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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How the Grays Remembered Their Baby Boy

This is a mourning ring on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society in an exhibit called “In Death Lamented: The Tradition of Anglo-American Mourning Jewelry.”

The M.H.S.’s blog explains:
This ring, part of the MHS collections, commemorates John Gray, the infant son of John and Mary Otis Gray and nephew of political writer Mercy Otis Warren.

John died at only six days old. The ring has a design of three joined enameled scrolls and a gold foil skull under a square crystal. The inscription that runs around the outside of the band reads, “J:GRAY OB·17·SEP 1763·Æ 6D,” meaning “John Gray died 17 September 1763 aged 6 days.”

Less than two months after the infant’s death, his mother died as well, and a ring was made in her memory.
The surviving John Gray was the wealthy owner of the rope factory where ropemaker William Green and Pvt. Patrick Walker got into a fight on 2 Mar 1770, leading to the Boston Massacre. Gray leaned toward the Crown, but wasn’t active in politics. He remained in America through the war instead of leaving like his brother Harrison Gray, the royal treasurer.

The exhibit can be viewed for free from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., Monday through Saturday, until 31 Jan 2013. On 15 November, jeweler Sarah Nehama and Anne Bentley of the M.H.S., the co-curators, will offer an free tour of the exhibit, talking about individual pieces. On 7 December Bentley will highlight the items from three particular families over the decades. Nehama has written a handsome full-color catalogue that would make a fine holiday present for your favorite Goth.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Colonial Comics Coming in 2014

As long as I’m discussing book projects like Reporting the Revolutionary War, I’ll highlight another new project I’m involved in. Here’s the scoop from editor Jason Rodriguez in an interview with the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Emilie Haertsch:

1. Tell us about your current project with Fulcrum Publishing editing graphic novels on colonial New England.

Colonial Comics is a series of graphic novel anthologies about colonial life up to and a little bit beyond the American Revolution. The first book, scheduled to be released in the spring/summer of 2014, will focus on the early settlement of New England. The book will feature stories of pilgrims and Puritans, Pequots and pirates, midwives and printing presses, whales and livestock, slavery and frontiers, and many other aspects of colonial life. The second book, scheduled to be released in the fall/winter of 2014, will focus on the pre-Revolutionary period. It will depict the unconventional stories of Revolutionary men and women, the early ideas and seemingly insignificant moves that brought about revolution, and a shot that was heard around the world. . . .

4. Why do you think comics are a good medium for exploring history?

Comics tend to immerse the reader in the time period. Every panel is a moment in time, and each moment allows the reader to pause and take note of the buildings and the dress and the people. Since the words are printed on the page in little balloons, the reader can note the dialog and the pacing. There’s also a layer of subtext you get with comics that you don’t necessarily get with books and film. When someone is in panel for an entire story and hardly says a line of dialog it says a lot about that character and how he or she fits into the context of the story. And of course there’s the narrative aspect. These historic figures become interesting characters within the stories. Readers are inspired to learn more about them, either on their own or in their courses.
The image above is from a real colonial comic, word balloons and all: it’s a detail from Paul Revere’s print “A View of the Year 1765” showing a supposed Stamp Act supporter hanging in effigy.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Time for Reporting the Revolutionary War

I’ve been sharing highlights of my report on George Washington in Cambridge, but that’s not the only new book this season that features my writing.

Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News was conceived and assembled by Todd Andrlik of the Rag Linen site. It traces how America’s move to independence was reported at the time in American and English newspapers. Every section shows some actual eighteenth-century news reports alongside a historian’s analysis of the event.

I wrote two sections. The first is on the “Powder Alarm” of September 1774, which signaled the de facto end of royal rule in most of New England; that doesn’t get a lot of space in most histories of the war because, well, nobody died. But it was a big deal for newspapers. Whig printers presented the notes of the mass gathering on Cambridge common as if it were a formal meeting, and William Brattle published a public letter trying to deny what he’d been caught saying in private—not that it did him any good.

My second essay is on the Battle of Lexington and Concord eight months later. For that I took the approach of tracing how news of the event spread, starting with the first oral reports of British army officers riding out of Boston. As with any fight, it took a while for the authorities and the press to sort out rumors, false claims, and facts. Newspapers in both America and Britain show how the Massachusetts Provincial Congress did a much better job than Gen. Thomas Gage in spreading its version of events. And you can read the actual articles, reproduced in color on pages about 10x10 inches.

Reporting the Revolutionary War extends from the Sugar and Stamp Acts in the 1760s through Washington’s resignation as commander-in-chief in 1783. The list of contributors contains a lot of friends: Ray Raphael, Don Hagist, Ben Carp, Bob Allison, Will Tatum, Ben Irvin, Tom Fleming, as well as authors I know only through their books. At $39.99, it’s a coffee-table book with serious substance.

Reporting the Revolutionary War has its own website, with content samples, contributor bios, videos, lesson plans, and more, plus a Facebook page. There’s a Military Book Club edition. The hardcover officially goes on sale next month, but Todd tells me it’s already on some store shelves and #1 at Amazon in the all-important “Propaganda and Political Psychology” category.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seeking Large House, River View, Must Be Available Immediately

Once the Second Continental Congress chose Gen. George Washington as commander-in-chief of the army it was adopting outside of Boston, he had to travel to Boston and take command. The third chapter of my report Gen. George Washington’s Headquarters and Home—Cambridge, Massachusetts describes that journey and his arrival in Cambridge on 2 July 1775.

That evening, according to the diary of Ens. Noah Chapin, he and Gen. Charles Lee reviewed troops on Prospect Hill. In 1797 the artist Elkanah Tisdale depicted Washington taking command of the army drawn up in formation at Cambridge on 3 July, and in 1826 Edward Everett connected that undocumented event to a large elm beside the town common. I discussed the myths and realities of the Washington Elm on this blog, and this part of the report benefited from the comments those postings produced.

At that time, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had arranged for Washington and Lee to share the house of the Harvard president, Samuel Langdon, “excepting one room reserved by the president for his own use.” That building, shown above, is now known as Wadsworth House, and it contains administrative offices. It’s not clear whether Langdon was still on the premises or needed the room to store his stuff.

By 6 July, the Committee of Safety had to ask Washington “if there is any house at Cambridge, that would be more agreeable to him and General Lee than that in which they are now.” Clearly the congress had received hints that the Wadsworth House was unsatisfactory. Lee announced that he planned to take up his own headquarters. And on 8 July the committee recommended making John Vassall’s vacated house ready for Gen. Washington.

I explored various reasons for that move. The Vassall house was bigger, with no rooms set aside, and Washington would need space for his staff. However, Cambridge village could surely have offered another house or two nearby. Why did the general prefer to move over half a mile from the town center?

One possible explanation was security. Wadsworth House was closer to the front and the Charles River in case of British raids. In 1861 Eliza Susan Quincy described hearing from a former army surgeon about a Royal Artillery shell landing in modern Harvard Square, as I quoted back here. So I floated that explanation, and heard back that central Cambridge was well beyond mortar range in the eighteenth century.

So I finally concluded that Washington most likely chose the Vassall house as his headquarters because:
  • as a big house looking out on a river, surrounded by outbuildings and farmland (and staffed by slaves), it made him feel at home.
  • it was a mile away from the hundreds of enlisted men housed in Harvard Yard.
Gen. Artemas Ward had been content to have his headquarters in the Harvard steward’s house near those soldiers. Washington, with his emphasis on hierarchy, might well have preferred more distance.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

John Adams’s Memory of Appointing Gen. Washington

After his Presidency and again about twenty years later, John Adams wrote out his memories of how the Second Continental Congress chose George Washington to lead its army on 15 June 1775. Because these recollections came from such an important member of the Congress, and because they were published early, they’re the basis of most dramatic descriptions of that event.

Adams is our source for the statement that he first put forward Washington’s name, that chairman John Hancock showed “Mortification and resentment” at not being named himself, and that Washington “from his Usual Modesty darted into the Library Room.” Adams described long arguments in the Congress, with both New Englanders and Virginians opposing Washington.

Because the Congress refrained from keeping records on such a sensitive topic as forming an army to oppose the king’s governors and troops, it’s impossible to show that events happened differently. But the record that exists makes Adams’s account less likely.

Many of John Adams’s Revolutionary recollections put him at the center of the action, bravely standing up to unreasonable opposition. That’s how he liked to see himself. And sometimes contemporaneous evidence indicates that opposition wasn’t quite so numerous or loud as Adams described.

Adams remembered certain members of the Congress as being opposed to Washington, such as Roger Sherman of Connecticut and Edmund Pendleton of Virginia. Yet there’s no evidence for their opposition or disappointment at how things turned out. In fact, that same week Pendleton was helping Washington to draft a will and wrote most of the new commander’s acceptance speech.

Among Washington biographers, Douglas Southall Freeman suggested that Washington asked as a friend Pendleton to play devil’s advocate against his appointment. John Ferling theorized he invited Pendleton to draft the speech in order to co-opt a former opponent. I think the simplest explanation is that Adams’s memory was mistaken, and Pendleton supported Washington’s appointment like almost everyone else at the Congress, particularly the Virginians.

In writing my report on Washington in Cambridge, I was convinced by Paul K. Longmore’s hypothesis in The Invention of George Washington that the long arguments Adams remembered actually occurred in the following couple of days, and the biggest sticking-point was whether to hire Charles Lee as a subordinate general. On 18 June 1775 Adams told Elbridge Gerry:
I have never, in all my lifetime, suffered more anxiety than in the conduct of this business. The choice of officers, and their pay, have given me great distress. Lee and [Horatio] Gates are officers of such great experience and confessed abilities, that I thought their advice, in a council of officers, might be of great advantage to us; but the natural prejudices, and virtuous attachment of our countrymen to their own officers, made me apprehensive of difficulties. But considering the earnest desire of General Washington to have the assistance of these officers, the extreme attachment of many of our best friends in the southern colonies to them, the reputation they would give to our arms in Europe, and especially with the ministerial generals and army in Boston, as well as the real American merit of them both, I could not withhold my vote from either.
The official vote on Washington’s appointment was unanimous. The vote to hire Lee at a rank below Artemas Ward’s and the vote to make Gates a general were not. But Washington’s “earnest desire” for those veterans’ aid carried the day.

TOMORROW: Washington’s journey to his Cambridge headquarters.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Gen. Washington Arrives at Last

In chapter three of my study for the National Park Service, Gen. George Washington’s Headquarters and Home—Cambridge, Massachusetts, the title character finally comes on the scene.

This character is Washington at age forty-three—about my age when I started the work, and two decades away from the revered elder statesman on our dollar bills. (One decade away from the Houdon bust shown here.) He had commanded the Virginia troops during the French and Indian War. He was a major planter in northern Virginia, thanks to his wife’s inheritances. He had been a usually quiet stalwart in the Virginia House of Burgesses. And he was tall.

My analysis of the general’s early career owes a lot of Paul K. Longmore’s The Invention of George Washington and John Ferling’s The Ascent of George Washington. As a young man he had a galloping ambition which often got him into trouble, but he usually had the energy and luck to get out. (For example.)

As a young Virginia officer, Washington did many things he disliked seeing in the Continental Army officer corps during 1775-76: complaining about rank, going over his superiors’ heads, threatening to resign, actually resigning, looking after his own interests while on duty. What calmed him down? It looks to me like his marriage to Martha Custis at the start of 1759 reassured him that he had arrived in the top ranks of Virginia society, that he didn’t have to keep pushing so hard.

This chapter takes issue with a couple of myths about how Washington became the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army. First is the question of whether he wanted the job. Following eighteenth-century genteel standards, Washington didn’t overtly campaign to be made generalissimo—but there was no doubt that he was ready to accept the post. He never suggested another candidate. As Peter Henriques wrote in Realistic Visionary:
When you are over six feet tall, of imposing martial bearing and wearing a brand-new uniform, and you know there is virtual unanimity among the delegates that an army is to be formed, it can’t come as a total shock to discover that you are being seriously considered for a leadership position.
Furthermore, Washington did more than dress the part. He prepared for it. He spent the winter of 1774-75 organizing an independent militia company in his county and accepted the command of similar units elsewhere in Virginia. He bought military books and supplies. He met with both Col. Charles Lee and Maj. Horatio Gates, retired British army officers with more professional military experience than any other Whigs in America. Leaving for Philadelphia on 4 May, he let Martha know he wasn’t sure when he’d be home.

At the First Continental Congress in autumn 1774, Washington had served on no committees and apparently made no speeches. At the Second Continental Congress, he chaired four committees on military preparation, one after the other. On 15 June 1775, the Congress unanimously voted to accept Washington’s unspoken offer to lead their army.

TOMORROW: John Adams’s account of how Washington was chosen—can we believe it?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Celebrating Barrett’s Farm in Concord, 27 Oct.

On Saturday, 27 October, Save Our Heritage is celebrating the completion of its multi-year effort to restore the Col. James Barrett Farm and transfer that historic property to the Minute Man National Historical Park. This is an important expansion of the park since that farmhouse was at the very end of the British march on 18-19 Apr 1775 and the very top of Gen. Thomas Gage’s list of places to search in Concord.

There will be a public ceremony from 11:00 A.M. to noon featuring the heads of Save Our Heritage and Minute Man Park, Rep. Niki Tsongas, and the selectmen of Concord, as well as a colonial musket salute. That will take place rain or shine.

From noon to 4:00 P.M. there will be an open house inside the Barrett homestead with the preservation architect, timber framers, and other craftspeople involved in restoring the structure. The photo above, by Derek McLean for the Boston Globe, shows the restoration as of July 2011, when This Old House paid a visit.

Save Our Heritage thanks “the Town of Concord Community Preservation Fund, Save America’s Treasures Preservation Fund, and individual private donations” for supporting the effort.

My little contribution was a paper I wrote several years ago identifying some of the artillery pieces that Col. Barrett was storing at his farm until hours before the British troops arrived. Gen. Gage had been hunting for those weapons since they disappeared from militia armories in Boston in September 1774. One of those brass cannon is now on display in the Concord visitor center of Minute Man park.

Barrett’s farm is at 449 Barretts Mill Road in Concord. It should be possible to visit it and the Battle of the Red Horse Tavern reenactment in Sudbury the same day.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

“Looked for accommodations for my companies”

Ebenezer Storrs was a lieutenant colonel commissioned by Connecticut in the spring of 1775. These are entries from his diary describing what he found when he arrived in Cambridge to add his forces to the New England army.
[2 June 1775] Ordered the companies to proceed as far as Leeson’s in Waltham and make a halt for the night, then left them under the care of Lieut. Gray, and proceeded with Lieut. Dane to Cambridge, at Col. [Joseph] Lee’s house, where we expected to have tarried; found 3 companies. Went to head quarters to Gen. [Israel] Putnam, he came with us to our proposed quarters, looked for accommodations for my companies. Conclude to march in to-morrow. Came out to Watertown with Lieut. Dane; tarried there.

[3 June] Towards noon the companies arrived. Sat off with them to Cambridge; met Gen. Putnam on the road. Come to the house of Mr. [Thomas] Fairweather, where we make our quarters; after dinner went up to head quarters to show ourselves to the General [Artemas Ward]; he recommends our being immediately provided for action.

[4 June] Lord’s day. Heard Mr. [Abiel] Leonard our chaplin on the common.

[5 June] Attended prayers this morning with the companies. Spent some time in aprising the arms, &c., from Mansfield. Ordered the companies to discipline 15 men. Sent to clear the house at head quarters, after prayers at night at head quarters.

[6 June] Sent a letter to Mr. Salter respecting printing the sermon he delivered to our companies on our departure from Mansfield; had liberty for 4 of my men who have been here since the allarrum to return home on a furlough of 12 days. Deacon Freeman and Aaron Hovey at our lodgings. Walked the grand rounds with them and Col. Freeman to view the various fortifications in this place and at Charlestown.

[7 June] Unwell, bad cold. Returning from prayers had orders to take the command of the guard today; unacquainted with the business, unwell; however I am willing to learn my duty, as I have all the customs and rules of the camp to learn; not much sleep to-night, many prisoners. Some drunk, noisy and crazy.

[8 June] Relieved this morning, came home and went to sleep. Mr. Fairweather came home last night out of humor as they tell me. No wonder, his house filled up with soldiers, and perhaps his [financial] interest suffers as it really must. Sent for me, yet appears to act the part of a gentleman. Went to sleep, took some refreshment and am some better, but have a bad cough.

[9 June] Went to Gen. Putnam to make return of my companies to draw soap, beer, &c, out of the Connecticut store; he declines coming to a settlement about it, my company uneasy for want of beer and soap for washing; many visitors from Windham.
Thomas Fayerweather had bought his house in Cambridge (shown above) from Loyalist George Ruggles just a few months before. Though he supported the Patriot cause, Fayerweather was evidently dismayed to find his property quite so full of troops in need of “beer and soap for washing.”

It’s striking how often Storrs’s diary speaks of sermons and prayers. This was the New England army, composed largely of rural descendants of the Puritans. I also find it interesting how many men from the home province just showed up to see how the siege was going. Presumably they slept somewhere else.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Living Conditions in Cambridge in the Spring of 1775

The second chapter of my report Gen. George Washington’s Headquarters and Home—Cambridge, Massachusetts is titled “The Arrival of the Provincial Army on the Vassall Estate.”

As I described last week, the Loyalist planter John Vassall and his family left his Cambridge home in September 1774. They probably expected to return after Gen. Thomas Gage quelled the nascent rebellion in Massachusetts. Another Vassall family remained behind: Tony, Cuba, and some of their children, enslaved to John Vassall and his nearby aunt Penelope.

The first sections of that chapter lay out what I could find out about that African-American family, who took the surname Vassall. Tony and Cuba both petitioned the state for pensions in their old age based on their service to the estate. One son, Darby, lived long enough to appear as a living relic of the Revolution at Abolitionist rallies and to see the opening of the Civil War.

The next couple of sections describe life in Cambridge as provincial militiamen flooded into the town on 19 Apr 1775 and were replaced by a New England army by the end of that month. Gen. Artemas Ward took a house near Harvard as his headquarters, and it looks like all the empty mansions on Tory Row were pressed into service as barracks.

Pvt. Caleb Haskell of Newburyport recorded arriving in Cambridge on 12 May and taking “our quarters at Bolin’s (a tory) house”—John Borland’s, now in the middle of Harvard’s Adams House dormitory. Five days later, Pvt. Nathaniel Ober said his company was in “Judge [Joseph] Lees house at Cambridge,” now headquarters of the Cambridge Historical Society. On 15 May, records of the Committee of Safety mention “three companies at Mr. Vassal’s house.”

An unidentified soldier arriving from Norwich, Connecticut, sometime before late May wrote back home:

There is about 250 soldiers in this House, and we are not much crowded, but I wish they were out, all except our company. This building that we are in belonged to one of the Tories, but he has gone and left this building for us. It is the finest and largest building in town…
I can’t tell whether that was John Vassall’s mansion or another, but it gives a sense of the crowding. A January 1776 report suggested that the Continental Army put twenty soldiers to a room at Ralph Inman’s estate.

As for living conditions, teenaged fifer John Greenwood recalled, “we had to sleep in our clothes upon the bare floor. I do not recollect that I even had a blanket, but I remember well the stone which I had to lay my head upon.”

In late May, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress decided to clear the John Vassall house of soldiers so the Committee of Safety could use it. The committee was working out of the same house that Gen. Ward was using. I couldn’t find clear evidence that the Committee of Safety actually moved into the Vassall house, though. I wish I had.

On 22 June Col. John Glover marched his regiment from Marblehead to Cambridge, and Gen. George Washington later wrote that the Marbleheaders were in the Vassall house before he moved in. There’s also an order from Gen. Ward for Lt. Col. William Bond to “occupy one room, in the south-east corner of Col. Vassall’s house, upon the second floor, for the sick belonging to said regiment,” originally commanded by Col. Thomas Gardner. So it looks like soldiers were still being assigned to the Vassall house whenever the army needed space.

Committee of Safety records link two men to the larger estate. Joseph Smith was “keeper of John Vassal, Esq’s farm” on 27 May, and Seth Brown was “the keeper of the colony horses” in Vassall’s stables on 24 June. Of course men I wanted to trace would be named Smith and Brown, right?

But I’m inordinately proud that I was able to identify those two. Joseph Smith was a Cambridge farmer born in 1740; his brother Parsons (1743-1816) supplied milk to Washington’s headquarters. Seth Ingersoll Browne (1750-1809) was a refugee from Charlestown who later tended bar at the Punch Bowl Tavern in Roxbury.

TOMORROW: One Connecticut officer tries to find quarters for his regiment.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Reviews of Master of the Mountain

In 1997 Annette Gordon-Reed’s Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy persuasively argued that most previous discussions of the evidence about the relationship between the third President and his enslaved housekeeper were inaccurate and one-sided.

The following year, Nature published D.N.A. tests on surviving patrilineal descendants of Jefferson, Hemings, and others that ruled out the stories the President’s legal descendants had put forward and proved consistent with the long-dismissed recollections of Sally Hemings’s son Madison.

That revelation prompted widespread reassessment of Jefferson’s private life and conflicted writing about slavery. Among the first titles in that wave was the 1999 essay collection Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson: History, Memory, and Civic Culture, edited by Jan Lewis and Peter Onuf. Like Gordon-Reed’s book, it was published by the press of the Virginia university that Jefferson himself had founded.

Many more books have followed, including some by authors who had previously dismissed the evidence of a sexual relationship between Hemings and Jefferson. The reassessment extended well beyond that topic, and it’s now common among both scholars and the public to recognize the contradictions in Jefferson’s words and behavior about slavery.

The latest study of that subject is Henry Wiencek’s Master of the Mountain, which I mentioned back here. It appears to be among the most negative assessments of Jefferson and his “modern apologists,” in Publishers Weekly’s terms. Reviews by non-historians in the Washington Post, Salon, and other venues have praised Wiencek for debunking Jefferson’s image.

But Gordon-Reed and Lewis, Jefferson scholars but certainly not apologists, disagree. This month both published detailed reviews of the book, criticizing it for being too harsh about the planter’s behavior and for misrepresenting evidence to make its case.

For example, Gordon-Reed wrote in Slate:
He suggests that Jefferson purchased collars—iron spiked vises—for slaves. Follow Wiencek’s logic and note the incredible inferential leaps required to link these disparate occurrences into a chain: Jefferson’s father, Peter, advertised for a runaway slave (in 1751) who was wearing an iron collar; Jefferson must have seen enslaved people being collared when he was growing up; while in France in the 1780s, Jefferson wrote to Nicholas Lewis, the manager of his farms, telling him to use “extraordinary exertions”; and then—“the manager’s expense accounts in 1791 include a line item for the purchase of ‘collars.’”

Wiencek’s endnote explains that he had “at first” thought the reference was to “horse collars.” That view changed after Wiencek noticed that Jefferson wrote “leather collars” or “horse collars” and “Lewis would have been similarly specific.” Therefore, enslaved people at Monticello must have been put in iron collars.

In fact, Monticello had a blacksmith shop that supplied the surrounding community with iron works. Why, then, would Lewis have to buy iron slave-collars from an outside source? And Christa Dierksheide, a researcher at Monticello, says that the man from whom Lewis bought the collars was not a blacksmith. He was a local tenant farmer, and would have used collars for cattle and horses on his farm. Wiencek should have considered this.
Lewis wrote in The Daily Beast/Newsweek:
Sometimes he cites a source and sometimes he does not, but it really doesn’t make much difference because when you go back to the original, too often it doesn’t say what he claims it does. He says, for example—and this is a statement that will astonish historians—that just after the American Revolution “Virginia came close to outlawing the continuation of slavery.” He cites some pages in a recent book that say nothing of the sort. . . .

Wiencek’s key piece of evidence is a letter in which Jefferson “mocked abolitionists for ‘wasting Jeremiads on the miseries of slavery.’” Except that he was talking about the Federalists—the letter is about the Missouri crisis—and the next words in the sentence, which Wiencek doesn’t quote, are: “as if we were advocates for it. Sincerity in their declamations should direct their efforts to the true point of difficulty, and unite their counsels with ours in devising some reasonable and practicable plan of getting rid of it.” . . . The examples of mangled evidence could be multiplied, believe me.
Both Gordon-Reed and Lewis praise Wiencek’s earlier book about George Washington and slavery, An Imperfect God. But they think his new book lacks critical balance and necessary accuracy.

As Jurretta Heckscher noted on Twitter, another significant aspect of these two reviews is that they appeared in online magazines, not in print (at least not at first). There will undoubtedly be more reviews in newspapers and magazines, both popular and academic. Given the reviewers’ expertise and detail, these may set the scholarly consensus.

(Hat tip to John Fea for spotlighting both these reviews.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hogeland on Founding Finance in Boston, 23 Oct.

William Hogeland, author of The Whiskey Rebellion, Declaration, Inventing American History, and the Hysteriography blog, will speak on Tuesday, 23 October, at the Old State House in Boston about his latest book.

Founding Finance: How Debt, Speculation, Foreclosures, Protests, and Crackdowns Made Us a Nation “brings to life the violent conflicts over economics, class, and finance that played directly, and in many ways ironically, into the hardball politics of forming the nation and ratifying the Constitution.”

A longer description from the University of Texas Press:
Mixing lively narrative with fresh views of America’s founders, William Hogeland offers a new perspective on America’s economic infancy: foreclosure crises that make our current one look mild; investment bubbles in land and securities that drove rich men to high-risk borrowing and mad displays of ostentation before dropping them into debtors’ prisons; depressions longer and deeper than the great one of the twentieth century; crony mercantilism, war profiteering, and government corruption that undermine any nostalgia for a virtuous early republic; and predatory lending of scarce cash at exorbitant, unregulated rates, which forced people into bankruptcy, landlessness, and working in the factories and on the commercial farms of their creditors.

This story exposes and corrects a perpetual historical denial—by movements across the political spectrum—of America’s all-important founding economic clashes, a denial that weakens and cheapens public discourse on American finance just when we need it most.
This event is scheduled to start at 6:30 P.M. and to end at 8:00 or 8:30, depending on which message I look at. Hogeland says, “This will be a talk, Q&A, and, I believe, book signing.” I predict lively opinions about politics then and now, and a very faint chance of banjo music. The Bostonian Society asks folks to register to reserve a seat.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Upcoming Talks in Sudbury and Medford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 19, 2012

The Vassalls of Cambridge

Although the title of my book-length study for the National Park Service is Gen. George Washington’s Headquarters and Home—Cambridge, Massachusetts, it gets a running start with the building of that house sixteen years before Washington arrived.

In 1759 John Vassall (1738-1797) turned twenty-one and came into his inheritance of large sugar plantations on Jamaica. He had the best upbringing that his maternal grandfather, Lt. Gov. Spencer Phips, could provide. He had a Harvard degree. And from his late father he had farmland in Cambridge with a house on the north side of the road out to Watertown.

But that house evidently wasn’t exactly what John Vassall wanted, so he had it torn down and a handsome new Georgian mansion built nearby. Over the next fifteen years Vassall added to the estate until he owned 90 acres, paying more real-estate tax than anyone else in Cambridge.

In January 1761, John Vassall married Elizabeth Oliver (1741-1807), daughter of a Dorchester man with Caribbean plantations. Seven months earlier, John’s sister Elizabeth had married Elizabeth’s brother Thomas Oliver. Miss Elizabeth Vassall thus became Mrs. Elizabeth Oliver, and Miss Elizabeth Oliver became Mrs. Elizabeth Vassall. In 1766, the Olivers moved to Cambridge, commissioning a handsome mansion of their own, now called Elmwood.

John Vassall’s life in Cambridge in the late 1760s would have given Bertie Wooster fits: he was surrounded by aunts. His father’s brother Henry Vassall and wife Penelope lived pretty much across the street. Near the college was his father’s sister, Anna Borland, and her husband. Two of his mother’s sisters, Mary Lechmere and Rebecca Lee, lived along the Watertown road to the west with their husbands. Then came another paternal aunt, Susanna Ruggles, with hers. And finally the Olivers. All those houses are still intact, too, though one has been moved. They comprise most of “Tory Row.”

This chapter describes the “Powder Alarm” of 2 Sept 1774 from the Vassalls’ point of view. Imagine being Spencer Vassall, John and Elizabeth’s ten-year-old second son, watching 4,000 men with sticks march past your house to the town common to demand that all the men appointed to the new royal Council step down. Then watching those thousands of men walk back past your house to your uncle’s, where they threatened his life until he signed a resignation under protest. Did Spencer know that his father had recently told Gov. Thomas Gage he was willing to sit on the Council as well? (That news was kept secret, and John Vassall never actually took the seat.)

The Vassalls left their Cambridge home for their Boston home that September, then left Boston for Halifax in 1775 and were in London by June 1776. With most of his wealth coming from Jamaica, John Vassall easily weathered the loss of his Massachusetts properties. In fact, the memorial inscriptions for him and his wife in St. Paul’s Church in Bristol don’t even mention Massachusetts, where both were born and where they had seven of their eight children (two dying young).

And what about Spencer Vassall? He was ready to fight in the American war. His father bought him an army commission, and he apparently entered the service in 1778 at the age of fourteen. Lt. Vassall served at Gibraltar from October 1782 to the end of the war; for the British, staving off Spain’s attempt to regain this territory was an important and heroic campaign. Vassall remained in the army through the wars with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, serving in Flanders, Antigua, France, Spain, Holland, Ireland, and South Africa. He died leading a British attack on Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1807.

Amelia Opie wrote an epitaph to Capt. Spencer Vassall that began:
Stranger, if e’er you honor’d Sidney’s fame,
If e’er you lov’d Bayard’s reproachless name,
Then on this marble gaze with tearful eyes,
For kindred merit here with Vassall lies!…
The first chapter of the report includes more mediocre poetry about the captain, plus the family’s vital records, descriptions of John Vassall’s social and public life, details of a mysterious shooting in Lincoln, and remarks on whether Vassall was really a figure in Mercy Warren’s The Group or involved in a Loyalist disinformation campaign during the war.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

The George Washington’s Headquarters Download

As I announced on Tuesday, the National Park Service has published my book-length historic resource study George Washington’s Headquarters and Home—Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex and Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War, has called this study “an amazing piece of work that will be an invaluable resource for years to come.”

The Park Service printed a limited number for institutional use, but anyone can obtain a digital copy in P.D.F. form by clicking here. Be warned—the file is 5.61 megabytes!

Reformatting my finished pages resulted in some errors that might cause confusion. We’re looking into whether the digital version can be changed, but here’s the erratum list as it stands now.

Figures 3 and 4 appear between pages 197 and 199, not on page 173.

The full text of the caption on page 232 is:
Figure 5. Martha Washington’s New England itinerary, as preserved in the expense account that aide de camp George Baylor submitted in January 1776. The first column shows the dates of Baylor’s travel away from headquarters, from 27 November to 11 December 1775. The second column names the towns (or in one line the tavern) where Baylor and his party stopped, presumably for a midday dinner or overnight accommodations. The third column shows the cash he laid out. Image from the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress.
Many commas after dates have gone missing, but the only one I spotted producing an error of fact rather than punctuation is on page 526. The first sentence in section 16.12 should read: “On 10 December, Rhode Island governor Nicholas Cooke reported, two Frenchmen arrived in Providence from Haiti aboard a ship ‘despatched some time since from this place for powder.’” Those men arrived from Martinique on 10 December; Cooke wrote of their arrival the next day.

Those Frenchmen, Pierre Penet and Emmanuel de Pliarne, went to Cambridge to meet with Gen. Washington, arriving about the same time as Martha Washington. [See how the last two paragraphs tie together?] On their way home, they asked the general to pass on to “Madam Your Lady” a selection of oranges and other tropical fruit, wines, and sugar. The next day, I was pleased to find, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper recorded visiting headquarters to meet the general’s wife and being “Treated with Oranges and a Glass of Wine.”

And that in turn lets me repeat that tonight at 6:00 P.M. Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters will host a slide talk by archeologist Alicia Paresi on the many shards of wine bottles recently found encased in mortar in the mansion’s basement. Did any of those bottles come from Penet and De Pliarne?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Belknap on Blackler’s Battery

Before I get to summarizing my study, let me share this entry from the diary of the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, visting the siege lines on 17 Oct 1775. He described how the Continental Army had equipped two rowboats with small cannon:

This evening, two floating batteries, accompanied with some boats, went down Cambridge River [i.e., the Charles] in order to throw some shot into Boston, to alarm the regular army, and fatigue them with extraordinary duty, and also to endeavor to take a floating battery from them which lay near Boston Neck.

They got within three-quarters of a mile of the bottom of the Common, and the firing began between nine and ten o’clock. They fired about seventeen shot into the town; and then a nine-pounder in one of the batteries split: the cartridges took fire, and blew up the covering, or deck, on which several men were standing.

Captain Blackley [William Blackler], of Marblehead, who commanded the battery, had the calf of his leg shot off, and was blown, with several others, into the water. A Portuguese sailor was so badly wounded in the thigh, that he bled to death before morning; another had his arm broken, and is very dangerous; four others were slightly wounded. The battery was much shattered, and partly sunk. They towed her up the river by morning.

This manoeuvre is not generally approved by thinking people: it seemed to be rather a military frolic than a serious expedition. The camp appears to be a scene of wickedness. The oaths and execrations of the men that went on this frolic were horrid and dreadful.
But really I think they had something to swear about.

I hoped to find hints about that “Portuguese sailor” who served under Capt. Blackler in Samuel Roads’s History and Traditions of Marblehead, which reprinted a roll of the town’s Continental regiment. However, that list of men is undated, so it could have been drawn up after this calamitous attack.

Capt. Blackler’s company included a man named “Manuel Seward”—but that appears to be the “Emmanuel Seward” who married in Marblehead in 1785 and survived to apply for a pension. Another man in the company was named “John Freeto”; he left descendants in Marblehead who went into state politics a century later. But the surname “Freeto” appears in the town’s vital records as early as 1731, so that man was probably not an immigrant.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Gen. Washington in Cambridge

I took this photograph at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site this past Saturday.

It shows a gentleman of the 10th Massachusetts reenacting group portraying Gen. George Washington, greeting guests at the front gate of the estate.

The uniform is modeled after the one Washington ordered for his Virginia militia regiment and then wore to war, as portrayed by Charles Willson Peale and others. The tailor who made this outfit, Henry M. Cooke IV, made two like ones for Mount Vernon.

Besides visiting the general and his troops, I had another reason to go to Cambridge on Saturday. For the past few years I’ve been intensely examining Washington’s activity at his first headquarters for what the National Park Service calls a “historic resource study.” And the agency had the first printed copies available at the site that day.

General George Washington’s Headquarters and Home — Cambridge, Massachusetts is a 669-page, eighteen-chapter study of how the commander-in-chief came to occupy the mansion that Loyalist planter John Vassall had left behind and what he did there. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll lay out those chapters to show the scope of the report and some of its findings.

Spiral-bound copies of this government report are available at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters N.H.S. The agency also plans to make the whole darn thing available for downloading or reading online, but I don’t think that’s ready yet.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Revolution Round Table in Lexington, 22 Oct.

On Monday, 22 October, the local American Revolution Round Table will meet at the Minute Man National Historical Park’s Lexington Visitor Center. This season’s discussion will focus on David Hackett Fischer’s excellent history Paul Revere’s Ride.

The organizers state:
The mission of the Round Table is to help keep the spirit of the American Revolution alive and to better understand its values, ideals and legacy. . . . we will be using Professor Fischer’s exciting narrative to look behind conventional wisdom about what the ride was really about, and to discuss what Revere’s ride means to Americans today.
On this local topic, the discussion is sure to be enhanced by remarks from folks who’ve been studying and reenacting the events of 18-19 Apr 1775 for years.

Folks who know Paul Revere’s Ride well are welcome to reserve a seat at the table by contacting Dr. Mel Bernstein. The discussion is scheduled to last from 7:00 to 9:00 P.M. There is no charge for this event.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Parsing “The Jelly-House Maccaroni”

I included this image, titled “The Jelly-House Maccaroni,” in one of my postings on bundling over the past month. Published in London in 1772, it was actually three thousand miles and nearly a full generation distant from the Rhode Island newspaper essay I used it to illustrate, but it had the right libertine air.

Joe Bauman asked me about the slang in the title. A “jelly-house” was a type of London restaurant that gained a reputation in the eighteenth-century as being an place where young rakes met prostitutes.

For example, the London Magazine’s 1766 summary of a play called Neck or Nothing says:
...Slip’s confusion very nearly discovers him; But hearing only the former marriage is mentioned, he gains courage, and with great effrontery treats this tale as a stratagem of Bellford and Jenny, who, he says, notwithstanding her master took her for an innocent girl out of the country, was a Covent-garden-bred wench, who had lived at a jelly-house, and had two children. . . .

Nothing now remained but to get the money from Stockwell, who, having met with Jenny, treats all her former story as a fiction, and upbraids her with the jelly-house.

This being an aspersion which she knew was groundless, she resolved to go to Bellford, and consult with him what was to be done. . . .
Sounds uproarious, no?

In 1771, one Richard King published a book titled The New London Spy: or, A Twenty-Four Hours Ramble through the Bills of Mortality. It promised readers:
…a true picture of modern high and low life; from the splendid mansions in St. James’s to the subterraneous habitations of St. Giles’s, wherein are displayed the various scenes of Covent-Garden, and its environs, the theatres, Jelly-houses, Gaming-houses, Night-houses, Cottages, Masquerades, Mock-Masquerades, Public-gardens, and other places of entertainments.
Gordon Williams’s three-volume Dictionary of Sexual Language and Imagery in Shakespearean and Stuart Literature, stretching out of period, quotes another book called The Stranger’s Guide from about 1800 as saying, “Procuresses…are to be met with at the jelly-houses, milliners, perfume-shops.”

As for “macaroni,” that was the eighteenth-century term for fancy Italian fashion, and then for the sort of young fop who would wear it. The slang survives most famously in “Yankee Doodle,” puzzling generations of American children. (I had a conversation with one puzzled American former child this summer.)

When the rustic American Yankee Doodle puts a feather in his cap and calls it macaroni, either the song is mocking him for thinking that’s fancy and fashionable, or he’s mocking the sort of English fops who chased after “macaroni” fashion. You can take your pick.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

“We can be good here as well as any where”

Newspapers weren’t the only forum for New Englanders to discuss the custom of bundling in the 1790s. Another popular print form, the almanac, also printed items on the topic.

Printer Ezekiel Russell, formerly of Boston, extracted the passage on bundling from the Rev. Samuel Peters’s history of Connecticut in Russell’s Newhampshire & Vermont almanack, for the year of creation, according to Mosaic history, 5756; and of the Christian aera, 1794, published at Concord, New Hampshire.

And the back of the Vermont Almanac and Register for 1799 offered this “ANECDOTE”:
While the American troops were at Cambridge, 1775, an Indian chief from one of the western tribes, was on his way to visit them. It happened that he was detained a number of days at a gentleman’s house in ——.

While he was there the gentleman’s daughter received a visit from her suitor. One evening the honest native, thinking to divert himself a little in their company, went up stairs: But when he entered their chamber, he stood in amaze, crying out, “Ho! bed—No do fo me Indians!”

[“]Why (says the spark [i.e., the young man],) we can be good here as well as any where.”

“Yes! yes! but you can be wicked more better!”
It’s interesting that the voice of caution and polite behavior in this joke was the “Indian chief,” not the “gentleman” or his family. Even more telling is that the story was set nearly a quarter of a century before it saw print, either because it had circulated orally since the start of the Revolutionary War or because the storyteller decided to set it back there.

Either way, this publication suggests that New Englanders were no longer viewing bundling as a common practice, embarrassment, or source of controversy. Instead, it was now a quaint custom of past generations that folks could share a laugh about.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Archeology Lectures Coming Up Next Week

October is Archeology Month in Massachusetts, and here are a couple of free lectures related to the archeology of the eighteenth century. (That state website lists several others as well, but these two caught me eye.)

On Tuesday, 16 October, at 7:00 P.M. Boston City Archaeologist Joe Bagley will speak at the Bunker Hill Museum in Charlestown on “The Archaeology of Charlestown: Boston’s Little Pompeii.”
The presentation will focus on the sites discovered at the Bunker Hill Monument, and Bunker Hill Community College, and the Central Artery Project. Several Native American sites, a Native American village, John Winthrop’s 1629 Great House, and numerous important structures burned in the Battle of Bunker Hill will all be discussed. Joe brings an expert knowledge of the entire human history of Boston to the City Archaeology Program based on a decade of archaeological fieldwork on Native American and Historic archaeological sites.
The Charlestown Historical Society, the Friends of City Square Park, and the city of Boston are sponsoring this event. I guess the “Pompeii” analogy is because Charlestown’s main settlement burned during the battle, which wasn’t great for preserving all sorts of artifacts but does provide a clear before-and-after date for anything found there.

Two days later, on Thursday, 18 October, at 6:00 P.M. Alicia Paresi, a Curator of Archeology Collections for the National Park Service, will speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters in Cambridge on “Did These Bottles Belong to George Washington?”
Recent excavations in the basement of this Georgian mansion resulted in the discovery of unusual deposits of historical artifacts and well-preserved biological material held together by a mortar and sand mixture. [A sample appears in the photo above.] Most of the artifacts are pieces of wine bottle glass, including several bottle necks retaining the original corks. When and how was that unusual feature formed, and what does it reveal about life in Cambridge at the end of the eighteenth century. See a slideshow of the artifacts and decide for yourself: Did Gen. George Washington drink from some of those wine bottles when he used the house in 1775-76?
Washington and his staff did buy a lot of wine, and two Caribbean French merchants sent some more in December 1775. On the other hand, the man who expanded and refurbished the house in the 1790s, apothecary and real-estate investor Andrew Craigie, was known for entertaining.

To reserve a seat for that lecture, please call 617-876-4491 or email Ranger Rob Velella. This event is sponsored by the National Park Service and the Friends of Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Revolutionary Reenactors to Visit Longfellow Sites

As winter comes on, the Revolutionary War reenacting season in New England is drawing to a close. Here are a couple of October events with links to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s iconic poem “Paul Revere’s Ride.”

On Saturday, 13 October, from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. the 10th Massachusetts Regiment will be at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge, recreating the early Continental Army units that served in the siege of Boston. This event is part of the site’s celebration of forty years of being in the National Park Service.

The room in that mansion where Gen. George Washington dined and probably met with his generals, delegates from the Continental Congress, and other important figures became Longfellow’s study, where he wrote much of “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1860.

Two weeks later, on Saturday, 27 October, Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury hosts the annual “Battle of the Red Horse Tavern” from 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. Though there was no skirmish there during the Revolutionary War, it’s a nice open ground in the heart of Middlesex County, and scores of Continental and British troops are expected to participate. The schedule of events is:
  • 11:30 A.M.: Demonstrations of artillery, fife and drum, clothing, &c.
  • 1:00 P.M.: First Battle — east fields
  • 2:15 P.M.: Second Battle — south fields
Longfellow visited that site in October 1862, a year after the last innkeeper in the Howe family died, leaving no heirs who wanted to follow his profession. The old Howe tavern had become a boarding-house, and for Longfellow a symbol of the fading past. He was inspired to collect several narrative poems under the title Tales of a Wayside Inn. Among those pieces was “Paul Revere’s Ride,” published in The Atlantic Monthly two years before but now retitled “The Landlord’s Tale.”

That book proved so popular that in 1897 a wool merchant with antiquarian tastes bought the boarding-house and officially named it Longfellow’s Wayside Inn. Henry Ford bought the property in 1923, and in 1960 it became an independent non-profit corporation. Hosting events like the “Battle of Red Horse Tavern” is part of the inn’s educational mission.

(The thumbnail above comes from Tom Deitner’s photographs of past events in Sudbury.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Twisting Tale of Learned Pigs in America

Today Boston 1775 features an essay from guest blogger Russell Potter, author of the new novel PYG: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig. Check out his blog for more information about that book, set mostly in eighteenth-century London. This posting tracks learned pigs across the Atlantic.

The history of that Sagacious Animal, the Learned PIG, in America in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries turns out to be far longer and twistier than the Tail of most members of the Species. It begins just a few years after Toby, the original of that Act, was exhibited in London in the 1780s, and—like so many other American phenomena—the first sign of it is a lawsuit.

In a Philadelphia paper of June 9th, 1792, under the heading “LAW INTELLIGENCE” we learn of an action brought by one Mr. Williams against the landlord of the George Inn in the Haymarket, who had distrained both his pig and his caravan against some unspecified debt. The judge opined, and the jury agreed, that—as tools of the trade—both animal and wagon were exempt from such seizure, and returned a verdict in the plaintiff’s favor. Of this pioneer Mr. Williams and his learned companion nothing more is heard.

The next we hear of our estimable friend comes two years later, and comes upon the Stage, with no actual Pig in sight. A comic song, “Of the LEARNED PIG and TIPPY BOBBY,” debuted upon the stage in Boston in June of 1794, as an entr’acte between a play titled Which is a Man and a farce known as Animal Magnetism. The same song is also mentioned in connection with other productions of this time, including “How To Grow Rich,” which was performed at the New Theatre in Hartford in September of 1796.

And then the pigs start to appear in earnest: In 1797 a sapient Swine—claimed to be the same one “shewn in London at half a crown each person”—debuted at No. 219 South 2nd Street in Philadelphia. By July of that year, the same pig, or at least one with very similar advertising copy, appeared in New York at Mr. Marling’s Long Room, No. 87 Nassau-Street, where he was soon joined by a variety of companion amusements, including the “celebrated TURK,” an infamous chess-playing faux-automaton operated by a dwarf concealed behind the works (and debunked some years later by Edgar Allan Poe). The pig’s run was extended again and again, with a “last chance” advertised on October 2nd, after which he seems to have gone into (a doubtless well-earned) retirement.

The next Pig to strut the boards is that of William Pinchbeck, which I’ve blogged about; in his advertisements he claimed that his Pig was the London original, and had been purchased for a thousand dollars in Philadelphia. However, Pinchbeck’s later Expositor describes the pig’s training, suggesting that he brought this animal to its sense himself.

Pinchbeck had an extended run in Boston in a room underneath Bowen’s Museum of curiosities, and then embarked on a tour that included Newburyport, Salem, and (as discussed here) Providence, which he reached in September of 1798. He advertisements fade away soon after this, although the Pig is mentioned prominently in his notices for his Expositor.

Pinchbeck was followed by a number of exhibitors, some purely local—such as “Dick,” a fixture in Charlestown from 1799 through 1804, and one Mr. Brigshaw’s pig, shown in Newport in March of 1797. (One wonders if Brigshaw might have been the “A.B.” with whom Pinchbeck corresponded in the letters about training such a pig in the Expositor.)

Another pig, under the banner of “A Curiosity in which the Public will not be Disappointed” (see above) appeared in Philadelphia, Alexandria, Albany, and New York. Although there is a long tradition of Mr. Gadsby’s Tavern in Alexandria having been home to one of these sagacious animals, this pig appeared at a rival establishment, Mr. Charles McKnight’s Eagle Tavern, in 1801.

And, shortly after that, another pig appeared, with the motto “Seeing is Believing.” It astonished the visitors at the Rising Sun Hotel, Market Street, Philadelphia, by telling the time of day, distinguishing colors, counting the company present, and so forth. A final, late-arriving porcine prognosticator arrived in 1806 in Alexandria, where he was exhibited at Mr. John Bogan’s Spring-Garden.

The newspapers of this period are filled with allusions to the Learned Pig, most of them treating the act as a single, well-known attraction, although one Philadelphia paper noted in 1803 that “within four years four learned pigs had been exhibited.” The anecdote of Dr. Johnson’s remarks on the Pig was widely reprinted, and as J. L. Bell has described, the animal was often the subject of political satires and diatribes.

Eventually, the popularity of the pig declined, although there are accounts of it being revived in scattered places across the country—including Buffalo, Cleveland, Toronto, and Chicago—as late as the 1890s. As was the case in England, it seems that the idea of a Learned Pig had its greatest appeal in the period that regarded itself as the “Age of Reason.”

Thanks, Russell!

Russell Potter will speak about this history and his novel
PYG at Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Alexandria, Virginia, on Saturday, 20 October, at 3:30 P.M.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

New England Historical Association conference, 13 Oct.

The New England Historical Association’s fall conference will take place this Saturday, 13 October, at Merrimack College in North Andover.

I won’t be able to attend this year, but some of the papers on the program caught my eye:
  • Thomas Goldscheider, “Shays’s Rebellion”
  • Jonathan Bratten, “War for the Soul of America: British Protestant Ministers in the French and Indian War, 1754-1763″
  • Bryan Sinche, University of Hartford, “Constituting Value in A Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Venture, a Native of Africa
  • Betsy DeBrakeleer, Willowbrook Museum, “‘Oh, look at the lady blacksmith!’: Recovering, Documenting, and Narrating the Historical Narrative of American Women Blacksmiths”
  • Robert G. Brooking, Georgia State University, “‘Plunged into a state of distress and ruin’: The Exile of Sir James Wright, Georgia’s Final Colonial Governor”
  • Debra A. Lavelle, Ohio State University, “Imperial Americans: The Presence of the Antique in Benjamin West’s Portrait of Colonel Guy Johnson and Karonghyontye” (shown above)
  • Daniel Gardner, Stonehill College, “The Magnetic Properties of Wampum: Shell Beads in North American Interregional Trade Systems”
  • Ann M. Becker, State University of New York, Empire State College, “The Revolutionary War Pension Act of 1818”

Monday, October 08, 2012

New Light on Childhood at Monticello

The latest issue of Smithsonian magazine features Henry Wiencek’s article “The Dark Side of Thomas Jefferson,” which can be read online here.

The article focuses on the management of the nail-making forge at Monticello, one of the new ways Jefferson sought to build his wealth through enslaved labor in the 1790s and afterward. Wiencek writes:
A letter has recently come to light describing how Monticello’s young black boys, “the small ones,” age 10, 11 or 12, were whipped to get them to work in Jefferson’s nail factory, whose profits paid the mansion’s grocery bills. This passage about children being lashed had been suppressed—deliberately deleted from the published record in the 1953 edition of Jefferson’s Farm Book, containing 500 pages of plantation papers. That edition of the Farm Book still serves as a standard reference for research into the way Monticello worked. . . .

It was during the 1950s, when historian Edwin Betts was editing one of Colonel [Thomas Mann] Randolph’s plantation reports for Jefferson’s Farm Book, that he confronted a taboo subject and made his fateful deletion. Randolph reported to Jefferson that the nailery was functioning very well because “the small ones” were being whipped. The youngsters did not take willingly to being forced to show up in the icy midwinter hour before dawn at the master’s nail forge. And so the overseer, Gabriel Lilly, was whipping them “for truancy.”

Betts decided that the image of children being beaten at Monticello had to be suppressed, omitting this document from his edition. He had an entirely different image in his head; the introduction to the book declared, “Jefferson came close to creating on his own plantations the ideal rural community.” Betts couldn’t do anything about the original letter, but no one would see it, tucked away in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The full text did not emerge in print until 2005.
This article is no doubt adapted from Wiencek’s new book, Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves. Wiencek is so far best known for An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America, which I’ve found useful.