History, Holidays & Observances on December 9

Today: Slavery, Dunmore’s Proclamation, Small Pox & The Ethiopian Regiment in the Revolutionary War; England’s Glorious Revolution; Lutefisk; John Milton; Christmas Music . . .

AND MORE . . .  

Holidays & Observances on December 9

Anna’s Day, marks the day to start the preparation process of the lutefisk to be consumed on Christmas Eve, as well as a Swedish name day, celebrating all people named Anna in Sweden and Finland.

The preparation process of lutefisk was first described by Swedish writer, scholar and Catholic theologian Olaus Magnus in 1555. According to legend, Viking fishermen dried their cod on tall birch racks. During a neighboring Vikings attack, the racks were set on fire, but a rainstorm doused it. The remaining cod soaked in rainwater mixed with birch ash for months before some hungry Vikings discovered the fish, soaked it in clean water, and had a feast. They liked the taste and declared the lye-soaked cod a delicacy.

Nothing quite says Christmas like the eating of . . . well, rotted fish. To say the least, lutefisk is an acquired taste. Now, for something all of us can enjoy, pass the haggis please . . .

The UN has proclaimed this day as International Anti-Corruption Day. I just note it so that you can savor the irony. I for one prefer the fine smell of lutefisk to the corrupt stench rising out of the fetid swamp that is the UN.

Major Events on December 9

1688 – Glorious Revolution & The Battle of Reading

The Glorious Revolution was England’s third Revolution within fifty years. The 17th century was a busy time in England. And ultimately, a critical time for the future United States.

The first revolution occurred when Parliamentary forces won the bloody, destructive, and costly English Civil War (1642-51). King Charles I had ruled as a tyrant. Victory over his forces vindicated many of the “rights of Englishmen” that are now part of our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

The Rump Parliament, in 1649, executed King Charles I for high treason, disbanded the House of Lords and outlawed the monarchy, turning Britain into an ostensible Republic. That said, it functioned something more akin to an autocracy under the Puritan, Oliver Cromwell, as the Lord Protector of the realm. The Puritans won the war, then lost the peace as ten years of puritanical rule — no plays, no Christmas, etc. — was more than enough for Britain.

What followed in 1760 was in essence a second revolution, albeit a peaceful one — the Restoration of the Monarchy. King Charles II, an Anglican, was invited to retake the throne and put the “merry” back in “merry olde England.”

The reign of Charles II went well, for Anglicans and non-Puritans at least. Charles II worked well with Parliament and he was quite colorful. But when he died, his brother, the James II was crowned. James II was a Catholic in a Protestant nation at a time when the population drank in rabid anti-Catholicism with their mother’s milk. So when James II began to rule as a tyrant, when he began to disarm Protestants in their homes and promote Catholics to positions of power, the people rebelled. Several leaders in Parliament turned to James II’s daughter, Mary, a Protestant married to the Dutch Prince William of Orange, and invited Mary and her husband to invade England and take the Crown — a third revolution.

William of Orange thought that a good deal and sailed with an invasion force to England. James II led his army to Reading where lead elements of the two forces met on this day in 1688. Six hundred Irish Catholics of James II’s army were defeated and sent into retreat by 250 of William’s soldiers in the Battle of Reading. Many of James II forces deserted and James II fled from the field of battle two days later, leaving England for the safety of France. The Glorious Revolution was accomplished at negligible loss of life — in England, at least. The story would be different and far bloodier in Scotland and Ireland.

England’s Parliament welcomed William and Mary, but not quite with fully open arms. There would be no more tyrannical monarchs in England. They offered William and Mary the crowns of England on the condition that the two sign a document defining the limits of a King’s power. That document was known as the English Bill of Rights of 1689, one of three documents that defined the “rights of Englishmen” and many of whose provisions made it, in one form or another, into our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

1775 – American Revolutionary War: Slaves, the Battle of Great Bridge, & Disease

The Battle of Great Bridge was significant for it gave a glimpse of the role many colonists feared slaves might play in the war on behalf of the British. And it gave a glimpse of what would actually happen to escaped slaves and their families who made it to the British military.

In 1775, the largest of the thirteen colonies in terms of land mass was Virginia. But at the start of the Revolutionary War, Britain ignored Virginia in favor of other more promising targets. In the North, they prepared to invade New York and New Jersey. In the South, they prepared to invade North Carolina and South Carolina.

Virginia’s Royal Governor in 1775 was John Murray, 4th Lord of Dunmore. He was livid that Britain wouldn’t send him any additional troops beyond his paltry 300 red-coats already on hand for operations in Virginia. Dunmore decided to grow an Army. He and his men boarded British ships and Dunmore spent the summer of 1775 directing small scale coastal raids in Virginia. He enlisted all slaves of patriots he encountered in an all black “Ethiopian Regiment” commanded by his redcoat officers and NCO’s. Dunmore fomalized his plan on Nov. 7, 1775 when he signed what became known as Dunmore’s Proclamation, something that shook the slave owners in the South, from Virginia to South Carolina, where slaves were a substantial part of the population. Dunmore, a slave owner, offered freedom to the slave of any Patriot (but not the slaves of loyalists) and their families who made it to Dunmore’s location and agreed to take up arms for Britain against the Patriot rebels. Simon Schama, in his book Rough Crossings, quotes George Washington’s response:

“If that man is not crushed before spring,” he wrote of Dunmore, “he will become the most formidable enemy America has; his strength will increase as a snowball by rolling; and faster, if some expedient cannot be hit upon, to convince the slaves and servants . . . of the impotency of his designs.”

By the end of November, Dunmore had manned his Ethiopian Regiment with 500 former slaves, all armed and outfitted in uniforms emblazoned with the words “Freedom To Slaves.” They first saw action on Nov. 15 in a skirmish at Kemp’s Landing against Virginia militia and performed very well. As the author at Wiki writes “That black people were trained to bear arms and kill was a revolutionary idea at the time,” Horse manure. Armed slaves and black freed men were part of virtually every colonial militia, from South Carolina to Massachusetts and had been, in one form or another, since the colonies came into being. Armed black slaves were mustered by law in SC as early at 1705 and Blacks, free and slave, were integrated into the Continental Army, making up a fifth of Washington’s soldiers at Yorktown.

After the skirmish of Kemp’s Landing, the Brits and the Ethiopian Regiment encamped at Great Bridge. They built a small fort and took up positions. Virginia militia numbering about 900 arrived and took up a defensive position on the opposite side of the bridge to the British fort. The Brits, thinking the militia at about 400 men, opted to attack and drive them from the area.

On this day in 1775, the British led Ethiopian Regiment charged the across Great Bridge, only to be met by withering fire from the Virginia militia. The Battle was over in half an hour. The Redcoats suffered seventeen dead and forty-nine gravely wounded, the black soldiers of the Ethiopian Regiment suffered eighty-five dead or seriously wounded. Casualties on the American side were one man with a wounded hand. A truce was called to remove the dead and wounded, and while it was ongoing, Dunmore used the time to mount a withdrawal of all remaining soldiers onto the ships.

After Great Bridge, Dunmore stayed largely ship based for several months in Virginia waters, hoping to reconstitute the Ethiopian Regiment. That is when the susceptibility of blacks to British diseases made its presence known. The casualties were worse than at Great Bridge.

The vast majority of slaves worked on rural farms far from the major cities. Most had never been exposed to the worst contagion of the era, small pox. Small pox was endemic to Britain, but not in Africa so blacks had no herd immunity. Moreover, the small pox virus infested British ships. It was epidemic in the colonies during the American Revolution, and it was a disease that was particularly virulent and deadly when it found its way into the black populations of the 18th century. When coupled with other “camp” diseases, such as typhus, that were common in military units and on ships of the time, the combination was a truly devastating double whammy to blacks who joined in cramped British quarters. Telling is what happened to the Ethiopian Regiment in the months after Great Bridge. Again to quote Schama:

[What] Dunmore had hoped to be his great advantage—the recruitment of escaped slaves—was now turning into a liability. For although, as he reported to Lord George Germain, six to eight blacks came to him every day, their number was immediately wiped out by deaths from smallpox and an unidentifiable “fleet” fever, probably typhus. Overcrowded conditions on the ships and on the island encampments, . . . all but guaranteed an epidemic. Smallpox struck the blacks with disproportionate ferocity. The fleet surgeons recommended inoculation, but while this procedure, which involved creating an infection through deliberately contaminating an incision, had a high chance of reducing the fatality rate, it also meant that those who had been inoculated would be incapable of labour or military duties during the active cycle of the disease, a matter of months rather than weeks. Since Dunmore felt he could not afford to do without either his white or black soldiers and labourers, in late May a ruthless decision was taken to cut his losses by leaving the hopelessly ill behind and sailing north to another harbour: Gwynn’s Island, at the mouth of the Piankatank River. But things went no better there. Although the Ethiopians had been inoculated, they were placed in a separate camp from the white soldiers and sailors, where, languishing for want of decent food and adequate clothing, they sickened and died in hundreds of the “rotten fever” that was eating alive the strength of Dunmore’s rapidly depleting troop. By early July, wrote the captain of the Roebuck, Andrew Snape Hamond, the little regiment was “too weak to resist any considerable force.”

By mid-1776, the Ethiopian Regiment was dissolved.

Blacks played an important role in the Revolution on both sides. Escaped slaves might have played a decisive role in the southern colonies, but 18th century disease greatly blunted their impact. Just as it did in 1775 Virginia, so would it do throughout the war, right through the British loss in 1781 Virginia at Yorktown.

Notable Events on Dec. 9

1835 – Texas Revolution: The Texian Army captures San Antonio, Texas. The next year, Texan’s there would be slaughtered at the Alamo, only to take their revenge at San Jacinto.

1917 – World War I: In less than a month after Britain released the Balfour Declaration stating support for the creation of a Jewish Homeland in Palestine, British Field Marshall Edmund Allenby, on this date, captures Jerusalem from the Ottoman Empire.

1937 – Second Sino-Japanese War: Japanese troops under the command of Lt. Gen. Asaka Yasuhiko launch an assault on the Chinese city of Nanking. What follows after the battle is rape, pillage and slaughter drawn from the pages of the worst of the medieval era.

1950 – Cold War: Harry Gold was sentenced on this date to 30 years in jail for helping the spy Klaus Fuchs pass information about the Manhattan Project to the Soviet Union. His testimony is later instrumental in the prosecution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

1979 – The eradication of the smallpox virus is certified, making smallpox the first of only two diseases that have been driven to extinction. Samples of the virus continue to exist in the U.S. and Russia.

Born on December 9

1594 – Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden, “The Lion of the North,” a 17th century monarch who made Sweden into a major power.

1608 – John Milton, English poet and political propagandist most famous for his epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), and Areopagitica (1644), an influential and impassioned defense of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

1917 – James Jesus Angleton, a spy who served in the OSS in WWII, then as a CIA agent, ran U.S. counter-intelligence from 1954 to 1975. The jury is still out on whether he was a genuis or paranoid.

Died on December 9

1437 – Sigismund, one of the great Germanic princes of the Middle Ages. He was, variously: from 1411 until 1415, king of Hungary and Croatia from 1387, king of Germany from 1411, king of Bohemia from 1419, king of Italy from 1431, and Holy Roman emperor from 1433 until 1437. In 1396 he led the Crusade of Nicopolis, which attempted to liberate Bulgaria and save the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople from Ottoman rule. Afterwards, he founded the Order of the Dragon to fight the Turks.

1565 – Pope Pius IV, who was not a Saint, but an industrious builder and a patron of the arts. During his reign, Michelangelo rebuilt the basilica of Santa Maria degli Angeli and Villa Pia, now known as Casina Pio IV. in the Vatican Gardens designed by Pirro Ligorio. It is now the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.

Christmas Music

Frosty the Snowman was a pop song written in 1950 and popularized by Jimmy Durante.

Dreams of Fireflies on Christmas Night is an original composition performed by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in 2012.

And for today’s long play of Christmas Music, try Wynton Marsalis