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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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Washington, Lee, and “tinsel dignity”

Yesterday I quoted Gen. Charles Lee’s letter to Gen. George Washington after the Battle of Monmouth, complaining that the commander-in-chief had spoken too harshly to him on the battlefield.

On 30 June 1778, Washington replied to that letter, rejecting the charge of using harsh language but leaving no doubt that he was sticking with the substance of his criticism:
I received your letter (dated thro’ mistake the 1st of July) expressed as I conceive, in terms highly improper. I am not conscious of having made use of any very singular expressions at the time of my meeting you, as you intimate. What I recollect to have said, was dictated by duty and warranted by the occasion. As soon as circumstances will permit, you shall have an opportunity, either of justifying yourself to the army, to Congress, to America, and to the world in General; or of convincing them that you were guilty of a breach of orders and of misbehaviour before the enemy on the 28th Inst. in not attacking them as you had been directed and in making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.
Aide-de-camp Lt. Col. John Fitzgerald delivered that letter to Lee.

As most historians read the correspondence, Lee replied to Washington twice that same day. Lee was still struggling with the dates of his letters, and he dated his first reply 28 June instead of 30 June even as he apologized for misdating the letter that started this all. He wrote:
I beg your Excellency’s pardon for the inaccuracy in misdating my letter—you cannot afford me greater pleasure than in giving me the opportunity of shewing to America the sufficiency of her respective servants—I trust that temporary power of office and the tinsel dignity attending it will not be able by all the mists they can raise to affuscate the bright rays of truth, in the mean time your Excellency can have no objection to my retiring from the army—
Finally, Lee sent a third letter after the second, this time dated 30 June:
Since I had the honor of addressing my letter by Col. Fitzgerald to your Excellency I have reflected on both your situation and mine, and beg leave to observe that it will be for our mutual convenience that a Court of inquiry should be immediately ordered—but I could wish it might be a court martial—for if the affair is drawn into length it may be difficult to collect the necessary evidences, and perhaps might bring on a paper war betwixt the adherents to both parties—which may occasion some disagreeable feuds on the Continent—for all are not my friends, nor all your admirers—I must intreat therefore from your love of justice that you will immediately exhibit your charge—and that on the first halt, I may be brought to a tryal—
A court-martial was a more serious forum than a court of inquiry; Lee was taking the risk that he might be punished, not just deemed at fault. A talented political writer, Lee was also warning Washington that he might prevail in the court of public opinion. Indeed, a couple of days later, Lee was unable to resist the temptation to make his case in the newspapers as soon as he saw an item critical of his movements at Monmouth.

A court-martial was convened on 4 July. The first two charges against Lee took language directly from Washington’s letter above, including the phrase “making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.” As for the third charge, that was for sending two disrespectful letters to Gen. Washington.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Charles Lee and “those dirty earwigs”

In the middle of the Battle of Monmouth, Gen. George Washington chided Gen. Charles Lee for his decision to withdraw from the Continental Army’s first encounter with the British forces (an incident recently dramatized in the season finale of Turn: Washington’s Spies). Indeed, one later author cited Lafayette as saying Washington called Lee “a damned poltroon.”

Whatever the commander-in-chief said, Lee was so upset that he couldn’t date his letters of protest correctly. He labeled the first “July 1st 1778,” but he must have written it on 29 or 30 June because Washington replied to it on the latter date.

Let’s say Lee wrote that letter on 29 June 1778 so the anniversary of that date offers an excuse to read its magnificent vituperation in full:

From the knowledge I have of your Excys character—I must conclude that nothing but the misinformation of some very stupid, or misrepresentation of some very wicked person coud have occasioned your making use of so very singular expressions as you did on my coming up to the ground where you had taken post—They implyed that I was guilty either of disobedience of orders, of want of conduct, or want of courage.

Your Excellency will therefore infinitely oblige me by letting me know on which of these three articles you ground your charge—that I may prepare for my justification which I have the happiness to be confident I can do to the army, to the Congress, to America, and to the world in general. Your excellency must give me leave to observe that neither yourself nor those about your person, could from your situation be in the least judges of the merits or demerits of our measures—And to speak with a becoming pride, I can assert that to these manouvers the success of the day was entirely owing—I can boldly say, that had we remained on the first ground, or had we advanced, or had the retreat been conducted in a manner different from what it was, this whole army and the interests of America would have risked being sacrificed.

I ever had (and hope ever shall have the greatest respect and veneration for General Washington) I think him endowed with many great and good qualities, but in this instance I must pronounce that he has been guilty of an act of cruel injustice towards a man who certainly has some pretensions to the regard of every servant of this country—And I think Sir, I have a right to demand some reparation for the injury committed—and unless I can obtain it, I must in justice to myself, when this campaign is closed, [(]which I believe will close the war) retire from a service at the head of which is placed a man capable of offering such injuries.

But at the same time in justice to you I must repeat that I from my soul believe, that it was not a motion of your own breast, but instigaged by some of those dirty earwigs who will for ever insinuate themselves near persons in high office—for I really am convinced that when General Washington acts from himself no man in his army will have reason to complain of injustice or indecorum.
TOMORROW: Washington’s reply.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Massachusetts Stamp Act of 1755

As I trace the developments of Parliament’s Stamp Act of 1765 in this year of its sestercentennial, I have to acknowledge that ten years before then, the Massachusetts General Court enacted its own stamp act, or tax on paper.

On 1 May 1755, during the second administration of Gov. William Shirley, the Massachusetts Stamp Act went into effect. It was based on a British act from 1698.

The Massachusetts law passed when it looked like war with the French was inevitable, with Gov. Shirley (highly respected after victories in the last war) recommending new forts in Maine.

The province issued four types of stamps, all circles a little more than an inch across:
  • the half-penny, printed in ink, as shown above; the words “Half Penny” were inscribed at top and bottom with a flying dove in between.
  • the two-penny, embossed; the text says “II Pence” and “Staple of the Massachusetts,” referring to the figure inside, a codfish.
  • The three-penny, embossed; “III,” “Pence,” and “Province of the Massachusetts,” around a pine tree.
  • The four-penny, embossed; “IV Pence” and “Steady” above and below around a schooner under sail.
Over the next two years Massachusetts’s stamp commissioner, James Russell, passed on about £897 in 1756 and £467 in 1757, keeping an additional £260 for his expenses and recompense.

The tax remained in effect for only two years. By then, the war had widened, and Massachusetts expected the Crown to pay more of the defense costs. Like other provincial stamp acts, it never produced big controversy because the colonists’ own representatives passed them and because the money stayed in the colonies. Ten years later, Parliament’s Stamp Act prompted a continent-wide campaign against what became known as “taxation without representation.”

Examples on this collectors’ auction page shows some examples of stamped paper from Massachusetts. Of course, the printed stamp shows up much better in a photograph than an embossed one.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Fate of the Rev. John Martin?

I promised more of the story of the Rev. John Martin, whom we left during the siege of Boston, preaching to the riflemen about how he’d taken command at Bunker Hill and perhaps marrying deserter George Marsden to young bride Wilmot Lee in Medford without recording their marriage.

Martin disappears from sight for many months, but in May 1777 he resurfaced in the diary of the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles (shown here):
12. I went to Providence, where this day where Rev. Mr. Martin of Ireld. was taken up by Gen. [Joseph] Spencer for a Spy & as havg a Commission from G. [William] Howe.

13. At Providence waited on Gen. Spencer who told me Mr. Martin had been over to the Enemy in the Jerseys & returned. One Dennison of Stonington informed the General that Mr. Martin had a Majors Commission & offered him a Captaincy. The General sent him off to Windham.
Joseph Denison (1707-1795) was head of the Stonington, Connecticut, committee of safety during the war, and the town had other men of that name.

Martin’s detention also appeared in newspapers of the time, such as the Pennsylvania Evening Post of 3 June 1777:
PROVIDENCE, May 17. Sunday last one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended here, and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for General Howe in Connecticut, to which state he has since been sent, under a proper guard.
The Freeman’s Journal of New Hampshire, 31 May 1777:
HARTFORD, May 26.
A few days since one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended at providence and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for Gen. Howe in this state: He has since been brought to Windham goal.
And the Independent Chronicle of Boston, 22 May 1777, was almost gleeful:
Last week a certain Rev. Mr. Martin, who is well known in this Town for boasting of his Exploits at Breed’s Hill, on the 17th of June, 1775, on the Part of the Americans, was taken up at Greenwich, State of Rhode-Island, recruiting for the Enemy.
I haven’t come across more about Martin’s case. I’m not convinced that the evidence against him was necessarily strong, given the atmosphere in New England after the Danbury raid. But he did get locked up.

In 1777, according to what he’d told Stiles, Martin was only twenty-seven years old. Therefore, if he survived the war in the U.S. of A., he might be the aged Rev. John Martin, a former itinerant preacher from Ireland, who lived in Otsego County, New York, in the 1810s. That Martin published an anonymous pamphlet titled Union the Bond of Peace in 1811.

The next year, that Rev. Martin got arrested for trying to bribe state legislators to approve the Bank of America. After a legislative hearing and a trial, he was sentenced to ten years. But the governor, who supported the bank, pardoned Martin after fourteen weeks. And then he slipped back out of the record.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hogeland on Hamilton on the Ten-Dollar Note

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew recently announced a plan to add a notable American woman to the next redesign of the ten-dollar bill. It’s been more than a century since Martha Washington appeared on a U.S. silver certificate.

The Los Angeles Times reported:
Alexander Hamilton will still appear on the note even after the yet-to-be-selected woman makes her debut. The Treasury either will design two bills or Hamilton and the woman will share the same bill.
Somehow I think Hamilton would like the space-sharing solution. (Ladies…) Nonetheless, Lew’s plan has been decried as “replacing” Hamilton.

This announcement followed a campaign to put an American woman on the twenty-dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson, a very important President with repressive policies and an antipathy to a national bank. But the ten-dollar bill happens to be the next up for redesign.

Fans of Hamilton (now appearing on Broadway) came to his defense, making the obvious argument that the Treasury Department owes loyalty to its founder. Some, such as Steven Rattner in the New York Times, added that Hamilton’s political views are better in tune with today’s values than Jackson (who hasn’t been the lead character in a Broadway musical in, what, two years).

William Hogeland, author of The Whiskey Rebellion, agrees on the irony of reducing Hamilton’s place on Treasury notes, but he thinks that Rattner’s comparisons are fallacious. The whole essay is a delight, but here are a couple of choice bits:
Jackson was a slaveowner, and he defended the institution. While there is ample evidence to suggest that Hamilton at times owned slaves, Hamilton opposed the institution, so Rattner repeats a familiar fallacy: “Hamilton was an abolitionist.” Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow says that about Hamilton too; most of the biographers do, and why not? it’s a lovely thought. But it’s not true.

Readers interested in that subject will want to start with this balanced, scrupulous paper by the historian Michelle DuRross. Hamilton the “staunch abolitionist” (Chernow) is such a longstanding biographical fantasy, with such a tangled history, that a certain kind of graduate student would have a ball unraveling it. Readers may be forgiven for believing that young Hamilton had the horrors of the slave markets of the Caribbean so painfully seared on his brain that in adulthood he was inspired to oppose slavery: most of the major and not-so-major Hamilton biographies — Lodge’s, Miller’s, Mitchell’s, Randall’s, McDonald’s, Brookhiser’s and Chernow’s — tell that story. Literally none can cite a primary source. Some cite one another: Randall cites Mitchell, Miller cites Lodge, e.g. The story is such common knowledge that I don’t think Chernow even gives it a citation. Its origin is unclear. But it’s made up.
DuRoss reminds us of the difference between promoting manumission (encouraging slave owners to free their human property) and campaigning for abolition (using the law to end slavery).

And as for Hamilton being more appropriate for a printed bill:
Hamilton’s entire career, before and after becoming Secretary, was based on demolishing paper finance, the depreciating populist currencies of his day that built debt relief into money. With the entire lending-and-investing class that he represented and promoted, Hamilton liked specie, metal. Big notes like those written on the Bank of the United States were not, to Hamilton, a “national currency,” as Rattner tortures history to assert. The federal government did not print paper currencies as long as (and well after) Hamilton had anything to say about it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

“Perspectives on the Boston Massacre,” 7-9 July

On 7-9 July, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a multi-day workshop investigating “Perspectives on the Boston Massacre.” It’s designed for teachers, librarians, and members of the public interested in exploring the Massacre in depth through primary-source documents.

The workshop description says:

On the evening of March 5, 1770, a confrontation between British soldiers and a boisterous crowd in front of the Custom House on King Street in Boston turned deadly. Five men were killed and nine soldiers were tried for their murder. Why and how did this confrontation come to pass? In the days after the event, the men who lost their lives became martyrs for the Patriot cause, and propagandists labeled the event a “massacre.” Using letters, depositions, newspapers, and engravings, we will explore how participants, onlookers, residents, authorities, and outsiders made meaning of the “massacre” and its aftermath.
Highlights include:
  • Touring the Bostonian Society’s Old State House and other sites associated with the Boston Massacre with Dr. Robert Allison, Professor of History at Suffolk University.
  • Viewing original documents and artifacts of the pre-Revolutionary era from the M.H.S. collections, and exploring more on its website on the Massacre.
  • Discussing various perspectives on the Massacre, the role of propaganda, and public memory of the event with the M.H.S. staff and me.
Yes, I’m on the bill for the last day. Current plans call for participants to spend the first two days coming up with questions and issues to discuss, and I’ll try to shape my presentation around those. Let’s not make this too hard, though.

Because of generous support from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, the cost of those three days is only $35 per person, and that includes two lunches, admissions to all the sites visited, and copies of the readings. Educators can also earn 22.5 P.D.P.’s. Find the link of the registration form here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Virginia Resolutions “of an extraordinary Nature” in Newport

Two hundred fifty years ago today, on 24 June 1765, the Newport Mercury carried an item about the Stamp Act. That wasn’t unusual—American newspapers were starting to fill with essays warning about Parliament’s new law. The Mercury story was unusual for two reasons:
  • It printed resolutions that the Virginia House of Burgesses had debated, adopted, and in one case retracted at the end of May. Under pressure from Gov. Francis Fauquier, the Virginia newspapers hadn’t reported any of that story. So the Rhode Island paper had a scoop.
  • The Rhode Island paper got the story wrong. 
The article began:
Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman in Philadelphia, to his Friend in this Town, dated last Tuesday.

“I have inclosed the Resolves of the Virginia Assembly, on debating the Stamp Act. The Governor, as soon as he heard what they were about, sent for them, and without Preamble, told them, he would dissolve them; and that Minute they were dissolved. As they are of an extraordinary Nature, thought they might not be disagreeable. They are as follows.”
Then came the six resolves.

Six? The Burgesses had approved five resolves, then pulled one back. So how did the Mercury report six? To start with, the newspaper omitted the third of the passed resolutions (“That the Taxation of the People…”). It did print the fifth, which the Burgesses passed on 30 May and then repealed on 31 May.

But the letter from Philadelphia also included two resolutions that the Virginia legislature had never passed, and apparently never officially considered. They read:
Resolved, That his Majesty’s liege People, the Inhabitants of this Colony, are not bound to yield Obedience to any Law or Ordinance whatever, designed to impose any Taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the Laws and Ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.

Resolved, That any Person, who shall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that any Person or Persons, other than the General Assembly of this Colony, have any Right or Power to impose or lay any Taxation on the People here, shall be deemed an Enemy to this his Majesty’s Colony.
Those resolutions were even more confrontational toward Parliament and its appointees and supporters than the one that got repealed.

What happened? Recall that Gov. Fauquier reported to London:
I am informed the gentlemen had two more resolutions in their pocket, but finding the difficulty they had in carrying the 5th which was by a single voice, and knowing them to be more virulent and inflammatory; they did not produce them.
But those gentlemen might have been unable to resist sending the drafts to friends in Philadelphia, who in turn passed them on to other friends in other colonies. Patrick Henry didn’t record those last two resolutions in his personal papers, as he did the previous five, so it’s unclear whether he wrote them or someone else did.

In any event, the gentleman who wrote to Newport from Philadelphia, and the people who read the Newport Mercury, apparently believed that the Virginia Burgesses had approved all six of the resolutions that appeared in the newspaper. So did the readers of the 1 July Boston Post-Boy, which reprinted the item from Newport.

And gradually the story spread across the British Empire, making people believe that Virginia, the oldest and largest of the British colonies in the New World, had taken an even firmer stand against the Stamp Act than it ever had.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mysterious Minister, Mr. Martin

As I described yesterday, the widow Wilmot Marsden based her plea for a federal pension on her memory of having married her husband George in Medford on 25 Nov 1775, when he was an officer in the Continental Army. She recalled the minister who officiated at their wedding as “a professor in the Harvard University” named Martin. Alas, the college had no record of such a man.

But there was a clergyman in the area who seems a likely candidate for marrying the Marsdens: the Rev. John Martin, born (as he told the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles) in the west of Ireland in 1750 and coming to Nova Scotia in 1772.

The earliest sign of Martin in North America that I’ve found is an advertisement in the 21 Oct 1774 New-Hampshire Gazette stating that “JOHN MARTIN, Minister of the Gospel,” had lost a silver watch somewhere between the meetinghouse of Rochester, New Hampshire, and Berwick, Maine.

Shortly afterward this notice appeared in the 7 November Boston Gazette and 16 and 23 November Essex Journal of Newburyport:
L O S T.
An old Sea-Chest, (supposed to be taken out of Captain [Jonathan] Mason’s Store on the Long Wharf in Salem,) broad at the Bottom, painted blue but much wore off. If it has any Mark, it’s J. M. Should it be opened, it contains Weston’s Stenography, some Books of Physick, and some of Divinity, and considerable Writings, and both Men and Womens Cloths. Whoever shall give Information of the said Chest to the Rev. Dr. [Nathaniel] Whittaker in Salem, or the Rev. Samuel Stillman in Boston, so that the Subscriber may have it, they shall be well rewarded, and all reasonable Charges paid by
JOHN MARTIN.
Martin appears to have been a very unlucky traveler indeed. On the other hand, these ads might have been a way to announce to the region that one is the sort of learned gentleman to travel with a silver watch and a trunk full of books even if one doesn’t actually have those goods with one. Another notable point: The ministers Martin designated as his local contacts weren’t the orthodox Congregationalists but a Presbyterian and a Baptist.

Martin preached in place of the Rev. Dr. Stiles in Newport on 16 Apr 1775. Stiles went to see him speak again on 19 April and quizzed him about his background. Martin described religious peregrination from a Catholic school through the Episcopal Church and Deism to some form of Calvinist Protestantism that Stiles found acceptable. But the Rhode Island minister was suspicious of Martin’s tale of having been a chaplain to the Pretender in Ireland in 1771. Stiles was a sucker for stories he wanted to believe, and he didn’t want to believe Bonnie Prince Charlie was genuinely Protestant.

Meanwhile, the war was starting. Martin evidently went to the siege lines. He returned to Rhode Island after the Battle of Bunker Hill, reporting that he’d served as a chaplain on the battlefield and had taken part not only in the fighting but also in overseeing the redoubt, deploying troops, and more. Fanfiction critics would recognize the story Martin told as a “self-insert,” in which he was the bravest, most perceptive, and indispensable man on the American side of the battle lines.

As outlandish as Martin’s story was, this time people wanted to believe him. On 28 June, the Rhode Island Assembly appointed “John Martin” surgeon of its army brigade at a salary of £9 per month. There were other, better established men named John Martin in that colony, but I suspect this new surgeon was the young minister because he’d claimed to own “some Books of Physick” and because of a newspaper statement the next month that he’d been “appointed to a post in the Rhode Island regiment.”

On 30 June, Martin returned to Stiles’s doorstep in Newport, telling his story of the battle, and the minister wrote it all down. That evening he listened as Martin preached “a high Liberty Sermon.” On 18 July, the New-Hampshire Gazette reported briefly how Martin had “fought gallantly at Bunker-Hill.” Presumably he headed back to the war zone.

On 28 September and 28 December 1775, the New-England Chronicle newspaper reported that letters for John Martin were waiting in the Cambridge post office. Again, this may be another man of the same name (he’s not identified as a minister or a surgeon). But it’s quite clear who Sgt. Henry Bedinger of the Virginia riflemen heard preach in Roxbury on 3 Oct 1775:
We had also a Very Good Sermon preached to us by the Reverend Mr. Martin, Who Took part of the Command on Bunker’s Hill In that Battle.
This is clearly the same Martin who visited Stiles, and he was once again acting as a clergyman in the fall of 1775.

Thus, the Rev. John Martin seems like an excellent candidate to be the minister who married George Marsden and Wilmot Lee in Medford in November. He would have no qualms about breaking the Massachusetts law against traveling clergy performing marriages. And, just as he left the riflemen and others with the idea that he’d been a commander at Bunker Hill, he could easily have left Wilmot Marsden convinced he was a “professor at Harvard University.”

COMING UP: What happened to the Rev. John Martin?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Widow Marsden’s Marriage Claim

I’ve been writing about George Marsden, who went from a deserter from the British army in early 1774 to a lieutenant in the Continental Army in January 1776. He served a couple of years, including service at Saratoga, before retiring at an uncertain date. Marsden died in 1817.

His widow was born Wilmot Lee, reportedly in Nova Scotia on 21 Jan 1757, to Edward and Ann Lee or Leigh. She may therefore have been named after the British army commander Montague Wilmot. She probably met George Marsden while he was stationed in Halifax from 1769 to 1774, and she might even have been the reason for his desertion just before the 59th Regiment sailed for Boston.

Wilmot Marsden died in 1850, and she spent her last three decades trying to secure a federal pension as the widow of a Continental Army officer. The issue for the U.S. government was whether Wilmot and George had married before or after his army service. If they were legally a couple when he was an active officer, then she qualified for a pension. If not, then the government owed her nothing.

Unfortunately for Wilmot Marsden, she couldn’t provide documentary proof of their wedding on 25 Nov 1775 “at the house of Henry Putnam” in Mystic, as she wrote. Mystic was an old word for Medford, and Henry Putnam was a prominent landowner there, but that town’s records had no mention of the Marsdens’ marriage.

On 10 Oct 1839, Wilmot Marsden filed an affidavit describing her wedding in more detail. She said:
both her husband & herself came to Massachusetts, from Nova Scotia, Just previous to the revolutionary war, that she had resided but a few months at Mystic (now Medford) at the time of her marriage, & had few acquaintances, & not known out of the immediate neighborhood in which she lived, that her husband was with the army, and as little known at Mystic as herself,

that the persons present at the wedding are reported to have died long since, their names were Roger & Eli [?] Putnam & wives, Capts. Darby & Nowell from Cambridge, of Col Scammons Regiment, Edward Lee, Watson, Pool, Hall, Bracket, Gallop, Temple & Fisk [?].—
(Curiously, although Wilmot Marsden’s signature appears on her previous affidavit of 16 April, on this document she simply put her mark.)

Samuel Darby was indeed a captain in Col. James Scamman’s regiment at that time. In January 1776, Marsden became a lieutenant under him in Col. William Prescott’s regiment. Some other surnames in this affidavit also appear on the list of men in Scamman’s 1775 regiment. In addition, the alleged host Henry Putnam had younger brothers named Roger and Elijah Putnam.

Most interesting is the name of Edward Lee. Wilmot had a brother of that name (as well as a father). Had he accompanied his sister from Nova Scotia? The Medford town records include the death of a woman surnamed Lee, wife of “a Soldier in Army,” on 30 Sept 1775. Was that Edward Lee’s wife, and thus Wilmot Marsden’s sister-in-law?

Marsden clearly recalled her wedding as occurring during the siege of Boston. But there was still the problem of there being no legal record of that marriage to confirm her memory. A man from Rome, New York, looked into Marsden’s claim for her and offered an explanation for why the marriage may not have been recorded locally. At the time Massachusetts law recognized only marriages performed by ministers resident in that town; preachers without settled pulpits didn’t have the authority to marry couples. The New York man wrote:
the marriage of Mrs. Marsden was in the parish of the Revd. Doct. David Osgood, who was pertinacious of his priviledge, & was in the habit of exacting fines when he learned by the record of the town or otherwise, that a marriage had been consummated in his parish by a non-resident minister, & that such marriages were seldom recorded.
The minister who married her, Wilmot Marsden recalled, was not connected to the town of Medford. Rather, he was “the Revd. Mr. Martin of Cambridge a professor in the Harvard University.” She couldn’t say “to what denomination he belonged.”

Unfortunately for the widow Marsden, Harvard archivists told the federal government that the college had no professor or other official named Martin in 1775.

TOMORROW: Tracking down Mr. Martin the minister.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Sgt. George Marsden of His Majesty’s 59th Regiment

To delve into the British army career of George Marsden, I turned to Don Hagist, author of British Soldiers, American War and other books.

Don checked his thorough records and found that Marsden first arrived in New England in 1768 with the 59th Regiment of Foot in a company commanded by Capt. John Willson. They came to Boston, and local Whigs soon made Capt. Willson notorious for supposedly encouraging slaves to revolt.

As Don told me:
Marsden is on the April 1769 roll for the grenadier company, prepared in Boston. On the October 1770 roll for the company he shows up as being appointed serjeant, but in 1774 he’s a private again.
Unfortunately, the regiment did a lousy job in filing its paperwork, so we don’t know about anything the dates in between except that the regiment was in Nova Scotia from 1769 to 1774. (Marsden’s descendants also understood him as coming through Nova Scotia with the British army, but as an officer during the earlier French and Indian War.)

The fact that Marsden (usually written “Marsdin” in the muster rolls) became a sergeant suggests that his officers saw him as intelligent and dependable. Furthermore, while enlisted men often bounced from private to corporal and back depending on the regiment’s needs, a sergeant usually stayed a sergeant. So what’s the significance of Marsden’s demotion? Had he lost his superiors’ confidence? Did he resent losing that rank? We don’t know.

On 24 July 1774, the 59th Regiment prepared to sail from Nova Scotia back to Boston as part of Gen. Thomas Gage’s build-up of troops. And Pvt. George Marsden was no longer with them.

Don tells me that British regiments often suffered a wave of desertions just before they made a big move. Soldiers might have built ties with locals that they were loath to break, or they might have realized that their officers’ departure meant this was a good chance to make a run for it.

After July 1774 Marsden disappears from all records, as far as I can tell, until he enlisted in Col. James Scamman’s Massachusetts regiment on 19 May 1775. That unit was made up of men from southern Maine and New Hampshire. Marsden’s home was then listed as “Londonderry,” which one later researcher interpreted to mean Londonderry in Ireland. However, that same document listed several other men from Londonderry as well, so it probably referred to Londonderry, New Hampshire. Evidently Marsden had found his way to that town.

Marsden became the Scamman regiment’s adjutant, an administrative post, undoubtedly because of his experience as a sergeant in the British army. A month later came the Battle of Bunker Hill. Marsden’s old regiment, the 59th, was fighting on the British side. Had Marsden been captured, he would almost surely have been recognized, tried as a deserter in arms with the enemy, and executed. Nevertheless, he pushed ahead to the front lines faster than his colonel.

Adj. Marsden testified against Col. Scamman in his court-martial the following month, and I can’t imagine that the regimental meetings were smooth after that. At the end of the year, however, it was clear who prevailed. Scamman was left out of the Continental Army. In contrast, Marsden was commissioned as a Lieutenant in Col. William Prescott’s regiment—i.e., the commander who had actually been in the redoubt on Breed’s Hill was ready to fight alongside him. (Similarly, Ens. Joshua Trafton, who also got on Scamman’s bad side, was offered a lieutenant’s commission and eventually became a captain.)

George Marsden is thus like Thomas Machin, Daniel Box, Andrew Brown—deserters from the king’s army who had been recognized for their skills but barred by the British class system from rising into the officer class. In the Continental Army, Marsden became an officer. In the new republic, he was considered a gentleman. Like Machin and Brown, Marsden or his family retroactively came up with a more genteel history for him in Britain, making him an officer of the king who resigned before the war and wiping out any embarrassment about his having deserted.

TOMORROW: Marsden’s mysterious marriage.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

George Marsden: “half-way up Bunker’s hill with Col. Scammans”

The last witness in the July 1775 trial of Col. James Scamman for “Backwardness” during the Battle of Bunker Hill was his regimental adjutant, George Marsden.

The record of Scamman’s court martial states:
Adjutant Marsden was sworn at the desire of the complainants and deposed that we were three-quarters of an hour on the little hill and continued about twenty minutes after we heard of the firing on the hill in Charlestown. I went half-way up Bunker’s hill with Col. Scammans when I left him and went to the breastwork, where I got before the enemy forced it; the confusion was so great when we got to Bunker’s-Hill we could not form the regiment.
On Monday, 17 July, precisely one month after the battle, the court-martial board deliberated and acquitted Scamman of the charge against him. The chaos of the battle and the lack of clear lines of command meant there wasn’t enough proof to find him guilty of disobeying orders.

Nonetheless, Scamman’s reputation suffered. Junior officers like Ens. Joshua Trafton treated him with disrespect. At the start of 1776 he wasn’t offered a commission in the reformed Continental Army. His name had even come up in the secret correspondence of Dr. Benjamin Church, who told his contact inside Boston, “the cowardice of the clumsy Col. [Samuel] Gerrish and Col. Scammon, were the lucky occasion of their [the provincials’] defeat.”

After that correspondence became public, Scamman sent the record of his court martial to the New-England Chronicle in the hope of vindicating himself. But he couldn’t let that record speak for itself; he added comments about how particular testimony justified his actions or should be disbelieved.

In regard to Adj. Marsden, Scamman wrote:
It is observable that the Adjutant would insinuate by his deposition that the regiment arrived at Bunker’s-Hill time enough to reinforce the breastwork before it was forced by the enemy, but if the public will only consider that those regiments which were stationed only two miles distance, did not arrive seasonable enough, and that the deponent had heretofore perjured himself by his desertion from the enemy, and by his common deportment discovers no regard to the Deity, his deposition will have but little weight with them.
So Marsden was a deserter? (As well as having “no regard to the Deity,” whatever that might have meant to New England Congregationalists.) That’s interesting.

A genealogy titled George Marsden, Revolutionary Patriot; His Family, Friends & Descendants, published in 1961, states this family understanding:
George Marsden was born in Leeds, England in the year 1737, the youngest son of an English gentleman. Upon the death of his father, his older brother inherited the estate, titles, etc., and George was procured a commission in the British army as was customary at that time for the younger sons of an English family. Soon thereafter, he was sent to the Colonies by way of Nova Scotia, to fight the French and Indians. He performed his duties with exceptional valor and bravery, and it was a great disappointment to his fellow officers when, early in 1775, he tendered his resignation as an officer in the British army, joined the Colonies against, the motherland and thereby became a rebel in the eyes of his friends and his family.
Was that what Scamman meant by referring to Marsden’s “desertion from the enemy”?

TOMORROW: How George Marsden really came to the American army.

Friday, June 19, 2015

“Backwardness in Colonel Scammans”?

On 12 July 1775, five days after confirming the court-martial sentence of Capt. John Callender, Gen. George Washington issued orders for the trial of another Continental Army officer:

A General Court Martial of the Line to sit at Head Quarters, in Cambridge, to morrow morning at Nine OClock, to try Col. Scammons of the Massachusetts Forces accused of “Backwardness in the execution of his duty in the late Action upon Bunkers-hill”. The Adjutant of Col. Scammon’s regiment, to warn all Evidences [i.e., witnesses], and persons concern’d to attend the court.
The regimental adjutant was a man named George Marsden.

Col. James Scamman (also spelled Scammans, Scammon, and Scammons) commanded a regiment made up of men from Maine and New Hampshire. While the fight raged on Breed’s Hill in Charlestown, he had led his men to Cobble Hill, on the west side of the Charlestown Neck, and stayed there for a while. Then when he finally moved them onto the Charlestown peninsula, Scamman went no farther than the brow of the taller Bunker’s Hill before ordering everyone to turn around and retreat.

In his defense, Scamman said had been ordered “to the hill,” and at first he thought that meant Cobble Hill because people feared British regulars would land at nearby Lechmere’s Point. Some of his witnesses, such as Drummer Henry Foss, backed him up on that.

However, it’s clear that other men in Scamman’s regiment supported the complaints against him. Those soldiers were already split over whom they’d signed up to fight under—Scamman or his lieutenant colonel, Johnson Moulton. In their testimony, some junior officers hinted that the colonel didn’t move as quickly as he should have, or noted that other provincials moved on to Breed’s Hill even as Scamman said that was too dangerous. For example:
Ensign Joshua Trafton deposed, about two of the clock (afternoon) we marched from Cambridge to Lechmere’s-Point, where we found Gen. [John] Whitcomb who expressed much surprise at finding Col. Scammans take post there. We remained on the Point fifteen minutes and then marched to a small hill below Prospect-Hill. We continued on the small hill about half an hour or more; during which time Col. Scammans sent two Serjeants to Bunker’s-Hill, to know if his regiment was wanted.

We took the nearest road to Bunker’s-Hill, as I suppose; and before we got to the top of the hill, Colonel ordered a retreat. I cannot say whether the breastwork was forced or not at that time. We saw many men retreating down the hill who said they had spent all their ammunition; some told us that the enemy had retreated and begged us to push on. As we turned off the small hill, a regiment marched by us towards Bunker’s-Hill. As we marched from Cambridge we heard the regulars were landing at Lechmere’s Point and at Charlestown. Col. Scammans made the greatest despatch from the small hill to Bunker’s-Hill.

I saw no other instance of backwardness in Colonel Scammans, except his long stay at the small hill, which appeared to me unnecessary. As we retreated a number of men advanced up in an irregular manner.
Shortly after this Scamman accused Trafton of “abusive Language” and later of “offering to strike his Colo,” both charges apparently involving Trafton’s disdain for the colonel. But the court-martial boards went easy on the junior officer—suggesting they thought his disrespect for Scamman had a solid basis.

TOMORROW: The main witness accusing Col. Scamman of backwardness was none other than the regimental adjutant, George Marsden.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

“Capt. John Callender is accordingly cashiered”

After the British won the Battle of Bunker Hill, there was a great deal of finger-pointing on the American side. Eventually New Englanders decided the battle had actually been a Good Thing, but they still blamed several officers for behaving poorly.

As I related back here, Gen. Israel Putnam insisted that an artillery captain he had met on the battlefield be court-martialed for abandoning his cannon. That process had a false start, but by the time Gen. George Washington settled into his new job in Cambridge the verdict was awaiting his approval.

On 7 July 1775, the commander-in-chief’s general orders made a big deal of his decsion:
It is with inexpressible Concern that the General upon his first Arrival in the army, should find an Officer sentenced by a General Court Martial to be cashier’d for Cowardice—A Crime of all others, the most infamous in a Soldier, the most injurious to an Army, and the last to be forgiven; inasmuch as it may, and often does happen, that the Cowardice of a single Officer may prove the Distruction of the whole Army:

The General therefore (tho’ with great Concern, and more especially, as the Transaction happened before he had the Command of the Troops) thinks himself obliged for the good of the service, to approve the Judgment of the Court Martial with respect to Capt. John Callender, who is hereby sentenced to be cashiered. Capt. John Callender is accordingly cashiered and dismissd from all farther service in the Continental Army as an Officer.

The General having made all due inquiries, and maturely consider’d this matter is led to the above determination not only from the particular Guilt of Capt. Callenders, but the fatal Consequences of such Conduct to the army and to the cause of america.

He now therefore most earnestly exhorts Officers of all Ranks to shew an Example of Bravery and Courage to their men; assuring them that such as do their duty in the day of Battle, as brave and good Officers, shall be honor’d with every mark of distinction and regard; their names and merits made known to the General Congress and all America: while on the other hand, he positively declares that every Officer, be his rank what it may, who shall betray his Country, dishonour the Army and his General, by basely keeping back and shrinking from his duty in any engagement; shall be held up as an infamous Coward and punish’d as such, with the utmost martial severity; and no Connections, Interest or Intercessions in his behalf will avail to prevent the strict execution of justice.
Was Washington trying to make an example of Capt. John Callender? He certainly was. His language, especially at the end, closely followed the suggestion of the respected Massachusetts legislator Joseph Hawley, who on 5 July had written to him:
…I suggest, that although in the Massachusetts part of the Army there are divers brave and intrepid officers, yet there are too many, and even several Colonels, whose characters, to say the least, are very equivocal with respect to courage. There is much more cause to fear that the officers will fail in a day of trial, than the privates. I may venture to say, that if the officers will do their duty, there is no fear of the soldiery.

I therefore most humbly propose to your consideration the propriety and advantage of your making immediately a most solemn and peremptory declaration to all the officers of the Army, in general orders, or otherwise, as your wisdom shall direct, assuring them that every officer who, in the day of battle, shall fully do his duty, shall not fail of your kindest notices and highest marks of your favour; but, on the other hand, that every officer who, on such a day, shall act the poltron, dishonour his General, and by failing of his duty, betray his Country, shall infallibly meet his deserts, whatever his rank, connexions, or interest may be; and that no intercessions on his behalf will be likely to be of any avail for his pardon.
Of course, it’s one thing to say the system was going to be strict with everyone—it’s another thing to carry that out. Callender wasn’t the only Massachusetts artillery officer who had performed below expectations at Bunker Hill. But the other two were the son and nephew of the artillery regiment’s commander. It took months before they faced courts-martial. “No Connections, Interest or Intercessions” indeed!

Calendar eventually returned to the army. Of the Gridley cousins, Scarborough was convicted and cashiered, Samuel acquitted, but neither was in the Continental Army at the start of 1776.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Story Behind “Warren’s Address”

A few days ago I mentioned the poem “Warren’s Address to the American Soldiers, before the Battle of Bunker Hill,” which N. C. Wyeth illustrated in 1922.

Those lines were written by the Rev. John Pierpont (1785-1866). After graduating from Yale, he became minister at the Hollis Street Meeting in Boston, originally established for the Rev. Dr. Mather Byles, Sr.

Pierpont stayed at that church for over twenty-five years, becoming increasingly controversial as he became increasingly active in the temperance and abolition movements. Later Pierpont was a minister in Medford and ran for office in a couple of those fringe parties that actually wanted to end slavery.

Pierpont was also heavily involved in efforts at education, and in 1827 he published a school book called The National Reader. It collected examples of both prose and poetry for students to read or recite. Lessons 127 to 132 were all about Bunker Hill—excerpts from Carlo Botta’s history in translation and Daniel Webster’s oration at the dedication of the monument, a hymn that Pierpont had written for that ceremony, and “Warren’s Address.”

Which reads:
Stand! the ground’s your own, my braves!
Will ye give it up to slaves?
Will ye look for greener graves?
Hope ye mercy still?
What’s the mercy despots feel?
Hear it in that battle-peal!
Read it on yon bristling steel!
Ask it,—ye who will.

Fear ye foes who kill for hire?
Will ye to your homes retire?
Look behind you!—they’re afire!
And, before you, see
Who have done it! From the vale
On they come!—and will ye quail?
Leaden rain and iron hail
Let their welcome be!

In the God of battles trust!
Die we may,—and die we must:
But, O, where can dust to dust
Be consigned so well,
As where heaven its dews shall shed
On the martyred patriot’s bed,
And the rocks shall raise their head,
Of his deeds to tell?
We must remember that Dr. Joseph Warren declined to command in the Breed’s Hill redoubt and never delivered such a speech, in rhyme or not. Also, Pierpont composed this for use in schools, so we should imagine it being recited by an emotive, squeaky-voiced fourteen-year-old in an assembly hall.

One of Pierpont’s sons wrote “Jingle Bells.” One of his grandsons, named after him, was J. Pierpont Morgan.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Benjamin Pierce’s Story of Bunker Hill

In March 1818, the Port-Folio magazine published Henry Dearborn’s account of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Dearborn was a veteran of that battle and the war that followed, later a Secretary of War, and finally a general during the War of 1812. So of course people respected his version of history, right?

Certainly not! Dearborn bluntly criticized Gen. Israel Putnam (shown here). Among other things, he wrote that the Connecticut general “remained at or near the top of Bunker Hill until the retreat. . . . He not only continued at that distance himself during the whole of the action, but had a force with him nearly as large as that engaged.” Within weeks Putnam’s son Daniel and others leapt to the late general’s defense.

Dearborn fought back, gathering recollections from other veterans of the battle who didn’t recall “Old Put” as a leader that day. One was Benjamin Pierce. In a letter dated 17 May 1818 he told Dearborn:
I have read your “Account of the Battle of Bunker’s-hill,” and consider it to be more like the thing itself, than any statement I have ever seen.

I think our Army broke ground on the evening of the 16th of June; and the Battle was on the 17th. I went on to the Hill about eleven o’clock, A. M., on the 17th; when I arrived at the summit of Bunker’s hill, I saw two pieces of cannon there standing, with two or three soldiers standing by them, who observed they belonged to Captain [John] Callender’s Company, and said that the Captain and his officers were cowards, and that they had run away.

General Putnam there sat upon a horse; I saw nobody at that place when I arrived there, but the General and those two or three soldiers. General Putnam requested our Company, which was commanded by Captain John Ford of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, to take those two pieces of cannon, and draw them down; our men utterly refused, and said they had no knowledge of the use of artillery, and that they were ready to fight with their own arms.

Captain Ford then addressed his Company in a very animated, patriotic, and brave strain, which is the characteristic of the man; the Company then seized the drag-ropes and soon drew them to the rail-fence, according to my recollection, about half the distance from the redoubt on Breed’s-hill to Mystic-river. I think I saw General Putnam at that place, looking for some part of his sword; I did not hear him give any orders nor assume any command, except at the top of Bunker’s-hill, when I was going to the field of battle.

I remained at the rail-fence, until all the powder and ball were spent. I had a full view of the movements of the enemy; and I think your statement of the order of the day and of the two contending armies, is correct and cannot be denied with the semblance of truth.

Excuse an old soldier.
Other soldiers described Putnam being much more active, almost frenetic, especially in regard to other abandoned cannon—but not at the rail fence, where Pierce’s and Dearborn’s companies stationed themselves. Thus, they didn’t see Putnam exercise much authority, but other men did, and were still fond of “Old Put.”

According to Liz Covart’s article in the Journal of the American Revolution, the controversy over Dearborn’s attack on Putnam helped to cost him the race for governor of Massachusetts. Ironically, a few years later Benjamin Pierce won two terms as governor of New Hampshire. (In between those terms he lost once to a candidate named John Bell. Pierce’s son Franklin would later win an even bigger election.)

Pierce’s letter is typical of a lot of first-person accounts of the Bunker Hill battle written in the midst of the Dearborn-Putnam controversy: so focused on the question of whether Putnam was in the fight and/or in command that it omits most of the writer’s own experience. Did Ford’s men fire the cannon they took to the fence, and how effectively? What was it like to fight there “until all the powder and ball were spent”? Alas, Pierce didn’t say.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Broken Officer of Bunker Hill

This is a detail of a print titled “An Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown, June 17th, 1775.”

Versions of this image are on display right now in both the Boston Public Library’s “We Are One” exhibit and the Massachusetts Historical Society’s “God Save the People” exhibit. Here’s a link to the B.P.L.’s page for the full picture.

The engraving is credited to Bernard Romans, a native of Holland who had emigrated to Britain and then to North America in the 1750s. He explored parts of Florida and the southern frontier, then journeyed north on business.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, Romans was in Connecticut. He raised a small force to attack Fort George in New York, enjoying the same success as Ethan Allen in seizing Fort Ticonderoga but not the same fame.

In his “Exact View” of the battle we know best as Bunker Hill, Romans took a perspective from a point west of the Charlestown neck, putting the Breed’s Hill redoubt on the left of his frame as shown above and Charlestown in flames farther back toward the right. As shown in the detail, he or his colorist depicted the provincial soldiers in unlikely blue uniforms.

“General [Israel] Putnam” was the only individual Romans’s key identified by name, but that Connecticut officer wasn’t the picture’s biggest figure. There are two men in the left foreground, gesticulating on either side of a cannon. A number 8 hovers over one of their heads. The key at the top identifies that man as “Broken Officer.”

Yes, that’s Maj. Scarborough Gridley, youngest son of the artillery regiment’s commander, who chose to trade potshots with a British warship from Cobble Hill rather than go onto the peninsula where the real battle was.

Scar Gridley wasn’t cashiered from the Continental Army until September 1775, meaning Romans must have created this engraving after that date. The prominence he gave to that embarrassing detail of the battle suggests that his American public was interested in Maj. Gridley’s removal.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Deborah M. Child on the Life of Richard Brunton, 17 June

On Wednesday, 17 June, Deborah M. Child will speak at the New England Historical and Genealogical Society about her new illustrated biography Soldier, Engraver, Forger: Richard Brunton’s Life on the Fringe in America’s New Republic.

Child’s talk will take place on the anniversary of Bunker Hill, appropriate because Brunton fought in that battle. As a British soldier.

Brunton later deserted and used his skill as an engraver to make a living in the U.S. of A. Unfortunately, at times the most lucrative engravings he could turn out were forged bank notes. He died in Groton in 1832.

I played a very small role in the creation of this book. A couple of years back, Child got in touch with me because she was trying to reconcile her sources about Brunton’s army and post-army careers. I did the smart thing and put her in touch with Don Hagist, author of British Soldiers, American War, who quickly cleared up the biggest mystery by alerting Child that her sources in London were reading the army muster rolls wrong. Once that artificial barrier fell, she was able to piece the evidence together to create this unusual biography.

Child’s talk at the N.E.H.G.S. headquarters, 99-101 Newbury Street in Boston, is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. It will be followed by a signing. The event is free and open to the public. Register here.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Serving Parker’s Revenge Warm

Yesterday I attended an event at Minute Man National Historical Park announcing major support for the Parker’s Revenge project from Campaign 1776.

The term “Parker’s Revenge,” which Brandeis professor David Hackett Fischer pointed out was probably coined by John Galvin in his 1967 book The Minute Men, refers to one point in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, when Capt. John Parker and his Lexington militiamen attacked the British army column as it withdrew east from Concord. By tradition, those provincials were on or behind a particular granite outcrop—probably a good choice, as that’s said to be the highest point between Boston and Concord.

Parker’s Revenge is thus an event, and an area, and an idea—the idea of the Lexington company that had been hurt that dawn picking themselves up and fighting back.

A couple of years ago, the park and the non-profit Friends of Minute Man Park convened a group to study Parker’s Revenge in more depth. As Bob Morris of the Friends explained, the project has four phases:
  • research into maps, tax and real estate records, and historic accounts to determine what land to focus on and what to look for there.
  • archeology. Project Archeologist Meg Watters didn’t dig; rather, she oversaw a careful survey of the land with lasers, ground-probing radar, metal detectors, and other technology. In addition, military experts will walk through the area to give their opinions about how the opposing armies would have reacted to the site. Watters’s report is due this summer.
  • interpretation and education with the findings and artifacts discovered during the investigation. Plans include traditional displays and signage, and also the possibility of an app depicting the 1775 terrain (as we understand it) that people could use while walking the area today.
  • land rehabilitation under the guidance of the National Park Service’s Olmsted Center. It’s unclear whether there will be a recommendation or resources to return the whole tract to a semblance of its 1775 appearance, but right now it’s wooded and unwelcomingly overgrown.
The Parker’s Revenge project caught the attention of folks at the Civil War Trust. That foundation has been around for over fifteen years, having grown out of smaller groups. Its leaders now have lots of experience in preserving battlefield land, and they’re expanding their scope to the Revolutionary War and War of 1812 with an initiative called Campaign 1776. That push uses the minute man as part of its symbol, and of course its organizers are interested in the iconic Lexington and Concord battle.

Campaign 1776 has now contributed to the Parker’s Revenge project in two ways. It agreed to buy an acre of adjacent land with the plan of eventually donating that to the park. People think that British flankers moved across that area as they circled north to drive Parker’s men off their high ground. The property was owned by the town of Lincoln but not necessarily set aside for preservation.

In addition, Campaign 1776 and the Society of the Cincinnati’s American Revolution Institute helped to fund the archeology with a $25,000 grant, the Civil War Trust’s first archeology project. That donation was represented at the event by one of those symbolic oversized checks proudly held up by several people in suits.

Meanwhile, no fewer than four school groups passed by on field trips, peering with more or less curiosity at what the grownups were doing. That shows how big an attraction Minute Man Park already is. With more depth and detail in its Parker’s Revenge interpretation, just a short distance from the visitor center in Lexington, the park may soon have more solid stories to tell.

Friday, June 12, 2015

N. C. Wyeth’s History Paintings in Sandwich

Heritage Museums and Gardens in Sandwich is hosting an exhibit titled “The Wyeths: America Reflected” through 27 September.

Of the forty-five paintings on display, sixteen were created by N. C. Wyeth for a book titled Poems of American Patriotism, published in 1922. Those originals are now owned by the Hill School in Pennsylvania.

That collection included many poems about the Revolutionary War. Wyeth made paintings based on Guy Humphrey McMaster’s “The Old Continentals” (shown here), Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Francis Miles Finch’s “Nathan Hale,” and James Russell Lowell’s “Washington,” as well as a title page image of Washington on horseback.

Another of the Revolutionary images is “Warren’s Address,” based on a poem by John Pierpont. At first I assumed this refers to Dr. Joseph Warren’s oration in remembrance of the Boston Massacre in March 1775. But no, that canvas (shown here) depicts the doctor orating to the provincial troops on Bunker Hill—which never happened. Still, there’s a poem about it.

In the eighteenth century, these would be considered “history paintings,” one of the more distinguished branches of that visual art. John Singleton Copley settled in Britain in part because he could do the history paintings he dreamed of rather than just portraits.

In the early twentieth century, with mass reproduction making such pictures widely available, work like Wyeth’s was deemed mere illustration. But it’s once again being seen as worthy of museum display, at least alongside the painter’s fine-art descendants.

The Wyeth paintings are in the Heritage Museum’s Special Exhibitions Gallery, which itself is “a replica of a Revolutionary War fort originally located in New Windsor, New York.” Who knew one could find that in Sandwich?

(Thanks to Patrick Flaherty for calling this exhibit to my attention.)

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Keep Your Feet on the Ground at Bunker Hill

Last night I heard that the stairs inside the Bunker Hill Monument are closed to visitors because of a loose railing. Loose as in “lying on the floor.”

So if you were planning to spend the next couple of 80°F-degree days climbing those 294 steps to the top of the stone tower, you’ll have to adjust your plans. Some high-level repairs will have to take place before the monument interior becomes accessible again.

From 1843 until last year, one reward for climbing those stairs was to see the “Adams” cannon from Boston’s pre-Revolutionary militia artillery company. But, as I reported in 2014, that cannon has been removed for preservation. So there’s now less to be missed at the top of the tower.

Fortunately, the fine Bunker Hill Museum is nearby, and National Park Service rangers give talks on the grounds. On the afternoon of Sunday, 14 June, Charlestown will celebrate the battle and the modern community with its annual Bunker Hill Day Parade.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Gore Place’s Open Carriage House, 14 June

On Sunday, 14 June, Gore Place in Waltham is inviting the public to view its newly renovated (and recently relocated) carriage house.

This structure dates to 1793, thus making it even older than the brick mansion that defines the Gore Place estate.

Christopher and Rebecca Gore bought that property starting in 1789, then tore down the existing house and had their first mansion and outbuildings erected in 1793. After their wooden house burned while they were in Europe in 1799, they replaced it with the grander, more modern brick mansion in 1806.

The carriage house strikes me as particularly symbolic given Christopher Gore’s rise to wealth. His father, John Gore, was a decorative painter in pre-Revolutionary Boston. The Gore shop specialized in heraldic devices, so the elder Gore and his apprentices and at least one son, Samuel, no doubt painted coats of arms on richer men’s carriages. In particular, the Gores were close to Adino Paddock, a coachmaker with a large workshop opposite the Granary Burying-Ground, and Paddock’s customers included John Hancock.

After a Harvard education, training in the law, and lucrative investments in Continental bonds and many of Massachusetts’s earliest corporations, Christopher Gore could afford a grand carriage himself. His equipage even became a campaign issue when he ran for governor in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

In a 1790 letter to Samuel Adams, John Adams used the Gores as one of four examples of Boston families that had risen from the ranks of mechanics into genteel status as a “natural aristocracy.” Rebecca Gore’s family, the Paynes, was another.

The Gore Place open house, or open carriage house, is scheduled to take place from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. It is free, and light refreshments will be served. To know about how many people to expect, the site asks visitors to reserve a space through goreplace@goreplace.org.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Spelling a Cast over Turn

Last night, just after the season finale of Turn: Washington’s Spies, Den of Geek published my review of the episode. This link will take you to all my episode reviews from both seasons of the series and a couple of auxiliary articles about its historical background.

I must confess to having trouble getting all the actors’ names right, especially in season 1. I got to watch episodes on a website a couple of days before they were broadcast, but I didn’t receive any press material listing the cast. Therefore, I used I.M.D.B. as a reference.

Unfortunately, that website gets updated unsystematically around the same time I was writing. I struggled to match modern head shots of the actors with how they looked on the show in eighteenth-century coiffures. (Which, in some cases, weren’t eighteenth-century coiffures at all.)

Then there were discrepancies between the site and the show’s credits. The actor playing Judge Richard Woodhull is Kevin T. McNally on Turn, Kevin McNally on I.M.D.B. The opening credits list the actor who plays Robert Rogers in all-caps as “ANGUS MacFADYEN.” I.M.D.B. calls him Angus Macfadyen. And for the first season I usually called him Angus Macfayden because that seemed more familiar.

Likewise, on some tight deadlines I turned Burn Gorman into Burn Gorham and Samuel Roukin into Simon Roukin—probably miscued by his character’s name, Simcoe. Those were my careless mistakes.

But the actors’ names really didn’t help. Mary Woodhull is played by Meegan Warner, not Megan Warner. Jordan/Akinbode is played by Aldis Hodge, not Hodges. And then there’s the man who plays Maj. John Andre:
JJ Feild
Not J.J. Not Jayjay. And not Fields or even Field. Feild. My spellcheck changes it every time.

I resolved to be more careful the second season. I knew it would be a bigger challenge as Turn added more regular characters, including Benedict Arnold and Margaret Shippen. As portrayed by:
Owain Yeoman and Ksenia Solo
Oh, come on!

Monday, June 08, 2015

Massachusetts Issues Invitations for a Stamp Act Congress—in New York

Two hundred fifty years ago on this date, the Massachusetts General Court took its first step to counter the new Stamp Act.

The process started two days earlier when James Otis, Jr., of Boston, proposed that the assembly respond to “the many difficulties to which the colonies are and must be reduced by the operation of some late acts of Parliament.”

To do that, the legislature chose a committee of:
Other colonies were also preparing responses to the Stamp Act. Virginia’s House of Burgesses had issued some bold resolutions, as I recently discussed, but that news hadn’t reached Boston yet. And early in the year, even before Parliament passed the new law, the New York Assembly had raised the idea of a convention of delegates from different colonies—like the Albany Congress of 1754.

In her history of the Revolution, Mercy Warren gave credit for the same idea to someone closer:
All remonstrances against this innovating system had hitherto been without effect; and in this period of suspense, apprehension and anxiety, a general congress of delegates from the several provinces was proposed by the honorable James Otis, of Barnstable, in the Massachusetts. He was a gentleman of great probity, experience, and parliamentary abilities, whose religious adherence to the rights of his country had distinguished him through a long course of years, in which he had sustained some of the first offices in government.
“The honorable James Otis, of Barnstable,” was also Mercy Warren’s father. (According to Benson J. Lossing, he made this proposal while visiting the Warrens in Plymouth with her brother James; however, I’ve found no confirmation for that.)

The younger Otis was most likely the driving force behind the Massachusetts committee’s report:
The committee appointed to consider what dutiful, loyal, and humble address may be proper to make to our gracious Sovereign and his Parliament, in relation to the several acts passed, for levying duties and taxes on the colonies, have attended that service, and are humbly of opinion:

That it is highly expedient there should be a meeting, as soon as may be, of committees from the Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, in the several colonies on this continent, to consult together on the present circumstances of the colonies, and the difficulties to which they are and must be reduced by the operation of the late acts of Parliament for levying duties and taxes on the colonies, and to consider of a general and humble address to his Majesty and the Parliament, to implore relief.

And the committee are further of opinion, that a meeting of such committees should be held at New-York, on the first Tuesday of October next, and that a committee of three persons be chosen by this House on the part of this Province, to attend the same.

And that letters be forthwith prepared and transmitted to the respective Speakers of the several Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses in the colonies aforesaid, advising them of the resolution of this House thereon, and inviting such Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, to join this with their committees, in the meeting, and for the purposes aforesaid.
The legislature unanimously adopted the committee’s proposal. It then chose White, Otis, and [I believe] Joseph Lee of Cambridge to “prepare a draft of letters to be sent to the respective Speakers of the several Houses of Representatives in the colonies.” Again, Otis is usually considered the principal author of the circular letter that resulted:
Province of Massachusetts Bay. Boston, June 8, 1765.

Sir—

The House of Representatives of this Province in the present session of the General Court, have unanimously agreed to propose a meeting, as soon as may be, of committees from the Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, of the several British colonies on this continent, to consult together on the present circumstances of the colonies, and the difficulties to which they are and must be reduced by the operation of the acts of Parliament for levying duties and taxes on the colonies; and to consider of a general and united, dutiful and humble representation of their condition to his Majesty and the Parliament, to implore relief.

The House of Representatives of this Province have also voted to propose that such meeting be at the city of New-York, on the first Tuesday of October next, and have appointed a committee of three of their members to attend that service, with such as the other Houses of Representatives, or Burgesses, in the several colonies may think fit to appoint to meet him: And the committee of the House of Representatives of this Province are directed to repair to said New-York, on said first Tuesday of October next, accordingly.

If, therefore, your honorable House should agree to this proposal, it would be acceptable, that as early notice of it as possible might be transmitted to the Speaker of the House of Representatives of this Province.

SAMUEL WHITE, Speaker.
The Massachusetts legislature also chose Ruggles, Partridge (a veteran of the Albany Congress), and Otis as delegates to this Stamp Act Congress, if it were actually to take place.