306: Traditional date of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara. Although her actual provenance was suspect enough to be removed in 1969 from roster of official Saints, she remains the Patron Saint of artillerymen, miners, explosive workers, and others whose jobs carry with it the risk of sudden and violent death.
771: Death of Carloman I (b.751), younger brother of Charlemagne, who held half of the Frankish kingdom on the death of their father. The brothers did not get along well, and when Carloman died- rather conveniently, but not the result of foul play– Charlemagne forcefully annexed the region to become the sole king of the Franks.
799: King of the Franks, Charlemagne, grandson of the great Charles Martel, holds an audience in the north-central German city of Paderborn with the embattled Pope Leo III, who fled Rome under persecution by the nobility of that city. Leo requested the protection of the powerful French king, and Charlemagne reciprocated with a vow of fealty to the papacy, which included a promise to forcibly re-install Leo in Rome. The meeting today began a chain of events that culminated in Leo’s re-installation as Pope, and him, in turn, proclaiming Charlemagne as the Protector of the Roman Empire. He thus became the first Holy Roman Emperor, a title that remained essentially intact through multiple dynasties over the course of 1,120 years, finally ending with the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, which stripped the Austrian Royal family of any lingering claim to the throne.
1466: Birth of Genovese Admiral Andrea Doria (d.1560), remembered not only for his exploits at sea against the Ottomans and Barbary pirates, but as the leading politician of the independent Genovese Republic.
1667: Birth of Irish novelist, satirist, political gadfly and eventual clergyman, Jonathan Swift (d.1745). A prolific writer, his best known work’s characters remain staples of contemporary political criticism: “Travels into Several Remote Nations of the World, in Four Parts. By Lemuel Gulliver, First a Surgeon, and then a Captain of Several Ships!”
1783: With the Revolutionary War successfully concluded, General George Washington bids farewell to his military staff at New York City’s Fraunces Tavern
1803: France and Spain execute a secret clause of the Third Treaty of San Ildefonso, transferring title of the Louisiana territory from Spain back to France.
1824: the 1824 presidential election this day is sent to the House of Representatives for decision under the terms of the 12th Amendment. Four men ran for the office: General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee; former Senator John Quincy Adams, son of President John Adams and long-serving envoy of the United States; former Senator William H. Crawford of Georgia; and Kentucky Representative Henry Clay, “The Great Compromiser” and Speaker of the House of Representatives. None of the men achieved a majority of Electoral votes, although Jackson received a plurality, with Adams a close second. You would be correct if you thought that between today and the time of the House vote, a great deal of politicking went on; when the vote finally came on February 9th, Adams won on the first ballot.
1829: British Governor-General of India, Lord William Benetick issues an edict that all who abet suttee will be guilty of Culpable Homicide. British administrators in India were disgusted and vexed by the seemingly intractable practice of new widows being burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyre. Nearly thirty years later, General Charles Napier, serving as Commander-in-Chief India, was quoted with a thought that should remain front and center when arguments move towards multi-culturalism and political correctness: “You say that it is your custom to burn widows. Very well. We also have a custom: when men burn a woman alive, we tie a rope around their necks and we hang them. Build your funeral pyre; beside it, my carpenters will build a gallows. You may follow your custom. And then we will follow ours.”
1864: A few miles south of Nashville, Confederate General John Bell Hood orders his troops into a frontal assault into entrenched Union positions on the high ground just outside the town of Franklin. Both sides begin the fighting with around 27,000 troops. The Battle of Franklin becomes an unmitigated disaster for Hood, with over 6,200 casualties, 1,750 of whom are killed. Union losses number 189 dead of their 2,300 total casualties. As night fell, the Union forces made an orderly withdrawal into the next layer of Nashville’s defensive works, completely foiling Hood’s strategy of breaking the Union lines.
1872: Around 600 nautical miles west of Portugal, the British merchantman Dei Gratia discovered the brigantine Mary Celeste abandoned, drifting under shortened sail, with no sign of a struggle on board or any damage beyond slightly torn and weathered sails. The ship’s longboat was also missing, and three barrels of its cargo of denatured alcohol were broken open. The ship’s log remained aboard, although the ship’s papers were gone. A prize crew sailed her to Gibraltar, where an Admiralty court tried to make sense of the mystery of her abandonment and the proper disposition of the vessel after her discovery. The story captured the public’s imagination; stories of ghost ships proliferated, including a famous version by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who intentionally mis-spelled her name as Marie Celeste, and added some delicious details, like finding the table still set and food on the plates. The ship continued in service for the next 13 years under 17 different owners, and ended up wrecked on a reef near Port-au-Prince, most likely as part of an insurance fraud scheme.
1874: Birth of the one of the Britain’s greatest, Winston S. Churchill.
1885: The U.S. Patent Offices recognizes Dr Pepper as a commercial drink. It beat Coca-Cola by a year. 10-2-4.
1913: The Nation’s first drive-in gasoline station- designed, owned and operated by the Gulf Refining Company- opens in Pittsburgh. Prior to its opening, gasoline was usually purchased at pharmacies or hardware stores.
1934: A British steam locomotive nicknamed The Flying Scotsman becomes the first steam locomotive to officially be clocked at a speed over 100 mph. Although the train made a cameo appearance on the Island of Sodor with Thomas the Tank Engine, it only showed up on television in the person of its double tender configuration. The machine is maintained in operational condition at Britain’s National Railway Museum in Yorkshire.
1935: Birth of professional neurotic, as well as a movie-maker, Woody Allen.
1955: Civil Rights activist Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on the bus, and is subsequently arrested. Her run-in with white authorities was not the first of its kind, but it was carefully designed* to force a confrontation and to present the problem of segregation to a national stage. It succeeded, sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott in the months that followed.
1959: The Antarctic Treaty is signed by the 12 nations participating in the International Geophysical Year (IGY), opening it for ratification by member states and others who will abide by its provisions. Antarctica remains the only land mass on the planet that is considered non-sovereign, and thus is part and parcel of the Global Commons- the regions of earth and space that, by belonging to no-one, are free to be used and exploited by everyone. The other Commons are the high seas (including the airspace over the high seas), exo-atmospheric space, and increasingly, the realm of cyber-space. The latter presents some complications, as it does not exist with the physical realm, and is dependent on engineering protocols and physical equipment** to function. One of the interesting questions in this regard is whether the State in which a server operates bears liability for the data that passes through the server.
1990: Napoleon Bonaparte’s cross-Channel dream comes true as “Chunnel” drilling machines from France and England meet 120 feet under the seabed of the English Channel (ou La Manche, si vous preferez).