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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Monday, August 25, 2014

Samuel Adams the Wire-worker

In two postings on the Bostonian Society’s blog, Kathryn Griffith just profiled Samuel Adams the wire-worker, source of the striped cloth in the society’s collection that’s become known as the “Liberty Tree Flag.”

Harris wrote about this man:
Samuel Adams was born in 1759, reportedly in the North End, to a book-binder named Benjamin Adams and his wife Abigail. Samuel had an older brother, Abraham, who became a leather-dresser and a well-respected citizen. Samuel married Catharine Fenno in Boston in 1781. They had 8 children together, including a son named for Benjamin Franklin, and a daughter, also Catharine, who married William Fenno, and through whose descendents the flag passed to John Fernald.

Adams moved around quite a bit according to the Boston city directories and the advertisements he placed in newspapers. He had several occupations during his lifetime; in fact it seems he came late to wire-working. In the 1790s Adams owned a wharf at the end of Cross Street from which he sold various goods. In the early 1800s he became the town crier, and printed a number of interesting advertisements announcing things he had found throughout the town. As a wire worker, his business was known as the Sign of the Flying Man and Fender Manufactory, and his advertisements included beautiful designs of his work. His work in wire also earned him the nickname, “Rat-Trap Adams,” by which he was known affectionately (or not, depending on the source).
Because Adams was a minor public figure, his nineteenth-century life is fairly well documented. Indeed, his death in 1855 was reported across the country. One California newspaper ran this notice:
Death of a Veteran Citizen.—Mr. Samuel Adams, one of the oldest inhabitants of Boston, died at his residence on the 21st March, at the advanced age of about 96 years. The Traveller says: “He was a witness, and no doubt sometimes a participant, in the many exciting street scenes which occurred in Boston previous to the actual commencement of hostilities. He had in his possession as a relic of those glorious days, a flag which was hoisted on the liberty pole near Essex street, and which has of late been frequently displayed in this city. Mr. Adams was a mechanic—a wire worker by trade, and followed his business until within a few years. In religious matters he was an atheist, and in olden times a close attendant upon all town meetings and public gatherings, where his rather ultra democratic sentiments caused his opponents to taunt him with being a ‘French Jacobin.’”
Unfortunately, this Samuel Adams’s eighteenth-century activities, and his connection to Liberty Tree, are much less certain.

TOMORROW: Young Samuel Adams.

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