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John’s Believe It Or Not… September 10th

In 1621 – James I grants Acadia to Sir William Alexander to found New Scotland. In 1897 First drunk driving arrest. In 1989 Hungary allows East Germans refugees to leave. In 1608 Smith to lead Jamestown. In 1940 British War Cabinet reacts to the Blitz in kind.

John Fioravanti stands at the front of his classroom.

It’s Sunday! Did you know…

* 1621 – James I grants Acadia to Sir William Alexander to found New Scotland.

In 1621, King James VI of Scotland (James I of England) gave Sir William Alexander the charter for land between what is now called the St. Croix River and the Gulf of St. Lawrence. This land was given the name Nova Scotia, which is Latin for New Scotland.

Sir William Alexander’s first attempt at bringing Scottish settlers to Nova Scotia failed. In 1622, he managed to interest only a blacksmith, a Presbyterian minister, and some farm laborers. The ship set sail from Scotland in June, was delayed at the Isle of Man, then further delayed by a storm. The ship never made it to the shores of Nova Scotia. In 1623, he tried yet again but met bad weather and the expedition failed.

In May 1628, Sir William Alexander set sail again with four ships, carrying around 70 colonists. The ship and the colonists arrived safely at Port-Royal in Nova Scotia.

Sir William Alexander began some small settlements on Île Royale (now Cape Breton) and the Baie Française (now called the Bay of Fundy). However, British claims for Nova Scotia were given back to the French in the Treaty of Sait-Germain-en-Laye in 1632. Nova Scotia’s name was changed back to its original name, Acadia.

Reduced facsimile of the Map accompanying Sir William Alexander's pamphlet: "Encouragement to Colonies" 1630.
Reduced facsimile of the Map accompanying Sir William Alexander’s pamphlet: “Encouragement to Colonies” 1630. (Project Gutenberg Canada)

* 1897 First drunk driving arrest.

On this day in 1897, a 25-year-old London taxi driver named George Smith becomes the first person ever arrested for drunk driving after slamming his cab into a building. Smith later pled guilty and was fined 25 shillings.

In the United States, the first laws against operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol went into effect in New York in 1910. In 1936, Dr. Rolla Harger, a professor of biochemistry and toxicology, patented the Drunkometer, a balloon-like device into which people would breathe to determine whether they were inebriated. In 1953, Robert Borkenstein, a former Indiana state police captain and university professor who had collaborated with Harger on the Drunkometer, invented the Breathalyzer. Easier-to-use and more accurate than the Drunkometer, the Breathalyzer was the first practical device and scientific test available to police officers to establish whether someone had too much to drink. A person would blow into the Breathalyzer and it would gauge the proportion of alcohol vapors in the exhaled breath, which reflected the level of alcohol in the blood.

Despite the invention of the Breathalyzer and other developments, it was not until the late 1970s and early 1980s that public awareness about the dangers of drinking and driving increased and lawmakers and police officers began to get tougher on offenders. In 1980, a Californian named Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, after her 13-year-old daughter Cari was killed by a drunk driver while walking home from a school carnival. The driver had three previous drunk-driving convictions and was out on bail from a hit-and-run arrest two days earlier.Lightner and MADD were instrumental in helping to change attitudes about drunk driving and pushed for legislation that increased the penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. MADD also helped get the minimum drinking age raised in many states. Today, the legal drinking age is 21 everywhere in the United States and convicted drunk drivers face everything from jail time and fines to the loss of their driver’s licenses and increased car insurance rates. Some drunk drivers are ordered to have ignition interlock devices installed in their vehicles. These devices require a driver to breathe into a sensor attached to the dashboard; the car won’t start if the driver’s blood alcohol concentration is above a certain limit.

Despite the stiff penalties and public awareness campaigns, drunk driving remains a serious problem in the United States. In 2005, 16,885 people died in alcohol-related crashes and almost 1.4 million people were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

The Drunkometer, developed by Rolla Harger in the 1930's, was an early method of measuring blood alcohol content.
The Drunkometer, developed by Rolla Harger in the 1930’s, was an early method of measuring blood alcohol content. (NY Daily News)

* 1989 Hungary allows East Germans refugees to leave.

In a dramatic break with the eastern European communist bloc, Hungary gives permission for thousands of East German refugees to leave Hungary for West Germany. It was the first time one of the Warsaw Pact nations-who were joined in the defensive alliance between Russia and its eastern Europe satellites–broke from the practice of blocking citizens of the communist nations from going to the West.

By 1989, the Soviet Union was entering a period of accelerating collapse. Economic problems were foremost in the factors causing this collapse, but political turmoil in the Soviet Union, the various Soviet Socialist Republics, and the satellite nations in eastern Europe were also responsible for the decay of what President Ronald Reagan once termed the “evil empire.” In Hungary, a movement for greater democracy and economic freedom was gaining strength. Such forces were also alive in East Germany, but the communist government of that nation proved inflexible in dealing with the demands for change. In response, thousands of East Germans–traveling as “tourists”–began pouring into Hungary. As soon as they arrived, they declared that they would not return home.

The East German refugees hoped to cross from Hungary into Austria and then into West Germany where, by law, they would be granted nearly instant citizenship. In the past, Hungary had refused to allow East Germans to proceed to Austria. Hungarian leaders now saw a danger, however. As Hungary moved toward a more democratic political system and free market economics, more and more refugees from other communist nations–not just East Germany–might pour into the country seeking refuge. Foreign Minister Gyula Horn declared, “We cannot become a country of refugee camps.” He announced that Hungary would allow the nearly 8,000 East Germans in Hungary to leave for West Germany.

The East German government responded angrily, but there was little it could do to stop the flow of its people into neighboring communist nations and hence into Hungary en route to West Germany. Tens of thousands of East Germans raced across their nation’s borders into Poland and Czechoslovakia, seeking asylum and permission to travel to West Germany. Pro-democracy forces in East Germany took heart from these actions, and the communist government began to crumble. In November 1989, the East German government announced that the Berlin Wall separating East and West Berlin would be torn down and the country would soon be united under a democratic government.

East Germans refugees from the West German Embassy in Prague get on a special train
East Germans refugees from the West German Embassy in Prague get on a special train. (Alamy)

* 1608 Smith to lead Jamestown.

English adventurer John Smith is elected council president of Jamestown, Virginia–the first permanent English settlement in North America. Smith, a colorful figure, had won popularity in the colony because of his organizational abilities and effectiveness in dealing with local Native American groups.

In May 1607, about 100 English colonists settled along the James River in Virginia to found Jamestown. The settlers fared badly because of famine, disease, and Indian attacks, but were aided by the 27-year-old John Smith, who directed survival efforts and mapped the area. While exploring the Chickahominy River in December 1607, Smith and two colonists were captured by Powhatan warriors. At the time, the Powhatan Indian confederacy consisted of around 30 Tidewater-area tribes led by Chief Wahunsonacock, known as Chief Powhatan to the English. Smith’s companions were killed, but he was spared and released (according to a 1624 account by Smith) because of the dramatic intercession of Pocahontas, Chief Powhatan’s 13-year-old daughter.

In 1608, Smith became president of the Jamestown colony, but the settlement continued to suffer. An accidental fire destroyed much of the town, and hunger, disease, and Indian attacks continued. During this time, Pocahontas often came to Jamestown as an emissary of her father, sometimes bearing gifts of food to help the hard-pressed settlers. She befriended the settlers and became acquainted with English ways. In 1609, Smith was injured from a fire in his gunpowder bag and was forced to return to England.

John Smith returned to the New World in 1614 to explore the New England coast, carefully mapping the coast from Penobscot Bay to Cape Cod. That April, Pocahontas married the English planter John Rolfe in Jamestown. On another voyage of exploration, in 1615, Smith was captured by pirates but escaped after three months of captivity. He then returned to England, where he died in 1631.

John Smith is saved by Pocahontas.
John Smith is saved by Pocahontas. (Symon Sez)

* 1940 British War Cabinet reacts to the Blitz in kind.

On this day in 1940, in light of the destruction and terror inflicted on Londoners by a succession of German bombing raids, called “the Blitz,” the British War Cabinet instructs British bombers over Germany to drop their bombs “anywhere” if unable to reach their targets.

The prior two nights of bombing had wrought extraordinary damage, especially in the London slum area, the East End. King George VI even visited the devastated area to reassure the inhabitants that their fellow countrymen were with them in heart and mind. Each night since the seventh, sirens had sounded to announce the approach of incoming German planes, which had begun dropping bombs indiscriminately in the London vicinity, even though the docks had been their primary target on Day One of the Blitz. As British bombers set out for Germany to retaliate, they were instructed not to return home with their bombs if they failed to locate their original targets. Instead, they were to release their loads where and when they could.

On the night of the 10th, a night when British Home Intelligence had been alerted of how panicked Londoners were becoming at the sound of those air-raid sirens, Berlin was paid in kind, with a cascade of British bombs—one of which even landed in the garden of Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi Party’s minister of propaganda.

A view widely accepted both in Britain and Germany before the war was that indiscriminate bombing of cities would quickly undermine the morale of the civilian population, spreading confusion and anarchy. In fact, nothing of a kind happened during the Blitz
A view widely accepted both in Britain and Germany before the war was that indiscriminate bombing of cities would quickly undermine the morale of the civilian population, spreading confusion and anarchy. In fact, nothing of a kind happened during the Blitz. (

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Library and Archives Canada         

* This Day In History – What Happened Today              

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

13 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… September 10th”

  1. Another intriguing post! I know little about Pocahontas, but I’m going to read more now. And, the Blitz section is gripping. In war, there’s no turning the other cheek… Thank you, John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read an account once that claimed that Hitler discontinued the Blitz because the RAF was inflicting too much damage to the Luftwaffe. The historian claimed that when Hitler made this decision, Britain was literally ‘on the ropes’ and may have been defeated had Hitler continued the bombings. We’ll never know, of course. We watch with horror the damage Irma has inflicted on the Caribbean islands and is now poised to do the same to Florida – I can’t imagine how much worse it must have been living through the Blitz in 1940. Thanks for your insights, Gwen!


  2. I really enjoyed the last piece about the blitz, John. I have been reading a book called Rations: A very peculiar history and it tells about how King George VI and Queen Elizabeth set the nation a good example by living very frugally at Buckingham Palace during the war and staying in London during the bombing. No wonder the Queen Mother was so popular.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Interesting comment, Robbie. I remember watching the first season of “The Crown” and references were made to that very thing – in fact, the script writers suggested it was why young Queen Elizabeth didn’t want any part of Buckingham Palace.

      Liked by 1 person

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