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.

Follow by Email


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.

No comments: