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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Monday, September 16, 2019

“Required Reading” Exhibit at the Athenaeum

On Tuesday, 17 September, the Boston Athenaeum will open its new exhibit, “Required Reading: Reimagining a Colonial Library.”

This display will feature the King’s Chapel Library Collection, a 221-volume set of “necessary and useful” texts—everything that the minister of that Anglican church was expected to need to pastor his flock.

The Rev. Thomas Bray assembled this collection and brought it with him across the Atlantic Ocean on H.M.S. Deptford in 1698, twelve years after the church was founded. At the time and for decades afterward, the Church of England considered Puritan-founded Massachusetts to be missionary territory, so its rector needed all the support he could get.

The collection included:
  • A 1683 atlas of the world
  • Sir Walter Raleigh’s History of the World (1666)
  • A nine-language Bible, the “London Polyglot” (1657)
  • A Biblical concordance compiled by Massachusetts minister Samuel Newman in 1658
  • A complete mathematics textbook from 1690
This will be the first time that the King’s Chapel Library collection is on public view for all. The books will sit in a full-scale replica of the “massive, ark-like bookcase designed in 1883” to house them on the Athenaeum’s third floor.

The exhibit will also share the “dramatic and little-known story behind the unique collection’s compilation and its arrival in New England.” The war shut down King’s Chapel after the 1776 evacuation, so preserving this library in Boston was another feat. The new minister who reopened the church in the 1780s steered the congregation toward Unitarianism, quite different from the seventeenth-century theology reflected in those old books.

Having been custodian of this library since 1823, the Athenaeum hopes its exhibit will prompt visitors to explore the idea of “essential knowledge.” The presentation includes perspectives from the Chinese Historical Society of New England, Hebrew College, the Museum of African American History, UMass-Boston, and other partners about what is “required reading” today.

The public exhibit opening will take place from 5:30 to 7:30 P.M in the Boston Athenaeum at 10 1/2 Beacon Street. At 6:00, curator John Buchtel will deliver a thirty-minute presentation about the books and display. This event is free and open to the public. The exhibit will be on view for months to come.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Stiefel on Cabinetmaker John Head in Concord, 19 Sept.

On Thursday, 19 September, the Concord Museum will host a discussion with Jay Robert Stiefel about “The Cabinetmaker’s Account,” on the life and work of joiner John Head (1688-1754).

Head emigrated from Britain to America, and his Philadelphia account book is the earliest and most complete to have survived from any cabinetmaker working in the British Empire on either side of the Atlantic.

Stiefel researched that document for nearly twenty years, and a few months ago the American Philosophical Society published his findings in large-format, profusely-illustrated volume in its Memoirs series.

Head’s business reflects commerce with early Philadelphia’s entire crafts community: “shopkeeping, cabinetmaking, chairmaking, clockmaking, glazing, metalworking, needleworking, property development, agriculture, botany, livestock, transport, foodstuffs, drink, hardware, fabrics, furnishings, household wares, clothing, building materials, and export trade.” Stiefel’s book also serves as a door into 18th-century Philadelphia, its material culture, and the social interactions among that era’s artisans and merchants.

On this evening, Stiefel will be in conversation with Gerald Ward, the Senior Consulting Curator and the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture Emeritus at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

This event will take place from 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. It is free, but advanced registration is required. Copies of The Cabinetmaker’s Account will be available for purchase and signing.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Minute Man Park Celebrates Its Sixtieth

Minute Man National Historical Park is celebrating the sixtieth year since its creation by act of Congress this month.

This weekend there are a couple of recurring programs.

Saturday, 14 September, 1:00-4:00 P.M.
In the News
What were local people talking about in 1775? Visit the William Smith House, talk politics with local residents of 1775, and discuss the potential impact of events.

Sunday, 15 September, 1:00-4:00 P.M.
The British Redcoat
Far from home, the British Redcoat of 1775 was faced with numerous challenges at home and abroad. Join Park Ranger Roger Fuller, dressed as a British Redcoat, at the Visitor Center to explore the experience of the British soldier of 1775.

Next weekend will be the big celebrations.

Friday, 20 September, 7:00-9:00 P.M.
Realizing the Vision
Lou Sideris, former Chief of Interpretation and Park Planner at Minute Man, will reflect the founding and ongoing development of Minute Man National Historical Park. Reception and refreshments to follow. At the Lexington Historical Society’s Depot Building, 13 Depot Square in central Lexington. This event is free, but space is limited, so please reserve seats by emailing mima_info@nps.gov.

Saturday, 21 September, 10:00 A.M.-2:00 P.M.
Threads of Resistance: Revolutionary Roles of Women
In 1769 colonial women protested British policies by making cloth in the home, reducing reliance on British imports. Experience the process and learn about the political impact of home manufacturing at the Jacob Whittemore House in Lexington.

Saturday, 21 September, 10:00 A.M.-4:00 P.M.
Historic Trades Day
At Hartwell Tavern in Lincoln, learn about various hands-on trades of the period and see skilled artisans at work.

Saturday, 21 September, 4:00-6:00 P.M.
Patriotic Music with the Concord Band
As 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of both the Minute Man National Park and the Concord Band, the park and the band have teamed up to present a concert of patriotic inspired music on the field overlooking the North Bridge. The public is invited to bring a blanket or lawn chairs and a picnic while enjoying the performance. The Friends of Minute Man National Park will present a special birthday cake to the park during the event and will provide free cupcakes while supplies last. As parking is limited, locals are invited to walk to the park. The rain location is 51 Walden Performing Arts Center in Concord.

Finally, on Monday, 23 September, work will begin on preserving the exterior of the North Bridge Visitor Center, also known as the Buttrick Mansion, located on the hillside overlooking the historic North Bridge. The building will be closed to visitors from November to April 2020. This federal contract covers the 1911 building’s roofing system, masonry, doors, windows, trim, portico, and loggia, with a new accessible ramp to be installed. Interior work will include repairing ceilings, restrooms, plumbing, electrical systems, and air conditioning. The building is scheduled to reopen in April 2020.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Prof. Pearson’s “Journal of disorders”

In late December 1787, the Harvard College faculty did some house-cleaning. It was the end of an academic term, the end of the calendar year, and time to address some problems.

Early in the month the college president, professors, and tutors had fined more than thirty students for that disturbance on Thanksgiving. (Then they lifted the fines on the sophomores, because those students were contrite or because the upperclassmen obviously had more power and responsibility.)

At the end of the year the faculty took further action against four students involved in the Thanksgiving disorder, probably because they had all done other things as well. The educators decided that seniors Grosvenor and Wier deserved formal admonitions, and that juniors Emerson and Fayerweather should sit out the next semester.

(In addition, the Boston merchant Thomas Russell reported that he wanted his son Daniel to spend another semester studying in Weston, and the college gratefully agreed to that.)

While Charles Adams was still on the list of juniors who had to pay the ten-shilling fine, he didn’t receive any additional disciplinary attention that season. Evidently he was still keeping up his studies and not leading a completely “dissipated” life.

But Charles got into more trouble in his senior year, and for that we have an additional source beyond the official faculty records. The Harvard University Archives also hold a notebook headed “Journal of disorders &c.” kept by Eliphalet Pearson (1752-1826, shown here).

Pearson had graduated from Harvard College himself in 1773 and then gone into education, teaching in Andover’s town school. He made gunpowder for Massachusetts early in the war and then helped to found Phillips Academy in Andover. After heading that private school for several years, Pearson returned to Harvard in 1786 as Hancock Professor of Hebrew.

Prof. Pearson began his “Journal of disorders” on 4 Dec 1788. He maintained it until 1797, but The Harvard Book: Selections from Three Centuries, edited by William Bentinck-Smith (1982), says, “the most lengthy and frequent entries occurred during December 1788 and January 1789.” Those entries are transcribed here. Apparently the junior and lower classes were particularly restive that winter, and it would be good to know why.

Pearson’s journal is useful because it records more detail about incidents than is in the official faculty records, and it records some incidents that didn’t get into the official disciplinary process at all. And that’s where we can see Charles Adams celebrating his last semester in college a little too much.

COMING UP: A tavern, a snowball, and a naked undergraduate.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Pitt Clarke and “an unjust pecuniary punishment”

Among the students punished by the Harvard College faculty for damaging the dining hall during a Thanksgiving banquet on 29 Nov 1787 was a sophomore designated as “Clarke 2d.”

That was Pitt Clarke (1763-1835) of Medfield. (“Clarke 1st” would have been Edward, class of 1788, a senior.) His college diary survives, was published by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and can be read here. This picture of Clarke much later in life, when he was a Unitarian minister in Norton, comes from that article.

Clarke was unusual in coming to Harvard when he was his mid-twenties, his education having been delayed by the war and family financial troubles. Most college students of this time were in their mid-to-late teens—the age of high-school students today. But every class had one or two older men without a lot of money who were really dedicated to starting a clerical career.

Clarke’s description of the Thanksgiving banquet was quite different from what appeared in the Harvard faculty records. His diary said:
Thanksgiving, very pleasant. Went to meeting. Mr. Hilliard preached from Psalms 107, verses 31, 32. After meeting had an elegant dinner in the hall; each one carried in a bottle of wine, & all joined in drinking toasts, & singing songs in praise of the day, & with thankful hearts.
Curiously, the four lines about the dinner are in a smaller handwriting than everything else on that page, as this image shows.
Did Clarke cram those lines in later? Did he have a strong reason to go into such innocuous detail?

As discussed yesterday, on 8 December the Harvard faculty decided after much discussion to fine every student who was at that dinner and couldn’t prove that he had left early. That upset Clarke, who wrote in his diary that day:
Very unexpectedly received from the President & the rest of the government, an unjust pecuniary punishment, together with a number of my classmates, for being in the Hall at Thanksgiving day a little while after Supper.
Two days later Clarke wrote:
I together with those who were punished, went to the President to know the justness of it, & to desire him to take it off. He promised us another hearing.
The Colonial Society edition of Clarke’s diary suggests the fine stuck, but the Harvard faculty minutes show otherwise.

On 14 December the college faculty met again to consider the petition from Clarke and his classmates, “Sophimores who were punished…ten shillings each for the disorders which took place on the Thanksgiving day, praying to have the punishments remitted.” The immediate decision was:
Voted, that as various disorders & irregularities have taken place since the last meeting of the Government, they cannot with propriety take into consideration the said petition at present, but that as soon as the Students in general shall manifest a proper disposition to discountenance such conduct as is inconsistent with decorum and the respect due to the Government of the Society, the said petition & any other that may be received on the same subject shall be considered.
That of course gave students who wanted to get out of the fine an incentive not to just stand by but to push their classmates to behave better.

The official record of that 14 December meeting suggests that tactic worked. A note states:
The Government took so much notice of their [the sophomores’] petition as to suspend the entering of their punishments in the second Quarter Bill which went to the Steward, while the punishments of those Seniors & Juniors who were in like manner consined at the same meetings, and who did not shew so submissive a temper, were entered in the Bill.
Clarke wrote no more about the fine in his diary, which presumably means he never had to pay it. On 2 Jan 1788, furthermore, the faculty appointed Clarke to be one of the waiters in the hall, a way for him to earn money and a position of trust.

For Charles Adams and his fellow juniors, however, the ten-shilling punishment remained.

TOMORROW: Another source of trouble.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Thanksgiving Dinner Gone Wrong

I’m looking at Charles Adams’s disciplinary record as a student at Harvard College in the late 1780s.

In the spring of 1787, Charles was fined six shillings for hosting a noisy gathering in his dormitory room. A year before, John Adams had warned his second son about such socializing:
You have in your nature a sociability, Charles, which is amiable, but may mislead you, a schollar is always made alone. Studies can only be pursued to good purpose, by yourself—dont let your Companions then, nor your Amusements take up too much of your time.
John and Abigail Adams agreed that Charles was the most charming and outgoing of their three boys, but they valued studiousness.

That fall, Charles once again got into trouble in company. The college faculty met on 5 and 7-8 December to consider trouble at the end of the previous month:
It appeared that a number of the Students, who dined in the Hall on the 29th ult. [i.e., of last month] being the day of the public Thanksgiving, were after dinner extremely disorderly and riotous, making tumultuous and indecent noises, breaking the windows of the Hall, throwing the benches out of the windows into the yard &ca. which conduct was greatly to the damage and to the dishonor of the College: Whereupon

Voted, that Adams 1st, Gardner, Gordon, Grosvenor, Hill and Wier, Senior Sophisters——Adams 3d, Blake 2d, Churchill, Coffin, Cutts 1st, Emerson, Fayerweather, Moody, Pierpont, Procter, Shapleigh and Waterman, Junior Sophisters——Clarke 2d, Cutts 2d, Denny, Grout, Ingalls, Moody 2d, Sullivan 1st, Sullivan 2d, Sullivan 3d, Trapier, Ware and Warren, Sophimores, and Tucker a Freshman, who were all of the above company and did not prove themselves to have left the Hall before the riotous proceedings, be charged in their quarterly bill to repair the damage done in the Hall.

Voted, that Adams 1st, Churchill, Emerson and Waterman who were waiters, but upon examination did not give such evidence concerning the disorders as the Governors were convinced they might have given, be dismissed from their waiterships.

Voted, that all who are assessed to repair the damages done in the Hall, those who are dismissed from waiterships only excepted, be punished by pecuniary mulct, ten shillings each.
The minutes also listed nine students by name who had been at the dinner but “left it before disorders arose to a great height.”

The four waiters were working their way through college. The faculty recognized that they didn’t have extra money to pay a fine, but they still took a financial hit in losing their jobs. They maintained student solidarity by not identifying any leaders of the disturbance.

Charles Adams was on that list as “Adams 3d.” In the middle of thirty other boys, there’s no reason to blame him alone for the trouble. Still, it wasn’t a good sign that he was resisting “Amusements.”

COMING UP: Senior year.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

“At the chamber of their Classmate Adams”

In digging into the ways that Charles Adams broke the rules of Harvard College, I’m skipping the many times he was punished for being absent or tardy from prayers and recitations.

Those were minor offenses that the college usually dealt with in bulk. Even though they built up on Charles’s record (unlike his older and younger brother’s), they weren’t enough to cast serious doubt on his college career. He appears to have been keeping up his studies well enough.

But the official college faculty minutes, volume 5, also record a more serious offense, discussed "At a meeting of the President, Professors and Tutors April 2. 1787”:
It appeared by the minutes of an examination at a prior meeting, that on the afternoon of Monday the 19th of March last, several of the Sophimores were at the chamber of their Classmate Adams 4th, at which chamber there was much noise and disorder:—That there was the like noise and disorder at the same chamber for a considerable part of the evening.

It also appeared, that while the company were together, language shockingly profane was at times used, and was heard, not only by persons in neighboring houses, but by some far distant, which conduct being greatly to the dishonor of the College, as well as violation of the divine Laws, and it being highly incumbent upon this Government to do every thing in their power to put an end to conduct so inconsistent with the reputation and good morals of the Society

Voted, that Adams 4th, at whose chamber this disorder took place and continued be fined the sum of six shillings, and receive a public admonition.
That was the same punishment that the faculty had imposed on a couple of juniors the previous month for a similarly loud drinking party. (Note that there was no mention of alcohol in Charles Adams’s room, just noise.)

The faculty then went on to another student in the same class: Daniel Russell (1769-1804). That was the third and youngest surviving son of Thomas Russell (1740-1796), a merchant who lived in Charlestown and then Boston. That gentleman did extensive overseas trade and was active in many charitable societies. In 1788 Russell would be chosen a General Court representative and delegate to Massachusetts’s ratification convention, and the next year a member of the governor’s council.

Daniel’s educators determined that he was leading “a very dissipated life,” was “exceedingly idle and inattentive to his studies,” and was “in the way of increasing and strengthening the ill habits which have already taken too deep hold of him.” They therefore asked his father to take Daniel away and have him educated by “a Gentleman in the Country”—they recommended a particular minister in Weston—until September.

Notes on this meeting record added that Thomas Russell had immediately taken Daniel out of college and that “The censure voted to take place upon Adams 4th was inflicted a few mornings afterwards in the Chapel.”

Thus, while Harvard disciplined Charles Adams for hosting a rowdy gathering, his situation could have been worse.

TOMORROW: It gets worse.

Monday, September 09, 2019

The Adams Brothers at Harvard College

For a year in the late 1780s, all three sons of John and Abigail Adams were students at Harvard College.

The first to enter was the middle son, Charles, born in 1770. I described the many little challenges of equipping him for dormitory life in the summer of 1785 back here. (Though I missed the family buying him “a Hat and Cravats” in July.)

John Quincy Adams took his entrance examination the following March, as discussed here. He was older and more experienced than the average new student. (He had been secretary and translator for the U.S. of A.’s first minister to the court of Russia, for goodness’s sake.) The college admitted John Quincy straight into the junior class, and he graduated in 1787.

Finally, Thomas Boylston Adams arrived later in 1786 and studied at Harvard through 1790. Tommy was two years younger than Charles but only a year behind him, his education not interrupted by traveling to Europe with their father.

The Harvard College records of this time designate students by their surnames. When there was more than one student with the same surname, they were called Smith 1, Smith 2, and so on. The case of the Adams brothers was further confounded by the presence of at least one unrelated boy named Adams—Thomas Adams, class of 1788. Thus, when one sees a record of, say, “Adams 2,” one has to know which other Adamses were at Harvard at that exact time and what seniority they had.

Fortunately, in the early 1900s Bertha Illsley Tolman compiled a card index for the Faculty Records, and Harvard recently digitized it. (And Dr. Caitlin G. DeAngelis kindly pointed me to this resource.) I’m going to trust the way Tolman sorted out the Adams brothers rather than retracing each path.

The index records when the faculty officially disciplined all Harvard students. Comparing Tolman’s entries for the three Adams brothers offers a study in contrast. In reverse order of their admission—

Thomas Boylston Adams, punished for absence from prayers, V:296.

John Quincy Adams, punished for absence from prayers, V:252.

Charles Adams, punished for absence from reciting, V:236, 240, 245, 253, 267, 282, 295, 305, 317. VI:19, 26.
punished for absence from prayers, V:346, 253, 267, 282, 295, 317. VI:7, 19, 26.
punished for tardiness from prayers, VI:26.
fined and publicly admonished, V:249-250.
charged for damage done in the Hall, V:278.
fined, V:279.
punished for absence from public lectures, VI:26.
punished for going to a tavern, VI:30.

And that wasn’t even all the trouble Charles got into in four years.

TOMORROW: Unabashed gossip.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

“Caught running naked across Harvard Yard”?

Last week I wrote about Charles Adams, John and Abigail’s second son, starting at Harvard College in 1785.

Charles turned out to be the biggest disappointment of that generation, and the trouble started in college, but I had trouble nailing down the details.

I found multiple references to a drunken, naked romp through Harvard Yard, but the stories differed on the details, and none came with pointers to period sources. Or any sources at all.

The earliest was this webpage from the American Experience television series, tied to a 2006 show. In the capsule biography of Charles, it says:
At age 15 he entered Harvard, where he became embroiled in a scandal in which several boys were caught running naked across Harvard Yard. School records indicated that alcohol may have been involved.
Sometime in 2006, someone created a Wikipedia page about a Harvard streaking tradition called Primal Scream. That entry reaches for historical tradition by stating:
While the records are not entirely clear, it appears that when Charles Adams, son of John Adams and brother of John Quincy Adams, was a student at Harvard, he and a few friends were disciplined for getting drunk and streaking naked across the Yard. He was later readmitted.
The one source originally cited was the American Experience webpage—apparently that page was the “records…not entirely clear.”

Joseph Ellis’s First Family: Abigail and John (2010), says of Charles:
He had apparently fallen in with a rowdy crew at Harvard, been disciplined by the college for running naked while drunk through Harvard Yard, and persisted in his bad habits and bad associations after graduation.
The citations for this paragraph offer no evidence for that phrase about “running naked while drunk,” however. (In fact, in the edition I’m seeing the notes cite a letter from Abigail as 30 March 1789 when it should be dated 30 May.)

Finally, Eric Kester’s That Book about Harvard: Surviving the World’s Most Famous University (2012) quotes a campus tour guide saying, “Did you know that in 1785, Charles Adams, son of President John Adams and brother of President Quincy Adams, was severely disciplined for getting drunk and streaking through the Yard his freshman year?” This book subsequently became a second source for the Wikipedia article, even though it may well have been inspired by Wikipedia in the first place.

Having now looked into Harvard’s disciplinary records, I can state that none of those accounts is accurate.

TOMORROW: The Adams boys—a study in contrasts.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Fortifying Newburyport Harbor

Last month Alexander Cain laid out some new research about how Newburyport and nearby towns worked quickly at the start of the Revolutionary War to fortify that small harbor against the Royal Navy:
It appears two possible events triggered the move to fortify the Merrimack River in 1775. The first was the Ipswich Fright which occured in the days after Lexington and Concord. This particular event was the result of a false rumor that British soldiers had landed in Ipswich and had killed the local populace. As the rumor spread, widespread panic set in among the residents of several North Shore Massachusetts towns and many, including those from Newburyport, fled to New Hampshire.

The second event transpired the following month when a detachment of British sailors and officers from the HMS Scarborough entered Newburyport Harbor under the cover of darkness to scout the town’s defensive capabilities. According to the Essex Journal, “last Tuesday evening (May 23) a barge belonging to the man of war lying at Portsmouth, rowing up and down the river to make discoveries with two small officers and six seamen.” Unfortunately, the mission was an utter failure as the “tars not liking the employ, tied their commanders, then run the boat ashore, and were so impolite as to wish the prisoners good night, and came off.” Upon entering Newburyport, the deserters alerted the town of the mission and the location of the officers. However, “the officers soon got loose and rowed themselves back to the ship” before they were apprehended.

The two events rattled Newburyport. Many residents realized that if a Royal Navy warship entered the Merrimack, it could easily sail down the river and not only bombard the town, wharves and shipyards, but it could also raze Salisbury and Amesbury. As a result, officials from the three towns and Newbury agreed that the mouth or the river, as well as the harbor itself, needed to be fortified.
The result, Alex Cain writes, was “an early warning network and at least three defensive lines that included coastal fortifications, physical obstructions, floating batteries, interior redoubts and two companies of militia that were on a constant state of alert.” This made Newburyport a refuge for merchant ships sympathetic to the American cause and a base for American privateers. At least for a couple of years. When the war moved south, the port and its protection became less important.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Tapping into Revolutionary Networks

At the Junto blog, Jordan E. Taylor interviewed Framingham State professor Joseph Adelman about his new book, Revolutionary Networks: The Business and Politics of Printing the News, 1763–1789.

Many books have studied the political printing of the Revolutionary era through biography of exceptional figures like Benjamin Franklin or Isaiah Thomas, or through studies of how political essays were written and spread. But how ordinary printers did the work to put those essays into readers’ hands hasn’t gotten so much attention.

Adelman told Taylor:
To understand the materiality of these texts and how they operated in the real world, it is helpful to actually see them in physical form. In the introduction I work through how printers laid out a weekly newspaper, which is difficult to see through a view of single pages in PDF form. I also was able to see (literally!) some important developments in newspaper runs by being able to see the size and quality of the paper, for example. . . .

As for my favorite find, I’d have to say the story from the Stamp Act crisis about Boston radicals who in February 1766 tried a piece of stamped paper for treason and then ceremonially hanged and burned it. It may be my favorite story of the entire Revolution, both because it’s so Boston and because it encapsulates so much about how Americans in the 1760s viewed print and paper (it could commit crimes!).
Here’s how Adelman described the main argument of Revolutionary Networks:
Much of the book examines how printers (and their collaborators) created both formal and informal mechanisms to circulate news and information, through the post office, committees, and the networks that printers developed—with one another, with political leaders, with economic elites, and others.

A second thread that runs through the book is the changing conception of freedom of the press, and especially its relationship to the business practices of the printing trade. Dating back to the early eighteenth century and Benjamin Franklin’s “Apology for Printers,” printers portrayed themselves as mechanics who set type and pulled the press, but remained outside of the political debate. The Revolution brought that to an end. Independence also forced printers, and political leaders to reframe their thinking about the press from its position as opposition against a distant government to its standing as a constituent part of the new republics.

Finally, the thing that ties everything together is the overlap between commercial and political interests. It seems a truism to say that out loud, but for printers those concerns interacted in complicated ways, both across the group as a whole and for individuals over time.
Taylor’s review of Revolutionary Networks for the Junto is here. We can also hear Joe Adelman speaking about his book on the podcasts Ben Franklin’s World and New Books in American Studies.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

The First and Ongoing Pauline Maier Seminar Series

The Boston Area Early American History Seminar has changed its name to the Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar, honoring the late M.I.T. professor who was an enthusiast for these discussion and many other ways of delving into the national past.

The seminar series continues to provide a forum for scholars and interested members of the public to discuss many aspects of North American history and culture. Sessions are free, though there is a $25 cost to order copies of the papers in advance of each discussion, which I recommend as a bargain.

All the seminars begin at 5:15 P.M. at the Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street in the Back Bay. Formal conversation lasts for about ninety minutes, and then participants can enjoy light refreshments and further chat until 7:30.

Here are the sessions scheduled for the upcoming calendar year.

Thursday, 26 September 2019
Toward the Sistercentennial: New Light on Women’s Participation in the American Revolution
Woody Holton, University of South Carolina
Comment: Mary Bilder, Boston College Law

Tuesday, 5 November
Native Lands and American Expansion in the Early Republic
Emilie Connolly, Dartmouth University, and Franklin Sammons, University of California, Berkeley
Comment: Nancy Shoemaker, University of Connecticut

Tuesday, 19 November
Murder at the Manhattan Well: The Personal and the Political in the Election of 1800
Paul Gilje, University of Oklahoma
Comment: Katherine Grandjean, Wellesley College

Tuesday, 10 December
Who Was “One-Eyed” Sarah?: Searching for an Indigenous Nurse in Local Government
Gabriel J. Loiacono, University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh
Comment: Cornelia Dayton, University of Connecticut

Tuesday, 7 January 2020
Supplying Slavery: North America, Jamaica, and British Intra-Imperial Trade, 1750-1770
Peter Pellizzari, Harvard University
Comment: Richard Dunn, American Philosophical Society

Tuesday, 3 March
The 1621 Massasoit-Plymouth Agreement and the Genesis of American Indian Constitutionalism
Daniel Mandell, Truman State University
Comment: Linford D. Fisher, Brown University

Tuesday, 10 March
Military Metabolism and the Environment in the War of Independence
(Co-sponsored by the Boston Seminar on Environmental History)
David Hsiung, Juniata College
Comment: James Rice, Tufts University

Tuesday, 7 April
“Our Turn Next”: Slavery and Freedom on French and American Stages, 1789-99
Heather S. Nathans, Tufts University
Comment: T.B.D.

Tuesday, 12 May
Honoring Dan Richter: McNeil Center for Early American Studies Alumni on their Experiences and Research
Round-table Discussion
(Richter is retiring, not being honored in the same way Maier is, so I expect he’ll be in town to enjoy the discussion.)

The Massachusetts Historical Society hosts similar series of seminars or discussions on African American History; Environmental History; Modern American Society and Culture; the History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality; and New England Biography.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Upcoming Talks at the Newport Historical Society

Here are a couple of events coming up at the Newport Historical Society this month.

On Thursday, 5 September, Will Simpson will speak on “‘Frère et Concitoyen’: A Newporter in Revolutionary France.”
The story of William H. Vernon’s years in France (1778-1797) is one of thrilling political intrigue as this young American merchant, a member of one of Newport’s most influential Colonial-era merchant families, found himself thrust into the midst of the French Revolution.
Simpson won prizes at Middlebury College, where he majored in French with a minor in history, and did research in the Newport Historical Society’s Vernon Family manuscripts as a 2019 Buchanan Burnham Summer Scholar in Public History.

The “Frère et Concitoyen” program will take place at the Newport Historical Society’s Resource Center, 82 Touro Street, starting at 5:30 P.M. Admission is $1 for society members and retired and active-duty military personnel, $5 for other people.

On Thursday, 19 September, the society will host a lecture originally scheduled in January but postponed because the President’s decision to shut down the federal government for the second time in a year.

Emily Murphy, Curator for the National Park Service’s Salem Maritime National Historical Site, will deliver her lecture “‘I am an honest woman’: Female Revolutionary Resistance along the New England Seacoast.” I can recommend this talk to anyone interested in the political activism that led up to the war and independence.
In Colonial New England, lower-class men and women could take to the streets and protest, men of the middling sort could participate in political action, yet women of the middling class were restricted by law and society. This didn’t stop these wealthier women, who became known as Daughters of Liberty, from showing their support for the Patriot cause. Along the New England seacoast, it became a popular springtime occurrence for ladies to participate in spinning bees where they would create homespun fabric and boycott purchasing fabrics imported from England.
Murphy earned her Ph.D. in American Studies from Boston University in 2008. She has worked for the National Park Service for nearly twenty years and is also an accomplished living historian.

This talk, co-sponsored by the Hotel Viking, will also take place at the Resource Center, 82 Touro Street in Newport. Admission is $5, or $1 for society members and retired and active-duty military personnel.

(The picture above shows the Vernon family mansion, still standing on Clarke Street in Newport.)

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Moving into a Harvard Dormitory in 1785

At this time of year young people are settling in at college, including my godson at Cambridge. So I’m looking at the process of entering college in 1785.

Fifteen-year-old Charles Adams started at Harvard College that year. His parents, Abigail and John, were across the Atlantic in London, so he was under the wing of relatives on his mother’s side.

Charles had been studying for the entrance exam with the Rev. John Shaw of Haverhill, an uncle by marriage. On 9 May Charles wrote to his cousin William Cranch: “we study in the bedroom as usual two young fellows from Bradford being added to our number, One of whom will be my chum if we get in and who I should be very glad to introduce to you.”

By “chum,” Charles meant a college roommate. That prospect was Samuel Walker (1768–1846). When Charles’s older brother John Quincy Adams visited that summer, he immediately assured their mother that Samuel was “a youth, whose thirst for knowledge is insatiable.”

Unfortunately, the dormitory wasn’t working out so smoothly. On 14 August, Abigail’s older sister, Mary Cranch, reported to her:
I have just heard that cousin Charles is not like to have the chamber he petition’d for, nor any other. Half his class will be oblig’d to Board out in the Town. Mr. Cranch and I are going tomorrow to see how it is, and to procure him a place if necessary. . . .

You cannot think how sorrowful your son looks about the loss of his chamber, but I hope to make him happy yet. I have got all the Furniture ready, (this is the part he is to find). The Bed and Linnin is found by his chum a very worthy pretty youth, who study’d with him at Mr. Shaws. Walker is his name, he is from Bradford.
Fortunately, the situation was soon resolved. On 17 August, Aunt Mary wrote:
Charles is happy he has got his chamber. I return’d last night. I found he had his petition’d granted. He is in the same college with Billy [Cranch,] has a Room upon the lower Floor [of Hollis Hall].

I have got him a pine Table made to stand under his looking glass. It doubles over like a card Table and is painted Marble colour and looks very well. He has the Square Tea Table to stand in his study. I got a few things for him in Boston as I came from Cambridge, and now I think he is equip’d and will go tomorrow with the best advice I can give him.
Charles Adams’s dorm room thus included a “Bed and Linnin” brought by his chum Samuel, a “looking glass,” a pine table painted like marble, and a “Square Tea Table,” among other things.

All four Harvard students I’ve mentioned went on to study the law. John Quincy Adams had a long and successful career while his brother Charles did not. William Cranch became a judge in Washington, D.C. Samuel Walker practiced in Rutland, Vermont, for a quarter-century.

Before then, however, Walker was rusticated for a year in 1787 for “stealing from his class mates.” And he seemed like such a studious boy.

Monday, September 02, 2019

On the Night Before the Powder Alarm

Yesterday we left Esther Sewall in her house in rural Cambridge on the night of 1 Sept 1774.

Sewall had two young sons. Her husband, attorney general Jonathan Sewall, had gone into Boston that morning. The household also included a couple of law students about twenty years old and at least one enslaved man.

Outside, there were upwards of forty local men and boys demanding that her husband come out and answer for the royal governor’s actions. Not only was Gen. Thomas Gage implementing the Massachusetts Government Act, but he had just taken gunpowder and cannon away from the local militia.

Yesterday I started quoting an account of that confrontation from a third, unnamed young man inside the house. It continued:
…those without played their artillery of stones & brickbats against the windows.

The door being shut, & they being enraged by the explosion of a gun in the entry near the front window tho’ without the least design of hurting & at a different side of the house from where we supposed the mob were, they went into the front yard & broke those windows.

We then went out to them & declared that the gun went off accidentally, that we were very sorry for it as it was agreed upon since we had got them out of the house not to fire but on the last extremity; yet that we were determined to defend ourselves at the risque of our lives & they might depend upon resistance at all events if they offered to reenter. We begged them to consider the distress this might occasion to Mrs Sewall & family & to disperse

They appeared to be satisfied about the gun at last, told us we had fought like brave fellows & if we would give them something to drink they would not go to Judge [Joseph] Lee’s as they intended but would disperse

which they did after drinking a few glasses of wine & cordially bid each other Good-Night.
It was still possible for young men to stop their violence before anyone was hurt. As long as there was wine involved.

Years later, in speaking to the Loyalists Commission, one of the law students, Ward Chipman, declared that he had deliberately fired that pistol. He went on to be one of the most important builders of New Brunswick, Canada.

Massachusetts Patriots seized on Chipman’s gunshot and spun events to suggest that it provoked the crowd’s violence. For example, Dr. Joseph Warren wrote to Samuel Adams on 4 September: “some boys and negroes had called at Mr. Sewall’s house at Cambridge; and, by the imprudent discharge of a pistol by a person in the house, they were provoked to break the windows, but very soon left the house without doing further damage.”

Even Esther Sewall’s own father, Edmund Quincy, unhelpfully told her sister: “Im sorry to understand, that thro. great inadvertency, a Gun or pistol was dischd. from ye. house—ye sole Cause of ye Violence wch. ensued.”

By the end of 2 September, however, almost no one was talking about the assault on the attorney general’s house. Sparked by wildly exaggerated rumors of a British military attack, thousands of Massachusetts militiamen had marched into Cambridge and forced resignations from everyone from the county clerk to the lieutenant governor. That “Powder Alarm” signaled the end of royal rule in almost all of New England. The conflict in Massachusetts turned from political to military.

The Sewall house still stands on Brattle Street in Cambridge, though moved from its original site. It’s in private hands and unmarked.

As far as I can tell, the anonymous account of what happened there in September 1774 has been published only in Leslie F. S. Upton’s 1968 collection of readings, Revolutionary Versus Loyalist: The First American Civil War, 1774-1784.

Sunday, September 01, 2019

Attack on Jonathan Sewall’s House

On 1 Sept 1774, Gen. Thomas Gage sent soldiers out to Charlestown to remove the provincial militia’s supply of gunpowder from the stone tower that still stands in what is now Somerville.

Some of Gage’s troops went on into Cambridge and wheeled away two small cannon that the Middlesex County militia trained with.

Locals treated those actions as a raid on their military resources, an attempt to curtail their self-defense. By the end of the afternoon, people learned that William Brattle of Cambridge had alerted the governor about that gunpowder. Men surrounded Brattle’s house, but he had already fled into the army camp in Boston.

Some of that crowd moved out the Watertown road to the house of Jonathan Sewall, attorney general and Vice Admiralty Court judge. He was a high-profile supporter of the royal government, having represented it in court (though he sat out the Boston Massacre case) and written newspaper essays.

Sewall lived in a country mansion with his wife Esther and two young sons, a few household servants, and at least two young men studying law, Ward Chipman (1754-1824) and Thomas Aston Cotton (1754-1810). Chipman also tutored the boys in Latin.

A third young man was also in the Sewall house that night and left an anonymous description of events now preserved in the Public Archives of Canada:
On Thursday evening September 1, 1774 there was a riotous assembling of about 40 or 50 men & boys in the town of Cambridge—I passed by them several times in the course of the evening carefully observing their number strength & movements—

About half past 11 or at 12 o’clock in the night, thinking that they had dispersed in a great measure & perceiving that they had been in indifferent spirits the whole evening, I went to Judge Sewall’s & informed Mrs Sewall that I believed there was no danger of a visit from them at that time of night; but if they came, they were so little used to acts of violence that I thought we might safely venture to resist them.

About 1/2 hour after being alarmed with the noise of their coming, & having secured the Windows & Doors as well as we could, we repaired to Mrs Sewall’s Chamber; they came shouting & blowing a horn & Mrs Sewall threw up the window when they had got to the house & asked them what they would have—

they replied Mr. Sewall,—

she told them he was not at home, but had gone to Boston in the morning & had not returned since;

on which they exclaimed she was a damned liar &c that he was in the house & they would search the house for him & have him;—

on which there was a tumultuous noise, but Mrs Sewall begged to be heard, & being a little more silent, she observed to them that being a woman she expected civil treatment from them as she had & would treat them;

they exclaimed that he was an enemy to his country & have him they would—

Mrs Sewall begged them not to disturb her—that being alone she hoped they would not treat her or her children ill, & if they would go away, they should have anything she could give them out of the house.

They swore they would search the house & immediately burst open the door. Finding they had entered & hearing them below, Mr. Chipman, Mr. Coffin & myself, together with a servant [i.e., slave] of Judge Sewall’s, being all the males that were in the house ran downstairs, attacked them & by an active & vigorous application of the argumentum baculinum [argument by means of clubs] drove them out & Mr. Coffin declared he would blow the first man’s brains out, that offered to enter again.
Jonathan Sewall really had gone into Boston earlier that day. According to his father-in-law, Boston magistrate Edmund Quincy, he “came here between 12 & one yesterday, said he was advised to leave his house & come to town.” Gage might have anticipated trouble, or he might simply have wanted legal counsel.

Either way, that left Esther Sewall overseeing a besieged house of small children, servants, and three hotheaded young men.

TOMORROW: Beyond the argumentum baculinum.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

“Cheat them much as you can of ye Duties”

The Connecticut merchant Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., shipped a lot of molasses to merchants in New York and Philadelphia. Since there was very little sugar cane grown around New London, he was buying that commodity in the Caribbean—mostly from French and Spanish colonies.

Under the Sugar Act of 1764, every gallon of molasses imported into British North America carried a duty of 3 pence. (There were duties on other goods as well.) Ships had to carry papers declaring how much molasses and other stuff they carried. When a crew landed cargo at a particular port, the Customs office there collected the duty and “cleared” for shipment anywhere else within the empire. 

Shaw’s letters show he was constantly betting on which port would offer the best price for his molasses. The duty was the same in every port, but Shaw also did his best to minimize the tax he had to pay. And he was blatant about evading duties.

Here are samples from Shaw’s correspondence with his main trading partners showing the many tricks he and his captains used.

On 9 June 1766 to Peter Vandervoort at New York:
(…I want [Abijah] Bebee to to Land his Cargoe without Entring and Return to New Londn. and take another Cargoe of molasses on Board & Return to New York with the Same Clearance if you think it may be done, wich I leave to you) for I Cannot Clear out any more Molasses att the Custom House haveing all Ready Cleard as much as have pd. the Dutys for
Two shipments using the same certificate of duties paid.

On 14 July 1766 to Vandervoort:
I have shipt you by the bearer Abijah Bebee Ten hogsheads and Five Terses of Molasses wich is not Cleared in the Custom House and would have you do the best in Landing and Disposing of it
On 18 July 1766 to Vandervoort:
I have by the Bearer Capt. [William] Hancock shipped you as pr the Inclosed bill of Lading thirty Four Casks of Molasses wich I have Clear’d att the Custom house att about sixty Gallon. they being very large Casks I would have you dispose of them before Hancok hauls into the Dock and then have them Carried off Immediately, as I Imagine if any of the Custo. House Officers should see them they would take notice of their being very large and Possible have them Gauged Again, wich I should not Choose to have done.
Underreporting the size of the casks and working fast so the authorities wouldn’t notice.

On 1 July 1767 to Thomas and Isaac Wharton of Philadelphia:
I…should have wrote you before but have been Endavoring to find what Pretentions your Collector had for obliging you to pay 1d. Sterg. pr Gallon on the Molasses after it had paid the duty in this Port, and am Inform’d by Persons who know as much about Acts of Parliment as Mr. [John] Swieft that it is not the Intention of the Act that Molasses should pay the Duty more than Once, and I should Imagine that when Mr. Swieft finds (wich is Certainly Facts) that no Other Collectr. on the Continent takes the duty but himSelf he will Repay you the money back Again on that Accott.

I shall let the matter Rest a little longer, and if I Find that he Continues to keep the Duty, I shall Imploy an Attorney to git it from him att Common Law and make no Doubt but I shall be Able to Recover it.

If Molasses should take a Rise let me know it and if I should have any Arive will order it to you without Entring of it hear.
Threatening to sue the Customs service for collecting duties twice because he cared so much about following the law. Also, not paying duties in the first place.

On 5 Oct 1769 to Vandervoort:
I have also by Capt. [Edward] Tinker shipt Six hogsheads of Rum and Four Terses for Mr. John Wattles which he would have you forward as pr the Inclos’d Directions and send Ten Keggs of Brandy as I did not Choose to send any by Tinker. I hope you’l have the Terses taken out Soon as they may appear Suspicious.
Unloading quickly before officials could notice.

On 14 Feb 1770 to Vandervoort:
Yesterday Capt. [Joseph] Latham arived in a Sloop of mine from Cape Francoise and I am now Loading Harris with molasses and Sugars for N Y, the Sugars shall Clear as Seads.
On 14 May 1771 to the Whartons:
Inclosed is a bill of lading of 45 hhds. & 9 teirces of Melasses, and Ten hhds. of Sugar by Capt. Powers. . . . Their is only two hogsheads of Sugar cleared out, and you must get the Remainder on shore in the best manner you can. I have put 19 bags Coffee on board which is cleared out as Cocoa, you must manage that in the best manner you can.
Mislabeling cargo, and getting casks “on shore in the best manner you can.”

On 17 May 1771 to the Whartons:
I have by the bearer Capt. Edwd. Tinker in the Sloop Sally, Shipt you seventy four hogsheads of Melasses, and thirteen hogsheads Sugar, which dispose of for my Accott. The Sugar is in Melasses Hogsheads & you must Land them in the Safetest manner you can, for I Could not Clear them out.
11 Nov 1772 to the Whartons:
I Should have wrote you by the last Post but was att New Port on a very Disagreable Errand. A Brigg of mine from Guadalupe with Two hundred hogsheads of Melasses, by Stress of Weather was drove into New Port and the Custom House Officers Oblig’d him to Enter his Cargoe and the Stupid fellow Reported only Seventy hogsheads and they have made a Seizure of the Remainder. I have Sent a Petition to the board of Commissioners att Boston praying that it might be Admitted to an Entry. How farr they will be prevaild on, time only will Discover. In Case its Condemn’d they flatter me that I Shall have it att About Seven pence Sterling pr Gallon.
Even if the Newport Customs office confiscated the 130 extra hogsheads, officials suggested that at auction he should be able to buy that molasses back at a good price.

On 2 Jan 1773 to Vandervoort:
I wrote Messrs. Whartons for a full Load for [Edward] Chappell, and I now send him with a Load of Sugars and have only Clear’d out Seventeen hogsheads and think the best plan will be for him to enter at New York and apply for Liberty to take in those twenty Casks he brought down before, and git Certificates for abought Twenty more and go on to Phila. or if you think their is no danger let him go on with his Clearance for the 17 hhds. but am really afraid of the Consiquence and think it best to Clear out some more at N York.

In Case Chappell cannot git up to Phila. by reason of the Ice, I would have him return to N. York, and if you can not get 48/ pr Ct. for his Sugars, I should be glad to have him Cleared out for Boston, and let him take out a new Register in his own name as I do not choose to have the Sloop go their with the old Register.
Duplicate paperwork.

On 13 July 1774 to Vandevoort:
The bearer [Capn?] Tinker has on board about twenty thousand Gal Melasses in the Brig Mermaid wich you must dispose off on the best terms you can for my Interest. We have reported 150 hhd & 50 Teirces. I beg you will Cheat them much as you can of ye Duties.
Shaw and Tinker had reported 15,000 gallons in hogsheads and another 3,300 in the smaller casks called tierces, or about 10% short of what they actually had brought in. So any way that Vandervoort could “Cheat” on the duties was added profit.

Given Shaw’s normal way of doing business, Capt. William Reid probably had good reason to be suspicious when he saw two of the merchant’s ships rendezvousing in Long Island Sound on 17 July 1769. Once Reid had seized those ships, Shaw came roaring into Newport to get them back.

It’s possible that Shaw didn’t plan to extend his repertoire of resistance to include holding Reid hostage, inciting a riot, ruining the Customs sloop, and absconding with his sloop. But that’s what he and his men and the Newport crowd ended up doing.

Friday, August 30, 2019

“I am as Inocent of Destroying the Sloop as Either of you”

In 1933, the New London County Historical Society published the second volume of its collections, titled Connecticut’s Naval Office at New London During the War of the American Revolution.

The Continental agent in that port was Nathaniel Shaw, Jr. (1735-1782). As an addendum to the collection of public papers, the society’s editor and honorary president, Ernest E. Rogers, included a transcript of Shaw’s letterbox as a merchant in the years before the war.

That source from Shaw’s own hand confirms his connection to the ships involved in the Liberty riots in Newport, Rhode Island, and New London, Connecticut.

On 12 June 1769, Shaw wrote to a man he called Theopulas Backe: “Sir, Inclosed is a letter from Capt. Joseph Packwood which he desir’d might be forwarded to you. He is now in the West Indias, and when he will Return is Uncertain.” Packwood returned to Long Island Sound with Haitian sugar and molasses the next month.

Eight days later, Shaw wrote to his regular trading partners in Philadelphia, Thomas and Isaac Wharton:
I wrote you ye 16 Inst. by Capt. Edwd. Tinker ye Sloop Sally who had on Board 121 Casks of Melasses, who was to Proceed to N. York & in Case ye price of Melasses was not Equal to what you wrote [me?] by the Post, I gave him Orders to Proceed to Philadelphia & deliver his Cargoe to you.
The Customs sloop Liberty seized Tinker’s Sally and Packwood’s Thames in July. Shaw and Packwood went to Newport to get them back. And one riot later, they went home.

As I reported yesterday, in September the New London Customs office seized the Sally again.

Here’s what Nathaniel Shaw had to say about that situation in a 14 Sept 1769 letter to John and George Erving of Boston:
Gentlemen, I Received yours of the 28th Ulto. and am very much Oblig’d to you for your Advise in Regard to the Prosecution that is Intended Against me.

Att Present I Cant Conceive on what Accott. they Intend to trouble me, as I am as Inocent of Destroying the Sloop [Liberty] as Either of you, and can make it Appear so to the Sattisfaction of any Court or Jury in this Colony, and I am of the Opinion if I can do that, it will be Suffecient and In Case they are Determined to have the Matter try’d in Boston att a Court of Admiralty, should be glad you would Inform me in your next what method they are to take to Oblige Either Packwood or me to Appear their or if it goes Against us by Default what Plan they are to Persue to get the Money. Att Present we have no Judge of ye Admiralty in this Colony and I beleive no Person hear would att this time Except of it.

Mr. [Duncan] Stewart has Seiz’d a Sloop which he Suspects is the Sloop that was Carried of[f] att N Port the Night the Liberty was Destroy’d. It is now Seventeen days Since the Seizure was made and he has done nothing towards having her Libel’d. Neither can he git any advise from the Commisoners what steps to take with her, he has no Evidence hear to Prove this to be the Sloop, nor Cant have any, unless Capt. [William] Read or some of his People should come hear, & I beleive it will not be Convenient for them to make their appearence very Soon and haveing the Sloop detain’d so long must Consequently Create an Expense which must fall some where,

I Proposed to Mr. Stewart to have ye Sloop Appriz’d as she now is & give him Security for ye Vallue In Case she be Finally Condemn’d, that we might go on with her Repairs as she wants much before she is in a Condition for the Seas, I should be glad you would Consult some Person who can Advise me in this matter, what steps to take for I Suppose Mr. Stewart will not do any thing untill he has Orders from ye Commisoners.
Shaw’s letterbook doesn’t tell us directly whether Collector Stuart accepted his proposal. But he must have gotten his sloop back because on 17 May 1771 he wrote to the Wharton brothers again:
I have by the bearer Capt. Edwd. Tinker in the Sloop Sally, Shipt you seventy four hogsheads of Melasses, and thirteen hogsheads Sugar, which dispose of for my Accott.
Shaw insisted he was innocent of destroying the Liberty, that the Customs sloop hadn’t caught his Sally, and by extension that he wasn’t in the business of smuggling molasses.

TOMORROW: What Shaw’s other letters have to say about that.

[The photo above, courtesy of Historic Buildings of Connecticut, is Nathaniel Shaw’s house, now owned by the New London County Historical Society.]

Thursday, August 29, 2019

“Having made Seizure of a Sloop named the Sally”

As I’ve been relating, July of 1769 was not a good month for the royal Customs service in New England.

On 19 July, a Newport mob had ruined the Customs patrol ship Liberty after threatening its captain and crew. The next day, with no armed vessel to stop them, sailors “rescued” a sloop named Sally that the Liberty had seized. The captain of another ship detained at the same time, the brig Thames, successfully demanded that his vessel be released for lack of evidence.

On 25 July, a smaller mob in New London beat up one Customs officer and intimidated others. And on 31 July, the hull of the Liberty caught fire and burned to the waterline, rendering it beyond repair.

It took a while for the Commissioners of Customs in Boston to respond, but in August they made a move. On 14 August this advertisement appeared in the Newport Mercury:
WHEREAS William Reid Commander of the Sloop Liberty, employed in the Service of his Majesty’s Customs, having made Seizure of a Sloop named the Sally, Edward Finker Master, belonging to New-London, loaded with a Cargo of prohibited Goods, carried the same into the Harbour of Newport, Rhode Island, where a great Number of People, riotously and tumultuously assembled together, in the Evening of the 19th of July last, and having, by Force and Arms, attacked and secured the said Captain Reid and his Men, and taken Possession of both Vessels; they set Fire to, and sank the Liberty, and carried off the Sloop Sally:

For the apprehending, and bringing to condign Punishment, the Persons concerned in this daring and atrocious Outrage, The Commissioners of his Majesty’s Customs do hereby promise a Reward of One Hundred Pounds Sterling, to any Person or Persons who shall inform against any of the Offender or Offenders (except Nathaniel Shaw, Joseph Packwood and —— Angel;) to be paid on his or their Conviction.

By Order of the Commissioners,
This advertisement and Capt. Reid’s report to the head office referred to the captain of the Sally as Edward Finker. However, other sources make clear his name was Edward Tinker. A handwriting error, or had he given the authorities a false name?

As for the other men named in the ad, Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., was the owner of the Thames and the Sally. Joseph Packwood was captain of the Thames. James Angel or Angell worked for Shaw as a captain after 1774; at this time he might have been a mate. The parenthetical phrase with their names is placed ambiguously, but I think the commissioners meant those three were ineligible for the reward since they had carried out the crime.

As good bureaucrats, the commissioners also set out to close the books on the Liberty project. On 4 September, this ad ran in the Boston Evening-Post:
All Persons who have any Demands for Stores, Carpenter’s Work, Provisions, &c. upon Account of the Sloop Liberty, lately employed in the Service of his Majesty’s Customs, are hereby desired to send in their Accounts forthwith to Messrs. Green & Russell, Printers at Boston. Sept. 2. 1769,
Green and Russell were the printers of the Boston Post-Boy, which got the bulk of the Customs office printing business—at least until John Mein came to town. It’s striking that they were collecting bills for work on the Liberty rather than the Customs staff, but probably more artisans felt safe walking into their print shop than into the Customs house on King Street.

According to Joseph R. Frese’s article, in all the Customs service paid £980 to fit out the Liberty as a patrol vessel, plus £371 for “maintenance.” To be sure, most of that money went to shipwright Robert Hallowell, brother of Customs Commissioner Benjamin Hallowell.

Then the Customs service caught a break—and a ship. The 11 September Boston Evening-Post reported:
We hear from Norwich, that last Wednesday se’nnight a small Sloop was seized there by Duncan Stewart, Esq; Collector at the Port of New London, upon information that it was the same Sloop lately seized by Capt. Reid, in the Sloop Liberty, and carried into Newport, and thence rescued.
The Customs service had the Sally in custody again.

TOMORROW: Nathaniel Shaw wanted his sloop back.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

New London’s Liberty Riot

Newport, Rhode Island, wasn’t the only New England town that saw disturbances connected to the Customs sloop Liberty in July 1769. There was also violence in New London, Connecticut.

In fact, the whole affair started with action off New London. Treasury Department documents that Joseph R. Frese cited in this article from the Colonial Society of Massachusetts reveal more details than I knew last week.

On the morning of 16 July, Capt. William Reid of the sloop Liberty stopped two vessels in Long Island Sound about three miles from the New London lighthouse. One was the brig Thames, commanded by Joseph Packwood. The other was the sloop Sally, commanded by Edward Tinker. Both those ships were based in New London, but the Thames was nominally sailing from Haiti to New York.

As some New England newspapers reported, Reid suspected that Packwood had unloaded some of his Haitian rum and sugar onto Finker’s sloop so it could be landed secretly on the Connecticut coast and the Customs department couldn’t collect duties on it. Then he’d deliver the rest in New York.

Reid put his own men onto the brig and sloop and led the little fleet into Newport. Packwood, Finker, and most of their crewmen had to make their way home in boats. Soon after Packwood landed, he and the owner of the Thames, Nathaniel Shaw, Jr., set out for Newport. We know what happened there on 19 July. By the next day, the Liberty was wrecked, the Thames released for lack of evidence, and the Sally illegally “rescued.”

Back in New London, the waterfront crowd went hunting for the local Customs officers whom they held responsible for those seizures. Deputy Collector John Miller and Comptroller Thomas Moffatt reported that on 24 July “several People” threatened a tidesman named Barnabas Willson. They wrote, “on this occasion We said what We then thought was proper to him & took such steps as inclined Us to hope and beleive that no mischief would happen to him, but We were mistaken if not deceived.” Dr. Moffatt had been the victim of mobbing during Newport’s Stamp Act riots, so he should have known better.

Whatever “steps” those officials took, it wasn’t enough for Willson’s sake. In “the twilight of the Evening of the 25th,” the crowd came looking for him again, as well as another tidesman named John Bloyd. The Customs officers wrote of Bloyd:
not finding him at home they suspected he was in the House of Mr Collector [Duncan] Stewart where they repaired and demanded him but being denied and refused admittance by a Maid Servant from the Window of an upper Chamber they broke forcibly into the House search’d every where and found him on the House top, from which they led him through the Street near the Episcopal Church and there questioned him concerning the Information given to Captain Reid and chiefly about some Rum seized & afterwards stolen at East Haddam a year and a half ago then they dismised him without further Injury
The crowd turned back to Willson. That man himself later told justice James Murray of Boston:
they seized this Deponent Drag’d him thro’ the Streets, strip’d him of his Cloaths, tied him to a sign Post (having cut off his Hair) and then gave him Thirty two severe lashes with a Whip.
By then it was “about Eleven OClock at night.” Some of the rioters went to find Thomas Dare, the Customs office surveyor—a social step up from the tidesmen. Those men took Dare to the place where they had tied up Willson. They “questioned him concerning the late seizure and seemd disposed to Use him very roughly, but were prevented by the Interposition of some who either rescued or beg’d him off.”

Finally, the New London crowd attacked the top local Customs official symbolically, the same way Bostonians had done in June 1768 and Newporters had done a few days before. The men
repaired to Mr Stewart’s Wharf seized the Boat hauld her ashore hoisted her sails with all Appurtenances except the Iron Ballast which they threw on shore, then drag’d her in triumph to a rising ground near the Town where they burnt her, on the Morning of the 26th very early
That makes a total of four burned boats, with the Liberty itself still to come.

Miller and Moffatt reported that “poor Willson set out on foot for Boston who can inform your Honors more exactly of this Mob and of what has been said and done to him.” In Boston, Willson testified to Justice Murray and reported to the Commissioners of Customs, who gave him £2.5 for his troubles.

Surveyor Thomas Dare “thought it best to retire for the present,” his colleagues reported, though by the end of 27 August they expected him to “return here this day and We have some assurance that he will not be insulted.”

TOMORROW: The Customs service strikes back.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Move onto Ploughed Hill and “Poor Billy Simpson”

On the evening of 26 Aug 1775, two thousand Continental soldiers moved onto Ploughed Hill in west Charlestown, assigned to dig entrenchments. Along with them went some Pennsylvania riflemen as a picket guard.

Capt. James Chambers (1743-1805) of Pennsylvania wrote to his wife on 29 August:
I was ordered to draw fifty men out of each of the Cumberland companies, and to be ready to march at Sunset. Accordingly I did so, and marched without beat of drum to Prospect Hill, and thence proceeded with the riflemen stationed there, in all about four hundred, to Ploughed Hill, and then down the hill within three or four hundred yards of the enemy’s strongest works, to cover a party of about two thousand musket men who were at the same time to entrench on Ploughed Hill.

They labored hard all night, and at daybreak had the redoubt nearly completed. The English began a heavy cannonading, which continued all day. They killed one adjutant and one soldier with cannon, wounded three others with musket balls. William Simpson, of Paxton [Paxtang], was struck by a shot and his foot carried away, &c.
Pvt. Simpson was born about 1743, family historians guess. His older brother Michael was a lieutenant in the Paxtang company.

Maj. Robert Magaw (1738-1790) provided a more detailed account of the action:
On Saturday Night Last about 2000 of our Army with 100 of our Battalion took possession of Plough Hill—this hill lies a little to the left of a direct line from our Camp to Bunker’s Hill near Mistick river, about 3/4 of a mile from us, & very little more from Bunker’s Hill. The Possession of it has for a considerable time been deemed an object of much importance both the by the enemy and by us.

They discovered our Work only on Sunday Morning, & soon began a very heavy Cannonade from Bunkers Hill & Two Floating Batteries which continued the whole day, & altho’ their Artillery was conducted by some of the best Engineers in the British Service & shot amazingly true, all the loss sustained was two killed in the fort and two wounded nearer to the Enemy where 50 of our Rifle Men were placed all day among Orchards, Cornfields etc., sustaining and returning a heavy Fire with the Enemy’s Musketry, the Cannon Balls Shot at Ploughed Hill constantly hissing over their Heads.

Poor Billy Simpson was the only person who suffered of ours. He had his Foot and Ankle shot off by a Cannon Ball as he lay behind a large Apple Tree, watching an Opportunity to Fire at the Enemy’s Advanced Guards. There appears no Danger of his recovery.
However, by the time Magaw finished that 29 August letter he had to add: “Poor Simpson whom I heard this Morning was in a good way is Since Dead.”

Lt. Col. Edward Hand (1744-1802, shown above) was a doctor and veteran of the British army. On 29 August he reported that “Poor Simpson (beau) had one of his legs shattered by a cannon ball, The director general took it off, but the poor lad was buried this evening.”

In his memoirs, James Wilkinson wrote, “The young man was visited and consoled during his illness by Gen. [George] Washington in person, and by most of the officers of rank belonging to the army.” However, Wilkinson didn’t arrive in Massachusetts until “two or three weeks” after Simpson was wounded on 27 August, and he’s far from the most reliable figure in U.S. history.

Whether or not Wilkinson’s statement is true, Pvt. William Simpson’s death was significant. He was the first soldier who had come to the siege of Boston from outside New England to die in the Continental cause.