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, January 20, 2021

Probing the Tale of Warren and Jeffries

I’ve just shared the two versions of the story of Dr. Joseph Warren sneaking across the siege lines in early June 1775 to try to talk Dr. John Jeffries into heading the provincial medical corps.

Both versions present Dr. Jeffries as a badass: so skilled that Warren was eager to recruit him, so proud that he refused to work under anyone else, so good a friend that he didn’t tell the royal authorities about Warren’s mission until he was dead.

Of course, one of those stories came from Dr. Jeffries’s family, and the other probably did. There’s no version of the tale from Warren’s side, nor any contemporaneous documentation.

Dr. Jeffries’s notes on young smallpox patients on Rainsford Island, now digitized from Harvard’s Countway Library, offer a little more information about this period in his life. I wondered what journal might say about when Jeffries was available to meet Warren on a dock in the North End and/or to treat Bunker Hill casualties on the morning after the battle.

Neither of those possibilities can be ruled out. Jeffries’s first journal entries are dated 6 June, 7 June, 10 June, 11 or 12 June, 14 June, 16 June, and 20 June. (It’s quite possible he missed recording the date of 15 June; his entry for patients after 14 June went through the whole cycle of patients twice before he wrote another date.) Jeffries was probably not on the island on the missing dates, and therefore could have been in the North End one of those nights, and on the Charlestown peninsula on 18 June.

At the same time, the notebook shows us that Jeffries was on Rainsford Island many times in the week before the battle. Rainsford is in the bottom right corner of the map above, well out in the harbor. That distance is why the town put the smallpox hospital there.

If Warren wanted to talk with Jeffries privately, with minimal chance of being taken prisoner, wouldn’t it have been wiser to take a boat from Dorchester out to Rainsford Island?

According to the Jeffries story, they met at the Charleston ferry landing, a place where the British army was patrolling, which Warren could reach only by crossing a river where the Royal Navy had stationed warships. That would be a very risky rendezvous.

Then there’s the question of Dr. Warren making this trip himself. With John Hancock off in Philadelphia, Warren became the presiding officer of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. He was still on the important Committee of Safety. And as of the afternoon of 14 June, he was being made a major general of the Massachusetts army. Basically, in the late spring of 1775 Dr. Warren was the single most important leader of the New England resistance.

To believe the Jeffries story, then, we have to believe that Dr. Warren decided to risk being captured or killed rather than ask someone else to carry a message into Boston. Which we know people were doing at this point in the siege.

What’s more, Dr. Jeffries wasn’t just an ordinary medical colleague. He had taken an appointment as a Royal Navy surgeon in 1771. So Warren was supposedly putting his life and the cause in the hands of a man who had already pledged loyalty to the enemy military.

Another detail that makes me go “hmmm” appears in the first version of the story. Allegedly on 18 June Dr. Jeffries told Gen. William Howe about how Warren had “ventured over to Boston in a canoe to get information” a few days earlier. Why didn’t the general ask why Jeffries hadn’t mentioned that before? The Crown made a wave of arrests in the days after Bunker Hill, including Samuel Gore, Peter Edes, James Lovell, and John Leach—the latter two on suspicion of being in contact with Warren. Yet Dr. Jeffries supposedly set up a secret meeting with the local leader of the rebellion, kept quiet about it, and wasn’t detained.

To be sure, none of those questions makes Warren’s trip to talk with Jeffries impossible. But the tale seems increasingly unlikely. Much less likely than that Dr. Jeffries, back in Boston after 1790, made up a story for his American-born son about how he’d been friends with the heroic Dr. Warren, who had really wanted him to join the team.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

“The connection of my father and General Joseph Warren, M.D.”

In 1875, Bostonians were very excited about the Centennial of the start of the Revolutionary War. Naturally, that included the editorial staff of the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal.

People at that magazine asked Dr. John Jeffries (1796-1876), whose father of the same name had grown up in Boston and lived through that war (albeit while supporting the Crown), what stories he’d heard. Those tales were of course secondhand since this man wasn’t born until more than a decade after the war. (He was in fact his father’s third son named John.)

In its 17 June 1875 issue, the Boston Medical and Surgical Journal published the elderly doctor’s reply:
In compliance with your request that I should state what I know of the connection of my father and General Joseph Warren, M.D., with the battle of Bunker Hill, I have penned the following reminiscences derived from statements of my father, who, like Drs. Warren, [Isaac] Rand, and others of that time, had been a pupil of Dr. James Lloyd. . . .

Dr. Warren had sent to my father a message to meet him secretly at midnight at the end of the wharf of the Charlestown ferry. He accordingly met him shortly before the battle of Bunker Hill. Dr. Warren came over in a small boat, with muffled oars. His object was to induce my father to unite with the Continental army as a surgeon. This he urged upon him, offering him great inducements to accept.

The reply was, “I thought, Warren, that you knew me better. I would not take office under anybody. My motto is ‘Aut Cæsar aut nullus [Either Caesar or no one].’”

Warren then said, ”Don’t be so quick, Jeffries, I have a general’s commission in my pocket. We want you to be at the head of the medical service.” The offer, however, was declined.
Yesterday I quoted the much briefer version of the same story that had appeared half a century earlier in Samuel Swett’s history of Bunker Hill. That telling was an adjunct to the story of how Dr. Jeffries had helped to identify Dr. Warren’s body, a topic that the 1875 letter didn’t mention at all.

There are other small differences between the two versions of the story. Did Warren visit Boston to gather information or to recruit Dr. Jeffries? Did he come by “canoe” or in a rowboat with “muffled oars”? Was he expecting to become a major general soon or did he already have “a general’s commission in my pocket”? (Indeed, other sources indicate that Warren never received the official commission that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress voted to give him on 14 June.)

However, those discrepancies seem like the typical signs of a story getting a little more dramatic as it’s retold over the decades.

I think what strains credibility about this tale, in either version, is Dr. Jeffries’s basic claim.

TOMORROW: Crossing the line.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Dr. Jeffries and Dr. Warren

When I started looking at Dr. John Jeffries’s records of caring for young smallpox inoculatees in June 1775, I hoped to find clues to his whereabouts during that month.

For almost two hundred years at least, a story has circulated about Jeffries and Dr. Joseph Warren meeting that June, and it’s always struck me as dubious.

To review, Dr. Jeffries (1745-1819) was son of Boston’s treasurer, David Jeffries, and protégé of Dr. James Lloyd. He thus had strong links to both the town’s Whig establishment and to friends of the royal government. Dr. Jeffries dined with the Sons of Liberty in August 1769, but in November 1770 Lloyd and Jeffries testified for the defense in the Boston Massacre trial. The two doctors described the victim Patrick Carr’s dying words, which helped to absolve the soldiers.

That testimony appears to have put Jeffries in the Loyalist camp. The next year, he accepted a sinecure appointment as a Royal Navy surgeon. He evacuated Boston with the British military in 1776, became a military surgeon, and spent the war either with the Crown forces or in London seeking higher positions.

In peacetime, Dr. Jeffries used his money to become a pioneering balloonist, or at least balloon passenger. But eventually the cost of living in the imperial capital and the lure of an inheritance in Massachusetts sent him back home. He reestablished his family and elite practice in Boston.

In 1825, six years after Dr. Jeffries died, Samuel Swett published his pioneering study of the Battle of Bunker Hill. He wrote this about the identification of Dr. Warren’s body on the morning after the battle, 18 June 1775:
Dr. Jeffries was on the field dressing the British wounded, and the wounded American prisoners, with his usual humanity and skill. [Gen. William] Howe inquired of him if he could identify Warren; he recollected that he had lost a finger nail and wore a false tooth, and informed the general that Warren had five days before ventured over to Boston in a canoe to get information, invited Jeffries to join the Americans as surgeon, and informed him that he was himself to receive a commission in the army.
Swett probably heard that story from Jeffries’s family. It’s certainly complimentary to the late physician, with its superfluous mention of “his usual humanity and skill.” And of course the idea that the heroic Warren had thought enough of Jeffries’s skills to try to recruit him was a ringing endorsement.

TOMORROW: A longer version of the story.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

How Aged Was William Northage?

This evening I came across an example of the importance of checking original documents where possible to confirm transcriptions.

In a 1993 article in the Bulletin of the History of Medicine titled “John Jeffries and the Struggle Against Smallpox in Boston (1775-1776) and Nova Scotia (1776-1779),” Philip Cash and Carol Pine referred to Dr. Jeffries’s 1775 patients on Rainsford Island this way:

These patients range in age from Nancy Hawes who was four weeks old to William Northage who is simply listed as “aged.”
Jeffries’s medical records at Harvard’s Countway Library are currently being transcribed, so we can see his actual handwriting. Note what he wrote next to the name of William Northage in this image’s last entry.
Jeffries didn’t described this patient as simply “aged.” He left space to record an age, as he had for previous names, but never got back to it.

All the other patients Jeffries listed on these opening pages were children, aged from four weeks to ten years. Later in this document, on the dates of 10, 14, 16, and 20 June, Jeffries referred to William Northage by the name Billy. In that time he used pus from Billy Northage’s legs to inoculate his own infant son John. To me all that suggests William Northage was another child rather than an old man.

Billy Northage appears alongside Benjamin Northage, aged six in 1775 and thus identifiable as the Benjamin Nottage baptized in the Brattle Street Meetinghouse in 1769. I suspect Benjamin and William were brothers.

Benjamin’s father, Josiah Nottage (sometimes spelled Nuttage), was a house carpenter who after the war became known for constructing bridges across the Charles and Passaic Rivers. In 1796 Josiah and Benjamin Nottage bought house lots on Phillips Street that eventually became the site of Vilna Shul.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Desk Job

Since I spent much of the afternoon assembling furniture, of the cheap, practical kind, I’m linking to this exploration of a writing desk made about 1778.

Part of Google’s Arts & Culture collaboration with museums around the world, this page combines close-up images of the desk with an analysis of how it was made, and by whom.
The ébéniste (furniture maker), Martin Carlin, put the entire piece together, including carving the wooden parts and applying the plaques and bronzes. A locksmith installed the locking mechanism for the drawer. A different person supplied the leather for the bureau top.

Dominique Daguerre not only coordinated all this work, but also designed the piece and purchased the materials. Daguerre, an art and furnishings merchant called a marchand-mercier, sold the finished piece to a very special buyer . . .

Catherine the Great, Czarina of Russia from 1762-1796, commissioned Pavlovsk as a gift for her son Paul Petrovitch and his wife, Maria Feodorovna
Sold by the Soviet government in 1931, the desk is at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, but we can appreciate it from our homes.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Digging into the Three Cranes Tavern in Charlestown

I was intrigued by the Massachusetts Historical Council’s webpage for the archeological site of the Three Cranes Tavern in Charlestown.

As the page explains, Charlestown was settled in 1629, the year before Boston, and that site was originally the location of the Great House that served as a meetinghouse, storehouse, and protection. In 1635 a man named Robert Long bought part of the property and opened the Three Cranes Tavern, named after a well known public house in London.

The Three Cranes remained in the extended Long family and one of the town’s busiest taverns for the next 140 years. In that time, tax records and the archeological record show, the owners added a separate dwelling house, brewery, stone foundation, and wine cellar.

As of 1763, the tavern was the southern end of the stage coach route from Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The horses were stabled there while passengers could continue over the ferry to Boston if they chose.

In 1766 proprietor Nathaniel Brown mortgaged the property to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. Without banks, I’m guessing, that was one of the province’s few chartered institutions that could lend out money.

Then came the war and destruction, as the webpage says:
The long history of the Three Cranes Tavern came to a fiery end on June 17, 1775. On the night of June 16, 1775, rebellious colonists occupied Breed‘s Hill. General [Thomas] Gage responded by sending British troops to remove the Americans from the hill. The famous Battle of Bunker Hill ensued. Rebel snipers in nearby Charlestown shot at British soldiers from windows, so General Gage [sic] turned his cannon on the town setting fires everywhere. By the end of the night most of downtown Charlestown, including the Three Cranes Tavern, had burnt to the ground.

Although the damage was great, most of the streets, chimneys, and foundations were visible among the rubble. The citizens of Charlestown cleaned up the debris, filled the site of the tavern over, and created an open market in its place. Market Square was renamed City Square in 1848 to celebrate Charlestown becoming a city.
It actually took quite a while to reuse the tavern site. Nathaniel Brown was a Loyalist and apparently gave up on the property, moving first to Pownalborough, Maine, and then to Nova Scotia. The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company went into abeyance from 1775 to 1786. Finally in 1794 the artillery company donated the land to the city.

For those who want to dig deeper, here’s a 2014 article about Boston city archeologist Joe Bagley’s work on the site and a 2016 reevaluation of the evidence by Craig S. Chartier.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

“News Media” Institute for Teachers at A.A.S., 26-31 July

Last summer, the American Antiquarian Society had planned a weeklong National Endowment for the Humanities Institute for educators. And then the pandemic began, and by fall the government had let it get out of control.

The A.A.S. has therefore rescheduled that N.E.H. Institute for this summer and moved it online. “The News Media and the Making of America, 1730–1800” will take place 26-31 July 2021. Full information is posted here.

N.E.H. Institutes are designed principally for American educators, including teachers and other professionals. This one is limited to twenty-five participants. There’s an application process, with a stipend and development certificates for those who are accepted. The application deadline for this course is 1 March.

This weeklong colloquium and workshop will explore how media was used during the Age of the American Revolution and how news—in all its various forms—was connected to civic engagement. According to the description, it will be organized into four thematic units:
(1) The Colonial Media Milieu, which will focus on the multiplicity of news sources in early America and explore what people thought was news, what sources they used to gather and authenticate news, and what role news seems to have played in their understanding of public life in their community.

(2) The Long Revolution, which will explore the forty-year period from 1760 to 1800 to examine how people living in rural Massachusetts interacted with the urban media in Boston; how the news of the violence at Lexington and Concord was portrayed in the newspapers and broadsides; and the relationships between printers and how personal, family, and business networks impacted what information they printed.

(3) The Republican Experiment, which will cover the decade or so between the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789 and Jefferson’s election to the presidency in 1800 by focusing on the concept of “republicanism.” The creation of the new federal union in 1887–89 in no way ended the controversies over how that union should be organized, and much of the news of those years had to do with conflict over the meaning of liberty, self-rule, federalism, and the proper structures of a government in a large and diverse republic such as the United States.

(4) The Revolution in Memory, which will act as a coda to our end date of 1800, tracing into the nineteenth century the public memory of the Revolution and the political uses of the Revolution’s events, language, and symbolism. An endless parade of bestselling biographies of the Founding Fathers and even a hit musical about Alexander Hamilton all attest to the long and significant afterlife of the Revolution.
The faculty scheduled for this institute include the expert A.A.S. staff; Prof. David Paul Nord, author of Communities of Journalism; Prof. Joseph Adelman, author of Revolutionary Networks; and Gary Gregory from the recreated Edes & Gill print shop in Faneuil Hall.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Manuscript Transcription in Your Own Home

This evening at 5:00 P.M., the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture is hosting an online workship titled “Making History thru Handwriting: An Introduction to Manuscript Transcription.”

Julie A. Fisher from the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia and Sara Powell from Harvard University will discuss transcribing handwritten documents, the importance of that task in making more historic sources available for study, and practical tips for transcribers.

They will also talk about opportunities for the public to join transcription projects taking place across the United States and in Europe. This is a trend made possible by digital imaging. Transcribers can work at archives or at home, and images can be expertly manipulated to make marks clearer. That work can also go on when we’re staying healthy at home. There’s even specialized software for managing such projects.

Among local projects, Harvard University has invited people to participate in transcribing the thousands of documents from eighteenth-century North America that it has digitized in recent years. Another large crowd-sourced project is Transcribe Bentham at University College London. And the Georgian Papers Project straddles the Atlantic. More ongoing projects are listed on the From the Page software website.

Julie A. Fisher, Ph.D., specializes in Early American and Native American history. She’s developed digital humanities projects over the past four years at the American Philosophical Society and as a consulting editor with the Native Northeast Portal (formerly the Yale Indian Papers Project) at the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. In March 2019 she hosted the Omohundro Institute’s first Transcribathon.

Sara Powell is the assistant curator of Early Books and Manuscripts at Houghton Library, specializing in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts—so she’s familiar with older handwriting styles that baffle us even more than ours will baffle the students of the late twenty-first century.

This workshop is scheduled to run from 5:00 to 5:45 P.M. on Wednesday, 13 January. It is free. To register, one must be logged in to the Omohundro Institute.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Warren on “America’s First Veterans,” 13 Jan.

On Wednesday, 13 January, the American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati will offer an online talk by executive director Jack D. Warren, Jr., about the new book America’s First Veterans.

The institute’s announcement says:
Over a quarter of a million men served in the armed forces that won our independence. Those who survived became America’s first veterans. Using eighty-five manuscripts, rare books, prints, broadsides, paintings, and other artifacts, America’s First Veterans introduces the stories of the men—and some women—who bore arms in the Revolutionary War. The book follows their fate in the seventy years after the war’s end and traces the development of public sentiment that led to the first comprehensive military pensions in our history.

“These and thousands of other veterans of the Revolution,” Jack Warren writes, “were ordinary people, made extraordinary by their service in the struggle for American independence.” They believed in the American cause, he explains, and “many suffered for it, in ways their fellow Americans learned to honor and that we should honor as well.” In the words of Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie, who wrote the foreword to the book, their generation “seized an historic opportunity that forever changed the world.”
Warren’s talk will last about an hour on Zoom starting at 6:30 P.M. This event is free with registration here.

The institute is offering signed copies of America’s First Veterans through this page (and I haven’t found it on sale anywhere else). This book is tied to an ongoing exhibit at Anderson House, which unfortunately we can’t visit in person.

We can sample another recent publication of the American Revolution Institute online here. In The Art of War in the Age of the American Revolution: 100 Treasures from the Fergusson Collection, Ellen McCallister Clark highlights books, manuscripts, maps, broadsides, engravings, paintings, and other objects in the Society of the Cincinnati’s holdings.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Tracking Ebenezer Dumaresque

When Dr. Nathaniel Martyn “absconded” in 1770, leaving his wife and two children with her family, he left behind another child as well.

Three years earlier, the Boston Overseers of the Poor had indentured a boy named Ebenezer Dumaresque to Martyn. That contract was due to end when the boy came of age on 25 Nov 1781, meaning he was about to turn seven when he left Boston for the rural town of Harvard.

The Boston Overseers’ file on Ebenezer, visible at Digital Commonwealth, also includes this note: “Ebenr. Dumaresque bound to John Gleason of Woburn.” Gleason’s name doesn’t appear in the Overseers’ indentures ledger, published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts; only Nathaniel Martyn’s does. I take that paper trail to mean that the Overseers got Ebenezer back from the Martyns and then sent him out again, adding the note in his file.

I’m guessing that the boy’s new master was the John Gleason who was born in Brookline in 1720 and married in Watertown in 1740. He and his wife had children in Woburn from 1747 to 1755, and he died there after 1786.

Dr. Martyn had probably brought Ebenezer out to help around the house in 1767 as his wife was busy raising their newborn daughter. The Gleasons, in contrast, were at the end of their period of having children and might have needed farm labor to replace grown sons. But we don’t have hard evidence one way or another.

The name Ebenezer was common in eighteenth-century New England—the tenth most common male given name according to Daniel Scott Smith’s study of records from Hingham. But the name Dumaresque was quite uncommon. As long as we can keep up with the creative ways locals misspelled that surname, we can follow Ebenezer’s trail through the war years.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors has several entries for Ebenezer Dumaresque (Dumarsque, Dumasque, Damasque, Demasque) from Western (now Warren) in Worcester County. All those entries indicate the soldier was born about 1760, as our Ebenezer was. All but one describe him as a little over five feet tall with a dark complexion and dark hair. (One anomalous entry says he was 5'10".)

According to those state records, Ebenezer Dumaresque first served six months in late 1780 in Lt. Col. John Brooks’s regiment, then reenlisted in the spring of 1781 for three years “for bounty paid said Dumaresque by John Patrick and others, in behalf of a class of the town of Western.” He spent most of that time at West Point in New York. On 11 Nov 1782 Pvt. Dumaresque was tried by regimental court-martial for being absent without leave, but his commander pardoned him.

As of the 1790 U.S. Census, “Ebenr. Dumask” headed a household in Palmer, Massachusetts. In addition to himself, the house contained a white male aged 16 or more, a white male under age 16, and two white females.

On 23 Apr 1818, Ebenezer Dumaresque applied for a pension from the federal government as a Revolutionary War veteran. He declared under oath that in early 1781 he had signed up for three years in the 7th Massachusetts Regiment. During his service “he was engaged in no battles.” When the army shrank ”after the Restoration of Peace,” he was shuffled into another unit “under the command of Majors Porter and Preston (he thinks there was no Colonel).”

At the very end of 1783, Dumaresque stated, he was “regularly discharged under the Hand of Major General [Henry] Knox at West Point.” He kept that paperwork for more than a quarter-century until around 1810 “when under an expectation of obtaining a Soldier’s bounty land he sent his discharge to the State of Ohio by an agent” and never saw it again.

By the time he applied for a pension, Dumaresque had left Massachusetts and was living in Kingsbury, New York. He couldn’t supply testimony from any neighbors confirming his military service. All he could send with his application was a short inventory of movable property and a description of his poor health, indications of poverty as the law then required for a pension.

However, Dumaresque’s federal file also contains a July 1819 note from Alden Bradford, secretary of the commonwealth of Massachusetts. It stated:
The records in this office, relating to revolutionary services, are not later than 1780—

But, happily, for you, the Govr, who commanded 7th Regt, has a list of his men, & has furnished a certificate which is herewith forwarded
Lt. Col. John Brooks (shown above) had become the governor of Massachusetts. He personally wrote out a statement certifying that Ebenezer Dumaresque had indeed served under him in the Continental Army from early 1781 to mid-1783.

Dumaresque received his pension. At some point he moved from Kingsbury to the nearby town of Queensbury. Federal records indicate that he continued to receive his money, and to head his own household, past the 1840 census, in the year he turned eighty.