William Wilberforce—A Force Against Slavery

If you’ve seen the film Amazing Grace, then you’ve heard the name William Wilberforce. The tireless abolitionist was born on this day in 1759.

In 1780 Wilberforce’s dynamic political career began. His focus—in politics and in life—changed drastically after he converted to evangelical Christianity five years later. In 1787 he was introduced to leading abolitionists of the day such as Thomas Clarkson, and a long and laborious 20 year battle against slavery in the UK began.

The Authentic Speech of William WIlberforce, Esq.

In 1907, after years of concerted effort, delays, and opposition, the Slave Trade Act passed and the slave trade was abolished in the British Empire. But Wilberforce and other abolitionists’ work was not yet finished. They continued to work for the removal of slavery itself.

William Wilberforce

Wilberforce suffered from poor health for decades and eventually became so ill that he retired from Parliament in the mid 1820s. That’s not to say that he stopped his involvement in politics entirely. On the contrary, he continued to push toward abolition until quite literally his dying day. After a terrible bout of influenza in 1833, he heard that the bill to abolish slavery in most of the British Empire was assured to go through. He passed away three days later.

Wilberforce in the days before his death

Death of William Wilberforce

The Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 did indeed pass in late August of that year. Though Wilberforce had wished to be buried with some of his family at Stoke Newington, it was thought that he deserved the honor of a place in Westminster Abbey. He was buried near William Pitt.

For more articles like these on Wilberforce, check out Newspapers.com. You could also try a search on American abolition and the names associated with it, or look for any other topic of interest using the search page.

The Mysterious Case of Bobby Dunbar

In the late summer days of 1912, the Dunbar family’s 4-year-old son Bobby disappeared during a trip to Swayze Lake in Louisianna. After eight months of searching, the boy was found in the company of handyman William Walters. Walters was accused of kidnapping the Dunbar boy despite his insistence that the boy was Bruce Anderson, the illegitimate son of Walters’ brother and a woman named Julia Anderson who worked for his family.

Bobby Dunbar

The Dunbars were wealthy and reasonably convinced the boy was Bobby thanks to a scar on his foot and a familiar-looking mole. Anderson was unwed, not wealthy, a field hand, and fairly certain that the boy was her son Bruce. When the two families came head to head in a trial for who the boy really belonged to, the Dunbars won easily. Bobby was sent home with his true family, while Walters was sent to jail for kidnapping him.


Walters maintained his innocence throughout his time in jail. This article is a section of one of the letters he wrote during his incarceration:

Walters' letter from jail

He was released after two years in prison and so escaped being hanged, but he never backed down on his story. Bobby Dunbar lived the rest of his life with his family, and Walters lived the rest of his life convinced that the boy was Bruce Anderson. Julia Anderson eventually got married and had seven more children, who have said that she spoke often of the son the Dunbars took from her.

Perhaps you have guessed by now that this story doesn’t wrap up so neatly. Decades later, Bobby Dunbar’s granddaughter, Margaret Dunbar Cutright, looked further into the story after noticing how deeply conflicted newspaper reports had been at the time. Some said the boy had instantly recognized his “mother,” Lessie Dunbar, and that the two had reunited in a flurry of hugs and tears, but others maintained that neither had shown immediate signs of recognition upon first sight.

Margaret Cutright

A comparison of DNA between Bobby’s son and the son of Bobby’s brother, Alonzo (unquestionably a Dunbar), led to the shocking discovery that the boy who had lived as Bobby his entire life had not been a Dunbar at all. At long last, William Walters was proven to be as innocent as he’d claimed.

Walters an innocent man

Unfortunately, this conclusion still leaves the fate of the true Bobby Dunbar unknown. It is thought that he most likely fell into the lake and died back in 1912, the summer he disappeared.

There is so much to be found on this unusual story in the pages of newspapers old and new. Try a search for more information on Bobby’s story or seek out some of your own family history on Newspapers.com.

Antarctic Surgery

Sometimes the newspapers can share the craziest stories—like this one, about a surgeon who had to remove his own appendix.

Leonid Rogozov

Dr. Leonid Rogozov had the unfortunate luck of experiencing acute appendicitis while on an Antarctic expedition. With no way to get to another station and no other doctors around to help him out, he found himself in the unbelievable position of having to operate on himself.

Dr. Rogozov removes his own appendix

Details of the surgery

The operation took about 2 hours, some Novocaine and ice as anesthetics, and the aid of a driver, a meteorologist, and a mirror. Within two weeks of the operation Rogozov was back on his feet and performing his usual duties.

Find more on Leonid Rogozov’s incredible self-surgery on Newspapers.com.

Olympians at the Fair

In honor of this summer’s Olympic Games, here’s a look back at the first Games to take place in the United States.

First Olympic Games in America

The 1904 Olympic Games were actually the first to take place in any country outside of Europe. They were held alongside the World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, and because of the long, costly trip only 12 countries other than the U.S. were represented. The U.S., on the other hand, had hundreds of competitors—almost five times the combined total of the foreign athletes. Thanks to their absurd advantage the U.S. athletes dominated the competition and took home most of the medals, though not without criticism.

Because the official competitions were interspersed randomly throughout the World’s Fair activities, the Games last for months—they began in July and the final event took place in September.

End of St. Louis Games

Find more about the first American Olympic Games, or the modern Olympics at large, with a search on Newspapers.com.

“Wild Bill” Hickok’s Last Hand

On this day in 1876, famous gunfighter “Wild Bill” Hickok was shot in the back of the head. He died on the spot without ever seeing his murderer, the young, up-and-coming gunslinger Jack McCall.
The tragic fate of Wild Bill

Wild Bill, born James Butler Hickok, gained notoriety in the west thanks to accounts (often exaggerated) of his impressive gunfighting and accurate aim. Much of his shootouts took place during his sporadic career as a lawman, from 1865-1871. During an 1871 shootout with saloon owner Phil Coe, Hickok accidentally shot and killed Mike Williams, a Special Deputy Marshall who had run into the shootout to help Hickok. This event reportedly affected Hickok deeply for the remainder of his days and he was relieved of his duties as marshall soon after the incident.

Legends tend to disagree on just how many men Hickok killed, but the numbers are likely inflated. Eventually his eyesight began to give out on him and, after a brief stint in Buffalo Bill’s show Scouts of the Plains, he turned to poker.

Wild Bill Hickok

Hickok always insisted on sitting with his back to a wall, a precaution against being surprised from behind. On the day he died, there was only one open seat at the poker table and it left Hickok’s back to the saloon door. He asked to switch seats a couple of times with no luck. Soon enough, Jack McCall walked in and shot Hickok at point-blank range. The four cards Hickok was holding as he died—two black aces and two black eights—have since become known as the “dead man’s hand.”

McCall, Hickok, Dead Man's Hand

McCall’s reasons for killing the famous “Wild Bill” may never be known for sure. He was reportedly bitter after losing badly at the same table as Hickok the day before, but in his trial he claimed that Hickok had killed his brother during his time as a lawman in Abilene, Kansas. McCall was acquitted by the informal mining town jury that first brought him to trial, but was later rearrested and judged guilty. He was hanged in March of 1877.

Read more about Hickok and his adventurous wild west life in the articles of Newspapers.com.

The Creation of NASA

On July 29, 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was created as a response to a successful satellite launch by the Soviet Union. The creation of this agency launched the United States into the space scene with the object of exploration, expansion, and gathering information about all things stellar.

Program for the conquest of outer space


Find more on NASA in the papers of the past with a search on Newspapers.com.

Isolating Isletin

On this day in history, two men discovered a cure for a condition that was previously considered fatal: diabetes. This innovation in medical science happened less than a century ago, in the summer of 1921.

Banting and Best discover insulin

Dogs used in insulin discovery

Many researchers had previously connected the pancreas to diabetes, but Dr. Banting and his medical student assistant, Charles Best, were the first to successfully isolate and use insulin to improve diabetic dogs. In 1922, one year after the initial extraction was achieved, a diabetic teenager was given an injection of what was then called “isletin” and showed dramatic improvement. Suddenly, a disease that once inevitably led to death had become treatable.

Find more articles like these on insulin and other significant advances in medicine with a search on Newspapers.com.

The Conch Republic

Now that summer’s in full swing, it’s time for vacation! Perhaps you seek out beaches, sunshine and nice ocean views? Look no further than the United States’ very own Key West, Florida. This hot spot for tourists boasts attractions such as gardens, boat excursions, Ernest Hemingway’s former home, and the Conch Republic—a satirical micronation that mock-seceded from the U.S. in 1982.

Conch Republic

Yes, it’s true—what started as a legitimate protest against the inconvenience of U.S. Border Patrol roadblock checkpoints quickly became a unique (and ultimately effective) attention-grabber.

The Rebels of the Conch Republic

Basically, U.S. Border Patrol officials put an inspection checkpoint on the only roads out of Key West to search for narcotics and illegal immigrants, leading to wait times that would put the DMV to shame. This would be an irritation under any circumstance, but to an island city that runs on tourism the roadblock was an actual detriment to their economy. When the usual avenues of protest against this annoyance got citizens nowhere, the “Conchs”—people of Key West—faux seceded. Mayor Dennis Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister of the new republic, which proceeded to declare war on the United States, surrender, and apply for foreign aid all in less time than it took to wait in line at the checkpoint that started it all.

Blowing the conch and raising the flag of the Conch Republic

The secession may not have been real, but the publicity it brought did the trick—the checkpoint was removed soon after the Conch Republic declared their independence. Unfortunately you’ll have to wait until next year to join in the still-observed Independence Day celebration—festivities take place the week of April 23rd. It would seem that, in the end, the roadblock didn’t hurt the Key West tourism economy one bit.

PM of Conch Republic, 1988

Learn more about the Conch Republic or any other topic of your choice with a search on Newspapers.com.

Getting on Board with Board Games

Board games are a well-loved staple of group entertainment. They have been so for centuries in the world at large, but in younger countries—like the United States—they came around much more recently. So when did board games cross the ocean and become the popular pastimes they are today? What game has the distinction of being the first in America?

First American Board Game

First U.S. published board games

The Traveller’s Tour through the United States is considered to be the first U.S. board game. In an era of Puritan values dice were considered a vice associated with gambling, so players traveled across a map of the states with the help of a spinning, multi-sided top called a tetotum. The object: guess the names of cities and significant places—and in later versions, name their populations. That’s quite the social studies test, even for a time when Louisiana was the country’s western border.

The Mansion of Happiness was exactly what it sounds like: a game all about using good, virtuous values to reach your just reward. It was created in Europe, but appeared in the United States in the 1840s. It was one of the first commercially produced board games in the U.S. and had the added benefit of being morally robust—very important for children and adults alike.

Description of the Mansion of Happiness

Of course, what would board games be today without the quintessential (and frequently ire-inspiring) Monopoly? The first version of this American claim-to-board-game-fame was created in the nascent years of the 20th century by Elizabeth Magie, who was quite an interesting woman even outside of her game-making. She patented a design that looks very similar to the version of Monopoly we play today. It too was educational in nature, but not in regards to cities or morality. Instead it focused on the evils of land owned by private monopolies. It was called The Landlord’s Game.

The Landlord

The Landlord’s Game went through several more creators and variations over the next 30 years, until the Parker Brothers released their version of the game in 1935 and called it Monopoly. Now it boasts hundreds of variations and themes and is perhaps the best-known board game in the world.

Find more about the history of United States’ board games, known and unknown, on Newspapers.com. Try a search on your old family favorite or browse through specific papers for other articles of interest to you.

Le Quatorze Juillet

On this day in 1789, members of the Third Estate of France’s États-généraux—representing the common people—stormed the prison-fortress known as the Bastille.

First Fete de la Federation

Bastille Day

Over 100 people were killed, almost exclusively on the attacking side, but the fortress was taken. Bernard-René de Launey, governor of the Bastille, was beaten to death by the enraged crowd after the fight had ended.

The day has since taken on a special significance as a major tipping point in the French Revolution. First celebrated in 1790 as the Fête de la Fédération, it is now simply known as Bastille Day, a day of French Independence celebrated nationwide to honor peace and unity.

Commemoration of the Destruction of the Bastille

French Independence Day

The article below shows a suggested inscription for a monument built on the site of the Bastille, published in the year following the conflict.

Proposed inscription for the fall of the Bastille

Find more on the storming of the Bastille and the French Revolution on Newspapers.com.