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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Monday, November 23, 2020

The Disappearance of George Penn

After George Penn sat on the Salem gallows for an hour and was whipped twenty times, as described yesterday, the authorities sent him back to the Essex County jail to finish another part of his sentence for rioting: two years’ imprisonment.

At the time, Penn was “(a Mulatto) aged thirty, five Feet nine Inches, and remarkably stout for his Heighth.”

We have that description from the 18 Aug 1772 Essex Gazette. It appeared there because of an event reported in the same paper:
The several Prisoners confined in his Majesty’s Gaol in this Town made their Escape last Saturday Night [15 August].

They were all committed on criminal Actions, viz. Charles Lee, Francis Lewis, Samuel White, William Campbell, and George Mitchell, for Theft, and George Penn, a Mulatto, for being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann two or three years ago. For the better Security of them, Mr. Brown, the Prison-Keeper, had them all confined in the two lower Apartments, which were deemed the strongest of any in the Prison.

They however, by Means of a Gimblet and Chizel, made a Hole through the Partition, which divided the two Rooms, and thereby all got together: They then bored off a square Piece of Plank in the Floor, and with the Chizel cut it quite out. Having thus got through the Floor, they applied themselves to work out a Passage through the Stones and Earth, and finally forced their Way through the Underpinning of the Building, quite into the Yard, which is inclosed with a very high Fence; they however, with their united Strength, forced open the Gate, and went off entirely undiscovered.
County sheriff Richard Saltonstall ran an advertisement in that paper describing the six escapees and offering a reward of $10. Those men ranged from “a French Lad, (as will be discovered by his speech) aged twenty” to a man “about forty Years old.”

The same newspaper also reported that a married couple who had arrived in town with the suspected thief Mitchell, “with much pretended Innocence,” had departed town suddenly, leaving behind some scraps of cloth. Also, a Danvers man reported finding a pile of clothing “hid in the Corner of a Wall,…near where Mr. Putnam found the Goods supposed to be stolen by Campbell.” So those thieves were very much on the locals’ minds.

It’s notable that the newspaper referred to the man previously called “a Mulatto Servant [i.e., slave] of Samuel Plummer, Esq; of Gloucester, named George,” with a surname. Did the full name George Penn indicate that Dr. Plumer had freed him? Or simply disowned him?

In the eighteenth century the word “stout” referred to muscle, not fat, so for George Penn to be “remarkably stout for his Heighth” suggests he contributed a lot of the “united Strength” that forced open the prison gate.

Once outside, the men presumably scattered. The harbors of Salem and neighboring towns offered plenty of opportunities to move. Sheriff Saltonstall’s advertisement appeared in the newspaper for several more weeks, into September. But so far as I can tell, George Penn was never apprehended to serve out the rest of his sentence.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Jesse Saville?

ADDENDUM: The vital records of Ipswich report an intention of marriage on 16 July 1777 between George Penn and Flora Freewoman. There’s no racial label for either of those people, but this town may have used the appelations Freeman and Freewoman for former slaves. In the 1770s and 1780s listings are Prince, Cesar, and Titus Freeman, the latter marrying Katherine Freewoman. So George Penn may not have completely disappeared after the jailbreak, just laid low in a nearby town until the government changed.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

“Being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann”

After his Gloucester neighbors mobbed him a second time, dragging him through town and tarring him in 1770, Jesse Seville stopped suing people for the previous assault, back in 1768.

He didn’t show up in court when his case (previously dismissed) came up for appeal at the end of March.

But that wasn’t the end of the legal process. Because once again some government authorities prosecuted the people who attacked Saville for assault. Or at least one person.

That criminal case came to trial 250 years ago this month. The 13 Nov 1770 Essex Gazette reported:
At the Superior Court held here last Week, a Mulatto Servant of Samuel Plummer, Esq; of Gloucester, named George [Penn], was convicted of aiding and assisting in seizing the Person of one Jesse Saville, in the Month of March last,…
Then came the description of the crime I quoted yesterday. The article concluded:
George would not or could not discover any of the Persons concerned with him: They being all disguised, except himself, prevented their being known.———

On Saturday last the said Servant George was sentenced, by the Court, to receive 39 Stripes, sit upon the Gallows one Hour, suffer two Years Imprisonment, and find Surety for his good Behaviour for the Term of seven Years.
Dr. Samuel Plumer (1725-1778) was the older brother of David Plumer, the merchant who had overseen the first attack on Saville’s home. It’s possible the judges sentenced George Penn to prison, not a common penalty at the time, as a way to punish Dr. Plumer by depriving him of the man’s labor.

It took over a year for the corporal punishment to be carried out. The 21 Jan 1772 Essex Gazette described the hanging of a rapist in Salem the previous Thursday and added:
George, a Mulatto, at the same Time sat on the Gallows, with a Rope round his Neck, for the Space of one Hour, and afterwards received 20 Stripes under the same, but being concerned in a Riot at Cape-Ann, some considerable Time since. He was sentenced to receive 39, but his Excellency the Governor [Thomas Hutchinson] was pleased to remit 19.
Penn resisted all pressure to identify the other men who had mobbed Jesse Saville in 1770.

Through these incidents we see the plight of enslaved blacks in Gloucester. During the first assault, Dr. Samuel Rogers threatened Saville’s “Servant” with his dental tools. In the second assault, the attackers reportedly disguised themselves as men of color—“Indians and negroes”—providing witnesses with plausible deniability. A black man was the only one identified and convicted.

TOMORROW: The disappearance of George Penn.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

The Third Mobbing of Jesse Saville

After the attack on Jesse Saville’s house on 7 Sept 1768, the Essex County authorities brought charges against eight men for assault, as Joseph E. Garland described in Guns Off Gloucester.

The criminal case came to trial in the summer of 1769. The jury acquitted one defendant, Paul Dudley Sargent, and convicted the seven others. The wealthiest, including merchant Joseph Foster and Dr. Samuel Rogers, were fined £10 to £15 and ordered to post £50 bonds for good behavior. Four working men were fined £5 and ordered to post £20 bonds.

The organizer of the mob, David Plumer, was never criminally charged with assault, but he lost his cargo and ship to the Customs Office for smuggling.

That didn’t completely satisfy Saville, however. He pursued another avenue of redress—personal damages. He sued all seven convicted men plus a neighbor named Thomas Griffin.

That case came to court in Newburyport in September. This jury decided that Saville—now a Customs officer himself—had gotten all the satisfaction he deserved. They found the defendants not liable and ordered him to pay court costs.

Saville appealed that verdict, and the case was scheduled for a higher court at the end of March 1770.

Meanwhile, the Boston Massacre occurred in Boston. It’s not clear whether that had any effect on the mood in Essex County, but it might have made people more angry about the royal authorities or (after the army regiments were withdrawn to Castle William) more bold about confronting those authorities.

The result was the third and most violent attack on Jesse Saville, as described with minimal sympathy in the 26 March Boston Gazette:
We hear from Cape-Ann, that on Friday night last [March 23], a number of People there, who knew that Town had sustained great Damage by the Misdoings of one Jesse Savil an informer, and that he deserved Chastisement therefor, went in a Body to his House for that purpose, about 10 o’Clock, and finding him in Bed, took him from thence, and walk’d him barefoot about 4 Miles to the Harbour, then placed him in a Cart they had provided for that Purpose, and putting a Lanthorn with a lighted Candle in his Hand, that every one might see him, they carted him thro’ all their Streets, and stopping at every House they roused the inhabitants, and obliged him to declare and publish unto them that he was Jesse Savil the Informer; and having gone round in this manner, they then bestowed a handsome Coat of Tar upon him, and placed him upon the Town-Pump, caused him to swear that he would never more inform against any Person in that or any other Town, and then dismissed him, after having received his thanks for the gentle Discipline they had administered to him.
A report in the 13 Nov 1770 Essex Gazette recounted the same event with slightly different details:
…seizing the Person of one Jesse Saville, in the Month of March last, taking him out of his Chamber, in the Night, without Shoes, and almost naked, dragging him over Hills, Dales and Fences, some Times by the Hair of his Head, for about 4 Miles, and then carting him through the Streets of Gloucester. It is said further, that after elevating Saville upon a Pump, and insisting on his swearing not to steal any more Leather, nor to prosecute any Person for thus abusing him, he was tarr’d and dismissed.
Another detail, possibly in the court record but first published in James R. Pringle’s 1892 History of the Town and City of Gloucester, said the mob came for Saville “disguised as Indians and negroes.”

TOMORROW: The legal fallout.

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Second Mobbing of Jesse Saville

After a Gloucester crowd attacked Samuel Fellows and Jesse Saville in September 1768, both men went to work for His Majesty’s Customs Service.

The Customs Commissioners were expanding their force, to collect and to use Townshend Act revenue, and steady incomes were a way to reward or compensate people who had suffered for the Crown.

Fellows became the commander of a ship that patrolled for smugglers off Cape Ann. I suspect that ship was the Earl of Gloucester, which the Customs service had seized from his former employer, David Plumer, based on his tip. The Commissioners of Customs used John Hancock’s ship Liberty the same way (until people in Newport burned it, of course).

As for Saville, the Customs service appointed him as a tide-waiter in Providence, Rhode Island. That work probably took him away from his family. On the other hand, it got him out of reach of his enemies.

But Providence soon brought Saville more enemies. (Or people or rumors might have followed him from Gloucester.) The 10 June 1769 Providence Gazette ran this legal notice:
Custom-House, Boston, June 2, 1769.

WHEREAS on the 18th of May last, in the Evening, a great Number of People riotously assembled in the Town of Providence, in the Colony of Rhode-Island, and violently seized Jesse Saville, a Tidesman belonging to the Custom-House of the said Port, who was then attending his Duty there, and having gagged and put him into a Wheelbarrow, almost strangled, they carried him to a Wharff, where they threatened to drown him if he made the least Noise; tied a Handkerchief round his Face, cut his Clothes to Pieces, stripped him naked, covered him from Head to Foot with Turpentine and Feathers, bound him Hands and Feet, threw Dirt in his Face, and repeatedly beat him with their Fists and Sticks, then threw him down on the Pavements, cut his Face, and bruised his Body, in a most barbarous Manner; during which inhuman Treatment, which lasted an Hour and a Half, he was near expiring, and now lies dangerously ill.

For the better bringing to Justice and condign Punishment the Authors of this daring and attrocious Outrage, the Commissioners of His Majesty’s Customs do hereby promise a Reward of Fifty Pounds Sterling for the Discovery of any of them, to be paid upon his or their Conviction.

By Order of the Commissioners,
Richard Reeve.
This ad was reprinted in the 19 June Boston Evening-Post and the 20 June Essex Gazette, but as a news item, not a paid advertisement.

The 24 June Providence Gazette offered a different response as a letter to printer John Carter:
I Observe in one of your late Papers as Advertisement inserted by Order of the Commissioners of the Customs, offering a Reward of Fifty Pounds Sterling for discovering the Persons who ill treated one Jesse Saville, a Tidesman, on the Evening of the 18th of May, then doing Duty in the Town of Providence, &c.

How the Board came by their Information I know not, but of this I am certain, that their Informant paid little Regard to Truth, the greatest Part of the Narrative being false and groundless. He was neither struck with a Fist or Stick, nor thrown on the Pavements, as the Advertisement sets forth, neither was he on Duty as an Officer when taken. The Affair was not intended to obstruct him in his Duty, or deter other Officers in the Execution of their Trust, so long as they keep within proper Bounds.

The Truth is, he was daubed with Turpentine, and had a few Feathers strewed on him; in but every near Respect was treated with more Tenderness and Lenity than is perhaps due to an Informer.

As the above mentioned Advertisement seems evidently calculated to call an Odium on the Town, by inserting his public Testimony against it you’ll oblige
A SPECTATOR.
Now even if we assume the truth of what happened lay somewhere between these two descriptions, it’s clear that a second crowd had tried violently to make a public example of Jesse Saville.

TOMORROW: Back home in Gloucester.

[The picture above is a detail from a drop curtain in the collection of the Rhode Island Historical Society that shows Providence in 1808.]

Thursday, November 19, 2020

“My mother Cry’d out Jesse is dead”

map of Gloucester
As I described yesterday, on 7 Sept 1768 the Gloucester merchant David Plumer directed a mob to a house in the Annisquam village, seeking the Customs informant who had cost him a shipload of undeclared molasses.

When those men couldn’t find that man, Samuel Fellows, they attacked the family he was staying with, the Savilles. The head of that family, Jesse Saville, was out. Though officially a tanner, he, like a lot of Cape Ann men, probably also worked at fishing.

Here’s the rest of Jesse Saville’s description of that day:
I was not at home but was about two miles of by water, neither could i git home by reason of the tide. I came home about ten a Clock at night, very Darck and Raney. Had ocation to go out of Doors so tock my gun for I was affraid without her.
Meanwhile, two men in the mob, Joseph York and Thomas Griffin, woke up a neighbor and friend of the Savilles called George Dennison. According to Saville, they “told him they were coming to tare Down our house.” Dennison said he would be right with them. Then “After giting them out of Doors, [Dennison] fastened his Doors, went to Bed.”

But there were still dozens of men ready to confront Jesse Saville:
A few minuets after I was gone out a Doors they Sorounded our house attemting to Come in. My father was then in bed. He told them They Should not Come in Such a maner but they might three or fore of them come in and Sarch the house. A grate number flocked in headed by Dudley Sargent, marchant. Daniel Warner they Chose as Clark. Thomas Griffin above menteioned & Joseph York: were preasious in this mob.
I love the detail that this crowd mobbing a house chose a clerk, as if they were a town meeting or a charitable society. That reflects how they thought they were doing important community work.
I Stod a Little way of them, heard them Sware they would Tare Down the house, but what they would have him. I made a pass to go into the Door. They Sorounded me. I asked them who was there, was ansered by Dudley Sargent, half a Dozen of us. I asked what half a Dozen of such black gard Did there. They ansered me, Dam you we will tell you. They said where is Sam Fellows. I ansered none of your bysness.

They Imeadatily Seased me. About Eight or thereaway told me to Let go the gun I posessed. Desierd a pass into the house. My mother Cryd. out Jesse is dead. My wife fainting away. They nocked me Down, Toock away my gun, fired it of, broak it in peaces over a Rock. My father halled me into the house by the feet as I Lay on the ground.

It was Terable to See the wimans Countanences and the Cryes of the Children for part of the Children was at School in the Day time. So they Left the house after I threating them in the Law. Job Gallaway of the sd. town Told my wife he new the Person Struck me Down and broak my gun.

We were affraid to go to Sleep Ever Since Safly for word has been threatned to tare Down the house Several times and if Ever they Cached me in the harbor they would Serve me as bad as they would Capt Felows or if they Ever Could find out I Conseald him or by any means aided him or gave him any Sustanance they would tare Down the house and mob me which Since I Daresnot appear to profacute my Bysness but Shall be obliged to Leave the Town. If I want to go out of Town I am obiliged to go and Come in the night or on the Sabbath Day.
Three days after the attack on the Saville home, locals “rescued” or grabbed back another shipload of molasses that the Customs office had seized.

But then the tide turned. At the end of September, Royal Navy ships carrying two regiments of the British army arrived in Boston harbor. Some of those ships started to patrol around Cape Ann. Royal officials became more bold. By the end of the October, the Salem Customs office had seized David Plumer’s whole Earl of Gloucester ship for smuggling.

Around 1 October, Jesse Saville went into Plumer’s shop. In his characteristic spelling, Saville stated, “I told him he must mack good the Dammage I had sustained.” Plumer replied that if the tanner wanted satisfaction he’d have to sue; also, “he said they wanted another frolick, they Did not Desier no beter Sport.”

On 14 October, Saville wrote out a long complaint about what had happened to his family for the Customs Commissioners in Boston. He named names, including prominent men like Plumer, fellow merchants Paul Dudley Sargent and Joseph Foster, physician Samuel Rogers, and as many more as he could identify and remember:
  • “Elichander Smith, Block macher”
  • “Lebeday Day, mason”
  • “William Lowder, tinman”
  • “David Day, shoemaker”
  • “Philemon Haskel, Black Smith
  • “Daniel Warner, Black Smith”
Saville also filed suit in the local courts against Plumer and other neighbors. In early November a grand jury sitting in Ipswich indicted eight Gloucester men “and others unknown” for attacking Saville’s house. The defendants included Rogers, Sargent, Foster, four other men Saville had singled out as violent, and two additional names: cordwainer Parker Knights and yeoman William Tarbox.

David Plumer wasn’t charged with assault, probably because he’d refrained from going into the Saville house or physically attacking anyone himself. But the Customs Office hauled him into Admiralty Court for smuggling. Plummer hired John Adams as his lawyer but lost the case in December. The Customs office put his schooner Earl of Gloucester up for auction in April 1769.

Since all those developments were bound to make him unpopular locally, Jesse Saville threw his lot in with the royal government. By the spring of 1769, he was working for the Customs service.

TOMORROW: And how did that go?

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

The First Mobbing of Jesse Saville

Another event of 1770 that I neglected on its 250th anniversary this year was the mobbing of Jesse Saville.

Or rather, the mobbing of Jesse Saville in March 1770, because we have to distinguish that mobbing from several others.

To start at the beginning, in the summer of 1768 a Gloucester sea captain named Samuel Fellows told the Customs Office in Salem that the schooner Earl of Gloucester was about to arrive with undeclared molasses. Fellows used to command that ship for the merchant David Plumer, and evidently he was peeved at being replaced.

Samuel Fellows had been born in Ipswich in 1736, but was described as “of Gloucester” when he married Mercy Treadwell of Ipswich in 1763. Their first two children were sons born in Gloucester in 1764 and 1765. Samuel Fellows had also served as an ensign at Crown Point in 1755.

Acting on Capt. Fellows’s tip, Customs surveyor Joseph Dowse went to Gloucester on 6 September and seized more than thirty-three barrels of molasses from the Earl of Gloucester. At some point the Commissioners of Customs also talked to Fellows about coming to work for them. With more powers and more revenue under the Townshend Act, the department was expanding.

The next day, Plumer and several dozen friends came after Capt. Fellows. Which meant they came to the house of Jesse Saville, up on the Annisquam peninsula, where Fellows was staying.

Saville was a tanner, born in 1740 as the twelfth and youngest child of a cooper. In 1763 he married Martha Babson, and they had sons Thomas (1764), Abiah (1766), and John (April 1768), with more children on the way. The household appears to have included some of Jesse’s adult relatives, and he also spoke of “my Servant,” the usual euphemism for a slave. So I can’t tell if this was a wealthy family with a big house and a staff, or a poor family with boarders and everyone crowded together into one building used for both living and manufacturing.

This is how Saville described the confrontation at his house on 7 Sept 1768, with his own creative spelling, as published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections:
…a number of men came To my House,…the number of about 70, all of Sd. Gloucester, as nigh as could be Judged. They asked Leave to go into the house to Sarch for Capt. Fellows, wich they Did, not then ofering any abuse onely in Talek.

My wife Sent my Servant of an erant [and] David Plumer Seized him by the Coller Refusing to Let him go. His mistress called him Back [but] they would not Let him Come but Sd. If he was Sint he should not go unless they knew hiss bysness but Docter [Samuel] Rogers Tock out his Instrements, the wich he halls Teath with, [and] threatened to Hall all his teath out unless He told where Capt. Fellows was, threatening to Split his head open with a Club, Holding it over his head. Then they left the House.

[In] about an Hour, in wich Time Capt. Fellows Road up to our house, Thomas Griffin, Shore man, Seeing him Ride up that way Ran after the mob, told them he was gone up there. In about one hours time they Returnd wich my wife Seeing them told Capt. Fellows of. He ameadaately Run out of Doors as fast as posable.

No Person was in the house Excapt my wife & my mother, Dorcas Haskel, Mary Savell, with two of my Small Childredn. They Came up to the Doors and Sorounded the house with Clubs & axes. The wimen Seing them Run in Such a maner affrited fastning the Doors & windows.

They Crys with Shouting we got him. They Cryed opin the Doors.

They Refused declaring to the mob ther was no man bodey in the house Except a Child of 5 months old they could give oath.
That child was obviously baby John, but what about his older brothers, aged four and two? And who was the little girl Saville mentioned later? Was “Mary Savell” Jesse’s mother, already mentioned, or his older sister?
Mr. Plumer Told them, Gentlemen why Dont you walek in. Mr Plumer Did not go into the house himself.

My mother Told them they Come in upon the Peril of there Lives if they oferd To break Down the Doors. They immeadately Stove Down one Door and Entered a grate number of the abouve persons & William Stevens, Brick Laior, Like wise and a grate many Strangers wich they Didnot no. They Like wise beat of a Lach & buttons of another Door, struck the pole of the ax into the Door & Caseing very much Dammageing. The Same Broak a Seller window to peaces, a Chain, thro’d over barils, Chests, Tables & tubs, Ransacked the house, all parts of it, Broak a bundle of Dry fish to peaces, Destroyed a good deal of the Same, Tock a Gun and broak it by throghing it out of the garit window.

Benjm. Soams, B[arrel]. Cooper, pinted it, a Loadin Gun, Toward my wife, ordered her out of Doors, A Little gairl of about tow or three of ours so terified, Cryed To my wife fainting a way. They call’d my mother [and] my wife all the hoors and all the Dam’d biches and Every Evil name that they Could think of Stricking Down their Clubs on the flour Each Side of them. My mother beg’d they would Spare her Life for it was not Posable She Could Live one hour. They would not listen to her intreateys.

They Sarched the house over & over Several times Halling all the Beds into the flours. After awile they left the house, then went Down to the meeting house. There Joseph York, shoe macker, gave them vitels & Drink and was back and forward with them while absent from our house wich Generally is Judg’d he was ordered to Do what he Did by his father[-in-law] Deacon Samuel Griffin of sd. Town. Our folcks Sent for Some of the nabors to come for they Expected to be killed if they came again. Some sd. they were glad. Some was affraid to Come So a bitter afternoon they had.
TOMORROW: Where was Jesse Saville?

[The photo above shows the Edward Haraden House, built on Annisquam in the mid-1600s and expanded in the mid-1700s and later.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

A New Government in Britain in 1770

As the year draws to a close, I’m looking back on some of the notable events of 1770 that I didn’t discuss on their Sestercentennial anniversaries.

In January 1770, the Duke of Grafton’s government collapsed in London.

The duke had become prime minister in 1768 after William Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, retired in a depression and Charles Townshend died unexpectedly. There was a lot of in-fighting among his fellow ministers, and sniping from both the left and right.

On 9 January, the lord chancellor, the Earl of Camden, ticked off all the other ministers but Grafton so much they decided he had to be replaced. Grafton asked an experienced government lawyer long allied with Pitt, Charles Yorke (shown above), to take the lord chancellor’s position. But Yorke had promised another Whig faction, under the Marquess of Rockingham, that he wouldn’t join Grafton’s government, so he declined.

At that point George III got personally involved. He invited Yorke to a private audience on 16 January and urged him to take the chancellorship. The king repeated the advice at a levee the next day, hinting that there would be no second chance. Yorke gave in, agreeing to the post in return for the usual peerage.

Almost immediately Yorke had second thoughts. (Or, given the way he’d wavered over the decision for days, seventh thoughts.) He moved from “the most violent agitation of spirits” to “a fixed state of melancholy.” On 19 January, he vomited blood. On 20 January, he died. Yorke had received the paperwork to elevate himself to be Baron Morden but had refused to put the chancellor’s seal on it.

Soon there were rumors that Yorke had committed suicide, and the debate continues. In the late nineteenth century the Dictionary of National Biography stated:
It was asserted, and came to be widely believed, that, goaded to frenzy by the resentment with which his defection was regarded by his party, the chancellor had committed suicide; and, as there was no post-mortem or other equivalent autopsy of the corpse, the lugubrious surmise remained alike uncorroborated and unrefuted.
As of this week Wikipedia says:
He went to his brother’s house, where he met the leaders of the Opposition, and feeling at once overwhelmed with shame, fled to his own house, where three days later he committed suicide (20 January 1770).
But the History of Parliament website argues:
The extraordinary circumstances of his death made it inevitable that there should be rumours of suicide. Indeed, in his Memoirs of the reign of George III [Horace] Walpole states as a fact that Yorke died ‘by his own hand’, though when he wrote to Mann, 22 Jan. 1770, he had attributed the death to natural causes. It is perhaps suspicious that the letters from Joseph Yorke to Hardwicke which must have referred to these events should have disappeared. But the case for a natural death is strong. Yorke had been in poor health for some time. On 8 Jan. 1770 he had written to Hardwicke that a ‘severe cold’ and ‘feverish heat…disables me from coming to town: I shall hardly be fit to stir before the end of the week’. On the 11th he had received Grafton’s letter asking to meet him. The succeeding days had been extremely taxing. Levett Blackborne passed on to a friend the account he had received from ‘a young lady—a relative of Mrs. Yorke’:
He ate voraciously and beyond his usual manner—which latterly was generally too much. Before the taking away of the cloth he complained of sickness and indigestion ... growing worse, he retired into a back dressing room, where he was heard retching with vehemence. After some time the family in the parlour was alarmed, and he was carried to bed having, as supposed, broke a blood vessel in vomiting.
This agrees in the main with Agneta Yorke’s account of her husband’s last days.
However he died, everyone agrees that the strain of the appointment was too much for Yorke.

Soon the Duke of Grafton resigned. The king pressed the chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons to form a new government, which he managed to do by the end of January. That man was Lord North.

The Duke of Grafton’s government had been widely criticized for not preventing France from taking over Corsica in 1769. In contrast, Lord North’s government faced down Spain over the Falklands later in 1770. That foreign policy victory gave him standing to remain prime minister even as the crisis in the North American colonies got worse and worse.

Monday, November 16, 2020

A Critical Review in The Critical Review

In 1764 James Otis, Jr., published The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved, which based the campaign against Parliament’s new colonial revenue laws on the ideas of natural rights and (though this term wouldn’t be formulated for another four years) “no taxation without representation.”

The Critical Review was a British political magazine founded in 1756. It was firmly conservative or Tory. The founding editor was the doctor and writer Tobias Smollett, but he left in 1763 and I’m not sure who helmed the magazine the following year.

In November 1764 The Critical Review ran a critique of Otis’s argument. Typical for the magazine, much of the space devoted to that book consisted of long extracts from it. At the end the reviewer wrote:
The author then…affirms, that government is founded on the necessity of our nature; and that the supreme absolute power existing in, and presiding over, every society, is originally and ultimately in the people, who cannot freely nor rightfully renounce that divine right. These are maxims far from being new; but as the author endeavours to prove that ancestry cannot renounce the rights of posterity, we wish he had thrown in an argument to demonstrate, by a parity of reasoning, that posterity ought to renounce all benefits from ancestry.

Perhaps our reader may be curious to know the definition Mr. Otis gives of a plantation, or colony; which, he says, ‘is a settlement of subjects in a territory disjoined or remote from the mother country, and may be made by private adventurers, or the public; but in both cases the colonists are entitled to as ample rights, liberties, and priviledges, as the subjects of the mother country are, and, in some respects, to more.

We are next entertained with a dissertation on the natural rights of colonists, where the author gives us some quotations from Grotius, Puffendorff, Domat, Strahan, and others; who, it is plain, knew nothing of the British constitution, or of the relation which our colonies have with the mother country. The sum total of what our author contends for, seems to be that our ‘northern colonies, who are without one representative in the house of commons, should not be taxed by the British parliament.' Good Mr. Otis, give Great-Britain fair play, and do not put into the heads of Leeds, Hallifax, Birmingham, Sheffield, that part of the duchy of Lancaster which lies at the very gates of the Royal Palace, and many other places of great opulence, that they are not bound to pay any taxes imposed by a British parliament, because they have no representative in that body.

We applaud Mr. Otis’s zeal, and should, be glad that he had published a scheme of reciprocal independence between our colonies and Great Britain, which may be done in the way of debtor and creditor, and which very possibly might awaken him and his vigorous friends from their visionary dreams of independency upon their mother country. There is nothing like fair counter-reckoning, good Mr. Otis.
I don’t find “Our system is unfair to lots of people, not just you” to be a convincing argument not to change. The reviewer rests his dismissal mostly on the idea that the North American colonists had inherited a great many advantages from the British system, political and economic, and should be grateful rather than seeking equality based on philosophical principles.

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Atlas of Boston History Wins Historic New England Book Prize

Historic New England (formerly the Society for the Protection of New England Antiquities) has awarded its 2020 Book Prize to The Atlas of Boston History, edited by Nancy S. Seasholes and written by her and a bevy of contributors, including me.

The society honors “a book that advances the understanding of life in New England from the past to today by examining its architecture, landscape, and material culture.”

About this year’s winner it says:
The book traces the city’s history and geography from the last ice age to the present with fifty-seven beautifully rendered maps. Thirty-five experts in a variety of fields contributed to the publication. From ancient glaciers to landmaking schemes and modern infrastructure projects, the city has been transformed almost constantly over the centuries. The Atlas of Boston History explores the history of the city through its physical, economic, and demographic changes, and social and cultural developments.
Historic New England also named two titles as Honor Books for the year: All three could of course make good holiday gifts for the right people.

In other present-day news, last week I spoke to Bradley Jay and Prof. Robert Allison for the Revolution 250 podcast. I was prepared to speak about the Boston Massacre trials and other Sestercentennial events. But Bob and Bradley wanted to talk mostly about my projects, so you’ll learn more about the background to this blog. Find the episode here or wherever you download podcasts.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Hagist on Britain’s “Noble Volunteers,” 15 Nov.

On Sunday, 15 November, Fort Ticonderoga will host an online presentation by Don N. Hagist about his new book, Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution.

Don has been researching the enlisted men of the British army for decades, collecting their rare individual accounts and analyzing their collective data. Noble Volunteers promises to be a definitive study of that subject.

Along the way Don has also published other books and helped many researchers, including myself, as well as editing the Journal of the American Revolution.

This online talk through Fort Ticonderoga is part of its Virtual Author Series. Its event description says: “Who were the people who wore red coats and fought to suppress a rebellion in Britain’s American colonies? And why would a book about them be called Noble Volunteers? Author Don N. Hagist will talk about his new book that brings to life the wide array of common soldiers that formed the British army during the American Revolution.”

A longer description from the publisher says:
Redcoats. For Americans, the word brings to mind the occupying army that attempted to crush the Revolutionary War. There was more to these soldiers than their red uniforms, but the individuals who formed the ranks are seldom described in any detail in historical literature, leaving unanswered questions. Who were these men? Why did they join the army? Where did they go when the war was over?

In Noble Volunteers: The British Soldiers Who Fought the American Revolution, Don N. Hagist brings life to these soldiers, describing the training, experiences, and outcomes of British soldiers who fought during the Revolution. Drawing on thousands of military records and other primary sources in British, American, and Canadian archives, and the writings of dozens of officers and soldiers, Noble Volunteers shows how a peacetime army responded to the onset of war, how professional soldiers adapted quickly and effectively to become tactically dominant, and what became of the thousands of career soldiers once the war was over.

In this historical tour de force, introduced by Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson, Hagist dispels long-held myths, revealing how remarkably diverse British soldiers were. They represented a variety of ages, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds, and many had joined the army as a peacetime career, only to find themselves fighting a war on another continent in often brutal conditions.

Against the sweeping backdrop of the war, Hagist directs his focus on the small picture, illuminating the moments in an individual soldier’s life—those hours spent nursing a fever while standing sentry in the bitter cold, or writing a letter to a wife back home. What emerges from these vignettes is the understanding that while these were “common” soldiers, each soldier was completely unique, for, as Hagist writes, “There was no ‘typical’ British soldier.”
Books on the Square in Providence is the exclusive seller of preordered signed copies of Noble Volunteers, available for the holidays.

The Fort Ticonderoga event starts at 2:00 P.M. The site asks people to register for it by noon. The cost is $10, free to Fort Ticonderoga members.