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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Sunday, January 31, 2010

Boston 1775 Twitter Feed, 15-29 Jan 2010

  • Ray Soller seeks root of myth that George Washington added "So help me God" to Presidential oath of office: bit.ly/af9qUt #
  • Past Is Present looks at evidence of how Abigail Adams REALLY observed July 4: bit.ly/c8rZSx #
  • Boston middle school students make videogame about Chelsea Creek skirmish early in American Revolution: bit.ly/cr1P4o #
  • Salinger/Zinn mashup at Hilobrow – Holden's History of the US: "Boston seems to have been full of class anger…" bit.ly/dvsedc #
  • Doubts about overly optimistic identifcation of sankofa symbol on 18th-c coffin in NY's African Burying Ground: bit.ly/aYEaAB #
  • The plaque stolen from the site of the belfry on Lexington common in 1775 has been found: bit.ly/a5kOOX #
  • RT @Jurretta: Latest vol. in Papers of Jefferson includes "wall of separation" letter—and that Mammoth Cheese: bit.ly/9DvtOe #
  • @universalhub But Julianne Moore's accent is SUPPOSED to be awful. Beautiful woman + grating sound = comedy. #
  • Luxury British baby walker from 1710: bit.ly/by3VZ7 #
  • RT @bostonathenaeum: From Quincy's History of the Boston Athenæum.... bit.ly/bnnwgt #
  • Who shot the Elisha Jones house in Concord, Mass? bit.ly/9Qeh19 #
  • Boston Looking Backward links to online repositories of historic photos: bit.ly/bBHoMt #
  • RT @TJMonticello: Another Jefferson letter discovered, this one at American Legion Post 24 in Old Town Alexandria: bit.ly/7bYAqj #
  • Flash! RT @bostonhistory: National Archives bans photos by tourists in an effort to protect historic documents tinyurl.com/y87ug5u #
  • RT @TJMonticello: "the more ignorant we become the less value we set on science, & the less inclination we shall have to seek it."—Jefferson #
  • RT @dancohen: .@robotnik wonders which t-shirt designs could be hi story's answer to those "Science!" t-shirts: bit.ly/5LFpXX #
  • RT @dancohen: Rather obvious way for Obama to regain momentum at State of the Union speech on Wed: unveil revolutionary tablet computer. #
  • Percentages in first survey of voters after Massachusetts special Senate elections: bit.ly/67uZGU (PDF) #
  • Studying Hannah Mather Crocker, early American feminist, and her unpublished history of Boston: bit.ly/7xSQQg #
  • RT @TJMonticello: By way of our Jefferson Library, Top 10 Misconceptions abt Tho Jefferson. bit.ly/4zArFF Do you have your own fave? #
  • Just watched 30 ROCK. Didn't hear a single misstatement about John Hancock that I needed to grumble about! #
  • RT @odnb: Whig and wings: Life of the Day bit.ly/8XXWFH // Lived 1751–1833, and I'd never heard of her. #
  • Prediction: The Roberts Supreme Court next recognizes corporations' 2nd Amendment rights. Coke-Pepsi rivalry really heats up. #
  • A criminal gang in Philadelphia, 1750: bit.ly/5DNYbN #
  • RT @universalhub: How Jamaica Plain got its name bit.ly/8EoLVt #
  • RT @Classicbookmags: 'Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston' is available now. bit.ly/7NCVRc #
  • Enjoyed hearing Emily Murphy on privateering to Friends of MMNHP; even more enjoyed hearing her refer to Derbies of Salem by first names. #
  • RT @history_book: Thomas Paine: A Collection of Unknown Writings - Palgrave Macmillan. bit.ly/6aq3Hg #
  • @GardenKeeper Part of John Hancock's political success is that he avoided hard choices. Managed not to be governor during Shays crisis. #
  • For an Election Day in Massachusetts, colonial election cake at Boston Looking Backward: bit.ly/6AJNGc #
  • RT @history_book: Songs of Protest, Songs of Love: Popular Ballads in Eighteenth-Century Britain - by Robin Ganev j.mp/2AOH2 #
  • RT @wceberly: 246 yrs today, Jan 19, 1764, Parliament expels John Wilkes for insulting G eorge III in newspaper bit.ly/8e1s3a #
  • Discussion seminar on Boston in the 1850s to take place on Wednesday evenings, Feb. 24-Mar. 31: bit.ly/6zo9ut #ushistory #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Today in 1706: Benjamin Franklin born. Podcast on his legacy, technology, and democracy: ow.ly/Xnz8 #
  • RT @archives_gov: Jefferson's Secret Message to Congress: bit.ly/6O9ROT // SPOILER: need $$ for trip west. #
  • RT @TheHistoryPress: First written reference to Isaac Newton's apple story [1752] goes online: bit.ly/8UWZGC #
  • For very, very special fans of financier Robert Morris: bit.ly/5VlqiE #
  • Foundation garments of the Georgian Empire // RT @lucyinglis: A peep up the skirts of Georgian London post.ly/J8Cb #
  • Upcoming comic about escaped slaves in American Revolution with martial-arts powers: bit.ly/8xUIDN (Real war not exciting enough?) #

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Ten Hills Farm Book Launch, 3 Feb.

C. S. Manegold’s Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North uses the history of a 600-acre grant of land in modern Medford and Somerville to trace the development of slavery in Massachusetts, from Native American war captives and early African prisoners to the enslaved servants of Isaac Royall, last colonial owner of one part of the farm.

Longfellow National Historic Site and the Friends of the Longfellow House are hosting a book launch for Ten Hills Farm on Wednesday, 3 February, at 6:30 P.M. in the Sherrill Library on the Lesley University/Episcopal Divinity School campus in Cambridge. Manegold will speak and sign books. The event is free; to reserve a space, call 617-876-4491.

Here’s an article about the book from the Somerville Journal. In an opinion essay for the Boston Globe, Manegold wrote:

In the several times I have presented these unpleasant truths in talks at major universities, I have inquired afterwards—who knew this history of slavery in the North? Usually only about three hands go up of 30. And most of these people are professors. Among non-professors the void is even deeper. Students, stumbling on this news, tend to ask with some aggression: “Why didn’t they teach us this?’’
To which I think the answer is: because you weren’t paying attention. I heartily doubt that history textbooks on any level leave out the fact that slavery existed in all thirteen original U.S. states before and during the Revolutionary War, or that slavery endured in some northern and/or Union states well into the nineteenth century, or that some people in the antebellum north benefited economically from slavery and supported its continued existence.

What we’re missing is a mental picture of how slavery functioned in northern households, farms, and ports. Movies and histories have given us a crisp and familiar picture of large cotton plantations in the antebellum south (a picture that in turn leaves out a significant amount of the experience of slavery in the antebellum south, but that’s another story). Because we don’t have details about enslavement in the north firmly in our minds, we don’t feel ready for the quiz.

And that’s the benefit of books like Ten Hills Farm, using specific details to make that history more vivid, emotionally rich, and memorable. And I fully understand the need to market a history book as revealing a completely untold or forgotten story.

But when the book’s website asks, “Who, in this century, knows that slavery persisted in Massachusetts longer than it did in Georgia?” I can’t help noting that Boston 1775 pointed that out in 2006.

Friday, January 29, 2010

“Danger is apprehended from the Stoves”

On 29 Jan 1771, the Old South Meeting House had a formal meeting which discussed, among other things, people’s habits of bringing small stoves to services to keep their feet warm. Because those people were seated in wooden pews in a wooden and brick building, untended stoves presented a fire hazard. The meeting therefore decided:

Whereas danger is apprehended from the Stoves that are frequently left in the meeting house after the publick worship is over,

Voted That the saxton make diligent serch on the Lords day evening and on the evenings after a Lecture, to see if any stoves are left in the house, and that if he find any there he take them to his own house, and itt is expected that the owners of such stoves make reasonable satisfaction to the sexton for his trouble before they take them away.

And the Deacons are desired to cause the foregoing vote to be read on the next Lords day, that the whole congregation may be apprised of it.
So nobody could say they weren’t warned when the sexton asked for a little tip before handing back their stove!

Old South was nearly burned in Boston’s Great Fire of 1872. Here’s a stereograph from the Boston Public Library’s Flickr set showing how the fire consumed neighboring buildings. The Bostonian Society has matched before and after images of Washington Street from other stereocards (scroll down this page). Damrell’s Fire offers a panoramic view of the devastation; Old South’s steeple is on the left.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

“The wrong coffin was delivered”?

The quotations I shared yesterday show how in the first decade of the 1800s people on both sides of the Atlantic understood that Dr. Amos Windship had sent the body of Maj. John Pitcairn from the basement of Christ Church in Boston’s North End to his family in London.

However, some folks in Boston suspected otherwise. Sometime between 1816 and 1827, Dr. Ephraim Eliot wrote the gossipy profile of Windship that I’ve been quoting from, and in it he said:

But the probability was that the bones were those of a Lieutenant of the Major’s battalion, who was much like the Major in size & shape. He died of an inflammation of the brain, this is probable from the circumstance of a large Blister plaster upon the head which was in this coffin, & was removed by a friend of the writer. . . . .

Now, I really do not think that he [Windship] had any idea that the wrong coffin was delivered to him, but am fully of opinion that the sexton imposed upon him, as he was as great a villain as ever went unhung.
Eliot’s manuscript wasn’t published until 1924, when it appeared in volume 25 of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s Transactions/Publications series. I’ve picked out only about half of its stories about Dr. Windship, so folks interested in the man should definitely read the rest. (And there may be still more to find out; here’s an article on his years in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which I don’t think Eliot mentioned.)

Despite remaining unpublished, the stories Eliot told about Windship circulated in Boston in the early nineteenth century. In 1848 Nathanial Dearborn published a version of the tale in Boston Notions:
when the body was taken from the vault, there was a blistering plaster on the top of its head which indicated that it could not be the body of the Major, and a certain gentleman removed the plaster, and the box was delivered into the hands of the Pitcairn family in London: a Lieut. Shea, belonging to the Major’s Regiment was a large portly man, very much the size and shape of Major Pitcairn, and he died of an inflammation of the brain, for which the aforesaid plaster was applied; but the sexton had often showed these remains to gratify the curiosity of individual friendship, as those of the Major; for the sexton was an unprincipled, low fellow.
There was a Lt. Richard Shea in the Marines’ first company in 1775. But he is listed among the British officers killed at Bunker Hill, always as dead rather than wounded or “wounded, since dead.” Gen. William Howe’s orderly book says that his and another officer’s effects were sold on 14 July. Does that match the story of a brain inflammation?

Samuel A. Drake repeated Dearborn’s tale in Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston (1873), and Charles Hudson did the same in an 1880 paper on Pitcairn for the Massachusetts Historical Society. Hudson added the mistaken detail that the Pitcairn family had re-interred the corpse in Westminster Abbey, and that resurfaced in Edwin M. Bacon’s Historic Pilgrimages in New England (1898) and Rambles Around Old Boston (1914). All those accounts lay the blame on the sexton, though later authors characterized him as “perplexed” rather than duplicitous.

And then the Colonial Society published Eliot’s manuscript. It offers lots of other stories about Windship’s complete lack of reliability. Even when the doctor did his best, his plans had a tendency to collapse around him—and he didn’t always do his best.

So these days, writers suggest that Windship himself was primarily responsible for sending the wrong body to England, either by mistake or not caring if the corpse was actually Pitcairn’s. This Pitcairns website calls Windship “a notorious conman and crook,” and this one says he was a “thief, fraudster and attempted bigamist.” (I told you there was more gossip about him.)

I don’t think Dr. Windship deserves all the blame. There was a trail of lost information. The confusion started when a Christ Church sexton—probably Robert Newman—showed visitors the Marine officers’ corpses, not taking much trouble about who was who. Around 1789 Windship apparently fired Newman, so it’s possible that no one left at the church had direct knowledge of which bodies were laid where in 1775.

Then one of Eliot’s friends removed the only detail that distinguished the corpses of two big Marine officers: the “Blister plaster” that had come off one skull. Eliot didn’t specify when his friend took that bandage, or why. If the man did so before Windship and the new sexton went down to move the body, then they would have only a fifty-fifty chance of picking out Pitcairn.

Dearborn’s later account differs somewhat from Eliot’s. It says the “certain gentleman” took the plaster right off the skull, not from inside the coffin, and did so as the body was being packed to go to London. Those details would suggest that the men were definitely not moving Pitcairn’s corpse, and were hiding evidence of that fact. But the story might have improved by the time Dearborn recorded it.

In any event, Pitcairn’s widow, relations, and friends in London never heard anything about the whispers back in Boston. They could feel satisfied at having the remains of the man they loved back with his family. In gratitude, Mrs. Pitcairn gave Dr. Windship her late husband’s watch, and later a small seal engraved with the words “Je blesse en secret.” According to Eliot, Dr. Amos Windship “fancied it to be a motto taken from Virgil.”

(The photo above comes from Sara L. Brooks’s Flickr set under a Creative Commons license.)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

“When the corpse arrived here”

Yesterday I described how Dr. Amos Windship of Boston was asked to ship the remains of Maj. John Pitcairn to his widow and relatives in London, to be reburied with his family.

This webpage on the Pitcairns expresses doubt that any body actually to be interred:

It has been alleged that in 1791 the family sent for John’s body to be reinterred in his brother Dr. William Pitcairn’s vault at St. Bartholomew the Less in London [shown here]. . . . .

However,...there is no entry in the burial register at Bart’s about the alleged re-interment. The only Pitcairns buried there are John’s brother Dr. William (d. 1791), son Dr. David (1749-1809), Betty Dalrymple, John’s widow, who outlived her son by only a month (1724-1809), and David’s widow, Elizabeth Almack (1759-1844). So this looks very much like an old wives’ tale.
The Pitcairns and their circle in the early 1800s would disagree. In the Gentlemen’s Magazine for 1809, Dr. John Coakley Lettsom published a long letter addressing the question:
In answer to your Correspondent’s query, in June, p. 548, respecting the place of interment of the late Major Pitcairn; I am induced to explain the apparent contradiction noticed there, as I believe no other person is enabled to do it. . . .

Dr. Winship of Boston visited London about 20 years ago; and his indisposition occasioned my being consulted, and thereby acquiring his acquaintance. Some time afterwards I was daily in consultation with Dr. David Pitcairn; a circumstance which was casually mentioned to Dr. Winship, who then informed me, that he had with him the key of the vault in which Major Pitcairn had been deposited; that he saw him a little before his departure from Boston, in the vault in which he was laid, in his regimentals, as has been observed; and that he counted at least 30 perforations from balls, which must have entered his body; and that the stone vault, in the cold climate of Boston, had so preserved the corpse as to enable him to recognize his features. At the same time, the Doctor very politely assured me of his services to send the Major to England, were it desirable to the Son.

All this time I was attending a person near London, who had been Churchwarden at Boston at the period that the Major was placed in the vault there, who corroborated Dr. Winship’s narrative.

I communicated these particulars to Dr. David Pitcairn; who informed me, on the subsequent day, that he had consulted his uncle, Dr. William Pitcairn; and that it was their joint wish, to have the Major conveyed to London. They had then an interview with Dr. Winship, who undertook this kind office; and when the corpse arrived here, it was interred in a new vault, built purposely by Dr. William Pitcairn, in the burying-grouud of St. Bartholomew, near the Hospital; since which have been deposited the remains of Dr. William himself, the brother, and Dr. David, the son of Major Pitcairn.
In addition, in The Stranger in America, an 1807 travel book, Charles William Janson described a visit to Christ Church in Boston this way:
The tomb in which were deposited the remains of the gallant Pitcairn, was empty. The sexton informed us, that his brother. Dr. Pitcairn, of London, had obtained permission to remove them; but we saw many skeletons, which, we were told, were the relics of some who held commands under the Major.

On one of them hung the remains of regimentals, and a pair of leather breeches, in high preservation. The pipe-clay, with which the latter had evidently been cleaned, probably for the fatal occasion, appeared fresh and white; but the flesh of the body was entirely decayed. Another presented a fractured bone; and the whole formed a painful picture of mortality.

The effect it produces on the spectator is so much the more powerful, as these bodies are not deposited in coffins, but lie exposed one upon another in the vault, without any farther covering.—Gallant, but unfortunate men!
So in that decade people on both sides of the Atlantic clearly believed that Maj. Pitcairn’s body had been returned to his family in London, and reburied there.

TOMORROW: But was that the right body?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

“Requested my friend to send the Major to England”

In preparation for his second visit to London, Dr. Amos Windship convinced Harvard to give him degrees of Bachelor of Physic and Master of Arts in June 1790. He told the college that back in the 1760s he

being under the direction of his Guardian, was induced to dissolve his connexion therewith at the commencement of his Sophomore year.
In fact, he had entered Harvard at age twenty-two, past the age of majority, and left under a cloud before finishing a year. But Windship had practiced as a physician for over two decades, with service in the army and navy, so the college apparently granted him credit for life experience.

Dr. John Coakley Lettsom of London didn’t know about Windship’s tangled affairs. He introduced the eager American doctor to his colleagues, including Dr. William Pitcairn (1711-1791, shown here), president of the College of Physicians and brother of the late Maj. John Pitcairn of the Marines, and Dr. David Pitcairn (1749-1809), the major’s son and at some point “physician extraordinary to the Prince of Wales.”

The Pitcairns were no doubt interested to hear that Windship had shared a house with an officer of the Marines in the spring of 1775. And that he was a vestryman of the church where Maj. Pitcairn’s body lay. They introduced Windship to the major’s widow, and expressed a wish to have the major’s remains brought back to Britain.

Windship and the Pitcairn family made an arrangement which Dr. Lettsom described in a letter to a friend on 11 July 1791. (Lettsom, by the way, was a Quaker.)
Thou must remember the affair of Bunker’s Hill last war, when Major Pitcairn fell. A friend of mine, lately at my house on a visit from Boston, was a particular acquaintance of the Major’s, and this officer was beloved by all parties. My friend loved him as a father, although he is an American born and bred. The Major received 30 balls through his body.

He was brought into Boston, and buried in the King’s church, in a vault by himself in a close coffin, in his regimentals, and is at this moment in a perfect state. I informed Drs. Pitcairn, the brother and the son, of the circumstance, who requested my friend to send the Major to England, and I hope and believe he accompanies my bust of Washington.
According to Dr. Ephraim Eliot, Windship returned to Boston with another supply of medications bought on credit. Back in the North End, he ordered the Christ Church sexton to take Maj. Pitcairn’s coffin out from under the church, pack it in a box marked “Organ,” and ship it to London. Perhaps alongside a bust of Washington.

TOMORROW: And did it get there?

Monday, January 25, 2010

An African-American Neighborhood in Boston’s North End?

Boston historian Alex Goldfeld has a new book called The North End: A Brief History of Boston’s Oldest Neighborhood, and will be speaking about his findings at a couple of venues in the next two weeks.

On Wednesday, 27 January, at 6:00 p.m., Goldfeld will present an illustrated lecture called “Investigating ‘New Guinea’: Evidence for a Black Community in Boston’s North End in the 1600s” at Historic New England’s Otis House Museum, 141 Cambridge Street, in Boston. Many sources have asserted that a community of free and enslaved African-Americans lived on Copp’s Hill in colonial times, but this wasn’t definitively proven. Goldfeld has unearthed several historical facts that, when taken together, he believes confirm Boston’s colonial New Guinea.

This event is presented by Boston African American National Historic Site and Historic New England, and is free of charge. Seating is on a first-come basis. For more information, call 617-742-5415 or visit the Boston African American National Historic Site website.

On Wednesday, 10 February, at 6:30 p.m., Goldfeld will speak on “In Slavery and Freedom: Boston’s Black Community since 1638“ in the Orientation Room of the Boston Public Library (First Floor, McKim Building). This event, also free, is part of the Boston Public Library Local and Family History Lecture Series.

Goldfeld’s illustrated presentation will start with the African-American community in the North End and then follow those Bostonians to the north slope of Beacon Hill, where African-Americans established a new base to fight for equality. New facts coming to light during this overview include a black church established over 110 years before Boston’s nineteenth-century African Meeting House.

At both events Goldfeld will sign copies of The North End: A Brief History of Boston’s Oldest Neighborhood.

Dr. Amos Windship and the Christ Church Pew

Boston’s Anglican churches were rebuilding themselves in the 1780s. Not physically—they weren’t dismantled in whole or in part like some of the Congregationalist meeting-houses. But the war had made some of their richest members leave town, and they had to redefine their relationship with the king and Church of England.

That created openings for men like Dr. Amos Windship, who joined the congregation of Christ Church (now called Old North) in Boston’s North End. He was a warden starting on 28 May 1787, and a vestryman from 21 Dec 1789, deeply involved in church business.

Since 1777, William Montague had read in the Christ Church pulpit. Dr. Ephraim Eliot called him “a low bred man, of much cunning but mean literary abilities. He was a favorite among the lower class of the people.” Montague visited England in 1789, returning in August 1790 with the musket ball that supposedly killed Dr. Joseph Warren.

Some of the wealthier congregants took advantage of Montague’s absence to go to Halifax in 1790 and invite the Rev. Dr. William Walter (1737-1800) to become their minister. He had been rector at Trinity Church before the war, leaving Boston with the British military in 1776.

When Montague returned, he found himself in the position of assistant. He still preached a lot since Walter had also agreed to be minister at the Episcopal church in Cambridge. But there was soon conflict between the two men and their followers.

In March 1792 Montague asked to resign, citing “those who call themselves the Doctor’s [i.e., Walter’s] friends” and “the unchristian and abusive conduct of some towards me,—their constant endeavor to injure my Character and good name.” He went out to the Episcopal church in Dedham, where he spent a lot of his ministerial time on real-estate deals. Decades later, the congregation there asked him to step down.

During his trip to England, Montague had gotten into some sort of embarrassment. Eliot wrote that the man became

acquainted with some buckish English clergymen, who wishing to put a trick upon their raw Yankee brother, had introduced him into bad company.
And then the editor of Eliot’s manuscript for the Colonial Society of Massachusetts chose to omit a few lines. Just when it was getting good! Whatever happened, Dr. Windship had heard about it, and told other people in Boston.

By that time, Dr. Windship himself had been gotten in trouble with Christ Church. In 1791 he borrowed the Treasurer’s Ledger, and when he gave it back it now assigned pew number 30, in the back of the church, to him. Senior warden James Sherman wrote an angry note in the book:
this May Certifie all Whom it may Concern That the above Pew No. 30 was from the first settlement of Christ Church in Boston devoted wholy to the use of His Excelence the Governor and other Gentlemen and so continued untill August 1791 at which time this Ledger was in the Possession of Doctor Amos Windship who had borrowed it of James Sherman Senr Warden of said Church in order to settle his account with the Revd. Mr. Montague

he the sd. Windship kept it near a month and when returned “Governors Seat” as it stood above and as it was before was erased and “Dr. Amos Windship” as it now stands was wrote in its Stead with the account under it which account was brought from folio 91 which was erased about the middle of the lead, for which I the Subscriber as Warden and for the Honor of said Said was obliged to Lay the Same before the Attny. General and what followed may be seen by turning to a Meeting of the Proprietors of said Church Monday September 26th. 1791.
The two pages in question had apparently been treated with “some form of acid.” Attorney General James Sullivan advised the church to bring Windship to court, but in October the doctor admitted he had altered the ledger, saying it “was an error in judgement (and for which, I am very sorry).”

Dr. Windship started attending the Rev. Dr. John Lathrop’s New Brick Meeting. But he’d been involved with Christ Church long enough to move Maj. John Pitcairn’s body.

TOMORROW: At last! Mucking about with Maj. Pitcairn’s body!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Dr. Amos Windship’s “Description of a Dissection”

What did Dr. Amos Windship do after leaving the Continental Navy? I actually told the next chapter of his saga back here.

That trading voyage to London wasn’t a total loss for the doctor. While he was in London, he made the acquaintance of a leading British physician, Dr. John Coakley Lettsom (1744-1815, shown here courtesy of the Medical Society of London).

Windship returned to America with some medications, which he ended up never paying for (apparently because Bell’s creditors were seizing any money they could). The doctor kept up a correspondence with Lettsom, who offered to make him a corresponding member of the London Medical Society.

Of course that too led to trouble. Dr. Ephraim Eliot later explained:

Doctor Letsom now found that he had gone too fast in regard to our Doctors election, as the requisite qualification was, that the candidate must be a Batchelor or Doctor of Physic, to neither of wch. had he been admitted.

To save himself his friend Letsom advised that he should immediately go thro’ the courses of Lectures, requisite to obtain one of them, & if the expence should be more than he could spare, he gave him authority to draw upon him for it thro’ Mr. Crawley of London to the amount of fifty pounds sterling, after the object should be obtained.

He [Windship] complied. & when a diploma was taken out, he forwarded it to Letsom, together with the description of a dissection which he pretended he had made of a subject in which there were some uncommon appearances & some facts discovered which were not usual.

Doct Letsom supposing the communication to be designed for the society, presented it, & it was printed in their transactions.
Lettsom read the report from Windship at a meeting on 31 Mar 1788. The volume recording that event made its way to America, and Dr. Abijah Cheever (1760-1843) recognized the patient as one he had treated in 1786, and described in a paper for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on 31 Jan 1787. Eliot said of Windship, “probably he had no idea of its being published” in London.

Dr. Windship nevertheless made another voyage to London about 1790, and renewed his acquaintance with Dr. Lettsom. And on that trip Lettsom introduced the American doctor to the family of the late Maj. John Pitcairn.

TOMORROW: Meanwhile, back at Christ Church…

Saturday, January 23, 2010

“Not without fears that they will be embezzled”

Abigail Adams didn’t like her husband John being away in Europe for years at a time, but as long as he was there, she asked him to send her fabrics and other goods that were scarce in wartime Massachusetts. Some of those things she used and most she resold at a profit. Woody Holton’s new biography of Abigail examines her investment activity in detail.

In a letter dated 12 May 1780, John wrote to Abigail that he had sent a chest of goods her way:

I have this day a Letter from Mr. Moylan, that he has delivered to Dr. [Amos] Winship in the Alliance a Chest with the Things you desired and others.
As Dr. Ephraim Eliot wrote in his posthumous profile of Windship, “For years he was employed in the Navy of the United States, was first Surgeon of the Alliance.” As a naval surgeon, Windship traveled somewhat regularly between the U.S. of A. and France, and he was of the genteel class, worthy of trusting with valuable items.

Abigail’s feelings about Dr. Windship were more mixed. She knew him as a squatter in her house in Boston in 1777. But in June 1779, after John had sailed to Europe, the doctor’s wife Desire shared a letter from him, so the Windships also represented a lifeline to her husband.

Then in the fall of 1780 the Alliance arrived in Massachusetts without the goods for Abigail, and without Dr. Windship. On 24 November Abigail wrote to John:
Dr. Winship...neither came in the vessel or sent the things. I am not without fears that they will be embezzled. I have taken every opportunity to let you know of it, but whether you have got my Letters is uncertain.

The cabals on Board the Ship threw the officers into parties, and Winship chose to involve my trunk in them. He certainly sent goods by the same vessel to other persons. General [James] W[arre]n, my unkle and others examined and went on Board, but could find no Trunk for me.
The “cabals” Abigail referred to started with Capt. Pierre Landais of the Alliance becoming irrational and paranoid, as related in this American Heritage article from 1960. During the battle between John Paul Jones’s Bonhomme Richard and H.M.S. Serapis on 23 Sept 1779, Landais kept the Alliance out of the fighting for a long time, and then attacked Jones’s ship.

In the following year, Jones had taken over the Alliance, and Dr. Windship served under him. Then in July 1780 Landais had grabbed the ship back and sailed it to Boston. On the way, his officers and crew had turned against him. In all the tussles over who was in charge of what, and who was loyal to whom, the Adamses’ goods were moved and mislaid.

They ended up reaching Philadelphia early the next year, where Continental Congress delegate James Lovell unpacked the boxes and then sent the goods north in batches, including “two small Packages” entrusted to…Dr. Windship! He visited Abigail in Braintree in the spring of 1781, and she described his explanations this way:
Dr. Winship whom I have seen, says that when Mr. Moylan requested him to take them; he refused them, unless he would repack them, and purchase a hair Trunk for them; he replied that he had no money in his hands, that he had sent the account to you, and you had paid it, and that if he would not take it, he would deliver it to Capt. Jones, which he accordingly did; when Mr. L[ovel]l received them together with a Box for Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry, they were in a smoaking state.

He examined his [goods], found them rotton upon which Mr. L[ovel]l unpacked mine and found them so wet as to oblige him to dry every thing by the fire. The linnings, the diaper all damaged, Mrs. [Mary] Cranchs cambrick mildewed, happily the wollen cloths were only wet, the leather Gloves quite rotton. I could wish you to repeat that article by the first opportunity and order a peice of wollen between every pair as they are the most liable to damage by wet.
This enterprise fits a pattern in Dr. Windship’s affairs: he would build a connection to someone influential, promise to do that person an impressive favor, and then, through some combination of chicanery, overreaching, and bad luck, screw it up entirely.

TOMORROW: Which brings us back to Maj. Pitcairn’s body.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Dr. Amos Windship and the House on Queen Street

When John Adams was in Philadelphia at the Continental Congress, Abigail Adams had to handle the family finances. Among her responsibilities was a house that John had bought on Queen Street in Boston in 1772. Since Abigail and the children were living at the farm in Braintree, that house was sitting empty.

On 6 and 13 Feb 1777, the Continental Journal ran this advertisement:

To be Let, a House in Queen-Street, Boston, next Door to Powers and Willis’s printing-office.—For further Particulars enquire of the printer.
“The printer” was John Gill, formerly partner of Benjamin Edes. Abigail told John that when she placed the ad for the house, she, “supposing any person would chuse to see it, before they engaged it, desired him [Gill] to Let them know where the key was to be found.” (That means the house was locked but the key hidden somewhere convenient—a detail of everyday life.)

Nathaniel Willis, one of the two men printing the Independent Chronicle next door to the Adams house, went to Abigail in Braintree to discuss it. They reached a deal for a rent of “22 per annum.” But Willis had trouble moving in, as Adams described:
Upon his return to Boston and applying to Mr. G–ll for the key he found the famous Dr. [Amos] W[ind]ship had taken it and would not deliver it to him, tho He let him know that he had hired the House of me, and this same Genious had the Confidence to remove his family into the House without either writing to me or applying to me in any shape whatever, and then upon the other insisting upon having the House, he wrote to Let me know that he had moved in and would pay his Rent Quarterly, and that he supposed Mr. G–ll had the Letting of the House, which was absolutely falce for Mr. G–ll never gave him any leave, and had no right to.

In Reply to him I let him know that I had Let the House to Mr. W——s, that I could do nothing about it, that I had nothing more to do with it than with any other House in Town. He and Mr. W——s must settle the matter between themselves.

In this Time Mr. W——s had taken advice upon it and was determind to prosecute him; tis near a Month since they have been disputing the Matter, and the Dr. finding Mr. W——s determind has promised if he will not put him to farther Trouble to remove in about a week.
Given that history, one might think that John Adams would have been upset to find Dr. Amos Windship as the surgeon on the ship taking him to Europe in 1779. But Windship, with his knack for social climbing, found the way to win over the most important man aboard: he told Adams that other people were secretly badmouthing him.

On 11 May, Adams wrote in his diary:
Dr. W. told me of [navy captain Samuel] Tuckers rough tarry Speech, about me at the Navy Board.—I did not say much to him at first, but damn and buger my Eyes, I found him after a while as sociable as any Marblehead man.—Another [anecdote] of [captain Elisha] Hinman, that he had been treated with great Politeness by me, and his first Attention must be to see Mrs. Adams, and deliver her Letters.
Yes, Abigail Adams would be so happy to encounter Dr. Windship again.

TOMORROW: Dr. Windship and Abigail Adams’s trunk.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dr. Windship Assures Gen. Washington

Yesterday we left Dr. Amos Windship stuck in Boston at the start of the Revolutionary War. According to Dr. Ephraim Eliot, recording stories he’d heard from and about the man:

In the disguise of a sailor, with his head shaved & covered with a milled cap, he escaped from the town
That was in July 1775, and Windship, with a drive for social climbing, appears to have gone right to the top. On 21 July, Gen. George Washington reported to John Hancock, chairman of the Continental Congress:
I have also received a more authentick account of the loss of the enemy in the late battle [Bunker Hill], than any yet received. Doctor Winship, who lodged in the same house with an Officer of the Marines, assures me they had exactly one thousand and forty-three killed and wounded, of whom three hundred fell on the field, or died within a few hours; many of the wounded are since dead.
That was a fairly accurate count; Windship might even have helped in treating the British wounded, as some Whiggish physicians did from a sense of professional responsibility.

Washington’s report is interesting in a couple of other ways. It suggests that Windship had heard the memorable stories of Maj. John Pitcairn’s death from the Marine officer. And in an ironic twist nobody could have foreseen, Washington’s headquarters, where the doctor probably went to make his report (shown above, courtesy of the National Park Service), would after the war become the home of Nathaniel Tracy, who had gotten Windship booted out of Harvard.

During the siege, according to Eliot, Windship
got employment as a surgeon in the military hospital at Cambridge, where he continued several months, was every intimate with the Director general Doctor [Benjamin] Church, who being charged with holding a treasonable correspondence with the Enemy, our Doctor was suspected of having concern with him, but the suspicion soon died away, and he was never called to an account.
No evidence has ever surfaced that Windship was involved in Dr. Church’s espionage. This was probably just an example of his knack for being in the wrong place at the wrong time just when he thought he was doing well.

TOMORROW: I know this series is supposed to be about Maj. Pitcairn’s body, but I have to share an anecdote about Dr. Windship and Abigail Adams.

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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

“Used to shew a set of human bones in a very large coffin”

Boston 1775 has already discussed when Maj. John Pitcairn of the British Marines was shot (in the middle of the Battle of Bunker Hill, not at the climax), who shot him (probably no one knows, but Pitcairn’s notoriety after Lexington meant many people wanted to claim the shot), and where he died (in a house in the North End, but it’s not clear which one).

Now this CSI: Colonial Boston series offers a chance to address the next important question: What happened to the major’s body?

All sources agree that after the battle Pitcairn and some other British military officers were placed in a crypt under Christ Church in Boston’s North End. Within fifteen years—probably within ten—those bodies had become a public attraction.

This information comes to us through Dr. Ephraim Eliot (1761-1827), son of the Rev. Andrew Eliot and brother of the Rev. John Eliot. The doctor left a number of gossipy manuscript reminiscences of Boston written in the early 1800s. He wrote, probably from personal experience:

The Major was a very large & stout man, was well known to the inhabitants of Boston & notwithstand[ing] the errand he was sent here upon, such was his gentlemanlike deportment, he had their respect.

The sexton of the church taking advantage of this disposition in the people used to shew a set of human bones in a very large coffin as those of the Major.
But Pitcairn wasn’t the only British officer in that cellar. Eliot said that it also contained the remains of
a Lieutenant of the Major’s battalion, who was much like the Major in size & shape. He died of an inflammation of the brain, this is probable from the circumstance of a large Blister plaster upon the head which was in this coffin, & was removed by a friend of the writer.
Who was that sexton, who was undoubtedly pocketing tips from people who viewed these bodies? Eliot called him “as great a villain as ever went unhung,” but didn’t record his name.

The evidence points to that man being Robert Newman, the same Christ Church sexton who on 18 Apr 1775 had helped hang lanterns in the church steeple for Paul Revere. In December 1788 Newman received a severe reprimand, a few months before being replaced, from a church warden who determined to send Pitcairn’s remains to Britain.

TOMORROW: The church warden and the skeleton.

(The photo above comes from Sara L. Brooks’s Flickr set under a Creative Commons license. It shows the Maj. Pitcairn’s name engraved on a sign in the cellar of Old North Church today. His resting-place is still attracting visitors. But is he still there?)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Boston 1775 Twitter Feed, 14-16 Jan 2010

  • Sarah Palin, stalling for time, says she admires "diversity" of Founding Fathers. Something else she doesn't know: meaning of "diversity." #
  • RT @lucyinglis: Most hanged in 18thC London? Butchers (handy weapons?), weavers (poverty?), and cobblers (no bloody idea). #georgianlondon #
  • RT @kwnewton: Satan sets Pat Robertson straight in a Letter to the Editor of MINN STAR-TRIB tinyurl.com/ybhdl9e #
  • RT @LooknBackward: The Boston Newsboys' Republic in 1909 bit.ly/5UfyN1 #
  • RT @2palaver: Somerville MA slave history highlighted in new book "Ten Hills Farm" by C S Manegold- bit.ly/73pObr #
  • Nathaniel Philbrick to write account of Bunker Hill battle: bit.ly/4HMlUH #
  • RT @rarenewspapers: Insight on newspaper circulations in the 1700s -- bit.ly/4nb2Rv // grain of salt #
  • RT @rarenewspapers: Time lag in news w/analysis of Declaration of Independence printing in 1776 -- blog.rarenewspapers.com/?p=1650 #
  • COMMON-PLACE: trying to parse inside jokes in an 1802 Newport caricature - bit.ly/7u0rYs #
  • COMMON-PLACE: how a scholar approaches a history of emotion in 1700s Pennsylvania - bit.ly/6V9x4J #
  • COMMON-PLACE: Pvt. Joseph P. Martin and a soldier's hunt for food: bit.ly/525ZPj With bonus Israel Putnam! #
  • RT @history_book: Ireland and Medicine in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries (The History of Medicine in Context). j.mp/77qmlT #
  • COMMON-PLACE: overlooked list of books offers glimpse of George Wythe's and Thos. Jefferson's libraries: bit.ly/5jcmBe #
  • RT @TJMonticello: Special Architecture Tour of Monticello, now thru end of Feb. (including a trip to the Dome Room) bit.ly/4yazUy #

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Boston History Comics Creators in Cambridge, 21 Jan.

The Boston Comics Roundtable recently published an anthology of short comics called Inbound 4: A Comic Book History of Boston. Some of the writers and artists behind this volume will be at Porter Square Books on Thursday, 21 January, at 7:00 P.M.

Inbound 4 is a 144-page paperback with 35 stories that discuss events from the first British settlements in Massachusetts through the search for Whitey Bulger. A few pieces have eighteenth-century or Revolutionary import:

We also get a couple of glimpses of the iconic Paul Revere, and African-American soldier Barzillai Lew shows up in one panel, but his name is spelled phonetically as “Barzilia.”

The art and storytelling styles vary greatly, and some of my favorite pieces are well outside the Revolutionary period: Susan Chasen and Dan Mazur’s story of the last meeting of the Booth brothers in April 1865, Troy Minkowsky and Samuel Ferri’s depiction of the Aqua Teen Hunger Force guerilla-marketers as the Katzenjammer Kids, and Jaime Garmendia and Dirk I. Tiede’s history of the Molasses Flood, which told me stuff I didn’t know.

I’m not sure which contributors will be at the talk and signing at Porter Square, but I understand David Marshall will be there to speak about his efforts to portray Dee Brown’s detention at gunpoint in Wellesley with historical accuracy. Because one of the challenges of depicting history in comics form is portraying details that prose histories don’t have to deal with.

Copies of Inbound 4 are available through the Boston Comics Roundtable and select local retailers; I got mine at the Million Year Picnic in Harvard Square, and of course it will be sold at Porter Square Books.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

“Silver Bowl, Belonged to Joshua Loring”

Yesterday I quoted a press release from the Sotheby’s auction house about a big silver punch bowl up for bids later this month. Sotheby’s suggests that the bowl was hidden in a well on Commodore Joshua Loring’s estate in Jamaica Plain (shown above, courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection), then retrieved at the end of the war.

What’s the evidence for that account? Sotheby’s catalogue offers more detail:

This bowl is accompanied by two 19th century letters. One letter dated 29 November 1873 states: “The chased silver bowl, valued at nineteen guineas, left to me as an heirloom by my father in 1852, I hereby give to my brother Adml. Loring C.B. instead of leaving it to him in my will. - Henry N. Loring.”

The second letter states: “Silver Bowl, Belonged to Joshua Loring & was buried in a well during the War of American Independence (the Loring family was then living in America) & brought up when it was over.”
So we have no contemporaneous evidence for how the Loring family came into or preserved the bowl—only tradition written down decades and generations later. And the auction house has read some assumptions into the documents it has.

Sotheby’s story of the bowl states two details that the second letter doesn’t corroborate:
  • that Commodore Joshua Loring owned the bowl; the note simply says “Joshua Loring,” and two men of that name—father and son—lived through the Revolution.
  • that the bowl was hidden in Jamaica Plain; the note just mentions a well in America.
And the big question remains: How could the younger Joshua Loring have retrieved the punch bowl from Massachusetts when the war was over, as Sotheby’s suggests? He was in British-occupied New York City, was terribly unpopular with Americans, had no leverage anymore, and had a strict deadline for getting the hell out. The Jamaica Plain property had been legally confiscated and was in possession of another family.

How could Loring have even begun the search? “My dear Mr. Greenough: You don’t know me, and you shouldn’t believe what you’ve heard about me. I used to live in your house before your government took it from my father—but no hard feelings! By the way, have you found anything heavy in your well? Please don’t bother to clean it off. Just ship it to me in New York, and if you could do that so it arrives before the 25th of November, I’d be especially grateful. Your humble servant, &c., &c.”

I think it might be worthwhile to go back and ask how the Lorings came to possess an expensive silver bowl made in the early 1700s by a New York silversmith who catered to that colony’s Dutch elite. Sotheby’s even suggests that it might have been made for
Col. Abraham de Peyster, Mayor of New York (1692-94). De Peyster’s will, probated in 1734, lists “1 large silver Punch Bowl”, whose recorded weight with a serving spoon approximates that of the offered bowl.
So how did a New York punch bowl come to the Lorings?

One possibility is indeed that Joshua Loring, Sr., acquired it before the Revolution. He was in charge of a small fleet on Lake Champlain and Lake Ontario during the Seven Years’ War, which is how he got the title “Commodore.” So he had dealings in upstate New York, where he might have met Dutch aristocrats, and connections to merchants in the city.

Second, Joshua Loring, Jr., spent more than five years in New York during the Revolution as commissary of prisoners. He was a powerful figure in the British military administration. He had a habit, Americans grumbled, of lining his own pockets. (Some say supplying the military prisons in New York was an impossible job for anyone.) Perhaps Commissary Loring took possession of the bowl at that time, and the family preferred to remember it as older patrimony that had been hidden from the rebels.

A third theory: Joshua’s wife Elizabeth was from the Lloyd family of Long Island. Members of that family dealt with Abraham De Peyster and other members of the Dutch business elite. We even have records of the New York Lloyds ordering silver in mid-century, so they were that sort of people.

Perhaps the silver punchbowl was hidden in a well in New York—either the city or Long Island—during the 1775-76 period when Patriots dominated the state. Then the Lloyds retrieved the bowl sometime after the British military’s return in late 1776. It came to Elizabeth (Lloyd) Loring as an inheritance or gift. She and her husband used it to entertain during the war, then brought it with them to England in 1783.

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?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Boston 1775 Twitter Feed, 11-13 Jan 2010

Through Twitter and my Google Reader blog subscriptions I see a lot of interesting links which don’t leave me with much to say. I decided I’ll periodically aggregate them in a posting like this in case other folks might find them interesting, too.

  • RT @KevinLevin: Check out Juan Cole's response to Pat Robertson's idiotic outburst about Haiti #Haiti http://bit.ly/5DoDoU #
  • Birthday of Massachusetts Revolutionary with the best political instincts: John Hancock. Active late 1760s to death, never lost a race. #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Today in 1773: 1st public museum in America is established. The Charleston Museum: ow.ly/VFM9 #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: John Hancock purchased this baby rattle: ow.ly/VGdh // Sad story behind rattle: bit.ly/71sCI1 #
  • RT @Thos_Jefferson: "Thomas Jefferson Needs a Quill" courtesy of Sesame Street. ow.ly/VLIb #
  • Thomas Paine's COMMON SENSE was published one day earlier than many books say: bit.ly/7kS3bw #
  • RT @teachinghistory: Nominate for Gilder Lehrman's History Teacher of the Year until 3/15. bit.ly/8LD76p #
  • RT @HistoricNE: It's Historic New England's centennial! Get involved in the launch of our second century at tiny.cc/fsQot #
  • Popular baby names in Boston in 1710—yes, a lot of them were named John and Mary: bit.ly/5QMUzO #
  • Not very good, and not very entertaining, either. // RT @RagLinen: Anyone ever see this Rev War movie ? Any good? tinyurl.com/yjef7ug #
  • RT @RagLinen: An Unlikely Spy Embedded as a Newspaper Printer During the American Revolutionary War: tinyurl.com/yjqps3x #
  • Redcoat soldier stabs another, stabs his wife, stabs himself—what's the story?! From Don Hagist: bit.ly/6chl1F #

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

“Shot with an Iron Gun Rammer”

CSI: Colonial Boston now takes a field trip to New Jersey, soon after the Battle of Trenton, for a case study of a British soldier’s wound. This passage comes from an anonymous manuscript titled A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton in 1776-1777, published by the Princeton University library in 1906.

The writer seems to have used the verb “lap” to mean “to fold around something.”

On the first day of January 1777 some Regular [i.e., British] Soldiers came along the main road from over Stoney brook

One of them was very Strangely Wounded for he was shot with an Iron Gun rammer in Stead of a bullet, Which entered under his chin and came out again at his nose near his eyes one end of it, and the other end lapt round his thigh (as it is said)

Whether he was a Horsman or not I Know not, but it is very likely he was, and rideing up to the Enemy before he done charging, and perce[iv]ing that he was like to be shot with the Rammer, lean’d back on his horse to avoid it, and so received his wound in that manner, as to the Other end laping round his thigh, one end being Stopt, and the other end being heavy would continue its force until it met with something to stop it, and happened to meet with his thigh

He Languished a few days and Dyed.
And now back to your breakfasts.

(Click on the thumbnail above for a video of how one is supposed to stow a rammer, uninterrupted, courtesy of Fort McHenry.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Difficulties of Medical Training in 1796

I’ve already quoted Dr. Edward Warren (1804-1878) on what his father and professor, Dr. John Warren, thought about digging up bodies to for anatomy study: socially awkward but medically necessary.

Here’s a recollection from Edward’s older brother, Dr. John Collins Warren (1778-1856, shown here courtesy of Countway Medical Library), about studying medicine at Harvard under his father at the end of the eighteenth century:

No occurrences in the course of my life have given me more trouble and anxiety than the procuring of subjects for dissection. My father began to dissect early in the Revolutionary War. He obtained the office of army surgeon when the Revolution broke out, and was able to procure a multitude of subjects from having access to the bodies of soldiers who had died without relations. In consequence of these opportunities he began to lecture on anatomy in 1781.

After the peace there was great difficulty in getting subjects. Bodies of executed criminals were occasionally procured, and sometimes a pauper subject was obtained, averaging not more than two a year. While in college I began the business of getting subjects in 1796.

Having understood that a man without relations was to be buried in the North Burying-Ground, I formed a party, of which Dr. William Ingalls was one. He was a physician of Boston at that time. We reached the spot at ten o’clock at night. The night was rather light. We soon found the grave; but, after proceeding a while, were led to suspect a mistake, and went to another place. Here we found our selves wrong, and returned to the first; and, having set watches, we proceeded rapidly, uncovering the coffin by breaking it open.

We took out the body of a stout young man, put it in a bag, and carried it to the burying-ground wall. As we were going to lift it over and put it in the chaise, we saw a man walking along the edge of the wall outside, smoking. A part of us disappeared.

One of the company met him, stopped him from coming on, and entered into conversation with him. This individual of our party affected to be intoxicated, while he contrived to get into a quarrel with the stranger. After he had succeeded in doing this, another of the party, approaching, pretended to side with the stranger, and ordered the other to go about his business. Taking the stranger by the arm, he led him off in a different direction to some distance; then left him, and returned to the burying-ground.

The body was then quickly taken up, and packed in the chaise between two of the parties, who drove off to Cambridge with their booty. Two of us staid to fill the grave: but my companion, being alarmed, soon left the burying-ground; and I, knowing the importance of covering up the grave and effacing the vestiges of our labor, remained, with no very agreeable sensations, to finish the work.
I love the image of Warren, age eighteen, hurrying to refill this anonymous man’s grave while fuming at his so-called friends who’d left him to do all that work himself. But he’d no doubt heard his father speak of the necessity of filling in the hole so no one can tell you’ve taken the body.
However, I got off without further interruption; drove, with the tools, to Cambridge; and arrived there just before daylight.

When my father came up in the morning to lecture, and found that I had been engaged in this scrape, he was very much alarmed, but when the body was uncovered, and he saw what a fine, healthy subject it was, he seemed to be as much pleased as I ever saw him. This body lasted the course through.
Harvard Medical School’s Anatomical Gift Program is the legal and worthy replacement for the Warrens’ early efforts.

TOMORROW: CSI: Colonial Boston takes an excursion to New Jersey.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Warren Family and Other People’s Bodies

Dr. John Warren (shown here, courtesy of the Countway Medical Library) was the younger brother of the much-disinterred Dr. Joseph Warren. He became a Continental Army surgeon after his brother’s death.

Dr. John Warren didn’t hold with sentimental ideas about preserving the human body. At Harvard he was part of the club of Spunkers, introduced here, who sought corpses for research and practice. And apparently he had a strong opinion about the incident, described yesterday, when soldiers from Woodbridge’s regiment noticed that one of their recently deceased comrades had been dug up.

This is from Dr. Edward Warren’s biography of his father John (which probably dated the event based on Dr. James Thacher’s published journal):

In November, 1775, the body of a soldier was taken from a grave, as was supposed for the purposes of dissection. Much general indignation was excited, and the practice was forbidden for the future, with stern reprobation by the Commander-in-chief. It was done with so little decency and caution, that the empty coffin was left exposed.

It need scarcely be said that it could not have been the work of any of our friends of the Sp——r Club. It must have been the act of a reckless agent or a novice. In cases of this kind, where the necessities of society are in conflict with the law, and with public opinion, the crime consists, like theft among the Spartan boys, not in the deed, but in permitting its discovery.
In other words, Dr. John Warren felt that the real problem was how the grave-robbers had let people see they’d taken the body!

Dr. John Warren himself wrote of the challenges of anatomical training before the war:
In some of the more populous towns students were sometimes indulged with the privilege of examining the bodies of those who had died from any extraordinary diseases, and in a few instances associations were formed for pursuing the business of dissection, where opportunities offered from casualties, or from public executions, for doing it in decency and safety.

But the Revolution was the era to which the first medical school east of Philadelphia owes its birth. The military hospitals of the United States furnished a large field for observation and experiment in the various branches of the healing art, as well as an opportunity for anatomical investigations.
Like many other wars, the Revolutionary War was a boon to medical training. It inured people to death, provided a larger than usual number of anonymous corpses to work on, and gave regimental surgeons and their assistants lots of practice.

Dr. John Warren went on to be a leader in educating and training American doctors. In 1783, he offered a series of anatomical lectures at the house that had belonged to radical leader William Molineux; the tickets for those lectures were engraved by Paul Revere. Later this Warren helped to found the Harvard Medical School.

TOMORROW: Peacetime brings a shortage of corpses. What could Dr. Warren’s son find to practice on?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

“Taken from His Grave by Persons Unknown”

From Gen. George Washington’s general orders for 1 Sept 1775:

Complaint has been made to the General; that the body of a Soldier of Col [Benjamin Ruggles] Woodbridges Regiment has been taken from his grave by persons unknown;

The General and the Friends of the deceased, are desirous of all the Information that can be given, of the perpetrators of this abominable Crime, that he, or they, may be made an example, to deter others from committing so wicked and shameful an offence—
The corpse was almost certainly removed for anatomical study. Ironically, Col. Woodbridge himself practiced some medicine at his home in South Hadley; in rural towns, the local gentleman of learning might be the best one had for medicine, the law, and science. Here’s the house in South Hadley Woodbridge built in 1788 on Historic Buildings of Massachusetts, and the picture of him above comes courtesy of Wikipedia.

Regimental surgeon James Thacher wrote of this incident:
I am sorry to have occasion to notice in my journal the following occurrence. The body of a soldier has been taken from the grave, for the purpose, probably, of dissection, and the empty coffin left exposed.

This affair occasions considerable excitement among our people; both resentment and grief are manifested; as it seems to impress the idea that a soldier’s body is held in no estimation after death. Such a practice, if countenanced, might be attended with serious consequences, as it respects our soldiers.

Much inquiry has been made, but without success, for the discovery of the persons concerned; and the practice in future is strictly prohibited by the commander in chief.
Curiously, when Thacher prepared his journal for publication decades after the war, he dated this paragraph in November 1775, at least two months after Washington’s order.

TOMORROW: The Warren family on this same incident.