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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Monday, May 07, 2007

Making of America: Another Delightful Digital Database

Back in January, David Parker at Another History Blog described the value of the Making of America database. (Thanks also to Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub for laying the trail of crumbs.) And I’ve been meaning to express my gratitude to the University of Michigan for creating it.

Now this database doesn’t go all the way back to the 1700s. But it’s still valuable for folks studying eighteenth-century history because it archives:

  • Some volumes of documents from the founding era that were transcribed and published in the mid- and late 1800s.
  • Histories written around the Centennial, showing what Americans then thought of the Revolution.
Among the former, don’t miss the volumes mysteriously catalogued under the series title “John Watts DePeyster Publication Fund.” Those are the Collections of the New-York Historical Society. And the Making of America version provides both page views (like Google Book) and crude transcriptions.

Volume 14, for example, reprints the journals of Capt. John Montresor, the British army’s top engineer in North America. (That’s him above, as painted by John S. Copley.) Here are some of the captain’s notes on his Boston 1774-75 experience, apparently written as he sailed back to England (and perhaps prepared to make a claim for promotion or reward):
I attended Lord Percy from Boston towards the Battle of Lexington. My advancing some miles in front of his Corps with four volunteers, and securing the Bridge across Cambridge River, 19th April, 1775; which prevented his Body from going the Watertown Road, whereby the Light Infantry and Grenadiers were not cut off, my having sent one Volunteer back to his Lordship; the town of Cambridge in arms, and I galloped through them.

During part of Gen. Gage’s Command at Boston [i.e., in late 1774], the Garrison were distressed for want of Specie, and also Carpenters; which I undertook to remedy, by supplying it £6,ooo in gold, and got it sent on board the “Asia,” and so to us at Boston.—Government insuring it.

I was twice attempted to be assassinated for supporting the honor and credit of the Crown during my Command in the course of the Rebellion.—1st., near Brattle Square, at Boston, by means of Rebel Doctor [Samuel] Cooper; and, 2nd, near the South end of Boston, by Samuel Dyer, when I saved General [Samuel] Cleaveland’s Life, Commanding Officer of Artillery. This man was sent off by the Sheriffs of London, Messrs. [William] Lee and [Stephen] Sayre, to murther Lt.-Col. [George] Maddison of the 4th Regiment.
I know nothing about Montresor’s accusation of the Rev. Dr. Cooper, minister of the Brattle-Street Meeting, and this remark isn’t mentioned in Charles W. Akers’s modern biography.

Montresor is correct that he and Cleaveland were nearly killed by a sailor named Samuel Dyer on 18 October 1774. That was, as far as I can tell, the first time in the Revolutionary conflict that someone in Boston tried to fire a gunshot at someone from the royal government or military. And Montresor actually blamed American-born politicians back in London for it. Eighteenth-century paranoia is wonderful to behold.


Ed Darrell said...

18th century paranoia is wonderful to behold? Kept in the 18th century, sure -- but I fear some has crept into the 21st century.

Nice post, and you show good use of the databases. Oh, to have grants to mine those things . . . I suppose the thing to do is to get busy writing the grants, eh?

J. L. Bell said...

These online and offline digital resources are wonderful time-savers—and time-devourers!

Stefan Heuer said...

Hello Mr. J.L. Bell,
it´s nice to see our picture on your website.
Please be so kind and link back to our page where you find the picture.
Btw. realy nice informations. I like the blog and I added it to my favorites ;D
Bergmann & Heuer
Kunsthandel GbR
Stefan Heuer

J. L. Bell said...

Clicking on the thumbnail of Capt. Montresor takes people to oil-painting-portrait.com's page of Copley images. Most of the images on Boston 1775 link that way to more information about their subjects and, in some cases, places to buy good reproductions of those images. I hope people explore those outlets.

Stefan Heuer said...

Much thx for your answer. I ike all the very good informations.
Greetings from germany
Stefan Heuer