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.

Follow by Email


Sunday, August 15, 2010

Weekly Robins

On 13 Mar 1776, things were looking good for Gen. George Washington. Eight days before, the American army had placed heavy cannon on Dorchester heights. The British military had set out to attack that position, but a sudden storm broke that effort almost before it began. There were clear signs that the British were planning to evacuate Boston at last.

At Washington’s Cambridge headquarters, steward Timothy Austin purchased something new for the general’s table.

13 March: “Paid for Six Robbins” … 8d.
These were the first robins that Austin recorded buying since he began managing the general’s household in late July 1775. Perhaps they had been included in the “Fowls” he bought regularly, but I suspect robins were a springtime delicacy.
16 March: “Paid for 1 Dozn. Robbins”… 1s.6d.
Among the other poultry that Washington, his military family, and guests had consumed in the preceding months were chickens, pigeons (some “Fatted”), partridges, “Turkies,” ducks and wood ducks, and geese, both wild and ordinary.
22 March: “for 1 Doz Robbins” … 1s.4d.
The robins appear to have been a hit, given how many more times Austin bought them in Washington’s final three weeks at Cambridge.

By April the general was packing to leave for New York, where he expected the British military to land. Much of the army was already on its way. He had bought a tent and other equipment for a summertime campaign, and established a guard unit to look after his command materials. Washington would leave Cambridge on 4 April, but before then there might well have been a celebratory dinner or two.
1 April: “Paid for 2 Dozn. Robbins” … 2s.8d.


Pvt.Willy said...

Sounds tasty!I have read accounts of people referring to small native game birds as "lark".There are also many "lark spits" found in early New England kitchens of the period.
Many folks have suggested that "lark" was indeed the common robin.I don't see why not.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

What is left of a robin after you gut it and clean the feathers? I imagine you must have to trap them in nets or snares — there would be nothing left if you shot them!

J. L. Bell said...

Indeed, probably not much meat on a robin skeleton, but that’s why you bought a dozen at a time!

Pvt.Willy said...

Perhaps they were a precursor to the now popular "buffalo wings" ? I used to eat local doves,quite small drumsticks,but the breast meat is very adequate if you have 2 or so per helping.Taste like chicken...........

Judy said...

see http://www.adrianmorrisantiques.com/blog/2009/01/bird-textile/ for a kerchief illustrating how to catch birds. I have a reproduction of the kerchief that I got many years ago at Williamsburg