Archive for the ‘ American History ’ Category

A Visit with Pocahontas’ Great (x12) Granddaughter

Tuesday, November 4th, 2014

Imagine holding museum quality artifacts… some over 400 years old!! That was our afternoon with Pocahontas’s Great-Great-Great (12th Great) Granddaughter, a member of the Powhatan Nation.

The kids and I were greeted at the door, by Ms. Angie who was wearing traditional dress. Everything about our visit was fabulous! “Welcome to my yehakin,” she said as she ushered us into her home. Yehakin (pronounced yee-HAW-kin), she explained to the kids, was the word for the type of dwelling her ancestors lived in. She knew that we had visited the Powhatan village area at Jamestown and had the opportunity to walk inside the yehakin dwellings. (See this post Native Americans of the Northeast for more about that.)

Some background about Pocahontas: Most Americans have heard of Pocahontas. This was actually a nickname, her real name was Matoaka. Disney made a famous, though not accurate, film about her life.  Many of us know that Pocahontas was the daughter of the Powhatan Indian chief, Wahunsonacock. She was born in 1595 (This was 11 years before the first settlers arrived at Jamestown).  Most people also know that she married an English settler.  The Disney movie implied that she fell in love with John Smith, but there is no evidence of this.  She married John Rolfe, an English settler, when she was 19.

The information shared by the Powhatan Renape Nation explains that when she was 17, Pocahontas was taken prisoner by the English when she was there for a social visit. She was held hostage for over a year. During her captivity, John Rolfe took a “special interest” in the young prisoner.  As a condition of her release, she agreed to marry Rolfe.  They married in 1614 and shortly after that they had a son, Thomas.

Pocahontas and Rolfe went to England with their son. This was good propaganda for The Virginia Company of London. According to the Powhatan Renape Nation website:

She was wined and dined and taken to theaters. It was recorded that on one occasion when she encountered John Smith (who was also in London at the time), she was so furious with him that she turned her back to him, hid her face, and went off by herself for several hours. Later, in a second encounter, she called him a liar and showed him the door.

Not long after that Pocohantas, John Rolfe and their son were heading back to Virginia when she became ill. She was taken off the ship and soon died. She was just 21. Her father died the following spring (in 1618). During the next few decades, the Powhatan people were decimated and dispersed and their lands were taken over.

What happened to Thomas Rolfe?  Pocahontas’s son stayed in England. He was brought up by his uncle. He never saw his father again because by the time he returned to Virginia (probably around 1635) his father, John Rolfe, had died.

One thing that Ms. Angie shared with us — and that is not written down in the history books — was a story that was passed down through her family; she was told that Pocahontas was actually a widow. At around age 14, Pocahontas married a lesser chief named Kocoum, an elite Potowomac warrior and guard at Werowocomaco (the Powhatan capital village). Some believe they had one child, but the name and gender is unknown, and Kocoum passed away after an encounter with the colonists. Her marriage to John Rolfe was her second marriage. Ms. Angie says she has no way of verifying that, but that is what was passed down orally through her family line as well as referenced in The True Story of Pocahontas: The Other Side of History by Dr. Linwood “Little Bear” Custalow and Angela L. Daniel “Silver Star.”

What made this visit so extraordinary, were the objects we were able to touch and hold… Right off the bat, Ms. Angie brought out a coyote shield that has been passed down through her family.  She said she had taken it to the Smithsonian to be carbon dated. It dates back to the early 16th century (though some of the cloth was added later). The kids and I got to hold it as Ms. Angie explained that this was a ceremonial shield and spirit protector.

She showed us a coup stick that was passed down through her family.  It is also over 400 years old, but was not traditionally used by Powhatan warriors. The origin is unknown, but this might have been a trade item.

The kids were fascinated by the arrows. She showed us how boys would first use a stick (third one down). Then they would transition to a sharpened stick (the one at the bottom) before transitioning to an arrow with a point.

We were all fascinated by some of the tools, Ms. Angie showed us.  She had a bone needle and thimble case that girls/women would have worn as a necklace around their neck.

She showed us a garden tool that was decorated to personalize it and a small bowl that contained fishing hooks, a whistle and more:

She showed us a ceremonial fan (below) in addition to a traditional turkey feather Powhatan fan used for fanning the fires and other tools. We were fascinated by the turkey claw. Again, it would have had multiple uses like in the garden. Some of the items in her collection were modern replicas, others were many generations old.

For example, Ms. Angie brought out decorated mocassins made by her Great-Great-Great Grandmother.  While the little moccasins were made by her grandmother for her son. The mukluks (Inuit mocassins) date back from the 1800s:

While a public school teacher in Virginia with some time off during the summers, Ms. Angie would go on cultural exchanges, sharing her Eastern Woodlands culture and learning about other tribal customs. While in Alaska, she traded some of her traditional items with the Inuit people and so shared a number of the items from their culture as well. We were really blown away by the traditional Inuit sun glasses they wore. They work really well!

I think what made this entire experience amazing was the combination of story telling and the experience we had touching and trying on the various objects in her collection.  It was a privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to learn from Ms. Angie.

Ms. Angie does presentations and shares her vast collection professionally for schools, historical groups and organizations and shares her vast collection. (Drop me an email if you’re interested in having her do a presentation and I’ll pass along your details to her!) My post hasn’t come close to sharing her stories or all the objects in her collection. To say it was better than any museum I’ve ever been to is an understatement!  The kids and I are grateful that Ms. Angie opened her home to us and let us spend an amazing afternoon with her!


You may be interested in these related posts:

See you next time here or at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page!  

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Free Civics Materials

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014

This fall, the kids are learning some of the basics about Civics… What is the Constitution? What are the Bill of Rights? What is an amendment and how many are there?  I found a series of flashcards put together by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services that suits our purposes perfectly. They put together a series of 100 questions for those seeking US citizenship.  I printed out the flashcard series and we’ve been going over that information little by little.  The first week, we went over the first 5 questions and I use that as a jumping off point to go over the material in more depth:

1. What is the supreme law of the land? ▪ the Constitution
2. What does the Constitution do? ▪ sets up the government ▪ defines the government ▪ protects basic rights of Americans
3. The idea of self-government is in the first three words of the Constitution. What are these words? ▪ We the People
4. What is an amendment? ▪ a change (to the Constitution) ▪ an addition (to the Constitution)
5. What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution? ▪ the Bill of Rights

The following week, we went over the next 10 questions. I think these questions are great as a starting point, though for younger kids definitely need more explanation and discussion. 

Civics Flashcards-in RED 

If you use the flashcard series as we are… it takes a LOT of red ink to use the cards above, but then I noticed that  they also have the same questions written out on with a white background. Some of the questions go over US basics of US history.

US History Knowledge Questions: White Flashcards


There are also questions on US geography, holidays and more

If the flashcard approach doesn’t appeal, they have the questions listed out in a series:

Civics, History and Government Questions

There is also a 12-minute film for immigrants that is a useful overiew for kids about the important rights and responsibilities of US Citizenship:

A Promise of Freedom

And on a related note, you might be interested in the US Constitution pages that I made for the kids some time back.  They are free to download and print out as well:

Free US Constitution Pages:

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12 Books Celebrating America

Saturday, June 28th, 2014

With the 4th of July right around the corner, I thought I would highlight some books you and your kids can read that celebrate America. I’ve selected books about the American Revolution and Constitution, but also wanted to point out some books about our beautiful country.

If I were to recommend just one book, it might have to be They Called Her Molly Pitcher by Anne Rockwell. It is the story of Molly Hayes who followed her husband to war during the American Revolution. The story was vivid and engaging. Just listen to this description of Valley Forge: “It was so cold that soldiers had to stand on their hats in the snow to keep their feet from freezing. Their shoes had holes in them from tramping over miles of rough and stony ground.”  The history was rich and you learned a lot not only about Molly Pitcher, but other key figures of the Revolutionary War. I highly recommend this book for 6-9 year olds.


If you are looking for a short, quick book to explain why we celebrate Independence Day, this is it.  In 1776 by Jean Marzollo is a great introduction to the American Revolution for younger kids (ages 3-6).

Liberty or Death: The American Revolution by Betsy Maestro is a beautifully illustrated history of the American history, wonderful for slightly older kids 7+ or so.  I would recommend this if you are planning to study the American Revolution, but it’s not as quick of a read if you’re just wanting to pick up a quick read for Independence Day.  That said, I liked this book so much, I bought it so we’d have it for our homeschool. It is 60 pages. Each page had at least one (if not more!) illustrations that made this book really engaging.  Highly recommended.

 John, Paul, George and Ben by Lane Smith  Get to know some of America’s familiar historic figures as kids.  This is a humorous book about John Hancock, Paul Revere, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. It definitely made me chuckle and I really liked the way the book pulled together at the end with his TRUE/FALSE section. Some of those made me laugh out loud!  I would recommend this for ages 6-10.

Shh We’re Writing the Constitution by Jean Fritz takes a humorous look at the hot summer days when the Constitution was written.So much of the time, we focus our energy on sharing the history of the American Revolution… details about the Boston Tea Party which led to the war or the struggles of Valley Forge.  This book explains why the story of our country was not over after the war ended. It took more than that for the states to be truly United.  This book is a longer read (60 pages), but it’s one we’ll add into our homeschool when we cover this time period again.  Ages 7-10 or so.

I had a hard time deciding whether the Molly Pitcher book (above) or this one was my favorite from this group.  I went with Molly Pitcher because it explains so well what the soldiers went through for our nation to become independent from Britain. But then, this book truly celebrates the people that have helped make our country what it is.    Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama is a tribute to 13 great Americans and the ideals that have shaped America. It celebrates the creativity of Georgia O’Keefe, the bravery of Jackie Robinson to turn fear to respect. It shares the stories of Sitting Bull, Billie Holiday, Jane Addams, Maya Lin, and more. This book is a quick read, but definitely one I plan to read to the kids more than once. I really loved the message of this book that each one of us can pursue our dreams and forge our own paths.

Most of us know Woodie Guthrie’s tune, This Land is Your Land.  This picture book has beautiful illustrations and is a great book to share (and sing!) with kids ages 3-8. I’ve always loved the song and the illustrations in this book really helped bring the song to life.

Yellowstone Moran: Painting the American West by Lita Judge In this breathtaking books, you read about the adventures of Thomas Moran who encountered some of the wonders of Yellowstone.  His detailed drawings, paintings, and journal entries helped convince the U.S. Congress to make Yellowstone our first national park. This is perfect to read this time of year because Tom set out with the expedition at the beginning of July.

Here are some of Thomas Moran’s paintings (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons). Now don’t you want to pack up the family and head to Yellowstone?!

In the book, Tom befriended the expedition’s photographer William Jackson. Here are a couple of his photos from that expeditions:

There’s another wonderful book about Yellowstone that I highly, highly recommend called When the Wolves Returned by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent.  This is a stunning collection of nature photos that tell the story of how the disappearance of the wolves  almost destroyed the natural balance of Yellowstone.  I can’t rave about this book enough. It shows how truly delicate the balance of nature is and how the disappearance of one animal had drastic repercussions… right down to the trees in the forest!  The photos of all the animals–wolves, coyotes, moose, elk, badgers and more– were simply beautiful.

Have you heard of Davy Crockett? What about Susanna Dickinson? This book based on a real but little known woman named Susanna Dickinson who survived the battle at the Alamo in San Antonio. Susanna of the Alamo is by John Jakes.

Brad Meltzer has an entire series about famous Americans including I am Abraham Lincoln .  These books that include I am Amelia Earhart and  I am Rosa Parks are written for ages 5-8.They inspires us all to become heroes. 

If your family can’t make it Mt. Rushmore, maybe you can read about the Parker Family’s adventures.  This 96-page book would make a good read aloud as they encounter fossil hunters illegally poaching bones.  Mount Rushmore, Badlands, Wind Cave Going Underground (Adventures with the Parkers) is by Mike Graf. He has other Adventure with the Parkers books including Arches and Canyonlands National Parks: In the Land of Standing Rocks.

Steven Kellogg has a number of American tall tales that my kids have enjoyed like Paul Bunyan, Johnny Appleseed, John Henry, Pecos Bill, and Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett.

Our family also enjoys the musical, 1776, which is on DVD.

July 4th Patriotic Pops
July 4th Patriotic Pops
July 4th Patriotic Pops

You might be interested in the other posts in this series: Summer Reads: Children’s Literature to Share with Your Kids. Join us next Saturday for the next post in this series.

And be sure to come let us know your kids’ favorite books over at our Homeschool Den Facebook Page!

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6 Native American Picture Books to Share with the Kids

Saturday, June 21st, 2014

I was looking for Native American children’s books written by and about Native Americans.  I found Debbie Reese’s website, American Indians in Children’s Literature. What a great resource! Today I’d like to share some of the books we read together this past week.  I went with the books that were available at our library and that were appealing to the kids.

1) Buffalo Bird Girl: A Hidatsa Story

S.D. Nelson, author, is a member of the Standing Rock Sioux/Lakota tribe of the Dakotas

Buffalo Bird Girl was a member of the Hidatsa people who lived in permanent villages along the Missouri River in the Great Plains.  This book shares her story as she planted crops, tended the crops, tended the fields, did chores, played games and trained her dog. The book weaves teh words and stories of Buffalo Bird Woman with art work and actual photos. This book had rich details about her daily life and included real photos such as this picture of squash spread out on a drying stage:

Plate 8

 Picture Courtesy of the UPenn Digital Library

2) The Christmas Coat: Memories of My Sioux Childhood

Virginia Driving Hawk Snerve, author, spent her childhood on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation.

Each day, Virginia has to walk to school fighting the frigid, bitter winds of South Dakota prairie. Each year congregations in the East send used clothing, shoes, coats and other items.  She has outgrown her winter coat and longs for a replacement.  Since her father was the Episcopal priest, she was taught that “The others need it more than we do.”  This is a really sweet book. I’ll definitely add this to the books we read at Christmas time because I love its message of having a generous spirit.

3) Shi-shi-etko 

Nicola Campbell, author, is of Interior Salish and Metis ancestry. She grew up in British Columbia’s Nicola Valley.

This is the story of Shi-shi-etko, which means “she loves to play in the water.”  She has just days until she has to go to the India Residential School. Once she arrives at school, she won’t see her parents for months or even years.  She will lose her traditional name and will be forced to speak English.

The kids loved this story and we talked about how the Aboriginal children in Australia were also separated from their families to be sent off to school.  These children are referred to as the “Stolen Generation” in Australia.

4) The Story of the Milky Way: A Cherokee Tale

Joseph Bruchac, author, is of Abenaki Indian and European origin.

Gayle Ross, author, is of Cherokee origin.

Virginia Stroud, illustrator, is Cherokee-Creek by birth.

This is a traditional Cherokee legend which tells of the time when the world was new and there weren’t many stars in the sky. An elderly couple found that someone had been stealing cornmeal from them.  This tale tells how the community worked together to drive off the thief–a great spirit dog.

Joseph Bruchac has other highly praised Native American books including

  • The First Strawberries
  • Thirteen Moons on Turtle’s Back
  • The Earth Under Sky Bear’s Feet
  • A Boy Called Slow (who becomes Sitting Bull)
  • Children of the Longhouse

Gayle Ross also wrote: How Rabbit Tricked Otter and other Cherokee Trickster Stories

5) Kamik: An Inuit Puppy Story

Adapted from the memories of Donald Uluadluak from Arviat, Nunavut (northern Canada)

In this story, Jake’s Grandfather explains how dogs were raised and trained when the Inuit relied on dogs for transportation and survival. His Grandfather shares tales of  how these dogs became helpful, obedient, hard working.

6) Jingle Dancer

Cynthia Leitich Smith, author, is a mixed-blood member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation.

This is a contemporary story about a girl who is a member of the Muscogee Nation and is also of Ojibway descent.  Jenna loves the tradition of jingle dancing that has been shared by generations of women in her family. She hopes to dance in the next pow-pow and visits with other women in her family to see if she can borrow jingles to sew on her dress.

If you are looking for Native American books for Tots, you might read this post by Debbie Reese: Top Board Books for the Youngest Readers.  And for Native American books for Middle School students, I recommend browsing through these lists (also by Debbie Reese):

I feel like we only just touched the surface of what’s available!  If you have any good recommendations, we’d love to hear from you over at our Homeschool Den Facebook page.
Meanwhile, we hope to see you next Saturday for our next post in this series! Click on the picture below to see all the posts in this series:

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Who Are You Remembering This Memorial Day?

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Memorial Day was formerly known as Decoration Day and started after the Civil War to commemorate the fallen Union Soldiers. By the 20th century Memorial Day was extended to honor all Americans who have died in wars.

A couple of years ago, I had a long conversation with my Dad and extended family about the members of our family who have served in the U.S. military. As I asked for photos and asked for details from our family, others chimed in with stories and details about those members of my family who have served in the military. We have a very well documented family history on all our lines (back to the early 1800s and some as far back as the 1600s).  We have veterans who served all the way back in the Civil War. We could count more than fifteen family members who have served in the military.  We have only one member who actually died in combat; Great Uncle Millard (on my husband’s side) who died serving on a ship in the Pacific in WWII. There is a memorial with his name on it in the Philippines, but we don’t remember quite where his ship went down.
I went through our old photos and documents and want to share just a bit about of our family memories this Memorial Day:

Civil War: Frank (my great, great grandfather) was a farmer and served for a total of 4 1/2 years in the Union Army. His first tour was from July 1861 to December 1863. He was a private in the Company A, 21st Regiment Indiana Infantry. His second tour was from Jan. 1864-Jan. 1866. Perry, his brothers Dave and William and their father were all in the Civil War. Apparently when my gr, gr grandfather was asked what his full name was he replied Perry Oliver Christopher X and the officer replied that it was too long. “From now on you’ll be known as plain Frank X.” The name stuck through the war and through life. Below are the two pictures we have of Frank, the one on the left was taken right after the Civil War:

WWI: I don’t have any details except this old photo (Below, on the left) of my relative, Oscar, in his WWI uniform. Hubby’s relative, Bill (photo below on the right) was stationed in Texas during WWI.

WWII: The list of those who served in WWII from our families is quite long. From my side

  • Great Uncle G served in the navy and was a bombardier. (Below, left)  He is still alive, in his 90s, and has always been very close to me; his wife of 67 years died a year ago.
  • Great Uncle Harold served in the South Pacific (Above, right two photos)
  • Great Uncle John served in the navy in the Pacific.
  • My Grandfather served in the coast watch in Washington state.
  • My other Grandfather worked as a carpenter on a U.S. army base.
On my husband’s side:
  • Hubby’s grandfather served in the Navy as a lieutenant. (Pictures below)
  • Great Uncle Millard was killed in action in the Pacific.
  • Great Uncle L, served in the navy in the Pacific. He lives near us and we see him quite often.  We gathered with more than 100 family members to celebrate his 90th birthday last October. He lives on his own and continues to write prolifically. He has published a number of books.

Vietnam War:

  • My father-in-law served for about five years in Vietnam (1965-1969).  I don’t know if he served on this ship (pictured right) the entire time but he definitely served on the USS Towers from at least Feb. 1965-June 1965. Those are the dates of his personal log (which is about 75 pages long). It’s fascinating reading; here’s an excerpt from his personal log Feb. 14, 1965:

Viet Cong is at it again. I read where they sailed a hundred small boats down a river into some town (Dan Nang? Dar Huong?) to make a landing in broad daylight. They carried villagers with them as hostages. The idea was to land and infiltrate into the town. The town constable warned them back and then gave permission to the U.S. troops to fire on them. That caused a halt and a retreat. What a pity, but what else could be done. The troops hated to fire, I’m sure, but that’s exactly what the Cong expected. At any rate, I doubt that trick will be tried again.

After he returned from Vietnam (in 1969), my husband’s Dad worked in the Foreign Service; he was killed in South Africa in an accident. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

  • Uncle P and P’s wife ‘A’ were both officers in the Air Force. Uncle P served from 1967 to 1977. He was an officer performing administrative support and training research and development while stationed at Vandenberg AFB, Chanute AFB, Andrews AFB, Williams AFB, and Lackland AFB. Aunt A served as a medivac nurse from 1968 to 1972. She flew wounded soldiers from the Vietnam theater to military hospitals in the USA.


  • My brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) was deployed there twice.


  • My cousin S and her husband T served in military.  Their older son, R, served as a marine. He was wounded just over a year ago during his second tour in Afghanistan; he lost his leg below the knee when an IED exploded. (You can read my short posts about our amazing R  here when I first learned he had been wounded and here which was an update after several surgeries.)  He received the purple heart in person from President Obama while he was in the hospital.
  • My cousin S and her husband T’s youngest son is currently in Afghanistan.

My cousin T served in the military.

My father worked for the navy for 30 years.

We are so lucky that we lost just one family member in these many years of service and are grateful to all those who have or are currently serving.

Who are you remembering today?

Teaching the Kids About Memorial Day:

If you and the kids are interested in doing something together to commemorate and learn more about Memorial Day, Jamerrill over at Free Homeschool Deals has put together a list of over 40 free printables, unit studies, videos and more: Free Memorial Day Resource Unit.   Thanks for sharing all these, Jamerrill!

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