J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

A Dispute within the Artillery Company in 1768

Here’s an anecdote from Zachariah Whitman’s 1842 History of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. As I’ve described before, that organization wasn’t a part of the provincial militia but a private organization men joined to improve their military skills and show they had what it took to be officers. According to Whitman:
In 1768, several regiments of British troops were in Boston. On a field day, under command of Capt. [William] Heath, then Lieutenant [Footnote: It was customary before the Revolution, and so continued until recently, to give the Lieutenant the privilege of command one field day during the year.], it appearing probable that the Ar. Co. would not leave the Common until after the roll-call of the troops, their commanding officer sent orders that he must retire without beat of drum, and that there must be no firing at the deposit of their standard.

The Company opposed a compliance; but Lieut. Heath, conceiving it his duty to comply with the orders of a superior officer in his Majesty’s service, marched to Faneuil Hall in silence, and without firing.

This appeared to some of the members an infringement of their privileges. One Hopestill Capen, then Orderly, resented it so highly, that he went to the top of his house, and fired his musket three times, and even many years after would not vote for Gen. Heath.
Remarkably, while Heath served in the American army from the very first day of the Revolutionary War to the very last, Capen, who had resented the orders of an army officer, became a Loyalist. He had joined the Sandemanian sect, convinced of his religious duty to obey the king. Despite the general Sandemanian teaching of pacifism, during the siege Capen joined Boston’s Association, a Loyalist militia.

The photo above, from the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection, shows Capen’s house and rooftop as they appeared in 1930.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Rape as a Cause of the American Revolution?

Earlier this month The National Journal ran a profile of Rep. Todd Akin, now running for the U.S. Senate in Missouri with the on-again/off-again support of the national Republican Party.

Over the summer Akin stated that rape caused a woman’s body to “shut that whole thing down” and prevent conception, with the logical conclusion that there’s little need for “Plan B” birth control or abortion for rape victims. In the national backlash that followed, members of Akin’s own party said that he should drop out of the senate race (while presumably remaining in the House).

The article described this response of Akin’s wife Lulli:
The pressure and attacks clearly reinforced Akin’s sense of mission. For the family of the lawmaker known for dressing in colonial garb at Fourth of July parties, the attacks also increased their identification with Revolutionary America. Lulli Akin said that efforts to push her husband out of the race threaten to replace elections “by the people and for the people” with “tyranny, a top-down approach.” She added, “Party bosses dictating who is allowed to advance through the party and make all the decisions—it’s just like 1776 in that way.”

She cited colonists who “rose up and said, ‘Not in my home, you don’t come and rape my daughters and my…wife. But that is where we are again. There has been a freedom of elections, not tyranny of selections since way back. Why are we going to roll over and let them steamroll us, be it Democrats or Republicans or whomever?” Obama and Mitt Romney “both seem to be embodying” a British monarch, “with all the tactics that they’ve been revealing” toward her husband, Lulli Akin said. “Are they that dissimilar?” she asked. “Are they really dissimilar? They say with their mouths ‘free enterprise’—but, really, how free?”

Asked about comparisons of his plight to revolutionary Americans, Todd Akin called it “a little more grandiose than the way I would say it.”
It does seem audacious for Lulli Akin to invoke “rape” when that was precisely the issue that got her husband in trouble, and then to tie it to “free enterprise” and whether the national party would give money to her husband’s campaign.

But what about Akin’s claim that a threat to “rape my daughters…in my home” was why American colonists “rose up” in the American Revolution? That has no historical basis. In 1768-69 Boston’s Whigs published occasional complaints about soldiers treating women poorly, but those involved theft or disrespect in the street. No soldier was charged with rape. No soldiers were quartered in people’s homes. The long lists of grievances put out by colonists which culminated in the Declaration of Independence mention “Murders” but not rape.

I suspect this belief, which is not Akin’s alone, is an outgrowth of the common misinterpretation of the Quartering Act: that the royal government forced individual householders to host soldiers in peacetime. That didn’t happen. The Quartering Act required colonies to provide barracks and supplies for royal troops. If the enlisted men had been in individual homes instead of barracks, the main result would have been even more desertions.

Rape and sexual abuse have happened in virtually all known wars, and Americans did complain of rape by British troops before the end of 1776. British officers even joked about the topic. There are also allegations of American soldiers raping a Loyalist woman in a 1777 raid on Staten Island.

But those documented complaints came after the war had started and the Continental Congress had voted for independence. They weren’t why the colonists had risen up. Picturing rape as a cause of the American Revolution turns a political dispute into a fictional melodrama and mixes up metaphorical propaganda like the cartoon above with actual events. It blurs the real history, just like seeing both “Obama and Mitt Romney” as George III.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Fifes and Drums at Sudbury, 29 Sept.

Saturday, 29 September, is the day of the annual fife and drum muster at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, hosted by the Sudbury Companies of Militia and Minute and the Sudbury Ancient Fyfe and Drum Companie. In addition to dozens of musical groups, the event includes craftspeople, sutlers, food tents, and games. It’s a fine way to start the fall.

Since I’ll be otherwise occupied tomorrow, I got my fix of fifes and drums at Old Sturbridge Village’s annual Drummer’s Call earlier this month. That’s the Musick of Prescott’s Battalion performing on the Old Sturbridge “village green” above. At left is a member of one of the host units preparing to present Prescott’s with a commemorative plate.

At many of these events the visiting units receive ribbons denoting their presence, which they attach to the colors. I imagine having a handmade clay plate hanging off the flagpole is more awkward, but it’s the honor of the thing.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The End of Bundling in Dedham

In 1827 Erastus Worthington published his History of Dedham, an early example of a local history. Among the stories he told was one about how the Rev. Jason Haven, minister in the town from 1756 to 1803, had ended the practice of bundling.

When Haven arrived in Dedham, people wishing to join the meeting had to confess their sins in front of the congregation. Since parents wanted to join the church to have their babies baptized, and since those sins often involved conceiving the child, there was a bit of a race to conclude the process.

Worthington described the usual custom and the response to it:
The church had ever in this place required of its members guilty of unlawful cohabitation before marriage, a public confession of that crime, before the whole congregation. The offending female stood in the broad isle beside the partner of her guilt. If they had been married, the declaration of the man was silently assented to by the woman. This had always been a delicate and difficult subject for church discipline. The public confession, if it operated as a corrective, likewise produced merriment with the profane.
“Revolutionary times having produced a disposition to investigate all the former principles and opinions of men,” Worthington said, Haven convinced the Dedham meeting to institute a new rule. “In 1781, the church gave the confessing parties the privilege of making a private confession to the church, in the room of a public confession.”

That made the confession easier, and perhaps the acts to be confessed as well. Worthington stated that church records show that in the quarter-century before 1781 there was one public confession per year. In the next ten years, there were fourteen—a 40% increase. But still, that’s only four more couples over ten years. The same period saw the end of the war and economic turmoil, and perhaps there were other factors.

In any event, the minister decided to address the problem:
Mr. Haven, in a long and memorable discourse, sought out the cause of the growing sin, and suggested the proper remedy. He attributed the frequent recurrence of the fault to the custom then prevalent, of females admitting young men to their beds, who sought their company with intentions of marriage. And he exhorted all to abandon that custom, and no longer expose themselves to temptations which so many were found unable to resist.

The immediate effect of this discourse on the congregation, has been described to me, and was such as we must naturally suppose it would be. A grave man, the beloved and revered pastor of the congregation, comes out suddenly on his audience, and discusses a subject on which mirth and merriment only had been heard, and denounces a favorite custom. The females blushed, and hung down their heads. The men too hung down their heads, and now and then looked out from under their fallen eye brows, to observe how others supported the attack.

If the outward appearance of the assembly was somewhat composed, there was a violent internal agitation in many minds. And now, when forty-five [sic] years have expired, the persons who were present at the delivery of that sermon, express its effect by saying, “How queerly I felt!” “What a time it was!” “This was close preaching indeed!!”

The custom was abandoned. The sexes learned to cultivate the proper degree of delicacy in their intercourse, and instances of unlawful cohabitation in this town since that time have been extremely rare. What sermon or eloquent address can be pointed out, that has produced such decidedly good effects.
I don’t know if anyone has analyzed data on how soon after marriage first children were born in Dedham before or after 1791. But Haven’s sermon and the congregation’s apparent acceptance of it, rather than resistance, suggests that sexual mores were changing in the new republic.

COMING UP: The newspaper debate over bundling.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

“Work for the Parson is consequently made”

The books that the Rev. Andrew Burnaby, the Rev. Samuel Peters, and Lt. Thomas Anburey published in London between 1775 and 1789 all discussed the American custom of “tarrying” or “bundling.” Some scholars have found evidence of similar habits in the British hinterlands and northern Europe, but they were evidently curious for Londoners. And soon after the Revolutionary War bundling became a matter of public concern in the new republic.

The 27 Oct 1788 Herald of Freedom, published in Boston, included a letter signed “Francois de la E—” and addressed “Dear Pierre.” This was the thirteenth in a series addressed from a French visitor to the new republic to one of his compatriots.

On 5 November, the New Jersey Journal reprinted the letter as “from a French Gentleman in Boston to His Friend in Martinique.” The 24 November American Mercury, published in Hartford, said the letters were “written by a French Gentleman in America to his friend in France.”

Martinique or France? It didn’t matter because M. de la E— was doubtless fictional. (If he’d been real, wouldn’t he have been M. de l’E—?) The letter stood in the time-honored tradition of writing about one’s society through the guise of a foreigners observing customs for the first time. Still, for fun you can imagine this passage being read in an outrageous French accent.
It is the character of a brave people, as the Americans doubtless are, to be generous, affable and courteous to strangers; in none is this character more conspicuous than in the New-Englanders, or Yankees, as they are called. If you enter any of their dwellings, you are sure to be treated with the greatest hospitality; this originates not from any mercenary principle, but purely from that desire to benefit our fellow creatures which ought to actuate the breast of every one.

Some, by receiving strangers, have entertained Angels, but unfortunately this does not happen to be the case with the Americans; by their attention to strangers they have suffered severely. The fair sex have been enticed into matrimony by some who have fled from the lash of justice in their own country, and escaped to this asylum of mankind. Many young and blooming virgins have been obliged to bemoan the hardness of their fates, in being netted to exotic villains already tied by hymenial bonds in other climes. Their daughters, likewise, have been frequently debauched.

This may in some measure be owing to the practice of bundling, which prevails in some of the country towns. As you perhaps are ignorant of the manner in which this is performed, I will just give you an account of the process, it is simply this. A young fellow who has a sneaking inclination (as they call it here) for a girl, pays her a visit. The parents, as in duty bound, very obligingly quit the room, to give the young couple an opportunity of making their own bargain.

Jonathan obtains permission to stay with her. He is then conducted to her bed-chamber, where they prepare themselves for bundling, by taking off part of their clothes. The careful mother frequently takes the precaution to sew up the bottom of her daughter’s under-coat. However, the impulse of passion too often renders ineffectual this slight barrier.

Work for the Parson is consequently made; and in addition to matrimony, they are obliged to undergo the pennance of standing in the broad aisle of the meeting house, before the whole congregation, to confess the grreat sin they have committed, in obeying the injunction of the great Father of the universe, to increase and multiply, before the Priest had given his sanction to it.

They marry very young here, and the women are very prolific; of course the country must populate rapidly, without any emigration from the old world.—It is daily increasing in strength—their young men are naturally inclined to war, and very ambitious.
“Jonathan” denoted the typical Yankee of this period, and to some extent the typical American. Perhaps a tad less fictional than Francois de la E—.

TOMORROW: The end of bundling in Dedham (yeah, right).

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

“A very extraordinary method of courtship”

Last week I quoted the Rev. Samuel Peters’s comments about the New England custom of bundling, first published in London in 1781. Six years before, another minister, the Rev. Andrew Burnaby, Vicar of Greenwich, England, had reported on a similar habit in Massachusetts.

In his 1775 book Travels through the Middle Settlements in North-America, in the Years 1759 and 1760, Burnaby wrote:
Singular situations and manners will be productive of singular customs; but frequently such as upon slight examination may appear to be the effects of mere grossness of character, will, upon deeper research, be found to proceed from simplicity and innocence. A very extraordinary method of courtship, which is sometimes practised amongst the lower people of this province, and is called Tarrying, has given occasion to this reflection.

When a man is enamoured of a young woman, and wishes to marry her, he proposes the affair to her parents, (without whose consent no marriage in this colony can take place); if they have no objection, they allow him to tarry with her one night, in order to make his court to her.

At their usual time the old couple retire to bed, leaving the young ones to settle matters as they can; who, after having sate up as long as they think proper, get into bed together also, but without pulling off their undergarments, in order to prevent scandal. If the parties agree, it is all very well; the banns are published, and they are married without delay. If not, they part, and possibly never see each other again; unless, which is an accident that seldom happens, the forsaken fair-one prove pregnant, and then the man is obliged to marry her, under pain of excommunication.
In a footnote Burnaby added:
A gentleman sometime ago travelling upon the frontiers of Virginia, where there are very few settlements, was obliged to take up his quarters one evening at a miserable plantation; where, exclusive of a Negro or two, the family consisted of a man and his wife, and one daughter about sixteen years of age.

Being fatigued, he presently desired them to shew him where he was to sleep; accordingly they pointed to a bed in a corner of the room where they were sitting. The gentleman was a little embarrassed, but being excessively weary, he retired, half-undressed himself, and got into bed. After some time the old gentlewoman came to bed to him, after her the old gentleman, and last of all the young lady.

This, in a country excluded from all civilized society, could only proceed from simplicity and innocence: and indeed it is a general and true observation, that forms and observances become necessary, and are attended to, in proportion as manners become corrupt, and it is found expedient to guard against vice, and that design and duplicity of character, which, from the nature of things, will ever prevail in large and cultivated societies.
Burnaby’s picture of sharing beds was considerably more benign than Peters hinted at. He also emphasized that the practice prevailed “amongst the lowest people” in Massachusetts and along the Virginia frontier, not all classes.

Another British visitor who encountered bundling in Massachusetts was Lt. Thomas Anburey, taken prisoner in 1777. I quoted his recollections, published in London in 1789, back here.

TOMORROW: The observations of a visitor from France?

Monday, September 24, 2012

More to Read, So Much More

The University of Pennsylvania Press recently announced the contents of two journals with several intriguing articles, a couple of which I believe I read in draft as part of the Boston Area Early American History Seminar, which is about to start up again for this academic year.

In the fall 2012 issue of Early American Studies:
  • Mary Kelley, “‘While Pen, Ink & Paper Can Be Had’: Reading and Writing in a Time of Revolution.”
  • Karin Wulf, “Bible, King, and Common Law: Genealogical Literacies and Family History Practices in British America.”
  • Christopher M. Parsons and Kathleen S. Murphy, “Ecosystems under Sail: Specimen Transport in the Eighteenth-Century French and British Atlantics”
  • Kelly Wisecup, “Medicine, Communication, and Authority in Samson Occom’s Herbal.”
  • Sarah Fatherly, “Tending the Army: Women and the British General Hospital in North America, 1754–1763”
  • Michael Hoberman, “‘Under Their Captivity & Dispersion’: The Story of Boston’s First Jewish Business Venture.” (I recently noted a lecture by Prof. Hoberman.)
  • Jasper M. Trautsch, “‘Mr. Madison’s War’ or the Dynamic of Early American Nationalism?”
And in the fall 2012 issue of The Journal of the Early Republic:
  • Gloria L. Main, “Women on the Edge: Life at Street Level in the Early Republic.”
  • Ruth Wallis Herndon, “Poor Women and the Boston Almshouse in the Early Republic.”
  • Monique Bourque, “Women and Work in the Philadelphia Almshouse, 1790–1840.”
  • three more articles about poor American women in the early nineteenth century.
The latter also includes reviews of Contesting Slavery: The Politics of Bondage and Freedom in the
New Nation; Whose American Revolution Was It?: Historians Interpret the Founding; Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World; The Limits of Optimism: Thomas Jefferson’s Dualistic Enlightenment; Jonathan Fisher of Blue Hill, Maine: Commerce, Culture, and Community on the Eastern Frontier; A Place in History: Albany in the Age of the Revolution, 1775–1825; and more.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Present Battle of Princeton

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has released its latest list of most endangered sites in America, and on that list is the Princeton Battlefield.

I’m of two minds on this. While I like preservation of historic sites and open spaces, the development that’s threatening part of that battlefield isn’t a new strip mall or factory or interstate highway. It’s faculty housing for the Institute for Advanced Study, which helped to create the battlefield park in the first place. The institute likes to provide peace and quiet and a level of rusticity for the scholars working there. I can’t help but see that use of land as a Good Thing. (For full disclosure, my uncle spent several months at the I.A.S. a few years ago, though it wasn’t a big change of scene for him since he lives on the other side of Princeton.)

I also think the Battle of Princeton isn’t quite as important as it’s often made out to be. It looms larger in American memory because it was a rare battlefield victory for Gen. George Washington, and because it was so close to the campus of an influential college. Indeed, the Princeton buildings that existed then, including Nassau Hall, were used by both armies. But since the campus and nearby neighborhood have already been developed (and people are fond of the result), there’s no preservation outcry. Of course, such an outcry would be far too late.

This map shows land now used by the I.A.S. in brown at the right. The present battlefield park is in green at the center. The grayish area marked 2 is where the I.A.S. wants to build more housing while keeping the blue area as a wooded buffer. Some fighting and maneuvers occurred over all four areas, as well as developed land nearby. Does that make preserving all the possible land more important? Or does that mean the battlefield park is necessarily symbolic, and the specific land is less important?

I’ll let you make up your own (two?) minds. For folks in the region, on 29 September the Princeton Battlefield Society is sponsoring:
A full day of activities including Battlefield and Clarke House Tours, Children’s Scavenger Hunt and games, Colonial Demonstrations, Soldiers of the Battle, and book sales, giveaways, and prizes.

Programs start at 10:00 A.M. and go to 4:00 P.M. At 4:00 P.M., Colonial Music by THE PRACTITIONERS OF MUSICK and at 5:00 PM, a performance of CATO A TRAGEDY, by Joseph Addison, by the Princeton Shakespeare Company at the Columns. (George Washington requested a performance of CATO during the encampment at Valley Forge.)
I believe there‘s been some recent questioning of that last statement, but there’s no question that Washington quoted from Cato in his letters from the start of the war.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Carretta on Wheatley in Worcester, 28 Sept.

On Friday, 28 September, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will host Prof. Vincent Carretta of the University of Maryland speaking on “In Search of Phillis Wheatley.” This talk is the 29th Annual James Russell Wiggins Lecture on the History of the Book in American Culture and part of a research symposium called “Poetry and Print in Early America,” but it’s also free and open to the public.

The lecture description says:
Phillis Wheatley is now widely recognized as the mother of African-American literature. She rose from the indignity of enslavement to earn international celebrity, only to die in obscurity and poverty. Vincent Caretta will discuss his recent biography, Phillis Wheatley: Biography of a Genius in Bondage and how, despite Wheatley’s contemporaneous fame and subsequent reputation, the many mysteries surrounding her life made a biography of her seemingly impossible until 250 years after she left Africa.
I enjoyed Vin Carretta’s biography and greatly admire how much documentation he added to the Wheatley story. Someday I’ll share my own theory about “Mrs. S.W.”

This free public event starts at 7:00 P.M. (That’s half an hour earlier than A.A.S. events have started in years past.)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Trading with China

Last Sunday the Boston Globe ran an essay by Eric Jay Dolin based on his new book, When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail. It begins:
Two hundred twenty-eight years ago, a Boston-built ship inaugurated one of the longest and most fraught trading relationships in our country’s history. As the sun rose in the brilliant blue sky and gentle winds rippled the surface of water on Feb. 22, 1784, the Empress of China sailed down New York’s East River, embarking on a 15-month round-trip journey to Canton, modern day Guangzhou.

The voyage rewarded its backers with a 25 percent return on their money—not as much as they had hoped, but enough to prove the viability of the trade. Through the mid-1800s, a veritable armada of ships followed in the Empress of China’s wake, venturing from the young nation of the United States to the ancient empire of China, the mysterious so-called Middle Kingdom.

The merchants who funded those voyages, and their countrymen, saw China as a golden economic opportunity. China grew from roughly 300 million to 400 million people during this period; it was then, as now, the world’s most populous country. It was a rich source of tea, silk, and porcelain. Businessmen here dreamed that it would also become a major market for American goods, fueled by the purchasing power of Chinese consumers.

That is not what happened. Instead of becoming a major market for American goods, China racked up what would now be called a huge trade surplus with the United States. Americans purchased far more Chinese goods than the other way around. And by the end of the 19th century, that early dream of China as a leading booster of American commerce had long since been abandoned.
By then American merchants like Thomas Handysyd Perkins had discovered one product that could pay for their China ventures: opium from the Indian subcontinent. No matter that the Chinese government had ruled that drug illegal because of the social costs of addiction.

For most years of its first century, the U.S. of A. ran a trade deficit, importing more than it exported. Not until World War 1 did the country become a creditor nation. For most of the 20th century (i.e., the time we personally remember), the U.S. of A. had a strong trade surplus, in no small part because most other industrialized nations kept attacking each other. Taking that as the norm or ideal makes America’s current trade deficits seem like an anomaly. But perhaps the periods of trade surplus were the odd parts in American history.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

A New Green Dragon Tavern Planned in California

Charles Bahne alerted the Boston 1775 editorial team to this news item from Carlsbad, California, filed by Deanne Goodman:
A colonial-themed museum and restaurant based on The Green Dragon Tavern in Boston, MA is being built where Hadley Fruit Orchards sat closed for 10 years on Paseo Del Norte.

The real Green Dragon Tavern in Boston was established in 1654 and said to be a planning site for the Boston Tea Party. It still operates as a pub and restaurant in Boston.

Carlsbad City Council approved the project in 2009. The project is now in the demolition stages. Jason Goff with the City of Carlsbad Planning Division said, “we are encouraged by the redevelopment of this site especially given the economic market.”

According to public city records, Carlsbad’s Green Dragon Tavern & Museum Colonial Village has plans to hire local history teachers to teach students about pilgrims and the Revolutionary War, in addition to being a restaurant and bookstore.
There are, of course, 150 years of history separating “pilgrims and the Revolutionary War.” And contrary to the writer’s understanding, today’s Green Dragon Tavern has no connection to the eighteenth-century Freemasons’ lodge whose name it borrowed.

However, the project sketch below indicates the architects will base their building on how the original Green Dragon Tavern looked in 1773, according to Revolutionary War artillerist and portrait painter John Johnson. Plus, some additional buildings.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Sopha, So Good

Was the Rev. Samuel Peters correct about when upper-class families in American port towns started to prefer sofas over beds where couple could bundle? Peters dated that shift to 1756, or about when he graduated from Yale College.

I tested his suggestion by looking for references for “sofa” (or “sopha,” as Peters spelled the word) in Readex’s Archive of Americana database. This was hampered by the fact that a search for “sofa” brings up a lot of false positives. The tricky long s of the 1700s and the less than crisp and uniform images mean that the program proudly fetches words like “Sold,” “so far,” “Snow,” and so on. (In fact, it probably fetches “so on.”) So these findings might well be incomplete.

The first reference to a “sofa” as a piece of furniture that I found in colonial American newspapers was a story about the Persian ambassador to the Turkish court published in Boston’s New-England Weekly Journal for 7 July 1741. The same anecdote was retold in the 10 Sept 1741 Pennsylvania Gazette, this time with the “sopha” spelling.

Moving westward, an anecdote from London in the Boston Evening-Post of 6 Jan 1766 describes the Duke of Dorset lying on “a large sofa.” Such references indicate that printers expected their Americans readers to know what the word sofa meant. But it was still associated with faraway households.

In the 4 July 1754 Pennsylvania Gazette, James White, “Upholsterer and Undertaker, lately arrived from London,” listed “sofa’s” among “all sorts of furniture” he could make. John Brinner, “Cabinet and Chair-Maker, from London,” put “Sofa Bed, Sofa Settee, Couch, and city Chair Frames” near the end of the long line of goods he offered in the 31 May 1762 New-York Mercury. Upholsterer John Brower used the spelling “sopha” in the 20 May 1766 New-York Gazette.

Perpetuating the stereotype, the new piece of furniture caught on later in Boston. The first mention I found in the newspapers come from an Anglican family with immense wealth from Caribbean slave-labor plantations. On 10 May 1773 the Boston Evening-Post advertised the sale of the estate of John Apthorp, including:
A large Sopha and ten Chairs, covered with the best crimson Silk Damask, and four large Window Currains of the same.

A small Sopha and five Chairs of the same Damask, in the Chinese Taste.
So whether or not Peters’s story about “a sopha is more dangerous than a bed” was fully accurate, it does make sense for rural New Englanders of the 1760s to have associated sofas with wealthy, suspiciously fashionable households in the port towns.

COMING UP: More on bundling.

(The sofa shown above, courtesy of the Traditional Fine Arts Organization, is dated to Virginia in 1790-1805, or a generation after Peters published his story.)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Speaking Up for Bundling “like a Roman heroine”

Yesterday I started to retell the Rev. Samuel Peters’s anecdote about “a shoal of good old women” berating a minister from some Northeast port after he had preached in a rural town against bundling, implying that women who participated in that custom were “naughty.”

Invoking the newly fashionable sofa, the local women suggested that the minister preach that “a sopha is more dangerous than a bed.” And then things got ugly:

The poor priest, seemingly convinced of his blunder, exclaimed, “Nec vitia nostra, nec remedia pati possumus,” hoping hereby to get rid of his guests;…
That’s a quotation from Livy: “We can bear neither our shortcomings nor the remedies for them.” I think the real meaning was: I’m a clergyman; I know Latin; so you ladies should stop bothering me.
…but an old matron pulled off her spectacles, and, looking the priest in his face like a Roman heroine, said, “Noli putare me haec auribus tuis dare.”
From Trebonius to Cicero: “Don’t think I speak this only to your ears [i.e., to flatter you].” (Though in most editions I see hoc in place of Peters’s haec.) Additional meaning: Don’t assume that we women are ignorant and easily cowed!
Others cried out to the priest to explain his Latin. “The English,” said he, “is this: Wo is me that I sojourn in Meseck, and dwell in the tents of Kedar![”]
Psalm 120.
One pertly retorted, Gladii decussati sunt gemina presbyteri clavis.
And I can’t find a source for that line. It may mean, “Crossed swords are double the key of priests” or “are twins of the key of priests.” Anyone?
The priest confessed his error, begged pardon, and promised never more to preach against Bundling, or to think amiss of the custom; the ladies generously forgave him, and went away.
Peters was a Loyalist in the Revolution, but he later came back to live in Vermont and New York. Connecticut authors of the 1800s spent a lot of pages arguing that he made up most of his claims about their colony’s bundling, blue laws, and other customs out of political spite. But does contemporaneous evidence support Peters’s claims?

TOMORROW: When did sofas become common in America?

Monday, September 17, 2012

“Those city ladies who prefer a sopha to a bed”

The Rev. Samuel Peters (1735-1826) was a Connecticut minister of the Church of England, thus a minority within the Puritan-founded colony and a natural Loyalist. He moved to England in 1774 and seven years later published a history of Connecticut that included a lot about the mistreatment of Loyalists and the curious habits of New Englanders—some of which might even have been true.

Among other topics, Peters wrote about bundling: the custom of letting young unmarried couples visit or sleep together in bed. Sometimes families used boards and bags to prevent the couple from having sex, but the most powerful barrier was gravity—the gravity of the social consequences if the woman became pregnant.

Peters was snarky about bundling, but not entirely negative, as this anecdote shows:
About the year 1756, Boston, Salem, Newport, and New-York, resolving to be more polite than their ancestors, forbade their daughters bundling on the bed with any young men whatever, and introduced a sopha to render courtship more palatable and Turkish. Whatever it was owing to, whether to the sopha, or any uncommon excess of the feu d’esprit, there went abroad a report, that this raffinage produced more natural consequences than all the bundling among the boors with their rurales pedantes, through every village in New-England besides.

In 1766, a clergyman from one of the polite towns, went into the country, and preached against the unchristian custom of young men and maidens lying together on a bed. He was no sooner out of the church, than attacked by a shoal of good old women, with, “Sir, do you think we and our daughters are naughty, because we allow of bundling?

“You lead yourselves into temptation by it.”

They all replied at once, “Sir, have you been told thus, or has experience taught it you?”
And there’s no right answer for that question, is there?
The Levite began to lift up his eyes, and to consider of his situation, and, bowing, said, “I have been told so.”

The ladies, unâ voce, bawled out, “Your informers, Sir, we conclude, are those city ladies who prefer a sopha to a bed; we advise you to alter your sermon, by substituting the word Sopha for Bundling, and, on your return home, preach it to them; for experience has told us that city folks send more children into the country without father or mothers to own them, than are born among us; therefore, you see, a sopha is more dangerous than a bed.”
Click on the thumbnail above for a Colonial Williamsburg article about colonial American courtship rituals.

TOMORROW: The argument is translated to a higher level.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 15, 2012

“The Jaco out-witted, by a Pig!

As Russell Potter, author of the new novel Pyg, has been finding in the research he shares on his blog, Federalist printers rarely resisted a chance to use the celebrity and metaphor of a learned pig against their political enemies. The Federalism of the early republic had more than a little snobbery about it.

Here’s an item that appeared in Springer’s Weekly Oracle, published in New London, Connecticut, on 7 Jan 1799:
Portland, (District of Maine) Dec. 6.

The JACO out-witted, by a PIG!

While the Learned Pig was at Saco, lately an admirer of the French requested the pig to tell which was the best nation, France or America? The pig immediately held up a card, with “d--m the French!” thereon. The brave querist would have stabbed the pig on the spot, had he not been stopped by a federalists!
The Weekly Oracle printer appears to have worked hastily, producing two or three typographical errors in one short paragraph.

Evidently the exhibitor of this pig had prepared with a crowd-pleasing anti-French card. But I heartily doubt that this ever happened as described. Americans who admired Revolutionary France—so-called Jacobins, or strong Jeffersonians—didn’t argue that France was better than America. They argued that it was a better model and ally for America than Britain.

Federalists disagreed, and their printers were happy to misrepresent the Democratic-Republicans. Today their equivalents might claim that Jeffersonians were “apologizing” for America, recognizing neither the breadth of the American political mainstream nor the meaning of the word “apology.”

Friday, September 14, 2012

“Inn-keeping was a favorite occupation”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Widmer on Religious Tolerance in Cambridge, 19 Sept.

On Wednesday, 19 September, Ted Widmer, director of the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, will speak at Cambridge Forum on “A Test Case for America: Washington, Longfellow, and the Jewish Community at Newport.” I’ll be moderator for the evening.

This event was originally announced for last June but had to be postponed due to illness. The topic of religious tolerance in American politics has only grown more timely since.

President George Washington’s part of that history is a 1790 letter to the head of Newport’s Jewish community in 1790, quoted here. The original letter was recently taken out of storage and put on display in Philadelphia.

This webpage from Henry W. Longfellow’s birthplace explains that in the seventeenth century Jewish families began to settle in the new colony of Rhode Island, explicitly founded without an established faith. Most came from Caribbean islands colonized by Spain or Portugal.
In the mid-1700s about 60 more Portuguese Jewish families arrived after the disastrous Lisbon earthquake of 1755. Over the decades, this small congregation met in private homes (legally, a rare privilege in the 17th-18th centuries) until 1759, when they undertook to build a synagogue. The Congregation Yeshuat Israel dedicated the synagogue in 1763, appointing the young cantor Isaac Touro, recently arrived from Amsterdam, as rabbi. However, by the turn of the century virtually all of the Jews had left Newport, the old cemetery occasionally being revisited for a burial.
Providence had eclipsed Newport as Rhode Island’s political and economic center. Most of the congregation moved to New York, which was even more vibrant.

As a result, when Longfellow visited Newport in 1852, he viewed the cemetery as a relic from a vanished community and a reminder of the persecution those Jews had faced:
How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!
The trees are white with dust, that o’er their sleep
Wave their broad curtains in the south-wind’s breath,
While underneath such leafy tents they keep
The long, mysterious Exodus of Death. . . .
Here’s the whole poem.

Just two years after Longfellow’s visit, however, a son of Isaac Touro died, leaving a bequest to restore and maintain the site. In 1881 it became an active house of worship again, and in the mid-20th century the Touro Synagogue was designated a National Historic Site.

Ted Widmer’s talk on that history and the issue of religious tolerance in American politics is free and open to the public. It starts at 7:00 P.M. at First Parish in Cambridge, half a block from the Harvard T station. The talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session which I’m supposed to manage. The evening will be recorded and edited for broadcast on the Cambridge Forum network.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ray Raphael on the Presidency, 20 and 24 Sept.

On Thursday, 20 September, at 6:00 P.M. the Old South Meeting House will host author and friend of Boston 1775 Ray Raphael for a free public lecture on “Partisanship and the Founders.” This talk is based on Ray’s latest book, Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive.

Old South just sent members an interview with Ray which starts like this:
OSMH: What do you think is the greatest misconception that the American public has about the presidency as the Founders intended it?

RR: Today, we assume the president is supposed to run the show. If the economy fails, it’s his fault. That’s not how the framers of the Constitution viewed it. Congress, which included the people’s direct representatives, made the decisions and enacted the laws; the president only enforced them. In the Constitution, the list of congressional powers is long. The president, by contrast, has few powers, and two of the largest—making appointments and negotiating treaties—were last minute entries, transferred from the Senate to the president with less than two weeks to go in the Constitutional Convention.

OSMH: What would the early framers of the American presidency think about what the office has become?

RR: They would be sad, embarrassed, and ashamed at the intense partisanship. The framers created the presidency to counter the “spirit of party” they expected to prevail in Congress, yet inadvertently, by creating a single executive who soon appeared to embody the nation, they triggered the rise of political parties on a national scale.
In fact, several of the Constitution’s most active framers, including James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, were involved in building those parties they had hoped to avoid. As in the pre-Revolutionary period, each side viewed the other as going too far and therefore went farther just to keep up, as they saw it.

Ray will also speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society on 24 September at 6:30 P.M. His talk there is titled “The Curious Creation of the Electoral College: What the Founders Didn’t Want and Didn’t See Coming,” and it will cover a different aspect of the same history:
Hoping to sidestep popular elections and transcend politics, the framers concocted a bizarre, untried method of selecting the president. Little did they suspect how their system would be gamed, from 1789 through 2012.
That event begins with a reception at 5:30. Seating is limited; reserve a space through this site.

Old South is also hosting talks on Boston ghost stories (18 September, 7:00 P.M.) and the War of 1812 (for three more Wednesdays starting tonight, 6:30 P.M.). The Massachusetts Historical Society also has an exhibit on the War of 1812. Must be an anniversary or something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Ancient & Honorable, Old and New

Yesterday’s Boston Globe brought news that the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company of Boston is inducting its first female members: Lt. Col. Catherine M. Corkery and Lt. Col. Christine Hoffmann of the National Guard.

The organization was founded in 1638 as part of the young colony’s defense. By the mid-1700s it was no longer an official militia company reporting to the governor but a private organization. Men—and only men—joined because they wanted to improve and demonstrate their skills as military officers.

In the early 1760s, for example, William Heath was a lieutenant in the Roxbury militia company. According to American National Biography, he put himself in as a candidate for a higher rank; the men didn’t choose him, so he resigned in disappointment. According to Heath’s memoir, his home-town company was “inactive.”

In any event, in the spring of 1765 Heath

went over to Boston, and entered a member of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. This immediately recommended him to the notice of the Colonel of the first regiment of militia in the county of Suffolk, who sent for him, and importuned him to take the command of his own company; to which Mr. Heath was reluctant; apprehensive that his youth, and stepping over those who had a better claim, by former office in the company, to the command of it, might produce an uneasiness. He was, however, commissioned by Gov. [Francis] Barnard; and his apprehensions of uneasiness proved to be groundless.
That’s from the introduction to Heath’s memoir, which you might not be able to tell was also written by Heath.

That’s how the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company worked in the pre-Revolutionary period: it was a training organization and social network for men with militia ambitions. It went dormant during the war and then reformed with a big crop of veterans in 1786.

Despite its name, the company had nothing to do with artillery for over a century before the early 1800s. And then its gunnery practice produced the hole in the “Adams” cannon on display at the top of the Bunker Hill Monument.

The Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company now has, as the Globe says, ”a more ceremonial role, appearing in city parades, fund-raising for veterans’ associations, and delivering a reading of the Declaration of Independence from the State House balcony each Independence Day.” The group maintains a museum on the top floor of Faneuil Hall. Adding women to its ranks, the institution continues to evolve and reflect the values of Massachusetts society.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Hoberman on Puritans and Jews in Boston, 12 Sept.

On Wednesday, 12 September, the New England Historic Genealogical Society hosts Michael Hoberman, speaking on his book New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America. This event is cosponsored by the American Jewish Historical Society–New England Archives.

The event description says:
Author Michael Hoberman will discuss his book New Israel/New England: Jews and Puritans in Early America, which examines the history of colonial New England through the lens of its first settlers. The New England Puritans’ fascination with the legacy of the Jewish religion has been well documented, but their interactions with actual Jews have escaped sustained historical attention.

New Israel/New England tells the story of the Sephardic merchants in Boston and Newport between the mid-seventeenth century and the American Revolution. It also explores the complex and often contradictory meanings that the Puritans attached to Judaism and the fraught attitudes that they bore toward the Jews as a people.

Among the intriguing episodes that Hoberman investigates is the recruitment and conversion of Harvard’s first permanent instructor of Hebrew; the ecumenical friendship between Newport minister Ezra Stiles and Haim Carigal, an itinerant rabbi from Palestine; as well as the life and career of Moses Michael Hays, the prominent freemason who was Boston’s first permanently established Jewish businessman, a founder of its insurance industry, an early sponsor of the Bank of Massachusetts, and a personal friend of Paul Revere.
Hoberman is a professor of literature at Fitchburg State University. I got to hear him discuss his research for this book at the Massachusetts Historical Society a while back.

The event runs from 6:00 to 7:00 P.M. at 99-101 Newbury Street in Boston. It is free, but the society asks that people email or call 617-226-1226 to save a seat.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

“The march they chose was…”

My postings on the story about Gen. George Washington’s “huzzah” remark at Yorktown stopped at identifying Dr. Thomas H. McCalla as the source, partially identified in Alexander Garden’s Anecdotes of the American Revolution.

I didn‘t explore the question of how reliable that story itself was, particularly to the level of the words it credited to the commander-in-chief. That prompted a thoughtful message from martial-music expert Susan Cifaldi, which with permission I’m running as a “guest blogger” column.


The problem I have with Alexander Garden’s Anecdotes of the American Revolution (1822 and 1828) is embodied in the title; what he presents are simply anecdotes, which had a large oral circulation but are supported by vague second- and third-hand documentation. While this may confirm the peripheral circumstances, it leaves us frustrated for actual proof.

Perhaps Dr. M’Calla did recall hearing the Commander-in-Chief say some ponderous, lofty, and encouraging things while “addressing himself to the division of the army to which he was attached.” But in addition to the lack of written notation of such a lengthy statement, there is the physical factor of the problems associated with recall 40+ years after the fact. Who among us can recall 46 words of of anything that happened 40+ years ago, verbatim or otherwise?

“Huzzah” isn’t the only legend accepted as fact simply because the historical buck stops with Alexander Garden. Take the tune “World turned up side down,” commonly but erroneously assumed to have been played at Yorktown (Anecdotes, 1828, p. 17).

Quoting such luminaries as John Laurens, Garden tells the story how, during negotiations of the surrender terms, Laurens apparently insisted that “The [British] Troops shall march out with colours cased, and drums beating a British or a German march.” A “harsh article,” according to a British representative, who felt the surrendering troops should have been accorded the honors of war and thus march out with drums beating an American or French march. However, Laurens would not consider argument, “This remains an article, or I cease to be a Commissioner.”
The result was conformed to this just retribution. The British army marched out with colours cased, and drums beating a British or a German march. The march they chose was—“The world turned up side down.”
The late Arthur Schrader did a much better job than I could in explaining why there is nothing but Alexander Garden to support this theory at this stage in the game.

I like my copy of Garden, which I paid quite a bit for some years ago so I could have both the 1822 and 1828 issues in their original marbled boards, but I think we have to use it as we would a coffee-table book or maybe a 19th-century version of the Reader’s Digest.

Indeed, even when we’ve got a source on the scene, we must consider how reliable that source might be, and how reliably his or her testimony has been transmitted to us.

Thanks, Sue!

(The image above, courtesy of the Library of Congress, is sheet music for a piece
genuinely associated with Yorktown. It’s a piano composition created to commemorate the siege a century later.)

Saturday, September 08, 2012

“There should be no laughing at the British”

In response to my first posting on Gen. George Washington’s reported “huzzah” quote at Yorktown, Joseph M. Bauman left a comment I wanted to bring up front here.

Bauman noted that the 1864 book The Last Men of the Revolution quoted aged veteran Lemuel Cook as saying about Yorktown:
We were on a kind of side hill. We had plaguey little to eat and nothing to drink under heaven. We hove up some brush to keep the flies off. Washington ordered that there should be no laughing at the British; said it was bad enough to surrender without being insulted. The army came out with guns clubbed on their backs. They were paraded on a great smooth lot, and there they stacked their arms.
That’s another version of the same story that Dr. Thomas H. McCalla told in Charleston in the early years of the nineteenth century.

Of course, the two stories might not have been independent. By the time Cook was interviewed, Dr. McCalla’s anecdote about Washington had been in print for decades. It was in popular histories and textbooks. If audiences had come to expect that detail, that could have tinged the way Cook retold his story.

However, I find Cook’s remarks credible, for a couple of reasons. First, he obviously wasn’t trying to provide a familiar, heroic version of Yorktown. He was talking about being thirsty and fly-ridden. He described the orders that came down to him in concrete soldiers’ language: “there should be no laughing.”

Second, this anecdote, unlike some, is completely in character for Gen. Washington. He always valued military discipline. He always favored keeping emotion in check. This is just the sort of order he would have given, whatever language he chose.

Joe Bauman’s comment mentions his edition of The Last Men of the Revolution, available for Kindle or Nook. The original book collected the Rev. E. B. Hillard’s short profiles and photographs of six men who had fought in the Revolutionary War. For his digital reprint, Bauman added a foreword and substituted some photographs from his own collection, producing crisper reproductions.

A few months earlier Bauman published Don’t Tread on Me (Kindle or Nook), with photographs and original profiles of eight more Revolutionary War veterans who survived into the age of photography. That book describes how he collected those images and identified the old men they showed. With each photograph is a thoroughly researched and cited biography.

Bauman’s books are also a fine use of digital publishing. The market for them is select, but they’d have to be printed well to show off the photographs; until recently, that would have meant quite expensive printed books. But tablet computers display the portraits well at a minimal cost. Together these two e-books cost less than $10, and they’ll let you gaze into the eyes of fourteen Revolutionary War veterans.

Friday, September 07, 2012

The Source of the “Huzzah” Anecdote

Yesterday I completed tracing the story of Gen. George Washington’s admonition to his troops not to cheer at Yorktown to Dr. Thomas McCalla, intendant (mayor) of Charleston, South Carolina, in 1810-11. The last step is determining if McCalla was at Yorktown and thus had the chance to hear Washington’s words, or a report of them, at the time.

There are at least two men named Thomas McCalla connected to the American forces. (And with the number of ways people spelled that surname—McCalla, M’Caula, Macaulay, McCauley, and so on—there are probably more.)

One Thomas McCalla appears in Elizabeth Ellet’s profile of his wife Sarah in Women of the American Revolution (1848-1850). That man did live in South Carolina, but wasn’t at Yorktown and wasn’t a physician.

The other man was Thomas Harrison McCalla, who graduated from Princeton in 1777 and joined Col. Stephen Moylan’s regiment of dragoons in Philadelphia as a surgeon’s mate the next spring. He remained with the unit through the end of the war, becoming a surgeon on 1 June 1780. (In some war records, McCalla’s middle initial has been transcribed as an M instead of an H.)

Moylan’s regiment was part of the American forces at Yorktown. Dr. McCalla was therefore on the scene when the British surrendered. Whether or not he was close enough to Gen. Washington to hear what the commander said, he could have learned the upshot of the orders soon afterward.

At the end of 1783, Dr. McCalla joined the Pennsylvania division of the Society of the Cincinnati. But the “Dr. M’Caula” whom Alexander Garden quoted in 1822 was from Charleston, South Carolina. And there were a few states in between those places.

Fortunately, in 1871 the Transactions of the Medical Society of New Jersey published this profile of the man—clearly the same one, even though it says nothing of his military activity:
THOMAS HARRISON McCALLA, son of John McCalla and Jane Harrison, was born in the city of Philadelphia, where he was educated. He pursued medical studies with so much zeal and success as ultimately to gain for himself an enviable standing as a physician. He practiced medicine in Greenwich, Cumberland County, N. J., some time between the years 1790 and 1800. He changed his residence to Charleston, South Carolina, where he soon became distinguished as a physician. He was for some years Poor Physician of that city. He was married to Miss Barksdale, of Charleston, by whom he had a daughter, who died a few days after her marriage, and left him childless. He did not long survive her. Like the most of his family, he was possessed of more than ordinary mental endowments. It is regretted that no further account of this distinguished physician has been obtained.
Now we can add that Dr. McCalla was elected to Charleston’s highest office in 1810 and 1811. According to Ancestry.com, his daughter Sarah Barksdale McCalla died in 1809 at the age of twenty. The Pennsylvania Society of the Cincinnati records that Dr. McCalla himself died in January 1813.

It’s striking how the different periods of Dr. McCalla’s career—his army years, his New Jersey medical practice, and his life in Charleston, including local government service—are preserved in wholly separate sources. I think that reflects how he died without descendants who could have pulled everything together and put it in print. It’s likely that the profile of McCalla in Princetonians, the reference to that college’s early graduates, has a more complete picture.

In any event, we can say that the anecdote about Gen. Washington telling his men, “Let history huzzah for you,” is a garbled version of the original quotation; but that story did come from a regimental surgeon in the Continental Army at Yorktown.

Thursday, September 06, 2012

“Posterity will huzza for us!”

So where would a little boy in Hagerstown, Maryland, in 1838 have heard what Gen. George Washington supposedly told his troops at the surrender of Yorktown?

Continental Army veteran Alexander Garden (1757-1829) published his Anecdotes of the Revolutionary War in America in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1822. Among the stories Garden collected was:
Dr. M’Caula, sometime since Intendant of Charleston, who served with distinction during the war of the Revolution, has frequently declared, that after the surrender of York-Town, while the Continental Troops were preparing to receive the British, who were to march forth from the garrison, and deliver up their arms, that he heard the Commander in Chief say, (addressing himself to the division of the army to which he was attached) “My brave fellows, let no sensation of satisfaction for the triumphs you have gained, induce you to insult your fallen enemy—let no shouting, no clamourous huzzaing increase their mortification. It is sufficient satisfaction to us, that we witness their humiliation. Posterity will huzza for us!”
That was reprinted with slight changes in punctuation in William Bailey’s Records of Patriotism and Love of Country, issued in Washington, D.C., in 1826. It was also quoted nearly word for word, with no mention of Garden, in Robert W. Lincoln’s Lives of the Presidents of the United States (1833). Benson J. Lossing simplified the wording in 1848, as I quoted a couple of days ago, but other authors maintained Garden’s Latinate language.

Most subsequent versions of the story, however, silently omit the line “It is sufficient that we witness their humiliation.” That part does seem to rub it in a bit, in a way that undercuts the story’s overall moral.

This webpage from Charleston confirms that physician Thomas McCalla was elected intendant (equivalent of mayor) of the city in 1810 and 1811.

TOMORROW: But was Dr. Thomas McCalla at Yorktown?

(The photo above, which comes courtesy of the National Park Service, shows Charleston’s city hall, built in 1800-04. But Dr. McCalla didn’t presided over city council meetings there. The building was originally the state’s branch of the Bank of the United States, and became city property only in 1818. It has been somewhat altered inside and out since then.)

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

“The little fellow had some balls”

Yesterday I quoted an anecdote about Gen. George Washington at Yorktown that Benson J. Lossing put into two of the history books he published in 1848. Lossing didn’t say where he found that story, but I located a version of it in The Rural Repository, published in Hudson, New York, on 15 Sept 1838:
The Huzzas of Posterity.

A little boy near Hagerstown, in Maryland, was one day pointing out to me a copse of trees as the place where Washington at the head of the Virginia rangers, fought a battle long before the war of the revolution, with some Indians, headed by the French from Fort Duquesne, now Pittsburgh. The little fellow had some balls which had been fired in that battle, chopped from the centers of the now massive and aged oaks. I saw the sunbeam of some moral emotion was in his eyes, and I asked him further of Washington, the brave youth who led the Virginians into that thicket when the warwhoop shook its boughs, and the rifle rung in its gloom.

His mind seemed to glance like lightning through the illustrious deeds of arms in which Washington had been engaged, and settled down at the closing scene of Yorktown. He told me of one circumstance only. Said he, when the British troops were marching out of their entrenchments to lay down their arms, Washington told the American army, ‘My boys, let there be no insults over a conquered foe! when they lay down their arms don’t huzza; posterity will huzza for you.’

I could have hugged the little boy to my bosom. Although he had not probably been able to read more than four years, yet his mind had drank deep in the moral greatness of the act of sparing the feelings of a fallen foe. I asked him what it was that Washington said that posterity would do? he quickly answered, huzza. ‘Huzza! then,’ said I; and he sent his clear, wild shout into the battle-wood, and I shouted with him, ‘Huzza, for Washington.
Isn’t that just sweet enough to make your teeth itch? The Rural Repository published this item in a section of uplifting and amusing stories just before it got to the poetry; that was the equivalent of the fun pages in the old Reader’s Digest. (The piece was reprinted later that month in the Poughkeepsie Casket and elsewhere.)

The Washington anecdote thus entered print all wrapped up in a lesson for small children: “the moral greatness of the act of sparing the feelings of a fallen foe.” Imparting moral lessons to youth is a great excuse for bending, or even concocting, historical facts.

The author’s grasp of history was already shaky. Though Hagerstown had a monument to Washington (shown above, courtesy of Wikipedia) and a fort from the French and Indian War, Washington didn’t lead rangers in any fight in any nearby “copse of trees.” I wonder if the little fellow was just playing, or if he tried to sell the nice man some old bullets as historical artifacts.

TOMORROW: Five years further back.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Did Washington Say, “Let history huzzah for you”?

In response to a recent Boston 1775 posting about a quotation unduly attributed to Gen. George Washington, author Robert A. Selig asked about another anecdote. Several recent books say that the general told American forces at Yorktown not to cheer the British surrender: “Let history huzzah for you.” But how far back do those words go?

It looks like that quotation is a simplified version of a statement repeated in the nineteenth century. In 1895, Elizabeth Bryant Johnston’s George Washington Day by Day rendered the remark as:
“My brave fellows, let no sensation of satisfaction for the triumphs you have gained induce you to insult your fallen enemy. Let no shouting, no clamorous huzzahing, increase their mortification. Posterity will huzzah for us.
This was described as from “Washington’s address to his troops at the surrender of Yorktown,” which sounds like a formal announcement but doesn’t exist.

Other versions of the same quotation appear in Benson J. Lossing’s 1848 books Seventeen Seventy-Six and The Lives of the Presidents. A footnote in the first says:
It is related that when the British soldiers were about to march out and lay down their arms, Washington said to the American army, “My boys, let there be no insults over a conquered foe! When they lay down their arms don’t huzza: posterity will huzza for you!”
And in the second:
It is related that when the British soldiers were about to march out and lay down their arms at Yorktown, Washington said to the Americans, “My boys, let there be no exaltation over a conquered foe! When they lay down their arms, don’t huzza: posterity will huzza for you!”
The difference between “exaltation” and “insults” shows that Lossing wasn’t working from a written text. And his “It is related” opening shows he knew of no way of tying that anecdote back to the event—but Lossing didn’t let lack of documentation stand in the way of repeating a good story.

TOMORROW: Back another ten years.