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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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Reading Between the Lines of Gordon’s History

Early in the week I quoted from the Rev. William Gordon’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America, published in London in 1788. This was one of the earliest attempts to write a history of the Revolution, by an Englishman who had been close to the Boston Whigs and in Roxbury at the start of the war.

Like almost any other history, it also reflects the history of the time in which it was written. Take, for instance, this anecdote about Samuel Adams and John Hancock shortly after they fled Lexington ahead of British troops.

During this interesting period, Messrs. S. Adams and Hancock, whose residence was near at hand, quitted and removed to a further distance. While walking along, Mr. Adams exclaimed, “O! what a glorious morning is this!” in the belief that it would eventually liberate the colony from all subjection to Great Britain. His companion did not penetrate his meaning, and thought the allusion was only to the aspect of the sky.
Let’s see if we can penetrate Gordon’s prose for the subtle clues about his sources. He’s quoting from a private conversation between two men. One of them comes across as an idiot. You know, I’m going out on a limb to guess that the other man, Samuel Adams, talked to Gordon about his experiences after Lexington. And that their interview took place after Hancock and Adams had drifted apart politically in the late 1770s, before their reconciliation in 1789.

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