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

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Monday, April 24, 2017

Talking about Stolen Cannon in Falmouth, 25 Apr.

On Tuesday, 25 April, I’ll speak to the Falmouth Historical Society about The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War.

My book explores how Massachusetts Patriots were furiously collecting cannon months before the war broke out in April of 1775, but of course keeping that effort as quiet as possible.

Today I’ll share a glimpse of one such cannon from the diary of Israel Litchfield, a sergeant in Scituate’s minute company. The town militiamen were drilling on 19 April when they heard a rumor of fighting between locals and redcoats in Concord. “Some Discredited it and Some Believed it,” Litchfield wrote, but gradually the new situation became clear.

The next day, the Scituate militia companies mustered. They took a few local Loyalists prisoner. But they didn’t march toward Boston because, as I discussed last year, there was a contingent of British soldiers a lot closer, in the neighboring town of Marshfield. Furthermore, seaside communities worried about the Royal Navy—shouldn’t the militia companies stay close to home to guard against a possible attack from the sea?

On 21 April, Litchfield and his company were ordered to bring in the big guns—well, one big gun—evidently to push the redcoats out of Marshfield. The sergeant wrote:
Colonel [John] Bailey I Say ordered our Companey the Rangers and Capt. Galen Clapps Company to march up to [Atherton] Wales’s [tavern in Hanover] to gaurd a Cannon down to marshfield. We were very Loath to go because there was Several tenders playing off and on upon our Coasts. However we were obliged to go

So we marched up to upriver meeting house and Joind Capt. Galen Claps Company. We marched up to wales’s and took the Cannon under our protection. We march’d from Wales’s to Dr. [Jeremiah] Halls in pembroke. There we heard a rumur that there was 500 Regulars Landing in Scituate.

We Sent posts to the Col. for Leave to march Back to Scituate, which after we had marcd. aboute a mile beyond Dr. Halls the major Came to us and ordered us to march back to Scituate. The Sun was aboute an hour high.

We marchd down to upriver meeting house where we heard that there was nothing in the rumur of mens Landing in Scituate but that the Regulars were embarkd on board a tender and gone off.
So everything ended almost peacefully in that part of the province. Sgt. Litchfield didn’t record what happened to the cannon his company had left behind on the road. Was it taken up to the siege lines around Boston or kept nearby to guard a local harbor?

I’ll have more answers about other cannon at Falmouth on Tuesday. My talk will begin at 7:00 P.M. at the historical society’s Cultural Center, 55 Palmer Avenue. I believe the admission cost is $5 for members and $8 for others. I’ll stay after the talk to answer questions, sign books, and chat about the Revolution.

[The photograph above shows Atherton Wales’s tavern in Hanover as the building appeared in the 1900s.]

Sunday, April 23, 2017

American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference, 8-11 June

On the weekend of 10-11 June, the Fort Plain Museum in upstate New York will host its third annual American Revolution Mohawk Valley Conference at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College. I attended last year’s event and was impressed by the scores of people who attended and their avid historical interest.

Speakers during the weekend will be:
  • William M. Fowler, Jr., “An American Crisis: George Washington and the Dangerous Two Years After Yorktown, 1781-1783”
  • Gavin K. Watt, “Neighbours Against Neighbours: Fort Schuyler and Oriskany”
  • Eric H. Schnitzer, “Tactics of the 1777 Battles of Saratoga
  • Christian M. McBurney, “Abductions in the American Revolution in Northern New York”
  • Matthew J. Hollis & David A. Ranzan, “Middling Officers in the Mohawk Valley”
  • Dean R. Snow, “Oneidas, Mohawks, and the Saratoga Campaign”
  • Wayne Lenig, “1780, the Year of the Burning: The War on the Mohawk Frontier”
  • Todd W. Braisted, “The Royalist Corps in the Burgoyne Campaign”
  • Robert A. Geake, “From Slaves to Soldiers: The 1st Rhode Island Regiment in the American Revolution”
  • Daniel M. Sivilich, “Musket Balls: Diagnostic Tools for Military Sites”
I’ve had the pleasure of hearing several of those speakers present their expertise. Dan Sivilich’s work on musket balls as archeological artifacts is particularly intriguing.

In connection to the conference, there are two bus tours of the region scheduled on 8-9 June. The tour on Thursday will visit the Fort Plain Museum, the 1747 Nellis Tavern, Fort Klock, Old Fort Johnson, the Stone Arabia Battlefield, the Stone Arabia Church, and the grave of Col. John Brown.

The Friday will feature sites associated with Walter D. Edmonds’s Drums Along the Mohawk: the Palatine Church, Fort Stanwix (Fort Schuyler), the Oriskany Battlefield, the General Herkimer Home, Fort Herkimer, Fort Herkimer Church, and Fort Dayton.

On the evening of Friday, 9 June, there will be a cocktail reception and a sneak peak of the documentary Benedict Arnold: Hero Betrayed. Filmmakers Tom Mercer and Anthony Vertucci will discuss this new film in progress.

There’s a tavern dinner on the evening of Saturday, 10 June, at the Van Alstyne Homestead with Bruce M. Venter portraying Gen. John Burgoyne explaining “How I Lost the War in America!” Tours of the Van Alstyne Homestead are free, but the period-authentic drinks will come from a cash bar.

The cost is $60 for the speakers’ portion (including Saturday lunch and coffee break), $40 for each bus tour, $50 for the tavern evening and dinner, or the entire package for $180. All proceeds will benefit the Fort Plain Museum. For more information or to register (or to suggest speakers for a 2018 conference), email info@fortplainmuseum.org or call (518) 774-5669.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Children’s Play at the Dublin Seminar in Deerfield, 24 June

On Saturday, 24 June, the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife will take place at Historic Deerfield. This year’s theme is “Small World: Toys, Dolls, and Games in New England.”

The day will feature nine talks on the culture of children’s play in New England and adjacent areas of New York and Canada in the 17th through 19th centuries. The event description says:
The conference opens with talks on the material culture of toys by fashion specialists, archaeologists, and historians who will discuss the making of high-style dolls, the distribution of toys in girls’ industrial schools, and toy-making during and after the Civil War.

It continues with an examination of English emblematical books for children, printed board games designed for young minds, and the evolution of children’s libraries in the larger eighteenth century. . . . The Seminar is designed for educators, historians, collectors, independent scholars, librarians, preservationists, and museum curators, as well as students and the general public.
I’ll be there giving a presentation on football (or what we Americans call soccer), its reputation in British culture, and how it took on a political meaning in redcoat-occupied Boston during the late 1760s.

Click here for a complete schedule of lectures and registration information for this year’s Dublin Seminar. Registration costs $70, or $40 for students. Past seminars have been two or three days in length, and this year the committee chose a shorter program to allow more people to attend.

Since the 1970s the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife has presented annual conferences, exhibitions, and publications exploring the life, work, and culture of ordinary New Englanders. The seminars are now sponsored and hosted by Historic Deerfield. The collections of papers from past years are excellent sources on many topics, from gravestones to clothing to supernatural beliefs.

Friday, April 21, 2017

We Actually Have Two New American Revolution Museums

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia isn’t the only new museum focusing on that important national transition. Last month I attended one of the opening days of the other one, the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown. And it’s well worth a visit.

Like the M.O.A.R., this museum is a new building for an established location and a new home for an old collection, in this case those of the Yorktown Victory Center. But the curators have been bringing in many new items:
Recent acquisitions, all selected to illustrate specific exhibit themes, include such iconic artifacts as a Declaration of Independence broadside dating to July 1776; a June 1776 Pennsylvania Gazette printing of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which directly influenced the composition of the U.S. Declaration of Independence; an official portrait of King George III in his coronation robes; an eagle-pommel sword inscribed with the year 1776 and the name of its owner; one of the earliest known portraits done from life of an African who had been enslaved in the British colonies that became the United States; and a first edition of Phillis Wheatley’s 1773 “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral,” the first book to be published by an African American.
Another acquisition is a portrait of Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, later Count Rumford.

Though this museum is at the site of a particular event—the Yorktown siege of 1781—it covers the entire Revolutionary conflict, starting with the imperial situation of the 1750s and running to the expansion of the U.S. of A. in the 1790s. The galleries have the themes of “The British Empire and America”; “The Changing Relationship—Britain and North America”; “Revolution,” meaning the war; “The New Nation”; and “The American People.”

The museum also uses a lot of interactive technology. I didn’t watch the introductory film, “Liberty Fever,” but I was impressed by many of the smaller video displays. One standout was the museum’s Liberty Tree, a metal sculpture draped with “20 electronic lanterns that display liberty messages from all over the world.” Visitors in person and online can type out short remarks (no more than 108 characters) about what liberty means to them, and those appear on the lanterns.

Beside the museum building there’s a feature I remember from Yorktown decades back, a recreation of the Continental Army camp during the siege of 1781. Alongside that is an eighteenth-century farm raising vegetables and herbs; it includes a tobacco barn, representing colonial Virginia’s main crop, but apparently no tobacco fields.

The American Revolution Museum is allied with the Jamestown Settlement, a recreation of the first lasting British settlement in North America—not to be confused with the actual site of that settlement, which is a different attraction. And of course they’re all within a moderate drive of Colonial Williamsburg. As I said, well worth a visit.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

“Charles Willson Peale is literally wearing my pants”

There’s a lot of New England content in Philadelphia’s new Museum of the American Revolution, and a lot of New England talent behind it.

The Philadelphia newspapers explain:
Seventeen of the museum’s 32 human resin figures -- and two of its horses -- were dressed by the Randolph, Mass., historian, reenactor, and tailor Henry Cooke, who worked for more than a year with a dozen artisans to create the clothes. Two pairs of trousers in the exhibit are from Cooke’s reenactor wardrobe.

Charles Willson Peale is literally wearing my pants,” Cooke said, referring to a scene depicting James Peale seeing for the first time his brother Charles after the Battle of New York City.

The figures dressed in near-replicas are next to real items -- encased in protective glass -- from that era.

There’s a coat that once belonged to Lt. Col. Benjamin Holden of the Massachusetts militia, along with a New Hampshire soldier’s hunting shirt. (Washington eventually adopted the linen shirt as part of the Continental Army’s uniform because it was considered a sign of good marksmanship.)
In addition, the figures themselves are modeled after real people involved in Revolutionary reenacting, and others posed for photographs or films used in the exhibits and promotional material. Therefore, some of those faces might look strangely familiar.

Another item from New England is the blue riband that Gen. George Washington bought to distinguish himself from other officers toward the start of the siege of Boston. As I discussed back here, museum curator and historian Phil Mead spotted that in a Harvard museum, and it’s now on loan in Philadelphia.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Museum of the American Revolution Opens in Philadelphia

Today is the official opening of the new Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It combines the site of the city’s old Bicentennial Visitor Center, the collections of the Valley Forge Museum, and the best interactive technology available today, as well as some new thinking about public history.

Already the “pre-open” and “preview” days have generated a lot of buzz, and here are samples of the newspaper coverage and reviews.

The Washington Post reported on the thinking behind the museum:
“We’re trying to emulate science museums. They’re a little bit better at asking questions, like ‘Are dinosaurs more like reptiles or like birds?’ They’ll involve you in the scientific process,” [museum vice president Scott] Stephenson said. “So often history museums in the past have been ‘fact, fact, fact, tea cup, fact, painting, fact, fact,’ as if history is something you just gather up and put on display.”
C.B.S. News also explored the museum design.

The New York Times found the new approach refreshing:
If it doesn’t quite throw the old heroic narrative out the window, it does draw on decades of scholarship that has emphasized the conflicts and contradictions within the Revolution, while also taking a distinctly bottom-up view of events.

Yes, bronze reliefs of Washington crossing the Delaware and the signing of the Declaration of Independence (both based on famous paintings) flank the entrance of the red-brick building, designed by Robert A. M. Stern. But upstairs, in the 16,000 square feet of galleries snaking around an airy central atrium, the common man (and woman) is king.
Edward Rothstein in the Wall Street Journal wasn’t so pleased to see new stories, but he did a poor job of explaining why:
This accompanies an attempt to de-sacralize the Revolution. It is no longer portrayed as a struggle between colonists who were either far-seeing patriots or traitorous “loyalists.” The Stamp Tax is portrayed as unexceptional. Examples are given of “propaganda” from both sides. This Revolution poses dilemmas, not doctrinal clarity.

This strengthens the history but weakens the event’s symbolic power. And though much is still excellent (including a map tracing the war’s New Jersey battles in the winter of 1776-7, the armies’ movements represented by moving lights), a price is paid. What scenes, for example, are dramatized by tableaux? The Oneida debate, the African-American conversation about loyalty, a fight among Washington’s soldiers, Loyalist cavalry battling for the British—images having less to do with the war’s significance than with today’s preoccupations with identity-based tensions. . . .

There is, in fact, a recurring tilt leftward here. Thus, while the closing film properly treats the Revolution as a continuing project, finding extensions in civil-rights movements for African-Americans, gay people and women (and less properly in associating “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations with “the fire of the Revolution’s promise”), it doesn’t recognize other aspects of that tradition: the importance of individual liberties, the inevitable messiness of the democratic process, and the exceptionalism that yet remains.
And here I thought blacks, gays, and women were deeply interested in “individual liberties” and a big part of “the inevitable messiness of the democratic process,” especially from the perspective of people who don’t want to see more about them. And I’m convinced that in a history museum what even Rothstein agrees is stronger history should outweigh an “event’s symbolic power.”

Among the museum’s early visitors was Susan Holloway Scott, who shares her perspective at Two Nerdy History Girls. And here is Nichole Louise’s report for the Journal of the American Revolution.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Doing the History of the Concord March with Liz Covart

This is the anniversary of the British army’s march to Concord in 1775, and Liz Covart of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast has recently shared three items related to that event.

First, Liz interviewed me about The Road to Concord and how the Massachusetts Patriots’ effort to build an artillery force—and in particular the theft of the Boston militia train’s four brass cannon—led Gen. Thomas Gage to focus on Concord. You can download that podcast episode here.

Second, Liz wrote about the challenges of recreating the experience of Paul Revere’s ride in the audio medium. Here’s a sample from her essay:
There are many challenges in writing early American history in audio. One challenge is soundscape. Our twenty-first century environment is different from the eighteenth-century environment. Our buildings and spaces have different acoustics because of differences in building materials, construction techniques, and the built environment. Plus, in the twenty-first century, film, video, and modern radio have conditioned our minds to hear certain sounds differently than they really sound in nature. For example, think of the sound a bald eagle makes. Chances are your mind has conjured the call of a red tailed hawk, which is the call sound designers have used to stand in for the bald eagle in film and audio. (Admittedly, the call of the red tailed hawk is a bit more dramatic than that of the bald eagle.)

Narrative style and word choice are important when we write about history. The style we use in our writing positions readers inside or outside of the history we we want to convey. Choosing the right words when we write about historical people, places, and events determines how our readers form mental pictures and think about those people, places, and events. The same careful consideration of language must also go into how we portray early American history in audio.
And third, today we have the podcast episode that Liz was preparing as she wrote that essay: “Paul Revere’s Ride Through History.” It’s part of the “Doing History” series she’s producing in collaboration with the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture, showing how professional historians practice.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Samuel Haws on the Second Day of the War

Yesterday we left Samuel Haws and his fellow Wrentham minutemen at Nathaniel Richards’s tavern in west Roxbury on the evening of 19 Apr 1775. They had come across two men, one of them a neighbor from Wrentham named Ebenezer Aldis—who was from a family suspected of Loyalist sympathies.

Another version of this event, perhaps juiced up for or by Richards descendants, said the tavernkeeper’s son-in-law had seized a prisoner for trying to interfere with the militia alarm. And that the companies coming through that town wanted to hang him.

Here’s how Haws described what happened:
we marched to [Nathaniel] richardes [in west Roxbury] and Searched the house and found Ebenezer aldis and one pery who we supposed to Be torys and we searched them and found Several Letters about them which they were a going to cary to Nathan aldis in Boston but makeing them promis reformation We let them go home
The Richards family tradition gave credit to the landlord and his son-in-law, Solomon Richards, for preventing a lynching:
In the meantime a body of soldiers arrived, and demanded the tory, that they might hang him during their halt. But Capt. R. and his father-in-law resisted their demands, insisted on giving the man a trial, and through their wellknown patriotism, prevailed, and saved the man from the gallows, but not from 39 lashes, ordered by a court.
It’s of course possible that both these stories are true but refer to different captives. However, it appears that Haws and his company spent the night around Richards’s tavern, and he didn’t record any trial and punishment, however perfunctory. Therefore, I think it most likely his story is the reliable one.

For the next day, Haws’s diary turns to action, or potential action:
then marching forward we met colonel [John] graton [of Roxbury] returning from the engagement which was the Day before and he Said that he would be with us amediately then we marched to Jamicai plain their we heard that the regulars Were a coming over the neck. Then we striped of our coats and marched on with good courage to Colonel [Joseph] Williams and their we heard to the contrary.
In The Road to Concord I suggest that Joseph Williams (shown above), a big Roxbury farmer with family links to William Dawes, was a link in smuggling Boston’s militia cannon out of town sometime in early 1775. The British army expedition to Concord on 18-19 April was aimed at finding those cannon. So having militiamen on his farm brought everything full circle.

Haws then settled into the life of a soldier in a siege:
We staid their some time and refreshed our Selves and then marched to Roxbury parade and their we had as much Liquor as we wanted and every man drawd three Biscuit which were taken from the regulars the day before which were hard enough for flints

We lay on our arms until towards night and then we repaired to Mr. [John] Slaks house and at night Six men were draughted out for the main guard.

D. 21. Nothing remarkable this day.

D. 22. Nothing Strange this D nor comical.
I like how Haws switched from recounting the start of a momentous civil war to looking for anything “remarkable,” “Strange,” or “comical” to write down.

COMING UP: The Aldis brothers.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

“About one a clock the minute men were alarmed”

Samuel Haws of Wrentham, Massachusetts, was one of the militiamen called out on 19 Apr 1775 who left a journal of his experiences.

Haws’s journal would be consulted even more if he’d seen actual fighting that day. But Wrentham is on the Rhode Island border—too far for its militia company to hear of the regulars’ march, to assemble, and to hike all the way to the battle road. Instead, Haws and his comrades saw a lot of taverns and eventually made their own action.

Here’s an extract from Haws’s diary as it appeared in its second publication, in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register for 1976. The annotations are by editor Richard Brigham Johnson and me:
About one a clock the minute men were alarmed and met at Landlord [David] Mann’s.

We marched from there the sun about half an our high towards Roxbury for we heard that the regulars had gone out and had killed six men and had wounded Some more that was at Lexinton then the kings troops proceded to concord and there they were Defeated and Drove Back fiting as they went. They got to charlstown hill that night.

We marched to headens [Jonathan Hidden’s] at Walpole and their got a little refreshment and from their we marched to Doctor [Samuel] cheneys [still in Walpole] and their we got some victuals and Drink and from thence we marched to Landlord ellises at Dedham and their captain parson [Samuel Payson?] and company [from Stoughton?] joined us and then we marched to [Benjamin] Gays and their captain [John] Boyd and company [from Dedham] joined us and we marched to Landlord [Daniel] Whitings [still in Dedham]

we taried their about one hour and then we marched to [Nathaniel] richardes [in west Roxbury, shown above] and Searched the house and found Ebenezer aldis and one pery who we supposed to Be torys
The Wrentham militiamen no doubt recognized Ebenezer Aldis as one of their neighbors. In fact, he even was a cousin of sorts to Samuel Haws. (I can’t identify “Pery”; Aldis’s wife was a Penniman, so it’s conceivable that man was one of her relatives and Haws wrote the name inaccurately.)

Haws’s report might dovetail with a tradition that came down in the family of Nathaniel Richards and was eventually published in Abner Morse’s A Genealogical Register of the Descendants of Several Ancient Puritans, vol. 3. That story focused on the landlord’s new son-in-law (and cousin) Solomon Richards:
On the morning of the battle at Lexington, he was met, on his way to Boston, with the report that the British were on their march to Concord; and as he was turning his course for Dover, to rally men to the scene of conflict, up rode a man direct from Boston, contradicting the report.

Capt. R. instantly marked him for a tory, took him prisoner, bound him upon his own horse, and escorted him to the Peacock tavern at Jamaica Plain, and detained him until the truth could be known. In the meantime a body of soldiers arrived, and demanded the tory, that they might hang him during their halt.
Morse believed that the Richards family owned the Peacock Tavern, but he was mistaken—its landlord was Lemuel Child. The Peacock Tavern was at the corner of Allandale and Centre; Nathaniel Richards’s tavern was further out along Centre where the West Roxbury post office now stands. The Richards family understood that Solomon Richards took his suspicious prisoner to his father-in-law’s tavern, and it looks like Morse inserted the Peacock Tavern name by mistake.

TOMORROW: Did the Wrentham company hang Ebenezer Aldis?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Conference on Bailyn’s Ideological Origins, 21 Apr.

On 20-21 April, Yale University’s Center for Historical Inquiry & the Social Sciences will host a conference, co-sponsored by the U.S.C.–Huntington Early Modern Studies Institute on Ideological Origins at 50: Power, Rights, and the Rise and Fall of Free States.”

In 1967 Bernard Bailyn published The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution. It won a Pulitzer Prize the following year and heavily influenced the next generation of scholarship on the Revolution.

Bailyn’s analysis grew out of his work assembling and synthesizing Pamphlets of the American Revolution, a compendium of the public political debate in the Revolutionary era. He highlighted the recurring themes and arguments of those pamphlets.

Of course, that methodology rested on the belief that the explicit political discussion was significant—more significant than the economic factors or the “consensus” that previous cohorts of historians had emphasized. The book produced the name of the “ideological school” of historiography about the Revolution, also labeled the “neo-Whig” or “republican” school. Other scholars pushed back against that approach at the time and since.

The conference will begin with an opening lecture by Bailyn himself. Now in his nineties, he’s a rare example of an author who can address the fiftieth anniversary of a major mature work.

The other speakers will be:
  • Danielle Allen, Harvard University
  • Patrice Higonnet, Harvard University
  • Daniel Hulsebosch, New York University
  • Colin Kidd, University of St. Andrews
  • Peter Mancall, University of Southern California
  • Eric Nelson, Harvard University
  • Mary Beth Norton, Cornell University
  • Steven Pincus, Yale University
  • Jack Rakove, Stanford University
  • Eric Slauter, University of Chicago
  • Gordon Wood, Brown University
Some commenters have noted how this line-up hearkens back to the period when Bailyn wrote his book, with men far outnumbering women. Does that reflect one of the drawbacks of the “ideological” approach—its focus on the class of people empowered to participate in published debate?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Samuel Adams: “Curer of Bacon”?

In his “Sagittarius” letters of 1774, the Scottish printer John Mein referred to:
the very honest Samuel Adams, Clerk, Psalm-singer, Purlonier, and Curer of Bacon.
Mein was clearly being derogatory, but what exactly did he mean?

To start with, Adams was clerk of the Massachusetts General Court.

As I wrote in this article at the Journal of the American Revolution, Adams was known for psalm-singing, and indeed for recruiting Sons of Liberty at psalm-singing lessons. Loyalists like Mein really harped on that.

“Purlonier” was the printer’s typographically challenged way of spelling “purloiner.” That undoubtedly referred to Adams’s controversial tenure as one of Boston’s tax-collectors from 1756 to 1764. He didn’t supply the town with all the money the law said it was owed. Mein insinuated that Adams kept those funds for himself. But he probably never collected them in the first place, cementing his popularity.

Which brings us to “Curer of Bacon.” What does that mean? A family biography treats that as an allusion to the malthouse business that Adams inherited from his father and couldn’t keep up. But what exactly is the connection between a malthouse and bacon?

I think I found the answer in John Middleton’s View of the Agriculture of Middlesex, published in London in 1807, in a section on hogs:
A very large market is held on Finchley-common for the sale of this useful animal, where great numbers are purchased purchased fat, by the hog-butchers of London, as well as vast quantities of lean stores, brought from Shropshire, and other distant counties, to be fed by the malt-distillers. Here it may be necessary for the Board to use their endeavours to correct an error too much believed by the vulgar, that the malt-distillers’ pork is not good; the hogs, it is asserted, being kept in a state of intoxication; whereas the contrary is the fact; it being notorious, that the best pork for sea voyages is that from the malt-distillers (who always finish them with hard meat); and it is equally certain, that the best bacon in the kingdom is made from those hogs; and he would be a bad workman, who left spirit enough in his wash to make his hogs drunk.
Mein’s London readers therefore might have connected the phrase “Curer of Bacon” with a man in the malt business.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Links for 2017 Patriots Day Commemorations

For folks planning their commemorations of the Battle of Lexington and Concord this weekend and beyond, here are three useful websites to consult:

Many local communities have their own celebrations as well.

As usual, I’m planning to attend the Lincoln Salute on Sunday afternoon, which promises to be a hot time.

Mein Words about John Hancock

Loyalist John Mein wrote one of his “Sagittarius” essays in response to John Hancock’s 1774 oration on the anniversary of the Boston Massacre.

As I related yesterday, Hancock had seized Mein’s property in Boston on behalf of London creditors. In return, Mein took the opportunity to share nasty gossip about Boston’s leading merchant and his visit to London as a young man in 1760:
This great and honourable Master Hancock is very well known in London to many; indeed, unfortunately for them, too well known; for they would now esteem themselves happy, if they had never heard of him before this frantic Oration.

When he was in London about twelve years ago, he was the laughing-stock and the contempt of all his acquaintances: instead of attending and pushing his mercantile interest, visiting the different curiosities in and about Town, and forming reputable connections, as a young man of his great fortune ought to have done, he kept sneaking and lurking about the kitchen of his uncle’s correspondent, drank tea every day with the house-maid, and on Sundays escorted her to White Conduit House.

People unacquainted with Mr. Hancock’s natural condition thought, that his close attendance and attention arose from an amorous connection; but his old school-fellows and intimates knew, that though nature had bestowed upon him a human figure, she had denied him the powers of manhood. The girl was therefore in perfect safety, though unconscious of it. The sense of his incapacity could not however hinder him from thinking; perhaps the Fair Sex took possession of his head, and no doubt he loved them as well as he was able.

When he arrived in America, his uncle [Thomas Hancock], who knew his weakness and want of capacity, kept him at a distance form [sic] company; but as soon as he died, Flatterers, Rogues, and Knaves of all ages and all professions, flocked about him, as Vultures, Cormorants, and Carrion Crows flock about a dead Carcase. It is a melancholy consideration, that good natured folly shou’d be plundered and stript by such a nest of Villains as he associates with. His fortune has long been in the wane.
I suppose I should note that Hancock and his wife had two children.

Hancock was in London when George II died, and he hoped to stay to see the coronation of the new king. We know that from a letter he sent home.

In 1852 James Spear Loring wrote that Hancock actually did see that ceremony. Later authors added that the new monarch received the young merchant at court and presented him with a snuffbox bearing the royal portrait. But Hancock wasn’t yet prominent enough for such treatment. If he did bring such a snuffbox back from London, he’d bought it as a souvenir.

Furthermore, George III’s coronation was delayed for several months because of his royal wedding, and Hancock had to sail before then. Yet another disappointment.

TOMORROW: “Sagittarius” on Samuel Adams.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Secret of Sagittarius’s Letters

Boston’s Whigs drove the printer John Mein out of town in 1770. A bunch of merchants confronted him and his partner, John Fleeming, on the street at the end of October 1769.

The printers pulled out pistols to defend themselves, and one went off harmlessly. Then tailor and militia colonel Thomas Marshall—who hadn’t even been part of the original crowd, just angered by the shot—swung a shovel at Mein close enough to cut his coat.

While Mein went into hiding, John Hancock jumped at a letter from the Longman publishing firm in London asking him to help collect on debts that the printer owed. Hancock went to court and seized Mein’s press and other property.

Mein retreated to London. In 1774 he wrote a series of essays about Boston politics for the Public Ledger under the pseudonym “Sagittarius,” informing British readers about the people who were causing such a crisis in the empire.

Those essays were collected in a book with a title page that reads:
Sagittarius’s Letters and Political Speculations.

Extracted from the Public Ledger;
inscribed to the very loyal and truly pious Dr. Samuel Cooper, pastor of the Congregational Church in Brattle Street. . . .

Boston
Printed: By Order of the Select Men, and sold at Donation Hall, for the Benefit of the Distressed Patriots.
MDCCLXXV.
Bibliographers appear to accept that information as accurate. However, I haven’t found any reference to the book in the records of the Boston selectmen. And it would be unusual for them to put public money toward printing these letters with no refutation since they’re nothing but bitter and often personal attacks on Boston’s political leaders. For example:
The Selectmen of Boston, who have fomented so many dagerous [sic] and traiterous insurrections, and who have given such continued trouble to our supreme legislature, are after all the most ignorant, assuming, and despicable fellows in the Creation. One of them is a Bankrupt Merchant [John Scollay]; a second a noble Tinman [Timothy Newell]; a third, an old retailer of Wine and Cyder, but who now acts as Shopman to his wife [Samuel Austin?]; a fourth, that poor plucked gawky, Orator [John] Hancock; and a fifth, a redoubtable Taylor…
That last was Mein’s old foe Thomas Marshall.

It strikes me that the whole “Printed: By Order of the Select Men…” line was a joke parodying the Massacre anniversary orations, which the selectmen really did pay to have printed. Mein wrote plenty about how stupid and dangerous that tradition was.

Likewise, the dedication to the Rev. Dr. Cooper drips with sarcasm. And there was no site called “Donation Hall”; that was probably a sneering reference to Faneuil Hall, where a town committee collected donations for the poor after the Boston Port Bill.

So if the printing information is unreliable, was this book really printed in Boston, or was it imported from London, New York, or another city? It’s hard to imagine a market for the material outside of Massachusetts, but perhaps someone connected to the royal government thought it was valuable to spread around. Whoever set the type inserted a lot of errors (which might have annoyed Mein, his Boston Chronicle newspaper being well set).

TOMORROW: Sagittarius’s gossip about John Hancock.

[The photograph above shows Gary Gregory of the Edes & Gill Print Shop in the North End.]

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“Sent you one of phillis whetleys books”

Yesterday I quoted from a letter that Deborah Cushing sent her husband Thomas in September 1774 when he was serving in the First Continental Congress.

When that letter is cited today, it’s usually because Cushing mentioned the poet Phillis Wheatley. She said:
I rote you by Mr [Richard] Cary and sent you one of phillis whetleys books which you will wonder att but Mrs. Dickerson and Mrs. Clymer Mrs. Bull with some other ladys ware so pleasd with Phillis and her performances that they bought her Books and got her to compose some pieces for them which put me in mind of mrs vanhorn to hume

I thought it would be very agreabel
In an undated letter that talks about Gov. Thomas Gage removing John Hancock from command of the Cadets, and therefore must come from August 1774, Deborah Cushing wrote that “mr Dickerson & mr Climer & ladies” had recently visited her. (She also cautioned her husband, “Dont Eat any meat super which you know always make you sick.”)

George Clymer (shown above) was one of the more radical Philadelphia Whigs. In 1774 he made his second visit to Boston, having previously traveled there for his health.

As for “Dickerson,” we can narrow down his identity with the help of John Adams’s diary for 31 August:
Mr. [John] Dickenson, the Farmer of Pensylvania, came to Mr. Wards Lodgings to see us, in his Coach and four beautifull Horses. He was introduced to Us, and very politely said he was exceedingly glad to have the Pleasure of seeing these Gentlemen, made some Enquiry after the Health of his Brother and Sister, who are now in Boston.
Dickinson’s most famous brother was Philemon Dickinson, a general in the Revolutionary War and later a U.S. senator. But there were other brothers and half-brothers. Back in 1769, John Dickinson had visited Boston with a brother and dined with the Sons of Liberty at Lemuel Robinson’s tavern in Dorchester. However, the list of attendees and John Adams’s diary for that date both refer to Dickinson’s brother simply as his brother, poor guy. And we don’t even know if the man visiting in 1774 was the same brother.

Nor have I been able to identify the sister of John Dickinson who was visiting Boston. Was she “Mrs. Bull”? Complicating that inquiry is that people of the time sometimes referred to their siblings-in-law without the “in-law” appendage, so by Dickinson’s “Brother and Sister” Adams could have meant his “brother and his brother’s wife.”

Lastly, I’m baffled by what Deborah Cushing meant by “got her to compose some pieces for them which put me in mind of mrs vanhorn to hume.” Cushing wasn’t great with names (see “Dickerson”), but clearly she had some allusion in mind. Any ideas?

On 4 October, Thomas Cushing wrote back to Deborah, saying he had shown her letters to John Dickinson, Thomas Mifflin, Charles Thomson, and their wives, and they had praised her “patriotic, calm & undaunted spirit.” Which I hope was reassuring since she’d already reminded him she was nervous about her writing skills.

Monday, April 10, 2017

“The peopel hear gott 2 of mr Paddocks cannon one night”

Here’s another report of the removal of cannon from Charlestown and Boston in September 1774 which I came across only last week.

It’s a letter from Deborah Cushing to her husband Thomas Cushing (shown here), speaker of the Massachusetts House. He was away at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. She was trying to keep up a correspondence with him even though, she told him on 14 September, “you know righting is a thing I am so very avers too and considering the Important Buisness you are gon upon.”

On 19 September, Deborah Cushing reported:
The fleet and army are kept in perpettual fears which that may thank themselves for thair takeing the cannon and forttifiing the neck with thair takeing the powder and so forth [on 1 September] has made our peopel keep a good look out and in many instanses have ben too sharp for them

the charlstown peopel caryed thare cannon to Watertown or Waltham [starting on 7 September]

the peopel hear gott 2 of mr [Adino] Paddocks cannon one night [14 September] which ocasined the other two to be put under gard but in a night or two [16 September] our peopel got the other too which made the officers mad saying thay belived the Devil had got them away for it was not half an hour ago thay had thair hands on them Desired the solders to go into the common and take care of thair one for the people were so Devilish slie that they would have tharn before morning
This letter doesn’t offer reliable new information on the disappearance of all those guns, but it’s significant in a couple of ways. It shows how Bostonians were talking about them—even Deborah Cushing, who devoted most of her letters to matters of etiquette and piety. In fact, she’s the first woman I’ve found commenting on the stolen cannon.

In addition, Cushing’s letter shows that Massachusetts’s Continental Congress delegation learned about those missing cannon almost immediately. They knew that people back home were taking control of military resources.

Deborah Cushing concluded this part of her letter by writing, “I wish the peopel may be composed for I think we may due without fighting if thay would Exercise a littel patiance and self denial.” At the time, most people in New England probably shared her hope for a peaceful solution. But in case that didn’t happen, it never hurt to have cannon.

When this letter was published in The Historical Magazine in 1862, the spelling, punctuation, and sentence structure were heavily cleaned up. So last week I went to the Massachusetts Historical Society to look at the original. It can also be viewed online.

TOMORROW: Cushing comments on Phillis Wheatley.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Gen. Gage’s “disappointment at Charlestown”

Yesterday I quoted merchant John Andrews’s description of the removal of cannon from Charlestown’s shore battery on 7 Sept 1774.

As Andrews wrote in a letter dated 12 September, Gen. Thomas Gage didn’t just shrug off the disappearance of those guns:
He is by no means satisfied with his disappointment at Charlestown, as he sent a number of officers and soldiers over there yesterday; who were employ’d, in service time in particular [i.e., during religious services], in traversing the streets and by—ways, and tampering with the children, to get out of them where the cannon were hid. . . .

The [Suffolk] County Committee waited upon the Governor this forenoon…when he express’d himself nearly as follows:— [“]Good God! Gentlemen, make yourselves easy, and I’ll be so. You have done all in your power to convince the world and me that you will not submit to the [Coercive] Acts, and I’ll make representations home accordingly, for which I will embrace the earliest opportunity. You must be sensible it is as much for my benefit as yours’, not to take any measures that may prevent the country from bringing in their provisions, and in return should be glad to be answer’d in some questions I may ask, vizt.—What is the reason that the cannon were remov'd from Charlestown?”
That question also appeared in Gage’s written reply to the committee.

The Suffolk County delegates, led by Dr. Joseph Warren, told the governor that they would respond to that and other queries in writing. The next day they delivered their reply, longer than their original address and Gage’s response put together. And yet they never answered his question about what the people of Charlestown meant to do with their battery’s cannon.

On 13 September, Andrews passed along another rumor:
Am just inform’d that the officers prevail’d on a negro at Charlestown to inform ’em where the cannon were lodg’d; which being known there, they mustered about three thousand, and with teems carried ’em about ten or a dozen miles further up. Several among ’em were eight and forty pounders, which weigh’d between two and three ton apiece.
Massachusetts political leaders shared a fear of being betrayed by black people, enslaved or free—who at the time had little reason to support them. I’m not convinced that a man of African ancestry actually told British officers where to find the cannon. Locals may simply have feared that one would.

In addition, I’ve come to suspect that Andrews doubled or tripled a lot of the numbers in his letters, especially when it came to weights. As of November 1770, Capt. John Montresor of the Royal Artillery had reported, the Charlestown battery contained five eighteen-pounder cannon, not forty-eight-pounders. Much bigger than the brass guns of the Boston train (two- and three-pounders), but not huge.

Saturday, April 08, 2017

“The Road to Concord” Starts in Charlestown, 11 Apr.

The Road to Concord tracks four brass cannon stolen out of two Boston armories in mid-September 1774 because those appear to have been Gen. Thomas Gage’s top targets in early 1775.

But the first Massachusetts Patriots to surreptitiously remove cannon from under the redcoats’ noses were the people of Charlestown on 7 September. That town was guarded by a fortified battery of heavy iron cannon overlooking the entrance to the Charles River.

Here’s how Boston merchant John Andrews reported on activities in that battery to his brother-in-law, William Barrell of Philadelphia:
As experience makes men wise, so the least alarm will put ’em upon their guard that have once been trick’d. A Scotch Captain, who is building a ship at Charlestown, observ’d that they put the ammunition, such as shot, &ca., belonging to the battery there, under ground. He came over and inform’d the Governor of it, who sent an officer over with him to examine the premisses yesterday afternoon.

The inhabitants, suspecting what would take place, provided a number of teams, such as carry ship timbers, and slung all the guns belonging to the battery, and carried up country, together with the reposit of shot, &ca.

About midnight another formidable expedition was set on foot. The boats from all the Men of War were man’d with soldiers, with orders to dismantle the fort and bring off all the Ordnance, Stores, &ca.: but I imagine their chagrin was as great as their disappointment. So much for the honor of Pig Village, Bill!
I’m going to “Pig Village” myself next week to speak about this feat and more on Tuesday, 11 April. That event starts at 7:00 P.M. at the Bunker Hill Museum. It’s free and open to the public. (As was, evidently, the Charlestown battery in September 1774.) The host and sponsor of this talk is the Charlestown Historical Society. [I’m not mentioned on the society website, but I really will be there.]

Friday, April 07, 2017

Cannon Moved from Salem to Concord

In early March 1775, soon after “Leslie’s Retreat” in Salem, Gen. Thomas Gage started to receive solid information about the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s effort to build a military force out in rural Massachusetts.

An anonymous informant who sometimes wrote in French for added security sent Gage multiple messages on 8 and 9 March. Those messages offered details about where cannon and other military supplies were hidden in Concord.

What’s more, that spy hinted that much of that ordnance came from Salem, and were thus probably the same guns that Lt.-Col. Alexander Leslie had been blocked from seizing there.

The informant wrote:
Eight more pieces of Iron Ordnance were this day (Le 8 de Mois de Mars) convey’d to Concord from L[eicester?] (where they had been deposited a few days preceeding their Last removal;[)]—Two of the Eight appeard to be Smaller than the rest & about three or four pounders—These last mentioned were met at a small distance from C[oncord] in three Carts there were no appurtenances, but it was said that carriages were made or making at Salem & soon to follow.—

It is conjectured & reported that a Large quantity of Cartridges are now preparing at Ch[arlestow]n; of Different Sizes, & numbered in order to distribute & distinguish properly.
The Massachusetts Provincial Congress was consolidating guns, carriages, and gunpowder cartridges in Concord, prepping those artillery pieces for battle. Gage knew similar work was under way in Worcester. In addition, several towns were forming artillery companies on their own.

The same informant out in Concord told Gage that there were:
Four brass Cannon, & Two Cohorns or Mortars (so call’d by the Peasantry) Conceal’d at Mr: B, (Lately chose or appointed Minute Colo.) Suppos’d to be deposited in his Cellar.
“Mr: B” was James Barrett, colonel in the Middlesex County militia. (His house appears above.) Documents from both sides of the conflict indicate that Barrett was in contact with David Mason, the man who had collected the cannon at Salem. They were both working for the Provincial Congress.

Gage must have been struck by the mention of “Four brass Cannon.” Brass (or bronze) cannon were rare in Massachusetts—most were secure in the hands of the British military. But four small brass guns had disappeared from Boston’s militia gunhouses the previous September. And Gage wanted them back. For the next month, he focused his intelligence efforts on finding out more about those cannon in Concord.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

A Boy’s View of “Leslie’s Retreat”

My favorite account of “Leslie’s Retreat” appeared in the first volume of the Proceedings of the Essex Institute in 1856. It consists of notes that Charles M. Endicott took when he interviewed Samuel Gray.

This wasn’t the Samuel Gray killed at the Boston Massacre, of course. This was a nine-year-old boy who lived on Peter Street in Salem. Here’s what he remembered about Sunday, 26 Feb 1775:
The family had all gone to meeting, except himself and grandmother. Was out in the yard—while there heard a drum and fife—went in and told the old lady of it—she thought he was mistaken—but he was convinced of it and took his cap and went in the direction of the music—

had reached the N. E. corner of Essex and Washington streets, when he saw the troops coming round the corner of School, now Washington street, from Mill street. They marched up to the Town House and halted a few minutes— . . . When the troops recommenced their march followed close to them, was near enough to touch Colonel [Alexander] Leslie most of the time.—The Colonel was a fine looking officer, rather stout with agreeable features; followed them through Lynde street to the North Bridge; should think the platoons about twelve deep, and when they halted at the draw of the bridge, they reached from there to Colonel [Joseph] Sprague’s distillery; should think there could not have been less than 300 men.

When they came to order they formed a line on the west side of the street facing to the eastward. Saw that the Colonel was quite disconcerted to find the draw of the bridge up; noticed his impassioned manner, but…don’t know that he heard any words he uttered.

Saw his minister, Mr [Thomas] Barnard, in the crowd, and saw him speak with Colonel Leslie;…was afterwards told, that when Mr Barnard heard the Colonel say that he would pass the bridge, that he addressed him in these words: “I desire you would not fire on those innocent people;” (meaning those collected on the north side of the bridge,)

at this Colonel Leslie turned short round and said to him “Who are you, sir?”

Mr. Barnard replied, “I am Thomas Barnard, a minister of the gospel, and my mission is peace.”

Saw three gondolas laying aground; saw the people jump into them for the purpose of scuttling them; recognized Frank Benson and Jonathan Felt—saw Frank Benson open his breast to the soldiers. . . . knew Capt. Robert Foster, and recognized him conspicuous among the crowd on the north side of the bridge.

Colonel Leslie had given some orders, and the soldiers were doing something to their muskets; cannot say what; but being a small boy it frightened him, and he with two or three others about his age, ran off and lay down under the fish flakes which covered almost the whole southern bank of the river from north bridge to what is now Conant street; did not return; it was a very cold day, and he was almost frozen, while laying down upon the ground under the flakes; did not see the troops leave town.
Fish flakes were the wooden shelves where fishermen laid their salted cod to dry. They used to be common in New England ports. The photograph of flakes above comes from the Penobscot Marine Museum.

The next day, Samuel went to the “barn of Capt. Foster” himself—and unlike Leslie, he was able to get in. He found a cannon lying on the ground. And being a nine-year-old boy, he climbed onto it and started asking questions:
asked why they did not carry it away;

was told it was injured—looked round and saw a crack in the breech;

asked how many guns there had been in all,

was told twelve; understood they were French pieces, and came from Nova Scotia after the late French war; were guns taken from the French; does not know to whom they belonged previous to being fitted up on this occasion.

Heard they were distributed in various directions—some to Cole’s hole, in what is now called Paradise; others towards Orne’s point, &c.; were not all carried to one place, for fear if they were discovered by the troops they would all be lost.
The troops hadn’t discovered any of those guns, of course. But to be sage, on the night of 3 March, the Essex Gazette reported, perhaps with some exaggeration, “Twenty seven Pieces of Cannon were removed out of this Town, in order to be out of the Way of Robbers.”

TOMORROW: Where those cannon went.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

“A good bit of adventure, audacity, and downright Yankee ingenuity”

When I was in Williamsburg last week, George Wildrick kindly alerted me to the fact that Muzzleloader magazine had reviewed The Road to Concord in its September-October 2016 issue.

So I really must share some choice extracts from Joshua Shepherd’s “For the Bookshelf” review:
One of the pleasant aspects of studying history is the realization that new discoveries can either challenge or further illuminate our understanding of the past. With the release of The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War, author J. L. Bell has chronicled a little-known episode in the turbulent months preceding the outbreak of colonial rebellion. . . .

For this volume, author J. L. Bell narrowly focuses his attention on the tense struggle for control of four particular pieces of artillery: specifically, four brass guns—state of the art weapon systems for the 18th century—which had previously been purchased by the Massachusetts legislature for the use of her militia. As both sides prepared for the possibility of armed confrontation, they scrambled to get control of all available armaments, and British General Thomas Gage anxiously placed the four Massachusetts guns under Redcoat guard. Boston Patriots, naturally, had other plans, and surreptitiously seized all four cannons, which were then smuggled out of town. The obscure story of the cannons’ “theft” is a suspenseful tale that treats readers to a good bit of adventure, audacity, and downright Yankee ingenuity. . . .

Few writers are as qualified to cover this topic as author J. L. Bell. A prolific researcher and author, Bell operates the historical blog [www.boston1775.net] and focuses his work on Massachusetts during the War for Independence. He’s a skilled historian with a deep command of his subject matter. The book was, at least for this reviewer, difficult to put down. This will likely be the experience of anyone with a serious interest in early America, the Revolutionary War, and the epic fight for Liberty that erupted on The Road to Concord.
Thanks to Mr. Shepherd, Mr. Wildrick, and Muzzleloader magazine!

(The same issue includes Vincent C. Spiotti’s article on how Sudbury celebrates its Revolutionary heritage with colonial reenactments and musters.)

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Making the “Salem Connection,” 7 Apr.

On Friday, 7 April, I’ll speak at the Salem Athenaeum about “The Salem Connection: A Crucial Part of Massachusetts’s Secret Drive to Collect Artillery Before the Revolutionary War.”

This event is part of Salem’s commemoration of “Leslie’s Retreat,” the confrontation on 26 Feb 1775 when a Patriot crowd prevented Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie from searching a smithy near the North River for weapons.

As I describe in The Road to Concord, there actually were weapons in that forge—at least when Leslie and his soldiers arrived in town. But blacksmith Robert Foster had hastily moved them away while David Mason, the man who had collected those guns, blocked Leslie’s approach at a drawbridge. Those cannon were part of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s drive to build an army.

Salem was also the site of other significant actions resisting the royal government in the preceding year:
  • the Massachusetts General Court’s vote on 17 June 1774 to send delegates to the First Continental Congress, which prompted Gen. Thomas Gage to dissolve that legislature.
  • the Salem town meeting’s vote on 24 August 1774 to send delegates to an Essex County convention, which Gage tried to stop by detaining local activists and summoning troops; that didn’t work, so he gave up on Essex County and moved back to Boston.
  • the first meeting of the Provincial Congress on 7 October 1774.
I’ll speak about how all those events tie together as part of a province-wide resistance to the Crown.

My talk is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. Admission is $10 for Salem Athenaeum members, $15 for others, free for students with identification, with the proceeds benefiting the host institution.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Allison on the Revolution in Boston, 5 Apr.

On Wednesday, 5 April, Robert J. Allison will speak about “Boston and the American Revolution” at the Boston Public Library as part of its Local & Family History Series.

This talk will explore such questions as “Why did the Revolution begin in Boston?” and “Why were Bostonians more rebellious than other British subjects in North America?”

Though perhaps, given what Rhode Islanders got away with in the years before 1775, an equally important question might be “Why did the British royal government push back harder against the political resistance in Boston?”

Bob Allison is chairman of the history department of Suffolk University, where he also created a popular online course about Boston history. His many books include The Boston Massacre, A Short History of Boston, and The American Revolution: A Concise History. Bob is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society and leader of the Revolution 250 coalition.

This talk is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. in the Abbey Room of the big library building in Copley Square. It is free and open to the public.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

The Tragedy of André

Speaking of William Dunlap’s tragedy André, my friend John W. Kennedy has created an online text of that play by transcribing the 1798 edition and annotating it. You can find it all here.

Kennedy writes:
William Dunlap (1766–1839) dominated American theatre in his day as no one else ever did but David Belasco. He was born in Perth Amboy, and the family later moved to New York City. There is a pretty, but questionable, legend to the effect that he may have seen some of the theatrical productions in occupied New York in which John André had a hand.

He traveled to England in 1784 to study with Benjamin West, as was practically de rigueur for aspiring young American painters, but seems to have chiefly fallen in love with the theatre there. Upon his return to America in 1787, his first thought was to write an imitation of Royall Tyler’s hit, The Contrast, and Dunlap’s The Modest Soldier or Love in New York was accepted, though never produced.

But he continued to write, and was soon successful enough to be asked in 1796 to become managing partner in the Old American Company, so called because it was the return of the American Company, founded in 1752, which had retreated to the West Indies in 1778 after Congress had outlawed theatrical performances as incompatible with the war effort. André is one of the plays of this portion of his career.
The result was a tragedy with a “curiously Greek construction—it is written in scenes for two or three, places all the physical activity offstage, takes place in only a few hours’ time, and really wants only a chorus to be perfectly Athenian.”

Dunlap’s blank-verse text is accompanied by several supplemental texts:
Here’s a sample from the play, as the character identified only as “the General” laments in Act 5 that he must let Maj. André’s execution proceed:
O what keen struggles must I undergo!
Unbless’d estate! to have the power to pardon;
The court’s stern sentence to remit;—give life;—
Feel the strong wish to use such blessed power;
Yet know that circumstances strong as fate
Forbid to obey the impulse. O, I feel
That man should never shed the blood of man.
And here’s a discussion by Elfin Vogel and Michael Bettencourt of the challenges of staging André.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

“General Washington was represented”?

I was preparing something else for today, but then the André Resource tweeted about William Dunlap’s 1798 tragedy André. The introduction for a modern edition says it’s the only play to depict George Washington on stage during his lifetime (and even then the character wasn’t named in the original text).

In reply, I noted that in January 1776 the British army staged Gen. John Burgoyne’s short play The Blockade of Boston in Faneuil Hall. I wrote about its interrupted debut here, here, and here. The play finally came off on 22 January.

Burgoyne may have portrayed Washington in his play. It was, after all, a satire on the Continental army besieging Boston at the time. But we can’t be sure because no text has survived.

We know the play depicted at least one general since Lt. William Feilding described its sole performance this way:
The Characters of the Yankee General and Figure of his Soldiers is inimatable, the Genl: a man who can’t Read but can Speachifie, and tell his Soldiers they are to obey the Voice of the People in the streets, the Joy the Rebells are in, in reading the Resolves of the Mayor and City of London in favor of the Con-ti-nen-tal Congress in Phi-li-del-phi-a pa-per is truly Characteristick.
Of course, at the time New England had the highest rate of literacy in the British Empire. But for Burgoyne and Feilding, a “Yankee General” couldn’t have had the education of a British aristocrat.

One source says that in The Blockade of Boston “General Washington was represented as an uncouth countryman, dressed shabbily, with large wig and long rusty sword.” That description has been quoted or paraphrased in many histories, as recently as this decade. However, its source was the “Diary of Dorothy Dudley,” a historical fiction written for the Centennial by Mary Williams Greeley.

That passage of the “Dudley diary” was thus a hoax inspired by a Continental escapade aimed at upsetting a British satire—and it’s fooled many authors. Which all adds up to an appropriate topic for this date.