It is Saturday, and as usual, it is one of the two days I have to catch up on everything I couldn’t do during the week–and to make it even worse, the sun has come out and is shining on the nice, fluffy new snow. I am thinking about our Regency House Party next week and what I am going to present (it’s a secret!). As for today…

JANUARY 7, 1558. France regains Calais–the last English possession on the French mainland.

JANUARY 7, 1610. Galileo discovers the four satellites of the planet Jupiter.

JANUARY 7, 1785. Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and his patron Dr. John Jeffries crossed the
English Channel by hydrogen balloon. Hmm. This sounds interesting.

JANUARY 7, 1789. George Washington becomes president in the first US national election.

Let’s go back to the balloon. I’ve always wanted to ride in a balloon; besides that, this little
adventure happened just before the period we call the Regency.

Jean Pierre Francois Blanchard was a small Frenchman, born in Normandy of poor parents, who made his name in early ballooning history. Dr. John Jeffries was his patron from Boston, Massachusetts who accompanied him on their historic crossing of the English Channel from Dover to Calais, France. (Hm–an interesting connection. France regained Calais on Jan 7, 1558. Synchronicity!).

Blanchard built his first balloon (hydrogen) in 1784 and took it on its first flight on March 2nd from the Champ de Mars in Paris. In 1785 he moved to London in search of patrons and conducted further experiments there. I do take exception to Blanchard carrying out his first experiment with parachutes by dropping from his balloon a CAT attached to a silk parachute in 1785! Anyone who knows me knows my affinity for cats, even though I have just returned to my chair after my cat dipped his paw into my coffee cup. He has now claimed my chair, so I am sitting on the edge of it, typing.

In any event, Dr. Jeffries was an enthusiast, and he had a practice in London, so he became a partner with Blanchard on the historic Channel flight. There is now a cat on my keyboard…

Blanchard was an interesting character. He made up for his small frame with intelligence, a flambuoyant personality, and wiliness. He didn’t want to share the Channel passage with his patron and tried to show that the balloon would not lift both Jeffries and himself by attaching a belt of lead weights under his coat, but he was found out! Hence both he and Jeffries took off from the edge of the cliffs of Dover at 1 PM.

However, the balloon was truly overweighted, as they could not get enough height. They began throwing the ballast overboard–extravagant gondola decorations, Blanchard’s steering gear consisting of wings he had constructed, followed by the anchors, then the men’s coats, then their trousers. As they were skimming the waves the balloon began to climb, and they crossed the French coast and landed safely twelve miles inland–in their underwear.

There is more to Blanchard’s story, but I am stopping here on his achievement of January 7. Still, there is one more bit worth mentioning–Blanchard made another ascention in Philadelphia at dawn on January 9, 1793, and George Washington was a witness to his ascent.

More synchronicity!

Laurie Bishop
SIGNET, January, 2006.