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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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Hercules Posey, Cook in New York

Craig LaBan’s article for the Philadelphia newspapers about the mysteries surrounding George Washington’s escaped cook Hercules didn’t stop at debunking the claim that he was the black man wearing a tall white hat in a widely reprinted portrait.

LaBan also reported new information about what really happened to Hercules. The last known trace of him had been a 15 Dec 1801 letter from Martha Washington to the mayor of New York, thanking him for seeking Hercules and concluding, “I have been so fortunate as to engage a white cook who answers very well. I have thought about it therefore better to decline taking Hercules back.”

That hinted that the Washingtons, having previously sought Hercules in Philadelphia, came to suspect he was in New York.

Back in 2016, a children’s book about Hercules was abruptly canceled just before publication, as discussed back here. The author who had been recruited to write that book, Ramin Ganeshram, had already been working on a novel about the cook and the painter Gilbert Stuart, inspired by the mistaken belief that LaBan wrote about. That book, The General’s Cook, was published last year.

Ganeshram is also the executive director of the Westport Historical Society in Connecticut, and as doubts arose about the “Hercules portrait” that inspired her fiction she wanted to find out more about the real man. Ganeshram and her colleague Sara Krasne, an archivist, looked at New York records for traces.

The crucial clue was that Washington had bought Hercules as a young man from another Virginia planter named John Posey. We know that William Lee, the general’s body servant during the war, continued to use the surname of his first owner throughout his life. Had Hercules done the same?

The New York city directory for 1812 listed a black man named Hercules Posey living on Orange Street. On 15 May of that year, that Posey died of consumption. The death record stated that he was sixty-four years old and had been born in Virginia, which is a reasonable match for what little we know about Hercules the cook.

As described in this blog post, New York City archivists found evidence from a few years later that Posey’s address was in a neighborhood of black workers.

I’m adding another breadcrumb to this cook’s trail. The 1812 directory listed Posey as a laborer. The 1808 edition of Longworth’s American Almanac: New York Register and City Directory listed him at another address on Orange Street, and identified him as a cook.

ADDENDUM: After I wrote about this posting on Twitter, Sara Krasne replied that she and Ramin Ganeshram had just found Hercules Posey listed as a cook in an 1807 New York city directory.

Monday, March 18, 2019

New Findings about an Old Portrait

Earlier this month Craig LaBan reported for the Philadelphia newspapers on the portrait shown here.

In recent decades this been widely identified as showing Hercules, a cook enslaved by President George Washington. Hercules achieved high status in the Mount Vernon workforce, but then he secured his freedom by leaving in 1797.

The painting has been attributed to Gilbert Stuart, apparently because he’s the most famous painter known to have painted the Washingtons around that time.

One detail which should have made people wonder, I think, is that this painting is at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid. An odd place to find an American painting linked to an American President, wouldn’t you say? (To be sure, there are reproductions in many American museums now.)

LaBan reported some important conclusions about the painting and Hercules:
  • Experts in Stuart’s art agree that this canvas doesn’t match his technique. The only link to that artist is wishfulness.
  • The tall white cylindrical hat that we know as a toque didn’t become standard for chefs in France until the early 1800s, spreading from that country to others. Hercules surely didn’t wear one at Mount Vernon or the Presidential mansion.
  • The headgear in the painting looks similar to the hat of a man in a painting of free black people on Dominica made by the Italian artist Agostino Brunias (d. 1796) around 1770. 
Thus, the painting is most likely a portrait of a man on Dominica or another Caribbean island. An unnamed man by an unnamed artist—at least for now.

TOMORROW: A real trace of Hercules the cook?

Sunday, March 17, 2019

“The more I think of our Enemies quitting Boston…”

Here’s how Abigail Adams experienced the British evacuation of Boston on 17 Mar 1776. She was at the family home in Braintree, writing to her husband John in Philadelphia. (And she had a cold, but I’m skipping that.)
I find the fireing was occasiond by our peoples taking possession of Nook Hill, which they kept in spite of the Cannonade, and which has really obliged our Enemy to decamp this morning on board the Transports; as I hear by a mesenger just come from Head Quarters.

Some of the [Boston] Select Men have been to the lines and inform that they have carried of[f] [every]thing they could [po]ssibly take, and what they could not they have [burnt, broke, or hove into the water. This] is I [believe fact,] many articles of good Household furniture having in the course of the week come on shore at Great Hill, both upon this and Weymouth Side, Lids of Desks, mahogona chairs, tables &c.

Our People I hear will have Liberty to enter Boston, those who have had the small pox. The Enemy have not yet come under sail. I cannot help suspecting some design which we do not yet comprehend; to what quarter of the World they are bound is wholy unknown, but tis generally Thought to New york. Many people are elated with their quitting Boston. I confess I do not feel so, tis only lifting the burden from one shoulder to the other which perhaps is less able or less willing to support it.—
(You know, that sounds like a dig at New York.)
To what a contemptable situation are the Troops of Britain reduced! I feel glad however that Boston is not distroyed. I hope it will be so secured and guarded as to baffel all future attempts against it.— . . .

From Pens Hill we have a view of the largest Fleet ever seen in America. You may count upwards of 100 & 70 Sail. They look like a Forrest.

It was very lucky for us that we got possession of Nook Hill. They had placed their cannon so as to fire upon the Top of the Hill where they had observed our people marking out the Ground, but it was only to elude them for they began lower upon the Hill and nearer the Town. It was a very foggy dark evening and they had possession of the Hill six hours before a gun was fired, and when they did fire they over shot our people so that they were coverd before morning and not one man lost, which the enemy no sooner discoverd than Bunker Hill was abandoned and every Man decamp’d as soon as he could for they found they should not be able to get away if we once got our cannon mounted.

Our General may say with Ceasar veni vidi et vici.
On Monday morning Adams returned to the topic of the British departure and the end of the siege:
The more I think of our Enemies quitting Boston, the more amaz’d I am, that they should leave such a harbour, such fortifications, such intrenchments, and that we should be in peaceable possession of a Town which we expected would cost us a river of Blood without one Drop shed. Shurely it is the Lords doings and it is Marvelous in our Eyes.
Like Gen. Washington, Adams didn’t know that the British commanders had been wanting to leave Boston for months, harbor and entrenchments or no.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

“His Excellency is apprehensive”

On 16 Mar 1776, the British military still hadn’t evacuated Boston.

To be fair, that wasn’t for lack of trying. The previous day, Capt. John Barker wrote in his journal:
The Wind being fair at 12 oclock in the day, the Troops were order’d under Arms in order to embark; but after waiting some time returned to their Quarters, the Wind having shifted.
As far back as 9 March, a British officer wrote: “I have slept one night on board [a transport ship]; the troops are embarking as fast as possible.”

But that wasn’t fast enough to reassure Gen. George Washington. Within a few days of the Continental move onto Dorchester heights, Gen. William Howe had signaled through the Boston selectmen that he was pulling out. Washington had responded by ordering the Continental artillery to hold back, as his military secretary Robert Hanson Harrison wrote to Gen. Artemas Ward:
It is his desire that you give peremptory Orders to the Artillery Officer commandg at Lams Dam [in Roxbury], that he must not fire upon the Town of Boston tonight unless the Enemy first begin a Cannonade, and that you Inform the Officer at Dorchester heights that he is not to fire from thence on the Town—If they begin, and we have any Cannon on Nuke Hill, his Excellency wou’d have the fire to be returned from thence among the Shipping and every damage [don]e them that possibly can.

Notwithstanding the accounts received of [the] Enemy’s being about to evacuate the Town with all seeming hurry & expedition, his Excellency is apprehensive that Genl Howe has some design of having a brush before his departure and is only waiting in hopes of findg us of[f] our Guard
What Harrison called “Nuke Hill” was more commonly known as Nook’s Hill or Foster’s Hill. It was the corner of the Dorchester peninsula closest to Boston. The Continentals had started to fortify that position, but then backed off after a British artillery attack killed a man and the commanders reached their “tacit agreement.”

But now it was a week later, and the British hadn’t left. “Still detained by the Wind,” Barker wrote on Saturday, 16 March. Selectman Timothy Newell reported only “Rain” and looting.

Gen. Washington had had enough. He ordered Continental soldiers back to Nook Hill, where they completed building an artillery emplacement without suffering any casualties from British fire. From that position they could hit both the town of Boston and the scores of ships gathered in the harbor.

TOMORROW: Gone at last.

Friday, March 15, 2019

“He would raise a thousand Men at his own expence”?

At last night’s presentation on the John and Abigail Adams and George Washington, I related an anecdote that circulated at the First Continental Congress. It raised a question, so I decided to take a closer look at the record.

On 31 Aug 1774, John Adams dined with South Carolina delegate Thomas Lynch, Sr. (1727-1776, shown here) and wrote this into his diary:
He told us that Coll. Washington made the most eloquent Speech at the Virginia Convention that ever was made. Says he, “I will raise 1000 Men, subsist them at my own Expence, and march my self at their Head for the Relief of Boston.”
Silas Deane of Connecticut heard the same story about George Washington, writing home to his wife in the middle of September:
It is said that in the house of Burgesses in Virginia, on hearing of the Boston Port Bill, he offered to raise and arm and lead one thousand men himself at his own expense, for the defence of the country, were there need of it. His fortune is said to be equal to such an undertaking.
Adams recalled his conversation with Lynch in the autobiography he wrote in the early 1800s:
Mr. Lynch a Delegate from South Carolina, who, in conversation on the Unhappy State of Boston and its inhabitants, after some Observations had been made on the Eloquence of Mr. Patrick Henry and Mr. Richard Henry Lee, which had been very loudly celebrated by the Virginians, said that the most eloquent Speech that had ever been made in Virginia or any where else, upon American Affairs had been made by Colonel Washington.

This was the first time I had ever heard the Name of Washington, as a Patriot in our present Controversy, I asked who is Colonel Washington and what was his Speech?

Colonel Washington he said was the officer who had been famous in the late french War and in the Battle in which [Gen. Edward] Braddock fell. His Speech was that if the Bostonians should be involved in Hostilities with the British Army he would march to their relief at the head of a Thousand Men at his own expence. This Sentence Mr. Lynch said, had more Oratory in it, in his Judgment, than all that he had ever heard or read.
And in an 11 Nov 1807 letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Adams included the story among the influential “anecdotes” that preceded Washington:
Mr Lynch of South Carolina told me before We met in Congress in 1774 that “Colonel Washington had made the most eloquentt speech that ever had been Spoken upon the Controversy with England, viz That if the English Should Attack the People of Boston, he would raise a thousand Men at his own expence and march at their head to New England to their Aid.”
It’s a pity that there’s no basis to Lynch’s story. Sources from Virginia, where people were after all most likely to have heard Washington speak, say nothing about it.

Lynch and Adams spoke at the end of August. The Virginia delegation to the Congress started to arrive on 3 September, with Washington coming the next day. Yet the story continued to spread among the New England delegates, as shown by Deane repeating it in the middle of September. Even decades later, when Adams repeated the story, he didn’t write about now knowing it was untrue.

Evidently people were so impressed by Washington’s reported promise to march a thousand men to Boston that no one actually asked him about it.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Massacre, Black Lives, and Boys

Before departing this Massacre season, I want to call attention to Farah Peterson’s thought-provoking article in The American Scholar titled “Black Lives and the Boston Massacre.”

Peterson, a law professor and legal historian at the University of Virginia School of Law, writes:

The trial cemented [John] Adams’s reputation as the archetypal lawyer-as-hero, a man willing to be hated in order to give individuals the chance to have their cause fairly heard. And it confirmed for Revolutionary British North Americans that theirs was a cause rooted in legal ideals. We have remembered the trial this way ever since: as a triumph of principle over self-interest or impetuous emotionalism.

But an honest look at the transcript complicates the story by showing how racial prejudice contributed to the outcome. A critical part of Adams’s strategy was to convince the jury that his clients had only killed a black man and his cronies and that they didn’t deserve to hang for it.
Peterson underscores how Adams’s trial argument made the most of Crispus Attucks being a tall, muscular man of color, just as apologists for some recent dubious law-enforcement shootings have insisted that young black men or children looked dangerous.

That’s an compelling parallel to think about, and not necessarily new. Twenty years ago, the Massacre reenactment took place a month after New York police officers killed Amadou Diallo, and some people in the crowd called out the similarities.

Ironically, Peterson undercuts the argument with the way she presents the start of the confrontation on King Street:
This is how the massacre began, with a group of “boys”—that is, teenagers—surrounding a young soldier named Hugh White, who was standing stiffly in his red coat on sentry duty at the Custom House. They started shouting at him, calling him a “son of a bitch” and a “lobster” and screaming to each other (hilariously), “Who buys lobster?” They made a game of pitching snowballs and debris at him and joked about picking up the sentry box and lobbing it into Boston Harbor.
That description has (white) teenagers picking on Pvt. White for no reason. But the sentry was the first to use violence, clubbing an apprentice named Edward Garrick for speaking disrespectfully of an army captain. The article refers to “a rumor that a soldier had hurt a young boy,” immediately suggesting that rowdies might have concocted that story to rile up other Bostonians. In fact, there’s a lot of testimony about the interaction between the sentry and the apprentice.

Peterson quotes Adams reminding the soldiers’ jury about “a motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tars.” Genteel society worried about all those classes of people, seeing them as on the boundaries of society and prone to impetuous violence.

Peterson rightly notes how Adams’s argument as a defense attorney and a Whig depended on casting such a mob as unrepresentative of Boston. That was a common stance for Boston politicians; the year before, Loyalist printer John Mein had complained about their “usual sayings” that any violence “was done by Boys & Negroes, or by Nobody.” The blame never fell just on blacks—those men were always grouped with boys and/or sailors.

Thus, while rightly noting how Adams played on the prejudice against men of color like Attucks, Peterson’s recounting of the Massacre trips into replicating the similar prejudice against teenagers.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

A Mad March with the Junto and History Camp

The Junto Blog is hosting its annual March Madness brackets, a way to bring attention to articles, books, and (this year) digital projects in early American history.

Boston 1775 was generously nominated in the category of “Blogs and Online Publications,” bracketed against the highly respectable Age of Revolutions blog. That’s currently running a series of essays by different scholars on “Revolutionary Material Cultures.”

Check out Round 1 of the Junto’s March Madness and the many digital projects highlighted this year. If you feel like it, vote for your favorites to see which advance to the second round.

In other news, on Saturday, 16 March, I’ll speak at History Camp Boston on “Tales from Boston’s Pre-Revolutionary Newspaper Wars.”

This event is already at capacity, so I can’t encourage you to show up unless you’re already registered. There may still be seats left for the evening performance of “The House of Hancock,” an “immersive living history performance” that somehow uses the music of Hamilton to explore the lives of John and Dorothy Hancock.

I recommend keeping an eye out for History Camps in other locales, and for next year’s Boston gathering, which might expand into multiple days to accommodate more attendees.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

‘“When John & Abigail Met George” in Cambridge, 14 Mar.

On Thursday, 14 March, I’ll speak at the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge on the topic “When John & Abigail Met George: The Adamses' Earliest Encounters with General Washington.”

Here’s our event description:
John Adams met George Washington in Philadelphia in 1774, and the next year Abigail Adams was highly impressed by the new general in Cambridge. Those meetings grew into a strong political partnership in the 1790s, but the first interactions were not entirely smooth.

This talk delves into the relationship between Washington and the Adamses in the first year of the Revolutionary War. Is John’s story of nominating Washington to be commander-in-chief reliable? How did John’s stolen mail lead to Abigail shaking a dog’s paw in Medford? Which Native American leaders dined with Washington and Adams in Cambridge in 1776? And did Abigail Adams ever visit George and Martha Washington in the Vassall house?
When John Adams met Washington at the First Continental Congress, it was the first time the lawyer had ever been outside of New England. Washington, in contrast, had explored the near west, spent a season on Barbados, and even visited Boston in early 1756, when Adams was off in Worcester teaching school while trying to decide on a profession.

On the other hand, Washington had never been to college or received the classical education that Adams had. He didn’t have Adams’s breadth of reading or depth of thought about law and government.

Each man had experience in his own colony’s legislature, and both saw benefits in a colonial union against the London government. To that end, their different strengths and experiences complemented each other. Washington and Adams became allies and worked closely together until the end of Washington’s political career more than two decades later.

For this talk I’ll focus on the personal details of the relationship between the men and their wives from the fall of 1774 to the spring of 1776.

Space in the Longfellow carriage house is limited, and I understand most of it has been spoken for already. Please call 617-876-4491 or email reservationsat105@gmail.com to ask about a seat or a spot on the waiting list.

This talk is cosponsored by the Friends of the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters with support from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati. Copies of The Road to Concord will be available for purchase and inscription.

Monday, March 11, 2019

More of Mary Clapham’s Massacre Memorials

In the early 1770s, Mary Clapham managed the Royal Exchange tavern on King Street, near the center of Boston.

In this 1801 view of State Street, as it was renamed, the tall white building was the one that housed the tavern. The Boston Massacre had taken place in front of the red building across a small street. That made Clapham’s tavern an appropriate place for Massacre memorial displays, the Boston Whigs decided.

Yesterday I quoted the Boston Gazette description of the first such exhibit in 1772. The large “lanthorn” the Whig activists built, with strikingly painted scenes illuminated from inside, was similar to what the South End and North End gangs carted around on Pope Night, and to the paper obelisk made in 1766 to celebrate the repeal of the Stamp Act.

The Massacre exhibit was back at the Royal Exchange tavern in 1773, as described by the 11 March Massachusetts Spy:
At night a select number of the friends of constitutional liberty, met at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-street, and exhibitted on the balcony a lanthorn of transparent paintings, having in front a lively representation of the bloody massacre which was perpetrated near that spot on the 5th of March 1770, over their heads was inscribed, the fatal effects of a standing army being posted in a free city.

On the right, America sitting in a mourning posture, looking down on the spectators, with this label, Behold my Sons.

On the left, a monument, sacred to the memory of
Who were barbarously murdered by a party of the 29th regiment, on the 5th of March, 1770.

At a quarter after nine, the time of the evening when the bloody deed was acted, the paintings were taken in, and most of the bells in town tolled till ten.
That was the same display, described in the same words, as the previous year. The Boston Gazette reported one new feature: in a “Window East of the Balcony” was a translucent sheet decorated with a 24-line poem on the Massacre. I’ve decided to spare you that until another year.

In 1774 the exhibit was a little delayed, as the 7 March 1774 Boston Gazette explained at the end of its report on that year’s oration:
As this Anniversary happened on Saturday, the Evening of which is considered by many Persons as the Commencement of the Sabbath, the Exhibition Portraits of the Murderers, and the slaughtered Citizens, was put off till this Evening, when they will be exposed to publick View at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-Street.
When the exhibit finally appeared, it included a new visual element, reflecting the new political controversy over the salaries and letters of royal appointees Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and Chief Justice Peter Oliver. The Gazette stated:
On Monday evening the horrid tragedy of the 5th of March was observed with the usual solemnity, by exhibiting to pubic view a portrait of that inhuman and cruel Massacre perpetrated by [Capt. Thomas] Preston, and his infamous butchers;

on the right, a figure of America pointing to her slaughtered sons, on the left, a monument to the memory of Gray, Attucks, Maverick, Caldwell, and Carr.

In one of the windows was a representation of H[utchinso]n and J[udg]e O[live]r, in the horrors, occasioned by the appeared of the two ghosts of Empson and Dudley, advising them to think of their fate. They appeared to be worshipping their ill-gotting gold the modern deity of the North.
Ye TRAITORS; “Is there not some chosen curse,
Some hidden thunder in the stores of heaven,
Red with uncommon wrath, to blast the men
Who owed their greatness to their country’s ruin?
The poetry is from Joseph Addison’s Cato.

John Adams mentioned the display in his diary for 7 March:
This Evening there has been an Exhibition in Kingstreet of the Portraits of the soldiers and the Massacre—and of H[utchinso]n and C[hief]. J[ustice]. Oliver, in the Horrors—reminded of the Fate of Empson and Dudley, whose Trunks were exposed with their Heads off, and the Blood fresh streaming after the Ax.
Sir Richard Empson and Edmund Dudley were administrators for Henry VII executed for treason in 1510 under Henry VIII. They weren’t evoked often in American Revolutionary rhetoric, but one of the writers who did so was Adams himself.

In March 1775, with thousands of British soldiers stationed in Boston, the Whigs put their display away. Those troops stayed through the next Massacre anniversary. In 1777 the town of Boston once again commissioned an oration to commemorate the killings, this time from Benjamin Hichborn, but the Boston Gazette made no mention of an illuminated display.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Maintaining the Memory of the Massacre

We know that Boston kept the memory of the Massacre of 1770 fresh in people’s minds with an annual oration on or about 3 March until 1783. Those orations were published, so they remain visible.

The town had another way to highlight each anniversary of the Massacre which we can no longer see. That tradition started in 1771 when Paul Revere mounted an illuminated display in the upper windows of his newly acquired house in the North End. I quoted the full description of it from Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette back here.

There were three pictures in three windows:
  • Christopher Seider showing his wound to weeping friends, with his bust on an obelisk that also listed the names of the Massacre victims.
  • ”the Soldiers drawn up, firing at the People assembled before them—the Dead on the Ground—and the Wounded falling,” which was of course was Henry Pelham and Paul Revere had shown in their prints published the previous year.
  • “the Figure of a Woman, representing AMERICA, sitting on the Stump of a Tree, with a Staff in her Hand, and the Cap of Liberty on the Top thereof,—one Foot on the Head of a Grenadier lying prostrate grasping a Serpent.” This is similar to the figure shown above, from the lower right of Revere’s engraving of the regiments landing in Boston in October 1768. But the illuminated America held a staff with a Liberty Cap, like the allegorical woman on the Boston Gazette masthead.
I believe Revere must have copied the Seider image from a British print, but I haven’t spotted the model yet.

The next year, the nighttime exhibit moved to the Royal Exchange tavern on King Street, a couple of doors west from the Customs office where the soldiers shot into the crowd. The proprietress of that tavern was a divorcée named Mary Clapham.

The 9 Mar 1772 Boston Gazette reported on that anniversary:
In the Evening a select Number of the true Friends of Constitutional Liberty, met at Mrs. Clapham’s in King-Street, and exhibited on the balcony a Lanthorn of transparent Paintings, having, in Front, a lively Representation of the bloody Massacre which was perpetrated near that Spot.

Over which was inscribed,
“The fatal Effect of a standing Army, posted in a free City.”

On the Right, was the Figure of America sitting in a Mourning Posture, and looking down on the Spectators, with this Label, “Behold, my SONS.”

On the left Side, a Monument inscrib’d,
“To the Memory of
Messrs. Samuel Gray,
Samuel Maverick,
James Caldwell,
Patrick Carr, and,
Crispus Attucks, who were barbarously murdered by a Party of the 29th Regiment, on the 5th of March 1770.”

At a Quarter after Nine, the Painting was taken in, and the Bells muffled toll’d ’till Ten.

The whole was conducted with the greatest Regularity; and the Spectators, though amounting in the Course of the Evening to some Thousands, behaved with that Gravity as well as Decency, which evidently show’d, that their Hearts were deeply affected with the Retrospect of so horrid a Transaction.
Of course, deeply affecting hearts was the whole point of the commemoration.

TOMORROW: Two more years.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Paul Revere’s Crispus Attucks as a Man of Color

People often say that Paul Revere’s print of the Boston Massacre leaves out Crispus Attucks.

I’ve questioned that received wisdom, pointing to copies of the print in which a particular face in the lower left appears to be painted a shade darker than all the other faces. Often that figure is also painted with two bleeding chest wounds, matching Dr. Benjamin Church’s description of Attucks’s body. (The figure is lying supine on the ground, mostly hidden by the crowd, with his face shown upside-down.)

Earlier this year I ran across the digital copy of Revere’s print that belongs to the Free Library of Philadelphia. Here’s the corner of that print showing the wounded and the crowd.

In this print, the figure in question clearly has brown skin and two wounds on his chest. Thus, at least some Revere Massacre prints, and perhaps quite a number, were colored to depict Attucks as an individual man of color.

That conclusion brings up other questions. Was that figure deliberately painted differently in different prints? If so, was that the artists’ choice or the customers’?

Friday, March 08, 2019

“A More Circumstantial Account” of the Massacre

After describing what he saw on King Street during and after the shooting that became known as the Boston Massacre, William Palfrey’s 13 Mar 1770 letter to John Wilkes (shown here) continued:
The return of morning exhibited a most shocking spectacle; the gutters of the street running with blood, & the snow on the ground dyed crimson with the blood & brains of our fellow citizens.

I went the next morning to view one of the bodies; when I was call’d upon a jury of inquest. In the course of the examination many witnesses were sworn, which enables me to give you a more circumstantial account of the matter than you may possibly receive from others, unless they had the same advantage.
At that point Palfrey’s description of events shifted from what he experienced firsthand to what he’d heard other people say. His story became the Boston Whigs’ official line, what they wanted British sympathizers to understand about the event. But there were still some interesting statements reflecting what locals believed.

For example:
It appear’d by the oaths of credible witnesses that Soldiers had been to the houses of some of their friends the Sunday Evening before this tragical event happen’d, and desir’d them, as they tender’d their own safety, to keep out of the way the two nights following: that there would be more blood shed then, than ever was known since the country had been settled.
While these stories were meant to show a premeditated attack, they also show how soldiers had made “friends” in Boston.

As for stationing a sentinel in front of the Customs office:
This has been Customary since the Regiments were quarter’d here. The town have ever since kept a strong military watch, not only to prevent a rescue of the prisoners which was threatened by the soldiers, but also to prevent the lower sort of our own people from making any attempt to revenge the murder of their brethren.
Genteel Whigs like Palfrey were willing to cast the common people as prone to rioting—as long as they could blame outside forces like lawless soldiers for provoking those riots.
The centinel at the Custom house door on seeing the lads approach loaded his piece, which they seeing gatherd near and laugh’d at him without offering any other insult.
Actual eyewitnesses said that Pvt. Hugh White had loaded his musket, pounding the butt on the street, after the barbers’ apprentices had started to bother him. Throughout his letter, Palfrey insisted that locals had given the soldiers no reason to be nervous.

Having reported that Capt. Thomas Preston had ordered his men to fire, Palfrey still had a good word for him:
I cannot leave this subject without doing justice to Capt. Preston so far as to inform you that before this unfortunate event, he always behav’d himself unexceptionably & had the character of a sober, honest man & a good officer,—but Influence, fatal influence!
The letter also tells us how locals watched the removal of soldiers from town:
The 29th have since been sent down [to Castle William], & the embarkation of the 14th begins this day. We shall soon get rid of our Military inmates, & I hope the town will thereby be restor’d to its former state of tranquility.
In this striking passage, Palfrey raised the possibility of the Massacre provoking armed rebellion.
The people, tho’ drove almost to despair by this act of violence, and ready to take immediate vengeance on the offenders, were however restrain’d by the example & persuasion of many of those very men who have been on your side the water branded as incendiaries, & enemies of Great Britain. If there had ever been any intention in the Colonies to rebel, what a fair opening was here made! The military, without the least provocation, slaughtering the unarm’d, defenceless & innocent citizins. The Country for a great distance round was alarm’d & prepar’d themselves to join the people in Boston upon the first signal, & however despicable an opinion Collo. Dalrymple or his associates may entertain of the Bostonians, I assure you, Sir, forty thousand men could have been brot into the gates of this city at 48 hours warning.
Finally, Palfrey noted a rumor that the Crown would appoint Col. William Dalrymple as successor to the departed governor, Francis Bernard:
I have just heard that Collo. Dalrymple is a candidate for our Government. I pray God most heartily we may never be govern’d by a Scotchman, & above all by a Military Scotchman.
Palfrey’s correspondent, Wilkes, had of course made his political name attacking Scottish influence on the British government in his North-Britain magazine, so he would have responded well to badmouthing Scotchmen.

Thursday, March 07, 2019

William Palfrey at the Boston Massacre

William Palfrey (1741-1780, shown here) was an apprentice and business protégé of Nathaniel Wheelwright, one of Boston’s leading merchants in the early 1760s. Wheelwright’s personal notes circulated like currency in the Boston economy.

In January 1765, Wheelwright suddenly went bankrupt. Palfrey apparently lost his savings and ended up having to take a job as manager of John Hancock’s shop—a big comedown in a society that expected gentlemen not to work for anyone else.

Palfrey made his way back up the ladder, soon managing a lot of Hancock’s transatlantic trade and also much of the Boston Whigs’ correspondence with like-minded British politicians, most notably John Wilkes.

On 5 Mar 1770, Palfrey was writing a letter to Wilkes when he was distracted by a noise outside his house. It took eight days before Palfrey resumed writing the letter, explaining:
I was oblig’d to break off the above by the alarm of ringing a Bell which I at first imagin’d to be for fire, & being not quite recovered of my late illness did not quit the house but sent my servant to see where it was.

He very soon return’d & told me there was no fire but that some of the inhabitants & soldiers were fighting near King Street. I immediately ran out towards the scene of action & had just got to the East end of the Court house [the Town House] which makes the front of King Street, when I heard the discharge of six or seven musquetts.

I ran with many others towards the place, where I was witness to one of the most shocking scenes that ever was exhibited in a Christian Country. Three unhappy victims lay weltering in their gore; two others mortally wounded, & six others dangerously.

This inhuman piece of barbarity was perpetrated by a party of eight men under the command of one Capt. Thos. Preston of the 29th Regiment. All the bells in Town were immediately rung. The inhabitants gather’d. Some in attempting to remove the dead & wounded were threaten’d & wounded by the soldiers.

The Governor [Thomas Hutchinson] met his Council the same night, & he requested the people to disperse and promis’d they should have justice done them. They very justly urg’d to His Honor that the course of justice had been always hitherto evaded or obstructed in favor of the soldiery, and they were determin’d not to disperse till Capt. Preston was committed. Accordingly at three o’clock in the morning he was taken into custody & committed.
This is the transcription published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1863. The letter is now at Harvard’s Houghton Library, and Taylor Stoermer shared a slightly different, probably more accurate transcription of part of the letter here.

TOMORROW: Palfrey on the morning after.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

“Paul Revere’s Pictures of the Massacre” in Boston, 9 Mar.

On Saturday, 9 March, I’ll speak to the Daughters of the American Revolution, Paul Revere Chapter, about “Paul Revere’s Pictures of the Boston Massacre.”

Here’s the description we came up with:

Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre is famous, but he didn’t design that image. He did, however, produce three additional visual depictions of what happened on March 5, 1770. This talk will dive deep into Revere’s pictures of the fatal violence on King Street and explore what they tell us about the event and its political implications.
Here, as a taste, is the first picture that Revere produced to illustrate the Massacre: a “woodcut” of four coffins representing the first four deaths, carved for the Edes and Gill print shop and used in the Boston Gazette and broadsides.
Revere must have made this image after Crispus Attucks’s real initials became known; in the first week that big corpse was called “Michael Johnson.”

The scythe, hourglass, and “Æ. 17” on Samuel Maverick’s coffin signal his youth—he was only seventeen when he was killed, cut down too soon.

This D.A.R. chapter meeting will take place at the Fenway Community Center, 1282 Boylston Street in Boston. The gathering will start at 11:00 A.M., and I’m scheduled to speak at noon. People who aren’t D.A.R. or S.A.R. members are welcome (but might expect to be recruited as potential members). There will be refreshments and books for sale afterward.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Ripples from the Boston Massacre

Normally around the 5th of March I write about the Boston Massacre, the events that led up to it and its aftermath. But I’ve been recounting a criminal trial from 1785 which is unconnected—or is it?

Several of the figures in that burglary trial have links to the Massacre, showing the small size of pre-industrial Boston and the big impact of the violence on King Street.

Robert Treat Paine, the Massachusetts attorney general in 1785, was a special prosecutor in the Massacre trials. The town of Boston hired him when the royal attorney general, Jonathan Sewall, was looking reluctant.

James Lovell, the victim of the 1784 robbery, was the first man invited by Boston to orate on the Massacre, in April 1771. (Dr. Thomas Young had spoken on the anniversary of the killing at the Manufactory, but that was unofficial. The town took up the idea and ran with it until 1783.)

Defense attorney William Tudor was one of John Adams’s clerks during the Massacre trials. He delivered the anniversary oration in 1779.

Bartholomew Broaders was an elected constable in 1784 who helped to investigate the burglary. Back in 1770, he was one of the barber’s apprentices who got into an argument with Pvt. Hugh White in front of the Customs office, the incident that ballooned into the shooting.

Archibald McNeal, a witness to the burglary in 1784, might also have been a witness to the events of 1770. An Archibald McNeil, Jr., testified for the town report:

that on Saturday the third instant, about half an hour after four in the afternoon, the deponent with two apprentices were spinning at the lower end of Mr. McNeil’s ropewalk, three stout grenadiers, armed with bludgeons, came to them, and addressing the deponent said, You damn’d dogs, don’t you deserve to be kill’d? Are you fit to die?
However, there was at least one other Archibald McNeal in pre-Revolutionary Boston, a baker who evacuated with the British troops in 1776, so this may not be the same man.

As for shopkeeper John Fullerton, also burglarized in 1784, he was one of the victims of the Great Fire of 1760. (Yes, I’ll get back to that story, too.)

Monday, March 04, 2019

A Trial till Half Past One in the Morning

On 3 Mar 1785, the state of Massachusetts brought Thomas Archibald and William Scott to trial for burglarizing the home of James Lovell, a former Continental Congress delegate. Although the burglars took cash, it looks like Lovell was most upset about losing some Continental loan certificates.

The trial took place in the state’s top court. Chief Justice William Cushing, later a U.S. Supreme Court justice, presided. The prosecutor was attorney general Robert Treat Paine, another former Continental Congress delegate.

The court appointed lawyers for the defendants, who had few connections in town and little money. (Another early example of the tenet that people accused of serious crimes deserve strong legal representation, even if the job might be distasteful.)

It’s possible that each man had his own defense attorney. One was William Tudor, a former clerk of John Adams and the first judge advocate general of the Continental Army.

The other was John Silvester Gardiner (1737-1793), who had quite an interesting career. He was born in Boston, son of the prominent surgeon and apothecary Silvester Gardiner. He went to Scotland for schooling and then built a legal career in London, Wales, St. Kitts, and Paris before returning to Boston in 1783. His father was still exiled from Massachusetts as a Loyalist, but John S. Gardiner was fine with that since they didn’t get along.

Gardiner quickly became one of Boston’s leading attorneys, but he practiced for only a couple of years before souring on the local bar. In 1786 he moved again, to land he inherited in Maine. Soon he won a seat in the Massachusetts General Court and used that as his platform for advocating favorite causes: reforming state law, legalizing theater, making Maine a separate state. He was also influential in turning King’s Chapel Unitarian. In The Gardiners of Massachusetts, T. A. Milford summed up the man’s career (on page 1, yet) by writing, “Gardiner was a pest.”

At the trial, the prosecution’s witnesses told the story I summarized over the last two days. The crucial testimony came from Nero Faneuil, saying he was Archibald and Scott’s accomplice turned state’s evidence.

Then came witnesses for the prisoners—or rather for Scott. Archibald doesn’t seem to have put up much of a defense. Scott and his attorney tried to make the case that he was sleeping somewhere else during the crime. Hannah Nelson testified, “I have seen Scot the Tuesday night before thanksgiving he came to our house lodged all Night.” She recalled giving birth around that time, but couldn’t specify the day. Sarah Bond corroborated Scott’s visit, but then another witness, Abigail Willet, testified that “Sally Bond [had] bad Character.”

The result was a flimsy alibi. Imaginatively, one of the defense attorneys argued, “Mrs. Nelson might have Cook’d up a Story for both as well as one”—i.e., if she was just making up a thin story to save Scott from conviction, why didn’t she claim that both men had been at her house?

Another defense argument was “no part of the Property found on any but Nero,” and “Was it not strange that Nero should be trusted with the money”? In other words, Faneuil might be lying to cast blame on Archibald and Scott. Gardiner might have tried to make that personal; Paine’s notes on the case include the line, “I have known these blks., no credit to be given to them.”

In the end, both Tudor and Gardiner fell back on the position that any doubt in the prosecution’s case should lead the jury to acquit the two defendants, or at least lead the judges to spare them from the death penalty.

According to Paine’s diary, the “Trial ended 1/2 past 1 next morning.” The jury returned a verdict of guilty on capital counts for both Archibald and Scott.

On 9 March, the justices sentenced the two men to hang. The execution finally took place on 5 May. The Massachusetts Spy reported: “They had heretofore behaved in a manner unbecoming their unhappy condition, but on that morning appeared penitent, and suitably affected with their situation.”

What about Nero Faneuil, whose got me into this story? As described back here, he pled guilty to a different robbery and been bound to work for the victim for seven years, or until 1792. He may not have outlived that sentence. Town records show that on 29 July 1792, the Rev. Thomas Baldwin of the Second Baptist Meeting married Flora Fanniel to Magguam Eben.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Questioning the Suspects

Yesterday we watched three men—William Scott, Thomas Archibald, and Nero Faneuilburgle the home of James Lovell in the early morning of 23 Nov 1784. Then they split up, Scott and Archibald taking the coins while Faneuil took care of the paper currency.

Scott and Archibald had talked about laying low outside of Boston. A man named John Vicker testified that they showed up at his house—I can’t tell where—about daybreak on 24 November. The men “wanted liquor,” three pennies worth, and “asked me to let them lay down 3 hours.” Vicker thought they seemed “worried in mind.” They also “ask’d for a Sling,” presumably to carry something away.

Thursday, 25 November, was a Thanksgiving holiday in Massachusetts, so nothing much happened.

Archibald and Scott were back on Boston on Friday, 26 November. Somehow Archibald provoked the suspicion of a man named Goodbread. John Ingersol, perhaps a tavern keeper, took both Goodbread and Archibald to the Lovells’ house.

As James Lovell recalled, Goodbread accused Archibald of the burglary. The suspect insisted “he lay in a Haybarn with a N. Engld. man Tuesday night.” But he couldn’t provide details about ”when he breakfasted, where he worked.” He mentioned how a ”Negro had helped him to work.”

Lovell fetched others. His neighbor Archibald McNeal came, looked at Archibald, and “took him to be the man” he’d seen during the nighttime robbery. Bartholomew Broaders, an elected constable, searched Archibald and “found a bag of 1/2 Crowns” in his footwear. Archibald insisted “he brought ’em from Phila[delphia].” But he gave inconsistent answers about how long he’d been in Boston. Broaders reminded the suspect “he had said he had no money wn. he came to Town.” Archibald then changed his story to say ”a blk man lent him the money.” That was all suspicious enough for the authorities to commit Archibald to jail.

That evening, Broaders “catched [William] Scot tapping at Nero [Fanueil]’s window 11 oClock.” John Middleton Lovell, the Continental agent’s son (shown above in a later portrait by Ralph Earl), and a man named Benjamin Homans recalled spotting Scott behind Faneuil’s house that afternoon as well.

The authorities found coins on Scott and questioned him. At first he too insisted that he had brought the money from Philadelphia. He said he “had pd. for a W[eek’]s. board, brough 6 or 7 doll[ar]s into Town, & had been 2 or 3 Women parted the value of 4 or 5 dolls out of his Fob 5 1/2 Crowns.”

But Scott got too clever. As Broaders kept questioning him, Scott “said he would not tell unless he could be an Evidence [i.e., witness] and then he would bring out the whole.” John M. Lovell recalled “he would not tell any thing unless he cd. receive some advantage.” Instead, Scott went into the jail for the night, too.

The next morning, it appears, James Lovell went to the jail and demanded that the suspects tell him where his papers were. He heard Scott answer that “the negro was the only person who could give me informn. of my papers.”

The Lovells visited Nero Faneuil, who recalled that “Mr. Lovel told me if I wd. Confess I should be a Witness.” So Faneuil started to cooperate. According to the younger Lovell, “Nero carried me to the place where the money was & confessed he took it.” The case was solved.

John M. Lovell also reported, “Scot found fault that he was not called out instead of the Negro”—which sounds like he regretted not cooperating at the first opportunity. Both Archibald and Scott tried to point the authorities to Faneuil, a black man, but he had the advantage of being known in town.

The following Monday, according to the newspapers, officials found evidence from the robbery of John Fullerton’s shop and charged Nero Faneuil with that crime. It’s conceivable that Faneuil had confessed and told people where to find the stolen goods. Curiously, Fullerton was also a witness at the trial for the robbery of Lovell’s house, testifying about finding coins on one of the suspects.

The state brought Archibald and Scott to trial on 3 March 1785.

TOMORROW: A last-ditch defense.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

“If I would go with them to commit this Robery”

As I said yesterday, the only reason we know more than perfunctory details about the trial of two men for stealing a chest from James Lovell in 1784 is because Massachusetts attorney general Robert Treat Paine took notes.

Those notes aren’t word-for-word transcriptions of the testimony, and they leave lots of mysteries. Which makes me all the more grateful for the scholars behind the Massachusetts Historical Society’s publication of Paine’s papers. I mean, just look at the handwriting in his notes from a 1780 trial.

Here’s my best recreation of how the burglary took place, based on the testimony at the February 1785 grand jury session and the 3 March trial.

Thomas Archibald and William Scott appear to have been strangers to Boston. A woman named Flora Fanueil testified that “abt. a Week before the Theft they were at our house.” This was probably Nero Faneuil’s wife, and her remark shows that the black couple had their own residence.

About seven o’clock on the evening of Monday, 22 November, James Lovell made an accounting of the Continental notes and loan certificates entrusted to him. He filed those papers in a large chest, a yard long and weighing 168 pounds. Then he “threw in money half Crowns French” and his pocket book. Mary Capen, likely a maid in the Lovell house, said, “I barr’d that window where the chest was & locked it, I went to bed abt. 11 oClock.”

Meanwhile, Archibald and Scott had returned to Nero and Flora Faneuil’s house, as confirmed by witnesses Prince Hitchborn and Jack Austin. Hitchborn had probably been enslaved by the Hichborn family. There was also a rich white family in Boston named Austin, and Jack Austin might have served them—or he might have been unrelated. About eight o’clock, Flora Fanueil said, Archibald and Scott went away.

Nero Faneuil testified:
they asked me if I would go with them to commit this Robery, they said they would come again at 11 oClock or 12. I went to bed abt. 11; got up & saw them about the house: at 12 oClock we were by Mr. Lovels & it struck 12.

Archebald opned the Window as high as he could lift, he pressed & found the bar, he pushed it in with his foot he pulled off his shoes & got in, Scot came to the Window and told Scot to come in, Scot pulld off his Shoes & got it, the Clock struck one…
A neighbor named Archibald McNeal, living about “170 yds. off,” reported that “abt. 2 oClock [he] heard a strange noise like stroks of a Maul.” Looking outside, he saw men “kept coming & going.” When “sparks of fire” threw light on the scene, he could make out one person who “had no hat on & short hair [and] chest thick.“

Archibald, Scott, and Faneuil carried the heavy chest away “to the new house,” the latter said. Then ”Archiebald got my ax [and] pryed open the chest.” Inside the men found some “hard money,” which Scott put “into his hat.” As for the papers, Archibald and Scott “said they would Separate the Bank bills & burn the rest.” According to Faneuil, his confederates
told me to take care of them [the bills] till the noise was over, they wd. go to Providence stay 2 or 3 mo. & then come back again

they tarried at my house till the Clock struck 6. they then went off.
On the morning of 23 November, Lovell stated, “abt. 7 oClock I found my Window open Shutters on the floor.” He was struck by the fact that “my plate was in the room, [but] they did not touch it.”

Outside, it appears, McNeal came across more evidence of the crime: ”next morning before sunrise I saw the Letters, Baggs marked wth. Mr. Lovells Name & the Chest marked.” But the money and, more important to Lovell, the official papers were missing.

TOMORROW: Returning to the scene of the crime.

Friday, March 01, 2019

The Trial of Nero Faneuil

Nero Faneuil was a black man who petitioned for an end to slavery in Massachusetts in 1777, as quoted here. It’s unclear whether he was enslaved at the time or advocating for the many other people who were.

Seven years later, Nero Faneuil (his surname pronounced and often spelled as “Funnel”) was locked up on suspicion of two robberies in Boston: of a chest containing important papers and cash from the house of Continental official James Lovell, and of dry goods from the shop of John Fullerton.

Of the two crimes, the first was far more serious. As the 2 Dec 1784 Massachusetts Spy said:
It is reported that two persons are taken up in Boston, and committed to gaol, on suspicion of breaking open the house of the Hon. James Lovell, Esq; Continental Treasurer, in this State, and robbing him of 25,000 dollars in Loan-Office certificates, &c. 
Faneuil was charged with that crime alongside two white men, Thomas Archibald and William Scott. For the other crime, of stealing from Fullerton’s shop, Faneuil was charged alone.

The attorney general of Massachusetts was Robert Treat Paine (shown above). His papers, as published by the Massachusetts Historical Society, are our fullest source on what happened next. At the grand jury proceedings in February 1785, all three men pled not guilty, and their trial was scheduled for 3 March.

Prospects looked bleak for Nero Faneuil. He was charged with two thefts instead of just one. Testimony established that “no part of the Property [from Lovell was] found on any but Nero.” And he was the only black man arrested.

But I think Faneuil also had an important asset: he was local. People in town knew him. According to Paine’s notes, Benjamin Hichborn testified, “Nero’s Character for Truth good.” [I think Hichborn was a slippery character himself, but he was a genteel, well-connected lawyer.] In contrast, Archibald and Scott had recently drifted into town from the south.

In addition, Faneuil seized an opening. Lovell was anxious to locate his stolen papers. He asked Scott on “the day after they were cmtted” where those were, and recalled that Scott answered “that the negro was the only person who could give me informn.” Lovell then went to Faneuil, who testified, “Mr. Lovel told me if I wd. Confess I should be a Witness.” Faneuil therefore turned state’s evidence against Archibald and Scott.

But first, Faneuil pled guilty to the Fullerton theft. The court sentenced him to be branded on the forehead with the letter “B” for “burglar.” It also ordered him to restore Fullerton’s goods and pay £84 as treble damages, which everyone must have known was beyond his means. Faneuil declared that he couldn’t pay, and the court sentenced him to serve Fullerton for seven years. He was thus thrown back into servitude.

TOMORROW: At the trial.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Break-in at James Lovell’s House

On 29 Nov 1784, the American Herald newspaper of Boston carried this crime report from the previous week:

The House of the Hon. JAMES LOVELL, Esq; was, on Tuesday night last [23 November], broke open, and an iron Chest, containing some valuable papers, and a little cash stolen.

And, the next Friday, three villains, viz. William Scott, Thomas Archbald and Nero Funnel, Negro, were apprehended, and the money being found upon them, they were committed to goal.
Lovell was an important man in Boston. Before the war he was an usher, or assistant teacher, under his father at the South Latin School, but then after the Battle of Bunker Hill the military authorities locked him up and then took him to Canada. That suffering provided the credentials for Massachusetts to elect Lovell to the Continental Congress in 1778. He was a delegate until 1782, at some points basically running American foreign policy because no one else was so interested.

In 1784 Lovell became collector of Continental taxes in Massachusetts. Thus, the “valuable papers” he had in a trunk in his home could have been quite valuable indeed.

The 1 December Massachusetts Centinel provided additional information that “part of the papers were recovered, tho’ a large amount are supposed to have been burnt.”

That newspaper also had this report about a related crime:
On Monday a quantity of dry goods were found concealed in a barrel near Mr. Calf’s tan yard; upon examination it appears that they were stolen from Mr. [John] Fullerton’s shop, by a negro fellow called Nero Funnel, one of the villains that stole Mr. Lovell’s chest.
The three suspects were kept in jail until the court session began in February.

TOMORROW: In court.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

“A People not insensible of the sweets of rational freedom”

On 13 Jan 1777, the Massachusetts legislature considered a petition from eight black men on behalf of “a great number of Negroes who are detained in a state of Slavery in the Bowels of a free and Christian Country.”

That petition drew on the natural-rights philosophy that underlay the Declaration of Independence and similar documents in the preceding years. The authors wrote:

That your Petitioners apprehend that they have, in common with all other Men, a natural and unalienable right to that freedom, which the great Parent of the Universe hath bestowed equally on all Mankind, and which they have never forfeited by any compact or agreement whatever—But they were unjustly dragged, by the cruel hand of Power, from their dearest friends, and some of them even torn from the embraces of their tender Parents, from a populous, pleasant and plentiful Country—and in Violation of the Laws of Nature and of Nation and in defiance of all the tender feelings of humanity, brought hither to be sold like Beasts of Burden, and like them condemned to slavery for Life—Among a People professing the mild Religion of Jesus—A People not insensible of the sweets of rational freedom—Nor without spirit to resent the unjust endeavors of others to reduce them to a State of Bondage and Subjection.

Your Honors need not to be informed that a Life of Slavery, like that of your petitioners, deprived of every social privilege, of every thing requisite to render Life even tolerable, is far worse than Non-Existence—In imitation of the laudable example of the good People of these States, your Petitioners have long and patiently waited the event of Petition after Petition by them presented to the legislative Body of this State, and can not but with grief reflect that their success has been but too similar.

They can not but express their astonishment, that it has never been considered, that every principle from which America has acted in the course of her unhappy difficulties with Great-Britain, pleads stronger than a thousand arguments in favor of your Petitioners.
The ask was for a law to free all adults enslaved in Massachusetts, and to ensure the liberty of all enslaved children when they reached the age of twenty-one (essentially treating them as apprentices).

The legislature didn’t enact such a law. The Massachusetts courts eventually made the first big step to making slavery unenforceable in the state.
Here are the signatures and marks of the eight men who submitted the petition, as shown in its digital form, courtesy of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions project.

The most famous of those men was Prince Hall. Others joined with Hall in the first African-American Freemasons lodge.

Today I’m focusing on the sixth man, whose given name was Nero. I’ve seen his surname transcribed as Funelo, Funilo, and even Suneto. I posit that that surname was Funels, a phonetic spelling of Faneuils, and that this man had been enslaved by one of the Faneuil family.

TOMORROW: Nero Faneuil in court.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Marketplace of Ideas about Faneuil Hall

Earlier this month, Boston mayor Marty Walsh and the city’s Community Preservation Committee proposed spending projects under the state’s Community Preservation Act, including two focused on Revolutionary sites in downtown Boston:

  • $350,000 to help with major repairs to HVAC and other systems at the Old State House, one of the oldest and most visited sites on the Freedom Trail.
  • $315,000 to restore 17th and 18th century artifacts from beneath Faneuil Hall showing Boston's role in the transAtlantic slave trade, works of local artisans, and an emerging global marketplace.

Though these are relatively small grants on the list, which includes restoring entire buildings, the results would be very visible because of the number of visitors to those sites.

People are presuming that the restored archeological artifacts would be displayed at the city-owned Faneuil Hall as part of or in conjunction with a memorial to slavery, an idea Walsh has also endorsed. Such a memorial would acknowledge how that form of human exploitation was embedded in Boston’s economy for over two centuries. The town dock, which was near Faneuil Hall before landfills, is known to have been one site where slavers sold people.

Last year Steve Locke, one of the city’s artists in residence and a teacher at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, proposed a memorial design. It too would require approval by a specialized board and the city council.

The Boston Globe reported that Locke’s “Auction Block Memorial”
will include two bronze plates embedded in the brick of the plaza, one representing the auctioneer, the other the people being sold into slavery. A map will illustrate the Triangular Trade route of goods and human chattel. The bronze representing slaves will be heated to a constant 98.6 F in order, says Locke’s proposal, to make “touching the work an intimate and reverent experience as if you are touching a living person.”
I think the design might be tweaked to be more closely tied to Boston; it currently illustrates the “Triangular Trade” with a map of one voyage of one Newport ship, and Boston’s trade of cod, firewood, and molasses with the Caribbean seems more pertinent. But the concept of the embedded, heated brass plate is striking.

The merchant who bequeathed Boston the money to build Faneuil Hall, Peter Faneuil, was a slave owner and an investor in slaving voyages. Like all Boston merchants, he participated in an economy that depended on supplying the deadly slave-labor plantations of the West Indies. That has prompted some people to call for Faneuil’s name to be removed from Faneuil Hall.

I don’t think renaming would produce the most powerful statement about slavery. Faneuil Hall is famous in American culture, particularly as a “cradle of liberty” because the building hosted town meetings and other public gatherings, including orations by abolitionists. In contrast, the honor still accruing to Peter Faneuil is very faint.

Showing people that “Faneuil Hall,” a historic landmark they’ve learned to revere, was closely linked to the buying and selling of humans seems like a powerful way to make people recognize the long history of slavery in America. In effect, it would make the famous Faneuil Hall itself in part a memorial to American slavery.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Introducing Capt. Samuel Dashwood

The merchant captain Samuel Dashwood is one of the more dramatic characters in Revolutionary Boston, with a name out of an eighteenth-century novel to match his behavior. I’m a little surprised I’ve never mentioned him before, but I’m bringing him onto the stage now.

Dashwood was born in 1729 or so. In 1785 he told a British government commission that “He was formerly before the Mast with Sir Peter Warren”—i.e., he served as a seaman in the Royal Navy under the naval commander at the 1745 Louisbourg siege (shown here). Dashwood didn’t mention serving in that particular campaign, however.

Dashwood settled in Boston, marrying Ann Rustin (or possibly Rushton) in December 1756. But at first “settled” simply meant using Boston as his home base while he continued to sail across the Atlantic on trading voyages.

We can glimpse Dashwood’s comings and goings in the newspapers’ shipping news: arriving from London in Newbury harbor in January 1759, sailing for Britain in convoy with other captains that November, arriving in Boston in October 1764, and so on.

In addition, on 8 June 1767, the decorative painter and political activist Thomas Crafts advertised in the Boston Gazette:
JUST imported from LONDON, in Captain Dashwood, and to be Sold by
Thomas Crafts, jun’r.
At his Shop at Raphael’s Head, opposite the Hon. Samuel Welles, Esq; Near LIBERTY-TREE, Painters Oyls and Colours, &c—&c— by Wholesale or Retail, cheap for Cash. Carpet and all Sorts of Painting.
In those same years the captain and his wife Ann, whom everyone knew as Nancy, started a family. They bought a house from her relatives in 1760. Their son Samuel, Jr., was born on 29 Sept 1761 but not immediately baptized. Perhaps Dashwood was at sea at the time. He joined the New South Meetinghouse in December, and little Samuel was baptized there on 3 January.

More children followed, steadily at first and then with increasing rapidity:
  • Rushton, baptized 18 Mar 1764
  • John, baptized 5 Oct 1766
  • William, baptized 28 Feb 1768 and dying young
  • William, baptized 24 Dec 1769
  • Nancy, baptized 9 June 1771
  • Pigge (presumably called Peggy), baptized 17 May 1772
  • Hannah, baptized 26 Sept 1773
The Dashwood household also included enslaved people. One was a girl or young woman named Jenney, named in the will of the free black man John Fortune who died on 13 Nov 1764. In July 1767, Dashwood offered for sale “A likely Negro Boy of about 13 Years of Age, sold for no Fault, only for want of Employment.”

Dashwood doesn’t appear in Boston’s merchant-dominated politics in the early and mid-1760s. He may have been away too often, or he may have felt no beef with the royal government. In December 1768 he sailed into Boston harbor carrying a letter from “a Gentleman in London,” later printed in several newspapers, counseling Bostonians to drop their opposition to the Townshend Act.

In the harbor, Dashwood met the Royal Navy ship Senegal, then commanded by the baronet Sir Thomas Rich. Under a previous captain, some Senegal officers had been involved in a killing in Rhode Island, as described in this fine article. The ship was then part of the fleet that carried troops from Halifax to Boston in September 1768.

Sir Thomas was leaving Boston when Dashwood’s ship came in, and he wanted a full crew. The merchant John Rowe recorded in his diary on 5 December what happened next:
Be it remembered that Sir Thos. Rich of the Senegall pressed all Capt. Dashwood’s hands.
By impressing an inbound crew, Rich didn’t stop Dashwood’s ship from completing its trip, which would have infuriated all the Boston merchants involved. Even Gov. Francis Bernard had protested that behavior. But the impressment did force Dashwood to recruit a new crew for his next trip. And, having served “before the Mast” himself, he might have felt pity for his sailors, not allowed to land in Boston and forced to serve in the navy.

Whether or not this particular incident radicalized him, over the next couple of years Samuel Dashwood became one of the most active, militant, and forceful members of the Boston Whigs.