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, September 16, 2012

Dettwiller on Capt. Magee at Shirley-Eustis House, 27 Sept.

On 27 September, the Shirley-Eustis House will host an illustrated talk by historical architect and researcher Frederic C. Detwiller on “Boston’s Convivial, Noble-Hearted Irishman Captain James Magee”:
Captain James Magee was described as “a convivial, noble-hearted Irishman” by his colleague and kinsman “Merchant Prince” Thomas Handasyd Perkins of Boston. The Magee family were seafarers from County Down, in the vicinity of Downpatrick (Saint Patrick’s country) across the Irish Sea from Scotland.

From somewhat obscure beginnings, James Magee [1750-1801] became an American privateer captain off the New England coast in the Revolution, and rose to prominence as a China trade captain and merchant. He survived the tragic wreck of the Brig General Arnold off Plymouth in 1778 to sail for China in 1786, taking with him the first U.S. Consul to China (Samuel Shaw) and bringing back the first Chinaman (a student) to the United States.

With his hard-earned wealth, James Magee and his wife Margaret Elliot, whom he married in 1783, were able to acquire Shirley Place, a mansion built by Royal Governor William Shirley in 1746-50 and now restored by the Shirley-Eustis House Association. Magee’s membership in the Charitable Irish Society and his numerous contributions of exotic items from his voyages (given to the Boston Marine Society, Massachusetts Historical Society, Harvard University, and the Peabody Museum in Salem) prove the generous nature of this “convivial, noble-hearted Irishman.”
Admission to this program is $5.00 for adults, $4.00 for students and seniors, and free to members of the Shirley-Eustis House Association. The lecture starts at 6:30 P.M., and will be followed by refreshments.

The thumbnail above shows a legal document created for Magee by Ezekiel Price in 1781; it’s readable at this page. Magee’s brig Amsterdam was captured by a British warship on 19 October while he was sailing back from Sweden “laded with Dry Good, Iron, Steel, Copper, Tea &c.” This document was his legal protest about being stopped on the high seas. Since Magee had previously used the same brig as a privateer to capture four British ships, he might not have really had the moral high ground.

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