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Archive for August, 2010

Tornado saves capital, scares British

The Taking of the City of Washington by the British Forces Under Major General Ross on August 24, 1814... the public property destroyed amounted to thirty Million of Dollars. (148-GW-478)

"The Taking of the City of Washington by the British Forces Under Major General Ross on August 24, 1814... the public property destroyed amounted to thirty Million of Dollars." (148-GW-478)

One hundred and ninety-six years ago today, the British sacked the District of Columbia. They were, in turn, sacked by a tornado.

In 1814, the British wanted revenge. U.S. troops had burned the legislative building,  government structures, and private warehouses in the Battle of York (modern-day Toronto), and the Brits were inclined to teach their former colonies a lesson in how to properly sack a city.

Their charge on the American capital city was led by British Maj. Gen. Robert Ross and Adm. George Cockburn, who burned the Capitol, the White House, the Treasury Department, and plenty of other government buildings without losing a single soldier.

Cockburn was, well, a cocky fellow. Aside from burning much of the District, he did it with an unapologetic gusto. He supped on the dinner that had been prepared for President James Madison before burning down the White House.

While marching back through the city, he also made a stop at the National Intelligencer, where the editor had been “telling some tough stories” about him, and later had all the c’s removed from the press so the editor could no longer spell his name. As a testament to Cockburn’s ego, when he … [ Read all ]

Ellis Island on the West Coast

Photograph of Immigrants Arriving at the Immigration Station on Angel Island (ARC 595673)

Photograph of immigrants arriving at the Immigration Station on Angel Island (ARC 595673; 90-G-152-2038)

For the thousands of immigrants from Europe, the entrance to America was through Ellis Island. As they sailed by New York City, they could see the Statue of Liberty standing in the harbor like a watchful guardian.

For immigrants from China and the Pacific Rim, another type of guardian awaited them in San Francisco Bay. They would need to pass through Angel Island.

From 1910 to 1940, Angel Island was the main entry point for China and the Pacific Rim (and many non-Asians).  But the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, meant to severly restrict the immigrantion of Chinese nationals, meant that Asians entering through Angel Island had to pass difficult interogations. Quok Shee was detained for two years before being released to her husband, Chew Hoy Quong. Other families had to pass tests that proved they were in fact from the same village.

These interrogations were recently recreated from Federal immigration files held by the National Archives at San Francisco as dramatic perfomances for a special centennial commemorative ceremony at Angel Island Immigration Station.

The Archivist attended the ceremony—you can read more about his experience and Angel Island on his blog AOTUS.… [ Read all ]

Facial Hair Friday: Utopia above the Lower 48

Sir Henry S. Wellcome and William Duncan in front of Duncan's residence, Metlakahtla, Alaska. Probably during Wellcome's 1916-17 visit to Metlakahtla. (ARC 297900)

Sir Henry S. Wellcome and William Duncan in front of Duncan's residence, Metlakahtla, Alaska. Probably during Wellcome's 1916-17 visit to Metlakahtla. (ARC 297900)

These might look like two gentlemen out for a stroll in the early twentieth century, but the well-bearded gentlemen on the right is William Duncan, founder of  Metlakahtla, a Utopian community. The man on the left with the mustache is Sir Henry S. Wellcome, who founded the pharmaceutical company Burroughs Wellcome & Company, which later became part of GlaxoSmithKline.

Why would you form a Utopian community of Anglicans from the native peoples in Alaska? And why would a pharmaceutical businessman have any interest in it?

Duncan was born in Yorkshire, England, but after joining a missionary society, he was sent to Canada. He actually started a community in British Columbia, but after a dispute with Anglican Church authorities in Canada, he persuaded the U.S. Government to allow his group of 800 native Tsimshians  to settle on Annette Island. Duncan lived in Metlakahtla until his death in 1918. (Metlakahtla today has Alaska’s only Indian reservation and 1,400 residents.)

The little town had a church, a sawmill, a brass band and a baseball team. The National Archives has many images of life in of Metlakahtla in the National Archives at Anchorage, Alaska.

Wellcome’s experience with Native Americans was very different from Duncan’s. He was … [ Read all ]

Thursday’s Photo Caption Contest

arc-2837731

The first annual “Refrigerator Defrost Day” turned out to be a big mistake.

Eve Warner takes the cake as the caption contest conquistador this week. Those of us in the Washington, DC, area who have experienced a spate of power outages over the month can certainly sympathize with the defrosting deluge that occurs when it comes time to clean the cold box.

The actual caption is much more nonplussed. “Three women in bathing suits in front of a waterfall. Newton County., 1942″.  It’s a record of the District Courts of the United States, and it’s anyone’s guess why it’s in our nation’s archives (no really, anyone want to guess?).

And while we’re talking about out-of-context photos, let’s have a gander at this week’s photograph. Remember, if you give us the funniest caption, we’ll give you 30% off at the eStore, and the thanks of a grateful nation.

Insert your caption!

Insert your caption!

Here’s one to get you started:

“Early adopters of the elevator were rarely on time to meetings above the second floor.”

[ Read all ]

Women can’t vote, but they can run for Congress

Representative Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), By Matzene, 1917; Courtesy of the Senate Historical Office

Representative Jeannette Rankin (1880-1973), By Matzene, 1917; Courtesy of the Senate Historical Office

While the Constitution does not say who is eligible to vote, it does say who is eligible to run for Congress.

No Person shall be a Representative who shall not have attained to the age of twenty-five Years, and been seven Years a Citizen of the United States, and who shall not, when elected, be an Inhabitant of that State in which he shall be chosen.

That means ladies could run, too. And one did, four years before the Constitution recognized her right to vote.

Jeanette Rankin was sworn into Congress in April 1917, as a representative from Montana. She had helped secure women the right to vote in Montana in 1914, and now had her eye on the rest of the nation.

But the calling of the 65th Congress in April 1917 was not a normal Congressional session. Congress had been convened because Germany had declared unrestricted submarine warfare on all Atlantic shipping. Woodrow Wilson had requested Congress declare war against Germany.

There was still heavy division on whether the United States should enter the conflict. Wary of foreign entanglements, but aware that Germany and its allies had all but declared war on the United States and its interests, the United States had prolonged its entrance into the fray. But with … [ Read all ]