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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Saturday, April 20, 2019

A Musket Ball “whizzed by old Mrs. Hancock’s head”?

In 1822, William H. Sumner visited Dorothy Scott, the widow of John Hancock.

Before going to bed, Sumner wrote down notes on their conversation. That memorandum was published in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register in 1854.

About the first shots on Lexington common on the morning of 19 Apr 1775 Sumner wrote:
Mrs. Scott says the British fired first, she is sure. This was a point much contested at the time, and many depositions were taken to prove the fact that the British were the actual aggressors.

One of the first British bullets whizzed by old Mrs. Hancock’s head, as she was looking out of the door, and struck the barn; she cried out, What is that? they told her it was a bullet, and she must take care of herself.
Was Lydia Hancock (shown above) really almost hit by a musket ball from Lexington common?

From the end of the common, where the British troops were standing, one could look down a road to the parsonage. (The barn no longer stands, and I have no idea where it was.)

However, the distance between those spots is more than a quarter-mile. As Michael Barbieri documents in this Journal of the American Revolution article, eighteenth-century experts agreed that a “musket shot” was 300 yards—which is significantly longer than most modern authorities say.

Now that 300 yards was based on firing from a leveled musket, so it’s conceivable that an elevated shot would travel farther. But then it would have come down at an angle as well—unlikely to be whizzing by the head of a lady at the door of a house and then hitting a separate barn.

Of course, it’s possible that Lydia Hancock heard something strike the barn and then felt certain it had whizzed by her head. Or that Dorothy Scott’s recollection of the first shots at Lexington became more dramatic than it actually was.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Ebenezer Lock at Lexington

Ebenezer Lock (1732-1816) was at Lexington on the morning of 19 Apr 1775. He’s often listed among the militiamen on the town common that day, but with an asterisk, because he wasn’t really.

Lock lived in Woburn and was enrolled in that town’s militia company. He had many ties to Lexington, including worshipping at its meetinghouse, so he must have lived nearby and was interested in what happened there.

In 1824 Amos Lock, Ebenezer’s first cousin and Woburn neighbor, testified about how the two of them experienced the outbreak of war. Amos said that he heard an alarm bell between 2:00 and 3:00 A.M., and knew John Hancock and Samuel Adams were staying in Lexington.
Therefore Ebenezer Lock and myself, both being armed, repaired, with all possible speed, to the [Lexington] meetingthouse. On our arrival, we found the militia were collecting; but, shortly after, some person came up the road with a report, that there were not any regulars between Boston and Lexington.

Consequently we concluded to return to our families. We had not proceeded far, before we heard a firing; upon which we immediately returned, coming up towards the easterly side of the common, where, under the cover of a Wall, about twenty rods distant from the common, where the British then were, we found Asahel Porter, of Woburn, shot through the body; upon which Ebenezer Lock took aim, and discharged his gun at the Britons, who were then but about twenty rods from us.

We then fell back a short distance, and the enemy, soon after, commenced their march for Concord.
Ebenezer Lock moved to Wendell, New Hampshire, by 1790. His body was interred in East Deering, and Lexington historian Bill Poole reports that locals honored his grave even more than other veterans because of his role at Lexington. Supposedly he was the first provincial to fire a shot in the war!

Lock fired the first shot that he and his cousin saw, but that clearly came after the initial “firing.” There were probably a few militia muskets mixed in with the regulars’ guns in those seconds, not even to mention the question of where the very first shot came from.

In April 1859, the Historical Magazine ran a more dramatic account of Ebenezer Lock’s activity on 19 Apr 1775, unsourced but probably based on family or New Hampshire local tradition:
The first American who discharged his gun on the day of the battle of Lexington was Ebenezer Lock, who died at Deering, N.H., about fifty years ago. He resided at Lexington in 1775. The British regulars, at the order of Major [John] Pitcairn, having fired at a few “rebels” on the green in front of the meeting-house, killing some and wounding others, it was a signal for war. “The citizens,” writes one, might be seen coming from all directions, in the roads, over fields, and through the woods—each with his rifle in his hand, his powderhorn hung to his side, and his pockets provided with bullets.

Among the number was Ebenezer Lock. The British had posted a reserve of infantry a mile in the direction of Boston. This was in the neighborhood of Mr. Lock, who, instead of hastening to join the party at the green, placed himself in an open cellar, at a convenient distance for doing execution.

A portion of the reserve was standing on a bridge, and Mr. Lock commenced firing at them. There was no other American in sight. He worked valiantly for some minutes, bringing down one of the enemy at nearly every shot. Up to this time not a shot had been fired elsewhere by the rebels.

The British, greatly disturbed at losing so many men by the random firing of an unseen enemy, were not long in discovering the man in the cellar, and discharged a volley of balls, which lodged on the walls opposite. Mr. Lock within, remaining unhurt, continued to load and fire with the precision of a finished marksman. He was driven to such close quarters, however, by the British on the right and left, that he was compelled to retreat.

He had just one bullet left, and there was now but one way to escape, and that was through an orchard, and not one moment was to be lost; he levelled his gun at the man near by, and shot him through the heart. The bullets whistled about him. Lock reached the brink of a hill, dropped his gun, and throwing himself upon the ground, tumbled downwards, rolling as if mortally wounded. In this way he escaped unhurt.
Needless to say, that’s not what Ebenezer Lock’s cousin had testified to thirty-five years before. Bill Poole suggests there may be some basis for this story in Lock’s activity later in the day, after the Woburn companies had mustered and helped to counterattack the British column as it returned east. Even so, the tale has clearly undergone some improvements for later audiences.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Capt. Thomas Barnard and the Signal from Old North

Last spring I wrote a bunch of postings about the debate over who hung the signal lanterns from Old North Church on 18 Apr 1775, John Pulling or Robert Newman.

My conclusion: They were both involved, and in fact the earliest stories told by their descendants each mention another man, who was probably the other claimant. There’s no need for a debate.

However, a third name comes up in those accounts: sea captain Thomas Barnard. This posting is an attempt to sort out his place in the historiography of the event.

A 30 Dec 1873 Boston Traveler article (quoted here) credited sexton Robert Newman with hanging the lanterns and mentioned his “friend, a sea captain, who was watching the movement of the regulars.” That same article said (following the Longfellow poem) that Paul Revere was on the opposite shore of the Charles, which elevated Newman’s role but was wrong.

When the Rev. John Lee Watson first complained that Newman was being honored for the work he’d grown up hearing credited to his relative John Pulling, he wrote to the rector at the church. The Rev. Henry Burroughs wrote back noting how multiple people supported the Newman family account, including (as Watson put it in his letter in the 20 July 1876 Boston Daily Advertiser):
William Green, who lives at the North End, is the grandson of Captain Thomas Barnard. His sister, eighty-four years old, remembers Robert Newman.
The Barnard name thus came up first as someone whose grandchild remembered Newman. There was no claim to the man’s own role in signaling the Patriots of Charlestown.

Two years later, in his History of Paul Revere’s Signal Lanterns, April 18, 1775, William Willder Wheildon expanded on that story:
Miss Maria Green, living in Weston, born in 1793, is a daughter of William Green, who lived in Boston, near the North Church, where also her grand parents resided. She heard many times from her mother the story of the lanterns, and says, “I distinctly remember that she said her father, Capt. Thomas Barnard, was engaged on that night in watching the movements of the troops in order to obtain for Robert Newman the necessary information concerning their departure. Our family were familiar with the story of hanging out the lanterns owing to the connection of Capt. Barnard with it, and we never heard the act ascribed to any other person than Robert Newman, or to any other place than Christ Church.”

Mr. Green, a brother of the lady above mentioned, who died recently in Boston, is known to have made a similar statement.
Thomas Barnard’s grandchildren thus claimed that he was part of the story of 18-19 April, but only in watching the British troops (as many Bostonians had). They also suggested that Newman himself gathered information on the troops’ movements rather than taking direction from Dr. Joseph Warren through Revere.

Thomas Barnard was a ship’s captain who lived at one point on Middle Street. He was active in Boston maritime life and business until his death at age sixty-two in 1803. He may have been the Capt. Thomas Barnard who commanded the New York packet, often mentioned in the Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap’s letters because he was always sending things to friends there. (This Barnard is distinct from the Rev. Thomas Barnard of Salem who played a big role in “Leslie’s Retreat”; to confuse matters further, that minister’s meetinghouse has also been called “the old North Church.”)

In the twentieth century Thomas Barnard’s role in the lantern-hanging shifted—without, as far as I can see, any new evidence coming to light. In Paul Revere and the World He Lived In (1942), Esther Forbes wrote of the lantern-hanging:
One of the vestrymen at Christ’s, John Pulling, went with Newman, as probably did Revere’s neighbor, Thomas Barnard.
In a note Forbes added, “What Revere’s next-door neighbor, Barnard, was doing is even vaguer [than details about Pulling and Newman], but tradition says he did something.”

Fifty years later, in Paul Revere’s Ride (1994), David Hackett Fischer described this scene in detail:
On the afternoon of April 18, Revere alerted Newman and Pulling, and also another friend and neighbor, Thomas Bernard [sic], and asked them to help with the lanterns.

It was about 10 o’clock in the evening when Paul Revere left Dr. Warren’s surgery. He went quickly to the Newman house at the corner of Salem and Sheafe streets. As he approached the building, he peered through the windows and was startled to see a party of British officers who boarded with Mrs. Newman playing cards at a parlor table and laughing boisterously among themselves. Revere hesitated for a moment, then went round to the back of the house, and slipped through an iron gate into a dark garden, wondering what to do next.

Suddenly, Newman stepped out of the shadows. The young man explained that when the officers sat down to their cards, he pretended to go to bed early. The agile young sexton retired upstairs to his chamber, opened a window, climbed outside, and dropped as silently as a cat to the garden below. There he met Pulling and Bernard, and waited for Revere to arrive.

Revere told his friends to go into the church and hang two lanterns in the steeple window on the north side facing Charlestown. He did not stay with them, but hurried away toward his own home. The men left him and walked across the street to the Old North Church. Robert Newman tugged his great sexton’s key out of his pocket and unlocked the heavy door. He and Captain Pulling slipped inside, while Thomas Bernard stood guard.
This seems to be an attempt to reconcile the claims of both Pulling’s and Newman’s descendants that their ancestor actually hung the lanterns while keeping someone at watch down below. In turn, Fischer’s authoritative telling shaped the story in several books published in this century.

But, as I said, I’ve found no claim that Barnard actually was at Old North that night.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

“Paul Revere never made the midnight ride”?

A lot of legend grew up around the American Revolution in the late 1800s, and Henry W. Longfellow’s poem “Paul Revere’s Ride” made the events of 18-19 Apr 1775 especially famed and susceptible to mythologizing.

In the early 1900s the pendulum swung the other way, toward debunking and skepticism. This is when the story of Boston’s stolen militia cannon dropped out the standard telling—that story seemed too dramatic to be true. Sometimes debunking went too far.

Here’s another example from the 29 Nov 1908 New York Times—a story headlined “Paul Revere’s Ride Is Fiction, He Says”:
Walter Benjamin, publisher of The Collector, has in his possession a letter which he believes proves conclusively that Paul Revere never made the midnight ride attributed to him by Longfellow and tradition.

The document is a letter from John Hancock to Elbridge Gerry, dated Lexington, April 18, 1775, at 9 o’clock. . . . The message reads:
Dear Sir: I am much obliged for your notice. It is said the officers are gone along the Concord Road, and I will send word thither. I am full with you that we ought to be serious, and I hope your decision will be effectual. I intend doing myself the pleasure of being with you tomorrow. My respects to the committee. I am your real friend, JOHN HANCOCK.
Mr. Benjamin says that it Hancock of the Committee of Safety, knew at 9 o’clock that the troops had gone along the Concord road and hoped they would be “serious,” that Lexington and Concord were fully aroused to the danger of the coming of British troops, and that there would be no need for Paul Revere. . . .
The article noted that a version of this letter had been published in the 1828 biography of Gerry, but without the time included. Benjamin argued that the omission of “at 9 o’clock“ meant people hadn’t realized its significance.

On the other hand, the Times continued, “the learned professors…did manage to find a plain prose version of Paul Revere among the old manuscripts of the Massachusetts Historical Society papers.” The article summarized Revere’s own account, which the M.H.S. had published in 1798 and certainly wasn’t hiding from view.

The Times story concludes:
However, the historians are not altogether satisfied with the Revere letter, for he wrote it in 1798, twenty-four years after the ride, and, conceding his honesty, his memory might easily have been bad. Considering the many doubts which the learned have come to have of Paul Revere’s ride, Mr. Benjamin believes that the evidence contained in the Hancock-Gerry letter shows that it never happened at all, outside Longfellow’s poems.
Benjamin made a couple of errors in interpreting the document he’d bought. First, Gerry and Hancock exchanged notes about a squad of “officers,” not the full “coming of British troops.” Those officers were mounted scouts with a mission of stopping messengers from getting out of Boston and into Concord. The hundreds of grenadiers and light infantrymen who followed the scouts presented a much bigger threat. About three hours after Hancock wrote his note, Revere reached Lexington with news of that column.

Benjamin’s second error was concluding that the letter showed “Lexington and Concord were fully aroused to the danger of the coming of British troops” before Revere arrived. They were only partially aroused. James Barrett’s household was busy moving the most valuable weaponry off his Concord farm. The sight of the mounted officers caused Sgt. William Munroe to summon a guard at the Lexington parsonage. But again, news of the much larger column of soldiers increased the alert level in both towns, producing the full militia alarms.

It looked like this debunking was itself quickly debunked and didn’t affect early-20th-century recountings of the Battle of Lexington and Concord. The letter itself appears to have stayed in private collections because authors continued to quote the published version only.

Then in 2014, Hancock’s letter to Gerry was displayed in an excellent exhibit at the Concord Museum. I saw it there and grabbed a brief quotation for The Road to Concord. (My transcription varies a bit from both the Gerry bio and this Times article, but not meaningfully.)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

“Mr. Adjutant Daws & the Sergeants”

In Paul Revere’s Ride, David Hackett Fischer made an impressive case that Paul Revere had a social network among the Boston Whigs second only to Dr. Joseph Warren.

As I’ve delved into the sources myself, I came to see the data that went into that analysis as seriously flawed. Nonetheless, I think the conclusion about about the importance of those two men’s social networks is sound.

One of the main themes of my talk last weekend about William Dawes, Jr., was that he, too, enjoyed a broad and buzzing social network.

Dawes got off too a good start as first cousin to the builder Thomas Dawes (1731-1809), who hosted a political caucus in the early 1760s, later rose to be colonel of the Boston militia regiment, and eventually was a deacon at Old South.

In the early 1770s, William Dawes began to climb in Boston society by those same routes. He was elected to office in town meetings, starting as an “Informer of Deer”—basically a game warden. Provincial law required all towns to elect such deer-reeves. Boston was unlikely to have had many deer being hunted out of season, and I can’t tell if Dawes got this job as a sinecure or because as a leather-dresser he was actually in touch with deer poachers.

Dawes also rose within the militia, being designated as the regiment’s adjutant with the rank of lieutenant in 1772. (In The Road to Concord I said he was “junior adjutant” because I was misled by old typography and didn’t think through old prose with new knowledge. The “Junr.” was part of Dawes’s name, not his rank.) As adjutant, he helped organize the militia drills and therefore must have gotten to know all the officers and most of the men.

On 4 Nov 1772, for example, the selectmen of Boston (including John Hancock) met at Faneuil Hall to consider a request for the use of that building. According to the official town records:
Mr. Adjutant Dows, has desired on behalf of a milatary chore [i.e. corps] to have the use of Faneuil Hall three Monday Nights in a Month which was granted accordingly.
Dawes’s crowd used the hall through that winter. On 10 Mar 1773, another militia officer came to the selectmen with a competing request:
The Selectmen having heard Capt. Waters and Mr. Adjutant Dows relative to the Hall, it was determined that they should each have the Hall two Nights, in a Month. the Adjutant to have the first Monday Night.
I believe “Capt. Waters” was Josiah Waters, Sr. (1721-1784), listed with that rank in the militia in 1774. He was also William Dawes’s uncle by marriage.

A few weeks later, on 28 April, Waters was back at the selectmen’s office:
Capt. Waters attended, and desired the use of the Hall for his Company every Monday Evening, as Capt. Waters informs that Mr. Adjutant Daws & the Sergeants have done with it.
It would be nice to know how “Mr. Adjutant Daws & the Sergeants” used Faneuil Hall. Were they training themselves in the standard drill so they could train the men, training some of those men, or just socializing?

That winter the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company met in Faneuil Hall every first Wednesday evening before shifting to Fridays. Dawes was also a member of that organization from 1768, and he served as a sergeant in 1770. In 1772, however, he was fined a shilling for not appearing at a meeting. After the war, Dawes helped to revive the company by signing up a large class of new members, several related to him—more networking.

Since Dawes knew so many men in Boston, it makes sense that the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety went to him in early 1775 when they needed to connect with the militiamen hiding two brass cannon. Likewise, he made a good messenger for Dr. Warren. Col. John Hancock of the Company of Cadets must have recognized Adjutant Dawes in Lexington in the early morning of April 19, 1775, just as he recognized Paul Revere.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Spero on “Frontier Rebels” in Worcester, 16 Apr.

On Tuesday, 16 April, the American Antiquarian Society will host a lecture by Patrick Spero on “Frontier Rebels: The Fight for Independence in the American West, 1765-1776,” based on his recent book.

The event description:
Spero will recast the familiar narrative of the American Revolution, moving the action from the Eastern Seaboard to the treacherous western frontier and recounting the untold story of the 1765 rebellion of the “Black Boys.” In doing so, he will reveal an often-overlooked truth: the West played a crucial role in igniting the flame of American independence.

In 1763, the Seven Years’ War ended in a spectacular victory for the British, but many Native Americans, fearing that the British Empire would expand onto their lands and conquer them, refused to lay down their weapons. Under the leadership of a shrewd Ottawa warrior named Pontiac, they kept fighting for their freedom, eventually spurring the British to organize one of the largest peace offerings ever assembled.

As the cargo moved into the interior of North America in search of Pontiac, a ragtag group of frontiersmen known as the “Black Boys”—dressed as Native Americans and smearing their faces with charcoal—set about stopping this peace deal in its tracks. Furious at the Empire for capitulating to Native groups, whom they considered their sworn enemies, and suspicious of British intentions, these colonists turned Native American tactics of warfare on the British Empire. The outcome of these interwoven struggles would determine whose independence would prevail on the American frontier.
Patrick Spero is the director of the American Philosophical Society Library in Philadelphia. His other books include Frontier Country: The Politics of War in Early Pennsylvania and the anthology The American Revolution Reborn: New Perspectives for the Twenty-First Century (based on this conference). Before joining the A.P.S., Spero taught at Williams College in Massachusetts.

This event is cosponsored by the Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College. It will start at 7:00 P.M. in the newly expanded A.A.S. building, 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester. It is free to the public.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Special Events for Patriots’ Day 2019

Many events happen annually on Patriots’ Day (weather permitting), but here are a couple of events scheduled for tomorrow that will occur this year only.

From 10:00 A.M. until noon, the Roxbury Historical Society will celebrate the reopening of the Dillaway–Thomas House. This building was started in 1750 as the parsonage for Roxbury’s first meetinghouse. During the siege of Boston, Gen. John Thomas used it as his headquarters.

When plans for a new school called for the house to be torn down, local preservationists rallied, so now the Timilty Middle School wraps around two sides of the building. The site is now an anchor of Roxbury Heritage State Park. The historical society has been working with the state to refurbish the site with “public amenities, new exhibits, and a public archeology laboratory.”

The Dillaway–Thomas House is at Eliot Square on Roxbury Street. The Patriots’ Day tours are free, as are the 9:00 ceremony leading to the National Lancers’ reenactment of William Dawes’s 18 Apr 1775 ride through Roxbury and the 11:30 trolley tour of the neighborhood’s historic sites by historian and politician Byron Rushing.

In the evening, the Concord Museum hosts William H. Fowler, Jr., speaking on “The Revolution’s Odd Couple: Sam Adams and John Hancock.” The partnership of Hancock and Adams was crucial to Massachusetts’s move to independence and, though they split personally and politically in the late 1770s, the two men were partners again as successive governors in the 1790s.

A charming storyteller and speaker, Fowler has written short biographies of each man. In fact, his book about Adams was what enticed me to plunge into researching local Revolutionary history twenty-odd years ago.

This talk is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. in the museum’s new events hall. Seats cost $10, or $5 for members. Register here. Fowler will be happy to sign copies of his books afterward.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

What Was Really Wrong about the “Hutchinson Letters”

I enjoyed tracking the Massachusetts Whigs’ logical dance as they justified sharing and then publishing the “Hutchinson letters” that arrived from Benjamin Franklin in 1773 along with restrictions on, well, sharing and publishing them. Boston politicians recognized the political power of those documents.

Focusing on that shady side of the story, however, obscures the far more darker claim in that dispute: that everyone should have kept those letters secret. By modern democratic standards, those documents should never have been secret to begin with.

British governments of the period demanded control over information about their workings, with only halting steps toward openness. Before 1770, for example, it was unclear whether it was legal to report in detail about debates in Parliament. Governors, generals, and other public appointees took their correspondence files home with them when they retired. Legislative or public oversight of government officials was weak.

In 1769, William Bollan leaked the official correspondence between Gov. Francis Bernard and the Secretary of State in London, Lord Hillsborough. Those pages described Bernard’s meetings with the Massachusetts Council and dealings with the Massachusetts house, as well as other public events. They made recommendations for Crown policy toward the province, from one unelected official to another. Today we expect such discussions to be conducted with as much openness as possible.

In 1773, Franklin followed Bollan’s example by sending over letters collected by Member of Parliament Thomas Whately, known for his political attachment to George Grenville and his interest in American policy. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson kept repeating that those documents were “private letters,” written before he became governor. But in 1768-1769 he was Lieutenant Governor and Chief Justice of Massachusetts. Hutchinson and Whately had never met and weren’t business partners. Their only reason to write to each other was to share information and views on Massachusetts government.

Whately’s correspondence with Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver, then provincial Secretary, included discussion of how the Massachusetts constitution should be changed. Oliver’s goal was to insulate the Council from popular pressure—a major concern among eighteenth-century aristocrats (or aristocrats of any period). That goal obviously depended on keeping the people ignorant of such discussions.

We now base our governments on the consent of the governed and the choice of the people, not filtered through a hereditary monarchy and nobility and the excuses people invent to justify such a system. Public knowledge and full access to government information for the public’s representatives are key to making our system work.

It should come as no surprise that I got interested in the “Hutchinson letters” this month because of the current U.S. administration’s attempts to conceal significant public documents. These include the uncensored Mueller report, the Trump Organization tax filings, orders overriding denials of security clearances, the paper trail of Supreme Court candidates, the President’s interference in building a new F.B.I. Headquarters, visitor logs at the White House, and much more.

Some of those attempts to conceal our government’s workings go against legal and legislative precedent. Others violate stated law. In all cases, they undercut our ability as a people to govern ourselves—an ability Americans first won after men working in the imperial capital slipped the Massachusetts legislature documents that royal appointees wanted to conceal.

Friday, April 12, 2019

“Why does not this Man make his Letters publick?”

Thomas Hutchinson wasn’t the first royal governor of Massachusetts to see his letters to officials in London published and pilloried back home. In fact, I think that precedent was a big part of the problem.

One of my big ideas about the American Revolution is that the Townshend Act of 1767 and the Tea Act of 1773 wouldn’t have provoked such widespread opposition in North America if the Stamp Act of 1765 hadn’t gone further than either and set the terms for the debate.

The Stamp Act impinged on many aspects of daily life, from getting married to reading a newspaper to suing a neighbor for debt. It was designed to spread out the cost of enjoying the benefits of living in the British Empire. But that also meant a lot of British colonists suddenly felt that they were being taxed by a distant legislature.

The Townshend Act and Tea Act focused on particular commodities as they were shipped from Britain. Sure, most households used tea, glass, and paper, but only the importers were actually taxed. By 1767, however, the troubling idea that Parliament was imposing taxation without representation and that would lead to political slavery had been established in Americans’ minds.

Likewise, the trouble for Hutchinson started when William Bollan (d. 1776), once agent for the Massachusetts Council in London, sent home copies of the correspondence of Gov. Francis Bernard to Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State. The 8 Apr 1769 Boston town meeting, 250 years ago this month, laid out the implications of those documents:
It has been long apprehended that the publick transactions & general State of the Town as well as the Behavior of particular persons have been greatly misrepresented to his Majestys Ministers by some of the principal Servants of the Crown & others here. . . .

These Apprehensions are greatly strengthend by the unexpected favor of a Gentleman of Character in London who has been so kind as to procure & transmit to his Majestys Council of the province certain Letters from Governor Bernard to the Earl of Hillsborough together with one from General [Thomas] Gage to the same noble Lord.
In October 1769 Boston issued An Appeal to the World, largely written by Samuel Adams, analyzing those letters in detail. A footnote stated:
It is remarkable that Governor Bernard, not long before these Letters were made public, expressed to a certain Gentleman, his earnest Wish, that the People of this Province could have a Sight of all his Letters to the Ministry, being assured that they would thereby be fully convinced that he was a Friend to the Province—Indeed he made a Declaration to the same Purpose, in one of his public Speeches to the House of Representatives.

Upon the Arrival of the Letters however, he discovered, as some say, a certain Paleness, and complained of as an Hardship that his Letters, wrote in Confidence, should be expos'd to the View of the Public.—A striking Proof of the Baseness, as well as the Perfidy of his Heart!
It is, of course, very suspicious when an official claims to want to share documents with the public but then does everything in his power to keep them under wraps. Bernard’s letters turned out to be far from complimentary about the people and government of Massachusetts.

That 1769 leak led to Bernard’s departure, so the Massachusetts Whigs and their allies viewed that tactic as a success. On 18 Sept 1770 Stephen Sayre (1736-1818, shown above) made his case to be one of the Massachusetts house’s agents by writing to Adams:
My worthy friend, Mr. Richard Cary, advises me that he has reason to believe that you would not be displeased with such intelligence as I might sometimes give you relative to public affairs. . . . if you wish to know the most secret transactions of your enemies here, I shall be proud of the opportunity to inform you in every particular as soon as matters transpire.
Specifically, Sayre hinted of letters that Hutchinson “wrote before Bernard embarkd for England” which were “oppugnant to the Form of your Govt.”

Adams replied on 23 November and criticized how Hutchinson, newly promoted to governor, was curtailing the legislature:
Could it possibly be imagind that a man who is bone of our Bone, & flesh of our flesh—who boasts that his Ancestors were of the first Rank & figure in the Country, who has had all the Honors lavishly heapd upon him which his Fellow Citizens had it in their power to bestow, who with all the Arts of personal Address professes the strongest Attachmt. to his native Country & the most tender feeling for its Rights. 
In 1773 John Adams criticized Hutchinson in the same terms, as I quoted back here: “Bone of our Bone, born and educated among us!”

Samuel Adams’s 1770 letter to Sayre asked of Gov. Hutchinson, “Why does not this Man make his Letters publick?” Hutchinson was keeping secrets, Adams implied, only because he had a lot to hide. Massachusetts colonists were already primed to hear another story of a royal governor claiming he’d been advocating for the province only to be exposed as denigrating it.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The “Hutchinson Letters” Published at Last

I’ve been tracing the maneuvers in 1773 around the “Hutchinson letters.” Benjamin Franklin sent those documents to the speaker of the Massachusetts house under conditions of secrecy. The Massachusetts Whigs nibbled away at the edges of that promise until in June they just decided to publish.

Edes and Gill issued the letters about Massachusetts in pamphlet form. (Their first edition omitted the letters from others about Connecticut and Rhode Island.) Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy reprinted them all over the following weeks. Here is a British reprinting of the letters, plus a defense of them and an attack on Franklin for divulging them.

In order of publication, those documents were:
  • Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, 18 June 1768, on the Liberty seizure and riot.
  • Hutchinson, August 1768, on protests against the Customs Commissioners.
  • Hutchinson, 4 Oct 1768, on unrest and the landing of the regiments.
  • Robert Auchmuty to Hutchinson, 14 Sept 1768, warning about a death threat (enclosed with the above).
  • Hutchinson, 10 Dec 1768, on actions of the Massachusetts Council.
  • Hutchinson, 20 Jan 1769, on Parliament’s relationship to Massachusetts. (This is the letter that stated, “There must be an abridgment of what are called English liberties.”)
  • Hutchinson, 26 Oct 1769, on the non-importation boycott and Gov. Francis Bernard’s departure.
  • Secretary Andrew Oliver (shown above), 7 May 1767, on the problems of an elected Council, his salary, and other matters.
  • Oliver, 11 May 1768, on protests against the lieutenant governor and Customs Commissioners.
  • Oliver, 13 Feb 1769, with ideas for changing the Council to be independent of the lower house.
  • Oliver, 12 Aug 1769 from New York on colonial business, non-importation, and his appointment.
  • Customs Commissioner Charles Paxton, 20 June 1768 from H.M.S. Romney, on the Liberty riot. (Very short.)
  • Nathaniel Rogers (Hutchinson’s nephew), 12 Dec 1768, seeking Oliver’s position if Hutchinson moved up to become governor and Oliver moved up to become lieutenant governor.
As Hutchinson pointed out after the publication, his letters never proposed new laws or changes to the Massachusetts charter. (Oliver mused on such possibilities, and the letters from Rhode Island and Connecticut were open about change.) Hutchinson’s phrase “an abridgment of what are called English liberties” came after a lament about the distance between North America and London; in his mind, it was a statement of regrettable fact, not a prescription.

Neither Hutchinson nor Oliver suggested sending troops into Boston to keep order. As Hutchinson noted, his report on the Liberty riot couldn’t have reached London until the ministry already had those plans under weigh.

Finally, Hutchinson pointed out that in the year before these letters leaked, he had engaged in a public debate with the Massachusetts house about the relationship between the elected colonial government and the royal authorities, making the same points he had made in his letters. So how could he have engaged in a secret conspiracy?

Nonetheless, the letters destroyed Hutchinson’s credibility and political career in Massachusetts.

TOMORROW: What was wrong with the letters.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

John Adams and “the important Secret”

John Adams’s diary offers a case study of how well the Massachusetts Whigs kept the secrets that Benjamin Franklin asked Thomas Cushing to keep.

Adams received the “Collection of Seventeen Letters” on 22 March 1773. Since he was no longer a member of the Massachusetts legislature, he definitely wasn’t on Franklin’s list of people Cushing could share the letters with. But evidently he was supposed to take the letters to someone else while attending a county court.

At some point Adams copied the cover letter, omitting Franklin’s name (if he’d even received the original revealing it). He also copied out the most damning letter by Thomas Hutchinson. As far as I can tell, there’s no clear evidence of when Adams made that copy—it might have been after the letters were published. But Franklin had asked for no one to make copies.

We can presume Adams told his wife Abigail about the letters. She doesn’t seem to have been as active in political discussions then as she would be later, when she didn’t have four children under the age of eight to look after. But John was probably already sharing what was on his mind, and those letters certainly were.

On 24 April, John wrote in his diary:
I have communicated to Mr. Norton Quincy, and to Mr. Wibird the important Secret. They are as much affected, by it, as any others.
Norton Quincy (1716-1801) was Abigail’s favorite uncle. He lived in some seclusion in Braintree after the death of his wife, so he probably wouldn’t pass on the secret.

“Mr. Wibird” was the Rev. Anthony Wibird (1729-1800), the Adamses’ minister, not yet in his dotage. Given New England’s deference to clergymen, discussing the letters with him was at least understandable.

Adams went on, indicating he had already discussed the letters with two members of the General Court:
Bone of our Bone, born and educated among us! Mr. [John] Hancock is deeply affected, is determined in Conjunction with Majr. [Joseph] Hawley to watch the vile Serpent, and his deputy Serpent [William] Brattle.

The Subtilty, of this Serpent, is equal to that of the old one.
The “vile Serpent” was Gov. Hutchinson. William Brattle was a member of the Council who had been a big supporter of the anti-Stamp Act demonstrations in 1765 but then moved over to the royal authorities’ side after becoming a militia general. He and Adams had a public argument over judicial salaries.

But those weren’t all the people who knew.
Aunt is let into the Secret, and is full of her Interjections!
I’m not sure which lady Adams meant by this. I think he had only one living aunt at the time, Bethiah Bicknell of Braintree, and they weren’t particularly close. He referred to many other older female relatives as “Aunt,” however, so who knows what lady was interjecting about “the important secret”?

Adams had also heard how other people knew and might spread the word:
Cushing tells me, that [Council member Jeremiah Dummer] Powell told him, he had it from a Tory, or one who was not suspected to be any Thing else, that certain Letters were come, written by 4 Persons, which would shew the Causes and the Authors of our present Grievances. This Tory, we conjecture to be Bob. Temple [of Medford], who has received a Letter, in which he is informed of these Things. If the Secret [should leak] out by this means, I am glad it is not to be charged upon any of Us—to whom it has been committed in Confidence.
Because of course it would look bad if the Whigs couldn’t keep a secret.

The next afternoon, Adams attended the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper’s meeting in Boston:
Dr. Cooper was upon Rev. 12.9. And the great Dragon was cast out, that old Serpent called the Devil and Satan, which deceiveth the whole World: he was cast out into the Earth and his Angells were cast out with him. Query. Whether the Dr. had not some political Allusions in the Choice of this Text.
Adams felt Cooper was poor at keeping secrets, judging by his remark the following month after hearing Hancock speak of political plans. “Cooper no doubt carried it directly to Brattle, or at least to his Son Thomas,” Adams wrote. “Such a leaky Vessell is this worthy Gentleman.”

As I quoted yesterday, in June 1773 Cushing assured Franklin that only two other people knew he had supplied the letters—but one of those two was Cooper.

So really it’s remarkable that the letters came as a surprise to anybody in Boston.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

“It was Impossible to prevent the Letters being made public”

On 14 June 1773, Massachusetts speaker of the house Thomas Cushing wrote a letter to Benjamin Franklin in London. He had a thorny topic to address.

Franklin had sent Cushing a bundle of letters written by royal officials and supporters in New England a few years before. The letters came with strict conditions of secrecy about who could see those documents; Franklin insisted that they not be copied or published.

Cushing stressed how he had really, really tried to keep the letters as secret as Franklin had asked:
I have endeavoured inviolably to keep to your Injunctions with respect to the papers you sent me, I have shewn them only to such Gentlemen as you directed, no one person excepting Dr. [Samuel] Cooper and one of the Committee of Correspondence know from whom they Come or to whom they were sent. I have constantly avoided mentioning your name Upon the Occasion so that it never need be known (if you incline to keep it secret) who they Came from or to whom they were sent and I desire so far as I am Concerned my name may not be mentioned, for as I hold an office in the Government subject to the Governor’s negative, it may be a damage to me.

Notwithstanding all my Care and precaution it is now publicly known that such Letters are here; the Governor [Thomas Hutchinson] suspects they were brought over by Mr. William Storey; Considering the number of Person’s who were to see them (not less than Ten or fifteen) it is astonishing to me they did not get Air before.

When I first received them I was in great doubt whether to Communicate them to one single person or not, for when I considered the number of Persons I was directed to Communicate them to, I apprehended, it would be almost Impossible to Keep them secret, however I considered further that they Contained matters of Importance that very nearly affected the Government, that they were sent as much to the Persons named in your Letter as to my self and consequently that they had as good a right to determine what Improvement was to be made of them.
In 1765 William Story was deputy registrar of the Admiralty Court in Boston. A mob had attacked his house on 26 August, the same night people did much greater damage to Hutchinson‘s mansion. Later his career in the royal government stalled. He had resigned and moved to Ipswich with his second wife.

In 1771 Story sailed for London “to settle an Affair of his own relating to the Admiralty Court, in which the Commissioners of the Customs as he says declare it is out of their power to do him Justice”—which means he had first tried to work through the Customs board and been disappointed.

On that trip Story carried a letter of introduction from Gov. Hutchinson to Lord Hillsborough, Secretary of State, and another from Samuel Adams to Arthur Lee, Virginia-born agent for the Massachusetts house. He was ready to work both sides.

Story didn’t get what he wanted, and he returned to Massachusetts. Evidently Hutchinson thought he might have brought back the sensitive letters. Story hadn’t done that, but he had finally come down on the side of the Whigs. In 1775 Ipswich elected him to the Massachusetts General Court, and he became one of the busiest members of the wartime legislature.

Back to Cushing. The speaker finally got around to the news that back on 3 June he’d broken his promise to Franklin and let the whole house hear the letters read aloud in a stream of 355 words spinning around the subject:
Besides one of the Gentlemen to whom they were to be Communicated had advice of their being sent before they were Communicated to him, if not before their arrival, and it was strongly suspected for some time by his Informer that they were secreted on purpose to preserve the Governor, so that If I had determined it not to be prudent to reveal them under the restrictions I was laid, it would have been out of my power to have prevented it’s being known that such Letters were sent,

however they were kept very secret till the annual Election [of the Council] when it generally got abroad that such Letters were come and as some of the Persons to whom they were sent were members of the Court they thought they were Obliged to mention that they had seen such Original Letters,

this made the rest of the Members very sollicitous to have a sight of them and they talked of moving the House to send for Persons and papers as they said they had a right to such knowledge and Intelligence as very nearly and Essentially affected the public and rather than have any public order about it and by that means let the House have the Entire possession of the Letters,

it was thought adviseable by those to whom they were sent to Communicate them to the House provided they would engage they should not be printed nor Copied in whole or in part and that they Should return them again after a Convenient time when called for, which Engagement the House Entered into and they were read, upon which the House resolved it self into a Committee of the Whole House and after due Consideration the Committee reported to the House that it was their opinion that it was the design and Intention of these Letters to overthrow the Constitution of this Government and to Introduce arbitrary Power within this Province, which report was accepted by the House–101 Members for it, but 5 against it, and then the Letters were Committed to a Committee of nine to Consider what was proper to be done thereupon.
But wait, there was more! At least one copy of all the letters was circulating in Boston. That required more explanation.
While this matter was under Consideration of the House several Vessells arrived from London by Whom, it was reported, that Copies of these very letters were arrived and Wednesday the 9th Instant Mr. [John] Hancock Informed the House that he had received a Number of Letters which were said to be Copies of those that were before the House, and as the House were under some Engagements with respect to the Letters that had been Communicated to them, he moved that the Copies he had received might be Compared with those before the House and if they proved to be true Copies the House might have them and make what use of them they thought proper.
So the house was still keeping the original letters that Franklin had sent under wraps. People were sharing copies of those letters from a source that no one ever named. Copies that for all anyone knew might have been made in London, and not during the months when the originals were being passed around in Massachusetts or the recent days when the legislature was hotly debating them.
This was a great releif to the House as they were under some Difficulty about proceeding upon the other Letters under their present Engagements as they were thereby prevented from taking any Copys of them in whole or in part. What determinations the House will Enter into I cannot at present say, but it is universally apprehended that the G–v–r will never be able to recover the Confidence of this People and that his Usefullness is at an End.

I have done all in my power strictly to Conform to your restrictions, but from the Circumstances above related you must be sinsible it was Impossible to prevent the Letters being made public and therefore hope I shall be free from all Blame respecting this Matter.
The next day, the Massachusetts house officially voted to have “a sufficient Number of printed Copies of the Letters” made. In fact, the printers Edes and Gill had recorded the house’s order for 316 copies of the letters back on 10 June, four days before Cushing wrote to Franklin. In his long explanation he managed not to mention that the letters were already being set in type.

But after all, the speaker might as well have concluded, how could this disclosure in Boston harm Franklin’s career?

Monday, April 08, 2019

“A particular Account of all the Plans of Operation”

In 1772, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson entertained thoughts of peeling John Hancock away from the Boston Whigs, thus depriving that party of major financial support.

With troops no longer stationed in town and no new taxes coming from London, the populace wasn’t feeling so many irritants. Samuel Adams had a hard time finding issues to rally people around. Hancock, his political instincts flowering, recognized that reality and stopped supporting militant actions.

I don’t think Hutchinson ever had a real chance of winning the young merchant to the side of the royal government—Hancock was too eager for popular acclaim. But the governor did throw out some favors.

One was giving Hancock the command of the Company of Cadets. Hancock loved the title “Colonel” and the chance to design new uniforms for that militia unit.

Hutchinson’s tactic seemed to bear fruit after a confrontation in May 1773. Hutchinson hosted a public dinner with the Customs Commissioners among the guests and the Cadets as his honor guard. Two of those young men, Moses Grant and James Foster Condy, left the ranks and joined the crowd yelling at the Commissioners. Hancock publicly took the position that military discipline had to overrule political positions and expelled Grant and Condy from the company.

Later that same month, at the start of the legislative term, the Massachusetts General Court elected a new Council. Hancock made the list, as he had before. This time, Gov. Hutchinson approved his name. He probably hoped the grateful merchant would become a more sedate member of the upper house.

On the day before the Council election, however, Hancock had visited Edmund Quincy’s house. Abigail Adams was there, and she reported to her husband John that Hancock “gave before a large Company of both Sexes…a particular Account of all the Plans of Operation for tomorrow, which he and many others had been concerting.” By that point the letters from London had been circulating among top Whigs and were no doubt part of those plans.

On 27 May, Secretary Thomas Flucker came to the house chamber with Gov. Hutchinson’s invitation for Hancock and select other members to move across to the Council.

Hancock declined.

A week later, on 2 June, Samuel Adams revealed the “Hutchinson letters” to the house. Hancock took the job of chairing the committee of the whole that discussed those documents. He apparently drafted the committee’s conclusion that they had been designed to “introduce arbitrary Power into the Province.”

When the Massachusetts Spy ran the first report on that ominous closed-door session, it also stated:
We are desired to inform the public, that the Hon. John Hancock, Esq; commander of the Cadet company, and ten of the members, then present, were against the late vote for expelling two of their members.
Hancock thus signaled that he was on the side of the popular protest, free from the governor’s influence.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

“The people of the town had grown very uneasy“

The 3 June 1773 issue of the Massachusetts Spy broke the news that the Massachusetts General Court was considering “some extraordinary discoveries” and how “some men in power would appear infamous to the highest degree.”

In the same issue, printer Isaiah Thomas ran this item:
A report is propagated in town, which we are well informed had its birth in his Majesty’s Castle-William, that a formidable mob will make an appearance to-morrow evening. However the enemies to our rights and privileges may wish this to be the case, yet let them be told, that a people who are blessed with such a Legislature as the present, have no need to take the punishment of traitors into their own hands.
The allusion to Castle William pointed to the army regiment stationed on that fortified island, or the Customs officials who occasionally took refuge there. If there had indeed been a rumor, the newspaper was blaming the royal government instead of the Whigs. And if there hadn’t been, it was starting the rumor and blaming the royal government anyway.

At the same time, however, the Spy was trying to keep public anger from turning violent, assuring readers to keep their faith in the legislature.

Behind closed doors that legislature was forming a response to the bundle of letters that speaker Thomas Cushing had received from Benjamin Franklin in London. One step was publication—on 10 June the house contracted with Edes and Gill to print over 300 copies of the letters. Another was a formal resolution, adopted on 16 June and also sent to the printers.

According to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, the most prominent writer of those letters, the General Court was actually dragging its feet in order to keep the public on edge and riled up. In his persona of disinterested historian Hutchinson would later write that already
…the people of the town had grown very uneasy at being so long alarmed with a declaration of measures of so dangerous, as well as criminal tendency and design, without an opportunity of forming any judgment upon them.
Hutchinson’s history of Massachusetts complained that the legislature “adjourned for three days…and kept the publick in suspense from Thursday to Tuesday, every day producing a new report of passages in the letters, more and more criminal.” In fact, the legislature met six days out of every week in June with the single exception of Monday, 7 June.

Nevertheless, Hutchinson was correct in discerning that “the principal design of this whole proceeding was to make the governor obnoxious to the people of the province.” And it was working.

TOMORROW: How Mr. Hancock made his move.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

“A person in the street had put into his hands a number of papers”?

In his 9 June 1773 response to the Massachusetts house about his letters, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson insisted he hadn’t written anything secret or oppressive. He then went on:
I am at a Loss for what Purpose you desire the Copies of my Letters the Originals of which you have in your Hands. If it is with a View to make them Publick, the Originals are more proper for that Purpose than the Copies. 
Hutchinson was a historian, after all—always use original sources if they’re available.

He continued:
I think it would be very improper and out of Character in me to lay my private Letters before you at your Request: My publick ones I am restrained from laying before you without express Leave from his Majesty. Thus much however I may assure you, that it has not been the Tendency and Design of them to subvert the Constitution of this Government, but rather to preserve it entire, and I have Reason to think they have not been altogether ineffectual to that Purpose.
It’s not clear whether Hutchinson knew then that the man who had sent those letters, Benjamin Franklin, had insisted that they not be made public. But the Whig legislators put in motion a way of doing so.

Immediately after the governor’s reply was read in the house, John Hancock spoke up to say:
…he had received Copies of certain Letters signed Thos. Hutchinson, Andw. Oliver, Charles Paxton, and Robert Auchmuty, which he supposed were Copies of the Letters before the House, and moved that they might be compared.
According to Hutchinson’s later history, which isn’t entirely reliable:
…a pitiful expedient was found out. Mr. Hancock acquainted the house, that a person in the street had put into his hands a number of papers, which appeared to him to be copies of the letters which were lying before the house, and he moved that they might be compared; and an order passed for that purpose. It seems to have been intended as an excuse for the publishing of what had been delivered upon an express condition not to publish.
On 10 June, the house formed a committee headed by Joseph Hawley “to consider of some Means honorably to make this House fully possessed of the Letters communicated by Mr. [Samuel] Adams under certain restrictions.”

In recounting this move, Hutchinson applied particular acerbity to the word “honorably.” He reported:
In a very few hours, Mr. Hawley reported from this committee, that Mr. Adams had acquainted them, that, as copies of the letters were already abroad, and had been publickly read, the gentleman from whom the letters were received [i.e., speaker of the house Thomas Cushing] gave his consent, that the house should be fully possessed of them, to print, copy, or make what other use of them they pleased, relying on the goodness of the house that the original letters be returned, in their own time, they retaining attested copies of the same for their use.
That was a very close paraphrase of the legislative record. That day, the house contracted with the Edes and Gill print shop in Boston to print 316 copies of the letters that related to Massachusetts (omitting those focused on Rhode Island and Connecticut) and 300 copies of the house resolves condemning those letters. That order came to almost £20.

Hutchinson wrote:
The house then ordered the letters to be printed, but, before they were suffered to be made publick, the resolves of the house upon them were printed and dispersed in newspapers through the province, and a recital of any parts or expressions in the letters was carefully avoided, and only the general design and tendency of them declared.
The governor knew he'd lost control of the narrative.

TOMORROW: Public opinion.

Friday, April 05, 2019

“If genuine, they must be private Letters”

When we left the Massachusetts General Court on 2 June 1773, members of the lower house had voted overwhelmingly to condemn a collection of letters from Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver, and others as intended “to overthrow the Constitution of this Government, and to introduce arbitrary Power into the Province.”

The next day, the house chose a committee of nine to prepare a longer response to those letters. At its head were Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock, of course. Also on that Thursday, the Massachusetts Spy reported on the house vote—and reported in dire tones about “extraordinary discoveries…which will bring many dark things to light.”

That brought a note to the chamber from Gov. Hutchinson, carried by provincial secretary Thomas Flucker. Hutchinson declared, “I have never wrote any public or private Letter with such Intention…” He asked to see a transcript of the house proceedings. (It had met as a committee of the whole to keep the most serious discussions private.) And he asked to know what letters the legislators were talking about.

That afternoon the house voted to give Hutchinson the dates of the letters “Provided his Excellency will order to be laid before this House Copies of all the Letters of the same Dates written by his Excellency relating to the publick Affairs of this Province.”

The next day was King George III’s birthday. There was a militia parade on the Common and down King Street, with Hancock leading the Cadets, Adino Paddock the artillery train (both units with musical bands), and Henry Knox appearing as a junior officer of the new grenadier company. Cannon were fired in all the town batteries, Castle William, and the navy ships in the harbor.

At noon, Gov. Hutchinson and the Council toasted the king in one chamber of the Town House while the house toasted him in another. In the evening there were fireworks.

On Saturday, the house sent a committee with the dates of the letters and renewed its request for all letters Hutchinson had written on those dates. The governor later called this “a very rude resolve.” It presented him with two possible traps. First, any deviation between the letters that the legislators had and his drafts or copies might be spun as deceptive. Second, the house was asking for more letters than it had on hand.

The Monday newspapers reported on the exchange between the house and the governor. It wasn’t until Wednesday, 9 June, that Hutchinson responded:
I find by the Dates of the Letters with my Signature that, if genuine, they must be private Letters wrote to a Gentleman in London, since deceased; that all, except the last were wrote many Months before I came to the Chair [i.e., while he was still lieutenant governor]; that they were wrote not only with that Confidence which is always implied in a friendly Correspondence by private Letters, but that they are expressly confidential; notwithstanding which, they contain nothing more respecting the Constitution of the Colonies in general than what is contained in my Speeches to the Assembly, and what I have published in a more extensive Manner to the World; and there is not one Passage in them which was ever intended to respect, or which, as I am well assured, the Gentleman to whom they were wrote, ever understood to respect, the particular Constitution of this Government as derived from the Charter.
In those details, Hutchinson was correct. The letters had gone to Thomas Whately, a British official who died in 1772. Hutchinson had spoken openly and at length to the General Court about how colonial legislatures had to be subordinate to Parliament. His letters didn’t recommend changes to the Massachusetts charter—but other letters in the collection did, and by this point people were viewing them all as a whole.

TOMORROW: The question of publication.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

A Sampling of the 2019 Battle Road Season

The Patriots’ Day season starts this Saturday, 6 April, with three annual events in three towns:
  • Bedford Pole Capping in Bedford, 10:30 A.M.
  • Meriam’s Corner Exercise in Concord, 1:00 P.M.
  • Paul Revere Capture Ceremony in Lincoln, 3:00 P.M.
Two of the events thus commemorated took place on 19 Apr 1775. The pole capping is a more recent community celebration, though Liberty Poles were undoubtedly part of the Revolutionary landscape.

Here’s something I don’t recall seeing before: The town of Lexington has the domain name patriotsday.com. It redirects to the town website, which includes this page of local events from Saturday, 13 April, to Monday, 15 April—legally Patriots’ Day. These opportunities include tours of the Lexington Historical Society’s museums and reenactments of the fights in Lexington.

Back to the Minute Man National Historical Park website for a listing of events it hosts, and to Battleroad.org for related events elsewhere, including:
  • Parker’s Revenge, Saturday, 13 April, 1:00 P.M.
  • Jason Russell House fight, Arlington, Sunday, 14 April, noon. 
  • “Warlike Preparations” at the Barrett Farm, Sunday, 14 April, 1:00-4:00 P.M.
  • Lincoln Fife & Drum Salute, Sunday, 14 April, 2:00-4:00 P.M.
  • Robbins’s Ride in Acton, Sunday, 14 April, 5:00-6:00 P.M.
  • Revere’s arrival at the Lexington parsonage, Sunday, 14 April, 11:30 P.M.
  • Marches from Stow and Westford, Monday, 15 April, arriving at the bridge about 9:00 A.M.
  • North Bridge Fight and Concord Parade, Monday, 15 April, 8:30-10:00 A.M.
There are also events that by tradition take place on the actual anniversaries instead of the legal holiday:
  • Lantern procession and Ceremony at North Bridge, Thursday, 18 April, 7:45-8:45 P.M.
  • Sudbury Militia March, Friday, 19 April, arriving at the bridge about 11:30 A.M. 
And back to Minute Man Park for “The War Has Begun” on Saturday, 20 April, reenacting how Massachusetts communities responded to the strain of the siege of Boston.

This is just a sampling of the historical events taking place around Patriots’ Day, drawn from Middlesex County. Many other communities have their own traditional commemorations.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

“William Dawes’s Secret” in Roxbury, 7 April

On Sunday, 7 April, I’ll speak to the Jamaica Plain Historical Society and the Roxbury Historical Society about “William Dawes’s Secret.”

Here’s our event description:
William Dawes, Jr., is known today only as the other rider who carried news of the British army march to Lexington in April 1775. Like the more famous Paul Revere, Dawes was deeply involved in the Patriot movement for years before and after that date. This talk reveals Dawes the militia organizer, the fashion icon, even the arms smuggler whose secret mission for the Patriots’ Committee of Safety helped bring on the Revolutionary War.
Dawes appears in The Road to Concord as the Committee of Safety’s liaison to whoever in Boston knew where the militia train’s stolen cannon were hidden. His descendants in the late 1800s said that he had participated in stealing those cannon as well. I’ll lay out that episode, but also talk about Dawes’s family ties to Roxbury, his work in Worcester during the war, and how he came to be buried in Roxbury today.

This talk will take place at the First Church of Roxbury at 10 Putnam Street, and the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry is cosponsoring it. We’ll start at 2:00 P.M., and afterwards there will be light refreshments and books for sale. The event is free and open to the public.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

The American Enlightenment and the Transatlantic Cod Trade

On Thursday, 4 April, the Yale Center for British Art will host this year’s Lewis Walpole Library Lecture: “Was There an American Enlightenment?” by Caroline Winterer, Anthony P. Meier Family Professor in the Humanities and Director at the Stanford Humanities Center.

The event description:
The American Enlightenment is often viewed as a singular era bursting with new ideas as the U.S. sought to assert itself in a new republic free of the British monarchy. In this talk, Stanford historian Caroline Winterer shows how the myth and romanticization of an American Enlightenment was invented during the Cold War to calm fears of totalitarianism overseas. She’ll then look behind the 20th-century mythology, rescuing a “real” eighteenth-century American Enlightenment that is far different than the one we usually imagine.
Winterer is the author of American Enlightenments: Pursuing Happiness in the Age of Reason (Yale, 2016). Her previous books include The Mirror of Antiquity: American Women and the Classical Tradition, 1750-1900 and The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910. She received an American Ingenuity Award from the Smithsonian Institution for an article mapping the social network of Benjamin Franklin.

Winterer’s talk will began at 5:30 P.M. in the lecture hall of the Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel Street in New Haven.

On Sunday, 7 April, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site’s visitor center will host a symposium on “Salt Cod for Silver: Yankees, Basques, and the North Shore’s Forgotten Trade.”

The program will explore the nearly two-hundred-year-long trading relationship between the New England ports of Salem, Marblehead, and Beverly and the Spanish Basque port of Bilbao.

As the event title suggests, in the years before the Revolution, shipping fish to Spain provided a major infusion of cash money for Salem and nearby ports. One of the mercantile firms handling that trade in Bilbao was Gardoqui & Sons, and during the war it turned to shipping arms back to the new U.S. of A.

The symposium participants will be:
  • Xabier Lamikiz, University of the Basque Country
  • David Hancock, University of Michigan–Ann Arbor
  • Karen Alexander, University of New Hampshire Gulf of Maine Cod Project
  • Donald C. Carleton, Jr., organizer and moderator
This symposium is presented in partnership with Historic Beverly, the Marblehead Museum, Salem State University Department of History, and Bilboko Itsasdarra Itsas Museoa (Bilbao Maritime Museum).

This free public event will be held in the Salem Visitor Center at 2 New Liberty Street from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. Seating is limited to the first 200 people who arrive.