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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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Upcoming Events at Paul Revere House

The Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End has a busy summer of special events coming up. All of these take place on Saturdays unless described otherwise.

27 June, 1:00, 1:45 & 2:30 P.M.
John Adams: The Colossus of Independence
Hear from John Adams himself as he discusses his earliest beginnings in Braintree through his days as delegate of the Continental Congress and foreign ambassador. Hear his opinions of his contemporaries and how he longs to be home with his “dearest friend,” Abigail, and their children. Mr. Adams’ singular wit is appealing to children and adults!

Friday, 30 June, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
A Visit with Paul Revere
David Connor brings Boston’s favorite patriot vividly to life. Ask him about the details of his midnight ride, inquire about his 16 children, or engage him in conversation about his activities as a member of the Sons of Liberty.

1 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Patriot Fife and Drum
Enjoy a lively concert of music that accompanied colonists as they marched, danced, wooed their beloveds, and waged war. David Vose and Sue Walko provide fascinating insight into each selection they perform.

Monday, 3 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Colonial Dance Tunes and Love Songs
In the guise of itinerant musicians, Al Petty & Deirdre Sweeney perform popular 18th-century tunes such as “Mr. Isaac’s Maggot” and “Jack’s Health” on the penny whistle, flute, fife, & other instruments.

8 July, 1:00, 1:45 & 2:30 P.M.
Fife and Drum Concert by the Boston Alarm Company
Treat yourself to a sprightly concert of fife and drum music! Dressed in civilian clothing reproduced from period originals, alarm company members play marches and beat out cadences used to warn citizens of impending attack.

15 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Glass Harmonica Concert
Vera Meyer plays early American melodies on the intriguing instrument that Ben Franklin invented. The ethereal, haunting tones Meyer creates as she places her wet fingers on the rims of rotating glass bowls will mesmerize all who listen!

22 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Colonial Basket Weaving
Rather than in plastic bags or cardboard boxes, colonists stored cheese, chickens, and candles in specially designed baskets. Fred Lawson weaves and sells reproductions copied from period originals.

29 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
The Tailor’s Craft
Clothing historian Henry Cooke takes on the role of an early Boston tailor. Watch as he “takes the measure” of visitors, then sits cross-legged, fashioning waistcoats from luxurious fabrics and “slops” from coarse weaves.

5 August, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Hammered Dulcimer
Award-winning musician Dave Neiman plays jigs, reels, and Baroque and Renaissance tunes that Paul Revere and his family may have enjoyed.

12 August, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Colonial Leather Working
Find out how colonial era leather workers fashioned scabbards, sword belts, and harnesses. Fred Lawson demonstrates and invites visitors to try their hands at punching holes and sewing leather.

19 August, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Tinsmithing Demonstration
Who made the ubiquitous lanterns, sconces, and other tin wares of the 18th century? A tinker! Larry Leonard produces and sells examples of his craft while describing the techniques, tools, and materials used since the Reveres’ era.

26 August, 1:00, 1:45 & 2:30 P.M.
A Revolution of Her Own!
The captivating story of the first woman to fight in the American Military: in 1782, Deborah Sampson bound her chest, tied back her hair, and enlisted in the Continental Army. Experience her arduous upbringing, active combat, and success as the first female professional soldier (in part, due to the assistance of Paul Revere). Deborah’s passion takes you back in time! Length: 30 min.

All events are included the price of admission, which is for adults $5, for seniors & college students $4.50, and for children aged five to seventeen $1. Members and North End residents are admitted free at all times. The house is open daily 9:30 A.M. to 5:15 P.M. to the end of October.

(The picture above, courtesy of North End Waterfront, shows the Paul Revere House around 1900, before it was restored and turned into a historical museum. Cigars are no longer available inside.)


David Hurwitz said...

I'm surprised they still refer to Adams as "The Colossus of Independence" after McCullough admitted the quote attributed to Jefferson was a mistake. http://www.nytimes.com/2001/07/23/business/mediatalk-error-in-quote-stirs-arguments-over-adams-legacy.html

J. L. Bell said...

The nickname “Colossus of Independence” for Adams is well established, going back to 1827, even if it was misattributed to Jefferson. That’s about as old as the terms “Boston Tea Party” and “Cradle of Liberty,” and significantly older than “Intolerable Acts.”

David Hurwitz said...

I think the 1827 source you are referring to is "A Sketch of the Life of John Quincy Adams," http://bit.ly/2s9xtiq which also incorrectly attributed the quote to Jefferson. Furthermore, the source that it seems you are referring to is an 11 page pamphlet that doesn't even seem to have an author listed as far as I can tell from the Google Books source. To continue to thus give Adams such credit is like continuing to credit Washington with telling the truth after chopping down the cherry tree!

The colossus of independence was Thomas Paine! The independence movement can be fairly said to have begun with him. We have seen how Mercy Otis Warren left Paine out of her 3 volume "History" because of his religious "infidelity" and intimated that others follow her example. In his "Notes on the State of Virginia" Jefferson wrote:

"It is well known, that in July 1775, a separation from Great-Britain and establishment of Republican government had never yet entered into any person's mind. A convention therefore, chosen under that ordinance, cannot be said to have been chosen for purposes which certainly did not exist in the minds of those who passed it. Under this ordinance, at the annual election in April 1776, a convention for the year was chosen. Independance [sic], and the establishment of a new form of government, were not even yet the objects of the people at large. One extract from the pamphlet called Common Sense had appeared in the Virginia papers in February, and copies of the pamphlet itself had got into a few hands. But the idea had not been opened to the mass of the people in April, much less can it be said that they had made up their minds in its favor. So that the electors of April 1776, no more than the legislators of July 1775, not thinking of independance and a permanent republic, could not mean to vest in these delegates powers of establishing them, or any authorities other than those of the ordinary legislature."

Jefferson also wrote about how Common Sense "electrified" the people. I'm not sure there has ever been a better example of "an idea whose time has come." It seems to me to be a gross injustice and a perpetuation of untruth to attribute such a title to "Alien and Sedition Acts" Adams given the accomplishment of Thomas Paine.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m simply saying that the nickname “Colossus of Independence” has been applied to Adams for closing in on two centuries, so a campaign to negate that nickname (or transfer it to Paine?) would be about as successful as arguing that the Boston Massacre wasn’t really a massacre or the Battle of Bennington didn’t take place in Bennington.

Jefferson’s description of the growth of the idea of independence quoted above is Virginia-centered.Samuel Adams later claimed that he’d become convinced that independence would be the only resolution before the war. Supporters of the Crown complained that independence had been the Patriots’ goal all along—a notion those American politicians loudly disclaimed in public.

I think the evidence definitely points to Paine’s Common Sense as swaying public opinion toward independence in 1776. The Jefferson quotation above actually plays down Paine’s influence by claiming only a few Virginians had seen more than “One extract” of the essay. I see more widespread reading of it in the sources from New England.

I also think the king’s address in the fall of 1775 was crucial, as Pauline Maier’s From Resistance to Revolution argued. And the Adamses did important work in the Congress, along with Richard Henry Lee and others. A mass movement has a lot of influences behind it.

I’m not sure how the Alien and Sedition Acts come into this since the Adams nickname is based on his activity twenty years before those laws; they’re about individual freedoms in the U.S. of A., not about independence. Paine’s own belief in freedom of the press seems to have varied: he issued threats when the printer Benjamin Towne was attacking him, but took a wider view when accused of sedition. Circumstances have a way of changing people’s views.

David Hurwitz said...

Thank you for following up on this with me! It means a lot to me to be able to have this conversation with someone so knowledgeable.

Without McCullough’s book that false quote may have been obscure enough not to need negation. An old falsehood is still a falsehood. Whether Adams deserves to be called the “Colossus of Independence” is more important than whether the Battle of Bennington was fought in Bennington, particularly given the facts relative to Thomas Paine's achievement. Similarly, there is the widespread erroneous belief that the “War for Independence” started on April 19, 1775. There is no doubt that the Battles of Lexington and Concord were not fought for independence, and yet most Americans probably believe that is the case, even though the Declaration of Independence was over a year later! History is supposed to be about truth, and yet we know that the truth about sensitive historical subjects has often been distorted. Americans were not historically taught that the original draft of the Declaration of Independence referred to slaves as MEN (in caps!). That made it an abolitionist document since “…all Men are created equal…,” and yet of the relatively few historians who mentioned the original draft, most only referred to the passage as about the slave trade!

In “The Guardians of Tradition: American Schoolbooks of the Nineteenth Century” we find: “Because he attacked Christianity, Thomas Paine often appears as a major American villain.” Just recently, an article in Smithsonian Magazine described Mercy Otis Warren’s “History” as an “accurate” portrayal of the “independence movement,” even though she fraudulently cut out Common Sense!

I am not aware of any source that gives evidence there was more than a smattering of interest in independence before Common Sense. It wasn’t a subject much discussed in newspapers or pamphlets, if at all in 1775. No other pre-July 4,1776 pro-independence source came within an order of magnitude in circulation. There are no runners up.

Is there source documentation that Samuel Adams was pro-independence before the war? I am also not aware that Richard Henry Lee was pro-independence before Common Sense, or George Washington for that matter. Jefferson’s claim was about the extract of Common Sense appearing in the papers in February, 1776. The point was that independence was not much of a consideration before that. Clearly after that it was more widely read prior to July 4.

Yes the King’s address was crucial. It reached Cambridge on January 3, 1776. As an Englishman, Paine had a better idea about what the response of the King to the last petition would be. That’s why he rushed to have Common Sense ready for the shock following the news of the coming invasion. The historically unprecedented success of Common Sense in terms of the percentage of the population that read it, and how rapidly that happened was due in large part to Paine’s prescient timing.

While it is true that the Alien and Sedition Acts came later, American independence wouldn’t have become a great event in world history without the values that came with it. Those values were embedded in Common Sense. For instance, Paine wrote of “Securing freedom and property to all men, and above all things, the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience…” Common Sense also made the idea of kingship repugnant to Americans. What would American independence have meant without that component? Even after Paine wrote in Common Sense that “The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind,” and that “We have it in our power to begin the world over again,” Adams wrote Abigail on Feb. 18: “Reconciliation if practicable and Peace if attainable, you very well know would be as agreable [sic] to my Inclinations and as advantageous to my Interest, as to any Man's.”

I am unaware about any threat that Paine issued to Benjamin Towne. Is there a source I can check on that?

J. L. Bell said...

I just don’t think this is how nicknames work. They’re not officially endowed, and there’s no easy way to erase them from a culture. “Colossus of Independence” appeared in many books over many decades before McCullough’s biography. He didn’t originate the mistake of attributing that to Jefferson, as you know; he saw that attribution in many books, and in a pre-Google age it wasn’t an easy claim to check. The phrase will endure.

“Colossus of Independence” is in fact an amalgamation of Jefferson’s “colossus of the floor” and Richard Stockton’s “Atlas of American independence,” reflecting those colleagues’ memories of Adams’s work in the Continental Congress. Even without Adams’s own reminiscences, there’s plenty of evidence to show that he was a major player in the Congress. It’s good not to attribute the phrase to Jefferson, but to say that it shouldn’t apply to Adams at all or that it should apply only to Paine isn’t a matter of fact—it’s a matter of personal opinion.

The king’s address was published in the New-York Gazette on 8 January and the Pennsylvania Evening Post on 9 January. That’s almost exactly the same time that Common Sense was published in Philadelphia. So I’m hard pressed to separate the influence of the two. A third factor that Washington cited as pushing people toward “a separation” in late January 1776 was Royal Navy attacks on American ships.

Are you arguing that Jefferson’s first draft of the Declaration was written to end slavery? Because that goes against the documentary record, his behavior, and what was politically feasible at the time.

There are many mentions of American “independency” in political debates before 1776. Friends of the royal government presented it as a bad outcome that the radical Americans were working toward while those Patriots discussed it as a drastic step they’d rather avoid if they could—but would take if the Crown kept pushing them into it. The shift in 1776 was not toward contemplating independence at all but in contemplating it as a positive good rather than just better than a dire alternative.

I’m sure you don’t mean to quote John Adams out of context in his 18 Feb 1776 letter to Abigail. Immediately after that sentence about reconciliation and peace he wrote: “But I see no Prospect, no Probability, no Possibility.” Those aren’t the words of a man working toward compromise with the Crown.

The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography published an article on Benjamin Towne that discusses his feud with Paine, including Paine’s comment about a “halter.”

David Hurwitz said...

Well, I guess the phrase “Colossus of Independence,” with an attribution to Jefferson will endure as long as historians don’t provide sources for their claims! That quote is a far cry from “Colossus on the floor,” which was recorded in 1824 by Daniel Webster, George Ticknor and Mrs. Ticknor after visiting Jefferson at Monticello. Similarly, on Feb. 19, 1813 Jefferson wrote the following in a letter to William P. Gardner regarding a new publication of the Declaration of Independence: “He was a pillar of it’s support on the floor of Congress, it’s ablest advocate and defender against the multifarious assaults it encountered.”

I think the quotation from Samuel Adams is significant when he writes that Paine’s Common Sense and Crises “unquestionably awakened the public mind and led the people loudly to call for a declaration of our national independence.” That implies that the members of the Continental Congress were responding to the demand for independence created previously largely by Common Sense, and that was a colossal achievement! Of course John Adams was extremely important, but there is profound misrepresentation of the truth by those historians who both praise Adams as the “Colossus of Independence” and dismiss or marginalize Paine’s achievement.

As mentioned previously, the influence of Common Sense and the King’s address are not independent events. Part of Paine’s achievement is that he anticipated what the King would do and he prepared to have Common Sense ready when the people were in shock with the news of the coming army of invasion, and in a state of maximal psychological readiness. They were still loyal subjects to the King before Paine turned that around.

As written, the draft of the Declaration was an abolitionist document. “MEN” was used in caps to make the point clear. John Adams wrote he didn’t object to the abolitionist passage as a member of the drafting committee, but he knew it wouldn’t be approved by the Congress. In 1822 he wrote: "I have long wondered that the original draught has not been published. I suppose the reason is, the vehement Philippic against Negro Slavery.” Support can be drawn from Jefferson’s 1774 “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” where he wrote: “The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state. But previous to the infranchisement [sic] of the slaves we have, it is necessary to exclude all further importations from Africa.” Perhaps Jefferson also knew the passage would be taken out, but did it to blunt the charges of hypocrisy, or to placate the abolitionists. Significantly, the reference to slaves as “MEN” in caps was used in an article written by Paine in 1775.

“The shift in 1776” “contemplating independence as a positive good,” and the attendant values of the American Revolution as quoted previously, in addition to including in America’s founding mission to “receive the fugitive, and prepare in time an asylum for mankind,” was the work of Common Sense! That is what sparked the so-called “Spirit of ‘76”!

The omission of Adams’ “But I see no Prospect…” did not render the quote out of context. To the contrary, it only further emphasizes that Adams did not have the vision or desire that Paine had to “begin the world again.”

The article you mentioned regarding Paine’s commitment to freedom of the press does quote out of context, however. The “halter” comment was preceded by “As to Whitehead Humphreys, I give him my full and free consent to publish whatever…” It wasn’t about “liberty of the press,” but “licentiousness of the press.” Paine expounds on the subject in his “Liberty of the Press” http://bit.ly/2sX65Tv While libel is a crime, I am not myself fully satisfied myself with this answer, and it deserves more consideration within the context of the war and the times. Judging from a modern perspective (or post-modern given that we finance and arm totalitarian regimes), we could even fault him for co-operating with criminals who owned slaves!

J. L. Bell said...

A serious historian has to recognize that the distinction between “liberty of the press” and “licentiousness of the press” is very much in the eyes of the beholder. Paine wrote about a “halter” for a rival printer, a clear threat of violence. It’s true that occurred during a war, just as Adams signed the Sedition Law as the possibility of another war loomed. The Sedition Law was brought up in a comment above to suggest that Adams should not be called a champion of independence twenty years earlier, so yes, Paine’s threat also deserves consideration.

I don’t see how Adams’s statement that he saw “no Prospect, no Probability, no Possibility” of reconciliation with the Crown in February 1776 indicates any lack of vision for America. He didn’t share Paine’s vision, as his 19 March letter makes clear, but he definitely had his own (legalistic, state-based) ideas for the colonies.

The argument that Paine “anticipated” the king’s speech is an interesting hypothesis, and it would be interesting to see what evidence appears for that. It would have to be stronger than the evidence presented that either Jefferson’s “Summary View” or his draft of the Declaration focused on abolishing slavery instead of the slave trade. Abolitionism wasn’t about ending slavery at some unstated distant point in the future.