John’s Believe It Or Not… September 27th

In 1806 – Isaac Brock appointed to command British forces in Upper Canada. In 1854 Ships collide off Newfoundland. In 1540 Jesuit order established. In 1999 Placido Domingo breaks Caruso’s opening-night record at the Metropolitan Opera. In 1869 Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok proves too wild for Kansas.

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It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did you know…

* 1806 – Isaac Brock appointed to command British forces in Upper Canada.

Major-General Sir Isaac Brock KB (6 October 1769 – 13 October 1812) was a British Army officer and colonial administrator from Guernsey. Brock was assigned to Lower Canada in 1802. Despite facing desertions and near-mutinies, he commanded his regiment in Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) successfully for many years. He was promoted to major general and became responsible for defending Upper Canada against the United States. While many in Canada and Britain believed war could be averted, Brock began to ready the army and militia for what was to come. When the War of 1812 broke out, the populace was prepared, and quick victories at Fort Mackinac and Detroit defeated American invasion efforts.

Brock’s actions, particularly his success at Detroit, earned him a knighthood, membership in the Order of the Bath, accolades and the sobriquet “The Hero of Upper Canada”. His name is often linked with that of the Native American leader Tecumseh, although the two men collaborated in person only for a few days. Brock died at the Battle of Queenston Heights, which the British won.

Artist's rendering of Sir Isaac Brock
Artist’s rendering of Sir Isaac Brock (brocku.ca)

* 1854 Ships collide off Newfoundland.

Sudden and heavy fog caused two ships to collide, killing 322 people off the coast of Newfoundland on this day in 1854.

The Arctic was a luxury ship, built in 1850 to carry passengers across the Atlantic Ocean. It had a wooden hull and could reach speeds of up to 13 knots per hour, an impressive clip at that point in history. On September 20, the Arctic left Liverpool, England, for North America. Seven days later, just off of the Newfoundland coast, it came into a heavy fog. Unfortunately, the ship’s captain, James Luce, did not take the usual safety measures for dealing with fog—he did not slow the Arctic, he did not sound the ship’s horn and he did not add extra watchmen.

At 12:15, the Arctic slammed into the steamer Vesta, an iron-hulled ship piloted by Captain Alphonse Puchesne. Since it was the Arctic that hit the Vesta, the crew of the Arctic initially directed their energy at helping the Vesta. They had not realized that the iron hull of the Vesta had actually done much more damage to the Arctic than vice versa.

Soon, the Arctic released lifeboats, but many capsized in the choppy waters. As the crew of the Arctic discovered that their ship was seriously damaged, Captain Luce decided to try to beach the ship. In doing so, he ran over several of the lifeboats, causing, even more, people to drown. The Arctic was too far from shore for the attempt to be successful and the action only increased the rate of flooding inside the ship.

General panic then ensued. Desperate Arctic crew members took lifeboats from women and children attempting to escape. When one of the ship’s high-ranking officers tried to stop this, the crew killed him. The final 70 people left on board crowded onto a makeshift raft as the Arctic sank. Reportedly only one member of this group survived.

A contemporary impression of the collision of the Arctic and the Vesta
A contemporary impression of the disaster (Dawlish Chronicles – blogger)

* 1540 Jesuit order established.

In Rome, the Society of Jesus–a Roman Catholic missionary organization–receives its charter from Pope Paul III. The Jesuit order played an important role in the Counter-Reformation and eventually succeeded in converting millions around the world to Catholicism.

The Jesuit movement was founded by Ignatius de Loyola, a Spanish soldier turned priest, in August 1534. The first Jesuits–Ignatius and six of his students–took vows of poverty and chastity and made plans to work for the conversion of Muslims. If travel to the Holy Land was not possible, they vowed to offer themselves to the pope for apostolic work. Unable to travel to Jerusalem because of the Turkish wars, they went to Rome instead to meet with the pope and request permission to form a new religious order. In September 1540, Pope Paul III approved Ignatius’ outline of the Society of Jesus, and the Jesuit order was born.

Under Ignatius’ charismatic leadership, the Society of Jesus grew quickly. Jesuit missionaries played a leading role in the Counter-Reformation and won back many of the European faithful who had been lost to Protestantism. In Ignatius’ lifetime, Jesuits were also dispatched to India, Brazil, the Congo region, and Ethiopia. Education was of utmost importance to the Jesuits, and in Rome, Ignatius founded the Roman College (later called the Gregorian University) and the Germanicum, a school for German priests. The Jesuits also ran several charitable organizations, such as one for former prostitutes and one for converted Jews. When Ignatius de Loyola died in July 1556, there were more than 1,000 Jesuit priests.

During the next century, the Jesuits set up ministries around the globe. The “Black-Robes,” as they were known in Native America, often preceded other Europeans in their infiltration of foreign lands and societies. The life of a Jesuit was one of immense risk, and thousands of priests were persecuted or killed by foreign authorities hostile to their mission of conversion. However, in some nations, such as India and China, the Jesuits were welcomed as men of wisdom and science.

With the rise of nationalism in the 18th century, most European countries suppressed the Jesuits, and in 1773 Pope Clement XIV dissolved the order under pressure from the Bourbon monarchs. However, in 1814, Pope Pius VII gave in to popular demand and reestablished the Jesuits as an order, and they continue their missionary work to this day. Ignatius de Loyola was canonized a Catholic saint in 1622.

St. Ignatius of Loyola
St. Ignatius of Loyola (integratedcatholiclife.org)

* 1999 Placido Domingo breaks Caruso’s opening-night record at the Metropolitan Opera.

On September 27, 1999, operatic tenor Placido Domingo makes his 18th opening-night appearance at the Metropolitan Opera House, breaking an “unbreakable” record previously held by the great Enrico Caruso.

Caruso, of course, was the biggest star the world of opera had ever seen. Following his New York debut with the Metropolitan Opera in 1903, he made opening-night appearances at the Met in 16 of the next 17 years. With his death in 1921, Caruso’s streak stopped at 17—a mark that no other singer even remotely approached for the next 60 years. The Italian bass-baritone Ezio Pinza was the closest challenger to Caruso before Placido Domingo came along, but even Pinza failed to reach double digits, topping out at nine opening nights with the Met over the course of his 22-year career. Even Domingo never thought that Caruso’s record would be broken, much less that he would be the one to break it. “But when I was in my 11th or 12th opening night,” he recalled during an interview before his record-setting performance, “somebody asked me, ‘Do you realize how close you are to the number of times Caruso opened the Met season?’ What can I tell you? I started to think maybe I can do it.”

As a contemporary of the great Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo never enjoyed undisputed status as the greatest tenor of his time. But his far superior stamina and his broader repertoire made him the go-to choice for opening night at the Met, of which Pavarotti sang only seven. Domingo sang his first opening with the Met in 1971, in Verdi’s Don Carlo, and over the years he sang opening-night parts as diverse as the title role in Verdi’s Otello and Sigmund in Wagner’s Die Walkurie. When he sang at his record-setting 18th opening night on this day in 1999, Domingo did so, appropriately enough, as Canio in Ruggero Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci—a role most closely associated the man whose record he surpassed, Enrico Caruso.

Placido Domingo
Placido Domingo (Pinterest)

* 1869 Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok proves too wild for Kansas.

Just after midnight on this day in 1869, Ellis County Sheriff Wild Bill Hickok and his deputy respond to a report that a local ruffian named Samuel Strawhun and several drunken buddies were tearing up John Bitter’s Beer Saloon in Hays City, Kansas. When Hickok arrived and ordered the men to stop, Strawhun turned to attack him, and Hickok shot him in the head. Strawhun died instantly, as did the riot.

Such were Wild Bill’s less-than-restrained law enforcement methods. Famous for his skill with a pistol and steely-calm under fire, James Butler Hickok initially seemed to be the ideal man for the sheriff of Ellis County, Kansas. The good citizens of Hays City, the county seat, were tired of the wild brawls and destructiveness of the hard-drinking buffalo hunters and soldiers who took over their town every night. They hoped the famous “Wild Bill” could restore peace and order, and in the late summer of 1869, elected him as interim county sheriff.

Tall, athletic, and sporting shoulder-length hair and a sweeping mustache, Hickok cut an impressive figure, and his reputation as a deadly shot with either hand was often all it took to keep many potential lawbreakers on the straight and narrow. As one visiting cowboy later recalled, Hickok would stand “with his back to the wall, looking at everything and everybody under his eyebrows–just like a mad old bull.” But when Hickok applied more aggressive methods of enforcing the peace, some Hays City citizens wondered if their new cure wasn’t worse than the disease. Shortly after becoming sheriff, Hickok shot a belligerent soldier who resisted arrest, and the man died the next day. A few weeks later Hickok killed Strawhun. While his brutal ways were indisputably effective, many Hays City citizens were less than impressed that after only five weeks in office he had already found it necessary to kill two men in the name of preserving peace.

During the regular November election later that year, the people expressed their displeasure, and Hickok lost to his deputy, 144-89. Though Wild Bill Hickok would later go on to hold other law enforcement positions in the West, his first attempt at being a sheriff had lasted only three months.

Portrait of American cowboy, scout, professional gambler and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok (1837 - 1876) as he wears a fringed leather jacket and holds a revolver, 1870s.
Portrait of American cowboy, scout, professional gambler and gunfighter Wild Bill Hickok (1837 – 1876) as he wears a fringed leather jacket and holds a revolver, 1870s. (Getty Images)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

* Wikipedia                                                    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Brock

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

9 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… September 27th”

  1. Goodness, now I understand why Bill Hickok was called “wild.” BTW, I have a great love for St. Ignatius. His approach to reading scripture is truly transformative. Someday, someday I hope to visit Montserrat.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. An interesting round-up today, John. I never knew Bill Hickok had held the position of a sheriff, so that was quite interesting.

    The collision of the Arctic and the Vesta is so tragic, and seems like it could have been avoided had the captain not been so negligent. And what a wretched crew, hoisting women and children from lifeboats to save themselves. I admire the poor crew member who tried to intervene. At least there was one gallant soul on that vessel.

    Liked by 1 person

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