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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Sunday, November 18, 2018

“Landed and quartered in town”

On 18 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today, the Boston Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” alerted their readers in other North American ports to this news:
The 64th Regiment of those troops Col. [John] Pomeroy, are landed and quartered in town, the 65th Regiment Col. [Alexander] Mackay, at Castle Island; they consist of 500 men each.—The battalion-men of the detachment of the 59th are to return to Halifax.
The Whigs also counted eleven Royal Navy ships, not counting the chartered transport ships, in the harbor.

With four regiments (the 14th, 29th, 64th, and 65th) in town, plus part of the 59th and a contingent of Royal Artillery, this was the largest number of soldiers stationed in Boston before late 1774.

The 64th and 65th were fresh from recruiting in Ireland, so they were at full strength. The Whigs’ estimate of “500 men each” is probably a little high and doesn’t necessarily apply to the two regiments that had arrived earlier from Nova Scotia.

Nonetheless, there were probably around 2,000 soldiers in Boston for a couple of weeks that fall. The 1765 census counted 2,941 white men above age sixteen (i.e., eligible for militia duty). Thus, in that stretch two out of every five white men in Boston belonged to the British army.

[The photograph above comes from Revolution250’s recent “Boston Occupied” reenactment, photographed by Chris Christo for this gallery at the Boston Herald.]

Saturday, November 17, 2018

“The town was altogether under the government & controul of the military power”

One of the things that Bostonians found most irritating about the British army regiments who arrived in the fall of 1768 was how they posted armed guards around town.

There were sentries at the gate on the narrow Neck to the mainland. There were sentries in front of major government buildings like the Province House, where the royal governor lived, and at the houses that commanders rented for themselves. That meant armed soldiers were standing at some of the busiest corners of the town.

Yesterday I quoted the Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” huffing about rude and even violent guards on the Neck and elsewhere.

On 5 December Samuel Adams as “Vindex” complained in the Boston Gazette:
I Can very easily believe that the officers of the regiments posted in this town, have been inform’d by our good friends [i.e., royal officials] that the inhabitants are such a rude unpolish’d kind of folks, as that they are in danger, at least of being affronted during their residence here; and therefore their placing centinels at their respective dwellings seems to be a natural precaution, and under that apprehension may be a necessary step to guard their persons from injury.

Or if it be only a piece of respect or homage every where shown to the superior officers of the army, it is a matter which concerns no other persons that I know of, I am sure it is no concern of mine: In this view it is a military custom, in no way interfering with, obstructing or infringing the common rights of the community.

But when these gentlemens attendants take upon them to call upon every one, who passes by, to know Who comes there as the phrase is, I take it to be in the highest degree impertinent, unless they can shew a legal authority for so doing.

There is something in it, which looks as if the town was altogether under the government & controul of the military power: And as long as the inhabitants are fully perswaded that this is not the case at present, and moreover hope and believe that it never will, it has a natural tendency to irritate the minds of all who have a just sense of honor, and think they have the privilege of walking the streets without being controul’d.
When the regiments first arrived in Boston, the royal authorities had been worried about locals rising up and attacking those men. But there was no rebellion. Indeed, the Whigs themselves worked to channel public anger into political, not physical, resistance.

So why did the army command keep the sentries out stopping everyone coming into and leaving the town or passing major landmarks? Sure, that provided more protection, but it also exacerbated people’s anger, which could only lead to more trouble in the future.

Part of the answer is that setting up sentry posts is what armies did. It was how garrisons worked. It kept the men occupied, trained, and alert.

But another part of the answer is that the commanders weren’t really trying to stop civilians. They were trying to stop deserters from their regiments.

On 1 November the “Journal of Occurrences” reported:
The last night a soldier passed the guards, at the south part of the town, and was haled, but not answering, they followed and fired at him several times, and being impeded in running by the sea-weed on the beach, he was taken and brought back to the guards: This man was present at the execution [of Richard Eames] in the morning, but nothing is like to prevent desertion while the troops remain in this place.
The army was thus locked in a vicious cycle. The Crown had ordered those regiments to keep peace inside Boston, not out on Castle Island. But being stationed in a populous town made it easier for soldiers to escape. Which meant the army had to set up sentries, search parties, and firing squads to stop deserters. Which angered the civilian population and only made it harder to keep the peace in Boston.

Friday, November 16, 2018

“The inhabitants of this town have been of late greatly insulted and abused”

By late October 1768, the army regiments in Boston had all moved into rented barracks. The town’s Whigs therefore could no longer complain about them occupying public buildings or trying to push poor people out of the Manufactory.

Those activists therefore focused on recording conflicts between soldiers and locals in the streets. Here’s a sample of their complaints from the “Journal of Occurrences.”

29 October:
The inhabitants of this town have been of late greatly insulted and abused by some of the officers and soldiers, several have been assaulted on frivolous pretences, and put under guard without any lawful warrant for so doing.

A physician of the town walking the streets the other evening, was jostled by an officer, when a scuffle ensued, he was afterwards met by the same officer in company with another, both as yet unknown, who repeated his blows, and as is supposed gave him a stroke with a pistol, which so wounded him as to endanger his life.

A tradesman of this town on going under the rails of the Common in his way home, had a thrust in the breast with a bayonet from a soldier; another person passing the street was struck with a musket, and the last evening a merchant of the town was struck down by an officer who went into the coffee-house, several gentlemen following him in, and expostulating with the officers, were treated in the most ungenteel manner…
Note how solid the class division of eighteenth-century British-American society was. The physician, merchant, and other “gentlemen” got into conflicts with officers who allegedly behaved “in the most ungenteel manner.” Meanwhile, the tradesman and “another person” were accosted by enlisted men.

1 November:
An householder at the west part of the town, hearing the cries of two women in the night, who were rudely treated by some soldiers, ventured to expostulate with them for this behaviour, for which boldness he was knocked down with a musket and much wounded, they went off undiscovered; another had a thrust with a bayonet near his eye, and a gentlemen of this town informs, that a day or two before the physician already mentioned met with his abuse, he overheard several officers discoursing, when one of them said, if he could meet that doctor he would do for him.
2 November:
Two men and a lad coming over the Neck into the town, were haled by one guard and passed them: soon after they were challenged by another, they replied they had just answered one, but they hoped they were all friends; upon which a soldier made a pass or two with his bayonet at one of them, who parried the bayonet at first, but was afterward badly cut on the head and grievously wounded in divers parts of his body.

One passing the south town watch was challenged but not stopped, he drew his sword and flourished it at the watch, using very insulting language; he was then discovered to be an officer a little disguised [i.e., drunk], another soon joined him, full as abusive, both declared that if they had been challenged in the street and no orders shewn, they would have deprived the watchman of his life.

A country man also coming into town, was thought to have approached nearer the guards than he should have done, for which offence he was knocked off his horse with a musket.
The conflict between the “south town watch” and the two officers was unusual in crossing class boundaries. The watchmen were working-class men, but they were employed and empowered by the town to keep the peace. The officers, in contrast, were gentlemen answering to the Crown government. Which group of men had authority to order the other around? That argument played out in the streets for months.

And then there was the exacerbation of the guardhouse on the Neck.

TOMORROW: Why did the British army need to guard the Boston Neck?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Giving Dickinson His Due

Back in 2012 I compared the number of books lately published about Thomas Paine, supposedly a neglected Founder, with the much smaller number published about John Dickinson.

That will probably change after the John Dickinson Writings Project starts to publish the projected eight volumes of The Complete Writings and Selected Correspondence of John Dickinson in late 2019. The leaders of the project state:
John Dickinson (1732–1808), America’s first political celebrity, wrote more for the Founding than any other figure, including many issuances from the national congresses and conventions from 1764 to 1786. He also wrote prolifically for ordinary Americans with the intent to educate them about their rights and how to resist tyranny peacefully.

In addition to being one of the foremost legal scholars of the era, he was also the only leading founder who was an abolitionist, an advocate of women’s rights, and a champion of other subordinated peoples, including Indians, the poor, and prisoners. As a fellow traveler with the Quakers, though not a member of their society, he brought his religious beliefs to bear on his legal and political work with the goal of “defending the innocent & redressing the injurd.” . . .

For a number of reasons, including illegibility, complexity, and lack of archival identification and processing, Dickinson’s papers have never before been fully accessible. These factors, combined with misperceptions about Dickinson’s role in the Founding, mean there is very little extant scholarship on this central figure. Yet the Dickinson material is a rich resource on almost every aspect of 18th-century American society, including:
  • London/Middle Temple in the 1750s
  • The William Smith libel trial of 1758
  • The flag-of-truce trade of the 1750s–60s
  • Pennsylvania royal government controversy
  • Resistance to Britain from 1764 to 1776
  • Military 1775 to 1783
  • Resistance to 1776 Pennsylvania constitution
  • Peace negotiations in 1779
  • Presidency of Delaware, 1781–82
  • Presidency of Pennsylvania, 1782–85
  • Mutiny of 1783
  • Celebrations for the birth of the Dauphin
  • Wyoming controversy
  • Res Publica v. Longchamps
  • Res Publica v. Doan
  • Creation/Ratification of the Federal Constitution, 1786–1788
  • Delaware constitutional convention of 1792
  • Jay Treaty Protest of 1795
  • Abolitionism/slavery
  • Agrarianism
  • Books and book ownership
  • Democracy
  • Democratic Republican party politics
  • Celebrity
  • Education
  • Federal power v. states’ rights
  • Foreign relations
  • Indian rights/diplomacy
  • Jurisprudence
  • Peace activism
  • Philanthropy
  • Political moderation
  • Religion—Quakerism and “nature religion”
  • Religious liberty
  • Taxation and economic policy
  • Westward expansion/land and property rights
  • Virtue and corruption in government
In April 2020, in connection with the first volumes of Dickinson’s collected writings, the American Philosophical Society, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and Library Company of Philadelphia will host a day-long symposium about the man in Philadelphia. The organizers hope to feature eight to ten papers, the best of which will be published in an essay collection, the first ever devoted to Dickinson.

There’s a two-stage process for scholars to propose papers for that symposium. First, “Preliminary proposals of ca. 250 words accompanied by a CV” are due on 15 Nov 2018. The organizers will consider those “initial ideas and interests…based on their substance and viability considering the sources.”

The scholars whose projects show potential will then receive access to the server that contains the transcriptions, document images, and secondary sources being used to create the print edition. After consulting those materials, the researchers can then submit “Final proposals of ca. 500 words” by 15 Jan 2019. The organizers will choose the projects for the symposium. Final papers will be due on 1 Mar 2020. Symposium speakers will be reimbursed for travel and lodging.

The director of the John Dickinson Writings Project is Jane E. Calvert, Associate Professor of History at the University of Kentucky. Questions, requests for extensions on the preliminary proposal deadline, and proposals should go to her at jane.calvert@uky.edu.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Execution of Richard Eames

As described yesterday, on 22 Oct 1768 a general court martial in Boston convicted Pvt. Richard Eames of the 14th Regiment of desertion. A week later, the court sentenced the soldier to death.

“Some of the first ladies among us presented a petition for his pardon” on 30 October, the Boston Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” later reported. The town politicians managed to bring Eames’s case back to their main cause: “it was his first desertion, and in a time of peace, and which could not have happened had he been quartered agreeable to act of Parliament on Castle-Island.”

But the army command, headed by Gen. Thomas Gage, wanted to discourage other soldiers from deserting. The issue of the Boston Chronicle printed on 31 October reported that Eames
is ordered to be shot on the Common this afternoon, between the hours of 8 and 12 o’clock.—All the troops in town were ordered into the Common this morning by 6 o’clock, to attend the execution.
The regiments marched onto the Common “drumming the dead beat.” Eventually Eames was brought out “dressed in white,” accompanied by the chaplain of his regiment, reported in different sources as named Palmer or Palms.

A firing squad lined up. Eames “appeared very penitent,” the Boston News-Letter stated. The muskets fired, and Eames’s body collapsed. The Whigs wrote:
The regiment then marched round the corpes as it lay on the ground, when it was put into the coffin, which was carried by his side into the Common, and buried in a grave near where he was shot, and the church service read over him.
Some later accounts say Ames’s body was buried where it lay, but this wording suggests it was moved to the Common burying-ground.

(Local newspapers called the soldier “Ames,” but David Niescior reports that army records call him “Eames.”)

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Tracking Down Pvt. Richard Eames

As soon as the British regiments arrived in Boston, soldiers began to desert. Don Hagist of British Soldiers, American Revolution has found that desertions went up just before and after a move—perhaps because of higher discontent, perhaps because the disruption made it easier to slip away.

In his thesis, “‘We might now behold American Grievances red-dressed:’ Soldiers and the Inhabitants of Boston, 1768-1770,” and other essays, David Niescior reports that on 12 Oct 1768 a party of soldiers from the 14th Regiment went out into the Massachusetts countryside searching for deserters. This group included Sgt. John Phillips and Pvts. Thomas Wilson and Thomas West of the grenadier company. They were all dressed in civilian garb.

On the 14th the search party was about twenty-five miles out of Boston. The men stopped at a tavern, where Sgt. Philips asked “a Negro Woman” about deserters. She told them “one of the Men had got a place with a Farmer the last Week” and pointed out that farmer’s house.

The sergeant sent Wilson and West to the farm to ask for more information. The farmer led those men to Richard Eames, a soldier of the 14th Regiment, who had hired on as a hand.

The search party hauled Eames back to Boston. On 22 October he was court-martialed. Eames tried to excuse his departure by saying he was owed back pay and “had often been struck” during drill. Other men testified that he had been paid no less and struck no more than any other soldier.

Character witnesses said Eames was “an Honest man tho’ sometimes unfortunate in Liquor.” However, going twenty-five miles away, staying away for several days, and taking a job on a farm didn’t seem like the actions of a drunken binge.

The court martial found Richard Eames guilty and sentenced him to death.

TOMORROW: An execution on Boston Common.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Philbrick on the Battle of the Chesapeake, 13 Nov.

On Tuesday, 13 November, the American Antiquarian Society will host Nathaniel Philbrick speaking on the topic of “The Naval Battle that Won the American Revolution.”

This talk is based on Philbrick’s latest book, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown. In retelling the history of that decisive campaign, this book focuses on its naval dimension and the Battle of the Chesapeake between the French and British navies.

In a prepared interview his publisher shared with History News Network, Philbrick spoke about that emphasis:
Since In the Heart of the Sea (2000) I have been making the point that before there was the wilderness of the American West, there was the wilderness of the sea. But I have to say even I was surprised by the impact that water had on the course of the Revolutionary War. As Washington realized from the very beginning of the alliance, the only way to defeat the British was with the help of the French navy. Only then could he break the British navy’s stranglehold on the Eastern Seaboard and win the victory that made possible American independence. Ultimately the course of the war came down to America’s proximity to the sea, the watery realm that I’ve been writing about since I moved to Nantucket 32 years ago.
Because of the ongoing construction to expand the A.A.S. building, this talk will take place across Park Avenue at the First Baptist Church, 111 Park Avenue in Worcester. Doors will open at 6:30 P.M., and the talk is due to start at 7:00. There is parking along Regent Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and Drury Lane, as well as in the lot at 90 Park Avenue.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Redcoats Return to Newport, 17 Nov.

On Saturday, 17 November, the Newport Historical Society, the Redwood Library & Athenæum, and two dozen of the region’s top-notch Revolutionary War reenactors will present a program titled “Redcoats at the Redwood: A 1778 Living History Event.”

The British military occupied Newport, Rhode Island, for years during the Revolutionary War, fending off threats from land and sea. This event focuses on the year 1778. Here’s the event description:
The Redwood Library’s Harrison Room will be transformed into an officer’s club as men from the British army and Royal Navy discuss the latest news and intelligence about the war efforts, in-between relaxing, playing cards and enjoying a few drinks.

Chat with reenactors portraying key figures such as General [Richard] Prescott, Mary Almy, Joseph Wanton Jr. and the newly wed Henrietta Overing Bruce. Other personas will include a printer, a minister, a merchant, officer’s wives, and a local woman who’s courted by a British officer.

Hourly activities range from toasts to games and will include a skit inspired by the Redwood’s history from this time. Visitors can learn about 18th-century newspapers, letters, artwork and military passes, including the pass that was required to leave the island, along with life during the Revolutionary era in Newport.
Spectators can also try a Spy Challenge, collecting intelligence as they chat with the reenactors to learn about the British military plans.

This event is scheduled for 2:00 to 7:00 P.M. at the Redwood Library, 50 Bellevue Avenue in Newport. There is a parking lot beside the building. Admission is free, though donations are welcome.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Wheelwright to Apthorp to Molineux

Yesterday I quoted a letter from William Molineux stating that in October 1768 he had agreed to rent buildings near the center of Boston to the royal army, despite being one of the Whig activists most opposed to having troops in town. Was that rank hypocrisy?

When the historian John Richard Alden published that letter for the first time in the New England Quarterly in 1944, he wrote:
It is possible that Molineux acted merely as an agent in these transactions, but it is most likely that he rented his own properties to the British army, in full knowledge that they would be used as quarters for the redcoats.
But a 28 Oct 1768 letter from provincial secretary Andrew Oliver, while also portraying Molineux as a money-grubbing hypocrite, shows that the man was indeed acting as an agent for the real property-owner.

As I quoted yesterday, Oliver wrote that Molineux
made an Offer of the Stores on Wheelwrights Whff. at the modest rate of £400 Sterl. p. Ann:? The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them at the rate of £300 and you may guess who will finally pay the reckoning.   
The final price, per Molineux’s letter, was indeed £25 per month or £300 per year—the price “Mr. Apthorp” had arranged.

“Mr. Apthorp” was Charles Ward Apthorp, oldest son of Boston’s richest merchant and military contractor of the previous generation, Charles Apthorp. The younger man had migrated to New York City with the army command. There he built a successful mercantile career and served on the governor’s council.

After Charles Ward Apthorp dissolved his Boston partnership with his brother-in-law Nathaniel Wheelwright, that led to a frightening wave of bankruptcies in early 1765. Apthorp ended up owning most of Wheelwright’s property. And to manage that property, Apthorp made William Molineux his Boston agent.

Thus, when Molineux wrote that he leased “all the Stores on Wheelwrights Warffe, (so Called)” to the army, he was leasing Apthorp’s property. The 1769 map of Boston even relabeled that wharf as “Apthorp’s” (shown above in the lower left, next to John Rowe’s Wharf).

Oliver’s statement that “The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them” indicates that Gen. Thomas Gage had made a deal with Apthorp before he even left New York. The owner of those buildings wanted the army to have them. Molineux wasn’t acting on his own.

But that doesn’t mean Molineux was above blame. He always had a hard time distinguishing the public good from what was good for himself. In this case, he first offered the Wheelwright’s Wharf buildings for £400 per year. Did he think that would be a prohibitive price that would keep the army out, or did he just want the extra £100? Did Apthorp require him to rent the sugar-distilling house as well, or did Molineux decide to do that on his own?

It’s pertinent that Molineux wasn’t just forwarding the proceeds of these deals to Apthorp with a little commission retained. He was apparently living off the Apthorp properties, tallying up revenue and expenses for some future settlement. In late 1774 that would catch up with him—but that’s a story for another time.

What mattered on 10 Nov 1768, 250 years ago today, was that as the first transport ships carrying soldiers of the 64th and 65th Regiments arrived from Cork, Ireland, the army had secured quarters inside Boston for them.

Friday, November 09, 2018

“What do you think of the Patriotism of W.M”?

When Boston businessmen started to lease property to the royal army in late October 1768, word of those deals got around quickly.

Andrew Oliver, secretary of the province and merchant, sent this news to a business associate in London on 28 October:
[The army] is taking up Stores & other Buildings for their accomodation. They first took up Mr. [James] Smiths Sugar House of Mr. [James] Murray; this was well enough; he acted in character and upon Principle, but what do you think of the Patriotism of W.M who used his utmost interest in supporting the People in the Manufactory House in their Opposition to the Troops coming in there; and then made an Offer of the Stores on Wheelwrights Whff. at the modest rate of £400 Sterl. p. Ann:?

The General has however agreed with Mr. Apthorp himself for them at the rate of £300 and you may guess who will finally pay the reckoning.

Or what do you think of the patriotism of J R. to sollicit the Supply of the Troops and in fact letting his Stores for the Use of the Troops?

Or what do you think of J O’s sending a Card to the General & his Family to dine with him? Or of their refusing it? Where is Patriotism or where is Principle?
“J O” was probably James Otis, being polite to Gen. Thomas Gage and “his Family”—in this case meaning his aides. Otis had indeed opposed the Crown’s decision to station troops in Boston, but he was also an upper-class gentleman (even a bit of a snob) and a canny politician. He understood that being personally polite to the king’s general would look better than snubbing him. There was no financial interest in what he did.

In contrast, “J R.” or John Rowe did indeed profit from leasing buildings to the army. We know that he made that deal from his own diary. We also know he was both joining the other selectmen in protesting those troops and socializing with army officers, sometimes on the same day. Rowe’s politics swung with the prevailing winds.

The real surprise was “W.M”—William Molineux. He was one of the Whigs’ most confrontational leaders. Just the month before, Oliver had probably heard Gov. Francis Bernard and Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson discuss a warning that Molineux was prepared to lead 500 men in an attack on the troops. So did the same Molineux really rent buildings to the army?

We know that he did because of a letter from Molineux himself. On 13 Feb 1769 he sent a complaint to Lt. Col. John Pomeroy, at that time the highest-ranking officer in Boston:
By Indentures of Agreement between [Royal Engineers Capt.] John Montresor Esq [shown above] & my Self, the 28th. Octr. Last I Lett him all the Stores on Wheelwrights Warffe, (so Called) at £25 Sterling per month to be paid monthly, which he promisd to Pay Punctually—& also on the 5th. Novemr: Let him a Sugar House for the Artillery Company, which they now Occupy, at £5 per month to be paid in Like manner.
In 1769 Molineux was no longer complaining that the army had barracks near the center of Boston. He was complaining that the army hadn’t given him enough money for those buildings.

TOMORROW: But who really owned that property?