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, June 30, 2016

Untold Stories from Little Compton, Rhode Island

On Friday, 1 July, the Little Compton Historical Society will host a preview party for its new exhibit “If Jane Should Want to Be Sold: Stories of Enslavement, Indenture & Freedom in Little Compton, Rhode Island.”

The society’s webpage explains:
This summer the Little Compton Historical Society will restore the voices of over 250 forgotten people to our local history. The Historical Society’s latest project uses hundreds of primary source documents to bring to light the lives of people of African, Native American, and European descent who were enslaved and forcibly indentured in Little Compton between 1674 and 1816.

The organization will share their stories with the public in a year-long effort that includes a book written by Managing Director Marjory O’Toole, a special exhibition that will run through February 2017, a permanent addition to the Wilbor House tour, a memorial to the enslaved in the Old Burying Ground, a lecture series, programs for school children and a research database.
The book, also titled If Jane Should Want to Be Sold, is based on new primary-source research. The woman named in the title faced “a decision whether or not to be sold, a marriage, a move to another community, and the loss of a son in the Revolution.” Another local figure was Boston Wilbor, who secured his freedom by volunteering to serve in the Rhode Island Regiment.

Alongside this exhibit and publication, the society has made a permanent addition to its Wilbor House tour by recreating “the sleeping quarters of Fal Solomon, a forcibly indentured Native American girl who was ordered by the Little Compton Town Council to work for the Wilbor family until she was 18 years old.”

The book will be available at the Historical Society on July 1 and 2 for anyone attending the special events scheduled on those days and during normal business hours thereafter. The cost is $15 for members and $20 for non-members. It will become available on Amazon.com beginning 3 July.

The exhibit opens to the public on 2 July and will be open on afternoons Thursday through Sunday through Labor Day and on weekend afternoons through Columbus Day. Admission is free to society members, otherwise $7.50 for adults and $5 for children.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Watching the Course of Human Events

I’m pleased to see that the Course of Human Events blog has started to post more frequently about the Declaration of Independence.

This blog is part of Declaration Resources Project, started by Harvard political science professor Danielle Allen, author of Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality and columnist for the Washington Post. The website explains itself this way:

The mission of the Declaration Resources Project is to create innovative and informative resources about the Declaration of Independence. By encouraging today’s Americans to take a deeper look at this document, and by taking advantage of digital literacy and new media, we hope to tackle the mysteries of the Declaration, replace folklore with equally-fascinating true stories, and demonstrate the ways in which engagement with fundamental primary sources can influence civic identity and education.
The blog contains “monthly highlights from our ongoing research” posted by research manager Emily Sneff.

At first the entries were coming once a month, but that accelerated this month. Some of the items:
  • 4 April: Why Delaware delegate Thomas McKean’s name appears on some early printings of the Declaration but not others.
  • 4 June: How the Federalist press credited President John Adams, not his rival Thomas Jefferson, as the principle mover for independence.
  • 16 June: Adams and Jefferson’s correspondence on the “Mecklenburg Declaration” published in 1819 (unfortunately not accompanied by a clear statement that that document was composed around that year as an attempt to recall what Mecklenburg County Patriots actually enacted in 1775, which was preserved in newspapers at the time).
  • 27 June: How a musical number cut from Hamilton relates to who was at the Continental Congress when the Declaration committee submitted its draft and who was simply there in John Trumbull’s painting.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Revisiting Castle William through the Commonwealth Museum

This summer the Commonwealth Museum at the Massachusetts Archives is featuring a small exhibit titled “Castle Island: A Storied History.”

It features documents from the government’s collection related to the harbor island first fortified in the 1630s. In the eighteenth century that site was called Castle William or simply “the Castle.” Today the rebuilt fortification is called Fort Independence. The land it sits on is connected to the mainland yet has “Island” in its name—go figure.

The exhibit description says:
From colonial Governor Andros imprisoned on the island by colonists, through British officials who fled to the "castle" on the eve of the Revolution, to colorful personalities like the young soldier Edgar Allan Poe, Castle Island and Fort Independence have played a fascinating role in Massachusetts history.
In the years before the Revolutionary War, Massachusetts politicians sparred over who should control that island. In 1766 Gov. Francis Bernard let a contingent of Royal Artillery stay there over the winter without consulting with his Council, and that became a political issue. As it turned out, the artillery training those professionals gave to Adino Paddock’s militia company turned them into a highly respected unit. [I discuss their standing in Boston in The Road to Concord.]

When the Crown sent British troops to Boston in 1768, town officials argued that they should stay in the barracks at Castle William. Bernard replied that the soldiers would be too far from town to tamp down any violent protests against the Customs service, which of course the town officials knew. Later, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson turned over control of the castle to the remaining regulars, prompting another round of complaints from the legislature that he was behaving unilaterally.

As part of this exhibit, the Commonwealth Museum says, it’s displaying “a rare, early American flag that dates to the time of the American Revolution. It is believed that the flag may have flown over Castle Island.” The flag, shown above, has thirteen stars and thirteen stripes, which means it was made during the war or in the years immediately following—or that it’s a replica of such a flag.

According to a story in the Boston Globe, the flag was loaned for this exhibit by James Mooney of Cincinnati, whose ancestors bought it with a home in Medford in 1901. That home, according to Mooney, belonged to “a significant family with a history in the Revolutionary War, and going back to the Mayflower.” However, that article didn’t identify the family or provide more evidence for the statements about the flag.

The Globe article does say: “Stephen Kenney, director at the museum, which is in the Massachusetts Archives Building, said the flag is identical in design to one that’s part of the State House art collection.” And according to this genealogy, in 1906 Gov. Curtis Guild accepted the gift of a similar thirteen-star flag, said to have been made for Jonathan Fowle in 1781. Again, no details behind those statements.

Monday, June 27, 2016

“My Dearest Friend” Opera in Quincy, 2 July

On Saturday, 2 July, Adams National Historical Park will host a free performance of Patricia Leonard’s opera My Dearest Friend.

These songs will feature soprano Wendy Bryn Harmer as Abigail Adams and baritone Charles Taylor as John Adams. The lyrics come from the letters the Adamses exchanged during their separations.

My Dearest Friend is several years in the making. Back in 2014 the Boston Globe profiled Leonard and her project, which grew out of a conversation with Harmer.

This isn’t the first operatic portrayal of Abigail and John Adams. In 1987 federal judge Richard Owens staged his Abigail Adams. Last year the park hosted the Chelsea Opera’s A Distant Love by Gary S. Fagin and Terry Quinn, parts of which date to 2004.

Adams herself came to enjoy the operas she saw in Paris, though as a New England minister’s daughter she felt she shouldn’t. In 1785 she wrote to her sister Mary Cranch:
Shall I speak a Truth and say that repeatedly seeing these Dances has worn of that disgust which I first felt, and that I see them now with pleasure.

Yet when I consider the tendency of these things, the passions they must excite, and the known Character, even to a proverb, which is attached to an opera Girl, my abhorrence is not lessned, and neither my Reason or judgment have accompanied my Sensibility in acquiring any degree of callousness. The art of dancing is carried to the highest degree of perfection that it is capable of; at the opera. The House is neither so grand, or Beautifull architecture as the French Theater, but it is more frequented by the Beau Mond, who had rather be amused than instructed. The Scenary is more various, and more highly decorated, the dresses more costly and rich. And O! the Musick vocal and instrumental, it has a soft persuasive power and a dying dying Sound.

Conceive a highly decorated building filled with Youth, Beauty, Grace, ease, clad in all the most pleasing and various ornaments of Dress which fancy can form; these objects Singing like Cherubs to the best tuned instruments most skilfully handled, the softest tenderest Strains, every attitude corresponding with the musick, full of the God or Goddess whom they celebrate, the female voices accompanied by an equal number of Adonises. Think you that this city can fail of becoming a Cytherea and this House the temple of Venus?
The performance of My Dearest Friend in Quincy is free. It’s scheduled to run from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. on the lawn of the Beale Estate, 181 Adams Street. There is limited street parking and a free trolley from the park’s visitor center.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Following the Money after the Phillips-Woodbridge Duel

As I prepared yesterday’s posting about the duel between Henry Phillips and Benjamin Woodbridge, I noticed there’s a considerable literature about it. Samuel G. Drake wrote about the event in 1856. The Massachusetts Historical Society heard a paper on the topic in 1861 and another in 1904. In 1874 the Overland Monthly published another telling titled “A Duel on Boston Common.” Brent Simons devoted a chapter to the incident in Witches, Rakes, and Rogues.

Why do we have so much information about this event? Both duelists were from the social elite, but they weren’t really important. As I said yesterday, Phillips had graduated from Harvard. At age thirteen, Woodbridge was one of the people whom Dr. Zabdiel Boylston inoculated against smallpox in the first year of that controversial treatment. But neither young man did anything truly noteworthy before their duel.

The duel itself was unusual because it was reportedly the first in colonial America to end in death, and because colonial Massachusetts society reacted so strongly to it. “The town is amazed!” wrote Judge Samuel Sewall in his diary. Acting governor William Dummer issued a reward for Phillips’s capture; the Massachusetts Historical Society offers a look at that proclamation.

In addition to the new law I mentioned yesterday, there was also an angry sermon from the Rev. Joseph Sewall, the judge’s son, published with a preface by all the town’s clergymen. (The Sewalls had a personal connection to the case; Woodbridge’s business partner was Jonathan Sewall, the judge’s nephew and minister’s first cousin.) But the newspapers, legal documents, and sermons don’t tell us much about the duel itself.

Instead, those details come from the unusually large amount of testimony about the event that was collected and preserved, and those documents were created for a very powerful reason—there was money involved.

Not in the duel itself. The two young men had apparently quarreled over a gambling debt, but ultimately they dueled because their sense of honor exceeded their sense. The big money was the nearly £4,000 in real estate that Henry Phillips owned.

After fleeing to France, Phillips ended up dying in less than a year. Moralists of the time attributed his death to guilt for killing Woodbridge. Today we might wonder about the effect of depression or stress—i.e., a different way of linking the two deaths. Of course, there’s always the possibility Phillips died of a virus or congenital condition that didn’t care about the duel at all.

Whatever way he died, Phillips left no will. Under British common law, his property would go mostly to his older brother, Gillam Phillips (shown above). In contrast, Massachusetts law divided the estate in five among the deceased’s brother, mother, and three sisters (or their children).

Gillam sued, seeking to take a considerable sum from his female relatives (or their husbands). Losing in the Massachusetts courts, he appealed to London. It was apparently as part of that transatlantic lawsuit that Gillam Phillips gathered several depositions from witnesses to the men’s quarrel and the discovery of Woodbridge’s body.

Ten years after the duel, Gillam Phillips finally lost that case. The Privy Council ruled that Massachusetts law applied. In The Transatlantic Constitution, Mary Sarah Bilder of Boston College Law School wrote that that was an important precedent in establishing that colonial law could sometimes differ from British law. Gillam Phillips’s collection of documents eventually came to the Harvard Law School archives, becoming the source material for a no-doubt endless stream of articles about his brother’s fatal duel on Boston Common.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The First Fatal Duel on Boston Common

In 1719 Massachusetts enacted a law against dueling, establishing the punishment as a fine of up to £100, imprisonment for up to six months, and/or corporal punishment “not extending to member or pillory.” (I think “member” refers to cutting off body parts, such as ears.)

Given all the things that the Puritans forbade, it may seem odd that they never took a stand against dueling. The fathers of the Massachusetts Bay Colony probably had more important things on their mind. Only after 1692 when Massachusetts became a province with a royally appointed governor, bringing other Anglican aristocrats and merchant adventurers, did the practice of dueling become a concern.

At the Old North Church’s blog, Mark Hurwitz just told the story of the province’s first fatal duel, nine years after this law went onto the books.
In July of 1728, Henry [Phillips] and Benjamin Woodbridge drank and played cards at the Royal Exchange Tavern on the corner of State and Exchange Street. The card game turned into an argument, which led to a challenge to a duel with swords at Boston Common that same night. According to Henry, troubles between the two had been growing for some time and according to him, a friend of Woodbridge’s encouraged him to challenge Henry to a duel with swords.

Henry suffered minor wounds to his abdomen and fled Boston Common after wounding Woodbridge in the chest. Henry sought out the medical attention of Dr. [George] Pemberton who dressed his wounds. As he was being treated for his wounds, he confessed to participating in an illegal duel and wounding Woodbridge. He brought Dr. Pemberton to Boston Common and the both of them were unable to locate Woodbridge. He was found dead the next day. It is believed that Woodbridge had sought shelter several yards away under a tree when it began to rain, and thus he expired there.

Because dueling was illegal in Massachusetts, Henry’s friends and family helped to smuggle him out of town aboard a ship departing for England that evening. Several weeks later, Henry reached London and went on to La Rochelle, France where his brother’s brother-in-law, Peter Faneuil, had family, and they agreed to take him in.
Woodbridge was a “pretty young man,” according to a diarist. Only nineteen years old, thus below the age of majority, he was nonetheless a “young gentleman-merchant,” according to the New-England Weekly Journal. His father was an Admiralty court judge in Barbados.

Phillips was also fairly young, twenty-three years old. A Harvard graduate, he had joined his older brother’s bookselling and mercantile business. They were Anglicans, but also Boston natives.

Reportedly Phillips and Woodbridge were friends before their duel. Some contemporaries blamed another man for pitting them against each other. Traditionalists blamed the new bad habits coming from England.

The Massachusetts General Court passed a new law that increased the punishments for dueling. Among the new provisions, anyone killed in a duel or convicted of killing another was denied church burial.

Friday, June 24, 2016

“Revolutionary Saturdays” This Summer

Five National Park Service sites around Boston are inviting families to participate in “Revolutionary Saturdays” this summer.

In particular, the parks invite fourth-graders to download a voucher from the “Every Kid in a Park” website to prepare for their visits, which are aimed to prepare them to study the American Revolution in school next year. Here are the sites and their programs for those Saturdays (and in some cases for other days as well).

Minute Man National Historical Park, 9 July
  • “The Road to Revolution” multimedia presentation at the Minute Man Visitor Center, every thirty minutes, 9:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.
  • Paul Revere Rode Here!” walks at 11:00 A.M., 12:00 noon, and 1:00 P.M.
  • Life at Whittemore House, 11:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.
  • “Muster the Minute Men!” at Hartwell Tavern, 10:15 A.M., 1:15 P.M., 3:15 P.M. and 4:15 P.M. (This program includes a musket firing demonstration.)

Boston National Historical Park, 16 July
  • Bunker Hill Museum, 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M.
  • “Mapping the Battle” at the museum, 11:00 A.M. and 1:30 P.M.
  • “Decisive Day” on the Monument grounds, every thirty minutes, 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.
  • “Of Muskets, Men and Liberty” at the Monument grounds, 11:30 A.M., 12:30 P.M., 2:30 P.M. and 3:30 P.M. (This program includes a musket firing demonstration.)
  • “Climb the Monument!” all day with the last climb at 4:30 P.M. (Sometimes closed because of weather.)

Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, 23 July
  • Tour Washington’s headquarters, on the hour and half-hour
  • “Meet George Washington,” 12:00 noon to 4:00 P.M.
  • Dress up as a colonist, 1:00 P.M. and 3:00 P.M.
  • “The Road to Revolution,” ranger-led tour of the historic neighborhood, 2:00 P.M.

Salem Maritime National Historic Site, 30 July
  • “1774! Rumblings of War!” in town meeting, U.S. Custom House, 11:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon
  • Explore the sailing ship Friendship of Salem
  • Visit the 1762 Derby House, home of a family that supplied cannon to the nascent Massachusetts army

Adams National Historical Park, 6 August
  • “Enduring Legacy: Four Generations of the Adams Family,” a 26-minute film
  • “Penn and Parchment: The Continental Congress,” Adams Carriage House at 135 Adams Street, 1:00 to 2:30 P.M.
Check each site’s webpages for more details and confirmation.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Hannigan on Crispus Attucks, 23 June

Tonight the Framingham Historical Society will hold its annual meeting, approving officers and a budget for the coming months.

Then they’ll hear from John Hannigan, doctoral candidate in history at Brandeis University, about one of the town’s well-known inhabitants: Crispus Attucks.
Hannigan will examine the facts embedded with the Crispus Attucks mythology. Had Crispus escaped from the Framingham farm where he was enslaved before being the first to die at the Boston Massacre?

Hannigan’s research on the relationship between slavery and war in 18th-century Massachusetts leads to questions like: How do we know what we know about Crispus Attucks? What can we learn by excavating around the margins of the historical record?
As I learned when I starting posted about Attucks’s tea kettle last year, John Hannigan offers new clues and new thinking on the man. The talk is bound to be fascinating, and—darn it—I can’t be there.

The meeting will start at 7:00 P.M. in the Edgell Memorial Library at 3 Oak Street. There will be refreshments afterward.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

News from the Wright Tavern in Concord

Earlier this month the Concord Museum and the town’s First Parish announced an agreement for the museum to lease the historic Wright Tavern for three years.

The tavern, located near the center of town, was the site of committee meetings during the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress in 1774.

On 18-19 Apr 1775, the town’s militia companies mustered outside the tavern. After British troops arrived to search Concord for cannon and other military supplies [as detailed in The Road to Concord], their officers also used the tavern as a base of operations.

The First Parish has, somewhat incongruously, owned the tavern since 1886. At times parts of the building have been used for historic interpretation, but currently it is closed to the public, housing an architecture firm and a non-profit associated with the parish. The Concord Community Preservation Committee just funded improvements to the roof, windows, gutters, and electrical system.

Under the new arrangement, the Concord Museum will offer educational programs at the Wright Tavern. That will provide the museum with important additional space; its programs are now serving more than 10,000 students from three cities, an increase of 4,000 over the past five years. The site will also host public events in spring and fall to commemorate the congress meeting and the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

The reopening of the tavern as a public site has been a pet project of Mel Bernstein, chairman of the American Revolution Round Table at Minute Man National Historical Park. Of the new deal, he told the Concord Journal, “It provides an opportunity to transform the tavern into the historical center that it will become.”

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Samuel Gerrish “unworthy an Officer”

As I described yesterday, Col. Samuel Gerrish of Newbury was the first infantry officer to receive a Massachusetts commission in May 1775, but then ran out his string with a series of embarrassing actions and lack of action.

On 17 August, the Continental Army court-martialed Gerrish on the charge “That he behaved unworthy an Officer.” With Gen. Nathanael Greene presiding, a panel of officers found him guilty and ordered him “to be cashiered, and render’d incapable of any employment in the American Army.” Gen. George Washington approved that sentence on 19 August.

Washington’s private letters show that he was pleased with that outcome and, whatever incident was behind the formal charge, linked it to Gerrish’s behavior at Bunker Hill. To his overseer Lund Washington the commander wrote:

The People of this Government have obtained a Character which they by no means deserved—their Officers generally speaking are the most indifferent kind of People I ever saw. I have already broke one Colo. and five Captain’s for Cowardice, & for drawing more Pay & Provision’s than they had Men in their Companies. . . .

in short they are by no means such Troops, in any respect, as you are led to believe of them from the Accts which are published, but I need not make myself Enemies among them, by this declaration, although it is consistent with truth. I daresay the Men would fight very well (if properly Officered) although they are an exceeding dirty & nasty people. had they been properly conducted at Bunkers Hill (on the 17th of June) or those that were there properly supported, the Regulars would have met with a shameful defeat; & a much more considerable loss than they did. . .

it was for their behaviour on that occasion that the above Officers were broke, for I never spared one that was accused of Cowardice but brot ’em to immediate Tryal.
Likewise he told Richard Henry Lee that he “Broke one Colo. and two Captains for Cowardly behaviour in the action on Bunker’s Hill.” Gen. William Heath later told John Adams that Gerrish’s fault had been “Backwardness in Duty on the 17th. of June.”

According to Swett, judge advocate general William Tudor later said that Gerrish “was treated far too severely.” (At the time, however, Tudor’s main complaint to his mentor John Adams was that the courts-martial were unfair to him because of all the work he had to do.)

Samuel Gerrish went back to Newbury. Loammi Baldwin took over the leadership of the regiment. However, not everyone had lost respect for Gerrish since his town elected him to the Massachusetts General Court the next year.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Samuel Gerrish, First Officer of the Massachusetts Army

Last month I wrote about how the Massachusetts Provincial Congress finally started commissioning infantry officers for its army (as opposed to its militia) on 19 May 1775.

The first colonel to receive a commission was Samuel Gerrish (c. 1729–1795) of Newbury. I thought it would be interesting to look at what happened to him.

First of all, according to historian Richard Frothingham, Gerrish’s regiment wasn’t as complete as the congress had been led to believe; “there were difficulties in relation to six of the companies, which were investigated June 2.” Five of the companies originally listed under Gerrish’s name asked to serve under another Newbury colonel, Moses Little. It took another twenty days before eight companies were fully commissioned under Gerrish.

During that spring the regiment was spread out along the north side of Boston harbor with three companies at Chelsea, three in east Cambridge, and two at Sewall’s Point, the finger of Brookline land in front of the Charles and Muddy Rivers. On 16 June the officers of the regiment met at Chelsea and assigned jobs: Loammi Baldwin to be lieutenant-colonel, Richard Dodge major, Christian Febiger adjutant, and so on. This was the New England way, electing from below rather than the colonel appointing from above.

One day after that meeting, of course, came the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1870 the Quincy family presented to the Massachusetts Historical Society one sheet of what had been a two-page letter describing the fight. Whoever wrote that account took particular notice of Col. Gerrish’s behavior, referring to him by his rank from the French & Indian War:
Major Gerrish was ordered also to Charlestown with a reinforcement, but he no sooner came in sight of the enemy than a tremor seiz’d him & he began to bellow, “Retreat! retreat! or you’l all be cutt off!” which so confus’d & scar’d our men, that they retreated most precipitately, & our soldiery now sware vengeance against him & determine not to be under his commd.
The historian Samuel Swett later wrote that Gerrish “was unwieldy from excessive corpulence”; on reaching Bunker’s Hill above the fighting, “he declared that he was completely exhausted, and lay prostrate on the ground.” Col. Israel Putnam roared at all the men stalled on that hill, hitting some with his sword, but they refused to go farther down and eventually retreated.

There was plenty of blame to go around after that battle. Other Massachusetts officers hadn’t even taken their troops onto the peninsula as Gerrish had. Swett wrote, “A complaint was lodged against him with [Gen. Artemas] Ward immediately after the battle, who refused to notice it on account of the unorganized state of the army.”

Not that Col. Gerrish was helping alleviate that disorganization. On 7 July the new commander-in-chief’s secretary, Joseph Reed, wrote to him to ask a second time for a return of all the men in the regiment. “The Express [to the Continental Congress] has been detain’d some time thro’ this Inattention,” Reed chided, “The Forces raised in Connecticut, New Hampshire & Rhode Island having sent in their Returns very complete.”

Gerrish finally reported having 258 men in his regiment. Even after that, there were administrative problems. In August eight officers at Sewall’s Point wrote to headquarters to complain that most of them had “been here in actual Service, since the Beginning of the Campaign, and been to a vast Deal of Expense, and not receiv’d one farthing of our pay.”

In early August, British floating batteries made some attacks on American positions near the water. One fired on Sewall’s Point. Instead of shooting back at that boat, Gerrish told his men to put out any lights and hunker down behind their fortifications. He was reported to have said, “the rascals can do us no harm, and it would be a mere waste of powder, to fire at them with our 4 pounders.” Technically, Gerrish might have been right. The British shots caused no casualties. But the colonel had used up any benefit of the doubt about his behavior in battle.

TOMORROW: Washington weighs in.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

“That day at Bunker Hill!”

You may have noticed that yesterday’s posting about Bunker Hill differed from the two that preceded it. It didn’t include any nineteenth-century poetry.

This posting corrects that omission. After Sarah Loring Bailey published the story of Pvt. John Barker and Capt. Benjamin Farnum in 1880, it inspired Annie Sawyer Downs to include the story in a long poem for the celebration of Andover’s sestercentennial sixteen years later.
The grass was green upon the lawn
The corn waved dark and tall.
And all day long the oriole,
Whistled his silvery call.
But what the veil, the film, the cloud
That frights the air of June?
And what the hush, the dread, the fear,
To which hearts beat in tune?

And why do men set faces hard
And eyes of women fill?
While trembling age and eager youth,
Press to the distant hill?
No courier swift swept through the street
With beat of martial drum,
And none could tell how the dread news
To Andover town had come.

Only that e’er the cannon’s roar,
Turned every heart's blood chill,
The voice was heard, “Stand fast! They fight
To-day at Bunker Hill.”
Dark rolled the smoke, when on the breeze
Was borne a deaf’ning shout
“We’ve beat the red coats off the field,
We hold the frail redoubt!”

Then there was mounting in hot haste
And hurrying to and fro,
For Doctor, Nurse, and Parson French
Swift to the field must go.
More weary hours wore slow away,
Again the mighty sound,
“A second time the red coats flee,
Once more they leave the ground.”

O maids and wives, and mothers dear,
Whose sad eyes watched the fire,
God grant though on that summer day
You lost your hearts’ desire,
That steadfast pride and courage high
Were yours through earthly ill,
For a great state was born that day,
That day at Bunker Hill!

Loud and still louder roared the guns,
Thick smoke hid all the sky,
And still the silvery oriole
Sang in the chestnut high.
At last the word, “Our powder gone,
We’ve turned us down the hill,
Content to prove this summer day,
This day at Bunker Hill!

That farmer lads can shake a crown
And lay proud England low,
And on a field they have not tilled
Such fearful harvest sow!”
Shot fell like rain on Charlestown Neck,
And brave the deeds oft told,
Of Bailey, Farnum, Frye, and Poor,
And stout John Barker bold.

For he was private in the ranks,
But last in the retreat;
When Captain Farnum struck by shell,
Fell just across his feet,
He lifted and he held him high
Full in the redcoats’ view
And shouted loud, “Now hold on Ben,
The Reg’lars sha’ n’t have you!”

A hundred years have come and gone,
And still in stirring verse,
The children of North Andover
John Barker’s deed rehearse,
And in the old-fashioned burying ground,
Shady and green and still,
On a mossy stone you oft may read,
“He fought at Bunker Hill.”

He fought the fight, he kept the step,
Loyal, and brave, and true,
For a free land he paid the price
Comrades, that day for you.
So lowly kneel, and softly tread,
In the graveyard under the hill
Fame writes aloft no prouder line,
Than, “Fought at Bunker Hill.”

Saturday, June 18, 2016

“The Regulars sha’n’t have Ben.”

In Historical Sketches of Andover (1880), Sarah Loring Bailey set down this story from the end of the Battle of Bunker Hill:
A private, John Barker, seeing his captain and friend, Benjamin Farnum, lying wounded in the path of the retreat, took him upon his shoulders, and steadying him by putting his gun across under his knees, bade him hold fast, and started off on the run, calling out, “The Regulars sha’n’t have Ben.” This is told by descendants of Captain Farnum, and by some of the neighbors.

On the other hand it has been the tradition in the Abbot family, and the Barker family, that Lieut. Isaac Abbot was the man rescued from the “Regulars.” Since the claim is made for the two, it is undoubtedly true that one or the other was carried off.
It’s striking how Barker’s own family said he had rescued Abbot, but the Farnum family’s claim got first position. To be sure, as of April, Abbot’s company had no man named John Barker in it while Farnum’s had two or three (depending on how one reads the roll).

Other sources confirm that both Abbot and Farnum were wounded in the battle. Bailey wrote that Farnum’s family arranged to bring him home to Andover to recover this way:
A sort of litter was placed on poles, and fastened to two chairs, and drawn by horses harnessed tandem. The Captain never wholly recovered from this wound, though he served during the whole war, and lived to a remarkable age; the sore made by the bullet continued to fester and be painful. Pieces of bone and the bullet that were taken from it were long kept, ghastly trophies of his first battle.
Pvt. James Stevens, who was home on sick leave during the battle, paid a sick call on 20 June. Stevens wrote in his diary, “this morning I went up to Captain varnum’s to se him he was wounded in two places in his lag & then I went home”.

Farnum recovered enough to serve as a militia officer in 1776 and then as a captain in the Massachusetts line in 1777, 1778, and the first three months of 1779 (not “the whole war”). Fifty years later he was hailed as the last surviving captain from the Battle of Bunker Hill. He died in 1833. The regulars never had him.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Francis Merrifield’s Bible

Earlier this spring the Bonhams auction house offered for sale a Bible printed in Edinburgh in 1755. What made this particular Bible so notable were the handwritten inscriptions:
[On the reverse of the title page] Cambridge, Jun 17 1775. I desire to bless God for his Kind aperince in delivering me and sparing my life in the late battle fought on Bunker’s Hill. I desire to devote this spared life to His glory and honour. In witness my hand, Francis Merrifield.

[Inside the inside back cover] 1775. Cambridge, June 17th. A batel fought on bunkers hill, on Saterday in the afternoon, which lasted an hour and a quarter, two men were wounded, and
------------
the number of my gun, one hundred eighty three, 183, the seventeenth Rigement, 17.
Francis Merrifield (1735-1814) was a corporal in Capt. Nathaniel Wade’s company in April, a sergeant in August. That unit was part of Col. Moses Little’s regiment, raised in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Merrifield was a veteran, having been part of an expedition to Canada in 1758; by one accounting, he was the oldest man in his company.

According to local historians, in later life Merrifield “used to describe the battle [of Bunker Hill] and the approach of the regulars. ‘When they got so near we could fairly see them, they looked too handsome to be fired at, but we had to do it.’”

Bonhams added, “The specification of his flintlock’s number clearly indicates that, next to this Bible itself, it was Merrifield's most treasured possession.” Perhaps, but Merrifield might just have wanted to get that property back. He had to loan a gun to Nathaniel Lakeman of Capt. Abraham Dodge’s company, probably at the end of 1775 when he left the army. That fall some of the regiment’s officers had told the commander-in-chief “we Shall be able to Serve the common Cause better out of the Army the ensuing Compaign than in it.”

With the Bible is a printed description, perhaps from the Sunday School Times. It quotes three verses said to be written somewhere inside:
O for a strong and lasting faith
To credit what the Almighty saith;
To embrace the message of his Son,
And call the joys of heaven my own.

My spirit looks to God alone;
My strength and refuge is his throne.
In all my fears, in all my straits,
My soul on His salvation waits.

Nothing but glory can suffice
The appetite of grace;
I wait, I long with restless eyes,
Longing to see thy face.

As witness my hand,
Francis Merrifield.
Some of those lines appear in different hymns by the Rev. Lowell Mason (1792-1872) while others date from the eighteenth or even seventeenth centuries. Merrifield, a deacon, seems therefore to have written down verses which meant the most to him.

Francis Merrifield’s Bible was bought by the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia for a total price of $161,000. It will be on display when that museum opens next year.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Two Swords from the Battle of Bunker Hill

It’s that time of year, when Boston 1775’s thoughts turn to the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill on 17 June.

Boston Magazine’s website just featured one of the Massachusetts Historical Society’s most striking artifacts of that fight: the crossed swords of Col. William Prescott of the Massachusetts army and Capt. John Linzee of the Royal Navy:
Both men figured prominently in the battle—Linzee’s ship fired upon Prescott’s men—and their weapons were passed down through their respective families. Nearly 50 years after the conflict, the bitterness of war gave way to the power of love when Prescott’s grandson—William H. Prescott—married Susan Amory, a descendant of Linzee.
The merchant John Rowe listed the guests at his niece Susannah Inman’s marriage to Capt. Linzee on 1 Sept 1772. According to The Linzee Family of Great Britain and the United States of America, the Linzees had a daughter they named Hannah Rowe Linzee, who married Thomas Coffin Amory. That couple’s child Susannah married the historian William H. Prescott, who bequeathed the swords to the society in 1859.

Another Linzee granddaughter, born Elizabeth Tilden Linzee, married James Sullivan Warren, a grandson of Dr. John Warren and great-nephew of Dr. Joseph Warren, who died at Bunker Hill. And a Linzee great-granddaughter married a grandson of Paul Revere.

The Rev. Nathaniel Frothingham missed the M.H.S. meeting when those swords arrived, but he was nonetheless inspired to write this poem about them:
The Crossed Swords
Transferred from Mr. Prescott’s Library to that of the Massachusetts Historical Society.


Swords crossed,—but not in strife!
The chiefs who drew them, parted by the space
Of two proud countries’ quarrel, face to face
Ne’er stood for death or life.

Swords crossed, that never met
While nerve was in the hands that wielded them;
Hands better destined a fair family stem
On these free shores to set.

Kept crossed by gentlest bands!
Emblems no more of battle, but of peace;
And proofs how loves can grow and wars can cease,
Their once stern symbol stands.

It smiled first on the array
Of marshalled books and friendliest companies;
And here, a history among histories,
It still shall smile for aye.

See that thou memory keep
Of him, the firm commander; and that other,
The stainless judge; and him, our peerless brother,—
All fallen now asleep.

Yet more: a lesson teach,
To cheer the patriot-soldier in his course,
That Right shall triumph o’er insolent Force:
That be your silent speech.

Oh, be prophetic too!
And may those nations twain, as sign and seal
Of endless amity, hang up their steel,
As we these weapons do!

The archives of the Past,
So smeared with blots of hate and bloody wrong,
Pining for peace, and sick to wait so long,
Hail this meek cross at last.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Return of the “Adams,” 17 June

Back in 2014, as I reported, the National Park Service removed the “Adams” cannon from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument for conservation work.

On Friday, 17 June, the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the “Adams” will return to that site. It won’t go back in the tower chamber as shown at left in a photograph by Jim Mac. Instead, it will go on display in the lodge at the base.

That event will be the last ceremony of the day, following Charlestown’s traditional commemoration. At 10:00 A.M. the Church of Saint Francis de Sales will host ecumenical services, followed by a procession to the monument. An hour later, the commemorative exercises will begin with music, greetings from various officials, and an oration from Michael Creasey, Superintendent of the National Parks of Boston.

The smaller ”Adams” rededication ceremony will take place inside the Bunker Hill Monument Lodge starting at 1:00 P.M. and last about half an hour. People sharing remarks will include:
  • Michael Creasey, Superintendent, National Parks of Boston
  • Rose Fennell, Deputy Regional Director, Northeast Region, National Park Service
  • John J. Alves, Past President, Bunker Hill Monument Association, which remains the owner of the cannon
  • J. L. Bell, author, The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, on the history of the “Adams” cannon
  • David Vecchioli, Curator, National Parks of Boston
  • Margaret Breuker, Conservator, National Park Service, Collections and Conservation Branch
At the end we’ll unveil the “Adams” in its new berth.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Road to Concord Erratum #1

I’ve been wary of rereading The Road to Concord in published form lest I trigger some version of Gaiman’s Law: Not only will there be a typo or other error in the book you’ve been carefully working on for months, but “it will be on the page that your new book falls open to the first time you pick it up.”

Now that first moment has passed, at least. Last week George Wildrick, whom I met at the American Revolution Conference in Williamsburg, sent me an email that praised the book’s research and narrative but also asked about an anomaly.

It appears in the caption to the picture shown here. Assembling the picture section was my last big task with The Road to Concord, as I recall. I was hastening to find readily available but fresh images, trying not to delay the book but eager for that section to be more than decorative. I’m always disappointed when a book’s picture captions simply repeat remarks from its text (or vice versa, if I look at all the pictures first).

Among the photographs I proposed to the folks at Westholme Publishing is the one above, produced by the National Park Service a few years back when its staff was preparing the “Hancock” cannon for display at Minute Man National Historical Park. I was instrumental in convincing the agency of the significance of that gun, which had been tucked away in “preservation storage” for years.

At that time M.M.N.H.P. ranger Lou Sideris told me that preservationists saw signs that the cannon’s touchhole—the hole near the base where an artillerist inserted the fuse—had been spiked and drilled out again. Such damage suggests that at some point the “Hancock” came close to being captured or was actually captured before the Continental Army regained it. (In 1788 a Boston newspaper hinted at such an adventure, but I never found a follow-up article with the promised details, darn it.)

I therefore wrote a caption about the touchhole in that photo. Except, as George spotted, it’s not the touchhole. What we see is a different hole drilled near the mouth of the tube, not the base, probably for mounting. (The matching “Adams” cannon has a similar hole.)

So here’s the correct information:
  • That’s a genuine photograph of the “Hancock” cannon.
  • The touchhole of the “Hancock” cannon shows signs of having been spiked.
  • But that touchhole is not in that image.
Boston 1775 regrets the error.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Isaiah Thomas’s Travels and Togs

When Isaiah Thomas reached Halifax in early 1765, he didn’t have much. That’s what happens when you leave your apprenticeship early. Having worked for printer Zechariah Fowle for nine years, the sixteen-year-old knew he was taking a risk.

According to his grandson Benjamin Franklin Thomas, “He used to say, not without satisfaction in the contrast with his affluent condition in later life, that his linen was reduced to one check shirt, and that the only coat he had he sent to a tailor to turn, and the tailor ran away with it.”

But we know that Thomas built up his wardrobe quickly. In 1846 the Portsmouth Journal and Boston Courier reported that builders had discovered a document inside an “old building belonging to Mr. Supply Ham.” It was “a marble covered memorandum book” with the inscription “Isaiah Thomas His Book 1766,” and its text recorded the young printer’s travels and compensation:

Left Mr. Fowle the 19th of September 1765, and sat sail the next Day about 10 o’clock for Halifax, and arrived there on the 24th Day about 10 o’clock, which was just four Days from the Time I left Boston.

Went to Mr. [Anthony] Henry’s and engaged work with him for 3 Dollars per month and he to find me Boarding, Washing, &c. Work extremely scarce.

Received of Mr. Anthony Henry the following Articles, viz.
1 Pair of Broadcloth Breeches 0 15 0
Two pair of Stockings 7 0
1 pair of Shoes 8 0
Two Check Shirts 16 0
1 Pistereen 1 0
1 Bottle of [torn] 1 0
Two Dollars in Cash 10 0
To 1 yard of Black Shallon 4 0
To 1 yard of Blue Ditto 3 9
______________________
Halifax Currency 3 5 9

Work’d with Mr. Henry 5 months, 3 Weeks and 3 Days. Sailed from Halifax the 19th day of March, 1766, and arrived at Old York [Maine] the 27th (at Dark) of said Month.

Work with Mr. [Daniel] Fowle of Portsmouth [New Hampshire] 13 Days.

Friday, April 10, 1766. Came to work with Messrs. [Thomas] Furber & [Ezekiel] Russell for eight Dollars per month and my Board.

Received of Messrs. Furber & Russell 5 yards & half of Black Serge at 9 Shillings Lawful money per yard 2 9 6.
Thomas later said that friends in Boston recognized his work in Furber and Russell’s newspaper. He suggested that was the quality of his typesetting, but it may have been his woodcuts. Or Daniel Fowle may simply have written to his brother Zechariah that his wayward apprentice had reappeared, hungry for work. In any event, the Boston printer invited young Isaiah to return.

Thomas’s grandson wrote, “On his arrival at Portsmouth the people were celebrating with great enthusiasm the repeal of the Stamp Act.” But 27 March was too early for that. The young printer might have stayed in Portsmouth through that town’s celebration in May, but it’s also possible that he returned to Boston just in time for its big celebration on 19 May, and the memory got garbled.

According to Benjamin Franklin Thomas, back in his old master’s shop the teenager “gets along quietly for a few weeks. In July 1766, on the day of the funeral of Jonathan Mayhew [11 July], whom the whole town followed to his grave, he has fresh trouble, but the difficulty is compromised and he lives with him once more. He remains but a few weeks and then, with the full consent of his master, leaves his service finally.”

Isaiah Thomas’s next stop: Wilmington, North Carolina.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Stamp and the Printer’s Devil

I’ve been pointing out how some of Isaiah Thomas’s stories of defying the Stamp Act while working as an underaged journeyman printer in Nova Scotia don’t stand up to scrutiny. On the other hand, we know that the sixteen-year-old did sometimes express his dislike of that law in a quite visible way.

Above is an image from the American Antiquarian Society (which Thomas founded) of the 13 Feb 1766 Halifax Gazette. It clearly shows the revenue stamp, meaning Thomas couldn’t have disposed of all those stamps by that date as he later claimed. But it also shows a small woodcut that Thomas himself probably created, with a devil poking its pitchfork into the stamp.

Around the stamp are these added words:
Behold me the Scorn and contempt of AMERICA pitching down to Destruction

Devils clear the Way for B——s and STAMPS.
In addition, the Canadian printing scholar Marie Tremaine found December 1765 copies of the Halifax Gazette that had, in place of or on top of the stamp, “a skull and crossbones” in black and “a death’s head” in red.

Some printers included such images of death within every copy of their newspapers during those turbulent months, as in this example from Maryland. In contrast, by stamping his images over the printing, Thomas gave himself more flexibility. He could have the devil poke at the stamp on some copies but leave that image off others, perhaps those sent to local officials.

That brings us to an evidentiary problem. Nearly every surviving copy of the Halifax Gazette from this period is housed at either the American Antiquarian Society (built from Thomas’s own collection) or the Massachusetts Historical Society. Are those copies typical, or were those ones that young Thomas put his special decoration on, knowing he would keep them to himself or send them off to a colony where the Stamp Act was already dead? We can’t tell.

We do know that royal officials in Nova Scotia disliked the Halifax Gazette’s treatment of the Stamp Act enough to take printing jobs away from its publisher, Anthony Henry. He gave up publishing the newspaper in mid-1766. The officials then encouraged a newcomer to the province to launch the Nova-Scotia Gazette.

Meanwhile, having caused as much trouble in Nova Scotia as he dared, young Thomas had caught a ship headed south.

TOMORROW: Isaiah Thomas’s travels.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

“All the stamped paper for the Gazette was used”

Here’s another story that the respected master printer Isaiah Thomas told about his misadventures as a sixteen-year-old in Nova Scotia in 1765.

Back in Boston, the anti-Stamp Act demonstration and riot of 14 August ensured that no official was willing to distribute stamped paper. The imperial government avoided shipping any of the valuable commodity into the port. The law therefore never went into effect in Massachusetts as scheduled on 1 November. Newspapers continued to appear on ordinary paper.

In contrast, Thomas recalled, stamped paper was plentiful at Anthony Henry’s Halifax Gazette:
A short time before the exhibition of the effigy of the stampmaster, Henry had received from the stampoffice, the whole stock of paper that was sent ready stamped from England, for the use of the Gazette.
Thomas here recalled the printer receiving the stamped paper before the colony’s sole demonstration against the new law, which we know from other sources happened before the law went into effect. That’s a logical sequence, and more evidence that, as I discussed yesterday, Thomas was wrong to suggest his 5 December newspaper printed after the law had prompted the demonstration.

Back to the paper supply:
The quantity did not exceed six or eight reams; but, as only three quires were wanted weekly for the newspaper, it would have been sufficient, for the purpose intended, twelve months.
In the eighteenth century a quire was 24 pages, a ream 20 quires. So Thomas was saying that Henry had 3,000 to 3,500 sheets at hand but needed only 72 each week. At another point in his history of printing Thomas wrote, “Not more than seventy copies were issued weekly from the press.” Henry thus appeared to have about a year’s supply of paper with a stamp suitable for newspapers.

That calculation assumed each copy of the newspaper appeared on a full sheet. The earliest issues of the Halifax Gazette had been half-sheets of paper because there hadn’t been enough news, advertisements, or subscribers to justify more. But printing the newspaper on half a sheet of stamped paper would mean only half the copies would bear the necessary stamp.

Thomas wrote that the Stamp Act prompted Henry to expand the Gazette to a full sheet folded in two to make four pages—the standard size of a great North American newspaper. However, in A Bibliography of Canadian Imprints Marie Tremaine suggested that Henry was already publishing four-page issues.

In any event:
It was not many weeks after the sheriff, already mentioned [and doubted], made his exit from the printing house, when it was discovered that this paper was divested of the stamps; not one remained; they had been cut off, and destroyed. On this occasion, an article appeared in the Gazette, announcing that “all the stamped paper for the Gazette was used, and as no more could be had, it would, in future, be published without stamps.”
Such notices did appear in some other North American newspapers, but Tremaine didn’t report such a statement in any issue of the Halifax Gazette.

At another point in his history Thomas returned to the mysterious vanishing stamps, stating:
the stamps were [removed], unknown to him [Henry], by the assistance of a binder’s press and plough, cut from the paper; and, the Gazette appeared without the obnoxious stamp, and was again reduced to half a sheet.
Tremaine indeed found copies of the Halifax Gazette printed on half-sheets in mid-December 1765. Some of those copies had no stamps on them. However, at least one copy from that same period did have the stamp. Furthermore, James Melvin Lee’s History of American Journalism stated:
A copy of The Halifax Gazette for February 13, 1766, for example, has on the upper left-hand corner of the fourth page the red halfpenny stamp with the word "America" also in red above it.
That hard evidence suggests that Thomas sometimes cut the full sheets in half, and thus took the risk of issuing copies without stamps, but his story of some mysterious person slicing away all the stamps was an exaggeration. He was still printing on stamped paper months after that material had become taboo in Massachusetts.

TOMORROW: Isaiah Thomas’s own stamps.

Friday, June 10, 2016

“And what I say, you may depend is Fact.”

On 21 Nov 1765, the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter ran this item from Nova Scotia in a roundup of reports on protests against the Stamp Act:
At the late Exhibition of a Stamp man’s Effigies at Halifax, were the following Labels: On the Stamp-man’s Breast, was affixed his Confession, viz.
Behold me hanging on this cursed Tree,
Example to those who would Stamp men be.
It was for the Sake of Gain I took this Place;
The more the Shame, O pity my sad Case.
B—e was the Auther of this cursed Act,
And what I say, you may depend is Fact.
But alas! the Devil is too sly;
Instead of Gain has left me here to die.
Whosoever carries this away is an Enemy to his Country.
What greater Glory can this Country see
Than a Stamp-master hanging on a Tree.
On one Pocket the following. B—e’s Speech:
O mourn with me my poor and wretched State
I now repent; but alas! too late.
America I sought to overthrow,
By stamping them to Death, you all must know,
But Pitt o’erthrew my Schemes, did me confound,
And brought my favourite Stamp-Act to the Ground.
On the Stamp-man’s Right Arm, A.H.
On a Board Lord B——e with Satan dictating him.
The hanging effigies strung with poetic labels, the blame for the Earl of Bute and praise for William Pitt, the invocation of the devil—those were all elements of the standard anti-Stamp iconography established in Boston on 14 August.

The most distinctive detail about the Halifax effigy was the label with initials “A.H.” That pointed to Nova Scotia’s stamp agent, Archibald Hinshelwood.

Another deviation from the norm was that the Halifax protesters never got around to burning their effigy. It went up on 12 October, hung overnight, and, despite its warning label, was carried away by two gentlemen for disposal in the morning.

To assess Isaiah Thomas’s account of this demonstration, the most important detail is the date. Halifax’s protest took place two weeks before the Stamp Act was to take effect and eight weeks before Thomas issued his first issue of the Halifax Gazette with mourning bands. His actions as a young printer therefore could not have prompted the action.

TOMORROW: More games printers play.

Thursday, June 09, 2016

A Sixteen-Year-Old Standing up to the Sheriff?

According to Isaiah Thomas, writing his History of Printing in the first decade of the 1800s, his decision to print the 5 Dec 1765 Halifax Gazette with mourning borders to show (someone’s) displeasure with the Stamp Act had a significant effect in Nova Scotia.

It “made no trifling bustle in the place,” he modestly stated. Writing of his sixteen-year-old self in the third person, Thomas described what happened next:
Soon after this event the effigy of the stampmaster was hung on the gallows near the citadel, and other tokens of hostility to the stamp act were exhibited. These disloyal transactions were done silently and secretly; but they created some alarm;—a captain’s guard was continually stationed at the house of the stampmaster to protect him from those injuries which were expected to befall him. It is supposed the apprehensions entertained on his account were entirely groundless. . . .

An opinion prevailed that Thomas not only knew the parties concerned in these transactions, but had a hand in them himself; on which account, a few days after the exhibition of the stampmaster’s effigy, a sheriff went to the printing house, and informed Thomas that he had a precept against him; and, intended to take him to prison, unless he would give information respecting the persons concerned in making and exposing the effigy of the stampmaster.

He mentioned, that some circumstances had produced a conviction in his mind, that Thomas was one of those who had been engaged in these seditious proceedings. The sheriff receiving no satisfactory answer to his enquiries, ordered Thomas to go with him before a magistrate; and he, having no person to consult or to give him advice, in the honest simplicity of his heart was going to obey the orders of this terrible alguazil; but, being suddenly struck with the idea, that this proceeding might be intended merely to alarm him into an acknowledgment of his privity of the transactions in question, he told the sheriff he did not know him; and demanded imformation respecting the authority by which he acted.

The sheriff answered that he had sufficient authority; but, on being requested to exhibit it, the officer was, evidently, disconcerted, and showed some symptoms of his not acting under “the king’s authority”—however, he answered, that he would show his authority when it was necessary; and again ordered this “printer of sedition” to go with him.

Thomas answered, he would not obey him unless he produced a precept, or proper authority for taking him prisoner.

After further parley the sheriff left him, with an assurance that he would soon return; but Thomas saw him no more; and he, afterward, learned that this was a plan concocted for the purpose of surprising him into a confession.
That sounds like the young printer taking a daring and noble stand for the freedom of the press in Nova Scotia. But the problem with this story is that the dates don’t add up.

TOMORROW: Nova Scotia’s anti-Stamp demonstration.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

The Halifax Gazette in Mourning

I was in the middle of relating the teen-aged Isaiah Thomas’s misadventures with the Stamp Act in Halifax last month when anniversaries, events, and my book publication interrupted.

So even though the sestercentennial of the Stamp Act crisis is happily behind us, I’m going to finish up those stories.

We left Isaiah Thomas at work in Anthony Henry’s shop in late 1765, printing the Halifax Gazette. Richard Bulkeley, the editor of that weekly newspaper, who was also the royal secretary of Nova Scotia, had told the young printer to stop saying the people of that province opposed the Stamp Act.

So Thomas began to run steady reports from newspapers to the south about how people in those other provinces opposed the Stamp Act. According to Marie Tremaine’s Bibliography of Canadian Imprints, “a quarter to a half of each issue consisted of reports from Boston, New York, and Philadelphia about resistance to the Stamp Act.”

The 31 October Pennsylvania Journal was one of several North American newspapers that printed thick dark lines around all its columns when the law was taking effect, as shown above. (For more detail, see this article at the Journal of the American Revolution.) That style was usually a sign of public mourning. In 1765, it became a less than subtle way to mourn the death of liberty because of the new tax.

Thomas wanted to do the same with the Halifax Gazette, but he couldn’t do that directly without angering his newspaper’s sponsor. Instead, he wrote:
We are desired by a number of our readers to give a description of the extraordinary appearance of the Pennsylvania Journal of 30th [sic] of October last, (1765). We can in no better way comply with the request than by the exemplification we have given of that journal in this day’s Gazette.
Then he recreated the black borders. And he kept those thick black borders in every issue of the Halifax Gazette from 5 December onward.

TOMORROW: Isaiah Thomas stands up to the sheriff?

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

The Privilege of Printing Parliamentary Debates

Every so often I’ve mentioned how in the 1760s the British press was wary of reporting the exact language of Parliament’s debates.

There’s no official record of the debate over the Stamp Act, for instance, or the debate to repeal it. Instead, we have to rely on private letters and memoirs, which often disagree. (Of course, official records can also disagree with letters and memoirs, and with what legislators actually said.)

In 1767 the bookseller John Almon offered a Political Register which reported on the Earl of Camden’s speech against the Declaratory Act the year before. But Almon protected himself by referring only to how “L— C——” spoke to the “B—— p———” on the issue of taxing the “A——— c——.” And he never published a second volume because of government pressure.

This portrait of London alderman Richard Oliver is another document of that debate over open government. As the website of Britain’s ArtFund explains:
In 1771 a messenger of the House arrested [John] Miller, the printer of the London Evening Post, for a breach of privilege for publishing Parliamentary debates. Richard Oliver, an Alderman of Billingsgate Ward and MP for the City[,] was a magistrate on the case together with Brass Crosby, the Lord Mayor, and Alderman John Wilkes.

The Court released Miller[,] but Crosby and Oliver were ordered to attend the House of Commons, where their actions were declared a breach of privilege. Both were committed to the Tower of London in March and not released until the end of the Parliamentary session in May.

While in the Tower both Crosby and Oliver had their portraits painted by Robert Edge Pine, a portrait and history painter who was a supporter of Wilkes and a man of strong radical sympathies. In consequence of Crosby and Oliver’s stand against the House, no attempt has since been made to prevent publication of parliamentary speeches.
The transcripts that Miller printed came from Almon. Around that same time, the government also prosecuted those two men for reprinting the Letters of Junius, winning convictions but losing the political battle. In 1774, Almon established the Parliamentary Register as a regular publication, and soon the British public felt entitled to know what Members of Parliament were saying.

This fight for press freedom was closely tied to the debate over Britain’s policy toward America. Almon supported American autonomy. Oliver was one of the few M.P.’s to vote against the Boston Port Bill in 1774 (as well as a distant cousin of Massachusetts lieutenant governor Thomas Oliver). The artist Pine, who briefly tutored Prince Demah, and the printer Miller both moved to America around the end of the war.

Monday, June 06, 2016

Yale and Benjamin Franklin’s Good Name

Yale Magazine recently reported on how editors at the Papers of Benjamin Franklin project spotted a letter from William Franklin providing new details about his estrangement from his father.

The magazine stated:
William Franklin remained loyal to England, and by the time he moved to London in 1782, he and his father had been estranged for years. In 1784, however, William wrote his father suggesting reconciliation. The effort failed. Historians have assumed it collapsed because of the political differences—but recent research has provided new insight. As in many family squabbles, money was also involved.

Yale’s Papers of Benjamin Franklin project has discovered a 1788 document by William previously unknown to scholars. (The project is editing all of Franklin’s papers for publication.) The document, in the UK National Archives, was digitized by Ancestry.com. In it, William described a financial arrangement Benjamin had proposed in 1785: William could repay a debt he owed his father by giving some land he owned in New York and New Jersey to his own son—Benjamin’s beloved grandson. Instead, William gave his son the New York land and sold him the New Jersey land. Benjamin never again replied to William’s letters.

“This changes what we know about [Benjamin] and about his relationship with William,” says Robert Frankel, an associate editor at the project. The document also says it was actually Benjamin who had initiated the 1784 reconciliation: he had told a mutual acquaintance that people who’d taken opposite sides in the war should be able to make peace once it was over. “He basically invited William to extend an olive branch,” Frankel says.
But the elder Franklin also basically wanted to dictate the terms of that reconciliation.

This story might hint at a new wrinkle in how scholars “discover” documents in archives. Not only has an archivist often looked at each document before, but now a digitizer might have done so as well.

Also this year, Yale announced that one of its two new residential colleges (undergraduate dormitories) will be named after Benjamin Franklin. This caused some puzzlement, here at Boston 1775 and elsewhere. The Franklin Papers project has been located at the university for decades, but does Yale have any other tie to Franklin? Initial reports pointed only to the college giving Franklin an honorary degree and him later donating some books to its library.

Then someone on Twitter provided the answer: the alumnus providing the huge donation for those new buildings is a big Franklin fan, naming his investment firm after the man. There’s no evidence he asked for a Franklin College, but that name appears to have been the university’s gesture of gratitude.