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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Saturday, January 20, 2018

“Two violent blows…upon the back part of the head”

On 18 Jan 1768, John Mein of the Boston Chronicle asked Benjamin Edes of the Boston Gazette to identify “Americus,” who had attacked him in a newspaper essay. Edes refused.

On 19 January, Mein asked again, hinting that this was a matter of honor. In his own words he went to the Edes and Gill print shop “to ask them one after another to take a short Walk.” Again, Edes refused.

On 21 January, the rival Boston News-Letter published a letter about the dispute:
Mr. [Richard] Draper.

I have heard an incorrect Account of a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein, greatly to the disadvantage of the latter: If Mr. Mein has been guilty of an insolent Attempt to break in upon the Liberty of the Press, it is just he should be exposed, and treated with due Contempt: If he is innocent, it is cruel to Propagate such a malicious Representation of his Impudence and Affectation: If therefore by Publishing this you can influence the Parties concerned to give a true State of the Matter, you will oblige a great Number of your Readers who are anxious to know the whole of the Affair, besides your humble Servant,

Just. Pacis.
That prompted Edes to publish the lengthy description of his interaction with Mein in the 25 January Boston Gazette. I quoted Edes’s report yesterday.

A whole week had gone by since Mein’s first visit to the Edes and Gill shop. But now the private argument between printers was out for everyone to read. That appears to have galvanized Mein into action. Now that the Boston Gazette printers had denied his “short Walk” challenge (and made the whole thing public), Mein resolved “to cane the first of them I mett.”

On the evening of 26 January (and I’m getting ahead of the Sestercentennial here), Mein ran into his rival. Not Edes, the politically active member of the Loyall Nine. Rather, Mein spotted Edes’s partner and relative by marriage, John Gill. According to Isaiah Thomas, “Gill was a sound whig, but did not possess the political energy of his partner.”

Mein hit Gill with his walking stick. According to legal papers, Mein “gave the said John Gill two violent blows…upon the back part of the head.” Such a caning wasn’t just an assault; under British dueling customs, it was also a way to signal that one’s opponent had forfeited any claims to be a gentleman. However, to locals like Harbottle Dorr, Mein merely behaved “like a ruffian.”

What the News-Letter had called “a Difference between Messrs. Edes and Mein” quickly became a “Dispute…between Messieurs Gill and Mein”—and more. “Populus” in the Gazette wrote:
If we suffer the Printers to be abused, for resolutely maintaining the Freedom of the Press, without discovering our just Resentment against those who endeavour to force them from their Duty, we shall soon find the Press shut against us—For it cannot be expected that one or two Men who will be subject to the Malice of the publick Enemies, bear to be bruised, and run the Hazard of being assassinated, if the Public, whose Cause they are fighting do not zealously patronize their Cause.

The People in this Province, and this Town in particular, must for the foregoing Reasons, be justified in their general Disapprobation of, and Disgust to Mr. Mein, for his late Spaniard-like Attempt on Mr. Gill, and in him, upon the Freedom of the Press.
“Populus” then revived the initial complaint that Mein had revealed “his Enmity to this Country, by villifying her great and firm Friend, the illustrious Mr. [William] Pitt, under God and the King, the Saviour of Britain, and the Redeemer of America.” In other words, it was very important to preserve the freedom of the press, and to attack anyone who published bad things about America’s political hero.

TOMORROW: Going to court.

Friday, January 19, 2018

“I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed”

Yesterday I described how the 18 Jan 1768 Boston Gazette published a critique of John Mein and John Fleeming’s Boston Chronicle that insinuated they were “Jacobite” traitors to the British Empire.

As a Scotsman, Mein was sensitive to that charge of disloyalty, so he went to speak to the printers of the Gazette, Benjamin Edes and John Gill.

Edes later published a detailed account of their discussion (which I’ve broken up into shorter paragraphs for easier reading):
In consequence of a piece signed Americus, published in the last Monday’s Gazette, Mr. Mein came to our office between 4 and 5 o’clock the same afternoon, and there being a number of persons present, he desired to be spoke with in private, accordingly I withdrew with him to another room—when he said, I suppose you know what I am come about.

I told him I did not.

Well then, said he, I am come to demand the author of the piece you printed against me; and if you will not tell me who he is, I shall look upon you as the author, and the affair shall be decided in three minutes.

In reply to which I said, Mr. Mein, above all persons in the world, I should not have thought a Printer would have ask’d such an impertinent, improper question; and told him that we never divulg’d authors; but if he would call on the morrow between 9 and 10 o’clock, being then very busy, I would let him know whether I would tell the author or not,—and added,—if we have transgress’d the law, it is open, and there he might seek satisfaction.

He said he should not concern himself with the law, nor enter into any dispute; but if I did not tell the author, he should look upon us as the authors, and repeated it, the affair should be settled in three minutes.

I then ask’d him, if what he said with regard to settling the affair in three minutes, was meant as a challenge or threat? which he declin’d answering, but said he would call at the time appointed, and then departed.
Already newspaper printers believed that they had the right not to divulge their sources—at this time, the sources of the articles they printed because they didn’t really do their own reporting. Mein, who hadn’t been in the newspaper business for long, viewed his dispute with “Americus” as personal.

We return to Edes’s story with what happened 250 years ago today:
Accordingly the next morning, I was at the office precisely at 9 o’clock, where I found Mr. Mein, who immediately after my entrance, and saying your servant, ask’d whether I would tell him the author of the above piece or no.

I told him I would not.

He then said he should look upon me and Mr. Gill as the authors.

I told him he might and welcome. I then ask’d him what he meant by saying the last night he would settle the affair in three minutes, whether as a challenge or threat?

He answered, if I would take my hat, and take a walk with him to the southward, he would let me know.

I told him I was not to be at every fellow’s beck, and did not regard him.

He then said, I shall look upon you as the author.

I reply’d, you may.

Your servant, and your servant.
On the one hand, the genteel civility of all those “Your servants.” On the other hand, two boys on the playground, taunting, “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!” “Oh, yeah?” “Yeah!”

TOMORROW: Someone gets hurt—and it’s not Mein or Edes.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

“The most infamous and reproachful Invectives”

Talking about “The Liberty Song” and its parodies, all from the second half of 1768, gets us a little ahead of the Sestercentennial. Here’s what happened in Boston 250 years ago today.

Back on 21 Dec 1767, John Mein and John Fleeming had launched the Boston Chronicle, the town’s first new newspaper in years. Relatively recent arrivals from Scotland, those men promised to publish more material from Britain than competitors.

Their first issue also promised to be unbiased, but it included a snide remark about the Earl of Chatham, calling the former William Pitt “a miserable monument of wrecked ambition.” Pitt was a great hero to American Whigs, who weren’t aware of how his inaction was frustrating his colleagues in London. Almost a month later, the 18 January Boston Gazette carried a response signed “Americus”:
When I read the Proposals, for publishing the Boston Chronicle, I tho’t on the Plan with Satisfaction, hoping thereby much good would accrue to America in general, and to this province in particular; with Pleasure I also noted the judicious Advice given Messi’rs Mein and Fleeming by their Friends of Taste. . . .

But to the Surprize of many, how are they fallen off from their own Purposes, and the excellent Caution of their Benefactors—Instead of giving impartial Accounts concerning Affairs at Home, and the unhappy Disputes lately arisen between the greatest Men of the Nation; they have made Choice of, or printed under Guise of being taken from the London Papers, the most infamous and reproachful Invectives, that ever was invented against the worst of Traitors to their King and Country, and who are these that are thus censur’d? Why, men held in the highest esteem and veneration in the British Parliament. Patriots and Friends and Deliverers of America from Oppression. He who nobly vindicated her Cause, almost against the whole Senate, who cast behind him all Lucre of Gain, when it came in Competition with the Good of his Country, and sacrific’d his Family-Connections and Interest to the publick Welfare. He that through real Infirmities hardly stood, (not to cover his politic Schemes and Ambition as his Enemies would insinuate) but stood though tottering, and in the Cause of Liberty made that heroic Speech before the august House of Commons, in Opposition to the Stamp-Act, sufficient to eternize his Fame, and ought to be written in Letters of Gold to perpetuate his Memory.

Could the Sons of America be ingrateful, or countenance the greatest Falsities, rais’d only to prejudice their best Friends and Benefactors—God forbid! Let that Dishonor stain with the blackest Infamy the Jacobite Party—And though Invectives should be daily thrown out,  let us keep our Integrity to the Confusion of our Enemies; who, for a long Time have exerted their Power to shake the Props of our Constitution, and bring a free people into Bondage, thereby to satisfy their more than common Avarice, &c.
Those were fighting words! Well, one word in particular:
The Jacobites supported the Stuart claimants to the British throne rather than the Hanover line. The incursion of Bonnie Prince Charlie (shown above) in 1745 showed that the Stuarts’ strongest support was in Scotland. And Mein and Fleeming were from Scotland.

In sum, “Americus” was insinuating that the Boston Chronicle printers were disloyal to the British government because of their ethnicity.

TOMORROW: Mein couldn’t let that go.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Parody, and the Parody Parodized

“The Liberty Song” by John Dickinson and Arthur Lee (to music by William Boyce) became so popular in Boston after July 1768 that by the end of September two parodies were circulating.

That was already a busy summer. In June the Customs service seized John Hancock’s ship Liberty for alleged smuggling. In response, a waterfront crowd rioted, driving most high Customs officials to take shelter at Castle William.

Then came news that the London government had ordered troops into Boston. That decision had been made before the Liberty riot, but the violence made it a lot harder for locals to argue the Crown was overreacting. Nevertheless, the Boston Whigs invited all the other towns in Massachusetts to send delegates to an extralegal Convention of Towns to discuss how to respond.

Above a report that ninety towns were sending men to the Convention and an advertisement for Paul Revere’s dental services, the 26 September Boston Gazette broke this story:
Last Tuesday the following SONG made its Appearance from a Garret at C–st–e W——m.

Come shake your dull Noddles, ye Pumpkins and bawl,
And own that you’re mad at fair Liberty’s Call,
No scandalous Conduct can add to your Shame.
Condemn’d to Dishonor, Inherit the Fame——

In Folly you’re born, and in Folly you’ll live,
To Madness still ready,
And Stupidly steady,
Not as Men, but as Monkies, the Tokens you give.
And so on. This wasn’t labeled as a parody of “The Liberty Song,” but everybody could see that it was. A later verse hit an even more sensitive spot by warning, “Then plunder, my Lads, for when Red-Coats appear, / You’ll melt like the Locust when Winter is near…”

Ordinarily Edes and Gill would be the last printers in Boston to give space to such an attack on the Whigs. But in this case, they were riling up their base. Tying the poem to Castle William pointed to the Crown officials living there.

And word spread. On the Sunday night before that issue of the Gazette came out, an Admiralty Court official appeared at the print shop with a message:
Having been told that you intended to publish a Song in your News Paper, called a Parody on the Song of Liberty, under my name, as the Author of it, I think proper to forewarn you from publishing such a falsity, or any other thing under my name, without my authority; and if you persist in doing it in this, or any other instance, it shall be at your peril.

I am,
Your humble Serv’t.
Hen. Hulton.
Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton did write poetry, but he never took credit for those verses. Of course Edes and Gill declared they had never intended to print Hulton’s name.

A week later, the Boston Gazette had another set of verses to share, in a sort of back-and-forth rap battle between versifiers of opposing politics:
The following was publish’d in a Hand-Bill last Week.

The Parody parodized,

Come swallow your Bumpers, ye Tories! and roar,
That the Sons of fair FREEDOM are hamper’d once more;
But know that no Cut-throats our Spirits can tame,
Nor a Host of Oppressors shall smother the flame.

In Freedom we’re born, and like SONS of the brave,
Will never surrender,
But swear to defend her,
And scorn to survive, if unable to save.
And so on. That song went on to express confidence that George III was on the side of his American subjects: “When oppress’d and reproach’d, our KING we implore, / Still firmly perswaded, our RIGHTS he’ll restore…” American Whigs were still a long way from breaking with the king.

In August 1769 Boston’s Sons of Liberty banqueted in Dorchester. John Adams wrote that the entertainment included both “Liberty Songs”—“that by the Farmer [Dickinson], and that by Dr. Church, and the whole Company joined in the Chorus. This is cultivating the Sensations of Freedom.” Dr. Benjamin Church thus gets credit for the “Massachusetts Song of Liberty.”

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

John Dickinson’s “Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak”

On 4 July 1768, John Dickinson, already a delegate to the Stamp Act Congress and the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, wrote to James Otis, Jr., from Philadelphia:
I inclose you a song for American freedom. I have long since renounced poetry. But as indifferent songs are frequently very powerful on certain occasions, I venture to invoke the deserted muses. I hope that my good intentions will procure pardon with those I wish to please, for the boldness of my numbers.

My worthy friend, Dr. Arthur Lee, a gentleman of distinguished family, abilities and patriotism, in Virginia, composed eight lines of it.

Cardinal de Retz always inforced his political operations by songs. I wish our attempt may be useful. I shall be glad to hear from you, if you have a moment’s leisure to scribble a line to, dear sir, your most affectionate, most obedient servant…
For all of Dickinson’s diffidence about those lyrics, he had also sent copies to the printers of three Philadelphia newspapers, asking each to “insert the following in your next.”

“A Song, to the Tune of Heart of Oak &c.” duly appeared in the Philadelphia papers over the initial “D.” It began:
COME, join Hand in Hand, brave AMERICANS all,
And rouse your bold Hearts at fair LIBERTY’s Call;
No tyrannous Acts shall suppress your just Claim,
Or stain with Dishonour AMERICA’s Name.

In FREEDOM we’re BORN, and in FREEDOM we’ll LIVE,
Our Purses are ready,
Steady, Friends, steady,
Not as SLAVES, but as FREEMEN our Money we’ll give.

Our worthy Forefathers---let’s give them a Cheer---
To Climates unknown did courageously steer;
Thro’ Oceans to Desarts for Freedom they came,
And dying bequeath’d us their Freedom and Fame---
(The Pennsylvania Gazette rendered that last word as “Name.”)

Two days after sending his lines to Otis, Dickinson had second thoughts. He wrote again:
I enclosed you the other day a copy of a song composed in great haste. I think it was rather too bold. I now send a corrected copy which I like better. If you think the bagatelle worth publishing, I beg it may be this copy. If the first is published before this is come to hand, I shall be much obliged to you if you will be so good as to publish this with some little note, “that this is the true copy of the original.”

In this copy I think it may be well enough to add between the fourth and fifth stanzas these lines:
How sweet are the labors that freemen endure,
That they shall enjoy all the profit, secure—
No more such sweet labors Americans know,
If Britons shall reap what Americans sow.
In freedom we’re born, &c.
I am, dear sir, with the utmost sincerity, your most affectionate and most humble servant,…
Dickinson got that new verse into the Pennsylvania Chronicle publication of the song on 11 July. It went before one complaining about “Swarms and Placemen and Pensioners,” which he footnoted with the explanation, “The Ministry have already begun to give away in PENSIONS, the money they lately took out of our pockets, WITHOUT OUR CONSENT.” I think the Townshend Act actually provided salaries for royal appointees, not pensions, but Dickinson wanted to highlight the issue of taxation without representation and royal pensions already had a bad name.

The Boston Gazette published the original form of Dickinson’s lyrics on 18 July. Evidently his second letter didn’t arrive in time for Edes and Gill to insert the new verse. The Boston Evening-Post published the same version in August.

As Todd Andrlik traced, the Philadelphia and Boston publications were just the start. Dickinson’s verses, soon titled “The Liberty Song,” appeared in several more newspapers all over the American colonies.

TOMORROW: Dueling parodies.

Monday, January 15, 2018

“Hearts of oak are we still”

In 1759 the British Empire enjoyed a string of military victories, including the Royal Navy’s triumph over the French in the Battle of Quiberon Bay.

At the end of that year the theatrical star and empresario David Garrick celebrated those wins in a new show titled Harlequin’s Invasion: A Christmas Gambol. The play featured a bunch of British clowns, some outrageous French stereotypes, and the pantomime hero Harlequin speaking for the first time.

In the story, Harlequin tries to get into Parnassus but doesn’t come up to the standard of Garrick’s hero, Shakespeare. A handwritten script is in the collection of the Boston Public Library.

Among the play’s new songs was one that Garrick composed with William Boyce (1710-1779, shown above), sometimes referred to as Dr. Boyce since he received an honorary doctorate in music from Cambridge in 1749. That song was known as either “Come, Cheer Up, My Lads” for its first line or “Heart of Oak” for its chorus.

It begins:
Come, cheer up, my lads, ’tis to glory we steer,
To add something more to this wonderful year;
To honour we call you, as freemen not slaves,
For who are so free as the sons of the waves?

Heart of Oak are our ships,
Jolly Tars are our men,
We always are ready: Steady, boys, Steady!
We’ll fight and we’ll conquer again and again.
As “Heart of Oak” this tune eventually became the anthem of the Royal Navy. It was soon published in Britain’s American colonies and became a popular patriotic singalong.

On 3 April 1766 those colonies were celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act and a new ministry in London. The Pennsylvania Journal published new lyrics to “Heart of Oak” supplied by “S.P.R.” They began:
Sure never was picture drawn more to the life
Or affectionate husband more fond of his wife,
Than AMERICA copies and loves BRITAINS sons,
Who, conscious of freedom, are bold as great guns.

Hearts of oak are we still,
for we’re sons of those men,
Who always are ready, steady, boys, steady,
To fight for their FREEDOM again and again.

Tho’ we feast and grow fat on America’s soil,
Yet we own ourselves subjects of Britain’s fair isle.
And who’s so absurd to deny us the name?
Since true British blood flows in ev’ry vein.
“S.P.R.” asked “the Sons of Liberty in the several American provinces to sing it with all the spirit of patriotism.” The lyrics were reprinted as far north as Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and as far south as Williamsburg, Virginia.

TOMORROW: The more famous American rewrite of “Heart of Oak.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

A Kitchen for James Hemings

Yet another story of a recent rediscovery comes from Monticello, where archeologists dug under a part of Thomas Jefferson’s estate where bathrooms had been built for visitors during the Bicentennial.

Megan Gannon of Live Science reports on the deep history of what they found:
And, finally, underneath the dirt, the team found the original brick floor of the kitchen where enslaved cooks working in the cellar would have made food to be delivered to the Jeffersons in the top story. The remains of a fireplace and the foundations of four stew stoves were also intact. . . .

Those four foundational compartments of the stew stoves would have been the clean-out, where the ash would have fallen. The actual stoves would have been about waist-high, Ptacek said. Each stove would have had a small hole for hot coals from the fireplace. An iron trivet would have gone above the coals to hold pans. Stew stoves were essential for making dishes that required slow heating and multiple pans. The setup was the equivalent of a modern stovetop, but it was uncommon in North America at the time because it required special training to use.

Stew stoves first became popular in 17th-century France, Neiman said. Previously, during the Renaissance, the cuisine of the rich in Europe involved heavy use of spices imported from far-flung parts of the world. But that changed when spice prices plummeted after European powers took control of resources and trade routes during colonial expansion across the Atlantic and into Asia.

“All the sudden, highly spiced foods are no longer the way you signal you’re wealthy,” Neiman said.

The new type of cuisine perfected by French aristocrats as a form of status competition was extremely labor intensive. Their “sumptuous multicourse meals,” Neiman, said, involved fresh veggies, fresh meats and slowly heated sauces based on cream, butter and eggs, without a lot of spice so that the natural flavors of the food could shine through.

Jefferson had an affinity for French cooking, and he likely first encountered stew stoves during his education at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He was a frequent guest at the colonial governor’s palace in Williamsburg, which was one of the few places to have stew stoves at the time.

But Jefferson must have become much more familiar with this style of cooking when he served as the U.S. minister to France from 1784 to 1789. As soon as Jefferson took this diplomatic position, he wrote to his future secretary that he wanted to take then-19-year-old [James] Hemings to France “for a particular purpose,” which turned out to be having him trained in the art of French cooking. The archaeologists at Monticello think the stew stoves were likely part of a kitchen upgrade Jefferson made when he returned from Paris.
Jefferson liked Hemings’s cooking so much that he took the younger man to Philadelphia when he started to work in the federal government, and even to New England when he and James Madison went on a sightseeing and party-building tour.

In 1793 Jefferson and Hemings made an unusual deal: the cook would keep working at Monticello until he had trained his younger brother in that kitchen, and then become free. Peter Hemings in turn was the Monticello chef from 1796 to 1809 before becoming the estate’s brewer after President Jefferson brought Edith Fossett home from Washington, D.C. to those stew stoves.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Alexander Hamilton’s Love Letter Revealed!

Julie Miller of the Library of Congress recently wrote at Medium about the effort to read crossed-out lines in one of its Alexander Hamilton letters.

This is a 6 Sept 1780 letter from Hamilton to his fiancée Elizabeth Schuyler (“Betsey” in real life, “Eliza” in the musical), two months before they married. Most of the letter is about the American loss at the Battle of Camden (Gen. Horatio Gates “seems to know very little what has become of his army”). That material was first published in John Church Hamilton’s 1850 edition of his father’s writings.

In the twentieth-century edition of Hamilton’s papers, which make up part of Founders Online, editor Harold C. Syrett added a new detail about that document: fourteen lines of the first paragraph had been heavily crossed out and illegible.

Miller tells the next stage of the story:
When the Library of Congress recently digitized the Alexander Hamilton Papers, that letter, unedited, with its 14 obliterated lines, became visible to all for the first time. However, the lines were still unreadable.

To find out what lay beneath the scratchings-out, Fenella France, chief of the Preservation Research and Testing Division, and preservation staff Meghan Wilson and Chris Bolser used hyperspectral imaging. A noninvasive analysis that employs light at different wavelengths to capture information not visible to the eye, hyperspectral imaging can determine the composition of inks and pigments, track changes in documents over time and reveal faded, erased or covered writing.
The article shows that process and what Library of Congress scholars now believe those crossed-out lines say. Most likely John C. Hamilton deleted them himself out of familial and Victorian embarrassment at his father writing to his mother about the couple anticipating “the unrestrained intercourses of wedded love.”

As Miller points out, that’s far from the biggest deletion from Alexander Hamilton’s correspondence. All the letters that Elizabeth Hamilton wrote to her fiancé and husband are gone, most likely destroyed by her own choice.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Saved by the Potato

Last year I got out of my comfort zone and looked into the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s for a public-history project. So I was primed when I saw a mention of this paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research.

It’s titled “The Long-run Effects of Agricultural Productivity on Conflict, 1400-1900,” and is written by Murat Iyigun of the University of Colorado at Boulder, Nathan Nunn of Harvard, Nancy Qian of the Kellogg School of Management.

The abstract says:
We construct a newly digitized and geo-referenced dataset of battles in Europe, the Near East and North Africa covering the period between 1400 and 1900 CE. For variation in permanent improvements in agricultural productivity, we exploit the introduction of potatoes from the Americas to the Old World after the Columbian Exchange. We find that the introduction of potatoes permanently reduced conflict for roughly two centuries. The results are driven by a reduction in civil conflicts.
In bold strokes, the potato staved off a lot of wars.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

“I will come and help you a second time.”

Yesterday I shared a story that the Continental Army veteran Jacob Francis told about Gen. Israel Putnam helping to build a fortification on Lechmere’s Point during the siege of Boston.

It’s a terrific story—compact, offering insight into Putnam’s character, and providing a neat little moral. Francis told that tale to the government in 1832 as he applied for a pension from his home in Flemington, New Jersey.

Seven years later, on 22 Oct 1839, the North American published in Philadelphia printed this story:
THE CORPORAL.—During the American revolution, an officer not habited in the military costume, was passing by where a small company of soldiers were at work, making some repairs upon a small redoubt.

The commander of the little squad was giving orders to those who were under him, relative to a stick of timber, which they were endeavouring to raise to the top of the works. The timber went up hard, and on this account the voice of the little great man was often heard in his regular vociferations of “Heave away! There she goes! Heave ho!” etc. The officer before spoken of stopped his horse when arrived at the place, and seeing the timber sometimes scarcely move, asked the commander why he did not take hold and render a little aid.

The latter appeared to be somewhat astonished, turning to the officer with the pomp of an Emperor, said, “Sir, I am a corporal![”]

‘You are not though, are you?’ said the officer; ‘I was not aware of it.’ And taking off his hat and bowing, ‘I ask your pardon, Mr. corporal.” Upon this he dismounted his elegant steed, flung the bridle over the post, and lifted till the sweat stood in drops on his forehead.

When the timber was elevated to its proper station, turning to the man clothed in brief authority, “Mr. Corporal,” said he, “when you have another such job, and have not men enough, send to your Commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you a second time.”

The corporal was thunderstruck! It was Washington.
The same story appeared in the Norwich Courier up in Connecticut the next day, which makes me think both those newspapers had picked it up from a common source without credit, as printers often did. But the North American is the earliest appearance I’ve found.

Many other newspapers reprinted the same story in the following months. It appeared in the Rural Repository magazine in 1850 and continued to pop up in publications through the end of the century. At some point an artist illustrated it, as shown above. I just found a few examples of blogs retelling the same tale and deriving valuable lessons about life from it.

Now this is obviously the same story that Jacob Francis had told in 1832, except the general is Washington instead of Putnam. Other details have changed, and the specified place and time have disappeared entirely. But the lines “Sir, I am a corporal!” and “I beg/ask your pardon, sir” appear in both Francis’s anecdote and in the newspapers, so the stories definitely seem to be related.

Given Gen. Washington’s emphasis on hierarchy, discipline, and military appearances, the anecdote doesn’t seem authentic to him at all. But it does fit what else we know about Gen. Putnam.

Jacob Francis told that tale as part of proving to the government that he really did serve under Putnam. It was therefore framed as a memorable anecdote revealing that general’s personality. I don’t think Francis would have made it up or adopted some anecdote that was floating around because the account of his military service he swore to had to be convincing or he wouldn’t get a pension. Francis’s tale went into a file in Washington, D.C., and wasn’t published until 1980.

Meanwhile, it appears that someone heard Francis’s story—perhaps while he was applying for the pension, perhaps at a Revolutionary War commemoration, perhaps while he was just telling stories. And that person recast it with a more famous general, restructured it to have a twist ending, and reinforced the moral to remove all subtlety.

In doing so, that storyteller not only replaced Putnam but also erased Pvt. Jacob Francis. (No African-Americans in the picture above, are there?) But now, with the publication of Francis’s pension application in John Dann’s The Revolution Remembered, his story is circulating as well.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Putnam and the Pretty Large Stone

In 1832, Jacob Francis told a story that’s been retold in many places since John C. Dann published Francis’s pension application in The Revolution Remembered.

The story isn’t about Francis. It’s about Israel Putnam during the siege of Boston:

I recollect General Putnam more particularly from a circumstance that occurred when the troops were engaged in throwing up a breastwork at Lechmere Point across the river, opposite Boston, between that and Cambridge.

The men were at work digging, about five hundred men on the fatigue at once. I was at work among them. They were divided into small bands of eight or ten together and a noncommissioned officer to oversee them.

General Putnam came riding along in uniform as an officer to look at the work. They had dug up a pretty large stone which lay on the side of the ditch. The general spoke to the corporal who was standing looking at the men at work and said to him, “My lad, throw that stone up on the middle of the breastwork.”

The corporal, touching his hat with his hand, said to the general, “Sir, I am a corporal.”

“Oh,” said the general, “I ask your pardon, sir,” and immediately got off his horse and took up the stone and threw it up on the breastwork himself and then mounted his horse and rode on, giving directions, etc.
It’s a great story. It fits with what we know from other sources about Putnam. And it’s set at a specific place and time, when we know Putnam’s division of the Continental Army was building fortifications.

TOMORROW: But that wasn’t the story that appeared in the press.

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Pvt. Jacob Gulick and Pvt. Jacob Francis

Jacob Francis (1754-1836) was a Continental Army soldier known almost entirely through his pension application, filed in 1832.

In this document Francis testified that he was born in Hunterdon County, New Jersey, to a black woman. It’s not clear whether he was ever legally enslaved, but as a child he was definitely in some form of bondage. Jacob described serving in turn Henry Wambaugh [a German immigrant, 1720-1787], Michael Hatt, Minner Gulick [documented elsewhere as Minnie Gulick, 1731-1804], and Joseph Saxton. He took the surname Gulick from his third master.

Starting in May 1768, Saxton took his servant boy to Long Island, New York; the Caribbean island of St. John; and Salem, Massachusetts. There in 1769, Jacob recalled, a man named Benjamin Deacon bought the time remaining until he turned twenty-one. So at least at that point Jacob’s masters were treating him as an indentured apprentice rather than a slave.

In January 1775 Jacob Gulick became free. That October, he enlisted in the Continental Army regiment of Col. Paul Dudley Sargent. He recalled his captain’s name as “Wooley, or Worley, or Whorley,” and that other men from the same family served as officers and a drummer. That captain was therefore John Wiley (d. 1805), who served from early 1775 through January 1781, ending as a major.

Gulick’s enlistment is interesting because at that time the Continental Congress, steered by Gen. George Washington and most of his generals, had barred all men of African ancestry from enlisting in the army. We know, however, that officers were anxious to fill their companies with anyone willing to serve for the full year of 1776. Some of Washington’s officers helped to convince him to change his mind about the army policy at the end of December 1775.

Pvt. Gulick served with Col. Sargent’s regiment at the Battle of Brooklyn and the Battle of Trenton and the retreats in between. At the end of his enlistment in January 1777 he was in New Jersey, so he went back to Hunterdon County and found his mother. She told him about his father, and thereafter he went by Jacob Francis.

Pvt. Francis served several short tours in New Jersey regiments across the remainder of the war. One of his captains was Philip Snook (1745-1816), whose older sister Ann was the wife of Francis’s first master, Henry Wambaugh.

In 1789 Jacob Francis married “Mary, a servant of Nathaniel Hunt.” He bought her freedom, and they had several children. By 1800, the family was settled in the Hunterdon County village of Flemington. For the fiftieth anniversary of U.S. independence, Francis participated in a parade of local Revolutionary veterans. He and another “colored” man, Lewis English, were listed separately from the white soldiers in an 1880 description of the event.

In 1832, at the age of seventy-eight, Jacob Francis applied for a pension as a Revolutionary soldier, narrating his service. It was approved, and he received payments for four more years. Mary Francis applied for a widow’s pension after that.

The 5 Aug 1839 Newark Daily Advertiser picked up this death notice from the Flemington Gazette:
Another Hero of the Revolution.—In this village, on Tuesday the 26th of July, JACOB FRANCIS, a colored man, in the 83d year of his age. He has resided in this place thirty-five years; has been an orderly member of the Baptist Church for thirty years; he has raised a large family, in a manner creditable to his judgement and his Christian character, and lived to see them doing well; and has left the scenes of this mortal existence, deservedly respected by all who knew him.

Jacob Francis was a soldier of the Revolution—he served a long tour of duty in the Massachusetts militia, and was some time in the regular army in New Jersey; and we have learned from those who knew him in those days of privation of peril, that his fidelity and good conduct as a soldier were the object of remark, and received the approbation of his officers.

For the last few years he received a pension from the government; an acknowledgement of his services to his country which, though made at a late day, came most opportunely to minister to his comfort in the decline of life, and under the infirmities of old age.
This was by far the longest death notice in that issue of the Daily Advertiser, and it was reprinted at least as far away as Cleveland.

TOMORROW: Pvt. Francis’s story of Gen. Putnam.

Monday, January 08, 2018

A Book Aboard Blackbeard’s Flagship

Here’s my favorite new archeological discovery, as reported by National Geographic and the Salisbury (N.C.) Post.

The flagship of the pirate Edward Thatch, best known as Blackbeard, ran aground off Beaufort, North Carolina, in 1718. Twelve years ago salvagers found that wreck, and state archeologists have been studying it ever since.

Among the artifacts from that ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, was a breech-loading cannon or swivel gun. Inside it conservators found “a wet mass of textile scraps” that “may have served as a gasket for the wooden tampion, a plug that protected the cannon muzzle from the elements.”

Within that sludge were sixteen tiny pieces of paper. It’s rare for paper to survive on shipwrecks, for obvious reasons. The technicians carefully unfolded those papers. Some turned out to have legible words printed on them. So the next step was to identify, if possible, where those scraps had come from.

Back in 2014 I looked at a scrap of paper glued inside a picture frame and identified it as coming from a New York newspaper in 1810. So I have a sense of what such a search is like. But I had a much larger scrap of paper to work with. None of the scraps from the Blackbeard wreck was bigger than a quarter.

After “many months of research,” the researchers found a match. The legible fragments came from the 1712 first edition of Edward Cooke’s A Voyage to the South Sea, and Round the World, Perform’d in the Years 1708, 1709, 1710 and 1711.

The leader of Cooke’s expedition was Woodes Rogers, who in 1718 became royal governor of the Bahamas with a mandate to crack down on piracy. Blackbeard and his ships were off North Carolina that summer because they wanted to keep away from the fleet Gov. Rogers was leading from Britain.

Some reports on this discovery describe it as giving insight into what pirates read. A copy of Cook’s Voyage to the South Sea was indeed aboard Blackbeard’s ship, but it’s really hard to read a book when someone’s ripped out several pages and used the scraps for wadding in a cannon.

Clearly some Caribbean mariner or traveler was reading about Woodes Rogers’s big voyage—that makes sense. And Thatch’s crew got a hold of a copy, perhaps for reading, perhaps as loot, perhaps just because they needed paper. But Thatch had that book ripped apart to prepare his guns to stave off Rogers’s patrols.

These surviving fragments and other artifacts from Queen Anne’s Revenge will probably go on display this year in an exhibit tied to the tricentennial of Blackbeard’s demise.

(I’ve been reading about Thatch, Rogers, and the other mariners who contended for superiority and wealth in the 1710s Caribbean in Colin Woodard’s Republic of Pirates. That’s why I’m calling Blackbeard “Thatch” instead of “Teach,” an early misspelling of his name.)

Sunday, January 07, 2018

Digital Resources from Mount Vernon

Here are some digital goodies from the George Washington National Library at Mount Vernon, which I visited last year for a symposium.

Podcasts: The Conversations from the Washington’s Library podcast usually features a one-on-one chat between the library’s founding director, Douglas Bradburn, and a historian or author who is speaking or doing research at the site.

These are in-depth interviews, most lasting about an hour. Bradburn asks about people’s latest book and ongoing research from the perspective of a fellow historian with an excellent overview of research being done in the field. He often gets into a topic few history podcasts cover: his guests’ careers in and out of academia. Some of the shows are recorded more clearly than others; a couple of times I’ve given up on listening in the car because I couldn’t make out both sides of the conversation.

After a few months’ hiatus, the podcast has just returned with a conversation with Gordon Wood, one of the most influential early American historians of his generation. (During that break, Bradburn became the head of Mount Vernon overall, so he was keeping busy.)

Interactive Map: Washington’s World is one of the many digital resources that Joseph Stoltz oversees for Mount Vernon, a map tracing all of George Washington’s travels. This map shows his known location at every point in his life, pinned with G.I.S. onto a modern map of North America.

We can thus follow Washington’s various journeys, as far west as Point Pleasant on the Ohio River (1770) and as far east as Barbados (1751). One can zoom in to the neighborhood level or out to see the whole scope of his movements. Major events have descriptive explanations and links to Mount Vernon’s growing digital encyclopedia of Washington’s life.

Because the sites are mapped onto a modern map, it’s easy to approximate Washington’s routes along today’s roads. In the case of Boston, however, the city’s modern shoreline isn’t the shoreline that Washington knew and struggled with. Still, it’s interesting to see locations pegged to all three of his visits to the city: in 1756 as a young colonial officer, in 1776 as a victorious besieger, and in 1789 as the elected President.

Lectures: Finally, I just learned that the talk I went to Mount Vernon to deliver can now be watched on C-Span’s American History TV site. It’s called “George Washington’s Cambridge Headquarters.”

The theme of that symposium was “George Washington Slept Here,” and all the talks explored different places where we know Washington spent time. The speakers brought a wide range of perspectives, focusing variously on archeology, farming, politics, surveying, war, and so on. Other lectures recorded by C-Span are:
The digital and physical resources at Mount Vernon will no doubt continue to grow.

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Benjamin Franklin’s Birthday (and the Washingtons’ Anniversary)

In a letter to her father, Benjamin Franklin, dated 17 Jan 1779, Sarah Bache (shown here in 1793) wrote from Philadelphia:
I have dined at the Ministers, spent an evening at Mr. Holkers, have lately been several times invited abroad with the General and Mrs Washinton, he allways enquires after you in the most afectionate manner and speaks of you highly we danced at Mr. [Samuel] Powels your Birth day or night I should say in company together and he told me it was the aniversary of his marriage it was just twenty years that night—
Franklin was born on 6 Jan 1705/06 in Boston under the Julian Calendar (17 Jan 1706 under the Gregorian Calendar). The Washingtons married on 6 Jan 1759 under the Gregorian Calendar. Thus, Franklin’s birthday and the Washingtons’ anniversary shared a date, even though fifty-three years plus eleven days passed between them.

I’ve noted before how Americans struggled to figure out when to celebrate Washington’s birthday—the O.S. date or the N.S. equivalent. Eventually we settled on the Gregorian date, as advised by the President’s private secretary, Tobias Lear.

Franklin seems to have been ambivalent about which date served as his birthday. On 6 Jan 1773, he wrote to his wife, Deborah Franklin:
I feel still some Regard for this Sixth of January, as my old nominal Birth-day, tho’ the Change of Stile has carried the real Day forward to the 17th, when I shall be, if I live till then, 67 Years of Age.
As Sarah Bache’s letter shows, she thought of her father’s birthday as 6 January, even though Pennsylvania started using the Gregorian Calendar when she was nine years old.

On 17 Jan 1781, Franklin started to write “My Birth-Day” in his journal but then crossed it off. On 6 Jan 1782 he wrote to Anne-Louise Brillon de Jouy about his challenges writing in French without a dictionary:
Il y a soixante Ans que les choses masculins & feminines (hors des Modes & des Temps) m’ont donné beaucoup d’Embarras. J’esperois, autrefois qu’à quatre vingt on peut en etre libre. Me voici à quatre fois dix-neuf, qui est bien prés: & neantmoins ces feminines francoises me tracassent encore.

[For sixty years things masculine and feminine (not to mention the modes and tenses) have given me a lot of trouble. I once hoped that at eighty I would be delivered of them. But here I am four times nineteen, which is very close to that, and nevertheless these French feminines still exasperate me.]
Under the Gregorian Calendar, Franklin was still eleven days away from being 76 years old (or 4 times 19) when he wrote. But I suppose that was close enough.

Friday, January 05, 2018

A Second Look at the Corporal Who Stole a Horse

Last week (and last month) I shared an item from Rivington’s New-York Gazetteer about the Massachusetts Provincial Congress preparing for war. Isaiah Thomas of the Massachusetts Spy declared that story “A d——d lie.”

In the same column Loyalist printer James Rivington shared another story about a British “corporal of the 38th regiment” pretending to desert and making off with a Patriot’s horse, saddle, and clothing. To me that sounded like the plot that the unreliable Samuel Dyer had described to a British admiral back in July 1774; wouldn’t it be awfully risky to put a deserter on horseback and ride him past his own barracks? Yet Isaiah Thomas didn’t have anything to say about that tale.

It turns out Don Hagist, author of
The Revolution’s Last Men and British Soldiers, American War, did have something to say. So here’s his note as a “guest blogger” posting:

I encountered the story of the corporal of the 38th Regiment who stole a horse in an issue of the Hibernian Chronicle dated 23 January 1775, which gave the name of the letter writer, of the corporal, and of a private soldier…
Copy of a letter from Captain Maginis of the 38th regiment in Boston to his brother in Drogheda, dated Dec. 14, 1774.

“…We often see here in the English papers accounts from America, not one of which contain a word of truth; they mention a great deal about the desertion from our troops, some are gone off, but not the tenth part of what they say, for our whole army, consisting of 105 companies, have not lost 120 men, although the people make use of every stratagem to make them desert, and supply them with horses and carriages to go off.

But I believe that will be a good deal stopped by the good behaviour of a young lad, a corporal in my company; he with another of the company went to a public-house, where they met some countrymen, who advised them to desert, and that they would supply them with disguises, that they might escape the easier, whereupon the corporal put on a disguise, stuffed his regimentals into one of the men’s saddle bags, and after settling their expedition, the countryman offered to take the corporal behind him, but he told him he could not ride without stirrups, so he got on the saddle, and took the countryman behind him, and set a galloping towards the nearest barrack, which, when the other observed, he leaped from behind him, and made his escape, swearing he would not wait to be shot, the corporal drove on to his own barrack with the whole prize, and no one dare to own the horse or cloaths; the corporal is thanked by the whole army, and the horse given up to him; there was no horse for the other, or he would have done the same.

The corporal is one Baker, a Yorkshire-man; and the soldier’s name is Drenning a Heart of Steel from the county of Antrim.”
In his blog post on this letter, Don asked, “Is this letter a piece of propaganda fabricated by the publisher or a legitimate record of an event in Boston?” Follow that link to his website to see what Don found in the 38th Regiment’s muster rolls.

Thanks again, Don!

Thursday, January 04, 2018

“So suited to the New-Year’s day” in Québec?

The Checklist of American Newspaper Carriers’ Addresses that I discussed last year includes a section of Canadian examples both before and after the Revolution.

The carriers of the Quebec Gazette/Gazette de Québec had both English and French verses. One from 1781 appears on the Canadian Poetry website in a section headed “Poems in Early Canadian Newspapers”:
Of the PRINTER’S BOY, who carries about the
Quebec Gazette to the CUSTOMERS.

JANUARY 1, 1781.

SERIOUS and solemn be the song
Which hails this still-returning day;
Let measure guide the rhyme along,
And gratitude inspire the lay!

When Spring, in all her blooming charms,
And Summer, in her richest dress;
When Autumn fills the lab’rer’s arms,
Nor coily yields her vast increase:

Oh then! let mortals grateful deem
Of all the blessings God has sent;
And, in deep Winter’s dread extreme,
Rejoice in plenty and content.

And, while they joy in bounty given,
Still to the poor their hands extend:—
The first great delegate of Heaven
Is he—the wretch’s firmest friend.

Now long, and dark, and dark the night,
And short the blessings of the day;
Yet soon the sun’s resplendent light
Shall hail us with a brighter ray!

And soon shall Winter’s blast be o’er,
And soon returning Spring arrive;
And then, oh then! the happy poor
Shall thank you they are still alive.

Grateful to Heaven their vows will rise,
For blessings you may now bestow;
And lab’ring breasts, and streaming eyes,
Their sense of obligation show.

And who, that feels the genial sun,
And owns the God that points his ray,
Would leave the grateful task undone,
So suited to the New-Year’s day.
Here’s the thing, though. That poem had appeared in the London Magazine in 1778 with only one small difference. In the magazine it was about the winter solstice. The Quebec printers changed “the Shortest-day” to “the New-Year’s day,” thus creating Canadian poetry.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

When Did the British New Year Begin Before 1752?

The earliest examples of a poetic address from colonial American newspaper carriers to their customers on New Year’s Day are all from the fast-growing city of Philadelphia. The first three date from the years 1720-22. No broadsides of those addresses survive, but they were included in a 1740 collection of verse by the Philadelphia printer with the delightful name Aquila Rose.

Then comes another in 1735, and a third from Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette in 1739. Those do survive as flyers, and the second is dated “Jan. 1, 1739.” The Checklist of American Newspaper Carriers’ Addresses catalogues twenty-nine more between then and 1752, the year that the British Empire shifted from the Julian to the Gregorian Calendar.

Part of that shift was settling the first day of January as the start of the year. Before then, the English year officially turned over on the Feast of the Annunciation, or 25 March. So when were those pre-1752 New Year’s greetings distributed, around 1 January or around 25 March?

According to that checklist, every address but one that bears a date in its headline was pegged to 1 January, and the exception was dated 31 December. Others discuss winter. None treats 25 March as the start of a new year.

It turns out that most of the British Empire was counting years two ways. The “historical year” ran from January to December. The “civil or legal year” started on 25 March. Parish records often had headings for new years in both January (“New Style”) and March (“Old Style”). From January to March, literate English people designated the year with what looks like a fraction: “1707/08.” (Scotland had officially decided back in 1600 that the new year started in January, so it didn’t need such tricks.)

In daily life, people recognized the discrepancy. I looked at the published diary and correspondence of Massachusetts judge Samuel Sewall. On 1 Jan 1701, he wrote a mediocre poem that starts “Once more! Out God, vouchsafe to shine,” which certainly sounds like he was counting off a year, but he never labeled the poem as such. Richard Henchman responded to Sewall, however, with his own poetic lines which do refer to “our New-year” and “A New-Year’s Day.”

Later remarks from Sewall:

  • “Monday, Jany 1. 1704/5 Col. Hobbey’s Negro comes about 8 or 9 mane and sends in by David to have leave to give me a Levit [trumpet blast] and wish me a merry new year.”
  • “Jany. 4, 1704/5… My Service to your Lady; I wish you both a good New Year.”
  • “Jan’y 21, 1716/17… January begins this New Year (the Julian Year) with almost every body but Englishmen.”
  • “April 1, 1718… Now that upon all Reckonings, we are come to the beginning of a New year, I wish it may be a good and Joyfull one to you.”

Likewise, Sewall’s contemporary the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather delivered a sermon titled “A New Year Well-Begun: An Essay Offered on a New-Years-Day” on 1 Jan 1719 (as we’d number the year)—but on the title page the date was “1718/19” because officially he wasn’t in a new year yet. In correspondence between Sewall and Mather there’s at least one letter dated “11th month”—but when had they started counting?

Newspapers reflected that confusion. In March 1720, Gov. Samuel Shute proclaimed that the last day of the month would be a fast day. The Boston News-Letter presented that news in its issue dated 7-14 Mar 1720.
The Boston Gazette printed the same proclamation in its issue dated 7-14 Mar 1719.
Look real close at the Gazette’s date and you’ll see that someone has crossed out the “19” and penciled in “20,” perhaps for later cataloguing.

Another newspaper example: The famous John Peter Zenger free-press case took place in 1734, by our reckoning, but the newspaper in question carried a date of 18 Feb 1733 because Zenger still used O.S. dates.

The English calendar(s) thus provided two days for reflection on the passage of time and opportunities to do more in the next twelve months. That system also required more mental calculation about how a person should write the date and what other people might have meant by a date. The calendar reform of 1752 wasn’t just about catching up with the rest of Europe on the Gregorian Calendar; it was about nailing down the official turn of the year.

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Francis Wrigley, Philadelphia Journeyman

Yesterday I shared the New Year’s greeting for 1783 that Philip Freneau composed specifically for Francis Wrigley to share with his customers.

Wrigley was a journeyman printer working for the Philadelphia newspaper Freneau edited, The Freeman’s Journal. Wrigley’s death notices say he was eighty-five years old when he died in October 1829, meaning he had been born in 1744.

According to William McCulloch, a younger Philadelphia printer who corresponded with Isaiah Thomas, Wrigley was born in England. In Some Degree of Power: Preindustrial American Printing Trades, 1778-1815, Mark A. Lause suggested that Benjamin Franklin himself sent Wrigley across the Atlantic with a letter of recommendation. (But again, we Americans like to credit Franklin with everything.)

During the Revolutionary War, according to Wrigley’s obituary, he “printed for the Old Congress while [it was] sitting in Philadelphia, and accompanied them from this city to Baltimore [in 1776], where he printed the ‘Old Continental Money,’ which was at that time in circulation.”

In 1785 Wrigley set up his own print shop and sold ink and stationery on South Street in Philadelphia. The following year, he supported a strike by the city’s journeymen printers demanding a wage of six dollars per week. That effort was successful, and shortly afterward he and other printers formed the Franklin Society, a mutual-aid society for the profession.

Wrigley worked with various partners in the subsequent decades. In the early 1790s Philadelphia was the national capital, and that brought a boon of printing jobs, both governmental and political. At other periods he worked from less prominent, and probably cheaper, addresses. Wrigley specialized in printing books rather than newspapers and periodicals.

Hezekiah Niles noted his passing in Niles’s Weekly Register:
Died, on the 28th ult. at Philadelphia, our venerable friend Francis Wrigley, printer, in the 86th year of his age. He printed for the old congress, was one of the best pressmen of his day, and, perhaps, performed as much personal labor in the printing business as any man that ever lived. He was remarkable for the goodness of his heart, and fidelity and kindness to all men, but especially to those of the craft—very gentle and patient with young apprentices, as the senior editor of the Register experienced, and affectionately remembers.
Those biographical details help to explain why in late 1782 Freneau wrote one New-Year’s verse for Wrigley and another for “the Lad who carries” the Freeman’s Journal. In his late thirties, Wrigley was no longer a “Lad.” And he was also notable for being a nice guy.

Monday, January 01, 2018

A New Year’s Greeting from Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau (1752-1832) graduated from Princeton College in 1771, already in the habit of writing poetry. He tried teaching and studying for the ministry, but all he really wanted to do was write, which was a nice lifestyle but not a lucrative one.

Despite supporting the Patriot cause on paper, Freneau spent the first years of the Revolutionary War in the Caribbean, writing nature poems. In 1778 he sailed back to the U.S. of A., landing only after being captured and released by the Royal Navy.

After publishing more poetry, Freneau enlisted as supercargo on a ship to the Azores. That trip required evading British vessels. In May 1780 he set out again for the island of St. Eustatia, this time as a paying passenger.

That ship started its voyage by seizing a small sloop from Crown hands in Delaware Bay. Its captain therefore had no leg to stand on when British ships counterattacked the next day. I mean that literally: Freneau wrote that “a twelve-pound shot…struck Captain Laboyteaut in the right thigh, which it smashed to atoms.”

Freneau expected the British would again set him free as a non-combatant passenger. Instead, his captors shoved him in with their other prisoners. His treatment wasn’t as bad as it could have been because he was soon treated as an officer. Nonetheless, Freneau found himself on one of the infamous British prison-ships in New York harbor.

And he stayed on that ship for six weeks before falling quite ill and being released. Freneau spun that experience into more fervid Patriotism and his most famous poem, The British Prison-Ship. (Michelle Porter discussed that composition at the Journal of the American Revolution.)

In April 1781 Freneau began to edit the Freeman’s Journal, published in Philadelphia by printer Francis Bailey. In that capacity he wrote two verses for the newspaper’s carriers at the end of 1782, plus another for the apprentices of the Pennsylvania Evening Post. Here’s one of those:
To those Gentlemen who have been pleased to favour
Francis Wrigley, News Carrier, with their custom.
January 1, 1783.

ACCORDING to custom, once more I appear
With the verse you expect at the dawn of the year:
For at length we have got into EIGHTY AND THREE;
And in spite of proud Britain, are happy and free.
If the times have been hard, and our commerce gone wrong,
We still have been able to struggle along.
If some, through misfortunes, are slack in the purse,
It is not so bad but it might have been worse.—
Great things, the year past, were reveal’d to our eyes:
The Dutch have confess’d us their friends and allies,
And humbled the pride of our haughty invaders,
By fighting their fleets and destroying their traders,
If the English succeeded in taking the COUNT,
To what, in the end, did their conquest amount?
With their boasts, and their brags, and their shouts of applause,
It but sav’d them from ruin—not ruin’d our cause.

BUT leaving the weight of political cares
To those, who are plac’d at the helm of affairs,
To the humours of fortune in all things resign’d,
I mean by my visit to put you in mind,
That, as true as a clock, both early and late,
With the news of the day I have knock’d at your gate,
And gave you to know what the world was a doing,
What LOUIS intended, or GEORGE was a brewing.
If sometimes the papers were trifling and flat,
And the news went against us,—I cou’dn’t help that;
If parties were angry, and vented their spite,
I bro’t you their wranglings—not help’d them to write.
I therefore presume (and not without reason)
You’ll remember your NEWSMAN, and think of the season;
The markets are high, and the weather is cold;
No party I serve, and no pension I hold.
We Hawkers are men, and have children and wives
To comfort our hearts, and to solace our lives:
But if I say more, you’ll think it is stuff;
And a word to the wise is, in reason, enough.
Freneau wrote similar verses to celebrate the start of 1784 before that spring quitting the Freeman’s Journal to take another trip to the Caribbean. Two years later, Bailey collected his erstwhile editor’s poetry, including six carrier verses. Freneau wrote a couple more in later life, and he included those poems in the editions of his work that he oversaw himself, indicating that he didn’t see his carrier verses as mere occasional ephemera.

COMING UP: Who was Francis Wrigley?