I have to wonder if there is a child or adult in the US of A who does not know at least the first line of Winifred Stoner’s poem that best tells about the beginning of our convoluted history: “In fourteen hundred ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
Each couplet in the poem rhymes the year with another important segment of America’s history up to and including WWI, but the somewhat lengthy poem does not lend itself to memorization except for those first lines.
Stoner was born in 1902, and the poem was published sometime after 1918.
A gentleman named Nixon Waterman wrote his own poetic version of our country’s history in a six-stanza poem, “Johnny’s His’try Lesson,” that truly cashed in on the 1492 date.
After admitting in the first lines his problem with keeping history dates in order, he goes on to explain his mastery of at least one date — 1492.
Here’s a sample: “Columbus crossed the Delaware in 1492. We whipped the British, fair an’ square, in 1492 …The Pilgrims came to Plymouth Rock in 1492, an’ the Indians standing on the dock asked, ‘What are you goin’ to do?’ An’ they said, ‘We seek your harbor drear that our children’s children’s children dear may boast that their forefathers landed here in 1492.’ … Miss Pocahontas saved the life, in 1492, of John Smith, an’ became his wife in 1492. An’ the Smith tribe started then and there, an’ now there are John Smiths everywhere, but they didn’t have any Smiths to spare in 1492.”
Mr. Waterman, who lived from 1859 to 1944, wraps it up by saying, “Kentucky was settled by Daniel Boone in 1492, an’ I think the cow jumped over the moon in 1492. Ben Franklin flew his kite so high he drew the lightnin’ from the sky, an’ Washington couldn’t tell a lie, in 1492.”
Wow, weren’t we busy that year!
There are those who don’t give Columbus much credit, but after more than 500 years filled with other major events, why haggle.
Somebody had to fall over the edge of the ocean to find this blessed land. And although it took a while for folks to get their act together to begin to take it away from its occupants at the time, it finally happened.
Colonization became the buzz word and the name given to the natives, Indians, stuck.
After cutting ties to their mother countries, and battling for their independence, our forefathers, aided by their new government, managed to corral the Indians and carry them westward.
By then slavery had reared its ugly head, states clambered for their rights, and the country was split apart in a conflict that left the land in mourning, but united.
Any discussion of our history leads to the pride we take in being free.
Freedom, like happiness, is different things to different people. America is definitely free now from the tyranny of a foreign power, unlike the situation in those days before 1776.
We weren’t necessarily itching for a fight, but fight we did.
We fought those other powers who were trying to colonize, we fought the Indians and the Mexicans, we fought each other over land — boundaries, grazing land, farm land, fences, cattle, buffalo, horses...
All the time, the world kept coming to our doorstep. (We should be glad. I cannot, to this day, understand anything the British say.)
In spite of the battles, the Trans-Continental Railroad was completed and the West was won.
Through all of that, our ancestors bragged of their freedom. But who was free?
‘Twasn’t the slaves, or the Indians. Nor was it the tenant farmers, or women, neither of which had the vote since that privilege was reserved for adult white male landowners.
But that’s a sermon for another day. We’re in the midst of a discussion that demands clear minds, not radical battle plans.
We’re free to make our own decisions, and we’re free to leave it up to others.
We’re free to vote, but we’re not forced to vote.
We’re free to move if we don’t like the system, and free to stay as long as we can peaceably work at making improvements.
This Union was forged in the fire of a determination to form a democratic republic. Its survival rests in the hands of its citizens.
I’d like to write a new verse to Mr. Waterman’s poem, but there just aren’t many good words to rhyme with 12. So I’ll take this opportunity to wish a Happy Birthday to three folks who have special numerical birthdates this year, 10-11-’12…Mary Johnston, Tom Fox, and Fred Schlosser. Enjoy!
Juanita Hughes is retired head of the Woodstock Library.