1287: King Alfonso III of Aragon invades the island of Menorca.
1412: The Medici family of Florence is formally appointed to act as banker to the Papacy, an account that greatly accelerated their rise as the most powerful family in Italy, to say nothing of hastening the development of modern banking and accounting methods to accurately deal with vast sums of money.
1535: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizzaro, newly named Royal Governor of the newly conquered Inca lands in Peru, selects a well-watered and wooded coastal site for his capital and dedicates it on this date. He initially names it Cuidad des los Reyes, later re-named Lima.
1584: Florentine explorer Gionvanni da Verrazzano sets sail from Madeira to find the so-far elusive ocean route to the Pacific. He explores much of the eastern coast of North America, mis-identifying Pamlico Sound as the Pacific Ocean, but discovering the entrance to New York harbor, and farther up the coast, Block Island. The narrows of NY harbor, and the bridge that spans it, bear his name.
1670: In one of the final acts of a swashbuckling career spent plundering the Spanish Main, the British pirate Henry Morgan, captures and sacks the city of Panama, burning it to the ground after taking anything and everything of value. For nearly 10 years, multiple Royal Governors of Jamaica ignored repeated edicts from the Crown to suppress piracy. Instead, they encouraged Morgan to range throughout the Caribbean basin attacking Spanish ships and port cities under Jamaican Letters of Marque, which provided a veneer of legitimacy to his activities. Morgan kept his crews occupied with adventure and plunder, while enriching himself, his Governors, and the Crown itself with tremendous hauls of looted Spanish treasure. Today’s sack of Panama, however, was the last straw for Britain’s diplomatic dance with their Spanish counterparts: the country was formally at peace with Spain in 1670, and the Spanish Crown demanded Morgan’s head. In 1672 he was arrested for the act, and returned to England for an expected trial and hanging. Instead, King Charles II knighted him for Services to the Crown and appointed him Lieutenant-Governor of Jamaica, where he served until 1683, living in pampered dissolution until his death in 1688. His grave in the pirate haven of Port Royal, Jamaica, disappeared beneath the sea in the great earthquake of 1692.
1707: The Scottish Parliament ratifies the Act of Union with England, beginning the process of creating the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Wales (and later, Northern Ireland). Interestingly, back in January 2011, the Scottish Parliament decided to hold a plebiscite on the de-ratification of the Act of Union, in order to make Scotland an independent country within the EU. The independence vote was finally taken in September of 2014 and was handily defeated 54/46, with a historically high turnout of 85% of the electorate making their voices heard.
1773: Captain James Cook, on his second voyage of discovery, sails below the Antarctic Circle for the first time, the first European explorer to do so. The Antarctic (and Arctic) Circle is the northernmost (southernmost) latitude where the sun does not rise at the winter solstice, June 21st (December 21st). It lies at 66 degrees 33 minutes South (North) latitude, about 650 nautical miles south of Cape Horn.
Part of Cook’s mission was to survey the northern extent of the summer icepack as well as the iceberg zone. It’s important to note here that the Southern Ocean south of 40 degrees latitude is also completely unencumbered by any land masses to break up the prevailing westerly winds, creating a region sailors call the “Roaring 40s,” where it is not unusual for near-hurricane force winds to pipe up for weeks at a time, causing the seas themselves to build into towering breakers approaching fifty feet in height.
1778: On his third Voyage of Discovery, Captain James Cook discovers a Central Pacific island chain he names the Sandwich Islands. They have since reverted to their native name, Hawaii. As an aside, the people who consider themselves the indigenous natives of the chain are working to further devolve the name into a near-phonetic transliteration of the Polynesian Hawai’i, which is itself derived from O-havai’i.
1862: Death of the 10th President of the United States, John Tyler (b.1790), who became the first to arrive at the office by succession from the Vice-Presidency, on the death of President William Henry Harrison. Tyler was born into the “Virginia aristocracy” but served out a relatively nondescript presidency, highlighted by his entire cabinet resigning in protest of particular veto, and a subsequent near-impeachment.
1784: The new United States government ratifies the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain acknowledges our existence as an independent political entity.
1741: Birth of Benedict Arnold (d.1801).
1761: Great Britain captures Pondicherry, India from its former French overlords. Despite coming under British rule from this point, the city never lost its French colonial flavor. It served culturally as a competitive rival to Bombay and Calcutta, both of which were under British influence from the early days of the East India Company. The name pops up regularly in fiction about the British Raj. The old colonial districts are also known for their extensive use of yellow paint.
1786: The Virginia General Assembly accepts the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, written by Saint Thomas of Monticello-I mean, Thomas Jefferson– as part of the supreme law of the Commonwealth. Jefferson was so pleased with this concise document that he insisted it be included in his epitaph, which it is.
1794: Death of British historian and man of letters, Edward Gibbon (b.1737), best known for his seminal work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. His research and subsequent publication of this true magnum opus sets the standard for scholarly work to this day.
1871: As the Franco-Prussian War reaches is culmination with his armies having recently captured the French Emperor Napoleon III and with Paris under siege by German guns, King of Prussia Wilhelm I is proclaimed Emperor of the German Empire, beginning an era known as the Second Reich. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck exploits a newly available venue to publicly reinforce Germany’s position of dominance over its western rival: the proclamation ceremony is held in Versailles’ Hall of Mirrors, with virtually the entire leadership of Bismarck’s government, the General Staff and the Hohenzollern royal family in attendance.
1875: Birth of Albert Schweitzer (d.1965), musician, theologian, and medical doctor whose work in easing the lives of African tribesmen in Gabon, and his deep intellectual response to the real problems of both colonialism and the de-colonizing movement earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
1899: The United States takes possession of Wake Island. Today, the island serves as a trans-Pacific refueling stop for military aircraft and supports Missile Defense Agency test activities. Wake is currently managed by the Pacific Air Force Support Center located at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, Alaska, and falls under 11th Air Force. Wake Island (Marshallese: Ānen Kio, lit. ’island of the kio flower’; also known as Wake Atoll) is a coral atoll in the western Pacific Ocean in the northeastern area of the Micronesia subregion, 1,501 miles (2,416 kilometers) east of Guam, 2,298 miles (3,698 kilometers) west of Honolulu, 1,991 miles (3,204 kilometers) southeast of Tokyo and 898 miles (1,445 kilometers) north of Majuro. The island is an unorganized, unincorporated territory belonging to (but not a part of) the United States that is also claimed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Wake Island is one of the most isolated islands in the world. The nearest inhabited island is Utirik Atoll in the Marshall Islands, 592 miles (953 kilometers) to the southeast.
1902: Birth of Scottish runner and Christian missionary to China, Eric Liddell (d.1945). He is the protagonist of the Academy Award winning movie Chariots of Fire (1981), which centers around his refusal to race on Sunday during the 1924 Olympic Games in Paris. Liddell went on to do missionary work in China, was captured by the Japanese and imprisoned along with other members of the China Inland Mission, and died of exhaustion and malnutrition a mere five months before the camp’s liberation at the end of the war. He remains the most popular athlete in Scottish history. Couple quotes: “God made me FAST!” and, “When I’m running, I feel God’s pleasure!”
1911: Taking his naval aviation demonstrations to their next step (the first occurring with his takeoff from USS Birmingham (CL-2) here in Hampton Roads in November), Eugene Ely lands his Curtis Pusher aeroplane on a platform built aboard USS Pennsylvania (ACR-4), anchored in San Francisco Bay. After a light meal, and with the crew having turned the machine around, Ely fires up the engine and takes off again, demonstrating- at least in theory- a viable capability for launch and recovery of airplanes aboard ship.
1938: Norway formally annexes for itself a huge slice of Antarctica, naming the area Queen Maude Land. It remains the only du jure territorial occupation on the continent, although the rest of it is divided up between six other claimants and multiple non-claimants (including the U.S. and Russia) who maintain permanent scientific stations above and below the ice.
1942: Birth of Cassius Clay (d.2016)
1943: After over 6 months of brutal combat and continuing losses to the U.S. Marines, the Japanese army completes Operation KE, the evacuation of Guadalcanal, which they consider a great success.
1943: Start of the First Warsaw Uprising in the Jewish Ghetto. After four years of sullen acceptance at being crammed into a single ghetto, the Jews of Warsaw begin a clandestine revolt against their Nazi overseers. Armed only with a few pistols, rifles and Molotov cocktails, the fighters seek to forcibly oppose the renewed transports of the Jewish population to the death camps. The rising lasted through May, when the Germans make a full-on military operation against the rag-tag irregulars of the Ghetto.
1943: First day of the Casablanca Conference between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill with representatives of the Free French forces. Joseph Stalin was invited but declined to attend because of the ongoing siege of Stalingrad. This conference was notable for publicly declaring unconditional surrender as the core Allied war aim against Germany. The decision was also made to not attempt to open a second European front via an immediate cross-channel invasion, but to continue the pressure on the southern flank by invading Sicily. As an aside, in order to get to the conference, Roosevelt became the first President to fly in an airplane while serving in office, taking a plane between Miami and Casablanca across the Atlantic Ocean.
1945(a): The Red Army captures what’s left of Warsaw, Poland. After six years of war, the city is reduced to essentially little more than heaps of rubble, with a population struggling for subsistence.
1945(b): With Soviet forces inexorably bearing down on them, the Nazi overlords of Auschwitz frantically- and futilely- begin to evacuate the death camp.
1945(c): The Soviet sweep into Eastern Europe, keeping its long-term political goals in the forefront of its decision-making, arrests Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg off the streets of Budapest, where he established a “Swedish Cultural Zone” to protect the Jews of Budapest from Nazi deportation.
1950: First flight of the prototype MiG-17 fighter plane, a workhorse of the communist bloc through the 1980s.
1961: President Dwight D. Eisenhower gives his farewell address to the nation.
1966: An armed B-52 on a routine deterrent patrol suffers a mid-air collision with its KC-135 tanker over Palomares, Spain. Both planes break up in flight, and three of the four B-28 thermonuclear bombs on board the B-52 fall onto farmland near the tiny coastal Spanish town. Two of them detonate conventionally, spreading nuclear material over a wide area. Cleanup efforts involved removing some 1,400 tons of dirt, and transporting it back to the Savannah River Plant in the United States for burning and disposal.
The fourth bomb fell into the sea just offshore, but remained unlocated for over three months. During the massive (34 Navy ships) search effort, which finally succeeded with the deep submersible Alvin, the regular U.S. press briefings degenerated into something like farce. Unable by security rules to confirm or deny the presence of nuclear weapons, at one point the spokesman carefully explained, “I don’t know of any missing bomb, but we have not positively identified what I think you think we are looking for.”
1991: At midnight local time, the United States-led coalition opens fire in Operation Desert Storm. President George H.W. Bush, in his Address to the Nation, puts it very simply: “The liberation of Kuwait has begun.”