1497 – The Bonfire of the Vanities occurs, during which supporters of Girolamo Savonarola burn cosmetics, art, and books in Florence, Italy.
1795 – The 11th Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified.
“The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.”
1812 – The strongest in a series of earthquakes strikes New Madrid, Missouri.
The first principal earthquake, M7.5, occurred at about 2:15 am (local time) in northeast Arkansas on December 16, 1811. The second principal shock, M7.3, occurred in Missouri on January 23, 1812, and the third, M7.5, on February 7, 1812, along the Reelfoot fault in Missouri and Tennessee.
John Bradbury, a Fellow of the Linnean Society, was on the Mississippi on the night of December 15, 1811, and describes the tremors in great detail in his Travels in the Interior of America in the Years 1809, 1810 and 1811, published in 1817.
After supper, we went to sleep as usual: about ten o’clock, and in the night I was awakened by the most tremendous noise, accompanied by an agitation of the boat so violent, that it appeared in danger of upsetting … I could distinctly see the river as if agitated by a storm; and although the noise was inconceivably loud and terrific, I could distinctly hear the crash of falling trees, and the screaming of the wild fowl on the river, but found that the boat was still safe at her moorings.
By the time we could get to our fire, which was on a large flag in the stern of the boat, the shock had ceased; but immediately the perpendicular banks, both above and below us, began to fall into the river in such vast masses, as nearly to sink our boat by the swell they occasioned … At day-light we had counted twenty-seven shocks.
Eliza Bryan in New Madrid, Territory of Missouri, wrote the following eyewitness account in March 1812.
On the 16th of December, 1811, about two o’clock, a.m., we were visited by a violent shock of an earthquake, accompanied by a very awful noise resembling loud but distant thunder, but more hoarse and vibrating, which was followed in a few minutes by the complete saturation of the atmosphere, with sulphurious vapor, causing total darkness. The screams of the affrighted inhabitants running to and fro, not knowing where to go, or what to do-the cries of the fowls and beasts of every species-the cracking of trees falling, and the roaring of the Mississippi- the current of which was retrograde for a few minutes, owing as is supposed, to an irruption in its bed- formed a scene truly horrible.
John Reynolds who was the 4th governor of Illinois, among other political posts, mentions the earthquake in his biography My Own Times: Embracing Also the History of My Life (1855):
On the night of 16th November, an earthquake occurred, that produced great consternation amongst the people. The centre of the violence was in New Madrid, Missouri, but the whole valley of the Mississippi was violently agitated. Our family all were sleeping in a log cabin, and my father leaped out of bed crying aloud “the Indians are on the house” … We laughed at the mistake of my father, but soon found out it was worse than the Indians. Not one in the family knew at the time that it was an earthquake. The next morning another shock made us acquainted with it, so we decided it was an earthquake. The cattle came running home bellowing with fear, and all animals were terribly alarmed on the occasion. Our house cracked and quivered, so we were fearful it would fall to the ground. In the American Bottom many chimneys were thrown down, and the church bell in Cahokia sounded by the agitation of the building. It is said the shock of an earthquake was felt in Kaskaskia in 1804, but I did not perceive it. The shocks continued for years in Illinois, and some have experienced it this year, 1855.
1904 – A fire in Baltimore, destroys over 1,500 buildings in 30 hours.
1962 – The United States bans all Cuban imports and exports.
1979 – Pluto moves inside Neptune’s orbit for the first time since either was discovered.
1984 – Space Shuttle program: STS-41-B Mission: Astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart make the first untethered space walk using the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).
1990 – Dissolution of the Soviet Union: The Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party agrees to give up its monopoly on power.
1991 – Haiti’s first democratically elected president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is sworn in.
1995 – Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, is arrested in Islamabad, Pakistan.
1997 – NeXT merges with Apple Computer, starting the path to Mac OS X.
2013 – The U.S. state of Mississippi officially certifies the Thirteenth Amendment, becoming the last state to approve the abolition of slavery. The Thirteenth Amendment was formally ratified by Mississippi in 1995.
1478 – Thomas More, English lawyer and politician, Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom (d. 1535)
1804 – John Deere, American blacksmith and businessman, founded Deere & Company (d. 1886)
1812 – Charles Dickens, English novelist and critic (d. 1870)
1885 – Sinclair Lewis, American novelist, short-story writer,playwright, Nobel Prize laureate (d. 1951)
1906 – Puyi, Chinese emperor (d. 1967)
1932 – Gay Talese, American journalist
1932 – Alfred Worden, American colonel, pilot, and astronaut
1333 – Nikko, Japanese priest, founder of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism (b. 1246)
1560 – Bartolommeo Bandinelli, Florentine sculptor (b. 1493)
1999 – King Hussein of Jordan (b. 1935)
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