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, September 20, 2018

Edward Oxnard’s Theatrical Reviews

Edward Oxnard (1747-1803) was a Harvard graduate who became a merchant in Falmouth (now Portland), Maine. He was an Anglican, and his brother Thomas worked for the Customs service, so it was natural for him to become a Loyalist when the war broke out. He sailed for London in the summer of 1775.

In the capital of the British Empire, Oxnard experienced something he couldn’t have seen in post-Puritan New England: theater. But lack of broad experience with plays didn’t stop him from expressing strong opinions. Here are some extracts from Oxnard’s journal about what he saw, starting on 20 Sept 1775:
In the evening went to the Haymarket to see [Samuel] Foote. The play was called the Commissary; the entertainment, cross questions.

Their majesties were there. The King entered first, and the plaudit was universal: the Queen entered some time after. His majesty is a very good figure of a man. He seemed to be much dejected. Her majesty appears to be a small woman; her countenance carries such a sweetness, as attracts the esteem of all. She was dressed in white, with a diamond stomacher; a black cap with lustres of diamonds. A maid of honor stood behind her chair the whole time, as well as a Lord behind his majesty’s. I observed the King & Queen conversed as familiarly together, as we in general do in public company. Two beefeaters stood on each side of their majesties the whole of the play.

I take Foote to have been a good actor, but to have lost much of his humor and drollery by age. I dislike much his entertainments, as they are pointed at particular persons, remarkable for some peculiarity.
After a brief career in the law, Samuel Foote (1720-1777) had made himself into London’s most popular comedian. He was known, as Oxnard noted, for mimicking famous people. After a career of financial ups and downs, he had gained control of the Haymarket Theater, probably as compensation for the leg he’d lost in a carriage accident with the Prince Edward, the Duke of York.

The engraving above shows Foote in his Commissary role as the newly wealthy Zachary Fungus. He wrote that play for himself in 1765. At the time Oxnard visited the Haymarket, Foote was working on a play based on bigamy allegations against the Duchess of Kingston. She and her friends attacked the playwright, insinuating that he was gay. In 1776 the duchess was indeed convicted of bigamy. Foote was acquitted of sodomy, on the other hand, but he died the next year.

Back to Oxnard on 11 October:
In the evening Mr. [Samuel] Quincey, Col. [Benjamin] Pickman, Mr. [William] Cabut & myself went to Covent Garden, but could not get in, the house being so exceedingly full, owing to their majesties being there.

From thence went to Drury Lane, the play, “Win a wife & rule her.” The pantomime, “Harlequin’s Jacket,” the scenery was beyond anything I have ever imagined & was shifted with the greatest dexterity. The house has been lately fitted up in a most elegant manner.
The main play that day was actually titled Rule a Wife and Have a Wife, by Beaumont and Fletcher, somewhat adapted by David Garrick. It was standard for a full-length comedy to be performed alongside a shorter “entertainment” or “pantomime,” as Oxnard saw.

And 20 October:
In company with Mr. [John or Edward] Berry went to Covent Garden Theatre to see the Tragedy of Cato played. The celebrated Mr. Sheridan performed the part of Cato to admiration. He justly merits the applause which his treatise on Elocution gives him, as an author. The Commonality take on themselves to determine the merits of a performance, and if it does not suit their taste, they express it by hissing; should that prove ineffectual, they pelt the actors with apples till they drive them from the stage or make some apology.
Cato was an immensely popular tragedy by Joseph Addison. The star that night, Thomas Sheridan, was an Irish actor, teacher, and author of the A Course of Lectures on Elocution (1762). He was also the father of playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Presumably the star had not been driven from the stage with apples.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Booth on Jeremiah Lee in Marblehead, 3 Oct.

On Wednesday, 3 October, Robert Booth will speak about “Col. Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead: First Leader to Die for Independence.” This event is cosponsored by the Marblehead Museum and the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.

The event description explains:
Jeremiah Lee (1721-1775) was among the most successful American shipping merchants, drawing his wealth from the exportation of salt codfish and the importation of commodities from the Caribbean and southern Europe, with plenty of illicit commerce along several coasts.

In the 1750s and 1760s Lee, owner of the town’s grandest house as of 1766, and his brother-in-law Robert “King” Hooper were friendly rivals for the social and business leadership of Marblehead, then second only to Boston as the largest and richest town in Massachusetts. As Britain cracked down on the wide-open trade of the American merchants, Hooper and Lee diverged: Hooper cultivated the royal authorities and gained preference for his shipping, while Lee, believing that his business would be destroyed, became the leader of the anti-British faction, at the risk of all that he had amassed.

By the 1770s war seemed inevitable, and Lee, the colonel of the large militia regiment of Marblehead, prepared his men by bringing in a drill instructor. He imported munitions and weapons through his overseas contacts and traveled in Maryland and Virginia to arrange for supplies and to encourage his counterparts there toward rebellion.

Col. Jeremiah Lee became an outspoken rebel politician and served as the chairman of the Essex County rebel congress in fall 1774, which issued its own demands similar to Boston’s Suffolk Resolves. In the councils of the Massachusetts rebel congress, formed in October 1774, Lee stood very high. By the spring of 1775 he was a leader of the rebel movement intent on driving the British army out of Boston.
Lee died in May 1775, not in battle but from an illness contracted in the stress of 19 April. In the following months, some of his ships ferried Col. Benedict Arnold’s men up to Maine while others became some of Gen. George Washington’s fleet of armed schooners.

Robert Booth is a Marblehead historian, author most recently of the books The Women of Marblehead (2016), a feminist history of the town in the 19th century; Mad for Glory (2015), about Americans in the Pacific in 1813; and Death of an Empire (2011), on the 1820s demise of Salem as a worldwide center of trade.

This talk is free, though donations to support the museum will be welcome. It will start at 6:00 P.M. in the rooms of the Marblehead Museum, 170 Washington Street, across the street from Lee’s own home. Reserve tickets through this page.

Following the talk, the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati will host a buffet dinner at the Boston Yacht Club, 1 Front Street in Marblehead. The price for the dinner is $46. People who wish to attend both the lecture and the dinner must make reservations in advance. Use this page to reserve seats before Sunday, 23 September.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Anderson on the Lee Household in Marblehead, 20 Sept.

On Thursday, 20 September, Judy Anderson will speak at the Marblehead Museum about “18th-Century Women & Children, Servants & Slaves in the Lee Mansions.”

This illustrated talk will introduce the enigmatic women and children of the Jeremiah Lee family. The Marblehead merchant married Martha Swett, and over their thirty years of marriage they had nine children—though only four grew to adulthood.

Martha was a younger half-sister of Ruth Swett, rival merchant Robert “King” Hooper’s second wife. Each sister had lost her own mother by age seven. They raised their children (twenty combined!) next door to each other for twelve years until Ruth’s death at age forty-three after twenty-eight years of marriage.

About five years later, the Lee family moved into the grand residence associated with Col. Lee today, shown above in a photograph by Rick Ashley. By then the Lees’ eldest son had left for Harvard, and about three years later he married, soon starting a new generation.

This talk will include “some less familiar material” about the Lees, the Hoopers, and the Lee offspring in Marblehead. It is presented in cooperation with Marblehead Arts Association.

Anderson will speak at the museum, 170 Washington Street in Marblehead, starting at 7:00 P.M. Admission is $15, or $10 for members of the Marblehead Museum or the Marblehead Arts Association. Register through this webpage or by calling 781-631-1768.

Other Marblehead Museum presentations this month include:

Monday, September 17, 2018

A Season of Talks at the David Library

Here’s the lineup of upcoming talks at the David Library of the American Revolution in Pennsylvania. That’s a striking venue with a loyal audience, and its offerings cover the entire war—note how many different people and events proved absolutely crucial to the Revolution.

Thursday, 20 September, 7:30
John Oller, “A Patriot (But Not THE Patriot)”
The author of The Swamp Fox: How Francis Marion Saved the American Revolution will explore the life and military campaigns of Francis Marion. Like Robin Hood of legend, Marion and his men attacked from secret hideaways before melting back into the forest or swamp, confounding the British. Although Marion bore little resemblance to the fictionalized portrayals in television and film, his exploits were no less heroic. He and his band of militia freedom fighters kept hope alive for the patriot cause in one of its darkest hours, and helped win the Revolution.

Thursday, 4 October, 7:30
Bob Drury, “The Existential Moment: How The Valley Forge Winter Saved the Revolution, Created the United States, and Changed the World”
Bob Drury is co-author (with Tom Clavin) of the new book Valley Forge. In his talk, he will outline how George Washington and his closest advisers spent six months on a barren plateau 23 miles from enemy-held Philadelphia fighting a war on two fronts—militarily against the British, and politically against a Continental faction attempting to depose him as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. How he deftly prevailed on both of these fronts shaped the world as we know it today.

Sunday, 7 October, 3:00
Robert Selig, “The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail in the State of Pennsylvania”
In 2008, President Obama signed legislation establishing the land and water routes that were traveled by the allied French and American armies to and from Yorktown in the summer of 1781 as a National Historic Trail. That trail stretches from Newport, Rhode Island, and Newburgh, New York, and includes Pennsylvania from Trenton south to Marcus Hook. Yet the very existence of this trail is still largely unknown. Robert Selig, Ph.D., serves as project historian to the National Park Service for the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail Project. His lecture will introduce the trail and its historic significance, showing contemporary and modern maps, and important sites he has identified in his research, some of which was conducted at the David Library!

Wednesday, 17 October, 7:30
An Evening with Nathaniel Philbrick
This program comes in cooperation with nearby Washington Crossing Historic Park, which will host the event. The New York Times best-selling author, hailed by the Wall Street Journal as “one of America’s foremost practitioners of narrative nonfiction,” will give a talk about his newest book, In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown. Tickets are $50 for a single seat, and $80 for two. Each individual or couple admission price includes an autographed copy of In the Hurricane’s Eye. Proceeds benefit the David Library and the Friends of Washington Crossing Historic Park. Visit this site to buy tickets in advance.

Thursday, 25 October, 7:30
Stephen Fried, “Reclaiming Dr. Benjamin Rush, Our ‘Lost’ Founding Father”
Bestselling author Stephen Fried, whose latest book is Rush: Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father, will help us see the American Revolution, the Federal Period and the human saga of the entire birth of our nation from the unique, fascinating perspective of founding father, physician, philosopher and confidant Benjamin Rush.

Thursday, 1 November, 7:30
Ricardo A. Herrera, “American Citizens, American Soldiers: Civic Identity and Military Service from the War of Independence to the Civil War”
From 1775 through 1861, American soldiers defined and demonstrated their beliefs about the nature of the American republic and how they, as citizens and soldiers, were part of the republican experiment. Despite uniquely martial customs, organizations, and behaviors, the United States Army, the states’ militias, and the war-time volunteers were the products of their parent society. Understanding American soldiers of all ranks, in war and in peace, helps us understand more about American society writ large and how that society shaped its armed forces in the years of the Early Republic. A former David Library Fellow, and currently Professor of Military History at the School of Advanced Military Studies in Kansas, Ricardo A. Herrera, Ph.D., is the author of For Liberty and the Republic: The American Citizen as Soldier, 1775-1861.

Thursday, 8 November, 7:30
Christopher S. Wren, “Vermont: The Most Rebellious Race”
Before Vermont was Vermont, it was a British territory fought over by such figures as Ethan Allen, who helped form the American Revolutionary War militia known as the Green Mountain Boys. This lecture, by the author of Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen's Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution, will consider the story of the tough, brave, and wild crew of characters who faced some of the harshest combat in the American Revolution, and made their own rules to create an independent Vermont.

Sunday, 18 November, 3:00
Tilar J. Mazzeo, “The Private Lives and Loves of the Schuyler Sisters”
Mazzeo is the author of the new biography Eliza Hamilton: The Extraordinary Life and Times of the Wife of Alexander Hamilton. Her lecture will take a lively look into the lives of Eliza, Angelica and Peggy, the daughters of Philip Schuyler, and the context of colonial and early national women’s lives in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The lecture will draw on information from private family letters and documents, and will cover everything from Eliza Hamilton’s first crushes to the Schuyler family wedding cake recipe to how colonial women leveraged coterie networks to support spy rings in the Revolution.

Thursday, 6 December, 7:30
Christian di Spigna, “‘The Greatest Incendiary in all America’: The Rise and Fall of Dr. Joseph Warren”
Joseph Warren was the Boston physician who played a prominent role in the earliest days of the Revolution. As president of the revolutionary Massachusetts Provincial Congress, it was he who enlisted Paul Revere and William Dawes on April 18, 1775, to leave Boston and spread the alarm that the British garrison in Boston was setting out to raid the town of Concord. Christian di Spigna is the author of Founding Martyr: The Life and Death of Dr. Joseph Warren, the American Revolution's Lost Hero. His lecture will trace Warren’s rise from humble beginnings to his bloody death at Bunker Hill, and examine Warren’s postmortem journey over the years from Revolutionary hero to relative obscurity.

(My own talk at the David Library a couple of years back can be viewed here.)

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The News from 250 Years Ago

While looking at the newspaper coverage from 250 years ago this month, I was struck by some of the stories that Bostonians were reading at the same time they digested news of the imminent arrival of army regiments.

For example, the Boston Evening-Post of 12 September contained several reports of lightning strikes on the evening of Wednesday the 7th. One bolt in Wrentham “tore to pieces” a “very large white Oak Tree, which was more than two Feet Diameter,” and threw some pieces ten rods away. Another hit Daniel Mann’s inn, causing lots of miscellaneous damage but not hurting any of the thirty-odd people inside. Unfortunately, that same night lightning killed a ten-year-old boy in Rehoboth. The next evening, lightning set fire to a barn belonging to Joseph Palmer of Braintree, causing £200 worth of damage.

In other news from the 12 September Evening-Post:
Last Wednesday sailed from this Port his Majesty’s Sloop of War the Senegal, as also the armed Schooners, supposed to be bound to Halifax: There now remains in this Harbour with their Pendants flying, his Majesty’s Ship Romney, of 50 Guns, and the Sloop Liberty.

The above Sloop Liberty was sold at public Auction last Tuesday, and was struck off to the Collector of his Majesty’s Customs for this Port, and its said is now to be improved [i.e., used] as a Cruiser for the Protection of Trade.
The Customs service, having confiscated John Hancock’s ship Liberty for alleged smuggling and other legal violations, had bought that ship and planned to hunt down other smugglers with it. I don’t think the Customs service had had its own patrol ship before.

The 12 September Boston Chronicle:
We hear from Salem, that a person there, having given information of a vessel that arrived there with molasses, the populace were so enraged, that they stript him, then wrapped him in a tarred sheet, and rolled him in feathers; having done this, they carried him about the streets in a cart, and then banished him the town for six weeks.
This was the first documented example of tarring and feathering in New England. It established the pattern for such attacks: a crowd publicly punishing a working-class man believed to have helped the Customs service capture smugglers.

The 19 September Boston Chronicle:
Captain [James] Scott brought the account of the arrival of Benjamin Hallowell, jun. Esq; after a passage of twenty-nine days.

Letters brought by Captain [James] Bruce mentioned, that Mr. Hallowell, since his arrival, has had frequent conferences with the ministry…
Hallowell was the Comptroller of Customs in Boston, as well as the son and namesake of a well known merchant captain. He was one of the officers that carried out the confiscation of the Liberty and was then attacked by the crowd. Hallowell had gone to London to complain to the government on behalf of all the Customs officers and to see what compensation he could receive. Eventually he was promoted to be one of the Commissioners of Customs.

More from the 19 September Chronicle:
The Rev. Mather Byles [Jr.]. who went home last May with Capt. Davis, met with a favourable reception from the Bishop of London, was ordained, and is appointed missionary for Christ’s Church in this town, with a salary, it is said, of 40 l. sterling, per annum, and is expected to return with Capt. Davis.
Byles (shown above) was another son and namesake of a well known figure in town—in his case, the learned, punning minister of the Hollis Street Meetinghouse near the Neck. For the younger Byles, a descendant of the Puritan Mathers, to take orders within the Church of England was a big deal. It presaged the family’s long-lasting Loyalism.

From the 19 September Boston Gazette:
Monday in the Night [i.e., on 12 September] the Post contiguous to Liberty Tree was sawed off, the Damage was inconsiderable, but discovers the evil Disposition of the Perpetrators of such a base Action.
The 19 September Gazette:
We hear that last Saturday se’nnight [i.e., 10 September] two Informers, an Englishman and Frenchman, were taken up by the Populace at Newbury-Port, who tarred them; but being late they were handcuffed and put into custody until the Sabbath was over:—Accordingly on Monday Morning they were again tarred and rolled in Feathers, then fixed in a Cart with Halters, and carried through the principal Streets of the Town, to the View of the Gallows, but what further we know not.
The practice of tarring-and-feathering spread rapidly in Essex County.

Finally, from the 19 September Gazette:
We are credibly informed, that the Selectmen of a neighbouring Town have taken Care that their Town be supply’d with a sufficient Quantity of Gun-Powder, as the Law directs; and that the Col. of the Militia there, has declared his Intention to order a strict Enquiry into the State of his Regiment, respecting Arms, Ammunition, &c. . . .

Thursday next there will be a general Muster of the Regiment in this Town, and we hear a critical View of the Arms of the Soldiers.
These actions reflected Boston’s discussion of strengthening the militia ahead of the troops’ arrival.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

“To cause the barrel to be forthwith removed”

What about that turpentine barrel on top of the pole on top of Beacon Hill?

The beacon pole had been standing since the 1630s. It got blown down sometime in the 1760s, and in late 1767 Boston’s selectmen put it back up. (Gov. Francis Bernard grumbled that he hadn’t been consulted.)

Then on the night of 10 Sept 1768, as the town digested news that army regiments were on their way, someone placed a barrel in the platform atop the beacon. People recognized that barrel as holding sometime flammable, turpentine or tar. They knew that a flaming beacon was a signal for the country militia to arm and march to fight off invaders. So that barrel provoked thought.

On Sunday, 11 September, the Council and the selectmen both had emergency meetings about the barrel. The selectmen decided to do nothing. The Council decided to do nothing besides asking the selectmen to take down the barrel. The selectmen received that message and again decided to do nothing. On Monday, Boston started a town meeting, received the Council’s message as forwarded from the selectmen, and decided to do nothing on a larger scale.

According to Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, someone finally took action on Thursday, 15 September:
The council, thereupon, advised the governor to direct the sheriff to cause the barrel to be forthwith removed. The sheriff, in the most private manner he could, executed his order, taking six or seven men with him just at dinner time, and in about ten minutes, luckily as he thought, effected his purpose.
Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf was a royal appointee, so he owed his position to the governor. He was Anglican, another common indicator of support for Crown policy. But when Greenleaf carried out the governors’ orders in this tumultuous period, he usually acted slowly or gently enough to avoid the wrath of the crowd.

The date of the sheriff’s action isn’t clear from Hutchinson’s account. As I wrote earlier, the newspaper printers didn’t touch the story. Historians John Miller and Hiller B. Zobel, the latter appearing to cite the diary of Capt. John Corner of the Royal Navy, state that Greenleaf acted on the 15th—250 years ago today.

One more thing—the barrel had been empty all along.

TOMORROW: Other news.

Friday, September 14, 2018

“A pretence for arming the Town”

We pick up the proceedings of Boston’s town meeting on 13 Sept 1768 after the voters present unanimously approved a call for a Convention of representatives from all of Massachusetts’s towns.

According to Gov. Francis Bernard’s report to the Earl of Hillsborough in London:
I should have mentioned before that in the middle of the Hall where they met, were deposited in chests, the Town Arms, amounting as it is said to about 400. These, as I have before informed your Lordship, about 4 or 5 months ago were taken out of the lumber rooms, where they had lain for some years past, to be cleaned; & have since been laid upon the floor of the Town hall to remind the people of the use of them. These Arms were often the subject of discourse & were of singular use to the Orators in the way of Action.
The resolution Boston’s Whig leaders next offered indeed related to such weapons as they proposed making sure the town’s militiamen were all armed:
Whereas, by an Act of Parliament of the First of King William and Queen Mary it is declared that the Subjects being Protestants, may have Arms for their Defence; It is the Opinion of this Town, that the said Declaration is founded in Nature Reason and sound Policy, and is well adapted for the necessary defence of the Community And for as much as by a good and wholesome Law of this Province, every listed Soldier, and other Householder (except [horse] Troopers who by Law are to be otherwise provided) shall be always provided with a well fixed Fire Lock Musket Accoutrement and Ammunition as in said Law particularly mentioned, to the satisfaction of the Commission Officers of the Company; and as there is at this Time a prevailing apprehension, in the Minds of many, of an approaching War with France: In order that the Inhabitants of this Town may be prepared in case of sudden danger; Voted, that those of the said Inhabitants who may at present be unprovided, be and hereby are requested duly to observe the said Law at this Time
“An approaching War with France”? Indeed, the 8 September Boston News-Letter had just carried a couple of alarming items from London:
By a Gentleman just arrived from Calais we are informed, that the common topick of conversation at that place, Dunkirk and other sea ports in France, is of an approaching war with England. . . .

One day last week, at a certain Coffee-House not 100 miles from St. James’s, a wager of 1000 guineas to 20, was laid that war would be declared between Great Britain on the one part, and France and Genoa on the other, before the 3d day of August next.
But if the Whigs were really worried about another French war, why were they objecting to the arrival of British regiments? Surely the people of Massachusetts would welcome their own nation’s professional military protection.

Gov. Bernard saw through the ruse:
As the Subject of their debates turned upon arming the Town & Country against their Enemies, The probability of a French War was mentioned as a pretence for arming the Town & a Cover for the frequent use of the Word Enemy.

It was said that the Enemy would probably be here before the Convention met, that is within 10 days; It was moved that the Arms should be now delivered out to oppose the Enemy; this was objected to for that they might fall into hands who would not use them.

But this flimsy Veil was not allways kept on: it was often said that they had a right to oppose with arms a military force which was sent to oblige them to submit to unconstitutional Laws; and when it was required to be more explicit, the Chairman [James Otis, Jr.] said that they understood one another Very well, & pointing with his hand added “there are the Arms; when an attempt is made agst. your liberties they will be delivered; our Declaration wants no explication:” and indeed it does not.
After this discussion, the resolution about military preparation passed “by a very great Majority.” The earlier votes were unanimous, which meant there were some brave dissenters in the meeting.

The meeting wrapped up with three votes:
  • Thomas Cushing shared a letter from New York merchants supporting non-importation, and the gathering voiced its approval.
  • The town asked local ministers to set aside the next Tuesday “as a Day of Fasting and Prayer.”
  • The town decided for the proceedings of this meeting to be “published in the several News Papers; and also that a Number of Copys be struck off & sent to the several Towns in this Province.”
On Thursday the Boston News-Letter and Boston Chronicle, which both leaned a bit toward the royal government and may have been partly laid out already, ran those proceedings on inside pages, where local news usually appeared. But come Monday, the Boston Gazette, Boston Post-Boy, and Boston Evening-Post all put the town’s business on the front page.

On 14 September—250 years ago today—Boston’s selectmen sent the broadside shown above to the other towns in Massachusetts, inviting them to a Convention in Faneuil Hall eight days later.

TOMORROW: Back to Beacon Hill.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

“The Business of calling another Assembly”

At 10:00 A.M. on 13 Sept 1768—250 years ago today—Boston’s voters reconvened at Faneuil Hall to continue the town meeting they had started the day before. James Otis, Jr., was presiding.

The first piece of business was the response from Gov. Francis Bernard to the town committee that asked him whether the London government had ordered army regiments into town and about the possibility of a new session of the Massachusetts General Court. Bernard sent his response in writing:
Gentlemen

My apprehensions that some of his Majestys Troops are to be expected in Boston, arise from information of a private nature; I have received no publick Letters notifying to me the coming of such Troops, and requiring Quarters for them; whenever I do I shall communicate them to his Majestys Council.

The Business of calling another Assembly for this Year is now before the King; and I can do nothing in it, untill I receive his Majestys Commands.

Francis Bernard.
This reply was weaselly even for Bernard. He’d set off the alarm himself by telling at least one member of the Council and one selectman about the coming regiments, knowing they would spread the news. But since he’d received only a letter from Gen. Thomas Gage in New York, not an official notice from London, the governor refused to say anything more.

The Boston Whigs were probably expecting something like that, having gotten to know Bernard over the last several years. They proceeded to vote on several resolutions that referenced the colony’s original charter from James I, the provincial charter from William and Mary, and principles of the British constitution. The upshot of those resolutions was:
  • In a phrase not yet coined, no taxation without representation.
  • No standing armies or “employing such Army for the enforcing of Laws made without the consent of the People, in Person, or by their Representatives.”
Those passed unanimously.

Gov. Bernard later complained that the meeting was nothing more than “a Set of speeches by the cheifs of the faction & no one else; which followed one another in such order & method, that it appeared as if they were acting a play, evry thing, both as to matter & order, seeming to have been preconcerted before hand.” Which almost everything certainly was.

But some meeting attendees had more radical ideas, according to Bernard’s informants:
One cried out that they wanted a Head [I don’t actually know what that means]; this was overruled: for indeed it was rather too premature. Another, an old Man, protested against evry thing but rising immediately & taking all power into their own hands.

One Man, very profligate & abandoned, argued for massacring their Enemies: his argument was short.—Liberty is as pretious as Life; if a Man attempts to take my Life, I have a right to take his; ergo, if a Man attempts to take away my liberty, I have a right to take his Life. He also argued that when a Peoples Liberties were threatened, they were in a state of War & had a right to defend themselves. And He carried these Arguments so far that his own party were obliged to silence him.
The Whig politicians had another type of action to propose:
Whereas by an Act of Parliament of the First of King William and Queen Mary [i.e., right after the Glorious Revolution], it is declared; that for the Redress of all Grieveances, aud for Amending Strengthning, and preserving the Laws, Parliaments ought to be held frequently, and in as much as it is the Opinion of this Town, that the People labour under many intollerable Grievances, which unless speedily Redressed; threaten the total distraction of our invaluable natural, constitutional and Charter Rights.

And furthermore As his Excellency the Governor has declared Himself unable at the Request of this Town to call a General Court, which is the Assembly of the States of this Province, for the Redress of such Grieveances;

Voted, that this Town will now make choice of a suitable number of Persons to Act for them as a Committee in Convention, with such as may be sent to Join them from the several Towns in this Province, in order that such Measures may be consulted and Advised as his Majestys service, and the peace and safety of his Subjects in this Province may require
This resolution passed unanimously. Boston was ready to host the equivalent of a General Court whether Gov. Bernard cooperated or not. Officially, this would be called a “Convention,” just as the equivalent in 1774 would be a “Provincial Congress.” To represent Boston at the Convention, the town elected the men who represented them in the General Court: Otis, Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock.

The proposed time of the gathering: “at Faneuil Hall, in this Town, on Tuesday the 22d. Day of September Instant, at 10. O’Clock Before Noon.” The meeting ordered Boston’s selectmen to send invitations to their counterparts in all the other towns of Massachusetts.

The meeting then proceeded to discuss the immediate threat of “an approaching War with France.”

TOMORROW: Wait—what?

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

“It hath been Reported in this Town Meeting”

At 9:00 A.M. on Monday, 12 Sept 1768, Bostonians (well, white men with enough property to qualify for the vote and the economic freedom to take a morning off from work) gathered at Faneuil Hall for an emergency town meeting.

The event started with a prayer from the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, brother of town clerk William Cooper. The voters chose James Otis, Jr., to moderate. In other words, the proceedings were firmly in the hands of the upper-class Whigs.

Or, as Gov. Francis Bernard put it, “the Faction appeared surrounded with all its forces: there were very few of the principal Gentlemen there; such as were, appeared only as curious & perhaps anxious spectators.” By “principal Gentlemen” he meant those who supported him and the Crown. Bernard worried “the Faction” planned to attack Castle William or the coming army regiments. More likely, Boston’s political leaders wanted to organize the most forceful opposition the province could muster without edging into violence.

The gathering took up the reason for the meeting: “it hath been Reported in this Town Meeting that his Excellency the Governor has intimated his apprehensions, that One or more Regiments of his Majestys Troops are dayly to be expected here.”

The meeting then chose several gentlemen to “be a Committee to wait upon his Excellency if in Town, humbly requesting that he would be pleased to communicate to the Town the grounds and Assurances he may have thereof.” That committee consisted of town representatives Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock; attorneys Richard Dana and Benjamin Kent; merchant and selectman John Rowe; and young Dr. Joseph Warren.

A couple of nights earlier, some Bostonians had made another response to news of troops coming by hoisting a flammable barrel onto the beacon pole atop Beacon Hill, a symbolic preparation for war. Sometime that Monday morning, perhaps before the meeting, the Boston selectman had received “A Letter from the Secretary [of the province, Andrew Oliver] inclosing a Vote of Council relative to the Tar Barrel.” The Council wanted the selectmen to take the barrel down.

Those elected officials instead turned the issue over to the town. At this point the official records of the town meeting state: ”A Vote of the Honble. Board respecting a Tar Barrel, which was the other Night placed in the Skillet on Beacon Hill, by Persons unknown Was communicated to the Town but not acted upon.”

The version of the minutes released to the newspapers, as shown here in Harbottle Dorr’s newspaper collection, doesn’t mention that agenda item at all. The town and the selectmen were happy to leave that barrel hanging over the town, but they didn’t want people outside Boston to know about it.

Instead, the meeting took up a petition that Otis, Adams, Warren, and others had probably drafted a couple of days before, asking that Gov. Bernard call the Massachusetts General Court back into session. The reason was “the critical state of the publick Affairs, more especially the present precarious situation of our invaluable Rights & Privileges Civil and Religeous”—the threat of the regiments again. The meeting designated the same committee of seven to deliver that petition to Gov. Bernard.

Finally, the meeting chose six of those men (all but Kent) plus several more to “take the state of our publick Affairs into Consideration, and Report at the Adjournment the Measures they apprehend most salutary to be taken in the present emergency.” That larger group included such confrontational merchants as Daniel Malcom and William Molineux—plus Adino Paddock, captain of the town’s growing “train” or militia artillery company.

And then the men adjourned until the next day at 10:00 A.M. to hear about Gov. Bernard’s responses.

TOMORROW: Town meeting, day two.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Barrel on the Beacon

On 11 Sept 1768, 250 years ago today, Bostonians awoke to see a barrel newly positioned in the iron platform atop the pole on Beacon Hill. Everyone knew that a flame from that beacon would signal for the countryside militia to assemble in arms. The barrel was clearly a response to the preceding week’s news that the London government had sent orders for army regiments to move into Boston.

How did the townspeople react? Most of them went to church. Because that 11 September was a Sunday. By law, no one was supposed to do business on Sunday—but two legal bodies met about the beacon.

Gov. Francis Bernard was spending the day at his country estate in Jamaica Plain. He later reported to Lord Hillsborough, the Secretary of State in London:
the Council sent to me on Sunday afternoon to desire I would order a Council, which I held at a Gentleman’s House halfway between me and Boston. Here It was debated what Means should be used to take the barrel down; & it was resolved that the Select men should be desired to take it down
The editor of the Bernard Papers published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts says that the gentleman who hosted this impromptu Council meeting was George Erving (1738-1806), son of Council member John Erving. The Ervings were merchants who started as Whigs in the 1760s but gradually moved into the Loyalist camp.

Meanwhile, inside Boston selectman John Rowe noted in his diary: “After Church the Selectmen met about a Cask that was fix’d on the Saddle of the Beacon.” The record of that meeting states that only four of the seven selectmen attended. In addition to Rowe, they were Joseph Jackson, John Ruddock, and John Hancock, and they probably met at Faneuil Hall.

The discussion was recorded simply as: “Information was given the Selectmen that a Tar Barrel had been put in the Beacon.” Those elected officials made no move to take the barrel down.

That evening, the printers of the Boston Gazette, Boston Post-Boy, Boston Chronicle, and possibly even the Boston Evening-Post prepared the next day’s newspapers. As far as I can tell, none of those papers reported on the barrel perched high above the town, ready to be set on fire.

TOMORROW: Boston’s town meeting.

Monday, September 10, 2018

“A strange, mad proposal, if such a one were ever made”

Yesterday I quoted Gov. Francis Bernard reporting to London about a big meeting in Boston on Friday, 9 September, where some people advocated resisting the coming army regiments by force.

There was another gathering the next evening, Bernard wrote:
the other meeting, as I am informed, was very small & private on Saturday Night, at the House of one of the Cheifs; and there it wa[s] resolved to surprise & take the Castle on the Monday night following. I dont relate these Accounts as certain facts but only as reported & beleived.
In The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, William V. Wells stated that in fact “[James] Otis, Samuel Adams, and [Dr. Joseph] Warren met at the house of Warren…to draw up resolves, arrange for the proceedings, and prepare the order of debate” for the town meeting scheduled for Monday.

Wells’s citation for that statement was “Capt. Corner’s Diary, kept aboard the war-ship Senegal in Boston Harbor, now in the London State-paper Office.” However, John Corner was the captain of H.M.S. Romney, not the Senegal. In addition, Wells wrote in the same paragraph that the Senegal had left port three days before this meeting. But perhaps the British National Archives does hold a journal from Capt. Corner recording intelligence, or at least gossip, about the meeting on the evening of 10 September. [Anyone care to check?]

It was common for Whig political leaders to draft resolutions and make plans before an official meeting. Furthermore, those men were probably eager to avoid disorder and destruction, to channel Boston’s opposition to the troops into the most productive, least unruly form of resistance.

Bernard, however, believed the worst. Back on 9 July, he had dismissed reports of a possible attack on Castle William, where the Customs Commissioners were hiding, as “idle rumours.” But now the situation seemed more dire. In his history of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson wrote:
Information was brought to governor Bernard, that at one of those meetings it had been proposed by Mr. [William] Molineux, at the head of five hundred men, to surprise the garrison at the castle; a strange, mad proposal, if such a one were ever made. This the governor mentioned in one of his letters to the ministry, but he was not at liberty to make known the evidence of the fact. He believed it to be true.
On the same evening of 10 September, another sign of trouble appeared on Beacon Hill. On that peak on the western side of the peninsula, Boston’s early English settlers had erected a tall beacon as part of their military alert system. In case the town came under attack—most likely by sea from another European power, but perhaps from Natives—the authorities would set fire to something inflammable atop that pole. Settlers in other communities would see the beacon flare up and rush to help. All very Return of the King.

Alas, in the words of local historian William W. Wheildon, “there is no evidence that it was ever used for any such purpose, or that there ever was any fire in its skillet.”

In fact, back on 18 Nov 1767 Boston’s selectmen had noted that the beacon pole had been “thrown down by the Wind,” and the wood had proven “too rotten to serve again.” They therefore chose John Hancock and William Phillips as a committee to erect a new beacon. (Gov. Bernard told London that the beacon had been “erected anew in a great hurry by the Selectmen without consulting me.”)

The town owned the top of Beacon Hill and the narrow path up to it. On one side of that path lived John Hancock. On the other side lived William Molineux.

Sometime on the night of 10 September, someone passed between those gentlemen’s houses, climbed the pole, and left a turpentine barrel at the top, ready to set aflame.

TOMORROW: A busy Sunday in Boston.

[The picture of Boston’s beacon above comes from the Assassin’s Creed videogame. The Blackstone Valley Historical Society shares a photo of a beacon recreated in Cumberland, Rhode Island.]

Sunday, September 09, 2018

“A System of Politicks exceeding all former exceedings”

On Thursday, 9 Sept 1768—250 years ago today—Boston was charging into a political crisis.

Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette for Monday the 5th included an essay signed “Clericus Americans.” Harbottle Dorr attributed that essay to the Rev. John Cleaveland (1722-1799, gravestone shown here) of Ipswich; Cleaveland certainly asked for it to be reprinted in the midst of another dispute a couple of years later.

Cleaveland was an early adherent of the New Light religious movement, expelled from Yale College for attending a “separatist” revival in his home town. After spending a couple of years as minister to a small New Light congregation in Boston, he moved out to Ipswich to serve a breakaway group there. After that he left Ipswich only to serve as a chaplain in the French and Indian and Revolutionary Wars. In fact, Cleaveland proved so popular and steady that by 1774 his church absorbed the one it had split from.

In sum, “separatism” had worked for the Rev. John Cleveland, and he didn’t back down from controversy. “Clericus Americans” laid out a radical argument in a series of leading questions: Didn’t Englishmen have a right to their own property? Couldn’t they move anywhere within the British Empire? Hadn’t the early settlers of New England built their communities at their own expense?Wouldn’t any attempt to restrict English colonists’ rights—such as the Townshend Acts—negate their compact with the royal government in Britain? And thus:
Whether the political union, connection, &c. &c. of these Colonies to the British empire and government are not hereby entirely dissolved, and the Colonists reduced to a state of nature? 
This was the argument underlying the Declaration of Independence eight years later. Cleaveland wasn’t arguing for independence—the letter ended with a plea for all colonists to pray for the health of the king and queen. But he did argue that Parliament’s taxation without representation, Gov. Francis Bernard’s early closing of the Massachusetts General Court for not rescinding the circular letter, and Customs officials’ rumored requests for army protection had delegitimized those government authorities.

Cleaveland called for Massachusetts to start over: each town should “chuse Representatives for a general assembly” to maintain good government while the colony petitioned George III to restore its “first original charter,” with no London appointees at the top.

In a report to Lord Hillsborough, the Secretary of State, Gov. Bernard wrote:
In the Boston Gazette of the 5th inst [i.e., this month] appeared a paper containing a System of Politicks exceeding all former exceedings. Some took it for the casual ravings of an occasional enthusiast: but I persuaded myself that It came out of the Cabinet of the Faction and was preparatory to some actual operations against the Government.

In this persuasion I considered that if the Troops from Halifax were to come here of a sudden, there would be no avoiding an insurrection, which would at least fall upon the Crown officers, if it did not amount to an Opposition to the troops.
Bernard knew that army troops really were on their way. On 3 September, he had received a letter from Gen. Thomas Gage in New York, alerting him that on orders from London he was moving the 14th Regiment of Foot from Halifax to Boston. Gage also offered to send the 29th Regiment if Bernard wanted it.

The governor wanted to create a soft landing for those soldiers:
I therefore thought it would be best that the Expectation of the troops should be gradually communicated, that the Heads of the Faction might have time to consider well what they were about, & prudent Men opportunity to interpose their advice. I therefore took an occasion to mention to one of the Council, in the Way of discourse, that I had private advice that troops were ordered hither, but I had no public orders about it myself. This was in the 8th insta: & before night it was throughly circulated all over the town.
On 9 September, the merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary: “The Governour told mee in Conversation Yesterday morning that he had Stav’d off the Introducing Troops as long as he could but could do it no longer.” Bernard also wanted people to understand that he hadn’t asked for army regiments, that the government in London had made the decision on its own.

Some Bostonians, describing themselves as “apprehensive that the landing of troops in the town, at this particular juncture, will be a matter of great uneasiness, and perhaps be attended with consequences much to be dreaded,” petitioned for a town meeting. The town hadn’t met since June, right after the Liberty riot. The selectmen agreed, scheduling a meeting for 9:00 A.M. on Monday, 12 September—earlier in the day than usual, but time was essential. The Edes and Gill shop began printing official notices with that summons.

Even before then, people started to act. On Friday night, Gov. Bernard wrote, there was a large but unofficial meeting “where it was the general Opinion that they should raise the Country & oppose the troops.” In other words, a significant number of people thought the town of Boston should call for the Massachusetts militia to rise up against the king’s army.

TOMORROW: The beacon on Beacon Hill.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Tour of the Revolutionary Mohawk Valley, 21 Sept.


In conjunction with Fort Ticonderoga’s American Revolution Seminar on 21-23 Sept 2018, America’s History LLC is offering a one-day bus tour named “Forts and Fights: The Revolutionary War in the Mohawk Valley.”

This tour is scheduled for Friday, 21 September. The announcement from tour leader Bruce Venter says:

This tour will explore sites in the Mohawk Valley during the Revolutionary War; sites that are less frequently visited or on private property. We’ll stop at Fort Johnson for an overview of Sir John Johnson’s exploits as an important Loyalist leader in the Mohawk Valley. We’ll also see Guy Park, home of Col. Guy Johnson, superintendent of Indian affairs during the Revolution and hear about the efforts to reopen it as a historic site. We’ll visit the Fort Plain Museum to understand how the Patriots used forts and fortified homes to defend the valley.

After lunch we’ll walk the Stone Arabia battlefield where Col. John Brown gave his life during Johnson’s Burning of the Valleys campaign in 1780. We’ll follow Johnson’s retreat to Klock’s Field where the British forces were forced across the Mohawk and eventually back to Canada. We will return to our departure location by 4 p.m. to allow you to participate in Fort Ticonderoga’s Friday evening program.
In order to get off to an early start, America’s History LLC has booked a block of rooms on Thursday night at the Microtel Inn and Suites, 136 North Comrie Avenue, in Johnstown, New York. The tour bus will leave that hotel on Friday morning promptly at 8:00 A.M.

The tour registration fee is $100.00, which includes lunch, snacks, and beverage breaks; all admissions and gratuities; a map and materials package; and remarks by tour leaders selected for their knowledge and expertise. The hotel room would be extra.

Venter is an experienced teacher and tour leader specializing in the Revolutionary War period. He is the author of The Battle of Hubbardton: The Rear Guard Action that Saved America and is also Col. John Brown’s biggest fan.

(This photo of the Old Fort Johnson National Historic Site above comes courtesy of TripAdvisor.)

Friday, September 07, 2018

Symposium on Washington and Women at Mount Vernon, 2-3 Nov.

Last year I had the honor of speaking at the George Washington Symposium at Mount Vernon, organized by the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington.

This year’s symposium, to take place on 2-3 November, has the theme “‘A Sensible Woman Can Never be Happy with a Fool’: The Women of George Washington’s World.”

The event description:
“When the fire is beginning to kindle, and your heart growing warm, propound these questions to it… Is he a man of good character? A man of sense? for be assured a sensible woman can never be happy with a fool.”

Thus wrote George Washington in a heartfelt 1796 letter to his step-granddaughter Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis on the subjects of love and marriage. Although the Father of Our Country was a leader among leaders in a male-dominated world, we know that he enjoyed a number of complex and meaningful relationships with women from all stations of the socially-stratified eighteenth century. Join leading historians and academics for an enlightening look at a wide variety of women from the General’s personal orbit, including his often misunderstood mother, an admiring poet, social confidants, a traitor to the Revolution, and a defiant runaway slave. We will also examine the memory of Washington through the legacies of his adoring step-granddaughters and the Southern Matron who led the charge in the 1850s to rescue his home and final resting place.
The lineup of presentations is:
  • “Mary Ball Washington: Tales of Motherhood,” Martha Saxton
  • “A Rare Commitment: The Friendship of George Washington and Elizabeth Willing Powel,” George W. Boudreau
  • Roundtable on “Women” and “Mothers” across Eighteenth-Century America, moderated by Karin Wulf of the Omohundro Institute 
  • “True Republicans: The Relationship between George Washington and Mercy Otis Warren,” Rosemarie Zagarri
  • “George Washington and Phillis Wheatley: The Indispensable Man and the Poet Laureate of the Founding Era,” James G. Basker
  • “‘The tender Heart of the Chief could not support the Scene’: General Washington, Margaret Arnold, and the Treason at West Point,” Charlene Boyer Lewis
  • “‘She should rather suffer death than return to Slavery’: The Escape of Oney Judge,” Mary V. Thompson
  • “Daughters of the Pater Patriae: The Custis Step-Granddaughters’ Relationships with George Washington,” Cassandra Good
  • “Coming to the Rescue with Ann Pamela Cunningham,” Ann Bay Goddin
These symposiums are designed to bring the latest findings and analyses of historians to the community of Mount Vernon and its supporters. Attendees fill a large auditorium, reflecting the interest in all things Washington.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Dr. Jaques and “a scarlet coat of red velvet”

In his Hundred Boston Orators (1852), James Spear Loring wrote of John Hancock:
He wore a scarlet coat, with ruffles on his sleeves, which soon became the prevailing fashion; and it is related of Dr. Nathan Jacques, the famous pedestrian, of West Newbury, that he paced all the way to Boston, in one day, to procure cloth for a coat like that of John Hancock, and returned with it under his arm, on foot.
At another point in the same profile Loring wrote, “John Hancock was accustomed to wear a scarlet coat of red velvet.”

Loring was lousy at sorting out lore from documentable fact, and even more lousy about documenting his sources. But he provided the specific details that subsequent authors loved. As a result, during the Colonial Revival many books reprinted the anecdote about “Dr. Nathan Jacques, the famous pedestrian, of West Newbury.”

There was no such person.

There was Dr. Nathan Jaques (1761-1818) of Ipswich. He served for six months in short-term military companies raised in Rowley in 1780 and 1781, the latter stint as a sergeant. In 1807 Dr. Jaques became Ipswich’s postmaster. I haven’t found any reference besides this anecdote to the doctor being a “famous pedestrian,” known—even locally—for walking long distances. Nor have I found how he trained as a physician.

Dr. Jaques married for the first time in 1792. That was an occasion for a young gentleman to buy a particularly nice suit. Or he could have done so earlier as he set up his practice and thought about courting a wife.

John Hancock was Massachusetts’s governor during most of Jaques’s bachelor years. He was known for the elegance of his dress, as Kimberly Alexander discusses here. In his Familiar Letters on Public Characters, and Public Events (1834), William Sullivan described the governor he remembered seeing decades before:
At this time, (June, 1782,) about noon, Hancock was dressed in a red velvet cap, within which was one of fine linen. The latter was turned up over the lower edge of the velvet one, two or three inches. He wore a blue damask gown, lined with silk; a white stock, a white satin embroidered waistcoat, black satin small-clothes, white silk stockings, and red morocco slippers.
But Loring specifically suggests that a “scarlet coat,” most likely of red velvet, was what Dr. Jaques wanted to emulate. And the Old State House Museum owns a red silk velvet coat, shown above, which family tradition says Hancock wore at one of his gubernatorial inaugurations. This garment was recently reproduced by historical tailor Henry M. Cooke IV so the original could go into storage. Copying John Hancock’s red velvet coat thus has a long history in these parts.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

One Company in the 1769 Boston Militia

One of the many documents that the Boston Public Library has digitized for the public is here: “Copy of Larum List taken March 6, 1769, in Colo. Joseph Jacksons Company.”

This is a rare piece of paperwork from the colonial militia in peacetime. We have good records of who served in militia companies called up for active service because the government had to pay those men. But ordinary militia training was a duty and no money exchanged hands for that labor, so there was no reason to preserve records.

(When I say, “no money exchanged hands,” I should acknowledge that the militia law set nominal fines for not attending militia drills. However, there are so few recorded examples of those fines being collected that the rule was probably symbolic.)

It’s not clear to me who created this document or why it was preserved. But it’s an interesting snapshot of administering a militia company.

Joseph Jackson (1707-1790) was colonel in charge of the Boston militia regiment in the late 1760s, as well as a selectman and a justice of the peace. That regiment was organized along the British model, with one company assigned to Col. Jackson and probably led in practice by a lieutenant.

The purpose of this document appears to be to list all the Boston men assigned to Jackson’s company. There were about 3,000 white males above the age of sixteen—i.e., required to do militia training—in Boston at this time, and 239 men on this list. It looks like Jackson’s men came from the wards near the center of town.

Just as important as listing the men eligible to drill, the document also separated out the men who by law didn’t have to drill. Most of those categories consisted of men from the highest ranks of society:


Another set of categories identified men doing their militia service in other ways:

  • “Batterymen” who did their militia service in the North or South Battery companies
  • “Troopers” on horseback
  • Artillery
  • Cadetts

There was also one “Engine Man,” John Newal. Did this mean he looked after a firefighting engine?

Finally there were two categories of men excused for health reasons:

  • men above age sixty like “Old Mr. Marston”
  • “Inverleads”

That left 154 names under “Liable to Train”—though two were labeled “Lame,” one as at “Sea,” and a fourth as “Excd.,” suggesting he was excused. (He was a Jackson.) A couple of those men have the title “Capt.,” probably meaning they were ship’s captains. Some names already appearing among Boston 1775’s numerous tags are John Gill, Charles Conner, Thomas Waite Foster, John Piemont, Gawen Brown, and Nathaniel Barber.

There are no men identifiable as black or Native American. The law excluded such men from militia training, though some nevertheless did serve when war came. There are also no identifiable Quakers. I don’t think Massachusetts had a provision for conscientious objection yet, but the concept was recognized.

It might be possible to correlate this list from 1769 with the Boston tax records from 1771 and glean more information. But I’ll leave that to another day. Right now I’m feeling too inverlead.

(Thanks to John Hannigan to alerting me to this document.)

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Talks to Take in about the Townshend Tariffs

This month’s Lowell Lecture Series at the Old South Meeting House, presented by the Paul Revere Memorial Association, focuses on how the new duties of 1767 roiled the British Empire. The series is titled “Lead, Glass, Paper, & Tea: The Townshend Acts and the Occupation of Boston.”

(That leaves out one category of dutied goods—painter’s colors. That really only affected specialized merchants like the Gore family. But since I spoke about the Gores at Old South a few years back, I feel obligated to stick up for their concerns.)

Here are the talks, starting tomorrow evening and continuing on each Wednesday.

5 September
“A certain sloop called the Liberty”: Charles Townsend, John Hancock & the Boston Madeira Party
On June 10, 1768, the King’s Commissioners of Customs seized John Hancock’s sloop Liberty and its smuggled cargo of Madeira wine. William Fowler, Jr., Distinguished Professor of History, Northeastern University, will describe how the Commissioners, fearing for their lives, fled to the safety of Castle William, while John Adams argued his case in defense of Hancock and Liberty at the Old State House.

12 September
Paul Revere’s Sons of Liberty Bowl: An American Icon
American patriot Paul Revere is wrapped in a swirling mixture of myth and poetry through which history often descends, but as a craftsman he left behind tangible traces as well. Gerald W. R. Ward, Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture, Emeritus, at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, will relate the story behind Revere’s Sons of Liberty Bowl, crafted in 1768 to commemorate the “Glorious 92” legislators who bravely opposed King and Parliament’s imposition of the Townshend Acts.

19 September
Liberty Teas and Nervous Collectors: The Townshend Acts in Boston
From the emergence of “homegrown” industries in response to British taxes on imports, to harassment of officials by the Sons of Liberty, the Townshend Acts set the stage for tensions that would erupt in 1770 with the Boston Massacre. Learn how these new laws impacted 18th-century Bostonians’ everyday life in an interactive, first-person presentation featuring costumed actors from the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum!

26 September
Tyranny Unmasked: The Townsend Acts in Britain, Ireland & America
The Townshend Acts marked a new radical phase in the crisis that eventually destroyed Britain’s American empire. Occupied Boston was the toast of radical patriots throughout George III’s dominions, and observers began to wonder whether Britain’s days as an imperial power were numbered. University of New Hampshire Professor of History Eliga Gould will tell the fascinating story of this transformation—as it appeared to Bostonians and from the standpoint of people on the far shores of the Atlantic.

All these talks are scheduled to begin at 6:30 P.M. They are free and open to the public, thanks to the historical organizations involved and the Lowell Institute.

Monday, September 03, 2018

The Powder Alarm Viewed from Westborough

Earlier in the summer I took note of the online edition of the diary of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of Westboro.

One of the events Parkman lived through and recorded was the “Powder Alarm” of September 1774. In fact, by writing down news at different times, the minister preserved the rumors that motivated that militia uprising.
1774 September 2 (Friday). This morning was ushered in with Alarms from every Quarter, to get ready and run down to Boston or Cambridge. The Contents Magazine of Powder at Winter Hill had been carryed off — namely [550?] Barrells; by Treachery; etc. This is told as the Chief Affair.

72 of our Neighbours marched from Gales (tis said) by break of Day; and others are continuely going. My young man goes armed, with them.

About 5 p.m. Grafton Company, nigh 80, under Capt. Golding, march by us.

N.B. Squire Whipple here. Says he is ready to sign etc. It is a Day of peculiar Anxiety and Distress! Such as we have not had — Will the Lord graciously look upon us; and grant us Deliverance — for we would hope and trust in His Name! We send for Mrs. Spring and her two Children to be here with us, while her husband is gone with the People.

Breck returned from Lancaster. At Eve we have most sorrowful News that Hostilitys have commenced at Cambridge, and that Six of our people are killed; that probably Some at least may be of Westborough. Joshua Chamberlin stood next (as it is related) to one that was slain. We have many Vague accounts and indeed are left in uncertaintys about Every Thing that has occurred.

Sutton soldiers — about 250, pass along by us — but after midnight are returning by reason of a Contrary Report. Mr. Zech. Hicks stops here. Breck is employed in the night to cast Bulletts. A Watch at the Meeting House to guard the Town stock etc. Some Towns, we hear, have lost much of theirs, as Dedham, Wrentham etc.
The initial report of the king’s soldiers taking hundreds of barrels of gunpowder from the provincial storehouse in Charlestown (shown above) on 1 September was correct. The later rumor of six men killed by those troops was entirely false. In his diary entry we can see Parkman struggling to make sense of the news he was hearing from different directions.

Many towns besides Westboro became anxious about their local supplies of gunpowder and other ordnance immediately after the alarm. After all, no one knew what would come next. The towns were preparing for war; descriptions like Parkman’s read very much like descriptions of the more famous Lexington Alarm of April 1775.

The next day the minister gradually realized the crisis had passed:
1774 September 3 (Saturday). Capt. Benjamin Fay came here between 2 and 3 o’Clock in the morn in much Concern and knew not what to do. After Light and through most of the forenoon, vague uncertain Reports. Sutton men that had gone to Deacon Wood, came back to go down the Road again.

My son Breck with provisions, Bread, Meat, etc., Coats, Blanket etc., for it was rainy, rides down towards Cambridge to relieve Asa Ware, Mr. Spring, and others who were unprovided.

About noon the Sutton Companys come back again and go home, Rev. Chaplin among them. So do the Grafton men.

Mr. Abraham Temple relates to me, that he, having been as far as to Cambridge and himself Seen many of the Transactions, that there were no Regulars there, no Artillery, no body Slain — but that Lt. Gov. [Thomas] Oliver, Messrs. [Samuel] Danforth, Joseph Lee, Col. [David] Phips (the high Sheriff) had resigned and promised that they would not act as Counsellors — that Mr. Samuel Winthrop computed there were about 7000 of the Country people had gathered into Cambridge on this Occasion — that it was probable, as he (Mr. Temple) conceived, that the Troubles would subside.

N.B. When the Sun run low, Our Company returned (consisting of Horse and Foot about 150). With them were my Son and my young man — all without any Evil Occurrance. To God be Praise and Glory! I Suppose Capt. Maynard and those who were with him are returned also.
The estimate of “7000 of the Country people” is high, but both Lt. Gov. Oliver and Dr. Thomas Young guessed there were 4,000 militiamen in Cambridge that day.

I started The Road to Concord with the “Powder Alarm” because it marked a turning point in Massachusetts’s conflict with the Crown. That was the moment that Gov. Thomas Gage lost control of most of the province, and the moment that people began to turn to military solutions for the political conflict.