The Explainer General
The Revolutionary War should have won us independence from Britain. Britain’s Royal Navy didn’t care. In the early 1800’s it was busy fighting Napoleon but it had time to stop United States merchant ships on the high seas from trading with France or British colonies. It always needed sailors, so its officers seized our sailors, claiming they were Royal Navy deserters.
We needed a more independent independence. President James Madison declared a second war against Britain in 1812. Britain declared an embargo, forbidding our ships to leave port.
The Royal Navy had hundreds of big warships; we had six. To supplement our tiny Navy, the United States issued letters of marque, government licenses for privateers, private men o’war.
The boldest and most successful privateer was Captain Thomas Boyle’s Chasseur. It was a new kind of vessel, a Baltimore pilot schooner, the fastest ship afloat.
No sailboat can go directly into the wind. A square-rigged ship could manage to sail only 80° to the left or right of the wind’s direction. The Chasseur sailed 55° off the wind. Working into the wind by tacking (sailing to one side of the wind, then the other) she could go 10 miles to windward by sailing about 24 miles on diagonal courses. The Royal Navy’s square rigged men o’war would log almost 59 miles to reach the same point.
Chasseur carried only 16 small cannon – no match for a big man o’war’s 30 to 40 guns. But Boyle had no intention of slugging it out. If a man o’war appeared, he would scamper away to windward. Chasseur couldn’t be caught.
Boyle crossed the Atlantic and quickly took 18 British merchant ships. He was bold as a lion: he sent the last vessel back into port, so its captain could nail a proclamation to the door of Lloyd’s Coffee House, where London ship-insurers gathered. It was a politely worded embargo on all the British Isles – the same embargo Britain had attempted to force on the United States!
Did Boyle succeed? Yes and no. Many British ships sailed, but fear of the Chasseur raised the price of insurance 300%! Some of Lloyd’s insurers wouldn’t write policies on ships voyaging near America. Our Navy was small but mighty: our six heavy frigates (including Constitution, “Old Ironsides”) beat many Royal Navy frigates ship-to-ship. Our combination of daring, skill and brass audacity won the War of 1812 against the largest navy in the world.
You know all about pirates. They were big guys with fancy hats, silk jackets, peg legs, and parrots cursing on their shoulders. They sailed big ships with brass guns and made lubbers walk the plank . . . right?
Wrong! If you want to know what pirates were really like, then read Jan Adkin's book, What if You Met a Pirate? Click here for more information.
Jan Adkins is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Adkins, Jan. "The Man Who Held Up Britain." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 6
Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Let your imagination listen to the great historical menagerie of presidential pets and you’ll hear the sounds of their feathered friends, like Thomas Jefferson’s mockingbirds, or Calvin Coolidge’s canaries and maybe his pet goose – OR parrots? George and Martha Washington had more than one. When President James Madison and his wife moved into the White House in 1809, so did Dolley Madison’s green and yellow macaw parrot.
Dolley was known for her fashionable turbans and often, for Polly, the big bright, squawk-ative bird on her shoulder, helping to greet her guests. And how thrilling, when high-spirited Polly swooped about the high-ceilinged rooms and dive-bombed the company! Later, she was part of the scary War of 1812 drama, when, in 1814, red-coated British soldiers torched the White House. But at least Dolley made sure they didn’t get their hands on the precious painting of President Washington, or her precious Polly.
Just months later, General Andrew Jackson led a rough, frontier army down the Mississippi River to drive the British out of New Orleans. Victorious Andy Jackson, national hero, ended up being President, from 1829 to 1837. That old soldier knew a lot of salty language and so did his pet parrot, Poll. We know this because in 1845, he attended ex-President Jackson’s funeral – at least until a shocked human carried poor Poll out of the room. Too much sad excitement had set him to squawking curse words!
At the end of the 1800s, President William McKinley amused himself by teaching his yellow-headed Mexican parrot how to whistle “Yankee Doodle.” After Mr. McKinley died of an assassin’s bullet, in 1901, former Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took office. He and First Lady Edith Roosevelt and their six children had LOTS of pets, including a big, beautiful parrot named Eli Yale. Eli was a deep blue hyacinth macaw.
There would be other presidential parrots. After all, the big worldwide parrot family has 350 species. Parakeets, for instance: John F. Kennedy’s little girl had two of them. Lyndon B. Johnson’s family kept lovebirds, little candy-colored parrots. But more than a century has passed since a big, big-beaked macaw like Polly or Poll has lived in the White House. Deep blue Eli Yale was the last - so far.
Andrew Jackson owned an African grey parrot. Wikimedia
Cockatiels, cockatoos, and large flightless kakapos are just a few of the many kinds of parrots. One of the biggest is the gentle, South American hyacinth macaw – from head to tail, more than three feet long! Wikimedia
Teddy Roosevelt with Eli Yale. Wikimedia
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Polly Wants a President." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank,
13 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
When she was a girl in Scotland, Frances or “Fanny” Wright fell in love with America, a new nation “consecrated to freedom.” On September 3, 1818, the 22-year-old writer set foot on that actual land of her dreams. She and her little sister Camilla, a pair of wealthy orphans, spent the next two years touring the young U.S. Young females did NOT go traveling without a man in those days, but Fanny believed that freedom should apply to women too!
Her 1821 book about her travels won her the friendship of another freedom fan, the Marquis de Lafayette, who’d helped free America from the British Empire. In 1824, the old Frenchman made sure Fanny met his friend, 81-year-old Thomas Jefferson and his friend, 73-year-old James Madison.
But wait – maybe you already see a fly in the soup. To Fanny, “slavery was revolting everywhere.” Slaves in the Land of Liberty was sickening! As much as she admired the two former presidents, she hated that they lived in slave-built mansions, waited on by people who had no choice but to do so. But slavery really did trouble them, too. Slavery trapped everyone in its evilness. With so much money tied up in costly human property, owners couldn’t afford to let them go. Could blacks support themselves, after lifetimes of being fed, housed, and denied education? Madison and Jefferson thought no; emancipation had to be gradual. Really, centuries of racial division had them and their countrymen thinking that the races could never live together. Surely blacks must go back to Africa! (In fact, many had already been sent there, to Monrovia, but that’s another story for another day.)
So Fanny planned farms where blacks could learn while they earned their freedom money. It was her way of freeing her beloved America from the curse of slavery. She published her idea and tried to make it work on Nashoba, her own farm in Tennessee, but her experiment failed. Then, in the late 1820s, she went around the eastern US, making speeches about all of her freethinking ideas and shocking the daylights out of people. A public-speaking woman was unheard of! Going around, talking about abolition, day care for working mothers, the rights of women and factory workers? SHOCKING! That’s the thing to know about Fanny Wright: She was one stubborn radical, WAY ahead of her time, imagining freedoms she never lived to see.
Cheryl Harness has written (and illustrated) short, spirited profiles of twenty women who impacted life in America by speaking out against injustice and fighting for social improvements. The book spans over two hundred years of American history and includes time lines for such important social movements as abolition, woman suffrage, labor, and civil rights. Readers inspired by these fiery women can use the civil action tips and resources in the back of the book to do some of their own rabble-rousing. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Shocking Fanny Wright." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 1
Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Until 1800, the U.S. capital had been Philadelphia, a big city. Then the capital moved to Washington, DC, a small town with dirt roads, lots of trees, and the not-quite-finished Capitol and presidential mansion, known to some as the “White House.” In the winter of 1809, when Abe Lincoln (future President No. 16 – the tallest) was still a baby, James Madison, the new president (No. 4 – the shortest), gave a party. It happened that James’s wife, Dolley, was excellent at bringing all sorts of people together and making sure they had a jolly time. This was her way of making Mr. Madison popular.
So, one Wednesday evening, the Madisons’ servants (enslaved African Americans, some of them) welcomed party goers to the White House. The large East Room, where Abigail Adams (wife of President No. 2) hung up her laundry, was closed off. Now the politicians, government workers, foreign diplomats, and their wives exchanged smiles with rosy Dolley Madison. (She used blusher – very daring then!) Imagine people in the oval-shaped Blue Room (cream-colored then, with red velvet curtains), laughing with the First Lady, all fancy in her Paris gown.
Next door was the sunny gold parlor (the Red Room now), where you might visit with shy, brainy President Madison. (Did you know he helped to write the U.S. Constitution? Well he did!) Best of all was the big State Dining Room. It had been an office for Thomas Jefferson (President No. 3). Now it was full of FOOD: Savory snacks, tea and other drinks, little cakes and a rare delicacy: ice cream. Imagine guests with their mouths full and eyes wide, staring up at Gilbert Stuart’s great portrait of President No. 1. Some of the guests had met George Washington, but they all knew how much he’d done to make the United States possible.
Everyone had such a good time, that there was another party the next Wednesday and the next. LOTS of people came – even the most disagreeable politicians! The popular weekly party, with its crowds of mashed together party goers, was a White House tradition for a while. It even got a name: Mrs. Madison’s Crush.
Cheryl Harness's latest book is Flags Over America, a picture book history of flags, especially America's. It was published for the 200 YEARS anniversary since Francis Scott Key wrote his poem about the Star Spangled Banner. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Wednesday Night Crush." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 28 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ the-Wednesday-Night-Crush.
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The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council