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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Saturday, August 07, 2010

“A Private and Precipitate Journey from Concord to Cambridge”

This afternoon at 3:30 I’m leading my new “Ladies of Tory Row” walking tour of Brattle Street in Cambridge, starting at the Tory Row historical marker at the Mason Street corner.

One of the sources I’m drawing on for my anecdotes is this apology signed by Dr. Joseph Lee of Concord on 19 Sept 1774. It refers to what he had done earlier that month at the start of the Powder Alarm—he’d warned a Loyalist friend in Cambridge that Middlesex militiamen were on their way.

Whereas I, Joseph Lee of Concord, physician, on the evening of the first ultimo [i.e., of this month], did rashly and without consideration make a private and precipitate journey from Concord to Cambridge, to inform Judge Lee, that the country was assembling to come down, (and on no other business,) that he and others concerned might prepare themselves for the event, and with an avowed intention to deceive the people;

by which the parties assembling might have been exposed to the brutal rage of the soldiery, who had timely notice to have waylaid the roads, and fired on them while unarmed and defenceless in the dark: [Of course, that never happened.]

by which imprudent conduct I might have prevented the salutary designs of my countrymen, whose innocent intentions were only to request certain gentlemen, sworn into office on the new system of government, to resign their offices, in order to prevent the operation of that (so much detested) act of the British Parliament for regulating the government of the Massachusetts Bay:

by all which I have justly drawn upon me the displeasure of my countrymen:

When I coolly reflect on my own imprudence, it fills my mind with the deepest anxiety.

I deprecate the resentment of my injured country, humbly confess my errors, and implore the forgiveness of a generous and free people, solemnly declaring that for the future I will never convey any intelligence to any of the court party, neither directly nor indirectly, by which the designs of the people may be frustrated, in opposing the barbarous policy of an arbitrary, wicked, and corrupt administration.
Confusing matters a little is that both the judge in Cambridge and the physician in Concord were named Joseph Lee. I’m going to look at those events through the eyes of Judge Joseph Lee’s wife, Rebecca. The couple lived in the house shown above, now the headquarters of the Cambridge Historical Society.

2 comments:

Charles Bahne said...

Was there any family relationship between the two Joseph Lees?

J. L. Bell said...

Not that I’ve found. Judge Joseph Lee of Cambridge (1711-1802) was the son of Thomas Lee (1673-1766), who was said to be the son of an immigrant who also spelled his name Leigh.

Dr. Joseph Lee of Concord (1718-1797) traced his ancestry to immigrant John Lee or Leigh of Ipswich, through Joseph Lee (1643-1716) and Joseph Lee (1680-1736).