1492: Christopher Columbus lands on the largest of the Windward Islands, which he names Hispaniola. Over the course of the next ten years, the Admiral of the Ocean Seas made three more voyages of discovery throughout the Caribbean basin and along the coast of Central America, establishing himself as one of the great sailors of all time. His reputation was tarnished by administrative abuses committed in his name by the Spanish colonial authorities in Santo Domingo, of whom he was Governor of the Indies.
1768: Publication in Edinburgh of the first edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, a systematic attempt to categorize and explain in English the world’s catalog of knowledge. Of note for your DLH erudition: the fact that this tome was published in Edinburgh “By a Society of Gentlemen in Scotland” and not in London, is a strong indicator of the strength of the Scottish Enlightenment, the intellectual underpinnings of which played such a huge role in the founding of the American republic.
1790: The United States Congress moves the capitol of the country from New York City to Philadelphia.
1815: Death of Michel Ney, Marshall of France (b.1769), one of the brightest of Napoleon’s team of brilliant subordinate commanders, whose loyalty to France and its leadership not only drove him to his greatest battlefield victories, but also to his final political defeat and execution on this day. When one reads of Napoleon’s multiple victories across the continent, Ney is always in the thick of it. As a measure of France’s perpetual war with the other countries of Europe, ponder this: between 1787 and this day, 28 years on, Ney fought in 36 major named battles across six “Coalition” wars, the Peninsular War in Spain and the invasion of Russia. It was Ney who led the massive but ultimately unsuccessful cavalry charges at Waterloo against Wellington’s infantry squares, actually having five horses killed from under him. After Napoleon’s final exile to St. Helena, Ney was arrested and charged with high treason. Although his lawyer tried to prove Ney was actually a Prussian by birth, Ney interrupted and sealed his fate by declaiming, “I am French, and I will remain French.” Wikipedia notes that at his execution, he refused to wear a blindfold, and was permitted to give the order to fire, saying: “Soldiers, when I give the command to fire, fire straight at my heart. Wait for the order. It will be my last to you. I protest against my condemnation. I have fought a hundred battles for France, and not one against her … Soldiers, fire!” They obeyed, one last time.
1865: The legislature of the former Confederate State of Georgia votes to approve the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, providing the final ratification of the end of slavery as the Supreme Law of the Land.
1917: In Halifax, Nova Scotia, a French ammunition ship, SS Mont-Blanc, suffers a slow-speed collision with an empty Norwegian freighter, SS Imo, and catches fire. The crew is unable to contain the blaze, and they abandon ship, leaving the ship to drift toward the Richmond district of the city. Twenty minutes later, the cargo detonates and completely flattens everything within a half mile of the ship. The explosion remains the largest non-nuclear detonation in history, estimated at 2.6 kilotons of TNT. Over 2000 Halifax residents die as a result of the blast.
1941: The Empire of Japan launches an attack on the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
1955: Death of Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop, Honus Wagner (b.1874), one of the first five players to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. He is also the featured player on the most valuable baseball card of all time. The 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner set a new world record price for a baseball card, selling for $3.12 million through Goldin Auctions. This breaks the old record of $2.8 million, which was paid for a different copy of the card in 2007.