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, May 27, 2010

“It Was Shrewdly Suspected”

On Tuesday I quoted the Rev. Jonas Clarke’s 1777 account of events in Lexington on 19 Apr 1775, including this passage:

Between the hours of twelve and one, on the morning of the NINETEENTH OF APRIL, we received intelligence, by express, from the Honorable JOSEPH WARREN, Esq.; at Boston, “that a large body of the king’s troops (supposed to be a brigade of about 12, or 1500) were embarked in boats from Boston, and gone over to land on Lechmere’s-Point (so called) in Cambridge: And that it was shrewdly suspected, that they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores, belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord,” in consequence of General Gage’s unjustifiable seizure of the provincial magazine of powder at Medford, and other colony stores in several other places.
As I noted yesterday, in 1825 local historian Elias Phinney repeated most of the words Clarke had put between quotation marks. He left out a few:
  • “land on”
  • “(so called)”
  • “shrewdly”
The latter two are phrases that stand out of Clarke’s passage because they don’t seem to belong to the night of 18-19 Apr 1775. Would Dr. Warren, racing to send crucial information to his colleagues, have been so scrupulous as to add “(so called)” to the common name of Lechmere’s Point? Would he have patted himself on the back by inserting “shrewdly”?

In the same vein, and even more tellingly, what timeframe could the word “then” refer to in the phrase “then deposited at Concord”? Clarke must have written that word in 1776 or 1777 to remind his audience of the situation back in April 1775. It wouldn’t have been part of any note Warren wrote for Samuel Adams and John Hancock to read while the troops were still marching and the stores were still deposited.

And yet the word “then” appears inside Clarke’s quotation marks, as well as Elias Phinney’s. So at the very least, we know those writers weren’t quoting an original document exactly. And it appears even more likely that Phinney got his words from Clarke, not from any note from Warren now lost.

I also think Clarke used his quotation marks to signal that he was approximating the message from Dr. Warren, not reproducing it word for word. And, since the parson never actually stated that he’d seen a written message from Boston, we have to consider the possibility that he was paraphrasing the news that Warren’s messengers had conveyed out loud.

TOMORROW: Listening to Paul Revere.

(The photograph above showed the Lexington Historical Society’s Hancock-Clarke House, where Paul Revere and William Dawes rendezvoused with Adams and Hancock, and where Clarke wrote his sermon and narrative.)

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