J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, October 21, 2017

“Colonial Boston’s Public Schools” at Old North, 1 Nov.

On Wednesday, 1 November, I’ll speak at the Old North Church on “Classes and Forms: The Landscape of Colonial Boston’s Public Schools.”

This talk is part of the Old North Foundation’s Speaker Series focusing on the ordinary people of Boston. The event description explains:
Colonial Boston took pride in its free public schools, which educated young Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and thousands of other boys before the Revolution. But a close look at those five grammar and writing schools reveals that they provided only limited opportunities for middling-sort boys, not to mention no place for girls or non-white boys. Colonial Boston’s schools thus reflected and reinforced the town’s social and economic divisions. The creation of a new nation spurred major reforms in 1789, eventually leading toward today’s public education.
This talk is based on research I’ve presented at different scholarly conferences, most of which will appear in an upcoming volume from the Dublin Seminar on New England Folklife.

I started to look into Boston’s public schools to understand how the town’s pre-Revolutionary children spent their days. That effort soon forced me to give up a lot of assumptions I’d had about those schools, such as what they taught—they didn’t cover reading and writing, history, geography, science, or other standard modern topics.

Likewise, I had to discard idea about who went to those schools—only about half of the eligible white boys. And about how long those scholars lasted—two-thirds of more of the seven-year-olds entering the South Latin School taught by John Lovell (shown above) dropped out before finishing.

Thus, while Boston can pride itself on having the oldest public school system in the U.S. of A., legally open from the start to (white male) students from all classes, that pre-Revolutionary system didn’t provide equal opportunity as we might think. In 1789 the town had its first major debate on school reform since adding writing schools to the grammar or Latin school—reform explicitly driven by new republican ideas.

This talk is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. Register for the program here; the price is a “pay what you will” donation to the Old North Foundation.

Friday, October 20, 2017

“Advise and Dissent” Panel in Boston, 23 Oct.

On Monday, 23 October, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a panel discussion on the topic “Advise and Dissent? The Role of Public History in Modern Life.”

The society asks:
What is the role of historical organizations in a politically polarized environment, a world of “alternative facts” and a social fabric that is being torn apart by political and class divides?

Many historians and public historical organizations are changing the way they work, offering their talents and skills as advocates and healers. Yet, they face a complex public. Some audience members embrace the opportunity to engage in dialogue over difficult issues. Others seek a more entertaining, escapist experience. Still others are alert to activities that appear to overstep the traditional role of museums or to signal that their own perspectives might be unwelcome. Some visitors yearn for the inclusion of minority viewpoints but consider museums too inherently biased to present these narratives.

It is all a challenging prospect for organizations that are seeking to be truly inclusive and build broad public support. Join us for a compelling conversation.
The panelists will be:
  • Karilyn Crockett, Office of Economic Development, City of Boston
  • Brian W. J. LeMay, consultant specializing in museum projects and operations, former head of the Bostonian Society
  • Richard Rabinowitz, American History Workshop and author, Curating America: Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past
  • Katheryn P. Viens, director of research at the Massachusetts Historical Society and moderator of this discussion
There is a $10 registration fee for this discussion, but it’s waived for all “Historical Colleagues” working or studying in the field.

The event begins at 5:30 P.M. with a reception. The discussion is scheduled to last from 6:00 to 7:30.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lauding “the Trajan of America”

In looking at accounts of John Hancock’s funeral in 1793, I was surprised at the praise that newspaper writers heaped on him.

Today we think of Hancock as a lightweight compared to the Adams cousins, the Virginians, and most other Revolutionary politicians who remain household names. But those laudatory essays show how his contemporaries—at least some of them—esteemed the man.

For example, here’s a taste of the 9 October Columbian Centinel:
To record, with precision, the virtues of his mind—the philanthropy of his heart—his patriotism, or his usefulness, were to insult the judgment of every American.

If we ascend into the Senate of the Union, we there find his name first on that MAGNA CHARTA, which ascertained, vindicated, and declared the Independence of AMERICA—and the repeated suffrages of his fellow-citizens to sustain the important office of First Magistrate of this Commonwealth, shew how highly he was esteemed as capable to guard their rights in the Cabinet of Massachusetts.

If we search our Municipal Records, we shall see him sustaining with honour the most important and arduous stations.

Look we into the Temples dedicated to the Most High, we shall there view numerous marks of charity and benevolence.

But if we explore the hearts of the indigent and distressed—the Widow—and the Orphan—we shall see those lively emotions—which emphatically say,—our friend and our supporter is gone.
The 11 October Massachusetts Mercury praised Hancock for restoring civic peace after the Shays Rebellion and for spending down his inherited fortune:
we are bound in duty to remark that upon his Excellency’s assumption of the supreme command, he bent every effort of a philanthropic mind to close the wounds of a bleeding republic; and instantly smoothed the rough waves of opposition. Indeed, he was the Trajan of America, who counted every day lost that was not marked by active goodness, and thousands of his momentarily deluded fellow citizens in the western countries, dwell with transport on his name.—Hancock and humanity are synonymous.

Of an immense fortune, he has made the noblest sacrifices. Seminaries dedicated to Science, Temples inscribed to Religion, bear honorable witness to his munificence. Our Gallic brethren were distinguished by the polite attentions at the expence of decreasing affluence; and many individuals, who seized the opportunity of a fluctuating currency, to pay hard money bonds, have effected their dishonest purposes, at the loss of thousand to this patriotic Magistrate, who nobly resolved to support the credit of his country, tho’ he sank every farthing of his own patrimony.
And here’s the 17 October United States Chronicle, published in Providence:
The suavity of his manners, and the politeness of his deportment, portrayed him the Gentleman; the classic purity and chaste elegance of his language announced him the Scholar; and the undeviating stability of his principles, the charity of his heart, and the beneficence of his hand, marked him the Man of Virtue.

He was the Patriot [that’s probably supposed to be“Patron”] of Literature; and the records of our university have ranked the name of Hancock among the foremost of her generous donors. . . .

When the new Federal Constitution was proposed to the people of Massachusetts, he canvased it thoroughly, and after long deliberation, though convinced that it had some imperfections, yet as the door of amendment was left open, and the necessity of a more firm union was obvious, he finally threw the whole weight of his influence into the scale of its adoption:—And it is believe by many, that had not Hancock come forward in the unequivocal manner he did—the Federal Government would never have existed. Though convinced of the propriety of its adoption, he has always been a watchful centinel against its encroachments;…
All three of those newspapers supported the Washington administration, and the Federalist press was more rapturous than the opposition press.

Hancock wasn’t really part of either nascent national party, though. He steered for whatever policy kept his voters happy and himself elected. He came out for the new U.S. Constitution only at the last stage of the state’s ratification debate, and after that he worked hard to uphold the standing of states—especially Massachusetts and especially its governor.

COMING UP: More encomia.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

“Marks of respect paid to the memory of our deceased Governour”

Here are some additional details from Gov. John Hancock’s funeral on 14 Oct 1793.

First, the 21 October Columbian Gazetteer of New York reported on the response of the new acting governor:
A correspondent who cast his eye at the present Commander in Chief, the venerable SAMUEL ADAMS, was sensibly affected with the appearance of this hoary Patriot. His feelings were too mighty for the infirm state of his health. He was in reality a sincere mourner.—

It was scarcely possible for the aids who accompanied him, to support his debilitated frame, till he reached Perez Morton’s, Esquire.
Adams was seventy-one years old, born fifteen years before Hancock. The funeral procession started at Hancock’s house, near where the Massachusetts State House now stands, went south along the Common, turned east at Frog Lane (Boylston Street), turned north onto the main street through town (now Washington Street), went up to the Old State House, then west on Court Street, and finally south again to the Granary Burying Ground.

Adams made it nearly all the way. Perez Morton lived in the house his wife Sarah had inherited from her Apthorp ancestors at the end of Court Street where the land starts to rise toward Beacon Hill.

Adams ran for the governor’s seat himself in 1794 and held it until he retired in 1797. During the last years of his life, his essential tremor worsened so that he couldn’t write—ironic given that his political activism was based on writing. Adams outlived Hancock by ten years, dying in October 1803.

The Haverhill Guardian of Freedom newspaper I quoted yesterday included this remark:
Among the individual marks of respect paid to the memory of our deceased Governour, that of Mr. Duggan, near the market, arrested the attention of our correspondent. The finely finished sign of his excellency which is suspended from his house, was covered with a mourning crape; and exhibited a very decent tribute of regard and gratitude.
John and Mary Duggan had opened the Hancock Tavern on Corn Court in 1790. Mary Duggan had inherited the house from her family, the Keefes or Keiths. She deeded the property to her husband in early 1796 and died soon afterwards. He then married another woman named Mary (there were a lot of those, to be fair), had three children with her, and died in 1802.

Another tribute to Hancock was created shortly before his death. In the 10 October Columbian Gazetteer Daniel Bowen advertised a display of waxworks in New York that included:
The late and venerable American Statesman and Philosopher, Dr. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, sitting at a Table, with an Electrical Apparatus. JOHN HANCOCK, Esq. Present Governor of Massachusetts, and ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Esq. Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, at a Table, and the Figures of Peace and Plenty advancing to crown them with wreaths of Laurel.
It’s striking that of all the politicians living in America at that time, Hancock and Hamilton were the two featured in this display. But Bowen rotated figures to bring customers back; he’d already advertised President Washington earlier in the year. In addition, he was in the process of moving his operations from New York to Boston, and Hancock would be a big draw in his new home.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gov. Hancock’s Funeral Procession

At sunrise on Monday, 14 Oct 1793, all the church bells in Boston began to ring. They tolled for an hour in tribute to Gov. John Hancock, who had died the previous Tuesday and was being buried that day.

All the flags “in town, at the Castle, and on the masts of the shipping in the harbour, were half hoisted.” At one o’clock, all the shops closed.

All morning local militia units, both official and independent, were gathering in the town. Everyone knew that Hancock, colonel of the Cadets before the war, loved military pomp.

Newspapers and broadsides announced the order of the funeral procession, often with a coffin ornament in the middle of the column of text, as shown here. The most detailed listing of the participants that I’ve seen was printed in Haverhill’s Guardian of Freedom newspaper on 18 October. It listed those mourners as:
Company of horse (from Stoughton) under Capt. Crane,
Company of horse (from Braintree) under Capt. Thayer,
Company of horse (from Middlesex) under Capt. Fuller, who commanded the horse.

A detachment from the Boston artillery, under Capt. Bradlee——(With this detachment was the “Hancock” piece of artillery, reversed, with a pall of black velvet over it.)
That cannon is one of those at the center of my book, The Road to Concord. The same gun is now on display at the North Bridge Visitor Center of Minute Man National Historical Park, with no black velvet.
Artillery Musick.
(All the drums in the procession were muffled, and covered with crape. The field musick played the dead march, and the band a solemn dirge.)

The first battalion of infantry, Composed of the Boston Regiment, in complete uniform, commanded by Col. [William] Schollay; and led by Lt. Col. Wood.
Music of the 1st battalion.
The second battalion of infantry, Composed of the Medford light-infantry, under Capt. Hall,
The Braintree light-infantry, under Capt. Baxter,
The Concord light-infantry, under Capt. ——
The Westown light infantry, under Capt. ——
Boston independent fusiliers, under Capt. Laughton,
The Middlesex fusiliers, under Capt. Willington
Independent Cadets, under Major Elliot.
Musick.
(This battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Bradford.)
Brigadier General [William] Hull, Commanded the whole of the military parade.
Aids to Gen. Hull.

Col. [John Steele] Tyler, Marshal of the unarmed procession preceding the Corpse.
Platoon, and field-officers, of the third division of Militia.
Major Gen. [John] Brooks, of the third division.
Aids to Gen. Brooks.
Platoon and field officers of the second division.
Major Gen. [John] Fisk, and aids
Platoon and field-officers of the first division.
Major General [Henry] Jackson and aids.
(All the above officers were in uniform, with side arms.)

Justices of the Peace,
Judges of various courts,
Attorney General [James Sullivan] and Treasurer [Thomas Davis],
Members of the house of Representatives,
The speaker of the house [Edward Robbins],
Members of the Senate,
Judges of the Supreme Judicial Court,
Sheriff of Suffolk with his wand,
Quarter-Master-General, and Adjutant-General,
Secretary of the Commonwealth [John Avery],
COUNSELLORS;
His Honour the Lt. Governor [Samuel Adams].

Pall Supporters.
Hon. Mr. [James] Warren, Hon. Mr. [Oliver] Wendell,
Hon. Mr. [Eleazer?] Brooks, Hon. Mr. [Thomas] Durfee,
Hon. Mr. [Azor] Orne, Hon. Mr. [Moses] Gill.

Relations,
Col. [Josiah] Waters, marshal of the procession, following the corpse.
Vice-President of the U. States [John Adams].
Members of the Hon. Senate, and House of Representatives of the U. States.
Judges of the U. States Courts,
Secretary at War [Henry Knox],
Gentlemen heretofore Counsellors and Senators of Massachusetts,
The President, professors and other instructors of Harvard College,
Clergy of all Denominations,
Municipal Officers,
Members of the Ancient and honorable Artillery, in uniform, with their side arms,
Citizens four and four.
The Foot closed by Captains of vessels, and seamen, with flags furled.
Carriages.
As the procession moved through town, a cannon was fired every minute from Castle Island and a squad of the artillery militia stationed on Beacon Hill. After Hancock’s corpse was interred at the Granary Burying Ground, the troops under arms fired three times.

TOMORROW: Particular tributes.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reactions to Gov. John Hancock’s Death

The 14 Oct 1793 Boston Gazette reported this response to Gov. John Hancock’s unexpected death on the 8th:
Tuesday last, agreeably to previous orders, the several Independent Companies and the several Companies of Militia in this Town, paraded early in the Morning, in complete Uniform, in order for Inspection, &c. But immediately upon the Death of His Excellency being announced, counter-orders were issued by the Commander in Chief, to the Major General, and the several companies were dismissed, some on their march to the common, and others at their place of parade.—

This measure gave general satisfaction to the Citizens of Boston, who willingly gave up the pleasures which they previously anticipated, and with countenances fully expressive of the sorrow of their hearts, retied, to mourn the lose of Governor HANCOCK,

Their Country’s Savior, and Columbia’s pride,
The Orphan’s father, and the widows’ friend.
May future HANCOCKS Massachusetts guide;
HANCOCK!—The name alone with time shall end.
The “Commander in Chief” who called off that militia muster was the new acting governor, Samuel Adams. After bumping heads during and after the war, the two pre-Revolutionary colleagues had allied on a political ticket in 1787.

Bostonians were thus all excited for a big militia parade when they heard about Hancock’s death, and then they had to go home. I suspect that was an additional reason for the big turnout at his funeral six days later. If they couldn’t march one week, then they could march the next.

The community quickly began to respond to the governor’s passing. The next day, the Suffolk County court, “on motion of Judge [Thomas] Crafts, adjourned till after the Funeral.”

In Thursday the news reached Portland, Maine. The Eastern Herald reported, “The colours of all the vessels in the harbour were immediately placed half mast high, and the bell was tolled from that time till the close of the day.”

Then the town government acted:
At a legal Meeting of the Inhabitants of this Town on Friday last, to take into consideration the measures proper to be taken by them, for attending the Funeral of His Excellency JOHN HANCOCK, that every mark of respect may be paid by his fellow-citizens to the remains of so illustrious a Patriot and Friend to Mankind; the following Votes passed unanimously, viz.

In order to pay that respect to the funeral solumnities of his Exellency the late Governor HANCOCK, which is suitable to the feelings of the Inhabitants on the occasion,

Voted, That it be recommended to the Inhabitants, that they shut their Stores and Shops, at One o’Clock, P.M. on Monday next, and continue the same shut until the Funeral Solemnities shall be performed.

Voted, That the Selectmen be requested to cause the Carriages, Trucks, and other Obstructions, to be removed from State Street and other Streets where the Procession may be on Monday Afternoon.
That was as close to declaring an official holiday as a town of that time could do.

In his 2000 biography of Hancock, Harlow Unger wrote that Gov. Adams declared the day of the funeral to be a holiday, and other books have repeated that statement since. I don’t see any evidence for that, however. A gubernatorial proclamation would have been an official, widely published document—like the Thanksgiving proclamation that ran in the 9 October Columbian Centinel. (That announcement, dated 28 September, was still in Hancock’s name.) So I don’t think Hancock’s funeral day was an official state holiday.

TOMORROW: But no work got done that day.

(The picture above is a 1797 engraved portrait of Samuel Adams based on a painting that John Johnson had made two years earlier. The painting itself was destroyed in a fire a few years after that.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

“His death was unexpected, although he has been indisposed”

John Hancock was in poor health for the last decade of his life. Political opponents, and even some friends, muttered that he exaggerated his medical problems to get out of difficult situations.

The most famous example of that was when he lost a war of wills with President George Washington in 1789 over which man would call on the other, thus implying political inferiority. Hancock had himself carried in to meet the President with bandages on his legs to excuse his not coming earlier.

Hancock also pled illness in stepping down from the governorship in 1785, shortly before the economic crisis that led to the Shays Rebellion came to a head, and in keeping quiet on the proposed new Constitution for as long as he could in 1788.

The historian James Truslow Adams summed up this view by writing in Harper’s: “his two chief resources were his money and his gout, the first always used to gain popularity, and the second to prevent his losing it.” Adams’s article was titled “Portrait of an Empty Barrel.”

But Gov. Hancock did have health problems, and they prevented him from doing not only what he didn’t like but what he liked. On 18 Sept 1793 he prepared a speech to the Massachusetts General Court about a landmark legal case (which I’ll get to later). But he was too weak to deliver it, and had to watch the secretary of the commonwealth, John Avery, read it instead.

Hancock died less than a month later on 8 Oct 1793, aged fifty-six. A letter relaying that news to New York said, “Governor HANCOCK died this morning; his death was unexpected, although he has been indisposed for some time past.” People had gotten so used to the governor being ill that no one expected him to actually die.

The 11 October American Apollo reported:
On the morning of his death, he expressed no unusual complaints, till about seven o’clock, when he suddenly felt a difficulty in breathing; his physicians were immediately sent for, who gave him some temporary relief, but the dissolution of nature made such rapid progress, than before eight o’clock, he resigned his soul into the hands of HIM who gave it.
TOMORROW: How Boston heard the news.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

“The concourse of spectators was greater than we ever remember”

Earlier in the week I wrote about the funeral of Christopher Seider. The merchant John Rowe stated in his diary, “I am very sure two thousand people attended his Funerall.” That would have been one of every eight people in Boston.

John Adams watched that event with Rowe and wrote:
a vast Number of Boys walked before the Coffin, a vast Number of Women and Men after it, and a Number of Carriages. My Eyes never beheld such a funeral. The Procession extended further than can be well imagined.
But within a couple of weeks came the funeral of the first four victims of the Boston Massacre, and that was even bigger. “Such a Concourse of People I never saw before—I believe Ten or Twelve thousand,” wrote Rowe. That was more than twice the reported capacity of Old South Meeting-house.

A report printed in several newspapers guessed:
It is supposed that there must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.
However, back in 1740 Boston newspapers estimated that on several days the Rev. George Whitefield had preached to crowds of 15,000 to 23,000 people on Boston Common. The siege of Fort Carillion in 1759 also involved more than 20,000 people.

Be that as it may, the grandest if not the most crowded funeral that eighteenth-century Boston ever saw took place on this date in 1793: the send-off for Gov. John Hancock. The Guardian of Freedom, published in Haverhill, stated: “The concourse of spectators was greater than we ever remember to have seen on any occasion.”

The main reason for that turnout was fond feelings for Hancock. Most people in Massachusetts admired their governor. Many authors have written that Hancock accomplished little in his final years, but that assumes he went into politics to make changes. Once independence was achieved, and perhaps even before, I think Hancock’s main aim was to increase and preserve his own popularity by keeping most people happy, and in Massachusetts he achieved that.

Another reason for the big occasion on 14 Oct 1793, I think, arose from the circumstance of Hancock’s death on 8 October.

TOMORROW: How the governor died.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Local Militia Muster in Westboro, 14 Oct.

On Saturday, 14 October, the Westborough Rotary Club and the Westborough Historical Society will present a re-creation of a town militia muster.

Specifically, this event commemorates the 243rd anniversary of the Westborough militia’s September 1774 march to Worcester to help close the county court in protest of the Massachusetts Government Act.

Reenactors portraying Westborough militiamen will perform the manual of arms, the standard military drill from 1774. There will be musket-firing demonstrations throughout the day. A colonial market will display a variety of colonial trades and crafts while citizens of Westborough will make items for barter or sale to the assembled militiamen. Westborough’s own Rev. Ebenezer Parkman will harangue and inform the crowds.

There will also be food trucks and vendors for attendees, displays of artifacts and documents, and eighteenth-century children’s games.

This event is scheduled to take place from 10:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. in Veteran’s Freedom Park, 169A West Main Street.

See the town library’s collection of Revolutionary documents here through Digital Commonwealth. Parkman’s diaries have been published, with some pieces freely available and others only in print.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“A Monument over the grave of young SEIDER”?

On 5 Mar 1770, the Boston Gazette reported on the grand funeral for little Christopher Seider, shot by Ebenezer Richardson on 22 February, and added:
We can assure the Publick, that a Monument will be erected over the Grave of young Snider, with an Inscription, to perpetuate his Memory; A Number of patriotic Gentlemen having generously subscrib’d for that Purpose——It is said it will be done in an elegant Simplicity, and that the Overplus Money, if any, will be given to the Parents.
However, over a year later the 21 Mar 1771 Massachusetts Spy ran this item on the same matter:
For the MASSACHUSETTS SPY.
Mr. [Isaiah] THOMAS,

As there was a collection made some time ago by a Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past, for the professed purpose of erecting a Monument over the grave of young SEIDER; if the above Gentleman will condescend to inform the Public, why the Money so collected, has not been approproiate to the avowed design, he will oblige a number of your readers, as well as your humble servant,

The TRIFLER.
The Spy had published another item signed “The TRIFLER” on 10 January. It was a snide attack on Jonathan Sewall, identified by his own newspaper pseudonym “Philanthrop.” It said he should be “satisfied with his 600l. sterling per annum, and no longer prostitute his pen.”

That presents a political mystery. The “Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past” had to be one of Boston’s Whigs. But Sewall was a friend and vocal supporter of the royal government. Would the same newspaper writer attack both sides?

One possible explanation is that the Trifler supported the Crown but resented how Sewall was hogging two lucrative government appointments: Massachusetts Attorney General and Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court. Several letters and even newspaper reports from that period show how royal officials wanted Sewall to hand over the judgeship to Customs Commissioner John Robinson. (In the end, Sewall clung to both jobs.)

So who was the “Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past”?  I think the most likely candidate is William Molineux. He was definitely the Whigs’ leader in street demonstrations. He was close to Madam Grizzell Apthorp, who had employed Christopher Seider as a house servant, and he was on the scene when people arrested Richardson.

Molineux was also in need of money. On 1 May 1771 he was supposed to repay the town of Boston £300 it had loaned him to kickstart a cloth-weaving enterprise that would employ the poor. He never did pay that back. By 1774 Molineux had probably applied money he was supposed to manage for Charles Ward Apthorp of New York to the weaving scheme. So it’s not hard to imagine that the funds collected for a monument to Christopher Seider went into the same hole.

Then again, the first report from 1770 said merely that some gentlemen had “generously subscrib’d” or promised money for a monument. The Trifler may have been wrong to say that funds had actually been collected. After all, in the evening after the Gazette reported on the possibility of a monument, the Boston Massacre took place. Suddenly everyone had something new to focus on and argue about.