This Month in History: October

October 7, 1763 marked the “Proclamation of 1763” — Wary of the cost of defending the colonies, George III prohibited all settlement west of the Appalachian mountains without guarantees of security from local Native American nations. The intervention in colonial affairs offended the 13 colonies’ claim to the exclusive right to govern lands to their west. What else happened this month during the first 100 years in American history (1765-1865)? Scroll down for more. 

  • October 1

    Which European country is conquered by France today in 1795?

    workers-village-gatesOctober 1, 1795 — The Romans conquered Belgium in 57 BC and it became integrated into the Roman Empire as Gallia Belgica. However in the 5th century AD Roman rule collapsed and the Franks conquered Belgium. Their first capital was at Tournai. In the 9th century the Franks ruled most of Western Europe. Yet their empire too broke up.

    Today, Belgium is conquered by France, less than a year after the French army occupied the country.

    The French Revolutionaries introduced a number of reforms, and in 1797 they also introduced conscription. The result was a rebellion in 1798; the French crushed it and remained in control.

    Meanwhile Belgium began to industrialize. Coal mining boomed, as did textiles and the metal industries. Then, in 1815, Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo. Afterwards the great powers redrew the map of Europe. Belgium and Holland were united together as one country.

    However the union was never going to work as Belgium and Holland were too different economically and culturally. On  August 25, 1830 rebellion broke out and at a conference in January 1831 the great powers agreed to recognize Belgian independence.

    Sources: localhistories.org, blantyreproject, wikipedia/History_of_Belgium,

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  • October 2

    What is a pasilalinic-sympathetic compass — and why did it make history today?

    Jean-August-Dominique Ingres - Portrait of Andre Benoit Barreau, called Taurel 1819October 2, 1851 — The pasilalinic-sympathetic compass is demonstrated today, but proves to be a fake. Also referred to as the snail telegraph, this contraption was an attempt to prove the hypothesis that snails create a permanent telepathic link when they touch.

    French occultist Jacques Toussaint Benoit (pictured above) and his colleague Monsieur Biat-Chretien developed the theory in the early to mid 19th century. They believed that the telepathic bond between two snails had no physical limit, thus making communication possible over any distance. By touching one half of the snail partnership it was suggested that the other snail would sense the contact and would move.

    Benoit built an apparatus to test his theories, but it quickly became apparent that what he expected to be a communication revolution was in fact just a costly failure.

    Sources: wikipedia/PasilalinicSympathetic, youtube, the-man-who-tried-to-invent-a-telegraph,

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  • October 3

    Which beloved American author is found delirious in a gutter today?

    440px-Edgar_Allan_Poe_by_Pratt,_1849October 3, 1849 — American author Edgar Allan Poe is found delirious in a gutter near the Baltimore tavern, Ryan’s 4th Ward Polls, under mysterious circumstances. It is the last time he is seen in public. He died four days later. 

    According to the Poe Society, we know that Poe left Richmond, Va., on Sept. 27, for Philadelphia. Six days later, he was found by Joseph. W. Walker, who wrote to Dr. Joseph E. Snodgrass, an acquaintance of Poe’s, describing Poe as “rather the worse for wear.”

    Though typically well-dressed, Poe was reportedly wearing cheap, tattered clothing. Dr. Snodgrass and Poe’s uncle, Henry Herring, knew something was odd and took him to Washington College Hospital.

    For the next several days, Poe drifted in and out of consciousness, but never explained what had happened to him. On the evening of Oct. 6, he began calling out the name “Reynolds,” but those present were unsure who it was.

    In the early morning hours of Oct. 7, Poe said “Lord help my poor soul” and died soon after. No autopsy was performed. His cause of death was determined to be “congestion of the brain” by Baltimore Commissioner of Health, Dr. J.F.C. Handel. So, how did Poe actually die? Click here to read more.

    Sources: findingdulcinea.com, poemuseum.org, wikipedia/DeathofPoe,

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  • October 4

    Which country became a Republic today in 1824?

    440px-Constitucion_1824October 4, 1824 — The Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States of 1824 was enacted today after the overthrow of the Mexican Empire of Agustin de Iturbide.

    In the new constitution, Mexico took the name of United Mexican States, and was defined as a representative federal republic, with Catholicism as the official and unique religion. It was replaced by the Federal Constitution of the United Mexican States of 1857.

    A little background: The Mexican War of Independence (1810–1821) severed control that Spain had exercised on its North American territories, and the new country of Mexico was formed from much of the individual territory that had comprised New Spain.

    The victorious rebels issued a provisional constitution, the Plan de Iguala. This plan reaffirmed many of the ideals of the Spanish Constitution of 1812 and granted equal citizenship rights to all races. In the early days of the country, there was much disagreement over whether Mexico should be a federal republic or a constitutional monarchy.

    Sources: tamu.edu, historicflagsoftexas.com, wikipedia/ConstitutionofMexico,

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  • October 5

    Why did Alaska stop using the Julian calendar today?

    AlaskaMap1867October 5, 1867 — Today marks the last day of Julian calendar in Alaska.

    Introduced by Julius Caesar in 46 BC (708 AUC), the Julian calendar was a reform of the Roman calendar. It took effect in 45 BC (709 AUC), shortly after the Roman conquest of Egypt. It was the predominant calendar in the Roman world, most of Europe, and in European settlements in the Americas and elsewhere, until it was refined and gradually replaced by the Gregorian calendar, promulgated in 1582 by Pope Gregory XIII.

    The Julian calendar gains against the mean tropical year at the rate of one day in 128 years. For the Gregorian the figure is one day in 3,226 years. The difference in the average length of the year between Julian (365.25 days) and Gregorian (365.2425 days) is 0.002%.

    So why did Alaska stop using it? It turns out that the legal code of the United States does not specify an official national calendar. Use of the Gregorian calendar in the United States stems from an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom in 1751, which specified use of the Gregorian calendar in England and its colonies. But today, when Alaska became part of the US, it adopted the national calendar.

    Sources: webexhibits.org, wikipedia/JulianCalendar,

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  • October 6

    Who patented the self-winding clock today?

    Benjamin_HanksOctober 6, 1783 — Benjamin Hanks patented the self-winding clock today when he obtained a 14-year intellectual rights patent for the apparatus that could wind itself and operate by the use of air. Plus, it would automatically continue to wind itself up and operate until the mechanical parts wore out due to friction.

    A goldsmith, instrument maker, clockmaker, bellfounder, and foundry owner, Hanks is also generally credited for being the first person to make bronze cannons and church bells in the United States. His first large church tower bell was mounted in 1780 at The Old Dutch Church in New York.

    In 1797, he crafted the first two bronze cannons made in the United States; they were carried by the First Company of Connecticut Artillery.

    Sources: delaneyantiqueclocks.com, wikipedia/BenjaminHanks,

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  • October 7

    What is the Granite Railway?

    fig27October 7, 1826 — The first chartered railway in US began operations today. Called the Granite Railway, it was built to carry granite from Quincy, Massachusetts, to a dock on the Neponset River in Milton. From there boats carried the heavy stone to Charlestown for construction of the Bunker Hill Monument.

    The railway ran three miles (4.8 km) from quarries to the Neponset River. Its wagons had wheels 6 ft (1.83 m) in diameter and were pulled by horses, although steam locomotives had been in operation in England for two decades. The wooden rails were plated with iron and were laid 5 ft (1,524 mm) apart, on stone crossties spaced at 8-foot intervals. By 1837 these wooden rails had been replaced by granite rails, once again capped with iron. Was it really the first railway?

    Historians say yes, for it was the first railway to evolve into a common carrier without an intervening closure. And credit for selecting the site goes to Solomon Willard (June 26, 1783 – February 27, 1861), a carver and builder in Massachusetts who is remembered primarily for designing and overseeing the Bunker Hill Monument, the first monumental obelisk erected in the United States. After an exhaustive search throughout New England, he selected the Quincy site as the source of stone for the Bunker Hill Monument. After many delays and much obstruction, the railway itself was granted a charter on March 4, 1826, with right of eminent domain to establish its right-of-way.

    Businessman and state legislator Thomas Handasyd Perkins organized the financing of the new Granite Railway Company, owning a majority of its shares, and he was designated its president. The railroad was designed and built by railway pioneer Gridley Bryant and began operations on October 7, 1826. Bryant used developments that had already been in use on the railroads in England, but he modified his design to allow for heavier, more concentrated loads and a three-foot frost line.

    The last active quarry closed in 1963; in 1985, the Metropolitan District Commission purchased 22 acres (8.9 ha), including Granite Railway Quarry, as the Quincy Quarries Reservation.

    Sources: thomascranelibrary.org, wikipedia/GraniteRailway,

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  • October 8

    What is the “Ke Kumukānāwai a me nā Kānāwai o ko Hawai’i Pae ‘Āina?”

    hi12October 8, 1840 — “Ke Kumukānāwai a me nā Kānāwai o ko Hawai’i Pae ‘Āina, Honolulu, 1840” was the first fully written constitution for the Kingdom of Hawaiʻi.

    More similar to a declaration of rights, it stated that the government was based on Christian values and equality.

    Incorporating the 1839 document, the 1840 Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawai’i was a turning point in Hawai’i for it organized the power of government and its functions by defining the House of Representatives as the legislative body.

    It also gave the people the power to vote, established of the office of Kuhina Nui, and created the office of royal governors of the various islands. It also recognized Christianity as an authority.

    Sources: hawaii-nation.org, wikipedia/ConstitutionoftheKingdomofHawaii,

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  • October 9

    Which meeting established the US Naval Institute today?

    tn_8912188October 9, 1837 — A meeting at the US Naval Academy established the US Naval Institute today in 1837.

    A fixture at the US Naval Academy, the group of 15 naval officers met to discuss the serious implications of a smaller, post-Civil War Navy.

    The founding vision for the organization was to create a forum for the exchange of ideas, to disseminate and advance the knowledge of sea power, and to preserve our naval and maritime heritage.

    The proceedings were eventually published and read throughout the fleet. Its impact spread quickly and embraced the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.

    Today, the Naval Institute has more than 100,000 constituents worldwide.

    Sources: usni.org,

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  • October 10

    How many were killed in the Great Hurricane of 1780?

    great_storm_1703October 10, 1780 — Great Hurricane of 1780 (also known as Hurricane San Calixto II), killed 20,000 to 30,000 in Caribbean today. Hitting Barbados first, it remains the Atlantic’s deadliest recorded hurricane in history.

    According to HurricaneScience.org, forecasters and historians believe that the Great Hurricane of 1780 initially formed near the Cape Verde Islands on October 9, 1780. It strengthened and grew in size as it tracked slowly westward, first affecting Barbados, the western most Caribbean island, late on 9 October.

    The worst of the hurricane saw winds exceeding 321.9 km/h (200 mph) when it passed over Barbardos late on October 10 before moving past Martinique and St. Lucia early on October 11. Three days later, it passed near Puerto Rico and over the Dominican Republic (then Santo Domingo), causing heavy damage near the coastlines. On October 18, the system turned to the northeast, passing 258 km (160 mi) southeast of Bermuda before being last observed on October 20 southeast of Newfoundland, Canada.

    Thousands of deaths were reported on each Caribbean island: 4,500 deaths occurred on Barbados (nearly every building on the island was leveled), 6,000 lives were lost on St. Lucia (the island was essentially flattened), and approximately 9,000 died on Martinique. Over 27,500 total fatalities were estimated across the Lesser Antilles Islands as a result of this storm.

    Sources: hurricanescience.org, wikipedia/GreatHurricaneof1780,

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  • October 11

    What invention did Thomas Edison patent today in 1868?

    Frances_Densmore_recording_Mountain_Chief2October 11, 1868 — Thomas Alva Edison patented his first invention today: the electric voice machine. This was the first of 1,093 patents that he was issued during his lifetime (February 11, 1847 – October 18, 1931).

    The American inventor and businessman developed many devices that greatly influenced life around the world, including the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the long-lasting, practical electric light bulb.

    Dubbed “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” he was one of the first inventors to apply the principles of mass production and large-scale teamwork to the process of invention, and because of that, he is often credited with the creation of the first industrial research laboratory.

    Image: Frances Densmore recording Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief on a cylinder phonograph for the Bureau of American Ethnology (1916)

    Sources: thomasedison.com, edisonmuckers.org, wikipedia/ThomasEdison,

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  • October 12

    Where did America’s first insane asylum open today?

    RR006130October 12, 1773 — America’s first insane asylum opened today in Williamsburg, Virginia for “Persons of Insane and Disordered Minds.”

    A two-story brick institution south of Francis Street, this public hospital was founded at the urging of Governor Francis Fauquier, who believed science could be employed to cure “persons who are so unhappy as to be deprived of their reason.”

    Parish vestries and families had long borne the responsibility for the care of the mentally ill, but  in a November 1766 speech to the House of Burgesses, Fauquier insisted: “a poor unhappy set of people who are deprived of their senses and wander about the countryside, terrifying the rest of their fellow creatures.” He proposed a hospital staffed by doctors who would “endeavour to restore to them their lost reason.”

    At first the burgesses paid little heed, but Fauquier persisted. On June 4, 1770, the legislators adopted an act to “Make Provision for the Support and Maintenance of Ideots, Lunaticks, and other Persons of unsound Minds.”

    Sources: history.org, healthcentral.com, pogues.com, wikipediaHistoryofPsychiatricInstitutions,

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  • October 13

    Who published the first edition of the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” today in 1792?

    1793OFA(1)(1)October 13, 1792 — The first edition of the “Old Farmer’s Almanac” is published today by editor Robert B. Thomas.

    It was George Washington’s first term as president, and although many other almanacs were being published at the time, Thomas’s upstart almanac became an immediate success. In fact, by the second year, circulation had tripled from 3,000 to 9,000. Back then, the Almanac cost only six pence (about nine cents).

    Records and predicting astronomical events (the rising and setting of the Sun, for instance), tides, weather, and other phenomena with respect to time — what made The Old Farmer’s Almanac different from the others was that Thomas’s astronomical and weather predictions were more accurate, the advice more useful, and the features more entertaining.

    Based on his observations, Thomas used a complex series of natural cycles to devise a secret weather forecasting formula, which brought uncannily accurate results, traditionally said to be 80 percent accurate. (Even today, his formula is kept safely tucked away in a black tin box at the Almanac offices in Dublin, New Hampshire.)

    Thomas’s last edition, in 1846, was not much different from his first, over 50 years earlier. However, in that time he established The Old Farmer’s Almanac as America’s leading periodical by outselling and outlasting the competition. He died in 1846 at the age of 80, supposedly reading page proofs for the 1847 edition.

    Sources: almanac.com,

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  • October 14

    Who was Henry Blair?

    440px-SeedPlanter-BlairX8447-1October 14, 1824 — Henry Blair was the first black man to obtain a US patent today — for a corn planter.

    Born in Glen Ross, Maryland, United States in 1807, Blair was a successful farmer for years and a natural when it came to developing inventions to increase efficiency in farming.

    He built the first seed planter, patented October 14, 1834, which allowed farmers to plant more corn using less labor in a smaller amount of time.

    On August 31, 1836, he obtained a second patent for a cotton planter. This invention worked by splitting the ground with two shovel-like blades which were pulled along by a horse. A wheel-driven cylinder followed behind which dropped the seed into the newly plowed ground.

    Because he never learned to read or write, Blair signed his patents with an “x”. And, at the time that his patents were granted, United States patent law allowed both freed and enslaved people to obtain patents. In 1857 this law was challenged by a slave-owner who claimed that he owned “all the fruits of the slave’s labor” including his slave’s inventions. This resulted in the change of the law in 1858 which stated that slaves were not citizens and therefore could not hold patents. After the American Civil War, in 1871, the law was changed to grant all men (but not women) patent rights.

    Blair died in 1860.

    Sources: blackinventor.com, wikipedia/HenryBlair,

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  • October 15

    Who is considered the first modern historian of ancient Rome?

    0214-01_TPOctober 15, 1764 — Today, Edward Gibbon observed a group of friars singing in the ruined Temple of Jupiter in Rome, which inspired him to begin work on “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.”

    Here’s why: Gibbon saw the Praetorian Guard as the primary catalyst of the empire’s initial decay and eventual collapse. It was a seed planted by Augustus when the empire was established. His writings cited repeated examples of the guard abusing their power with calamitous results, including imperial assassination and demands for increased pay.

    About the book: It traces the trajectory of Western civilization (as well as the Islamic and Mongolian conquests) from the height of the Roman Empire to the fall of Byzantium. It was published in six volumes. Volume I was published in 1776 and went through six printings. Volumes II and III were published in 1781; volumes IV, V, and VI in 1788–89.

    The original volumes were published in quarto sections, a common publishing practice of the time. The work covers the history of the Roman Empire, Europe, and the Catholic Church from 98 to 1590 and discusses the decline of the Roman Empire in the East and West. Because of its relative objectivity and heavy use of primary sources, unusual at the time, its methodology became a model for later historians. This led to Gibbon being called the first modern historian of ancient Rome.

    Sources: "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire", wikipedia/Edward_Gibbon, wikipedia/DeclineandFalloftheRomanEmpire,

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  • October 16

    Who was John Brown, and how did he die?

    600px-HWFireHouseBrownOctober 16, 1859 — Today, Caucasian abolitionist John Brown led 21 activists in a raid on the federal arsenal in Harper’s Ferry, which was then in Virginia (now West Virginia). He was defeated by a detachment of U.S. Marines led by Col. Robert E. Lee.

    Brown had originally asked Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass — both of whom he had met in his formative years as an abolitionist in Springfield, Mass. — to join him in this raid. Tubman was prevented by illness, and Douglass declined, saying later that he believed Brown’s plan would fail.

    After the raid, Lee and volunteer aide-de-camp John Stuart searched the surrounding country for fugitives who had participated in the attack. Brown was taken to the courthouse in nearby Charles Town for trial, and found guilty of treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia. He was hanged on Dec. 2, as witnessed by the actor John Wilkes Booth, who later assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.

    Illustration: Published in Harper’s Weekly.

    Sources: vmi.edu, wikipedia/JohnBrown, history.com,

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  • October 17

    What did British General Charles Cornwallis do today to officially bring the American Revolution to a close?

    yorktownOctober 17, 1781 — British General Charles Cornwallis surrendered 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a French and American force at Yorktown, Virginia, today — officially bringing the American Revolution to a close.

    The Siege of Yorktown, also known as the Battle of Yorktown, was a decisive victory by a combined force of American Continental Army troops led by General George Washington and French Army troops led by the Comte de Rochambeau.

    The year before, 5,500 French soldiers landed in Rhode Island to assist their American allies in operations against British-controlled New York City. Following the arrival of dispatches from France that included the possibility of support from the French West Indies fleet of the Comte de Grasse, Washington and Rochambeau decided to ask de Grasse for assistance either in besieging New York, or in military operations against a British army operating in Virginia.

    Cornwallis, at first given confusing orders by his superior officer, Henry Clinton, was eventually ordered to make a defensible deep-water port, which he began to do at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis’ movements in Virginia were shadowed by a Continental Army force led by the Marquis de Lafayette.

    Born in London and educated at Eton and Cambridge, in 1760, Cornwallis was elected to the House of Commons; two years later he inherited his father’s earldom and entered the House of Lords as Earl Cornwallis. In fact, the defeat at Yorktown did not destroy Cornwallis’s career. In 1786, he was appointed governor-general of India, where he brought important reforms to the civil service and the judiciary. He also instituted a major land reform and led military campaigns against native uprisings. In 1792, he was made a marquess for his service in India. Cornwallis died of a fever in 1805.

    Sources: history.com, britishbattles.com, jjhshistory5th7, u-s-history.com, eyewitnesstohistory.com, wikipedia,

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  • October 18

    What famous African American poet was freed from slavery today?

    jb_revolut_poetslav_1_mOctober 18, 1775 — Poet Phillis Wheatley was freed from slavery today in 1775. It was a long time coming. Only 7  years old when she was captured and taken from her home in West Africa, a slave ship brought her to Boston in 1761.

    Knowing nothing of the talents she would soon show the world, John Wheatley, a prosperous tailor, and his wife, Susanna, purchased the young girl directly from the ship and named her Phillis.

    When they saw her writing on a wall with chalk, the Wheatleys encouraged her to learn. Their daughter tutored her in reading and writing. Wheatley also studied English literature, Latin, and the Bible, but what she did best was to write poetry. Her first poem was published in the Newport Mercury newspaper in 1767.

    Six years later, in the service of the Wheatley family, Phillis Wheatley sailed to London where she hoped to meet Selina Hasting, the Countess of Huntingdon. While they were not able to meet in person, the Countess helped Wheatley publish a volume of her poetry on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was published on September 1, 1773.

    Wheatley had another surprise waiting for her back in America. Soon after she returned home, Wheatley was given her freedom.

    As a free woman, she published both an antislavery letter and a poem to George Washington, whom she had met. Washington wrote to Wheatley, thanking her and praising her “great poetical Talents.”

    In 1778, Wheatley married John Peters, a free black man. She published three more poems. Her husband, however, was not as successful in business. Wheatley became a servant later on in her life, and when she died, she was very poor— but she was a free woman.

    Sources: poetryfoundation.org, americaslibrary.gov, azquotes.com,

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  • October 19

    Who were the first African Americans elected to Congress?

    440px-Hiram_Rhodes_Revels_-_Brady-Handy-(restored)October 19, 1870 — Senator Hiram Revels (pictured right) of Mississippi, and Representative Joseph Rainey of South Carolina, are the first African Americans elected to US House of Representatives today.

    Since then, a total of 140 African Americans have served as U.S. Representatives or Senators.

    Hiram Revels (September 27, 1827[note 1] – January 16, 1901) was a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). A Republican politician, and also a college administrator, he was born free in North Carolina, he later lived and worked in Ohio, where he voted before the Civil War.

    He was elected as the first African American to serve in the United States Senate, and was the first African American to serve in the U.S. Congress. He represented Mississippi in the Senate in 1870 and 1871 during the Reconstruction era. After serving in the Senate, he was appointed as the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University), 1871-1873 and 1876 to 1882. Later he served again as a minister.

    Joseph_RaineyJoseph Rainey (June 21, 1832 – August 1, 1887) was the first black presiding officer of the House of Representatives. Born into slavery in South Carolina, he was freed in the 1840s by his father purchasing the freedom of his entire family and himself. Revels and Rainey were both members of the Republican Party.
    When the Civil War started, Rainey was among the free black people who were forced by the Confederates to work on fortifications in Charleston, SC. He worked as a cook and laborer on blockade runner ships. In 1862, he and his family escaped to Bermuda, settling in the town of St. George. Rainey worked as a barber, while his wife became a successful dressmaker with a shop. They became respected members of the community.

    Sources: history.house.gov, projectblackman.com, wikipedia,

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  • October 20

    Which college organized the first astronomical expedition in the US today in 1780?

    320px-1851_07_28_BerkowskiOctober 20, 1780 — Harvard University organized America’s first astronomical expedition today.  The goal was to record an eclipse of the sun by observing an event that lasted from 11:11 am to 1:50 pm.

    Samuel Williams (23 Apr 1743 – 2 Jan 1817) was the American natural philosopher and clergyman who organized the expedition in Penobscot Bay, Maine, despite the fact that the town was held by the British enemy at the time.

    The observers left about three weeks earlier, on 9 Oct from Harvard College, Cambridge, Mass.. A boat was supplied by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts the four professors and six students.

    On Oct. 20, they discovered a thin arc of the sun instead of its complete obscuration by the moon.

    Sources: harvard.edu, todayinsci.com,

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  • October 21

    When did the famous Can-Can dancers arrive in the US?

    600px-Lautrec_la_troupe_de_mlle_eglantine_(poster)_1895-6October 21, 1830 — The famous dance, the Can-Can, is performed for the first time today in Paris. The high-energy and physically demanding music hall dance, was performed by a chorus line of female dancers who wore costumes with long skirts, petticoats, and black stockings.

    The main features of the dance are the lifting and manipulation of the skirts, with high kicking and suggestive, provocative body movements. The Infernal Galop from Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld is the tune most associated with the dance.

    By the 1890’s individual the Can-Can was being performed in Britain, the US, and Canada. Its dancers became renowned, and were highly paid for their appearances.

    In fact, the Oxford Companion to Music defined the Can-Can as “a boisterous and latterly indecorous dance of the quadrille order, exploited in Paris for the benefit of such British and American tourists as will pay well to be well shocked. Its exact nature is unknown to anyone connected with this Companion.”

    Was the Can-Can ever danced without drawers? No. Well, not really.

    Historians explain that this mistaken belief took root when the dance first appeared in working-class dance halls in the 1830s, and drawers were not a standard item of underwear. However, they were adopted in the 1850s because of the advent of the hooped skirt or crinoline. Initially drawers were of the “open” type, being essentially two tubes of material, one for each leg, and this is perhaps another reason for the myth. However, the Moulin Rouge management did not permit dancers to perform in such revealing garments.

    Sources: lesfollesjambettes, wikipedia/Can-Can,

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  • October 22

    Which Ivy League University received its charter today in 1746?

    intro33October 22, 1746 — Princeton University received its charter today. Called the College of New Jersey (which was its name for the next 150 years), it was British North America’s fourth college devoted to the education of young men. It became co-educational in 1969.

    Two Princeton alumni have served as US presidents — James Madison (Class of 1771), and Woodrow Wilson, (Class of 1879).

    Located in Elizabeth for one year and then in Newark for nine, the College of New Jersey moved to Princeton in 1756. For nearly half a century, the entire college was housed in Nassau Hall in Princeton — classrooms, dormitories, library, chapel, dining room and kitchen. Nassau Hall, named to honor King William III, Prince of Orange (of the House of Nassau), was one of the largest buildings in the American colonies.

    During the American Revolution, it survived occupation by soldiers from both sides and today bears a cannonball scar from the Battle of Princeton (Jan. 3, 1777). In 1783 the Continental Congress met in Nassau Hall, thus making it the capitol of the United States for a short time.

    As part of the sesquicentennial celebrations in 1896, the College of New Jersey changed its name to Princeton University and adopted as an informal motto “Princeton in the nation’s service,” the title of the keynote speech by Woodrow Wilson, then a faculty member. Six years later Wilson became Princeton’s 13th president. During his term of office (1902-10) plans for building the Graduate College were finalized, and what had been the College of New Jersey began to grow into a full-scale university.

    Sources: princeton.edu, wikipedia/PrincetonUniversity,

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  • October 23

    Which religious document was printed for the first time in the US today in 1760?

    SiddurOctober 23, 1760 — Jewish prayer books were printed for the first time in North America today. Previously, the prayer books used by American Jewish synagogues were brought from Amsterdam.

    During Oliver Cromwell’s reign England began to allow Jews to return to the country. By the 18th century American Jews were importing Sephardi prayer books from London for use in America’s synagogues. These English prayer books included both Hebrew and English, a combination that grew increasingly popular as English became the main language of American Jews.

    Called a siddur, which comes from the Hebrew root Hebrew: סד״ר‎ meaning order, it contains a set order of daily prayers.

    Sources: jewishpress.com, cbn.com, wikipedia/Siddur,

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  • October 24

    When did West Virginia secede from west Virginia?

    West Virginia 1861October 24, 1861 — The U.S. state of West Virginia was formed out of western Virginia today, making it one of two American states formed during the American Civil War (1861–1865), along with Nevada.

    Of the 46 members of the convention that represented what became West Virginia, 9 voted for the ordinance of secession, 7 were absent, 1 was excused, and 29 were against.

    Originally part of the British Virginia Colony (1607–1776), its population became sharply divided over the issue of secession from the Union and in the separation from Virginia. The state’s history was profoundly affected by its mountainous terrain, spectacular river valleys, and rich natural resources. Historians explain that thee were all factors driving its economy and the lifestyles of residents, as well as drawing visitors to the “Mountain State” in the early 21st century.

    In 1861, however, guerrilla warfare gripped the new state, especially in the Allegheny Mountain counties to the east. Loyalties were much more divided than in the Unionist northwest part of the state.

    In the summer of 1861, Union troops under General George McClellan drove off Confederate troops under General Robert E. Lee. This essentially freed Unionists in the northwestern counties of Virginia to form their own government as a result of the Wheeling Convention. After Lee’s departure, western Virginia continued to be a target of Confederate raids, even after the creation of the new state in 1863.

    These actions focused both on supplying the Confederate Army with provisions as well as attacking the vital Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that linked the northeast with the midwest, as exemplified in the Jones-Imboden Raid.

    Sources: History of West Virginia, wvculture.org, oilandgasmuseum.com, wikipedia/WestVirginiaCivilWar,

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  • October 25

    Who became the first Governor of Massachusetts today in 1780?

    john-hancockOctober 25, 1780 — After the adoption of the US Constitution, John Hancock was sworn in as the first Governor of Massachusetts today. He won reelection in 1790, 1791, 1792, and again in 1793.

    During his tenure, he advocated for his state’s independence until his death during his last term — on October 8, 1793. Hancock was buried in the Old Granary Burying Ground in Boston.

    An orphan at early age, Hancock was adopted and raised by his wealthy uncle. He was education at the Boston Public Latin School, before attending Harvard University, where he graduated in 1754.

    He then worked in his uncle’s mercantile business, which he inherited in 1764. Hancock entered into a political career and quickly became known as a prominent force in revolutionary beliefs. He first won election to the Boston Assembly in 1765.

    He then served as a delegate and president of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1773, was a member of the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1880, served as president of the Continental Congress from 1775 to 1777, and was a member of the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention in 1780. In the 1788 State Convention, Hancock served as president and was instrumental in adding a bill of rights to the Federal Constitution that consequently was ratified.

    But perhaps his biggest claim to fame is being the the first to sign the Declaration of Independence with what we now know as a signature style.

    Sources: nga.org, netstate.com, wikipedia/JohnHancock, Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 2,

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  • October 26

    What great mission did Benjamin Franklin set forth on today?

    Ben Franklin in ParisOctober 26, 1776 — Benjamin Franklin departed for France today on a mission to seek French support for the American Revolution.

    He served as the American ambassador to France until 1785, and met with many leading diplomats, aristocrats, intellectuals, scientists and financiers. His image and writings caught the French imagination – there were many images of him sold on the market – and he became the cultural icon of the archetypal new American, and even a hero for aspirations for a new order inside France.

    Historians explain: “France’s goal was to weaken Britain and to exact revenge for the defeat in the French and Indian War. After the American capture of the British invasion army at Saratoga in 1777, and after the French navy had been built up, France was ready.”

    In 1778, France recognized the United States of America as a sovereign nation, signed a military alliance, went to war with Britain, built coalitions with the Netherlands and Spain that kept Britain without a significant ally of its own, provided the Americans with grants, arms and loans, sent a combat army to serve under George Washington, and sent a navy that prevented the second British army from escaping from Yorktown in 1781.

    In all, the French spent about 1.3 billion livres (in modern currency, approximately thirteen billion U.S. dollars) to support the Americans directly, not including the money it spent fighting Britain on land and sea outside the United States.

    French aid proved vital in the victory of the Americans seeking independence from Britain. The United States gained much territory at the 1783 Treaty of Paris, but France made only limited gains, returning most of its wartime conquests, but it got its revenge by bringing the First British Empire to an end. However the high debt France accumulated was a major cause of the French Revolution in 1789.

    Sources: monticello.org, wikipedia/France_AmericanRevolution,

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  • October 27

    Which branch of the armed forces was formed today?

    shipsOctober 27, 1775 — The US Navy formed today. Rooted in the American seafaring tradition, it produced a large community of sailors, captains and shipbuilders in the colonial era.

    In the early stages of the American Revolutionary War, Massachusetts had its own navy. The establishment of a national navy was an issue of debate among the members of the Second Continental Congress.

    Supporters argued that a navy would protect shipping, defend the coast, and make it easier to seek out support from foreign countries. Detractors countered that challenging the British Royal Navy, then the world’s preeminent naval power, was a foolish undertaking.

    Commander in Chief George Washington resolved the debate when he commissioned seven ocean-going cruisers, starting with the schooner USS Hannah, to interdict British supply ships, and reported the captures to the Congress.

    The Continental Navy achieved mixed results; it was successful in a number of engagements and raided many British merchant vessels, but it lost 24 of its vessels, and at one point was reduced to two in active service.

    The Continental Navy was disbanded at war’s end, and the US was without a navy for nearly a decade—a state of affairs that exposed its merchant ships to a series of attacks by Barbary pirates. Congress passed the Naval Act of 1794 which established a permanent standing navy.

    Sources: history.navy.mil, nps.gov, wikipedia/USNavy,

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  • October 28

    Why did New York gave up claim to Vermont today in 1790?

    Vermont map 1787October 28, 1790 — New York gave up claims to Vermont for $30,000 today. Negotiations for the sale began three years earlier, in 1787, when Alexander Hamilton, who was then a member of the New York Assembly. He introduced a bill that called for the recognition of the independence of Vermont.

    Historians explain that at the time there was debate as to whether the capital of the new nation would be located in New York or Philadelphia. “Hamilton realized that if Vermont were admitted to the Union, her vote would be most important. He also realized it was important that a northern free state be admitted to offset two southern slave states, Kentucky and Tennessee, which would soon join the Union.”

    New York and Vermont agreed to negotiate the differences between conflicting land claims. After negotiations, Vermont agreed to pay New York $30,000 compensation while New York gave up her Vermont land claims.

    Vermont’s next step in the process of admission to the Union was to ratify the new United States Constitution. In January 1791, a convention authorized by the Vermont General Assembly met in Bennington to consider ratification. One of the delegates to the convention, Supreme Court Judge Nathaniel Chipman, said Vermont was too small in relation to a new powerful union to remain independent.

    “Whenever our interests clash with those of the union, it requires very little political sagacity to foretell that every sacrifice must be made on our part… United we become great, from the reflected greatness of the empire with which we unite.”

    The United States Constitution was ratified 105 to 4 by Vermont. The adoption was favorably received throughout the nation. In Albany, New York, the event was celebrated by a parade and a 14-gun salute.

    By Act of Congress on March 4, 1791, Vermont was admitted to the Union as the 14th state, the first state to join the union. The Congressional Act declared “that on the 4th day of March 1791, the said State, by the name and style of the State of Vermont, shall be received into this Union as a new and entire member of the United States of America.”

    Sources: wikipedia/Vermont, wikipedia/HaldimandAffair, wikipedia/AlexanderHamilton, wikipedia/NathanielChipman, vt-world.com, vermontraremaps.com,

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  • October 29

    Which organization helped establish the International Committee of Red Cross?

    v-p-hist-00442-cropOctober 29, 1863 — Today, the International Committee of Red Cross formed as result of a conference held in Geneva, Switzerland. Its sole objective was to ensure protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and strife through direct action around the world.

    Meetings to found the organization — which is also known for encouraging the development of international humanitarian law, and promoting respect for it by governments and all weapon bearers — began in February 1863.

    Among its five members was a local man named Henry Dunant who, the year before, had published a crusading book, “A Souvenir of Solferino,” which called for improved care for wounded soldiers in wartime. By the end of the year the committee had brought together government representatives to agree on Dunant’s proposal for national relief societies, to help military medical services.

    In August 1864 it persuaded governments to adopt the first Geneva Convention. This treaty obliged armies to care for wounded soldiers, whatever side they were on, and introduced a unified emblem for the medical services: a red cross on a white background.

    During the next 50 years, the ICRC expanded its work while national societies were established (the first in the German State of Württemberg in November 1863) and the Geneva Convention was adapted to include warfare at sea.

    Sources: "Un Souvenir Solferino", wikipedia/HenryDunant, wikipedia/RedCross,

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  • October 30

    How much loot did Jesse James’ gang steal from a bank in Missouri today in 1866?

    Jesse_and_Frank_JamesOctober 30, 1866 — Jesse James and his gang robbed a bank in Lexington, Missouri today, stealing $2000.

    The American outlaw, guerrilla, gang leader, bank robber, train robber, and murderer from the state of Missouri was the most famous member of the James-Younger Gang.

    Jesse and his brother Frank (pictured right) were the most active with their gang from about 1866 until 1876, when their attempted robbery of a bank in Northfield, Minnesota resulted in the capture or deaths of several gang members. They continued in crime for several years, recruiting new members, but were under increasing pressure from law enforcement.

    On April 3, 1882, James was killed by a member of his own gang, Robert Ford, who hoped to collect a reward on his boss’ head.

    Sources: legendsofamerica.com, wikipedia/JesseJames,

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  • October 31

    What tragic choice do the leaders of the Donner party make today?

    440px-JamesMargaretReedOctober 31, 1846 — The Donner party, unable to cross what we now call Donner Pass, begin construction on a winter camp today.

    The group of American pioneers was led by George Donner and James F. Reed (pictured here with his wife, Margaret). Their wagon train was delayed by a series of mishaps and mistakes, forcing them to spend the winter of 1846–47 trapped by an early, heavy snowfall near Truckee (now Donner) Lake.

    Historians have described the episode as one of the most bizarre and spectacular tragedies in Californian history and western-US migration.”Their food supplies ran extremely low, and in mid-December some of the group set out on foot to obtain help.”

    Rescuers from California attempted to reach the emigrants, but the first relief party did not arrive until the middle of February 1847, almost four months after the wagon train became trapped. Of the 87 members of the party, 48 survived to reach California, many of them having eaten the dead for survival.

    Sources: donnerpartydiary.com, wikipedia/DonnerParty, eyewitnesstohistory.com, history.com,

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