72 A.D.: Traditional date for the martyrdom of the apostle Thomas, who spent his life after the Resurrection traveling east from the Roman Empire, spending twenty years introducing Christianity to the people of India.
1485: Birth of Catherine of Aragon, queen consort to England’s Henry VIII. Highly regarded by her contemporaries as a keen intellect and powerful voice for the education of women. She also became the first female Ambassador in history, acting as such for her father, Ferdinand II, at the English Court when his Ambassador died in office.
1497: Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama leads his small fleet of exploration around the Cape of Good Hope, becoming the first European to sail into the Indian Ocean. The fleet eventually makes its way to India’s west coast, and back again to Portugal, providing that country with a secure route to the riches of the Spice Trade without having to traverse either the pirate-infested Mediterranean or the corruption and danger of the overland crossing through Arabia. De Gama’s opening creates a generation-long trade monopoly which makes Portugal rich. His systematic exploration and the immediate economic consequences of his work make him widely regarded as one of the greatest captains of the great age of exploration.
1606: Captain John Smith and the Virginia Company of London, set sail aboard three small ships, Susan Constant, Discovery and Godspeed. The flotilla was under the overall command of Captain Christopher Newport of the Susan Constant. The voyage took five months, including stops in the Caribbean.
1620: After five weeks of surveying the shoreline of Cape Cod Bay, the Pilgrims come ashore at Plymouth Rock to begin their first permanent settlement. The group split their time between the building parties ashore and recuperating aboard the Mayflower, with no fewer than 20 men kept always ashore for defensive purposes. The first winter in the New World took a toll, with exposure, scurvy and other diseases claiming nearly half of the settlers who survived the voyage.
1653: Four years after executing King Charles I and declaring England a Commonwealth, the British Parliament formally invests General Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protector of the Realm. The Parliament was ready to crown him king, but having used his army to defeat a king, and the Parliament to justify his executing a king, he prudently believed that his assuming a new kingship for himself would be a step too far. He did, however, designate his son, Richard, as heir to the Protectorate
1773: After months of frustration and anger over Parliament’s insistence on their need and their right to tax the American colonies, a group of between 30 to 130 (the count varies depending on the source) Sons of Liberty, in Boston, under the leadership of Samuel Adams, adjourn from a raucous meeting in Faneuil Hall, don elaborate disguises as Mohawk Indians and proceed down to Griffin’s Wharf, where lay the embargoed tea ships, Dartmouth, Eleanor and Beaver. The tax on tea, known as the Townshend Duty, created similar standoffs in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, but in those colonies, the governors ordered the tea ships back to England. In Boston, the governor was determined to not yield to what he considered an unruly and unreasonable mob. As it goes: the “Indians” boarded the ships and systematically, over the course of three hours, dumped all 342 chests of (very expensive) tea into the waters of Boston Harbor.
1777: After a year of partial victories and major retreats against the Regulars of the British army, General George Washington orders the Continental Army into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.
1808: Ludwig von Beethoven personally conducts the premiers of his 5th and 6th Symphonies, in addition to playing the piano for the premier of his 4th Piano Concerto and the Choral Fantasy. The concert lasted 4 hours.
1856: Birth of Frank B. Kellogg U.S. Representative and Senator from Minnesota, and later Secretary of State for Presidents Coolidge and Hoover. He negotiated the 1928 Kellogg-Briand Pact, which outlaws war as an instrument of national policy, and for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1929. The treaty is still in effect.
1872: Under the sponsorship and direction of the Royal Society, HMS Challenger sets sail from Portsmouth to begin a three year, 70,000 mile voyage of science and discovery. Unlike previous expeditions during the great age of discovery in the centuries prior, this expedition was designed around specific oceanographic scientific research that could answer questions about what lay below the depths of the lead line. Wikipedia summarized it as: “492 deep sea soundings, 133 bottom dredges, 151 open water trawls and 263 serial water temperature observations were taken. Also about 4,700 new species of marine life were discovered.”
1892: Opening night for Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite.
1906: Birth of the third First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Leonoid Brezhnev.
1916: After eleven months of unrelenting artillery barrages, sniper fire, and fruitless attacks and counter-attacks across mere yards of torn up ground, the German Army makes a strategic retreat back to the heavily reinforced trenches from whence it began the Verdun offensive back in February. German General Erich von Falkenhayn claims he had achieved his objective of “bleeding the French white,” and French General Philippe Petain claims he had succeeded in preventing a German breakthrough into the interior of France: “Ils ne passeront pas!” (‘They shall not pass’ was his battle cry). At their farthest advance, the German army moved a little over a mile across the Muse River toward the city of Verdun, capturing several strategic forts in the French defensive line. With the French counter-offensive in the late summer, the line and the forts returned to French control, culminating in the final shots of the battle this day. As occurred in the mud of Flanders, bodies of dead soldiers remained where they fell, eventually churned and mixed into the soil as the artillery shells continued their assault. The battle of Verdun was the destination for freshly trained regiments that were sent into the trenches to relieve units who had been under fire, and whose casualty rates reduced them to 10-15% within weeks or less. French casualties around 542,000 (over 162,308 killed); German casualties 434,000 (over 100,000 killed). French artillery numbered 2,708 tubes, firing over 16,000,000 shells into the German lines; the Germans claimed over 21,000,000 shells into the French.
1989: The Brandenburg Gate re-opens to two-way travel in Berlin, effectively ending the division of East and West Germany.