Monday, November 24, 2008


I love Thanksgiving. I love making chocolate cream pies, having family over to dinner, and even getting up before the sun the day after and running from store to store. But sometimes in all the celebrating I forget about that first Thanksgiving.

In doing research for one of my books, I had a refresher course in American history and learned a few more interesting tidbits. Take for instance Jamestown. Everyone has heard the story of John Smith and Pocahontas, but what is fact and what is fiction?

The fact is King James I of England wanted to stake a claim in the new world. He’d heard about the fortunes Spain had found and he wanted a piece of it as well. He commissioned the London Company to set up a colony in America, find the Lost Colony of Roanoke, and send whatever treasures they found back to England.

Merchant adventurers who wanted to make money of their own advertised for people to find their fortunes in the new world. Life was tough in England with overcrowding and high taxes. One hundred and fifty-one people signed up all hopeful for a fresh start. They would be sadly disappointed.

Crossing the Atlantic over forty-six of them died. Though they were happy when they first arrived, they soon found that finding fresh water was a challenge and the swamps were infested with malaria carrying mosquitoes. By the end of the first year two-thirds of them had died. One of the survivors was John Smith.

The Jamestown Colony

He was elected governor of Jamestown, explored the area and came into contact with the Powhatan Indians. Many believe he was held captive by the Indians and saved from death by Pocahontas. But there are several historians who disagree with that account.

Pocahontas: The Truth – VOA Story

As with Pocahontas much has been written of the Pilgrims journey. But did you know their story actually began long before they settled in America? In 1606 the Church of England was the only religion allowed to be practiced there. A group of people decided they didn’t want to be part of that religion and became known as the Separatists. They fled north to the Netherlands and settled in Leiden. However, they were not happy. They couldn’t find work, there were rumors of war with Spain, and their children were picking up Dutch habits that the Separatist parents didn’t like. So, once again, they were searching for a place to live. America seemed the perfect solution to their problem, except they didn’t have the money to go.

Banning together, the Separatists formed their own company and convinced merchant investors to pay them to go to the new world and in exchange the Separatists company would send the merchants in England valuable goods for seven years.

Also sailing with the Separatists were people they called Strangers. They were not searching for religious freedom, but wanted a new life.

These groups boarded two ships: the Speedwell and the Mayflower and started their journey, but it wasn’t too long when they found out that the Speedwell was taking on water. They were forced to go to Plymouth England. From there one hundred and two passengers boarded the Mayflower and set sail. Their journey would take sixty-six days.

History Channel Presents: Desperate Crossings 5 mins.

Here’s an informative website about the pilgrims adventure and that first Thanksgiving so many years ago.

The Thanksgiving Feast

FYI: Thanksgiving was not a national holiday until November 26, 1863 when President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed that the fourth Thursday in November would be set aside for celebration.

So while the first settlers who came to the new world probably did not know what chocolate cream pie taste like nor why crazy people get up before the sun the day after to run from store to store, I do think they enjoyed getting together with loved ones and being grateful for their blessings.

I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Who Came First?

Who Came First?

Who were the first settlers in America? This was a question I explored to write my nonfiction childrens’ activity book: They Came From Around the World: A Nation of Immigrants. As I researched, I came across many familiar stories.

Some believed the Eskimos were the first. Using the Bering Strait they migrated from Russia over to the new world in search of food. To learn more about the Bering Land Mass you might want to go to this website:

Arctic Journeys to Alaska’s Bering Land Bridge

Some believed the Vikings were the first. The Vikings sailed the Northern seas in search of food. One such Viking was Erik the Red, who earned his name by plundering other villages to provide for his people. He was banished from Iceland, so he sailed west to Greenland. He had plans to go farther west, but rumor has it that on the day he was to leave he fell off his horse and being superstitious he sent his son Leif Ericsson. Leif reached the shores of Vinland in 1000 B.C..

Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga

Still others believed that an Italian man sailing for Spain was the first to discover America. How did an Italian come to sail for Spain? It’s a long but interesting story. Because Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453 travel overland to China and India for valuable goods became impossible. Many countries began to explore different routes. Christopher Columbus and his brothers believed they could reach India by sailing west, however, they found it difficult to persuade others. Finally Christopher was able to convince Queen Isabella of Spain that his plan would work. Taking three ships: Santa Maria, NiƱa, and Pinta, Chris set out for India on August 3, 1492. By October 12 he found land, but it wasn’t India…it was the Bahamas.

Did you know that Columbus continued to explore the coastline and on Christmas Eve ran the Santa Maria aground on a reef? Using the remains of the ship they built a fort they called La Navidad (Christmas).

Another explorer sailing for France set sail in search of a route to the east. Jacques Cartier sailed north looking for a passage through North America. Instead he discovered Prince Edward Island, charted the St. Lawrence River, and built a fort where Quebec City is today. He is also credited for naming Canada because of a misunderstanding with the Huron-Iroquois Indians. Communication between Cartier and the Indians was difficult. He thought they were telling him the land was named Canada, when Kanata for the Indians meant village. Here’s a theory of how it happened:

Jacques Cartier Historica Minute

So now you might be wondering what was the first English settlement in America? Have you ever heard of the Lost Colony? In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh sent some men to seek out a location in the new world. They came upon Roanoke Island. This island was covered with marshland, towering oak trees and lots of wildlife. Queen Elizabeth granted Raleigh a patent to all lands he settled.

The first group he sent over did not get along with the Indians and killed their Indian chief over a stolen cup. The men were also ill prepared for winter so they sailed back to England. Not to be deterred Raleigh assigned John White to head up a group of 117 people to settled in the new world. White was to be the governor of the Citties of Raleigh. They arrived on Roanoke Island in July of 1587. White’s daughter and son-in-law were expecting their first baby. Virginia Dare became the first English child born in America in August of 1587. John White soon realized they were going to need more supplies so he sailed back to England, promising to return shortly. Little did he know he would never see his granddaughter, daughter, or the people of the colony again.

He arrived in England during the Spanish Armada. He was stuck there for three long years. When he finally returned to America he found the colony abandoned and no sign of life. No one knows to this day what happened to the Lost Colony of Roanoke.

Roanoke the Lost Colony – Roanoke the Movie

The first permanent settlement in America was St. Augustine. Don Juan Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer, thought he had found the “Fountain of Youth” in St. Augustine, Florida. He named the land “La Florida” and claimed it for Spain. Then he left. In 1654 the French set up a colony and fort on the St. John’s River. When King Phillip II of Spain heard about this he sent Don Pedro Menendez de Aviles to colonize and drive out any pirates or settlers of other nations. With the help of a hurricane, he chased out the French and established St. Augustine.
Which explorer would you have liked to sail with: Leif Ericsson, Chris Columbus, John White, Ponce De Leon, or de Aviles? Or maybe you would have preferred to come with the Eskimos over the Bering Strait? Let me know.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Veterans Day

As my husband and I were running our Saturday errands we were stopped in front of Walmart by a couple of war veterans handing out little red poppies. They reminded us that Veteran’s Day is the 11th. This made me think of that wonderful poem written by John McCrae called In Flanders Field.

Last spring I was asked to write a non-fiction childrens’ activity book titled The Kids' Book of World War I: An Activity and Internet Exploration Project. Towards the end I told why McCrae was impressed to write his beloved poem.

He served in World War I as a Canadian field surgeon for the 1st Artillery Brigade. John McCrae was familiar with battle having previously served in the bloody Boar War in South Africa, so by the time he answered a call to duty in World War I he had seen enough blood to last a lifetime. The brigade fought in many battles, but the second battle at Ypres in the spring of 1915 was most memorable. He treated not only Canadians, but British, Indians, French and Germans. For over 17 days the fighting was fierce. A good friend of McCrae’s was killed by a shell burst. His remains were put in sandbags. The sandbags were placed on an army blanket and then fastened together with safety pins. However, the fighting was so fierce that they couldn’t bury him during the day. Using the cover of night, McCrae and several other soldiers buried their friend.

The following day, during a break in the fighting, McCrae sat on the step of an army ambulance and wrote his beloved poem, noting the scene before him. Wild red poppies were blooming in the field amongst the rubble of war and where thousands of soldiers had died. Poppy seeds normally lie dormant in the soil until the ground is heavily turned or dug up which enables the seeds to sprout. In this particular field there was a high concentration of lime due to the rubble of limestone buildings that had been blowup during the war. Thus the conditions were right for thousands of poppies to bloom.

You can hear McCrae’s poem at the address below.

My father served in the Navy prior to World War II. This picture was taken while he was stationed in Hawaii. He lost many friends at Pearl Harbor. His contribution to the war effort was building torpedoes at the base in Keyport, Washington. I have a soft spot in my heart for veterans.

Are there military veterans in your life? Please write and tell me their stories.


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