Category: american history

American Frederick Cook claimed to have reached the North Pole in 1908. American Robert Peary claimed to have done so the next year. Cook’s account was widely declared unproven in 1909, and Peary became the celebrated adventurer who conquered the North Pole. But recent analyses of Peary’s journal suggest he did not actually make it.

Which means that in 1948, the Soviets became the first (confirmed) humans to reach the North Pole when they airlifted a team in.

NY State Museum Transfers Ownership of Leader’s Pipe Tomahawk to Seneca Nation of Indians:

For a little good news: the New York State Museum has officially transferred ownership of a pipe tomahawk to the Seneca Nation. It was given by President George Washington to the respected Seneca leader and diplomat Cornplanter,  at one of several meetings between United States and Iroquois Confederacy leaders in the years 1792 to 1794.

The pipe tomahawk eventually entered the New York State Museum’s collection in 1851 as a gift from Seneca diplomat Ely Parker. 

Sometime between 1947 and 1950 the object went missing – and showed up in private collections. It moved around owners for nearly 70 years until an anonymous donor returned the pipe tomahawk to the State Museum in June 2018. And now the museum is returning it to the original gift recipients.

At a Tallahassee golf course, near the 7th hole, has been found a cemetery dating to the days of the American Civil War. With a naked eye can be seen barely-there depressions in the grass. But thanks to continued local remembrance of a graveyard for enslaved persons in the area, and a report based on historical records made to the country club, an archaeological team from the National Park Service brought ground-penetration radar (GPR) to the site in 2019 to investigate.

The GPR detected roughly 40 graves. They were the right shape, and the right depth, to be graves. The finding was then confirmed by human remains detection dogs.

Based on historical records, the graveyard has been connected with a plantation owned by the family of Edward Houston. The Houstons were a prominent slave-owning family in Savannah, Georgia. When Tallahassee was being settled by white colonists, two Houston family members purchased a half square mile in 1826. The records demonstrate that this would not have been a graveyard for white residents of the plantation, for the family. It would have been a final resting place for the enslaved persons who worked the plantation.

At this time, there are no plans to excavate in the cemetery, and disturb the dead. Efforts are focused on finding descendants of those who might be buried there.

In 1849, part of a fossilized arm bone belonging to an extinct giant turtle was found in a New Jersey streambed. It belonged to an Atlantochelys mortoni, who lived during the upper Cretaceous period, about 75 million years ago. From tip to tail it would have been ten feet (3 m) long! That’s larger than any living turtle species.

And in 2012, the other half of the arm bone was found by an amateur paleontologist in New Jersey. Which is especially amazing since the 1849 specimen was the first example of the genus and the species, and the older bone was also without a match of any kind.

The most common foreign language of American presidents is Latin (12 fluent presidents) followed by Greek (7 fluent speakers) and French (6 fluent speakers). This led me down a rabbit hole of fun facts:

  • No Latin or Greek speakers led the USA after the 1800s. Except Herbert Hoover, who was fluent in Latin and conversant in Mandarin Chinese.
  • Oddly, every president who was fluent in Greek was also fluent in Latin. Hurray for classical education?
  • John Quincy Adams was the most multilingual president. He was fluent in Latin French, and German, and partially fluent in Dutch, Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Russian.
  • Barak Obama used to be fluent in Indonesian, having attended school there from 6 to 10.
  • James Madison liked dead languages. He was fluent in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew (which was dead in the 1700s when he learned it).

  • In 3800 BCE, the Babylonian Empire took the world’s first known census – of farmgoods. They counted
    and quantities of butter, honey, milk, wool, and vegetables.
  • In 2 CE,
    China’s Han Dynasty took the oldest surviving census data, showing a
    population of 57.7 million people living in 12.4 million households.
    Chengdu, the largest city, had a population of 282,000.

  • The first modern census in Britain in 1801 didn’t ask people to list their ages.
  • The first census in the US in 1790 only cared about age if the person was a “free white male,” which was sorted by “16 years and upward” and “under 16 years.” All other categories were ageless.
  • In 1853,
    Chile passed the first census law in South America.
  • Britain’s attempt to take a census in India in 1871 was difficult because there were rumors that
    the goal of the count is to identify girls to be sent to England to fan
    Queen Victoria during a heatwave.

During the holiday season, families exchange holiday cards and gifts arrive in packages – did you ever take a moment to wonder how zip codes help each piece of mail get to its intended destination?

James Buchanan was born in 1791. He was the 15th president of the United States, and his two immediate predecessors were both born after 1800 (13th president Millard Fillmore in 1800, 14th president Franklin Pierce in 1804). Buchanan is the only US president whose century-of-birth preceded that of the president before him.

As you probably guessed, the dress code forbade girls from wearing slacks.

The United States flag started out with 13 stars, and 13 stripes, for the 13 original states. The flag slowly accumulated stars as new states were added to the Union. In 1959 it reached its present form of 50 stars, with the addition of Hawai’i. For obvious patriotic reasons, it was decided in 1818 that
after a new state had been confirmed by Congress, that state’s star would be officially added to the flag on the next 4th of July.

This led to a fun historical oddity: even though Wyoming and Idaho became states within a week of each other in 1890, their stars were put on a year apart. How did this happen? Well, Idaho became a state on July 3rd, 1890 and Wyoming became a state on July 10th, 1890. Because Wyoming just missed the July 4th deadline, its star was added 1 year later, in 1891.