1483: Birth of Augustinian monk Martin Luther (d.1546), in Eislieben, Saxony.
1519: Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez enters the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan (modern day Mexico City), where the King Montezuma greets him with gold and precious stones, on the belief that Cortez is an emissary of the feathered god Quetzalcoatl, if not the god himself. Not wishing to disabuse Montezuma of this belief, Cortez ensconces himself and his small army in strategic locations throughout the capital, and in due time forces Montezuma to pledge allegiance to Spanish King Charles V. Cortez’ conquest of Mexico was part of a competitive spat between himself and the Governor of Cuba, Diego Velazquez, with whose sister-in-law Cortez had “a romantic interest.” Cortez started sending Aztec gold and silver back to Spain, securing his place in History Notes.
1605: Discovery, with only hours to spare, of The Gunpowder Plot– a conspiracy by leading British Catholics to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I himself, in hopes of leading a violent restoration of Catholicism in Great Britain. The thirteen conspirators spent months coordinating- in addition to strategic kidnappings, escape routes, and proclamations- access to a large basement storeroom located directly beneath the House of Lords and filling it with multiple barrels of gunpowder, which remained hidden behind firewood and coal. On the night of 4-5 November, the point man for the detonation, Guy Fawkes, worked his way toward the storeroom, disguised as a firewood delivery man. He was stopped and questioned by a watchman but was allowed to continue his work. Late into the evening, alerted by concerned (ironically, Catholic) Parliamentarians, a renewed search of the Parliament “above and below” the chambers found Fawkes in the room directly below the Lords, carrying a slow match and a pocket watch, dressed in black and wearing riding spurs. He was arrested on the spot, and when news of the arrest was made public, the Gunpowder conspirators vainly scattered into hiding. They were systematically arrested, tortured, confessed, were tried and found guilty of treason, and then executed by hanging, drawing and quartering, with their limbs sent to the far corners of the realm and the rest of their mortal remains burned into ash. The successful discovery and destruction of the plot led to immediate celebrations throughout England. One year later, Parliament passed the Observance of 5th November 1605 Act, which called for sermons and services remembering the salvation of England from the plot, complete with the ringing of church bells and celebratory bonfires. The Act remained on the books as law until 1859, but even though revoked the day remains a major holiday in Great Britain, known variously as Guy Fawkes’ Day, Bonfire Night, or Fireworks Night. As part of the tradition, boys will make up an effigy of Fawkes, and after parading it through town, place it atop the pyre where it is burned.
1620: After a 66-day voyage from Plymouth, England, the 105 Pilgrim passengers aboard Mayflower sight land in the New World, but it is Cape Cod, not the mouth of the Hudson as they intended. They will spend about a week trying to work their way back south, but in the end, will drop anchor in what is now Provincetown Harbor.
1656: Birth of English astronomer and mathematician Edmond Halley (d.1740), known for the correct calculation of the orbital period of the comet that now bears his name. Another discovery was his careful survey of magnetic deviation in compasses, which he documented in the first publication of isogonic lines across the Atlantic Ocean.
1731: Birth of American astronomer, surveyor, and almanac writer, Benjamin Banneker (d.1806). Banneker’s astronomical skills provided critical inputs in setting the original boundary stones for the new federal District of Columbia. He was also contracted to write a six-year series of highly acclaimed almanacs, which ended up being published in twenty-eight editions across five of the Several States.
1775: Samuel Nicholas begins recruiting for the newly authorized corps of naval infantry in a Philadelphia bar, the popular Tun Tavern. His marching orders from Congress read as follows:
“That two battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant-Colonels, two Majors, and other officers, as usual in other regiments; that they consist of an equal number of Privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to offices, or enlisted into said battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve by sea when required; that they be enlisted and commissioned to serve for and during the present war with Great Britain and the Colonies, unless dismissed by order of Congress; that they be distinguished by the names of the First and Second Battalion of Marines.” Nicholas is one of the two majors mentioned, and is today considered the first Commandant of the Marine Corps. Three USN ships have been named after him.
1831: Leader of the August slave uprising in Surrey County, Nat Turner, is tried, convicted, and hanged by the neck until dead.
1854: Birth of John Philip Sousa (d.1932), The March King, composer and long-standing conductor of the United States Marine Corps Band, “The President’s Own.”
1860: Illinois lawyer and former Congressman Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States.
1861: Mississippi Congressman and Senator Jefferson Davis is elected to a six-year term as President of the Confederate States of America in an uncontested election.
1861: USS San Jacinto, under the command of Captain Charles Wilkes, USN, intercepts and boards the British mail packet Trent, two of whose passengers are Confederate envoys James Mason and John Slidell, who were en route to Great Britain to press the case for British recognition and assistance to the Confederacy. Wilkes took the two Southerners as contraband of war and allowed Trent to continue on its journey. Arriving here in Hampton Roads on the 15th of November, Wilkes telegraphed his capture to Washington, and then continued to Boston where he turned the diplomats over to Fort Warren, a prison for captured Confederates. The episode led to a diplomatic row that ensued between Great Britain and the United States teetered on the brink of open war, but as tensions unwound, it did not translate into overt British support for the Southern states.
1865: Seven months after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, the Confederate commerce raider CSS Shenandoah, under Captain James Waddell, surrenders to the government of Great Britain after completing a year-long, 58,000 mile circumnavigation of the globe. During the voyage, Shenandoah captured or destroyed 38 ships, mostly Yankee whalers, took over a thousand prisoners, and earned more than $1,400,000 in prize money. She has the distinction of having fired the last shot in the Civil War (against a whaler in the Gulf of Alaska), and being the last Confederate unit to surrender active operations.
1871: Welsh journalist and adventurer Henry Morgan Stanley, after a major trek through the jungles of Tanganyika, finds the missing Scottish missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, greeting him with “Doctor Livingstone, I presume.” After the meeting, Stanley’s continued trek to the west coast of Africa via the Congo River provided the basis for Belgian King Leopold II’s claim on the entire Congo basin and became the inspiration for Joseph Conrad’s novel, Heart of Darkness.
1872: The brigantine Mary Celeste, under the command of Captain Benjamin Briggs, sets sail from New York City en route to Genoa, Italy. In a letter to his mother before getting underway, Briggs wrote, “Our vessel is in beautiful trim and I hope we shall have a fine passage but I have never been in her before and can’t say how she’ll sail…”
1899: Death of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (b.1840), Russian composer–1812 Overture, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake.
1906: Theodore Roosevelt became the first sitting President to travel outside the country–to visit the construction of the Panama Canal.
1908: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid are gunned down in San Vicente, Columbia.
1914: Birth of Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (d.2000). In between starring in biblical motion picture films, Lamarr and her Hollywood neighbor, George Antheil, would tinker with radio waves in an attempt to aid the ongoing war effort. One evening in the early 1940s, the pair discovered a remarkable technique called “frequency hopping.” Their invention would allow allied torpedoes to strike their targets without being thwarted by radio jamming, which attracted a great deal of interest from the US Navy. Frequency hopping played a significant role in WWII and was eventually used to develop Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and GPS.
1917: After three months of continuous combat in western Flanders, Canadian Commonwealth troops captured the town of Passchendaele from the occupying Germans. The battle, also known as 3rd Ypres, was British Field Marshall Haig’s third attempt to evict the Germans from their hold on the ports and coastline of Belgium. The taking of Passchendaele, although considered a success, came at the cost of 140,000 combat deaths, or a ratio of two inches of ground per dead soldier, to say nothing of the remaining 300,000 non-fatal casualties on the Allied side alone.
1918: After four years of fighting in the southern Alps, Austria-Hungary surrendered to Italy, closing the Great War’s Italian front.
1918: Spurred on by communist agitators, and triggered by the issuance of an order to sortie the High Seas Fleet for combat against the Royal Navy, over 40,000 German sailors mutiny in support of a smaller cadre of earlier mutineers who were already imprisoned. Chanting the slogan, “Peace and Bread!” (Frieden und brot!), the sailors surge through the city, overwhelming the police and taking control of key government buildings. News of the mutiny spread throughout Germany, moving the Social Democrat Party (SPD), left-wing radicals into a powerful force suddenly at the head of a communist revolution. With the real possibility of a devastating social revolution compounding German losses on the Western Front, the government convinced the Kaiser to abdicate the monarchy, thereby permitting the formation of an interim constitutional government. Although the SPD did not plan on completely overthrowing the existing order, the revolutionary and political turmoil continued to ferment throughout the major German cities but never proceeded to the level of violence or political angst duplicating the Bolshevik takeover of Russia. The German Revolution ended with the announcement of the Weimar Republic in August of 1919.
1918: Only days into what looks like the beginning of a Germany-wide revolution, Kaiser Wilhelm II, out of the country visiting his troops on the front lines in Belgium, abdicates the hereditary throne of the Hollenzollern Dynasty.
1923: Former German Corporal Adolf Hitler attempts an overthrow of the German government. Working from their headquarters in a Munich ale house, the Beer Hall Putsch the conspirators actually capture the city government and then issue a call for a general uprising across Germany. Hitler and several others were locked up for five years in Landsberg prison, where he wrote Mein Kampf.
1935: First flight of the Hawker Hurricane fighter. Although it was overshadowed by the Spitfire, the Hurricane accounted for over 60% of the fighter victories in the Battle of Britain.
1935: Parker Brothers acquires the patent for the board game Monopoly.
1939: President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Customs Service to allow cash & carry sales of armaments to the European war, mainly Great Britain. Roosevelt demanded money for the purchases, and indefinite “lease” agreements to such British colonial holdings as Bermuda, Diego Garcia, the Virgin Islands, unlimited access to Canadian harbors, and others.
1942: Opening of Operation TORCH, the Allied invasion of North Africa. The attack answered- in part- the Soviet Union’s insistent and persistent demands for a second front to relieve pressure from the relentless German onslaught on Russia. The landings also answered the question of whether the Vichy French forces in Morocco and Algeria would forcibly oppose the arrival of British, American, and Free French armies. By the close of day on the 9th, all of Morocco and Algeria surrendered to the Allies. In response to their French ally, Germany and Italy forcibly occupied the untouched regions of Vichy France. The Allies then consolidated their forces and began a drive toward Tunisia to meet the German armies who held the remaining coastline of North Africa.
1942: German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, having had his North African armored juggernaut stopped at the gates of Alexandria, is forced to begin his withdrawal back toward Tunisia as a result of British Field Bernard Montgomery’s armored breakout at the seam between the German and Italian forces. The advancing British not only split the Axis force, they also threatened to completely encircle the Germans. Rommel ignored a direct order from Hitler to fight to the last man, deciding instead to save his forces and make a strategic withdrawal to a position where he could counter-attack the soon-to-be overextended British tanks. Rommel’s withdrawal today was the turning point for the Battle of El Alemain.
1975: The 729-foot long Great Lakes freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald sinks in a violent storm on Lake Superior, taking all 29 crew to a watery grave…and giving Canadien songwriter Gordan Lightfoot the inspiration for a song.