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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Saturday, September 30, 2017

“Life of Thomas Paine” at Faneuil Hall, 7 Oct.

On Saturday, 7 October, Ian Ruskin will perform his one-person play To Begin the World Over Again: The Life of Thomas Paine in Faneuil Hall.

Ruskin wrote this play with advice from “a distinguished group of Paine scholars,” he says. This will be its Boston debut. Ruskin has performed it in various venues around the world, including most recently in Joe’s Pub at the Public Theater in New York. A filmed version aired on P.B.S. on Independence Day weekend.

Ruskin’s description for his play says:
No other Founding Father was anywhere close to Thomas Paine in his vision of democracy. Paine’s book Common Sense sold hundreds of thousands of copies and everybody read it or had it read to them. It was the spark that ignited the American Revolution and remains in print today over 200 years later. He helped shape our national character and inspires us to be better guardians of that legacy.

Paine based his beliefs on one simple yet powerful idea, “justice for all.” This call resounds in America now, echoing the words of Martin Luther King [actually Theodore Parker]: “the moral arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Today’s political environment, while never specifically mentioned in the play, reminds us to revisit Paine’s words with his calls for the end of slavery and voter suppression, and for a government that cares for its citizens and provides equality for women. In this time of division and despair, we need, more than ever, to hear Paine’s words.
Tickets cost $10-15 and are available through this site. The show is scheduled to run from 7:30 to 9:00 P.M. on 7 October.

Friday, September 29, 2017

The Dangers of the Electoral College

At Politico, Matthew Olsen and Benjamin Haas published an essay titled “The Electoral College Is a National Security Threat”:
In Federalist No. 68, his pseudonymous essay on “The Mode of Electing the President,” Alexander Hamilton wrote that the Electoral College could shield the United States “from the desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” Because of the “transient existence” and dispersed makeup of the electors, he argued, hostile countries would find it too expensive and time-consuming to inject “sinister bias” into the process of choosing a president. . . .

In Hamilton’s day, as he argued, it would have been nearly impossible for a hostile power to co-opt dozens of briefly chosen electors flung across 13 states with primitive roads. But in the social media age, the Electoral College system provides ripe microtargeting grounds for foreign actors who intend to sabotage presidential elections via information and disinformation campaigns, as well as by hacking our voting infrastructure. One reason is that citizens in certain states simply have more voting power than citizens in other states, such as Texas and California. This makes it easier for malign outside forces to direct their efforts.

But what if the national popular vote determined the president instead of the Electoral College? No voter would be more electorally powerful than another. It would be more difficult for a foreign entity to sway many millions of voters scattered across the country than concentrated groups of tens of thousands of voters in just a few states. And it would be more difficult to tamper with voting systems on a nationwide basis than to hack into a handful of databases in crucial swing districts, which could alter an election’s outcome. Yes, a foreign entity could disseminate messages to major cities across the entire country or try to carry out a broad-based cyberattack, but widespread actions of this sort would be not only more resource-intensive, but also more easily noticed, exposed and addressed.
As practical as those arguments are, I think there’s a clearer way that the Electoral College weakens the American republic. Our democratic system is based on what the Declaration of Independence called “the consent of the governed.” That requires every person’s vote to be of equal weight and the aggregate votes to determine the winner.

Out of all the elections in America, only one is set up so that the person who has demonstrably less popular support than an opponent can take office. While that outcome is relatively rare, when it happens the government lacks the consent of the governed and thus the strength of democracy. Faith in the political system weakens, especially if the system offers no way to fix the problem.

Hamilton and his fellow Federalists also argued that the Constitution’s impeachment clause was an important protection for the republic. In Democracy, law professor Sanford Levinson recently discussed problems with how that’s worked out and proposed another approach:
What the United States Constitution needs, and unfortunately does not have, is a provision that allows Congress, by a two-thirds vote, to register their “no-confidence” in an incumbent President that would serve to fire him immediately, without needing a crime or an incapacity as justification. It would be enough to say basically that Congress, no doubt representing their constituents, had become terrified of the lack of judgment displayed by the President.

He or she would most likely be replaced by the Vice President. Even better would be the selection of the new President by the congressional caucus of the President’s own party, followed, perhaps, by a new presidential election the next time we elect members of the House and Senate. This would assure that an opposition party could take over the White House only by winning an election.
That’s a limited form of parliamentary government which would go some way toward making Congress the top branch of the U.S. government again, as the Framers imagined.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Examining Abigail Adams Smith’s Breast Cancer, 3 Oct.

On Tuesday, 3 October, the Thomas Crane Public Library in Quincy will host a panel discussion on “Abigail Adams Smith and the Evolution of the Treatment of Breast Cancer from Colonial America to Today.”

Historical background for the event:
Abigail and John Adams’s daughter Abigail (“Nabby”) Adams Smith, born in Braintree (now Quincy) in 1765, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1810, undergoing a radical mastectomy in 1811. Despite the surgery, cancer spread throughout her body, causing her death at age 48 in 1813. Abigail Adams expressed her grief at the loss of her daughter with the words, “The wound which has lacerated my Bosom cannot be healed.”
The surgeon who performed the operation was Dr. John Warren, whose older brother Joseph had been the Adams family’s physician before the war.

Smith’s case and modern treatment of her condition will be discussed by experts in medicine and the history of medicine:
  • David Jones, M.D., Ph.D., the A. Bernard Ackerman Professor of the Culture of Medicine at Harvard University.
  • Suniti Nimbkar, M.D., FACS, medical director of the Breast Care Center at South Shore Hospital.
This event has been organized by the Abigail Adams Historical Society, stewards of the birthplace of the second First Lady, in partnership with South Shore Hospital's Breast Care Center and the Thomas Crane Public Library.

The discussion is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. in the library’s Community Meeting Room, on the ground floor. It is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Capt. Thomas Preston in Retirement

I’ve been considering this statement about the Boston Massacre, which Caleb Bates, born in Hingham in 1780, gave to the librarian of Harvard University in 1856:

He said he was well acquainted with Miss Troutbeck who resided in Hingham, daughter of the clergyman in Boston, & that they went to Halifax at the evacuation of Boston by the British & that he had many of her letters.

She told him many times that she knew Capt. [Thomas] Preston well when in Halifax, that as newspapers from Boston often came, containing very severe reflections on his conduct on the evening of the 5th of March 1770, he repeatedly said that the Bostonians “wronged” him, he never gave the order to “Fire,” that when the riot broke out he was in his loose gown & slippers sitting by his fire, that he immediately went, at the peril of his life, & did all he could to suppress it, that the truth was there was a great tumult among the people, the rabble calling the troops damned lobster-backs & other hard names, & from the mass went out the word “Fire”, by whom given it was not known, & such was the noise that it could not be known where it originated, some supposing it was given by one person, others by another, & that he had nothing to do with it.
The Troutbeck family did go to Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1776, before moving on to Britain. And they did live in Hingham in the early 1800s. Yesterday I discussed two sisters in that family. The most likely informant was Sarah Troutbeck (1760-1840), who was in her mid-teens during the evacuation.

But was Capt. Thomas Preston in Halifax in 1776? He’s not easy to track after he left Boston, but there’s no sign he was ever in Nova Scotia.

Preston was acquitted of ordering the shooting in the fall of 1770. In the first week of December, Boston newspapers reported, he sailed for London on H.M.S. Glasgow. On 5 Mar 1771, the first anniversary of the Massacre, Secretary of War Barrington wrote to Gen. Thomas Gage, “Captain Preston has had all his expences paid and a Pension of £200 a Year bestowed upon him. He is a perfectly satisfied Man, which is a thing not to be found every Day.”

That might simply have been a promise of a pension since the Parliamentary Register dates Preston’s annual payments (“during pleasure”) from 29 Sept 1772. Edmund E. Everard’s history of the 29th Regiment echoed that figure: “In November [1772] Captain Thomas Preston was granted a pension of £200 a year upon the military establishment of Ireland, in consideration of his faithful services.” Everard also stated that Preston was Irish in origin, aged 43 in December 1773 with eighteen years of army service.

Preston continued to be listed on British Army Lists as a captain in the 29th Regiment until 1774, but by then he must have sold his rank and retired. And he probably retired to Ireland. Sometime between 1783 and 1787 Preston submitted testimony to the Loyalists Commission on behalf of the Boston merchant Gilbert Deblois; at that time he was living on Merrion Street in Dublin.

“Captain Preston” was still receiving £200 per year on the Irish establishment in January 1790, according to a list published in Walker’s Hibernian Magazine.

In 1822, speaking to descendants of Josiah Quincy, Jr., John Adams said that he had once passed Preston on the street in London. That would have been in the 1780s, when Adams was an American diplomat. However, Adams didn’t say that Preston spoke to him about their earlier acquaintance, so the former President could have been mistaken about whom he saw. Adams never mentioned such a meeting in his own writings.

In any event, there’s no evidence to corroborate that Preston was in Halifax during the short period when the Troutbeck family was there, or ever. Perhaps Troutbeck heard these statements from someone else, perhaps she met Preston somewhere else, perhaps Bates’s memory wasn’t as accurate as he thought. But the provenance of this information doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.

Furthermore, the internal evidence of the Troutbeck story renders it dubious. Capt. Preston was “captain of the day” on 5 March 1770, and thus on duty. He would not have been “in his loose gown & slippers sitting by his fire” that evening.

(In addition, the term “lobster-backs” doesn’t appear in authentic sources from Revolutionary America, so far as I can tell. It became popular in histories written in the mid-1800s.)

The basic political points of the Troutbeck anecdote are true: There was fighting between locals and soldiers earlier that night. Capt. Preston did arrive on King Street to find another violent confrontation. He didn’t give the soldiers any order to fire. (After the trial, Pvt. Edward Montgomery reportedly admitted he yelled out the order.) The “loose gown & slippers” is the only aspect of this anecdote that’s new, and that’s the most dubious detail.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Tracking Miss Troutbeck

Yesterday I quoted a description of Capt. Thomas Preston, the British army officer tried for the Boston Massacre, credited to “Miss Troutbeck who resided in Hingham, daughter of the clergyman in Boston.”

I found two women who fit that description, both daughters of the Rev. John Troutbeck, assistant rector at King’s Chapel in Boston from 1755 to 1776, and his wife Sarah. They had seven daughters baptized at the chapel between 1760 and 1774, four dying at young ages.

The extended Troutbeck family evacuated with the British military in March 1776, and the minister died three years later. His widow was unusually active in applying for support as a Loyalist, pursuing debts, and seeking to recover property left by her father in Massachusetts. She came back to the state for a visit in the 1785 and eventually settled permanently, bringing her oldest daughter Sarah, baptized in 1760. According to the Annals of King’s Chapel:
About 1803 or 1804 they found a home in Hingham, occupying the house of General [Benjamin] Lincoln, then collector of the port of Boston; and again, five years after, resided there in the Beal house, and later removed to Dr. [Thomas] Thaxter’s, where they lived till the mother’s death in 1813, at the age of seventy-seven.
Gen. Lincoln’s house appears above.

Meanwhile, in England the Troutbecks’ other daughter, Hannah (1768-1851) married William Bowes (1771-1850), the son of another Loyalist refugee, also named William Bowes (1734-1805). The Annals says:
Their marriage was a clandestine one, on account of the opposition of his father, formerly a Boston merchant, cousin and joint-heir with John Hancock. Having separated from her husband, she came to this country, where she was known only as Miss Troutbeck. . . .

After her mother’s death Miss Troutbeck went to England, where she had previously rejoined her husband after his father’s death, residing for a time with his mother, Mrs. Bowes, at Otterton.
I can’t find any exact statement of when William and Hannah Bowes married. Their first recorded child was Emily, born in London in 1806, who became the mother of the author Edmund Gosse. Two more children were born in 1808 and 1813.

All the Troutbeck women appear to have moved around a lot, propelled by family crises and genteel poverty. In 1829 Sarah Troutbeck wrote to a friend that “About four months back, by the death of a clergyman who had a large fortune and took an interest in us, I came into possession of a comfortable house, ready furnished, for life; and at my death it is to go to my Sister, and then revert to the family from which we receive it.” She died in 1840.

Thus, the most likely “Miss Troutbeck” to have spoken to Caleb Bates in Hingham was Sarah, who lived in that town for about a decade until 1813 and perhaps later. However, it’s also possible that Bates’s informant was Hannah Bowes, using the name “Miss Troutbeck” while living in America apart from her husband.

TOMORROW: Assessing Miss Troutbeck’s story.

Monday, September 25, 2017

A Secondhand Story of Capt. Thomas Preston

On 17 May 1856, John Langdon Sibley, librarian of Harvard University (shown here), recorded this conversation about the Boston Massacre in his private journal:
Saturday. At the bookstore of the Antiquarian S.G. Drake in Boston I met an aged man named Bates, from Hingham. He said he was well acquainted with Miss Troutbeck [?] who resided in Hingham, daughter of the clergyman in Boston, & that they went to Halifax at the evacuation of Boston by the British & that he had many of her letters.

She told him many times that she knew Capt. [Thomas] Preston well when in Halifax, that as newspapers from Boston often came, containing very severe reflections on his conduct on the evening of the 5th of March 1770, he repeatedly said that the Bostonians “wronged” him, he never gave the order to “Fire,” that when the riot broke out he was in his loose gown & slippers sitting by his fire, that he immediately went, at the peril of his life, & did all he could to suppress it, that the truth was there was a great tumult among the people, the rabble calling the troops damned lobster-backs & other hard names, & from the mass went out the word “Fire”, by whom given it was not known, & such was the noise that it could not be known where it originated, some supposing it was given by one person, others by another, & that he had nothing to do with it.

Mr. Bales was intelligent, apparently well educated, & on being questioned repeated his statements without any essential modification & without any confusion.
Harvard’s online transcript renders the aged man’s name in two ways: Bates and Bales. But we have more information from Frederic Kidder, who followed up on this story to record a version in his History of the Boston Massacre (1870). He identified the man as “the late Caleb Bates, Esq., of Hingham.”

A man of that name was born in Hingham in 1780 and died in 1857. At a meeting of the New England Historical and Genealogical Society soon after his death, Bates was recalled as “a man of great probity and of marked individuality of character, with a strong love for historical studies, and a great fund of information upon local and general history.” A longer profile appeared in the society’s Memorial Biographies, noting Bates’s “wonderful memory” and “keen relish for historical studies.”

Bates’s story about Capt. Preston was only as reliable as his informant, of course. So who was “Miss Troutbeck”?

TOMORROW: The clergyman’s daughters.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

“Fight or Flight” at Loring Greenhough House, 30 Sept.

[ADDENDUM: This event has been canceled because of volunteer organizers’ family responsibilities.]

On Saturday, 30 September, the Loring Greenough House in Jamaica Plain will host “Fight or Flight,” a recreation of householders Joshua and Mary Loring’s departure in 1774.

The event starts at 11:00 A.M. as visitors are invited to tour the Loring Mansion. In the following hour, “Mary and servants consider packing, 18th-century friends and relations (and curious onlookers) will gather on the lawn, offering opinions and pleading their case.’ Visitors can hear and enter into the debate on the state of post-“Powder Alarm” politics and what friends of the royal government like Commodore Loring should do.

At 1:00 P.M. [spoiler!] the Loring family departs for Boston, unaware that they’ll never see this home again. At 2:00 interpreters gather “at the recreated 18th-century Bunch of Grapes Tavern to discuss the fate of the Lorings’ abandoned property.” That is followed by an auction. Children’s games and carriage rides will also be going on.

This event is free to all. It’s scheduled to last from 11:00 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. The Loring Greenough House is at 12 South Street in Jamaica Plain.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Fall Events at the American Antiquarian Society

The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester has a full schedule of events coming up. Here are those touching on the eighteenth century.

Tuesday, 26 September, 7:00 P.M.
Politeness and Public Life in Early America—and Today
Steven C. Bullock
Long before current fears about incivility in public life—before anxieties about Twitter-shaming and cable-news name-calling—politeness was very much on the minds of American leaders. Eighteenth-century leaders like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin considered politeness an essential part of a free society, a part of the larger project of challenging authoritarian rule. Drawing upon his new book Tea Sets and Tyranny, this lecture examines why civility seemed so important in early America—and why it seems so problematic today.

Tuesday, 3 October, 7:00 P.M.
A Revolution of Her Own!
Judith Kalaora
In 1782, Deborah Sampson bound her chest, tied back her hair, and enlisted in the Continental Army. This one-person play, written and performed by Judith Kalaora, recreates Sampson’s arduous upbringing, active combat, and success as the first female professional soldier. Judith Kalaora is an actress, educator, and historical interpreter. She has worked on stages from London to Montreal and across the United States.

Thursday, 12 October, 7:00 P.M.
Thundersticks
David J. Silverman
The adoption of firearms by American Indians between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries marked a turning point in the history of North America's indigenous peoples—a cultural earthquake so profound that its impact has yet to be adequately measured. This lecture, based upon the book Thundersticks: Firearms and the Violent Transformation of Native America, explores how the embracing of firearms by Native Americans transformed their cultures and empowered them to pursue their interests and defend their political and economic autonomy for over two centuries.

Thursday, 26 October, 7:00 P.M.
Minutemen Revisited—the thirteenth annual Robert C. Baron Lecture
Robert A. Gross
In this lecture, A.A.S. member Robert Gross will discuss his 1976 Bancroft Prize-winning book, The Minutemen and Their World. Providing a provocative and compelling look at the everyday lives of New England farmers and their community as they rebelled against Great Britain, The Minutemen and Their World was reissued in a 25th-anniversary edition in 2001. Gross will reflect on the conception of this ground-breaking work and its ongoing impact on scholarship and society.

Tuesday, 7 November, 7:00 P.M.
Second Revolutions: Thomas Jefferson and Haiti
James Alexander Dun
Jefferson’s defeat of John Adams in the election of 1800 represented a peaceful transfer of power and signaled the onset of a more unified polity. This lecture, base upon the book Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America, examines how the Jeffersonian victory took place on more than one front. Other more radical agendas for change were quashed as well at that moment, including that of Toussaint Louverture, leader of the nearly-independent French colony of Saint Dominque.
All these events are free. Parking is on the nearby streets. Seating is first-come, first-served.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Elias Boudinot’s Story of Gunpowder and Spying

In his memoirs of the Revolution, New Jersey politician Elias Boudinot included this ancedote, headlined “Scarcity of Powder at Boston”:
When our Army lay before Boston in 1775, our Powder was so nearly Expended, That General [George] Washington told me that he had not more than Eight Rounds a Man, Altho’ he had then near 14 miles of line to guard, and that he dare not fire an Evening or Morning Gun.

In this situation one of the Committee of Safety for Massachusetts, who was privy to the whole secret, deserted and went over to Genl [Thomas] Gage, and discovered our poverty to him.
This was apparently how Boudinot understood the story of Dr. Benjamin Church’s treachery. Church had indeed been a member of the Massachusetts Committee of Safety, and in that position had shared crucial information with Gen. Gage in early 1775. (I wrote about his disclosures in The Road to Concord.)

However, Church didn’t cross to the British side of the siege lines with news of the gunpowder shortfall. Instead, he was exposed and confined in Cambridge around the end of September.

Dr. Church had sent written messages into Boston during the siege, including one that traveled by Washington’s own secret communications channel. But it appears that Church never informed Gage about the Continentals’ gunpowder problem. In the letter that was deciphered and exposed him, Church told a British contact exactly the opposite, exaggerating the Continental supply:
Twenty tons of powder lately arrived at Philadelphia, Connecticut & Providence. Upwards of 20 tons are now in camp. Salt petre is made in every colony. Powder mills are erected and constantly employed in Philadelphia & New York.
Church even used those words at his trial to argue that he was trying to fool the British command, concealing the harmful information. However, Church had written that letter in July, weeks before the gunpowder shortage was recognized.

Of course, Washington and his fellow generals had to wonder if Church had disclosed their crucial secret in another way. Furthermore, Benjamin Thompson, who had been traveling around the siege lines, did desert to the British that fall; he didn’t know about the gunpowder, but the Continentals didn’t know he didn’t know. So Washington had to assume the worst and hope for the best, waiting for the British to act.

Here’s how Boudinot continued the story:
The fact [of the gunpowder shortage] was so incredible, That Genl Gage treated it as a stratagem of war, and the informant as a spy: or coming with the express purpose of deceiving him & drawing his Army into a snare, by which means we were saved from having our Quarters beaten up.—
There was no way for Boudinot or Washington to know how Gage responded to Church’s messages, Thompson, or any other intelligence source. They were, after all, on opposite sides of the war. Boudinot’s story about Gage looks like an assumption made to explain why the British weren’t more aggressive in the fall of 1775.
I was the chairman of the Committee of safety at Elizabeth Town, and had about six or Seven Quarter Casks of Powder, which on urgent application from Genl Washington were sent to Boston, with what could be spared from New York.
Boudinot could thus feel good about helping to prevent the British from “beating up” the Americans around Boston. But in fact by that time both Gage and his successor, Gen. William Howe, had given up on breaking out of Boston by land. Washington feared an attack that would never come, based on a disclosure that never happened.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Charles E. Frye on Rediscovering Colonial Roads

Charles E. Frye is writing the novel series Duty in the Cause of Liberty to share the story of his ancestor Isaac Frye of Wilton, New Hampshire. You can read more about the project in this interview at Written by Veterans.

Frye, a professional cartographer, is taking a very data-driven approach to this story. On his website he’s mapped out his protagonist’s home neighborhood in Wilton and the territory he traveled over as a Continental officer during the war. In this blog post Frye describes how he developed those maps and what he learned by doing so.

An extract:
As I began to trace Isaac Frye’s path during the American Revolution, I needed to know where he had been, and how he got there. I also needed a map to “pin” that information to. To my surprise, many records only showed where he had been, rarely conveyed his mode of travel, and almost never indicated the specific route he took.

Thus, I undertook to find a preponderance of evidence to plausibly describe how and where he traveled. In my years of reading and research, I learned two most important things:
  1. Despite not having Google Maps, smart phones, or even a current printed map (which rarely had accurate roads) to get directions, colonial Americans made it their business to know the best and fastest routes between destinations. Time was money back then too, and nobody had enough of either to waste. Time and again journals kept by soldiers and and army suppliers described routes not shown on any maps, though these routes were are often described in town histories in the sections dealing with public improvements.
  2. The network of extended family and friends in the places where one often traveled mattered a great deal when it came time to plan to sleep each night with a roof over one’s head and draught animals cared for.
I also learned that roads today are not always where the roads used to be. A great many of today’s roads are possible because of advances in excavation and grading equipment. Thus, colonial roads were not nearly as level or straight as we are accustomed to.

To learn exactly where those old roads were located, there is no substitute for getting out on the landscape and walking the terrain. The remnants of stone walls (usually built in the early 1800s) are often the best clue. Once you know what you’re looking for, a sense for what a wagon or team of oxen drawing a sled could traverse in terms of slope and tightness of curves can be gained.
Frye aligned a modern digital base map with period maps by matching a handful of known points. But those period maps, while valuable, weren’t rigorously accurate or complete. You can compare a printed map of Wilton from 1784, showing four roads from the town center, to Frye’s map, with many more paths that Isaac Frye and his neighbors used.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Finding Revolutionary Massachusetts Legislative Records Online

Back in 2014 I wrote about finally finding online copies of the journals of the Massachusetts House through the HathiTrust.

Though the books themselves were online at long last, it wasn’t that easy to find particular volumes. But HathiTrust is a vast, changing resources. Here are some updated pages to start from.

For the bulk of eighteenth-century Massachusetts House records, volumes 1-50 and 52-55 covering 1715 to 1779, start at this page. Be aware that the system still has trouble searching those volumes because they’re facsimiles of surviving eighteenth-century books, complete with damaged type, lots of italics, and the long s. The indexes are often good entrance points.

What about volume 51? That volume records the legislative year 1775-76, so it’s kind of crucial. Fortunately, the three installments of that year’s journal can be accessed from this page.

From late 1774 to early 1776, there were two rival governments in Massachusetts:
  • royal governor Thomas Gage and the mandamus Council in Salem and then Boston, and then Gen. William Howe as military commander of Boston, with the mandamus Council meeting briefly under Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver.
  • the Massachusetts Provincial Congress convened outside of Boston, its executive function exercised between sessions by the Committee of Safety, until a new General Court was elected in the summer of 1775.
Each of those governments maintained records in the usual manner to uphold its claim to be legitimate, and those records are also available online.

For the Provincial Congress and its committees, as well as county conventions, the standard source is William Lincoln’s Journals of Each Provincial Congress of Massachusetts, published in 1838. Here’s a portal to that volume. It’s also available in full on Google Books.

As for the royal Council, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts published a transcription of its records in the 1930s, and recently made all its publications available online. Here’s the volume with “Documents Relating to the Last Meetings of the Massachusetts Royal Council, 1774–1776” starting at page 460.

(The picture above also comes courtesy of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, sharing this article by the late Abbott Lowell Cummings. It’s a 1751 engraving produced by Thomas Dawes and Nathaniel Hurd of the building where the Massachusetts legislature met for most of the eighteenth century, now called the Old State House.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Charles Lee and a “distemper’d brain”

In a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia dated 19 Sept 1775, Gen. Charles Lee complained about the Continental Army’s New England troops. And then he complained about Rush’s colleagues at the Continental Congress. And then he complained about how he was supposed to be addressed. Gen. Lee saw a lot to complain about that day.

Lee’s letter started with a mention of action at “Bunker’s Hill,” but he didn’t mean the big battle in June. In late August the wing of the army under his command had pressed forward to fortify Ploughed Hill, closer to the British fort on Bunker’s. That produced some firing back and forth. The fact that the Continentals had taken and held that position was the first significant movement in the siege for weeks, and enough for supporters to celebrate.

Gen. Lee, of course, complained:
I am extremely sorry that your Philadelphians have been buoy’d up with the news of so complete a victory, and more so that I am the Hero who have gain’d it—When men fall from great expectations, They are apt to esteem themselves deceiv’d by those who have been the reputed actors of the things They wish’d, altho’ They had no hand in raising these expectations—Not a syllable of the Bunker’s Hill seduction and victory has the least foundation in truth, indeed from all appearances not all the astutia [cleverness] of Hanibal or Sertorius wou’d draw ’em from their nest—

let me communicate to you my sentiments, but at the same time I must desire you to be secret. I think then We might have attack’d em long before this and with success, were our Troops differently constituted—but the fatal perswasion has taken deep root in the minds of the Americans from the highest to the lowest order that they are no match for the Regulars, but when cover’d by a wall or breast work. This notion is still further strengthen’d by the endless works We are throwing up—in short unless we can remove the idea (and it must be done by degrees) no spirited action can be ventur’d on without the greatest risk—

to inculcate a different way of thinking, to inspire ’em with some confidence pugnando manibus [in hand combat], I first propos’d a body of spearmen for each Regiment at Philadelphia, and I cou’d perceive that the proposal appear’d to many to be the production of a distemper’d brain; but I am afraid They may find to their cost some time or other that the principle was sound, and that They will suffer by not adopting it.

You alarm me extremely in expressing apprehensions of divisions starting up amongst the members of the Congress. Good Gods, I was in hopes that we shou’d reap the full harvest Which We have sown with such infinite pains and labor. (I agree with you entirely in the opinion that they ought (at least half of them) to be changed annually.)

I condemn with you the barbarous, dangerous custom of loading the Servants of the People with the trappings of Court Titles. I cannot conceive who the Devil first devis’d the bauble of Excellency for their Commander in Chief, or the more ridiculous of His Honour for me—Upon my Soul They make me spew—even the tacking honorable to the Continental Congress creates a wambling in my stomack—What cou’d add dignity to the simple title of the Continental Congress of America, as long as they do their duty? And the instant They grow corrupt or slavish from timidity all the rumbling sounds of honorable, serene, mighty, sublime, or magnanimous, will only make their infamy more infamous.
Lee then went on for even longer about John Adams’s recently intercepted comments about him and his dogs, about why dogs were superior, and about an imagined moment of John Dickinson being “pelted with oranges.”

In his recent biography of Lee, Renegade Revolutionary, Phillip Pappas writes that the general “evidenced classic signs of what modern psychiatry would classify as manic-depressive (or bipolar disorder).” This letter appears to be from one of his up moods.

Monday, September 18, 2017

“Mr. Cleaveland’s moral, Christian and ministerial character”

Yesterday we left the Rev. John Cleaveland, Jr., at odds with his Stoneham neighbors in 1794. The trouble was his second marriage to young Elizabeth Evans, until recently his housekeeper and apparently not even a dedicated member of the church.

As the Congregational Library says in its description of meetinghouse records from Stoneham: “While the church chose to support Cleaveland, the town did not, and both Cleaveland and the church building itself were targets of the town’s ire.” Not to mention the minister’s horse.

At the end of September 1794, after months of feuding, an ecclesiastical council of ministers from other towns came to work out the dispute. The congregation had to borrow money from two members to lodge and feed those ministers, one reason why they may have delayed that step for so long.

In his History of Stoneham William B. Stevens reported that council found:
1. That Mr. Cleaveland’s influence among this people is lost, and irrecoverably lost, and that it has become necessary that his ministerial connection with them be dissolved, and it is the advice of this council that he ask a dismission from his pastoral relations to them.

2. It appears from the fullest and they trust from the most impartial examination of the subject of which they are capable, that Mr. Cleaveland has given no just cause for that aversion and opposition to him which in so violent, and very unprecedented a manner they have displayed.

3. It appears to this council that Mr. Cleaveland’s moral, Christian and ministerial character stands fairly and firmly supported, and they cordially recommend him to the church and people of God wherever in the Providence of God he may be cast.

4. As Mr. Cleaveland has given to this people no just cause for that opposition to him which they discover, and which renders his removal from them necessary, and as his removal must be attended by great inconvenience and expense to him, it is the opinion of this council that he ought to receive a compensation, and they recommend it to the parties concerned to choose mutually three judicious, impartial characters from some of the neighboring towns to estimate the damage to which Mr. Cleaveland is subjected by his removal. . . .

Finally the council deeply impressed with the singular sacrifice which Mr. Cleaveland’s friends make in parting with their valuable and beloved pastor beg leave to exhort them to acknowledge the hand of God in this afflicting Providence as becomes Christians; to maintain the order of Christ’s house, and with unremitting ardor promote the interest of His kingdom.
In other words, no recriminations, please. I can’t tell if the Stoneham meeting gave Cleaveland a generous severance package as the council recommended. He preached his last sermon at the end of October—and then published the text. It included lines like, “people who have rejected a faithful watchman, will have a most dreadful account to give in the great day.” So there were some recriminations on his part.

Over the next few years Cleaveland worked a visiting minister at various meetinghouses. This had the advantage of letting him recycle his sermons for new audiences. Yale reports that one of his compositions “was first given at Newburyport on June 25, 1797, and then given twice more at Chebacco [another name for Essex, his home town] and Topsfield in 1797, at Medway in 1798, and at Medfield and Attleboro in 1799.”

In June 1798 the Rev. John Cleaveland finally secured a permanent pulpit at a new parish in Wrentham, which has since become Norfolk. Until the meetinghouse was finished he preached in the house shown above, photo courtesy of the town.

He became known for his very regular habits, devoting “two afternoons, weekly, to systematic visitation of his people.” In addition:
He was remarkably punctual; so much so, that when he found he was likely to arrive at the meeting-house five minutes too soon, he would walk his horse, so as invariably to reach the door within three minutes of the time.
Cleaveland preached in Wrentham until his death in 1815. The Rev. Nathaniel Emmons spoke at his funeral, a sign that Cleaveland was a traditionalist. His sermons now rest with his father’s in the Manuscripts and Archives Department of the library at Yale, the college he had never been able to attend. [I worked in that department as a student years ago.]

As for Elizabeth Cleaveland, she remained at the minister’s side until his death. They never had children (nor did he have any by his first wife). After being widowed, Elizabeth Cleaveland married another minister, the Rev. Walter Harris of Dunbarton, New Hampshire. Like her first husband, he was a Continental Army veteran, having served three years as a fifer from Connecticut. By the time Elizabeth Harris died in 1829, later authors agreed, she had become as pious as the people of Stoneham could have wished.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Difficult Career of the Rev. John Cleaveland, Jr.

John Cleaveland was born in the part of Ipswich that’s now Essex in 1750. He was the son and namesake of the town minister.

John, Jr., apparently grew up expecting to study at Yale, where his father had graduated five years before his birth. But that didn’t work out.

Mortimer Blake’s A Centurial History of the Mendon Association of Congregational Ministers (1853) said Cleaveland had a younger brother and “the father being unable to support both in college, decided to treat both alike, and give them the best education he could.”

However, Yale’s library catalogue says there were three younger brothers, two becoming doctors and one dying young, as well as three sisters. And John Cleaveland, Jr., was “debarred by his health from completing his education” at that college.

For whatever reason, the younger John Cleaveland never graduated from Yale. Indeed, he may never have entered. In 1773 he married a woman named Abigail Adams in his father’s home town of Canterbury, Connecticut. Two years later John joined Col. Moses Little’s regiment of the Continental Army, for which his father was chaplain.

After the war, John, Jr., studied theology on his own. Finally in 1785, at the age of thirty-five, he was ordained in Stoneham. His tenure there was peaceful until June 1793, when Abigail Cleaveland died.

Or more precisely, the Rev. Mr. Cleaveland’s tenure was peaceful until January 1794, when he married Elizabeth Evans, his young housekeeper. Even in a society that wanted ministers to be married, some people thought six months was too soon. What’s more, there were doubts about the new Mrs. Cleaveland’s faith. “She was not pious,” Blake wrote. “This marriage with a non-professor, troubled some pious minds at Stoneham.”

Most important church members stood by their pastor. Their opponents therefore resorted to unorthodox means of showing their disapproval. According to William B. Stevens’s 1891 History of Stoneham:
At one time they nailed up the door of the minister’s pew, at another, covered the seat and chairs and the seat of the pulpit with tar. Not content with these indignities against the pastor, some one vented the general spite by inflicting an injury upon his horse, probably by cutting off his tail.

The church stood by him, but the town voted to lock and fasten up the meeting-house against him, so that for a time public worship was held at the house of Deacon Edward Bucknam. They refused to raise his salary, requested him to relinquish his ministry and leave the town, declined to furnish any reason, and rejected his proposition to call a council…
TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Constitution Day in the North End, 17 Sept.

Sunday, 17 September, is Constitution Day because that’s the anniversary of when the remaining members of the Constitutional Convention signed their proposal for a new national governmental structure.

Of course, that document had no legal standing at that time. It didn’t become the blueprint for the U.S. of A.’s government until it was ratified in the summer of 1788. But the ratification date is harder to pin down—was the crucial moment New Hampshire’s conditional approval as the ninth state on 21 June, or Virginia’s on 25 June, or New York’s on 26 July?

In any event, the Edes & Gill Print Shop and its host, Old North Church, are celebrating Constitution Day on Sunday with a free, family-friendly event from 2:00 to 4:00. There will be “hands-on activities, including postcard stamping, quill-writing and typesetting demonstrations.”

At 2:30 P.M., printer Gary Gregory will speak about the first printing of the proposed Constitution in Boston by Benjamin Edes. In addition to that text, Edes’s pamphlet included the convention’s resolution urging the American people to ratify the document and elect a President, and a letter from George Washington to the Continental Congress describing these steps as a way to consolidate the union.

The pamphlet went on sale at Edes’s shop on Marlborough Street (later renamed Washington Street) and Edward E. Powars’s printshop opposite the courthouse. Powars was then the publisher of the American Herald while Edes was still putting out the Boston Gazette.

Gregory and his staff are reprinting that pamphlet, setting the type and working the press by hand. Copies of that form of the Constitution will eventually be available for sale, though not at this event (as initially hoped).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Revolutionary Children in Cambridge, 16 Sept.

Tomorrow is Cambridge Discovery Day, when the city’s historical commission promotes a day of free walking tours in various neighborhoods (full schedule in this P.D.F. download).

At 3:00 I’ll kick off a tour called “Children of the Revolution: Boys & Girls in Cambridge During the Siege of Boston.” The description explains:

Children comprised more than half the population of colonial New England. Not only did they get caught up in the start of the Revolution, but some were drawn into the action. Hear the stories of boys and girls from 1774-1776—political refugees, members of the army, servants in the houses of generals, and more.
I’ll focus on the territory around Harvard Square, which was the center of Cambridge in the 1770s. We’ll start at the Tory Row marker on the corner of Brattle and Mason Streets, shown here.

One child I’ll talk about is John Skey Eustace. He was fifteen when he arrived in Cambridge in December 1775. He had been sent north by Gov. Dunmore of Virginia.

Why, you might ask, had the royal governor of Virginia, then on the run from rebels and forming an army of men escaping from enslavement, sent a teenager up to Massachusetts? Well, John Skey Eustace’s story starts with the story of his older sister Catherine, called Kitty.

Kitty Eustace had become Lord Dunmore’s mistress when she was still a teenager and he was governor of New York in 1770. On gaining his post in Virginia the next year, Dunmore arrived with Kitty’s little brother in tow. He arranged for young John’s education, first with a tutor and then at the College of William & Mary.

Meanwhile, Kitty Eustace married Dr. John Blair, a Virginian, which brought her conveniently close to the governor. After only a couple of years the Blairs’ marriage dissolved into lawsuits, which you can read more about in John L. Smith’s Journal of the American Revolution article “The Scandalous Divorce Case that Influenced the Declaration of Independence” and George Morrow’s little book A Cock and Bull for Kitty.

In late 1775, Gov. Dunmore sent John Skey Eustace on a ship to Boston with a letter to Gen. William Howe recommending him for a post in the British army. But the American commodore John Manley captured that ship. That’s how the fifteen-year-old ended up being marched to the headquarters of Gen. George Washington, the opposing commander-in-chief. What happened next? I’ll talk about that tomorrow.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

“Coming to Terms” Conference Coming in November 2018

On 8-10 Nov 2018, the McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware will host a conference on “Coming to Terms? Confronting War and Peace through the Visual and Material in the Atlantic World, 1651-1865.”

The conference committee has issued this call for papers:
How does war end and who ends it? Historians often turn to diplomacy and formal politics to answer this question. It is clear, however, that a much broader population, both military and civilian, shape the outcome of wars. Yet there has been little systematic research on the roles of ordinary people in these processes. This conference will explore the processes that exist between treaty-making and memory-making, interrogating the messy, uncoordinated ways in which individuals, communities, nations, and empires come to terms with the meanings of war and the promises of peace. This conference seeks to gather historians, art historians, literary scholars, archivists and curators to answer these important questions.

We invite proposals for a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary conference. We seek papers that privilege the object and the image in order to examine how material and visual culture shaped the making and meaning of war and peace. This focus on the material and visual allows us to investigate the ethical questions and emotional implications posed by the object and the image. We encourage paper proposals on topics such as (but not limited to):
  •  Individual responses to war (emotional, intellectual, political, aesthetic and physical) that were enabled, mediated or amplified by image and/or objects.
  • Collective responses of communities (local, class-based, race-based, gender-based, regional) to former enemies both local and distant and how these responses shaped landscapes of nationalism and empire.
  • Explorations as to whether military and civilians, as well as men, women, and children approach the process of coming to terms with war differently.
The conference committees invites scholars in all disciplines at all levels to submit proposals for papers to mceas@ccat.sas.upenn.edu no later than 30 Sept 2017. Those proposals should include a prospectus of no more than 300 words and a one-page curriculum vitae, together in one P.D.F. document labeled with the proposer’s surname. The top of the first page should state the author’s name, paper title, institutional affiliation, and email address. Decisions will be made by the end of the year.

Final papers should be about 7,500 words and delivered by 1 Oct 2018. They will be made available to attendees in advance through a password-protected website, and at the conference presenters will deliver only brief oral summaries of their work to leave more time for discussion.

In addition to the discussion panels built around those papers, the conference will include a keynote address by Prof. Leora Auslander of the University of Chicago, a “plenary workshop on the ways in which boundaries between war and peace are drawn up,” and break-out sessions on how to teach material and visual culture.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Interview with Jefferson Scholar Annette Gordon-Reed

The Harvard Gazette shared an extraordinary interview with university law and history professor Annette Gordon-Reed.

She talks about experiences ranging from being the first black student at her East Texas elementary school to running from the World Trade Center complex during the 2001 terrorist attack.

Here are portions of Gordon-Reed’s thoughts on how Thomas Jefferson was a slaveholder and the Adams family were not:
I suppose I have come to know different Jeffersons as I have become different myself, because you notice different things as you get older. And after working on “Most Blessed Patriarchs: Thomas Jefferson and the Empire of the Imagination,” with my co-author Peter Onuf, I tend to notice vulnerability more than I did before. The book is about him through his entire life, but I would say the perspective is from the older guy looking back over his life, and from that perspective you realize how hard it is to do things.

The Jefferson that I see now is more vulnerable. When I was younger, I saw Jefferson as more powerful than any normal human being. And that tendency to attribute supernatural powers to him helps account for a lot of the anger that people have about him: “Why didn’t you end slavery? Why didn’t you do something about slavery?” And then you think about someone who was a lawyer, a governor, a revolutionary, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, was an ambassador, who was a vice president, who was a president, who founded a university, and then you say, “And why didn’t you end slavery?”

I think about the people who say that, and I think about myself. What is it that I’ve done that approaches all of that? And in asking that question, I now see him with a bit more humility, recognizing how hard it is to do anything, how hard it is to accomplish things. . . . The goal for the last book was to try to understand him on his own terms, to accept the problematic aspects of his life and work, but to also have a degree of humility in looking at a historical figure who didn’t have the advantages that we have in understanding the world. I am much more concerned about people today who harbor racial sentiments that are destructive, who have had a chance to learn more than somebody who was born in 1743. . . .

I think it’s comparatively easy to be John Adams when it’s not a slave society [in Massachusetts] and there’s no huge population of blacks. It’s not what whites do when there are one or two black people; it’s what they do when there are large numbers of black people, and that is in operation today. John Adams did not grow up in a slave society. He didn’t have the same things at stake.

There’s a famous letter Abigail Adams writes about seeing “Othello” for the first time, in which she expresses revulsion at the idea of this black person with this white person. Their son, John Quincy, wrote a review of the play as an older man in which he basically said: “Desdemona deserved to die.” And abolitionist Fanny Kemble mentions Adams at a dinner party essentially saying she deserved to die for marrying “a nigger.”

So you honor John Quincy for being a great champion of [abolishing] slavery but recognize that he was also stone racist. That’s a contradiction I think people may not know. A lot of these people had really conflicted views about race. Unlike Jefferson, John Quincy tried to do something about it as a member of the House of Representatives. But he was really, really racist.
Of all the Adams family, John Quincy commented most explicitly and unfavorably on Jefferson’s relationship with Sally Hemings. It apparently bothered him not just because of the man’s old rivalry with his father but also because of his prejudices.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Election Day in Early America

It’s an Election Day in the city where I live, so I’m linking to Rosemarie Zagarri’s essay “What Did Democracy Look Like? Voting in Early America” at Mapping Early American Elections, a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

Zagarri writes:
There was, for example, no uniformly established day on which to hold elections. In New England and New York, for example, elections tended to occur in the spring for legislative gatherings that would convene later in the year. In the Mid-Atlantic states and Upper South elections were often held in the late summer or the early fall. . . .

Whenever they occurred, elections did not necessarily take place over the course of a single day. The sheriff, or other local election official, could if he so wished either extend or shorten the amount of time in which the polls were open. If, for example, excessive rains and flooding made it difficult for voters from an outlying area to reach the polling site, the clerk might keep the poll open for two-to-three days—or in some cases, even a week, so that anyone who wanted to vote might do so. A corrupt official, on the other hand, might choose to prematurely close the polls to prevent certain voters from reaching the site in time.

Elections were communal affairs, sometimes with celebratory overtones, sometimes with more ominous overtones. Elections could be held at almost any public venue—from a town hall to a courthouse to a church or tavern. Arriving at the site, electors often confronted a “tumultuous assemblage of men,” as Richard Henry Lee put it, where people milled about—talking, arguing, and sometimes, drinking. In the North, where elections were more sober affairs, women and children might be present, bringing with them “election cakes,” baked especially for the occasion.

Actually casting the ballot was a kind of public performance. By 1800, most states, with the exception of Virginia and Kentucky, had moved from oral voting (viva voce) to the secret, written ballot. Nonetheless, electors often found themselves at the center of public attention. When they cast their ballots, voters moved one-by-one to the front of a line, under the close scrutiny of other members of the community. They sometimes had to mount a number of steps to reach an elevated dais. There they would place their folded ballot in a slot in a wooden ballot box. Many individuals, including their creditors, patrons, or other powerful individuals, looked on as they did so.

During the colonial period, most colonies, like Great Britain, had required that electors possess property—typically either a fifty-acre freehold or land worth fifty shillings. Although voting qualifications varied from state-to-state, by 1800 a majority of states had lowered, or even dropped, property requirements for voting. Throughout the country, perhaps 80% of all adult white males were eligible to vote. In New Jersey from 1776 to 1807, women were actually allowed to vote on the same terms as men. Only three states—Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia—explicitly confined the vote to white males. There were no voter registration rolls. Electors simply declared that they had met the suffrage requirements for that state. If someone doubted the voter’s eligibility, they would declare their objections to the officials. The individual’s ballot would be set aside, for further investigation. Though not overt, then, the pressure to vote for a certain candidate was often unmistakable.
(The picture above is John Lewis Krimmell’s “Election Day at the [Philadelphia] State House” from 1815.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Fake News from Overseas in 1777

On 17 June 1777, the young Rev. John Eliot wrote from Boston to his New Hampshire friend and colleague, the Rev. Jeremy Belknap.

Eliot’s letter discussed, among other topics, foreign press coverage of the ongoing Revolution:
We have here among us some Irish Magazines which Capt [Samuel] Smedly took lately [in a naval capture]. I wish you could see them. There is plenty of matter edifying & entertaining. Your brother & I think them far beyond any thing of the kind that we have seen. But ye reason of my mentioning them at this time is to let you know how they speak of our politicians & hero’s. They appear to be friend[s] to America & say much in our praise; but they seem to be very much mistaken in ye Characters, or else speak contrary, from their Hibernian dialect.

The frontispiece is the President of our Continental Congress [John Hancock]. It is said he is a person of surprising eloquence, a fine writer, argumentative & cool, as may be seen in the addresses of the Congress, all which were penned by him; that he hath lately married one of the most accomplished ladies on the continent, who has bro’t him a great addition to his paternal fortune. So much for him.
Okay, to get the joke you really had to be there—in Revolutionary Boston. Because Eliot, Belknap, and all the other learned young gentlemen in their circle knew that Hancock was no writer. The biggest piece of eloquence in his name was his Massacre oration of 1774, which the Rev. Samuel Cooper and others had written for him. As chairman of the Congress, Hancock simply signed what other delegates wrote. Furthermore, his father had left no fortune (he inherited from an uncle), and his wife was from the poorer branch of the Quincy family.

Likewise:
Mr S[amuel]. Adams is a gentleman who hath sacrificed an immense fortune in the service of his country. He is an orator likewise, & there is a famous oration upon the independance of America, which, it is said, he delivered at Philadelphia, January, 1776, but which was never seen in America before.
Adams never had “an immense fortune,” and his moderate inheritance was gone long before the Revolutionary turmoil. He also wasn’t a great public speaker because of a tremor that could affect his throat; I discussed that putative oration last month.
General [George] Washington, they say, was first a private in the King’s Guards, & fought against the Rebels in [the Jacobite uprising of] 1745. Afterwards he went to America, & was promoted till he rose to be the accomplished gentleman the world now views him.
We all know Washington was born in Virginia, never went to Britain, never served in the regular British army, and never was a private past the age of eighteen.
Old [Israel] Putnam was a long time in the service of the King of Prussia.
Putnam had seen military action from Fort Detroit to Cuba, but never under the Prussian king.
In short, if you had nothing to judge from but the Characters, you would suppose it to be entirely burlesque. But from the whole of the Magazine you must impute it to ignorance. It is my own opinion that some Irishmen set down & conjectured what might be the characters of the American worthies, & dealt them out according to his own sentiments.

The most surprising circumstance is that they suppose Major [Robert] Rogers is a general in our army, & that he left the British service upon the disgust he took at his treatment some years ago. After giving his general character, they enlarge upon the ingratitude of Britain in treating such men as he, [Charles] Lee, [Richard] Montgomery, &c., in such a manner.
At the start of the war Rogers concealed his loyalties, but by 1777 Americans knew he was back with the British. Evidently the editors of this Irish magazine didn’t.

Finally, Eliot closed with a little personal news:
These things have diverted me during my confinement, which has been off & on these three weeks, owing to lameness. I was so terribly galled by a hard trotting horse sometimes that I could scarcely walk for a week, & when I did walk it was in such a manner that I was obliged to tie a handkerchief round my leg to save appearances. The next week a bad sore came in that very place where the hankerchief was tied. And last night, when my leg had got pretty well, I sprained my knee, & am unable to stir out of my chair today, & am in great pain. It would divert you to see me, however.
The picture above is a portrait of Gen. Washington, not taken from life at all but published in Germany during the war to satisfy public interest, courtesy of the New York Public Library.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

American Revolution Conference at Fort Ticonderoga, 22-24 Sept.

On 22-24 September, Fort Ticonderoga will host its fourteenth annual Seminar on the American Revolution, focusing on “the military, political, and social history of the American War for Independence.”

These seminars attract more than a hundred historians, researchers, reenactors, educators, and others interested in the Revolution. Presentations take place in the Mars Education Center under a wing of the fort.

I attended a smaller symposium there in August and had a fine time learning from the presentations and exhibits and chatting with other participants. And of course it’s a handsome setting.

This year’s presenters are:
  • Michael Aikey, “Ballston Raid of 1780: Military Operation and/or Time to Settle Old Scores”
  • Todd Braisted, “Grand Forage 1778”
  • Don H. Hagist, “Sparing the Lash: A Quantitative Study of Corporal Punishment and its Effect on British Soldiers’ Careers”
  • Ricardo A. Herrera, “Feeding Valley Forge
  • William P. Tatum III, “‘An example or two of death is necessary’: The British Military Justice Process during the American Revolution”
  • Richard Tomczak, “‘To be ordered upon corvées’: French Canadian Laborers in the American Revolution, 1774-1778”
  • Joseph W. Zarzynski, “‘Behold the Cerberus the Atlantic plough’: The History and Archaeology of the HMS Cerberus
  • Matthew Zembo, “The Battle of Fort Anne: ‘In Consequence of this Action Fort Anne was burnt and abandoned...’”
Attendance is limited, and there’s no space for drop-ins. If you’re interested, register in advance using this P.D.F. form. Regular registration costs $155. There are scholarships for teachers.

For an extra fee, America’s History, L.L.C., is offering a bus tour of the Saratoga battlefield, departing and returning to the fort on the Friday before the conference. There’s also the option of a boat tour on Lake Champlain on Friday and Sunday afternoons.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

“Revolutionary Superheroes” T-Shirt

This T-shirt, labeled “Revolutionary Superheroes,” is one of the offerings at The History List.

These five early American heroes don’t have secret identities. The shirt comes with a tag identifying each person briefly, copy written by me. (No royalties involved.)

Marking Where Dr. Joseph Warren Lived

Last weekend the Boston Globe ran a story about a proposal to mark the site of Dr. Joseph Warren’s house in Boston, depicted here.

And where is that spot? As Charles Bahne determined for Warren biographer Samuel Forman a few years back, Warren’s house is under City Hall Plaza. Reporter Sara Salinas wrote:
The expansive brick-and-concrete plaza often draws criticism for appearing unwelcoming, even as the city has tried to rebrand the plaza as a place for civic engagement and community gathering. The plaza often hosts concerts, food festivals, and cultural celebrations.

“A part of this rethinking of the City Hall Plaza should be to reengage its historical legacy and in so doing link its history to the city of Boston as a place not only of partying but also of civic engagement and of city, state, and national significance,” Forman said.

Forman said the legacy of Warren’s home was lost around 1940, when plans for the construction of the new federal building adjacent to City Hall Plaza first began. Before that, the American House hotel stood on what is now the northeast corner of City Hall Plaza, displaying a bronze plaque marking the site of the former general’s home.

The new memorial would claim the site as the “Starting Point to the American Revolution,” Forman said.
That slogan would be an overstatement, I think. The American Revolution as a political and social movement had been going underway a while before April 1775. As Ray and Marie Raphael propose in The Revolution of 1774 and I second in The Road to Concord, rural Massachusetts was already changing its government by then. Dr. Warren, as an organizer of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and the primary author of the Suffolk Resolves, was part of that change.

We might say that Warren’s house was the starting point of William Dawes’s and Paul Revere’s rides, since that was where the doctor told them separately about the impending British army march and asked them to take the news to Lexington. But I’ve questioned how important those messengers were to the militia response. And the Paul Revere House argues that Revere set off from there. (Dawes’s house doesn’t survive to make a case.)

None of that takes away from the importance of Dr. Warren’s house as a historical location. The young physician was an increasingly significant figure in Boston’s Whig resistance from the late 1760s. In 1774 and 1775, with more senior leaders absent because of death, illness, moves, and work at the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Warren shouldered more and more responsibilities.

In the same vein, some folks in Roxbury are still hoping for the return of Boston’s monumental statue of Dr. Warren, now on the campus of the Roxbury Latin School, to the neighborhood where he grew up. The traffic island for which the statue was designed no longer exists, so the city and neighborhood would need to identify a new spot. And it would need a new plinth.

With the sestercentennial of the Revolution underway, this is a good time for the city to decide how to solidify the public memory of Dr. Warren.

Friday, September 08, 2017

Norman Rockwell’s Franklin Up for Bid

For the sesquicentennial of American independence in 1926, the Saturday Evening Post commissioned a cover image of Benjamin Franklin. The magazine traces itself back to the Pennsylvania Gazette, which Franklin printed and published in the mid-1700s.

Norman Rockwell, already a star at what his time deemed mere illustration but previous centuries called history painting, portrayed Franklin at a desk with a writing quill. The face and especially the hair, loose and not under a wig, match how Franklin was often portrayed late in life, not at the height of his publishing career.

Rockwell’s illustration ran on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post’s May 29 issue. It became iconic Americana. Starting in 2005, the portrait was displayed at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

In January 2010, Bonhams Auction House offered the painting for an estimated price of $700,000 to $1,000,000. The owner was then the Carlos & Elena De Mattos Collection. This appears to be Carlos De Mattos, head of companies that rent filmmaking and theatrical equipment and winner of two Oscars for technical achievements.

Sometime after that auction, the painting became the property of actress Debbie Reynolds. She also amassed an immense collection of Hollywood memorabilia, especially costumes worn by her fellow actresses. Reynolds continued to loan the painting to the Rockwell Museum.

On 14-16 October, Profiles in History will auction 1,500 works of art and artifacts from the estates of Reynolds and her daughter, Carrie Fisher. The Franklin painting is the auction highlight, with an estimated price of $2-3 million. Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, and Ross Perot are well-known Rockwell collectors, and there’s a new dormitory at Yale named after Franklin that might need an iconic portrait. Or, depending on the buyer, the painting might return to view in Stockbridge.