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, December 25, 2017

Moses Brown’s Malden Christmas

In December 1775, Moses Brown led a delegation of Quakers from Rhode Island up to the Boston siege lines to bring relief to the suffering poor.

Brown and his comrades went to Gen. George Washington in Cambridge and explained how they wanted to go into Boston with money they had collected. A siege is of course an attempt to deny resources to the enemy, so the commander-in-chief couldn’t have been enthused about this idea.

Quartermaster general Thomas Mifflin was even more negative, thinking that such charity would prove unpopular with the Massachusetts populace.

In consultation with Washington and members of the Massachusetts General Court, the Quakers decided they would meet some of their contacts at the siege lines and hand over the money. But Sheriff Joshua Loring and Maj. John Small came out and told them that the poor in Boston didn’t need money and the town had adequate food.

So the Quakers went off to hand out their money to the poor people they found in Marblehead, Salem, Lynn, Chelsea, and the smallpox hospital at Point Shirley.

Soon enough it was Christmas Day, as Brown described in his report on the journey:
We went to Malden and Lodged at —— where were the Select men upstairs on business and below a Noisey Company of Soldiers fidling and Danceing after supper.

David [Buffum] and I proposed to see the Select Men and Inform them of our Business went up stairs and I spoke to them of the Noise etc not being sufferable it was not only rong in itself but contrary to Every prospect of the present time and Even the Congress Discouraged it by Resolves.

They allowed it was not agreeable but thought as they were Soldiers it must be allowed. It was what they called a Christmas frolich and they had been up all the Night before, were principaly of the Riflemen.
As an eighteenth-century Quaker, Brown didn’t celebrate Christmas. Neither did most New Englanders. But these riflemen were from the Middle Colonies, many of them transplants from Britain, and they didn’t adhere to Puritan customs. And thus we discern the limits of Moses Brown’s charity.


Anonymous said...

It's probably the absence of important teeth that makes Moses Brown appear so empty of the Inner Light -- but it sounds as if the portrait is accurate --

Mike said...

Every party needs a pooper...