Where do you stand on cursive writing?

As promised last week, today my blog is about the third book I read in March. It’s about the history of handwriting and the debate over whether children today should be taught cursive writing. I say, “Yes!” and I’ll explain why later.

Photo credit: Aaron Burden on unsplash.com

The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek

“Put your John Hancock here.” How many times have we of a certain age heard that? We, of course, immediately know that is a euphemism for our signature. But does a child of the 21st century know that? I understand that children today don’t have a clue what “clockwise” or “counterclockwise” mean. Yikes!

I discovered The History and Uncertain Future of Handwriting, by Anne Trubek while looking for a different book. I found this 154-page book fascinating and thought-provoking.

Trubek meticulously takes the reader on a journey through history. She shares facts about cuneiform and hieroglyphics. (Did you know that most cuneiform clay tablets can fit in your hand? In photographs, they look huge.) She explains how tedious and time-consuming it was for Sumerians to learn how to write and the hours people in ancient oral-based civilizations spent on memorization.

Egyptians invented writing on papyrus. When the Greeks adopted that practice, though, their papyrus was inferior and their scrolls were smaller. (Did you know that the size of ancient Greek scrolls has a bearing on literature today? For instance, the size of a scroll dictated the length of a play. Who knew?)

Socrates was anti-writing. He maintained that if people learned how to write, they’d lose their skill for remembering the spoken word. There’s probably some truth to that.

People in oral civilizations couldn’t look things up like we can today, so they developed elaborate mnemonics and also used additive structure (and… and… and) to help them remember important things. An example of this can be found in the Book of Genesis in The Bible: “In the beginning God created… and… and….”

It was the Romans who stopped using papyrus and started using parchment. Parchment made it easier to make books. Trubek says that bookstores had been established in Rome by the first century B.C.E. Take a moment to visualize that. It makes me smile.

Trubek talks about the development of the various scripts and the high-esteem held for scribes back in the day. She points out that the invention of the printing press put scribes out of business; however, the ones with good penmanship reinvented themselves and traveled around offering handwriting schools.

I’ve spent a lot of time reading handwritten documents from the 1700s and 1800s. I admire the elaborate and visually beautiful handwriting of the 1800s; however, it is sometimes difficult to decipher. One of the most interesting parts of Trubek’s book was about the evolution of handwriting in America in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Although I’ve admired the lovely handwriting of the 1800s, I’d never researched why and how it was replaced with our contemporary handwriting.

Briefly, Platt Rogers Spencer developed that flowing, fancy script we associate with the 1800s. (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, think about the Coca-Cola logo. That’s an example of Spencerian script.) Spencer proclaimed that having good penmanship was a sign that you were a Christian, educated, and a proper person. His students were advised to practice their penmanship six to twelve hours a day. (I’m sorry, Mr. Spencer, but life’s too short!)

Part of a page from my great-grandfather’s 1912 daybook

I’m reminded that in my great-grandfather’s daybooks from the 1890s and first decade of the 1900s, he occasionally mentioned that his children or grandchildren had gone to writing school that evening. That writing school was conducted at night in the Pine Hill one-room schoolhouse in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. Notice the curly-ques Great-Grandpa made in his capital F and capital W. Also, he randomly capitalized words. I learned from Trubek’s book that such practice was part of the Spencerian script.

A.N. Palmer came along and made modifications to Spencerian script after he went to work for the Iowa Railroad and saw how time-consuming it was for the employees to record all the details required by industrialization. He removed all the curly-ques required by Spencerian script and made handwriting much easier after 1920.

Trubek’s book also covers such things as the collecting of autographs, which started in the mid-1800s, and graphology, which was started by a French priest in the 1800s.

The science of analyzing handwriting for evidentiary purposes in a court of law has had to evolve over the years. One used to be able to use the force one’s fingers used to press typewriter keys to prove who typed a document. The wear and tear on the parts of a typewriter could prove on which typewriter a document was created.

Photo credit: Csabi Elter

Consider that for a moment. I’m showing my age, but I learned to type on a manual typewriter. Now, the justice system is faced with determining the true identity of a person who electronically “signs” his or her name. How things have changed in the last 50 years!

When I think about handwriting and how people rarely hand write letters today, it makes me sad. Last year, my sister and I assisted a 97-year-old friend who wanted to preserve the letters he and his wife wrote to one another during the Korean War. What a treasure those letters are! We organized the letters in chronological order and placed them in archival binders. Hopefully, some of his descendants will see the value in those letters. When people go off to war now, they can telephone and text their loved ones. Few of those communications are saved for posterity.

In her book, Trubek points out that if a child isn’t taught cursive writing by the fourth grade, an important window of opportunity will close. She says that it is by that age that a typical child needs to master cursive in order for him or her to achieve cognitive automaticity.

Photo credit: Kelly Sikkema

Trubeck says if cursive isn’t mastered by then, the child will continue to struggle with handwriting. It will forever be a skill the person has trouble with because they didn’t learn it early enough for it to become something they can do without thinking about it. She says the “up” side of this is that this child might be able to type faster than someone who is better at handwriting.

To that, I would say it’s a big price to pay. This person might be able to get a higher-paying job later on, but what if he or she grows up and wants to do historical research for pay or for fun?

Photo credit: Alessio Fiorentino

Not being able to read handwritten primary sources will definitely be a drawback. There’s no substitute for primary sources in historical or genealogical research. In my own genealogical research I’ve found many instances where names in census and other records have been misread when they’ve been converted to typed records. When the typed copies are taken for fact, misinformation is perpetuated.

In the arena of the debate over teaching cursive or not, I still come down on the side of teaching it for the very reason I just gave.

Do you think children should be taught cursive?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this and why you come down on one side or the other. Or, perhaps you don’t have an opinion.

For my readers in other English-speaking countries

Is there a debate about continuing to teach children cursive writing in other English-speaking countries aside from the United States?

Since my last blog post

I borrowed another book about handwriting from the public library. Power Penmanship: An Illustrated Guide to Enhancing Your Image Through the Art of Handwriting Style, by Janet Ernst, helped me address several (well, actually, six letters I’d gotten a bit sloppy in writing.)

I blame taking shorthand in high school for ruining my handwriting. Since that was 50 years ago, I decided it was time to stop making excuses and start making corrections. After spending just 10 minutes a day for six consecutive days, I was able to see some improvement. I think we never get too old to try to improve something about ourselves.

After much brainstorming about the opening scenes in the historical novel I’m writing, The Heirloom (working title), I have started working on a new plot angle. I’d hoped to switch gears from brainstorming to rewriting those opening scenes last week, but my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (known as Myalgic Encephalomyelitis in the UK) relapse continued to drastically limit my work. When my energy level is this low, it’s tempting to stop trying to write; however, I was feeling a little better by the time the weekend rolled around. I’m back to work on The Heirloom as of Saturday. My journey as a writer surely is bumpy!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have the energy to do all the things you need or want to do.

Remember the people of Ukraine.

Janet

How much do you value your public library?

When I planned today’s topic, the war had not begun in Ukraine. When I wrote the rough draft, the people of Ukraine were not fleeing for their lives. What has happened in the last month put the topic of public libraries in a whole new light.

Kyiv, Ukraine before mid-February 2022. Photo credit: hristo sahatchiev on unsplash.com

National Public Radio (NPR) here in the United States reported this week that libraries in Ukraine are doing what libraries do. Just as historic statues are being sand-bagged and stained-glass windows in 13th century churches are being covered in metal shields, the library staffs and volunteers are working around the clock to save what they can. Irreplaceable library items and collections are being taken to other countries for safe keeping.

According to this NPR report, https://www.npr.org/2022/03/09/1085220209/ukraine-libraries-bomb-shelters, libraries there are offering classes on making camouflage and are serving as bomb shelters. It’s what libraries do when push comes to shove.

I can’t image living in such a situation as the Ukrainians are dealing with. A couple of months ago, they were working, playing, going to school, eating in restaurants, going shopping, and enjoying the benefits of libraries. Today they are fighting for their very lives and the survival of their democracy.

Lviv, Ukraine. Photo credit: Nataliia Kvitovska on unsplash.com

My library experience

It’s odd how some months I read quite a few books and some months I read only one or two. I couldn’t afford to purchase most of those books, so how did a I manage to read so much?

I have two free public library systems to thank for all of them. Before you say, “Public libraries aren’t free; I pay for those libraries and their books with my tax dollars,” I agree; however, regardless of your tax status or how much or how little you pay in taxes, you can use those libraries.

Harrisburg Branch of Cabarrus County Public Library System

In the big scheme of things, only a few of your tax dollars are earmarked for public libraries. When you want or need to use the vast resources of your public library, it doesn’t cost you one cent.

I have access to the public library system in the county in which I live. A few years ago, my sister and I paid $100 to have lifetime household access to the library system in the adjacent county in which we used to live. It’s the best $100 we ever spent. Some adjacent counties have reciprocal agreements. You might want to check into that.

If you despair of paying local property tax, just pretend that all your tax dollars go to support the public libraries in your city or county. When local government funds get tight, the library system is usually the first service to bite the dust.

We saw library hours drastically cut during The Great Recession, and it took longer for operations to get back to normal than it did for the doors to be locked almost overnight.

In my county, at least, each branch manager can tell you how many people come through the doors and how many books are checked out every month. The director of the public library system uses those statistics every May and June to prove to the county commissioners how important the library system is. The more the commissioners know how much the system is being used, the harder it will be for them to cut library budgets.

A library card is free. All you need is proof of residency to get one. The public library has computers for the public to use, newspapers for you to read, books in various formats for you to check out, magazines for you to read on-site and sometimes to check out, and music CDs for you to borrow.

Most public library branches offer programs for adults and children and classes you can take. For instance, a few years ago I took a free course about Excel at my local library. The library is also a good, safe, public place for your child to meet with a tutor.

I borrow e-books, borrow books on CD, download books on MP3, borrow large print books, and regular print books. I borrow past issues of magazines. I borrow music CDs. I attend programs and get to hear authors speak (or did before the pandemic.) There are reference books I can use on site. I can do research and read microfilmed records in the local history/genealogy room.

If your hobby is genealogy, but you prefer not to pay for a subscription to a service such as Ancestry.com, inquire about it at your local public library. The one in my town has an Ancestry.com membership that’s free to the public. Through it, you can access all US Census records that have been released as public information.

If you aren’t taking advantage of your local public library, please remedy that immediately! While you’re there, see if it has a copy of my book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, on the shelf. If it doesn’t, ask if it can be added to the collection. Did you know you can do that? You can inquire in person at your local branch or you can probably submit a request through your library’s website. There are no guarantees, but such requests will be given consideration by the library system’s administrators.

Free public libraries help to “level the playing field.” We need more of that in this time when the gap between “the haves” and “the have nots” seems to be widening.

Where else can you get all that and more?

Never, never, never take public libraries for granted!

Since my last blog post

Do you ever have one of those weeks when you feel like you were busy but when Friday rolls around you can’t remember anything you accomplished? That sounds like me last Friday when I sat down to type this paragraph.

I didn’t work on my novel like I should have or planned to do, but I made a lot of progress on the old graveyard photography project I mentioned in last Monday’s blog post.

I’ve also been taking pictures of items my sister and I have that belonged to our parents or grandparents. We’re adding them to a photo album we’ve dedicated to such items in which we write the history of each item so future generations that end up with them will know where they came from. It will be up to future generations to decide what to keep and what to discard, but at least they’ll know why each item held importance to us.

I also did some cross-stitching and college basketball watching. After all, it was the first week of “March Madness” in the United States.

Until my next blog post

Keep checking out library books! I hope you have a good one to read this week.

Find time for a hobby.

Read newspapers, listen to NPR, and watch reputable news broadcasts on TV. Don’t shy away from watching the news because “it’s all bad” or you “don’t want to see that.” You owe it to yourself and your fellow residents of your country and this world to keep up with current events.

I cringe every time someone tells me they don’t watch the news – like someone did last week. Just because you choose not to be aware of what’s happening doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

Janet

Using ALL your senses in your writing

One of my favorite quotes about writing is this one from Russian playwright and short story writer, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

I included that quote when I touched on the topic of writing all the senses in my February 14, 2022, blog post, Can Movies Help You Write? Today I’m going a bit deeper into the subject.

As an aspiring novelist, I have a lot to learn. To try to remember all the things a scene needs to include can be overwhelming. It’s not enough to stay in the head of your point-of-view character at all times. It’s not enough to be cognizant of pacing. It’s not enough to remember to throw in a red herring once in a while or to vary the length of your sentences and paragraphs. It’s not enough to include all characters’ body language (but only what the point-of-view character notices.) A writer must also remember to include what the point-of-view character sees, hears, smells, tastes, and touches.

In addition, a writer today is told to keep in mind that today’s reader has a short attention span. If that’s true, I probably lost most of my audience midway through the previous paragraph.

For those of you still reading this blog post, I’ll continue. I say all this (1) to make fiction readers appreciate some of the work it takes to write a novel you’ll enjoy; and (2) to lead up to a recommended blog series you might benefit from if you’re studying the art and craft of writing.

In 2020, Joan Hall wrote a series of blog posts about using all the senses, including the 6th Sense, in your writing. Here are the links to Ms. Hall’s six blog posts about the senses:

Sight: Photo Credit: Davidson Luna on Unsplash.com

Post number one in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/02/14/using-the-five-senses-sight/.


Smell: Photo Credit: Motunrayo Babtunde on Unsplash.com

Post number two in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/02/26/using-the-five-senses-smell/.

Taste: Photo Credit: Engin Akyurt on Unsplash.com

Post number three in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/03/11/using-the-five-senses-taste/.

Sound: Photo Credit: Marcus Woodbridge on Unsplash.com

Post number four in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/03/27/using-the-five-senses-sound/.

Touch: Photo Credit: Jocelyn Morales on Unsplash.com

Post number five in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/using-the-five-senses-touch/.

I couldn’t find a photo to represent the Sixth Sense in the way I wanted to here, so use your own imagination for the sense of knowing in advance that something is going to happen. Have you experienced it? I have, and it can be unsettling.

Post number six in Joan Hall’s Story Empire blog series about the senses: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/04/29/the-sixth-sense/.

I might be accused of cheating here by giving you the links to Joan Hall’s blog posts about writing the senses, but she’s far more experienced in writing and more knowledgeable of the subject than I.

The Internet has made it possible for writers to learn from others in ways that weren’t possible before the 1990s. It gives us a marvelous platform on which to share ideas and give each other feedback. I’ve learned a great deal from writers like Joan Hall through blog posts and online articles.

I hope you find Joan Hall’s blog series helpful if, like me, you’re learning to write. I started to say, “write fiction,” but creative nonfiction also entails using all the senses.

I felt vindicated when I read Ms. Hall’s article about the sixth sense, for I was already using it in my The Doubloon novel manuscript. I was pleased that I thought to do that before being told that I should consider it.


Since my last blog post

I took a short break from writing last week to work on a project I started 20 years ago for my church. It involves taking photographs of the grave markers in four of the church’s cemeteries. When a congregation has a 271-years history, it can end up with multiple cemeteries on the different sides of various creeks.

Old Rocky River Graveyard, October 2021

Digital photography allows me to read the inscription on many of the markers that cannot be read in person due to the ravages of time. March and October are the best months to take pictures in these rural cemeteries due to the angle of the sunlight and the number of large trees that surround and have grown up inside them. I’m taking advantage of the month of March to get back to a project I’ve neglected for a few years.

My project might sound morbid to some of you, but I don’t see it like that at all. Some of my immigrant ancestors are buried in each of the four cemeteries, so I feel like I’m honoring them in a small way by making a permanent record of the inscriptions on their grave markers.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read — one that you can’t wait to get back to.

If you’re writing, painting, or endeavoring to do anything creative, I hope you produce some rewarding and satisfying work this week.

Stay safe and well. Please come back next week to see what my next blog post is about.

By the way, on Wednesday, pause to consider that it’s National Book Smuggler Day in Lithuania. Here’s the scoop:

In 1864, Russian authorities outlawed the printing of books using the Latin alphabet in Lithuania and tried to force the Cyrillic alphabet on Lithuanian speakers. A newspaperman, Jurgis Bielinis, created an underground network to get Lithuanian books smuggled into the country. Some who were caught were banished to Siberia or shot in the head. The ban lasted until 1904 but is still remembered on March 16, which is the date of Bielinis’ birth. You can find more about this online. It’s an inspiring bit of history I wasn’t aware of until recently.

There are two lessons we can learn from this: (1) The Russian government never stops being Russia; and (2) Regardless of what a book contains, it’s never a good idea to withhold access to it, for book banning and the banning of knowledge never have positive results.

May the free world continue to support the people of Ukraine.

Janet

Three Books Read in February 2022

If you’ve been following my blog lately, you know February was not an easy month for me. Various events cut into my reading time, but today I’m writing about the books I read during that short month of 28 days. They represent three different genres. That’s appropriate because my reading interests are all over the place.


Violeta, by Isabel Allende

Violeta, by Isabel Allende

Isabel Allende is becoming one of my favorite novelists. I listened to her latest novels, Violeta, on CD and thoroughly enjoyed it. I listened to the English translation of the Spanish original.

Violeta is written in the form of a letter to Violeta’s adult grandson and follows Violeta from her birth in 1920 during the Influenza Pandemic to the end of her life during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Born into a wealthy family, her father loses everything in the Great Depression which hits South America a little later than in the United States and Europe. The family loses their house and must move out into the hinterlands where they must adapt to life without luxuries such as electricity.

Woven into this story is a character who comes into Violeta’s life at an early age to serve as her English governess; however, it turns out the woman isn’t from England and isn’t at all what Violeta’s parents are expecting.

This is a delightful novel. Violeta would be a good Isabel Allende book for you to start with, if you’ve never read one of her novels. If you’ve read her other books, you know what a treat this one will be.


Our North Carolina Heritage, compiled by Charlotte Ivey Hastings, 1960

This book is well off the beaten path and one you probably can’t find. Just by happenstance, I purchased a copy dirt cheap at a public library used book sale several years ago. I added it to my to-be-read shelves and forgot about it.

I saw it on my bookshelf in February and decided to read it. It isn’t a history book that one can totally rely on for accuracy because it is a compilation of oral history stories. Many of them were written by junior high students.

However… (and that’s a huge HOWEVER), I found lots of little gems of North Carolina history in it that I’ve never seen or heard elsewhere. They are the bits of history that never made it into the history books but offer someone like me a jumping off point to do additional research.

One thing I was particularly glad to find was that the book gave information about a number of women and their bravery and contributions to the patriot cause in the American Revolution. Women have generally been omitted from the history books.

Here’s an example of something I don’t recall hearing or reading elsewhere: By the end of the 18th century, Jewish peddlers in North Carolina traded for eggs since they couldn’t easily come by Kosher meat.

The book reminds me of the series of local history books compiled in the 1960s by Mrs. Mabel Rumple Blume’s North Carolina history students at Harrisburg School in Harrisburg, NC. Every year for five or so years, Mrs. Blume’s students were sent out into the then rural Cabarrus County to interview the oldest residents to capture local history. The students won statewide first-place honors year after year for their books which covered general history, mail delivery and post offices, and grist mills. Much of that history would have been lost forever if not for Mrs. Blume and her students.

With that work in mind, I very much appreciated the contents of Our North Carolina Heritage. It made me sad that the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Public Library system had made the decision several years ago to weed the book from its collection and sell it for pennies. Sometimes people are put in positions of decision-making who don’t appreciate the true value of what they have.


The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, by Steven Pressfield

This nonfiction book was recommended by Jane Friedman in her January 11, 2022 article, “To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do.” Here’s the link: (To Everyone Who Wants Me to Read Their Writing and Tell Them What to Do | Jane Friedman Ms. Friedman has never steered me wrong, so I checked it out of the public library.

The book is divided into the following three parts: “Resistance ~ Defining the Enemy;” “Combating Resistance ~ Turning Pro;” and “Beyond Resistance ~ The Higher Realm.”

Part One explains that, “Resistance is the enemy within” when we attempt to do something worthwhile. Mr. Pressfield wrote that the rule of thumb for resistance is, “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.” We fear that inner resistance, but once we “Master that fear… we conquer resistance.”

Mr. Pressfield wrote that resistance is often manifested in the form of procrastination, which can become a habit.

In Part Two, Mr. Pressfield wrote that an artist must stop thinking of himself as an amateur and start seeing himself as a professional. He wrote, “A professional does not take failure (or success) personally.”

He also wrote, “A professional recognizes her limitations. She gets an agent, she gets a lawyer, she gets an accountant. She knows she can only be a professional at one thing.”

In Part Three, Mr. Pressfield wrote that we just do it. We do it every day. It’s work, and we do it. He also cautions artists from thinking of themselves in a hierarchy. In other words, art of all types is not a competition.


Since my last blog post

Every day has brought horrifying images of the suffering and destruction in Ukraine.

I’m disappointed that I didn’t receive an acknowledgement for some research advice I sought for the writing of my novel, but I won’t let that slow me down any longer. That’s life.

I got back to work on a project that relates to my church. I started it 20 years ago and it’s been on the back burner now for 15 years. I’ve been inventorying my unfinished projects lately. It’s overwhelming. I need to complete some, even if doing so cuts into my writing and reading time.


Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read. I’m reading an interesting book about 1816 – known as “The Year Without a Summer.”

May the world continue to condemn Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Janet

#OnThisDay: Explosion Aboard Steamship, 1844

Sometimes it angers me that the history classes I sat through as a child and teen didn’t include little bits of information like I’m sharing with you today. Instead of memorizing names of general and battles and dates, how much more interesting class would have been if we’d been told stories like this one.

Knowing this story could have served as an example to students of how history can turn on a dime. I’d like to think students learned that last week when Russia invaded Ukraine without provocation.

The incident I write about today brings to mind the following for each of us to think about: If not for ___(you fill in the blank)____, then ___(you fill in the blank)____ wouldn’t have happened OR would have happened.

The 1840s USS Princeton

I don’t recall ever hearing about the USS Princeton until recently, and I wouldn’t have heard of it then if I hadn’t been looking for a topic for #OnThisDay for my blog.

There have been a series of US Naval vessels christened with the name USS Princeton. The one I write about today, as you can see from my blog post title, was the one built in the early 1840s. It was a state-of-the-art warship powered by coal-produced steam. It was built in Philadelphia and was best-known for its two 12-inch cannons/carronades, called “The Oregon” and “The Peacemaker.”

“The Oregon” was of revolutionary design, made of wrought iron, and manufactured in England. It was designed by John Ericsson, a Swede who later designed the Monitor of American Civil War fame.

“The Peacemaker” was manufactured in New York under the partial supervision of Captain Robert Stockton, a political supporter of US President John Tyler. It’s thought that it was believed and claimed to be comparable to “The Oregon,” but there were design differences and short cuts were taken in The Peacemaker’s testing. This was a recipe for disaster, and that’s what happened on the Potomac River on February 28, 1844.

Let’s set the stage

The state of politics in the United States in 1844 contributed to the inevitable disaster. William Henry Harrison was elected US President in 1840, but he died in 1841 only a month after his inauguration. John Tyler being the US Vice President, assumed the office of President. It was the first time in American history that a president died in office and was replaced by the vice president. Tyler had been a Democrat, but he was elected as a Whig. Soon after he assumed office, he openly disagreed with the Whig Party over economic policy, and the Whigs kicked him out of the party. The Democrats didn’t want him back, so he became a US President without a political party.

Tyler wanted to be reelected President in the 1844 election. He thought by running on a promise to annex the Republic of Texas into the United States would win him the election. Mexico and Great Britain opposed the idea.

To ward off foreign opposition to that annexation, Tyler ordered the construction of the USS Princeton. Most warships in the world at that time were sailing ships or steamships with fuel limitations. The USS Princeton was designed with a collapsible smokestack, allowing it to also navigate as a sailing ship. A hybrid in the 1840s! It’s engine and propeller system were below the water line, making it less vulnerable to enemy attack than ships propelled by paddlewheel.

Back on the scene to partially supervised the construction of the warship, Captain Stockton bragged about the ship’s prowess, calling it “invincible.” He thought by bringing the ship to Washington, DC and entertaining politicians, he’d get the money to build more ships.

What happened on February 28, 1844

An afternoon excursion from Washington, DC on the Potomac River was planned for February 28, 1844. President Tyler (who had no Vice-President), members of Congress along with their wives, and some Cabinet members were wined and dined on the ship and were scheduled to witness the fire power of the ship during three demonstrations.

It was Stockton’s decision to fire “The Peacemaker” for all three demonstrations. After two successful firings, a third was launched in honor of George Washington. On that third firing, “The Peacemaker” exploded, sending its parts – some weighing in excess of a ton – flying across the deck. Eight people were killed and more than two dozen were injured.

Secretary of State Abel Upshur and Secretary of the Navy Thomas Gilmer were killed. If President Tyler had not been unexpectedly detained on the stairs below deck, he undoubtedly would have been standing with them.

The hole in the US Constitution

What happened in US Presidential succession in the 1840s should have been remedied posthaste. It was the first time a Vice President had to step up and into the Presidency due to the death of a President; however, we know from history it was not the last time.

It would be 1967, four years after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, before the Twenty-Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution would provide a process through which a Vice President would be replaced in the event of the vacancy of that office.

If President Tyler had been killed in the explosion on the Princeton, the president pro tem of the US Senate, Willie Mangum – a North Carolinian who had been one of the founders of the Whig Party – would have become US President. Among other things, Mangum was an avowed opponent of the annexation of the Republic of Texas.

This fact alone brings us back to the fill-in-the-blanks line from the third paragraph of this blog post: If not for ___(you fill in the blank)____, then ___(you fill in the blank)____ wouldn’t have happened OR would have happened.

If you’d like to learn more

If you want to learn more about the USS Princeton of 1844, I recommend https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/181834, by Stan Haynes, published on November 21, 2021. Also, https://military-history.fandom.com/wiki/USS_Princeton_(1843). I drew information from both of these online resources which include more detail than I shared in my post today. In addition, I understand that Stan Haynes has written a historical novel, And Tyler No More, which includes this tragic incident.

Since my last blog post

Our world has changed forever. NATO is being tested like no other time since its inception. No one knows what the future holds for Ukraine, Europe, and the rest of the world. I believe in His perfect wisdom, God doesn’t allow us to know the future.

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read and time for a creative outlet.

It’s been an unsettling week in our world since last Monday, to say the least. No one knows what this week holds. My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine who are suffering so. May the world continue to condemn Vladimir Putin for his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

Janet