Pennsylvania Avenue


On May 23, 1865, the Army of the Potomac celebrated the end of the Civil War by parading down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. Only weeks before, mourners watched Abraham Lincoln’s funeral cortege travel the same thoroughfare. With many buildings still dressed in black crepe, this joyous procession could not help but remind spectators of that unhappy occasion.

Laid out by Pierre L’Enfant, Pennsylvania Avenue was one of the earliest streets constructed in the federal city. Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson considered the avenue an important feature of the new capital. After inspecting L’Enfant’s plan, President Washington referred to the thoroughfare as a “Grand Avenue.” Jefferson concurred, and while the “grand avenue” was little more than a wide dirt road, he planted it with rows of fast growing Lombardy poplars.

Although Pennsylvania Avenue extends seven miles, the expanse between the White House and the Capitol constitutes the ceremonial heart of the nation. Washington called this stretch “most magnificent & most convenient” and it has served the country well. Ever since an impromptu procession formed around Jefferson’s second inauguration, each United States president has paraded down the Avenue after taking the oath of office. From William Henry Harrison to John F. Kennedy the funeral corteges of the seven presidents who died in office followed this route.

Not just the scene of official functions, Pennsylvania Avenue is the traditional parade and protest route of ordinary citizens. During the depression of the 1890s, for example, Jacob Coxey marched 500 supporters down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol to demand Federal aid for the unemployed. Similarly, on the eve of Woodrow Wilson’s 1913 inauguration, Alice Paul masterminded a parade highlighting the woman suffrage movement. In July 1932, a contingent of the Bonus Expeditionary Force carried flags down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House where they planned to form picket lines. Pennsylvania Avenue also has served as a background for more lighthearted celebrations, including a series of day and nighttime Shriner’s parades in the 1920s and 1930s.

Source: Courtesy of The United States Library of Congress


Founding of Jamestown

Founding of Jamestown

On May 14, 1607, English settlers arriving under the authority of the Virginia Company of London chartered by King James I established the first permanent British settlement in North America at a place they named Jamestown, Virginia.1 We landed all our men,” George Percy wrote in his account of the event, “which were set to worke about [i.e., on] the fortification, and others some to watch and ward as it was convenient.”

Virginia Discovered and Discribed by Captayn John Smith, 1606 [detail showing Jamestown]. 

The Jamestown colonists struggled with leadership and survival from the beginning. Captain John Smith spent his first months in Virginia exploring in the Chesapeake region, undergoing capture by the regional Algonquian “great emperor,” Powhatan, with whom he subsequently developed a mutually wary and respectful relationship. In 1608 Smith was chosen to be president of Jamestown’s governing council and proved to be an able leader. Yet Smith returned to England in 1609, and only 60 of the 214 colonists survived the Starving Time of the ensuing harsh winter. The arrival of fresh supplies from England in the spring fortified the colony and enabled it to endure.

Virginia Discovered and Discribed by Captayn John Smith, 1606 [detail showing Powhatan chief]. 

On July 30, 1619, under the provisions of the Virginia Company Charter, the House of Burgesses met in Jamestown “to establish …one uniform government over all Virginia,” thereby becoming the first representative legislative assembly of European Americans in the Western Hemisphere. (Tradition dates the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy of five Indian tribes in upper New York state between 1570 and 1600.) Jamestown was also the site of the Americas’ first Anglican church. 3

Another event of momentous consequence took place in August 1619 when a Dutch ship exchanged a cargo of some twenty captive Africans for food. Although the Africans’ legal status in these early years was probably closer to indentured servitude than to the full-fledged slavery that hardened in Virginia by the end of the century, this event represented both the founding African presence and the foundation of slavery in British North America.

Despite the success represented by the colony’s survival and political organization, relations with the Algonquians were unstable and at times violent. In March 1622, more than three hundred colonists were killed by the Algonquians just outside Jamestown and more than twice that number died in an epidemic the next December. Following these events, King James revoked the Virginia Company’s charter in 1624. In 1625 his son King Charles I made Virginia a royal colony.

Old Church, Jamestown, Va. William Henry Jackson, photographer, c1902. 



1. It should be noted that because of the then-ten-day difference between the “Old Style” (Julian) calendar used by Englishmen until 1752, and the “New Style” (Gregorian) calendar in use since 1752, the date when settlement began was actually May 24 in modern terms.

2. The words of George Percy are quoted in a timeline about the Jamestown settlement in the Encyclopedia Virginia. The timeline is part of an essay on the early Jamestown settlement.

3. Church of England in Virginia, in the Encyclopedia Virginia.


Source: Courtesy of The United States Library of Congress

The Virgin Islands

The Virgin Islands

On March 31, 1917, the U.S. took formal possession of the Danish West Indies. Renamed the Virgin Islands, this chain consists of St. Thomas, St. Croix, St. John and about fifty other small islands, most of which are uninhabited. Lying about sixty-five kilometers east of Puerto Rico at the end of the Greater Antilles, the U.S. purchased the islands from Denmark for $25 million because of their strategic location in relation to the Panama Canal.

The Virgin Islands are known for their delightful tropical climate and a growing season that never ends.

Many different groups have claimed ownership of these islands. When Christopher Columbus landed on St. Croix in 1493 the islands were occupied by the native Carib Indians. By the time that Europeans began to settle there in the 1600s, most of the native population had died from diseases introduced by early explorers.

The islands went back and forth between Spanish and French rule. Danish settlers arrived and began growing sugar cane using convicted criminals and, after 1678, African slaves for labor. Over time, St. Thomas became a major Caribbean slave market.

After the French sold the islands to Denmark in 1733, the Danish military took up residence on St. Croix and, using the captured leaders of a local black slave revolt, began work on a fortification. Later they built a permanent masonry fort and named it Fort Christiansvaern (“Christian’s Defense”) in honor of King Christian VI of Denmark-Norway.

The Virgin Islands

Denmark kept a policy of strict neutrality in foreign affairs during the years of the American Revolution. However, special interests in both Denmark and in the West Indies often circumvented that policy. According to a 1988 report by the Department of the Interior:

One such case involved the smuggling of arms and supplies to the “patriot” side during the American Revolution. This action led to an exchange of salutes — a traditional courtesy — between a merchantman flying the Grand Union flag and Fort Frederik at the west end of St. Croix. This action, albeit unofficial, constituted the first acknowledgment of the American flag from foreign soil.

From Fort Christiansvaern, by Jerome A. Greene and William G. Cissel. National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 1988. p4.

Source: Courtesy of The United States Library of Congress