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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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.

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