John’s Believe It Or Not… July 4th

* 1774 – Samuel Hearne builds Cumberland House * 1776 July 4 1776: America Declares Independence from Great Britain * 1987 Soviets rock for peace * 1911 Heat wave strikes Northeast * 1927 Playwright and screenwriter Neil Simon born

Happy Independence Day to My American Cousins!

* 1774 – Samuel Hearne builds Cumberland House

In 1774, the Hudson’s Bay Company established its first inland post, Cumberland House, on the lower Saskatchewan River. It was a momentous step for a company that, up until then, had hugged the shores of Hudson and James bays. The western Canadian fur trade was never the same.

For a century, the rather unimaginative HBC practice of encouraging interior Indians to come to the Bay to trade had resulted in steady returns for its English shareholders.

But that changed in the 1760s when Montreal-based traders moved up the Saskatchewan River to trade directly with Indian bands. No longer did the Cree and Assiniboine need to travel with fur-laden canoes to the Bay. They now enjoyed the convenience of getting their trade goods from these “door-to-door” pedlars.

The HBC grudgingly concluded that Canadian competition had to be answered by its own settlement on the Saskatchewan River – or it faced probable ruin

Fresh from his impressive trip across the barren lands from Fort Churchill to Lake Athabasca, Hearne was asked in August 1773 to head the expedition to establish the company’s first inland post.

The HBC contemplated two possible locations for its inland initiative, both in present-day Manitoba: Grand Rapids at the mouth of the Saskatchewan River, and Basquia Cree Territory near The Pas.

But after consulting with local Indian leaders, Hearne settled on a bay on Pine Island (Cumberland) Lake, just north of the Saskatchewan River Delta (in present-day Saskatchewan). Although not a traditional gathering center, the site was at the nexus of several major Indian trade routes – northeast to the HBC posts on the west side of the bay, northwest to the Churchill River and Athabasca country and west along the Saskatchewan towards the Rocky Mountains. In other words, the location of the HBC’s first inland post in Western Canada was determined by existing Indian social geography.

Hearne began supervising the building of Cumberland House on Sept. 3, 1774. The simple log structure may not have been much, but as Hearne noted, it marked the beginning of a new commercial struggle with its Montreal-based competitors. But until HBC servants learned to build and use canoes, the goods, furs and company personnel going to and from Cumberland House were transported by Indians. Hearne glumly estimated, for example, that it cost more in presents to transport trade goods inland than they were actually worth. Cumberland House was beset with problems. One was the incredible mosquito population during summer, which made working outside miserable, if not impossible at times. Another was the frequent flooding.

Then, there was the scarcity of food. Because of Cumberland House’s precarious game supply, traders were at the mercy of Indian hunters who expected special presents in exchange for supplying meat. If traders refused to co-operate, they faced the prospect of starvation.

No sooner had Cumberland House been established in 1774 than it was challenged by a series of competing posts that pushed the fur trade up the Saskatchewan River.

By the early nineteenth century, Cumberland House had become an inland supply depot and a Metis community. Today, the HBC’s first inland post enjoys the distinction of being Saskatchewan’s oldest continuously occupied settlement.

Samuel Hearne on the construction site.
Samuel Hearne (HBC Heritage)

* 1776 July 4 1776: America Declares Independence from Great Britain

In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress adopts the Declaration of Independence, which proclaims the independence of the United States of America from Great Britain and its king.

The declaration came 442 days after the first volleys of the American Revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord in Massachusetts and marked an ideological expansion of the conflict that would eventually encourage France’s intervention on behalf of the Patriots.

The first major American opposition to British policy came in 1765 after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure to raise revenues for a standing British army in America. Under the banner of “no taxation without representation,” colonists convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the tax.

With its enactment in November, most colonists called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest in the colonies, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.

Most colonists continued to quietly accept British rule until Parliament’s enactment of the Tea Act in 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a monopoly on the American tea trade.

The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny. In response, militant Patriots in Massachusetts organized the “Boston Tea Party,” which saw British tea valued at some 18,000 pounds dumped into Boston Harbor.

The British Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops.

The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

With the other colonies watching intently, Massachusetts led the resistance to the British, forming a shadow revolutionary government and establishing militias to resist the increasing British military presence across the colony.

In April 1775, Thomas Gage, the British governor of Massachusetts, ordered British troops to march to Concord, Massachusetts, where a Patriot arsenal was known to be located. On April 19, 1775, the British regulars encountered a group of American militiamen at Lexington, and the first shots of the American Revolution were fired.

Initially, both the Americans and the British saw the conflict as a kind of civil war within the British Empire: To King George III it was a colonial rebellion, and to the Americans, it was a struggle for their rights as British citizens.

However, Parliament remained unwilling to negotiate with the American rebels and instead purchased German mercenaries to help the British army crush the rebellion. In response to Britain’s continued opposition to reform, the Continental Congress began to pass measures abolishing British authority in the colonies.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” an influential political pamphlet that convincingly argued for American independence and sold more than 500,000 copies in a few months. In the spring of 1776, support for independence swept the colonies, the Continental Congress called for states to form their own governments, and a five-man committee was assigned to draft a declaration.

The Declaration of Independence was largely the work of Virginian Thomas Jefferson. In justifying American independence, Jefferson drew generously from the political philosophy of John Locke, an advocate of natural rights, and from the work of other English theorists.

The first section features the famous lines, “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.” The second part presents a long list of grievances that provided the rationale for rebellion.

On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted to approve a Virginia motion calling for separation from Britain. The dramatic words of this resolution were added to the closing of the Declaration of Independence. Two days later, on July 4, the declaration was formally adopted by 12 colonies after minor revision. New York approved it on July 19. On August 2, the declaration was signed.

The Revolutionary War would last for five more years. Yet to come were the Patriot triumphs at Saratoga, the bitter winter at Valley Forge, the intervention of the French, and the final victory at Yorktown in 1781. In 1783, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris with Britain, the United States formally became a free and independent nation.

The Declaration of Independence document lying on top of the Stars and Stripes

* 1987 Soviets rock for peace

A rock concert in Moscow, jointly organized by American promoters and the Soviet government, plays to a crowd of approximately 25,000. The venture was intended to serve as symbol of peace and understanding between the people of the United States and the Soviet Union.

The idea of a rock concert in Russia was essentially the brainchild of concert promoter Bill Graham, a fixture in the West Coast rock and roll scene. He approached the Soviet government about the idea of holding a show in Moscow. Some Soviet officials were extremely reluctant to consider the concert. For nearly three decades, rock and roll had been castigated by official Soviet propaganda as “decadent” and a threat to public morality. However, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s rise to power in the mid-1980s heralded a new liberalism. The Soviets agreed to host the concert, and it took place on the Fourth of July. Performers included Santana, the Doobie Brothers, and Bonnie Raitt. The security for the show was heavy–some observers said “oppressive”–and most of the 25,000 people who attended were kept far away from the stage. One American reporter claimed that many of the Russians trickled out during the show, bored or disgusted. Only when a Russian folk troupe hit the stage did the crowd muster up much excitement.

The concert was evidence of the new, but still uneasy relationship between the Soviet Union and the United States. Gorbachev’s promises of economic and democratic reforms encouraged many in the United States to believe that a new and less antagonistic relationship with Russia might be possible. As the thousands of armed guards at the concert demonstrated, however, the new “openness” in Soviet society was hardly complete.

American-Soviet Concert for Peace
American-Soviet Concert for Peace

* 1911 Heat wave strikes Northeast

On this day in 1911, record temperatures are set in the northeastern United States as a deadly heat wave hits the area that would go on to kill 380 people. In Nashua, New Hampshire, the mercury peaked at 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Other high-temperature records were set all over New England during an 11-day period. Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… July 4th”

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