Today In History, June 15th

What happened today in history: The Magna Carta is signed, the General Slocum riverboat fire kills 1,000, and more.

1215: King John Signs The Magna Carta

King John of England signs the Articles of the Barons, later called the Magna Carta. The document established certain rights for barons and put limits on the king’s power. Though it changed little in the short term, the document established important ideas like the right to petition and due process that still exist in various forms around the world to this day.


1789: Josiah Henson Is Born

Today In History June 15

Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic SiteJosiah Henson escaped slavery and later inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Josiah Henson is born into slavery in Charles County, Maryland. Subjected to the horrors of slavery for years, Henson escaped with his wife and children in 1830, walking over 600 miles to Canada. His memoir, The Life of Josiah Henson, Formerly a Slave, Now an Inhabitant of Canada, as Narrated by Himself, helped inspire Harriet Beecher Stowe to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin.


1859: The ‘Pig War’ Begins

An American farmer shoots a pig owned by a British man on San Juan Island, then a contested territory in present-day Washington state, leading to an ultimately bloodless conflict called the Pig War.


1896: A Devastating Tsunami Strikes Japan

The 8.5-magnitude Sanriku earthquake triggers a tsunami in northern Japan. The deadly waves killed at least 22,000 people. Fishermen off the coast, however, weren’t affected by the disaster and came home to find their communities in ruins.


1904: New York Riverboat Fire Kills 1,000

General Slocum

Public DomainA depiction of the fire that broke out on the General Slocum.

The General Slocum catches fire while traversing the East River in New York City. Of the 1,358 passengers and crew, mostly made up of German American women and children, just 321 survived. The ship’s captain, William Henry Van Schaick, was later found guilty of criminal negligence.


2017: Jacob Stockdale Commits The Wife Swap Murders

Jacob Stockdale fatally shoots his mother and brother in Ohio. Years earlier, in 2008, the Stockdale family had participated in the reality show Wife Swap, where two families would “switch” wives for a short period of time. Just like on the show, the Stockdales were known to have been extremely tight-laced and focused on their faith and music. Jacob Stockdale’s temporary “mother” on the show, Laurie Tonkovic, later suggested that his strict upbringing was exactly what caused him to “snap.”