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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Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Upcoming History Workshops for Teachers

Here are a couple of teacher workshops coming up at historic sites.

The Massachusetts Historical Society is offering “Women in the Era of the American Revolution” on 22-23 February. It says:
Study the revolution through the words and artifacts of the women who lived it. Correspondence demonstrates that women like Abigail Adams, Hannah Winthrop, and Mercy Otis Warren were vital consumers (and boycotters) of imported goods, and functioned as heads of household while their male family members served in the military or traveled on political missions. They recorded important events of the day, and, in the case of Warren, interpreted those events for a public audience. Throughout the workshop we will explore the daily lives of revolutionary women, including those who served as soldiers and secret agents, or followed the army as cooks and laundresses.
The program includes a visit to the Museum of Fine Arts, presumably to view portraits of the women and artifacts from their lives. The registration fee is $40, and teachers can earn 45 P.D.P.’s and two graduate credits for an additional fee. For more information, contact education@masshist.org or call 617-646-0557.

Out in Deerfield this summer, the Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association is presenting two sessions of “African Americans in the Making of Early New England.”

The workshop’s introductory description says:
African Americans in the Making of Early New England” will take place in the Old Deerfield Village Historic Landmark District and will focus on the 23 African American Historic sites in the District and on Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford, MA, another National Historic Landmark. This workshop will bring together a wide range of primary resources—landscape, architecture, artifacts, documents, oral histories—along with secondary interpretations and lectures by specialists that will provide tools for K-12 educators to engage their students in learning about African Americans’ life experiences in early New England.
Here is a very detailed description of the planned program, which includes remarks by professors Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina (Mr. and Mrs. Prince: How an Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Family Moved Out of Slavery and into Legend), Jared Hardesty (Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston), and Joanne Pope Melish (Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860).

Teachers selected to participate are eligible for a stipend, thanks to support from our National Endowment for the Humanities. The two sessions are on 9-14 July and 23-28 July. The deadline for applications is 1 March, with applicants notified if whether they are accepted by the end of that month.

Monday, January 23, 2017

John Quincy Adams’s College Entrance Exam

On 15 Mar 1786, John Quincy Adams finally took his entrance test for Harvard College. As I’ve quoted in recent postings, he had come back from Europe the year before to finish his education at his father’s alma mater. At age eighteen, he hoped to enter as a junior and to study law.

Here’s John Quincy’s description of the test from his diary:
Between 9 and 10 in the morning, I went to the President’s [Rev. Joseph Willard], and was there examined, before, the President, the four Tutors three Professors, and Librarian.

The first book was Horace, where Mr. [Eleazer] James the Latin Tutor told me to turn to the Carmen saeculare where I construed 3 stanza’s, and parsed the word sylvarum, but called potens a substantive.
Okay, a little slip there, but he can recover.
Mr. [Timothy Lindall] Jennison, the greek Tutor then put me to the beginning of the fourth Book of Homer; I construed Lines, but parsed wrong αλληλομς. I had then παραβληδην given me.
Uh-oh, the pressure might be getting to him.
I was then asked a few questions in [Isaac] Watts’s Logic [Logic, or The Right Use of Reason, in the Inquiry after Truth], by Mr. [John] Hale, and a considerable number in [John] Locke, on the Understanding [An Essay Concerning Human Understanding], very few of which I was able to answer.
This isn‘t looking good, is it?
The next thing was Geography, where Mr. [Nathan] Read ask’d me what was the figure of the Earth, and several other questions, some of which I answered; and others not.
He’s really going to have to catch up now.
Mr. [Samuel] Williams asked me if I had studied Euclid, and Arithmetic, after which the President conducted me to another Room, and gave me the following piece of English to turn into Latin, from the World.
There cannot certainly be an higher ridicule, than to give an air of Importance, to Amusements, if they are in themselves contemptible and void of taste, but if they are the object and care of the judicious and polite and really deserve that distinction, the conduct of them is certainly of Consequence.
Here’s that sentence published in the British essay series titled The World in 1756. A 1787 reprint identified the authors of some of those essays, but not that one. Can John Quincy pull this off?
I made it thus.
Nihil profecto risu dignior, potest esse, quam magni aestimare delectamenta, si per se despicienda sunt, atque sine sapore. At si res oblatae atque cura sunt sagacibus et artibus excultis, et revera hanc distinctionem merent, administratio eorum haud dubie utilitatis est.
(I take it from memory only, as no scholar is suffered to take a Copy of the Latin he made at his examination.)

The President then took it, was gone about ¼ of an hour, return’d, and said “you are admitted, Adams,” and gave me a paper to carry to the Steward [Caleb Gannett].
Yes! He did it!

Actually, there should have been little doubt of that outcome. John Quincy noted every mistake in his performance, but he probably did better than most applicants. He was already a well-traveled, educated, serious young man, with a father at the Court of St. James and a younger brother in a lower class. Among the gentlemen vouching for him were a friend on the faculty, Prof. Benjamin Waterhouse; Dr. Cotton Tufts; his uncle, the Rev. John Shaw; and his host in town and old employer, lawyer Francis Dana. There was no way the college would have rejected him.

We can see how the college president viewed his new student by how he arranged for him to share a room with Henry Ware, who had already graduated and was “keeping the town-school” in Cambridge—i.e., another mature young man. John Quincy wrote, ”He is very much esteemed and respected in college, and has an excellent chamber.”

As for the rest of the undergraduates, John Quincy’s diary entry also recorded this:
Spent the afternoon, and evening in College. The Sophimore Class had what is called in College, an high-go. They assembled all together in the Chamber, of one of the Class; where some of them got drunk, then sallied out and broke a number of windows for three of the Tutors, and after this sublime manoeuvre stagger’d to their chambers. Such are the great achievements of many of the sons of Harvard, such the delights of many of the students here.
He chose to return to Mr. Dana’s house that night instead of making new friends among the sophomores.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

John Quincy Adams Prepped for College

When John Quincy Adams prepared to enter Harvard College, he was not a typical college student.

At eighteen, he was older than most undergraduates in that period. He had already studied some subjects at the University of Leiden in Holland.

More important, the young man had worked and traveled in far higher circles than other teenagers, and than most Harvard professors. He’d been a diplomatic assistant to his father and then Francis Dana, the Congress’s minister to Russia. He’d seen several European capitals.

And, let’s face it, he was John Quincy Adams. His parents worried about his progress, but he was one of the smartest and more diligent young men around. Of course, there was still the formality of passing the college entrance exam.

As recorded in his diary (the diary he kept regularly until 1848), John Quincy arrived home in Massachusetts in the summer of 1785. Over the next several months, he visited various relatives, including his younger brother Charles, already at Harvard on the normal schedule.

As I quoted yesterday, John Adams had sent Prof. Benjamin Waterhouse a letter asking him to put in a good word for his eldest son. John Quincy finally connected with the man in Boston on 28 September, writing in his diary: “Upon Change I met Dr. Waterhouse; and found him the same man, he was four years, ago, when I was acquainted with him in Holland.” But to his sister Nabby he added:
I met on the exchange, Dr. Waterhouse, who has been at Providence these 6 weeks, delivering lectures upon natural Philosophy. He did not know me at first, and I was obliged to introduce myself to him. As soon as he found me out, he was as sociable as ever.
Waterhouse had lived with the Adams family in 1781, so clearly John Quincy had grown a great deal since he was fourteen.

The young man decided to enter the college at the end of April 1786, in time to take a couple of science classes. He would be ranked as a junior. That fall, John Quincy went out to Haverhill live with his aunt Elizabeth and her husband, the Rev. John Shaw, and refresh his knowledge before the entrance test.

And then the college sped up the schedule. In March John Quincy told his sister why he’d become too busy to write:
At the beginning of the year I was informed…I must come by the middle of March, in order to attend two courses of experimental philosophy. I might have waited till next commencement [in July], and then entered as senior;…but I should have missed one course of lectures. Besides, I had undertaken last fall, to be ready to enter before the class began upon natural philosophy.

When I found my time shortened, I determined to lay aside every thing else, and attend only to my present business. . . . And to enter here, it is not necessary to know any thing but what is found in a certain set of books, and I have heard it asserted, that some of the best scholars, after having taken their degrees, would not be received if they offered as freshmen, because they commonly forget those parts of learning which are required in a freshman. Since the first of January, I have not, upon an average, been four hours in a week (Sundays excepted) out of Mr. Shaw’s house.
So John Quincy had spent nearly the whole winter cramming.

TOMORROW: Entrance exam time at last.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

From Slaves to Soldiers at Rhode Island State House, 24 Jan.

On Tuesday, 24 January, the Rhode Island State House Library will host a book signing to celebrate the publication of From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution, by Robert A. Geake with Lorén M. Spears.

Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:
In December 1777, the Continental army was encamped at Valley Forge and faced weeks of cold and hunger, as well as the prospect of many troops leaving as their terms expired in the coming months. If the winter were especially cruel, large numbers of soldiers would face death or contemplate desertion. Plans were made to enlist more men, but as the states struggled to fill quotas for enlistment, Rhode Island general James Mitchell Varnum proposed the historic plan that a regiment of slaves might be recruited from his own state, the smallest in the union, but holding the largest population of slaves in New England.

The commander-in-chief’s approval of the plan would set in motion the forming of the 1st Rhode Island Regiment. The “black regiment,” as it came to be known, was composed of indentured servants, Narragansett Indians, and former slaves. This was not without controversy. While some in the Rhode Island Assembly and in other states railed that enlisting slaves would give the enemy the impression that not enough white men could be raised to fight the British, owners of large estates gladly offered their slaves and servants, both black and white, in lieu of a son or family member enlisting.

The regiment fought with distinction at the battle of Rhode Island, and once joined with the 2nd Rhode Island before the siege of Yorktown in 1781, it became the first integrated battalion in the nation’s history.
Robert A. Geake is the author of several books about Rhode Island history and proprietor of the rifootprints webpage. Loren M. Spears, M.Ed., is executive director of the Tomaquag Indian Memorial Museum; a veteran educator; and two-term tribal councilwoman of the Narragansett Tribe.

The Rhode Island Department of State will display items from its archives related to the Rhode Island Regiment, including the “original Regimental Book from 1781-83.”

The event will take place from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bassett on “The American Sampler” in Medford, 22 Jan.

The Medford Historical Society and Museum is hosting an exhibit of needlework samplers from its collection with the title “Stitching and Learning.”

The society newsletter says:
Young women and children from the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries learned to sew and embroider a variety of stitches and become dexterous with the needle as they created a needlework or darning “sampler.” Good needlework was considered essential and an absolute necessity if you were wealthy or poor. Women made or supervised the making of all clothing and household goods and the decoration of these articles. It was a mark of honor to be admired for these skills.
On Sunday, 22 January, Lynne Bassett will speak at the museum on “The American Sampler: Needlework in New England, 1700-1850.” Bassett was curator of textiles and fine arts at Old Sturbridge Village for five years and is now a freelance museum curator.

Bassett is the editor of Massachusetts Quilts: Our Common Wealth and coauthor of Northern Comfort: New England’s Early Quilts, 1780-1850. She has spoken at Colonial Williamsburg, the Museum of Fine Arts, Winterthur, Historic Deerfield, and the Peabody Essex Museum, among other sites, and has been elected a fellow or member of the American Antiquarian Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, and International Quilt Study Center.

Lynne Bassett’s talk will take place at the society at 10 Governors Avenue in Medford starting at 2:00 P.M. The exhibit can be viewed on Sundays, 12 noon to 4:00 P.M., or by appointment, through 26 February.

(Shown above is a sampler made by Deborah Robins in 1750—not part of the exhibit, but an example of what young women in Boston were making in the mid-eighteenth century.)

Thursday, January 19, 2017

“I hope he will pass muster”

As John Quincy Adams planned his return to Massachusetts from Europe in 1785, with the hope of attending Harvard College, his father John wrote to one of the professors there, Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846).

Waterhouse had lived with the Adams family while studying medicine in Holland in the early 1780s. It was thus natural for John Adams to ask Waterhouse to look out his son, even though he was one of the college’s first professors of physic rather than of law.

As a father, Adams had some worries about John Quincy’s preparation for college. All in all, his letter reads like what a modern anxious “helicopter parent” might write to a college admissions officer, insisting that his son was a better student than he might seem and deserved some special understanding:
This Letter will be delivered you, by your old Acquaintance, John Quincy Adams, whom I beg Leave to recommend to your Attention and favour. He is anxious to Study Sometime, at your University before he begins the Study of the Law which appears at present to be the Profession of his Choice.

He must undergo an Examination, in which I Suspect he will not appear exactly what he is. in Truth there are few who take their Degrees at Colledge, who have so much Knowledge, but his Studies having been pursued by himself, on his travells without any Steady Tutor, he will be found aukward in Speaking Latin, in Prosody, in Parsing, and even perhaps in that accuracy of Pronunciation in reading orations or Poems in that Language, which is often chiefly attended to in Such Examinations.

It seems to be necessary therefore that I make this Apology for him to you, and request you to communicate it in confidence to the Gentlemen who are to examine him, and Such others as you think prudent. If you were to examine him in English and French Poetry, I know not where you would find any body his Superiour. in Roman and English History few Persons of his Age, it is rare to find a youth possessed of So much Knowledge. He has translated Virgils Æneid, Suetonious, the whole of Sallust, and Tacituss Agricola, his Germany and Several Books of his Annals, a great Part of Horace Some of Ovid and Some of Cæsars Commentaries in Writing, besides a number of Tullys orations. These he may Shew you; and altho you will find the Translations in many Places inaccurate in point of Style, as must be expected at his Age, you will See abundant Proof, that it is impossible to make those translations without Understanding his Authors and their Language very well.

In Greek his Progress has not been equal. Yet he has Studied Morcells in Aristotles Poeticks, in Plutarch’s Lives, and Lucians Dialogues, the Choice of Hercules in Xenophon, and lately he has gone through Several Books in Homers Iliad.

in Mathematicks I hope he will pass muster. in the Course of the last year, instead of playing Cards like the fashionable World I have Spent my Evenings with him. We went with some Accuracy through the Geometry in the Præceptor the Eight Books of Simpsons Euclid, in Latin and compared it Problem by Problem and Theorem by Theorem with Le Pere Dechalles in french, We went through plain Trigonometry and plain Sailing, Fennings Algebra, and the Decimal Fractions, arithmetical and Geometrical Proportions, and the Conic Sections in Wards Mathematicks.

I then attempted a Sublime Flight and endeavoured to give him some Idea of the Differential Method of Calculation of the Marquis de L’Hospital, and the Method of Fluxions and infinite Series of Sir Isaac Newton But alass it is thirty years Since I thought of Mathematicks, and I found I had lost the little I once knew, especially of these higher Branches of Geometry, So that he is as yet but a smatterer like his Father. however he has a foundation laid which will enable him with a years Attendance on the Mathematical Professor, to make the necessary Proficiency for a Degree.

He is Studious enough and emulous enough, and when he comes to mix with his new Friends and young Companions he will make his Way well enough. I hope he will be upon his Guard against those Airs of Superiority among the Schollars, which his larger Acquaintance with the World, and his manifest Superiority in the Knowledge of Some Things, may but too naturally inspire into a young Mind, and I beg of you Sir, to be his friendly Monitor, in this Respect and in all others.
It’s always remarkable to me how much John and Abigail Adams worried about John Quincy being a good scholar. With our hindsight, we know that he was one of the most studious, diligent, and at times humorless statesmen the U.S. of A. has ever produced.

COMING UP: John Quincy Adams reaches Cambridge.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

“The Child whom you used to lead out into the common”

In April 1785, seventeen-year-old John Quincy Adams had finished his first job, as secretary and translator for American minister Francis Dana in the court of Catherine the Great.

Young J. Q. Adams returned to France, where his family was living during another diplomatic mission. He prepared to sail home to Boston and enter Harvard College.

On 27 April, John Adams wrote a letter for his son to hand to their cousin Samuel:
The Child whom you used to lead out into the common to see with detestation the British Troops and with Pleasure the Boston Militia will have the Honour to deliver you this Letter. He has since seen the Troops of most Nations in Europe, without any Ambition I hope of becoming a military Man. He thinks of the Bar and Peace and civil Life, and I hope will follow and enjoy them with less Interruption than his Father could.

If you have in Boston a virtuous Clubb, such as We used to delight and improve ourselves in, they will inspire him with Such sentiments as a young American ought to entertain, and give him less occasion for lighter Company. I think it no small Proof of his Discretion, that he chooses to go to New England rather than old [i.e., to a British university]. You and I know that it will probably be more for his Honour and his Happiness in the result but young Gentlemen of Eighteen dont always See through the same Medium with old ones of fifty.

So I am going to London [as U.S. minister to the Court of St. James]. I suppose you will threaten me with being envyed again. I have more cause to be pitied, and al[though I will] not say with Dr Cutler that “I hate [to be] pitied” I dont know why I should dread Envy.—I shall be sufficiently vexed I expect. But as Congress are about to act with Dignity I dont much fear that I shall be able to do something worth going for. If I dont I shall come home, and envy nobody, nor be envied. if they send as good a Man to Spain as they have in [John] Jay for their foreign department and will have in [Thomas] Jefferson at Versailles I shall be able to correspond in perfect Confidence with all those public Characters that I shall have most need of Assistance from and shall fear nothing.
The editors of the Adams Papers report that in his letters John Adams twice quoted “old Dr. Cutler” saying that he hated to be pitied. They posit that was an allusion to the Rev. Dr. Timothy Cutler (1684-1765), longtime minister at Christ Church (Old North) in Boston. I haven’t found any other source for the remark, nor confirmation, but Cutler was a well-known figure in New England, recognized for being haughty, so it seems like a good guess.

TOMORROW: Helicopter parenting from the land of the balloon.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Picking Up Pottery Pieces in Peabody

At the Early American Ceramics site, Justin W. Thomas just wrote about what he found at a site in Peabody, which in the eighteenth century was part of Danvers.

That site, Thomas knew, was once owned by a family of potters called Osborn. The business was established by a Quaker named Joseph Osborn in the late 1730s and grew over time; “there used to be multiple kilns located in this neighborhood, which were operated by multiple generations of Osborn family potters.”

In the early 1800s the family opened similar workshops in several other New England towns, expanding from Rhode Island to Maine and westward to New York. The Osborns sold the Peabody site to another pottery firm which stayed in business into the early 1900s.

That property is now mostly taken up by a senior citizen community center. Driving by, Thomas saw that a portion of it, never built on in recent decades, had been excavated to expand a parking lot. He got permission from the authorities to walk over the ground and pick up any artifacts on the surface that might be remnants of the early pottery works.

Thomas reported:
We discovered hundreds of artifacts. We found found kiln furniture, kiln bricks, wasters and sherds. I believe all of these objects are related to the Osborn Pottery instead of the businesses that operated afterwards. Collectively, I would say that these artifacts date from the circa 1740-1860 period.

I was amazed at some of the evidence that we were able to gather, which has never been tied to the Osborns before:

1) The abundance of thickly potted black-glazed wares: There were a number of thickly potted black-glazed utilitarian sherds with walls that were over one-inch thick, which appeared very-similar to black-glazed pottery that was produced in Buckley, England in the eighteenth-century. Were the Osborns trying to imitate the Buckley wares that were imported into places like Boston and Salem, Massachusetts in the 1700s? Are products in New England made by the Osborns mistaken for wares made in Buckley today?

2) Slip Decoration: It has been published in the past that the potters in Essex County, Massachusetts did not utilize a lot of slip-decoration in the eighteenth-century. However, I have found evidence that suggests otherwise. I think it is more a matter of tying slip-techniques to Essex County today that have been left unattributed or even attributed elsewhere in the past. I do not believe the Osborns have ever previously been linked to slip-decoration; although, we found accurate evidence of it yesterday.

3) Glazed Base: It has been published in the past that utilitarian red earthenware potters did not glaze bases in New England; however, I have recently proven that they did occasionally glaze bases in North Yarmouth, Maine. North Yarmouth was also a potter’s industry that was directly tied to Essex County. Yesterday, we found evidence of a black-glazed jug that was intentionally entirely glazed on the base by the Osborns. I have seen similar black-glazed bases in North Yarmouth.

4) A Fluid Glaze: We found evidence yesterday of a fluid glaze that was applied at the Osborn Pottery in Peabody. I have not seen this type of glaze previously associated with utilitarian potters in Essex County.

5) Glazes: We found an abundance of glazes yesterday that would not traditionally be tied to Essex County, Massachusetts today; although, Lura Woodside Watkins also confirms these type of Peabody (or South Danvers) glazes in Early England Potters and Their Wares. We found glazes that would normally be tied to Pennsylvania or elsewhere in New England (i.e., New Hampshire, Maine, etc.).
Thomas’s posting includes many photographs. The one above shows what he suspects might be the Osborns’ attempt to replicate thick black-glazed pottery from Britain.

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sylvanus Johnson in the Woods

As described yesterday, in 1754, at the age of six or seven Sylvanus Johnson was taken prisoner by Native Americans, probably Wabanaki, from Fort No. 4 in New Hampshire. (The image here, a detail from the photograph by Ann M. Little here, shows a young reenactor at that recreated fort.)

Sylvanus was adopted into a Native American family and remained with them for four years. The British authorities then “redeemed” him for cash, and Israel Putnam conducted him back to his family.

Johnson lived along the Connecticut River in New Hampshire for the rest of his life. He married and had children starting in the early 1770s. But Johnson always said the Native culture he experienced as a child was superior.

In his History of the Town of Rockingham, Vermont (1907), Lyman Simpson Hayes recorded traditions about “Uncle Vene” Johnson. The first is incredibly sad:
After paying the ransom, his white friends traveled a day’s journey and encamped for the night. So homesick was little Sylvanus for his forest home that he stole away in the darkness and followed the trail back to the wigwams of his masters. In doing so he had to cross a river, swimming over with his clothes tied on his head. His Indian friends would not speak to him or recognize him in any way. They had received the money demanded for his ransom and he was theirs no longer. During his whole life he so much preferred the modes of Indian life to the prevalent customs of civilization that he often expressed regret that he was ever ransomed.
Johnson lived into his eighties and was remembered in the region as quite a character.
The young men of North Walpole and Bellows Falls counted it a treat to be taken by Uncle Vene on a hunt. Often the old man would pretend to get lost almost in sight of home and keep the frightened and bewildered boys out all night in a shelter made in true Indian style. . . .

At one time he was crossing the river in his canoe, having indulged his appetite in the taverns at Bellows Falls. He was caught by the strong current and would have gone over the dam had not one of his neighbors put out in a boat and towed him to shore. The old gentleman was very indignant at being treated thus. When he was told that he would surely have gone over the dam he exclaimed, “Couldn’t I have put out a foot and braced?”
Adding more poignancy to that last story, two of Johnson’s sons drowned in the Connecticut River.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sylvanus Johnson “returned from captivity”

A few years ago, Ann M. Little shared this analysis of a passage, and an event, from A Narrative of the Captivity of Mrs. [Susanna] Johnson, Containing an Account of her Four Years of Suffering with the Indians and French:
First published in 1796, it told of her family’s experiences from 1754-58 as prisoners during the Seven Years War after they were captured in a raid on Fort Number Four in what’s now Charlestown, New Hampshire. Johnson relates this about the return of her son Sylvanus, whom she last saw at age six or seven. He was eleven before she saw him again:
In the October following [1758], I had the happiness to embrace my son Sylvanus; he had been above three years with the Indians, followed them in all their hunting excursions and learnt too many of their habits; to civilize him, and learn him his native language was a severe task, (136).
…In successive editions of her narrative, Susanna Johnson either gives us more details about Sylvanus’s condition, or she embroiders the story. From the 1814 third edition published after her death in 1810:
In October, 1758, I was informed that my son Sylvanus was at Northampton [Massachusetts], sick of a scald [a skin disease]. I hastened to the place, and found him in a deplorable situation; he was brought there by Major [Israel] Putnam, afterwards Gen. Putnam, with Mrs. [Jemima] How and her family, who had returned from captivity. The town of Northampton had taken the charge of him; his situation was miserable; when I found him, he had no recollection of me, but, after some conversation, he had some confused ideas of me, but no remembrance of his father. It was four years since I had seen him; he was then eleven years old. During his absence, he had entirely forgotten the English language, spoke a little broken French, but was perfect in Indian. He had been with the savages three years, and one year with the French. But his habits were somewhat Indian; he had been with them in their hunting excursions, and suffered numerous hardships; he could brandish a tomahawk or bend the bow; but these habits wore off by degrees, (130).
…The additions and changes in Susanna Johnson’s account also demonstrate the ways in which historical memory changes according to the times. Her account of her experiences in 1754-58 wasn’t published until nearly fifty years after the fact, but even then we see evidence of how the times continue to shape the story in the successive editions. By 1814, the “Indians” in the 1796 account became “the savages,” and she was much more fulsome about the injuries and changes that captivity had wrought on her young son in 1814, 1834, and perhaps successive editions too. In the later editions, what had been her “happiness to embrace [her] son Sylvanus” became a much more ambiguous account of their reunion, one that emphasized the child’s “deplorable” and “miserable” condition, as well as his trouble remembering his parents.

Henry Saunderson (among other nineteenth-century local historians) claims in his History of Charlestown, New Hampshire, that Sylvanus Johnson “so much preferred the modes of Indian life to the prevalent customs of civilization, that he often expressed regret at having been ransomed. He always maintained, and no arguments could convince him to the contrary, that the Indians were a far more moral race than the whites.” His boyhood captivity apparently had no long-term effects on his life and health, as he died at 84 in 1832, “leaving the reputation of an honest and upright man,” (458.)
Little was exploring the lives of captured children in connection with a biography she published last year, The Many Captivities of Esther Wheelwright. Like Sylvanus Johnson, Esther Wheelwright was seized at age seven and adopted into a Wabanaki family. Unlike him, Esther never returned to her family.

Instead, Esther Wheelwright became an Ursuline nun in French Canada and eventually a superior of her order. Her family in Boston tried to lure her back with bequests if she returned, and she never did. Her British heritage, while mostly forgotten, proved useful when Gen. James Wolfe captured Québec the year after Sylvanus Johnson returned to his mother.

TOMORROW: Sylvanus Johnson in the woods.