Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around. — G. K. Chesterton

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Queer Ideas

People living in Europe, near the sea, were all fond of cruising about; but as they had no compass at first, they seldom ventured out of sight of land, for fear of losing their way. After a time they learned to steer their vessels by means of the stars; but as these could serve as guides only on clear nights, sailors were glad to use the compass when it became known in Europe, in the twelfth century.

But although seamen now fearlessly cruised about the European waters, they did not venture far out into the Atlantic, which was then known as the "Sea of Darkness." The fact is, they were afraid to do so, because they had been told they would meet strange monsters there, such as mermen and mermaids. They also thought their vessels would be drawn toward the "Loadstone Mountain," a great magnetic rock which would draw all the nails out of their planks, and thus make their boats fall to pieces.

Of course this was all nonsense, but most of the seamen believed these tales as firmly as some sailors now believe that Friday is an unlucky day; and as no one had ever gone far out in the Atlantic, even learned men could not prove to them that they were mistaken. Besides, although they had fairly good maps of the countries they had visited, people knew nothing at all of the rest of the world. Their maps showed only the northern part of Africa, the western and southern parts of Europe, and the western part of Asia. All the rest was a blank.

[Illustration] from Story of the Thirteen Colonies by Helene Guerber

Common people then believed that the earth was round and flat, like a pie, with the ocean flowing all around it. So they were afraid to venture too far out, lest they should fall over the edge of the world and drop down into space! Wise men, however, already knew better; for about three hundred years before Christ, Greek philosophers had begun to suspect that the earth is round like a ball, and not flat, as every one until then had supposed.

They and their pupils wrote books giving their reasons for believing this; but as printing was not invented till seventeen hundred years later, these works were known only to a few learned men. Most of the European scholars then lived in Greece or Constantinople, and kept these precious manuscripts in monasteries or private libraries, or in palaces and schools.

In the twelfth century a Spanish-Arabian philosopher read some of these Greek manuscripts, and then wrote a book, saying that he not only believed that the earth is round, but that he thought it would be possible to sail around it! This statement, so natural and simple now, seemed so absurd to the people who heard it then that they began to make all manner of fun of it. They asked how it would be possible for a ship to sail uphill, even supposing it did not tumble off the earth when it reached the edge, which they called the jumping-off place.

They also asked how the trees on the other side of the earth could grow with their roots up in the air, and inquired whether the rain and snow flew up instead of falling down. These questions, which seem so odd now, were very natural, for people did not then know, what your teachers have explained to you, that the earth is like a big magnet. It holds fast everything on its surface, and nothing can fall off, even though it spins around and around, and whirls through space much faster than the fastest express train can travel.

The Turks, who were not Christians, besieged the city of Constantinople in 1453, and when they became masters of it, and of the surrounding country, the learned men all fled, taking with them many of their precious manuscripts. Deprived of their quiet homes, and in many cases forced to teach to earn their living, these wise men settled in various cities, where they imparted to others all they knew.

As printing had just been invented, books, instead of being worth a fortune, soon became so much cheaper that almost everybody could afford to have one or two volumes. The precious manuscripts the wise men had saved from the Turks were therefore printed, and people soon began to talk about the strange things they read in them, and* longed to know more.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell