This Day in History
December 16: Boston Tea Party incident, Great White Fleet 1907, the Shortest Reign in the Senate, and Other Events of the Date
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December 16: Boston Tea Party incident, Great White Fleet 1907, the Shortest Reign in the Senate, and Other Events of the Date


Boston Tea Party

The Boston tea party of 1773 is still remembered by many Americans who honor their history. The event is significant not only for ordinary people but also for many in the world, as it was an indicator of freedom and independence.

The events leading to the Boston Tea Party started in September and October 1773 when 7 ships carrying East India Company (also known as the Honourable East India Company [HEIC] or the British East India Company) tea were sent to the American colonies. Four ships were bound for Boston and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. The colonists learned the details of the consignments whilst the ships were en route, and opposition began to mount. The Committees of Correspondence rallied opposition amongst the colonists. Details of the ships and their consignments of tea were well publicized and protests and actions against the British were agreed.

This day in Boston Harbor, a group of Massachusetts colonists disguised as Mohawk Indians took three British tea ships (known as Dartmouth, Beaver and Eleanor) and dumped 342 chests of tea into the harbor.

The midnight raid, popularly known as the "Boston Tea Party," was in protest of the British Parliament's Tea Act of 1773, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company by greatly lowering its tea tax and granting it a virtual monopoly on the American tea trade. The low tax allowed the East India Company to undercut even tea smuggled into America by Dutch traders, and repeat, many colonists viewed the act as another example of taxation tyranny.

When three tea ships arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the "tea party" with about 60 members of the Sons of Liberty, his underground resistance group. The British tea dumped in Boston Harbor on the night of December 16 was valued at some $18,000.

Parliament, outraged by the blatant destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, also known as the Intolerable Acts, in 1774. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America, and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to the British.

There are some eyewitness accounts and quotes from participants in the Boston Tea Party. Joshua Wyeth, reminiscing the events of the Boston Tea Party said,

"To prevent discovery we agreed to wear ragged clothes and disfigure ourselves, dressing to resemble Indians as much as possible, smearing our faces with grease and lamp black or soot, and should not have known each other except by our voices."

George Robert Twelves Hewes, also reminiscing about the events of the Boston Tea Party, said,

"…I immediately dressed myself in the costume of an Indian, equipped with a small hatchet…after having painted my face and hands with coal dust in the shop of a blacksmith."

Another American statesman Samuel Adams defended the actions of the Boston Tea Party patriots stating that it, "was not the act of a lawless mob, but a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their Constitutional rights."

According to most historians, the Boston Tea Party was the catalyst that ultimately led to the American Revolution that began less than two years later on April 19th, 1775. The English government took it as an act of rebellion and retaliated by escalating. It was the escalation after the destruction of tea in Boston Harbor that caused the colonists to take up arms and fight the British.

NYC Great Fire of 1835

It started on the frigid night of December 16. Flames broke out inside a warehouse on Pearl Street, the center of New York’s dry goods district.

"The city's undermanned volunteer fire brigades rushed to the scene, but what little water could be pumped from the nearby hydrants turned to ice in the frigid night air, and the crews -- exhausted from fighting a blaze the night before -- were soon completely overwhelmed," wrote Ric Burns and James Sanders in New York.

Due to strong winds, flames leaped from shops to warehouses to the majestic Merchants Exchange. Within hours, 20 blocks and 600 buildings bounded by South, Broad, and Wall Streets and Coenties Slip, were ablaze.

New York had experienced devastating fires before, particularly in 1776. This fire was something else though -- so intense, it could reportedly be seen from Philadelphia.

The cold made it tough to get under control. "Whiskey was poured into boots to prevent [firefighters'] toes from icing up," states Paul Hashagen in Fire Department, City of New York.

"By the time the flames were out, a quarter of the city’s business district had been destroyed, including every one of the stone Dutch houses that had survived the fires of the Revolution," wrote Burns and Sanders.

Hundreds of businesses were ruined. Most of the city's insurance companies went bankrupt. Amazingly, only two people perished.

As horrific as it was, the Great Fire of 1835 had a few upsides. It forced the city, which rebuilt within a year, to organize a professional fire department and shore up building codes.

And it showed the need for a modern water-supply system, resulting in the opening of the Croton Aqueduct and reservoir on 42nd Street seven years later.

Great White Fleet 1907

In 1906, 26th President Theodore Roosevelt became concerned about the US Navy's lack of strength in the Pacific due to the increasing danger posed by Japan. To demonstrate to the Japanese that the United States could easily switch its main battle fleet to the Pacific, he directed that a world cruise of the country's battleships be planned.

Really it was in the last years of Roosevelt administration. The fleet, their hulls painted white, was meant as a showpiece of American goodwill and was to make courtesy calls at a number of ports globally.

Dubbed the Great White Fleet, it was directed to join the force's Third Division, Second Squadron. Both the flagship of the division and squadron, Minnesota embarked Rear Admiral Charles Thomas. Other elements of the division included the battleships USS Maine (BB-10), USS Missouri (BB-11), and USS Ohio (BB-12). Leaving from Hampton Roads on December 16, the fleet sailed south through the Atlantic and made visits to Trinidad and Rio de Janeiro before reaching Punta Arenas, Chile on February 1, 1908. Passing through the Straits of Magellan, the fleet cruised in review off Valparaiso, Chile before making a port call at Callao, Peru.

Departing on February 29, battleships spent three weeks conducting gunnery practice off Mexico the following month.

Making port at San Francisco on May 6, the fleet paused in California for a short time before turning west for Hawaii. Steering southwest, the fleet arrived at New Zealand and Australia in August. After enjoying festive and elaborate port calls, which included parties, sporting events, and parades, the fleet moved north to the Philippines, Japan, and China.

Concluding goodwill visits in these countries, the great fleet transited the Indian Ocean and passed through the Suez Canal. Arriving in the Mediterranean, ships divided between themselves to show the flag in numerous ports before rendezvousing at Gibraltar. Reunited, it crossed the Atlantic and reached Hampton Roads on February 22, 1909, where it was greeted by Roosevelt. Apart from displaying to the world the rising naval and military power of America, the visits led to improvements in formation steaming, coal economy and morale aboard ships in the naval fleets.

The shortest reign in the Senate

Next up is a story about Hiram Bingham who was born on November 19, 1875 in Honolulu, Hawaii and was descended from Deacon Thomas Bingham, who had come to the American colonies in the year 1650 and settled in Connecticut. His grandfather lived from 1789-1869 and was the first Protestant missionary to go to the Hawaiian Islands. His father, who was also a missionary, is mostly remembered for his work in the Gilbert Islands and his translation of the Bible into Gilbertese.

Hiram had a good education and had many jobs throughout his life. He attended the Punahou School of Oahu College for 10 years and the Phillips Academy for 2 years before entering Yale University. He received his B.A. degree from Yale University in 1898 and for 8 months afterward served as a superintendent of a mission in Honolulu. For the next four months, he was a chemist with the American Sugar Company. He then went back to school, first at the University of California, then Harvard for postgraduate studies in history and political science. Bingham attained his Ph.D. from Harvard in 1905 and then spent one year as a Preceptor at Princeton.

In November 1906 Bingham sailed to South America to follow the route Bolivar (an explorer Bingham had studied) had taken in 1819. He wrote about his travels and his writings were published under the title Journal of an Expedition Across Venezuela and Columbia. Next, he explored the old Spanish trade route from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Lima, Peru. His writings of that journey were published in 1911 and were entitled Across South America. In 1911, Bingham again set out for South America, this time as the Director of the Peruvian Expedition. On this expedition, he located the site of the last Inca capital Vitcos.; He was the first to ascend the 21,763 ft. Mt. Coropuma. The following year Bingham made another discovery, perhaps his most important: the discovery of Machu Picchu, the "lost city."

As World War I began, Bingham turned to politics and the military as a way of life. He attended the Republican National Convention as Connecticut's alternate and was chosen as an elector on the Hughes-Fairbanks ticket. Hiram served as an officer in various military roles, eventually being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and serving as Commanding Officer at the Aviation International Center in France.

In the summer of 1920, he was again an alternate for the Republican National Convention and was marked for advancement. Two years later he was elected Lieutenant Governor. For two days he was the Governor of Connecticut but left his job for an opening in the U.S. Senate. Bingham was a U.S. Senator for eight years but lost his seat to Democrat Augustine Lonergan which ended his political career.

Later, Bingham had many other jobs. Some of those jobs were serving on the Board of the Washington Loan and Trust Company, Vice President of the Colmena Oil Company, writing two biographies, giving many lectures on the South Sea Islands at Naval Training stations, and Chairman of the Loyalty Review Board.

In addition, Bingham was a member of the Royal Geographical Society and the National Geographical Society. He was also a member of the Sigma Psi Fraternity.

Still inexplicable escape from Alcatraz Prison

Most of us are familiar with the June 1962 escape from Alcatraz involving inmates John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris. The incident was well captured in the 1979 Clint Eastwood film Escape from Alcatraz.

Alcatraz was the infamous federal prison on a forbidden island in San Francisco Bay during the mid-20th century--a place from which no one successfully escaped. The chapter of its history that made it most famous began in the early 1930s, when the feds decided they needed an ultra-secure facility to house the super-criminals, many of them emerging from the lawless Prohibition era, that kept escaping from other prisons.

Over the 29 years (1934-1963) that the Federal prison operated, 36 men were involved in 14 separate escape attempts. Twenty-three were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, and two drowned. Two of the men who were caught were later executed in the gas chamber at the California State Prison at San Quentin for their role in the death of a correctional officer during the famous May 2-4, 1946 "Battle of Alcatraz" escape attempt.

Whether or not anyone succeeded in escaping from Alcatraz depends on the definition of "successful escape." Is it getting out of the cellhouse, reaching the water, making it to land, or reaching land and not getting caught? Officially, no one ever succeeded in escaping from Alcatraz, although to this day there are five prisoners listed as "missing and presumed drowned."

Prisoners Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe escaped from the prison and, according to various sources, were caught and killed or committed further crimes until they were caught two years after the escape. Some believe they were the firsts to escape from Alcatraz.

It is thought that Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe were sent to the prison in 1925 when they were still in their mid-twenties. They both arrived at the prison from Oklahoma but they had never met before their incarceration.

Cole had been found guilty of kidnapping while Roe was a known bank robber.

The pair of them cleverly spent around seven months creating an 8.5 in by 18 in hole in one of the iron-barred windows in the prison’s machine shop.

On December 16, 1937, Cole and Roe managed to break their confinements and escape 30 minutes after roll call was conducted at 1:00 PM.

It was an extremely foggy day and the weather may well have aided their sneaky departure.

The authorities were absolutely mortified by the successful escape attempt and spent the following several days combing the island and the opposite shoreline. Cole and Roe were never found.

Since that time most officials felt that the two men must of attempted a swim to shore, dying in the cold water in the process.

But certain sections were not too sure and believed that an arranged boat could well have picked up the two men after their daring jailbreak.

The pair have never officially been declared dead, but their bodies have never been located.

When their escape attempt became public knowledge hundreds of sighting reports came in across the American Southwest.

In April 1940 an injured taxi driver claimed that his bullet wound had come from the gun of Theodore Cole. The man had been shot during a robbery targeting his cab.

Later that year a pair of hitchhikers reported taking a lift from a man who claimed to be Ralph Roe. He had a detailed explanation of how he and his partner had managed to break out from The Rock.

Other sources say with certainty that neither Cole nor Roe could escape beyond a few hundred yards. The weather that day was so cold that both could be lost in the depths of the water. Moreover, sources say that Roe couldn't swim across the water because the current brought him back while he accidentally fell asleep.

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was officially closed on March 21, 1963. After the Federal penitentiary was abandoned, Native Americans inhabited the island from November 1969 to June 1971. On October 12, 1972, Alcatraz became part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and is currently managed by the National Park Service. Today, Alcatraz Island is a large tourist attraction.

Author: USA Really