1 January 1808

The United States bans the importation of slaves.

The full title of the act is “An Act to Prohibit the Importation of Slaves into any Port or Place Within the Jurisdiction of the United States, From and After the First Day of January, in the Year of our Lord One Thousand Eight Hundred and Eight.”

This legislation marked an important step in the efforts to abolish the transatlantic slave trade. The act made it illegal to import slaves into the United States after January 1, 1808. The Constitution had originally provided for the prohibition of the slave trade after 20 years, allowing it until 1808. The Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves enforced this constitutional provision.

Penalties for violating the act included fines and forfeiture of the enslaved individuals who were imported contrary to the law. Despite the legal prohibition, illegal slave trade continued, and the enforcement of the act was not always rigorous.

15 June 1808

Joseph Bonaparte becomes King of Spain.

Joseph Bonaparte, born Giuseppe Buonaparte on January 7, 1768, was a key figure in the history of Europe during the early 19th century. He was the elder brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, the French military and political leader who became Emperor of the French. Joseph himself had a notable political career and served as the King of Spain from 1808 to 1813.

When Napoleon became Emperor of the French in 1804, he sought to expand French influence and control over Europe. In 1808, during the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon orchestrated the abdication of the Spanish King Charles IV and installed his brother Joseph as the new monarch of Spain. This move was met with significant resistance from the Spanish people who saw Joseph as a foreign invader and rejected his rule.

Joseph’s reign in Spain was marked by numerous challenges and conflicts. The Spanish people fiercely resisted the French occupation and engaged in a long and brutal guerrilla war known as the Peninsular War. The Spanish resistance, coupled with the intervention of British forces, weakened Joseph’s control over the country and made his rule precarious.

During his time as King of Spain, Joseph implemented several reforms aimed at modernizing the country and centralizing power. He introduced a new legal code, promoted economic development, and attempted to implement administrative and educational reforms. However, these efforts were largely unsuccessful due to the opposition and instability caused by the ongoing war.

In 1813, with Napoleon’s waning power and the French Empire facing multiple military defeats, Joseph abdicated the Spanish throne and returned to France. After Napoleon’s ultimate defeat in 1815, Joseph went into exile in the United States, where he lived primarily in New Jersey. He purchased an estate called “Point Breeze” in Bordentown and became known as Count of Survilliers.

Joseph Bonaparte lived in the United States for nearly two decades, maintaining a relatively low profile and indulging in his passion for art and collecting. He assembled an extensive collection of artworks, books, and artifacts, which he eventually sold to finance his lifestyle.

Joseph Bonaparte died on July 28, 1844, at the age of 76, in Florence, Italy. Despite the controversial nature of his rule in Spain, he left a lasting legacy as a patron of the arts and a collector, contributing to the cultural heritage of both Europe and the United States.

14 September 1808

The Russians defeat the Swedes at the Battle of Oravais.

At the beginning of the war, Swedish forces had retreated to Oulu. They had then managed to repel the Russians and reach Savonia despite the capitulation of the fortress of Sveaborg by the end of summer 1808. Russia recuperated quickly, and by the end of August the Swedish army was again retreating northwards along the coastal road. To avoid being encircled, Colonel Georg Carl von Döbeln was sent in advance to Nykarleby with a brigade. The threat of encirclement was exaggerated, but the Swedish army was at this point showing signs of panic and collapse. On 13 September the army left for Oravais and it halted to await news from von Döbeln, who was fighting the Russians at Jutas. The sound of a cannon was heard in Oravais, and a brigade was sent to reinforce von Döbeln.

The Russian main army had marched from Vasa in furious pursuit of the Swedish forces. The night before 14 September was spent in bivouacs along the road between Vörå and Oravais. The impulsive General-Major Yakov Kulnev’s troops had taken the lead and were the first to make contact with the Swedes.

At dawn the first shots were exchanged between Kulnev’s troops and a Swedish outpost by a bridge in the forest. Firing intensified, the Swedish position was reinforced continuously while the remainder of the Russian forces behind Kulnev arrived. Fighting continued with heavy losses on both sides until the situation became untenable for the Swedes, who retreated to their defensive positions at 10 a.m. The retreat was covered by a single artillery piece commanded by the fifteen-year-old sublieutenant Wilhelm von Schwerin.

The Swedish main position was deployed along a ridge which was protected to the north (on the Swedish right wing) by an inlet from the Baltic, and the Fjärdså stream with its south to north flow provided added defensive potential. The forest in front of the ridge had been cleared to afford the artillery a better view of the arriving Russians, who were regrouping at the edge of the forest.

Artillery bombardment then began between the two forces, and continued for an hour until the Russians mounted a frontal assault against the Swedish positions. Kulnev, on the Russian left wing, struck the Swedish right, but was repelled when his force became bogged down in the Fjärdså stream. The Russians now reinforced their right wing, under Nikolay Demidov, and another assault was made. It was also repelled, but this time the Swedish unexplainably left their positions and counterattacked; Adlercreutz had issued no order to that effect. The Swedish counterattack met overpowering fire and was forced to withdraw with heavy losses.

At 2 p.m. the battle was far from decided. The Russians made a second attempt at turning the Swedish left flank. This thinned the Russian center, and Adlercreutz ordered a forceful attack to exploit the weakness. Despite the intensive Russian fire, the attack proceeded swiftly, and the whole Swedish line was carried along by the movement. The entire Russian line was forced to retire back into the forest where the battle had begun earlier in the morning.

However, dwindling of ammunition frustrated Adlercreutz’s attempted decisive stroke. As Russian reinforcements arrived, the spent Swedish army retired to their defensive positions again. At this point the battle was still undecided, but General Kamensky ordered Demidov’s right wing to make yet another attempt on the weak Swedish left wing. When this maneuver started night had fallen and the battle had raged for fourteen hours; it became too much for the Swedish army, which hastily retreated to the north.

26 January 1808

The Rum Rebellion is the only successful armed takeover of the government in Australia.

The Rum Rebellion of 1808 was the only successful armed takeover of government in Australian history. During the 19th century, it was widely referred to as the Great Rebellion.

The Governor of New South Wales, William Bligh, was deposed by the New South Wales Corps under the command of Major George Johnston, working closely with John Macarthur, on 26 January 1808, 20 years to the day after Arthur Phillip founded the first European settlement in Australia. Afterwards, the colony was ruled by the military, with the senior military officer stationed in Sydney acting as the lieutenant-governor of the colony until the arrival from Britain of Major-General Lachlan Macquarie as the new governor at the beginning of 1810.

William Bligh, well known for his overthrow in the mutiny on the Bounty, was a naval officer and the fourth Governor of New South Wales. He succeeded Governor Philip Gidley King in 1805, having been offered the position by Sir Joseph Banks. It is likely that he was selected by the British Government as governor because of his reputation as a hard man. He stood a good chance of reining in the maverick New South Wales Corps, something that his predecessors had not been able to do. Bligh left for Sydney with his daughter, Mary Putland, and her husband while Bligh’s wife remained in England.

Even before his arrival, Bligh’s style of governance led to problems with his subordinates. The Admiralty gave command of the storeship Porpoise and the convoy to the lower ranked Captain Joseph Short and Bligh took command of a transport ship. This led to quarrels which eventually resulted in Captain Short firing across Bligh’s bow in order to force Bligh to obey his signals. When this failed, Short tried to give an order to Lieutenant Putland, Bligh’s son-in-law, to stand by to fire on Bligh’s ship. Bligh boarded the Porpoise and seized control of the convoy.

When they arrived in Sydney, Bligh, backed up by statements from two of Short’s officers, had Short stripped of the captaincy of the Porpoise – which he gave to his son-in-law – cancelled the 240-hectare land grant Short had been promised as payment for the voyage and shipped him back to England for court martial, at which Short was acquitted. The president of the court, Sir Isaac Coffin, wrote to the Admiralty and made several serious accusations against Bligh, including that he had influenced the officers to testify against Short. Bligh’s wife obtained a statement from one of the officers denying this and Banks and other supporters of Bligh lobbied successfully against his recall as governor.