It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did you know…
* 1758 – Jeffrey Amherst captures Fortress of Louisbourg after seven week siege. (The British government realized that with the Fortress of Louisbourg under French control, the Royal Navy could not sail up the St. Lawrence River unmolested for an attack on Quebec. After an expedition against Louisbourg in 1757 led by Lord Loudon was turned back due to a strong French naval deployment, the British under the leadership of William Pitt resolved to try again with new commanders.
As they had in 1757, the French planned to defend Louisbourg by means of a large naval build-up. However, the British blockaded the French fleet sailing from Toulon when it arrived in Cartagena and defeated a French relief force at the Battle of Cartagena. The French consequently abandoned their attempt to reinforce Louisbourg from the Mediterranean, and few ships were available to oppose the British off Louisbourg.
British forces assembled at Halifax, Nova Scotia where army and navy units spent most of May training together as the massive invasion fleet came together. After a large gathering at the Great Pontack, on 29 May the Royal Navy fleet departed from Halifax for Louisbourg. The fleet consisted of 150 transport ships and 40 men-of-war. Housed in these ships were almost 14,000 soldiers, almost all of whom were regulars (with the exception of four companies of American Rangers). The force was divided into three divisions: Red, commanded by James Wolfe, Blue, commanded by Charles Lawrence and White commanded by Edward Whitmore. On 2 June the British force anchored in Gabarus Bay, 3 miles (4.8 km) from Louisbourg.
The French commander (and governor of Île-Royale (New France), the Chevalier de Drucour, had at his disposal some 3,500 regulars as well as approximately 3,500 marines and sailors from the French warships in the harbor. However, unlike the previous year, the French navy was unable to assemble in significant numbers, leaving the French squadron at Louisbourg outnumbered five to one by the British fleet.
On 21 July a mortar round from a British gun on Lighthouse Point struck a 74-gun French ship of the line, L’Entreprenant, and set it ablaze. A stiff breeze fanned the fire, and shortly after L’Entreprenant caught fire, two other French ships had caught fire. L’Entreprenant exploded later in the day, depriving the French of the largest ship in the Louisbourg fleet.
The next major blow to French morale came on the evening of 23 July, at 10:00. A British “hot shot” set the King’s Bastion on fire. The King’s Bastion was the fortress headquarters and the largest building in North America in 1758. Its destruction eroded confidence and reduced morale in the French troops and their hopes to lift the British siege.
Most historians regard the British actions of 25 July as the “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Using a thick fog as cover, Admiral Boscawen sent a cutting-out party to destroy the French ships in the harbor. The British raiders eliminated the last two French ships of the line, capturing Bienfaisant and burning Prudent, thus clearing the way for the Royal Navy to enter the harbor. James Cook, who later became famous as an explorer, took part in this operation and recorded it in his ship’s log book.
On 26 July the French surrendered. Having fought a spirited defence, the French expected to be accorded the honors of war, as they had given to the surrendering British at the Battle of Minorca. However, Amherst refused, tales of the atrocities supposedly committed by France’s native allies at the surrender of Fort Oswego and Fort William Henry probably fresh in his mind. The defenders of Louisbourg were ordered to surrender all of their arms, equipment, and flags.
The loss of Louisbourg deprived New France of naval protection, opening the Saint Lawrence to attack. Louisbourg was used in 1759 as the staging point for General Wolfe’s famous Siege of Quebec ending French rule in North America. Following the surrender of Quebec, British forces, and engineers set about methodically destroying the fortress with explosives, ensuring that it could not return to French possession a second time in any eventual peace treaty. By 1760, the entire fortress was reduced to mounds of rubble. In 1763 the Treaty of Paris saw France formally cede Canada, including Cape Breton Island, to the British. In 1768 the last of the British garrison departed along with most of the remaining civilian inhabitants.)
* 1803 The Surrey Iron Railway opens in south London. (Though the use of tracks can be found previously – for example in what was arguably the first railway, the Wollaton Wagonway, which operated briefly in the early 17th century – and various projects had worked in conjunction with canals, they had been private affairs, for particular tasks or sites. On July 26, 1803, the Surrey Iron Railway opened, changing that vision of how to employ the technology.
The new railway ran the nine miles from Wandsworth via Mitcham to Croydon, through the heavily industrialized Wandle Valley which was poorly served by roads, with a one-and-a-half mile branch from Mitcham to Hackbridge. In effect, the two tracks were little more than a modified toll-road, as users had to provide their own trucks to fit the 4’ 2” gauge, and the horses or mules to pull them. A charge was levied according to the weight of freight (no passengers were carried) and the value of it, according to simple categories: thus manufactured goods cost more to freight than say coal.
Equipped with cast iron rails, the line cost the modest sum of £7,000; it was a success, another line was added just two years later, linking Croydon and Merstham. But this transport revolution fell foul to another; when George Stephenson et al developed the steam locomotive, the Surrey Iron Railway’s cast iron rails were not capable of bearing the heavy machinery, though it struggled on until 1846.)
* 1775 U.S. postal system established. (On this day in 1775, the U.S. postal system is established by the Second Continental Congress, with Benjamin Franklin as its first postmaster general. Franklin (1706-1790) put in place the foundation for many aspects of today’s mail system. During early colonial times in the 1600s, few American colonists needed to send mail to each other; it was more likely that their correspondence was with letter writers in Britain. Mail deliveries from across the Atlantic were sporadic and could take many months to arrive. There were no post offices in the colonies, so mail was typically left at inns and taverns. In 1753, Benjamin Franklin, who had been postmaster of Philadelphia, became one of two joint postmasters general for the colonies. He made numerous improvements to the mail system, including setting up new, more efficient colonial routes and cutting delivery time in half between Philadelphia and New York by having the weekly mail wagon travel both day and night via relay teams. Franklin also debuted the first rate chart, which standardized delivery costs based on distance and weight. In 1774, the British fired Franklin from his postmaster job because of his revolutionary activities. However, the following year, he was appointed postmaster general of the United Colonies by the Continental Congress. Franklin held the job until late in 1776, when he was sent to France as a diplomat. He left a vastly improved mail system, with routes from Florida to Maine and regular service between the colonies and Britain. President George Washington appointed Samuel Osgood, a former Massachusetts congressman, as the first postmaster general of the American nation under the new U.S. constitution in 1789. At the time, there were approximately 75 post offices in the country.
Today, the United States has over 40,000 post offices and the postal service delivers 212 billion pieces of mail each year to over 144 million homes and businesses in the United States, Puerto Rico, Guam, the American Virgin Islands and American Samoa. The postal service is the nation’s largest civilian employer, with over 700,000 career workers, who handle more than 44 percent of the world’s cards and letters. The postal service is a not-for-profit, self-supporting agency that covers its expenses through postage (stamp use in the United States started in 1847) and related products. The postal service gets the mail delivered, rain or shine, using everything from planes to mules. However, it’s not cheap: The U.S. Postal Service says that when fuel costs go up by just one penny, its own costs rise by $8 million.)
* 1975 Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” is the #1 song in America. (For as popular as it was during much of the first half of the 20th century, couples dancing seemed poised to go by the wayside of American popular culture by the early 1970s. That is until the arrival of a dance called the Hustle along with a #1 song by the same name. On this day in 1975, Van McCoy’s “The Hustle” topped the Billboard Hot 100 and Hot Soul Singles charts simultaneously, signaling the beginning of the disco era.
It was the dance called the Hustle that inspired the era-defining hit song rather than the other way around. Singer/songwriter/producer Van McCoy was visiting New York City when a disk-jockey friend tipped him off to a new dance being done by patrons of the Adam’s Apple nightclub on Manhattan’s East Side. McCoy sent a business partner to check out the Hustle, and the report he returned with changed the course of McCoy’s career. Van McCoy had previously written for the Shirelles and Gladys Knight, among other soul/R&B acts, and he’d put together the original Peaches and Herb, but his visit to New York would inspire him to embrace dance music fully and completely, naming his upcoming album Disco Baby and, of course, writing and recording “The Hustle.”
“The Hustle” would earn Van McCoy a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance and give him the biggest hit by far of his tragically shortened career (he died of a heart attack in 1979). The impact of the record went well beyond its commercial success, however. As “The Hustle” climbed the pop charts, it took an already substantial dance craze and turned it into a cultural phenomenon, with variations like the Latin, the Line and the New York Hustles popping up on dance floors nationwide.)
* 1952 Bob Mathias wins second Olympic decathlon. (On July 26, 1952, at the XV Olympiad in Helsinki, Finland, American Bob Mathias wins his second straight gold medal in the Olympic decathlon.
Bob Mathias was born on November 17, 1930, in Tulare, California. After a series of boyhood growth spurts left him underweight and anemic, his physician father prescribed for him liver and iron supplements. The regimen worked, and by the time Mathias was 17, he was 6 feet 2 inches tall and 190 pounds. He competed on the track team in high school before trying the decathlon at the request of his coach, who was so green he trained Mathias for the event out of a manual. Just three months before his high school graduation, Mathias competed in his first meet, in Los Angeles, and won, which qualified him for the national championship. To his great surprise, he won that as well, which gave him for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
The decathlon at the 1948 London Olympics took place in miserable cold and rainy conditions. Mathias was forced to huddle under a blanket between events, many of which were delayed by downpours. The lousy weather, however, didn’t stop Mathias: With a score of 7,887, he broke the world record and became the youngest man in Olympic history to medal in a track and field event. “There was no pressure on me the first time because I didn’t know any better,” Mathias would later recall. For his performance, Mathias won the Sullivan Award as the nation’s top amateur athlete.
In 1952, while a senior at Stanford University, Mathias traveled to Finland to defend his title. Despite struggling with a strained thigh muscle and intense media pressure, Mathias managed to beat out American Milton Campbell by more than 900 points, breaking his own world record and becoming the first repeat winner of the decathlon in Olympic history.
Mathias starred in The Bob Mathias Story in 1954 before enrolling in the Marines. Later, he served four terms in Congress as a representative from California. Mathias died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 75.)
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport http://www.onthisday.com/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/
* Information Britain http://www.information-britain.co.uk/famdates.php?id=1036