Strange History and News of Weird Trivia 1637 to 1791 A.D.

A collectiong of random facts and strange history from 1637 to 1791 A.D. including trivia about Alexander Hamilton, Damascene and the Russian beard tax.


1637 The epitaph on the tomb of Ben Jonson in Westminster Abbey--"O rare Ben Jonson"--is unintentionally appropriate. The Elizabethan dramatist was buried standing up, to save space.

1644 While battling the Spanish in the Caribbean, Dutch colonist Peter Stuyvesant suffered a badly mangled leg. He was rushed to nearby Curacao for medical treatment, where the shattered limb was amputated and accorded a Christian burial with full military honors.

1662 The Italian astronomer Damascene published an influential treatise linking the phonology of laughter with the humors of the human body. A laugh with a pronounced "ee" vowel sound ("tee-hee," for example) denotes a morose, melancholic disposition. The "eh" sound (as in "heh, heh") is symptomatic of a bilious character and acute indigestion, while the "ah" sound ("ha-ha") suggests a cool, composed, phlegmatic temperament. Most desirable is the deep, throaty "o" laugh ("ho, ho!") emitted by cheerful, confident, sanguine individuals.

c. 1710 Before actually outlawing beards, Czar Peter the Great of Russia imposed a tax on them.

1760 Lady Coventry of England killed herself--unintentionally--by regularly painting her face with white lead.

1776 In her will, Margaret Thomson of London made clear her desire to be buried in snuff, and when she died in 1776, her wishes were honored. Moreover, her bearers were the six most proficient users of snuff in her parish, each wearing a snuff-colored beaver hat. Supporting the pall were six maidens, each of whom carried a box of the finest Scottish snuff. As a final touch, Mrs. Thomson's personal servant led the procession, scattering generous handfuls of snuff on the ground and offering it to the assembled mourners as well.

1791 Alexander Hamilton, first treasury secretary of the U.S. and codrafter of the Constitution, found himself in a bit of a pickle. Earlier that year he had listened sympathetically to the plight of Maria Reynolds, who had come to his office in dire need of financial help because her husband had recently deserted her. Responding as much out of ardor as magnanimity, Hamilton agreed to do what he could, and a few nights later he appeared at her home with the needed cash. Mrs. Reynolds was grateful to say the least--so grateful, in fact, that she melted in his arms, whereupon the great statesman, who was married and the father of five children, had his way with her.

And continued to have his way with her whenever the duties of state and family did not interfere. It all went quite smoothly until Mrs. Reynolds's AWOL husband reappeared on the scene and handed Hamilton an ultimatum: pay or be exposed as an adulterer. Hamilton, of course, had no choice but to pay Reynolds. Having silenced his blackmailer, he continued his liaison with Mrs. Reynolds without interruption.

A year later Reynolds was accused of shady dealing with the government. Tried and convicted, he went to jail, and soon after that Hamilton and Mrs. Reynolds ended their affair. But five years later, some of Hamilton's political foes accused him in public of having been an intimate of Reynolds's and of having conspired with him to defraud the government. Hamilton's reputation was at stake, and rather than be marked forever as a crook--which he was not--he told the entire story of the Maria Reynolds affair, revealing all the sordid details in a pamphlet that had as big an audience in its day as Forever Amber and Peyton Place had in theirs. Alternately spicy and bathetic, it was the first of the great "true confession" stories, and it cleared Hamilton's name as a public statesman. And, happily, Mrs. Hamilton forgave him as well.

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