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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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pirates, Corsairs, and Privateers

Earlier this spring many Americans seemed to discover that there’s a piracy problem off the eastern coast of Africa. The international news media had reported about Somali pirates for years, but this time four of them took an American captive, and suddenly all our fond thoughts about Capt. Jack Sparrow vanished.

Folks who at other times express little sympathy for Americans who get in trouble delivering aid to a war zone suddenly advocated severe military action to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips. Some suggested punishing Somalis collectively for the actions of those four young men. The noise tapered off considerably when the U.S. Navy rescued Phillips, killing and capturing those particular pirates, but the larger problems in the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden remain.

During that national discussion, many people invoked the historical antecedents of American actions against the Tripolitan states of North Africa starting in 1801. Few noted how for the previous fifteen years Congress had allocated money—up to 20% of the federal budget—to buy protection from those governments and to ransom prisoners from their corsairs.

One of the first popular American novels was Royall Tyler’s The Algerine Captive (1797), about such a captured sailor. (In the department of meaningless coincidence, that novel’s hero is named Underhill and Tyler became chief justice of Vermont; the rescued Capt. Phillips was from Underhill, Vermont.)

That novel portrays some other facts that Americans don’t always recall in discussing the “Barbary pirates.” Corsairs seized American ships only if they came close to North Africa; their waters, their rules. A lot of the American ships which did sail there were in the slave trade, and the number of Africans taken in captivity to North America was much larger than the number of North Americans held captive in Africa.

Rep. Ron Paul suggested a response to the current piracy problem based on Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, which gives Congress these powers:

  • To define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations;
  • To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
  • To raise and support armies, but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years;
  • To provide and maintain a navy;
  • To make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces;...
As a libertarian, Paul sought a small-government, market-driven solution: post a large reward for pirates and “grant letters of marque and reprisal” allowing U.S. citizens to compete for that reward. In other words, charter a new generation of privateers.

At Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall (a historian who’s found a way to make a living with a website) pointed out the flaw in this proposal. During the Revolutionary War people invested their money, ships, and labor in privateering voyages because they hoped to share in the high profits that could come from selling captured British ships and cargoes. But even with a reward, there really isn’t a market for Somali sailors and their small boats.

I think this whole situation just highlights how much things have changed for the U.S. of A. The young men aiming for easy targets off their coast with the support of their families and neighbors back home—those were the American privateers in 1776, the Somali pirates today. The most powerful navy in the world trying to keep shipping lanes open, supply far-flung troops, and joust with other empires—that was the Royal Navy in 1776, the U.S. Navy today.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Franklin’s Lost “Quire Book of Letters”

While I was away last weekend, Boston 1775 reader Guy Curtis kept me up to date with this C.N.N. report on a recent discovery of copies of lost letters by Benjamin Franklin. Actually, they weren’t lost; they were apparently in the repository’s catalogue. But scholars didn’t recognize their significance until Prof. Alan C. Houston visited London to research his upcoming book Benjamin Franklin and the Politics of Improvement. (Franklin’s thoughts on a peculiarly Boston use of the verb “improve” are back here.)

Houston, a professor at the University of California at San Diego, discovered the letters on the last day of his last research trip to London, just before the library’s closing time.

“The first item was a letter from Benjamin Franklin to the secretary of the governor of Maryland, and I looked at it and I started to read, and I thought, ‘This doesn’t look familiar,’” Houston told CNN. “I’ve read everything Franklin ever wrote.”

Houston said he quickly began to realize he had uncovered something previously unknown to historians.

“I swear, I just about shot through the ceiling I was so excited,” he said.
The thrill of discovery can indeed be levitating. The letters documented Franklin’s role in securing wagons for Gen. Edward Braddock during his 1755 campaign against Fort Duquesne—a campaign that ended in disaster, but not for want of wagons.
When Franklin was sent to London in 1757 as a representative of the [Pennsylvania] assembly, he brought with him a collection of letters detailing that success. It was proof of his political value to Great Britain and that the assembly’s loyalties had been on the right side.

This collection of letters, which Franklin referred to in his autobiography as his “quire book,” was never found, however—until now.

Houston said he believes the documents he read at the British Library are copies of that collection. They were made by Thomas Birch, an industrious and obsessive transcriber of historical documents who copied anything he could get his hands on.
The modern equivalent might be a copy of someone’s emails copied onto a forgotten hard drive. The text of these letters will appear in an upcoming issue of the William and Mary Quarterly.

(The thumbnail Norman Rockwell image of Franklin above links to the Benjamin Franklin House in London.)

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

“A Stop to All Credit Was Expected”

If you haven’t already read the fourth-quarter 2008 issue of Massachusetts Banker magazine (and I know you’ve been busy), you can download a copy here. It’s 4.9 MB, but some of those bytes consist of my article “A Bankruptcy in Boston, 1765.”

Nathaniel Wheelwright was one of Boston’s leading businessmen in the early 1760s: a merchant, wharf owner, supplier of specie to the British army, and backer of financial notes for people of all classes. He had married into the wealthy Apthorp family, and was the father of three young sons. To quote myself:

Then, in January 1765, Wheelwright suddenly stopped honoring his debts. There is no clue about what exactly prompted this decision, but its consequences were staggering. Governor Francis Bernard reported to London: “This was like an earthquake to the town; numbers of people were creditors, some for their all. Every one dreaded the consequences; lesser merchants began to fail; a stop to all credit was expected and a general bankruptcy was apprehended for a time.”
Eventually this financial crisis caught up several men who might be familiar to Boston 1775 readers: William Molineux, John Scollay, John Rowe, and especially Dr. Joseph Warren, whom Thomas Hutchinson as probate judge assigned to administer Wheelwright’s tangled estate. The repercussions of that crisis, I argue, helped to increase Bostonians’ anxieties about the Stamp Act later in 1765.

Check out Massachusetts Banker for the whole story. I wrote that article in a previous financial quarter, of course, but it seems to have only become more timely.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Looking for “Taxation Without Representation”

As I wrote yesterday, most sources credit James Otis, Jr., with coining the phrase “taxation without representation,” but he never actually used that phrase in his writings, and no contemporary quoted him directly as doing so. Otis certainly wrote about the problem, putting it at the center of the American objections to Parliament’s taxes in the 1760s and 1770s, but not in that exact way.

So is the phrase “taxation without representation” authentically Revolutionary, or actually a coinage of later years applied backwards, as the terms Intolerable Acts, lobsterback, and tricorn appear to be?

And I’m pleased to report that yes, we can document the phrase being used in the Revolutionary years. In 1769 the Rev. John Joachim Zubly (1724-1781) of Georgia authored a pamphlet titled An Humble Enquiry into the Nature of the Dependency of the American Colonies upon the Parliament of Great-Britain, and the Right of Parliament to Lay Taxes on the Said Colonies. He wrote:

In England there can be no taxation without representation, and no representation without election; but it is undeniable that the representatives of Great-Britain are not elected by nor for the Americans, and therefore cannot represent them...
The available databases being incomplete, I’m not entirely sure Zubly coined the phrase “no taxation without representation,” but so far his pamphlet is the earliest use I’ve seen.

James Burgh (1714-1775) also used the phrase in his long work Political Disquisitions; or, An Enquiry into Public Errors, Defects, and Abuses, published in 1774. He even titled the second chapter of his Book II “Of Taxation without Representation.”

So “taxation without representation” is authentically American! Well, it’s a little more complicated than that. Zubly was Swiss by birth and, though he represented Georgia in the Second Continental Congress, advocated reconciliation with Britain. He was driven out of Savannah when it was under independent government and returned there and died under royal rule.

As for Burgh, he was a Scottish by birth, and a clergyman in a parish near London. He advocated the American cause, and Political Disquisitions became quite popular in the U.S. of A. But, like Zubly, Burgh considered himself British.

But don’t worry! I’ve also found some examples of Americans using the phrase. “Taxation without representation” appears in statements issued by Dover, New Hampshire, on 10 Jan 1774; by York, Massachusetts (Maine), on 20 Jan 1774; and by John Smith on 6 July 1775, while he was locked up in “Strafford Prison” as a suspected Loyalist. But the fact that I didn’t stumble across more citations might indicate that the phrase wasn’t as dominant as we’ve come to expect.

“Taxation without representation” appeared in several early histories of the conflict:
  • David Ramsay’s History of the Revolution of South-Carolina (1785) and History of the American Revolution (1789).
  • William Gordon’s History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America (1789).
  • Tobias Smollett’s The History of England, from the Revolution to the End of the American War, and Peace of Versailles in 1783 (1796), discussing how the same issue was raised in Ireland.
So historians might have snatched up that quick, three-word formulation of the colonies’ problem soon after the war, and it became one of the major ways we remember the American Revolution.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

James Otis, Jr., on Taxation Without Representation

Until 2 Nov 2005, the phrase “taxation without representation” has almost always been credited to the Boston lawyer and legislator James Otis, Jr. The basis for this attribution is John Adams’s recollection of how Otis argued the writs of assistance case in 1761, in a letter to Otis’s biographer William Tudor, Jr., in 1818. After quoting that letter at length Tudor wrote:

From the navigation act the advocate [Otis] passed to the Acts of Trade, and these, he contended, imposed taxes, enormous, burthensome, intolerable taxes; and on this topic he gave full scope to his talent, for powerful declamation and invective, against the tyranny of taxation without representation.

From the energy with which he urged this position, that taxation without representation is tyranny, it came to be a common maxim in the mouth of every one. And with him it formed the basis of all his speeches and political writings; he builds all his opposition to arbitrary measures from this foundation, and perpetually recurs to it through his whole career, as the great constitutional theme of liberty, and as the fundamental principle of all opposition to arbitrary power.
However, neither Adams’s contemporaneous notes on what he’d heard in 1761 nor his letter contained the “taxation without representation” phrase or argument. We know he was urging Tudor to write about Otis as a way to capture some of the attention that William Wirt’s romanticized biography had brought to Patrick Henry of Virginia. Adams and Tudor had strong motives to present Otis, a Massachusetts man, as the first to establish the fundamental political conflict of the Revolution.

And in fact Otis did so—even if he didn’t use the words we remember. In his 1764 pamphlet The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved (extensive extracts here), Otis concluded:
The sum of my argument is: that civil government is of God; that the administrators of it were originally the whole people; that they might have devolved it on whom they pleased; that this devolution is fiduciary, for the good of the whole; that by the British constitution this devolution is on the King, Lords and Commons, the supreme, sacred and uncontrollable legislative power not only in the realm but through the dominions; that by the abdication, the original compact was broken to pieces; that by the Revolution it was renewed and more firmly established, and the rights and liberties of the subject in all parts of the dominions more fully explained and confirmed; that in consequence of this establishment and the acts of succession and union, His Majesty GEORGE III is rightful King and sovereign, and, with his Parliament, the supreme legislative of Great Britain, France, and Ireland, and the dominions thereto belonging; that this constitution is the most free one and by far the best now existing on earth; that by this constitution every man in the dominions is a free man; that no parts of His Majesty’s dominions can be taxed without their consent; that every part has a right to be represented in the supreme or some subordinate legislature; that the refusal of this would seem to be a contradiction in practice to the theory of the constitution; that the colonies are subordinate dominions and are now in such a state as to make it best for the good of the whole that they should not only be continued in the enjoyment of subordinate legislation but be also represented in some proportion to their number and estates in the grand legislature of the nation; that this would firmly unite all parts of the British empire in the greater peace and prosperity, and render it invulnerable and perpetual.
In case you missed it within that magnificent 311-word sentence, Otis wrote: “that no parts of His Majesty’s dominions can be taxed without their consent; that every part has a right to be represented in the supreme or some subordinate legislature;...”

So James Otis certainly focused on the idea that the Parliament in London couldn’t lay taxes (or Customs duties) on American colonists because that legislature didn’t represent those colonists, that the only legislatures which could impose such taxes were those the colonists elected according to their charters. But Otis didn’t phrase his argument in rhyme.

TOMORROW: So did any Americans in the Revolutionary era use the phrase “taxation without representation”?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who Coined the Phrase “No Taxation Without Representation“?

The American Revolution Blog alerted me to a new meme, or misapprehension, about the famous phrase “No taxation without representation.” Brad Hart’s article on the Astroturfed “tea parties” earlier this month said that phrase “had been coined in 1750 by Reverend John Mayhew.”

That should be Jonathan Mayhew (1720-1766; shown here courtesy of NNDB.com), but it’s a minor slip. The real question is what evidence suggests that Mayhew wrote those words a full decade before the Boston Whigs started sparring with Gov. Francis Bernard and fifteen years before the Stamp Act.

Mayhew did deliver a famous sermon in 1750 which some people see as a forerunner of the Revolutionary movement. It has this catchy title:


In that discourse Mayhew was looking back to a previous conflict within the British Empire, not ahead. He was arguing that the Puritans who deposed and killed Charles I had acted justly because that king had turned into an oppressor. Along the way, Mayhew took swipes at the notion of the divine right of kings and the Church of England. This was the voice of the unrepentant New England Puritan.

But Mayhew’s sermon didn’t include the words “taxation” or “representation.” Nor did he address those political issues. In hindsight, Boston Whigs and chroniclers looked back on Mayhew’s preaching (including a sermon in 1765, shortly before the Stamp Act riots) as offering a theological justification for resistance to the new government measures. But that was just the groundwork, not an actual argument for that resistance. Mayhew actually spent much of his last five years preaching against the Anglican Church and its missionaries rather than about the basis of civil government.

Did Mayhew coin “No taxation without representation” in some other 1750 sermon or essay? I haven’t even found another published, much less cited. Is the phrase in Mayhew’s 1754 Election Sermon, which also touched on a lot of political issues? Nope. Instead, the attribution of that famous phrase to Mayhew seems to have appeared on the internet in the last five years, and we may be able to date it precisely.

On 2 Nov 2005, at 20:21 by the server’s clock, an anonymous user started an article on Wikipedia about the Old West Church in Boston, stating along the way:
Jonathan Mayhew, the church’s second Congregational pastor, coined the phrase, “no taxation without representation” in a sermon in Old West.
There was no source cited for that statement. A minute later, the same user added this sentence to Wikipedia’s entry on “No taxation without representation”:
(The phrase was originally coined by Rev. Jonathan Mayhew in a sermon at Old West Church, Boston, Massachusetts.)
And a few minutes after that this statement appeared in the entry on Jonathan Mayhew:
He is credited with coining the phrase “no taxation without representation”, and with very early advocacy of what became Unitarianism.
Since then, the Unitarianism part of that sentence has been removed, though the Mayhew article still describes the minister’s unorthodox Congregationalism.

TOMORROW: So who did coin the phrase “taxation without representation”?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fixing Benjamin Franklin’s Wrong Guess

Of course xkcd would have noticed that electrons have too much negativity. But thank goodness they’re also doing something about it.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

One Last Look at Lexington and Concord for the Month

Folks interested in military strategy and tactics might enjoy Graphic Firing Table’s long article on what went wrong for the British military in the Battle of Lexington and Concord. There’s more than a little modern military jargon in the article, but the conclusions are crystal clear:

Once he was informed that the security of the mission and, particularly, the objective, had been compromised, [Gen. Thomas] Gage should have known that sending 700 troops unsupported by cavalry or artillery into a hostile country meant that, at the very least, the operation had little or no chance of success at that point. Gage should have either reinforced [Lt. Col. Francis] Smith massively or recalled him.
That critical moment was on the evening of 18 Apr 1775, when Col. Percy told Gage that he’d overheard Bostonians discussing the mission and its goal: “the cannon at Concord.” This account was first published in England in 1794, so it seems quite reliable.

Why did Gage proceed? I can think of three reasons:
  • Bureaucratic and individual inertia. Smith (shown above) and his troops were already moving out, crossing the Charles River from the base of Boston Common. It would have been a pain and an embarrassment to pull those men back.
  • Pressure from above. Gage had received orders from London four days before, telling him to do something about the political resistance. The government ministers were obviously becoming impatient. So Gage was deciding among the options for action, not deciding whether to take action or not.
  • Hope that everything could still work out. Gage had ordered the guard on Boston Neck not to let anyone out of town. He also had twenty officers patrolling the road to Concord on horseback, stopping messengers. He might have thought that, even though people in Boston had guessed the purpose of the mission, he could bottle up that knowledge in town.
And those precautions almost worked. Paul Revere arranged for a signal from the Old North Church to his fellow Whigs in Charlestown, but their rider never made it through Cambridge, probably stopped by those mounted officers. Revere and William Dawes, Jr., each got out of Boston and carried the news west, but another patrol stopped them before they reached Concord.

But that wasn’t enough. Gage needed nearly complete secrecy. The provincial resistance needed only one man to get through. And the Boston messengers—especially Revere—were telling many people about the approaching soldiers, so militia companies were gathering even as Smith’s column marched west. And before those officers stopped Revere and Dawes, they had shared their news with Dr. Samuel Prescott, who outrode the patrols and brought the warning to Concord.

Furthermore, the very measures that Gage took to preserve his secret—sending out those mounted officers—actually attracted attention and raised suspicions. Richard Devens of Charlestown knew that something was up even before Revere made it across the river; he warned the silversmith about those horseback patrols. When Revere and Dawes arrived in Lexington, they found militiamen on alert and riders already sent toward Concord, again because people had seen those officers come through. Gage’s hopes for secrecy were never realistic.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Music of Paul Revere

On Sunday evening I had the honor of being the keynote speaker at Boston National Historical Park’s annual “Paul Revere’s Row” reenactment, and the pleasure of hearing Krystal Bly of the Histrionic Academy sing eighteenth-century political songs with the same audience.

Krystal mentioned the challenge of finding songs about Paul Revere, given that he wasn’t that famous until Henry W. Longfellow made him so. But the silversmith did have a musical side.
Revere engraved this frontispiece for William Billings’s The New England Psalm-Singer, which showed gentlemen at a “Music Party” bordered by an oval of musical notation. The lyrics of that psalm:

Wake ev’ry Breath, & ev’ry String
To bless the great Redeemer King.
His Name thro’ ev’ry Clime ador’d:
Let Joy & Gratitude and Love,
Thro’ all the Notes of Music rove:
And JESUS found on ev’ry Chord.
Not Billings’s or Revere’s best work, and not appropriate for every public audience, but directly connected to the silversmith himself.

Back in 2006, I quoted a poem that “Eb. Stiles” published in 1795, meaning that Revere probably heard it himself. Pity it’s not a better poem:
He turned his steed through field and wood
Nor turned to ford the river,
But faced his horse to the foaming flood,
And swum across together.

He madly dashed o’er mountain and moor,
Never slackened spur nor rein
Until with shout he stood by the door
Of the Church on Concord green.
Like Longfellow, Stiles credited Revere with making it all the way to Concord, which he didn’t. (Dr. Samuel Prescott carried Revere’s news that last leg from Lincoln to Concord.) But Stiles remains the only chronicler to suggest that Revere and his horse had actually swum across a river.

In an essay in Music in Colonial Massachusetts, volume 1, the musicologist Carleton Sprague Smith posited that a lot of the early American verses we know only from broadsides were actually meant to be sung to well-known tunes. He even matched some up: “A Verse Occasioned by the Late Horrid Massacre in King-Street” with the tune “Christ in the Garden,” and “On the Death of Five Young Men who was Murthered, March 5th 1770” with “Oh, Have You Heard?”

I don’t know enough about folk music to evaluate Smith’s hypothesis. But it suggests that Stiles’s poem about Revere could also be sung to a popular air of the day, if only we knew which one.

After Longfellow’s poem made Revere nationally famous in 1861, his story inspired a number of composers. Webb Miller wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride” as a “galop brillante” in 1884. The Library of Congress offers the complete sheet music, as Krystal had found.

E. T. Paull published his “march-twostep” treatment of the same theme in 1905. Here’s a MIDI recording on Joe Feenstra’s website on Paull.

And of course there’s always “Hungry,” which wouldn’t be a bad reflection of Revere’s social ambition.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Joseph Palmer’s Letter on Lexington

At the blog of the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, Jeff Croteau offered a look at an official period copy of Joseph Palmer’s letter about the shots at Lexington, sent south with an express rider named Israel Bissell. That letter will be on display in the museum for the rest of this week only.

Joseph Palmer (1716-1788) was born in England and came to Massachusetts in 1746 with his wife Mary and her young brother, Richard Cranch. The two men developed a glass factory (archeological debris here) and other workshops in the Germantown section of Braintree, as explained in this lecture by Warren S. Parker. Cranch married Abigail Adams’s older sister Mary. The Palmers had a son, Joseph Pearse Palmer, and all three men were drawn into Revolutionary politics. Reportedly the older Joseph broke with the London government only after the Boston Massacre.

In 1774, Joseph Palmer became a member of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and then of its Committee of Safety. On 18 Apr 1775, he was staying in Watertown at the house of Joseph P. Palmer’s in-laws, the Hunts. That son’s wife, Elizabeth Palmer, later wrote this account:

On the night of the eighteenth of April, I heard the drum beat; I waked Mr. Palmer and said, “My dear, I hear the drum”

He was out of bed with the rapidity of a bullet from a gun and, while he was dressing, his father entered and said, “My son, we must ride, I have received an express. Three men lie dead at Lexington.” My husband was off in an instant.

I entreated the old gentleman not to go, but he would not stay. He told me that there would probably be another brigade along soon and that I had better remove out of the way. They had their horses saddled and their pistols loaded in the barn, for they expected some sudden alarm. They were gone immediately. I never saw anything more of them until the next night at ten o’clock.
I don’t believe all that; the family’s legends don’t all add up. But the letter in the National Heritage Museum’s collection shows that Palmer was active on the morning of 19 Apr 1775, spreading the word about the fight at Lexington on behalf of the Provincial Congress.

Today Jeff has posted about Israel Bissell’s route from Watertown to New York, using Google Maps. It took Bissell only four days riding, which shows how much he hurried. Along the way officials copied Palmer’s letter in order to pass the news on to others, and this document is one of those hurried copies, made for the Committee of Correspondence in Norwich, Connecticut.

[ADDENDUM: Please see Boston 1775’s 2010 postings about Isaac Bissell.]

Monday, April 20, 2009

Lt. Gould Gets Married

After the Battle of Bunker Hill, Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould sailed for England. He had been wounded in the fighting at Concord and held prisoner by the provincials for a month. Some of his fellow British officers probably resented how during that time he’d signed a deposition generally supporting the provincials’ view of how the war began. But Gould was rich, and didn’t need to remain in the army.

Another officer in the 4th Regiment, the third Viscount Falmouth, asked Gould to take letters to his mother, Frances Boscawen (1719-1805). The lieutenant also apparently visited his sister, who had married a brother of the Earl of Sussex. Lord Sussex had a daughter, the Hon. Barbara Yelverton. And this is where the gossip starts.

In October 1775, Edward and Barbara eloped across the Scottish border and married in Gretna Green. Scottish law allowed girls to marry without their parents’ consent earlier than in England, so that town became eighteenth-century Britain’s equivalent of Las Vegas when it came to no-questions-asked weddings.

Boscawen wrote to a friend on 1 November:

Have you not pitied poor Lady Sussex, my dear Madam? . . . My lord has made a will, which cuts off this ungrateful child with a shilling, but it is to be hoped he will live to cancel it and forgive her; but it must be a very bad child, I should fear, that can plant a dagger in her parents’ breasts, in return for all their care and tenderness: such a child too! The boldness amazes me. She was sixteen last June.
Actually the new Mrs. Barbara Gould was only fifteen, having been born in 1760.

Gould sold his lieutenant’s commission, effectively retiring from the army, in January 1776. He testified about the start of the American war in London the next year. The Goulds had three children before Barbara died on 8 Apr 1781 at the age of twenty. Eleven years later Edward remarried, to the Hon. Anne Dormer, eldest daughter of the eighth Baron Dormer.

Gould served as a justice of the peace and one term as high sheriff of Nottingham. Starting in 1781, he helped to command the Nottinghamshire militia, and thus attained the title of colonel. He volunteered for service in Spain in 1808 and retired only in 1819. A widower once more, Gould moved to Paris, where he died on 15 Feb 1830.

Gould’s son, Henry, became the 19th Baron Grey de Ruthyn, inheriting the title through his mother. He was a tenant and, for a while, pal of the young Lord Byron. Most scholars suggest their falling-out was over sex—did Grey try to seduce Byron? Or did Byron resent Grey flirting with Byron’s mother? Or both? Byron wouldn’t tell even his sister what had happened. Baron Grey died in 1810, his father outliving him by twenty years. According to the family of one of Gould’s fellow lieutenants, both the colonel and the baron proved to be “wild and dissipated” men.

(Photo of Gretna Green today by Ian Britton, via FreeFoto.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lt. Gould Testifies in London

John Horne (1736-1812; he added the surname Tooke in 1782; color portrait here) was a British political activist. He believed in a Bill of Rights, full publication of government proceedings, the rule of law, and curbs on governmental power, and he wasn’t afraid to say it. Which, in the late 1700s, made him a dangerous radical.

Horne was inspired by John Wilkes but later feuded with him, just as he worked and feuded with a number of other British politicians on the left. Since the 1820s authors have suggested that he wrote the famous Junius letters. However, some of those letters were addressed to Horne, and indicate he and Junius were at odds—though he seems quite capable of having picked a fight with himself.

During the Revolutionary War, Horne spoke up for the American cause. In June 1775 he announced in the Public Advertiser that his Society for Constitutional Information had raised over £100 for:

the relief of the widows, orphans, and aged parents of our beloved American fellow subjects, who, faithful to the character of Englishmen, preferring death to slavery, were, for that reason only, inhumanly murdered by the king’s troops at Lexington and Concord.
The government disliked that, fined the printers of Horne’s announcement £100 each, and took Horne to court for libel.

The state trial began under Lord Chief Justice Mansfield on 4 July 1777. Horne undertook to defend himself, which had its good points and its bad points. He gave an impassioned account of his case, but then had to admit it had “made me forget to examine my witnesses.” So he interrupted Attorney-General Edward Thurlow and asked to be allowed to return to his case.

Mansfield agreed. Horne called Thurlow himself. Mansfield squashed that. Horne then called Lord George Germain, the Secretary of State for America and chief prosecutor of the war. Germain didn’t appear. Horne made a remark about Gen. Thomas Gage also being unavailable—he’d heard Gage was in Germany—and finally called his third witness: Edward Thoroton Gould, former lieutenant in the 4th Regiment and former prisoner of war, who had returned to England in mid-1775.

After a bit of squabbling over procedures, Horne read out the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s deposition from Gould (quoted yesterday), in which the lieutenant had said he couldn’t tell who had fired first at Lexington, and that British soldiers had fired first at Concord. Then Horne got down to questioning. Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t had the chance to examine Gould in advance, and some of the former officer’s replies surprised him.
Horne: “Was you, at the time when the orders were given to you to go to Lexington and Concord, apprehensive of any attack by those Americans against whom you went?”

Gould: “We were as soon as we saw them; we found them armed.”

Horne: “Before you went from Boston?”

Gould: “That day we did.”

Horne: “How many miles is Lexington or Concord from Boston?”

Gould: “The farther is about 25 miles, the nearer is about 12.”

Horne: “Did you know, had you any intelligence that the Americans of Lexington and Concord were, at that time, marching, or intending to march to attack you at Boston?”

Gould: “We supposed that they were marching to attack us, from a continued firing of alarm guns, cannon, or they appeared to be such from the report.”
And that caught the Lord Chief Justice’s attention.
Mansfield: “Did you say cannon?”

Gould: “Cannon.”

Mansfield: “When was that?”

Gould: “As soon as we began the march, very early in the morning.”
Horne tried to pull it out by arguing that the alarm guns were simply a logical response to the army’s actions, not a provocation or escalation or sign that the army might have been justified in using deadly force.
Horne: “But did you hear those alarm guns before your orders for the march were given, or before your march began?”

Gould: “No.”

Horne: “But after you had begun your march?”

Gould: “Yes; after we began our march the alarm guns began firing.”

Horne: “Did you suppose those alarm guns to be in consequence of your having begun the march?”

Gould: “I cannot say.”

Horne: “I will not desire you to suppose (though the gentleman has supposed that they were coming to attack him) but do you know if any intelligence whether the persons who fired the alarm guns, whether those were the persons who were killed at Lexington and Concord?”

Gould: “No; I do not.”
And the jury also wanted to be certain about the militia alarm.
Juryman: “Pray who did the alarm guns belong to; to the Americans or our corps?”

Gould: “From the provincials.”

Horne: “What do you mean by an alarm gun?—Alarm may be misunderstood.”

Gould: “That is, what they term in the country an alarm gun; it is a notice given to assemble the country.”
Gould’s testimony about the Massachusetts militia’s alarm system proved decisive. Lord Mansfield summed up his conclusions like this:
Now what evidence has Mr. Gould given? Why, he says, that he was sent with a part of the king’s troops, by the orders of general Gage, the governor of the province, the commander of the king’s troops; that when they began their march (which was about two or three in the morning) he heard (I think he says he heard) a continual firing of alarm cannon, which is a signal, at certain distances, used in America to raise the country; and that they heard as soon as they began their march; and from thence they concluded that the provincials were marching to attack them.

When they came within sight of them, they found them armed, in bodies of troops armed. This was not a stated time of peace when the king’s troops, under the authority of the governor, go from one part to another; to have bodies of men, in military array, armed, and signals fired!
After about ninety minutes of deliberation, the jury returned with a verdict of guilty against Horne. According to a relative of another officer in the 4th Regiment, “Before Mr. Gould gave his testimony, many present believed that our troops had murdered the natives sleeping in their houses, and that it would be proved by Mr. Gould’s evidence.”

Instead, Horne was imprisoned for a year, and then retired to the country for a while. He resumed his political career after the American war. In 1794 the British government arrested Horne Tooke again, this time on the charge of high treason, for criticizing the kingdom’s war against Revolutionary France. That jury acquitted him after only eight minutes. Though barred from sitting in Parliament because he’d taken clerical orders early in his career, Horne Tooke made his house in Wimbledon a center of British reform politics for the next two decades. He also published a popular book on language called The Diversions of Purley.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Edward Thoroton Gould? (It gets juicy.)

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould: wounded and captured

Among the accounts of the action at Lexington and Concord on 19 Apr 1775 collected by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, one of the most interesting came from Edward Thoroton Gould—lieutenant in His Majesty’s 4th Regiment of Foot.

Gould had been born at Huntington, England, and baptized on 29 Oct 1747. He bought an ensign’s commission in the 4th Regiment in February 1767, and a lieutenant’s in November 1771. In 1775 he was an officer in the 4th’s light-infantry company, and thus part of the detachment ordered to march to Concord. Gould was one of the British officers involved in the exchange of fire at the North Bridge (shown here, in a photograph by Richard Hollister, courtesy of the National Park Service).

The lieutenant gave the following deposition on 25 Apr 1775:

I, Edward Thoroton Gould, of his majesty’s own regiment of foot, being of lawful age, do testify and declare, that, on the evening of the 18th instant, under the orders of General [Thomas] Gage, I embarked with the light infantry and grenadiers of the line, commanded by Colonel [Francis] Smith, and landed on the marshes of Cambridge, from whence we proceeded to Lexington.

On our arrival at that place, we saw a body of provincial troops, armed, to the number of about sixty or seventy men. On our approach, they dispersed, and soon after firing began, but which party fired first I can not exactly say, as our troops rushed on shouting and huzzaing previous to the firing, which was continued by our troops so long as any of the provincials were to be seen.

From thence we marched to Concord. On a hill, near the entrance of the town, we saw another body of provincials assembled: the light-infantry companies were ordered up the hill to disperse them; on our approach, they retreated toward Concord.

The grenadiers continued the road under the hill toward the town. Six companies of light infantry were ordered down to take possession of the bridge which the provincials retreated over; the company I commanded was one. Three companies of the above detachment went forward about two miles [to Barrett’s farm].

In the meantime, the provincial troops returned, to the number of about three or four hundred. We drew up on the Concord side of the bridge; the provincials came down upon us, upon which we engaged and gave the first fire. This was the first engagement after the one at Lexington. A continued firing from both parties lasted through the whole day.
Gould didn’t echo other British officers in insisting that provincials had fired the first shots on Lexington common, or even before. But being a prisoner of war probably had something to do with that. As his deposition concludes: “I myself was wounded at the attack of the bridge [in Concord], and am now treated with the greatest humanity, and taken all possible care of by the provincials at Medford.”

Another lieutenant in the 4th Regiment, Lt. W. Glanville Evelyn, wrote home to his father: “Poor little Gould received a wound a little above his heel, and going home before the division, was intercepted, and is detained among them; but we hear that they do not use him ill, and that he is attended by a surgeon.”

After being wounded in the shooting at Concord’s North Bridge, Gould had apparently commandeered a chaise and rode back to Boston on his own (or at least with only one soldier as a driver). East of Lexington, he met Col. Percy and his reinforcement column. Percy wrote the next day that the lieutenant “informed me that the Grens & L I had been attacked by the rebels about daybreak, & were retiring, having expended most of their ammunition.” Percy continued west, and Gould continued east—but was captured in “the place called Monottama”—Menotomy, or Arlington.

Gould was probably a demanding but rewarding prisoner. Historian Richard P. Frothingham later wrote (without citing a source): “He had a fortune of £1900 a year, and is said to have offered £2000 for his ransom.” In the end the lieutenant’s price was Josiah Breed of Lynn (1731-1790); the two captives were exchanged on 22 May, according to another lieutenant in the 4th, John Barker.

At the end of that month, the Public Advertiser of London printed Lt. Gould’s deposition, along with the other material sent over by the Provincial Congress. It surely didn’t help his army career.

TOMORROW: Edward Thoroton Gould testifies about Lexington and Concord again—but this time in London.

Friday, April 17, 2009

John Lowell: the man with the trunk

On 19 Apr 1775, John Lowell was in Lexington with John Hancock. Near dawn he and Paul Revere hastily carried Hancock’s truck containing sensitive Massachusetts Provincial Congress papers out of Buckman’s tavern so the approaching British troops wouldn’t find it. (Those troops weren’t looking for it, but Lowell and Revere didn’t know that.)

Revere left little information about Lowell. In his 1775 deposition about the day he referred only to “another man” fetching the trunk with him. When Revere wrote a more detailed account for the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap in 1798, he referred to “a Mr. Lowell, who was a clerk to Mr. Hancock.”

In Paul Revere’s Ride, David H. Fischer described Lowell as “a young Boston acquaintance” of the silversmith, and later referred to him as “young Lowell.” I imagined a young man, perhaps even legally still a minor in his first counting-house job, tasked with wrestling Col. Hancock’s trunk to safety. Unfortunately, once I looked into Lowell’s identity, I had to discard that theory.

John Lowell (1740-1793) was in his mid-thirties in 1775, only a few years younger than Revere and Hancock. He was apparently born in Charlestown, but moved across the river to enter business in Boston. Lowell married a daughter of selectman John Scollay in 1768, and his sister married John Hancock’s little brother Ebenezer. (Scollay’s daughter Mercy was engaged to Dr. Joseph Warren in 1775, showing how tightly connected this crowd could be.)

What’s more, this John Lowell was politically active and connected. He dined with the Sons of Liberty in 1769, and helped to promote a boycott of tea in 1770. Three years later, he was still working against the tea tax in the North End Caucus and probably as a volunteer patrolling Griffin’s wharf to make sure the tea ships weren’t unloaded. (Check out the handwritten list of names; I think “John Lowl” or “Lowel” means this Lowell.)

Lowell continued to be in the middle of events after the war began. On 5 June he wrote from Charlestown to Lydia Hancock, John’s aunt, about how it would be hard to get anything more out of their mansion on Beacon Hill. Twelve days later, Charlestown itself was in flames. In early 1776, documents show, Lowell was “Deputy Secretary, pro tem.,” for the Massachusetts Council.

Lowell and Revere must have known each other well. Not only were they part of the same political groups, but they were both active in the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons. In 1775 Revere presumably didn’t mention Lowell’s name to protect him, but I can’t figure out why he wrote so vaguely of the man in 1798.

Before he died, John Lowell became the first teller and later the cashier of the Massachusetts Bank. Those were prestigious posts in the nascent American financial sector.

In the meantime, Lowell’s first cousin from Newburyport, also named John Lowell (1743-1802), had become a very prominent and wealthy lawyer and then judge. That man’s descendants founded the cotton mills in the town eventually named after them. Judge John Lowell was a lukewarm Loyalist when the Revolution began, but managed his career so successfully that his memory has almost completely eclipsed that of his cousin.

Yet John Lowell of Charlestown was actually on Lexington common as the shooting began, working to protect the Provincial Congress’s secrets. At least that moment of his life is reenacted each year, as shown above in the thumbnail image above, from a photo by Ho Yin Au.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Rev. Jonas Clarke’s Sermon for 1776

Yesterday I quoted Gen. Thomas Gage’s official report on the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The provincials were more vigorous in disseminating their version of the events, and they kept at it longer.

One part of that effort was the Rev. Jonas Clarke’s sermon on 19 Apr 1776, one year after the battle, which was published along with “A Brief Narrative of the principal Transactions of that Day.” Clarke was caught up in the events himself—he was hosting John Hancock and Samuel Adams at his parsonage in Lexington—and digested his neighbors’ accounts of what they had experienced the year before.

The result is a valuable source on the fighting in Middlesex County, written soon after the event. At the same time, it’s a heavily biased piece of propaganda, absolving the provincial militiamen of all blame and putting the British military actions in the worst possible light. A sample:

In the retreat of the king’s troops from Concord to Lexington, they ravaged and plundered, as they had opportunity, more or less, in most of the houses that were upon the road. But after they were joined by Percy’s brigade, in Lexington, it seemed as if all the little remains of humanity had left them; and rage and revenge had taken the reins, and knew no bounds!

Clothing, furniture, provisions, goods, plundered, broken, carried off, or destroyed! Buildings (especially dwelling-houses) abused, defaced, battered, shattered, and almost ruined! And as if this had not been enough, numbers of them doomed to the flames! Three dwelling houses, two shops and a barn, were laid in ashes, in Lexington! Many others were set on fire, in this town, in Cambridge, etc. and must have shared the same fate, had not the close pursuit of the provincials prevented, and the flames been seasonably quenched!

Add to all this; the unarmed, the aged and infirm, who were unable to flee, are inhumanly stabbed and murdered in their habitations! Yea, even women in child-bed, with their helpless babes in their arms, do not escape the horrid alternative, of being either cruelly murdered in their beds, burnt in their habitations, or turned into the streets to perish with cold, nakedness and distress!

But I forbear—words are too insignificant to express, the horrid barbarities of that distressing day!!!
You can read Clarke’s whole text in Charles Hudson’s history of Lexington.

This image of the sermon comes from the Learning at the National Heritage Museum blog, showing a copy in the collection of Lexington’s Cary Memorial Library. This posting from the Museum’s current blog is a good place to begin to explore the older blog’s links to primary sources about the start of the Revolutionary War, and there are more postings about 18-19 Apr 1775 coming up.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

“Several Men killed and wounded, by the Rebels”

As I described yesterday, the online archive of the London Gazette allows us to read the British government’s official line on the conflict in America. Here is Gen. Thomas Gage’s official report on the Battle of Lexington and Concord, as it was published in the Gazette on 10 June 1775, the same day that report finally reached London.
The phrase “a large Quantity of Military Stores” seems deliberately vague, especially in light of the next paragraph’s claim that the soldiers “effected the Purpose for which they were sent.” Gage had detailed intelligence about what the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s agents had hidden out at Col. James Barrett’s farm in Concord. But the British troops failed to find most of that ordnance—which Gage never mentioned.

The next paragraph mixes up the sequence of actions. Lt. Col. Francis Smith didn’t dispatch companies to secure the bridges beyond central Concord until after his column had passed through Lexington and exchanged fire there. Despite that confusion, the general’s main point is clear: at both Lexington and at the North Bridge in Concord, the rebels attacked first.
In describing the troops’ withdrawal from Concord, the most difficult part of the mission, Gage minimized the damage they suffered, and blamed the enemy for atrocious tactics.
The “scalping” actually referred to a single incident: a Concord cabinetmaker named Ammi White (1754-1820) hatcheted a wounded British soldier soon after the shooting near the North Bridge. As the three companies who had searched Barrett’s farm marched past that man’s body, they interpreted his bloody head wound as a scalping, and the rumor grew.

For at least a couple of generations, people in Concord were so ashamed of this action that they tried to deny it ever happened. As D. Michael Ryan wrote in an article about the incident, at various times American authors blamed an enslaved black man, claimed that a half-witted boy had wielded the hatchet, and said that White had acted to put the soldier out of his misery. Even people who acknowledged the incident chose not to name White, who lived in Concord for years after 1775, regretting his impetuous violence.

Gage continued to give his London superiors the best possible picture of his situation in Massachusetts.
The actual number of militia casualties was less than a hundred, and thus less than half what the British suffered.

Gage finished by praising the officers he’d sent out that day. Had he cast blame on any of them, there might have been a considerable backlash against him for planning the mission in the first place.
Gage went on to report 65 men killed, 180 wounded, and 27 missing, broken out by their various units. That count was basically accurate, though some of the wounded men later died, bringing the British dead to more than 70.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Commemorating 18-19 April 1775 in 2009

We’ve entered the season of historical reenactments, speeches, and parades commemorating the Battle of Lexington and Concord in 1775. For a growing list of what to watch and when, check out the Battle Road website’s events listing.

Reading the London Gazette in 1775

From Jon Kukla and the H-OIEAHC email list came word of the searchable database of the London Gazette—the official British government newspaper. (The same database includes the Edinburgh Gazette, published sporadically between 1699 and 1794, and the Belfast Gazette, launched in 1922.)

The search function is a little awkward, and the result comes as a PDF download named “page.pdf.” That could become confusing if you don’t immediately rename the files you’ve downloaded. Nonetheless, this is a useful look at what the London government wanted its subjects to believe.

Here, for example, is the official word from His Majesty’s government on 30 May 1775:

A REPORT having been spread, and an Account having been printed and published, of a Skirmish between some of the People in the Province of Massachuset’s Bay and a Detachment of His Majesty’s Troops; it is proper to inform the Publick, that no Advices have as yet been received in the American Department of any such Event.

There is Reason to believe, that there are dispatches from General [Thomas] Gage on board The Sukey, Captain Brown, which, though she sailed Four Days before the Vessel that brought the printed Account, is not yet Arrived.
Remain calm! All is well!

The same issue reported important international news:
Warsaw, May 13. The very uncommonly dry and cold Weather, which we have had for some Time past, has occasioned a great Mortality in and about this Town.
The newspaper account the Gazette referred to and tried to refute was the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s account of the outbreak of war, brought to London on a fast boat by Capt. John Derby of Salem. Gage’s report on the Battle of Lexington and Concord didn’t reach Whitehall until 10 June.

TOMORROW: “Online Resources” Week segues into “Lexington and Concord” Week.

Monday, April 13, 2009

“Graphic Representations of the Colonial Americas”

I’ve been pointing to various online repositories of images from eighteenth-century America, or images of buildings and other artifacts surviving from that century. Today I arrive at the John Carter Brown Library’s Archive of Early American Images. This site describes itself as “A database of graphic representations of the colonial Americas, from Hudson Bay to Tierra del Fuego, drawn entirely from primary sources printed or created between 1492 and ca. 1825.”

And the scope is very impressive. This library is especially strong in images from outside the British territories. An easy-to-use viewer (once your browser has the right add-ons, and you’ve learned the tricks), and a policy to allow “downloading of up to 384 pixels-per-inch images” from the collection. Surrender yourself to the viewing pleasure.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Massachusetts Manuscript Maps

Back in January I bumped into the Massachusetts Historical Society’s “Massachusetts Maps” online exhibit. A lot of these images are manuscript maps—i.e., drawn by hand, not made for mass reproduction, and thus not to be seen anywhere else. Until now.

Among the choice selections:

The exhibit also offers a look at other locations in Massachusetts: And I’ve barely started to explore the graphic representation of the comprehensive Boston property survey of 1798.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Hancock House and Other Eighteenth-Century Architecture

I’ve mentioned a couple of interesting online collections of architectural photographs, Historical Buildings of Massachusetts and the Boston Public Library’s Flickr page.

Here’s yet another: eighteenth-century New England buildings from W. W. Owens. Owens licenses his images commercially, and they look great. The skies are especially scenic.

The thumbnail image above shows one of my favorite buildings in Owens’s collection, the replica of the Hancock house now in Ticonderoga, New York. John Hancock inherited the original stone mansion on Beacon Hill from his uncle Thomas. But that 1737 building was torn down in 1863 to make room for a more modern building, which in turn was removed to expand the State House. Fortunately, an architect made measured drawings of the structure before its demolition.

Those drawings were used to build this gussied-up version for the Massachusetts pavilion at the Chicago Exposition of 1892-93. (Image collected by Prof. Jeffery Howe of Boston College.)
Then came the Colonial Revival and the U.S. of A.’s sesquicentennial, which stripped most of the Victorianism from our memory of colonial times. In 1926 a local paper magnate commissioned a new replica of the Hancock house for the town of Ticonderoga, New York, based on the 1863 plans. For many years that building was the headquarters of the New York State Historical Association, now headquartered beside beautiful Lake Oswego in Cooperstown. Today the Hancock building is the site of the Ticonderoga Historical Society, and open for tours.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Podcasts from the N.Y. Military Affairs Symposium

The New York Military Affairs Symposium offers some fine podcast recordings of their sessions, each more than an hour in length. Most of that time is filled with questions from a knowledgeable audience, eliciting substantial answers from the speakers. Other podcasts are interviews with experts.

As of today, there are two sessions about the Revolutionary War, which I happily sampled:

Other N.Y.M.A.S. podcasts cover topics from medieval battles to the U.S. of A.’s current ways of war.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

“Here lie Six blessed babes”

Caitlin G. D. Hopkins’s Vast Public Indifference blog recently featured fine photographs of the gravestones for the Langley children of Newport, Rhode Island (above), and the Childs children of Lexington, Massachusetts. The stones are impressive both because of their size and because they force us to think of the families who lost so many of their children.

Even sadder, the six Childs children—of different ages—all died within a short time of each other in 1778. They probably caught the smallpox, though other epidemics, such as throat distemper, could take out families just as swiftly.

The six Langleys, on the other hand, died over a wide stretch of years from 1771 to 1785. All were young, but their five siblings grew up healthy. In the mid-1780s their wealthy parents took the opportunity to commission this stone from carver John Bull.

For more images of New England memorial art, visit Vast Public Indifference or the Farber Gravestone Collection sponsored by the American Antiquarian Society.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of False Quotations

Dave Noon at the Edge of the American West noted the photo above, showing one of the modern “Tea Party” demonstrations which have nothing to do with the issues of the actual Boston Tea Party. And the quotation on that sign has nothing to do with the actual Thomas Jefferson.

In fact, that quotation, or one of its many variations, has usually been attributed to the British politician Edmund Burke, as Martin Porter examined in these online essays. He found many, many versions of this statement. He didn’t find any versions in Burke’s actual writings.

The most common version, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” appears in the 1968 edition of Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, attributed to a letter from Burke that doesn’t exist. The editor of the next edition guessed that it might be a corruption of a separate statement from Burke that says something quite different—leading one to wonder what “quotation” is supposed to mean.

I checked on Google Books and found an example of the Bartlett’s wording from 1920, here in Boston. It’s in an address titled “Some Present Features of the Temperance Crusade” by Sir R. Murray Hyslop at the Fourth International Congregational Council:

Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men should do nothing.” Leave the Drink Trade alone and it will throttle all that is good in a nation’s life. Let it alone, that is all that is required. Cowardice will suffice for its triumph. Courage will suffice for its overthrow. The patriotism of the good citizen must be as sleepless as the selfishness of the Liquor Trade. Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.
Moving a little earlier, the Archive of Americana tossed out an article in the San Jose Mercury Herald for 31 Oct 1916: “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.” The man who delivered that line was another Prohibition advocate, Dr. Charles F. Aked.

It’s curious that, for a quotation that supposedly goes back to the eighteenth century, there’s no earlier example in either database. And it’s ironic that the same quotation which Prohibition advocates spread almost a century ago appeals to today’s “tea party” protesters; I think nearly the only thing those groups have in common is the belief that their opponents are “evil.”

And what about Sir R. Murray’s last sentence, which has also been attributed to Jefferson, along with Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, and others? It actually comes from an 1852 speech (once again in Boston) by Abolitionist Wendell Phillips. He had forgotten the source, but was probably paraphrasing the Irish orator John Philpot Curran in 1790:
It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active.—The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.
This is standard eighteenth-century Whig thinking, a big reason why politicized Americans came to see Parliament’s small tea tax as a serious encroachment on their liberties. Any sort of taxation without representation, they came to believe after the Stamp Act of 1765, threatened to put their society on a slippery slope to tyranny. (Today’s issue is taxation with representation, which is fundamentally different.)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

“In Their Own Words” in Lexington, 19 Apr

Rick Beyer of the Lexington Historical Society (that’s him in the middle) kindly sent me this notice:

On Sunday, April 19, the Lexington Historical Society presents “In Their Own Words,” a dramatic retelling of the first day of the American Revolution. The show, performed by lantern and candle light, is drawn from the accounts of 28 men and women who witnessed the first shot of the Revolution on Lexington Green in 1775. Twelve players in Colonial attire read the words of Paul Revere, Lexington militiamen, Redcoat soldiers, and townspeople from their diaries, affidavits, letters, and even a sermon.

The family-friendly program takes place at 8:00 P.M. at Pilgrim Congregational Church at 55 Coolidge Ave., in Lexington. There is plenty of parking, and it is quite near the Hancock-Clarke House, where Paul Revere’s arrival in Lexington will be re-enacted at 11:30 P.M. that same night. Refreshments will be served after the one-hour performance.
For tickets and information call the society’s Lexington Depot office at 781-862-1703, or e-mail.

Monday, April 06, 2009

“The Happy Peace Taking Place So Suddenly”

According to an reminiscence by Dr. Ephraim Eliot, the Boston merchant Daniel Bell (1752-1791) and his brother-in-law, Dr. Amos Windship (1745-1813), conceived of a novel business venture early in 1783. Nantucket had oil from whaling. Britain had a good market for that oil. So why not send a shipload to England?

Because, technically, Britain and America were still at war. Windship had even served in the medical departments of both the Continental Army and the Continental Navy, so he was well aware of that situation. But that didn’t deter him from signing onto this voyage as supercargo (a job that sounds a lot more exciting than it actually is).

Windship first went to New York, still held tight by the British military, and “obtained a private licence” for the trip. Somehow the partners arranged a deal with an American merchant in Amsterdam to extend credit for the venture, and with merchants in London to buy the oil.

But not “buy” in the usual way. According to Eliot’s account:

The ship with the Doctor on board, was to hover on the coast of England; to be taken by a british privateer & then claimed by the London partners. The Admirals protection [obtained in New York] was to screen him from all other captures.

Unfortunately for the adventurers peace took place while he was on the ocean.
The Treaty of Paris ended the Revolutionary War in September 1783. British privateers returned to port, their licenses to take enemy shipping no longer valid. Which left Dr. Windship on his ship off the English coast, waiting for a capture that never came.

Windship decided that the best way to make a profit was “going immediately into the Thames & selling the oil,” perhaps for even more than originally planned. He didn’t consider that once Great Britain recognized the U.S. of A. as an independent country, American goods were subject to the same stiff Customs duties as other cargoes arriving in London from elsewhere outside the British Empire. And of course the local merchants who had made the previous, surreptitious deal weren’t going to expose that to the authorities.

The tariffs on the Nantucket oil “amounted to more than it was worth,” so the cargo and ship were seized and sold. But Bell still had to pay off that Dutch loan. He eventually applied for legal protection from creditors, pleading the unfortunate fact of “the happy Peace taking place so suddenly and unexpectedly.”

And this brings to an end “No Relation” Week at Boston 1775. So far I know, I’m not related to printer Robert Bell, deputy sheriff John Shubael Bell, any Sgt. Maj. Bell, bricklayer William Bell, or merchant Daniel Bell. And in some cases, that might be a very good thing.