Insula Tiberina-  The Island in the Middle of the Tiber

Tiberina island Photo Credit- Getty Images

In the center of the Tiber River, the Tiber Island, or Insula Tiberina in Latin, has always been a place connected to the founding of Rome.  Legend says that it was created when Roman citizens expelled Tarquinius Superbus , or Tarquin the Proud in Latin.  Citizens through the wheat sheaves they had stolen from the the king into the river.  Supposedly, the dirt and the silt accumulated around the wheat in the river and formed the island.  Another legend says it was built on the ruins of an ancient ship.  However, these are just legends as the island was present as a crossing place for the Tiber since prehistoric times.   It is the world’s smallest inhabited island, being only the length of three football fields.  

It became a place of healing in the the third century BCE.  According to Roman historian Livius, in 293 BCE Rome was hit by a plague and none of their doctors could find a cure.  After consulting the Sybilline books, they sent a delegation to the Greek city of Epidaurus, site of the largest shrine to Asclepius, the god of healing.  The priests there sent the Romans home with a symbolic representation of Asclepius, which was a sacred snake.  They carried the snake home, but their boat ran aground at Tiber Island.  The snake escaped unharmed curled around a tree branch.  The delegation decided the snake had selected the island as the site for a temple to Asclepius, which was constructed in 291 BCE.  The temple was complete with a pit full of snakes sacred to the god, which were fed and attended by priests.  The island became so entwined with the journey and temple, it was remodeled to resemble a ship.  Travertine marble was added to the banks in the mid to late first century to more closely resemble a ship and an obelisk was erected in the middle to symbolize the ship’s mast.  Although the island was most identified with Asclepius, there were other shrines to Roman gods as well.  By the second century BCE, there were shrines to Jupiter Jurarius, Semo Sancus Dius Fidius, Gaia, Faunus,Vejovis,Tiberinus, and Bellona.  Faunus was said to protect women giving birth, and to this day the hospital on the island has a well respected maternity ward.

Next to the temple was a large portico, where a strange diagnostic practice was put into play.  Patients were subjected to being in the cold and without food for several

Tiberina Island Photo

days so they could be purified.  This was called the “incubatio” and after they were admitted to the hospital had to recount their dreams to the priests for interpretation.  After Roman times, this practice was abandoned, but the hospital still exists on Tiber Island.  The “Fatebenefratelli”, which means “do well or do good, brothers”, was established in the 16th century to serve pilgrims, the poor and the sick.  “Fatebenefratelli” was the litany which the monks of the Order of St. John Calibytis, who founded the hospital, would sing as darkness fell.  The island served as a place of quarantine for plague victims and other sick people.  The Temple to Asclepius was replaced by the Basilica of St Bartholomew on the Island during the Middle Ages as well.

The island was also called “between two bridges” by the Romans as the island served as a center point for several bridges.  The Fabrican is Rome’s oldest bridge, built in 62 BCE.  It was enhanced by a medieval tower, the Torre dei Caetani, in the 10th century.  On the opposite side is the Cestium bridge, which connects the island with the Trastevere neighborhood.  It was built in 42 BCE.  There are remains of another bridge, which has long since gone.  The Aemilian bridge was built in 179 BCE, and rebuilt in stone in 142 BCE.  It was the first stone bridge in Rome.  However, it did not survive the Tiber’s currents and floods was destroyed in 1598.  It is called Ponte Rotto (broken bridge) and there is only one surviving arch still showing.


A German Texas-  Mainzer Adelsverein

The Seal of the Mainzer Verein

When most people think of Texas they think of wide open spaces, cowboys and oil rigs.  They do not think of oompah bands.  However, that is what you will find in the German Belt of Texas.  This is an area of towns founded by the The Mainzer Adelsverein at Beibrich am Rhein or Adelsverein for short.  This was a society set up to fund the immigration of Germans to Texas to start a New Germany.  Wait, Germans in Texas?  How does this work?

Germany in the 19th century was divided into more than thirty independent kingdoms, principalities, and free cities.  Adding to this chaos was the birth of the industrial age.  The population was growing rapidly while at the same time machines were taking the place of most manual labor jobs.  There were scores of people aimlessly wandering around with nothing to do and nowhere to go.  They were ripe for unrest.

To find something for these people to do, besides foment revolution, a group of German princes and noblemen met in the town of Biebrich am Rhein.  They were hosted by Adolphe, the future Grand Duke of Luxembourg and the current Duke of Nassau, in his castle on the Rhine.  During the discussions, Count Carl of Castell-Castell suggested sending people to the new Republic of Texas.  Texas had just won its independence from Mexico in 1836 and was actively looking for settlers.  Land was supposedly cheap in Texas, and speculators were snapping up huge tracts of land and selling them for a profit.  Also, Germany had not yet taken advantage of the colonization boom that had started with Columbus back in the 15th century.  They wanted their slice of the New World pie.  Raw materials could be shipped back to the German kingdoms and finished goods sold in the new colony.  Plus, Texas had won its independence from Mexico.  Who was to say New Germany wouldn’t win its independence from Texas?  That would leave vast new lands and wealth for the German nobility, who were in the poorhouse after defeating Napoleon.

The company agreed and formed Mainzer Adelsverein or Adelsverein for short.  Two agents, Count Joseph of Boos-Waldeck and Count Victor August of Leiningen-Westerburg-Alt-Leiningen, traveled to Texas and purchase land.  Leiningen was well connected as he was the older half-brother of Queen Victoria of England. They met with President Sam Houston, however, they refused his first offer of land as it was currently inhabited by hostile Native Americans.  In 1843, they purchased 4,428 acres in what is now Fayette County for 75 cents an acre.  They named it Nassau Farm, in honor of Duke Adolf.  The property was supposed to be a supply station for German settlers, but became a slave plantation and was used as a resort for the nobles in the Society.  Leiningen returned in 1843 and told of the temperate climate and fertile land in Texas, but warned it was going to be a lot more expensive than they had originally thought.  Boos-Waldeck echoed his concerns, but no one seemed to listen.  They both dropped out of Adelsverein as their warnings went unheeded.

To raise money for the colony, Adelsverein was reorganized into a stock company and 200,000 gulden or $80,000 was raised for acquisition of more land.  This was roughly the equivalent of two million dollars in today’s money, but was far short of the sum Leiningen and Boos-Waldeck had told the Society was needed.  Then Adelsverein was scammed out of their capital by not one but two land speculators.  They were sold two land grants:  the Bourgeois-Ducos grant and the Fisher-Miller grant.  The land existed, but what they were not told was they had to be on the land by a certain date or it became null and void.  The expiration date for both grants had expired.  To add insult to injury, the architect of these sales- Alexander Bourgeois d’Orvanne and Henry Francis Fisher- were hired to get the settlers supplies.  Newspaper ads were placed with the logan Geh Mit Ins Texas, which means Go with Us to Texas.  They had promised to only send 150 families.  They sent close to 5,000.  So between 1844 and 1847, there were settlers coming over to Texas, mostly from provinces including Nassau, Hanover, Hesse and western Thuringia, and found no land and no supplies.  Many of these were political dissidents trying to avoid persecution after numerous failed rebellions.

The two swindlers embezzled as much money as they could get their hands on, and Adelsverein’s official representative, Prince Carl of Solm-Braunfels, was honest but incompetent.  The prince was used to good manners and high fashion.  Texas settlers were neither of those things.  He was more worried the settlers would lose their “Germanness” than getting the necessary supplies.  Adelsverein didn’t help either.  Solm-Braunfels reported the land grants were worthless and in land unsuitable for farming and in smack dab in the center of hostile Native Americans.  He recommended they look for better land, and Adelsverein told him to press on.  

Carl Prinz zu Solms-Braunfels (1812–1875) alias “Texas-Carl” Photo Credit-
See Translation

The settlers arrived after a transatlantic crossing that was treacherous at best.  Adelsverein eschewed steamships, which could make the crossing in 18 days, for sailing ships, which took two months.  So these families were stuck in the hold of filthy sailing ships without clean water, food or doctors.  What they did have was rats, fleas, lice and typhus.  When they got to Galveston, many saw there was no place for them and turned back around.  The ones who stayed faced a

165 mile journey, where Braunfels had to race ahead to try and find suitable land since the land grants they thought they had expired and were in the middle of Comanche country.  They finally founded the town of New Braunfels on the road from Austin to San Antonio near a natural spring called Las Fontanas.  Indian Point was established as a way station.  

Unfortunately, settlers who got there spent the winter in lean tos or even in the open air.  And the settlers kept coming.  Braunfels’ successor, Baron Ottfried von Meusebach, had to find away to feed and shelter them all.  Unfortunately, the dreams of Adelsverein establishing an independent New Germany were dashed when Texas joined the United States in 1845.  So the money dried up.  Plus Braunfels did not stay to see how his namesake town did, and high tailed it back to Germany after racking up $34,000 worth of debts.  Many died of disease and exposure to the elements before they could hire wagons to take them from the 165 miles from Indian Point to New Braunfels.  Then the Mexican American War broke out and all wagons were commandeered by the US government for the war effort.  These people couldn’t win for losing.  500 went back to Germany and another 500 of military age enlisted in the US Army.  Some decided they’d get to New Braunfels quicker if they walked, but that was also a bad idea and 200 died.  Historian Moritz Tiling wrote in his 1913 book, The History of the German Element in Texas:

“This proved disastrous to many, more than 200 perishing on the way from exposure, hunger, and exhaustion. The bleached bones of the dead everywhere marked the road of death the unfortunate people had taken, while those who arrived at New Braunfels and later at Fredericksburg carried with them the germs of disease that soon developed into a frightful epidemic, in which more than 1,000 people died.”

Adelsverein eventually coughed up more money as newspaper reports trickled out of how they left these people to die, but it was too little too late.  It went bankrupt not much after this.

However, by 1850, the German Belt of Texas was established with the settlements of Bettina, Castell, Leiningen, Meerholz, Schoenburg, Gruene, Hedwigs Hill, Indianola, Martinsburg, Nassau Plantation, Sisterdale and Loyal Valley.  There were 33,000 persons of German birth residing in Texas.  However, there were conflicts during the Civil War as most of the German settlers were abolitionists and Texas was a slave state.  They were persecuted by the Confederates during the war, and some even tried to escape to Mexico in 1862, which ended in a standoff known as the Nueces Massacre.  This persecution made the German communities more insular, and they spoke their own unique dialect of “Texas-German”.  Many schools did not have English or English speaking teachers until the early 20th century, when the stigma of being German became strongly felt because of the World Wars.  Today there are fewer than 6,000 fluent speakers of  Texas-German.


RAF Melton Mowbray

Melton Mowbray is a small market town nestling on the edge of Leicestershire. Famous for its racehorses, pork pies and stilton cheese, and certain buildings being part of the divorce settlement of Anne of Cleves when she managed to pick her way out of her marriage to Henry VIII with her head intact, Melton Mowbray also has a plethora of prominent military installations in the vicinity, both in use and no longer operational.

One such place is RAF Melton Mowbray. Now the site of a small industrial centre, a lorry park and occasional Bank Holiday Market, near to and on the old airfield, RAF Melton Mowbray was opened in 1942 and served as an active air base during World War 2, with several Ferry Training Units, and a Ferry Pilot Pool, Number 4 Aircraft Preparation Unit and Mark X AI Conversion Flight operating from the unit for various periods through 1944 and into 1945. Aircraft flying from RAF Melton Mowbray included Spitfires, Mosquitos, Corsairs, Vengeance, Hellcat, Dakotas and Halifax under the umbrella of RAF Transport Command.

Following the end of the War, in 1946 the base was turned over to Polish Airmen and their families, who lived in accommodation close to the airfield. This housing no longer exists and this part of the Station’s life ended in 1958, following which the unit spent four years housing three operational Thor Strategic Missiles, until its eventual closure in 1963.

Although the runway can still be seen and is utilised in the present above named ventures, the technical area of the base has fallen into disrepair. Much of it has fallen in over the years and the Nissen huts now stand derelict, a shadow of their former selves, complete with the obligatory graffiti, car tyres and beer cans, left behind by local youths, perhaps, looking for an out of the way place to hang out. They come prepared though as the strategically positioned toilet roll perched on a small pile of bricks in a corner of a demolished outhouse testifies.

As I walked around on a chilly Easter Sunday, I couldn’t help but imagine the ghostly shadows of long-dead airmen; their cheery voices as they went about the tasks at hand. I could almost hear the distant echoes of those Supermarine engines starting up across the airfield, in the distance, as I trod across the broken slates, and gazed through the broken walls, but it was just some dude flying around in his two-seater. Now the sound of birds and bored rams in the field next door are the only other noises to be heard. And it brought a lump to my throat.


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Historical Towns USA-   Ste. Genevieve, Missouri

Old Ste Genevieve Photo Credit-
Old Ste Genevieve Photo Credit-

Ste. Genevieve is the first permanent settlement on the Western bank of the Mississippi River.  It was founded in the 18th century by immigrants from Arcadia and migrants from Illinois Territory.  Census records state that Ste. Genevieve was permanently settled by 1752 with some accounts placing the settlement there as early as 1722.  On the other side of the river was Fort de Chartres about five miles northeast and Kaskaskia, the capitol of Illinois Territory, was five miles southeast.  The village was named after a French saint from the 5th century.  In 449, Genevieve led an expedition to relieve the citizens of Paris during a siege, and in 451 the force of her prayers turned away Attila the Hun from the gates of Paris.

After the French defeat in the French and Indian War, the French ceded its land east of the Mississippi to the British.  The British in turn declared all the ceded land to be an Indian reserve.  The settlers had to leave or get British permission to stray.  French citizens from Fort de Chartres and Kaskaskia flocked to Ste. Genevieve.  What they didn’t know was the French had secretly ceded Louisiana to Spain in the Treaty of Fountainebleau.  However, the Spanish kept French officials in power and ruled with a light hand.  The only major change was to move the capital of Upper Louisiana from Fort de Chartres to St. Louis, 50 miles north.  The residents of Ste. Genevieve were able to keep their French language, culture and architecture intact.  

Ste. Genevieve had a prime position between Quebec and New Orleans, so it became the halfway point on the trip down the river.  The land around the town was used for wheat cultivation, which fed the growing town of New Orleans.  In the 1770s, there were raids from the Osage and Missouri tribes, but mostly the ties between the settlers and the Native Americans were strong due to the fur trade.  After the American victory in the Revolutionary War, some Native tribes moved across the river.  The Peoria and the Shawnee both established villages south of Ste. Genevieve.  These new settlements as well as Ste. Genevieve itself were attacked by the Big Osage tribe.  Pierre and Auguste Chouteau were sent by the Spanish governor from St. Louis to establish trade relations with Osage, and they established a fort near by.  The town grew rich and by 1807 was considered the richest town in Louisiana territory.  

Louis Bolduc House 125 South Main Street Sainte Genevieve, Missouri Photo Credit-
Louis Bolduc House 125 South Main Street Sainte Genevieve, Missouri Photo Credit-

In 1785, Ste. Genevieve was nearly wiped out by a great flood of the Mississippi.  The town was moved from its original location on the floodplain two miles north and a half a mile inland.  The oldest building was built in 1792 and is the Louis Bolduc House, and like many of the older buildings are poteaux sur solle or “posts-on-a-sill”.  This is the name for a style of timber framing where relatively closely spaced posts rest on a timber sill.  Another style used was poteaux en terre or “posts-in-the-ground” style.  This is where the walls made of upright wooden posts do not support the floor. The floor is supported by separate stone pillars.  Only five poteaux en terre survive in America, and three of them are in Ste. Genevieve.

After the Louisiana purchase in 1804, German settlers came to Ste. Genevieve and began mixing with the French settlers.  However, Ste. Genevieve retained its unique French culture and is a popular tourist destination today.


Sources available on request

Lawrence, Kansas

illustration showing border ruffians marching on Lawrence, Kansas Territory, copied from History of Kansas Photo Credit-
illustration showing border ruffians marching on Lawrence, Kansas Territory, copied from History of Kansas Photo Credit-

Prior to 1854, much of Kansas was part of the Shawnee Indian reservation. Kansas territory was open for settlement in 1854 and with that pronouncement all the trouble began. The country was embroiled in a debate about whether the future states would be slave or free. The Missouri Compromise had declared that all new territories north of latitude 36°30′. The Kansas Nebraska Act spearheaded by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois introduced the concept of popular sovereignty. Let the people of the territory decide whether they would be a slave state or a free state. Sounds good and logical, right? Well, in practice it did not turn out that way. The new law set the stage for the conflict we call Bleeding Kansas.

Free-Staters, or those who opposed slavery in the new territories and states, were determined that slavery would not get a foothold in the new Kansas territory. In 1854, the New England Emigrant Aid Society was formed in Massachusetts to help new settlers get to Kansas. The first group of pioneers set off from New England in July 1854 and arrived on August 1, 1854. A second group soon followed. The area for the town was chosen for its beauty. The settlers tried several names including Waukarusa, Yankeetown, Excelsior, and New Boston, but none of them fit. The city was finally named for Amos A Lawrence, a major benefactor of the New England Emigrant Aid Society. The main street was named Massachusetts to honor the origin of most of the settlers. This was one of the few cities in America founded purely for political purposes.

With so many settlers coming in from the east with anti-slavery leanings, Lawrence became the capital of Free State activities. The two newspapers based there, Kansas Pioneer and the Herald of Freedom, were active in promoting the Free State mission. This did not set well with pro-slavery headquarters Lecompton, which was ten miles north of Lawrence. Lecompton was full of “land squatters” from Missouri and they were not pleased have the Free Staters ten miles away. Conflict was bound to happen.

When the first territorial elections took place, so called “border ruffians” poured over the border from Missouri to vote illegally in the election. Because of this, all the positions in the territorial government except one was held by pro-slavery politicians. Everyone was bitter and feelings were running high, but there wasn’t much anyone could do about it. Charles Robinson was elected the leader of the Free State government in opposition, but it was mainly in principle. A group called Free Kansas was set up back east, and riffles and other munitions started flowing into the town in preparation for the bloodshed that was sure to come. The territorial governor appointed Samuel L. Jones as sheriff to keep the peace in Lawrence. He was one of the hated Missouri border ruffians, and It was like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

"The Destruction of Lawrence, Kansas," from Harper's Weekly, September 5, 1863 Photo Credit-
“The Destruction of Lawrence, Kansas,” from Harper’s Weekly, September 5, 1863 Photo Credit-

The first skirmish was on November 21, 1855 when settler Charles Dow was shot and killed by Franklin Coleman a few miles south of Lawrence. Feeling an attack was imminent, the townsfolk mustered a militia and erected barricades and waited. Sheriff Jones approached with a group of men from Missouri, but a truce was hammered out. There was no attack…this time.

Harassment from Sheriff Jones and other Missouri ruffians was constant, and in 1856 Sheriff Jones was shot trying to arrest some members of the opposition Free State government. On May 21, 1856, Sheriff Jones and 800 other pro-slavery forces attacked the town and burned the Free State Hotel to the ground. The town’s two newspapers had their printing presses thrown in the Waukarusa River. Charles Robinson had his home confiscated by the men and used as their headquarters. The Sacking of Lawrence as it came to be known set off a chain of events that led newspapers in the east to call the territory Bleeding Kansas. Free Staters led by John Brown, of later Harper’s Ferry fame, attacked the pro-slavery settlement of Pottawatomie and five settlers were murdered in a single night. The violence flared from there with the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie. Many historians argue this was the real beginning of the American Civil War.

After many contested elections, the Free Staters got a government elected in 1858 and Kansas boomed. Kansas became a state January 29,1861 with Lawrence in the running for capital, but was beaten out by Topeka. But trouble was on the horizon again with the coming of the Civil War. Old conflicts flared up as border ruffians once again came across from Missouri with violence. The most famous of these is Quantrill’s Raid.

William Clark Quantrill came with his family to Kansas from Ohio at the age of twenty, and taught school of all things. When war broke out, he quickly became one of the most violent and feared guerrilla leaders. Lawrence inspired a special hatred for those with pro-slavery leanings. On August 21, 1863, Quantrill did something about it. In the predawn hours of that summer day, he attacked and told his men to leave no man alive. For four hours, the men burned and looted the town killing anyone who got in their way. The Leavenworth Daily Conservative described the scene along Massachusetts street as “… one mass of smouldering ruins and crumbling walls…. Only two business houses were left upon the street — one known as the Armory, and the other the old Miller block…. About one hundred and twenty-five houses in all were burned, and only one or two escaped being ransacked, and everything of value carried away or destroyed.”

The people of Lawrence had been expecting an attack, but they thought they would have more warning as they were for 40 miles from the Missouri border. All of the weapons were locked in the armory, and by the time the raiders were on them there was no time to mount a defense. It was a slaughter. Over 150 men were killed and many more wounded. All of the food for the town was gone, and they only survived as word of the raid got out and farmers from land surrounding brought in supplies.

Money and more supplies poured in to help the survivors rebuild as they were bound and determined to stay. Two companies of United States troops were marched in as well and stayed until the end of the war.

Sources available on request