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Today in Smithsonian History
Returning from a sojourn on the Continent, in early August 1807, James Smithson is taken as a prisoner of war in Tonningen, at the moment of the rupture between England and Denmark in the Napoleonic Wars. He subsequently arranges a transfer to Hamburg, Germany, where he is again held under arrest, this time by the French. On September 18, 1808, Smithson writes to Sir Joseph Banks, president of the Royal Society of London from 1778 to 1820, noting that he is physically ill, and requesting Banks use his influence to get Smithson back to England, which Banks does.More