The Curious Case of the Cascadia Earthquake

On January 26th, 1700, a major earthquake occurred off today's western coast of Canada and the US, with an estimated moment magnitude of 8.7–9.2. It entered Native American oral history, of course, as a major event. But they did not use written records, nor the (European) Gregorian Calendar. How do modern historians then know the precise date of the earthquake? Well, it comes from a combination of records. The earthquake caused a tsunami which struck the coast of Japan, who recorded the day it hit and the magnitude of the waves. The earthquake also impacted tree rings in the Pacific Northwest, which modern scientists can use to estimate year and time of year. Between the Native American oral histories, the Japanese records, and the tree rings, historians are pretty sure they have the date right!

The earliest roller coasters were descended from Serra da Estrela, Portugal sled rides held on specially constructed hills of ice. They were pretty big,  sometimes up to 200 feet (62 m) tall! The Serra da Estrelas were constructed by a large group of Russian refugees to remind them of where they came from. There is evidence for them as early as the 1600s, in the 1700s they gradually became popular across Europe, and by the early 1800s wheeled carts began being used instead of sleighs on tracks. The first such wheeled ride was brought to Paris in 1804 under the name Les Montagnes Russes (French for "Russian Mountains").

French, along with Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, still call roller coasters "russian mountains" after their snowy ancestor. Russian, ironically, calls them "American mountains."


"To strive with difficulties, and to conquer them, is the highest human felicity; the next is, to strive, and deserve to conquer; but he whose life has passed without a contest, and who can boast neither success nor merit, can survey himself only as a useless filler of existence; and if he is content with his own character, must owe his satisfaction to insensibility."

Samuel Johnson (1709 - 1784). English author who made lasting contributions to English literature as a poet, essayist, moralist, literary critic, biographer, editor and lexicographer. In addition to writing for magazines, poems, plays, and a biography, he also wrote a dictionary! After nine years of work, Johnson's A Dictionary of the English Language was published in 1755.  It had a far-reaching effect on Modern English and has been acclaimed as "one of the greatest single achievements of scholarship". Until the completion of the Oxford English Dictionary 150 years later, Johnson's was the pre-eminent British dictionary.

Charity Hospital is the second oldest hospital in the United States. It was founded when Louisiana was still French, in May of 1736, using money from the will of Jean Louis, a French sailor and shipbuilder who died in New Orleans the year before. His last will and testament was to finance a hospital for the poor in the colony of New Orleans. Only Bellevue Hospital in New York City is older (just barely) since it was founded a month earlier in March of 1736. Charity Hospital was abandoned after Hurricane Katrina flooding and evacuation in 2005. Technically, the new University Medical Center New Orleans has taken over its functions. But the Charity Hospital's imposing, decaying remains still stand in New Orleans, a reminder of what was lost and the work still needing to be done.

Possible African-American Cemetery Found In DC Excavation

Workers renovating the basement of a Georgetown townhouse discovered human remains thought to date to the early nineteenth century. City archaeologist Ruth Trocolli said the site may have been part of an unrecorded cemetery on the block, since other human remains have been recovered during construction projects in the past.

Jerry McCoy of the D.C. Public Library said one of the graves might belong to Yarrow Mamout, who is also known as “Old Yarrow” from portraits painted by James Alexander Simpson and Charles Willson Peale. Mamout, a Muslim, was kidnapped in West Africa, enslaved in Georgetown, and won his freedom at the age of 60, when he became a successful investor. Mamout lived around the corner from the recently discovered burial site, but is known to have been interred in the garden where he prayed, which was located a few yards away from his home. “We don’t know where any of the black people in early Georgetown were buried,” added historian James H. Johnston. “There are all these other questions that this could help answer about the history of black Georgetown."

La Pola, as Policarpa (or maybe Apolonia) Salavarrieta is a national hero in Colombia, and graces their 10,000 pesos note. The fifth of nine children, Salavarrieta was orphaned by smallpox at age 6 and grew up in the Spanish colony of New Granada (what is today Colombia and Panama). She grew up just as her nation was being born. La Pola became involved with the patriot movement thanks to her family's involvement in her hometown of Guadas; there is evidence of her activities starting when she was about 15, in 1810. La Pola only escalated her anti-royalist activities once she moved to present-day Bogotá with her brother.

In the capital city, La Pola and her brother worked as "servants" at Andrea Ricaurte's home, the center of intelligence gathering and resistance in the capital. Because her revolutionary sympathies were unknown in Bogotá she could move freely through the city and its social groups. Offering her services as a seamstress to the wives and daughters of royalists and officers, she overheard conversations, collected maps and intelligence on their plans and activities, identified who the major royalists were, and found out who were suspected of being revolutionaries. She also worked to recruit badly-needed soldiers for the revolutionary cause and smuggled them out of the city.

Eventually she came under suspicion. But there was not sufficient evidence to arrest her. In 1817, though, her luck ran out. La Pola’s lover, Alejo Sabaraín, and others were caught making their way to the plains to join the rebels. And worse, they were found with signed evidence of La Pola’s counterintelligence efforts on them. She was arrested and sentenced to death by firing squad. La Pola is famous for staying up the whole night before her execution, cursing the Spaniards and predicting their defeat in the revolution. On the scaffold, she is reported to have shouted "I have more than enough courage to suffer this death and a thousand more! Do not forget my example!" She died just 22 years old.

Chinese Map of the Eastern Hemisphere, 1799

  What do you notice the map includes? I was surprised by what appears to be the tip of Greenland on the upper left-hand corner!

Canada's third most-spoken language was once Canadian Gaelic -- about 200,000 Canadians could speak it at the language's peak. Canadian Gaelic declined after 1850 and today there are less than 1,000 speakers.

Aztec Steambath Uncovered In Mexico City

Archaeologists in Mexico City have uncovered a pre-Hispanic steambath dating back to the 1300s. Called a temazcal in the indigenous Nahuatl language, it was fueled by natural hot springs underneath the area. It included a tub (basically a pool of water) and a bench for sitting. The structure was made from blocks of adobe and stucco-coated volcanic rock known as tezontle, which formed the tub, the bench, and a domed covering.

Importantly, the discovery of this temazcal confirms the location of Temazcaltitlan, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Tenochtitlán, the Mexica capital that eventually became Mexico City. There is a written account by a Nahuatl nobleman of a temazcal being built in Tenochtitlan that was built to bathe and purify a noble Mixiuhca girl named Quetzalmoyahuatzi, and how other townspeople were also welcome to partake in the steambath. This archaeological find confirms the written account. In their excavations at the site, archaeologists also found evidence of a post-colonial house that was inhabited by an indigenous family of noble descent, as well as the remnants of a tannery that was in operation during the 1700s.

Yamanote and Shitamachi are traditional names for Tokyo's two halves. Yamanote is the affluent, upper-class area and Shitamachi (literally "low town" or "low city") is the middle and lower-class area. The terms have been in use since the city became Japan's shogunate capital in 1603. Over time, each area has added neighborhoods as the city expanded, but the original neighborhoods are still distinctly Yamanote or Shitamachi.

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    HISTORICAL NON-FICTION

    By Lillian Audette

    This blog is a collection of the interesting, the weird, and sometimes the need-to-know about history, culled from around the internet. It has pictures, it has quotes, it occasionally has my own opinions on things. If you want to know more about anything posted, follow the link at the "source" on the bottom of each post. And if you really like my work, buy me a coffee or become a patron!

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