Day By Day

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

This Day In History

For all you blatherskites out there, today is "Babbling Day". So, for most of us on the inter-whatchamacallits, that means go out there and just behave the way we always do.

On this day in 1492 Cristopher Columbus "discovered" America. I wrote about this a few weeks ago [here] so I won't repeat myself.

And on this day in 1692 Willim Penn was deposed as Governor of Pennsylvania. His friendship with the Stuart monarchs did not stand him in good stead after they were driven from the throne and opened him to charges of being disloyal to the new Hanoverian monarchy. He also had some problems paying his debts that landed him in prison and almost cost him his proprietorship. He had a complicated life.

On this day in 1792 USS Constitution "Old Ironsides" was launched in Boston.

Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar, fought in 1805. It is perhaps the most important, certainly the most celebrated, naval battle in British history. In it Lord Horatio Nelson, directing battle from the deck of his flagship HMS Victory, was slain, but lived long enough to see his fleet utterly destroy a combined French and Spanish fleet. In the battle the Franco-Spanish fleet lost 22 of 33 ships of the line. The British lost none. This overwhelming victory confirmed British naval superiority, forestalled any attempts on the part of France to invade England, and gave the U.K. a decisive advantage in the Napoleonic conflicts. Henceforth Britain could without interference tap the commercial resources of the entire Atlantic world and the rest of its far-flung empire. The result was that with each succeeding year Britain became wealthier while France, cut off from global trade networks, was forced to adopt a command economy that drained its commercial resources. Britain could afford to fund Napoleon's antagonists on the European continent. In addition Britain could, and did, easily move troops to attack any point on Napoleon's periphery and resupply them. After Trafalgar Napoleon was doomed, but it would take another ten years for him to realize it.

This was not a good day for Native Americans, but then what one was?

On this day in 1837 Billy Powell was captured and imprisoned. Never heard of him, you say? Billy was better known by his Indian name, Osceola [which translates loosely as "loud drunk"] the leader of Seminole resistance in Florida. This brought an end to the Second Seminole War and ended Indian resistance in the Southeast. Osceola's English name points up an interesting and important aspect of the Indian wars in the East -- many combatants were of mixed ancestry. Osceola, for instance, was of Indian, English, Irish, and Scottish descent and was raised in a mixed community. What is more, at various times in his life Osceola was affiliated with the Muscogee, the Creek, and the Seminole Indians. This speaks to a cultural fluidity that is seldom recognized by historians who try to shoehorn these conflicts into a simple moralistic narrative of racial antagonism and oppression. Reality was far more complex.

And on this day in 1867 the first round of the Medicine Lodge Treaties were signed. This complex set of treaties involved representatives of the US government and of the Kiowa, Comanche, Plains Apache, and some elements of the Cheyenne, and Arapaho nations. In them the Indians agreed to cede traditional lands in exchange for reservations in Oklahoma and life on the dole. As it turned out the Treaty was pretty much of a sham. The signatories for the Indian tribes were immediately challenged by the leadership of their own communities and the terms of the treaties were never ratified. Conflict continued for years thereafter. On the US side Federal agents and territorial [and later State] officials systematically defrauded the Indians that did accept the treaty terms. Eventually the Indians carried their case all the way to the Supreme Court which in 1903 decided that they had no protection under the Bill of Rights because they, by signing the treaty, had become "wards of the state".

Happy Birthday to Samuel Taylor Coleridge [1772] -- "In Xanadu did Kubla Kahn a stately pleasure-dome decree...."

And also to Alfred Nobel, the prize guy [1833]; "Dizzy Gillespie, the best!!!! [1917]; and Ursula Kroeber LeGuin [1929].

And on this day in 1980 the Phillies won their first World Series Championship ever [after 98 years of futility]. I remember it well.