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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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Anna Green Winslow’s “flock of wild Geese”

Back on 14 February, I quoted twelve-year-old Anna Green Winslow on how she observed Valentine’s Day in 1772. On 1 April, she wrote this from Boston to her mother in Halifax:

Will you be offended mamma, if I ask you, if you remember the flock of wild Geese that papa call’d you to see flying over the Blacksmith’s shop this day three years? I hope not; I only mean to divert you.

The snow is near gone in the street before us, & mud supplys the place thereof; After a week’s absence, I this day attended Master Holbrook with some difficulty, what was last week a pond is to-day a quag, thro’ which I got safe however, & if aunt * had known it was so bad, she said she would not have sent me, but I neither wet my feet, nor drabled my clothes, indeed I have but one garment that I could contrive to drabble.

N.B. It is 1 April.

* Miss Green tells her aunt, that the word refer’d to begins with a dipthong.
“Master Holbrook” was probably Samuel Holbrook, head of the South Writing School near Boston Common. Girls like Anna didn’t attend the town schools during normal hours, but could go as private students during the master’s midday dinner break and after he’d ended his official lessons for the day. At those times, paying students from the Latin Schools also took lessons in handwriting.

Anna’s comment implies that girls often didn’t leave home for lessons if the weather was bad. Indeed, when Boston reformed its school system in 1789 to admit girls to the reading and writing (but not Latin) schools, their sessions lasted only half the year, during the good weather. (Girls might say they needed only half the time of boys to learn their lessons.)

My best guess about the asterisked footnote, if that’s indeed how it appeared on the original letter, is that Anna was telling the aunt she was staying with, Elizabeth Storer, and indirectly telling her mother, that she now knew the word “aunt” starts with a dipthong, and thus that she knew what a dipthong is. But trying to keep up with the private jokes among these three females is enough to make me feel like a dipthong, or an April fool.

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