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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Friday, July 31, 2015

Boston’s Latest Liberty Tree

This is a photo of the Liberty Tree outside the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library’s main building as it appeared earlier this week.

There are related displays in some of the branch libraries around the city, I understand. They’re all part of the sestercentennial of the first protests at the first Liberty Tree in 1765.

Each colorful leaf of that tree contains someone’s personal responses to the question “What does liberty mean to you?”

The “Liberty Tree 2015” project invites Bostonians and visitors to hang a leaf on this modern Liberty Tree or join the online conversation on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook using the #LibertyTreeBPL hashtag.

“Liberty Tree 2015” runs through 29 November at the Copley Square headquarters of the library. It’s one of a number of sestercentennial commemorations that I’ll highlight over the next few days.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Remembering Mary Katherine Goddard the Right Way

Earlier this month the Baltimore Sun reported on the installation of a historical plaque in a downtown Rite-Aid pharmacy.

That drugstore is on the probable site of the Goddard print shop in 1777. On 18 January of that year, Mary Katherine Goddard issued a broadside reprinting the Declaration of Independence with the names of all the Continental Congress delegates who had signed the document so far.

The Sun article has such headlines as “How a Baltimore woman defied the Redcoats” and “See how Mary Katherine Goddard helped win the Revolutionary War.”

It quotes Andrew Carroll, author of Here Is Where and promoter of this plaque, saying that her printing “was a total act of defiance. She was saying, ‘I’m stepping forward and I’m putting my life at risk in the expectation that other people will do the same. There's no turning back now.’”

Printing the Declaration, the article says, “put her life at risk.” An official at the Maryland Historical Society states of Goddard, “If the war had ended differently, the signers would have been convicted and hanged for treason, and she probably would have been hanged as well.”

For the record we should note that:
  • There were no redcoats in Baltimore to defy. The British army was no closer than Princeton, New Jersey, that month, and it never attacked or occupied Baltimore.
  • The British authorities had just held New Jersey signer Richard Stockton in custody and did not try or hang him.
  • There’s no example of the Crown executing an American printer for supporting independence or printing the Declaration. In fact, many British printers reprinted that text because it was significant news.  
  • While making the Declaration look nice for the Congress no doubt suggested support for its cause, Goddard’s status as a woman would have given her more insulation from political accusations—not that she was ever in British custody to be so accused.
Goddard’s work as both printer and postmaster was undoubtedly significant and deserves to be remembered. But the rhetoric around the installation of this plaque seems unduly sensational.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Heavy Three-Pounder in Sturbridge

Among the cannon to be fired at this weekend’s “Redcoats and Rebels” encampment at Old Sturbridge Village, I expect, will be the iron three-pounder that the museum village put back into service for Independence Day.

That gun, called a “heavy 3-pounder” because it’s about the size and weight of a light six-pounder, was made in the 1970s by the LaPans Foundry in Hudson Falls, New York. Old Sturbridge Village bought it for a negligible price a few years ago but has invested lots of resources into refurbishing the barrel and building a carriage. That matches what I found for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774-75: it had to budget much more for new cannon carriages than for the used cannon themselves.

As the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported, the museum craftsmen modeled their field carriage after those shown in John Muller’s A Treatise of Artillery (London, 1768). Blacksmith Derek Heidemann told the newspaper, “We were able to find an artillery manual that was printed in Massachusetts in 1817. It shows the same exact style of carriage and says the style of carriage that is devised by John Muller is still the one used by the Commonwealth. Now that’s 1817, but given that the U.S. government itself is having issues putting together carriages for the regular army, we think this is still the kind of carriage that is being used by the state militia in Massachusetts in the 1830s.”

The newspaper also prepared a video about the Old Sturbridge Village cannon project.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“Redcoats and Rebels” Returns to Sturbridge, 1-2 August

This weekend, 1-2 August, Old Sturbridge Village hosts what’s become the largest military reenactment in New England, its annual “Redcoats and Rebels” event.

Though the village normally portrays the 1830s, on this weekend its fields become a pair of military camps during the War for Independence. Nearly a thousand reenactors portray troops from America, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Spain, as well as civilians accompanying them.

Daytime events on the schedule include:
  • Tours of the Crown and American camps
  • Drilling and inspection of the troops
  • Mock battles and skirmishes
  • “School of the Soldier” training demonstrations
  • Musket drilling with kids
  • Cannon demonstrations, not with kids
  • Martial music
  • 18th-century Fashions in the Press featuring military and civilian clothing
  • Camp laundry
  • Scouting technique demonstrations 
  • Battlefield hospital, with smallpox inoculations and treatment of the wounded
  • Soldiers’ daily life, including delivery of uniforms, pay calls, and prisoner exchanges
  • 18th-century baseball
  • “Service for the Troops”
  • 18th-century dances
  • Interactive miniature war gaming
On Saturday evening, the village will stay open three extra hours until 8:00 P.M. so visitors can walk through the camps at twilight. These hours will also include a reading of the letters of John and Abigail Adams at 6:00 and an artillery barrage, presumably not at 6:00.

Old Sturbridge recommends visitors buy tickets online ahead of time because this is one of the site’s most popular events.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Fight in Boston Harbor: A Vexillological Footnote

During last week’s investigation of the conflicting accounts of the June 1776 fight in Boston harbor that ended with the capture of troop transport ships from Scotland, Boston 1775 reader Peter Ansoff sent a message with some additional information. So I’m happily running it as a guest blog entry.

The schooners involved in the capture of the Scottish transports were not actually privateers, but the armed vessels commissioned by Gen. George Washington to prey on British commerce. One of them, the Hancock, was commanded by Samuel Tucker, who later served with distinction in the Continental Navy. Commodore Tucker wrote a short sketch of the affair in 1818, which was published in John H. Sheppard’s biography of Tucker in 1868:
The first cruise I made was performed in January 1776, and I had to purchase the small arms to encounter the enemy with money from my own pocket, or go without them; and the consort mentioned above [his wife] made the banner I fought under: the field of which was white, and the union was green, made therein in the figure of a pine tree, made of cloth of her own purchasing and at her own expense. These colors I wore in honor of the country—which has so nobly rewarded me for my past services—and the love of their maker, until I fell in with Colonel Archibald Campbell…
This is one of only two first-hand descriptions of “Pine Tree” flags carried by Washington’s cruisers, the other being the well-known flag of Capt. Sion Martindale’s brig Washington, captured by the British in December 1775.

Tucker’s description is different from the modern conception of the Pine Tree flag, in that the pine tree is in a union (or canton, a small rectangle in the upper hoist corner), rather than in the middle of a plain field. Tucker’s description is a bit puzzling. The white field and the green union are clear enough, but what color was the pine tree in the union? Or does his phrase “made therein” simply suggest a small green pine tree in the upper hoist corner of the flag, without a defined union? There is also no mention of the “Appeal to Heaven” motto that appeared on the Washington’s flag and is standard on modern Pine Tree flag replicas.

Tucker then recounts the capture of the troop ships George and the Annabella:
About ten P.M. a severe conflict ensued, which held about two hours and twenty minutes. I conquered them with great carnage on their side, it being in the night, and my small barque, about seventy tons burden, being very low in the water, I received no damage in loss of men, but lost a complete set of new sails by the passing of their balls; then the white field and the pine tree union were riddled to atoms. I was then immediately supplied with a new suit of sails and a new suit of colors, made of canvas and bunting of my own prize goods.
Unfortunately, this is no clearer with respect to what the “pine tree union” looked like.

Nor was Tucker’s phrase “I conquered them” clear that his Hancock was not the only ship in the battle with the George and Annabella, nor (by all other accounts) the biggest, most effective American ship during the final confrontation. But Capt. Seth Harding’s 1776 report had left Tucker and his colleagues out, so maybe Tucker figured this was only fair.

The image above is merely symbolic of the pine tree flag since we don’t even know what the pine looked like, much less the rest of the flag.

Thanks again, Peter!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Remembering Revere in Revere

The city of Revere on Boston’s North Shore was named after Paul Revere in 1871, just a decade after Henry W. Longfellow’s poem turned the silversmith into a historical celebrity.

This weekend Revere Beach is hosting its annual International Sand Sculpting Festival. To launch the event, all the professional sculptors collaborated on a construction called “The Spirit of Massachusetts.” The detail above shows Revere, his horse, and the spire of the Old North Church, along with some other Boston landmarks.

I don’t know how well this sculpture or the others will fare in today’s weather, but I wanted to highlight that public art before it’s washed away.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hannigan on Slavery in Concord, 28 July

On Tuesday, 28 July, the Concord Museum will host a talk by John Hannigan titled “‘She Ought to be Set at Liberty’: Slavery and Freedom in 18th-Century Massachusetts.”

Hannigan is earning his Ph.D. in History at Brandeis University. I’ve enjoyed his eye-opening presentations on African-American soldiers in the first Continental Army, how the war affected slavery in New England and vice versa.

It looks like this talk will be about how slavery was woven into the fabric of life in eighteenth-century New England. As the museum’s event description acknowledges, Concord is more used to celebrating its links to abolitionism, not slavery. Town histories even praised the Loyalist lawyer Daniel Bliss because he wrote an anti-slavery tombstone for John Jack, shown here.

But the past decade has brought new attention to the wider experience of slavery in the region with such projects as Elise Lemire’s Black Walden, the Robbins House, and the exhibit this talk comes in conjunction with, “Thomas Dugan, Yeoman of Concord” (described here).

Hannigan’s talk is scheduled for 6:00-7:00 P.M. Admission is $5 for museum members, $10 for everyone else. Reservations are required; to make them, visit the museum website or call 978-369-9763, ext. 216.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Matching Up the Stories of the Fight in Boston Harbor

Last week I started quoting lengthy passages from an 1835 United Service Journal article about the capture of ships carrying men of the 71st Regiment of Foot in Boston harbor, said to be extracted from letters that a young Scottish officer wrote to his sister.

This week I quoted reports of that event written in 1776 by various participants, including the commander of those Crown forces. Some salient details match, but others are far off.

For example, Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell wrote about how a cannon shot from a shore battery was his first clue that Boston was no longer in British hands:
As we stood up for Nantasket road, an American battery opened upon us; which was the first serious proof we had that there could scarcely be many of our friends at Boston…
The 1835 account echoes that moment with more drama:
The men were clustering in the forecastle, and the officers leaning over the taffrail, with glasses turned towards the town, when a flash from the battery on the island, followed by an instantaneous report, caused us to look up. We had scarce done so, when a ball, after touching the water once or twice in its course, buried itself in a swell of the sea, just under our stern. We stared with astonishment one upon another, for the signal—if such it was—had been very awkwardly managed; but ere a Word had been exchanged, another and another gun was fired, the shots from which passed some ahead, some far over, and one right through the shrouds, so as to cut away several of the ratlins. “This is a rough reception,” said our commanding officer; “and devil take me if I don’t see into it.”
(When first quoting that passage I assumed the battery was part of Castle William, but it doesn’t have to be. The letter from a Massachusetts artillery officer specified it was on “point alderson,” or Point Allerton in Hull. Nearby Fort Revere, on a site first fortified in 1776 and decommissioned in 1947, is shown above.)

But the 1835 account is entirely missing what must have been a significant part of the Scottish ships’ voyage: four small American privateers had chased them toward Boston all the previous day. Campbell refers to that engagement, counting casualties from it. So does the artillerist’s letter and even Capt. Seth Harding’s battle report (though he left out the role of those ships in the final capture).

Instead, the 1835 account says that after that first shot from the battery, the two Scottish troop ships were attacked by ”a numerous flotilla, consisting of schooners, launches, and row-boats of the most formidable size, put off from the town.“ No contemporaneous report agrees with that.

The 1835 account says the British troops, once they realized their commanders had to surrender, destroyed their equipment to ensure it didn’t fall into Yankee hands:
our soldiers no sooner found themselves below, than they ran to the arm-racks. In five minutes there was not a musket there of which the stock was not broken across. The belts, cartouchboxes, and bayonets likewise were caught up, and all, together with the fragments of the firelocks, were cast into the sea.
When American authorities searched the George, they found “31 small-arms,” “361 black shoulder belts; 74 bundles and 1 bag gun straps;” “7 bundles leather bullet pouches; 3 cartouch boxes;” and “2 bags with belts and knapsacks.”

So the troops captured on that ship didn’t destroy everything, but that does seem like a small number of muskets for so many soldiers. Gen. George Washington’s aide-de-camp Samuel Blachley Webb wrote in July that the commander-in-chief thought as much: “he is surprized that out of upwards of 400 Prisoners only 73 Arms have been sent on, as he supposed every man must have his Arms with him”.

However, so far I’ve found no statement from Massachusetts explaining that the prisoners had destroyed most of their arms. Webb seems to have suspected that local authorities had requisitioned those weapons for their own forces rather than sending them south to the Continental Army. So Massachusetts officials did have a reason to explain.

Finally, the 1835 story describes the American attackers’ last act this way:
they plundered the transport of everything contained in it, whether of public property or belonging to individuals; and finding on examination that it would not float, they summed up all by setting it on fire.
But an advertisement from 1776 show that within a couple of months all three of the captured troop ships were up for auction at Hancock’s Wharf. No period source indicates that the Americans burned any of those vessels.

As a result of those discrepancies with the fight in Boston harbor, the event of the 1835 narrative that prompted the most contemporaneous records, I’ve reluctantly concluded that the United Service Journal articles aren’t a reliable source. Not just the narrator’s flight from captivity and the Indian ambush in darkest Connecticut (which always seemed like a romance), but also the British officers listening to the Declaration of Independence and even their difficulties training the new Highlander soldiers aboard ship.

It’s possible that some 71st Regiment officer’s letters or anecdotes were the basis for those articles. But any eyewitness memories have been so built up with additional detail and drama—whether extrapolated, drawn from published sources, or made up—that it’s impossible to separate out what’s authentic from what’s wishful. Which is too bad, because those articles contain some really good storytelling.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Dividing the Prizes from Scotland

In June 1776, Gen. Artemas Ward wrote to his commander-in-chief, Gen. George Washington, with news of the fight in Boston harbor:
P.S. June 17. I have just received information that the Continental Privateers have taken and brought into Nantasket in this Harbour a Ship and a Brig from Glasgow with two hundred and ten Highland troops on board, with their baggage; the Ship mounted six carriage guns, and fought the Privateers some time before she struck, we had four men wounded, the Enemy had three privates killed and a Major, and eight or ten men wounded. The prisoners are coming up to Town among whom is a Colonel. Any further particulars that may be of importance I shall forward as soon as I can learn them.
This was news not just because of the prisoners, but because of the military supplies on those ships. The Continental Army had first claim on those useful supplies.

For example, the ship George was inventoried on 22 June and found to contain:
20 fusees; 31 small-arms; 6 kegs bullets and shot; 6 bundles paper for cartridges; part of a bag flints; 2 kegs part filled with cartridges; a cask containing a few books and 1 bundle bedding; 2 trunks and 2 portmanteaus; 1 black trunk; 1 bundle; 1 black canteen; 1 red bundle; 1 chest; 1 portmanteau; 3 casks porter; 1 cask hams; 3 casks bottled wine; 7 hogsheads and part of a hogshead rum; 361 black shoulder belts; 74 bundles and 1 bag gun straps; 1 field bed and 2 bundles binding; 4 markees; the Quartermaster’s camp equipage; Colonel [Archibald] Campbell’s ditto; a bundle ditto not directed; 3 field tents and materials; 6 bundles tent poles for markees; 12 bundles common tent poles; 7 bundles leather bullet pouches; 3 cartouch boxes; 6 kegs bullets and shot; 23 camp tents; a remnant of ticklenburg; 1 cask and 2 bundles tent-pins; 1 cask tin canteens, and 69 loose; 10 tin pans; 23 camp kettles; 1 package tent stools; 82 canvass knapsacks; 199 hair knapsacks; a bale containing 80 blankets; a bale containing 50 watch-coats; 1 box black plumes; 4 bundles soldiers’ clothing; 1 bundle stockings; 3 pair shoes; 2 bags with belts and knapsacks; 2 pieces plaid; 7 bonnets; 2 pieces and part of a piece duffel; 144 soldiers' blankets; 33 beds; 85 pillows; a bale of brown paper; 44 hatchets; 1 bundle twine; 1 cask sheathing nails; 2 casks five-penny nails; 1 set small weights; 2 iron spades; part of a cask currants; 15 barrels pease; 6 barrels flour; 2 barrels barley; 9 barrels pork; 27 barrels beef; 19 kegs butter; 15 barrels oat meal; 2 tierces and part of a tierce vinegar; 2 barrels herring; 1 bag rice; 74 bags bread; 14 hogsheads bread; water cask.
Washington’s aide Samuel Blachley Webb asked the Continental agent in Massachusetts to send “From Ship George All the Fuzees, Small Arms & Bayonetts, Shoulder Straps, Gun Straps—Leather Bullet pouches, hair knapsacks, Canvass Knapsacks, Belts, Flints, Marquees, and Soldiers Tents, Common Tent Poles, Tin Canteens, Camp Kettles, Blankets, Watch Coats, Soldiers Cloathing, Stockings[,] Black Plumes.”

The rest of the cargo and the ships themselves were to be auctioned off, as announced in the 15 August New-England Chronicle. The proceeds were to be divided up between the local government and the captains and crews involved in capturing them.

However, as Jackson Kuhl explained in this Journal of the American Revolution article:
Everything else was sold but because the transports were Royal Navy[-leased] ships, the money first had to flow through the office of the naval agent in Boston, where it evaporated — used to pay for expenses of the Continental navy. Neither the state of Connecticut nor the men of Defence ever saw a penny of it.

So afterwards, Captain [Seth] Harding, along with Governor [Jonathan] Trumbull and the Council of Safety, made a very conscious decision not to strike military targets but instead to pursue merchant ships.
That’s one of the results of a privateering and prize system: it creates incentives for warships to seek the biggest profits rather than the biggest military benefits.

TOMORROW: Assessing the evidence.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

“A tolerable cannonade ensued”

Here’s yet another contemporaneous account of the capture of British troop transports in Boston harbor in June 1776, this time from the ranking army officer aboard those ships: Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell (shown here).

Campbell’s letter to his commander, Gen. William Howe, was printed in several American newspapers that year and then reprinted in British magazines. He regretfully reported:
On the 16th of June, the George and Annabella, transports, with two companies of the 71st regiment of Highlanders, made the land of Cape Anne, after a passage of seven weeks from Scotland, during the course of which we had not an opportunity of speaking to a single vessel that could give us the smallest information of the British troops having evacuated Boston.

On the 17th, at daylight, we found ourselves opposite to the harbour’s mouth of Boston; but from contrary winds, it was necessary to make several tacks to reach it. Four schooners, which we took to be pilots, or armed vessels in the service of his Majesty (but which were afterwards found to be four American privateers, of eight carriage-guns, twelve swivels and forty men each), were bearing down upon us at four o’clock in the morning. At half an hour thereafter, two of them engaged us; and, about eleven o’clock, the other two were close along-side.

The George transport, on board of which Maj. [Robert] Menzies and I, with 108 men of the second battalion, the adjutant, the quartermaster, two lieutenants, five volunteers, were passengers, had only six pieces of cannon to oppose them; and the Annabella, on board of which was Capt. [George] MacKenzie, together with two subalterns, two volunteers, and 82 private men of the first battalion, had only two swivels for her defence.

Under such circumstances, I thought it expedient for the Annabella to keep ahead of the George, that our artillery might be used with more effect and less obstruction. Two of the privateers having stationed themselves upon our larboard quarter, and two upon our starboard quarter, a tolerable cannonade ensued, which, with very few intermissions, lasted till four o’clock in the evening, when the enemy bore away, and anchored in Plymouth harbour. Our loss upon this occasion was only three men mortally wounded on board the George, one man killed, and one man slightly wounded, on board the Annabella.

As my orders were for the port of Boston, I thought it my duty, at this happy crisis, to push forward into the harbour, not doubting I should receive protection, either from a fort, or from some ship of force stationed there for the security of our fleet.

Toward to close of the evening, we perceived the four schooners that were engaged with us in the morning, joined by the brig Defence, of sixteen carriage-guns, twenty swivels, and 117 men; and a schooner of eight carriage guns, twelve swivels, and 40 men, got under way, and made towards us. As we stood up for Nantasket road, an American battery opened upon us; which was the first serious proof we had that there could scarcely be many of our friends at Boston; and we were too far embayed to retreat, especially as the wind had died away and the tide of flood not half expended.

After each of the vessels having twice run aground, we anchored at George’s Island, and prepared for action; but the Annabella, by some misfortune or other, got aground so far astern of the George, we could expect but a feeble support from her musketry.

About eleven o’clock, four of the schooners anchored right upon our bow, and one right astern of us. The armed brig took her station on our starboard tide, at the distance of 200 yards, and hailed us to strike the British flag.

Although the mate of our ship, and every sailor on board, the captain only excepted, refused positively to fight any longer, I have the pleasure to inform you, that there was not an officer, non-commissioned officer, or private man of the 71st, but what stood to their quarters, with a ready and cheerful obedience. On our refusing to strike the British flag, the action was renewed, with a good deal of warmth on both sides; and it was our misfortune, after the sharp combat of an hour and a half, to have expended every shot that we had for our artillery.

Under such circumstances, hemmed in, as we were, with six privateers, in the middle of an enemy’s harbour, beset with a dead calm, without the power of escaping, or even the most distant hope of relief, I thought it my duty not to sacrifice the lives of gallant men wantonly in the arduous attempt of an evident impossibility.

In this unfortunate affair, Maj. Menzies and seven private soldiers were killed; the quartermaster and twelve private soldiers wounded. The Major was buried, with the honours of war, at Boston.
Campbell’s account agrees in notable details with the Connecticut captain Seth Harding’s, quoted yesterday: both men said the serious engagement began at 11:00 P.M. and continued for ninety minutes. Campbell also mentioned shots from “an American battery,” as described in the Massachusetts artillery officer’s letter quoted on Monday.

It’s striking that Capt. Harding’s report to the Connecticut government said nothing about those shore guns. He also wrote nothing about other American ships being a factor in the fight on the night of 18-19 June, though both Col. Campbell and the artillerist said five schooners were involved. Of course, Harding was gearing up to claim the British ships as prizes, and he wanted the maximum share.

TOMORROW: More of the paper trail.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

“Upon which an Engagement began”

Yesterday’s account by a Massachusetts artillerist of a battle with British troop transports in Boston harbor mentioned “a fine privateer Brigt. commanded by Capt. Harding of New Haven.”

That brig had actually been commissioned and equipped by the colony of Connecticut. Its captain was Seth Harding (1734-1814), a native of Eastham, Massachusetts, who had also spent time sailing from Nova Scotia.

Harding’s name appeared as “Seth Harden” when the 24 June 1776 Norwich Packet printed his 19 June report from Boston to Connecticut governor Jonathan Trumbull:
I SAILED on Sunday last from Plymouth---soon after we came to sail, I heard a considerable Firing to the Northward---in the Evening fell in with four armed Schooners, near the Entrance of Boston Harbour, who informed me they had been engaged with a Ship and Brig, and were obliged to quit them.---

I soon after came up into Nantasket Road, where I found the Ship and Brig at an Anchor. I immediately fell in between the two, and came to Anchor about eleven o’Clock at Night. I hailed the ship, who answered, from Great-Britain.---

I ordered her to strike her Colours to America.

They answered me by asking what Brig is that?

I told them the Defence.

I then hailed him again, and told him I did not want to kill their Men, but have their Ship I would at all Events; again desired them to strike; upon which the Major (since dead) said yes, I’ll strike, and fired in a Broadside upon me, which I immediately returned; upon which an Engagement began, which continued three Glasses [i.e., ninety minutes], when the Brig and Ship both struck.

In this Engagement I had nine wounded, none killed; the Enemy had 18 killed, and a Number wounded-----My officers and Men behaved with great Bravery, no Men could out do them.---We took out of the above Vessels two hundred and ten Prisoners, among whom is Colonel [Archibald] Campbell, of General Frazer’s Regiment of Highlanders---the Major [Robert Menzies] was killed.-------

Yesterday a Ship was seen in the Bay, which came towards the Mouth of the Harbour, upon which I came to sail with four Schooners in Company; we came up with her, and took her without any Engagement; there were on board about one hundred and twelve Highlanders.
Harding continued to have success commanding privateers for Connecticut. In 1778 he received a commission in the Continental Navy, where his luck was not so shining.

TOMORROW: Yet another battle report from 1776.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Fight from the Other Side

For the past few days I’ve been quoting an 1835 account written from the perspective of a young British officer captured in Boston harbor in June 1776.

That article names “Colonel Crofts” as the American official who took charge of him and his fellow prisoners. I wondered if that was Thomas Crafts, colonel in charge of Massachusetts’s artillery force (show here).

As it happens, we also have an “Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Colony Train, at Nantasket, under the Command of Col. Crafts, to his Friend in Boston, June 17, 1776,” describing that capture from the opposite direction. It was published in the 20 June 1776 Continental Journal.

Before quoting that, I should mention that Crafts’s regiment was stocked with Boston businessmen active in prewar politics, so the opening of the letter drops a lot of familiar names:
My dear Friend,

I promis’d to give you a short account of our transactions—We embarked with a part of Col. [Thomas] Marshall’s and [Josiah] Whitney’s Regiment late on Thursday evening for the lower harbour, under the Command of Major [Paul] Revere. The whole expedition directed by General [Benjamin] LINCOLN, Capt. [James] Swan for Petticks Island, Major Revere and Capt. [Thomas] Melvill for Nantasket: Capt. [Joseph] Balch for Hoff’s Neck and Capt. [Jonathan W.] Edes for Moonhead, and Capt. [Edward] Burbeck of the Continental Train with 500 men for Long-Island Head.—
The troops’ first mission was to fire cannon at the British warships still hanging around the harbor. They drove off that force, leaving no one to warn incoming British ships that the port had changed hands.
On Sunday afternoon we saw a ship and a Brigt. standing in for the Light-House channel, chased and fir’d upon by 4 privateers, who frequently exchang’d broad sides. We suppos’d them to be part of the Scotch fleet, got every man to his quarters, and carried one 18-pounder to point alderson, on purpose to hinder their retreat, should they get into the road, opposite where we had 3 18 pounders. About 5 o’clock the privateers left them and stood for the southward, when the ship and Brig crouded all their sail for the channel.

Our orders were not to fire till the last got a breast of us. In tacking she got aground just under our cannon; when we hail’d her to strike to this Colony: They refus’d, and we fired one 18-pounder loaded with round and cannister shot, when she struck and cried out for quarters. We order’d the boat and captain on shore, and then fired at the ship; but being quite dark, we suppos’d she had struck. By this time the privateers came up. A Capt. of the Highlanders, in the Brigt’s boat came on shore. Sometime after the ship got under way, and stood for the narrows; when a fine privateer Brigt. commanded by Capt. [Seth] Harding of New Haven, (who we hear came in this bay on purpose to meet our old friend Darson) and 5 Schooners gave chase.

The Brig came a long side, when a hot engagement ensu’d which lasted three quarters of an hour, when the ship struck. The Brigt floating took the advantage of the confusion and attempted to follow, both supposing the enemy in possession of Boston. We found them from Scotland, with highlanders to join General Howe. The ship had on board 114, the Brigt. 74. The former lost in the engagement Major Menzies, 8 privates, and 13 wounded. The latter 1 killed by the privateers in the day:—The privateer Brigt, had 3 wounded, one suppos’d mortally.
The mention of Maj. Robert Menzies’s death confirms that this was the same ship and the same fight.

TOMORROW: Capt. Harding’s luck.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Escape from Connecticut?

The further the British officer’s story printed in the United Service Journal in 1835 goes on, the more melodramatic and less credible it becomes.

At first the narrative sticks pretty closely to the documented experiences of the officers of the 71st Regiment. They were still prisoners in Boston at the end of 1776. But with the Continental Army suffering reverses and rumors that Gen. Charles Lee was being treated badly in Crown custody (he wasn’t), their conditions changed. Instead of letting Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell walk around Boston on parole, the Massachusetts authorities sent him out to the county jail in Concord—conditions he complained about to Gen. George Washington.

The experiences of Campbell’s subalterns are less well documented. This account says that the narrator and a fellow captured officer, “Captain Menzies,” were marched out to Lexington, ”a pretty village, built round a large green or common, in which were a church, an inn, and a blacksmith’s forge.” The two men had already started to talk about escaping.
We had…gone so far as to provide ourselves with disguises; with sailors’ dresses, rough jackets and trousers, such as were worn by the fishermen along the coast, and would therefore, we trusted, some day or another, do us good service. Havresacks also had been procured, in which a change of linen and provisions might be stowed away; and, above all, we had purchased, with a view of guarding against the worst, clasp-knives, with blades six inches in length.
Confined upstairs in that Lexington inn (we know there was more than one tavern in the town, but let’s assume it was Buckman’s Tavern, shown above), the officers got the lieutenant, sergeant, and corporal in their guard drunk over dinner.
It was now past midnight; and the silence which prevailed elsewhere gave notice that the people of the house, and probably the troops on duty, were all fast asleep. . . . Menzies passed on tiptoe towards the door, into the staple of which, so as to keep the latch from being lifted, he quietly thrust a knife. Meanwhile I stole to the window, and threw it open.

The night was as dark as pitch; so dark indeed, as to render fruitless every endeavour to ascertain how far we were from the ground. There was not a star in the heavens; and over the village swept a low moaning wind, the sure prelude to a storm. In some respects all this was in our favour: the excessive darkness would help to baffle pursuit were we fairly in flight, and the wind would probably drown whatever noise we might make in descending. But to descend in total ignorance both of the spot which was to receive us and of the position of the sentinels, whom we could not doubt the officer had planted, was what we should have hesitated about doing had a less urgent necessity driven us on.
The author makes the jump, and in good literary fashion the narrative breaks there, to resume in the following issue.

The second installment of this account (which is the third in the magazine’s “Traditions of the American War of Independence” series) picks up from that moment with the narrator realizing he’s badly hurt his ankle. He and Menzies hide from pursuers in the woods, get separated crossing a deep stream and reunited, and overpower a suspicious rural couple. There are long passages on the narrator’s despair about his ankle and the experience of being alone in the forest. There’s a great deal of male bonding between the narrator and Menzies.

Alas, we have Lt. Col. Campbell’s letter listing all the officers who fell into the Bostonians’ hands in June 1776, and that list includes no captain named Menzies. (Maj. Robert Menzies died in the fight when the transport ships were captured.) So our author has either forgotten his companion’s name, disguised his identity, or made it all up.

Other details defy confirmation. The account quotes from a paper describing the two escapees for American pursuers: “One considerably taller than the other; dressed in frieze jackets and trowsers; supposed to pass themselves off as seafaring men.” I’ve found no runaway ad with those phrases, but the account doesn’t say that was a published advertisement, and it’s easy to excuse the author from remembering the exact words.

Likewise, the geography remains murky. The narrator apparently thought he was in Connecticut soon after escaping, yet mentions “Holleston,” “Providence River,” and “Daubeny.” Are those odd details the result of imperfect knowledge and memory, or was the writer just making things up?

And then things get really weird. The narrator and Menzies are recaptured by American “riflemen,” along with an old man named Simcoe accused of being a Loyalist. With the narrator’s ankle still painful, he’s put into a wagon for the ride back to Boston. But then Indians and the Loyalist’s son burst from the woods to rescue them, killing and scalping all the American guards. Finally, the narrator and Menzies make it to New York. By that point, it seems more clear, whoever was penning the account was simply looking to entertain a British readership.

And was that the only point of this account all along?

TOMORROW: Back to the fight in Boston harbor.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

“A proceeding which we could not but regard as traitorous”

Yesterday’s installment from the 1835 United Service Journal article ended with the unnamed, and perhaps fictional or composite, author becoming a prisoner in Boston. He and comrades in His Majesty’s 71st Regiment had sailed into Boston harbor in June 1776 thinking the town was still held by the British.

The officers were reportedly put into the town jail for a night, but then the American “Governor” came to relieve them. The writer recalled this man as “Colonel Crofts,” and I’m trying to figure out if that’s an imperfect memory of Thomas Crafts, prewar political activist and colonel in charge of the Massachusetts artillery force in 1776.

Here’s the part of the account that first caught my eye, its description of days leading up to 18 July 1776 in Boston:
We gave our word of honour that we would not attempt to pass beyond a certain distance out of Boston, till the privilege of parole should be withdrawn, or an exchange of prisoners effected; and we became, in consequence, as much masters of our own time as was consistent with a moderate degree of surveillance. Besides, the kindness of Colonel Crofts did not end here: he caused excellent quarters to be assigned to us in the houses of certain families who were suspected of a leaning in favour of the royal cause; and he issued orders that our wants should be duly attended to, and the utmost respect paid to our persons. Here then, we were, prisoners at large, in a town famous, above all in the New World, for its hostility to the English, yet well treated both by the civil and military authorities; and with a fair prospect of spending our days among them till a war, just begun, should be brought, one way or another, to its close. . . .

Meanwhile we found what amusement we could in wandering over the town, and visiting the positions of Bunker’s Hill, Breed’s Hill, Dorchester, Charleston, and other points rendered memorable as the scene of recent operations. Among these, nothing struck us more forcibly than the site of the encampment which the Americans first occupied after the skirmish of Lexington. Many huts were yet standing in regular lanes or streets which crossed one another at right angles; and it was easy to perceive, that the same ingenuity which they were in the habit of exercising in the construction of their rude dwellings in the woods had been applied by the rebel heroes to the formation of their bivouac. We were forced to admit, while examining their lines, that in the use of the spade and the pickaxe—implements of war not less formidable than the musket and the cannon—our men would be no match for an enemy so skilful.

In this manner a whole month wore itself out, and listless indifference was beginning to mark the bearing of some, when an event befel which so far stood us in stead, that it furnished us, for awhile, with a subject of conversation. On the 17th of July, the British officers on parole received each a card from the Governor, requesting the honour of his attendance at a specified hour on the morrow, in the Town Hall. As rumours were already afloat touching the decided step that had been taken at Philadelphia, we were not without a suspicion as to the purport of this meeting; and we hesitated for a while, as to the propriety of giving the sanction of our countenance to a proceeding which we could not but regard as traitorous. Curiosity, however, got the better of scruples, which, to say the truth, were not very well founded; and it was resolved, after a brief consultation, that the invitation ought to be accepted.

Accordingly, at the hour appointed, we set out, arrayed in the full-dress uniform of our corps, and became witnesses to a spectacle which excited even in us feelings it would not, perhaps, be very easy to be defined. As we passed through the town, we found it thronged in all quarters with persons of every age, and both sexes. All were in their holiday suits, every eye beamed with delight, and every tongue was in rapid motion. King-street, Queen-street, and the other streets adjoining the Council Chamber, were lined with detachments from two battalions of infantry, tolerably well equipped; while in front of the jail, a brigade of artillery was drawn up, the gunners standing by their pieces with lighted matches; nor, to do them justice, was there any admixture of insolence in the joy which seemed to animate all classes.

Whether our lengthened residence among them, and the anxiety which we displayed never wantonly to offend their prejudices, had secured their esteem, or whether they considered it beneath the dignity of a grave people standing in a position so critical, to vent their spleen upon individuals entirely at their mercy, I do not know; but the marked respect with which we were treated both by soldiers and civilians could not be misunderstood. The very crowd opened a lane for us up to the door of the Hall, and the troops gave us, as we mounted the steps, the salute due to officers of our rank.

On entering the Hall we found it occupied by functionaries, military, civil, and ecclesiastical; among whom the same good humour and excitement prevailed, as among the people out of doors. They received us with great frankness and cordiality, and allotted to us such stations as enabled us to witness the whole of the ceremony, which was as simple as the most republican taste could have desired. Exactly as the clock struck one, Colonel Crofts, who occupied the chair, rose, and silence being obtained, read aloud the celebrated Declaration, which announced to the world that the tie of allegiance and protection which had so long held Britain and her North American colonies together, was for ever separated. This being finished, the gentlemen stood up, and each repeating the words as they were spoken by an officer, swore to uphold, at the sacrifice of life, the rights of his country.

Meanwhile, the town-clerk read from a balcony the Declaration of Independence to the crowd; at the close of which, a shout, begun in the Hall, passed like an electric spark to the streets, which rang with loud huzzas, the slow and measured boom of cannon, and the rattle of musketry. The batteries on Fort Hill, Dorchester Neck, the Castle, Nantucket, and Long Island, each saluted with thirteen guns—the artillery in the town fired thirteen rounds, and the infantry, scattered into thirteen divisions, poured forth thirteen volleys—all corresponding to the number of States which formed the Union.

What followed may be described in a few words. There was a banquet in the Council Chamber, where all the richer citizens appeared—where much wine was drunk, and many appropriate toasts given. Large quantities of liquor were distributed among the mob, whose patriotism of course grew more and more warm at every draught; and when night closed in, the darkness was effectually dispelled by a general and, what was termed then, a splendid illumination. I need not say that we neither joined, nor were expected to join, in any of the festivities. Having sufficiently gratified our curiosity, we returned to our lodgings, and passed the remainder of the evening in a frame of mind, such as our humiliating and irksome situation might be expected to produce.
According to a 21 July letter from Abigail Adams and the 25 July New-England Chronicle, Thomas Crafts did take a major part in the official reading of the Declaration of Independence, starting exactly at one o’clock on this date in 1776. The thirteen-gun salutes, the many toasts—they’re also in the published record.

But the 22 July Boston Gazette and 25 July Continental Journal said the “Sheriff of the County of Suffolk,” who was William Greenleaf, did the reading, as the Council had officially requested. An October 1841 letter from the sheriff’s son Daniel explained that he had asked Crafts to help out because he had a “weak voice,” and the colonel repeated each phrase in a bellow for the benefit of the crowd below.

In that case, the author of this account seems to have mixed up the two men, having the colonel read the Declaration inside the chamber and a “town clerk” then repeat it (as a whole?) to the crowd. Again, this purported reminiscence is a frustrating mix of nearly accurate detail and discrepancies.

TOMORROW: The story continues.

Friday, July 17, 2015

“Colonel Campbell reluctantly gave the word to strike”

If you kept track of the dates in yesterday’s extract from the United Service Journal in 1835, you noticed that the His Majesty’s 71st Regiment of Foot sailed from Scotland on 21 Apr 1776, after the Crown had evacuated Boston but before news of that event had time to reach Britain.

Therefore, when two of the ships carrying the 71st’s Highlanders reached Boston harbor, the guns of Castle William fired on them. Because that fort was now in American hands.

We pick up that account as the writer describes his British military companions coming to the same realization. Note, however, that the story starts with an anachronism that casts doubt on whether this memoir is authentic or reliable in its details. The U.S. of A. didn’t adopt the “thirteen stripes with the thirteen stars” as its national emblem until more than a year after the 71st Regiment reached Boston.
“By G–d,” exclaimed the skipper, “that is no union jack,”—and no union jack was it, sure enough. The thirteen stripes with the thirteen stars ornamented the flag-staff—a piece of coarse buntin having been slowly run up while the cannon were firing; and we were taught to our sorrow that we had laid ourselves in a position which admirably suited us to act as a mark for the inexperienced of the enemy’s gunners to practise upon.

Thick and fast came now the rebel shot, against which we had nothing in the world to oppose; for our miserable 4-pounders were too light to make an impression even on a fieldwork, and our distance from the shore was too great to permit of musketry being made available. Neither were our chances of escape at all satisfactory. The breeze had died wholly away, so that our sails, had we hoisted them, would have hung useless as gossamer-webs from the masts; while the run of the tide gave us the comfortable assurance that, in the event of our cable being cut, we should be carried directly ashore, under the very muzzles of the guns which now played upon us. . . .

Repeatedly the ship was hulled, and our mainmast, severely wounded in two places, threatened, should a third shot take effect, to go by the board; yet only three men had fallen, of whom one was a sailor. Though galled and annoyed, therefore, we did not think of surrendering; when, suddenly, a numerous flotilla, consisting of schooners, launches, and row-boats of the most formidable size, put off from the town. Onwards they came, and our glasses soon made us aware that they were all crowded with men; nor did many minutes elapse ere ample proof was given that most of the craft had cannon. They took up a position in line exactly abaft our beam; and while the shore battery raked us from stem to stern, they poured whole volleys of round and grape across our quarter.

Our commandant [Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell, shown above], so far from giving way under this accumulation of evils, seemed to take courage from it. He caused the ship’s guns to be traversed aft, and answered the enemy’s salute with admirable spirit, though, as the event proved, to but little purpose. But such a combat could not long be maintained. Seeing that our fire produced no visible effect, and perceiving that his men began to fall fast around him; warned also by the skipper, that the transport was so riddled as to render it impossible for her to float after the tide should have turned, Colonel Campbell reluctantly gave the word to strike; and our flag, which had hitherto floated both at the peak and from the mainmast head, was, with inexpressible mortification, hauled down. We shrugged up our shoulders as we gazed on one another, and felt that we were prisoners. . . .

Whether the smoke which, in a dead calm, rolled off heavily from the ship, obscured us, or whether, as in the bitterness of our chagrin, we were inclined to believe, the enemy saw, without regarding, our condition, I cannot tell; but for several minutes after all opposition on our part had ceased, they continued their fire. Shot after shot struck us, till there arose at last a wild cry, in which all ranks participated, that it would be better to perish like men, with arms in our hands, than thus stand idly to be mowed down by those who seemed determined to give no quarter. “Out with the boats!” was now heard from various quarters. “The island is not far off: let us make a dash at the battery; and if we cannot carry it, let us at all events sell our lives as dearly as we can.” But the utter hopelessness of such an attempt did not escape Colonel Campbell’s consideration. He therefore exerted himself to soothe his irritated followers, and sending most of them below, continued himself to walk the deck with the utmost composure.

When a fortress or a ship surrenders, it is in accordance with the laws of war, that all the arms, stores, and military implements contained in it, shall be handed over, exactly as they are, to the conquerors. Of this we were well aware; nor, when we hauled down our flag, was there the slightest intention on the part of any one on board to contravene the custom. But furious, at what they regarded as a wanton disregard of the dictates of humanity, our soldiers no sooner found themselves below, than they ran to the arm-racks. In five minutes there was not a musket there of which the stock was not broken across. The belts, cartouchboxes, and bayonets likewise were caught up, and all, together with the fragments of the firelocks, were cast into the sea.

Had Colonel Campbell been aware of what was going on, he would have doubtless put a stop to it; for he was a strict disciplinarian as well as a man of rigid honour; but the work of destruction went forward so rapidly, that long ere a whisper reached him there remained nothing further to be done. When, however, the enraged soldiers made a movement to throw the cannon likewise overboard, he withstood them; nor would he permit a particle of the spare ammunition in store to be injured. But his fair dealing in this instance was wasted: he saved the ship’s guns, it is true, but he did not succeed in creating a belief among the Americans that he was not a party to the destruction of the men’s muskets.

The enemy had continued their cannonade about a quarter of an hour, and several of our comrades had fallen under it, when they seemed to have discovered all at once, that our colours were not flying. The firing accordingly ceased; and a boat pushing ahead of their line, approached within hail to demand whether we had surrendered. We replied of course in the affirmative; upon which a signal was hung out for the flotilla to advance. The whole moved forward till they surrounded us on all hands, and sending their boarders over the chains, our decks were crowded with people, whose dress and language equally gave proof that they belonged to no regular service, naval or military. Such a cut-throat looking crew never indeed came together, except under the bloody flag of some fierce rover. There were landsmen in round frocks, with carving-knives stuck by their sides in place of daggers; there were militia men in all manner of dresses, armed with long duck-guns; and there were seamen—hardy and brave I do not doubt—but as ferocious in their bearing as if piracy were their profession, and life and death matters of no importance where interest came in the way. The latter were chiefly equipped with pistols and cutlasses, which they brandished with an air of insolent triumph, as uncalled for as it was unbecoming. . . .

Finally, they drove us, like a herd of oxen, on board of their small craft, and sent us, without a single article of baggage, to be towed in the schooners into Boston. This done, they plundered the transport of everything contained in it, whether of public property or belonging to individuals; and finding on examination that it would not float, they summed up all by setting it on fire.

As there was a strong tide against us, and the schooners overloaded with heavy cannon went much by the head, our progress towards the landing place proved slow; indeed the sun had set some time ere we gained the extreme edge of the Long Wharf. To say the truth, we experienced little mortification at the circumstance. Though not without curiosity as to the appearance of a town in which we had anticipated a very different reception, we were content to postpone its gratification, rather than become in open day, objects of impertinent remark to the rabble, who, we could not doubt, were assembled to greet us. Nor were we deceived in this expectation. The whole extent of the wharf was crowded with men, women, and children, all on foot to witness the arrival of the British prisoners, and all anxious to testify by their hootings and yells, how cordial was the abhorrence in which they held us. Through that crowd we were marched, our guards, as it appeared to us, being more anxious to exhibit the trophies of their own valour, than to protect the captives from insult; and having passed several streets, some of them tolerably capacious, we arrived ere long at a massy building which we were given to understand was the common jail. Into it the officers were thrust; while the men were moved off to a meeting-house hard by, where, under the close surveillance of a military guard, they passed the night. . . .

In this comfortless manner the night wore away, what little sleep any of us obtained being snatched upon the bare boards; but the morrow brought with it a change of circumstances considerably for the better. As if ashamed of the conduct of his subalterns, Colonel Thomas Crofts, the Governor of the place, sent his Aide-de-camp to assure us, that nothing but the lateness of the hour at which we arrived would have induced him to permit our being lodged in prison even for a single night; and that he was now ready either to release us on the customary terms, or to transfer us to a more commodious as well as respectable place of safe-keeping. We were at the same time invited to become his guests at breakfast; and offered every accommodation in the way of money and apparel of which we might stand in need.
There was no “Governor” in Massachusetts in 1776. The highest-ranking authorities were probably James Bowdoin, president of the Council, and Gen. Nathanael Greene, mopping up after the siege.

However, Thomas Crafts was the colonel in charge of the Massachusetts artillery force. That meant he was in charge of the cannon at Castle William and prominent in public affairs (as we’ll see tomorrow). So the account’s mention of “Thomas Crofts” is close enough to seem authentic, yet unlikely to have come from published historical sources. The colonel’s “Aide-de-camp’ might have been his young brother-in-law, Christopher Gore, who served as regimental clerk in that year.

Lt. Col. Campbell’s period as a prisoner is fairly well documented. Soon after he and the two transports full of soldiers were captured, he wrote letters to his superiors and family. One of Campbell’s dispatches was published in 1776.

This article from the United Service Journal is generally in accord with Campbell’s report. It’s conceivable that that was because the article’s author used Campbell’s letter and other available documents as source material. But there are also enough deviations and new details, such as the destroyed muskets and Col. “Crofts,” to suggest the writer was relying on personal memory. How reliable that memory was is another question.

TOMORROW: A town celebration.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

“This is a rough reception.”

I’ve been wrestling with the authenticity, if any, of a certain recollection of the Revolutionary War. It purported to be the account of a young officer in His Majesty’s 71st Regiment of Foot.

When the text first saw print in the February 1835 issue of the United Service Journal, a magazine for veterans of the British armed services, the editors prefaced it with these words:
We have this month the satisfaction of presenting to our readers the first portion of a narrative, which comprehends not only some striking historical details, but a good deal of stirring adventure. The original is contained in a series of letters addressed by the author to his sister, with which we have taken no other liberty than here and there to alter an expression, and to omit the customary head and tail pieces of epistolary communications. We do not know whether there be any members of the old 71st Regiment now alive, but if there be, the name of the writer, which we are requested to conceal, will be no secret to them. For ourselves we lament that any restrictions in this respect should be imposed on us, where none, we are quite sure, can be necessary. But all men have their prejudices.
That certainly suggests the editors had worked from original, contemporaneous documents. Of course, they could have lied. Or the officer or his sister or descendant could have sent them copies said to be accurate but actually augmented.

There are long sections of the document full of literary, even Romantic, descriptions that I don’t see in other officers’ letters to other sisters. Yet there are also accurate details that seem like they would only come from authentic source material, and errors unlikely to crop up if the writer was consulting books of history and geography to add verisimilitude.

In any event, the narrative begins:
On the 21st of April, 1776, the Frazer Highlanders—then numbered as the 71st regiment of the line—embarked at Greenock on board of a fleet destined for North America. . . . I had then the honour to rank as a lieutenant in the 7lst, having, like most of my brother officers, raised men for my commission. . . . The latter were excellent, nothing, indeed, could be superior for the recruits, having been collected chiefly from the lands of their chief, were, with few exceptions, young, able-bodied, and full of attachment to their superiors, whom, for the most part, they followed from motives of hereditary affection. But the former was, according to the criterion of the Horse Guards, bad enough. As a battalion, indeed, we knew nothing. Not only were we ignorant of the most common field-movements, but the very manual and platoon exercise was strange to us. . . .

[On board ship] The greater portion of every fine day was devoted to giving the men some knowledge of such portions of their duty as could be explained to them on board of ship. In the first place they were trained to obey the word of command when uttered in English—a language of which, when they first joined, they knew nothing. In the next place, they were taught to face, and wheel, and even to march, to handle their arms with gracefulness, and to fire; while occasionally an attempt was made to deploy from such a column as the narrow quarter-deck of a transport would admit of, into such a line as was compatible with a rolling sea. I must confess that the result of the latter manoeuvre was generally to set both men and officers laughing, and that, after repeated trials, it was laid aside. . . .

Time passed, and on the 16th of June, almost two months from the date of our embarkation on the Clyde, the look-out seamen, from the mast-head, greeted our ears with the joyful tidings of land on the larboard bow. . . . The shores of North America are, in almost all directions, singularly low and uninteresting, and the point towards which we were steering differed little in this respect from other portions of coast; for the land hung for some time cloud-like over the water, and when it did assume a definite form, it was that of low sand-hills loosely covered with pines. This, however, gradually changed its character, till Cape Cod, with its sharp promontory, had been left behind; after which the rocks and islets, which lie scattered in beautiful disorder through Boston Bay, rose one by one into view. By-and-by Long Island pushed itself forward, like an advanced guard to the town, which covered, in a somewhat straggling manner, the tongue of a peninsula; and, finally, we found ourselves under a dying breeze, and with a tide running strongly against us, in the centre of Nantucket Roads. There, at the distance of three quarters of a mile from a redoubt or battery that protected the island, we cast anchor; happy in the assurance that ere four-and-twenty hours should have run their course, we should be snugly settled beside our comrades on terra firma.

It had been remarked by some of us, while the vessel held her course, not without surprise, that matters were not altogether in the condition which we had expected to witness in such a place as Boston Bay. No light cruisers had met us as we approached the Cape, nor, as far as we could discern, were there any symptoms of a fleet either in the inner or the outer harbour. When we looked again to the telegraph station, we could discover no movement indicating the vigilance of those who kept it, or denoting that a strange sail was in sight. The might of the battery also slumbered, and our ensign received no salute. This was curious enough, for the customs of the Service required that, in time of war, no vessel should cast anchor in a British roadstead till her name should have been made known, and the object of her coming notified. . . .

The men were clustering in the forecastle, and the officers leaning over the taffrail, with glasses turned towards the town, when a flash from the battery on the island, followed by an instantaneous report, caused us to look up. We had scarce done so, when a ball, after touching the water once or twice in its course, buried itself in a swell of the sea, just under our stern. We stared with astonishment one upon another, for the signal—if such it was—had been very awkwardly managed; but ere a Word had been exchanged, another and another gun was fired, the shots from which passed some ahead, some far over, and one right through the shrouds, so as to cut away several of the ratlins. “This is a rough reception,” said our commanding officer [Lt. Col. Archibald Campbell]; “and devil take me if I don’t see into it.”
Yes, there will always be a Scotland.

The mention of a “telegraph station” is a big clue that not all of this text dates from the 1770s, whatever the magazine editors said. The word “telegraph” entered English in the 1790s. It originally referred to a sort of mechanical semaphore system, and Boston had one in the early 1800s—meaning a “telegraph station” might have appeared on a map of that time along with the other features named in the account. But if the writer had a map in front of him or her, why do we see “Nantucket Roads” instead of “Nantasket Roads”?

TOMORROW: The 71st Regiment lands at last.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Rise and Fall of Boston’s Tide Mills

The small West End Museum in Boston just opened a small exhibit about “Tide Power in Colonial Boston.” On Tuesday, 21 July, at 6:00 P.M. the museum will host a reception for that show. Both exhibit and reception are free and open to the public.

The event announcement says:
Tide Power in Colonial Boston explores the mechanisms of the mills and trades they supported. Historical maps illustrate the role of Boston’s topography in the construction of the mills and the demand for land-making which contributed to their downfall.

The rise and fall of tides have been harnessed for energy since Roman times. The earliest known tide mills date back to sixth-century Ireland. As the tides come in, sea water enters into a reservoir called a mill pond. When the tides recede, the stored water is released to turn a water wheel which powers the mill.

Around 1630, a settler named Crabtree attempted to extend an island in Boston’s North Cove—approximately where Causeway Street is today—to build a dam and form a tidal mill pond. The task proved to be too much for one person, so he soon abandoned the project. Thirteen years later, Henry Symons and five associates were granted the rights to the Cove on the condition that they construct a mill pond and erect one or more mills. They succeeded and, for the next 150 years, no fewer than five tide mills operated there.
The Mill Pond appears just below the compass on the map above, a major feature of colonial Boston. The mill creek that connected that pond to the inner harbor also served to define the North End, or at least the North End Gang’s territory. Benjamin Franklin wrote in his autobiography about playing beside the Mill Pond. The Baptist Meetinghouses were built along its edge to make adult baptism easier.

But with population and economic growth after independence, Boston needed land more than it needed tidal power. In 1797 a consortium proposed filling in the Mill Pond to make new land. It took ten years before the government approved that change, and more than twenty before the project was done. The West End Museum exhibit tells that whole story, concluding with a next-generation, never-realized plan to dam the Back Bay and create more tide mills—another project overwhelmed by the demand for real estate.

“Tide Power in Colonial Boston” will be up until 19 September. Visitors can view it during the museum’s regular hours, which are noon to 5:00 P.M. Tuesday through Friday and 11:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. on Saturdays. The West End Museum is at 150 Standiford Street.

In addition, the Massachusetts Historical Commission has an online exhibit about archeological finds at the site of the old Mill Pond.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mount Vernon’s Key to Crowd Control

This spring I visited Mount Vernon for the first time in several years. I was impressed with the expansion of the site, with a new research library, museum and education center, and agricultural buildings.

Indeed, our visit to the Washingtons’ mansion was probably the most disappointing part of the excursion. Of course, everyone visiting the site feels a need to go into the mansion, which produces a steady crowd in the entrance porches. We probably spent more time outside the mansion waiting in one line or another than inside.

There were docents in most rooms, each with a very short spiel—about a minute and a half—to repeat with little variation for each knot of visitors. Meaning that we’re supposed to spend only about two minutes in each space.

In the entry hall, mounted on a wall within a glass case, was the large iron key shown above. I recognized it from web images as the key to the Bastille, stormed by the people of Paris on this date in 1789. Lafayette sent that key to George Washington as a tribute for helping to inspiring the French Revolution. It was bigger than I expected.

To my surprise, the docent in that room didn’t mention the key. So I asked in a clear, carrying voice, “Is that the key to the Bastille?”

“Yes, it is,” said the docent, in a tone that struck me as implying:
  • she was fairly certain that I already knew the answer. (Yes, I’m one of those visitors.)
  • she wasn’t planning to elaborate on the key’s history.
  • it was time for us to move on to the next room, thank you.
Mind you, all the Mount Vernon docents were friendly and hard-working. I’ve done shorter stints as a museum interpreter, and I’d get cranky if I had to deliver basically the same speech every three minutes.

When we came out of the mansion, I heard another visitor praise the last docent for managing so many people on a busy day. “Oh, this isn’t busy,” the docent replied. And she was no doubt right. That day wasn’t on a weekend or holiday, and it didn’t offer a special event or particularly nice weather. But there were still plenty of people to move through the house.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Reviews of Revolutions without Borders

Earlier this month H-Net published Bryan Rindfleisch’s review of Revolutions without Borders: The Call to Liberty in the Atlantic World by Janet L. Polasky, which looks at the multiple revolutions on both sides of the Atlantic in the late 1700s.

Polasky’s scope includes not just the now-well-studied American, French, and Haitian Revolutions, but “the Genevan Revolution of 1782, the Dutch Patriot movement in 1787, the Belgian Revolution of 1787-89, the Wolfe Tone rebellion in Ireland (1798), and the Freetown Revolution of 1800.”

Rindfleisch says, “Polasky provides a grand synthesis of the many and disparate struggles and revolts against monarchical authority and aristocratic privilege that erupted during the late eighteenth century, all of which were interconnected and related to one another.” In this telling those connections are both literary and individual:
Out of this wave of revolutions emerged what Polasky calls “itinerant revolutionaries”—a large group of individuals, both men and women—who moved about on the Atlantic stage and gravitated toward the various upheavals of the late eighteenth century, thereby linking those revolutionary struggles together.

Take for example the case of Gerrit Paape, an earthenware painter of humble origins in Amsterdam, who—infected with the republican ideals of the American Revolution—reinvented himself as a poet, novelist, and revolutionary in the Dutch provinces in 1787. Although Prussian forces ultimately crushed this Dutch Patriot movement, Paape fled to the nearby Belgian provinces where he joined a second revolutionary movement that sought to undermine Austrian control of Belgian territories and peoples. And for a brief time in 1789, Paape and his fellow revolutionaries succeeded in emulating their American counterparts, creating the “United States of Belgium” and successfully repelling Austrian invasions.

But in 1790, the Belgian provinces were ultimately overrun by European empires and monarchies that desperately sought to stem the revolutionary tide. Yet again, Paape fled to another revolutionary scene, this time in France, where he fell in with like-minded radicals who created a French republic. Subsequently, in 1795, Paape returned home to the Dutch provinces, bringing up the rear of the French armies that liberated those territories from monarchical control, where Paape joined the “Batavian Revolution” that established a Dutch republic.
Telling such stories means likewise jumping among nations, languages, and archives. Polasky organized the first part of her book not chronologically but according to different forms of discourse, which have also become different historical sources: political pamphlets, revolutionaries’ narratives and memoirs, newspapers and the rumors they spread along with hard news, novels presenting modern ideas, and family correspondence.

Polasky even writes, “This book could be read as an extended essay on sources,” but Tom Cutterham said at the Junto blog:
Polasky’s book is delightfully unencumbered by visible theoretical apparatus or historiographical call-backs. Most of the time, it’s a series of linked stories that pull us, in vaguely chronological order, back and forth across the Atlantic and the Alps, with excursions south to Sierra Leone and east to Warsaw.
Rindfleisch notes that Polasky’s narrative doesn’t extend to Latin America in the early 1800s, as many studies of the “Atlantic Revolutions” do. But with transnational figures like Bolivar active there, it looks like someone could pick up the threads and go there.

In the end, Cutterham sees many stories of failure, as the most dedicated internationalists saw their romantic ideals overpowered by larger nation-states:
Ironically, the cause of most of these failures was their clash with successful revolutionary states, namely France. As much as American and French revolutionaries inspired imitators, they also soon came to fear them and attempt to control them—as Polasky points out, it was governments in these new states that brought the age of revolution to an end.
The ideals of worldwide republicanism fell before a new focus on nationalism—which brings us back to why so many scholars have studied these upheavals separately.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Meaning of the Whitesboro Seal

This is the seal of the village of Whitesboro, New York. It got a lot of attention this month because it appears to show a white frontiersman choking a Native American. All to represent a place called “Whitesboro.”

Village officials insist the seal isn’t about white people conquering Indians. The village is truly named after an early American settler named Hugh White (1733-1812), who moved to the region from Middletown, Connecticut, in 1784.

During the war White had invested in a privateer. Other sources say he was a commissary to the Continental Army or even a captain, but I haven’t found any independent evidence to confirm those statements.

The village seal shows White wrestling a Native man—a friendly wrestling match, it’s said. In 1838 William Tracy published this story in Notices of Men and Events Connected with the Early History of Oneida County:
Another anecdote of Judge White, may not be uninteresting in this connection. An Oneida chief, of rather an athletic form, was one day present at his house with a number of his companions, and at length, for amusement, the party commenced wrestling. After a number of trials had been made, the chief came forward and challenged the settler to a clench with him.

This was done in a manner, and with a degree of braggadocio, which convinced him, that if he refused to encounter him it would subject him to the constant inconvenience of being brow beaten by the Indian, and cost him the trouble of being believed a coward. In early manhood he had been a wrestler, but he had now become quite corpulent, and for years unused to any athletic feats. He felt conscious, however, of great personal strength, and he concluded, that even should he be thrown, yet as a choice of evils, the being thrown would be a lesser one than the acquiring a character of cowardice by declining.

He therefore accepted the challenge and took hold with the Indian, and by a fortunate trip, succeeded almost instantly in throwing him. As he saw him falling, in order to prevent the necessity of ever making another trial of his powers, and of receiving any new challenge, he contrived to fall with all his weight, he then constituting an avoirdupois of some 250 lbs., and as heavily as possible, upon the Indian. The weight, for an instant, drove all breath from the poor fellow’s body; and it was some moments before he could get up. At length he slowly arose, shrugged his shoulders with an emphatic—“Ugh! you good fellow, too much!”

I need not add, that he was never again challenged to wrestle with an Indian.
Whitesboro has used an illustration of that story on its seal since the 1890s or earlier.

In 2009 the Utica Observer-Dispatch noted that ten years before a mayor had proposed changing the seal to something less likely to cause offense. Furthermore, some Native Americans had complained about the image twenty years before that—or earlier. The newspaper added:
Whitesboro historian Judy Mallozzi said the current seal was adopted sometime in the 1970s after the village was sued by an Indian group over the depiction at that time.

“The hands of Hugh White were on his neck area,” she said of the earlier image. “So after the lawsuit, it was determined it’s part of our history, so we didn’t have to stop using the seal. We just had to move it, so it’s down on his shoulders.”
Curiously, images of the previous seal show that the new version moved White’s hands closer to the other man’s neck.

So does the Whitesboro, New York, seal reflect a history of white men overpowering Natives by force or simple weight and taking their land? No more than the existence of Whitesboro, and New York, and the U.S. of A. Which is to say, of course it does.

This particular cartoon represents one cross-cultural experience that White and his family chose to remember as a friendly moment. Indeed, the Oneida were allies of the U.S. of A. during the Revolution and in the years immediately after. But given the larger history of colonial European and American appropriation of Native territory, it’s very hard to interpret that image as just about a wrestling match between two community leaders.