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 15, 2010

The Mystery of the Loring Bowl

I’m delaying the return of CSI: Colonial Boston to discuss this big silver punch bowl from the early eighteenth century.

A story in the Boston Globe alerted me to Sotheby’s plan to auction the bowl on 22 January. It was made by Cornelius Kierstede of New York, its style dates it to 1700-1710, and the estimated price is $400,000-$800,000. That’s an unusually wide range because, the Globe says, there has never been any piece of American silver this big on the auction market.

Sotheby’s press release (PDF) says:

The bowl has descended in the family of Commodore Joshua Loring, whose stately home in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, the Loring-Greenough House, has been preserved as an historic site.

In March of 1776, Loring and his wife evacuated to London, escaping the Revolutionary War. Loring’s son, Joshua Jr., remained in America and continued to fight with the British army. Soon after, however, Loring Jr. fled to London, taking with him few possessions.

Among the pieces taken was the present lot, which had been buried in the family well for safekeeping during the war. Once Loring Jr. was reunited with his family in London, the monumental bowl was stored in a bank vault, where it has remained unused for over 230 years.
That story doesn’t make sense to me.

Both Joshua Lorings and their families indeed moved into Boston for the siege. According to Stark’s Loyalists of Massachusetts, the commodore left Jamaica Plain on the morning of 19 Apr 1775. As for his wife, son, daughter-in-law Elizabeth, and other relatives, they may have gone behind British lines before or afterward.

In the summer of 1775 the younger man jockeyed for appointment as (ironically) auction manager and royal sheriff of Suffolk County. The latter appointment put him in charge of the Boston jail and the wounded prisoners from the Battle of Bunker Hill, many of whom died. By the end of the siege, Joshua, Jr., had a very poor reputation among Massachusetts Patriots.

All the Lorings evacuated to Halifax with the British military. The older generation then went to England while Joshua and Elizabeth Loring accompanied the Crown forces to New York in late 1776: Joshua as commissary of prisoners and Elizabeth as Gen. William Howe’s mistress.

Joshua Loring, Jr., managed supplies for the British military prisons in New York through the end of the war. Americans accused him of starving prisoners of war to enrich himself; his reputation sunk even lower. In 1783 Loring settled in England, and six years later he died. His father had died in 1781.

I’ve heard suggestions that the Lorings hid possessions, including toys, in their Jamaica Plain house, expecting to return after the political turmoil died down. But that didn’t work: Massachusetts confiscated the entire property in 1778 and sold it to a new owner. This is the first statement I’ve found that the family actually got anything out—and it’s a big, extremely valuable object.

TOMORROW: What’s the evidence for the well story?

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