Today in History, September 20, 1519:
Just shy of 500 years ago, five ships set sail from Spain, led by Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, seeking a western passage to the “Spice Islands” of Indonesia.
Magellan persevered through lengthy explorations of rivers that did not lead to his destination, a mutiny by the captains of his ships, and finally…the discovery of the passage at the southern tip of South American which bears his name.
After transiting a straight that suffers some of the worst weather on Earth, his small fleet sailed across thousands of miles across an unknown Ocean which he named “Pacific” for its calm waters until they reached the Phillipines. There, Magellan was killed in combat with a native tribe. Two ships remained.
They made it to the Spice Islands and took on cargo. One made a failed attempt to sail back across the Pacific; the other completed the first circumnavigation of the globe to return to Spain.
Today in History, March 20, 1616:
A gallant knight,
In sunshine and in shadow,
Had journeyed long,
Singing a song,
In search of Eldorado.
But he grew old—
This knight so bold—
And o’er his heart a shadow—
Fell as he found
No spot of ground
That looked like Eldorado.
And, as his strength
Failed him at length,
He met a pilgrim shadow—
‘Shadow,’ said he,
‘Where can it be—
This land of Eldorado?’
‘Over the Mountains
Of the Moon,
Down the Valley of the Shadow,
Ride, boldly ride,’
The shade replied,—
‘If you seek for Eldorado!’
-Edgar Allen Poe
On this date in 1616, Sir Walter Raleigh, English courtier and explorer, was released from confinement in the Tower of London (for the second time) so he could lead an expedition to the Americas in search of the fabled City of Gold, Eldorado (for the second time.)
In his lifetime Sir Raleigh explored Virginia, being instrumental in its settlement. He also was instrumental in popularizing the import and use of tobacco in England.
During his second search for Eldorado some of his men raided a Spanish outpost, which violated a treaty of peace between the two nations.
As a consequence, when he returned home, he was arrested and executed.
Today in History, November 15: 1806 –
US Army Lt. Zebulon Pike was a brilliant, self-taught explorer. On this date he was on his second expedition to the West, searching for the headwaters of the Arkansas and Red Rivers.
When he observed a mountain in the distance which he described as looking like a “small blue cloud”, he told the Expedition they could reach the mountain, scale it, and return to camp by dinner time.
Never having seen a “14er” before, he had grossly misjudged the distance. He and his team had to shelter from the cold in a cave for the night. When they did reach the base of the mountain which would one day hold Pike’s name, he declared it could not be climbed.
After the discovery Pike and his expedition became lost, wandering until captured by a troop of Spanish soldiers who took them to Santa Fe before releasing them. Pike took advantage of this misfortune by mapping this valuable area also.
Pike would be made a Brigadier General during the War of 1812 during which he would be killed.
Today in History, June 7: 1769 – “Boone Day”. Pioneer Daniel Boone braves the Cumberland Gap, ignoring a British order against westward expansion, to find Kentucky on this date in 1769. Boone would later write, “Not a breeze shook the most tremulous leaf. I had gained the summit of a commanding ridge, and, looking round with astonishing delight, beheld the ample plains, the beauteous tracts below.” He would continue his adventures, settling Boonesborough, Kentucky, becoming a Colonel in the Militia during the Revolutionary War, fighting the British and their allies. He eventually followed his exploring spirit to Missouri, where he died in 1820.