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.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Thursday, December 31, 2015

“The old Year is past”

Continuing a Boston 1775 tradition, here is a “carrier address” from the turn of the year 1766. That was a bit of poetry that printers’ workers wrote, printed, and carried around in their quest for tips at the start of a new year.

New-Year’s Wish
From the Carrier of the Boston Post-Boy, &c.

GEN’ROUS Customers, I run
To serve you as I begun,
With the freshest of News from the Press;
In Hot, and in Cold,
With News, new and old
I readily shall you address.
Ah! the Times are hard,
But we’ll pay no regard
To the Stamps, Mobs, Devils, or Popes;
The freedom of Press
Will gain the Success,
And fully Accomplish our Hopes.---
The old Year is past,
The new come at last;
I wish you full Bumpers, and Bowls,
With every Thing good,
Which serveth for Food
For your Bodies, as well as your Souls,
Then while you are Eating,
And each other greeting,
With Things which you richly enjoy,
Pray freely dispense
Of some Shillings or Pence,
To your faithfull unwearied Boy.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Revisiting Richard Stockton in Princeton

Way back in 2008, I wrote a series of postings about Richard Stockton, who voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence as a Continental Congress delegate from New Jersey. Then, around the end of November 1776, the Crown forces captured him.

As I discussed at length, a legend grew up in the early 1800s, supplemented with imaginary details in subsequent decades, that the royal authorities mistreated Stockton in jail, ruined his health, and left him in poverty. In fact, eighteenth-century records show that Stockton spent a few weeks in captivity at most, left considerable property for his son, and was said by his son-in-law Dr. Benjamin Rush to have “fully recovered” from his detention before dying of an oral cancer.

In 2009, Todd Braisted shared a document confirming how briefly Stockton was in custody. (Look for Todd’s book about the war around occupied New York, The Grand Forage of 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign, coming early next year from Westholme.)

A while back I came across more evidence that Stockton had returned to regular business by mid-1777. College business, at least—he was a neighbor and trustee of Princeton College.

That source is the published edition of A Brief Narrative of the Ravages of the British and Hessians at Princeton in 1776-1777, an anonymous manuscript dated 18 Apr 1777. Toward the end the editor, Varnum Lansing Collins, wrote this footnote:
In his warmth [about British army damage to Princeton College and the Presbyterian Meeting House] the author loses sight of the fact that the first two of these edifices had suffered probably as much damage from the American soldiery as from the British and Hessian. The church had been used by both armies. . . .

The minutes of the Trustees of the College of New Jersey for September, 1776, record the fact that Dr. [John] Witherspoon was to move in Congress “that troops shall not hereafter be quartered in the College.” And three months to a day after our unknown author penned his last paragraph [dated 18 Apr 1777], Dr. Witherspoon, Dr. Elihu Spencer and Richard Stockton, Esq., a committee from the Board of Trustees of the College, presented a petition to Congress praying that no Continental troops be allowed hereafter to enter the College or to use it as a barracks.

The petition recites that every party of provincials marching through Princeton takes possession of the building, and partly through wantonness and partly under pretence of not being supplied with firewood “are daily committing the greatest ravages upon the Building, in breaking up the floors, and burning every piece of wood they can cut out of it.”
Collins reported that the petition was in the manuscripts of the Continental Congress.

Thus, within half a year of his release from supposedly torturous conditions under the British army, Stockton was signing a complaint about damage done by the Continental Army.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Decoration for a Dormitory Wall

Josiah Quincy, Jr., sailed to Great Britain in September 1774, hoping to make connections with London Whigs and convince them to help overturn the Coercive Acts. Quincy didn’t succeed, and he died on 26 Apr 1775 near the end of his return voyage.

Quincy left behind one child, his namesake son born in 1772. That Josiah Quincy attended Harvard College from 1786 to 1790. According to his descendants, “almost the sole ornament” in his dorm room was a print that his father had probably bought in London on that trip.

The mezzotint was titled “A Political Lesson,” created by John Dixon and published by John Bowles on 7 Sept 1774. It shows a gentleman being thrown from a horse on the road from Boston to Salem, his hard head cracking the milestone.

Eliza Susan Quincy understood the rider to be Lord North, whose government had decreed in early 1774 that the Massachusetts General Court should be convened in Salem instead of Boston. The British Museum’s curator thought the man might be Gen. Thomas Gage, who was tasked with carrying out that policy; the man isn’t wearing a general’s uniform, though. I don’t think the face looks like either man, but quite possibly a politically aware viewer in 1774 London would have recognized immediately who he was supposed to be.

Josiah Quincy’s copy of the print is at the Massachusetts Historical Society. The image above comes from the Library of Congress.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Hannah Adams, Comic Book Heroine

The Massachusetts historian and author Hannah Adams (1755-1831) made an appearance in Wonder Woman, #28, published in 1946. She was the focus of a backup feature called “The Wonder Women of History,” and here it is.

Furthermore, it looks like the same story features a cameo by an (unrecognizable and anachronistically dressed) Dr. John Jeffries. His balloon trip across the English Channel might deserve a comics treatment of its own.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Crown Informant Inside Old South

Last week I cited a report about the November-December 1773 public meetings inside the Old South Meeting-House. Labeled “Proceedings of Ye Body Respecting the Tea,” that was created for the royal government soon after the Boston Tea Party.

Whoever wrote that report had obviously been in those meetings listening to Bostonians discussing what they should do about the East India Company’s tea and taking notes on who said what. The document is in the British National Archives.

When L. F. S. Upton first published a transcription of that report in the William and Mary Quarterly in 1965, he wrote that it was unsigned. But he added that other documents in the same handwriting were marked with the name “Colman,” and noted that the last royal Attorney General of Massachusetts, Jonathan Sewall, had cousins named Benjamin and William Colman. They stayed in New England during the war while Sewall and other Loyalists left.

This month I came across this webpage by family historian Robert Sewell offering a similar but not identical transcription. (For example, the surname of ship owner Francis Rotch is rendered as “Botch.”) Sewell wrote that that text is “copied from the Journal of Charles Randolph Montgomerie Sewell.” He was Jonathan Sewall’s great-grandson, and lived in Canada from 1829 to 1876.

Don Corbly printed that transcription in this self-published book in 2009 with a little more background information, probably from the family: Charles R. M. Sewell “recorded a great deal of family history in his Journal circa 1850, including Jonathan [Sewall]’s journal of the actions taken during the Boston Tea Party.” Several details in those introductory paragraphs are wrong, however.

I doubt Jonathan Sewall was in Old South during the tea meetings. By 1773 he was well known as an officer in the royal government, responsible for prosecuting major crimes. His presence at Old South would have attracted attention.

But because Sewall was the Attorney General of the province, it makes sense for him to have asked a cousin to attend those meetings and report back, and/or to have a copy of that report in his papers while another copy was sent to London. So this might be a further clue as to the identity of the man taking notes in Old South.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

“Masters of Miniature” at the U.S.S. Constitution Museum

The U.S.S. Constitution Museum has extended the time of its ship model show called “Masters of Miniature.”

Originally scheduled to end 2 Jan 2016, the exhibit will now be up through early March. This vacation week might still be an ideal time for families to visit.

Presented with the USS Constitution Model Shipwright Guild, this show features ship models from many eras and marine painting by members of the American Society of Marine Artists. Members of the model guild are often on hand to answer questions about the work on display. There’s a scavenger hunt and hands-on activities.

The U.S.S. Constitution Museum in Charlestown is open daily, 10:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. except New Year’s Day. Admission is by donation.

Friday, December 25, 2015

A Christmas Visit with the Franklin Family

On Christmas in 1858, the Boston Young Men’s Christian Association displayed a replica of the birthplace of Benjamin Franklin on Milk Street. At that point the actual building had been gone for well over forty years.

This is a digital rendering of a photograph of a lithograph of that replica of that house, courtesy of the Library Company of Philadelphia.

The L.C.P. website explains:
For the admission price of 15 cents, a visitor to the bazaar could see a recreation of the building facade, bed chamber, and sitting room of the birthplace of Boston native son Franklin. The lithograph was one of two executed by Boston lithographer J. H. Bufford for the exposition’s daily circular “Spirit of the Fair.” . . .

The rooms, recreated from designs provided by Boston antiquary Dr. Nathaniel Bradstreet Shurtleff, contained furnishings “of undoubted antiquity” from local individuals to replicate a quaint domestic setting.
The lithograph was designed with a flap that opens up, not unlike an advent calendar or Christmas card, to display the interior of the Franklin house. On the ground floor, members of the family read, spin, and knit while baby Benjamin lies in a cradle—again reminiscent of a certain common Christmas scene.

Three years earlier, Bufford published this lithograph of the Boston Massacre focusing on Crispus Attucks, from a drawing by William L. Champney.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Lee and Laurens Finish Their “Transaction”

As related yesterday, on 23 Dec 1778 Col. John Laurens and Gen. Charles Lee (shown here) met for a duel on the aptly named Point No Point Road, leading to what’s now Bridesburg, Pennsylvania.

Laurens’s second was his friend and fellow aide de camp to Gen. George Washington, Col. Alexander Hamilton. Lee’s second was one of his aides, Maj. Evan Edwards. Lee had been in a duel to the death before. (Obviously, it hadn’t been fatal for him.)

When we left the fun, Laurens’s pistol shot had hit Lee, from a distance of “five or six paces.” But the general, declaring that it was just a flesh wound, wanted to proceed with a second exchange of fire.

Edwards and Hamilton protested that one shot was enough to satisfy the officers’ honor. Edwards was a little more persistent about that. Finally the duelists allowed their seconds to negotiate, though those two men were already in agreement—the sticking-point was getting the parties themselves to settle down.

Here’s the rest of the account, from Hamilton’s pen:
Col Hamilton and Major Edwards withdrew and conversing awhile on the subject, still concurred fully in opinion that for the most cogent reasons, the affair should terminate as it was then circumstanced. This decision was communicated to the parties and agreed to by them, upon which they immediately returned to Town; General Lee slightly wounded in the right side.

During the interview a conversation to the following purport past between General Lee and Col Laurens—On Col Hamilton’s intimating the idea of personal enmity, as beforementioned, General Lee declared he had none, and had only met Col. Laurens to defend his own honor—that Mr. Laurens best knew whether there was any on his part.

Col Laurens replied, that General Lee was acquainted with the motives, that had brought him there, which were that he had been informed from what he thought good authority, that General Lee had spoken of General Washington in the grossest and most opprobrious terms of personal abuse, which He Col Laurens thought himself bound to resent, as well on account of the relation he bore to General Washington as from motives of personal friendship, and respect for his character.

General Lee acknowleged that he had given his opinion against General Washingtons military character to his particular friends and might perhaps do it again. He said every man had a right to give his sentiments freely of military characters, and that he did not think himself personally accountable to Col Laurens for what he had done in that respect. But said he never had spoken of General Washington in the terms mentioned, which he could not have done; as well because he had always esteemed General Washington as a man, as because such abuse would be incompatible with the character, he would ever wish to sustain as a Gentleman.
Lee’s remarks about Washington as a general went back to their dispute at the Battle of Monmouth. About which Lee had had a lot to say, though not necessarily what Laurens had heard.

But that conversation was apparently enough to make Laurens and Lee agree with the advice their seconds came back with. Everybody headed home.

Hamilton wrote out this account of the duel, and he and Edwards both signed it on 24 Dec 1778. They concluded: “Upon the whole we think it a piece of justice to the two Gentlemen to declare, that after they met their conduct was strongly marked with all the politeness generosity coolness and firmness, that ought to characterise a transaction of this nature.”

Lee never attained another command after Monmouth and his subsequent court-martial (which he had requested); he died of a fever in 1782. Laurens had died a couple of months earlier from battle wounds. Edwards died in 1798. Hamilton lived until 1804 and then…you know.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

An Appointment for Lee and Laurens

On Christmas Eve, 1778, Col. Alexander Hamilton was busy writing out this account of a potentially troublesome event that he had witnessed the day before, 237 years ago today.

Fans of the musical Hamilton will recognize this as an episode from that play. Or perhaps not, because Lin-Manuel Miranda’s adaptation of history has different people involved.

Here’s the real story from Hamilton’s own pen:
narrative of an affair of honor between general [Charles] lee and col [John] laurens [shown here]

General Lee attended by Major [Evan] Edwards and Col [John] Laurens attended by Col [Alexander] Hamilton met agreeable to appointment on Wednesday afternoon half past three in a wood situate near the four mile stone on the Point no point road.

Pistols having been the weapons previously fixed upon, and the combatants being provided with a brace each, it was asked in what manner they were to proceed. General Lee proposed, to advance upon one another and each fire at what time and distance he thought proper. Col Laurens expressed his preference of this mode, and agreed to the proposal accordingly.

They approached each other within about five or six paces and exchanged a shot almost at the same moment. As Col Laurens was preparing for a second discharge, General Lee declared himself wounded. Col Laurens, as if apprehending the wound to be more serious than it proved advanced towards the general to offer his support. The same was done by Col Hamilton and Major Edwards under a similar apprehension. General Lee then said the wound was inconsiderable, less than he had imagined at the first stroke of the Ball, and proposed to fire a second time.

This was warmly opposed both by Col Hamilton and Major Edwards, who declared it to be their opinion, that the affair should terminate as it then stood. But General Lee repeated his desire, that there should be a second discharge and Col Laurens agreed to the proposal.

Col Hamilton observed, that unless the General was influenced by motives of personal enmity, he did not think the affair ought to be persued any further; but as General Lee seemed to persist in desiring it, he was too tender of his friend’s honor to persist in opposing it.

The combat was then going to be renewed; but Major Edwards again declaring his opinion, that the affair ought to end where it was, General Lee then expressed his confidence in the honor of the Gentlemen concerned as seconds, and said he should be willing to comply with whatever they should cooly and deliberately determine. Col. Laurens consented to the same.
Would Hamilton and Edwards convince the duelists that honor had been satisfied?

TOMORROW: Throwing away their shot?

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Massachusetts Marriages in 1765

After reading about the idea that Massachusetts couples timed their marriages to avoid paying the Stamp Tax after 1 Nov 1765, I started to think about how to test whether that report was accurate.

I decided to go to Familysearch.org, the genealogy site built by the Latter-Day Saints, and run numbers there. Since the Boston Gazette item on couples marrying before the law took effect mentioned Marblehead, I asked to see all 1765 marriages in Marblehead in that database without regard for names. Then I asked for the same information about every other year in the 1760s. I recorded the number of listings that popped up each time.

That’s a crude way of estimating the number of marriages in each year. For one thing, each marriage is listed twice, once for the bride and once for the groom. The database is bound to have even more duplicates because of spelling oddities, couples hailing from different towns, and other factors. But I figure that the same problems affect every year of data about equally, so the relative numbers should be reliable. (Unless there’s some strange shift in the measurements I don’t know about.)

Then I mapped the numbers across the decade and graphed the results:

Gosh. Something strange sure happened in Marblehead in 1765. The number of listings was trending down from 1761, as young men started coming back from war and then the post-war economy set in. But listings made a big jump in 1765, and had a big tumble in 1766. That’s consistent with the idea that in mid-1765 couples planning to get married over the next eighteen months decided to do so sooner rather than later.

I then looked at the number of listings in a couple of other towns by the same method. In the smaller, inland town of Newton, there was a similar jump in listings in 1765, but it wasn’t quite as pronounced.

Out west in Springfield, the number of listings was only a little higher than the previous year and remained at the same level the next year.
Researchers who want to spend more than half an hour with the data could surely generate much more solid results and perhaps see trends. But based on this dip into the data, I’d say it looks like the Stamp Act really did affect Massachusetts couples’ marriage choices, at least within a day’s ride of Boston.

Monday, December 21, 2015

“Joining in Wedlock, earlier than they intended”

As I described yesterday, the Stamp Act required all certificates, including those related to marriage, to be filled out on paper affixed with a ten-shilling stamp.

That meant that, once the law went into effect on 1 Nov 1765, every couple in Massachusetts who wanted to be legally married was supposed to pay an extra ten shillings.

By autumn, however, people were opposed to paying the Stamp Tax not just to save money but also to avoid cooperating with what they saw as an unconstitutional imposition on the province’s self-government.

The Boston Gazette of 14 Oct 1765 reported that one result was couples hurrying to marry before the law took effect the next month:
We hear that Numbers of young Persons in the Country are joining in Wedlock, earlier than they intended, supposing that after the 1st of next Month, it would be difficult to have the Ceremony performed without paying dearly for stamping:—

No less than 22 Couple were published on Sunday last Week at Marblehead, intending Marriage on the same Account.
Because your town minister had to announce your intent to marry for two weeks before the ceremony, that meant the deadline to avoid the tax was right on top of people.

At the end of the year, the 30 December Boston Gazette ran a related item, datelined Newport:
The Spirit of Patriotism is not confined to the Sons of America only, but glows with equal Fervour in the benevolent Breasts of her virtuous Daughters; one Instance of which we think is worthy of particular Notice, viz.

A Lady of this Town, though in the Bloom of Youth and possessed of Virtues & Accomplishments really engaging and sufficient to excite the most pleasing Expectations of Happiness in the marriage State has declared, that she should choose rather to be an Old Maid, then that the Operation of the illegal Stamp Act should commence in these Colonies.
The Gazette was Boston’s most radical newspaper at that time, always ready to decry new Crown measures and promote the solidarity of the resistance. So we have to ask whether these reports were accurate.

Did people just joke about getting married before the tax hit? Did the Newport lady seize on the Stamp Act for an excuse not to marry when she really didn’t want to? Did people talk about not marrying to avoid the tax but not follow through, as Rush Limbaugh and Alec Baldwin have both threatened to leave the U.S. of A. if certain political events didn’t go their way?

TOMORROW: Running some numbers.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Stamp Act as a Marriage Tax

Genealogists, historians of marriage, and other experts might correct me on this, but in provincial Massachusetts a new couple didn’t obtain a certificate of marriage.

Rather, they got a certificate of their intention to marry from their town clerk, who certified that the engagement had been announced from the pulpit for the requisite fifteen days (three Sundays) beforehand.

Then they could take that paper to the minister or justice of the peace (ministers seem to have become the default choice by the eighteenth century) for the actual marriage.

I looked for examples of certificates of intent to marry from eighteenth-century Massachusetts, and the closest I got, courtesy of Access Genealogy, was the example above from 1806. But hey, it’s signed by William Cooper, who was Boston’s town clerk from 1761 to 1809. So he would have signed the equivalent document in the 1760s.

[To folks at the Massachusetts Historical Society: If my notes are correct, the Willard (Knox) Papers contain the certificate that Cooper filled out for Henry Knox and Lucy Flucker on June 23, 1774. That might make a nice Object of the Month.]

I did find a number of transcriptions from town clerks’ records, showing they didn’t all follow the same linguistic formula in noting down who planned to marry in their towns. Here’s an example from Stoughton:
The Intention of Marriage Betwen Mr. Ezra Morse of Stoughton & Mrs. Susanna Guild of Walpole Entred April ye 13th 1765
From Dover:
October 1st 1786. The intention of marriage between Mr David Fuller Jr of the District of Dover and Miss Sally Gay of Dedham is this day entered with me and a certificate given that the said intention of marriage hath been made public agreeable to law

Joseph Haven District Clerk
The text of a certificate from Westfield:
This may certify that the Intention of Marriage between Mr. Zenas Noble, of Washington, and Mrs. Margaret Granger, of Westfield, hath been published in the manner the Law directs; and their names entered with me fourteen Days previous to the Date.

Westfield, Oct. 24th, 1791
Attt. P. WHITNEY, Town-Clerk.
Some clerks noted when couples registered their intention but never came to pick up their certificates, and were therefore not supposed to have gotten married.

The text of the Stamp Act makes no explicit mention of marriage, but it includes this clause:
For every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which shall be ingrossed, written, or printed, any appeal, writ of error, writ of dower, Ad quod damnum, certiorari, statute merchant, statute staple, attestation, or certificate, by any officer, or exemplification of any record or proceeding in any court whatsoever within the said colonies and plantations (except appeals, writs of error, certiorari, attestations, certificates, and exemplifications, for or relating to the removal of any proceedings from before a single justice of the peace) a stamp duty of ten shillings.
Evidently the term “certificate, by any officer,” covered certificates of intent to marry. As a result, the Stamp Act put a ten-shilling tax on the legal act of marrying.

TOMORROW: Tax avoidance in 1765.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Josiah Quincy’s “clouds which now rise thick and fast”

Eliza Susan Quincy concluded her 1874 account of her grandfather’s speech in Old South Meeting-House just before the Boston Tea Party with this passage:
While Mr. [Josiah] Quincy was speaking, the men dressed as Indians, who were going to the wharves to destroy the tea, came in, and he closed with the following sentence: “I see the clouds which now rise thick and fast upon our horizon, the thunders roll, and the lightnings play, and to that God who rides on the whirlwind and directs the storm I commit my country.”
As her source, Quincy offered this note:
Two contemporaries of Mr. Quincy repeated his words on this occasion. The name of one was not distinctly remembered by his son [Eliza Quincy’s father]; but, on the 18th of June, 1852, the venerable Daniel Greenleaf, of Quincy, Massachusetts, at the age of ninety years, gave the same account, and repeated the closing sentences. He said that he was a boy in the Latin School, in Boston. The master, John Lovell, was a Tory, but James Lovell, his son and assistant, was a Whig; and, whenever the school was adjourned in consequence of public excitement, he always told the boys to go to the upper gallery in the Old South. In 1852, Mr. Greenleaf was probably the only person living who distinctly remembered the 16th of December, 1773.
Daniel Greenleaf (1762-1853) was admitted into the Lovells’ South Latin School in 1770. He became known for telling such stories in old age, according to a family history: “His memory was very retentive; he could relate almost every transaction of his long life; was full of anecdotes of revolutionary events; being then a young and active lad in immediate contact with some of the prominent actors of those times.”

In 1826 Greenleaf was one of the appraisers of John Adams’s estate, and Eliza Quincy’s father was an executor along with John Quincy Adams. Clearly Greenleaf was part of the Quincy family’s circle on the South Shore. That might have tinged his memories over more than seventy-five years.

Our contemporaneous source, the person reporting on the meeting for the royal government, didn’t mention Quincy speaking that afternoon at all, nor “men dressed as Indians” who “came in” to the meetinghouse. He heard noises outside the building and saw men leaving.

So did Josiah Quincy, Jr., say those seemingly prescient words about “clouds which now rise thick and fast upon our horizon” in December 1773? All we can say for sure is that he did think a lot about clouds, particularly as a metaphor for political turmoil.

From his 15 Sept 1768 letter to the Rev. John Eagleson:
The present aspect of the day is gloomy indeed, yet we are far from despair. Though the clouds, full charged, rise thick and fast, the thunders roll, and lightnings play, nay, it is said, are just within striking distance, there are not wanting those among us, who believe that proper conductors will safely carry off all the political fluid, the clouds disperse, and the sky soon become calm and serene.
From an essay signed “Hyperion” in the 3 Oct 1768 Boston Gazette:
British taxations, suspensions of legislatures, and standing armies, are but some of the clouds, which overshadow the northern world. Heaven grant that a grand constellation of virtues may shine forth with redoubled lustre, and enlighten this gloomy hemisphere!
From the journal of his mid-1773 sea voyage to the southern colonies:
What a transition have I made and am still making! was the exclamation of my heart. Instead of stable earth, the fleeting waters: the little hall of right and wrong is changed for the wide-expanding immeasurable ocean: instead of petty jars and waspish disputations; waves contend with waves, and billows war with billows: seas rise in wrath and mountains combat heaven; clouds engage with clouds and lightenings dart their vengefull corruscations; thunders roll and oceans roar: all other flames and distant shores, sea, air and heaven reverberate the mighty war and echo awfull sounds. . . .

Vast field for contemplation! Riches for mind and fancy! Astonishing monuments of wisdom; magnificent productions of power!
One possibility is that people assigned something Quincy often said about clouds on the political horizon to that dramatic moment on 16 Dec 1773. Another is that he really did say it (and his friends all thought, “Oh, Josiah’s going on about clouds again.”).

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Young Gentleman in the Gallery

There’s a third description of what Josiah Quincy, Jr., said in the Old South Meeting-House on 16 Dec 1773, preserved in the biography of the young lawyer authored by his descendants.

But not in the first edition of that biography, published by the subject’s son Josiah Quincy (1772-1864) in 1825. That book had little to say about the destruction of the tea, which had not yet gained fame and respect as the “Boston Tea Party.”

Instead, the anecdote first came into print in the second edition, edited by the subject’s granddaughter Eliza Susan Quincy (1798-1884) for publication almost fifty years later. (Actually, this Massachusetts Historical Society webpage says she had prepared the first edition as well, though it was published under her father’s name.)

The 1874 book says:
During the interval, speeches were made by Samuel Adams and others. Josiah Quincy, Junior, standing in the east gallery of the Old South meeting-house, spoke in a tone of bold and animated invective against the measures of the British government.

Harrison Gray [royal treasurer of Massachusetts], standing on the floor, in reply warned the young gentleman in the gallery against the consequences of the intemperate language in which he indulged, saying that such language would be no longer borne by administration; that measures were in train which would bring the authors of such invectives to the punishment they deserved.

Mr. Quincy replied, “If the old gentleman on the floor intends, by his warning to ‘the young gentleman in the gallery,’ to utter only a friendly voice in the spirit of paternal advice, I thank him. If his object be to terrify and intimidate, I despise him. Personally, perhaps, I have less concern than any one present in the crisis which is approaching. The seeds of dissolution are thickly planted in my constitution. They must soon ripen. I feel how short is the day that is allotted to me.”
The remarks about “my constitution” alluded to the tuberculosis Quincy was suffering from, but also brought up thoughts of the British constitution. Was it also doomed to dissolution?

Two days ago, I quoted a report of that meeting written by a Crown informant inside Old South. It didn’t describe Quincy speaking “against the measures of the British government,” even though the informant’s job was to pay attention to such remarks. It didn’t mention Harrison Gray, a royal appointee by then firmly on the side of the Crown, at all.

That report did say Quincy was heckled, but it described the voice coming down from the gallery, not directed up to it. And that voice insinuated that Quincy had taken money to support the Rotch family, not that he was using “intemperate language.”

So was that exchange between Quincy and a suspicious radical transmuted by memory into this back-and-forth between Quincy and a leading Loyalist?

TOMORROW: Quincy looks at clouds from both sides.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Quincy’s Speech in Quincy’s Words

Our next source for what lawyer Josiah Quincy, Jr., said in Old South Meeting-House during the tea meetings of December 1773 comes from Quincy himself.

In a letter to his wife Abigail, written in London on 14 Dec 1774, Quincy described the impending confrontation between Massachusetts and the imperial government:
Your countrymen must seal their cause with their blood. You know how often and how long ago I said this. I see every day more and more reason to confirm my opinion. Surely, my countrymen will recollect the words I held to them this time twelvemonth.
It is not, Mr. Moderator, the spirit that vapors within these walls that must stand us in stead. The exertions of this day will call forth events which will make a very different spirit necessary for our salvation. Look to the end. Whoever supposes that shouts and hosannas will terminate the trials of the day, entertains a childish fancy. We must be grossly ignorant of the importance and value of the prize for which we contend;—we must be equally ignorant of the powers of those who have combined against us;—we must be blind to that malice, inveteracy, and insatiable revenge, which actuate our enemies, public and private, abroad and in our bosom, to hope we shall end this controversy without the sharpest, the sharpest conflicts; to flatter ourselves that popular resolves, popular harangues, popular acclamations, and popular vapor, will vanquish our foes. Let us consider the issue. Let us look to the end. Let us weigh and consider, before we advance to those measures which must bring on the most trying and terrible struggle, this country ever saw.
Quincy said that he had made those remarks twelve months before, and he includes the phrase “Mr. Moderator,” strongly suggesting he meant during the tea meetings of December 1773. If he was being exact, that would be 14 December, but he might have meant the day the crisis came to a head, 16 December.

While Quincy presents his words as a direct quote, there’s no way he could have spoken spontaneously and taken notes at the same time. So either he had written out his remarks in advance in 1773 and then brought that document to London, or he was recreating his speech for his wife—which brings up the possibility of a little improvement or 20-20 hindsight.

There’s some interesting disagreement about how to interpret these remarks. Some historians read Quincy as advocating moderation, warning the gathering not to push too hard against the law. But he didn’t suggest a compromise. Quincy clearly saw himself as trying to steel the crowd’s resolve, to ensure that people were ready for a much bigger, harder struggle against the malicious and inveterate royal power.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

“Mr. Josiah Quincy junior then rose”

On this anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, I’m looking at the question of what Josiah Quincy, Jr., said in the Old South Meeting-House during the meeting that led up to that event.

First up, a report to the British government written by someone inside the meetinghouse, evidently there to observe the proceedings and take note of any criminal activity. It appears this report was drafted just a couple of days after the tea was destroyed.

This report described Quincy speaking on 14 December or the morning of the 16th. The meeting was pressing Francis Rotch to order his ship Dartmouth to leave Boston harbor still loaded with tea, as ships’ masters had done in other American ports. Rotch feared the Royal Navy and Customs service would seize the ship for violating a law against leaving port without unloading. (I’ve long wondered what the reason for that law was.) Losing the ship would be a big financial hit for Rotch and his family, so he asked the Boston merchants to buy the ship so they would all run the risk together.

The informer wrote:
Mr. Josiah Quincy junior then rose and said that he thought Mr. Rotch had offered very fair to submit the Vessel to the Appraisement of Merchants and to be a Sharer in the Loss—that it was cruel to put him in the Front of the Battle—that the People ought to be be Sharers with him in the Loss of the Vessel since this was a Business of public Concern—that he himself would give fifty Guineas towards purchasing and sending her back—that he had ever held Humanity as a first Rate Virtue and that Patriotism without Humanity was not true Patriotism etc. with many other Expressions to the like Effect.

As soon as he had finished, one in the Gallery cried out, “You speak Sir very finely, but you don’t shew your Money”—

on which Mr. Quincy replied that whoever suggested that he was bribed, was a Scoundrel, and he averred that he had not directly taken any Money of Mr. Rotch to say thus, which Mr. Rotch also attested, adding that he was much surprized that no Merchant or other of his Fellow Citizens (who might be innocently ensnared as he was) had till then shewn the Generosity to espouse his Cause and offered to share in the Damage he might sustain.
Being written so soon after the event by someone without an obvious bias for or against Quincy, this seems like a highly reliable source. It depicts Quincy as speaking up for someone others perceived as cooperating with the tea tax, and being heckled on that account from the gallery. Even though Quincy was arguing on the basis of what would make the Whigs look fair and humane, he was proposing some sort of compromise, and some people in the hall didn’t want to hear that.

TOMORROW: Quincy’s own words.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Notes on the Stat(u)e of Jefferson

Yet another focus of recent campus protests against honoring historic figures whose behavior was less than honorable has been statues of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Missouri (shown here) and the University of Virginia.

Jefferson was a lifelong slaveholder, of course. He decried the practice, but he never managed to try or even endorse any of the schemes to end slavery that friends presented to him. Jefferson also wrote bigoted things about black people, especially in Notes on the State of Virginia, which some historians argue formed part of the foundation of “scientific racism” in America.

Ironically, Jefferson probably had children with a woman of some African ancestry, his slave Sally Hemings. Because of her age at the time of their first reported child, and because of the power difference between them, many people characterize that relationship as exploitation or even rape.

Of course, there was a lot more to Thomas Jefferson than that. Unlike Isaac Royall, who wasn’t really important, and John C. Calhoun, whose major ideas were repudiated long ago, Jefferson’s ideas and actions are still crucial to the U.S. of A. (In that respect he’s like Woodrow Wilson, another target of criticism for racist policy.) It would be especially difficult to repudiate Jefferson at the University of Virginia since he founded the school.

Some people have argued for removing the Jefferson statues from those campuses. I’m more impressed by the form of protest that evolved out of that debate: students putting sticky notes onto the figures expressing their opposition to the more reprehensible parts of Jefferson’s behavior. Or, presumably, they could express praise, or other thoughts.

I see potential in that becoming a meaningful ritual. It could open discussions, allowing for ongoing acknowledgment of Jefferson’s problematic side without erasing his historical contribution. It could be a form of recurrent iconoclasm without permanent or complete erasure, which brings the dangers of complacency and amnesia.

Certainly it can be a more valuable way of dealing with campus statues than rubbing them for luck, as Harvard students have reportedly done for decades. (Of course, tour guides reportedly say Yale students rub the statue of Nathan Hale the same way, and I can say with certainty that’s a myth.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

How Deerfield Updated a Monument

Last week I considered ways that universities might update symbols that have roots in historic discrimination without simply removing them—which could lead to lack of visible change and complacent amnesia.

Another approach to producing a continual, not one-time, renewal of old historical symbols was taken at the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield a decade ago. The town’s 1882 monument to the 1704 skirmish between English settlers and Native American and French soldiers contained marble panels with language that people had come to recognize as one-sided and offensive.

Back in 2004, the Boston Globe reported on how the monument had been updated:
With this year marking the 300th anniversary of the raid, the local historical society—which oversees many of the markers—has taken to placing removable covers on memorials with language it considers offensive, such as references to “savages” and “Negro servants.”

The coverings are cloth, shaded to mimic the swirls of the marble tablets and scripted with revised text. So where one marble tablet originally read, “Mary, adopted by an Indian, was named Walahowey. She married a savage, and became one.” The covering’s text reads, “She married a Kanien’kehaka and adopted the culture, customs and language of her new community in Kahnawake.”
Because visitors can easily lift the cloth and read both versions, not only is the history of the original event preserved, but so is the history of how Deerfield chroniclers of the late 1800s described that event. We can thus see how historical interpretation has changed, witnessing the effort to improve the understanding of the event and the inclusiveness of its commemoration. Indeed, by lifting those cloths to read and replacing them, we in a small way participate in that process.

TOMORROW: Campus statuary.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

And It Looked Like It Was Going So Well for Him

From the Old Bailey court sessions in London, as made available by the London Lives website:
The Information of Samuel Dyer taken on Oath before me James Spagg one of his Majesty’s Justices of the Peace in and for the said County this 19th. day of July 1773

Who saith that on Saturday last the 17th of July instant about eleven o’Clock at Night two Girls Picked him up in swan Alley and carried him to the House of one Mrs Grear in Swan Alley where he gave a woman now present and says her name is Margaret White a Shilling to get some Liquor and also another Shilling for a Room and bed

that he then went up Stairs with [..] said two Girls and pulled of his Trousers and layed them on a chair at the foot of a Bed

That then one of the Girls Picked his Trousers Pocket of two Shillings

that he got out of Bed in order to prevent her from so doing but the Girls cried out Murther and [..] said they would have his brains beat out or words to that Effect and then run down Stairs

that he endeavoured to follow them but was prevented by the said Margaret White who seized him by the Cholar and held him till the said girls escapd—

That he then got [..] down stairs and into the street naked except his Shirt down Stairs—saith he doth [..] not know the names of either of the said Girls who picked his pocket
This is almost certainly not the American sailor Samuel Dyer whom I’ve researched. More’s the pity.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Charles Steuart’s Stamp Act Crisis

In early December 1765, the surveyor-general of the Customs service in North America, Charles Steuart, sat down in his office in Philadelphia to write a report to his superiors about the state of the continent. (I’ve seen this letter dated to both 7 and 8 December.)

The Stamp Act required all ships leaving North American ports after 1 November to carry Customs office documents, called “clearances,” that had been filled out on stamped paper, a way of collecting a tax on that bureaucratic transaction. That made the Customs agents responsible for enforcing the Stamp Act.

Steuart told his bosses that wasn’t easy:
Your Honours, I presume, have been informed of the distracted State of this Continent on Account of the Stamp Act, I am but ill qualified to give a Description of it, for though I have travelled near 2000 miles since my Arrival in America, I have been fortunate enough to escape all the scenes of Rage and Madness that have been acted in it. I must therefore beg Leave to refer to the Accounts from those Officers whose Residence enabled them to give more full Information and particularly to the Officers at New York, where the fury of the Mob committed great Excesses.

All the Distributors of Stamps between Halifax and St. Augustine have been compelled to resign their Commissions, and no stamp papers can be obtained in all these Countries, this has thrown them into great Confusion. The Courts of Law are shut, Redress for Injuries cannot be obtained, debts recovered, nor Property secured or transferred.

But the Evils necessarily occasioned by a Stop to the internal business and Police of the Colonies, are not equal to the Consequences of shutting up their Ports at this season of the year—permit me briefly to enumerate a few of them.

Thousands of Seamen and Others whose sole Dependance is on Navigation not only rendered Useless to their Country but deprived of the Means of Subsistance, Provisions for which there are at this time large Orders, particularly for Corn for France, Spain, Portugal, the Mediterranean &c. must perish on hand, while famin may spread itself through our West India Islands by being suddenly cut of from their usual Supplies; Ireland would be greatly distressed by the Want of flax seed from hence, on which her linen Manufacture depends; Other Articles of Produce by which Remittances may be made to Britain detained in the Country—the Revenue lessened, and trade and Navigation the Source of Wealth and the Support of a Maritime and Commercial Nation, entirely stopped, which must be attended with Ruin to Multitudes and distress to All. These are weighty Considerations, but a stronger Inducement for proceeding to Business here and at New York still remains.
By “proceeding the business,” Steuart meant having Customs officers approve ships for departure with documents on non-stamped paper. He was trying to make the case for his superiors to approve of that policy to ignore the law, at least temporarily.
The Officers at both Places have by their Address and prudence evaded for a full Month granting Clearances, in hopes that some way would be opened by which they might be extricated out of their Difficulties, that time did not pass without strong Applications and even threats, which they had great Reason to believe would soon become very serious.

It is supposed there are uow in this Port 150 Sail of Vessells; the frost generally sets in about Christmas, and continues upwards of two Months; Nothing is more certain than that so great a Number of Seamen shut up for that time, in a town destitute of all Protection to the Inhabitants, even a Militia, would commit some terrible Mischief, or rather that they would not suffer themselves to be shut up but would compel the Officers to clear Vessells without Stamps this would undoubtedly have been the Consequence of a few days longer delay. And, I hope, I need not add, it would have been highly imprudent to have hazarded the Event; the least Evil attending it would in all probability have been the Loss of about £5000—belonging to the Revenue in the Custom house.
So far Steuart’s letter has raised the specters of loss of imperial trade, famine in the Caribbean, damage to the Irish linen industry, and idle sailors rampaging through the North American ports and looting the Customs house. It may also have mentioned dogs and cats living together. All of which led up to…
The Collector came to me on the Morning of the 2d. Instant, told me his Situation, his Apprehensions and his Resolution of proceeding to business immediately; I could not refuse my Approbation and wrote circular Letters to all the other Ports in the district except Quebec, a Copy of which I have the Honour of sending herewith. I had before written to the Officers at New York when that City was governed by the Mob, that they must clear Vessells, if necessary, which they every Moment expected to be forced to, but the Arrival of their Governour gave them some Respite, and they got leave to wait till Philadelphia should take the lead; they accordingly began the 5th.
At last Steuart had gotten to the main substance of his report: he had already told the Customs officers in New York, Philadelphia, and other ports he supervised that they should clear ships to leave without the stamped paperwork.
The Governours were applyed to, but thought proper to observe a cautious Silence. I might have done the same, but do not think it honourable, nor consistent with my duty to withhold my Advice and Opinion in a Matter of Difficulty, when called upon by those who have a Right to demand them.

Having now without Exaggeration laid before your Honours the Situation in which the Officers of these two Ports stood, it is humbly hoped that, abstracted from any Reasoning on the Propriety of the Step they have been compelled to take, their Conduct and my Approbation of it will stand justified on the Plea of Necessity and Self Preservation.
This letter is thus an example of making a decision and asking for forgiveness afterward instead of proposing an action and asking for approval in advance.

These days Steuart is best known as the slaveowner in the Somerset case, but here he was playing a small but significant role in the Stamp Act crisis.

Friday, December 11, 2015

“I related to him the Disposition of the Inhabitants”

As we recall, late on the night of 1 Nov 1765, an anti-Stamp Act mob in New York destroyed the home of Maj. Thomas James of the Royal Artillery.

Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden and Gen. Thomas Gage sent James home to Britain to report on what had happened to him and to seek compensation.

Sometime in early 1766 the major wrote back to Colden explaining how his arrival had affected the debate over the next several weeks about how to revise the Stamp Act:
So soon as I arrived in London on the 10th December I waited on General [Henry Seymour] Conway [the Secretary of State in charge of North America, shown here] with the Dispatch you honourd me with

I related to him the Disposition of the Inhabitants before they ever knew of the Stamp Act having passd the House of Commons, and so lead him on untill I embarq’d and saild on the 8th of November

General Conway was astonish’d and would have taken me to the King that very Day had I been fit to have been seen—

I have gone through many Examinations; and it is impossible to conceive the pains and Trouble the Americans have taken to obtain a Repeal, no Stone has been left unturn’d, many Accusations have been laid to my Charge, all which I have answerd to His Royal Highness the Duke of Gloucester Privy Council, Lords and Commons; for I was two hours and a half at the Bar of the House—

The House were engaged in Reading American Letters being in Number 400!—with every paper from the American Press with all their Pamphlets &c from Tuesday Wednesday and Friday five in the afternoon.
James reported that Parliament called three other witnesses from North America besides himself: “Dr. Moffatt Mr. Howard and Col Mercer.” Which is to say:
All four men had suffered from anti-Stamp mobs in the preceding months (though only Mercer had been a designated stamp agent). Together they reported that there had been riots in most of the biggest colonies, and that when they had left North America it looked like several colonial governments would not be able to enforce the Stamp Act at all.

TOMORROW: A report from the American Customs service.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Marquess of Rockingham’s Stamp Act Revisions

I’m going to break from the campus debate over revising now-problematic symbols to catch up with developments in 1765 concerning the Stamp Act.

When we last left the Marquess of Rockingham, the sudden death of the king’s uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, had left him as the leader of the British government.

Rockingham’s allies in Parliament had opposed the Stamp Act, so he had no stake in maintaining the previous administration’s law. On the other hand, he didn’t want to undermine his own authority or the authority of the Crown by appearing to back down to mob violence or selfish colonists who didn’t want to do their part in maintaining the British Empire.

On 7 November, the London alderman Barlow Trecothick wrote to Rockingham about the problems with the American Stamp Act. Trecothick was linked by business and marriage to the Apthorp family of Boston and New York, and had become the voice of the Caribbean trade in London—a very big part of the imperial economy. With Trecothick’s input, Rockingham started to shape what he hoped would be a compromise that everyone could accept.

By late November, according to John L. Bullion’s 1992 study of how the British ministry reacted to the anti-Stamp protests, the marquess wrote out a memorandum proposing three revisions to the Stamp Act that answered American objections while preserving the tax itself:
  • Disputes arising from the law would be handled in local colonial courts, not the Vice Admiralty court in Halifax, and thus be subject to trial by jury.
  • People could pay the tax in legal notes of their colonies, not just in scarce gold and silver coins.
  • Merchants would not have to use stamped paper for trade within the British Empire—a point Trecothick had pushed particularly.
Those changes responded to three of the four common complaints about the law. But they wouldn’t have addressed the issue that would in a couple of years come to be known as “taxation without representation”—whether the Parliament in London could levy taxes on British colonies.

Rockingham and Trecothick appear to have developed a plan in which the alderman and the London business community would propose those ideas, and the first minister would consider them seriously and decide that for the cause of imperial trade the government could adopt them. In the first week of December, Trecothick got the ball rolling by presiding over a meeting of top merchants doing business with the West Indies.

But Rockingham’s proposals never went before Parliament. A few days after Trecothick’s meeting, London learned that the situation in America was even worse than people had feared.

TOMORROW: Hearings in the House.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Honoring Belinda’s Contribution to the Law

In 1936, Harvard University appropriated the heraldry of the Royall family to be the crest of its law school, honoring Isaac Royall for endowing the first law professorship.

Under the holophrastic Harvard motto, that crest shows three sheafs of wheat bound up after harvesting. There’s no sign of who did the harvesting. Of course, most observers would also not be able to identify that crest with Isaac Royall or recall what he had to do with it.

The “Royall Must Fall” campaign at Harvard has adapted that image by showing three workers in dark silhouettes bending under the burden of that wheat (shown here). That’s not actually how people carry such sheaves, I believe, but it’s a clever reappropriation of the Royall imagery. It’s also an emblem of black subservience that the campaign surely doesn’t want to become permanent.

The campaign has floated the idea of renaming the Royall Professorship of Law after Belinda Royall, a woman enslaved on Isaac Royall’s estate in Medford. Her 1783 petition for a pension in compensation for her labor was reprinted across the English-speaking world, thus becoming a more important legal document than Isaac Royall ever produced.

Now it’s not clear Belinda ever used or would have been happy with the surname “Royall.” She was legally “Belinda” until a late marriage, when she started to appear in documents as “Belinda Sutton,” according to the Royall House & Slave Quarters.

But an annual “Belinda Lecture” at the Harvard Law School could be a way to regularly shift honor from the legacy of Isaac Royall to the cause of his former servant, from a man who inherited great wealth and power to a woman who had to repeatedly argue for fair treatment. Would that be the equivalent of reenacting the toppling of George III’s statue, an annual reaffirmation of the more inclusive values we share today?

COMING UP: Visual renewal of old symbols.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

“For the very purpose of having conversations about this”

At Yale, one of the dormitories for upperclassmen (called “residential colleges”) is named after John C. Calhoun, the U.S. Vice President and Senator who championed nullification and slavery in the early 1800s.

Back when the residential-college system was set up in the 1930s, Yale didn’t have many other nationally influential figures to name colleges after. (William Howard Taft, President and Chief Justice, appears to have been too recent to be non-controversial.)

About ten or fifteen years ago, some people in the Yale community proposed changing the name of Calhoun College so that it honored someone whose views had not become so repugnant, someone who had moved American society forward.

At that time, I wrote to the college alumni magazine suggesting that the name Calhoun should remain, but as a reminder of how having wealth and power can blind people to common justice. We graduates could sometimes use that reminder.

That’s similar to what Jonathan Holloway, once master at Calhoun College and now the Dean of Yale College, argued at a forum last year:
Holloway explained his belief that the Calhoun name should remain “as an open sore, frankly, for the very purpose of having conversations about this.”

“I’ve seen too many instances where Americans have very happily allowed themselves to be amnesiac and changed the name of something and walked away,” Holloway said, according to an audio recording of the panel.

“I want to hold Yale accountable for the decisions it made.”
Which would be more likely to start such conversations, seeing Calhoun’s name or not seeing it? Which course would be more likely to lead to complacency, keeping the troubling name or choosing a new name and letting the old one fade to forgotten? Would a recurrent, almost ritual, grappling with Calhoun’s name and legacy, like the repeated toppling of King George’s statue or the annual dumping of tea into Boston harbor, best serve the issues?

When Janet Halley took the Royall Professorship of Law in 2007, she started a similar conversation by highlighting its financial roots in slavery:
“The fact that the funds that established the Royall Chair derived, directly and/or indirectly, from the sale of human beings and the appropriation of their labor—these are facts,” said Halley. “What does one do about them? Thinking in binarized terms of condemnation and redemption just doesn’t seem to capture the complexity of this question.”

Halley began her remarks with a roll call of the names of the distinguished professors who have held the Royall chair before her. She ended her talk—in a coda that left audience members visibly moved—with a contrasting recitation of the recorded names—most of them first names without surnames—of the slaves of the Royall household. “It is a solemn roll call, as intrinsic as the first one I read to our Isaac Royall legacy.”
But I don’t think that “solemn roll call” was ever institutionalized as a regular event. Those individuals went back to being invisible.

More recently, Halley spoke to the Boston Globe about the trade-off of changing the school’s crest so that it doesn’t honor Isaac Royall: “The upside would be that there would be this cathartic moment of saying no to its origins. But the danger would be that it could facilitate a forgetting of its origins.” That’s because the cathartic moment could occur only once. A reading of names, on the other hand, could be part of a regular reexamination of that history.

TOMORROW: Which Royall?

Monday, December 07, 2015

The Power of Iconoclasm, and How to Keep It from Fading

Last month I attended Wendy Bellion’s lecture on “Representing Iconoclasm: Paint, Print, Performance” at the American Antiquarian Society. And I find that’s clarified my thinking about the current campaign to change the seal of the Harvard Law School and the name of the Isaac Royall Professorship there.

On 9 July 1776, New Yorkers listened to a formal reading of the Declaration of Independence, marched from the city common down to the Bowling Green, and pulled down a gilded lead statue of King George III. Most of that statue was melted down into musket balls, though a few pieces survive.

A few months later, the British army charged onto Manhattan, and the Crown held the city for the rest of the war. In the new republic, therefore, New York City didn’t have a lot of good stories to tell about its history during the Revolutionary War. The toppling of the king’s statue became one of the most important.

Bellion showed how that event was recreated in paintings, engravings, pageants, and parades from the early 1800s to the Bicentennial. In other words, the statue of King George was repeatedly reproduced so that it could be destroyed again.

That’s the power and nature of iconoclasm. Once an icon has been removed, broken, or defaced, it starts to lose power—but so does the act of removing it. With no visible reminder and only a fading memory of that icon, the choice to erase it becomes less visible and memorable as well. To recall the act of iconoclasm in the most affecting way, a society has to recreate the very icon it tore down.

What might that phenomenon tell us about the current controversies about slaveowners or their defenders being featured in places of honor on college campuses? The campaign at Harvard Law School is called Royall Must Fall, the very name evoking the images of a royal statue or emblem coming down.

The people campaigning to change those images or names acknowledge they’re symbolic, and that the change would be symbolic as well. But such change would send the right message about the institution’s values, a message that it is seeking to be more fair and inclusive than in the past.

However, just like pulling down New York’s statue of King George, changing a building name or removing a statue would send that message only once. That particular symbol would lose its power and fade from memory. The act of removal and repudiation would thus also fade, muting its significance and its message for new students.

As New Yorkers ritually recreated and then pulled down the king’s statue, they refreshed the memory of the city’s 1776 choice of republicanism over monarchy. In the same way, Bostonians refresh the memory of the hated East India Company tea of 1773 by bringing in new tea each year—this year from the East India Company, even—only to toss it again into the harbor.

So could university communities create a stronger message of inclusion not by removing problematic symbols permanently but by creating recurrent ways to reexamine and reject the behavior behind them?

TOMORROW: Institutions wrestling with that challenge.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

How Isaac Royall Came to Endow a Harvard Law Professorship

As historical background for the current controversy over Harvard Law School’s adoption of the Royall family crest, the Harvard University Press recently published a long extract from On the Battlefield of Merit, Daniel R. Coquillette and Bruce A. Kimball’s recent institutional history of the school’s first century.

In April 1775, Isaac Royall (1719-1781, shown here) found himself in Boston and cut off by the siege lines from his estate in Medford. Of course, he could have left Boston and gone home if he wanted, but some of his neighbors accused him of leaning toward the Crown—which he did, though not fervently.

Royall evacuated to Halifax even before the British troops left in March 1776, then traveled to London. Yet he kept talking about going back to Medford, and he really didn’t want to lose control of his property in Massachusetts.

In 1778, as the war ground on, the Massachusetts legislature moved to confiscate the property of former royal officials, supporters, and “absentees” who had left with the British. The provincial army had already used some of that property during the siege, including the Royall house, and for the next couple of years the state administered those estates while maintaining their original legal ownership. But this new initiative would lead to permanent seizures. The state planned to sell the estates to finance the war effort.

Loyalists who had relatives, friends, or well-placed attorneys to lobby for them were more successful in fending off attempts to seize their property. In Royall’s case, his advocate was one of his neighbors, Dr. Simon Tufts.
It was only in 1778, long after Royall had “gone voluntarily to our enemies,” that his property was provisionally confiscated and reserved by the Committee of Medford for future heirs, under the watchful eye of Tufts. In contrast, the estates of his Tory sons-in-law, George Erving and William Pepperell, were taken under the “Act to Confiscate the Estates of Certain Notorious Conspirators,” passed April 30, 1779. Furthermore, Royall was not mentioned in the initial three lists of proscribed persons under the Acts of September 1778, April 30, 1779, and September 30, 1779.

To his death in 1781, Royall claimed that only ill health prevented his return and remained outraged at any slur on his loyalty. . . . exiled in Kensington, he made a will on May 26, 1778. It contained generous gifts to his friends, to the church and clergy in Medford, and to the Medford schools, together with a devise of land to the town of Worcester. But it also contained a gift to Harvard College that was to ensure Royall’s lasting fame. The provision reads, “All the remainder of said tract of land in said Granby containing eight or nine hundred acres more or less...I give, devise, and bequeath to the overseers and corporation of Harvard Colledge...to be appropriated towards the endowing a Professor of Laws in said Colledge, or a Professor of Physick and Anatomy, whichever the said overseers and Corporation shall judge to be best.”

The will only came to probate in 1786. This delay may not have been accidental. Due to his popularity in Medford, Royall was covered under the “Absentee Act” of April 30, 1779, which provided some procedural protection against confiscation, and it appears that Royall’s devoted friend Simon Tufts—essentially the trustee of Royall’s property—was waiting out events. It was a good strategy. The Treaty of Paris of September 3, 1783, contained provisions that at least promised recovery of loyalist property, and Jay’s Treaty of 1794 further raised hopes. In 1795 Harvard hired a lawyer to begin to locate the land in Royall’s bequest in preparation for sale.
Royall’s bequest to Harvard therefore got that influential institution behind his other heirs’ efforts to keep his property out of the state government’s hands.
In 1786 and 1787 Shays’s Rebellion had taken place in the region around Granby, and the ill feeling against loyalists, absentee landowners, and their well-to-do and politically connected friends persisted. The Harvard lawyer found Royall’s land stripped and occupied by squatters. In 1796, $2,000 was all that could be obtained from the Granby estate. . . . The college invested the money with remarkable success, despite economic adversity, and by 1815 there were a capital fund of $7,593 and interest on hand of $432. . . .

In retrospect, it was lucky for the Law School that the gift in Royall’s will could not be effected until thirty-three years after his death and eleven years after the receipt of the initial $2,000. It was not just about having enough money. In 1775 Harvard designated a bequest from Dr. Ezekiel Hersey of £1,000 to support “two Professors of Anatomy and Surgery, and of the Theory and Practice of Physic.” This was followed by further bequests of £1,000 in 1790 from Hersey’s widow and £500 in 1793 from his brother “for the encouragement and support of a Professor of Surgery and Physic.” After Royall’s death in 1781, the college was therefore occupied with appointing three medical professors and founding its medical school in 1782 and 1783.

Royall’s will gave Harvard the option of a “Professor of Law” or a “Professor of Physick and Anatomy.” In 1782 this would have played right into the development of the new Medical School. By 1815, the Medical School looked relatively secure…
The Boston Globe adds that the Harvard Law School didn’t adopt Royall’s crest as its own symbol until more than a century later, in 1936. Thus, while Royall’s bequest has been effective for two centuries, that school crest is less than eighty years old.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Removing Symbols of the Old Ways

On 18 July 1776, the Massachusetts Council oversaw the reading of the Declaration of Independence at the State House. Afterwards, the public pulled down the royal emblems of the lion and unicorn from that building and burned them in a big bonfire.

In the following years, the town of Boston renamed King Street and Queen Street to the more republican State Street and Court Street. King’s Chapel (shown here) was called the Stone Chapel for a while. The town’s main road, which had four names for different stretches in 1776, eventually became Washington Street to honor the new country’s new leader.

Hutchinson Street bore the name of the reviled Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, so it was renamed Pearl Street. In 1776 the town of Hutchinson petitioned the Massachusetts General Court to change its name as well; it became Barre, after Isaac Barré, a British Whig in Parliament who had advocated for American colonists for a decade. A few years later, the town of Foxborough was named for Charles James Fox, another sympathetic M.P.

Similar changes happened all across the new nation. New Yorkers pulled down the gilt statue of King George III on the Bowling Green. Tavern owners altered their signs, as Washington Irving’s story “Rip Van Winkle” later played on for comic effect.

This history is useful to recall when we consider current campaigns like those to change the name of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton, remove the statue of Thomas Jefferson at the University of Missouri, or create a new seal for Harvard Law School that doesn’t honor Isaac Royall.

Throughout history, societies have used names, public art, and other symbols to honor individuals they admire, and societies have removed or changed those symbols when they no longer reflect widespread values. That’s something societies do. It’s nothing new, so claiming that there’s an unprecedented wave of “political correctness” reveals historical blindness, not historical consciousness.

Furthermore, removing symbols of honor doesn’t erase the history behind them. The Bostonians who destroyed the lion and unicorn still knew full well that they had been part of the British Empire. They still acknowledged that Thomas Hutchinson had been the royal governor of Massachusetts from 1770 to 1774. They weren’t rewriting history. They just no longer felt those people and institutions deserved so much public respect.

Many people accuse those who now want to remove symbols they associate with slavery and racism of wishing to eradicate or hide troubling aspects of our history. That’s ridiculous. The people driving those campaigns will remain quick to highlight an institution’s historical connections to slavery and racism, and to argue that those connections remain significant. They’re really interested in preserving and broadening the memory of that history. They just disagree with previous generations about which historical figures deserve so much honor.

Accusing those campaigners of the opposite of their stated aims and usual behavior suggests their critics are parroting talking points they’ve never really examined. That seems to show a lack of knowledge and a disrespect. And I suspect there’s a significant overlap between people who say we should retain symbols despite their roots in slavery and racism and people who say they’re tired of hearing about the effects of slavery and racism.

People can respond to those symbol-changing campaigns in multiple ways, depending on circumstances and philosophy. We may support the goal but not the methods. We may differ on whether removing such symbols really helps efforts to eradicate the underlying wrongs, or might even hurt. I’m going to share some thoughts on those issues over the next couple of days. But mistaken claims that such behavior is new or that it’s an attempt to “erase history” add nothing to the discussion.