HISTORY OF THE CALIFORNIA GOLD RUSH
On August 19, 1848, the New York Herald reported the news along the American East Coast of the California Gold Rush. It was not new news to those further West, as the gold rush had started in January and was publicized in San Francisco in March. However, the New York Herald was the most profitable and popular newspaper in the US at that time, and by the dawn of the American Civil War the newspaper claimed a circulation of 84,000 copies and called itself “the most largely circulated journal in the world.” In any event, the news of the gold rush spread to a much larger audience than previously and spread the gold fever much wider than before.
James Marshall discovered gold along the American River in North-central California at Sutter’s Mill on January 24, 1848. Despite trying to keep the discovery a secret the news spread in all directions — initially to Oregon, Hawaii, Mexico, Central America, Chile, Peru and as far as China. By mid-June about three-quarters of the male population of San Francisco had left for the gold fields. By the end of 1848, around 20,000 had come to California to seek their fortune. By 1849 the number had grown to over 100,000. These “49ers” (named after the San Francisco football team) passed through what was to be called the “Golden Gate” of the San Francisco Bay. The bridge that now spans from San Francisco to Marin County gets its name from that gate. Prospectors could make a fortune — nuggets might be found lying on the ground on in streams — if they came early. Some 750,000 pounds or billions of dollars worth of gold was extracted from the mining area which peaked in 1852.
HISTORY OF WOODSTOCK
August 15 marks the anniversary of the “3-days of Peace & Music” held in 1969 at Max Yasgur’s 600 acre dairy farm in the rural town of Bethel, New York, southwest of the village of Woodstock.
I’d like to share with you what it was like to be there — the music, the crowds the atmosphere, the sense of history, what it was like to hear Jimi Hendrix electrically reinterpret the national anthem The Star-Spangled Banner, to experience the frenetic exuberance of The Who define a new youth anthem with We’re Not Gonna Take It for My Generation, what it was like to hear the newly formed supergroup Crosby Stills, Nash & Young say “This is only the second time we’ve performed in front of people, we’re scared s***less!” and to describe to you what it was like to participate in “peace, love, and rock & roll.”
I’d like to do this, but I wasn’t there. However, I do remember it when it occurred. And of course, everyone saw the 1970 Academy Award winning (Documentary) movie — edited by a young Martin Scorsese.
Over forty years ago almost half a million Baby Boomers attended one of the defining moments of American Post-Modernism. While The Beatles may have introduced it earlier in the ’60s, Woodstock pulled together many of the distinctively American voices. This music festival was called “an Aquarian Exposition” though it now may feel more like the “dawning of the aging of Aquarius.”
Here were the performers, 32 different acts performed over the course of the four days, from Friday to the morning of Monday — with a few of my comments:
What’s in a name? The name of this month wasn’t always August, previously it was called Sextilis by the Romans, back in the days of Romulus in 753 BC when there were originally 10 months (Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.) The Roman Senate, in 8 B.C. decided to honor their first Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing the name of the month to Augustus. Now Augustus wasn’t his name, it was more of a description of his importance. He was born as Gaius Octavius, though he is known in the history books as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus or Octavius to his friends. The word augustus in Latin means “venerable” or “consecrated,” coming from the root augur which means to “consecrate by augury.” We use the term in English to describe someone auspicious, grand or lordly… or with imperial qualities.
You know about Augustus from the Christmas story in Luke 2:
Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [i.e., the Roman Empire].
HISTORY OF REEK SUNDAY, Part 3: LOCATION
In our previous article on Reek Sunday, we discussed the Pilgrimage to County Mayo, Ireland for Cruach Phadraig — as it is known in Irish — that is also called “The Reek.” It stands at 764 meters or 2510 feet elevation. It is located about 5 miles from the lovely town of Westport, an Irish Tidy Town. St. Patrick’s “Confessions,” tells of his slavery in the wood of Fochluth. Evidence relating to the history of St. Patrick suggests that this location was actually on the west shore of Ireland in this area.
Westport is a popular tourist destination in County Mayo, not only as a launching point for the pilgrimage, but for its picture postcard beauty. In the center of the town is an octagon with a pillar featuring St. Patrick. On each of the eight sides is a panel illustrating an event from his life.
HISTORY OF REEK SUNDAY, part 2: PILGRIMAGE
Pilgrims, nature lovers, archeologists, historians, and hill climbers come from all over the world to climb the mountain on Reek Sunday. In our previous article, we discussed the Tradition. Here we discuss the pilgrimage that has been going on for centuries, and an older one for millennia. More on that later.
The current one has been going on actively since 1905 with the dedication of the new St. Patrick’s Oratory. Pilgrimages had fallen off following the Great Hunger (Potato Famine) of the 1840s and efforts were made to revitalize it. On Sunday, July 30, 1905, there were 10,000 pilgrims in attendance of the new church. Night pilgrimages were performed until 1973, but they are now held during the day, sometimes barefooted.
An older tradition goes back even further. Pre-Christian artifacts have been discovered by archeologists suggesting a Celtic hill fort that circled the top of the mountain. On the summit have been found amber, blue and black glass beads dating to the 3rd century BC. The mountain seems to have been revered long before Patrick and was perhaps the reason he had his fast and contest there. It was believed to be the seat of the old Celtic fertility deity Crom Dubh, often translated as the Dark Stooped One. In pre-Roman times, Crom Dubh seems to have been considered a despotic deity with evil powers.
HISTORY OF REEK SUNDAY
Several years ago at this time of the Summer, I was on the west coast of Ireland, where they say,
“West o’ here, ta next parish over, tat’s Boston.”
This Sunday, the last one in July every year, marks Reek Sunday, or Garland Sunday in Ireland. At this time between 25,000 and 40,000 people will walk the 3-hour round trip up the Reek Mountain, or Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, Ireland, the sacred mountain of St. Patrick in a popular pilgrimage in honor of the patron saint of Ireland, commemorating his driving the snakes from Ireland. Over 100,000 people a year visit Croagh Patrick.
On the summit of this mountain, it is believed that St. Patrick fasted and prayed for 40 days in 441 A.D. The story goes that at the end of this fast St. Patrick threw a bell down the mountainside and banished all the serpents from Ireland. The fact that snakes never were native to Ireland does not diminish the tradition. Some believe that the banishing of the snakes represents either certain pagan practices or outright evil. In any event, the pilgrimage in honor of St. Patrick goes back to this date over 1,500 years ago. Radiocarbon dating of the remnants of a dry stone oratory is dated at between 430 and 890 AD. This oratory or place of worship is similar in design to the magnificently preserved Gallarus Oratory found on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. The bell we have now dates from 600 to 900 AD and is kept by the National Museum of Ireland.
185 years ago today, on July 26, 1833, the Emancipation Act passed its third reading in the House of Commons, ensuring the end of slavery in the British Empire. It was authored by William Wilberforce.
August 24 marks the birthday of British statesman and England’s greatest abolitionist William Wilberforce. He was a man well known to the Framing Fathers of the American Revolution and became in his day, not just a politician, philanthropist and abolitionist, but also a writer of such popularity (in his own day) as C.S. Lewis was in the 20th century. As I mentioned in my first article on the History of Amazing Grace, Wilberforce’s mentor was the song’s author John Newton. The popular film “Amazing Grace” tells, in brief, the life of Wilberforce.
William Wilberforce was born in 1759 to privilege and wealth in 18th century England and though physically challenged, worked for nearly 20 years to push through Parliament a bill for the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire 200 years ago.
Born in Hull in Yorkshire, upon his father’s death in 1768 he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Wimbledon. While there, he came into contact with the great evangelist George Whitefield. He was also influenced by the former slave-trading sea captain, pastor John Newton. However, his mother and grandfather wanted him away from Newton’s influence, which they thought was too evangelical and “Methodist”, much too enthusiastic for respectable Anglicans, and returned him to Hull.
Following private school, Wilberforce took both his B.A. and M.A. at St. John’s College in Cambridge — where he began a lasting friendship with the future Prime Minister, William Pitt the Younger — but Wilberforce was not a serious student and he was given to late nights of drinking, gambling, and card playing. At the youngest age at which one could be elected, at 21 he was elected to Parliament. He was noted for his charm and eloquence, indeed, his phenomenal rhetorical skill caused the young Prime Minister William Pitt to later challenge Wilberforce with a considerable undertaking — abolition.
HISTORY OF BASTILLE DAY
Each year on July 14 Bastille Day is celebrated to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille in Paris on this date in 1789, an important date in the French Revolution. The day features feasting, fireworks, public dancing, and an address by the French President. However, the center of this celebration is the largest and oldest European military parade along the Avenue of the Champs-Élysées, a wide boulevard that runs through Paris and is called la plus belle avenue du monde. Lined by high-end shops and eateries, as well as the Arc of Triumph in the middle, it is certainly the most beautiful avenue in the world that I’ve walked along. Bastille Day is celebrated around the world wherever French ex-patriots, people of French ancestry, and Francophiles live.
The history of the event goes back to 1789 at the time in France’s monarchy under King Louis XVI when he invited the Estates-General, representing the common people, to voice their grievances about high taxes and rising food prices. The people were unhappy about the economic crisis brought on my Louis’ extravagant spending at Versailles, the building of his navy, as well as his financial support of the American Revolution, thanks to the efforts of Benjamin Franklin. But fear of reprisal caused the people to storm the fortress/prison known as the Bastille to seize gunpowder and ammunition and to free political prisoners. This was considered the start of the French Revolution. Shortly after that, France’s newly formed National Constituent Assembly abolished feudalism and passed in August the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, becoming a fundamental document of the French Revolution. The following year, on July 14, 1790, the Fête de la Fédération was held to celebrate.
The celebration as we now know it, commemorated in a painting by Claude Monet called Rue Montorgueil, was held on June 30, 1878. It became an annual national holiday. Throughout the 1880s it was celebrated famously as a victory over the old ancien régime, that period when the monarchy ruled France. The military parades we now see began then along the main boulevard, including marches by the Allies following the Allies of the Versailles Peace Conference following WWI. Of course, the Liberation of Paris was celebrated here along the Champs-Élysées on August 25, 1944. The parades pass along the boulevard from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde where the Champs-Élysées ends at Jardin des Tuileries (Tuileries Garden) and the Impressionist art gallery Musée de l’Orangerie, adjacent to the Louvre. Ironically, Place de la Concorde used to be called Place de la Revolution, where many notable public executions were carried out by guillotine during the French Revolution, including those of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette in 1793.
History of French Fries
Today is National French Fry Day. While no one knows who began this celebration, placing in on July 13 is significant in that the most important French holiday is the next day, July 14 for Bastille Day.
Some French people might call the delectable potato confection Belgian Fries, and there is evidence that they may have originated there. However, due to the recent defeat of the Belgians to the French at the World Cup games, I cannot find any French people who will any credit to the Belgians on these historical facts. A Belgian journalist claims that a 1781 family manuscript tells of deep-fried potatoes in the Spanish-Netherlands (now Belgium) before the 1680s. The fact that potatoes did not arrive in that area until around 1735 makes this a hot potato. Eating potatoes for food was popularized in France by King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette who wore potato blossoms in their buttonholes and hair.
Note: potatoes are not native to Europe, but came from the New World, most likely when Spanish conquistadors brought them back from Peru. This is why J.R.R. Tolkien, at the suggestion of his careful readers, removed them from more recent versions of his Hobbit and Lord of the Rings books, but the movies did not.
One story is that the phrase “French Fried Potatoes” first appeared in English in 1856 in the cookbook Cookery for Maids of All Work by E. Warren. Another story is that they were first called “French Fries” by American soldiers stationed in Belgium during World War I. After first tasting them, the Yanks called them “French” fries as it was the official language of their fellow Belgian soldiers.
- French: frites from pommes frites, or “potato fries” but everyone called them frites or “fries.”
- Belgian: “Belgian fries” though to distinguish them, they are often twice fried. The first bath is called blanching.
- England: “Chips” as in “fish and chips.” Sometimes more thickly cut
- India: finger chips
- Ketchup: the most popular dipping sauce in the U.S.
- Ranch Dressing: surprisingly, the second most popular in the U.S.
- Mayonnaise: a favorite in continental Europe
- Dijon Mustard: for the last 40 years, a popular sauce in France
- Aioli: another French favorite, drizzled upon the potato delicacies.
- Vinegar: especially malt vinegar, is most favored in England and the Commonwealth
Between the time he worked on the Declaration of Independence, and when he became the Second President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson spent time in Paris as the minister to France. During one White House dinner in 1802, he served “potatoes served in the French manner.”
How should one observe this holiday? A trip to to the most popular American purveyors of this delicacy would include McDonald’s, Chic-fil-A, or Burger King.
Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian