John’s Believe It Or Not… July 18th

* 1814 – Eight traitors captured during the War of 1812 are hanged at Ancaster – Upper Canada.  * 2012 Kim Jong-un is officially appointed Supreme Leader of North Korea and given the rank of Marshal in the Korean People’s Army. * 64 Nero’s Rome burns * 1986 Video of Titanic wreckage released * 1995 Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” is published

The Titanic pictured before it sank in 1912.

It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…

* 1814 – Eight traitors captured during the War of 1812 are hanged at Ancaster – Upper Canada.

We like to think that we were removed from barbarian practices of the middle ages, perhaps not quite so removed. An incident in Canada during the War of 1812 saw men’s heads lopped off and paraded on spikes.

At the beginning of the war, Americans thought Canadians would welcome their invading troops as liberators from British rule. They were eventually awakened to a much different reality. Still, there were Americans who had moved north and some Canadians who were sympathetic to the American ideal and others who were indifferent to the Empire and might be persuaded to the American cause.

As the war was fought in battles and skirmishes back and forth across what are now the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, serious concerns were raised about “Canadians” who may have joined the American cause and taken up arms against fellow citizens. Any traitors caught could expect the most severe judgement.

In November and December of 1813, British regulars and Canadian militia surprised a number of raiders and insurgents in a house near Chatham (Ontario). Fifteen of them were residents of Canada.

Joined by four others at York (now Toronto) which was the capital of Upper Canada, the 19 were charged with high treason.

A court of assize (periodic court administering serious civil and criminal law) opened its proceedings on this day May 23, 1814. Nearby Ancaster was chosen for the court as apparently, the Rousseau Hotel was the most convenient location big enough to hold crowds expected, and possibly as it was located about halfway between the capital, and Chatham where the men were captured.

By mid-June, the trials were over and 15 death sentences were handed down, four others were freed. A delay until July 20 was granted to allow any to seek Royal Mercy. Of those sentenced, three were instead imprisoned but died of typhus, three others imprisoned, later pardoned and exiled, and one escaped.

However at least one of the convicted, Jacob Oberholzer (also Overholser) may have simply been the victim of jealous neighbours who wanted his property. Their less than reliable accusations led to his conviction and although spared the death sentence, he later died of typhus as a prisoner.

For eight others, however, the court decided they would be spared the traditional end of being drawn and quartered but on July 20, they were put onto wagons beneath a hastily built mass gallows at Burlington Heights and strangled to death, although one was killed by a heavy brace that fell off the structure while the victims struggled as they strangled.

Not gruesome enough a spectacle, in a horrible aftermath, their heads were cut off and displayed on spikes to discourage any other citizens from treasonous acts.

Though in terms of loss of life, the War of 1812 did not result in staggering numbers, the Bloody Assizes of 1814 as they are known, remains a particularly sad chapter.

On the 200the anniversary of the trial, Hamilton re-enacted the courtroom scene of assize.   Bloody Assizes is a name given to the killing of 8 men considered traitors to the British Crown after the War of 1812.
On the 200the anniversary of the trial, Hamilton re-enacted the courtroom scene of assize. Bloody Assizes is a name given to the killing of 8 men considered traitors to the British Crown after the War of 1812. (Radio Canada International)

* 2012 Kim Jong-un is officially appointed Supreme Leader of North Korea and given the rank of Marshal in the Korean People’s Army.

Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, added another title to his already impressive list of credentials on Wednesday by becoming marshal of the nation’s 1.2-million-strong armed forces.

The elevation of the 29-year-old Kim is apparently designed to bolster his image at home and dispel concerns among the North Korean public that he is too young and inexperienced to lead a country that he inherited after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, in December last year.

The announcement also comes just days after Ri Yong-ho, the head of the North Korean army, was relieved of all duties due to ill health. Contrary to those claims, analysts believe that Ri was the victim of a behind-the-scenes power struggle involving the military and the Workers’ Party.

Kim’s promotion is seen as part of the shake-up in the highest echelons of the North Korean military and places him above six military leaders who hold the rank of vice marshal.

“He is part of the ruling dynasty of North Korea and I see him taking this new title as a normal thing to do because he has such little credibility and is, basically, just a young kid,” said Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Studies at Temple University, Japan, and an expert on North Korea.

“It’s impossible to know precisely the internal dynamics in that country, but it’s reasonable to assume that this is all part of Kim’s efforts to reinforce his own position and leadership,” he said.

“It makes complete when a totalitarian dictator comes to power for him to put his stamp on the regime by punishing even senior people of the previous administration.

“He is sending out a message, even to the people who were close to his father and were powerful in his regime, that he can still chop their heads off,” Dujarric said.

“This is exactly the same thing that Stalin would have done.”

Consolidating his control over the country, Kim is now officially Marshall of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Chairman of the Central Military Commission, First Chairman of the National Defence Commission of North Korea, Supreme Commander of the Korean People’s Army and a presidium member of the Central Politburo of the party.

Kim Jong-un stands applauding while army officers applaud in the background.
Jul 18th, 2012 – Kim Jong-un is officially appointed Supreme Leader of North Korea and given the rank of Marshal in the Korean People’s Army

* 64 Nero’s Rome burns

The great fire of Rome breaks out and destroys much of the city on this day in the year 64. Despite the well-known stories, there is no evidence that the Roman emperor, Nero, either started the fire or played the fiddle while it burned. Still, he did use the disaster to further his political agenda.

The fire began in the slums of a district south of the legendary Palatine Hill. The area’s homes burned very quickly and the fire spread north, fueled by high winds. During the chaos of the fire, there were reports of heavy looting. The fire ended up raging out of control for nearly three days. Three of Rome’s 14 districts were completely wiped out; only four were untouched by the tremendous conflagration. Hundreds of people died in the fire and many thousands were left homeless.

Although popular legend holds that Emperor Nero fiddled while the city burned, this account is wrong on several accounts. First, the fiddle did not even exist at the time. Instead, Nero was well known for his talent on the lyre; he often composed his own music. More importantly, Nero was actually 35 miles away in Antium when the fire broke out. In fact, he let his palace be used as a shelter.

Legend has long blamed Nero for a couple of reasons. Nero did not like the aesthetics of the city and used the devastation of the fire in order to change much of it and institute new building codes throughout the city. Nero also used the fire to clamp down on the growing influence of Christians in Rome. He arrested, tortured and executed hundreds of Christians on the pretext that they had something to do with the fire.

64 AD Rome Burns- The city of Rome was nearly destroyed in a catastrophic fire. The fire is said to have been set by Nero.
64 AD Rome Burns- The city of Rome was nearly destroyed in a catastrophic fire. The fire is said to have been set by Nero. (Pinterest)

* 1986 Video of Titanic wreckage released

On this day in 1986, new close-up videotapes of the sunken ocean liner Titanic are released to the public. Taken on the first manned expedition to the wreck, the videotapes are stunning in their clarity and detail, showing one of the ship’s majestic grand staircases and a coral-covered chandelier swinging slowly in the ocean current.

At the time of its launch, the RMS Titanic was the largest ocean liner ever built, measuring nearly 900 feet long and 150 feet from its water line to its highest beam. It was considered unsinkable owing both to its vast size and its special construction. On its maiden voyage, the Titanic carried more than 2,200 people, including several of the world’s most rich and famous. Its collision with an iceberg and subsequent sinking in the icy waters of the North Atlantic resulted in the death of some 1,500 people, many of whom could have been saved if the ship had carried a sufficient number of lifeboats.

It was not until 73 years later, in 1985, that the Titanic wreck was discovered. Marine geologist Robert Ballard, in conjunction with Jean-Louis Michel of the Institute of Research for the Exploitation of the Sea (IFREMER), located the remains of the Titanic 350 miles southeast of Newfoundland, 13,000 feet down on the ocean floor. Ballard, who was from Massachusetts’ Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, had the help of the U.S. Navy, which supplied him with Argo, a high-resolution sonar device and submersible photographic sled.

Ballard’s discovery caused a great stir among the public, and touched off a new era in underwater exploration and scientific research, especially around the topic of the Titanic. The following year, Ballard returned to the wreck, this time to dive down to the bottom in a submersible craft called Alvin and acquire photo footage of the ghost ship. Ballard was accompanied by Ralph Hollis, the Alvin‘s pilot, and Mark Bowen, who piloted Jason, Jr., a robotic submarine, or “swimming eyeball,” used to explore the interior of the liner. Two miles beneath the surface, the explorers found, frozen in time, trappings of life aboard the Titanic, including a wood-burning stove and unopened champagne bottles being readied for a toast. Jason, Jr. also found the ship’s safes, but left them as they lay: It was decided that the Titanic expedition would leave the ship’s debris undisturbed on the ocean floor.

Even after several years of visiting the wreckage, not a trace of human remains has been found. Like other soft, degradable materials such as wood and carpet, human body parts were most likely scavenged by sea creatures not long after the ship’s sinking.

Photo of the wreck.
(The Movie Database)

* 1995 Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” is published

On this day in 1995, “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” a memoir by a little-known law professor named Barack Obama, is published. Obama wrote the book before entering politics; 13 years after it was published, he was elected America’s 44th president.

“Dreams from My Father,” tells the story of Obama’s family—he was born in Hawaii in 1961 to a white mother from Kansas and a black father from Kenya. The book is also, as Obama writes in the introduction, “a boy’s search for his father, and through that a search for a workable meaning for his life as a black American.” Obama describes his adolescence in Hawaii, where he was raised by his white grandparents; his post-college years as a community organizer in Chicago; and a visit he made to Kenya as a young man to meet his African relatives following the 1982 death of his father, who he had seen only once after his parent’s divorce when he was 2.

After being elected the first black president of the influential Harvard Law Review in 1990 while in his second year of law school, Obama was contacted by a literary agent who eventually got him a reported $40,000 advance to write what became “Dreams from My Father.” When the book was published in 1995, Obama was a law professor at the University of Chicago and had not yet stepped into the national spotlight. The book received favourable reviews; however, it sold a modest 8,000 to 9,000 hardcover copies and went out of print within several years.

The year after the book’s publication, Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate, his first foray into politics. In March 2004, he shot to national prominence by winning the U.S. Senate Democratic primary in Illinois. The publicity generated by his victory prompted a publisher to reissue “Dreams from My Father” in the summer of 2004. Boosted by his well-received keynote address at the Democratic National Convention that July, and his landslide election to the U.S. Senate in November of the same year, “Dreams of My Father” became a best-seller. Reviewers praised the book for its eloquence and candor.

In October 2006, Obama, then a U.S. senator, published his second book, “The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming America.” Like his first book, “The Audacity of Hope” became a best-seller, and Obama drew crowds at book signings as speculation mounted over whether he would seek the presidency. In February 2007, Obama announced he would run for the White House. When asked about “Dreams from My Father” while on the campaign trail in 2008, he told The New York Times “he was not even thinking about political consequences when he wrote the memoir. In fact, he said, one editor warned him back then that his references to drug use could come back to haunt him—if he were ever nominated for the Supreme Court.”

Book Cover with Barack Obama's picture.

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

Radio Canada International                                                            

* On This Day – History, Film, Music and Sport               

* The Telegraph                                                                                   

* 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… July 18th”

  1. I remember when those pictures of the Titanic were released. I was totally awe-struck with them. It seemed so unbelievable to me that they actually finally found it. We went aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach, California which is where it is permanently docked now. You can eat in her dining room. She reminded me a lot of the Titanic inside. Not as glamorous, to be sure, but stately none-the-less.


  2. It is amazing a person like Nero can be famous because of a fire. I was very interested in the Titanic discovery. It is an amazing find. Kim Jong-un as Marshall of the army is a laugh. I could see him leading troops. Good one, John

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Right – Queen Elizabeth or Donald Trump leading their armies into battle? Certainly, not like the days of yore. I’m sure Nero was plagued by critics who made stuff up to discredit him. Thanks, John.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. John, my guess is Nero would love to go back in time and change how history remembers in. So, would the captain of the Titanic. Maybe he would have slowed down. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I read an article a year ago that claimed that the Titanic’a hull was weakened by a fire before it left on that voyage. The expert claimed that the hull could have withstood the iceberg otherwise. Still, your point about the captain taking it slower is well taken. Thanks, Keith.


  4. Thank you, John. Great list. I’ve yet to read Barack Obama’s books, but your feature has reminded me that I must. He has a message that needs to be heard. Have a wonderful day.

    Liked by 1 person

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