american stories and legends

American stories and legends

The Americans are now also known as Yankees.
But these nickname has a story, better, many stories. It is a word which dates back about 300 years old. First it was used as a nickname to call New England settlers, but the origins of the world are uncertain.

Most experts say it is a Hollandaise word. The Hollanders made cheese and for this reason they were called Jan Kees (John Cheese) by the Germans. Some of the Hollanders  went to America in the early 1600s and settled in New England. They were farmers and laughed at the colonists who tried to build farms on the mountain rocks and started calling them with their nickname.During the American civil war the word Yankee assumed another meaning: the soldiers of the southern states named Yankee  the soldiers of the northern army. 

The beginning of America – The Pilgrim Fathers

There was a time when the people of England were not allowed to pray to God in the way they thought right, but were punished if they did not worship as the king ordered. This was very hard, and when James I was king, a little band) of brave people, who found that they could not obey the king, left their country to make a new home across the sea, where they could be free. They are the Pilgrim Fathers. A hundred people – men, women, children – set sail in a little ship called the Mayflowers for the New World which a great explorer called Columbus had discovered away in the west, and which we now call America. They had long a stormy voyage, but at last, in mid –winter they landed on the shores of North America, and set up their huts.

At first they had much trouble, for the ground was frozen and sterile. They suffered from hunger and sickness (, and the wild Indians who lived in that land came down upon them and tried to drive them away. But the Pilgrim Fathers did not lose courage. They were free, and they worked hard, and waited in patience for brighter days. By and by other ships from England brought food to keep them alive and more people to help them. Then they made friends with the Indians, and when spring came, they planted seeds and grew crops for themselves.

After a time many other Englishmen, who wished to be free, followed the Pilgrim Fathers and settled in America. They founded the colonies of New England, which are now a part of the United States.

The Indians
Not only Celts and British people loved telling stories. Storytelling preserved American Indian culture because also the elders among Indian people repeated stories to grant their history for future generations. And storytelling was the only way to transmit their culture.

In fact the Native Americans of the east coast met the new 16th and 17th century visitors from Europe with enthusiasm. They were curious to meet other people and their intriguing novelties. Without their aid, the first waves of settlers would not have survived in the land they knew little about. But soon the Europeans showed greed and arrogance. They wanted to conquer this new continent with brutal attacks and invasion. The Native Americans understood the invaders would arrive in great number, as many “as the stars in heaven.” They tried to co-exist with the Europeans, but the white men brought deadly diseases to the Native Americans like measles, smallpox, cholera, yellow fever which drastically diminished the Native American population and annihilated entire villages. In addition to this, the European greed led to the Indian Wars, the Indian Removal Act (1830), and in 1890 to the terrible massacres of Wounded Knee, South Dakota where warriors, women, and children alike were ferociously slaughtered by the U.S. Cavalry. The U.S, government began Relocation Programs: Native American peoples were reduced in number, taken from their homes, deprived of their customs, and forbidden to speak their native languages. During the famous march Trail of Tears hundreds of Cherokee died from starvation and illnesses. The Their children were taken from them and sent to schools to “civilize” them, forced to abandon every aspect of their heritage. In January 1876, the U.S. government forced them to live on ‘reservations’ where the majority of Native Americans still reside today.

Captain John Smith’s A Description of New England (1616) is the first accounts that deal both with the terrors of the unknown, and with sense of novelty in front of the new land and people. His name is strictly connected with the story of Pocahontas

Pocahontas is the nickname of Matoaka, the beautiful and lively daughter of Powhatan, chief of that part of America the English then called Virginia. The meaning of Pocahontas is little wanton as she was hard to control. When she was born, her mother went to her own village to raise Pocahontas as it was the custom of the tribe. Then Pocahontas left her mother to go to school in her father’s capital, with her older brothers and sisters. Pocahontas was her father’s favourite, the apple of his eye. Pocahontas is famous because she saved the life of Captain John Smith. He had arrived in Virginia with about a hundred other settlers in April 1607. They had built a fort near the James River and had numerous encounters with the American Indians . In 1607 Smith was captured by a hunting party led by Powhatan’s younger brother and was going to be executed when – as Captain Smith himself wrote to Queen Anne – “… at the minute of my execution she [Pocahontas] hazarded the beating out of her own brains to save mine; and not only that, but so prevailed with her father, that I was safely conducted to Jamestown”

Pocahontas really established a close friendship with Smith and the Jamestown colonists. She also saved them during a period of famine bringing them food . Unfortunately, as the colonists expanded their settlement, conflicts arose between them and the Indians. In late 1609, Captain Smith was injured by a gunpowder explosion and went back to England to be cured. The English told the American Indians that Smith was dead. Pocahontas believed and only knew the truth several years later, during a journey to England as wife of John Rolfe, a settler she had met when captured by English people. She had fallen in love with him and they had got married. Her new name was Lady Rebecca Rolfe. She gave birth to a son, Thomas. This marriage brought six years of peace between the Jamestown colonists and Powhatan’s tribes, the Peace of Pocahontas. Her tour of England was triumphant (1616), she was welcomed as a visiting princess and met King James and Queen Anne. Her portrait was made and published. But only a year after she died for an English disease and was buried in the church at Gravesend, England. She was about 21.

Sacajawea (1788 –1812) was a Shoshone Indian princess. Her people lived from the Rocky Mountains to the Plains. Their main resource was buffal : they hunted on horseback using the buffalo for food, clothing, homes, and tools. One day, while Sacajawea and her brother were hunting, the Minnetaree Indians attacked their Shoshone village; they killed Sacajawea’s father and captured her. Then she was sold to Charbonneau, a trapper from Canada who married Sacajawea and took her to the Mandan village. One day some white men guided by Lewis and Clark arrived in the Mandan village led by the loud beating of the tom-toms. Lewis and Clark needed a guide to go West and Charbonneau said he would travel with them when the spring came. Captain Clark wanted Sacajawea to travel with the group because she spoke the Shoshone language and could ask the Shoshone Indians for horses. The Indian girl already a child, Pomp, and she took him with her. Sacajawea and her baby represented peace because war parties did not travel with women and children.The journey was long and difficult: the group had to face strong wins while on rivers, heavy rains in the canyons, they had to build wagons to carry the boats across the land to overcome a waterfall, and also ran into rattlesnakes and grizzly bears. When Sacajawea and her group reached her tribe, the Shoshone, she found her brother and he gave them horses for their trip west.At that point she could decide to live with her tribe or led the men to west. Sacajawea decided to go and travelled with Lewis and Clark by horseback over the Rocky Mountains. Other three months passed before they reached the Pacific Ocean and there they built a fort.

In the spring Sacajawea could go back to her people, she could no longer find her brother.

The story of American Independence

During the 1700s, American writers moved towards their independence from British examples.

The poets felt the necessity to produce a serious national poetry which celebrated their democratic ideals and America as the future culmination of civilization.

David Humphreys, John Trumbull, and Joel Barlow, called the Connecticut Wits (or Hartford Wits) continued the tradition of satirical poems. They produced The Anarchiad (1786-1787), a mock epic poem which warned against the chaos that would develop if a strong central government, as supported by the Federalists, was not put into practice in the United States. American poets used the British literary model of the mock epic to satirize and criticize British culture.

Philip Freneau’ poems are about America’s future greatness dealing showing a deep spiritual engagement with nature (The Rising Glory of America, 1772; The Wild Honey Suckle, 1786; and On a Honey Bee, 1809).

As to prose, Thomas Paine, and Thomas Jefferson supported the American Revolution and, together with a committee made up of Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. wrote The Declaration of Independence (1787), an important realization in both politics and American prose.

In the document there were key statements of American freedom. But there are also compromises and the most evident was the absence of any mention of slavery to maintain the unity with the Southern colonies, whose economy was rooted in slavery

It was a great contradiction in document that affirmed that “all men are created equal”.

African American poets wrote about American Revolution, liberty, independence, equality, and identity. Just as the white Americans experienced the division between their new American identity and their European past, the African Americans, looked always to their African past and to their problematic American present.

American Coffee Houses and newspapers

When English people colonized America, they brought with them their traditions and customs. The coffee houses were among them: their role was the same as those in England, they soon became the hotspots for the business and cultural community. An example? The Tontine Coffee House (1792) in New York was the original location for the New York Stock Exchange.

As to newspapers, the first publication appeared in Boston in 1690 when Benjamin Harris published Publick Occurrences Both Forreign and Domestick. According to the editor’s intention it should be a weekly newspaper, but after one edition (September 25, 1690) the government suppressed it. On April 24, 1704, the government allowed John Campbell, a bookseller and postmaster. of Boston to publish The Boston News-Letter. It was the first continuously published newspaper in the colonies, even if with a limited circulation. Originally, it was issued (= pubblicato) weekly and consisted of a single page printed on both sides and dealt mainly with the British political intrigues, and the details of European wars.

A great event reported was the pirate Blackbeard’s capture (1718) during a direct combat on a ship which he was trying to rob.

The following editor was Bartholomew Green (1722) who focused more on domestic events. After his death in 1732 his son, John Draper, enlarged the paper to four pages and reporting about news from throughout the colonies.

Soon after, weekly papers began publishing in New York and Philadelphia. These early newspapers followed the British format and were usually four pages long. They mostly carried news from Britain and content depended on the editor’s interests. In 1783, the Pennsylvania Evening Post became the first American daily.

In 1700 American prose writers started the story of journalism. In 1721, the New-England Courant, started by James Franklin, became the first newspaper to include literary entertainment. Franklin’s younger brother Benjamin Franklin published humorous social commentary under the pen name of Silence Dogood, the widow of a minister. Besides, in 1727 he, with a group of friends, established a men’s reading club in Philadelphia called the Junto, started his own printing house and published the Pennsylvania Gazette in which Pamela; or Virtue Rewarded by British author Samuel Richardson appeared for the first time in America .

Franklin’s writings (pen name Richard Saunders) advocated hard work as the key to success. He expressed his views in maxims, proverbs, and simple wisdom that filled his Poor Richard’s Almanack, published annually from 1733 to 1758.

His Autobiography , published 78 years after his death; it is considered a classic because of its portrait of American life during his time.

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