American Heritage

Articles from Vol. 59, No. 4, Winter

1565: Massacre in Florida: Spain's Attack on Fort Caroline and Brutal Slaughter of Its Inhabitants Ended France's Colonial Interests on the East Coast
IN JUNE 1564, 300 French colonists arrived at the mouth of the St. Johns River near present-day Jacksonville, Florida, after an arduous voyage across the Atlantic. Among these colons were men from some of France's greatest noble houses, bedecked in...
1610: Jamestown Hangs in the Balance: Only by Luck and Happenstance Did Britain's First Permanent Settlement in the New World Survive
ARRIVING AT THE English colony of Jamestown in late May 1610, Sir Thomas Gates was appalled by what he discovered. The fort's palisades had been torn down, the church ruined, and empty houses "rent up and burnt." Only 60 or so colonists remained alive...
1617: A Pox on the New World: As Much as Nine-Tenths of the Indigenous Population of the Americas Died in Less Than a Generation from European Pathogens
IN THE SUMMER OF 1605 the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed along the coast of New England, looking for a likely spot to place a colony a place more hospitable than the upper St. Lawrence River, which he had previously explored. Halfway down...
1664: New Amsterdam Becomes New York: The British Seize Manhattan from the Dutch-And Alter the Trajectory of North American History
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] ON SEPTEMBER 5, 1664, two men faced one another across a small stretch of water. Onshore, just outside the fort at the southern tip of Manhattan Island, stood Peter Stuyvesant, director-general of the Dutch colony of New Netherland,...
1763: Pontiac's War: A Great Lakes Indian Rebellion against the British Changed the Balance Forever between Indian and Colonist
THE DEAD WOMAN WAS one of the lowly Indian slaves known as Panis. Near Detroit in August 1762, she had helped another Pani to murder their master, a British trader. The outraged British commander in North America, Baron Jeffery Amherst, ordered them...
1773: "The Sparck of Rebellion": Badly Disguised as Indians, a Rowdy Group of Patriotic Vandals Kicked a Revolution into Motion
ON THE EVENING of December 16 1773, in Boston, several score Americans, some badly disguised as Mohawk Indians, their faces smudged with blacksmith's coal dust, ran down to Griffin's Wharf, where they boarded three vessels. Within three hours, the...
1776: The Black Times of '76: In the Teeth of near Defeat, Gen. George Washington Pulled out Miraculous Mid-Winter Victories
ON DECEMBER 18, 1776, the American Revolution was near collapse. The commander in chief of its George Washington, warned his brothers in Virginia that "I think the game is pretty near up," unless a new army were instantly recruited, which was not happening....
1782: Franklin Saves the Peace: Shrewd Negotiating by America's Premier Diplomat Forced the British to Sign an Anything-but-Inevitable Peace Treaty with the New Republic
MOST PEOPLE THINK THAT George Washington's 1781 triumph at York-town ended the American Revolution. In fact the victory set in motion a peace process that imperiled America's independence as virulently as the invading armies George III had dispatched...
1787: Madison's Radical Agenda: A Diminuitive, Persuasive Virginian Hijacked the Constitutional Convention and Forced the Moderates to Accept a National Government with Vastly Expanded Powers
ON MAY 5, 1787, James Madison arrived in Philadelphia. He was a diminutive young Virginian about five feet three inches tall, 130 pounds, 36 years old--who, it so happened, had thought more deeply about the political problems posed by the current government...
1801: Adams Appoints Marshall: Critical Decisions by the Chief Justice Saved the Supreme Court's Independence-And Made Possible Its Wide-Ranging Role Today
MOST JURISTS AND constitutional scholars today would probably contend that the most controlling precedent to be set in the early republic was laid down in the 1803 Marbury v. Madison decision. While a formidable ruling, it was not, however, the decisive...
1825: "Little Short of Madness": A Bold Dream to Connect the Hudson to the Great Lakes by Canal Created a Transportation Revolution
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] AS MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY and later as governor of New York State, De Witt Clinton crusaded so zealously for a canal connecting Albany to Buffalo that the project became known as "Clinton's Ditch." It was a dream of pharaonic...
1832: Jackson Stares Down South Carolina: When the Palmetto State Threatened to Nullify Federal Statues at Will, President Jackson Met It with Tough Rhetoric and Threat of Force-And Postponed the Civil War for Three Decades
WAR WAS AT HAND. Upstairs in his White House study over the long winter of 1832-33, President Andrew Jackson stood strong against a distant state that posed, he believed, an all too imminent threat to the Union. South Carolina was defying him, and...
1844: What Hath God Wrought: The Telegraph Was an Even More Dramatic in Its Day Than the Internet
ON MAY 24, 1844, Professor Samuel F. B. Morse, seated in the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, tapped a message into a device of cogs and coiled wires, employing a code that he had recently devised to send a biblical text: "What hath...
1848: Polk's Peace: By Warmaking and Shrewd Negotiating, the 11th President Expanded U.S. Territory by a Third
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] ON FEBRUARY 28, 1848, President James K. Polk received a visit from Ambrose Sevier of Arkansas, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bearing bad news. His committee had just voted to recommend that the full...
1859: Drake's Rock Oil: No One Knew That Oil Could Come from the Ground until of Speculators Hit Pay Dirt in Northwestern Pennsylvania
BY AUGUST 1859, "Colonel" E. L. Drake and his small crew were disheartened. Few if any of the locals believed that oil--liquid called rock oil--could come out of the ground. In fact, they thought Drake was crazy. A small group of Connecticut investors...
1861: Showdown at Sumter: Only Hours after Being Sworn in, Lincoln Faced the Most Momentous Decision in Presidential History
ON MARCH 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln's first day in office, a letter from Maj. Robert Anderson, commander of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor, landed on the new president's desk, informing him the garrison would run out of provisions in a month or six...
1862: Iron Wills, Iron Ships: Although a Draw, the Fight between the Monitor and Virginia Decisively Ushered in the Modern Era
WHAT THE USS Monitor's crewmen remembered most about the moments before the battle on the morning of March 9, 1862, was the silence. "Every one was at his post, fixed like a statue," Paymaster William Keeler recalled. "The most profound silence...
1863: Slaughter on Cemetery Ridge: In Only Minutes, Union Guns at Gettysburg Silenced the Confederacy's Bold Invasion of the North
NOT UNTIL 2:30 P.M. on July 3, 1863, did the ear-splitting bombardment finally slacken on the rolling farmland of southern Pennsylvania. Nothing like it had ever been experienced before in America, or would be again. "The very ground shook and trembled,"...
1864: "The Tide Is Setting Strongly against Us": Lincoln's Bid for Reelection in 1864 Faced Serious Challenge from a Popular Opponent and a Nation Weary of War
FOR A GOOD PART OF 1864--the year he faced reelection--Abraham Lincoln had little faith that he would win or even be renominated. Despite the decisive Union victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg the year before, the Confederacy had sustained recent...
1865: A Graceful Exit: In One Momentous Decision, Robert E. Lee Spared the United States Years of Divisive Violence
AS APRIL 1865 NEARED, an exhausted Abraham Lincoln met with his two top generals, Ulysses S. Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman, to discuss the end of the Civil War, which finally seemed to be within reach. Nevertheless, the president--"having seen...
1875: The Pluck Heard 'Round the World: After Watson Tweaked a Transmitter Reed, Bell Invented the Telephone
ON A HOT DAY IN JUNE 1875, 28-year-old Alexander Graham Bell and his assistant, Thomas Watson, were toiling in adjacent workshops at 109 Court Street in Boston. Under sloped attic walls of rough-sawn wood, the two men hunched over benches covered with...
1887: AC/DC: To Sell the Brilliant Concept of Alternating Currency, Inventor Nikola Tesla Turned to an Old Trick
IN THE FALL OF 1887 Nikola Tesla was scared. Three years earlier he had emigrated from Europe to New York City, set on becoming an electrical inventor. He had pinned his hopes on inventing an electric motor that used alternating current (AC) instead...
1895: The Golden Touch: Banker J. P. Morgan Rescued the Dollar and Bailed out the Nation
ON FEBRUARY 5, 1895, the Jupiter of American banking, J. P. Morgan, took the train from New York to Washington to see the president. He had no appointment but came to discuss matters of grave national interest. The crash of 1893 had thrown the country...
1905: "A Machine of Practical Utility": While Lauded for Their 1903 Flight, the Wright Brothers Were Not Convinced of Their Airplane's Reliability to Sustain Long, Controlled Flights until October 1905
ON THE MORNING of October 5, 1905, Amos Stauffer and a field hand were cutting corn when the distinctive clatter and pop of an engine and propellers drifted over from the neighboring pasture. The Wright boys, Stauffer knew, were at it again. Glancing...
1914: The $5 Day: By Doubling His Workers' Salaries, Henry Ford Solved His Turnover Problem-And Also Unwittingly Set the Stage for Industrial Unionism
THE WORD spread quickly on January 5, 1914. By 2 a.m. men were gathering outside the employment office of the huge Ford Motor Company plant in Highland Park, Michigan, ignoring the raw weather. Less than 12 hours earlier, the company's two top executives,...
1917: To Make the World Safe for Democracy: World War I Marked the First Time That U.S. Soldiers Would Sail East to Decide a Major European War
LATE ON APRIL 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson, flanked by a small cavalry escort, drove to the Capitol to address Congress to urge a declaration of war against Germany. He was tired. His speech contained no memorable phrases, save perhaps one: "The...
1919: Placards at the White House: Fed Up with the Inaction of Conservative Suffragists, Alice Paul Decided on the Highly Unorthodox Strategy of Pressuring the President
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] BY NEW YEAR'S DAY 1917, Alice Paul, leader and founder of the National Woman's Party, had made up her mind. Ever since coming home from studying abroad in 1910, the University of Pennsylvania in political science had observed...
1933: Banks Take a Holiday: Not Long after Becoming President, Roosevelt Shut Down All of the Nation's Banks
ON MARCH 4, 1933, toward the close of the fourth winter of the greatest of depressions, Franklin Delano Roosevelt prepared to take the oath of office as president of the United States, as fiduciary confidence crashed and factory whistles were eerily...
1942: Helldivers: Five Critical Minutes during the Battle of Midway Changed the Course of World War II
AT 10:20 A.M. ON JUNE 4, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy was sweeping to Pacific victory. Its Kido Butai (main striking force), which contained six large aircraft carriers bearing more than 400 planes, screened by a dozen cruisers and destroyers,...
1944: Ike's Decision: Eisenhower's Call to Proceed with D-Day Was Anything but Inevitable
IT HAS BEEN 65 YEARS since D-Day--the early June day when the United States and its allies launched a massive attack on the shores of Normandy in a bid to liberate western Europe from the Nazis. It's been long enough for most people who still remember...
1954: Miracle Workers: More Than a Million Children Participated in the Salk Poliomyelitis Vaccine Trials of 1954, the Largest Public Health Experiment in American History
ON APRIL 26, 1954, six-year-old Randy Kerr stood first in line at his elementary school gymnasium in McLean, Virginia, sporting a crew cut and a smile. With assembly-line precision, a nurse rolled up his left sleeve, a doctor administered the injection,...
1959: First Blood in Vietnam: A Magazine Reporter Covered the First American Deaths in Vietnam, Unaware That the Soon-to-Explode War Would Mark America's Awakening to Maturity
ON THE EVENING OF July 8, 1959, six of the eight American advisers stationed at a camp serving as the headquarters of a South Vietnamese army division 20 miles northeast of Saigon had settled down after supper in their mess to watch a movie, The Tattered...
1961: Shooting the Moon: Practical Rather Than Idealistic Reasons Pushed President Kennedy to Challenge America to Land a Man on the Moon within the Decade
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] GAZING UP AT THE Texas night sky from his ranch, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson did not know what to make of Sputnik I, the first artificial Earth satellite launched into orbit by a Soviet missile on October 4, 1957. But an aide's...
1963: King Maker: During Demonstrations in Birmingham, Martin Luther King Jr. Took Perhaps the Most Fateful Decision Made Dung the Civil Rights Era
ON APRIL 12, 1963 in Birmingham, Alabama, Martin Luther King Jr., faced the prospect of failure in his most significant civil rights campaign. For all his generally acknowledged leadership in the escalating southern black protest movement, King had...
2008: Throwing Prejudice Aside: It Has Been America's Challenge to Overcome Its Long, Shameful History of Racism
SHORTLY BEFORE 9:30 P.M. on the night of November 4, 2008, television voter projections "called" the kingmaker state of Ohio for Barack Obama, virtually assuring his election as the 44th president of the United States. But not for another hour and...
Editor's Letter
The cover of this magazine should alert you to some of the surprises in this 60th anniversary issue of American Heritage. If you didn't see that George Washington has been joined by ten notable Americans you might want to take a closer look. For...
JFK on Our Nation's Memory: Forty Seven Years Ago, the President Wrote for American Heritage That the Study of History Is No Mere Pastime but the Means by Which a Nation Establishes Its Sense of Identity and Purpose
While in the White House in 1962, John F. Kennedy responded to a request from the editors of American Heritage to reflect on why knowing history is important. His words are as notable now as they were then, so we have reprinted them. Five years earlier,...
The Fate of the Nation: Top Historians Pick the Most Decisive Moments in American History
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] Happy 60th American Heritage READERS, I HAVE THE honor of introducing this birthday banquet of essays on critical moments in our nation's story by some of its ablest current thinkers. I even get to follow on the distinguished...
The Speech That Made the Man: Lincoln's Oration at New York's Cooper Union Showed That the Prairie Lawyer Could Play in the Big Leagues
[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] ON THE FRIGID AND STORMY evening of February 27, 1860, so the newspapers re: ported, Abraham Lincoln climbed onto the stage of the cavernous Great Hall of New York's newest college, Cooper Union, faced a room overflowing with...
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