Year
1784

Zachary Taylor is born

On this day in 1784, future President Zachary Taylor is born in Barboursville, Virginia.

The American Revolution had been over barely a year when Taylor, a distant relative of founding father and America’s fourth president, James Madison, was born. He grew up on his parents’ plantation in Kentucky and at age 23 left home to become a soldier in the U.S. Army. Taylor served in the War of 1812, the Blackhawk War (1832) and second Seminole War (1835-1837). In the Mexican-American War (1846-1848), Taylor gained popularity for his heroism and for the camaraderie he shared with even his lowliest subordinates. When the war ended, Taylor decided to run for the presidency. He narrowly won a race that included former President Martin Van Buren and Democratic nominee Lewis Cass. His subsequent administration is best known for his failure to address the divisive issue of slavery—although he adamantly opposed slavery and vowed to personally lead a military attack against any state that threatened to secede from the Union–and for his untimely death after only 16 months in office.

Although the exact cause of his death, on July 9, 1850, continues to be debated by historians, it is likely that Taylor succumbed to a case of cholera. On a scorching Fourth of July in Washington, D.C., Taylor had attended festivities at the newly dedicated grounds upon which the Washington Monument would be erected. According to several sources, Taylor gulped down a large quantity of iced milk and cherries and then returned to the White House, where he quenched his thirst with several glasses of water.

Outbreaks of cholera, a deadly disease caused by bacteria, occurred frequently during the summer months in hot, humid Washington during the 1800s, when sewage systems were primitive at best. The dangerous bacteria were mostly likely present in the water or iced milk Taylor drank, though other sources have claimed that Taylor died of gastroenteritis, food poisoning or typhoid fever. It appears that no one at the time even suggested foul play, despite Taylor’s controversial stance on slavery.

Taylor left behind his beloved wife Peggy, two daughters and a son. Another daughter, Sarah, had married to future Confederate President Jefferson Davis in 1835, but died of malaria three months into her marriage. Davis, a southerner and supporter of slavery, had been a subordinate officer in Taylor’s regiment. He resigned his commission and married Sarah over Taylor’s objections. Taylor did not live to see his only son, Richard, join the Confederate Army.

Taylor was succeeded by his vice president, Millard Fillmore, who went on to serve until 1853.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Jack Ruby kills Lee Harvey Oswald

At 12:20 p.m., in the basement of the Dallas police station, Lee Harvey Oswald, the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, is shot to death by Jack Ruby, a Dallas nightclub owner.On November 22, President Kennedy was fatally shot while riding in an open-car motorcade ...read more

Irish author and nationalist executed

Robert Erskine Childers, a popular Irish author and member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), is shot to death by an Irish Free State firing squad after being convicted of carrying a revolver. He had been one of the leaders, along with Eamon de Valera, of the Republican forces ...read more

Hijacker parachutes into thunderstorm

A hijacker calling himself D.B. Cooper parachutes from a Northwest Orient Airlines 727 into a raging thunderstorm over Washington State. He had $200,000 in ransom money in his possession.Cooper commandeered the aircraft shortly after takeoff, showing a flight attendant something ...read more

Origin of Species is published

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, a groundbreaking scientific work by British naturalist Charles Darwin, is published in England. Darwin’s theory argued that organisms gradually evolve through a process he called “natural selection.” In natural selection, ...read more

U.S. casualty rates hit new high

U.S. casualty statistics reflect the intensified fighting in the Ia Drang Valley and other parts of the Central Highlands. In their first significant contacts, U.S. forces and North Vietnamese regulars fought a series of major battles in the Highlands that led to high casualties ...read more

U.S. Army announces Calley will be tried

U.S. Army officials announce 1st Lt. William Calley will be court-martialed for the premeditated murder of 109 Vietnamese civilians at My Lai.In Washington, Army Secretary Stanley Resor and Army Chief of Staff William C. Westmoreland announced the appointment of Lt. Gen. William ...read more

LBJ to continue Kennedy policy in Vietnam

Two days after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, President Lyndon B. Johnson confirms the U.S. intention to continue military and economic support to South Vietnam. He instructed Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, in Washington for consultations following South Vietnamese ...read more

Wilt Chamberlain sets NBA rebounds record

On November 24, 1960, Philadelphia Warrior Wilt Chamberlain snags 55 rebounds in a game against the Boston Celtics and sets an NBA record for the most rebounds in a single game.The seven-foot-one-inch Chamberlain–often called “Wilt the Stilt,” a nickname he detested, or “The Big ...read more

Origin of Species is published

On this day, Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, which immediately sold out its initial print run. By 1872, the book had run through six editions, and it became one of the ...read more

Robin Williams stars in Mrs. Doubtfire

On this day in 1993, Mrs. Doubtfire, starring Robin Williams as a divorced father who disguises himself as an elderly British nanny in order to spend time with his children, opens in theaters. Directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone) and based on a 1987 novel by Anne Fine titled ...read more

Ferry sinks in Yellow Sea, killing hundreds

A ferry sinks in the Yellow Sea off the coast of China, killing hundreds of people on this day in 1999. The ship had caught fire while in the midst of a storm and nearly everyone on board perished, including the captain.The Dashun, a 9,000-ton vessel, was transporting passengers ...read more

The FBI Crime Lab opens its doors for business

The crime lab that is now referred to as the FBI Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory officially opens in Washington, D.C., on this day in 1932.The lab, which was chosen because it had the necessary sink, operated out of a single room and had only one full-time employee, Agent ...read more

Battle of Lookout Mountain

On this day in 1863, Union troops capture Lookout Mountain southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee,as they begin to break the Confederate siege of the city. In the “battle above the clouds,” the Yankees scaled the slopes of the mountain on the periphery of the Chattanooga lines.For ...read more

Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant dies

On this day in 1807, Mohawk Chief Thayendanegea, also known by his English name, Joseph Brant, dies at his home in Burlington, Ontario. Before dying, he reportedly said, “Have pity on the poor Indians. If you have any influence with the great, endeavour to use it for their ...read more