.

My mother had the TV on when I got home from school. Our family watched the coverage that evening. Since Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson was from Texas, he and his wife had accompanied the President and First Lady to Dallas. As Jacqueline Kennedy stoically stood by, Johnson was sworn in as President on Air Force One.

Even on our black and white TV we could tell that Mrs. Kennedy’s suit (described as being pink) was stained with her husband’s blood. We watched TV the following days as Walter Cronkite kept us informed, but I still didn’t grasp what had happened.

Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the murder. Then, on Sunday afternoon, Jack Ruby shot Oswald at close range and killed him. It was a bizarre sequence of events that was witnessed live on black and white TV.

President Kennedy’s funeral procession was like nothing I’d seen before. His coffin was carried in a wagon pulled by horses. His young wife and children even younger than I stood as it passed and little “John-John” saluted. He was far too young to understand what had happened.

Somehow, it was through the black-and-white TV coverage of President Kennedy’s inauguration and funeral that impressed on my mind the importance, sacredness, and fragility of our government. I still remember seeing out-going President Dwight Eisenhower and in-coming President Kennedy dressed in their top hats for JFK’s inauguration in 1961 and the solemn pageantry of his funeral in 1963.

Since my last blog post

I’ve had a productive writing week. I’ve concentrated on deep point-of-view in my novel manuscript. I did some historical research about legal procedures in South Carolina in 1769, and I revisited the location in which most of my novel is set in Lancaster County, South Carolina.

I needed to get a feel for the common trees and their state of autumn color in mid-November. Even though the setting is only an hour from where I live, I found a couple of interesting differences between my location and the area around Old Waxhaw Presbyterian Church.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. Four books I had been on the waitlist for at the public library all came in this week. I’d rather spend my time writing this week, but I must make time for some reading.

Thursday is Thanksgiving Day here in the United States. I wish my American readers a nice holiday. It’s a good time to stop and count our blessings.

I have everything I need. I hope you do, too.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Articles of Confederation, 1777

It’s been four weeks since my last #OnThisDay blog post. Today’s might not be the most exciting topic for you, but I think it’s important for Americans to be reminded about the early days of our democracy. The historian in me just can’t help myself.

The Articles of Confederation document was the forerunner of the U.S. Constitution.

Photo credit: Anthony Garand on unsplash.com (Preamble of the US Constitution)

On November 15, 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation. It was that document that established the name of our country as the United States of America. It served as the defacto constitution of the nation throughout the Revolutionary War.

I reread the Articles of Confederation last week. It had been quite a while since I’d read the document.

Still stinging from oppressive British rule, the frames of the Articles of Confederation were hesitant to create a strong federal government. Much power was retained by the individual states. States’ rights have been a bone of contention throughout the history of the U.S. and still is today. It seems like every week the legislature of at least one state in the union is testing the waters and “pushing the envelope” to see just how far they can go without being reined in by the U.S. Supreme Court. The major issues today that fall in that category are abortion rights, gun rights, and Covid-19 vaccination mandates.

There were weaknesses in the Articles of Confederation. The document did not give the U.S. the authority to issue a national currency. Hence, the various states printed their own money. It makes my head spin to think what our country would be like today if that hadn’t been corrected.

Another weakness in the document was the absence of authority of the national government to levy taxes. Some people probably think things should have stayed that way, but just think how many things we would not have today if not for federal taxes. The “common treasury” was to be supported by the states, with each state contributing an amount based on the value of the land in that state.

Of all the language in the document, the wording in Article III stood out for me. Specifically, the words, “firm league of friendship.” That phrase sounds quaint to our 21st century ears.

Article III states the following: “The said states hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defence [sic], the security of their Liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretence [sic] whatever.”

Article IV went on to state that citizens of any state had the freedom to travel to and from any other state. Of course, slaves were not considered citizens, so they were not afforded that right.

Just as details of how a democratic government operates today takes a long time and much gnashing of teeth, so it was with the Articles of Confederation. The debate leading up to the adoption of the document lasted 16 months.

The Articles of Confederation served the United States of America until March 4, 1789, when it was replaced by the U.S. Constitution. The Constitution is a living, breathing document. It is continually up for interpretation and has been amended 27 times. No doubt, it will be amended many more times.


Since my last blog post

We had spectacular autumn weather last week in North Carolina! Wednesday was a crystal clear, unseasonably warm day. I took a break from raking dead, brown leaves to walk around our yard with my cell. I couldn’t stop taking pictures as I happened on one gorgeous tree after another.

I concluded that I live in paradise. I started with one of my favorite trees. It’s a maple that my father and I found as a sprout in our woods in the fall of 1965. It wasn’t much taller than I was, but it was decked out in beautiful orange leaves. The maples in our yard were yellow in the fall, and I wanted an orange one.

Daddy marked the location of the sprout and returned later to dig it up. We planted it in front of our house, and there it proudly stands today, much taller than the house. This fall, it’s orange at top and the rest of it is yellow.

Maple Tree

I’m blessed to once again live in that house. We’re blessed with a wonderful variety of trees, including pine, cedar, maple, hickory, several varieties of oak, holly, mulberry, poplar, ash, dogwood, sweet gum, persimmon, and black walnut.

Hickory Tree
Dogwood Tree
Cedar Tree
Oak Leaves
Sweet Gum Tree Leaves trying to decide whether to turn red or yellow

Dealing with the leaves in the fall after the red, yellows, golds, and oranges have faded and the spent leaves have dropped to the ground is quite a chore. I tend to dread autumn because of the multitude of leaves that must be raked, blown, carried off, or mulched with the tractor, but this year I’ve chosen to enjoy the riot of color in our yard every day. It won’t last much longer.

This tree is pretty, but I don’t know what it is! Can anyone help me?

When not outside, I worked on my novel. I’m putting into practice some of the things I recently learned in the online writing course I’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts. It feels good to be revising, editing, and improving my novel.

Don’t give up on me, y’all!


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

I hope you have everything you need.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Russia Transferred Alaska to US, 1867

The thought of Russia selling Alaska to the United States in 1867 – or any other time – makes my head spin. My first thought was, I bet the Russians are still kicking themselves over this! That led to me look up the origins of the idiom to kick oneself.

According to my handy reference book, The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms, by Christine Ammer, this idiom, which means to berate or reproach oneself, dates back to the late 1800s. One wonders if the expression was coined by the Russians after selling Alaska to the United States, but I guess not.

Back to Russia Selling Alaska to the US

Back to the topic of today’s blog post… I remember reading about something called “Seward’s Folly” in a lower grades’ history book, but if given only seconds to come up with the answer I’d be hard pressed to recall that it refers to U.S. Secretary of State William Seward negotiating the transaction.

Many Americans thought it foolish to purchase Alaska for the exorbitant price of $7.2 million, or around two cents per acre. That converts to a mere $120 million or so in 2021.

Photo credit: Hari Nandakumar on unsplash.com

Putting the event in historical context, though, it makes sense that people were up in arms over the federal government spending $7.2 million for a place a world away. It was a place virtually no one in the nation expected to visit. To a great extent, that still holds true today.

A four-year civil war had taken a terrible toll on the nation. The Confederate states were being brought back into the fold of the United States, although there were deep-seated hatreds on both sides of that conflict – so deeply ingrained that remnants of those feelings still exist 160 years later.

In 1867, just two years after the end of that war, the federal government pays more than $7 million for a vast wilderness at the top of the world. No wonder it seemed like folly to the average American.

Photo credit: Deon Van Zyl on unsplash.com

All that taken into account, today Alaska seems like a bargain any way you look at it. It’s one of the places I’d like to visit, but that’s highly unlikely now. The photographs of the landscape and the wildlife are breathtaking.

Just think: 663,267 square miles. Denali and other National Parks. National forests. Wildlife refuges. Fishing. Glaciers. Whales. It’s one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States put together.

Alaskan Salmon, for crying out loud! It’s delicious and so nutritious.

Photo credit: Peter Hansen on unsplash.com

Alaska became a US territory on May 11, 1912 and was admitted as the 49th state in the Union on January 3, 1959.

Fifteen percent of Alaska’s population is indigenous. Nearly two dozen native languages are spoken in Alaska. No other US state is so rich in natural beauty, wildlife, natural resources, and human history.

Thank you, William Seward!

Since my last blog post

I continue with the eight-week online writing course. A couple more weeks to go.

We had beautiful days in the mid- and high-80s last week. It was probably summer’s last gasp. I’ll miss the warm weather. The weather last week was perfect for taking care of some yardwork. It’s time to get the yard ready for the coming winter.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. My reading for pleasure lately has been almost nil.

I look forward to getting my Covid-19 Moderna booster shot soon.

Janet

#OnThisDay: The War that Never Ends

The American Civil War began on April 12, 1861, when southerners fired on Fort Sumter, South Carolina. Fort Sumter was, of course, a United States military fort on the coast of South Carolina.

Photo credit: Michelle Burdick on unsplash.com

The American Civil War was the culmination of the falling apart of a nation.

Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered his troops to US Gen. U.S. Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, on April 9, 1865, but fighting continued for a while west of the Mississippi River. U.S President Andrew Johnson declared the war over in all states but Texas on April 2, 1866. After accepting the new state constitution for Texas, President Johnson officially declared the insurrection over on August 20, 1866.

Death toll

The exact number of deaths in the American Civil War is unknown, but it seems to be agreed upon that it was at least 620,000 and as high as 750,000.

Local losses

In 1999, I compiled a booklet, “Rocky River Presbyterian Church and the War Between the States,” about how the American Civil War affected Rocky River Presbyterian Church in Cabarrus County, North Carolina. Established in 1751, in 1860 the congregation had 616 members. 440 of them were White and 176 of them were Black. The congregation lost 72 men in the Civil War. Their average age was 28. The youngest was 16 and the oldest was 44. Of the 72 who died, 52 died between January 1862 and November 1863. I’ve tried to imagine what an emotional impact that had on this farming community, but I can’t.

Rocky River Presbyterian Church, Cabarrus County, North Carolina

I researched each of the 72 men and boys in published genealogies, church records, census records, etc. in an effort to put names and real people on the statistics. Some families were hit especially hard, losing several sons.

Another local loss

In addition to the numerical and economic loss those 72 men and boys cost the congregation, the war resulted in a radical and racial change in the church’s make up. In 2004, I compiled another booklet, “Slaves and Free Blacks Known to be Associated with Rocky River Presbyterian Church Prior to 1870.” My purpose was to compile in one document all known records about the slaves and free Blacks who were communing and/or baptized members of the congregation from the earliest extant church records (1835) through 1870.

Photo credit: US Library of Congress, via unsplash.com.

I was astounded when the project was finished to find that I had a list of 917 slaves and 11 free Blacks. In addition to the church membership rolls and Session disciplinary trial minutes, I searched the 1860 and 1863 Cabarrus County Tax Assessment Lists – which listed every slave living in the county at those times—and the US Census records for Cabarrus County from 1870 and 1880. (By the way, the county tax assessment lists recorded not only the names of each slave under his or her master’s name, but also included each slave’s age, physical condition, and value. They are sobering documents.)

In 1867, present-day Bellefonte Presbyterian Church was formed by former Black members of Rocky River. The White pastor of Rocky River, being a product of the place and time, was hurt when the Black members of his congregation chose to go two or three miles up the road to establish their own church. Unfortunately, he saw them as children who didn’t know what they were doing. He didn’t understand why they didn’t want to stay at Rocky River and continue to sit in the balcony while the White members sat downstairs on the main floor of the sanctuary. No wonder they left! That’s easy for us to see today.

How racism continues to this day

Southerners tend to romanticize about the Civil War, but I doubt there was anything romantic about it at the time. The wives, mothers, sisters, and younger brothers were left behind to try to farm the best they could, not knowing when or if their loved ones would come home. I would not have wanted to be alive during that time.

All four of my great-grandfathers and one of my great-great-grandfathers fought on the losing side in the American Civil War. They were farmers in North Carolina. They did not own slaves. In trying to put myself in their places in that place and time, I can’t help but think they didn’t have much choice in joining the North Carolina Troops when the war began.

Lee Dulin, home from the Civil War

One was a boy of 16, no doubt out on a bit of an adventure with his neighborhood friends in the same company. He wrote letters to his parents and sister asking them to send him socks. One was in the 1st NC Cavalry and survived a severe head wound at Gettysburg that left him with headaches and a convulsive disorder for the rest of his life. One had restricted use of one of his arms for the rest of his life due to injuries sustained in the Seven Days Battle of Richmond. One was in Charleston at the end of the war and walked the 200 miles home. One of my great-great-grandfathers was a man in his early 50s – much too old to go off to war, but that’s what he did. It’s hard to find the romance in any of that. They came home defeated, with perhaps a little worthless Confederate currency, only to have to go back to eking out a living by farming in a broken economy.

They were not the ones who built monuments to Confederate leaders. They did not raise the Confederate battle flag by their houses to show their Southern pride. They just went back to the hard-working lives they’d known since birth and tried to live out their lives as law-abiding American citizens.

I don’t know what any of those five ancestors of mine thought about race. I can’t sit in judgment of any of my ancestors any more than I can take credit for anything good they accomplished in their lives. Each of us is accountable for our own ideas, beliefs, and actions.

Where do we go from here?

Until Americans have an honest discussion about slavery and the ramifications of it… until people across the country study the facts and recognize that slavery existed in some northern states… until people across the country realize that northern states benefitted from the slavery in the South because the slaves picked the cotton that was sent to northern textile mills to be turned into fabric for people there to sell and wear at a low cost due to slavery… until people across the country accept each other and fight for all citizens to have the same rights and chances to excel… until as individuals we admit our prejudices and have the courage to speak up when we see racial injustice… I’m afraid the American Civil War will never be over.

Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao on unsplash.com

My heart sinks at the sight of the Confederate battle flag because, to people of color, it is a symbol of hate. I didn’t see it that way when I was growing up because I was White, but I do now. When you know better, you should do better.

As Americans, it’s easy for us to sit back, protected by the Atlantic Ocean on the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west and criticize the Arabs and Jews in Israel holding grudges over wrongs committed centuries ago, but many Americans are unwilling to forgive and forget when it comes to our own Civil War after 160 years. We can’t see the plank in our own eye because we’re concentrating on the speck in someone else’s eye.

#ElectoralCollge #USConstitution #12thAmendment
Photo by Luke Michael on Unsplash.com

Since my last blog post

We finally got to bring our diabetic dog home from the hospital last Thursday. He was hospitalized for eight days with bronchial pneumonia. We’re so thankful for the good care he received at CARE (Charlotte Animal Referral & Emergency) once again.

Until my next blog post

Continue to celebrate D.E.A.R. (Drop Everything And Read) Month. I hope you have at least one good book to read this week.

Make time for a hobby.

Note: The two booklets I referenced in today’s blog, “Rocky River Presbyterian Church and the War Between the States” and “Slaves and Free Blacks Known to be Associated with Rocky River Presbyterian Church Prior to 1870,” are available through http://www.JanetMorrisonBooks.com. Click on “Rocky River Presbyterian Church Booklets.”

Janet

#OnThisDay: Articles of Confederation & Why They Had to Be Replaced

If you’ve visited my blog today expecting to find out what books I read last month, please forgive me. I felt compelled to write about an event in American history today. I’ll share with you my thoughts about the books I read in February in my blog posts on March 8 and 15.

#OnThisDay

It was 240 years ago today that the Articles of Confederation were ratified by the State of Maryland – the last of the 13 states to ratify the document, making it the law of the land.

As a writer and reader of historical fiction and nonfiction, I need to keep in mind what the federal government could and could not do before 1789. Today’s blog post is a “crash course” about the Articles of Confederation. I hope it will be a painless way to refresh your memory about the document and some of the reasons it had to be replaced by the US Constitution.

What were the Articles of Confederation?

The Articles of Confederation were spelled out in a five-page document that served as a constitution for the former American colonies after they won independence from Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War. It took the Continental Congress 16 months to draw up the document. The document was adopted on November 15, 1777, in York, Pennsylvania. York was serving as the temporary capital of the new country.

The Articles of Confederation loosely held the 13 states together. It mandated a single house in Congress, and each state had one vote. The Articles gave Congress authority over foreign affairs, the power to raise a national army, and the power to declare war and declare peace; however, the Articles did not give the Congress the power to levy taxes.

How durable were the Articles of Confederation?

It didn’t take long for people to identify problems with the Articles of Confederation.

Not wanting to risk being accused of “taxation without representation” the framers of the Article of Confederation gave states the authority to impose taxes but they did not give that authority to the United States government. Having hindsight, we can see today that such a setup was unsustainable, and it’s difficult for me to see how the framers couldn’t anticipate that. Since the new nation was in debt at the end of the American Revolution, it was difficult to raise funds to pay off that indebtedness without the power to impose taxes.

Another problem with the Articles of Confederation was that each state could issue their own currency. Imagine if that were the case today!

Photo credit: Alexander Schimmeck on unsplash.com

The Articles of Confederation failed to create a sense of nation. With a weak central government, allegiances were often more to one’s state than to the country. Indeed, that mindset continued in some ranks and contributed to the formation of the Confederate States of America and the outbreak of the American Civil War. Robert E. Lee’s almost blind allegiance to the State of Virginia comes to mind.

The US Constitution

Seeing the problems with the Articles of Confederation, the US Constitution was drawn up. It replaced the Articles of Confederation on March 4, 1789. For more information about the creation of the US Constitution, please see my May 25, 2020 blog post, #OnThisDay: 1787 US Constitutional Convention.

Photo credit: Anthony Garand on unsplash.com

Since my last blog post

I’ve enjoyed reading some books that I’ll blog about later. After having trouble concentrating on anything in January, it’s been gratifying to once again enjoy reading.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and quality writing time if you’re a writer, blogger, or like to journal just for your own edification. Writing is therapeutic.

I hope you have time to enjoy a favorite hobby.

Keep wearing that facemask out of respect for others.

Janet

#OnThisDay: The Florida Purchase Treaty, 1819. Consider the US without it!

Here I am, with another little history lesson. I hope I’m not losing my audience. My blog is about my journey as a writer. I write history and historical fiction, so continuing to study history and sharing some of what I learn is an integral part of my blog.

Last week I admitted how little I knew about the Spanish-American War. In today’s blog, I’ll admit how little I knew, or at least remembered, about the Florida Purchase. If history could be taught in story form instead of lists of battles and dates, I think we’d all retain more of it later in life.

As you read my post, I want you to think about what the map of the United States would look like today if not for this 1819 treaty.

In case you’re ever on “Jeopardy!”

The Adams-Onis Treaty was negotiated and signed by U.S. Secretary of State John Quincy Adams on February 22, 1819. That’s 202 years ago today. Luis de Onis, the 1809-1819 Spanish Envoy to the United States, negotiated and signed for Spain; hence, the name Adams-Onis Treaty. It’s also known as the Florida Purchase Treaty, the Treaty of 1819, and the Trans-Continental Treaty.

What the treaty accomplished

The United States was still in its infancy as a nation in 1819. It had won two major wars against Great Britain, but it was just 40 years old. The map of the United States was still in flux. In fact, it still is with the possibility of the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico possibly gaining statehood status. In 1819, the vast West was still occupied by native peoples and enormous herds of bison and other native animals.

Under this treaty, Spain gave up its claim to the Florida peninsula as well as the panhandle of Florida, the coastal lands of Alabama and Mississippi, and part of Louisiana. The United States temporarily gave up Texas. The boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase were more accurately defined, and the boundary between Spanish Mexico and the United States was settled. Spain relinquished its claim to the lands north of the 42nd parallel known as the Oregon Territory. (The 42nd parallel later formed the northern boundaries of California, Nevada, and Utah.)

What if…?

When I’m writing fiction, I often ask myself, “What if…?” Asking myself that questions leads to plot twists in my fiction, but it can lead to some fascinating theories of how history could have turned out differently if certain events had not happened. I touched on this question in last week’s blog post, #OnThisDay: Remember the Maine! What you might not know, when I asked how history would have unfolded if the Americans had known that the sinking of the Maine was an internal accident and not an act of war by Spain.

Imagine how the United States would look today if the Adams-Onis Florida Purchase Treaty hadn’t been signed and ratified.

There would be no Disney World or Cape Canaveral. Or, if there were, they’d be in Spanish Florida.

Photo credit: Justin Novello on unsplash.com

There would be no white sandy Gulf of Mexico beaches in the United States.

There would be nowhere in the southeast for people from the cold northern states to retire to or spend their winters.

The 55th Super Bowl wouldn’t have been held in Tampa, Florida earlier this month.

There would be no American Floridians creeping along at a snail’s pace on the curvy mountain roads in western North Carolina because they’re terrified of curves and hills. They’d be Spanish Floridians.

All jokes aside, we’d be importing lots of vegetables and citrus fruits from Spain because that’s who would still own what we know now as the state of Florida. And perhaps Spain would still control the Oregon Territory. The map of the United States would look quite different than it does today. Our history would be quite different, and we would lack many of the natural and cultural resources we enjoy today that make our country what it is.

I have given a simplified description of the Adams-Onis Florida Purchase Treaty in this blog post, but on this 202nd anniversary of its signing, I believe we Americans can be glad it was negotiated and signed.

Since my last blog post

I’ve been reading, writing, and enjoying both. The part of North Carolina I live in, dodged the snow and ice that much of the U.S. has been dealing with. The people of Texas and other areas without electricity and safe drinking water are in my prayers. Mississippi was hit hard, too, but hasn’t received much national publicity.

The first crocus of the year opened near our side porch and the daffodils are coming up. I look forward to spring with great anticipation.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading Soroosh, a new novel by Laleh Chini, and listening to The Unwilling, by John Hart.

Find time for your favorite pastime.

Even if you won’t wear a mask to protect yourself, please wear one out of respect for others. We’re all in this Covid-19 pandemic together and it will take all of us working together to get out of it faster.

Note to my neighbors and friends in Canada (including author Laleh Chini): This is “Freedom to Read Week” in your country.

Thank you for dropping by my blog.

Janet

#OnThisDay: “Remember the Maine!” What you might not know.

If asked what the slogan, “Remember the Maine!” was about, I could have told you it referred to a ship that was sunk and caused the Spanish-American War. I minored in history in college, but some of the details are a little blurry now. Today is the 123rd anniversary of the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine in the Havana, Cuba harbor.

USS Maine three weeks before it sank in Havana harbor.
The USS Maine passing Morro Castle as she entered the harbor of Havana, Cuba 25 January 1898. Photo credit: US Naval History & Heritage Command photograph. Catalog#: NH 48619. 

Manned with a crew of 350 men, the Maine was a 393-foot-long battleship. It had been sent to Havana to protect Americans living there in the event that Cuba’s struggle for independence from Spain spun into a full-scale war. At 9:40 p.m. on Tuesday, February 15, 1898, there was an explosion and the ship sank. Only 84 crew members survived. It was quickly concluded that the ship had been hit by a Spanish torpedo or that it had hit a Spanish mine.

“Remember the Maine!” became the battle cry in the United States, and the US Congress declared war on Spain ten weeks later on April 25, 1898.

U.S. Navy diving crew with wreckage of USS Maine in 1898, from aft looking forward. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command photograph. Catalog#: NH 46774.

Fast forward to 1976

In 1976, U.S. Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover investigated the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine and concluded that the ship sank due to a probable coal bunker fire. That deflates the rallying cry, “Remember the Maine!” in a heartbeat.

Some historians have disputed Adm. Rickover’s conclusions, so we maybe haven’t heard the end of this story.

One has to wonder how differently the course of Cuban and American history would have gone if everyone had known at the time that the sinking of the U.S.S, Maine was a self-inflicted accident and not an act of war. The next time you read or hear, “Remember the Maine!” remember what can happen when a nation’s government jumps to the wrong conclusion.

How the US got Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines

The first battle of the Spanish-American War took place on May 1, 1898. The war lasted only several months, ending on August 12, 1898. Through the peace treaty, which was worked out in Paris the following December, Spain gave Cuba its independence and gave Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States. Let that sink in for a minute. What a turn of events!

When I was in school, we never studied the details of the Spanish-American War. Every year we studied U.S. history from colonial times through the Civil War. It was just through living, watching TV, and having an early interest in history that I absorbed through osmosis the stories of the Battle of Bunker Hill, and Teddy Roosevelt and “The Rough Riders.”

In other words, I couldn’t give you a definitive summary of the Spanish-American War. I couldn’t have told you that Puerto Rico, Guam, or the Philippines had anything to do with that war. If I ever knew they did, those facts were lost to me over time. It was only in researching “Remember the Maine!” for today’s blog post that I learned of those connections.

Through my interest in genealogy, I’ve just in recent years learned that one of my great-uncles fought in the Spanish-American War. This made me realize that it’s not ancient history. It makes me realize today that I should have known more about it. I’m not as far-removed from it as I thought.

In the big scheme of things, United States history covers but a tiny fraction of world history. So how is it that we do such a poor job of teaching our citizens U.S. history?

Since my last blog post

I was able to get my first Covid-19 vaccine shot on Saturday. I thought I’d have to wait until March, but some more appointments opened up in my county. It is encouraging to get that first shot. I got the Moderna shot. My arm is sore, but that’s the only side effect I’ve had.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m listening to Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania, by Erik Larson. Having it on CD from the public library was a blessing the 48 hours I had a sick headache last week and couldn’t stand any light. I highly recommend this nonfiction book. Mr. Larson has a talent for bringing history alive in his writing.

I hope you have time to enjoy a hobby or favorite pastime this week.

Note: Next Sunday, February 20, is World Storytelling Day. Are you a good storyteller?

Janet

Happy Birthday, Mark Twain!

Today marks the 185th anniversary of the birth of Samuel Longhorn Clemens, who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain.

Mark Twain has been a favorite author of mine since my first introduction to Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn in elementary school. I loved the humor. I loved the honesty. I loved the way he wrote like people talked. Decades later, those are still the things I love about his writing. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court is another favorite novel of his.

A selection of Mark Twain books

Years ago, I enjoyed how actor Hal Holbrook brought Mark Twain alive on the stage and TV. When vacationing in New York a few years ago, I enjoyed visiting Elmira, where Twain lived. There was a live portrayal of him there, which was excellent. I still have those memories and the plastic souvenir cup from my visit.

Perhaps even more than his novels, I like many of Mark Twain’s quotes. It was through his little snippets or sayings that his humor really came through. Here are a few of my favorites:

“It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

“A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.”

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything.”

“A person who won’t read has no advantage over the person who can’t read.”

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

“When your friends begin to flatter you on how young you look, it’s a sure sign you’re getting old.”

Since my last blog post

The Covid-19 pandemic has worsened here in the United States. I’m thankful for all the people who work in healthcare facilities and other essential workers who risk exposure to the virus every day so the rest of us can have the services we need. I’m fortunate that I can stay home most of the time.

I finished reading a splendid new historical novel by Vicki Lane. Get your hands on a copy of And the Crows Took Their Eyes. Don’t let the title scare you off, but be aware that the book is not about a pleasant subject. It is, however, masterfully written. It sheds light on a part of North Carolina history that has received too little attention in the history books. It brings to life the horrors of neighbors taking opposite sides in the American Civil War. I read it slowly and savored the writing. Look for more about this book in my blog post on December 7, 2020.

My sister and I had some productive time one day as we continued to proofread my manuscript for Harrisburg, Did You Know? Stay tuned for progress reports.

My root canal went well last Monday, and I was able to enjoy turkey, dressing, and gravy on Thanksgiving Day.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and a challenging one to write, if you’re a writer.

Be creative. Find what you’re passionate about and make time to do it. Find a way to make a living doing it. I wish I had.

Wear a mask.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Erie Canal Opened, 1817

This may be the most unlikely topic addressed yet on my blog. Reading that the Erie Canal opened on this date in 1817 triggered a childhood memory of mine, and perhaps it will do the same for you.

One of the memories I have from elementary school is our class singing a song called “Erie Canal.” If you aren’t familiar with this folk song, you can go to YouTube and listen to Bruce Springsteen singing it. Yes! The Boss! It’s just a fun song about a man and his “mule named Sal” and their “fifteen miles on the Erie Canal.” It has a catchy chorus that we children liked to animate when we sang it.

As a child in North Carolina, I didn’t understand the importance of the Erie Canal. The canal was hundreds of miles away in New York. I’d never been to New York, and I didn’t have much of a concept of it at the time.

If you’re like me, you don’t know the history of the Erie Canal. Never fear. Today’s blog post isn’t going to give a detailed history of the canal, but it will hit the high points. I learned some interesting things about its current use and wanted to share that with you. Some of my readers live in New York or used to, so you probably already know all this. Let me know if you find any glaring errors.

When the concept of the Erie Canal formed

As early 1768 there was talk in New York of connecting the Hudson River to Lake Erie via a canal. The American Revolution delayed any such project.

In 1792, the New York legislature chartered a company to start the canal, but financial problems stymied most of the 363-mile project.

Fast forward to 1817. A study revealed that the Erie Canal would cost nearly $5 million. It would include 77 locks to accommodate the 661-foot rise and fall of the land over that 363 miles.

Ground was broken on July 4, 1817, for the section between Rome and Utica. It wasn’t until that central New York section of the canal was completed in 1819 that the state legislature approved funding for the rest of the canal.

The state was expecting funds from the federal government to make the whole canal possible. President James Madison vetoed the Bonus Bill, which would have given New York funds for internal improvements, on March 3, 1817. With that source of money gone, investors were sought to make up the gap.

The completed Erie Canal opened on October 26, 1825 – 195 years ago today. It opened up commerce from Lake Ontario and Lake Erie to the Hudson River and, therefore, to the Atlantic Ocean. It did wonders for the New York economy until the advent of the railroad. The St. Lawrence Seaway’s creation in 1959 further decreased the commercial need for the canal.

Is the Erie Canal obsolete?

My next question was, “Is the Erie Canal obsolete?” That led me to dig a little deeper.

That’s when I learned that the Erie Canal is still in operation, but only in the warm months. For instance, https://www.cruisingodyssey.com reported the following in an article on May 19, 2020: “The New York State Canal Corporation just announced the schedule for reopening the locks on the historic – and much-travelled – Erie Canal and the system’s other canals in the state. The corporation said it planned to have most of the locks open by July 4, but some may not open until much later.”

That online article continues, “The locks had been scheduled to open on May 15, but maintenance and repair work was stopped a month earlier due to the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown. That work included seven locks on the Erie Canal and one of the Champlain Canal.”

How can you enjoy the Erie Canal?

I gather from the information gleaned from the Internet that it is primarily used in the summer months today (the months when the water isn’t frozen) by people who enjoy cruising in their boats.

The website https://www.nps.gov/erie/index.htm is a good source of information about the Erie Canal’s history as well as the opportunities for enjoyment offered today by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.

According to the May 19, 2020 report on https://www.niagara-gazette.com/, the Erie Canal bike tour was cancelled in 2020 but the annual ride is expected to return next July.

That led me to search for information about the Erie Canalway Bike Trail. A bike trail more than 350 miles long sounds wonderful! It goes from Buffalo to Albany, New York.

Photo source: Ryan Thorpe on Unsplash.com.

The website https://bikeeriecanal.com/ appears to be a good source of information for those of you who wish to add it to your “bucket list.”

Since my last blog post

My sister, Marie, is graciously helping me proofread my nonfiction book, Harrisburg, Did You Know? All 350 pages. I don’t even have to pay her!

I’m reading several books and taking notes for my November blog posts about them.

I’m counting the days until the 2020 political campaign ads disappear from our mail boxes, TV screens, phones, and all social media. Anyone with me on that?

Until my next blog post

I hope you have more good books to read than you can possibly read.

I hope you have satisfying creative time this week.

Continue to wear a mask and stay safe and well during this pandemic. For the sake of all of us, follow the science.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Yorktown, 1781

The American Revolution is akin to the story of David and Goliath. Who would have thought the 13 colonies on the edge of the American wilderness could defeat the most powerful country in the world?

Photo credit: James Giddins on Unsplash.com.

After a hard-fought war of more than five years, Great Britain had to admit defeat. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow 239 years ago today.

Although the British, under the command of Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis, won the Battle of Guilford Court House in North Carolina in March 1781, they suffered 25% casualties. Leaving Guilford County, Cornwallis led his beleaguered troops to Wilmington, NC to recover and regroup. While there, he decided to head for the coast of southeastern Virginia. Upon arriving there, Cornwallis established a base on the York River at Yorktown.

American General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia, to take his Continental Army troops and contain Cornwallis’ troops on the Yorktown Peninsula until Washington could get there from New York with additional troops.

Various American and French troops began to converge on the Yorktown Peninsula, some defeating British troops in engagements along the Chesapeake coast on their way from points north. By October 6, 1781, American and French forces were in place and ready to attack the British troops encamped at Yorktown and on ships there.

The siege of Yorktown began under the cover of darkness on the night of October 15, 1781. Cornwallis requested terms of surrender on October 17.

Photo credit: Jackson Simmer on Unsplash.com

On Friday afternoon, October 19, 1781, Lieutenant General Lord Charles Cornwallis led 7,000 British and Hessian troops down Hampton Road to Yorktown, Virginia to surrender to General George Washington, commander of the American and French troops.

Photo credit: Michael Barlow on Unsplash.com.

The peace treaty officially ending the war and recognizing American independence would be nearly two more years in coming, but the war was over and the difficult work of establishing the United States of America as a free and independent nation could begin.

Since my last blog post

My writing was derailed by a computer issue that lasted five days. Proofreading Harrisburg, Did You Know? was not quite 25% complete when all my documents and email disappeared. I’m trying to learn not to panic when such things happen. I know everything is backed up somewhere. Proofreading the manuscript for the e-book will pick by up today. I have one more photograph to track down for the book, and I haven’t done the cover yet. I’ll keep you posted.

On a happy note, I voted last week. What a privilege! 

Until my next blog post

I hope you have at least one good book to read for pleasure.

No matter what your vocation or hobby, I hope you have a productive week.

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to worsen in many parts of the world and the flu season has started here in North Carolina. Please wear a mask out of respect for other people, and please take all possible precautions to avoid catching the virus and passing it on to others. We’re all in this together!

Janet