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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Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Break-in at James Lovell’s House

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOMORROW: In court.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TOMORROW: Nero Faneuil in court.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Marketplace of Ideas about Faneuil Hall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 25, 2019

Introducing Capt. Samuel Dashwood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Looking at “Leslie’s Retreat”

Today Salem commemorates “Leslie’s Retreat” on 26 Feb 1775, so I’m highlighting Donna Seger’s Streets of Salem posting about that event. She explores three points, to which I’ll add my thoughts.

“How many damn cannon(s) were there in Salem?”

Seger concludes that the most reliable number comes from Samuel Gray, as I quoted it here. Now I adore this account for preserving the forthright experience of a nine-year-old boy, but I don’t trust all the details. Young Samuel may not have been told accurate information, and he may not have remembered it exactly decades later.

I think the best source for the number of cannon involved in the incident at Salem is a small green notebook deposited at the Massachusetts Historical Society. David Mason used that notebook as he was gathering cannon for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Mason arranged for blacksmith Robert Foster to build carriages for the cannon tubes he collected from town fortifications, the Derby family, and other sources.

On one page of the notebook Mason totaled his own charges for the congress, including for “paint’g 17 Carridges Limbers &c.” On another page he wrote, “fosters acct. 17 field Pieces” [though that figure could also be read as 19]. So I think the most likely number of cannon in Foster’s smithy on the morning of 26 Feb 1775 was seventeen.

But the cannon Mason had collected in north Salem were only one part of what the Provincial Congress amassed in late 1774 and early 1775. That rebel government had artillery pieces in Worcester, Concord, and perhaps other towns. What’s more, some towns acquired cannon of their own. I wrote a whole book about Massachusetts’s effort to arm itself for war, and I still can’t say exactly how many damn cannon there were.

“Major Pedrick was a Tory!”

Quite definitely. According to many Salem historians, John Pedrick fooled Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie into letting him carry a warning about the redcoats marching in from Marblehead. But all contemporaneous sources show Pedrick favored the Crown.

Pedrick’s daughter Mehitable told stories about her family’s brave feats in the Revolution. Even some of her descendants didn’t believe those tales, but her daughter Elizabeth did, and she spread them to local historians. I discussed those family legends in the last chapter of The Road to Concord.

“‘Anniversary History’ was alive and well in 1775.”

Seger notes how newspaper reports of Leslie’s expedition appeared in New England newspapers alongside remarks about the anniversary of the Boston Massacre. With redcoats marching on the streets of Boston and Marshfield, and popping up on a Sunday in Marblehead and Salem, the threat of another confrontation ending in death was very real.

A year later, the date of the Massacre determined when the Continental Army moved soldiers and cannon onto Dorchester Heights. In the cannonade that provided cover for that operation, just a year and a few days after “Leslie’s Retreat,” David Mason was wounded by a bursting mortar.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Alexander’s 18th-Century Fashion Advice in Boston, 27 Feb.

On Wednesday, 27 February, Kimberly Alexander will speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston on “You Are What You Wear?: Navigating Fashion & Politics in New England, 1760s–1770s.”

Alexander is a guest curator of the society’s “Fashioning the New England Family” exhibit, which I recommended back here (and which closes on 6 April).

This talk takes up the themes of the exhibit:
Our guest curator will explore the social values placed on luxury and thrift in New England in the late 18th century. What messages were telegraphed by a person’s clothing and how were these understood? Did everyone in society read these messages the same way or were there statements only meant to be understood by a select few?
Alexander is a professor at the University of New Hampshire. She is author of Treasures Afoot:
Shoe Stories from the Georgian Era
and maintains the Silk Damask blog.

This event starts with a reception at 5:30 P.M., with the talk at 6:00. Admission is $10 per person, with no charge for M.H.S. Fellows and Members or E.B.T. cardholders. Register for a seat here.

Friday, February 22, 2019

“A concert hall is again opened to all”

At the end of January 1769, the Boston Whigs told newspapers in other towns, British army officers behaved so badly at a musical concert that the hosts canceled all further scheduled performances.

But on 6 Feb 1769, the Whig-leaning Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post ran this advertisement:
The Subscribers to the Concert,
which was to have been on Wednesday Evening the 8th Instant, are hereby notified that it will be on Friday the 10th, at Concert-Hall; and after that will be continued every other Wednesday, during the Season.
So the biweekly musical assemblies were back on, with just a two-day delay that week.

In their “Journal of Occurrences,” the Boston Whigs tried to spin the resumption of concerts in their favor on 16 February:
A concert hall is again opened to all who have, or may commence subscribers to such musical entertainments. We are told proper concessions have been made Mr. [Stephen] D[e]bl[oi]s, and that G[eneral] [John] P[omero]y, has engaged that the o—ff[ice]rs of his core, shall for the future behave with decency, and agreeable to the regulations of such assemblies.
And there was no further commotion. On 29 May, the Boston Chronicle announced:
The Subscribers to the Wednesday-Night CONCERT, are hereby notified, that said Concert will end, Wednesday next.

N.B. Any Gentlemen who are not Subscribers and Ladies, will be admitted to said Concert, at Concert-Hall, paying half a Dollar each.

The Concert begins at half after Seven.

No Subscribers will be admitted without delivering his Ticket.
The season thus passed without giving the Whigs anything further to complain about.

Concert Hall wasn’t the only venue offering musical entertainment that winter, and I’m not talking about James Joan’s “Music Hall.” On 17 February the Whigs ran another dispatch:
There has been within these few days a great many severe whippings; among the number chastised, was one of the negro drummers, who received 100 lashes, in part of 150, he was sentenced to receive at a Court Martial,—It is said this fellow had adventur’d to beat time at a concert of music, given at the Manufactory-House.
The drummers of the 29th were black, bought or recruited in the Caribbean. At first Bostonians had viewed them as a curiosity, then as a threat to the regular social order since drummers were tasked with carrying out the whippings and other corporal punishments in a regiment. But here, when a drummer was receiving punishment, the Whigs were mildly sympathetic to him.

It’s unclear why a regimental drummer would be punished for playing at a concert. Soldiers were allowed to earn money by taking jobs in their off-hours, and other sources show regimental musicians giving private concerts. Indeed, it’s possible that much of the band at the subscription concerts had come from the army. Perhaps this drummer played the concert when he was supposed to be on duty, or had been expressly told not to play at the Manufactory given its recent history as a battleground between army and locals. The Whigs might have neglected to include such a detail.

This news item is another odd link, after Pvt. William Clarke’s play The Miser, between the Manufactory building or its tenants the Browns and popular entertainment. Perhaps as immigrants the Browns just didn’t share Boston’s traditional resistance to such public frivolities. But any “concert of music” at the Manufactory was probably meant for a lower-class audience than the assemblies at Concert Hall.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

“They grew noisy and clamorous”

Yesterday left us inside the 25 Jan 1769 musical assembly at Boston’s first Concert Hall (shown here in a photo almost a century later, after the building had been expanded).

Following the concert, some army officers wanted to dance. Organizers told them that Gov. Francis Bernard had asked military gentlemen to refrain from that activity out of deference to local manners and political feelings. The officers didn’t like that.

According to the Boston Whigs:
they then called out to the band to play the Yankee Doodle tune, or the Wild Irishman, and not being gratified they grew noisy and clamorous; the candles were then extinquished, which, instead of checking, completed the confusion; to the no small terror of those of the weaker sex, who made part of the company.—

The old honest music master, Mr. [Stephen] D[e]bl[oi]s, was roughly handled by one of those sons of Mars; he was actually in danger of being throatled, but timously rescued by one who soon threw the officer on lower ground than he at first stood upon;

the inoffensive Bartholomew Gr[ee]n, who keeps the house for the [Customs] Commissioners, presuming to hint a disapprobation of such proceedings, was, by an officer, with a drawn sword, dragged about the floor, by the hair of his head, and his honest Abigail, who in a fright, made her appearance without an head dress, was very lucky in escaping her poor husband’s fate.

Whether our G[overno]r will so resent this behaviour of the military, as to collect affidavits, and make it a subject of representation to Lord H[il]ls[borou]gh, cannot as yet be determined;

be this as it may, Mr. D[ebloi]s has acted in character, having delivered up the room, which he held from the Commissioners, returned the subscription money, and wisely determined not to give another concert, until he should again have it in his power to preserve order and decency in such an assembly.
The Whigs resented how Gov. Bernard had sent reports on the Liberty riot and other disorder to his superiors in London. They therefore delighted in any chance to portray the men of the British military as the real source of lawless violence.

TOMORROW: Will there ever be another concert in Boston again?

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Concert “turned topsy turvy”


Though the Boston Whigs sneered that few young ladies attended the 22 Dec 1768 musical assembly at Concert Hall (as quoted yesterday), the 29 December Boston News-Letter gave the event more respectful coverage:

Thursday evening, the Assembly for the winter began at Concert Hall; at which, were present, the Honourable the Commissioners of the Custom, Commodore [Samuel] Hood, Brigadier General [John] Pomeroy, and most of the Gentlemen of the army and navy, &c. &c.
The commodore is shown here in a portrait from fifteen years later, after he had become an admiral and a baronet. (Eventually Hood was made a viscount.)

The next subscription or “private Concert,” a Boston News-Letter advertisement clarified on 12 January, was scheduled for the 25th.

In the meantime, the pro-Crown newspapers advertised another musical event:
A grand CONCERT
of Vocal and Instrumental Musick
To be performed at Concert-Hall,
On FRIDAY the 13th
People could buy tickets for half a dollar at the newspapers’ printers or “the London Book-Store in King street,” which was run by John Mein, also co-owner of the Boston Chronicle.

That concert also got positive reviews from the pro-Crown press, as in the 16 January Boston Post-Boy:
Last Friday Evening there was a grand Concert of Vocal and Instrumental Music at Concert Hall, at which were present a very polite Company.
James Joan was the main performer, if not the only one.

According to the Whigs, however, audience members weren’t so polite at Joan’s concert, and they behaved even worse at the first subscription concert on 25 January:
The court concert of the last evening was it seems, turned topsy turvy, as Joan the Italian’s was a week or two before—

Some officers of the army were for a little dancing after the music, and being told that G[overno]r B[ernar]d did not approve of their proposal, they were for sending him home to eat his bread and cheese, and otherwise treated him as if he had been a mimick G[overno]r; they then called out to the band to play the Yankee Doodle tune, or the Wild Irishman, and not being gratified they grew noisy and clamorous…
Gov. Francis Bernard had evidently asked the military officers to tone down their festivities in deference to local tastes. Even though he wasn’t at the assembly, the Whigs nonetheless managed to tie the disorder to him.

TOMORROW: And what disorder it was!

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

“A sort of an assembly at Concert Hall”

Yesterday we left the Boston Whigs in mid-December 1768 crowing over the failure of pro-Crown officials and army officers to pull off a dancing assembly.

That triumph didn’t last, however, and on 23 December the Whigs had to report:
It may now be said that the G[overno]r and C[om]m[issione]rs have the last night had a sort of an assembly at Concert Hall;

Never were the gentlemen concern’d more liberal in their invitations, even those ladies who declin’d subscribing, had their cards; the neighbouring towns were reconnoitred for females, and the good natured S——r [Solicitor Samuel Fitch?] of the B[oar]d of C[om]m[issione]rs was so complaisant as to offer to go as far as Salem to bring two damsels from thence; their efforts were finally so successful, as to procure from among themselves and their connections, about ten or twelve unmarried ladies, whose quality and merits have been since related with the spritely humour of a military gallant.—

The ball was opened by Capt. [John] W[illso]n,—a gentleman who has been already taken notice of in this Journal; There was indeed a numerous and blazing appearance of men, but the ladies of all ages and conditions so few, that the most precise Puritan could not find it in his heart to charge said assembly with being guilty of the crime of mixt dancing.—
A sick burn indeed.

At this point the recently arrived music and dance master James Joan was no longer advertising his own events in the home he had dubbed “Music Hall.”

The Deblois family who owned Concert Hall had advertised series of musical performances in previous years:
  • Boston Gazette, 23 Sept 1765: “A CONCERT OF MUSICK is propos’d to be carry’d on at Concert-Hall for the ensuing Season. The Articles of Agreement may be seen by applying to Mr. Deblois at Said Hall: If a sufficient Number of Gentlemen subscribers, it will be opened the first Tuesday in October next.”
  • Boston News-Letter, 2 Oct 1766: “Public Notice is hereby given, That a Concert of Musick is intended to be opened on Tuesday next, being the 7th of October, to be continued every Tuesday Evening for Eight Months. Any Gentlemen inclining to be Subscribers may know the Terms by applying to Stephen Deblois, at the Concert-Hall in Queen street.”
Stephen Deblois (1699-1778) was a professional musician, father of merchants Lewis and Gilbert Deblois (the latter shown above in a post-evacuation portrait by John Singleton Copley, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts).

There were no such ads from Concert Hall in the fall of 1767 or 1768. One possibility is that the concerts were so popular that there was no need to advertise them in the newspapers. More likely, the Debloises hadn’t been able to sell enough season tickets in 1766 to make the events worthwhile.

The arrival of the British army regiments in October 1768 changed that. But even then the demand for concerts and balls probably wasn’t big enough to support two series in Concert Hall and Music Hall. Instead, it appears that in 1769 James Joan allied with the Deblois family to offer concerts in their building.

TOMORROW: The night it all went horribly wrong.

Monday, February 18, 2019

“A weekly and brilliant assembly at Concert Hall”?

It was no coincidence that James Joan moved from Halifax to Boston in October 1768, just as the 14th and 29th Regiments made the same journey. In fact, the same sloop that brought Joan and his family, Nehemiah Soanes’s Ranger, might well have carried soldiers’ families.

The market for Joan’s services as a performing musician, ball host, and instructor in dancing, fencing, and French depended on a good supply of young men of genteel habits and ambitions. So it made sense for him to follow the army officer corps.

Joan advertised his second “Concert of MUSIC” at his dwelling on Brattle Street on 5 December in the Boston News-Letter, Boston Chronicle, and Boston Post-Boy—the three newspapers closest to the Crown.

Soon, however, Joan’s “Music Hall” faced competition. Boston already had a largish building known as “Concert Hall,” built by the Deblois family in 1754. The first Debloises in Boston were musicians in the entourage of Gov. William Burnet; they played the organs at King’s Chapel and Christ Church. But by the 1760s brothers Lewis and Gilbert Deblois weren’t professional performers like Joan. They were substantial import merchants. They sold musical scores and instruments, but only as a small part of a much wider assortment of goods. (Lewis’s 1757 trade card appears above, courtesy of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.)

The Debloises rented out Concert Hall, and in 1768 the Commissioners of Customs used that space for meetings. Apparently the Debloises spoke with those high officials about hosting weekly music and dancing assemblies during the winter, no doubt catering to the same crowd of army officers and local gentility who supported James Joan’s concerts.

Naturally, that prospect gave the the Boston Whigs something to complain about in their “Journal of the Times” for 10 December:
While the friends of their country are recommending and countenancing by their example, the strictest economy, C[om]m[issione]r [Charles] P[a]x[to]n and Company are endeavouring to establish a weekly and brilliant assembly at Concert Hall; where their Board is again held in the day time, and a centinel placed for their guard:

One of their livery boatmen has waited upon the gentlemen and ladies of the town with the proposals and a subscription paper; which to use a courtly phrase has been almost universally treated with the contempt it deserves,—

C[om]m[issione]r [John] R[obinso]n, in order to throw a splendor upon office, and so to dazzle with its brightness, the eyes of Americans, that they might not perceive the incomparable insignificancy of his person, nor how ridiculously the fruits of their industry are bestowed; intends soon to make his appearance in a suit of crimson velvet, which will cost him a sum that would have been a full support to some one of the families, that are almost reduced to poverty themselves; who are yet obliged, not indeed by the laws of Christianity, but by that Revenue Act, to feed the hungry and cloth the naked C[om]m[issione]rs, not barely with what is convenient and necessary, but with all the luxury and extravagance of high life.
On 14 December the Whigs claimed that those plans had been foiled, at least temporarily, by Boston’s patriotic young women:
The Commissioners expected they would have been able this evening with the countenance of the military gentlemen, to have opened an assembly at Concert Hall, for the winter season; but the virtue and discreetness of the young ladies of the town, occasioned a disappointment; It is probable they may have one the next week, with a small number of matrons of their own core: It must ill become American ladies to dance in their fetters.
The Whigs could thus stir together old anti-aristocratic Puritan traditions, current feelings of economic anxiety, and resentment of army troops, and then blame the whole mess on those extravagant and tyrannical Customs Commissioners.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The Boston Debut of James Joan

Early in October 1768 a family arrived in Boston from Halifax: James Joan (also spelled Juhan and Juan); his wife Mary; their children Mary, Alexander, Martin, and John; and their maidservant Ann Lederai. In traditional Boston fashion, a town official warned them out.

On 20 October, Joan announced himself to the public through an advertisement in the Boston News-Letter and Boston Gazette:
The French Language, Instrumental Music and Dancing taught after the best Methods, by James Joan, in that commodious and large Building opposite Dr. [Samuel] Cooper’s Meeting, by whom, also, Gentlemen and Ladies may privately be taught the Minuet.—

N. B. He has to Lett a very good & large Cellar belonging to the said House; he also makes and sells, neat Violin Bows.
It looks like the family was in a building “formerly Green and Walker’s Store.”

James Joan soon found a use for that “commodious and large Building,” giving it a new name. On 14 November, he advertised in the Boston Gazette, Boston Post-Boy, and Boston Evening-Post:
This is to acquaint the Gentlemen and Ladies, that a Concert of MUSICK will be performed, on Monday the 21st Instant, at Six o’Clock in the Evening, at the Musick Hall in Brattle-Street, opposite Dr. Cooper’s Meeting-House. After the Concert is over, the Gentlemen and Ladies may have a BALL till Eleven o’Clock.

TICKETS may be had of James Joan, at the above-said Place, and of Thomas Chase, near the Liberty-Tree, at Two Shillings Lawful Money, or One & Six Pence Sterling a Piece.
Chase was a distiller and one of the Loyall Nine. This is the only example that I can recall of someone from the time referring to “the Liberty-Tree” rather than “Liberty Tree,” reflecting how Joan was a newcomer to Boston.

Joan’s same notice ran in the Post-Boy and Evening-Post a week later, the day of the concert and ball. In addition, the latter paper also included this item:
New Advertisement.
This is to acquaint, all Ladies who paint,
Of Music there will be a Concert,
Perform’d on next Monday, the Day after Sunday,
By various Masters of some sort;
When Concert is over, each Lass with her Lover,
May Dance till the Clock strikes Eleven.
Then they may retire to their Bed, or their Fire,
And Sleep till next Morning or Even.
At the foremention’d Place, or else you may CHACE
For your Tickets near Liberty Tree,
In Lawful or Sterling, it heeds not a Farthing,
If you give a JOAN, as a Fee.
I first wondered if in that notice Joan was trying a more imaginative way to promote his event. On second look, I decided it was a local wag’s parody of his ad, satirizing “Ladies who paint” and punning on the names of the two men selling tickets. (A “joan” or “Johannes” was a Portuguese coin.)

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Revolutionary History for the February Vacation

When I was going to elementary school in Massachusetts, back in the last century, we called the weeklong break in February our “flu vacation.” That term dates from the great Influenza Epidemic of 1918, when many institutions closed for long periods to slow the spread of the virus. I understood that the state scheduled a week off from school at the dead of every winter for the same healthy reason.

These days, many museums schedule special family activities during that February vacation rather than help in making children stay home. Of course, the vacation already includes Presidents’ Day and usually Washington’s actual birthday. So there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy both learning about history and sharing viruses!

Monday, 18 February, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
Boston By Foot
Adams Family of Boston Walking Tour
Observe Presidents’ Day by following the words and history of four generations of Adamses. John, Abigail, and their descendants were prolific writers. The trove of documents they left behind intimately describe their lives, public service, and Boston from the eve of the Revolution to the turn of the twentieth century.
$15, $5 for members

Tuesday, 19 February, and Thursday, 21 February, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
Paul Revere House
Drop-In Family Activities: Exploring Home
What makes a house a home? Come explore some materials, techniques, and designs used in three centuries of construction in Boston. Facilitated by a staff member, families will have a chance to see some historic building materials up close and learn about the architecture found in and around the Paul Revere House. Design your own piece of block-printed wallpaper!
Free with admission to the Revere House

Friday, 22 February, 11:00 A.M. and 1:00, 2:00, and 3:00 P.M.
Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, Cambridge
Washington’s Birthday House Tours
The newly appointed commander-in-chief spent nine months in this mansion on Brattle Street, meeting people and facing challenges which shaped him in important ways for the rest of his life. Find out more while exploring the rooms Washington knew. Each tour takes about an hour.
Free; space is limited, so call 617-876-4491 or email reservationsat105@gmail.com to reserve spots

Sunday, 24 February, 11:00 A.M. to 1:00 P.M.
Salem Historical Society and Historic Salem, Inc.
Leslie’s Retreat; The Salem Resistance
March with invading redcoats or resistant colonial militia in Salem’s third annual interactive commemoration of “Leslie’s Retreat,” the 1775 confrontation in which townspeople and Essex County militia stopped British regulars from confiscating cannon. The reenactment is followed by an informal reception starting about noon at the First Church, a play reading at the Pickering House, and traditional music at O’Neill’s pub. To join the redcoats, don a red garment or scarf and meet at Hamilton Hall at 11:15. To stick with the colonists, gather at First Church at 11:30. Homemade costumes and musical instruments welcome. In the event of foul weather, the reenactment will take place inside First Church.
Free

Friday, February 15, 2019

Mapping As a City on a Hill

In his essay or sermon “A Model of Christian Charity,” Gov. John Winthrop of the Massachusetts Bay Colony used the metaphor of a “citty upon a hill.” We currently treat that concept as one of the founding ideas of America. Yet Winthrop’s text was unknown in the eighteenth century.

As Edward O’Reilly describes in this blog post, a Winthrop descendant gave the manuscript to the New-York Historical Society in 1809. The Massachusetts Historical Society published the first transcript in 1838. That essay was reprinted in the American Quarterly Register two years later, but it wasn’t widely promulgated.

In 1867 another Winthrop descendant published Life and Letters of John Winthrop, which modernized the spelling of the phrase as “city on a hill.” After that, the essay started showing up in collections of American literature, on its way to becoming famous.

In the new book As a City on a Hill: The Story of America’s Most Famous Lay Sermon, Daniel T. Rodgers keeps tracing the phrase over the last century, showing how it became more resonant and its implications changed. Prof. Rodgers is also my Uncle Dan, so I’ve been waiting to see this book.

In Commonwealth Magazine, Carter Wilkie writes of As a City on a Hill:
In the best argued brief of speechwriting forensics yet published, Rodgers reveals how the resuscitation and redefinition of Winthrop’s words was performed before Reagan and JFK, by Perry Miller, the Harvard historian who fathered the field of Puritan studies after watching Boston’s tricentennial celebration in 1930 as a graduate student, and by Daniel Boorstin, the American historian who attended Harvard in the 1930s, when Miller was there.

According to Rodgers, it was Miller who “put the ‘city upon a hill’ phrase at the core of historians’ understanding of Puritanism and put Puritanism, for the first time, at the core of the American story itself.” But it was Boorstin who popularized the myth as a foundational idea in the American mind.

In his 1958 book, The Americans: The Colonial Experience, Boorstin began with, “A City Upon a Hill: The Puritans of Massachusetts Bay.” There, Boorstin proclaimed: “John Winthrop, while preaching to his fellow-passengers, struck the keynote of American history… No one writing after the fact, three hundred years later, could better have expressed the American sense of destiny. In describing the Puritan experience we will see how this sense of destiny came into being.”
Again, that “keynote of American history” was completely unknown during the actual founding of the U.S. of A. And the original text didn’t include the word “upon.”

Here’s another review of As a City on a Hill from the Chicago Tribune. And here are podcast discussions with Dan Rodgers at John Fea’s Way of Improvement Leads Home, Princeton’s Politics and Polls, and John J. Miller’s Bookmonger.

While studying the original Winthrop manuscript, Rodgers noticed that the phrase “New England” was in a different, thicker handwriting than the rest. Edward O’Reilly of the New-York Historical Society was determined to figure out the text underneath, and that blog posting I mentioned above shared the result.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valentine’s Letter from Québec

In May 1774, Lt. Col. Valentine Jones (c. 1723-1779) was the officer in charge of the 52nd Regiment of Foot and the highest-ranking British army officer in Québec City.

The local British merchants sent him this address:
It is with much concern we learn that his Majesty’s service at this time calls for you and the Regiment under your command from this province; and we should on this occasion be much short of the respect due to you, and which Truth demands of us, if we did not take this public method of returning you our most sincere and hearty thanks for the obliging, regular and humane conduct you have ever observed for the many years you have resided among us; during which you have always paid that just regard to the protection of Civil Rights, and the proper Discipline of the Troops under your Command, as become the prudent and experienced officer.

We heartily wish you and the gentlemen of the Corps under your Command a safe and pleasant voyage, and doubt not that in your next quarters his Majesty’s Subjects may have equal cause to bear Testimony of the uprightness of your conduct as the citizens of Quebec.
I think the Québecers were responding to rumors that Jones and the 52nd Regiment would be moved to Boston to subdue that town after the Boston Tea Party.

As it happened, the regiment was still in Canada in early September. But only a few days after the “Powder Alarm,” Gen. Thomas Gage ordered virtually all the British troops in Québec down to Boston to help bolster its defenses against the rebellious countryside.

Gage made Jones the commander of one brigade in Boston. That job brought him the rank of general in North America. He participated in the Crown’s successful campaign to retake New York in 1776.

However, at the end of that year Gen. Sir William Howe told Lord George Germain that Jones, in his fifties, was “too inactive and infirm” to take a leading role in his strategy for the next year. Maj. James Wemyss later recalled Jones as “An honest hotheaded Welchman, altogether destitute of abilities; but hospitable and friendly.”

Jones returned to Britain in late 1778, receiving the rank of lieutenant general and the honor of an audience with King George III. But his health was failing. He visited Bath and then Buxton Wells to treat “the Asthma and Rheumatism” but then developed gout. On 3 May 1779 he went out riding, again for his health, but fell off his horse and ended up unable to “turn in my Bed or be but upon the Broad of my Back or sleep but when seated in an armed chair.”

Jones had already been granted leave from the army. He returned to Wales, where he died in the middle of 1779, aged fifty-six.

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

“No objection to going where Your Husband does”

By 1789, John George Briesler had been working for John Adams (who always spelled his name “Brisler”) for five years.

The newly elected Vice President had Briesler accompany him to New York and then Philadelphia during the Washington administration. It looks like Briesler’s wife Esther stayed with Abigail Adams in Braintree (or its 1792 spin-off, Quincy).

That didn’t stop the couple from having their third child, John George, Jr., in 1794. (The first, Elizabeth, had been born at sea in 1788, as described yesterday. Then came a little girl nicknamed “Nabby” who died “with a putrid disorder” in 1796.)

As George Washington retired from the Presidency, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson competed to succeed him. Folks in Philadelphia expected Briesler would become the steward of the Presidential household if Adams won. As a result, Adams wrote, the Washingtons’ steward, Frederick Kitt, “was very active and busy for Jefferson.”

Adams won the election of 1796. In January 1797 Abigail told John, “Mrs Brisler will go to Philadelphia when I do and make part of our Family.” On 1 February Abigail repeated the same assurance to John Briesler:
I last Evening received a Letter from You in which You express an anxiety at the prospect of being seperated from Your Family. I know too well how painfull a situation that is, to have any desire, to inflict so great an hardship upon any one, unless through necessity.

The uncertainty how the Election would terminate, has prevented me, from saying any thing to You, or to your Wife upon the Subject, untill this week, when I said to her, I suppose you will have no objection to going where Your Husband does, to which She answerd, certainly She Should not.

I consider you as quite necessary to me, and Mrs Brisler, tho her Health will not allow her to take so active a part, as May be required of a person whose business it is to Superintend so large a Family. I doubt not she can be usefull to me, with her care, with her needle, and as an assistant to you, and in my absence, as having in Charge those things which I should place particularly under her care.
As for Frederick Kitt, he ended up working at the Bank of the United States for a couple of years until he died. Which frankly doesn’t seem very Jeffersonian.

The Brieslers were thus the first couple to manage the President’s mansion in Washington, D.C. The Adams and Briesler families all returned to Quincy in 1801. John and Esther Briesler had two more children: Abigail, born by 1801 in either Pennsylvania or Massachusetts, and George Mears, born by 1804. John Briesler started a retail business of some sort in Quincy, which he passed on to his eldest son.

In 1833 John Briesler applied for a Revolutionary War pension based on eight months of service in the Massachusetts militia during the siege of Boston. He died in Quincy on 28 Apr 1836.

Two years later, Esther Briesler applied for a widow’s pension. In her application, she stated that she had married John in London in September 1787—at least four months before the recorded date but about the right time for her May 1788 baby. Former President John Quincy Adams sent a certificate carefully stating that John Briesler and Esther Field had lived with his parents in London “in 1787 and 1788, [and] were during that period married.” He saved his remark about the shifting marriage date for his diary.

Esther Briesler died in Quincy on 12 Nov 1854 at the age of ninety, well outlasting all of Abigail Adams’s concerns about her health.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

“She had no Idea of being with child”

On 10 Feb 1788, Abigail Adams wrote from London to her sister Mary Cranch in Braintree that she was “very near when I am to quit this country.”

It was one day short of four years since Adams had first written about bringing John Briesler to Europe as a family servant—“as good a servant as ever Bore the Name,” she now called him.

In Britain, Adams, knew, the thirty-one-year-old Briesler had developed a relationship with another of the family servants: Esther Field, still only twenty-three.

But a few days before her letter, Field had broken the news that she was several months pregnant. Adams wrote:
I must believe that she had no Idea of being with child, untill the day before she came in the utmost distress to beg me to forgive her, and tho I knew that it was their intention to marry when they should return to America Yet so totally blinded was I, & my physician too, that we never once suspected her any more than she did herself, but this was oweing to her former ill state of Health.
Because Field had often been ill during their European travels, Adams was very worried that she wouldn’t survive childbirth: “her Life has been put in Jeopardy, as many others have before her, ignorantly done.” What was even more dangerous, the baby was due to come while the family would be at sea. “I look upon her situation as a very dangerous one.”

Adams quickly took steps. She told her sister, “I have engaged an Elderly woman to go out with me, who formerly belonged to Boston, and I hear there is an other woman going as a stearige passenger.” Thus, there would be at least two women aboard ship experienced in childbirth who could help Field when she went into labor.

Adams asked Cranch to break the news to Field’s mother in Braintree, but “do not let any thing of what I have written be known to any body but her mother.” Adams added, “poor Brisler looks so humble and is so attentive, so faithfull & so trust worthy, that I am willing to do all I can for them.”

Five days after that letter, Esther Field and John Briesler married at the St. Marylebone Church outside London. (That building, taken down in 1949, appears in the photo above.) As Adams anticipated, the couple’s child was born at sea in May. The parents named her Elizabeth.

Esther Briesler’s own parents, John and Abigail Field, had married in Braintree on 12 Apr 1744 and become parents that June, so they couldn’t really complain about the timing of their daughter’s nuptials—if they even knew when the wedding had taken place. They might just have been pleased to see Esther come home.

The Brieslers and their employers, John and Abigail Adams, couldn’t stay in Braintree for long. Within a year of their return, John had been elected Vice President of the United States. And he wanted his manservant John Briesler to come with him to New York.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Monday, February 11, 2019

Abigail Adams Finds “an honest faithfull Man Servant”

On 11 Feb 1784, Abigail Adams was preparing to join her husband John in Europe after years apart.

She wrote to John about hiring household staff:
I am lucky too in being able to supply myself with an honest faithfull Man Servant. I do not know but you may recollect him, John Brisler, who was brought up in the family of Genll. [Joseph] Palmer, has since lived with Col. [Josiah] Quincy and is recommended by both families as a virtuous Steady frugal fellow, with a mind much above the vulgar, very handy and attentive.
John George Briesler had been born in the Germantown section of north Braintree on 4 Dec 1756. Starting in May 1775, he served a little over eight months in an independent company of Massachusetts militia commanded by Capt. Seth Turner. His only experience of battle, he said in his 1832 pension application, was “with the boats from the British Fleet on Nantasket beach.” Evidently he didn’t have his own land to work, but he had the confidence of the town’s richest families.

For a maidservant, Abigail hoped to hire John Briesler’s sister; on “many accounts a Brother and Sister are to be preferred,” she wrote. But she ended up taking Esther Field, a neighbor’s daughter. Esther had been born on 7 Oct 1764, meaning she was nineteen.

Abigail Adams and her household sailed in June 1784. She had an eye-opening time in Europe, living in Paris and then in London after John became the U.S. of A.’s first minister to Great Britain. A New England minister’s daughter, she discovered she actually liked theater and city life, at least in moderate doses.

Young Esther Field seems to have had a mixed time. She resisted French fashions at first. Of even more concern, her mistress reported that “her general state of Health is very bad.” As 1788 came around, Field was sick so often that Adams even arranged for her to be treated with the “Elictrisity.” Not until February did they discover the source of the problem.

TOMORROW: John Briesler had made Esther Field pregnant.

Sunday, February 10, 2019

“Now they all in Heaps of Ashes lay”

The woodcut image above appeared on another religious response to the fire that started at the Brazen Head: a broadside ballad titled A Poem on the Rebuke of GOD’s Hand In the Awful Desolation Made by Fire in the Town of Boston, on the 20th Day of March, 1760.

Like the Rev. Jonathan Mayhew’s sermon, quoted yesterday, the ballad started with the Biblical verse of Amos 3:6: “Shall there be Evil in a City, and the LORD hath not done it?”

Then came 87 lines of verse. Here’s a sample:
Then can we clear ourselves, a’n’t we to blame
Who sin without Remorse, and cast of Shame
And pay no Rev’rence to his holy Name?—
This is the Cause He sent this Judgment down,
This awful Desolation! on the Town.
The North-west-wind, and Flame he did employ,
Our stately Habitations to destroy.
What spacious Structures stood but th’ other Day,
And now they all in Heaps of Ashes lay,
I know not how to write, or to express
The awful Time, or paint the sad Distress
Of those our Friends who did to Bed retire
And wak’d surrounded by a Flame of Fire!--
This broadside moved on to a long and equally fiery description of the Day of Judgement. Mayhew, who wasn’t an entirely enthusiastic Calvinist, didn’t get to that topic until nearly the end of his sermon.

The broadside was issued by the print shop of Zechariah Fowle and Samuel Draper on Marlborough Street. Two years later Fowle and Draper used the same woodcut to illustrated another broadside about fire: The Dying Confession and Declaration of Fortune, a Negro Man, Who was Executed in Newport, (Rhode-Island) on Friday the 14th of May, 1762, for Setting Fire to the Stores on the Long Wharf.
The block of wood carved to print this image actually survives, and in 2005 Early American History Auctions put it on the market—and on the internet. The firm titled it “The Angel of Death and the Great Boston Fire.” Since no one actually died in the 1760 fire, I think the figure in the sky is more likely one of the “Obsequious Angels” that the poem describes accompanying the Almighty on the Day of Judgment.

There are several mysteries associated with the Rebuke of GOD’s Hand broadside. First, the poem is signed with initials that have been read as “A.F.” and “A.J.”—more likely the latter. Mid-twentieth-century bibliographers guessed that was Andrew Johonnot. There were two genteel men of that name in Boston at the time, father (1705-1760) and son (1735-1804). However, I see no indication that either was in the habit of writing poetry.

Another question is who created the woodcut. Young Isaiah Thomas was apprenticed to Fowle at the time, and he later described learning how to cut such blocks—not well, but as well as anyone else in town. However, it’s always possible that this cut wasn’t made just after the 1760 fire but had been part of the printers’ armament for years.

Finally, in 1900 the city of Boston reproduced a somewhat ragged copy of this broadside in a printed collection of town papers about the fire. William S. Appleton displayed that sheet at a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society. But that was apparently the only surviving copy, and nobody knows where it is now.

COMING UP: Relief efforts.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

“Soon after the fire broke out, he caused his wind to blow”

Given Boston’s religious heritage, the Great Fire of 1760 naturally caused people to ask what God meant by it.

On 23 March, the Sunday after the fire, the Rev. Jonathan Mayhew preached about the calamity at the West Meetinghouse. That sermon said the destruction must be the result of divine will:
When this fire broke out, and for some time before, it was almost calm. And had it continued so, the fire might probably have been extinguished in a short time, before it had done much damage; considering the remarkable resolution and dexterity of many people amongst us on such occasions.

But it seems that God, who had spared us before beyond our hopes, was now determined to let loose his wrath upon us; to “rebuke us in his anger, and chasten us in his hot displeasure [a riff on Psalm 38:1].” In order to the accomplishing of which design, soon after the fire broke out, he caused his wind to blow; and suddenly raised it to such a height, that all endeavors to put a stop to the raging flames, were ineffectual: though there seems to have been no want, either of any pains or prudence, which could be expected at such a time.

The Lord had purposed, and who should disannul it? His hand was stretched out, and who should turn it back [Isaiah 14:27].[”] “When he giveth quietness, who then can make trouble? And when he hideth his face, who then can behold him? Whether it be done against a nation, or against a man only [Job 34:29].”

It had been a dry season for some time; unusually so for the time of the year. The houses, and other things were as fuel prepared for the fire to feed on: and the flames were suddenly spread, and propagated to distant places. So that, in the space of a few hours, the fire swept all before it in the direction of the wind; spreading wider and wider from the place where it began, till it reached the water. Nor did it stop even there, without the destruction of the wharfs, with several vessels lying at them, and the imminent danger of many others.

We may now, with sufficient propriety, adopt the words of the psalmist, and apply them to our own calamitous circumstances, “Come, behold the works of the Lord, what desolation he hath made in the earth. [Psalm 46:8]” So melancholy a scene, occasioned by fire, was, to be sure, never beheld before in America; at least not in the British dominions. And when I add, God grant that the like may never be beheld again, I am sure you will all say, Amen!

In short, this must needs be considered, not only as a very great, but public calamity. It will be many years before this town, long burdened with so great, not to say, disproportionate, a share of the public expenses, will recover itself from the terrible blow. Nor will this metropolis only be affected and prejudiced hereby. The whole province will feel it. For such are the dependencies and connections in civil society, regularly constituted.
At the same time, Mayhew explicitly refrained from casting blame on any particular sinners in Boston and warned his listeners against doing the same. He reminded his congregation of what he said were divine blessings, such as the lack of fatalities and how the war was going so well.

Mayhew’s sermon was quickly printed by Richard Draper, Edes and Gill, and the Fleet brothers together. That pamphlet included footnotes noting that the Massachusetts General Court had already voted to draw “about two thousand two hundred and fifty pounds sterling…out of the public treasury” for disaster relief, and “his Excellency the Governor [was] desired to send briefs throughout the province, recommending a general contribution for the unhappy sufferers.”

Further footnotes made an explicit appeal for charity:
About a thousand pounds lawful money was collected in the several religious assemblies in the town, for the relief of the sufferers by the late fire near Oliver’s dock: A large sum, considering the impoverish’d and declining state of the town, and the greatness of the public taxes. And tho’ the dispo|sition of the people be still the same, and the present occasion much greater, and more urgent than the former; yet it will naturally be remember’d that our ability is now less than it was then. . . .

It is to be hoped therefore, that our friends and brethren who live in the country, where their situation secures them so effectually against calamities of this nature, will seriously consider the present distressed condition of the town and shew their christian benevolence on this occasion agreeably to the Brief which his Excellency the Governor has issued out.
Later in the 1760s, much the same argument about Boston’s situation—that people were already generous, that the economy was declining, that the taxes were too high—would resurface in response to Parliament’s new taxes.

TOMORROW: Another religious response.

Friday, February 08, 2019

“The Fury of the flames is beyond Conception”

I’ve been looking for personal accounts of fleeing or fighting the great Boston fire of 1760, which started in the shop at the Sign of the Brazen Head. Anonymous newspaper reports, however vivid, don’t give us the same experience as an individual’s story.

Naturally, diaries from eastern Massachusetts mention the event, but fewer 1760 diaries have been published than those kept a few years later. Edward Holyoke, president of Harvard College, wrote: “This Morn past two began ye great fire at Boston, beginning at ye Brazen head & burnd to Fort St.” Which shows how even people outside of town knew of the Brazen Head as a landmark and where the fire began.

The merchant John Rowe told a relative on 21 Apr 1760:
we have had a Terrible Fire hapen’d at Boston in which I was a Sufferer at Oliver’s Dock, the Newspapers will fully acquaint you the Situation of what was burnt, such a Melancholy & Dismal Burning was never yet seen in any part of this Continent

The wind blew very hard at North West and the Fury of the flames is beyond Conception
That’s as close to a personal statement as I’ve found, and it focuses on property and weather.

Up in the North End, Deacon John Tudor wrote at more length, but still at a distance, in his diary:
This morning a Terable Fire broke oute about 2 O’Clock in the Morning at the Brazen-head E Side of Corn Hill. Soon after the Fire got to a head the Wind Sprung up Fresh aboute N. W. which communicated the sparks to the S. E. part of the Town as far as Hunts Shipyard and about Fort-hill and in 5 or 6 howers Consumed 349 Buildings. It is impossable to express the Distress of the unhappy Sufferers by the grevos Judgment. The loss to the Sufferers in Houses, Stores, Merchandizes, Furneture &c. was £100,000. Sterling.
Tudor was an Overseer of the Poor, and he went on to discuss the disaster relief effort.

COMING UP: The religious side, and collecting aid.

(The picture above is one of Rowe’s firefighting buckets, dated 1760 and therefore most likely acquired after the great fire showed how important they were.)

Thursday, February 07, 2019

“The fire was fast approaching the building”

Returning to The Saga of the Brazen Head, I’ll share some Bostonians’ experiences of the Great Fire of 20 Mar 1760, which began after dark in that brazier’s shop.

At that time David Mason was a decorative painter four days short of his thirty-fourth birthday. He had fought in the Crown forces in the French and Indian War, gaining experience in artillery at Fort William Henry before the enemy captured the site on 8 Aug 1757.

According to the stories that Mason told his daughter Susan, a group of Native Americans held him for days before he escaped to Albany. Eventually he made it back to Boston, where his wife Hannah insisted he not enlist again, even with the promise of a promotion. Instead, Mason became active in the local militia defense system.

Specifically, Mason was in charge of the gunpowder supply for the South Battery, near Fort Hill (shown above). And on the night of the 1760 fire, his daughter wrote:
The fire was fast approaching the building and there was a considerable quantity of powder in the house [at the battery] that was thought might be removed before the fire could reach it. He accordingly went to his house for the key, which was some distance from the fire.

When my mother learnt his intention it threw her into great distress in apprehension of the danger he was going to expose himself, and after he had used many arguments to quiet her mind and had made his way out of the house, she followed him to the door entreating him not to venture upon so dangerous a step, and in the midst of her pleadings the [powder] house blew up, but without injuring as many people as might have been expected.

From a calculation that was made of the time it would have taken him to have gone to his house and returned, had he persued his intention without hinderance, it was supposed he must have been in the house at the time of its blowing up. But his time was not yet come…
If Mason had been killed in that explosion, he could not have founded Boston’s militia artillery company or “train” with Adino Paddock a couple of years later.

The guns of the Boston train, Paddock, and Mason are at the heart of the story I tell in The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War. So we can imagine an alternative universe in which Mason died in 1760 and I had nothing to write about.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Two Looks at Revolutionary New England

This week the Journal of the American Revolution published back-to-back articles about Revolutionary New England.

First, Derek W. Beck adapted material from his book The War Before Independence, 1775-1776 to discuss “Henry Knox’s ‘Noble Train of Artillery:’ No Ox for Knox.”

As Beck says, most of the pictures of the mission to bring cannon and mortars from Lake Champlain to the siege of Boston show men prodding oxen through snow. But the documentary record shows Knox renting horses for most of the trip.

The next day, Prof. Len Travers shared “Casualty Of Revolution: The Sad Case of Betty Smith.” Tracing a woman named Elizabeth Smith in eighteenth-century America is a formidable challenge, but this one made herself notorious. She first shows up in the diary of young Anna Green Winslow, as Travers explains:
Smith may have been a servant for the Winslow family at some time. That’s at least one way of explaining Anna’s reference in a letter to her mother on February 25, 1771: “Dear mamma,” she began, “I suppose that you would be glad to hear that Betty Smith, who has given you so much trouble, is well & behaves herself well. & I would be glad if I could write you so.” The next word, of course, was “but.”

For Betty had fallen into bad company—the very worst kind, some would have said. “But the truth is,” Anna continued, “no sooner was the 29th Regiment encamp’d upon the common [in 1768], but miss Betty took herself among them (as the Irish say) & there she stay’d with Bill Pinchion & awhile.”
Next Smith fell into crime, followed by stops at the whipping-post, the Castle, the workhouse, and back to jail. She tried to escape in the worst possible way, only to be convicted of theft again in March 1772 and sent to the gallows.

Betty Smith wasn’t sent off to be hanged, even though theft was still potentially a capital crime. Instead, she had to stand on the gallows with a noose around her neck and then be whipped again as a reminder to behave better.

Beside Smith stood a man named John Sennet, convicted of having sex with an animal on Boston Common. Again, earlier in the century other men and boys convicted of that crime had been executed (along with the unfortunate animals). Though still founded on painful corporal punishment, the colonial justice system became less harsh over time.

Travers’s short article doesn’t discuss another source on Betty Smith, a broadside poem probably sold on the day that she and Sennet stood on the gallows. Anthony Vaver shared that doggerel on Early American Crime. It includes this verse put into the mouth of John Sennet:
Though Murd’rers pass with crimes of deeper hue,
Thieves and house-breakers always have their due.
Cushing has eas’d the former from their fate,
But vengeance always does on Villains wait.
I suspect “Murd’rers…eas’d…from their fate” refers to Ebenezer Richardson, who had been convicted of murdering Christopher Seider in 1770 yet still not sentenced as Massachusetts’s royal judges awaited a pardon from London.

Those lines point to Judge William Cushing, and an earlier verse puns on the name of Judge Nathaniel Ropes. Both men had been appointed to the court after Richardson’s trial, but they weren’t helping to hang him. Boston’s Whigs wanted to keep that injustice in front of people’s eyes, and Betty Smith’s time on the gallows provided an opportunity.