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 14, 2012

“Inn-keeping was a favorite occupation”

Earlier this month, Dr. Sam Foreman shared a draft of the Suffolk Resolves, written mostly by Dr. Joseph Warren. That document is headed:
At a Convention of the Representative Comtees of the Several Towns & Districts of the County of Suffolk in the Province of Massachusetts Bay in New England, on Tuesday the 6th day of Septemr 1774, at the House of Richard Woodward in Dedham,
The “House of Richard Woodward in Dedham” was a tavern at a major crossroads in the town, as shown in the map above from the Dedham Historical Register.

But does Richard Woodward deserve to have all the credit for hosting the Suffolk County Convention on that important day?

In the mid-1700s that tavern was owned by Dr. Nathaniel Ames, a physician and almanac-writer. He had won the property from relatives of his short-lived first wife in a long court battle. In 1740 he married Deborah Fisher, and they had five children, including boys named Nathaniel, Jr., and Fisher. Three of the five boys had gone or were going to Harvard when the doctor died in 1764. Deborah then became proprietor of the tavern.

Meanwhile, Richard Woodward’s wife had died in 1763, leaving him with sons of his own. The Woodwards and Ameses were both prominent Dedham families. In February 1772, eight years after the doctor’s death, Richard Woodward married Deborah Ames. A man named John Whiting wrote in his diary, “after a Long and Clost Siege, he took her.” That was how the tavern became “the House of Richard Woodward.”

In January 1773 Richard and Deborah Woodward carried on her first husband’s tradition by suing some of her relatives over an estate. Their lawyer was John Adams.

Shortly after Deborah Ames remarried, her son Nathaniel, by then a physician like his father, wrote in his diary: “Dick Woodward cuts a flash Bridegroom.” But soon his mentions of his new stepfather took a turn.
May 9 [1773]. Old Dick Woodward struck me with his saw.

May 12. Dick Woodward fined for striking me & bound to good Behavior.
On the flyleaf of a 1774 almanac:
Old Richard Woodward has declared that he will fleece our Estate as much as possible & accordingly Oct. 12 carried off several Loads of unthrashed Rye & carried off all the last years Corn & threatens to carry away the Hay out of the Barn In defiance of Law & Equity threatens to strip & waste as much as possible.
But Nathaniel fought back:
29 [Jan 1775]. Hay put into my Barn out of old Woodward’s way.
It was in that period that the Suffolk County Convention met at Woodward’s tavern—with Deborah Woodward probably doing a lot of the hosting. A Fisher family genealogy says of her:
She was a very shrewd and sensible woman, of a strong and singular cast of mind. She took a hearty interest in politics, and [in the early Federal period] hated the Jacobins devoutly. Inn-keeping was a favorite occupation with her, and she carried matters with a high hand.
Two items in the New-England Chronicle newspaper in February 1776, one an advertisement for two horses lost since “some time last September,” confirm that Richard Woodward was still officially keeping a public house in Dedham. But on 22 Mar 1784 the Independent Ledger referred to “the house of Mrs. Woodward, innholder in Dedham.”

What had happened to Richard? Over a century later Dr. Azel Ames wrote:
Deborah…had the bad taste and worst fortune to marry…one Richard Woodward, who succeeded, as there are only too many evidences, in making life miserable for her, himself and everyone else, until their separation.
Unfortunately, I haven’t found “too many evidences” of when that separation occurred, how legalized it was, or when Richard Woodward died. But by 1784 he was definitely out of the picture.

A biography of the two Dr. Nathaniel Ameses said Dedham’s oldest residents remembered Deborah Wooward’s tavern this way:
The room at the left of the entrance…was evidently the “tap room” in ancient times—the windows being screened on the inside with wooden shutters as would be proper—an heart-shaped opening being cut in each to admit the light. When the room was lighted at night, these “heart openings” were made more distinct, and “late-at-night” neighbors journeying homeward would remark, “See the light shine through Mrs. Woodward’s heart.”
Deborah Woodward continued to keep that inn, her sons living nearby as shown on the map above, until she died at the age of ninety-four. At that point the old building was torn down.


Anonymous said...

Have you considered looking at quartersessions court records to see if you could find more information on the Ames family and Woodward?

J. L. Bell said...

No, these families aren’t really part of my focus; I just picked up these tidbits about them while looking for something else. And I shy from the task of examining legal records unless it's absolutely necessary—so many technicalities to learn and keep straight!

Richard Woodward’s son Richard appears to have been the artillery lieutenant in the Battle of Bunker Hill who was later kicked out of the regiment for badmouthing his captain—who himself didn’t reenlist in 1776 after his uncle had lost command of the regiment.

Byron DeLear said...

I was just reading a Nathaniel Ames almanac when I saw your latest posting about the Suffolk County Convention. The high-minded nature of the essays and commentary contained in revolutionary-era almanacs always amaze – a full-court press of reason and humor encouraging wisdom, restraint and leaning toward expressing elevated virtues.

Take for example Nathanial Ames almanac for 1767 – post Stamp Act crisis, there was a perception that the repeal of the Stamp Act would serve as a ‘North American Magna Carta’ – Nathanial Ames (Jr.) gives a sense of delight at the outcome of the recent struggle and urges attention and a shift towards the work of peace.

He begins by presenting thanks and kudos “to the first exciters” and then goes on to suggest study and reflection on issues of more importance than “idle tattle of the town.” Good stuff!

“to the first exciters of which we are so superlatively indebted on so many accounts, as would far exceed the limits of my page to express. I only hope that you will always show your sense of the obligation by rewarding them and their posterity, so long as they shall hold their integrity, with all the most important posts of honour and profit that you are capable of bestowing ; and that whenever a Virginian shall visit this part of the Land of Freedom, you will be no niggard of Hospitality.

Having these matters so far settled according to our wishes, let us turn our thoughts on the arts of peace. Oh ! ye husbandmen, too happy would ye be, did ye know your own advantages ; did ye turn your minds to the cultivation of ingenious arts, that soften the manners and prevent our being brutish ; did ye neglect the vain amusements and idle tattle of the town, and rather strive to know the life and manners of young prince Heraclius of Georgia, than whether neighbour Such-a-one married a month too late to be honest. What fine opportunities have ye to improve yourselves by study above tradesmen and mechanicks, whilst your fruits and herbage are growing ? At the intervals of cultivating your fields, ye might be enriching your minds with useful knowledge by perusing the Roman history ye might learn how gradually a rough and ignorant people, by cultivating the study and practice of useful arts and manufactures, did emerge from obscurity to a state of grandeur and affluence inconceivable ; so great that their relicks are at this day the wonder of the world how at last they became indolent and luxurious, and therefore vitious and ignorant, which made them a prey to tyranny ; and tyranny always ends in the extinction of a nation, as is evident to those that take notice of what passes in the great world, that is, read history. Ignorance among the common people is the very basis and foundation of tyranny and oppression.”