O’er the Land of the Free! A Little American History

By: Melody Worsham

As our nation celebrates its 234th anniversary of freedom from British rule, new stories will be told around the picnic table. With the help of some little known historical facts gleaned from the Library of Congress website, perhaps this year’s stories will be recharged with the red, white and blue spirit of our people.

The Great Seal of the United States depicts a bald eagle with a shield of thirteen red and white stripes. At the eagle’s head is a cloud with thirteen stars in the middle. The bald eagle was chosen by John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. These founders agreed that this mighty raptor was a perfect icon of the American spirit for a few reasons: 1) Bald eagles only live in North America; 2) They have few natural enemies, and; 3) Their families stick together no matter what. Benjamin Franklin wanted the wild turkey to be the national bird, but it just didn’t fit the bill like the bald eagle. And speaking of bills, the Great Seal is on every dollar bill in your pocket.

The striped shield on the eagle’s chest is a symbol of our reliance on our faith and virtue to see us through the tough times. The small field of blue atop the shield signifies the position, and size, of our federal government. Blue is the color of justice.

The cloud above the eagle symbolizes birth and there is one star for each of the thirteen original colonies. Together, the image declares that a new nation has been born.

Fireworks came into our country in 1608. Shortly after marrying Pocahontas and establishing trade with the Powhatan Indians, Capt. John Smith returned from England with a special cargo from China. In the town where he sat on the governing council, Jamestown, he put on a colorful fireworks display for the amusement of the townspeople and the Indians alike. It was his way of celebrating this new trade arrangement that assured the colonists they would have the provisions to get them through the tough years ahead.

The settlers began right away making a tradition of using fireworks to celebrate holidays and special events. On July 2nd 1776, John Adams said that July 4th would, “be most memorable in the history of America… It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade…bonfires and illuminations (fireworks) from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forevermore.” On July 4th 1777, America had its first fireworks show to celebrate its independence. The new Americans weren’t sure if their freedom would last, but the celebration with fireworks every July 4th declared their determination to remain independent.

After signing the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock was purported to say, “There, I guess King George will be able to read that!” Although this is a popular story, it is completely unfounded. As the President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock’s signature is the first, the largest and the fanciest one on the document. From that legendary signature, we get the phrase, “put your John Hancock here,” when requesting a signature from someone. No one is sure who coined the phrase, but the first use of it recorded was in 1903. John Hancock was an honest and confident man. By “putting your John Hancock” on a document, it signifies that your word is your oath.

American heritage and culture is rich and colorful. We have so much to be proud of. The Library of Congress was established by President John Adams 25 years after our nation was born. In 1814, the British burned the library down. Thomas Jefferson donated his own extensive library to replenish what was lost. Today, the Library of Congress holds nearly 2 million items as records of our nation’s history. It has one of the largest rare book collections in the world. Thanks to modern technology, every American has access to the Library via the Internet. On this most patriotic of U.S. holidays, be sure to renew your pride and knowledge of everything American. And share your newfound stories around the picnic table! Visit the Library of Congress at http://www.loc.gov.

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