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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Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Jean Fritz’s Revolution

The author Jean Fritz died earlier this month at the age of 101. Obituaries in the New York Times and Washington Post described how she was born and raised in China, a daughter of American missionaries, and started to research her country’s history from afar.

Fritz most widely read books are biographies of famous Americans, many of them from the Revolutionary period, for young readers. Those books took various forms, but most were short and well illustrated by some of the industry’s rising stars. The first batch was published into the Bicentennial but proved popular and solidly researched enough to remain in print for decades, even as standards for juvenile nonfiction became more demanding:
  • And Then What Happened, Paul Revere? (1973)
  • Why Don’t You Get a Horse, Sam Adams? (1974)
  • Will You Sign Here, John Hancock? (1975)
  • Where Was Patrick Henry on the 29th of May? (1975)
  • Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? (1976)
  • Shh! We’re Writing the Constitution (1976)
  • Traitor: The Case of Benedict Arnold (1981)
  • What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? (1988)
  • The Great Little Madison (1989)
  • George Washington’s Mother (1992)
  • Why Not Lafayette? (1999)
  • Alexander Hamilton: The Outsider (2011)
Early in her career Fritz also wrote three historical novels for children touching on the eighteenth century:
  • The Cabin Faced West (1958) about frontier Pennsylvania in 1784, with a cameo appearance by Washington.
  • Early Thunder (1967), set in Salem just before the Revolutionary War begins.
  • George Washington’s Breakfast (1969), dramatizing the process of historical research.
In this interview by schoolchildren, Fritz told how one of those novels led to one of her biographies:
I had written Early Thunder, which was a fictional story that took place in Salem, Massachusetts, right before the Revolution. It was around the time of the bicentennial. And a TV station called me and they wanted to make it into a movie. But they changed their minds because there was no chase in the story! So I thought of the story of Benedict Arnold, and there was a chase in that story, so I decided to tell it.
Finally, Fritz’s only book for adults was Cast for a Revolution: Some American Friends and Enemies, 1728–1814 (1972), about Mercy Warren and her circle.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Architecture Seminar at Redwood Library, 10 June

The Redwood Library and Athenaeum in Newport, Rhode Island, is hosting its annual seminar on Saturday, 10 June. This year’s gathering is on the theme of “Colonial Classics: The Redwood Library & American Architecture in the 18th Century.”

The scheduled speakers include:
  • Caroline Culp, Stanford University, “Peter Harrison and the Redwood Library”
  • Fabio Barry, Stanford University, “Jefferson’s Trans-Plantation at Monticello: Antiquity and Anxiety”
  • Mario Bevilacqua, University of Florence, “Piranesi in Eighteenth-Century America: Ancient Models for the New Nation”
  • Carl R. Lounsbury, College of William and Mary, “Metropolitan Prototypes and Provincial Filters: Public Building in Eighteenth-Century British America”
Peter Harrison designed the library itself to be impressive from the harbor. He also designed other notable buildings in Rhode Island and, if we accept the breathless credits of the Colonial Revival period, all around New England. But most likely Harrison was just one of many builders bringing Georgian design standards to America.

As the A4 Architecture Inc. blog explains, the diagram at top comes from Palladio’s Fourth Book of Architecture. The photo shows the part of the Redwood Library that Harrison designed. There are…similarities.

The seminar will begin at 1:30 P.M. Tickets are $60 per person. For reservations, or call 401-847-0292, ext. 117.

Monday, May 22, 2017

“It was easy to discover that he was a curious Character“

Yesterday I quoted Abigail Adams’s description of visiting Carisbrooke Castle in England in 1788.

That passage from her travel account continues:
We returnd to Newport to dine. After dinner a Gentleman introduced himself to us by the Name of Sharp. Professed himself a warm and zealous Friend to America. After some little conversation in which it was easy to discover that he was a curious Character he requested that we would do him the Honour to go to his House and drink Tea. We endeavourd [to] excuse ourselves, but he would insist upon it, and we accordingly accepted.

He carried us home and introduced to us an aged Father of 90 Years, a very surprizing old Gentleman who tho deaf appeard to retain his understanding perfectly. Mrs. Sharp his Lady appeard to be an amiable woman tho not greatly accustomed to company. The two young Ladies soon made their appearence, the Youngest about 17 very Beautifull. The eldest might have been thought Handsome, if she had not quite spoild herself by affectation. By aiming at politeness she overshot her mark, and faild in that Symplicity of manners which is the principal ornament of a Female Character.

This Family were very civil, polite and Friendly to us during our stay at Cowes. We drank Tea with them on the Sunday following and by their most pressing invitation we dined with them the tuesday following. Mr. Sharp is a poet, a man of reading and appears to possess a good mind and Heart and enthusiastick in favor of America. He collected a number of his Friends to dine with us all of whom were equally well disposed to our Country and had always Reprobated the war against us.
The Adams Papers doesn’t identify this man, but I suspect he was William Sharp, Jr., author of the poem “Sincerity” (1763) and A Rumble from Newport to Cowes, in the Isle of Wight (1784). The latter book has this to say about the recent American war:
O passing fate of things below!
No Immortality they know:
Change will on all her marks inscribe,
Except the ministerial Tribe,
And their vile Masters; they ne’er range;
To Pelf still true, they never change.
Be curs’d their arts and selfish ends
Who sink to foes and separate friends:
Where are the flags that once display’d
The blessings of a mutual trade: Where
Where are the crowded wharfs which own’d
America’s chaste produce round:
Discharg’d to give the state their pay,
Before they shap’d a distant way.
Yeah, it’s all like that. I think Abigail was lucky to get away without hearing more.

A footnote on this passage explains: “The CAROLINA trade was a great article at Cowes, many thousand barrels of Rice being unloaded here every season, and repack’d for market; after paying duty, afforded much employment and profit.” So Sharp felt the “ministerial Tribe” had damaged the local economy by disrupting trade with America for their own “selfish ends.” And he and his fellow Isle of White Whigs had opposed Lord North’s policy toward the American colonies.

The picture above comes from the frontispiece of Sharp’s 1784 poetry book. It shows the landscape of the Isle of Wight between the port of Cowes and the central town of Newport, a scene that Adams herself probably saw four years later.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Visiting Carisbrooke Castle with Abigail Adams

Earlier this year author Jaime Mormann sent me an email noting a passage from Abigail Adams’s account of her travels in Great Britain while she was wife of the U.S. Minister.

In the spring of 1788 Adams went to the Isle of Wight off England’s southern coast:
On tuesday we went to Newport in order to visit Carisbrook Castle. This is a very ancient Ruins. The first account of it in English History is in the year 1513. This is the castle where Charles the first was kept a prisoner and they shew you the window from whence he attempted to escape.

In this castle is a well of such a depth that the water is drawn from it by an ass walking in a wheel like a turn spit dog. The woman who shew it to us told us it was 300 feet deep. It is Beautifully stoned and in as good order as if finishd but yesterday. She lighted paper and threw [it] down to shew us its depth and dropping in a pin, it resounded as tho a large stone had been thrown in. We went to the Top of the citidal which commands a most extensive prospect.
Mormann added:
Out of curiosity, I checked to see if the castle still holds tours as it did in 1788. Sure enough (’cause England is awesome like that), they still do. Their website even features many of the things Abigail mentions in her journal entry.
Including the asses! (Now carefully called donkeys.)

TOMORROW: More of Abigail Adams’s experience of Newport, England.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

“Clothing & Character” Symposium in Lexington, 3-4 June

Hallie Larkin and Stephanie Smith at the Sign of the Golden Scissors, along with Larissa Sasgen and Sandy Spector, are organizing their first symposium, titled “18th Century: Clothing & Character in Context.”

This event will explore clothing, material culture, and character development for interpreters of the 1700s. It is scheduled to take place in Lexington, Massachusetts, on the weekend of 3-4 June 2017.

Expert speakers are coming from Virginia, New Jersey, and New York, as well as many parts of New England. Presentations scheduled for Saturday include:
  • Matthew Brenckle, “Dock Workers, Sailors & Fishermen: Making a Living in 18th-Century Boston.”
  • Will Tatum, “Men’s Clothing in New England 1760-1770: The Hallmarks of Fashion Prior to the War of Independence.”
  • Hallie Larkin & Stephanie Smith, “18th-Century Textiles for Colonial Clothing: Making Choices in the Modern Marketplace.”
  • John Nichols, “Hide Fashion: Leather Breeches, Common Wear out of Common Materials.”
  • Lynne Zacek Bassett, “‘Idle Hands are the Devil’s Workshop’: 18th-Century Needlework in New England.”
  • Niel Vincent De Marino, “Setting the Table: Interpreting and Presenting Food in the 18th-Century Manner.”
  • Gregory Theberge, “Beyond the Musket: Utilizing Documented Material Culture to Enhance Your Impression.”
Hands-on workshops scheduled for Sunday are:
  • Roy Najecki, “Make a Cartridge Box.”
  • Sharon Burnston & Kirsten Hammerstrom, “Inhabiting the Clothes.”
  • Larissa Sasgen & Meléna Streitman, “Where Are the Primary Sources?”
  • Niel Vincent De Marino, “Cutting a Proper 18th-Century Figure.”
  • Larissa Sasgen, “The Right Hair for the Right Cap” and “Styling Men’s Wigs in the Neatest Manner.”
  • Stephanie Smith & Victoria Brenckle, “Do This—Not That!: Quick and Easy Fixes” (two workshops, for women and for men).
  • Hallie Larkin, “Introduction to 18th-Century Whitework” and “18th-Century Quilted Petticoats Inside and Out.”
Registration for Saturday, 3 June, costs $85 and includes a boxed lunch and snacks. For the Sunday workshops, a morning or afternoon session costs $50, or $90 for both, with an additional materials fee for some workshops. See the brochure (P.D.F. download) for all details.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Joseph Pope’s Orrery in “The Philosophy Chamber”

Eventually, Joseph Pope’s orrery went to Harvard College. I’ll tell that story in more detail sometime, but today I’m highlighting how the machine is on display once more as part of the Harvard Art Museums’ new exhibit, “The Philosophy Chamber: Art and Science in Harvard’s Teaching Cabinet, 1766–1820.”

As this Harvard Gazette article explains, the Philosophy Chamber housed the college’s finest scientific instruments, biological and anthropological specimens, and artistic treasures in the early republic. The new exhibit is an attempt to recreate that assemblage.
The exhibition features more than 100 works displayed in four thematic sections, including a loose reconstruction of the Philosophy Chamber itself. Included are full-length portraits by John Singleton Copley; exceptional examples of Native Hawaiian feather work and carving by indigenous artists of the Northwest Coast; a dazzling, large-scale orrery (a model of the solar system) by Joseph Pope; mezzotints after the work of expatriate American artists; and Stephen Sewall’s mural-sized copy of the Wampanoag inscription on the landmark known as Dighton Rock, an 11-foot boulder located in Berkley, Massachusetts. The objects are drawn from a number of private, academic, and public collections in the United States and the United Kingdom…
The exhibit opens today. In conjunction with it, on Tuesday, 23 May, at 3:00 P.M., Prof. Jane Kamensky will deliver a free lecture about Copley’s experiences in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

On the following two days, 24-25 May, admission to the museums, and this exhibit, is free. Of course, those days are also Harvard University’s Class Day and Commencement, so Cambridge might be a little crowded.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Boston’s Orrery “luckily preserved”

Yesterday we left watchmaker Joseph Pope burned out of his home and workshop on the west side of Orange Street in April 1787.

The Massachusetts Gazette’s 24 April report on the fire included some good news:
We are happy, however, in informing the publick, that, amidst the destruction by the fire, a curious specimen of art and industry, which does honour to our country, was luckily preserved; we mean the ORRERY constructed by Mr. JOSEPH POPE.

This admirable performance, the result of many years labour and study, is near six feet in diameter, and was almost finished, when the house of the artist, with most of his effects, were in a few minutes reduced to ashes. Much praise is due to those gentlemen who, by their exertions, preserved to the lovers of science this curious specimen of philosophick and mechanick ingenuity, and deposited it at the house of his Excellency the Governour, where, we are told, it still remains.
Citing a letter written by Joseph Pope’s daughter, the Memorial History of Boston (1881) described the rescue of the orrery this way:
Governor Bowdoin, who had been interested in it, when he heard of its danger, sent six men with a cart and blankets to rescue it. With difficulty it was brought down the stairs (Mr. Pope himself tearing away the balusters), and taken temporarily to the Governor’s house…
Gov. James Bowdoin (shown above) was a highly learned man in eighteenth-century style: born to wealth, successful as a merchant, he became a prominent amateur in several fields without really distinguishing himself in any.

As a writer, Bowdoin was the principal author of Boston’s report on the Boston Massacre and traded poems with Phillis Wheatley. A longtime member of the Massachusetts Council, he followed John Hancock in being elected governor of Massachusetts. In scientific pursuits, he corresponded with Benjamin Franklin and the Royal Society in London. In 1780 Bowdoin was the principal founder of Massachusetts’s own learned society, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and remained its president until 1790.

Bowdoin had obviously heard about Pope’s orrery and thought it deserved to be saved. However, the report of the machine being saved from the fire was the first time Boston newspapers had mentioned it. Perhaps Pope had not yet been ready to announce his creation, it being only “almost finished” and still upstairs in his workshop.

In any event, the fire appears to have made the orrery famous in Boston. According to Pope’s daughter, the watchmaker moved to a new house on Essex Street, and his invention “was visited by hundreds a day.” But where, gentlemen asked, did it really belong?

TOMORROW: The orrery on display.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Joseph Pope’s Own Orrery

All the talk in the 1770s about David Rittenhouse’s orreries and the honor they brought to America might have inspired a young Boston watchmaker named Joseph Pope (1748-1826).

Pope married Ruthy Thayer, daughter of a tallow-chandler, on 13 May 1773. She died on 22 Aug 1775 in Braintree, at a relative’s house. Apparently the couple had evacuated there during the siege of Boston. I don’t see a record of Joseph serving in the army.

After the British military evacuated in 1776, it appears, Pope returned to Boston and started to build an orrery. At least, he later said he had started that year. But his project didn’t attract any print attention for a long time.

Pope’s plan for the orrery was ambitious. It was to show not only the Sun, the Earth, the Moon, and the known planets from Mercury to Saturn, but also all the known moons of those planets and Saturn’s rings.

In 1781, after the watchmaker had already put in years of work, astronomer William Herschel announced the discovery of Uranus (which he called Georgium sidus, after George III, who in return named him King’s Astronomer). Pope ignored that and kept to his original plan, working in his shop on the west side of Orange Street.

Then on 20 Apr 1787, as the Massachusetts Gazette reported four days later:
About sun-set,…a fire broke out in the malt house of Mr. William Patten, in Beach-street, a little to the north-east of Orange-street, at the south part of the town; and it is with real sorrow we announce, that the devastation which ensued, within about three hours time, was never equalled in this place, excepting in the years 1711 and 1760, since its settlement. . . .

The wind blowing fresh from the Northward, the coals of fire, burning shingles, &c. were, however, carried, in great quantities, and lodged on the roofs of many of the houses in Orange-street, some of which were instantly on fire, while a number of the interjacent buildings were preserved. It raged on both sides of the street, with awful fury, as long as the current of wind was nearly parallel with the direction of it; but coming to that part which inclines a little more south-easterly, and the wind tending something more to the eastward, the fire was stopped in this street, but raged on the west side of it till an opening of vacant land towards the bay, on the west side of Boston neck, prevented farther destruction. . . .

The place where the fire commenced being remote from most of the engines—the driness of the weather—10 or 15 buildings being in flames in a few minutes after the fire began, which greatly divided the attention of the inhabitants—the scarcity of water, the tide being down, and but few pumps near at hand—were circumstances which baffled the utmost efforts of the citizens for putting a stop to the devouring element for the space of upwards of three hours.
Two days later, the Continental Journal ran a list of inhabitants who had been burned out—including Joseph Pope and his brothers.

TOMORROW: And Mr. Pope’s orrery?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Orreries in a Time of War

Silas Deane was the first American diplomat in Paris during the Revolutionary War, trying to win support for the Continental Congress from the French government.

Since France was a monarchy, Deane decided to do some old-fashioned fawning, presenting influential people with special gifts from America.

On 28 Nov 1776 he wrote to the Congress’s Committee of Secret Correspondence, which was directing foreign policy:
I wish I had here one of the best saddle-horses of the American or Rhode Island breed. A present of that kind would be money well laid out with a certain personage. Other curious American productions at this time would, though trifles in themselves, be of consequence rightly timed and placed. I mentioned Mr. [David] Rittenhouse’s orrery in a former letter, and I think Arnold’s collection of insects, etc., but I submit any step of this kind to your mature judgment.
I haven’t come across that “former letter,” but a few days later, on 3 December, Deane wrote to John Jay with the same bright ideas—and an identification for that “certain personage”:
The queen is fond of parade, and I believe wishes a war, and is our friend. She loves riding on horseback. Could you send me a narrowhegansett horse or two; the present might be money exceedingly well laid out. Rittenhouse’s orrery, or Arnold’s collection of insects, a phaeton of American make and a pair of bay horses, a few barrels of apples, of walnuts, of butternuts, etc., would be great curiosities here, where everything American is gazed at, and where the American contest engages the attention of all ages, ranks, and sexes.
On 10 May 1777, John Adams wrote to his wife:
Upon a Hint, from one of our Commissioners abroad, We are looking about for American Curiosities, to send across the Atlantic as presents to the Ladies. Mr. Rittenhouse’s Planetarium, Mr. Arnolds Collection of Rareties in the Virtuoso Way, which I once saw at Norwalk in Connecticutt, Narragansett Pacing Mares, Mooses, Wood ducks, Flying Squirrells, Redwinged Black birds, Cramberries, and Rattlesnakes have all been thought of.

Is not this a pretty Employment for great Statesmen, as We think ourselves to be? Frivolous as it seems, it may be of some Consequence. Little Attentions have great Influence. I think, however, We ought to consult the Ladies upon this Point. Pray what is your Opinion?
I haven’t found Abigail Adams’s reply to the idea of shipping rattlesnakes and other curiosities to Queen Marie Antoinette.

The man behind “Arnold’s collection of insects” was Edward Arnold of Norwalk. On his way to the Congress in May 1775, Robert Treat Paine “Went to see Mr. Edward Arnold and saw his Museum a very large Collection of Birds, Insects, Fossils, Beasts, Fishes &c w’h he has been 9 yrs collecting.” Those curiosities did eventually make its way to Europe. According to Adams, Arnold sold his collection to William Tryon, royal governor of New York, who shipped it to London. Those specimens went into Sir Ashton Lever’s private museum.

It’s not clear to me how Deane expected the Congress to obtain a Rittenhouse orrery for Marie Antoinette. Was the Congress to buy or confiscate one of the devices from the college at Princeton or Philadelphia? [The one at Philadelphia appears above.] Or did he want the legislature to commission a new device from Rittenhouse, despite the going price of £300-400?

In January 1777, soon after Deane wrote, the British and Continental Armies battled over the town of Princeton, each occupying the college buildings in turn. The Congress’s envoy to Spain, Arthur Lee, told Deane and Benjamin Franklin that “The barbarity of these Sarracen Invaders went so far as to destroy the Philosophical Apparatus at Princeton College, with the Orrery constructed by Dr. Rittenhouse.” That report was exaggerated, but after that news Deane stopped asking about shipping over an American orrery for the queen.

TOMORROW: Boston’s own orrery.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Rittenhouse Orreries

On 5 May 1768, the Pennsylvania Gazette ran an article headlined, “A Description of a new ORRERY, planned, and now nearly finished, by Mr. DAVID RITTENHOUSE, of Norriton, in the County of Philadelphia.”

An orrery was a machine that simulated the movements of the solar system through axles and gears. The term had been coined early in the 1700s in honor of the fourth Earl of Orrery. He didn’t invent the device, but he was the patron and funder of the man who did, George Graham. [It was good to be an earl.]

Like Graham, Rittenhouse was a clockmaker. Their orreries were based on the idea that the solar system ran like a clock.

Rittenhouse’s orrery was just one of the machines he invented in Revolutionary Philadelphia. He was also a surveyor and astronomer, and one of the Philadelphia Whigs.

In honor of his orrery, Princeton College gave Rittenhouse an honorary degree. The college president, the Rev. John Witherspoon also raised nearly £300 to buy the machine in April 1770. It was installed in Nassau Hall the following year.

John Adams viewed the Princeton orrery on 27 Aug 1774, on his way to the First Continental Congress, writing:
Here we saw a most beautifull Machine, an Orrery, or Planetarium, constructed by Mr. Writtenhouse of Philadelphia. It exhibits allmost every Motion in the astronomical World. The Motions of the Sun and all the Planetts with all their Satellites. The Eclipses of the Sun and Moon &c.
However, the sale to Princeton had miffed the Rev. William Smith, head of the College of Philadelphia (precursor of the University of Pennsylvania). He thought he’d wooed Rittenhouse into giving his institution first refusal on the device. So Smith convinced the Pennsylvania legislature to “purchase from Mr. Rittenhouse a new Orrery, for the use of the Public, at any sum not exceeding four hundred pounds.”

This new machine, apparently delivered by the end of the year, was bigger and more sophisticated than the first. Rittenhouse followed the same basic design but added some new features. British-Americans viewed the “Rittenhouse orrery” (they seem to have treated the two machines as one) as a convincing argument of their society’s sophistication.

TOMORROW: Orreries at war.