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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Friday, December 06, 2019

James Otis’s Medical Recovery

According to James Otis’s first biographer, William Tudor, Jr., after his brawl in the British Coffee-House in September 1769 he received care from “Doctors Perkins and Lloyd.”

Dr. James Lloyd (1728-1810, shown here) was one of Boston’s leading medical practitioners. Although he was a Loyalist in his politics, he remained in town after the siege and reestablished his popularity and practice.

There were three prominent doctors named Perkins in Boston at this time: John Perkins (1698-1781), his son William Lee Perkins (1737-1797), and Nathaniel Perkins (1715-1799). Nathaniel seems to have had the most active practice, so he’s most likely to have examined Otis. The court records (more about that tomorrow) could say for certain.

Back in 1764 Dr. Nathaniel Perkins inoculated John Adams against smallpox, and Adams described him this way:
Dr. Perkins is a short, thick sett, dark Complexioned, Yet pale Faced, Man, (Pale faced I say, which I was glad to see, because I have a great Regard for a Pale Face, in any Gentleman of Physick, Divinity or Law. It indicates search and study). Gives himself the alert, chearful Air and Behaviour of a Physician, not forgeting the solemn, important and wise.
Lloyd and Perkins found James Otis had suffered a deep head wound. They reportedly testified that it must have come from “a sharp instrument,” which Whigs insisted meant a sword. Nonetheless, all the eyewitness evidence says Customs Commissioner John Robinson walloped Otis with a walking stick.

Years later Adams wrote that Otis bore “a scar, in which a man might bury his finger,” and joked, “what is worse, my friends think I have a monstrous crack in my skull.”

At first, people thought Otis would recover. Within a few weeks he was behaving more rationally than before the fight. Toward the start of this series of postings I quoted a couple of entries from John Adams’s diary just before the brawl. In early September Adams had been struck, then annoyed, by how much Otis was talking at social events.

The next time Adams mentioned Otis in his diary (which he kept sporadically enough that year that this might not have been the next time they met) was on 19 October. Adams wrote:
Last night I spent the Evening, at the House of John Williams Esqr. the Revenue officer, in Company with Mr. Otis, Jona. Williams Esqr. and Mr. McDaniel a Scotch Gentleman, who has some Connection with the Commissioners, as Clerk, or something.

Williams is as sly, secret and cunning a fellow, as need be. The Turn of his Eye, and Cast of his Countenance, is like [Ebenezer] Thayer of Braintree. In the Course of the Evening He said, that He knew that Lord Townsend borrowed Money of [Charles] Paxton, when in America, to the amount of £500 st. at least that is not paid yet. He also said, in the Course of the Evening, that if he had drank a Glass of Wine, that came out of a seizure, he would take a Puke to throw it up. He had such a Contempt for the 3ds. of Seisures. He affects to speak slightly of the Commissioners and of their Conduct, tho guardedly, and to insinuate that his Connections, and Interest and Influence at Home with the Boards &c. are greater than theirs.

McDaniel is a composed, grave, steady Man to appearance, but his Eye has it’s fire, still, if you view it attentively.—

Otis bore his Part very well, conversible eno, but not extravagant, not rough, nor soure.
Adams was acerbic about Inspector Williams’s boasting but thought Otis very well behaved. He no longer monopolized conversation or indulged in “bullying, bantering, reproaching and ridiculing” as he had weeks before. If Otis had indeed been suffering a manic mood back in early September, it had passed.

Unfortunately, in the following spring it became clear that James Otis had become prone to serious mental instability. The injury to his head might not have brought on such problems, but it certainly didn’t help.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

The Career of Captain Dundas

Once I saw that “Captain Dundas” had come up in the dispute between James Otis, Jr., and John Robinson, I had to figure out who that was and what role he played in the coming of the Revolution.

In September 1769, Otis called Dundas “a well known petty commander of an armed schooner,” meaning he was in the Royal Navy. (The Customs service had just lost its one and only armed schooner, the Liberty.)

Fortunately, the Royal Navy keeps good records, and websites like Three Decks make that information available as long as one keeps running searches. So here’s what I’ve put together.

Ralph Dundas was born on 12 Oct 1732, the eldest son of Ralph and Mary Dundas of Manour, Scotland. He was serving in the Royal Navy by 1748, when he was in his mid-teens, and passed the exam to be a lieutenant in October 1757.

Lt. Dundas received his first command in 1764: H.M.S. St. Lawrence (also spelled St. Laurence). In British Warships in the Age of Sail 1714-1792 Rif Winfield writes that this schooner was “purchased on stocks at Boston [or Marblehead?],” though J. J. Colledge and Ben Warlow’s Ships of the Royal Navy says the Royal Navy bought it in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

It carried thirty men, six three-pounder cannon, and twelve swivel guns—by no means a fearsome warship but powerful enough for peacetime patrols, carrying messages, and supporting larger vessels as a “tender.” Among the crew was master’s mate John Whitehouse, who later sailed under Capt. James Cook.

On 28 July 1766, the Boston Evening-Post reported:
Friday last arrived a Schooner from Louisbourg, by whom we learn, that some time before he sail’d fro thence, his Majesty’s armed Schooner the St. Laurence, commanded by Lieut. Dundas, was struck by Lightning as she lay at Anchor there, which set Fire to the Powder Magazine in the Fore Part of the Vessel and blew her up, by which Accident three Men were instantly killed, and several others terribly wounded, two of whom died the next Day:

We hear that the Officers on board, being in the Cabin, escaped unhurt; and that the Bows of the Vessel being carried away by the Explosion, she sunk in a few Minutes after.
The Boston Post-Boy of the same date said the explosion happened “between two and three Weeks ago.” The Narrative of American Voyages and Travels of Captain William Owen, R.N. names the site of the wreck as Neganishe, now probably called Ingonish.

Commodore Samuel Hood then bought a merchant’s sloop called the Sally, renamed it St. Lawrence, and assigned it to Lt. Dundas.

In the spring of 1768, the St. Lawrence accompanied H.M.S. Romney from Halifax to Boston. On 23 May, the Boston Chronicle carried Lt. Dundas’s advertisement for four deserters. Keeping the sloop fully manned was a challenge. Within a month the town was upset about a “man pressed by Capt. Dundas, and carried down to Halifax.” Capt. John Corner of the Romney and Councilor Royall Tyler sat down to discuss that issue and others, according to the 27 June Boston Chronicle.

The Boston News-Letter and Post-Boy show that over the next several months the St. Lawrence sailed back and forth along the northeast coast: off to Halifax in August, back to Boston in November and then heading off to Halifax again, collecting military stores at Canso and Louisburg over the winter, then back to Halifax. The St. Lawrence returned to Boston again in August 1769.

That put Lt. Dundas in town for the busy fall of 1769. He probably wasn’t in the British Coffee-House when Robinson and Otis started hitting each other with their canes on 5 September. Otis hinted that he participated in the fight, but Robinson denied that. Otis also said rumor had it Dundas “swore last year that the whole Continent was in open Rebellion.” However, the lieutenant’s name doesn’t appear to have come up again in this or other political disputes, which suggests that Otis’s Whig allies didn’t think they could make a case against him, even to their own followers.

The next month brought the Neck Riot on 24 October, followed four days later by the attacks on printer John Mein and sailor George Gailer. In the next couple of weeks, Royal Navy captains helped to hide Mein from the crowd. On 11 November, provincial secretary Andrew Oliver reported to Gov. Francis Bernard that Mein “thinking it unsafe for him to continue in Tow has taken his passage for England with Capn. Dundass.” In fact, it looks like Mein sailed away on another ship, but Oliver’s letter indicates that Dundas left Boston early in the month.

In April 1770, the sailmaker Ashley Bowen wrote in his diary that Dundas’s schooner had come into Marblehead harbor. However, the diary’s annotations suggest he mistook that ship for the Magdalen under Lt. Henry Colins. That suggests how common it was for New Englanders to see Dundas’s schooner. The 16 July 1772 Massachusetts Spy stated that Dundas had sailed the St. Lawrence to the Bahamas, and the 17 June 1773 Boston News-Letter reported that it had come back from the Bahamas to Boston.

As of June 1774, the Royal Navy listed the St. Lawrence, with six guns and thirty men, at Boston. It was small part of the big fleet under Vice-Admiral Samuel Graves sent to enforce the Boston Port Bill. In November Lt. Dundas sailed for London; part of a letter he carried was forwarded to Lord North as useful intelligence in January 1775.

That was the last voyage of that St. Lawrence, at least as a naval schooner. In May 1775, immediately after the war began, Graves reported that he had bought and armed two schooners at Halifax and planned to call one the St. Lawrence. He assigned it to a new commander. Lt. Dundas’s ship was sold off in London the next year.

Ralph Dundas became commander of the new fourteen-gun sloop Bonetta in April 1779, then the new sixteen-gun sloop Calypso (shown above) in December 1782. He served in that post until 1787. Dundas died that year at age fifty-four, having spent about four decades in the Royal Navy. He was buried at St. Clement Danes in Middlesex County. He left no known wife or children.

Commander Dundas served during two wars, but his naval career was overshadowed by his little brother George (1756-1814), who rose to be a rear admiral—having presumably joined the navy with Ralph as inspiration. An intervening brother, David (1749-1826), became a doctor to George III and a baronet.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Otis and Robinson Continue Their Fight in the Newspapers

The earliest public comment I’ve seen from James Otis, Jr., about his altercation with John Robinson on 5 Sept 1769 was an “Advertisement” that appeared in the 11 September Boston Gazette.

It’s remarkable for the amount of emphasis Otis asked of the printers:
From a regard to truth, and to the character of a true soldier, whose honor, is ever, justly dearer to him than life: It is with pleasure I take this first opportunity voluntarily and freely to DECLARE, in the most open and unreserved as well as public manner, that in the premeditated, cowardly and villainous attempt of John Robinson, Commissioner, and his confederates, last week, to assassinate me, I have not the least reason to think, or even suspect, that any officer or officers, either of the army or navy, were directly or indirectly concerned in so foul a deed, except a well known petty commander of an armed schooner, of about 4 swivels, who if fame for once tells truth, swore last year that the whole Continent was in open Rebellion.
Because of the styling of this blog template, in long quotations I boldface words originally set in italics. That makes Otis’s writing style even more blatant. I imagine him furiously scratching lines under one word after another. To me this paragraph seems like more evidence that Otis might have been in the middle of a manic episode that month.

Customs Commissioner Robinson responded to that and other newspaper items in a long letter to the Boston Chronicle dated 18 September. The second half of that letter addressed Otis directly, saying among other things:
On Tuesday [the 5th] you went to a shop, and asked, if I did not buy a stick there, and being told I had, you desired to have the fellow of it which you bought accordingly.—

In the evening we met at the Coffee-house, when I immediately laid aside my sword.—Did that look like assassination?—

Your insult was public, and I determined to give you a public chastisement; but I did not attack you abruptly:—We had a parley together, and I attempted to take you by the nose, which, one would think, was a sufficient warning of what was to follow. What ensued served to balance our accompts.
I do enjoy that “one would think.”

Robinson then addressed Otis’s insinuation in his “Advertisement”:
You have thought proper to acquit the officers of the navy and army, (one excepted,) for which I give you due credit.—You charge the officer so excepted, whom you are pleased to call a petty Commander, &c. with being my Confederate.––To set your right in this particular, I must inform you, that that Gentleman, if you mean Captain Dundas was not in the Coffee-house during the engagement between us, and you may have proof of it, if you desire it.—

Before I conclude, I would remind you, that the man who appeals to the public, should confine himself within the verge of truth, and for his own sake within the bounds of credibility.
In his reply Robinson demonstrated the more restrained, rational deportment of an Enlightenment gentleman—albeit one who had tried to grab his nemesis’s nose.

TOMORROW: Who was “Captain Dundas”?

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

“Treading the reforming justice out of me”

Yesterday we bravely accompanied James Murray, a justice of the peace known to be friendly to the royal government, into Faneuil Hall as two Whig magistrates heard a charge against William Burnet Brown for helping to assault James Otis, Jr., in September 1769.

According to a letter Murray wrote at the end of the month, selectman Jonathan Mason chided the crowd for jostling him, even if everyone knew he was no fan of Otis.

Then, lending me his hand, [Mason] helped me over the door into the selectmen’s seat. Before I got down from the seat I was hiss’d. I bowed. I was hiss’d again, and bowed around a second time. Then a small clap ensued. Compliments over, I sat down.

The justices asked me up to the bench. I declined.
The justices of the peace presiding at this session were Richard Dana and Samuel Pemberton. Murray had the status to sit beside them and render judgment—but of course he knew he would be outvoted.
The examination of some evidence [i.e., witness] was continued, and, being finished, the justices thought fit to bind over Mr. Brown. He lookt about for bail. No one offered but I.
According to Dr. Thomas Young, the printer John Mein also offered to be one of Brown’s “sureties.” That of course didn’t make Mein any more popular with the crowd. (This was several weeks before he was driven into hiding, as discussed here.)

Murray insisted that his offer to put up bail for Brown didn’t mean he supported one side of the the British Coffee-House brawl:
Here I desired the justices to take notice that I did not mean by this offer to vindicate what Mr. Brown had done, but only to stand by him now the torrent was against him. The recognizance taken, the justices desired the people to disperse, for that Mr. Brown had complied with the law; but the crowd, intending more sport, still remained.

As I was pressing out next to Mr. Dana, my wig was pulled off, and a pate, clean shaved by time and the barber, was left exposed. This was thought a signal and prelude to further insult, which would probably have taken place but for hurting the cause.

Going along in this plight, surrounded by the crowd, in the dark, Lewis Gray took hold of my right arm and Mr. William Taylor of my left, and supported me, while somebody behind kept nibbling at my sides and endeavoring to trip me; for the pleasure, as may be supposed, of treading the reforming justice out of me by the multitude.

Mr. [Gilbert or Louis] Deblois threw himself in my rear, and suffered not a little in my defence. Mr. G. Hooper went before, and my wig, disheveled, as I was told, was borne on a staff behind.

The gentlemen, my friends and supporters, offer’d to house me near the Hall, but I insisted on going home in the present trim, and was by them landed in safety, Mr. Gray and others having continually thus admonished my retinue in the way, “No violence, or you’ll hurt the cause.”
Gray, Taylor, and the Debois brothers were all Boston merchants who became Loyalists during the war. Taylor eventually moved back to Massachusetts.

I’m guessing that “Mr. G. Hooper” was George Hooper (1747-1821), a son of the late Rev. William Hooper of Trinity Church. Murray promised to look after that family when the minister died in 1767.

Murray had lived for decades in North Carolina, and he probably helped the Hooper brothers set themselves up in that colony. Oldest surviving brother William, having studied law under Otis, started a practice in Wilmington. He became politically active and eventually signed the Declaration of Independence.

George Hooper followed William to the Wilmington area by the 1770s, worked as a merchant, and held some local offices. In 1780 he was suspected of having Loyalist sympathies and left for Charleston, South Carolina. Since that city had fallen into British hands, that looks like the sort of thing a Loyalist would do. But Hooper’s brother and father-in-law, both active Patriots, advocated for him and he managed to come back to Wilmington after the war. Eventually he was the first president of the Bank of Cape Fear.

Murray’s experience on 6 Sept 1769 might have been the inspiration for this engraving, which appeared in James S. Loring’s Loyalists of Massachusetts. Having tried to describe the situation with detached wit, the justice wouldn’t have appreciated this depiction.

Monday, December 02, 2019

“For being accessory in beating Mr. Otis”

Back in September, before other Sestercentennial anniversaries came along, I started to explore the 5 Sept 1769 brawl in the British Coffee-House between James Otis, Jr., leader of the Boston Whigs, and John Robinson, one of His Majesty’s Commissioners of Customs.

As those two gentlemen were going at each other with canes and fists, other men intervened. The most energetic on Otis’s side was young John Gridley, identified here. On 6 September, Dr. Thomas Young wrote to John Wilkes that Gridley “had the ulna of his right arm fractured in the fray.”

The Whigs complained that several officers of the British army, navy, or Customs took Robinson’s side, but the one they named was William Burnet Brown, a native of Salem who had married and moved to Virginia. As I discussed here, he was probably visiting Boston to finish selling his New England property.

Interestingly, several recent authors credit Benjamin Hallowell, Jr., comptroller of the Boston Customs office, for breaking up the fight. I’ve read more anecdotes about Hallowell getting into disputes than stopping them, so this offers a novel perspective on him. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the contemporaneous source for that detail.

Robinson went into hiding after the brawl, probably moving out to Castle William, the Customs officers’ usual refuge, which was now in army hands. That kept him beyond the reach of Whig magistrates or writs. Otis’s supporters therefore focused their legal efforts on William Burnet Brown. In fact, some people accused Brown of having attacked Otis himself.

On 6 September the merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary: “this afternoon the sheriff took Mr. Brown, Esq., formerly of Salem, for being accessory in beating Mr. Otis; he was carried to Faneuil Hall.” Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf was acting on a legal complaint sworn out by John Gridley, not making an arrest on his own authority the way police do now.

The magistrates overseeing the hearing at Faneuil Hall that evening were justices of the peace Richard Dana and Samuel Pemberton. Dana was a highly respected member of the Boston judiciary. Pemberton was a magistrate of long standing and a selectman. However, they were also both known for challenging Crown decrees and ignoring complaints from British officers. They were the Whig activists’ go-to magistrates, as the cases of Capt. John Willson, Ens. John Ness, and John Mein show.

In an attempt to counterbalance such magistrates, Gov. Francis Bernard had appointed James Murray (1713-1781) as a justice of the peace in the previous year. Murray was a Scottish gentleman who had settled in North Carolina in 1735, becoming a member of the governor’s council there. However, he didn’t do nearly so well financially as his little sister Elizabeth did in Boston, so in 1765 Murray moved north to join her.

In 1769 Elizabeth (Murray Campbell) Smith was widowed for a second time and decided to visit family in Britain, leaving her brother to manage her extensive property. They had already rented one large building to the British army; locals called that “Smith’s barracks” or “Murray’s barracks.” The public knew Justice James Murray supported the Crown in other ways.

On the evening of the 6th, Murray was taking a walk around the Town House when a gentleman named Perkins told him that Brown had been taken to Faneuil Hall. At the end of the month Murray wrote:
consulting my feelings for another's distress more than my own safety, [I] went directly to the Hall to attend the proceedings. Soon as the multitude perceived me among them, they attempted repeatedly to thrust me out, but were prevented by Mr. [Jonathan] Mason, one of the selectmen, calling out, “For shame, gentlemen, do not behave so rudely.”
What had started as a personal fight between two gentlemen had grown into a legal case. And now it was threatening to become a public fight that would make Boston look like a lawless place.

TOMORROW: Inside and outside Faneuil Hall.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Of Course They Had to Try Bleeding

I’ve been looking at how young Gershom Spear drowned in 1762 but got better. Finding some way to resuscitate drowning victims was a consuming topic in the Age of Sail. Not just because of the loss of life, but also the fear that someone presumed dead might accidentally be buried alive.

Two days ago I quoted a letter from Capt. John Bell about how British diplomat Gabriel Hervey had revived an apparently dead sailor in Portugal by rubbing him with salt. That 1761 letter was not only published all over the British Empire but also translated into French and published in Paris.

In reprinting the letter, the London Magazine and the Annual Report referred readers to other methods of reviving drowned people discussed in their pages. In a 1745 article the magazine had recommended these treatments for a man feared dead by drowning:
  • rolling him around in a bottomless cask
  • making him vomit by “thrusting several Times a Quill with its feathers down his throat”
  • keeping the body warm
  • shaking the body, or picking it up and dropping it
  • pouring spirits or pepper into his mouth
  • blowing tobacco smoke into his nose, mouth, or anus
  • bleeding from the jugular vein or “Trachian Artery”
The Annual Register for 1759 had reported on how a French doctor resuscitating a drowned “servant maid” by covering her in ashes. That doctor noted that “dry salt” would work just as well, and that might have been the inspiration for Hervey’s 1761 attempts.

In 1774 two London doctors, William Hawes and Thomas Cogan, set up a “Society for the Recovery of Persons Apparently Drowned,” showing the ongoing interest in the challenge. Eventually that organization was renamed the Royal Humane Society. Its mandate expanded to include rescues and swimming lessons.

In 1776, the Gentlemen’s Magazine published an article by royal physician William Cullen (shown above) on a “Method of Recovering Persons Apparently Dead by Drowning.” Cullen said the top priority was to heat the body. Among other methods, he recommended keeping “bags of warm and dry salt” around to heat over a fire in an emergency. That advice was reprinted for decades.

However, in 1792 Dr. James Curry wrote in Observations on Apparent Death from Drowning, Suffocation, &c. that “The practice of rubbing the body with salt or spirits, is now justly condemned,” despite its apparent efficacy in those two cases from the early 1760s. He still recommended warmth, though.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

“In about two Hours the Boy recovered”

Yesterday I reported how on 21 Nov 1762 seven-year-old Gershom Spear had been found drowned off a wharf near Boston’s South Battery.

But also how earlier that month the Boston Evening-Post had reported that a British diplomat in Portugal saved the life of a drowned Dutch sailor by rubbing him with salt.

Gershom’s father, Joseph Spear, tried the same desperate measure, as reported in detail in the 25 November Boston News-Letter:
The following Account of aRecovery after Drown-
ing may be depended on, viz.

Boston, November 25. 1762.

On the 21st of this Instant [i.e., of this month], Gershom Spear, a Boy of about 8 Years of Age, Son of Joseph Spear, fell from a Wharf in this Town, near the South-Battery.—

His Father having occasion to remove a Lighter or Boat at High-Water, discovered the Boy under Water, he immediately got up the Body, and carried it into the House a lifeless Corpse; but having heard the Method of recovering drowned Persons with Salt, he directly strip’d the Cloaths off the Boy, and applied a Quantity of fine Salt, which he kept constantly rubbing the Body with, and applying warm Blankets, Help also being obtained, a Glister [clyster] was infused into the Body, when in about 15 Minutes there were feint Signs of Life discovered by a Moving of the Belly and a small Noise in the Bowels, which soon after was following by a Froth issuing from his Mouth:

The Method was continued till the Water discharged itself freely, and in about two Hours the Boy recovered his Senses so as to speak; and in an Hour or two after was able to give an Account of the Manner of his falling in, which, to the Time of his Father’s taking him up, according to the best Computation, was above a Quarter of an Hour:

However that be, the Boy when carried into the House had no Puls, his Neck stiff, and to all Appearance was dead:—

He is now recovered excepting his Feet, which by the Blood settling there has caused a Soreness that prevents his walking.
Now the Spears didn’t just use salt. They also deployed rubbing, warm blankets, and an enema. And some part of that combination worked.

Little Gershom grew up, became a cooper, married, had several children, and built a successful career in Boston business. But his height of global fame may well have come when the 5-8 Feb 1763 London Chronicle reprinted the story of how he was revived from being a “lifeless corpse.”

TOMORROW: Humane concerns.

[The engraving above shows the saltworks in Salisbury, New Hampshire, engraved for Robert Aitken’s Pennsylvania Magazine in 1776, courtesy of the Library of Congress.]

Friday, November 29, 2019

Gershom Spear “to all Appearance dead”

Last week I mentioned in passing the marriage of Gershom Spear (1755-1816) to Elizabeth Bradlee. The bridegroom almost didn’t make it. On 21 Nov 1762, young Gershom drowned in Boston harbor.

As Thomas and John Fleet’s Boston Evening-Post reported the next day:
Last Evening a Boy about 8 Years old, Son to Mr. Joseph Spear, fell from a Wharf near the South Battery, and was accidentally discovered under the Water ’tis tho’t about a Quarter of an Hour after he fell in; he was taken up motionless and to all Appearance dead…
Fortunately, earlier that month, on 1 November, the Evening-Post had reprinted an extract of a letter about drowning that had appeared in the London press the previous year.

That letter had been sent from Oporto, or the Portuguese port of Porto, by a sea captain named John Bell, master of the British ship Elizabeth. The letter was also reprinted in the 16 Apr 1762 New-Hampshire Gazette, and it said:
Since I have been here, a Dutchman fell into the River, and was taken up from the bottom about three quarters of an hour afterwards; he was carried on board the ship he belong’d to, and orders were actually given for sewing him up in a hamock, in order to bury him.

The British vice consul (Mr. Gabriel Hervey) who is a very humane man, hearing of the affair, took a boat, went on board, laid the fellow by the fire side, and kept rubbing him with common salt till life returned, and the man is now hearty and well.

Mr. Hervey has told me, he has known a dog kept under water two hours, and recovered by being covered with salt; and his lady told me she had recovered a cat.
Evidently the memory of that news article gave little Gershom’s father an idea.

TOMORROW: Can this child be saved?

[The engraving above was made by Robert Pollard in 1787 after a painting by Robert Smirke, and comes courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.]

Thursday, November 28, 2019

A Dinner in “Plymouth, the great mausoleum”

On 24 Dec 1770, the Old Colony Club of Plymouth met to celebrate Forefathers’ Day, a tradition that went back a whole year but which commemorated an event a century and a half earlier.

The club first proclaimed Forefathers’ Day in 1769 to celebrate the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth. That had occurred on 11 Dec 1620 according to the Julian Calendar that the English then used. Club members knew that the British Empire had skipped eleven days to catch up to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752, so they calculated that landing must have happened on 22 December in the new system. In fact, it had happened on 21 December; the Julian Calendar had been only ten days behind in 1620.

Forefathers’ Day remained on 22 December, except when it didn’t, as in 1770. In that year the date fell on a Saturday, and the club decided that propriety demanded putting off their celebration until after the Sabbath.

One part of the 1770 celebration was an address by Edward Winslow, Jr. Another was a song written by local schoolteacher Alexander Scammell (shown here) to the tune of “The British Hero” (which I haven’t been able to identify). The lyrics were:
All hail the day that ushers in
The period of revolving time,
In which our sires of glorious fame
Bravely through toils and dangers came,

Novanglia‘s wilds to civilize
And wild disorder harmonize:
To plant Britannia’s arts and arms,—
Plenty, peace, freedom, pleasing charms.

Derived from British rights and laws
That justly merit our applause,
Darlings of Heaven, heroes brave,
You still shall live though in the grave,—

Live, live within each grateful breast,
With reverence for your names possessed;
Your praises on our Tongues shall dwell,
And sires to sons your actions tell.

To distant poles their praise resound;
Let virtue be with glory crowned;
Ye dreary wilds, each rock and cave,
Echo the virtues of the brave.

They nobly braved their indigence,
Death, famine, sword, and pestilence;
Each toil, each danger they endured,
Till for their sons they had procured

A fertile soil profusely blest
With Nature’s stores, and now possessed
By sons who gratefully revere
Our fathers’ names and memories dear.

Plymouth, the great mausoleum,
Famous for our forefathers’ tomb!
Join, join the chorus, one and all,
Resound their deeds in Colony Hall!
The Old Colony Club broke up just a few years later under the political pressure of the Revolution. Winslow moved to Nova Scotia and later helped to found the new colony of New Brunswick. Scammell became an officer in the Continental Army.

Other organizations in Plymouth later took on the celebration of Forefathers’ Day, including the Pilgrim Society behind the Pilgrim Hall Museum, the revived Old Colony Club, and the Mayflower Society.

This year marks the sestercentennial of the first Forefathers’ Day celebration in Plymouth. The Pilgrim Society and Old Colony Club together are hosting a dinner on Saturday, 21 December. Tickets are available here. I have the honor of being this year’s after-dinner speaker.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Colonial Records of King’s Chapel to Be Published

On Thursday, 5 December, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and King’s Chapel will celebrate the publication of The Colonial Records of King’s Chapel, 1686-1776, two volumes edited by James Bell and James Mooney.

King’s Chapel was the first Church of England parish in New England. The Rev. Robert Ratcliffe arrived in Boston on 15 May 1686 to lead the parish, and the first chapel building opened three years later. Most royal governors sent from London worshipped there.

Of course, the Puritan leaders of Boston were suspicious—of the Anglican establishment, rituals, and such innovations as New England’s first church organ in 1714. But as the town’s population grew and became a little more diverse, Congregationalist leaders had to accept not only King’s Chapel but also Christ Church (now better known as Old North) and Trinity Church.

In 1699 the congregation formed a vestry to represent the congregation and advise the church minister and wardens. After 1733, however, only people who owned pews could vote on church matters. That kept the society in the hands of some of Boston’s wealthiest families.

In the late 1740s those voting members of King’s Chapel decided to replace their wooden building with a larger stone structure. The first step was to make a deal with the town to build a new South Latin School so the chapel could take the land the old schoolhouse stood on. The Latin School thus moved across School Street from its original location, which is on the Freedom Trail.

Then came the construction of the new chapel following a plan of the Newport architect Peter Harrison. The builders actually constructed the present stone chapel around the old wooden walls, then dismantled the lumber and removed it through the windows. The wood was shipped up to Nova Scotia to be assembled into a new church. The whole process took five years, an investment reflecting the wealth of the congregation.

The Revolution caused major disruptions to King’s Chapel. Its last Anglican minister, the Rev. Henry Caner, embarked for Halifax in March 1776, carrying the communion silver, linen, and church records. The congregants who remained had to merge with Trinity Church while the members of Old South Meeting-House, which had been damaged by British dragoons, took over the stone building. For a while the church was called the Stone Chapel because mentioning the king was politically unpalatable.

Some Chapel members who had stayed in Boston tracked down Caner down in Britain by 1784 and asked him to return the church silver. He responded that, since the state of Massachusetts had confiscated his property, he felt no obligation to return anything to Boston. The church finally got the registers back from Caner’s heirs in 1805.

The Colonial Records of King’s Chapel, 1686-1776 is based on those records, including the church’s vestry minutes and lists of baptisms, marriages, and funerals. That information will interest not just church historians but genealogists and people studying other aspects of Boston’s history. Even as King’s Chapel was the wealthiest Anglican church in colonial Boston, it served many people without wealth and connections, including enslaved and free Africans, soldiers, and Irish and French arrivals seeking more familiar forms of worship.

This celebration will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M. in the King’s Chapel Parish House at 64 Beacon Street. At 6:00 editors Bell and Mooney will speak about the publication process. There will be refreshments and books available for sale and signing. The public is invited.