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, August 31, 2009

The Ministers and Officials of Woburn: What Happened Next

So what happened to the other people involved in Woburn’s Kezia Hincher scandal besides her and the man she married, Ebenezer Richardson? [Came in late? The whole juicy story starts here.] Within a couple of years, all of the men prominent in the dispute were gone.

The Rev. Edward Jackson, the minister accused of fathering Hincher’s child, enjoyed his vindication in August 1753 for only about a year. He died on 24 Sept 1754 at the age of fifty-four. His supporters blamed the stress of fighting off those rumors for his death. Ironically, Jackson’s sickly rival, the Rev. John Fox, outlived him, dying on 12 Dec 1756 at age seventy-eight.

Among Jackson’s enemies, Jonathan Poole, the Woburn justice of the peace, died in 1755.

Roland Cotton moved out of Woburn in 1754, settling in Sandwich, where his father had been the minister. His new town elected him to the Massachusetts General Court, which in 1759 once again chose him as its Clerk. In 1760 he married Deborah Mason of Boston. However, Cotton’s reputation never recovered after the scandal in Woburn, and his behavior became more grandiose. Commenting in his diary in July 1767, John Adams wrote:

Cotton is insane, wild. His Proposal of giving his House and Farm at Sandwich to the Province, is a Proof of Insanity. He has Relation that are poor. Jno. Cotton [his brother, a minister in Newton?] is now poor enough. He has a Brother Josiah Cotton the Minister whom he procured to be removed to Woburn, and thereby to be ruin’d, who is very poor, maintained by Charity. Roland was Josiahs ruin; yet he did not choose to give his Estate to Josiah.

Besides his Behaviour at Boston upon that occasion, was wild. His sitting down at the Council Table with his Hat on and Calling for his Deed and a Justice to acknowledge it, when the Council was sitting.
Boston merchant William Molineux was more blunt, telling Cotton that he was a “forsworn Rascall,” that “all the boys in…Boston have made Songs of You…being a perjured Villain and sing them about the streets.” Cotton sued Molineux for libel, demanding £2,000 in damages. In 1768 a Superior Court jury decided that Cotton’s reputation was worth £10 and court costs.

By then Roland Cotton had lost the post of House Clerk to a new representative from Boston: Samuel Adams. (The salary that came with that post was probably Adams’s main income in the following years.) During the protests against the Massachusetts Government Act in 1774, Cotton at first refused to sign a declaration by his county’s justices of the peace not to act under the new law. Then a crowd pressured him personally, and he agreed. He died on 16 May 1778, aged seventy-six.

Finally, there was the Rev. Josiah Cotton. After Jackson’s death and his brother’s departure, he sensed that his congregation wished to reunite with Woburn’s first parish. Cotton resigned in July 1756, and then spent some time seeking a new pulpit in the new towns of New Hampshire. In 1759, he became the first minister for the town of Sandown, incorporated only three years before. (The following year, Woburn’s first and third parish finally completed the financial negotiations to reunite.)

There’s no evidence to support John Adams’s lament that Josiah Cotton was “maintained by Charity”; he owned significant property in New Hampshire. But of course living in such a small, remote town was far from luxurious. Nonetheless, the Rev. Mr. Cotton got along with his congregants in Sandown better than at his first two postings. He died in 1780 and was fondly remembered.

(Image above courtesy of the David Rumsey Map Collection.)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Marriage of Ebenezer and Kezia Richardson

When Kezia Fowle and Thomas Hincher (or Henshaw) first got married in February 1742 (according to our modern calendar), they didn’t go to any of the meeting-houses in their native Woburn. Instead, they went to King’s Chapel in Boston.

That was an upscale Anglican church while their families back home were Congregationalist, but perhaps it was more welcoming to a couple in their circumstances. Three months later Kezia gave birth to the couple’s first child, also called Kezia.

In 1754, when Kezia wished to get married a second time, to her late sister’s husband Ebenezer Richardson, she went back to King’s Chapel (recently rebuilt in stone, as shown above). Their intention was announced in January, though they didn’t actually get married until 14 May. At that time, they both listed themselves as “of Boston,” having left Woburn behind. As I’ve been recounting, Ebenezer and Kezia had made themselves unpopular in two ways:

  • by having a child while Rebecca, his wife and her sister, was still alive.
  • by letting people believe the Rev. Edward Jackson was the father.
Ironically, if Ebenezer and Kezia had just managed to put off their affair, or not gotten pregnant during it, then they could have married after Rebecca Richardson’s death without raising many eyebrows. I’ve found several examples of widowers marrying sisters of their late wives in eighteenth-century New England.

Boston welcomed Ebenezer and Kezia Richardson in its traditional way: on 30 Sept 1754, a town employee “warned out” the couple, a legal ritual establishing that Boston took no responsibility if they came to need public assistance. But they stayed, and put down roots. In April 1758 the Richardsons buried a child out of Christ Church (now called Old North).

In Woburn, Ebenezer Richardson was a yeoman farmer, but in Boston he had to find a new way to support his family. At some point he began to offer confidential information to the province’s Attorney General, Edmund Trowbridge. (Folks who’ve followed this saga closely will recall that Trowbridge had also been Jackson’s lawyer.) Trowbridge later passed Richardson and his tips on to a Customs official named Charles Paxton.

In 1760 Paxton had a rival in the Boston Customs office: collector Benjamin Barons, who was more popular with local merchants, probably because he let them get away with more. On 4 December, Barons tried to talk Richardson over to his side. The informer heard him out, then hurried to Trowbridge and blabbed. The following February, Richardson signed a deposition about his conversation with Barons that went to London in the record of that office dispute.

Someone in London leaked that document, or news of its contents, back to Boston. From then on, Richardson was known as “the Informer.” He was particularly unpopular with the prominent merchants he’d named as being “concerned in the Illicit trade”: John Rowe, the elder Benjamin Hallowell, Solomon Davis, and Arnold Wells. Around that time the Customs service hired Richardson openly since he could no longer work undercover.

In August 1765, four days after a mob sacked Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion in the North End, Boston’s Overseers of the Poor paid a man to carry Ebenezer Richardson, wife, and family to Woburn, possibly for their own protection.

In September 1767, after a dispute over a Customs search in the North End, a crowd of boys jeered Richardson’s home.

And in February 1770, when he tried to break up a picket line of boys outside an importer’s shop, those boys followed Richardson and threw garbage and rocks at his house. That confrontation ended with Richardson shooting Christopher Seider and Sammy Gore, and being arrested for murder.

At that time, Ebenezer and Kezia Richardson were still together. Their family also included two daughters—Sarah and Kezia—old enough to testify at Ebenezer’s murder trial. I haven’t found any other record of those girls.

There’s no evidence that the Richardsons’ marriage lasted through Ebenezer’s conviction, extended stay in jail awaiting sentencing, royal pardon, and flight from Boston. When he and his co-defendant petitioned the Crown for aid in early 1775, the other man referred many times to his “famely”; Richardson didn’t mention having a wife or child.

And that 1775 document is also the last trace I’ve found of Ebenezer Richardson.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Father of Kezia Hincher’s Child Revealed

On 16 Aug 1753, the Rev. Edward Jackson filed an appeal of the decision against him in his libel case, telling the Massachusetts Superior Court that he had new evidence to prove that the rumors he’d fathered Kezia Hincher’s illegitimate child were baseless.

On the very same day—which I don’t think is a coincidence—there was a rift in the household where Hincher was living. Her brother-in-law, farmer Ebenezer Richardson, made out a bill to William, Dorothy, and Phinehas, three children of his late wife, Rebecca. It covered support and clothing from 11 Apr 1736 until each had turned seven, to be paid from their father’s estate.

The Woburn town clerk, James Fowle, attached a note for the probate judge, Samuel Danforth, saying that the children’s father, Phinehas Richardson, had actually died in 1738. (Let’s give Ebenezer Richardson the benefit of the doubt and assume his error—which increased the amount due him—was inadvertent.)

Those children had been between five years and three months old when their father had died, so in 1753 they were all well past seven. They were still below the age of majority, however. I take this bill as a sign that those minor children were severing ties with their stepfather—possibly moving in with biological relatives—and that he replied by demanding money due to him from their inheritances.

What had prompted that split? People in Woburn had just realized that the father of Kezia Hincher’s child was not her employer, the Rev. Mr. Jackson, but her brother-in-law, Ebenezer. The couple had apparently kept quiet about their affair while Rebecca Richardson was alive, and then longer, as the minister’s reputation sank. But in August 1753, the secret was out.

In fact, this whole case remained so notorious that twenty years later that Boston broadside titled “Life, and Humble Confession, of Richardson, the Informer” had Ebenezer saying:

WOOBURN, my native place can tell,
My crimes are blacker far than Hell,
What great disturbance there I made,
Against the people and their Head.

A wretch of wretches prov’d with child,
By me I know, at which I smil’d,
To think the PARSON he must bare
The guilt of me, and I go clear.

And thus this worthy man of GOD
Unjustly felt the scourging rod,
Which broke his heart, it proved his end,
And for whole blood I guilty stand.
In January 1754, seventeen days before the hearing that formally ended Jackson’s libel suit, Ebenezer Richardson and Kezia Hincher announced their intention to marry. And it looks like they were no longer welcome in Woburn.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Friday, August 28, 2009

Roland Cotton’s Reward

The 27 Sept 1753 Boston News-Letter carried this advertisement from Roland Cotton of Woburn:

WHEREAS, some malicious Persons have of late violently broken into two small Houses belonging to me the Subscriber, at Woburn; have destroyed the Windows and Shutters, &c. and have stolen sundry small Things out of the same; and have cut Holes in the Bottom of my Fishing-Boat, and have with Stones sank her to the Bottom of the Pond: And whereas on the first Instant [i.e., of this month] some Person or Persons (suppos’d the same Gang) went into my Stable, and dangerously wounded my riding Horse in one of his Eyes:

IF any Person will inform of any one or more that have been guilty of any one of the Enormities aforesaid, that so he or they may be brought to Justice, shall be entituled to ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS from the Subscriber.
Roland Cotton.
September 21. 1753.
This sort of mob attack was a colonial community’s way of telling a gentleman he was unwelcome. They couldn’t assault his person, but they could damage his property. Several years earlier the town had chosen not to reelect Cotton to the Massachusetts General Court, but this sustained vandalism shows that by 1 Sept 1753 he’d completely lost his neighbors’ respect.

Reading between the lines of Samuel Sewall’s history of Woburn makes it apparent that Roland Cotton had not only spread rumors about the Rev. Edward Jackson fathering Kezia Hincher’s illegitimate child, but had also manufactured the evidence for those rumors—most likely paying Hincher to either point her finger at Jackson or to keep quiet about the real father. And suddenly in August 1753, his neighbors all knew what he had done.

TOMORROW: Meanwhile, at Kezia Hincher’s home...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

“The Defendant...did not appear”

Samuel Sewall, historian of Woburn, recorded a story of what happened when the Rev. Edward Jackson reopened his libel suit against the Rev. Josiah Cotton. But reading between the lines makes it clear that Sewall didn’t believe that tale. It had probably been reshaped over time for dramatic effect.

In January 1753 the Massachusetts Superior Court had ruled Cotton justified in calling Jackson “a vile, wicked man, a fornicator, and unfit to be a minister.” Then in August, Jackson told the court he had new evidence. Here’s the tradition of what happened the following January, in Sewall’s words:

When the Court was assembled and ready to attend to the Review petitioned for, Mr. Jackson put the letter above referred to [see yesterday’s posting] into his Attorney’s hand. The lawyer [Edmund Trowbridge] shows it to its author, a leading man of the Fox [i.e., anti-Jackson] party, then present, and asks him if he knew and would own his own hand? The writer blushed and was confounded.

The cause being explained to Rev. Mr. Cotton, he ran out of the Court house, and cried like a child at perceiving how deceived or mistaken he had been.
How’s that for drama? Jackson vindicated! His rival in tears! His main accuser (probably Roland Cotton) blushing in embarrassment.

But Jackson wasn’t the type to keep quiet about being vindicated for five months, even as his reputation suffered and his livelihood was at risk. During earlier controversies he’d been quick to take action against his critics.

Furthermore, as Sewall notes, the record of the Superior Court hearing in 29 Jan 1754 says:
The Defendant altho’ solemnly called to come into Court, did not appear, but made Default, and the Plaintiff (the Defendant having paid him the Costs) Releases his Demand for Damages.
So by that winter date, Cotton had already paid Jackson his court costs, implying those two men had reached a private settlement. The hearing that Cotton didn’t attend was just a formality. (Jackson had already promised to forgo any damages for libel if Cotton would apologize.)

Instead of January 1754, it looks like the crucial breakthrough in this case occurred in August 1753.

TOMORROW: What folks in Woburn were up to that month.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

New Evidence in Edward Jackson’s Libel Case?

On 16 Aug 1753, the Rev. Edward Jackson of Woburn petitioned the Superior Court to reconsider the verdict against him in his libel suit against the Rev. Josiah Cotton, a verdict which implied he really was the father of Kezia Hincher’s illegitimate child. New evidence had come to light, he said.

A local tradition held that one of Jackson’s local enemies gave an enslaved servant a letter for Hincher. That slave asked one of Jackson’s own slaves for directions to where the widow lived, and Jackson’s slave took the letter to the minister. The local historian Samuel Sewall wrote:

The letter may reasonably be supposed to have been unsealed; for what the need of seals to letters, carried by the hand of a poor ignorant African, that had never learnt the alphabet, and to whom English and Latin, Greek and Hebrew were all alike?

Seeing it to be in this condition. Mr. Jackson ventured to open it; and finding that its contents furnished a complete exposure of the falsity of the charge against him, or a direct clew to such a discovery, he quickly copied it, and’ keeping the original for his own use, he returned the copy...
This tale flatters the racist wish to see black people as foolish, and it excuses Jackson from looking at someone else’s mail. But it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny on several counts:
  • There was no need for Jackson’s slave to take the letter and return it to the other man’s slave if he simply went to ask the minister for directions.
  • Some enslaved people did know how to read, and some letters did get lost, so anyone sending a potentially embarrassing document would seal it—if he was foolhardy enough to put such remarks in writing at all.
  • Folks in Woburn had living in the middle of ministerial feuds for twenty years. And people aren’t stupid just because they’re held in bondage (though thinking they are makes that bondage thing easier to do). The idea that a slave of one of Jackson’s enemies would blithely walk up to the minister’s servant and had over a private letter is ridiculous.
  • Locating Kezia Hincher in a town of only 1,575 people (per the 1765 census) shouldn’t have been hard. She was still living with her brother-in-law, Ebenezer Richardson. (By this time her sister Rebecca had died, leaving Ebenezer a widower.)
So if Jackson did come across a letter from one of his accusers, this wasn’t how it happened. His new evidence probably took another form. In any event, something happened in August 1753 that sent Jackson back to court to reverse the judgment against him.

TOMORROW: What happened in court—and what didn’t.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Case of Edward Jackson v. Josiah Cotton

In September 1752, the Rev. Edward Jackson filed suit against his cross-Woburn rival, the Rev. Josiah Cotton, for calling him “a vile, wicked man, a fornicator, and unfit to be a minister.” And all because Cotton’s brother Roland had said he’d seen evidence that Jackson had fathered a child by his housekeeper, Kezia Hincher.

For his attorney, Jackson hired Edmund Trowbridge (1709-1793), a scholarly lawyer from Cambridge. (Both men had grown up in Newton.) At some point midwife Hannah Poole and her husband gave him a written statement that, contrary to report, they had never heard Hincher identify Jackson as the child’s father.

Josiah Cotton hired Benjamin Kent (1708-1788) of Charlestown to defend him. According to Woburn historian Samuel Sewall, Cotton

rested his defense, not upon any direct answer to what had been alleged against him in Mr. Jackson’s Declaration, but upon the denial of some promise that Mr. Jackson had averred that he (Mr. Cotton) had made him
I suspect Cotton argued that he’d never promised Jackson a public apology like that already delivered by his brother Roland, which should have been enough to restore Jackson’s reputation.

At the Court of Common Pleas, Jackson won a judgment of £1,000, plus court costs of £1.16s.6d. That was a huge sum by any measure. The magistrates might have meant to pressure Cotton into a public apology before things went any further.

Instead, Josiah Cotton appealed to the Superior Court. The ministers had another chance to settle, but let the case go to a jury. And then Jackson lost almost everything he had won.

In January 1753, the jurors decided that Jackson should not receive any damages and owed Cotton legal costs, implying that his libel suit was baseless and that he was indeed the father of Hincher’s child, then about one year old.

Perhaps the Cottons had mounted a firmer defense at this level, gathering evidence that they hadn’t had before. In the next century Sewall would hear this story from a man named Bartholomew Richardson:
Two of them [enemies of Jackson] in particular, according to a tradition derived from a source of high respectability, encouraged Mrs. Henshaw to go before a magistrate, and swear to the truth of the report which she had put in circulation [about Jackson fathering her child]; and that when she had taken an oath to this effect, they were seen by a friend of Mr. Jackson who was looking on, to put money into her lap.
However the Superior Court verdict came about, Jackson’s reputation was now even lower than before. Reportedly, an official council of ministers gathered to deliberate on his standing.

TOMORROW: But Jackson hadn’t given up.

Monday, August 24, 2009

“I do Acknolege My Misconduct Therein”

By now, with all the feuds, splits, rifts, elopements, affairs, inflated bills, and insulting pamphlets, even I’m losing track of what was going on in Woburn in 1752. The major points are:

  • Some powerful citizens, particularly former town representative Roland Cotton and justice of the peace Jonathan Poole, really didn’t like the Rev. Edward Jackson, junior minister of the town’s first church.
  • In fact, since Jackson had arrived in 1729, that congregation had split into four meetings, with the newest and closest led by Roland Cotton’s brother, the Rev. Josiah Cotton.
  • Jackson, a bachelor, employed Kezia Hincher as a housekeeper. She was a poor unmarried widow who lived with her sister and brother-in-law, Rebecca and Ebenezer Richardson.
  • Hincher gave birth to an illegitimate child early in 1752.
  • The Cotton brothers accused Jackson of being the baby’s father, Roland privately and Josiah publicly.
Jackson, of course, denied the accusation. He challenged the Cottons to produce evidence, which they didn’t have.

On 28 Aug 1752, Roland Cotton sent Jackson (who was, incidentally, his old college classmate) a one-sentence letter of apology:
Sir

Some months Past Upon my Seeing a Writeing Purporting a Certificate Under the hand of Mrs. Hannah Poole of Reading a Midwife “That she Diliverd the Widow Keziah Hincher your late housekeeper of a Bastard Child and That ye Said Hincher in the Time of her Travil Charged You with being the Father of it,” I Mentioned To Sundry Persons (Some of Whom were Under your Pastoiral Care) That ye Said Poole had in Writeing Under her hand Certified Those Facts, and That I Believed them to be True, as Indeed for Want of due Examination & Consideration I then did,

But being Now Senseable That I was Mistaken therein, and being also Convinced That the Writeing aforesaid was false & Counterfeit, Malisiousely Contrived Made and Published With an Intent Unjustly to procure your Removal from the Ministerial Office by Induceing your Church & Congregation to believe you were the Father of That Bastard Child a Crime Whereof I believe You are Altogeathere free & clear, I think Myself in Justice bound to make you Sattisfaction as far as it is in my Power for ye Injury done you in Mentioning a thing so Prejudicial to your Carracter & Reputation and declareing My belief thereof before any persons but More Expetially before those under your Pastoral Care

And I do Acknolege My Misconduct Therein and Ask Your Pardon therefor, And as the Injury done you has been Made Publick I am Content this Also Should be Made so if you think Proper
In other words, the minister could show Roland Cotton’s written apology to everyone in town as a way to clear his reputation.

Whereupon the Rev. Mr. Jackson sued for libel.

TOMORROW: Jackson takes the Rev. Josiah Cotton to court.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

“The Instrument Should Be Taken Away”

In July 1740, one of Boston’s representatives to the Massachusetts General Court, James Allen, published a pamphlet titled A Letter to a Friend in the Country, &c. It was an attack on Roland Cotton, representative from the town of Woburn, for how he’d voted on a controversial fiscal measure.

According to Allen, Cotton had tried to abstain from voting on the grounds that he was Clerk of the House and should remain “Neuter.” But then he inserted his vote into the records so he’d look good to his constituents back home (perhaps after knowing that his vote wouldn’t change the outcome).

Politics was never just personal in the 1700s, and the last two pages of Allen’s pamphlet veer off into this anecdote:

A weaver in the County of P[lymout]h made a Business of playing upon a Fiddle and drew away many people to hear the Musick; upon which a Complaint or Memorial was put into the Church against him, and upon the Trial, (not before the Trial) he was order’d to be suspended:

But some Time after, the said Weaver mov’d for a Restoration [of his church membership], making a penitent Confession; and the Parson putting the Question, Brother C——n started up and agreed to said Motion, with an Amendment, That the Instrument should be taken away to prevent any such undue and irregular Practices for the future; which was voted accordingly:

Some Time after it so happen’d that Brother C——n was a Widower (or if a Batchelor, is all one [to be exact, Cotton was a bachelor]) and had a handsome Maid, and happening to be too active, said Maid prov’d with Child; upon which Brother C——n was call’d before the Church and suspended; and afterwards mov’d for Restoration; which charitable Brother Weaver agreed to with this Amendment, That the Instrument should be taken away, to prevent such more than undue and irregular influencing the Propagation of Mankind for the future:

Which was voted accordingly.
I don’t know if any of that was true, but you wouldn’t really expect me to pass it up, would you? And now we’ll return to 1752.

TOMORROW: The Rev. Edward Jackson demands an apology.

[This series of postings started back here.]

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Roland Cotton’s “Circumstances and Contrivances”

Though Jonathan Poole was a justice of the peace in Woburn, he wasn’t the town’s most prominent critic of the Rev. Edward Jackson. That man was Roland Cotton (1701-1778), a militia colonel and politician—and a Harvard classmate of the minister.

Cotton was a descendant of the famous Rev. John Cotton of seventeenth-century Boston (shown here), and son and namesake of the respected minister at Sandwich. On his mother’s side, Cotton had a rich uncle in Woburn. Though his local roots were shallow, he augmented them with wealth and audacity.

Cotton arrived in Woburn in 1737 and almost immediately was elected one of the town’s representatives to the Massachusetts General Court. After two terms, the House made him its Clerk, which provided a steady income. In contrast to most gentlemen of the time, Cotton was relatively open about asking for political favors and votes. In 1740 a rival accused him of using “many little, low, mean Circumstances and Contrivances” to get reelected. The same pamphlet noted that Cotton’s dying uncle had given him property instead of bequeathing it, thus keeping that estate away from his many creditors.

Also in 1740, Cotton led the Woburn congregation to refuse Jackson a raise in pay. Jackson responded by campaigning against Cotton’s reelection the next spring. But the town kept sending Cotton to the General Court until May 1746. He appears to have lost his seat then only because he’d angered people by aggressively drafting militiamen to attack Louisbourg and to put down a riot in Swansea. Cotton was so popular among the province’s politicians, however, that he remained Clerk of the House even though he was no longer a member.

Those were the same years when Poole and some other Woburn families decided they’d had enough of Jackson and his rival, the Rev. John Fox, and founded their own meeting. Cotton’s name doesn’t appear on the petitions to form a new church, but there’s little doubt he was a driving force in the effort. For their first minister that new congregation chose...Roland Cotton’s brother Josiah.

The Rev. Josiah Cotton (1703-1780) had been presiding over a church in Rhode Island, and then fell into his own feud with a deacon starting in 1741. He jumped at the chance to move to Woburn. The Boston News-Letter reported that his installation at that town’s third meeting-house on 15 July 1747 “was carried on with the utmost Peace and Dignity”—a likely acknowledgment of how notoriously undignified the arguments in Woburn had become.

Then in early 1752, the Rev. Edward Jackson’s unmarried housekeeper, Kezia Hincher, gave birth. Col. Cotton told people that he’d seen a certificate from the midwife—who happened to be married to Jonathan Poole’s cousin—identifying Jackson as the baby’s father. The Rev. Cotton took up the tale, publicly calling Jackson “a vile, wicked man, a fornicator, and unfit to be a minister.”

TOMORROW: Which was ironic, given the stories about Roland before he came to Woburn.

[This series of postings started back here.]

Friday, August 21, 2009

Woburn Splits into Parishes and Factions

As I described yesterday, in 1736 Jonathan and Esther Poole of Woburn were reportedly hoping their nineteen-year-old daughter would marry the first meeting’s junior minister, the Rev. Edward Jackson. (The thumbnail here shows what’s left of the gravestone of the couple’s son Eleazar, born in 1734, courtesy of yeoldewoburn.net.)

Instead, the younger Esther Poole preferred a younger Harvard graduate, Joseph Burbeen (1712-1794). In October 1736 they eloped to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire, and got married there. According to a descendant writing about 1830, the Pooles were at first upset at their daughter and Burbeen, but then reconciled themselves to the match.

Meanwhile, resentment was growing between Jackson and the ailing minister he’d been hired to assist, the Rev. John Fox. The older man refused to leave his pulpit or the town-supplied parsonage, despite often being unable to preach because of poor health and encroaching blindness. When the town was slow to pay him in the 1730s, he petitioned the Massachusetts General Court and filed a lawsuit, winning a judgment of over £164.

The expense of two ministers actually helped to split up Woburn. The new town of Wilmington broke off in 1730, and some of its citizens asked for refunds of what they’d just been taxed for Jackson’s salary. (Woburn refused.) Soon afterward, another part of town officially became a “second precinct,” with its own meeting-house and minister; this section eventually became Burlington.

That left the old part of Woburn paying both Fox and Jackson, and they were feuding. There’s no sign of a theological difference between the two men. Rather, both had quirks that made them tough to work with. Families started to take sides. The Pooles, after their daughter’s marriage, ended up in the anti-Jackson camp—which was awkward since they were still Jackson’s landlords.

One night in October 1744, the junior minister was hosting the Rev. Ebenezer Wyman of Union, Connecticut, who was a Woburn native and had taught school there a decade earlier. Between eleven and twelve in the evening, according to a later legal complaint, Poole threw Jackson and his guest out of the house “with out hat or Coat” even though “the Night was Cold and the Latter part Stormy.” Wyman was an avid hunter, so he probably fared all right; but he died fifteen months later of pleurisy from hunting too long that winter.

In the summer of 1745, Jonathan Poole, his in-laws, and other prominent citizens took steps to leave Fox and Jackson’s parish and set up a third Woburn meeting-house. That fall, Poole also gave Jackson an invoice for “six years board due from him.” Jackson retaliated by sending Poole a bill of his own, listing food, liquor, laundry, tobacco, pipes, “fresh sowering,” candles, and cash, totaling over £150. Reportedly a magistrate refused to let the minister enter that document in court, saying it would amount to perjury. But a higher court accepted it, making Poole liable for a large sum plus legal costs.

Poole and his friends retaliated by having Jackson’s outlandish accounting published in 1750. Their anonymous pamphlet concluded: “You may possibly think the above affair alone was sufficient for our withdrawal from such a spiritual guide.” Jackson, they hinted, was a liar with extravagant tastes.

Thus, the Rev. Mr. Jackson had plenty of critics and enemies in Woburn when folks started hearing whispers that Kezia Hincher had named him as the father of her child.

TOMORROW: The Cotton brothers spread the rumor.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Midwife and Mr. Jackson

Early in 1752, Kezia Hincher of Woburn gave birth to a child. As I described yesterday, Kezia was an unmarried widow living with her older sister Rebecca and her brother-in-law, Ebenezer Richardson.

Kezia was also working as a housekeeper for the Rev. Edward Jackson, the unmarried minister of Woburn’s first parish. People whispered that he was the new child’s father. In particular, Roland Cotton, a militia colonel and town representative to the General Court, wrote to Jackson on 28 August that he had seen

a Writeing Purporting a Certificate Under the hand of Mrs. Hannah Poole of Reading a Midwife “That she Diliverd the Widow Keziah Hincher your late housekeeper of a Bastard Child and That ye Said Hincher in the Time of her Travil Charged You with being the Father of it”
Hannah Poole, the midwife, was married to a cousin of Jonathan Poole, a Woburn justice of the peace. And the Pooles had a long and complex history with Jackson.

In 1728 Woburn invited Edward Jackson, who had graduated from Harvard in 1719, to become their town’s junior minister. Clearly most parishioners wanted him to replace the Rev. John Fox, who was going blind and often unable to preach—but also would not give up his post or his salary demands.

When a new minister was ordained in colonial New England, it was traditional for the town to invite the minister, elder, and “Messengers” from each nearby town to attend the ceremony. Jonathan Poole was responsible “for subsisting the Ministers and Messengers and Gentlemen in the time of Mr. Jackson’s Ordination,” and then sent the town a bill for:
  • 433 dinners
  • 178 breakfasts
  • 6.5 barrels of cider
  • 25 gallons of wine
  • 2 gallons of brandy
  • 4 gallons of rum
  • loaf sugar and lime juice (for punch, most likely)
  • pipes
  • keeping 32 horses for four days
The total was more than £83, or about two-thirds of what the town had promised to Jackson for his annual salary. Since the town was now supporting two ministers, that seemed extravagant.

Poole and his wife, Esther, apparently had hopes that Jackson would eventually marry their only daughter, also named Esther (1717-1776). She would have been a good catch for a man with expensive tastes, being heir not only to her father’s estate but also to property from her maternal grandfather.

TOMORROW: But young Esther wasn’t interested in the Rev. Mr. Jackson.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

And the People’s Choice Is...Ebenezer Richardson!

Ebenezer Richardson was born in Woburn on 31 Mar 1718, eldest son of Timothy and Abigail Richardson. The family farm was along the town’s border with Stoneham.

Woburn was one of the older British towns in the colony of Massachusetts, and had already spun off the town of Wilmington. This old photograph shows the meeting-house built in 1732 for Woburn’s “second parish,” which in 1799 became Burlington. (Check out the Burlington Historical Commission’s heritage trail for other sites in that town.)

When Ebenezer was twenty-two years old, he married a widow named Rebecca Richardson, formerly Rebecca Fowle. A large portion of the Woburn population was named Richardson, descendants of two of the town’s earliest settlers. As far as I can tell, Rebecca’s first and second Richardson husbands weren’t closely related. (To complicate matters, there was another Ebenezer Richardson living in Woburn at the same time, an occasional town official.)

When Rebecca married the second time, she was thirty-four years old and had six children. She had the “widow’s third” of her husband’s estate, and her kids were due to inherit more when they came of age. Ebenezer became responsible for managing Rebecca’s property and for helping to raise her children (for which he was reimbursed from their father’s estate). In the 1740s the couple had three more children of their own. Then Ebenezer inherited his own father’s property, giving him quite a solid Middlesex County farm while he was still in his early thirties.

The household also included Rebecca’s younger sister Kezia, whose husband, Thomas Hincher, had died, leaving her with one child and little property. Thomas had served in the province militia, and Massachusetts owed him £42.10s. (in depressed local currency, probably). In 1746, Ebenezer went into Boston to collect that money for his sister-in-law.

Clearly the Richardsons had taken in Kezia Hincher (sometimes spelled Henshaw) as a poor relation. She earned some money for herself by working as a housekeeper for the Rev. Edward Jackson, the unmarried minister of Woburn’s first parish.

The first surviving sign of trouble in the Richardson household came in early 1751, when Ebenezer was “put into the Goal [i.e., jail] at Charlestown—from which he broke out” by March 1751. It’s unclear what that was all about. Was he in debt? Was he suspected of a minor crime? (A major crime would probably be better documented.)

But the real stink arose later that year when Kezia Hincher became pregnant, and people in Woburn whispered that the new child’s father was the Rev. Mr. Jackson.

TOMORROW: The midwife and the ministers.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

George Washington Launches the Career of Jack Kirby

The Boston 1775 editorial staff continues to tabulate feedback on whether the next series of posts should be about what made Ebenezer Richardson unpopular even before he killed Christopher Seider or about people mucking about with dead bodies (including, at long last, Maj. John Pitcairn’s). So today’s posting is another brief excursion into how the American Revolution has been remembered in comic books.


This is the cover of a pamphlet that H. T. Elmo of Lincoln News produced in 1937 for banks to give away to their customers. The back cover was blank, letting banks add their own name and branch addresses.

The 24-page booklet was arguably in comics form, making “The Romance of Money” the earliest comics artwork by young Jack Kirby, who would go on to help create Captain America, the boy gang genre, the romance comics genre, the Challengers of the Universe, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk, the Silver Surfer, and other icons. Some people consider Kirby the finest American comics artist. (Me, I admire his output, but he’s never been one of my favorites.)

As we can see, Kirby’s comics career started with George Washington. Almost forty years later, Kirby would draw Benjamin Franklin and Betsy Ross. But was the material in “The Romance of Money” any less fictional than those figures’ encounter with Captain America? Just a bit. The Mount Vernon website says this about Washington’s coin-tossing:
This myth is often told to demonstrate his strength. The Potomac River is over a mile wide and even George Washington was not that good an athlete! Moreover, there were no silver dollars when Washington was a young man. His step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, reported in his memoirs that Washington once threw a piece of slate “about the size and shape of a dollar” across the Rappahanock River near Fredericksburg, Virginia. The Rappahannock River at the site of the Washington family homestead today measures only 250 feet across, a substantial but perhaps not impossible distance to throw.
Whoever wrote that 1937 pamphlet did get the name of the river right. On the other hand, the upper blurb about the dollar symbol coming from the letters U and S is a total myth; the dollar sign predated the U.S. of A.

Kirby’s first publishing partner, Joe Simon, also depicted American founders in comics form, in 48 Famous Americans, published in 1947. Like Kirby’s image of Washington, this was created as part of a corporate promotion, in this case for J. C. Penney. And, like Kirby’s depiction of Washington throwing a coin, it emphasizes legend rather than solid history.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Sing Along with Ebenezer Richardson?

In his essay in the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s publication Music in Colonial Massachusetts, volume 1, Carleton Sprague Smith posited that a lot of the early American verses printed on broadsides were actually meant to be sung to well-known tunes.

This is one of his examples. The verse is “The Life, and Humble Confession, of Richardson, the Informer,” words supposedly from the mouth of Ebenezer Richardson—adulterer, Customs informer and official, and killer of Christopher Seider. Smith matched the verses up (though not exactly, he admitted) to the old tune “Confesse.”

That tune would be thematically appropriate, to be sure. But is the melody indeed a good match for the words?

Injured BOSTON now awake,
While I a true CONFESSION make,
Of my notorious sins and guilt,
As well the harmless blood I’ve spilt.

WOOBURN, my native place can tell,
My crimes are blacker far than Hell,
What great disturbance there I made,
Against the people and their Head.

A wretch of wretches prov’d with child,
By me I know, at which I smil’d,
To think the PARSON he must bare
The guilt of me, and I go clear.
[I wrote an article explaining these references to Richardson’s life for New England Ancestors a couple of years ago. It was online for a while, but no longer.]
And thus this worthy man of GOD
Unjustly felt the scourging rod,
Which broke his heart, it proved his end,
And for whole blood I guilty stand.

The halter now is justly due,
For now I’ve killed no less than two,
Their blood for vengeance loud doth cry,
It reach’d the ears of Heaven on high.

But yet still wicked, yet still vile,
I’ve lived on honest Merchant’s spoil,
For this I justly got the name,
The INFORMER, though with little gain.

Little indeed when I compare,
The stings of conscience which I bare,
And now I frankly own to thee,
I’m the INFORMER, I am he.

By my account poor BOSTON’S lost,
By me in only three years past,
Full sixty thousand pounds—yea more
May still be added to the score.

But what’s that to this last crime,
In sending SEIDER out of time!
This cuts my heart, this frights me most;
O help me, LORD, I see his ghost,

There,—there’s a life, you now behold,
So vile I’ve been,—alas so bold;
There’d scarce a Lawyer undertake
To plead my case, or for me speak.

On Tuesday next I must appear,
And there my dismal sentence hear;
But O!——my conscience, guilty cries,
For conscience never can tell lyes.

And now alas, my injur’d friends,
Since I can make you no amends,
Here is my body you may take,
And sell, a notimy to make.
That last line is a reference to how medical trainees sought out the bodies of hanged men to study anatomy, as Levi Ames worried about.

So this could be a natural lead-in to either a series about Ebenezer Richardson’s tangled past or another series of C.S.I.: Colonial Boston. Which do folks prefer?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Brandywine Battlefield Park to Reopen with Volunteers

The Pennsylvania government has reached an agreement with the Friends of Brandywine Battlefield Park that will reopen the park next week. A press release from a state senator’s office says:

Under the facilities agreement, Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates will operate the park at no additional cost to the state. Park visitors should not see any change in the daily operations. Much of the park’s current staff has agreed to continue working as volunteers while a long-term solution is finalized.
Obviously, this is not a feasible way to run the park in the long term. But I hope it will preserve the operation until the current economic crunch lessens.

I’m quite sure none of this would be necessary if Gen. George Washington had only won this large battle.

Two Exhibits to Visit Online

A kind poster to the NEREV list alerted me to this online exhibit from the Brown University Library: drawings of soldiers at Warley Camp in Britain about 1778. They were made by Philip James de Loutherbourg, an artist who had moved from Strasbourg to London. They preserve an unusual level of detail about army and even militia uniforms, though sadly not in color. Click on the thumbnail to go to the collection and here for an article on what Warley Camp was all about.

And in other news, the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., opened an exhibit on Thomas Paine, with its attendant website. Don’t miss the British print of Paine hung in effigy in 1793, looking a lot like how New Englanders had made effigies of their political enemies.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Nicholas Cresswell Tries to Keep Quiet

Yesterday I quoted how Nicholas Cresswell, prospective emigré from Derbyshire to Virginia, responded to hearing the Continental Congress’s Resolves of 1774. He kept his anger private, recording it in his diary. (The original manuscript is in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg.)

Cresswell’s journal continued on 2 November, the next day:

Writing to my Friends at home. Obliged to put the best side outwards and appear a little Whigifyed as I expect my letters will be oppened before they get to England.

3rd Saw the Independent Company [militia] exercise. The Effigy of Lord North [shown above in person, courtesy of the U.K. Prime Minister’s office] was Shot at, then carried in great parade into the town and burned.

4th And 5th Wrote to Mr. Champion. It is very hard as I cannot write my real sentiments.

6th Sunday Went to a Presbyterian meeting these are a set of Rebellious soundrels nothing but Political discourses instead of Religious Lectures.
Despite his vow to be cautious, Cresswell got in trouble with local Patriots. In March 1775 some letters home in which he “freely declared my sentiments upon the present Rebellion” were opened by the Alexandria Committee of Safety. At around the same time he left for the Ohio Valley, scouting for land.

When Cresswell returned to Alexandria in October, there was a full-blown civil war going on up around Boston. Another part of the Continental Army was invading Canada. Virginia’s royal governor, Lord Dunmore, had taken to the water. And that local Committee of Safety summoned Cresswell for questioning.

On 31 October he wrote: “Understand I am suspected of being what they call a Tory (that is a Friend of my Country) and am threatened with Tar, Feathers, Imprisonment and the Devil knows what. Curse the Scoundrels.” Three days later he declared, “Determined to talk about the times as little as possible and slip away as soon as I can get an opportunity.”

That resolve lasted for...over a week. On 9 November, Cresswell reported:
At diner had a long Dispute with Doctor Jackson about the Origins of the present proceedings. I believe he was employed to draw me into a political dispute. I proceeded with great caution and timerrity. Most of the company agreed that I had the better of the argument. But never so much embarrased in my life.
For the next two years Cresswell repeated the same pattern: promising himself that he wouldn’t argue politics, then letting his real feelings out—often after drinking. He kept trying to find a way to leave for home, but of course the colonies were at war with Britain, and he didn’t have a lot of cash to spend. At the same time, American officials grudgingly recognized that Cresswell wasn’t working for the Crown; he was just a visitor from England with poor timing.

The new edition of Cresswell’s diary has the dates “1774-1781” in the title. However, he [***SPOILER***] managed to get out of America in 1777, and stopped keeping the journal at that point. He went back to the notebook a few years later to record his marriage, and then settled into the life of an English country gentleman.

Friday, August 14, 2009

“The Seeds of Rebellion Are Allready Sown”

In the spring of 1774, Nicholas Cresswell was a gentleman from Derbyshire in his early twenties who had long dreamed of visiting America. In fact, though he hadn’t told his parents (who still bankrolled him), he even wanted to move to the New World. But Cresswell arrived to look for frontier land just as the Massachusetts Government Act and Boston Port Bill were widening the split between the North American colonies and the government in London.


Cresswell kept a journal about that trip as he watched the colonies split from his native country. That cranky account was first published in 1924. This year Harold B. Gill, Jr., and George M. Curtis offered a new edition titled A Man Apart: The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1781.

Cresswell made his initial base near Alexandria, Virginia. He met George Washington, who didn’t leave a big impression at first; the early part of the diary barely mentions that planter and militia colonel. But later, when Washington appeared to have a good run as commander of the Continental Army after the Battle of Trenton, Cresswell wrote about dining at Mount Vernon and devoted several pages to describing the man. Despite fiercely opposing the rebellion, Cresswell found Washington personally impressive.

Here’s a taste of the first part of the book, as Cresswell starts to grasp the extent of American anger at the government in London on 1 Nov 1774:
This evening went to the Tavern to hear the Resolves of the Continental Congress read[,] A petition to the Throne and an address to the people of Great Britain. Both of them full of Duplicity and false representation. I look upon them as insults to the understanding and Dignity of the British Sovereign and people. Am in hopes their petitions will never be granted.

I am sorry to see them so well received by the people and their sentiments so universally adopted, it is a plain proof that the seeds of rebellion are allready sown and have taken very deep root, but am in hopes they will be eradicated next summer.

I am obliged to act the Hypocrite and extol these proceedings as the wisest productions of any assembly on Earth. But in my heart I Despise them and look upon them with contempt.
TOMORROW: How well did Nicholas Cresswell do at acting “a little Whigifyed”?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Dispatch from My Virtual Life

I managed, after a pointer to the right method from Kevin Levin of Civil War Memory, to get Boston 1775 posts fed into my Facebook page.

In addition, I’ve started posting on Twitter, though that site seems more useful for breaking news than centuries-old news, and for superficial personal observations than for considered analyses.

On the incoming side, I’m finding Google Reader to be an easy way to keep up with other blogs. Easy because I’m already signed onto Google through Blogger.

The Original Sturm und Drang

The phrase Sturm und Drang, alliteratively translated from German as “storm and stress” but more accurately as “storm and urge-of-some-sort,” was the name of a late-eighteenth-century proto-Romantic artistic movement in Germany. I was intrigued to learn that it came from the title of a play about the American Revolution. Or did it?

The drama was apparently published in 1776 and produced first in 1777. Histories differ on how successful it was. I found what looks like the play’s text, which would be a lot more interesting if I could read German. In English, the best I could find was a footnote under a short excerpt in An Anthology of German Literature:

Friedrich Maximilian Klinger (1752-1831) was a fellow townsman and friend of Goethe. His Sturm und Drang, which was at first named Wirrwarr, came out in 1776. The scene is America. The speakers are Wild, a lusty and masterful man of action; Blasius, a blasé worldling; and La Feu, a sentimental dreamer. They propose to try their fortunes in the French-Indian War.
So the drama might not take place during the Revolutionary War at all, though it might have been impossible for audiences not to think about what was happening in North America as they saw it. Then again, nobody might have cared about the subtle distinction between one war and another. In a 1906 article titled “Schiller and America,” William Herbert Carruth wrote, “Klinger, indeed, locates his drama Sturm und Drang in America, but it betrays no intimate acquaintance with the colonies nor much concern for their cause.”

Do any German readers want to add anything?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Jefferson’s Words on the Constitution and the “Tree of Liberty”

This television image shows William Kostric protesting outside President Barack Obama’s event in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, yesterday. Kostric attracted attention because he was wearing a pistol in a holster. He later appeared on Chris Matthews’s television show, as described here:

Matthews asked Kostric to say the rest of the quote—the part not on his sign. He only responded that was for people to “look up. It’s not a sound bite.”

“I’m not advocating violence,” he said. “I’m advocating an informed society, an armed society, a polite society.”
So, in the public interest, here’s the full quotation in context. It comes from a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote in France on 13 Nov 1787. William Smith, husband of the younger Abigail Adams, had sent him a copy of the proposed new U.S. Constitution. Jefferson didn’t think the new structure of government was a good idea:
I do not know whether it is to yourself or Mr. [John] Adams, I am to give my thanks for the copy of the new constitution. I beg leave through you, to place them where due. It will yet be three weeks before I shall receive them from America. There are very good articles in it; and very bad. I do not know which preponderate.

What we have lately read in the history of Holland, in the chapter on the Stadtholder, would have sufficed to set me against a chief magistrate, eligible for a long duration, if I had ever been disposed towards one: and what we have always read of the elections of Polish Kings, should have forever excluded the idea of one continuable for life.

Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying. The British ministry have so long hired their gazetteers, to repeat and model into every form, lies about our being in anarchy, that the world has at length believed them, the English nation has believed them, the ministers themselves have come to believe them, and what is more wonderful, we have believed them ourselves. Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts [i.e., “Shays’ Rebellion”]? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honorably conducted? I say nothing of its motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness.

God forbid we should ever be twenty years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented, in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions, it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had thirteen States independent for eleven years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half, for each State. What country before, ever existed a century and a half, without a rebellion? And what country can preserve its liberties, if its rulers are not warned from time to time, that this people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms.

The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. What signify a few lives lost in a century or two? The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure. Our [constitutional] convention has been too much impressed by the insurrection of Massachusetts: and on the spur of the moment, they are setting up a kite to keep the hen yard in order. I hope in God, this article will be rectified, before the new constitution is accepted.
Jefferson came to different ideas of the value and power of a chief magistrate once he assumed that office himself. He also felt that his election had produced a sort of revolution in government that meant no more rebellions were needed during his terms. (Of course his notion of beneficial rebellions for liberty didn’t include those by enslaved people.)

Very few of Jefferson’s contemporaries were so sanguine about bloodletting, so he didn’t make this sort of argument in public. The letter was published after his death by his grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, and the sentence about refreshing “the tree of liberty” has attracted various fans over the decades. It appeared, for instance, on the T-shirt Timothy McVeigh was wearing when he was caught after bombing the Oklahoma City federal offices.

Me, I always thought the goal of a constitution, regular elections, and protected rights was that the nation could progress without needing a series of fatal rebellions. I also think the quotation “Wonderful is the effect of impudent and persevering lying” is more appropriate to the current clamor over the federal health-insurance bill, considering all the misinformation people are shouting.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Brandywine Battlefield Event Canceled, Park to Close

I hear that the lecture at Brandywine Battlefield Park that I mentioned back here has been canceled. The state of Pennsylvania has decided to shut the park at the end of this week, and all employees there will be furloughed. For more on the background of this decision, see the Save Brandywine Battlefield website.

The Murder of Archibald Moffman

Last month at Early American Crime, Anthony Vaver recounted how some of the British convicts transported to the American colonies then ran away; sometimes these are the only way they reentered the public record. He described one unusually violent case:

In July 1773, Archibald Moffman, a soul-driver from Baltimore, purchased a group of convicts with the intention of reselling them for a profit further inland. He managed to sell all but four of the convicts by the time he reached the town of Frederick and was continuing on to Hagerstown to sell the rest. 

About two or three miles outside of Frederick, one of the convict servants complained of fatigue, so the party stopped under a tree alongside the main road. When Moffman decided that they needed to continue on their journey, the convicts refused to move. Instead, they threw him backwards, dragged him into the woods, and cut his throat from ear to ear.
But the four killers didn’t get far, as Vaver describes. An article from Wallace Shugg, a Maryland penitentiary historian, states that this case produced the “earliest recorded Maryland execution.” However, the Archives of Maryland chronicle numerous death warrants issued before this one, and it would have been quite remarkable if none of those had been carried out. Perhaps Shugg meant that the Moffman case produced the first execution in Maryland that newspapers reported in any detail.

Shugg’s article also identifies the victim of that 1773 killing as “Archibald Hoffman,” citing the Virginia Gazette, 26 July 1773, and Boston News-Letter, 26 Nov 1773. There were two newspapers titled Virginia Gazette being published that year, both appearing on Thursdays; 26 July was a Monday, so I can’t find that item. The Boston News-Letter article cited actually spells the man’s name Moffman, as do these other reports:
  • The crime and the apprehension of the culprits in Rivington’s New York Gazetteer, 5 Aug 1773.
  • The sentencing in the New-Hampshire Gazette, 17 Sept 1773.
  • The hanging in the Boston Post-Boy, 15 Nov 1773.
The root of the problem seems to be the easy confusion of M and H in flaking type, and the fact that “Hoffman” is a more common name today

Notably, none of those newspaper reports give the names of the four convicted men.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Edes Punch Bowl (now in color)

The Massachusetts Historical Society recently featured this photograph of the Edes family punch bowl, one of the historic objects in its collection. In the accompanying essay, curator Anne Bentley puts the porcelain bowl in its contexts: the career of printer Benjamin Edes, the political crisis over tea in 1773, and the consumption of alcohol in British North America. I quoted Peter Edes’s letter describing the night of the Tea Party at his father’s shop at more length back here.

One theme of recent Tea Party scholarship, as in Marc Aronson’s The Real Revolution and Benjamin Carp’s upcoming Teapot in a Tempest, is the global dimensions of the event. The Tea Act of 1773 that got the eastern coast of North America all upset had its roots in Londoners’ investments in Indian transshipment of an agricultural product from China. This porcelain punch bowl from China, which had made its way to a middling family in Boston, is another sign of that global trade.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

A Boy with a Birdy

This is John Singleton Copley’s portrait of young Thomas Aston Coffin, painted about 1758, when he was four. As a young man Coffin was private secretary to Gen. Sir Guy Carleton in New York, last British commander-in-chief in America during the Revolutionary War. Later Coffin became a Crown official (and agent for Brook Watson) in Canada, retiring with great wealth and, it appears, three children born out of wedlock.

This painting is now at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute. Copley created it early in his development as an artist, before he learned how to depict vivid faces and poses. Even so, it’s more individual than what any other artist in America could produce at the time.

Copley signalled young Thomas’s age by showing him with pet animals and with toys: a shuttlecock and battledore. At Early American Gardens, Barbara Sarudy discussed this game with many visual references. Meanwhile, over at Vast Public Indifference, Caitlin G. D. Hopkins discussed how to tell little boys in gowns from little girls in gowns.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

John Quincy Adams Edits His Diary

Jeremy Dibbell and the Massachusetts Historical Society are enjoying a burst of publicity from putting some of John Quincy Adams’s diary entries on Twitter. Those “Tweets” are from Adams’s diary of visiting Russia for the second time in 1809, when he was forty-two.

I’ve studied the first volume of his journal, which John Quincy started (under pressure from his parents and his tutor, John Thaxter) in late 1779. He was twelve years old, and about to embark for Europe with his father and younger brother Charles. That first diary was part of John Quincy’s schoolwork, it appears. His father and tutor reviewed it, and he copied some entries to send home to his mother. Not surprisingly, the entries are much longer than what Adams wrote when he was a grown and busy man.

One of my favorite entries is the one for 18 Dec 1779, after the family had made a semi-emergency landfall in Spain and was traveling by land to France. That entry finishes up:

We expected to see a Nun made to day but we were disappointed the nuns are Shut up in Convents & never see any men except but the friars. [And then there are seven lines of thoroughly crossed-out words. Not just struck out with a horizontal line like that “but,” but scribbled over with lines in going three directions. One suspects the obliterated text was a joke or observation that the Adams family thought inappropriate for a twelve-year-old. John Quincy might even have been censoring himself; he definitely edited this journal and the copy he sent home to Abigail.] this afternoon the Gentlemen all went to see the armory but I was a writing a Letter & therefore could not go.

Friday, August 07, 2009

John Adams Sends a Letter to North Carolina

John Adams and William Hooper (shown left, courtesy of the National Park Service) were delegates to the First and Second Continental Congresses in Philadelphia in 1774-76, one from Massachusetts and the other from North Carolina. But they had known each other for more than ten years before that. 

Hooper had been born in Boston and studied law under James Otis, Jr., in the early 1760s. He set up his practice in Wilmington because he figured there would be less competition there.

In March 1776, as Hooper prepared to go back to North Carolina to help plan a government separate from the British Crown, he asked Adams for advice on that challenge. The Braintree lawyer had been recognized as an expert in constitutional law since 1765, when he published his “Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law” in the Boston Gazette. His “Novanglus” essays in the Gazette in early 1775 cemented his reputation. 

Adams wrote out his ideas in a letter to Hooper, then made a copy for another North Carolina delegate, John Penn. Then Jonathan Sergeant of New Jersey wanted a copy, and George Wythe of Virginia another. Finally, Richard Henry Lee asked Adams for permission to have the text printed in Philadelphia; it appeared as a pamphlet titled Thoughts on Government.

North Carolina is displaying Adams’s original letter to Hooper in its state capitol through 8 September.


Thursday, August 06, 2009

Putting Words in Washington’s Mouth

Last month the St. Petersburg Times reported on yet another attempt to enlist the politicians of the late 1700s in today’s culture wars, and yet another misrepresentation:

The billboards showcase quotes from early American leaders like John Adams, James Madison and Benjamin Franklin. Most of the quotes portray a national need for Christian governance.

Others carry the same message but with fictional attribution, as with one billboard citing George Washington for the quote, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.”

“I don’t believe there’s a document in Washington’s handwriting that has those words in that specific form,” [billboard renter Terry] Kemple said. “However, if you look at Washington’s quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there’s no question he could have said those exact words.”
Kemple apparently feels no embarrassment about repeating a lie because, he says, Washington “could have said those exact words.” Never mind that he didn’t—according to Kemple, he could have, and that’s just as good. Entertainingly, Kemple has cast himself as a truthteller, insisting that the U.S. Constitution’s separation of church and state is a “lie.” 

Earlier in the month, Kemple organized a “tea party” protest, another attempt to coopt the U.S. of A.’s founding symbolism for his causes. More often he’s demanded that governments adopt his narrow religious positions on social issues such as forbidding same-sex marriage (he’s on his second marriage, but doesn’t want other couples to have their first), and making schools teach creationism but not sex education.

The Washington misquotation that Kemple tried to justify isn’t a recent coinage, having appeared in an 1893 book titled A Lawyer’s Examination of the Bible, written by Howard H. Russell and published by an evangelical press. It was debunked in 1990 in They Never Said It, by Paul F. Boller, Jr.

Boller went on to offer what he believed was one of the rare statements by Washington on the Bible, from an early draft of his first inaugural address:
The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest of purposes.
Though referring to “the word of God,” that passage actually looks more like a warning that people can use organized religion as an excuse for bigotry and other wrongdoing—not what Kemple’s group would choose to advertise, I suspect.

What’s more, as Jon Rowe pointed out, that passage was probably drafted by Washington’s aide David Humphreys. The President threw out the whole thing and started over, never mentioning the Bible during his speech. Or, for that matter, in his other political statements. He could have, but he didn’t.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Rhode Island History Blog

The Rhode Island Historical Society has launched a blog about items in its collection, including these documents about the Revolutionary War. For example, there’s a look at Rhode Island’s legal declaration of independence from Great Britain about two months before the Continental Congress took the same action. The blog notes:

One aspect of the American Revolution that this document illustrates clearly is the practical (and often bureaucratic) realities of declaring independence: getting rid of a king means changing a lot of letterhead, or at least removing his name from a lot of documents and ceremonies. It is, after all, technically an act repealing an act. And after the string of impassioned “whereas”-es (“. . . confiscate our Property, and spread Fire, Sword and Desolation . . .”) the bulk of the document is all about changing the wording of oaths for civil servants.

This copy of the document also displays the shift from “colony” to “state” in a moment of transition. It was not until July 18th that the Rhode Island General Assembly voted to abandon the word “colony”, and an early hand has written “State” over each mention of “Colony” in the “General Officers” and “Town Officers” paragraphs of the newly revised oaths...
Details, details,...

Another item is a chart of Narragansett Bay by British cartographer Charles Blaskowitz, published in 1777 and shown above.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Revisiting the “Powder Alarm” in Cambridge, 8 and 15 August

At 2:00 P.M. on the next two Saturdays, 8 and 15 August, I’ll lead a walking tour in Cambridge titled “The Powder Alarm of 1774 and the End of British Government in Massachusetts.” This is just one of the tours and events of the 2009 Cambridge Discovery Days.

I’ve led this tour along Brattle Street before, but this year’s excursion will include:

  • a new site (well, it’s been there for over two hundred years, but I haven’t had anything to say about it before).
  • Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver’s anguished description of confronting the crowd at his house.
  • what that day meant to the previously unpolitical John Vassall and his young sons.
I’ll have to talk fast and walk fast, and the route is about a mile and a half, so please wear comfortable shoes if you come along. Our starting point is the Cambridge Center for Adult Education building at 42 Brattle Street.