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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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Another Delightful Digital Database (sort of)

As I dug into the story of the Rev. John Morrison this week, I ended up using this helpful page of downloads from the state of New Hampshire. It offers the complete forty-volume set of New Hampshire State Papers as PDF files. The downloads aren’t swift, but the files load quickly considering how many pages they contain.

No one’s done a transcription of these volumes yet, so their text isn’t searchable like the volumes on Google Books or other web-based resources. But you can identify what pages to study from other people’s footnotes (as I did) or from the downloadable unified index for all volumes. The series contains thousands of pages of colonial and Revolutionary records that remained in the state archives. Read free or die.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Peterborough Accuses Rev. Morrison

As early as July 1770, when there was some sort of embarrassing incident at John Taggart’s house (perhaps the incident recalled in yesterday’s post), the Peterborough Presbyterian church started to think they’d chosen the wrong minister in the Rev. John Morrison. On 18 June 1771 a Presbytery met in Peterborough to consider the congregation’s complaints. Extracts from the minutes of that meeting survive, which provide glimpses—but only glimpses—of the problem.

There were seven charges. Two involved intemperance, or sloppy drunkenness, at the homes of Taggart and Col. Stephen Holland. The committee of judges found Morrison guilty on both counts, though the first was “not so highly aggravated” as the second.

The next two charges involved “Profane swearing.” The committee felt Morrison was guilty in the first incident. As for the second, “a Single evidence [i.e., witness] appeard and for the Reasons offered the committee saw fit to indulge the evidence not to swear.” Perhaps the first charge was so clear that the committee didn’t need to consider the second. Perhaps they knew one witness wasn’t enough.

Another charge was “Buying a poor mans vote.” The committee decided, “Tho there was some inexpediency yet nothing unlawful and consequently nothing censurable.” This may have been a vote within the church rather than a civil vote.

Skipping ahead, the seventh charge was “Baptizing a Child contrary to our Constitution,” and the committee declared “there is nothing to support the sd. Charge.”

Now for the real controversy: the sixth charge was “Immodest conversation and Deportment” on fifteen separate occasions:

  • Agnes Mitchel described one incident—the committee ruled it “not proved.”
  • Whatever happened at Taggart’s house in 1770 made the charge “evident by his [Morrison’s] own confession.”
  • Elisabeth Miller described behavior on two occasions that the committee agreed would warrant the charge, but there was no second witness to support her testimony.
  • Witnesses ”Stone & Wilson” described another incident, but the committee decided it was “nothing that amounted to the shadow of a proof.”
  • Another person described Morrison telling some story which the committee agreed “was unbecoming ministerial gravity,” but again that was the only witness.
  • William Gilchrest testified, but his “Character” and “his Evidence being wholly unsupported by any corroborating Circumstances” meant the committee gave him little weight.
  • Another witness “the Committee thought proper to sett aside” for unspecified reasons.
  • John Mitchel and his wife testified about yet another event, but the committee felt they “declared nothing to support the Charge.”
  • For the ninth incident, “Unanimously agreed that this Article if made evident is an instance of immodesty but is not judicially proved.”
  • Articles 10 through 14 “supported by no Evidence,” in part because a witness named John Dicks did not appear.
  • On the last charge “respecting immodest Conversation & Deportment the Committee unanimously find him guilty.”
So of fifteen incidents the committee basically delivered judgments of guilty in three, the Scottish verdict of “not proven” in three more, and acquittals in the rest. It also appears that the committee chose to keep some witnesses’ names off its record.

The judges concluded:
that in a Number of Articles tho not supported by such Proof as the Gospel requires yet some of them are attended with such Circumstances as to render the facts very suspicious—they would therefore in the bowels of Christ earnestly intreat the Revd. Mr. Morrison by every consideration that is weighty with impartial strictness to animadvert his Conduct...[and] to endeavour to humble himself in the dust before a Heart searching & holy God & to fly speedily to the Blood & righteousness of Jesus Christ for pardon & cleansing.

And with respect to the agrieved the Committee would be free to advise them with like earnestness as it is a very critical Time in Peterburgh to take heed to their spirits & while they are justly offended at their Ministers Crimes to beware of a spirit of Bitterness or personal hatred
The Presbytery then suspended Morrison for ten weeks. At another meeting on 29 August 1771, those elders restored Morrison to his pulpit.

But that didn’t satisfy the congregation. They retained attorney John Sullivan (shown above) and on 27 Nov 1771 petitioned the New Hampshire legislature to release them from their contract with Morrison. That petition accused him of “profane swearing, Drunkenness, Immodest Actions & conversation & other Lew’d wicked & Disorderly behaviour Quite unbecoming the christian character.” Thirty-four men signed this petition, including some named Mitchel, Miller, and Willson.

On 14 Dec the New Hampshire Council received the petition and sent it to the lower house, the Assembly. Those legislators voted to summon Morrison to a hearing on 15 Jan 1772. But four days later the Council disagreed. Sullivan understood they thought “it was a matter more proper for the Spiritual Courts.”

Sullivan then supplied a new document to clarify that the Presbytery had already met, and reviewing its findings, throwing in all the charges that committee had dismissed for lack of multiple witnesses. He wrote:
Though a Presbytery may Restore a Minister To his Standing yet they can by no means Reconcile the minds of a people to a profane Drunken & Debauched Minister nor Can they look upon themselves as Injoying their Religious Liberties while they are Compellable To Support Such a person.
On 20 Dec the Council decided that “the Selectmen of Peterborough” should be brought in. The Assembly disagreed, and finally voted to dismiss the petition—apparently to let the parties work it out among themselves.

Sullivan submitted another long document on 30 Dec (which I haven’t seen). Morrison finally resolved the dispute in March 1772 by resigning from the pulpit.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

More About John Morrison

I knew if I whined enough, someone would help me with sources on what exactly caused the Presbyterians of Peterborough, New Hampshire, to dismiss John Morrison as their minister.

A kind Boston 1775 reader gave me a look at the Church History article that discusses this case among other New Hampshire dismissals. Its footnotes led to two more detailed sources, including Google Books’s copy of “An Address Delivered at the Centennial Celebration, in Peterborough, N.H., Oct. 24, 1839,” by John Hopkins Morison. He had this to say about the Rev. Mr. Morrison [whose last name he spelled like his own, just to confuse the search engines]:

From all that I can learn he was a man of decided talents; but it must be borne in mind, that the same ability will appear always more conspicuous in a bad than in a good man, just as a horse, or a building or perfect symmetry will always appear smaller than another of the same dimensions whose parts are out of proportion.

But after making all due allowance, we must, I believe, conclude that Mr. Morison possessed more than common powers, for good or for evil. But soon he proved himself an intemperate, licentious man, dangerous alike as the companion of either sex.

A charitable construction was put upon the first symptoms of intemperance. At a party he was found unable to walk, and it was necessary to take him through the room where the young people were collected, in order to place him upon a bed. This was managed with so much adroitness, that no suspicion was raised, except with three or four church-members who were disposed to view it as an accident, at a time when similar casualties were not uncommon.

But soon, while his bad habits in this line became notorious, his evil passions in another direction flared out, to the general scandal of the town. A Presbytery was held; he was suspended from his office for two or three months, a thing probably to his taste, as his salary was not suspended.

At length, however, the people could no longer tolerate him; he relinquished his connection with the society in March, 1772; visited South Carolina, returned and joined the American army at Cambridge in ’75.

He was present at Bunker-hill, but excused himself from entering the battle on the ground that his gun-lock was not in order. The next day he joined the British, and continued in some capacity with them till his death, which took place at Charleston, S.C., December 10, 1782.

He became a professed atheist. It is said that he spent his last days, when he was daily sinking to the grave, among profligate, abandoned associates, taking his part in every species of dissipation which his decaying strength would permit; and just before his death, gave a sum of money to his companions, requesting them to drink it out upon his coffin.

His wife, Sarah Ferguson, in every respect a true, exemplary women, never to the time of her death, (November, 1824, æt. 84,) lost either the interest or the confidence with which she had first joined her fortune to his.

It is refreshing to add, that their son, John Morison, who died more than forty years ago, was, by the uniform consent of all who knew him, one of the most pure-hearted and clear-headed men that our town has produced. I have never heard him mentioned by one who had known him except with strong affection and respect. He received his education at Exeter, where for a time he was also a teacher.
TOMORROW: Primary sources—Peterborough petitions to be allowed to dismiss the minister.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Original Mount Whoredom

A year ago, Charles Swift at The City Record and Boston News-Letter and I exchanged posts about “Mount Whoredom,” the name documents and maps from around the Revolution gave to a hill that real-estate developers in the early republic renamed “Mount Vernon.” (Of course, saying “whoredom” over and over produced the first spike in Boston 1775’s page views.)

At this month’s Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife I met Christopher Lenney, author of Sightseeking: Clues to the Landscape History of New England. In that book he wrote:

Mount Whoredom, as the west summit of Beacon Hill was called until 1823, likely derives from a hill in London that bore the same name for the same reason. This designation...may have been military slang: the London Mount Whoredom (so mapped in 1745) was a place of soldiers’ resort near the Royal Artillery headquarters in Woolwich.
Chris based that statement on a literary description of a London map, but hadn’t found the actual map.

Putting Google to work brought me to an online map that includes the detail above. The “Mount Whoredom” label curls around a dark structure below the L in “Woolwich.” Chris tells me that Lt. Thomas Hyde Page (1746–1821), who put the same name on his 1777 map of Boston, was familiar with Woolwich because he’d been first cadet at the Royal Artillery training school there.

That British link makes me rethink the origin and meaning of the label. British officers seem to have taken pleasure in referring to “Mount Whoredom” and “Whoredom Hill” in letters from Boston in mid-1775. I thought that meant they enjoyed pointing out the hypocrisy of an old Puritan town having such a site. But what if British officers had brought that term with them during the French & Indian War, in the 1768-70 occupation, or in 1774?

On the other hand, American officers used the same term in military planning in early 1776. Were they simply adopting the enemy’s label for a fortified place? Or had the “Mount Whoredom” label been in circulation for years before? I haven’t found it in local sources, but it’s not the sort of term Bostonians would have put in print. And the area could have been the town’s center for prostitution without being formally labeled “Mount Whoredom.”

I should also lay out the steps I followed to find this image.

1) Search Google Books for “Woolwich” and “whoredom.” That brought up a 1931 issue of Archaeologia Cantiana, the journal of the Kent Archaeological Society, which says “Woolwich [was] a little riverside town, cut off from Charlton by open tracts with such interesting names as Hanging Wood, Sand Wharf, and Mount Whoredom.” The snippet view adds the information that that description is based on “John Rocque’s fascinating map of the environs of London in 1741-5.”

2) Search Google for “John Rocque” and “London.” That brings up many reproductions of Rocque’s 1745 map of the capital. This was one of the best. However, after using Google Maps’ modern view, I realized that Woolwich wasn’t on that map. It’s further downstream on the Thames. So books that referred to a 1745 London map lead down a false path.

3) Search Google again for “John Rocque” and “Woolwich.” That brought me to ideal-homes.org.uk. That sounds like a real estate broker, but it’s actually a historical examination of “the origins and significance of suburbia as revealed through the history of South London,” created by the University of Greenwich. And it provides an online view of Rocque’s 1746 map of Woolwich, which must be what the Kent journal and Chris’s source were referring to.

4) Overlook the crucial label on that Woolwich map, spend another half-hour trying to find more London and Woolwich maps, get frustrated, go back to the Kent journal to review the other sites it mentions, find them on the Woolwich map, and finally spot “Mount Whoredom.” (This last step is optional.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cannonballs and a Deserter Come into Boston

Here’s another snatch of selectman Timothy Newell’s diary of the siege of Boston. These entries came a week after the Battle of Bunker Hill, as rumors flew that the British army would try to push back the provincial forces on the other side of the town as well.

24th [June]. About 12 oClock at noon began a Cannonade of Roxbury and set fire to one or two houses which was extinguished. Two Men killed at Brown’s house from a small party of Regulars. Great expectations from this day’s operations, as last night four Transports, Gondaloes &c. full of Troops, as was said, intended to land at Dorchester neck to attack the Provincials, but an alarm gun was said to be fired and fires kindled to alarm the Country—the great force said to be collected prevented this expedition.

This account was given by one Morrison who deserted and came in this day from the Provincials. It is said he was in the Redoubt at Bunker Hill.
“Brown’s house” was on Boston Neck, the narrow strip of dry land that then connected Boston to the rest of Massachusetts. “Dorchester Neck” was a peninsula off Dorchester. All that topography has changed greatly since 1775 because of landfills.

As for Morrison, he was John Morrison of Peterborough, New Hampshire. The New Hampshire Churches (1856) says he was born in Pathfoot, Scotland, in 1739. Leonard Allison Morrison’s The History of the Morison or Morrison Family (1880) says he had graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 1765. The next year, Morrison came to Peterborough, which was largely settled by people of Scottish origin or ancestry, several of them also named Morrison or Morison. In November 1766 he became the first official Presbyterian minister there.

But the Rev. Mr. Morrison served only until March 1772, when the congregation dismissed him for cause. Now that’s the kind of gossip Boston 1775 enjoys! Unfortunately, the sources I can find aren’t very juicy. That Morrison family history says, “His abilities were good, but by disreputable practices he lost the respect of the people.” Too vague. George Abbot Morison’s 1876 History of Peterborough calls Morrison an “object of intemperance.” That’s more like it. But I believe that Albert Smith’s competing History of the Town of Peterborough would have more to say about “scandalous behavior.”

Smith’s history, in the short extract downloadable from here, says Morrison was with the Peterborough militia company on the day of Bunker Hill, but “remained in camp, and excused himself from accompanying his friends, alleging that the lock of his gun was so injured as to be useless. Shortly after he passed over to Boston and joined the British.” So Morrison wasn’t in the redoubt on Breed’s Hill, and his remarks about the alarm in Dorchester might be suspect as well. By late 1776 he was a commissary with the British army, a position he held until his death in 1782.

Newell would cross paths with Morrison in Boston months later. In the meantime, he had artillery fire to worry about.
26th [June] PM. Many cannon fired on both sides from the lines &c.
27th. Tolerable quiet; only a few cannon exchanged from the lines.
30th. Cannonade from Roxbury and the lines.
Newell’s diary shows how the New England troops had cannons well before Col. Henry Knox brought guns from Fort Ticonderoga, and they weren’t shy about using them.

ADDENDUM: This article by George B. Kirsch in Church History says that the John Morrison scandal also involved sex. But I can’t get to the good bits through Google.

ADDENDUM #2: I have always relied on the kindness of Boston 1775 readers.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Fun with John Quincy Adams's Diary

“Fun” may not be the right word for any document young John Quincy Adams created. He seems to have written very self-consciously, often apologetically, with his parents looking over his shoulders.

But here’s an interesting passage from his diary for 18 Dec 1779, put online by the Massachusetts Historical Society. On that date twelve-year-old John was in Spain with his father, who was on a diplomatic mission for the Continental Congress. Also in the party were John’s tutor; his younger brother Charles; an eleven-year-old boy from Boston; and some other American men. This journal entry starts on this page and continues here.

I look’d this morning out of our chamber window and saw a beautiful sight the waves all foaming upon the Beach & Breaking made a terrible noise and as beautiful a sight as I ever saw in my life.

We expected to see a Nun made to day, but we were disappointed the Nuns are shut up in Convents & never see any men but Except the friars.
John wrote eight more lines, but later crossed them out more thoroughly than any other words in his journal. Did he write more about nuns and friars? A dirty joke? A prejudiced remark? Something his father or tutor corrected, or something his mother would dislike when word got back to her?

The diary entry resumed:
this afternoon the Gentlemen all went to see the armory but I was writing a Letter & therefore could not go.
I wish I knew what letter was so important that it kept a twelve-year-old boy from going to the armory with the men. I suspect John was writing to Mama or one of her sisters back home in Massachusetts.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Building Blocks of the American Revolution

YouTube hosts a handful of short animated films about the Battle of Bunker Hill, most apparently made as school assignments. I have to give the edge to this stop-motion Lego® version. It’s not wholly accurate (Americans wouldn’t build a tower on Breed’s Hill until decades after the battle), but it reproduces more of the day than the other offerings.

And don’t Lego people remind you of Davy on Davy and Goliath?

Having Fun Yet Again

Zippy the Pinhead hops on the Bunker Hill bandwagon with today’s strip, which must mean the topic’s too cool for me. Something new tomorrow.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Shape of the Redoubt on Breed’s Hill

This picture shows a detail of a map I found in the New York Public Library’s Mid-Manhattan Picture Collection Online. I haven’t found the secret to linking directly to the image, but it’s number 808558, titled “A Plan of the Action at Bunker’s Hill, on the 17th of June 1775.” The map was published in the late 1800s by G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

The box in the upper left quadrant shows the redoubt on top of the rise known as Breed’s Hill. Provincial troops under Col. William Prescott started to fortify that area during the night of 16-17 June 1775, and it became the focus of the British military’s attack the next day. It’s where the Bunker Hill Monument now stands.

The inset in the lower right quadrant is labeled as the same redoubt. Even at this resolution, it’s easy to see that the two shapes don’t look anything alike.

The main map with the rectangular redoubt was copied from a plan of the battlefield created by Lt. Thomas Page of the Royal Artillery and published after he returned to London. Page was a trained surveyor who was actually on the field in 1775. He remained in Boston for months, continuing to help map and lay out fortifications without people shooting at him from nearby, which cartographers agree is a big help when it comes to concentrating on details.

The inset on the right was copied from an image published in The Gentleman’s Magazine in London in September 1775. The Dublin edition of that magazine published a similar image later that year. It shows an irregular shape between two lines of fortifications. So far as I know, the magazine gave no source or authority for that image.

In fact, I don’t think there is any reliable source for the Gentleman’s Magazine image. All the sources from both sides of the battle say that the provincials laid out a small, rectangular redoubt, not the strange, elaborate shape shown there. I think the magazine knew that its readers were eager for news of this shocking battle in the colonies, so it published or perhaps even created unreliable material to fill that demand. A British marine lieutenant named John Clarke also published a detailed account of the battle for Londoners; they didn’t know that he’d been court-martialed for drunkenness, collected secondhand information, and embellished freely.

The Gentleman’s Magazine image was rediscovered and reprinted in the mid-1800s by American historians. In the 1851 edition of his History of the Siege of Boston (and perhaps in the 1849 edition as well), Richard Frothingham copied the image on page 198, calling it a “curious memorial of the battle”; he gave more space to Page’s map, and his text described a square redoubt. Also in 1851, Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial Field-book of the Revolution copied the image on page 540; Lossing wasn’t rigorous about sources if they stood in the way of a good story or a good picture, and he included none of Frothingham’s skepticism.

As a result, the strange picture of the redoubt was recopied into more American books and maps in the late 1800s, though no one seems to have tried to reconcile it with the sources showing and describing a square structure. I don’t think anyone who was in Charlestown in 1775 would have recognized the structure portrayed in The Gentleman’s Magazine.

Oddly enough, that strange shape does appear on a powderhorn displayed by a museum in Boston as an authentic artifact of the war. A powderhorn that has a number of other odd features, and can’t be traced back earlier than 1933.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Who Coined the Phrase "Till You See the Whites of Their Eyes"?

For most of the 1800s, American historians happily attributed the phrase “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes” to either Israel Putnam or William Prescott, commanders at the Battle of Bunker Hill. As I discussed yesterday, there was disagreement about which of those men issued such an order, with Putnam getting an early lead but Prescott winning in the end.

Then British historian Thomas Carlyle (shown here, courtesy of NNDB.com) published his massive History of Friedrich II of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great from 1858 to 1865. And American readers couldn’t help noticing that Carlyle quoted Prussian documents about ordering soldiers not to shoot “till you see the whites of their eyes” decades before Bunker Hill.

That made authors change how they described the quotation. In Winsor’s Memorial History of Boston (1881), Edward Everett Hale wrote:

All along the American lines the order had been given which the officers remembered in the memoirs of Frederick’s wars: “Wait till you can see the whites of their eyes.”
He added this explanatory footnote:
Prince Charles, when he cut through the Austrian army, in retiring from Jägendorf, gave this order to his infantry: “Silent, till you see the whites of their eyes.” This was on May 22, 1745; and this order, so sucessful that day, was remembered twelve years after at the battle of Prague, when the general Prussian order was, “By push of bayonets; no firing till you see the whites of their eyes.”
Since then many reference books and websites attribute the “whites of their eyes” phrase to “Prince Charles of Prussia” at Jägendorf. He wasn’t using it in the same context as during Bunker Hill; he wanted his men to sneak through a larger Austrian force, so they shouldn’t attract attention by, say, shooting off their guns. But the clear implication is that he deserves credit for the coinage. Additionally, the citation reminds us not to simply accept our American tradition about Putnam or Prescott coining the phrase.

That’s where I thought the story ended. You know: the received version, and the slightly more interesting, less flattering reality. And then I started to look into the sources. Ironically, I found that all references to Prince Charles of Prussia at Jägendorf are a received version, too. They reproduce errors by Hale (or whomever he relied on):
  • The small town was Jägerndorf, with an additional R.
  • Carlyle called the Prussian commander “Margraf Karl”; the title of margraf or margrave should be translated as marquess, not prince.
  • Carlyle actually quoted a “whites of their eyes” command even earlier in his book, in discussing the Battle of Mollwitz in 1741. But he didn’t credit a particular commander, and he didn’t cite a source, as in his later two references, so in this case Carlyle himself might have written too exuberantly.
Hale assumed that American officers of the 1770s were familiar with the Prussian tradition of “till you see the whites of their eyes.” The Prussian army was highly admired in that period, and had been allies of the British in 1757 during the Seven Years’ War (though not in the War of the Austrian Succession in the 1740s).

I therefore searched for the phrase “white(s) of the(ir) eye(s)” in newspapers and other material printed in colonial America. I figured it might have shown up in reports from Europe or articles about how great Frederick the Great really was. But I couldn’t find a single example.

It’s possible that “whites of their eyes” was printed in English books and magazines, which were then shipped to America and read by military-minded gentlemen. It’s also possible that the Prussian phrase circulated among British officers posted to North America; both Putnam and Prescott were officers in the French and Indian War, and Putnam was particularly close to a set of British counterparts.

But it’s also possible that:So I started this posting thinking the answer to its question is a Prussian prince, and I come out thinking the answer is probably a Prussian margrave, but I’m less sure. That’s the trouble with reading stuff.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Who Said, "Don't Fire Till You See the Whites of Their Eyes"?

The Battle of Bunker Hill yielded one of those quotations that every American is supposed to know: “Don’t fire till you see the whites of their eyes!” Meaning, “Don’t use any of your gunpowder until they’re really, really close, so you won’t miss.” But it’s still debatable which American officer said this, if anyone. Some sources credit Gen. Israel Putnam of Connecticut, some Col. William Prescott of Massachusetts.

In 1788 David Humphreys published an Essay on the Life of the Honourable Major General Israel Putnam. I haven’t rustled up that edition, but I found an 1818 printing through Microsoft’s Live Search, and it did not contain the “whites of their eyes” quotation. That leads me to think the original didn’t have it, either.

Which means the first book attributing this quotation to Gen. Putnam might well be that great font of American myth, Mason Weems’s Life of George Washington, with curious anecdotes, equally honourable to himself and exemplary to his young countrymen. In the 1808 edition of that book (and perhaps earlier ones), Weems quoted Putnam saying:

Don’t throw away a single shot, my brave fellows; . . . don’t throw away a single shot, but take good aim; nor touch a trigger, till you can see the whites of their eyes.
As with his legends of Washington and the cherry tree and Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge, Weems gave no source for this anecdote. He wasn’t a scholarly writer, and (unlike Humphreys) he didn’t know his subjects personally. But Weems’s biography was immensely popular in the early republic, and helped form the public understanding of Bunker Hill.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that a book titled The Life and Heroic Exploits of Israel Putnam, published in 1847 and credited to the long-dead Humphreys, did contain the famous quotation amidst the general’s other orders:
Powder was scarce and must not be wasted. They should not fire at the enemy till they saw the white of their eyes, and then fire low, take aim at their waistbands. They were all marksmen, and could kill a squirrel at a hundred yards; reserve their fire, and the enemy were all destroyed. Aim at the handsome coats, pick off the commanders.
This book then goes on to say, “The same orders were reiterated by Prescott at the redoubt, by Pomeroy, Stark, and all the veteran officers.” In other words, every top officer was giving the same orders, but Putnam gave them first.

That version of Putnam’s words, and the sentence that followed, came straight out of Samuel Swett’s History of Bunker Hill Battle, published first in 1818 and reissued in 1826. Swett’s appendix quoted the testimony of three men who said they had been in the battle: John Stevens of Frye’s regiment, Philip Johnson of Little’s regiment, and Elijah Jourdan. All said they heard Putnam speak about the “whites of their eyes” or heard other officers say those orders came from Putnam.

Swett and other New England historians saw such a sequence of orders as highly significant because, as the fiftieth anniversary of the battle approached, they had drowned themselves in ink debating who was in command of the provincial forces. Was it Putnam, Connecticut’s general and hero? Col. Prescott, in the redoubt? Gen. Seth Pomeroy, who was in the ranks as a volunteer? Dr. Joseph Warren, who had also been commissioned a general and was also in the ranks as a volunteer?

The good thing about this debate is that it spurred writers to find veterans of the battle and put their recollections into print. The bad thing is that so many of those sources were focused on boosting the case for a particular candidate for command rather than providing a complete picture of the action. Furthermore, if lots of officers were saying the same thing, it would be almost impossible for a soldier in one part of the line to know who said it first. Finally, all those reminiscences went into print after Weems’s book, raising the possibility that his popular tale had affected how men recollected or recounted their experiences forty years before.

Richard Frothingham’s History of the Siege of Boston, first published in 1849, attributed a variety of phrases to a variety of officers. “These phrases occur frequently in the depositions [of veterans], the same one often being ascribed to different officers.” Frothingham did cite Johnson saying Putnam had voiced the “white of their eyes” remark. However, since he concluded that Prescott did the most commanding during the battle, his book led many later writers to credit the colonel with the famous quotation, not Gen. Putnam.

The best Boston 1775 guess? I think the weight of the evidence favors Putnam (shown above) with the “whites of their eyes” phrase, even if Prescott was doing more in the redoubt to make provincial soldiers hold their fire. But that doesn’t mean Putnam coined the phrase.

TOMORROW: The real source of the quotation?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Arrests After the Battle of Bunker Hill

For the past two days I quoted responses to the Battle of Bunker Hill from people who were on their best behavior. But not everyone reacts to stress in such an admirable way. Merchant Isaac Smith, Sr. (shown here) described this fallout from the battle in a letter dated 30 July 1775, after leaving Boston for Salem:

Poor, harmless Shrimpton Hunt, standing by the door at the time of the engagement, was overheard saying he hoped our people would get the better of the others, was taken up and confined in gaol.

Sam. Gore, for calling over to his sister to come and see a funeral pass, was taken up and confined some time; and a person who came out by water yesterday says Jemmy Lovell is in close gaol or in the dungeon, but nobody can tell for what.
Hunt was a shopkeeper in his fifties, not active in politics. And is it possible to have a more harmless-sounding name than “Shrimpton”?

I presume painter Samuel Gore’s offense was referring to British soldiers, either on their way to the battlefield or on the way from it to the hospital, as a funeral procession. Despite his nasty joke, he was probably let out after a short time because his father was a Loyalist. The military authorities didn’t know the extent of Gore’s Patriot activities, and his father probably didn’t, either. In 1773 Gore had participated in the Boston Tea Party, and in 1774 he had helped remove the Boston militia artillery company’s cannons from an armory under redcoat guard.

Gore’s father left town with the British military in March 1776. Samuel stayed—and in April the Massachusetts Provincial Congress ordered his arrest, along with a lot of other men who had remained in town through the siege. He might not have gone to jail that time; one of the magistrates charged with arresting people was his brother-in-law, Thomas Crafts. But Gore might have the rare distinction of being arrested by both sides of the war.

James “Jemmy” Lovell was the usher (assistant teacher) at the South Latin School. He was an avid Patriot, delivering the town’s first official oration about the Boston Massacre in 1771. He thought about leaving to join the provincial army, but in May 1775 he wrote that “a most violent Diarhea, from being too long in a damp place, has confirm’d Doctr. [Joseph] Gardners advice to me not to go into the Trenches.”

Instead, Lovell remained in Boston, sending what seems to have been sensitive information to Dr. Joseph Warren. The British army found those papers on the doctor’s body after the battle. Lovell was locked up for the rest of the siege and taken to Nova Scotia in chains.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

"We Have Peppered 'em Well"

Here’s another anecdote about the aftermath of the Battle of Bunker Hill, this one first published in William Tudor’s The Life of James Otis in 1823:

After the battle had continued for some time, a young person living in Boston, possessed of very keen and generous feelings, bordering a little perhaps on the romantic, as was natural to her age, sex, and lively imagination, finding that many of the wounded troops brought over from the field of action were carried by her residence, mixed a quantity of refreshing beverage, and with a female domestic by her side, stood at the door and offered it to the sufferers as they were borne along, burning with fever and parched with thirst.

Several of them grateful for the kindness, gave her, as they thought, consolation, by assuring her of the destruction of her countrymen. One young officer said, “never mind it my brave young lady, we have peppered ’em well, depend upon it.” Her dearest feelings, deeply interested in the opposite camp, were thus unintentionally lacerated, while she was pouring oil and wine into their wounds.
Tudor seems to be writing about am upper-class young woman he knew well, from whom he heard this anecdote but whose name was he was keeping confidential. Perhaps his mother, Delia Jarvis, who turned twenty-two in 1775, or another relative. (Here’s a love letter from Tudor’s father, also named William, to Miss Jarvis at the end of the following year.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

Peter Oliver Meets a Wounded Man

Much of Loyalist judge Peter Oliver’s memoir of the coming of the American Revolution, written around 1783, is delightfully sarcastic, bitter, and nasty. But this is one of the most sincere and affecting passages, describing the judge’s encounter with a British soldier in the aftermath of the Battle of Bunker Hill:

After the Battle, the Kings wounded Troops were carried to Boston, & it was truly a Shocking Sight and Sound, to see the Carts loaded with those unfortunate Men, & to hear the piercing Groans of the dying & those whose painfull Wounds extorted the Sigh from the firmest Mind.

As I was a Witness to one Instance, in particular, of Stoicism, I will relate it. I was walking in one of the Streets of Boston, & saw a Man advancing towards me, his white Waistcoat, Breeches, & Stockings being very much dyed of a Scarlet Hue. I thus spake to him; “My friend, are you wounded?”

He replied, “Yes Sir! I have 3 Bullets through me.” He then told me the Places where; one of them being a mortal Wound; he then with a philosophical Calmness began to relate the History of the Battle; & in all Probability would have talked ’till he died, had I not begged him to walk off to the Hospital; which he did, in as sedate a Manner as if he had been walking for his Pleasure.
Always be an England, what?

As this table from the Sons of the Revolution in California summarizes, the British military suffered more killed and wounded in its victory at Bunker Hill than it did in any of its losses for the rest of the war. (More British soldiers were captured in its big losses, of course.)

Furthermore, the battle was even more costly when we consider how relatively few British fighting men were in Charlestown, compared to the armies sent to North America at the end of 1776. And the destruction felt even worse to the officer corps, who were hit disproportionately, and to Gen. Sir William Howe (shown above), who saw every member of his staff killed or wounded.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Timothy Newell Reports on Bunker Hill

Just back from this year’s Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, and in time to post Boston selectman Timothy Newell’s account of the Battle of Bunker Hill, which occurred 232 years ago today.

Newell probably wrote this diary entry on 18 June or later, given its comment on “the night following.” There are a lot of other problematic details in this diary entry as well, showing his limited perspective inside the besieged town and his political preferences.

The Provincials last night began an Entrenchment upon Charlestown (say Bunker’s Hill) before sunrise.

The Tartar Man of War and the battery from Corps hill began a cannonade about 2 oClock AM.

Genl. [William] Howe with [blank] pieces of Cannon and three thousand Men landed on Charlestown point and marched up to the Redoubt after a great slaughter of Thirteen-hundred and twenty five of the Regulars killed and wounded—one hundred and twelve officers included—and of Provincials fifty killed and one hundred and eighty wounded and missing—among whom were Dr. [Joseph] Warren and Colonel Robinson killed—the Garrison gave way—a constant fire from the Men of War &c. all the night following—only three from one company and fourteen from another of the Regulars brought off.

18th. Skirmishes most of the day—divers killed and wounded.
From Newell’s Boston perspective, the provincials fortified Bunker’s Hill. He didn’t see Breed’s Hill as different.

At first I thought “Tartar Man of War” might refer to the name of a British naval ship. But I checked the names of the ships firing on Charlestown: the Lively, Somerset, Symetry, and Falcon. I then realized that Newell was communicating not a fact but his political opinion: that the royal forces were behaving like the proverbially tyrannical Tartars—not that actual Tatars are any more tyrannical than any other ethnic group.

“Corps hill” is usually called “Copp’s Hill.” Gotta love that Boston accent.

The Massachusetts Historical Society’s published transcription of Newell’s diary says the cannonade began at “2 oClock AM.” Most accounts agree it began at daybreak, when the British military spotted the redoubt. So that might be a transcription error for “7 oClock AM,” or perhaps the two o’clock time should be applied to the start of Howe’s attack in the next sentence.

As for deaths, Newell was correct that Dr. Joseph Warren was killed in the provincial lines. But no “Col. Robinson” was. Perhaps Newell heard that Lt. Col. John Robinson of Westford was killed (he wasn’t even wounded), or that Col. Lemuel Robinson of Dorchester was (he wasn’t even in the battle). And the one Massachusetts colonel who was fatally shot, Thomas Gardner of Cambridge, lingered until July.

Newell wrote that there were 3,000 British soldiers in the battle; the standard estimate is 2,600, so close enough. In the casualty figures Newell’s biases come through more clearly. The British suffered 226 dead and 828 wounded, so Newell’s report of those casualties was too high by 25%. The provincial losses are estimated as 140 dead, 271 wounded, 30 captured, or nearly twice as bad as Newell’s figures. His accounting of casualties was wishful writing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Setting the Scene for Bunker Hill

After one session of the Boston Early American History Seminar this year, someone—perhaps Brendan McConville or Alan Rogers—suggested that the Battle of Bunker Hill would make a good movie. I responded by describing this scene from the morning of 17 June 1775, before the battle began in earnest.

EXT. COPP’S HILL IN THE NORTH END - DAY

GEN. THOMAS GAGE, his officers, and some well-dressed Loyalist Councilors climb the east side of the hill, the sounds of cannon growing louder. They reach the top and gaze at the scene below.

On the far side of the hill, the Royal Artillery in dark blue coats are firing cannon across the Charles River onto Charlestown. Warships in the bay fire shot and shells as well. Flames are rising from the small town opposite. A large body of men can be seen moving around the rise behind the town.

A couple of the gentlemen, including ABIJAH WILLARD, pull out small spyglasses. An aide hands GAGE a long brass telescope, which he peers through. A masking shot and handheld camera simulate GAGE’s view through the lens. On the far hill, men are piling up dirt with shovels, building a redoubt. A man in a long coat and broad-brimmed hat, PRESCOTT, strides back and forth along the new wall.

WILLARD
(looking through a smaller spyglass)
Good lord, that’s Captain Prescott!
GAGE
What’s that, Mr. Willard? What can you see?
GAGE hands WILLARD his telescope. WILLARD puts it to his eye. Another POV shot of PRESCOTT walking along the parapet as WILLARD speaks. A younger officer starts to walk the same way. The provincials keep digging. Cannons keep booming.

WILLARD
That man in command of the little redoubt, Your Excellency -- he’s Mr. William Prescott, a gentleman of Groton. My late wife, my first late wife, was his sister. He was promoted captain in the last French war, on Cape Breton. I suppose they call him “colonel” now -- last autumn, as I heard, the rebels chose him to command a regiment --
GAGE
Yes, yes. The only question is, Will they fight?
WILLARD
As to his men, I cannot answer for them.
(lowers the telescope to look at GAGE)
But Prescott will fight you to the gates of Hell.

This anecdote appears in John Stockton Littell’s notes for Alexander Graydon’s Memoirs of His Own Time (1846 edition), credited to a manuscript supplied by Col. Prescott’s grandson, the Rev. Edward G. Prescott. Interestingly, Richard Frothingham’s History of the Siege of Boston (1849) cites the same manuscript but says Willard’s answer was, “Yes, sir; he is an old soldier, and will fight as long as a drop of blood remains in his veins!” Caleb Butler’s History of the Town of Groton (1848) mentions that manuscript as well, but not the Willard anecdote. It’s not clear how, if this anecdote happened as described, word of the conversation came back to the Prescotts. But it’s just too good to toss out.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Bunker Hill "By Some Mistake"?

Yesterday I noted the ongoing little kerfuffle over whether it would be more accurate to call the Battle of Bunker Hill the “Battle of Breed’s Hill.” We can do that, I figure, right after we change the name of the Battle of Gettysburg to the “Battle of lots of places all around Gettysburg, but not, you know, right in the middle of town.” It might be a little more accurate, but it wouldn’t really be worth it.

But in one way the distinction between Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill may have really mattered.

In the immediate aftermath of the battle, many New Englanders thought it had been a debacle for their side. The British military had driven provincial troops from a fortified position and moved closer to Cambridge headquarters. Hundreds of men had been killed, wounded, or captured, including the head of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, Dr. Joseph Warren. The artillery had lost five of the six cannons it took into the battle. All those artillery companies’ officers and a few other officers were in various shades of disgrace.

Provincials consoled themselves with news of the heavy British losses. Only as time went on did it become clear that the battle had discouraged the British army from trying to break the siege again. Then the Battle of Bunker Hill gradually turned into an American success story.

In the meantime, the Provincial Congress formed a committee of inquiry to look into what happened. This committee’s report was mainly supposed to put the American cause in the best possible light for London readers, but there was also the question of what had gone wrong. The committee delivered their report on 25 July. Before getting down to the business of lambasting Crown policies, it said:

...commanders of the New England army had, about the 14th ult. [i.e., of last month], received advice that General [Thomas] Gage had issued orders for a party of the troops under his command to post themselves on Bunker’s Hill. . . .

Accordingly, on the 16th ult., orders were issued, that a detachment of 1000 men should that evening march to Charlestown, and intrench upon that hill. Just before nine o’clock they left Cambridge, and proceeded to Breed’s Hill, situated on the further part of the peninsula next to Boston, for, by some mistake, this hill was marked out for the intrenchment instead of the other.
However, exactly a month later Col. William Prescott wrote to John Adams in Philadelphia:
On the 16th of June, in the evening, I received orders to march to Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, with a party of about one thousand men. . . .

We arrived at the spot, the lines were drawn by the engineer, and we began the intrenchment about twelve o’clock; and plying this work with all possible expedition till just before sun-rising, when the enemy began a very heavy cannonading and bombardment.
And then there’s a 12 July letter from a man named Samuel Dyer (perhaps a Boston officeholder of that name), passing on secondhand news:
that the engineer and two generals went on to the hill at night and reconnoitred the ground; that one general and the engineer were of opinion we ought not to intrench on Charlestown Hill [apparently meaning Breed’s Hill] till we had thrown up some works on the north and south ends of Bunker Hill, to cover our men in their retreat, if that should happen, but on the pressing importunity of the other general officer, it was consented to begin as was done.
So which account is correct? We don’t have a written record of the orders issued on 16 June, if they were ever written down. All of these accounts come from after the battle, and are thus tinged by that oldest and deepest of human motivations, the desire to cover your own arse.

Prescott insisted that he went to Breed’s Hill as ordered. The Provincial Congress committee said the orders were for Bunker’s Hill, but an officer—implicitly Col. Richard Gridley, commander of the American artillery regiment—“marked out [the wrong hill] for the intrenchment.” The stories Dyer heard absolved both Prescott (who wasn’t involved in the decision) and Gridley (who advised against it), and blamed an unnamed general for choosing Breed’s Hill without adequate preparation behind the lines. And that doesn’t even get into the question of who that general was, or whether Dyer’s information is reliable.

All I can be sure about the choice of Breed’s Hill for the provincial redoubt are that:So if American security hinged on the subtle distinction between Bunker’s Hill and Breed’s/Charlestown Hill, it wasn’t wise to send those men out in the middle of the night to find the right spot.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

What Do We Call the Battle of Bunker Hill?

It’s common in discussions of the Battle of Bunker Hill for someone to add, “Actually, it was fought on Breed’s Hill.” This is often said with the slightly smug, know-it-all tone associated with history blogs like this one. (See examples here.)

The Breed’s Hill label is arguably true (and arguably false—as I’ll get to in a moment). But why does the different name matter, besides offering the pleasure of showing you know more than the average bear? After all, names are conventions, and our standard names for historical events aren’t necessarily the most accurate.

For instance, Bostonians were calling the shootings on King Street on 5 Mar 1770 a “Horrid Massacre” within weeks after the event; that phrase is in the title of the town’s official report on the incident. Friends of the royal government avoided such language; their response to the Boston report referred to the “Unhappy Disturbance.” Clearly the word “massacre” had political ramifications, but it’s nonetheless become our standard term for the event.

What about the night of 16 Dec 1773, when Bostonians dumped tea into their harbor? For decades locals referred to that as “the destruction of the tea.” Then in 1826 Josiah Wyeth of Cincinnati started to speak of the “Boston Tea Party.” Prof. Ben Carp of Tufts made me notice how New Englanders first adopted that term to refer to the actors, not the action, as in “Nicholas Campbell...made one of the celebrated Tea Party in Boston harbor” (Connecticut Courant, 31 July 1826). After two books based on the memories of George R. T. Hewes used “Tea Party” in their titles, the new name stuck and became our standard term for the event.

There are similar quibbles possible with the names of other Revolutionary events:

  • New England’s “Powder Alarm” of 1774 and New York’s “Battle of Golden Hill” in 1770 got their names from historians many years later.
  • The “Battle of Lexington and Concord” took place in many other towns as well, with the worst fighting in Menotomy, now called Arlington.
  • The “Battle of Bennington” not only didn’t take place in Bennington, it didn’t even take place in Vermont.
So what might be the most accurate period term for the location of the battle on 17 June 1775? Did people of that time use “Bunker Hill” or “Breed’s Hill” more often? I searched for the different phrases in late 1775 in the Early American Newspapers database, and the answer is:
Neither.

The database included 4 mentions of “Breed’s Hill,” 23 mentions of “Bunker Hill,” and a whopping 52 uses of “Bunker’s Hill.”

Furthermore, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s official report on the fighting, dated 5 July 1775, referred to “the battle of Charlestown.” That name emphasized the nearly total destruction of the town by British artillery to deprive provincials of cover, rather than the farmland where most of the actual killing took place.

Nevertheless, I call this fight the “Battle of Bunker Hill,” letting convention justify dropping the apostrophe-s. As for Bunker versus Breed’s, that’s a distinction with little difference. Breed’s Hill wasn’t so much a separate hill as a rise along the slope from the water to the top of Bunker Hill. As the newspaper showed, few people wrote of Breed’s Hill as a site of its own. There were provincial forces on both Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill, though men at the first location did most (but not all) of the fighting. And at the end of the day the British military took both prominences, making Bunker Hill their fortified outpost for the rest of the siege.

In only one way might the distinction between Bunker’s Hill and Breed’s Hill really matter. And I’ll discuss that tomorrow.

(Incidentally, if you see the famous Howard Pyle painting above, showing lines of British soldiers marching up Bunker Hill, grab it. According to the F.B.I.’s art theft website, it was stolen from the Delaware Art Museum in 2001.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

New Bunker Hill Visitor Center Opens Tomorrow

I was planning this entry to highlight tomorrow’s ceremonial opening of the Bunker Hill Monument’s new visitor center and museum, and lucked out in having this front-page Boston Globe story do all the reporting for me. The Globe also had a local story last weekend the trowel Lafayette used to help lay the monument’s cornerstone.

For over a century the main interpretive site at the monument has been the 1902 classically-styled lodge, and the main visual tool was a rather nice scale model of the battle—low-tech but effective. The new visitor center is a two-story building across the street from the park. That building, formerly a branch library, displays a new “cyclorama” mural of the battle by Arlington painter John S. Coles. The monument itself has a new exterior lighting scheme.

(The Globe article is off on the battle’s casualty count when it says, “The redcoats lost more than 1,000 troops, compared to about 400 dead among the colonists.” Those are the approximate figures for the dead and wounded. The British suffered 226 dead, the provincials about 160 by the end of the summer. The Battle of Bunker Hill was a victory for the British military, but more costly than any battlefield loss during the rest of the war.)

For a few days I’ll post items about the Battle of Bunker Hill, at least when I can get to a computer. As for tomorrow’s ceremony, the Boston National Historical Park events calendar says it starts at 10:00 A.M. and runs through noon. (Which is, alas, in conflict with Harmonious Blacksmith.)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Smithsonian Focus Seeks Inspiring Americans

Vanessa Harbin, editor of Smithsonian Focus, has emailed me an alert about its “Inspiring Americans Contest.” The institution invites legal residents of the United States over the age of eighteen to “Describe for us in an essay using approximately 250 words or less an American individual who inspires you.”

A panel of Smithsonian Institution judges will pick five finalists, whose work will be posted on a webpage where folks can vote for their favorites later this month. The winner will receive a free year of Contributing Membership in the Smithsonian at the Partner Level ($225-$349), including Smithsonian monthly magazine.

The deadline for this contest is noon, Eastern time, on Friday, 15 June—that’s this week!

ADDENDUM: The page for voting on one’s choice of Inspiring American is up now.

John Adams Hears Some Dirty Jokes

Yesterday I quoted young John Quincy Adams feeling pressure from his father to note down everything useful he hears in a diary. And here’s a couple of ribald jokes John Adams himself wrote down in a notebook he carried in the spring of 1759, when he was twenty-four. The original is at the Massachusetts Historical Society, and readable here.

Ned tells a story tolerably well. He told of [smudge]. He was a better Prophet than Elijah for he stretched himself on her but once to bring her to Life whereas Elijah did 3 times. He breathed into her the Breath of Life.

Ned told the Duke of Whartons Character and Life, &c. Ned was sociable, told the stories he had read pretty well, &c. Billy was sociable too, but awed, afraid.

They told of the wickedest jokes that had been put upon Nat Hurd, by some fellows in Boston, who found out that he had such a Girl at his shop, at such a time. One went to him and pretended to make a confidant of him.

Oh god, what shall I do? That Girl, [smudge] her, has given me the Clap. [smudge]

That scared him and made him cry, Oh damn her, what shall I do? I saw her such a Night. I am [peppered?].

He went to the Dr. [smudge] and was salivated for the Clap. Then they sent him before justice Phillips, then before justice Tyler, in short they played upon him till they provoked him so that he swore, he would beat the Brains out of the first man that came into his shop, to plague him with his [smudge].
Here’s a more dignified portrait of silversmith and engraver Nathaniel Hurd from about a decade later.

Monday, June 11, 2007

John Quincy Adams Wishes He Kept a Journal

I’m busy preparing my butt off to go to the 2007 Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife conference this upcoming weekend in historic Deerfield, Massachusetts. This is the second year the seminar is devoted to New England diaries of all kinds.

The first paper to be delivered on Friday evening will be my own: “The Revolutionary-Era Boy and ‘His Joyrnal’: Diary-Keeping as a Step Toward Manhood.” To get in the right mood, today I’ll share John Quincy Adams’s thoughts on keeping a journal and letterbook from a letter to his mother, 27 Sept 1778:

My Pappa enjoins it on me to keep a journal, or a diary, of the Events that happen to me, and of objects that I See, and of Characters that I converse with from day, to day, and altho I am Convinced of the utility, importance, & necessity, of this Exercise, yet I have not patience, & perseverance, enough to do it so Constantly as I ought.

My Pappa who takes a great deal of Pains to put me in the right way, has also advised me to Preserve Copies of all my letters, & has given me a Convenient Blank Book for this end; and although I shall have the mortification a few years hence, to read a great deal of my Childish nonsense, yet I shall have the Pleasure, & advantage, of Remarking the several steps, by which I shall have advanced, in taste, judgment, & knowledge.

a journal book & a letter Book of a Lad of Eleven years old, Cannot be expected to Contain much of Science, Litterature, arts, wisdom, or wit, yet it may Serve to perpetuate many observations that I may make, & may hereafter help me to recolect both persons, & things, that would other ways escape my memory.

I have been to see [various sites]…in & about Paris, which if I had written down in a diary, or a Letter Book, would give me at this time much Pleasure to revise, & would enable me hereafter to Entertain my Freinds, but I have neglected it & therefore, can now only resolve to be more thoughtful, & Industrious, for the Future & to encourage me in this resolution & enable me to keep it with more ease & advantage my father has given me hopes of a Present of a Pencil & Pencil Book in which I can make notes upon the spot to be Transfered afterewards in my Diary & my Letters this will give me great Pleasure both because it will be a sure means of improvement to myself & enable me to be more entertaing to you.
If John Quincy had taken all the effort that went into this letter and just kept a diary from the start, then he wouldn’t have felt such guilt and anxiety about disappointing his parents on that score. But I get the feeling he would have suffered a lot of guilt and anxiety about disappointing them anyway.

About a year later John Quincy did start a journal, which covers the start of his second journey to Europe, and I’m going to discuss that in my paper. Eventually Adams got so into the daily habit that his 51-volume diary is one of the daunting monuments of nineteenth-century America.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Was Dr. Samuel Danforth Smuggling Hay?

Boston selectman Timothy Newell recorded yet another skirmish over hay in Boston harbor on 9 June 1775, this time with no casualties:

Last night several Gundaloes went to Noddle’s Island for hay—two hundred and thirty Regulars went off soon after sunrise to support them. Upon the appearance of our people they tho’t proper to retire and arrived safe back here.
Here’s another document from that spring showing the fight to control natural resources early in the siege:
Malden, May 8th, 1775. The joint Committee of Malden and Chelsea, Voted, Capt. John Dexter, Thomas Hills, and Jonathan Williams be a Committee to wait on Gen. [Artemas] Ward, and inform him that Doct. Sam: Danforth, of Boston, passes backwards and forwards to that place, and from his well-known Conduct and Behaviour, we have reason to suspect his Attachment to our most Righteous Cause, likewise his securing Hay and moving it down to Winnisimmet ferry in order to be removed to Boston: and that the Committee has taken care that said Hay shall be removed to some more secure place.
Dr. Samuel Danforth (1740-1827) owned farmland in Chelsea. His brother Thomas was a lawyer in Charlestown. And both Danforth brothers were known to favor the royal government. It looks like they went into Boston in June and stayed there, though Dr. Danforth’s wife and family remained with her father in Chelsea.

Interestingly, while Thomas evacuated with the British military in 1776, Samuel remained in Massachusetts. He weathered a long period of suspicion and unpopularity through the war, then regained people’s trust as a physician. In 1781 he joined medical colleagues, most of them Patriot, in founding the Massachusetts Medical Society, and in the late 1790s served as the group’s president.

British Officers Taken Prisoner

On Wednesday I shared some reports of a prisoner exchange between the British and provincial armies, 232 years earlier. The Essex Gazette reported the provincials’ prisoners as:

Major Dunbar, and Lieut. Hamilton of the 64th on horse-back; Lieut. Potter, of the marines, in a chaise; John Hilton of the 47th, Alexander Campbell of the 4th, John Tyne, Samuel Marcy, Thomas Parry, and Thomas Sharp, of the marines, wounded men, in two carts
Few sources on the siege of Boston say anything more about those men, so here’s what I’ve been able to gather.

Maj. William Dunbar was a retired British officer who had been traveling in New England when the war broke out; he was captured in Cambridge while seeking to ride home to Canada. On 29 April the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee of Safety ordered that “Major Dunbar, now a prisoner at Head-Quarters” in Cambridge, be taken “to Woburn, under a strong guard, and...kept in safe custody.” (The committee also authorized the company escorting Dunbar to charge their tavern bill to the province.) According to Historical Sketches of Andover, relying on correspondence between Dunbar and Samuel Osgood, the officer was “Mayor of Quebec,” but there seems to have been no such office until 1833; that might simply have been a misreading of “Major.” Dunbar died in Montreal in 1788.

Lt. Hamilton of the 64th Regiment was probably one of the British officers who rode out on horseback early on 18 April to scout the route to Concord, stop alarm riders like Paul Revere, and otherwise prepare the way for the army’s march that evening. He was captured, unwounded, by provincial militiamen as he tried to get back to his regiment at Castle William. (He was not Lt. James Hamilton of the 10th, who had refused to ride out the night before, claiming illness.)

In an invisible-ink report to Gen. Thomas Gage dated 6 May 1775, Benjamin Thompson of Woburn said that “Dunbar from Canada, & Ens. Hamilton of [tear] Regt. with their Servants are Prisoners in this town.” Ensign was the rank below lieutenant, the equivalent of a 2nd lieutenant in today’s U.S. army, so Thompson wasn’t far off. (Judge Peter Oliver, in a letter to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, referred simply to “Mr. Hamilton, of the 64th Regiment.”) Did Dunbar and Hamilton have servants with them who did not return to Boston, or did Thompson assume the enlisted men were their servants?

Lt. Isaac Potter of the marines was wounded near Lexington, according to Gage’s report to London. Lemuel Shattuck’s 1835 History of the Town of Concord reported:
Lieutenant Isaac Potter, of the marines, was taken prisoner, and confined some time at Reuben Brown’s. Colonel [James] Barrett was directed, April 22d, to give him liberty to walk round the house, but to keep a constant guard of three men, day and night, to present his being insulted or making his escape.
Maj. David Mason of the Massachusetts artillery regiment wrote “Lieut Potter of the Marines” in a notebook he was keeping in 1774-75, so their paths must have crossed.

As for the enlisted men, it’s typical of British military sources not to name them. Gage reported all the officers killed, wounded, and captured in his report to London, but simply gave numbers for lower-ranking men. Similarly, the officers traveled to this prisoner exchange on horses and a chaise while the enlisted men shared wagons. The American newspaper account might therefore be our best printed source on the private soldiers. For more information, someone might have to page through original manuscripts in the U.K.’s National Archives.

COMING UP: And the British military’s prisoners?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Ann Molineux Marries Ward Nicholas Boylston

Earlier in the week I promised to discuss the mysterious marriage of William Molineux’s eldest daughter, Ann. I want to thank Boston 1775 reader Donald Campbell for pushing me on this topic last month. I’d read the following material before, but I hadn’t followed up on it or tried to put it together.

Ann Molineux, as I described earlier, was the first child of the marriage between William Molineux and Ann or Marianne Guionneau. She was baptized on 24 Aug 1748.

Ward Hallowell was born on 22 Nov 1747 to merchant captain Benjamin Hallowell (1725-1799) and his wife Mary Boylston (1723-1795). In 1767 the captain commanded a small warship called King George, commissioned by the province of Massachusetts. After the fighting with France he sought a lucrative post within Britain’s Customs service, rising in 1770 to be one of the five Customs Commissioners overseeing all the ports of North America. In the early 1770s the Hallowells bought a mansion in Jamaica Plain, just outside Boston.

Ward was his parents’ oldest surviving child, but he was not destined to carry on the family name. [It’s so rare to be able to write a sentence like that these days.] Instead, Ward’s maternal uncle Nicholas Boylston of London, having no children of his own, offered to make Ward his heir if he agreed to change his surname. Since Uncle Nicholas was immensely rich, this was not a hard decision. In his late teens Ward Hallowell sailed to London to start learning the business. In 1770 he became Ward Nicholas Boylston by royal decree, and in 1771 he became, yes, immensely rich.

[The Nicholas Boylston in London was not the same as the Nicholas Boylston whom John S. Copley painted in Boston, though he, too, was immensely rich.]

The following appears in the first volume of Mary Caroline Crawford’s Famous Families of Massachusetts, published in 1930.

He [Ward Nicholas Boylston] chose for a wife—probably about 1770...—Ann Molineux, daughter of William Molineux, Boston merchant and friend of Samuel Adams. The union of this son of a supporter of the king with the daughter of a Boston patriot apparently was clandestinely planned, as the ceremony was performed under a permit issued by Governor John Wentworth of New Hampshire. The marriage probably occurred at Portsmouth.

Not long after becoming a benedict, Boylston went abroad for an extended tour. Then the Revolution broke out and he was obliged to seek refuge in London. Apparently he did not bother much about his wife’s comfort or welfare and that lady’s troubles so preyed on her mind that she long hovered on the verge of insanity. Finally she lived apart from her husband. But in 1779, after having been deserted by him in London, she started for America,—and died on shipboard. The funds for her support, during the last part of her life, seem to have been furnished by her brother William...
Unfortunately, Crawford didn’t say where her information came from. It may have been from Nellie Zada Rice’s Molyneux Genealogy, published in 1904; I haven’t seen that book, but I understand from an online description that it doesn’t cite original sources either. The implication of the passage above is that someone in the twentieth century saw a marriage document issued by Gov. Wentworth for Ward Nicholas Boylston (or Ward Hallowell) and Ann Molineux. Everything else could be based on family traditions—probably the Boylston family.

The date of the marriage would be significant since Ward Nicholas and Ann Boylston’s first child, Nicholas, was born in 1771, according to the Boylston Family Papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Was his impending arrival the reason the couple went to New Hampshire? Or did they leave Massachusetts to wed because of opposition from their families?

This marriage is even more intriguing because the groom’s father and the bride’s father were on opposite sides of the pre-Revolutionary political conflict, they were both leaders within their factions, and they were both hotheads. Molineux once threatened to kill himself if he wasn’t allowed to lead a huge crowd in a march on the acting governor’s mansion. Hallowell got into fisticuffs with Adm. Samuel Graves in 1775 even though there was a war on and they were on the same side.

So a marriage between Molineux’s daughter and Hallowell’s son, particularly a secret one, should be the stuff of Montagues and Capulets. And then when that marriage went sour? As gossip, it must have been huge. Yet I can’t recall or unearth a single mention of this union in contemporary diaries, newspapers, or other records—anything before 1930. Anyone? Anyone?

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Where Was Paul Revere's "North Church"?

Yesterday I had a chat with Cambridge historical tour guide Donna “Mistress Elizabeth” La Rue about which Boston steeple Paul Revere used to send his lantern signal to Patriots in Charlestown. He told the founder of the Massachusetts Historical Society that he’d arranged “if the British went out by Water, we would shew two Lanthorns in the North Church Steeple; and if by Land, one, as a Signal.”

Did “the North Church” mean the Old North Meeting-House in North Square, near Revere’s home, or Christ Church on Salem Street, a couple of blocks away and now called Old North Church? Congregationalist meeting-houses weren’t usually called “churches”—though sometimes they were. Anglican churches weren’t usually designated by geographic location—though sometimes they were. (Earlier discussion on that nomenclature here.)

Revere named the building in 1798, so he probably used the term that prevailed in that decade. If he meant the Old North Meeting-House, it’s notable that he didn’t mention that the British military had pulled it down more than twenty years before. But would Bostonians of that decade have understood the term “North Church” to mean Christ Church? That’s what Donna and I discussed yesterday.

Here’s an advertisement in the 20 May 1794 Salem Gazette:

John Wilson,
NEXT door to the Rev. Doctor Stillman, opposite to the North Church, Salem Street, Boston—respectfully informs the Ladies of Salem and its vicinity, that he has erected a machine for the Glazing of Linen and Calico Gowns...
And a passage from the diary of the Rev. William Bentley of Salem, 3 Nov 1797:
We took leave of Mr. Freeman & then passed to the North End. At the head of Hancock’s Wharf we saw the Frigate & received the kind attentions of Col. Claghorn. We then left the town, passing the North Church in Salem Street & over Charlestown & Malden Bridges continued our route towards Salem.
Quotes like these show that in the 1790s people were using the term “North Church” to refer to a building on Salem Street—which could only be Christ Church. Old North Meeting-House was not only gone, but it had been a couple of blocks away.

A helpful architectural clue appears in the account of Richard Devens, the Charlestown Patriot to whom Revere arranged to send the signal. As quoted in History of the Siege of Boston, by Richard Frothingham (ironically, the first author to promote the Old North Meeting-House theory), Devens wrote:
Soon afterward, the signal agreed upon was given; this was a lanthorn hung out in the upper window of the tower of the N. Ch., towards Charlestown.
Below is part of a northwest-looking image of Boston’s 1768 skyline engraved by none other than Paul Revere from a drawing by Christian Remick. It’s not an exact picture—it’s more like one of those tourist maps that enlarges all the businesses that have sponsored the map and shrinks all the rest. In this case, the town’s places of worship stand out, not just because they were the tallest buildings in town but also because Remick and Revere were making a point about Boston being a godly town.

Fortunately, for this question we simply need to compare the Old North Meeting-House steeple on the left to the Christ Church spire on the right. They were both drawn to stand out. But which has an “upper window”?

We do have to ask why Revere and his confederates would signal from an Anglican church, one whose minister and congregants (by and large) supported the Crown. Again, the picture hints at a likely answer. Christ Church was high on Copp’s Hill and had the tallest spire in Boston. A signal from its tower would be more visible than the same signal from the Old North Meeting-House. Furthermore, once the military authorities spotted those lanterns, it would take a longer time for men to climb up there and snuff them out.