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.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Monday, December 31, 2018

Richard Fry’s Greatest Scheme

Before going on with The Saga of the Brazen Head, I’ll zip through what happened with Richard Fry.

Under his contract for the paper mill with Samuel Waldo and Thomas Westbrook, Fry had to pay £64 a year. But making paper on the Maine frontier didn’t bring in huge profits, and the whole province was in a cash crunch. Fry managed to send his landlords fifty reams of paper in place of specie, but that wasn’t £64 in cash, was it?

Waldo and Westbrook sued Fry and won a judgment of £70. They had the sheriffs in Maine seize the paper-making equipment. And they had Fry clapped into the Boston jail as a debtor around the start of 1737. In response, Fry claimed that Waldo and Westbrook had taken that action only after they had tried to buy him out and he refused.

Waldo recruited another man to continue the paper manufactory as an employee. Then he turned on Westbrook, forcing him out of the partnership. Calling himself “hereditary lord of Broad Bay,” Waldo recruited more settlers in Europe.

Among the people who came to America at Waldo’s invitation were the German ancestors of Christopher Seider. However, whenever Britain went to war with France, which happened in 1744 and again in 1757, the Maine frontier became a risky place to live and the settlements emptied out. Waldo died in 1759. Some of his holdings descended to his daughter Hannah and then to her daughter Lucy, wife of Henry Knox.

Meanwhile, back in the Boston jail, Richard Fry produced a steady stream of petitions complaining about his Maine landlords, the sheriff and undersheriff who’d taken his stuff, and the jailer who’d locked him up.

On 22 May 1739 Fry placed yet another advertisement in the New-England Weekly Journal:
This is to inform the Publick, that there is now in the Press, and will be laid before the Great and General Court, a Paper Scheme, drawn for the Good and Benefit of every individual Member of the whole Province; and what will much please his Royal Majesty; for the Glory of our King is in the Happiness of his Subjects: And every Merchant in Great Britain that trades to New-England, will find their Account by it; and there is no Man that has the least Shadow or Foundation of Common Reason, but must allow the said Scheme to be reasonable and just:

I have laid all my Schemes to be proved by the Mathematicks, and all Mankind well knows, Figures will not lye; and notwithstanding the dismal Idea of the Year Forty One, I don’t doubt the least seeing of it a Year of Jubile, and in a few Years to have the Ballance of Trade in Favor of this Province from all Parts of the Trading World; for it’s plain to a Demonstration, by the just Schemes of Peter the Great, the late Czar of Muscovy, in the Run of a few Years, arrived to such a vast Pitch of Glory, whose Empire now makes as grand an Appearance as any Empire on the Earth, which Empire for Improvement, is no ways to be compared with this Royal Majesty’s Dominions in America.

I humbly beg Leave to subscribe myself,
A true and hearty Lover of New-England,
Richard Fry.

Boston Goal, May 1739.
What was he on about now? Fry was issuing A Scheme for a Paper Currency to solve the specie crisis and promote the local economy. Backing up the new printed money, he wrote, would be the output of “Twenty Mills” built around Boston harbor. When Fry had first announced his scheme the previous August, even calling a meeting of investors at the Green Dragon Tavern, he had only seventeen mills in mind.

One might question the value of economic advice from a man who had gone bankrupt in England and was in jail for debt. But those circumstances didn’t daunt Fry. We can read his proposal, plus a couple of the petitions he wrote in the same years, in this book. Other documents from him are in the Clements Library.

Fry’s scheme wasn’t the only attempt to address the province’s specie shortage. In 1740, Boston businessmen set up the Massachusetts Land Bank, which issued private paper currency based on land holdings. The royal government and its supporters, led by Thomas Hutchinson, worked to stifle that enterprise, and in 1741 Parliament outlawed it. Some historians have traced the enmity between Hutchinson and Samuel Adams, whose father was a Land Bank investor, to that controversy.

Fry of course saw nothing wrong with paper currency (and one suspects he hoped to win the contract to supply the paper). But he no doubt preferred his own approach to issuing it. And as long as the provincial authorities opposed the Land Bank, he was ready to take advantage of that. In December 1740 Fry pointed out to Gov. Jonathan Belcher and his Council that his jailer was dealing in Land Bank currency. (A sample shown above.)

Richard Fry died in 1745, his finances still a mess. He left a wife and at least one child.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

“Overset in the Storm near the Isle of Sholes”

In the Boston newspapers printed on Thursday, 15 Sept 1735, we can watch the maritime town struggle to gather and digest news of a calamity at sea. First, the Boston Post-Boy:
Last Monday Night we had a hard Storm, the Wind from N. E. to S. E. in which sundry Vessels were drove on Shoar in the neighbouring Ports . . .

We hear, that a Sloop belonging to Newbury, one Offin Boardman Master, bound from Casco-Bay to this Place, having a Raft of Masts at her Stern, was overset in her Passage, on Monday Night last, and thirteen People drown’d, being all the Persons on board, Nine of them were Passengers; she was carried into the Isle of Shoals last Wednesday.
This Offin Boardman (1698-1735) was the grandfather of a man of the same name who commanded a privateer during the Revolutionary War and lived on Historic New England’s Spencer-Pierce-Little Farm after 1796.

Here’s the 15 Sept 1735 Boston Gazette:
Monday Night last in the Storm Offin Boreman bound from Casco to Newbury in a Sloop laden with Lumber, was overset in the Storm near the Isle of Sholes she had on board 8 or 10 Passengers, some belonging to this Town, among whom were three Married Women, all lost; we have heard the Names of some of ’em but not with the certainty as to mention ’em. Mr. Boreman has left a Wife and 3 or 4 Children, and had on board with him a valuable Negro.
That evening came the Boston Evening-Post:
Monday Night last we had a very severe Storm of Wind at N. E. which did some Damage to the Shipping in our Harbour . . .

The same Night a Sloop coming from Casco-Bay, Offin Boardman of Newbury Master, was overset near the Isle of Shoals, and all the People drowned. ’Tis said there were on board, (besides Three Men belonging to the Sloop,) Ten Passengers, some of which belonged to this Town, but tho’ several Sloops came in Yesterday from Casco-Bay, yet we cannot get a particular Account of their Names. We hear that the Sloop has been since found, and is towed into the Isle of Shoals.
A week later, the 22 Sept 1735 Boston Post-Boy finally provided specifics:
We have now certain Information, That in the Sloop which was overset in the violent Storm we had last Monday Night was Se’n-night, as mention’d in our last, there were but Eight Persons, all of whom were drowned, viz. Offin Boardman, Master, Thomas Coker and Edmund Pilsbury, all of Newbury; a Man belonging to the Sloop, whose Name was cannot learn; Mr. James Jackson of Boston, Founder; the Wife of Nathaniel Lock, the Wife of John Sweet, and the Wife of William Bucknam, all of Casco-Bay.
At the Sign of the Brazen Head in Boston, Mary Jackson was left a widow with two sons. William was four years old, and James was only four months.

COMING UP: Picking up the pieces.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

“Brown Paper made at Mr. Fry’s Mill”

In 1734 Richard Fry finally set about making paper at the mill built for him in Stroudwater outside Falmouth (now Portland), Maine, by real-estate developers Samuel Waldo and Thomas Westbrook. Fry sublet some of that facility to another English papermaker named John Collier.

On 14 October, Fry addressed his old neighbors in yet another hortatory advertisement in the New-England Weekly Journal:
To the INHABITANTS of the GREAT TOWN of BOSTON;

It is now almost Three Years, since I Published an Advertisement, to shew you the excellent OEconomy of the Dutch, in the Paper Manufactory, in order to induce you to follow so laudable an Example; but I am sorry to say, I have had but small Effects of it as yet; when Gentlemen have been at great Expence to serve the Public, as well as their own Private Interest, it is the Duty of every Person, as much as in them lies, to help forward so useful a Manufactory; Therefore I intreat all those that are Lovers of their Country, to be very careful of their Linnen Rags, and send them to Joseph Stocker in Spring Lane, BOSTON, and they shall receive ready Money for the same.

Richard Fry.
That plea highlights what seems like a fundamental flaw in the plan to run a paper mill on the Presumpscot River. A frontier settlement didn’t have nearly as many rags as a big old port like Boston. Nor did it have printers, newspapers, attorneys, or many businessmen in need of lots of paper. Waldo was still busy recruiting settlers, as this broadside shows. But aside from supply, demand, and labor, Fry’s enterprise had great prospects.

Meanwhile in Boston, as I quoted a couple of days ago, James Jackson first advertised himself as making and selling brass goods at the sign of the Brazen Head. On 8 May 1735, James and his wife Mary had their second son, James, Jr., baptized at King’s Chapel.

After another two months, on 7 July 1735, the New-England Weekly Journal announced:
Brown paper, TO BE SOLD, for ready Money, by James Jackson, at the Brazen Head in Cornhill, Boston.

P.S. There will be no more Brown Paper made at Mr. Fry’s Mill at Stroudwater, at Casco-Bay
I’ve found no clue about how Fry and Jackson linked up. Why would a shop full of brass hardware be a good outlet for brown paper? Perhaps the two men felt some affinity as recent arrivals from England making their way among established Yankees.

In any event, at the end of that summer James Jackson took a trip up to Casco Bay. He might have been delivering or installing brass fixtures in a mill or other new building. He might have been picking up more paper to sell. Jackson might even have been exploring the possibility of joining Waldo and Westbrook’s settlement, moving his small family to the Maine coast.

He never came back.

TOMORROW: “a very severe Storm of Wind.”

Friday, December 28, 2018

“Richard Fry, Stationer, Bookseller, Paper-maker, and Rag Merchant”

In September 1728 the Massachusetts General Court promoted local paper manufacturing by granting a ten-year patent to a group of investors that included Daniel Henchman, Benjamin Faneuil, and Thomas Hancock. Those partners built a mill in Milton and delivered the first sample of paper back to the legislature three years later.

Another Boston merchant, Samuel Waldo (1696-1759, shown here) also saw potential in paper. He made a partnership with Thomas Westbrook (1675–1744) of the district of Maine, securing title to a large swath of land between the Penobscot and Muscongus Rivers. Waldo headed to Britain to recruit skilled craftsmen while Westbrook set about building a settlement to receive them.

One of the men Waldo met in England was Richard Fry. According to A. H. Shorter’s Paper Making in the British Isles (1971), Fry, a “rag merchant,” paid to insure a paper mill at Long Wick in Buckinghamshire in 1726. John Bidwell’s American Paper Mills (2013) adds that Fry oversaw two more paper mills in Berkshire and owned part of a paper warehouse in London. Bidwell also reported that in 1730 Fry went bankrupt, and thus at liberty to make a new start in America.

Fry and Waldo signed an indenture contract in 1731. Fry promised to move to New England, and Waldo promised that within ten months Westbrook would finish building a paper mill on their land in Maine for Fry to run.

Richard Fry reached Boston by the end of that year. He had to support himself for a while, so in April and May 1732 he ran the same advertisement in the New-England Weekly Journal, Weekly Rehearsal, and Boston Gazette:
This is to give Notice, That Richard Fry, Stationer, Bookseller, Paper-maker, and Rag Merchant, from the City of London, keeps at Mr. Thomas Fleet’s Printer at the Heart & Crown in Cornhill, Boston; Where the said Fry is ready to accommodate all Gentlemen, Merchants, and Tradesmen, with sets of Accompt Books, after the neatest manner: And whereas, it has been the common Method of the most curious merchants in Boston, to Procure their Books from London, This is to acquaint those Gentlemen, that I the said Fry, will sell all sorts of Accompt-Books, done after the most acurate manner, for 20 per Cent. Cheaper than they can have them from London.

I return the Publick Thanks for following the Directions of my former Advertisement for gathering of Rags, and hope they will continue the like Method; having received seven thousand weight & upwards already.

For the pleasing entertainment of the Polite part of Mankind, I have Printed the most Beautiful Poems of Mr. Stephen Duck, the famous Wiltshire Poet: It is a full demonstration to me that the People of New England, have a fine taste for Good Sense & Polite Learning, having already Sold 1200 of these Poems.
I haven’t found any “former Advertisement.” If Fry had indeed collected 7,000 pounds of rags and sold 1,200 copies of the Duck poetry collection, most of that work might have been in Britain. The Boston print shop of Kneeland and Green did issue Duck’s Poems on Several Subjects in 1732, but it’s not clear whether they were working with Fry or inspired by him.

On 29 May, Fry announced another scheme in the New-England Weekly Journal:
This is to Acquaint the Publick, that I have Printed a Specimen of a new Sett of Letters, lately Imported from London, on which I propose to print the Spectators by Subscription, at Three Pounds the Sett, neatly Bound; and that the Publick may be intirely satisfied, the Subscriptions in Boston are to be taken in at the Office of Mr. Joseph Marion, Notary Publick, & Deposited in his hands.

It will be needless to acquaint the Learned and Polite part, that nothing more demonstrates the fine Genius of a Country, than to have the curious Art of Printing brought to Perfection, wherein the present Age have Opportunity to convey their Ideas in fine Characters to succeeding Ages. The vast Returns the Dutch make only in this Branch of Trade is most prodigious, for they Print for all the Known parts of the World; and it was really the Grand Oppressions they suffer’d that gave them that Keen Edge, to such a pitch of Industry, as hath brought them to make that glorious Figure they now make in the World: Therefore the Rod is sometimes very Convenient to reform Common-wealths of those things which would certainly be destructive of their Happiness: and there is no way of bringing any Common-wealth out of any Calamity but Industry, and jointly to promote every Art and Science that has the least view of being useful to the Publick: Therefore I don't doubt but every Gentleman that is a true Lover of his Country will Subscribe.

And I justly flatter my self I shall have a Number of Ladies Subscribers, the Authors of these Books having always been justly esteem'd among them.

Richard Fry.

N.B. Subscriptions will be taken in at Newport, New-York, Philadelphia, Piscataqua, and South-Carolina, and after Three Hundred Subscriptions, the work to be committed to the Press, and finish’d with all possible Expedition. 20 s. to be paid at Subscribing, & 40 s. at Delivery.
Unaccountably, Fry’s type sample and hortatory advertisement didn’t bring in three hundred subscriptions, and he never printed the Spectator.

Meanwhile, Westbrook was still building up in Maine. The paper mill wasn’t finished within ten months. In fact, the building wasn’t ready for Fry to move in until 1734. He then signed a twenty-one-year lease, promising Waldo and Westbrook £64 sterling each year.

TOMORROW: The Brazen Head connection.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

“Next Door to Brazen Head”

Yesterday I related how the brazier James Jackson came to Boston from London and by December 1734 opened a shop called the Brazen Head, after its brass-covered sign.

That November, Benjamin Franklin directed a letter “To Mr. Henry Price At the Brazen Head Boston, N.E.” Price, a tailor, had come to Boston from England in 1723. Ten years later he founded the town’s first Freemasons’ lodge, having been named “Provincial Grand Master of New England and Dominions and Territories thereunto belonging” during a trip home. Franklin was writing on Freemasonry business.

I’ve found no other links between Price, the Brazen Head, and Jackson. Six years later Price advertised under the sign of “the Golden Fleece, in Kingstreet,” which was appropriate for his work as a tailor. It’s conceivable that Franklin just mixed up his mythological metallic signs. It’s also possible that Price and Jackson lived close together, and the Brazen Head was already a neighborhood beacon useful for directing mail.

Certainly it’s no surprise that a shiny brass head hung out on the town’s main street would become a landmark. Within five years, neighboring shopkeepers used Jackson’s shop sign to direct customers to their own businesses.

Here, for example, is an advertisement from the 7 Sept 1736 New-England Weekly Journal:
Several Sorts of Glass Bottles, as also good velvet Corks, To be Sold by Mr. Belthazar Bayard, next Door to Brazen Head in Cornhill, Boston.
Bayard married Mary Bowdoin, and the couple were both eventually buried in the Bowdoin family tomb in the Granary Burying-Ground, shown here. Mary was a first cousin of Gov. James Bowdoin, commemorated on the plaque now affixed to that tomb.

Back to the Brazen Head. Here’s another advertisement from the 12 Nov 1739 Boston Evening-Post:
Just published,
An excellent SERMON on Regeneration, Preached to a numerous Audience, by George Whitefield, A.B. of Pembroke College, Oxford. Printed in London; Reprinted in Boston, and Sold by Charles Harrison, over-against the Brazen Head in Cornhill.
The eye-catching shop sign also meant that Jackson had less occasion to advertise his main business of brasswork. But, as was standard for Boston shopkeepers, he undertook to sell other things and needed to promote those goods. For example, the Boston Gazette for 23 June 1735 ran this notice:
JAMES JACKSON, Founder,
At the Sign of the Brasen Head in Cornhill Boston makes and sells all sorts of Founders’ Wares, also Mends, Tinns, Buys or Exchanges all sorts of Copper, Pewter, Brass, Lead or Iron by wholesale or retail. Likewise a two Wheel’d Chaise well finish’d, and lin’d with Scarlett broad Cloth, with a good Harness, also a Chair lin’d with red Morocco Leather, with a good Harness, and both new, to be Sold reasonably by said Jackson.
A couple of weeks later, on 7 July 1735, the New-England Weekly Journal announced:
Brown paper, TO BE SOLD, for ready Money, by James Jackson, at the Brazen Head in Cornhill, Boston.

P.S. There will be no more Brown Paper made at Mr. Fry’s Mill at Stroudwater, at Casco-Bay
Which brings us to papermaker Richard Fry, one of Massachusetts’s more contentious characters in the 1730s and ’40s.

TOMORROW: The controversies of Richard Fry.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

“At the Brazen Head in Cornhill Boston”

One of the landmarks of pre-Revolutionary Boston was the Brazen Head—a carved head covered in bronze. It hung outside a shop near the center of town, right across from the Town House.

Earlier this year I found that several histories say the Sign of the Brazen Head was a tavern. Charles Warren did so in Jacobin and Junto (1931), and Carl Seaburg in Boston Observed (1971). More recent examples include webpages from the usually reliable Massachusetts Historical Society and the Adverts 250 Project.

I’m hoping to cut off that misconception. Dublin may have had a Brazen Head Tavern, but Boston didn’t. The bronze head hanging on Cornhill street in Boston was the shop sign of a family of braziers, or makers and sellers of brass hardware.

What’s more, that family went through a lot of drama over the course of the 1700s, so over the next few days I’ll start telling The Saga of the Brazen Head.

The first page of that story is an advertisement in the 27 Apr 1730 New-England Weekly Journal:
To be Sold by the Maker from London, a quantity of double refin’d hard metal Dishes and Plates, as also, sundry other things of the same metal, by Wholesale, or Retale, at Reasonable Rates, the Owner designing for London, in a Weeks time; to be seen at Mr. James Jackson, Founder, next Door to Mr. Stephen Beautineau in Cornhill, Boston.
It looks like Jackson was referring to himself as both the goods’ “Maker from London” and their “Owner designing for London.” In other words, he had brought Boston the metropolis’s best brasswork, was ready to sell it for good prices, and then planned to return home.

But something changed. On 10 September James Jackson married Mary Hunter in King’s Chapel. I haven’t found out anything more about her, unfortunately. If she wasn’t Anglican before, she was now.

On 22 Feb 1731, Jackson placed a new ad in the New-England Weekly Journal with no hint of impending departure:
Brass Pump Chambers and large Brass Cocks, and all sorts of Founders Ware Cast, made or mended, at reasonable rates, by James Jackson Founder from London near William’s Court in Cornhil Boston: Likewise Exchanges or buys old Copper, Brass, Pewter, Lead or Iron.
On 13 July, James and Mary Jackson baptized their first son William at King’s Chapel.

Jackson’s two advertisements located his place of business on Cornhill in central Boston, but I’m not sure if they specified different sites or the same site in different ways. By the time of his next ad, however, Jackson had settled on a shop location and found a way to make it stand out. In the 16 Dec 1734 Boston Gazette he announced in his largest notice yet:
James Jackson Founder from London, at the Brazen Head in Cornhill Boston, makes and sells all forms of Brass Work, as Brass Hearths, Stove Grates, Fenders, Tongs & Shovels, Andirons, Dogs, Candlesticks, Snuffers & Stands, Plate Warmers, Brass Knockers for Doors, all sorts of Brass Work for Coaches or Chaises, or for Saddlers, Casts Mortars large and small, Brass Chambers for Pumps, brasses for Mills or Cranes, brass Cock Gun Work, small Bells, or any other sort of Cast Work; also sells London made pewter and Brasiers Ware, Brass Kettles large and small, Brass and Copper Warming-pans, of the best sort, Copper Tea Kettles, Coffee pots, Chocolate pots, Boiling-pots, Stueing and Frying pans, brass Skillets, Chafing Dishes, Steel Tongs and Shovels, London and Country made Jacks, Box Irons, Flat Irons, brass Nails by the Thousand, Iron Nails, Files, Melting pots, Gun powder and Shot, Swords & Belts, Horse pistoles, Cabinet Work Chamber & Kitchen Bellows, and sundry other sorts of Brasiers Ware, also Buys or Exchanges, or mends any sort of Copper, Pewter, Lead or Iron, at Reasonable Rates.
Using the symbol and name of the Brazen Head was a, well, brazen move for the Londoner. According to a legend that New England Puritans no doubt disdained, the thirteenth-century monk Roger Bacon had invented a “brazen head”—a mechanical head that answered any yes-or-no question. That device showed up in a popular Elizabethan comedy (as shown above), and Daniel Defoe’s 1722 Journal of the Plague Year stated that a brazen head was one of the common symbols of a fortune-teller.

For James Jackson, however, the shiny head probably just symbolized his brassware. And for the next forty years his Brazen Head shop would be a landmark near the center of Boston.

TOMORROW: A local landmark.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Samuel Adams’s Christmas Spirit in 1768

Two hundred fifty years ago today, 25 Dec 1768, was a Sunday. As a good late Puritan, Samuel Adams no doubt went to his regular meetinghouse and didn’t celebrate Christmas.

However, we know from John Adams’s diary entry for 3 Sept 1769 that his second cousin sometimes spent Sunday evening after sunset at the Edes and Gill print shop, “Cooking up Paragraphs, Articles, Occurences, &c.—working the political Engine” for the next day’s Boston Gazette.

And we know that Samuel Adams wrote two long essays that appeared in the newspapers for Monday, 26 December. So he might well have been proofing or polishing those the night before.

In the Boston Gazette, Adams wrote as “Vindex,” the name of a Roman senator who rebelled against Nero. Adams’s topic was the same he had been railing about for months—that the Crown government’s decision to station army troops in Boston was unconstitutional and unwise.

On the front page of the Gazette “Vindex” declared:
A STANDING Army, is an army rais’d, and kept within the community, to defend it against any sudden attacks.— If it be ask’d who is to judge, when the community is in danger of such attacks? one would naturally answer, The community itself: For who can be more proper judges of it than they, for whose safety alone, and at whose expence alone, they are kept and maintain’d. The people, while they enjoy the blessings of freedom, and the security of their property, are generally early enough in their apprehension of common danger; especially when it is so threatening as to require the military aid: And their judgment of the necessity or expediency of a standing army, is generally, at least as honest, as that of their superiors. . . .

I have heard it said, that these troops are marching troops, and therefore they cannot be called standing armies; which to be sure is arguing very conclusively, for there is, in some respects, a manifest difference between them. Their marchings and countermarchings, have hitherto been inexplicable to many persons of a common understanding; and were it a time of war, one might expect to see or hear of some notable display of military skill and valor very soon: . . .

But if these troops are marching troops, that is, if they are only marching thro’ this town to the frontier garrisons, the places of their destination, how is it that we are told by some who I believe are in the secret, that they are ordered here to suppress riots and tumults? This I should think has rather the appearance of a standing army, designed to be established in the province. It is said that they have strict orders “to preserve the peace”: Are then the military gentlemen constituted the conservators of the peace in a civil government? No, but they are “to act under the civil magistrate”, and this is said to be the declaration of lord H[illsboroug]h himself: Has his lordship then been told, and does he believe it, that the civil magistrates of the province have been deserted by the people, their only constitutional aid, in the legal exercise of power, and that a military force is become necessary to support the King’s authority in it? If he has, he has been egregiously deceived, and the people have been grossly abused: . . .
Adams’s other essay for the week, signed “Candidus,” appeared in the Boston Evening-Post. It, too, was the first item on the front page. It was part of a long series of weekly articles attacking the Customs Commissioners through disguised names. The first set had referred to Commissioner Charles Paxton as “Charles Froth,” for example.

Then Adams had turned to Commissioner John Robinson, who had been a Customs officer in Rhode Island before being driven out by the Stamp Act riots of 1765. These essays referred to Robinson as “(Shan ap Morgan Shentleman of Wales)” and explicitly played off stereotypes of Welsh social climbers who talked funny.

Adams suggested that Robinson had gotten a provincial education in the law, angered his mentor, and then moved to London, where “some say he plyed with his countrymen in the Sedan way (but I do not aver this for truth).” It’s just that some people say he carried a sedan chair, you know.

“Candidus” continued:
The next thing we know of him, is his advertising at the New England Coffee-house in order to get a berth as Clerk to any skipper bound to the coast of Guinea that would please to ship him.——Here again unluckily, I must lose sight of Mr. ———— (Shan ap Morgan Shentleman of Wales) till his embarkation for America with a very worthy countryman of his (as an Officer in the Revenue) who through good nature, and the utmost humanity, smuggled him and what baggage he had (exclusive of his Petigry) on board ship, in order to prevent both from falling into the hands of the Philistians.

On his first arrival, to my knowledge, he had at least the appearance of much humility; tho it was observed at the same time that he looked wild and confused: however Mr. ———— (Shan ap Morgan) in a very little time waxed fat and kicked his five months instruction from his Mongomeryshire Attorney, began now to break out; he thought it impossible that the people of N[ewpor]t, of which place he was C[ollecto]r (under a very severe rider) could know any thing of Acts of Parliament, or any other kind of literature and in short, in a very little time Mr. ———— (Shan ap Morgan Shentleman of Wales) turned out a very tyrant; harrassed the merchants out of their lives, with a continual unintelligible jargon about Acts of Trade, and false quotations;———grew fat;———began to dress well; and carry a great air of importance——nay began to fortune hunt——but without success.
Either as “Vindex” or as “Candidus,” Adams was not full of holiday generosity.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Anna Green Winslow’s Cold Christmas Eve

On 24 Dec 1771 twelve-year-old Anna Green Winslow sat down to write a letter to her mother in Halifax. Anna was living with an aunt in Boston for the better educational opportunities. Of course that meant private lessons, not the town schools, since she was a girl.

Anna started this letter with the winter weather:
to-day is by far the coldest we have had since I have been in New England. (N.B. All run that are abroad.)
Which I think means that anyone who had gone outside hurried through their errands in order to get back inside as fast as possible.
Last sabbath being rainy I went to & from meeting in Mr. Soley’s chaise. I dined at unkle Winslow’s, the walking being so bad I rode there & back to meeting. Every drop that fell froze, so that from yesterday morning to this time the appearance has been similar to the discription I sent you last winter.

The walking is so slippery & the air so cold, that aunt [Sarah Deming] chuses to have me for her scoller these two days. And as tomorrow will be a holiday, so the pope and his associates have ordained, my aunt thinks not to trouble Mrs Smith with me this week.
“Mrs Smith” was Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith, who was teaching Anna embroidery and other needle crafts. The Smiths were Anglican, so they celebrated Christmas. So between that holiday and the weather, Aunt Deming decided to keep the young “scoller” at home so she wouldn’t slip and fall on the ice.

Anna and her aunt attended the Old South Meeting-House, and like a good descendant of the early Puritans, she viewed the 25 December holiday as a fallacy of “the pope and his associates.” Still, she got to stay home from schooling.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Second Look at the Bonhomme Richard

After yesterday’s report on a claim to have found John Paul Jones’s Bonhomme Richard, Peter Ansoff left a comment about similar weak points about a similar claim from 2010. So I did some more poking around.

It looks to me like there are at least two rival groups of searchers. The Filey Bay Research Group, including Tony Green and Don Shomette, made the earlier claim. I don’t see any overlap with the men behind this month’s announcement, Tim Akers and the Merlin Burrows research firm (shown here).

I also came across the recent reports in the Express and the Daily Mail, and they gave me a new perspective on the mystery. Here’s the Express version:
Mr Akers said: “I had long thought this wreck was the remains of the Bonhomme Richard (BHR) but many marked down the site as belonging to the HMS Nautilus, a ship which sank in 1799.

“After researching the Nautilus and her loss, I found it could not be her because the description of her loss differed from this location.

“On our very first dive we knew we had found the BHR. From the finds and identifiable evidence, combined with the descriptions of the battle and both ships logs, we are convinced this is indeed the famous ship.”

Previous diving expeditions discovered a wrecked wooden ship, but it was never confirmed as the Bonhomme.

Mr Akers added: “There are only two wooden warship wrecks in the bay, one is the HMS Nautilus, the other is the BHR.

“The Nautilus broke up in a storm with no loss of life and the Royal Navy stripped the wreck of everything.

“Our wreck is littered with objects which can be identified in relation to the battle and burning. Our underwater filming clearly shows the burst guns, multiple artefacts and cannon balls.

“Ship stern decoration, ships bells, a figure head of a rampant lion and rigging are also all visible.[”]
As I quoted yesterday, Akers and his colleagues said that their Bonhomme Richard is close to shore and easily visible, yet they declined to identify the exact site to keep it secure. The Express and Daily Mail reports suggest the wreckage they’re looking at is the same that has long been identified as the Nautilus. In other words, this month’s development isn’t a new archeological find but a new interpretation of an established find. And who knows? It might be correct. Or might not.

As in the previously quoted news stories, those two papers emphasized the value for tourism around Filey Bay. As a result, I can’t help viewing this whole story of finding and refinding a famous American warship as a British village comedy in the vein of Whiskey Galore! and Local Hero.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

The Return of the Bonhomme Richard?

Last week the British press reported that marine archeologists announced the discovery of the wreck of the Bonhomme Richard, the French-built Continental Navy warship commanded by John Paul Jones during his most celebrated battle.

The Yorkshire Post reported:
Mystery has for decades surrounded the exact location of the wreck. It went down in flames during the American Revolutionary war, at the bloody Battle of Flamborough Head in 1779, in which Jones led a makeshift flotilla of French ships into the North Sea, harassing commercial shipping as far as Bridlington.

In a deadly skirmish in which both sides claimed victory, Jones – who had fled his native Scotland to become one of the first commanders in the rebel service – took over the 50-gun British frigate HMS Serapis, and went to America a hero.
And where did Jones’s foundering flagship end up? The Post said:
Previously believed to be some six miles out to sea, explorers now say the site is walkable from the beach and visible from the cliffs above. . . .

“You can walk out on to the wreck from the shore. You can literally go to the beach and look in the water and see where it is. And you can go on the cliffs and look down on it and see the shadow’s outline. . . . It’s not where everyone thought it was going to be. We have made a brand spanking new determination of where the wreck is actually located.”
Which is an undisclosed location near the town of Filey, shown above, where the team made its announcement. One of the men added, “The question for the community is, who owns the land and who will build a visitor centre on it.”

The Post reported “a scramble to claim the land for tourism, with the lucrative US market in sight.” Locals expect “Americans making pilgrimages to Yorkshire to see at first hand where it happened.”

That’s certainly motivation to make a big claim, but what’s the evidence? How do these researchers know this wreck is the Bonhomme Richard?

The article mentions a “wooden figurehead of a lion and shield that adorned the bow, and a carving of a shepherdess from the stern.” The Scarborough News added that the lion showed battle damage. In addition, the Post said, “Some of the debris recovered from Bonhomme Richard betrays burn marks consistent with the explosions that sank it.”

In 1777 the French government did decree that figureheads on its ships would be lions holding shields displaying the national arms. However, I read that eighteenth-century Royal Navy ships also used the lion symbol. And in a quick search I couldn’t find any description of the Bonhomme Richard’s particular decorations.

The B.B.C.’s brief video report on the find shows some gentlemen displaying waterlogged timbers, but no figureheads.

Another wrinkle to this story is that U.S. government would claim the wreckage, as it does any U.S. naval ship anywhere in the world. Back in 1779, of course, the British government didn’t recognize the U.S. of A. or its laws. But that was what all the fighting was about, wasn’t it?

Friday, December 21, 2018

Looking for the Tea Party Location Today

In the 1850 Boston Evening Transcript story about public memory of the Boston Tea Party that I quoted a couple of days ago, John Russell wrote: “Very few persons now know where to find Griffin’s Wharf, the name of which should have been preserved through all time.”

Boston had grown significantly between 1773 and the date of that article, grown even more since. The site of the tea destruction, the shallow water at low tide beside Griffin’s Wharf, has become dry land. But where exactly?

John Robertson has a website devoted to that question, considering many clues, false clues, and more or less reliable maps produced over the years. Since he first posted his findings, what was a vacant lot has become the site of the InterContinental Hotel Boston, 510 Atlantic Avenue. Under the western slice of that building, Robertson says, was where Griffin’s Wharf lay in 1773.

The tablet above is on 470 Atlantic Avenue, the brick building beside the chrome hotel. It was installed (on a predecessor to that building, numbered 495) as early as 1898 by the Massachusetts Society of the Sons of the American Revolution. The Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum is nearby in the channel.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

The Tracks of Thomas Melvill’s Tea

The earliest printed mention of Thomas Melvill’s sample of tea from the Boston Tea Party appears to be the 10 Nov 1821 issue of the Boston Daily Advertiser. That newspaper was running a series of short essays headlined “Reminiscences.”

The fifth installment addressed the destruction of the tea. Memory of that event had gotten so foggy that the anonymous writer first discussed whether there were two tea ships or three, and what wharf they were docked at. Turning to the event itself, the writer said:
The destruction was effected by the disguised persons, and some young men who volunteered; one of the latter collected the tea which fell into the shoes of himself and companions, and put it in a phial and sealed it up;—which phial is now in his possession,—containing the same tea.
In keeping with the local ethic, the article named no names.

Thomas Melvill was then known as a survivor of the Revolution who had worked for the federal government and promoted firefighting in Boston. In 1830 the young poet Oliver Wendell Holmes was inspired by the sight of the old man in old-fashioned clothing to write “The Last Leaf.” Melvill died in 1832 after falling ill while providing support for fire companies working on his block.

Melvill’s death coincided with rising public interest in the newly-christened Tea Party. In 1835, in notes to an Independence Day oration in New Orleans, O. P. Jackson named Melvill as not only a participant in destroying the tea but also the man who had saved some: “The late Colonel Thomas Melville, reputed to have been one of the number, preserved a vial full, which has finally become a curiosity.” But where was that curiosity?

In their 1856 Cyclopædia of American Literature, the Duyckincks wrote in their entry on the novelist Herman Melville about his grandfather, Thomas Melvill:
There is still preserved a small parcel of the veritable tea in the attack upon which he took an active part. Being found in his shoes on returning from the vessel it was sealed up in a vial, although it was intended that not a particle should escape destruction! The vial and contents are now in possession of Chief-Justice [Lemuel] Shaw of Massachusetts.
Shaw (1781-1861) had been engaged to Thomas Melvill’s daughter Nancy, but she died before they married. Years later, his own daughter Elizabeth married Herman Melville. So the vial of tea was still somewhat within the family.

However, two years after that, in his monthly magazine for August 1858, Maturin M. Ballou wrote that the tea had moved on:
A phial of the Boston Harbor tea is now preserved in the cabinet of Harvard University as a precious relic of Revolutionary times. The portion thus preserved was taken from his shoes by Thomas Melville, of Boston, one of that celebrated tea party, and treasured by him as a memento of the daring exploit until the period of his death. His heirs placed it in the cabinet at Cambridge for future preservation. The action of time has reduced the tea to a fine powder, and destroyed its flavor; but there is an odor of patriotism about it, that grows stronger and stronger as time rolls on, and the magnificent destiny of our country unfolds itself.
In 1874, when he quoted John Russell’s 1850 letter about Thomas Melvill in the Essex Institute Historical Collections, James Kimball said the tea was still “believed to be in the Cabinet of Harvard University.” (He also silently changed Russell’s phrase that Melvill “obtained [the tea] at the time” to “found [the tea] in his clothing on his arrival home”—which was, of course, not quite the same thing, but was in accord with the 1850s statements.) But Kimball may have been mistaken.

By the time Francis S. Drake prepared his book Tea Leaves, the vial of tea was back with the Melvill family, and in fact with a branch that had moved far away from Boston. Drake wrote that it was “now in the possession of Mrs. Thomas Melvill of Galena, Illinois.” That was Mary Anna Augusta (Hobart) Melvill, second wife and widow of Thomas Melvill’s namesake son born in 1776. She allowed a picture of the vial and its label to be engraved for Drake’s book, as shown above. Mary Melvill died in 1884, the same year Tea Leaves was published.

Three years earlier, the Bostonian Society was founded, and the organization began to gather artifacts for a museum of local history in the Old State House. Nancy Melville D’Wolf Downer (1814-1901), a Melvill descendant living in Dorchester, donated several items, including two pictures of Melvill’s house and his 1832 obituary. The society’s 1895 catalogue also listed a copy of the engraving of Melvill that had appeared in Tea Leaves, courtesy of the publisher.

In 1899 Thomas Melvill’s grandson George R. Melvill died in Galena. It appears that his daughter Mary May Melvill (1855-1918) then sent the vial of tea to the Bostonian Society; the society’s 1900 Proceedings volume acknowledges “Miss Mary Melville” as a donor. Other members of the extended family gave two oil paintings of their ancestor, in youth and old age, and the cocked hat he was known for wearing well after it was out of fashion.

The Bostonian Society thus has a fine collection of Thomas Melvill artifacts, with the tea probably the most celebrated. Here it is featured on the museum’s website. And here it is featured on the Customs and Border Protection website, for reasons I can’t really understand.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Thomas Melvill and “a small parcel of the veritable Tea”

On 2 Mar 1850 the Boston Evening Transcript published a letter over the signature “Native Bostonian.” The editors described the writer as “a venerable citizen of a neighboring city, now a member of the House of Representatives, but a native of this city, whose father was an active partizan with Paul Revere, Melville, Sprague, and others, Sons of ’76.”

They then added more detail:
In a private note, the writer speaks of the new building on the corner of Essex and Washington streets, describing it with all the familiarity of his boyhood, as “near by where Ezekiel Russell’s Printing Office and Book Shop, sign of the Bible and Heart, near Liberty Pole, once was to be found.”
I think the mention of the Russell name was supposed to be a clue to the identity of the “Native Bostonian.”

Almost a quarter-century later, in 1874, an article in the Essex Institute Historical Collections named the letter writer as John Russell of Salem, son of William Russell (1748-1784) of Boston. (For more about William, see Francis Cogliano’s American Maritime Prisoners in the Revolutionary War.)

John Russell was born in 1779 and therefore had few direct memories of his father or Revolutionary events. That’s why he remembered “Liberty Pole” but not Liberty Tree, which came down in 1775. Russell used the stories and documents in his family to speak and write about that local history. One of his claims, first published in the Transcript article, concerned a medal carried by Sons of Liberty to identify themselves, which the Russells had lost and no one else in greater Boston ever claimed to have seen; I’m quite skeptical about that.

But today I’m looking at another artifact Russell wrote about in 1850:
Having ever felt an interest in the transactions of that eventful period, and knowing the late Major [Thomas] Melville had preserved a small quantity of the prohibited article, he having been, in common with my father and others, engaged in its destruction, he gratified me, a short time before his death [in 1832], with the sight of a small parcel of the veritable Tea, which he obtained at the time, although it was intended that not a particle of it should have been preserved;—he had it securely sealed up in a small phial;—it was of a coarse twist, and appeared to be in perfect order.
Russell added, “It is to be hoped that this interesting relic is now in safe hands, and that it will eventually, if not so already, be in the possession of the Historical Society.” But it never would be.

TOMORROW: The track of the tea.

(The picture above shows Thomas Melvill in old age and is from the collections of the Bostonian Society.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

John Hooton and “his claim as a member of the ‘Tea Party’”

In 1832 an elderly Bostonian named John Hooton applied for a Revolutionary War pension from the federal government. He had served a few months in a Massachusetts regiment in 1777 and 1778, guarding the town and a shipment of specie from France.

With his application Hooton included a letter from a solicitor named Elias Hasket Derby (grandson of the Salem merchant of the same name). It said Hooton was “believed to be the sole surviver of the Boston boys who threw the tea into Charles river at the commencement of the revolution.”

Of course, there were other living veterans of the Boston Tea Party, and the tea didn’t go into the Charles. That shows the state of knowledge about the event just before it became a celebrated historical milestone.

On 21 Sept 1833 the Saturday Morning Transcript of Boston shared more news under the novel headline “The Tea Party”:
Mr. John Hooton, a North Ender, called upon us this morning to put in his claim as a member of the “Tea Party.” The old gentleman was 79 years of age, the 4th day of this month, and is still hale and hearty. He assisted in throwing the tea overboard, and carried some of it home in his shoes to show his father what part he had taken in the business.

He relates an anecdote we had not heard before. He says that whilst the party was at work, a man in a canoe dropped a stern of the Tea ship, and commenced taking in cargo, in bulk on his own account. He was soon discovered, his canoe taken from him and broken to pieces, and himself stripped to the skin, and left to find his way home the shortest way he could. Mr. Hooton remembers the incidents of that memorable day as perfectly as though they were the occurrences of yesterday.
Hooton’s story of the man in the canoe was similar to the episode of Charles Conner stealing tea, documented as early as 1773, but this anecdote took place on the water.

That article was reprinted in Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel the same day. Two years later,  Hooton’s story was cited in the appendix of Traits of the Tea-Party. That suggests no locals objected to his claim.

In 1773 Hooton had been a nineteen-year-old apprentice, probably to an oarmaker. Despite his youth, he had succeeded his father as a warden of Christ Church in the North End. Hooton left no details about whether he was among the men who planned to destroy the tea or, like other teenagers, pushed himself onto the ships after the destruction had started.

In 1910, the American Monthly Magazine of the Daughters of the American Revolution published the traditions passed down in Hooton’s family:
I am a grandson of one John Hooton, who was born in Boston, September 14th [sic], 1754, and died in September, 1844, in his 90th year. I remember seeing him during his last illness, he was a soldier of the Revolution, was at the seige of Boston and served in Capt. Elias Parkman’s Company, Col. Joseph Webb’s regiment, he was sergeant of his company.

In regard to his part in the destruction of the tea, my father often related to me many incidents connected with the affair. With a hatchet he smashed the boxes of tea and dumped their contents into the water, at one time he noticed a man in a boat with quite a quantity of the tea he had scooped up, rowing away. Mr. Hooton called to him to come back, the man endeavored to get away, Mr. Hooton took a chest of tea and threw it with all his strength into the boat, upsetting it and the occupant had to swim to the wharf. No one was permitted to carry any of the tea away, pockets were searched and emptied of every vestige.

Mr. Hooton did take some home in his shoes. This was saved in a bottle by his mother, and kept as a memento for many years, it was finally mislaid and lost.
Back in 1833 Hooton hadn’t said anything about tossing a tea chest at the man in the canoe, which the Transcript editors would surely have printed. I think that shows how the story got improved in the telling for young grandchildren.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Lt. Col. Leslie’s Report on the Tea Party

Five years ago Don Hagist at the Journal of the American Revolution shared another early report on the Boston Tea Party, penned on 17 Dec 1773.

The writer was Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie of the 64th Regiment of Foot, the British army unit then stationed at Castle William in Boston harbor. He had watched the crisis develop since the arrival of the Dartmouth at the end of November.

Lt. Col. Leslie told Gov. Thomas Hutchinson that his troops were available if the provincial government wanted to back up his policies with force. But Hutchinson felt he needed his Council’s approval to take that step, and the Council wouldn’t back such a move. Despite all the Whig complaints about “tyranny,” most Crown officials tried hard to adhere to the traditional British understanding of the rule of law, subordinating the military to the civil power and preserving some say for elected bodies.

Meanwhile, the merchants who had won the licenses to import East India Company tea and the Customs Commissioners in charge of administering the tax on it all joined Leslie on Castle William, seeking protection from the Boston crowd.

Leslie made sure to tell the Secretary at War in London, Viscount Barrington, about his offer to the governor, meaning he had done all he could. He also reported how Boston militia companies were guarding the tea ships to make sure they weren’t unloaded (as volunteers, not on the governor’s orders).

And then the locals destroyed the tea. The next day, Leslie wrote:
I did myself the honor to write your Lordship last Saturday, since then the Sons of Liberty have destroy’d 340 Chests of Tea on board three ships, that lay all together at one of the Wharfs.

The fourth vessel that brought the Tea [the William] is strand’d near to Cape Cod, but the Tea was got safe on Shore, and it’s expected by this time it has fared the same fate as the rest.

I had the regiment ready to take their Arms, had they been called upon.

I am informed the Council would not agree to the Troops going to town, however it must end in that at last. Lenity won’t do now with the People here. The Gentlemen that took refuge here still continue, and likely to remain, for the mob threatens them much if they go to town, in short they rule every thing at present.

The Governor who is now on the Island has wrote to My Lord Dartmouth on this late Affair.
So even Gov. Hutchinson had left his country home in Milton for the protection of the army.

Leslie is most remembered in Massachusetts for his unsuccessful February 1775 mission to seize cannon that David Mason was preparing for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in north Salem. But he had more successful days later in the conflict, particularly in the campaigns for New York City and Charleston. He became a major general by the end of the war.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

“Hove the Tea all overboard”

On the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party I’m sharing one of the more unusual eyewitness accounts of the event. This text was published in Traits of the Tea-Party in 1835, labeled “Extract from the Journal of the ship Dartmouth, from London to Boston, 1773.”

The Dartmouth, owned by the Rotch family of Nantucket and captained by James Hall, was the first of the three tea ships to arrive in Boston harbor. As such, its legal status determined the ticking clock that drove the drama. If the Dartmouth wasn’t fully unloaded by 17 December, the Customs service could confiscate the remaining cargo (i.e., the East India Company tea) and the ship itself.

Here’s the logbook as published in 1835:
Sunday, Nov. 28. This 24 hours first part fresh breezes, hazy weather, with rain at times. At sunset fetched close in with the Graves; tacked to the southward. At 10, P.M., came to anchor about two miles from the Light-House, got our boat out, and went on shore for the pilot. At 4, A.M., the pilot, Mr. Minzey, came on board. At 6, got under way, wind WNW. turned up Ship Channel and came to anchor in King’s Road. At 11, the tide being ebb, got under way, and turned up and came to anchor under the Admiral’s stern [i.e., Adm. John Montagu’s flagship, H.M.S. Captain]. At 10 at night, two Custom-House officers were boarded upon us by the Castle, we being the first ship ever boarded in this manner, which happened on account of our having the East India Company’s accursed dutiable Tea on board.

Monday, Nov. 29. This 24 hours pleasant weather, lying at anchor under the Admiral’s stern; the Captain went on shore, there being a great disturbance about the Tea. A town-meeting was held, which came to a resolution the Tea should never be landed. Had a guard of 25 men come on board this night at 9, P.M.

Tuesday, Nov. 30. This 24 hours cloudy weather; got under way, and turned up to [John] Rowe’s wharf. Employed unbending the sails, getting our boats out, &c. A watch of 25 men on board this night, to see that the Tea is not landed.

Wednesday, Dec. 1. This 24 hours cloudy weather: warped from Rowe’s to Griffin’s wharf; got out old junk and moored ship—getting our sails and cables on shore.

Thursday, Dec. 2. Cloudy weather; began to deliver our goods, and continued to land them from day to day, till Saturday, Dec. 11, having a guard of 25 men every night.

Tuesday, Dec. 14. Have had another town-meeting, which is adjourned to Thursday.

Thursday, Dec. 16. This 24 hours rainy weather; town-meeting this day. Between six and seven o’clock this evening came down to the wharf a body of about one thousand people;—among them were a number dressed and whooping like Indians. They came on board the ship, and after warning myself and the Custom-House officer to get out of the way, they unlaid the hatches and went down the hold, where was eighty whole and thirty-four half chests of Tea, which they hoisted upon deck, and cut the chests to pieces, and hove the Tea all overboard, where it was damaged and lost.
Historians have quoted from this text for many decades, but all the citations go back to Traits of the Tea Party. In other words, no one knows where the original manuscript is, so we rely on this transcription.

Traits of the Tea Party was written anonymously by Benjamin Bussey Thatcher based on extensive interviews with George R. T. Hewes and other old men. The logbook appeared in an appendix alongside the first attempt to list all the people who participated in the Tea Party, provided by ”an aged Bostonian.” Years ago I posited that that list came from the newspaper publisher Benjamin Russell. But who provided the logbook?

There are some internal clues. The author was aboard the Dartmouth when the tea was destroyed, having been told “to get out of the way.” If the transcript is correct, that author had already referred to the cause of the trouble as the “accursed dutiable Tea,” which suggests he shared the political views that dominated Boston and hadn’t chosen for the Dartmouth to carry that tea.

The captain of the Dartmouth, James Hall, was a Loyalist who left Massachusetts during the Revolutionary War. The Canadian historian L. F. S. Upton wrote that Hall commanded ships for the Royal Navy before dying in England in 1781. It’s therefore very unlikely that his logbook would have been available to an American author in 1835.

Ship owner Francis Rotch (1750-1822) spent the war and ensuing years outside North America, managing whaling operations from Britain, the Falkland Islands, and France. He returned to Massachusetts in the 1790s and became known for devising improvements to whaling technology. So it’s possible that the logbook had become Rotch’s property and his heirs shared it—but he couldn’t have written the log since he wasn’t aboard the ship. And the Rotches weren’t part of the Boston crowd.

The most likely author and source seems to be the Dartmouth’s mate, Alexander Hodgdon (1741-1797). We know from his brother-in-law Ebenezer Stevens that Hodgdon was on board the Dartmouth as the Tea Party began. He remained in Massachusetts through the war, at one point commanding a militia company in defense of the state. Hodgdon served in public offices and eventually became Massachusetts state treasurer. That seems to have been enough for some twentieth-century authors to say positively that Hodgdon wrote the Dartmouth logbook.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

James Watson and the Tea Party

Yesterday I quoted Cyrus Eaton’s History of Thomaston, Rockland, and South Thomaston, Maine (1865) as a source about Benjamin Burton’s stories of the Boston Tea Party.

Eaton also wrote:
The other resident of this place present at this celebrated tea-party, was Capt. James Watson, who, at the time commanding a small coaster from this river, and being in Boston, assisted in breaking up the chests with a negro-hoe; as the tide abated, he went down the vessel-side to push it afloat, and filled his pea-jacket pockets with samples of the objectionable herb.
Stealing tea was what got Charles Conner in trouble on 16 Dec 1773, which is why he’s the one person we can identify from contemporaneous sources as helping to do away with that cargo. Some Boston families claimed that ancestors brought home some tea unwittingly in their boots or the folds of their clothing. But for Watson and his descendants to boast of him deliberately carrying tea away is unusual.

I haven’t found any other sources about James Watson’s involvement, however. Apparently Eaton’s book was enough for the Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum to list Watson among the participants. Its website says:
Little is known about James Watson aside from his involvement in the Boston Tea Party; except for his service in the Revolutionary Army as a Captain.
There were captains named James Watson in the Continental Army, but they were from Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and Virginia, not Massachusetts/Maine. This Watson gained the title “Captain” by commanding a ship, as Eaton described.

James Watson was master of a 50-ton sloop named Sally in 1774. Eaton quoted a Salem Customs House document allowing it to sail from Marblehead to Boston with a load of firewood that December. According to Watson’s descendants, this “was the first cargo taken into Boston after the passage of the Port Bill”—which it most assuredly was not.

Drawing from Watson’s papers, Eaton wrote that in January 1776 he carried some soldiers to Falmouth, and in October 1778 he sold hogsheads of lime in Beverly. On 28 July 1779 Capt. Watson landed at the mouth of the Bagaduce River, evidently in support of the Penobscot expedition, and in 1782 he was busy making salt. All of which left him no time to serve in the army. (Another James Watson was a private in Col. Jonathan Mitchell’s regiment in the 1779 campaign, just to confuse matters.)

The detail in Eaton’s description of Watson working to destroy tea that stood out for me is the phrase “negro-hoe.” Evidently in 1865 everyone knew what that meant. In C. G. Parsons’s Inside View of Slavery: or A Tour among the Planters (1855), I found this explanation for a similar term:
The “n[egro] hoe” was first introduced into Virginia as a substitute for the plow, in breaking up the soil. The law fixes its weight at four pounds,—as heavy as the woodman’s axe! It is still used, not only in Virginia, but in Georgia and the Carolinas. The planters tell us, as the reason for its use, that the negroes would break a Yankee hoe in pieces upon the first root, or stone that might be in their way. An instructive commentary on the difference between free and slave labor!
People who are being forced to work are naturally less protective of their enslavers’ property. Indeed, we should view tool-breaking as a form of rebellion against an unjust situation. Clearly the notion of a “negro-hoe” had become so well known that Yankees used the term for any heavy hoe.

As to whether James Watson was at the Tea Party in December 1773 and left no record of his involvement other than a local tradition set down in 1865, the evidence is slim.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Benjamin Burton and the Tea Party

In the fall of 1833, Maine’s newspaper were eager to name residents of the young state who had participated in the Boston Tea Party sixty years before.

The 9 October Augusta Age newspaper listed three men: Benjamin Simpson, Ephraim Smith, and “Col. Benjamin Barton of Warren.”

That third man was actually named Benjamin Burton. He was born 9 Dec 1749 in Thomaston and died 21 May 1835 in Warren, having lived much of his life in Cushing. The top of his marble sarcophagus appears here, courtesy of Find-a-Grave.

Burton rose to the rank of major during the Revolutionary War and also had an exciting time as a prisoner of war alongside Gen. Peleg Wadsworth. He later became a colonel in the militia, magistrate, and legislator.

Obviously by 1833 Burton was stating publicly that he had helped to destroy the tea in Boston harbor. In that same period he was also applying for a federal pension for his Revolutionary War service. His application file says nothing about the Tea Party, which wasn’t pertinent to whether he qualified.

Benjamin Carp’s Defiance of the Patriots cites a letter from Burton to Maine historian William D. Williamson in 1835 as a source. The book says Burton was a sailor on the Cumberland who happened to be in Boston on the crucial night and joined in destroying the tea. I haven’t seen that letter to know if it offers more detail to assess.

Thirty years later, in his History of Thomaston, Rockland, and South Thomaston, Maine, Cyrus Eaton relayed Burton’s claim to be at the Tea Party this way:
[Burton,] happening to be at Boston on a visit, went in the crowd to the Old South meetinghouse, and, as soon as the patriot orator had closed his animated address, hearing the shout tea-party, tea-party, and being touched with the spirit of the times, joined the party, was stationed in the hold of one of the ships to fasten the slings upon the tea-chests, and labored with his might between two and three hours in the work of destruction. It being about the time of low water, the detested tea rested on the ground and, when the tide rose, floated as a scum upon the water and was lodged by the surf along the shores.
That account strikes me as unreliable. The term “tea party” wasn’t applied to the event until the 1820s.

Even farther afield, the website of the Tea Party Ships and Museum states that Burton “was also one of the men who led the meeting at the Old South Meeting House before the tea protest actually began.” None of the nineteenth-century sources makes such a claim. It’s possible that was based on a misreading the phrase about “the patriot orator” above as applying to Burton rather than Samuel Adams or another of the politicians who spoke that night.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Ephraim Smith and the Tea Party

The anniversary of the first Boston Tea Party is nearly upon us. Last year I discussed Benjamin Simpson, a man from Maine who was one of the first participants to talk about the experience for the press.

Joshua Wyeth appears to have coined the term “tea party” to describe himself and others who destroyed the East India Company tea. Charles Bahne offered a theory about why that label struck a chord here. The term quickly became popular in the 1830s, with the old man most closely linked to it being George R. T. Hewes, then living in upstate New York.

Then on 20 Sept 1833 the Portland Weekly Advertiser ran this letter from an unnamed correspondent:
The Otsego Republican, speaking of Mr. Hewes, says “he is believed to be the only survivor of the memorable tea party,” in Boston.

By way of correcting a wrong impression, and also of offering all the information in my power, and of inducing others to contributing their mite, as every fact relating to that noble band must be interesting, I would mention the name of Ephraim Smith, Esq., of Gorham, as another member.

He was at the time an inhabitant of Wellfleet, Cape Cod; but happening to be in Boston, he heard a whisper going the rounds in the afternoon, that a party would attack the British tea in the evening, and throw it overboard. He says, they assembled at the town house, at the head of King-street, now, I believe, called State-street, and having disguised themselves with paint, &c. marched down, boarded the ships, three in number, lying on the South side of Long-wharf, and threw the tea overboard, without opposition. He says there were hundreds in the company; how many he would not pretend to say: he does not now recollect any names.

Mr. Smith is now 83 years of age.—There is another member of the same party, who now receives a pension from the office in this town, whose name is not recollected.
Smith died on 13 Jan 1835 at age eighty-four, according to Josiah Pierce’s 1862 History of the Town of Gorham.

In his History of Gorham, Maine, published in 1908, Hugh D. McClellan added another anecdote from Smith, presumably passed down among relatives and inhabitants:
In December, 1773, he was in Boston with his vessel. Seeing a crowd he joined in and was one of the men who went on board the English vessels, and threw the tea overboard. He often told the story of one of the men, who, wishing to carry a little tea home to his wife, unwittingly put so much into his coat-tail pocket as to make it too prominent. This was discovered by some co-patriots, when a jackknife soon made his coat into a short jacket. That part containing the obnoxious weed was thrown into the dock [i.e., the water beside the wharf] much to his disgust, and the amusement of the boys and the crowd generally.
I find Smith’s story less convincing than Simpson’s. It contains little information that wasn’t widely known in Boston during or soon after the event. The man who tried to get away with tea, for example, was Charles Conner.

A detail from Smith’s telling that doesn’t appear in public accounts is that the tea destroyers “assembled at the town house.” That’s hard to believe and even harder to believe no other witness noticed. The building was the center of town and one of the seats of government.

I suspect Smith was in Boston during or soon after the Tea Party of December 1773, but I doubt that he was a participant. Nonetheless, the Maine press was proud to list him as one.

TOMORROW: Another claimant from down east.

[The map of Maine above was published by Anthony Finley in 1830 and is available from the Philadelphia Print Shop.)