This week I’m going to highlight several new online historical resources. (And if they’re not really new, they’re new to me.)
To start with, the Massachusetts Historical Society has launched an ambitious educational project called The Coming of the American Revolution. It provides digital images and transcriptions of hundreds of primary-source documents from the Revolutionary period, organized around fifteen chronological topics from “The Sugar Act” in 1764 to “Declarations of Independence” in 1776.
Some of those documents are well known, but others are rare, and provide unusual insights into the events. Take, for example, the Boston Massacre on 5 Mar 1770.
Where was Whig crowd organizer William Molineux on that evening? The diary of merchant John Rowe shows that Molineux was “at Mrs Cordis [i.e., the British Coffee-House] with the Fire Club.” That implies he wasn’t the man in the white wig who urged men down at the dock to stand up for their rights.
Back here I wrote about Dr. Benjamin Church’s autopsy of Crispus Attucks. You can read the original printing of Church’s deposition here, in the Boston town report calmly titled A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre.
Supporters of the Crown were active, too. They gathered depositions in Boston, shipped them to London, and printed their own report there: A Fair Account of the Late Unhappy Disturbance at Boston in New England. That pamphlet’s never been reprinted (unlike the Boston report), and it isn’t part of the Readex’s Archive of Americana because it was printed in London. Now it’s available with a transcript here.
The trials of British military men for the Massacre ended with acquittals for most of the accused and convictions on manslaughter for Pvt. Edward Montgomery and Pvt. Mathew Kilroy. Here’s the one-sentence report in the 17 Dec 1770 Boston Gazette about those two men being branded on the thumb.
Some other highlights from The Coming of the American Revolution.
- Henry Bass’s confidential letter to his in-law, Samuel P. Savage, describing how the Loyall Nine had just organized a protest against the Stamp Act in 1765.
- William Cooper and someone else taking notes on the tea meetings. (It doesn’t look like that document comes with transcriptions—you’re on your own, kids!) The cross-outs and hurried scrawl shows the turmoil of the big meeting. When noting down the names of men who volunteered to patrol the docks, for instance, Cooper wrote down Adam Colson’s name twice.
- Gen. Thomas Gage’s instructions to undercover scouts to check the roads to Worcester and Concord in February 1775, and their report back to him. These documents were apparently discovered in Boston after the siege and printed by John Gill in 1779.
- How did a man become an officer in the Massachusetts army after the war began? Here’s the officer’s commission issued on 19 May 1775 to Lt. Gamaliel Whiting, over the signature of Dr. Joseph Warren as president pro tem of the Provincial Congress. It looks like Whiting was originally supposed to receive a different rank. Was he at first an ensign (one level lower) or a captain?
- Here is a pro-Crown account of the Battle of Bunker Hill, printed by John Howe inside Boston.
- Finally, we can read Henry Knox’s diary of his journey to Fort Ticonderoga to bring back large cannons to the American forces besieging Boston in 1776.