J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Dr. Amos Windship and Nathaniel Tracy’s Four Guineas

Tracking Maj. John Pitcairn’s body means getting a handle on that Christ Church warden who reprimanded sexton Robert Newman in 1788, as I mentioned yesterday.

Dr. Amos Windship (1745-1813) was a man of energy and ambition who repeatedly plunged himself into awkward situations, but never stopped striving. He seems to have been both pushy and pathetic, and after his death Dr. Ephraim Eliot wrote down a lot of juicy stories about him; I’m going to get to only a fraction of those.

Windship was born in Holliston to a middling farm family, and his father died when he was eight. He was raised by relatives and guardians as a farm boy. In 1767, he got into Harvard. At twenty-two he was older than almost all the other undergraduates, and almost certainly poorer, but he’d managed to educate himself enough to qualify.

Alas, Windship left after eight months under shadowy circumstances. According to Eliot, the young man:

was freshman [i.e., designated gofer] to N[athaniel]. T[racy]. of Newburyport who was a monied Lad. Frequently missing money from his desk, suspicions were excited against our friend.

One day in order to ascertain who was the pilferer if possible, he [Tracy] pretended to be obliged to leave Cambridge a few days, his chambermate being also absent. It was customary for freshmen to study in their senior’s rooms, and he left the care of his room to Windship.

Returning after a few hours, he enquired if any one had been there? was assured that no one had, & that he himself had not been out of the room, not even to prayers. On examining his desk, he missed four guineas, and directly charged his freshman with the theft.

It was strenuously denied, but symptoms of guilt appearing in his countenance, he was searched and no money found. But T[racy]. insisted upon his leaving College at once or he would prosecute him, he wisely followed his directions, and ran away without taking up his bond, & did not finish his education there, or at any other seminary.

After a few days the sweeper on removing the bedstead in T[racy]’s room, found a guinea under each Bed post.
Eliot seems to imply that Windship hoped to return to Tracy’s room to retrieve those hidden coins. But if he didn’t expect Tracy back that afternoon, why didn’t he just take the money? Are there circumstances Eliot didn’t record? Was it all a set-up? In any event, Windship was gone from Harvard after July 1768.

He then studied medicine with Dr. Bela Lincoln of Hingham, brother of the later general Benjamin Lincoln, and possibly with other rural physicians. Windship set up a practice at Wellfleet for a few years. He moved to Boston in 1774, when other men were moving out because of the Port Bill, and was stuck there when the war began.

TOMORROW: Dr. Windship’s intelligence for Gen. Washington.

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