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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Monday, June 16, 2008

Learning from an 1831 Schoolbook

At the end of May, I quoted the account of Boston schoolboys demanding that a British army general preserve their sledding area from Samuel Goodrich’s schoolbook The First Book of History, for Children and Youth. Last week at the American Antiquarian Society I got my first look at a first edition of that book, printed in 1831. (The copy readable through Google Books was printed in 1849, showing its continued popularity.)

I can now confirm that:

  • The same text appeared in the 1831 edition, meaning that Goodrich was the earliest author to publish this story—or at least the earliest that I’ve found.
  • Edward Everett Hale, born in 1822, might well have read the story in The First Book of History rather than (as he remembered) Lydia Maria Child’s Juvenile Miscellany. (Alternatively, Child might have quoted Goodrich’s account in her magazine but not in any of her own books, where I looked.)
Once a story gets into a school textbook, we have to assume it’s everywhere within the culture that uses that textbook. The story of the sledding schoolboys’ committee was an oral tradition up to 1831, but after that the tales that Bostonians passed down were probably influenced by Goodrich’s “authoritative” account. Of course, that account had already been distorted somewhat from how the primary sources from 1775 tell the story.

In the same schoolbook Goodrich mentioned Sarah Bishop, the Connecticut recluse. I’ve written about the contrast between an 1804 account of her life and an 1839 account from The New England Gazetteer, which said she had been “cruelly treated by a British officer.” It turns out the text in the Gazetteer had already appeared in Goodrich’s 1831 schoolbook (and it reappeared in the 1849 edition). Whether Goodrich wrote it or lifted it from some other source I don’t know. But that pushes back the statement of Bishop becoming a recluse because of specific experiences during the Revolutionary War rather than having “always discovered an unusual antipathy to men.”

For more about Samuel Goodrich and his influence on American youth, as himself and under his pseudonym of Peter Parley, visit the Jamaica Plain Historical Society and the University of Pittsburgh’s library.


Not Whitey Bulger said...

It's good to see old Peter Parley getting some attention. How many other men have four different streets named after them in Boston?

J. L. Bell said...

Especially nice that Goodrich Street turns into Parley Avenue and Parley Vale.

I think George Washington also qualifies as having more than one street in Boston named after him—because several towns that became part of Boston created their own Washington Streets in the late 1700s or early 1800s. But I haven’t tallied them up.