1276: Augsburg is declared an Imperial Free City. It went on to become home to the Fugger banking empire and a significant mercantile and university industry. It is the only city in Germany to have its own legal holiday, celebrating the Peace of Augsburg on August 8th every year.
1394: Birth in Lisbon of a boy who grew to become Prince Henry the Navigator (d.1460). After a career of guiding Portuguese seamen around the coast of Africa, he died 32 years before the seaborne discovery of Columbus.
1475: Birth of the most prolific of all the great Renaissance Masters, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (d.1564). Known as Michelangelo, was an Italian sculptor, painter, architect, and poet of the High Renaissance. Born in the Republic of Florence, his work was inspired by models from classical antiquity and had a lasting influence on Western art.
1493: Christopher Columbus arrives in Lisbon aboard his carrack Nina, thus completing his first of three voyages of discovery to the New World.
1496: With news of Christopher Columbus’ recent discoveries spreading throughout Europe, English King Henry VII issues a letter of patent to Venetian sea captain Giovanni Caboto, anglicized to John Cabot, authorizing him to explore unknown lands in the name of the Crown. Making three voyages westward from the northern latitudes of England, he is acknowledged as the first European to set foot on the North American continent since the Viking Lief Ericson nearly five hundred years earlier.
1512: Birth of Gerardus Mercator (d.1594), the Flemish cartographer best known for his development of a projection of the earth’s surface that allows for straight-line plotting of a rhumb line course across the oceans. It’s a real problem to try to accurately present a spherical surface on a flat sheet of paper, and the Mercator projection provided an effective solution that is still in use today.
1519: Hernando Cortez lands in Mexico, looking for Aztec gold. The Spanish conquistador led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire and brought large portions of what is now mainland Mexico under the rule of the King of Castile in the early 16th century. Cortés was part of the generation of Spanish explorers and conquistadors who began the first phase of the Spanish colonization of the Americas.
1702: Birth of Anne Bonney (d. circa 1733) an Irish-American pirate operating in the Caribbean, and one of the few female pirates in recorded history. What little that is known of her life comes largely from Captain Charles Johnson’s 1724 book A General History of the Pyrates. Bonny was born in Ireland around 1700 and moved to London and then to the Province of Carolina when she was about 10 years old. Around 1718 she married sailor James Bonny, assumed his last name, and moved with him to Nassau in the Bahamas, a sanctuary for pirates. It was there that she met Calico Jack Rackham and became his pirate partner and lover. She was captured alongside Rackham and Mary Read in October 1720. All three were sentenced to death, but Bonny and Read had their executions stayed because both of them were pregnant. Read died of a fever in jail in April 1721 (likely due to complications from the pregnancy), but Bonny’s fate is unknown.
1726: Birth of Admiral Richard Howe, brother of General Sir William Howe. The siblings commanded the British navy and army forces respectively during the opening hostilities of the American Revolution. Admiral Howe was nominally sympathetic to the American cause. When a peace initiative with the Continental Congress failed, he resigned his commission, but it was not accepted before the French Revolution broke out in 1789, and Howe was assigned to command the Channel Fleet. He led several notable victories against the French, but his greatest victory came at home, when he almost single-handedly ended the Great Mutiny in 1797. His swarthy complexion earned him the nickname of “Black Dick” Howe.
1770: In Boston, British troops fire on a group of protesters, killing five of them, including a young boy and a black freeman named Crispus Attackus. Of note during the subsequent trial was their defense lawyer, noted Bostonian John Adams, cousin of the rabble-rouser revolutionary instigator Samuel Adams and one of the leading lights of the soon-to-be widespread revolution against British rule in the American colonies. It didn’t take long for the event to be memorialized as the Boston Massacre, in the process becoming a cultural touch point for the larger revolutionary movement.
1776: The Continental Navy’s Continental Marines storm ashore in Nassau, Bahamas, under the command of Captain Samuel Nicholas (DLH 11/10). The attack is the Marines’ first amphibious assault. No surprise, they successfully occupied Nassau, spending two weeks loading British guns and powder into the little Navy fleet. For some reason the island’s governor, who so hospitably did not offer significant resistance to the Americans, complained later that the American officers drank their way through the occupation, completely draining his liquor supply.
1776: Fortified by the dramatic and unexpected arrival of artillery from Fort Ticonderoga, General George Washington captures Dorchester Heights, thus dominating the British-occupied port of Boston. Realizing the weakness of their now-untenable position, the British returned control of the city to its citizens and begin a strategic withdrawal to New York.
1820: President James Monroe signs into law the Missouri Compromise, passed after months of bitter debate in both the House and Senate. As a political compromise, it did not meet any party’s view of actually solving the festering problem of slavery’s expansion into the new territories of the Louisiana Purchase. The terms of this law prohibited slavery in the western Territories north of 36-30N, except for Missouri, which would be admitted to the Union as a slave state, balancing the concurrent admission of Maine as a free state. Thomas Jefferson despised the compromise: “I considered it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed indeed for the moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence. A geographical line, coinciding with a marked principle, moral and political, once conceived and held up to the angry passions of men, will never be obliterated; and every new irritation will mark it deeper and deeper.” Debate quickly shifted to Kansas-Nebraska divide, highlighted over the next thirty years by sporadic violence and hardening positions between Northern abolitionists and Southern slaveholders. Congress would engage again with the Compromise of 1850 (which we’ll read about later in due DLH-time), but the new nation’s march toward civil war would continue apace.
1836: Death of William Travis, James Bowie, Davy Crockett, and 184 other brave Texans, after 13 days of siege of the Alamo mission-fortress, by the Mexican army under President General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna. Travis’s plea for help riveted the nation and led to the rallying cry of “Remember the Alamo!” that finally swept Mexican forces out of the Texas territory and back south of the Rio Grande.
1841: The United States Supreme Court rules that the West Africans who mutinied and captured their ship Amistad were enslaved illegally. The case was a huge step forward for the abolitionist movement in the U.S.
1847: Birth of Scottish-American inventor Alexander Graham Bell (d.1922). Bell is credited with patenting the first practical telephone. He also co-founded the American Telephone and Telegraph (AT&T) Company in 1885.
1857: The U.S. Supreme Court, under Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, rules in the Dred Scott Case, agreeing that:
1) Persons of African descent are not citizens of the United States, therefore the slave Dred Scott had no standing in the court;
2) Property rights are not automatically relinquished crossing jurisdictions. As such, Congress cannot ban slavery in the territories (voiding the Missouri Compromise), and;
3) The Fifth Amendment prohibits the freeing of slaves brought into federal territories.
The case provides a cautionary note for those legal voluptuaries who believe that the decisions of the Court permanently trump the deliberations and decisions of the legislative branch, and those who would exploit the Court to advance a political agenda that would not stand normal deliberative scrutiny in a legislative debate.
1862: The Confederate ironclad CSS Virginia (ex- USS Merrimack) sorties from the Gosport Navy Yard in Portsmouth and attacks the Union fleet blockading the mouth of the James River. Her first target is USS Cumberland, which she sinks by ramming. Virginia then attacks USS Congress, which puts up a stiff fight, damaging Virginia’s stack and two cannons, but without creating appreciable damage to her iron cladding. Congress’ captain intentionally runs the ship aground and surrenders. While offloading prisoners, a Union shore battery at Newport News Point suddenly opens fire on Virginia. In reply, Virginia fires red-hot shot into the stricken Congress, which explodes and burns to the waterline.
As Virginia begins her transit back to Norfolk for battle damage repairs, she commences a third attack, this time against USS Minnesota, whose captain tried to escape but ran aground on a sandbank. Being late in the day, Virginia left her quarry for the night and continued down the Elizabeth River, with plans to complete the destruction of the Union fleet the next morning. Meanwhile, the newly-commissioned USS Monitor is enroute under tow from New York, and about to enter the Chesapeake at Cape Charles.
1862: Fresh from her shocking destruction of the Union blockading fleet off of Newport News Point, and with basic battle repairs made overnight, CSS Virginia this morning steams out of the Elizabeth River to finish the job on the remaining Union ships anchored off of Newport News. But unknown to the crew of Confederate ironclad, the even-more radical USS Monitor had already raised steam off of Fort Monroe and sortied to protect the damaged USS Minnesota and the rest of the Union fleet from their terrifying new nemesis. A gun battle raged between the two ironclads for four hours, with neither ship doing appreciable harm to the other. Late in the battle, Virginia scored a hit on Monitor’s pilot house, blinding her captain, Lieutenant John Worden. Command passed to his XO, Lieutenant Samuel Green, who turned the ship back to continue the fight. Virginia, for her part, was constrained by falling tide to break off her attack on Minnesota, and opted to return to Norfolk for rest and repairs. Monitor, under orders to protect Minnesota, did not pursue the Confederate ship. The battle, watched by thousands on the Hampton Roads shorelines, was the world’s first clash of iron-armored warships. It ended with neither ship decisively victorious. Neither ship engaged in combat again, although Virginia made several defiant sorties over the next few weeks in an attempt to lure Monitor into another fight. As Union forces advanced on Norfolk in May, 1862, the crew of Virginia stripped her of her cannons, ran her aground on the flats at Craney Island, and blew her to smithereens. USS Monitor sank off of Cape Hatteras the following December, enroute to further blockading duty in the Carolinas.
1890: The longest bridge in Great Britain (at 1710 feet), the Forth Railway Bridge in Scotland, is opened by the Prince of Wales, who later became King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.
1895: Birth of American General Matthew Ridgway (d.1993), best remembered for his command of U.S. 8thArmy in Korea, where he revitalized a demoralized and retreating army and put them on the attack against the communist onslaught from the North. When General MacArthur was relieved of command by President Truman in the Spring of 1951, Ridgway was awarded his fourth star and took over as Supreme Commander of the UN forces engaged in Korea.
1905: In an attempt to build on his assassinated predecessor’s reforms, and to placate nascent agitation by unionists and communists, Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II agrees to create a representative legislature, the Duma.
1912: The National Biscuit Company introduces the Oreo cookie to the mass market.
1916: Mexican gang leader Pancho Villa leads 500 caballeros on a raid into Columbus, New Mexico.
1918: Only months after completing their overthrow of the Tsar, the new communist government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics sues for peace with the Central Powers and signs the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, ending Russian participation in the Great War. Party Leader Vladimir Lenin and his henchmen thence turn their attention to waging war on their own people.
1924: In the early 18th Century scrambling to supplant Venice as the principal Adriatic seaport, the Sultan in 1719 granted Fiume status as a Free State within the Empire. The city’s status rose and fell periodically during the Ottoman period, the political agitation was often aided and abetted by Italy, particularly after the 1870-era unification. At the close of the Great War, the Paris Peace Conference delegates, working under the guidance of President Wilson’s 14 Points, pressed forward with the dismemberment of Ottoman territories in the Balkans based on the concept of national self-determination. Fiume almost immediately became a flashpoint. Since “nationalism” in the Balkan context depended on language, the three spoken languages of Fiume did nothing to solve the issue. Neither did Italian nationalism, Italian Fascism, Croat nationalism, Serb nationalism, “native” Fiume communism and a number of other lesser, but similarly high-strung interests. For five years, the status of Fiume was debated, settled, debated again, and settled again until on this day, Italian Fascists staged a coup d’état that overthrew what passed for a government, and asked for Italian military intervention and annexation by Italy. The city-state was actually annexed by Yugoslavia, and its name changed to its native Croat title, Rijeka.
1925: Calvin Coolidge becomes the first President to have his inauguration broadcast over radio.
1934: Birth of Yuri Gagarin (d.1968). In 1961, the Soviet cosmonaut became the first human to “slip the surly bonds of earth” and orbit our planet in the vacuum of space. He died under mysterious circumstances in 1968. The Soviet Union wouldn’t release information on his death.
1938: After five years of dry holes, Standard Oil of California finally discovers oil near Dahran in Saudi Arabia. The American oil consortium who did the exploration and development of the oil industry there went through several iterations, finally becoming the Arabian-American Oil Company, more commonly known as Aramco.
1946: Hanoi native, anti-Japanese guerrilla, anti-colonial nationalist, and nascent communist dictator Ho Chi Minh signs an agreement with the exhausted and soon-to-be-post-colonial French government, confirming Vietnam as an autonomous state within the Indochinese Federation and the larger French Union. Postwar, Ho commences a reinvigorated guerrilla campaign to forcibly evict France from this now former colony.
1951: Opening arguments in the treason trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were an American couple who spied for the Soviet Union. They provided top-secret information about American radar, sonar, jet propulsion engines, and valuable nuclear weapon designs.
1959: Birth of Barbie, the fashion doll, designed by Charlotte Johnson. 64 years and 1,000,000,000 (+) sales later, she remains Mattel Inc.’s most profitable line of business.
1981: Long-time CBS Radio and television correspondent Walter Cronkite, signs off on his last broadcast of the CBS Evening News.
2005: Adventurer and aviation pioneer Steve Fossett (1944-2007) lands at the old Air Force base in Salina, Kansas, to complete the world’s first solo, non-stop, unrefueled powered flight around the world, 67 hours,1 min 13 seconds after takeoff from that same 12,300 foot runway. The plane was a carbon-fiber wonder designed and built by the great Burt Rutan.
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