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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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Thomas Crafts's "astonishment, Mortification and Disopointment"

As I described in yesterday's post, on 11 December 1775, following the suggestion of the Continental Congress, Gen. George Washington offered Thomas Crafts, Jr., a commission in the artillery regiment. Crafts had been a political organizer in Boston for over ten years, and third-in-command of Boston's highly respected militia artillery company. He had the support of the influential Massachusetts delegation to the Continental Congress.

But, as Washington reported back to Congress three days later, Crafts's "ambition was not fully gratified by the offer made him." Why did he turn down the rank of major? Because it wasn't high enough, particularly in relation to other artillery officers whom he had known in Boston before the war. Crafts was a decorative painter ("japanner") who had just risen into the ranks of gentlemen, and I think that left him particularly sensitive to matters of honor and rank.

Crafts explained his feelings to John Adams on 16 December. His letter is a model of how not to respond to a disappointing job offer. Furthermore, eighteenth-century gentlemen were always supposed to be in control of their emotions, and Crafts was clearly having trouble with that. (The original is almost entirely one long burst of words, but I've broken it up into paragraphs.)

I ever thought thare was such a Thing as sincere friendship, and that some perticular Persons, with whom I had long been Intemate with And had made such great professions of it to me where possess’d with It. But I had given up the very Idea of such a thing, for the last three Months, and was become a perfect Infidel, Till yesterday Col. [James] Warren shew me a Letter from you to him in which you mention my being recommended to General Washington for a Commission, For which I return you my sincere Thanks; and am now become a Bleaver again. Even Mr. [Thomas] Cushing mentioned me in a Letter to Mr. [William or Samuel] Cooper. But how I am greaved not being thought off by him whom I Valued as the apple of My Eye. Out of sight out of Mind.
The editors of the Papers of John Adams suggest that Crafts was referring there to John Hancock.
I cannot Express the astonishment, Mortification and Disopointment I was thrown into on hearing the Appointmet of Mr. [Henry] Knox to the Command of the Train. On the 13th Instant was sent for by General Washington and offered the Majority in the Train—Under the following Officers, Col. Knox, Lt. Col. [William] Burbeck, Lt. Col. [David] Mason, First Major John Crane, which shocked me very much.
Lt. Col. Mason was formerly Captain of the Train in Boston but was so low and mean a person, thare was not an Officer or private that would train under him In consequence of which he was oblige’d to retire. Major Crane is a good Officer and a worthy Man But Last June he was only a Sarjant in the Company whereof I was Captain Lieutenant. You certainly will not blame me for not excepting under such humiliating Circumstances. I had the offer of the same place when you was down.
Badmouthing the people you'd work with if you get the job—not smart in any century. (Crane proved to be one of the Continental Army's best artillery officers, rising to colonel. Mason, wounded by a bursting mortar in March 1775, ended up overseeing the Laboratory at Springfield, precursor to the Springfield Armory.)

Crafts boldly suggested that he should get an even higher rank than major, with just a little reorganization of the regiment:
I see of but one way to provide for me In that Department. As the Redjt. of the Train is to be Devided into two Battalions, appointing me to Command One, It will make only the Addition of One Colonel, thare being One Colonel, Two Lt. Colonels and Two Majors Already Appointed.
Or perhaps he could displace another recent appointee:
I find Col. [Jonathan] Brewer is appointed Barrack-Master General. I was in hopes if I failed in the other Department Should have been provided for in this. Will not the services that I Endeavourd to do my Country—The Werasome Days and Sleepless Nights—Loss of time and the expenses I have been at from 1765 to 1775 Make an Interest for me Superior to Col. Brewer. If not Sir I submit to my Hard Cruel Hard fate. I like that place and should be fond of it as it would be less likely to give offence to Two Officers in said Train. You may remember I mentioned that Office to you when at Watertown.

I am now reduced from Comfortable Circumstances to a state of Poverty. An Ameeable Wife (As you know Sir) and four small Children to provide for. I realy wish myself in Boston. I could support with firmness all the Insults I might receive from a [Gen. William] Howe and his Bandity of Mercenaries, But to be negatted by those I thought my Friends, and my Country I cannot Support It.
After reporting on events in the siege and sending regards to other delegates, Crafts ended with his third postscript: "My mind is much agitated excuse bad speling and writing.”

A few months later, Crafts did become a colonel—not of the Continental Army, but of Massachusetts's militia artillery. Most of his officers were, like him, middling-class Sons of Liberty moving toward genteel status: Lt. Col. Thomas Melvill (ancestor of the novelist), Maj. Paul Revere, Capt. David Bradlee, Capt. John Gill, and so on. Their main job was fortifying Boston against attack from the sea. Furthermore, on 18 July 1776, Col. Crafts had the honor of standing in the balcony of the Old State House and reading the Declaration of Independence to the crowd below.

In the following years Crafts became a Boston selectman and then justice of the peace. On 18 Oct 1790, John Adams wrote to his cousin Samuel: “You and I have seen four noble families rise up in Boston,—the Craftses, Gores, Daweses, and Austins. These are as really a nobility in our town as the Howards, Somersets, Berties, &c., in England.” (Crafts's wife Frances was a Gore.) Agitated as he had felt in Dec 1775, Crafts was in the end one of the big winners of the Revolution, achieving both his political and his personal goals, probably far beyond what he'd imagined when he helped organize the first protests against Stamps in 1765.


Kit Rawlins said...

Thank you for writing all this about Mr. Crafts--it was interesting to learn of his background. I knew of him from my time as manager of the Old State House museum, when I helped arrange for the annual reading of the Declaration by the newly elected captain of the Ancient & Honorables.

JC said...

I would say that it was providence that kept him in Boston. He seemed to be destined to declare the new republic, he helped organize the dumping of the tea you know. He was always at the very center of Boston's rebellious activities, he was a Freemason, a vegetarian, and apparently rarely spoke of himself. His younger brother Edward was an artillery captain under Knox.