A Daily Dose of History:
366 Tales of Triumph & Tragedy From American History
The collection of stories in my forthcoming book, A DAILY DOSE OF HISTORY, covers individuals, events and movements from American history. It celebrates diversity and dissent. It acknowledges mistakes and injustices. Yet it does not ignore, nor make light of, the accomplishments of those Americans already honored in standard history books.
At least one hundred stories are dedicated to women, Native Americans and people of color. The collection includes sixty stories dedicated to the various wars that have claimed more than one million American lives. Twenty-eight stories cover unusual events such as man-made or natural disasters. Scientists, athletes, reformers and presidents alike are given equal attention. Another fifty stories celebrates the American artist: Actors, painters, musicians, photographers, poets, authors and architects.
Perhaps most importantly, and in recognition of the lack of knowledge that the average American has regarding U.S. history, this book is designed to share information in a personal and entertaining manner. The collection can be read, or listened to, one story per day for an entire year. Although the stories jump back and forth through the years while covering a wide range of people and events, it will be easy for the reader to see the thread that holds our past together.
Some of the stories have already been recorded at the Coyote Hill Studio of musician Randy McCoy and will be available on this website. You will be able to download a story for any date of the year or purchase CDs with a complete set of stories for each month of the year. Below are a few examples of stories from the January collection of A DAILY DOSE OF HISTORY.
All stories from A Daily Dose of History are under copyright and cannot be reproduced without the consent of the author.
Many religious groups have had a profound influence on American history. The Society of Friends, or Quakers, founded by George Fox as a radical reaction to extremism in the Church of England, was instrumental in shaping the ideals of freedom and equality in America, despite the fact that it was also a relatively small religious group. The Puritans of New England viciously attacked the first Quaker immigrants. Some Quakers, like the profoundly courageous Mary Dyer, were hanged, others were mutilated; the rest were banned from the Massachusetts colony. Eventually an aristocratic Quaker convert from England named William Penn won a charter from his personal friend King James II and established the Quaker colony of Pennsylvania.
Once James II was out of power, Pennsylvania lost its status as a specifically Quaker colony, but not before Penn and his followers established a model for self-government and individual liberty. The Quakers also called for the emancipation of slaves, opposed warfare, refused to take off their hats for any man, nor pledge allegiance to any flag. And William Penn proposed a league of nations to maintain world peace 200 years before Woodrow Wilson suggested the same idea!
Perhaps the best example of Quaker idealism and courage was in the form of a tiny woman named Lucretia Coffin Mott. Mott joined the abolitionist movement to fight slavery in America and gave an electrifying speech at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London despite being denied a seat at the convention because of her gender. Returning to America, Mott joined such generous Quaker leaders as Thomas Garrett to create the "Underground Railroad," a secret network of homes and churches that would hide and protect runaway slaves. The railroad to freedom could not have succeeded without the Quakers, most of whom were humble, generous and white.
In 1848 Lucretia Mott traveled to Seneca Falls, New York, home of her friend Elizabeth Cady Stanton, for an event that would change America forever: The founding of the American Woman's Rights Movement. As mentor to Stanton and fellow Quaker Susan B. Anthony, Mott spent the last thirty years of her life bravely fighting for the rights of women- not just the right to vote and participate in the political process, but also the right to human dignity, respect and equal opportunities in all areas of life.
Mott was ridiculed by those who could not accept her challenge to the traditional role of women in American society. But she would not be deterred. In addition to her tireless efforts to free the slaves and gain equal rights for women, this courageous American secured an audience before the president of the United States and demanded that the U.S. government stop its persecution and extermination of the Native Americans. Today her bust stands in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol where she is remembered as defender of the oppressed: A tiny woman who became a giant of an American. Lucretia Coffin Mott was born on this day in history, January 3rd, 1793.
Elizabeth Cummins, the great-grandmother of America's most colorful general, came to this country as an indentured servant on a criminal ship. An indomitable woman who stood over six feet tall, she lived to be 105 and ruled over a large and influential Virginia clan. Nevertheless, her only famous offspring, great-grandson Tom Jackson, was left a poor orphan to be raised by a particularly rowdy uncle: Cummins Jackson, a man fond of liquor, gambling and litigation.
Tom Jackson did not follow his uncle’s footsteps. He went to West Point, where he was remembered for his discipline but also his idiosyncrasies and aloofness. When war broke out with Mexico he earned the plaudits of General Winfield Scott, had a cannon ball whiz between his legs, and single-handedly kept Mexican defenses at bay in the Battle of Chapulepec. His heroism did not result in the promotion he desired, so he became a popular but awkward professor at a Lexington, Virginia military academy.
While teaching warfare Jackson curiously found religion and although he regularly fell asleep during church services he was unflinching in his Christian beliefs. He taught Bible classes to slaves and free blacks, despite the taunts of his white neighbors. A surprisingly sensitive romantic, he was crushed but dealt stoically with the sudden death of his beloved wife and first child because it was, "the will of God." Essentially a vegetarian who loved all kinds of fruit, he brought his own food to dinner parties and often kept one arm raised above his head to promote circulation of the blood!
When Civil War broke out Jackson returned to service and, because of his audacity in battle, rose quickly in rank. His courage and defiance gave the Confederacy a surprise victory at the first Battle of Bull Run (Manassas), where he initiated the “rebel yell” and earned an enduring nickname. Next he outwitted Union brigades in the Shenandoah Valley campaign. Promoted to major general, Jackson proved indispensable to Robert E. Lee. Jackson, who dumbfounded numerous Union generals, was so fond of war that after the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history, he rejoiced by saying "God has been very good to us today." Ironically, on the night of his greatest triumph, the Battle of Chancellorsville, a Confederate sentinel accidentally shot the man who seemed impervious to Union bullets. With his death the luck of the Confederacy began to run out.
Tom Jackson loved children, but his only child to survive infancy (from his second wife) died in 1889 at the age of 26. However, she left behind a two-year old daughter, who would live to be 104, dying in 1991: A span of 270 years between the birth of Jackson’s great-grandmother and the death of his granddaughter! Yet it took only three of those years, 1861-63, to immortalize the family name, especially in the South, through the brazen exploits of General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, who was born on this day in history, January 21, 1824.
As a lawyer, activist, singer, actor, folk music historian, and linguist who could speak twenty languages, he was the quintessential American Renaissance man of the 20th century. Graduating first in his class at Rutgers University he was also an All-American football player who won 15 varsity letters in four sports. He earned his law degree at Columbia and was revered throughout Europe, Africa and Asia as an international celebrity and hero. Yet Paul Robeson was also the son of a former slave and as a black man in early 20th century America he was not suppose to be outspoken, defiant and well-educated. He was not allowed to be a hero outside his racial class.
Robeson was famous for his portrayal of Shakespeare's Othello and for his heart-wrenching rendition of the song "Old Man River," but it was his courage as a social activist that established this giant of a man as one of the true giants in American history. He defiantly risked his celebrity and substantial income as an actor and singer to speak out against America's tolerance of segregation and racism. He stood with the workingmen and women of America during the great labor disputes and along with his friend W.E.B. DuBois sought to liberate the countries of Africa from European colonization. Because he was so deeply embraced by the people of the Soviet Union, conservatives in Congress branded Robeson a threat to American security. Dragged before the truly un-American House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), Robeson was shamefully attacked by U.S. Rep. Francis Walter for being a "communist sympathizer." The eloquent Robeson held his ground, even when fellow African Americans like baseball great Jackie Robinson questioned his patriotism before HUAC.
Jackie Roosevelt Robinson, like Robeson, was an extraordinary collegiate athlete winning sixteen varsity letters in four sports at UCLA. An army lieutenant during WW II Robinson was court-martialed for refusing to give up his seat to a white man on a military bus. Following the war he joined the Negro Baseball League but aspired for the bigger challenges (and paychecks) of major league baseball which like most of American society was segregated. In 1947 Branch Richey, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, signed Robinson to a contract making him the first black athlete to play in major league baseball. Ford Frick, president of the National League, squelched threats of player boycotts by declaring "This is the United States of America and one citizen has as much right to play as another." Perhaps more right in the case of Robinson who promptly won the Rookie of the Year Award and went on to star in six World Series during his brief ten-year career.
Like Robeson, Robinson used his celebrity to become an outspoken, if less controversial, critic of racism in America. Robeson died in 1976; four years after the death of Robinson who may never have known that the man he had criticized before HUAC had actually helped negotiate the eventual inclusion of black athletes into major league baseball, a decision that created one of our greatest sports legends, Jackie Robinson, who was born on this day in history, January 31, 1919.
Copyright 2010 by Joseph Fulton
All photographs and prints on this page are courtesy of the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
There has never been a publication in America more immediately popular, or more profoundly important, than “Common Sense,” an anonymously written pamphlet "Addressed to the Inhabitants of America." The pamphlet explained, in proletarian prose, why the thirteen colonies should unite in revolt against British rule. It spelled out the inherent evils of governments, but especially governments ruled by hereditary monarchies. In fact, the pamphlet stated that, "Government even in its best state is but a necessary evil," and when we suffer because of government, "our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer." It was common sense, the author reasoned, for a people to determine their own destiny and it was illogical for a people to be ruled by a government that suppressed their natural rights.
“Common Sense” created a firestorm. It called for a declaration of independence and insisted that America could defeat Great Britain in a defensive war because of its vast size and natural resources. The pamphleteer wisely played up to the puritan Christian bias in America elaborately quoting the Bible in an attempt to show that God frowned upon monarchies - a tactic all the more surprising because the author was not a Christian! This was alluded to when the writer suggested a simple plan, much of it later adopted by the Continental Congress, on how the united colonies could form a republic. It included a Continental Charter that would protect liberties, "securing freedom and property to all men, and above all things, the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience."
For the first time the idea of America's place in world history was prophesied. The pamphlet explained in clear and passionate detail that it was up to America to take the first bold step toward universal freedom from tyranny. In other words, America had the responsibility to set an example for the rest of the world that all people had the natural right to be free. And naturally, the average American became swollen with pride and responded with wild enthusiasm. The power of “Common Sense” was that it erased lingering doubts about the need to support revolution. Even after the "Shot heard round the world," many Americans hoped for reconciliation. But public opinion changed dramatically following the publication of “Common Sense.” Six months later delegates from all thirteen colonies signed the Declaration of Independence and delivered it to King George of England.
There were a few, like John Adams, who criticized the simplicity of its arguments, but no one questioned the profound significance of Common Sense and its contribution to the public’s sudden and enthusiastic support for independence.
Who wrote “Common Sense?” Was it one of America's famous patriots? Franklin? Jefferson? Hancock? In the introduction the author states that his identity "is wholly unnecessary to the public, as the object of attention is the doctrine itself, not the man." But the man turned out to be an Englishman named Thomas Paine, who had received no formal education and had immigrated to America less than a year before! This unlikely hero made revolution against his own homeland a popular cause in America when he published “Common Sense,” on this day in history, January 10, 1776.
Born John Chaney to an unwed psychic, he depended on an older stepsister for childhood guidance. It was not enough to keep him out of trouble. As he sought his own identity he began to call himself Jack and unable to make more than a few cents a day as a newspaper boy he took up the more lucrative occupation of raiding oyster beds in San Francisco Bay. He became so adept that he took on the nickname “Prince of the Oyster Pirates.” By age 15 he was a familiar figure in waterfront bars, drinking heavily and engaging in fistfights.
After one drunken spree Jack fell into the bay and floated off, expecting to drown. He was washed ashore a few hours later, a bit more sober but hardly subdued. On his 17th birthday he landed a job as a seal hunter and had to fight another sailor to secure his position on the vessel. He continued to engage in rowdy brawls at distant harbors from Japan to Siberia. Amiable and talkative, he could get along with people of all nationalities, yet he adopted a racist view of Anglo-Saxon superiority. During one excursion to the Solomon Islands he even participated in a sort of modern-day slave trade between island tribes.
Upon his return to America he became a hobo, briefly joined Coxley's Army of the unemployed and wandered the country by jumping empty boxcars. He was arrested near Niagara Falls for vagrancy and spent a month in a penitentiary. The brutality of the penal system and his experiences with Coxley's Army turned him into an avowed socialist, and upon his release from prison he bummed his way back to Oakland where he became a popular speaker at socialist gatherings. But when he heard of the big gold strike in the Yukon Territory, Jack, who was still a teenager, promptly caught a steamer for Alaska, trudged over the grueling Chilkoot Pass and joined in on the Klondike Gold Rush. After many drunken nights in Dawson City, he had scurvy, but no gold.
Finally, at the ripe old age of 21, Jack grew weary of living on the wild side. He moved to Sonoma Valley and spent most of his remaining years living a busy, yet relatively quiet life as an innovative farmer. When he died of kidney failure at the age of 40, the whole world mourned his death and that is because the oyster pirate had another side. Though he had virtually no formal education, Jack was a voracious reader and writer. Every morning he wrote a minimum of 1,000 words. Before his untimely death he had written enough short stories, novels and essays to fill fifty volumes. He became internationally famous for his stories, many of them based upon his youthful troubles and adventures. In fact, he was the most popular American writer of his day. His books have since been translated into seventy languages.
Author of People of the Abyss, The Iron Heel, Martin Eden, The Sea Wolf, White Fang and of course, The Call of the Wild: America's most unlikely literary giant, Jack London, was born on this day in history, January 12th, 1876.
Stephen Foster was born near the smoky industrial town of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on the Fourth of July, 1826. On that very day the United States celebrated its 50th birthday and two of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, died of old age! It was a remarkable day full of irony and nostalgia. One might have concluded that, being born on such a day, Foster was destined to be a statesman. After all, his father was an aspiring politician and his sister was married to the brother of future President James Buchanan. Stephen Foster was interested only in music, and we are all the better for it.
America's most famous songwriter emerged at the time when advances in transportation and communication were making America a smaller place and making it possible for popular music to spread across the land in a matter of weeks. It was also a time when Americans were cautiously if naively examining their own racial diversity. The popular craze of the day was racist "blackface," music which featured minstrel troupes and solo white performers like G.W. Dixon as "Zip Coon," from which the ditty Zippity-doodah is derived, and Daddy Rice as "Jim Crow," which became the name for the segregation policies of the South.
Stephen Foster composed over 200 songs during his brief career. Though his songs varied in style, his most popular were written in the blackface genre. His first big hit came in 1848 when he wrote “Oh! Susanna.” It was huge success. He followed that tune with the knee-slapping “Camptown Races” (Doo-dah, doo-dah!). His brilliant “Old Folks at Home” is best remembered by its catchy lyric, "Way down upon the Swanee River." “Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair” was an Irish ballad dedicated to his wife. “Hard Times Come Again No More” and “Willie Has Gone to War” were bold attempts to diversify his message. “My Old Kentucky Home,” a heart-wrenching tale of runaway slaves inspired by Uncle Tom's Cabin was his greatest masterpiece, and the serene “Beautiful Dreamer,” his final success.
Foster was known as a gentle and generous man, almost to a fault. He took little interest in his own financial security, as long as he had enough money for drink. He suffered from alcoholism even as he composed his most famous music. As his world collapsed around him he sold off the future publishing rights to his beloved songs, certainly unable to predict how priceless they would become. At the age of 37, Foster seriously injured himself when he fell in a New York City hotel room. He died three days later in the charity ward of New York’s Bellevue Hospital. He had 38 cents in his purse.
The songs of Stephen Foster brightened many a lonely night for prospectors, cowboys, pioneers, slaves and Civil War soldiers and now, nearly 150 years later, they continue to be among the favorite folk songs in America. The U.S. Congress honored the legendary songwriter in 1951 with Stephen Foster Memorial Day to be celebrated on the anniversary of his untimely death, which occurred on this day in history, January 13th, 1864.
General Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson