When the United States was a baby nation, it had lots of wheel-busting wagon trails, but hardly any highways. Traveling was difficult—unless water was nearby. Then you could FLOAT yourself and your stuff to market. Rivers don't always flow where you want to go, so Americans did what ancient Egyptians and medieval Chinese and Europeans had done. They built CANALS, the BIG idea in America in the early 1800s, and none was more important than the famous Erie Canal.
On July 4, 1817, at tiny Rome, NY, the digging began. In the next eight years, thousands of men sweated, clearing woods, and digging miles of ditch, four feet deep, 40 feet wide! They built up a TOWPATH beside it for the animals, who'd pull the boats along, when the ditch was full of water. Inventive engineers built 83 LOCKS, too, in which the water moved up or down over the land, and 18 AQUEDUCTS (bridges to carry water over deep valleys).
Finally, early on October 26, 1825, at Buffalo, NY, a cannon BOOMED! Trumpets tootled! New York Governor DeWitt Clinton and his guests stepped onto their packet (or passenger) boat. A team of horses tossed their heads, eager to start. More horse-drawn packets waited to join the parade. Off they'd go, four smooth miles per hour, to Albany, seven days and 363 miles away, on the very first ride on the completed canal, the longest in the world.
People atop the flat-topped packets waved at the folks on the land. They watched out for low bridges—or else: splash! From Albany, the canal boats (minus the horses!) glided down the Hudson River, past dark hills sparkling with bonfires.
Bells rang and flags fluttered that November 4, 1825, as the packets passed Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Staten Island. Then Governor Clinton emptied a keg of Lake Erie water into the harbor. Why? To show that the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean were connected and that Americans were connected to the world. In the next decades they'd build miles of canals— until their next BIG idea came chugging down the railroad track.
The wedding of the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean waters
Boats were pulled by horses walking along a towpath beside the canal.
Here's a treat for you. Cheryl Harness is not only an author, but she is also an illustrator. This is a spread from her book "The Amazing Impossible Erie Canal."
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Roads Made of Water." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/roads-made-of-water.
On a night in 1768, a meteor streaked across the skies over a Shawnee village in western Ohio so Chief Puckshinwau named his new little son Tecumseh or “Shooting Star.” He hoped his boy would grow up as he had, farming and hunting along with the other Native tribes in the wild Ohio River Valley. But how troubling it was, those white people from the east, who kept arriving, always wanting more of the beautiful land! Tecumseh was six when one of them killed his father in 1774, the year before the Revolutionary War began.
Throughout the war, British, American, and Native warriors attacked one another in the vast frontier that lay west of the white folks’ towns. At age 12, Tecumseh saw white soldiers burn his village and his people’s crops. After the Americans won their independence, in 1783, they were even more determined to win the West and settle there. To Tecumseh, the Native peoples were up against an all-out invasion! As a young chief, he led fierce raids on white settlements, earning a reputation as a brilliant commander. As a charismatic leader, he traveled up to Canada and down to the Gulf of Mexico, urging the tribes to UNITE, fight, and sign no treaties at the cost of losing their land.
“Let us form one body, one heart,” Tecumseh cried, “and defend to the last warrior our country, our homes, our liberty, and the graves of our fathers.”
As Tecumseh’s message spread among the tribes, along with word of his younger brother’s strong spiritual visions, a religious, political movement surged through Native America. Warriors gathered at the brothers’ settlement by Indiana’s Tippecanoe River. And then, when Tecumseh was away, in November 1811, U.S. soldiers surrounded it. They defeated the Indians in the fateful “Battle of Tippecanoe.”
Tecumseh did not give up. He and warriors from 32 tribes fought on. The British weren’t grabbing tribal lands so the Natives sided with them against the United States in the War of 1812. Valiant Tecumseh led armies and flotillas of canoes against U.S. forces up until an enemy bullet ended his life on October 5, 1813. It marked the end of Tecumseh’s alliance, but the legendary Shooting Star still burns brightly in the skies of memory.
Daniel Boone's story is every young adventurer's fantasy: A childhood in Pennsylvania spent hunting on lands shared with Native Americans; a coming-of-age fighting in the French and Indian War; and the fulfillment of a life's dream with the blazing of the Wilderness Road across the Appalachian Mountains and the settling of Boonesborough in Kentucky. Add to this the rescue of his daughter from Shawnee warriors, and readers are quickly in the thick of another irresistible Cheryl Harness History. For more information on The Trailblazing Life of Daniel Boone, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Tecumseh, the 'Shooting Star.'" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 7 May 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
It was December 24, 1801, when bundled-up Philadelphians bought their 25¢ tickets and entered Peale’s Museum on Fifth Street. Once inside, they saw the owner’s paintings. And I’ll bet you have too—even if you’ve never heard of Charles Willson Peale. This one, for instance, of his fellow Revolutionary War soldier:
Visitors to the museum had seen Peale’s collections of butterflies, too, and other nature specimens, such as the fossilized teeth of mysterious beasts. (Who knew then that animals went extinct? Hardly anybody!) But on this extra-special Christmas Eve, people probably hurried past Peale’s handmade dioramas, with the lifelike bodies of birds and mammals that he’d stuffed and posed. Today, Mr. C.W. Peale himself was introducing his NEW ATTRACTION. People had paid an extra 50¢ just to see it! Now they looked up, up, UP at it, and were astonished.
What animal’s skeleton was eleven feet tall? Seventeen and a half feet from its bony tail to the tips of its giant, curving tusks? It was a mastodon.
No one had seen a live mastodon in more than ten thousand years. So how did one’s bones get to Philadelphia? Mr. Peale and other naturalists such as Thomas Jefferson, the new President-elect, wrote to one another about their studies, collections, and the latest discoveries, such as like these huge, mysterious bones in southern New York state. Some of North America’s long-gone mastodons ended up there, by the Hudson River. As soon as he heard about them, Peale hurried to see them. Then he not only figured a way to dig up the bones, but he also painted a picture of the huge excavation!
Peale’s son, Rembrandt helped to draw and assemble the bones:
For years, people paid to marvel at the enormous, sensational skeleton. Later on, after Mr. Peale’s death in 1827, his museum slowly went broke. P.T. Barnum, the circus showman, bought a lot of his exhibits. Later still, they were destroyed in a fire. And the mighty bones of the mastodon wound up lost for a hundred years, until the skeleton turned up in Germany, where you can see it today.
In Thomas Jefferson, her sixth presidential biography for National Geographic, Cheryl Harness illuminates the many sides of Thomas Jefferson: scientist, lawyer, farmer, architect, diplomat, inventor, musician, philosopher, author of the Declaration of Independence, founder of the University of Virginia, and third president of the United States. Readers meet this extraordinary man of contradictions: a genius who proclaimed that "All men are created equal" and championed the rights of "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness," while at the same time living a life that depended on the enforced labor of slaves.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Big Deal in Mr. Peale's Museum." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 18 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Since 1775, Americans in the 13 British Colonies had been fighting to free themselves from mighty Great Britain. The French didn’t care for the British, having had their own wars with them, so many a Frenchman came to help the Americans. One was a teenaged aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette. He so admired America’s revolutionary ideals of liberty and democracy that he sailed there in 1777 to offer his money and services to his idol, General George Washington. By 1781, General Lafayette was leading French and American troops, battling the British in Virginia. Now a fellow there named James Armistead joined the fight, once he got his master’s permission. After all, Armistead was an enslaved African American.
What did he do? He hung around the British, finding out what they were up to – dangerous work! Then Armistead, patriot spy, took his info to General Lafayette, who used it to help beat the British at Yorktown in October 1781, which, in turn, led to the United States’ victory in the Revolutionary War.
The Marquis went back to France. Armistead went back to work for his master. Though he’d helped win America’s independence, he did not win his. When Lafayette made a return visit in 1784, he was outraged to find his fellow veteran still enslaved! The Marquis saw to it that Armistead was freed and the former slave showed his gratitude by changing his name to James Armistead Lafayette.
But this isn’t how the story ends. Forty years later, the Americans invited the Marquis to come for a visit. He’d grown old. He’d suffered in prison during France’s own revolution in the 1790s. How splendid it was, visiting the United States— all 24 of them! Oh, the parties and banquets the Americans had for their old friend! But one of the happiest moments of all was in early 1825. The old aristocrat was riding in a parade through Richmond, Virginia, when he spotted a white-haired black gentleman in the crowd. The Marquis reined in his horse, dismounted, and went to greet James Armistead Lafayette. And the two old heroes of the American Revolution flung their arms around one another.
Cheryl Harness uses her wonderfully vibrant art and down-to-earth writing style to present George the adventurous boy, tromping through the woods with his dog and his hunting rifle; George the courageous military leader fighting alongside his men; George the cunning military strategist, outfoxing the British and forcing their surrender at Yorktown; George the brilliant statesman presiding over the Constitutional Convention; and George the President, wisely protecting our country from enemies foreign and domestic so it could grow strong. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Aristocrat and the Spy." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 10 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
You’ve probably shivered over the tale of the headless horseman chasing Ichabod Crane through dark Sleepy Hollow. Maybe you’ve heard about Rip Van Winkle, falling asleep only to awaken twenty years later in a world all changed. You might even know that Washington Irving wrote those stories. But did you know that, when he was six, he shook hands with President George Washington? Well, he did, in 1789, in New York City, then the U.S. capital.
Did you know that young Mr. Irving traveled through Europe when Napoleon Bonaparte was Emperor of France? Well, he did, around 1805. And Irving survived an attack by pirates in the Mediterranean Sea!
And who originated the New York Knicks’ name? Washington Irving! His invented author, “Diedrich Knickerbocker,” wrote Irving’s history of New York, published in 1809. So New Yorkers and even their 1849 baseball team were called “Knickerbockers” or “Knicks.” In that history, Irving told about a stout, jolly St. Nicholas (patron saint of New York’s early Dutch settlers), who delivered children’s presents once a year. This inspired the famous 1823 poem, “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” by New Yorker Clement Clarke Moore.
In 1811, Mr. Irving visited the White House, met President James Madison, and danced with Dolley Madison, the beautiful First Lady. Then he wrote those stories I told you about and became the first celebrity author, famous in America and in Europe.
He was a U.S. diplomat too, in Spain. Did you know he lived in Alhambra, former castle-home of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who financed Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage to America? He did. He wrote a Columbus biography too, in 1828.
He also hunted buffalo in present-day Oklahoma, met William Clark, Meriwether Lewis’s old explorer-buddy, and wrote about his travels in the American West. Then he helped design “Sunnyside,” his wonderful house in Tarrytown, NY, where he kept a pet pig named “Fanny.”
In the 1840s, Washington Irving met U.S. President John Tyler and young Queen Victoria of England? He helped settle a war between the U.S. and Great Britain over the U.S.-Canada border. And when he died in November 1859, all the flags were lowered in New York City, a.k.a. “Gotham City,” particularly in Batman comics. Did you know Mr. Irving gave the city that nickname? Well he did.
Cheryl Harness is a formidable storyteller in her own right and she's also an amazing artist. In this book, The Literary Adventures of Washington Irving, she pays tribute to America's first celebrity author.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Mr. Irving: Literary Adventurer." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12
June 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
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