This Day In History

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On March 16, 1850, Nathaniel Hawthorne's story of adultery and betrayal in colonial America, The Scarlet Letter, is published.

Hawthorne was born in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1804. Although the infamous Salem witch trials had taken place more than 100 years earlier, the events still hung over the town and made a lasting impression on the young Hawthorne. Witchcraft figured in several of his works, including "Young Goodman Brown" (1835) and The House of the Seven Gables (1851), in which a house is cursed by a wizard condemned by the witch trials.

Hawthorne worked at Salem's custom house following a period of poor literary sales and financial hardships in order to provide for his growing family. After leaving the job, he spent several months writing The Scarlet Letter, which made him famous.

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On March 19, 1687, Robert de La Salle was murdered by Pierre Duhaut during a mutiny while searching for the mouth of the Mississippi River.

La Salle left France in 1864 with four ships and 300 colonists in an attempt to establish a French colony on the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the Mississippi River. However, the journey was ill-fated and plagued by pirates, hostile natives and poor navigation almost from the beginning.

After running one of his final ships aground near Navasota, Texas, the remaining 36 men led a mutiny and murdered Robert de La Salle.

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On the eve of a general parliamentary session scheduled for November 5, 1605, Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace, found Guy Fawkes lurking in a cellar of the Parliament building. Fawkes was detained and the premises thoroughly searched. Nearly two tons of gunpowder were found hidden within the cellar. In his interrogation, Fawkes revealed that he was a participant in an English Catholic conspiracy organized by Robert Catesby to annihilate England's entire Protestant government, including King James I. The king was to have attended Parliament on November 5. Over the next few months, English authorities killed or captured all of the conspirators in the "Gunpowder Plot" but also arrested, tortured, or killed dozens of innocent English Catholics. After a brief trial, Guy Fawkes was sentenced, along with the other surviving chief conspirators, to be hanged, drawn, and quartered in London. On January 30, 1606, the gruesome public executions began in London, and on January 31 Fawkes was called to meet his fate. While climbing to the hanging platform, however, he jumped from the ladder and broke his neck, dying instantly.
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On this day in 1732, George Washington is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the second son from the second marriage of a colonial plantation owner.

An initially loyal British subject, Washington eventually led the Continental Army in the American Revolution and became known as the father of the United States.

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On this day in 1911, President Ronald Wilson Reagan is born in Tampico, Illinois.

Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, served for two terms from 1981 to 1989. Known as The Great Communicator, he was the first actor to be elected president after two centuries of mainly lawyers and soldiers.

Born and raised in Illinois, Reagan took his first media job as a radio sports announcer in the Midwest. Buoyed by his on-air success, he journeyed to Hollywood and began acting in feature films in the 1930s. During World War II, he served as a lieutenant in the Army Air Corps, appearing in training and propaganda films. After the war, Reagan served as president of the Screen Actor's Guild from 1947 to 1952. At that time, he was a proponent of New Deal Democratic policies. He switched to the Republican Party in 1960.

Reagan delivered a rousing speech in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater at the Republican National Convention in 1964, which in effect launched his political career. After two terms as governor of California, he made a bid for the Republican presidential ticket in 1976, losing to Vice President Gerald Ford. In 1980, he gained the nomination and beat out embattled Democratic incumbent Jimmy Carter to become president, ushering in a new era of conservatism in American politics.

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Texan Colonel William Travis sends a desperate plea for help for the besieged defenders of the Alamo, ending the message with the famous last words, "Victory or Death."

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