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, December 01, 2015

“New England Captives” Tour, July 2016

Historian Donald Friary and the New England Historic Genealogical Society are offering what looks like an unusual tour of New England and Canada next summer. The theme is “New England Captives Carried to Canada.” The description:
Between King Philip’s War in 1675-76 and the fall of Quebec in 1759 almost 1,000 captives—soldiers and civilians, men, women, and children—were taken by Natives and French from New England frontier settlements to Canada. Some died on the journey, many were redeemed and returned to their homes and families, but others remained, as their descendants still do, in Native villages and French seigneuries along the St. Lawrence River.

From July 16-24, 2016, the New England Historic Genealogical Society will offer a tour to the places where the captives lived as Mohawks, Abenakis, Hurons, and naturalized French subjects—Montreal and Quebec, Chambly, Boucherville, Trois-Rivieres, Ile d’Orleans, Kahnawake, Kanesetake, Odanak, Wendake—to learn of the struggle among the French, English, and several Native groups for control of the borderlands that both separated and united them.
Friary is an experienced tour leader who also spent years as Executive Director of Historic Deerfield, in a town with a well remembered raid of 1704.

The tour will depart from Boston by bus on Saturday, 16 July 2016. Its itinerary includes “4 nights each in the best Montreal and Quebec hotels, walking tours of both cities, 5 Native sites, and a dinner cruise on the St. Lawrence.” The bus returns the following Sunday.

The base cost is $4,995.00 for double occupancy, registration before 1 Feb 2016. The cost goes up for registration after that date, for single rooms, and for people who are not already members of the N.E.H.G.S. Check this webpage for more information.

The picture above shows Mother Superior Marie-Joseph de l’Enfant-Jésus, née Esther Wheelwright (1696-1780). She was born in Wells, Maine, and taken prisoner by Abenakis in 1703. Her family arranged for those Abenakis to release her to a French priest in exchange for a captured Native child. (There could presumably be an equivalent tour of where the English sent their Native captives from these wars, though that might involve Caribbean travel.) After spending the next couple of years in Québec, however, Esther became a Catholic nun and chose never to return to New England. I believe this portrait is on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Monday, November 30, 2015

“The dead siphoning life from their relatives”

On Thursday, 3 December, Clark University in Worcester will host a seminar with Brian Carroll on “The Introduction of Vampire Belief to New England.”

I’ve got your attention now, don’t I? Here’s the event description:
Between 1782 and 1820, New Englanders suspected severe outbreaks of tuberculosis were caused by the spirits of the dead siphoning life from their relatives. In order to stop the spread of the disease, they exhumed the corpses they thought responsible, burned their hearts, and made a medicine from the ashes.

Originally a European belief, the practice was brought to the region during the American Revolution by German military physicians serving in Hessian regiments. Many became itinerant doctors in the aftermath of the war and taught Americans to believe in the undead. But vampire belief in America was medicalized—turned from a folk belief into a cutting-edge medical procedure. The exhumations were conducted like autopsies and doctors used “science” to identify and destroy supposed vampires. American doctors quickly caught on and began using it as a cure for the deadly wasting disease.
This is separate from, though perhaps related to, the vampire fear in Jewett City, Connecticut, in 1854.

Carroll is Assistant Professor of History and American Indian Studies at Central Washington University. He flew to New England to be an American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society, which co-sponsors this seminar series along with the history departments at Clark, Brown, and the University of Connecticut.

This seminar will start at 4:00 P.M. in the Rare Book Room of Goddard Library on the Clark campus. There will be refreshments provided before the paper. If you plan to attend, please email Paul Erickson by the end of the workday today so he’ll know what to expect.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Viewing the Tea Party in Context

If you attend the Boston Tea Party reenactment at Old South and the Boston Tea Party Ships, I have two things for you to keep in mind about what you’re hearing.

As I’ve written before, it’s unlikely that many friends of the royal government came to Old South to debate what to do about the tea. To begin with, those mass gatherings weren’t official town meetings, so even showing up would grant them more legitimacy than most Loyalists wanted.

At least one supporter of the royal government was there to take notes and report back to the authorities, and of course that man, apparently named Colman, wouldn’t have called attention to himself. He did note who spoke and about what, and he didn’t mention many political compatriots. Unless they were trying to save their property (John Rowe) or their new in-laws (John Singleton Copley), Loyalists kept far away from the other side’s rally.

Voicing only anti-Tea Act opinions would therefore be a more accurate depiction of the final tea meeting, but that would provide a false impression of the larger debate in Boston and in America in late 1773. There really was a political dispute, as well as smaller disagreements about tactics. So there’s a good reason the script includes more Loyalist voices.

As for that script, a lot of it ends up in the hands of the audience as people take turns reading arguments about what to do off cards they receive when they come in. Ideally, there would be a one-to-one ratio of speakers and arguments. In other words, everyone who wants to speak would have something to say, and nobody would repeat anyone else. But of course life doesn’t work that way.

Instead, the way it works out is that an audience member who’s eager to participate lines up, waits her turn, and then reads off her card—even if someone else has read the same argument already. There’s a lot of repetition, and speakers don’t respond to what others have just said. However, I’m quite sure the event organizers know all that, and there’s really no smoother way to incorporate the audience into the discussion. The value of being able to participate in the reenactment—especially for younger audience members—outweighs the drawbacks of this approach.

While listening to all those debating points last year, I heard a lot of political anachronisms—rhetoric that might be appropriate during the Revolutionary War, but not two years earlier. In 1773, American Whigs weren’t yet attacking King George III. They were still focusing their anger on what they saw as a corrupt Parliament and corrupt government ministers while proclaiming loyalty to the king and the British constitution.

Similarly, there were no British army troops patrolling Boston in 1773. They had been there from October 1768 to March 1770, and they were ordered back in May 1774 as a response to the Tea Party. Any complaints you hear about redcoats in the streets during the Tea Party would also be anachronistic. The Crown hadn’t yet taken any steps to close the port or disarm the colonists.

As with the criticism of King George, such complaints arise from looking back at the Revolution at such a distance that the distinctions between particular years blur together. But seeing how they accumulated and how American thinking evolved is useful in understanding that the Revolution developed. The Tea Party of 16 Dec 1773 was a particular moment in a gradual process.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Tea Party in Review

Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum are hosting their annual reenactment of the first Boston Tea Party on Wednesday, 16 December, starting at 6:30 P.M. (Doors open at 5:45.) Tickets are still available through this website.

I attended last year’s reenactment on a media pass, trying not to block paying customers’ views by standing behind a video camera (see photo). So it’s about time I reviewed that presentation.

The first act of the event takes place at Old South, the exact site of mass meetings about the tea in November and December 1773. Its main floor and first gallery are filled with people, Revolutionary reenactors mostly at the center and the public everywhere else. As people enter, they receive cards with remarks on the controversy over the East India Company’s tea monopoly and how Boston should respond.

At the start, some of the reenactors use first-person interpretation (i.e., portraying individual figures from 1773 Boston) lay out the basics of the debate. Then the gentleman presiding over the meeting opens the floor to other voices—folks in the audience. Everyone who wants to participate can line up at one of the microphones and read an argument from his or her card. As those lines wind down, sea captain Francis Rotch returns to report that Gov. Thomas Hutchinson has refused to permit him to sail away with the tea. Some of the reenactors whoop and head outside.

The audience is then led through the streets (rain, shine, or chill) to a viewing area across the channel from the well-lit Boston Tea Party Ships. From there they watch Sons of Liberty arrive on the ship, demand the keys to its hold, and start breaking open tea chests and throwing the cargo overboard. Finally, there’s a short spoken presentation by performers from the Tea Party Ships about what the tea destruction will lead to.

The tea crisis is a tough political confrontation to explain. The action in Old South lays out the issue on the highest level—Parliament has enacted a tax and granted a monopoly without North American subjects having any say in the matter. It also explains the lowest level—if the tea stays in those ships one more night, the royal authorities win. But the combination of laws, regulations, and circumstances that links those levels is still murky.

But these sorts of public presentations aren’t meant to lay out every detail of a historical event. They’re designed to give the public a vivid experience—in this case, hearing the arguments about the tea in Boston in late 1773 and then watching men destroy that tea on the night of 16 December. If everything works, the visuals the reenactment provides and the emotions it evokes are strong enough to entice people to learn more.

TOMORROW: Historical facts to keep in mind.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Look at Samuel Selden’s Horn

Back when I reviewed the “We Are One” exhibit at the Boston Public Library [closing this weekend!], I finished by saying, “Over the next couple of days I’ll discuss a couple of the ‘We Are One’ items in more depth.“

The first of those artifacts was the Crispus Attucks teapot, and looking into that led to a much longer series of postings about Attucks than I expected. As a result, I never got to the second.

That neglected artifact is the Samuel Selden powderhorn, owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Here’s a blog post from the M.H.S. about it.

The Selden horn is dated March 9, 1776. It identifies its owner (not necessarily its carver) as “MAJOR SAMUEL SELDEN” of Lyme, Connecticut, and identifies itself as “MADE FOR THE DEFENCE OF LIBERTY.” The horn’s main decoration is a schematic map of the fortifications on “BOSTON NECK.” The “YANKES BRESTWORK” and “REDOUTS” with a big “MORTER” face off against “THE REGULARS BRESTWORK.”

But the horn’s unique graphic is a picture of a ship labeled “SHIP AMARACA” flying two flags. At the topmast is a banner with a tree—either the Liberty Tree or a variation of the “Appeal to Heaven” pine tree. At the aft is a flag with a Union Jack near the staff (but not exactly in the place of a canton) and a field that could be a series of horizontal stripes or a colored field denoted by hatching. Thus, it’s possible—but not in my eyes definite—that this horn is one of the earliest representations of the flag that the Continental Congress designed for its navy at the end of 1775.

I held the Selden horn in my (gloved) hands while examining two other powder horns owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society three years back. It was striking to see it again on display at the Boston Public Library.

Not until I came home from the exhibit, however, did I realize that Samuel Selden (1723-1776) was an ancestor of mine. Another branch of the family still uses “Selden” as a given name. After finishing the Boston campaign, Col. Selden took his regiment down to New York. He was captured in a skirmish during the Landing at Kip’s Bay on 15 Sept 1776, fell ill while imprisoned in City Hall, and died on 11 October.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Talking Turkey in Pre-Revolutionary America

For the holiday, John Overholt at Harvard’s Houghton Library shared a look inside one of only five surviving copies of a cookbook that Edes and Gill reprinted for pre-Revolutionary Boston:
Susannah Carter’s The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook (1772) [was] just the second cookbook printed in America. Carter was English, and only in later editions did distinctively American dishes like pumpkin pie begin to appear, but her book was highly influential and went through numerous editions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries before cookbooks by American authors began to predominate.

In addition to its collection of recipes and household hints, the book includes two illustrations by a man then best known as a silversmith and engraver, Paul Revere.
Those pictures show how to prepare turkey, various other fowls, and hare or rabbit for cooking.

The holiday also offers a chance to quote Samuel Adams’s advice to a new husband about preserving a happy house:
Of what Consequence is it, whether a Turkey is brought on the Table boild or roasted? And yet, how often are the Passions sufferd to interfere in such mighty Disputes, till the Tempers of both become so sowerd, that they can scarcely look upon each other with any tolerable Degree of good Humor.
Plus, Benjamin Franklin’s struggle to electrocute a turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mapping Out a Map-Filled Visit to Boston

This weekend is your last chance to see the “We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence” exhibit at the Boston Public Library. And I heartily recommend doing so. Here’s my review of the show.

The exhibit’s last day is Sunday, 29 November. After that, our only solace will be the Leventhal Map Center’s database of Revolutionary-era maps. (The map center at the library also has a smaller exhibit on women cartographers, which I haven’t seen.)

Just a short walk outbound along Boylston Street and you can also visit the Massachusetts Historical Society. Its current exhibit, running through early January, is titled “Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the M.H.S. Map Collection”:
As the M.H.S. approaches its 225th year, Terra Firma celebrates the beginnings of one of its most diverse and interesting collections. Among the maps on display are landmarks of map publishing that include the first published map of New England, the first map of Massachusetts published in America, and a unique copy of the earliest separate map of Vermont, as well as maps of important battles and maps and atlases from the United States and beyond.
There’s a webpage of audio profiles of four of the men who made those maps, including Gov. Thomas Pownall, Col. Richard Gridley, and Henry Pelham [who also serves as the @Boston1775 Twitter avatar]. Admission to the M.H.S. galleries is free, and they will be open this Friday and Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.

And if that’s not enough maps, the Boston Athenaeum has an exhibit up through the end of February called “Collecting for the Boston Athenæum in the 21st Century: Maps, Charts, & Plans,” on recent additions to its collection of maps and charts.
Some of the highlights will include a very scarce chart of Casco Bay by J.F.W. DesBarres, a rare French edition of a classic map of the Americas by Petrus Bertius, published in the mid-seventeenth century, and a beautiful example of one of the earliest charts to focus on the New England coastline by J. van Keulen.
There are a number of eighteenth-century maps on the exhibit list, including a 1793 print of Sir Thomas Hyde Page’s Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill on the 17th of June 1775 (thumbnail above). Admission is $5, free for members. Check the calendar for days when the Athenaeum is open.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Sort of Gift Do You Get for a 250th Anniversary?

I’ve been promoting awareness of the Sestercentennial of the American Revolution, in part by describing what happened in the American colonies 250 years ago and in part by using the word “sestercentennial” a lot.

On Monday, 30 November, the Old North Church in Boston will host “The 250th is Coming, the 250th is Coming!”, a panel discussion on what more Massachusetts can and should do to celebrate the Sestercentennial. The event description says:
We know from the celebration of the Bicentennial forty years ago that major milestones can bring major benefits to our region: strengthening our brand as a historic tourist destination, creating new education programs, preserving our national heritage sites and renewing our civic commitment to core values of freedom and liberty. We also know that years of advance planning are required to gather the civic and financial resources required to celebrate a major milestone.
The panelists will be:
  • William Fowler, Northeastern University
  • Martha McNamara, Wellesley College
  • Robert Allison, Suffolk University
  • Greg Galer, Boston Preservation Alliance
  • Rep. Byron Rushing
The event is free, but the church asks people to reserve seats through this site.

By most historians’ lights, the Sestercentennial has already started. Back in August, the Revolution 250 consortium observed the anniversary of the first Stamp Act protest at Liberty Tree. What other Revolutionary events should Massachusetts celebrate in the next ten, eleven, or twenty-five years, and how? We’re inviting people to share ideas at the forum, on blogs like this, or through Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #250isComing.

Here are some potential visions for the future:
  • In June 2018, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum turns one of its vessels into John Hancock’s ship Liberty for a day and recreates how Customs officials seized it for smuggling, and the subsequent waterfront riot.
  • In October 2018, dozens of reenacted British army units disembark from ferries onto Long Wharf, form ranks, and march through downtown Boston to the Common for a weekend encampment recreating the occupation of Boston in October 1768.
  • In February 2020, a recreation of the massive funeral procession of young Christopher Seider winds through the streets to the Granary Burying-Ground, honoring the first Bostonian to die in the political struggle.
  • In August and September 2024, large outdoor public events commemorate the Powder Alarm in Cambridge and the closing of the courts in Hampshire and Worcester Counties, events that helped end royal rule in Massachusetts outside of Boston.
  • By April 2025, the location of Dr. Joseph Warren’s house is marked on City Hall Plaza and added to the Freedom Trail.
What would you like to see happen? What local event deserves a 250th-anniversary commemoration?

Monday, November 23, 2015

“We have now the Stamped Papers in our own Hands”

As related yesterday, on the evening of 5 Nov 1765, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden handed New York’s supply of Stamp Act paper over to the city government.

Colden reported:
They were carried to the City Hall, and remained safe with a very triffling Guard indeed upon them. The Mob dispersed immeadiately and remain quiet. Can anything give a stronger suspicion who they were that composed the Mob, and under whose direction they acted?
That was the same building (shown here) where the Stamp Act Congress had met the previous month.

Colden’s remark about the crowd was a typical assumption of friends of the royal government, seeing “the Mob” as raised and directed by local politicians rather than the people having wills of their own.

In fact, the city’s political activists were hustling to make sure the populace accepted the compromise they had made with Colden and kept the peace. The next morning, this note was posted at the city’s main coffee house:
To the Freeholders & Inhabitants of the City of New York


We have now the Stamped Papers in our own Hands, so that there is a Prospect of our enjoying Peace once more; all then that we have to do is to promote this Peace; to do which we are under many Obligations; of which what follows will be a Proof;

1st We have entirely accomplish’d all we wanted in rescuing the Stamps from the Hands of our inveterate Enemy; to proceed any farther then would only hurt the good Cause in which we are engaged.

2dly As we have promised, both for ourselves & by our Representatives whom we ourselves have chosen, that if the Stamps were lodged in the Hands of these our Representatives (as they now are) we would be quiet & no Harm should be done, the Honour & Credit of the City lie at Stake, & shall we ruin our own Credit? I am persuaded no one would be so infatuated as to attempt it.

Let us then as we have joined Hand in Hand in effecting the Peace that now subsists also join in preserving it. This will shew that we have Conduct as well as Courage, prove that we have acted, not as a Mob, but as Friends to Liberties & be as strong an Argument as we can use to obtain a Repeal of the Stamp Act.
At the end of the day, that paper was taken down and delivered to Colden, who then sent it with his report to London. But it had done its work.

One week later, on 13 November, Sir Henry Moore, the long-expected new royal governor, arrived in New York from Britain. Colden “had the pleasure of delivering up the Administration,” and the attending headaches, to Moore “in as much quietness as could be expected in the present situation of the public affairs.”

There were, however, two new complications. Moore’s ship had also brought:
  • nine more big boxes of stamped paper for New York and Connecticut.
  • Colden’s grandson Peter De Lancey, Jr., with the proud news that the royal government had appointed him stamp inspector for Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Hampshire.
So I expect we’ll be coming back to New York for more sestercentennial updates.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How the New Yorkers Came to a Deal

On 5 Nov 1765, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of New York sent a report to London about how an angry crowd was besieging him inside Fort George with the province’s stamped paper.

In his letter to the Marquess of Granby, Colden wrote, “I expect the Fort will be stormed this night—everything is done in my power to give them a warm reception.”

Capt. John Montresor of the Royal Artillery, who had been busy strengthening the fort, wrote in his journal that 5th of November:
Advertisements and many papers placarded throughout this city declaring the storming of the Fort this Night under cover of burning the Pope and pretender unless the Stamps were delivered.
But in fact there was a compromise in the works. The next day Colden updated his messenger on the developments:
In the forenoon yesterday the Common Council of the City presented an Address to me Requesting that in order to restore Peace to the City & to prevent the effusion of Blood, I would deliver the Stamp’d Paper into the care of the Corporation, who in that case undertook to protect them. I was surprised at the Proposition, but upon their adding a Clause whereby the Mayor & Corporation became engaged for the full amount of the Paper &c and Duty, in case they were lost, destroyed or carried out of the Province, I consented to take the advice of his Majesty’s council upon it.
Colden was worried about the slippery slope: “The delivering the stamp’d Papers on the threats of a Mob, who may still make further demands greatly affects the dignity of his Majesty’s Government; & may have a tendency to encourage perpetual mobish proceedings hereafter.”

New York’s provincial Council advised that “the City appeared to be in perfect annarchy, and the power of Government either Military or Civil insufficient—that the defense of the Fort would involve the destruction of the City.” Those gentlemen recommended taking the deal. Colden then asked Gen. Thomas Gage for his advice as commander of the king’s army in North America, and he concurred. Colden had thus covered himself bureaucratically as much as he could.

Therefore, on the evening of 5 November the lieutenant governor turned the stamped paper in Fort George over to a committee led by Mayor John Cruger (shown above), who had participated in the Stamp Act Congress the previous month.

Cruger signed this receipt:
Received of the Honble. Cadwallader Colden, Esq. his Majesty’s Lt. Govr. and Commander in Chief of the Province of New York, Seven Packages containing Stamp’d Paper & Parchment all marked No. 1, J. McE., New York which I promise in behalf of the Corporation of the City of New York to take charge & care of, and to be accountable in case they shall be destroyed, or carried out of the Province as particularly set forth and declared in the Minutes of the Common Council of the said Corporation of this Day. Witness my hand in the City of New York this fifth day of November 1765.
TOMORROW: Was that enough to calm the populace?