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

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Thursday, January 31, 2019

“The Parade was only through Part of one Street”

As reported yesterday, on the evening of Monday, 14 Nov 1768, New Yorkers paraded with effigies of Gov. Francis Bernard and Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf of Boston and then burned those figures.

The New-York Journal published by John Holt on the following Thursday ran a favorable description of that event, saying that the demonstrators had eluded army patrols to carry out their plans with “Regularity and good Order.”

When Monday rolled around again, Hugh Gaine’s New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury and James Parker’s New-York Gazette, or the Weekly Post-Boy came out. (Those are often referred to as the Mercury and the Post-Boy, for obvious reasons.) Rather then reprinting Holt’s report, as would be common in newspapers of the time, both carried a new report on the protest, which was now a week old.

That new report was prefaced by a note from the city authorities. The Mercury’s copy read:
Mr. Gaine,

As it would be the highest Injustice to the Inhabitants of this City, to suppose that the Exhibition of the Effigies last Monday Night, was generally approved here; and as Mr. Holt’s Representation of it may deceive Persons at a Distance; I am desired by the Magistrates to give you the Account of what passed, and to request your inserting it in your next paper.

Augustus Van Cortlandt, Town Clerk.
The city government insisted on this version of events:
On Friday the 12th Instant, the Mayor [Whitehead Hicks] had Intimations, that Effigies were intended to be exhibited that Evening: The Rest of the Magistrates were instantly summoned to meet him at the City-Hall; the Marshals and Constables were sent out to all Quarters of the Town for Intelligence; when there was no Prospect of their Appearance that Night, the Magistrates dispersed about nine o’Clock, resolving to visit their Wards the next Day for Inquiry, and discourage as much as possible the Execution of the Design.—

The Inhabitants, as far as the Magistrates could discover, seemed to be almost universally opposed to it; and the Mayor convened a Number of the Inhabitants to a Meeting with the Magistrates the same Evening, at the Hall, where a great Number attended, who, in general, declared their Disapprobation of such Proceedings, and promised to assist in preserving the Peace of the City.—

That on the Monday following, there being Cause to suspect the Promoters thereof would attempt to execute their Project, and Intelligence being obtained, that the Effigies intended to be exhibited, were in the Out-skirts of the Town, the Magistrates repaired in the Evening to the Neighbourhood suspected; the Persons concerned therein, as the Magistrates were informed, were thereby alarmed, and under Cover of the Night, went off with their Effigies into the City, with so much Precipitation, as to leave a Part of their Apparatus behind them.

That whole the Magistrates, with their Officers, were in the Neighbourhood suspected, they received an Account that the Effigies had made their Appearance near Peck’s Slip, and were going down Queen-street. The Magistrates immediately followed, and tho’ they lost no Time the Effigies were burnt, and the People dispersed, before they could overtake them.

The Parade was only through Part of one Street, so hastily performed, as not to be heard of by great Part of the City; and from the best information, they have Reason to believe, this whole Proceeding is disapproved of by the Majority of the Citizens
Boston’s seven selectmen were elected by the annual town meeting and usually on the same political side as the crowd, though more worried about the community’s image elsewhere and thus often more conservative.

In contrast, New York’s city government was headed by a mayor appointed by the royal governor. The common council consisted of an alderman and assistant elected by property-holders from each ward. The result was a government less inclined to allow public protests.

TOMORROW: John Holt’s vociferous response.

(The map above, courtesy of Untapped Cities, shows Peck’s Slip at the lower right and Queen Street, now Pearl Street in lower Manhattan.)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

“We have advice from New-York…”

The dispute over the Manufactory in Boston in late 1768 was so controversial that it managed to spark a secondary dispute in New York.

That city was already the British army’s main base of operations in North America, with tensions between soldiers and local working men. Its politicians argued with the royal authorities not over barracks (because those were already built) but over firewood that the Quartering Act required the local government to provide. So New York’s more radical Whigs were primed to support Boston in its resistance.

On 17 Nov 1768, John Holt’s New-York Journal, or the General Advertiser squeezed in this item at the end of its local news. And by “squeezed in,” I mean that this story was set in smaller type so it could fit into the column.
On Monday last a Report prevail’d that the Effigies of Governor [Francis] Bernard, and Sheriff [Stephen] Greenleaf of Boston, were to be exhibited that Evening:

At 4 o’Clock in the Afternoon, the Troops in this City appear’d under Arms, at the lower Barracks, where they remained till after 10 o’Clock at Night, during which Time Parties of them, were continually patrolling the Streets, in order it is supposed to intimidate the Inhabitants, and prevent their exposing the Effigies;

Notwithstanding which, they made their appearance in the Streets, hanging on a Gallows, between 8 and 9 o’Clock, attended by a vast Number of Spectators, who saluted them with loud Huzzas at the Corner of every Street they passed; and after having been exposed some Time at the Coffee-House, they were there publickly burnt, amidst the Acclamations of the Populace, who testified their Approbation by repeated Huzzas, and immediately dispersed, and returned to their respective Homes.—

The Affair was conducted with such Regularity and good Order, that no Person sustained the least Damage, either in his Person or Property.
Holt added a pointing finger and a line in italic type: “A Postscript to this Paper was intended, but could not be got ready.”

The Boston Whigs happily reported in December:
We have advice from New-York, that on the 14th inst. [i.e., of this month] there was exposed and burnt in that city, the effigies of G.B. and S. G. in resentment at the parts they acted in endeavouring to get the troops quartered in the town; contrary to the letter and spirit of the act of Parliament relative to billetting troops in America, as also to the advice of His Majesty’s Council.
But that celebration may have been premature.

TOMORROW: Government crackdown.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

More Maneuvering about the Manufactory

Boston 1775 readers might remember the conflict over the Manufactory House that occurred in October 1768, soon after the British regiments arrived in Boston.

The soldiers’ “siege” of the building was surprisingly short, given all the attention it received in Whig writing. But the legal and political argument over that event was still going on months later.

With all the soldiers in rented barracks, the argument shifted to the legality of royal appointees’ attempts to move the Brown family of weavers out of the Manufactory. And had the Massachusetts Council authorized those efforts in any way? Here’s the Boston Whigs’ report on a Council meeting on 28 Dec 1768:
The C——l met this day, and the G[overno]r renewed his request, that they would agreeable to the petition of Sheriff [Stephen] Greenleaf, indemnify said sheriff as to his conduct at the Manufactory-House, in the action brought against him by Mr. William Brown, and in order to shew the reasonableness of this requirement, he was pleased to tell the C——1, that in this business Mr. Greenleaf pursued their vote and did not act as sheriff ut as their bailiff, he having commissioned him so to do.
This is the first time I’ve seen the name “William Brown” linked to the Manufactory. Previous reports had referred to the weaver who was suing the sheriff as John Brown. This might be just an error, or this might be another member of the Brown family not previously heard from.

The writer of this newspaper dispatch got so caught up in describing this confrontation that he forgot to disguise the word “Council” in the next bit:
The Council were the more surprised at this demand, and G——rs assertion to support it, as he could not but remember, that when they first heard of the sheriff’s extraordinary procedure respecting the Manufactory-House; they were so alarmed as to have a meeting among themselves on the 22d of October last, when seven of the eleven of the Council, (six of whom, by continual application were drawn into the unhappy vote,) which were all whose presence could then be procured, waited upon the G——r and acquainted him that it was their unanimous opinion, that the whole procedure of the sheriff was expressly contrary to their intention in said vote, which was only general for the clearing the Manufactory-House for the reception of the troops after the barracks at the Castle should be full; and that they never had an idea of the sheriff’s making a forceable entry contrary to law; and that notwithstanding this application, the siege of the Manufactory was continued for about twelve days after:
I quoted Gov. Francis Bernard’s account of the Council meetings on those days here.
One of the C——l then asked the G——r whether the sheriff acted as bailiff when he sent for a number of the regulars to assist him when he forceably entered the said house, as part of the posse-comitatus, or whether a bailiff could legally do it; and it was then observed that this could not be done; the presumption, was that Mr. Greenleaf had acted only as sheriff in that business:

All that was offered by the C——1 did not discourage the G——r from exerting his influence in support of this officer, he insisted upon the question being put, and it was according put in words of the following import, viz. Whether the C——1 would take upon themselves the defence of said action on the part of the sheriff, or indemnify said sheriff.—To which question the C——1 replied in a manner that has brought as much credit upon themselves as it has cast reproach upon the G——r.

That they would not at present determine that question, the C——1 being of opinion that for them to do any thing that might give a bias, either to court or jury, would be extremely wrong: That for the C——1 now to determine, whether they would indemnify Sheriff Greenleaf, or would not indemnify him might give such a bias, and therefore they desire to be excused from giving any answer till the cause shall be determined in a court of justice.

It is said that the G——r was greatly mortified by the foregoing vote of C——1, and could not forbear expressing his resentment, by telling them that if he was in their place he should be ashamed of looking the sheriff in the face, and that their conduct would make an ill appearance on the other side the water, where they might depend it would be properly represented, and where he apprehended measures might be taken to procure justice to that officer.
Like so many times before, Gov. Bernard and the Council were at a stalemate.

This newspaper item also shows us how people used the phrase “on the other side the water” to mean over in Britain.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Deciphering the Boston Whigs’ Conspiracy Rumors

What with The Saga of the Brazen Head, the January 1775 brawl between British army officers and watchmen, the federal government shutdown, and ordinary news, I’ve had to neglect what was happening in Boston in 1768 and 1769.

So here’s what the Whigs reported on 27 Dec 1768:
A report is current, that Mr. Alderman T—k, has procured a copy of the will or instruments whereby C—m—r P——, gave to the late C. T——d, the reversion of an estate represented to him as worth £50,000—which he intends to produce in the House of C—m—s next s—s—n, in order to shew what secret influence had been exerted for the procurement of an American B—d of C—s—ms.

It might also be of special service to present that H—e with the picture of a certain lady of pleasure, whose influence was powerful enough to procure £500 a year for a B. that those guardians of the people might see how the monies taken from Americans is charmed away and applied not for the lessening of the national debt but for the support of M——l w—h—s and p—si—s.
Well!

Let’s translate.
  • “Mr. Alderman T—k” was Barlow Trecothick, a leader of the London merchants who did business with the North American colonies. He had trained with and married a daughter of the late Boston potentate Charles Apthorp. Massachusetts merchants considered him one of their best friends in Parliament. They didn’t know that on 15 November Trecothick told the House of Commons, “I look upon America as deluded.”
  • “C—m—r P——” was Charles Paxton, one of the Commissioners of Customs in Boston (shown here). He was the most unpopular of those five men at this time, having worked at the port’s Customs house for years before getting the big promotion of overseeing the service across North America.
  • “the late C. T——d” was Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in London until his unexpected death in September 1767. He designed the Townshend Acts, which imposed duties on certain goods shipped from Britain to North America in order to pay for colonial administrators’ salaries.
  • “in the House of C—m—s next s—s—n”: in the House of Commons next session.
  • “American B—d of C—s—ms”: American Board of Customs.
In sum, that first sentence suggested there was evidence that Paxton had bribed Townshend with a big inheritance to enlarge the Customs bureaucracy in the colonies and, presumably, put Paxton on its governing board.

It’s true that Paxton was in London while Townshend wrote the new law. However, the sparse surviving correspondence between the two men shows no friendship or close collaboration. Townshend was already talking about reforming American colonial government before Paxton arrived.

Trecothick never produced the rumored evidence of corruption. Indeed, he may have had no idea about how the Boston Whigs were invoking his name in spreading this conspiracy theory.

In the second sentence above:
  • “that H—e”: the House of Commons.
  • “a certain lady of pleasure”: no idea.
  • “£500 a year for a B.”: a Board? a Baronet? (Gov. Francis Bernard was made a baronet in 1769, and his pension indeed turned out to be £500.)
  • “M——l w—h—s and p—si—s”: ministerial whores and pensioners.
Again, the conspiracy theory behind this accusation was never put to the public test of a Parliamentary inquiry or legal trial.

Underneath that accusatory propaganda was a serious political issue. The Townshend duties were enacted by a Parliament where the colonists had no representatives, and they were earmarked in part to insulate royal appointees from colonial pressure through regular salaries. Charles Townshend really did seek to increase London’s power in the colonies, and Charles Paxton really was one of the bureaucrats charged with and benefiting from that effort.

Sunday, January 27, 2019

Speakers at 2019 Revolutionary War Conferences

Here are the line-ups of speakers and topics at two conferences on the Revolutionary War coming later this year.

Though some of the speakers are academics and they’re presenting high-quality research, these aren’t academic gatherings. The focus is sharing stories with other researchers and the interested public rather than developing papers for journals.

Eighth Annual Conference of the American Revolution, America’s History L.L.C., Williamsburg, Virginia, 22-24 Mar 2019
  • Rick Atkinson, “The British Are Coming: Waging Expeditionary War in the Age of Sail”
  • Rod Andrew, Jr.: “Not the Swamp Fox: South Carolina’s Andrew Pickens in the Revolutionary War”
  • Jack Buchanan, “The Road to Charleston: How Nathanael Greene Dealt with Logistics, Civil War and Politics in South Carolina and Georgia”
  • Larrie Ferriro, “Brothers at Arms: American Independence and the Men of France and Spain Who Saved It”
  • Stephen Fried, “Revolution, Madness, and Benjamin Rush, the Visionary Doctor Who Became a Founding Father”
  • Don Hagist, “A Thousand Lashes: Discipline in the British Army by the Cat o’ Nine Tails”
  • James Kirby Martin, “‘In a Wanton and Barbarous Manner’: Benedict Arnold’s New London Raid and the Fort Griswold ‘Massacre’”
  • Eric Schnitzer, “The Hessians are Also Coming: Who Were King George’s Hirelings and Where Did They Come From?”
  • Lt. Col. Sean Sculley, “The Contest for Liberty: Military Leadership in the Continental Army, 1775-1783”
  • Richard J. Sommers, “Founding Fathers and Fighting Sons: The Revolutionary War Forebears of Civil War Soldiers and Statesmen”
Sixteenth Annual Fort Ticonderoga Seminar on the American Revolution, Fort Ticonderoga, Ticonderoga, New York, 20-22 Sept 2019
  • 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”
In addition, the Fort Plain Museum’s annual conference is scheduled for 6-9 June. The preliminary announcement lists speakers, including some of the people above, but the full line-up of topics will come next month.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

The B.B.C. Are Coming

B.B.C. Four has started to broadcast the new series American History’s Biggest Fibs with Lucy Worsley in Britain.

The first episode, on the American Revolution, can be viewed here on DailyMotion with a great many randomly timed commercial interruptions. The series might well be broadcast in the U.S. of A. sometime in the future, and I’m sure watching it then would be a less frustrating experience.

I speak with host Lucy Worsley while standing beside the North Bridge in Concord for about two minutes, somewhere between the 15th and 20th minute of the first episode (commercials not included). I’m pleased to say they kept in my allusion to Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

We actually recorded for over an hour about various topics in various ways, but what made it into the program is a discussion of why Americans were so keen on the militia system over a standing army.

Points that didn’t make the cut include:
  • Eighteenth-century British Whigs also valued the militia system over a standing army. but they had reconciled themselves with the latter because…
  • Militias are really good on defense, poor on offense, so a society that wants to invade other places and build an empire can’t rely on short-term troops…
  • As Gen. George Washington and the Continental Congress finally agreed on after some disastrous periods early in the Revolutionary War…
  • But the ideological appeal of the militia was so strong that the new republic went back to that system soon after the war ended, shrinking its permanent military for a few years, and…
  • Our Constitution’s Second Amendment dates from that brief period, but the militia system its authors viewed as essential to a republic no longer exists.
It was a fine conversation on a lovely day last June, so I was pleased with the experience. The biggest challenge was making arrangements by phone with the helpful assistant producer who was my contact. She has such a fine Scottish accent that I needed an extra second to decode the sounds of each sentence before responding, as if I were speaking on satellite delay or just a bit slow.

My thanks to Jim Hollister and his colleagues at Minute Man National Historical Park for helping me be part of this project.

Friday, January 25, 2019

“History Is on Hold at National Parks”

Earlier in the month I passed on news that the Newport Historical Society had had to postpone a talk by Emily Murphy because she works for the National Park Service and that agency was shut down.

The talk was rescheduled for last night, but of course much of the federal the government was still shut down, and it had to be canceled. Maybe it will be rescheduled, but we’ll have to see the full government operating first.

Here’s an article by Glenn David Brasher providing a deeper look at how the shutdown is affecting the people who research, preserve, and interpret American history through our national parks. It’s called “Government Shutdown Means History Is on Hold at National Parks.”

A sample:
Their passion stems from a conviction that the work matters. “Learning about our shared humanity is crucial to our existence,” claimed one public historian. Yet, as another noted, “many people never study history beyond high school or a basic survey course in college, so when individuals and families take time to visit historic sites and museums, it's a valuable opportunity for them to learn about the importance of history in our daily experiences.”

As things stand now, springtime field trips with school groups are being cancelled, and many “people visiting from out of town have been greeted with locked gates and signs stating we're closed, and that depresses me.” Other visitors have encountered parks available for them to drive through, but there are no historians on site to engage them about the past and how it has shaped the present.

Ordinarily, one ranger noted, “those of us working at historic sites [get to] have these conversations at the places where the past events happened.” But, during the shutdown, another pointed out, “without rangers… the discussion of the historical relevancy [of a site is] not possible. The human connection we make with the public is not there if we are not there.”

These federal employees are also worried about the impact the shutdown might have on their park’s resources. “My concern,” one park service historian explained, “is about our archeological sites throughout the NPS being looted or damaged.”

Amateur relic hunters with metal detectors are legally forbidden in the National Parks, but with few rangers onsite, another ranger said, “I'm concerned about damage to the resources if relic hunters start running wild, and I'm concerned about the historic structures we manage—one tree coming down in the wrong place might not get the attention it needs for weeks.”

Beyond long-term damage to their parks, however, almost every ranger I contacted expressed fears that the shutdown may deter the next generation of public historians away from jobs interpreting history in the National Parks. “My concern,” one ranger explained, “is that new blood that might have wanted to serve Americans [as public historians] will look at this shutdown and the previous ones and think, ‘Never mind. This isn’t stable. Leaders don’t seem to value the employees and the work they do.’”
And here’s the National Parks Conservation Association’s article on “6 Ways to Help During the Shutdown.”

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Fort Plain Washington’s Birthday Symposium, 16 Feb.

On Saturday, 16 February, the Fort Plain Museum will host its first annual George Washington’s Birthday Symposium.

The scheduled speakers are:
  • Edward G. Lengel, “Setting the Example: George Washington’s Military Leadership”
  • Bruce Chadwick, “George & Martha
  • William Larry Kidder, “George Washington’s Ten Crucial Days: Trenton and Princeton
  • Norman J. Bollen, “George Washington and the Mohawk Frontier”
This event will be held at the Fulton-Montgomery Community College, located at 2805 NY-67, Johnstown, New York. It will start at 8:15 A.M. and end at 3:30 P.M. Registration costs $35 in advance, $40 at the door, and $20 for students. Admission includes a sandwich lunch buffet and refreshment breaks. The authors’ books will be available for purchase and signing.

To register, email fortplainmuseum@yahoo.com with your name, phone number, email address, and street address. Send a check to the Fort Plain Museum, Attn: GW BDAY, P. O. Box 324, Fort Plain, NY 13339, or call 518-774-5669 with credit-card information. (If you get connected to voicemail, leave a phone number for a volunteer to call you back.)

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

“I suppose the affair will drop”

On the night of 20 Jan 1775, as I described back here, there was a big fight between Boston’s watchmen and British army officers, with a few civilians involved on each side.

While the immediate spur was a mistaken belief that the watchman had arrested an officer, the underlying cause was the ongoing dispute over authority in Massachusetts.

When I took notes on this conflict while examining the Gage Papers at the Clements Library, I didn’t see any indication that the army’s board of enquiry led to charges, discipline, or acquittal for the officers involved.

Instead, Gen. Thomas Gage appears to have decided to leave the next steps to the civil courts. He had achieved his immediate goal of calming the town a bit by ordering a public enquiry, with five high-level officers taking testimony from over three dozen men.

That strategy worked, at least for some people. John Eliot told the Rev. Jeremy Belknap: “His Excellency seems dispos’d to do everything in his power to prevent mischief & satisfy the people, & me judice [in my judgment], the times being considered, is a very good Governor.”

So how did the civil magistrates and court system deal with the case? As the Boston Gazette reported,  Patriot-leaning magistrates ordered eight officers and saddler Richard Sharwin to answer to charges at the next court term. But the newspaper then acknowledged there was a huge obstacle in the way of any trial:
but the good People of this County will rather chuse to hear no more of this Matter, than return Jurors to the Superior Court upon the Act of Parliament to regulate the Government of this Province, which they have resolved never to submit to.——
For months the Massachusetts Whigs had been urging people not to cooperate with the royal court system, first in protest of salaries for judges from the tea tax, then in protest of the Massachusetts Government Act. Crowds had kept the county courts outside of Boston closed since the previous summer. Most of the men of Suffolk County felt the same way.

Lt. John Barker likewise saw where the controversy was heading on 25 January:
Several of the riotous Officers bound over to appear at the April Assizes, when I suppose the affair will drop, as they can’t have any Jury but according to the new Acts which they are hitherto so much averse to.
There were no “April Assizes” in Massachusetts that year. Instead, that month brought war.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

“By what Means this Riot was introduced”

While the king’s army held a public court of enquiry into the violence on the night of 20 Jan 1775, the Massachusetts civil authorities did the same.

Town watchmen swore out a legal complaint against certain army officers. According to John Eliot, witnesses “were examined in the Court House before Justice [Edmund] Quincey,” shown here. Or, as the 30 January Boston Gazette reported:
On Tuesday and Wednesday last there was a full and impartial Examination of Witnesses before the Worshipful Edmund Quincy and John Hill, Esquires, two of his Majesty’s Justices of the Quorum for this County.—
Back in 1768-70, the first time the army patrolled the streets of Boston, Justice Quincy became known for his hostility to any soldiers brought before him. Justice Hill had been one of magistrates most involved in collecting testimony for the town report on the Boston Massacre. So, despite the Boston Gazette’s assurances, friends of the royal government must have been dubious those men were conducting a “full and impartial Examination.”

The army board sat that whole week in “the New Court House,” according to John Andrews, so what “Court House” did these two justices of the peace use? The Town House had served as a courthouse for many years, so perhaps that’s what Eliot meant. It’s hard to imagine the two inquiries taking place side by side.

Edes and Gill published the outcome of the magistrates’ inquiry this way:
By the Evidence it appeared, that previous to the Riot the following Circumstances took place: A little after Ten o’Clock two young Men passing down Milk-Street, near the Entrance into Long Lane, they were accosted by an Officer, not in the English, but as they supposed in another Language, which they did not understand; they asked him what he meant; he said he meant to tell them to go about their Business.
That detail about the officer not speaking in English might have been a dig at Scotsmen in the army. Or he might just have been speaking in another language, or incoherently.
They said they were going, and passed along into Long-Lane. They had not gone far before the Officer called them to stop—they stopped till he came up to them, and angry Words ensued. The young Men, however, parted from him the second Time and went on their Way towards their Homes.

The Officer followed and overtook them near the Head of the Lane, and stopped them again, telling them he supposed they were stiff Americans; to which one of them said, he gloried in the Character.—Here again Words ensued, and the Officer drew his Sword, flourished it and struck one of the young Men on the Arm, who immediately seized him.—

At this Juncture, three or four of the Town Watch, who were upon the Patrole, came up and separated them, advising them to go Home. The two young Men did so, but the Officer refused, saying, he was the Prisoner of the Watch and would go with them; they told him he was not their Prisoner, but might go where he plea’d, and if he desired it, they would see him safe Home; but he insisted upon it, that he was their Prisoner ——

The Watchmen went down the Lane towards their Head Quarters in King-Street, where they had been going before, and the Officer accompanied them. In the Way they met with several Persons, whom they took to be Servants of Officers, who supposing this Officer to be in the Custody of the Watch, attempted to rescue him, but he insisted upon being a Prisoner, and said the Watchmen were his Friends, and he would go with them.

They then went forward, and in Quaker-Lane, which leads into King-Street, they were met and assaulted by more than twenty Officers of the Army, who took several of their Watch-Poles from them and wounded some of them.

We thought it necessary thus far to give a Detail of the Affair, that our Readers might know by what Means this Riot was introduced.——

The Particulars that happened afterwards are too many to be enumerated in a News-Papers. It is sufficient to say, that upon the Evidence the Justices thought proper to bind eight of the Officers, and a Sadler, named Sharwin, who had lived a few Years in Town, to answer for their Conduct at the Superior Court, and in the mean Time to be on good Behavior…
The newspaper clearly painted Sharwin the saddler as a troublemaking outsider. I just hunted for information about him and ended up tracking Richard Sharwin’s career over two decades, followed by his widow’s involvement in the sale of an enslaved woman that linked the Long Island spy Robert Townsend to the Massacre witness Richard Palmes. Someday I may tell that story.

As for the story of what happened on the night of 20 Jan 1775, Eliot supplied this understanding:
Betwixt ten & eleven in the evening an officer in liquor desired the watch to go home with him. A young gentleman of the town, seeing him with two men & thinking him abus'd, went to the British Coffee House, & acquainted the officers collected there that one of their companions was involuntarily led away & made prisoner by the watch. They rushed out, attacked the watchmen with drawn swords, & held the battle till orders were received from the Governor [Thomas Gage] to disperse.
Plus, at some point the main guard turned out under Capt. John Gore, though he was allegedly as drunk as any of the officers from the coffee-house or the first officer who kept cheerfully insisting he was a prisoner of his friends, the watchmen.

TOMORROW: The results of the two investigations.

Monday, January 21, 2019

“Five field Officers, to enquire into the circumstance of the Riot”

The morning after the fight between British army officers and town watchmen that I reported yesterday, the higher authorities swung into action.

That morning six selectmen met at Faneuil Hall: John Scollay, John Hancock, Thomas Marshall, Samuel Austin, Oliver Wendell, and John Pitts. The record of that session says: “Mr. [Benjamin] Burdick & other Constables of the Watch, appeared and complained to the Selectmen of great abuses received from a number of officers of the Army, the last Night.”

The selectmen must have asked the watchmen to produce sworn testimony because that afternoon “Mr. Isaac Pierce, Mr. Joseph Henderson & Mr. Robert Peck & Mr. Constable Burdick gave in their Depositions.”

Gov. Thomas Gage, who was also the general in charge of the soldiers, took steps the same day—a politic move to calm the town. Lt. John Barker wrote in his diary, “A court of Enquiry is order’d to set next Monday, consisting of five field Officers, to enquire into the circumstance of the Riot.”

The prospect of punishment might, however, have made some officers more resentful. The merchant John Andrews wrote on 22 January:
The Officers’ animosity to the watch still rankling in their breast, induc'd two of them to go last night to the watch house again at about 10 o’clock and threaten the watch that they would bring a file of men and blow all their brains out.

The watch thereupon left their cell and shut it up, and went and enter’d a complaint to the Selectmen—some of whom waited on the Governor at about 12 o’clock, who was very much vex’d at the Officers’ conduct, and told the Gentlemen that he had got the names of three that were concern'd in Fryday night’s frolick, and was determin’d to treat them with the utmost severity—and likewise order’d a guard to patrole through every street in town and bring every officer to him that they should find strolling or walking.
Fortunately, the 22nd was a Sunday, so nobody really expected to be out having fun in Boston, anyway.

On Monday, 23 January, the court of enquiry met. It was headed by Lt. Col. George Maddison of the 4th regiment, with two other lieutenant colonels and two majors on the bench. They took testimony every day from Monday to Saturday, according to records in Gen. Gage’s files.

Barker wrote, “it is supposed it will be a tedious affair, and will not be finished for some time.” Andrews also reported:
Yesterday the Officers were all examin’d at the New Court house, respecting fryday night’s affair, being carried there under arrest, nine in number (after which the General is to deal with them): being a great number of evidences they were oblig’d to adjourn till [to] day.
The list of witnesses included:
  • five army captains, including Hugh Maginis of the 38th, who had fought with the watch back in November.
  • twelve lieutenants from the army and Marines, including Gage’s aide de camp Harry Rooke; Lt. House of the 38th, who had sustained a cut on his forehead; William Pitcairn of the Marines, son of the major commanding that unit; and William Sutherland of the 38th, who would later leave a detailed report on the Battle of Lexington and Concord.
  • seven ensigns, including Ens. King of the 5th, whose sword had been taken.
  • a sergeant and at least five privates.
  • “Mr. Winslow,” who had been escorting Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver’s wife Elizabeth home from “Mr. Vassall’s,” probably her brother, John Vassall.
  • watchman William McFadden.
  • “Thomas Ball Esqr. late Capt. in the Royal Irish Regt. of Foot,” who testified that townspeople were yelling at the soldiers to fire.
At the start of the inquiry John Andrews had high expectations: ”the Captain of the Guard [John Gore] at least will be broke, for being drunk when on duty.”

Meanwhile, some of the town’s justices of the peace held their own hearings.

TOMORROW: The magistrates’ findings.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

“Drunken Officers attacked the town house watch”?

On 20 Jan 1775, there was a confrontation between the Boston town watch and several British army officers.

I’ve written before about such conflicts, especially during the 1768-70 occupation, and how they reflect differences in class and disagreements about sources of authority. Did British military gentlemen need to defer to working-class Bostonians who had been empowered by local law, especially if those gentlemen were in Boston in the first place because of alleged disrespect for Parliament’s law?

Naturally, there was disagreement about the nature and fault of this fracas, too.

The merchant John Andrews wrote to a relative on 21 January:
Last evening a number of drunken Officers attacked the town house watch between eleven and 12 o’clock, when the assistance of the New [i.e., West] Boston watch was call’d, and a general battle ensued; some wounded on both sides.

A party from the main guard was brought up with their Captain together with another party from the Governor’s [i.e., from Province House]. Had it not been for the prudence of two Officers that were sober, the Captain of the Main Guard would have acted a second Tragedy to the 5th March, as he was much disguis’d with Liquor and would have order’d the guard to fire on the watch had he not been restrain’d.

His name is [John] Gore, being a Captain in the 5th or Earl Peircy’s regiment. He was degraded not long since for some misdemeanour.
On the other side, Lt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment wrote in his diary for the same day:
Last night there was a Riot in King Street in consequence of an Officer having been insulted by the Watchmen, which has frequently happen’d, as those people suppose from their employment that they may do it with impunity; the contrary however they experienc’d last night: a number of Officers as well as Townsmen were assembled, and in consequence of the Watch having brandished their hooks and other Weapons, several Officers drew their Swords and wounds were given on both sides, some Officers slightly; one of the Watch lost a Nose, another a Thumb, besides many others by the points of Swords, but less conspicuous than those above mention’d.
As for Andrews’s statement that Capt. Gore had been “degraded” in rank, Barker had already noted when Gore was “removed from the light Infantry” company of the 5th. That wasn’t for “some misdemeanour” but after “having complained to the Comr. in Chief [Thomas Gage] of the insufficiency of some of the accoutrements of the Company.

Barker added that Gore, Lt. Col. William Walcott, and Col. Percy “have long been upon ill terms.” And going over his regimental commanders’ heads hadn’t helped Gore’s standing.

TOMORROW: Higher authorities step in.

[Let me just note that this Capt. John Gore of the royal army was completely different from the militia captain John Gore who headed the family profiled in The Road to Concord. But colonial Boston being what it was, of course there would have to be two men called Capt. John Gore in a community of only 20,000.]

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Sufferers from the Great Boston Fire of 1760

The scope of the Boston fire of 20 Mar 1760 really comes out in the list of victims that the newspapers published in the following week.

The list was actually a guess, based on November 1759 property assessment records. The printers acknowledged that “Several Widows and a few others are probably omitted.” And of course the names are the heads of household, not the relatives, servants, and boarders also affected.

In his later account the young printer John Boyle added, “The House of Col. Joseph Ingersol catch’d on Fire, but being Brick it was preserved. Here the Flames ended.” Ingersoll’s house was also the Bunch of Grapes tavern.

Other notices in the newspapers testify to the disruption the fire caused throughout the town.
It is desired by the Inhabitants of the Town, That those who live in the Neighbourhood where the late Fire was, would collect and send to the Town-House, all the Buckets & Bags that belong to any Society, where a Person will receive them for the respective Owners.
The town rewarded the firefighting society which was the first on the scene of a fire, and at the end of the month the selectmen gave that award to the “Master of the Marlborough Engine.”
All Persons who have had any Goods or Household Furniture deposited with them during the late Fire, and are at a Loss to whom to return them, are desired either to send them to Faneuil-Hall immediately, or give Information of the same to the Person who will attend there for that Purpose, and where proper Care will be taken that the right Owners shall have them.
The printers were looking for their own customers:
As several Customers to the Boston Evening-Post are burnt out by the late terrible fire, and the publishers not knowing what part of the town they are in, it is desired they would send for their papers
Even before that newspaper was published on 24 March, some Bostonians were looking accusingly at people living in the house where the fire started—the Sign of the Brazen Head.

COMING UP: Finger-pointing, engraving, and what this all meant for The Road to Concord.

Friday, January 18, 2019

“Then was beheld a perfect torrent of fire”

The 24 Mar 1760 Boston Evening-Post, the first issue after the great fire that started in the Brazen Head, reprinted the Boston News-Letter’s account of how the flames spread. The Fleet brothers then tried to communicate the emotional experience of the blaze:
We have thus mark’d the course of those flames which in their progress consumed near 400 dwelling houses, stores, shops, shipping, &c. together with goods and merchandize of almost every kind, to an incredible value;—but it is not easy to describe the terrors of that fatal morning, in which the imaginations of the most calm and steady, received impressions that will not easily be effaced:

At the first appearance of the fire, there was little wind, but this calm was soon followed with a smart gale from the N.W. then was beheld a perfect torrent of fire, bearing down all before it—in a seeming instant all was flame; and in that part of the town were was a magazine of powder—the alarm was great, and an explosion soon followed, which was heard and felt to a very great distance; the effects might have been terrible, had not the chief part been removed by some hardy adventurers, just before the explosion; at the same time cinders and flakes of fire were seen flying over that quarter where was reposited the remainder of the artillery stores and combustibles, which were happily preserved from taking fire:

The people of this and the neighbouring towns exerted themselves to an uncommon degree, and were encouraged by the preference and example of the greatest personages among us, but the haughty flames triumphed over our engines, our art, and our numbers.—

The distressed inhabitants of those buildings, wrapp’d in fire, scarce knew where to take refuge from the rapid flames; numbers who were confined to beds of sickness and pain, as well as the aged and the infant, demanded a compassionate attention,—they were removed from house to house, and even the dying were obliged to take one more remove before their final one.

The loss of interest cannot as yet be ascertained or who have sustained the greatest; it is said that the damage which only one gentleman has received, cannot be made good with £5,000 sterling. It is in general too great to be made up by the other inhabitants, exhausted as we have been by the great proportion this town has born of the extraordinary expences of the war, and by the demand upon our charity to retrieve a number of sufferers by a fire not many months past; a partial relief can now only be afforded to the miserable sufferers, and without the compassionate assistance of our christian friends abroad, distress and ruin may quite overwhelm the greatest part of them, and this once flourishing metropolis must long remain under its present desolation.—

In the midst of our present distress we have great cause of thankfulness, that notwithstanding the falling of the walls and chimnies, divine providence has so mercifully ordered it, that not one life has been lost, and only a few wounded.
Edes and Gill’s 24 March Boston Gazette added:
The Light of the Fire was plainly seen at Portsmouth [New Hampshire], which is the farthest Place we have as yet heard from; and the Explosion occasion’d by the South Battery’s blowing up, was heard at Hampton-Falls, and other Places, and was tho’t to be an Earthquake.
TOMORROW: The list of sufferers.

[The picture above, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg, shows the New York fire of 1776, not a Boston fire.]

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Two Images of the Boston Massacre at Auction

The next Seth Kaller auction of manuscripts and printed Americana includes a print of Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. The auction is scheduled for 24 January, and the price estimate is up to $200,000.

This is a second-state copy, shown by the clock on the Old Brick Meetinghouse tower. Its hands point to 10:20 P.M. while the earlier copies say 8:00. (The shooting probably occurred around 9:30.)

This copy is hand-colored, a luxury touch that customers paid extra for. That coloring offers further support for one of my arguments about this engraving.

Some people complain that Revere either didn’t show Crispus Attucks or portrayed him as white. That’s based on interpreting the figure lying face down in the center foreground as Attucks, and on seeing uncolored images.

I think that central victim is ropemaker Samuel Gray. In the colored prints, that man often has blood coming from wounds on his head, and Gray was indeed shot in the head.

There are multiple victims in the crowd at the left, as shown in the detail above. One face is colored to be darker than the others. That face is even more dark in the Philadelphia library’s copy. In addition, that victim is often painted with two bloody wounds in his chest, which is how Attucks was shot. At least in this colored print, it’s easy to identify Attucks and recognize him as a person of color.

If an original Revere engraving is beyond your price range, Boston 1775 friend Charles Bahne alerted me to a variation on that image being sold closer to home.

CRN Auctions of Cambridge is offering a hand-drawn copy of Revere’s print for sale on 27 January. It came from the Doggett family, who moved from Boston to Maine in the early twentieth century.

Above the drawing is the same title that Revere engraved on his copperplate, minus the word “Bloody.” At bottom is the rhyming verse from the Revere print. That text wasn’t written to match the lettering on the print. Instead, it’s in an eighteenth-century business hand, using the long s.

All in all, I’m baffled at why this picture was made. Was it a drawing and handwriting exercise for a teenager? A patriotic memento? An attempt to replace Grandpapa’s beloved picture after it got damaged (“Quick, Judah, make a copy and he’ll never notice!”)?

The auction house’s description seems to hold out the possibility that this painting was produced by Christian Remick and served as the model for Revere’s print. But we know that Revere copied the image from Henry Pelham, whose perspective and figure drawing was better than both Revere’s and this unknown artist.

In addition, the hand-drawn copy shows the clock at 10:20, meaning it was based on Revere’s second state.

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 ten 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.