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John’s Believe It Or Not… February 9th

* 1760 – Captain John Byron begins tearing down the fortifications of Louisbourg on orders from British PM William Pitt. * 1825 Presidential election decided in the House * 1950 McCarthy accuses State Department of communist infiltration * 1960 Joanne Woodward earns first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame * 1942 Normandie burns in New York

Joanne Woodward sits on the set of the CBS-TV show

It’s Friday! TGIF! Did You Know…

* 1760 – Captain John Byron begins tearing down the fortifications of Louisbourg on orders from British PM William Pitt. 

In the middle of the eighteenth century, the French controlled vast areas of the eastern American continent that stretched from the mouth of the St. Lawrence River across the region of the Great Lakes, down the courses of the Ohio and the Mississippi Rivers, as far as the outlet of the latter mighty river into the Gulf of Mexico. French forts along this frontier barred the western expansion of the English colonists. The colonies of the English king, George II, which were confined to the Atlantic coast, greatly outnumbered the colonists of France’s King Louis XV.

Louisbourg was acclaimed as the strongest fortress in America, a walled city without a peer in the new world. It was an elaborate, fortified, garrison town, created to maintain the French Atlantic fleet, protect the French fishery and serve as a focus for future settlement. Its great fortress was located on a narrow ridge of moorland and marsh, the sea itself serving as a moat. On the landward side, there was a ditch eighty feet in width and stone walls, with their four great bastions rising thirty feet into the air. The harbor was guarded by batteries on one of the islands as well as on shore. Inside the town, some five hundred regular soldiers, together with the militia, provided a stout defense, at least on paper.

Situated on the fog-infested rocky southeast shore of Ile Royale, the enormous bastion and the fleet it sustained, guarded the Gulf of St. Lawrence – key to the gateway to the heartland of the continent. The citadel served as a shield for New France and a sword against New England. Because of its seeming invincibility, it was known as the Gibraltar of North America. However, it was only as strong as brick and stone could make it. Its towers and battlements, rising against the murky background of rough terrain and swampland, were according to one historian, “an incongruous expression of artificial grandeur.” Behind its imposing exterior, there were serious weaknesses. Its batteries were located poorly in places, it attracted few settlers and it never became a thriving commercial center.

A coordinated siege of Louisbourg by British Marines and British Regulars began on June 7th and ended in victory on July 26th, 1758. 

February 9th, 1760, in London after lengthy deliberation at the highest levels the death-warrant of the French fortress was signed. Pitt and George II decided that “the Fortress and all fortifications of the Town of Louisbourg, together with all the works and Defences of the Harbour to be effectually and entirely demolished and razed and all the materials thoroughly destroyed.” Louisbourg was to be leveled because Britain had its naval base at Halifax and it was feared should France regain its strength it would strive to recapture Louisbourg because it meant so much to her trade and her sea power.

Hundreds of skilled sappers and miners were dispatched to Louisbourg in the summer of 1760. Infantrymen aided them and work went forward every day except Sunday and the King’s birthday. Miners, sailors, and sappers labored for months using thousands of kilograms of blasting powder to systematically demolish the bastion. Barrel after barrel of powder was placed in 45 chambers dug below the walls and fuses laid. At sunrise on the appointed day, charges were detonated. A succession of roaring explosions smote the sky, surpassing the bombardments of the siege in din and destructive effect. The last mine was blasted on October 17th tumbling the great fortress in utter ruins, its walls overthrown, its moat filled with debris.

By the end of October 1760 the great citadel, the pride of Louisbourg, had been laid low, converted into a pile of rubble beneath which were buried France’s colonial aspirations. Only a few stones and ruined casemates remained as a monument to the great fortress whose fall carried with it the pillars of French power in North America. Men in their hundreds toiled for months with lever, spade, and gunpowder to destroy it, but the remains of its vast defenses told their tale of human valor and human hardship for years after. The officer in charge of the demolition was a Royal Navy Captain named John Byron, a name made famous by his grandson, George Gordon, who became the celebrated English poet, Lord Byron.

Model: This is what Louisbourg looked like in the 18th century. Following the siege of 1758, the British destroyed the fortifications and all of the buildings. Nothing was left.
This is what Louisbourg looked like in the 18th century. Following the siege of 1758, the British destroyed the fortifications and all of the buildings. Nothing was left. (

* 1825 Presidential election decided in the House

As no presidential candidate received a majority of electoral votes in the election of 1824, the U.S. House of Representatives votes to elect John Quincy Adams, who won fewer votes than Andrew Jackson in the popular election, as president of the United States. Adams was the son of John Adams, the second president of the United States.

In the 1824 election, 131 electoral votes, just over half of the 261 total, were necessary to elect a candidate president. Although it had no bearing on the outcome of the election, popular votes were counted for the first time in this election. On December 1, 1824, the results were announced. Andrew Jackson of Tennessee won 99 electoral and 153,544 popular votes; John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts received 84 electoral and 108,740 popular votes; Secretary of State William H. Crawford, who had suffered a stroke before the election, received 41 electoral votes; and Representative Henry Clay of Kentucky won 37 electoral votes.

As dictated by the U.S. Constitution, the presidential election was then turned over to the House of Representatives. The 12th Amendment states that if no electoral majority is won, only the three candidates who receive the most popular votes will be considered in the House.

Representative Henry Clay, who was disqualified from the House vote as a fourth-place candidate, agreed to use his influence to have John Quincy Adams elected. Clay and Adams were both members of a loose coalition in Congress that by 1828 became known as the National Republicans, while Jackson’s supporters were later organized into the Democratic Party.

Thanks to Clay’s backing, on February 9, 1825, the House elected Adams as president of the United States. When Adams then appointed Clay to the top Cabinet post of secretary of state, Jackson and his supporters derided the appointment as the fulfillment of a corrupt bargain.

With little popular support, Adams’ time in the White House was for the most part ineffectual, and the so-called Corrupt Bargain continued to haunt his administration. In 1828, he was defeated in his reelection bid by Andrew Jackson, who received more than twice as many electoral votes than Adams.

Electoral Map: American presidential election, 1824
American presidential election, 1824 (

* 1950 McCarthy accuses State Department of communist infiltration

Joseph Raymond McCarthy, a relatively obscure Republican senator from Wisconsin, announces during a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia, that he has in his hand a list of 205 communists who have infiltrated the U.S. State Department. The unsubstantiated declaration, which was little more than a publicity stunt, suddenly thrust Senator McCarthy into the national spotlight.

Asked to reveal the names on the list, the reckless and opportunistic senator named officials he determined guilty by association, such as Owen Lattimore, an expert on Chinese culture and affairs who had advised the State Department. McCarthy described Lattimore as the “top Russian spy” in America.

These and other equally shocking accusations prompted the Senate to form a special committee, headed by Senator Millard Tydings of Maryland, to investigate the matter. The committee found little to substantiate McCarthy’s charges, but McCarthy nevertheless touched a nerve in the American public, and during the next two years he made increasingly sensational charges, even attacking President Harry S. Truman’s respected former secretary of state, George C. Marshall.

In 1953, a new Republican Congress appointed McCarthy chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of Governmental Operations, and “McCarthyism” reached a fever pitch. In widely publicized hearings, McCarthy bullied defendants under cross-examination with unlawful and damaging accusations, destroying the reputations of hundreds of innocent citizens and officials.

In the early months of 1954, McCarthy, who had already lost the support of much of his party because of his bullying tactics, finally overreached himself when he took on the U.S. Army. Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed for an investigation of McCarthy’s conduct, and the televised hearings exposed the senator as a reckless and excessive tyrant who never produced proper documentation for any of his charges. In December, the Senate voted to condemn him for misconduct. By the time of his death from alcoholism in 1957, the influence of Senator Joseph McCarthy in Congress was negligible.

Joseph McCarthy before radio microphones
Joseph McCarthy (Lumen Learning)

* 1960 Joanne Woodward earns first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

On this day in 1960, the official groundbreaking ceremony is held for the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The first star to be dedicated on the historic walkway belonged to the actress Joanne Woodward, an Academy Award winner for The Three Faces of Eve (1957).

Woodward’s career began on Broadway, where she worked as an understudy to the female lead in the romantic drama Picnic in the early 1950s. It was during that production that she first met the actor Paul Newman; their marriage would become one of the most envied and enduring in Hollywood. After heading west from New York, Woodward signed a contract with 20th Century Fox. Her role in that studio’s 1957 film The Three Faces of Eve, as a woman with multiple personality disorder, earned her an Oscar for Best Actress. Her romance with Newman intensified during the filming of The Long, Hot Summer (1958) and they were married in January 1958. Two years later, Woodward earned her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

After the official groundbreaking on the now-famous walk, construction continued for the next 16 months, and by the time it was over more than 1,500 actors, musicians and filmmakers had received stars. Today, the Walk of Fame lines both sides of Hollywood Boulevard from Gower to La Brea, and both sides of Vine Street, from Yucca to Sunset. Woodward’s star is located at 6801 Hollywood Boulevard.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce manages the walkway, which became an official landmark in 1978. New stars are added at a regular rate; by 1994 the total numbered more than 2,000. From 1980 until his death in 2008, the ceremonies were presided over by the popular “mayor” of Hollywood, Johnny Grant. In addition to playing small roles in movies such as The Babe Ruth Story (1948) and White Christmas (1954), with Bing Crosby, Grant also traveled with the popular comedian Bob Hope on U.S.O. tours, performing at military bases all over the world. Grant was named to the honorary position of mayor of Hollywood by the Chamber of Commerce in 1980 and spent the next three decades as Hollywood’s leading spokesperson throughout the United States and abroad.

1960 Joanne Woodward earns first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
1960 Joanne Woodward earns the first star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (

* 1942 Normandie burns in New York

The Normandie, regarded by many as the most elegant ocean liner ever built, burns and sinks in New York Harbor during its conversion to an Allied trip transport ship.

Built in France in the early 1930s, the Normandie ruled the transatlantic passenger trade in its day. The first major liner to cross the Atlantic in less than four days, its masterful engineering was only surpassed by its design excellence. The 1,000-foot ship’s distinctive clipper-ship bow was immediately recognizable, and its elaborate architecture and decorations popularized the Moderne style. After the American entrance into World War II, it was seized by the U.S. Navy for the Allied war effort and renamed the U.S.S. Lafayette. However, on February 9, 1942–just days before it was to be completed for trooping–a welder accidentally set fire to a pile of flammable life preservers with his torch, and by early the next morning the ship lay capsized in the harbor, a gutted wreck. It was later towed south to New Jersey and scrapped.

U.S.S. Lafayette formerly the Normandie lies on her side after fire.
U.S.S. Lafayette formerly the Normandie lies on her side after the fire. (NY Daily News)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* Historical Narratives of Early 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… February 9th”

      1. We went to a race in California and Paul Newman was there. He had a trailer on on the door there was a handwritten sign which read: “Yes, Mr. Newman is resting. Yes, Mr. Newman drives his own car. Yes, the pit crew is gay.”

        Liked by 1 person

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