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Amistad Revolt 1839-1842

By the late 18th century, the clamor to abolish the slave trade increased in Western Europe and in the northern colonies of America. Denmark was the first to answer the call to end the importation of slaves from Africa to its colonies in the West Indies. But in spite of fierce resistance from slaveholders at home, the North American abolitionist movement led by the Quakers was quick to gather steam. The abolitionist movement finally bore fruit between 1811 and 1848 when several Western European nations officially put an end to slavery through legislation.

By 1811, Spain had outlawed the slave trade and slavery itself. However, it was not until 1886 that Cuba, one of Spain’s overseas colonies, followed suit. In what would become the United States, slavery would become a contentious and bitter issue that would eventually lead an entire nation to a civil war in 1861. Amidst these developments was the controversial Amistad Revolt (1839-1842). This mutiny captivated the American public when it was tried in American courts between 1840 and 1841. Apart from its political, societal, and legal repercussions at home, the Amistad also sent ripples across the Atlantic when Spain decided to intervene with the case. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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La Amistad: From the Lomboko to Cuba

Britain had outlawed the slave trade in its colonies in 1807, and this was soon followed by the Abolition of Slavery Act in 1833. Despite the British ban, the illicit slave trade remained lucrative thanks to the steady demand in some colonies in the West Indies. At the center of this illegal activity was the Lomboko slave fortress in Sierra Leone, a facility owned by the wealthy Spanish slave trader Pedro Blanco.

Many of the men, women, and children kidnapped and sold to Blanco belonged to the Mende people. Others belonged to different tribes such as the Bembe and Kono. Some people were kidnapped because they failed to repay their debts on time. Others meanwhile were prisoners of war or were captured from slave raids. A few were accused of adultery and were punished by some disgruntled husbands by capturing and selling them into slavery.

A doctor checked the health and viability of each slave upon their arrival at the Lomboko. They spent some weeks in Blanco’s slave fortress before they were loaded into the Tecora, a Portuguese slave ship. After separating them from the women and children, the men were shackled together inside the cramped holds to prevent them from rebelling or from committing suicide by throwing themselves overboard. During the voyage, they were given meager rations of food. They had to relieve themselves where they were shackled together so that the poorly ventilated hold quickly stank and soon became a petri dish for diseases. The Tecora’s crew disposed of dead captives by throwing them into the ocean. Sick or dying captives were also thrown into watery graves because of the crew’s fears that they would infect the rest of the “cargo.”

The Tecora finally docked in the port of Havana in June 1839. The slave traders cautiously auctioned the slaves in Havana for fear of British naval officers who patrolled the area. Among those who arrived in Havana for the slave auctions were the Spanish merchants and slaves owners Pedro Montes and Jose Ruiz. After purchasing 49 men, one boy, and three girls, the Spaniards chartered the vessel La Amistad (Spanish for “friendship”) and sailed for Camaguey, Cuba. Ramon Ferrer owned and captained the ship, and was assisted by two crew members. Also on board were the ship’s cook Celestino and the cabin boy Antonio.

The Amistad Mutiny

The Amistad was the site of the 1839 Mende slave rebellion.

La Amistad left Havana for Camaguey on June 28, 1839. Unlike in the Tecora, Montes and Ruiz did not shackle the slaves during the day. They were allowed to roam the ship if they wanted during daylight but were once again shackled at night. During the voyage,  Sengbe (Cinque) Pieh (one of the Mende captives) tried to find out what Montes and Ruiz intended to do to him and the other captives. He asked the cook Celestino who insinuated that the Africans would be chopped up, cooked, and eaten by the crew. The cook’s joke was not only in bad taste but also ill-timed. He would eventually pay for his morbid sense of humor with his life.

Sengbe saw for himself the atrocities committed by white men during the Middle Passage, so he readily believed Celestino. He wasted no time in planning a rebellion with the help of fellow captives Grabeau and Burnah. On the eve of July 1, 1839, Sengbe was able to pick the locks of the shackles with a nail and free himself and the other slaves. Once freed, they found cane machetes stashed in the hold. Each man took a machete and headed to the deck where their first victim, Captain Ramon Ferrer, was sleeping.

Ferrer woke up and managed to warn Montes and Ruiz of the mutiny. The Africans, however, easily overpowered him and strangled him to death. Montes was wounded during the fight, while the two seamen immediately abandoned the ship. The depth of the slaves’ anger was reserved for Celestino who they hacked to death. Only the cabin boy Antonio was spared from the slaves’ wrath.

With the ship now under their control, Sengbe and the other Africans decided to sail for home. Since none of them knew how to steer the vessel toward Sierra Leone, they forced Montes and Ruiz to steer for them. The two agreed but craftily directed the ship in a meandering course toward the coast of North America in hopes that a United States ship would eventually find and help them. The Amistad sometimes came across merchant ships, but the Africans concealed the mutiny by hiding Montes and Ruiz below deck. With the slave owners’ money, they were able to buy food and water from passing ships when their stocks ran dangerously low.

The sailors of the vessels the Amistad came across were mystified by the appearance of the all-African crew and the ship’s derelict condition. Soon, wild rumors of a pirate ship commandeered by Africans spread to the American East Coast and fired up the locals’ imagination. Some people claimed it was a pirate ship loaded with gold, while others believed that it was the ghostly ship of the Flying Dutchman.

Sengbe, Grabeau, and Burnah decided to drop anchor in Long Island and buy food there by the end of August 1839. The men stood out like a sore thumb, and they were soon spotted by Captain Henry Green and his men. Green realized that this must be the mysterious ship that he heard about in the news, so he immediately made moves to ingratiate himself with Sengbe and his companions so he could eventually claim for himself the Amistad, its cargo, and the Africans. Despite not knowing each other’s language, both sides agreed through gestures to meet again on the following day.

As agreed, both parties appeared on the beach and met again the next day. Captain Green’s dream of salvaging the Amistad was dashed when the revenue cutter USS Washington appeared and interrupted them. Lieutenant Thomas R. Gedney of the USS Washington ordered his crew to seize the Amistad and subdue its crew.

To the American crew’s surprise, they found the ship full of Africans and quickly realized that they were the mutineers. Gedney also saw an opportunity to claim the Amistad and acquire the Africans as his own slaves. He then had Sengbe seized and isolated in the USS Washington to prevent him from launching another mutiny. Gedney did not want to stay in New York as slavery had been outlawed in the State, so he had it towed to New London, Connecticut where slavery was still legal. He then submitted his claims to the Amistad and its cargo for hearing to Judge Andrew T. Judson of Connecticut.

Preparing for a Legal Battle

The Africans (the four children included) were jailed in New Haven while the judge examined Amistad’s papers. He also listened to the testimonies of Ruiz and Montes, as well as those given by the cabin boy Antonio. All three identified Sengbe, Burnah, and Grabeau as the leaders of the mutiny. The judge did not bother to interview the Africans because not one of them knew how to speak English or Spanish. In addition, no one living in Connecticut at that time knew the Mende language. Sengbe and his companions were charged with piracy and murder after the judge heard the Spaniards’ testimonies. Their trial was set on September 19, 1839.

News of the plight of the Amistad mutineers soon reached prominent Connecticut abolitionists. The Quaker abolitionist and New London grocer Dwight P. Janes were the first to take up their cause and form the Amistad Committee. He was joined by fellow abolitionists Lewis and Arthur Tappan, Reverend Simeon Jocelyn, and Reverend Joshua Leavitt.

These men took it upon themselves to raise funds for the mutineers’ legal fees. The Committee managed to convince Attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin to represent the Africans in the long legal battle. They also wrote to the press about the plight of the mutineers and spread the news about their situation. Their efforts became so successful (perhaps too successful) as thousands of well-meaning visitors and gawkers flocked to New Haven prison where the Africans were kept.

The Amistad Case and its Political Implications

For the US President Martin Van Buren, the arrival of the Amistad could not have come at the worst time. He was up for reelection in 1840 and his campaign was in full swing. The Amistad case was both a domestic and international issue, so he sought a decision that would satisfy the American voters (both abolitionists and staunch slaveholders) and prevent a diplomatic row with Spain. He found neither.

Van Buren’s top advisers (who also happened to be Southern slaveholders) wanted him to return the Amistad, its cargo, as well as Sengbe and his friends, to Cuba to pacify Spain. There they would eventually be tried and hanged if found guilty. The Spanish foreign minister also reminded the president of the two treaties America signed with Spain in 1795 and 1819 in regards to aiding ships in distress. Spain only wanted the Amistad issue silenced because of some thorny and embarrassing facts about its legality. Spain had abolished the slave trade in 1811, so its citizens had no business transporting enslaved people across the Atlantic. Its law enforcement too had been so weak that it was unable to impose the ban in Cuba. Spain also wanted the Amistad matter resolved quietly and quickly because it had signed an anti-slavery treaty with Britain in 1833. If the Amistad issue Britain, Spain surmised that British government would consider this a violation of the treaty and would immediately intervene in Cuba.

Van Buren, on the other hand, was torn between the abolitionists (mostly concentrated in the North) and the staunch slaveholders (who mostly lived in the South) at home. The abolitionists believed that the Africans had gained their freedom by launching a mutiny and should be allowed to go back to Sierra Leone. The slaveholders, meanwhile, wanted to return the Africans to Ruiz and Montes. They insisted that the Africans should go back to Cuba and be hanged there for murdering the ship captain and the cook. They readily believed the Spaniards’ story that Sengbe and his friends were born in Cuba and they had been slaves there for many years. This in spite of the fact that none of the Africans understood Spanish, and none of them answered to their alleged Spanish names read out to them during the trial.

The Amistad Trial

The Amistad trial for murder and piracy began on September 19, 1839, in Hartford, Connecticut. The case was presided by Justice Smith Thompson of the United States Circuit Court. U.S. District Attorney W.S. Holabird led the prosecution, while Attorney Roger Sherman Baldwin led the Amistad defense. Baldwin was assisted by lawyers Seth Perkins Staples and Theodore Sedgwick.

The defense first asked the court to issue a writ of habeas corpus for the captive girls, but this was immediately blocked by Holabird. He asserted that the African children were considered as properties and not humans, so the principles of the writ of habeas corpus did not apply to them. Besides, he already had secret orders from President Van Buren to wrap the case up so it could be transferred to Cuba as quickly as possible.

Baldwin countered this and presented the little girls to the court to garner sympathy for their plight. The children were visibly distressed during their appearance. The argument whether to grant the girls the writ of habeas corpus went on for two days before Holabird did an abrupt about-face. He acknowledged that the girls were humans and were born free so that a writ was completely unnecessary. He also asserted that the girls should be sent back to Africa as soon as possible. The truth, however, was Holabird was pressured to deflect anything in the trial that might taint Van Buren’s reputation and damage his campaign.

On September 23, Justice Thompson declared that the case could not be tried by a U.S. court as the mutiny happened in waters controlled by Spain. The judge, however, did not issue a writ of habeas corpus as the matter of whether the Africans were properties of Ruiz and Montes was yet to be decided. The second trial was set in a U.S. District Court.

The District Court Trial

The Amistad Committee had already realized that their case might be in danger when they learned that it was assigned to Judge Andrew T. Judson. The prejudiced Judson had prosecuted the Connecticut schoolteacher Prudence Crandall when she tried to integrate an African-American girl into her school in 1833. The odds were against the abolitionists and the Amistad mutineers, but the Committee and the legal defense continued to prepare for the trial.

While they awaited the trial, members of the Committee were busy combing through New York Harbor in search of a Mende interpreter. They were lucky to find James Covey, a native of Sierra Leone and former captive himself, who worked as a sailor on a British vessel.    

To the Committee’s surprise, however, Judson allowed a little improvement on the prisoners’ living conditions. He permitted them to be brought outside every now and then to do some exercises and breathe in some fresh air. The captive children were sent to private homes where foster families taught them the English language. Students from the nearby Yale College visited the captives to evangelize and teach them English.

Dr. Richard Madden, an Irish abolitionist who lived and worked in Havana, had hurried to Connecticut to give his sworn testimony on the thriving slave trade in Cuba. This damning testimony shredded the credibility of Montes and Ruiz, and they were soon charged with imprisonment. Both men were arrested and sent to prison in New York in October 1839. Montes posted bail and quickly sailed to Cuba, while Ruiz refused to post bail (he did not want to admit to any wrongdoing) and remained in prison. He eventually posted bail and also fled to Cuba. The indictment and imprisonment of his compatriots outraged the Spanish foreign minister. The events only added to the pressure on the beleaguered Van Buren.

The District Court hearing of the Amistad finally began on January 7, 1840, in New Haven. With James Covey as interpreter, Sengbe was able to narrate how they were captured in Sierra Leone and eventually sold in Havana. While the Amistad narration was ongoing, two ships were already waiting on the dock to take the Africans away. The first one was the USS Grampus, a vessel sent by Van Buren to take the captives to Cuba after the trial. The Amistad Committee, however, had prepared their own chartered ship. The abolitionists’ ship was to take the Africans to Canada after the trial.

Judge Judson shocked everyone when he ruled in favor of the captives on January 13, 1840. The court granted Lieutenant Gedney one-third of the value of the Amistad and its cargo as per U.S. law of salvage. He, however, was not allowed to claim the captives as part of the salvage as the Africans were transported to Cuba illegally. The judge ruled that the captives should be returned to Africa posthaste. Captain Green’s claim, on the other hand, was denied by the court. Perhaps one of the most unhappy persons at that time was Van Buren who, despite his illegal maneuvers, was not successful in his reelection bid later that year.

The Final Showdown

The prosecution, naturally, was unhappy with the decision and decided to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court. A new trial was set on February 22, 1841.

For the defense, the chances of winning the case did not look too good once again as five out of nine Justices (including the Chief Justice) came from the South. The abolitionists, therefore, was forced to look for a prominent anti-slavery advocate who would support their case and lend a voice to the cause. They found one in the former U.S. president John Quincy Adams.

The 73-year old John Q. Adams was the son of the United States second president John Adams and his progressive first lady, Abigail Adams. A staunch anti-slavery advocate, he had already served the United States as a senator, ambassador, and Secretary of State. He served as U.S. President between 1825 and 1829 and was serving as a Representative of Massachusetts when Attorney Baldwin approached him. He was initially hesitant to accept the Committee’s offer because of his age, but Baldwin eventually convinced him to join the defense team.

The Supreme Court trial began on February 22, 1841. The U.S. Attorney General Henry D. Gilpin led the prosecution this time and was first to deliver the opening statements. Baldwin’s opening statements, meanwhile, hinged on three premises. First, he questioned and demolished the truthfulness and validity of the papers produced by Montes and Ruiz. He then argued that the Adams-Onis Treaty did not apply to the captives as they were not born in the Spanish colony of Cuba. Lastly, he argued that since Sengbe and the other captives were free men, the U.S. Federal government had no right to send them to Cuba as it would go against the U.S. Constitution.

Four days later, John Quincy Adams himself addressed the Supreme Court. He stated that the Adams-Onis Treaty could only be used during wartime, and its terms did not apply to the Amistad case. He also blasted former President Van Buren in front of the Supreme Court for interfering with the Amistad case. His lecture on the Amistad case went on for another eight hours.

The Supreme Court finally reached a decision in March 1841. The Court determined that Sengbe and the other mutineers were free men, and as such, they were to be released from prison and be allowed to return to their homeland immediately. The Justices also decided that Ruiz, Montes, and the Spanish foreign minister had no right to hold the captives or prevent them from returning to Sierra Leone. To the Amistad Committee’s relief, the Justices asserted that all human beings have the right to fight for their freedom and the captives had earned theirs through the mutiny. Gedney’s claims to a portion of the cargo were also affirmed. Attorney Baldwin was not present when the Supreme Court handed the decision on the case so Adams sent him an ecstatic note instead.

Bittersweet Victory

Sengbe and his fellow captives were at first skeptical when the news of their freedom reached them. But celebrations and joy replaced their initial skepticism when they realized that they were finally going home. The abolitionists also met the news with great joy and were quick to publicize the Amistad victory. The Africans stayed in Connecticut for several months while the abolitionists were raising funds so they could charter a ship back to Sierra Leone. Sengbe and his companions helped in raising funds by creating and selling handicrafts.

The Africans boarded the ship Gentleman on November 25, 1841, and said tearful farewells to their American friends. They were accompanied by American missionaries who saw an opportunity to evangelize in Sierra Leone. The Amistad mutineers and the American missionaries arrived in Sierra Leone in January 1842.


Picture by: Unknown – New Haven Colony Historical Society and Adams National Historic Site, Public Domain, Link

Kromer, Helen. The Amistad Revolt, 1839: The Slave Uprising Aboard the Spanish Schooner. New York: F. Watts, 1973.

Osagie, Iyunolu Folayan. The Amistad Revolt: Memory, Slavery, and the Politics of Identity in the United States and Sierra Leone. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2003.

Zeinert, Karen. The Amistad Slave Revolt and American Abolition. North Haven, CT: Linnet Books, 1997.

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Liberia Established by African-Americans

The country of Liberia was established by freed African-Americans with the help of the American Colonization Society (ACS) between 1821 and 1822. The country was established out of ACS’s desire to create a haven for freed blacks who faced discrimination in America. Later, Liberia became one of Africa’s first independent states and modeled its government after its foster parent, the United States of America. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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 The Free Blacks and the Foundation of the American Colonization Society (ACS)

During the early 19th century, thousands of free blacks flocked to the urban centers in the North to make a new life for themselves. Reverend Robert Finley, a Presbyterian pastor in Princeton, New Jersey, became concerned about the welfare of the free blacks who lived in the city. Although they had been freed, Finley realized that these people still lived in poverty and did not enjoy the rights and privileges of white men. In the South, on the other hand, many remained in slavery and continued to live in oppression.

While some late 18th and early 19th century thinkers advocated the assimilation of the blacks into the society, others—like Thomas Jefferson—proposed a different solution. He asserted that it was impossible for blacks and whites to live in peace, so he proposed to send the free blacks somewhere else. The idea quickly gained traction among some well-meaning abolitionists who genuinely saw it as a way to give the blacks a new start in life. Others only saw it as a convenient way to assuage their conscience and reassure themselves that they were doing the right thing.

To this end, Reverend Finley and his brother-in-law, the prominent Washington D.C. attorney Elias B. Caldwell, founded the American Colonization Society in 1816. They were later joined by prominent political personalities and wealthy men, such as Bushrod Washington, Charles Fenton Mercer, Henry Clay, General Andrew Jackson, and Colonel Henry Rutgers. Robert E. Lee’s uncles, the plantation owners Edmund Lee and Richard Bland Lee, were also members of the group.   

The members’ motivations were as diverse as the men who joined the ACS. The Quakers genuinely believed that it was their duty to give the blacks a home where they could prosper and eventually spread the Christian message. Others saw the blacks’ presence and the discrimination they faced as reminders that the republic’s egalitarian philosophy applied only to its white citizens. Some (such as the Lee brothers) only wanted to get rid of the disaffected blacks for fear that they would one day rise up and rebel against their masters. Despite the differences in motivation, they all agreed that sending the free blacks to Africa would be a good plan. This project was later approved by President Monroe and funded by Congress through the Slave Trade Act of 1819.

The Foundation of Liberia

John Randolph was a well-known supporter of the American Colonization Society.

In spring of 1820, free blacks boarded the ship Elizabeth and sailed to Africa’s west coast. They were accompanied by the United States Navy, whose officers were commissioned to scout for possible locations on the Pepper Coast. The British government had established a colony for free blacks in Sierra Leone during the 1780s, so it was only sensible that the Americans would establish one near the area also. The new colonists tried to settle into Freetown but they encountered fierce resistance from the indigenous Temne people. They then coasted south to Sherbro Island but quickly found it unsuitable. They also tried the Ivory Coast but abandoned it when they found the place unfit for settlement.

In December 1821, the naval officers and crew came across Cape Mesurado. The colonists’ leaders, Navy Lieutenant R.F. Stockton and Dr. Eli Ayres, disembarked with the crew and approached King Peter of the De people. With the help of their Kru allies, the group started the negotiations to acquire the land which the De inhabited. King Peter hesitated but quickly made a decision to cede the land after Stockton threatened him with a pistol. The king then signed the treaty with the leaders of the ACS.     

The first settlers left Freetown and arrived in Cape Mesurado in January 1822. They called their new home “Liberia” (or the “land of the free”) and called their new capital Monrovia after President James Monroe. The Baptist minister Lott Cary and fellow African-American Elijah Johnson became the de facto leaders of the settlers.

Life in early Liberia was not as rosy as the colonists initially envisioned. Malaria and yellow fever quickly killed some settlers, and there was the additional problem of living near the De people who felt that they had been cheated during the negotiations. The settlers—like the American pioneers—established farms which they protected with stockades. De warriors attacked the settlers in November 1822 but were easily repulsed with the help of a cannon and guns the settlers brought from America. The De made a second attempt but were thwarted with the help of British naval officers who happened to pass by the area.

The Liberians switched to trading after finding that farming was not lucrative. Their numbers increased when nearly 6,000 recaptives were resettled by the ACS in Liberia in the next 40 years. These recaptives, however, were segregated from the more influential American-born settlers. The settlers later spread along the coast, displacing indigenous peoples and slave traders alike. In 1839, an offshoot of the ACS called the Maryland State Colonization Society resettled free blacks in Cape Palmas. English was the commonwealth’s primary language, and it was ruled by an ACS-appointed governor.

The Liberian government finally declared its independence from the United States in 1847. Liberia became one of the two independent states (Ethiopia being the other) in Africa during the 19th century. The Republic of Liberia adopted a constitution and closely modeled its form of government after the United States. Liberia’s government is headed by a president, while the Senate and House of Representatives make up the country’s lawmaking body. Like the US, the country also has a supreme court.


Picture by: John Wesley JarvisawFR66sTRSfCug at Google Cultural Institute maximum zoom level, Public Domain, Link

Fyfe, Christopher. The Cambridge History of Africa: from c. 1790 to 1870. Edited by John E. Flint. Vol. 5. London: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

Pham, John-Peter. Liberia: Portrait of a Failed State. New York, NY: Reed Press, 2004.

Starr, Frederick. Liberia: Description, History, Problems. Chicago, 1913.

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Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905

Between 1904 and 1905, Russian and Japanese forces fought in the destructive Russo-Japanese War. The conflict started when the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the Russian Pacific Fleet on February 8, 1904. By the end of the war in 1905, Japan was the undisputed power in Manchuria and the Korean Peninsula. These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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The Fight for Supremacy in Asia

Despite its victory in the Sino-Japanese War and its annexation of Korea, Taiwan, and the Penghu Islands, Japan’s ministers still considered the Treaty of Shimonoseki a failure. The country tried to claim the Liaodong Peninsula, but Russia, Germany, and France (Triple Intervention) forced it to give up its claim. The presence of Russian troops in eastern Siberia definitely “helped” Japan in its decision to abandon the peninsula. Russia later forced China to lease Port Arthur which finally gave it a warm-water port in the Pacific. This move, however, only rubbed salt to Japan’s wounded pride.

When the Boxer Rebellion exploded in 1900, Russia and Japan both joined the Western coalition in response to the foreign community’s pleas for help. The Russian officials, however, refused to evacuate their troops from northern China even after the rebellion was quelled. Instead, it took advantage of the situation to establish a foothold in Korea and northern China. A fuming Japan appealed to the international community, but its ministers’ requests only fell on deaf ears.

Japan never forgot this humiliation. Over the years, the government poured resources to strengthen its army and navy. The government invested in heavy industries such as steelworks, railway networks, and shipbuilding. By the early 1900s, it was one of the wealthiest industrialized nations in Asia. Its military’s morale was also at an all-time high.

Britain and Japan became allies in 1894 to counter Russian presence in eastern Siberia. The alliance was solidified further in 1902. Discussions continued between the representatives of Japan and Russia, but Russia’s obstinacy only led to the breakdown of the negotiations in 1904. Japan was at the end of its rope.

The Russo-Japanese War

An illustration of the Battle of Mukden during the Russo-Japanese War.

On the evening of February 8, 1904, the Japanese warships attacked the Russian fleet anchored at the harbor of Port Arthur. The torpedoes were able hit two battleships (the Tsarevich and the Retvizan) and a cruiser (the Pallada) until all three vessels sank. Japanese warships then blockaded the port, while the Russian crew scrambled to the mainland.

News of Japan’s unannounced attack on the Russian naval base shocked the international community. Russia scrambled to send reinforcements to Manchuria, but they were mostly defeated by the more mobile and adequately supplied Japanese troops. While Russian troops were engaged in combat on land, the naval fleet led by Admiral Rozhestvensky was on its way from its base in the Baltic to Asia. Passing through the Suez Canal was out of the question as it was held by Britain, so the fleet was forced to sail south to the Cape of Good Hope and enter the Indian Ocean there. The Russian navy, however, ran into trouble as most of the coaling and repair stations from Africa to China were held by the British.

Its target was to reach the Russian base in Vladivostok, but the fleet had to engage the Japanese warships led by Admiral Togo off the coast of Tsushima on May 27, 1905. Admiral Rozhestvensky made the fatal mistake of running directly into the Japanese blockade which was concealed by fog. The Russian fleet suffered a heartbreaking loss in just thirty-six hours of engagement. Most of the ships were sunk, while a few were either captured by the Japanese navy. A handful managed to limp to the Russian base in Vladivostok.

Loss and Compromise

Despite this spectacular victory, the Japan knew that the country could not go on a war of attrition against Russia. They had lost thousands of soldiers already and could not afford to lose more. After eighteen months of war, Japan’s ministers requested that President Theodore Roosevelt mediate between them and Russia. Russia, in the midst of a revolution itself, welcomed this reprieve and accepted the offer. On August 10, 1905, representatives of the United States, Russia, and Japan gathered in New Hampshire. Nervous of Japan’s newfound power and eager to contain it, President Roosevelt pressured Japan’s representatives to take whatever Russia proffered during the negotiations. The negotiations lasted until the end of August, and the treaty was signed on the September 5, 1905.

The terms included the annexation of Liaoning and Korea to Japan, as well as the promise that Russia would not attempt to interfere in Korean internal affairs. Japan also took the Russian South Manchuria Railway, and took over the lease of Port Arthur. Russia agreed to let go of the southern portion of the Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands in favor of Japan. Russian representatives, however, frustrated the Japanese negotiators when they stubbornly insisted that they would not pay an indemnity. The Japanese won the war, but the Russians were able to rout them in the negotiations.

The Japanese people, unaware of the cost of the war and the fact that the government could not afford to prolong the hostilities, felt that the Treaty of Portsmouth was another blow to their national pride. Protests and riots soon broke out when news of Japanese representatives’ compromise reached the people. The Japanese public heaped the blame on America when the reviled representatives informed their government of the events in Portsmouth and how President Roosevelt pressured them agreeing to the compromise.

Despite the existence of the Treaty of Portsmouth, peace remained elusive for both countries. Russia’s loss at the Battle of Tsushima fueled the 1905 Revolution and weakened the Romanov Dynasty. On the other hand, the humiliation brought by the treaty would lead to Japanese jingoism in the succeeding years.


Picture by:, Public Domain, Link

Meyer, Milton Walter. Japan: A Concise History. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2012.

Nish, Ian H. A Short History of Japan. New York: Praeger, 1968.

Perez, Louis G. A History of Japan. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.


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Mongols, Christianity Introduced to the

The date when Christianity was first introduced to the Mongols is still a mystery, but a tribe called Keraite became Nestorian Christians in AD 1007. Other Mongol tribes soon followed, but many of them were also followers of other religions. There was no doubt that they terrorized people, but the Mongols were famous for being tolerant of all beliefs.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History at that time.

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Christianity in China and Central Asia

The Nestorian Stele was one of the proofs that Christianity reached East Asia during the Medieval Period. The limestone block was excavated by local Chinese workers between 1623 and 1625. The words carved on the stele referred to Christianity in China, but it was buried during the Tang campaign against foreign religions in AD 845. Christianity almost disappeared in China, but it found a new and friendly home in Mongolia more than 160 years later.

In 1007, a Mongol khan had himself baptized into Nestorian Christianity along with 200,000 of his people. They were members of the Keraite tribe of the Mongols. Other Mongol tribes, such as the Onguds and Naimans, also became Nestorian Christians around 1200. Many Uighurs, the Mongols’ Turkic neighbors in Central Asia, became Nestorian Christians as well.

Some members of the Mongol royal family married Keraite and Ongud Christians during the domination of Genghis Khan. The early Mongol rulers were generally tolerant of all religions. Christianity and Christians themselves held a special place in Mongol society. For example, Hulagu Khan spared the Christians of Baghdad after his Christian wife Doquz Khatun pleaded on their behalf in 1258. Kublai Khan also placed the Christians in the semuren class (assorted category) which placed them just below the Mongols themselves, but above the native Chinese.

The Mongol expansion in West Asia and Eastern Europe brought them into contact with other Christians. The Church of the East (Nestorian) in China flourished under Kublai Khan. He allowed the Church to appoint metropolitans (the equivalent of a Catholic archbishop) for the Tanguts, the Uighurs, and others in Dadu (Beijing).

The Chagatai Khanate of Central Asia also allowed the appointment of metropolitans in Kashgar (Xinjiang, northwest China), Samarkand (present-day Uzbekistan), and Almaligh (Xinjiang, northwest China). The Issyk-Kul region of present-day Kyrgyzstan also had a Christian community. Unfortunately, the Christians of Central Asia suffered a heavy blow when Tarmashirin Khan (1331 AD – 1334) converted to Islam and started a purge of Christians.

The Golden Horde of Russia were also tolerant of other religions at first. However, just like the Chagatai Khanate of Central Asia, the Golden Horde also became Muslims and Christianity disappeared within the realm.

In Persia, the early Ilkhans allowed Uighur and Assyrian Christians to hold high positions in their court. Everything changed when Ghazan became the Ilkhan and his ally, Nawruz, started a purge of Christians in the land. Ghazan later executed Nawruz for treason and he reinstated the Christians. Christianity was on its way out in the Ilkhanate of Persia by the 15th century when the Timurid ruler Ulugh Beg persecuted the followers of the religion.

Christianity in China died once again when the Mongol Yuan dynasty collapsed in the 1360s. When the Ming Dynasty came to power in the 1360s, its rulers expelled both Nestorian and Roman Catholic Christians from China.

Important Mongol Christians

Princess Sorghaghtani Beki, pictured with her husband in the early 14th century.

Kitbuqa Noyan – Naiman Turk and Christian lieutenant of Hulagu Khan.

Sorghaghtani Beki – Nestorian Christian princess of the Keraite tribe. She married one of Genghis Khan’s sons, Tolui. She was the mother of Mongke, Kublai, Hulagu, and Ariq Boke.

Doquz Khatun – Nestorian Christian and Keraite wife of Hulagu Khan. She was instrumental in saving Baghdad’s Christians during the siege of 1258. She was also the mother of Abaqu Khan.

Sartaq Khan – son of Batu Khan of the Golden Horde who converted to Christianity.


Abaqa Khan – son of Hulagu Khan who married the Byzantine princess Maria Palaiologina. She became his “Despina Khatun.” He never converted to Christianity, but because of his wife Abaqa Khan favored Christians in his realm. Some of the coins he minted contained a cross and the words “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one God.” He was also active in seeking political alliances with Christian Europe against the Mamluks of Egypt.

Rabban Bar Sauma – the Uighur Marco Polo. A Uighur Turk and Nestorian monk from Beijing who was sent by Kublai Khan to seek an alliance with European kings and the Pope. He was accompanied by Rabban Markos of Kashang to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but their path to the city was blocked. They detoured to Baghdad where they were warmly received by Patriarch Mar Denha. The Patriarch of Baghdad died during the duo’s extended stay in the city. Rabban Markos later became the Patriarch of Baghdad in 1281.

Rabban Bar Sauma continued the journey to Europe even though he was an old man. He traveled to Constantinople, and to Italy where he met James II of Aragon and Sicily and Charles II of Naples. Pope Honorius IV died before Rabban Bar Sauma could reach him in Rome, so Kublai’s envoy only talked to the cardinals. He also passed through Tuscany and Genoa. He visited King Philip the Fair in Paris and talked with King Edward I of England in his domain in Gascony.

He was able to meet the newly elected Pope Nicholas IV before he returned to Baghdad in 1288. He never went back to China and died in Baghdad in 1294.


Picture by: Rashid al-Din [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Atwood, Christopher Pratt. Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire. New York, NY: Facts On File, 2004.

Buell, Paul D. Historical Dictionary of the Mongol World Empire. Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2003.

“Coins of Mongol Empire.” Accessed January 10, 2017.

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Clement V

Clement V became the head of the Catholic Church in 1305. Unlike the previous popes, Clement V never set foot in Rome during his reign. Instead, he stayed in the town of Avignon in southern France. He was also known as a puppet of the French king Philip IV the Fair. It was during Clement’s reign as pope that the Order of the Knights Templar was dissolved. Many Knights Templar were also killed because of charges of heresy trumped up by Philip so he could seize their wealth.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Bertrand de Got, the man who became Pope Clement V, was born between 1260 and 1264. He was the son of the Lord of Villandraut Beraud de Got by his wife, Ida de Blanquefort. He came from a prominent noble family with strong connections within the church and in politics. He had ten other siblings, and some of his brothers also became priests. He studied at the Grandmontine priory in the town of Agen in France when he was young. He later went to Orleans and Bologna to study canon and Roman law.

He returned to France after studying in a university in Bologna. The de Got family, at that time, was close to Edward I of England and Bertrand even represented the English king in the Capetian court in France. Edward himself persuaded Pope Celestine to send Bertrand to England to negotiate the peace with France in 1294.

Bertrand’s older brother Bernaud also served as the archbishop of Lyon. Bernaud recommended his younger brother as the vicar-general of Lyon and later promoted him as papal chaplain. Bertrand became the bishop of St. Bernard-de-Comminges in 1295. Finally, in 1299, he was promoted by Pope Boniface VIII as archbishop of Bordeaux.

Clement V as Pope

Clement V become the pope in 1305.

Pope Boniface VIII died in 1303 after a long and bitter conflict with Philip IV of France. He was succeeded by Pope Benedict XI, but the new pope died in 1304 after ruling for several months. After several months of deliberation, the cardinals finally elected Archbishop Bertrand de Got on the 5th of June 1305 as the new pope. Philip IV himself nominated Bertrand, and the archbishop was also close to Pope Boniface VIII when the latter was alive. The cardinals saw him as the perfect candidate who would finally bridge the gap between Rome and France after Pope Boniface VIII excommunicated and deposed Philip IV. The new pope was crowned at Lyon, and he adopted the name Clement V soon after.

Clement V did not succeed in bridging the gulf between Rome and France. Instead, he became Philip’s puppet for much of his reign as head of the Church. Clement also chose to stay in Avignon in Provence rather than return the papacy to Rome. He also feared for his life as Rome (and Italy in general) was beset with violence between the rival parties of the Guelph and the Ghibelline. Clement reigned for only nine years, but France became the home of the popes for the next seventy years.

Clement’s Role as a Puppet for Philip IV

Pope Boniface excommunicated and deposed Philip IV in 1303 after the king imposed high taxes on the church. Philip used the money he collected to pay off his war debts, but Clement promptly nullified the excommunication when he came to power in 1305. Because of this, Philip continued to collect money from the church income without fear of the pope. He also cleared Philip from all wrongdoings in Pope Boniface’s death and accused the dead pope of heresy.

Clement and the End of the Knights Templar

Philip drove out the Jews from France and seized all their properties in 1306. His greed took a grim turn in 1307 when he set his sights on the wealthy Knights Templar who, at that time, served as bankers for Europe’s wealthiest. Whether Clement willingly went along with the king’s plan or he was pressured to follow him remains a question, but the result was the same cruel end for the Knights Templar. The Knights were under the protection of the pope before this, but Philip immediately ordered their arrest when Clement removed his protection in 1307.

The Knights were then accused of heresy and demon worship. Hundreds of Knights were arrested and imprisoned in the years that followed while Philip seized their wealth. Philip also ordered the imprisonment of the elderly Grand Master of the Knights, Jacques de Molay. The king ordered his men to torture de Molay so that he would confess to the alleged heresies the Knights committed.

The Grand Master later withdrew his confession, but it was too late. Many Knights Templar were burned to death as punishment for heresy in 1310. Clement ordered for the Knights Templar to be abolished completely two years later. On the 18th of March 1314, the king also ordered for Jacques de Molay to be burned to death.

Clement V’s death followed swiftly on the 20th of April, 1314, at Roquemaure, north of Avignon. His remains were buried in Uzeste near his hometown of Villandraut. According to the medieval Italian chronicler Agnolo di Tura, Clement’s remains were charred after lightning struck and burned the church where his body lay in state. Philip IV died seven months later when he fell from his horse while hunting.


Picture by: Calixte SerrurOwn work, Public Domain, Link

Menache, Sophia. Clement V. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Nicholson, Helen J. On The Margins of Crusading: the military orders, the Papacy and the Christian world. Farnham, Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2011.

Ralls, Karen. Knights Templar Encyclopedia: The Essential Guide to the People, Places, Events, and Symbols of the Order of the Temple. Franklin Lakes, NJ: New Page Books, 2007.

Toon, Peter. The New International Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by J. D. Douglas. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Pub. Co., 1978.

Zutshi, P.N.R. The New Cambridge Medieval History: Volume 6, C.1300-c.1415. Edited by Michael Jones. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

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Ottomans Take Gallipoli

By the time of Sultan Osman’s death, the Ottomans had conquered most of the cities on the southwestern coast of Asia Minor. Osman was succeeded by his son Orhan, and he continued his father’s expansionist policies. He led the Ottomans in conquering the last Greek holdouts on the coast of the Sea of Marmara during his reign as Bey. But an earthquake on the Aegean Sea destroyed the Gallipoli Peninsula (along with much of Thrace) in 1354. The Ottomans later took advantage of the chaos in the aftermath of the earthquake by taking Gallipoli. This is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during 1253.

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The Unstoppable Conquerors

In the early fourteenth century, Osman led the Turks westward and conquered territories in the coast of the Sea of Marmara. His son, Orhan, continued this task when his father died in 1326. In the years that followed, Orhan gained an ally in the Byzantine Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos after he gave his daughter in marriage to the Turkish Bey. However, the alliance did not stop the Turkish Bey in his conquest spree. The Turks captured the city of Nicaea in 1331, and the city of Nicomedia soon fell to them after a long siege in 1337.

“Satellite image of the Gallipoli peninsula and surrounding area”

Civil War and the Occupation of Thrace

John VI Kantakouzenos had agreed to make the son of Emperor Andronikos III, John V, as his co-emperor. John V was angry that he had to settle as a junior emperor, so in 1352, he and his troops attacked the Thracian city of Adrianople. The city was ruled by John VI’s son Matthew who immediately asked his father for additional men to defend the city. Since Orhan was the emperor’s son-in-law, John VI turned to him for help. The Ottoman Bey agreed to send his troops (led by his son Suleyman Pasha) to help Matthew against John V in Thrace.

John V, meanwhile, had asked the Serbian king Stefan Dušan for help. Stefan gave him as much as 4,000 men to bolster his own troops, and they met in battle outside of Adrianople. John V and his Serbian soldiers, however, were defeated by the Ottomans led by Suleyman Pasha. The Ottomans then captured John V, and he was exiled by his co-emperor to a far-off island.

An Earthquake and the Fall of Gallipoli

The troubles of John VI seemed never-ending as the Turks also raided the villages around Adrianople. They then occupied the fortress of Tzympe on the north coast of the Gallipoli Peninsula. The devil’s bargain between the emperor and the bey worsened when a massive earthquake shook the Aegean Sea in 1354. Almost all the cities in Thrace crumbled during the earthquake, and the city of Gallipoli itself was not spared.

Thousands of people died when the earthquake struck. The Greek survivors needed to go elsewhere for shelter. Suleyman Pasha took advantage of the bleak situation by ordering his own people to travel to the affected cities. The Turks then rebuilt the houses and announced that the cities were theirs. Some Turks also travelled to the surrounding villages and claimed them as Turkish lands. The Greeks appealed to their Emperor John VI who, in turn, pleaded with Orhan. The bey did not take action, so the elderly John VI finally left the Byzantine throne on the 10th of December 1354. Meanwhile, the Turks had occupied most of Thrace which drove out many of the former Greek inhabitants.

Picture by: Public Domain, Link
Fleet, Kate. The New Cambridge History of Islam: The Western Islamic World, Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries. Edited by Maribel Fierro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Setton, Kenneth M., Harry W. Hazard, and Norman P. Zacour, eds. A History of the Crusades: The Impact of the Crusades on Europe. Vol. VI. Univ of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
Shepard, Jonathan. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire C. 500-1492. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
Uyar, Mesut, and Edward J. Erickson. A Military History of the Ottomans: From Osman to Atatürk. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Security International/ABC-CLIO, 2009.
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Ottomans Take Epirus

The city of Epirus was one of the oldest cities in Greece. It was the home of Pyrrhus, the renowned Greek general who lent his name to the phrase “Pyrrhic victory.” The Romans later conquered it and gave it to the Eastern Empire during the division. The Ottomans took some cities of Epirus from the Greeks starting in 1430 and ruled them afterwards. It is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History around that time.

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Epirus is located in the northwestern part of modern-day Greece. It was an ancient and powerful region where groups of Greek-speaking people called the Molossians, Chaonians, and Thesprotians lived. It was the home of the Greek general Pyrrhus who became famous after he led his troops in attacking and defeating the Romans. Rome conquered Epirus in 167 BC, and it became a Byzantine territory when the Roman Empire was split into two in AD 285.

“Pyrrhus of Epirus”

Epirus continued to be a Byzantine territory until the arrival of the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Byzantine Empire briefly disappeared, while independent states appeared which included the Despotate of Epirus. The despotate held the city of Thessaloniki (Salonika) until 1246 until it became a Byzantine territory once again in 1336.

The Arrival of the Ottomans in Epirus

The Ottoman sultan Murad II was the son of Mehmed I and the grandson of Bayezid. Murad II became Sultan after his father’s death in 1421. He immediately started the Ottomans’ First Siege of Constantinople in 1422. The siege of Constantinople did not succeed, so he turned east and conquered other Turkish beyliks (states) in Anatolia. He defeated the Venetians in the Siege of Thessalonica in 1430, and turned west to conquer the city of Ioannina in Epirus that same year.

Murad II briefly retired in 1444 after the death of his eldest son. The Turkish throne passed to his young son, Mehmed II, but the boy was unpopular among the janissaries (elite soldiers). To avert the rebellion of the janissaries, Murad II returned to rule once again two years after his retirement. He won the second Battle of Kosovo in 1448 and capped off his last years on the Turkish throne by conquering the Epirote city of Arta in 1449. After his brief break from the throne, Mehmed II returned to rule after his father’s death in 1451. The Ottomans continued to rule Epirus until 1913 when it was returned to Greece after the First Balkan War.

Picture By CatalaonOwn work, Public Domain, Link
Finkel, Caroline. Osman’s Dream: The Story of the Ottoman Empire, 1300-1923. New York: Basic Books, 2006.
Fleet, Kate. The New Cambridge History of Islam: The Western Islamic World, Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries. Edited by Maribel Fierro. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Mikaberidze, Alexander. Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO Interactive, 2011.
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Ashanti Empire Trade Slaves for Guns

In the late 17th century, the Akan people of modern Ghana started to transform their small chiefdom into an empire which they called Ashanti (Ashante or Asante). They expanded their territories by waging war with neighboring peoples and soon captured many prisoners of war. These captives were then sold off to European slave traders who would take them to the plantations in the Americas and West Indies. Starting in the early 18th century, however, the Ashanti Empire started to accept guns in lieu of gold as payment for every slave they sold to European traders.  These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History around this time.

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The Rise of the Ashanti Empire

During the 1670s, groups of Akan people from northern Ghana escaped strife in their homeland and flocked to the fertile region around Kumasi. Two of the most powerful clans that migrated to Kumasi were the Bretuo and the Oyoko. At that time, however, the refugees were forced to submit to the powerful Denkyira nation.To assure the Denkyira of his people’s submission, the Oyoko chief Obiri Yeboa sent his nephew Osei Tutu to live with and serve them.

Osei Tutu served as a shield bearer to Boa Amponsem, the chief of the Denkyira. He later fled to the territory of the Akwamu because of the cruelty of the people he served. He worked for the Akwamu chief and quickly rose to prominence there. He also befriended the priest Okomfo Anokye who soon became his firm ally. His uncle, chief Obiri Yeboa, later died in battle, so Osei Tutu was summoned back to his homeland to rule. He continued the conquests made by his uncle and even subdued other groups of Akan people in the area.

Osei Tutu, with the help of Okomfo Anokye and his Akwamu allies, slowly built the Ashanti kingdom. During the 1690s, Osei Tutu and his people declared their independence from the Denkyira. Full-scale war flared out between the Denkyira and the Ashanti in 1699, but the Ashanti emerged victorious in 1701 in the Battle of Feyiase.  

Slaves, Gold, and Guns

An example of Kente cloth, the traditional garment worn by Ashanti royalty.

In the middle of the 15th century, the first slave ships sailed from Lisbon and docked off the coast of northwestern Africa. The crew then came to land and captured unsuspecting natives which were then sold off as slaves in the markets of Lisbon. The slave trade turned out to be so profitable that Spanish, English, and Dutch ships soon followed Portugal’s lead.

As the years passed, European trade ships sailed deeper into the coast of western Africa to acquire more slaves and gold. The coast of modern Ghana became one of the chief ports of these trades that it was soon divided into the Gold and Slave Coasts. Dutch slave traders outdid the Portuguese in the 17th century, but they were replaced by the English by the time the Ashanti were building their empire.

The Ashanti’s long-time ally, the Akwamu, were among the first ones to profit from the slave trade with the Europeans. Their captives were almost always prisoners of war, but they were not above to selling Akwamu men who offended the chief. They also kidnapped able-bodied men from other tribes and sold them in the coastal slave markets.

 The English (who had displaced the Dutch as the leader in the slave trade) paid three ounces of gold for each male slave. It was a good sum, and many Africans saw this as a profitable venture.

The Ashanti soon joined in the slave trade by kidnapping traveling men or even those who were just working on their farms. They also went to war with neighboring peoples (especially in the Black Volta and savanna regions) not only to expand their territory but also to acquire more slaves which they then sold to Dutch and English traders. This practice had become so profitable that by 1720 the Slave Coast of Ghana had eclipsed the Gold Coast.

A vicious cycle soon emerged from this business. The Ashanti initially accepted gold as payment for slaves, but soon preferred flintlocks, muskets, and gunpowder as payment. With these weapons in hand, Ashanti warriors would then subdue another group of people and sell the captives of war to the European as slaves. By 1730, as much as 180,000 European-made firearms had been shipped to the Slave Coast and handed to the natives.


Picture by: CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

Harms, Robert W. The Diligent: A Voyage Through the Worlds of the Slave Trade. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Rodney, Walter. The Cambridge History of Africa: From c. 1600 to c. 1790. Edited by Richard Gray. Vol. 4. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975.


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Louisiana Settled 1699

After claiming the vast Mississippi River area for France in 1682, La Salle worked hard to establish settlements in the colony he called Louisiana. Although most of La Salle’s efforts failed, the French still managed to hold on to the area through fur traders and Catholic missionaries. The French authorities knew that it was possible for the English and the Spaniards to acquire the territory, so they commissioned the ruthless soldier, explorer, and privateer Pierre Le Moyne Iberville to establish a settlement at the mouth of the Mississippi River. In 1699, Iberville finally led Canadian colonists to permanently settle in the southern region of Louisiana.  This event is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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Earliest Settlers and the Arrival of the French

Various Native American tribes were the earliest settlers of the vast interior plains of North America and parts of the South. The tribes usually lived along or near the banks of the Mississippi and other great rivers that cut through the plains. The arrival of the Europeans in the early 16th century, however, slowly changed the American landscape and the lives of the natives.

In 1541, the explorer Hernando de Soto ventured into the lower parts of the Mississippi River area to look for gold. The gold failed to materialize, and the luckless de Soto remained a wanderer until he died there in 1542. With no gold in sight, the Spaniards were forced to abandon the southern Mississippi River area for the greater part of the 16th and 17th century.

It was not until the late 1600s that Europeans once again ventured into the area. In 1673, the French explorer Louis Jolliet and the Jesuit missionary Jacques Marquette explored the Mississippi River. They were able to reach the confluence of the Arkansas and Mississippi Rivers until they were forced to turn back for New France.

In 1682, Rene Robert de Cavelier, Sieur de la Salle was able to accomplish what de Soto, Marquette, and Jolliet were unable to do: traverse the Mississippi River Delta. He then claimed the region for France and christened it Louisiana after King Louis XIV.

La Salle, unfortunately, had a knack for making enemies, so his efforts to establish settlements in Louisiana were often thwarted. He established Fort Saint Louis in Illinois, but it lacked the support he needed because of the hostility of the new governor of New France. He tried to establish another fort near present-day Victoria, Texas, but it too, failed. La Salle’s adventures in the New World ended in 1687 when he was murdered by the Frenchman Pierre Duhaut in Texas.

Louis XIV felt that these Louisiana ventures were too expensive and troublesome. He ordered that any activities in French Louisiana must stop immediately. However, the French authorities knew that the English would soon take over if they neglected the area and that Spain might also reassert its claim to the region. As an answer to this threat, the French authorities allowed the Jesuit missionaries and French fur traders to continue plying their trade in the area.

From Maine to the upper Mississippi River, Jesuit missionaries were able to extend Roman Catholic and French influence over the natives. Despite the presence of the fur traders, it was the missionaries who made a lasting impact in the area during the early years of colonization.

Louisiana Settled

The French colony of Louisiana was named after King Louis XIV.
 The rulers of France once again considered the idea of establishing colonies in Louisiana because of its importance. This pushed Louis Phelypeaux, Comte de Pontchartrain and Navy Secretary to Louis XIV, to further French interest in Louisiana. He commissioned Pierre Le Moyne Iberville to find the mouth of the Mississippi River and build a fort to secure the area from Spanish and English incursions. Iberville, a soldier and privateer who had long tormented English settlements in the Hudson Bay and New York, was the right man for the job. His ruthlessness was exactly what Pontchartrain needed for the colonies of Louisiana.

In early 1699, Iberville did exactly as he was told and transported 120 (mostly Canadian) settlers into the southern reaches of French Louisiana. He and the settlers finished Fort Maurepas near modern Biloxi, Mississippi on May 1, 1699, but its population remained small for many years.


Picture by: Charles Le Brun – La Varende, Jean de: Louis XIV, Paris : Éditions France-Empire, 1958. – Château de Versailles, Public Domain, Link

Bromley, J. S., ed. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 6. The New Cambridge Modern History. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521075244.

Gayarre, Charles. History of Louisiana. Vol. 1. A. Hawkins, 1885.

Giraud, Marcel. A History of French Louisiana. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974.

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The Anglican Church

The Anglican Church (Church of England) first arose during the reign of Henry VIII and the height of the Reformation in Europe. The followers of the Anglican Church were compelled to recognize Henry as the head of the church in his Act of Supremacy of 1534. Henry advocated a “middle way” and kept most Catholic doctrines and traditions alive during his reign. However, Protestant doctrines slowly took root during the reign of his children, Edward VI (1547-1553) and Elizabeth I (1553-1603).   These events are recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during that time.

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By the time Henry VIII ascended the throne, the local Roman Catholic clergy were already unpopular among the people of England. The clergy’s nepotism, simony, greed, sexual immorality, and their display of excessive wealth became the chief cause of resentment among the common people. Henry’s main objective, meanwhile, was to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn so he could beget a male heir. His frustrations with the Pope led him to profit from the people’s resentment against the clergy. He later used it to break away from the authority of the Roman Catholic Church.

Henry had already taken steps to weaken the authority of the clergy during the trial for his annulment. He first vented his frustrations concerning Cardinal Wolsey whom he accused of praemunire (the act of putting the pope’s authority above the King of England’s). Wolsey’s trumped-up offense was considered treason, and he was promptly summoned to appear for trial before the king. Wolsey died on his way back to London, and his position as Archbishop of Canterbury was given to Henry’s ally, Thomas Cranmer.

In 1533, the king went ahead and secretly married the now-pregnant Anne Boleyn. With the Parliament securely on his side, Henry then proclaimed Anne as the new queen during a public coronation. This act not only removed Catherine of Aragon as queen, it also signaled England’s defiance of the authority of the pope.

The break between England and Rome was nearly complete when the Council declared that the Pope had no authority in the kingdom. The declaration even referred to the Pope simply as the “Bishop of Rome.” The Council also insisted that the Pope had no right to interfere in the kingdom’s affairs.

The priests who were loyal to Rome were unhappy with the turn of events. Those who were sympathetic to the Lutheran movement, however, eagerly jumped on the bandwagon. What both sides did not count on was Henry’s independence. He advocated a middle way rejecting both pro-Rome supporters and the so-called Lutheran heretics (Luther earned Henry’s anger when he refused to support his annulment).

Henry VIII was determined to undermine the authority of the Pope and the Catholic Church’s involvement in kingdom affairs.

Between spring and summer of 1534, Henry revoked all preaching licenses in the kingdom. He also forbade anyone from defending or attacking the doctrines of the Catholic Church until a new and satisfactory set of doctrines could be established by his own Council.

In November 1534, the English Parliament passed the Act of Supremacy which recognized King Henry VIII as the head of the state and the church. He still considered himself a good Catholic, but he began to take steps to make it clear to his people that it was he who was in charge. He ordered the clergy to scratch out all references to the Pope in prayer books, and those who failed to do so would be punished. He also required the preachers to introduce him as the new head of the church.

The executions of pro-Rome clergy and Dutch Anabaptists started in earnest in 1535. Some of the most prominent victims were John Fisher (Bishop of Rochester) and Henry’s own councilor, the humanist Sir Thomas More. Meanwhile, Henry had elevated the chief minister Thomas Cromwell as the vicar-general and vicegerent for church concerns.

This promotion made Cromwell one of the most powerful persons not only in the state but also in the church. His first order of business was the dissolution of monasteries—a task that was not foreign to him since he did this in 1525 under Cardinal Wolsey. No one knew if Henry came up with the dissolution, but it was clear that the king eagerly embraced the project. He was happy to take the lands and treasures of the monasteries so he could use it to satisfy his own greed. No one stopped him as the English people viewed monks as lazy, greedy, abusive, and sexually immoral.

In 1535, the dissolution of English monasteries and nunneries started in earnest. Cromwell and his men first inspected the monasteries for the tiniest offenses that they could hold against the monks. If they found anything questionable, the monks would then be allowed to leave. Monks who were 24-year old or younger were allowed to leave immediately, while those who were older were allowed to leave the monastery after they were given a special license. Cromwell and his men then made life miserable for the remaining monks so they would be forced to leave the monastery. The same rules were applied to the few nunneries scattered around England.

Henry’s next step was to allow the circulation of Myles Coverdale’s translation of the Bible. Unlike Tyndale’s translation, Coverdale’s Bible was met with little resistance in England thanks to Cromwell’s patronage. Coverdale also appealed to Henry’s good side when he dedicated the first edition of his translation to the king himself.

If the English Protestants had any hopes that Henry would side with them, he crushed them as soon as he could. The rebellions that started in 1536 (Pilgrimage of Grace) and his desire to be seen as a true Catholic monarch forced him to issue the Act of the Six Articles in 1539. Also known as the “An Act Abolishing Diversity in Opinions,” the king strengthened the existing heresy laws that targeted the Protestants so that Francis I of France might see him as a good ally. It was followed up by the “Act of Ten Articles” (Articles Devised by the King’s Highness’ Majesty to Establish Christian Quietness and Unity Among Us) issued in the same year.

Beyond Henry VIII: Edward VI and Elizabeth I

It was not until Edward VI’s reign (Henry’s son by his third wife, Jane Seymour) and the regency of Thomas Cranmer that the Protestants finally gained the upper hand. The Scottish reformer John Knox became Edward’s chaplain, while the Strasbourg-based German reformer Martin Bucer became a professor at Cambridge University. It was also Bucer who encouraged Cranmer to adopt the beliefs of the Reformation. Cranmer abolished masses in 1549 and replaced it with a new liturgy. One of the most enduring Anglican books which emerged during Cranmer’s dominance was the Book of Common Prayer.

Protestantism experienced a decline after Edward VI’s death in 1553. He was succeeded by his half-sister Queen Mary I whose devotion to Catholicism drove her to persecute her Protestant subjects. Illness ended Mary’s reign in 1558, and she was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth to the throne. Protestantism underwent a revival during Elizabeth’s reign and continued to dominate uninterrupted up to the modern times.

Elizabeth reintroduced her father’s Act of Supremacy with Protestant backing and (just like her father) reinforced her position as the head of the Church of England. During her reign, the queen ordered the revision of previous acts. The result was the “Thirty-nine Articles of Religion”  which became the doctrinal statement of the Church of England.


Picture by: Joos van CleveRoyal Collection, Public Domain, Link

Elton, G.R. The New Cambridge Modern History. Vol. 2. Cambridge: University Press, 1990.

Key, Newton, and R.O. Bucholz, eds. Sources and Debates in English history, 1485-1714. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Ridley, Jasper Godwin. Henry VIII. New York, NY: Viking, 1985.