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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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.

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Arbogast on “Two Domestics” in Waltham, 12 Sept.

On Tuesday, 12 September, Camille Arbogast will speak at the Lyman Estate in Waltham on “A Tale of Two Domestics: Adventures in Archival Archaeology.” This event is co-hosted by Historic New England, owner of the estate, and the Waltham Historical Society.

The talk description says:
In 1772, Ruth Hunt, a thirteen-year-old from Concord, Massachusetts, was formally indentured to the family of the local minister. A generation later, Mary Tuesley, recently arrived from England, was hired by the wealthy Gore family. Both of these women worked in domestic service, but how they came to do so and what they expected from their service was very different. By uncovering and piecing together the original source material that exists for these women, we get a richer portrait of working class women’s lives in pre- and post-Revolutionary Massachusetts.

This talk is about the two women, the similarities and differences in their situations, as well as context about indentured servitude and domestic work in the late 1700s and early 1800s. It is also a bit of a detective story, describing the documents Arbogast used, how she found them, and what we might infer from them.
Arbogast has worked for Historic New England, the Trustees of Reservations, Gore Place, and the Historic Newton. She is currently researching the Codman family of Lincoln and colonial-era indentured servants.

The event will start at 7:00 P.M. at 185 Lyman Street in Waltham. Admission costs $10, $5 for members of Historic New England and the Waltham Historical Society. Call 617-994-5912 or go to this site to register.

(The picture above shows the original façade of the Lyman Estate, designed in the 1790s by Samuel McIntire.)

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

“Destroying all party distinctions”

As stated in a passage I quoted a couple of days ago, soon after Charles Townshend died, his post as Chancellor of the Exchequer was offered to Lord North, who accepted it on 11 September. That quick succession made the British government of the time seem more stable than it was.

The leading minister in London was William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. Normally the prime minister was also First Lord of the Treasury, but Pitt had instead taken a peerage and the post of Lord Privy Seal. His ally, the Duke of Grafton (shown here), took the Treasury title.

Chatham promised King George III in 1766 that this government would be based on “measures not men,…destroying all party distinctions.” He would recruit other ministers based on their talents, not their alliances, and thus unite many factions.

That hadn’t worked out. By accepting that earldom Pitt, formerly “the Great Commoner,” had lost a lot of his popularity in London. Then he fell ill with gout and depression. Chatham turned over almost all legislation to the ministers he’d appointed, declining even to meet with them. The result was squabbling and lack of coordination among men with competing ambitions and loyalties.

That situation affected the American colonies. The minister with the most responsibility for administering those colonies was the Secretary of State for the Southern Department, the Earl of Shelburne. He, like Chatham, supported preserving American autonomy. But he couldn’t institute any of his policy choices.

Meanwhile, Townshend gained more power over fiscal policy than preceding Chancellors of the Exchequer, becoming a full member of the cabinet. After losing a fight in Parliament over a higher land tax (never popular with Britain’s big landowners), he turned to a new source of revenue: the American colonies. Townshend focused on import tariffs, thinking those were the sort of “external taxes” that the colonists would accept.

Townshend suddenly died when the Duke of Grafton was struggling to hold together the government for Chatham without Chatham’s help. Soon the First Lord brought in one faction of the Whig opposition, that grouped under the Duke of Bedford, shuffling appointments to make room. In February 1768, the ministry created a new post—Secretary of State for the Colonies—for the Earl of Hillsborough, who favored more control from London.

Britons in America followed all that news, of course, but it was even more confusing at a distance. They still clung to hope that Chatham was in charge, watching out for them.

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

“He was the delight and ornament of this House”

Yesterday I quoted Horace Walpole’s immediate response to the death of Charles Townshend in September 1767. Townshend had a big personality full of contradictions, and he seems to have both fascinated and exasperated his political peers—who expressed themselves so handsomely.

Walpole had more to say about Townshend later in his Memoirs of the Reign of King George III:
On the 4th of September, 1767, died Charles Townshend, of a neglected fever, in, I think, the forty-second year of his age. He met his approaching fate with a good humour that never forsook him, and with an equanimity that he had never shown on the most trifling occasions. Though cut off so immaturely, it is a question whether he had not lived long enough for his character. His genius could have received no accession of brightness; his faults only promised multiplication. He had almost every great talent, and every little quality. His vanity exceeded even his abilities, and his suspicions seemed to make him doubt whether he had any. With such a capacity he must have been the greatest man of this age, and perhaps inferior to no man in any age, had his faults been only in a moderate proportion—in short, if he had had but common truth, common sincerity, common honesty, common modesty, common steadiness, common courage, and common sense. . . .

Charles Townshend, who had studied nothing accurately or with attention, had parts that embraced all knowledge with such quickness, that he seemed to create knowledge instead of searching for it; and, ready as [Edmund] Burke’s wit was, it appeared artificial when set by that of Charles Townshend, which was so abundant, that in him it seemed a loss of time to think. He had but to speak, and all he said was new, natural, and yet uncommon. If Burke replied extempore, his very answers, that sprang from what had been said by others, were so painted and artfully arranged, that they wore the appearance of study and preparation: like beautiful translations, they seemed to want the soul of the original author. Townshend's speeches, like the Satires of Pope, had a thousand times more sense and meaning than the majestic blank verse of Pitt; and yet, the latter, like Milton, stalked with a conscious dignity of pre-eminence, and fascinated his audience with that respect which always attends the pompous but often shallow idea of the sublime.
Edmund Burke himself, in his 1774 speech on American taxation, recalled his political colleague and frequent adversary this way:
In truth, Sir, he was the delight and ornament of this House, and the charm of every private society which he honoured with his presence. Perhaps there never arose in this country, nor in any country, a man of a more pointed and finished wit, and (where his passions were not concerned) of a more refined, exquisite, and penetrating judgment. If he had not so great a stock, as some have had who flourished formerly, of knowledge long treasured up, he knew better by far than any man I was ever acquainted with how to bring together within a short time all that was necessary to establish, to illustrate, and to decorate that side of the question he supported. He stated his matter skilfully and powerfully. He particularly excelled in a most luminous explanation and display of his subject. His style of argument was neither trite nor vulgar, nor subtle and abstruse. He hit the House between wind and water; and, not being troubled with too anxious a zeal for any matter in question, he was never more tedious nor more earnest than the preconceived opinions and present temper of his hearers required, with whom he was always in perfect unison. He conformed exactly to the temper of the House; and he seemed to lead because he was always sure to follow it.
For Burke always knowing the pulse of Parliament was, to be sure, somewhat faint praise, but praise nonetheless.

Monday, September 04, 2017

“All those parts and fire are extinguished”

On 24 Aug 1767, the British politician Thomas Whatley wrote to former boss George Grenville about gossip he’d heard from yet another Member of Parliament, Grey Cooper:
He told me that the Chancellor of the Exchequer [Charles Townshend, shown here] having been not well of a long time, and he observing that he looked still worse a few days ago, he advised Lady Greenwich [Townshend’s wife, made a baroness just days before] to send for a physician;

she at first said that Mr. Townshend’s disorder was only lowness of spirits; but at last called in Sir William Duncan [doctor to King George III], who has pronounced it to be a slow fever of the putrid kind; from which he does not apprehend any danger at present, but says that it is a disorder liable to so many accidents that he cannot answer for the event.

Mr. Townshend yesterday kept his bed, but I believe rather because he was desired than because he was obliged to do so.
The fever turned out to be more dangerous than Dr. Duncan guessed. Two hundred fifty years ago today, Townshend died.

Late that month, Horace Walpole reacted:
But our comet is set too! Charles Townshend is dead. All those parts and fire are extinguished; those volatile salts are evaporated; that first eloquence of the world is dumb! that duplicity is fixed, that cowardice terminated heroically. He joked on death as naturally as he used to do on the living, and not with the affectation of philosophers, who wind up their works with sayings which they hope to have remembered. With a robust person he had always a menacing constitution. He had had a fever the whole summer, recovered as it was thought, relapsed, was neglected, and it turned to an incurable putrid fever.

The Opposition expected that the loss of this essential pin would loosen the whole frame [i.e., bring down the government]; but it had been hard, if both his life and death were to be pernicious to the Administration. He had engaged to betray the latter to the former, as I knew early, and as Lord Mansfield has since declared. I therefore could not think the loss of him a misfortune. His seals were immediately offered to Lord North, who declined them. The Opposition rejoiced; but they ought to have been better acquainted with one educated in their own school. Lord North has since accepted the seals—and the reversion of his father’s pension.

While that eccentric genius, Charles Townshend, whom no system could contain, is whirled out of existence, our more artificial meteor, Lord Chatham, seems to be wheeling back to the sphere of business—at least his health is declared to be re-established; but he has lost his adorers, the mob, and I doubt the wise men will not travel after his light.
Townshend’s program for raising revenue from the American colonies, the Townshend duties, was due to go into effect on 20 November. Now the architect of that policy was gone.

TOMORROW: Assessing Charles Townshend.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Deborah Franklin’s Other Man, Benjamin Franklin’s Other Woman

For the Smithsonian, Stephen Coss, author of The Fever of 1721, explores the ups and downs of Benjamin Franklin’s relationship to Deborah Read:
As every reader of Franklin’s Autobiography knows, Deborah Read first laid eyes on Benjamin Franklin the day he arrived in Philadelphia, in October 1723, after running away from a printer’s apprenticeship with his brother in Boston. Fifteen-year-old Deborah, standing at the door of her family’s house on Market Street, laughed at the “awkward ridiculous Appearance” of the bedraggled 17-year-old stranger trudging down the street with a loaf of bread under each arm and his pockets bulging with socks and shirts. But a few weeks later, the stranger became a boarder in the Read home. After six months, he and the young woman were in love.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s governor, William Keith, happened upon a letter Franklin had written and decided he was “a young Man of promising Parts”—so promising that he offered to front the money for Franklin to set up his own printing house and promised to send plenty of work his way. Keith’s motives may have been more political than paternal, but with that, the couple “interchang’d some Promises,” in Franklin’s telling, and he set out for London. His intention was to buy a printing press and type and return as quickly as possible. It was November 1724.

Nothing went as planned. In London, Franklin discovered that the governor had lied to him. There was no money waiting, not for equipment, not even for his return passage. Stranded, he wrote Deborah a single letter, saying he would be away indefinitely. He would later admit that “by degrees” he forgot “my engagements with Miss Read.” In declaring this a “great Erratum” of his life, he took responsibility for Deborah’s ill-fated marriage to a potter named John Rogers.

But the facts are more complicated. Benjamin must have suspected that when Sarah Read, Deborah’s widowed mother, learned that he had neither a press nor guaranteed work, she would seek another suitor for her daughter. Mrs. Read did precisely that, later admitting to Franklin, as he wrote, that she had “persuaded the other Match in my Absence.” She had been quick about it, too; Franklin’s letter reached Deborah in late spring 1725, and she was married by late summer. Benjamin, too, had been jilted.

Just weeks into Deborah’s marriage, word reached Philadelphia that Rogers had another wife in England. Deborah left him and moved back in with her mother. Rogers squandered Deborah’s dowry and racked up big debts before disappearing. And yet she remained legally married to him; a woman could “self-divorce,” as Deborah had done in returning to her mother’s home, but she could not remarry with church sanction. At some point she was told that Rogers had died in the West Indies, but proving his death—which would have freed Deborah to remarry formally—was impractically expensive and a long shot besides.

Franklin returned to Philadelphia in October 1726. In the Autobiography he wrote that he “should have been...asham’d at seeing Miss Read, had not her Friends...persuaded her to marry another.” If he wasn’t ashamed, what was he? In classic Franklin fashion, he doesn’t say. Possibly he was relieved. But it seems likely, given his understanding that Deborah and her mother had quickly thrown him over, that he felt at least a tinge of resentment. At the same time, he also “pity’d” Deborah’s “unfortunate Situation.” He noted that she was “generally dejected, seldom cheerful, and avoided Company,” presumably including his. If he still had feelings for her, he also knew that her dowry was gone and she was, technically, unmarriageable.

He, meanwhile, became more eligible by the year. In June 1728, he launched a printing house with a partner, Hugh Meredith. A year later he bought the town’s second newspaper operation, renamed and reworked it, and began making a success of the Pennsylvania Gazette. In 1730 he and Meredith were named Pennsylvania’s official printers. It seemed that whenever he decided to settle down, Franklin would have his pick of a wife.

Then he had his own romantic calamity: He learned that a young woman of his acquaintance was pregnant with his child. Franklin agreed to take custody of the baby—a gesture as admirable as it was uncommon—but that decision made his need for a wife urgent and finding one problematic. (Who that woman was and why he couldn’t or wouldn’t marry her remain mysteries to this day.) No desirable young woman with a dowry would want to marry a man with a bastard infant son.

But Deborah Read Rogers would.

Thus, as Franklin later wrote, the former couple’s “mutual Affection was revived,” and they were joined in a common-law marriage on September 1, 1730. There was no ceremony. Deborah simply moved into Franklin’s home and printing house at what is now 139 Market Street. Soon she took in the infant son her new husband had fathered with another woman and began running a small stationery store on the first floor.
Can this marriage last? Coss presents an interesting take on its later years.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Exploring Fault Lines in the Constitution

In the coming weeks, Cynthia and Sanford Levinson will speak in various Massachusetts venues about their new book, Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws that Affect Us Today.

This book is an exploration of the U.S. Constitution designed for readers aged ten to eighteen. School Library Journal said:
The book functions differently than a straightforward explanatory text on the U.S. Constitution. Rather, the authors examine the fissures and issues that arise when it comes to the actual application of the Constitution: Why does a small state have the same power in the Senate as a state with exponentially higher population? How can certain stipulations in the Constitution deter otherwise popular legislation? The text discusses current conflicts, such as the irony of “Taxation Without Representation” in regard to Washington, DC, and Senate filibusters that kill potentially popular legislation before it can even be voted on. 
Cynthia Levinson is an author of many nonfiction books for children, including We’ve Got a Job: The 1963 Birmingham Children’s March and Watch Out for Flying Kids! Sanford Levinson is Professor of Government and holds the Garwood Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas at Austin. They are married, and this is their first book together.

The Levinsons’ local appearances include:
  • Saturday, 9 September, 3:00 P.M., at Porter Square Books in Cambridge.
  • Sunday, 1 October, 3:00 P.M. at the Concord Bookshop in Concord.
  • Wednesday, 25 October, 11:30 A.M. at the Harvard Law School Library in Cambridge; this panel discussion also includes Jennifer Hochschild, Amy Shine Jones, and Dan Covino.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Solomon Davis and the Fatal Plum Cake

John and Dolly Hancock were known for hosting dinner parties in their mansion on Beacon Hill (shown here shortly before it was torn down).

According to James Spear Loring’s Hundred Boston Orators (which cribbed freely from older sources), they even built “a lofty and spacious hall on the northern wing of his mansion, extending sixty feet, devoted to festive parties, and built of wood.” That wing was removed in the early 1800s, so it’s not in this photo.

On 6 June 1791, the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company had its annual election and dinner at Faneuil Hall, a major social occasion for Boston’s elite men. That evening, Hancock hosted a supper party. Loring wrote:
Among the company present, were Col. Azor Orne, and Solomon Davis, Esq., a merchant who resided in Tremont-street, opposite the Savings Bank. He was very facetious.

A superb plum-cake graced the centre of the table. It was noticed by the guests that Mr. Davis partook very freely of this cake; and, moreover, that the silver tankard of punch was greatly lightened of its liquid, by liberal draughts through his lips. As was the natural habit of Mr. Davis, he set the table in a roar; and in one of his puns being specially felicitous, Col. Orne remarked, “Go home, Davis, and die;—you can never beat that!”

Mr. Davis, on his way home, fell dead, in a fit of apoplexy, near King’s Chapel, and his pockets were found filled with plum-cake.
Davis was a couple of weeks shy of turning seventy-seven.

Loring tended to print the most dramatic version of a story, and not always accurately. In this case, we have different details from the letters of Davis’s widow as Barrett Wendell summarized them in his article “A Gentlewoman of Boston” in the American Antiquarian Society Proceedings.

Catherine (Wendell) Davis stayed home that evening because she had received a letter from a relation “with particulars of his melancholy disaster.” So her husband went to the Hancock supper alone.
Freed from conjugal observation, Mr. Davis appears to have supped imprudently; what he drank is not mentioned, but he ate more plum-cake and fruit than was good for him. On his way home, he was seized with a fit in the street. Carried to his house, and there helped by the doctor, he so far recovered himself as to go cheerfully up stairs; but once in his chamber he was again overcome by sickness, and instantly expired. 
In addition, Amos Otis’s Genealogical Notes of Barnstable Families (1888) said of Davis, “On his way home he was taken suddenly ill, and sat down on the steps of King’s Chapel, from whence he was removed to his house in the vicinity, where he shortly after died.” So there’s the King’s Chapel detail.

Finally, one of Hancock’s successors as governor, John Brooks, used to counsel another, William Eustis, about his diet by saying, “Don’t you remember that Solomon Davis died after eating plum cake?” So even if we have no confirmation for the plum cake in Davis’s pockets, people definitely remembered that dessert as why he died.