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, September 30, 2011

David Library’s “Letters from the Front”

The David Library of the American Revolution in Pennsylvania is blogging some items from its collection transcribed and collected as “Letters from the Front.” (Not all items are tagged that way yet, hence the list below.)

Several of the documents so far are letters from Col. Jedidiah Huntington (1743-1818, shown here courtesy of the Huntington Family Association) to his father, Connecticut militia general Jabez Huntington, during the siege of Boston. But there are some other familiar names as well.

Just to make things interesting, there were two physicians named Samuel Adams in the Continental Army in 1775-76. The son of the Boston Patriot organizer, born in 1751, was assigned to the hospital in Cambridge.

The Dr. Samuel Adams one who wrote the two letters listed above was born in Connecticut in 1745 and practiced on Cape Cod. He joined the provincial army as surgeon for Col. John Fellows’s regiment, and in 1776 was assigned to the 18th Continental under Col. Edmund Phinney. He was a widower, having lost his wife and their first child in 1765. Sally Preston became his second wife.

The David Library will undoubtedly post more letters, following the front as it moves away from Boston.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

John Raymond’s Lost Son?

As I looked into the death of John Raymond, I found somewhat contradictory statements about his wife and children.

The genealogies published with Charles Hudson’s history of Lexington in 1913 say that Raymond was born on 5 Sept 1731. Genealogies of the Raymond Families of New England, 1630-1 to 1886, gives no birth date, but says he was baptized on 19 Sept 1731, which is consistent. Both books say he was born in Beverly shortly before the family moved to Lexington.

The Hudson volume says that John Raymond married Rebecca Fowle, born in Medford in 1743, and that they had five children between 1763 and 1773. Hudson left out that, according to Medford records, that couple married on 12 May 1763, less than seven months before Lexington records say their first child came along on 24 November. The details of those five births appear here. Similar information appears in Descendants of George Fowle (1610/11?-1682) of Charlestown, Massachusetts, published in 1990.

Genealogies of the Raymond Families (1886) adds another son, born in 1775 after his father’s death and before his mother’s death in October: Isaac Royal Raymond. According to that book, he was raised by an uncle named Royal Tilestone. (That uncle’s surname may have led this genealogist to say that Rebecca was a Tilestone before her marriage, not a Fowle. But he could have been an uncle by marriage, a great-uncle, or simply a guardian.)

There are two striking details about that baby’s name:
  • John and Rebecca Raymond had had a son named Isaac in 1770, and there’s no record of him dying in Lexington. Of course, vital records from this time have a lot of holes.
  • The baby’s name appears to come from the prominent Medford landowner Isaac Royall. On the same day the baby’s father was killed, Royall was reportedly fleeing into Boston as a Loyalist, which left him a somewhat controversial figure. (The picture of Royall above comes courtesy of PrawfsBlawg, which discusses a more modern controversy: should the Harvard Law School do more to acknowledge that Royall’s founding bequest was amassed from slavery?)
There was definitely an Isaac R. Raymond in upstate New York in the early republic. He shows up in newspapers of Salem, New York, in 1817 declaring bankruptcy, and he died in 1853 or 1854 in East Waverly. The 1879 History of Tioga, Chemung, Tompkins, and Schuyler Counties, New York mentions this man in a profile of his descendants, and states that his father, “John Raymond, a captain of militia, was shot by the English at the very beginning of the engagement” in Lexington.

That sounds like what a child separated from his immediate family and community might come to believe about his dead father, preserving core facts (father killed at Lexington) but exaggerating details (as a captain). The New York tradition is obviously not based on the accounts being written in Massachusetts at the time, which portrayed Raymond as old and crippled.

The New York county history names Isaac’s childhood guardian as “his uncle, Thomas Tilestone, of Boston.” A man of that name, son of Onesiphorus Tileston, died in Boston in June 1794 at age fifty-nine. However, I haven’t found any links between John and Rebecca (Fowle) Raymond and the Tileston family. (In more distant branches, John Tileston of Dorchester and Rebekah Fowles married on 21 Jan 1730; their son John, born five years later, taught school in Boston for many years.) Nor have I found anyone named Royal Tilestone.

So did John Raymond’s widow Rebecca have a child after he was killed in April 1775? Was that child named after a Loyalist who had recently fled from his mother’s home town? Was that infant, orphaned by his mother’s death, given to a relative named Tilestone to raise? As an adult, did he move to New York and raise a family there, passing on misty lore about his father being killed in the first battle of the Revolution?

Undocumented as that story is, it seems a little more plausible than the main alternative—that Isaac R. Raymond seized on a bare report of John Raymond’s death in Lexington on 19 Apr 1775 and spun out the story of that man being his father. But there’s definitely a mystery there.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

“John Raymond, an aged man,…was brutally fired upon”?

Hugh Earl Percy. Digital ID: 465991. New York Public LibraryAs I discussed yesterday, in the first half-century after John Raymond’s death outside the Munroe Tavern on 19 Apr 1775, people in Lexington agreed that British soldiers had killed him, but didn’t make a big deal of his death compared to others the same day.

That changed around the time of the Centennial. The Rev. Artemas B. Muzzey (1802-1892) of Cambridge, grandson of a man in Capt. John Parker’s militia company in 1775, published a reminiscence of Revolutionary veterans in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1877 which stated:

William Munroe…kept the public house known as “Munroe Tavern.” Here the British stopped on their retreat, and murdered John Raymond, an inoffensive man, as he was leaving the house.
Thus Raymond’s death during a battle became a murder.

Three years later, in a History of Middlesex County, Massachusetts, Lexington historian Charles Hudson wrote:
The officers with Percy resorted to Munroe’s tavern just below. The occupants of the house left the place in affright, leaving only John Raymond, an aged man, who was at the time one of the family. The intruders ordered him to supply them with all the good things the house afforded, which he readily did. But after they had imbibed too freely, they became noisy and so alarmed Raymond that he sought to escape from the house; but was brutally fired upon and killed in his attempt to flee from danger.
Hudson also used Raymond’s death to complain about the British soldiers’ “system of personal insult, treachery, and murder” in his history of Lexington, published in 1913.

In The Battle of April 19, 1775 (1912), Frank W. Coburn went into further detail in describing the activity of Col. Percy (shown above) and his troops:
This energetic destroyer of American homes had selected Munroe Tavern as his temporary headquarters, and ordered his wounded conveyed there also. While their wounds were being dressed his men demanded such refreshments as the place could provide, and unlike [Lt. Col. Francis] Smith’s subordinates in Concord, were not considerate enough to pay for them. So landlord William Munroe’s loss was £203, 11s. 9d., of which £90 was in the “retail shop,” presumably of a liquid nature.

As he was orderly sergeant in Captain Parker’s Company, he was naturally absent on duty, and left a lame man, John Raymond, in charge, who waited upon the unbidden guests because he was compelled to. His last service was to mix a glass of punch for one of the red-coats, after which he essayed to escape through the garden. He was not alert enough, for two soldiers fired, and one of their bullets readily overtook him as he hobbled away. Thus one more was added to the list of American dead, one of the easiest victims, of course, for he was simply an unarmed cripple. This probably happened at the rear of the Tavern.
For this paragraph Coburn cited “A carefully written newspaper clipping evidently from a Boston periodical, dated April 19, 1858, preserved in a scrap book once belonging to the Thomas Waterman collection of American History.” I couldn’t locate such an article in the Archive of Americana newspaper database, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one turns up. I would be surprised if an 1858 article offers more reliable information than was available to William Munroe in 1825.

In fact, as authors added to the drama of John Raymond’s death, they inserted contradictions into the story. Hudson referred to Raymond as “aged,” but also reported his birth date, which showed that he was forty-three years old.

Coburn called Raymond a “cripple,” but other authors listed him among the members of Capt. Parker’s militia company, which suggests that Raymond’s lameness was temporary or didn’t interfere with his military activity, like Nathanael Greene’s. (Alternatively, those authors might have assumed that Raymond’s name on the list of dead meant he died as a militiaman.)

Harold Murdock noted those contradictions in his Nineteenth of April, 1775, published in 1925. He theorized that the British troops might have viewed Raymond as their prisoner, and shot him as he was trying to escape. He also argued that Percy himself spent little time at the tavern. In any event, Murdock felt sure that the Lexington minister Jonas Clarke would have made more of Raymond’s death if his neighbors in 1775 had seen it as an atrocity.

To the credit of the historians who wrote the words now engraved on the memorial to John Raymond at the Munroe Tavern, that text sticks to the facts stated by Munroe and his family. There are a lot of details about Raymond’s killing that we’ll probably never know, so it’s wise to avoid the incendiary language of some authors writing well after the event.

TOMORROW: John Raymond’s children.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Death of John Raymond

Part of the Munroe Tavern’s formal reopening on Sunday was the dedication of a memorial marker for John Raymond, killed on the grounds on 19 Apr 1775. That’s the stone to the left of the thick white archway in Ray Boas’s photograph above.

Immediately after the Battle of Lexington and Concord, the Massachusetts provincial authorities listed Raymond among the men from Lexington who had died that day. Their broadsides and newspaper dispatches put no asterisk beside his name to indicate that he was killed on the common in the morning—so he must have died in the afternoon battle.

But otherwise, I found nothing published in 1775 about the circumstances of John Raymond’s death. The Provincial Congress made as big a deal as possible of certain British army “atrocities”—the deaths of two men in a Menotomy tavern, the invasion of Hannah Adams’s house in that same village. The Rev. Jonas Clarke of Lexington highlighted those same events in his sermon on the first anniversary of the battle. But he didn’t mention Raymond.

The earliest description of how Raymond died that I’ve come across appeared in William Munroe’s deposition about the battle from 1825:
On the return of the British troops from Concord, they stopped at my tavern house in Lexington, and dressed their wounded. I had left my house in the care of a lame man, by the name of Raymond, who supplied them with whatever the house afforded, and afterward, when he was leaving the house, he was shot by the regulars, and found dead within a few rods of the house.
Two years later, Munroe’s death notice (quoted here in full, and referring to him by his later militia rank) stated:
Col. M. participated with his company in the events of the day, leaving the care of his public house in the superintendance of a neighbor, whom the British killed on their retreat.
Those sources established several details about Raymond: he was one of Munroe’s neighbors, and he was “lame”—whether permanently or temporarily is unclear. Munroe left him in charge of the tavern, he served the British troops, and they shot him a short distance from the house “when he was leaving.”

TOMORROW: The story grows new details.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Munroe Tavern Redux

Yesterday I had the pleasure of visiting the Munroe Tavern in Lexington, which has just formally reopened after an extensive refurbishment and reconception. It will continue to welcome visitors in the afternoons through October.

As described in this Boston Globe article, Col. Percy used this tavern as a hospital and headquarters when he took command of the British troops in the field on 19 Apr 1775.

The Lexington Historical Society has long owned that building, along with Buckman Tavern beside the town common and the Hancock-Clarke House a couple of blocks away. Those sites interpret the day largely from the American point of view.

The Munroe Tavern is now set up to show the British soldiers’ perspective on the battle. Its main display is a map and timeline of their march to Concord and back, rather than the Massachusetts militia alarm. Its video about the firing on Lexington common quotes British officers’ reports. Its first-floor artifacts are remnants of the royal troops’ activity in Lexington, as well as William Munroe’s tavern sign and furnishings typical of such an establishment.

Among those artifacts are the society’s “Pitcairn pistols,” on display once more. Their label reads in part:
The coat of arms and monogram engraved on the oval escutcheons in the pistol grips have recently been attributed to the Crosbie family of Wikloe County, Ireland.
That process began back here. We’re all still wondering about how those pistols went out on the march.

Another improvement in the Munroe Tavern experience: The first floor of the building, which includes the main display about the march, is wheelchair-accessible.

The ceremony opening the tavern was hampered for those of us back in the crowd by a remarkable sound system which actually made people sound quieter when they talked into the microphone than when they simply addressed the crowd, as reenactor Paul O’Shaughnessy showed. But there was no way to miss the community spirit on display.

TOMORROW: John Raymond, killed outside Munroe’s Tavern.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lee’s Loyalty Oath

In the winter of 1775-76, Gen. Charles Lee went to Rhode Island to shore up that colony’s defenses against an attack by sea. He also took it upon himself to make people repeat this loyalty oath to the Continental Congress, written in his typically extravagant style:

I ——— here, in the presence of Almighty God, as I hope for ease, honour, and comfort in this world, and happiness in the world to come, most earnestly, devoutly and religiously swear that I will neither directly or indirectly assist the wicked instruments of ministerial tyranny and villany commonly called the King’s troops and navy, by furnishing them with provisions and refreshments of any kind, unless authorized by the Continental Congress or Legislature at present established in this particular Colony of Rhode Island.

I do also swear, by the Tremendous and Almighty God, that I will neither directly or indirectly convey any intelligence, nor give any advice to the aforesaid enemies described; and that I pledge myself, if I should by any accident get knowledge of such treasons, to inform immediately the Committee of Safety; and as it is justly allowed that when the rights and sacred liberties of a nation or community are invaded, neutrality is not less base and criminal than open and avowed hostility:

I do further swear and pledge myself, as I hope for eternal salvation, that I will, whenever called upon by the voice of the Continental Congress, or by that of the Legislature of this particular Colony under their authority, take arms and subject myself to military discipline in defence of the common rights and liberties of America. So help me God.
Of course, the problem with a coerced loyalty oath is that you don’t need to administer it to people who are already loyal while administering it to people who are enemies or neutrals simply makes them feel coerced and more likely to abjure the oath once they get free of the coercion.

And then there’s the question of whether any New Englanders respected a lecture from Lee about what they should “devoutly and religiously swear.” He was admired for many qualities this early in the war, but great piety was not among them.

Less than twelve months after Lee visited Rhode Island, the British military took over the island that includes Newport. That royal authorities held that territory against American assaults until 1779.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Provincial Congress’s “Full and Free Pardon”

Many histories report Gen. Thomas Gage’s proclamation of amnesty to anyone who gave up resisting the royal authorities except John Hancock and Samuel Adams. That helped cement the reputations of those two men as the Massachusetts Whigs’ top leaders.

On 16 June 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress considered a proclamation of its own, offering amnesty to anyone who had been on the Crown side of the conflict so far—with a few exceptions:

And, that our earnest desire to discover our tender regard to our few misguided fellow countrymen, and our readiness to forgive even those who have knowingly offended, we do promise and engage a full and free pardon to all persons who have fled to the town of Boston for refuge, and to other public offenders against the rights and liberties of this country, of what kind or denomination soever; excepting only from the benefit of such pardon, Thomas Gage, [Admiral] Samuel Graves;

those counsellors who were appointed by mandamus and have not signified their resignation, viz., Jonathan Sewall, Charles Paxton, Benjamin Hallowell;

and all the natives of America, not belonging to the navy or army, who went out with the regular troops on the nineteenth of April last, and were countenancing, aiding, and assisting them in the robberies and murders then committed; whose offences are of too flagitious a nature to admit of any other consideration than that of condign punishment:

provided, they take the benefit hereof, by making a surrender of themselves to any general officer belonging to the Massachusetts army, and subscribe a declaration of their readiness to comply with, support, and abide by, all the resolutions and determinations which are already made by this or any former Congress, or that shall hereafter be made by this or any future Congress, or house of representatives of this colony, within thirty days from the date hereof.
The congress decided to schedule more discussion of that proclamation the following Tuesday. The next day, however, brought the Battle of Bunker Hill. Dr. Joseph Warren, president of the congress, was killed. Then came important messages from the Continental Congress. And this action was forgotten.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Royall Tyler in a Comic (sort of)

This week the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge published an anthology of comics called Minimum Paige. The first item is a little horror story that I scripted and Alex Cormack drew called “The Essex County Literary Wax Museum & Menagerie.” Last night we learned that the editors also awarded that story second prize among all the eligible entries in the book.

What does this have to do with Revolutionary War history? Hmmm.

The images of Judge Pyncheon from The House of Seven Gables in our story are based on pictures of the playwright and jurist Royall Tyler, who grew up in Revolutionary Boston. Nathaniel Hawthorne took some inspiration for that character from talks with Tyler’s disapproving in-laws; more on that connection here.

Also, I spent all of the prize money and a little more on Revolutionary history books from the store’s used-books basement.

And, um, Gen. George Washington slept in a house a couple of blocks from the store. For almost two weeks.

But really I just wanted to brag.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

“The Art of SHORT-HAND taught to Perfection”

Parliament’s order to close the port of Boston to transatlantic traffic was designed to hurt the town’s economy. John Hodgson’s business as a luxury bookbinder probably started to suffer, and on 4 July 1774 he advertised a new service in the Boston Post-Boy:
STENOGRAPHY,
Or the Art of SHORT-HAND taught to Perfection.

The Subscriber having for twenty years past practised, in public and private, Mr. Weston’s most approved Method of this truly useful Art, flatters himself that he had acquired a thorough Knowledge of the same: And, at the Request of a Number of Gentlemen, proposes (if suitable Encouragement is given) to open a School for the Instruction of those that are desirous of becoming Proficients therein.

This Art is useful to every Person, more especially those in great Business, Gentlemen of the Clergy, Law, &c, both for Dispatch in what they write for their own Memory, and concealing what they would not have be open to every Eye; also for common placing, or writing down what is most remarkable in any Book which may happen to be lodged in their Hands for a short Time; it is also very useful for seafaring Men and Travellers for keeping a Journal of all Occurrences. By this Art as much may be writ in one Hour, and in one Page, as otherwise in six Hours and six Pages. It is a most useful and necessary Qualification for all young Persons, and is a great Help and Ornament to their other Learning and Accomplishments.

Those who have practised any other Method of Short-Hand, will find it well worth their Pains to change it for this, as a great many have done (and the Subscriber for one) by Reason of its being so very speedy and legible, which are the two most essential Properties of Short-Hand, and the principal Design of the Art; for by this Method Joining Rules are taught, by which may, in every Sentence, be joined two, three, four, five, six, seven or more Words together in one, without taking off the Pen; and each of these Sentences are writ in Half the Time and Half the Room that they can be writ disjointed.
Hodgson invited people to look at samples of the shorthand writing “at his House near Liberty-Tree, or at the Printing-Office in School-Street.”

James Weston (1688-1751) had published his manual Stenography in London in 1743, along with an edition of the Book of Common Prayer as shown above; the latter book is viewable through Google Books and Rider College. Hodgson’s practice in that shorthand had allowed him to take such thorough notes on the trial of the soldiers after the Boston Massacre.

Hodgson remained in Boston through the siege, though many other people linked to the court party left with the troops. In April 1776, the town asked Sheriff William Greenleaf to arrest him and fifteen other suspected Tories. Though he was released on bond, the Massachusetts General Court investigated those men’s loyalties.

Apparently Hodgson went back to his work as a bookbinder. Isaiah Thomas recalled that he died in 1779, but in fact he lived until March 1786. His death notice in the Continental Journal said he “died very suddenly,” suggesting that he was still active and in good health till the end.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

John Hodgson, court transcriber and bookbinder


Here is the advertisement for printer John Fleeming’s most famous publication: the transcript of the trial of soldiers after the Boston Massacre. Fleeming advertised that pamphlet on 27 Dec 1770, though it wasn’t available until 21 January.

The man who transcribed the proceedings was John Hodgson, an immigrant from Scotland like Fleeming. By the end of the trial his hands were so tired that he couldn’t get down Robert Treat Paine’s summary arguments for the prosecution. Some people—Richard Palmes, John Adams—complained that the printed transcript was inaccurate. But trial transcriptions were almost unheard of in America then, and Hodgson created the best record we have of that important event.

Isaiah Thomas later included Hodgson on his list of Boston booksellers, saying he had opened a shop on Marlborough Street (part of the town’s central artery) in 1762:

Hodgson…was bred to bookbinding in Scotland, and became a good workman. He was chiefly employed in this business, but sold a few books. By permission of the court, he took, in short hand, the trial of the soldiers who were concerned in the massacre at Boston, on the evening of the 5th of March 1770.
In the 2 Jan 1764 Boston Evening-Post, Hodgson advertised that he “Binds Books of all Kinds, gilt or plain,” and also “sells Books, Stationary, Plays, &c. &c.”

In October 1765, Hodgson was one of three trustees for the weaver Elisha Brown when he declared bankruptcy in a wave of insolvencies. Three years later, during a dispute over turning the Manufactory into barracks for the British army, Brown and his family defied the royal authorities by refusing to leave that building. By that point Hodgson was working for a bookseller and printer on the other side of the political divide.

According to Thomas, Hodgson “gave up his shop in 1768, and was, afterward, employed by John Mein,” yet another arrival from Scotland. Mein managed a bookstore, and partnered with Fleeming in publishing the Boston Chronicle. He was a loud and cutting opponent of the local Whigs, and in late 1769 a crowd of angry businessmen drove him out of town. Hodgson published one short letter in the 26 October Chronicle about that small riot, supporting Mein.

Eventually Hodgson went back out on his own, announcing in the 30 July 1772 Massachusetts Spy that he had moved into “the shop Mr. John Greenlaw lately improved.” His ad in the 18 Oct 1773 Boston Post-Boy says:
Bookbinding in its various Branches.

JOHN HODGSON
Hereby informs the Public,
That he carries on his Business of Bookbinding at his Shop, near Mr. Philip Freeman, jun. near LIBERTY-TREE.

ANY Orders Gentlemen in Town or Country may choose to favour him with, in the above Branch, he promises to execute as neat as any London Binding, and on the most reasonable Terms.

N.B. Gentlemens Libraries, or a single Book, regilt, cleaned and made look as well as new.—All Orders from the Country shall be strictly attended to.
TOMORROW: John Hodgson and the coming of war.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Meeting John Fleeming

Earlier this year, E. J. Witek shared a three-part profile of John Fleeming, a Scottish printer in Boston during the years before the Revolution. He was the partner of John Mein, another immigrant from Scotland; Mein vociferously supported the royal government in 1768-1770 and was driven out of town. Fleeming never had mobs on his tail, but he was a natural Loyalist and left America in 1776.

Since I find myself unable to leave comments on Ed’s blog, I’m adding some responses to his profile here. On Fleeming’s marriage, Ed wrote:

Somehow, during all of this turmoil, Fleeming managed to find romance and on August 8, 1770, married Alice Church, sister of Dr Benjamin Church, Jr. The wedding took place in Portsmouth, N.H., perhaps to avoid any possible incidents since Fleeming’s flight to Castle William was still very recent. Given Benjamin Church’s prominence as a leader of the Whig camp, the prominence of the Church family in New England, and the fact that John Mein had lampooned  Church as “The Lean Apothecary”, this is an astonishing event.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Massachusetts couples went to Portsmouth and other towns just over the New Hampshire border when they wanted to get married quickly with no questions asked. That doesn’t explain what questions this particular couple wanted to avoid. They were probably too old for parental disapproval, but perhaps there was a child well on the way. Notably, the other inexplicable marriage between vociferously Whig and Loyalist families—that of Ann Molineux and Ward Nicholas Boylston—also took place in New Hampshire.

Mein and Fleeming’s Boston Chronicle got a lot of ads from the Customs office, as well as news tips about which merchants were importing goods in possible violation of their boycott agreement. After that newspaper closed, Fleeming continued to cultivate that source of patronage:
He remained the stationer to the Customs Board and attempted to gain the printing contract as well. But he faced the determined resistance of John Green and Joseph Russell, the publishers of The Boston Weekly Advertiser who had been very supportive of the British Government and the Tory cause.
O. M. Dickerson’s 1951 article “British Control of American Newspapers on the Eve of the Revolution” explains how the Customs office contracts helped keep Green and Russell’s newspaper, usually called the Boston Post-Boy, and the Chronicle afloat. (Of course, Edes and Gill of the radical Boston Gazette benefited in the same way from being the town government’s favored printer.) Given that patronage relationship, it makes sense that, as Ed reports, Fleeming tried to land a job with the Customs service after his printing business failed.

TOMORROW: Fleeming’s most famous publication, and the man responsible for it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

“Like tearing from us our ‘household gods’”

Jari Backman’s comment on this post led me to look up the death notice of William Munroe, an important figure in the events in Lexington on 18-19 Apr 1775. This is how his obituary appeared in the 15 Nov 1827 Pittsfield Sun, undoubtedly reprinted from a newspaper closer to Lexington and also reprinted elsewhere.
Death of another Revolutionary Hero

Died, at Lexington, on Monday the 29th ult [i.e., of last month], Col. WILLIAM MUNROE, aged 86 — Col. M. was orderly sergeant in the battle of Lexington, April 19, 1775, the commencement of the revolutionary war.—

On the night of the 18th previous, when several British officers were seen proceeding on horseback towards the town, with the supposed intention of arresting John Hancock and Samuel Adams, Col. M. commanded the sergeant’s guard, stationed for their protection at the house where those proscribed patriots were resident in Lexington. On the receipt of intelligence that 800 British troops were secretly marching the same route, Messrs. Hancock and Adams were persuaded to retire to Woburn, and Col. M. with his party joined the Lexington company, who were immediately after attacked, before sunrise of the 19th, by the whole British force, and about 20 of the Lexington militia killed or wounded.—

The company were ordered by their commander to disperse; and the British troops proceeded to Concord, where they destroyed the provincial stores. Their triumph, however, was of short continuance; the British guard of 100 men, stationed about a mile beyond Concord village, at the North Bridge, were attacked by the militia of Concord and the neighboring towns, and forced to retire upon their main body, leaving two killed, and the same number wounded. About two hours afterward, when the British commenced their return march to Boston, they were again assaulted by the militia until they arrived at Lexington, where they were waylaid and harassed by the Lexington company, and would probably soon have been forced to surrender, had they not been reinforced by Lord Percy’s brigade of 1500 men.—

They were, however, beaten back to Boston. Col. M. participated with his company in the events of the day, leaving the care of his public house [shown above] in the superintendance of a neighbor, whom the British killed on their retreat.

Till within a year or two past, like Cincinnatus, Col. M. labored on his farm.—On the occasion of the visit of Lafayette to Lexington, three years since, arm in arm these aged veterans reconnoitered the field of battle, previous to the delivery of the address to Lafayette from the Lexington committee; and he assisted at the laying the foundation stone of the Bunker Hill Monument on the 17th June 1825.

Col. M. has been ever esteemed by his fellow townsmen as well as by strangers, for his urbanity of manners and hospitality. As a member of the Legislature and in municipal stations, he was respected for information, judgement and rectitude; and as a military officer, from a subaltern to a colonel, to which grade he rose, he was distinguished as an able tactician.

It is productive of a melancholy and heartfelt sensation, to follow to the grave “the house appointed for all the living,” one after another, those vast vestiges of “the times that tried men’s souls.” It seems like tearing from us our “household gods;” like removing the “ancient landmarks” of our nation’s birth; the objects of all that is venerable and sacred, till scarcely one is left to tell the tale of revolutionary prowess. But the consolation is, that they are gathered “like a shock of corn fully ripe,” blessed with the grateful recollections of their enfranchised countrymen, full of honors and good works, to a better and happier state of existence.

His funeral was attended by a large concourse of relations and friends.
This notice was imperfectly copied on Munroe’s Wikipedia page. That page also said it appeared in an 1820 issue of the American Mercury newspaper, where some of the errors might have first appeared, but that date is seven years too early. (If I remember how, I’ll correct the Wikipedia page soon.)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Exploring Colonial Nonantum Hill, 25 September

On Sunday, 25 September, Historic Newton is offering a tour exploring the colonial and Revolutionary history of the city’s Newton Corner village. (As folks around here know, Newton is divided into innumerable villages, each with its own ZIP code, character, and one-hour dry cleaner. Except Waban, which has a two-hour dry cleaner.)

The agency’s description says:
Colonial Nonantum Hill: “Praying Indians” and Revolutionaries: Come explore Newton Corner’s Colonial history with Historic Newton staff members Sarah Cole and Jennifer Hance as they lead a trip back in time to 17th and 18th centuries. Discover the complicated history of John Eliot’s “praying Indian” settlement and hear about Newton families who participated in the birth of their new nation.
The event begins at 2:00 P.M. at the Durant-Kenrick House (shown above), 286 Waverly Avenue, and is scheduled to last three hours. It is free to all.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Peter Tulip: Lexington musician

Yesterday I quoted a description of a notebook recently sold at auction as part of the military papers of Gen. Henry Burbeck, in which someone had penciled on the inside front cover:
Peter Tulip
Lexington
What’s that all about?

Peter Tulip was born in Lexington on 8 Jan 1754. His parents, Robin and Margaret Tulip, were enslaved. Robin was a servant of John Bridge (1737-1806), who during the Revolutionary War became a major. (The thumbnail above shows Bridge’s house, courtesy of the Harriette Merrifield Forbes photography collection at the American Antiquarian Society.) That meant Peter Tulip also began life as a slave.

In 1783, slavery became legally unenforceable in Massachusetts. That November, the records of Holliston say, Patty Oxford of that town became engaged to Peter Tulip.

Peter and Patty Tulip (who was also known as Martha) had two daughters who grew to adulthood: Olive, born in October 1784, and a younger Patty, born in September 1786. For some reason, many months passed between those girls’ births and when they were baptized in the Lexington meeting-house.

People in Lexington remembered the Tulip family for serving and entertaining at dinners. The daughters would wait on people, and the father would play the fiddle. Albert W. Bryant’s article “Lexington Sixty Years Ago,” written in 1890, states:
Adjoining Harrington’s estate was the famous Dudley Tavern. This house, in its palmy days, evidently had more patronage from townspeople than any other public houses. On certain occasions it served as a rendezvous for free hilarity. One of those occasions was the evening after town meeting, when eating, drinking, dancing and making merry was the rule. Peter Tulip, a negro, with his fiddle, composed the orchestra, and many a joke was played on him. Peter’s fiddle at one time refused, in a very inexplicable manner, to give forth its usual sounds; but if one had seen Uncle Jonas [Munroe] standing behind him touching a candle to his fiddle-bow when it was drawn back, he would have discovered the reason.
Town records show that Peter Tulip died in the Lexington almshouse at an advanced age.

Why was Tulip’s name written inside that notebook? I have no idea. William Burbeck evidently started to use it to keep his account with the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and then someone else copied a military manual onto its pages. I don’t know of any Burbeck connection to Lexington, or any Tulip connection to the American artillery.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Henry Burbeck Papers Sold

Heritage Auctions just sold a large collection of the military papers of Henry Burbeck (1754-1848), who was a young Continental artillery officer during the Revolutionary War (getting his start because his father William was the original second-in-command of the American artillery).

Henry returned to the army after the war and became commander at West Point, New York. During the War of 1812 he led the Regiment of Artillerists and retired as a brevet brigadier general. He lived until 1848 in New London, Connecticut, and his letters back to Massachusetts historians are useful sources about the early career of Henry Knox and the activities of Boston’s pre-Revolutionary militia artillery company.

The auction house’s website says:
One of the more interesting items in the archive is Burbeck’s draft of his descriptions of the Revolutionary War battles at Brandywine, Germantown, and Monmouth. The draft reads in part as written, “The Regt. of Artillery raised in 1775 under the command of Col [Richard] Gredley who declined being too old [well, Gen. George Washington determined that Gridley had lost the confidence of his men and kicked him upstairs to the post of Chief Engineer] of which my father was Lt. Col expired on the 31 Decbr. A New Regt. was be raised which was offred to Him. He declind and recommended Henry Knox to be the Colonel. Genl Knox felt very delicate on the subject but my Father insisted. He knew Knox some years before this – When the Troops marched from Cambridge my Father resinged being 60 years of age [and not wanting to give up his Massachusetts salary, according to his resignation letter]. I knew Genl. Knox when he opened a Book Store and stationary the largest in N. England. It was a great resort for the British Officers and Tory Ladies.” 
The Henry Burbeck collection includes several plans for fortifications, and this item:
A notebook that appears to be a handwritten transcription of a military manual, complete with hand-drawn representations of the several plates from the manual. Written in pencil on the back of the front cover, “Peter Tulip / Lexington.” The first page, not part of the transcription, reads, “1775 April 18 Tuesday Will: Burbeck came from the Castle – Fryday got out from Boston – Saturday came to Cambridge April 22d 1775 - Provincial congress Watertown April 28 1775 Willm: Burbeck allowance for his Pay —.”
The Massachusetts Historical Society has posted William Burbeck’s own description of how he got out of Castle William at the start of the war.

TOMORROW: Who was Peter Tulip?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thomas Jefferson and the Mystery Woman

Graham Dozier of the Virginia Historical Society made a mystery-filled public announcement earlier this year:
Historical research is often detective work. But even after the most dogged efforts of very smart historians, many questions remain unanswered about the people and events of the past. You do not have to go back to ancient history to be stumped by basic unknowns. Libraries and museums like those at the Virginia Historical Society contain numerous items not fully identified, such as unsigned letters, unidentified photographs, and other unexplained objects. Even more puzzling are greater unknowns scattered throughout the history of our country, some of them in the lives of even the most famous Americans.

The V.H.S. has created a feature on its web site to help resolve some of these conundrums. The Historical Mystery Prize will be given for the most persuasive argument made to answer the featured mystery, which consists of a particularly thorny unresolved issue from history.

The problem we pose for 2011-12 concerns a Thomas Jefferson letter. We do not know the answer; there may not be a winner. Perhaps it is an unsolvable mystery, but perhaps you can find an answer that makes sense. The person who submits the most cogent explanation by May 1, 2012, will receive a check for $1,000 at the annual VHS awards luncheon in July. . . .

On January 13, 1807, President Thomas Jefferson included a cryptic comment when he wrote a letter to his treasury secretary, Albert Gallatin. The relevant passage in the president’s letter reads, “The appointment of a woman to office is an innovation for which the public is not prepared, nor am I.”

Historian Jon Kukla, author of Mr. Jefferson’s Women, describes this statement as Jefferson’s most candid reference on the subject of women and their public role. But Kukla was not able to find any comment in the Jefferson-Gallatin correspondence that would identify the woman in question or otherwise explain the president’s statement.

Can you solve this mystery? Was Jefferson referring to a specific woman? If so, who was she?
To follow the contest and submit your answer, visit the Virginia Historical Society.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

He’d Be So Proud

Caitlin G. D. Hopkins shared this image of an American “national costume” from the latest Miss Universe competition.

The light blue color of the contestant’s sash suggests that she aspires to be a top-ranking general.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Mind of the Child Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

This call for papers for a session at the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Annual Meeting caught my eye:

“The Mind of the Child in the Eighteenth Century”

This panel hopes to explore intersections between two major emerging fields of eighteenth-century studies: children’s literature and cognitive literary studies.

Papers might address the extent to which pedagogical theorists considered the minds of children; if and how children’s texts envision the material brain; how the emerging field of child psychology shaped literary and cultural notions of childhood; scientific experiments on children; the place of the child’s mind in eighteenth-century poetry; children and the Royal Society; or a range of other topics. Papers with an interdisciplinary focus are especially encouraged.
Patrick C. Fleming of the University of Virginia is organizing the session. The submission deadline is 15 September, and the conference will be in San Antonio, Texas, on 22-25 March 2012.

A Baseball Mystery from the Late 1700s

Back in 2010, Doug Tribou reported for WBUR radio’s high-brow sports show, Only a Game, on a mysterious painting that appeared in an advertisement by the Bonhams auction house in 1975.

It shows two boys, dressed similarly in late eighteenth-century style, holding a ball and bats.

Other portraits of children from the same period show similar sports equipment, such as the 1789 painting of the Wood children I linked to here. If this picture is from about the same time and if it was produced in America, it could be the earliest visual representation of American baseball.

Another intriguing detail is that bigger boy appears to have darker skin than the smaller. But the boys’ dress and body language reflects affection and equality, not subservience—the bigger boy’s right hand rests on the smaller one’s shoulder. Since all we have is a black-and-white reproduction, it’s unclear exactly how the bigger boy’s skin was painted. And since there are no names attached to the portrait, we don’t know who these boys were.

One man researching this painting theorized that it was created by Ralph Earl, active in Connecticut and Britain and finally back in America. However, Earl didn’t paint such monstrously small hands. Edward Savage did, toward the start of his career, but so might other self-taught artists.

The final mystery: evidently no one knows where this painting is now.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Studying Off Someone Else’s Notes

This weekend I was looking at Google Book’s version of Elias Phinney’s History of the Battle of Lexington, digitized from a copy in the Harvard library. I noticed that someone seems to have written all over it.

Well, not just anyone—a line on the title page says that Phinney gave that copy to Lemuel Shattuck, historian of Concord (shown here, courtesy of the Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services). That suggests that one of those two men made the notes.

The list of American casualties on pages 27-30 includes handwritten titles and corrections of spellings and an omission: Luther Blanchard of Acton, wounded at the North Bridge.

Starting on page 41, the note-taker copied a few items from contemporaneous newspapers. (These page images appear repeatedly, so it’s a little confusing.) There’s the first London Gazette report on the battle, as reprinted in the Philadelphia Ledger; notes on men named to the Massachusetts Council in 1774; and lastly on page 68 an acrostic on the name of Thomas Gage.

Most interesting, pages 55-64 are a list of “General and Staff Officers of the Army in N. America in 1774-75 taken from the Register of 1775,” followed by lists of officers for His Majesty’s Marines, and 10th, 5th, 4th, 18th, and 23rd Regiments of Foot. These include the names of chaplains, adjutants, quartermasters, and surgeons, who don’t always show up in other sources—particularly since some of those appointees never set foot in North America.

All of those names would need to be verified, of course. Still, I thought it might be a useful starting-point for someone. And an interesting glimpse of a historian at work.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

“What could have been intended by this uncommon device”

Last month I traced the evolution of Benjamin Franklin’s “Join, or Die” rattlesnake of 1754 to Paul Revere and Isaiah Thomas’s version twenty years later.

Many scholars also credit Franklin with a letter that appeared in the Pennsylvania Journal on 27 Dec 1775, signed “An American Guesser.” It records and promotes a new symbolic use of the snake:
I observed on one of the drums belonging to the marines now raising, there was painted a Rattle-Snake, with this modest motto under it, “DON’T TREAD ON ME.” As I know it is the custom to have some device on the arms of every country, I supposed this may have been intended for the arms of America; and as I have nothing to do with public affairs, and as my time is perfectly my own, in order to divert an idle hour, I sat down to guess what could have been intended by this uncommon device—
Of course, at the time Franklin had quite a lot to do with “public affairs,” being a busy member of the Continental Congress. But why let facts stand in the way of good rhetoric?

The letter went on to link several qualities of the snake with how the writer wished people to think of America:
I recollected that her eye excelled in brightness, that of any other animal, and that she has no eye-lids. She may therefore be esteemed an emblem of vigilance. She never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage. As if anxious to prevent all pretensions of quarreling with her, the weapons with which nature has furnished her, she conceals in the roof of her mouth, so that, to those who are unacquainted with her, she appears to be a most defenseless animal; and even when those weapons are shown and extended for her defense, they appear weak and contemptible; but their wounds however small, are decisive and fatal. Conscious of this, she never wounds ’till she has generously given notice, even to her enemy, and cautioned him against the danger of treading on her. . . .

I confess I was wholly at a loss what to make of the rattles, ’till I went back and counted them and found them just thirteen, exactly the number of the Colonies united in America; and I recollected too that this was the only part of the Snake which increased in numbers. Perhaps it might be only fancy, but, I conceited the painter had shown a half formed additional rattle, which, I suppose, may have been intended to represent the province of Canada.
The United Provinces were at that moment defending themselves by attacking the main cities of Canada. But of course that campaign was simply to incorporate that province happily into their number.
Having pleased myself with reflections of this kind, I communicated my sentiments to a neighbour of mine, who has a surprizing readiness at guessing at every thing which relates to publick affairs, and indeed I should be jealous of his reputation, in that way, was it not that the event constantly shews that he has guessed wrong—He instantly declared it as his sentiments, that the Congress meant to allude to Lord North’s declaration in the House of Commons, that he never would relax his measures until he had brought America to his feet, and to intimate to his Lordship, that were she brought to his feet, it would be dangerous treading on her.—But, I am positive he has guessed wrong, for I am sure the Congress would not condescend, at this time of day, to take the least notice of his Lordship in that or any other way.
Having thus driven home the message for Lord North while also dismissing him, the writer signed off.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Whatever Happened to Major Box?

After the Revolutionary War, Maj. Daniel Box petitioned the Rhode Island government for support, stating that his fall from a horse back in December 1776 had “so fractured the arm that several pieces of the bone have been extracted, and the wound is still open and the hand entirely useless.”

The state granted him a pension. And when I first read that, I assumed it meant that the fall had put him out of action.

But other records show that Box remained active in the Continental Army despite his injury. He was still a brigade-major until 1779, when the Continental Congress reorganized its military and did away with that post. That December, the Rhode Island legislature voted to pay Box over £449 “for his pay and subsistence as major of brigade.” The following July, the state recognized him as having been “in Continuous service since 1775.”

Box’s name also appears in a report on the Continental Army mutinies of 1781, but it’s unclear to me which side of that conflict he was on. It’s striking that he remained at the same rank from 1775 on.

In 1782, Daniel Box married Polly Field of Rhode Island. Six years later, he was the administrator of her father’s estate. They had one child, also named Polly, according to Frederick Clifton Pierce’s Field Genealogy.

On 14 Sept 1782, the Newport Mercury ran the first of many advertisements from Box announcing the tobacco he had on sale as a wholesaler in Providence. (The thumbnail above shows a 1777 map of Narragansett Bay, with Providence at the upper left; Box had his business at “Colonel William Wall’s Wharff.”)

Five years later, Box and George Tiffany advertised a school for “READING, WRITING, and ARITHMETIC.” Box taught the same subjects in the evening while Tiffany offered lessons in Latin and Greek. There are also records of the state paying Box as a teacher in the late 1780s and 1790s. He was probably supporting himself in his old age with the same writing skills that had allowed him to rise to sergeant in the British army, and then an administrative officer in the American.

Box died in May 1800 at an “advanced age,” according to the United States Chronicle of Providence. That newspaper called him “an active and useful Officer during our Revolutionary War.” The Providence Journal reported that his funeral included “Masonic honours.”

Friday, September 09, 2011

Major Box in Brooklyn

Maj. Daniel Box, once a sergeant in the British army who released himself on his own recognizance, became quite prominent in the Continental Army in the summer of 1776.

As a military administrator, he was a brigade-major for Gen. Nathanael Greene’s brigade, and then for Gen. John Nixon’s. He also laid out fortifications to defend New York. By June 1776, “Fort Box” stood alongside Fort Greene and Fort Putnam in Brooklyn. On 26 August, Gen. John Sullivan made Box his interim adjutant general.

And the next day, the British army swept past the American lines in the Battle of Brooklyn. They drove the Continentals off Long Island, coming close to trapping most of those troops. Capt. Stephen Olney of Rhode Island wrote:
Had it been left to the British Generals to make a disposition of our troops, it is a chance if they would have made it more advantageous to themselves, and but from their tardiness they might have taken our main fort. All that seemed to prevent it was a scarecrow row of palisades from the fort to low water in the cove, which Major Box had ordered set up that morning.
The Americans withdrew to Manhattan and tried to hold that island. In September, Box had his run-in on the Harlem plains with Ens. Matthew Macumber, as he described back here.

On 30 September, Greene’s orders stated: “Major Box is appointed & requested in conjunction with the Engineers of this Department & Col. [Thomas] Bull to oversee & forward the fortifications at Fort Constitution.” That encampment on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River was also called Fort Lee, the name that stuck. In early October, Box was still spending all his time there. On 16 Nov 1776, the British army swarmed over Fort Washington and captured all of Manhattan.

Gen. William Howe and his troops then chased the American army south through New Jersey. In December 1776, Maj. Daniel Box fell off a horse at Neshaminy Ferry, Pennsylvania, badly breaking his arm.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Major Box?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Daniel Box, from Deserter to Brigade-Major

Maj. Daniel Box, chief administrative officer of a brigade of the Continental Army, was the chief accuser in the court-martial of Ens. Matthew Macumber in the fall of 1776.

In 1779 Gen. Nathanael Greene (shown here) wrote to Timothy Pickering that Box had also been useful in “exercising and forming companies independent companies previous to the commencement of the war.” But what does that mean?

Don Hagist of British Soldiers, American Revolution recently reported on the Revlist that Daniel Box appears as a sergeant on the muster rolls of His Majesty’s 43d Regiment of Foot from as early as December 1772 until 9 Dec 1774, when he deserted in Boston.

According to George Washington Greene’s biography of his grandfather, sometime in late 1774 Nathanael Greene went to Boston and “engaged a British deserter to go back with him as drill-master to the ‘[Kentish] Guards,’” the upper-class militia company he and his friends got chartered in October. G. W. Greene isn’t always reliable, but he appears to have guessed correctly that this man was Daniel Box.

After Gen. George Washington organized his army by brigades, on 15 Aug 1775 he appointed Box brigade-major for the Rhode Island and Massachusetts troops under Greene. Box threatened to resign a few months later, but was convinced to stay on. In August 1776, Washington announced that the Continental Congress had promoted Greene to major general, and that Box would continue in his role under a new brigadier, John Nixon.

Maj. Box’s personal history might help explain why he couldn’t exercise any authority over Ens. Macumber and his men in September. Box had no solid status within New England society. American officers knew that he was a deserter, and not a gentleman in England, so they might have held him in some contempt.

As for Box himself, he appears to have hit a glass ceiling within the British army, unable to advance beyond sergeant. Entering American society offered more opportunity to rise, even if it wasn’t always easy.

TOMORROW: Major Box and the Battle of Brooklyn.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Col. Sargent and Col. Sage

Earlier this week, I quoted from the records of the court-martial of Ens. Matthew Macumber, kicked out of the Continental Army in September 1776 despite first being cleared of plundering.

Other officers involved in that incident were also gone from the Continental Army in a few months, though not so ignominiously.

Col. Paul Dudley Sargent (shown here), who Macumber said had ordered him to empty Loyalist houses in New York, was home by spring 1777.

The head of the court-martial panel that originally convicted Macumber on a lesser charge, Col. Comfort Sage, did not reenlist at the end of the year.

I wonder if those officers departed because they sensed they had gotten on Gen. George Washington’s bad side.

Both gentlemen remained respected in their own communities: Sargent became a magistrate in Maine, and Sage a brigadier general of the Connecticut militia. Most of what we know about them came from the writings of their descendants, who of course would not have said much about Gen. Washington’s dissatisfaction.

TOMORROW: The career of Maj. Daniel Box.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Early American History Seminars in Boston for 2011-12

The Massachusetts Historical Society has announced the line-up for the Boston Area Early American History Seminar in the coming academic year. All sessions start at 5:15 P.M., with the end determined by the liveliness of the conversation and the hunger of the participants.

4 October 2011
Paul A. Gilje, University of Oklahoma
Contested Commerce: Free Trade and the Origins of the War of 1812
Comment: Drew McCoy, Clark University

1 November 2011
Todd Estes, Oakland University
The Constitution Goes Public: Strategy and Timing in the Ratification Debate, Early Fall 1787
Comment: Pauline Maier, MIT. This event will take place at McMullen Museum at Boston College.

6 December 2011
Abigail Chandler, University of Massachusetts, Lowell, and Ruth Wallis Herndon, Bowling Green State University
Panel Discussion on Colonial Family Law
Comment: Cornelia Hughes Dayton, University of Connecticut

7 February 2012
J. L. Bell, Boston 1775
Marital Infidelity and Espionage in the Siege of Boston
Comment: Robert Allison, Suffolk University

6 March 2012
Karin Wulf, College of William and Mary
Ancestry as Social Practice in Eighteenth-Century New England: The Origins of Early Republic Genealogical Vogue
Comment: Laurel Ulrich, Harvard University

3 April 2012
Len Travers, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth
The Court-Martial of Jonathan Barnes
Comment: Colin Calloway, Dartmouth College

1 May 2012
Joanne van der Woude, Harvard University
The Classical Origins of the American Self: Puritans and Indians in New England Epics
Comment: Elizabeth Maddock Dillon, Northeastern University

These aren’t lectures. Rather, the main speaker supplies his or her paper in advance, available to seminar subscribers by email or mail and to others at the M.H.S. itself. The commenter responds to that paper, and discussion proceeds as if everyone has actually read it—which they usually have. There are usually sandwiches afterward to facilitate further discussion.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Retrial of Matthew Macumber

On 21 September 1776, Col. Comfort Sage reconvened a court-martial to consider the case of Ens. Matthew Macumber. Just the day before, that panel had found Macumber not guilty of disobeying orders by plundering, but guilty of defying an officer who had tried to stop him. But then Gen. George Washington had ordered the court to reconsider the sentence.

It seems to me that everyone knew the generalissimo really wanted a reconsideration of the verdict. Which left little doubt about what verdict he preferred. But how could the same panel (minus two members) justify a reversal?

They called a new witness for the prosecution:
Captain [NATHANIEL?] RAMSAY being sworn, deposes. Last Tuesday, in the beginning of the afternoon, I was crossing Harlem Plains; I saw a number of men loaded with plunder. I went up to them and told them they had been acting exceeding wrong, and would have to answer for their conduct; they said they had acted in obedience of their officers’ orders. Presently Ensign Macumber came up, and I renewed the conversation with him; he told me he had gone out by orders of his officer, and that he had a right to take any thing outside of our lines.

Ensign Macumber had at this time a knapsack full on his shoulder, out of which stuck two waxen toys, which I took hold of, and jested with him on his having such a pretty sort of plunder; he made me no reply, but ordered them to proceed with what things they had; they had a large chair full, consisting of poultry and some house furniture; some were loaded with kettles and kitchen furniture.

Just upon this, Major [Daniel] Box came up, and spoke to the foremost of the party, who told him they had got the plunder at Harlem; on which the Major, with a pistol in his hand, ordered the man to lay it down; the man hesitated and looked round on his party; upon this, Major Box ordered the whole party to lay down their plunder, or he would shoot the first man that refused; immediately on this, Ensign Macumber called out to his men, “my lads, stand to your arms and form,” and said to Major Box, “we’ll see who has the strongest party,” or words to this effect; the men instantly formed; on this, Major Box asked the Ensign if he knew him; the Ensign replied, yes, that he knew him to be Major Box. The Major replied that he was so, and that he came with express orders from his Excellency to act as he did, and to prevent plundering; the Ensign told him that he had acted by orders of a superiour officer.

Major Box said, I must put you under an arrest, and ordered a man to take his arms. Macumber said he would not be disarmed, but would go with them and his plunder to his General, who might act with them as he pleased, and that he would spill his blood before he would give them up there. At this time his men were exceeding mutinous; several of them cocked their pieces and brought them nearly to a present at Major Box. The Major asked for the Ensign’s name, and went off.

The men were exceeding abusive to the Major, and Ensign Macumber ordered them to be quiet. I have no doubt but if any attempt had been made to disarm the prisoner, his party would have fired; and I was so apprehensive of this, that I stood on my guard.
Dramatic as this testimony was, it didn’t provide significant new information about Box’s confrontation with Macumber. (Well, I guess the wax dolls was a new detail.) Witnesses the day before had already described how Macumber had defied Box, claiming that his colonel’s orders justified the taking of that property, and also how Macumber had tried to restrain his men from going too far.

But the new testimony would be enough to justify a new verdict. Macumber, who may have sensed what was coming, offered no additional witnesses.

Following “the maturest consideration of the further evidence,” the panel rendered its new decision:
the prisoner is guilty of plundering and of mutiny, and the Court annul the sentence of yesterday, and are of opinion that the prisoner be cashiered for said offence; and he is accordingly cashiered.
Washington endorsed that decision, and apparently decided to make an example of the incident. His general orders for 25 September said:
Colonel [Paul Dudley] Sargent is to send to the Provost-Guard the soldiers who were with Ensign Macumber, and charged with plundering at Harlem.
Washington also passed on details of the case to the Continental Congress, which on 30 September resolved:
That General Washington be directed to call upon such of the Members of the Court-Martial as sat upon the trial and concurred, in the acquittal of Ensign Macumber, to assign their reasons for their first judgment; that those reasons, together with the names of such of the said Members who were for the acquittal, be returned to Congress:
The officers on the court-martial panel had to send a letter justifying their original decision. I haven’t seen it, but I suspect the task was a reminder that they had displeased Gen. Washington.

(The doll above comes from the collections of Colonial Williamsburg.)

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Washington Appeals the Verdict

In the fall of 1776, as the British military threatened to recapture New York City, Gen. George Washington was concerned that his soldiers were spending too much time collecting property for themselves. He told the Continental Congress:
of late, a practice prevails…of the most alarming nature; and which will, if it cannot be checked, prove fatal both to the Country and Army; I mean the infamous practice of Plundering, for under the Idea of Tory property, or property which may fall into the hands of the Enemy, no Man is secure in his effects, and scarcely in his Person; for in order to get at them, we have several Instances of People being frightned out of their Houses under pretence of those Houses being ordered to be burnt; and this is done with a view of siezing the Goods; nay, in order that the villany may be more effectually concealed, some Houses have actually been burnt to cover the theft.

I have with some others, used my utmost endeavours to stop this horrid practice, but under the present lust after plunder, and want of Laws to punish Offenders, I might almost as well attempt to remove Mount Atlas.—I have ordered instant corporal Punishment upon every Man who passes our Lines, or is seen with Plunder, that the Offenders might be punished for disobedience of Orders…
According to Gen. Washington, after he received Maj. Daniel Box’s report about catching an officer and his men carrying off household goods, he personally ordered Ens. Matthew Macumber to be arrested and tried.

And then the court martial cleared the ensign. Washington was not pleased. He wrote on a copy of the trial record, “It is to be observed that the Men who were to share the Plunder became the Evidences [i.e., witnesses] for the Prisoner.” He noted to the Congress that Macumber’s men had been seen carrying “four large Pier looking Glasses, Women’s Cloaths, and other Articles which one would think, could be of no Earthly use to him.”

In fact, the general judged, the verdict “appeared so exceedingly extraordinary” that he “ordered a Reconsideration of the matter.”

TOMORROW: The court’s reconsideration.