1157: Birth of Richard I (d.1199), son of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England. His prowess in battle earned him the nickname of “Lionheart,” usually annotated Coeur de Lion due to his deep French roots.
1492: Italian navigator, Admiral of the Ocean Sea Christopher Columbus departs from La Gomera harbor in the Canary Islands, the last stop before sailing his little fleet of three ships off the edge of the known world.
1504: After three years of labor, the 26-year-old sculptor Michelangelo unveils his rendition of David in the central piazza of Florence. A style note you may not have heard before: the Medici-commissioned statue was positioned such that his warning stare was aiming straight at Rome.
1522: Three years after its departure as part of Ferdinand Magellan’s fleet of exploration, the Spanish ship Victoria makes port in San Lucar de Barrameda, Spain under the command of Sailing Master Juan Sebastian Elcano. He and only 17 others are the sole surviving members from the original five ships and 235 men. They did not originally plan on circumnavigating, but after the dangers and loss of getting their small fleet through the southwest Pacific islands, Elcano chose to continue westward across the Indian Ocean to follow the coast of Africa back to Spain.
1569: Death of the Flemish painter Peter Bruegel the Elder (b.1525), whose work is some of the most interesting you’ll ever see, particularly from this time period. The estimable Wikipedia describes his impact this way: “His earthy, unsentimental but vivid depiction of the rituals of village life—including agriculture, hunts, meals, festivals, dances, and games—are unique windows on a vanished folk culture and a prime source of iconographic evidence about both physical and social aspects of 16th-century life.”
1608: Just a little way upriver from here, John Smith is elected Council President of the Jamestown colony. After the disastrous “starving time” winter of 1607-08, Smith set out on an extensive exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, where he found not only good hunting and fishing grounds, but also extensive trading relationships with many of the Indian tribes who lived and farmed nearby. On his accession to the Council, Smith was adamant that everyone must work- even the “gentlemen”- or they would not eat. His leadership set the colony on the direct path to sustainability and growth.
1620: After completing nominal repairs to the Speedwell in Dartmouth (see DLH 8/5), and again in Plymouth, the Pilgrims finally sell the leaky ship. They crowd into Mayflower and on this day finally depart England, en route to the new Massachusetts Bay Colony.
1698: In a dramatic and widely despised attempt to drag the Russian aristocracy into the modern age, Tsar Peter I imposes a tax on beards: more hair = more tax. Unlike more modern thinkers today, he instinctively understood that when you tax something, there will eventually be less of that something to tax, human nature being what it is.
1754: Birth of William Bligh (d.1817), Royal Navy sailing master under the tutelage of the great Captain James Cook; later commissioned Lieutenant and Commanding Lieutenant in command of HMS Bounty during her ill-fated 1789 voyage to the South Pacific. Bligh was an irascible leader who made up for his deficiencies of personality by the exercise of extraordinary seamanship capabilities. I noted in DLH 4/28 about the 3600-mile post-mutiny journey in an open boat with himself and 18 loyal crew, only one of whom did not survive the six-week transit to Timor. After being exonerated by Court Martial, Bligh was promoted to Post Captain and went on to 10 individual ship commands and two turns as Commodore, retiring as Vice-Admiral of the Blue in 1814.
1757: Birth of the Marquis de Lafayette (d.1834), George Washington’s right-hand man during the Revolutionary War.
1774: In response to the Intolerable Acts passed by Parliament, the First Continental Congress convenes in Philadelphia to debate a collective colonial response. The naming of the acts on both sides of the Atlantic reflected the steadily growing rift between the parties. Parliament referred to the acts as the Coercive Acts, not a friendly title, but reflective of Britain’s exasperation with the independent thinking and latent violence that was infecting her expensive New World colonies, particularly as it related to paying down the debt from the recent Seven Years War. Through the burgeoning Committees of Correspondence throughout the colonies, consensus grew that these Acts had dangerous ramifications for all of British America, not just Boston. There were five of them: 1) Boston Port Act, which closed the port to commerce until the value of the tea ruined by the Boston Tea Party was repaid in full; 2) Massachusetts Government Act, which unilaterally changed the status of all government positions from elected to appointed by the Governor or the King and severely limited the activities of Town Meetings; 3) Administration of Justice Act, permitted moving trials of royal officials to a different venue- including to England at the crown expense- if they could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. George Washington called this the “Murder Act” since it allowed officials to conduct their harassment of Americans and then escape justice; 4) Quartering Act, cited specifically in the Declaration of Independence, mandated colonial support for supporting the very soldiers who were suppressing them; 5) Quebec Act, although not directly related to the insurrection in Boston, it defined British interests in Quebec in a way that demonstrated disregard for the interests of the British colonies already in place in America.
1776: American inventor David Bushnell’s Turtle makes the world’s first submarine attack in his one-man submersible, with Sergeant Ezra Lee at the controls. He hand-cranks his way out to HMS Eagle in New York harbor to affix a black powder time bomb to the hull of the ship, but the auger bit fails to penetrate the stout English oak. With dawn approaching, Lee abandons the attempt and makes good his escape.
1781:Battle of Virginia Capes– in the sixth year of our War of Independence, a French fleet of 24 ships of the line, under the command of Rear Admiral Francois Joseph Paul le Comte de Grasse, sails out from Lynnhaven anchorage to meet and do battle with 19 Royal Navy ships under the Command of Rear-Admiral Sir Thomas Gage. The battle was a classic slugfest between two Lines of Battle. Under northerly winds the two fleets headed east, coming together just outside Cape Henry around 1500 in the afternoon and then pounded each other until sunset. The fleets maneuvered within sight of each other for two more days; de Grasse maneuvering his ships to ease the British ever-seaward in order to protect an expected French supply convoy coming up from the south, the very same convoy which Gage was tasked to find and destroy. After sighting one of the convoy ships late in the afternoon of the 7th, de Grasse abruptly after sunset broke off contact with the British and proceeded back to the Chesapeake, where the convoy was already re-supplying George Washington and the combined Franco-American forces besieging General Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown. Although the naval battle was only a tactical victory for the French, it was a strategic victory of the highest importance for the fledgling United States, as it completely isolated the British in Yorktown from any expectation of relief or re-supply.
1812: Napoleon Bonaparte achieves his final victory in the Russian campaign at the Battle of Borodino, but at a loss of over 35,000 of his own men, the single bloodiest day in the entire campaign. The Russian army under Marshall Mikhail Kutuzov not only suffers a similar casualty rate, but ends the day with shattered leadership and battlefield organization, making it ripe for a complete rout. Inexplicably, with the opportunity within his grasp, Napoleon fails to follow up on the nominal victory to completely destroy the Russians. Kutuzov and his men retreat into the deep Russian hinterland, forming the core of the force that will eventually drive the Grande Armee out of Russia and into their graves.
1813: American sea-dog Oliver Hazard Perry confronts and defeats a superior British naval squadron in the Battle of Lake Erie. As I noted on the occasion of his death (DLH 8/23), he scratched out a victory message to General William Henry Harrison that was deliciously brief: “Dear General: We have met the enemy and they are ours. Two ships, two brigs, one schooner and one sloop. Yours with great respect and esteem, O.H. Perry”
1818: Birth of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy (d.1910).
1836: Sam Houston is elected first President of the Republic of Texas.
1841: Birth of Czech composer Antonín Dvořák (d.1904), whose works are among the most lyrical and memorable of the classical music repertoire. As with classical architecture designed around the “golden ratio,” Dvořák’s music also speaks to an enduringly human sense of melody and rhythm, and harmony. You would recognize many of his works, even if you didn’t recognize their source; Symphony #9, From the New World (1893) and his Slavonic Dances (1878) come immediately to mind. He served as director of the National Conservatory of Music in NYC 1892-1895. Against the wishes of Czech President Vaclav Havel, his New York residence on E 17th Street was demolished in 1991 to make way for a medical center.
1850: California, flush with fresh gold from the Sierra Nevada, is admitted as the 31st state of the Union.
1900: A category 4 (estimated) hurricane slams ashore at Galveston, Texas, obliterating virtually the entire city, and killing an estimated 8-12,000 residents.
1901: Death of French post-impressionist painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (b.1864). As with our friend Bruegel above, you would recognize his work, which has become iconographic for the Belle Epoch of late 19th century Paris.
1905: Signing of the Treaty of Portsmouth (NH), an arbitration effort led by U.S President Theodore Roosevelt, which formally ended the Russo-Japanese War, and for which Roosevelt was recognized with a Nobel Prize.
1906: French (Brazilian emigre) aviation pioneer Alberto Santos-Dumont successfully flies his airplane 14-bis for the first time.
1914: After retreating from the Battle of Mons (DLH 8/23), the combined Franco-British force launches its first major counter-offensive in what became known as the Battle of the Marne.
1921: Planned with the express intention to extend the summer season at the Jersey Shore, the first Miss America contest is held in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
1929: Birth of the American golfer Arnold Palmer (d.2016).
1934: En route between Havana and NYC, a fire breaks out aboard the passenger ship SS Morro Castle. The crew fails to contain the fire and within 30 minutes the entire ship is ablaze, drifting without power off the New Jersey coast. 135 passengers and crew are killed out of 549 aboard. The burned-out hulk eventually drifts ashore just off the Asbury Park Convention Center pier, where it becomes something of a macabre tourist attraction, even to the extent of postcards being made of the wreckage. It lingers as a pop-culture touchstone through the 1940s. From the practical perspective, the disaster led to a number of mandated improvements to ship construction, damage control, and crew training. On the last point, it leads directly to the establishment of the US Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point, NY.
1935: US Senator from Louisiana, Huey “Kingfish” Long, is gunned down on the steps of the Louisiana capitol building.
1936: Birth of Yankee slugger Roger Maris (d.1985), who didn’t make many friends when he smacked his 61st home run in the 1961 season.
1940: First night of what will end up become 76 consecutive nights of the London Blitz. By the time the German bombing campaign ends in May, 1941, over 43,000 civilians are killed, with a million houses destroyed, to say nothing of the infrastructure losses at the dockyards and factories in London and elsewhere. The nightly raids severely tested the stiff upper lips of the population, many of whom evacuated to Scotland or set up residence in the Underground.
1944: London hears for the first time a double sonic boom just prior to being hit by the first of 1,358 V-2 ballistic missiles launched from Nazi Germany between now and the end of the war the following May. The barrage ends up killing 2754 and injuring 6523 Britons. One laconic version of the casualty figures tagged it as “2 people per rocket,” although the same note went on to state that this number merges all of the zero casualty shots along with the more deadly ones, including an attack that killed nearly 550 when a machine fell into a theatre. Interestingly, as the accuracy of the attacks became more evident, British intelligence leaked out word that the rockets were overshooting the city by a number of miles. The “information campaign” was sufficiently effective to create a long period where the rockets fell harmlessly short of their intended destinations. Norwich was the target for another 43 V-2s, and Ipswich absorbed another. England did not bear all of the attacks: 1664 flew against Belgium, 76 against France, and 19 against the Netherlands. The core of the V-2 design remains the basis for the widely exported SCUD missile systems today.
1960: American boxer Cassius Clay wins the Gold Medal at the Olympic Games in London.
1966: Star Trek debuted on NBC on September 8, 1966…what most don’t know is that Lucille Ball is responsible for the series going where, well you know. Desilu studio was founded in 1950 by Lucy and Desi, but Ball made most of all of the creative choices while Arnaz handled the business. Lucy purchased Arnaz’s share of the company in 1962…Lucy was the head of a major studio and one of the most powerful women in Hollywood at the time. The first pilot was expensive, but Lucy overruled her board of directors and got the pilot produced. The first one flopped, but Lucy agreed to finance a reshoot, again over the preferences of her board of directors. The pilot was “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” and only retained Leonard Nimoy’s Mr. Spock from the first pilot, and introduced Captain Kirk and the now-famous cast.
1967: Under the terms of UN General Assembly Resolution 2070, the residents of the Gibraltar Peninsula conduct a plebiscite on whether or not to abrogate the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) and return to Spanish sovereignty. I’m sure the genius politicians* in the UN and Spain were shocked at the outcome: on this day, the British subjects of the British colony of Gibraltar vote to remain British subjects. 44 souls of the electorate (0.36%) voted in favor of the return, while 12,138 (99.19%) voted against; (55 ballots (.45%) were spoiled and not counted).
1968: Swaziland becomes an independent kingdom. I actually met the King of Swaziland, Mswati III, when I was on the Joint Staff in the early 90s. I should try to dig out the picture of us together in the Flag Room. He wore a very nice silk suit and had huge hands.
1972: At the Olympic Village in Munich, Palestinian terrorists from the “Black September” group first take hostage, and then murder eleven Israeli athletes.
1974: President Gerald Ford grants a full pardon to former president Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while serving as President. This act of grace likely cost Ford the Presidency in the 1976 election.
1976: Soviet Air Force pilot Victor Belenko lands his MiG-25 at Hakodata airbase in Japan and requests political asylum in the United States. He gets it.
1976: Death of Mao Tse Tung (now PC-ized to Mao Zedong) (b.1893). Also known as Chairman Mao, was a Chinese communist revolutionary who was the founding father of the People’s Republic of China, which he ruled as the chairman of the Chinese Communist Party from the establishment of the PRC in 1949 until his death in 1976
1978: Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat sign a peace treaty between their two countries, Egypt becoming the first Arab nation to do so. U.S. President Jimmy Carter overseas the negotiations at the Camp David presidential retreat, for which the accords are named in the popular press.
1979: First broadcast day for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (ESPN). Commentators muse that it is a good thing it is on cable because there wasn’t a market for it anywhere else.