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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Friday, January 22, 2010

Dr. Amos Windship and the House on Queen Street

When John Adams was in Philadelphia at the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams had to handle the family finances. Among her responsibilities was a house that John had bought on Queen Street in Boston in 1772. Since Abigail and the children were living at the farm in Braintree, that house was sitting empty.

On 6 and 13 Feb 1777, the Continental Journal ran this advertisement:

To be Let, a House in Queen-Street, Boston, next Door to Powers and Willis’s printing-office.—For further Particulars enquire of the printer.
“The printer” was John Gill, formerly partner of Benjamin Edes. Abigail told John that when she placed the ad for the house, she, “supposing any person would chuse to see it, before they engaged it, desired him [Gill] to Let them know where the key was to be found.” (That means the house was locked but the key hidden somewhere convenient—a detail of everyday life.)

Nathaniel Willis, one of the two men printing the Independent Chronicle next door to the Adams house, went to Abigail in Braintree to discuss it. They reached a deal for a rent of “22 per annum.” But Willis had trouble moving in, as Adams described:
Upon his return to Boston and applying to Mr. G–ll for the key he found the famous Dr. [Amos] W[ind]ship had taken it and would not deliver it to him, tho He let him know that he had hired the House of me, and this same Genious had the Confidence to remove his family into the House without either writing to me or applying to me in any shape whatever, and then upon the other insisting upon having the House, he wrote to Let me know that he had moved in and would pay his Rent Quarterly, and that he supposed Mr. G–ll had the Letting of the House, which was absolutely falce for Mr. G–ll never gave him any leave, and had no right to.

In Reply to him I let him know that I had Let the House to Mr. W——s, that I could do nothing about it, that I had nothing more to do with it than with any other House in Town. He and Mr. W——s must settle the matter between themselves.

In this Time Mr. W——s had taken advice upon it and was determind to prosecute him; tis near a Month since they have been disputing the Matter, and the Dr. finding Mr. W——s determind has promised if he will not put him to farther Trouble to remove in about a week.
Given that history, one might think that John Adams would have been upset to find Dr. Amos Windship as the surgeon on the ship taking him to Europe in 1779. But Windship, with his knack for social climbing, found the way to win over the most important man aboard: he told Adams that other people were secretly badmouthing him.

On 11 May, Adams wrote in his diary:
Dr. W. told me of [navy captain Samuel] Tuckers rough tarry Speech, about me at the Navy Board.—I did not say much to him at first, but damn and buger my Eyes, I found him after a while as sociable as any Marblehead man.—Another [anecdote] of [captain Elisha] Hinman, that he had been treated with great Politeness by me, and his first Attention must be to see Mrs. Adams, and deliver her Letters.
Yes, Abigail Adams would be so happy to encounter Dr. Windship again.

TOMORROW: Dr. Windship and Abigail Adams’s trunk.


Rob Velella said...

Now you've got my attention. Nathaniel Willis was, of course, grandfather of Nathaniel Parker Willis (one of my guys). My blog focused on him the other day.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m afraid this is all I’ve got about Nathaniel Willis, and he’s basically a walk-on, caught in the middle. But I’ll keep my eyes open for his name!