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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Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lt. Henry Barry: “sappy looking chap” or “calm, worthy man”?

The British army officer who asked Henry Knox to publish a political pamphlet in January 1775, as discussed yesterday, was Lt. Henry Barry (1750-1822), shown here as J. S. Copley painted him about tens years later.

We know about Barry’s authorship because John Andrews mentioned him again in a letter on 29 January:
a pamphlet…wrote in answer to General [Charles] Lee’s by one Barrey, an officer in the 52nd Regiment, whose performance is pretty much like himself, being an awkward sappy looking chap, the more so I think than any officer I have seen among all that’s here.
Others were more complimentary about Barry, and he did manage to get his pamphlet published by the end of that month. The title was The Strictures on the Friendly Address Examined, and a Refutation of its Principles Attempted, and the first edition named no publisher or printer.

On 31 January, the young painter Henry Pelham sent a copy to Charles Startin, a brother-in-law. (To be exact, Startin was Pelham’s half-brother Copley’s wife’s sister’s husband.)
I also inclose you a pamphlet wrote by a young Gentleman, a Lieutenant in the Army here. I believe it will please you as a sensible dispassionate and polite answer to another filled with invective attributed to Gen’l Lee.
Of course, Pelham had become a decided Loyalist after the Boston Tea Party.

Another admirer of Barry was John Eliot, who leaned toward the Whigs. He sent the lieutenant’s pamphlet to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap on 30 January and followed up on 18 February to say:
The author of the “Strictures Examined” is a young gentleman of my acquaintance, an officer in the fiftysecond, now station’d with us, an ingenuous, calm, worthy man. The enclosed is another production of his, which asks your acceptance.
Lt. Barry’s second pamphlet was The Advantages which America Derives from Her Commerce, Connexion, and Dependence on Britain. It doesn’t have a printer listed, either. Some bibliographers guess it was printed in New York, but Barry probably went to the same Boston print shop as before. He also wrote a reply to a Patriot sermon by the Rev. William Gordon of Roxbury.

James Rivington, the New York printer who had first published the Friendly Address and started the back-and-forth, reprinted Barry’s response to Lee’s response under the title The General Attacked by a Subaltern—i.e., a junior officer had answered the (Polish) general. We can assess Barry’s argument here.

(The portrait of Lt. Barry above is now at the Saint Louis Art Museum.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

“An Officer carried a manuscript to Henry Knox”

I step away from The Saga of the Brazen Head at a moment of calamity to consider a passage in merchant John Andrews’s letter to a Philadelphia relative on 15 Jan 1775:
A few days since an Officer carried a manuscript to Henry Knox for him to publish; being an answer, as he said, to General [Charles] Lee’s pamphlet (which you sent me). He told him he did not mean to confute every part, as the principal of it was unanswerable.

Knox perus’d a few pages of it and found it to be rather a weak performance, and therefore declin’d undertaking the publishment—excusing himself as its being out of his way.
In November 1774, the New York printer James Rivington published A Friendly Address to All Reasonable Americans by Thomas Bradbury Chandler (1726–1790), a Yale graduate who had become an Anglican minister. That pamphlet argued for conciliation with the Crown. The Mills and Hicks print shop issued a Boston edition. Replies came quickly from John Adams (apparently never published), Philip Livingston, and, most successfully, Charles Lee.

Lee’s Strictures upon a “Friendly Address to All Reasonable Americans” was first published in Philadelphia and then reprinted in New York, Newport, New London, and twice in Boston. It was one of the most widely read pamphlets of the year. Among other points, Lee argued that the British army was not really that formidable; the 17 Jan 1775 Essex Gazette suggested that he had erased New Englanders’ fear of the redcoats. We can therefore understand this officer’s wish to respond to Lee.

More interesting is what this story tells us about Henry Knox (shown here). As far as I can tell, no biography of Knox has discussed this incident. Authors have generally echoed Charles Savage, writing in 1856, in portraying Knox as an active Whig before the war: “he discovered an uncommon zeal in the cause of liberty.” But there’s actually little evidence of political activism by Knox.

In fact, this anecdote shows that a British military man expected Knox to support the royalist perspective by publishing and selling his pamphlet. That belief was no doubt due to Knox’s recent marriage to Lucy Flucker, daughter of the province’s royal secretary, Thomas Flucker. Why would a poor man with ambition marry into such a family and not be or become a Loyalist?

I think this is part of a pattern of evidence showing that in the crucial months of late 1774 and early 1775, Knox let Loyalists believe he was one of them. That made him privy to their gossip, which could be useful to the Patriots.

This anecdote also shows Knox concealing his true assessment of the pamphlet (“rather a weak performance”) by giving the author a different reason for not publishing (“its being out of his way”). But that was just being polite.

TOMORROW: The author.

Monday, January 14, 2019

“A most terrible Fire” Starting at the Brazen Head

The 21 Mar 1760 Boston News-Letter reported two significant fires in Boston in the preceding week and then proceeded to this hastily composed yet lengthy report:
Since the above Accounts were compos’d, for this Paper, a most terrible Fire happened in the Town, suppos’d to be greater than any that has been known in these American Colonies, far exceeding what was generally called, the great Fire, which happen’d here October 2. 1711.—

It began about II [i.e., two] o’Clock Yesterday Morning, Thursday March 20th, and broke out in the Dwelling-House of Mrs. Mary Jackson, and Son, at the Brazen-Head in Cornhill, by what Means is uncertain, tho’t by Accident:

The flames catch’d the Houses adjoining in the Front of the Street, and burnt three or four large Buildings, a Stop being put to it there, at the House improved by Mrs. West on the South, and Mr. Peter Cotta on the North; but the Fire raged most violently towards the East, the Wind blowing strong at N.W. and carried all before it; from the Back Sides of those Houses:—

All the Stores fronting Pudding-Lane, together with every Dwelling-House, from thence, excepting those which front the South side of King-Street, and a Store of Mr. Spooner’s on Water-Street to Quaker-Lane, and from thence only leaving a large old wooden House, and the House belonging to the late Cornelius Waldo, Esq; it burnt every House, Shop, Store, out-House, &c. to Oliver’s Dock:

And an Eddy of Wind carrying the Fire contrary to it’s Course, it took the Buildings fronting the lower Part of King-Street, and destroyed the Houses from the Corner opposite the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, to the Warehouse of Mess’rs. Box and Austin, leaving only the Warehouse of the Hon. John Erving, Esq; and the Dwelling-House of Mr. Hastings, standing; the other Brick-Warehouses towards the Long-Wharf were considerably damag’d.—

On the South-East Part, the Fire extended from Mr. [William] Torrey’s, the Baker, in Water-Street, and damaging some of Mr. Dalton’s new Shops, proceeded to Mr. Hall’s working-House, and from then to Milk-Street, and consumed every House from the next to Mr. [Joseph] Calfe’s Dwelling-House, to the Bottom of the Street, and the opposite Way from Mr. [Joseph] Dowse’s included, it carryed before it every House to Fort-Hill, except the Hon. Secretary [Andrew] Oliver’s, and two or three Tenements opposite; as also every House, Warehouse, Shop and Store, from Oliver’s Dock along Mr. [Benjamin] Hallowell’s Ship-Yard, Mr. Hallowell’s Dwelling House, the Sconce of the South-Battery, all the Buildings, Shops and Stores on Col. [Jacob] Wendell’s Wharf, to the House of Mr. Hunt Ship-builder.—

So that from Pudding-Lane, to the Water’s Edge, there is not a Building to be seen, excepting those on the Side of King-street and those mention’d above, all being in Ashes.—Besides which, a large Ship, Capt. Eddy late Master, lying at Col. Wendell’s Wharf, and two or three Sloops and a Schooner were burnt, one laden with Wood, and another with Stores of a considerable Value.—
COMING UP: More about Boston’s great fire of 1760.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Three Decades of Historical Context

The Saga of the Brazen Head started in 1730 with the first appearance of brazier James Jackson in the Boston newspapers, and it’s reached the year 1759.

What else was happening in New England in three decades? If we look at readily available timelines of Massachusetts history from FamilySearch.org or the World Atlas, we find the answer was: Nothing.

Of course, plenty did happen in those years. There weren’t dramatic changes in political constitutions, empire-ending wars, life-changing inventions, and the like, but there were events for Mary Jackson and her family to worry about and celebrate. So here, after some quick cramming, is the historical context for the saga so far.

The first of those decades occurred under the government of Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) in Britain and Gov. Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757, shown here) in Massachusetts. Walpole used European alliances to maintain international peace. That produced a lull in Britain’s wars with France and other Catholic powers of Europe, and thus relatively easy trade, fishing, and frontier settlement for British colonists in New England.

Belcher wasn’t as dominating as Walpole, but he was able to remain governor of both Massachusetts and New Hampshire for over a decade starting in 1729. Being a royal governor was a tough job. One answered to the Crown and its demands while feeling pressure from the colony’s politicians and people to serve their interests instead. And British society being what it was, governors also kept an eye out for their own economic well being.

Belcher had some advantages in being a Congregationalist merchant born in Boston and thus like his most wealthy constituents. But he couldn’t keep everyone happy forever. The royal government thought Belcher should do more to stop people felling New England tree trunks reserved as masts for the Royal Navy. (Some of Belcher’s friends benefited from this harvest.) In addition, the shortage of hard cash produced local pleas for more paper currency while the Crown wanted control over the money supply.

In 1739, Walpole couldn’t hold back the clamor for Britain to enter the War of Jenkins’ Ear. After three further years of declining popularity and military failures, he resigned.

That same war opened an opportunity for William Shirley (1694-1771, shown here), an Englishman who had moved to Massachusetts and become a critic of Gov. Belcher. He recruited troops for an early campaign in the Caribbean and so impressed London that the Crown made Shirley governor of Massachusetts in 1741. (Belcher eventually won the post of governor of New Jersey instead.)

Both Belcher and Shirley had to deal with the local campaign for the Massachusetts Land Bank. In 1740 the General Court overrode their opposition and authorized that private organization to issue bills of credit, which functioned as paper currency. Then Parliament outlawed the bank. With the Massachusetts economy in danger, Shirley and the legislature managed to bring about a soft landing for the former bank’s managers and creditors.

Those developments affected Mary Jackson and some of the people around her. All the dispute over paper money brought in papermaker Richard Fry, of course. And all those bills of credit meant Massachusetts currency was losing value.

Mary’s husband James died in 1735 while returning from a visit to Samuel Waldo’s development in southern Maine, which grew during that peaceful decade. Waldo also had a contract to supply masts to the Royal Navy, so he wanted Gov. Belcher to protect the navy’s exclusive rights. When that didn’t happen, Waldo started promoting Shirley for higher office. However, once war broke out, the Maine frontier became vulnerable to attack from both sea and land, and Waldo’s settlements shrank.

In the early 1740s, Britain’s war with Spain expanded beyond Jenkins’ Ear to become the War of the Austrian Succession or, as North Americans called it, King George’s War. In 1745 Gov. Shirley organized an attack on the French fortification at Louisbourg. The British army and navy gave only lukewarm support to that effort, but it succeeded—Massachusetts’s greatest military triumph. Decades later, the province’s Patriots still pointed to that moment as proof that they could defend themselves against the royal army.

Another effect of King George’s War was the Royal Navy impressing more sailors in Boston. In 1747, Commodore Charles Knowles (shown here) seized dozens of sailors, setting off days of riots. Huge crowds surrounded Gov. Shirley, twice at his house and once at the Town House in central Boston, close to the Brazen Head. He tried to call out the militia against the crowd, only to realize that the militia regiment and the crowd were the same men. The Massachusetts Council had to resolve the crisis, with Knowles releasing the sailors and the crowd releasing the naval officers they had grabbed.

When King George’s War ended in 1748, Britain returned Louisbourg to France. Massachusetts was still trying to get the royal government to reimburse the costs of its military campaign. One of the men who had funded that expedition was Samuel Waldo. He decided that Shirley wasn’t working hard enough to pay back his inflated expenses, so Waldo joined the governor’s political enemies. Among those foes were Dr. William Douglass, who decades before had opposed smallpox inoculation, and young political journalist Samuel Adams, son of a Land Bank director.

In 1749 Gov. Shirley sailed for London in order to deal with Waldo’s complaints. Shortly afterward, a large amount of gold and silver coin arrived in Boston harbor—the Crown had finally reimbursed the province with specie. Thomas Hutchinson, then Speaker of the Massachusetts House, wrote a law to use that hard cash to retire paper currency that had lost value. That put Massachusetts’s economy on a sounder footing. Henceforth, businesspeople like Mary Jackson distinguished between current pounds, which kept close to face value, and inflated “Old Tenor” money.

Gov. Shirley resumed his post as governor of Massachusetts in 1753. He seems to have been happiest as a war governor, and was soon preparing for another fight against France. After the death of Gen. Edward Braddock in 1755, Shirley was even commander-in-chief of British forces in North America for a while. But the Seven Years’ (or French and Indian) War brought the governor no military miracle like the Louisbourg expedition. He feuded with other commanders like Sir William Johnson, his own western campaign failed, and officials in London took against him. In 1756, Gov. Shirley was sacked. (Like Belcher, he did manage to become governor somewhere else—in the Bahamas.)

Also in 1756, hundreds of French Acadians came ashore in Boston, expelled from Nova Scotia. Their ships had actually arrived in the harbor in December 1755, but Gov. Shirley refused to let them land, and half those refugees died on their ships that winter. For the next decade, the population of Massachusetts contained a category of “French neutrals.”

This was also the period of religious fervor in colonial America later dubbed the “Great Awakening.” The Rev. Jonathan Edwards led revivals at his meetinghouse in Northampton starting in 1733 and published Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in 1741. The Rev. George Whitefield preached up and down the North American coast in 1740, 1745, 1751, and 1754. Many New England Congregationalist meetings were roiled by splits between “New Light” and “Old Light” ministers and congregations. As Anglicans, the Jackson family was probably less affected by those disputes.

In 1757 a new royal governor arrived from London: Thomas Pownall (1722-1805). He had close contacts—i.e., his younger brother John—in the Secretary of State’s office, and a lot of big ideas about how the empire should run. He viewed the British constitution as subordinating the military power to the civil, even in wartime. He wanted to balance imperial needs and local rights. Pownall became a favorite of the Massachusetts merchants and Whigs but had a standoffish relationship with the man appointed lieutenant governor under him—Thomas Hutchinson.

Early in 1759, Pownall led a new campaign to conquer and settle the Penobscot region. Samuel Waldo came along and died that May, back on his Maine holdings. The previous year, British military forces had retaken Louisbourg. In July 1759, Gen. Jeffery Amherst finally took Fort Ticonderoga. In September, Gen. James Wolfe defeated Gen. Montcalm at Québec. Together with British and allied victories at Guadeloupe, Madras, Minden, and Quiberon Bay, these victories made 1759 an “annus mirabilis.” Boston celebrated along with the rest of the British Empire.

TOMORROW: Calamity at the Brazen Head.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Firmer for Molding Your Square Butts

The Jackson family of the Brazen Head advertised a lot of hardware that was unfamiliar to me—not that I do much metalworking or woodworking.

I looked up a bunch of those terms while confirming my transcription and got curious about others. So here’s what I learned about the unfamiliar inventory at the Brazen Head.

close-stool pans: Close stools were cabinets with chamber pots inside.

coffin bullions: Lumps of metal used to decorate coffins, it looks like.

double and single spring chest locks, stock locks: Edward Hoppus’s Builder’s Dictionary said, “LOCKS for Doors are of various Kinds; as for outer Doors, called Stock-locks; for Chamber-doors, call’d Spring-locks, &c.”

egg nob locks: Apparently locks built with doorknobs shaped like eggs.

H & HL hinges: Door hinges distinguished by their shapes. H hinges looked like the letter H. HL hinges, as illustrated a couple of days ago, looked like an H mashed with an L; some professional guides therefore called them IL hinges instead.

firmers: Merriam-Webster says a “firmer chisel” is “a woodworking chisel with a thin flat blade,” and dates the two-word phrase to 1827. The Jacksons’ ad is considerably earlier, of course. The word comes from the French “fermoir,” meaning to form.

gimblets: Now spelled “gimlet,” a T-shaped tool with a screw-tip for boring holes.

hallow and rounds: The first type often spelled “hollow,” these are planes for molding wood, shown here.

splinter and black pad-locks: A splinter padlock had four springs, according to a nineteenth-century reference. A black padlock was presumably black.

post pepper-mills: The sort of cylindrical pepper grinder we’re used to.

handles & scutcheons: Scutcheons were small metal plates, often shaped like shields (escutcheons), to protect part of a wooden surface from handling.

prospect hinges: These seem to be hinges for the “prospect door” in a desk, which was a “single, hinged portal fashioned with a keyhole,…for private or secret documents.”

brass & iron table ketches: Even Luke Beckerdite’s American Furniture could only guess that a “table Ketch” was “possibly a tea table,” but it sounds like it was part of a table—maybe a metal reinforcement of a table leg or foot.

rule joint table hinges: Diagram of a rule joint for a table leaf here.

square butts, dovetails: I think these were metal pieces to reinforce types of joints for two pieces of wood.

girt web: Usually called “girth web,” heavy canvas straps used to strap on saddles and other things.

jobents: A specialty nail with a thick shank, made for attaching iron straps.

dutch spectacles: Spectacles that perched on one’s nose without earpieces, like pince-nez.

bath metal thimbles with steel tops: Bath metal was an alloy of zinc and copper.

aul-hafts: Handles for awls.

spinnel: Sometimes this is a term for a mineral, more usually spelled “spinel.” The phrase “short spinel” is defined as “bleached yarn” or “unwrought inkle” in nineteenth-century references. But I can’t figure out why the Jacksons would be selling either of those things, and why they would list it between “punches” and “white wax.”

Box Irons, Flat Irons: Flat irons were solid, and box irons had a metal part that could be removed and placed in the fire, then replaced in the hollow of the iron to keep it heated.

And finally…

A Quantity of large brown Paper fit for sheathing Ships: In the 1730s, there were two ways to protect ships’ hulls against shipworm. One was attaching sheets of lead to the hull, which of course didn’t help with buoyancy. The other was to plaster the hull with tar, stick on a layer of hair, and then attach a thin sheath of wood that could be replaced as it was eaten away. It looks like thick rag paper could substitute for or supplement the hair.

(When copper sheathing became standard in the late eighteenth century, paper was one way to keep different metals from touching each other in the salt water and suffering galvanic corrosion. But Mary Jackson’s 1736 ad was too early to refer to that use.)

TOMORROW: Historical context for The Saga of the Brazen Head so far.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Brazen Head and a Bridge in Newbury

An item one could buy at the Sign of the Brazen Head in 1759, but which Mary Jackson didn’t list in her advertising, was a lottery ticket.

We know that from an ad that appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on 30 April:
The Drawing of Newbury Lottery
(the Second Part) will punctually commence at the Town-House in Newbury, on Thursday the last Day of May next, there being a Subscription for the Tickets then unsold, if any there shall be.———

[pointing hand] Tickets to be had of Ebenezer Storer, Esq; Messrs. Timothy Newell, William Jackson and James Jackson, in Boston; Capt. Bowen and Mr. Chipman in Marblehead; Mr. Pyncheon in Salem; Mr. Symonds in Danvers; Daniel Gibbs, Esq; and Mr. Daniel Sargent in Gloucester; Major Epes, Capt. Staniford, and Mr. William Dodge in Ipswich; James M’Hard Esq; and Mr. Joseph Badger in Haverhill, and of the Managers in Newbury.

Note, But two Blanks to a Prize.
What was all that about? The town of Newbury wanted to build a bridge over the Parker River to replace a ferry that had operated for over a century. In fact, the town had wanted to build such a bridge since 1734, according to John J. Currier’s “Ould Newbury” (1896). In that year the town meeting had voted to approve such a bridge on certain conditions:
  • It had to be wide enough for coaches.
  • Its main arch had to be tall and wide enough for boats laden with hay to pass through.
  • It wouldn’t cost the town of Newbury anything.
  • It would be free to use.
  • It had to be built within ten years.
It may not be surprising that no one undertook to fulfill all those conditions.

But the idea remained. In 1750 the Newbury town meeting and the Massachusetts General Court again approved of the idea of building a bridge. The legislature was involved because this time the planners proposed financing the bridge with a lottery, and the law needed provincial approval. The development team received authority to raise £1,200 that way.

In 1758 Ralph Cross finished building the bridge. It was 26 feet wide, 870 feet long, and had eight wooden arches. That structure no longer exists, but the present Parker River Bridge, built mainly in 1853 with stone arches, stands at the same spot.

Even after the bridge opened, however, the men behind it were still raising money. In fact, in April 1760 the legislature authorized a second lottery, and in February 1763 a third, to finish paying for the bridge and then to pay for its maintenance. Ads in the Boston newspapers for lottery tickets continued to direct customers who felt lucky to William and James Jackson, especially William.

When managers announced such lotteries, they had to be open about the terms. For example, the 1760 Newbury lottery stated that there were 5,000 tickets costing $2 apiece. One ticket would win $500, four would win $100, five $50, six $40, ten $30, fourteen $20, forty-five $10, seventy-five $8, and 1,495 tickets $4. The remaining 3,345 tickets were “blanks,” meaning their holders won nothing.

In all, just under one-third of all the tickets in the Newbury Lottery gave back more than a ticket-buyer had invested. That’s what the ad above meant by “Note, But two Blanks to a Prize.”

The goal of the 1760 lottery was to bring in $10,000. Of that sum, $9,000 was earmarked for prizes and the rest for the bridge. But raising a full £1,000 meant selling through the whole run of tickets, and that was a challenge. The 1759 drawing advertised above depended on some people promising “a Subscription for the Tickets then unsold.” As of March 1761 there were still unsold tickets for the second lottery, and the Newbury town meeting was asked what the town should do about it.

Today’s state lotteries operate under different rules, but one thing hasn’t changed: the expectation value of a ticket is still less than its price.

TOMORROW: Technical info.

[Above: A 1765 ticket from the long-running Faneuil Hall lottery signed by one of the managers, John Hancock.]

Thursday, January 10, 2019

“To be sold by Wholesale and Retail, By James Jackson”

As I research Mary Jackson and her family, I must say it would be a lot easier if they weren’t named Jackson. And if they hadn’t kept choosing first names like James, William, and Mary. But of course they weren’t the only family in eighteenth-century New England who set traps for researchers that way.

As I reported before, James and Mary Jackson had their second son baptized James at King’s Chapel on 8 May 1735. Boys named Jackson were admitted to the South Latin School in 1740 and 1742. Unfortunately, those school records don’t include full names. It’s possible that those boys were William and/or James Jackson, who would have been aged nine and seven respectively. If so, like most boys who started at a Boston grammar school in the 1700s, they never graduated, probably shifting to a writing school for better education in business skills.

This is just a guess based on their later paths, but I suspect William spent his adolescence helping Mama at the Brazen Head while James clerked for another import merchant. I’m even ready to guess that businessman was William Rand (1716-1758), who sold cloth and other dry goods “in Cornhill, The Corner Shop on the North side of the Townhouse,” per the 24 June 1751 Boston Evening-Post. In other words, very close to the Brazen Head.

This shopkeeper William Rand is often mixed with Dr. William Rand (1689-1759), who was an apothecary and a town tax collector. To confound matters further, that doctor had a namesake nephew, who in this period was a Harvard student and medical trainee and later was a counterfeiter. But I digress.

James Jackson came of age in May 1756. Already the town’s ministers were reading a notice that he intended to marry Sarah Rand—possibly the baby sister of shopkeeper William Rand, born in Charlestown in 1729. On 27 May, the couple wed at King’s Chapel. (The record there gives Sarah’s first name as Mary, just to add to the genealogical muddle. But that’s clearly an error, judging by the intention of marriage and later records of the couple.)

James Jackson thus married at an unusually young age, perhaps to a woman six years older. However, there’s no indication Sarah Rand was pregnant when they married, as many New England brides were. Instead, he seems to have been mature for his years.

James and Sarah Jackson had their own little baby James baptized at King’s Chapel on 26 June 1757, with his mother Mary standing as one of the sponsors. Five years later, on 10 Mar 1762, their son William was baptized in the same church; grandmother Mary and uncle William Jackson were sponsors.

On 26 Feb 1759 the Boston Evening-Post ran this advertisement:
Just Imported from LONDON, in the Brigantine Hannah, John Ayers Master, and to be sold by Wholesale and Retail,
By James Jackson,
At his Shop opposite Ebenezer Storer, Esq; and Son’s Warehouse in Union-street, BOSTON, very reasonable for ready Money,

A Great Variety of European and India GOODS, consisting of such a Number of Articles as would be tedious to the Reader. Likewise, a fine Assortment of Cutlery Ware, English Shoe Soles, Writing Paper, Looking Glasses, Raisins, Currants, Starch and Spices.
A similar ad followed in the Boston Post-Boy. Young Jackson had opened his own shop in the North End and was importing from Britain and beyond.

In March, the Boston town meeting elected James Jackson as one of twelve Clerks of the Market, alongside such peers as the silversmith Nathaniel Hurd. That was an entry-level elected position which the community usually gave to a young man seen as reliable and on his way up.

TOMORROW: Taking a chance with the Jackson brothers.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

A New Owner at the Brazen Head

By 1756, Mary Jackson had been running her shop at the Sign of the Brazen Head in central Boston for over twenty years.

She had started as a suddenly widowed mother of two young children and for a few years had a male business partner, but then he died, too. For over a decade, Jackson had been the sole proprietor.

On 23 August, Mary Jackson’s Boston Gazette advertisement disclosed big news about the business. She had a new partner: her son William.

For folks who love historic hardware and retailing, here’s a full transcript of that ad. For anyone else, feel free to skip down to the discussion of the Jackson family.
Imported from LONDON and BRISTOL, and to be sold by
Mary and William Jackson,
At the Brazin-Head in Cornhill, by Wholesale and Retail. And as ready Money is a great Inducement, they will sell cheap for Cash. Viz.

BRASS kettles, skillets, warming-pans, frying-pans, iron dripping-pans, iron pots, kettles & skillets, powder, lead & shot of all sizes, London dishes, plates and cream-pots, spoons, pewter measures, porringers, bed and close-stool pans, turrenes, tea-kettles, & copper coffee-pots, kettle-pots, brass & copper sauce-pans, copper drinking pots, andirons, shovel and tongs, fire-pans, brass & iron candlesticks, iron chafin-dishes, flat-irons, skimmers, ladles, bellows & box-irons, nails, brads, tacks & hob nails of all sorts, coffin bullions, tin tax, double and single spring chest locks, stock locks, egg nob locks and other door locks, H & HL hinges, pew hinges, hooks and hinges, and garnets, chest hinges, door latches, compasses, hammers, firmers, gimblets, hand-saws, plows, hallow and rounds, sugars, rules, plastering & brick trowels, splinter and black pad-locks, brass nails, post pepper-mills, brass cocks, an assortment of files, desk & book-case furniture, viz. handles & scutcheons of various sorts, desk and book-case locks, book-case hinges, scutcheons and bolts, prospect hinges, schutcheons and locks, desk buttons, brass pins, clock case hinges, furniture for tea-chests, brass & iron table ketches, London glue, screws, brass & iron desk hinges, rule joint table hinges, square butts, dovetails, three barr’d, plain and crooked stirrup irons, women stirrup irons, white setts, black buckles, saddle heads, turf nails, bridle kitts, rings and staples, girt web, saddler’s billions, jobents, spurs, tinn’d curry-combs, &c. case-knives and forks, jack-knives & pen-knives, coat and sleeve buttons, swords & belts, brass and leather ink-pots, shoe & knee buckles, scissars & shears, London needles, pocket-compasses, ivory & horn combs, razors & hones, dutch spectacles, brass & iron thimbles, bath metal thimbles with steel tops, fountain pans, brass, iron, steel & japann’d snuffers, black glass necklaces, stay-hooks, snuff-boxes, powder-flasks, pewter tea-spoons, flints, money-scales and weights, jews-harps, fish-lines and hooks, gun-locks, an assortment of shoemakers tools, knives, hammers, sowing & pegging and blades, aul-hafts, rasps & knippers, tax, punches, spinnel, white wax, with a great variety of other London, Birmingham, and Sheffield cutlery wares.

Also, Good Connecticut PORK and BEEF.

N.B. Any Person in the Country, by sending a Letter, shall be as well used as if present themselves. Old Brass, Copper, Pewter, Lead and Bees-wax, will be taken in Exchange the same as Cash.
The timing of this advertisement raises a couple of questions. William made his debut in the very first installment of The Saga of the Brazen Head, when he was baptized on 13 July 1731 at King’s Chapel. That meant he came of legal age in 1752. But it took another four years before William’s mother made him her legal partner.

In fact, William arrival in the newspaper advertising coincided with his little brother James coming of age in the late spring of 1756. I’m not sure what to make of that. Was it just coincidence, or was Mary sorting out both her sons’ futures at once?

It also seems significant that Mary Jackson continued to be the senior partner in the family firm, her name listed first in the advertisements. Indeed, after 1758 the Brazen Head ads usually appeared under the name of “Mary Jackson & Son,” not even naming William.

TOMORROW: How was the younger James Jackson keeping busy?

[The photo above shows an HL hinge, courtesy of Williamsburg Blacksmiths.]

Tuesday, January 08, 2019

Newport Talk Postponed Because of Government Shutdown

I’m postponing the next installment of The Saga of the Brazen Head to share this announcement from Newport and some thoughts about it.

The Newport Historical Society was planning to host a lecture this week on “‘I am an honest woman’: Female Revolutionary Resistance along the New England Seacoast” by Dr. Emily Murphy, curator for the National Park Service at Salem Maritime National Historical Site.

This talk focuses on the spinning bees that became popular in New England in the late 1760s and early 1770s and what they can tell us about women’s political activity:
This presentation will examine how middle-class women participated in resisting the importation of British Goods in the years leading up to the American Revolution.

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 and has worked for the National Park Service for nearly twenty years. She’s also participated in many living history events across New England; the photo above shows her carding wool. She’s a terrific researcher who loves sharing history with the public.

Unfortunately, because Emily is an N.P.S. employee, the federal government shutdown means that right now she can’t do her job, isn’t being paid, and can’t deliver this lecture in Newport.

What’s more, Emily’s husband, a ranger at Minute Man National Historical Park, is also on furlough and not being paid. They’re not the only couple I know in which both partners work for the Park Service. Thousands of N.P.S. employees chose to serve the public by preserving our historical and natural inheritance, and most are now locked out without salary payments.

Without rangers and other staff, large parks are being damaged with litter and human waste. Three park visitors died in late December. The only N.P.S. site with more than a skeleton security staff, the Associated Press reports, is the one in the Trump-operated hotel in Washington, D.C.:
The Trump administration appears to have gone out of its way to keep the attraction in the federally owned building that houses the Trump hotel open and staffed with National Park Service rangers, even as other federal agencies shut all but the most essential services.
Before the Secretary of the Interior left office under multiple ethics investigations, Congress appeared to be moving toward a budget with more money for the department to tackle “deferred maintenance” projects. Now the parks are instead suffering more damage, the department is bending the law to grab other money, and much of the federal budget is up in the air.

It’s easy to trace the source of this mess. Back in mid-December, Donald Trump said he’d be “proud” to preside over a government shutdown. Then the White House press office signaled that in fact he’d accept a bill funding all government agencies through the end of the budget year. The Senate unanimously passed such a bill. Then the President broke that commitment. Earlier this month, he repudiated his designated negotiator’s compromise offer, confirming that no one has any reason to trust him. We’re all paying the price for his deep flaws, with some of our national historical properties and the people who care for them suffering extra hard.

The Newport Historical Society has postponed Emily Murphy’s talk to Thursday, 24 January, at 5:30 P.M.—assuming, that is, that the government shutdown will be over by then. This event will take place at the Newport Historical Society Resource Center at 82 Touro Street. Admission is $1 for members and retired or active-duty military, $5 for others. Keep watch for further announcements.

Monday, January 07, 2019

“Just imported, and to be sold by Mary Jackson”

After her business partner Robert Charles died, Mary Jackson stepped up her advertising from the Sign of the Brazen Head.

Her main business was brass hardware and metals, both made in the shop and shipped in from Britain. For example, the Boston Evening-Post for 28 Sept 1747 announced:
Just imported, and to be sold by Mary Jackson, at the Brazen Head in Cornhill, all sorts of Ironmongery, Braziery and Cutlery Ware, also Pewter and Lead by the Hundred, and Nails of all sorts by the Cask or smaller Quantities, at reasonable rates.
But hardware wasn’t all that Jackson sold. Like a lot of Boston shopkeepers and importers, she carried other goods, wherever she saw a profit. That brought her into lines more typical of “she-merchants,” such as fashionable dry goods. On 9 May 1748, her Boston Evening-Post ad said:
To be sold by Mary Jackson, at the Brazen Head Cornhill, Boston, sundry close Mournings, viz.

Bumbazeen, Alamode, Lutestring, Norwich Crapes, Tiffany, Hat-band Crape, Paper and Gause Fans, Handkerchiefs, Women’s Lamb Gloves, also Mens and Womens white Lamb Gloves, and Womens Mittens, Shalloons, Buckrams, &c. by Wholesale and Retail

N.B. The said Mary Jackson has got a handsome new Chaise to sell…
Jackson’s late husband had also advertised a chaise from the Brazen Head, back in 1735. The shop’s location on the main street near the center of town may have made it a good place to display a vehicle.

Likewise, the Brazen Head became a sales outlet for produce from New England farms, as these select advertisements from the Brazen Head show.
  • Boston Evening-Press, 19 Mar 1753: “CHOICE BUTTER, either by the Firkin or Tub”
  • Boston Evening-Press, 22 July 1754: “CHOICE Connecticut Pork, Florence Oil, Indigo, and Mould Candles.”
  • Boston News-Letter, 4 Sept 1755: “POWDER, Shot, Flints, [various types of hardware], Desk and Book-case Furniture: With a Variety of either London, Birmingham and Sheffield Country Ware, too tedious to mention.”
In the last advertisement, Jackson also said she would sell the by-now-usual pork in “exchange for Rum, Sugar or Molasses,” indicating both the ongoing cash shortage in the colonies and her ability to sell those commodities on to others. As for the ammunition featured in the ad, that new line might reflect the oncoming war against France.

TOMORROW: A new young partner.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Jacob Bailey Meets Charles Paxton’s “Gay Order”

Jacob Bailey (1731-1808) graduated from Harvard College in 1755, ranked at the bottom of his class in social rank. He chose to go into the ministry, starting as a Congregationalist like most of his fellow New Englanders.

Shortly after receiving his master’s degree in 1758, however, Bailey decided to become an Anglican minister. That required going to England to meet with a bishop for ordination. In his diary he wrote:
I visited my parents, where I found my Aunt Bailey, who all cried out upon me when I discovered my resolutions of visiting London for orders; and after all, I found it extremely difficult, with all the arguments I could use, to gain them over to any favorable sentiments concerning the Church of England.
Bailey didn’t set out on his journey until late 1759, traveling first to Boston to arrange passage. He met with Charles Paxton (shown here), a Customs officer and warden of King’s Chapel, on 26 December. The young man wrote in his diary that Paxton promised “to use his interest with the commander of the Hind in my behalf, for a passage to England.”

Twelfth Night, 6 Jan 1760, was a Sunday. The Congregationalist meetinghouses had their regular services, but the Anglican churches made a bigger deal of the holiday. Bailey apparently attended King’s Chapel and visited briefly with the rector, the Rev. Henry Caner. Then he made a more unusual social call:
…having received an invitation from Mr. Paxon, I waited upon him, was politely received, introduced into a fine parlor among several agreeable gentlemen. I found here the famous Kit Minot, Mr. McKensie, and one Mr. Stuart, a pretty young gentleman.

I observed that our company, though chiefly upon the gay order, distinguished the day by a kind of reverent decorum. Our conversation was modest and perfectly innocent, and I scarce remember my ever being in any company where I could behave with greater freedom.
Let’s imagine reading those same words from a mid-20th-century author: a gathering of men, most “upon the gay order” and one “a pretty young gentleman.” The writer is obviously concerned about the conversation not being “modest and perfectly innocent.” But he comes away feeling he’s never been “in any company where I could behave with greater freedom.” We’d easily interpret that as the account of a homosexual man meeting other out-homosexual men for the first time.

Charles Paxton was in fact a lifelong bachelor. The Whig press ridiculed his elaborate courtly manners and sneered that he was frightened of boys’ games and once concealed himself in women’s clothing.

Christopher (Kit) Minot also never married. Born in 1706 and graduating from Harvard in 1725, he eventually joined the Customs service, serving as a land waiter. Hannah Mather Crocker later wrote that Minot was “a man of keen wit” who “moved in the first circles.” He left Boston during the 1776 evacuation and died in Halifax in March 1783.

I’m not sure of the identities of the other men Bailey named, but they might also be connected to the Customs service. William McKenzie was a searcher for the Customs office in Savannah in the late 1760s. Stuart might have been Duncan Stewart (1732-1793), later Customs collector in New London, Connecticut; Stuart married a daughter of Boston merchant John Erving in 1767, and they had ten children.

Likewise, Jacob Bailey eventually married and had six children. I didn’t find in his modern biography any further indication of interest in other men. But just four days later as he rode out of Boston, he wrote: “In the boat’s crew I discovered a young man, whose appearance and behavior pleased me more than all I had seen.” Here he was, just trying to sail away to be ordained, and attractive young men kept throwing themselves in front of him.

Okay, “gay” didn’t acquire its sexual definition until the twentieth century, and our understanding of homosexuality is also different from that of 1760. When Bailey wrote about gentlemen “chiefly upon the gay order,” he probably meant an upper-class, non-Calvinist, luxury-enjoying lifestyle. Bailey’s relatively poor, rural family descended from New England Puritans was mostly likely awash with suspicions about wealthy Anglicans. What sort of society was he getting himself into as he changed denominations? But the young minister was pleased to find a set of gentlemen sharing a decorous Twelfth Night conversation—and he could relax.

Of course, there might well have been gay men in that parlor.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

“The late Company of Jackson and Charles”

As proprietor of the brazier’s shop at the Sign of the Brazen Head, Mary Jackson managed a largely male staff of colleagues, journeymen, and apprentices.

The probate file for Jackson’s late husband James listed five males questioned about goods in the shop when he died: William Coffin, Benjamin Simons, George Reston, Abraham Bennet, and Isaac Beal (as near I can read the handwriting). The clear implication is that those were employees.

I looked for all five names in my usual places and could find only one, but he was a brazier. Late in the winter of 1737, Coffin took out ads in the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post to state:
WILLIAM COFFIN, at the Ostrich, near the Draw-Bridge Makes & Sells Mill Brasses, Chambers for Pumps, Brass Cocks of all Sizes, Knockers for Doors, Brasses for Chaises and Sadlers. Brass Doggs of all sorts, Candlesticks, Shovels and Tongs, Small Bells, and all other Sorts of Founders Ware.

Also all sorts of Braziers and Pewterers Ware, Small Stills and Wormes, and all sorts of Plumbers Work; likewise Buys old Copper, Brass, Pewter and Lead.
Coffin had thus gone into business for himself after working for the Jacksons. But he did so up near the border of the North End.

The 29 Nov 1736 Boston Gazette named another expert working in the Jackson shop:
If any Persons desire to know the true Value of Ores, Minerals, or Metals, of what kind soever, may have them justly Essay’s on reasonable Terms, by Robert Baden, at Mrs. Jackson’s Founder, at the Brazen Head in Cornhill, Boston.
Obviously Baden’s expertise as an assayer of metals was helpful for Jackson as well.

Mary Jackson’s most important coworker—legally her partner in the early 1740s—was a man named Robert Charles. I don’t know if he was from New England or Britain. He was in Boston by 1740 when he was initiated into the St. John’s Lodge of Freemasons.

Records shows at least two Massachusetts craftsmen doing business with the firm of Mary Jackson and Robert Charles (with Jackson always listed first as the senior partner). The clockmaker Benjamin Bagnall bought “wire, brass plates, hinges, locks, and escutcheons, as well as ‘Dolphins for Clock,’” between 1739 and 1743, according to Charles L. Venable’s American Furniture in the Bybee Collection. The Dallas Museum of Art has a Bagnall clock featuring just such dolphin ornaments, shown above.

Helen Schatvet Ullmann’s The Pierponts of Roxbury, Massachusetts says that housewright Robert Pierpont bought £14.6.7 worth of “pew hinges, roundhead nails, a hand saw, a penknife, and other items, including a candlestick and a brass skillet.”

We know about the Pierpont purchases because Jackson and Charles took the housewright to court as they settled accounts to split up their business. The Boston Evening-Post for 9 Apr 1744 ran this notice:
Robert Charles, in Copartnership with Mrs. Mary Jackson, being obliged speedily to go for England, hereby desires all Persons that have any Accounts open with the said Copartnership, to come and settle them before he goes, to prevent further Trouble.

N.B. the said Jackson and Charles have a likely Negro Girl about fourteen Years old to dispose of.
That enslaved girl probably worked in the Jackson household. At the time, Mary’s two sons were a little younger than that girl.

It’s not clear if Robert Charles ever made it to England. On 6 Nov 1745, the same probate judge who oversaw the settlement of James Jackson’s estate appointed Mary Jackson an administrator of Charles’s estate. The last reference to the partnership that I’ve found is an announcement in the 6 Oct 1746 Boston Evening-Post:
All Persons that have any Demands on the late Company of Jackson and Charles, are desir’d to bring in their Accounts to Mrs. Mary Jackson, Administratrix, in order to a Settlement; and all those indebted to said Company are desir’d to pay their respective Dues, as they would avoid being sued.
Ten years after her husband’s death, Mary Jackson was once again on her own.

COMING UP: What was on sale at the Brazen Head.

Friday, January 04, 2019

“Mary makes and sells Tea-Kettles and Coffee pots”

As recounted in yesterday’s posting, by the end of 1735 Mary Jackson had reopened her husband James’s braziery shop a few weeks after he died at sea.

Mary Jackson had two sons under age five to provide for, and, according to accounts she later filed to the probate court, a staff of seven dependent on the shop. Plus her husband left well over a thousand pounds in inventory, and well over two thousand pounds in debt. So there were many reasons to make the most of the business.

Given that amount of stock at the Sign of the Brazen Head and the shop’s location near the center of Boston, Jackson immediately became one of the town’s most visible businesswomen.

The best documented “she-merchant” in pre-Revolutionary Boston was Elizabeth Murray, subject of Patricia Cleary’s 2000 biography. Murray opened a millinery shop after arriving from Scotland as a young woman in 1751. She imported the latest dress fashions, cloth, ribbons, and other dry goods, and she gave lessons in genteel embroidery and other skills for girls.

Murray married three times, gaining a great deal of wealth with her second marriage to Isaac Smith, but she was always able to support herself. She used prenuptial agreements to ensure she controlled her own wealth. And she acted as mentor to younger single women in Boston business, such as Janette Day and the Cumings sisters.

Jackson, in contrast, appears to have become a businesswoman by default because of her husband’s death. Furthermore, manufacturing brass hardware was not a traditionally female profession like millinery.

On 11 Oct 1736 Jackson published this advertisement in the Boston Gazette:
MARY JACKSON, at the Brazen-Head, in Cornhill, makes and sells all sorts of Brass and Founders Ware, as Hearths, Fenders, Shovels and Tongs, Hand-Irons, Candlesticks, Brasses for Chaises and Saddles, of the newest Fashion; all sorts of Mill Brasses; Mortars, Cocks, large and small; all sorts of polish’d Brazier’s Ware, at reasonable Rates.

A Quantity of large brown Paper fit for sheathing Ships, to be sold: Likewise buys old Copper, Brass, Pewter, Lead and Iron.
I’ve found a couple of other ads in which Jackson stated in some way that she actually produced the metal goods she sold, such as this line in the 21 June 1750 Boston News-Letter:
Said Mary makes and sells Tea-Kettles and Coffee pots; copper Drinking-pots, brass and copper Sauce-pans, Stew-pans, and Baking-pans; Kettle-pots, and Fish-Kettles.
However, in many more advertisements over the course of twenty years, Mary Jackson emphasized that she sold the hardware and other goods at the Brazen Head. So I’m not sure how hands-on she was in the production of brassware, as opposed to supervising employees’ work, managing imports from Britain, and running the retail shop. Because she was definitely the boss of the enterprise.

TOMORROW: The men who worked for Mary Jackson.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Settling James Jackson’s Estate

The last installment of The Saga of the Brazen Head ended on 12 Sept 1735 with James Jackson drowning on a trip home from Maine. He left his wife Mary with two sons under the age of five.

James left no will, so on 25 September a probate judge appointed three people to administer the estate: William Speakman, baker; John Deacon, blacksmith; and Mary Jackson, widow. Speakman and Deacon’s names don’t appear in the probate file again.

Mary Jackson in turn appears to have hired Leonard Jarvis, whose gravestone at Copp’s Hill illustrates this posting, to inventory the estate and settle some debts.

In January 1736, Jackson submitted a six-page inventory of her husband’s property. He owned no real estate. The hardware in the store started with “36 Pair of Large Brass Candlesticks” and totaled £1,469.11.8, plus about £100 of founder’s tools and raw metals. The household goods included a mahogany card table, an “old fashioned” looking glass, and 39 pieces of pewter tableware. All told, Jackson valued her late husband’s property at a little over £1,700.

That wasn’t the end of the probate process by a long shot, however.

In August 1737 the probate judge questioned five men about the Jackson estate, asking if they knew of any property not included in the inventory. From three of those men came news of:

  • “old Iron & old brass carried into the Cellar to the value of one hundred weight”
  • “some brass Patterns which were never shown to the Apprizers by William Who is run away”
  • “old Cocks that came to be mended & a pair of old Hinges”

In November 1737 the court summoned Richard Fry, then back in Boston and feuding with Samuel Waldo. Fry owed money to the Jackson estate, with the security being a parcel of paper—“but it being So Bad that its for ye most part unvendible.” For papermaking fans, this parcel consisted of reams of “Large bag paper,” “Small Capp,” “Best Sorted Whited Brown,” “Whited Brown,” and a “Bundle.” Mary Jackson had sold most of the bag paper and best whited brown. The probate court empowered a committee to examine and value the rest.

The court had already commissioned those same men to sort out the debit side of the estate. On 24 July 1738, the Boston Gazette ran this notice:
The Commissioners to Examine the Creditors Claims to the Estate of Mr. James Jackson, late of Boston Founder, deceased, will meet once a Month at the usual time and place for Four Months longer, to Receive said Claims, of which the Creditors are to take notice.
The commissioners filed their report in October 1738. They found that the James Jackson estate owed eighty-four creditors a total of £2,696.5.10. The biggest creditor, with over £1,650 due, was the wealthy merchant Charles Apthorp. The second largest, owed only £228, was James Bowdoin.

In yet another document for the probate court, Mary Jackson reported the total amount due to her husband as £1,787.6.9, and that she had collected £221 and a penny since his death. In that filing Jackson also included a list of expenses since her husband’s death, including payments to the commissioners and others who helped settle the estate, wages for a nurse, “weeds” for mourning, and necessary household expenses. That was enough for the judge to declare the estate settled in 1739.

Mary Jackson’s expense list reveals some details of her husband’s brazier business. She paid rent to William Dummer for the shop, separate from other rent, probably for where the family lived. She reported “the Expence of maintaining 7 persons during the Shops being shut up wch. was 4 Weeks.” I’m guessing those seven people included the five men interrogated about things removed from Jackson’s estate, plus the elusive William.

The four weeks’ closure sheds new light on this advertisement that had appeared in the Boston Gazette on 27 Oct 1735:
MARY JACKSON, the Widow of the late James Jackson Founder, at the Brazen Head in Cornhill Boston, sells all sorts of Founders Ware, and all sorts of bright Braziers Ware, and likewise Casteth all sorts of Mill Brasses.
Having kept the Sign of the Brazen Head closed for a month, all the while paying the skilled staff to stay on, Mary Jackson had opened for business again.

TOMORROW: Mary Jackson, businesswoman.

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

“Fashioning the New England Family” in Boston

The “Fashioning the New England Family” exhibit will be on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society through 6 April. It’s well worth a visit, especially because it’s free.

The webpage on the exhibit explains:
Fashioning the New England Family explores the ways in which the multiple meanings of fashion and fashionable goods are reflected in patterns of consumption and refashioning, recycling, and retaining favorite family pieces. Many of the items that will be featured have been out of sight, having never been exhibited for the public or seen in living memory. . . .

For the public, it is an opportunity to view in detail painstaking craftsmanship, discover how examples of material culture relate to significant moments in our history, and learn how garments were used as political statements, projecting an individual’s religion, loyalties, and social status.
The garments on display range from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. The ways they’re displayed are often as interesting as the clothing itself. In a couple of cases, beside the garment is a portrait of its owner wearing it. One quilted petticoat is a recreation by Colonial Williamsburg tailors based on a pattern copied from the original—which was destroyed in the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Tools show how clothing was made and repaired. Examples highlight how garments were remade or their fabrics reused.

The exhibit also features fashionable accessories, such as jewelry, shoes, and Abigail Adams’s pocket. One case is devoted to a rare example of a wig, wig case, powder, and related utensils. I was particularly struck by a walking stick that belonged to Thomas Hancock, shown here; I hadn’t known “fist canes” were a thing.
Given the expense of fashionable, high-quality clothing; the resources necessary to preserve those goods; and the Massachusetts Historical Society’s traditional supporters, upper-class fashion dominates the exhibit. But of course I looked for traces of “my guys,” the striving mechanics on the front line of pre-Revolutionary protests and military preparations, as discussed in The Road to Concord. Many of those men made it into the genteel class, but they struggled to get in and to solidify that status. Understanding fashion helped.

One item from “my guys” is shown at top: a hatchment that a young woman in the Pierpont family embroidered following the design of heraldic painters John and Samuel Gore. And there’s a whole display case devoted to objects from the family of William Dawes. He was a fashion icon in colonial Boston—the first time Dawes’s name appeared in the newspapers, it was because he got married in a suit of Massachusetts-woven cloth. That suit doesn’t survive, but the display includes homespun cloth from the Dawes family earlier in the century, a silk muff, bags and purses, and a kidskin bag that Dawes used to hold legal papers when he died in 1799.

For folks who can’t visit the exhibit before April, there’s also a Fashioning the New England Family book by guest curator Kimberly S. Alexander.

Tuesday, January 01, 2019

“The New-born Year now dawns again”

It’s a Boston 1775 tradition to share a “carrier’s address” around New Year’s. That’s one term for a poem that newspaper carriers composed, printed, and distributed to encourage end-of-year tips from their customers.

I’ve featured several poems from those newspaper delivery boys, some from delivery men and women, and possibly one from a delivery girl. Some came from individual boys, such as Job Weeden, but most were collective pleas. Often those verses alluded to political issues of the day.

This year I’m making a slight deviation and instead sharing a farrier’s address. A farrier was, as you know, a person who shod horses. Two hundred fifty years ago today, at least one farrier’s apprentice in Boston was distributing a printed broadside with this message:
New-Year’s Wish,
From the Farrier’s Lad.

The New-born Year now dawns again,
And precious Health is still possess’d;
May Heaven’s Blessings yet descend,
And all our Troubles be redress’d.

’Tis true, the Scene is chang’d!---but yet
Our anxious Hopes are still alive:
We trust our KING will hear our Cries,
And all our Grievances relieve.

Then while with Plenty you abound
And Mercies on you daily flow,
Pray out of your abundant Store
Some trifle on your Lad bestow.

Boston, January 1769.
Whatever print shop produced this broadside for the farrier’s lads also switched out some type and printed “A New-Year’s Wish, From the Baker’s Lad.” And perhaps others that haven’t survived. Which shows how by 1769 the practice of seeking gratuities at the end of the year was pretty widespread across the juvenile workforce.