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, November 29, 2019

Gershom Spear “to all Appearance dead”

Last week I mentioned in passing the marriage of Gershom Spear (1755-1816) to Elizabeth Bradlee. The bridegroom almost didn’t make it. On 21 Nov 1762, young Gershom drowned in Boston harbor.

As Thomas and John Fleet’s Boston Evening-Post reported the next day:
Last Evening a Boy about 8 Years old, Son to Mr. Joseph Spear, fell from a Wharf near the South Battery, and was accidentally discovered under the Water ’tis tho’t about a Quarter of an Hour after he fell in; he was taken up motionless and to all Appearance dead…
Fortunately, earlier that month, on 1 November, the Evening-Post had reprinted an extract of a letter about drowning that had appeared in the London press the previous year.

That letter had been sent from Oporto, or the Portuguese port of Porto, by a sea captain named John Bell, master of the British ship Elizabeth. The letter was also reprinted in the 16 Apr 1762 New-Hampshire Gazette, and it said:
Since I have been here, a Dutchman fell into the River, and was taken up from the bottom about three quarters of an hour afterwards; he was carried on board the ship he belong’d to, and orders were actually given for sewing him up in a hamock, in order to bury him.

The British vice consul (Mr. Gabriel Hervey) who is a very humane man, hearing of the affair, took a boat, went on board, laid the fellow by the fire side, and kept rubbing him with common salt till life returned, and the man is now hearty and well.

Mr. Hervey has told me, he has known a dog kept under water two hours, and recovered by being covered with salt; and his lady told me she had recovered a cat.
Evidently the memory of that news article gave little Gershom’s father an idea.

TOMORROW: Can this child be saved?

[The engraving above was made by Robert Pollard in 1787 after a painting by Robert Smirke, and comes courtesy of the Wellcome Collection.]

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