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.

Follow by Email


Sunday, January 15, 2012

“He wore a long beard which he used to oile and comb…”

Last Thursday I went to Eileen Hunt Botting’s talk to the North End Historical Society about how Hannah Mather Crocker described Boston’s religious history through the 1820s. I’d ordered a copy of Crocker’s Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, co-edited by Botting and Sarah L. Houser, but it hadn’t arrived by that morning. (I found it on my front stoop when I came home that night.)

At the talk I chatted with Eileen Botting, whom I’d met before only by email, about how our childhood memories are often our strongest, and how that might have affected Crocker’s storytelling.

I also chatted with Samantha Nelson of the Bostonian Society about a completely different matter: how eighteenth-century British-American fashion required men to be clean-shaven and what that means for eighteenth-century reenactments today.

Thumbing through Crocker’s Reminiscences, I came across a passage that amazingly speaks to both those points:
Till the [year] 1774 or 5 there was a very singular man in Boston by the name of Scott, a shoe maker by trade famous for making ladies’ shoes. He wore a long beard which he used to oile and comb and tye it together as the gentlemen of that day wore their [cravats]. He used to parade about town to show himself. He used to hold himself justified by the example as expressed in the 133 psalm, “How good and precious it is for brethern to dwell together in unity, (ver 2) tis like the precious ointment upon the head that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard that went down to the skirts of his garments.” This was his wise plea for wearing a foolish troublesome long beard. He was quite an excentric man. Several now living remember him as he was, a terror to many little children. He died 1774 or 5 and many rejoiced to be “Scott free.”
I get the strong feeling that Crocker herself (born in 1752) was among those “many little children” who were scared by Scott the shoemaker.

And as for reenactors who want to wear beards, here’s a precedent for doing so—as long as you’re portraying an “excentric” who wore what people thought was a “foolish troublesome long beard” in a very peculiar way and scared children so much they delighted in his death. In other words, Scott wasn’t just atypical for his time; he was outlandish! But he did exist.

TOMORROW: William Scott the shoemaker in his own words.


steenkinbadges said...

I know a lot of reenactors who get very upset when you mention the beard issue. They get blind about their one flaw. Oh well: unusual people trying to recreate the commonplace. What else does one expect?

JESCIE said...


J. L. Bell said...

Quick link for the Joseph Palmer story.