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, March 31, 2007

Reminder: Bullock at National Heritage Museum

Earlier this month I posted about a series of history lectures at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts. The first had to be canceled because an icy Evacuation Day, but tomorrow looks good for the talk on Revolutionary Freemasonry by Steven C. Bullock.

Dr. Baker's Brand Marketing

Starting with his first advertisement in America, dentist John Baker promoted his dentifrice as a preventive or cure for practically any tooth problem: gum disease, loose teeth, discoloration. Leaving Boston in 1767, Baker assured his customers that:

His Dentifrice, with proper Direction for preserving the Teeth and Gums, will be to be had at Mrs. Eustis’s, near the Town House, after he had left the Town. N B. Each Pot is sealed with his Coat of Arms, as in the Margin of the Directions, to prevent Fraud.
Using the Baker coat of arms (perhaps the one shown here, perhaps not) was not only a protection against “counterfeit drugs” but also a signal to customers that Baker came from a respectable family.

After he moved from Virginia to Philadelphia in 1778, Baker stated that “His well known Antiscorbutic Dentifrice for preserving the teeth and gums, may be had...at Messrs. Dixon and Hunter’s office in Virginia, with brushes and directions.” Dixon and Hunter were printers of one incarnation of the Virginia Gazette in Williamsburg.

The 14 Sept 1782 Independent Gazetteer of Pennsylvania included this ad touting Baker’s dentifrice and a new, related product called “Albion Essence”:
DOCTOR BAKER,
Begs Leave to inform the Public in general, and his Friends in particular, in the Thirteen United States, that he has just received a fresh Assortment of Medicines, which will enable him to prepare the genuine Antiscorbutic Dentifrice, and Albion Essence, for preserving the Teeth, Gums, Sockets, Breath, &c. &c.

This Essence and Dentifrice is prepared by himself, and warranted perfectly free from the least corrosive Particle or Injurious Property whatever.

It is replete with that Balsamic Quality, which prevents all defluxions, falling on the gums, or putrefactions that cause bad breath; It takes off the mucilaginous properties that dissolve the sockets of the teeth, and prevents the tooth-ach arising therefrom; it prevents obstructions and inflamations of the nerves and vascular parts of the teeth, and the head and tooth-ach arising therefrom; It concocts the vitiated juices, renders, beyond description, a juvenile fragrance to the breath, makes the teeth white and beautiful, causes the gums to grow firm to the teeth, makes the salivia pure and balsamic, eradicates the scurvy, and restores the gums to their pristine state, if the teeth and gums have been thoroughly cleaned by some skilful Dentist.

Its efficacy is well known to the principal nobility, gentry, and others, of France, Holland, Great-Britain, Ireland, and other principal places in Europe, also to some thousands in America.

N.B. Dr. Baker’s Albion Essence, and Antiscorbutic Dentifrice, is sold wholesale and retail, at his house in No. 45, Second-street, below the City Tavern; where all merchants, shop-keepers, masters of vessels, and others, may be supplied with any quantity to send to foreign parts, with proper printed directions. By attending properly to the directions, and observing the necessary precautions, people may not only free themselves from a great deal of pain, and preserve their teeth and gums throughout life, but also those of their children; as health, and beauty of the teeth, depend in a great measure of the care and treatment of them in early life.

Each pot of Anti-Scorbutic Dentifrice, has, to prevent fraud, his name on the cover, and sealed with his coat of arms, the same as the copper-plate arms on the lable of the bottle of Albion Essence.
Starting in 1785, the printer of the State Gazette of South-Carolina sold Dr. Baker’s products in Charleston. The next year, Spotswood and Clarke of Baltimore announced themselves as the exclusive source in Maryland. Other merchants in the big American cities carried Baker’s dentifrice along with others.

On 25 Nov 1790, the Newport Herald of Newport, Pennsylvania, offered this news:
MARRIED] On Sunday evening the 14th instant [i.e., this month], Doctor JOHN BAKER to Mrs MARY BONANG—a Lady of real worth.
Evidently Dr. Baker had married a wealthy widow, changing his circumstances. He seems to have stopped promoting his services as a surgeon-dentist. But Baker’s dentifrice and Albion Essence stayed on the market. Perhaps he was still making it; perhaps he had licensed it to someone else. Throughout the 1790s Dunlap’s American Daily Advertiser ran ads like this, from 14 Aug 1793:
DOCTOR BAKER’s
Antiscorbutic Dentifrice
and Albion Essence,
Just received, and for sale at
W. Poyntell’s stationary store,
No. 21, Second-street, between Market and
Chestnut-streets 3aw3w
I’m not sure what “3aw3w” meant, but it and similar codes appear in lots of Philadelphia newspaper ads from the 1780s on. I suspect they were how printers kept track of how often an ad had run.

I haven’t found out any more about Dr. John and Mary Baker, nor whether they retained “a juvenile fragrance to the breath.”

Friday, March 30, 2007

Gen. Clinton Reads About Gen. Washington's Teeth

When I started this series of postings on dentistry with the arrival of John Baker in Boston, I’d never looked into that man’s life before. I was just trying to distract myself from the stitches in my gum. But the more I’ve scraped, the more I’ve found, and today’s posting is about how it’s even possible that Baker’s dental practice affected on the outcome of the Revolutionary War.

As I wrote on Tuesday, Baker set up shop in Williamsburg in 1772. He treated George Washington, among other Virginians. After the war began, he went on the move again. The Pennsylvania Packet of 24 Dec 1778 announced:

Doctor Baker,
SURGEON-DENTIST,
Has just arrived in this city from Williamsburg, Virginia. His stay here will be short. Those who are disposed to apply to him may not be disappointed.
This was, as far as I can tell, the first time Baker used the title “doctor” in advertising his services. And whether or not he intended to stay in Philadelphia at that time, he eventually did settle there for many years—perhaps the rest of his life.

Meanwhile, Washington, now busy commanding the Continental Army, continued to consult Dr. Baker about his false teeth. On 29 May 1781, Washington wrote to him (as shown above):
A day or two ago I requested Col. Harrison to apply to you for a pair of Pincers to fasten the wire of my teeth. — I hope you furnished him with them. — I now wish you would send me one of your scrapers as my teeth stand in need of cleaning, and I have little prospect of being in Philadelph. soon. — It will come very safe by the Post — & in return, the money shall be sent so soon as I know the cost of it.
This letter is now in the papers of Gen. Sir Henry Clinton, then the commander of British land forces in North America. Despite Washington’s confidence that a scraper would “come very safe by the Post,” British spies or patrols must have intercepted Washington’s mail packet and delivered it to Clinton’s headquarters.

In mid-1781 Clinton was trying to figure out whether Washington and the French army that had landed in New England were going to attack him in New York, or whether he could send some of his troops south to reinforce Gen. Cornwallis. This letter told him that Washington felt he had “little prospect of being in Philadelph. soon.” The fact that the letter was about such a personal matter as cleaning his teeth implied that it was genuine, not a ruse designed to mislead enemy agents. And that meant any other documents in the same packet were probably genuine as well. Clinton gained confidence that Washington wasn’t preparing to head south through Philadelphia to attack Cornwallis.

Indeed, at the time he wrote, Washington was planning to attack New York. Just about a week before, he and the French commander, the Comte de Rochambeau, had agreed to engage Clinton’s forces as soon as the French navy arrived. In July, Rochambeau’s land forces came into the New York theater.

But then in August, Washington and Rochambeau received a dispatch from the French admiral, the Comte de Grasse, saying that he’d left the West Indies to join up with American forces in Chesapeake Bay. Washington abandoned the plans for New York and marched to Virginia instead. Clinton had lost his chance to send reinforcements south, and in October the French and Americans forced Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown. That turned out to be the decisive campaign of the war.

Of course, there were a lot of factors involved in Clinton’s decisions, and it’s unclear whether Washington’s letter to Dr. Baker played a significant role. But the mere possibility tickles me; teeth really do have deep roots.

According to James Thomas Flexner’s four-volume biography of Washington, a couple of years later another letter from the general to Dr. Baker also went astray and ended up in Clinton’s files (now housed at the Clements Library in Ann Arbor). In that one, Washington asked for the plaster or powder that Baker had used to make a mold of his mouth—which he probably never got. I have to wonder how the general was sending his Philadelphia mail.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pulling Teeth in Colonial Boston

Before John Baker arrived from London and promoted the notion of specialized “surgeon dentists,” it looks like most Bostonians went to their regular doctors for dental care—which usually meant having teeth pulled rather than repaired. Indeed, losing one’s teeth seem to have been an experience that connected people.

John Cary, the biographer of Dr. Joseph Warren, wrote: “During the first years of practice, Warren charged one shilling, four pence for the extraction of teeth, one of his most common medical services.” On 27 Jan 1765, for example, Warren recorded extracting a tooth from Hannah Flucker, who was then fourteen years old. Her father was Thomas Flucker, later the last Secretary of the royal province, and her younger sister Lucy married Henry Knox.

Dr. Elisha Story extracted teeth from town watchman Benjamin Burdick’s wife and children. Indeed, Story’s office records for 12 Oct 1768 seem to be the only documentation for one of those children. Burdick and Knox were both at the Boston Massacre, trying to calm the conflict.

Ame [pronounced, I think, as “Amy”] and Elizabeth Cumings were two sisters who came to Boston from Scotland in the 1760s to set up a shop. Among the many things they sold, according to their ad in the 11 Nov 1765 Boston Gazette, were “Teeth Tincture and Powder.” In 1771 Knox rented space from the Cumingses for his first bookshop.

Merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary on 14 June 1769:

Sent for Dr. [James] Lloyd to have my Tooth drawn & had not Resolution to go thro’ the Operation.
One person who didn’t remove teeth was the painter John Singleton Copley (whose painting of Warren appears above, and who also painted Flucker). But the Rev. Dr. Mather Byles, Sr., who rarely passed by a chance for a pun, reportedly told a man to go to Copley’s house to have a tooth drawn. Drawn—get it? (With jokes like that, it’s no surprise that Dr. Byles’s congregation swiftly voted to remove him from their pulpit after the war began.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Who Took Over Dr. Baker's Dental Practice?

After John Baker left Boston for colonies to the south, as described in yesterday’s posting, other “surgeon dentists” arrived from Europe, but none seem to have stayed long. Rather, a couple of locals adopted his methods.

During his time in Boston, Baker taught some of his techniques to Isaac Greenwood (1730-1803), a craftsman living on Salem Street next to what’s now called Old North Church. Greenwood made umbrellas and tools, and was an “ivory-turner”—hence the affinity for tooth repair. His apprentice Samuel Maverick was the youngest fatality of the Boston Massacre.

Greenwood in turn passed his knowledge to his sons William P. (1756-1851), Isaac, Jr. (1758-past 1806), and John (1760-1819), who advertised their dental services in Boston, Salem, Providence, Savannah, New York, and other towns in the early republic. Like Baker, they often had to travel to find enough clients to support themselves.

John Greenwood is known in dental history for inventing a treadle-powered drill, reportedly inspired by his mother’s spinning-wheel (though he was probably also familiar with his father’s lathes). At the age of fifteen, John had enlisted in the American army as a fifer, and I’ve quoted some passages from his memoir The Revolutionary Services of John Greenwood of Boston and New York, 1775-1783 here on Boston 1775.

But the most direct pitch to Bostonians who had come to rely on John Baker’s dental techniques appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on 5 Sept 1768:

Whereas many Persons are so unfortunate as to lose their Fore Teeth by accident, or otherways, to their great Detriment, not only in Looks, but Speaking, both in public and private:—

This is to inform all such, that they may have them replaced with false Ones, that look as well as the Natural, and answer the End of Speaking, to all Intents, by PAUL REVERE, Goldsmith, near the Head of Dr. Clarke’s Wharf, Boston.——

All Persons who have had false Teeth fix’d by Mr. John Baker, Surgeon Dentist, and they have got loose (as they will in Time) may have them fastened by the abovesaid Revere, who learnt the method of fixing them from Mr. Baker.
Revere turned to dentistry when his goldsmithing business had fallen off due to economic doldrums and boycotts. Because he focused on building false teeth and cleaning teeth, he could apply his existing skills in metalwork and, well, scraping. Jayne Triber’s biography A True Republican notes that Revere stopped advertising his dental services in 1770, after he began to earn more from other tasks—including engraving “cane heads” for ivory-turner and fellow dentist Isaac Greenwood.

TOMORROW: Pulling teeth in colonial Boston.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

John Baker, "Surgeon Dentist," Moves South

Yesterday I posted John Baker’s announcement in June 1766 that he had arrived in America to care for the inhabitants’ teeth in the most modern way. That December, Baker traveled to Rhode Island, advertising in the Newport Mercury that he had treated “some Hundreds in the Town of Boston.”

Then the 29 Jan 1767 Boston News-Letter announced:

JOHN BAKER,
Surgeon Dentis,
Begs Leave to take this Method of informing the Public, That he shall leave this Place in twenty Days at farthest.—That those who are disposed to apply to him may not be disappointed.

He also begs Leave to express his Gratitude for the Favours he has received while in Boston; and hopes that those who doubted of the Safety of his Art, from its Novelty in this Country, are now convinced of its Safety and Usefulness.

Until he leaves his Town he continues at Mr. Joshua Brackett’s in School-Street; where he will be ready to contribute to the utmost of his Power to serve the Publick in his Profession.
Brackett was proprietor of an upscale tavern and inn known as the Cromwell’s Head because its sign featured a portrait of the late Protector (as did its billhead, shown above). Most of the British Empire then saw Cromwell as a dictator, a warning against both popular power and religious enthusiasm, but Boston, with its Puritan heritage, still admired him.

Baker originally called himself an “Operator for the Teeth,” an older name for his profession. His next three newspaper ads all use the label “Surgeon Dentis,” so I don’t think the second word was a typo. In fact, before Baker’s arrival, the word “dentist” seems to have appeared in Boston newspapers only once, in a reprint of a 1766 essay from New York. Other practitioners arriving in America from Europe used “Surgeon Dentist,” however, and later in 1767 Baker adopted that label permanently. So the vocation seems still to have been defining itself.

On 5 May 1768, “John Baker, Surgeon Dentist,” announced his arrival in New York, “at Mr. John Watson’s, in the house wherein Capt. Randall lately lived, at the corner of Pearl-street.” By this time, he claimed to have “given sufficient proof of his superior judgment in this art...to upwards of two thousand persons in the town of Boston.” Then in July, Baker announced he was leaving after one more month. Travel seems to have been a professional necessity in those centuries before the six-month check-up.

Baker next surfaces in Williamsburg, Virginia, in early 1772. And there his clientele included... Well, which colonial Virginian is most famous for his dental difficulties?

Yes, in April 1772 Dr. Baker removed several troublesome teeth from the mouth of planter George Washington. On 13 Oct 1773, Washington noted in his diary that “Mr. Baker Surgeon Dentist” had arrived at Mount Vernon that afternoon. The dentist stayed several days and charged £5, according to the planter’s accounts.

TOMORROW: Who took over John Baker’s practice in Boston?

Monday, March 26, 2007

John Baker: "Operator for the Teeth"

I had some minor oral surgery this afternoon, so I’m wondering when I’ll eat solid foods again and if I can survive entirely on soft ice cream until then.

To take my mind off my own teeth, I did some poking around among other people’s teeth. This advertisement appeared in the Boston Post-Boy on 30 June 1766:

John Baker,
Operator for the Teeth, &c.
Begs Leaves to acquaint the Gentry, that he is now in Boston, at Mr. Joshua Brackett’s in S[c]hool Street, and will wait on them, on receiving their Commands.
In other words, this dentist made house calls.
He cures the Scurvey in the Gums, first cleanes and scales the Teeth, from that Corrosive, Tartarous, Gritty Substance which hinders the Gums from Growing, infects the Breath, and is one of the principal Causes of the Scurvey, and by degrees (if not timely prevented) eats away the Gums, so that many Peoples Teeth fall out Fresh.

He fills up with Lead or Gold those that are hollow (so as to render them useful) and prevents the Air getting into them, which aggravates the Pain.

He makes and fixes Artificial Teeth, with the greatest Exactness and Nicety, so that they may eat, drink, and sleep with them in their Mouths as natural ones, from which it cannot be discovered by the sharpest Eye.

He having given sufficient Proof of his Superior Judgment in this Art, to the principal Nobility, Gentry and others, of Great-Britain, France & Ireland, and other principal Places in Europe.
Of course we must ask: if Dr. Baker had such a busy and wealthy clientele in Europe, why was he trying his fortunes in a distant colony?

Baker also had a toothpaste or tooth-powder to sell, and it seems to do all that modern toothpastes promise and more:
His Dentifrice, which is free from any corrosive Preparation will restore the Gums to their pristine State, will preserve the Teeth, and render them perfectly white, will fasten those that are loose, and prevent them from further decay.

N.B. His Dentifrice may be had at his Lodgings at ONE DOLLAR each Pot, with proper Directions.
Baker then went on to list many items of jewelry that he had brought from London to sell.

TOMORROW: Baker tries out some other colonies.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A Horse and His Boy

Here is one of the charming treasures of the Yale Center for British Art: George Stubbs’s 1774 painting “Pumpkin with a Stable-Lad.”

Notably, in this portrait the horse has a name, the lad none. The boy does, however, have the decade’s fashionable mullet.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Yankee Prints at the NY Public Library

Through 23 June, the New York Public Library is offering an intriguing exhibit that it describes this way:

Prints of the American Revolution
Stokes Gallery (Third Floor), Humanities & Social Sciences Library on 5th Avenue and 42nd Street [that’s the famous building with the lions]

Printmaking in America expanded during the Revolutionary War to fulfill the increasing needs for visual reportage of current events, easily distributable political propaganda, and tokens of patriotism. This exhibition will feature prints and drawings of key figures, battles, and events of the Revolutionary era and will examine the roles these images played in the struggle for independence.

Drawn primarily from the Print Collection’s outstanding holdings of American historical prints, it will include such highlights as Paul Revere’s A View of Part of the Town of Boston in New England and Brittish Ships of War Landing Their Troops, Henry Pelham’s The Fruits of Arbitrary Power, and Amos Doolittle’s engravings of the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
I can’t help but note that all those featured prints come from Massachusetts. The show features a lot more, but not much from New York itself.

Mentioned but not shown in the online exhibit—alas!—are Royal Artillery officer Archibald Robertson’s perspective views of Boston and then of New York in 1776. The NYPL owns those sketches and published them in 1930 in Archibald Robertson, Lieutenant-General Royal Engineers: His Diaries and Sketches in America, 1762-1780.

An even larger section of the online exhibit concerns prints that show George Washington, including some rather funny fanciful portraits created for Londoners eager to learn what the rebel general looked like and therefore easily fooled. There are whole sections of political cartoons and allegorical and other symbolic prints like the one above for Washington’s American fans.

And for textile fanciers, there’s a section on “Early Textile Printing in Britain.”

Friday, March 23, 2007

Mysteries of Northern New England, 14-16 June 2007

Late this spring the Washburn Humanities Center, in association with the University of Maine at Farmington, will host a conference on Mysteries of Northern New England—“people, places, events, stories, and legends that have attracted curiosity and speculation, but which may have defied explanation or a solution.”

The conference will be held 14-16 June 2007 at the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center in Livermore, Maine. The organizers say they’re “seeking the participation of both professional and lay scholars and students from across the spectrum of academic disciplines.” That starts with a call for original papers, or complete two- or three-paper sessions, on appropriate topics. Submit a 150-word abstract of one’s paper and a one-page curriculum vitae by 1 April 2007 to:

Billie Gammon
42 Hathaway Hill Road
Livermore, ME 04253
For questions, contact Rob Lively, Dean of Arts & Sciences at the Farmington campus.

Valley Forge Symposium, 31 March 2007

The Second Pennsylvania Regiment, Valley Forge National Historical Park, and the Friends of Valley Forge will present a special full-day program on the Revolutionary War soldier outside Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, 31 March 2007.

Lock, Stock and Barrel: The World of the Revolutionary War Soldier will feature authorities on a variety of topics: the Philadelphia campaign, the French army, camp followers, military artifacts in the Colonial Williamsburg collection, archeology at Valley Forge, and more. The day will end with a presentation by acclaimed author Thomas Fleming in the auditorium of nearby Valley Forge National Historical Park.

The main program will take place at the Inn at Valley Forge (formerly the Valley Forge Hilton) on Rte. 202 in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, and include a buffet lunch. For a full schedule and a downloadable registration form, visit the Friends of Valley Forge website.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The Real Quarrels over the Quartering Act

Yesterday I wrote about the Quartering Act of 1765 and its 1774 revision, which were among the so-called “Intolerable Acts” that supposedly led up to the Revolution. Since they didn’t require people to house soldiers in their homes, as our modern conception has it, why were those laws so controversial?

There were two major arguments over the Quartering Act in the decade before the Revolutionary War. First, in January 1766, the New York legislature refused to pay for food and supplies for the several regiments stationed in the colony, as that law required. There were more British troops in New York than any other colony, most of them in New York City.

In response, in June 1767, the London government under Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend secured a new law threatening to suspend the New York assembly until it complied with the Quartering Act. New York was among the least unified and confrontational of the colonies, but the legislature held out through two election cycles until 1769. At the end of the year it finally voted to pay £2,000 for food and supplies for the troops.

Meanwhile, another Quartering Act quarrel arose in Boston, where the British government moved four regiments starting on 1 Oct 1768. The mission of those soldiers was to make it easier for the Customs service to collect Townshend’s new duties by discouraging townspeople from rioting. Under the Quartering Act, the province was obliged to supply barracks for those troops.

Fine, said the Whigs; the soldiers can go into the barracks at Castle William. A company of Royal Artillery had spent the winter there a couple of years before, and the Castle was within the town’s legal borders. There was only one problem in regard to the military mission: Castle William was on an island in Boston harbor. (At least it was an island at high tides. Now the site is called “Castle Island,” but it’s attached to the mainland. Go figure.) So the military commanders couldn’t accept those quarters.

Instead, Gov. Francis Bernard wanted to house the troops in a big building next to Boston Common called the Manufactory-House. It had been erected in the 1750s to house spinners and weavers manufacturing linen and wool cloth. That business venture had failed, and the building became property of the province. A family of weavers named Brown lived there, perhaps along with some other families, and they, encouraged by local leaders, refused to leave.

Meanwhile, the troops in town had to be housed somewhere. At first they went into other government buildings, and the Whigs complained in their newspaper dispatches:

We now behold the Representatives’ Chamber [in the Town House], Court-House, and Faneuil-Hall, those seats of freedom and justice occupied with troops, and guards placed at the doors; the Common covered with tents, and alive with soldiers; marching and countermarching to relieve the guards, in short the town is now a perfect garrison.
Then some friends of the royal government rented space to the army, and the Whigs pointed out how two of them were (a) not from around here, and (b) profiting:
Report, that James Murray, Esq; from Scotland, since 1745, had let his dwelling house and sugar houses [actually his sister’s], for the quartering of troops, at £15 sterling per month, and that Mr. Forrest from Ireland had let them a house lately purchased for about £50 sterling, at the rate of £60 sterling per annum.
After hearing about two more regiments on their way from Ireland, Gov. Bernard again demanded use of the Manufactory. On 18 October, the Council—the upper house of the Massachusetts legislature—voted to approve this move. Two days later, Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf and his deputy Joseph Otis led some soldiers into taking part of the building by force. The Whigs tried to portray this action as tyrannical, reporting that Brown had “received several [sword] thrusts in his cloaths.” Newspapers praised the hold-outs, highlighting “children at the windows crying for bread.” Brown sued Greenleaf and Otis in court.

By the end of the month, however, the stand-off was resolved, at least as a practical matter. The regiments left the government buildings and moved into unused warehouses and distillery buildings around town. In fact, one businessman involved in these private transactions was William Molineux, the most radical of the Whig merchants. He had apparently received instructions from Charles Ward Apthorp of New York, whose Boston property he managed, to rent space to the army. And the regiments remained in those quarters until after the Boston Massacre.

Thus, the disputes over the Quartering Act were not between the military and individual families, but between the London government and local governments. The Browns and other families in the Manufactory were briefly displaced by the army, but they were living in a public building, not their own property.

In modern political terms, the Quartering Act of 1765 imposed an “unfunded mandate” on colonial and local governments, requiring them to provide resources for an imperial government initiative that they didn’t want and couldn’t control. The law imposed on the community as a whole. And the Quartering Act of 1774, though it didn’t change where troops could be quartered, did give even more decision power to authorities appointed in London. Colonial leaders had a real quarrel with that.

Myths and Realities of the Quartering Act

Parliament’s Quartering Act has a lousy historical reputation. It was one of the “Intolerable Acts,” according to Patriot politicians in 1774. [Whoops. Actually not.] A lot of us probably imagine that law forcing subjects to host soldiers in their homes. After all, the Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution seems to have been written to forestall just such a law:

No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
At least, that’s what I thought until I looked at the “quartering” conflicts that came up in the years before the Revolution, and at the texts of the Quartering Acts themselves.

Parliament first passed a Quartering Act in 1765. The complete text is on a helpful website at Georgia Tech. It’s a fine example of how legal language may actually have gotten easier to read in the last two and a half centuries. The relevant parts:
An act to amend and render more effectual, in his Majesty’s dominions in America, an act passed in this present session of parliament, intitled, An act for punishing mutiny and desertion, and for the better payment of the army and their quarters

...such constables, tithingmen, magistrates, and other civil officers as aforesaid, are hereby required to quarter and billet the officers and soldiers, in his Majesty’s service, in the barracks provided by the colonies;

and if there shall not be sufficient room in the said barracks for the officers and soldiers, then and in such case only, to quarter and billet the residue of such officers and soldiers, for whom there shall not be room in such barracks, in inns, livery stables, ale-houses, victualling-houses, and the houses of sellers of wine by retail to be drank in their own houses or places thereunto belonging, and all houses of persons selling of rum, brandy, strong water, cyder or metheglin, by retail, to be drank in houses;

and in case there shall not be sufficient room for the officers and soldiers in such barracks, inns, victualling and other publick alehouses, that in such and no other case, and upon no other account, it shall and may be lawful for the governor and council of each respective province in his Majesty’s dominions in America, to authorize and appoint, and they are hereby directed and impowered to authorize and appoint, such proper person or persons as they shall think fit, to take, hire and make fit, and, in default of the said governor and council appointing and authorizing such person or persons, or in default of such person or persons so appointed neglecting or refusing to do their duty, in that case it shall and may be lawful for any two or more of his Majesty’s justices of the peace in or near the said villages, town, townships, cities, districts, and other places, and they are hereby required to take, hire, and make fit for the reception of his Majesty’s forces, such and so many uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns or other buildings, as shall be necessary, to quarter therein the residue of such officers and soldiers for whom there should not be rooms in such barracks and publick houses as aforesaid, and to put and quarter the residue of such officer and soldiers therein.
So the first and most important part of this law required local authorities to “quarter and billet” royal troops “in the barracks provided by the colonies.” Because of the long string of wars with France and the militia system, most large port towns colonies had such barracks. (Why say “quarter and billet” when those two words were synonyms? Legal formulas of the period contain a lot of redundancy: “will and testament,” “have and hold,” “cease and desist,” “breaking and entering,” “aiding and abetting,” &c. Parliament liked to be totally clear and transparent.)

If no such barracks were available, then the law gave local authorities the responsibility to find soldiers accommodations in inns, livery stables, and taverns. The first two types of buildings were already taking in guests and their horses. All the liquor-selling establishments described by the law were licensed by the local authorities, so they were already beholding to the state and receiving the public. They were “public houses,” in the period parlance.

Only after all those possibilities were exhausted, and only after jumping through a set of legal hoops that would take several breaths to describe, did the authorities have the power to requisition “uninhabited houses, outhouses, barns or other buildings.” The law said nothing about inhabited houses.

But what about the Quartering Act of 1774, the one that seemed “Intolerable”? Here is its complete text, which is mercifully shorter. It starts by reaffirming the previous law, and transferring that power to demand barracks to “the officer who, for the time being, has the command of his Majesty’s forces in North America”—i.e., Gen. Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief. Then it adds this provision:
That if it shall happen at any time that any officers or soldiers in his Majesty’s service shall remain within any of the said colonies without quarters, for the space of twenty-four hours after such quarters shall have been demanded, it shall and may be lawful for the governor of the province to order and direct such and so many uninhabited houses, out-houses, barns, or other buildings, as he shall think necessary to be taken, (making a reasonable allowance for the same), and make fit for the reception of such officers and soldiers, and to put and quarter such officers and soldiers therein, for such time as he shall think proper.
Again, this boosts the power of the royal governors—including Gen. Thomas Gage. But again, it’s limited to “uninhabited houses, out-houses, barns, or other buildings.” I haven’t found a single case of the peacetime British army in North America demanding the use of a private home to quarter troops. Instead, as we saw in yesterday’s posting about Boston in late 1774, the army rented buildings, mostly from friends of the royal government.

TOMORROW: So why did colonists object so strongly to the Quartering Act?

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Where Did the Fifth Regiment Live?

A colleague from the reenacted His Majesty’s 5th Regiment of Foot asked me where the original unit lived in Boston in 1774-76. After nosing around, I thought that inquiry shed a little light on the challenge of finding quarters for troops in a less than friendly town. And of course I’m always desperate grateful for stuff to blog about.

On 4 July 1774, Boston merchant Joshua Green wrote in his almanac diary (now at the New England Historic Genealogical Society): “The 38th: regiment landed & encamp’d on ye: common.” The next day he added: “The 5th: ditto.” So the regiment first lived in their tents on Boston Common.

They were still there on 8 August, when Col. Percy wrote to a friend in Surrey:

As Gen. Gage is obliged by orders to reside at Salem, I have the honour of commanding the Troops encamped here, wh[ich] consist of the 4th., 5th., 23d., 38th., & 43d. Regts., besides 3 cos. of artillery, who have with them 4, 12-pounders 12, 6-pounders & 4 howitzers.
Gage had to be in Salem as royal governor; the ministry in London had told him to convene the provincial legislature there as a way to punish Boston after the Tea Party. Gage returned to Boston in late August and very shortly lost all practical authority outside that town.

More regiments arrived in Boston in autumn 1774, and the New England winter was approaching. Capt. W. Glanville Evelyn of the 4th Regiment wrote to his father on 31 Oct 1774:
As it was found difficult to furnish quarters for so many men, it was resolved (to avoid extremities) to build barracks on the Common, where we are encamped; for some regiments timber was provided, and the frames pretty well advanced, when they thought proper to issue their orders to the carpenters to desist from working for the troops, upon pain of their displeasure. And one man who paid no attention to their order, was waylaid, seized by the mob, and carried off, and narrowly escaped hanging.

However, the Government have procured distilleries and vacant warehouses sufficient to hold all the regiments, and our own artificers, with those of the men-at-war, and about 150 from New York and Halifax, are now at work upon them, and we hope to get into them in ten days or a fortnight.
Indeed, on 15 Nov the young Patriot printer John Boyle wrote in his journal of events, published in the NEHGS’s Register:
This day the Troops broke up their Encampments in the Common, &c. and are gone into Houses, Stores, &c in different parts of the Town, Vizt.
4th. (or King’s own) Regt. at Lechmere’s Distill-House at New-Boston [i.e., the west part of town]
5th. Coffin’s Distill-House, South-End.
10th. Long-Lane. 18th. (or Royal Irish) Back-Street.
23d. (or Royal Welsh Fuzileers) and 39th. near Fort-Hill.
43d: Sloane’s Distill-House and Gould’s Store, Back-Street.
52d. From Liberty-Tree to the Fortification [on Boston Neck].
59th. Doane’s Stores in King-Street.
64th. To remain at Castle-William.
47th: Near the Market. 65th. Town-Dock.
Regt. of Marines, North-End.
Regt. of Artillery, Griffin’s Wharf [site of the Tea Party].
There were many underused warehouses in Boston because the port was closed to traffic from Europe, the Caribbean, and other distant ports. There were also many underused distillery buildings because the molasses-producing Caribbean colonies had started to distill their own rum for export, cutting out the New England processors. The rum business was already in a doldrums, it appears, before the Revolutionary turmoil—though not for want of local demand.

Those barracks were for the enlisted ranks only. British army officers rented rooms for themselves in private homes and inns.

TOMORROW: The myths and realities of the Quartering Act.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Photos of Living History before Photographs

A posting from Thomas Pray to the Revlist drew me to Living History: A Photographic Study, a young blog by a young photography student at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She comes from a family of eighteenth-century reenactors, and is sharing some of her own photography from living history experiences, and providing a forum for others to share theirs.

This thumbnail shows an image supplied to the blog by Larry Winkiewicz, Sr. Click on it for the entry that can supply the full-size photograph of Jake Brillhart on the fiddle.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Not George Washington

Last week the U.S. government released a transcript of its extralegal proceedings at Guantanamo Bay determining that (“whether” seems to give too much credit to all concerned) Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is an “enemy combatant.” According to the censored document, Mohammed took responsibility for several murderous attacks and a lot of vague “plans,” and apparently mentioned being tortured in U.S. custody. He then made a rambling statement, made even harder to follow by the language barrier and possible transcription problems. Among other things, he said that some of the U.S.A.’s “enemy combatants” were actually prisoners of the Taliban regime, suspected of having been sent (by Saudi Arabia?) to assassinate Osama bin Laden.

In that statement, Mohammed also twice drew an analogy between himself and Gen. George Washington:

I consider myself, for what you are doing, a religious thing as you consider us fundamentalist. So, we derive from religious leading [reading?] that we consider we and George Washington doing same thing. As consider George Washington as hero. Muslims many of them are considering Usama bin Laden. He is doing same thing. He is just fighting. He needs his independence. . . .

If now George Washington. If now we were living in the Revolutionary War and George Washington he being arrested through Britain. For sure he, they would consider him enemy combatant. But American they consider him hero. This right the any Revolutionary War they will be as George Washington or Britain.
(Full transcript downloadable from the Pitt Law School.)

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a 1986 graduate of North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, and thus familiar with the basics of U.S. culture. It’s no surprise that he would invoke the name of George Washington, who looms so large in our history and heritage. But his analogy fails on two levels.

First, George Washington didn’t lead attacks on civilian populations, as Mohammed admitted to making his main effort (and expressed regret for, somewhat late). Because of prevailing military customs, and because he was fighting on his own ground, Washington usually sought to minimize civilian casualties and suffering. Although a pro-American terrorist operated in Britain during the war, neither Washington nor the Continental Congress knew about him.

The major exception to this pattern when Washington approved of campaigns against Iroquois allies of the British. When Native American and European-American armies fought, there was a conflict of competing military customs as well, with civilians targeted for capture and death. Furthermore, the U.S. army did want to push the native population from the lands west of Albany. But even then Washington’s orders targeted settlements, not populations, and ordered civilians to be taken alive:
The immediate objects are the total destruction and devastation of their settlements, and the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible. It will be essential to ruin their crops now in the ground and prevent their planting more.
These campaigns might have been the source of Washington’s Seneca nickname “Town Destroyer,” or might simply have reinforced the ominous meaning of that name for Native Americans. But Washington did not seek to maximize the civilian death toll.

Mohammed’s second historical lapse is that if the British military had captured Washington during the war, the best evidence is that they wouldn’t have treated him as an “enemy combatant” or the eighteenth-century equivalent. They wouldn’t have cut him off from the customary protections of law. They wouldn’t have tortured him. In fact, the best evidence suggests the military would have treated the captured general rather well.

The British military did capture some U.S. generals during the Revolutionary War: Gen. Charles Lee in New Jersey, Gen. Benjamin Lincoln in Charleston, perhaps others I don’t recall. And the British treated those men as prisoners of war, eventually releasing them in prisoner exchanges. Similarly, the American forces captured British generals: Gen. John Burgoyne after Saratoga, Gen. Cornwallis at Yorktown. They, too, were treated as prisoners of war. Only men captured in the act of spying or sabotage while in civilian dress were subject to military trial and execution.

In fact, given the society’s deference to gentlemen—and only gentlemen could become generals—captured commanders were treated far better than ordinary soldiers. Americans complained for decades after the war about the plight of P.O.W.’s on the prison ships anchored off Brooklyn, and Britain resented the U.S. decision not to release Burgoyne’s “Convention Army” as initially promised. Had the British captured Washington, they might have tried him for treason, but they would certainly not have tortured him or come up with a new categorization like “enemy combatant” to keep him out of the legal system.

In sum, Mohammed’s statement was historically inaccurate in two ways: the current U.S. administration has treated prisoners worse than the British government during the Revolutionary War, and Mohammed admitted to behaving far worse than George Washington.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Longfellow Bicentennial Concert, 25 March

Next Sunday afternoon, 25 March, there will be a free concert at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s birth in 1807.

Longfellow was the most popular American writer in the world in the late 1800s. He and his family were proud to make their home in the Cambridge mansion where Gen. George Washington had lived from July 1775 to March 1776, directing the siege of Boston. His narrative poems focused on the American past, creating legends for the nation to share: “Paul Revere’s Ride” depicted the start of the Revolution on the eve of the Civil War while “The Courtship of Myles Standish” portrayed the Plymouth Colony settlers. Longfellow was thus a crucial figure in the “colonial revival” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Among his contemporaries Longfellow was unusually interested in minority cultures within the U.S.: Evangeline followed the Acadians displaced in the wars between the French and British Empires, The Song of Hiawatha was a sympathetic attempt at portraying the Native American past, and Poems of Slavery supported the Abolitionist political movement. (Longfellow’s father-in-law, who paid for his house, was a major textile mill-owner, and thus opposed any steps that would disrupt the production of cotton.)

This concert, in the same site as a centennial celebration of Longfellow one hundred years ago, will feature:

  • The Boston Landmarks Orchestra, under Charles Ansbacher, performing musical works Longfellow enjoyed and Julian Wachner’s musical setting of “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere”
  • Christopher Lydon, host of the WGBH radio discussion show Open Source, as master of ceremonies
  • Matthew Pearl, author of the historical crime novel The Dante Club, featuring Longfellow, Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, James Lovell, and other Boston literary figures
  • David Connor in the role of Paul Revere
  • Baritone Brett Johnson performing “A Psalm of Life”
  • A local children’s chorus singing a setting of Longfellow’s poem “Snowflakes”
This free family concert starts at 2:00, with the theater open at 1:00. Seating is not reserved.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Map of the Way out of Boston

Charles Swift at the City Record and Boston News-Letter has observed Evacuation Day by posting a map of Revolutionary Boston and some surrounding towns—many of which were eventually absorbed by the city. I believe this map was derived from one created by Henry Pelham in 1777, which showed all the fortifications inside and outside the town.

Note Dorchester Heights, item #4. Large cannons brought by Fort Ticonderoga by Henry Knox provided the decisive threat that prompted the British military to leave on 17 March 1776. Pelham and Knox were classmates at the South Latin School in the late 1750s; both eventually dropped out.

St. Patrick's Day in Boston, 1769

In Suffolk County, the 17th of March is Evacuation Day, commemorating the departure of the British army from Boston in 1776. By coincidence, the same date has long been St. Patrick’s Day. So the provincial society that viewed most Irish with suspicion and contempt has ended up producing a legal holiday when people celebrate Irish culture. Ain’t America wonderful?

I looked through my files for any references to St. Patrick’s Day from the Revolutionary period, and found one—of a sort. It appeared in the “Journal of the Times,” a series of newspaper essays sent out by Boston’s Whigs to printers in other American towns after the army first arrived in late 1768. Those articles reported on conflicts between the British military and the locals, always favoring the latter.

The “Journal” dispatch for 20 Mar 1769 said:

Saturday last [i.e., 18 March] being the anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act, the same was noticed as has been usual. The British flag was displayed on Liberty Tree, and at noon a number of gentlemen met in the hall under the same [see above], and the greatest order and decorum observed by the company.

The confinement of the soldiery to their barracks upon Saturday, together with a wicked report, which was spread among them by our enemies, that the Sons of Liberty had intended, to expose the effigy of St. Patrick, upon the Tree of Liberty, on said day, so provoked our military, that numbers of the three companies, quartering at Murray’s sugar-house [rented out by magistrate James Murray, but actually owned by his sister Elizabeth Smith], determined to sally forth that night, and cut down the Tree of Liberty;

accordingly, just before 11 o’clock the signal was given by firing a gun, as was intended, over the guard house, when by carelessness they fired a brace of balls [i.e., two musket balls] through the same, but happily hurt no one; immediately thereupon every man was out with his arms complete; and also axes and saws, to demolish the Tree of Liberty;

one soldier in his freak, fired a ball from one room to another, and shot the tail of a sergeant’s shirt off, but did no other damage: The officers were immediately alarmed, and by their intreaties and promise of pardon; the soldiery returned to their barracks, and remained quiet through the night.
How much of this happened exactly this way? Though the “Journal” insists that the rumor about the effigy of St. Patrick was spread by provocateurs, Bostonians did parade with anti-Catholic effigies on Pope Night, and they did complain about how many of the soldiers were Irish Catholics.

As for the uproar in the guard house, I wouldn’t be surprised if the soldiers did get rowdy because of the holiday, their confinement, and the hostility of the town. But it would be characteristic of the Whigs to blame all the disturbance on a conspiracy aimed at their symbol of liberty.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Capt. Charles Conner: mariner, trader, letter of horses

Yesterday I quoted Charles Conner’s testimony about how Patrick Carr was shot during the Boston Massacre. Unless I’m combining two men of the same name, which is always possible, Conner seems to have been around Boston for quite a while, involved in several significant events, though never fully embraced by the town’s leaders nor coming fully into focus.

Charles Conner was born in Ireland in 1734, according to later statements about him. He pops up in my sources first in 1755, sailing along the coast of Maine under Captain Hector MacNeill, another Irish immigrant to New England. In his 1773 memoir, MacNeill wrote about how a sailor named Charles Conner proved reliable during an attack on his ship by native soldiers, an early skirmish in the Seven Years’ War.

On 1 April 1758, Conner married Hannah Davis in King’s Chapel. The couple had three children baptized there: Charles, Jr., in 1762; Hannah in 1768; and Mercy Thompson in 1770. (They also sponsored other families’ children for baptism.)

In 1760 the Conners were living on Mackrel Lane. Unfortunately, we know that because they were burned out in the last of Boston’s disastrous colonial fires. By then Charles had the title “Captain,” so he’d become a ship’s captain while still in his twenties. He also seems to have been trading or supplying ships since he lost far more than one small family would need: 13 barrels of rum, 50 barrels of cider, 60 bushels of potatoes, 6 barrels of pork, 7 barrels of beef, 600 pounds of Smoked Beef, 300 pounds of sugar, 3000 pounds of cheese, “12 doz Neats Tongues” [calves’ tongues—yum!], 200 pounds of spun yard, 12 pairs of new shoes, 11 dozen shirts of different kinds, 24 Guns and two Swords, a “Hanging Compass,” a mainsail for a sloop and most of a ship’s rigging, 96 “Wooden Cans & Dishes,” and so much more. In all, Capt. Conner lost £414 and fourpence worth of property.

Conner was apparently involved in the “coasting trade,” sailing up and down the North American coast instead of crossing the Atlantic. For example, the 11 Mar 1771 Boston Post-Boy announced:

Just arrived from Virginia, the Schooner Nancy, Charles Conner Master, with Bread and Flour, which is to be sold by Wholesale or Retail, on board the said Schooner lying at Minot’s T [a particular dock].
John Adams’s legal notebooks include a model document taken from a trader’s complaint against Conner for not delivering goods; lawsuits were an ordinary part of New England business.

In 1761, Conner joined the Charitable Irish Society of Boston, a mutual-aid organization. He shows up in other sources connected to other Irish immigrants. Horse doctor Malachy Field arrived in Boston from Cork aboard the Freemason on 27 Dec 1764, and by the following August advertised that he spent two weeks each month at “Mr. Charles Connor’s, at the Queen’s Head Roxbury”—presumably an inn outside town, which the Conners might have taken on after the fire. Three years later Field reported that his base was “at Capt. Conner’s near the Mill-Bridge” in Boston. And of course in 1770 Conner was with Irish breeches-maker Patrick Carr when the younger man was shot. So the town’s Irish immigrants seem to have stuck together.

In May 1771, Conner bought a house on the corner of Salt Lane and Scott Alley, near Union Street in the North End, from widow Elinor Coley. In 1772 one Capt. Conner’s neighbors there was “Mr. Mc’Cluer,” another Scotch-Irish name.

Capt. Conner appears to have joined in the Boston Tea Party on 16 December 1773, and to have precipitously left. As I’ve quoted in the past, merchant John Andrews wrote to a friend in Philadelphia about
Captain Conner, a letter of horses in this place, not many years since remov’d from dear Ireland, who ript up the lining of his coat and waistcoat under the arms, and watching his opportunity had nearly fill’d ’em with tea, but being detected, was handled pretty roughly.

They not only stripp’d him of his cloaths, but gave him a coat of mud, with a severe bruising into the bargain; and nothing but their utter aversion to make any disturbance prevented his being tar’d and feather’d.
Conner wasn’t totally persona non grata with the Patriots after that, however. On 20 Oct 1775, the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap was visiting the provincial troops in Roxbury, and wrote in his diary:
After breakfast, came into General [Artemas] Ward’s quarters several persons who had the preceding night made their escape from Boston; viz., Captain Mackay, Captain Conner, and Mr. Benjamin Hitchborn.
Conner had brought out copies of the Loyalists’ complimentary addresses to Gen. Thomas Gage, then sailing for England. (Hitchborn had escaped from British custody after being captured with letters that embarrassed John Adams, but that’s another story.)

By 1775, Hannah had probably died and Conner remarried, to Abigail Davis. They had a child named Juliana around the end of that year. On 17 Oct 1776, the Conners had her baptized in Trinity Church, back in Boston, and four days later she was buried. In June 1779 the couple had a son named Daniel.

In Dec 1776, Conner was drafted for the Continental Army from Boston’s ward 5, but he paid a fine to get out of that duty. He cooperated with the Revolutionary government a different way. In Sept 1779, the Boston selectmen “Agreed with Capt. Conner to improve a Building belonging to him as a Slaughter house, & to allow him a reasonable rent therefor.” That month the Continental Journal ran this ad:
Our Brethren in the Country are informed, That SLAUGHTER HOUSES are provided for the Reception of CATTLE and SHEEP, by the Country, viz.——At Mr. Robert Hewes’s, in Pleasant-Street; at Capt. Conner’s, by the Mill Creek; and at Capt. John Ballard’s Wharf, North End.
In 1784, Capt. Conner put his “House and Land, Situated in Boston, near Union-Street,” on the market. He might be the “Mr. Connor” living in Boston with two white females in the 1790 U.S. census, but by then the town had other notable inhabitants named Conner or Connor.

Trinity Church records state that “Mr. Charles Connor” died on 3 Nov 1793 at age 59.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Charles Conner Testifies About Patrick Carr

On 15 March 1770, the day after Patrick Carr became the fifth death from the Boston Massacre, coroner Thomas Dawes took this deposition from a man who had been with Carr on the night of the 5th:

I Charles Conner of Boston, of lawful Age being duly sworn to Testify and Say; that on the evening of the fifth of March, between the hours of nine and ten of the Clock in the evening: I was in Kingstreet with Mr. Patrick Carr, the occasion of my going, was the Cry of Fire and bells ringing:

we was their but a few minutes before several Small Arms was fired from a Detachment of Regiment soldiers drawn up near the Custom house

instantly upon the guns firg., the said Patrick Carr, who stood next to me and who had no Stick or any sort of weapon whatever about him, said to me, Conner; that was he wounded

I told him I hoped not, but asisted in carrying said Carr to a House in Fitch’s Alley and imeadiatly went for a Doctor for said Carr; seing of him badly wounded: the said wounds was received by the ball or balls that was fired by said detachment.

It was not the first gun that was fired, by which said Patrick received his wound. but a Second or Third;
The coroner then apparently asked Conner about the size of the crowd because he then wrote, “and semingly not more than 50 or 60 people there,” followed by a footnote:
Almost every one that have given Evidence agree that there was but a few persons in Kingstreet when the Guns were fired Some say about 50 Some 60—Some that there may be thereabouts &c.
This document is in the Chamberlain collection of the Boston Public Library’s manuscripts department, along with many others that seem to have been either rescued or liberated from legal files in the late 1800s.

TOMORROW: Who was this Charles Conner?

Government Listening Session at Faneuil Hall, 15 March

Tonight from 5:00 to 7:00, the National Park Service is running a “Listening Session” in Faneuil Hall. This is billed as an opportunity for us citizens to comment on the NPS’s priorities over the next decade.

Given the lack of publicity and the short period for public comments (get them in by 2 April!), this seems more like an effort to drum up support for the Bush-Cheney administration’s legacy-burnishing Centennial Initiative as Congress determines the U.S. budget. Does listening to two-minute remarks from citizens truly affect policy?

The Centennial Initiative is supposed to infuse more money into the NPS by 2016, the hundredth anniversary of its founding. Where will that money come from? Federal budgets under future Presidents and Congresses, mostly. And every dollar will have to be matched in some way by the public—the same people paying the taxes that should fund the National Park Service in the first place.

In general, this administration has preferred to privatize and politicize public resources. Under this initiative, it’s insisting that all projects “Use current staffing, unless additional staffing is provided through endowed positions or partners.” So would you like to buy your very own park ranger? Kurt at National Parks Traveler shares a hint of what to expect from NPS retiree Owen Hoffman, as well as observations on the planning of these sessions.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Patrick Carr: breeches-maker, Massacre victim

On 14 March 1770, a young Irish immigrant named Patrick Carr died in Boston. He had been shot on the 5th, and thus became the fifth (and by most counts the last) fatal casualty of the Boston Massacre.

On the H-OIEAHC email list, someone recently asked why we don’t know more about Patrick Carr. I replied that we know very little about any working-man of the time. In fact, we know more about Carr than about most men of his circumstances because of how he died.

Shortly after the Massacre, Boston’s newspapers had described Carr this way:

Mr. Patrick Carr, about 30 Years of Age, who worked with Mr. Field, Leather-Breeches-Maker, in Queen-Street, wounded; a Ball entered near his Hip, and went out at his Side.
The records of King’s Chapel, from which he was buried, also gave his age as thirty.

Dr. John Jeffries, one of the surgeons who treated Carr’s wounds, testified in the soldiers’ trial, adding a few more details about the man:
he was a native of Ireland, that he had frequently seen mobs, and soldiers called upon to quell them: whenever he mentioned that, he always called himself a fool, that he might have known better, that he had seen soldiers often fire on the people in Ireland, but had never seen them bear half so much before they fired in his life.
In addition, Jeffries said that Carr told him he had left Field’s house when the church bells rang, and was “carried home to Mr. Field’s by some of his friends” afterward.

We also have the trial testimony of Mrs. Catherine Field and John Mansfield, who preceded Dr. Jeffries on the witness stand. They both testified that Catherine’s husband had told Carr, his employee and tenant, not to go out with a sword under his coat. But only an unnamed neighbor woman was able to convince Carr to leave that weapon behind.

Inspired by success in identifying the employer of another Massacre victim, I did a little digging on “Mr. Field, Leather-Breeches-Maker.” Leather breeches were a standard garment for working-men and for boys of all classes, so there was a steady trade in them. It didn’t take long to find records of a man in that business named John Field. In February 1772 he joined the Charitable Irish Society of Boston; most of its members seem to have been immigrants from Ireland, so he might well have been one, too.

In Oct 1770 several Boston newspapers carried this advertisement:
John Field,
Breeches-marker and Glover—takes this Opportunity to Acquaint the Publick, that he as removed from the House he lately lived in, in Queen-street, opposite to the Old Brick Meeting-House, near the Town-House, where he has a large parcel of the best Buck and Doe skin Breeches, and a large Assortment of the best Gloves, which he means to sell by Wholesale or Retail; such Gentlemen as are pleased to favour him with their Custom, may depend on having their Work done in the neatest and best Manner.
George R. T. Hewes, whose memory had proven reliable in many details, recalled Carr’s employer as living “on Prison Lane,” the west end of Queen Street (modern Court Street). So in March 1770 John Field and his household were only a couple of blocks from the site of the Massacre at most. Then at the end of the year they moved around the corner onto Cornhill. (I’m digging deeper into the Fields’ life, and have found some strange holes to discuss sometime.)

Someone’s created a Wikipedia article about Patrick Carr with:
  • a middle name, which was quite rare in the 1700s for lower- and middling-class men.
  • famous descendants, though there’s no hint from Boston records that he was married or had children.
  • a botched transcription of the testimony about him at the soldiers’ trial (since improved).
But that article includes no sources for all that personal information. Obviously, the hunger for information about Patrick Carr, reliable or not, is strong.

The John Howe Hoax Finds Another Victim

In yesterday’s Boston Globe, H. D. S. Greenway closed an opinion piece titled “‘Surge’ doomed to final failure” with a Revolutionary anecdote. It began:

In early April 1775, the British governor of Boston sent John Howe out to gather intelligence in that hotbed of insurgency now called the western suburbs, but then the Anbar province of its time.
The analogy is fairly solid, but the anecdote is not. “John Howe” was the putative author of a pamphlet published in 1822, but it was a hoax, a rewrite of an authentic British spy report with more exciting stories and better jokes. See more detail from Mass Moments.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Lectures at National Heritage Museum, Lexington

The National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Massachusetts, has announced an excellent lineup of Lowell Lectures for this spring. These talks will be delivered in conjunction with the exhibition “Sowing the Seeds of Liberty: Lexington and the American Revolution.”

Saturday, 17 March, 2 p.m.

“It Rained Cats and Dogs the Day the Revolution Began: A Forgotten Story of Popular Mobilization in 1775”: T.H. Breen of Northwestern University will discuss popular 18th-century publications and how they mobilized colonists into action. Drawn from his work, America’s Insurgency: Popular Political Resistance to Imperial Rule, 1775–1776, Dr. Breen will show how a popular English publication called The Crisis served as a model for our own early press.
I think that insurgency book must be what Breen’s working on now. His latest was The Marketplace of Revolution.

Sunday, 1 April, 2 p.m.
“Building the Temple of Liberty: Freemasonry and the Founding of America”: Dr. Steven C. Bullock, Professor of History at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, will discuss Freemasonry in the Revolutionary era, noting its role in the coming break with England, in the war that followed, and in the new American nation that emerged out of it.
The museum being a Masonic institution, this will presumably be quite a popular topic for its members. Bullock has written about the topic in Revolutionary Brotherhood.

Sunday, 29 April, 2 p.m.
“Taverns and Drinking in 18th-Century Massachusetts”: Dr. Sharon Salinger, Professor of History at the University of California at Irvine, will explore the European and English origins of the tavern and its importance in the social and political world of colonial Massachusetts. Dr. Salinger will examine the laws that controlled these establishments, the groups of people who frequented them, and the use of tavern space in fomenting revolution.
Salinger is the author of Taverns and Drinking in Colonial America.

Sunday, 6 May, 2 p.m.
“‘A Decent Respect to the Opinions of Mankind’: The Creation of a Revolutionary Aspiration”: A distinguishing feature of the Revolutionary War was its leaders’ determination to win freedom in a way that would earn the respect of other nations. Dr. Richard Ryerson, Senior Historian at the David Library of the American Revolution, will explore the late colonial origins of this respect, its great practical value in winning European military support, and its powerful effect on colonists’ conduct in the war for independence.
Ryerson spent years in Boston as an editor of the Adams Papers.

All these lectures and free and open to the public, with the support of a grant from the Lowell Institute.

In addition, last autumn’s Lowell Lecture by Brandeis professor David Hackett Fischer on “Liberty and Freedom” is now available for downloading as an mp4 file.

Adolescent Rebellion in Revolutionary America

Yesterday I wrote about glimpses of adolescent rebellion in colonial America, particularly how apprentices rebelled against masters rather than against parents. When that society itself became rebellious in the 1760s and 1770s, what did that mean for adolescents?

I think our current culture still expects the political side of adolescent rebellion to follow the model of the 1960s, when the “youth movement” fueled profound social changes and less lasting political changes, producing widely reported generational conflicts. But that phenomenon may have been a historical aberration.

In Revolutionary Massachusetts, young people—particularly teenage boys—lent their youthful energies to the majority Whig cause. Schoolboys marched against the Stamp Act in August 1765, and in 1770 seem to have taken the lead in organizing picket lines against importers. Boys were among the first people killed when frightened servants of the Crown pushed back. But those rebellions were aimed at a small minority of royal officials and a distant government.

That Whig cause had the support of most of the fathers of those boys, and most of their local political leaders. In other words, these adolescents weren’t rebelling against their parents or the society they knew. They gladly adopted the dominant values and goals. Leading Whigs didn’t worry about opposition from the town’s youth; they worried about reining in boys lest they go too far.

That situation meant that the boys could have all the rebellious fun and excitement of being rowdy yet still see themselves (and be seen) as standing up for their rights, as Englishmen were supposed to do. Just as attacking the Pope and Pretender licensed the misrule of Pope Night, as I argued in an article for the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, so picketing importers’ shops gave boys license to yell and throw mud at people in the street. While their elders occasionally repudiated teenagers for their rash actions, leaders valued support from youth. In turn, participating in the Revolutionary movement helped adolescents make a place for themselves in adult society.

Boston 1775 reader Philamom wrote me about this dynamic a while back:

I think too often in YA books [i.e., novels for teenagers], kids from the past are presented as far too well-behaved, obedient, and all-out goodly! The [“From Saucy Boys to Sons of Liberty”] article also confirmed a theme I've woven into my book - how the patriots were sort of the naughty boys to England's strict father.
Indeed, both at the time and in the centuries since, Americans have viewed our Revolution as a “coming of age,” separating from the “mother country” once we outgrew her protection, as adolescents are supposed to do. In A Season of Youth, historian Michael G. Kammen notes how most of the best and most popular Revolutionary War novels are coming-of-age tales: Johnny Tremain, My Brother Sam Is Dead, &c.

It’s especially interesting to see how some Revolutionary Americans came to view their adolescent rebellions against their masters as akin to the political rebellion of 1765-1783. Benjamin Franklin, in a footnote to the passage in his autobiography that I quoted yesterday, mused about his difficult relationship to his brother and master:
I fancy his [James Franklin’s] harsh and tyrannical treatment of me might be a means of impressing me with that aversion to arbitrary power that has stuck to me through my whole life.
(The image of Benjamin working industriously above comes from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.)

My favorite illustration of the reassuring connection between personal and political rebellions comes from Ebenezer Fox, born in 1763 and raised just outside Boston. Late in life he wrote about how he interpreted the political rhetoric all around him in the early 1770s:
With him [a farmer named Pelham] I continued five years, performing such services in the house and upon the farm as were adapted to my age and strength. I imagined however that I suffered many privations and endured much hardship; which was undoubtedly true, were my situation compared with that of many other boys of my age at that time, or in this more refined period. . . .

I had for some time been dissatisfied with my situation, and was desirous of some change. I had made frequent complaints of a grievous nature to my father; but he paid no attention to them, supposing that I had no just cause for them, and that they arose merely from a spirit of discontent which would soon subside.

Expressions of exasperated feeling against the government of Great-Britain, which had for a long time been indulged and pretty freely expressed, were now continually heard from the mouths of all classes; from father and son, from mother and daughter, from master and slave. A spirit of disaffection pervaded the land; groans and complaints, and injustices and wrongs were heard on all sides. Violence and tumult soon followed.

Almost all the conversation that came to my ears related to the injustice of England and the tyranny of government.

It is perfectly natural that the spirit of insubordination, that prevailed, should spread among the younger members of the community; that they, who were continually hearing complaints, should themselves become complainants. I, and other boys situated similarly to myself, thought we had wrongs to be redressed; rights to be maintained; and, as no one appeared disposed to act the part of a redresser, it was our duty and our privilege to assert our own rights. We made a direct application of the doctrines we daily heard, in relation to the oppression of the mother country, to our own circumstances; and through that we were more opposed than our fathers were.

I thought that I was doing myself great injustice by remaining in bondage, when I ought to go free; and that the time was come, when I should liberate myself from the thraldom of others, and set up a government of my own; or, in other words, do what was right in the sight of my own eyes.
So Fox and a friend left their masters and headed for Newport, to go to sea. Yet for all their thinking about liberty and bondage, those boys knew so little of the political situation that they didn’t realize why there was so much activity on the roads the night they chose to flee—18 April 1775.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Adolescent Rebellion in Colonial America?

Back when I was writing about how Christopher Seider, Edward Garrick, and other lads helped to participate in and precipitate the political violence of early 1770, a couple of Boston 1775 readers sent me interesting questions about general adolescent behavior of the time. xAlpha wrote:

did kids and teens rebel in the 18th century too? Did they play Beethoven (I suppose that might be a little late in history) loudly on their violins to piss off their Baroque-loving parents?

I do know there wasn't much of an adolescence phase in those days, though. You hit puberty, got married, and started doing work, so maybe they never had time to be bored and restless.
I think that for most eighteenth-century boys the sequence of passages went this way: going to work at or before age fourteen, going through puberty around the same time (biologically, the changes probably came later than they do now), heading out on your own after twenty-one, establishing yourself in your profession, and finally marrying in the late twenties. Some boys got to continue their education in college, which also started at age fourteen, but they were a very small minority, and they still had to work at their studies.

Such work kept young fellows busy, so they didn’t have a lot of time to call their own. And since they were basically working for room, board, and one suit of good clothes a year, they didn’t have money to spend on things that might annoy adults. (See this article from Colonial Williamsburg on apprenticeships for more detail.) So the opportunities for rebellion were there, but limited.

Furthermore, most boys were sent to masters outside their immediate families. In fact, the society encouraged parents to bind out their children (especially boys) so as to avoid treating them too leniently. A master was expected to act in loco parentis, but also to be stricter than real parents. That meant, I think, that most adolescent rebellion took the form of rebelling against the authority of the master, not against their parents.

In Traits of the Tea Party, based largely on the memories of shoemaker George R. T. Hewes, Benjamin Bussey Thatcher wrote of:
the pranks of...apprentices—a class of persons whose science it seems to have been in those days to harass their masters as much as they possibly could without getting flogged for it
The anecdote that follows starts with Hewes and a friend staying out past the house curfew. Even though all they did was make themselves coffee and toast in the house of the friend’s father, on their return their master promised to whip them immediately after he got dressed. While he was out of the room, they set a bunch of metal pots and pans in front of the door. As the master came back through—tripping, clanging, and cursing—the boys escaped to their bedroom and locked the door. Then before the next workday dawned, Hewes reported, he and his friend left that master for good.

Another former Boston apprentice who left a detailed autobiography was Benjamin Franklin. He described going to his father to complain about his employer—who was also his older brother James:
Though a brother, he considered himself as my master, and me as his apprentice, and accordingly, expected the same services from me as he would from another, while I thought he demean’d me too much in some he requir’d of me, who from a brother expected more indulgence.

Our disputes were often brought before our father, and I fancy I was either generally in the right, or else a better pleader, because the judgment was generally in my favor. But my brother was passionate, and had often beaten me, which I took extreamly amiss; and, thinking my apprenticeship very tedious, I was continually wishing for some opportunity of shortening it, which at length offered in a manner unexpected.
Benjamin couldn’t have been an easy apprentice. He was already the smartest fellow in the room, and willful; see my posting about when he caused trouble in the kitchen by becoming a vegetarian. And like Hewes, after a while Benjamin simply left, running off to Philadelphia.

Another young printer, Isaiah Thomas, hightailed it to Halifax in his mid-teens. Shoemaker Hewes tried to enlist in the army and navy during the French & Indian War, and several teenagers used that route out of their apprenticeships during the Revolution. Indeed, in the few memoirs we have that discuss a man’s childhood in detail, such wanderlust is a fairly common theme, probably a manifestation of what we now call adolescent rebellion.

TOMORROW: The political side of adolescent rebellion.