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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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Entering New York in Proper Style

I’m on a trip to California right now, so I’m devoting a few days to John and Abigail Adams’s epistolary conversations about travel in 1775-76.

In May 1775, less than a month after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, John headed off to Philadelphia for the new session of the Continental Congress. He hired a young neighbor named Joseph Bass to come along as his servant, and traveled in company with the other Massachusetts delegates. The most prominent of that group were John Hancock and Samuel Adams, who had supposedly enjoyed a narrow escape from the British troops at Lexington. (I don’t think they really did.)

In Connecticut the Massachusetts linked up with some of the representatives of that colony and Rhode Island. A great crowd awaited the string of carriages and sulkies when they arrived in New York on 7 May 1775.

That evening, Hancock wrote to his fiancée, Dorothy Quincy:

When I got within a mile of the City my Carriage was stopt, and Persons appearing with proper Harnesses insisted upon Taking out my Horses and Dragging me into and through the City, a Circumstance I would not have had Taken place upon any consideration, not being fond of such Parade.

I Beg’d and Intreated that they would Suspend the Design, and ask’d it as a favour, and the Matter Subsided, but when I got to the Entrance of the City, and the Numbers of Spectators increas’d to perhaps Seven Thousand or more, they Declar’d they would have the Horses out and would Drag me themselves through the City. I repeated my Request, and I was obliged to apply to the Leading Gentlemen in the procession to intercede with them not to Carry their Designs into Execution; as it was very disagreeable to me. They were at last prevail’d upon and I preceded.
Samuel Adams’s family preserved a different memory of such an occasion—possibly this one, possibly some other time—which reflected better on their ancestor and less well on his traveling companion:
The people were attempting to take the horses from the carriage, in order to drag it themselves. Mr. Adams remonstrated against it. His companion, pleased with the intended compliment, was desirous of enjoying it, and endeavored to remove the objection of Mr. Adams, to which he at last replied: “If you wish to be gratified with so humiliating a spectacle, I will get out and walk, for I will not countenance an act by which my fellow-citizens shall degrade themselves into beasts.” This prevented its execution.
And Silas Deane of Connecticut told his wife that he’d shared in the tribute offered to all the Congress delegates:
A little dispute arose as we came near the town, the populace insisting on taking out our horses and drawing the carriages by hand. This would have relieved Mr. Hancock’s horses, for they were well tired; but mine were with difficulty managed amid the crowd, smoke and noise.
Obviously, it was a great honor to have the populace offer to pull your carriage, but it was incumbent upon you to adamantly refuse.

TOMORROW: And what was John Adams’s report on that occasion?

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