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Letter’s From Grandma Pat: Three-fingered Kenny and 4th of July Trivia

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Howdy!  Hope that your week is going great and that you are having a lot of fun during your summer vacation from school.   However, fun, no matter how inviting or exciting, is never an excuse for not being careful and safe.  Brains were not made by God to set on a shelf, they are meant to be used. You have a good one, use it.

Which brings me to the point of this week’s letter…not blowing off your fingers or toes, or blinding yourself with fireworks. Fireworks are great fun to see, hear and have during our nation’s birthday celebration on the 4th of July.  However, they are dangerous and demand respect. I know its fun to shoot off a firecracker or two, but safe first!

I once knew a kid in high school that did not have respect for the power of gun powder. He became known as “Three-finger, Kenny.”  And, those three fingers were just gnarled and twisted red stubs.  The only good thing was that he could never again be a right-handed nose-picker.

Fireworks have been enjoyed by humans for a very long time. The first recorded fireworks rockets were made in China around 600 A.D and were used to scare away evil spirits and bring good luck and happiness.  I guess if all evil was chased away,  there would be only good luck and happiness.

Before fireworks were invented, there were explosives and projectiles used as weapons for war. The Chinese were the first to develop “black powder.”  Black powder is the earliest known chemical explosive, and is made with sulfur, charcoal and saltpeter.

I know you know what sulfur and charcoal are, but what is saltpeter? Saltpeter is potassium nitrate. In addition, to helping make explosives, saltpeter has been used as a food preservative since the middle ages…for over 1500 years.  It is interesting that saltpeter was used to preserve food, since, at that time, it was made from bat poop, or people or animal urine.  In fact, during the Civil War, women collected urine to help make black powder, but that’s a different story.

The first fireworks that the Chinese made were not colored.  They boomed loudly, but only produced faint golden light and orange flashes.  It wasn’t until the 1830’s that Italians added trace amounts of metals and other chemicals to produce the bright colors we see in today’s fireworks. The Chinese are still the biggest producers of fireworks in the world.

Once seen, it wasn’t long before fireworks became very popular in Europe especially among kings, queens and nobility.  The earliest recorded fireworks display in England was in 1486 for King Henry VII’s wedding day.  French kings shot off fireworks, among other things, at their palaces. The Russian Czar, Peter the Great, celebrated the birth of his son with five hours of fireworks.

The first display of fireworks in the New World was in Jamestown, Virginia, in 1608.  The American colonists took to the idea of explosives for entertainment with their usual gusto and by 1731 the colony of Rhode Island banned fireworks due to, “mischievous use.”

It was John Adams, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the second president of our country, who felt that our nation should use fireworks to celebrate independence from Great Britain.  On July 3, 1776, he wrote a letter to his wife Abigail that said, ” The day will be most memorable in the history of America.  I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.  It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, bonfire and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of the continent to the other, from this time forward and forever more.”

Fireworks have been a part of 4th of July celebrations since the birth of our nation. Actually, even before the Declaration was signed, colonists used to celebrate the king’s birthday with the ringing of bells, bonfires, parades, fireworks and long public speeches. This tradition changed when the colonists declared their freedom from the English crown.  In 1776 many colonists held mock funerals for the English King to symbolize and celebrate the end of the monarch’s rule in America.

The city of Philadelphia, known as the city of brotherly love, got the colonists back on the high road when they held the first official independence day celebration in 1777. There were concerts, bonfires, parades, and the firing of cannon, muskets and fireworks. Also, in Philadelphia on July 8, the first public reading of the Declaration of Independence took place. The Pennsylvania Evening Post was the first newspaper to print the Declaration of Independence.

The July 4th holiday continued to be celebrated throughout Revolutionary War years. Soldiers fighting in the war, received a double ration of rum to recognize the day. The first state to make the day an official state holiday was Massachusetts in 1781.  The oldest, continuous, observance takes place Bristol, Rhode Island.  This city has had a 4th of July parade every year since 1785.  Thomas Jefferson hosted the first 4th of July celebration at the White House in 1801.

Folks did and do still take this patriotic holiday very seriously.  In Swan, Colorado, in 1884, angry miners blew up the post office, because it hadn’t supplied fireworks for their 4th of July festivities. I guess exploding dynamite isn’t as exciting as firecrackers and rockets.

Currently,  285.3 pounds of fireworks will be needed to supply the over 14,000 public fireworks displays and numerous private celebrations. American’s will spend $6.77 billion on food and will consume 155 million hot dogs.  To go with those hot dogs, $92 million will be spent on chips, $167.5 million on watermelon, and $341.4 million on beer.

But, is July 4th the real birthday of our country?

Not according to our second president John Adams.  The members of the Second Continental Congress from the 13 original colonies actually voted on July 2, 1776 to declare independence.  John Adams felt that July 2, should be the day for Independence Day celebrations.  The final draft of the declaration was approved by congressional committee on July 4.   It wasn’t until August 2 that all of the delegates finally signed the document.  However, when the document was sent to the printer, the date of July 4 was printed in big letters at the top of the sheets of paper.  So, July 4th it was!

The Declaration of Independence was actually designed by committee.  A committee of five to be exact.  The members were John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia.  Thomas Jefferson wrote the actual document.  He was only 33 years old at the time.

The signers of the Declaration all knew that the penalty for revolting against the King was death.  Even knowing that they could be hung or shot for putting their names on the document, they signed it.  John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed it first, big and bold.  Fifty-six men, from the 13 original colonies of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and Georgia, signed.

It is not true that the declaration was the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  The first battles of Lexington and  Concord, Massachusetts, took place in April 1775.   Crispus Attucks, a fugitive African-American slave, was the first American to die when British soldiers fired upon the colonists in 1770, at the “Boston Massacre.”

The Americans were certainly out manned, gunned and financed during the Revolutionary War. At the time that the Declaration of Independence was issued the total population in the 13 original colonies was about 2.5 million people. (Our population today is over 300 million.)  In 1776 the city of London, alone, had a population of almost a million.

The cost of over eight years of war was immense.  Our nation spent over 151 million dollars to win independence from the king.  The war was also hard on the small population of the colonies. During the height of the war there were 80,000 men serving as militia or continental Army soldiers.  Over 8,000 soldiers were killed in battle, 17,000 died of disease, and 25,000 were wounded.  One in 20 able-bodied white males died. England had 24,000 soldiers killed in battle.

White men were not alone in serving in the Continental Army, so did African-American Slaves. Every state north of the Potomac river offered slaves their freedom in exchange for their service in the military.   While the northern colonies actively recruited black soldiers, the southern colonies were very opposed to the idea.  Between 5,000 to 8,000 African-Americans became veterans of this war. Black soldiers served as wagoners, cooks, waiters, craftsmen and carried weapons and fought.  Several all-black military units, commanded by white officers, saw action, fought bravely and gained a reputation as being, “the most neatly dressed, the best under arms, and the most precise in its maneuvers.”

It would be almost a century later and take an even more bloody Civil War to legally end the slavery of African-Americans.  Only then was the promise of freedom expressed in the Declaration of Independence no longer reserved for a select few, but became, as God always intended…a sacred human right for all people.

Here are some other interesting 4th of July facts:

The only president to have been born on the 4th of July was Calvin Coolidge, our 30th president born in 1872.

Three of the first five presidents died on the 4th.  They were John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Monroe.  Oddly enough, Adams, the second president and Jefferson, the third, died on the same day in 1826, on our country’s 50th birthday.  Adams final thoughts were that all would be well because Jefferson still lived, he did not know that Jefferson had died several hours before him.

Richard Stockton, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, was the only signer to recant his signature, swear allegiance, again, to King George III.  Traitor!

Every Independence Day the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia is tapped 13 times in honor of the original 13 colonies.  It cannot be rung, because of the crack in it.

Contrary to popular legend, Betsy Ross did not design the U.S. flag.   No one knows who sewed the first flag, but chances are it wasn’t Ms. Ross.  Her ancestors created the story a century after the revolution. This cute legend was kept going by being included in grade school books.

The modern 50-star flag was designed in 1958 by Robert G. Heft, a high school student. This teenager, from the state of Ohio, was given a history assignment to create a new national flag that included the recent statehood of Alaska and Hawaii. His flag design only earned him a B-minus from his teacher. However, after his design was chosen by President Eisenhower to be our nation’s new flag, the lad’s teacher changed his grade to an A.

Each color in our National flag has a different meaning. Red symbolized hardiness and valor. White is for purity and innocence. Blue stands for vigilance, perseverance and justice. The 50 stars represent the 50 states and the 13 stripes are for the 13 original colonies.

The patriotic song, “Yankee Doodle” was originally sung by British military officers before the Revolutionary War to mock the disorganized American colonists.

Our national anthem the, “Star Spangled Banner” was written by Francis Scott Key during the War of 1812 and is set to the tune of an old British bar, or pub, song called “To Anacreon in Heaven.” It did not become the official national anthem until 1931.

Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are responsible for the bald eagle becoming our national bird.  Benjamin Franklin, on the other hand, supported the wild turkey.

July 4th:

1944—United States troops fired a 1,100 gun salute at German lines in Normandy

1942—The United States air offensive against nazi-German began.

1939—The New York Yankees retire the first player’s uniform…Lou Gehrig #4

1914—The first motorcycle race in the United State took place.  It was 300 miles long.

1911—Ty Cobb goes 0 for 4 and ends a 40 game hit streak.

1911—Ed Walsh, White Sox, ends Ty Cobb’s 40-game hitting streak.

1895—The song “America the Beautiful” is published.

1894—Elwood Haynes successfully tests one of the first American made cars.  Top speed               was six mph.

1888—Prescott, Arizona holds the first organized rodeo competition.

1884—The Statute of Liberty is presented to the United States in Paris.

1828—Construction begins on the first United States passenger Railroad the  B and O                     (Baltimore-Ohio).

1817—Work began to build the Erie Canal.

I hope you have a wonderful time, safely, celebrating the 4th of July.  There really is a lot about our nation to celebrate.  And, despite all of the differences that our country seems to have at this time, I still believe the words of President John F. Kennedy hold true, “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty.”

Sending lots of love and hugs,

Grandma Pat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Letter to My Grandson: Cat Warfare…Christmas Revolution Cat

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Dear Grandson,

Wow, just a week to go until Christmas.  I suppose you gave Santa Claus a very long and detailed list.  Did you write it out in cursive or just print it out from the computer? Santa, I am sure, treasures all the letters he receives from children, but is something that is extra precious about a handwritten note from a kid. Why to old folks that is be a present all in itself.

When I was young we did not have computers, printers, Gameboys or even television.  That’s right…I grew up in a time when the best entertainment available was your own imagination, the great outdoors and books. I loved reading then, and as you are well aware from the size of my library in the den, I still love reading.

Do you know what the first book I ever read from was?  It was the Bible. I remember sitting on my grandma’s lap, while she rocked me in that old wooden rocker that still sits in my living room, as she read Bible stories.  As she read, she would always move her finger along the lines of words.  It wasn’t hard for me to begin to match the words she spoke to the ones on the page.  I was just three years old when I would read to grandma.  She was very proud of me for that.  Grandmas are always proud of their grandchildren.

One of the first words I figured out was the word righteousness.  It really looked different than the other words.  It looked so long and complicated. Grandma explained to me that it wasn’t.  It means to be good. A righteous person is truthful, kind, loving, forgiving, honest, content and respectful of others and God.  She said that righteousness is humbling and not arrogant or fake.  Grandma Esther was a firm believer in God, Jesus, the principle that honest is as honest does, and that a good reputation is worth more than gold.

Do you know who had a reputation of gold and was considered a very honest man? Our nation’s very first president, George Washington!  Yes, there actually is such a thing as an honest politician.

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President George Washington

There is a very famous story about him and a cherry tree. As the story goes, when Washington was about six years old he received a hatchet from his dad as a birthday gift.  He was so excited to try it out that, when no one was looking, he took a few whacks out of a cherry tree.  He just chopped off some bark, he did not chop down the whole tree.

This may not seem like a big deal now, but in those days when you had to grow all your own food or starve, damaging a fruit tree was…well, just not done.  When Washington’s father found the damaged tree, he got very angry and confronted his young son. Washington looked his father in the eye and said, “I cannot tell a lie, Pa.”  Then, he admitted to the deed. Washington was not punished by this father.  His dad felt that having a truthful son was much more important than any old tree.  This story cannot be proven or disproven, but it makes the point that honesty is the best policy.

George Washington’s was born on February 22, 1732, into the family of a wealthy tobacco plantation owner. Yes, his father did own slaves and when his father died Washington became their owner.  There is nothing but ugly involved in the enslavement of black people. However, Washington was the only notable Founding Father to free all of his slaves following his death.

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                                     George Washington as a young man. Notice the dark hair. 

When young, Washington was very strong and athletic.  He grew up to be quite tall for those times and stood at about 6 feet 2 inches and weighed 200 pounds. About the size of Grandpa Doug.  In his portraits he is always shown with white hair, his hair color was actually red.  He did not wear a wig, but used white powder to achieve that very popular and dashing look.  Grandpa Doug’s white hair is from getting old.

Thomas Jefferson, another of our nation’s Founding Fathers, was quite impressed with Washington’s athletic abilities and said that Washington was the best horseback rider of that era.  Which is a very high compliment and accomplishment since riding horses was the main mode of transportation.

In addition to honesty and horsemanship, Washington is also known for….his very bad teeth. He had positively terrible rotten teeth.  His adult first tooth fell out when he was in his twenties.  By the time he was president, he only had one of his own teeth left.  He suffered from mouth pain constantly and probably had very bad breath.

His tooth troubles did not result from poor dental hygiene practices such as not flossing or brushing.  Some say his teeth fell out because he used them to crack open hard nut shells like Brazil Nuts. Others speculate that his loss of teeth were the result of his taking mercury-based medicines for diseases like small pox.

Since he had no teeth of his own, Washington used false teeth.  Contrary to rumor, none of them were made out of wood. They were made out of elephant, cow or hippopotamus ivory, lead, silver and gold.  He even had false teeth that were made out of real human teeth. How’s that for recycling!

  George Washington’s false teeth.  Look painful, don’t they?

Washington was a famous guy even when he was alive. During the Revolutionary War Washington served as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army…the Americans.   He was one of our nation’s Founding Fathers, he was in charge of the meeting that drafted the United States Constitution and is often called the “Father of our Country.”  He was elected unanimously by the Electoral College in our nation’s first two presidential elections.

He really was a legend in his own time, but not in his own mind.  His always put his country first. After the war he refused to become a ruler for the colonies.  Washington felt so strongly that America should never have a king-like ruler that he refused to run for president again after serving for only two terms.  He set the example of a two-term presidency. That tradition was followed by all subsequent presidents right up until World War II and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, which is another story.

The Revolutionary War, or the War of Independence, was between the thirteen American colonies and the mighty British Empire who ruled them.  At that time, the British ruled over so many countries around the world at that it was said, “The sun never sets in the British Empire.”

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                                       David killing Goliath the Giant

It really was a David and Goliath type of deal. That story is in the Bible and is about a young shepherd boy named David who kills a great warrior giant with just a sling shot.  The stone hits the giant right between the eyes, then David runs over and cuts the giant’s head off with the giant’s own sword and saves his country from military defeat. David had faith in God and though he was weak and small vanquished a much bigger foe. That is just what the colonists needed to do.

The Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775 when the “shots heard around the world” were fired in towns of Lexington and Concord.  By the summer the war had commenced in earnest.  The colonists did well at first, but by the winter 1776 the Continental Army was in dire straits.  They had been pushed back and had lost much of their fighting strength due to soldiers leaving the army for many reasons.

Washington’s soldiers were depressed by their losses…as a matter of record Washington lost more battles than he won.  To re-energize the public and soldiers’ support to continue the fight for independence from England, Washington needed a victory.  He decided to attack on the day after Christmas.  He felt that enemy soldiers would not be feeling well from all their Christmas Day partying, hung-over from drinking too much alcohol, and would be easy to defeat

At about 11 p.m. on Christmas night, George Washington’s 5,400 troops began crossing the almost frozen Delaware River to attack a group of German soldiers that were helping the British fight the colonists.

Bright and early at 8 a.m. on the day after Christmas, Washington divided his 2,400 soldiers that had successfully crossed the river into two columns, marched to the city of Trenton, New Jersey, and attacked the surprised German soldiers called “Hessians”.

Hessian soldiers were known for being very aggressive fighters. That is why the British hired over 30,000 of them to fight the Americans. However, on that morning and to quote Bugs Bunny, “The Hessian had no aggression.” By 9:30 a.m. the Americans overwhelmed their enemy, surrounded the town, captured almost 1, 000 prisoners with the loss of only four Americans.

While this battle was not a large one, it was a very important one.  The American public realized that their army could in deed win victories.  This revived the will of the people.

Since, the French seem to have a real gift for revolutions, they joined the Americans in 1778 to help defeat the British and that is just what happened.  The war basically ended when the Continental Army forced the British to surrender at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781.  The war formally ended in 1783.

So, how did Washington get an entire Army, horses and artillery across an icy river in December?  The colonists united and worked together. Washington, his soldiers and the Pennsylvania Colony Navy collected a large quantity and wide variety of watercraft from the surrounding area.  They had ferries large enough to transport large wagons and coaches.  A boat called a Durham was used to float the soldiers across.  These boats had high sides and a flat bottom, and were poled not rowed.  Before the war they had been used by Durham Iron Works to carry heavy loads of metal.

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        Revolutionary War Era Flintlock Musket

The most common weapon used during this war was the muzzle loading smoothbore flintlock musket with attached bayonet.  Muskets have no rifling in their barrels to put a spin on their bullets, so it could shoot either balls or shot.  A good Revolutionary War soldier could load and fire every 15 seconds for four minutes.  Then, the gun barrel would get too hot and need to cool off.

These guns were not very accurate and had about a 75 yard range where they could hit a man-sized target.  To make the guns more effective battle tactics were used that lined soldiers up in tight rows or ranks and marched them right up to each other to shoot volley after volley into each other.  The goal was not to necessary kill the enemy, but to disorganize and frighten them into leaving the battlefield.

A British musket was called a “Brown Bess” and was 75 caliber.  The Americans for the most part used a French musket with a 42-inch long barrel called “the Charleyville”.  These shot a 65 caliber ball.  The bayonet was very important in those days, because when it was mounted on the end of the very long musket it was used almost like a spear for defense against cavalry attacks.  When soldiers formed into a square formation with their bayonets pointed outward, they could keep cavalry horsemen from riding among them and killing them with swords.  The Continental army also had artillery cannon, some rifles, pistols and the ever popular and lethal swords and knives.

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George Washington’s Sterling Silver Sword

George Washington was a sword guy and it was rare that he ever left the house without one dangling from his hip.  He had some very beautiful swords…some that were made of real silver.  This website has pictures of his more famous swords: http://www.mountvernon.org/preservation/collections-holdings/washingtons-swords/.

Yes, George Washington was a man of firsts.  He was the first general officer to cross a frozen river on Christmas Day to launch a surprise attack on an enemy army.  He was the first president of the United States.  He was the first president of the United States to lead troops into battle while in office.   He is the first and only general officer to ever be given the rank of General of the Armies of the United States.  Congress awarded him this rank in 1976 during our country’s 200th birthday commemoration so that George Washington would always have the highest military rank…EVER.

Yes, he was a man of many firsts and a cat with nine lives.  He survived many diseases that should have been fatal, had several horses shot out from under him in battle and had a coat he was wearing absolutely riddled with bullets.  Yet, he lived until he was 67 years old. He probably would have lived longer if he had stayed away from doctors.  He caught a cold and his doctors, in an effort to cure him, bled him to death.  He was buried the week before Christmas on December 18, 1799 at his precious estate at Mount Vernon where his many farm cats lived.

Remember that Jesus is the real Christmas Revolution Cat.  His birth changed the entire world and is reason for the Christmas season!

Lots of Love,

Grandma Pat