This Day In History, May 21st

What happened on this day in history: Ona Judge escapes from George Washington, Jeffrey Dahmer is born, and other momentous events.

1542: Hernando de Soto Dies

Hernando de Soto dies at the age of 41 along the banks of the present-day Mississippi River after suffering from a high fever. De Soto, a Spanish explorer and conquistador, participated in the conquests of civilizations in Central America and Peru. Leading trailblazing expeditions into what’s now the United States, de Soto trekked through present-day Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. He’s perhaps best known for “discovering” the Mississippi River.

1796: Ona Judge Escapes From George Washington

Ona Judge, an enslaved woman owned by George Washington, escapes. Born at Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation, Judge had spent all her life enslaved but had a taste of freedom while accompanying the president to Philadelphia. She eventually fled and, despite efforts by the Washington family to recapture her up until George’s death in 1799, Judge remained free all her life. She was interviewed for the abolitionist newspaper The Liberator 50 years after her escape and detailed the incredible story of her journey to freedom.

1881: The American Red Cross Is Founded

Clara Barton

Library of CongressClara Barton, the founder of the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross is founded by Clara Barton. A former American Civil War nurse, Barton was inspired by the work of the International Red Cross in Europe. She led the organization until 1904, and the Red Cross continues to provide aid to victims of disasters to this day. The Red Cross operates in 192 countries and brings together almost 14 million volunteers. It is the largest humanitarian organization in the world.

1927: Charles Lindbergh Completes His Transatlantic Flight

Charles Lindbergh Posing

Wikimedia CommonsCharles Lindbergh posts next to the Spirit of St. Louis, the plane in which he completed his historic journey.

Charles Lindbergh completes the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight. In 1919, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize for the completion of the first nonstop flight between New York and Paris. Eight years later, Lindbergh did just that, in a plane called the Spirit of St. Louis, making the 3,610-mile crossing in 33 and a half hours. His plane was named after nine St. Louis-based investors who backed his journey. His successful flight kickstarted the “Lindbergh boom” in aviation and he became a hero around the world, until his Nazi sympathies tarnished his reputation throughout much of the world.

1960: Jeffrey Dahmer Is Born

Jeffrey Dahmer High School Yearbook Photo

Wikimedia CommonsYearbook photo of Jeffrey Dahmer in his fourth year of high school.

Jeffrey Dahmer is born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. One of America’s most notorious serial killers, he went on to murder — and sometimes cannibalize — at least 17 men and boys between 1978 and 1991. After one of Dahmer’s victims escaped, he was arrested and eventually sentenced to life in prison. During his time in prison, several inmates attempted to take his life, and two inmates eventually beat him to death in 1994. His crimes remain some of the most brutal in American history.