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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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Google Books and Bartholomew Broaders

On Friday morning, Microsoft announced that it was ending its Live Search Books service, in essence acknowledging that Google Books was so far ahead it couldn’t compete. I’m not surprised. At one point I found a few volumes on Live Search Books that hadn’t shown up on Google Books yet, but the downloads were slower and less flexible. And the amount of material on Google Books is just mind-blowing.

Here’s one discovery that would have been nearly impossible without Google Books. It involves Bartholomew Broaders, one of the apprentices of barber and wigmaker John Piemont who was involved in the beginning of the Boston Massacre. Pvt. Hugh White clubbed Broaders’s young co-worker, Edward Garrick, for speaking insolently of the 14th Regiment. According to his own testimony, Broaders yelled at White, demanding “what he meant by thus abusing the people.” A sergeant chased the boys away, but they returned and gathered the crowd that eventually grew threatening. Garrick and Broaders were gone by the time that soldiers fired at that crowd, but they each left testimony about their earlier experiences.

What happened to Broaders after 1770? He was drafted as a private in Lt. Col. Jabez Hatch’s Boston militia regiment in mid-1777 and served for five weeks. Town records show that Boston chose Broaders to be one of its constables in 1783 and 1784. This job usually involved delivering writs and reminding people of the law, not full-time police work. Among the weighty tasks the selectmen gave Broaders and colleagues were viewing coal baskets, trucks, and carts to make sure they weren’t so big as to cause “damage & destruction of the Pavements.”

From church records, I found that Broaders married a young widow named Priscilla Bennett in 1778, and they had six children baptized in the West Meeting-House between 1780 and 1786. Real estate records show that they bought land on Ann Street near the drawbridge that defined the border of the North End in the 1790s.

Broaders got out of the barbering business, which was wise. In pre-Revolutionary Boston, both gentlemen and fashionable tradesmen wore wigs. Learning how to shave heads and build those wigs looked like a lucrative future. But then fashions changed, men started to wear their hair more naturally, and there must have been far less demand for journeymen barbers. (Another trainee in this profession who went into other work was Ebenezer Fox.)

Broaders owned a shop selling “slops,” or sailors’ clothing, according to the 1800 Boston directory. A reference I haven’t fully tracked down says that Bartholomew and Priscilla also ran the Federal Eagle tavern on Fore Street, where the U.S.S. Constitution (shown above, courtesy of the navy) recruited its men. (Bartholomew’s old master Piemont also lived on Ann Street, and had also opened a tavern, though he called his a coffee-shop.) The Massachusetts Mercury says that Priscilla died in 1801, aged forty-five.

By 1802, it was clear that something was wrong with Bartholomew Broaders. According to the Boston selectmen’s records for 10 November of that year:

In compliance with a Warrant from the Honble. Thomas Dawes Jr. Judge of Probate within the County of Suffolk; the Selectmen made inquisition as to the circumstances of Bartholomew Broaders, and find the said Broaders incapable of taking care of himself—& are of opinion that Guardians should be appointed for him
In the 27 Apr 1803 Independent Chronicle, the young lawyer Luther Richardson announced that he had been appointed Broaders’s guardian because the man was non compos mentis. Perhaps court records have more to say about Broaders’s age and condition; I haven’t dared to look yet.

What does this have to do with Google Books? For whatever reason, that reference to Broaders in the selectmen’s minutes didn’t get into that volume’s index. I could therefore have diligently checked his name in the index of every volume of that long series and never found a pointer to this entry. But because Google Books creates texts of the printed material it scans and makes those texts searchable, it brought this reference back to the surface.


Anonymous said...

Hi, I really like your site, I'm adding you onto my blogroll, I hope you don't mind.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for your kind words.

Larry Cebula said...

Google books is becoming a game-changer for those of working in the 18th and 19th century. But once you get past 1927 the copyright wall slams down and you are SOL.

J. L. Bell said...

Quite true. On the other hand, I often use the "Full Text" toggle on Google Books to remove post-1923, copyrighted books from my searches as a way to get beyond the conventional wisdom. My wish list for the service, besides the other volume of Goss's Life of Col. Paul Revere, is a way to sort hits by publication date.

Larry Cebula said...

Yes, that would be nice. Also to do Boolean and proximity searching the way you can at the Making of America sites.

The shocking thing about Google Books is how poor the search feature is! If there is any outfit in the world who you would expect to get that right...