Saturday, December 31, 2011

Do You Dirty Hair?

Studio publicity photograph, circa 1940
Interesting factoid: Katharine Hepburn suffered from a phobia of dirty hair. When she was shooting films for Twentieth Century Fox, she would sniff the heads of the cast and crew to make sure their hair was squeaky clean.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Was Zachary Taylor Murdered?

“Thrashed the beans today, about 10 bush. Quite cold.”

Zachary Taylor - 1845
Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States died on July 9, 1850.  Five days earlier, he ate a fresh bowl of cherries and iced milk. It was after this that he complained of stomach pains and diarrhea.  Taylor’s death was officially listed as natural causes.  However, rumors have always persisted that he was poisoned with arsenic.  It was speculated that Taylor was murdered by pro-slavery forces  since he opposed the extension of slavery into any new admitted states.

To settle this matter, Taylor’s family had his body exhumed and tested in 1995.  The results of the tests were negative, refuting the theory that he was poisoned.  Rather, it was concluded that on a hot July day Taylor had attempted to cool himself with large amounts of cherries and iced milk. "In the unhealthy climate of Washington, with its open sewers and flies, Taylor came down with cholera morbus, or acute gastroenteritis as it is now called.  He might have recovered, but his doctors; drugged him with ipecac, calomel, opium and quinine, as well as bleeding him.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Mysterious Death of Warren G. Harding

Warren G. Harding
Did Florence Harding kill her husband, US president Warren G. Harding, while he was still in office?  It all started with allegations of an affair.  While he was president, there were stories that Harding had fathered a child with a much younger woman.  Mrs. Harding got the FBI on the case to put the rumor to rest.  However, the FBI discovered that the rumor was true, which upset Florence to not end.  She then inquired of the FBI about killing someone by putting an undetectable white powder in their food.  Soon After, the president got sick with what was believed to be food poisoning and died.  However, no one else got sick (although they all ate the same thing).  Mrs. Harding refused to allow an autopsy and the death was officially regarded as a stroke.

Florence Harding

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Lady Godiva

Lady Godiva by John Collier, c. 1897, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
In 1040, Leonfric, earl of Mercia and lord of Coventry, laid such onerous taxes on the people that they were starving.  When Lady Godiva, his wife, begged him to be merciful, he challenged her.  If she would ride naked through the town, he would rescind the taxes.  Godiva ordered that all windows be covered at noon and that all townspeople stay indoors.  She mounted her white stallion and rode through the town, her long hair her only garment.  Only one man dared to look at her and he was struck blind.  His name has come down to us as Peeping Tom.    It is said that his yes shriveled into darkness at the moment he beheld Godiva’s naked figure.  Godiva was not just any medieval English noblewoman.  The tale of Lady Godiva is the story of the Celtic goddess Epona, who road naked on a white horse while she bestowed blessings upon her people, their houses, their work and their fields and crops.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

King Charles' Cat

Portrait by Anthony van Dyck, 1636
King Charles I of England (1600 – 1649) got the idea that if he lost his beloved black cat, it would mean a disaster for him, so he had the animal guarded constantly.  Unfortunately, the cat got sick and died.  Strangely enough, Charles was right.  The day after the cat died, he was arrested for treason and not long afterward beheaded.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day!

“I helped Lettie wash this forenoon. Went up town with some eggs this afternoon – 25 Doz.”

The Reg'lar Peace Dustmen call upon the Emperor of all the Russias for a Christmas Box - Punch, 5 January 1856, page 5
Coinciding with the Feast of St. Stephen, Boxing Day is a day when people present gifts, bonuses, donations or items to others, often those less fortunate. For centuries, a Christmas box was an earthenware box used to collect donations, either as tips at a business or as donations for the poor. The Romans introduced these clay boxes as a secure way to contain coins, as they were completely contained with just a slit at the top. The only way to get access to the contents was to smash the box. People would drop coins into the Christmas boxes all year, then the day after Christmas, the box would be broken open, thus the name ?Boxing Day.? The contents would be distributed among employees or given to charitable causes.
Boxing Day history is challenged by some, who have alternate explanations of the holiday. These other claims to the origin of Boxing Day, dating back to feudal times. Legends say that on the day after Christmas, the lords of the land would gather useful items and gifts together to distribute among the serfs to use the following year. As each family received a box of goods, such as grain, tools and clothing, the tradition of Boxing Day emerged. Yet another traditional origin tells that the day after Christmas was the day that servants received the day off, and wealthy employers packaged up some of the leftover food from the previous day?s feast in boxes for servants to take home.
Today, Boxing Day is a public holiday and a popular shopping day, as stores offer the stock not picked up for Christmas at deep discounts. Boxing Day is celebrated in Great Britain, Canada, New Zealand and Australia, as well as many British commonwealths. In these countries, the Christmas season consists of Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. If Christmas falls on a Saturday or a Sunday, Boxing Day is celebrated on the following Monday


Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Christmas Eve Stockings

Christmas Eve in 1928

There was a kindly nobleman whose wife had died of an illness leaving the nobleman and his three daughters in despair. After losing all his money in useless and bad inventions the family had to move into a peasant's cottage, where the daughters did their own cooking, sewing and cleaning.

When it came time for the daughters to marry, the father became even more depressed as his daughters could not marry without dowries, money and property given to the new husband's family.

One night after the daughters had washed out their clothing they hung their stockings over the fireplace to dry. That night Saint Nicholas, knowing the despair of the father, stopped by the nobleman's house. Looking in the window Saint Nicholas saw that the family had gone to bed. He also noticed the daughters stockings. Inspiration struck Saint Nicholas and he took three small bags of gold from his pouch and threw them one by one down the chimney and they landed in the stockings.

The next morning when the daughters awoke they found their stockings contained enough gold for them to get married. The nobleman was able to see his three daughters marry and he lived a long and happy life.

Children all over the world continue the tradition of hanging Christmas stockings. In some countries children have similar customs, in France the children place their shoes by the fireplace, a tradition dating back to when children wore wooden peasant shoes.

In Holland the children fill their shoes with hay and a carrot for the horse of Sintirklass. In Hungary children shine their shoes before putting them near the door or a window sill.

Italian children leave their shoes out the night before Epiphany, January 5, for La Befana the good witch. And in Puerto Rico children put greens and flowers in small boxes and place them under their beds for the camels of the Three Kings.

The first mention Christmas stockings being hung from or near a chimney were made only earlier this century by the illustrator, Thomas Nast, through his pictures and the writer, Clement Moore, in a story about a 'visit from St.Nick'. The story quickly caught on.

"The stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that Saint Nicholas soon would be there"

Up until lately, it was traditional to receive small items like fruit, nuts and candy in your stocking, but these have been replaced in the last half-century by more expensive gifts in many homes.

Friday, December 23, 2011

History of Santa Claus

“I took some boards up to the mill to have them split up for battings for the wood shed.  Put them on this afternoon and finished it all up tonight.  Has been a warm day.”

1881 illustration by Thomas Nast who, with Clement Clarke Moore, helped to create the modern image of Santa Claus.
Pre-modern representations of the gift-giver from church history and folklore, notably St Nicholas and Sinterklaas, merged with the British character Father Christmas to create the character known to Britons and Americans as Santa Claus.
In the British colonies of North America and later the United States, British and Dutch versions of the gift-giver merged further. For example, in Washington Irving's History of New York (1809), Sinterklaas was Americanized into "Santa Claus" (a name first used in the American press in 1773) but lost his bishop’s apparel, and was at first pictured as a thick-bellied Dutch sailor with a pipe in a green winter coat. Irving’s book was a lampoon of the Dutch culture of New York, and much of this portrait is his joking invention.

In 1821, the book A New-year's present, to the little ones from five to twelve was published in New York. It contained Old Santeclaus, an anonymous poem describing an old man on a reindeer sleigh, bringing presents to children. Some modern ideas of Santa Claus seemingly became canon after the publication of the poem "A Visit From St. Nicholas" (better known today as "The Night Before Christmas") in the Troy, New York, Sentinel on December 23, 1823 anonymously; the poem was later attributed to Clement Clarke Moore. Many of his modern attributes are established in this poem, such as riding in a sleigh that lands on the roof, entering through the chimney, and having a bag full of toys. St. Nick is described as being "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with "a little round belly", that "shook when he laughed like a bowlful of jelly", in spite of which the "miniature sleigh" and "tiny reindeer" still indicate that he is physically diminutive. The reindeer were also named: Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Dunder and Blixem (Dunder and Blixem came from the old Dutch words for thunder and lightning, which were later changed to the more German sounding Donner and Blitzen).

Thomas Nast immortalized Santa Claus with an illustration for the January 3, 1863 issue of Harper's Weekly. Note that Santa is dressed in an American flag, and has a puppet with the name "Jeff" written on it, reflecting its Civil War context
As the years passed, Santa Claus evolved in popular culture into a large, heavyset person. One of the first artists to define Santa Claus's modern image was Thomas Nast, an American cartoonist of the 19th century. In 1863, a picture of Santa illustrated by Nast appeared in Harper's Weekly.

The story that Santa Claus lives at the North Pole may also have been a Nast creation. His Christmas image in the Harper’s issue dated December 29, 1866 was a collage of engravings titled Santa Claus and His Works, which included the caption "Santa Claussville, N.P." A color collection of Nast's pictures, published in 1869, had a poem also titled "Santa Claus and His Works" by George P. Webster, who wrote that Santa Claus’s home was "near the North Pole, in the ice and snow". The tale had become well known by the 1870s. A boy from Colorado writing to the children's magazine The Nursery in late 1874 said, "If we didn't live so very far from the North Pole, I should ask Santa Claus to bring me a donkey."

The idea of a wife for Santa Claus may have been the creation of American authors, beginning in the mid-1800s. In 1889, the poet Katherine Lee Bates popularized Mrs. Claus in the poem "Goody Santa Claus on a Sleigh Ride".

"Is There a Santa Claus?" was the title of an editorial appearing in the September 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun. The editorial, which included the famous reply Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, has become an indelible part of popular Christmas lore in the United States and Canada.

In some images from the early 20th century, Santa was depicted as personally making his toys by hand in a small workshop like a craftsman. Eventually, the idea emerged that he had numerous elves responsible for making the toys, but the toys were still handmade by each individual elf working in the traditional manner. 

Folk tale depiction of Father Christmas riding on a goat.


Thursday, December 22, 2011

The History of Christmas Presents

“Worked on the wood shed all day.  Got it all done except covering the cracks in the roof.  Has been a warm day and the sleighing is about all gone.”

The earliest references to presents being given on or around the Winter Solstice comes from Ancient Rome during the feast of Kalends. High ranking officials were expected to give gifts to the Emperor since the Winter Solstice celebrated the birth of the Sun God, to whom the emperor was directly related.
Another early source of gift-giving comes from St. Nicholas, who was remembered for his charitable giving. Often on his feast day parents would leave small gifts of chocolate or fruit for their children. His feast day slowly came over time to be associated with the celebration of the Feast of the Nativity on December 25th.
Gift Giving in the modern sense starts in America in the 1820s. What had once been the simple practice of exchanging small gifts exploded into the full-fledged consumer driven holiday we now know. The first advertising for Christmas Gifts is found in the early 1800s, around 1804. By the 1820s ads began to spring up more and more, and by the 1840s they were an integral part American Society. This sudden interest in gift giving may be tied to the rise of Clement Moore's poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Tree

“Worked on the wood shed this forenoon.  Went to the church society meeting this afternoon.  Pleasant day and good sleighing. “

Germany is credited with starting the Christmas tree tradition as we now know it in the 16th century when devout Christians brought decorated trees into their homes. Some built Christmas pyramids of wood and decorated them with evergreens and candles if wood was scarce. It is a widely held belief that Martin Luther, the 16th-century Protestant reformer, first added lighted candles to a tree. Walking toward his home one winter evening, composing a sermon, he was awed by the brilliance of stars twinkling amidst evergreens. To recapture the scene for his family, he erected a tree in the main room and wired its branches with lighted candles.
Most 19th-century Americans found Christmas trees an oddity. The first record of one being on display was in the 1830s by the German settlers of Pennsylvania, although trees had been a tradition in many German homes much earlier. The Pennsylvania German settlements had community trees as early as 1747. But, as late as the 1840s Christmas trees were seen as pagan symbols and not accepted by most Americans.

Victorian Picture Card - circa 1900s
It is not surprising that, like many other festive Christmas customs, the tree was adopted so late in America. To the New England Puritans, Christmas was sacred. The pilgrims’ second governor, William Bradford, wrote that he tried hard to stamp out "pagan mockery" of the observance, penalizing any frivolity. The influential Oliver Cromwell preached against "the heathen traditions" of Christmas carols, decorated trees, and any joyful expression that desecrated "that sacred event." In 1659, the General Court of Massachusetts enacted a law making any observance of December 25 (other than a church service) a penal offense; people were fined for hanging decorations. That stern solemnity continued until the 19th century, when the influx of German and Irish immigrants undermined the Puritan legacy.
In 1846, the popular royals, Queen Victoria and her German Prince, Albert, were sketched in the Illustrated London News standing with their children around a Christmas tree. Unlike the previous royal family, Victoria was very popular with her subjects, and what was done at court immediately became fashionable—not only in Britain, but with fashion-conscious East Coast American Society. The Christmas tree had arrived.

A Victorian Christmas Tree - circa 1857
By the 1890s Christmas ornaments were arriving from Germany and Christmas tree popularity was on the rise around the U.S. It was noted that Europeans used small trees about four feet in height, while Americans liked their Christmas trees to reach from floor to ceiling.
The early 20th century saw Americans decorating their trees mainly with homemade ornaments, while the German-American sect continued to use apples, nuts, and marzipan cookies. Popcorn joined in after being dyed bright colors and interlaced with berries and nuts. Electricity brought about Christmas lights, making it possible for Christmas trees to glow for days on end. With this, Christmas trees began to appear in town squares across the country and having a Christmas tree in the home became an American tradition.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yule Log

“Commenced building a shed over the wood this afternoon.  Got five posts set and ridge pole on.”

In Northern Europe, Winter festivities were once considered to be a Feast of the Dead, complete with ceremonies full of spirits, devils, and the haunting presence of the Norse god, Odin, and his night riders. One particularly durable Solstice festival was "Jol" (also known as "Jule" and pronounced "Yule"), a feast celebrated throughout Northern Europe and particularly in Scandinavia to honor Jolnir, another name for Odin. Since Odin was the god of intoxicating drink and ecstasy, as well as the god of death, Yule customs varied greatly from region to region. Odin's sacrificial beer became the specially blessed Christmas ale mentioned in medieval lore, and fresh food and drink were left on tables after Christmas feasts to feed the roaming Yuletide ghosts. Even the bonfires of former ancient times survived in the tradition of the Yule Log, perhaps the most universal of all Christmas symbols.

The origins of the Yule Log can be traced back to the Midwinter festivals in which the Norsemen indulged...nights filled with feasting, "drinking Yule" and watching the fire leap around the log burning in the home hearth. The ceremonies and beliefs associated with the Yule Log's sacred origins are closely linked to representations of health, fruitfulness and productivity. In England, the Yule was cut and dragged home by oxen or horses as the people walked alongside and sang merry songs. It was often decorated with evergreens and sometimes sprinkled with grain or cider before it was finally set alight.

In Yugoslavia, the Yule Log was cut just before dawn on Christmas Eve and carried into the house at twilight. The wood itself was decorated with flowers, colored silks and gold, and then doused with wine and an offering of grain. In an area of France known as Provencal, families would go together to cut the Yule Log, singing as they went along. These songs asked for blessings to be bestowed upon their crops and their flocks. The people of Provencal called their Yule Log the trefoire and, with great ceremony, carried the log around the house three times and christened it with wine before it was set ablaze.

To all European races, the Yule Log was believed to bring beneficial magic and was kept burning for at least twelve hours and sometimes as long as twelve days, warming both the house and those who resided within. When the fire of the Yule Log was finally quenched, a small fragment of the wood would be saved and used to light the next year's log. It was also believed that as long as the Yule Log burned, the house would be protected from witchcraft. The ashes that remained from the sacred Yule Log were scattered over fields to bring fertility, or cast into wells to purify and sweeten the water. Sometimes, the ashes were used in the creation of various free cattle from vermin, for example, or to ward off hailstorms.

Some sources state that the origin of Yule is associated with an ancient Scandinavian fertility god and that the large, single Log is representative of a phallic idol. Tradition states that this Log was required to burn for twelve days and a different sacrifice to the fertility god had to be offered in the fire on each of those twelve days.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Caroling

Contemporary caroling has several predecessors. From ancient Roman times up into the 18th century, celebrations of the winter solstice and, later, Christmas, emphasized social inversion, and often involved house-to-house visiting. Two main types of house visits were wassailing and mumming.

Wassailing was a form of ritualized social inversion that began in the middle ages. Male peasants would go to the home of their feudal lord and sing songs demanding that he give them some portion of the best of his stock—beer, spirits, and cakes. He would do so and, in exchange, the peasants would give him their “good will,” which in feudal times was no small matter. This practice continued after feudalism, with poorer folks visiting wealthy homes. We still sing some of the “good will” parts of wassailing songs today, leaving out the verses that threaten physical harm if demands are not answered.

Another group of traditions involved disguised visitors entering homes to perform a short play, make music or mischief, dance, or require the hosts to guess their identities, depending on the local tradition. Collectively, these traditions are called “mumming.” Mumming almost always involved a “payment” of goods for the entertainment—food, alcohol, or money. Unlike wassailing, it was not always practiced along class lines. Mumming is still practiced in a few places in Europe.

Another caroling ancestor is found in the Christmas Waits. In medieval England, waits were official town musicians who played on civic occasions and doubled as night watchmen. When the waits were abolished in 1835, amateur groups sprung up to replace them at Christmastime. They played and sang house-to-house for tips, becoming known as the Christmas Waits.

The United States came to have its own mixture of house visit customs, as immigrants brought their traditions with them and these melded with others. Even in Puritan New England, where Christmas was banned because of its rowdy character, there are accounts of illegal wassailing. Through the 19th century, both urban and rural house visit customs were usually disorderly, often scary. In large cities like Philadelphia and New York, drunken bands of men and boys would take to the streets at night, noise-making, shooting rifles, making “rough music,” and even destroying property as they went among the wealthy urban homes. Upper class Victorian-era citizens took on the project of taming Christmas.  

Victorians domesticated the holiday, focused it on children, and created organized charity in an attempt to allay direct begging. As they worked to suppress rowdy wassailing, they promoted carol-singing at home, in church, and on town greens. They re-imagined feudal Christmases as celebrations of class harmony, when happy peasants serenaded their generous masters with songs of goodwill. They depicted this image in their writing and on Christmas cards, and even set about collecting folk carols and writing new carols in a self-consciously medieval style. “Good King Wenceslas” and “Deck the Halls,” for example, were both written in the mid-19th century, despite their medieval themes.

In turn-of-the-century Boston, a man who had experienced the charm of the Christmas Waits in England began the custom of outdoor caroling in that city. Organizations such as the National Bureau for the Advancement of Music promoted outdoor caroling in the 1910s and ’20s. By the middle of this century, caroling had become what we think of today, with neighbors visiting one another’s homes, as well as hospitals and nursing homes, in a more or less orderly fashion.


Sunday, December 18, 2011

A History of the Christmas Card.

The world's first commercially produced Christmas card, designed by John Callcott Horsley for Henry Cole in 1843

The first commercial Christmas cards were commissioned by Sir Henry Cole in London in 1843 and featured an illustration by John Callcott Horsley. The picture, of a family with a small child drinking wine together, proved controversial, but the idea was shrewd: Cole had helped introduce the Penny Post three years earlier. Two batches totaling 2,050 cards were printed and sold that year for a shilling each.

Silk cord and tassels, circa 1860

Early English cards rarely showed winter or religious themes, instead favoring flowers, fairies and other fanciful designs that reminded the recipient of the approach of spring. Humorous and sentimental images of children and animals were popular, as were increasingly elaborate shapes, decorations and materials. In 1875 Louis Prang became the first printer to offer cards in America, though the popularity of his cards led to cheap imitations that eventually drove him from the market. The advent of the postcard spelled the end for elaborate Victorian-style cards, but by the 1920s, cards with envelopes had returned.

Victorian, circa 1870

The production of Christmas cards was, throughout the 20th century, a profitable business for many stationery manufacturers, with the design of cards continually evolving with changing tastes and printing techniques. The World Wars brought cards with patriotic themes. Idiosyncratic "studio cards" with cartoon illustrations and sometimes risqué humor caught on in the 1950s. Nostalgic, sentimental, and religious images have continued in popularity, and, in the 21st century, reproductions of Victorian and Edwardian cards are easy to obtain.

War-related, circa 1943

Modern Christmas cards can be bought individually but are also sold in packs of the same or varied designs. In recent decades changes in technology may be responsible for the decline of the Christmas card. The estimated number of cards received by American households dropped from 29 in 1987 to 20 in 2004. Email and telephones allow for more frequent contact and are easier for generations raised without handwritten letters - especially given the availability of websites offering free email Christmas cards. Despite the decline, 1.9 billion cards were sent in the U.S. in 2005 alone. Some card manufacturers, such as Hallmark, now provide E-cards. In the UK, Christmas cards account for almost half of the volume of greeting card sales, with over 668.9 million Christmas cards sold in the 2008 festive period

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Kissing Under the Mistletoe.

Our week of Christmas begins today with a history of Kissing Under the Mistletoe

Kissing under the mistletoe is first found associated with the Greek festival of Saturnalia and later with primitive marriage rites. They probably originated from two beliefs. One belief was that it has power to bestow fertility. It was also believed that the dung from which the mistletoe would also possess "life-giving" power. In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a plant of peace, under which enemies could declare a truce or warring spouses kiss and make-up.

 Later, the eighteenth-century English are credited with a certain magical appeal called a kissing ball. At Christmas time a young lady standing under a ball of mistletoe, brightly trimmed with evergreens, ribbons, and ornaments, cannot refuse to be kissed. Such a kiss could mean deep romance or lasting friendship and goodwill. If the girl remained unkissed, she cannot expect to marry the following year. In some parts of England the Christmas mistletoe is burned on the twelfth night lest all the boys and girls who have kissed under it never marry. Whether we believe it or not, it always makes for fun and frolic at Christmas celebrations.

Even if the pagan significance has been long forgotten, the custom of exchanging a kiss under the mistletoe can still be found in many European countries as well as in Canada. Thus if a couple in love exchanges a kiss under the mistletoe, it is interpreted as a promise to marry, as well as a prediction of happiness and long life. In France, the custom linked to mistletoe was reserved for New Year's Day: "Au gui l'An neuf" (Mistletoe for the New Year). Today, kisses can be exchanged under the mistletoe any time during the holiday season.


Friday, December 16, 2011

The Boston Tea Party - 238 years ago today.

This iconic 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier was entitled "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor"; the phrase "Boston Tea Party" had not yet become standard. Contrary to Currier's depiction, few of the men dumping the tea were actually disguised as Indians.

The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government and the monopolistic East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and other political protests often refer to it.
The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act for a variety of reasons, especially because they believed that it violated their right to be taxed only by their own elected representatives. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain. He apparently did not expect that the protesters would choose to destroy the tea rather than concede the authority of a legislature in which they were not directly represented.
The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, which, among other provisions, closed Boston's commerce until the British East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea. Colonists in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775

This 1775 British cartoon, "A Society of Patriotic Ladies at Edenton in North Carolina", satirizes the Edenton Tea Party, a group of women who organized a boycott of English tea

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Bill of Rights - Ratified 220 Years Ago Today

“I went up town this forenoon. John McRhuson and Wife spent the afternoon here.  Has rained a good deal today.”

United States Bill of Rights
The Bill of Rights is the collective name for the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution. These limitations serve to protect the natural rights of liberty and property. They guarantee a number of personal freedoms, limit the government's power in judicial and other proceedings, and reserve some powers to the states and the public. While originally the amendments applied only to the federal government, most of their provisions have since been held to apply to the states by way of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The amendments were introduced by James Madison to the 1st United States Congress as a series of legislative articles. They were adopted by the House of Representatives on August 21, 1789, formally proposed by joint resolution of Congress on September 25, 1789, and came into effect as Constitutional Amendments on December 15, 1791, through the process of ratification by three-fourths of the States. While twelve amendments were passed by Congress, only ten were originally passed by the states. Of the remaining two, one was adopted as the Twenty-seventh Amendment and the other technically remains pending before the states.
Originally, the Bill of Rights included legal protection for land-owning white men only, excluding African Americans and women. It took additional Constitutional Amendments and numerous Supreme Court cases to extend the same rights to all U.S. citizens.
The Bill of Rights plays a key role in American law and government, and remains a vital symbol of the freedoms and culture of the nation. One of the first fourteen copies of the Bill of Rights is on public display at the National Archives in Washington, D.C

James Madison, "Father of the Constitution" and first author of the Bill of Rights

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cleaning Wheat

“Helped Will this forenoon.  Got their wheat all cleaned up.  Has snowed quite a good deal today.”

Cleaning wheat by hand in the late 1800s

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Pussy Cat, Pussy Cat, Where have you been?

“Helped Will all day.  Colder today than yesterday.”

"Pussycat pussycat, where have you been?"
"I've been up to London to visit the Queen."
"Pussycat pussycat, what did you dare?"
"I frightened a little mouse under her chair"

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