This Day in History

480 B.C.: This is… Salamis: Famous not only for its decisiveness, but also for its unlikely victors, the Battle of Salamis is one of the most famous naval battles in history. In the midst of the Greco-Persian Wars, the Persians held a superior position as the more powerful civilization. Greek City states, like Athens and Sparta temporarily ceased their rivalry for the war effort. The Athenian Thucydides and the Spartan Eurybiades led the Greek fleet. The Navy was dominated by the Athenians, the traditional Greek naval power. Xerxes, the Persian king, set up a throne on a cliff to watch the battle in the Straits of Salamis. Though heavily outnumbered, the Greeks won, staving off the Persian advance into the Pelopennese.

1692: Thou Art a Witch!: The Salem Witch Trials, which had dominated the small Massachusetts settlement for the better part of a year, hanged the last of its convicts on this day in 1692. Seven women and one man were executed, and over the next year the rest of the suspects were released or found not guilty. The Witch trials began with several teenagers, who convinced the jurors of their accusations by barking like dogs, and hallucinate, claiming in the courtroom the see spectral versions of those on trial. One of the victims, Martha Corey was claimed to have been seen in beams of the courthouse suckling a small yellow bird. Her husband, Giles was pressed to death a few days earlier, by placing large rocks on his chest. His last words were famously, “More weight!”

1823: Hello, my name is Elder Smith: Joseph Smith, a Vermonter who moved his family to Upstate New York, had begun supposedly seeing visions of God the Father, Jesus, and an angel named Moroni. The burned over District, where he lived, was a site of intense religious fervor during what is called the Second Great Awakening. Smith was directed to a spot in the woods where the “Golden Plates,” were buried. On them was the record of an ancient American civilization, said to be descended from the Israelites of the Bible. Joseph later began distributing a translation of the plates under the title, “Book of Mormon.” He eventually began accumulating followers, which would be known eventually as the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints, or the Mormon Church. Mormons were not trusted by mainstream Americans, especially for their early practice of polygamy. Smith and his followers moved gradually west, settling for a time in Nauvoo, IL.  He was arrested in Carthage, IL, for polygamy, in 1844. He was killed by a mob that stormed the jailhouse.

1862: Emancipation Proclamation: Though not actually issued as an executive order until January 1, 1862, a preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation was released on this day in 1862. The Civil War had begun the previous year when Southern, slave holding states, declared their independence in an act of secession. By September of 1862, the Battle of Antietam gave the Lincoln administration the morale it needed to issue the preliminary Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln, who claimed to had made a covenant with God to issue it if the Union took Maryland. One common misconception about the Emancipation Proclamation was that it freed all the slaves. In reality, it only freed slaves in the Confederacy, and even then the order would not be entirely realized at once. Slaves in Union territories were still in bondage, and the Proclamation could not be enforced until the Union took those areas of the Confederate States.

1980: Iraq Invades Iran: The previous year, Iran underwent the Islamic Revolution, where Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi, was overthrown and replaced the Ayatollah Khomeini. The Revolution was led by a coalition of fervent Shiites, who decried the Shah’s oppressive regime and increasing secularization of Iranian society. Neighboring Iraq was led by Saddam Hussein, a dictator who followed an Arab nationalist ideology called Ba’athism.  As a result of a border dispute, and a fear of Iraqi Shiites following their Iranian brethren in revolution, Iraq invaded Iran. The United States actually was on Iraq’s side, as Iran had unequivocally declared the United States an enemy, because they backed the ousted Shah regime. The war would last eight years, and ended in a stalemate.

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