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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Sunday, January 31, 2016

Ledgers, Laches, and the Law

The New York Law Journal ran an interesting report earlier this month on a legal decision involving a ledger from the Pennsylvania Gazette print shop.

That ledger was kept by printer David Hall from 1759 to 1766. Hall published the newspaper as the younger partner of Benjamin Franklin, who spent nearly all those years in London.

The book was donated to the New York Public Library in 1929 and remained there for about sixty years. Sometime between 1988 and 1991, the library has said, it vanished from the shelves. But the library didn’t report the ledger as having been stolen. It’s not even clear when the institution recognized that it was gone.

In 2014 a woman named Margaret Tanchuck brought the ledger and some antique Bibles to a book appraiser, saying she had recently found them in her late father’s jewelry shop. The appraiser spotted some questionable details, namely “New York Public Library call letters on the spines of certain books and one with a library ownership stamp.” So it contacted the library, which immediately made a legal claim on the items and alerted prosecutors.

Tanchuck refused to simply return the library books, which were valued at well over $2 million, the Franklin & Hall ledger being the most valuable. Last year, she asked a court to declare that the books were the property of her parents’ estate.

Tanchuck claimed that her father first mentioned having valuable books in his store around 1990, presumably these. Under a legal doctrine called laches, her attorneys argued, the New York Public Library forfeited its claim on those items since it didn’t pursue them diligently within three years. The library’s attorneys argued instead that the three-year clock should start when it became aware that it was missing its stuff.

Last year a judge stated that the applicable law meant that the library’s claim should start “when the true owner makes demand for return of the chattel and the person in possession of the chattel refuses to return it”—i.e., in 2014. However, he acknowledged, the legal situation is different if a stolen object is “in the possession of the thief”; in that case, “the statute of limitations runs from the time of the theft, even if the property owner was unaware of the theft at the time that it occurred.”

Thus, Tanchuck’s claim had more legal support if the court assumed that her father stole those books than if it assumed that he came into possession of them in some unknown and possibly legal way. Not that she was explicitly making that claim.

The judge decided that, although he had to assume the late jeweler knew he had stolen books, he wouldn’t assume the man had been involved in stealing them. Newsday quoted his ruling:
In view of the value and cultural significance of the property, the library’s capacity as a public custodian, the strength of the library’s title, and the vague and unspecified nature of Tanchuck’s claim to title, it would be inequitable to permit Tanchuck to assert the statute of limitations.
This month the judge affirmed that ruling. The case remains in court and the books, it appears, in government hands.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Breakfast with John Adams

A lot of books and articles describe John Adams as drinking hard cider each morning. Not many, however, cite a source for that factoid.

Cider researcher Mark Turdo looked into that statement and expressed skepticism on his Pommel Cyder blog because Adams mentioned cider in his diary only twice:
July 26, 1796
In conformity to the fashion I drank this Morning and Yesterday Morning, about a Jill of Cyder. It seems to do me good, by diluting and dissolving the Phlegm or the Bile in the Stomach.

July 28, 1796
I continue my practice of drinking a Jill of Cyder in the Morning and find no ill but some good Effect.
The first of those entries shows Adams drinking “a Jill of Cyder” for his health as something new and noteworthy. Two days later he was trying to “continue my practice” and make it a habit. And if it became a habit, he would no longer have had cause to write about it. So I’m not sure these entries say anything about Adam’s hard cider habits except that he did not commonly drink it in the morning before July 1796.

The source of the statement about Adams’s habitual cider-drinking was his great-grandson Charles Francis Adams, Jr.’s local history, published first in D. Hamilton Hurd’s History of Norfolk County (1884) and then in his own History of Braintree (1891). He stated:
In the cellars of the more well-to-do houses a barrel of cider was always on tap, and pitchers of it were brought up at every meal, and in the morning and evening. To the end of his life a large tankard of hard cider was John Adams’ morning draught before breakfast; and in sending directions from Philadelphia to her agent at Quincy, in 1799, Mrs. [Abigail] Adams takes care to mention that “the President hopes you will not omit to have eight or nine barrels of good late-made cider put up in the cellar for his own particular use.”
Charles Francis Adams, Jr., was not born until nine years after John Adams had died. His father knew the former President and edited his papers, so he could have passed on this information about cider-drinking in later life. By the late 1800s, prominent statesmen’s drinking habits were caught up in the cultural debate over temperance. But I think the statement seems reliable.

(The image above is a portrait of John Adams distributed in boxes of Kellogg’s Raisin Bran, Shredded Wheat, and 40% Bran Flakes in the mid-1940s. It comes courtesy of the Willard Digital Collections in Battle Creek.)

Friday, January 29, 2016

The Juntocast Tackles the Bill of Rights

For folks interested in the recent postings on the genesis of the U.S. Bill of Rights, I recommend the latest podcast discussion from the Junto, released last weekend.

Ken Owen, Michael Hattem, and Roy Rogers discuss the development of those amendments to the Constitution and how their force has changed in American history.

One point they make well which I didn’t find an opening for was how much the Bill of Rights was a political football during the larger debate over the new, larger federal government:
  • George Mason and Elbridge Gerry proposed adding one to the Constitution only in September 1787, at the end of a long summer of debate. By that time, it was pretty clear that neither of them was happy with the new national structure being proposed. And their colleagues at the convention might not have been too happy with them bringing up a new issue so late.
  • The Constitution’s lack of a Bill of Rights was a cause that the disparate Anti-Federalists could agree on and use to bring others to their side. Otherwise, they had different and in some cases orthogonal reasons to oppose the new plan for government.
  • For the Federalists, promising to add a (vaguely defined) Bill of Rights was an easy compromise that didn’t really affect the structure or size or the national government they wanted.
  • When James Madison pushed a Bill of Rights in the first U.S. Congress, many Anti-Federalists opposed his bill because they didn’t think it went far enough. They feared (rightly) that the amendments would deflate their ongoing campaign to limit the federal structure. 
  • The protections for individuals in the Bill of Rights were mainly symbolic for their first century or more anyway. States weren’t required to provide the same guarantees, and the federal government didn’t prosecute a lot of people (or quarter troops in homes outside of wartime).
The last point reminds me of how often people today will complain that a company is taking away their “First Amendment rights” of free expression, and then others will point out that the First Amendment applies to government, not private entities. From 1791 through at least 1900, the First Amendment didn’t apply to state or local governments, either. So unless your state’s constitution promised freedom of speech and freedom of the press, you didn’t have those rights.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fowler on the Crises after Yorktown in Lexington, Jan. 29

On Friday, 29 January, the Lexington Historical Society will host a free talk by William Fowler, Jr., on the topic of his book American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783.

The publisher’s description:
Most people believe the American Revolution ended in October, 1781, after the battle of Yorktown; in fact the war continued for two more traumatic years. During that time, the Revolution came closer to being lost than at any time in the previous half dozen.

The British still held New York, Savannah, Wilmington, and Charleston; the Royal Navy controlled the seas; the states—despite having signed the Articles of Confederation earlier that year—retained their individual sovereignty and, largely bankrupt themselves, refused to send any money in the new nation's interest; members of Congress were in constant disagreement; and the Continental army was on the verge of mutiny.

William Fowler’s An American Crisis chronicles these tumultuous and dramatic two years, from Yorktown until the British left New York in November 1783. At their heart was the remarkable speech Gen. George Washington gave to his troops encamped north of New York in Newburgh, quelling a brewing rebellion that could have overturned the nascent government.
Fowler is a a professor at Northeastern University and a former director of the Massachusetts Historical Society. His short biography of Samuel Adams was the spur that got me into studying Revolutionary history intently about eighteen years ago, so he might have a lot to answer for.

This talk is in the historical society’s Cronin Lecture series. It will take place at the Lexington Depot starting at 8:00 P.M. It is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“The right of representation and taxation always went together”

Having spent a week on the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, I’m going to jump back to 250 years ago and Parliament’s debate over what to do about the Stamp Act.

That law was clearly unenforceable in North America. The Marquess of Rockingham’s government was already working with Barlow Trecothick, spokesman for London’s merchants doing business with North America, to revise it. (The Journal of the American Revolution recently published an article with more about Trecothick’s role.)

But simply repealing the tax might suggest that the ministry thought it was as unconstitutional as Americans had complained. And Parliament could not countenance some of the colonists’ irregular methods of protest. Like the riots. And the unauthorized assemblies.

On 27 Jan 1766, according to Horace Walpole’s Memoirs of the Reign of King George the Third, an M.P. submitted the Stamp Act Congress’s petition against the law to the House of Commons. The Chancellor of the Exchequer asked for the petition to be withdrawn as coming from a body with no standing.
Mr. [William] Pitt warmly undertook the protection of the petition, which he affirmed was innocent, dutiful, and respectful. . . . He painted the Americans as people who, in an ill-fated hour, had left this country to fly from the Star Chamber and High Commission Courts. The desert smiled upon them in comparison of this country. It was the evil genius of this country that had riveted amongst them this union, now called dangerous and federal. . . . This country upon occasion has its meetings, and nobody objects to them; but the names of six or eight Americans are to be big with danger.

He could not guess by the turn of the debate, whether the Administration intended lenity or not. To him lenity was recommended by every argument. He would emphatically hear the Colonies upon this their petition. The right of representation and taxation always went together, and should never be separated. Except for the principles of Government, records were out of the question. “You have broken,” continued he, “the original compact if you have not a right of taxation.” The repeal of the Stamp Act was an inferior consideration to receiving this petition.

Sir Fletcher Norton [shown above] rose with great heat, and said, He could hardly keep his temper at some words that had fallen from the right honourable gentleman. He had said, that the original compact had been broken between us and America, if the House had not the right of taxation. Pitt rose to explain—Norton continued: “The gentleman now says, I mistook his words; I do not now understand them.”

Pitt interrupted him angrily, and said, “I did say the Colony compact would be broken—and what then?”

Norton replied, “The gentleman speaks out now, and I understand him; and if the House go along with me, the gentleman will go to another place.”
Walpole’s footnote explained that Norton meant, “To the bar of the House, whither members are ordered when they violate the rules or privileges of Parliament.” However, Maj. Thomas James, observing his first parliamentary session, thought he meant that Pitt “ought to have been sent to the Tower.”
Pitt at this looked with the utmost contempt, tossed up his chin, and cried, “Oh! oh!—oh! oh!”

“I will bear that from no man,” said Norton; “changing their place did not make Englishmen change their allegiance. I say the gentleman sounds the trumpet to rebellion; or would he have strangers in the gallery go away with these his opinions? He has chilled my blood at the idea.”

“The gentleman,” rejoined Pitt, “says I have chilled his blood: I shall be glad to meet him in any place with the same opinions, when his blood is warmer.”
In the end, Pitt’s approach gained only a handful of supporters, including Col. Isaac Barré and a new M.P. named Edmund Burke. The House set aside the Americans’ petition and moved on to other matters.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the government continued to look for a way out of the Stamp Act.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Long Process of Labeling the Bill of Rights

As I noted back here, James Madison used the label “bill of rights” for the first of his proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution—a proposal that never got out of Congress.

He also proposed a bunch of limitations on the federal government that became the first ten Amendments to the Constitution, but he doesn’t seem to have considered those Amendments to comprise the United States’s own Bill of Rights.

Instead, Madison and his contemporaries continued to use the phrase “bill of rights” to refer to a general statement of the government’s powers and limitations. The one possible exception I’ve found in Founders Online is in a 1792 letter from Thomas Jefferson to George Washington. In one of those internecine squabbles that’s so much more entertaining on the Broadway stage than in your cabinet, Jefferson wrote to the President:
you will there see that my objection to the constitution was that it wanted a bill of rights securing freedom of religion, freedom of the press, freedom from standing armies trial by jury, & a constant Habeas corpus act. Colo. [Alexander] Hamilton’s was that it wanted a king and house of lords. the sense of America has approved my objection & added the bill of rights, not the king and lords.
Jefferson clearly saw the First Amendment as part of his desired “bill of rights.” Whether he thought of all ten Amendments under that label is unclear.

American legal authorities don’t seem to have publicly applied the label “Bill of Rights” to the Amendments for decades. In Barron v. the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore (1833), Chief Justice John Marshall delivered an opinion that Article 1, Section 9 of the Constitution “enumerated, in the nature of a bill of rights, the limitations intended to be imposed on the power of the general [i.e., federal] government…”

You remember the fundamentals laid out in Article 1, Section 9, right? Some are indeed important for individual rights, such as habeas corpus. But that section also protected the transatlantic slave trade until 1808 and tackled the burning issue of noble titles. It was a general list of limitations on Congress.

Incidentally, Marshall’s decision confirmed that those clauses and most other parts of the Constitution applied only to the federal government, not the states. So this decision seems, to modern eyes, to codify a sadly limited conception of a U.S. Bill of Rights.

That same year, however, Marblehead’s own Joseph Story (1779-1845, shown above), who was both an Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and professor of law at Harvard, started the process of applying the label of the Bill of Rights the way we do today. In his highly influential Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833), Story began a discussion of the Amendments this way:
Let us now enter upon the consideration of the amendments, which, (it will be found,) principally regard subjects properly belonging to a bill of rights.
The next year, Story revised that book for use in classrooms as The Constitutional Class Book, and this time he wrote:
When the Constitution was before the People for adoption several of the State Conventions suggested amendments for the consideration of Congress, some of the most important of which were afterwards acted upon by that body at its first organization; and having been since ratified, are now incorporated into the Constitution. They are mainly clauses, in the nature of a Bill of Rights, which more effectually guard certain rights already provided for in the Constitution, or prohibit certain exercises of authority supposed to be dangerous to the public interests.
Finally, in 1840 Story revised his textbook again as A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, including a rewrite of the above paragraph and following it with:
Before, however, proceeding to the consideration of them, it may be proper to say a few words, as to the origin and objects of the first ten amendments, which may be considered as a Bill of Rights, and were proposed by the first Congress, and were immediately adopted by the people of the United States.
Thus, over the course of seven years Justice Story went from saying that the first ten Amendments covered what a bill of rights should to saying that we might as well think of them as a Bill of Rights (with capital letters).

According to legal historian Akil Reed Amar, Story’s label remained unofficial and qualified until well past the U.S. Civil War. Rep. John Bingham of Ohio tried to write the Fourteenth Amendment so that it applied the federal “Bill of Rights” to the states. The Supreme Court resisted both the doctrine and the phrasing for decades. Finally, a 1900 dissent by Justice John Marshall Harlan retroactively declared that “These [first ten] amendments have ever since [ratification] been regarded as the National Bill of Rights.”

Monday, January 25, 2016

Just a Few Revisions Here and There

The Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that we think of as the Bill of Rights are rooted mostly in James Madison’s fourth and fifth proposed amendments from June 1789:
Fourthly,
That in article 2st, section 9, between clauses 3 and 4, be inserted these clauses, to wit, The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience by in any manner, or on any pretext infringed.

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good, nor from applying to the legislature by petitions, or remonstrances for redress of their grievances.

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed, and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms, shall be compelled to render military service in person.

No soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the owner; nor at any time, but in a manner warranted by law.

No person shall be subject, except in cases of impeachment, to more than one punishment, or one trial for the same office; nor shall be compelled to be a witness against himself; nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor be obliged to relinquish his property, where it may be necessary for public use, without a just compensation.

Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

The rights of the people to be secured in their persons, their houses, their papers, and their other property from all unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated by warrants issued without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, or not particularly describing the places to be searched, or the persons or things to be seized.

In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, to be informed of the cause and nature of the accusation, to be confronted with his accusers, and the witnesses against him; to have a compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor; and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

The exceptions here or elsewhere in the constitution, made in favor of particular rights, shall not be so construed as to diminish the just importance of other rights retained by the people; or as to enlarge the powers delegated by the constitution; but either as actual limitations of such powers, or as inserted merely for greater caution.

Fifthly.
That in article 2st, section 10, between clauses 1 and 2, be inserted this clause, to wit:
No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.
I’m being anachronistic by including Madison’s fifth point because the Senate decided that the federal Constitution should not limit state governments in those ways and therefore omitted that proposal. It took Supreme Court decisions in the early twentieth century to apply the U.S. Bill of Rights to state and local governments. Now we take that for granted.

Lastly, the Tenth Amendment derives from Madison’s eighth, the part that said: “The powers not delegated by this constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the States respectively.”

Teaching American History has a chart of which of Madison’s proposals fell away as Congress and the states considered them. Of the twelve proposed amendments to come out of that process, ten were approved by 1791 and one more in 1992.

The House rejected Madison’s idea to revise the Constitution’s text itself in favor of tacking all the amendments on at the end. The Congress also made a lot of changes to Madison’s language, mostly shortening it (perhaps at a cost to precision). As a result, the first ten Amendments don’t have a single author; they were a collective creation.

TOMORROW: If Madison didn’t call those Amendments our Bill of Rights, who did?

Sunday, January 24, 2016

James Madison’s Bill of Rights

On 8 June 1789 James Madison arose in the U.S. House of Representatives and stated that the time had come to discuss amending the Constitution that had created that legislative body. After all, it had been meeting for two months already.

There was immediately a long debate on whether the House should go into a committee of the whole to keep its discussions private, and how such amendments would work, and so on. Ten whole pages of the House record later, Madison finally got to propose his amendments.

And they started out this way:
First.
That there be prefixed to the constitution a declaration—That all power is orginally vested in, and consequently derived from the people.

That government is instituted, and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the right of acquiring and using property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.

That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government, whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purposes of its institution.
Madison later said, “The first of these amendments, relates to what may be called a bill of rights…” So there we have it: Madison’s proposal for a Bill of Rights, derived mainly from George Mason.

That language looks nothing like what we know as the Bill of Rights. Even the ideas that the two texts express are quite different. (When we look for an official expression of the rights of “life and liberty” and the people’s power to “change their government,” we go back further to the Declaration of Independence.)

Obviously, when Madison thought of a Bill of Rights, he thought of a law expressing the fundamental relationship between people and government, not an enumeration of specific rights or legal protocols.

TOMORROW: So where did the U.S. Bill of Rights come from?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Robert Whitehill and the Campaign for a Bill of Rights

Robert Whitehill (1738-1813) was a farmer and politician from central Pennsylvania. He was in the group of democrats who created the state’s 1776 constitution, which started with a Declaration of Rights.

When Pennsylvania held a convention to decide whether to ratify the new U.S. Constitution of 1787, Whitehill opposed it, not wanting a stronger national government. He cited the lack of a Declaration or Bill of Rights on the federal level as a reason to vote against the new document, reading a petition from his home county specifying such rights. (He apparently wrote the petition.)

The Pennsylvanian convention’s delegates disagreed with Whitehill’s position, and some felt he was out of line suggesting such changes. The state approved the Constitution on 12 Dec 1787, delegates voting 46-23. Though that was a big majority, the votes in Delaware and New Jersey that same month were unanimous in favor of the new document, so that was the biggest opposition so far outside of Rhode Island.

Whitehill and twenty of his colleagues then issued a minority report and dissent, putting that petition into print. By that time, George Mason’s objections to the Constitution were already in print, and newspapers were publishing many essays about the issue.

The ratification process continued to roll through the U.S. until a close vote in the Massachusetts ratifying convention: 187-168. That vote was the result of a compromise allowing the dissenters to specify amendments they wanted to see. The Massachusetts objections said little about individual rights and were therefore not based on Whitehill’s or Mason’s main arguments.

When New Hampshire ratified the Constitution in June, nine of the thirteen states had assented to it. Under the rules the Constitutional Convention had stated and the Continental Congress approved, that meant the document was officially accepted. However, it got a big boost when Virginia, the biggest state, approved later in June with its own list of recommended amendments.

At that point, Whitehill realized that the Constitution would take effect. But he, and other opponents, still wanted to see a Declaration of Rights. So Whitehill and other dissenters in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, gathered at James Bell’s tavern in what’s now Silver Spring Township.

They drafted this circular letter to like-minded men in other counties:
East Pennsborough, Cumberland, July 3, 1788.

SIR:

That ten states have already unexpectedly, without amending, ratified the constitution proposed for the government of these United States, cannot have escaped the notice of the friends of liberty. That the way is prepared for the full organization of the government, with all its foreseen and consequent dangers, is too evident, and unless prudent steps be taken to combine the friends to amendments in some plan in which they may confidently draw together, and exert their power in unison, the liberty of the American citizens must lie at the discretion of Congress, and most probably posterity become slaves to the officers of government.

The means adopted and proposed by a meeting of delegates from the townships of this county for preventing the alleged evils, and also the calamities of a civil war, are, as may be observed in perusing the proceedings of the said meeting herewith transmitted, to request such persons as shall be judged fit within the counties, respectively, to use their influence to obtain a meeting of delegates from each township, to take into consideration the necessity of amending the constitution of these United States, and for that purpose to nominate and appoint a number of delegates to represent the county in a general conference of the counties of this commonwealth, to be held at Harrisburg on the third day of September next, then and there to devise such amendments, and such mode of obtaining them, as in the wisdom of the delegates shall be judged most satisfactory and expedient.

A law will, no doubt, be soon enacted by the General Assembly for electing eight members to represent this state in the new Congress. It will, therefore, be expedient to have proper persons put in nomination by the delegates in conference, being the most likely method of directing the voices of the electors to the same object and of obtaining the desired end.

The society, of which you are chairman, is requested to call a meeting agreeable to the foregoing designs, and lay before the delegates the proceedings of this county, to the intent that the state may unite in casting off the yoke of slavery, and once more establish union and liberty.

By order of the meeting, I am with real esteem, sir,
Your most obedient servant,

BENJAMIN BLYTH, Chairman.
The letter didn’t mention a “Bill of Rights,” but that was the biggest change its authors wanted.

And that letter provides what significance in political history that partially demolished stone building beside the Harrisburg Pike has. It was where the men of Cumberland County called for a larger meeting of Pennsylvanians to organize a campaign for constitutional amendments and likeminded U.S. Congress candidates.

With Whitehill’s own estate gone (though noted with a historical marker), I think we can definitely say that the James Bell Tavern is the most important site in the campaign for the U.S. Bill of Rights in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Whether it’s the most important such site in Pennsylvania as a whole is another question. And on a national scale it’s just one of many places where people advocated for changes to the U.S. Constitution. The push for what became our Bill of Rights was a mass political movement, not the product of any single man or event.

It’s sometimes said (by Pennsylvanian authors) that James Madison drew on Whitehill’s writing when he proposed the Bill of Rights in the Congress in late 1789. However, his language came mostly from the Virginian convention, and it was influenced most by a fellow Virginian, George Mason.

TOMORROW: And what happened to that language, anyway?

Friday, January 22, 2016

The Father of the Bill of Rights

If we Google “Father of the Bill of Rights,” the name that pops up more than any other is George Mason of Virginia.

It’s true that ExplorePAHistory says of Robert Whitehill, “it is not too much of an exaggeration to call him the father of the Bill of Rights.” That formulation reminds me of Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam’s argument that the basic meaning of the word “arguably” is “even I don’t really believe this.” It’s no surprise that Whitehill, like that website, was Pennsylvanian.

Mason is often credited as “Father of the [U.S.] Bill of Rights” because he:
  • drafted one of its major precedents, the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776.
  • advocated adding clauses on individual and state rights to the Constitution during the drafting convention on 12 Sept 1787. (Massachusetts’s Elbridge Gerry proposed such a declaration and Mason seconded it.)
  • refused to sign the final document after that proposal lost by a whopping 10-0. (Gerry refused, too, as did Luther Martin of Maryland.)
  • published a pamphlet about how a Declaration of Rights should be part of the Constitution.
  • proposed calling for a Declaration of Rights at the Virginia ratifying convention.
  • sent those clauses to John Lamb in New York for that state’s convention.
  • somehow also provided the model for the proposals from North Carolina and Rhode Island, too.
  • was the author James Madison drew on when he made a formal proposal of amendments in the U.S. Congress on 8 June 1789.
All of which adds up to a mighty strong claim that Mason was the individual most responsible for those proposals.

TOMORROW: So what did Robert Whitehill do? And what does that have to do with that partly demolished tavern in central Pennsylvania?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Birthplaces of the Bill of Rights

Where was the Bill of Rights born?

In Parliament in 1689, as a codification of the Glorious Revolution that deposed King James II and brought his daughter Mary and her husband, Prince William of Orange, to the throne of England, Wales, and Scotland.

Here’s the text of that bill from the Avalon Project at Yale Law School. It’s official title was “An Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown.”

A little over a century passed between that law and the Amendments to the U.S. Constitution that we Americans call the Bill of Rights, but it’s clearly the inspiration. Look, for instance, at this clause in the English law:
excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted;
And Amendment VIII:
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
When British-Americans of the late eighteenth century talked about the Bill of Rights, this is the document they had in mind. We Americans like to believe we invented everything, but in this case we inherited the concept and the terminology from Britain.

So where was the American Bill of Rights born?

In the various state conventions that wrote new constitutions for the states as they broke away from Britain and afterward. For example:
When Americans considered strengthening the national government in 1787, one common concern was what that might mean to the rights that their state constitutions had guaranteed.

TOMORROW: “Father of the Bill of Rights”?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Preserving the Truth about the James Bell Tavern

I’ve seen a lot of news stories about the interrupted demolition of a stone building on the Harrisburg Pike in Silver Spring Township, Pennsylvania.

Most recently this building was Stone House Autos, and before that it was Stone House Computers, but back in the 1780s it was a tavern run by a man named James Bell.

Historical preservationists got upset enough about this demolition that the owner stopped the process partway through. That might give the owners and locals a chance to consider their options.

Unfortunately, the story that’s being spread around the web has a lot of overstatements. The latest version appeared on the Daily Mail website, and it’s riddled full of errors. The building was not called the City Tavern. The demolition was not done “accidentally” or by mistake, but with a permit and plans. And then there’s this sentence:
It was in this cozy watering hole built in 1780 that Adams, Washington et al had seminal discussions before finally drawing up the Bill of Rights.
Adams, Washington et al” were never at James Bell’s tavern, and they weren’t the authors or proponents of the Bill of Rights. There’s no value in preserving a historic building if we’re just going to tell lies about its history.

These reports from Pennlive and the Cumberland Sentinel are better grounded. They make clear that local authorities chose not to protect the stone building in the 1990s. They didn’t follow through on seeking a listing on the National Register of Historic Places. They didn’t list the site as one that needed protection under the local zoning ordinance. So if there was a mistake involved in this demolition, it was a mistake in judgment over twenty years ago.

Now what about the building might qualify it for listing as historically significant? Pennlive’s version:
It was at the tavern on July 3, 1788, with pending ratification of the new federal constitution at hand, that a band of Cumberland Countians led by Robert Whitehill, Benjamin Blythe and others declared the need for changes in the document before they could accept it.
And the local Cumberland Sentinel’s:
According to meeting minutes obtained by Musser, the 1788 Stony Ridge Convention held at the former James Bell Tavern was attended by Benjamin Blythe, one of Shippensburg’s first settlers, and Robert Whitehill of Cumberland County. Whitehill is noted as the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” according to ExplorePAHistory.com, with its conception reportedly happening at that meeting at the Bell Tavern.
Some news stories have therefore called that tavern the “Birthplace of the Bill of Rights.”

That’s not a label with a lot of history. Which is to say, I can’t find a single source that applies that phrase to this stone building before the last two months. The usual claimant to the “Birthplace of the Bill of Rights” is the church in Eastchester, New York, where a local election in 1733 got reported by John Peter Zenger in a way that led to a court case strengthening freedom of the press. That’s just one right, so I don’t think that site has a strong claim to the label, either.

TOMORROW: So where was the Bill of Rights born?

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

“What have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”

Yesterday I had a Twitter discussion about a well-known anecdote about the Constitution—whether it was equally well-founded in documents, less well-founded in reminiscences, or most likely myth.

In this, case, the story falls into the first category. James McHenry, who started the Revolutionary War as an army surgeon and ended up as one of Gen. George Washington’s aides, represented Maryland at the Constitutional Convention. He kept a diary during those weeks, and in 1906 the American Historical Review published that document. Yale’s Avalon Project put the transcript online.

Here is McHenry’s entry for 18 Sept 1787, the day after the convention’s sent its work to the Continental Congress and lifted its secrecy rule:
A lady asked Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.
In a footnote McHenry added, “The lady here aluded to was Mrs. Powel of Philada.”

That almost certainly meant Elizabeth Powel (1743-1830), wife of the once and future mayor of Philadelphia, Samuel Powel. She was an active political hostess. Mount Vernon gives her credit for helping to convince Washington he should run for a second term as President. In 1808 a friend wrote that Powel
will animate and give a brilliancy to the whole Conversation, you know the uncommon command she has of Language and her ideas flow with rapidity . . . I sometimes think her Patriotism causes too much Anxiety. Female politicians are always ridiculed by the other Sex.
Above is Powel’s portrait, subject of a 2006 article/booklet by David W. Maxey, published by the American Philosophical Society.

Monday, January 18, 2016

No Birthday Cake for George Washington

This month Scholastic published a book about Hercules, the Washingtons’ cook at Mount Vernon and Philadelphia in the 1790s.

And this week Scholastic decided to pull that book from circulation. As The Guardian reported:
A Birthday Cake for George Washington was released on 5 January and had been strongly criticized for its upbeat images and story of Washington’s cook, the slave Hercules, and his daughter, Delia.

“While we have great respect for the integrity and scholarship of the author, illustrator and editor, we believe that, without more historical background on the evils of slavery than this book for younger children can provide, the book may give a false impression of the reality of the lives of slaves and therefore should be withdrawn,” the publisher said in a statement. . . .

While notes in A Birthday Cake for George Washington from author Ramin Ganeshram and illustrator Vanessa Brantley-Newton pointed out the historical context of the 18th-century story and that Hercules eventually escaped, some critics faulted Ganeshram and Brantley-Newton for leaving out those details from the main narrative. . . .

The trade publication School Library Journal called the book “highly problematic” and recommended against its purchase. Another trade journal, Kirkus Reviews, labeled the book “an incomplete, even dishonest treatment of slavery”.
One notable detail about this publication is that the book’s editor, Andrea Davis Pinkney, is one of the industry’s most respected and active African-American editors and champions of black authors and artists. She has published many books about African-American history, including slavery. Both the author and the illustrator of the book are women of color.

Last year there was a big controversy in the children’s book world about how another picture book, A Fine Dessert, depicted a moment in the lives of a mother and child enslaved in ante-bellum South Carolina. (I wrote about an early presage of that controversy but didn’t anticipate what developed.) By that time, A Birthday Cake for George Washington was probably too far along in production to be changed in major ways.

Pinkney and her colleagues clearly anticipated some complaints about how the new book portrayed slavery and prepared online essays explaining their choices. That makes Scholastic’s decision to reverse course and pull the book—on a weekend, yet—even more striking.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Elkanah Watson’s “embryo military duties”

I’m skeptical about a bunch of the stories Elkanah Watson told in his memoir, Men and Times of the Revolution, but I like this early anecdote of growing up in Plymouth:
I remained at the ordinary common-school until the age of fourteen. This school was kept by Alexander Scammel and Peleg Wadsworth, both afterwards distinguished officers in the revolutionary army. In common with the other patriotic spirits of the age, they evidently saw the approach of the coming tempest. I remember them as early as 1771, intently studying military tactics, and have often seen them engaged in a garden adjoining my father’s, drilling each other.

They formed the boys into a military company, and our school soon had the air of a miniature arsenal, with our wooden guns and tin bayonets suspended around the walls. At twelve o’clock, the word was given, “to arms,” and each he seized his gun; then, led by either Scammel or Wadsworth, we were taught military evolutions, and marched over hills, through swamps, often in the rain, in the performance of these embryo military duties. A sad and impressive commentary upon the effect of these early influences, is afforded by the fact that half this company perished in the conflicts of the Revolution.

Scammel was tall in person, exceeding six feet, slender and active. He was kind and benevolent in his feelings, and deeply beloved by his pupils. He was eminently distinguished during the Revolution for his conduct and bravery. In 1777, he was very conspicuous at the battle of Saratoga, leading his regiment of the New-Hampshire troops, in a desperate charge upon Burgoyne’s lines. At the siege of Yorktown, he held the important station of Adjutant-General to Washington’s army, and there fell in a reconnoisance upon the British works.
Actually, Scammell (shown above) had resigned as adjutant earlier in 1781 to take up a battlefield command. But otherwise Watson had accurate information about him.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Powder Horn’s Alexander Hamilton

The most laughable eighteenth-century-related news story of the past week was the sale of the powder horn shown above on the basis that it was owned by Alexander Hamilton, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. That particular report even states, “Hamilton would have carried a powder horn everywhere, though it’s not clear if this was the powder horn he had when he was killed in a duel with Aarron [sic] Burr in 1804.”

This powder horn does say “ALEXANDER HAMILTON.” It also says, “1773” and “First when when came to Ohio.”

The famous Alexander Hamilton was nowhere near the Ohio River Basin in 1773. I don’t think he ever went that far west until the Whiskey Rebellion, over twenty years later. In 1773 Hamilton was living in Elizabethtown, New Jersey, preparing for college and then attending college in New York City. He was seeking to become a cultured young gentleman merchant. That did not mean carrying around a powder horn like a frontier hunter.

The only way that Alexander Hamilton would be the most likely owner of this powder horn (assuming it’s entirely genuine to begin with) is if he were the only Alexander Hamilton in North America in that period. And he wasn’t.

There was at least one Alexander Hamilton living in Augusta County, Virginia, at the time. Augusta County was Virginia's western frontier, and, under Virginia law, it basically contained all of North America not otherwise assigned. There had to be a commission to sort out the competing claims of Virginia and Pennsylvania to the Ohio Valley by extending the Mason-Dixon Line further west.

The most prominent Alexander Hamilton of Augusta County was a lieutenant in a 1758 expedition against the Shawnee nation. He shows up in a bunch of real estate and legal transactions. (Someone a century ago appears to have gone through the state record books, copied out every item involving someone with a Celtic surname, and published those records alone.) We can find mentions of that man in 1765 and 1774.

There’s even a genealogy published seventeen years ago titled Alexander Hamilton (c1725-c1796) of Augusta and Bath Counties, Virginia, by Woodrow Clay Hamilton, Jr.

A younger Alexander Hamilton, perhaps a son of that man, was called out with the militia three times during the Revolutionary War.

Either of those Alexander Hamiltons were much closer to the Ohio in 1773, and much more likely to carve or carry a decorative powder horn, than the Alexander Hamilton who entered King’s College on Manhattan that year.

Instead of finding those references and playing the odds, the powder horn’s previous owner created an elaborate symbology of what the horn’s carving represented, based on the assumption that it had to belong to the future Secretary of the Treasury. For instance, that line about Ohio?
The phrase “First when came to Ohio” which Richman says “reads like the Iliad, projected Hamilton’s triumphant return from frontier fighting.”

This is a reference to the [Francis] Bacon aphorism: “First the amendment of their own minds. For the removal of the impediments of the mind will sooner clear the passages of fortune than the obtaining fortune will remove the impediments of the mind.” Richman notes that the “elegant sentence structure [is] similar to ‘When in the course of human events,’” the first line of the Declaration of Independence.
Wishful thinking is strong. This powder horn even got its own website, registered in 2007, and has been on display in an N.R.A.-owned museum. The owner offered it for sale through Heritage Auctions in 2009, with a top estimate of $8,500, but evidently bids didn’t meet the reserve price because it was back in the same man’s hands the next year.

Of course, that was before Hamilton became the hottest ticket on Broadway. And the horn’s new value? Over $115,000.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book Prizes from the A.H.A.

At their meeting earlier this month, the members of the American Historical Association announced the winners of their awards for books, other media, and teaching.

The Littleton-Griswold Prize for book on “the history of U.S. law and society (broadly defined)” went to a book about pre-Revolutionary Boston: Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston, by Cornelia H. Dayton of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and Sharon V. Salinger of the University of California, Irvine.

I’ve mentioned this book before, but here’s the publisher’s description:
In colonial America, the system of “warning out” was distinctive to New England, a way for a community to regulate those to whom it would extend welfare. Robert Love’s Warnings animates this nearly forgotten aspect of colonial life, richly detailing the moral and legal basis of the practice and the religious and humanistic vision of those who enforced it.

Historians Cornelia H. Dayton and Sharon V. Salinger follow one otherwise obscure town clerk, Robert Love, as he walked through Boston’s streets to tell sojourners, “in His Majesty’s Name,” that they were warned to depart the town in fourteen days. This declaration meant not that newcomers literally had to leave, but that they could not claim legal settlement or rely on town poor relief. Warned youths and adults could reside, work, marry, or buy a house in the city. If they became needy, their relief was paid for by the province treasurer. Warning thus functioned as a registration system, encouraging the flow of labor and protecting town coffers.

Between 1765 and 1774, Robert Love warned four thousand itinerants, including youthful migrant workers, demobilized British soldiers, recently exiled Acadians, and women following the redcoats who occupied Boston in 1768. Appointed warner at age sixty-eight owing to his unusual capacity for remembering faces, Love kept meticulous records of the sojourners he spoke to, including where they lodged and whether they were lame, ragged, drunk, impudent, homeless, or begging. Through these documents, Dayton and Salinger reconstruct the biographies of travelers, exploring why so many people were on the move throughout the British Atlantic and why they came to Boston. With a fresh interpretation of the role that warning played in Boston’s civic structure and street life, Robert Love’s Warnings reveals the complex legal, social, and political landscape of New England in the decade before the Revolution.
In addition, here are some other prize-winners covering eighteenth-century America.

Freedom’s Mirror: Cuba and Haiti in the Age of Revolution, by Ada Ferrer of New York University, won the Friedrich Katz Prize in Latin American and Caribbean history and the Wesley-Logan Prize in African diaspora history, and shared the James A. Rawley Prize for the integration of Atlantic worlds before the twentieth century.

Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619–1807, by Gregory E. O’Malley of the University of California at Santa Cruz, shared the Rawley Prize and won the Morris D. Forkosch Prize in the field of British, British Imperial, or British Commonwealth history since 1485.

The Empire of Necessity: Slavery, Freedom, and Deception in the New World, by Greg Grandin of New York University, shared the Albert J. Beveridge Award on the history of the United States, Latin America, or Canada, from 1492 to the present.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Looking Forward to Grand Forage 1778

The Road to Concord will be one of the first two books from the Journal of the American Revolution’s series with Westholme Publishing.

The first title to appear will be Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City, by Todd W. Braisted. You should already know about Todd’s website on Loyalist units in the Revolutionary War.

After two years of defeats and reverses, 1778 was a year of success for George Washington and the Continental Army. France had entered the war as the ally of the United States, the British had evacuated Philadelphia, and the redcoats had been fought to a standstill at the Battle of Monmouth.

While the combined French-American effort to capture Newport was unsuccessful, it lead to intelligence from British-held New York that indicated a massive troop movement was imminent. British officers were selling their horses and laying in supplies for their men. Scores of empty naval transports were arriving in the city. British commissioners from London were offering peace, granting a redress of every grievance expressed in 1775. Spies repeatedly reported conversations of officers talking of leaving. To George Washington, and many others, it appeared the British would evacuate New York City, and the Revolutionary War might be nearing a successful conclusion.

Then, on September 23, 1778, six thousand British troops erupted into neighboring Bergen County, New Jersey, followed the next day by three thousand others surging northward into Westchester County, New York. Washington now faced a British Army stronger than Burgoyne’s at Saratoga the previous year. What, in the face of all intelligence to the contrary, had changed with the British?

Through period letters, reports, newspapers, journals, pension applications, and other manuscripts from archives in the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, and Germany, the complete picture of Britain’s last great push around New York City can now be told. The strategic situation of Britain’s tenuous hold in America is intermixed with the tactical views of the soldiers in the field and the local inhabitants, who only saw events through their narrow vantage points.

This is the first publication to properly narrate the events of this period as one campaign. Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City explores the battles, skirmishes, and maneuvers that left George Washington and Sir Henry Clinton playing a deadly game of chess in the lower Hudson Valley as a prelude to the British invasion of the Southern colonies.

Todd W. Braisted is a past president of the Bergen County Historical Society, an honorary vice-president of the United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada, and a Fellow of the Company of Military Historians. He has authored numerous articles and books on the American Revolution, and has appeared on such shows as PBS’s History Detectives.

To preorder a copy from Amazon, click on the cover image above or on this link.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Announcing The Road to Concord

I’m pleased to announce my new book, to be published later this year: The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War.

In the early spring of 1775, on a farm in Concord, Massachusetts, British army spies located four brass cannon belonging to Boston’s colonial militia that had gone missing months before. British general Thomas Gage had been searching for them, both to stymie New England’s growing rebellion and to erase the embarrassment of having let cannon disappear from armories under redcoat guard.

Anxious to regain those weapons, he drew up plans for his troops to march nineteen miles into unfriendly territory. The Massachusetts Patriots, meanwhile, prepared to thwart the general’s mission. There was one goal Gage and his enemies shared: for different reasons, they all wanted to keep the stolen cannon as secret as possible. Both sides succeeded well enough that the full story has never appeared until now.

The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War reveals a new dimension to the start of America’s War for Independence by tracing the spark of its first battle back to little-known events beginning in September 1774. The author relates how radical Patriots secured those four cannon and smuggled them out of Boston, and how Gage sent out spies and search parties to track them down.

Drawing on archives in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, the book creates a lively, original, and deeply documented picture of a society perched on the brink of war.

Click on the image above or this link to pre-order the book from Amazon. Meanwhile, I’m staying busy making sure it’s as readable as possible.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Lectures on the Contested Northeast at Deerfield

Historic Deerfield is presenting a series of free monthly lectures this winter on the theme of “In Harm’s Way: Conflict and Captivity before the French and Indian War.”

Deerfield is of course the site of a famous raid on a British frontier settlement by more than 300 allied French, Canadian, and Native soldiers in 1704.

These talks commemorate that raid by “exploring conflicts, alliances and contested territories in the Northeast throughout the later 17th and early 18th centuries.”

Sunday, 24 January, 2:00 P.M.
“Rethinking King Philip’s War in the Connecticut River Valley: Pushing Beyond Old Assumptions”
Peter Thomas, Retired Associate Research Professor of Anthropology, University of Vermont

Sunday, 28 February, 2:00 P.M.
“Raiding and Captive Taking along the New England and New York Borders 1688-1748”
Kevin Sweeney, Professor of American Studies and History, Amherst College

Sunday, 20 March, 2:00 P.M.
“Colonization and Captivity in Native Space”
Lisa Brooks, Associate Professor of English and American Studies, Amherst College

Sunday, 24 April, 2:00 P.M.
“The Line of Forts: An Eighteenth-Century DEW Line
Michael Coe, Professor Emeritus, Yale University

All these talks will take place at the Deerfield Community Center, 16 Memorial Street, in Old Deerfield.

The Flynt Center of Early New England Life will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from January through April. The seasonal admission is $7 Adults, $5 Youth (ages 6-17), and free for visitors under six, members, and Deerfield residents. Historic Deerfield’s museum houses are closed during the winter.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Tracking the Officers of the Royal Artillery

This might be an interesting online resource for people who research the officers of the Royal Artillery in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In 1815 Elizabeth Delahoy printed a List of Officers of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, as They Stood in the Year 1763, with a Continuation to the Present Time. That listed all the officers, their dates of promotion, and “Remarks” on their retirements and/or deaths. While this publication lists such men as the regiment’s “Veterinary Surgeons,” it doesn’t seem to include the Engineers.

A copy of that book owned by the Oxford University libraries was digitized by Google. In that copy, the owner added handwritten comments on officers’ promotions and fates through 1827 or so, including such information as the size of a man’s pension. The book appears to have been designed for people to use it that way, with lots of blank space, so there may be similar copies in other collections.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Dr. Jeffries’s Hat

Last week the anniversary of the first balloon crossing of the English Channel by Jean-Pierre Blanchard and Dr. John Jeffries, a Boston native, got a lot of attention on the web.

There was an article about making a similar journey by Dr. Tom Crouch of the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum, who’s working on a book about Jeffries. His past books include The Eagle Aloft: Two Centuries of the Balloon in America.

And the Houghton Library at Harvard pulled out the hat that Jeffries wore on his first balloon trip and when he had his portrait made. It turns out to be cut from a jaguar pelt.

My father looked at the Houghton material decades back, and he told me it included a fabric sample from the balloon. I didn’t see that when I looked at the documents in the last fifteen years, but I see that’s now a separate collection. Glad it didn’t float away.

My version of the Channel-crossing story from 2006 starts here.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Making and Wearing Leather Breeches

There appear to be a lot of changes happening at Colonial Williamsburg now. Some pandering (Halloween celebration, skating rink), some ordinary revamping (new restaurant at the Lodge), and some just puzzling.

In the last category is the change of the site’s magazine from the Colonial Williamsburg Journal to Trend and Tradition.

The last, and first, issue of Trend and Tradition includes an article by Ben Swenson on Colonial Williamsburg’s leather breeches initiative. Unfortunately, this is not one of the articles that can be accessed through the history.org website because I think a lot of folks who make reenactment garments would find it interesting.

The major points:
  • “Leather breeches were as common in the 18th century as blue jeans are in the 21st.”
  • “The modern tools that now exist to re-create 18th-century costumes on a large scale can’t accommodate the properties of leather.”
  • “all the breeches produced in the 18th century were made from the hides of deer or other wild game, which were processed differently from shoe or belt leather.”
  • “The leather is similar to other fabrics in some ways, but there are just enough differences to throw you off.” —artificer intern Emma Cross
  • Good leather breeches are “snug at first, but are pliable enough to stretch, giving everyone’s moving parts a range of motion.”
  • “They could resist the punishment of a snag or repeated wear-and-tear that might rip gentler fabric.”
The article notes several type of men who wore leather breeches, and I’ll add a detail from Samuel Eliot Morison’s biography of his ancestor Harrison Gray Otis. Little Harry came from one of the town’s genteel families and he attended the South Latin School in the 1770s. He wore leather breeches, too: “Every year, on Guy Fawkes’ day, a new pair of leather breeches was given him, and reserved for ‘best’ so long as the breeches of the previous vintage held out.”

Here are a couple more articles about leather breeches from Two Nerdy History Girls and Making History, which is also the source of this handsome image.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Open House at the Golden Ball Tavern, 10 Jan.

On Sunday, 10 January, the Golden Ball Tavern in Weston will hold the first in a series of “Second Sunday” Open Houses running each month through June.

From 1:00 to 3:00 P.M. this Sunday, guides will lead tours of the site and answer questions about the museum. The event is “free, open to the public, and family-friendly!”

Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere certainly found it friendly while they were scouting the countryside dressed as civilian surveyors for Gen. Thomas Gage in February 1774. Here’s part of their report:
we stopped at a tavern at the sign of the golden ball, with an intention to get a drink and so proceed; but upon our going in the landlord pleased us so much, as he was not inquisitive, that we resolved to lye there that night; so we ordered some fire to be made in the room we were in, and a little after to get us some coffee; he told us we might have what we pleased, either tea or coffee.

We immediately found out with whom we were, and were not a little pleased to find, on some conversation, that he was a friend to government; he told us that he had been very ill-used by them some time before; but that since he had shewed them that he was not to be bullied, they had left him pretty quiet.
The Golden Ball’s landlord at the time, Isaac Jones, had attracted the wrath of his neighbors by selling tea. And he was still doing it! His offer of tea or coffee alerted the British officers that he would be friendly to them. Of course, by partaking of his hospitality they marked themselves as suspicious outsiders.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Smoking Little Josiah

Nobody likes going through the T.S.A. scanners at airports, but it could be worse. We could have to go into a small smoky room to be fumigated. At three years old.

Here’s mayor and Harvard president Josiah Quincy’s earliest memory, from 1775, when he was three. It was early in the siege of 1775-76, when his mother, Abigail (Phillips) Quincy got permission to leave Boston with him:
It was my lot to be with my mother and her two sisters in that carriage. The following fact probably impressed my childish fancy, and was the occasion of my remembering it. The small-pox was then in Boston, and was at that day the terror of the country. At the line which separates Boston and Roxbury there were troops stationed, and a sentry-box on the east side of the street erected. At this point the carriage was stopped, all its inmates made to descend and enter the sentry-box successively. On each side of the box was a small platform, round which each of the inmates was compelled to walk, and remain until our clothes were thoroughly fumigated with the fumes of brimstone cast upon a body of coals in the centre of the box. This operation was required to prevent infection.
And I’m sure it worked great.

Quincy also told this story at a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society on 10 Dec 1857.

Since that was Quincy’s earliest memory, and his namesake father died in the spring of 1775 after months in Britain, that means Quincy had no memories of his father. Only memorabilia.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Taking the Measure of the Holyoke Family

At Two Nerdy History Girls, Isabella Bradford highlighted a weighty image from Harvard University’s new online collection of colonial materials.

In his almanac for the new year of 1748, thirteen-year-old John Holyoke wrote down the weights of all the members of his family’s household as of 8 January. Here is what that page looked like after it was transcribed and published.

John’s list of weights started with his father, the Rev. Edward Holyoke (1689-1769, shown here), president of Harvard College since 1737, weighing in at 234.5 pounds.

The Holyoke genealogy shows that this was a blended family, formed in 1742. The college president was on his third marriage with several children from the second. His wife Mary had children from her first marriage.

The others John listed were:
  • “Mother”: Mary (Whipple Epes) Holyoke (d. 1790, aged 92 years old). She was actually John’s stepmother.
  • “Peggy”: Margaret Holyoke (1726-1792), who two years later married John Mascarene (1722-1779), later a Customs official in Salem.
  • “Betty Hol[yoke].”: Elizabeth Holyoke (1732-1821), daughter from the president’s first marriage.
  • “John”: The note-taker, nearly fourteen and 93 pounds. He entered Harvard later that year but died five years later.
  • “Sam’l”: Samuel Epes (1733-1760), son of the mother’s first marriage and only 88 pounds. He became a lawyer and died in his twenties. In August 1746 these two boys went into Boston for school, presumably at one of the grammar schools to prepare for college.
  • “Anna”: Also called Nancy Holyoke (1735-1812).
  • “Betty Epes”: Elizabeth Epes, daughter of the mother’s first marriage, born in 1736.
  • “Priscilla”: Priscilla Holyoke (1739-1782).
  • “Mary”: Mary Holyoke (1742-1753), only child of the present marriage, she died five years later.
  • “Deb Foster”: On 4 Oct 1734, Holyoke wrote in his diary, “Deborah Foster came to live with us.” The editor of the family diaries identified her as “the hired girl,” though at 159 pounds she must have been a grown woman. Sometimes her last name was spelled Forster. On 24 July 1750, she went to Marblehead, and a few months later “Deborah Dwelly came to live with us.”
  • “Juba”: An enslaved black servant. On 20 Aug 1744 she took “Johny” into Boston by foot. That moment and her weight seem to be the only time she was mentioned by name in the family diaries.
The president’s oldest son Edward Augustus “Neddy” Holyoke (1728-1829) was no longer in the household. On 22 Aug 1747 he had gone to Ipswich to study medicine from Dr. Thomas Berry.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

The Great Truth about Augustus C. Buell

I enjoyed Justin Shatwell’s Yankee Magazine article on Augustus C. Buell, author of a two-volume biography of John Paul Jones, Paul Jones, Founder of the American Navy: A History, published in two volumes in 1900.
Buell was a talented writer and the book was a gripping read, chock full of sea battles, romance, and general daring-do. The New York Tribune praised it as “a perfect biography.” It turns out it’s easy to write a great history when you’re making most of it up.

Buell’s lies went unnoticed for several years. To a casual observer the book seemed legit. Buell gave sources for much of his material. It wasn’t until 1905 that people realized he was citing documents that existed only in his imagination. As Samuel Eliot Morison, a later (and legitimate) biographer of John Paul Jones, would write, “He found it easier to write Jones’s letters himself than to use the genuine ones in the Library of Congress, which he never visited.” . . .

Buell never heard these barbs. He died in 1904, a year before an expose in the New York Times revealed the majority of his malfeasance and labeled his book, “the most audacious historical forgery every put upon a credulous public.” When he passed, he was still a star. He published three more biographies, each similarly embroidered with his own inventions, as well as a memoir of his time in the Union Army during the Civil War, which for a time was praised as the best first-person account of the Battle of Gettysburg until it was revealed that he joined the army several weeks after it was fought.
Buell’s book is now available everywhere in digital form, of course. That means more people have a chance to stumble on it and be fooled, but the same technology means it’s also very easy to find over a century of denunciations of Buell’s lies.

One of Buell’s inventions outran his critics, however. According to this 2004 article in Naval History Magazine, published by the U.S. Naval Institute, John Paul Jones’s “Qualifications of a Naval Officer” was Buell’s invention. He “had rewritten some of Jones’s letters and created other documents to offer turn-of-the-century naval officers a model of modern professionalism.”

That text has accrued so much tradition that it continues to be taught to U.S. Naval Academy students. Early this century, the Commandant of Midshipmen changed the attribution of those words to “Written by Augustus C. Buell in 1900 to reflect his views of John Paul Jones.” The U.S. Naval Academy’s website now credits those words as “Compiled by Augustus C. Buell from letters written by John Paul Jones,” which doesn’t seem quite so accurate.