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

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Friday, 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:
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.

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.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

A “Revolutionary Trio” of Videos

Maureen Taylor, author of the Last Muster collections of photographs of people who lived through the Revolutionary War, recently posted videos about her investigations of three of those people.

The professionally produced videos, each about fifteen minutes long, can be seen on this page.

The subjects are:
  • Eleazer Blake of Rindge, New Hampshire, where the historical society turns out to have a trove of artifacts related to his service in the war.
  • Agrippa Hull of Stockbridge, Massachusetts (shown above), a black soldier who served Tadeusz Kościuszko and is a well-remembered character in his home town.
  • Molly Akin of Pawling, New York, a Quaker woman who legend nonetheless says aided the Continentals by firing a gun in a British army camp, alerting the Americans to their presence. But how far back does that story go?
In these cases, Taylor appears to have started her investigation after seeing a reprinted photograph or an engraving or other portrait based on a photo. She then went hunting to find the original daguerrotypes—the most common form of portrait photography in the 1840s as the Revolutionary generation was dying out.

Some of Taylor’s searches were more successful than others, but along the way she also collected information about the people’s lives. For example, in one of these videos the original daguerrotype turns out to be so faded that it’s almost entirely illegible—but there’s documentation of the appointment with the photographer.

In this podcast, Taylor talks with Pamela Pacelli Cooper and Rob Cooper of Verissima Productions about their collaboration on “Revolutionary Trio” videos.

Monday, February 04, 2019

“Entertainments” for the 2019 Dublin Seminar

This summer’s Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife is on the topic of “Entertainments at Taverns and Long Rooms in New England, 1700-1900.”

The seminar organizers are now accepting proposals for papers, presentations, and performances concerning all types of popular entertainments, including singing and small theatrical groups, street musicians, strolling magicians, and animal showmen who performed in New England taverns, long rooms, coffeehouses, exhibition rooms, assembly halls, barns, and open-air rotundas from 1700 through 1900.

Among the less well-known performers the seminar is open to cover are slack-wire artists, rope flyers (such as John Childs and the gentleman shown above), electrical machine operators and healers, demonstrators of automata and perpetual motion machines, peep-box entertainers, lantern showmen, firework specialists, parachute jumpers, and balloonists.

Pertinent entertainments also include gambling, vaudeville, and even prostitution, as well as stationary exhibits such as waxwork museums and profile or physiognotrace machines. And of course there’s space for amateur community entertainments.

The call for papers says:
Preference will be given to analytical papers exploring subjects such as the cultural origin of these acts; the roles of ethnicity, race and class; their actual popularity; the involvement of children; patterns of advertising and self-naming; the influence of maritime presence and activities; as well as the larger role of competing professional English and French theater and singing troupes. Special consideration will be given to talks accompanied by demonstrations. Our primary focus is on New England, but papers dealing with New York State, adjacent areas of Canada, and the middle and southern colonies are also encouraged.

The Seminar seeks presentations that reflect original research, especially those based on primary or underused resources, such as material culture, archaeological artifacts, advertising and flyers, letters and diaries, vital records, and federal and state censuses, as well as newspapers, portraits, prints and photographs, business records, recollections, autobiographies, and handed-down memories (i.e., oral histories).
To submit a paper proposal for this conference, e-mail a one-page prospectus that cites sources and a one-page vita or biography by 10 Feb 2019 to pbenes@historic-deerfield.org.

The “Entertainments in Taverns and Long Rooms” symposium will take place in Deerfield on 21-23 June 2019, with the support of Historic Deerfield. Selected papers will appear as the 2019 Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar to be published about eighteen months after the conference.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

“The Occasion of the foregoing Proceedings at New-York”

In November 1768, New York newspapers went back and forth over the accuracy of their reports on an effigy-burning in that city.

Remarkably, the effigies were of two royal officials in Massachusetts: Gov. Francis Bernard and Sheriff Stephen Greenleaf. Since the people of Massachusetts had the most reason to care, how did the Boston press react to that event?

The first Boston newspaper to run the story was Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter, which reprinted the New-York Journal’s initial article on 24 November. After that story came another news item from New York:

It is also said that among the Toasts drank at a Meeting of Ninety-two reputable Tradesmen at New-York, was the following, Confusion in General G[reenlea]fe, & Success to [John] Brown, the Brave Weaver of Boston.
Those toasts and the effigies showed that the Boston Whigs’ reports on the Manufactory siege had had the intended effect of riling up sympathetic Whigs in other parts of America. Draper leaned toward the Crown, so the News-Letter immediately took aim at the Whigs “Journal of Occurrences”:
Our Readers may be ignorant of the Occasion of the foregoing Proceedings at New-York, we would inform them that a Journal of the Proceedings in the Town of Boston since the first Arrival of Troops, with Remarks on many Paragraphs, are sent weekly there, and published in the New-York Gazette, which Journal has not been printed here, & only a Part in the Paper of any other Government.—The Articles in said Journal may properly be called INTELLIGENCE VERY EXTRAORDINARY—many of them being of an extraordinary Nature—some extraordinary New to People in this Town—some very true—and some very false.
Copies of the two newspapers called the New-York Gazette must have reached Boston shortly after that, casting doubt on the initial New-York Journal report. I haven’t found any mention of the effigy-burning in Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette, the newspaper closest to the Whigs, so I’m guessing they decided the story was too hot to touch.

Instead, the 28 November Boston Gazette published a response to the News-Letter’s insinuations about the Whigs’ dispatches:
Messrs. Edes & Gill,

If Mr. Draper, or the elegant Editor of the Paragraph in his last Paper, respecting the JOURNAL published in New-York, can point out a single Instance of a false or unfair Representation of the Conduct of his Majesty’s Troops, or of any Person or Matter therein, taken Notice of, it is desired it may be done in the next Thursday’s Paper, otherwise Mr. Draper must be content to be looked upon as having attempted to deceive the Public, who have a Right to an immediate Recantation.

Eventually the Whigs’ “Journal of Occurrences” spread word of the New York effigy-burning, but only out of town. That news item didn’t circle back to Boston for months.

The 28 November Boston Gazette also included a more florid description of the tradesmen’s gathering in New York, credited to a Philadelphia newspaper on 14 November (which I can’t access):
A Correspondent writes us from New-York, that at a late Meeting of Ninety-two respectable Tradesmen there, (who dined together on Beef-Stakes, and drank nothing but American Porter) they came to the Resolution of purchasing no British Manufactures of any Sort or Kind, ’till there is a Dissolution of the cowardly and treacherous Governor B——d’s Military-Civil Government in Boston, and Change of Measures relative to this Country in general—that they are determined never to rescind from their Resolution—and are persuaded there are not seventeen TRADESMEN in the whole Province, so lost to all Sense of Virtue and Love for their Country, as to dissent from them in Opinion.—And that among a Number of spirited and humorous Toasts, characteristic of British Independence, they gave—Confusion to General G—nl—fe, and Success to Brown, the brave Weaver of Boston.
The emphasis on the ninety-two diners, the no more than seventeen who might dissent, and the word “rescind” all alluded to the previous big bone of contention in Massachusetts politics, the Circular Letter. The early summer of 1768 must have seemed so far away by then.

Green and Russell’s Boston Post-Boy had the last word on the effigies, in their 5 December issue:
His Excellency Sir HENRY MOORE, Governor of New-York, has, with the unanimous Advice of His Majesty’s Council, issued a Proclamation offering a Reward of £50 to any Person who shall discover any of the Rioters, who on the Evening of the 14th ult. [i.e., of last month] carried about certain Figures or Effigies, & burnt the same near the Merchants Coffee-House in that City.
The official record of that reward, quoted yesterday, didn’t actually mention effigies or the Merchants’ Coffee-House, just a general riot. But even with imperfect, politically shaped journalism, everyone knew what the governor was talking about.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

“The Indiscretion of a very few Persons of the lowest Class”

The burning of effigies in New York City on 14 Nov 1768 prompted a strong response from the royal governor of that colony, Sir Henry Moore.

It came in the form of a message to the colony’s legislature one week later, delivered by a deputy secretary named (wait for it) Goldsbrow Banyer:
Some Intimations having been given to the Mayor and Magistrates of this City, in the Course of the Week before last, of a Design to disturb the public Peace, by a Riot; the Zeal shew’d by them on this Occasion, together with the laudable Declaration of the Inhabitants, of their Willingness to assist and support them, in maintaining the Tranquility of the City, gave me Hopes, that nothing of so illegal and dangerous a Tendency, would be attempted: A few ill-disposed Persons have, nevertheless, eluded the Vigilance of the Magistrates, and ventured to execute their Purpose, by exciting a Riot last Monday Evening.

As these turbulent Proceedings, at a Juncture so peculiarly critical, may occasion Imputations injurious to the Colony, I have requested the Magistrates to exert themselves for the Discovery of the Rioters, and with the unanimous Advice of his Majesty’s Council, issued a Proclamation, offering a Reward of Fifty Pounds, to be paid upon the Conviction of the Contrivers, and chief Promoters of this Outrage. And as I have no Doubt of your Readiness to prevent the Mischiefs of a Measure, daring and insolent in itself, previously disavow’d by the Inhabitants, and seemingly calculated to insult the several Branches of the Legislature now sitting; I flatter myself, you will concur with me, in the necessary Steps to prevent the Colony from suffering any Detriment, and by making a proper Provision, enable me to fulfil the Engagements I have entered into for this Service.
In other words, Moore had promised a reward of £50 and was now asking the assembly for £50.

The Massachusetts General Court would have laughed at such a request. But the New York legislature was dominated by large landowners who had worked well with Gov. Moore. The next morning the assembly voted to grant the £50 and respond to the governor’s address with one of its own.

To head the committee writing that address, the assembly chose rookie lawmaker Philip Schuyler (shown above). He returned with the document, and on 23 November the legislators voted on it. The Livingstons and their many allies supported it, so of course their rivals the DeLanceys and three supporters voted against it. Probably the DeLanceys opposed the Whiggish protest that Schuyler’s committee slipped into what otherwise reads like slavish assent:
We his Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal Subjects, the General Assembly of the Colony of New-York, having taken your Excellency’s Message of Yesterday, in our most serious Consideration, beg Leave to assure your Excellency, that, tho’ we feel in common with the Rest of the Colonies, the Distresses occasioned by the new Duties imposed by the Parliament of Great-Britain, and the ill-policed State of the American Commerce; yet, we are far from conceiving, that violent and tumultuous Proceedings will have any Tendency to promote suitable Redress. . . .

It is with Pleasure that we can assure your Excellency, that these disorderly Proceedings, are, as appears to us, disapproved by the Inhabitants in general; and are imputable only to the Indiscretion of a very few Persons of the lowest Class. . . .
Speaker Philip Livingston signed that address on behalf of the assembly. The following afternoon, Gov. Moore told the legislators that “your readiness to support the dignity and authority of government, cannot fail of being attended with the most favorable consequences to the colony, and render abortive any future attempt to disturb the public tranquility.” So everyone was in agreement.

The assembly went back to their chamber, made itself a committee of the whole (so they didn’t have to keep such detailed records), and discussed “proper and constitutional resolves, asserting the rights of his Majesty’s subjects within this colony, which they conceive have been greatly abridged and infringed, by several acts passed by the last parliament of Great Britain.” In sum, most New Yorkers were just as opposed to the Townshend Acts as the Massachusetts Whigs. They just didn’t like riots. Especially riots about some local issue in Boston.

TOMORROW: The reaction back in Boston.

Friday, February 01, 2019

“No Body supposes that Printers are to be Vouchers for the Truth”

On the evening of 14 Nov 1768, a crowd in New York burned effigies of two Massachusetts officials. Later that week, John Holt’s New-York Journal reported on that event. Then on 21 November two other newspapers ran a narrative from town clerk Augustus Van Cortlandt meant to correct the Journal article.

The two articles weren’t actually contradictory. They just emphasized different aspects of what happened. The Journal piece praised the protest while the item in the Mercury and Post-Boy followed the city government’s efforts to prevent it.

Both reports even made a point that, as far as effigy-burnings went, this one didn’t disrupt the public peace that much. The first article said that reflected the “Regularity and good Order” of the protesters. The second argued it showed the city authorities’ diligence and the public’s lack of support for the protest.

Holt still took Van Cortlandt’s message as an attack on his professionalism as a printer. But that didn’t mean he necessarily stood behind his newspaper’s reporting. On 24 November, Holt printed this announcement in the Journal:
WHEREAS in the Preamble to the Account Mr. Augustus Van Cortlandt, has published in Mr. [Hugh] Gaine’s and Mr. [James] Parker’s Gazettes of Monday last, concerning the Effigies lately exhibited in this City, he has mentioned me in a Manner that may lead People at a Distance to suppose me the Author of the Account of that Affair published in my last Paper, and that I had thereby intended to deceive the Public. I therefore think myself obliged to say something in my own Vindication.

I am surprised that Mr. Cortlandt, should have made use of an Expression that conveyed such an Idea, when it, instead of saying my Representation might deceive, he had said, the Representation in my Paper might deceive, it would have been as pertinent to the Case; and I should not then have thought myself concerned to take Notice of it; for no Body supposes that Printers are to be Vouchers for the Truth of the Articles of Intelligence they publish, unless there are some particular Expressions to make them so.

But Mr. Cortlandt was well informed that I was not present at the Exhibition of the Effigies, and knew nothing of the Matter but from the Accounts given me. I read to him the Account that had been delivered me for Publication, and sent a Copy off it to one of the Magistrates—acquainting them that I could not avoid publishing the Account without offending a great Number of respectable Inhabitants, and of my Customers in particular; nor alter it without the Consent of the Persons concerned in sending it; but promised to consult them, which I accordingly did, and a small Alteration was made before it was published.

However, tho’ I had no personal Knowledge of the Affair, yet the Account was given by Persons on whose Veracity I could fully rely; and since Monday last some of them have called upon me, and assured me that they are ready whenever called upon, to prove the Truth of every Particular as represented in my last Paper, by a great Number of Witnesses.

The Printer.
Holt’s declaration offers an eye-opening view of how differently he saw his responsibilities as a newspaper printer from our ideals of journalism today. Holt said he:
  • had no obligation to vouch for the truth of anything he published.
  • ran a controversial item past two town officials and made “a small Alteration” to it before publishing.
Yet in the end Holt declared that the Journal’s report on the effigy-burning was true. Of course, Van Cortlandt had never said it was false—just incomplete.

TOMORROW: In the New York assembly.