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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Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Revisiting the Long Room Club

As long as I’m discussing how Boston’s pre-Revolutionary Whigs organized, I should go back to the Long Room Club. Back in 2013 I said that:
  • the earliest printed reference to this group was in Samuel Adams Drake’s Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston (1873), which cited no source for that information.
  • Drake’s list of members included two men too young to have been in the top political leadership of the 1770s or before, two from outside Boston, and a printer known for being politically centrist, not Whig.
A commenter kindly alerted me that Hannah Mather Crocker wrote about the Long Room Club before her death in 1829 in the manuscripts published in 2011 as Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston. Drake cited “Mrs. Crocker’s memoir” for other information in his book, so she was almost certainly his source on the Long Room Club as well.

Crocker left multiple overlapping manuscripts, which editors Eileen Hunt Botting and Sarah L. Houser assembled in one volume. All its mentions of the Long Room Club offer the same basic information. As Crocker understood it, the group was formed in 1762 by Samuel Adams. Members included:
[Benjamin] Edes and [John] Gill…, [John] Green and [Joseph] Russell…, [John] Hancock, James Otis, Samuel Dexter of Dedham…, Colonel James Warren of Plymouth, Dr. Joseph Warren, Dr. [Charles] Jarvis, Dr. [Benjamin] Church, the honorable Ben Austin…, Dr. Sam Cooper, William Cooper town clerk, Josiah Quincy…, Thomas Daws…, Mr. Sam Phillips Savage, Capt [Samuel] Partridge, Thomas Fleet, Royal Tyler, Samuel Whitewell, William Mollineaux, John Winthrop, Paul Revere, Adam Coulston, and Thomas Melvell—we think the only survivor of the Long Room Club.
Crocker credited the Long Room Club with opposing the policy to station soldiers in town in 1768 and determining to destroy the tea in 1773. She wrote that the club dissolved before the war, but the leaders “formed the first provincial congress.”

Drake listed fewer members than Crocker had, leaving out Green, Russell, Jarvis, Partridge, Austin, Whitwell, Molineux, and Colson, and listing only one Warren. Drake rendered Samuel Phillips Savage as Samuel Phillips and John Winthrop as John Winslow.

Crocker wrote, “The long room over the printing office was devoted to the use of a political society.” In both versions of that statement, the printers she had just written about were Green and Russell, who published the Boston Post-Boy until 1773. Drake interpreted Crocker to mean instead that the club met in a room over Edes and Gill’s print shop, which is how the story came down to us. But what if Crocker meant Green and Russell? They weren’t as politically active or radical, which would cast a different light on the organization.

Crocker may have gotten her information from Thomas Melvill. She called him “a standing monument of the Long Room Club and the only left to tell.” Yet Melvill was born in 1751, meaning he was only eleven when the group was reportedly founded and just twenty-four when it disbanded. Thus, although Melvill was an active young man in the Revolution and the war, he probably was never in the top echelon of the Whigs.

That still leaves questions about the accuracy of our information about the Long Room Club. Crocker’s manuscripts let us push back the earliest reference to it by about half a century, to a time when veterans of the Revolutionary War were still alive. But there are still a lot of odd details, and we’re still dependent on one fallible source. (The footnotes in Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston cite Esther Forbes’s Paul Revere and the World He Lived In as another source, but that book’s description of the Long Room Club matches Drake, who evidently relied on Crocker.)


Committee of Correspondence said...

The Long Room is the upstairs meeting room of the Green Dragon? I recall a folkloric story of the Mohawks also meeting there. Password "Ugh!" A second raises his hatchet and says, "Me know you."

J. L. Bell said...

This posting doesn’t mention the Green Dragon Tavern. Crocker, probably writing in the 1820s, said the Long Room Club met above the Green and Russell printing office. Drake, writing in 1873 with Crocker's manuscript as the most likely source, said the club met above Edes and Gill's print shop.

When I discussed this group earlier, I thought the Green Dragon Tavern might be a more likely meeting-place, if it had a long room (which we don't know it had). Also, some of the earliest reports on Boston political organizing note that host Thomas Dawes had a long attic where he hosted meetings. Perhaps that's where the "Long Room Club" got its name.

For all the people who have written about the Long Room Club over the years, the information we have about it is very tenuous and secondhand at best.

EJWitek said...

When I was doing research on the Freemasons in Boston, specifically, the Lodge of St Andrew, I cam across a persistent belief amongst Freemason historians that the Green Dragon Tavern did, indeed, have a "Long Room".
Here's an excerpt from a 1903 Freemason magazine, but there are references to a "Long Room" in Freemason histories as far back as the early 19th century.
"The Lodge [St Andrew] was largly composed of North-End mechanics and was organized in the "Long Room" so-called in the northerly end of this tavern. This was the only place in the north-end adapted for gatherings of the people except Concert Hall, Hanover Street, which was adapted to popular assemblies"
I have a hard time believing that Russell and Green, who were very dependent on Government printing contracts to keep their newspaper afloat, would do anything to risk those contracts and allow their building to be used by Whig sympathizers.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for that note, Ed! I'm wary about claims for a Long Room postdating S. A. Drake's 1873 book since his statement (coming right before the Centennial) seems to have cemented the existence of the Long Room Club in authors' minds, prompting them to shape everything else around it. But an early-1800s reference predates both Drake and Crocker. And it's always made more sense to me for a tavern to have a long room than a print shop.

That said, the Salutation (Two Palaverers) Tavern in the North End was a site for large meetings, as the notes of the North End Caucus show. So the Green Dragon was not the only possible meeting-place for a political club in that part of town.

Green and Russell don't seem to have been as firmly in the royal government's camp as their successors, Mills and Hicks. But you're right, they didn't have the town government support that Edes and Gill enjoyed, and thus did depend more on provincial contracts (and perhaps Customs service purchases). That made me wonder if the Long Room Club had started as a more mainstream group, not a radical Whig organization.

Crocker was of course a witness to some events of the Revolution and knew many people involved, but not all her statements are reliable. Which leaves lots of mysteries about the "Long Room Club."

EJWitek said...

One further piece of information. An 1870 Freemason magazine article, recounting a history of the St Andrew Lodge and the Green Dragon Tavern, states that "The Long Hall was used by Benjamin Dearborn for an academy and others as a dancing school, and by Robert Sandeman as a Sandamean Church."
Benjamin Dearborn, a prominent inventor of his time and associate of Paul Revere and Jeremy Belknap, moved to Boston in the early 1790s and established the Boston Academy, first located in the Green Dragon Tavern. Robert Sandeman, a Scottish theologian who founded his own church and had followers in the colonies to which he migrated. He started a number of churches, one of which met in the Green Dragon in the 1760s and presumably the 1770s.

J. L. Bell said...

Very interesting. The Sandemanians used a lot of Boston buildings for their worship at different times in the late 1760s and early 1770s. It's interesting to see the town aurhorities struggle with the question of how much to respect the sect's wish for a meetinghouse when they didn't trust the group or their politics. A lot of the Sandemanians left with the British military, removing that headache (but some, like Hopestill Capen, remained in Boston).