Today’s Keyhole to History 1753 Benjamin Banneker, a free African American, constructs the first American made striking clock. Banneker hand carved its wooden parts from his drawings and calculations after seeing only two other timepieces in his life: a sundial and a pocket watch. The clock ran for forty years until it burned in a fire.A self-taught mathematician, astronomer, and landowner, Banneker lived on a Maryland farm and taught himself astronomy by watching the stars and learned advanced mathematics from borrowed textbooks. Banneker published one of America’s earliest almanacs which reflected his knowledge of tides, medical information, and eclipses. In 1789 he successfully forecasted a solar eclipse, impressing Thomas Jefferson who recommended him for the surveying team that laid out Washington, D.C. His correspondence with prominent political figures influenced how society viewed African Americans from 1790 to 1830. Banneker wrote to Thomas Jefferson “Sir I freely and Chearfully acknowledge, that I am of the African race…”

Today’s Keyhole to History October 1753, George Washington signs a message “Washington or Conotocarious.” to Seneca Half-King Tanaghrission while at Logstown. Tanaghrission represented Indian interests in Logstown, a multitribal trading center for English traders and Indians in the upper Ohio Valley. Two years later, Washington again used his Native American name “Conotocarious” meaning “Town Destroyer” when writing to Andrew Montour an agent and Indian interpreter. During the American Revolution, the Iroquois called him “Devourer of Villages.” Washington probably assumed the name “Conotacarious” originally given to his great grandfather Colonel John Washington by the Susquehannocks in the 1670s

Keyhole to History: January 6, 1759. That’s the day that George Washington wed a rich widow named Martha Custis in New Kent County, Virginia. Colonel George Washington was then a member of the First Virginia Regiment in the colonial militia, and, as a sign of things to come, he wore his full dress uniform to his wedding, never suspecting that he would spend most of his married life in uniform. Martha decided to be by her husband’s side while he was camped in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. There was little she could do to fight the hunger, but she decided to spearhead an effort to organize women’s sewing circles and night after night she sat by the fire knitting wool stockings for the soldiers. Martha Washington was a shining example for the other officers’ wives.

Today’s Keyhole to History October 7 King George III issues The Royal Proclamation of 1763 to establish restrictions on expansion of the 13 North American colonies. Colonists were forbidden from settling west of an established proclamation line running north to south along the Appalachian Mountains. Citizens and colonial governments were not allowed to make agreements with tribal nations and only licensed traders could trade in the West. Settlers living in western territories were evicted. By reserving western lands for Indian use, the British addressed the violence between the Indians and settlers, sought to simplify colonial administration and reduce military costs. The Proclamation is considered the first British policy to set the colonies on a path to revolution.

Keyhole to History: April 19, 1764, Parliament passes the Currency Act which retired American colonial paper money and forbid colonial officials from printing new paper money without permission. The American colonies lacked valuable coinage since their beginnings and printed paper money on credit to make up the difference. Compared to coins made of precious metal like gold or silver, the value of paper money was unreliable. Parliament passed the Currency Act to encourage colonists to use more reliable coins, despite the short supply. The Sugar Act, designed to increase tax collection, was passed with the Currency Act to help pay for the French and Indian War. To colonists, these acts were a major affront to their rights as British citizens and their financial well-being. Following strong colonial protests, Parliament repealed the Sugar Act in 1766, but the Currency Act remained. Restrictions of the Currency Act fueled colonial resentment leading into the American Revolution.

Today’s Keyhole to History we hear “taxation without representation” as colonists protest The Stamp Act passed by Parliament on March 22, 1765. The new tax was represented by a stamp on papers, documents, playing cards, and dice. Payable in British sterling, it was a direct tax on colonists. Tax monies would reimburse Britain for military costs in the colonies during the Seven Years’ War. While James Otis, a Massachusetts House Representative, is credited with the phrase, he is unlikely the author of the slogan but deserves credit for the idea. In 1764 Otis wrote, “the very act of taxing, exercising over those who are not represented, appears to me to be depriving them of one of their most essential rights.”

Keyhole to History: November 1, 1765. That’s when the Stamp Act went into effect and the American colonists refused to use the stamps, thus bringing almost all trade to a standstill. Just weeks earlier, the Stamp Act Congress met in New York with delegates from Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and South Carolina. It was at this historic meeting that the phrase “taxation without representation” was first used in an official document that was forwarded to King George III and the English Parliament. The delegates to this convention returned to their colonies and, in a show of non-violent unity, had their leading citizens sign resolutions which forbade the purchase of English trade goods until the Stamp Act was repealed.

Keyhole to History: September 2nd, 1766, Black veteran, entrepreneur, and abolitionist James Forten is born. James was born free in Philadelphia but grew up alongside people enslaved because of their African descent. In 1780 at age 14, Forten believed in the promise of the American Revolution and enlisted as a privateer. While on leave, he saw a regiment of Indigenous and Black American soldiers march through Philadelphia, declaring them “as brave Men as ever fought.” Back at sea Forten was taken prisoner, but his British captor observed his sharp mind and offered him freedom in exchange for service. James declined, refusing to abandon his countrymen. Following the war, Forten learned sail making and bought the company where he worked. Although a veteran and one of the wealthiest men in Philadelphia, he never gained the right to vote because of his ancestry. Forten used his wealth to fight for the abolition of slavery and equal access to suffrage until his death in 1842.

Today’s Keyhole to History takes us to 1767 when the British Parliament passed a series of acts known as the Townshend Acts. These acts imposed taxes on imported British goods such as paint, lead, china and tea. The British chose these goods because they felt they would be difficult for American’s to produce on their own. These acts deeply angered the colonists, especially since they lacked representation in Parliament. Famous pamphlets, such as “Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania” by John Dickinson began circulating around the colonies in response, and the colonists began boycotting British goods. While most of the Townshend Acts were repealed in 1770, lines had already been drawn and tensions between the British and the colonies would only continue to worsen in the years ahead.

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