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, April 20, 2018

Conceptions of Medicine and History at the A.A.S.

Here are couple of interesting programs coming up at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 24 April, 7:00 P.M.
“The Medical Imagination in the Early United States”
Sari Altschuler

The checklists and clinical algorithms of modern medicine leave little space for imagination, and yet we depend on creativity for the advancement of medicine—to diagnose unusual conditions, to innovate treatment, and to make groundbreaking discoveries. We know a great deal about the empirical aspects of medicine, but we know far less about what the medical imagination is, what it does, how it works, or how we might train it. It was not always so.

Sari Altschuler will return to A.A.S. to discuss her new book, The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, American doctors understood the imagination to be directly connected to health, intimately involved in healing, and central to medical discovery. Literature in particular provided physicians and other health writers important forms for crafting, testing, and implementing theories of health. Reading and writing poetry trained judgment, cultivated inventiveness, sharpened observation, and supplied evidence for medical research, while novels and short stories offered new perspectives and sites for experimenting with original medical theories.

Sari Altschuler is assistant professor of English and associate director of the Humanities Center at Northeastern University. Her research focuses primarily on American literature and culture before 1865, literature and medicine, disability studies, and the health humanities, broadly understood. Her talk is cosponsored by the Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College.

Tuesday, 1 May, 7:00 P.M.
“Antiquarian America: Isaiah Thomas and the Ends of History”
Peter S. Onuf

Isaiah Thomas intended for the A.A.S. to play a critical role in promoting the future progress of the new American nation’s epochal experiment in republican government. Thomas and his colleagues were convinced that the success of that experiment depended on comprehensively collecting any evidence—from Indian antiquities and other “curiosities,” portraits, maps, manuscripts, and anything in print—that would illuminate the life of present as well as past for their future successors. The American Antiquarian impulse was cosmopolitan and progressive, eschewing the didacticism and patriotic exceptionalism of nationalist historiography and so anticipating the contemporary turn toward scientific, “objective” accounts of social and cultural development.

Peter S. Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Virginia, and also senior fellow at Monticello’s Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. He is the author, co-author, and editor of numerous books, including Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood, The Mind of Thomas Jefferson, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs,” and Jeffersonian Legacies. This year Onuf is the A.A.S.-Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

These programs take place in Antiquarian Hall, 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester. There is on-street parking available on Regent Street and at the lot at 90 Park Avenue. They are open to the public free of charge. Books will be available for sale and signing after the program.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Shedding Light on the Lanterns Debate

There are two big reasons I think the late-1870s debate over whether sexton Robert Newman or vestryman John Pulling hung the lanterns in the Old North Church steeple on 18 Apr 1775 didn’t amount to much.

The first is that the two family traditions which finally saw print in that decade weren’t really contradictory. Of course each set of children born after the Revolution grew up hearing about how their own daddy or granddaddy had done something very important in the war, paying little attention to other people in the story. But two traditions actually fit together.

Here’s the Newman lore, as expressed in 1873:
That evening the sexton of Christ Church, Robert Newman, sat quietly in his house on Salem street, opposite Bennett street, assuming an unconcerned look and manner to avert the suspicion of the English officers who were quartered upon him, but impatiently expecting the arrival of a friend, a sea captain, who was watching the movement of the regulars. 
Newman’s son recalled him awaiting “a sea captain,” and Pulling was a mariner whom everyone called “Captain.” Significantly, the Newmans didn’t recall the sexton hearing news directly from Paul Revere.

Meanwhile, Pulling’s relatives were clear that the first thing he did after learning about the British plans from Revere was to go to Newman:
As soon as he received his notice, he left his house, and, watching his time, went over to the sexton’s, in the same street, and asked for the keys of the church, which, as he was a vestryman, the sexton could not refuse to give him.
In sum, the two accounts are complementary. The only contradiction between these stories is that each family felt that their relative alone took two lanterns to Christ Church.

But it makes more sense if both men went to the church. That way one could keep watch and run interference. Pulling may well have seen himself as supervising while Newman recalled doing most of the physical work.

Both family traditions also hold that the royal authorities seized Robert Newman on 19 April or soon afterward. That leads us to the next big disagreement between the accounts. The Newman family said the sexton was released because the army didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. The Pulling relatives believed that Newman was released because he snitched on the captain—but they offered no evidence for the words they put in Newman’s mouth. The sexton remained in the North End for years after the war, and no one else accused him of being an informer.

These days, almost all historians say Robert Newman and John Pulling put up the signal lanterns together. The Pulling relatives’ suspicion about Newman gets swept aside. So as of now both sides of the debate won, and both sides lost.

But that’s only the first reason I say the debate over who hung the lanterns doesn’t matter much. The other reason is that hanging those lanterns probably had zero effect on history.

The lantern signal told William Conant, David Cheever, and other Patriots in Charlestown that the British troops were going to cross the Charles River. They dispatched a messenger on horseback to carry that news to Committee of Safety and Supplies members Elbridge Gerry, Azor Orne, and Jeremiah Lee in west Cambridge and to John Hancock and Samuel Adams in Lexington.

That messenger never made it. He was probably stopped on the west side of the Charlestown neck by British officers on horseback. Revere later ran into such officers and had to gallop off to a northern road. We don’t know who the original Charlestown rider was or what happened to him, but we know he didn’t get through.

That means the signal from the Old North tower played no role in alerting Provincial Congress leaders or countryside militia officers about the British march. Thus, if the two lanterns had never shone, the events of 19 April would have played out the same way. (Mind you, I’ve even questioned whether Revere’s ride mattered.)

So why did people care so much about the lanterns in the 1870s? Why do we care today, reenacting that event and idolizing the lanterns supposedly involved? The answer goes back to Henry W. Longfellow. He recognized the poetic power of that moment when the twin lanterns were lit—it’s focused, dramatic, visual. He made it a vital part of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” distorting history to depict it as crucial to Revere’s actual ride. And we’ve had it embedded in our national consciousness ever since.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Debate Over Newman and Pulling

The Rev. John Lee Watson was pretty relentless in arguing his claim that John Pulling, not Robert Newman, had hung the lanterns in Old North Church on 18 Apr 1775.

On 20 July 1876, Watson published his letter in the Boston Daily Advertiser. In November he sent an updated and corrected version of that letter to Charles Deane, corresponding secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, who endorsed his conclusion and entered the letter into the society’s Proceedings.

The following year, a pamphlet titled Paul Revere’s Signal: The True Story of the Signal Lanterns in Christ Church, Boston appeared. That reprinted Watson’s letter and the M.H.S. discussion of it. Watson published an expanded edition in 1880. (In addition to arguing for Pulling’s participation, he also disputed the mistaken belief that the signal had been sent from the Old North Meeting-House instead of what had become known as the Old North Church.)

Most of the evidence to support Pulling’s participation was indirect, based on his documented role in other Patriot activism. Pulling was a member of the North End Caucus. He was elected to town offices: clerk of the market, warden, fireward, committee to supply the poor, committee to enforce the Continental Congress’s Association. After the siege, he served on the town’s wartime “Committee of Correspondence, Safety & Inspection” alongside Paul Revere.

In 1777 Pulling was a captain and conductor or commissary of ordnance in Col. Thomas Crafts’s Massachusetts artillery regiment. Basically that regiment was how middle-aged Sons of Liberty from Boston’s mechanics class helped to fight the war. (Revere was second-in-command.) In addition, starting in 1761, Pulling intermittently attended events of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons.

Pulling’s Whiggish work was somewhat unusual in that he was an Anglican, even at times a warden and vestryman of Christ Church. But of course his access to that church’s tall steeple would have made him valuable on 18 Apr 1775.

In 1878, a defender of the Newman family claim hit back at the pro-Pulling argument. William W. Wheildon published his History of Paul Revere’s Signal Lanterns, April 18, 1775, in the Steeple of the North Church from his press in Concord. He listed more than a dozen people who had lived in the North End before and after the war and testified that it was common knowledge that Newman had hung the signal lanterns. (Like Watson, Wheildon also spoke up for Old North Church, not Old North Meeting-House, as the source of the signals.)

There’s clear evidence that Newman was indeed the sexton at Christ Church in 1775 and for years afterward (until he was criticized for charging visitors money to see the body of Maj. John Pitcairn in the crypt). And who besides the sexton would have the church keys and knowledge of the stairs to the steeple?

In this historical debate, Newman was the inside candidate. His family had remained in the North End and first got the attention of the Christ Church rector. Though Pulling had returned to the North End after the siege, by the 1870s his descendants were more scattered.

On the other hand, the Pulling faction had the advantage of class. The Newmans didn’t publish their own accounts. Pulling’s relatives did, the most vocal being clergymen. Pulling had been a respected merchant. In contrast, church sextons like Newman were seen as poor, menial, and dependent. “Are sextons, as a class, so intelligent and so reliable as to have been chosen for and intrusted with such an important affair?” Mary Orne Jenks sniffed. In this period the M.H.S. was at its most Brahmin, and it’s no surprise that institution lined up on the Pulling side.

Both parties in the debate claimed that their man was the “friend” that Revere asked to send the signal. Neither was actually able to provide evidence for friendship aside from all three men living in the North End in the same years. But Pulling was in his late thirties, closer to Revere’s age, while Newman was only twenty-three.

Both sides had dramatic stories to tell of their man carefully hanging the lanterns on 18 April, evading the royal authorities that night, and then being hunted down. But there’s no documentary evidence from 1775 to support either of those traditions.

And in the end, this whole debate was over very little.

TOMORROW: Why the Newman-Pulling dispute really doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Another Version of the Story of John Pulling

I’ve been quoting the letter published in the 20 July 1876 Boston Daily Advertiser that first publicly credited John Pulling with having hung the signal lanterns in Old North Church at the start of the Revolutionary War.

It’s striking evidence of the speed of communications possible then that an evening reprint of that newspaper item reached Malone, New York, by 22 July, and a man there was able to have his reply published back in the Boston Journal on 24 July.

Henry F. Lane (1825-1897) was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Malone. He wrote:


Under this caption in your evening edition of Friday I learn that a correspondent of the Advertiser from Orange, N.J., answers the question by giving the name of John Pulling.

John Pulling was the grandfather of my mother, the late Mrs. Charles Lane, Jr., of Boston. The wife of John Pulling, my mother’s grandmother, died in Abington, Mass., about thirty years ago in her ninety-ninth year.
That elderly widow was Sarah (Thaxter McBean Pulling) Reed (1746-1843). Her daughter Sarah (1773-1817) married Isaac Reed of Abington in 1793, and their daughter Sarah (1797-1871) married Charles Lane in 1815. (The first Sarah's third husband was the father of the second Sarah’s only husband.)

Henry F. Lane told the family lore this way:
When I was a lad I remember distinctly hearing from her that her husband hung the lights in the steeple of the Old North Church to give the alarm to the country people. His residence at the time was on the corner of what was then called Ann and Cross Streets. The British at the time made diligent search for him, and I have heard my great-grandmother give a very vivid description of their searching the house to find him, and how he avoided capture by her concealing him under an empty wine-butt in the cellar.

He escaped with her from Boston in a small skiff while the British had possession, by disguising himself as a fisherman, was challenged while passing under the hawser of a British man-of-war, and landed on Nantasket beach. He was in concealment for a while in an old cooper shop near the beach, and in that lowly place my mother’s mother was born. At the time John Pulling was a shipping merchant. All his vessels and goods were confiscated and his house was occupied by British ofiicers. . . .

I will also add that John Pulling was one of the number that destroyed the tea in Boston Harbor. He was not disguised as an Indian, but was in his usual garb, even to the three-cornered hat. My great-grandmother, upon his return, took from the rim of his hat a small quantity of the tea that had been lodged there, and preserved it in a glass vial. Many of her descendants besides myself who are yet living will recall how vividly the old lady used to describe the event as she brought forth the precious memento. During the last year of her life that vial mysteriously disappeared.
In broad outline this is the same story passed down by the sisters and daughter of Pulling’s first wife to the Rev. John Lee Watson—sought by the royal authorities, Pulling snuck out of Boston by boat to Nantasket and lived there with his family during the siege of Boston, enduring privations. Many of the details differ, however, from the location of the Pullings’ North End home to the boat they escaped on.

In one important respect, Henry Lane’s understanding of his family history was wrong. He believed his grandmother was born at Nantasket during the siege. In fact, she was born on 19 Oct 1773, according to Boston records, and baptized at Christ Church five days later. It’s notable that Henry Lane didn’t know his grandmother, who died before he was born, but clearly did know his long-lived great-grandmother and her vivid stories of the Revolution.

In the end, the existence of two versions of the tale of John Pulling hanging lanterns from two branches of the family who clearly weren’t in touch shows that story goes back well before those lanterns became a celebrated part of American lore. But where does that leave Robert Newman?

TOMORROW: The debate over Newman and Pulling.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Pulling on the Run

Yesterday we left merchant captain John Pulling (1737-1787) in Boston’s North End with the royal authorities seeking to question him about the signal lanterns hung in the Old North Church steeple on 18 Apr 1775.

At least, that’s the way the Rev. John Lee Watson told the story in a letter published in the Boston Daily Advertiser on 20 July 1876. Watson went on:
In the meantime, a Mrs. Malcolm, a Scotchwoman, and wife of a near neighbor of Mr. Pulling,—who was under obligations to him for some service he had rendered him,—came to him with a message from her husband, “that he had better leave the town as soon as possible, with his family.”

And this he did, disguised as a laborer, on board of a small craft loaded with beer for the man-of-war lying in the harbor. In some way, one of the sailors belonging to the craft had known Mr. Pulling, and to him he confided his wish to escape from Boston with his family. The sailor said “if the skipper of the craft should be on board, he would not allow of any delay; but if the mate, who was a good-natured fellow, should have the command, he would be willing to put him ashore on his return.” This proved to be the case, and Mr. Pulling and his family were landed at Nantasket.

How long he remained there is not known, probably not long; but his wife and family continued to live there for some time, suffering from want of all the necessaries of life; for they had carried nothing with them,—every thing had been left behind.

And when Mr. Pulling returned to Boston,—after the siege was raised,—he found his dwelling-house, and stores, and abundant means, all so injured or destroyed that, at the end of the war, all his property was gone. He died soon after, and the family at once removed to Hingham, Massachusetts.
Boston newspapers show John Pulling holding offices in the militia and town government during and after the war, and advertising imported cloth and other goods for sale before his death in January 1787. But his family passed down a perception of him as impoverished.

Watson said the story he told was “derived principally from the letters of my kinswoman, the grand-daughter of John Pulling.” When the minister expanded his newspaper letter into a pamphlet, he named his correspondent as Mary Orne Jenks (1800-1886) of Salem.

Jenks had told her cousin: “The story of the lanterns I heard from my earliest childhood, from my mother, and from my step-grandmother.” John and Annis (Lee) Pulling (1743-1771) had only one daughter, also named Annis. In 1773 John remarried Sarah (Thaxter) McBean of Hingham, who helped to raise Annis and her brother from the first marriage. Thus, the mother and step-grandmother whom Jenks referred to must have been Annis (Pulling) Jenks (1769-1837) of Salem and Sarah (Thaxter McBean Pulling) Reed (1746-1843) of Abington.

In addition, Watson stated he heard the same story from “my mother and my aunt—both of them sisters of Mrs. Annis Pulling.” The minister’s mother was Lucy (Lee) Watson (1759-1840), Annis (Lee) Pulling’s youngest sister. There are multiple candidates for the aunt, but this is clearly an example of the women of the family maintaining the family lore and passing it on to the next generations.

TOMORROW: Another branch of the family heard from.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

John Pulling and the Lanterns in the Old North Steeple

In 1875 Old North Church celebrated the centennial of the start of the Revolutionary War and the role that its steeple had played in that event.

The rector, the Rev. Henry Burroughs, credited Robert Newman, the church’s sexton, with hanging the two lanterns that H. W. Longfellow’s poem had made famous.

That prompted a response from the Rev. John Lee Watson (1797-1884), who had four years before moved from Massachusetts to Orange, New Jersey:
Knowing that this statement could not be correct and having my attention called to the matter by a kinswoman of mine, who furnished me with additional reasons for believing that the honor of aiding Paul Revere on that “night much to be remembered,” belonged rightfully to a member of our own family, I addressed a letter to the reverend rector, asking for the authority on which he had made such a statement.
The rector pointed to the informants named yesterday, all descendants of Newman or people who had known him and/or Revere in Boston’s North End earlier in the century.

Watson, however, had grown up hearing a different story. In a long letter to the Boston Daily Advertiser published on 20 July 1876, he wrote, “I claim ‘the honor of raising the signal-lanterns’ for Captain John Pulling.”

Watson quoted Revere’s own account of the events of 18-19 Apr 1775, declaring that the “friend” the silversmith referred to was Pulling—indeed, that Pulling “had been, from boyhood, his most intimate friend.”

Like the Newman family, Watson shared dramatic details of that night:
Major [John] Pitcairn’s regiment was drawn up nearly in front of the church, and not only was there a risk of the light being observed in that quarter, but also, as Pulling said, “he was afraid that some old woman would see the light and scream fire.”
(When Watson republished this letter as a pamphlet, he silently replaced the clause about “Pitcairn’s regiment…nearly in front of the church” with the more vague and defensible “The soldiers were in the streets, at no great distance from the Church.”)

Here’s what Watson understood Pulling to have done:
As soon as he received his notice, he left his house [footnote: in Salem Street], and, watching his time, went over to the sexton’s, in the same street, and asked for the keys of the church, which, as he was a vestryman, the sexton could not refuse to give him. He then went into the church, locking himself in; and, “climbing to the upper window of the belfry,” he there waited patiently, until—
And here Watson inserted five lines of Longfellow’s poem.
…and then he hung out the signal of “two lanterns,” by which those on the opposite side would understand that the British “were going by water.”
Watson wrote that Paul Revere saw that signal from Charlestown (he didn’t) and quoted two more lines of Longfellow. We can see that poet’s cultural dominance in how people were trying to align their family stories with his verses rather than the historical record.
When it was discovered by the British authorities that the signals had been made from Christ Church, “a search was immediately set a-foot for the rebel who made them.” The sexton of the church was suspected and arrested. He protested his innocence; and, when questioned, declared that “the keys of the church were demanded of him, at a late hour of the night, by Mr. Pulling, who, being a vestryman, he thought had a right to them; and, after he had given them up he had gone to bed again, and that was all he knew about it.”

This answer was sufficient to procure his release, and turn the search towards Mr. Pulling.
Watson thus declared that not only had Robert Newman not hung the lanterns as his descendants and neighbors believed, but that he had actually pointed the royal authorities to the man who deserved the credit.

TOMORROW: Pulling on the run.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Robert Newman and the Lanterns in the Old North Steeple

As I wrote yesterday, people paid very little attention to the question of who hung the signal lanterns in Old North Church on 18 Apr 1775 until after Henry W. Longfellow published “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1860.

Within a decade, a Boston family had come forward to share their lore of an ancestor hanging those lanterns. The earliest written statement of that tradition that I’ve seen appeared in the Boston Traveler newspaper on 30 Dec 1873, in an article about the sesquicentennial of the first service in Old North   (formally Christ Church, Boston).

Here’s the pertinent paragraph, broken up for easier online reading:
The eighteenth of April, Easter Tuesday, 1775, is a day memorable in our annals, connecting the history of this church with that of the nation. It was the last day of the rectorship of a clergyman owning allegiance to the King of Great Britain [Rev. Mather Byles, Jr.].

That evening the sexton of Christ Church, Robert Newman, sat quietly in his house on Salem street, opposite Bennett street, assuming an unconcerned look and manner to avert the suspicion of the English officers who were quartered upon him, but impatiently expecting the arrival of a friend, a sea captain, who was watching the movement of the regulars. On the other side of the river was Paul Revere, waiting for them to communicate to him the intention of the English.

Mr. Newcomb [sic] succeeded in eluding the vigilance of his unwelcome guests, took down the church keys, and with two large lanterns in his hand went out, met his friend, heard his intelligence, opened the church door and locked it again after him and went “up the wooden stairs with stealthy tread to the belfry chamber overhead.”

The lights from this steeple waked the fires of war and symbolized two mighty changes; the colonies became an independent nation, and the Church of England in this land is the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States. If Robert Newman’s courage or patience, or firmness or self-control had failed him for an instant, Paul Revere would have looked in vain across the dark waters at the tall steeple on Copp’s Hill.

When his task was done Mr. Newman came down, passed through the church, jumped out of a back window, went round through Unity and Bennett streets to his house, and succeeded in entering it without being observed. The British found him in bed. They arrested him and threw him into jail, but he had taken such nice [?] precautions that nothing could be proved, and he was set at liberty.

Mr. [Henry] Burroughs [rector of Christ Church in 1873] stated that he had heard these facts from the lips of a son of Robert Newman about four years since. The church was closed that night. Mr. Byles was soon after banished, with other subjects of Great Britain, and he retired to Halifax.
Later newspapers made clear that the “son of Robert Newman” who had spoken to Burroughs was Samuel Haskell Newman. He participated in subsequent lantern-hanging ceremonies at the church. In addition, Burroughs later reported corroboration from:

  • “Mrs. Sally Chittenden, now ninety years of age, who is the grand-daughter of John Newman, brother of Robert”
  • “Joshua B. Fowle, living at Lexington, who knew Paul Revere, who often came with the other patriots of his time to his father’s house.”
  • “William Green, who lives at the North End, is the grandson of Captain Thomas Barnard. His sister, eighty-four years old, remembers Robert Newman.”

Nonetheless, we can see the influence of Longfellow’s poem on this telling as well. Not only does it mistakenly put Revere on the opposite shore in Charlestown awaiting the signal, but the account even quotes a couplet.

This account also reflects the belief that British army officers were “quartered” on unwilling civilian families before the war. In fact, Robert Newman lived with his mother, and she took in British officers as boarders to help pay the bills.

Dramatic details such as sneaking out of the house, sneaking out of the church, and nonetheless being arrested would naturally be the parts of the story that children would remember and pass on. There’s no contemporaneous support for them, but the Newman family simply wasn’t prominent enough in Revolutionary Boston to be noticed.

TOMORROW: A rival claimant from out of town.

[The photograph above shows the Newman house in the North End, as preserved in the collection of the Boston Public Library.]

Friday, April 13, 2018

How the Signal Lanterns Started to Glow in American Culture

For most of the nineteenth century, Americans didn’t care who hung the lanterns in the steeple of Old North Church on 18 Apr 1775. That’s because very few Americans had ever heard about that signal.

Paul Revere had mentioned the lanterns in the account he gave to the Massachusetts Historical Society around 1798, published in the society’s Collections series. He wrote:
I agreed with a Col. [William] Conant, & some other Gentlemen, in Charleston, that if the British went out by Water, we would shew two Lanthorns in the North Church Steeple; & if by Land, one, as a Signal; for we were aprehensive it would be dificult to Cross the Charles River, or git over Boston neck. I left Dr. [Joseph] Warrens, called upon a friend, and desired him to make the Signals.

I then went Home, took my Boots and Surtout, and went to the North part of the Town, where I had kept a Boat; two friends rowed me across Charles River, a little to the eastward where the Somerset Man of War lay. It was then young flood, the Ship was winding, & the moon was Rising. They landed me on Charlestown side. When I got into Town, I met Col. Conant, & several others; they said they had seen our signals.
However, Revere’s story didn’t get very wide circulation. It was reprinted in the New-England Magazine in 1832, but historians and textbook writers didn’t pick up on it. Revere’s name appeared in just a few books published in the first half of the 1800s, all discussing him as an engraver or as a leader in Boston manufacturing after the war.

That started to change in 1849 when Richard Frothingham published the first edition of his History of the Siege of Boston. In addition to drawing on Revere’s account, he published a corroborating document, a memorandum written by Richard Devens of Charlestown:
I soon received intelligence from Boston, that the enemy were all in motion, and were certainly preparing to come out into the country. Soon afterward, the signal agreed upon was given; this was a lanthorn hung out in the upper window of the tower of the N[orth]. Ch[urch]., towards Charlestown. I then sent off an express to inform Messrs. [Elbridge] Gerry, &c., and Messrs. [John] Hancock and [Samuel] A[dams]., who I knew were at the Rev. Mr. ——— [Jonas Clarke’s] at Lexington, that the enemy were certainly coming out. I kept watch at the ferry to watch for the boats till about eleven o’clock, when Paul Revere came over and informed that the T[roops]. were actually in the boats.
Over the next decade, several more authors mentioned the signals.

But what really made those lanterns famous was Henry W. Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride,” published in The Atlantic in 1860. Longfellow used Revere’s account as his main source, but he indulged in a lot of poetic and narrative license. He made Revere the rider on “the opposite shore” awaiting those signals rather than the Boston organizer who’d arranged to send that information before crossing the river as a backup messenger.

Longfellow wrote of the silversmith:
He said to his friend, “If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,—
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm.”
Longfellow’s poem made the lantern signal into a big deal, and not just because he provided the easily remembered “One if by land, and two if by sea” phrasing. Six of the poem’s fourteen stanzas describe Revere arranging for this signal, his friend gathering intelligence, his friend climbing the tower, Revere waiting for the signal, until finally “A second lamp in the belfry burns!” Revere’s actual ride goes by in a relative blur, even including the extra miles out to Concord that Revere didn’t get to travel.

Longfellow was one of America’s favorite poets at a time when poetry was part of pop culture. “Paul Revere’s Ride” became one of his greatest hits. Starting in 1861, therefore, the lanterns in the Old North Church steeple were embedded in America’s national origin myth.

Which made the identity of the “friend” Revere had asked to “make the Signals” a topic of great public interest.

COMING UP: Rival claimants.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

New Edition of We Stood Our Ground in Lexington

This Patriots’ Day also brings us a revised and expanded edition of We Stood Our Ground, Alexander R. Cain’s in-depth study of Lexington at the start of the Revolutionary War.

First released in 2004, this book has grown to reflect new discoveries in archives, archeology, and interpretation. It traces Lexington’s transition from a quiet rural town to a center of Patriot militancy in the decade before 1775, looking at the religious, economic, and geographical forces at work.

In this edition Cain discusses not only the militiamen who gathered on and around the town common as British soldiers arrived but also the families who rushed to evacuate and the remaining Loyalists.

Recent archeological findings lend new weight to the description of “Parker’s Revenge,” as Lexington’s militia companies fired at the British column when it returned to town from the west. And the book follows the citizens of Lexington through the siege of Boston.

We Stood Our Ground is available from Amazon in paperback and as a very well priced Kindle ebook.

Alex Cain is an active historical researcher and reenactor. He teaches, speaks on constitutional and criminal issues, and leads tours of historic Newburyport through Untapped History. His writing can be found at Historical Nerdery and the Journal of the American Revolution. His other book, “I See Nothing but the Horrors of a Civil War”, follows the Loyalist families from New York and the Hampshire Grants (Vermont) who fought for the Crown as McAlpin’s Corps of American Volunteers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Launch of A Single Blow in Lexington, 15 Apr.

On Sunday, 15 April, Phillip Greenwalt and Robert Orrison will launch their new book A Single Blow: The Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Beginning of the American Revolution, April 19, 1775 at the Cary Memorial Library in Lexington.

A Single Blow is one of the first titles in a new series growing out of the Emerging Revolutionary War Era website. It aims to do what the same publisher’s Emerging Civil War guidebooks do for that later conflict, distilling the latest historical findings into a succinct narrative for readers interested in more than a surface treatment.

As Gene Procknow wrote at the Journal of the American Revolution about another volume in the same series, this book is “more comprehensive than the freely available tour guides and less detailed than a full scholarly account of the battles,…best used by historically inquisitive visitors…or by a reader new to the subject seeking a cogent overview of the battles.” Each paperback volume is short for easy portability and contains many photographs, yet each covers a lot of ground.

The authors have years of experience leading the public around battlefields. Phil Greenwalt, who holds an M.A. in American History from George Mason University, works for the National Park Service at George Washington Birthplace National Monument and Thomas Stone National Historic Site. Rob Orrison received his master’s in Public History from George Mason, and he oversees operations at a large municipal historic site in northern Virginia.

The authors’ book talk and signing is scheduled to start at 1:30 P.M. at the town library. It is co-sponsored by the Lexington Historical Society and the Lexington Visitors Center. The whole event is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

“Come in, Revere; we are not afraid of you.”

Elias Phinney’s History of the Battle at Lexington (1825) is one of the most important sources of information about events in Lexington on 18-19 Apr 1775.

Phinney published a recollection from William Munroe about how, as a sergeant in the town militia, he had assembled a small squad of guards at the parsonage.

That led to this scene in Phinney’s book as Paul Revere arrived from Boston about midnight:
On the arrival of Revere, he was hailed by the guard, and stopped. He desired to be admitted to the house. Munroe, not knowing him, nor the object of his errand, refused to let him pass, stating, that the family had just retired to rest, and had desired, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. “Noise!” said Revere, “you’ll soon have a noise, that will disturb you all. The British troops are on their march, and will soon be among you.” He passed without further ceremony, and knocked at the door.

Mr. [Jonas] Clark immediately opened a window, and inquired who was there. Revere, without replying to the question, said he wished to see Mr. [John] Hancock. Mr. Clark, with his usual deliberation, was going on to observe, that it was a critical time, and he did not like to admit people into his house, at that time of night, without first knowing their business, when Hancock, who had retired to rest, but not to sleep, knew Revere’s voice, and cried out, “Come in, Revere; we are not afraid of you.”
Recent authors have presented that last line in different ways. Some describe Hancock as jovial, others as condescending. I think this shows his skill at being “condescending” in the old, positive sense of the word. But the question that occurred to me this year is: What evidence exists for Hancock saying that line at all?

Here’s how Phinney took down William Munroe’s description of the encounter:
On learning this, I supposed they had some design upon Hancock and [Samuel] Adams, who were then at the house of the Rev. Mr. Clark, and immediately assembled a guard of eight men, with their arms, to guard the house. About midnight, Col. Paul Revere rode up and requested admittance. I told him the family had just retired, and had requested, that they might not be disturbed by any noise about the house. “Noise!” said he, “you’ll have noise enough before long. Tho regulars are coming out.” We then permitted him to pass.
No remark from Hancock there. The Rev. Jonas Clarke published an account of that night in 1776, and it doesn’t include such a detail. Revere wrote nothing about Hancock’s banter in his account from about 1798. And there’s no such detail in the recollections taken down from Hancock’s widow, then Dorothy Scott, in 1822.

It’s possible that Phinney came up with the line on his own. We can see he embellished what Revere told Munroe. But embellishment requires some core material to work on, and it’s possible that Phinney heard about Hancock’s remark from someone else in the parsonage who didn’t want to go on the public record as Munroe did.

A book called The Memorial of Joseph and Lucy Clark Allen, published by the Allen family in 1891, includes a mention of “Eliza Clark,” one of the Lexington minister’s daughters. She appears in Charles Hudson’s town history as Elizabeth Clarke, born in June 1763 and died unmarried in 1844. She was thus eleven years old in April 1775.

After naming Eliza Clarke, that Allen family history says, “The stories of these times were often recounted by the daughter who had helped her father, and who remained at the old parsonage many years after the rest of the family had scattered; and till her death in 1843 she was an important personage in our mother’s early experiences.” That’s in a passage about how the Clarkes served militiamen food throughout the day which includes a direct quotation: “For want of sufficient accommodations the guests seated themselves on the floor and helped themselves with their fingers.” There’s no source for that line, but by implication it was part of the oral tradition in the family going back to Eliza.

On the preceding page of that book is a footnote:
When Paul Revere came to the house on this errand, the guard at first refused to let him in; but Hancock, hearing his voice, said, “That is Revere: you need not be afraid of him.”
Again, there’s no source provided for this anecdote or the direct quote it contains. It’s possible that by 1891 the Allen family tradition had been cross-pollinated with the story from Phinney, which became a standard part of American history. But it’s also possible that Eliza Clarke’s story of hearing Hancock say something like “That is Revere: you need not be afraid of him” was Phinney’s original source for the line, “Come in, Revere; we are not afraid of you.”

Monday, April 09, 2018

Hancock’s Trunk in Worcester, 16-22 Apr.

To celebrate Patriots’ Day, the Worcester History Museum is displaying John Hancock’s trunk for one week starting on Monday, 16 April. The museum will be open that day from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M.

This was reportedly the trunk where Hancock was storing his business and political papers—including sensitive documents from his work with the Massachusetts Provincial Congress and its Committee of Safety—while he was in Lexington in April 1775. Though Hancock himself slept at the parsonage, along with his fiancée Dolly Quincy, his aunt Lydia Hancock, and Samuel Adams, the trunk was with his clerk, John Lowell, at Buckman’s Tavern.

Hancock and Lowell left town several hours into the early morning of 19 Apr 1775 along with Adams and Paul Revere, who had come out from Boston to warn that British troops were on the march. After settling Adams and Hancock at what they thought was a safe distance, Lowell and Revere went back to Lexington to scout the situation.

At that point Lowell thought about that trunk. He decided it might be good to keep its contents away from the approaching soldiers. He and Revere went to the tavern, climbed upstairs, brought the trunk down, and were carrying it across the town common during the first shots of the war.

The photograph above comes from the Worcester Telegram’s coverage of the museum’s similar display last year, which explains:
The Hancock trunk was donated years later to the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester by a descendant, Dorothy Hancock Gardner White (1799-1890). She wrote that in her childhood the box contained “letters of correspondence of the prominent men of the revolution” and also letters from Hancock to his future bride, Dolly Quincy, her great-aunt. Mrs. White gave many of the letters away.

The trunk was empty when it came to the Antiquarian Society, and when it was transferred in 1895 to the collection of the Worcester Society of Antiquity, what is today the Worcester Historical Museum.

“The trunk only comes out once a year,” said Vanessa Bumpus, the museum’s exhibit coordinator.

Most of the time the fragile artifact is kept downstairs in climate-controlled storage, she said. But for school vacation week coinciding with Patriots’ Day in April, museum staffers don special gloves, place the trunk on a dolly, and gingerly transfer it to a museum exhibit case.
Ironically, if this trunk had stayed in Buckman’s Tavern that morning, it would have been perfectly safe. No British soldiers entered the building. That column passed through Lexington just because it was on the road to Concord.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

A Few More Local Patriots’ Day Events

Yesterday I listed the events surrounding Patriots’ Day that are scheduled to take place in Minute Man National Historical Park. I also linked to Battleroad.org, a website listing other events in the area.

But there are yet more local commemorations, some of which may not appear on either list. I’ve come to see that pattern as emblematic of deep New England culture. Even though the militia mobilizations of 1774-1777 were by definition mass evens, our communities often like to maintain our own traditions independent from coordinating authorities.

This afternoon, for example, the town of Tewksbury commemorates its response to the 1775 alarm with the “Tewksbury Line of March” starting at 1:30 P.M. The Tewksbury Militia and Minutemen, Billerica Colonial Minutemen, and Second Massachusetts Regiment will participate. Former Tewksbury Historical Society president David Marcus will narrate the event.

Attendees are invited to walk behind the reenactors along the militia companies’ original route along East Street, Lee Street, and Chandler Street to the town library, where there will be a musket salute. At around 2:45 P.M. guest speaker will then provide a Loyalist perspective on events.

On Sunday, 15 April, Arlington will be the scene of “The Fight at the Jason Russell House,” reenacting the skirmish that cost more than a dozen lives in 1775. Participating reenacting groups include the Menotomy Minutemen, the Danvers Alarum Company, Gardner’s Regiment, and the Acton Minutemen. The Jason Russell House is at 7 Jason Street (just off Massachusetts Avenue), and this event is due to start at noon.

That fight is scheduled to finish by 2:00 P.M. when the Arlington Patriots’ Day Parade will begin, starting at Massachusetts Avenue and Brattle Street and proceeding east along Mass. Ave. to the Walgreen’s in East Arlington. Expect bands, fire engines, reenacting units, and community groups to march by.

Finally, that Sunday evening in Lexington, History At Play will present “The House of Hancock,” a “fun-filled, Hamilton-style musical” about the rise of the Hancock family. John Hancock’s grandfather was the minister in Lexington for decades, and he spent some years of his youth there before returning for his fateful visit in 1775.

“Join John and Dolly Hancock, Sam Adams, and more as they plan a revolution,” says the show notice. This chamber musical will be performed in the Lexington Depot starting at 7:00 P.M. Tickets are $20 for Lexington Historical Society members, $25 for non-members, and $15 for children.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Patriots’ Day Season at Minute Man Park, 7-21 Apr.

The Patriots’ Day season is upon us, so I’ll focus for several days on details and commemorations of the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the start of the Revolutionary War.

Minute Man National Historical Park has a bunch of free events lined up, starting today. For additional information, check its website. In addition, there are commemorations and events not on park land but in nearby towns such as Lexington, Bedford, and Arlington; visit the Battle Road website for those.

Saturday, 7 April, 1:00 P.M. 
Meriam’s Corner Exercise
737 Lexington Road, Meriam’s Corner, Concord
The Town of Concord, joined by area minute companies, fife and drum units, and the Concord Independent Battery, pay remembrance to the fight at Meriam’s Corner that marked the beginning of the six-hour running battle back to Boston.

Saturday, 7 April, 3:00 P.M. 
Paul Revere Capture Ceremony
Paul Revere Capture Site, 200 North Great Road, Lincoln
The Lincoln Minute Men and the Town of Lincoln, joined by other reenactment units, observe the historic capture of Paul Revere with fife and drum music and a musket fire salute.

Saturday, 14 April, 7:00 A.M.
Tough Ruck and Captain Brown’s Company of Minute Men
Step off at The Old Manse field, adjacent to North Bridge, Concord
Minute Man National Historical Park is honored to once again host the “Tough Ruck,” military personnel marching in memory of our fallen soldiers. Support our soldiers and veterans in this 26.2-mile hike along the historic Battle Road Trail. The ruck will kick off with a musket volley from the North Bridge.

Saturday, 14 April, 9:30 A.M. to 5:30 P.M.
Life at Hartwell Tavern
136 North Great Road, Lincoln
Park staff, Lincoln Minute Men, and living history volunteers will be demonstrating various aspects of life in Massachusetts at the beginning of the American Revolution.

Saturday, 14 April, 10:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon and 2:00 to 5:00 P.M.
Visit Whittemore House 
Behind Minute Man Visitor Center, Rte. 2A, Lexington
Whittemore House will be staffed by costumed park volunteers demonstrating what life was like in 1775. Try on colonial children’s clothing, gather ingredients for a meal, and listen to stories of the Whittemore family and their experience of April 19, 1775.

Saturday, 14 April, 10:30 A.M.
Explore Bloody Angle with Edmund Foster
Hartwell Tavern, 136 North Great Road, Lincoln
Edmund Foster, a volunteer from Reading, Massachusetts (portrayed by Park Volunteer Ed Hurley), will lead a tour to this key battle site where he fought in 1775.

Saturday, 14 April, 11:30 A.M.
1st Michigan Colonial Fife and Drum Corps
Amphitheater, Minute Man Visitor Center, Rte. 2A, Lexington
Listen to military music of the American Revolution and get into the spirit of Patriots’ Day!

Saturday, 14 April, 9:30 A.M. to 12:15 P.M.
Caught in the Storm of War: Civilians of April 19th
Captain William Smith House, 136 North Great Road, Lincoln
What would you take with you if you had to leave your home in a hurry, uncertain of your return? Learn about the local civilians on April 19, 1775. Once the refugees leave the Smith house, you may encounter them along the Battle Road Trail heading towards Lexington and the Minute Man Visitor Center just prior the the Parker’s Revenge Battle Demonstration. The Smith house will remain open until 4:00 P.M.

Saturday, 14 April, 1:00 P.M.
Parker’s Revenge Battle Demonstration
Battle Road Trail behind Minute Man Visitor Center, Rte. 2A, Lexington
Hundreds of British and colonial reenactors will engage in a tactical weapons demonstration with musket firing and fast-paced battle action along a stretch of the actual Battle Road of 1775. This is one of this year’s major events, newly informed by archeological findings.

Sunday, 15 April, 1:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Warlike Preparations: British Soldiers Search the Barrett House
Colonel James Barrett House, 448 Barrett’s Mill Road, Concord
In 1775, Colonel James Barrett of Concord was responsible for safeguarding all the military supplies in town, and his house was searched by British soldiers during their mission to Concord. Visit the Barrett House and learn about the intense military preparations that helped launch America into the Revolutionary War. Around 3:00, redcoats will arrive and search the property for arms and supplies.

Sunday, 15 April, 2:00 P.M.
Revolutionary Dogs: “Paws for the Cause!”
Minute Man Visitor Center, Rte. 2A, Lexington
Join Park Ranger Roger Fuller for a walk on the Battle Road to explore the lives of dogs in colonial America and in the Revolution. The 45-minute walk starts at Minute Man Visitor Center and is open to all, including well-behaved, friendly dogs on leashes.

Monday, 16 April, 8:45 A.M. 
Commemoration of the North Bridge Fight and Concord Parade
North Bridge, Concord
British reenactors will be joined by the Acton Minutemen and other local companies for a special commemoration of the North Bridge Fight featuring musket volleys. The Concord Parade will arrive at North Bridge around 9:30 A.M. All of the roads in the center of town are closed to vehicles beginning at 8:30 A.M.

Wednesday, 18 April, 7:50 to 8:45 P.M.
The Patriot Vigil
North Bridge, Concord
As darkness descends upon the North Bridge battlefield, we invite you to come and reflect on the events of April 19, 1775, and the meaning of liberty. The evening ceremony will feature a lantern-light procession stepping off from North Bridge Visitor Center at 7:50, poetry, music, and a recitation of the names of Patriots who gave their lives on that “ever-memorable” 19th of April. (To participate in the procession, bring an enclosed real candle lantern; no flashlights or L.E.D. bulbs.)

Thursday, 19 April, 6:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon
Salutes from the Bridge
North Bridge, Concord
A series of musket and cannon salutes from the bridge at various times of the day. 6:00 A.M.: The Concord Minute Men and the Concord Independent Battery. 10:00 A.M. (approximately): The Molly Cutthroats, a living-history group dedicated to the role of women in the Revolution. 11:30 A.M.: The Sudbury Companies of Militia and Minutemen. 12:00 noon (approximately): Sons of the American Revolution, Henry Knox Color Guard.

Saturday, 21 April, 4:30 - 8:30 p.m.
After the Battle: The War Has Begun
Hartwell Tavern, 136 North Great Road, Lincoln
War between the people of Massachusetts and Gov. Thomas Gage and the British regulars has just broken out. Thousands of men are preparing to leave home for the front lines around Boston. Whole communities are faced with numerous challenges demanded by this frightening new reality. Step back into the year of 1775 and get involved. Recommended donation: $5 per person, $10 per family. Children wearing a Junior Ranger badge (which can be earned on 14 or 21 April) admitted free.

Friday, April 06, 2018

“A meticulously researched study unspoiled by pedantry”

The Journal of the American Revolution has just shared a very nice review of The Road to Concord from the spring 2018 issue of Army History.
J. L. Bell’s The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War tackles a familiar subject—how Thomas Gage’s attempts to prevent a revolution ended up provoking one—but makes the story feel fresh by revealing how drastically the theft of four brass guns from Boston affected the British general’s judgment. . . .

The Road to Concord is a rare treat—a meticulously researched study unspoiled by pedantry. . . . The admirable standard that he has achieved in his first book augurs well for the other Journal of the American Revolution-sponsored books set to follow in its wake.
Check out those titles here.

The reviewer is Prof. Gregory J. W. Urwin of Temple University, who has written about several American wars and is currently researching a social history of Gen. Cornwallis’s campaign in the south.

Through some economic magic, Amazon is currently selling the hardcover edition of The Road to Concord at a discount of 60%. Heck, at that price I bought four copies for myself (the maximum available to any one customer.)

Thursday, April 05, 2018

“Very silly questions very foolishly answered”

At All Things Georgian, Sarah Murden has shared some amusing extracts (part 1 and part 2) from a 1759 book titled The Gentleman and Lady of Pleasure’s Amusement: In eighty-eight questions, with their answers, on love and gallantry.

Murden likens the book’s format to “agony aunt” letters or, as we in the U.S. of A. call them, advice columns. The extracts cover such topics as unexpected pregnancy, being in love with two sisters, whether to read a spouse’s mail, and what gender the Devil is.

The snarkiness of the queries and replies got me curious enough to look for an online copy of this book to verify its existence. The postings did appear around 1 April, after all.

I failed to find one, reflecting how few copies of The Gentleman and Lady of Pleasure’s Amusement made their way to and stayed in university libraries. (Harvard has a copy that was never digitized by Google Books. Another is at the University of Pennsylvania, donated by Prof. John C. Mendenhall.)

I did find an assessment of the book in The Critical Review, Or, Annals of Literature, edited by Tobias Smollett. The questions and answers were printed along with a couple of equally risqué novellas called The Adventures of Sophia and The History of Frederick and Caroline. The reviewer sniffed:
The first and larger part of this curious performance is, it seems, a hachis [i.e., hash] from the Athenian oracle, consisting of very silly questions very foolishly answered. Of these we shall say nothing further than that our author does by no means seem qualified to reanimate the dead. We might observe, that the Athenian oracle is not only silent and dead, but damned likewise: for that reason, perhaps, it is deprived of rest, and walks—But, a word to the wise, de mortuis nil nisi bonum [don’t speak ill of the dead].
Another magazine, the Monthly Review, said straight out that those questions and answers were “Purloin’d, as the purloiner indeed honestly confesses from two old dull books called the Athenian Oracle and the British Apollo.” The first of those books was in print by 1703, the second by 1726. Together they came in several volumes and promised more than “two thousand answers to curious questions.”

The Monthly Review evidently thought the content of The Gentleman and Lady of Pleasure’s Amusement came out of those earlier books, but my test samples didn’t find any overlap. So it’s possible that the later book was a parody, or hash, of the established genre with a more modern attitude.

The Critical Review’s critical review of the novellas was:
The latter part, which, if we may believe the editor, contains two genuine stories, is a heap of dull absurdities, without invention, humour, or probability. In the first dialogue, a woman of the town relates to her companion, as how she was debauched by the master of a ship, married to a Spaniard who lived at La Vera Cruz not far from Acapulco, shipwrecked upon a desolate island in the South Sea, which proved to be the seat of a powerful empire, ravished by an Indian, promoted to the rank of favourite sultana to the emperor, afterwards wedded to a nobleman of that country, and finally found by accident and brought back to England in a ship commanded by the same man who had deprived her of her virginity.

The second story relates to a young gentleman who met with his own sister as a lady of pleasure, and did not recognize her until they had passed the night together. The sister drowned herself in despair: the brother lost his wits, and the author has none to lose——Judge then if this production is worth three shillings.
This item appeared in the December 1758 issue of the Critical Review. Likewise, the Monthly Review notice was in the November issue. Since The Gentleman and Lady of Pleasure’s Amusement is evidently dated 1759, the printers must either have slipped an advance copy to the magazines or had such success that they quickly issued a second edition.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy’s Massachusetts Tour

Prof. Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy of the University of Virginia will give two public talks in Massachusetts next week, both on his book The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the Revolutionary War and the Fate of Empire.

Here’s a précis of the book:
The loss of America was a stunning and unexpected defeat for the powerful British Empire. Common wisdom has held that incompetent military commanders and political leaders must have been to blame, but were they? O’Shaughnessy dispels the incompetence myth and uncovers the real reasons that rebellious colonials were able to achieve their surprising victory.
On Tuesday, 10 April, O’Shaughnessy will kick off the American Antiquarian Society’s Spring Public Lecture Series. That free event starts at 7:00 P.M. in Antiquarian Hall, 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester.

On Wednesday, 11 April, he’ll deliver the Lexington Historical Society’s Cronin Lecture. This free talk is co-sponsored by the Friends of Minute Man National Park and His Majesty’s 10th Regiment of Foot. The evening starts at 6:00 P.M. with a reception in the Lexington Depot, and the lecture is scheduled for 7:00 P.M.

At both events copies of The Men Who Lost America will be available for sale and signing. The book has won many awards, including the George Washington Book Prize, the New-York Historical Society Annual American History Book Prize, The National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Excellence in American History Book Award, and the Fraunces Tavern Museum Book Award.

It’s also a handsome, nicely packaged book. I’ve started to read it multiple times, and I keep running into the problem that Prof. O’Shaughnessy and I have fundamentally different ideas about how to use commas. But obviously other readers haven’t been stopped that way, and sooner or later I’ll try again.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

John Rowe and “the Funeral of the Remains of Dr. Warren”

Yesterday I noted that on Thursday King’s Chapel will host a talk by Sam Forman on the funeral of Dr. Joseph Warren, which took place in that same church on 8 Apr 1776.

The organizers of that funeral were the Freemasons of the St. Andrew’s Lodge, which Warren had led. Deputy Grand Master Joseph Webb asked young member Perez Morton to quickly write and deliver an oration. Paul Revere, Edward Procter, and Stephen Bruce expressed the lodge’s thanks afterward, and printer John Gill’s edition of that speech highlighted the Freemasons’ support.

In addition to Warren’s family and the members of the St. Andrew’s Lodge, the funeral procession also included a contingent of Continental Army troops and members of the Massachusetts General Court. The Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper offered prayers, so the Patriot establishment was well represented.

However, one gentleman found he wasn’t welcome: the merchant John Rowe, also a grand master in the Freemasons. In his diary for 8 April Rowe wrote:
Afternoon I went by invitation of Brother Webb to attend the Funeral of the Remains of Dr. Warren & went accordingly to the Council Chamber [of the Old State House] with a Design to Attend & Walk in Procession with the Lodges under my Jurisdiction with our Proper Jewells & Cloathing but to my great mortification was very much Insulted by some furious & hot Persons witho. the Least Provocation

one of Brethren thought it most Prudent for me to Retire. I accordingly did so—this has caused some Uneasy Reflections in my mind as I am not Conscious to myself of doing anything Prejudicial to the Cause of America either by will or deed.

The Corps of Dr. Warren was Carried into Chapell Dr. Cooper prayed & Mr Perez Morton delivered an Oration on the Occasion. There was a handsome Procession of the Craft with Two Companies of Soldiers.
Those last sentences evoke a picture of Rowe standing outside the chapel, watching people go in—standing on the side of the street as the “handsome Procession” passed by without him.

Rowe was the leader of Boston’s other group of Freemasons: the St. John’s Lodge. That lodge had been wealthier and closer to the Crown than the upstart St. Andrew’s, which was at last in the ascendancy.

Furthermore, Rowe himself had “trimmed” his political sails enough during the preceding decade to make people on both sides of the political divide suspicious of him. And that April, there was no way to deny that he had spent the whole siege inside Boston with the royal government and royal military.

Rowe assured himself that he hadn’t done “anything Prejudicial to the Cause of America either by will or deed.” But some of his fellow Bostonians, “furious & hot” after twelve months of war, didn’t share his confidence.

Monday, April 02, 2018

Warren Funeral Commemoration at King’s Chapel, 5 Apr.

On Thursday, 5 April, King’s Chapel will host a talk by Samuel A. Forman on “Dr. Joseph Warren and King’s Chapel—242nd Anniversary of Warren’s Funeral.”

As Boston 1775 readers know, Dr. Joseph Warren was killed at the Battle of Bunker Hill and then buried several times. Not in pieces, though some rumors claimed that, but in different graves over the decades.

The first burying-place was on the battlefield itself. But after the British left Boston, Warren’s family and friends sought out his body and brought it across the Charles for a large funeral.

That event took place at King’s Chapel on 8 Apr 1776. Warren wasn’t a member of that Anglican congregation; he had been a congregant at the Brattle Street Meetinghouse instead. But Boston’s places of worship were in turmoil after the siege.

On Sunday, 10 March, the minister at King’s Chapel, the Rev. Henry Caner, had written in the church records:
An unnatural Rebellion of the Colonies against his Majesties Government obliged the Loyal Part of his subjects to evacuate their dwellings and substance, and to take refuge in Halifax, London, and elsewhere; By which means the public Worship at King’s Chapel became suspended, and is likely to remain so, till it shall please God in the Course of his Providence to change the hearts of the Rebels, or give success to his Majesties arms for suppressing the Rebellion.
Much of the upper-class Anglican congregation sailed away with the royal troops.

That left the big stone building available for Dr. Warren’s funeral less than a month later. A few weeks after that, the Old South Meeting-House congregation moved in for a few years until their own building was restored from being used as a riding stable by British dragoons.

Sam Forman’s talk will examine what Warren meant to Boston, the retrieval of his remains from Charlestown, and how young lawyer Perez Morton’s oration helped to define Warren’s legacy in the nascent republic. Forman is the author of Dr. Joseph Warren: The Boston Tea Party, Bunker Hill, and the Birth of American Liberty.

King’s Chapel is at 58 Tremont Street in Boston. This event will start at 6:30 P.M. It is free and open to the public, but King’s Chapel asks people who plan to attend to register here. There’s a suggested donation of $5 to support the church’s preservation efforts and history program.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

The Myth of Dolley Madison and the Easter Egg Roll

Many authors have written about Dolley Madison instituting the tradition of rolling eggs on the White House grounds on or around Easter.

The story goes way back. A magazine called The Industrial Enterprise quoted the 11 Apr 1909 Detroit Free Press as stating:
The custom of having the children of Washington come to the White House on the Monday following Easter and roll eggs originated so far in the distant past that its beginning is uncertain. It is the current belief, however, that Dolly [sic] Madison first gathered them in and herself prepared the eggs which they rolled, coloring them a scarlet by boiling them wrapped about with red flannel which faded upon them.
And it’s still current. In 2017 the Politico website stated: “The roots of the Easter Egg Roll are often traced to President James Madison and first lady, Dolly Madison, but these early public celebrations were held on Capitol Hill.”

Even the White House Historical Association passes on that factoid, though fobbing it off on others: “Some historians note that First Lady Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll…”

In fact, that’s all a myth. As the Dolley Madison Papers explain, there’s absolutely no evidence behind it.
During the Founding Era,…religious observances such as Easter and Christmas were simply not part of the national calendar. Indeed, when James Madison was President of the United States, Easter was not yet a publicly celebrated holiday; it was observed neither at the president’s mansion—not yet officially known as the White House—nor by Congress. And a search of Dolley’s letters fails to produce a single mention of Easter or Easter eggs. That leaves two questions: when and where did the tradition begin, and what does Dolley Madison have to do with it?
The tradition in Washington, D.C., can be definitely dated to the years after the Civil War. Late in the Ulysses Grant administration, Congress barred children from playing on the Capitol grounds, but President Rutherford B. Hayes welcomed them at the White House. The press coverage of the event really took off in the 1880s and 1890s, turning it into a national institution.

That same period coincided with America’s Centennial and Colonial Revival, when Dolley Madison became the nation’s paragon of a political hostess. Her papers site says:
She was the symbol of American hospitality, warmth, and graciousness. By the late 19th century manufacturers were using her image to promote their products. Between 1876, which marked the end of Reconstruction, and World War II, all kinds of manufacturers used her image as part of their advertising campaigns to send a message of grace and charm and cordiality. If not unique, Dolley Madison was one of the very few American icons with an equal appeal to both the North and the South.
Thus, if there was any sort of venerable public event in Washington, it made sense to say Dolley Madison was the earliest hostess.