This Month in History: April

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics—each one singing his, as it should be, 
  blithe and strong;
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank of beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves 
  off work.

I Hear America Singing,” by Walt Whitman, who is known for doing more to interpret the meaning of American independence than any poet of the nineteenth century, projecting the revolutionary spirit into a vision of citizenship, selfhood, and populace that has greatly contributed to American mythology • Painting by Thomas Sautelle Roberts, (1748-1778) creative commons

  • Today in History — April 25

    What was the Thornton Affair?

    paltoaltoApril 25, 1846 — The Thornton Affair began today when Mexican troops attacked a squadron of US dragoons commanded by Captain Seth Thornton near Fort Texas (modern-day Brownsville). The engagement left 16 US troops killed.

    Capt. Thornton, who was knocked unconscious when he fell off his horse, was at first listed among those killed in the incident. The remaining 52 soldiers were held at Matamoros and later exchanged for Mexican prisoners. News of the incident reached Washington, DC two weeks later.

    On May 11, then-President James Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war, maintaining that a state of war between the two nations already existed. Two days later, by overwhelming margins and with little debate, both houses voted to declare war.

    Considered the last “strong” president until the Civil War, Polk is the last of the Jacksonians to sit in the White House.

    Sources: mexicanhistory.org, library.uta.edu, wikipedia/Thornton_Affair, whitehouse.gov, jameskpolk.com

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  • April 1

    Who popularized the tradition of April Fools’ Day?

    aprilfoolsdayApril 1, 1700 — Today, English pranksters began popularizing the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other.

    Also called All Fools’ Day, this holiday has been celebrated for centuries by different cultures. Some historians speculate the concept dates to 1582.

    That is when France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian, as called for by the Council of Trent in 1563.

    Those who were slow to get the news — or failed to recognize that the start of the new year had moved to Jan. 1 — continued to celebrate it during the last week of March through April 1 and became the butt of jokes and hoaxes.

    Sources: History.com,

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  • April 1

    Who created the $ dollar sign?

    money-14April 1, 1778 — Louisiana businessman Oliver Pollock created the dollar sign as the symbol we know today.

    Pollock immigrated to America in 1760 from Ireland at age 25. He began a career as a merchant in the West Indies and was headquarters in Havana, Cuba where he traded mainly with the Spanish. In 1777 he was appointed to be the commercial agent of the United States Government making him the economic representative of the colonies.

    It is speculation as to the exact origins of the dollar sign design, but many believe Pollock combined the “U” and “S” of the United States to create the shape: “$” Some, however, think that the symbol was the result of Pollock’s bad penmanship, for which he was well known.

    Sources: andspeakingofwhich,

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  • April 2

    What commonplace American invention was first manufactured today?

    pencil_history_centered_oldest_known_wood_cased_pencilApril 2, 1827  Although the use of pencils dates back to ancient Rome when a stylus (a thin metal rod) was used — today marks the start of day when inventor Joseph Dixon first began manufacturing lead pencils.

    Although the name of invention suggests that the product is made of lead, pencils are actually made of the nontoxic mineral graphite.

    In 1859 he patented graphite crucibles, and established a factory in Salem, Massachusetts for mass manufacturing.

    When he died, the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company was the largest manufacturer of graphite products in the world.

    The first pencil factory in the United States was started earlier by William Monroe of Concord, Massachusetts, in June 1812. His first 30 pencils were bought by Benjamin Adams, a hardware dealer in Boston, Massachusetts.

    The first pencils made in Great Britain (1584) used graphite from Borrowdale, Cumberland.

    Sources: cosmeo.com/, todayinsci.com, pencils.com,

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  • April 3

    Which mail service started today?

    5554191162_4f98ba7f45_oApril 3, 1860 — The Pony Express! This mail delivery service started a route between St. Joseph, Missouri to Sacramento, California on April 3, 1860.

    The men left on horseback simultaneously from St. Joseph and Sacramento with saddlebags full of letters for the approximately 2000-mile trail.

    On this first trip the riders coming from St. Joseph made it to Sacramento in 9 days and 23 hours, an the eastbound riders arrived after 11 days and 12 hours of travel. On average Pony Express riders covered 250 miles in a 24-hour day.

    Source: ponyexpress.org

  • April 3

    What US President received an honorary law degree from Harvard University?

    A diploma from the Harvard Archives at Harvard University is pictured. Pictured here: an 1840 replica of the honorary LLD granted to George Washington on the 18 of April 1776. Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff PhotographerApril 3, 1776 — George Washington received an honorary law degree from Harvard University today.

    This was also the first law degree that Harvard awarded.

    Washington was honored because of his service to the University when he drove the British out of Boston while he was the head of the Continental Army.

    Sources: bostonmagazine.com, barackhobamaonline,

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  • April 4

    Who assumed the role of President after the death of William Henry Harrison?

    tylerApril 4, 1841— Vice President John Tyler (pictured) became the 10th President of the United States today, following the death of William Henry Harrison.

    Harrison had grown ill from a cold, which turned into pneumonia. He was the first president to die in office.

    His term only lasted 30 days, the shortest term of a president to date. On his death bed he addressed his doctor with words meant for Tyler: Sir, I wish you to understand the true principles of the government. I wish them carried out. I ask nothing more.”

    As for Tyler, he served as President of the United States until 1845. Nicknamed “His Accidency,” he was the first vice president to become chief executive due to the death of his predecessor.

    Sources: wikipedia/WilliamHenryHarrison, history.com, whitehouse.gov,

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  • April 5

    Which president exercised the first veto?

    George WashingtonApril 5, 1792 — George Washington issued the first presidential veto of a Congressional bill today that introduced a new plan to increased the amount of seats for northern states in the House of Representatives.

    Washington had a politically divided Cabinet, which proved to be no help in making the decision to veto.

    In the end, Washington vetoed the bill on the grounds that it was unconstitutional to give some states more representation then others.

    Sources: history.com,

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  • April 6

    Which government organization met for the first time today?

    400px-New_York_City_Hall_1789bApril 6, 1789 — The United States Congress — consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives — met for the first time today at Federal Hall in New York City.

    Later, they met in Congress Hall in Philadelphia when the government officially began operations under the new (and current) frame of government established by the 1787 Constitution.

    The apportionment of seats in the House of Representatives was based on the provisions of Article I, Section 2, Clause 3 of the Constitution. Both chambers had a Pro-Administration majority. Twelve articles of amendment to the Constitution were passed by this Congress and sent to the states for ratification; the ten ratified as additions to the Constitution on December 15, 1791 are collectively known as the Bill of Rights.

    Sources: wikipedia/1st_United_States_Congress, historyorb.com, wikipedia/Bill_of_Rights,

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  • April 6

    When was the first Summer Olympics held? And when did it come to the US?

    1896_Olympic_opening_ceremonyApril 6, 1896 — The first Summer Olympics was held today. Officially known as the Games of the I Olympiad, was a multi-sport event held in Athens, Greece, through April 15. It was the first international Olympic Games held in the modern era.

    Because Ancient Greece was the birthplace of the Olympic Games, Athens was considered to be an appropriate choice to stage the inaugural modern Games. It was unanimously chosen as the host city during a congress organised by Pierre de Coubertin, a French pedagogue and historian, in Paris, on June 23, 1894. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) was also instituted during this congress.

    Despite many obstacles and setbacks, the 1896 Olympics were regarded as a great success. The Games had the largest international participation of any sporting event to that date. The Panathinaiko Stadium, the only Olympic stadium used in the 1800s, overflowed with the largest crowd ever to watch a sporting event.  The highlight for the Greeks was the marathon victory by their compatriot Spyridon Louis. The most successful competitor was German wrestler and gymnast Carl Schuhmann, who won four events.

    The 1900 Summer Olympics was already planned for Paris and, except for the Intercalated Games of 1906, the Olympics did not return to Greece until the 2004 Summer Olympics — 108 years later.

    Since then, Los Angeles has hosted two Summer Olympics games — in 1932 and 1984. The only Olympics held in the Southern Hemisphere so far have both been in Australia (Melbourne 1956 and Sydney 2000). In 2016, Rio de Janeiro will host the first Summer Games in South America.

    Sources: wikipedia/SummerOlympics,

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  • April 7

    What famous symphony was conducted in public for the first time today?

    Beethoven_2April 7, 1805 — Today was the public premiere of Ludwig van Beethoven’s “Eroica,” which he conducted at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien.

    Beethoven (1770-1827) began working on the first sketches for this Symphony No. 3 in the summer of 1802, and finished in the spring of 1804.

    Dedicated to the music-loving nobleman Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz, it first premiered in private performances at Lobkowitz’s palace in Vienna during the second half of 1804.

    The San Francisco Symphony played the work in March 1912 with Henry Hadley conducting. More recently, it was conducted by Herbert Blomstedt in February 2010. The orchestra consists of two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, three horns, two trumpets, timpani, and strings. Performance time: about 50 minutes.

    Sources: sfsymphony.org, historyorb, youtube.com, napoleon-series.org,

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  • April 8

    Which US president spent time in Paris as the Minister to France?

    US_Navy_031029-N-6236G-001_A_painting_of_President_John_Adams_(1735-1826),_2nd_president_of_the_United_States,_by_Asher_B._Durand_(1767-1845)-cropApril 8, 1778 — Today, future US President John Adams (1735-1826) arrived in Paris to replace Silas Deane as the American commissioner representing the interests of the United States.

    A former Continental Congress member, Deane’s assignment was to bribe Indians to cooperate with Americans and to persuade the French government to supply arms, ammunition, and uniforms for the Continental Army. However, Deane’s conduct aroused the suspicions of fellow diplomat Arthur Lee, who accused Deane of financial mismanagement and corruption. As a result of Lee’s charges, Deane was recalled by Congress.

    Historians explain that Lee never got along with his two colleagues in part because the two came from different cultural backgrounds in the Colonies. Deane was born and raised in Connecticut and educated at Yale, while Arthur Lee was a Virginian who followed the educational and career path of the British elite before Revolutionary politics intervened.

    Adams, who was also a New Englander (from Massachusetts and Harvard), defended Deane, but was unable to clear his name. Deane was forced to live his life in exile until his death in 1789. In 1842, Congress reopened the investigation into his accounts and, finding no evidence of misconduct, ordered that his heirs be paid $37,000 in reparations.

    After Adams had spent 18 months in Paris, along with Benjamin Franklin, Congress decided to name Franklin the sole minister to France. Although reportedly humiliated by the decision, Adams was elected part of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention upon his return; he was put in charge of drafting the state’s first constitution. It became the core of the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 and shaped the future American Constitution.

    Sources: history.com, john-adams-heritage.com, wikipedia/John_Adams, biography.com,

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  • April 9

    Where is the first tax-supported library located?

    pc-nh-peterboro-int-72-1April 9, 1833 — The Peterborough Library opened today in New Hampshire, making it the nation’s first first tax-supported library. 

    However, it will take another 19 years for the Boston Public Library (pictured below) to open.

    What took so long?

    The process began in 1839, when Frenchman Alexandre Vattemare suggested that all of Boston’s libraries combine themselves into one institution for the benefit of the public. Most small libraries weren’t interested in the idea. So Vattemare had large bundles of books sent from Paris — in 1843 and 1847 — to build the collection. Boston Mayor Josiah Quincy, Jr. donated $5,000 to begin the funding process.

    2350781505_BPL_BoylstonStBut what jumpstarted the campaign was the death of John Jacob Astor in 1848. The German immigrant, who at his death was the wealthiest man in America, bequeathed $400,000 to create the Astor Library in New York. It opened its doors in 1849 in the building which is now the home of The New York Shakespeare Festival’s Joseph Papp Public Theater. Although the books did not circulate and hours were limited, it was a major resource for reference and research.

    Soon after, Boston Mayor Benjamin Seaver revved up the process to open the public library in Beantown. He recommended to the city council that a librarian be appointed. Edward Capen landed the job. To house the collection, a former schoolhouse located on Mason Street was selected as the library’s first home.

    On March 20, 1854, the Reading Room of the Boston Public Library officially opened to the public.

    Sources: libraryhistorybuff, wikipedia/Boston_Public_Library,

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  • April 10

    How much did it cost to purchase the first patent?

    First-Patent-GrantedApril 10, 1790 — The US Patent system formed today when President George Washington signed the bill that gave inventors rights to their creations. The absolute power to grant a patent went to the first board members — Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph.

    The bill defined the subject matter of a US patent as “any useful art, manufacture, engine, machine, or device, or any improvement thereon not before known or used.”

    Fees were $4-$5 per patent, with the board deciding on the duration of each patent, not to exceed 14 years.

    On July 31, 1790, Samuel Hopkins of Philadelphia, received the first US patent for an improvement in “the making of Pot ash and Pearl ash by a new Apparatus and Process.” In 2013, 302,948 patents were granted in the United States.

    Sources: edn.com,

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  • April 11

    What four pivotal events happened on this day in history?

    French Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte

    April 11 marks three important events in Colonial America, and around the world. 

    In 1771 — The last execution for witchcraft took place in Germany.

    On this day in 1783 — Hostilities formally ceased in the American Revolutionary War.

    On April 11, 1814 — French Emperor Napoleon Bonapart abdicated unconditionally. He spent his remaining years exiled to Elba, a Mediterranean island in Tuscany, Italy, 10 kilometres from the coastal town of Piombino, the largest island of the Tuscan Archipelago.

    And in 1865 — Abraham Lincoln urged a spirit of generous conciliation today, trying to set the tone for peace during reconstruction. He will be shot and killed in 3 days.

    Sources: historyorb, wikipedia/Elba,

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  • April 12

    What is the Townshend Act?

    TownshendrepealApril 12, 1770 — Today, the British parliament repealed the Townshend Act on all goods but tea in order to underscore the supremacy of parliament. Pressure from British merchants was partially responsible for the change.

    The issue: On March 5, 1770 debates began in the English parliament on whether or not to overturn the taxes. The government was willing to remove the taxes on everything but tea (because it was not grown in the England and thus they believed the tariff would not hurt British merchants) and the British government wished to maintain the principal that their parliament had the right to tax the colonies.

    The negotiation: During the course of the debate the opposition introduced a resolution calling for the duties on tea to be dropped as well. However, that resolution was defeated by the representatives of the government in parliament by a vote of 204 to 142. As a result, the British parliament voted to eliminate the duty on everything but tea.

    The impact: The British decision to eliminate the tariff on everything but tea, was too little, too late. By reiterating their claim to be able to tax the colonists — and by not rescinding other aspects of the Townshend Acts such as the independent Customs Authority — the decision served only to inflame the colonialists.

    Sources: historycentral.com, wikipedia/Alexander_Hamilton,

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  • April 13

    Happy Birthday Thomas Jefferson!

    cover_feature1-2Thomas Jefferson was born today, on April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Virginia. The author of the Declaration of Independence and the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom, Jefferson was the third president of the United States, and the founder of the University of Virginia.

    Big accomplishments: Perhaps the most notable achievements of his first term as president (1800-1804) were the purchase of the Louisiana Territory in 1803 and his support of the Lewis and Clark expedition. His second term, when the US encountered more difficulties on the domestic and foreign fronts, is remembered for his efforts to maintain neutrality in the midst of the conflict between Britain and France. However, his efforts did not avert war with Britain in 1812.

    Background: His father, Peter Jefferson, was a successful planter and surveyor and his mother Jane Randolph a member of one of Virginia’s most distinguished families. Having inherited a considerable landed estate from his father, Jefferson began building Monticello when he was 26 years old. Three years later, he married Martha Wayles Skelton, with whom he lived happily for 10 years until her death in 1782. Their marriage produced six children, but only two survived to adulthood. Jefferson never remarried. (more…)

    Sources: americaslibrary.gov, monticello.org, wikipedia, studioeis.com,

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  • April 13

    What is the name of the pachyderm that arrived in NYC today in 1976?

    9564252998_dfc12bd93f_bApril 13, 1796 — The first elephant arrived today in the United States from India. Captain Jacob Crowninshield brought it aboard the America, which set sail from Calcutta for New York on December 3, 1795.  Upon speculation, he had purchased the pachyderm in India and brought it to America. The entire venture cost him $450.

    Ten days later, the elephant was exhibited in at the corner of Beaver Street and Broadway. A Welshman named Owen offered to buy it for $10,000. From there, it seems the elephant went on tour constantly for many years.

    The circus, as we know it today, was long in evolving and in colonial America, individual wild animals were put on display and an admission was charged. Slowly, exhibitors began adding more animals to their show; and by the early 1800’s, full fledge menageries were the trend.

    The second elephant, brought to the United States in 1804, was named Old Bet. Hachaliah Bailey had purchased the menagerie elephant for $1,000. Old Bet lived until July 24, 1816, when it was killed while on tour near Alfred, Maine by local farmer Daniel Davis who shot her, and was later convicted of the crime.The farmer reportedly thought it was sinful for people to pay to see an animal.

    In 1821, the Barnum’s American Museum in New York announced that they had bought the hide and bones of Old Bet and would mount the remains at the museum. The elephant was memorialized in 1825 with a statue and the Elephant Hotel in Somers, New York.

    It is estimated that there were once more than 350 species of elephants in the world. Today we only have two of them left – the Asian and the Africa species.

    Sources: victorianweb.org, historybuff, elephants.com, elephant-world.com, wikipedia/Old_Bet,

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  • April 14

    Why was John Wilkes Booth so determined to kill President Lincoln?

    jwbApril 14, 1865 — On this fateful day in history, John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer, shot President Abraham Lincoln at a play at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC.

    The attack came only five days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his massive army at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, effectively ending the American Civil War.

    What made Booth want to kill the president? A Maryland native born in 1838, he remained in the North during the war despite his Confederate sympathies, initially plotted to capture President Lincoln and take him to Richmond, the Confederate capital.

    However, on March 20, 1865, the day of the planned kidnapping, the president failed to appear at the spot where Booth and his six fellow conspirators lay in wait. Two weeks later, Richmond fell to Union forces.

    In April, with Confederate armies near collapse across the South, Booth hatched a desperate plan to save the Confederacy. Learning that Lincoln was to attend a performance of “Our American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater on April 14, Booth masterminded the simultaneous assassination of Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State William H. Seward.

    By murdering the president and two of his possible successors, Booth and his conspirators hoped to throw the US government into disarray. Click here to learn more.

    Sources: history.com,

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  • April 15

    A Day of Mourning

    abraham-lincolnApril 15, 1865 — At 7:22 a.m. today, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States, died from a bullet wound inflicted the night before by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer.

    The president’s death came only six days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his massive army at Appomattox, effectively ending the American Civil War.

    Sources: this-day-in-history, loc.gov,

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  • April 16

    What is the Rush-Bagot Pact?

    greatlakesApril 16, 1818 — The US Senate today ratified the Rush-Bagot Pact — an agreement between the United States and Great Britain to eliminate their fleets from the Great Lakes.

    The Convention of 1818 set the boundary between the Missouri Territory in the United States and British North America (later Canada) at the 49th parallel. 

    Both agreements reflected the easing of diplomatic tensions that had led to the War of 1812 and marked the beginning of Anglo-American cooperation.

    Overall relations improved, and eventually postwar trade rebounded as British political leaders increasingly viewed the United States as a valuable trading partner.

    So when US Minister to Great Britain, John Quincy Adams, proposed disarmament on January 25, 1816, he got the nod from British Foreign Secretary Viscount Castlereagh.

    Sources: history.state.gov, wikipedia/Rush–Bagot_Treaty,

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  • April 17

    Who was the first African-American man to graduate from a US college?

    200px-Francis_williamsApril 17, 1758 — Francis Williams today became the first US black college graduate.

    A poet, he was born around 1700 to John and Dorothy Williams, a free black couple in Jamaica. John Williams had been freed by the will of his former master and within 10 years was able to acquire property.

    As free blacks, the Williams family were increasingly in the minority as Jamaica’s sugar industry, which relied on the labour of enslaved Africans, grew over the course of the 18th century.

    John Williams’ independent wealth also ensured that Francis and his brothers received an education. Read more to see his popular poem, An Ode to George Haldane.

    Another fascinating fact about this moment in history: It was suggested that Francis was the subject of a social experiment devised by the Duke of Montagu who wished to show that black individuals — with the right education — could match the intellectual achievements of whites.

    The Duke is reported to have sponsored Francis to travel to England to undertake an English education at a grammar school and then at Cambridge University. However, Francis does not appear in the university’s records and his family’s wealth would have probably made the Duke’s support unnecessary.

    Sources: math.buffalo.edu, wikipedia/Francis_Williams, Earl_of_Camperdown,

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  • April 18

    What was the route of what historians consider the most infamous midnight ride in the Revolutionary War?

    Wikipedia_PaulRevereApril 18, 1775 — Today in history, Paul Revere rode from Charleston to Lexington warning the “regulars are coming!”

    Revere was sent by Dr. Joseph Warren, who instructed him to ride to Lexington, Massachusetts, to warn Samuel Adams and John Hancock that British troops were marching to arrest them.

    After being rowed across the Charles River to Charlestown by two associates, Revere borrowed a horse from his friend Deacon John Larkin.

    While in Charlestown, he verified that the local “Sons of Liberty” committee had seen his pre-arranged signals the previous weekend, as he was afraid that he might be prevented from leaving Boston.

    Sources: paulreverehouse.org, politico.com, wikipedia/Paul_Revere, bostonteapartyship.com,

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  • April 19

    What famous siege ended today?

    Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 9.12.16 AM

    April 19, 1775 — A battle began today that didn’t end until March 17, 1776 when the British finally fled Boston by sea. The 11-month battle started when British troops retreated to Massachusetts after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

    Here’s what happened: American militiamen blocked off Boston neck and Charlestown neck, the thin strips of land connecting the Boston and Charlestown peninsulas to the mainland, to prevent the British from conducting anymore attacks on the surrounding countryside. Any movement in or out of the city, whether it be military or civilian, was completely cut off. On April 22, British General Thomas Gage met with town officials to work out a deal that would allow civilians to leave or enter Boston.

    Sources: historyofmassachusetts.org, "After the Siege: A Social History of Boston 1775-1800",

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  • April 19

    What is the story behind the infamous “shot heard round the world”?

    Battle_of_Lexington,_1775April 19, 1775 — It’s around 5 a.m., and about 700 British troops have just set out on a mission to capture Patriot leaders and seize a Patriot arsenal. Soon after, they march into Lexington to find 77 armed minutemen under Captain John Parker waiting for them on the town’s common green. British Major John Pitcairn ordered the outnumbered Patriots to disperse, and after a moment’s hesitation the Americans began to drift off the green.

    Suddenly, the “shot heard around the world” was fired from an undetermined gun, and a cloud of musket smoke soon covered the green. When the brief Battle of Lexington ended, eight Americans lay dead or dying and 10 others were wounded. Only one British soldier was injured, but the American Revolution had begun.

    Sources: history.com, Lexington_and_Concord, constitutionfacts.com,

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  • April 20

    What happened during the 11-month siege of Boston that began today?

    Screen Shot 2015-04-11 at 9.12.16 AMApril 20, 1775 — Today begins the 11-month siege of Boston, which started when British troops retreated to Massachusetts after the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

    American militiamen blocked off Boston neck and Charlestown neck, the thin strips of land connecting the Boston and Charlestown peninsulas to the mainland, to prevent the British from conducting anymore attacks on the surrounding countryside.

    During the first few days of the 11-month siege, any movement in or out of the city, whether it be military or civilian, was completely cut off. On April 22, British General Thomas Gage met with town officials to work out a deal that would allow civilians to leave or enter Boston. The siege finally ended on March 17, 1776 when the British fled Boston by sea.

    Sources: historyofmassachusetts.org,

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  • April 21

    Who was sworn into office first — John Adams or George Washington?

    John Adams: Image by Wikimedia CommonsApril 21, 1789 — John Adams was sworn in today as the first US vice president — 9 days before Washington was inaugurated. Adams served as VP from 1789 to 1797, and as president of the United States from 1797 to 1801.

    An American Founding Father, Adams was a considered an Enlightenment political theorist who promoted republicanism, as well as a strong central government, and wrote prolifically about his often seminal ideas—both in published works and in letters to his wife and key adviser Abigail Adams.

    Adams strongly opposed slavery, and was proud that he never owned a slave. After the Boston Massacre, with anti-British feelings in Boston at a boiling point, he provided a principled, controversial, and successful legal defense of the accused British soldiers, because he believed in the right to counsel and the “protect[ion] of innocence.”

    Sources: wikipedia/John_Adams,

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  • April 22

    When did the circus come to America?

    450px-Ricketts_CircusApril 22, 1793 — This afternoon in Philadelphia, President George Washington attended the opening of the first circus in the United States.

    Circus owner Bill Ricketts had recently acquired horses in Pennsylvania and traveled to New York City to erect a stage on Broadway, near the Battery. As in Philadelphia, this first arena was roofless, and the performances were given in daylight, at 4 p.m. The weather must have been clement that year, since Ricketts kept the Circus open until November 4, before moving south to Charleston, South Carolina.

    Young and good-looking, talented and enterprising, Ricketts’ Circus was a sensation. The star equestrian, born in England, formed his company in 1791 in partnership with John Parker, a dancer turned “equestrian manager” (aka: circus manager). They established themselves at the Circus Royal in Edinburgh, then toured in Scotland and Ireland before venturing to America two years later.

    Sources: circopedia.org, H. L. Mencken,

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  • April 23

    Which general was named commander of Virginia Confederate forces today?

    RobertELeeApril 23, 1861 — Robert E. Lee was named commander of Virginia Confederate forces in the US Civil War today. 

    Earlier this month, President Abraham Lincoln offered Lee the command of the Federal forces because of his reputation as one of the finest officers in the United States Army. Lee declined.

    He tendered his resignation from the army when the state of Virginia seceded on April 17, arguing that he could not fight against his own people. Instead, he accepted a general’s commission in the newly formed Confederate Army.

    Flash forward to September 11, 1861: Lee’s first military engagement of the Civil War occurred at Cheat Mountain, Virginia (now West Virginia). It was a Union victory but Lee’s reputation withstood the public criticism that followed. He served as military advisor to President Jefferson Davis until June 1862 when he was given command of the wounded General Joseph E. Johnston’s embattled army on the Virginia peninsula.

    Lee renamed his command the Army of Northern Virginia, and under his direction it would become the most famous and successful of the Confederate armies.  This same organization also boasted some of the Confederacy’s most inspiring military figures, including James Longstreet,Stonewall Jackson and the flamboyant cavalier J.E.B. Stuart.  With these trusted subordinates, Lee commanded troops that continually manhandled their blue-clad adversaries and embarrassed their generals no matter what the odds.

    Sources: civilwar.org, Wikipedia_Robert E. Lee, quotesgram.com,

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  • April 24

    What was the first successful newspaper in the US?

    Image from the collections of the Massachusettts Historical Society.April 24, 1704 — Formed today was the Boston News-Letter, the first successful newspaper in the North American colonies. A small single sheet of 8×12 inches, articles were printed on both sides; it was published weekly until 1776.

    Its editor and publisher was John Campbell, a bookseller who had been appointed postmaster in 1702. And active writer who regularly sent “news letters” of European occurrences to New England governors for a year or more, Campbell thought it would save him a little trouble to print and distribute them to the masses.

    However, the News-Letter was eavily subsidized by the British government, and all copy was approved by the governor, so distribution was limited.

    During its early years, the News-Letter was filled primarily with articles from London journals describing English politics and the details of European wars. As the only newspaper in the colonies at the time, it also reported on the sensational death of Blackbeard the pirate in hand-to-hand combat in 1718.

    The News-Letter had no competition in Boston until December 21, 1719 — when the first issue of the Boston Gazette was launched by Ben Franklin, his older brother James, and Benjamin Edes, a journalist and political agitator.

    At the time, even the two largest cities in British America — Philadelphia and New York — lacked their own newspapers, until 1719 and 1725 respectively.

    The News-Letter continued to be popular, however, and also became a legacy handed down to family members. In 1707, a printer named John Allen took over the printing of the News-Letter, and assumed the role of editor from 1722, focusing more on domestic events. After his death in 1732, his son-in-law John Draper, also a printer, took the paper’s helm. He enlarged the paper to four pages and filled it with news from throughout the colonies.

    Upon his death in 1762, his son, Richard, became editor. An ardent loyalist who firmly supported the mother country in the stormy times of the 1770s, he ran the News-Letter until his death in 1774. His widow, Margaret Green Draper, shared his sympathies and published the newspaper until the British evacuated Boston on March 17, 1776 — taking her with them. The British government gave Margaret Draper a life pension.

    Sources: earlyamerica.com, wikipedia/John_Campbell, masshist.org, Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick, familysearch.org,

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  • April 25

    What was the Thornton Affair?

    paltoaltoApril 25, 1846 — The Thornton Affair began today when Mexican troops attacked a squadron of US dragoons commanded by Captain Seth Thornton near Fort Texas (modern-day Brownsville). The engagement left 16 US troops killed.

    Capt. Thornton, who was knocked unconscious when he fell off his horse, was at first listed among those killed in the incident. The remaining 52 soldiers were held at Matamoros and later exchanged for Mexican prisoners. News of the incident reached Washington, DC two weeks later.

    On May 11, then-President James Polk asked Congress for a declaration of war, maintaining that a state of war between the two nations already existed. Two days later, by overwhelming margins and with little debate, both houses voted to declare war.

    Considered the last “strong” president until the Civil War, Polk is the last of the Jacksonians to sit in the White House.

    Sources: mexicanhistory.org, library.uta.edu, wikipedia/Thornton_Affair, whitehouse.gov, jameskpolk.com,

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  • April 26

    What 16-year-old rode from NY to CT today to rally her father’s militia?

    SybilLudingtonApril 26, 1777 — Sybil Ludington, 16, rode from New York to Connecticut tonight, rallying her father’s militia. Her heroic ride took her twice the distance of Paul Revere’s.

    The eldest of 12 children, Sybil’s father was Colonel Henry Ludington, commander of the 7th Regiment of the Dutchess County Militia during the American Revolutionary War. He oversaw a regional network of anti-Tory spies.

    Earlier in the day, Col. Ludington received word that the British had landed in Long Island Sound and were planning to attack Danbury, CT — a town vital for its strategic location and its storehouse of revolutionary armaments. Needing to rouse the volunteers under his command, Ludington was faced with a dilemma — he could not make the ride himself, as he needed to remain at his home to organize the rallying defense, but the horseman who had alerted him was too weary from his journey to continue.

    According to legend, the Colonel turned to his daughter, who was barely 16 at the time, and asked her to make the ride. Through the rainy night on unlit, muddy trails, she is said to have ridden 40 miles to the towns of Carmel, Mahopac, and Stormville, conveying word to the soldiers to gather at her father’s house at daybreak. The troops were rallied, but too late — much of Danbury was burned by the British, though the American militia was able to block the King’s men from advancing into New York.

    The story of Sybil Ludington’s ride has been compared to the heroics of Paul Revere two years earlier, with two key distinction — Ludington’s ride was more than twice the distance of Revere’s, and Revere was a trained military officer while Ludington was a teenage girl whose assignment came as a complete surprise.

    Markers have been erected along the route she is believed to have traveled, but historians have questioned the veracity of these events, since no mention of her ride appeared in print during her lifetime. Her purported heroism was first described in a biography of her father, which was published in 1907 by two of his grandchildren. Her nephew Harrison Ludington (1812-1891) was elected Mayor of Milwaukee and Governor of Wisconsin in the 1870s.

    Sources: nndb.com, wikipedia/Sybil_Ludington, historicpatterson.org,

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  • April 27

    What inspired the Sons of Liberty to throw 342 chests of tea overboard?

    BostonTeaPartyApril 27,  1773 — British Parliament passed the Tea Act today.

    The bill — designed to save the faltering East India Company from bankruptcy by greatly lowering the tea tax it paid to the British government — granted it a de facto monopoly on the American tea trade. All legal tea entered the colonies through England, allowing the East India Company to pay lower taxes in Britain and to sell tea more cheaply in the colonies. Even untaxed Dutch tea, which entered the colonies illegally through smuggling, was more expensive the East India tea, after the act took effect.

    British Prime Minister, Frederick, Lord North, who initiated the legislation, thought it impossible that the colonists would protest cheap tea; he was wrong. Not only did many of the settlers rightly realize the act was just a reprise of the hated Townshend duties, but the establishment of special channels of distributions and sales left many shopkeepers cut out of the deal infuriated.

    Less than 8 months later — on the night of December 16, 1773 — Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty boarded three ships in the Boston harbor and threw 342 chests of tea overboard. This resulted in the passage of the punitive Coercive Acts in 1774 and pushed the two sides closer to war.

    Sources: ushistory.org, history.com, famousdaily.com,

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  • April 28

    What is the history of the Mutiny on the Bounty?

    MutinyApril 28, 1789 — A famous mutiny occurred today aboard the Royal Navy ship HMS Bounty.

    Led by Fletcher Christian against Lieutenant William Bligh, sailors were motivated by alleged harsh treatment by Bligh — who they set afloat in a small boat with about 20 crew loyal to him. To avoid detection and prevent desertion, the mutineers then variously settled on Pitcairn Island or on Tahiti and burned Bounty off Pitcairn.

    Bligh navigated the 23-foot open launch through a 47-day voyage to Timor in the Dutch East Indies, equipped with a quadrant and pocket watch and without charts or compass. He recorded the distance as 3,618 nautical miles (4,164 mi). He then returned to Britain and reported the mutiny to the Admiralty on March 15, 1790 — 2 years and 11 weeks after his original departure.

    The British government dispatched HMS Pandora to capture the mutineers, and Pandora reached Tahiti on March 23, 1791.

    Four of the men from Bounty came on board soon after her arrival, and 10 more were arrested within a few weeks. These 14 were imprisoned in a makeshift cell on Pandora’s deck. Pandora ran aground on part of the Great Barrier Reef on August 29, 1791, with the loss of 31 of the crew and four of the prisoners.

    The surviving 10 prisoners were eventually repatriated to England, tried in a naval court, with three hanged, four acquitted, and three pardoned. Descendants of some of the mutineers and Tahitians still live on Pitcairn. The mutiny has been commemorated in books, films, and songs.

    Sources: wikipedia/Mutiny_on_the_Bounty, wikipedia/Robert_Dodd, imdb.com/MutinyontheBounty,

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  • April 29

    Who is the first African-American to open a law practice in the US?

    Macon_B__AllenApril 29, 1845 — Attorney Macon B. Allen is known to be the first African-American to open a law practice.

    The Massachusetts-based lawyer was born in 1816 in Indiana. He grew up a free man, learning to read and write on his on his own and eventually landing his first a job as a schoolteacher. In the early 1840s, he moved to Portland, Maine where he befriended local anti-slavery leader General Samuel Fessenden — an American abolitionist and Massachusetts state legislator, who had recently begun a law practice, and hired Allen as a law clerk.

    In 1844, Fessenden petitioned the Portland District court to allow Allen to practice as a lawyer. He was refused on the grounds that he was not a citizen, despite Maine’s law that anyone “of good moral character” could be admitted to the bar. So Allen applied for admission by examination.

    After passing the exam was awarded his license to practice law on July 3, 1844. Finding work in Maine was difficult, though, as few were willing and hire Allen — and most whites were unwilling to have a black man represent them in court.

    In 1845, Allen moved to Boston, went into business for himself, and in 1848 became Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County, Massachusetts. After the Civil War, he moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and in 1873 was appointed as a judge in the Inferior Court of Charleston; the following year he was elected judge probate for Charleston County, South Carolina. Following Reconstruction, Allen moved to Washington, DC, where he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association and practiced law until his death at age 78.

    Sources: blackpast.org, encyclopedia/Allen-Macon-Bolling, wikipedia/Samuel_Fessenden, september-24-1789-first-supreme-court,

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  • April 30

    Which president closed “the land deal of the millennium” today in 1803?

    Thomas Jefferson portrait: Image by Wikimedia Commons Public DomainApril 30, 1803 — President Thomas Jefferson signed the land deal for the Louisiana Purchase today. The swath ran from the Mississippi River in the east, to the Rocky Mountains in the west, and from the Gulf of Mexico in the south to the Canadian border in the north.

    The purchase doubled the size of our young republic, and opened up the continent to its westward expansion. It included the acquisition of 828,000 square miles of land from France at a price of $15 million, or approximately four cents an acre.

    Part, if not all, of the 15 states in the territory were eventually created from the land deal. It is considered one of the most important achievements of Jefferson’s presidency.

    Sources: history.com, loc.gov, stellaplantation.com,

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