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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Thursday, April 04, 2013

Saltpetre in Braintree

John Adams was one of the Continental Congress delegates most enthusiastic about the war effort, and therefore eager to see Americans producing saltpetre to make into gunpowder. I doubt he’d ever tried that process himself, but in March 1776 he asked his wife Abigail to do so back home in Braintree.

Abigail wrote back to John in Philadelphia:
You inquire of whether I am making Salt peter. I have not yet attempted it, but after Soap making believe I shall make the experiment. I find as much as I can do to manufacture cloathing for my family which would else be Naked.

I know of but one person in this part of the Town who has made any, that is Mr. Tertias Bass as he is calld who has got very near an hundred weight which has been found to be very good. I have heard of some others in the other parishes. Mr. Reed of Weymouth has been applied to, to go to Andover to the mills which are now at work, and has gone. I have lately seen a small Manuscrip describing the proportions for the various sorts of powder, fit for cannon, small arms and pistols. If it would be of any Service your way I will get it transcribed and send it to you.
As the folks at the Massachusetts Historical Society showed us on Tuesday, this passage comes toward the end of a letter best known for Abigail’s plea to “Remember the Ladies” in designing the new republic, probably a plea for more equal property laws in a marriage. Considering how she was volunteering to send John military information, one might think his reply would have been more respectful.

Be that as it may, on 29 September Abigail told John about a new military development: “Nathl. Belcher goes Capt. and Tertias Bass Lieut. from this Town. They March tomorrow.” Lt. Bass was away from home for a while, so that was the end of his saltpetre production—unless his wife took over.

I’m not sure where those troops were marching or why. Nathaniel Belcher (1732-1786?) captained a company in Col. Jonathan Bass’s Massachusetts militia regiment for much of the war. Pattee’s History of Old Braintree and Quincy includes a list of men who served in Belcher’s company for four days in June 1776, but doesn’t mention another deployment until 1777. And in June that company didn’t have a lieutenant named Bass.

TOMORROW: What kind of name is “Tertias Bass”?

1 comment:

J. L. Bell said...

A longtime Boston 1775 reader asked what John Adams’s reply to Abigail’s “Remember the Ladies” plea was. He wrote:

As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but laugh. We have been told that our Struggle has loosened the bands of Government every where. That Children and Apprentices were disobedient—that schools and Colledges were grown turbulent—that Indians slighted their Guardians and Negroes grew insolent to their Masters.

But your Letter was the first Intimation that another Tribe more numerous and powerfull than all the rest were grown discontented.—This is rather too coarse a Compliment but you are so saucy, I wont blot it out.

Depend upon it, We know better than to repeal our Masculine systems. Altho they are in full Force, you know they are little more than Theory. We dare not exert our Power in its full Latitude. We are obliged to go fair, and softly, and in Practice you know We are the subjects. We have only the Name of Masters, and rather than give up this, which would compleatly subject Us to the Despotism of the Peticoat, I hope General Washington, and all our brave Heroes would fight. I am sure every good Politician would plot, as long as he would against Despotism, Empire, Monarchy, Aristocracy, Oligarchy, or Ochlocracy.