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, September 22, 2020

Three Online Events on Revolutionary History Tonight

September usually brings a burst of historical events as the academic calendar restarts while museums and tourist sites keep appealing to visitors. This year the pandemic means that a lot of those events are being organized online, and are thus available to much broader audiences. Plus, they’re often recorded and made available online for later.

All of which exponentially increases the number of historical talks and panels one feels guilty about not attending in some way. Here are three scheduled for tonight alone.

The Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society gets under way for the year. Prof. Lauren Duval of the University of Oklahoma has shared a paper titled “The Horrid Deeds of our Enemies.” Prof. Carolyn Eastman of Virginia Commonwealth University will be the principal commenter, but this will be a discussion session.
The American Revolution was waged not only on the battlefield, but in the realm of culture. American homes and the wartime violence within them—particularly directed against women—were prominent subjects in novels and historical paintings. Reimagining women’s interactions with British soldiers solely as relationships of violence and deception, not volition, these narratives promoted a gendered vision of wartime domestic invasion and violation that would, in memory, come to define the war’s devastation and contribute to emergent ideas about the meaning of independence.
To subscribe to the papers in this series and other seminars hosted by the M.H.S., use this link; the cost is $25. Register for tonight’s event here. This seminar will run from 5:15 to 6:30 P.M. Unfortunately, there are no sandwiches and conversation afterward except what we provide ourselves.

Monticello is offering a series of “Tom Talks,” and tonight’s is grandly but not inaccurately titled “The Election of 1800: A Battle for the Soul of America.”
Jefferson recalled the Election of 1800 as the “revolution of 1800;” the first peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in the young United States. Yet it was shaped by a bitter campaign in the press as the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties battled to decide the nation's future course. Join John Ragosta, Historian at the International Center for Jefferson Studies, and Jeff Looney, Editor of the Jefferson Papers: Retirement Series as they discuss the political maneuvering that led to Jefferson’s presidency.
That event begins at 6:00 P.M., and access costs $25. Monticello is also posting many free videos on other aspect of the third President’s life.

Finally, History Author Talks features two experts speaking on “The Ravages of War in New York and New Jersey.” William L. (Larry) Kidder, author of Ten Crucial Days: Washington’s Vision for Victory Unfolds and the upcoming Revolutionary Princeton, 1774-1783: The Biography of an American Town in the Heart of a Civil War, and Todd Braisted, author of Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City and Bergen County Voices from the American Revolution: Soldiers and Residents in Their Own Words, will discuss military maneuvers in the crucial corridor between the two largest cities in North America.

This conversation will start at 7:00 P.M. To register, use this link. The History Author Talks website has links to recordings of many previous conversations between authors this year, including mine with Nina Sankovitch and Paul Lockhart.

Don’t you feel more guilty already?

Monday, September 21, 2020

When Women Lost the Vote in New Jersey, and Other Troublesome History

Yesterday I wrote about what might be the first and only example of women voting in an official forum in colonial America, two property-owning widows expressing their views at a special Sudbury town meeting in 1655.

The next documented example of American women voting in a governmental election came in New Jersey after the Revolution. As I wrote back in 2010, the state constitution allowed widows and single women meeting the property requirement to vote.

Newspapers at the time made clear that some women did exercise that right—it wasn’t just an abstraction. However, most of what we knew about the custom came from each party complaining that the other side was doing too much to woo female support. In 1807, the men in charge of New Jersey took care of that problem by rewriting the constitution to restrict the vote to men only.

This year we’re observing the hundredth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and of the first national election in which American women voted. (Those who weren’t disenfranchised because of race, that is.)

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia decided to use that occasion to dig deeper into the history of female suffrage in New Jersey. As reported earlier this year in the Philadelphia Inquirer and in the New York Times, researchers from the museum went looking for voter rolls that might name women who actually cast ballots.

Jennifer Schuessler reported on the challenge in the New York Times:
A 1920 article in a small historical journal included a transcript of a 1787 poll list from Burlington Township showing two women’s names. But the original list could not be found, and some scholars wondered if the names were transcription errors. (Was “Iona” a woman’s name, or a misreading of “Jona,” a common abbreviation for Jonathan?)

A footnote in a 1992 scholarly article mentioned an 1800 list from Bedminster apparently showing a few women’s names. But that, it seemed, was it.

And so Dr. [Marcela] Micucci began trying to locate surviving poll lists — rarities in themselves — to see if they included women’s names that could be verified against other records.

The first big hit was an 1801 poll list from Montgomery Township, held at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, which had acquired it in 2016 from the descendant of a long-ago county clerk.

Dr. [Philip] Mead recalled being on the phone when Dr. Micucci walked in, waving a photocopy with what turned out to be nearly four dozen women’s names highlighted.
As of February, the research team had found eighteen poll lists from four townships, half of those rolls including women’s names. A detail from one such document appears above.

The pandemic disrupted the M.A.R.’s initial plans for its “When Women Lost the Vote” exhibit, but it’s opening next month. The museum says:
Featuring original objects including textiles, works of art, and newly-discovered poll lists highlighting women voters from the period, the exhibition will bring to life the forgotten stories of the women who first pioneered the vote and became role models for women's suffragists two generations later. “When Women Lost the Vote” is an inspiring story that will encourage visitors to reconsider their understanding of the timeline of women’s history in America, but it is also a cautionary tale about one of America’s first voting rights crises. The exhibition will be integrated within the Museum’s permanent galleries and connected by an audio tour.
This exhibition will run through 25 Apr 2021. There are restrictions for visitors to preserve public health.

Also from the M.A.R., on Thursday, 24 September, Annette Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University, will deliver the Carl M. Buchholz Memorial Lecture on the topic “The Past in the Present: Dealing with Troublesome Histories.”

Gordon-Reed has written extensively about some of the troublesome aspects of Thomas Jefferson, as well as his more admirable sides, in her books Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, The Hemingses of Monticello, and “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” with Peter S. Onuf. She has also written a short biography of—talk about troublesome!—President Andrew Johnson.

Watching this online lecture live requires registering in advance. The log-in period will begin on Thursday at 5:45 P.M., and the lecture at 6:00. There will be a question period afterward.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Women Who Voted in a Colonial Massachusetts Town Meeting

Ten years ago, I noted the legend of Lydia Taft, a widow in Uxbridge who was said to have voted in a town meeting in 1756.

That statement appeared in print in 1881, in the publication of a speech delivered seventeen years before. That book cited no records from 1756 to support the claim.

I opined that it would have been very unlikely for no one to comment on a woman voting, especially when she supposedly broke a tie on a controversial tax. “It would be nice to see the official records,” I wrote.

Last month an unknown commenter stated: “Uxbridge records for the period are extant both as physical documents in the possession of the Town Clerk and as part of the Holbrook group's microfiche collection. There is no mention of Lydia having voted.”

Just now I came across this Mental Floss article by Jocelyn Sears, also based on a look at actual town records:
But according to records from Uxbridge’s town meetings, there wasn’t any meeting on October 30, 1756, and the town did not appropriate any funds that year for the war or for unspecified colonial purposes. (They did vote to raise money for the local schools, to repair the roads, and to pay the town minister’s salary.) Further, even if Lydia Taft had voted, we’d have no way of knowing, since the official minutes for the town meetings do not list the names of people voting or their votes. The minutes simply state when a vote happened and that a given measure passed or failed.
So we can file the story of Lydia Taft voting under myths.

Sears’s article also discusses a documented case of women’s votes being recorded in Sudbury in 1655. At issue was whether the selectmen had apportioned new land fairly in 1649, and whether common grazing rights should depend on the amount of (unfairly?) apportioned land. Sears writes:
Jane Goodenow and Mary Loker were both widows of men who received land in the original division of the meadow. As their husbands’ heirs, each had a stake in this question of sizing the commons. Jane Goodenow owned 25 acres of meadow land, and thus benefited from any policies that favored those with a large acreage. Mary Loker, on the other hand, only owned 5 acres of meadow, and she recognized that tying grazing rights to meadow acreage would disadvantage her. As landowners, both women were theoretically eligible to vote in Sudbury, where the access to the franchise depended on property, though according to custom, women did not vote. But on January 22, 1655, Goodenow and Loker packed into the Sudbury meeting house with over 50 other people to determine how the town commons would be sized.

Acting for herself and as a proxy for a (male) neighbor, Goodenow issued two votes in favor of tying grazing rights to meadow ownership, while Loker issued two votes against the measure (it’s unclear if she was also acting as a proxy).
The good news is that Sears’s article included links to images of Sudbury town records. The bad news is that those links have broken.

But—good news again—I found a new link through Digital Commonwealth. This is actually a handwritten transcription of the seventeenth-century original, mandated by a vote in 1857. Which is why we can, you know, read it.

The preceding page records an official town meeting on 22 Jan 1655 (1654 as British colonies dated years then) and concludes with this call for a vote:
You that judge the act of the select men, for sizing the commons to be a righteous act, and do consent with them in their act, discover it by drawing yourselves together, in the one end of the meeting house, to this vote there appeared, those that follow. (see the other side of this leaf.)
On the left side of the next page spread are the lists of people for and against the measure. Halfway down the first column is “Jane Goodenow widow for herself and Andrew Belcher.” In the right column at the same line is “Mary Luker widow two votes.”

Following the division, there were disputes about whether all the people listed were eligible to vote. As Sears points out, no one objected to the widows Goodenow and Luker participating.

In 1656, the year after this protest, three of the men who had voted against the Sudbury selectmen’s action led some families a few miles west and organized a petition to the Massachusetts General Court to start a new town. That soon became Marlborough.

I tried to find more information about Jane Goodenow and Mary Luker in the Sudbury town records. Unfortunately, because it was a young town, formed in 1638, an older couple that moved there with their children already born wouldn’t show up in the local records of marriages and births.

I believe that Jane Goodenow was the widow who died on 15 July 1666. Her will identified her late husband as named John. John Goodenow, Sr., died on 28 Mar 1654, in the crucial window between the granting of the land and the vote on the common. His will was abstracted here. The Goodenows had a daughter Jane, who married Henry Wait or Wight by 1654, and they had a son named John by the time widow Goodenow died. (This genealogy webpage contains entries for the Goodenows, but I think some of the identifications are mistaken and can’t verify others.)

Mary Luker’s husband was also named John. They had a daughter named Mary on 28 Sept 1653. Sometime in that year, John died. I can’t find any further information about Mary Luker in either Sudbury or Marlborough.

But we can remember the names of Jane Goodenow and Mary Luker as women who, by virtue of being unmarried widows with property, participated in a protest vote in the Sudbury meetinghouse in January 1655.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Dr. Dexter’s Boys

When Lydia (Woods Dexter) Curtis died at the end of 1772, her three surviving sons were all in their late teens, of age to be apprentices. They may therefore have left the household of their stepfather, Dr. Samuel Curtis.

Lydia was from a large and established family in Marlborough. The boys’ paternal relatives in Dedham were also rich enough to take them in if that seemed like the best course. (In 1771 their grandmother there offered to pay “the Charge of Rideing” for one boy so that he could recover from an illness through “moderate exercise.”)

Two of those Dexter boys went into medical professions, and it’s possible that Dr. Curtis helped to train them. But it’s also possible those sons were inspired entirely by their father, Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, and wanted little to do with Curtis. Here’s what we know about the next generation of Dexters.

William (1755-1785) went out to Shrewsbury, perhaps to train under Dr. Edward Flynt, who had treated his father in his last illness. In February 1775, at the age of nineteen, William married a local woman named Betsy Bowker, age twenty-one. Their first child, named Ebenezer after William’s father, arrived eight and a half months later.

By then, Edward Flynt and William Dexter had enlisted as surgeon and surgeon’s mate for Gen. Artemas Ward’s regiment of the Massachusetts army. The young man’s handwritten commission signed by James Warren for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appears above. Dexter served in the Continental Army through the siege of Boston and accompanied the regiment down to New York under Col. Jonathan Ward.

Betsy Dexter, according to her 1843 application for a pension, was living at her father’s house in Shrewsbury all this time. William “returned after warm weather in 1776,” she recalled. He had reached the age of majority that April, and I wonder if he inherited his father’s estate in Marlborough. (It’s worth recalling that Dr. Curtis decided to leave town and go to sea the next spring.)

According to his wife, William brought his little family home to Marlborough in December 1776 and set up his own practice as a physician. William and Betsy had children in 1777, 1778, and 1779, all of them living to adulthood. But like his father, William Dexter died young, at age thirty. His widow Betsy remarried ten years later to a man named Edward Low and settled in Leominster, living until 1846.

Samuel Dexter (1756-1825) became an apothecary, married Elizabeth Province in Northampton in 1790, and settled in Albany, New York. She was a daughter of John and Sarah Province of Boston, and thus a sister of the David Province whom George Gailer sued for helping to tar and feather him in 1769, when she was six. How she got to Northampton is a mystery. Samuel and Elizabeth had five children, three living to adulthood. Samuel was the longest-lived of the brothers, and Elizabeth died in 1846.

John Dexter (1758-1807) worked as a quartermaster sergeant for the Continental Army for several years under Col. Timothy Bigelow of Worcester. On 3 Mar 1783 he married a woman from Marlborough named Mary Woods, likely a cousin on his mother’s side, with a justice of the peace from Stow rather than a local minister presiding. John and Mary Dexter’s first daughter arrived in late December, and three more children followed by 1794.

John was a tanner. He gained the militia rank of ensign under Gov. John Hancock. In the 1790s the Dexters moved to Berlin. Then John “went into Trade,” and in 1802 he moved the family into Boston. John died five years later, Mary in 1823. The children all lived well into the latter half of the nineteenth century, but none had children.

John Dexter’s third child was John Haven Dexter (1791-1867), who apprenticed at Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel but then went to work in the mercantile firm of Amos and Abbott Lawrence. J. H. Dexter wrote two books (Mercantile Honor, and Moral Honesty and A Plea for the Horse) and also left several manuscripts of genealogical information and gossip about his family and fellow Bostonians, some helpfully transcribed and published in 1997.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Short Marriage of Dr. Samuel and Lydia Curtis

In March 1769, as I recounted yesterday, Dr. Ebenezer Dexter of Marlborough died. He left a wife, Lydia, and four young sons.

By July a young physician named Samuel Curtis was boarding in the Dexter house, treating the late doctor’s patients.

On 30 June 1771, the widow Lydia Dexter married Dr. Samuel Curtis. The bride was almost eleven years older than the groom.

The new couple’s neighbors wouldn’t have needed medical training to understand their reason for marrying. Their first child, Anna, arrived on 5 October, or three months and one week later.

Those necessary nuptials didn’t stop Dr. Curtis from gaining his neighbors’ respect, however. In 1772 the Marlborough town meeting put him on its committee of correspondence.

Unfortunately, the Curtis marriage didn’t last long. Not because of incompatibility but because of illnesses.

In August 1772 the Dexters’ youngest son, Jason Haven Dexter, died at the age of ten.

In March 1774, Lydia Curtis gave birth to her second child by Samuel, a daughter named Christian. (Was she named after Loyalist neighbor Christian Barnes?) But within one week in December, the Curtises’ first daughter, Anna; their new baby, Christian; and Lydia all died.

Dr. Samuel Curtis was now the widowed stepfather of three teen-aged boys from Lydia’s first marriage. I don’t know how much the doctor was involved in raising them after that, though. He was putting a lot of his energy into Patriot politics, serving on the town’s committee of correspondence and as a representative to the Middlesex County convention in August 1774.

On 1 Mar 1775, when Henry Barnes tried to shelter two British officers on a clandestine scouting mission, Curtis politely pushed himself into the house and quizzed Barnes’s young niece about those family guests. That September, the Massachusetts government appointed the doctor as a justice of the peace.

In March 1777, Dr. Curtis’s Patriotism took a new turn. He enlisted as a surgeon on the Continental Navy ship Hancock under Capt. John Manley. Joseph Ross has provided a long discussion of Dr. Curtis’s adventures in the navy. It doesn’t agree in all details with the profile of Curtis in Sibley’s Harvard Biographies, so I need more time to sort those out.

But I definitely plan to come back to Dr. Samuel Curtis. He seems to have found drama wherever he went, often by making it himself.

TOMORROW: The Dexter boys.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Young Doctors in Marlborough

Yesterday I introduced the figure of Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, Marlborough’s leading doctor in the 1760s.

On 3 May 1769, however, the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of nearby Westborough wrote in his diary: “Dr. [Edward] Flynt came from Dr. Dexter, and says the latter will hardly live through the Night.”

Indeed, Dr. Dexter died the next day. On 6 May Parkman reported: “Dr. Dexter was buryed at Marlborough.”

The doctor’s gravestone, shown here courtesy of Find a Grave, says, “He was an Eminent Physician but was Subject unto Death even as other men.”

The doctor’s death left an opening in his town. Two young physicians soon moved into Marlborough, hoping to establish their own practices.

One was Amos Cotting, born in Waltham in 1749 (under the name Cutting, which would have been apt for a surgeon). He graduated from Harvard College in 1767 and then earned his M.A., presumably while studying medicine. Charles Hudson’s history of Marlborough said Cotting came to that town “On the death of Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, 1769,” but he wasn’t on the list of men paying the poll tax in 1770, so he may have arrived later.

The other young doctor was Samuel Curtis, eldest son of the Rev. Philip Curtis of Stoughton. He graduated from Harvard a year before Cotting and also gained an M.A. Curtis was apparently starting to practice medicine in Roxbury when he learned about the sudden opportunity in Marlborough. Hudson quoted from the town’s warning-out records to reveal what happened next:
Dr. Samuel Curtis came to town, June, 1769; came last from Roxbury. Taken in by widow Dexter.
The following month, the Rev. Mr. Parkman rode to Marlborough to see a sick relative, and he also recorded: “Visit Mrs. Dexter and Dr. Curtis who lodges there.”

Curtis had advantages over Cotting in any competition to become the town’s favorite physician. He was slightly older, and as son of a minister instead of a farmer he was probably more genteel. But the big edge appears to have been that he was now living in Dr. Dexter’s house, thus endorsed by Dr. Dexter’s wife, all ready to see Dr. Dexter’s patients.

The widow Dexter was still only in her early thirties, with four young sons to care for and an estate to maintain. Then, in early 1771, Lydia Dexter became pregnant.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Dr. Ebenezer Dexter Practicing Medicine in Marlborough

Ebenezer Dexter was born in 1729, son of the Rev. Samuel Dexter of Dedham.

Ebenezer chose to go into medicine, and after marrying Lydia Woods, daughter of a selectman in Marlborough, he set up his practice in that town. In 1754, the year of their marriage, Ebenezer was twenty-five and Lydia was eighteen.

We can glimpse Dr. Dexter at work in the diary of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman in nearby Westborough. That minister is shown here, and his diary is fully transcribed and annotated at this website.

Westborough’s northern precinct, which would eventually split off as Northborough [stay with me here], had its own meeting and minister, the Rev. John Martyn. On 13 Aug 1756, Parkman wrote about his colleague’s fifteen-year-old son Nathaniel being ill:
Sarah and Suse undertake to go to Mr. Martyn’s: they return at Eve Well. They tell me Natty Martyn, tis feared, grows bad.
Twelve days later, the father traveled to see Dr. Dexter:
Mr. Martyn has carryed down his Son Natty, to Marlborough to Dr. Dexter’s, who gives great Encouragement concerning the Sore, that he Shall effect the Cure of it.
And indeed, almost a year later Parkman mentioned the son again, apparently healthy: “Natty Martyn brought a Letter from Leominster.” Nathaniel Martyn survived and eventually became a doctor himself.

(The trouble in Leominster was that the Rev. John Rogers had turned into an Arminian, or what a later generation would call a Unitarian. This required a council of other ministers and eventually an approval to allow the Leominster congregation to split. But I digress.)

Dr. Ebenezer and Lydia Dexter had four sons between 1755 and 1762: William, Samuel, John, and Jason Haven, the last named after the minister who had succeeded the doctor’s father in Dedham. Dexter also served Marlborough as the town clerk starting in 1768.

But in May 1769, Dr. Dexter, still only thirty-nine years old, fell seriously ill.

TOMORROW: Opening for a young doctor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

An Acquittal and a Conviction

On 29 Aug 1775, Gen. George Washington told Richard Henry Lee, “I have at this time one Colo., one Major, one Captn, & two Subalterns under arrest for tryal.”

The colonel was John Mansfield of Lynn, originally scheduled to be tried in early August. The major was Scarborough Gridley of Stoughton, in the artillery regiment. As I described yesterday, Gridley had stayed out of the main fighting at Bunker Hill and ordered Mansfield (who had a higher rank) to keep his infantry regiment nearby.

The captain was another artillery officer, Capt. Edward Crafts (1746-1806). He was a younger brother of Thomas Crafts, one of the Loyall Nine who organized the first public protest against the Stamp Act and then remained active in Whig politics. Thomas was an officer in Boston’s militia artillery company, and Edward trained in that unit as a young man.

Edward Crafts was a tinner by profession. He was still in Boston in 1770, when he supplied a deposition for the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. But back in 1768 he had married a country girl, Eliot Winship of Lexington. In 1771 the growing family moved to Worcester. At the end of 1773 Edward became a founding member of the American Political Society, his new town’s new club for Whig politics.

As the province moved toward military conflict in 1774, Worcester put Crafts on a committee to acquire and mount four cannon. He started to train a militia regiment to use those guns. Both Massachusetts Provincial Congress records and spy reports to Gen. Thomas Gage describe a large number of artillery pieces in the town by the spring of 1775.

When war broke out, however, Edward Crafts marched as a private in the town’s minuteman company. Then he returned home and recruited an artillery company to serve through the rest of the year. According to most listings of the Massachusetts artillery regiment under Col. Richard Gridley, Crafts was the senior captain.

That might have given him the stature, and the boldness, to challenge Maj. Scar Gridley. The colonel’s son was nominally fourth in command of the regiment, but in practice he was the colonel’s main aide and protégé. Sometime in the summer of 1775, after Maj. Gridley had behaved so ineffectually at Bunker Hill, he and Capt. Crafts exchanged words and accusations.

That led to the first of a series of court-martial proceedings, starting 1 September. The next day’s general orders announced the verdict:
Capt. Edward Crafts of Col. Gridley’s regiment of Artillery, tried yesterday by a General Court Martial, is acquitted of that part of the Charge against him, which relates to [“]defrauding of his men,” and the Court are also of opinion, that no part of the Charge against the prisoner is proved, except that of using abusive expressions to Major Gridley; which being a breach of the 49th Article of the Rules and Regulations for the Massachusetts Army; sentence the Prisoner to receive a severe reprimand from the Lt Col. of the Artillery in the presence of all the Officers of the regiment and that he at the said time, ask pardon of Major Gridley for the said abusive language.
The lieutenant colonel of the regiment was William Burbeck. I have no idea if he made Capt. Crafts perform this ritual before the end of the month because there was still more legal business to get through.

According to the diary of Lt. Benjamin Crafts (an Essex County cousin of the Crafts brothers from Boston), Col. Mansfield’s court-martial started on 8 September. A week later, on 15 September, the commander’s general orders declared the outcome:
Col. John Mansfield of the 19th Regt of foot, tried at a General Court Martial, whereof Brigdr Genl [Nathanael] Green was president, for “remissness and backwardness in the execution of his duty, at the late engagement on Bunkers-hill”; The Court found the Prisoner guilty of the Charge and of a breach of the 49th Article of the rules and regulations of the Massachusetts Army and therefore sentence him to be cashiered and render’d unfit to serve in the Continental Army.

The General [Washington] approves the sentence and directs it to take place immediately.
Notably, although the Continental Army kicked Mansfield out, the voters of Lynn chose him for their town committee of correspondence, inspection, and safety almost every year until the end of the war, and also voted to have him moderate town meetings.

Likewise, the voters of Newbury sent Samuel Gerrish to the Massachusetts General Court in 1776, the year after the army cashiered him the same way. Those gentlemen’s neighbors felt they still deserved leadership responsibilities.

COMING UP: The trial of Scarborough Gridley.

[The photo above shows the modern marker on Edward Crafts’s grave in Potter, New York, where the family moved in 1792, courtesy of Find a Grave. The original stone also survives there.]

Monday, September 14, 2020

“Remissness and backwardness” at Bunker Hill

On 13 Aug 1775, Gen. George Washington issued orders for a court-martial to take place the following day with Gen. Nathanael Greene presiding.

The defendant was Col. John Mansfield (1721-1809) of Lynn. Three junior officers in his regiment had accused him “of high Crimes and Misdemeanors”—namely “remissness and backwardness in the execution of his duty, at the late engagement on Bunkers-hill.”

But there was a delay. On 17 August, Washington told Greene and the other officers to try Col. Samuel Gerrish instead. There were also hearings on officers of lesser rank in that month. As I discussed last month, Gen. Washington was happy to remove a bunch of officers from the Continental ranks.

On 20 August the commander-in-chief told his cousin and overseer Lund Washington, “there is two more Colos. now under arrest, & to be tried for the same Offences.” One was Mansfield.

Why the delay? The charge against Mansfield also involved Maj. Scarborough Gridley of the artillery regiment, who was a protégé of his father, Col. Richard Gridley. The colonel was highly respected in Massachusetts because of his service in the last two wars, particularly the 1745 siege of Louisbourg. With a half-pay pension from the Crown, he was seen as the equivalent of a British army artillerist. The Massachusetts government had even moved to promote Col. Gridley to major general on 23 June.

Gen. Washington and particularly Gen. Charles Lee were not at all impressed with Col. Gridley’s fortifications and other work when they arrived in Cambridge in July. Washington informed the Continental Congress of Gridley’s new Massachusetts rank but pointedly didn’t endorse it. The Congress commissioned him as a Continental colonel instead. But people still didn’t want to totally alienate Col. Gridley.

What’s more, for a significant time that summer the colonel was home in Stoughton recovering a wound he’d suffered at Bunker Hill. His son Scar was the only liaison between him and the army. So both politically and practically, Maj. Scar Gridley was almost untouchable for a while.

That’s where the incident with Col. Mansfield came in. Mansfield’s failing at the Battle of Bunker Hill was to listen to Maj. Scar Gridley. As Richard Frothingham explained the situation in his History of the Siege of Boston, both officers had been ordered onto the battlefield on the Charlestown peninsula but stopped before crossing the neck:
Major Gridley, of the artillery, inadequate to his position, with part of the battalion, marched a short distance on Cambridge road, then halted, and resolved to cover the retreat, which he thought to be inevitable. Col. [Joseph] Frye, fresh from the battle, urged him forward; but Gridley, appalled by the horrors of the scene, ordered his men to fire at the [Royal Navy ship] Glasgow, and batteries from Cobble Hill. He also ordered Colonel Mansfield to support him with his regiment, who, violating his orders, obeyed.
To convict Mansfield of disobeying higher orders, cowardice, or incompetence would imply that Scar Gridley was guilty of the same charges. And how would his father respond? That might have been why Mansfield’s court martial took so long to get started.

In early September 1775, however, the court-martial proceedings started again. The logjam might have been broken from below as officers in the artillery regiment fired accusations at each other.

TOMORROW: Two trials in two weeks.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Peter Faneuil’s Disability and What It Might Mean

In my recent discussion of Peter Faneuil and the meeting hall still named after him, I referred to him as disabled. That produced some questions. So here’s more on what Faneuil’s contemporaries wrote about his body.

On 3 Mar 1743, Benjamin Walker put in his journal:
Peter Faneuil Esqr, between 2 & 3 o’clock in ye afternoon dyed of a dropsical complyca[tion], he was a fat, squat, Lame, hip short, went with high heeled shoe (In my opinion a great loss too This Town, aged 42, 8m.) & I think by what I have heard has done more charitable deeds than any man yt, ever liv’d in this Town & for whom I am very sorry.
A week later, William Nadir wrote in his almanac:
Thursday 10 [March], buried Peter Faneuil, Esqr., in 43th. year of age, a fatt, corpulent, brown, squat man, hip short, lame from childhood, a very large funeral went round ye Town house; gave no gloves at ye funeral, but sent ye gloves on ye II day, his Cofin cover with black velvet, & plated with yellow plates.
These quotations appear in Abram English Brown’s Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Market, or, Peter Faneuil and His Gift, published in 1900. [I took it upon myself to edit “gave us gloves” to “gave no gloves” because that makes more sense in context.]

I couldn’t find the term “hip short” anywhere else, but it must be the Boston spelling of the eighteenth-century term “hipshot,” defined in different dictionaries as:
  • “is said of a Horse, when he had a wrung or sprain’d his Haunch or Hip, so as to relax the Ligaments that keep the Bone in its due Place.” 
  • “when the hip bone of a horse is moved out of its right place.” 
  • “Sprained or dislocated in the hip.”
The last definition comes from Samuel Johnson’s dictionary and is the only one not explicitly equine.

Thus, putting together the two diary entries (and assuming those men knew what they were writing about), Peter Faneuil was born with one leg shorter than the other. His family was wealthy enough to have shoes made for him with a higher heel for the shorter leg, and for him to go into an office job rather than one that required physical labor. 

Brown and other nineteenth-century authors suggested that Faneuil remained unmarried into his forties because he was “lame,” as well as squat and swarthy (an interpretation of “brown”). There’s also a story that his uncle Andrew Faneuil insisted that his two nephews and heirs remain unmarried. Peter’s brother Benjamin Faneuil definitely married around 1730, and Uncle Andrew definitely left Benjamin all of five shillings in his will. But that story didn’t appear in print until a century and a half after Peter Faneuil’s death as authors tried to arrange the known facts into a meaningful narrative.

It’s quite possible that Peter Faneuil didn’t marry because he just wasn’t interested in marrying. His uncle died in 1738, and he quickly started spending money on himself (wine, chariot, latest London cookbook) and his community (the market building, unspecified other charitable giving). At that point he was one of the richest men in North America. But he was still a bachelor five years later when he died.