American Leaders and Heroes; A preliminary text-book in United States History – Wilbur Fisk Gordy

In teaching history to boys and girls from ten to twelve years old simple material should be used. Children of that age like action. They crave the dramatic, the picturesque, the concrete, the personal. When they read about Daniel Boone or Abraham Lincoln they do far more than admire their hero. By a mysterious, sympathetic process they so identify themselves with him as to feel that what they see in him is possible for them. Herein is suggested the ethical value of history. But such ethical stimulus, be it noted, can come only in so far as actions are translated into the thoughts and feelings embodied in the actions. In this process of passing from deeds to the hearts and heads of the doers the image-forming power plays a leading part. Therefore a special effort should be made to train the sensuous imagination by furnishing picturesque and dramatic incidents, and then so skilfully presenting them that the children may get living pictures. This I have endeavored to do in the preparation of this historical reader, by making prominent the personal traits of the heroes and leaders, as they are seen, in boyhood and manhood alike, in the environment of their every-day home and social life. With the purpose of quickening the imagination, questions “To the Pupil” are introduced at intervals throughout the book, and on almost every page additional questions of the same kind might be supplied to advantage. “What picture do you get in that paragraph?” may well be asked over and over again, as children read the book. If they get clear and definite pictures, they will be likely to see the past as a living present, and thus will experience anew the thoughts and feelings of those who now live only in their words and deeds. The steps in this vital process are imagination, sympathy, and assimilation. To the same end the excellent maps and illustrations contribute a prominent and valuable feature of the book.

If, in the elementary stages of historical reading, the image-forming power is developed, when the later work in the study of organized history is reached the imagination can hold the outward event before the mind for the judgment to determine its inner significance. For historical interpretation is based upon the inner life quite as much as upon the outward expression of that life in action. Attention is called to the fact that while the biographical element predominates, around the heroes and leaders are clustered typical and significant events in such a way as to give the basal facts of American history. It is hoped, therefore, that this little volume will furnish the young mind some conception of what our history is, and at the same time stimulate an abiding interest in historical and biographical reading. Perhaps it is needless to say that the “Review Outline” may be used in many ways. It certainly will furnish excellent material for language work, oral or written. In so using it pupils may well be encouraged to enlarge the number of topics. I wish to acknowledge my obligations to Professor William E. Mead, of Wesleyan University, who has read the manuscript and made invaluable suggestions; also to my wife, whose interest and assistance have done much to give the book whatever of merit it may possess.



From very early times there existed overland routes of trade between Europe and Asia.

During the Middle Ages traffic over these routes greatly increased, so that by the fifteenth century a large and profitable trade was carried on between the West and the East. Merchants in Western Europe grew rich through trade in the silks, spices, and precious stones that were brought by caravan and ship from India, China, and Japan. But in 1453 the Turks conquered Constantinople, and by frequent attacks upon Christian vessels in the Mediterranean made the old routes unsafe. A more practicable one became necessary. Already in the early part of the fifteenth century Portuguese sea-captains had skirted the western coast of Africa, and by the close of the century others of their number had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, in their search for a water route to the Indies. But Spain, at that time the most powerful nation of Europe, adopted a plan quite different from that of the Portuguese. What this plan was and how it was carried out, we can best understand by an acquaintance with the life and work of the great sea-captain and navigator, Christopher Columbus. More than four hundred and fifty years ago there lived in the city of Genoa a poor workingman, who made his living by preparing wool for the spinners. Of his four sons, the eldest was Christopher, born in 1436. Young Christopher was not, so far as we know, very different from most other boys in Genoa.

He doubtless joined in their every-day sports, going with them to see the many vessels that sailed in and out of that famous sea-port, and listening for hours to the stories of sailors about distant lands. But he did not spend all his time in playing and visiting the wharves, for we know that he learned his father’s trade, and in school studied, among other things, reading, arithmetic, grammar, geography, and map-drawing. We can easily believe that he liked geography best of all, since it would carry his imagination far out over the sea and to lands beyond the sea. In map-drawing he acquired such skill that when he became a man he could earn his living, when occasion demanded, by making maps and charts. Beyond these facts little is known about the boyhood and youth of Columbus. Very likely much of his early life was spent upon the sea, sailing on the Mediterranean and along the west coast of Africa. Once he went as far north as England and perhaps even farther, but of this we are not certain. In the course of many voyages he heard much of the work done by Portuguese sailors and discoverers, for Portugal was at that time one of the greatest sea-powers of the world. As Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, was naturally a centre for sea-faring men, and as it was also the home of his brother Bartholomew, Columbus, at the age of about thirty-five, went there to live.



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