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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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Upcoming Talks in Sudbury and Medford

Yesterday’s posting offers a chance to mention two talks I’m looking forward to giving next month.

On Monday, 5 November, I’ll speak to the Sudbury Minutemen about “The Powder Alarm,” the militia mobilization in September 1774 that marked the end of royal authority in most of Massachusetts. That will start at 8:00 at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury.

Here’s some of Dr. Thomas Young’s commentary on the event to Samuel Adams, who had left Boston for the First Continental Congress:
That treacherous, sneaking and cowardly action, of seizing our Province powder set all the Country in a flame. Every one now feels the matter coming home to him. It gave me much pleasure to see the behavior of the people at Cambridge. When Doctr. [Joseph] Warren and I arrived there Judge [Samuel] Danforth was addressing perhaps four thousand people in the open air; and such was the order of that great assembly that not a whisper interrupted the low voice of that feeble old man from being heard by the whole Body.

And when their Committee had heard and were satisfied wt. Collo. [David] Phips’s vindication of his conduct and promise to call in his Venires and marshalled them to receive the information and take their minds upon it they kept their particular stations for three hours in the scorching sun of the hottest day we have had this summer. Such patient endurance is certainly a principal ingredient in the composition of that character emphatically stiled a Good Soldier.
Danforth was a long-time member of the Council, newly reappointed by the London government under a writ of mandamus. Phips was the sheriff of Middlesex County; the day before, he had helped the army take control of the gunpowder and two small cannon assigned to the local militia. The crowd demanded that they and other royal appointees in Cambridge resign their posts and not to support Gen. Thomas Gage’s further actions. Young’s “Venires” remark referred to another aspect of the people’s resistance: refusing jury service and shutting down the courts.

As I described yesterday, this gathering had a big effect on John Vassall and his extended family, some of whom were targets of the crowd’s anger. On Wednesday, 14 November, I’ll talk about that Vassall family, as well as another Vassall family they left behind—their enslaved household workers.

The venue for that event is the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford (shown above). John Vassall’s aunt Penelope grew up on that estate as the daughter of the elder Isaac Royall. When she married and moved to Cambridge, she brought an enslaved girl named Cuba. The start of the war sent Penelope Vassall fleeing with her daughter and son-in-law, though the two women eventually returned. It also left Cuba Vassall, her husband, and their children free—but they had to build lives in an uncertain new society.

“Penelope Royall, Cuba Vassall, and the Families of Tory Row” will start on 14 November at 7:30 P.M. Admission is free for R.H.S.Q. members and $5 for non-members.

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