By Marge Knoth, Author, Activity Professional
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Author, Activity Professional
Valley Press Books

Marge Knoth attended Purdue
University and took her activity
director training at Indiana
University and her social
service at Ball State.  She is
the author of ten books for
activity professionals. Her
books have been used as
teaching guides in colleges,
trade schools, and in activity
director courses throughout the
U.S. and Canada. They have
won both national and state
awards from the National
Federation of Press Women
and Women’s Press Club of

Marge has written a monthly
column, "A Letter from Marge"
for Current Activities in Long
Term Care.  She has been
published in Family Circle,
Lady’s Circle, Women’s Circle,
Indianapolis Woman, Christian
Science Monitor, Event,
various Christian and craft
publications, and other
magazines and newspapers.
She wrote a weekly newspaper
column called “Do You
Remember?”, and wrote and
recorded a long-running series
of nostalgic radio
commercials.  Also, she is a
motivational speaker having
traveled the United States and
Canada speaking at many state
and province activity
To Order Books by Marge Knoth
Celebrating America - Part 1 of 2
by Marge Knoth

We are so blessed to live in the United States of America, the land of the brave and the
free.  But have you ever considered using facts about America as activity ideas? The
history of our great country provides seemingly unlimited material for activities.  Let’s
explore a bit of that information now, and then we will share ways to utilize it.

Christopher Columbus
In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue...and then he discovered
America.  Eighty-eight men had been sailing for nine weeks in three tiny ships, the
Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, when a sailor spotted land.  Columbus put ashore
at a minor island of the Bahamas thinking he had discovered an unexplored part of
Asia.  He promptly claimed the land for Spain. Just a short time before, his restless
crew were considering mutiny, thinking their captain was taking them on a wild goose
chase. But when land was discovered they fell before Columbus and begged his
forgiveness.  Columbus, never believed he had discovered a new world, so he refused
to allow the land be named for him.  

So how did our great continent get its name?  In 1497, Amerigo Vespucci, who later
took the Latin name Americus Vespucius, sailed to the newly-discovered land.  He
returned again in 1499, 1500 and 1503. Like Columbus, Vespucius never suggested  
the land be named for him, but he did suggest it be called the “New World”.

But was Columbus really the one who discovered America?  According to Norse
legends, a man named Leif Erikson was sailing from Greenland and was blown off
course.  He drifted to North America around the year 1000. Could Erickson be the real
discoverer of America?   Who knows?  Viking accounts of it are contradictory and

Jamestown Colony
Jamestown, Virginia was the first successful British Colony  in the NewWorld.  In 1607,
100 Colonists arrived in the new land. This was the third attempt to create a settlement–
the first two had failed.  Still, the  famine was so great that Captain John Smith wrote,
“One among the rest did kill his wife...and had eaten part of  her.”  More than half of the
new arrivals died of malaria.  Survival of the rest was in part due to the fact that Smith
encouraged the settlers to cultivate the soil.  By 1612 they were growing their own
tobacco and packing it.

Plymouth Colony.  
Around 1620 Pilgrims arrived in America and established the Plymouth Colony.  
Squato, a Pawtauxet Indian befriended  them and taught them how to fish and “set their
corn” (plant and fertilize it with dead fish). The Pilgrims considered Squato a “spectiall
instrument sent of God” sent to help them survive. He taught them to navigate the forest
and acted as interpreter in treaty negotiations with the Wampanoags Indians. Squato is
believed to have been carried off to England by explorer George Waymouth in 1605.
There he became a Christian.  He returned with Captain John Smith in 1615.  Later he
was kidnapped and taken to Spain, and sold into slavery.  He escaped to England, and
in 1618 returned to Massachusetts where he discovered that his whole tribe had died of
small pox. Squato died in 1622.

The Declaration of  Independence
Surprisingly, only 16 % of able-bodied Colonists fought in the Revolutionary War.  
Those who did fight, though, fought for more than a year before independence was
proclaimed.  In 1775, following the Battle of Lexington and Concord, Virginian Richard
Henry Lee suggested that ties with England, their mother country, be completely
severed.. This was on June 7th.  Within five days a committee had been selected to  
write a declaration of independence. It included  Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson,
John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston.  Jefferson, having a flair for
writing, was chosen to write it.  The document was signed on July 4th,  but because of
its perceived futuristic value, it  was engrossed on parchment.  The parchment copy
was signed August 2nd by no less than 56 men. One signer, Thomas Mc Kean from
Delaware, was not present at the signing (he was off with General Washington), but he
was permitted to sign it on his return in 1781. Here’s how the document began...

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for One People to dissolve
the Political Bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the
Powers of the Earth the separate and equal Station to which the Laws of Nature and of
Nature’s God entitled them, a decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind requires that
they should declare the causes which impel them to the Separation.  We hold these
Truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty, and the
Pursuit of Happiness...

In response to the infant nation’s Declaration of  Independence, England gave it only a
six-line notice in their newspaper under the entertainment of the day.  They did,
however, offer a $2,500 reward to anyone who would reveal the names of the signers of
the Declaration.  They declared that each signer would be guilty of treason against
England, a crime punishable by death.  Jefferson, upon signing it, supposedly said,
“We must all hang together or, most assuredly, we will all hang separately.“

The Flag

The first flag to fly over the Colonies was the British Union Flag which flew from 1606
until the American Revolution.  In 1775, George Washington, who had just taken
command of the Continental Army, took down the “Union Flag” which was also called
the Congress Flag, or the Colors of the United Colonies.  This flag featured 13 red and
white stripes, and in the upper left corner, crosses of St. George and St. Andrew--from
the British Union Flag.  After the American Revolution, the Continental Congress
passed the Flag Restoration Act on June 14, 1777 (today’s Flag Day).  This act stated
that the official flag would now have 13 alternating red and white stripes, and 13 white
stars in a blue field.  In 1795, when Kentucky and Vermont became states, two more
stars and two more stripes were added.  Over the next 22 years five more states joined
the Union, so Congress returned to the original 13 stripes but added new stars for the
new states.  For many years the 48-star flag flew over the United States, but in 1959
Hawaii and Alaska were added as states.  Our current flag sports 50 stars.

Betsy Ross, an excellent seamstress, is credited with sewing the first flag, but the claim
is still unsubstantiated. She had previously sewn colors for many ships. Her grandson,
William Canby, wrote that Betsy was personally visited in June of 1776 by George
Washington and Robert Morris who gave her a design for the new flag.  Betsy’s first
husband, who ran an upholsterer’s shop, was killed while serving as a militiaman in
1776.  Betsy continued to run the business.  She was widowed three times and died in

Confederate States of America
Six Deep South states seceded from the Union–South Carolina, Georgia, Florida,
Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi--and formed  the Confederacy on February 8,
1861.  Texas soon followed, then Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Arkansas.
The Confederacy’s strong stand for states’ rights  made a strong central government
impossible and thus helped bring about its collapse.  Jefferson Davis, the President of
the Confederacy, had very limited powers.  States could easily overrule his decrees and
desires. The Confederate capitol, originally in Montgomery, Alabama, was moved to
Richmond Virginia, about 100 miles from Washington, DC where Abraham Lincoln was
President.  One day President Lincoln made the long trip to Richmond and personally
called on Jefferson Davis. Unfortunately Davis was not in and missed his visit.

The Civil  War was difficult for the South.  They had little manufacturing there, and  what
they could manufacture was hampered because the North had cut off supplies to them.
Also, by blocking their ports, the Union made it difficult for the South to export their cotton
crop. This blockage also hindered the South from receiving arms.  Their unbacked
Confederate money soon became worthless.  Army enlistments dwindled.  In 1865,
when Southern General Lee surrendered to Northern General Grant, the Confederacy
was dissolved, even though its President urged the South to fight on.

The American Dollar  Bill
Before 1862, only dollar coins were issued.  When the Constitution was written  people
didn’t have faith in paper money.  Interest-bearing bank notes were the first to be printed
on paper.  This money was to finance the War of 1812.  The first paper currency, called
greenbacks or legal tenders, was released during the Civil War in 1862.

The dollar bill is a Federal  Reserve note issued by the 12  Federal Reserve Banks
scattered across the U.S. under the National Government which prints the bills. The
dollar bill is not redeemable for gold or silver like previous notes; it’s just a pledge of
collateral such as government securities.  The dollar bill measures 2-5/8" by 6-1/8" and
has a thickness of  .0043".  If you stacked 233 new dollar bills in a pile,  your stack
would be one-inch high.  It would take 490 dollar bills to weigh a pound.  The average
life span of a dollar bill is 18 months.

Louisiana Purchase .  
In 1803, France offered England  first chance to buy the Louisiana Territory.  England
declined. Thomas Jefferson didn’t.  He knew it would it was a rare opportunity that had
befallen him, and that it would more than double the size of the United States.  He also
knew that, as President, he did not have the power to purchase land.  But that didn’t
stop him.  Jefferson realized  if he didn’t grab this offer now he might surely  lose it.  
After all, where could one find 800,000 square miles, that’s  100 million acres, for $15
million--just four cents an acre?  So he charged ahead, somewhat illegally,  and closed
the deal with Napoleon.  The following year his personal secretary, Captain Meriwether
Lewis, and Mr. William Clark set out to explore some 8000 miles of the Louisiana
Territory.  They traveled  along the Missouri and Columbia Rivers and explored as far as
the Pacific Ocean.  It was a two-year trip from which they returned in 1806.

Seward’s Folly
Secretary of State, Seward, purchased Alaska for $7,200,000, a mere two-cents an
acre.  Native Alaskans were unaware of the transaction.  While Seward was home
playing a game, Russian Minister Baron de Stoekl called on him informing him that
Czar Alexander II was willing to sell the North American territory to the United States.
Thinking all that ice and snow-covered land was of little value, the purchase was called
“Seward’s Folly”.

History of  American Songs
Almost every true-blooded  American can sing at least the first verse of “America”...
My country tis of Thee,
Sweet land of liberty,
Of thee I sing;
Land where my fathers died,
Land of the pilgrims pride,
From every mountainside,
Let freedom ring.
A young Massachusetts clergyman, Samuel Francis Smith, found the music in an old
German song book and wrote the words for  “America”. Some say it was in a single
sitting. “America” was first sung publically in 1831 at a Fourth of July  celebration in
Boston.  Smith learned later the same music had been used in an English patriotic
song, “God Save the King”.  Henry Carey,  an Englishman, who lived from 1685 to 1743
is thought to be the composer, but no one is sure. Today “America” is the second most
popular patriotic song,  second only to the national anthem, “The Stars Spangled

Battle Hymn of the Republic.  

One day in 1861, when President Lincoln was inspecting the troops near Washington
DC, some 25,000 spectators were present.  One of them was Julia Ward Howe. Julia
heard the soldiers singing a strange song, “John Brown’s Body”, to the melody of a
Sunday school song composed by  William Steffe.  John Brown had led the Harper’s
Ferry raid trying to free slaves, but was killed.  When a minister heard the words, he
asked Julia if she could write a better tune.  She awoke from sleep that night and wrote
the words to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”.  Your residents will be able to sing it...

“Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord....Glory, glory, Hallelujah...His
truth is marching on.”  

The words to Julia’s song were published in the Atlantic Monthly the following year and
supposedly  J. T. Fields, the magazine’s editor named the song.  Julia received five
dollars for it. Confederate prisoners learned it during the Civil War from a singing
chaplain.  President Lincoln was quite taken by the song.      

We could go on and on but we’re out of column space.  Next month we’ll continue to
explore the history of this great country.  For now, though, let’s think how we might use
this information to expand our activity programs.

1) Celebrate Columbus Day, or make any day Columbus day.
Bring a tiny replica of a ship from the Christopher Columbus era, or show pictures of
the ships.  
Challenge residents to remember the names of the ships.  
Ask them the year Columbus arrived in America.  
Discuss the information above.
2)  Play patriotic songs.  
Share the history of these songs with residents.
Encourage residents to sing them.
3)  Hold a patriotic party.
Help the residents make three-cornered hats.
Pass out tiny American flags.
Use the above information in improvised trivia games for entertainment.
4) Spend an activity session discussing the dollar bill.
Show an old one and a brand new one.
Show a silver dollar.
Talk about rare silver dollars and other coins residents have owned.
Have a rare coin collector visit residents.
Have contests and give a few dollar bills for prizes.
See if they remember a larger-size dollar bill that once existed.
Discuss the 1930's when banks were not trusted.
Ask where they used to hide their money.
5) Check the internet ( for a copy of the
Declaration of Independence.
Read parts of it aloud to residents.  
Challenge them to recite small bits of it.
6)  Bring in a flag and discuss it..
Have residents make a paper Betsy Ross flag in crafts.
Get a picture book on Betsy Ross and read it to residents.
Ask about the 48-star flag and any others they may remember.
7) Have a Civil War Day.
Bring in a Confederate flag, a Union flag, replica military caps from both armies, toy
army men, and any other Civil War props.  
Discuss the information given above.  
Discuss the various battles.
Ask if they ever visited any battle sites.
Look up Civil War information on the internet, or borrow Civil War picture books to share.
Ask if any had ancestors who served in that war.  
Discuss General Lee and General Grant.  
Ask if their parents or grandparents talked about the Civil War.
8) Discuss the Louisiana Purchase and the Alaskan Purchase.
Talk about the price paid for these two land masses.
Discuss their natural resources.
Ask what they paid for their first home and its surrounding property.
Discuss long-ago farm land prices.
Ask if any residents have ever visited Louisiana or Alaska.

I’m sure that as creative activity professionals you can come up with even more ideas to
use the above information.  So have fun with it, and until next month, God bless you all.

Family Encyclopedia of American History, Reader’s Digest Books
The People’s Almanac by David Wallechinsky and Irving Wallace
2201 Fascinating Facts by David Louis
Great Events of the 20th Century,  Reader’s Digest Books
Newsletters Simplified! by Marge Knoth