Category: History

Here’s Why We Celebrate the 4th With Fireworks

One of the iconic traditions for the 4th of July celebrations that happen each year in the United States is to light fireworks. Did you know that we all have President John Adams to thank for this tradition?

When Adams was getting ready to sign the Declaration of Independence in 1776, he wrote a letter to his wife. In it, he said that the moment would be one of the most memorable occasions in America’s history. It should be solemnized with numerous activities, including bonfires and illuminations, from “one end of the continent to the other.”

Since Adams was a well-known figure in the colonies, it didn’t take long for his wishes to spread to each community. Only one year later, in 1777, the first party to celebrate the 4th of July was held in Philadelphia. They set off 13 firework rockets in the town square.

The U.S. Has Never Had a 4th of July Without Fireworks

Although most cities didn’t celebrate with fireworks on that first 4th of July remembrance, it has been a holiday when fireworks have always been present. Even if we’re not celebrating together in person because of the ongoing pandemic, the colorful displays in the sky are still viewable online or while following social distancing.

It’s a unique holiday tradition, especially since most historians think that fireworks were invented over 2,300 years ago in China.

Adams would be proud of what would become a holiday tradition if he could see it today. From hot dogs and apple pie to the pomp and circumstance of community parades, this day is one of the few times when people set their differences aside to celebrate their country.

Can you imagine what would be possible if we were to follow the same process each day that we do when celebrating the founding of the United States?

Books That Share the Real Stories About American Cowboys

When you think about the Wild West, what comes to mind? It is a set of stories about cowboys, Native Americans, gangs, sheriffs, and the occasional gold rush for many people.

It’s one of the most romanticized eras of American history. If you look at what happened in the late 1800s, it’s also about two decades of homesteading that doesn’t fit the fantastic tales Westerns offer.

If you want to know about the real stories of American cowboys, here are the books you’ll want to read.

1. Lonesome Dove

Although there are some fantastical elements in this story, it has everything from cattle drives to riverboat gamblers. It’s one of the few stories that paint an overview of the myth while keeping the people real and flawed.

2. Legends of the Fall

This collection of three novellas is one of the best stories of cowboys in the Wild West that you can find. The author uses an omniscient view that shows a lifetime of trials (and sometimes tragedy) that families encountered after moving West.

3. Appaloosa

If you want to catch some authentic dialogue from a Wild West marshal, you’ll want to pick up this book to read. It’s a classic tale of a lawless town with new lawmen providing some cover. You’ll get a feel for the authentic environment without everything getting blown out of proportion.

4. Desert Solitaire

This non-fiction book delivers a tribute to the American west, including all of the wild places you can find in the southwestern states. It’s written by a ranger who served at Arches National Park, delivering an honest commentary on what it means to live on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.

5. Cowboy Life: Reconstructing an American Myth

This 1975 novel is a landmark study on the legendary role of the American cowboy in the Wild West. It follows the daily duties of what this life was like in the Great Plains from the 1860s to about 1900, including a discussion about how Lonesome Dove and other stories influence modern perceptions about it.

What are some of your favorite cowboy stories that you’d recommend?

The Bloody History of Texas Chili

Texas chili is one of those dishes that people tend to love or hate. Numerous recipes have developed over the years, some with meat and others without, creating a spicy soup-like dish with beans, peppers, corn, and other vegetables.

This dish’s popularity is so strong that it has spent over four decades as Texas’s state dish despite the region’s love of barbecue.

What many do not know about chili is that it has a remarkably bloody history.

Chili Was Served in Texas in the 1860s

The first chili dishes were introduced by women called “Chili Queens” in San Antonio. During the 1860s, they provided these meals in the Military Plaza to soldiers operating in the area.

You could also find chili stands in Houston and Galveston, delivering the combination of dried cumin and peppers with tamales. Local laborers began to see it as a quick and filling meal, especially when they realized that beans went well.

If you go back even earlier, Mexican families served spicy dishes out of the slums and hovels around Texas. Some writers during the time described the house-based restaurants as serving a plate with “a fiery pepper that bites like a serpent.”

The original recipe was red pepper, peas, beef, and gravy for chili con carne in San Antonio. A newspaper article from the time says that “they always have enough to go around, for no stranger, no matter how terrific a durned fool he is, ever calls for a second dish.”

Then they say you can’t put water in him fast enough with a “steam engine hose.”

Why Is the History of Texas Chili “Bloody?”

Although laborers enjoyed chili on a lunch break, much like we want to visit a taco truck today, this dish served as a simple military recipe that could be taken almost anywhere.

If it was cold outside, soldiers could eat the chili to get warmer. It was filling, satisfying, and something to provide energy for a battle to come.

There’s also the history of San Antonio to consider. It could be argued that no other community in the United States has seen as much conflict.

Whatever the case may be, you’ll find that modern chili is still as tasty as its predecessor recipes.

Every War Fought on American Soil

If you want to document every war fought on American soil, the first step in that process is to define “war” and “location.”

Are we talking about only the mainland United States, or do territories and possessions also count?

Does a single battle count when documenting these wars, or must it be a continued conflict for it to get counted?

You’ll find several definitions online that create different lists. When you want the definitive count for every war fought on American soil, you’ll get eight.

List of the Wars Fought on American Soil

Here is the generally accepted list of the eight wars that were fought on American soil. Although these battles weren’t exclusive to the United States only, they did have actions within the country’s borders.

  1. The Revolutionary War
  2. The War of 1812
  3. The Civil War
  4. The Mexican-American War
  5. The French and Indian War
  6. World War II (Pacific Theater and Oregon Bombing)
  7. King Philip’s War (Before the U.S. became a recognized country)
  8. Queen Anne’s War (Also before the U.S. was a country)

Several other conflicts that took place on American soil are considered “wars” by some historians. Here is a look at the disputed list of disputes that could be added to the overall index.

  • Cherokee-American Wars
  • Second Pennamite War
  • Northwest Indian War
  • Battle of Sitka
  • Tecumseh’s War
  • First and Second Seminole War
  • Winnebago War
  • Black Hawk War
  • Texas Revolution
  • Missouri Mormon War
  • Aroostook War
  • Dorr War
  • Milwaukee Bridge War
  • Bald Hills War
  • Pyramid Lake War
  • Black Hills War
  • Nez Perce War
  • Ghost Dance War
  • World War I (Ypiranga, Black Tom, Kingsland, Attack on Orleans)

If you include the generalized “War on Terror” that started in 2001, the September 11 attacks on New York City, the Pentagon, and Flight 93 would also make this list. Numerous blogs centered on the theme of past and present geo-political tensions and issues are available online.

American Novels That Wonderfully Encapsulate the Immigrant Story

Although the American story went through some stops and starts in the past four years, it is still one of the world’s most significant cultural melting pots.

You can find people from virtually every corner of the planet finding their way to the United States to make a new life for themselves and their families.

These fantastic American novels work to encapsulate those stories in unique and touching ways.

What Are the Best American Immigration Novels?

1. Behold the Dreamers

This novel introduces the reader to a Cameroonian family where the husband becomes a chauffeur for an executive at Lehman Brothers. When things fall apart because of the Great Recession, you’ll find that the drama creates a beautiful story about perseverance, love, and grace from an authentic American perspective.

2. Americanah

You’ll find one of the best contemporary characters in American immigration literature in this story. It follows a Nigerian woman who comes to the United States on a scholarship. Her significant other encounters troubles with government policies, so you’ll get a frank take on what people face in today’s world.

3. The Book of Unknown Americans

What makes this novel a must-read item is its structure. Instead of following one story, you’re getting to know several voices who all speak in the first-person to you. It’s a place where you can see blatant racism, hate, and hope – all on the same page.

4. Ha Jin

This story introduces us to Nan Wu, who came to the United States after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989. After making America their permanent home, it becomes a story about one person’s search for meaning and a place in this world. How can you identify with your culture while living in a different country?

What are some of your favorite books about immigration that you’ve picked up to read over the past year?

What Makes the Boston Accent So Unique?

The Boston accent is unique in the United States because of its phonological characteristics. You’ll hear different vowel sounds, especially in the centering diphthongs, that make it more nasal and with additional short “a” sounds compared to others.

Any words that have “ar” together in them create the classic example of the Boston accent. Instead of say, “car,” you’d hear someone say, “cah.” If you were headed to the park with the kids for the day, you’d go to the “pahk.”

This accent started in the early 20th century, but it seems to be retreating with the younger generation. Although you can still hear it in the city’s older neighborhoods, the change is getting closer to a NYC accent instead.

The Pronunciation Is Over 400 Years Old

Although the city has been speaking with the Boston accent for about a century, the phonetics behind the words are over 400 years old. It’s called “non-rhotic” pronunciation, dating to the time when the first settlers came from Europe.

During the 17th century in England, it was considered a rustic part of the English language to omit the “R” sounds from most words. It’s not considered a prestige feature, but the city of Boston is who led the way in that perspective.

The removal of “R” sounds wasn’t limited to the spoken word. When you review documents from the 17th century throughout Massachusetts and upper New England, you’ll find most words had the letter removed. That means people named “George” had their names document as “Geoge.”

That’s why you can find George Washington documents that say “Geoge Washington.”

It’s not only the phonetics that set the Boston accent apart from others. You can find the city using British slang for some terms, such as “rubbish” instead of saying “trash.”

You can also engage in a fun conversation about whether you’re having soda, pop, or Coke when you need a carbonated beverage.

How the Ides of March Relate to George Washington

George Washington loved the month of March. Not only did he ride away with the first official presidency offered in the United States in that month, but he also resisted the idea of becoming a military dictator.

We often see Washington as a man of action instead of an idea-maker. When history looks back on his actions, it often pictures his work as a reluctant leader turned into a national politician who wanted to protect his home.

That’s not to say that George Washington deserves a halo. His record was far from one that could be described as pure. He owned slaves, said he was troubled by that fact, and never dared to speak out against it.

Washington also expected a lot as a general out of usually untrained troops.

What Are the Ides of March?

The Ides of March represents the 74th day of the year on the Roman Calendar, officially recognized as March 15. It was a notable date for the Roman Empire because that was when the deadline for settling debts arrived

When the assassination of Julius Caesar occurred, it would become a date that lived on in infamy because it happened on this date.

We know that George Washington played a critical role in the formation of the American government. His most famous role as the nation’s executive was his final one. Although he could have stayed in the presidency for the rest of his life without much complaint, he willingly stepped down.

When Washington encouraged a peaceful transition of power, it let the rest of the world know what to expect from the new country. The colonies weren’t going to be controlled by a king or a dictator. It would be an experiment in what humans could achieve if people could reasonably self-govern.

That experiment is still happening today, although some might argue its boundaries are getting tested. There isn’t another country like the United States, and the credit currently sits with George Washington.

When Did the United States Create the National Anthem?

The National Anthem of the United States is called “The Star-Spangled Banner.” It reached this status in 1931, although Francis Scott Key wrote the lyrics in 1814.

The melody of the National Anthem was written by John Stafford Smith in 1773. It was a popular song at the time, considered the official tune of the Anacreontic Society of amateur musicians in London at the time.

When Key finished his poem, his brother-in-law recognized that the words fit perfectly into Smith’s tune.

Two Newspapers Published the Lyrics on September 20, 1814

It didn’t take long for the American public to recognize the patriotism in the lyrics that Key wrote. Since the words worked well for a melody that most people recognized, two newspapers realized that they could boost their publishing numbers by printing the composition.

On September 20, 1814, The American and the Baltimore Patriot ran the song called “Anaceron in Heaven.” Another 17 newspapers would run the same information in the coming days, going as far as New Hampshire with the lyrics.

It would be the Carr Music Store, founded by Thomas Carr, who would publish the music and words together under the title “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The song was also referred to as the “Defense of Fort McHenry.” Carr made one minor change by raising the fourth in the tune to create the music we know today.

Multiple Variations Were Playing in the Early 20th Century

President Woodrow Wilson gave the Bureau of Education the task of finding an official version of “The Star-Spangled Banner” to serve as the country’s national anthem. With hundreds of different remixes getting played across the country, the goal was to standardize the song into one version that everyone would love.

What many people don’t realize is that the National Anthem has four verses to it. When people sing the song in public, only the first verse gets sung.

What Is the History of Valentine’s Day in America?

Americans celebrate Valentine’s Day each year on February 14. It has evolved into a holiday that includes flowers, chocolates, cards, and love. You’ll even find the occasional cherub thrown into the mix!

Where did Americans get this holiday?

Although Valentine’s Day origins are disputed, we do know that the Roman Empire had a celebration called Lupercalia that happened on February 15. The event was essentially a spring festival to commemorate the start of the planting season.

When Christianity rose in Rome, the holiday got moved back a day to celebrate martyrs named Valentine. The reason why love came into the mix is likely due to the belief that birds would select their mates on that day, which is why we still have the term “lovebirds” for romantically associated couples.

The First Commercial Valentines Were Sold in the 1800s

Most valentines during the early years of this holiday depicted Cupid. You could also find hearts and emotional messages printed for people to give to each other.

Red roses became the most popular gift because the flower symbolizes beauty, passion, and love.

This celebration pre-dates the European settlements on the North American continent. The first formal messages given to others appeared in the 1500s. In the late 1700s, commercially printed cards were being distributed throughout Europe.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that Americans got involved with the formal holiday spirit.

That means many of the traditions we follow today were imported from other countries. Many nations continue to celebrate Valentine’s Day, including Australia, Argentina, France, Canada, the UK, South Korea, and Mexico.

In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is the most common wedding anniversary in the country.

Since those first days, the holiday has now expanded to offer kindness and gift exchanges with friends and other relatives.

American Neighbors Defined by Their Cultural Diversity

The United States often calls itself a melting pot of society because numerous cultures, races, and ethnicities live together in relative harmony. If the trends continue as they are, not one ethnic group will constitute a substantial majority by 2045.

Although immigration reform is a political hot potato issue, some neighborhoods’ current cultural profile has already reached the goal of total diversity.

Harlem, N.Y.

Harlem is one of the most complex cultures in the United States. It was originally a Dutch village, transitioned to Italian and Jewish populations, and then became the place for African-American immigration. All of these perspectives continue to live with each other cohesively, although there have been some growing pains over the years with conflict and crime. 

San Francisco’s Chinatown

This community is the largest of its type outside of the Asian continent. It’s also the oldest one in the United States. Although it gets treated as a tourist attraction, the neighborhood’s history and culture are always on full display.

Jersey City, N.J.

With easy access to Manhattan, this city is divided into six wards. Each one has a unique perspective of life in the area, ranging from the mixed-use views of Journal Square to the working-class families in Greenville.

Germantown, Md.

You’re a short drive from the nation’s capital when living in this community, which is a series of six villages. It’s a place where young couples settle, families raise their children, and people look to establish a life for themselves. Numerous cultural hubs operate in the region, introducing everyone to its original settlers’ history and culture.

Paradise, Nevada

When people say that they’re going to Las Vegas, it would be more accurate to say that they are spending time in this community. It’s one of the largest unincorporated towns in the world, with a population above 200,000. People from all over the world come here to explore the attractions, try new things, and enjoy some time relaxing.

Each community is exploring culture and ethnicity in the U.S. in unique ways. These neighbors just have a head start.