September 30, 1777: York, Pennsylvania becomes our Nation’s Capital

John Adams didn’t think much of York: “The People are chiefly Germans, who have Schools in their own Language, as well as Prayers, Psalms, and Sermons so that Multitudes are born, grow up and die here, without learning the English…” but at least the Susquehanna River stood between the Second Continental Congress and the British.York+PA+History

The mud-splattered delegates to the Continental had straggled into town after the redcoats pushed them and the Continental Army out of Philadelphia. They had met for one day at Lancaster, but moved across the river to York so the Susquehanna could stand between them and the enemy.

They had dodged the British before when they moved from Philadelphia to Baltimore; they had returned briefly to the State House in Philadelphia, before retreating up the Susquehanna. They met one day in Lancaster’s court house. And now John Hancock, Samuel Adams, Roger Sherman, John Witherspoon, Robert Morris, Richard Henry Lee and Francis Lightfoot Lee found themselves in York.

These were troubling times, but soon a messenger arrived telling of a patriot victory against British General Burgoyne in the Battle of Saratoga. In response, Congress declares a national day of prayer and thanksgiving.

By November the Congress at York passed the Articles of Confederation, and for the first time named the colonies “The United States of America.”

In February the Congress signed a treaty of Alliance with the French, and the prospects for the young country were much improved.

Finally Congress received word that the British army had evacuated Philadelphia on June 18, 1778.

On June 24 it resolved that Congress adjourn June 27, “from this place to meet at Philadelphia, on Thursday, the 2 day of July next.”
When the members of Congress returned to Philadelphia, they found that the British had left the State House and many other buildings in a disgraceful condition. As Josiah Bartlett, a delegate from New Hampshire, noted: “…the State House was left by the enemy in a most filthy and sordid situation, as were many of the public and private Buildings in the City. Some of the genteel Houses were used for Stables and Holes cut in the Parlor floors & their dung shoveled into the Cellars.”

The Continental Congress would move again, to Princeton, Annapolis, Trenton, New York City, and back to  Philadelphia before settling for good in  Washington, DC

September 29, 1942: John F Kennedy writes a Thank You Note

John F. Kennedy had just been promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) and ordered to report for duty as commanding officer of a motor torpedo boat in Panama. 

Prior to his departure, playwright Clare Boothe Luce, a close friend of the Kennedy family, sent the young naval officer a good luck coin that once belonged to her mother.

Kennedy wrote to Luce thanking her for the gift:

“I came home yesterday and Dad gave me your letter with the gold coin. The coin is now fastened to my identification tag and will be there, I hope, for the duration. I couldn’t have been more pleased. Good luck is a commodity in rather large demand these days and I feel you have given me a particularly potent bit of it.

The fact that it once belonged to your mother – and then to you – and you were good enough and thoughtful enough to pass it along to me – has made me especially happy to have it.

Just before coming home, I was considering getting a St. Christopher’s medal to wear. Now, however, for me, St. Christophers are out – I’ll string along with my St. Claire.


Jack Kennedy”

The following April, Kennedy’s PT boat was rammed and cut in two by a Japanese destroyer near the Solomon Islands. A few months later, Kennedy again wrote to Luce. He enclosed a letter opener he had fashioned “from a Jap 51 cal. bullet and the steel from a fitting on my boat, part of which drifted onto an island” and he thanked her again:

“With it goes my sincere thanks for your good-luck piece, which did service above and beyond its routine duties during a rather busy period.”

September 28, 1851: Henry David Thoreau observes a squirrel

A warm, damp, mistling day without much wind. The white pines in Hubbard’s Grove have now a pretty distinct parti-colored look, – green and yellow mottled, – reminding me of some plants like the milkweed, expanding with maturity and pushing off their downy seeds. They have a singularly soft look. For a week or ten days I have ceased to look SQUIRRELfor new flowers or carry my botany in my pocket. The fall dandelion is now very fresh and abundant in its prime.

I see where the squirrels have carried off the ears of corn more than twenty rods from the corn-field into the woods. A little further on, beyond Hubbard’s Brook, I saw a gray squirrel with an ear of yellow corn a foot long sitting on the fence, fifteen rods from the field. He dropped the corn, but continued to sit on the rail, where I could hardly see him, it being of the same color with himself, which I have no doubt he was well aware of. He next took to a red maple, where his policy was to conceal himself behind the stem, hanging perfectly still there till I passed, his fur being exactly the color of the bark. When I struck the tree and tried to frighten him, he knew better than to run to the next tree, there being no continuous row by which he might escape; but he merely fled higher up and put so many leaves between us that it was difficult to discover him. When I threw up a stick to frighten him, he disappeared entirely, though I kept the best watch I could, and stood close to the foot of the tree. They are wonderfully cunning.

September 25, 1639: The First Printing Press is set up in New England

The Rev. Joseph Glover was a great supporter of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and he thought a printing press would be a vital improvement for the new colony. stephen-daye-s-press

He purchased a press, two trays of type, ink and reams of paper and found a pressman, Stephen Daye, to accompany him as he and his family sailed to New England.

Unfortunately, Reverend Glover died at sea, but the press and his widow and children and Stephen Daye made it ashore. The press was set up in Cambridge, where a college had just been started, and Elizabeth Glover quickly became the wife of Henry Dunster, the first president of the College that would soon be named Harvard.

Stephen Daye was not a great printer. In the first year he printed a broadsheet, The Freeman’s Oath and an almanack, and in 1640 printed the colony’s first book, the Bay Psalm Book. He received 300 acres of land from the colony for his work, which he promptly mortgaged for a cow, a calf, and a heifer. A close inspection of the book shows that, while the type was new and unworn, impressions were uneven, there were many typographical errors, commas and periods were used interchangeably, syllables were broken incorrectly.

By 1643, his fourth year on the job, Daye landed in jail (about average for a pressman). By 1648, he had been sacked from his job by President Dunster, and replaced by another pressman, Samuel Green. Daye hung around Cambridge, sued Dunster for one hundred pounds, and went to court to try to collect his real estate.

By 1656 the colonists had begun to teach young Indians to read. They wished to translate the Bible into the Indian languages, and it made sense to print where the Indian students could proofread the copy. Green had printed 500 copies of the New Testament when Marmaduke Johnson arrived from London in 1660.

Marmaduke was a pretty good pressman, although he also had some run-in’s with the law. His wife was back in England, so when he got to Cambridge he started hitting on Samuel Green’s daughter; by 1662 a restraining order had to be put out on him. Nevertheless, he continued working with Green printing the Bible which John Eliot was translating into Algonquin using a phonetic English alphabet. They also got help from a young Nipmunk Indian named James the Printer.

The Bible consisted of 150 press sheets, folded into signatures and then gathered, sewn, and bound into books. The pressrun was one thousand copies and it took a week to print each form, so, with Marmaduke’s periodic absences, it took more than two years to print. The printers had two trays of type, which was enough to set a form, but after each form was printed, the type had to be distributed back into the cases, so that it would be available for the next form. The New Testament came out in 1661.

There were a few delays along the way due to Marmaduke’s “ issues”, and then the Old Testament was completed in 1663.
In 1714, the press was inherited by Timothy Green who took it to New London, Connecticut.

Over the years, the press moved through Connecticut and New Hampshire. It eventually printed the first Vermont newspaper, The Vermont Gazette, in Westminster in 1781. George Hough purchased the old press and moved it to Windsor in 1783 where he published The Vermont Journal and the Universal Advertiser.

After over 150 years of continuous work, the old Daye Press retired from daily work, but it can still be seen – at the Vermont Historical Society in Montpelier, Vermont.

September 24, 1883: Frederick Douglass addresses the National Convention of Colored Men

With apparent surprise, astonishment and impatience we have been asked: “What more can the colored people of this country want than they now have, and what more is possible to them?” It is said they were once slaves, they are now free; they were once subjects, they are now sovereigns; they were once outside of all American institutions, they FrederickDouglassPaintingare now inside of all and are a recognized part of the whole American people. Why, then, do they hold Colored National Conventions and thus insist upon keeping up the color line between themselves and their white fellow countrymen?

We do not deny the pertinence and plausibility of these questions, nor do we shrink from a candid answer to the argument which they are supposed to contain. For we do not forget that they are not only put to us by those who have no sympathy with us, but by many who wish us well, and that in any case they deserve an answer …

If liberty, with us, is yet but a name, our citizenship is but a sham, and our suffrage thus far only a cruel mockery, we may yet congratulate ourselves upon the fact, that the laws and institutions of the country are sound, just and liberal.

There is hope for a people when their laws are righteous, whether for the moment they conform to their requirements or not. But until this nation shall make its practice accord with its Constitution and its righteous laws, it will not do to reproach the colored people of this country with keeping up the color line–for that people would prove themselves scarcely worthy of even theoretical freedom, to say nothing of practical freedom, if they settled down in silent, servile and cowardly submission to their wrongs, from fear of making their color visible. They are bound by every element of manhood to hold conventions, in their own name, and on their own behalf, to keep their grievances before the people and make every organized protest against the wrongs inflicted upon them within their power. They should scorn the counsels of cowards, and hang their banner on the outer wall.

September 23, 1959: Nikita Khrushchev visits Coon Rapids, Iowa

Soviet Premier Nikita S. Khrushchev had been touring the United States for a week, and was more than a little miffed from his reception in Los Angeles.Khruschchev

He had just left Tinseltown in a huff: “And I say, I would very much like to go and see Disneyland. But then, ‘we cannot guarantee your security’ they say. Then what must I do? Commit suicide? What is it? Is there an epidemic of cholera there or something? Or have gangsters taken hold of the place that can destroy me?” Khrushchev left Los Angeles the next morning.

He found Coon Rapids, Iowa, much more to his liking.

After mixing it up with Shirley MacLaine and Frank Sinatra he was happy to let down in the heartland with his old friend, seed corn salesman Roswell Garst.

“The father of a friend of mine said that everyone I saw around Coon Rapids wearing a tie who I didn’t know was a spy,” says Liz who was eight years old at the time. “I spent a lot of time checking out the cool spies on Main Street.”

Khrushchev knew that his country needed a corn belt and set about learning more about American agriculture. In an exchange of experts between the U.S. and the Soviet Union Roswell Garst ended up representing his farm and seed company in Coon Rapids, and was asked to visit the Soviet Union. During the trip, he and Khrushchev met and hit it off.

“My grandfather thought he could do anything he wanted,” Liz Garst, Roswell’s granddaughter, said. “He was the sort of guy who would write the Pope letters or get on the train to yell at the secretary of agriculture. He thought that what he said could influence things.”

Khrushchev relished Garst’s cantankerousness, especially when it justified his own. He loved it when Garst bawled out Soviet farmers for sowing corn without fertilizing the soil.

Some Americans criticized Garst for trading with the enemy, and some claimed he was a Communist, but Liz said her grandfather was simply a good capitalist who was doing what was right for business.

September 22, 1942: Eleanor Roosevelt reflects on “Home”

After writing my column yesterday, I began to think about how people, who have never been in public life, little know about the everyday things involved in living not as one chooses, but as one must.eleanor-roosevelt

Those of us who have lived in government houses know that no government house is ever our own, nor is it ever a home. For instance, I love the White House. It is a simple, dignified and beautiful government building. I take great pride in it, but it is not that intimate, personal thing—“my own home.”

I am always glad to see my children in the White House, because unless I did, I would often miss opportunities of seeing them. But it is at home, in our own house, in our own surroundings, that I really like to welcome them; for that is ours and we have an obligation only to our family and our own friends there.

It is a curious thing which is often stressed in electing a man to office in this country, we, naturally, do not elect his wife nor his children to office. Yet some people think that there is something very glamorous and much to be envied in this rather anomalous position, where you have certain responsibilities, pleasures and privileges imposed upon you through somebody else’s position.
You may find a woman living in the White House who has no interest in public affairs, and yet, willy-nilly, she must live there and she must entertain very often, for no reason except that her husband is in public office.

Many a shy and retiring child, I am sure, has suffered from being pointed out as the child of a President, or even the grandchild. No one will deny that there are great opportunities. To be the relative of a man in public life is useful in assisting those throughout the United States who need help, and it is also useful in meeting people of outstanding interest. Nevertheless, there are a considerable number of drawbacks.

Sept. 21, 1897: “Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus”

Eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon wrote to the editor of the New York Sun:

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?
Yes Virgina
Veteran newsman Francis Pharcellus Church wrote the unsigned editorial published September 21, 1897 in response:


VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus.
The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

September 18, 1793: George Washington Lays the Cornerstone of the Capitol

George Washington envisioned a majestic neoclassical domed structure, a building of “grandeur, simplicity, and beauty” as a seat for the legislature of the young Republic, which he believed would someday come to rival the noble Capitol of ancient Rome.capitol-building-cornerstone

By mid-September of 1793 construction was commencing to create the city being laid out in the new District of Columbia along the Potomac River. On Wednesday, September 18, 1793, President Washington crossed the Potomac from his plantation at Mount Vernon, and was escorted by members of Masonic lodges from nearby Maryland and Virginia to the site of the new President’s House which was already taking shape on the muddy road which would be become Pennsylvania Avenue.

There they were joined by the members of the new Federal Lodge No. 15, which had just received its charter six days before, including the Lodge’s Master, James Hoban, the architect of the President’s House.

The assembled Masons marched “in the greatest solemn dignity, with music playing, drums beating, colors flying and spectators rejoicing,” up the mud road to the little hilltop know until then as Jenkins Hill. A trench had been dug for the foundation, and the group assembled around what would become the southeast corner of the North Wing of the Capitol where Grand Marshal Clotworthy Stephenson presented a silver plate to the commissioners.

It read:
“This South East corner Stone, of the Capitol of the United States of America in the City of Washington, was laid on the 18th day of September 1793, in the thirteenth year of American Independence, in the first year of the second term of the Presidency of George Washington, whose virtues in the civil administration of his country have been as conspicuous and beneficial, as his Military valor and prudence have been useful in establishing her liberties, and in the year of Masonry 5793, by the Grand Lodge of Maryland, several Lodges under its jurisdiction, and Lodge No. 22, from Alexandria, Virginia.”

After the reading of the inscription, the cornerstone was made ready. A silver trowel and marble gavel had been crafted especially for the occasion by a Masonic silversmith in Alexandria. President Washington and four Master Masons took the plate and stepped down into the trench.

They spread a small amount of cement on the stone with the silver trowel, took turns tapping the stone into place with the gavel.

A square was applied as a symbol of virtue, to make certain that each angle of the stone was perfectly cut.

Next, the level, a symbol of equality, was used it to make sure that the stone was horizontally correct.

Last, the plumb, an emblem of morality and rectitude, showed that the stone was perfectly upright.

The stone was solemnly declared square, level and plumb and suitable as the foundation for the new building.

President Washington then placed the silver plate on the cornerstone and sprinkled kernels of wheat over the stone from a golden cup as a symbol of goodness, plenty and nourishment.

He then poured wine from a silver cup over it as a symbol of friendship, health and refreshment.

Finally, he drizzled drops of oil down its sides – like the sacred oil that ran down Aaron’s beard in the Old Testament – a symbol of joy, peace and tranquility.

September 17, 1787: Benjamin Franklin Makes His Final Speech to the Constitutional Convention

“Mr. President, I confess, that I do not entirely approve of this Constitution at present; but, Sir, I am not sure I shall never approve it; for, having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged, by better information or fuller consideration to change my opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise….benjaminfranklin

“In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution, with all its faults—if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of government but what may be a blessing to the people, if well administered; and I believe, farther, that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic government, being incapable of any other. I doubt, too, whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better constitution; for, when you assemble a number of men, to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected?

“It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear, that our councils are confounded like those of the builders of Babel, and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution, because I expect no better, and because I am not sure that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die….

“Much of the strength and efficiency of any government, in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of that government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its governors. I hope, therefore, for our own sakes, as a part of the people, and for the sake of our posterity, that we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution, wherever our Influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts and endeavours to the means of having it well administered.

“On the whole, Sir, I cannot help expressing a wish, that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and, to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this Instrument.”

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