J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Watching the Native Northeast Portal Grow

The Native Northeast Portal is still in early development but offers great promise. It addresses the challenge of how many primary-source documents about New England Native communities are unpublished, scattered, and difficult to access. As the website explains:
The Portal represents a scholarly critical edition of New England Native American primary source materials gathered presently from the partner institutions into one robust virtual collection, where the items are digitized, transcribed, annotated, and edited to the highest academic standards and then made freely available over the Internet, using open-source software. By providing annotated transcriptions, the Project’s editors provide the Series users with useful information within a well-researched and balanced context necessary to understand the complexities of the historical record.
As an example of this portal's resources, here's a petition from Jonathan Capen seeking the release of Isaac Williams from the Suffolk County jail in December 1776. Crisp images of the document with the Council's response written on it are accompanied by a transcription and a map showing the pertinent location.

Other sources fill out the story. Williams was "a Molatto" from Dedham who enlisted in Capt. Joseph Guild's company in May 1775 and served until the end of the year. Early that November Williams married Elizabeth Will, a member of the Punkapoag community in Stoughton.

Williams must have reenlisted in the Continental Army or was drafted for it in some way because on 14 Aug 1776 he was listed as a deserter from Guild's company. He was then said to be twenty-three years old and 5'10" tall. The army still listed him as coming from Dedham.

Apparently Williams had gone to his wife in Stoughton because the selectmen of that town had him arrested as a deserter and put in the Suffolk County jail. (That didn't mean the jail in Boston since Suffolk County then included all of modern Norfolk County.)

Capen was the agent for the Punkapoag community in its dealings with the government, so he petitioned on behalf of Elizabeth Williams. Capen wrote that her young husband was "in a very poor State of Health," which might well be why he had left the army. The Massachusetts Council approved that petition and ordered the selectmen to release Williams.

As for the end of Williams's story, I'm pleased to report that he recovered. According to genealogists David Allen Lambert and Jennifer Pustz, he lived until 1831. The Stoughton Historical Society owns the pieces of his gravestone. Elizabeth Williams lived until 1848, long enough to apply for a pension as a Continental Army widow. (Her application doesn't mention any service or arrest in 1776.) Among the people supporting the Williams pension claim with a shaky signature was Jonathan Capen, evidently the elderly son of the man who filed the 1776 petition.

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