Age of Enlightenment: 32 Intriguing Facts About the 1700s

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1Original Illuminati

Original Illuminati

The original Illuminati was an enlightenment-era secret society in Bavaria created on May 1, 1776. The society’s goals were to oppose superstition, prejudice, religious influence over public life and abuses of state power, and to support women’s education and gender equality.

2. After the collapse of the South Sea company in 1720, which bankrupted many and severely affected the economy of England, a proposal was made in parliament to place bankers in sacks filled with snakes and throw them into the River Thames.

3. In 1730, a French scholar named Louis de Jaucourt spent 20 years writing a six-volume work on anatomy. He sent it to be published in Amsterdam to avoid French censorship, but the ship carrying the sole manuscript sank.

4. In 1740, Christina Johansdotter, a suicidal Swedish woman, exploited a loophole in dogmas. Suicide leading to Hell and infanticides being punishable by death, so she decided to kill a child since repenting for a crime granted forgiveness, thus leading her to Heaven after her execution.

5. A French mathematician named Abraham de Moivre claimed that he noted that he was sleeping an extra 15 minutes each night and calculated the date of his death as the day when the sleep time reached 24 hours, the date was November 27, 1754. On that exact same day, Moivre was found dead in London.

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6New Place

New Place

William Shakespeare’s final place of residence named New Place was demolished by the very person who purchased it in 1756. Reverend Francis Gastrell was so frustrated with all the tourists visiting Shakespeare’s former house that in 1759 he demolished it. The man was kicked out of the town because of this act.

7. From 1757 to 1795, an anonymous writer published an annual directory of London prostitutes named Harris's List of Covent-Garden Ladies. It sold thousands of copies each year and detailed everything from their specialties to the size of their breasts.

8. In 1760, an astronomer named Guillaume Le Gentil went from France to India to measure the transit of Venus. He missed out on both chances to do so, contracted dysentery and nearly went insane. When he made it back home, he learnt that he had been declared dead and been replaced in the Royal Academy of Sciences. His wife remarried and all his relatives had plundered his estate.

9. English inventor Joseph Merlin designed the first roller skates for a masquerade party in 1760. Not bothering to practice, he smashed into a wall-length mirror upon entrance.

10. The first student protest in the United States happened at Harvard in 1766 when a student yelled out "Behold, our butter stinketh!— give us, therefore, butter that stinketh not." This sparked The Great Butter Rebellion.

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11The Turk

The Turk

In 1770, a man named Wolfgang von Kempelen invented the machine that could play a strong game of chess against a human opponent. The "android" that played the game was nicknamed The Turk (as was the machine itself). It wasn't until 1857 that it was revealed to be a hoax (a chess master was hiding in the machine).

12. In 1770, the British Parliament passed a law condemning lipstick, stating that "women found guilty of seducing men into matrimony by a cosmetic means could be tried for witchcraft."

13. In 1771, a Japanese woman known only as Aochababa (green tea hag) was dissected to compare Chinese anatomical knowledge to the Dutch. The Japanese were astonished to see that the Dutch were correct, and wrote up their findings in a 4 volume text, overturning centuries of Chinese medicine knowledge.

14. Lightning rods were fashion fad meant to protect people from lightning strikes. A woven metal ribbon was placed around a hat, and a small chain made of silver was attached to the ribbon. The chain was meant to run down the back of the dress and drag on the ground. The electricity of a lightning strike to the ribbon would theoretically travel down the chain and into the ground, thus protecting the wearer of the hat. This was a popular Paris fashion trend in 1778.

15. In 1781, a British slave ship named Zong threw over a hundred slaves into the ocean to claim insurance on their death.

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16Charles Byrne

Charles Byrne

Charles Byrne (nicknamed as “The Irish Giant”) in 1783 feared that grave robbers would steal and dissect his body after his death. He requested that his coffin to be weighed down and buried at sea. Before the burial, his corpse was stolen, dissected, and his skeleton is still on display in Hunterian Museum in the Royal College of Surgeons.

17. When the first US ship arrived in China in 1785, the Chinese loved the American flag by calling it "as beautiful as a flower". Since then, an informal Chinese name for the United States has been the "flower flag country".

18. In 1787, a man was hanged for deserting and re-enlisting in the British Army 47 times, in order to get the large bounty obtained upon joining the army.

19. In the 1790s, the Guillotine was so popular that toy replicas were being sold to kids to behead their dolls and rodents, and the wealthy had tiny ones on their dining table for slicing bread.

20. Benjamin Franklin tried to abolish slavery in 1790 by petitioning Congress and writing many essays on abolitionism.

21Orcas Island

Orcas Island

Orcas Island, famous for its resident pods of orcas, was actually named after Horcasitas, the Viceroy of Mexico, who sponsored an expedition there in 1791. The name “orca” originated in Ancient Rome; therefore “Orcas Island” is probably the most coincidental place name on Earth.

22. In 1799, a boy named Conrad Reed found a 17lb. of rock made of gold in a creek in North Carolina and used it as a doorstop in the family's home for several years. In 1802, Conrad's father, John Reed, showed the rock to a jeweler, who recognized it as gold and offered to buy it. Reed, still unaware of the real value of his "doorstop," sold it to the jeweler for $3.50.

23. Benjamin Lay was an 18th century Quaker vegetarian abolitionist who once kidnapped the child of slaveholders temporarily, to show them how Africans felt when their relatives were sold overseas.

24. When vaccines and similar treatment were first introduced in the 18th century, religious leaders condemned them, saying that diseases are sent by God to punish sinners. To try to cure the sinners would be going against God's will.

25. James Price was an 18th-century chemist/alchemist who claimed to be able to turn mercury into gold. When challenged to perform the conversion for the second time in front of credible witnesses, he instead committed suicide by drinking prussic acid (cyanide).

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