April 15, 1875: Mackinac National Park becomes America’s Second National Park

Yellowstone was the first, but Congress created a second national park just three years later. Before Yosemite or Sequoia National Park came Michigan’s Mackinac National Park.mackinac

Mackinac Island is strategically situated on the Straits of Mackinac, the narrow body of water that separates Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas and connects Lake Huron with Lake Michigan. The French prized the site for its “chokepoint” location, but were forced to yield to the British.

During the Revolutionary War the British built Fort Mackinac on a 150-foot high bluff on the island with a commanding view of the straits. The British relinquished the fort to America in 1796, regained it during the War of 1812, and gave it up again in 1815. Fort Mackinac was garrisoned by the U.S. Army until the 1890s.

The island has unusual limestone formations, caves, old growth forests of pine, cedar, oak, and maple, and also wildflowers, dramatic bluffs, and gorgeous views of Lake Huron and the Straits of Mackinac.

Easily reached by Great Lakes steamers and with its pleasant breezy summers it became a popular resort after the Civil War.  By the late 1800s the island had several large hotels and a number of Victorian “cottages” built by wealthy summer residents.

U.S. Senator Thomas W. Ferry (1827-1896), whose parents ran the island’s mission school, was concerned that Mackinac Island would undergo unwelcome development that would ruin its character and slow paced lifestyle.  Not long after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, Ferry began gathering political support for making Mackinac Island a national park as well.

It was tough going for several years – Congress was loathe to spend money on parks and the island’s scenic and geologic attractions were not jaw-dropping wonders on a par with those of Yellowstone. Ferry finally prevailed, however, and Congress established Mackinac National Park with legislation that President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law on April 15, 1875.

With Fort Mackinac occupied by the army most of Mackinac Island was already federal property. Congress gave the park to the War Department to administer which meant that soldiers from the fort operated and policed the park.

Mackinac National Park lasted just 20 years.  In the 1890s the Army proposed to abandon Fort Mackinac, which would leave the park without a custodian.  Alarmed at the prospect, Michigan governor John T. Rich petitioned Congress to turn the park over to the state of Michigan.

In 1895 the park became Mackinac Island State Park, the first “state park” in the country. Automobiles were banned on the island in 1898, so Mackinac Island is still a special place to relax and spend time with the natural world.

April 14, 1959 — Minute Man National Historic Site is created

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled, North-Bridge-Battle-Commemo
Here once the embattled farmers stood
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set today a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson


April 13, 1743: Birth of Thomas Jefferson

“Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the form of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.”Jefferson

“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.”

“If the present Congress errs in too much talking, how can it be otherwise in a body to which the people send one hundred and fifty lawyers, whose trade it is to question everything, yield nothing, and talk by the hour?”

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

“I sincerely believe… that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies.”

“No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of the garden.”

“In matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock.”

April 12, 1945: Elizabeth Shoumatoff leaves her portrait of FDR unfinished

Elizabeth Shoumatoff was terribly excited – the artist had made a reputation painting society portraits for the Frick, du Pont, Mellon, and Firestone families, and now she had been invited to Warm Springs, Georgia to paint President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s portrait.FDR_unfinished

It was a clear spring day – President Roosevelt sat in his sunny living room with Lucy Mercer (with whom he had resumed an extramarital affair), two cousins and his dog Fala, signing papers while Elizabeth Shoumatoff got working on his portrait.  As lunchtime approached, Franklin said “We have fifteen minutes more to work.” A minute later he said “I have a terrific pain in the back of my head.”

The artist had a good portion of the portrait limned in, but “suddenly he raised his right hand and passed it over his forehead several times in a strange jerky way, without emitting a sound, his head bending slightly forward.” Moments later he was unconscious.

Confusion set in. One of the women summoned a doctor, who gave the president a shot of adrenaline into the heart in a vain attempt to revive him. Mercer and Shoumatoff quickly left the house.

Meanwhile first lady Eleanor Roosevelt was at home in Washington D.C.

Early in the afternoon she was informed that her husband had fainted. She left to make a speech, and when she returned later that afternoon her aides informed her of the president’s death. Anna, her daughter, soon arrived and the women changed into black dresses, and then Eleanor phoned their four sons who were all on active military duty.

At 5:30 pm, Vice President Harry Truman showed up. Eleanor said, “Harry, the president is dead.” Truman, who hadn’t heard the news, asked if there was anything he could do for her.

The First Lady replied, “Is there anything we can do for you? For you are the one in trouble now.”

April 11, 1852: Henry David Thoreau looks into Nut Meadow Brook

The sight of Nut Meadow Brook in Brown’s land–reminds me that the attractiveness of a brook depends much on the character of its bottom…I stop to look at the circular shadows of the dimples over the yellow sand– & the dark brown clams on their edges in the sand at the bottom.brook

I hear the sound of the piano below as I write this and feel as if the winter in me were at length beginning to thaw–for my spring has been even more backward than nature’s.

For a month past life has been a thing incredible to me. None but the kind gods can make me sane– If only they will let their south winds blow on me. I ask to be melted. You can only ask of the metals that they be tender to the fire that melts them. To naught else can they be tender.

The sweet flags are now starting up under water two inches high– & minnows dart.

A pure brook is a very beautiful object to study minutely–it will bear the closest inspection–even to the fine air bubbles like minute globules of quicksilver that lie on its bottom.



April 8, 1814: The British burn the Connecticut Fleet

During the War of 1812, the British blockade of Long Island Sound choked off legitimate merchant activity all along the Connecticut coast. In anger and desperation more than a few ship owners converted their vessels into privateers to raid the British merchant ships which now monopolized the trade.Essex Best-Mural

The town of Pettipauge (now Essex) became a hub for these privateers. Settled in 1648, it was a bustling river port with shipyards, chandleries, blacksmith shops, warehouses, and a 900-foot-long ropewalk. It also lay six miles up the Connecticut River, securely protected by the massive sand bars at its mouth which prevented large naval ships from navigating upriver.

By the spring of 1814, the British had enough of the Pettipauge privateers.

On the night of April 7, 1814, Richard Coote, captain of HMS Borer, set out in six heavily armed large rowboats with 136 Royal Marines and headed up the Connecticut River. They first attacked the fort at Old Saybrook to avoid being trapped on the way out. Finding it unmanned and without guns, they proceeded upriver.
When they arrived at Pettipauge at 3:30 in the morning, they found that the town had been alarmed and the militia on alert, but the town’s defenders were poorly armed with only one four pound gun. The militia on the beach soon withered under a heavy barrage from the marines on the river. No one had expected this sort of thing so far inland.

The Royal Marines swiftly secured the village and proceeded up Main Street to Bushnell’s Tavern. There, Lieutenant Lloyd of the Marines read a proclamation from Captain Coote announcing their intent to destroy shipping, but that no harm would befall the local residents unless they resisted. In that case, he announced, the torch would be put to the entire town.

While the marines held the town, the seamen set about burning all of the vessels that lay at anchor, alongside the wharves, and under construction on the stocks, and looted canvas and cordage from the waterfront warehouses as well as a substantial quantity of rum.

When dawn arrived the British discovered more vessels in North Cove and sent crews to burn them as well. By 10:00 a.m. they had put the torch to six ships, four brigs, six schooners, nine sloops, and several smaller craft. It was now broad daylight and they were six miles deep in American territory.

The British set out with their row boats and two captured privateers, the brig Young Anaconda and the schooner Eagle, filled with the rum, sails, and cordage.  On the way downstream, the captured brig went aground on a sand bar. A little further downriver, Coote anchored his boats and captured schooner and decided to hunker down until nightfall.

By this time American militiamen were approaching the west bank of the river with cannon, and government forces from New London were appearing on the east bank. By late afternoon hundreds of American militiamen from nearby towns, and Marines from New London, had reached the riverbanks. At 7:00 p.m., the British set fire to the remaining privateer and attempted to slip quietly downstream until, off Old Lyme, their escaping row boats were illuminated by bonfires on the shore.

Picket boats in the river carried torches to reveal the escaping enemy. As they ran the gauntlet, the British came under intense cannon and musket fire from both sides of the river. Despite the effort to stop them the British boats reached their warships anchored off Saybrook by 10:00 p.m..

According to official report to the Admiralty, the British set fire to 27 vessels totaling 5,000 tons, including at least six privateers capable of mounting 130 guns. The raid was the largest single attack on American shipping during the war. The maritime loss to Essex was staggering.

Four months later the British would burn Washington, D.C..



April 7, 1818: Andrew Jackson plants the Stars and Stripes in Florida.

Andrew Jackson’s victory in the Battle of New Orleans determined once and for all that the Mississippi Valley would belong to the United States. But what about Florida?

Florida was owned by Spain, but the British had designs… The Creeks and Seminoles were using it as a base to harass Georgia, and runaway slaves from the plantations of Georgia and South Carolina were escaping there. Assigned by President Monroe to stabilize the situation, Jackson wrote “Let it be signified to me through any channel that the possession of the Floridas would be desirable to the United States, and in sixty days it will be accomplished.”

On March 10, 1818, Jackson invaded Florida with 3000 volunteers and 2000 Indian allies. The troops first set out for two supply ships waiting at the mouth of the Apalachicola River near the Gulf of Mexico. By March 15th, they had reached the Negro Fort on the river where they re-provisioned, and then set out into the heart of Seminole territory.

Meanwhile, a small flotilla commanded by U.S. Navy Lieutenant Isaac McKeever sailed from New Orleans. When McKeever arrived in the bay of St. Marks on April 1, his ship, the Thomas Shields, flew a British flag.  The ruse fooled both the Spanish and the Indians, and McKeever was able to lure on board the Creek chieftains Francis the Prophet (or Hillis Hadjo) and Himollemico. The Indians thought they were being received by allies and expected to find ammunition and powder. Instead, Jackson had the two Creek leaders hung.

On April 7th, a day after arriving in St. Marks, Jackson seized the military fortress there, and replaced the Spanish flag with The Stars and Stripes. He captured the two leading British operatives in Florida, Robert Armbrister and Alexander Arbuthnot. He had Armbrister shot;  Arbuthnot was hung from the yardarm of his own ship, the Chance.

Jackson proceeded on to seize Pensacola, the Spanish capitol, and at the end of May Jackson was in a position to notify President Monroe that he had taken northern Florida, quelled Indian resistance, routed the organized Negroes, deprived runaway slaves of their sanctuary, and brought British and Spanish influence in the region to an end.

Jackson returned to the US a hero to the people, but Secretary of War John C. Calhoun recommended his censure, and the House Committee on Military Affairs did the same.



April 6, 1830: The Conservative Party Moves to Halt Illegal Immigration across the Mexican Border

border_riograndeHundreds of immigrants were wading across the Sabine River every day in search of a better life in the Mexican state of Texas – much better than their old impoverished hardscrabble lives back in Kentucky or Tennessee…

The border seemed terribly porous – public order was breaking down – these newcomers were threatening the old way of life – they had no regard for the laws of the sovereign state – the security of the legitimate native-born residents of Texas was increasingly threatened.

Mexico’s conservative minister of foreign relations, Lucas Alamán y Escalada, was terribly concerned. The government need to push through legislation to stop this tidal wave.

With support from President Anastasio Bustamante, the Mexican congress played its trump card and passed “The Law of April 6, 1830” which addressed this issue head on:

• The government was authorized to take lands suitable for fortification or arsenals, and funds were allocated to construct fortifications.
• The introduction of foreigners across the northern frontier was prohibited under any pretext whatsoever, unless the foreigners had proper documentation – a valid passport issued by the agent of the republic of their origin.
• It was prohibited that emigrants from nations bordering on this republic settle in the states or territory adjacent to their own nation. All contracts not already completed and not in harmony with the law were suspended.
• The government was authorized to expend five hundred thousand pesos in the construction of fortifications and settlements on the frontier.
• Convicts would be sent to Texas to build fortifications and roads.
• Mexican settlements in Texas were encouraged and subsidized as a counter-measure.
• The government was instructed to regulate the establishment of the new colonies, and to present to Congress, within a year, a record of the emigrants and immigrants established under the law, with an estimate of the increase of population on the frontier.



April 5 1614 –Pocahontas marries John Rolfe

A girl named “Amonute,” was born in 1596 to an important family in the land now called Virginia.  Her family called her by the private name of “Matoaka”, but she became popularly known as “Pocahontas” which meant “playful one” Pocahontas_Rolfe_cropbecause of her frolicsome nature, and she was the daughter of the chief of the Powhatan nation, which had a population at the time of about 25,000 and included more than 30 tribes..

When the English arrived in Jamestown in 1607, Pocahontas was about eleven years old. That winter Captain John Smith was captured and brought to the capital of the Powhatan Chiefdom. When Smith was brought in front of the Chief of the Powhatan, two large stones were placed on the ground and Smith’s head was forcibly held on the stones.

Just as a warrior raised a club to smash in his brains, Pocahontas rushed in and placed her head upon his, and stopped the execution.

Thanks to the young girl’s intervention Smith was allowed to return to Jamestown along with gifts of food for the starving English. Pocahontas became a sign of peace to the English as she put them at ease with her antics, cart-wheeling through the settlement with the young English boys, as she accompanied the Indian envoys.

However relations between the two peoples soon deteriorated; Smith left Virginia and Pocahontas was not allowed to visit Jamestown anymore.

When she turned fourteen, Pocahontas married a young man Kocoum, who might have been one of her father’s bodyguards. It is not clear if she married for love or not, but her marriage was soon interrupted when Captain Samuel Argall hatched a plot to capture her and use her as leverage in the English colonists’ relations with the Powhatan.

Pocahontas was kidnapped and brought to Jamestown and put under the charge of Reverend Alexander Whitaker where she learned more of the English language, religion and customs. It was not an easy time, but during her religious instruction, Pocahontas met an attractive young widower, John Rolfe, who was known for introducing tobacco to the settlers in Virginia.

By all accounts, the two fell in love.

Powhatan was sent word that Pocahontas and Rolfe wanted to marry, and he consented and sent an uncle of Pocahontas’ to represent him and her people at the wedding. Kocoum, her first husband, realized divorce was inevitable.

In 1614, Pocahontas converted to Christianity and was baptized “Rebecca.” In April 1614, she and John Rolfe married. The Rolfes soon had a son named Thomas, and then traveled to England in 1616 on a delayed honeymoon excursion, their expenses paid by the Virginia Company of London.

Pocahontas, known as “Lady Rebecca Rolfe,” was accompanied by about a dozen Powhatan men and women. The party toured the country – Pocahontas attended a masque where she sat near King James I and Queen Anne. Eventually, the Rolfe family moved to Brentford, where Pocahontas again encountered Captain John Smith.

In March 1617, the Rolfes were ready to return to Virginia. They sailed down the Thames River, but Pocahontas got terribly sick just as they were about to set sail.

She was taken ashore in the town of Gravesend, where she died.
Pocahontas, aged about twenty-one, was buried at St. George’s Church on March 21, 1617.



April 4, 1865: President Lincoln Enters the Captured City of Richmond

richmond_lincolns_drive“The next day after our entry into the city, on passing out from Clay Street, from Jefferson Davis’s house, I saw a crowd coming, headed by President Lincoln, who was walking with his usual long, careless stride, and looking about with an interested air and taking in everything.

Upon my saluting he said: ‘Is it far to President Davis’s house?’ I accompanied him to the house, which was occupied by General Weitzal as headquarters. The President had arrived about 9 o’clock, at the landing called Rocketts, upon Admiral Porter’s flag-ship, the Malvern, and as soon as the boat was made fast, without ceremony, he walked on shore, and started uptown. As soon as Admiral Porter was informed of it he ordered a guard of marines to follow as escort; but in the walk of about two miles they never saw him, and he was directed by negroes.

At the Davis house, he was shown into the reception-room, with the remark that the housekeeper had said that the room was President Davis’s office. As he seated himself he remarked, ‘This must have been President Davis’s chair,” and, crossing his legs, he looked far off with a serious, dreamy expression.

At length he asked me if the housekeeper was in the house. Upon learning that she had left he jumped up and said, with a boyish manner, ‘Come, let’s look at the house!’

We went pretty much over it; I retailed all that the housekeeper had told me, and he seemed interested in everything. As we came down the staircase General Weitzel came, in breathless haste, and at once President Lincoln’s face lost its boyish expression as he realized that duty must be resumed.

I accompanied President Lincoln and General Weitzel to Libby Prison and Castle Thunder, and heard General Weitzel ask President Lincoln what he (General Weitzel) should do in regard to the conquered people.

President Lincoln replied that he did not wish to give any orders on that subject, but, as he expressed it, ‘If I were in your place I’d let ’em up easy, let ’em up easy. “

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