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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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Mourning Ring for the Rev. Samuel Dunbar

Eldred’s Auction Gallery in East Dennis is about to offer this gold mourning ring for sale. It’s inscribed “Rev’d Saml. Dunbar ob [i.e., died] June 15, 1783 ae [i.e., aged] 78” and stamped with the initials “PR.”

In the Canton Citizen, local historian George T. Comeau laid out the evidence connecting that ring to the Boston silversmith Paul Revere. (The same article appears on the Postcards from Canton blog.)

Dunbar, born in 1704, was the minister of the first parish in Stoughton (which later became Canton) from at least 1727. A handwritten account of his funeral sold three years ago by Thomaston Place Auction Galleries states that he died “in the 79th year of his age, and 59th of his ministry,” which means he might have started preaching in Stoughton in 1725. Or maybe that should have been transcribed “57th of his ministry.”

As town minister Dunbar is credited with having influenced Roger Sherman, who grew up in Stoughton, and with lending his authority to the Suffolk Convention of September 1774. In 1755 he was chaplain for a Massachusetts military expedition to Crown Point on Lake Champlain, where he probably preached to young Revere.

Daniel T. V. Huntoon wrote of Dunbar in Potter’s American Miscellany in 1876:

judging from some specimens that tradition has handed down to us, his prayers were to the point; for example, during the Revolutionary war, Mr. Dunbar was informed that the British fleet, under Lord [Richard] Howe, was off the coast meditating a descent on Boston. He then prayed “That the Lord would put a bit in their mouth and jirk them about, and dash them to pieces on Cohasset Rock;” and again, in a season of great anxiety, that “God would let them speedily return from whence they came, for Thou knowest, O God, that their room is better than their company.”
Nearly every historical tradition in Stoughton and Canton seems to flow through Huntoon. I’ve found him to be not fully reliable on the career of local hero Richard Gridley, so take those traditions accordingly. (Some of the statements about Dunbar associated with this auction aren’t even in Huntoon, and are arguable or simply mistaken.)

It’s definite that Dunbar died on 15 June 1783, and his death was a big deal for the town. In mid-1783 Revere’s workshop made eight mourning rings matching this one for a “Capt. James Indicot.” That was, Comeau surmises, James Endicott, an important figure in Stoughton.

The auctioneer states, “Paul Revere mourning rings are extremely rare, and signed examples are nonexistent to the best of our knowledge.” In 1783 the silversmith was moving toward proto-industrial manufactures, and several years later Revere set up his copper-rolling factory in what had become Canton.

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