History, Holidays & Observances on December 19

Today:  1st Settlement at Jamestown, Paine’s American Crisis, Valley Forge, Conway Cabal, Joseph Plum Martin, Henry II, J.M.W. Turner, Christmas Music

And More . . .

Holidays and Observances on Dec. 19

The Great O’s – The “Great O’s” of Advent (see explanation on Dec. 17) celebrated today is “O Radix Jesse” (O Root of Jesse). Jesse was the father of King David, and Micah had prophesied that the Messiah would be of the house and lineage of David and be born in David’s city, Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).


O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,

super quem continebunt reges os suum,

quem Gentes deprecabuntur:

veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.


O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;

before you kings will shut their mouths,

to you the nations will make their prayer:

Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

Isaiah had prophesied:

  • “A shoot shall come out from the stock of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Isaiah 11:1
  • “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.” Isaiah 11:10

Major Events on Dec. 19

1606 – London Co. ships sail from England to found Jamestown, the first permanent English colony in North America.

Creating a foothold in North America had been a problem for England. Sir Walter Raleigh failed in his attempt, then next came the lost colony of Roanoke in 1590.

In 1604, King James I gave a Royal Charter to the London Company, a corporation owned by merchants hoping to profit from trade and natural resources in the New World. The first leader of the London Company, Sir Thomas Smythe, was also the governor of the most profitable corporation the world had ever seen, the East India Company.

On this date, the London Company launched three chartered vessels, Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery with a total of 105 passengers aboard – all men and boys – with the intention of establishing a permanent colony in Virginia. They were to work the land for seven years, during which they would be clothed, fed and armed by the London Company. At the conclusion of the seven years, they were to be given grants to their own land in Virginia.

The passengers, after making landfall, set up Fort James on Jamestown Island. It was not a prime piece of real estate, being swampy and mosquito infested. More than 8 in 10 of these first settlers were dead by 1610 from disease, starvation, and Indian attacks. The settlers decided to abandon Fort James but changed there minds with the timely arrival in 1610 of a supply ship, additional settlers, and the single largest investor in the London Company, Lord De La Warr.

With De La Warr taking over as the colony’s governor, Jamestown slowly stabilized and became firmly established by 1620.

1776 – Thomas Paine publishes one of a series of pamphlets in The Pennsylvania Journal entitled “The American Crisis”

On this date, the Revolution Thomas Paine had nurtured with his incredibly influential pamphlet, Common Sense, early in 1776, was now facing its bitter end in Dec., 1776. In July, 1776, Paine had joined with Washington and the Continental Army that faced off against the British Army, then the world’s most professional fighting force. The British spent the next five months humbling and nearly destroying the Continentals in a series of battles in and around New York.

It looked to all observers like the end was nigh for the Revolution. The Continental Army was beaten and barely cohesive. Enlistments, which were then only for a one year period, were up on January 1. What remained of the Army would disappear of its own accord, and the outlook for garnering new recruits was grim indeed.

George Washington refused to accept defeat, and Thomas Paine did what he could to that end as well. Paine wrote some of the most famous lines in the American canon in an attempt to revive morale, both in the Army and among the colonists at large. On this day in 1776, Penn published the first in a series of essays called, in toto, “The American Crisis.” You might recognize some of the line from his first paragraph:

THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX) but “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

George Washington was so impressed by the sentiments, before leading his army in the incredible gamble that was the Battle of Trenton, he assembled his soldiers and had Paine’s essay read out to them.

1777 – American Revolutionary War: George Washington’s Continental Army goes into winter quarters at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

George Washington had saved the Revolution at the Battle of Trenton in Dec., 1776. But as his army went into winter quarters at Valley Forge one year later, he faced new existential challenges.

The first was an utterly broken supply system designed by Congress not, first and foremost, with actually supplying the soldiers in mind, but rather first and foremost to insure minimal corruption and waste. It accomplished none of its objectives. Joseph Plumb Martin was a private in the Continental Army that went into Valley Forge and describes the conditions in his narrative of the war:

The army was now not only starved but naked; the greatest part were not only shirtless and barefoot, but destitute of all other clothing, especially blankets. I procured a small piece of raw cowhide and made myself a pair of moccasins, which kept my feet (while they lasted) from the frozen ground, although, as I well remember, the hard edges so gelled my ankles,while on a march, that it was with much difficulty and pain that I could wear them afterwards; but the only alternative I had, was to endure this inconvenience or to go barefoot, as hundreds of my companions had to, till they might be tracked by their blood upon‘ the rough frozen ground.

But hunger, nakedness and sore shins were not the only difficulties we had at that time to encounter ;——we had hard duty to perform and little or no strength to perform it with. The army continued at and near the Gulf for some days, after which we marched for the Valley ,Forge in order to take up our winter-quarters. We were now in a truly forlorn c0ndition,—no clothing, no provisions and as disheartened as need be. We arrived, however, at our destination a few days before Christmas. Our prospect was indeed dreary. In our miserable condition, to go into the wild woods and build us habitations to stay (not to live) in, in such a weak, starved and naked condition, was appalling in the highest degree, . . . 

George Washington ultimately prevailed upon Congress to appoint General Nathaniel Greene as quartermaster, and complete disaster was barely avoided. Of the 12,000 soldiers who marched into Valley Forge, one out of every six perished from starvation or disease worsened by malnutrition.

The second challenge faced by Washington was an attempt by other Generals and some in Congress to replace him as Commander in Chief. The Conway Cabal, which seemed to include among its number several high members of the Continental Congress, including Samuel Adams  The cabal wanted to replace Washington with Gen. “Granny” Gates, the “hero of Saratoga.” Thomas Fleming, in his book Washington’s Secret War, makes the case that the cabal presented a very serious challenge and that Washington proved himself a skilled politician in defeating it.

Lastly, Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian drill master who spoke no English, arrived in camp. What he accomplished in a few months at Valley Forge was nothing short of a miracle. He exponentially improved the professionalism of the NCO and junior officer corp and, using the “train the trainer” approach, succeeded in training the entire Continental Army in the close order drill that was the key to 18th century land warfare. The army that marched into Valley Forge was determined, but destitute and poorly trained. The army that marched out of Valley Forge was battle hardened, rough, and fully the equal of the British Army.

Notable Events on Dec. 19

1154 – Henry II, one of the most consequential, and during his lifetime, hated, Kings of England, is crowned at Westminster Abbey. Henry II is largely responsible for the development of the common law and anglo legal system that we have today.

1187 – Pope Clement III, a contemporary of Henry II is elected. His papacy was challenging, as he launched the Third Crusade, brought peace to Rome, and dealt with internal problems of the Church.

1675 – The Great Swamp Fight, a very brutal battle in King Philip’s War, won by the colonists but at dear cost.

1924 – The last Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost is sold in London, England.

1984 – The Sino-British Joint Declaration, stating that China would resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong and the United Kingdom would restore Hong Kong to China with effect from July 1, 1997 is signed in Beijing, China by Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher.

1998 – President Bill Clinton is impeached by the United States House of Representatives, becoming the second President of the United States to be impeached.

2016 – A Muslim terrorist who had vowed loyalty to ISIS mows down people at a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12 and injuring 56, all for the glory of Allah.

Born on Dec. 19

1778 – Marie Thérèse of France, the only child of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette to survive into adulthood. She survived the Reign of Terror and a second Revolution in France.

1906 – Leonid Brezhnev, the man who ousted Khrushchev to become the leader of the Soviet Union in 1964.

Died on Dec. 19

1848 – Emily Brontë, a poet and author of one novel, quite controversial at the time, Wuthering Heights.

1851 – Joseph Mallord William Turner, an English Romantic painter known for his “imaginative landscapes and turbulent, often violent marine paintings.” The picture below, Flint Castle, was painted by Turner in 1838

Christmas Music

Christmas Oratorio, written by Johann Sebastian Bach for performance in church the Christmas season of 1734.


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas is a 1951 Christmas song written by Meredith Wilson. It has been recorded by numerous singers.


And for extended listening . . . Perry Como