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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Ranking Sarah Childress Polk

A few weeks ago we looked at how Dolley Madison has been ranked among First Ladies of the United States – this week I would like to take a look at Sarah Childress Polk – the wife of the 11th President, James K. Polk. Unlike last time, I have very little information from the Siena Research Institute (SRI) on her behalf.

Sarah does not fall in the top 5 or the bottom of any of the individual categories: Background, Value to the Country, Intelligence, Courage, Accomplishments, Integrity, Leadership, Being Her Own Woman, Public Image, and Value to the President. But I would like to explore a few of these a little more based on some of my own research.

Sarah was one of the few pre 20th century First Ladies that received any sort of formal education. At her time (1845-1849) college was an unheard thing for almost all women – however she was educated. Sarah attended the Moravian Female Academy, Abercrombie School and Daniel Elam School. I would say that this should give her some credit in the Accomplishments category.

In the category of Value to the President I would have to say that she should have been very highly ranked. From the various articles that I have read about her and from the book Sarah Childress Polk by John R. Bumgarner it is fairly clear that James Polk relied on her immensely. She not only was his secretary but also screened correspondence, met with cabinet members and proofread his speeches among other things.

In terms of Public Image at the time she was very well respected and loved by the American public. She was one of the first women to be given franking privileges (free postage). After her tenure in the White House she was visited every year by the member of the Tennessee legislature on New Year’s Day. While she kept her political views and the aid she gave her husband very low key, she was very popular.

Researcher Robert P. Watson (who has written many works on the First Ladies) conducted his own poll, the Watson Presidential Scholar Poll in 1996-1997 and his results place Sarah number 6 in the Top Ten First Ladies. The SRI poll results are as follows:

Overall Score:
1982: 22nd
1993: 20th
2003: 10th
2008: 26th

I would be more willing to personally place her somewhere close to the 10th-15th position. I can see why she might be placed in the mid twenties – the presidential terms close to the Civil War are frequently overlooked by scholars and many don’t know much about Sarah – so in that regard I am surprised she is even in the twenties.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Movie Review: The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc

The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc
148 mins.
November 12, 1999
Rated: R

This movie takes us from the time Joan is a little girl until shortly after her death. We are privy to her visions and really get the feel of her passion and devotion to the cause. We are really seeing the world as Joan would see it – you get caught up in her revelations. All of the pieces of Joan’s story are here – the visions, the battles, the heresy trial, the burning at the stake. Not being familiar with the intimate details of her story there were some new events brought to my attention here.

Overall I enjoyed this movie more than I thought I would – based on the reviews that I had read. People felt that it was poorly acted – I thought that Mila Jovovich did a good job of portraying a truly passionate woman following what she believed to be the word of God. The movie doesn’t make a determination one way or the other (as to if she was crazy or actually being spoken to by God) but it does go into some self questioning at the end (by a comically funny Dustin Hoffman as her Conscience type person). The movie presents both possibilities. I think this was done to make her more human and less saintly – someone that a wider audience would connect with and someone who still wrestles with her conscience. Others complained that people during this time period would never speak the way they did (or use foul language) – I say, I’m glad they are speaking modern language or I would probably lose interest. And it terms of foul language there is a handful of colorful words and I’m sure that they used similar language back then too!

In terms of cinematography – there are some great wide shots of the people and landscape and I thought the scenery was well done. It was nominated for awards in Best Cinematography and won a Cesar (French equivalent to Academy Awards) for Best Costume Design.

The only thing that I wish had been improved in this film would be the ending – it felt a little rushed. This is a long film and maybe a few minutes could have been sacrificed from the battle scenes to leave time for a longer ending – since it really is the climax – without making the film longer.

I know that the concept of Joan of Arc can still spark controversy among people today – however if you look at the movie on its own, it’s relatively decent – I very much enjoyed it. If you are someone who is interested in the life of Joan of Arc I would recommend this movie – despite its detractors. If you are someone who is passionate about her story one way or the other – I might caution you against watching it.

I want to point out that although this movie is rated R I didn’t find it to be as bad as many other movies with that rating. Most of it is due to the war scenes – which can be brutal but are certainly not the worst I have seen. There is also one scene involving a rape – however you don’t directly see it happening – it is more alluded to and you are on the other side of the wall with a peephole view. For more on the rating check out this page.

Also, while this is a Foreign film – it is presented in English – I was thrilled that I did not need to turn on subtitles!

Check out this trailer:

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mailbox Monday #89

I received one book in the mail this week - all the way from Australia!  I had no idea it was coming from this far away - so that was pretty cool.

For review I received Asenath by Anna Patricio from the author.  I was very interested in this book because I have read some Biblical fiction and found it interesting and some of it is set in Ancient Egypt - one of my favorite places to read about.

Did anything arrive in your mailbox?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and will be wrapping up the month of November at it's home site.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Movie Review: The Duchess

The Duchess
Paramount Vantage
110 mins.
September 10, 2008
Rated: PG-13

I had looked forward to watching this movie for some time and ultimately very much enjoyed it. Keira Knightly plays another period role (which seems to be her thing) and beautifully exudes the time period and feel of the character. She played the Duchess of Devonshire as I would have imagined her – beautiful, smart, impassioned. Another actor that I LOVE is Ralph Finnes – and he plays the older husband of Knightly’s character, the Duke of Devonshire. He really is an actor that I love to hate, since I usually despise his characters (and it is no different here) but I love his acting. He is very restrained and so insensitive and infuriating all at the same time. The other name that I recognized is Dominic Cooper, who plays Charles Grey – you may remember him from the feature film version of Mamma Mia!. All the roles were very well acted.

The costumes were gorgeous and I am going to assume rather authentic. The film won the Academy Award, BAFTA Award, and Satellite Award for Best Costume Design. Knightly certainly had so many hairdos that I am hoping many were wigs, otherwise I cannot imagine the amount of time that needed to be spent in hair and makeup!

While there are small pockets of slowness in the storytelling, overall I enjoyed this film. There was so much passion and deception and betrayal in this film that kept it interesting.

Check out this trailer:

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
by James W Loewen
Paperback, 464 pages
October 16, 2007
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Genre: Non Fiction

Source: Personal collection
“Americans have lost touch with their history, and in Lies My Teacher Told Me Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past. 
In this revised edition, packed with updated material, Loewen explores how historical myths continue to be perpetuated in today's climate and adds an eye-opening chapter on the lies surrounding 9/11 and the Iraq War. From the truth about Columbus's historic voyages to an honest evaluation of our national leaders, Loewen revives our history, restoring the vitality and relevance it truly possesses. 
Thought provoking, nonpartisan, and often shocking, Loewen unveils the real America in this iconoclastic classic beloved by high school teachers, history buffs, and enlightened citizens across the country.”

I think I should start off by saying that this book isn’t a “set the record straight” book about American history – it is a critique of high school US history textbooks. I have seen too many reviews where the reviewer complained that it was all about textbooks – and yes it is! Loewen conducted a thorough survey of over a dozen US history textbooks and compares them against one another as well as against the historical record. He discusses what is misrepresented or completely overlooked and why. He explains why there is a need to teach our children true history as opposed to the continued feeding of lies. At the same time we are presented with much more detailed histories of events that we thought we knew.

I graduated from high school only 6 years ago and can attest to having used at least 2 of the textbooks that Loewen reviewed and actually can agree with many of his points about these books. I know that I too fell into believing many of the broad generalities that are taught by these texts and Lies was quite thought provoking – I often found myself going to explore many of these topics. I think that this is a good book not just for someone who is involved in the textbook selection process, but for parents as well. It helps to know if your child is getting an adequate history lesson or not.

Lies covers a vast array of topics from the colonization of America up to 9/11 and the present. Some of the topics covered include: Christopher Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, Native American policies, Racism, Antiracism, Federal Government, Vietnam War, Recent Past. He also closes out the text with chapters on why history is taught the way it is, some things that can be done to improve the situation, and the outcome.

I very much enjoyed this book. I liked seeing how different texts covered (or failed to cover) an issue and then learn some additional facts about the highlighted event. There were also some great images and charts that are often not included in high school texts that were very enlightening and interesting. At times the author can be long winded and you are ready to move on to the next section, but you really get the feeling that he is passionate about what he is telling you. I can’t wait to read his other book, Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong.

I recommend reading this preview of the introduction before committing to the book to discover if this book is for you.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book:: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by James W. Loewen:

lies across america
Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong

sundown towns
Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism

The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader: The “Great Truth” About the “Lost Cause”

Find James W. Loewen: Website

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Book Review: The King’s Daughter by Christie Dickason

The King’s Daughter by Christie Dickason
ARC, Paperback, 480 of pages
Harper Paperbacks
November 23, 2010
goodreads button

Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received from the publisher for review
“The court of James I is a dangerous place, with factions led by warring cousins Robert Cecil and Francis Bacon. While Europe seethes with conflict between Protestants and Catholics, James sees himself as a grand peacemaker—and wants to make his mark by trading his children for political treaties. 
Henry, Prince of Wales, and his sister, Elizabeth, find themselves far more popular than their distrusted father, a perilous position for a child of a jealous king. When Elizabeth is introduced to one suitor, Frederick, the Elector Palatine, she feels the unexpected possibility of happiness. But her fate is not her own to choose—and when her parents brutally withdraw their support for the union, Elizabeth must take command of her own future, with the help of an unexpected ally, the slave girl Tallie, who seeks her own, very different freedom.”
This novel is a quick read and the plot speeds right along. The beginning of the novel feels somewhat frivolous, but by the time you reach the middle of the book it gains some weight. I think this is on purpose to show how Elizabeth grows up from an innocent child to a woman. There was also a cute love story between Elizabeth and Frederick that you were rooting for by the end of the book.

This was an interesting story and one whose characters I have not encountered elsewhere. We get up close and personal with the court of James I – his wife Anne of Denmark and children, Henry, Charles, and Elizabeth. This is quite the interesting court. James I is a very paranoid king – and rightly so – but it was shocking some of the actions that he took to protect himself, even from his family. Throughout the story we find out a lot about Henry, Elizabeth, and King James, but left wanting some regarding Queen Anne. The author may have left us distant from her in order to show how she was distant to the rest of her family – however, I did want to know more about her.

This wasn’t a novel with a lot of depth, more of a surface story, but it was enjoyable. I would recommend this if you are looking for a fun read but not expecting to tax your mind too much. I came away from reading it with a sense of enjoyment, but not with too much else and the events of the story don’t stick with you for a long time.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Christie Dickason

firemasters mistress
The Firemaster’s Mistress

The Principessa


a noble assassin
A Noble Assaassin

the lady tree
The Lady Tree


the memory palace
The Memory Palace

the dragon riders
The Dragon Riders

tears of the tiger
Tears of the Tiger

Find Christie Dickason: Website | Blog

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

English Kings and Queens

I have been trying to learn all of the English Kings and Queens for awhile now.  I made a list and indicated who they were married to and offspring to note.  But...this makes it so much easier!

You've got to admit - the song is catchy and the characters are hilarious!

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Guest Post by J. S. Dunn, author of Bending the Boyne

It is my pleasure to welcome J. S. Dunn to The Maiden's Court today to tell us a little bit about these spectacular Neolithic mounds in Ireland.  Dunn resided in Ireland during the past decade and has a newly released novel of ancient Ireland, Bending the Boyne, available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and indie bookstores. The U.S.-based publisher, Seriously Good Books, is a new imprint for historical fiction.

Bending The Boyne won first place, historical fiction, Next Generation Indie Awards 2011. This novel is based on archaeology in the vein of Jean Auel’s Clan series in prehistoric Europe, plus a dash of the earliest Gaelic myths.

Bending the Boyne: A Pathway to the Stars

Guest Post by J. S. Dunn, Author of 
Bending the Boyne

Why would anyone track the Neolithic mounds in Ireland? Lots of reasons! First, the great Boyne mound assembly is a UN World Heritage site that holds the majority of Europe’s prehistoric rock art. Second, most passage mounds have a location with spectacular views and require only a moderate hill climb to access.

And finally, if you are in Ireland to find your roots you will have searched as far back as possible. The passage mound tradition began prior to the fourth millennium BCE. If you are one of 40 million plus Irish-Americans you may well share DNA with the bones at these ancient sites. If you can’t find your ancestors due to missing records, give this a try. This experience literally goes to the bone.

How did Eire’s passage mounds begin and why? Let’s begin at the beginning, at the northwest coast.

Carrowmore megalithic “cemetery” has a concentration of small stone passage tombs dating to 4000+ BCE. Several tombs line up with distant tombs on the horizon and hint of alignment with the skies. The visitor center, like most in Ireland, provides excellent flyers that you can read and use during the guided tour or to walk the area on your own.
Carrowkeel to the east in Sligo provides unforgettable views. Perched above an ancient stone village and Lough Arrow are large mounds with unmistakable passages and clear orientations to the sky. The astronomy, the starwatching, had taken hold with the people who built these. This venerable landscape of passage mounds marking high places holds many secrets, empirical knowledge that is still being deciphered.
If you can tear yourself away from a spot that connects your bones with both earth and sky and makes you feel conscious as never before, head southeast to county Meath, to Loughcrew. Here the view sweeps literally to the Mourne mountains in the northeast and the Wicklow Mountains to the southeast. Immense mounds with stone-lined passages dot these heights, called The Storied Hills. Modern archaeology no longer scoffs at the equinox and solstice lovers, the amateurs who gather here to watch light sweep over intricately carved backstones on certain solar dates. Here the ancients captured light and time itself into a calendar of seasons. Plan to spend at least a half day exploring.
The next day you may choose to visit Loughcrew a second time to better absorb its features, or journey on to the biggest passage mounds in all Europe..

Don’t be put off by the narrow, twisting roads to reach the Boyne, or Newgrange as it is called though that is only one of the three major mounds set in a rough triangle at a great bend in the river Boyne. The three mounds are simply enormous. Once you recover from the visual surprise, your tour inside impresses again. Through a passage 19 meters (around 60 feet) in length, one steps into the central chamber that rises to a height of almost 20 feet. The corbelled ceiling in the inner chamber may drop your jaw for its simple but beautiful design that has kept this “passage tomb” dry for over five thousand years.
Newgrange from the air
Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth have stood since before the pyramids in Egypt, and Stonehenge. How did these great mounds come to be called “elfmounds”? That is some piece of propaganda! One answer may be the arrival in around 2200 BCE of metal-using warriors who introduced horses, a new pottery style – and unfortunately, the long bronze knife for warfare. Along the coasts of Spain, Brittany, and Ireland, the megalith culture of astronomy lovers, the peaceable starwatchers, appears to decline or change once metal users arrive on the scene. A clash of old and new beliefs; suddenly the engineered mounds that focus on the skies fall out of fashion – only to be later dismissed as the home of elves and fairies. Photos: see www.newgrange.com.

Weeks and months later, you may find yourself dreaming of starflung skies and joyous dancing around bonfires after a starwatch that took place in a pastoral, gentle and ancient era. You may find yourself buying a telescope or joining an astronomy club. After all, it is said we humans are made of stardust.

You can find out more about J. S. Dunn and Bending the Boyne at this website.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Monday, November 14, 2011

Mailbox Monday #89

I actually have an awesome mailbox this week.  All the books that came this week were ones that I was excited to have arrive and were not in any way related to my research!  Here is what I received:

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory from R.J. Julia Booksellers.  This is the book that I would have had signed if the author event wasn't cancelled 2 weeks ago due to our ridiculous October snow.  I traded in the unsigned I had originally ordered for a signed copy.

Guinevere, The Legend in Autumn by Persia Woolley from Sourcebooks.  I received this one for review but had to wait awhile because they had run out of ARC's.

By the King's Design by Christine Trent from the author for the HFVBT tour in February.  This is probably the one that I am most looking forward too.  I absolutely devoured The Queen's Dollmaker and A Royal Likeness.

Did you find anything awesome in your mailbox this week?

Mailbox Monday is on a monthly blog tour and for the month of November it is being hosted by the Mailbox Monday blog.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Friday, November 11, 2011

Ranking Dolley

As I reported last week, Siena Research Institute has been ranking the Presidents for the last 25 years or so – they have also been ranking the First Ladies. Their most recent results came out in 2008. They survey a large number of American History professors and ask them to rate the First Ladies in 10 different categories on a scale of 1 to 5. They then weigh these categories to come up with the overall result and compare.

The 10 categories are: Background, Value to the Country, Intelligence, Courage, Accomplishments, Integrity, Leadership, Being Her Own Woman, Public Image, and Value to the President.

Unlike with the Presidents – I cannot find the breakdown for each First Lady in each of the 10 categories. They only provide the Top 5 and Last in each of the categories as well as the overall ranking across the 4 polling years: 1982, 1993, 2003, 2008. So while we cannot get a complete picture of how the overall score was made up, we can get some data.

Before even looking at the results, I knew Dolley Madison would be toward the top of the list. But let’s see how she did:

Overall Score:
1982: 4th
1993: 4th
2003: 3rd
2008: 6th

Value to Country: 4th
Public Image: 5th

Although she doesn’t appear in the top 5 in the rest of the categories – I would hazard a guess that she is within the top 10 for the rest of the categories. Over the last 25 years her position has stayed relatively consistent – only really making a move in 2008.  I was very surprised that she dropped 3 positions in 2008 after holding so steady.  This longevity goes to show that over time she is still respected among the First Ladies.

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Visit the Birthplace of Two Presidents - John Adams and John Quincy Adams

I always knew that you could go and visit Montpelier (James/Dolley Madison’s home), Mount Vernon (George/Martha Washington’s home) and even Monticello (Thomas/Martha Jefferson’s home). Maybe it’s just me, but I never once thought about being able to visit Peacefield – John/Abigail Adams’ home! It is even more shocking to me that I never thought about this before because I live in New England – and in Massachusetts – only about 1 ½ hours from Peacefield.

I was so excited to realize this that of course I wanted to go right away – but guess what? They close for the season today so I have to wait for 2012 – big bummer! Anyway, in the meantime I figured I would share some of my excitement with you all by sharing some of the information I found out about visiting Peacefield. And when I visit in April/May I will be sure to tell you all about it!

There is a lot to do when visiting the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy, Massachusetts. It is really 4 separate buildings and the grounds as well as transportation by trolley. Guided tours are available for the buildings but make sure you get there early – I hear they can sell out fast!
John Adams birthplace (R) and John Q. Adams birthplace (L)
First stop on this tour – the home where John Adams was born. This house was built in 1735. Right next door is the house where John and Abigail moved to following their marriage and the home where the future president John Quincy Adams was born. The tour of these homes lasts approximately ½ hour.
Peacefield or The Old House
From there you head back to The Old House “Peacefield”. Here you will be able to partake in an hour long tour. You can then leisurely stroll around the grounds or visit the stone library filled with very old texts.
The Stone Library
They are open for business April 19th to November 10th and admission is $5.00 for adults and children under 16 are free.

Now if you are already going to be in Quincy and you want to do some more sightseeing while there – head up the street to the United First Parish Church. Here you can find the resting places of John Adams, Abigail Adams, John Quincy Adams, and Louisa Catherine Adams (inside the church). They appear to be open during the same time period and tours are offered of the church as well for a small fee.

If you happen to visit during the summer (particularly July 1 – Labor Day) you can stop by the Abigail Smith Adams Birthplace in Weymouth, Massachusetts (not to far from the Adams National Historical Park). Tours are offered of this house too for $5.00.  They are open from 1-4 PM so make this your last stop of the day.
Abigail Adams Birthplace
By the end of the day you will have learned something about 2 Presidents and their First Ladies from birth to death.  

Have any of you been to these places?  I would love to hear about it!

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Audiobook Review: First Family by Joseph J. Ellis

First Family: Abigail and John Adams by Joseph J. Ellis
Unabridged, 11 hr. 31 min.
Random House Audio
Kimberly Farr (Narrator)
October 26, 2010
goodreads button

Genre: Non-Fiction, Biography

Source: Downloaded audio from my local library
“The Pulitzer Prize–winning, best-selling author of Founding Brothersand His Excellency brings America’s preeminent first couple to life in a moving and illuminating narrative that sweeps through the American Revolution and the republic’s tenuous early years. 
John and Abigail Adams left an indelible and remarkably preserved portrait of their lives together in their personal correspondence: both Adamses were prolific letter writers (although John conceded that Abigail was clearly the more gifted of the two), and over the years they exchanged more than twelve hundred letters. Joseph J. Ellis distills this unprecedented and unsurpassed record to give us an account both intimate and panoramic; part biography, part political history, and part love story.”
If you are interested in the relationship between John and Abigail Adams this would be a great place to start. While the book does focus on the political atmosphere surrounding the Adams’ it always comes back to the family. Ellis uses many, many excerpts from John and Abigail’s letters to illustrate for us in vivid details their undying devotion to their family and to each other. We get to see how politically savvy Abigail was and how much of an advisor she was for John through her own words. These letters provided great insight into their lives from their own mouths without the need for interpretation.

This book definitely has a pro-Adams slant when it comes to looking at his presidency. Now he is often looked at as a somewhat ineffective president even though he had played a large role in the forming of the fledgling country. In his book, Ellis chooses to look at the Adams presidency from the perspective of the time in which he was living rather than from the present. This leaves the reader with a more positive viewpoint.

A great amount of time was spent on the intricacies of the Adams/Jefferson relationship. The author seems to portray Jefferson in more of a negative light than Adams. He even goes as far as discussing how Jefferson may have committed treasonous acts while Vice President. As I haven’t yet read his book on Jefferson I don’t know if this is a constant bias of if just in the situation of comparing the two men.

The one negative for me while reading this book was that the author seemed to beat the proverbial dead horse on the point of John and Abigail knowing that their letters and writings would be read by posterity and that they were posturing for history in their letters. This concept came up innumerable times – after the first two times I got it.

As I said before, this would be a great book for those who are looking for more on the relationship of the Adams family and to a lesser extent the politics. I plan on reading another book on John Adams to get more of the political, but I would certainly read more by this author.


I don’t really have a lot to say about the narration here. It was well read but doesn't stand out remarkably in my head even a few days after completing the book. It might be better off to read this one in physical book form.

If you would like to preview the story before reading it, why not try out this excerpt of the book or the below audio sample?

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Joseph J. Ellis:

founding brothers
Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation

his excellency
His Excellency: George Washington
[My Review]

american sphinx
American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

american creation
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies of the Founding of the Republic

The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789

revolutionary summer
Revolutionary Summer: The Birth of American Independence

passionate sage
Passionate Sage: The Character and Legacy of John Adams

after the revolution
After the Revolution: Profiles of Early American Culture

Find Joseph J. Ellis: Website | Facebook 

Copyright © 2011 by The Maiden’s Court