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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Friday, May 30, 2008

Who Was Samuel Adams’s “Servant Boy Job”?

On 13 Apr 1772, Samuel Adams wrote to his friend James Warren, a merchant in Plymouth (shown at left):

I am much obligd for your Care in procuring for me a Boy.

I shall be ready to receive him about the middle of next month and shall take the best care of him that shall be in my Power till he is 14 years old, perfecting him in his reading and teaching him to write and cypher [i.e., do arithmetic] if capable of it under my own Tuition for I cannot spare him the time to attend School. Will strictly regard his Morals and at the End of time I will if his parents shall desire it, seek a good place for him to learn such a Trade as he and they shall chuse.
This is an interesting look at Adams’s class expectations. Though not a rich man, he had household servants looking after him and his family—including a woman named Surry, who was legally enslaved. Adams sent his own son to the Latin School and Harvard, but planned to teach this boy more rudimentary knowledge at home because “I cannot spare him the time to attend School.”

During Samuel’s absence from Boston to attend the Continental Congress starting in mid-1774, he and his wife Elizabeth exchanged some letters that mention a boy named Job. Elizabeth on 12 Sept 1774:
PS. . . . [Surry?] and Job send their dutty.
Samuel to Elizabeth, 17 June 1775:
It is a great Satisfaction to me to be assured from you that your Mother & Family are out of Boston, and also my boy Job. I commend him for his Contrivance in getting out. Tell him from me to be a good Boy. I wish to hear that my Son and honest Surry were releasd from their Confinement in that Town.
Samuel to Elizabeth, 30 July 1775:
Pay my proper Respects to your Mother & Family, Mr & Mrs. Henshaw, my Son & Daughter, Sister Polly &c. Tell Job and Surry that I do not forget them.
Finally, on 28 Sept 1778, Samuel wrote to his “dear Betsy” with this praise:
I think you have done well in putting your Servant Boy Job an Apprentice to a Sail Maker. I hope you will injoyn it on him to let you see him often, that you may give him your Advice, and tell him it is my Desire that he would attend to it. I love the Boy, and am still of opinion, that if he is properly mannagd he will make a good Citizen.
By this point Samuel was referring to the boy as Elizabeth’s servant rather than his own; she was clearly running the household while he was away for so many months in Philadelphia.

A couple of generations later, one of Adams’s descendants wrote a biography of him that stated:
Another member of the family was a servant boy, whose education Mr. Adams attended to as conscientiously as though he had been his own child. The boy lived to become an influential mechanic in Boston, and was conspicuous in 1795-96 as an active politician in electing his old master to the Chief Magistracy [i.e., governor] of the Commonwealth.
So it looks like young Job lived with Samuel Adams’s family probably from 1772, and certainly from 1774, through 1778. He would therefore have had an intimate perspective on the period of the Boston Tea Party, the return of British troops, the start of the war, the siege of Boston, the Declaration of Independence, and the difficult months that followed. If Elizabeth Adams found an apprenticeship for Job when he was about to turn fourteen, as her husband had planned, that means he’d been born in 1764 and grew up with the Adamses from about age eight. Then he went to work for a sailmaker, at least at first. And the family recalled that he was still in Boston and politically active about twenty years later.

Researchers interested in Adams, in the history of childhood, in the American working class and its politics—we need to find this person!!!!!


EHT said...

Oh, I love these kinds of mysteries. How interesting. I generally use the fictional novel Johnny Tremaine with students....here we have a real live Tremaine of sorts.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, and I hope the “contrivance” which got young Job out of Boston might be just as dramatic as Johnny Tremain’s escapades.