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

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Reactions to Gov. John Hancock’s Death

The 14 Oct 1793 Boston Gazette reported this response to Gov. John Hancock’s unexpected death on the 8th:
Tuesday last, agreeably to previous orders, the several Independent Companies and the several Companies of Militia in this Town, paraded early in the Morning, in complete Uniform, in order for Inspection, &c. But immediately upon the Death of His Excellency being announced, counter-orders were issued by the Commander in Chief, to the Major General, and the several companies were dismissed, some on their march to the common, and others at their place of parade.—

This measure gave general satisfaction to the Citizens of Boston, who willingly gave up the pleasures which they previously anticipated, and with countenances fully expressive of the sorrow of their hearts, retied, to mourn the lose of Governor HANCOCK,

Their Country’s Savior, and Columbia’s pride,
The Orphan’s father, and the widows’ friend.
May future HANCOCKS Massachusetts guide;
HANCOCK!—The name alone with time shall end.
The “Commander in Chief” who called off that militia muster was the new acting governor, Samuel Adams. After bumping heads during and after the war, the two pre-Revolutionary colleagues had allied on a political ticket in 1787.

Bostonians were thus all excited for a big militia parade when they heard about Hancock’s death, and then they had to go home. I suspect that was an additional reason for the big turnout at his funeral six days later. If they couldn’t march one week, then they could march the next.

The community quickly began to respond to the governor’s passing. The next day, the Suffolk County court, “on motion of Judge [Thomas] Crafts, adjourned till after the Funeral.”

In Thursday the news reached Portland, Maine. The Eastern Herald reported, “The colours of all the vessels in the harbour were immediately placed half mast high, and the bell was tolled from that time till the close of the day.”

Then the town government acted:
At a legal Meeting of the Inhabitants of this Town on Friday last, to take into consideration the measures proper to be taken by them, for attending the Funeral of His Excellency JOHN HANCOCK, that every mark of respect may be paid by his fellow-citizens to the remains of so illustrious a Patriot and Friend to Mankind; the following Votes passed unanimously, viz.

In order to pay that respect to the funeral solumnities of his Exellency the late Governor HANCOCK, which is suitable to the feelings of the Inhabitants on the occasion,

Voted, That it be recommended to the Inhabitants, that they shut their Stores and Shops, at One o’Clock, P.M. on Monday next, and continue the same shut until the Funeral Solemnities shall be performed.

Voted, That the Selectmen be requested to cause the Carriages, Trucks, and other Obstructions, to be removed from State Street and other Streets where the Procession may be on Monday Afternoon.
That was as close to declaring an official holiday as a town of that time could do.

In his 2000 biography of Hancock, Harlow Unger wrote that Gov. Adams declared the day of the funeral to be a holiday, and other books have repeated that statement since. I don’t see any evidence for that, however. A gubernatorial proclamation would have been an official, widely published document—like the Thanksgiving proclamation that ran in the 9 October Columbian Centinel. (That announcement, dated 28 September, was still in Hancock’s name.) So I don’t think Hancock’s funeral day was an official state holiday.

TOMORROW: But no work got done that day.

(The picture above is a 1797 engraved portrait of Samuel Adams based on a painting that John Johnson had made two years earlier. The painting itself was destroyed in a fire a few years after that.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

“His death was unexpected, although he has been indisposed”

John Hancock was in poor health for the last decade of his life. Political opponents, and even some friends, muttered that he exaggerated his medical problems to get out of difficult situations.

The most famous example of that was when he lost a war of wills with President George Washington in 1789 over which man would call on the other, thus implying political inferiority. Hancock had himself carried in to meet the President with bandages on his legs to excuse his not coming earlier.

Hancock also pled illness in stepping down from the governorship in 1785, shortly before the economic crisis that led to the Shays Rebellion came to a head, and in keeping quiet on the proposed new Constitution for as long as he could in 1788.

The historian James Truslow Adams summed up this view by writing in Harper’s: “his two chief resources were his money and his gout, the first always used to gain popularity, and the second to prevent his losing it.” Adams’s article was titled “Portrait of an Empty Barrel.”

But Gov. Hancock did have health problems, and they prevented him from doing not only what he didn’t like but what he liked. On 18 Sept 1793 he prepared a speech to the Massachusetts General Court about a landmark legal case (which I’ll get to later). But he was too weak to deliver it, and had to watch the secretary of the commonwealth, John Avery, read it instead.

Hancock died less than a month later on 8 Oct 1793, aged fifty-six. A letter relaying that news to New York said, “Governor HANCOCK died this morning; his death was unexpected, although he has been indisposed for some time past.” People had gotten so used to the governor being ill that no one expected him to actually die.

The 11 October American Apollo reported:
On the morning of his death, he expressed no unusual complaints, till about seven o’clock, when he suddenly felt a difficulty in breathing; his physicians were immediately sent for, who gave him some temporary relief, but the dissolution of nature made such rapid progress, than before eight o’clock, he resigned his soul into the hands of HIM who gave it.
TOMORROW: How Boston heard the news.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

“The concourse of spectators was greater than we ever remember”

Earlier in the week I wrote about the funeral of Christopher Seider. The merchant John Rowe stated in his diary, “I am very sure two thousand people attended his Funerall.” That would have been one of every eight people in Boston.

John Adams watched that event with Rowe and wrote:
a vast Number of Boys walked before the Coffin, a vast Number of Women and Men after it, and a Number of Carriages. My Eyes never beheld such a funeral. The Procession extended further than can be well imagined.
But within a couple of weeks came the funeral of the first four victims of the Boston Massacre, and that was even bigger. “Such a Concourse of People I never saw before—I believe Ten or Twelve thousand,” wrote Rowe. That was more than twice the reported capacity of Old South Meeting-house.

A report printed in several newspapers guessed:
It is supposed that there must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.
However, back in 1740 Boston newspapers estimated that on several days the Rev. George Whitefield had preached to crowds of 15,000 to 23,000 people on Boston Common. The siege of Fort Carillion in 1759 also involved more than 20,000 people.

Be that as it may, the grandest if not the most crowded funeral that eighteenth-century Boston ever saw took place on this date in 1793: the send-off for Gov. John Hancock. The Guardian of Freedom, published in Haverhill, stated: “The concourse of spectators was greater than we ever remember to have seen on any occasion.”

The main reason for that turnout was fond feelings for Hancock. Most people in Massachusetts admired their governor. Many authors have written that Hancock accomplished little in his final years, but that assumes he went into politics to make changes. Once independence was achieved, and perhaps even before, I think Hancock’s main aim was to increase and preserve his own popularity by keeping most people happy, and in Massachusetts he achieved that.

Another reason for the big occasion on 14 Oct 1793, I think, arose from the circumstance of Hancock’s death on 8 October.

TOMORROW: How the governor died.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Local Militia Muster in Westboro, 14 Oct.

On Saturday, 14 October, the Westborough Rotary Club and the Westborough Historical Society will present a re-creation of a town militia muster.

Specifically, this event commemorates the 243rd anniversary of the Westborough militia’s September 1774 march to Worcester to help close the county court in protest of the Massachusetts Government Act.

Reenactors portraying Westborough militiamen will perform the manual of arms, the standard military drill from 1774. There will be musket-firing demonstrations throughout the day. A colonial market will display a variety of colonial trades and crafts while citizens of Westborough will make items for barter or sale to the assembled militiamen. Westborough’s own Rev. Ebenezer Parkman will harangue and inform the crowds.

There will also be food trucks and vendors for attendees, displays of artifacts and documents, and eighteenth-century children’s games.

This event is scheduled to take place from 10:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. in Veteran’s Freedom Park, 169A West Main Street.

See the town library’s collection of Revolutionary documents here through Digital Commonwealth. Parkman’s diaries have been published, with some pieces freely available and others only in print.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“A Monument over the grave of young SEIDER”?

On 5 Mar 1770, the Boston Gazette reported on the grand funeral for little Christopher Seider, shot by Ebenezer Richardson on 22 February, and added:
We can assure the Publick, that a Monument will be erected over the Grave of young Snider, with an Inscription, to perpetuate his Memory; A Number of patriotic Gentlemen having generously subscrib’d for that Purpose——It is said it will be done in an elegant Simplicity, and that the Overplus Money, if any, will be given to the Parents.
However, over a year later the 21 Mar 1771 Massachusetts Spy ran this item on the same matter:
Mr. [Isaiah] THOMAS,

As there was a collection made some time ago by a Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past, for the professed purpose of erecting a Monument over the grave of young SEIDER; if the above Gentleman will condescend to inform the Public, why the Money so collected, has not been approproiate to the avowed design, he will oblige a number of your readers, as well as your humble servant,

The Spy had published another item signed “The TRIFLER” on 10 January. It was a snide attack on Jonathan Sewall, identified by his own newspaper pseudonym “Philanthrop.” It said he should be “satisfied with his 600l. sterling per annum, and no longer prostitute his pen.”

That presents a political mystery. The “Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past” had to be one of Boston’s Whigs. But Sewall was a friend and vocal supporter of the royal government. Would the same newspaper writer attack both sides?

One possible explanation is that the Trifler supported the Crown but resented how Sewall was hogging two lucrative government appointments: Massachusetts Attorney General and Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court. Several letters and even newspaper reports from that period show how royal officials wanted Sewall to hand over the judgeship to Customs Commissioner John Robinson. (In the end, Sewall clung to both jobs.)

So who was the “Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past”?  I think the most likely candidate is William Molineux. He was definitely the Whigs’ leader in street demonstrations. He was close to Madam Grizzell Apthorp, who had employed Christopher Seider as a house servant, and he was on the scene when people arrested Richardson.

Molineux was also in need of money. On 1 May 1771 he was supposed to repay the town of Boston £300 it had loaned him to kickstart a cloth-weaving enterprise that would employ the poor. He never did pay that back. By 1774 Molineux had probably applied money he was supposed to manage for Charles Ward Apthorp of New York to the weaving scheme. So it’s not hard to imagine that the funds collected for a monument to Christopher Seider went into the same hole.

Then again, the first report from 1770 said merely that some gentlemen had “generously subscrib’d” or promised money for a monument. The Trifler may have been wrong to say that funds had actually been collected. After all, in the evening after the Gazette reported on the possibility of a monument, the Boston Massacre took place. Suddenly everyone had something new to focus on and argue about.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

“All interred in the same grave with him”

Yesterday I started to look into the question of whether Christopher Seider, memorialized on a stone in the Granary Burying-ground, was actually buried there in 1770.

Celebrate Boston’s page on grave-robbing [perhaps an odd topic to celebrate] says:
Christopher Snider, 1st Martyr to the Noble Cause, was likely buried at Central Burying Ground, and not at Granary as commemorated.
As evidence, the page points to a statement about little Seider that Gov. Thomas Hutchinson put into his history of Massachusetts:
A grand funeral was, however, judged very proper for him. Young and old, some of all ranks and orders, attended in a solemn procession from liberty tree to the town-house, and then to the common burying ground.
The Seider family lived near the south end of Boston Common on Frog Lane (now Boylston Street). So it might make sense to place his body in the cemetery nearest their house—what we now call the Central Burying Ground (shown above, courtesy of Wikipedia).

The problem with that analysis is that the phrase “common burying ground” didn’t rule out the Granary Burying Ground because that, too, had been carved from land originally assigned to Boston Common. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff’s A Topographical and Historical Description of Boston confirms that the cemetery beside the Granary was sometimes called by the Common Burying Ground. Hutchinson might also have used the word “common” to mean not the Boston Common but the tombs and graveyard space that Boston owned collectively.

Likewise, at different times Bostonians referred to both the Granary Burying Ground and the Central Burying Ground as the South Burying Ground and as the Central or Middle Burying Ground. As more cemeteries were opened to the south, the labels shifted. In 1770 the middle cemetery was the one beside the town granary.

We have clues from period newspapers about where Christopher Seider was buried. We start with the report of the funeral for the first four victims of the Boston Massacre, published on 12 Mar 1770 in both the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post:
The Bodies were deposited in one Vault in the middle Burying-ground
Furthermore, the 19 March Gazette said Patrick Carr was interred in the same vault:
His Remains were attended on Saturday last from Faneuil-Hall by a numerous and respectable Train of Mourners, to the same Grave, in which those who fell by the same Hands of Violence were interred the last Week.
A year later, the 7 Mar 1771 Massachusetts Spy reported:
On Tuesday last the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, at noon, and after nine in the evening, all the bells in town tolled; and at dark was exhibited in the chamber window of Mr. [Paul] Revere in the Old-North square, a set of transparent paintings, representing, in the fourth window a monumental obelisk, bearing in front the bust of young Seider; and on the front of the pedestal, the names of the five persons murdered by the soldiery on the fifth of March, and all interred in the same grave with him:
Thus, contemporaneous newspapers stated that all the Massacre victims and little Christopher Seider were interred in the same vault in the Middle or Granary Burying Ground. Which means the 1906 stone in that cemetery today doesn’t have to move. (Phew!)

TOMORROW: The missing monument.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where Was Christopher Seider Buried?

After young Christopher Seider was killed on 22 Feb 1770, where was he buried?

A marker in the Granary Burying Ground (shown here) bears his name under those of the five people who died the following month after the Boston Massacre. But that’s not a contemporaneous marker. It was erected by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1906.

(The stone lists the boy’s name as “Christopher Snider,” a variation which did appear at the time but doesn’t match most family records. It also gives his age as twelve. As I wrote here, Christopher was probably killed shortly before his eleventh birthday.)

Some people have suggested that Christopher’s body was buried somewhere else. In his recent book First Martyr to Liberty, Mitch Kachun posited that the boy was buried under Liberty Tree. That’s based on the description of his funeral as published in multiple Boston newspapers, including the 5 Mar 1770 Evening-Post:
The Remains of young Snider, the unfortunate Boy who was barbarously murdered the 22d of February last, was decently interred the Monday following. His tragical Death and the peculiar Circumstances attending had touched the Breasts of all with the tenderest Sympathy, a few only excepted, who have long shown themselves void of the Feelings of Humanity. The little Corps was set down under the Tree of Liberty, from whence the Procession began. About Five Hundred School boys preceded; and a very numerous Train of Citizens followed, in the Estimation of good Judges, at least Two Thousand of all Ranks, amidst a Crowd of Spectators, who discovered in their Countenances the evident marks of true Sorrow.
I disagree with Kachun’s reading. The report mentions “the Tree of Liberty” as the start of the funeral procession, not the end. To be sure, this article didn’t state where the boy’s body ended up.

But under Liberty Tree would have been a very unorthodox spot, likely to be clearly mentioned in other sources. Despite that elm’s public symbolism, it wasn’t on public land; it was in the yard of bookbinder John Eliot. No later description of the tree mentioned that it was also a gravesite.

Furthermore, the tree was on a well-traveled corner. There was a old British custom of burying people who had committed suicide at such crossroads instead of in designated graveyards; Parliament finally outlawed that practice in the reign of George IV. In 1770 Boston’s Whigs wanted to present Christopher Seider as an innocent young martyr to liberty, and burying him on unconsecrated land at a crossroads would have undercut that message.

TOMORROW: So if Christopher Seider was interred in a burying-ground, which one?

Monday, October 09, 2017

Conde on Historic Gravestones in Boston, 11 Oct.

As part of Massachusetts Archaeology Month, the New England Historical Genealogical Society is hosting a free lecture on 11 October by Ta Mara Conde, founder of Historic Gravestone Services.

The society’s description of “Stories in Stone: America Through Its Early Burial Grounds” says:
Burial grounds are outdoor museum: accessible and open to all. The stones reveal the history of the town and its people. Join Ta Mara Conde, a monument conservator with Historic Gravestone Services, for a visual tour of America through its early burial grounds. Discover the meaning behind symbols adorning historic gravestones, understand society’s changing attitudes toward death, and learn about the geology found in your local burial ground. Unearth the stories hidden in the stones.
Conde began restoring historic gravestones in 1998 as an apprentice to Fred Oakly, head of conservation for the Association of Gravestone Studies. She provides professional restoration services for grave markers, monuments, sculpture, and other stone works using historically accurate materials and standard conservation techniques. Ta Mara studied with the National Park Service and Cathedral Stone Products Certification Program, and has taught conservation workshops through Greenfield Community College and private organizations.

This event is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, 11 October, in the N.E.H.G.S. building at 99-101 Newbury Street, Boston. Register for a seat here.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Museum of the American Revolution Hosts a Film Premiere, 9 Oct.

In August I visited the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, which opened to great fanfare earlier this year.

Like the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which I wrote about here, the Philadelphia museum combines the historical artifacts of an older, traditional collection with new technology. For the M.O.A.R., the parent institution was the Valley Forge Historical Society.

The museum also inherited the site of a visitor center built for the Bicentennial, close to Independence Hall and other historic sites in old Philadelphia. Like the Yorktown museum, it pays particular attention to the events that happened in the region. It thus offers the best treatment of the Trenton and Princeton maneuvers that I’ve seen as well as some about Brandywine, which didn’t turn out so well for the Continentals.

But the M.O.A.R. aims to tell the full story of the Revolution, starting with the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the political disputes of the late 1760s and early 1770s, and the campaigns all over eastern North America. The exhibit designers took pains to include the perspectives and choices of poor men and women, African-Americans free and enslaved, sailors, and other people not always included in the narrative. It becomes hagiographic, I thought, only in the final exhibit, the unveiling of Gen. George Washington’s campaign tent. And that really is a neat artifact.

One hallmark of the M.O.A.R. are life-size figures recreating dramatic moments, such as Israel Trask’s memory of the snowball fight in Harvard Yard, the tearing down of George III’s statue in New York in July 1776, and a charge by Col. Banastre Tarleton’s horsemen. But there are also plenty of electronic interactive exhibits and genuine artifacts to intrigue all sorts of visitors.

I felt some special jolts of recognition. Some folks in the films and dioramas looked quite like reenactors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The introductory film shows the “No Taxation without Representation” phrase printed as I wrote about it here. And the museum has a large portrait of Capt. William Crosbie, the likely owner of the pistols captured at Lexington that I wrote about here.

The M.O.A.R. has a gallery dedicated to explaining the Oneida contribution to the Continental cause. The Oneida Indian Nation was also one of the institution’s major benefactors. That space may feel out of proportion to the influence the Oneida had on the war, but it serves as a metonymy for all the Native American groups on both sides, for whom the War for Independence proved terribly significant.

Tomorrow, in commemoration of Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the museum will host the first showing of “People of the Standing Stone,” a film about the Oneida nation in American history. Directed by Ric Burns and narrated by Kevin Costner, the 25-minute film explores the Oneida alliance with the Continental Congress and what followed in the early republic—the unjust appropriation of much of the nation’s land.

This weekend, ahead of the movie, Darren Bonaparte of the Mohawk community at Ahkwesáhsne is performing in the museum’s Patriots Gallery. On Monday at 11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. dancers from the Oneida Indian Nation will perform traditional Haudenosaunee social dances there.

The movie will be shown at 6:00, followed by “a panel discussion on how the roles of many of our country’s multiethnic ancestors have often been misrepresented in—or altogether excluded from—the telling of our nation’s history.” The panelists will be:
  • Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
  • Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative, Nation Enterprises CEO, and a M.O.A.R. Board Member
  • Rosalyn J. McPherson, president of The ROZ Group, which managed community relations and oversaw historical content for The President’s House Project in Philadelphia
  • R. Scott Stephenson, the M.O.A.R.’s Vice President of Collections, Exhibitions and Programming
Tickets to the special screening and discussion are $15 for general admission, or $5 for Museum members and students.

Saturday, October 07, 2017

John Adams on the “Hancock” and “Adams”

James Lloyd was born in Boston in December 1769 and named after his grandfather, a respected physician. During the early 1770s, Dr. Lloyd sided with the royal government, but he remained in Boston when the British military evacuated. Eventually he regained his popularity and standing in society.

Meanwhile, the younger James Lloyd proceeded through the Boston Latin School, Harvard College, and a mercantile career in close connection to the Lowells. He entered politics in 1800, winning a seat in various legislatures. He served twice as a U.S. Senator from Massachusetts, succeeding John Quincy Adams and Harrison Gray Otis when they resigned and later resigning himself. Lloyd got to be one of the last Federalists in Congress.

In the 1810s Lloyd began a lengthy correspondence with John Adams, picking the older man’s brain for information about the Revolution. Those letters, published later in the century, are one of the main sources of Adams recollections that subsequent historians mined for details. Not that Adams’s memory was always complete or accurate.

On 24 Apr 1815, for example, Adams wrote to Lloyd about how the American military started the war:
The Army at Cambridge, had poor Arms, no cannon, but the Hancock and Adams, no Tents, no Barracks, no provisions but from day to day, no cloathing for change, no Magazines, very little powder and but few balls.
That was the standard line for Americans in the nineteenth century, emphasizing the shortages that the nation’s first army faced, especially in military equipment. The “Hancock and Adams” that the former President referred to were two small brass cannon that came back to Massachusetts after the war engraved with the names of John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

In fact, as I detail in The Road to Concord, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and individual towns had collected dozens of cannon by the start of the war in April 1775. Those were mostly old iron guns, many badly mounted, but they included some large siege weapons. Not having been a member of the Massachusetts committee of safety and supplies, Adams might not have known all the details of that ordnance, but he surely knew his side had more than two cannon. (Even the engravings on the “Hancock” and “Adams” said there were two more.) But John Adams, and Americans at large, preferred to remember their side as even more of an underdog than it really was.

I’ll speak about the secret work of collecting those cannon and what the British commander, Gen. Thomas Gage, did about them to the Billerica Historical Society on 12 October. That event will start at 7:00 P.M. in the Billerica Public Library, 15 Concord Road in the center of town. It’s free and open to all.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Providence College’s Seminar on the History of Early America

The Department of History & Classics at Providence College in Rhode Island is launching a Seminar on the History of Early America.

Participants in these sessions “will discuss pre-circulated works in progress, including chapters of doctoral dissertations, book projects, and article drafts on any aspect of early American history.”

The material scheduled for the upcoming academic year is:

13 October
Susan Branson, Syracuse University
“Flights of Imagination: The Air Balloon as a Symbol of National Promise”

7 December
Lorri Glover, Saint Louis University
“‘An All Accomplished Woman’: Eliza Pinckney in the Age of Revolution”

1 March 2018
Julie Fisher, George Washington University & National Park Service
“What is Roger Williams?”

9 April
George Elliott, Brown University
Gershom Bulkeley and Alchemical Experimentation in Colonial New England”

3 May
Melissa Morris, Bridgewater State University
“Across the Channel, Across the Atlantic: Anglo-Dutch Collaboration in the Seventeenth Century Americas”

The seminar will meet in the Liberal Arts Seminar Room (room number 202) of the Ruane Center for the Humanities at Providence College in Providence, a couple of miles west of downtown. Each meeting will run from 4:30 to 6:00 P.M. For more information, contact Prof. Sharon Ann Murphy of Providence College.

(The photograph above shows a sack-back gown made for Eliza Pinckney around 1750 from silk harvested on her South Carolina plantation. It is now in the collection of the Smithsonian.)

Thursday, October 05, 2017

Early American Scientists and Anthropogenic Climate Change

On Tuesday, 10 October, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a session of the Boston Environmental History Seminar series.

James Rice of Tufts University will present a paper on “Early Environmental Histories,” and Chris Parsons of Northeastern University will comment on it. The seminar description says:
This essay speaks to questions raised in a recent workshop at the Huntington on early American environmental history. How do timespan and scale change our understanding of historical relationships between people and their environments? What new light does environmental history shed on topics such as race, gender, or law? What can early Americanists contribute to the field of environmental history as a whole?
That discussion will start at 5:15 P.M. Sandwiches will be available after the formal discussion. Reserve a seat in advance through the seminar series webpage.

I’ve been thinking about how some of the more scientifically minded Americans of the eighteenth century conceived of environmental change. They had no difficulty with the concept that human activity could affect the climate. Indeed, they might have been too optimistic about that possibility.

Many Americans of that period were anxious to refute the European perception that North America’s climate was too extreme—too cold in winter and too hot in summer—to be healthy. Winter was changing, they declared, as the European population spread. For example, the Rev. Cotton Mather wrote in The Christian Philosopher in 1721:
our Cold is much moderated since the opening and clearing of our Woods, and the Winds do not blow such Razours, as in the Days of our Fathers, when Water, cast up into the Air, would commonly be turned into Ice e’er it came to the Ground.
Benjamin Franklin was more scientific in his approach, telling the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles in 1763 that Mather’s belief needed to be tested with systematic measurements over a range of time and space:
I doubt with you, that Observations have not been made with sufficient Accuracy, to ascertain the Truth of the common Opinion, that the Winters in America are grown milder; and yet I cannot but think that in time they may be so. Snow lying on the Earth must contribute to cool and keep cold the Wind blowing over it. When a Country is clear’d of Woods, the Sun acts more strongly on the Face of the Earth. It warms the Earth more before Snows fall, and small Snows may often be soon melted by that Warmth. It melts great Snows sooner than they could be melted if they were shaded by the Trees. And when the Snows are gone, the Air moving over the Earth is not so much chilled; &c. But whether enough of the Country is yet cleared to produce any sensible Effect, may yet be a Question: And I think it would require a regular and steady Course of Observations on a Number of Winters in the different Parts of the Country you mention, to obtain full Satisfaction on the Point.
Mather, Franklin, and their contemporaries inherited the seventeenth-century Scientific Revolution, but their view of time and space were still limited. Scientists of the nineteenth century made the crucial breakthrough of conceiving of Earth’s age in millions and then billions of years, not just thousands. We have the benefit of a much broader perspective and a whole lot more data. The seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society asks what the more detailed environmental insights we have today can tell us about Mather and Franklin’s time.

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Daen on Van Horn’s The Power of Objects

Laurel Daen recently reviewed Jennifer Van Horn’s The Power of Objects in Eighteenth-Century British America for H-Net. Here’s an interesting extract from that review:
Van Horn uses portraits of young women in Charleston that feature masks and dresses worn to masquerade balls to consider women’s contested relationship with civility and changing imperial identity in the 1760s. Although no masked galas were ever held in America, colonists knew about them due to their popularity in London. Charlestonian women wore masquerade garb in their portraits, Van Horn suggests, not only to display their awareness of British trends, but also to assert a degree of sexual power that was otherwise prohibited in polite society.

Masquerades were associated with licentiousness. By adopting the style in their portraits, young women celebrated the phase of their lives in which they engaged in courtships and thus retained some control over the future social networks of their families. Elite men argued that women’s masked likenesses exposed the passions that threatened their civility, but they nevertheless tolerated the trend, knowing that women’s urges would soon be contained within marriage.

Van Horn also notes how the masquerade served as a symbol of the impending imperial conflict. While patriots used masks to signify British duplicity and represented America as a courting woman who held power over her suitor, British military officers literally employed masks to transmit secret information and loyalists depicted America as a bride to Britain.
Daen also highlights Van Horn’s discussion of the wooden legs that Gouverneur Morris used—different styles in Europe and in America.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Lt. Lindsay Lives Through the Battle of Pollilur

Once the French entered the war against the British, the fighting expanded around the globe to wherever those two empires were in conflict.

In India, the British army supported the British East India Company, which recruited local troops. The French allied with Hyder Ali, sultan of Mysore. The result was the Second Anglo-Mysore War.

Last month I stumbled across the memoir of that conflict from the Hon. John Lindsay, a lieutenant in the British army at the age of nineteen. Here’s his description of the end of the first Battle of Pollilur on 10 Sept 1780, which was more costly to the British forces than Bunker Hill.

Lindsay was a younger son of a Scottish earl, but his recollections work best when read in an upper-class British voice.
After my company had delivered their fire amongst the multitude of the enemy that were around us, the [enemy] horse immediately rushed in, and, the ranks being now irretrievably broken, every one threw down his arms, and used every means to preserve his life; whilst, all around us, no object presented itself but the enemy, with drawn sabres, cutting and hacking the miserable wretches that were at their mercy.

As my company was (from their being lately sent to the assistance of the rear-guard) the last body of troops that were in the field, they were nearly all cut to pieces; the greatest part of the soldiers and officers of the line came running down towards me, and the enemy’s horse galloping after them; they were driven to a hollow piece of ground, which had been the means of sheltering my company pretty well during the action; there were therefore five or six hundred people in this place, crowded together, which the horse surrounded, who, by the length of their weapons, could plunge them into the middle of the crowd.

Our situation was now become beyond all description dreadful, from the screams of the wounded and dying people on the side of the hollow, and from the vast numbers that were smothered in the middle of it, owing to the extraordinary pressure. In this situation I was so unfortunate as to be near the centre, and in a few minutes I should have suffered the same fate as a number of others, if at that time I had not called out to two men of my company who were near the edge, and, though they were both desperately wounded, yet by great exertions they dragged me out of the dreadful pressure.
Good show, men! Sorry about those wounds, but at least your lieutenant is out of a tough spot caused by his being as far from the enemy weapons as possible.
Then, reflecting that the superior appearance of my dress might be fatal to me, I recollected that I had in my pocket two hundred pagodas [gold coins], being the subsistence of my troop, and which, it immediately struck me, would be the means of preserving my life.
Such a hardship being an officer, having to wear “superior” dress. But at least one does get to carry the company’s money and use that to bribe one’s way out of being killed.
I therefore looked around me to observe the different countenances of the horsemen, and, thinking that I had distinguished one whose look was less ferocious than the rest, I pulled out my bag of pagodas, and beckoned him to approach me, which he instantly did, put up his sword, and dismounted. I immediately delivered him the bag; he seemed much surprised and pleased at the magnitude of its contents, which gave me the most sanguine expectations.

After he had put it up, he demanded my accoutrements, which I instantly took off and presented to him; I now thought he would have gone no farther, but (one after the other) he stripped me of everything except my breeches and one half of my shirt,—having torn off the other to tie up my other shirts in a bundle.

Though much concerned at being thus stripped naked after the part I had acted towards him, I however made no doubt but that he would grant me his protection, especially when I saw him mount his horse; which he, however, had no sooner done, than he drew his sabre, and, after giving me two or three wounds, instantly rode off, leaving me stung with rage, and laying the blame upon myself for having called him towards me.
The nerve to ride off with the company’s money that way!
After some minutes, what with the loss of blood and the intense heat of the sun, I fainted away, fully convinced that I was expiring, and pleased to think my last moments were so gentle. I do not know how long I remained in this situation, but I was roused from it by a dreadful pain in my left shoulder-blade. I now found that I was nearly driven into the centre again, and that a dead man was lying upon me, and a pike that had passed through his body had penetrated into my shoulder, and caused me the severe pain.
Severe pain, I say! From a pike sticking through another man’s body.
In this manner I lay for some minutes, when John Kelman, of my company, called out, upon observing me, that I was dead; upon which I answered, “Not yet, but near about it.” At this moment he observed three French hussars, and desired me to go to them; I answered him that I was so weak I could not walk, and, besides that, I was so jammed in the crowd that I could not move myself; upon which, being a very strong man, he reached out his hand towards me, and, my head being the only part he could touch, he dragged me out by the hair, and carried me to the French, when I once more fainted; however, one of them put some arrack [liquor] into my mouth, which soon revived me, and I told them in French I was an officer, and requested that they would protect me, which they assured me in the strongest manner they would do. They accordingly drew their swords to keep off the horse, who were every moment endeavouring to cut me down. At this time my preserver, John Kelman, was by some accident separated from me, and I afterwards found he was cut to pieces.
Oh, tough luck, Kelman!

The British had gone into battle with more than 3,800 fighting men. Lindsay was one of only 50 officers and about 200 private soldiers who survived to be taken prisoner. The rest of his memoir is about his captivity. That experience was, needless to say, difficult.

Monday, October 02, 2017

Events on Archeology in Minute Man Park

October is Massachusetts’s Archaeology Month, and Minute Man National Historical Park is offering two programs on the field.

Saturday, 7 October, 1:00 P.M.
Parker’s Revenge: The New Evidence
Minute Man Visitor Center on the Lincoln/Lexington line
Archaeologist Dr. Meg Watters will share details about the Parker’s Revenge Archaeology Project that was successful in locating a key Lexington battle site from April 19, 1775. Following the presentation, Park Ranger Jim Hollister, joined by His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot, will lead a walk out to the scene of action. The reenactors will demonstrate how, based on the project’s findings, we believe the battle was fought. This program will feature musket firing.
Saturday, 21 October, 1:00 P.M.
Archaeology Finds of Minute Man National Historical Park
Maj. John Buttrick House, 174 Liberty Street (across from the North Bridge Visitor Center parking lot), Concord
Join Nikki Walsh, Museum Services Northeast Region of the National Park Service, for a presentation of various artifacts found throughout the park, from Concord to Lincoln to Lexington. See the artifacts and learn the stories behind where the items were found and the use of them in their historical context.
Both events are free and open to the public.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

Philadelphia Programs in October

A couple of intriguing academic conferences are happening in Philadelphia this month. I’m sharing links to the programs for people who are in the area and those interested in current scholarship.

The McNeil Center for Early American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania is hosting a graduate student conference titled “Lenses and Contacts: Framing Early America” on 5-7 October.
In recent years, scholars have questioned traditional boundaries and envisioning new frontiers. The advent (and departure?) of the Atlantic World has sparked new ways of framing the field and mapping the space of early America. Scholars have polished off traditional lenses of analysis such as politics, economics, and intellectual history.

Our panelists challenge accepted perspectives by offering their own insights into topics such as: spatial lenses, including Atlantic, continental, global, and local; people, places, and ideas on the margins; histories from above and below; perspectives on race, class, gender, and sexuality in early America; ways of knowing, including religion, environmental, scientific, and medical histories; and networks and crossings, disciplinary and otherwise.
The American Philosophical Society has posted the program for its “The Art of Revolutions” conference on 26-28 October:
The tumult and transformations resulting from the Age of Revolutions (1770s-1840s) created a trans-Atlantic body of art and material culture that reflected and inspired new ideas and actions. “The Art of Revolutions”, co-sponsored by the American Philosophical Society, Museum of the American Revolution, and Philadelphia Museum of Art, explores the role of imagery in influencing and giving meaning to the political revolutions that defined the late-18th and early-19th centuries.

The symposium covers the American Revolution, French Revolution, Circum-Caribbean Revolutions, and the Revolutions of 1848. We hope the chronological scope and transatlantic breadth of the conference will stimulate an interdisciplinary dialogue that crosses traditional geographic barriers and transcends the limitations of strict periodization.
Both conferences are free of charge.