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, July 21, 2008

Samuel Adams in Mezzotint

In May, Boston 1775 reader Judy Cataldo sent me this tidbit from the Boston Gazette, dated 3 Apr 1775—two weeks before the shooting in Lexington:

In a few days to be Published, (Price Half a Dollar)
A fine Mezzotinto Print of that truly worthy Patriot S.A. the size of the Print 14 inches by 10 and half, Executed and Published by and for Charles Reek and Samuel Okey, in Newport, Rhode Island, to whom Letters sent will be duly answered; and to be sold by Edes and Gill, and James Foster Condy, in Boston.
Just two months before, Bloomsbury Auctions in New York had resold one of those mezzotints, as recorded (and pictured) on Live Auctioneers. Its description reads:
In this portrait [Samuel] Adams is standing in front of a table with a paper in his hand, engraved with the words “Instructions from ye Town of Boston”—probably referring to his famous Circular Letter. [Actually, I bet that showed the town meeting’s instructions to its representatives to the Massachusetts General Court. Adams often had a hand in writing those instructions as well as in carrying them out.]

Below the title are eight lines of verse in two columns celebrating Adams’s opposition to the Intolerable Acts [sic]:
When haughty North impress’d wth proud Disdain,
Spurn’d at the Virtue, which rejects his Chain;
Heard with a Tyrant Soon our Rights implor’d,
And when we su’d for Justice sent the Sword:
Lo! Adams rose, in Warfare nobly try’d,
His Country’s Saviour, Father, Shield & Guide,
Urg’d by her Wrongs he wag’d ye glorious Strife
Nor paus’d to waste a Coward-Thought on Life.
The painting by J. Mitchell after which the mezzotint was designed was based on J. S. Copley’s portrait of Adams now in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts [and originally painted for John Hancock]. Samuel Okey had only a very short working life in the Americas: he engraved and published in Newport from 1773-1775, and had returned to London by 1778.
Quite likely Okey was simply giving the New England market what he and Reak thought it wanted rather than expressing his own politics.

On the other hand, the men who sold this print in army-occupied Boston were big Adams fans. Benjamin Edes and John Gill were the printers of the Gazette, and two of the busiest radicals in town. James Foster Condy was a bookseller and Tea Party veteran. He was, friends of the royal government noted, “Cashiered [as a] Cadet for Abusing one of the Honourable Commissioners of his Majesties Customs” while in uniform. Being forced out of that prestigious militia company only made him popular, and Boston’s town meeting appointed Condy to the large committee promoting the Continental Congress’s boycott of British imports.

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