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, March 31, 2012

Two Upcoming Events in Lincoln

At 2:45 P.M. on Saturday, 7 April, the Lincoln Minute Men and Minute Man National Historical Park will host the annual Paul Revere Capture Ceremony. I understand that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow will attempt to read his “Paul Revere’s Ride” while people portraying Paul Revere, William Dawes, Dr. Samuel Prescott, Mary Hartwell, and others will offer corrections and additions. There will also be music and musket fire. This event takes place at the outdoor site of the capture (shown above, courtesy of the Paul Revere House), and is for all ages.

Three days later, on Tuesday, 10 April, the group hosts its annual Battle at North Bridge Lecture. I’ll address the group on the topic of “What Did the British Hope to Find in Concord on April 19th?” Most accounts of the start of the Revolutionary War in April 1775 say that Gen. Thomas Gage sent troops to Concord to search for “military stores.” Research shows that Gage was hoping to find specific weapons and that the “arms race” to secure those weapons started back in September 1774. That starts at 7:30 P.M.

To observe that event, I’ve revamped the Boston 1775 website by creating separate pages about my upcoming and past speaking engagements, publications, and web appearances. Those pages now contain the links the used to fill the top of the right-hand column. I’ve headlined those pages “Elsewhere” since I do occasionally come out from behind the keyboard.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Pauline Maier Talks Ratification in Lexington, 30 Mar.

Tonight the Lexington Historical Society hosts Prof. Pauline Maier speaking on how the states ratified the Constitution, the topic of her recent book Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788.

On 10 Dec 1787, the town of Lexington had a meeting to respond to the call for a convention to respond to the proposed new federal structure for the U.S. of A. The upshot:

The Town then made choice of Benjamin Brown Esqr. to represent them in the State Convention to be held at the State House in Boston on the Second Wednesday of January next to give their Assent & ratification to a Constitution or Frame of Government for the United States of America as reported by the Continental Convention begun & held at Philadelphia, in May, 1787—
Benjamin Brown (1720-1802) was a farmer and deacon of the local congregation. He had been a selectman, member of the town’s committee of correspondence, and representative to the Massachusetts General Court and Massachusetts Provincial Congress. (He was also father of Solomon Brown, who Boston 1775 notes was quite significant in the start of the war.) The Wisconsin Historical Society displays a nearly unreadable image of Brown’s official documentation as a delegate.

The Lexington town records don’t seem to include complex or wary instructions for Deacon Brown. In that town at least, there seems to have been little discussion of whether Americans should or should not “give their Assent & ratification” to the new Constitution. Brown appears in the official record of the convention in Boston (at the Federal Street meetinghouse, not the State House) only once, voting yea at the end. But there was a lot more drama evident elsewhere.

Maier’s talk on that saga will begin at 8:00 P.M. in the Lexington Depot Building and 13 Depot Square. There will be coffee and cookies, and book sales and signing.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Saving Private Barnes at the M.H.S., 3 Apr.

And speaking of the question of divided loyalties at the Massachusetts Historical Society, next week on Tuesday, 3 April, the society will host a session of the Boston Area Early American History Seminar where participants will discuss Prof. Len Travers’s paper “The Court-Martial of Private Barnes.”
Months after the French capitulation at the end of the French and Indian War, a young Massachusetts man, Joshua Barnes, was discovered still in the company of his Wabenaki captors. He had been taken more than four years earlier while on patrol along Lake George. Now, Barnes was arrested and faced trial for treason before a British army court-martial.

Was he, as the court insisted, a renegade who had willingly adopted Native life and taken up arms against his king? The testimony of both Barnes and the witnesses against him suggest something different: that hostage stress response, known today as Stockholm Syndrome, may better explain the behavior that led to his arrest.

This paper, digested from a draft chapter for a proposed book, will be a departure from familiar “fate of the captive” narratives, which generally assume a storyline of assimilation into Native societies, “failure” to assimilate, or redemption.
The seminar starts at 5:15 P.M. In order to gauge the size of the room and the number of cookies needed, the society asks that people reserve a space in advance. Copies of the paper are usually available to read at the M.H.S. before the discussion.

(Image above courtesy of the Lake George R.V. Park.)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Secrets of the Federal Street Theatre

Today the Massachusetts Historical Society opens a new exhibit on the first public theater in Boston, a matter of great controversy back in 1794. The society’s Events webpage says:
“The First Seasons of the Federal Street Theatre, 1794-1798” documents the battle over the Federal Street Theatre through playbills from early performances as well as the letters and publications of supporters and opponents of public theater in Boston. The M.H.S. show is a satellite display of an exhibition titled “Forgotten Chapters of Boston’s Literary History” on display at the Boston Public Library.
The Federal Street Theatre exhibit will be on view through 30 July, and is free to people visiting on 10:00 to 4:00 on weekdays.

The first manager of that theater was John Steele Tyler, older brother of the playwright and jurist Royall Tyler. And his history is even slippier than his little brother’s. John Steele Tyler was a major early in the Revolutionary War, then a lieutenant colonel in the Massachusetts forces during the Penobscot expedition. In 1780, he sailed to Europe with John Trumbull, another former American officer, who wanted to study painting.

Tyler and Trumbull were sharing rooms in London late that year when Benjamin Thompson, secretary to Secretary of State Lord George Germain (and slipperiest of all), ordered their arrest as suspected spies. Loyalist friends warned Tyler, and he slipped away to France while Trumbull went to jail. The next year, Tyler wrote to Germain saying that the French alliance had turned him against the American cause and that he’d defect to the Crown for £1,000.

That letter didn’t come to light until Lewis Einstein’s book Divided Loyalties in 1933, so Tyler was able to return to America in the 1780s with a solid reputation. Privately John Adams called him “a detestible Specimen” (for unknown reasons), but publicly Tyler was an upstanding veteran and businessman. Family tradition says he’d even undertaken spy missions for Gen. George Washington. And perhaps that’s what Tyler really was up to in London. But that family’s voluminous traditions are sometimes contradictory and self-serving.

In any event, Tyler’s outward respectability made him a good public face for the institution that broke Boston’s long-standing taboo against theater.

(The image of the Federal Street Theatre above comes from the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

America’s First Flying Machine?

The 13 Nov 1775 New York Gazette included the following notice:

The FLYING MACHINE
That plies between Hackinsack and Hoebuck, intends after the Fifth of November Instant, to drive but twice a Week, Tuesdays and Saturdays. To set off from Hackinsack between Seven and Eight in the Morning, and return from Hoebuck at Two in the Afternoon.
ANDREW VAN BUSKIRK.
As with John Childs’s promise to fly from Old North Church in 1755, this predated the first balloon flights, much less the first airplanes. There was therefore no confusion about what a “flying machine” might be. It was a fast, light coach.

Alas, that also makes the Continental Army’s “flying camp” a lot more prosaic.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Look at Revolutionary Roxbury

This month I stumbled onto the blog Fort Hill History, created by Jason Turgeon to explore the history of that part of Roxbury.

As the posting “Roxbury During the Siege of Boston” explains, the area took its name from the hill fortified during the siege. Turgeon writes:
The lower fort stood until 1836, when Alvah Kittredge was building his now-famous house and decided to remove some of the ramparts. While the work was underway Aaron Willard, who with his brother Simon dominated the American clockmaking scene and started the industrialization of Roxbury, stopped by and told Kittredge about a day 60 years earlier when he had helped to dig the lower fort. Willard, then a 16-year-old fifer, had slept at his workplace and been rudely awoken by a 24-pound cannon ball tossed by the British into his newly constructed earthen wall. He pointed out the spot where he thought the ball must have landed and Kittredge’s workers were actually able to find the ball! It remained in the Kittredge family as a souvenir, and perhaps it still remains somewhere in a Roxbury basement.
That anecdote appeared in Francis S. Drake’s The Town of Roxbury (1878). Drake also printed the sketch of the fort above, saying it came from Josiah Benton’s powder horn. I recently examined two other powder horns from the siege, and I suspect this was more a representation of the fort than an accurate plan. Those curved, tapering surfaces were darn hard to draw on.

Fort Hill History also offers a round-up of local maps drawn on flat surfaces, probably more carefully matched to scale.

Turgeon in turn pointed to Walking the Post Road, an online account by Gary Denton of Jamaica Plain about following the old routes to New York. Lots of photographs of old milestones, including the many set up by Massachusetts judge Paul Dudley.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Examined by the Medical Committee

In 1775, James Thacher of Barnstable was a twenty-one-year-old medical trainee eager to work for the provincial army (just as it was officially becoming the Continental Army). Years later, he adapted his journal into a memoir and left this recollection of how he applied for the position of regimental surgeon’s mate:
I proceeded, July the 3d, with alacrity to the seat of [the Massachusetts Provincial] Congress [in Watertown]. I was not disappointed in my interview with Mr. [James] Warren; my letter procured for me a favorable and polite reception. He honored me with his friendship and kind assistance, and introduced me to his lady, whose father’s family and my own have for many years been on terms of friendly intercourse.

The office which I solicit is one in the medical department, in the provincial hospital at Cambridge. A medical board, consisting of Drs. [Samuel] Holton [of Danvers, 1738-1816] and [John] Taylor [of Lunenberg and Fitchburg, born about 1734], are appointed to examine the candidates; and they added my name to the list for examination, on the 10th instant [i.e., of this month]. This state of suspense continuing several days, excites in my mind much anxiety and solicitude, apprehending that my stock of medical knowledge, when scanned by a learned committee, may be deemed inadequate, and all my hopes be blasted. . . .

On the day appointed, the medical candidates, sixteen in number, were summoned before the board for examination. This business occupied about four hours; the subjects were anatomy, physiology, surgery and medicine. It was not long after, that I was happily relieved from suspense, by receiving the sanction and acceptance of the board, with some acceptable instructions relative to the faithful discharge of duty, and the humane treatment of those soldiers who may have the misfortune to require my assistance.

Six of our number were privately rejected as being found unqualified. The examination was in a considerable degree close and severe, which occasioned not a little agitation in our ranks. But it was on another occasion, as I am told, that a candidate under examination was agitated into a state of perspiration, and being required to describe the mode of treatment in rheumatism, among other remedies he would promote a sweat, and being asked how he would effect this with his patient, after some hesitation he replied, “I would have him examined by a medical committee.”
On 15 July Thacher started work under Dr. John Warren, brother of the late Dr. Joseph Warren, at the main army hospital. That building is shown above in photo by Roger Wollstadt, via Flickr under a Creative Commons license. It was still legally owned by Penelope Vassall, a Loyalist widow. (The cars are from a more recent century.) For more on that house, see Historic Buildings of Massachusetts.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Searching for the Continental Congress in American Memory

The American Memory Collection at the Library of Congress website is a national treasure. And sometimes it’s a real pain.

Say you want to look up material on the Continental Congress. If you go to the “Browse Collections” page, you might spot the link under “Government, Law” for “Continental Congress.” But clicking on that link brings you to the collection for “Documents from the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, 1774-1789,” which are the political broadsides printed and distributed in that period.

That “Continental Congress” link doesn’t offer the option of the “A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation” page, which links to the official Journals of the Continental Congress and the useful Letters of Delegates to the Continental Congress, as well as later printed records of national legislatures.

And that’s not the end of the fun. Let’s say you want to read about what happened in the Congress on a certain day. Ask to “Browse” the Journals of the Continental Congress, choose the appropriate volume or year, and the site offers you:
  • the text of the first page of the printed volume,
  • the first contents page of that volume, or
  • the index for that volume.
Only by clicking onto a page and choosing the “Navigator” link underneath its text will you find a handy date-by-date navigator for your chosen volume of the Journals. And you might discover that the Congress was careful about keeping controversies and disagreements out of its official records.

So let’s try browsing the Letters of Delegates, which report more gossip. Each volume will give you a chronological stack of letters with no dates at all. You have to click randomly and then probe up and down to home in on a particular date.

Once you’ve found a letter from a particular date, or a Journals entry, there’s usually a handy “link to date-related documents”—other items created on that same date within that part of the American Memory collection. That can take you over to the other collection, for example.

Again, this mass of information, freely available and fully searchable, is a national treasure. But you have to learn its quirks and how to get around them.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rogers-Stokes on Massachusetts’s Political Unity, 29 Mar.


On Thursday, 29 March, the North End Historical Society will present a talk by Dr. Lori Rogers-Stokes on Boston’s alliance with rural Massachusetts towns during the political crisis of 1774.

The added Customs duties that the London government had levied starting in 1767 directly affected the merchants of Boston and other ports, but had less impact on rural communities. Similarly, the farmers of Massachusetts had little interaction with the royal soldiers stationed in Boston in 1768-1770. While there were other grievances in their colonists’ dispute with London, those were probably the most irritating issues. As a result, the capital’s Whigs were unsure of how much support the rest of the colony would provide as their confrontation with royal officials heated up.

Rogers-Stokes, a member of the Board of Directors of the Arlington Historical Society and a member of the Society of Early Americanists, will discuss how Boston and rural towns united in resistance to expanded royal privilege. The event description says:

She will elaborate on the remarkable and unique political consciousness of average citizens in Massachusetts towns, both large and small. “To understand the events of the 1770s…we have to look at the long history of political engagement and the very early embrace of democracy” in the Bay State, according to Rogers-Stokes. “The partnership between Boston and the towns was unique in colonial America and was a deciding factor in the road to war.”
As a scholar from Arlington, Rogers-Stokes will naturally discuss that village’s place on the road from Boston to Concord, where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress met in April 1775.

This talk will begin “sharply at 6 P.M.” in the Sacred Heart Church Hall at 9 Sun Court Street in Boston’s North End. It’s free and open to the public, but space is limited, so call 617-680-3829 or email to reserve a seat.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Fish Scales, Tea Saucers, and Changing Habits

Early this month the Boston Globe ran Gail Beckerman’s interview with Prof. Paul Mullins, president of the Society for Historical Archaeology, on learning about the development of American consumer habits through artifacts:
We actually have a lot of archeological data that speak to food consumption....Fish is actually a good example. It’s one of those things that you find in the Chesapeake, in Baltimore, D.C., and Virginia. We see lots and lots of fish scales early on in the 18th century into mid-century and then the scales kind of disappear and then we only see fish bones, and that’s probably a transition from buying things in the street to going to stores, because when you get into the store you are having the fish already pre-cleaned. . . .

By the 18th century and the Revolution, one of the things that is happening is the development of a marketplace you or I would recognize, with a fair amount of mass-produced goods and class distinctions and patterns. And some things that are in every household begin to appear. Tea consumption is a really good example. And that’s something that’s very easy for us to see archeologically because we see the introduction of teacups and spoons. We also have probate inventories so we can look at what people have at the time of their death. Tea starts as a relatively elite activity but it very rapidly becomes something every American is participating in, but often in idiosyncratic ways. Some people drink out of saucers, some drink out of very fine Chinese porcelain, some folks drink out of fabulous-looking English ceramics with big tea services.
At Williamsburg Marketplace, a commercial website of Colonial Williamsburg, product manager and former curator Liza Gusler answers a question about drinking tea from a saucer:
From my research in Virginia documents and British prints and paintings, I suspect that some people of lower social rank drank from saucers, but that an 18th-century “Miss Etiquette” would not consider it “the done thing.” There is a satirical print called “Lady Nightcap at Breakfast” that shows a young woman sipping from a saucer. Her costume hints that “Lady Nightcap” might not be received for tea in the best London drawing rooms. I've never seen someone sipping from a saucer in more formal period “conversation” paintings, which often depict gentry families or parties taking tea.
The cup and saucer above, from mid-eighteenth-century France, come courtesy of artist and antiques dealer Andrew Hopkins. The picture shows how many saucers of the time were more like little bowls than like flat little plates—much easier to drink from. As “Lady Nightcap” demonstrates.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

B.C. History of Religion Conference, 30-31 March

At the end of this month, Boston College hosts its biennial conference on the history of religion. Here are the sessions that appear to pertain to the study of eighteenth-century America.

Friday, 30 March

Keynote Address, 2:00–3:30 P.M., Francis Thompson Room, John J. Burns Library

Jon Butler, Howard R. Lamar Professor of American Studies, History & Religious Studies, Yale University: “When Religion Counts and When it Doesn’t: How do Historians Know?”

Panel Session One, 4:00–5:30 P.M.

Panel A: “African Americans and Religion in Massachusetts,” Room 202, Gasson Hall
  • Richard J. Boles, George Washington University: “‘A Free Negro Who Also Owned the Covenant With Us’: African Americans in Massachusetts Religious History”
  • Gloria McCahon Whiting, Harvard University: “That You May Become Good Christians: Religion and Slave Family Life in Early Massachusetts”
  • Jared Hardesty, Boston College: “Taught my Benighted Soul to Understand: African Slaves, Protestant Christianity, and Resistance in Eighteenth Century Boston”
Moderator/Commentator: Joanne Pope Melish, University of Kentucky

Panel D: “Teaching the Subjects: Religion and Education in the Early British Empire,” Room 210, Gasson Hall
  • Karen Sonnelitter, Purdue University: “The Politics of Religious Charity in Eighteenth Century Ireland: The Incorporated Society for Promoting English Protestant Schools”
  • Craig Gallagher, Boston College: “Prelacy or Presbytery? Religion and Education in the Early Modern British Kingdoms”
  • Scott McDermott, Saint Louis University: “The New England Praying Indians as Participants in Transatlantic Religious and Scientific Dialogue”
Moderator/Commentator: Malcolm Smuts, University of Massachusetts-Boston

Saturday, 31 March

Panel Session Two, 8:45–10:15 A.M.

Panel D: “Gender, Politics, and Female Leadership among Early Quakers and Methodists,” Room 210, Gasson Hall
  • Sarah Crabtree, Fairleigh Dickinson University: “From New York: Hannah Barnard and the Irish Rebellion of 1798”
  • Anne M. Lawrence, Fairfield University: “Jarena Lee’s Calling: Female Preaching in the Early African Methodist Episcopal Church”
  • Janet Moore Lindman, Rowan University: “Testimony in Action: Anne Emlen’s Political Challenge to the American Revolutionary War”
Moderator/Commentator: Lynn Lyerly, Boston College

Registration costs $25, which covers some meals.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Romney’s False Picture of the Founders

According to Mitt Romney’s website, yesterday he delivered an economic policy speech that stated:
The Founding Fathers wrote that we are endowed by our Creator with the freedom to pursue happiness. In America, we would have economic freedom, just as we would have political and religious freedom. Here, we would not be limited by the circumstance of birth nor directed by the supposedly informed hand of government.  We would be free to pursue happiness as we wish.

The Founders were convinced that millions of people, all freely choosing their individual occupations and enterprises, all pursuing their individual dreams, would produce great prosperity. 
This picture of the beliefs of America’s founding generation’s beliefs is wrong—in some ways so wrong as to be offensive.

In the American economic and social structure of the early republic, millions of Americans were “limited by the circumstances of birth” because by law they were slaves. Millions more were limited by being women under the property laws of the time. The “hand of government” constrained the economic freedom of most American adults. And the elite men at the Continental Congress, Constitutional Convention, and U.S. Congress supported that system because they benefited from the inequality.

It’s quite possible to praise those rich white politicians, an overwhelming number of them slaveowners, for formulating ideals of equality and freedom while also acknowledging the obvious fact that most of them were unable to fathom, much less act upon, the full implications of those ideals.

But that’s not what Romney and his speechwriters did. Instead, they said the “Founders were convinced” of a vision of society that they clearly didn’t pursue. Romney’s repeated use of the word “all” as he discussed Americans “freely choosing their individual occupations and enterprises” in the Founders’ vision simply disregards all Americans who were not white and not male.

And that’s not even going into the issue of how much early Americans expected government to manage the economy. Boston’s selectmen determined the size and price of bread loaves, for goodness’ sake!

Monday, March 19, 2012

“Saving Shirley Place” at the West End Museum, 27 Mar.


A year or two after the conquest of the French fortress at Louisbourg, Massachusetts governor William Shirley started to build a fine mansion for himself in Roxbury. Shirley’s mansion passed through many other hands, including the medically trained pair of Gov. William Eustis. It also moved around a bit on the hill where it stands. And slowly it deteriorated.

About a century ago, Bostonians formed the Shirley-Eustis House Association to preserve the building, one of the few remaining private homes of royal governors in the U.S. of A. It took a federal grant in 1970 to fund the restoration of the exterior, followed by interior work in the 1980s. Like any old house, it needs ongoing upkeep and care to survive.

On 27 March, historical architect Fredric Detwiller will speak about “Saving Shirley Place” as part of the West End Museum’s series on historic preservation. This event is free, and runs from 6:30 to 8:00 P.M.

The photograph at top shows the Shirley-Eustis House sometime after 1933, part of this government survey of historic buildings catalogued at the LIbrary of Congress. The building looks much better now.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Friary at the Shirley-Eustis House, 25 March


On Sunday, 25 March, at 2:00 P.M., Donald Friary will speak at the Shirley-Eustis House on “Louisbourg: Defense for New France, Offense to New England.” Friary is President of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and Director Emeritus of Historic Deerfield.

The event announcement says:

The great French fortress at Louisbourg had its beginnings only at the end of Queen Anne’s War in 1713, when France’s oldest North American settlement, Acadia, and its capital at Port Royal, had fallen to the British, along with the fishing settlements on the French shore of Newfoundland. The royal government at Paris knew that entrance to the St. Lawrence must be guarded, and built Louisbourg as a symbol not only to protect its interests, but to frighten English settlers all along the North Atlantic seaboard.
Gov. William Shirley launched a successful Massachusetts campaign against the fortress at Louisbourg in 1745. At the end of that war (called King George’s War in North America but the War of the Austrian Succession in Europe and later, since there were so many King Georges with so many wars), the British government returned the territory to France.

Less than a decade later those same two empires went to war again, and the men of Massachusetts got to say, “I told you so.” This time the attack on Louisburg was under the direction of the regular British army. In the Revolutionary period New Englanders looked back to the 1745 campaign, the high point of Massachusetts’s military history thirty years before, as evidence that they could match military professionals in the field.

This event is sponsored by the Shirley-Eustis House Association. Admission is $5 for members, $10 for the public, and there will be refreshments.

TOMORROW: How Gov. Shirley celebrated his victory.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Age of Fracture Wins a Bancroft Prize

I’m stepping a couple of centuries out of my usual period to state my pleasure that among the winners of this year’s Bancroft Prize for studies of the history or diplomacy of the Americas is Daniel T. Rodgers for Age of Fracture.

Rodgers—or Uncle Dan, as I’ve always called him—is Henry Charles Lea Professor of History at Princeton University. His specialty is intellectual history of the past century and a half, gradually moving toward the present. Age of Fracture examines changes in political, economic, and social thinking in the 1980s.

Uncle Dan also contributed to the study of early America through his paper “Republicanism: The Career of a Concept” in the Journal of American History in 1992. That’s a meta-analysis about how small-r republicanism became such a hot topic in discussions of nearly all aspects of life in the early U.S. of A.

As long as I’m on book prizes, I’ll mention the three finalists for the 2012 George Washington Book Prize, recognizing “best books on the nation’s founding era, especially those that have the potential to advance broad public understanding of American history”:
Finally, Liberty’s Exiles recently received the National Book Critics Circle prize for non-fiction.

Friday, March 16, 2012

After John Callender’s Court-Martial

Thanks to everyone who came out to my talk about the early Continental artillery at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters last night.

Among the episodes I related was Capt. John Callender’s court-martial on the charge of “Cowardice” at Bunker Hill. Five days after arriving in Cambridge, Gen. George Washington affirmed that Callender should be booted out of the army.

I was determined to avoid doing what every version of that story I’ve seen does, and go on to describe how Callender traveled to New York in the fall of 1776 as a volunteer “cadet” in Capt. John Johnson’s artillery company.

I steeled myself not to say that when Johnson and his lieutenant were wounded in the Battle of Brooklyn, Callender took command of that company until the British captured him and the other survivors.

And that after his release, Callender received a captain-lieutenant’s commission in the Continental artillery dated 1 Jan 1777 and served to the end of the war.

So you may well read that about Capt.-Lt. John Callender. But you didn’t hear it from me.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Continentals’ Big Cannon

In 1871, Horatio Bateman’s Biographies of Two Hundred and Fifty Distinguished National Men said this about Henry Knox:
When young Knox presented himself at Washington’s headquarters, our army was destitute of cannon, without which he felt that it was impossible to cope with the British forces.
This claim, that the Continental Army had no artillery until Knox brought some back from the Lake Champlain forts, pops up in a lot popular sources, though few historians who’ve studied the record make the same mistake.

Many sources show that the Massachusetts Committee of Safety began to collect artillery pieces for an army in the fall of 1774. Their agents sought cannon from ships, shore batteries, militia armories, and hardware stores. In early April 1775, James Warren wrote to his wife from Concord, “This town is full of cannon…” During the Battle of Bunker Hill, four American artillery companies deployed with eight field-pieces, though by the end of the day they had lost five.

Knox’s trek to Crown Point and Fort Ticonderoga in the winter of 1775-76 certainly added to the Continental Army’s artillery. He and his men brought back forty-three cannon, including one brass 24-pounder and eleven 18-pounders, one brass and ten iron.

(Cannon were designated by the weight of the largest ball they could throw; thus, a 24-pounder could propel an iron ball weighing twenty-four pounds. The mouth of a 24-pounder was nearly six inches wide. For more on Revolutionary-era artillery, check out this page from Yorktown.)

Even so, the Continental Army already had guns of that size. Here’s an entry from the journal of Pvt. Samuel Bixby, stationed in Roxbury:
July 1st [1775]. Saturday. We are fortifying on all sides, and making it strong as possible around the Fort. We have two 24 lbs. Cannon, & forty balls to each. We have hauled apple trees, with limbs trimmed sharp & pointing outward from the Fort. We finished one platform, & placed the Cannon on it just at night, and then fired two balls into Boston.
Knox helped to lay out that fortification, which attracted praise from Gen. George Washington and Gen. Charles Lee four days later.

Pvt. Bixby mentioned “the 24 pounder in the Great Fort above the meeting house” again on 2 August, and on 21 September wrote, “We fired from the lower fort with our 18 pounder.” On 6 October he wrote:
6th. Frid. About 9 o’c. A.M. we flung two 18 lb balls into Boston from the lower fort, just to let them know where to find us, for which the enemy returned 90 shots.
Clearly the Continentals were outgunned by the Royal Artillery, and had a lot less gunpowder and shot to use. But it’s a myth to say that Washington’s troops had no guns or even no heavy guns until Col. Knox got back from Fort Ticonderoga.

I’ll have more to say about the myths and realities of the Continental artillery tonight at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Henry Knox Turns Down a Commission

The same 23 Oct 1775 conference at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters that decided to ease Col. Richard Gridley out of the command of the Continental Army’s artillery regiment also determined that Henry Knox should be appointed Assistant Engineer with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Until then, Knox had not been part of the Continental Army at all—he was a gentleman volunteer. In the prewar Massachusetts militia, his highest rank had been lieutenant in Boston’s grenadier company. He was only twenty-five, and the regiment included older men with more militia experience and higher army rank, so this appointment was a real sign of confidence in Knox.

And he turned it down.

Knox didn’t think the rank of lieutenant colonel was high enough, as he explained to John Adams in a letter from Cambridge dated 26 October:
A number of the Generals desir’d me to act as engineer and said that when the delegates from the Continental Congress came here the matter should be settl’d—myself as cheif engineer with the rank and pay of Colonel and a Lt. Col. [Rufus] Putnam as second also with the rank of Col.—but the Gentlemen (two of them, Dctr. [Benjamin] Franklin was of another opinion) delegates did not see proper to engage for any other rank than that of Lt. Col. and I believe have recommended us in that order to your Congress.

I have the most sacred regard for the liberties of my country and am fully determined to act as far as in my power in opposition to the present tyranny attempted to be imposed upon it, but as all honor is comparative I humbly hope that I have as good pretensions to the rank of Col. as many now in the service, the declining to confer which by the delegates not a little supriz’d me. If your respectable body should not incline to give the rank and pay of Col. I must beg to decline it, not but I will do every service in power as a Volunteer.

It is said and universally beleived that the officers and soldiers of the train of artillery will refuse to serve under their present Commander, the reasons of which you no doubt have heard. If it should be so and a new Col. Appointed I should be glad to suceed to that post where I flatter myself I should be of some little service to the Cause. The other field officers of the regiment wish it and I have great reasons to beleive the Generals too. This would be much more agreable to me than the first and would not hinder me from being useful in that department.
Continental Congress delegates Thomas Lynch and Benjamin Harrison had apparently balked at making Knox a full colonel, and the conference had thus recommended appointing him as lieutenant colonel, giving the same rank to Rufus Putnam (who was already in the army).

So as of late October, Gen. Washington had an artillery commander who needed to be replaced, superiors who disagreed with the replacement his generals had suggested, a replacement who had turned down the job, and a shortage of heavy guns, mortars, and gunpowder. Aside from that, the siege was going fine.

Come hear me talk about how Washington managed to reengineer the artillery regiment at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site this Thursday at 6:00 P.M.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Richard Gridley: “become very obnoxious to that corps”

A lot of the research we rely on about Col. Richard Gridley, first commander of the Massachusetts and then Continental artillery regiment, comes from Daniel T. V. Huntoon, a writer in the late 1800s.

Huntoon was from Canton, Massachusetts, the town where Gridley settled a few years before the war when it was still part of Stoughton. Huntoon was, like Gridley, a Freemason.

Huntoon wrote and rewrote several articles about Gridley and included a long section on the colonel in his history of Canton. He argued that Gridley—whom he called a major general—deserved a bigger monument, and eventually the town installed the impressive grave marker shown here.

One document that I don’t see quoted in any of Huntoon’s writings about Gridley is the minutes of the conference at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters on 23 Oct 1775. Along with the general and his aides were Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Lynch, and Benjamin Harrison, delegates to the Continental Congress. Those men had all been meeting with representatives from Massachusetts and other New England governments, but they saved some topics for a smaller group.

Item 14 on their agenda said:
Very unhappy disputes prevailed in the Regiment of Artillery. Colonel Gridley is become very obnoxious to that corps, and the General is informed that he will prove the destruction of the Regiment, if continued therein. What is to be done in this case?

That as all Officers must be approved by the General, if it shall appear, in forming a new Army, that the difference is irreconcileable, Colonel Gridley be dismissed in some honourable way; and that the half pay [pension from the Crown] which he renounced, by entering into the American Army, ought to be compensated to him.
The notes of that meeting were published in the mid-1800s and available to Huntoon. He quoted other documents that appeared in Washington’s papers and American Archives that complimented Gridley. But if you read Huntoon’s several articles, you’d never know that Washington thought removing Gridley from command was the only way to avoid “the destruction of the Regiment.”

I’ll be discussing Washington’s management challenge this Thursday at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site at 6:00 P.M.

(Photo above from the Canton Citizen, whose 2011 article about Gridley relies too much on Huntoon’s writing.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Daniel Usher at the Boston Massacre

On Saturday I quoted Henry Knox’s testimony in the trial of the soldiers after the Boston Massacre. In response to a lawyer’s question, he said he “did hear a young fellow, one Usher, about eighteen years of age say” of Pvt. Hugh White, “God damn him, we will knock him down for snapping,” or firing his gun with no ball inside.

I went looking for the person Knox described. One possibility is Daniel Usher, who (like Knox) testified to magistrates Richard Dana and John Hill for Boston’s report on the event:

…coming into King-street about half after nine o’clock on monday evening the fifth current, he saw several persons, mostly young folks gathered between the town house and coffee-house, some of whom were talking to the centinel at the commissioners or custom-house; after some time, the boys at a distance began to throw light snow balls at him, which he seemed much enraged at, & went on to the custom-house steps where he appeared to have charged his gun giving it a heavy stamp upon the door step, as if to force down the lead, and then swore to the boys if they came near him he would blow their brains out.

About ten minutes after this, the deponent saw Capt. [Thomas] Preston leading seven or eight men from towards the town-house, and placed them between the custom-house door and the centinel box. About four or five minutes after they were posted, the snow balls now and then coming towards the soldiers, the Capt. commanded them to fire.

Upon this, one gun quickly went off, and afterwards he said FIRE BY ALL MEANS! others succeeding, and the deponent being utterly unarm’d, to avoid further danger, went up round the town-house till the fray was over. And further saith not.
Despite (or because of) this accusation of Capt. Preston, Daniel Usher wasn’t called to testify at either of the formal trials.

A Daniel Usher was baptized at the Brattle Street Meetinghouse on 5 Feb 1749, son of Hezekiah and Jane Usher. That would have made him twenty-one in March 1770, or a year older than Knox.

However, I can’t fit that baptism into the genealogy published in volume 23 of the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, which says that Hezekiah and Jane User did have a son Daniel, who died young, and that Hezekiah married another woman named Abigail in the early 1740s. Once again, there might have been multiple people with the same names.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Remaking the Artillery Regiment from Cambridge, 15 Mar.

And as long as I’m speaking about Henry Knox, this Thursday I’m, well, speaking about Henry Knox. And the whole Continental Army artillery regiment. I’ll be giving a talk on 15 March at 6:00 P.M. at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge.

Gen. George Washington chose that mansion as his home and workspace from the middle of July 1775 to the start of April 1776. One of the biggest management challenges he had to tackle in those months was remaking the American artillery.

The Battle of Bunker Hill threw the regiment into chaos, with Col. Richard Gridley wounded and the other officers overwhelmed by the demand for fortifications and grousing at each other. Making changes was politically thorny, but Washington saw no way to win the siege without good military engineering and heavy artillery.

By the end of 1775, Washington had engineered the appointment of Knox as colonel, kicking Gridley upstairs to be the army’s Chief Engineer. Washington had also launched two initiatives that brought more heavy ordnance to the siege lines, making the March 1776 push onto the Dorchester peninsula worthwhile. My talk “Washington’s Artillery: Remaking the Regiment Between Bunker Hill & Dorchester Heights” will explore those developments and look at these questions:
  • How did American artillerists perform in the Battle of Bunker Hill?
  • What did Gen. Washington expect to find when he arrived at Boston?
  • Why was it so hard to appoint majors in the artillery regiment? 
  • What are the myths and realities of Knox’s trek from Lake Champlain?
This is a free lecture, but there’s limited space, so please call 617-876-4491 to reserve a seat. The talk should take less than an hour, and there will be refreshments afterward.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Henry Knox at the Boston Massacre

Henry Knox was a witness of the Boston Massacre, the first time he came to recorded prominence in Boston. (The youth of the town remembered when he single-handedly shouldered one corner of the South End’s wagon during one Pope Night brawl, but that sort of feat didn’t make the newspapers.)

On 17 March 1770, the twenty-year-old Knox gave the following deposition to magistrates Richard Dana and John Hill, who were collecting testimony for a town report about the shooting on King Street. (This quotation uses the spelling and punctuation of a mid-1800s reprint, with added paragraphing.)
I, Henry Knox, of lawful age, testify and say, that between nine and ten o’clock, P. M., the fifth instant [i.e., of this month], I saw the sentry at the Custom-house charging his musket, and a number of young persons crossing from Royal Exchange to Quaker lane; seeing him load, stopped and asked him what he meant? and told others the sentry was going to fire. They then huzzaed and gathered round him at about ten feet distant.

I then advancing, went up to him, and the sentry snapped his piece upon them, Knox told him if he fired he died. The sentry answered he did not care, or words to that purpose, damning them and saying, if they touched him, he would fire. The boys told him to fire and be damned.

Immediately on this I returned to the rest of the people and endeavored to keep every boy from going up, but finding it ineffectual, went off through the crowd and saw a detachment of about eight or nine men and a corporal, headed by Capt. [Thomas] Preston. I took Capt. Preston by the coat and told him for God’s sake to take his men back again, for if they fired his life must answer for the consequence; he replied he was sensible of it, or knew what he was about, or words to that purpose; and seemed in great haste and much agitated.

While I was talking with Capt. Preston, the soldiers of his detachment had attacked the people with their bayonets. There was not the least provocation given to Capt. Preston or his party, the backs of the people being towards them when they were attacked. During the time of the attack I frequently heard the words, “Damn your blood,” and such like expressions.

When Capt. Preston saw his party engaged he directly left me and went into the crowd, and I departed: the deponent further says that there was not present in King street above seventy or eighty people at the extent, according to his opinion.
Knox’s deposition said nothing about the actual shooting. He described the apprentices’ confrontation with sentry Pvt. Hugh White, and then he described the arrival of the reinforcement soldiers from the perspective of someone at the back of that crowd.

“I stood at the foot of the Town house when the Guns were fired,” Knox later said. That was at the trial of Capt. Preston, when the prosecutors called Knox as a witness. Evidently they wanted his testimony to establish that Preston had been warned not to order his men to fire.

Interestingly, the effect of Knox’s testimony was that in the subsequent trial of the soldiers their attorneys called him as a defense witness. This is how John Hodgson recorded Knox’s words:
I was at the North-end, and heard the bells ring, I thought it was fire; I came up as usual to go to the fire; I heard it was not fire, but the soldiers and inhabitants were fighting; I came by Cornhill, and there were a number of people an hundred and fifty, or two hundred; I asked them what was the matter, they said a number of soldiers had been out with bayonets and cutlasses, and had attacked and cut the people all down Cornhill, and then retreated to their barracks; a fellow said they had been cutting fore and aft. The people fell gradually down to Dock-square. I came up Cornhill, and went down King-street, I saw the Sentinel at the Custom-house steps loading his piece; coming up to the people, they said the Sentinel was going to fire.

Q. How many persons were there at that time round the Sentinel?

A. About fifteen or twenty, he was waving his piece about, and held it in the position that they call charged bayonets. I told him if he fired he must die for it, he said damn them, if they molested him he would fire; the boys were hallowing fire and be damned.

Q. How old were these boys?

A. Seventeen or eighteen years old. I endeavoured to keep one fellow off from the Sentinel, I either struck him or pushed him away.

Q. Did you hear one of the persons say, God damn him, we will knock him down for snapping?

A. Yes, I did hear a young fellow, one Usher, about eighteen years of age say this.

Q. Did you see any thing thrown at the Sentinel?

A. No, nothing at all.

Q. Did you see the party come down?

A. Yes.

Q. What was the manner of their coming down?

A. They came down in a kind of a trot, or a very fast walk.

Q. Did they come down in a threatening posture?

A. Very threatening, at least their countenances looked so, they said make way, damn you make way, and they pricked some of the people.

Q. Did you see the Corporal [William Wemys]?

A. I saw a person with the party, whom I took to be the Corporal.

Q. Had he a surtout on?

A. Yes, he had.
That last detail from cross-examination incriminated Wemys since other witnesses said that a man wearing a surtout had given the order to fire. However, there’s good evidence that Pvt. Edward Montgomery actually shouted, “Fire!” and Wemys most likely never shot his gun at all. Montgomery was one of the two men convicted of manslaughter; Wemys and the other men were acquitted.

Come see the Massacre reenacted tonight at the Old State House in Boston starting at 7:00 P.M.!

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Boston Massacre as You’ve Never Exactly Seen It Before

Tomorrow the Old State House hosts its annual commemoration and reenactment of the Boston Massacre. This winter has been far from wintry, but we’ll all pretend it’s a chilly, moonlit night with snow and ice on the ground. The schedule of events—

Little Redcoats: Kids Reenact the Massacre
11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M.
With little red coats and styrofoam snowballs, young visitors will be the stars in a recreation of the Boston Massacre. Free; outside.

Trial of the Century
11:30 A.M. and 2:30 P.M.
Immediately following the Kids’ Reenactment, come inside to watch patriot lawyers John Adams and Josiah Quincy defend the British soldiers accused of murdering Bostonians. Audience members are invited to act as witnesses and jurors for this celebrated case. Free with museum admission, but space is limited; tickets for both performances go on sale at 9:00 A.M. at the museum’s front desk.

Boston Massacre Reenactment
7:00 P.M.
Become a part of this infamous event as it is reenacted in front of the Old State House, in the very place where it took place in 1770. Decide for yourself if the soldiers fired into the crowd in self-defense or cold-blooded murder. Before the action unfolds, hear from patriots, loyalists, and moderates who will talk about the events and attitudes that led to that fateful night. Free; in front of the Old State House.

This year the reenacting unit that portrays the soldiers will debut their 29th Regiment of Foot uniforms. The photo by bettlebrox above shows the mix of uniforms that soldiers wore five years ago—each individually authentic, but somewhat motley when combined. Commissioning multiple hand-sewn uniforms of the actual company involved in the shooting is the meticulous attention to detail that makes us civilians think reenactors are awe-inspiring and a little crazy. But all of us involved in this event have the goal of improving it every year.

For folks who can’t be in town tomorrow night, the Freedom Trail Foundation has started a podcast, and the first episode is devoted to the Massacre, with an audio portrayal and interviews.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

“It serves to call to remembrance”

In June 1875, fifty years after the Marquis de Lafayette participated in the laying of the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill Monument—an event largely organized by Massachusetts’s Freemasons—another participant donated a relic of that event to the Massachusetts Grand Lodge.

Francis C. Whiston explained:
At the close of the ceremony, and after the delivery of the magnificent oration by Daniel Webster, the Masonic portion of the assembly unclothed, preparatory to proceeding to what was more properly known as Bunker Hill, where a sumptuous dinner was partaken of by several thousand persons. As my position, as one of the marshals of the day, gave me the opportunity of being near the person of General Lafayette, I received from him, in that graceful, bland, and affable manner so peculiar to himself, the Masonic apron he had worn during the ceremonies of the day, and which I have faithfully preserved as a valuable memento of that great man, and the interesting and important event it serves to call to remembrance.
Whiston gave the apron to the lodge, which still holds it.

Ironically, Whiston’s grandfather Obadiah Whiston, a Boston blacksmith, had left Massachusetts with the British military in March 1776 under suspicion of leaking some of the Patriots’ most sensitive secrets to the Crown. I’m not sure he ever actually did, and his widow and children were back in Massachusetts soon after the war (if they ever left). But Francis C. probably didn’t say much about that part of his family history, if he even knew.

The image above, sheet music for “The Bunker Hill Quick-Step,” appears in the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection of Bunker Hill Monument images.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Lecture on Lafayette’s Return to Massachusetts, 11 March

On Sunday, 11 March, the Somerville Museum will host a talk and book signing by Alan Hoffman on “Lafayette and the Farewell Tour: Odyssey of an American Idol.”

Hoffman has translated and published an unabridged edition of Lafayette en Amérique en 1824 et 1825, the journal of the marquis’s long return trip to the U.S. of A. as kept by his secretary. That trip brought the veteran to these parts, as the event description explains:
Lafayette came to Charlestown (later Somerville) during his tour of America…to lay the cornerstone of the Bunker Hill monument. He was greeted by Col. Samuel Jacques, one of the most colorful gentleman farmers of his time and dined with him at his home on Bow Street.
Actually, I understand Lafayette was happy to go almost anywhere in America as long as there was a dinner waiting.

Though the museum webpage doesn’t say anything about a cost for this event, I’ve also received a flyer that says it’s free to members of Historic Somerville but costs $8 for nonmembers.

The image above, courtesy of Dave Martucci’s Midcoast.com, shows the flag of the Kennebec Guards, a Portland, Maine, militia company organized in 1825. Charles Codman painted Lafayette standing in front of the planned monument, which wasn’t actually completed until 1843.

TOMORROW: A hidden irony during Lafayette’s visit.

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Trail of Sally Edwards

Yesterday I shared some details about how a woman named Sally Edwards—possibly still in her teens, with no husband in sight—gave birth to a baby, also named Sally Edwards, in Dedham in June 1775.

There are two big problems in tracking that mother and child much further. One is that people probably took steps to keep them from being tracked. The other is that their name was not uncommon—and looking for “Sarah Edwards” as well brings up possibilities all over the place.

According to Dr. Sam Forman in his new biography Dr. Joseph Warren, which unearthed this event, the baby remained in Dedham for another three years, with Warren’s former medical students paying the bills for her support.

The mother—to innkeeper Dr. Nathaniel Ames’s relief—returned to Boston after the siege in mid-1776. Forman cites letters from Warren’s fiancée Mercy Scollay to say that a “Mrs. Charles Miller” took in both Sally Edwards and Dr. Warren’s oldest child Betsey in 1776.

The most prominent Charles Miller around at the time was a Boston merchant whom the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had appointed deputy commissary general in May 1775. After the Continental Congress took over the war, he worked under commissary general Joseph Trumbull for the rest of the siege. In 1776, Miller stayed in Massachusetts as Trumbull’s deputy in the work of collecting and shipping food to the Continental Army.

That Charles Miller was born in 1742 at Braintree, son of the region’s Anglican minister. In 1769 he married Elizabeth Cary, daughter of prominent Charlestown merchant Richard Cary, in King’s Chapel, Boston’s most prestigious Anglican church.

That religious affiliation may help to explain why Sally Edwards had her baby baptized by an Anglican minister in Dedham—and they were scarce on the ground in New England outside Boston during the siege. Did she come from an Anglican family? Was she feeling more support from the Millers than from anyone else in her life?

I have no further clues about either Sally Edwards, mother or daughter. As has been discussed previously on Boston 1775, some families have claimed descent from Dr. Joseph Warren through an undocumented daughter. In one case that daughter was said to be named “Sarah Warren.” However, I haven’t seen evidence to support those traditions, and Sarah was (as I said above) a very common name.

Monday, March 05, 2012

The Mysterious Sally Edwards

On 19 Nov 1775, the Rev. Samuel Clark, an Anglican missionary to Dedham and Stoughton, recorded baptizing “A daughter of Sally Edwards, named Sally.” He didn’t name a father.

That child had been born back on 29 June, according to Sam Forman’s new biography Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty. That lag between birth and baptism was unusually long, but there was a war on, and this baby was probably being kept under wraps.

Dedham’s leading intellectual, the prickly physician and almanac-writer Nathaniel Ames, referred to the mother as a “fair incognita pregnans,” Forman writes—a pregnant woman being kept hidden. The book also says she was in her teens, though I’m not sure what the direct evidence for that is. Dr. Warren had sent Sally Edwards to Dr. Ames before dying in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Over ten months after the birth, on 12 May 1776, Dr. Ames wrote in his diary: “Sally Edwards left my house having made much Mischief in it.” Drawing on Ames’s papers, Forman reports that Warren’s medical protégés William Eustis and David Townsend had continued to pay for boarding the mother and child from the Warren estate.

That financial support raises the possibility that baby Sally was Dr. Warren’s child. It’s of course possible that another man had gotten Sally Edwards pregnant and Dr. Warren simply arranged a place for her to give birth during the siege of Boston, but then we would expect her support to start coming from another family.

Forman will be speaking about Dr. Joseph Warren this Wednesday, 7 March, in the Orientation Room of the Boston Public Library starting at 6:00 P.M. The library says this illustrated lecture “will focus on his life and the posthumous arc of Warren’s legacy from national fame to near-total obscurity and perhaps back again. . . . Forman reveals Dr. Warren as a humanist, devoting his career to improving health care for all, while making real the concepts of liberty and representative government.” But I suspect Forman might also talk about the unanswered questions of Dr. Warren’s personal life.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Sally Edwards?

Sunday, March 04, 2012

William Hogeland at Boston College High, 6 March

From the website of Boston College High School, “the Jesuit high school of Boston”:
Author William Hogeland will visit BC High on March 6 as part of the Corcoran Living Library Lecture Series.

Hogeland is author of a number of books on American history, including: Declaration: The Nine Tumultuous Weeks When America Became Independent and The Whiskey Rebellion.

The Corcoran Living Lecture Series is made possible by the generosity of Joseph E. Corcoran ’53, as part of his donation to the BC High library. The speaker series fulfills Corcoran’s goal to create a “living library,” where learning goes beyond books and computers to bring noted authors and speakers to campus to talk to students face-to-face.

The lecture begins at 3:30 p.m. in the Gregory E. Bulger Center for the Performing Arts. Seating is limited. RSVP to Mary Driscoll or 617-312-2548.
From Hogeland’s own Hysteriography blog:
Along with playing a little banjo music, I’ll be talking about — and encouraging discussion of — Tea Party and Occupy appeals to founding economic history; failings in liberal/conservative consensus histories of the founding; what we should and should not mean by accuracy in historical research and narrative; why “constitutional conservatives” aren’t.
I’m tempted to sign up just to watch people who’ve read only one of these descriptions discover the other.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Washington’s First Two Encounters with Colonel Louis

In early August 1775, or one month after he arrived in Cambridge to take command of the Continental Army, Gen. George Washington received a couple of visitors from the north. One was a New Hampshire militia colonel and Vermont settler named Jacob Bayley.

The other was, the general told the Continental Congress, “a Chief of the Cagnewaga Tribe, who lives within 6 miles from Montreal.” Months later Washington identified that man from the Kahnawake Mohawk community by name: Colonel Louis.

Louis had been born about 1740 near Saratoga. His mother was Abenaki, and his father was of African descent, possibly the enslaved servant (or cook) of a British army officer. Their baby was first named Lewis Cook.

During King George’s War (1744-48), a raiding party of French and Indians captured the family, or at least the mother and young boy. Seeing Lewis’s African features, a French officer wanted to claim him as a slave and perhaps to sell him. Lewis’s mother appealed to the Mohawk leaders in the raiding party, and they insisted instead on adopting both mother and child into their nation.

Lewis Cook thus received new names. One was Mohawk; I’ve seen it rendered as Akiatonharónkwen (“He unhangs himself from the group”) and Atayataghronghta (“His body is taken down from hanging”). The former translation seems like a better match for his character.

The other name was French, since the people at Kahnawake were allied with the French and had taken up Catholicism. From then on, Lewis spelled his name Louis, in the French style. (He’s also sometimes called Joseph Louis Cook, and I don’t know where the first name came from.)

Louis fought on the side of the French Empire in the next war, started by a young Virginia officer in 1754. Evidently at some point in that war Louis added the rank of Colonel to his name.

As a young warrior Louis was at the 1756 fight known as the Battle of the Mononghela, the Battle of the Wilderness, or Braddock’s Retreat. He helped to rout a British army column that included Gen. Edward Braddock, Lt. Col. Thomas Gage, Capt. Horatio Gates, and that young Virginian George Washington, there as an unranked volunteer.

I suspect that Colonel Louis and Washington didn’t dwell on that earlier event when they met in Cambridge in 1775.

COMING UP: What they did have to talk about.

(The image above is a sketch of Colonel Louis by John Trumbull. He was an aide de camp to Gen. Washington during Louis’s August 1775 visit, but Trumbull drew this nearly a decade later in preparation for his Death of General Montgomery.)

Friday, March 02, 2012

Conversation on Washington and African-Americans, 3 March

My conversation with Marty Blatt of the National Park Service on African-Americans in the American Revolution has been moved back an hour to 1:00 P.M. this Saturday, 3 March. This will let everyone (most importantly, me) have a good lunch first.

The Park Service’s announcement of this event is:
Join Boston National Historical Park Historian Marty Blatt and writer J. L. Bell at the 15 State Street Visitor Center for a discussion on African Americans and their role in the Revolutionary War. Recent research at the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site has yielded information on how General George Washington struggled and ultimately decided to allow African Americans to serve in the army in 1775.
That “recent research” has been my major project for years now. Some of it grew from items here on Boston 1775, some fed into blog postings, and some I’ve shared in other venues. But this is the first time I’ll talk a length about how Gen. Washington’s thinking changed on the question of black men as soldiers, and thus sooner or later as people like all others, during the first year of the war.

Since the research project stops with Washington’s departure from Massachusetts in April 1776, I won’t have much new to say about the later years of the war or Washington’s political career. But the end of 1775 was definitely a turning point for that Virginia planter. We should also get into the stories of the black people who lived at Washington’s Cambridge headquarters in the 1770s and how they sought liberty in different ways.

TOMORROW: The most intriguing man of African ancestry to visit Washington in Cambridge.

(The thumbnail above comes courtesy of the National Park Service.)

Thursday, March 01, 2012

“This speech procured a transient smile…”

Dr. Benjamin Rush (1746-1813) was a Pennsylvania Patriot who lived a long time and seemed to know everyone. He was a member of the Continental Congress who signed the Declaration of Independence, Surgeon-General of the main part of the Continental Army for a while, treasurer of the U.S. Mint, and probably the most famous physician of early America.

Rush was an energetic reformer in such causes as anti-slavery and better treatment of the mentally ill. The year before he died, Rush even got John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to write to each other again.

Despite being in the middle of so much action, Rush’s own papers weren’t published for a long time. He drafted an autobiography full of close observations about his fellow Patriots, but it wasn’t published until 1948. Rush’s Letters came out in two volumes in 1951.

And in one of those letters, dated 2 Aug 1811, Rush wrote to Adams:
Do you recollect your memorable speech upon the day on which the vote [for independence] was taken? Do you recollect the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up, one after another, to the table of the President of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at that time to be our own death warrants? The silence and the gloom of the morning were interrupted, I well recollect, only for a moment by Colonel [Benjamin] Harrison of Virginia, who said to Mr. [Elbridge] Gerry at the table: “I shall have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry, when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.” This speech procured a transient smile, but it was soon succeeded by the solemnity with which the whole business was conducted.
When Dr. James Thacher of Plymouth published a version of that anecdote in his Military Journal in 1823, he could have heard it in two ways. Adams could have told him (while probably grumbling about Harrison). Or Thacher could have heard it from Rush himself; he corresponded with the older doctor for decades, and included an admiring 42-page profile of him in his American Medical Biography.

But because Thacher didn’t specify how he was “credibly informed” about the Harrison-Gerry anecdote, generations of authors have set it aside as most likely a later invention, too good to be true. That’s certainly how I first heard it described.