September 11 – Patriot Day

September 11

Perhaps because of the plurality of the attacks—four planes, three locations, and two landmarks of national significance—no single name summed up the tragedy of 9/11 better than the date itself. Today “September 11” refers the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, and the plane crash outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania. It means the extinguishing of thousands of innocent lives in a single morning.

But long before 2001, in fact before the pilgrims set foot on American shores, September 11 was already a pivotal date in American history.

Halve Maen (Half Moon) replica, 1909

Over 400 years ago on September 11, a ship by the name of Half Moon anchored in what is now New York Harbor, just north of a quiet island inhabited by a tribe known as the Mannahattes. Henry Hudson was about to take the first documented European journey up the river that would be named for him.

Spanish explorers had already reported the existence of the “Grand River”, but Hudson was the first to travel inland. He was an English navigator hired by the Dutch to find a passage to India; he hoped he’d find it up the Hudson.

The Half Moon sailed up the Hudson River, trading with some tribes, shooting at others. (One crew member had been shot through the neck with an arrow a few days before, an incident which colored the crew’s impressions of early Hudson Valley residents.) They never did find the route to India, but they did find Albany. At which point the river became too shallow and the ship turned around.

On his way out of New York harbor in October, another, more serious fight occurred between Half Moon and the indigenous residents—most likely the Mannahattes–the tribe living on the island that would become–you guessed it: New Amsterdam. The small battle was serious enough that the locals had not forgotten it when the Dutch came around 15 years later to “buy” the island of Manhattan for 60 guilders worth of goods.

Before returning to Holland, Hudson stopped in his homeland of England. As a fitting symbol of Hudson’s life, he never got to where he was going. Upon arriving in England, he was greeted, not as a hero but as a traitor, for sailing a craft under a foreign flag, and was promptly arrested.

Hudson’s journey is the reason why New York grew up Dutch before it was English.

The English did let Hudson out to do more exploring, to find that well-hidden secret passage to India, this time for the British crown. He spent several months exploring what would become “Hudson Bay” in Canada, lured north by the indigenous rumor of a river that ran to an “ocean”—probably referring to the Great Lakes.

After close to a year of exploring the Hudson Bay, his crew were getting homesick (and if you’ve spent a winter in Hudson Bay, you know why).

The crew mutinied. They placed Hudson, his son, and seven loyal crew members on a small boat, set them adrift, and sailed back to England. Hudson, his son and the men were never seen again.

Henry Hudson in Canada (re-enactment)

The story of North America is in some ways the story of the Northwest Passage, the most famous passage that never was. The hope of a quick and easy waterway between Europe and India was the dream of kings and merchants alike for hundreds of years. The reward for a man who could find it would be wealth and fame beyond imagination.

But like the Fountain of Youth and the City of El Dorado, the Northwest Passage would elude every explorer from Columbus to John Franklin. Many devoted their lives to searching for a route that any child on Google Maps today can see never existed.

(There would be no direct water route between Europe and India until the Suez Canal was built in 1869, connecting the Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf. Ironically, this miracle of modern ingenuity had been preceded by a canal built by the Ancient Egyptians thousands of years earlier, which fell into disuse around the time of Cleopatra, filled with silt, and was forgotten.)

We are taught as children that the building of North America was based on freedom of religion, but it was based on trade. The first explorers came here seeking a trade route to the Orient. Then governments sought precious metals and untapped resources. Finally, immigrants came seeking a social and economic system that would allow those without resources or aristocratic blood an opportunity to attain wealth.You can tell what a society values most by the size of its buildings. Once cathedrals soared highest about medieval cities. Today those are dwarfed by centers of commerce and business. When terrorists attacked America, they didn’t strike our churches. They struck the World Trade Center, knowing full well this was the heart of America.

John Locke wrote that each member of society is entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of property.” In the Declaration of independence, Thomas Jefferson changed that last bit to the “pursuit of happiness.” Was he exercising poetic license, or did he think property and happiness were interchangeable? Either way, the Declaration guarantees neither wealth nor happiness, only the pursuit thereof. Perhaps one day some child will be watching the whole course of human endeavors on ‘Google EverythingThatEverHappenedInHumanEventsDownToTheMolecule’ and mock our futile search for one or the other, silently bemoaning, “Had they only turned left at Albuquerque…”

Till then, appreciate what’s already at your fingertips:

Thanks to science, ingenuity, and commercial enterprise, the average citizen today has access to information and knowledge that was hopelessly out of reach of the most powerful kings in history. You can see almost any stretch of the globe at the push of a button, and many stretches in space, millions or billions of miles away. You have access to an unprecedented cornucopia of foods and flavors, savoring in one meal what a Caesar could not have enjoyed in a lifetime. You carry on a conversation with someone halfway across the world in two minutes, that would have taken an emperor decades.

Economist Thomas Friedman says “The World is Flat.” That trade has made the world a much smaller place. Average citizens interact with other cultures and countries on a daily basis, thanks to the internet and global communications. John Locke’s selfish pursuit of property may be in the end the greatest tool for global understanding the world has ever known.

When the Twin Towers fell, they took with them the citizens of 90 countries, morbid proof that the world is a small, small place.

Henry Hudson Entering New York Harbor, September 11, 1609


by Alan Catlin

Lone warrior
on Manhattan
Island beach

observing long
ships, sailors
from who-knew

where navigating
toward soon-
to-be harbor

site; the first
foreign terrorists
have arrived

Foundation of Lima: City of Kings

January 18


Today is the Foundation Day of Peru’s capital city. Francisco Pizarro founded Lima on January 18, 1535 as La Ciudad de los Reyes (City of Kings). Pizarro has been at various times the most reviled, revered, and again reviled figure in South American history.

Pizarro was a Spanish soldier in Panama who earned his stripes by bringing his former commander, pig-farmer-turned-Conquistador Vasco Nunez de Balboa, to Balboa’s rival, Governor Dávila. Dávila tried Balboa and his associates for allegedly betraying the Spanish crown and had them immediately decapitated. Dávila rewarded Pizarro by making him mayor of Panama City.

In the 1520’s, stories of gold and riches filtered north from the land that would be Peru. Pizarro joined forces with a priest (Luque) and a soldier (Almagro) to lead an expedition south in search of these treasures.

Their first expedition was a dismal failure. And while the second expedition succeeded in bringing back some treasure, it wasn’t enough to entice Panama’s new governor to approve a third. Not one to take ‘no’ for an answer, Pizarro sailed to Spain, and attained funding directly from King Charles and Queen Isabella.

Pizarro returned to Peru with less than 200 men. The Battle of Cajamarco in 1532, between those soldiers and, according to Spanish accounts, 80,000 Incas, is perhaps the most staggering military upset in recorded history.

Pizarro occupies Cuzco
Pizarro occupies Cuzco

The small pox virus, brought by Europeans, helped. Not only had small pox devastated the Incan population, it killed the previous ruler, leading to a civil war between the king’s sons.

Atahuallpa, the apparent victor of the fraternal struggle, commanded an army of tens of thousands. When he was invited to meet Pizarro at Cajamarca, he didn’t consider a force of 200 men any threat.

Historian Jared Diamond combines the testimony of 6 Spanish eyewitnesses into a full description of the battle in the chapter “Collision at Cajamarco” from Guns, Germs, and Steel, the text of which can be found here. Go there. Read it. Now.


On reaching the entrance to Cajamarca, we saw the camp of Atahuallpa… We were so few in number and we had penetrated so far into a land where we could not hope to receive reinforcements. The Governor’s brother Hernando Pizarro estimated the number of Indian soldiers there at 40,000, but he was telling a lie just to encourage us, for there were actually more than 80,000 Indians.

Through a messenger, Francisco Pizarro invited Atahuallpa to meet with him at Cajamarco, promising, ‘I will receive him as a friend and brother… No harm or insult will befall him.’

“At noon Atahuallpa began to draw up his men and to approach…In front of Atahuallpa went 2,000 Indians who swept the road ahead of him… Many of us urinated without noticing it, out of sheer terror…”

“Governor Pizarro now sent Friar Vicente de Valverde to go speak to Atahuallpa… the Friar thus addressed him: ‘I am a Priest of God, and I teach Christians the things of God… What I teach is that which God says to using this Book…’

Atahuallpa opened the Bible, and showing no expression, tossed it on the ground.

“The Friar returned to Pizarro, shouting, ‘Come out! Come out, Christians! Come at these enemy dogs who reject the things of God. That tyrant has thrown my book of holy law to the ground!…’

“…The booming of the guns, the blowing of the trumpets, and the rattles on the horses threw the Indians into panicked confusion. The Spaniards fell upon them and began to cut them to pieces…

Pizarro reaches for Atahualpa
Pizarro reaches for Atahualpa

“Although we killed the Indians who held the litter, others at once took their places and held it aloft…Atahuallpa was captured, and the Governor took Atahuallpa to his lodging. The Indians carrying the litter, and those escorting Atahuallpa, never abandoned him: all died around him…

“When the squadrons of Indians who had remained in the plain outside the town saw the other Indians fleeing and shouting, most of them too panicked and fled. It was an astonishing sight, for the whole valley for 15 or 20 miles was completely filled with Indians…

“Six or even thousand Indians lay dead, and many more had their arms cut off and other wounds… It was extraordinary to see so powerful a ruler captured in so short a time, when he had come with such a mighty army. Truly, it was not accomplished by our own forces, for there were so few of us. It was by the grace of God…

Pizarro explained to Atahuallpa that God permitted his defeat so that “you may know Him and come out from the bestial and diabolical life that you lead… When you have seen the errors in which you live, you will understand the good that we have done you…

Atahuallpa offered to fill a large room with gold and treasure for his release. After Atahuallpa made good on his promise, Pizarro executed him anyway. But not before baptizing him.

Pizarro paved the way for three centuries of Spanish colonization in Peru. He crushed Cuzco and set up the city of Jauja as his capital in 1534, but it was too remote. The following year he established Lima; he later claimed that the creation of Lima was the greatest thing he ever did.

Today Lima’s 7.8 million residents celebrate the 475th anniversary of Pizarro’s founding, though its founder has grown less and less popular in Peru in recent decades. (I can’t imagine why.)

Here upon the plains
The Great Calichuchima
Was burnt at the stake by the conquistadores;
From the flames he called upon the sun for justice.
Now with its golden figure the same sun
Points to you, Pizarro,
The greatest criminal of the New World.

— Jorge Carrera Andrade, “El Pacificador” (about Pizarro’s brother Gonzalo)

Capture of an Inca King: Francisco Pizarro

Lima Commemorates 474th Anniversary