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.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Saturday, July 20, 2019

“Travelling within the nutshell of the earth”?

Yesterday I described how John Cleves Symmes, Jr., a retired army captain and failed trader, was struck with the theory that the Earth was hollow, with holes at the poles.

Symmes started promulgating that idea in April 1818. The growing American press gave it a lot more attention than its lack of evidence deserved. So much so that Secretary of State John Quincy Adams referred to Symmes in his diary on 28 Apr 1819, in a meditation on the idea of sending African-American citizens to Africa:
Mr. [George] Hay’s opinions upon the Colonization Society and its projects were unexpected to me. There are so many considerations of difficulty and of delicacy mingling with this subject that I would gladly keep aloof from it altogether. But I apprehend the Society, which, like all fanatical associations, is intolerant, will push and intrigue and worry till I shall be obliged to take a stand and appear publicly among their opponents. Their project of expurgating the United States from the free people of color at the public expense, by colonizing them in Africa, is, so far as it is sincere and honest, upon a par with John Cleves Symmes’s project of going to the North Pole, and travelling within the nutshell of the earth.
From the start, obviously, Adams thought Symmes’s idea of exploring the hollow Earth was ridiculous.

How then have we been flooded with articles saying that Adams loved Symmes’s theory and as President supported a federal expedition to find “mole people” inside the planet?

The link is a man named Jeremiah N. Reynolds (1799-1858), a young newspaper editor. He met Symmes in 1823 and joined him on the lecture circuit, promoting the idea of a hollow Earth. But what really intrigued Reynolds was polar exploration. After a couple of years he stopped talking about Symmes’s theory of holes at the poles and people possibly living inside the planet, but he continued to advocate for an expedition to the South Pole.

In 1824 John Quincy Adams became President. He mentioned Reynolds in his diary entry for 4 Nov 1826:
Mr. Reynolds is a man who has been lecturing about the country in support of Captain John Cleves Symmes’s theory, that the earth is a hollow sphere, open at the Poles. His lectures are said to have been well attended, and much approved as exhibitions of genius and of science. But the theory itself has been so much ridiculed, and is in truth so visionary, that Reynolds has now varied his purpose to the proposition of fitting out a voyage of circumnavigation to the Southern Ocean. He has obtained numerous signatures in Baltimore to a memorial to Congress for this object, which, he says, will otherwise be very powerfully supported. It will, however, have no support in Congress. That day will come, but not yet, nor in my time. May it be my fortune and my praise to accelerate its approach!
Adams thus was ready to champion Reynolds’s proposal for polar exploring, but only after the man had dropped all that talk about Symmes’s “hollow sphere.”

President Adams and Jeremiah Reynolds finally met on 22 Feb 1828. Adams recorded: “I met at the ball, besides other strangers, Mr. Reynolds, the projector of an expedition to the South Pole, and Mr. [Francis] Lieber, the teacher of the swimming-school at Boston.” [Ah, the glamorous life of the nation’s chief executive.]

The Adams administration supported funding the expedition Reynolds advocated for. The American electorate didn’t support the Adams administration, however. In December 1828, after the election, the lame-duck House of Representatives voted to outfit the U.S.S. Peacock to explore Antarctica. But the Senate didn’t approve, and then Andrew Jackson became President in March 1829. The launch of the U.S. Exploring Expedition would have to wait for the Van Buren administration.

Jeremiah Reynolds’s writing about exploring Antarctica inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym. A later book was a basis for Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. He certainly left a mark on American fiction, therefore. To that list we can add the recent fictional narrative that President J. Q. Adams wanted fund a federal expedition to enter the Earth and find “mole people.”

TOMORROW: But didn’t Adams call Symmes’s hollow-Earth idea “visionary”?

Friday, July 19, 2019

“I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within”

This episode of the Timesuck podcast, this History Daily article, this Cracked article, this 13th Floor article, and this History Extra roundup of Presidential trivia all tell the same story.

That story says President John Quincy Adams was convinced by a man named John Cleves Symmes, Jr., that Earth is hollow, that one can go inside the planet through holes at the poles, and that people are living inside. Allegedly Adams was so taken with this idea that he championed a federal expedition to Antarctica to explore the inner Earth, only to be stymied by losing the election of 1828.

All these web resources also use the term “mole people” for the inhabitants of the hollow Earth, sometimes in quotation marks, even though that phrase isn’t documented before the end of the nineteenth century.

And none points to sources that link President Adams’s statements or actions to Symmes’s vision of a hollow, populated Earth.

You can see where this is going. I’m here to tell you this story is false. Yes, I’m not much fun—but neither, most of the time, was John Quincy Adams.

So far the best online treatment of this story that I’ve found is this Reddit posting by smileyman. So my challenge is to add something interesting to what that says.

First of all, John Cleves Symmes, Jr. (1780-1829, shown above), really did believe in a populated hollow Earth. He was born in New Jersey, named after an uncle who commanded a New Jersey militia regiment in the Revolution and represented the state in the Continental Congress during its low point of the mid-1780s. The elder Symmes was also an early American settler of the Ohio Territory.

The younger Symmes joined the U.S. Army in 1802 and continued to serve through the War of 1812. He then moved to St. Louis as a trader. That business failed in the 1819 Panic, but by then Symmes had a bright new idea to take up his time. In April 1818 he published a circular letter that said:
St. Louis, Missouri Territory, North America,
April 10, A. D. 1818.

To all the World:
I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles twelve or sixteen degrees. I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.

Jno. Cleves Symmes,
Of Ohio, late Captain of Infantry.

N. B. I have ready for the press a treatise on the principles of matter, wherein I show proofs of the above positions, account for various phenomena, and disclose Dr. [Erasmus] Darwin’s “Golden Secret [of wind patterns].” . . .

I ask one hundred, brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia, in the fall season, with reindeer and sleighs, on the ice of the frozen sea; I engage we find a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring.
Symmes doesn’t seem to have come to the theory through actual evidence about Earth. He denied having read any previous theories along the same lines. (Edmund Halley had proposed one such theory to the Royal Society, and the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather later mentioned it in passing.) He said instead that he was inspired by seeing the rings of Saturn, though I’m not sure how exactly those were supposed to prove a hollow planet. But Symmes had his idea and insisted it was correct.

Remarkably, the circular letter didn’t attract the hundred companions that Symmes asked for. In 1820 he launched a speaking tour to spread his idea and drum up support. Two years later, Symmes petitioned the U.S. Congress to fund his expedition, but it declined to take up the proposal. The same thing happened the following year. Then the Ohio legislature turned down the opportunity in 1824.

Meanwhile, John Quincy Adams was serving James Monroe as Secretary of State.

TOMORROW: A proposal to the President.

(My thanks to Stephanie McKellop for alerting me to the story of Adams and the “mole people.”)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Why Do We Pronounced “Gerrymander” with a Soft G?

The story of the gerrymander is well known. In 1812, the Massachusetts General Court drew a state senate district that collected the large south Essex County towns of Marblehead and Salem and then snaked up through Andover and along the northern bank of the Merrimack River to Salisbury.

An artist at Russell and Cutler’s Boston Gazette saw that map and said the district shape resembled a salamander. To heighten the resemblance, he drew wings extending west out of Methuen—because salamanders have wings.

The Boston Gazette was a Federalist newspaper. The legislature was then in the hands of the Jeffersonians, and the governor who signed this districting plan, Elbridge Gerry, was also a Jeffersonian. So the newspaper decided to dub that supposedly monstrous district a “gerry-mander.”

A term spread a bit. In the seventh edition of The Olive Branch: or, Faults on Both Sides, Federal and Democratic (1815), Mathew Carey expounded on it and the practice it lampooned:

The senates, in almost every case, are composed of members chosen by districts, formed of two or more counties, which districts elect a number of senators in proportion to their population. . . .

The above arrangement and the adjustment of these districts opens a door to a considerable degree of intrigue and management, and invites to chicane and fraud—in one word, to the political sin, which I have styled Gerrymanderism. . . .

To accomplish this sinister purpose, counties are frequently united to form a senatorial district, which have no territorial connexion, being separated from each other by an intervening county, sometimes by two or three. Of this heinous political sin, both federalists and democrats, as I have said, have been guilty.

The state of Massachusetts was depicted, two or three years since, as a sort of monstrous figure, with the counties forming the senatorial districts, displayed on this unprincipled plan. It was called a Gerrymander, in allusion to the name of the late vice-president of the United States, then governor of that state. Hence I derive the term Gerrymanderism. To those who gave the title of Gerrymander, it might not unaptly be said—“men of glass; throw no stones.”
As that last paragraph makes clear, Elbridge Gerry had become a national figure, not just a regional one. He had been elected Vice President under James Madison and even served a year and a half before dying. So politically savvy people—the type of people who would use the term Gerrymanderism—knew about him. And knew that he pronounced his name with a hard G, as in glass.

Why, then, do we now all pronounce the word gerrymander with a soft G, as in Elbridge?

On a hunch, I ran the term through Google Books Ngram Viewer, and this is what it showed.
Although the term gerrymander was coined in the early republic, it really became popular around 1890, with additional booms after 1910, 1945, and 1960.

By the time the word really took hold, Americans had largely forgotten Elbridge Gerry, despite his career as a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, skeptical member of the Constitutional Convention, diplomat, Congressman, governor, and Vice President. Or at least people knew him only from the printed page, not from political discussions. Nobody was practiced in pronouncing his name.

Following the usual rule, folks assumed a G followed by an E was soft. Hence, gerrymander.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Paging through the Town of Boston’s Tax Records

Yesterday the Boston Public Library announced that it had digitized Boston’s surviving tax records from 1780 to 1821, when the town officially became a city.

The first volume of “takings” or assessments, from 1780, was published a century ago by the Bostonian Society. The digital collection not only offers a look at the handwritten pages of that volume, but also adds the many more volumes created over the following decades.

Here as a sample are snapshots from one page of the 1780 volume. This section covers Ward 1 in the North End.

At the top is the name of Bartholomew Broaders, barber. As an apprentice, he was one of the teenagers involved in the argument with Pvt. Hugh White outside the Customs House that led to the Boston Massacre. The tax list shows that ten years later Broaders running his own shop.

The next name, probably next to Broaders’s shop, was fellow barber Theodore Dehon. He was in his early forties at this time. Back in 1770 Dehon was established on State Street, and he was listed there again in the 1789 town directory. Dehon had another man living on his property in 1780, as well as journeyman Nicholas McMahon—who was “gone” a while later.

I’m convinced that the end of powdered-wig fashion caused a great constriction in the barbering business. Broaders ended up opening a “slop shop” selling clothes to sailors before going mad. Another former barber’s apprentice, Ebenezer Fox, likewise left the profession and opened a shop in Roxbury.

Here’s another person with a Massacre link: David Bradlee, who helped carry away Crispus Attucks’s body. Trained as a tailor, he became a Massachusetts artillery officer during the war and invested in a successful privateering voyage. In 1780 he was running a substantial tavern. That led him into the business of importing wine, thus rising from mechanic to merchant.
The last name above is Col. Isaac Sears, a Massachusetts native who had made his name and fortune in New York City. He was a leader of the Whigs there before the war and basically controlled the city in late 1775. When the British military returned, Sears moved to Boston and engaged in privateering and trading.

The next scrap shows Benjamin Cudworth, one of the town’s tax collectors. It’s notable that he owned considerably less real estate that Gawen Brown, the maker of the Old South Meeting-House clock.
The library’s research guide to the collection explains some of the quirks of these documents.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sir William Howe’s Banner on Display in Penn

Yesterday Dr. Sushma Jansari of the British Museum shared this photograph in a tweet. She and her family had stopped at the Holy Trinity Church in Penn, Buckinghamshire, for tea, and found this banner displayed on a wall inside.

At the right of the banner is the name “Sir William Howe.” The recently made label nearby says that Gen. Sir William Howe had this personal emblem carried at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Naturally, that caught my interest.

However, the label also states that battle took place in New York, so it’s not fully reliable. At least it's more on target than some tourist guides to the church, which say that Sir William Howe won the Glorious First of June in 1794. That was his older brother, Adm. Lord Richard Howe.

The label describes the Howe coat of arms as featuring “Three black dogs’ heads with red tongues.” I’m sure the College of Heralds would prefer those animals to be identified as wolves. But that’s definitely the Howe family arms, and the Howes (a later series of earls) built this church in Penn in 1849 and supported it since.

What piqued my curiosity about this banner was that Gen. Howe wasn’t knighted until late in 1776, a year after the Battle of Bunker Hill. So his troops definitely didn’t carry the banner in this form, with “Sir William Howe” sewn into it, in Charlestown. Did they display it in 1777 and 1778 as Howe served as commander-in-chief in Philadelphia and New York?

I haven’t found any printed mention of Sir William Howe’s banner besides what’s connected with this church. I’m hoping that some people who study flags of the Revolutionary era might know about this emblem or similar ones.

According to that tradition (and again, our sources aren't flawless), Gen. Howe’s banner “hung for many years in Westminster Abbey.” I suspect it was part of the memorial to his older brother George, a beloved army commander killed in the French and Indian War. The statue anchoring that memorial was actually funded in 1759 by the grateful province of Massachusetts.

Up until 1884 there were “military trophies and flags behind” Viscount George Howe’s monument in a “window embrasure,” as shown in a sketch on the abbey’s website. But in that year the statue was moved “so that American visitors could see it more easily.” Sir William’s banner might then have been sent off to the church in Penn.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Life of Sarah Fayerweather

In 1756 Thomas Fayerweather (1724-1805), a wealthy Boston merchant, married Sarah Hubbard. She was a daughter of the treasurer of Harvard College, born in 1730. Her portrait by Robert Feke, now owned by Historic New England, appears here.

According to Boston town records, that wedding took place on 26 June. The Sarah Fayerweather cookbook I described yesterday is dated exactly eight years later. That date provides a link between it and this particular Sarah Fayerweather, and suggests that the book might have been an anniversary gift.

The Fayerweathers had four children baptized at the Old South Meeting-House between 1757 and 1769. Though they never seem to have joined that church, Douglas Winiarski wrote about the prayers they requested here.

Thomas Fayerweather had business ties in other American ports as well as London and the Caribbean, well documented in his surviving correspondence. His investments included some slaving voyages and some genteel smuggling. Fayerweather’s political profile seems invisible, however; after 1769 he apparently spent much of his time in rural Oxford, away from tumultuous Boston.

Sarah Fayerweather oversaw her kitchens, but she almost certainly had servants do the work there. On 2 Apr 1770 Thomas hired out “five black men-servants” named Cato, Charleston, Jack, Prince, and Boston, perhaps because he didn’t need them out in the country. Unfortunately, Thomas Fayerweather doesn’t appear on Massachusetts’s 1771 tax list for either Boston or Oxford, so we don’t have the details of his property then.

In the fall of 1774, as Massachusetts militarized after the “Powder Alarm,” Thomas Fayerweather made a deal with George Ruggles of Cambridge, a Jamaican merchant who had married into the Vassall family. The two men swapped houses.

Ruggles got a new house inside Boston, protected by the British army. The Fayerweathers gained a mansion and farm on the Watertown road in Cambridge, next to the estate of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver. Oliver was gone, along with most of the other Loyalists from that part of town. That’s why that home on the “Tory Row” part of what’s now Brattle Street is known as the Ruggles-Fayerweather House.

When the war started, it appears the Fayerweathers again moved out to Oxford, leaving their Cambridge house empty. Early in June 1775, Gen. Israel Putnam took Lt. Col. Experience Storrs of Connecticut out there and told him to use it as barracks. On 8 June, Storrs wrote in his journal:
Mr. Fairweather came home last night out of humor as they tell me. No wonder, his house filled up with soldiers, and perhaps his interest suffers as it really must. Sent for me, yet appears to act the part of a gentleman.
By the end of the summer, the Fayerweathers’ house was being used as an army hospital. But after the siege the family got their Cambridge property back, and they maintained their wealthy lifestyle. Sarah Fayerweather died in 1804, her husband Thomas a year later, leaving a fortune of $64,000.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Cookbook Started in 1764

One of the items in the Harvard Library’s Colonial North American collection is the cookbook digitized here.

Early in the book Sarah Fayerweather’s name appears over “June 26 MDCCLXIV,” telling us the initial owner and date.

The first pages are beautifully written in at least five different handwriting styles, perhaps even by a professional scribe.

At page 30 another hand takes over, also accomplished but not as showy or as even. The long S disappears about page 35. On pages 36-37 is a remedy “For Consumptive Complaints in the Breast” copied from the 21 Aug 1786 issue of the American Herald newspaper.

At page 40 yet more handwritings appear, with recipes attributed to “Mrs. Smith,” “Mrs. Thompson,” and others. One recipe on that page is for “polka cake,” and the polka craze dates from the mid-1800s. Page 44 (“Apple, Cream Pudding,” “Wine Jelly,” and “Cream Tartar Biscuit”) has been spattered on, so the notebook was obviously still in use.

The number of blank pages shows that this recipe book was designed to grow, just as people used it. It ends with an index which subsequent owners kept up.

Here are two recipes from page 4, the latter broken out from one paragraph:
To make Gingerbread
Take 5 lb. Flour 2 1/2 Sugar, 1 1/2 lb. Butter, 3 oz Ginger, 14 Eggs, 14 Spoons full rose water, 2 or 3 Spoons full Milk

for a
Calfs Head Tortois Fashion

Take a Calfs Head wth. ye. skin on, and parboil it, & take all the bones out & cut in pieces

then season it wth. pepper & put a Gill of Ketchup & also. Calfs feet in it, & salt & sweet herbs a little mace pounded fine, shread an Onion fine, about half a pint of Claret

take eno’ of the Liquor that you parboil it in to cover it, set it a stewing at 11 o’Clock & keep it doing till after one

season the Liver cut in slices & fry

put it in a dish by it self wth. some of ye. Gravy & ye. [heart shape] wth. it,

the tongue must go wth. ye. stew,

take ye. Brains wth. some melted Butter a little Ketchup & put in a bowl, Garnish it wth. yolks of Eggs Boiled hard, and force meat Balls.
“Force meat” is chopped and spiced meat. I’m not sure meatballs and the yolks of hardboiled eggs would make a calf’s brain look more appetizing, but I’ve never tried it.

TOMORROW: Who was Sarah Fayerweather?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Harvard Digital Collections from the Colonial Period

Last month the Harvard Gazette featured some treasures from the university’s Colonial North America collection, “approximately 650,000 digitized pages of handmade materials from the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Most of that material consists of manuscripts, but highlighted in this article are:
As I type, the collection’s front page features documents created by Dr. John Jeffries and the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, two men from Revolutionary Massachusetts I don’t fully trust. But I can’t hold that against the university.

This week the university announced the launch of the larger Harvard Digital Collections, which contains the material from Colonial North America. That “provides free, public access to over 6 million objects digitized from our collections—from ancient art to modern manuscripts and audio visual materials.”

What’s more, this is the policy on copyright governing this material:
In order to foster creative reuse of digitized content, Harvard Library allows free use of openly available digital reproductions of items from its collections that are not under copyright, except where other rights or restrictions apply.

Harvard Library asserts no copyright over digital reproductions of works in its collections which are in the public domain, where those digital reproductions are made openly available on Harvard Library websites.
So if a person wanted an image of a certificate of initiation into the African Lodge of Freemasons, signed by Prince Hall, George Middleton, and other officers, one has merely to click.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Chance to Build the Auction Block Memorial

Steve Locke, a Boston-based artist, is running a Kickstarter campaign to create and install a memorial just outside Faneuil Hall to the people who suffered from the transatlantic slave trade.

Locke was Boston’s Artist-in-Residence in 2018, and the advisory board for this project includes Mayor Marty Walsh and other officials and leaders of local non-profit organizations. The campaign has attracted enough subscribers to reach its first fundraising level and is now aiming for a “stretch goal.”

This site was chosen because Peter Faneuil, the merchant who gave Boston the initial money for a town meeting-hall, gained some of his wealth from slaving voyages between Africa and the Caribbean. And more for shipping supplies from New England to the Caribbean. In addition, the building stands near what was once the Town Dock, site of occasional auctions of newly arrived Africans during the colonial period.

There is of course great irony in the building long called “the cradle of liberty” having those links to slavery. We Bostonians prefer to remember the abolitionist orators who spoke inside during the mid-1800s. But the mercantile economy of Boston was built largely on supplying the deadly work camps of the West Indies. Acknowledging that history in a moving way tells more of the region’s history.

Locke describes his memorial design this way:
The memorial consists of the footprint of an auction block—the site that transforms humans into property. In order to converse visually with an existing memorial sculpture in the area, the work will be bronze with a brown patina. The bronze plate will be approximately 10x16 feet overall and will contain the raised text and image of the routes and supplies of the Triangular Trade. Ideally, it will outline the shipping route of the [ship] Desire.

The memorial will have two sections, a site of the auctioneer (the smaller rectangular section at right) and a larger area for those being sold into slavery. The larger area will have the map of the Triangular Trade route that created the wealth of the Faneuil family and lead to the creation of the marketplace area. Because it is symbolic (and not an actual auction block), the bronze plate will be set into the existing bricks (or hardscape). It will be at grade, not a platform or a riser, on the same level as the street. It is not meant to intrude vertically in any way on the existing site. Instead, it is meant to be a plan on the ground, a metaphorical basis and model for how wealth traveled through enslavement.

The measurements of the block are taken from analysis of slaving manifests that dictate the amount of space available for "loose-pack" cargo of slaves. Humans were allotted a space of 3x5 feet. The block will be cast in sections this size to reflect this organizational structure. Also, the historic images of "slave packing" will be included on the smaller section of the block.

In order to evoke the presence of those Africans and African-Americans who came into chattel slavery through Boston, the bronze plate will be heated to a constant 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to Horst Hoheisel’s Monument to a Monument in Buchenwald, Germany. This will make touching the work an immediately intimate and reverent experience, as if you are touching a living person. This will also keep the memorial free from snow in the winter. Even in a Boston winter, the auction block will be visible.
The funds will cover additional work on both the details and logistics of the memorial. The Auction Block Memorial fundraising campaign closes on 24 July.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Deborah Sampson’s First Masquerade

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia announced a new acquisition with this article in the New York Times.

The news hook is Deborah Sampson, the young woman from Middleboro who served in the Continental Army under the name of Robert Shurtliff. Alison Leigh Cowan’s article says:
Did she fight in the decisive Battle of Yorktown, as she later insisted on multiple occasions? And how did she keep her secret for the many months she served in Washington’s light infantry?

Now, scholars say the discovery of a long-forgotten diary, recorded more than 200 years ago by a Massachusetts neighbor of Sampson, is addressing some of the questions and sharpening our understanding of one of the few women to take on a combat role during the Revolution. . . .

The diary, written by Abner Weston, suggests Sampson likely did not fight at Yorktown as she claimed. He dates Sampson’s botched enlistment to a period around January 1782, months after the British thrashing at Yorktown. . . .

The…diary that just resurfaced is a hand-stitched, 68-page account of the period between March 28, 1781 and August 16, 1782, which Weston updated while back home in Middleborough, Mass., where Sampson also lived.

In an entry for Jan. 23, 1782, Weston, then 21, wrote with variant spelling about an “uncommon affair” that rocked the town. A woman, posing as a man, had tried to enlist.

“Their hapend a uncommon affair at this time,” he wrote, “for Deborah Samson of this town dress her self in men’s cloths and hired her self to Israel Wood to go into the three years Servis. But being found out returnd the hire and paid the Damages.”
There’s indeed some new information there, but Sampson’s enlistment after Yorktown hasn’t been in doubt. Alfred Young’s biography Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (2004) firmly sets Sampson’s enlistment in the spring of 1782 based on Continental Army records.

Masquerade also discusses Sampson’s earlier abortive enlistment based on a local minister’s account and town lore collected generations later by John Adams Vinton. A young recruit named Timothy Thayer didn’t show up for duty, prompting inquiries which revealed that Thayer was actually Sampson.

Abner Weston’s diary entry provides an additional source for that episode. It suggests Israel Wood was not the local army recruiter, as Al Young guessed, but someone trying to hire a substitute so he wouldn’t have to serve himself.

Sampson hid this moment from her biographer, so we have no record of what she was thinking. Was she just hoping to collect the recruitment money and vanish with it back into women’s clothing? Or was she planning to march off as a young man, but something got in the way? Either way, a few months later Sampson once again put on male clothing, went to another town where they didn’t know her, and began her documented army service as Robert Shurtliff.