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, February 02, 2014

The Rev. Samuel Ely at Bennington

The latest issue of The Massachusetts Historical Review, for the year 2013, contains Shelby M. Balik’s paper “‘Persecuted in the Bowels of a Free Republic’: Samuel Ely and the Agrarian Theology of Justice, 1768-1787.”

Ely was from Connecticut, born in 1740 and educated at Yale. He became minister in Somers, Connecticut, in 1769 and was ousted in 1771—a remarkably short time, even for someone so fervent about arguing the New Light side of the period’s favorite religious controversy. As time went on, however, Ely only became more fervent and more radical.

In August 1777, he took part in the Battle of Bennington. Evidently not as part of any particular company, because he wasn’t the sort of man to take orders, but as an unattached volunteer.

On 7 Oct 1777, on the top of its center column, the Connecticut Courant of Hartford ran this notice from militia colonel William Williams of Wilmington, Vermont:
Run away from Head Quarters, about the 5th instant, with the following valuable articles, one infamaus, loquacious SAMUEL ELY, of Somers, formerly an itinerant preacher, and auctioneer of the gospel. This inhuman, plundering villain may be distinguished by his being constantly found cloathed with a face of brass, and armed with a lying tongue in his own vindication and defence, when most guilty.

ARTICLES.
A number of silk and worsted hose, one British officers coat, one gold diamond ring, one pair of shoes, a number of holland shirts, several pair of breeches, (some of which he sold to the prisoners for solid coin) one gold eppalet, one lawn apron, a considerable quantity of linnen, some engineers instruments, a pocket book, and many other articles too numerous to mention; all of which he knew to be in direct opposition to general orders.

It is earnestly requested of all comittees of safety and others in authority, in the neighbouring towns; to apprehend the said Ely and convey him to this place, or confine him so that he may be brought to justice, for which they shall receive ten dollars reward and have all necessary charges allowed them.

By order of the Court of Enquiry,
WILLIAM WILLIAMS President.
Reading between the lines, one suspects that Williams didn’t much like Mr. Ely.

TOMORROW: Samuel Ely’s side of the story.

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