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

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Friday, July 19, 2019

“I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within”

This episode of the Timesuck podcast, this History Daily article, this Cracked article, this 13th Floor article, and this History Extra roundup of Presidential trivia all tell the same story.

That story says President John Quincy Adams was convinced by a man named John Cleves Symmes, Jr., that Earth is hollow, that one can go inside the planet through holes at the poles, and that people are living inside. Allegedly Adams was so taken with this idea that he championed a federal expedition to Antarctica to explore the inner Earth, only to be stymied by losing the election of 1828.

All these web resources also use the term “mole people” for the inhabitants of the hollow Earth, sometimes in quotation marks, even though that phrase isn’t documented before the end of the nineteenth century.

And none points to sources that link President Adams’s statements or actions to Symmes’s vision of a hollow, populated Earth.

You can see where this is going. I’m here to tell you this story is false. Yes, I’m not much fun—but neither, most of the time, was John Quincy Adams.

So far the best online treatment of this story that I’ve found is this Reddit posting by smileyman. So my challenge is to add something interesting to what that says.

First of all, John Cleves Symmes, Jr. (1780-1829, shown above), really did believe in a populated hollow Earth. He was born in New Jersey, named after an uncle who commanded a New Jersey militia regiment in the Revolution and represented the state in the Continental Congress during its low point of the mid-1780s. The elder Symmes was also an early American settler of the Ohio Territory.

The younger Symmes joined the U.S. Army in 1802 and continued to serve through the War of 1812. He then moved to St. Louis as a trader. That business failed in the 1819 Panic, but by then Symmes had a bright new idea to take up his time. In April 1818 he published a circular letter that said:
St. Louis, Missouri Territory, North America,
April 10, A. D. 1818.

To all the World:
I declare the earth is hollow and habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres, one within the other, and that it is open at the poles twelve or sixteen degrees. I pledge my life in support of this truth, and am ready to explore the hollow, if the world will support and aid me in the undertaking.

Jno. Cleves Symmes,
Of Ohio, late Captain of Infantry.

N. B. I have ready for the press a treatise on the principles of matter, wherein I show proofs of the above positions, account for various phenomena, and disclose Dr. [Erasmus] Darwin’s “Golden Secret [of wind patterns].” . . .

I ask one hundred, brave companions, well equipped, to start from Siberia, in the fall season, with reindeer and sleighs, on the ice of the frozen sea; I engage we find a warm and rich land, stocked with thrifty vegetables and animals, if not men, on reaching one degree northward of latitude 82; we will return in the succeeding spring.
Symmes doesn’t seem to have come to the theory through actual evidence about Earth. He denied having read any previous theories along the same lines. (Edmund Halley had proposed one such theory to the Royal Society, and the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather later mentioned it in passing.) He said instead that he was inspired by seeing the rings of Saturn, though I’m not sure how exactly those were supposed to prove a hollow planet. But Symmes had his idea and insisted it was correct.

Remarkably, the circulate letter didn’t attract the hundred companions that Symmes asked for. In 1820 he launched a speaking tour to spread his idea and drum up support. Two years later, Symmes petitioned the U.S. Congress to fund his expedition, but it declined to take up the proposal. The same thing happened the following year. Then the Ohio legislature turned down the opportunity in 1824.

Meanwhile, John Quincy Adams was serving James Monroe as Secretary of State.

TOMORROW: A proposal to the President.

(My thanks to Stephanie McKellop for alerting me to the story of Adams and the “mole people.”)

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Why Do We Pronounced “Gerrymander” with a Soft G?

The story of the gerrymander is well known. In 1812, the Massachusetts General Court drew a state senate district that collected the large south Essex County towns of Marblehead and Salem and then snaked up through Andover and along the northern bank of the Merrimack River to Salisbury.

An artist at Russell and Cutler’s Boston Gazette saw that map and said the district shape resembled a salamander. To heighten the resemblance, he drew wings extending west out of Methuen—because salamanders have wings.

The Boston Gazette was a Federalist newspaper. The legislature was then in the hands of the Jeffersonians, and the governor who signed this districting plan, Elbridge Gerry, was also a Jeffersonian. So the newspaper decided to dub that supposedly monstrous district a “gerry-mander.”

A term spread a bit. In the seventh edition of The Olive Branch: or, Faults on Both Sides, Federal and Democratic (1815), Mathew Carey expounded on it and the practice it lampooned:

The senates, in almost every case, are composed of members chosen by districts, formed of two or more counties, which districts elect a number of senators in proportion to their population. . . .

The above arrangement and the adjustment of these districts opens a door to a considerable degree of intrigue and management, and invites to chicane and fraud—in one word, to the political sin, which I have styled Gerrymanderism. . . .

To accomplish this sinister purpose, counties are frequently united to form a senatorial district, which have no territorial connexion, being separated from each other by an intervening county, sometimes by two or three. Of this heinous political sin, both federalists and democrats, as I have said, have been guilty.

The state of Massachusetts was depicted, two or three years since, as a sort of monstrous figure, with the counties forming the senatorial districts, displayed on this unprincipled plan. It was called a Gerrymander, in allusion to the name of the late vice-president of the United States, then governor of that state. Hence I derive the term Gerrymanderism. To those who gave the title of Gerrymander, it might not unaptly be said—“men of glass; throw no stones.”
As that last paragraph makes clear, Elbridge Gerry had become a national figure, not just a regional one. He had been elected Vice President under James Madison and even served a year and a half before dying. So politically savvy people—the type of people who would use the term Gerrymanderism—knew about him. And knew that he pronounced his name with a hard G, as in glass.

Why, then, do we now all pronounce the word gerrymander with a soft G, as in Elbridge?

On a hunch, I ran the term through Google Books Ngram Viewer, and this is what it showed.
Although the term gerrymander was coined in the early republic, it really became popular around 1890, with additional booms after 1910, 1945, and 1960.

By the time the word really took hold, Americans had largely forgotten Elbridge Gerry, despite his career as a Signer of the Declaration of Independence, skeptical member of the Constitutional Convention, diplomat, Congressman, governor, and Vice President. Or at least people knew him only from the printed page, not from political discussions. Nobody was practiced in pronouncing his name.

Following the usual rule, folks assumed a G followed by an E was soft. Hence, gerrymander.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Paging through the Town of Boston’s Tax Records

Yesterday the Boston Public Library announced that it had digitized Boston’s surviving tax records from 1780 to 1821, when the town officially became a city.

The first volume of “takings” or assessments, from 1780, was published a century ago by the Bostonian Society. The digital collection not only offers a look at the handwritten pages of that volume, but also adds the many more volumes created over the following decades.

Here as a sample are snapshots from one page of the 1780 volume. This section covers Ward 1 in the North End.

At the top is the name of Bartholomew Broaders, barber. As an apprentice, he was one of the teenagers involved in the argument with Pvt. Hugh White outside the Customs House that led to the Boston Massacre. The tax list shows that ten years later Broaders running his own shop.

The next name, probably next to Broaders’s shop, was fellow barber Theodore Dehon. He was in his early forties at this time. Back in 1770 Dehon was established on State Street, and he was listed there again in the 1789 town directory. Dehon had another man living on his property in 1780, as well as journeyman Nicholas McMahon—who was “gone” a while later.

I’m convinced that the end of powdered-wig fashion caused a great constriction in the barbering business. Broaders ended up opening a “slop shop” selling clothes to sailors before going mad. Another former barber’s apprentice, Ebenezer Fox, likewise left the profession and opened a shop in Roxbury.

Here’s another person with a Massacre link: David Bradlee, who helped carry away Crispus Attucks’s body. Trained as a tailor, he became a Massachusetts artillery officer during the war and invested in a successful privateering voyage. In 1780 he was running a substantial tavern. That led him into the business of importing wine, thus rising from mechanic to merchant.
The last name above is Col. Isaac Sears, a Massachusetts native who had made his name and fortune in New York City. He was a leader of the Whigs there before the war and basically controlled the city in late 1775. When the British military returned, Sears moved to Boston and engaged in privateering and trading.

The next scrap shows Benjamin Cudworth, one of the town’s tax collectors. It’s notable that he owned considerably less real estate that Gawen Brown, the maker of the Old South Meeting-House clock.
The library’s research guide to the collection explains some of the quirks of these documents.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Sir William Howe’s Banner on Display in Penn

Yesterday Dr. Sushma Jansari of the British Museum shared this photograph in a tweet. She and her family had stopped at the Holy Trinity Church in Penn, Buckinghamshire, for tea, and found this banner displayed on a wall inside.

At the right of the banner is the name “Sir William Howe.” The recently made label nearby says that Gen. Sir William Howe had this personal emblem carried at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Naturally, that caught my interest.

However, the label also states that battle took place in New York, so it’s not fully reliable. At least it's more on target than some tourist guides to the church, which say that Sir William Howe won the Glorious First of June in 1794. That was his older brother, Adm. Lord Richard Howe.

The label describes the Howe coat of arms as featuring “Three black dogs’ heads with red tongues.” I’m sure the College of Heralds would prefer those animals to be identified as wolves. But that’s definitely the Howe family arms, and the Howes (a later series of earls) built this church in Penn in 1849 and supported it since.

What piqued my curiosity about this banner was that Gen. Howe wasn’t knighted until late in 1776, a year after the Battle of Bunker Hill. So his troops definitely didn’t carry the banner in this form, with “Sir William Howe” sewn into it, in Charlestown. Did they display it in 1777 and 1778 as Howe served as commander-in-chief in Philadelphia and New York?

I haven’t found any printed mention of Sir William Howe’s banner besides what’s connected with this church. I’m hoping that some people who study flags of the Revolutionary era might know about this emblem or similar ones.

According to that tradition (and again, our sources aren't flawless), Gen. Howe’s banner “hung for many years in Westminster Abbey.” I suspect it was part of the memorial to his older brother George, a beloved army commander killed in the French and Indian War. The statue anchoring that memorial was actually funded in 1759 by the grateful province of Massachusetts.

Up until 1884 there were “military trophies and flags behind” Viscount George Howe’s monument in a “window embrasure,” as shown in a sketch on the abbey’s website. But in that year the statue was moved “so that American visitors could see it more easily.” Sir William’s banner might then have been sent off to the church in Penn.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Life of Sarah Fayerweather

In 1756 Thomas Fayerweather (1724-1805), a wealthy Boston merchant, married Sarah Hubbard. She was a daughter of the treasurer of Harvard College, born in 1730. Her portrait by Robert Feke, now owned by Historic New England, appears here.

According to Boston town records, that wedding took place on 26 June. The Sarah Fayerweather cookbook I described yesterday is dated exactly eight years later. That date provides a link between it and this particular Sarah Fayerweather, and suggests that the book might have been an anniversary gift.

The Fayerweathers had four children baptized at the Old South Meeting-House between 1757 and 1769. Though they never seem to have joined that church, Douglas Winiarski wrote about the prayers they requested here.

Thomas Fayerweather had business ties in other American ports as well as London and the Caribbean, well documented in his surviving correspondence. His investments included some slaving voyages and some genteel smuggling. Fayerweather’s political profile seems invisible, however; after 1769 he apparently spent much of his time in rural Oxford, away from tumultuous Boston.

Sarah Fayerweather oversaw her kitchens, but she almost certainly had servants do the work there. On 2 Apr 1770 Thomas hired out “five black men-servants” named Cato, Charleston, Jack, Prince, and Boston, perhaps because he didn’t need them out in the country. Unfortunately, Thomas Fayerweather doesn’t appear on Massachusetts’s 1771 tax list for either Boston or Oxford, so we don’t have the details of his property then.

In the fall of 1774, as Massachusetts militarized after the “Powder Alarm,” Thomas Fayerweather made a deal with George Ruggles of Cambridge, a Jamaican merchant who had married into the Vassall family. The two men swapped houses.

Ruggles got a new house inside Boston, protected by the British army. The Fayerweathers gained a mansion and farm on the Watertown road in Cambridge, next to the estate of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver. Oliver was gone, along with most of the other Loyalists from that part of town. That’s why that home on the “Tory Row” part of what’s now Brattle Street is known as the Ruggles-Fayerweather House.

When the war started, it appears the Fayerweathers again moved out to Oxford, leaving their Cambridge house empty. Early in June 1775, Gen. Israel Putnam took Lt. Col. Experience Storrs of Connecticut out there and told him to use it as barracks. On 8 June, Storrs wrote in his journal:
Mr. Fairweather came home last night out of humor as they tell me. No wonder, his house filled up with soldiers, and perhaps his interest suffers as it really must. Sent for me, yet appears to act the part of a gentleman.
By the end of the summer, the Fayerweathers’ house was being used as an army hospital. But after the siege the family got their Cambridge property back, and they maintained their wealthy lifestyle. Sarah Fayerweather died in 1804, her husband Thomas a year later, leaving a fortune of $64,000.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

A Cookbook Started in 1764

One of the items in the Harvard Library’s Colonial North American collection is the cookbook digitized here.

Early in the book Sarah Fayerweather’s name appears over “June 26 MDCCLXIV,” telling us the initial owner and date.

The first pages are beautifully written in at least five different handwriting styles, perhaps even by a professional scribe.

At page 30 another hand takes over, also accomplished but not as showy or as even. The long S disappears about page 35. On pages 36-37 is a remedy “For Consumptive Complaints in the Breast” copied from the 21 Aug 1786 issue of the American Herald newspaper.

At page 40 yet more handwritings appear, with recipes attributed to “Mrs. Smith,” “Mrs. Thompson,” and others. One recipe on that page is for “polka cake,” and the polka craze dates from the mid-1800s. Page 44 (“Apple, Cream Pudding,” “Wine Jelly,” and “Cream Tartar Biscuit”) has been spattered on, so the notebook was obviously still in use.

The number of blank pages shows that this recipe book was designed to grow, just as people used it. It ends with an index which subsequent owners kept up.

Here are two recipes from page 4, the latter broken out from one paragraph:
To make Gingerbread
Take 5 lb. Flour 2 1/2 Sugar, 1 1/2 lb. Butter, 3 oz Ginger, 14 Eggs, 14 Spoons full rose water, 2 or 3 Spoons full Milk

for a
Calfs Head Tortois Fashion

Take a Calfs Head wth. ye. skin on, and parboil it, & take all the bones out & cut in pieces

then season it wth. pepper & put a Gill of Ketchup & also. Calfs feet in it, & salt & sweet herbs a little mace pounded fine, shread an Onion fine, about half a pint of Claret

take eno’ of the Liquor that you parboil it in to cover it, set it a stewing at 11 o’Clock & keep it doing till after one

season the Liver cut in slices & fry

put it in a dish by it self wth. some of ye. Gravy & ye. [heart shape] wth. it,

the tongue must go wth. ye. stew,

take ye. Brains wth. some melted Butter a little Ketchup & put in a bowl, Garnish it wth. yolks of Eggs Boiled hard, and force meat Balls.
“Force meat” is chopped and spiced meat. I’m not sure meatballs and the yolks of hardboiled eggs would make a calf’s brain look more appetizing, but I’ve never tried it.

TOMORROW: Who was Sarah Fayerweather?

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Harvard Digital Collections from the Colonial Period

Last month the Harvard Gazette featured some treasures from the university’s Colonial North America collection, “approximately 650,000 digitized pages of handmade materials from the 17th and 18th centuries.”

Most of that material consists of manuscripts, but highlighted in this article are:
As I type, the collection’s front page features documents created by Dr. John Jeffries and the Rev. Thaddeus Mason Harris, two men from Revolutionary Massachusetts I don’t fully trust. But I can’t hold that against the university.

This week the university announced the launch of the larger Harvard Digital Collections, which contains the material from Colonial North America. That “provides free, public access to over 6 million objects digitized from our collections—from ancient art to modern manuscripts and audio visual materials.”

What’s more, this is the policy on copyright governing this material:
In order to foster creative reuse of digitized content, Harvard Library allows free use of openly available digital reproductions of items from its collections that are not under copyright, except where other rights or restrictions apply.

Harvard Library asserts no copyright over digital reproductions of works in its collections which are in the public domain, where those digital reproductions are made openly available on Harvard Library websites.
So if a person wanted an image of a certificate of initiation into the African Lodge of Freemasons, signed by Prince Hall, George Middleton, and other officers, one has merely to click.

Friday, July 12, 2019

A Chance to Build the Auction Block Memorial

Steve Locke, a Boston-based artist, is running a Kickstarter campaign to create and install a memorial just outside Faneuil Hall to the people who suffered from the transatlantic slave trade.

Locke was Boston’s Artist-in-Residence in 2018, and the advisory board for this project includes Mayor Marty Walsh and other officials and leaders of local non-profit organizations. The campaign has attracted enough subscribers to reach its first fundraising level and is now aiming for a “stretch goal.”

This site was chosen because Peter Faneuil, the merchant who gave Boston the initial money for a town meeting-hall, gained some of his wealth from slaving voyages between Africa and the Caribbean. And more for shipping supplies from New England to the Caribbean. In addition, the building stands near what was once the Town Dock, site of occasional auctions of newly arrived Africans during the colonial period.

There is of course great irony in the building long called “the cradle of liberty” having those links to slavery. We Bostonians prefer to remember the abolitionist orators who spoke inside during the mid-1800s. But the mercantile economy of Boston was built largely on supplying the deadly work camps of the West Indies. Acknowledging that history in a moving way tells more of the region’s history.

Locke describes his memorial design this way:
The memorial consists of the footprint of an auction block—the site that transforms humans into property. In order to converse visually with an existing memorial sculpture in the area, the work will be bronze with a brown patina. The bronze plate will be approximately 10x16 feet overall and will contain the raised text and image of the routes and supplies of the Triangular Trade. Ideally, it will outline the shipping route of the [ship] Desire.

The memorial will have two sections, a site of the auctioneer (the smaller rectangular section at right) and a larger area for those being sold into slavery. The larger area will have the map of the Triangular Trade route that created the wealth of the Faneuil family and lead to the creation of the marketplace area. Because it is symbolic (and not an actual auction block), the bronze plate will be set into the existing bricks (or hardscape). It will be at grade, not a platform or a riser, on the same level as the street. It is not meant to intrude vertically in any way on the existing site. Instead, it is meant to be a plan on the ground, a metaphorical basis and model for how wealth traveled through enslavement.

The measurements of the block are taken from analysis of slaving manifests that dictate the amount of space available for "loose-pack" cargo of slaves. Humans were allotted a space of 3x5 feet. The block will be cast in sections this size to reflect this organizational structure. Also, the historic images of "slave packing" will be included on the smaller section of the block.

In order to evoke the presence of those Africans and African-Americans who came into chattel slavery through Boston, the bronze plate will be heated to a constant 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, similar to Horst Hoheisel’s Monument to a Monument in Buchenwald, Germany. This will make touching the work an immediately intimate and reverent experience, as if you are touching a living person. This will also keep the memorial free from snow in the winter. Even in a Boston winter, the auction block will be visible.
The funds will cover additional work on both the details and logistics of the memorial. The Auction Block Memorial fundraising campaign closes on 24 July.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Deborah Sampson’s First Masquerade

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia announced a new acquisition with this article in the New York Times.

The news hook is Deborah Sampson, the young woman from Middleboro who served in the Continental Army under the name of Robert Shurtliff. Alison Leigh Cowan’s article says:
Did she fight in the decisive Battle of Yorktown, as she later insisted on multiple occasions? And how did she keep her secret for the many months she served in Washington’s light infantry?

Now, scholars say the discovery of a long-forgotten diary, recorded more than 200 years ago by a Massachusetts neighbor of Sampson, is addressing some of the questions and sharpening our understanding of one of the few women to take on a combat role during the Revolution. . . .

The diary, written by Abner Weston, suggests Sampson likely did not fight at Yorktown as she claimed. He dates Sampson’s botched enlistment to a period around January 1782, months after the British thrashing at Yorktown. . . .

The…diary that just resurfaced is a hand-stitched, 68-page account of the period between March 28, 1781 and August 16, 1782, which Weston updated while back home in Middleborough, Mass., where Sampson also lived.

In an entry for Jan. 23, 1782, Weston, then 21, wrote with variant spelling about an “uncommon affair” that rocked the town. A woman, posing as a man, had tried to enlist.

“Their hapend a uncommon affair at this time,” he wrote, “for Deborah Samson of this town dress her self in men’s cloths and hired her self to Israel Wood to go into the three years Servis. But being found out returnd the hire and paid the Damages.”
There’s indeed some new information there, but Sampson’s enlistment after Yorktown hasn’t been in doubt. Alfred Young’s biography Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier (2004) firmly sets Sampson’s enlistment in the spring of 1782 based on Continental Army records.

Masquerade also discusses Sampson’s earlier abortive enlistment based on a local minister’s account and town lore collected generations later by John Adams Vinton. A young recruit named Timothy Thayer didn’t show up for duty, prompting inquiries which revealed that Thayer was actually Sampson.

Abner Weston’s diary entry provides an additional source for that episode. It suggests Israel Wood was not the local army recruiter, as Al Young guessed, but someone trying to hire a substitute so he wouldn’t have to serve himself.

Sampson hid this moment from her biographer, so we have no record of what she was thinking. Was she just hoping to collect the recruitment money and vanish with it back into women’s clothing? Or was she planning to march off as a young man, but something got in the way? Either way, a few months later Sampson once again put on male clothing, went to another town where they didn’t know her, and began her documented army service as Robert Shurtliff.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Three Revolutionary War Symposia in Three Weekends

Three Revolutionary War symposia are happening on successive weekends this fall, so it’s time to pick and prepare.

On 20-22 September, Fort Ticonderoga in upstate New York will host its sixteenth Annual Seminar on the American Revolution. The speakers are:
  • John Buchanan, “Nathanael Greene and the Road to Charleston
  • Mark R. Anderson, “Our Kahnawake Friends: America’s Essential Indian Allies in the Canadian Campaign”
  • Phillip Hamilton, “Loyalty and Loyalism: Henry Knox and the American Revolution as a Transatlantic Family Struggle”
  • Patrick Lacroix, “Promises to Keep: French-Canadian Soldiers of the Revolution, 1775-1783”
  • Bryan C. Rindfleisch, “‘’Twas a Duty Incumbent on Me’: The Indigenous & Transatlantic Intimacies of George Galphin, the American Commissioner of Indian Affairs in the South”
  • John Ruddiman, “German Auxiliaries’ Reactions to American Slavery and Relationships with Enslaved Americans”
  • Jessica J. Sheets, “‘I Hope…We Shall Ever Be on Terms of Friendship’: The Politically Divided Tilghman Family”
  • Alisa Wade, “‘To Live a Widow’: Personal Sacrifice and Self-Sufficiency in the American Revolution”

On Saturday, 28 September, the first Emerging Revolutionary War Symposium will take place at the Gadsby’s Tavern Museum in Alexandria, Virginia. This year’s theme is “Before They Were Americans,” and the speakers will discuss what led to the idea of breaking from Britain:
  • Peter Henriques, “George Washington: From British Subject to American Rebel”
  • Phillip Greenwalt, “I wish this cursed place was burned: Boston and the Road to Revolution”
  • Katherine Gruber, “A Tailor-Made Revolution: Clothing William Carlin’s Alexandria”
  • William Griffith, “A proud, indolent, ignorant self sufficient set: The Colonists’ Emergence as a Fighting Force in the French and Indian War”
  • Stephanie Seal Walters, “Smallpox to Revolution”
Register through this link.


Lastly, on 3-5 October, the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, in partnership with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, will host the first International Conference on the American Revolution, bringing scholars from Britain, Ireland, and the U.S. of A. together.

The M.O.A.R. says:
The conference will coincide with the opening of Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier, the Museum’s first international loan exhibition. With more than one hundred works of art, historical objects, manuscripts, and maps from lenders across the globe, Cost of Revolution will explore the Age of Revolutions in America and Ireland through the life story of an Irish-born artist and officer in the British Army, Richard Mansergh St. George (1750s-1798).
Scheduled presentations include:
  • Linda Colley, “Britain, America, and Ireland in an Age of War and Revolution”
  • Andrew Mackillop, “Losing and Winning: Scotland and the American Revolution”
  • Stephen Conway, “Englishness and the American Revolution”
  • Matthew Skic, “Cost of Revolution: The Life and Death of an Irish Soldier”
  • Gregory J. W. Urwin, “From Parade Ground to Battlefield: How the British Army Adapted to War in North America, 1775-1783”
  • Aaron Sullivan, “The Disaffected: Britain’s Occupation of Philadelphia During the American Revolution”
  • Lauren Duval, “The Home Front: Gender, Domestic Space, and Military Occupation in the American Revolution”
  • Padhraig Higgins, “Playing the Soldier: The Art and Material Culture of Soldiering in Eighteenth-Century Ireland”
  • Ruth Kenny, “Insurrection and Identity: The Depiction of Conflict in Late Eighteenth-Century Irish Art”
  • Martin Mansergh, “The Legacy of History for Making Peace in Ireland”
Attendees can also sign up for a one-day guided bus following the path of Richard St. George through the Philadelphia Campaign of 1777, a walking tour of the fight for Fort Mifflin, and of course tours of the museum itself.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

“We shall conduct our Embassy”

Yale professor Mark Peterson recently published The City-State of Boston: The Rise and Fall of an Atlantic Power, 1630-1865, which has a provocative thesis.

For centuries, Peterson posits, Boston tried to operate not only as regional capital of New England but also politically aloof from its national capitals, London and Washington, D.C.

Rather than concentrate on supplying goods to London like a good mercantilist colony, early Bostonians learned to trade with the Caribbean colonies and outside the British Empire entirely. Massachusetts minted its own coins in the mid-1600s and outfitted its own invasion force in the mid-1700s. As late as the Hartford Convention, this “city-state” wanted to go its own way. I look forward to digging more deeply into his thesis.

This Yale News article about Peterson highlights a smaller story that touches on the Revolution and its memory:
While doing research for the book Peterson took note of facts that “struck him as strange,” such as the curious evolution of a letter from John Adams, American statesman and second president of the United States, to his wife Abigail Adams. The letter underwent an almost imperceptible — but critically important — revision in language when published many years later, says Peterson.

In September 1774, John Adams attended the first Continental Congress in Philadelphia, and wrote to Abigail about his encounters with the delegates from 12 of the other 13 colonies for the first time. Adams wrote: “I flatter myself, however, that we shall conduct our embassy in such a manner as to merit the approbation of our country.”

In this letter, Adams was quite rightly describing himself and the other Massachusetts delegates to the Continental Congress as if they were ambassadors to a foreign power, explains Peterson. “And when Adams says ‘our country,’ he is referring to Massachusetts,” not the United States, notes Peterson, who adds that up until the Civil War, both nationally and internationally Boston and its New England hinterland was thought of as a separate country with its own “national” identity.

However, following the Civil War in 1875, John Adams’ grandson Charles Francis Adams published an edition of his grandfather’s letters. In that volume, the same sentence written by John Adams was changed ever so slightly — but with an enormous impact on how Boston is perceived historically, notes Peterson. In this later edition, the younger Adams changed the phrase “our embassy” to “ourselves.”
Charles Francis Adams’s guess about his grandfather’s letter (detail shown here courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society) didn’t account for a lot of squiggles. But, to be fair, John Adams’s writing wasn’t the clearest. And Peterson is right that the younger Adams clearly didn’t have the mindset to expect that word to be “Embassy.”

Monday, July 08, 2019

A Wilkes Cufflink from Brunswick Town

Just a few hours after I posted about the archeological discovery of a tavern in Brunswick Town, North Carolina, a tweet from Warren Bingham alerted me to a new announcement from that team.

One artifact when cleaned up turned out to be a cufflink ornamented with a pea-sized blue glass bead. And etched on that bead are the words “Wilkes and Liberty 45.”

John Wilkes was the London radical who used his magazine The North-Briton to attack the Earl of Bute, a Scotsman, and his supposed corruption of the royal family. Bute stepped down as chief minister in April 1763 and never returned to politics, but Whigs in Britain and America kept him in the public mind as a scapegoat and focus of conspiracy theories.

In issue number 45 of The North-Briton, published late in April 1763, Wilkes came very close to attacking George III as well as Bute. That would be sedition, and the government brought Wilkes and his printers up on charges. He fled to France for several years, returning in 1768 to be both reelected to Parliament and arrested for obscenity.

American Whigs adopted Wilkes’s cause, making his name and the number 45 emblems for political reform across the British Empire. The Boston Whigs corresponded with Wilkes in the late 1760s, trying to make common cause. His domestic popularity lasted until the Gordon Riots of 1780. Later generations looked askance at Wilkes’s sexual activity and writing, letting them overshadow his political significance.

There are lots of physical manifestations of Wilkes’s popularity in America: prints, china, and ornaments like this one. In 2013 a member of the TreasureNet bulletin board with the handle sscindercoop reported finding a seal with the same slogan and similar design at a “colonial fort site,” possibly in central New York. A London mudlark called Chill Bill found a glass “Wilkes and Liberty 45” cufflink in the Thames, as he shows on this 2017 video.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

A New Tavern Opened in Brunswick Town

Archeologists from East Carolina University announced that they are exploring the site of an eighteenth-century tavern in Brunswick Town, North Carolina, once capital of that colony.

The building was located by a student using ground-penetrating radar. It appeared as “a submerged structure measuring roughly 400 square feet (37 square meters) and buried under 5 feet (1.5 m) of earth.” A dig revealed more details, including the fact that the structure was destroyed by fire. The walls collapsed in a way that protected the crawl space under the floorboards from the flames, thus preserving an unusually large assortment of everyday objects.

LiveScience reports:
The objects hidden in the building’s crawl space include the brass tap from a wine barrel, unused tobacco pipes, broken mugs and goblets, crushed liquor bottles, and other items typically found in a tavern. An Irish halfpenny dated to 1766 helps narrow down the tavern's latest possible date of operation.
The Charlotte Observer also noted “iron tools that historians can’t yet identify.”

The British military burned Brunswick Town in 1776, and most people abandoned that settlement. (Gov. William Tryon had moved away in 1770, which didn’t help the local economy.) The archeologists seem to think, however, that this building had been destroyed in the preceding decade.

Strikingly, the artifacts include “thimbles, straight pins and clothing fasteners associated with the town’s female populace.” The archeologists note those might have been a male tailor’s tools. Nevertheless, those discoveries led to speculation that the tavern was also a brothel.

Another oddity is that there is no paper record of a building having stood on that spot. Researchers studying Brunswick Town have relied on this 1769 map, but it shows no structure there. So perhaps the business burned before 1769, or perhaps the business was lying really low.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

The Natick Community and the Watertown Dam

Last month the Junto blog shared an interesting essay by Zachary M. Bennett, “Damming Fish and Indians: Starvation and Dispossession in Colonial Massachusetts.”

Bennett writes:
Compared to other Native Americans in southern New England, the Ninnimissinuok community of Natick, Massachusetts seemed to have secure footing going into the eighteenth century. Located only fifteen miles outside of Boston on the Charles River, Natick was the largest community of Native American converts to Christianity—or “Praying Indians”—in mainland New England with a population exceeding two hundred persons. These Praying Indians owned their land in corporation to safeguard their enclave against land hungry colonists. . . .

In 1738, colonists downstream in Watertown raised a dam several feet on the Charles River that blocked migrating sea-run (anadromous) fish. Spring fish runs were of vital importance to Natick. Native people depended on these fish for half their yearly supply of animal protein and were also an important fertilizer for New England’s notoriously thin soil. Although Massachusetts law required the operators of the Watertown Dam to allow fish to pass by building a fish ladder, on the Charles River corrupt local officials looked the other way. Natick’s Praying Indians protested. . . .

To placate Indian petitioners, the [Massachusetts General Court] committee ordered that portions of the Watertown Dam punctured by the winter ice not be repaired until May, giving migrating fish a slightly lower structure to scale. This was a deceiving concession because the General Court granted dam owners full discretion to adhere to this judgement: if they deemed the water too low to power their mills sufficiently, only the approval of five selectmen from Watertown and adjoining Newtown [sic]—communities directly invested in the smooth running of these mills—was required to raise the dam during the May fish run. . . .

For Natick, the loss of river fish a few years before the outbreak of King George’s War in 1744 was particularly bad timing. Nearly all able-bodied Praying Indian men served in this conflict and they suffered significantly higher mortality rates than their Anglo comrades in arms.
In addition, Daniel Gookin wrote in 1792, the Natick soldiers “brought home a mortal disease, of which twenty three died in the year 1759.”

As a result of those factors, Bennett writes, “land sales in the community rose 150% in the 1740s.” Gookin reported: “In the year 1763, according to a census then taken, there were thirty seven Indians only in Natick; but in this return, probably the wandering Indians were not included.” By 1792, he judged that “The Indians in Natick are now reduced to one family of five persons, and two single women.” Of course, many more people of Natick descent were still living in Massachusetts—but they were no longer recognized as Indians or no longer had their own land in Natick to live on.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Climbing the Walls at George Washington High

America’s conservative media recently went into a tizzy about the San Francisco school board’s decision to spend more than half a million dollars to install a large painting by a Communist artist showing how George Washington kept slaves and encouraged the theft of Native American lands.

No, wait that’s wrong. Right-wing pundits are criticizing the school board’s decision to remove that painting. As are some media voices on the left.

Let’s start again. The school board’s action was driven by the students at George Washington High School, most of whom are young people of color who on their school walls saw their ancestors being oppressed. Those young activists also demanded that the school’s name be changed so as not to perpetuate the honor for Washington.

No, that’s wrong, too. About two-thirds of the school’s students are Asian-American. I’ve seen no evidence of how the full student body feels about this effort. No one has formally proposed to change the school’s name.

I’d better start at the beginning. In 1936 San Francisco built a big new high school with Works Progress Administration money. That federal agency also paid the Russian-born artist Victor Arnautoff to paint thirteen mural panels in the main entrance hall and library. Twelve of those comprised a “Life of Washington.” In photos of the paintings, like the one above by Daniel Kim for the San Francisco Examiner, we can see how Arnautoff had to design around the vents in the walls.

Arnautoff didn’t recreate the usual Colonial Revival public hagiography of Washington. Though he had once fought for the royalist White Russian army, he had become a Communist. Arnautoff therefore chose to include images of Washington ordering around enslaved Africans and encouraging white Americans to migrate west, killing Native Americans in the process.

Arnautoff’s critical approach to the American Revolution produced some ironic details. For instance, his depiction of the Boston Massacre owes a lot to Alonzo Chappell’s painting of British soldiers backed into a defensive triangle by violent colonists—more royalist than rebel.

Decades passed. In 1955 Arnautoff caricatured Vice President Richard Nixon, and the House Un-American Activities Committee summoned him for questioning. Eight years later, he moved to the Soviet Union to live his final years.

Meanwhile, at George Washington High School, students were complaining about the limitations of Arnautoff’s work. Emphasizing Washington’s slaveholding meant portraying blacks only in servile roles. Black Panther activists protested by throwing ink on the paintings and gouging the plaster. As for the pictures of Natives, in 1968 a vice principal told the San Francisco Chronicle, “For years, the by-word has always been ‘I’ll meet you under the dead Indian.’”

That year the high school student body voted 61% to demand additional artwork reflecting “recognition of the great contributions of black people to the sciences and history.” In 1974 the young local artist Dewey Crumpler completed “Multi-Ethnic Heritage: Black, Asian, Native/Latin American,” an explicit response to Arnautoff’s “Life of Washington” nearby.

More decades passed. In 2017 a local preservationist organization proposed seeking landmark status for the high school, in part because of the murals. The school board declined to take that course, also in part because of the murals. Because now more people were criticizing that artwork on the grounds that the pictures created a poor learning environment for African-American and Native American students.

According to the New York Times in April, out of slightly more than 2,000 students at George Washington High School this year, there were 89 African-Americans and 4 Native Americans. Of course, being a small fraction of the student body might well make seeing visual reminders of oppression feel even more oppressive. Not many public high schools feature paintings of dead bodies, whatever political meaning they’re intended to have.

In February, the San Francisco United School District’s Reflection and Action Committee recommended that this summer the department digitally archive the “Life of Washington” and then cover it with white paint. This committee declared that the mural “glorifies slavery, genocide, colonization, manifest destiny, white supremacy, oppression, etc.” Which of course is the opposite of what Arnautoff intended. But pre-WW2 American racism may have seeped into his depictions unwittingly, and the changing cultural context may have altered how the images come across.

(That committee also stated: “At Oak Park School in Illinois, the[y] covered a historic WPA mural with white paint because it lacked the racial diversity their school has.” In fact, that mural had been moved from another school, and was simply moved again. The George Washington High School murals, in contrast, are frescos permanently infused into the plaster of the walls.)

Various people have disagreed with the committee. Dewey Crumpler, the artist who created the “response” murals, is now a professor at the San Francisco Art Institute; he feels that removing the Arnautoff murals would render his own work in the school “irrelevant.” An English teacher at George Washington High School assigned 49 freshmen to write essays about the frescoes. Four favored removing them. Most felt as one student wrote: “The fresco is a warning and reminder of the fallibility of our hallowed leaders.”

This month the San Francisco Unified School District board voted to accept its committee’s recommendation and find a way to conceal the murals—permanently, according to the board’s vice chair. They budgeted $600,000 for the effort; even a seemingly simple solution like painting over the walls would require a costly environmental impact study and at least a year of planning.

That’s how we’ve reached this deeply ironic moment. A progressive school board is literally talking about whitewashing over George Washington’s faults while leaving his name enshrined on a school building. Media commentators who generally speak up for the historical value of Confederate statues are voicing the same arguments to save a Communist’s New Deal critique of early America.

I’d prefer to see an approach like the one Deerfield used to update its monument to the 1704 raid on the town—adding information rather than subtracting, showing how understandings change, providing a visible reminder of how we value all students today without obliterating how American culture hasn’t always done that.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Samuel Danforth’s Independence Day

In 1788 Samuel Danforth was a seventeen-year-old apprentice carpenter living in Providence, Rhode Island.

The previous year he had started to keep a diary—fitfully at first and then more regularly. This was connected with his education since he recorded signing up for a school and kept track of what library books he borrowed and read.

On 3 July 1788, Samuel recorded a job with a deadline:
Work over on Camp hill to build Benches for to Dine upon Independence Day.
However, the next entry makes the holiday sounds like a disappointment:
a scanty meal for such a numerous train of people
Young Samuel Danforth’s diary is now in the collection of the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

“Wholly worthless for history, and some of it discreditable”

As I wrote yesterday, in 1842 the Massachusetts Historical Society named a committee to consider taking in and/or publishing a collection of testimony collected in 1825 from veterans of the Bunker Hill battle. That testimony had been collected and preserved by William Sullivan, head of the committee overseeing the start of the Bunker Hill Monument.

One member of that M.H.S. committee was the Rev. George E. Ellis of Charlestown. He had heard about those accounts and tried to find them the previous year when he prepared an address on the battle. He couldn’t, so he must have been eager to read what finally surfaced.

More than three decades later, Ellis recalled:
I took the books to my house in Charlestown, and deliberately examined them.

Their contents were most extraordinary, many of the testimonies extravagant, boastful, inconsistent, and utterly untrue,—mixtures of old men’s broken memories and fond imaginings with the love of the marvellous.

Some of those who gave in affidavits about the battle could not have been in it, nor even in its neighborhood. They had got so used to telling the story for the wonderment of village listeners, as grandfathers’ tales, and as petted representatives of “the spirit of ’76,” that they did not distinguish between what they had seen and done and what they had read, heard, or dreamed.

The decision of the Committee was that much of the contents of the volumes was wholly worthless for history, and some of it discreditable, as misleading and false. The suggestion, as I remember, was made that the Committee report advising that the papers be burned. But this was not adopted.
Ellis’s memory doesn’t entirely fit with the M.H.S. minutes from 1842. The only recorded proposal from committee chairman George Ticknor was to simply return the volumes to the Sullivan family.

Ellis also recalled the committee had ultimately recommended “that there should be an entry made in the books, saying that they had been examined by a committee, who had passed judgment upon them, in substance as above, and that they be sealed up, and put away in our Cabinet.”

It’s unclear what actually happened to the volumes, however. The M.H.S. voted to return them, then voted to reconsider, then didn’t make a final determination at all (at least formally). The monument opened the next year.

Editing the society’s records for publication in 1880, M.H.S. chroniclers reported: “Mr. Thomas C Amory, a relative of Mr. Richard Sullivan, is strongly of the impression that the papers, on their return to Mr. Sullivan, were destroyed by him.”

Yet in 1887 Justin Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History of America stated that the “three folio volumes” were still “preserved in the cabinet of the Mass. Hist. Society.” A few years later, however, members couldn’t find any such volumes.

Winsor also suggested that the original documents transcribed for Sullivan survived into the 1880s: “What purported to be some of the originals were offered for sale in New York in 1877, but were bid in.” Nate Raab confirmed to me that this meant they didn’t meet the reserve price. About what might be the same collection, Winsor added: “C. L. Woodward, of New York, advertised in May, 1883, nearly two hundred papers, which were called Col. [Samuel] Swett’s Collection of Affidavits.” No word on whether that sold.

So it’s possible that there’s still a sizable collection of testimony from Bunker Hill battle veterans out there in some private archive. It’s also possible that that testimony is just as worthless as Ellis believed. I’d still like to see it.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

William Sullivan’s “Bunker Hill manuscripts”

On the fiftieth anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill in 1825, the committee raising funds to build the Bunker Hill Monument held a cornerstone-laying ceremony. Many veterans of the Revolutionary War attended.

A few weeks later, on 12 July, the head of the Bunker Hill Monument Associates, William Sullivan, told his fellow directors that “he had possession of the papers containing the accounts given by the survivors of the battle of the 17th of June, 1775, and that he proposed to hold them subject to the inspection of the Directors exclusively.”

The historian Samuel Swett got to see those accounts. The following year, he wrote in his history of the battle about “statements taken down in writing by Gen. Sullivan and other Directors of the Bunker Hill monument, assisted by Judge Thacher and one or two other gentlemen, at the request of the Directors, from surviving soldiers of the battle present at the celebration the 17th June last.”

William Sullivan (1774-1839) was a son of James Sullivan, a Massachusetts attorney general and governor, and nephew of Gen. John Sullivan of the Continental Army. He was a lawyer, officeholder, and a militia commander (hence the title of “general”). Though his father had been a Jeffersonian, William Sullivan was a fervent Federalist. He was also deeply interested in history, publishing many books explaining many things. According to Justin Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History of America (1887), Sullivan had the veterans’ recollections of Bunker Hill transcribed in his law office and bound those pages into three volumes.

In 1839 Sullivan died. His widow asked his brother Richard what to do with those volumes. On 4 Feb 1842 Richard wrote to James Savage, president of the Massachusetts Historical Society, offering “to give them a place among the Collections.” That probably meant publishing the documents in the society’s Collections series, not simply preserving them.

At the 24 February meeting the M.H.S. chose a committee of three members “to examine and report upon the three manuscript volumes containing a list of the survivors of Bunker Hill battle who appeared at the celebration, June 17, 1825, and other matters therein contained.” The members on that committee were George Ticknor the publisher, George Bancroft the historian and statesman, and the Rev. George E. Ellis, who in 1841 had delivered an address on the battle, soon to be published as Sketches of Bunker Hill Battle and Monument. They met in Ticknor’s library.

The next M.H.S. meeting was at the end of March. According to the official minutes, Ticknor “made an informal report on the matter.” In response, two members proposed that the society immediately return the manuscripts to the Sullivans, but another suggested that “the whole subject be laid upon the table until the next meeting.” That plain record conceals a difficult disagreement. A letter from Savage the next month stated that he had been so caught up in the “long discussion we had on the Bunker Hill documents” that he forgot to announce that he was about to go to England.

On 8 April, Richard Sullivan wrote to Ticknor with second thoughts:
Since the manuscripts were sent, I have had reason to think it was my brother's intention that the papers in question should never meet the public eye; that they were not prepared under authority from the Bunker Hill Monument Association, but at the suggestion of Mr. W. Sullivan, as matters of curiosity; but that as statements of facts I am now convinced, from a source to be relied upon, and as is also known to you, he considered them entitled to no credit. It is, therefore, my duty, under this information, to beg the favor of you, if consistent with your duty as a committee, to present a request from me to the Society that the manuscripts be returned to me, and in the mean time suspend your further action on the subject.
Of course, back in the 1820s Swett had written that William Sullivan did work with other directors of the Monument Association to collect the veterans’ statements. And he had gone to the trouble of having those accounts transcribed, bound, and preserved for over a decade. On the other hand, Sullivan had never chosen to publish that material himself.

At its 28 April meeting, the M.H.S. voted to approve Ticknor’s motion to return the three volumes to Richard Sullivan. But that still wasn’t the last word. On 26 May the society reopened the question of “the true historical character and value of the Bunker Hill manuscripts.” Some members wanted to hear more from their committee. The bare-bones record of the meeting again gives only a hint of what passed: “After some discussion upon the subject, Voted, That the subject be laid over until the next meeting.”

On 30 June, the Rev. Samuel Ripley, son of a historian of Concord based in large part on interviews with veterans, moved that the manuscripts be considered again. But Ticknor wasn’t present and attendance was thin. “After some discussion,” the record says again, members voted to postpone their decision until the next meeting. But officially they never addressed the question again. The M.H.S.’s published Proceedings volume reports: “The Records are silent as to any further action or discussion concerning these manuscripts.”

TOMORROW: What was so troubling about those manuscripts?

[The picture above shows the Bunker Hill Monument as it looked about 1837, twelve years after the cornerstone was laid and six years before it opened.]

Monday, July 01, 2019

Schoolmasters with the Initials “J.L.”

As quoted yesterday, in the summer of 1775 London newspapers reported that letters found on the body of Dr. Joseph Warren after the Battle of Bunker Hill implicated some people in Boston as “spies.”

The newspapers disagreed on how many letters the royal authorities had found on Warren’s body—three or six. I don’t believe the text of any letter survives. But those documents prompted the arrest of schoolteachers James Lovell and John Leach on 29 June, twelve days after the battle.

This article from the Essex Institute Historical Collections shows James Lovell writing to friends outside the siege lines throughout May and June. In a 10 May letter, Lovell even told Oliver Wendell about the dangers of sharing sensitive information:
You must however give us no State Matters; for ’tis but “you are the General’s Prisoner,” and whip! away to the Man of War; as is the Case of poor John Peck. I carry’d him Breakfast to the main Guard yesterday, and again this Morning but he was carry’d off last Evening and put on Board Ship. Inquisitorial this!
The royal authorities released John Peck in a prisoner exchange on 6 June. However, the heavy losses at Bunker Hill made the royal authorities far less forgiving.

Lovell was a strong Patriot, known for orating on the memory of the Boston Massacre back in 1771. On 3 May he told Wendell that he was trying to get his wife and children out of Boston, but
I shall tarry if 10 Sieges take place. I have determined it to be a Duty which I owe the Cause & the Friends of it, and am perfectly fearless of the Consequences. An ill Turn, a most violent Diarhea, from being too long in a damp place, has confirm’d Doctr. [Joseph? Silvester?] Gardners advice to me not to go into the Trenches, where my whole Soul lodges nightly. How then can I be more actively serviceable to the Friends who think with me, than by keeping disagreeable post among a Set of Villains who would willingly destroy what those Friends leave behind them.
Lovell was probably writing in a similar vein to Dr. Warren and perhaps indeed sending out information useful to the provincial military. He took elementary precautions. As Sam Forman notes and the E.I.H.C. article shows, Lovell already often signed his letters with just his initials. In addition, he asked Wendell to be sure to seal all their correspondence. But there was no protection for the documents that Dr. Warren chose to carry onto the battlefield.

As for John Leach, he appears to have been dragged into this situation simply because he had the same initials as Lovell. It’s also possible that the letters mentioned teaching school. Boston had three schoolteachers with the initials “J.L.” One, John Lovell of the South Latin School, was a staunch Loyalist. The other two got hauled off to jail.

Then Leach’s specialty as a teacher of navigation became a liability. Lovell taught Latin and Greek—hardly sensitive subjects. But royal officers found “Drawings” in Leach’s home when they arrested him. Those probably included detailed nautical maps and sketches of the harbor.

On 19 July, after three weeks in jail, the schoolteachers and other prisoners were taken into a military court presided over by Maj. Thomas Moncrieffe. According to Leach, the proceeding confirmed how little evidence the authorities had on them:
Till this Time we did not know our Crimes, on what account we were committed, but now we found Mr. Lovell was charged with “being a Spy, and giving intelligence to the Rebels.” And my charge, “being a spy, and suspected of taking plans.” When Capt. [Richard] Symmes appeared, he knew so little of us, that he called me Mr. Lovell; he knew so little of us, that instead of being a just Evidence [i.e., witness], he appeared ashamed and confounded, and went off.
Nevertheless, Leach wasn’t released until 3 October.

In late August, Lovell told a friend “that he expects to be out soon, tryumphant over his Enemies,” and was ready to give up “idlely schooling the children of a pack of Villains” in Boston. Instead, the royal authorities kept him locked up through the end of the siege and then carried him off to Halifax. Eventually he was exchanged.

Lovell never did go back to teaching school. Instead, he became a delegate to the Continental Congress, where he managed the correspondence with America’s diplomats—this time using a code.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

“Letters were found in the Doctor’s pocket”

On 29 July 1775, the Middlesex Journal, a newspaper published in London, reported this tidbit about the Battle of Bunker Hill:
The day after the late battle in America, some of the Regulars searched the pockets of Dr. [Joseph] Warren, who was killed, and found three letters sent to him from some spies at Boston, which were immediately sent there, and the writers being soon discovered were sent to prison. 
On his blog about Warren, biographer Sam Forman quotes two more London newspapers running versions of the same news. From the 29 July Morning Chronicle:
A gentleman is arrived in town, who was present at the action on the 17th of June, at Charles Town, between the Provincials and the Regulars. . . . He further says, that the celebrated Dr. Warren, who commanded the Provincial trenches at Charles-Town, while he was bravely defending himself against several opposing Regulars, was killed in a cowardly manner by an officer’s servant, but the fellow was instantly cut to pieces; six letters were found in the Doctor’s pocket, written from some gentlemen in Boston, who were immediately taken into custody, and whose situations when he came away, were so perilous and critical, that their friends every moment feared their executions from some arbitrary and illegal sentence of the new adopted law martial.
And a number of early September newspapers reported this news from a recently arrived merchant vessel:
She sailed from Boston the 29th of July, but has brought no newspapers, and, we are well informed, that everything remained quiet, and would continue so till an answer was received by this ship. By the above ship we learn, that two persons have been taken up in consequence of some papers found in Dr. Warren’s pocket.
Those “two persons” were the schoolteachers James Lovell and John Leach, arrested on 29 June as described yesterday.

Only a month after those arrests, the London press was reporting on the letters in Warren’s pocket. Whatever ship first brought the news must have made a very fast passage—as fast as John Derby had sailed the Quero across the Atlantic in May to carry the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s report of Lexington and Concord to London. An average voyage was closer to five weeks or more, as with the merchant vessel that left on 29 July and arrived in early September.

That speed suggests some captains were sailing as fast as possible to bring news from the new war to the Crown, and getting lucky with the weather, too.

TOMORROW: How the letters implicated Lovell and Leach.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

“Masters Leach and Lovell were brought to prison”

On 29 June 1775, John Leach, a mariner in Boston’s North End, began to keep a journal. He started it out of anger because he had just been arrested by the British military authorities and he wanted to document what was happening to him.

Leach wrote:
Memorandums, began Thursday, June 29th, 1775.—At 3 this afternoon, a few steps from my House, I was seized upon by Major [Edward] Cane, of the Regulars, accompanied by one [Joshua] Loring, who is lately made a Sheriff: they obliged mo to return to my House, where Major Cane demanded my Keys of my Desks, and search’d all my Drawings, Writings, &c, and told me I had a great deal to answer for.

I replyed, it was very well, I stood ready at a minute’s warning to answer any accusation; I had a drawn Hanger, I could have took hold of in a moment, and cut them both down. I had both Courage and inclination to do it, tho’ they had each their swords by their sides, but I suddenly reflected, that I could not escape, as the whole Town was a prison. God wonderfully restrained me, as I should have lost my Life, either by them, or some of their Companions.

They then conducted me from my House to the Stone Gaol, and after being lodged there 20 minutes, the said Cane and Loring brought in Master James Lovell, after searching his Papers, Letters, &c. as they had done mine.

Cane carried my drawings to show Gen. [Thomas] Gage, next day, and returned them.
Leach’s diary was printed in the New England Historical and Genealogical Record in 1864.

Already in the Boston jail since 19 June was eighteen-year-old Peter Edes, son of the radical printer Benjamin Edes. The elder Edes had slipped out of town just before the war began and set up a press in Watertown.

Peter was also keeping a diary, and on 29 June he wrote:
Masters Leach and Lovell were brought to prison and put into the same room with me and my companions.
Peter Edes’s diary, which shares text with John Leach’s, was published in 1901.

Leach and Lovell both received the title “Master” because they kept schools. Leach taught navigation and other skills privately in the North End. Lovell was actually the usher, or assistant teacher, to his father, Master John Lovell, at the South Latin School, but the town valued him enough to pay him far more than any other usher. Lovell had also delivered the first official town oration in memory of the Boston Massacre back in April 1771.

The imprisonment of Lovell and Leach is one more thread of the story of Bunker Hill. And not just because the officer who arrested them was being promoted to major in the 43rd Regiment only because Maj. Roger Spendlove had died in that battle. (Spendlove had survived wounds at Québec, Martinique, and Havana, but not Charlestown.)

Lovell and Leach were locked up after the battle because the British commanders thought one of them was a spy.

TOMORROW: Incriminating letters.