American History

The history of the U.S. started with the arrival of Native Americans in North America around 15,000 BC. Numerous indigenous cultures formed, and many disappeared in the 1500s. The arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492 started the European colonization of the Americas. Most colonies were formed after 1600. By the 1760s, the thirteen British colonies contained 2.5 million people along the Atlantic Coast east of the Appalachian Mountains. After defeating France, the British government imposed a series of taxes, including the Stamp Act of 1765, rejecting the colonists' constitutional argument that new taxes needed their approval. Resistance to these taxes, especially the Boston Tea Party in 1773, led to Parliament issuing punitive laws designed to end self-government in Massachusetts. Armed conflict began in 1775 and the following year, it won independence. A Constitution that was adopted in 1789, and in 1791, a Bill of Rights was added. In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase doubled its size. A second and final war with Britain in 1812, solidified national pride.

Using manifest destiny, U.S. territory expanded to the Pacific Coast. Westward expansion was driven by a quest for inexpensive land for farmers and slave owners. The expansion of slavery was increasingly controversial and fueled political and constitutional battles, which were resolved by compromises. Slavery was abolished in all states north of the Mason–Dixon line by 1804, but the South continued to profit from the institution, mostly from cotton production. In 1861, Southern slave states rebelled and created the Confederacy, leading to the Civil War. Defeat of the Confederates in 1865 led to the impoverishment of the South and the abolition of slavery. In the Reconstruction era following the war, legal and voting rights were extended to freed slaves. However, in 1877, white Democrats regained their power in the South, often by paramilitary suppression of voting They passed Jim Crow laws to maintain white supremacy, as well as new disenfranchising state constitutions that prevented most African Americans and many Poor Whites from voting. This continued until the gains of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and the passage of federal legislation to enforce uniform constitutional rights for all citizens. (Text adapted from Wikipedia, cropped flag from the City of Grafton, IL.)

Legacy Stories from the Americans All Heritage Honor Roll

We are pleased to host and share these legacy stories created by honorees’ family, friends and associates. They, like us, appreciate that heritage and culture are an integral part of our nation's social fabric and want to help students participate effectively in our nation's economy, workforce and democracy.

Language
State
Last Name of Individual
First Name of Individual
Group name

Honorable Brendan Francis Boyle Pennsylvania (February 6, 1977 - ?) Irish, Ireland, Catholic, AOH, Politician, US Congressman

Brendan Francis Boyle, born February 6, 1977 in the Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia, PA, is a Democratic member of the U.S House of Representatives. representing, since 2019, Pennsylvania's 2nd Congressional District. This district includes most of the northeastern fourth of Philadelphia. From 2015-19, he represented the 13th district. Prior to that, he was a member of the PA House of Representatives . . . 

René Robert "Sieur de La Salle" Cavelier Texas (November 22, 1643 - March 19, 1687) France, French, Explorer, American History

René Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, explorer, was born in St. Herbland parish, Rouen, France, the son of Catherine Geeset and Jean Cavelier. Cavelier was a wealthy wholesale merchant and "Master of the Brotherhood of Notre-Dame." There were two other sons, the Abbé Jean Cavelier and Nicolas Cavelier, a lawyer, who died rather young, and a daughter, who married Nicolas Crevel.

Patrick "Paddy" Colvin Pennsylvania (? - ?) Irish, Patriot, River Ferry Master, American History, Revolutionary War

A number of Irishmen were key to Washington’s success in crossing the Delaware River to take Trenton. Among them were two immigrants: Paddy Colvin and Sam McConkey, who ran two river ferries. Patrick Colvin of Co. Cavan, Ireland bought a ferry and land on the river in 1772 when Morrisville, PA was known as Colvin's Ferry.

Honorable Richard Joseph Daley Illinois (May 15, 1902 - December 20, 1976) Irish, Catholic, Illinois State Senator, Mayor of Chicago, Politician

Richard Joseph Daley was a six-term mayor of the city of Chicago (1955-1976) and the influential chair of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee from 1953 until his death in 1976. Described by one writer as “the most powerful local politician America has ever produced,” Daley also wielded state and national political influence during his terms in office.

Honorable Jefferson Finis Davis Mississippi (June 3, 1808 - December 6, 1889) Scottish-Irish, Veteran, Politician, U.S. Congress, Mexican War, U.S. Secretary of War,  President of the Confederate States of America

Jefferson Davis’ life includes being a West Point graduate, a U.S. Representative and Senator, a Mexican War hero and a U.S. Secretary of War.  He also served as the only President of the Confederate States of America for which he was indicted for treason—but never tried—and imprisoned for two years. On October 17, 1978, a joint resolution passed by the U.S. Congress and signed by President Jimmy Carter restored Davis' citizenship, effective December 25, 1868.

Frederick Douglass Maryland (February 1818 - February 20, 1895) Abolitionist, African Americans, Author, Black, Civil Rights, Civil Servant, Civil War, Diplomat, North Star, Orator, Slavery, Social Reformer, Statesman, Underground Railroad, Women’s Suffrage, Writer

Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman. After escaping from slavery in Maryland, he became a national leader of the abolitionist movement in Massachusetts and New York, becoming famous for his oratory and incisive antislavery writings. His brilliant words and brave actions continue to shape the ways that we think about race, democracy, and the meaning of freedom.

James Duane New York (February 6, 1773 - February 1, 1797) Irish, Ireland, Lawyer, Jurist, Revolutionary War

During the American Revolution, New York was totally destroyed and was rebuilt by the son of an immigrant from Co. Galway, Ireland. He was the first post-colonial person to wear the title ‘Mayor of New York’ and his name was James Duane. He was born in New York, then called the Province of New York, to Irish immigrant parents on February 6, 1733; a time when the Central Park was considered ‘upstate’ and a wilderness.  

Stephen Foster Pennsylvania (July 4, 1826 - January 13, 1864) Irish, Ireland, American Songwriter

America's Troubadour of Song was an Irish American born on the fourth of July! If you said George M. Cohan, you'd be mistaken, for the title America's Troubadour of Song is reserved for another Irish American born on July 4. He was the Great Grandson of a Co. Derry emigrant who settled in New Jersey in 1725 and later moved to Pennsylvania. We’re referring to Stephen Foster.

Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore New York (December 25, 1829 - September 24, 1892) Irish, Ireland, Composer, Band Leader

America’s first superstars were the leaders of America’s first bands—her marching Brass Bands—and though John Philip Sousa was certainly one of them, he was not the first. That honor goes to a man whom Sousa himself admired and whom he called matchless. He was a man who, in his day, was called America’s Greatest Bandleader, and The Musician of the People—Patrick Sarsfield Gilmore. 

Matthew Alexander Henson New York (August 8, 1866 - March 9, 1955) African-American, Explorer, North Pole

Matthew Alexander Henson was born August 8, 1866, to free African American parents on an impoverished tenant farm in Charles County, Maryland. By the time he was 11 years old, both of his parents had died and he lived with relatives. At age 13 he went to sea as a cabin boy.

John Holland New Jersey (February 29, 1840 - August 12, 1914) Irish, Ireland, Inventor, Engineer, Finian

His name was John Philip Holland and he was born in Liscannor, Co. Clare, Ireland, on February 24, 1841. He was only three when the potato failure devastated his country. He survived but suffered poor eyesight for the rest of his life. His father was a member of the Coast Guards and young John inherited a love of the sea. 

Sam Houston Texas (March 2, 1793 - July 26, 1863) Irish, Ireland, Catholic, Houston, Veteran, Politician

Sam Houston was born on March 2, 1793, the fifth child of Samuel and Elizabeth (Paxton) Houston, Rockbridge County, Virginia. He was of Scots-Irish ancestry and reared Presbyterian. His father died when he was thirteen, and in the spring of 1807, he emigrated with his mother, five brothers, and three sisters to Blount County in Eastern Tennessee, establishing a farm near Maryville.

Jovita Idár Texas (September 7, 1885 - June 15, 1946) Methodist, Hispanic, Teacher, Journalist, Political Activist, Idar

Jovita Idár, teacher, journalist, and political activist was born in Laredo in 1885, one of eight children of Jovita and Nicasio Idár. She attended the Holding Institute (a Methodist school) in Laredo, from which she earned a teaching certificate in 1903. She then taught at a small school in Ojuelos. Inadequate equipment and poor conditions, as well as her inability to improve them, frustrated her, so she resigned and joined . . .

Mary Harris "Mother" Jones Colorado (c.1837 - November 30, 1930) Irish, Ireland, Labor Organizer, Orator, Children's Crusade

Few would argue with this feisty little Irish lady for, although she was known as the Miner’s Angel, she was also known as the Mother of All Agitators. Born in Cork City, Ireland, her family fled the Great Hunger to Toronto, Canada, when she was a child. She trained as a teacher and worked briefly as a teacher and as a dressmaker. In 1861, Mary married George Jones, an iron molder and union organizer in Memphis, Tennessee.

Honorable John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy Massachusetts (May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Politician, Author, War Hero, President of the U.S.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named in honor of his mother Rose’s father, John Francis Fitzgerald, the Boston Mayor popularly known as Honey Fitz. Before long, family and friends called this small blue-eyed baby, Jack. He was not a very healthy baby, and Rose recorded on his notecard [which she kept for each child] the childhood diseases from which he suffered, such as: "whooping cough, measles, chicken pox."

Honorable Robert Francis "Bobby" Kennedy Massachusetts (November 20, 1925 - June 6, 1968) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Politician, U.S. Attorney General and U.S. Senator

Robert Francis Kennedy was born on November 20, 1925, in Brookline, Massachusetts, the seventh child in the closely knit and competitive family of Rose and Joseph P. Kennedy. "I was the seventh of nine children," he later recalled, "and when you come from that far down you have to struggle to survive."

Honorable Edward Moore "Teddy" Kennedy Massachusetts (February 22, 1932 - August 25, 2009) Irish, Catholic. Ireland, Politician, U.S. Senator

Edward M. Kennedy, born February 22, 1932, to Joseph Patrick and Rose (Fitzgerald) Kennedy in Boston, MA., was, at his death, the third longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate in American history, having been elected to the Senate nine times. He called health care “the cause of my life,” and succeeded in bringing quality and affordable health care for countless Americans, including children, seniors and Americans with disabilities.

Honorable Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy Sr. Massachusetts (September 6, 1888 - November 18, 1969) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Entrepreneur, Movie Executive, U.S. Ambassador

Born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 6, 1888, Joseph Patrick Kennedy was the son of Mary Hickey and Patrick Joseph Kennedy, an important figure in the Irish community of Boston. Joseph grew up in East Boston and attended Catholic schools until the eighth grade when he was enrolled in Boston Latin School, a college prep academy in the Boston Public School system. Despite an aptitude for mathematics, his academic record was mediocre at best.

Honorable John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy: Presidential Years Massachusetts (May 29, 1917 - November 22, 1963) Irish, Catholic, Ireland, Politician, War Hero, Author, Member of Congress, President of the U.S.

John Fitzgerald "Jack" Kennedy, often referred to by his initials JFK was an American War hero, served as a Democratic member of the U.S. House and Senate and then elected as the 35th president of the United States, serving from January 1961 until his assassination in November 1963. He was the author of three books, A Nation of Immigrants, Profiles in Courage and Why England Slept.

Emma Lazarus New York (July 22, 1849 - November 19, 1887) Jewish, Spain, Portugal, Zionist, Poetess

Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” in 1883 to inspire public support for the Statue of Liberty, which she called the “Mother of Exiles.” The poem was solicited by William Maxwell Evarts as a donation to an auction that helped raise funds for the construction of the Statue’s pedestal.