New Orleans Burns

Today in History, March 21, 1788:

Have you ever visited the French Quarter in New Orleans? Did you know that the vast majority of those buildings in the “French” Quarter are actually…Spanish?

On this date in 1788 the Army Treasurer in New Orleans, Don Vincente Jose Nunez, and his family were celebrating Good Friday in their home less than a block from the Plaza de Armas (later Jackson Square).

They apparently lit a few too many candles while immersed in prayer and caught their home on fire. Before the day was over, 856 of the 1,100 buildings in the city were destroyed, most of the city. Spain had control of Louisiana at that time, and during a subsequent fire in 1794 that took 212 buildings. So the structures that replaced those of wood that were lost were made of stucco or brick, and of Spanish architecture.

Louisiana Governor Miro’s report: If the imagination could describe what our senses enable us to feel from sight and touch, reason itself would recoil in horror, and it is no easy matter to say whether the sight of an entire city in flames was more horrible to behold than the suffering and pitiable condition in which everyone was involved. Mothers, in search of a sanctuary or refuge for their little ones, and abandoning – their earthly goods to the greed of the relentless enemy, would retire to out-of-the-way places rather than be witnesses of their utter ruin. Fathers and husbands were busy in saving whatever objects the rapidly spreading flames would permit them to bear off, while the general bewilderment was such as to prevent them from finding even for these a place of security. The obscurity of the night coming on threw its mantle for a while over the saddening spectacle; but more horrible still was the sight, when day began to dawn, of entire families pouring forth into the public highways, yielding to their lamentations and despair, who, but a few hours before, had been basking in the enjoyment of more than the ordinary comforts of life. The tears, the heartbreaking sobs and the pallid faces of the wretched people mirrored the dire fatality that had overcome a city, now in ruins, transformed within the space of five hours into an arid and fearful, desert. Such was the sad ending of a work of death, the result of seventy years of industry.

Magellan Sets Sail

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.

The Treaty of Windsor

Today in History, May 9, 1386:

A Treaty of Alliance is ratified at Windsor between King Richard II of England and King John I of Portugal.

The Treaty is the longest alliance still in effect. It came about because the Portuguese needed military assistance in defense against their neighbor Castile (Spain) and England needed the Naval assistance of Portugal against France. Portugal’s sea power was at that time stronger than that of the English.

The treaty was strengthened by the marriage of John I of Portugal to Philippa, daughter of the Duke of Lancaster.

The Alliance was again called upon to thwart a Spanish invasion of Portugal in the 1760’s, to fend off Napoleon in the early 19th century, then in WWII when Portugal provided intel and air bases in the Azores to England and America. Air patrols from the Azores were important in the Battle of the Atlantic. The air bases were again provided to England during the Falkland Islands War.

The Real “First” World War?

Today in History, February 10: 1763 –

“The Seven Years War”, or as it was known in the colonies, “The French and Indian War” ends with the Treaty of Paris. Britain and France had been battling for years in America, Europe, India and on the high seas over their competing imperial interests. Spain had taken sides with France. Both Britain and France had their allies in what could be considered a World War.

After several British victories on land and at sea, and after several of France’s allies had signed separate peace treaties, France and Spain finally came to the table. France gave up several of her holdings including in Canada, America and India.

The Spanish received the Louisiana Territory, the British received Spanish Florida.

Probably the most important issues for the American colonies however, are these: Many Americans, such as George Washington, gained extensive military experience fighting the French and their Indian allies during the war. And when Americans decided less than two decades later to fight for their independence from the British Crown, the French had a grudge to settle; it wasn’t that difficult for Ben Franklin to convince France to come in on the side of the Colonials. French Naval might was pivotal to the American victory.

As Long as I Count the Votes…

Today in History, November 23: 1876 –

“It’s hard not to admire the skill behind Tweed’s system … The Tweed ring at its height was an engineering marvel, strong and solid, strategically deployed to control key power points: the courts, the legislature, the treasury and the ballot box. Its frauds had a grandeur of scale and an elegance of structure: money-laundering, profit sharing and organization.”

“Boss Tweed”, William Magear Tweed, is delivered back to US custody by the US Navy after being captured in Spain, where he was working as a sailor. Tweed had been elected to the New York Legislature in the 1850’s, but soon realized he would have more power on various commissions and controlling WHO got elected.

For several years he ruled New York and in a large part the nation through his corrupt control of votes and purchased positions via Tammany Hall. It finally led to potential financial collapse, which is when his friends finally turned on him and he was arrested.

Released to visit his family, he fled, ending up in Spain. Unfortunately for him, Thomas Nast of Harper’s Weekly had drawn him so many times, that he was recognized. Once he was out of options, he testified against his cohorts, but remained in prison until his death in 1878. This was the Democrat Party of the 19th century.

US Doubled


Today in History, October 20: 1803 – The Louisiana Purchase is ratified by the US Senate. When Spain returned the Louisiana territory to France in 1800, President Jefferson became concerned that France would cut off access to New Orleans and sent emissaries to attempt the purchase. Napoleon Bonaparte was cash strapped in the midst of a war with the English, and didn’t want to deal with the far off territories at that point…so he agreed to sell the territory for $15M, or 4 cents per acre. Some members of the Senate actually criticized Jefferson, saying that he had spent a vast sum on a wasteland. Nonetheless, the treaty was ratified and the territory of the United States more than doubled overnight.