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, April 30, 2010

Too Much Paine?

Ken Burchell recently posted the text of a review of Thomas Paine: A Collection of Unknown Writings, compiled by Hazel Burgess, that he wrote for the Journal of Radical History. It starts with some standard bibliographical head-shaking:

the collection actually contains some newly published Paine material of genuine scholarly and historical interest. There are, however, two problems. First, a great part of the collection is either already in print, easily obtained. And more problematically, the very small quantity of new Paine material is sandwiched in between a much greater quantity of work that is not of Paine’s authorship.
But soon the review gets into juicier topics. Rumors that Paine had secret illegitimate children! That his skull had been discovered in Australia! That he secretly owned slaves! Alas for the cause of gossip, Burchell will have none of those notions.

The review doesn’t clarify other claims in the book’s marketing copy:
Two recently discovered portraits of Paine, one of a proudly-confident, middle aged man of Philadelphia and the other an elegantly-dressed, older, gentleman of Paris, add mystery to this book, a mystery yet to be solved.
Rolling beneath the review is the rumble of scholarly rifts and feuds. Has Burgess hidden her dissertation from public scrutiny? What’s the connection between the Thomas Paine Society in the U.K. that publishes the Journal of Radicalism and the Thomas Paine Society in the U.S. that Burchell has also written for? How was the Thomas Paine National Historical Association “disgraced and fallen upon hard times”?

I don’t claim the knowledge to sort out the quality of Burgess’s work, Burchell’s criticisms, or modern Paine organizations. Ken Burchell and I first corresponded as he prepared his six-volume collection of American writings in response to Paine, and I called on his expertise to sort out a mystery last year. His blog is an easy source of Paine material, from short quotations to this essay for Free Inquiry. But since I haven’t seen Burgess’s book or other publications to judge for myself, I take no position on the areas of dispute.

Instead, my main conclusion is that Thomas Paine, perhaps more than any other figure of the American Revolutionary era, inspires passion in the people who study him.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Samuel Whittemore and Memory Creep

The Rev. Samuel Abbott Smith included a stirring rendition of Samuel Whittemore’s story in his 1864 address West Cambridge on the Nineteenth of April, 1775. Unfortunately, that telling exaggerated the old man’s actions:

He lay under cover of a wall near where the Russell school-house now stands, and fired some half dozen shots at the enemy. He had just loaded his gun, when he heard the wall rattle and saw five soldiers of the flank-guard approaching him shoulder to shoulder. Beside being eighty years old he was lame, and knew that it was of no use to attempt to escape.

With his musket he shot one of the soldiers, and, instantly drawing his pistol, fired at another. He aimed the second pistol and discharged it just as they fired at him; one of the soldiers was seen to clap his hand to his breast. As he fired the third time a ball struck him in the head, and he fell senseless.
So in a single second both Whittemore and a soldier fired their guns, Whittemore’s ball hit a soldier who grabbed his chest, and a soldier’s ball hit Whittemore on the head and knocked him out. And someone who remained in Menotomy to speak to Smith saw all that. Wow!
The soldiers beat him with their muskets, bayoneted him, and left him for dead. After the British had passed by, our people, finding that there was some life left in him, carried him to Cooper’s tavern, where the surgeon, Dr. [Simon] Tufts of Medford, said that it was useless to dress his wounds, for he could not live. He dressed the wounds however, and the old hero lived eighteen years after this, dying in 1793 at the age of 98.

The people of that time accounted for his longevity by saying that “He bled like an ox” from his wounds, and through the new blood formed got a new lease of life.
Smith gave his source for at least part of the story as “F. H. Whittemore,” apparently a descendant. But the obituary I quoted yesterday said he shot two soldiers, not three. That death notice must have come from Samuel Whittemore’s immediate family and friends, and they had no reason to downplay or conceal flattering details.

Smith’s account displays what I call “memory creep,” in which stories become slightly better as they pass from one teller to another—at each stage a bit more exciting and the stakes more important.

The next version of Whittemore’s tale appeared in an 1870 family history and an 1880 History of Arlington by Benjamin and William R. Cutter. They also gave the old man two pistols, and wrote that his surgeons dressed “one shot wound and thirteen bayonet wounds.”

Strangely, the Cutters started their account by quoting a version of Whittemore’s Centinel obituary, which said he had been stabbed “6 or 8” times with a bayonet. How did eight wounds grow to thirteen between 1793 and 1870? Memory creep.

In 1893 B. B. Whittemore published a genealogy of the Whittemore family (published by “Francis P. Whittemore, Book and Job Printer” of Nashua). He included Samuel Whittemore’s birthdate in 1696, and said he was 96 years old when he died. Yet that book also said he was “At the age of 80” during the battle in 1775. Memory creep even overcame mathematics.

Are we doing better today? Well, the problem doesn’t seem to be getting worse—I haven’t found any tale of 90-year-old Samuel Whittemore firing a cannon at a company of redcoats before he’s shot through the head, only to be revived through leeches. This webpage by the Arlington Historical Commission combines the most solid information from the most reliable sources. On the other hand:
  • This stone marker in Arlington follows the Rev. Mr. Smith’s address by saying Whittemore killed three British soldiers and died at 98.
  • The 2005 Massachusetts law naming Whittemore as official state hero repeated the errors in his obituary, saying he was “over 80 years old” during the battle and 99 when he died.
In Massachusetts we don’t merely print the legend; we give it the force of law! But Whittemore’s bravery and longevity never needed exaggeration.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Near-Death and Death of Samuel Whittemore

Earlier this month at an event in Arlington, a nice lady suggested that Boston 1775 feature the story of Samuel Whittemore of Menotomy (now known as Arlington). Five years ago the Massachusetts legislature named Whittemore an official state hero; that bill was sponsored by a legislator from Arlington.

The earliest detailed source about Whittemore that I’ve found is his obituary in the Essex Journal on 13 Feb 1793; I believe most of the text came from Boston’s Columbian Centinel newspaper a week earlier:

DIED.

At Menotomy, the 2d inst. [i.e., this month] Capt. SAMUEL WHITTEMORE, Æt. 99. The manly and moral virtues, in all the various relations of brother, husband, father and friend, were invariably exhibited in this gentleman. He was not more remarkable for his longevity, and his numerous descendants, (his progeny being 185; one of which is the fifth generation) than for his patriotism.——

When the British troops marched to Lexington, he was 81 years of age, and one of the first on the parade [i.e., for militia duty]; he was armed with a gun and horse pistol; after an animated exhortation to the collected militia, to the exercise of bravery and courage, he exclaimed; “If I can only be the instrument of killing one of my country's foes, I shall die in peace,”

The prayer of this venerable old man was heard—for on the return of the troops, he lay behind a stone wall, and discharging his gun, a soldier immediately fell; he then discharged his pistol, and killed another—at which instant, a ball struck his face, and shot away part of his cheek-bone; on which a number of the soldiers ran up to the wall, and gorged their malice on his wounded head: they were heard to exclaim, “We have killed the old rebel.”

About four hours after, he was found in a mangled situation; his head was covered with blood, from the wounds of the bayonet, which were six or eight; but providentially none penetrated so far as to destroy him; his hat and cloaths were shot through in many places, yet he survived to see the complete overthrow of his enemies, and his country enjoy all the blessings of peace and independence.
Lucius Paige reported in his 1877 History of Cambridge (which once included Menotomy) that Whittemore had been born on 27 July 1696. That means he was actually 78 years old in April 1775, and 96 when he died rather than 99. But sometimes very old people and their family lost track of their exact ages. (George R. T. Hewes is another example; his portrait was once labeled “The Centenarian,” but he died at age 98.)

Even if Whittemore was only a septuagenarian, his military actions on 19 Apr 1775 are impressive. Indeed, this death notice almost seems beyond belief—particularly that exclamation to his fellow militiamen. Yet it was printed well within the lifetime of many Revolutionary veterans, and reprinted often and as far away as Philadelphia (in the 29 February Gazette of the United States) with no apparent objections that it was inaccurate. So this account appears to be generally reliable.

But apparently Whittemore’s tale wasn’t quite impressive enough for the following decades because later authors enhanced the details.

TOMORROW: Samuel Whittemore and “memory creep.”

(Picture above from Arlington Historical Society.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sarah Richardson: “she prefers to live with…”

This is the first of an occasional “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” series, gossiping about couples having difficulties in Revolutionary New England.

As I described yesterday, Sarah Wyman of Woburn married Ichabod Richardson in 1770. Six years later, Ichabod was captured while serving on a privateer and disappeared into the British prisoner-of-war system. In 1782, Josiah Richardson, a survivor of the skirmish at Lexington, proposed marriage to Sarah, then living as a widow with a ten-year-old son. And then her first husband came home.

A document about Americans held in Britain’s Forton Prison indicates that at some point Ichabod Richardson escaped. Woburn authors say he was “pressed into the British service,” serving in the British army or navy. As the war wound down (though it didn’t end until late 1783), Ichabod made his way home. And found his wife newly remarried.

Unfortunately, the historical record is silent on how everyone reacted emotionally to the situation. Ichabod and Josiah Richardson were probably related but not closely; there were a lot of Richardsons (and Wymans) in Woburn.

The whole awkwardly extended family appears to have sat down and come to an agreement about what to do next. Legally, the result was a contract between the men, but it reflects the choice that Sarah made for the sake of her son, young Ichabod. Abram E. Brown published the document in Beneath Old Roof-Trees (1896):

Ichabod Richardson and Josiah Richardson Stipulation

Whereas Ichabod Richardson of Woburn in the County of Middlesex, Commonwealth of Massachusetts shop joiner [i.e., cabinetmaker], about six or seven years since, (during the unhappy Difference between Great Brittian and America), the Colonies Inlisted him on board one of the American Privateers, leaving behind his wife Sarah, by which, he had Issue, one son, in which unlucky voyage he was taken Prisoner by the Brittians and was carried to Great Brittian and from thence to the East Indies, which occasioned him six or seven years absence; without any the least notice to his said wife Sarah, of his being in the land of the living.

During this uncertain interim the said Sarah in a desolate state, Josiah Richardson of said Woburn, blacksmith, being left a widower, married the said Sarah.

But so it happens at this present time, the said Ichabod is now returned and puts in his claim to his said wife Sarah, which by reason of their said son she preferres to live with in the future…and they the said Ichabod and Josiah, for the amicable settlement of the unhappy affair between them, stipulate as follows, namely the said Ichabod on his part, on the penalty of one hundred pounds, lawful money, stipulates with the said Josiah, his heirs and executors to pay discharge, and Indemnify him and them from all demands of what nature so ever against the said Sarah, at and until the time of her intermarriage with the said Josiah, and from all for the future, and that he the said Josiah shall Retain all the goods by him, the said Josiah and the said Sarah, Procured since the time of their intermarriage, during life.

And he the said Josiah, on his part stipulates with the said Ichabod, his heirs and executors, on the penalty of one hundred pounds like money, to discharge the said Sarah from the obligations of such marriage, and to Restore all the goods she brought with her at that time.

In confirmation of all above written, they have hereunto interchangably set their hands and seals, this fifteenth day of February, one thousand seven hundred eighty three.
Josiah agreed to walk away from the marriage, and Ichabod to resume it. Josiah took his stuff and left Sarah with hers, and the men agreed that whoever sued first would have to pay £100. Both Richardson men signed the document, and men named William Fox and Josiah Johnson witnessed it. And that was the end of Josiah and Sarah Richardson’s marriage.

Young Ichabod grew up and married Ruth Baldwin in 1791. His father died the following year, said to be age fifty. I can’t trace his mother.

The gravestone above is that of Deacon Josiah Richardson (1747-1795) of Woburn, husband of Jerusha Brooks. Yes, it’s yet another man named Josiah Richardson! But I don’t know what happened to the blacksmith who was so briefly married to Sarah.

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Marriage of Josiah Richardson

Back when I introduced Asahel Porter, killed at Lexington on 19 Apr 1775, I mentioned that there were two Josiah Richardsons in his story:

  • A man, reportedly from Salem, who got married in Seabrook, New Hampshire, on the same day.
  • The Woburn blacksmith and farmer who accompanied Porter into Lexington on that morning in 1775.
We know there are two Josiah Richardsons because the one who married Ruth Brooks went on to have children with her at least through 1788, and they both lived into the nineteenth century, according to The Brooks Memorial. In contrast, the Josiah Richardson who worked as a blacksmith in Woburn was a widower in 1782.

In that year the blacksmith wooed a Woburn widow named Sarah Richardson. (Richardson was a very common surname in Woburn because a lot of people from one English family had settled there; I previously wrote about Ebenezer Richardson marrying Rebecca Richardson.)

Sarah Wyman had married Ichabod Richardson in June 1770, and their son Ichabod arrived in January 1771. When the war began, the grown-up Ichabod Richardson enlisted in the provincial army for eight months during the siege of Boston, then signed onto a privateer named Warren. The Royal Navy captured that ship on 18 Nov 1776.

In 1879 the New England Historical and Genealogical Register published a table of American prisoners at Forton Prison in England that included “Icho’d Richardson” as one of five men captured while serving under “John Hammon / P. Master”; they were “Committed to Prison the 26th of June, 1777.”

Another column in the same table lists the fates of various prisoners: “Dead,” “Shot,” and “Enter’d”—which I believe means enlisted in the British military. Next to Hammon and Richardson’s names is “Run.” Apparently those two men escaped, at least for a while. But that’s the last trace of Ichabod Richardson from the 1770s, and even that news may not have made it back to Massachusetts.

In 1782, Sarah Richardson had been raising her son without a father for more than six years. I have no idea how she supported herself, but she was probably pleased to receive a proposal of marriage from an established craftsman. Josiah Richardson and Sarah Richardson married in Woburn on 19 Mar 1782.

And then Ichabod Richardson came back.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Twitter Feed, 17-24 Apr 2010

  • RT @OldManseConcord: The Revolutionary War as a Civil War?? bit.ly/d40qff #
  • RT @history_geek: Reading: BETSY ROSS AND THE MAKING OF AMERICA by Marla R. Miller. #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Today in 1790, Benjamin Franklin dies. See what he left George Washington in his will: ow.ly/1yzQ5 #
  • RT @Gothamist George Washington Stole Library Books! bit.ly/bLH1Ug // Or NY Society Library keeps imperfect records. #
  • Spent all day in a (mostly) warm academic conference center. These volunteers at Minute Man Park braved the weather: bit.ly/bud9 0v #
  • N. C. Wyeth's four murals for the First National Bank of Boston: bit.ly/bBaFcV #
  • RT @universalhub: Weren't the Sox supposed to be a defensive team this year? // Well, they have a lot to be defensive about. #
  • RT @jmadelman: Franklin also gave his printing materials to grandson B.F. Bache, and created a fund for young artisans. bit.ly/b8VUKY #
  • @Willambeau: Gordon Wood won Pulitzer for "Radicalism of the American Revolution", right? // Yes, in 1993. Also Ralph W. Emerson Prize. #
  • RT @PaulRevere1734: April 18, 1775: Spent the day w/Paul, Jr. in our Shop, not thinking 'twould be nigh on 11 mo's ere I saw either again. #
  • Gravestone of Samuel Tarbell of Groton, Mar 1776: bit.ly/biBzjs Why did his son become a Loyalist officer, then return to Groton? #
  • Historian Richard Archer suggests British soldiers picked their targets at the Boston Massacre. Was that murder? bit.ly/cGY5QS #
  • Connecticut town tax collector arrested in 1786 for…not paying taxes: bit.ly/92jN4a #
  • RT @RagLinen: 235 years later we can watch the animated Battle of Lexington and Concord online: tinyurl.com/y3wsh95 // Interesting! #
  • HistoryAnimated.com puts Revere, Dawes, and Prescott together too early. (They met at Lexington.) And Dawes didn't return to Boston. #
  • I saw a few other timing issues with HistoryAnimated.com's Concord march, but overall it's very impressive. tinyurl.com/y3wsh95 #
  • RT @universalhub: Battle re-enactment photos from Lexington and Concord: bit.ly/cJtMxM #
  • RT @HistoryNet: Daily History Q: Which country would you most like to visit to explore its history? bit.ly/99bUZh #
  • The Massachusetts troops' battle of the 19th of April—in 1861: bit.ly/bx5qj2 #
  • Thorough review by @JBD1 of thorough study of Bermuda trade in 18th century: bit.ly/c1UPZD #
  • Poems on the Battle at Concord from Emerson and Lowell: bit.ly/bvoT4c #
  • RT @BatGirlBabs: "Alexander Hamilton is my homeboy" #
  • Marker for British soldiers who died in Menotomy (Arlington), Mass., on 19 Apr 1775: bit.ly/9omFW9 #
  • RT @franceshunter: Jefferson, Hamilton, and the sex scandal that rocked early America: ow.ly/1AJvT #
  • RT @Harvard_Press: Watch Alison LaCroix discuss the origins of federalism: bit.ly/arlW3a #
  • RT @gordonbelt: An economic historian's take on Citizens United v. FEC: What Founding Fathers Thought of Corporations bit.ly/9LCJPh #
  • RT @MilestoneDocs: One of our most popular DocNotes analyses: F. Douglass "What to the Slave Is Fourth of July?" bit.ly/9hiLLf #
  • New book on an old story, Boston debate over smallpox inoculation in early 1700s: bit.ly/8ZLRbq #
  • Smallpox debate notable for Cotton Mather being on side of experimental science, Ben Franklin on side of religious traditionalists. #
  • Heard fresh take on smallpox history from @AndyWehrman at NEHA: by late 1700s Americans believed inoculation method was their discovery. #
  • Member of Bedford Minuteman Company dies doing ritual he loved, marching to Patriots' Day commemoration: bit.ly/aRh0lq #
  • Heard Bill Poole talk of ancestor: bit.ly/b5UyFM But no, Ebenezer Locke didn't fire first shot at Lexington. He REACTED to shots. #
  • NEW YORKER questions Stephen Ambrose's claims about interviewing Eisenhower, basis of his initial rep as historian: bit.ly/criZmU #
  • H-Net review of book about Atlantic Slave Trade Census, now expanded and refined: bit.ly/boN1wr #
  • RT @history_book: Growing Up in England: The Experience of Childhood 1600-1914 - Anthony Fletcher - Yale UP. j.mp/d6tQlf #
  • RT @dancohen: Slate's @jcbeam writes about "How Future Historians Will Use the Twitter Archive": bit.ly/d8Beua #
  • @Willambeau HBO made JOHN ADAMS because Tom Hanks liked the book and pushed. Adams letters personalize him unlike most other founders. #
  • RT @gordonbelt: I suspect that our most colorful Founding Father would approve of this colorful C-note makeover: bit.ly/brqnYU #
  • Remarks and video from OAH panel about paper on "Liberty and Discipline in the Continental Navy": bit.ly/dmssU2 #
  • City of Quincy finds letter by John Quincy Adams: bit.ly/aLXDE1 As if we didn't have enough JQA to read. #
  • Archivists stump for US bill to provide more funds for…archiving: bit.ly /ct2bFu #
  • SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN podcast with John Nagy about spy technology in the Revolutionary War: bit.ly/boeQMJ #
  • From C-SPAN, full video of John Nagy's talk on spycraft in America's Revolutionary War: bit.ly/dCZ6Zh #
  • Helped NEW YORKER fact-check an article this week—scratch one more thing off the lifetime to-do list. #
  • RT @universalhub: Problems at Waltham dam mean large parts of the Charles in Newton could become a fetid mud flat bit.ly/da4HPS #
  • CHAINS, Revolutionary War novel by @halseanderson, on short list for Carnegie Medal in UK: bit.ly/9Zoykq #
  • RT @gordonbelt: A late Founding Father in the Cherokee campaigns? John Sevier and the Battle of Etowah: bit.ly/cM17Ui #
  • From @lucyinglis, something rarely seen in Puritan Boston: cockfighting spurs – bit.ly/aUFYmI #
  • Blog listed as resource for college course on Boston history. Some students search it. Some just email me for answers. So I make stuff up. #
  • RT @dancohen: @nytimes needs big survey to figure out demographics of Tea Party. @dbamman uses text-mining: bit.ly/94RmzF #
  • RT @Boy_Monday: New blog post >> Transatlantic History: Top Ten Books on Eighteenth-Century America bit.ly/d8oEVn #
  • RT @gordonbelt: "The Crazy Imaginings of the Texas Board of Education" by Geoffrey R. Stone huff.to/duWA9n #
  • RT @Historyday: On this day in 1800 the U.S. Library of Congress was established as John Adams signed legislation to spend $5,000 on books. #

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Local and Material History at the Concord Museum

The Concord Museum is celebrating the 375th anniversary of the town with an exhibit called “into your hands…,” featuring objects passed down in Concord families and entrusted to the museum. Among the items:

  • The Bloody Massacre, the famed Revere engraving that was a milestone in America’s road to independence, owned by Emerson Cogswell, a hatmaker, in 1775 Concord. A gift to the Museum in 2002 by Cogswell’s great, great, great-granddaughter.
  • Pvt. Abner Hosmer’s powderhorn, worn at the fight at the North Bridge, April 19, 1775, where the 21-year-old Acton native was killed. A gift to the Museum in 1936.
  • An 18th-century high chest made in Concord and descended in the Wheeler Family of Concord. A gift to the Museum from the family of Wilfrid and Emily Wheeler in 1996.
This exhibit will be up through 19 Sept 2010.

My notes indicate that the Concord Museum’s copy of Paul Revere’s Boston Massacre print shows the same wounds as on the copy once owned by the New England Merchants National Bank and made into a poster for my office. (Okay, that might not have been the poster’s original purpose.) A man lying at the lower center bleeds from the head, and a man in the crowd at the left bleeds from two wounds in the chest.

The Massacre print now at the National Heritage Museum in Lexington is similar as well. In both that print and the poster, the figure bleeding from his chest looks slightly darker-skinned than the rest. Back here I wondered if he was supposed to represent Crispus Attucks.

The wounds and flesh tones are significant because they weren’t part of the underlying engraving. Revere and helpers (artistic partner Christian Remick, apprentices, kids?) painted the blood and skin by hand. So if the same wounds were painted onto most of the original prints, and that one face was usually given a light brown wash, then the team was trying to depict the figures in a very particular way. My poster says there are nine prints surviving from the first run. Someone test this hypothesis for me!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The History Behind the Shirley-Eustis House, Roxbury, 28 April

On Wednesday, 28 April, the Shirley-Eustis House Association will host a talk by Donald C. Carleton, Jr., on “The Architecture of Victory: Governor Shirley, the Taking of Louisbourg, and a Grand House in Roxbury.”

In 1745, during King George’s War, Massachusetts governor William Shirley led the effort to raise a New England army, sail to Nova Scotia, and attack the French fort at Louisbourg. The success of this expedition made Shirley a star within the British Empire. Thirty years later, as conflict within that empire heated up, Massachusetts Whigs looked back on this victory for confidence that they could stand up against a professional army, even their own king’s.

Carleton’s talk is scheduled to begin at 4:30 P.M. (after the association’s annual business meeting for members only). Light refreshments follow. Admission for nonmembers is $15.

(Photo of the Shirley-Eustis House’s garden gazebo by Tim Sackton, via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.)

“Two Nations, Shared History” in Lexington, 30 April

On Friday, 30 April, at 7:00 P.M., the Lexington Historical Society will host a program called “Two Nations, Shared History” with two professors from Tufts University: Benjamin Carp, who specializes in early America, and Kris Manjapra, who studies the history of India (and Germany).

The pre-1776 British colonies in North America are now often called “the first British Empire.” After losing the most populated of those territories, the Crown began to build the “second British Empire” by taking over the troubled East India Company’s holdings in South Asia. In the 1800s Britain planted colonies there, in Africa, and elsewhere around the world. In the twentieth centuries those countries gained their independence, taking some inspiration from American history but also having to create their own path. It looks like this program will compare and contrast those colonial histories.

Another connection between the histories of U.S. of A. and India shows up in Carp’s upcoming book, Teapot in a Tempest, about the Boston Tea Party.

This event is co-sponsored by the Indian Americans of Lexington. It will take place at the Lexington Depot, and is free and open to the public.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Aftermath of Asahel Porter

Asahel Porter was killed in the confusion and rancor that followed the first shots at Lexington on 19 Apr 1775. He fell “close by the stone wall below [Rufus] Merriam’s garden, east of the Meeting house,” according to Levi Harrington, speaking in 1846.

In 1824, Amos Lock of Lexington recalled seeing Porter’s body. Amos and his brother Ebenezer had mustered with the militia, heard there weren’t any British regulars on the way after all, and headed home.

We had not proceeded far, before we heard a firing; upon which we immediately returned, coming up towards the easterly side of the common, where, under the cover of a wall, about twenty rods distant from the common, where the British then were, we found Asahel Porter, of Woburn, shot through the body;

upon which Ebenezer Lock took aim, and discharged his gun at the Britons, who were then but about twenty rods from us. We then fell back a short distance, and the enemy, soon after, commenced their march for Concord.
Elias Phinney published Lock’s deposition in his History of the Battle of Lexington, written to prove that the Lexington militiamen had fired back at the British.

In 1775, the Massachusetts authorities had wanted to emphasize victimhood, not resistance. They listed Porter among the provincial dead, and published little about Lexington men firing back. The earliest reports don’t present Porter’s death as an atrocity, as they do with some of the people killed later in the day.

There was a funeral for Porter and another Woburn casualty, Daniel Thompson, on 21 April. He was noted in the newspapers, though some rendered his first name as “Azel.”

In 1782, Asahel’s widow Abigail married Ephraim Peirce, who was a couple of years younger. He died in 1810. She lived until 1840, dying at age 84. A younger Asahel Porter settled in Reading, christened his oldest son Asahel, and thus carried the name into the new century.

On 21 Apr 1875, a Grand Army of the Republic post erected the first stone in Asahel Porter’s honor in Woburn’s cemetery. It was described as “a plain marble slab suitably inscribed.” And a century later, apparently, it had disappeared.

In 1975 a group called the Baldwin Historical Society erected a new stone, carved in a startling approximation of eighteenth-century style. I can find only a few traces of this society today, but I suspect it was named after Woburn’s Loammi Baldwin. That monument reads:
Although a Man of Peace
he was caught in a conflict
not of his choosing.
As a result he became
one of the first to die
for his New Country.
(Here’s a clearer photo on Flickr.)

COMING UP: What happened to Porter’s companion Josiah Richardson?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Shots at Lexington

Lt. William Sutherland was riding in front of the British expedition to Concord on 19 Apr 1775. He reported: “On coming within Gunshot of the village of Lexington a fellow from the corner of the road on the right hand Cock’d his piece at me, [and] burnt priming.” In other words, a local had tried to take a shot at him.

And then: “we still went on further when a few shot more were fired at us from the Corner of a house to the right of the Church which is sacred truth as I hope for mercy.” This building appears to have been Buckman’s tavern, facing onto the Lexington common.

On the other hand, locals insisted that the first shot came from the regulars. In fact, Simon Winship, one of the late-night riders that the British had confined within their ranks, declared on 25 April:
within about half a quarter of a mile of said [Lexington] meeting-house, where an officer commanded the troops to halt, and then to prime and load;

this being done, the said troops marched on till they came within a few rods of Capt. [John] Parker and company, who were partly collected on the place of parade, when said Winship observed an officer at the head of said troops, nourishing his sword, and with a loud voice giving the word fire! which was instantly followed by a discharge of arms from said regular troops; and said Winship is positive, and in the most solemn manner declares, that there was no discharge of arms on either side, till the word fire was given by said officer as above.
Of course, witnesses on both sides had reasons to blame the other.

After the shooting, the British commanders apparently acknowledged that the Middlesex countryside was already alarmed, so there was no use in detaining people to keep that secret. Furthermore, to complete their mission the regulars had to move on to Concord as quickly as possible. The officers therefore decided to release their prisoners.

Silas Dean’s Brief History of the Town of Stoneham (1870) described what happened to two of those prisoners, Asahel Porter and Josiah Richardson, apparently drawing on descendants’ understandings:
Richardson requested permission to return [i.e., go home], and was told by the individual to go to another person, who would no doubt give him a release; but in case the second person he went to told him to run he was by the first ordered not to run; being informed that if he did run he would be shot.

Richardson did as he was told to do; and though he was told to run, he walked away, and was not injured. The reason why he was ordered to run was this: that the guard might think him a deserter, and thereby, in the discharge of their duty, shoot him.

Mr. Porter not being apprised of their artifice in telling him to run, got permission, in the same way of Richardson. Having liberty to go, he sat out upon the run. On getting over a wall a short distance off, he was fired upon and received his death wound.
Did British soldiers truly mistake Porter to be a deserter? Other authors suggest that the two men were released “on condition they departed without attracting any especial observation,” and then Porter drew attention to himself. And maybe a soldier (or officer) was just fed up with defiant Yankees. However it happened, sources agree that Richardson (and, presumably, Winship) walked away safely while Porter ran and was shot dead.

TOMORROW: The aftermath of Asahel Porter’s death.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

“Ordered to March in the Midst of the Body”

On the 18-19 Apr 1775 expedition to Concord, Lt. William Sutherland of the 38th Regiment volunteered to ride out ahead of the British army column and scout for trouble. In a 26 April report for Lt. Col. Francis Smith, he wrote that he heard:
Lieut. [Jesse] Adair of the Marines who was a little before me in front Call out, here are 2 fellows galloping express to Alarm the Country, on which I immediately rode up to them, Seized one of them & our guide [Samuel Murray?] the other, dismounted them & by Major [John] Pitcairns directions gave them in charge to the men,

A little after we were joined by Lieut. [William] Grant of the Royal Artillery who told us the Country, he was afraid was alarmed, of which we had little reason to doubt as he heared several shot being then between 3 & 4 in the morning (a very unusual hour for firing) when we were joined by Major [Edward] Mitchell, Capt. [Charles] Cochrane, Capt. [Charles] Lumm & several other Gentlemen who told us the whole Country was Alarm’d & had Gallopped for their lives, or words to that purpose, that they had taken Paul Revierre but was obliged to lett him go after having cutt his girths & Stirrups.
In his edition of Sutherland’s manuscript, Harold Murdock suggested that those “2 fellows galloping express to Alarm the Country” were Asahel Porter and Josiah Richardson. Sutherland and the other British officers whose accounts I’ve read don’t describe capturing any other pair of men together, so that seems likely.

Murdock tended to lean toward the British, and he suggested Porter and Richardson had actually “been sent out from Lexington as scouts.” But the two farmers might truly have been traveling on business, as they claimed, and tried to gallop away only after they spotted the officers. It’s notable that in the 1820s and later men from Lexington acknowledged that some of them were scouting the roads that night, but they never said Porter and Richardson were doing so.

The regulars took Porter and Richardson’s horses and farm goods, made sure they were unarmed, and ordered them to walk in the middle of the ranks. As the column got closer to Lexington, the mounted officers spotted another young man on horseback.

On 25 April that man, Simon Winship, signed a deposition describing how the officers treating him:
on the 19th April instant, about four o’clock in the morning, as he was passing the public road in said Lexington, peaceably and unarmed, about two miles and a half distant from the meeting-house in said Lexington, he was met by a body of the king’s regular troops, and being stopped by some officers of said troops, was commanded to dismount.

Upon asking why he must dismount, he was obliged by force to quit his horse, and ordered to march in the midst of the body; and, being examined whether he had been warning the minutemen, he answered, “No, but had been out, and was then returning to his father’s.”
Again, the British officers were suspicious of Winship’s story. And even if he hadn’t been trying to spread the alarm at 4:00 A.M., he almost certainly would do so if they let him go.

So the British column moved on toward Lexington, with Porter, Richardson, and Winship in the vanguard as prisoners surrounded by soldiers.

TOMORROW: Asahel Porter released.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Mysteries of Asahel Porter

Asahel Porter was one of the casualties of 19 Apr 1775. We have a lot of information about Porter’s death because it was politically significant, and that in turn prompted local historians to seek information about his life. But there isn’t much.

Samuel Sewall’s History of Woburn (1868) identified Asahel as “son of Mr. William Porter.” In his Genealogy of the Descendants of Richard Porter (1878) Joseph W. Porter guessed this was the William Porter who was born in 1713, married Lydia Batchelder in 1733, and had children in Beverly and Salem village (Danvers) from 1738 to 1753.

Alternatively, genealogist William R. Cutter in Brooks Family of Woburn and other works identified Asahel as “Asa,” son of Josiah Porter of Woburn, mentioned tentatively in Joseph W. Porter’s book.

One of the few documents related to Asahel Porter’s life was reprinted in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1875. It’s a marriage certificate:

Seabrook, Oct. 3, 1773.

This may certify whom it may concern, that Mr Asahel Porter & Mrs. Abigail Brooks, both of Salem in the county of Essex, Province of Massachusetts Bay, are legally married by Mr. Samuel Perley, A.M , and pastor of Church att Seabrook.

Test. John Brooks, Timothy Brooks, Mary Knowlton.
The Brooks Memorial (1884) identifies Abigail Brooks as the daughter of Timothy and Ruth (Wyman) Brooks of Woburn, born 18 June 1756 and died 8 Jan 1840.

Perley was the Presbyterian minister at Seabrook. Massachusetts couples went over the New Hampshire border when they wanted to marry quickly and without a lot of questions. It’s not clear why Asahel and Abigail chose that route in 1773, especially since two of her relatives (perhaps her two older brothers) were witnesses. It’s also not clear if they were really “both of Salem” at the time.

The Brooks Memorial says Asahel and Abigail “left one child who lived to manhood.” The Porter genealogist guessed that this son was the Asahel Porter who married in 1796 and settled in Reading. That town’s records say Asahel Porter died in February 1819, aged 43—implying he was born in 1775. Perhaps there was an earlier child who hastened the marriage but died young.

Also on 3 Oct 1773, the Rev. Mr. Perley married Josiah Richardson and Ruth Brooks, said to be from Salem as well. It’s tempting to identify this second bride as Abigail’s older sister Ruth (1753-1807). The Richardson Memorial lists her as marrying Josiah Richardson (1749-1826), and having their first child, Abigail, in 1774. Two of this Ruth’s sisters married two of this Josiah’s brothers.

The problem is that there may have been multiple Ruth Brookses. There were definitely multiple Josiah Richardsons (another one is about to come up), and it’s easy to get them confused. For example, a “Josiah Richardson of Stoneham” married a “Jerusha Brooks of Woburn” in April 1776, and The Brooks Memorial actually assigns that marriage to Ruth.

In any event, in April 1775 Asahel Porter was living in Woburn and working as a farmer. If he was indeed a son of William Porter, then his brother William, born in 1751, had settled in Woburn and married Hannah Munroe in 1774. Her brothers included William Munroe (1756-1837), orderly sergeant in the Lexington militia. At that time, Woburn covered much more territory than it does today, and bordered Lexington.

Early in the morning of 19 Apr 1775, Asahel Porter and another Woburn farmer, our second Josiah Richardson, set out for Boston on horseback, reportedly with goods to sell in their panniers. (There’s a tradition in Woburn now that Porter carried eggs, but I haven’t found anything that specific in nineteenth-century sources.) Their route took them through the western part of Cambridge, called Menotomy.

Along the way, Porter and Richardson ran into the British army column, moving west along the same road toward Concord.

TOMORROW: Asahel Porter captured.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

History Events in Boston’s North End This Week

On Thursday, 22 April, at 10:00 A.M. a new Freedom Trail map will be unveiled in Boston’s North End at the corner of Hanover and Cross Streets. This event appears to be sponsored by the nearby Citizens Bank, and there will be a reception afterward. I’m guessing that this new map is part of the ongoing shift in the neighborhood after the removal of the Central Artery. One might even call it a segue.

In other news from the north, the North End Historical Society has launched its website, and will host its first event on Saturday, 24 April, at 2:00: “A ‘Holy Thursday’ walk to five religious and historical locations” within the neighborhood.

(Aerial photo of the North End by Juliette Melton, via Flickr through a Creative Commons license.)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Twitter Feed, 9-16 Apr 2010

  • Correcting a gravestone in 1773, via Vast Public Indifference: bit.ly/d1rl3d #
  • Starred PUBLISHERS WEEKLY review for Jack Rakove's REVOLUTIONARIES: bit.ly/cMrGpY #
  • RT @JBD1: Whoohoo! Panel proposal accepted for Society of Early Americanists conf in Philly next March - Libraries of Early US! // Cool #
  • Volokh Conspiracy on Georgia attempt to legislate state as republican, not democratic: bit.ly/a0Es5C #
  • Back from walking tour on Revolutionary mythmakers at Mt Auburn Cemetery. Cool, sunny weather—excellent for a Victorian stroll. #
  • RT @HeritageMuse: I am thinking of using the Toilet Paper Incident from April 1721 in my presentation tomorrow. bit.ly/bwbxC2 #
  • Supper entertainment tonight was the Haggerty School 2nd grade's "Constitution Rap." My generation's offer to sing the preamble ignored. #
  • House of Boston-born artillerist John Crane as it appeared in 1898, linked to modern map: bit.ly/9V6FlA #
  • Last US President to have served in Revolutionary War was first to inspire assassination attempt: bit.ly/9j0aCz #
  • Excitement over the arrival of Congressmen from Massachusetts—in May 1775, via @RagLinen: bit.ly/aT9QF4 #
  • RT @ToddHouse: #genealogy, chronology of Hichborn family 1673-1891 by Philip Hichborn bit.ly/aDUxFm #
  • RT @RagLinen: New Rag Linen collection: The Battle of Lexington and Concord - tinyurl.com/yycpkkx #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Curators at @TJMonticello use historical detective work to authenticate Jefferson's Artifacts: bit.ly/afRAuE #
  • Home from Charles Bahne's standing-room-only talk about Paul Revere and H W Longfellow at Cyrus Dallin Museum: bit.ly/anmp7z #
  • By end of this month, hope to tackle the 19 Apr 1775 stories of Asahel Porter, Hezekiah Wyman, and Israel Bissell. #
  • Mercy! Gravestone of Mehuman Hinsdell of Deerfield, Mass, twice a war captive: bit.ly/94cutn #
  • Vast Pub Indiff points out the doll in Copley family portrait: bit.ly/aSHOaa Also, child getting Mama's attention is future viscount #
  • New website on Jefferson's NOTES ON STATE OF VIRGINIA, so complex it comes with a tutorial: bit.ly/cTlEzw #
  • RT @librarycongress: True Story Behind Stevenson's "Kidnapped" discussed with Author A. Roger Ekirch bit.ly/biYfju #
  • RT @TJMonticello: RT @NatlParkService: The Man of Monticello: Remembering Jefferson on his Birthday: ow.ly/1y3Dw #
  • RT @BBCHistoryMag: Will the British monarchy survive? bit.ly/9Youmd // This essayist says yes. #
  • RT @historyfaculty: Historian links homicide rates to the way people feel about their government: bit.ly/b5jvz9 #
  • RT @gordonbelt: story about the original Tea Party in 1773 on @NPR this morning: n.pr/ciu1vV #
  • From the desk for "duh" news—RT @CanadasHistory: Buffalo News: US way behind Canada in War of 1812 observance funding. ow.ly/1ypk2 #
  • RT @librarycongress Library to acquire ENTIRE Twitter archive—ALL public tweets since Mar 2006! // Future historians will shake their heads. #
  • @historynerd55 One opportunity/temptation will be to analyze huge blocks of text mathematically: e.g., changing usage of key words. #
  • @historynerd55 Historians started to miss important discussions after telephone established; email actually redocuments stuff. #
  • @historynerd55 In a couple of decades biographers will be writing about subjects' credit-card bills in lieu of personal letters. #
  • RT @lynneguist: Some of Noah Webster's spelling reforms changed AmE, some didn't. Happy anniversary of his dictionary. bit.ly/9rlubH #
  • New word of the day: tenoroon. Like a bassoon, but higher. #
  • Curious spelling on a 1756 Duxbury gravestone. Or perhaps it's just a curious name. bit.ly/975Ou3 #
  • Were pocket diaries from 1700s like Twitter updates? bit.ly/aEndYG Actually, very few diarists recorded their breakfasts. #
  • Report on auction of Americana via @JBD1: bit.ly/bhbN8T #
  • Quirks of inheritance and emancipation mean there's scant evidence John Hancock owned slaves. But this is SOLID: bit.ly/9PXDSu #
  • Plus, I was there when Caitlin Hopkins took this gravestone photo: bit.ly/9PXDSu #
  • KIRKUS lambastes historical romance for teens about Nathanael Greene's wife and daughter: bit.ly/9l6mPt #
  • Oscar-nominated short from 1950 preserves a mostly all-white, all-male, Cold War view of US history: bit.ly/9m3gYg #
  • Vast Public Indifference asks why did Judge Samuel Sewell erect a "Connecticut stone post" for his late wife in 1721? bit.ly/aF967W #
  • RT @MilestoneDocs: Declaration of Independence best reflects the character of America: bit.ly/9cBPqs // Nation of high-ideal whiners? #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Why Isn't History More Interesting? A history professor tells a story that is both compelling and true: bit.ly/bYuFsX #

Friday, April 16, 2010

The Admiral’s Plan to End the War, and the End of the Somerset

On the evening of 19 Apr 1775, Gen. Thomas Gage was absorbing news of his troops’ bloody withdrawal from Concord. According to his later report, Adm. Samuel Graves came to offer this helpful advice:

In an interview this Evening with General Gage the Admiral advised the burning of Charles town and Roxbury, and the seizing of the Heights of Roxbury and Bunkers Hill, (indeed the latter had begun to be fortified, but that work was discontinued for some reasons with which the Admiral was unacquainted);

to this Proposal the General objecting the weakness of the Army, the Admiral replied that he would strengthen it to the utmost of his power by landing what few Marines remained aboard his Fleet, and, if the General would withdraw the 64th Regiment from Castle William, he would garrison it with his Seamen and be answerable for its safety.

Such a plan pursued, at the same time that the three Line of Battle Ships lay opposite to the town full of Rebels and their Goods, would probably have chequed the most daring and have given such am Appearance of activity to our Operations that things might have continued a long time quiet.

It was indeed the Admirals opinion that we ought to act hostiley from this time forward by burning & laying waste the whole country, & his inclination and intentions were to strain every nerve for the public Service.
Having been recalled to England when he wrote this, Graves was defending himself against criticism. He was also writing with the assurance of a man whose plan was passed over in favor of another and could thus say, “If people had only listened to me at the time…”

Gage opted for less punitive measures, with threats instead of actual destruction. The admiral recorded one step:
Capt. [Edward] LeCras was ordered to acquaint the Select Men of Charles Town that if they suffered the Rebels to take possession of their town or erect any works upon the Heights, the Somerset should fire upon them
The Somerset was still guarding the Charles River on 17 June when the British forces spotting provincials building a redoubt on the lower portion of Bunker Hill called Breed’s Hill. Its gun crews immediately went to work, set fire to Charlestown, and made the first kill of that battle.

The warship was part of the evacuation of 1776, returned to England, and was back along the North American coast in 1778, fighting Continental and French ships. During that mission the Somerset ran aground off Truro on 2 November. Twenty-one members of the crew died, and the rest became prisoners of war.

The Massachusetts authorities salvaged all they could, including cannons used to fortify Boston and “several Casks of Oatmeal” assigned to “for the Use of the State Hospital” the following April. The shipwreck itself is now considered the property of the British government.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Patriots’ Day Weekend 2010

Patriots’ Day weekend is nigh upon us, and there are too many commemorative events to list them all. So here are some handy listings elsewhere:

Myself, I plan to attend the New England Historical Association conference at Salem State College, the Lincoln Salute if the weather’s fair, and the Boston Marathon four blocks from my house.

The Somerset in the Battle of Lexington and Concord

On 18 Apr 1775, the warship Somerset was moored in the Charles River at the narrow point between Boston’s North End and Charlestown. Its guns never fired and its sailors took no part in any fighting the next day, but the warship was significant in the Battle of Lexington and Concord in several ways.

First, the Somerset, like most of the other Royal Navy ships around Boston that day, supplied boats and crews to ferry Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s column across the Charles to Cambridge.

Second, the ship with its 68 guns (according to a January count) stopped the usual ferry from crossing the river, thus preventing travelers from carrying news of evening preparations for the expedition out of Boston to the countryside.

Paul Revere had prepared for just such an obstacle, however. He had confederates send a signal to the Committee of Safety in Charlestown by hanging two lanterns in the Christ Church steeple. And, to be safe, he had two friends row him across the Charles—which meant passing the warship. In 1798 Revere recalled:

two friends rode me across the Charles River, a little to the eastward where the Somerset man-of-war lay. It was then young flood, the ship was winding, and the moon was rising.
Donald W. Olson and Russell L. Doescher discussed how the angle of the moonlight aided Revere’s passage in this 1992 article for Sky and Telescope.

The action then shifted to the mainland, and the west. The journal on board H.M.S. Preston records this order for late on 19 April:
at 1/2 past 5 hoisted a Red flag at the Main Topmast head and fired a Gun as a Signal for all the Marines of the fleet to go on board the Somerset
About ninety minutes later the British column and its reinforcement under Col. Percy reached Charlestown from the west, many of the men exhausted and their ammunition depleted. Adm. Samuel Graves later wrote of his own preparations:
the Admiral ordered all the Marines on Board to be ready to land at a Moments Warning upon a Signal for that purpose, and by desire of General [Thomas] Gage, they were landed in the afternoon at Charles Town under the command of Captain Lieut. James Johnson to cover the retreat of our harrassed Soldiers.

But it was the Somerset alone that preserved the detachment from Ruin. The vicinity of that formidable Ship to Charles Town so intimidated its Inhabitants that they (tho’ reluctantly) suffered the Kings Troops to come in and pass over to Boston, who would otherwise have been undoubtedly attacked, and in their defenceless conditions such a proceeding must have been fatal to all the Land Forces on that side…
Graves went on to claim that his navy ship had saved all the army troops in Boston as well. After having “massacred those poor harrassed Soldiers” at the end of their march, he said, the Charlestown people would have crossed into Boston, found “19 out of 20” men ready to help them, and destroyed the rest of the redcoats as well. I doubt army officers saw the navy as that crucial.

TOMORROW: Adm. Graves’s plan to put down the rebellion, and the end of the Somerset.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Somerset Repaired for “Considerable Service”

H.M.S. Somerset arrived in Boston harbor in December 1774, carrying 68 cannon and a contingent of British Marines under the command of Maj. John Pitcairn. By the end of that year all those men had been landed and housed in barracks. As for the ship itself, Adm. Samuel Graves reported to London in January:

The Somerset was so leaky at Sea that two Hand Pumps were continually at Work, and it is the constant Employment at present of one hand to pump to Keep her free.
This Somerset was thirty years old that year, as described on this website of a group that reenacts its crew.

Spring weather allowed the navy to do some repairs. On 31 March, Graves wrote to Gen. Thomas Gage that he wanted to take off all the ship’s guns and most of her cargo “that by heeling her, when lightened, they may caulk as much of her bottom as possible.” The general and admiral weren’t on good terms, but they tried not to actively interfere with each other’s work, so Gage assigned the navy two transport boats to move its heavy equipment.

On 11 April, Graves reported to the Admiralty in London about the Somerset:
Upon stripping the sheathing from her Bottom, we found the Ocham in her seams entirely rotten and the Butt Ends open; these Defects have been repaired, her Decks and sides well caulked and I have placed her, where the Lively and Canceaux formerly lay, between Charles Town and Boston. It is very likely that in this situation she will be of considerable service.
In a long, self-justifying report Graves wrote later, he explained what sort of “considerable service” he had in mind:
as the situation of things became more and more critical, and he was solicited to guard Boston against any attempt [i.e., attack] from Charles Town side, he caused the channel of the [Charles] river to be sounded, and, finding there was room enough for a large ship to swing at low water, ordered Captain [Edward] Le Cras to place the Somerset exactly in the Ferry way between the two towns, which he accordingly did.
This information is useful in understanding the mindset of the British military commanders in Boston 235 years ago. They weren’t expecting an imminent attack by rebellious provincials, but they felt they had to guard against one.

In fact, the navy had stationed one or two warships at the mouth of the Charles since the Powder Alarm of the previous September. But the Lively had twenty guns, the Canceaux eight. By replacing them with the Somerset’s 60+, Graves was making a very intimidating statement.

TOMORROW: The Somerset on 18-19 Apr 1775.

(The photo above shows H.M.S. Victory a full century after our Somerset had wrecked on Cape Cod. As I understand it, the two warships were about the same size, but if anyone has pictures of a ship of the Somerset’s class please let me know.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Preserving the Somerset Digitally

The currents on Cape Cod have uncovered the wreck of H.M.S. Somerset, “about two miles east of the Race Point Beach ranger station in Provincetown,” according to the Cape Cod Times. The National Park Service is taking the opportunity to have the wreck scanned. As this Boston Globe article reported:

federal park officials are seizing the moment by having the wreck “digitally preserved,” using three-dimensional imaging technology.

“We know the wreck is going to disappear again under the sand, and it may not resurface again in our lifetimes,” said William P. Burke, the historian at the Cape Cod National Seashore, noting that the last time any part of the HMS Somerset III had been sighted was 37 years ago.
The technician doing the work above is from the Harry R. Feldman company. The Somerset timbers also appeared in 1885, and souvenir-hunters took away some pieces. Here’s hoping today’s more preservationist mindset can keep more of the ship intact.

TOMORROW: The Somerset’s place in the start of the Revolutionary War.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Where Longfellow Read the Words of Paul Revere

Over at 150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” we’ve posted an article by Charles Bahne about how Henry W. Longfellow came to convert the history of Paul Revere into a poetic legend, and how that poem was published on the eve of the U.S. Civil War. Here’s a taste from the first part:

Longfellow had long known the story of Paul Revere’s ride “through every Middlesex village and farm” in 1775. Twenty-two years after that fateful ride, Revere himself had been asked to detail the events of that April night. His recollections were published in the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Collections in 1798, then reprinted in October 1832 in J. T. Buckingham’s New England Magazine.

By coincidence, that same October 1832 issue of New England Magazine also contained one of the first published works of a 25-year-old Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: Part V of “The Schoolmaster,” a prose piece describing his travels to Europe. Almost certainly the young college professor read every word of that magazine issue, including Revere’s narrative. And in 1877, when Longfellow was asked about his sources, he was able to cite that magazine story by volume and page number, four and a half decades after he had first read it.
Incidentally, the man who published both Revere and Longfellow in 1832, Joseph Tinker Buckingham, has shown up here at Boston 1775 in quotes from his profile of his mentor in printing, Benjamin Russell. Revere, Russell, and Buckingham were all important figures in the history of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association.

Charles Bahne will speak about Revere and Longfellow twice this week, including tonight at the Dallin Art Museum in Arlington.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gordon Wood Speaks in Worcester, 15 April

On Thursday, 15 April, at 7:30 P.M. the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will present a public program featuring historian Gordon Wood. He’ll discuss his new book Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815, which examines covers the American government from its start to the end of the War of 1812. The event description says:

The founders of the nation had high hopes for the future of the nation, but few of their dreams worked quite as they expected. They hated political parties, but parties nonetheless emerged along with a vibrant and raucous popular democracy dominated by the “middling sorts” composed of merchants, artisans, and entrepreneurs with a fierce belief in equality. While many of the founders hoped to eventually abolish slavery, by 1815 the institution was stronger than ever and starting to expand westward. These are just a few of the themes that Professor Wood explores as he describes this pivotal era when America took its first unsteady steps as a new and rapidly expanding nation.
Wood is a professor emeritus at Brown and is one of the unofficial “deans” of early American history overall. His previous books include The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787; The Radicalism of the American Revolution; and The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin.

Rousseau Peers into Old North’s Crypt, 14 April

In January I did a series on the corpse of Maj. John Pitcairn, once (and still?) laid to rest under the Old North Church. But his body was only one of those in that space.

On Wednesday, 14 April, at 6:00 P.M., Jane Lyden Rousseau will speak at the New England Historic Genealogical Society on “The Burial Crypt at Boston’s Old North Church.” The society’s description of the event says:

As they learn of the building's rich history, and marvel at the beautiful simplicity of its architecture, visitors remain largely unaware that more than one thousand of Christ Church’s earliest parishioners rest directly below their feet. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, crypts were continually built within the church’s cellar to receive the mortal remains of Bostonians and their families. Within these ancient tombs lie not only these remains, but a fascinating aspect of the history of the Old North Church and of Boston’s rich historic past that has yet to be explored.
Rousseeau is a Scholar in Residence at the Old North Church, and a Curatorial Assistant at the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. She has a Master’s degree in Human Osteology and Funerary Archaeology from the University of Sheffield, and has done fieldwork in Ireland, the U.K., and here in New England.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Bahne to Speak on Paul Revere, 12 and 18 April

Local historian Charles Bahne, who shared information on the Boston Tea Party as a Boston 1775 guest blogger last year, will speak about Paul Revere and how he inspired Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in two venues this upcoming week.

On Monday, 12 April, Bahne will be at the Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum in Arlington, Massachusetts. This museum commemorates the sculptor who created the monument to Revere in Boston’s North End. The museum will have an Open House starting at 6:00, and Bahne’s lecture on “Longfellow’s Inspiration” will begin at 7:00. Because traffic in central Arlington can be tricky, please consult this map to the Dallin Museum.

On Sunday, 18 April, Bahne will be the keynote speaker at the Tenth Annual Paul Revere’s Row Reenactment at Boston National Historical Park’s Charlestown Navy Yard Visitor Center. The whole event will take place from 7:00 to 9:45 P.M., starting with musical and dramatic performances and ending with a reenactment of Revere’s crossing of the Charles River by rowboat. At the high point in the middle, Bahne’s talk will explore “What Did Longfellow Know and When Did He Know It?” while across the river two lanterns shine in Old North Church’s spire. This event is free and open to the public.

Both of these events are part of the yearlong observation of the 150th anniversary of Longfellow’s composition of “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

Essex Harmony Concert at Old South, 11 April

There are so many Revolutionary events occurring in greater Boston this month that you’d think we have major historical anniversaries and the return of good weather occurring at the same time! I’ll run several announcements this weekend.

On Sunday, 11 April, at 5:00 P.M., the a capella choral ensemble Essex Harmony will perform a concert in Old South Meeting-House. The group presents American “singing school” music of the late 1700s and early 1800s, of the sort composed by Boston’s own William Billings. Some of the pieces on the bill were even written for Old South’s congregation.

Tickets are $12, or $8 for members of Old South Meeting House. They’ll be available at the door starting ten minutes before the concert.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Walking Tour at Mount Auburn Cemetery, 10 April

Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge was founded in 1831, a couple generations after American independence, and I don’t know of any Revolutionary figures who were buried there. (A couple might have been moved out there by their families, as at Forest Hills.)

However, Mount Auburn is the euphemistic resting-place for several authors who shaped our national understanding of the Revolution, including:

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
  • Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, author of “The Last Leaf” and other poems.
  • Josiah Quincy, author of his namesake father’s biography.
  • Jared Sparks, first editor of George Washington’s papers.
On Saturday, 10 April, at 2:00 P.M., Rob Velella of the The American Literary Blog will lead a walking tour of Mount Auburn with the theme “Legends of the Revolution: Poetical Myth-Making in the 19th Century.” The cost is $10, $5 for cemetery members, and presumably free for cemetery “residents.”

Twitter Feed, 25 Mar-8 Apr 2010

  • RT @KevinLevin: Teaching the history of New England? www.memorialhall.mass.edu/ #
  • William Falconer's dictionary of maritime and shipbuilding terms from 1780: bit.ly/bIu65L #
  • RT @2palaver: Kudos: HistoriCorps—new Colorado program engages the public in saving historic places bit.ly/be6gAt via @PresNation #
  • RT @HistoricalChoc: Historical rabbit poetry from the 18th century! bit.ly/9Ke4Ek #
  • From @bostonhistory, a Loyalist's perception of Lexington & Concord and Bunker Hill: bit.ly/briTW2 #
  • From Anthony Vaver, life stories of convicted thief Levi Ames: bit.ly/amd4cT Background on Ebenezer Richardson: bit.ly/9xw3RM #
  • RT @Boy_Monday: "I am sorry that we live in a nation where there are so many unreasonable pepell." ~ Duke of Marlborough, 27 March 1703. #
  • RT @gordonbelt: NPR: Tea Party Adopts 'Don't Tread On Me' Flag; Joseph Ellis discusses the flag's history and context: bit.ly/asAMUV #
  • @bostonhistory Hadn't seen that Loyalist account. Clearly not first-hand, so historians may have set it aside. Useful for perceptions, tho. #
  • RT @RagLinen: Pre-Revolutionary War betting odds – tinyurl.com/yfrf39l // Newport newspaper predicting London would back down. #
  • Cool #comics list features McCulloch and Hendrix's STAGGER LEE, terrific use of medium to explore history: bit.ly/domxR1 #
  • RT @lucyinglis: RT @DaintyBallerina: 18th Century sex toys auctioned bit.ly/9gGHPg // "believed to be French" #
  • RT @aimeeburpee: RT @PHLhistory: Face jug found in Philly linked to slave colony bit.ly/di7BKh (via @HistoricLewes) #
  • RT @wceberly: 236 yrs today, Mar 28, 1774, Upset by Boston Tea Party, British Parliament enacts Coercive Acts bit.ly/931Lwi #
  • Gravestone of Elizabeth Munroe, died in Concord in 1750 at age 39 after having ten children: bit.ly/aH0Q0D #
  • RT @history_book: Portraiture, Dynasty & Power: Art Patronage in Hanoverian Britain, 1714-1759 - Catherine Tite. tinyurl.com/yzzsyur #
  • Public panel on 14 April about the preservation of history in Coventry, RI: bit.ly/d9Zrpl #
  • RT @TJMonticello: RT @MagBaroque: Soundscapes in Jefferson's America explores the musical world of Thomas Jefferson. is.gd/b54AR #
  • RT @lucyinglis: My review of Horace Walpole exhibition at the @V_and_A for the @RIBAJ April issue bit.ly/9nBUlF #strawberryhill #
  • RT @lucyinglis: Mystery Item #5 post.ly/WOUi #georgianlondon // It involves growing things. #
  • RT @Harvard_Press: The BBC asks Paul Halliday about habeas corpus - bit.ly/aju7O0 His book "required reading" - bit.ly/9U6Y98 #
  • RT @jmadelman: What's the oldest American work under copyright protection? @LibraryLaw has a possible answer. bit.ly/b4NGer // Adams! #
  • RT @halseanderson: Historical research is a serious butt-in-chair activity … If you cut corners, you'll miss the best stuff. #asklaurie #
  • RT @halseanderson: My next book is FORGE (sequel to CHAINS). Pub date 10/19. Mark your calendar! #asklaurie #
  • Fine gossipy talk by Bill Poole at the Lexington Historical Society on Friday night. Still suspect Solomon Browne might have fired first. #
  • Gravestone from Marblehead, 1771 - now we'd probably spell the name Crowninshield bit.ly/bC9xNL #
  • @RagLinen Shared thoughts about Solomon Browne in this talk: bit.ly/bGpkI6 He's the first one I'd want to sit down and ask. #
  • @RagLinen Best historical comics I've seen are outside RevWar period: JOURNEY INTO MOHAWK COUNTRY, STAGGER LEE, SUSPENDED IN LANGUAGE. #
  • American Antiquarian Society's Adopt-a-Book fundraiser on 30 March, or by mail: bit.ly/bVThlG #
  • RT @history_book: West Indian Slavery and British Abolition, 1783-1807 - David Beck Ryden. bit.ly/9ciBwg #
  • RT @SharonCTHistory: In Connecticut many children are introduced to the Rev War via: mybrothersamisdead.historyofredding.com/ #
  • From @RagLinen, men behaving badly in Barnstable: bit.ly/dpc06j Political dispute? Medical rivalry? Both? #
  • Gravestone from Arlington, MA, 1768: "Til we from bands of clay releas'd / Spring out and climb the shining road." bit.ly/dpciBH #
  • Levi Ames finally executed, protected from graverobbers, 21 Oct 1773: bit.ly/dwsS7J #
  • RT @MilestoneDocs: Today in History: Abigail Adams asks John Adams to "remember the ladies" bit.ly/bUyKJh #
  • RT @Harvard_Press: Browse the original 18th-century source volumes for "The Book That Changed Europe" - bit.ly/ctFK8f #
  • RT @history_book: Venture Smith and the Buisiness of Slavery and Freedom - by James Brewer Stewart (ed.). j.mp/csc4Ka #
  • Mass History conference, 7 June in Worcester. Theme: "Imagining Lives: Preserving & Interpreting Personal Stories" bit.ly/93EAje #
  • Generals Washington and Lee thank Massachusetts Provincial Congress for their 1775 welcome, keep their worries private: bit.ly/cJzCkK #
  • RT @universalhub: bit.ly/aoB01f | Man who accepted reward for finding Lexington Green plaque arrested for stealing…other plaques. #
  • RT @quackwriter: RT @patrickbaty: A short slideshow of today's work on an eighteenth century Soho shopfront - bit.ly/bDJwFR #
  • RT @history_book: The First HMS Invincible (1747-58): Her Excavations (1980-1991) - by John M Bingeman - Oxbow Books. bit.ly/aW43EQ #
  • RT @history_book: Oligarchy, Dissent & the Culture of Print in Georgian Britain: Essays & Reviews - K. Schweizer j.mp/baUAnh #
  • Walking tour of Mt Auburn Cemetery focused on Myth-Makers of the American Revolution, 10 Apr: bit.ly/dyIlnu #
  • Full issue of FIGHTING YANK comic book from 1949, with backup story about Valley Forge! bit.ly/9p13qr #
  • RT @hallnjean: Grad student uncovers Haiti's Declaration of Independence—in London! bit.ly/awd2Te via Adele #
  • RT @jmadelman: T.H. Breen on the Revolution and the Tea Party Movement: bit.ly/bR8WUL #teaparty #history #
  • This month is 235th anniversary of Paul Revere's ride, 150th anniversary of Longfellow's idea for "Paul Revere's Ride": bit.ly/aVhWLG #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Today in 1792: Congress passes Coinage Act, authorizing establishment of the U.S. Mint. Numismatics: ow.ly/1u6Qk #
  • RT @hallnjean: William Wales, "Journal of a Voyage…To Churchill River, On the North-West Coast of Hudson's Bay" (1770) bit.ly/crRSi6 #
  • RT @RagLinen: fishy consequence of the Boston Tea Party: tinyurl.com/yk435u8 // News item confirms thesis of @bencarp's upcoming book #
  • @RagLinen Tea Party study by @bencarp posits that pressure to look good to other ports made Bostonians act radical. Hence boasting later. #
  • RT @Crafthole: @SarahSiddons: @patrickbaty: @BirkbeckEMS: @MagBaroque: Early color circles (ca. 1708): bit.ly/cbR5kA -Oh WOW! #
  • RT @hallnjean: In defense of Hudson's Bay sailor & Chief Factor Moses Norton (c.1735-1773), & his Aboriginality bit.ly/bGpvZu #
  • Battle of Saratoga showed up in TWO #comics I read today. One was this MOTHER GOOSE & GRIMM strip: bit.ly/aF5AEu #
  • From Eldred's auction house, Ben Franklin's certificate of a French loan of 1m silver livres to USA in 1781: bit.ly/bh0Dqv #
  • RT @RagLinen: New Rag Linen collection: The Battle of Bunker Hill -- tinyurl.com/y997k9g #
  • A gentleman from Massachusetts to a friend in London, Jan 1775: yeah, we bad—you better not mess with us! bit.ly/cqUCkO #
  • RT @rjseaver: posted list of new or updated databases at LDS FamilySearch Record Search for March - see tinyurl.com/RSFSRS03 #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: visit the Paul Revere House tomorrow - our first Monday in 2010! bit.ly/csyysS #
  • NY Public Library's online exhibit on and "networked edition" of Voltaire's CANDIDE from 1759: bit.ly/6M6VW6 #
  • Photos of gravestone of Mintus Brenton (d 1774) of Newport, mutilated between 1974 and 2008: bit.ly/8Zg0qO #
  • Resources for teaching "Paul Revere's Ride," the historical event and the Longfellow poem: bit.ly/bhETOe #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Who knew someone could actually shut Andy Jackson's mouth for 176 years? nyti.ms/9ChEHm h/t @histdetectives #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Not satisfied with U.S. history, some conservatives [e.g., Dick Armey] are rewriting it: bit.ly/cGrEmh #
  • RT @TJMonticello: RT @woodpainter: Flight from #Monticello: Thomas #Jefferson at War Webcast (Library of Congress) bit.ly/bNsJTL #LOC #
  • RT @franceshunter Manifest destiny that never was: Spanish conspiracy to break off Kentucky from U.S. ow.ly/1uIeu // James Wilkinson! #
  • RT @universalhub: There was an emu on the loose in Waltham today bit.ly/aJidtA // This never happened when John Hancock was governor! #
  • RT @history_book: Anatomy of the Ship: Captain Cook's Endeavor - by Karl Heinz Marquardt - Conway. bit.ly/cC5Mhn #
  • Gravestones carved by Pompe Stevens of Newport? More handsome photos from Vast Public Indifference: bit.ly/ajWHBa #
  • Spent two hours analyzing if John Hancock visited @GeoWashington in Cambridge, 1775. Decided John Adams likely wrong, John Trumbull right. #
  • The 1790 US Census questions: easy to answer, all free white females stuck in one box: bit.ly/9VGjjb #
  • Fatal escape attempt from Connecticut's Old New-Gate Prison in 1774: bit.ly/bY3Xbi #
  • Events connected to Paul Revere's ride start coming thick and fast this weekend: www.paulreveresride.org/ #
  • Today is anniversary of 1st capture by Continental Navy in 1776. But other American naval ships had made captures: bit.ly/9Hk2c8 #
  • RT @DUKEpress: scholars still want print books, journals, but also online availability: bit.ly/d4xYyn // We want EVERYthing! (+free) #
  • @historynerd55 Glad you enjoyed the pieces of Concord's North Bridge. Hoping today's hot weather helps dry the ground there by anniversary. #
  • Book TV interviews author John Nagy on Revolutionary War spycraft: bit.ly/aUEHIC #
  • Children's-book author Cynthia Lord takes a field trip to Philadelphia's Revolutionary sites: bit.ly/c0f1MY #
  • Historical documents from Jefferson, Washington, Burgoyne, Hancock, Gerry et al. up for auction next week via @JBD1: bit.ly/avXJC4 #
  • Roger Sherman's notes on the state of Connecticut, 1782, plus links to other statesmen's answers to same queries: bit.ly/cQxAAk #
  • Josh Marshall asks if the US far right is all about the Constitution, why are they upset about centralized govt? bit.ly/9Owbj1 #
  • Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings as rooster and hen in 1804 political cartoon: bit.ly/ch11Wo #
  • RT @Harvard_Press: What does the history of federalism tell us about modern-day constitutional debates? - bit.ly/aRhb1v #
  • How Longfellow wrote and published "Paul Revere's Ride" as America moved toward war 150 years ago: bit.ly/boYD0r #