69 A.D.: Roman Legions in Germania Superior (present-day Alsace region) refuse to swear allegiance to the Emperor Galba, instead casting their support for the accession of Vitellius, whose short reign (April-December of this year) made him the third in a uniquely turbulent period of Roman history known as The Year of Four Emperors, all of whom were powerful generals, and all vying for control of the post-Nero Roman throne by the power of the armies they commanded in the far-flung provinces of the Empire.
406 AD: Traditional date for the beginning of the great Barbarian invasion of the Roman Empire, with waves of Vandals, Alans and Suebians crossing the un-bridged but frozen Rhine River to begin a massive campaign of pillage along a broad front of Roman Gaul.
1229: James I of Aragon enters the port city of Palma de Majorca, completing the reconquista of the Baleric Islands from the invading Moors of North Africa.
1527: The city government of Zurich arrests Felix Manz, co-founder of the Swiss Brethren Anabaptist movement (precursors to the Mennonites), and finds him guilty of heresy by his refusal to recant his demand for adult re-baptism after conversion. On this day he suffers the prescribed punishment for the offense: death by drowning. The city authorities truss up his arms behind his back, tying them to a long stick lashed to his legs. They then row out into Lake Zurich and throw him over the side to his watery fate. Once dead, Zurich confiscated all his property, and buried his body in a local cemetery. Manz becomes the first martyr of the Radical Reformation, the movement that believed the Reformation was not moving fast enough or far enough. The irony of his death at the hands of other Protestants should not be lost.
1600: Queen Elizabeth I grants a Royal Charter to “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading with the East Indies” better known today as the British East India Company. As a measure of its political power (and its potential for conflict), the charter awarded a monopoly on all trade with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope and west of the Strait of Magellan. The estimable Wikipedia summarizes the bottom line: “Any traders, in breach of the charter without a license from the Company, were liable to forfeiture of their ships and cargo (half of which went to the Crown and the other half to the Company), as well as imprisonment at the ‘royal pleasure’.” The traders of the Netherlands, France, Portugal and Spain did not see eye-to-eye with this assertion of these particular trading rights. You probably also recognized that a commercial entity of this magnitude would soon press against the technological limits of existing ocean navigation, and the legal limits of unbridled global competition for markets.
1642: England’s King Charles I, disgusted and concerned about the restiveness of his increasingly recalcitrant Parliament, surrounds himself with soldiers and enters into the Chamber to arrest key Members, all of whom slipped away before the arrest could be made. The act infuriated a broad swath of the nobility and the larger body politic, and is widely considered the opening act of the English Civil War.
1687: The first organized group of approximately 180-200 French Huguenots, fleeing the continuing religious persecution of Cardinal Richelieu and the Edict of Fountainebleau, set sail for the Cape of Good Hope, where they are warmly welcomed by their coreligionist Dutch settlers in the Cape Colony. They eventually settle in the area of West Cape in an area quickly known as le Coin Francais (i.e., the French Quarter) and within a generation, Franschhoek, the Dutch version of the same name. Not surprisingly, the region is one of South Africa’s premier wine districts, with many places retaining their original francophone place names.
1759: Irish brewer Arthur Guinness begins commercial production of a particularly robust dark ale from his brewery in St. James’ Gate, Dublin.
1759: Virginia planter and surveyor George Washington exchanges nuptial vows with Martha Dandridge Custis.
1772: The world’s first traveler’s cheques, are issued by the London Credit Exchange Company, for use in 90 cities in Continental Europe.
1773: First use in public worship of the venerable and lovely hymn, Amazing Grace, sung in the parish of its author, the Reverend John Newton, in Olney, England.
1775: The Battle of Quebec. Fought by an American army under the command of General Richard Montgomery and supported by Colonel Benedict Arnold, who had just completed an astonishing forced march through the Maine wilderness with about 1,100 veterans of the Siege of Boston, 600 of whom completed the arduous trek . The two forces combined at the base of the city walls, and on this night initiate an attack on the fortified British Canadian redoubt of Quebec, with the intention of driving the British away from the Saint Lawrence River and claiming Canadian lands for the nascent United States. The night attack in a blinding snowstorm seemed like a good idea, and might have even worked if the plan wasn’t betrayed to the British garrison, who set up a devastating ambuscade that shattered any hope for a concentrated offense. 34 Americans were killed, including General Montgomery, and another 50 wounded and 431 captured, against 19 casualties for the British, who not only successfully defended their position, but also captured virtually the entire American force, keeping them out of the fight for the remainder of the hostilities.
1776: Incensed by his being run out of his royal colonial capitol in Williamsburg, John Murray, the 4th Lord Dunmore and last Royal Governor of Virginia, orders the three ships of his refugee fleet to set fire to the waterfront buildings of Norfolk, Virginia. Using heated shot, the mission was a complete success, made even more successful by rebel forces finishing the job to prevent the seaport’s continued use by royalist forces. By the end of the day, virtually the entire city had burned to ashes. One of the few buildings that remained standing after the fire was Saint Paul’s Church, whose three-foot thick masonry walls simply absorbed the shot and withstood the flames all around. One of Lord Dunmore’s cannonballs remains lodged in a corner wall of the church, where you can visit it today.
1777: Building on his recent Christmas Eve success at Trenton, the Continental Army under General George Washington attacks and decisively defeats British Regulars at the Battle of Princeton (NJ). The battle is notable for two points in particular:
1) Washington himself, fearlessly rallying his faltering militia troops under withering fire until they slashed their way into the thick of the British contingent, shattering their effectiveness;
2) The post-battle decision by Lord Cornwallis to abandon southern New Jersey and fall back into the safety of New York.
Although Great Britain considered Trenton and Princeton as only minor losses, they in fact invigorated the army and citizens of the nascent American republic into believing the war could be won.
1778: Birth of explorer Zebulon Pike (d.1813), the American brigadier general and explorer for whom Pikes Peak in Colorado was named. As a U.S. Army officer he led two expeditions under authority of President Thomas Jefferson through the Louisiana Purchase territory, first in 1805–1806 to reconnoiter the upper northern reaches of the Mississippi River, and then in 1806–1807 to explore the southwest to the fringes of the northern Spanish-colonial settlements of New Mexico and Texas. Pike’s expeditions coincided with other Jeffersonian expeditions, including the Lewis and Clark Expedition and the Red River Expedition in 1806.
1781: The Pennsylvania contingent of the Continental Army, suffering in winter quarters near Morristown, New Jersey, mutinies against its officers and General “Mad” Anthony Wayne over not only the dire living conditions in camp, but also for the failure of Pennsylvania legislature to provide current and adequate pay and some positive indication concerning the legal status of their enlistments, whose supposed three-year term was long expired. Other regiments sent in to suppress the insurrection agreed with their grievances and instead of suppressing, joined them instead. And here’s an interesting twist: during negotiations between the mutineers and Pennsylvania authorities, British Commanding General Sir Henry Clinton sent over an emissary who offered immediate full back pay to the Americans if they would join forces with the British army. Clinton, however, mis-judged the nature of the Continentals: they arrested the British delegation and sent them packing with the message that there was no way they would defect to the British side. By the end of the month, enlistment contracts were re-negotiated and the regiment marched to Trenton, where they were either discharged with back pay or re-enlisted for a $20 bounty. The Pennsylvania Line Mutiny was by far the most dangerous insurrection of the entire war, but its conclusion reinforced the resolve of Americans continuing fight for independence. Two of the formerly mutinous and re-formed Pennsylvania regiments participated in General Washington’s siege and victory at Yorktown, Virginia in October.
1795: Death of Josiah Wedgwood (b.1730), the British potter who pioneered not only the use of high-quality glazes on his works, but also direct marketing and factory production of his product lines. He was also a prominent abolitionist whose efforts laid much of the groundwork for the ultimately successful efforts of William Wilberforce in 1807.
1804: After a vicious uprising against their French masters, and supported in part by the infant United States, the former plantation colony of Haiti declares its independence from France, becoming the Western Hemisphere’s second independent state and the first one governed as a free black republic.
1809: Birth of Louis Braille (d.1852), blinded in an accident as a child, Braille developed an alternative alphabet that enabled the blind to “read” with their sense of touch.
1823: Continuing the former Spanish government’s policy of emprasario land grants to encourage colonization of its Texas territory, the newly independent government of Mexico renews the grant of the late Moses Austin, in the name of his son, Stephen F. Austin. Austin receives title to a huge swath of land between San Antonio and the Gulf coast on the condition he will bring at least 300 families with him. He does, and The Old 300 become the leading edge of a flood of American immigrants into the Texas territory.
1857: Britain’s Queen Victoria, easing her Canadian subjects towards a velvety independence from the Mother Country, selects the trading village of Ottawa as the capital of the British Dominion of Canada. It’s still the capital, and still an active trading city, but the trade is now mostly with those pesky Yanks south of the border.
1862: President Abraham Lincoln signs an enabling act that admits West Virginia into the Union as a Free State.
1863: Three months after announcing his intent to do so, President Abraham Lincoln signs the Emancipation Proclamation, legally freeing slaves from their servitude in the states still in rebellion on this date.
1870: Construction begins on the Brooklyn Bridge. In a time of engineering superlatives, the Brooklyn Bridge set the standard for greatness. It remained the longest single span suspension bridge for twenty years after its opening.
1879: Inventor Thomas Alva Edison publicly demonstrates the incandescent light bulb in his Menlo Park laboratory.
1833: Great Britain re-asserts its sovereignty over the Falkland Islands by landing a permanent colonizing population.
1884: In London, founding of the Fabian Society, a collection of intellectuals who sought to create a socialist society by all means short of violent revolution. The named themselves after the Roman General Fabius, who used delaying tactics and attrition to wear down and defeat Carthaginian General Hannibal. The Fabians function as a left-wing think tank today, closely aligned with Britain’s Labour Party.
1885: Twenty-five industrialized nations adopt the concept of “standard time,” which we now know as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or “Zulu” time, from which all other clock times are derived, basing their local times on the concurrent establishment of 24 time zones world-wide.
1890: The city of Pasadena, California, hosts its first Tournament of Roses Parade.
1895: A French court-martial finds Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus guilty of espionage, strips him of his rank and sentences him to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. See ‘The Dreyfus Affair’. He was eventually fully exonerated.
1895: Birth of the pioneering aeronautical engineer and industrialist Leroy Grumman (d.1989) whose company built some of the most legendary aircraft in U.S. Navy history, including the F-6F Hellcat of WWII fame, and the A-6 Intruder and F-14 Tomcat that spearheaded Naval Aviation during the Cold War. The planes’ reputation for toughness earned them the nickname “Grumman Ironworks.”
1903: Death of Topsy the Elephant (b.(c)1870), electrocuted by Thomas Edison, using alternating current (part of the AC-DC “electricity wars” at the dawn of the electrical age). The circus elephant had in the preceding year killed three men and grievously wounded another, and the circus was concerned how to safely put her down. Edison fed her a dose of 460 grams of potassium cyanide prior to sending 6,600 volts of electricity into her. She died in seconds, witnessed by around 1,500 people. Edison also made a short movie of the event, which can be found online.
1904: Death of Confederate General James Longstreet (b.1821).
1907: The first public New Year’s Eve celebration is held in the former Longacre Square in the middle of Manhattan.
1909: Birth of Arizona Senator and 1964 Republican Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater (d.1998). An unapologetic conservative, particularly when it came to the Cold War, he was viciously lambasted by the Democrats as an “extremist” in foreign policy and by extension, domestic policy as well. His retort still rings true: “Extremism in defense of Liberty is no vice!” Lyndon Johnson’s campaign countered with the infamous “Daisy” commercial, in which a sweet little girl in a meadow full of daisies is the victim of a nuclear attack, launched on America by a Soviet leadership unduly agitated by Goldwater’s pugnacious rhetoric. Goldwater lost in a crushing landslide, but continued in the Senate as a distinguished elder statesman.
1909: The South American nation of Columbia recognizes the independence of its breakaway province, Panama.
1914: Industrialist Henry Ford announces that Ford Motor Company will initiate an 8-hour work day, with a minimum wage of $5.00 per day.
1914: Birth of George Reeves (d.1959), made famous for his role as Superman in the tv series.
1919: At the Paris Peace Conference in Versailles, where the newly victorious Allies were busy carving up the spoils of the shattered Ottoman Empire, Emir Faisal, king of Greater Syria and Iraq, signs an agreement with the head of the Zionist movement, Chaim Weizmann, supporting Zionist efforts to create a Jewish homeland on the Mediterranean coast of Palestine. This remarkable document suggests that the current troubles in that benighted region may not have been inevitable. The estimable Wikipedia extracted some key quotes, appended below:
“The Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement. Our deputation here in Paris is fully acquainted with the proposals submitted yesterday by the Zionist Organization to the Peace Conference, and we regard them as moderate and proper.” (Letter by Emir Faisal to Felix Frankfurter, March 1919)
“The two main branches of the Semitic family, Arabs and Jews, understand one another, and I hope that as a result of interchange of ideas at the Peace Conference, which will be guided by ideals of self-determination and nationality, each nation will make definite progress towards the realization of its aspirations. Arabs are not jealous of Zionist Jews, and intend to give them fair play and the Zionist Jews have assured the Nationalist Arabs of their intention to see that they too have fair play in their respective areas. Turkish intrigue in Palestine has raised jealousy between the Jewish colonists and the local peasants, but the mutual understanding of the aims of Arabs and Jews will at once clear away the last trace of this former bitterness, which, indeed, had already practically disappeared before the war by the work of the Arab Secret Revolutionary Committee, which in Syria and elsewhere laid the foundation of the Arab military successes of the past two years.”
1933: Construction begins on the Golden Gate Bridge, connecting San Francisco to Marin County, California.
1951: After a four year expenditure of just under $13,000,000.000.00 on rebuilding the business and infrastructure needs of the shattered societies of Western Europe, the European Recovery Program, a.k.a. the Marshall Plan, is terminated.
1964: Birth of Norfolk native Pernel “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, recently named as #10 in a list of the 100 greatest boxers of all time.
1965: President Lyndon B. Johnson gives his State of the Union speech, in which he announces a legislative program he dubs “The Great Society.” Johnson insisted this massive expansion of federal social programs could be accomplished simultaneously with massive expansion of U.S. engagement in the Vietnam War, a guns-AND-butter decision that set the country on an unsustainable financial course that now appears to be reaching the end of its viability.
1968: First flight of the Tupolev TU-144 Charger supersonic transport aircraft. Its basic design echoed the Anglo-French Concorde, but in typical Russian fashion, the machine’s designers met their most intractable problems with predictable brute force, including a massive steel plate shielding the underbody from runway debris. After its 1977 commercial introduction, the plane saw the majority of its service on the domestic Moscow-Vladivostok run, which makes sense if your country is 11 time zones wide. It had a miserable mishap rate and pathetic reliability record, which only hastened its commercial demise in 1983 after only 55 (yes**) paying flights. As a point of reference, the Concorde dropped its landing gear for the last time in 2003. One of the last flyable TU-144s was offered to NASA & Boeing as a supersonic test bed by an independent contractor. It made 27 flights in 1996-97 before losing funding.
1970: At 00:00:00 GMT, time began for the UNIX computer system. Reminds me of a bit of truth I heard not long ago: “There are 10 kinds of people- those who understand binary, and those who don’t.”
1974: In response to an Arab (OPEC) oil embargo, President Richard Nixon issues an Executive Order mandating a national speed limit of 55 mph in order to “save gas.” Correct: this “Republican” President threatened the Several States with a loss of federal highway funding unless they complied with this short-sighted Good Idea. The “double nickel” was purported to reduce consumption by 2.2% but actual reduction was closer to 0.5%. And although the embargo was lifted after 5 months, the 55 mph limit lived on and on at the behest of the insurance industry, the highway safety lobby and their regulatory henchmen until it was finally rescinded by Congress in 1986.
1983: Formal break-up date for the AT&T – Bell Labs regulated monopoly, an act that freed AT&T to exploit all of its lab work into the burgeoning field of digital telecommunications, to say nothing of personal computing.
1989: Two F-14 Tomcats flying from the USS Nimitz (CVN-68), intercept and shoot down two Libyan MiG-23 Floggers in international airspace over the Gulf of Sidra.
1992: Death of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, USNR (b.1906), one of the visionary thinkers who ushered the U.S. into the computer age. In the early 1950s, she worked on the design team for the original UINVAC 1 system, which included her particular input, a functional compiler, a capability long considered beyond the reach of computing machines. Ten years later, she spearheaded the design and application of COBOL, the first computer language designed around more natural English as opposed to machine language. She retired in 1986, the oldest commissioned officer in the Navy at 79 years of age. USS Hopper (DDG-70) is named in her honor.
1999: Introduction of the EURO as a continent-wide common currency.