These “direct and surprisingly accessible” histories, often told in the actual words of key figures from the American past, are a brilliant blend of fact and imagination (Publishers Weekly).
I, Columbus: A firsthand account of Christopher Columbus’s famous voyage to the East, taken directly from his journal entries. He tells of excitement, drama, and terror on the high seas, as he and his crew weather the path to discovery.
Pilgrim Voices: The pilgrims’ own writings of their voyage on the Mayflower, their first encounters with indigenous people, and their Thanksgiving celebration after surviving a difficult first winter in the New World.
Off the Map: The story of Lewis and Clark’s famous 1804 expedition into the uncharted lands of America, in an accessible version drawn from the explorers’ own account.
Louisiana Purchase: Biographical sketches of Lewis and Clark, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Thomas Jefferson tell the story of the United States’ expansion into a new territory and a new era.
Sacagawea: Told from Sacagawea’s point of view, this historical novel shares the ordeals of her youth along with the memory of her journey west with Lewis and Clark. She shares her love of nature and explains how her loyalties have changed over time.
The Declaration of Independence: Covering major events such as the Boston Massacre and Paul Revere’s midnight ride, this accessible history brings the story of the Revolutionary War to life.
An Eye for an Eye: When her brother is captured at the start of the Revolutionary War, fourteen-year-old Samantha sets off to rescue him. But when she comes face-to-face with the enemy, will she still stand by her peaceful principles?
Take Command, Captain Farragut!: Ten-year-old David Glasgow Farragut is the youngest midshipman ever assigned to a warship in the US Navy. Told through fictional letters that Farragut writes from prison after his capture in the War of 1812, this richly imagined story is based on real history.
Ahyoka and the Talking Leaves: Ahyoka’s father is a Cherokee silversmith who dreams of a written language for his people. When he is ostracized for the “magic” he is creating, father and daughter leave home to pursue his dream on their own.
Grace’s Letter to Lincoln: After seeing Abraham Lincoln on a poster, eleven-year-old Grace decides to write to him and suggest that he might win more votes in the 1860 election if he grows a beard. Much to her surprise, Lincoln answers her letter, and history is made. This “touching historic encounter” is based on true events (Scholastic).
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Friday, 3 August 1492. We set sail at eight o'clock in the morning. The wind is strong and variable. We had gone forty-five miles by sunset. After dark I changed course for the Canary Islands.
Monday, 6 August, 1492. The rudder of the Pinta slipped its socket. The heavy sea prevented me from helping, but I was able to come alongside the Pinta and hearten the crew. Despite the trouble we were able to make eighty-seven miles last night and today.
Wednesday, 8 August, 1492. I decided to go to Grand Canary Island and leave Pinta for she was badly disabled and leaking.
Thursday, 9 August, 1492. The Pinta was able to reach Grand Canary this morning. I ordered Martin Pinzon, the captain, to remain until the Pinta could be properly repaired. I took the Santa Maria and the Nina, and set out for the island of Gomera. If I cannot find another vessel there, I will come back in a few days and help with repairs.
Friday, 17 August, 1492. Two weeks have passed since our departure, and the crew has become restive.
Saturday, 18 August, 1492. I went ashore at Gomera to see if another ship might be available, but none of the few crafts is capable of a voyage of any length over the open sea. I must accept those things I cannot control. My enterprise is in God's hands.
Thursday, 23 August, 1492. It is essential that we sail west soon.
Friday, 24 August, 1492. At daybreak I weighed anchors. I passed the night near Tenerife where the great volcano on that island erupted in a fiery display. Many members of the crew were frightened, for they had never seen such an event. I calmed them by telling about other volcanoes I have seen, and explained the cause of this great fire.
Saturday, 25 August, 1492. I reached Grand Canary this morning. Martin Pinzon had not repaired the rudder, a fact that disturbs me. I am determined to make a new rudder for the Pinta.
Monday, 3 September, 1492. Guiterrez has already acquired all of the wood and water necessary for the voyage, which I estimate will last twenty-one days. However, to be on the safe side, in case of contrary winds or currents, I ordered Guiterrez to prepare for a voyage of twenty-eight days. I anticipate no problem in replenishing our supplies when we reach the Indies.
Tuesday, 4 September, 1492. Today we loaded and stored dried meat and salted fish, and some fruits. The fruit will be consumed early, for it will spoil if the voyage is of three weeks' duration.
Wednesday, 5 September, 1492. All is ready for the voyage. Tonight I shall order a special service of thanksgiving; at sunrise I will lift anchors to begin the journey westward.
Thursday, 6 September, 1492. Shortly before noon I sailed and set my course for the west. I sailed all day and night with very little wind.
Sunday, 9 September, 1492. This day we completely lost sight of land. Many men sighed and wept for fear they would not see it again for a long time. I comforted them with great promises of lands and riches. I decided to count fewer miles than we actually made. I did this so the sailors might not think themselves as far from Spain as they really were. For myself I kept a confidential, accurate, reckoning. Tonight I made ninety miles.
Monday, 10 September, 1492. Today I made one hundred eighty miles. I recorded only one hundred forty-four miles in order not to alarm the sailors.
Saturday, 15 September, 1492. I sailed west day and night for eighty-one miles. Early this morning I saw a marvelous meteorite fall into the sea twelve or fifteen miles away. Some people took this to be a bad omen, but I calmed them by telling them of the numerous times that I have seen such events. I have to confess that this is the closest a falling star has ever come to my ship.
Monday, 17 September, 1492. I held my course to the west and made one hundred fifty miles, but I logged only one hundred forty-one miles. I saw a great deal of weed today from rocks that lie to the west. I take this to mean that we are near land. The crew found a live crab in a patch of it. This is a sure sign of land. Everyone is cheerful. The Pinta, the fastest sailing vessel, went ahead in order to sight land. We saw a lot of porpoises, and the men of the Nina killed one with a harpoon. All the indications of land come from the west, where I trust Almighty God, will soon deliver us to land.
Tuesday, 18 September, 1492. I sailed day and night for one hundred sixty-five miles, but I recorded only one hundred forty-four miles. Martin Pinzon, who sailed ahead yesterday lay-to waiting for me. He hoped to sight land last night; that is why he was going so fast. He is a fine captain and very resourceful, but his independence disturbs me. I trust that this striking out on his own does not continue, for we can ill afford to become separated this far from home. He tells me that at sundown he saw land about forty-five miles to the north. My calculations indicate land is not in that direction. I am not going to waste time with it.
Thursday, 20 September, 1492. Today I changed course for the first time since departing Gomera. Early this morning three little birds flew over the ship, singing as they went. This was a comforting thought, for unlike the large water birds, these little birds could not have come from far off.
We saw much weed stretching to the north as far as you can see. This weed comforted the men, since they concluded that it must have come from some nearby land. At the same time, it caused great apprehension because in places it was so thick it held back the ships. The men thought the weed might become so thick that we might become stuck as did St. Amador when a frozen sea held his ship fast. We kept as clear as possible from those weed mats.
Friday, 21 September, 1492. Today was mostly calm. By night and day I made about thirty-nine miles. The sea is as smooth as a river. I saw a whale, another sign of land, for whales always stay near the coast.
Sunday, 23 September, 1492. The crew is grumbling about the wind. The changing wind, along with the flat sea, has led the men to believe we will never get home. I told them being near land keeps the sea smooth. Later, when waves arose without wind, they were astonished. I saw this as a sign from God. Soon the wind arose and the sea grew rougher. The crew was relieved. The men tried to catch fish but could not get any to bite at the hooks. Eventually they harpooned several.
Monday, 24 September, 1492. I am having serious trouble with the crew, despite the signs of land that we have.
All day long and all night long those who get together never stop complaining. They fear they will not return home. They have said that it is insanity and suicidal to risk their lives. They say I am willing to risk my life to become a great Lord and that I have deceived them to further my ambition. I am told by a few trusted men (and these are few in number!) that if I persist in going onward, that the best course of action will be to throw me into the sea some night. They will say I fell overboard while taking the position of the North Star.
I know the men are taking these complaints to Pinzon. I know he cannot be trusted. He is a skilled mariner, but he wants the rewards and honors of this enterprise for himself. He is always running ahead of the fleet, seeking to be the first to sight land.
Tuesday, 25 September, 1492. At sunset Pinzon called to me that he saw land and claimed the reward. I fell to my knees to give thanks to Our Lord. The Nina's crew all climbed the mast and rigging, and claimed that it was land. I myself was sure it was land about seventy-five miles to the southwest.
Wednesday, 26 September, 1492. After sunrise I realized that what we all thought was land was nothing more than squall clouds, which often resemble land. I returned to my original course of west in the afternoon, once I was positive I had not seen land. Day and night I sailed ninety-three miles, but recorded seventy-two. The sea was like a river and the air sweet and balmy.
Saturday, 29 September, 1492. I sailed on to the west, making seventy-two miles by day and night, but told the crew sixty-three miles. I saw many flying fish. They are about a foot long and have two little wings like a bat. These fish fly above the water and sometimes they fall on our ships. The sea is as smooth as a river, and the breeze is delightful and pleasing.
Monday, 1 October, 1492. I sailed west for seventy-five miles but reckoned sixty. It rained very hard this morning. The pilot of the Santa Maria calculated that we had gone 1,734 miles; I gave him my corrected figure of 1,752. My personal calculation shows we have come 2,121 miles. I did not reveal this to the men because they would become frightened, finding themselves so far from home, or at least thinking they were that far.
Thursday, 4 October, 1492. I sailed west, between day and night making one hundred eighty-nine miles. More than forty petrels came to the ship at one time, along with two terns. A boy on the Pinta hit one with a stone. So many birds are a sure sign that we are near land.
Saturday, 6 October, 1492. I maintained my course to the west. This evening Pinzon told me it would be wise to steer southwest by west to reach the island of Japan. In my opinion it is better to continue directly west until we reach the mainland. Later we can go to the islands on the return voyage to Spain. My goal is the Indies, and it would make no sense to waste time with offshore islands. My decision has not pleased the men. Despite their grumblings I held fast to the west.
Sunday, 7 October, 1492. This morning we saw what appeared to be land to the west, but it was not very distinct. No one wished to make a false claim of discovery.
However, this morning at sunrise the Nina ran ahead, fired a cannon, and ran up a flag on her mast to show land had been sighted. Joy turned to dismay as the day progressed for by evening we had found no land and had to face the reality that it was only an illusion.
Wednesday, 10 October, 1492. Between day and night I made one hundred seventy-seven miles. I told the crew one hundred thirty-two miles, but they could stand it no longer. They grumbled and complained of the long voyage. I told them that, for better or worse, they had to complete the voyage. I cheered them on, telling them of the honors and rewards they would receive. I told them it was useless to complain. I had started to find the Indies and would continue until I had.
Thursday, 11 October, 1492. I sailed to the west-southwest. The crew of the Pinta spotted reeds and a small board. A stick was found that looks man-made, perhaps carved with an iron tool. These made the crew breathe easier; in fact, the men have even become cheerful. A special thanksgiving was offered to God for giving us renewed hope through the many signs of land.
About ten o'clock at night I saw a light to the west. It looked like a wax candle bobbing up and down. It had the same appearance as a light or torch belonging to fishermen or travellers who raised and lowered it. I am the first to admit I was so eager to find land that I did not trust my own senses so I called Gutierrez and asked him to watch for the light. After a few moments, he too saw it. I then summoned Rodrigo Sanchez. He saw nothing, nor did any other member of the crew. It was such an uncertain thing I did not feel it was adequate proof of land. Then, at two hours after midnight, the Pinta fired a cannon, my signal for the sighting of land.
I now believe the light I saw was truly land. When we caught up with the Pinta, I learned Rodrigo de Triana, a seaman, was the first man to sight land. I lay-to till daylight. The land is about six miles to the west.
Friday, 12 October, 1492. At dawn we saw naked people. I went ashore in the ship's boat, armed, followed by Martin Pinzon, captain of the Pinta, and his brother Vincente Pinzon, captain of the Nina. I unfurled the royal banner and the captains brought the flags. After a prayer of thanksgiving, I ordered the captains to witness I was taking possession of this island for the King and Queen. To this island I gave the name San Salvador, in honor of our Blessed Lord. No sooner had we finished taking possession of the island than people came to the beach.
The people call this island Guanahani. Their speech is very fluent, although I do not understand any of it. They are a friendly people who bear no arms except for small spears. They have no iron. I showed one my sword, and through ignorance he grabbed it by the blade and cut himself.
I want the natives to develop a friendly attitude toward us because I know they are a people who can be converted to our Holy Faith more by love than by force. I think they can easily be made Christians, for they seem to have no religion. I will take six of them to Your Highnesses when I depart, in order that they may learn our language.
I gave some red caps to some and glass beads to others. They took great pleasure in this and became so friendly it was a marvel. They traded and gave everything they had with good will, but it seems to me that they have very little and are poor in everything. I warned my men to take nothing from the people without giving something in exchange.
This afternoon the people came swimming to our ships and in boats made from one log. They brought parrots, balls of cotton thread, spears, and many other things. We swapped them little glass beads and hawks' bells.
Saturday, 13 October, 1492. I have tried very hard to find out if there is gold here. I have seen a few natives wear a little piece of gold hanging from a hole made in the nose. By signs, if I interpret them correctly, I learned by going south I can find a king who possesses great containers of gold. I tried to find some natives to take me, but none want to make the journey.
This island is large and very flat. It is green, with many trees. There is a very large lagoon in the middle of the island. There are no mountains. It is a pleasure to gaze upon this place because it is all so green, and the weather is delightful.
In order not to lose time I want to set sail to see if I can find Japan.
Sunday, 14 October, 1492. I made sail and saw so many islands that I could not decide where to go first. The men I captured indicated there were so many islands they could not be counted. I looked for the largest island and decided to go there.
Wednesday, 17 October, 1492. I named this island Fernandina. There are many things that I will probably never know because I cannot stay long enough to see everything. I must move on to discover other islands and to find gold.
All the people I have seen so far resemble each other. They have the same language and customs.
All of the trees are as different from ours as day is from night, and so are the fruits, the herbage, the rocks, everything. The fish are so unlike ours that it is amazing; some are like dorados, of the brightest colors in the world — blue, yellow, red, multi-colored, colored in a thousand ways; the colors so bright that anyone would marvel and take great delight at seeing them. Also, there are whales. I have seen no land animals except parrots and lizards. I have not seen sheep, goats, or any other beasts.
Friday, 19 October, 1492. I simply do not know where to go next. I never tire from looking at such luxurious vegetation. I believe there are many plants and trees here that would be worth a lot in Spain for use as dyes, spices, and medicines, but to my great sorrow I do not recognize them. You smell the flowers as you approach this coast; it is the most fragrant thing on earth. Before I depart, I am going ashore to explore.
Sunday, 21 October, 1492. At ten o'clock in the morning we anchored. Flocks of parrots darken the sun. Birds of so many species so different from our own that it is a wonder. I am bringing a sample of everything I can. I saw a serpent, which we killed with lances. I am bringing Your Highnesses the skin. The people here eat them. The meat is white and tastes like chicken.
Sunday, 28 October, 1492. At sunrise I approached the coast of Cuba. I am now certain that Cuba is the Indian name for Japan. I have never seen anything so beautiful. The country is full of trees. I took a small boat ashore and approached two houses. The people fled in fear. We found a dog that did not bark. We found nets and cords made of palm threads, fishhooks made of horn, harpoons made from bone. I ordered not one thing be touched. The Indians say on this island there are mines of gold and pearls. I saw a good place for the pearls. I was given to understand large ships belonging to the Great Khan came here. From the mainland it is 10 days journey. I must try to go to the Great Khan, for he is in the city of Cathay. This is a very great city, according to what I was told before leaving Spain.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Early American Studies"
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Table of Contents
Exploring the Land,
The Third Discovery,
Meeting the Indians,
Spring and Summer 1621,
The Harvest Festival,
OFF THE MAP,
1. Napoléon Takes a Bath,
2. What Was the Big Deal About Louisiana, Anyway?,
3. The Deal Is Sealed,
4. What Exactly Did Jefferson Purchase?,
5. The French Claim and Name Louisiana,
6. France Gets Kicked Out and Britain Gets the Boot,
7. Napoléon's Dream Becomes a Nightmare,
8. The Stars and Stripes Finally Fly Over Louisiana,
9. Lewis and Clark Explore Louisiana,
10. Under My Wings Every Thing Prospers,
States Formed from the Louisiana Purchase,
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE,
Chapter One: When in the Course of Human Events,
Chapter Two: We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident,
Chapter Three: The Stage Is Set,
Chapter Four: The Stamp Act,
Chapter Five: The "Heroick" Boycott,
Chapter Six: Boston Massacre,
Chapter Seven: The Boston Tea Party,
Chapter Eight: The First Continental Congress,
Chapter Nine: Paul Revere's Midnight Ride,
Chapter Ten: The Shots Heard Round the World,
Chapter Elven: Don't Shoot Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes,
Chapter Twelve: General George Washington,
Chapter Thirteen: Independence!,
AN EYE FOR AN EYE,
The 13 Original Colonies,
Proclamation of the Earl of Dunmore,
TAKE COMMAND, CAPTAIN FARRAGUT!,
Prison Ship Valparaíso, Chile,
AHYOKA AND THE TALKING LEAVES,
GRACE'S LETTER TO LINCOLN,
About the Authors,