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, June 03, 2012

Timothy Newell’s Diary on the Block

A Boston 1775 reader alerted me that the Bonhams auction house is about to sell Timothy Newell’s diary of the siege of Boston.

Newell was one of Boston’s selectmen that year, as well as a deacon of the Brattle Street Meetinghouse. He recorded what he considered the royal authorities’ outrages and transgressions. He also sometimes wrote down rumors about the besieging forces, which are valuable for knowing how news traveled into Boston. Newell didn’t have a lot to say about his own daily experiences in the town, however. In that respect, this diary is more of an official document than a personal one.

The Rev. Jeremy Belknap transcribed Newell’s manuscript for the young Massachusetts Historical Society, and the society published that transcription in 1852. It took a while for Google Books to get to that volume, so I shared Newell’s intermittent entries day by day back in 2007-08.

Along with the diary Bonhams is selling an oil painting said by descendants to show Newell and attributed to Henry Sargent. Since Sargent was born in 1770, it would have been painted well after the war, but Newell was still wearing a curled wig in traditional style.

Bonhams says:
Newell was a moderate. He remained in Boston and did not join the Provisional [sic] Congress at Lexington as [John] Hancock and Samuel Adams did at this juncture.
I think Newell’s diary shows him as a firm Whig, but one who felt his greatest responsibility lay in Boston with the town and meetinghouse he was supposed to look after. Hancock and Adams had been elected to posts in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and Continental Congress.

In the same 19 June auction, Bonhams is selling handwritten notes on the proceedings of the House of Lords from 26 Oct 1775 to 23 May 1776. During those months the Crown responded to the Continental Congress’s “Olive Branch” petition and moved toward equipping a massive expeditionary force.

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