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, December 04, 2014

The Last Members of the North End Caucus

Last month I highlighted from the Boston News-Letter and City Record’s 1826 publication of records from the pre-Revolutionary North End Caucus.

The periodical credited “a gentleman at the North End” for sharing his knowledge of the period, and presumably sharing those documents. We know that source was not himself a member of the caucus, however, because the newspaper staff was under the impression that no members were still alive.

Then on 9 December the News-Letter added:
In the News Letter of the 25th ult. [i.e., last month] we gave a catalogue of the most conspicuous patriots of 1771, and 1772, who frequently assembled in Caucus, at the North-End, for the purpose of consulting together, and passing such resolutions, as might be deemed necessary for the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people. We were not aware, at the time of publishing this record, that Perez Morton, esq. [shown here] was the only surviving one of the whole party; but the Gazette of Thursday informs us that he is; and we are gratified in learning that this gentleman still enjoys good health, and the full possession of his rich faculties, and will probably furnish some remarks on the disposition and character of his associates in the leading events of our glorious revolution.
Then on 23 December the periodical published a letter from someone signing with the initials “O.P.”:
It was mentioned in your last “News Letter,” that there was but one member of the Old North-End Caucus, of, 71, and 72, now living, and that was the Hon. Perez Morton. We are glad, however, to learn, by the last advices from Paris, that Col. James Swan, also one of the distinguished patriots in those meetings, is still alive, and has been recently released from the Debtors’ apartments in Paris, after a detention of nearly twenty years.

It may be proper to state, that the apartments, here spoken of, unlike ours for the confinement of Debtors, are extensive and cornmodious, having a fine garden surrounding them, and the tenants at liberty to walk in them, at all hours to enjoy what amusements they please—and to indulge themselves in such a manner of living, as they may think proper, and can afford to pay for—there being within the outer walls several restorators and other places, for the disposal of provisions, liquors, fruits, and confectionary.
“Restorators” was an old term for restaurants.

That description of Swan’s comfortable confinement for debt in Paris matches a lot of other sources from the following decades. However, those sources don’t speak of Swan being released in 1826. Rather, he reportedly remained in detention until 1830, dying shortly afterward. But there are a lot of mysteries about Swan that I'm still muddling through.


G. Lovely said...

I'd never heard of Swan before, but clearly a fascinating character as just a little Googling shows. I anxiously await your insights.

Charles Bahne said...

Hepzibah Swan, James' wife, was equally fascinating as an important figure in early Boston real estate development, notably on Beacon Hill.

J. L. Bell said...

Yes, and she plays a role in the traditional telling of James's imprisonment for debt that doesn't seem to jibe with what she was doing in Boston around the same time.

J. L. Bell said...

Prudence Fish shared a long blog post about the Swans’ French furniture and what happened to it.