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, July 05, 2015

Dr. Franklin’s Invitation in 1779

When Benjamin Franklin was the American minister to France, he set up a small press at his home in Passy in order to print government documents, mostly forms with blanks to fill in. Later he used the same equipment to publish humorous pamphlets for friends, a fake newspaper page for propaganda, and broadsides. His teen-aged grandson Benjamin Franklin Bache trained on the press in the early 1780s.

The earliest dated document surviving from the Passy press is this invitation to a celebration of American independence on 5 July 1779. The fourth of July fell on a Sunday that year, so Franklin scheduled his celebration for the next day. He probably invited the local American community and influential French sympathizers, but the entire invitation is in English, even the “R.S.V.P.” 

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Celebrating the Fourth of July in 1777

John Adams wrote this letter from Philadelphia to his daughter Abigail, then about to turn twelve, on 5 July 1777:
Yesterday, being the anniversary of American Independence, was celebrated here with a festivity and ceremony becoming the occasion.

I am too old to delight in pretty descriptions, if I had a talent for them, otherwise a picture might be drawn, which would please the fancy of a Whig, at least.

The thought of taking any notice of this day, was not conceived, until the second of this month, and it was not mentioned until the third. It was too late to have a sermon, as every one wished, so this must be deferred another year.

Congress determined to adjourn over that day, and to dine together. The general officers and others in town were invited, after the President [Thomas Wharton, Jr.] and Council, and Board of War of this State.

In the morning the Delaware frigate, several large gallies, and other continental armed vessels, the Pennsylvania ship and row gallies and guard boats, were all hawled off in the river, and several of them beautifully dressed in the colours of all nations, displayed about upon the masts, yards, and rigging.

At one o’clock the ships were all manned, that is, the men were all ordered aloft, and arranged upon the tops, yards, and shrowds, making a striking appearance—of companies of men drawn up in order, in the air.

Then I went on board the Delaware, with the President [Wharton again? or John Hancock, head of the Marine Committee] and several gentlemen of the Marine Committee, soon after which we were saluted with a discharge of thirteen guns, which was followed by thirteen others, from each other armed vessel in the river; then the gallies followed the fire, and after them the guard boats. Then the President and company returned in the barge to the shore, and were saluted with three cheers, from every ship, galley, and boat in the river. The wharves and shores, were lined with a vast concourse of people, all shouting and huzzaing, in a manner which gave great joy to every friend to this country, and the utmost terror and dismay to every lurking tory.

At three we went to dinner, and were very agreeably entertained with excellent company, good cheer, fine music from the band of a taken at Trenton, and continual vollies between every toast, from a company of soldiers drawn up in Second-street before the city tavern, where we dined. The toasts were in honour of our country, and the heroes who have fallen in their pious efforts to defend her. After this, two troops of light-horse, raised in Maryland, accidentally here in their way to camp, were paraded through Second-street, after them a train of artillery, and then about a thousand infantry, now in this city on their march to camp, from North Carolina. All these marched into the common, where they went through their firings and manoeuvres; but I did not follow them.

In the evening, I was walking about the streets for a little fresh air and exercise, and was surprised to find the whole city lighting up their candles at the windows. I walked most of the evening, and I think it was the most splendid illumination I ever saw; a few surly houses were dark; but the lights were very universal. Considering the lateness of the design and the suddenness of the execution, I was amazed at the universal joy and alacrity that was discovered, and at the brilliancy and splendour of every part of this joyful exhibition.

I had forgot the ringing of bells all day and evening, and the bonfires in the streets, and the fireworks played off.
Even when the seat of government nearly forgot to celebrate the first anniversary of independence, there were fireworks.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Newspaper Scoop of the Year 1776

On 3 July 1776, the Pennsylvania Gazette ran this item at the top of its local news:
Last year the Deseret News called this “America’s 238-year-old tweet.” We might also think of it as a leak since the Congress was still working on its Declaration. The only tweet out of Carpenters’ Hall should have been “#amwriting”.

After that scoop, the Gazette immediately turned to more ominous shipping news:
Yesterday Captain [William] Meston, late of the snow Dickenson, of this port, arrived here from Bristol, but last from the West-Indies.—He sailed from this place last February, bound for Nantz, but the Mate, assisted by the crew, seized and confined the Captain on the coast of Portugal, and then altered their course for London.

The southerly winds driving them into Bristol Channel, they arrived at Bristol, the 8th of April, when the mate proposed to set off immediately for London, with all the letters and papers on board, for the inspection of Government. The vessel was detained at Bristol, till the determination of Government concerning her should be known.
The Congress had commissioned Meston to carry flour to France and trade it for gunpowder, weapons, and cloth. Needless to say, he couldn’t carry out that mission. So this wasn’t an auspicious start for the free and independent states.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

John Goddard: “constant in service of the Province”

Back in April, I quoted from the diary of John Goddard (1730-1816) of Brookline, recording how he carted military supplies out to Concord for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee on Supplies just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.

Goddard’s work for the army continued after that break, as preserved in the same notebook:
April 22nd 1775—to supping and Breakfasting twelve Men and four oxen. £0:7:4

24. to dining 4 Men
to entertaining teames and men that brought Canteens 0:2:0

May 2d, 1775.
Delivered to the Commasary at the Store in Camebridge
Sixteen Bushels of potatoes £1:8.9 [etc. etc.]

May 2 for Entertainment for Carter with ordinance stores 0:1:0

May 22. Began to be constant in service of the Province Myself.

June 2, 1775. to load of flour and porke from Watertown 0:7:0
2 to Carting Catrage paper from Brookline to Watertown 0:4:0

June 3 to Carting load canteens to Camebridge 0:6:0

June 5. for going to Camebridge with team for ammunition 0:5.0

June 27. 1775. to one days work of two hands and teams Drawing tree to the brestwork 0-14-0

July 7, 1775. To hand and team carting stons to the well in the fort at Brookline 0-6-0

1775. Octr. 3. To a days work carting together Bombs & Balls for Colo. [William] Burbeck To 1/2 day’s work removing Powder from my own house to ye Magazine in Jamaica Plain.
Burbeck was the second-in-command of the artillery regiment.

A different partial transcription appears in Nathaniel Goddard: A Boston Merchant, 1767-1853 (1906), by Henry G. Pickering. It includes “July 19, 1775. To cart and tent poles and Baggage [“Also gabeons”] for Colonel [Timothy] Danielson’s Rigement 0..14..0”.

On August 9, Gen. George Washington’s orders included: “Mr. John Goddard is appointed by the Commander-in-Chief, Wagon-Master General to the Army of the twelve United Colonies, and is to be obeyed as such.”

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Daniel George, Teen-Aged Almanac Maker

Daniel George was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on 16 Dec 1757, son of David and Anne (Cottle) George. He was the second boy named Daniel born to that couple, indicating that the first had died young. He had both older and younger siblings of both sexes.

From infancy Daniel was “a Cripple,” possibly having cerebral palsy. That made life as a farmer almost unthinkable. But the boy’s mind was sharp, and he took to mathematics and then astronomy. In 1775, Daniel prepared an almanac for the upcoming year, calculating the movements of the Sun and Moon and the tides for eastern Massachusetts.

On 26 August, Daniel George and his father visited the Rev. Samuel Williams (1743-1817) of Bradford. Williams was known for his scientific investigations, including two trips to observe the transit of Venus in the 1760s.

Williams talked with the teenager and wrote a recommendation of him to the printer Ezekiel Russell, then in Salem:
Mr. David George, of Haverhill, is now with me; he has brought his son Daniel, who appears to be a singular object of pity and compassion. But with all the disorders of body under which he labors, his mind does not seem to have been at all affected. He has composed an Almanack, which, as far as I have inspected it, seems to be equal to other compositions of that kind; and perhaps from the singular situation of the Author, bids fair to engage the popular attention. If it would be consistent with your business and interest to print it, it would be an act of kindness to the distressed, and a great encouragement to a rising Genius, in early years laboring under uncommon disadvantages, but yet bidding fair for very considerable improvements.—

I write this from motives of compassion to the unhappy Cripple, and because I really think his talents may be of use to mankind if encouraged. How far this will be consistent with your interest is not for me to say. But if you can favor the productions of a Cripple, in the seventeenth year of his age, it must not only give pleasure to him, but to the benevolent and humane who wish success to the ingenious, and comfort to the wretched.
Russell was open to new authors: he was the first printer to engage to issue Phillis Wheatley’s book, before she went to London, and he routinely published other female poets, such as Hannah Wheaton. In part that was because Russell was never a very successful printer, so he and his wife were often scrounging for business.

Russell engaged to print George’s Cambridge Almanack; or, the Essex Calendar. For the Year of our Redemption, 1776. Being Leap-Year, the Sixteenth of the Reign of George III. To make sure customers realized what a remarkable production it was, he credited it “By Daniel George, a Student in Astronomy at Haverhill, in the County of Essex, who is now in the Seventeenth [sic] Year of his Age, and has been a Cripple from his Infancy.” And he printed Williams’s letter at the front.

In his own introduction, dated September 1775, Daniel added:
This, however, my public-spirited Friends and Countrymen, you will be certain of, by becoming a Purchaser of my Almanack, you are helping one who is not able, or perhaps ever will have it in his power to help himself; which motive alone may be a sufficient incitement to a generous mind, even should your expectations with regard to my calculations, be in some measure disappointed.
But he then turned to the patriotic material he’d chosen to include, such as “A Narrative of the excursion and ravages of the King’s troops, under the command of Gen. [Thomas] Gage, on the 19th of April, 1775; . . . This concise and much admired narrative is said to be drawn up by the reverend and patriotic Mr. G——n, of the third parish in Roxbury.” (I believe that’s one of our earliest pieces of evidence that the Rev. William Gordon drafted that report for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.)

The calendar pages inside highlighted such anniversaries as:
  • “Feb. 21 [actually 22]. Christopher Snyder, aged 14 [actually about eleven], cruelly massacred in Boston, by Ebenezer Richardson, the noted informer. He was the first Martyr to American Liberty.”
  • “March 5. Boston massacre.”
  • “April 19. Concord Fight, 1775, when began the bloody civil war in America, by the British Troops.”
  • “June 17. Bloody battle of Charlestown, where were killed and wounded 324 provincials, 1,450 regulars; there were destroyed in Charlestown by the latter 1 meeting-house, 350 dwelling-houses, and 150 other buildings.”
  • “Dec. 16. E. I. Tea destroyed in Boston, 1773.”
And all for only “6 cop.”

George’s Almanac sold well enough that Russell issued a second edition with added content: a “Narrative of the Bunker-Hill Fight” and “A Poem On The Late Gen. [Joseph] Warren.” But wait—there was more! The extra page also included “An Acrostic On Gen. Warren” (the same one I quoted here) and a woodcut portrait of the late doctor (shown above).

The next year Daniel, still a teenager, prepared an almanac for 1777 for new printers in Boston and Newburyport. Having established his name, he continued to publish almanacs into adulthood. Sometime in the mid-1780s he moved to what is now Portland, Maine, and eventually became a newspaper publisher.

In The History of the Press of Maine (1872), H. W. Richardson wrote:
George was a remarkable character. He is described as a man of genius, but so exceedingly deformed that he had to be moved from place to place in a small carriage, drawn by a servant. He came here in 1784 or ’5 from Newburyport, where he had published almanacs, as he afterwards did here. He was a printer, but kept school in Portland, and had also a small bookstore in Fish, now Exchange, street. In 1800 he became the sole owner of the Herald.
George “died suddenly at Portland” on 4 Feb 1804, age forty-six, having seen and accomplished much more than anyone expected back in 1758, the year when the George family probably realized that their new baby had a physical disability.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Washington, Lee, and “tinsel dignity”

Yesterday I quoted Gen. Charles Lee’s letter to Gen. George Washington after the Battle of Monmouth, complaining that the commander-in-chief had spoken too harshly to him on the battlefield.

On 30 June 1778, Washington replied to that letter, rejecting the charge of using harsh language but leaving no doubt that he was sticking with the substance of his criticism:
I received your letter (dated thro’ mistake the 1st of July) expressed as I conceive, in terms highly improper. I am not conscious of having made use of any very singular expressions at the time of my meeting you, as you intimate. What I recollect to have said, was dictated by duty and warranted by the occasion. As soon as circumstances will permit, you shall have an opportunity, either of justifying yourself to the army, to Congress, to America, and to the world in General; or of convincing them that you were guilty of a breach of orders and of misbehaviour before the enemy on the 28th Inst. in not attacking them as you had been directed and in making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.
Aide-de-camp Lt. Col. John Fitzgerald delivered that letter to Lee.

As most historians read the correspondence, Lee replied to Washington twice that same day. Lee was still struggling with the dates of his letters, and he dated his first reply 28 June instead of 30 June even as he apologized for misdating the letter that started this all. He wrote:
I beg your Excellency’s pardon for the inaccuracy in misdating my letter—you cannot afford me greater pleasure than in giving me the opportunity of shewing to America the sufficiency of her respective servants—I trust that temporary power of office and the tinsel dignity attending it will not be able by all the mists they can raise to affuscate the bright rays of truth, in the mean time your Excellency can have no objection to my retiring from the army—
Finally, Lee sent a third letter after the second, this time dated 30 June:
Since I had the honor of addressing my letter by Col. Fitzgerald to your Excellency I have reflected on both your situation and mine, and beg leave to observe that it will be for our mutual convenience that a Court of inquiry should be immediately ordered—but I could wish it might be a court martial—for if the affair is drawn into length it may be difficult to collect the necessary evidences, and perhaps might bring on a paper war betwixt the adherents to both parties—which may occasion some disagreeable feuds on the Continent—for all are not my friends, nor all your admirers—I must intreat therefore from your love of justice that you will immediately exhibit your charge—and that on the first halt, I may be brought to a tryal—
A court-martial was a more serious forum than a court of inquiry; Lee was taking the risk that he might be punished, not just deemed at fault. A talented political writer, Lee was also warning Washington that he might prevail in the court of public opinion. Indeed, a couple of days later, Lee was unable to resist the temptation to make his case in the newspapers as soon as he saw an item critical of his movements at Monmouth.

A court-martial was convened on 4 July. The first two charges against Lee took language directly from Washington’s letter above, including the phrase “making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.” As for the third charge, that was for sending two disrespectful letters to Gen. Washington.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Charles Lee and “those dirty earwigs”

In the middle of the Battle of Monmouth, Gen. George Washington chided Gen. Charles Lee for his decision to withdraw from the Continental Army’s first encounter with the British forces (an incident recently dramatized in the season finale of Turn: Washington’s Spies). Indeed, one later author cited Lafayette as saying Washington called Lee “a damned poltroon.”

Whatever the commander-in-chief said, Lee was so upset that he couldn’t date his letters of protest correctly. He labeled the first “July 1st 1778,” but he must have written it on 29 or 30 June because Washington replied to it on the latter date.

Let’s say Lee wrote that letter on 29 June 1778 so the anniversary of that date offers an excuse to read its magnificent vituperation in full:

From the knowledge I have of your Excys character—I must conclude that nothing but the misinformation of some very stupid, or misrepresentation of some very wicked person coud have occasioned your making use of so very singular expressions as you did on my coming up to the ground where you had taken post—They implyed that I was guilty either of disobedience of orders, of want of conduct, or want of courage.

Your Excellency will therefore infinitely oblige me by letting me know on which of these three articles you ground your charge—that I may prepare for my justification which I have the happiness to be confident I can do to the army, to the Congress, to America, and to the world in general. Your excellency must give me leave to observe that neither yourself nor those about your person, could from your situation be in the least judges of the merits or demerits of our measures—And to speak with a becoming pride, I can assert that to these manouvers the success of the day was entirely owing—I can boldly say, that had we remained on the first ground, or had we advanced, or had the retreat been conducted in a manner different from what it was, this whole army and the interests of America would have risked being sacrificed.

I ever had (and hope ever shall have the greatest respect and veneration for General Washington) I think him endowed with many great and good qualities, but in this instance I must pronounce that he has been guilty of an act of cruel injustice towards a man who certainly has some pretensions to the regard of every servant of this country—And I think Sir, I have a right to demand some reparation for the injury committed—and unless I can obtain it, I must in justice to myself, when this campaign is closed, [(]which I believe will close the war) retire from a service at the head of which is placed a man capable of offering such injuries.

But at the same time in justice to you I must repeat that I from my soul believe, that it was not a motion of your own breast, but instigaged by some of those dirty earwigs who will for ever insinuate themselves near persons in high office—for I really am convinced that when General Washington acts from himself no man in his army will have reason to complain of injustice or indecorum.
TOMORROW: Washington’s reply.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Massachusetts Stamp Act of 1755

As I trace the developments of Parliament’s Stamp Act of 1765 in this year of its sestercentennial, I have to acknowledge that ten years before then, the Massachusetts General Court enacted its own stamp act, or tax on paper.

On 1 May 1755, during the second administration of Gov. William Shirley, the Massachusetts Stamp Act went into effect. It was based on a British act from 1698.

The Massachusetts law passed when it looked like war with the French was inevitable, with Gov. Shirley (highly respected after victories in the last war) recommending new forts in Maine.

The province issued four types of stamps, all circles a little more than an inch across:
  • the half-penny, printed in ink, as shown above; the words “Half Penny” were inscribed at top and bottom with a flying dove in between.
  • the two-penny, embossed; the text says “II Pence” and “Staple of the Massachusetts,” referring to the figure inside, a codfish.
  • The three-penny, embossed; “III,” “Pence,” and “Province of the Massachusetts,” around a pine tree.
  • The four-penny, embossed; “IV Pence” and “Steady” above and below around a schooner under sail.
Over the next two years Massachusetts’s stamp commissioner, James Russell, passed on about £897 in 1756 and £467 in 1757, keeping an additional £260 for his expenses and recompense.

The tax remained in effect for only two years. By then, the war had widened, and Massachusetts expected the Crown to pay more of the defense costs. Like other provincial stamp acts, it never produced big controversy because the colonists’ own representatives passed them and because the money stayed in the colonies. Ten years later, Parliament’s Stamp Act prompted a continent-wide campaign against what became known as “taxation without representation.”

Examples on this collectors’ auction page shows some examples of stamped paper from Massachusetts. Of course, the printed stamp shows up much better in a photograph than an embossed one.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Fate of the Rev. John Martin?

I promised more of the story of the Rev. John Martin, whom we left during the siege of Boston, preaching to the riflemen about how he’d taken command at Bunker Hill and perhaps marrying deserter George Marsden to young bride Wilmot Lee in Medford without recording their marriage.

Martin disappears from sight for many months, but in May 1777 he resurfaced in the diary of the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles (shown here):
12. I went to Providence, where this day where Rev. Mr. Martin of Ireld. was taken up by Gen. [Joseph] Spencer for a Spy & as havg a Commission from G. [William] Howe.

13. At Providence waited on Gen. Spencer who told me Mr. Martin had been over to the Enemy in the Jerseys & returned. One Dennison of Stonington informed the General that Mr. Martin had a Majors Commission & offered him a Captaincy. The General sent him off to Windham.
Joseph Denison (1707-1795) was head of the Stonington, Connecticut, committee of safety during the war, and the town had other men of that name.

Martin’s detention also appeared in newspapers of the time, such as the Pennsylvania Evening Post of 3 June 1777:
PROVIDENCE, May 17. Sunday last one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended here, and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for General Howe in Connecticut, to which state he has since been sent, under a proper guard.
The Freeman’s Journal of New Hampshire, 31 May 1777:
A few days since one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended at providence and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for Gen. Howe in this state: He has since been brought to Windham goal.
And the Independent Chronicle of Boston, 22 May 1777, was almost gleeful:
Last week a certain Rev. Mr. Martin, who is well known in this Town for boasting of his Exploits at Breed’s Hill, on the 17th of June, 1775, on the Part of the Americans, was taken up at Greenwich, State of Rhode-Island, recruiting for the Enemy.
I haven’t come across more about Martin’s case. I’m not convinced that the evidence against him was necessarily strong, given the atmosphere in New England after the Danbury raid. But he did get locked up.

In 1777, according to what he’d told Stiles, Martin was only twenty-seven years old. Therefore, if he survived the war in the U.S. of A., he might be the aged Rev. John Martin, a former itinerant preacher from Ireland, who lived in Otsego County, New York, in the 1810s. That Martin published an anonymous pamphlet titled Union the Bond of Peace in 1811.

The next year, that Rev. Martin got arrested for trying to bribe state legislators to approve the Bank of America. After a legislative hearing and a trial, he was sentenced to ten years. But the governor, who supported the bank, pardoned Martin after fourteen weeks. And then he slipped back out of the record.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hogeland on Hamilton on the Ten-Dollar Note

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew recently announced a plan to add a notable American woman to the next redesign of the ten-dollar bill. It’s been more than a century since Martha Washington appeared on a U.S. silver certificate.

The Los Angeles Times reported:
Alexander Hamilton will still appear on the note even after the yet-to-be-selected woman makes her debut. The Treasury either will design two bills or Hamilton and the woman will share the same bill.
Somehow I think Hamilton would like the space-sharing solution. (Ladies…) Nonetheless, Lew’s plan has been decried as “replacing” Hamilton.

This announcement followed a campaign to put an American woman on the twenty-dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson, a very important President with repressive policies and an antipathy to a national bank. But the ten-dollar bill happens to be the next up for redesign.

Fans of Hamilton (now appearing on Broadway) came to his defense, making the obvious argument that the Treasury Department owes loyalty to its founder. Some, such as Steven Rattner in the New York Times, added that Hamilton’s political views are better in tune with today’s values than Jackson (who hasn’t been the lead character in a Broadway musical in, what, two years).

William Hogeland, author of The Whiskey Rebellion, agrees on the irony of reducing Hamilton’s place on Treasury notes, but he thinks that Rattner’s comparisons are fallacious. The whole essay is a delight, but here are a couple of choice bits:
Jackson was a slaveowner, and he defended the institution. While there is ample evidence to suggest that Hamilton at times owned slaves, Hamilton opposed the institution, so Rattner repeats a familiar fallacy: “Hamilton was an abolitionist.” Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow says that about Hamilton too; most of the biographers do, and why not? it’s a lovely thought. But it’s not true.

Readers interested in that subject will want to start with this balanced, scrupulous paper by the historian Michelle DuRross. Hamilton the “staunch abolitionist” (Chernow) is such a longstanding biographical fantasy, with such a tangled history, that a certain kind of graduate student would have a ball unraveling it. Readers may be forgiven for believing that young Hamilton had the horrors of the slave markets of the Caribbean so painfully seared on his brain that in adulthood he was inspired to oppose slavery: most of the major and not-so-major Hamilton biographies — Lodge’s, Miller’s, Mitchell’s, Randall’s, McDonald’s, Brookhiser’s and Chernow’s — tell that story. Literally none can cite a primary source. Some cite one another: Randall cites Mitchell, Miller cites Lodge, e.g. The story is such common knowledge that I don’t think Chernow even gives it a citation. Its origin is unclear. But it’s made up.
DuRoss reminds us of the difference between promoting manumission (encouraging slave owners to free their human property) and campaigning for abolition (using the law to end slavery).

And as for Hamilton being more appropriate for a printed bill:
Hamilton’s entire career, before and after becoming Secretary, was based on demolishing paper finance, the depreciating populist currencies of his day that built debt relief into money. With the entire lending-and-investing class that he represented and promoted, Hamilton liked specie, metal. Big notes like those written on the Bank of the United States were not, to Hamilton, a “national currency,” as Rattner tortures history to assert. The federal government did not print paper currencies as long as (and well after) Hamilton had anything to say about it.