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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Thursday, January 29, 2015

"This side Winter Hill": Cyrus Baldwin Tells his Story

Yesterday guest blogger Chris Hurley promised untold details about the dumping of a barrel of tea in Charlestown in January 1774. That incident was reported in Massachusetts newspapers with no names attached. This posting picks up the story.

From the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, a letter from Cyrus Baldwin to the Charlestown Committee of Correspondence:
Boston Jany 25 1774

Gentn.

On the 4th Instant I was sending a quantity of Goods to my brother Mr Loammi Baldwin at Woburn & pack’d a bag containing 26 lb. Bohea Tea into a Barrel not for secrecy but for safety of conveyance. In the evening the Team was stoped just on this side Winter hill and the driver interogated by three or four men who called themselves a Commitee of Suspiscion for Charlestown: what goods he had & whether any Tea? To which he answered generally that he knew nothing what goods were in the Cart. Upon which they insisted upon probing, & abused and drove off the Teamster, broke open the cask that contained the Tea, carry'd off the bag with the Tea—& some other articles are missing.
Cyrus Baldwin’s property had been stolen. But because his property was tea, who would be sympathetic to his complaint?
I cannot harbour the least suspicion that any Gentlemen of Charlestown, much less any of the respectable Committe of Correspondance were knowing to or any way incouraging such high handed Villany, yet as they assumed the character of a Committee from the Town of Charlestown I think it my incumbant duty to the Inhabitants of Charlestown to inform you of the above particulars, not doubting but you will properly resent such Wickedness perpetuated in the name of the Town, & if it is in your power, promise me satisfaction for my loss.
Why ask the Charlestown Committee for redress? Why not go to the Law?
I think it not proper or advisable to make a public stir about it just at present, least the Enemies to the good cause which we have imbarked in should triumph in our Divisions. But unless a speedy & intire stop be put to such attacks upon private property we shall fall into a greater Evil than we are endeavouring to avoid.

All which is submitted to your wisdom and confidence.

Your most respectfull and obediant Humble Serv't,
Cyrus Baldwin.

I shall inteem it a favour you'd return an answer as soon as convenience will permitt.
The Charlestown Committee did answer quickly.

TOMORROW: Cyrus Baldwin can’t get no satisfaction.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tea “not intended to be smuggled”

This “guest blogger” posting continues Chris Hurley’s story of Cyrus Baldwin and his surplus tea.

We left Cyrus Baldwin sitting on a stockpile of tea in January 1774, weeks after the Tea Party. Other Boston dealers in tea were likely in a similar situation.

Early that month, one tea dealer realized there was no future in selling Bohea tea in Boston and tried to move his supply out of town. As reported on page one of the 13 January issue of the Massachusetts Spy:
Last week a barrel of Bohea tea which was attempted to be smuggled into some of the country towns, was detected and stopped at Charlestown, soon after it crossed the ferry, and the whole contents emptied into the river.
And the Spy was late to the story; the Essex Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post had it before them. In fact, the same day as the Spy item, the Boston News-Letter published an update:
We hear that the Barrel of Tea which was emptied into the River at Charlestown last Week, was not intended to be smuggled, as reported; it being Part of some that had been imported here before the East India Company’s Tea arrived, and publickly advertised for Sale: The Tea it is said belonged to Persons who are esteemed Friends to Liberty, and was sent, with other Goods, to a Trader in the Country: But the Inhabitants of Charlestown having resolved against the Use of that Article. and burnt their own, some of them tho’t it an Insult to be sent through their Town, and destroyed it as reported.
Clearly some people knew the names of the “Persons who are esteemed Friends to Liberty” who owned that tea, but that secret did not appear in the newspapers.

There were dozens of tea dealers in Boston, and any of them might have wanted to move their supply out of town. The route across the ferry to Charlestown suggested that the intended destination was north of the Charles River; otherwise, that barrel would probably have been shipped out by the Neck. But otherwise those reports offer no information about who owned this tea.

It’s rare to read a news item like this and have a chance to flesh out the story. In this case, though, more details are available.

TOMORROW: Cyrus Baldwin tells his story.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tea Merchant Cyrus Baldwin Has Too Much Tea

Longtime Boston 1775 readers might recognize the name “Chris the Woburnite” in the comments, usually attached to choice observations and  stories from that old Middlesex County town. 

In real life that’s Chris Hurley, Revolutionary reenactor and researcher. And he generously offered a series of “guest blogger” articles sharing a story of Woburn’s Baldwin family. So let’s get started.

There were three kinds of tea in Boston near the end of 1773, here listed in decreasing level of unacceptability to the Boston Whigs:
  • Detested, new-duty British East India Company tea. Not available, due to premature steeping in the harbor.
  • Old-duty British East India Company tea. Tolerated for years, despite (unenforced) non-use agreements.
  • Smuggled (often Dutch) tea. Free of the taint of duty, but still tainted somewhat, by it being, well, tea.
At the very end of 1773, popular Whig sentiment simplified things by characterizing all tea as odious, which was bad news for Cyrus Baldwin, a Boston merchant of, among other things, tea. His advertisement in the 1 November Boston Gazette had proudly proclaimed in bold type: “Choice Souchong and Hyson Tea.”

Even though he was from a Whig-leaning family, Baldwin continued to advertise tea as the tea crisis deepened that fall. After all, he was not one of the hated new-duty consignees, and selling tea was his livelihood. Some Boston merchants had openly opposed the landing of the new-duty tea.

Some citizens in Boston accused those merchants of plotting to create scarcity, corner the tea market, and raise prices. They could have been talking about Cyrus Baldwin. He appears to have increased his stock of tea that season: when he advertised in the Boston Evening-Post on 20 December, he now included additional tea, some “Choice Bohea.”

In an attempt to render this offering acceptable, this new ad included a disclaimer: “The above Teas were imported before any of the East India Company’s tea arrived.” That continued to run into early January 1774.

Baldwin priced his tea at 18 shillings per pound. That was more than triple the price set on 29 December by the “principal dealers of teas in Boston”—those dealers being anxious to refute any charge of price gouging (as reported the 30 December Massachusetts Spy). But Baldwin’s 18s. price may have applied only to the high-class Hyson tea, and perhaps he priced his Bohea more reasonably.

In any event, those dealers also agreed not to sell any tea at all after 20 Jan 1774. Whether Cyrus Baldwin was then willingly in step with the association of tea dealers or not, his 20 January ad in the Massachusetts Spy no longer boasted tea.

But Cyrus Baldwin still had tea—too much tea. Even in early January 1774 he knew he couldn’t sell all the Bohea he had. What then to do with it? It did him little good in Boston. This valuable property could even have been in danger from the radical tea-burning element of the Patriot faction [Are you listening, Lexington and Charlestown?]. Where then to safely store it?

Luckily for Cyrus, he had a younger brother, Loammi, who lived on a farm in the nearby countryside town of Woburn. Loammi was a gentlemen of position there and on the town’s committee of correspondence, thus putting him beyond reproach. What better person to store the tea until it was marketable again? The brothers might also have been able to transport the tea to somewhere it could be readily sold. Loammi’s farm had at least one team of oxen and probably a number of wagons or carts. But first, could Cyrus get the tea out to Woburn?

TOMORROW: “Not intended to be smuggled”.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Two Different Samuel Adamses

This is Samuel Adams. In 1773 he was fifty-one years old. His father had been a selectman, merchant, and church deacon. He had gone to Harvard College and earned a master’s degree. As a young man he had helped to found a short-lived newspaper, which honed his writing skills, and discovered that he had no interest or luck in business. He turned to the public sector.

As a collector of taxes for the town and province from 1756 to 1765, then one of Boston’s representatives in the Massachusetts General Court from 1765 on, Adams became the town’s leading political organizer. With the salary that came from being chosen Clerk of the House of Representatives and frugal living, Adams was one of the first Americans to support his family in genteel style as a full-time elected official.

Politically Adams was implacably opposed to new royal measures and the men appointed to carry them out, but more hotheaded colleagues like James Otis and Josiah Quincy trusted his judgment to keep them out of trouble.

Adams was a devout Congregationalist, known for his love of psalm-singing (and for recruiting young men to his political cause at psalm-singing practices). In 1749 he had married Elizabeth Checkley, daughter of his minister. She died in 1757, and in 1764 he had married again to Elizabeth Wells, who helped to raise the surviving children. By 1773 his son Samuel, Jr., had also graduated from Harvard College and was training to be a physician.

Samuel Adams had a striking physical trait, described this way in a biography written by a descendant:
Mr. Adams, from about middle life, was more or less affected with a constitutional tremulousness of voice and hand, peculiar to his family, which sometimes continued for several weeks together, and then disappeared for as long a time.
The Rev. William Gordon wrote of Adams confronting Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson after the Boston Massacre “with his hands trembling under a nervous complaint.” John Adams referred to his cousin’s “quivering, paralytic hands.” In recent years this condition was diagnosed as essential tremor.

This is a fictional character named Samuel Adams, who appears in the Sons of Liberty television entertainment. He shares a few traits with the historical figure. Both are white men living in Boston, both have worked as tax collectors, and both in their ways oppose the royal government.

As for that hand tremor, I definitely hope this character doesn’t have one if he’s carrying around two pistols like that.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Upcoming Events at the Royall House

The Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford will host a series of book talks on the history of slavery in America over the next three months.

Thursday, 5 February, 7:00 P.M.
Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites
This event will launch a new collection of articles edited by Kristin Gallas and James DeWolf Perry from the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. They will speak about how historic sites and museums can facilitate the sharing of the history of slavery, and how those stories tie into vital contemporary public debates. This event is free. A book signing will follow. (The museum can accept only cash or checks for purchases.)

Wednesday, 18 March, 7:30 P.M.
Boston: Origin of American Slavery
Journalists Lisa Braxton and Alex Reid will speak about their upcoming book about the ship Desire. Built in Marblehead, the Desire was the first American-built slave ship. In February 1638 William Pierce piloted it into Boston harbor, carrying people captured and bought in Africa to serve the Puritans of the ”City on a Hill.” Though slavery was not written into law until 1641, it thus became part of Massachusetts’s economy and society and would remain so until the Revolutionary War.

Wednesday, 15 April, 7:30 P.M.
The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory
Journalist Anne Farrow, coauthor of Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery, will discuss her new book, based on records kept by a New London merchant‘s son starting in 1757. His first voyage was to the tiny island of Bence off Sierra Leone, and The Logbooks uses his records to unearth new realities of Connecticut’s slave trade. A book signing will follow. (The museum can accept only cash or checks for purchases.)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

William Russell’s Toasts on Offer

Last month I quoted an 1874 profile of William Russell that contained a description of a “Sons of Liberty” medal, worn by Boston activists on public occasions. Noting that no example of such a medal survives and no other source describes one, I expressed skepticism about that statement.

That same profile also quoted from a small document said to have been written by William Russell, a document being auctioned on 31 January by Seth Kaller and Keno Auctions. One side appears to have arithmetic exercises, perhaps from Russell’s work as a school teacher. The other reads:
May the Sons of Liberty
Shine with Lustre

Boston

Wilks & Liberty

August the 14th. 1769.

Liberty without
End. Amen.

Americans Wilks
92         45
This appears to be notes for two or three toasts delivered at a celebration of the fourth anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act protest. American Whigs saw themselves in league with John Wilkes, a leading political reformer in London. The numbers 45 and 92 gained great symbolic importance in 1760s Massachusetts for reasons which are easy to explain, hard to fathom.

The phrase “liberty without end. Amen” also appears as a refrain in a pamphlet titled Britannia’s Intercession for the Deliverance of John Wilkes, Esq. from Persecution and Banishment, first printed in London in 1763. Daniel Kneeland reprinted that in Boston in 1769, so the phrase was current in the town then.

Both the 1874 article and the auction house’s webpage for this document link it to the Boston Sons of Liberty banquet on 14 Aug 1769, held at the Liberty Tree tavern in Dorchester. However, the 21 August Boston Evening-Post printed all the toasts offered that day—fourteen at Liberty Tree itself in Boston’s South End and forty-five at the tavern—and they don’t include the phrases on this document.

So that left me with a picture of William Russell carefully writing out toasts in case he might be called on, and then watching as other men got invited to voice their thoughts, and the number of those men inexorably climbed to the magical forty-five, when no one else would be called. And then Russell sadly taking his little slip of paper home.

But then I checked the list of gentlemen who attended that Dorchester banquet. William Russell’s name doesn't appear on it at all. He had just turned twenty-one that year and probably wasn’t prominent enough to warrant an invitation.

So my new, cheerier theory is that Russell got together with some other young men in Boston and had their own banquet with their own toasts. Including these.

In any event, this document helps to confirm that, even if there was no Sons of Liberty medal, William Russell was involved in that movement as early as 1769. He’s also linked to the Tea Party and served in the war.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Discovering Prince Demah, an African-American Artist

Back in 2006 and 2008 I wrote about a young black artist mentioned in the letters of Christian Barnes, a Marlborough merchant’s wife (shown here). All I knew about him was the given name “Prince.”

Paula Bagger, working with the Hingham Historical Society, has found out a lot more. The society owns portraits of Christian Barnes and her husband Henry, and we know that she sat for Prince to paint her. Then it turned out that the Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a portrait of William Duguid in the same style that’s signed on the back “Prince Demah Barnes.”

Bagger just wrote an article about the artist for the historical society’s blog. And in the January 2015 issue of The Magazine Antiques, she and Amelia Peck of the Metropolitan Museum of Art discuss all three known oil portraits by Prince.

On the blog Bagger filled in more about the artist’s life:
Prince enjoyed a short professional painting career before the Revolution changed the lives of Christian, Henry, and Prince. Christian and Henry fled [as Loyalists,] and Prince enlisted in the Massachusetts militia as a free man–Prince Demah (no more “Barnes”)–and served as a matross. He died, likely of smallpox or other disease, in March 1778. As “Prince Demah, limner,” he wrote his will, leaving all he had to [his mother] Daphney.
Christian Barnes’s letters show that Prince Demah practiced with both oils and pastels. She tried to line up friends to sit for him, and there are several years between when she first mentioned his talent and the disruption of the war. So there might well be more portraits by this newly identified African-American artist and Continental soldier, perhaps in private hands or historical society collections. Bagger and her colleagues are on the hunt!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reading the Smiles of 18th-Century Art

The 12 January New Yorker includes Jonathan Kalb’s article “Give Me a Smile,” which describes in personal terms the importance of being able to smile.

Kalb writes, “The spontaneously joyful smile is the facial expression most easily recognized from a distance—as far as a hundred metres, researchers say.” Since the late 1800s, scientists have claimed and amassed evidence that the smile is a universal human expression.

I was struck, therefore, by this Boston Globe interview with Colin Jones about his new book, The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris. According to this book, through the early 1700s “smiling widely in portraits meant that you were probably destitute, indecent, or mentally ill.” Here’s more detail:
JONES: The type of facial regime which is prevalent in France in the early 18th century is more negative about the smile. It tends to see the smile as a gesture of superiority over some misfortune, rather like laughter at that time is seen in very negative terms—you’re somehow rejoicing in the suffering of others. So when people smile, they smile, first of all in a restrained way which doesn’t show teeth...but also very often in ways which are seen as sardonic or contemptuous or disdainful.

IDEAS: What changed?

JONES: There are two principal factors....One is the emergence of something which is clearly, for the first time, close to modern scientific dentistry, which highlights good, healthy, and hopefully white teeth, and methods of care which are not simply, as they had been in the past, extraction of bad teeth but also a regime of prevention of mouth ailments and sickness....

Secondly, I try to tie it up with...the emergence of a cult of sensibility. I associate this particularly with the emergence of the novels of sentimentality and sensibility by Samuel Richardson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who emphasize the overt and public expression of feelings, rather than their repression or distortion. People who look at the cult of sensibility often stress that people are always weeping in the 18th century—weeping with pleasure, weeping with ecstasy, weeping with anything, if you like. But actually part of that is this new smile, which somehow sends a transcendent message of selfhood and generosity and fellow-feeling.
Of course, the open-lipped smile remained rare in formal portraits. And later, Jones says, portrait photography followed that style for decades, even after better chemistry and quicker exposures could capture natural smiles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Real Story of the Fake Sarah Munroe Letter

Last week I noted a letter describing George Washington’s Presidential visit to Lexington in 1789. And I said it looked like a fake.

Polly Kienle of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum helpfully commented on that post confirming that young Sarah Munroe didn’t write that letter. Rather, it came from the pen of James Phinney Munroe (1862-1929), president of the Lexington Historical Society. And he spent years trying to live it down.

On 5 Nov 1889, J. P. Munroe wrote, he was invited to speak about the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s visit at a public dinner. He recalled, “Wishing only to be informal, to avoid the conventions of after-dinner speaking, to relieve the solemnity of history with a touch of human nature, in an evil hour I forged the name of a great-aunt (dead these many years) to a letter that she did not write, that (kindly soul) she would not have written, that so circumstantial is it she could not have written, had she tried…”

And then he placed the letter in the inaugural issue of the Proceedings of the Lexington Historical Society. That magazine also printed his prefatory remarks:
When I was asked to assume the honorable task of representing my great-grandfather here to-night, I, naturally, searched the old Munroe tavern for memorials of him, but without success. A hunt through the garret of the old Mason house, was, however, more fortunate, as it resulted in this letter. The original, of which this is a copy, bears the date Nov. 7, 1789, and is indorsed, in a fine Italian hand, “Miss Sarah Munroe, Lexington, to Miss Mary Mason, New York.” Sarah was the second daughter of Colonel William Munroe, the other children being William, Anna, Jonas, Lucinda, and Edmund. Mary was the only daughter of Mr. Joseph Mason, a famous pedagogue, and for many years, including 1789, town clerk. Of the reason of Miss Mason’s sojourn in New York, we are not informed.
Later J. P. Munroe wrote, “the Mason house having no garret worth mentioning, the non-existence of that attic suggested a manufactured letter.”

But clearly not enough people picked up that clue. Over the next few years, Munroe saw the letter cited as an authentic source in publications like the Boston Evening Transcript. It was reprinted in the program for an 1898 banquet of the California Sons of the American Revolution (who obviously hadn’t explored deeply enough in the Mason house). Munroe insisted that “Real historians” weren’t fooled, but, as Kienle commented, he was “caught up in a ‘viral’ whirlwind before the days of instantaneous online dissemination.”

Munroe wrote at least two letters to the Transcript proclaiming that the letter was a fake. In 1900 he published a pamphlet titled A Sketch of the Munroe Clan with an appendix all about the letter. In that he wrote, “The fraud seemed to me so patent, the possibility of belief by any one that a half-educated young girl would prepare a narrative so straightforward and circumstantial appeared to me so remote, that I had no thought of the skit being taken seriously.”

Two years later, the Dedham Historical Register published the letter again as a genuine document. In 1917, the Journal of American History did the same. In 1924, it even appeared in St. Nicholas magazine for young readers. And now, will the internet bring it back?

(Hear genuine stories of President Washington’s visit to New England in 1789, and his interactions with Gov. John Hancock, when you come to the Cambridge Forum tonight.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Honors from the Journal of the American Revolution

The Journal of the American Revolution just announced its 2014 Book of the Year Award.

The winning title is Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities During the War for Independence, by Ken Miller. The Continental authorities housed 13,000 British and Hessian prisoners of war around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and this is an in-depth study of how that affected the community. I haven’t read this book myself—without a New England connection, other titles keep going higher on my list—but I’ve heard good things.

Shortlisted and receiving honorable mentions are:
Nick Bunker, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America. I shared my complimentary thoughts on this book here.
John J. Duffy and H. Nicholas Muller, III, Inventing Ethan Allen. I’m reading this now and enjoying it—but of course I’d like a book that compares a New England legend to contemporaneous sources.