J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 30, 2015

“The dead siphoning life from their relatives”

On Thursday, 3 December, Clark University in Worcester will host a seminar with Brian Carroll on “The Introduction of Vampire Belief to New England.”

I’ve got your attention now, don’t I? Here’s the event description:
Between 1782 and 1820, New Englanders suspected severe outbreaks of tuberculosis were caused by the spirits of the dead siphoning life from their relatives. In order to stop the spread of the disease, they exhumed the corpses they thought responsible, burned their hearts, and made a medicine from the ashes.

Originally a European belief, the practice was brought to the region during the American Revolution by German military physicians serving in Hessian regiments. Many became itinerant doctors in the aftermath of the war and taught Americans to believe in the undead. But vampire belief in America was medicalized—turned from a folk belief into a cutting-edge medical procedure. The exhumations were conducted like autopsies and doctors used “science” to identify and destroy supposed vampires. American doctors quickly caught on and began using it as a cure for the deadly wasting disease.
This is separate from, though perhaps related to, the vampire fear in Jewett City, Connecticut, in 1854.

Carroll is Assistant Professor of History and American Indian Studies at Central Washington University. He flew to New England to be an American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies Fellow at the American Antiquarian Society, which co-sponsors this seminar series along with the history departments at Clark, Brown, and the University of Connecticut.

This seminar will start at 4:00 P.M. in the Rare Book Room of Goddard Library on the Clark campus. There will be refreshments provided before the paper. If you plan to attend, please email Paul Erickson by the end of the workday today so he’ll know what to expect.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Viewing the Tea Party in Context

If you attend the Boston Tea Party reenactment at Old South and the Boston Tea Party Ships, I have two things for you to keep in mind about what you’re hearing.

As I’ve written before, it’s unlikely that many friends of the royal government came to Old South to debate what to do about the tea. To begin with, those mass gatherings weren’t official town meetings, so even showing up would grant them more legitimacy than most Loyalists wanted.

At least one supporter of the royal government was there to take notes and report back to the authorities, and of course that man, apparently named Colman, wouldn’t have called attention to himself. He did note who spoke and about what, and he didn’t mention many political compatriots. Unless they were trying to save their property (John Rowe) or their new in-laws (John Singleton Copley), Loyalists kept far away from the other side’s rally.

Voicing only anti-Tea Act opinions would therefore be a more accurate depiction of the final tea meeting, but that would provide a false impression of the larger debate in Boston and in America in late 1773. There really was a political dispute, as well as smaller disagreements about tactics. So there’s a good reason the script includes more Loyalist voices.

As for that script, a lot of it ends up in the hands of the audience as people take turns reading arguments about what to do off cards they receive when they come in. Ideally, there would be a one-to-one ratio of speakers and arguments. In other words, everyone who wants to speak would have something to say, and nobody would repeat anyone else. But of course life doesn’t work that way.

Instead, the way it works out is that an audience member who’s eager to participate lines up, waits her turn, and then reads off her card—even if someone else has read the same argument already. There’s a lot of repetition, and speakers don’t respond to what others have just said. However, I’m quite sure the event organizers know all that, and there’s really no smoother way to incorporate the audience into the discussion. The value of being able to participate in the reenactment—especially for younger audience members—outweighs the drawbacks of this approach.

While listening to all those debating points last year, I heard a lot of political anachronisms—rhetoric that might be appropriate during the Revolutionary War, but not two years earlier. In 1773, American Whigs weren’t yet attacking King George III. They were still focusing their anger on what they saw as a corrupt Parliament and corrupt government ministers while proclaiming loyalty to the king and the British constitution.

Similarly, there were no British army troops patrolling Boston in 1773. They had been there from October 1768 to March 1770, and they were ordered back in May 1774 as a response to the Tea Party. Any complaints you hear about redcoats in the streets during the Tea Party would also be anachronistic. The Crown hadn’t yet taken any steps to close the port or disarm the colonists.

As with the criticism of King George, such complaints arise from looking back at the Revolution at such a distance that the distinctions between particular years blur together. But seeing how they accumulated and how American thinking evolved is useful in understanding that the Revolution developed. The Tea Party of 16 Dec 1773 was a particular moment in a gradual process.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Tea Party in Review

Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum are hosting their annual reenactment of the first Boston Tea Party on Wednesday, 16 December, starting at 6:30 P.M. (Doors open at 5:45.) Tickets are still available through this website.

I attended last year’s reenactment on a media pass, trying not to block paying customers’ views by standing behind a video camera (see photo). So it’s about time I reviewed that presentation.

The first act of the event takes place at Old South, the exact site of mass meetings about the tea in November and December 1773. Its main floor and first gallery are filled with people, Revolutionary reenactors mostly at the center and the public everywhere else. As people enter, they receive cards with remarks on the controversy over the East India Company’s tea monopoly and how Boston should respond.

At the start, some of the reenactors use first-person interpretation (i.e., portraying individual figures from 1773 Boston) lay out the basics of the debate. Then the gentleman presiding over the meeting opens the floor to other voices—folks in the audience. Everyone who wants to participate can line up at one of the microphones and read an argument from his or her card. As those lines wind down, sea captain Francis Rotch returns to report that Gov. Thomas Hutchinson has refused to permit him to sail away with the tea. Some of the reenactors whoop and head outside.

The audience is then led through the streets (rain, shine, or chill) to a viewing area across the channel from the well-lit Boston Tea Party Ships. From there they watch Sons of Liberty arrive on the ship, demand the keys to its hold, and start breaking open tea chests and throwing the cargo overboard. Finally, there’s a short spoken presentation by performers from the Tea Party Ships about what the tea destruction will lead to.

The tea crisis is a tough political confrontation to explain. The action in Old South lays out the issue on the highest level—Parliament has enacted a tax and granted a monopoly without North American subjects having any say in the matter. It also explains the lowest level—if the tea stays in those ships one more night, the royal authorities win. But the combination of laws, regulations, and circumstances that links those levels is still murky.

But these sorts of public presentations aren’t meant to lay out every detail of a historical event. They’re designed to give the public a vivid experience—in this case, hearing the arguments about the tea in Boston in late 1773 and then watching men destroy that tea on the night of 16 December. If everything works, the visuals the reenactment provides and the emotions it evokes are strong enough to entice people to learn more.

TOMORROW: Historical facts to keep in mind.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Look at Samuel Selden’s Horn

Back when I reviewed the “We Are One” exhibit at the Boston Public Library [closing this weekend!], I finished by saying, “Over the next couple of days I’ll discuss a couple of the ‘We Are One’ items in more depth.“

The first of those artifacts was the Crispus Attucks teapot, and looking into that led to a much longer series of postings about Attucks than I expected. As a result, I never got to the second.

That neglected artifact is the Samuel Selden powderhorn, owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Here’s a blog post from the M.H.S. about it.

The Selden horn is dated March 9, 1776. It identifies its owner (not necessarily its carver) as “MAJOR SAMUEL SELDEN” of Lyme, Connecticut, and identifies itself as “MADE FOR THE DEFENCE OF LIBERTY.” The horn’s main decoration is a schematic map of the fortifications on “BOSTON NECK.” The “YANKES BRESTWORK” and “REDOUTS” with a big “MORTER” face off against “THE REGULARS BRESTWORK.”

But the horn’s unique graphic is a picture of a ship labeled “SHIP AMARACA” flying two flags. At the topmast is a banner with a tree—either the Liberty Tree or a variation of the “Appeal to Heaven” pine tree. At the aft is a flag with a Union Jack near the staff (but not exactly in the place of a canton) and a field that could be a series of horizontal stripes or a colored field denoted by hatching. Thus, it’s possible—but not in my eyes definite—that this horn is one of the earliest representations of the flag that the Continental Congress designed for its navy at the end of 1775.

I held the Selden horn in my (gloved) hands while examining two other powder horns owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society three years back. It was striking to see it again on display at the Boston Public Library.

Not until I came home from the exhibit, however, did I realize that Samuel Selden (1723-1776) was an ancestor of mine. Another branch of the family still uses “Selden” as a given name. After finishing the Boston campaign, Col. Selden took his regiment down to New York. He was captured in a skirmish during the Landing at Kip’s Bay on 15 Sept 1776, fell ill while imprisoned in City Hall, and died on 11 October.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Talking Turkey in Pre-Revolutionary America

For the holiday, John Overholt at Harvard’s Houghton Library shared a look inside one of only five surviving copies of a cookbook that Edes and Gill reprinted for pre-Revolutionary Boston:
Susannah Carter’s The Frugal Housewife, or Complete Woman Cook (1772) [was] just the second cookbook printed in America. Carter was English, and only in later editions did distinctively American dishes like pumpkin pie begin to appear, but her book was highly influential and went through numerous editions in the late 18th and early 19th centuries before cookbooks by American authors began to predominate.

In addition to its collection of recipes and household hints, the book includes two illustrations by a man then best known as a silversmith and engraver, Paul Revere.
Those pictures show how to prepare turkey, various other fowls, and hare or rabbit for cooking.

The holiday also offers a chance to quote Samuel Adams’s advice to a new husband about preserving a happy house:
Of what Consequence is it, whether a Turkey is brought on the Table boild or roasted? And yet, how often are the Passions sufferd to interfere in such mighty Disputes, till the Tempers of both become so sowerd, that they can scarcely look upon each other with any tolerable Degree of good Humor.
Plus, Benjamin Franklin’s struggle to electrocute a turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Mapping Out a Map-Filled Visit to Boston

This weekend is your last chance to see the “We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence” exhibit at the Boston Public Library. And I heartily recommend doing so. Here’s my review of the show.

The exhibit’s last day is Sunday, 29 November. After that, our only solace will be the Leventhal Map Center’s database of Revolutionary-era maps. (The map center at the library also has a smaller exhibit on women cartographers, which I haven’t seen.)

Just a short walk outbound along Boylston Street and you can also visit the Massachusetts Historical Society. Its current exhibit, running through early January, is titled “Terra Firma: The Beginnings of the M.H.S. Map Collection”:
As the M.H.S. approaches its 225th year, Terra Firma celebrates the beginnings of one of its most diverse and interesting collections. Among the maps on display are landmarks of map publishing that include the first published map of New England, the first map of Massachusetts published in America, and a unique copy of the earliest separate map of Vermont, as well as maps of important battles and maps and atlases from the United States and beyond.
There’s a webpage of audio profiles of four of the men who made those maps, including Gov. Thomas Pownall, Col. Richard Gridley, and Henry Pelham [who also serves as the @Boston1775 Twitter avatar]. Admission to the M.H.S. galleries is free, and they will be open this Friday and Saturday, 10 A.M. to 4 P.M.

And if that’s not enough maps, the Boston Athenaeum has an exhibit up through the end of February called “Collecting for the Boston Athenæum in the 21st Century: Maps, Charts, & Plans,” on recent additions to its collection of maps and charts.
Some of the highlights will include a very scarce chart of Casco Bay by J.F.W. DesBarres, a rare French edition of a classic map of the Americas by Petrus Bertius, published in the mid-seventeenth century, and a beautiful example of one of the earliest charts to focus on the New England coastline by J. van Keulen.
There are a number of eighteenth-century maps on the exhibit list, including a 1793 print of Sir Thomas Hyde Page’s Plan of the Action at Bunkers Hill on the 17th of June 1775 (thumbnail above). Admission is $5, free for members. Check the calendar for days when the Athenaeum is open.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Sort of Gift Do You Get for a 250th Anniversary?

I’ve been promoting awareness of the Sestercentennial of the American Revolution, in part by describing what happened in the American colonies 250 years ago and in part by using the word “sestercentennial” a lot.

On Monday, 30 November, the Old North Church in Boston will host “The 250th is Coming, the 250th is Coming!”, a panel discussion on what more Massachusetts can and should do to celebrate the Sestercentennial. The event description says:
We know from the celebration of the Bicentennial forty years ago that major milestones can bring major benefits to our region: strengthening our brand as a historic tourist destination, creating new education programs, preserving our national heritage sites and renewing our civic commitment to core values of freedom and liberty. We also know that years of advance planning are required to gather the civic and financial resources required to celebrate a major milestone.
The panelists will be:
  • William Fowler, Northeastern University
  • Martha McNamara, Wellesley College
  • Robert Allison, Suffolk University
  • Greg Galer, Boston Preservation Alliance
  • Rep. Byron Rushing
The event is free, but the church asks people to reserve seats through this site.

By most historians’ lights, the Sestercentennial has already started. Back in August, the Revolution 250 consortium observed the anniversary of the first Stamp Act protest at Liberty Tree. What other Revolutionary events should Massachusetts celebrate in the next ten, eleven, or twenty-five years, and how? We’re inviting people to share ideas at the forum, on blogs like this, or through Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #250isComing.

Here are some potential visions for the future:
  • In June 2018, the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum turns one of its vessels into John Hancock’s ship Liberty for a day and recreates how Customs officials seized it for smuggling, and the subsequent waterfront riot.
  • In October 2018, dozens of reenacted British army units disembark from ferries onto Long Wharf, form ranks, and march through downtown Boston to the Common for a weekend encampment recreating the occupation of Boston in October 1768.
  • In February 2020, a recreation of the massive funeral procession of young Christopher Seider winds through the streets to the Granary Burying-Ground, honoring the first Bostonian to die in the political struggle.
  • In August and September 2024, large outdoor public events commemorate the Powder Alarm in Cambridge and the closing of the courts in Hampshire and Worcester Counties, events that helped end royal rule in Massachusetts outside of Boston.
  • By April 2025, the location of Dr. Joseph Warren’s house is marked on City Hall Plaza and added to the Freedom Trail.
What would you like to see happen? What local event deserves a 250th-anniversary commemoration?

Monday, November 23, 2015

“We have now the Stamped Papers in our own Hands”

As related yesterday, on the evening of 5 Nov 1765, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden handed New York’s supply of Stamp Act paper over to the city government.

Colden reported:
They were carried to the City Hall, and remained safe with a very triffling Guard indeed upon them. The Mob dispersed immeadiately and remain quiet. Can anything give a stronger suspicion who they were that composed the Mob, and under whose direction they acted?
That was the same building (shown here) where the Stamp Act Congress had met the previous month.

Colden’s remark about the crowd was a typical assumption of friends of the royal government, seeing “the Mob” as raised and directed by local politicians rather than the people having wills of their own.

In fact, the city’s political activists were hustling to make sure the populace accepted the compromise they had made with Colden and kept the peace. The next morning, this note was posted at the city’s main coffee house:
To the Freeholders & Inhabitants of the City of New York

Gentlemen

We have now the Stamped Papers in our own Hands, so that there is a Prospect of our enjoying Peace once more; all then that we have to do is to promote this Peace; to do which we are under many Obligations; of which what follows will be a Proof;

1st We have entirely accomplish’d all we wanted in rescuing the Stamps from the Hands of our inveterate Enemy; to proceed any farther then would only hurt the good Cause in which we are engaged.

2dly As we have promised, both for ourselves & by our Representatives whom we ourselves have chosen, that if the Stamps were lodged in the Hands of these our Representatives (as they now are) we would be quiet & no Harm should be done, the Honour & Credit of the City lie at Stake, & shall we ruin our own Credit? I am persuaded no one would be so infatuated as to attempt it.

Let us then as we have joined Hand in Hand in effecting the Peace that now subsists also join in preserving it. This will shew that we have Conduct as well as Courage, prove that we have acted, not as a Mob, but as Friends to Liberties & be as strong an Argument as we can use to obtain a Repeal of the Stamp Act.
At the end of the day, that paper was taken down and delivered to Colden, who then sent it with his report to London. But it had done its work.

One week later, on 13 November, Sir Henry Moore, the long-expected new royal governor, arrived in New York from Britain. Colden “had the pleasure of delivering up the Administration,” and the attending headaches, to Moore “in as much quietness as could be expected in the present situation of the public affairs.”

There were, however, two new complications. Moore’s ship had also brought:
  • nine more big boxes of stamped paper for New York and Connecticut.
  • Colden’s grandson Peter De Lancey, Jr., with the proud news that the royal government had appointed him stamp inspector for Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Hampshire.
So I expect we’ll be coming back to New York for more sestercentennial updates.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

How the New Yorkers Came to a Deal

On 5 Nov 1765, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of New York sent a report to London about how an angry crowd was besieging him inside Fort George with the province’s stamped paper.

In his letter to the Marquess of Granby, Colden wrote, “I expect the Fort will be stormed this night—everything is done in my power to give them a warm reception.”

Capt. John Montresor of the Royal Artillery, who had been busy strengthening the fort, wrote in his journal that 5th of November:
Advertisements and many papers placarded throughout this city declaring the storming of the Fort this Night under cover of burning the Pope and pretender unless the Stamps were delivered.
But in fact there was a compromise in the works. The next day Colden updated his messenger on the developments:
In the forenoon yesterday the Common Council of the City presented an Address to me Requesting that in order to restore Peace to the City & to prevent the effusion of Blood, I would deliver the Stamp’d Paper into the care of the Corporation, who in that case undertook to protect them. I was surprised at the Proposition, but upon their adding a Clause whereby the Mayor & Corporation became engaged for the full amount of the Paper &c and Duty, in case they were lost, destroyed or carried out of the Province, I consented to take the advice of his Majesty’s council upon it.
Colden was worried about the slippery slope: “The delivering the stamp’d Papers on the threats of a Mob, who may still make further demands greatly affects the dignity of his Majesty’s Government; & may have a tendency to encourage perpetual mobish proceedings hereafter.”

New York’s provincial Council advised that “the City appeared to be in perfect annarchy, and the power of Government either Military or Civil insufficient—that the defense of the Fort would involve the destruction of the City.” Those gentlemen recommended taking the deal. Colden then asked Gen. Thomas Gage for his advice as commander of the king’s army in North America, and he concurred. Colden had thus covered himself bureaucratically as much as he could.

Therefore, on the evening of 5 November the lieutenant governor turned the stamped paper in Fort George over to a committee led by Mayor John Cruger (shown above), who had participated in the Stamp Act Congress the previous month.

Cruger signed this receipt:
Received of the Honble. Cadwallader Colden, Esq. his Majesty’s Lt. Govr. and Commander in Chief of the Province of New York, Seven Packages containing Stamp’d Paper & Parchment all marked No. 1, J. McE., New York which I promise in behalf of the Corporation of the City of New York to take charge & care of, and to be accountable in case they shall be destroyed, or carried out of the Province as particularly set forth and declared in the Minutes of the Common Council of the said Corporation of this Day. Witness my hand in the City of New York this fifth day of November 1765.
TOMORROW: Was that enough to calm the populace?

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lt. Gov. Colden’s Unsafe Situation

As November 1765 began, New York acting governor Cadwallader Colden was holed up in Manhattan’s Fort George (on the far left of the map above) with a contingent of the king’s military forces and the stamped paper for three colonies. Outside was a crowd of thousands of men convinced that the Stamp Act was tyrannical and determined to keep it from taking effect.

Maj. Thomas James commanded some men from the Royal Artillery inside the fort. That, and his contemptuous remarks, had caused the crowd to tear apart the mansion he was renting in town on the night of 1 November. 

Capt. Archibald Kennedy had sent “Lieutenant Owen & twenty four Marines” to the fort to support Colden. However, he added, “by doing this I leave the Ships without Marines, & as most of our men are imprest there is a great risque of their deserting.” But he declined to take charge of the stamps, lest the crown attack his home and property.

Colden asked the military engineers how they would strengthen Fort George. On 2 November, Capts. Harry Gordon (d. 1787), Thomas Sowers, and John Montresor delivered their report:
The most necessary & Expeditious way of putting this Fort in an immediate posture of defence.

A Number of Barrells Boxes or such Instruments as will contain a sufficient quantity of earth to make them Musquet proof to be put on the Salient Angles of the Bastions to form a Lodgement for 12 Men each, filld with earth 4 ft. 6 in. high. The Earth for filling them to be taken from the inside of the parapet leaving only a Banquet inside of the Barrells Boxes &c. A piece of artillery behind those lodgements towards the shoulders of the Bastions.

Two Pieces of light artillery covered with their mantelets &c. to be mounted on each Flank & the shoulders rais’d to cover them.

A Howitzer to be mounted on each Curtin towards the Town

The Crows feet to be scetterd to the Gate, Sorties and other practicable Avenues to the Fort.

All the Remainder of the Chevaux des frises to be fix’d and ready to plant along the places where the parapet remains en harbet and to be steadied by some Earth thrown against them

A Lodgment of Mattresses or Bedding or any thing proper to make a Covering a top of the large House for a Serjeant & 12 good men who have been practised to firing.

One hundred hand Grenades to be lodg’d at each Curtin & forty near each small lodgment on the Points of the Bastions to be loaded & ready to be lighted & thrown.

The Gate to be Barricaded within at Night as fast as possible & two pieces of large artillery to be planted against it, & two light pieces at some distance behind the Chevaux des frises.

The several Fronts of the Fort to be disencumbered from the Buildings &c

’Twould be necessary for the defence of the Fort if Capt. Kennedy’s House was taken possession of as it commands two Fronts the most accessible of the Fort.

Proper Instruments & Workmen for the defence should be immediately provided and a sufficient number of Men at least three hundred.

Notwithstanding the above Improvements for the defence of the place, its still under great inconveniences arising principally from the want of proper cover within, & being commanded by the Circumjacent Buildings.
In other words, even with at least 300 men, plenty of weapons, Kennedy’s full cooperation, and a lot of hard work, Fort George would still be vulnerable. It had been built to protect the city from attack by sea, not to withstand a siege by land. And was there time to do all those things anyway?

The next morning, a paper was found inside an oyster shell at the gate of Fort George, addressed to Colden himself:
Sir

As one who is an enemy to Mischief of all kinds, & a Well wisher to you & your Family, I give you this Notice that Evil is determined against you & your Adherents & will in all human Probability take Effect, unless Speedily prevented by your public Declaration upon Oath, That you will never, in any Manner, countenance, or assist, in the Execution of the Stamp Act, or anything belonging to it; and also, that you will, to the utmost of your Power, endeavour to get it repealed in England, and meanwhile prevent its taking Effect here. Your Life may depend upon the Notice you take of this Advice.

Benevolus

P.S. I well know the Guides of the People would only shew you that they may dare also; but don't incense them, for God’s Sake, by an unpolitical Contempt! You are not safe at Flushing.
Flushing was where Colden had his country estate. He was probably wishing he were there.

TOMORROW: Reaching a compromise. 

Friday, November 20, 2015

Capt. Kennedy and the Stamped Paper

On the night of 1 Nov 1765, after the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect, a New York mob signaled its disapproval of that development by burning the coach and other vehicles of Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden. Then some of that crowd destroyed the estate being rented by Maj. Thomas James, the commander of the fort protecting Colden and the stamped paper.

The acting governor responded with a public announcement early on the morning of 2 November that he was suspending enforcement of the new law until the new royal governor arrived. That calmed the immediate situation.

Colden also sent a letter to Capt. Archibald Kennedy (c. 1723-1794, shown here), the highest-ranking officer in the Royal Navy at New York, aboard his ship Coventry. The acting governor asked the captain if he was willing to take over the protection of the stamps:
The Gentlemen of the Council are desirous that the Stamp’d papers now in the Fort, should be put on board one of the Men of War—and I desire to know as soon as possible from you whether or not you will order them to be received on board—
Capt. Kennedy quickly wrote back to Colden:
I have this Instant received yours of this date informing me it is the desire of the Council that the Stamp’d paper should be sent on board one of the Kings Ships,

as they are already lodged in Fort George which is a place of security sufficient to protect them from any attempt the Mob can possibly make to destroy them. cannot see any plausable reason for moving them, and indeed the very attempting to move them must be attended with much greater risque than they can possibly be exposed to while there,

I shall ever be ready when necessity requires to give you all the assistance in my power
Though it seems clear Kennedy wasn’t assisting at all at that moment.

Aboard his warship, Kennedy was safe from any angry crowds, but his property wasn’t. The captain’s father had been a major businessman in New York, he had earned a lot of money from naval prizes in the wars against France, and he had married a Schuyler sister. Through inheritance, investments, and marriage, Kennedy owned a whole lot of New York real estate, including his own mansion at 1 Broadway.

The lieutenant governor explained that to British officials the next month:
Kennedy absolutely refused to receive them [the stamps], & with good reason, for he was aware of their design to force Him to deliver them by Threatning to destroy the Houses he was possesst of in the City, of which he had in his own & his wife’s Right more than perhaps any one Man in it.
I sense that Colden might have been more exasperated at his Council for suggesting this unrealistic solution than at Kennedy for resisting it. But Parliament didn’t like Kennedy’s action, or inaction, and recalled him to Britain over it. Of course, Kennedy didn’t need the navy’s salary, so he retired.

TOMORROW: Lt. Gov. Colden assesses his defenses.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

The New Yorkers’ “private Unnatural and Brutal Revenge”

When New Yorkers were demonstrating against the Stamp Act on the night of 1 Nov 1765, they knew that the colony’s supply of stamped paper was inside Fort George. And they knew that the man in charge of Fort George’s defenses was Maj. Thomas James of the Royal Artillery.

In the words of the New-York Gazette, Maj. James “had unfortunately incurred the resentment of the public, by expressions imputed to him” during the dispute over the stamps.

Specifically, James later stated he’d been accused of the following:
  • “I threatened to cram the Stamps down their Throats with the End of my Sword”
  • “If they attempted to rise I [said I] would drive them all out of the Town for a pack of Rascals, with four and twenty men”
  • “I had in Contempt to the Gentlemen thrown an Almanack into the Fire that had not been stampt”
  • “I had turnd some Ladies and Gentlemen off the Ramparts of Fort George, because they should not see the Works I was carrying on”
  • “I had been over Officious in my Duty”
When Parliament asked him about those accusations the next year, he “answer’d in the Affirmative.” The legislators wouldn’t let him go on to say that, even so, “it was no Sanction for their [the protesters’] private Unnatural and Brutal Revenge or an Indemnification for their Insults upon Government.”

Unfortunately for the major, though he was safe inside Fort George, his property was not. That’s because, with the British military making New York its base for North American operations, he had rented a mansion called Vaux Hall, beside the Hudson River near King’s College.

The New-York Gazette continued:
It is said he had taken a Lease of the house for three years, and had obliged himself to return it in the like good order as he received it; it had been lately fitted up in an elegant manner, and had adjoining a large handsome garden stored both with necessaries and curiosities,—and had in it several summer houses; the house was genteely furnished with good furniture; contained a valuable library of choice books, papers, accounts, mathematical instruments, draughts, rich clothes, linen, &c. and a considerable quantity of wine and other liquors.—

The multitude bursting open the doors, proceeded to destroy every individual article the house contain’d,—the beds they cut open and threw the feathers abroad, broke all the glasses, china, tables, chairs, desks, trunks, chests, and making a large fire at a little distance, threw in every thing that would burn—drank or destroy’d all the liquor—and left not the least article in the house which they did not destroy—after which they also beat to pieces all the doors, sashes, window frames and partitions in the house, leaving it a meer shell; also destroyed the summer houses, and tore up and spoiled the garden.

All this destruction was compleated by about 2 o’clock [A.M.]. The imagined cause of resentment operated so powerfully, that every act of devastation on the goods of this unhappy gentleman was consider’d as a sacrifice to liberty.—Many military trophies, even the colours of the royal regiment, were taken and carried off triumphantly.
New York’s anti-Stamp demonstration thus ended as Boston’s and Newport’s had done, with the destruction of a house. And not necessarily the house of the man designated to collect the new tax, but the house of a royal official who spoke up for enforcing the law.

TOMORROW: Naval support?

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

“The effigy of a man who had been honoured by his country”

On 1 Nov 1765, New York had its first classic Stamp Act protest. This was the day the law was supposed to take place, and many other North American colonies had already seen such political disturbances.

James McEvers’s preemptive resignation as a stamp master meant that New Yorkers hadn’t had a good target for their demonstrations. Until, that is, Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden made it clear that as the highest royal authority in the colony he would try to enforce the new law.

As reported in the Boston Post-Boy, reprinting news from New York, the anti-Stamp demonstration on 1 November followed the usual lines:
About 7 o’clock in the evening two companies appeared, one of them in the fields, where a moveable gallows was erected, on which was (suspended the effigy of a man who had been honoured by his country with an elevated station, but whose public conduct supposed to aim at the introduction of arbitrary power, and especially in his officiously endeavouring to enforce the Stamp Act, universally held by his Majesty’s faithful and loyal subjects in America, to be unconstitutional and oppressive) has unhappily drawn upon himself the general resentment of his country.

The figure was made much to resemble the person it was intended to represent. In his hand was a stamped paper, which he seem’d to court the people to receive;—at his back hung a drum, on his breast a label, supposed to allude to some former circumstances of his life. By his side hung, with a boot in his hand, the grand deceiver of mankind, seeming to urge him to perseverance in the cause of slavery.
According to other sources, the label identified the effigy as “The Rebell Drummer of 1715,” suggesting that Lt. Gov. Colden had supported the Stuart Pretender’s uprising that year. Colden had in fact been back in Britain as a young physician in 1715; he had even gotten married there. According to him, however, he had “carried above 70 Volunteers into Kelso” to support the Hanoverian forces under Lord Jedburgh. It appears men of Scottish descent like Colden remained vulnerable to accusations of Jacobite disloyalty, even fifty years later.

Back to the New York protest:
While the multitude gathered round these figures, the other party with another figure representing the same person, seated in a chair, and carried by men, preceeded and attended by a great number of lights, paraded through most of the public streets in the city, increasing as they went, but without doing the least Injury to any house or person. They proceeded in this order to the coach-house at the fort, from whence they took the Lieut. Governor’s coach, and fixing the effigy upon the top of it, they proceeded with great rapidity towards the fields.

About the same time the other party was preparing to move to the fort, with the gallows as it stood erect on its frame, and lanthorns fix’d on various parts of it. When the two parties met, and every thing was in order, a general silence ensued, and proclamation was made that no stones should be thrown, no windows broken, and no injury offered to any one,—and all this was punctually observed.

The whole multitude then returned to the fort, and though they knew the guns were charged, and saw the ramparts lined with soldiers, they intripidly marched with the gallows, coach, &c. up to the very gate, where they knocked, and demanded admittance, & if they had not been restrained by some humane persons, who had influence over them, would doubtless have taken the fort, as I hear there were 4 or 500 seamen, and many others equally intrepid, and acquainted with military affairs.

But as it seems no such extremities were intended, after they had shewn many insults to the effigy, they retired from the fort gate to the bowling green, the pallisades of which they instantly tore away, marched with the gallows, &c. into the middle of the green, (still under the muzzles of the fort guns) where with the pallisades and planks of the fort fence, and a chaise and 2 sleys, taken from the governor’s coach house, they soon reared a large pile of wood round the whole, to which setting fire, it soon kindled to a great flame, and reduced the coach, gallows, man, devil, and all to ashes.
All classic anti-Stamp demonstrations involved burning an effigy like that. By adding four of Colden’s vehicles to the fire, the crowd got more fuel. But they hadn’t destroyed anyone’s house.

TOMORROW: Yet.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Protesting the Stamped Papers inside Fort George

As I noted back here, the designated Stamp Tax collector for New York, James McEvers, resigned that post on 26 Aug 1765, after hearing about how Bostonians had smashed up Andrew Oliver’s house.

Acting governor Cadwallader Colden insisted on enforcing the law nonetheless. Because the British military had made New York its base at the end of the Seven Years’ War, there was a sizable contingent of soldiers in the city, as well as Royal Navy ships and marines. Colden thus didn’t have the problem that stymied Gov. Francis Bernard in Massachusetts—that he could not rely on the militia to stop a mob when the mob was made up of the militiamen.

Colden asked the navy, under the command of Capt. Archibald Kennedy, to intercept the ships carrying stamped paper and carry that precious cargo to Fort George, there to be protected by the Royal Artillery under Maj. Thomas James.

That didn’t sit well with the city’s inhabitants, as reported in the New-York Gazette of 7 Nov 1765 and reprinted eleven days later in the Boston Post-Boy:
On the 23d of October, by Capt. Davis, arrived a parcel of the stamps, which immediately raised a spirit of general uneasiness in the town;—they were put under convoy of a man of war, landed and deposited in the fort. The Governor had very injudiciously, some time before the arrival of the stamps, made a great shew of fortifying the fort, providing it with mortars, guns, ammunition, and all the necessaries for the regular attack of an enemy—and it was given out that he threatened to fire on the town if the stamps were molested (which greatly exasperated the people). Representations against these measures were made to him; and they were, I believe, discontinued, but resumed again upon the arrival of the stamps.

From this time several papers appear’d stuck up in public places about the town, threatening every person that should deliver or receive a stamp. The preparations at the fort were continued with greater vigour, and the people grew more uneasy and enflamed. On the 31st of October, the merchants had a meeting, where they enter’d into an obligation that none of them should order any goods from England till the stamp act was repeal’d, that the orders already sent (and not executed) should be countermanded, (except grindstones, &c. for such ships as were there belonging to this place) and that they should accept no goods on commissions, or assist in the sale of any sent here. This was subscribed by upwards of two hundred merchants.

The shopkeepers also obliged themselves to purchase no goods sent here contrary to the above articles, till the stamp act was repealed. That evening a large company suddenly assembled and marched to the walls of Fort George, and from thence thro’ several streets in the city. The magistrates appeared, and endeavoured to disperse them, but in vain. After a short time they suddenly dispersed of themselves without doing any mischief. It was rumour’d about town a much larger concourse would assemble the next night, and their visit was by some expected, while others thought they would meet no more.
The map above shows Fort George, courtesy of the Library of Congress. The big round spot at the bottom is the Bowling Green with a statue of King George III in the center. (ADDENDUM: The statue was installed in 1770.) It’s currently the site of the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House.

TOMORROW: The day the Stamp Act was supposed to take effect.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Two Gentlemen Who Couldn’t Possibly Take Charge of Connecticut’s Stamped Paper

When the British government instituted the Stamp Act for North America, one of the first steps was to buy a lot of paper. With the tax added, that paper was budgeted to bring in over £100,000 from the thirteen colonies that became the U.S. of A. alone. The untaxed cost of that paper was less, but it was still a substantial investment for the government.

The paper was also a substantial chunk of government property to take care of. Naturally, most colonial officials didn’t want to take any more responsibility for that than they had to.

On 9 Sept 1765, as the anti-Stamp protests heated up in Connecticut, designated stamp master Jared Ingersoll asked a favor of Cadwallader Colden (1688-1776, shown here), the acting governor of New York:
the Stampt papers intended for this Colony are Expected to arrive Soon at N. York & were to have been forwarded to me who am appointed the Distributer here, but the unaccountable rage & fury of the Mob is at present So high against Stamp Officers & papers that I do not think it Safe to have the later Sent here as yet

I have therefore to desire of you to protect the Same when they Shall arrive by placing them in the Fort, or otherwise as you shall be Able, until Some further Steps may be taken . . .

my Duty to the King obliges me to give You this trouble

I am Sr
Yr Most Obedt & Most Humbl. Servt.…
On 14 September, Colden responded:
I have yours of the 9th desiring me to take care of the stamp Paper for your Colony when they arrive. In my opinion they may be put more safely & with greater ease on board one of the Men of War at this Place, & more easily conveyed from thence to your Colony, than by placeing them in this Fort, where it is too probable there will be a necessity of placeing those designed for this Colony. This Fort at present is crowded with Men & military Stores. It may be proper for you or some Person for you to be in this place to take care of your Stamp’d Papers, as my hands are too full with the affairs peculiar to this Province. . . .

I am with great Regard, Sir,…
Ingersoll publicly resigned his post as stamp master on 19 September, as described starting here. He therefore told Colden that the papers were really no longer his charge:
by the time that your favour of the 14th reached my house, I had been Compelled in a most Extraordinary manner to declare I would not directly or indirectly intermeddle with the Stampt papers intended for this Colony—at present therefore when all the Springs of Government are broken I can do no more than recommend to you to take the best Care you Can of those Stampt papers for the Crown until you shall have further directions concerning them from the Commissioners of Stamps, or from me

I am
Yr. Most Obedt. Humb Servt.…
When the stamps for Connecticut actually arrived, Gov. Colden silently disregarded that request and had his son David (1733-1784) take up the correspondence on 28 October:
The Gover. Orders me to inform you that Captn. Davis has brought over three Packages of Stamp’d Papers Marked for Connecticut, which are now lodged in the Governor’s House in the Fort. The Gaspey Cutter is now here & is a very fitt vessell for carrying the Papers to you if you can prevail upon Captn. [Archibald] Kennedy to order her to do it. We hear more Stamped Paper is on board three Ships daily expected here.

I am with great Regard, Sir,…
Ingersoll replied directly to the acting governor on 31 October:
Yesterday I received your favour of the 28th advising me of the Safe arrival of part of the Stamp papers intended for this Colony. I immediately advised with the Governour [Thomas Fitch] on the Subject & for Answer have to Say, that as the people of this Colony have with impunity offered the most high handed violence to my person on account of my having undertaken to be Distributor of Stamps And still Continue their threats to me in case I shall intermeddle with the Stamp papers, as also the destruction of the papers themselves, and as the house of Representatives of this Colony have lately voted the Act of Parliament itself unprecedented & unconstitutional whereby the peoples Spirits are kept up, and as we have no Strong hold wherein to place the papers, I Cannot think it Safe for me or the papers or prudent to bring them into the Colony & have therefore only to thank you for your past goodness & to repeat to you my request that you will be So good as to keep & protect the papers that have or shall arrive at N.York until you Shall receive further directions about the Same.

I am Sr
Yr. Most Obedt. Humble Servt.…
I like how the complimentary closes to those letters give an “Alphonse and Gaston” tone to this exchange.

By the time Colden received Ingersoll’s last letter, the situation in New York had become dire. Connecticut’s paper was the least of his troubles.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Josiah Quincy for the Defense

Yesterday we left tobacconist John Willson on trial for the murder of a shoemaker named David Murray in 1771. That was on 6 September, slightly less than a month after Murray had turned up dead on the shore of Boston Neck.

The facts weren’t in Willson’s favor. People had seen the two men leave Castle William in a boat together, and Willson didn’t tell a coherent story of what happened. Though there were no witnesses, it seemed pretty clear that the two men had gotten into a fistfight.

The law was also not on Willson’s side. If the jury decided he killed Murray in a fight, British rules of the time didn’t offer much leeway in evaluating whether he deserved to die. He would have had to prove the circumstances of manslaughter or self-defense. There were no prisons as an alternative to the gallows.

Courtroom records from the 1770s are quite sparse, with the exception of the trials that followed the Boston Massacre. But we have Josiah Quincy, Jr.’s speech defending Willson. That appears in Joseph Hawley’s commonplace book, recently digitized by the New York Public Library.

After quoting from a couple of legal authorities, Quincy challenged the jury to live up to those standards since “our crown law is with justice supposed to be more nearly advanced to perfection.”

Finally he addressed the specifics of this case:
One doubt in this case is whether the dec[ease]d. was killed by any man.—another doubt there certainly will be, whether he was killed by the prisoner. But if he was so killed, will any one say that the prisoner was guilty of murder? a Crime at which human nature starts, and which is almost universally punished with death. . . .

It will be said, perhaps, if you are fully convinced, that the prisoner killed the decd[,] every circumstance to justify or excuse such killing must be proved by the prisoner. This no doubt is good law. But here it is impossible; none being present but the prisoner and the decd.

Can it be supposed to be law, reason, or christianity to oblige a prisoner to prove impossibilities, or lose his life? how astonishing to suppose reason so little to prevail at the formation of our laws, and under the formalities of justice, that weak equivocal evidence, nay surmise and suspicion, should ever be thought sufficient proof—for crimes, the most atrocious in their nature, the most deliberate in their commission, and therefore the most improbable, as if it were the interest of the laws and the judges, and for the good of society, not to enquire with charity and candor, but to prove the crimes: as if there was not greater risk of condemning any person when the probability of his guilt is less. . . .

If a man be found suddenly dead in a room, and another be found running out in hast with a bloody sword; the blood, the weapon, the hasty flight, are all the necessary concomitants of such horrid facts.—here are deficient the weapon—the blood on such weapon, and above all the hasty flight. Did the prisoner fly, did he ever attempt to secrete himself?

or In some cases presumptive evidences go far to prove a person guilty, tho there be no express proof of the fact to be committed by him, but then it must be warily pressed (and surely as cautiously believed) so as to convict em. For it is better that 10 guilty persons escape unpunished than one Innocent person should die. &c
The 12 Sept 1771 Boston News-Letter reported the outcome of Quincy’s argument:
At the Superior Court held here, on Friday last, John Willson was tried for the Murder of David Murray, who was found dead on the Neck, mentioned in this Paper of the 15th of August last: The Jury brought in their Verdict, Not Guilty.
Not simply not guilty of murder, but not guilty of all charges.

The fact that Hawley copied Quincy’s argument into his commonplace book suggests that the attorneys of Massachusetts thought it was a remarkable case.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Life and Death of David Murray

On 10 Apr 1755, shoemaker David Murray and Mary Fitzgerald married at the New South Meetinghouse, having announced their intention the previous October.

Soon afterward, Boston employee Robert Love visited them at their home on Blowers’s Wharf in the South End, according to Cornelia Hughes Dayton and Sharon H. Salinger in their study Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston.

Over the next fifteen years the Murrays had children, but David remained a journeyman, never doing well enough at making shoes to open his own shop.

Then, on 12 Aug 1771, the Boston Evening-Post carried this item:
Last Thursday Afternoon [i.e., 8 April] David Murray, a Shoemaker belonging to this Town, was found dead on the Beach near the Neck, an some Marks of Violence appearing on several Parts of his Body, and the Jury of Inquest being of Opinion that his Death was occasioned by some violent Blows, one Willson, a Tobacconist, who had been with him in  a Boat to the Castle, and came off with him from thence the Evening before, was taken up and examined, and telling many contradictory Stories relative to the Affair he was the next Day committed to Goal on a strong Suspicion of being the Means of his untimely End.
The indictment accused Willson of beating Murray to death with his fists. Within a month, Willson was on trial for murder. His attorney: Josiah Quincy, Jr.

TOMORROW: Quincy’s plea to the jury.

Friday, November 13, 2015

“Glass Branches” for the Old North

This week Bryan McQuarrie of the Boston Globe reported on the return of an eighteenth-century chandelier to the Old North Church in Boston’s North End.

The five-armed glass chandelier first came to the church as half of a matched pair. According to Hannah Mather Crocker’s Reminiscences and Traditions of Boston, written in the 1820s:
The chandeliers were given by Capt Gruchy. They were taken near the close of the Spanish War. They were made for one of their cathedrals, but were way laid by a privateer belonging to him and thus brought to Boston to be hung up in the North Church since remembrance.
In Rambles in Old Boston, New England (1887), the Rev. Edward G. Porter quoted this item from the Christ Church (North Church) records:
June 16, 1746. Whereas Messrs. Mr. Robert Jenkins, Capt. Grushia, Mr. Hugh McDaniel, Mr. Jno. Gould, Mr. Jno. Baker, oners of the Priveter Queen of Hungary, hath made a present to Christ Church in Boston of 4 cherubims and 2 glass branches taken by ye said Vessell, Voted, That the branches be hung in ye body of the church and ye cherubims placed on ye top of the Organ.
Thomas James Gruchy was a privateer captain during King George’s War, now known as the War of the Austrian Succession or more fondly as the War of Jenkins’s Ear. He commanded the Queen of Hungary, sharing ownership with those other men.

Gruchy reportedly captured a French ship on its way to Québec. Its cargo included those two chandeliers (the “glass branches”) and four carved wooden angels. Gruchy apparently led the choice to donate those to Christ Church, where he was a junior warden.

By 1830, that North Church—soon to be the “Old North”—had refurbished its interior. The carved wooden angels were moved to a new spot, but the chandeliers were put outside in the courtyard. A former church official was founding an Episcopal mission in the western Massachusetts town of Otis, and he took one chandelier out for its new building. The other disappeared.

That church in Otis is now defunct, the building up for sale. Episcopal officials packed up some of its furnishings, including the chandelier, and sent them back east. The National Park Service is now analyzing the pulpit and prayer desk for clues to their age, and Old North is looking for a place to hang its new, old glass chandelier.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Hawley, Adams, Gridley, and Otis, Attorneys at Law

Going back to the newly digitized Joseph Hawley Papers at the New York Public Library, one noteworthy item is Hawley’s commonplace book.

A commonplace book was a notebook in which a (usually) gentleman copied out passages from books or documents that he found interesting, thoughts he wanted to explore, and other material. For example, Hawley’s starts with “Thoughts on various Subjects” and extracts from Cicero “of the Principles of the Stoics.”

Then comes something very meaty for historians of the Revolution: a summary of Jeremiah Gridley’s argument for the Crown in the February 1761 writs of assistance case, followed by the much longer rebuttal from James Otis, Jr. (shown here).

Late in life, and resentful of all the attention Patrick Henry and Virginia were getting, John Adams argued that that court case was the real beginning of the American Revolution. “Then and there the Child Independence was born,” he told William Tudor in 1817. Not coincidentally, almost all the information we have about that event was supplied by John Adams, sometimes with an extra helping of courtroom drama.

Hawley’s commonplace book contains, I understand from Mark Boonshoft’s essay at the Junto blog, the most complete rendering of those arguments to survive. Adams probably wrote out those texts from his notes between the argument in February and 3 Apr 1761, when he showed a copy to Col. Josiah Quincy. Compared to his later description, they are less dramatic but more reliable, though still a long way from a true transcript.

Interestingly, Adams’s own manuscript of these arguments doesn’t exist. Instead, he gets credit for having written the textual ancestor of several overlapping versions that do survive, including Hawley’s. On 29 Apr 1773 the Massachusetts Spy printed Otis’s speech, sparking more interest in it. That August, the Massachusetts Committee of Correspondence sent the Gridley and Otis arguments to the Connecticut legislature. Joseph Hawley was on that committee, so that’s probably how he got to make a copy of his own.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Meeting the Quincy Women, 12 Nov.

In January 1759, John Adams paid a call to Col. Josiah Quincy’s house in Braintree (shown here).

There the young lawyer found his host’s daughter Hannah (1736–1826) and her first cousin Esther Quincy (1738–1810).

Referring to Hannah Quincy as “O.” in his diary, Adams compared the two young ladies:
O. thinks more than most of her Sex. She is always thinking or Reading. She sitts and looks steadily, one way, very often, several minutes together in thought. E. looks pert, sprightly, gay, but thinks and reads much less than O. . . .

O. makes Observations on Actions, Characters, Events, in Popes Homer, Milton, Popes Poems, any Plays, Romances &c. that she reads and asks Questions about them in Company. What do you think of Helen? What do you think of Hector &c. What Character do you like best? Did you wish the Plot had not been discovered in Venice preserved? These are Questions that prove a thinking Mind. E. asks none such.
But really they were both flummoxing him: “I talk to Hannah and Easther about the folly of Love, about despizing it, about being above it, pretend to be insensible of tender Passions, which makes them laugh.”

Hannah Quincy married Dr. Bela Lincoln of Hingham the next year. Esther Quincy married Adams’s friend and fellow lawyer Jonathan Sewall in 1764. That same year, Adams married Abigail Smith, whose mother was a Quincy.

On Thursday, 12 November, Nancy Carlisle will speak at Old North Church in Boston on the topic “From the Revolution to the Close of the Nineteenth Century, the Remarkable Women of the Quincy Family.”
In a family where six successive generations of Quincy men held prominent public roles in the civic life of Boston and New England, the women in the family have long been overshadowed. But in reality it is because of them that we know as much as we do about their husbands, fathers, and brothers. When we shine a light on the lives of the Quincy wives and daughters we learn about the role that intelligent, articulate, and engaged women played in the political and cultural life of the region.
Carlisle is the Senior Curator of Collections for Historic New England. For the past three years she has focused on the Quincy House and its inhabitants as part of a major reinstallation.

This talk is scheduled to start at 6:30 P.M. It is free, but Old North asks people to reserve seats through this site. There will be a reception afterwards.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Poking through the Joseph Hawley Papers

Harvard University isn’t the only institution digitizing Revolutionary-era documents, of course.

The New York Public Library ended up with a bunch of significant papers from Massachusetts, including Samuel Adams’s papers and the correspondence of the Boston Committee of Correspondence. It too has been scanning lots of documents and making them available to the world for free as part of its Early American Manuscripts Project.

I’ll start with the Joseph Hawley Papers. Hawley was an attorney in Northampton, respected by all Massachusetts Whigs for his legal knowledge and judgment. He was quite active in the Massachusetts legislature leading up to the Revolutionary War.

This is Hawley’s copy of the text of a letter that William Brattle sent to Gen. Thomas Gage in late August 1774 warning about rumblings of military preparation in the countryside. Gage responded by removing gunpowder from the provincial powderhouse in what is now Somerville. The rural militia mobilized in what became known as the “Powder Alarm.” That event signaled how Massachusetts farmers had become more confrontational than Bostonians.

Here’s a letter from a man in Boston on 27 Feb 1775 worrying that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress has given too much power to its Committee of Safety to call out the militia again:
when once the Soldiers are mustered by order of the Committee they will suppose it their duty to fight, and for fear of being Impeached for Cowardice, it is more than probable they will Commence Hostilities…
Who wrote that letter? The page with the signature doesn’t appear to have survived. But the handwriting looks a lot like that in this July 1775 letter from Thomas Cushing—Boston merchant, speaker of the Massachusetts house, and delegate to the Continental Congress.

Later in July Cushing wrote again with news that the Congress had chosen Hawley to help negotiate with Native American nations in the northern theater. Hawley’s papers also include a commission signed by John Hancock. There follow a few letters from the other commissioners, asking why they hadn’t heard from Hawley. Finally he wrote to the Congress saying he couldn’t take on the job because of this health—quite possibly the beginning of a long depression that curtailed his political activity.

Hawley appears to have remained active in local affairs, at least at times. His papers include an August 1775 document in which a bunch of British prisoners signed onto the terms of their parole within the town of Northampton. Here are notes on how Hawley’s town voted to pay “nine-month men” enlisting in the Continental Army, and here’s the list of some men who signed up on those terms.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Digging through Harvard’s Digital Papers

I rather like my segue yesterday from the Stamp Act confrontation unfolding 250 years ago to Harvard’s new Colonial North American Project.

As the university announced, its archivists are digitizing all the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century documents in several different collections. With 2,400 objects documents available for viewing, the project is still in an early stage.

For example, here’s a notebook of Prof. John Winthrop’s meteorological observations for the mid-1740s. The professor kept those up to his death in 1779, meaning we have detailed weather records from just outside Boston for all the important days of the pre-Revolutionary turmoil and the siege of Boston. But the later notebooks don’t appear to be digitized yet.

Winthrop’s astronomical studies probably explain why the papers of him and his wife Hannah, who were firm establishment Whigs, include almanacs from the Loyalist printers John Mein and John Fleeming. But maybe they were just intrigued by the scientific reports on the covers of those publications, about giants in South America and a furious wild beast in France.

There’s a lot of other visual material in the online collection, more easily reproduced that way than in print. Harvard students learned how to take surveys and sketch buildings as part of their mathematics courses, so more than one left a plan of Cambridge common,

William Tudor, Jr.’s mathematics notebook shows him using “Genl. Warren’s monument on Bunker Hill” to calculate heights in 1795, illustrated above. A couple of decades later, Tudor helped to organize the initial drive to create today’s Bunker Hill Monument on the same hilltop.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

“Make Application before the said first Day of November”

Here’s a glimpse of Ames’s Almanack for 1766. Usually almanacs were published at the end of the preceding year, sometimes reprinted in the first couple of weeks of the year they covered.

The 1766 almanacs, however, would then fall under the provisions of the Stamp Act, taking effect on 1 Nov 1765. Some printers therefore moved up their publishing schedules so they could sell copies without needing stamped paper.

Richard and Samuel Draper advertised this almanac in early September issues of their Boston News-Letter. Its second page summarized the part of the Stamp Act that applied to almanacs and then warned:
Those Persons who are desirous of being furnished with this Almanack, are requested to make Application before the said first Day of November, as the Price after that Time will be more than double what it is now.
(Incidentally, the author of this almanac wasn’t Dr. Nathaniel Ames of Dedham, despite its title. Instead, it was probably Joseph Willard [1738-1804] credited as “a late Student of Harvard-College.” Ames had published with the Draper family in the past, but this year he either didn’t like being rushed or chose to go with other printers, so the Drapers just pirated his name. But hey—they were taking a moral stand against the Stamp Act!)

Harvard professor John Winthrop (or his wife Hannah, but I think it was John) bought a copy of this almanac, presumably before November. It became part of the couple’s papers in the collections of Harvard University.

And now that university is digitizing this almanac and all its seventeenth- and eighteenth-century documents to create the Colonial North American Project at Harvard University, as reported here. The Winthrops’ artifacts are also part of a new exhibit at the Pusey Library called “Opening New Worlds.” And both the online resource and the exhibit are free to all.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

“As regular as a military Corps”

As I read the accounts of anti-Stamp Act demonstrations from late 1765, I’ve been struck by their emphasis on the crowd’s military discipline.

After the 1 November procession, Gov. Francis Bernard reported to London: “[Ebenezer] MackIntosh is a noted Captain of a Mob & has under him 100 or 150 men trained as regular as a military Corps.”

And in more detail:
To show how fully this Town is in the hands of the mob, I will add that Capt. Mackintosh (now called Genl. Mackintosh) who took the care of the Town, after the Militia had refused to muster under my order, & the Council advised me to discharge the Order, & who professes to have 150 or 200 men trained under him; on the 1 of November marshalled at least 2,000 men, & marched in regular order.

What is more surpising is, that one of the Council, Col. [William] Brattle, walked with him, arm in arm, along the Streets, complimented him on the Order kept & told him his Post was one of the highest in the Government. This Councellor conducted him round the Town House whilst both the Houses were sitting; before which regular Huzza’s were made.
Brattle (shown above) was a high-ranking militia officer, on his way to becoming a general, so his praise for Mackintosh meant a lot. As did skipping out on a Council meeting to march around with the working-men outside.

Mackintosh wasn’t really a captain or general, of course. He gained his informal title from leading the South End gang during Pope Night processions and brawls in the early 1760s. But Mackintosh was a veteran of the previous war, and he and nearly every other young man in Boston trained with their militia companies each season, so they knew how to march in step and obey military command.

In fact, they were extremely disciplined. And that worried the royal authorities as much as riots and disorder. Judge Peter Oliver later wrote of Mackintosh:
He dressed genteelly; & in Order to convince the publick of that Power with which he was invested, he paraded the Town with a Mob of 2000 Men in two Files, & passed by the Stadthouse, when the general Assembly were sitting, to display his Power. If a Whisper was heard among his Followers, the holding up his Finger hushed it in a Moment: & when he had fully displayed his Authority, he marched his Men to the first Rendevouz, & order'd them to retire peacably to their several Homes; & was punctually obeyed.
The implication of such discipline, of course, is that with a flick of the same finger Mackintosh could order those same hundreds of men to attack.