History Book


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, November 19th. Thank you for turning to WORLD Radio to help start your day. Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, the story behind a well-loved 19th century hymn.

Plus, we’ll remember the Jonestown massacre in Guyana, South America 40 years ago.

EICHER: But first, 300 years ago this week, one of the world’s most notorious pirates clashes with the Royal Navy. Here’s Paul Butler.

AUDIO: [Sound of pirate attack]

PAUL BUTLER: We begin today with November 22nd, 1718. A Royal Navy lieutenant ambushes and shoots to death Edward Thatch, a privateer turned pirate.

Thatch’s pirating career was a short one, lasting less than 3 years. He’s best remembered for his long, ink-colored beard, earning him his nickname:

WOODARD: Blackbeard is probably the most famous pirate in history, and there’s good reason for it.

That’s pirate historian Colin Woodard, speaking to the Smithsonian Channel in 2013.

Before an engagement, he would weave fuze chord throughout his hair and beard. When lit, it created a ring of smoke and fire around his face. But for all the fierceness of his persona, Woodard says there’s a surprising detail about Blackbeard’s life that many overlook:

WOODARD: As far as we know, until his final battle to the death with the Royal Navy at Ocracoke, he didn’t hurt or kill anybody in any of those engagements.

After his death, the Royal Navy throws Blackbeard’s body into the sea. They send his head to the lieutenant governor of Virginia, who displays it on a tall pole as a deterrent to would-be pirates.

STATLER: [LYRIC] Blackbeard, blackbeard, raise your colors high. This is the day that you die…

AUDIO: [Sound of ocean waves]

Next, November 22nd, 1873. A French passenger ship named the Ville du Havre collides with the Loch Earn, a three-masted Scottish clipper in the North Atlantic. Within 12 minutes, the passenger ship sinks, killing 226 people.

Among the dead are the four daughters of Chicago lawyer Horatio Spafford.

Spafford travels to England to join his wife, one of only 61 survivors. When passing through wreckage site, Spafford begins writing what will become the well-loved hymn: “It Is Well with My Soul.”

IT IS WELL BY ANTHEM LIGHTS: [LYRIC] “When sorrows like sea billows roll…”

Spafford eventually abandons Biblical Christianity, but his hymn lives on—bringing comfort and hope to millions worldwide.

IT IS WELL BY ANTHEM LIGHTS: [LYRIC] “Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well, with my soul…”

And finally—November 19th, 1978—soldiers in the South American country of Guyana quietly surround a compound run by the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. In the early morning fog, military units approach cautiously—expecting armed resistance. One of the soldiers stumbles over something. When he stoops to investigate, he discovers it’s a body.

When the fog lifts, troops find more than 900 corpses littering the ground. One-third of the dead are infants and children. The cause of death is cyanide poisoning. San Francisco’s KGO News interrupts its evening programming with a special report…

NEWSCAST: These are the first pictures out of Guyana on the incredible orgy of death that took place in the People’s Temple…

Jim Jones and his followers migrated to Guyana in the 1970’s—believing they could create the perfect, socialist sanctuary. But reports of human rights abuses brought scrutiny from the U.S. California Congressman Leo Ryan visited the commune in 19-78. When he tried boarding a plane to return home, Jonestown cult members shot and killed him, along with a few defectors attempting to flee.

That evening, Jones gathered his followers and informed them the only way out of the pending crisis was suicide.

JONES: But to me, death is not a fearful thing…it’s living that’s treacherous.

A few escaped into the jungle, but most drank the poison-laced flavor-aid and died within minutes.

A cassette recording of the event was found by investigators after the massacre.

JONES: So please, for God’s sake, let’s get on with it. We’ve lived, we’ve lived as no other people have lived, and loved. Let’s be done with it. Let’s be done with the agony of it.

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/AP) The Jonestown Massacre resulted in more than 900 deaths from suicide and murder in Guyana on Nov. 18, 1978.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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