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, May 22, 2011

The Younger Samuel Dana

I’ve been tracing the Revolutionary experiences of the Rev. Samuel Dana of Groton, from comfortably ensconced minister to reviled Loyalist who nonetheless declined to leave town, to Presbyterian preacher, and finally to respected jurist in New Hampshire.

The former minister’s younger son, also named Samuel, was only eight years old when his father lost his pulpit. He continued growing up in Groton, went to Harvard, and in 1789 returned to his home town. This Samuel Dana became a prominent attorney, a representative in the state legislature and in Congress, and a judge. As a result, nineteenth-century Groton historians couldn’t say too many bad things about his father.

One thing chronicler Caleb Butler did write about the son was:
In the latter part of his life there seemed to be a want of fixedness of purpose in Judge Dana’s pursuits. . . . He was occasionally subject to undue elevations and depressions of spirit, which caused instability in his undertakings and pursuits.
That sounds an awful lot like what we’d call manic-depressive or bipolar disorder. Perhaps both Samuel Danas had the condition, and it was a factor in how the father defied his community’s political and religious unity.

(The picture above comes from the Find-a-Grave page for the younger Samuel Dana. I don’t know the source, and the hairstyle, clothing, and pose seem more appropriate for a man of his father’s generation.)

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