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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Thursday, May 31, 2018

Recreating the Aftermath of the Gaspee in Providence, 2 June

On Saturday, 2 June, the Rhode Island Historical Society and Newport Historical Society are teaming up for a History Space program exploring the aftermath of the Gaspee Affair of 1772.

As you recall, H.M.S. Gaspee was a Royal Navy ship that patrolled Narragansett Bay for smugglers. On 9 June it ran aground. Local merchants and mariners saw an opportunity, stormed the railings, wounded the commander, and set the Gaspee on fire. (That was the third royal government ship that Rhode Islanders had destroyed in a decade.)

At Saturday’s “What Cheer Day” event at the John Brown House Museum, visitors can chat with reenactors portraying such key figures as Gov. Joseph Wanton, merchant John Brown, innkeeper James Sabin, and Lt. William Dudingston of the Royal Navy (presumably recovering from his chest wound). In a market scenario, street peddlers will hawk their wares while upper-class ladies discuss the political situation over tea.

Family-friendly activities include:
  • The Liberty Poll, an interactive scavenger-hunt questionnaire to help officials determine who was responsible for Gaspee’s burning. (Hint: The event’s at John Brown’s house. Though I put more blame for the violence on Simeon Potter.)
  • Making traditional crafts such as a beeswax candle or a clay pinch pot to take home.
  • Eighteenth-century toys and lawn games.
From noon to 2:00 inside the John Brown House Museum, Prof. Adam Blumenthal of Brown University and Optimity Advisors will present a sneak peek at his work-in-progress, “The Gaspee in Virtual Reality.”

“What Cheer Day” is free and open to the public. It will take place rain or shine on the lawn of the John Brown House Museum, 52 Power Street in Providence. The museum will also be free during its regular open hours on Saturday.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sunken Treasure News

Here are a couple of news items from the shipwreck desk.

The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute announced that in late 2015 its submersible robot REMUS 6000, operating from a Colombian navy ship, discovered a wreck buried on the Atlantic seabed.

The submersible also delivered footage showing that the ship carried “bronze cannons still have ornate dolphins engraved on them.” That served to identify it as the San José, a Spanish galleon carrying “gold, silver and emeralds” when British ships attacked and sunk it in 1708, as shown above.

How much gold, silver, and jewels? That cargo is estimated to be worth $4 to $17 billion today. With so much money at stake, there are disputes between the government of Colombia, an U.S. company called Sea Search Armada that claims to have found the same wreck in 1981, and possibly the government of Spain. That’s why the Woods Hole institute (which makes no financial claim on the find) kept the news secret until this month.

Closer to home is the wreck of the pirate ship Whydah in 1717. Earlier this year, the Whydah Pirate Museum in Yarmouth displayed a bone fragment recovered in “a large concretion” of fused material from the wreck. Forensic scientists were going to extract D.N.A. from the bone and compare it to a descendant of the ship’s captain, Samuel Bellamy.

This month the genetic results came back. There wasn’t a match with the Bellamy line (presumably the Y chromosome). Instead, the bone comes from “a man with general ties to the Eastern Mediterranean area.”

At the same time, the museum touted “new X-rays and thermo-imaging” of the concretion that the bone fragment came from. Those revealed that the pirate “was partially clothed, and believed to be carrying what appears to be treasure in his pocket.” What “treasure” means is unclear.

It’s estimated that the Whydah carried $120 million worth of gold and silver. (Only $120 million?) So far marine archeologists have recovered some millions’ worth along with sixty cannon and other artifacts. Many of those items, along with the concretion at issue, are on display at the museum this summer.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Meeting “Capt. Yoking”

Here’s more from the diary of the Rev. David Avery, who as chaplain accompanied a regiment to Chelsea in the wake of the fight over Hog and Noddle’s Island.

This is Avery’s entry from 29 May 1775 as the provincial forces finished salvaging useful material from H.M.S. Diana, which had run aground during the fighting.
29. Monday. Lodged last night in a comfortable bed. Went down to the Ferry, much treasure was got out to-day. Two large anchors & one Kedge & several large square pig iron as ballast, with several articles of consequence & a barrel of pork
When this diary was published in the D.A.R.’s American Monthly Magazine in 1900, the word I typed as “Kedge” (a sort of small anchor) was transcribed as “Kelly.” I haven’t seen the original document to confirm my guess.

Avery’s entry continued:
About noon Capt. Yoking, a Stockbridge Indian & I reconnoitered the Ground East of the schooner & judged that the taking off the cattle was practicable. The Capt. with 3 men took a canoe & went about a mile & a quarter upon the north side of the river from the Ferry & went across to Noddle’s Island & reconnoitered & scouted round about an hour & a quarter, when he fixed his centuries & another canoe went over to his assistance & soon took 2 horses & mired a 3d when a cannon ball fell pretty near them & four barges landed upon which all the scout retreated to the main shore & came over.

Upon that I advised that they should go back & get the stock. Accordingly they got off the Stock about sunset.

Stood upon guard two hours near Winnisimmit Ferry. Prayed with company.
The reference to “Capt. Yoking, a Stockbridge Indian” is very interesting.

Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors of the Revolutionary War notes one state record of a captain named Jehoiakim Youkin in Col. John Paterson’s regiment. The same name also shows up on the records of Gen. George Washington’s headquarters. In August 1775 the general’s military secretary, Joseph Reed, paid Jehoiakim Youkin for digging necessaries—though perhaps he was collecting money for other men.

According to Patrick Frazier’s The Mohicans of Stockbridge, Jehoiakim Yokun or Yokum was a Mahican leader and landowner in western Massachusetts in the mid-1700s. Sites in the region still bear the Yokun name.

When the war began, Jehoiakim’s son Timothy Yokun became the first sergeant in Capt. William Goodrich’s company of Stockbridge Indians within Col. Paterson’s regiment. These soldiers were part of the Massachusetts forces and yet set apart in their style of living and fighting. Most company records don’t list Jehoiakim Yokun’s name at all. But evidently he was in command alongside Goodrich, perhaps particularly in combat. Less than two months into the war, Avery was calling him “Captain.”

One historian appears to have conflated father and son, saying Timothy gained the rank of captain during the war. Yet other authors list Timothy Yokun among the Stockbridge soldiers killed by Lt. Col. John Graves Simcoe’s rangers near Yonkers, New York, in August 1778. Diaries of the Sullivan expedition, the postwar diaries of the Rev. Samson Occom, the pension application of David Freemoyer, and an early history of the town of Stockbridge all refer to a “Captain Yoke or Yokun” active later in the war and returning to Stockbridge afterwards. That was most likely Jehoiakim.

Another source tells us the name of one of the Stockbridge men who went out onto Noddle’s Island and brought back those two horses. As quoted here, he was Henries Vomhavi. The Provincial Congress granted him the smaller of those two horses as a reward.

Monday, May 28, 2018

The Rev. David Avery on the Fight off Chelsea

The Rev. David Avery of Gageborough (Windsor) came to the siege of Boston as chaplain for Col. John Paterson’s regiment from western Massachusetts.

Here is Avery’s diary entry for 28 May 1775, describing several hours of fighting over livestock and hay on the Boston harbor islands that lay near Chelsea. Decades later, local historians called that fight the Battle of Chelsea Creek. At the time, it didn’t really have a name.

In his journal Avery used the thorn, the antiquated English letter that signified the “th” sound but looks like and gets transcribed as a Y. In fact, Avery used it so much, writing words like “ye” (the or they), “ym” (them), and “yr” (their), that I decided to change it to “th” in this extract for clarity. He also abbreviated “which” as “wh.”
28. L[ord]’s day. Yesterday a number of our army went on upon Noddle’s Island, but were repulsed by the Regulars. Upon wh they retreated to Hog Island, where a large number had taken the ground & got off the stock. Upon wh Regulars fired upon our men, then the Diana, a [Royal Navy] schooner with a number of barges came up & began their fire as soon as within swivel shot.

Col. [Israel] Putnam & his men planted themselves in a Ditch near the shore & reserved their fire till the barges came within reach of musket shot,—when a most hot and brisk fire commenced on both sides, & the Regulars finding too warm reception tried very hard for our boats, but our men happily secured them & made their escape from the island upon wh the barges & schooners retreated & were engaged with great fury by our men along the musketry—when Capt. [Thomas Waite] Foster of the train came up with two field pieces of 3 pounders & with one shot of a Double charge cleared the Deck of the Diana & she drove & lodged on the Ferry wharf —upon wh our men took bundles of hay & came up to her Stern, broke open the window & threw in & set it on fire, wh soon burnt down to the water.

In the meantime 3 cannon played upon us from the top of Noddle’s Island. The battle lasted 10 hours, from 4 P. M. Saturday till 6 Sabbath day morning. The heaviest of the Fire was about break of day. Our men had nothing to screen them but the Presence of God. The enemy made shift to get their wounded & dead chiefly away. There was a sloop anchored off near the Ferry in musket shot from the shore [coming] to the assistance of the Diana. Capt. Foster gave her a few shots & so wounded her as that the hands were obliged to towe her off to the Shipping. Then Col. Putnam & a few others returned to Cambridge in high spirits.

About half after 11 o’clock a detachment of several Regiments of 470 marched from Cambridge under the command of Col. [Ephraim] Doolittle, when I went with them upon desire. We arrived at Chelsea about 3 o’C. being about 12 miles. Here we took some refreshment & went to the relief of the guards about 6 o’C. There has been occasional fireing by turns good part of the day. Our men had supper very late.

Considerable treasure has been got out of the schooner today and it is very remarkable that not a single Cannon has been fired at our men any of the time they were to work on the hull of the schooner.
This wasn’t a major battle measured by casualties—the British suffered two dead and several wounded and the provincials only four wounded. But it was the first big action of the siege after the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The provincials not only showed that they could fight, but they even got lucky enough to destroy a Royal Navy ship, taking some of its cannon. A few more fights like that, and the war would be over!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

When Gov. Bernard Went Negative

Yesterday we left Gov. Francis Bernard on 25 May 1768 with a Council newly selected by the Massachusetts legislature—which was largely hostile to him.

On the first day of their term, the legislators had pointedly passed over Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and removed two of Bernard’s political allies from the Council while adding seven others. The newly named gentlemen were:


Under Massachusetts’s provincial charter, the royal governor could “negative,” or veto, anyone named to the Council whom he didn’t want to work with. In practice, governors were reluctant to knock off Councilors who were already sitting because gentlemen could see that as an affront. So this moment was Bernard’s best chance to get an advisory board to his liking.

James Otis, Sr., had been the lower house’s speaker in 1761 and 1762 and then served three years on the Council. But during that time he was also in a bitter feud with Bernard because the governor hadn’t fulfilled his predecessor’s promise to put Otis on Massachusetts’s high court. (Instead, Bernard had appointed Hutchinson.) In 1766 the governor had finally gotten sick of Otis’s opposition and negatived him from the Council.

Bernard had issued hints about letting Otis back on the board if the legislators chose Hutchinson as well. But Otis himself opposed such a deal, and his son was the most powerful member of the lower house, so it didn’t happen. By electing Otis, the legislators were simply poking Bernard again.

Likewise, Bernard had negatived Bowers, Dexter, Gerrish, and Sanders in 1766 and then again in 1767—and here they were again.

This was the first year the legislators put Ward up for the Council. But he had already built a reputation in the House for being one of the sternest rural voices against Parliament’s new laws. In 1766 Gov. Bernard had “superseded” Ward’s commission as a militia colonel. And on this Election Day Ward took the place that Hutchinson had expected to win.

Finally, there was Hancock, by far the youngest of the new potential Councilors. He had entered politics only three years before as a Boston selectman. He had served as a town representative as well since 1766. And he had proven to be another vocal opponent of the royal party.

In sum, Gov. Bernard had little reason to accept any of those men on the Council. But as a bit of a surprise, on 26 May he approved one: Samuel Dexter. In a letter to the Earl of Hillsborough (available through the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s invaluable website), Bernard explained: “I accepted one whom I had negatived before, having Reason to think he was tired of his Party.”

As it turned out, Dexter remained a moderate Whig. He usually voted against the royal governor. Looking back on his legislative career in 1795, he wrote two letters to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap which are valuable sources on the debate over the slave trade and slavery in Revolutionary Massachusetts.

However, Dexter didn’t agree with the most radical Whig actions, worrying about attacking the British military in 1775. A few months after the war started, he quit the Council and moved back to his home colony of Connecticut because people were calling him a “Royalist.” Later he lived in Weston and Mendon, but he never reentered politics.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Election Day Maneuvering in 1768

On the afternoon of 25 May 1768 the new Massachusetts General Court and the outgoing Council took up the first (or last) business of their legislative year: choosing a new Council.

Gov. Francis Bernard was trying to get Thomas Hutchinson, lieutenant governor and chief justice, elected back onto the Council. He even “asserted that if the Lieut Governor was elected, the Governor would probably readmit Mr [James] Otis senr into the Council to lay a Foundation for a general Reconciliation.”

That offer didn’t go over well, as the governor later admitted:
Otis the Father, whose Enmity to the Lieut Governor is known to arise from personal Resentment, declared in publick, that he had rather be turned out of his Offices (which are the first in his County & given by me) & reduced to the lowest of the People, than that the Lieut Govr should be elected into the Council: so much does private Malice prevail over public Considerations.
Still, Hutchinson wrote in his guise as disinterested historian, “The lieutenant-governor's friends [tried] to bring him in.”

The voting took place in two stages. First, the 141 legislators present could choose eighteen men from within the bounds of the old Massachusetts Bay Colony. When the votes were counted, the eighteenth man on the list was Hutchinson. However, he had received only 68 votes, three short of a majority. Which meant, under the current rules, he was not elected.

The legislators moved on to the next round of voting for ten more Councilors—four from the old Plymouth Colony, four from Maine, and two from the province at large, plus a second chance to fill that eighteenth slot. According to Hutchinson, “As he wanted only three votes of a majority, it was supposed that, at the next trial, he would be chosen.”

“Then [James] Otis [Jr.] sprung a Mine he had in reserve,” the governor wrote. Otis and Samuel Adams reminded their colleagues that in April one of John Hancock’s captains had brought a report from London that the Crown had granted Chief Justice Hutchinson an annual salary of £200 out of the Townshend duties. That made Hutchinson a “pensioner” dependent on Parliament instead of on the people he judged, they warned.

Bernard clearly thought it was unfair of Otis and Adams to spread this information. They left Hutchinson’s supporters “no Opportunity or Time for Refutation or Explanation.” Of course, his side would have been in a better position if the Crown had not indeed granted Hutchinson a salary from the Townshend duties, just as the report said.

In the second round of votes, Hutchinson’s total went down by ten. Artemas Ward of Shrewsbury was elected to the empty slot in the Massachusetts Bay slate.

In all, the legislators added seven men to the Council: the senior Otis, Hancock, Ward, Samuel Dexter, Joseph Gerrish, Thomas Sanders, and the wonderfully named Jerathmeel Bowers. All of them had opposed Gov. Bernard in recent years as members of the lower house. At the same time, two of the governor’s allies on the Council lost their seats.

TOMORROW: 250 years ago today, the governor struck back.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Going through the Motions on Election Day

On 25 May 1768, 250 years ago today, Election Day finally arrived in Boston.

At 9:00 A.M. the towns’ representatives to the Massachusetts General Court gathered in the Town House and took their oaths of office. They unanimously reelected Thomas Cushing as the assembly’s speaker and Samuel Adams as the clerk.

At 11:00, Gov. Francis Bernard walked over from his official residence, the Province House, escorted by two upper-class militia units: the Horse Guards under Col. David Phips and the Cadets under Lt. Col. Joseph Scott. Bernard received Cushing and approved the assembly’s choice, and then everyone walked a block to the Old Brick Meeting-House to hear a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Shute (1722-1802) of Hingham.

Shute had chosen to speak on Ezra 10:4: “Arise: for this Matter belongeth unto thee; we also will be with thee: be of good Courage; and do it.” While hearing that exhortation to action, the gentlemen got to sit for a long time. According to merchant John Rowe, “This was a very long sermon, being one hour & forty minutes.”

Then came the midday dinner. Boston’s town meeting had barred the use of Faneuil Hall as long as the governor invited the Commissioners of Customs to dine. Many of the Cadets had said they wouldn’t participate in any such event, either. But Gov. Bernard was not about to back down on an issue of respecting the royal prerogative.

Therefore, there were two dinners on that Election Day. As the 26 May 1768 Boston News-Letter reported, Bernard and Cushing “together with the Council, and several other Gentlemen, went in Procession to the Province House, (preceded by the Militia Officers, and escorted by the Cadets,) where an elegant Dinner was provided by His Excellency…”

Meanwhile, “A public entertainment was provided at the British Coffee-House, where the militia Officers, Troop of Guards, and Company of Cadets dined, & where also many loyal Toasts were drank.” There were also traditional cannon salutes from the North and South Batteries and Castle William.

The week before, most of the Cadets were refusing to promise to participate in the Election Day pageantry. Maj. John Hancock had reportedly torn up his commission, and company members talked about replacing Lt. Col. Scott as their commander. But, most likely because of an after-hours meeting that Thomas Flucker facilitated between Hancock and Gov. Bernard, the Cadets did escort the governor after all. The separate dinners meant they didn’t have to sit down with the Customs Commissioners.

There may have been another part of the deal. On 2 June, the News-Letter reported:
His Excellency the GOVERNOR hath appointed JOHN HANCOCK, Esq; to be first Major of the Independant Company of Cadets, and WILLIAM COFFIN, jun. Esq; to be second Major of the said Company.
Hancock already held the rank of major; I don’t know if becoming “first Major” was a promotion. Nor can I tell if he participated in the Cadets’ procession on Election Day or sat that one out. But, even after his vocal protest, Bernard restored Hancock’s high rank.

Hancock may have come around to the position that the Cadets should respect the office of the governor even when they disagreed with his actions. In May 1773 there was another controversy over the presence of the Customs Commissioners at an Election Day gathering. Two Cadets, Moses Grant and James Foster Condy, clubbed their muskets and participated in the raucous protest outside. By then Hancock had become the colonel in charge of the company, and he booted Grant and Condy out.

In the end, the public dispute about the Customs Commissioners and the dinner was symbolic. But Election Day was also about allocating real political power.

TOMORROW: Electing the governor’s Council.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

“One of the leaders of the Disaffected in this town”

In May 1768, as I quoted yesterday, Boston’s town meeting took a stand against letting the Commissioners of Customs dine in Faneuil Hall on Election Day. If Gov. Francis Bernard wanted to invite those tariff-collecting officials to the day’s traditional dinner, he’d have to find somewhere else to dine.

One Bostonian was in an even sharper feud with the Customs service that spring: John Hancock. I’ll save the meat of their dispute for an anniversary next month. For now, I’ll simply say that Hancock had declared that he wouldn’t participate in any dinner that involved the Customs Commissioners. That meant not joining the usual military escort for the governor as an officer in the Company of Cadets, the province’s most prestigious militia company.

On 12 May the Commissioners complained about the situation in a letter to London, as Neal Nusholtz quoted in this article at the Journal of the American Revolution:
We cannot omit mentioning to your Lordships that Mr. Hancock before named is one of the leaders of the Disaffected in this town, that early in the Winter he declared in the General Assembly that he would not suffer our officers to go even on board any of his London Ships and now he carries his opposition to Government to even a higher pitch.

Being Major of his company of Cadets which distinguished itself in the year 1766 [actually September 1765] by putting a stop to the riots, and it being usual for the Governor to invite all the servants of the Crown to Dine with him on the Day of their general election, which happens on the 25th instant, a Majority of his Corps met together a few days ago and came to a resolution to acquaint the Governor, that they would not attend him on that occasion as usual if he invited the Commissioners of the Customs to dine with him, and this being signified to His Excellency, he answered that he would enter into no stipulation with them, and positively required their attendance.
Gov. Bernard liked the Cadets because they had helped keep the peace after the worst Stamp Act riot. He had given the company commander, Leonard Jarvis, some very good introductions before he sailed to London in late 1767. Now the governor summoned the acting commander, Lt. Col. Joseph Scott. (Scott took over formally in 1769. He makes a notable appearance in The Road to Concord because he was an ironmonger who sold artillery ordnance.)

According to a detailed account signed “Marmaduke Myrmidon” and published in the 9 May Boston Gazette, Gov. Bernard told Scott that the Cadets’ disrespect for his office “would tend to anarchy and confusion, and erase the very shadow of military discipline.” He ordered Scott to summon the entire company and ask each man in turn if he would report on Election Day. If anyone said no, the lieutenant colonel should respond that “the G[overnor] thank’d him for his past services, and dismiss’d him from any further employment.”

The Cadets balked at the governor’s demand. The Gazette article said “a very few” promised to attend, “some” said they wouldn’t, and most refused to answer either way. The Customs Commissioners said, “Mr. Hancock thereupon tore the seal off his Commission, and all the rest of the Company except nine Declared they would not continue any longer in the service.”

On 12 May, the same day as the Commissioners’ letter, the bulk of the Cadets met without Scott. They talked about replacing him with a commander they preferred. The next day those men sent a committee out to Gov. Bernard’s home in Jamaica Plain to tell him of their preference. The day after that, the governor’s secretary, John Cotton, replied that the ex-Cadets were just piling one affront on top of another. (“Marmaduke Myrmidon” would publish Cotton’s note in the 23 May Gazette.)

However, at the end of that week, with Election Day coming closer, men moved to patch things up. On 18 May, Cotton wrote to Hancock “conveying the Governor's displeasure at the unlawful assembly of the Cadets and Hancock after the latter’s dismissal” but opening the door to a dialogue. (That description comes from the catalogue of the Cadets’ papers at Boston University.) Bernard was willing to meet and clear up misunderstandings—as long as there was a witness present. At noon on Sunday, 22 May, Council member Thomas Flucker invited Hancock to come to his house “immediately after sunset” to meet with the governor.

On 23 May, the Boston town meeting confirmed their vote against letting Gov. Bernard use Faneuil Hall for any dinner involving the Customs Commissioners. Later that day, the Boston Evening-Post carried a two-paragraph announcement from Joseph Scott, desiring “The Gentlemen of the Cadet Company under my Command” to report that evening and the next at Faneuil Hall, presumably for drill and inspection, and then to gather “at the usual Place of Parade” at 9:00 A.M. on Wednesday—Election Day.

TOMORROW: Election Day at last.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

“To refuse the use of Faneuil Hall” on Election Day

In late colonial Boston, “Election Day” wasn’t the day that people voted for their representatives in the Massachusetts General Court. The special town meetings for that purpose convened on different days in early May, whenever the local selectmen chose.

In 1768, 250 years ago, for example, Boston had its town meeting to elect representatives on 4 May. James Otis. Jr. (shown here), moderated and was also chosen one of the town’s four representatives to the legislature.

“Election Day” was when all the towns’ representatives met for the first time as the General Court and voted with the members of the outgoing Council on who would serve on the Council for the following year.

The legislators could name up to twenty-eight Councilors. The provincial charter required a certain number from the old Plymouth colony and the Maine district. But the royal governor could “negative,” or veto, any members he didn’t want to work with.

That election usually took place in late May. There was always a sermon for the assembled politicians; being asked to deliver the Election Day sermon was a big honor for a minister, and the result was usually published. There was also a fancy banquet for the assembled gentlemen.

In 1768, Election Day was scheduled for 25 May. And the Election Day banquet was already a bone of contention.

Back on 4 May the Boston town meeting had named its four representatives and then voted:

That the Selectmen be directed to refuse the use of Faneuil Hall to his Excelly. the Governor and Council on the Ensuing Election Day unless they shall be ascertained that the Commissioners of the Board of Customs, or their Attendants are not to be invited to dine there on said Day
Those Customs Commissioners were the royal appointees collecting Parliament’s new Townshend duties.

[That same town meeting also approved building a new gunhouse beside Boston Common, a crucial site in The Road to Concord.]

As Election Day of 1768 grew closer, some Bostonians apparently felt that the town had made its point but shouldn’t be so obstreperous. On the afternoon of 23 May, with Otis once again moderating the town meeting,
It was moved and accordingly put, That there be a reconsideration of a late Vote enjoining the Selectmen to refuse the use of Faneuil Hall to his Excellency the Governor & Council on the ensuing Election Day unless they shall be ascertained that the Commissioners of the Board of Customs or their Attendants are not to be Invited to dine there on said Day —

which Question passed in the Negative almost unanimously.
So the town of Boston and Gov. Francis Bernard were headed for a collision.

TOMORROW: And they weren’t the only ones.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Making Clothing for the Army

Another of Alex Burns’s recent postings on eighteenth-century soldiers at Kabinettskriege was on the impracticality of soldiers’ uniforms.

To fill out that topic, I can also point to John U. Rees’s article "’The taylors of the regiment’: Insights on Soldiers Making and Mending Clothing, and Continental Army Clothing Supply, 1776 to 1783,” published in Military Collector & Historian in 2011 and now available through Scribd.

Armies relied on tailors in their own ranks to alter garments received in bulk from suppliers, and in some cases to make that clothing from cloth.

Rees quotes a 25 Jan 1780 letter from Lt. Erkuries Beatty of the 4th Pennsylvania Regiment to one of his brothers about the clothing workshop near Morristown:
…when we join’d the [main] Army I found I had to do the Duty of Regiment[al] Clothier to[o], which is the Cause of all my trouble, for I have lately drew Cloathing for the Regt. & it is almost all to make up from the Cloth all which I must oversee, which keeps me very Close confined–

If you was just now to step into my Hutt (which is only a very small Room if it ever got finished) I will tell you just how you would find me. . . . You’ll find me sitting on a Chest, in the Center of Six or Eight Taylors, with my Book Pen & Ink on one side and the Buttons and thread on the other–the Taylors yo’ll find some A Cutting out, others sewing, outside of the taylors you will see maybe half Dozen Men naked as Lazarus, begging for Cloathing, and about the Room you will see nothing but Cloth & Cloathing, on the floor you’ll find it about knee deep with Snips of Cloth & Dirt–

If you stay any time you’ll hear every Minute knock–knock at the door & I calling walk in, others going out, which makes a Continual Bussle–presently I begin to swear, sometimes have to jump up blundering over two or three taylors to whip somebody out of the house–othertimes [Capt. George] Tudor and my Mess Mates they begin to swear, & with our Swearing, and the taylors singing (as you know they must), and the Men a grumbling…makes pretty Music for your Ear, and thats the way from morning to night, & from Weeks End to weeks end, & I am sure I need not complain for want of Company…
Lt. Beatty (1759-1823, shown above) was only twenty years old at the time, but he had years of military experience. He had enlisted in 1775 as a sixteen-year-old private nicknamed “Arky.” A minister’s son, he was promoted into the officer‘s ranks at the start of 1777. By the winter of 1780 Beatty was serving as his regiment’s paymaster, which was no doubt why he got to oversee the uniform shop as well.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Soldiers and the King’s Half-Penny

Last month Alex Burns, currently doing doctoral work on the Seven Years’ War at West Virginia University, shared his research on how well—or how poorly—ordinary soldiers were paid in the eighteenth century.

Some extracts:
Their pay certainly ranked in the lower strata of eighteenth-century incomes but was above or roughly the same as other groups in a similar social class: such day laborers or husbandmen. Pay varied between states. For example: the Austrians paid their common soldiers 5 or 6 creutzer, British paid their men six-pence a day, when adjusted for stoppages [i.e., deductions to pay for uniforms and other goods supplied to the soldiers], while the Prussian army paid their men 8 groschen a day. Yearly pay ranged from 12-14 Pounds a year in the British army to 24 Thaler a year in the Prussian Army. Soldiers in the Continental Army were promised a bit more, around $29 per year, but in practice, this was the equivalent of a few Spanish milled dollars. The average soldier earned around $1,500 per year, when adjusted to today's currency. . . .

Indeed, when measuring these sums, it may be easier to understand eighteenth-century wages through the lens of purchasing power, or labor value. When measured in these ways, the £12 is more like a yearly wage of around £20,000 in 2018 currency. So, while not rich by any standard of measure, these soldiers were not exactly destitute either. . . .

It may be more illuminating to see what a daily soldier’s wage could purchase. 1 pence could purchase a measure of gin, enough coal to heat a room for a day, or a enough firewood to heat a home for a day. 1.5 pence could purchase a pound of soap. For half of day’s wages (3 pence), you could purchase a dinner of bread, cheese and beer. Items priced about sixpence in eighteenth-century London included: a pound of cheese, a pound of hair powder, a lower-class dinner out consisting of meat, bread, and alcohol. Amenities available for 8 pence included:, a middle-class dinner out and a pound of butter. If able to save for five days, a soldier could afford to buy a pig.
Understandably, soldiers complained that they were paid very little. However, unless they had some sort of lucrative skill or pension, civilian life paid even less.

[The photograph above shows a half-penny coin issued in Britain in 1770, courtesy of Tony Clayton’s Coins of the U.K.]

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Call for Papers on “Women Waging War”

The Sons of the American Revolution’s annual scholarly conference to be held on 14-16 June 2019 in Philadelphia will be on the topic of “Women Waging War in the American Revolution.”

The lead organizer, Prof. Holly Mayer, has just issued this call for papers:
The conference will examine women’s words, actions, and influence in the War for American Independence. The SAR, as part of its Congressional mandate to encourage historical research, is sponsoring this conference in alliance with the Museum of the American Revolution, which invites people to engage with the Revolution’s ideas, stories, and artifacts.

Mary Silliman wrote in 1776 that she had “acted the heroine as well as my dear Husband [General Gold Selleck Silliman] the hero.” Not all women—or men—acted heroically in the war, but they did act, not just react, and their agency informs this conference. How did women fight the Revolution: that is, fight for it, fight against it, and fight in it?

Proposals for Women Waging War in the American Revolution should introduce how the authors will explore women’s involvement with armies and militias or their actions in defense of persons and property on the home front. The conference intends to examine women warriors, followers, and activists with American, French, British, German, Loyalist, and Native American forces. It also invites comparisons to women’s martial engagements in the broader revolutionary Atlantic World between 1750 and 1800.
Proposals should include a 250-word abstract and a curriculum vitae no more than two pages long. The deadline for proposals is 1 Oct 2018. Send proposals to Holly Mayer in the Department of History at Duquesne University by email at mayer@duq.edu with the subject line “2019 SAR Conference Proposal.”

History scholars of all sorts are invited to submit proposals. For those selected to present their work, the S.A.R. will provide a $500 honorarium plus travel and lodging expenses. There will be an edited volume of the papers, and for that reason the organizers will ask participants to submit versions of their work 5,000-6,000 words long by 10 May 2019.

This year’s S.A.R. conference will take place on 8-10 June at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. It is on the theme of “Spain and the American Revolution.” 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Trail Work at the North Bridge

Minute Man National Historical Park has begun an “extensive rehabilitation” of the North Bridge Trail on the west side of the North Bridge in Concord.

Sections of that trail are closed, meaning that there’s no pedestrian access to the North Bridge from the park’s Concord visitor center or Liberty Street. That situation is scheduled to last until 15 June.

Folks can still visit the North Bridge and its nearby monuments by approaching from the east side, which has its own parking area. And they can separately still visit the Concord visitor center, which houses the “Hancock” cannon (one of the four stolen cannon that ignited the Revolutionary War, I believe).

This phase of work on the trail is scheduled to end on 15 June. Then the contractors will begin similar rehabilitation for the trail east of the bridge, probably limiting access there. But again, people will still be able to get to the bridge from one side.

I talked about what was going on west of the bridge at midday on 19 Apr 1775 during the videotaped conversation with Lee Wright of the History List that folks can view on this page.

Friday, May 18, 2018

“Declaring Independence” Presentations Around Massachusetts

“Declaring Independence: Then and Now,” is an ongoing commemoration and exploration of the Declaration of Independence presented by Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area and the American Antiquarian Society.

Each presentation is tailored to the community where it is staged, meaning no two productions are the same. A “Declaring Independence” performance consists of a reading of the Congress’s Declaration and portrayals of people from the host community during the Revolution as drawn from first-hand accounts. A narrator explains the eighteenth-century terms and ideas, challenging the contemporary audience to consider their relevance today.

There are many different stagings scheduled between now and Independence Day.

Sunday, 20 May, 2:00-3:30 P.M.
Leominster Public Library Community Room
Partner: Leominster Public Library

Thursday, 31 May, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
American Antiquarian Society, Worcester
Followed by “Holding These Truths: A Panel Discussion about the Declaration of Independence” with David W. Blight, Annette Gordon-Reed, and Peter S. Onuf
Partner: American Antiquarian Society

Sunday, 3 June, 2:00-3:30 P.M.
Minute Man Visitor Center (Lexington)
Partner: Minute Man National Historical Park

Wednesday, 6 June, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Westford’s First Parish Church United
Partner: Westford Historical Society

Sunday, 10 June, 3:00-4:30 P.M.
Boxborough Town Hall
Partner: Boxborough Historical Society

2-4 July, starting at 10:30 A.M. & 1:00 P.M.
Old Sturbridge Village’s Center Meetinghouse
With admission to Old Sturbridge Village

Tuesday, 3 July, starting at 11:00 A.M., 1:00 P.M., 3:00 P.M., 5:00 P.M.
Old North Church, Boston
Partners: Old North Church, Boston Harborfest

Wednesday, 4 July, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
Lexington Depot
Partner: Lexington Historical Society

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Morrison on “Exporting the Revolution” in Exeter, 22 May

On Tuesday, 22 May, the American Independence Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire, will host a lunchtime talk by Dane A. Morrison on “Exporting the Revolution: American Revolutionaries in the Indies Trade.”

Morrison, a professor of history at Salem State University, is the author of True Yankees: The South Seas and the Discovery of American Identity. Here’s what he’ll speak about:
One of the notable consequences of the American Revolution was the opening of American trade with the East, commencing with the voyage of the Empress of China, departing New York’s East River virtually at the moment when Congress was ratifying the Treaty of Paris in February 1784. Independence had freed Yankee merchants from Britain’s mercantilist regulations, confining their vessels to the waters of the Atlantic and Caribbean, and triggered the country’s entrance onto a global stage.

This talk will examine the emergence of Americans onto a global stage, raising such questions as:
  • How did early American “citizens of the world” recollect the Revolution?
  • How did they negotiate the complications of culture in their travels around the world?
  • And, how did they hope to defend the legitimacy of the new nation and champion the republican principles that they hoped would define an emergent national identity?
This “Lunch and Learn” session will take place from 12:00 noon to 1:00 P.M. at the Folsom Tavern, 164 Water Street in Exeter. Parking is available in the nearby museum’s parking lot on Spring Street and along Water Street. People are welcome to bring lunch.

This event is free and open to the public. However, the tavern is is a historic building, and the second-floor lecture space is not handicap-accessible.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Hunter on Dighton Rock in Middleboro, 19 May

On Saturday, 19 May, the Massachusetts Archaeological Society will host a special lecture by Douglas Hunter on “The Place of Stone: Dighton Rock and the Erasure of America’s Indigenous Past.”

Drawing on his book of the same name, Dr. Hunter will discuss the legacy and mythology behind a petroglyph-covered boulder found in the area that became Berkley:

First noticed by colonists in 1680, Dighton Rock in Massachusetts by the nineteenth century was one of the most famous and contested artifacts of American antiquity. This forty-ton boulder covered in petroglyphs has been the subject of endless speculation that defies its Native American origins. Hunter dissects almost four centuries of Dighton Rock’s misinterpretation, to reveal its larger role in colonization and the conceptualization of Indigenous peoples.
Among the many New England scholars who studied the rock was the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles. In 1766, while living in Newport, Rhode Island, he saw a copy of a broadside about the boulder written by the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather. (Other men who had written about the rock included Prof. John Winthrop of Harvard and Dr. William Douglass, best known for opposing smallpox inoculation and Mather’s other ideas.)

In June 1767 Stiles went to visit a man who lived half a mile from the rock. He used chalk to make the markings more distinct and then drew them in his journal, stating on 6 June: “Spent the forenoon in Decyphering about Two Thirds the Inscription, which I take to be in phoenician Letters & 3000 years old.”

Stiles returned in July for more investigation. He “washed & skrubbed the Rock with a Broom,” fighting the water level, before drawing more surfaces. The next month, two local men did the minister the favor of going out and collecting more drawings, measurements, and even what seems to be a casting of the scrapes in “the Phœnitian rock.”

Here’s one of Stiles’s drawings, courtesy of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
In 1768 the Swiss artist Pierre Eugène du Simitière visited Stiles on his way to settle in Philadelphia. He studied the material that the minister had collected. He looked at the characters on Mather’s broadside and and observed, “They are also totally different from the copy taken by Dr. Stiles.” Indeed, most or all of those researchers were seeing what they wanted to see.

Hunter’s talk about this history and what it shows about colonial New Englanders’ attitude toward the Natives around them will take place at the Robbins Museum of Archaeology, 17 Jackson Street in Middleboro, starting at 1:00 P.M. The program is free, but the society suggests a donation of $5 per person.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

May Events at the Lee Mansion in Marblehead

Jeremiah Lee was a significant figure in the arming of the Massachusetts militia before the Revolutionary War. The wealthy Marblehead merchant was a member of the Patriots’ Committee of Supplies. He paid David Mason of Salem to prepare cannon for battlefield use.

Lee died on 10 May 1775 of an illness that his family believed he’d contracted in the early hours of 19 April from cold and fright. I discussed that here and in The Road to Concord. So May was not a good month for Lee.

This May, however, the Jeremiah Lee Mansion, which he had built for him in 1768, has some interesting talks on tap.

Thursday, 17 May, 7:00-9:00 P.M.
Saving the Lee Mansion
Local historian Stanley Goodwin will share the remarkably dramatic story of how the Marblehead Historical Society bought the Lee Mansion in 1909 and turned it into the building and grounds that we know today.

Thursday, 24 May, 7:00-9:00 P.M.
Jeremiah Lee and the Colonial Masons of Marblehead
Join Town Historian Don Doliber as he discusses the Masonic ties that drew Jeremiah Lee, the town’s leading citizens, and the middling classes together in colonial Marblehead.

The Jeremiah Lee Mansion is at 161 Washington Street in Marblehead. Admission to each lecture is $15, or $10 for Marblehead Museum & Historical Society members.

Monday, May 14, 2018

American Harmony Concert in Worcester, 15 May

On Tuesday, 15 May, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will host a concert titled “‘Slices of Time Past’: Choral Music from Eighteenth-Century America.”

Musical scholar Nym Cooke will direct the performance by the chorus American Harmony and offer commentary on the pieces. The songs will be ”psalm tunes, fuging tunes, and anthems” available in Cooke’s new choral collection American Harmony. The concert will thus recreate the sounds that the first generation of American citizens sang and heard.

Nym Cooke’s publications include an edition of the complete music of the Worcester-born hatter and composer Timothy Swan, a chapter in The Cambridge History of American Music, and two volumes of carols and part-songs, Awake to Joy! He has taught at the College of the Holy Cross and Brandeis University and now teaches at Eagle Hill School in Hardwick.

In connection to this concert, the A.A.S. will exhibit some of the early tune books, both printed and handwritten, in its collection.

This concert will take place in Antiquarian Hall, 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester. There is on-street parking on Regent Street, and the A.A.S. has a parking lot at 90 Park Avenue. This event is open to the public free of charge. Copies of the American Harmony anthology will be available for purchase.

(The image above shows the music and words for the song “Ally Croker,” as published in London in 1788. It comes courtesy of the A.A.S.’s online collection of early American broadsides because it was a forerunner of this version, published in America in the 1810s. This satiric love song is probably not one of the more serious compositions to be performed on Tuesday evening.)

Sunday, May 13, 2018

A Talk, a Video, and Signed Copies of The Road to Concord

On the evening of Thursday, 17 May, I’ll speak at the Bunker Hill Museum on the topic “Meet the New Neighbors: The British Army in Boston, 1768.”

This is a Revolution 250 event organized by Boston National Historical Park. Here’s our teaser:

This year marks the 250th anniversary of the first military occupation of Boston as army regiments disembarked in October 1768 to assert the London government’s control over the port. That move only escalated social and political tensions. How did Boston residents respond to the sudden arrival of hundreds of soldiers? How did those soldiers find their new American home? What individual stories do the sources hold for us?
That talk will start at 7:00 P.M. in the museum’s lower level at 43 Monument Square in Charlestown. It is free and open to the public.

Folks who can’t come to that event can hear me chat with Lee Wright of the History List about the fighting at the North Bridge in Concord through the video in the middle of this page. We were out walking on and around the actual bridge, with wind and tourists whistling by, on a lovely spring day.

Some folks have asked about how to obtain autographed copies of The Road to Concord if they can’t come to my talks. I’ve signed a bunch of copies for the History List, and Lee can ship those signed copies anywhere. Thanks!

Saturday, May 12, 2018

A Souvenir of Harvard College in 1767

We have a good idea of what Massachusetts Hall and the rest of Harvard College looked like just before the Revolutionary War thanks to a surveyor named Joseph Chadwick and our busy friend Paul Revere. They collaborated to issue the engraving shown above.

On 4 July 1767, Revere entered into his account book a charge of £4 “To one half of Engraving a Plate for a Perspective View of the Colleges” and “To Printing.” Evidently Chadwick and Revere split the cost of publishing this image, and presumably the proceeds.

Harvard held its commencement every year in July. It was a public holiday, bringing big, festive crowds to Cambridge, some people because they had links to the college and others because they wanted to watch or sell things to the first group. In 1767 commencement was on Wednesday, 15 July, and I suspect Revere and/or Chadwick were in Cambridge selling their print to those who would want it most.

That might explain why Revere never advertised this image for sale in newspapers. Advertising might have been much less cost-effective at reaching reach the target audience of Harvard graduates.

Revere may also not have printed many copies. The scholar of his engravings, Clarence S. Brigham, reported in 1954 that he had found only four surviving examples, owned by the Essex Institute, the American Antiquarian Society, Harvard itself, and an individual. However, the image has been reproduced many times, so there are lots of later copies of this view hanging on walls.

In May 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress commissioned Revere to engrave and print currency. His wife Rachel and most their children got out of besieged Boston early that month, and they must have brought the old engraving plates. Revere cut the image of Harvard College in half and used the reverse side to make money. That piece of copper is now at the Massachusetts Archives.

Also at the state archives is Chadwick’s journal of a surveying expedition in Maine in 1764, as recounted and transcribed (with maps) in this article.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Massachusetts Hall to Be Renovated

The Harvard Gazette has an article looking ahead to this summer’s renovation of Massachusetts Hall and looking back on the history of the building—the oldest surviving building of Harvard College.

I particularly liked the deft use of digital graphics to enliven the article.

Massachusetts Hall was built in 1720. It survived because it didn’t really catch fire until 1924. By then American culture had decided that having an old building was a Good Thing, the Colonial Revival was still strong, and Harvard had lots of money to restore it.

When walking around Harvard Yard, I recognize Massachusetts Hall by the plainness of its brickwork compared to similar buildings. There’s also the clock on the street side, and of course the signs saying how historic it is. But several other college buildings date from the mid-1700s.

Among the items quoted and shown in the article is the bill from Harvard to the Massachusetts General Court for renovations necessary after the siege of Boston, when the building housed Continental Army troops.
Account of the damages done to the Colledges by the Army after April 19th, 1775, which remain to be made good after the first repairs were made previous to the return of the Scholars to Cambridge, after estimate of the subscribers committee appointed for that purpose by the General Court.

Damages to Massachusetts Hall

27 brass knoblocks for chamber doors

1 knob latch for D[itto]

60 box locks for studies

1 large stock lock for a cellar door

62 rolls of paper

60 yards of paint

Other damages
Why so many locks and latches? Were they broken to gain access to the building early in the siege? Or did soldiers pilfer those devices—which in the eighteenth century were expensive precision products—on their way out?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

The Man Who Shot Daniel Phelps

The Rev. David Avery identified the fellow provincial soldier who accidentally shot Daniel Phelps as “Mr. —— Yale of Col. [John] Patterson's company.”

In 1854 the Stockbridge chronicler Electa F. Jones referred to the man as  “Mr. Y.” She also wrote:
Mr. Y. became almost distracted, and, it is believed, continued in a gloomy state of mind until his own death many years afterward. He was not suspected of design, but was probably less cautious than he should have been.
We can certainly agree with that last bit.

A little digging reveals that that man was Noah Yale of Lenox. After marching to the siege lines in the town minute company, he enlisted in the Massachusetts army on 5 May through the end of the year. Only three days after enlisting, he shot Phelps while practicing the manual of arms, not realizing his musket was loaded.

This web genealogy for the Yale family says Noah Yale had been born in Wallingford, Connecticut, on 17 Mar 1749, making him twenty-six years old at the start of the war. He (or perhaps his namesake father) had purchased fifty acres in Lenox in 1773. According to state records, Yale served in the Massachusetts and then Continental Army through the end of the year.

This 1850 print genealogy says Yale didn’t live “many years,” as Jones wrote, but “died of a fever, December 28, 1776.” Though that family publication doesn’t mention the death of Phelps, it does implicitly link Yale’s death before age thirty to his experiences near “Boston, whither he had been called to serve his country, in her struggle for independence.” He appears to have come back to Lenox a changed person.

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Death of Daniel Phelps

Yesterday I quoted a nineteenth-century account of how Daniel Phelps of Stockbridge was accidentally shot during a drill by a reckless fellow militiaman on 8 May 1775.

We have a contemporaneous account of what followed from the diary of the Rev. David Avery (1746-1818, shown here) of Gageborough, later renamed Windsor, who had also come to the siege of Boston from western Massachusetts:
8 [May]. Monday. Prayed with R[egimen]t.—About 3 o’cl’k Mr. Phelps of Capt. [Thomas] William’s company was wounded in his Breast and Lungs by an accidental discharge of a musket by Mr. ———— Yale of Col. [John] Patterson’s company as he was exercising.

Dr. [Isaac?] Foster & others attended him but found the wound to be mortal.—Mr. Phelps appeared to be very calm & patient—had a good sense of God’s gov’t & ye Equity of Providence.—

Ys’day Four guns were discharged in ye camp & endangered men’s lives. One out of our window—One at ye Piquit guard. Two others hurt. An awful day!

Mr. Phelps died. I closed his eyes—& gave a word of exhortation to ye spectators.

Our Reg’t attended Mr. Phelps funeral. Capt. Williams’ company under arms reversed. I prayed before ye Regiment marched in procession.
Avery also wrote home on 12 May saying:
Mr. Phelps was wounded on Monday, at 3 P. M. He very quietly fell on sleep at about 6 P. M, Wednesday [10 May]. Thus expired the flower of our army. Yesterday he was interred in the Cambridge burying-yard in a very decent and respectable manner. I had the greatest satisfaction and comfort in his death, for he appeared to die in the triumphs of faith…
The chaplain added that Phelps’s brothers Jacob (probably born 1753, listed in a genealogy as Jabez but in state military records as Jacob) and Hezekiah (born 1756) were with him when he died.

With such a loss, the Rev. Mr. Avery was right to complain about how inexperienced soldiers shooting their guns in camp “endangered men’s lives.” Despite their militia training, those men had limited experience being around loaded guns all the time and were on edge at the start of the war. Accidental shootings continued.

Of the younger Phelps brothers, Jacob was the fifer in Capt. Williams’s company while Hezekiah marched with a company from Great Barrington. Jacob would not survive the war, dying at Skenesborough, New York. Hezekiah served several more short stints in the army or Massachusetts militia, married Ruth Dudley, and reportedly died in 1810.

TOMORROW: The man who shot Daniel Phelps.

Tuesday, May 08, 2018

“Probably no one supposed it to be loaded”

According to page 1301 of the massive Phelps Family in America and Their English Ancestors, Daniel Phelps was born in Akron, New York, in 1745.

Since Akron is at the western end of that state, and the area wasn’t part of the British Empire at the time, that statement seems unlikely. Phelps’s siblings were all born in Great Barrington or Salisbury and Simsbury, Connecticut, so he was probably a native of the Connecticut River valley as well. (Perhaps Agawam?)

When word of the shooting at Lexington reached western Massachusetts on 22 April 1775, Phelps was part of the militia company from Stockbridge. He and his companions set out for the siege lines around Boston, probably arriving at the end of April.

As of Monday, 8 May, the company was camped in Cambridge. Stockbridge: Past and Present; Or, Records of Old Mission Station, published by the delightfully named Electa Fidelia Jones in 1854, recounts what happened that afternoon:
Daniel Phelps, being an officer, was asked one day by a company of his associates assembled in his room, to give them the manual exercise. Accordingly he took his seat, and, being first armed with guns which were standing by, they arranged themselves before him.

When the order was given to “take aim,” one man pointed his piece directly towards Captain Phelps. He was requested to turn it to one side, which he did, though probably no one supposed it to be loaded. Yet, when Captain Phelps pronounced the word “fire,” Mr. Y. again pointed the gun directly towards him; and its contents, entering the right breast of the officer, took an oblique direction, boring the lungs, and lodging in the back bone. This was inferred, at least, from his appearance, a numbness in all parts below the ball taking place immediately.

As soon as the surgeons had searched the wound, he asked if it was mortal, and was answered “Yes.”
All the records from the time say that Phelps was not “an officer,” much less “Captain Phelps.” His company was commanded by Capt. Thomas Williams. Phelps may have been designated a corporal or sergeant, or his family may just have assumed he had been promoted to a position of authority after hearing about the way he was wounded.

TOMORROW: The mortal wound.

Monday, May 07, 2018

Knoblock on African-American Cemeteries, 7 May

Tonight the Newport Historical Society hosts Glenn Knoblock speaking on the topic of “Hidden Presence: God’s Little Acre and Beyond,” about the historic African-American burial grounds of New England. (This talk is rescheduled from 8 March.)

The event description says:
Evidence of the history of African Americans in New England from the 18th and 19th centuries is found in many historic burial grounds and cemeteries in the region, with the most significant and extensive of these sites being God’s Little Acre in Newport.

Through these oft-times forgotten or neglected sites and the gravestones found within, important clues which help to document the lives of African Americans in the region are revealed. Such burial sites and gravestones are often the only physical evidence of an African American presence and the existence of slavery in a given locale, making them historically important beyond their original function and purpose. The presentation will be richly illustrated with photographs of many important gravestones found in Newport and beyond.
Knoblock is the author of African American Historic Burial Grounds and Gravesites of New England, published in 2016. He has lectured throughout New Hampshire via the state’s Humanities To Go program and written many entries for Harvard’s African American National Biography Project.

This talk takes place at the historical society’s Resource Center, 82 Touro Street in Newport. Admission is $5, or $1 for members and active and retired military with identification. Reserve a space online at NewportHistory.org or call 401-841-8770.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

The Art and Mystery of Mantua Makers

The U.K.’s Arts and Humanities Research Council recently posted an interesting essay by Rebecca Morrison about her research into mantua makers.

Here’s an extract:
Until the late seventeenth century male tailors made almost all fashionable female outerwear. However, in the closing decades of the century a new style, known as the mantua, became fashionable. It was an unstructured gown, worn loose over separate stays (corsets), in stark contrast to the heavily structured bodices and co-ordinating skirts which had typified the formal wear of preceding years. Seamstresses who had previously been limited to making linen underwear and accessories seized this opportunity to make outerwear. And within a few decades women were almost exclusively making clothes for women. In France these seamstresses were known as couturières, and in England mantua-makers. A moniker that would stick with them, long after the mantua was consigned to fashions past.

The French couturières were granted the right to form guilds, and because of this, a large number of records revealing their working lives remain today – indispensable to the modern historian. The English mantua-makers, however, formed no such organisations. In fact most of them worked very privately and usually from their own homes. So, without written records how do we find out about these early dressmakers?

Much of my research has involved studying gowns held by the [Victoria & Albert Museum]. Although many were worn by the gentry or nobility, they reveal much broader patterns of cutting and construction techniques, and even aspects of the relationship between client and maker. I start each study by taking a pattern off the gown, i.e. drawing the pieces of the fabric, the cut and fold lines. I then record the different stitches and where they have been employed. I look at the trimmings and linings – how and at what step of the process they are attached. I also consider alterations – the marks left by earlier seams, and the addition or removal of pieces. This is a time-consuming process, but a rewarding one. The longer I spend with each garment the more intimately I come to know it, and the clearer the process of production becomes.

It is a process that would be unfamiliar to modern consumers. If you were lucky enough to be buying a bespoke dress today a fitting would involve the client trying on the unfinished garment, in either the final fabric or toile made from an inexpensive cloth. However, the eighteenth-century mantua-maker did not have paper patterns or a dress-stand at her disposal, and the cost of using even a cheap fabric for a toile would have been prohibitive. Instead she used the client’s body to shape and fold her cloth. She would pin it in such a way that it could be sewn immediately.

No ‘right-sides’ together, followed by turning inside out. Long petticoats which do not take much strain would be stitched with a quick running stitch. Not only fast, but also easy to remove as fashions changed. Economy was important as the cost of fabrics dwarfed the wages of the mantua-maker. Although these gowns were quick to make they were not ‘fast fashion’. Rather an investment that could be remade, gifted or sold to the thriving second-hand market. Many of the decisions regarding fit and form could be taken together, between maker and client at the earliest stages of construction.
In 1796, eight women were listed as “mantua makers” in the Boston directory: Hannah Boyd, Elizabeth Goddard, Rachel Hall, Mary Laughton, Hannah Moore, Sarah Peirce (who also kept a boarding house), Sarah Snow, and Hannah Tileston. That was distinct from a “sempstress” like Mary Box or a “tayloress” like Abigail Kneeland.

According to Marla Miller, the last woman to call herself a “mantua maker” in the Boston directory was Rebecca Godwin Major in 1845. You can watch Prof. Miller’s talk about “The Last Mantua Maker” here.

(Pictured above is a mid-1700s formal dress owned by the Faneuil family and now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts.)