This Day (Sun Spots & Godspeed Edition)

Published:December 20, 2011 by Brendan Wolfe

On this day in 1577, Thomas Hariot matriculated at Oxford University. The education served him well, because Hariot went on to teach experienced sea captains how to navigate the open ocean (he himself had not yet been to sea). He learned the Algonquian Indian language, mapped the Outer Banks and Chesapeake Bay, authored A briefe and true report of the new found land of Virginia (1588)—which has, I think you’ll agree, the coolest title page of any book you’ve ever seen—spent some time in prison, accurately calculated the orbit of Halley’s Comet (1607), used a telescope of his own making to sketch the moon (he accomplished this feat in 1609, four months before Galileo), became the first person to observe sun spots (1610), and produced the first map of the moon (1611). It seems only fair to ask: what have you done lately?

On this day in 1606, three ships carrying a hundred or so settlers sailed from London bound for Virginia. Christopher Newport captained the Susan Constant, Bartholomew Gosnold the Godspeed, and John Ratcliffe the Discovery.

We all know what happened to them, so fast forward 254 years, and on this day in 1860 the Union is dissolved! Or so proclaimed the Charleston Mercury upon the news that South Carolina had seceded from the United States. Virginia would follow … but at her own pace.

And finally, on this day in 1914, Harry Flood Byrd Jr. was born in Winchester. The son of the powerful HFB Sr., young Harry grew up to serve as a United States Senator from 1965 until 1983. We can only hope that he is now enjoying his retirement.

PS: Susan Constant or Sarah Constant?

IMAGES: Susan Constant; “The Union is Dissolved!” broadside (Division of Military History and Diplomacy, National Museum of American History); Thomas Hariot (?); Harry F. Byrd Jr. portrait by Mattox Commercial Photography (The Office of Harry F. Byrd Jr.)