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.

Follow by Email

Monday, April 30, 2012

Benjamin Franklin Discovers Tofu for America

I’ve previously written about Benjamin Franklin’s experiment with vegetarianism while he was a bothersome teenager in Boston.

Now comes word from Ben Franklin 300 (via Robin Shreeves at the Mother Nature Network) that Franklin is the first American documented as sending soybeans to North America and describing tofu. [ADDENDUM: See this follow-up.]

The tercentenary site quotes this letter from Franklin in London to naturalist John Bartram in Philadelphia on 11 Jan 1770:
I send, also, some green dry Pease, highly esteemed here as the best for making pease soup; and also some Chinese Garavances, with Father [Ferdinand] Navaretta’s account of the universal use of a cheese made of them, in China, which so excited my curiosity, that I caused inquiry to be made of Mr. [James] Flint, who lived many years there, in what manner the cheese was made; and I send you his answer. I have since learnt, that some runnings of salt (I suppose runnet) is put into water when the meal is in it, to turn it to curds.

I think we have Garavances with us; but I know not whether they are the same with these, which actually came from China, and are what the Tau-fu is made of. They are said to be of great increase.
This letter was transcribed differently in nineteenth-century editions of Franklin’s works, leaving out the phrase about “Tau-fu.” Pamela Roper Wagner writes at the Oxford English Dictionary site that this letter antedates the next appearance of “tofu” in English writing by over a century. As for “garavances,” which Franklin thought soybeans were similar to, those are now better known as garbanzo beans.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Boston National Historical Park and Marblehead Museum Seek Volunteers

Boston National Historical Park is recruiting history-loving volunteers to help the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected to come through its new Faneuil Hall Visitor Center, opening on 25 May. These Volunteers-In-Parks (V.I.P.’s, get it?) will work alongside National Park Service employees and partners to share facts about Boston’s history, answer telephones, distribute program tickets, and provide visitors with a friendly welcome.

Volunteers can enjoy behind-the-scenes tours, continuing-education learning opportunities, and some special programs. The call says, “Tax credits, senior citizens’ reimbursements and, in some cases, reimbursements for out-of-pocket expenses may be available. The park service will provide volunteer uniforms and professional training.”

The park asks volunteers to commit to working a shift of two to four hours per week for a minimum of two years. For more information on the program, contact manager Bernadette Williams by email or at 617-242-5222.

For folks on the North Shore, the Marblehead Museum is also seeking volunteers in the Jeremiah Lee Mansion. These guides welcome visitors to that house and lead them through the three floors of furnished rooms, placing merchant and politician Jeremiah Lee within the history of Marblehead and colonial America.

The museum provides guides with training and asks them to commit to a three-hour weekly schedule any day from Tuesday through Saturday. Becoming a volunteer requires an interview and references. The museum’s Welcome Breakfast for new and returning guides is on the morning of Saturday, 5 May. For more information about volunteering, call Pam Peterson at 781-631-1768.

Of course, other N.P.S. sites and local historical museums also want dedicated volunteers, especially with the summer season coming soon, so if you’ve got time, ask your favorite nearby site.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lectures Online and On the Calendar

A friendly ranger from the National Park Service recorded my March talk on “Washington’s Artillery: Remaking the Regiment Between Bunker Hill and Dorchester Heights” and produced this video on YouTube.

It’s about 53 minutes long from introduction to end. (We left out the fine question-and-answer session because no microphone picked up the audience’s comments.) If you choose to look back on that evening, I hope you enjoy it.

Looking ahead, the Metrowest Daily News and affiliated papers ran an article about a new show at the Concord Museum based on objects from the Massachusetts Historical Society. Among many other things, that report noted:
A powder horn from around 1775 bearing an inscribed map of the Boston area represents a fascinating intersection of warfare and decorative arts.
That powder horn will be the subject of my next scheduled public talk, “Reading a Powder Horn: The Siege of Boston through One Soldier’s Eyes,” at the museum on 14 June. What does that horn tell us about the soldier who decorated it? By June, I hope to have found out a lot more.

Friday, April 27, 2012

A Petition from Fifty Woburn Women

This is a guest-blogger posting from Chris Hurley of Woburn, a researcher and reenactor with a deep knowledge of that big town’s Revolutionary experience. Today he shares a notable document from 1775.


FIFTY women of Woburn.

In May 1775 they wanted the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to incentivize home manufacture by paying bounties to families with the best and most output of home-produced goods. How to pay for it? Their petition offered an answer.
To the Honorable Gentlemen the House of Delegates for the Province of the Massachsetts Bay, in Provincial Congress assembled, by Adjournment from Cambridge to Concord in the County of Middlesex on Wednesday the Twenty second day of March 1775

The Petition of the subscribers Female Inhabitents of the Town of Woburn and County aforesaid.

Humbly sheweth, that your Petitioners being greatly alarmed at the many bold & daring attempts of the British Administration to reduce this devoted Province & Continent to a state of the most abject Slavery; Do esteem it our indisspensible duty to exert our utmost efforts to defeat all the plans of our [restless and] inveterate Enemies and if possible [render] their projects to enslave us, Abortive.

Your Petitioners from a just sense of the Duty they owe to themselves, their Country and Posterity, have come to a full determination Totally to abstain from the use of all India Teas so long as the same shall be attended with a duty or Tax for the purpose of enslaving America & to refrain from all superfluities in our dress untill the Acts, & parts of Acts of the British Parliament enumerated by the Grand American Congress shall be totally Repeal’d.

That August assembly in their great Wisdom have strongly enjoind on all Merchants, Traders & others not, to import any, Goods, Wares, or Merchandize from any part of Great Britain or Ireland till said Acts & parts of Acts are repealed. It therefore becomes absolutely necessary according to their & your own recommendation to encourage & promote our own Manufactories as much as possible.

Your Petitioners humbly pray your Patronage & Encouragement in this Laudable & necessary undertak’g but without the assistance of the industrious Farmers to furnish us with the necessary materials which we flatter our selves may be produced in in [sic] plenty from a proper Cultivation of the Soil of this Province & Continent.

It is with the utmost regret that your Petitioners are constrain’d to say that too many Men are Guilty of a very great mispence of Time at Taverns & Tippling Houses, & Expence of Money laid out for Rum & other spiritous Liquors which ought to have been expended for Materials for the Women to Manufacture or the support of their Families.

Your Petioners pray a speedy remedy for this great and prevailing Evil and humbly recommend and submitt the following to the Consideration of this Hon-ble Congress Viz—That you would be pleased in your great Wisdom & prudence to cause an Excis to be laid on all spiritous Liquors expecially on Rum Retailed in this Province in such way & manner as you shall in your Wisdom think most effectual to prevent the present excessive use and abuse of those articles of Luxury, and that the [net?] proceeds of the same may be appropiated to the encouragement of Manufactures in this Town & Province by way of Bounty to those of us that shall produce the most and best Cloths & other Manufactures of various kinds, your Petitioners the more earnestly request your aid & assistance in this important affair as we have have sacrificed our favorite Teas at the Altar of Liberty for the good of the Community & your Petitioners further pray that you would be pleased to appoint such a Number of suitable Persons to determine the qualities of the Manufactures produced by our Industry as to you shall seem [meet?] and to see that the several Bounties you in your Wisdom may assign are equitably disposed of according to the merit of our performances, as in duty bound your Petioners shall ever pray

Ruth Baldwin
Phebe Snow
Perses Garry
Kezia thomson
Perses Snow
Ruth Snow
Lydia thomson
Kezia Thompson
Abigail Tay
Deborah Eatton
Mary Baldwin
Bridget Tompson
Abigail Thomson
Ruth thomson
Abigail thomson
Anna Snow
Sarah Tay
Phebe Peirce
Susanna Tay
Joanna Eames
Huldah Wyman
mary convers
Mary Wright
Lydia Wright
Jemima Richardson
Mary Flagg
Phebe Thomson
Abigail thomson
Abigail Wyman
Rebekah Wyman
Sarah [Gay?]
Phebe Wright
Abigail Richardson
[erased Hanna ___]
Hannah Brewster
Mary Carter
Eleanor Douglass
Eleanor Douglass
Sarah Richardson
Mary Richarson
Hannan Richardson
Alice Richarson
Mary Richardson
Martha Richardson
Mary Leathe
Eleanor Leathe
Susanna Leathe
Lydia Richardson
abigail [Tilar?]
Abigail Warren
This document is in the collections of the Houghton Library at Harvard University. It’s not mentioned in the published records of the Provincial Congress. A fair photographic copy of the original petition will be on display at Saturday’s Pathway of the Patriots living-history presentation in Woburn.

This year’s Pathways of the Patiots consists of tours of the Old Lexington Road (now in wooded conservation land), marched by Loammi Baldwin’s militia on April 19th. There are multiple starting times for the tours on Saturday afternoon. Each tour features five documented scenes of Revolutionary Woburn. Scene one features this petition. Reserve a spot on a free tour.

Thanks, Chris! (And look at all those Wymans, Richardsons, and Thompsons in Woburn. A nice reminder of how rural New England towns were often settled by extended families.)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Henrikson on J. Q. Adams and the Ghent Treaty, Quincy, 30 Apr.

John Quincy Adams entered the American diplomatic service in 1781 at the age of fourteen. He was the French-speaking secretary of Francis Dana, the U.S. of A.’s first designated minister to Russia.

That mission wasn’t a success. Catherine the Great, ever canny, avoided meeting Dana to accept his credentials, thus keeping her empire out of western Europe’s argument over whether the British colonies should be independent. In 1783, Dana and Adams headed back west.

Adams went on to other posts, including American minister to Holland, Portugal, Prussia, Russia (for reals this time), and Great Britain. Eventually he was Secretary of State under James Monroe. But his most important diplomatic service to America was as chief negotiator of the treaty to end the War of 1812.

The keen mind for details that served Adams well as a politician, and the total stubbornness that usually didn’t, allowed him and his colleagues to wear down the British negotiators. The U.S. hadn’t been doing well in the war, but its diplomats pulled out an advantageous peace.

Prof. Alan Henrikson of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University will deliver an illustrated lecture on “John Quincy Adams in Ghent: The Diplomacy of the War of 1812” at the Adams National Historical Park in Quincy on Monday, 30 April. In addition to his expertise as the school’s Director of Diplomatic Studies, Henrickson photographed many of the sites in Belgium where Adams and the other delegates worked.

This lecture, which starts at 7:00 P.M, is free and open to the public. For more information, visit the park site.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Eastman on the Benefits of Travel in the 1700s, 27 Apr.

This Friday, 27 April, the American Antiquarian Society’s regional seminar series journeys to Providence for a talk by Carolyn Eastman at Brown University. It’s titled “Looking, Loving, and Losing: Sex and Gender on the Move in 18th-Century Travelogues.”

Eastman is a professor of history at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of A Nation of Speechifiers: Making an American Public after the Revolution. She offered this précis of her talk:
18th-century travel writers did not always adhere to strictly “objective” modes of description in their books. Interspersed throughout both published narratives and lay individuals’ travel diaries or letters are accounts that indicate how often fantasies of romance or sex were associated with the act of traveling.

My talk analyzes the infectiousness of published travelogues, some of which included quite operatic tales of love, sex, and loss, and considers how these may have inspired ordinary men and women on much less exotic voyages to scrutinize their fellow travelers or the people they encountered for promises of romance, or the dark side of love.
The event will take place in the Pavilion Room of the Peter Green House, 79 Brown Street (corner of Angell), from 4:00 to 5::30 P.M. Try to control yourself on the drive there.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Townsend-Warner History Prize—Play Along at Home!

The St. Paul’s Preparatory School (Colet Court) in London won this year’s Townsend-Warner competition for historical knowledge. As this webpage explains, this test has been an unofficial part of upper-class English private education since the late 1800s.

The questions now take this form:
13. Explain the link between each of the following:
a) Conwy, Beaumaris, Caernarfon
b) John Balliol, John Comyn, Robert Bruce
c) Crécy, Poitiers, Agincourt
d) Lambert Simnel, Perkin Warbeck, Edmund de la Pole
e) Bartolomeu Dias, Vasco da Gama, Ferdinand Magellan
f) Jane Seymour, Catherine Howard, Katherine Parr
g) John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe
h) Osborne House, Sandringham, Balmoral
i) Winston Churchill, Dardanelles, Suvla Bay
And this:
1. Write fully on TWO of the following: . . .
The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763)
Canals in the 18th Century in England
The Agricultural Revolution in the 18th Century
The Boston Tea Party (1773)
The Settlement of Australia (1788 on)
The achievements of Horatio Nelson (1758-1805)
I’ve chosen examples that touch a little on eighteenth-century American history, but those are naturally just a small part of the test. Britain has so much more history than the U.S. of A. Of course, that national outlook can hinder as well as help: one of the most common mistakes in the quoted quizzes was to credit Lincoln’s “house divided” speech to the English abolitionist William Wilberforce.

Why do I mention all this? Because Godson’s Brother placed 47th out of 700 scholars who took the test this academic year and thus helped St. Paul’s Prep School to its win. While he wasn’t quite in the Top 30 individual performances, most of the students who took the test were ages 12 or 13 and he was only 10. He had another birthday last month, and is raring for another go next year. Everyone is, of course, very proud of him and his teammates.

(Pictured above: One of the individuals mentioned in this posting. Click on the image to see who.)

Monday, April 23, 2012

John Singleton Copley “at home”

Yesterday the Boston Globe’s “Ideas” section ran Brandeis professor Jane Kamensky’s article on John Singleton Copley, an artist Boston has long been proud of but himself a proud Englishman. Not only was he in Europe when the war broke out, but he had his sights on the imperial capital years before:
Copley, by this time [1765], had become the leading painter in New England if not all of British America. Business was good: he found himself as busy at his easel as he “could expect or wish to be,” he wrote. But he wanted more: he craved success in the English metropolis, which was fast becoming a standard-bearer in the world of contemporary art. In “this country,” he said of his native New England, “the hands of an artist is tied up” painting faces, a copyist’s craft. Copley longed to “get disingaged from this frosen region.”

Two weeks after Parliament passed the Stamp Act, Copley began a decade-long quest to slip what he called his “bondage” to career and family in New England. He sent a portrait of his young stepbrother Henry Pelham across the Atlantic, to see how his art, so beloved in Boston, might hold up “at home.” By “home,” this 27-year-old who had never left New England meant London.

The picture, “Boy with a Flying Squirrel”, is a compact tour de force. It would serve as his calling card. Glass, satin, velvet, and gold — empire’s imports — offset the delicately ruffled fur of a North American flying squirrel. Exhibited by London’s Society of Artists in 1766, the portrait set the British cognoscenti chattering and launched Copley’s career in London. It hangs now in the MFA’s “Revolutionary Boston” gallery.
The Museum of Fine Arts has the world’s largest collection of Copleys, anchoring its gallery on eighteenth-century American art. But America has only a few of the history paintings he longed to create instead of portraits.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Revere Rediscovery #2

On 27 March, the Brown University Library announced that a worker had discovered a rare print by Paul Revere. Only four other copies are known (most in Massachusetts museums). Librarians and archivists noticed—but not many others.

But on 11 April, closer to Patriots’ Day and the anniversary of Revere’s ride, the university put out another press release, and that one got picked up by National Public Radio, the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and many more news outlets.

In Paul Revere’s Engravings, Clarence S. Brigham theorized that Revere designed this image himself since he couldn’t find any models. Looking at it, I’m dubious about that. There’s just too much advanced technique—all that hatching—for a part-time engraver without advanced training. And however awkward the composition might be, the figures are still more natural than Revere’s originals. For comparison, browse the American Antiquarian Society’s online catalogue of Revere engravings.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Revere Rediscovery #1

The Northeast Document Conservation Center is offering a close look at how it conserved a letter that Paul Revere wrote to his wife Rachel on 2 May 1775, as the siege of Boston began.

Elbridge Goss printed a transcription of this letter in his two-volume biography of Revere in 1891, saying it was in the hands of a Revere grandson and already torn at one spot. But then the document dropped from sight. Recently it came to the Paul Revere House with other documents, and that museum sent it out to be conserved.

The letter begins “My Dear Girl,” which might reflect the eleven-year age difference between the silversmith and his second wife. Revere addressed the challenge of leaving the besieged town:

I receivd your favor yesterday. I am glad you have got yourself ready. If you find that you cannot easily get a pass for the Boat, I would have you get a pass for yourself and children and effects. Send the most valuable first. I mean that you should send Beds enough for yourself and Children, my chest, your trunk, with Books Cloaths &c to the ferry tell the ferryman they are mine.

I will provide a house here where to put them & will be here to receive them, after Beds are come over, come with the Children, except Paul, pray order him by all means to keep at home that he may help bring the things to the ferry, tell him not to come till I send for him.

You must hire somebody to help you. You may get brother Thomas. lett Isaac Clemmens if he is a mind to take care of the shop and maintain himself there, he may, or do as he has a mind, put some sugar in a Raisin cask or some such thing & such necessarys as we shall want.

Tell Betty, My Mother, Mrs Metcalf if they think to stay, as we talked at first, tell them I will supply them with all the cash & other things in my power but if they think to come away, I will do all in my power to provide for them, perhaps before this week is out there will be liberty for Boats to go to Notomy [Menotomy?], then we can take them all. If you send the things to the ferry send enough to fill a cart, them that are the most wanted. Give Mrs. Metcalf [torn]in, their part of the money I dont remember the sums, but perhaps they can.

I want some linnen and stockings very much. Tell Paul I expect he’l behave himself well and attend to my business, and not be out of the way. My Kind love to our parents & our Children Brothers & Sisters & all friends.
Revere appended a note to his oldest son, also named Paul, and fifteen years old. He told the boy to mind him and his stepmother, yet he was also asking young Paul to remain alone in the besieged town, behind the British lines, to look after the family property.
My Son.

It is now in your power to be serviceable to me, your Mother and yourself. I beg you will keep yourself at home or where your Mother sends you. Dont you come away till I send you word. When you bring anything to the ferry tell them its mine & mark it with my name.

Your loving Father
P. R.

Friday, April 20, 2012

“With Blood the ground is dyed”

This posting concludes Ebenezer Stiles’s “Story of the Battle of Concord and Lexinton and Revear’s ride Twenty years ago”, a poetic narration of the Battle of Lexington and Concord from 1795.

Yesterday’s installment left off as Patriot militiamen were massing above the North Bridge in Concord.
6
The British troops with victory flushed
In wars by sea and land
Scorned their foe the often crushed
Deemed naught could them withstand
They’d fain repet to their farmer foe
The lesson taught that morn
That George’s vengeance is never slow
To who treat his laws with scorn

7
The Patriots gathered from Hill and Dale
They come from cottage and farm
By Highway and Stream from Hamlet and Vale
Each bringing his polished arm
They formed in companys on the hill
Where the plough was latly used
The vandals troops are lacking still
The scene new courage infused

8
With steady step and scowling brow
Each man his rifle grasped
And down the hill to meet the foe
Five hundred patriots passed
With five hundred guns and powder horns
To brave great Britains power
Her trained Brutes her statemens scorn
And the threatened trators dower

9
They marched with firm determined tread
As did ever greek or Trojen
And scorned to think of fear or dread
The steel of the British legion
One volley from their guns they fired
With true and steady aim
Duble quick the troops retired
And left the bridge to them

10
On we pushed across the stream
The Redcoats before us flew
As though they waked from horred dream
Retreat their bugles blew
Their Flag that never knew defeat
Tho oft in Foregne wars tried
Is trampled now beneath our feet
With Blood the ground is dyed

11
They tried to rally—scatered, fled
With panic stricken feer
The ground is covered with their dead
No reinforcements near
For every tree contains a gun
Behind each fence a foe
The Wiley fox’s race is run
The Tyrant’s got to go
And the poem ends there. Perhaps Stiles felt that the Americans’ (“us”) victory at the North Bridge provided a good narrative ending by tying up the fatal fight at Lexington in the first part of his poem. Or perhaps he planned to go on and narrate the rest of the battle in further, unpreserved verses. In any event, he made his political positions perfectly clear.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ebenezer Stiles: “What sound is that”?

Yesterday I started quoting Ebenezer Stiles’s “Story of the Battle of Concord and Lexinton and Revear’s ride Twenty years ago,” written in 1795. The first stanzas described Paul Revere’s ride and the skirmish at Lexington.

Then there’s a break, and Stiles restarts his story with two iconic militiamen who would reappear in many other authors’ and artists’ portrayals of the day. It appears that Stiles was so carried away by the pathos of the scene he described that he lost his metre at the end of the second stanza.
Part Second
What sound is that said a ploughman strong
As he stoped his horse in the field
And looked to his wife who sat under the tree
She had brought him his morning meal.
What sound is that and he turned his ear
To list to the far off hum
By Heavens that’s a shot I hear
And that’s the sound of a drum

2
He reached his gun from the side of the plough
Where he kept it in case of need
And his powder horn he took from a bough
And his Horse became a steed
He turned to his wife she’d a tear in her eye
But she spoke like a matron of greace
As fondly he kissed her a last good bye
She bade to never spare the foe untill they craved for peace

3
He rode down the lane at a breakneck pace
So anxious was he for the fight
That he saw not a youth with an unshaven face
Who was running with all his might
To the scene of bloodshed carnage and woe
That the soldiers delt out with joy
His mother said go fight the foe
Although you’r my only boy

4
Go take thy Father’s gun she said
That he used in the Indian wars
And do not return untill they’r all dead
Or driven from off these shores
Be brave like him whose name you bare
Like him defend the right
Of snars and pitfalls my son beware
And keep thy scutcheon bright

5
Now the patriot captain’s voice
Is heard below the ridge
Fall in men quick we have no choice
We must defend the bridge
The little band despersed that morn
Now sweled to thrice their number
Stood no longer like the timed fawn
But a lion roused from slumber
Though starting with two individuals, Stiles quickly returned to treating all the provincial militiamen together as a single actor. In that last stanza, he even conflated the “little band” on the Lexington common with the men massed above the North Bridge at Concord later in the day.

TOMORROW: The clash at the bridge.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ebenezer Stiles’s Story of “Revear’s ride”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wasn’t the first American poet to write about Paul Revere’s ride. He was simply the best and most famous. On 15 Mar 1795, more than sixty years before Longfellow had his inspiration, a man named Ebenezer Stiles signed a poem he headlined “Story of the Battle of Concord and Lexinton and Revear’s ride Twenty years ago.”

Stiles’s manuscript entered the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which published the opening in its Proceedings in 1878. Esther Forbes printed the first two stanzas in Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, and David Hackett Fischer included four lines in Paul Revere’s Ride, which I quoted back here.

The entire poem has been published only once, so far as I can tell: by Prof. Tristram Peter Coffin in Uncertain Glory: Folklore and the American Revolution, published by Folklore Associates in 1971. I’m going to quote and analyze it to observe the anniversary of the events it relates.

When he started, Stiles either hadn’t figured out his verse form or chose to use the daring rhyme of “spur” and “Liberty.” And the lines don’t get much better than that:
He speard neither horse nor whip nor spur
As he galloped through mud and mire
He thought of nought but “Liberty”
And the lanterns that hung from the spire
He raced his steed through field and wood
Nor turned to ford the river
But faced his horse to the foaming flood
They swam across togather

2
He madly dashed o’er mountain and moor
Never slacked spur nor rein
Untill with shout he stood by the door
Of the church by Concord green
“They come They come” he loudly cried
“They are marching their Legions this way
Prepar to meet them ye true and tried
They’l be hear by Break of day”

3
The bells were run the drums were beat
The Melitia attended the roll
Every face we meet in the street
Wears a determined Scoul
For this is the day all men expected
Yet none of us wanted to see
But now it had come no one rejected
Our Country’s call of Liberty

4
Youngmen and old ansured the call
To defend the land of their sire
The[y] brought with them some powder and ball
To return the British fire
For well they knew the Blood thirsty troops
Would do their best endevour
To ruin their homes destroy their crops
And bind them slaves for ever.

5
The morning dawned the Sun arose
The birds sang loud with glee
All nature seemed to strife opposed
And the river Rolled on Merrylie
But Hush! the tramp the gleam of steel
See, See, their waving plums
As slowly they came o’er the fields
Marching to beat of drums

6
Fall in, attention the captain cried
Look well to your guns my men
But do not fire till I give the word
Leave the opening shot to them
E’en as he spoke a shot was heard
And a patriot fell on the green
And again they fired without speaking a word
The assassins what do they mean

7
Unable to stand their withering fire
We’re reluctantly foreced to obay
The word from our Captain to gently retire
And meet e’er the close of the day
The foe passed on to his work of blood
And to search for hidden stors
With a laugh and a jest that boaded no good
To the women we left within doors.
I chose to follow the M.H.S. Proceedings and Forbes quotations and use the plural “lanterns” in the first verse instead of the singular “lantern,” as Coffin transcribed the line. I haven’t seen the original manuscript, and it’s possible the people who saw “lanterns” were influenced by what they already knew about Revere’s ride. In fact, this poem is the earliest link between Revere and the signal from a Boston spire—the steeple of Old North Church, later sources specify.

Notably, Stiles changed the historical event in the same ways that Longfellow did: he had Revere spot the lantern signal instead of arrange to send it, and had him ride alone all the way to Concord. He also raised the drama by adding a “river” for Revere and his horse to swim.

Most of Stiles’s stanzas were about the skirmish at Lexington. Like all American writers for many decades after 1775, he identified (even using “we”) with the provincials and put all the blame for the shooting on “the Blood thirsty troops.” However, Stiles didn’t claim that Maj. John Pitcairn had ordered the firing or told the “damned rebels” to disperse, as many provincial witnesses claimed. Of course, he might have written “without speaking a word” simply because that was easier.

And these fine stanzas were only the first part of Stiles’s poem.

TOMORROW: New heroes appear in part two.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Eliga H. Gould on the Nascent American Empire at Tufts, 20 April

On Friday, 20 April, at 4:00 P.M., Eliga H. Gould will speak at Tufts University on the subject of his new book, Among the Powers of the Earth: The American Revolution and the Creation of a New World Empire.

This book studies how the forms and norms of eighteenth‐century diplomacy and international law shaped the new U.S. of A., including its approach to independence and its constitutional structure. The result was a centralized union and heavier taxes. The new country sought equal status in the European “concert of nations,” which among other things would give it the authority to expand. But that inevitably produced friction with the European empires that defined the international law of the Atlantic World.

Gould is a professor at the University of New Hampshire, having studied at Princeton, Edinburgh, and Johns Hopkins. His previous books include The Persistence of Empire: British Political Culture in the Age of the American Revolution and Empire and Nation: The American Revolution and the Atlantic World, co-edited with Peter Onuf.

This free talk will begin at 4:00 P.M. at the Center for the Humanities at Tufts, Fung House, 48 Professor’s Row in Medford. It’s sponsored by Prof. Benjamin L. Carp of the Tufts Department of History. For information or to reserve a seat, email project1763@gmail.com.

Monday, April 16, 2012

John Austin, Carver and Conductor

According to Agnes Austin (1769-1861), when the Revolutionary War began, her father John (born in 1722) was at James Barrett’s farm in Concord helping to prepare stores for the provincial forces.

Austin and the seven men he was supervising evidently hid their supplies and dashed away before Capt. Lawrence Parsons and four companies of regulars arrived to search the place. Austin later told his daughter about how Rebeckah Barrett treated those soldiers, so he probably went back to the house after they had left but didn’t participate in the battle.

Meanwhile, Agnes Austin’s other anecdotes indicate that she was home in Charlestown, in place to see those soldiers march in at the end of their long day.

Over the next two months, most families moved out of Charlestown, which was caught between British-held Boston and the besieging provincial army headquartered in Cambridge. John Austin’s family probably joined him at some safe place to the west. On 17 June, the Battle of Bunker Hill caused most of Charlestown to burn (and shown above), and that probably included the Austins’ empty home.

Two days later, a committee of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had recommendations for supporting the artillery regiment (which had suffered a supply problem in the battle):
That, in addition to the storekeeper already appointed by this Congress, there be established four conductors of stores, and two clerks for the ordnance department; and a company of artificers, to consist of a master carpenter or overseer, with 49 privates; and the committee of safety be desired to recommend to this Congress, fit persons for the offices abovenamed. . . .

Your committee, furthermore, beg leave to report an establishment for the officers and privates above mentioned, viz,: The storekeeper, $80 per month: four conductors, each $48 do. [ditto]: one master carpenter, or overseer, $80 do.: two clerks, each £48 do.: 49 privates, they to find their own tools, $50 do. each.
That afternoon the Committee of Safety responded:
Pursuant to a Resolve of the Provincial Congress sent to this Committee respecting the nomination of four Conductors, two Clerks, and one Overseer for a company of Artificers in the regiment of Artillery; they beg leave to recommend the following persons to the office affixed to their names, viz: Mr. John Ruddock, Mr. John Austin, Mr. John Kneeland, Mr. Thomas Uran, Conductors; Mr. Nathaniel Barber, Jun., Mr. Isaac Peirce, Clerks; Joseph Airs [Eyres], Overseer of the Artificers.
All of those men besides Austin were from Boston, and all had been active in Whig politics before the war. Ruddock was the son of the late North End magistrate with the same name; the family had fought with British soldiers in 1768-70. Peirce was a town watchman. Barber’s father was part of the North End Caucus and is one of the names inscribed on the “Liberty” punch bowl. Uran and Eyres had helped to guard the tea ships. Kneeland was a printer—mostly of religious material, said Isaiah Thomas, but some of his pamphlets had clear political messages.

Like Austin, all of those men were refugees. By appointing them conductors, clerks, and overseer, the Massachusetts legislature not only put reliable men in those posts but also provided them and their families with income.

Other documents show that John Austin continued to work for the Massachusetts military at least through early 1778. At that time, his pay was coming through Nathaniel Barber. Or, since Austin had a son of the same name (Agnes’s older brother) born in 1756, and probably namesake cousins as well, some of those references might be about other men.

Austin, a carver by trade, appears to have died in 1786. There’s more about him and his family in The Cabinetmakers of America and New England Furniture: The Colonial Era.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

“The person chose to carry on our Military preparations”

A few years back, Boston 1775 reader Judy Cataldo alerted me to the United States Revolution collection of the American Antiquarian Society. In it are several documents linked to James Barrett, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress delegate and militia colonel who was collecting artillery and other military stores in Concord in the spring of 1775.

On 15 March, David Cheever of Charlestown wrote to Barrett on behalf of the congress’s Committee on Supplies that he was sending “a Load of Bullets,” and that “Seven Men for putting up the Cartrage and Ball will be up with you tomorrow, when you must provide for them, and a House to work In.”

Two days later Cheever wrote:
Mr John Austin the Bearer of this Letter is the person chose to carry on our Military preparations and of more men the names of whome he will aquaint you with, and desier you will Furnish them with provision and a House to Carry on our military preparations. The Committee will be up next Wednesday and ease you of the trouble
And a day after that, on 18 March, Cheever sent another load that included “a chest of Cloathes and 2 Caggs for Mr Austan’s Workmen.” That letter also said:
this teem is sent away at 10 O’clock Satturday night in a Graite pannick Just having heard that the Kings Officers have seazed a cart load of Cartrages going thru Roxbury containing 19000 which must make you and I Extremely Cautious in our carrying on
Lemuel Shattuck quoted briefly from those letters in his 1835 history of Concord, when the documents were probably still held by the Barrett family.

These letters basically confirm what Agnes Austin told Harvard librarian John Langdon Sibley about her father in 1858, as I quoted yesterday: “John Austin, with ten others, was at work nine weeks at Concord before the battle. They were collecting and arranging public stores.” There appear to have been only eight men, they were working in Concord for only a month before the war began, and they were probably making musket (or maybe artillery) cartridges rather than being in charge of all the stores.

But Agnes Austin was only six years old in 1775, and she spoke to Sibley over eighty years later. Furthermore, given that her father’s work was top-secret, there’s remarkable confirmation of her recollection.

That documentary support adds credibility to the rest of Agnes Austin’s anecdote, about how her father responded to the warning that British soldiers were on the way:
Mr. Austin told the men to dress themselves as much like gentlemen as they could, to put on two shirts as they might be captured & they would want them. & then disperse & take care of themselves.
I’ve read about men on privateers also putting on two shirts when they expected to be captured. Clothing was relatively expensive in the eighteenth century, and an extra shirt was also the equivalent of an extra pair of underwear.

On 19 Apr 1775, British soldiers reached the James Barrett farm, the far end of the march into Middlesex County, looking for the very supplies John Austin and his men had been preparing.

TOMORROW: What happened to Austin after the shooting started?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Agnes Austin’s “Many Incidents” of the Revolution

Brian A. Sullivan, archivist for Mount Auburn Cemetery, has transcribed the diary of John Langdon Sibley, Librarian at Harvard College in the mid-1800s (shown at left). The transcription is available on here on the web.

In this Patriots’ Day season, I found the entry for Sunday, 3 Oct 1858, particularly interesting. It says in part:
A blind lady, 89 years old May 27, 1858, Miss Agnes Austin, who lives on the west corner of the Appian Way & Garden St, says that her father John who had charge of the public stores here in the time of the Revolutionary war & often told her many incidents connected with it. . . .

John Austin, with ten others, was at work nine weeks at Concord before the battle. They were collecting and arranging public stores. The news of the approach of the British arrived; they scattered the provisions. Mr. Austin told the men to dress themselves as much like gentlemen as they could, to put on two shirts as they might be captured & they would want them. & then disperse & take care of themselves.

When the enemy came to Col. [James] Barrett’s where Mr. Austin was stopping. they inquired for them & for the Colonel. Mrs. [Rebeckah] Barrett told them they were all gone, & she did not know where they were. The enemy told Mrs. Barrett not to be alarmed. as she should not be harmed. They made her accompany them to every room in the house to see if there were warlike stores or arms. They wanted food. She let them have what milk she had & bread.
Agnes Austin (1769-1861) is also mentioned in George Kuhn Clarke’s 1912 History of Needham:
In my childhood I was often taken to call upon a very ancient blind lady, Miss Agnes Austin, who was born in Charlestown, and lived there for many years, and who delighted to tell her visitors that she saw the British troops under Earl Percy and Lieut.-Col. [Francis] Smith on their return at the close of the memorable nineteenth of April, 1775. A considerable number of the soldiers had thrown away their red coats and much of their equipment. The first legacy that I ever received was under the will of this venerable lady, who was a distant connection of my family.
Austin’s tale about her father in Concord has many of the hallmarks of what I’ve called “grandmothers’ tales” of the Revolution:
  • It’s a story told decades later, long after most participants and witnesses have died.
  • The story puts an ancestor of the teller (and often the first listeners) front and center at a historic event.
  • The narrator was an elderly unmarried (widowed or never married) woman passing on lessons to children.
As with all oral traditions, my response is to look for contemporaneous documentary support. Is there corroboration for any detail? Are there significant contradictions?

And in this case, I actually found strong documentary support.

TOMORROW: John Austin and the supplies in Concord.

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Hurry of Hoofs in a Village Street

To be honest, Somerville doesn’t even have to offer activities on Patriots’ Day to catch my attention with that poster.

But in fact the city plans a Colonial Fair for families in Foss Park, Fellsway West and Broadway, from 10:00 to 11:30 A.M. Paul Revere and his horse will come through. Try to behave yourselves.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Upcoming Events Off the Beaten Path

In addition to the annual commemorations grouped around Patriots’ Day that I linked to here, a few more talks caught my eye because they’re one-off events in unusual venues.

On Monday, 16 April (which is legally Patriots’ Day), at 10:00 A.M., Dr. Sam Forman will sign copies of Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty, at the Vine Lake Cemetery, 625 Main Street in Medfield. Why a cemetery in Medfield? Because that’s the burial place of Mercy Scollay, Dr. Warren’s fiancée when he died. Forman will “read from her newly attributed works and unveil her portrait.”

That same day at 7:00 P.M., Seamus Heffernan will do a book-signing and chat about his alternative-history comic Freedom in the Modern Myths shop at 34 Bridge Street in Northampton. Check out our conversation about that reworking of the Revolution starting here.

On Tuesday, 17 April, the Nichols House Museum will present a lecture by Peter Drummey, the Stephen T. Riley Librarian at the Massachusetts Historical Society, on ”The Real Liberty Bell: Boston Abolitionists, 1700-1863.” This will take place the American Meteorological Society at 45 Beacon Street in Boston starting at 6:00 P.M. Admission is $20, or $15 for members of the museum. For reservations, call the museum at 617-227-6993, preferably by 13 April.

Finally, on the actual anniversary of the outbreak of the war—Thursday, 19 April—Prof. William Fowler will speak at the National Archives in Waltham about his latest book, American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two years After Yorktown, 1781-1783. Fowler is, among many other things, the Gay Hart Gaines Distinguished Fellow in American History at Mount Vernon. That free program begins at 6:00 P.M. Reservations are recommended; email or call toll-free 866-406-2379.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Henry Knox in Balance

I’ve been exploring the documentary record of Henry Knox’s activities just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. I don’t think it supports the picture that his biographers have painted: that he was, and was widely known as, a stout Whig.

In fact, I suspect that Knox’s June 1774 marriage to Lucy Flucker, daughter of Massachusetts royal secretary Thomas Flucker, made some people think that the young man would soon lean toward the Crown. He had much better prospects with the Fluckers’ support than on his own.

As I quoted here, after hearing about that marriage, the pro-Crown New York printer James Rivington stepped up his correspondence with Knox. Rivington also recommended his shop to officers of His Majesty’s 23rd Regiment of Foot, on its way to Boston. Knox’s New London Book Store became known as a gathering-place for British officers—which could only have reinforced any public impression that Knox was in the Crown camp.

Whether he intended that outcome or not, Knox’s contact with the royal forces proved useful to the Massachusetts Whigs. On 3 Jan 1775, Josiah Quincy, Sr., of Braintree wrote to his son, Josiah, Jr., then visiting England, with sensitive news:

Mr W— brings intelligence from Boston, that the seamen on board the fleet are grown mutinous;—that one of the navy officers, meeting with a land officer at K—x’s shop, told him that on board all the ships their men were grown so uneasy and tumultuous, that it was with great difficulty they could govern them. Upon which the land officer observed, that the uneasiness among the soldiers was full as great, if not greater, than among the seamen.
The way Quincy dropped Knox’s name (disguised with a dash) suggests that the bookseller himself was a conduit of this gossip.

I’ve already written how it seems likely that Knox was the man who warned that royal officials—in particular, his father-in-law—knew what Paul Revere’s intelligence network was discussing in November 1774. (See “Who Tipped Off Paul Revere?”) Again, that suggests Knox supported the Whigs, but not loudly.

In his business letters Knox expressed strong hopes for a political change in London, but he avoided radical rhetoric and talk of armed conflict. Like most people, he probably hoped for a peaceful solution to the crisis. He probably wanted to avoid harsh conflict within his family and with trading associates. But when the Whigs needed intelligence, he provided it.

In his memoirs William Heath looked back circumspectly on how Henry and Lucy Knox left Boston:
His military genius and acquaintance with our General [i.e., Heath] led him to be importunate with Capt. Knox to join the army: not did he need persuasion to join in the cause of his country. His removal out of Boston, and the then state of his domestic concerns, required some previous arrangement; as soon as this was effected, he joined the army.
I suspect there was a lot of family drama involved in those vague sentences. Were there arguments and tears? Or did Henry and Lucy make their plans in whispers, not telling the rest of her family? As it turned out, Lucy would never see her parents again.

In the spring of 1775, Henry Knox discarded the opportunities that came from marrying into the Flucker family and became an unpaid engineer for the provincials. I don’t see that as an easy, foregone decision. Knox could probably still have chosen to stick with his wife’s family and take advantage of their wealth and contacts. Having that option made his decision all the more dramatic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Henry Knox: “the only things which I desire you to send”

In November 1774, Henry Knox wrote to his main London book supplier, Thomas Longman (1731-1797), about the effects of Parliament’s Boston Port Bill and Continental Congress’s Association, or boycott of goods from Britain.

First of all, those measures meant Knox wasn’t enclosing any money. In March, the London stationery firm Wright & Gill had reminded Knox about an overdue bill and threatened to add 5% interest to the balance. Knox paid that invoice, as the firm confirmed in July. But that left him less money for Longman:

I am sorry it is not in my power to make you remittance per this opportunity, but shall do it very soon. This whole Continent have entered into a General non-Importation agreement until the late acts of Parliament respecting this Government, &C., are repealed, which will prevent my sending any orders for Books until this most desirable End is accomplished. I cannot but hope every person who is concerned in American trade will most strenuously exert themselves in their respective stations for what so nearly concerns themselves.

I had the fairest prospect of entirely balancing our account this fall, but the almost total stagnation of Trade in consequence of the Boston Port Bill has been the sole means of preventing it, and now the non-consumption agreement will stop that small circulation of Business left by the Boston Port Bill—I mean the internal business of the province. It must be the wish of every good man that these unhappy differences between Great Britain and the Colonies be speedily and finally adjusted—the influence that the unlucky and unhappy mood of Politicks of the times has upon trade, is my only excuse for writing concerning them.

The Magazines and new publications concerning the American dispute are the only things which I desire you to send at present, which I wish you to pack together well wrapped in a brown paper as usual.
The Continental Association actually prohibited the import of “any Goods, Wares, or Merchandises whatsoever,” with no exception for magazines and political pamphlets. Most likely the committee-men who promoted that boycott didn’t really care about the publications Knox asked for; they might even have been among his customers.

Nonetheless, this is another example of Knox as a young businessman seeking practical middle ground. He stuck to the boycott mostly, but not totally, and (contrary to what some biographers have written) he didn’t champion or help to enforce it.

After the war, Knox tried to pay off his Longman bill. He made one big payment but, land-rich but cash-poor, didn’t retire the whole debt before he died in 1806.

TOMORROW: The value of playing both sides.

Monday, April 09, 2012

Links for the Patriots’ Day Season in 2012

Events commemorating the start of the Revolutionary War come on strong in the next couple of weeks. The best clearing-house for happenings out in the countryside is BattleRoad.org’s Events page. Among those items is my own talk in Lincoln tomorrow night: “What Did the British Hope to Find in Concord on April 19th?”

BattleRoad.org’s listings extend to the end of the month. They include the battle demonstrations and encampments inside Minute Man National Historical Park on 14-19 April. I prefer visiting those over the venerable dawn skirmish on Lexington common because they’re (a) not at dawn, and (b) spread out, so the sight lines are better.

On that last point, writer Derek W. Beck asks whether V.I.P. seating for the Lexington reenactment is in the spirit of the occasion. Or would the provincials in that skirmish have seen those arrangements as similar to seating the meetinghouse according to social status and wealth?

One local commemoration I hadn’t read about before is Acton’s “Robbins’ Ride.” Alas, “for the purposes of safety and practicality,” this isn’t reenacted by an actual thirteen-year-old boy on a horse. Then again, an adult is more likely to ride responsibly.

In the city, Boston National Historical Park hosts its annual “Paul Revere’s Row” on 15 April. The next morning, Roxbury celebrates William Dawes’s trip through that town with events starting at 8:00 at the U.U. Urban Ministry/First Church. The Paul Revere House has many presentations and family activities lined up for the school vacation.

Finally, on Sunday the Boston Globe ran several articles pertinent to the holiday:
  • On reenacting the real fight in Lexington on 19 Apr 1775, which occurred in the afternoon as the British expedition came back through town and met the reinforcement column. In the late 1900s the town militia’s attack on the regulars withdrawing to Boston became known as “Parker’s Revenge.” 
  • On Bedford’s pole-capping ceremony, a tradition that goes back 47 years. (While I’ve found scattered references to the “Liberty Cap” in Revolutionary times, the symbol seems to have reached its greatest popularity as a Jeffersonian symbol during the partisan politics of the early republic.)
  • On Cyrus Dallin, sculptor of the Paul Revere statue in the North End, and his museum in Arlington.
  • On the legacy of the “praying Indian” communities of Massachusetts—Natives who adopted Christianity and a lifestyle that combined American and European culture, only to be eventually swept along by the growing population of British settlers and their descendants.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Thomas Sawin Homestead in Natick, 1692-?

This is the old Sawin house in Natick, photographed in 1936, from the American Antiquarian Society’s photographs of historical structures by Harriette Merrifield Forbes.

The oldest part of the house was reportedly built in 1696 by Thomas Sawin, who made a deal with the Christian Native community of Natick to set up a sawmill and gristmill for them. He legally lived in Sherborn for another two decades. The Sawins were among the first families of full British descent to settle among the Natick community. By 1745, however, the area had so many white inhabitants that they took over the government, and Natick became much like other Massachusetts towns.

During the alarm of 19 Apr 1775, the Sawin family and their Bacon in-laws were active in the Natick militia. According to traditions recorded by local historian Horace Mann (not that Horace Mann):
Thomas [Sawin], 3d, born in 1751, was called Ensign and Captain, and built the house near the brook about 1770. He married Abigail Bacon, of Dedham, in 1771, and was the father of Thomas and Martha, the founders of the Sawin Academy at Sherborn. He was a minute man in 1775 and a soldier in the Canada expedition of 1776. It was to this house that Abigail Bacon and her neice, Abigail Smith, came on the night of the 18th of April, 1775, to warn the Sawins of the marching of the British from Boston; and this house was a rendezvous of a portion of the Natick minute men.
Actually, while a local young woman named Abigail Bacon might have been involved in spreading the alarm on 18-19 April, Abigail Smith could not have been. In January, Boston 1775 reader John Russell showed me a document indicating that Smith was still only an infant then. Which makes two dramatic stories of the Revolution her descendants retold in the late 1800s that have proven untrue.

The surviving Sawin house, greatly expanded in 1791, sits on property now managed by the Massachusetts Audubon Society as part of the Broadmoor Wildlife Sanctuary. The society can’t keep up the building and plans to demolish it.

On 14 April at 11:00 A.M., I’ve been told, there will be “A Call for a Prayer of Thanksgiving” at the house as described on this Facebook page. The organizers hope to save the structure from demolition, but whether it’s practical to preserve or move it is uncertain. This may be the house’s last Patriots’ Day.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Howe Explores the Durant-Kenrick House in Newton, 12 Apr.

On Thursday, 12 April, Historic Newton will sponsor a free lecture by Jeffery Howe, Professor of Fine Arts at Boston College, about the city’s Durant-Kenrick House. Howe created this digital archive of American architecture that I’ve periodically dived into.

The Durant-Kenrick House was built in 1732 by a blacksmith and merchant named Edward Durant (1695-1740), who moved out from Boston with his family and enslaved servants to enjoy the life of a country gentleman. Howe’s talk, titled “A New Refinement: the Durant-Kenrick House in the Context of Colonial Housing,” will examine it as a sign of domestic trends:

At its construction in 1734, the Durant-Kenrick house represented an important new stage in the evolution of colonial architecture, falling between the simplicity of 17th-century building and the social aspirations of later Georgian mansions.
During the Revolutionary War the house was the home of the merchant’s son, also named Edward Durant (1715–1782). He was a Harvard graduate and local political leader, moderating Newton town meetings and serving as selectman and legislator. Durant’s son Thomas was a militia lieutenant in 1775, and his son Edward became a doctor, serving as a regimental surgeon and dying on a privateer.

Edward Durant also provided space in his house for a grammar school in the early 1760s. Old Massachusetts law required towns of a certain size to have such a school to prepare boys for careers in the ministry, but rural towns usually tried to avoid the expense of an extra building for only a few scholars.

All that said, the site’s major importance came in the early republic after it passed to the Kenrick family, who developed the largest nursery in New England. The Kenricks supplied American estate owners with fruit trees, ornamental trees, and flowering plants, and eventually currants and currant wine.

The Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts–Boston has been excavating the Durant-Kenrick site, with periodic reports. Carl M. Cohen has also tracked activity at the house since its owners donated it Historic Newton (a city agency) in 2010.

Howe’s talk will begin at 7:00 P.M. in the Newton Free Library’s auditorium. It’s free and open to the public.

Friday, April 06, 2012

James Rivington: “for fear of hurting your interest”

Yesterday I quoted from the correspondence of Boston bookseller Henry Knox and New York printer James Rivington. Their professions made them natural business associates, with Knox selling what Rivington printed.

Eighteenth-century booksellers and printers didn’t confine themselves to selling printed matter. In his second latter to Knox, dated 26 June 1774, Rivington asked the younger man if he wanted to be the Boston agent for “Maredant’s Antiscorbutic Drops.”

In June 1774, Knox married Lucy Flucker, daughter of the royal secretary of Massachusetts. Soon after hearing that news, Rivington sent three letters, longer than any previously, congratulating the young bookseller on his marriage. At the same time, Rivington:
  • told Knox that he’d recommended his shop to officers of the 23rd Regiment of Foot (the Royal Welch Fusileers), then being transferred from New York to Boston.
  • sent him four chests of contraband tea to sell.
In October Rivington offered to host Henry and Lucy, whom he’d called a “most beauteous bride” and an “amiable Lady” (I don’t think they’d met), when they visited New York.

In that city, Rivington was already known in mid-1774 as a pro-Crown printer, though he still did jobs for Patriots as well. I suspect he thought that Knox’s marriage would draw the young bookseller into the Loyalist party in Boston. So he was throwing business in Knox’s direction.

On 1 December, Rivington sent Knox 300 copies of a Patriot pamphlet by Philip Livingston (shown above) titled “The Other Side of the Question; or, A Defence of the Liberties of North-America: In Answer to a Late Friendly Address to All Reasonable Americans, on the Subject of Our Political Confusions.” He told Knox that he hadn’t enclosed the original, Loyalist pamphlet:
The friendly address I do not send to you for fear of hurting your interest, it was forwarded to me by [Boston printers] Mills & Hicks to be printed, my reasons for not troubling you with these very warm, high seasoned pamphlets, is that your very numerous friends, on the patriot Interest, may be greatly disgusted at your distributing them; but if you are not so very nice as I apprehend from the state of your interest &c and are willing to have these sort of articles I will secure them for you from time to time. A piece is printing, in the Hudibrastic stile which will sell but I greatly fear you will not like. Pray explain yourself on this head directly, for I mean to shew every expression of my attention to you.
Thus, although Rivington recognized that Knox’s “interest” and “very numerous friends” were on the Patriot side, he dangled the prospect of business selling Loyalist material. Undoubtedly that would have pleased Lucy’s father, Thomas Flucker, and his colleagues in the royal government.

I don’t think Knox’s response to this invitation survives. When he discussed politics in earlier letters, his tone was moderate and his positions were Whig but not radical. He tried to maintain friendly ties. The only hint that Knox might become a Loyalist was his marriage with the financial prospects it brought—but apparently that was enough for Rivington to send out feelers.

COMING UP: The value of Knox’s position.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Henry Knox: “I beg some directions about your tea”

People writing about Henry Knox after the Revolutionary War said that he was always an ardent Whig. However, in sources from the early 1770s, his political views aren’t so pointed. There’s no evidence he was involved in any of the Whigs’ political organizations, such as the North End and South End Caucuses. He wasn’t on town committees. Attorneys on both sides of the Boston Massacre trials called him to testify.

Of course, Knox was still only in his early twenties, and thus not in line for political leadership yet. But he’s also not linked to the Boston Tea Party, a rare distinction for a Boston Patriot of his age.

Knox did have a significant encounter with the tea trade, which had major political implications after 1773. On 28 July 1774, New York printer James Rivington (shown above, from the collections of the New-York Historical Society) told him that he’d sent four chests of Hyson tea for Knox to sell on consignment. That tea had been landed without any duties paid, Rivington added, meaning both that it was illegal and that selling it wouldn’t mean paying the tea tax. (That letter was published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1928 and is now in the collection of the Gilder-Lehrman Institute.) On 15 August, Rivington wrote that more tea was on its way.

Knox’s earliest biographer, Francis S. Drake, wrote of this episode: “Knox declined the commission, and in September Rivington orders its delivery to a Mr. Palfrey.” (William Palfrey was a business associate of John Hancock.) Later Knox biographers—Noah Brooks, North Callahan, and Mark Puls—similarly wrote that the young bookseller refused to sell the tea, presenting that as evidence of his steadfast support for Whig political platform.

However, Cyrus Eaton printed Knox’s letters on the subject in his 1865 History of Thomaston,…Maine, and they present Knox’s reluctance as based on business, not politics. They also show that he kept trying to sell that tea discreetly for months.

On 4 August, Knox told Rivington:
I received yours of the 28th of July, and am much obliged to you for your kind recommendation of the Officers of the 23d [Regiment], but am extremely sorry for your mistake in consigning Hyson Tea to this place. I have conversed with the first tea dealers in town, who say this is the dullest time for it they ever knew, and that 100 lbs. would supply the probable demand for a twelvemonth.

The person who informed you about the price is also mistaken, as my informers say they would be very glad to take $3 per pound for theirs which is exceedingly good. Souchong tea would have answered much better than Hyson—but as they are both entirely out of my way I should be well pleased to have nothing to do with them. If by any good Fortune the ship should be detained till this arrives, by all means take it out.

The Gentlemen of the army and navy brought their Tea with them, as they were informed it was not to be had here; and a report of its being scarce has occasioned great quantities to be poured in from the neighboring seaports.
Two weeks later, Knox wrote again about the difficulty of selling tea. He never refused the business on political grounds. On 29 September, Rivington did tell Knox to deliver the tea to Palfrey, but on 15 October he was still asking the bookseller “to get as much above twenty shillings for the Tea as you possibly can.”

As late as 6 Feb 1775, Knox reported to Rivington:
I beg some directions about your tea. I have tried every person in this town who usually deals in it, but have not been able to succeed. One chest I sold to my particular friends at the rate of 12s. sterling per pound, but have not been able to sell one ounce to any other persons. Pray give me your speedy commands about it. As the Provincial and Continental Congresses have determined to suspend the use of it after the first of March, it will be too great a risque for me to vend any of it after that time, altho’ I should be glad to do every thing in my power to serve you.
Knox was eager to adhere to the Patriot boycotts, and his other letters of the time expressed opposition about the Boston Port Bill. But the tone of Knox’s pre-war letters was far from radical, and he seemed more concerned with business than with politics.

COMING UP: Knox’s marital politics.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Gordon S. Wood Speaks in Worcester, 5 Apr.

Tomorrow evening, Thursday, 5 April, starting at 7:30 P.M., Gordon S. Wood will speak at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester on the topic “Does History Teach Lessons?”

The society’s announcement asks, “Was George Santayana correct when he said that ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’?” Or might there be other things to learn from the past? For myself, I’ve concluded that the past, like the present, is too complex for clear lessons, and the most important thing to learn from it is the need to recognize that complexity.

Wood has spoken on this topic before at the Rhode Island Historical Society’s annual meeting last autumn. His talk will probably reflect ideas in his book The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History, a collection of reviews. And it will surely draw on his deep knowledge of early American history; his The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 received the Bancroft and John H. Dunning prizes, and his The Radicalism of the American Revolution won the Pulitzer Prize and the Emerson Prize.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

“Large promises had been held out to Knox…”

Yesterday I quoted the passage from Noah Brooks’s 1900 biography of Henry Knox in which he wrote, “Large promises were held out to young Knox to induce him to take a commission in the royal cause; he was regarded as too desirable a man to be lost from the military service of the King.”

Brooks didn’t cite a source or evidence for that statement. He also used the vague passive voice: “promises were held out,” “he was regarded.” That suggests he was working from equally vague and perhaps wishful traditions rather than documents.

North Callahan extrapolated from Brooks’s passage in his 1958 biography of the artillery general, writing that Knox received an offer of a British army commission “through the influence of Thomas Flucker,” his father-in-law (shown above). Subsequent authors repeated the same statement, relying on Callahan and Brooks.

But what was the basis of Brooks’s statement? I looked for confirming evidence in the first biography of Knox, published by Francis S. Drake in 1873. He wrote even more vaguely, and without citing sources:
Large promises had been held out to Knox to induce him to follow the royal standard, as it was thought of consequence to prevent so talented a young man from attaching himself to the provincials; but his patriotism was as sincere as it was ardent, and he did not for a moment hesitate, but embarked heart and hand in the patriot cause.
Interestingly, two years before that, Horatio Bateman’s Biographies of Two Hundred and Fifty Distinguished National Men began its entry on Knox by saying:
He married the daughter of a staunch loyalist, and was an officer in the British army when the struggle of the Revolution commenced. . . .
We know that’s wrong. It suggests that there was a long tradition in New England of saying that Knox turned away from opportunities on the royalist side because he supported the Whigs. But it also shows that tradition was hazy and liable to exaggeration.

I’m skeptical that the Flucker family actually arranged for an army commission for Knox. Such a regular army commission was a big deal, and a big expense, and it should have left a thicker paper trail. Promises of a higher rank in the Massachusetts military seem more likely, and well within Flucker’s reach as the province’s royal secretary. But even then there’s no evidence of how solid such promises were, or what Knox’s immediate response was.

COMING UP: Henry Knox and five chests of tea.