The year was 1808, and it was a year of the “Rum Rebellion” in New South Wales, Australia (which, interestingly, had absolutely nothing to do with rum, and was not technically a rebellion, but rather a coup). At the time, New South Wales was under the leadership of Governor William Bligh, who most people remember from the mutiny on the H.M.S. Bounty. Although the area was technically a penal colony, by this time most of the population was made up of free ex-convicts and settlers. Governor Bligh had made enemies among some of the locals and within the ranks of the NSW Corps. Many NSW members at that time maintained significant commercial interests in the area, a practice of which Bligh disapproved. On 26 January 1808, the NSW Corps arrested Governor Bligh and held him under house arrest for a year while awaiting a replacement from Britain. The leader of the coup was prosecuted, but received only a dismissal from the military, and it paved the way for a government under new leadership, and with new forces to uphold that government.
At the start of 1808, Finland was part of Sweden and the country was one hole in the net that Napoleon had cast over Europe that allowed British trade to reach the continent. To mend that hole, Napoleon enlisted the help of Tsar Alexander I. In 1807, the two leaders had agreed to divide Europe between the two countries. Russia invaded Finland in February and by the end of the war in 1809 had taken control of the country, creating the Grand Duchy of Finland.
To the south, Napoleon placed his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne after sending 100,000 troops through the country to grab power in Portugal the previous year. The Spanish rebelled and found an ally in the British who sent expeditionary troops led by Lt.-Gen. Sir Arthur Wellesley. The Peninsular War would go on until Napoleon’s abdication in 1814.
In 1808, John Jacob Astor began building the American Fur Company, which would eventually grow to control the fur trade in the U.S. The trading posts and trade routes established by the company helped pave the way to further exploration and settlement of the West.
The start of 1808 also brought with it a ban on the importation of slaves to the U.S., which took effect on 1 January. Despite continued smuggling in some areas, this legislation was important because it slowed the flow of slaves into the U.S. At the time, three-fifths of the slave population was counted with the white population, which affected the balance of representation in the U.S. House of Representatives, with Southern states benefitting greatly from the slave population numbers.
A major source of fuel for the growing U.S. was discovered when Judge Jesse Fell of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, began burning anthracite coal in his home fireplace. Cleaner burning and more economical than wood, this innovation soon spread to other homes in the area. Once transportation became available to transport the heavy fuel from the area, anthracite coal went on to help fuel America’s Industrial Revolution.