37 A.D.: Caligula becomes Emperor of the Roman Empire upon the death of his great uncle, Tiberius.
44BC: Julius Caesar, dictator of the Roman Republic, is stabbed to death** by a cabal of Roman senators. According to Plutarch, Caesar was warned by a seer to be on his guard against a great peril on the Ides of March. On his way to the Theater of Pompey (where he would be assassinated), Caesar saw the seer and joked, “Well, the Ides of March have come,” to which the seer replied, “Ay, they have come, but they are not gone.”
460 A.D.: Death of Patrick* of Ireland. Patrick was son of a deacon and grandson of a priest in Roman Britain. He was kidnapped by Irish brigands when he was 16, and was held as a slave in the western part of the island, until the voice of a dream [funny- my fingers originally wrote “dram”] told him to escape back to Britain and take orders as a priest. He did, and after a time he saw another vision, this time imploring him to return to Ireland to spread the Gospel. Patrick did his holy work among the pagan Celts, preaching and converting to Christianity people of all classes and stations. He used the shamrock as an aid to teach the doctrine of the Trinity, he baptized thousands of people, ordained priests, converted wealthy women and the sons of royalty. He lead what became the first bloodless conversion of essentially an entire people to Christianity. March 17s celebration of his life began as a feast day in the early 17th century, was first celebrated in the New World in Boston in 1737. The day also served as a one-day respite from Lent, the forty-day period of fasting.
624: The Muslim army of Medina defeats the Quraysh of Mecca, an improbable victory credited to either divine intervention or the genius of Mohammad.
1314: Death of Jacques de Molay (b.1243), the 23rd and last Grand Master of the Knights Templar, burned at the stake. The Templars were a monastic military order that grew out of the First Crusade’s conquest of Jerusalem in 1096. Within a few years, Christian pilgrims again began arriving in the city, and two knights of the Crusade, Hughes de Payens and Godfrey de Saint-Omer proposed establishing a monastic order that could protect them. They established their headquarters in what is now the Al Asqa mosque, which they called the Temple of Solomon, built on the ruins of the original temple, and from which they derived their name. The order quickly grew and was recognized by the Pope in 1129. For nearly 200 years the Templars epitomized knightly Crusading virtues, in addition to growing very wealthy*. Templar orders throughout Europe began functioning as banks, and because of the financial hold they had over many of the royal houses in Europe, and the secrecy of their proceedings, their power began to be seen as a serious political threat. By 1306, King Philip IV of France, deeply in debt to the Templars as a result of his wars with England, began a systematic campaign to destroy the order. In concert with Philip, Pope Clement ordered all Christian monarchs to arrest the Orders and seize their assets. Philip devised a secret plan to arrest every Templar in France, including de Molay, and carried it out in a massive nighttime raid on Friday, the 13th of October 1307. The Templars were charged with numerous acts, including apostasy, idolatry, heresy, obscene rituals, homosexuality, financial corruption, fraud and secrecy. Under torture, many confessed their alleged crimes, and after torture, most recanted. Those who recanted were burned at the stake for relapsing into apostasy. The elderly de Molay, who had confessed only under torture, eventually retracted his statement. His associate, the Preceptor of Normandy, followed de Molay’s example and insisted on his innocence. Both men were declared guilty of being relapsed heretics, and they were sentenced to be burned alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314. De Molay reportedly remained defiant to the end, asking to be tied in such a way that he could face the Notre Dame Cathedral and hold his hands together in prayer. According to legend, he called out from the flames that both Pope Clement and King Philip would soon meet him before God. Pope Clement died only a month later, and King Philip died in a hunting accident before the end of the year. Templar wealth was a mystery to European society of the time, and rumors abounded that they had made common cause with the Satan, or that they found the lost treasure of Solomon, which they guarded at their closed monastery on the Temple Mount. Further, the sudden disappearance of the Templars after 1307 only added fuel to the suspicion that they had moved underground into a secret society, an urban legend not dissipated by the 17th century rise of Masonic orders who explicitly adopted much of the symbolism and secret rituals attached to the Templars.
1521: Three-quarters of the way around his historic circumnavigation, Ferdinand Magellan lands in the Philippines.
1621: Only a few months into their colonial experience, the Pilgrim settlers of Plymouth, Massachusetts are startled by the appearance of an Abenaki Indian who walks boldly into their encampment and greets them with, “Welcome, Englishmen! My name is Samoset.”
1751: Birth of James Madison.
1766: British parliament repeals the Stamp Act.
1776: South Carolina becomes the first colony to declare independence from Great Britain by establishing its own government.
1776: British forces complete their evacuation of Boston after George Washington’s stunning capture of Dorchester Heights a week prior. The event is celebrated in Boston as Evacuation Day.
1781: Battle of Guilford Courthouse. Near Greensboro, North Carolina a short (90 minutes) sharp battle between 1,900 British Regulars under General Cornwallis against 4,000 Continental soldiers under General Nathaneal Greene. Because of ground lost (and held) the battle was a technical loss for the Americans. But with a quarter of the British force suffering casualties, it was a classic Pyrrhic victory, prompting Whig party leader James Fox to declare, “Another such victory would ruin the British army.” Greene and his forces move south into South Carolina to un-do the earlier work of Cornwallis’ & Tarleton’s armies. Convinced he was still winning the war, Cornwallis advances into Virginia, where he eventually sets up his headquarters in Yorktown.
1802: Alarmed by continuing threats from British Canada, Congress authorizes the establishment of a military academy at West Point, New York.
1813: Birth of David Livingstone (d.1873), I presume.
1815: Prince Wilhelm of the house of Orange-Nassau, proclaims himself King of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, becoming the first constitutional monarch in the Low Countries. You would be correct it you reasoned that this proclamation came as a result of much diplomatic wheeling and dealing that accompanied the demise of France’s Napoleonic empire. Until they were conquered by Napoleon, the region was part of the Hapsburg Empire- as the Austrian Netherlands- and was often a pawn in the dynastic wars of the previous 300 years.
1845: A patent is issued to Stephen Perry of London, for the rubber band.
1850: Henry Wells and William Fargo start a new stagecoach line, called American Express.
1853: Death of Christian Doppler (b.1803). The Austrian mathematician and physicist is best known for his theory that the frequency of waves depends on the relative speed of the source and the observer. In astronomy this is known as a “red shift” (receding) or “blue shift” (approaching) in the motion of stars, and is at the heart of the Big Bang theory of a constantly expanding universe.
1858: Birth of Rudolf Diesel (d.1913). Born in Paris to a German family living in France, his family emigrated to London at the breakout of the Franco-Prussian war. After again emigrating back to Germany, the young Diesel at age 12 decided to become an engineer. He obviously did well in the discipline. Interestingly, besides inventing the internal combustion cycle that bears his name, his disappearance off of an English steamer at sea in September of 1913 remains an unsolved mystery.
1863: The new Confederate raider and blockade runner SS Georgiana is destroyed on the night of her first run out of Charleston harbor. Built in Scotland, she is designed for speed with heavily raked masts, auxiliary steam propulsion, and a deep hold for cargo. She is also pierced for 14 guns to act as a privateer once clear of the Union blockade. After her loss, rumors abound about 300 gold bars lost in the wreckage, which is quickly buried by the shifting sands of the barrier islands.
1865:Battle of Bentonville, NC, the last major engagement between the Union army of William Tecumseh Sherman and the Confederates of Joe Johnson. The fight lasted through the night of the 21st, when Johnson pulled back his battered remnants across Mill Creek, burning the bridge behind him. Both armies subsequently worked their way northward toward Virginia in an attempt to join up with their respective commanders, U.S. Grant and Robert E. Lee.
1916: General John J. Pershing leads the 7th and 10th Cavalry Regiments across the border into Mexico in pursuit of Pancho Villa.
1917: Czar Nicholas II of Russia abdicates the throne in favor of his youngest brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail. With a provisional revolutionary government already consolidating power, the Grand Duke declines the honor until it can be ratified by the Duma, which itself declines to retain the monarchy. This period is known as the “February Revolution,” and marks the end of over 300 years of the Romanov dynasty.
1918: The geniuses in Congress authorize “Daylight Savings Time.”
1920: The actual geniuses in the U.S. Senate decisively reject- for the second time- the Treaty of Versailles.
1926: Robert Goddard launches the world’s first liquid-fueled rocket in Auburn, Massachusetts.
1931: Gambling is legalized in Nevada.
1940: German Furher Adolf Hitler and Italian Duce Benito Mussolini meet at the Brenner Pass to form the Pact of Steel against France and Great Britain.
1944: Just outside the city of bella Napoli, Mount Vesuvius erupts, killing 26 and sending thousands into panic.
1965: The wreck of SS Georgina is found and positively identified by salvage diver E. Lee Spence. He recovers many interesting artifacts from the wreckage, but no gold. The remains of the hull are in water shallow enough to be visited with only a snorkel.
1966: Launch of Gemini 8, the 12th U.S. manned spaceflight, and the first to rendezvous and dock with another spacecraft, the Agena, and the first spaceflight to abort due to an in-flight emergency while in orbit. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott noticed attitude control problems shortly after docking with the Agena, exacerbated by a rapid depletion of fuel for their thrusters. Un-docking from the Agena, their Gemini capsule then began an un-commanded roll, which Armstrong was initially able to stop with opposite thrusters. But as soon as he released the controls, thruster #8 began firing continuously on its own, sending the spacecraft into violent gyrations that threatened to incapacitate the crew. Armstrong’s steely test pilot nerves took over, and he shut off the orbital maneuvering system and brought the spacecraft back under control with the re-entry system. NASA ordered an immediate de-orbit, and the flight ended with a splashdown in the Pacific secondary recovery zone, around 500 miles east of Okinawa instead of the prime recovery zone in the Western Atlantic. Their coolness under extreme pressure was key to their selection as commanders of Apollo 11 (Armstrong) and Apollos 9 & 15 (Scott).
1968:The U.S. Congress repeals the requirement for a gold reserve to back U.S. currency.
1969: Golda Meir is seated as the first female Prime Minister of the State of Israel.
1982: Argentine forces invade the Falkland Islands, triggering a war with the United Kingdom.