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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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Three Online Events on Revolutionary History Tonight

September usually brings a burst of historical events as the academic calendar restarts while museums and tourist sites keep appealing to visitors. This year the pandemic means that a lot of those events are being organized online, and are thus available to much broader audiences. Plus, they’re often recorded and made available online for later.

All of which exponentially increases the number of historical talks and panels one feels guilty about not attending in some way. Here are three scheduled for tonight alone.

The Pauline Maier Early American History Seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society gets under way for the year. Prof. Lauren Duval of the University of Oklahoma has shared a paper titled “The Horrid Deeds of our Enemies.” Prof. Carolyn Eastman of Virginia Commonwealth University will be the principal commenter, but this will be a discussion session.
The American Revolution was waged not only on the battlefield, but in the realm of culture. American homes and the wartime violence within them—particularly directed against women—were prominent subjects in novels and historical paintings. Reimagining women’s interactions with British soldiers solely as relationships of violence and deception, not volition, these narratives promoted a gendered vision of wartime domestic invasion and violation that would, in memory, come to define the war’s devastation and contribute to emergent ideas about the meaning of independence.
To subscribe to the papers in this series and other seminars hosted by the M.H.S., use this link; the cost is $25. Register for tonight’s event here. This seminar will run from 5:15 to 6:30 P.M. Unfortunately, there are no sandwiches and conversation afterward except what we provide ourselves.

Monticello is offering a series of “Tom Talks,” and tonight’s is grandly but not inaccurately titled “The Election of 1800: A Battle for the Soul of America.”
Jefferson recalled the Election of 1800 as the “revolution of 1800;” the first peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another in the young United States. Yet it was shaped by a bitter campaign in the press as the Federalist and Democratic-Republican parties battled to decide the nation's future course. Join John Ragosta, Historian at the International Center for Jefferson Studies, and Jeff Looney, Editor of the Jefferson Papers: Retirement Series as they discuss the political maneuvering that led to Jefferson’s presidency.
That event begins at 6:00 P.M., and access costs $25. Monticello is also posting many free videos on other aspect of the third President’s life.

Finally, History Author Talks features two experts speaking on “The Ravages of War in New York and New Jersey.” William L. (Larry) Kidder, author of Ten Crucial Days: Washington’s Vision for Victory Unfolds and the upcoming Revolutionary Princeton, 1774-1783: The Biography of an American Town in the Heart of a Civil War, and Todd Braisted, author of Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City and Bergen County Voices from the American Revolution: Soldiers and Residents in Their Own Words, will discuss military maneuvers in the crucial corridor between the two largest cities in North America.

This conversation will start at 7:00 P.M. To register, use this link. The History Author Talks website has links to recordings of many previous conversations between authors this year, including mine with Nina Sankovitch and Paul Lockhart.

Don’t you feel more guilty already?

Monday, September 21, 2020

When Women Lost the Vote in New Jersey, and Other Troublesome History

Yesterday I wrote about what might be the first and only example of women voting in an official forum in colonial America, two property-owning widows expressing their views at a special Sudbury town meeting in 1655.

The next documented example of American women voting in a governmental election came in New Jersey after the Revolution. As I wrote back in 2010, the state constitution allowed widows and single women meeting the property requirement to vote.

Newspapers at the time made clear that some women did exercise that right—it wasn’t just an abstraction. However, most of what we knew about the custom came from each party complaining that the other side was doing too much to woo female support. In 1807, the men in charge of New Jersey took care of that problem by rewriting the constitution to restrict the vote to men only.

This year we’re observing the hundredth anniversary of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and of the first national election in which American women voted. (Those who weren’t disenfranchised because of race, that is.)

The Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia decided to use that occasion to dig deeper into the history of female suffrage in New Jersey. As reported earlier this year in the Philadelphia Inquirer and in the New York Times, researchers from the museum went looking for voter rolls that might name women who actually cast ballots.

Jennifer Schuessler reported on the challenge in the New York Times:
A 1920 article in a small historical journal included a transcript of a 1787 poll list from Burlington Township showing two women’s names. But the original list could not be found, and some scholars wondered if the names were transcription errors. (Was “Iona” a woman’s name, or a misreading of “Jona,” a common abbreviation for Jonathan?)

A footnote in a 1992 scholarly article mentioned an 1800 list from Bedminster apparently showing a few women’s names. But that, it seemed, was it.

And so Dr. [Marcela] Micucci began trying to locate surviving poll lists — rarities in themselves — to see if they included women’s names that could be verified against other records.

The first big hit was an 1801 poll list from Montgomery Township, held at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton, which had acquired it in 2016 from the descendant of a long-ago county clerk.

Dr. [Philip] Mead recalled being on the phone when Dr. Micucci walked in, waving a photocopy with what turned out to be nearly four dozen women’s names highlighted.
As of February, the research team had found eighteen poll lists from four townships, half of those rolls including women’s names. A detail from one such document appears above.

The pandemic disrupted the M.A.R.’s initial plans for its “When Women Lost the Vote” exhibit, but it’s opening next month. The museum says:
Featuring original objects including textiles, works of art, and newly-discovered poll lists highlighting women voters from the period, the exhibition will bring to life the forgotten stories of the women who first pioneered the vote and became role models for women's suffragists two generations later. “When Women Lost the Vote” is an inspiring story that will encourage visitors to reconsider their understanding of the timeline of women’s history in America, but it is also a cautionary tale about one of America’s first voting rights crises. The exhibition will be integrated within the Museum’s permanent galleries and connected by an audio tour.
This exhibition will run through 25 Apr 2021. There are restrictions for visitors to preserve public health.

Also from the M.A.R., on Thursday, 24 September, Annette Gordon-Reed, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor at Harvard University, will deliver the Carl M. Buchholz Memorial Lecture on the topic “The Past in the Present: Dealing with Troublesome Histories.”

Gordon-Reed has written extensively about some of the troublesome aspects of Thomas Jefferson, as well as his more admirable sides, in her books Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, The Hemingses of Monticello, and “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs” with Peter S. Onuf. She has also written a short biography of—talk about troublesome!—President Andrew Johnson.

Watching this online lecture live requires registering in advance. The log-in period will begin on Thursday at 5:45 P.M., and the lecture at 6:00. There will be a question period afterward.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Women Who Voted in a Colonial Massachusetts Town Meeting

Ten years ago, I noted the legend of Lydia Taft, a widow in Uxbridge who was said to have voted in a town meeting in 1756.

That statement appeared in print in 1881, in the publication of a speech delivered seventeen years before. That book cited no records from 1756 to support the claim.

I opined that it would have been very unlikely for no one to comment on a woman voting, especially when she supposedly broke a tie on a controversial tax. “It would be nice to see the official records,” I wrote.

Last month an unknown commenter stated: “Uxbridge records for the period are extant both as physical documents in the possession of the Town Clerk and as part of the Holbrook group's microfiche collection. There is no mention of Lydia having voted.”

Just now I came across this Mental Floss article by Jocelyn Sears, also based on a look at actual town records:
But according to records from Uxbridge’s town meetings, there wasn’t any meeting on October 30, 1756, and the town did not appropriate any funds that year for the war or for unspecified colonial purposes. (They did vote to raise money for the local schools, to repair the roads, and to pay the town minister’s salary.) Further, even if Lydia Taft had voted, we’d have no way of knowing, since the official minutes for the town meetings do not list the names of people voting or their votes. The minutes simply state when a vote happened and that a given measure passed or failed.
So we can file the story of Lydia Taft voting under myths.

Sears’s article also discusses a documented case of women’s votes being recorded in Sudbury in 1655. At issue was whether the selectmen had apportioned new land fairly in 1649, and whether common grazing rights should depend on the amount of (unfairly?) apportioned land. Sears writes:
Jane Goodenow and Mary Loker were both widows of men who received land in the original division of the meadow. As their husbands’ heirs, each had a stake in this question of sizing the commons. Jane Goodenow owned 25 acres of meadow land, and thus benefited from any policies that favored those with a large acreage. Mary Loker, on the other hand, only owned 5 acres of meadow, and she recognized that tying grazing rights to meadow acreage would disadvantage her. As landowners, both women were theoretically eligible to vote in Sudbury, where the access to the franchise depended on property, though according to custom, women did not vote. But on January 22, 1655, Goodenow and Loker packed into the Sudbury meeting house with over 50 other people to determine how the town commons would be sized.

Acting for herself and as a proxy for a (male) neighbor, Goodenow issued two votes in favor of tying grazing rights to meadow ownership, while Loker issued two votes against the measure (it’s unclear if she was also acting as a proxy).
The good news is that Sears’s article included links to images of Sudbury town records. The bad news is that those links have broken.

But—good news again—I found a new link through Digital Commonwealth. This is actually a handwritten transcription of the seventeenth-century original, mandated by a vote in 1857. Which is why we can, you know, read it.

The preceding page records an official town meeting on 22 Jan 1655 (1654 as British colonies dated years then) and concludes with this call for a vote:
You that judge the act of the select men, for sizing the commons to be a righteous act, and do consent with them in their act, discover it by drawing yourselves together, in the one end of the meeting house, to this vote there appeared, those that follow. (see the other side of this leaf.)
On the left side of the next page spread are the lists of people for and against the measure. Halfway down the first column is “Jane Goodenow widow for herself and Andrew Belcher.” In the right column at the same line is “Mary Luker widow two votes.”

Following the division, there were disputes about whether all the people listed were eligible to vote. As Sears points out, no one objected to the widows Goodenow and Luker participating.

In 1656, the year after this protest, three of the men who had voted against the Sudbury selectmen’s action led some families a few miles west and organized a petition to the Massachusetts General Court to start a new town. That soon became Marlborough.

I tried to find more information about Jane Goodenow and Mary Luker in the Sudbury town records. Unfortunately, because it was a young town, formed in 1638, an older couple that moved there with their children already born wouldn’t show up in the local records of marriages and births.

I believe that Jane Goodenow was the widow who died on 15 July 1666. Her will identified her late husband as named John. John Goodenow, Sr., died on 28 Mar 1654, in the crucial window between the granting of the land and the vote on the common. His will was abstracted here. The Goodenows had a daughter Jane, who married Henry Wait or Wight by 1654, and they had a son named John by the time widow Goodenow died. (This genealogy webpage contains entries for the Goodenows, but I think some of the identifications are mistaken and can’t verify others.)

Mary Luker’s husband was also named John. They had a daughter named Mary on 28 Sept 1653. Sometime in that year, John died. I can’t find any further information about Mary Luker in either Sudbury or Marlborough.

But we can remember the names of Jane Goodenow and Mary Luker as women who, by virtue of being unmarried widows with property, participated in a protest vote in the Sudbury meetinghouse in January 1655.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Dr. Dexter’s Boys

When Lydia (Woods Dexter) Curtis died at the end of 1772, her three surviving sons were all in their late teens, of age to be apprentices. They may therefore have left the household of their stepfather, Dr. Samuel Curtis.

Lydia was from a large and established family in Marlborough. The boys’ paternal relatives in Dedham were also rich enough to take them in if that seemed like the best course. (In 1771 their grandmother there offered to pay “the Charge of Rideing” for one boy so that he could recover from an illness through “moderate exercise.”)

Two of those Dexter boys went into medical professions, and it’s possible that Dr. Curtis helped to train them. But it’s also possible those sons were inspired entirely by their father, Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, and wanted little to do with Curtis. Here’s what we know about the next generation of Dexters.

William (1755-1785) went out to Shrewsbury, perhaps to train under Dr. Edward Flynt, who had treated his father in his last illness. In February 1775, at the age of nineteen, William married a local woman named Betsy Bowker, age twenty-one. Their first child, named Ebenezer after William’s father, arrived eight and a half months later.

By then, Edward Flynt and William Dexter had enlisted as surgeon and surgeon’s mate for Gen. Artemas Ward’s regiment of the Massachusetts army. The young man’s handwritten commission signed by James Warren for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress appears above. Dexter served in the Continental Army through the siege of Boston and accompanied the regiment down to New York under Col. Jonathan Ward.

Betsy Dexter, according to her 1843 application for a pension, was living at her father’s house in Shrewsbury all this time. William “returned after warm weather in 1776,” she recalled. He had reached the age of majority that April, and I wonder if he inherited his father’s estate in Marlborough. (It’s worth recalling that Dr. Curtis decided to leave town and go to sea the next spring.)

According to his wife, William brought his little family home to Marlborough in December 1776 and set up his own practice as a physician. William and Betsy had children in 1777, 1778, and 1779, all of them living to adulthood. But like his father, William Dexter died young, at age thirty. His widow Betsy remarried ten years later to a man named Edward Low and settled in Leominster, living until 1846.

Samuel Dexter (1756-1825) became an apothecary, married Elizabeth Province in Northampton in 1790, and settled in Albany, New York. She was a daughter of John and Sarah Province of Boston, and thus a sister of the David Province whom George Gailer sued for helping to tar and feather him in 1769, when she was six. How she got to Northampton is a mystery. Samuel and Elizabeth had five children, three living to adulthood. Samuel was the longest-lived of the brothers, and Elizabeth died in 1846.

John Dexter (1758-1807) worked as a quartermaster sergeant for the Continental Army for several years under Col. Timothy Bigelow of Worcester. On 3 Mar 1783 he married a woman from Marlborough named Mary Woods, likely a cousin on his mother’s side, with a justice of the peace from Stow rather than a local minister presiding. John and Mary Dexter’s first daughter arrived in late December, and three more children followed by 1794.

John was a tanner. He gained the militia rank of ensign under Gov. John Hancock. In the 1790s the Dexters moved to Berlin. Then John “went into Trade,” and in 1802 he moved the family into Boston. John died five years later, Mary in 1823. The children all lived well into the latter half of the nineteenth century, but none had children.

John Dexter’s third child was John Haven Dexter (1791-1867), who apprenticed at Benjamin Russell’s Columbian Centinel but then went to work in the mercantile firm of Amos and Abbott Lawrence. J. H. Dexter wrote two books (Mercantile Honor, and Moral Honesty and A Plea for the Horse) and also left several manuscripts of genealogical information and gossip about his family and fellow Bostonians, some helpfully transcribed and published in 1997.

Friday, September 18, 2020

The Short Marriage of Dr. Samuel and Lydia Curtis

In March 1769, as I recounted yesterday, Dr. Ebenezer Dexter of Marlborough died. He left a wife, Lydia, and four young sons.

By July a young physician named Samuel Curtis was boarding in the Dexter house, treating the late doctor’s patients.

On 30 June 1771, the widow Lydia Dexter married Dr. Samuel Curtis. The bride was almost eleven years older than the groom.

The new couple’s neighbors wouldn’t have needed medical training to understand their reason for marrying. Their first child, Anna, arrived on 5 October, or three months and one week later.

Those necessary nuptials didn’t stop Dr. Curtis from gaining his neighbors’ respect, however. In 1772 the Marlborough town meeting put him on its committee of correspondence.

Unfortunately, the Curtis marriage didn’t last long. Not because of incompatibility but because of illnesses.

In August 1772 the Dexters’ youngest son, Jason Haven Dexter, died at the age of ten.

In March 1774, Lydia Curtis gave birth to her second child by Samuel, a daughter named Christian. (Was she named after Loyalist neighbor Christian Barnes?) But within one week in December, the Curtises’ first daughter, Anna; their new baby, Christian; and Lydia all died.

Dr. Samuel Curtis was now the widowed stepfather of three teen-aged boys from Lydia’s first marriage. I don’t know how much the doctor was involved in raising them after that, though. He was putting a lot of his energy into Patriot politics, serving on the town’s committee of correspondence and as a representative to the Middlesex County convention in August 1774.

On 1 Mar 1775, when Henry Barnes tried to shelter two British officers on a clandestine scouting mission, Curtis politely pushed himself into the house and quizzed Barnes’s young niece about those family guests. That September, the Massachusetts government appointed the doctor as a justice of the peace.

In March 1777, Dr. Curtis’s Patriotism took a new turn. He enlisted as a surgeon on the Continental Navy ship Hancock under Capt. John Manley. Joseph Ross has provided a long discussion of Dr. Curtis’s adventures in the navy. It doesn’t agree in all details with the profile of Curtis in Sibley’s Harvard Biographies, so I need more time to sort those out.

But I definitely plan to come back to Dr. Samuel Curtis. He seems to have found drama wherever he went, often by making it himself.

TOMORROW: The Dexter boys.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Young Doctors in Marlborough

Yesterday I introduced the figure of Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, Marlborough’s leading doctor in the 1760s.

On 3 May 1769, however, the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman of nearby Westborough wrote in his diary: “Dr. [Edward] Flynt came from Dr. Dexter, and says the latter will hardly live through the Night.”

Indeed, Dr. Dexter died the next day. On 6 May Parkman reported: “Dr. Dexter was buryed at Marlborough.”

The doctor’s gravestone, shown here courtesy of Find a Grave, says, “He was an Eminent Physician but was Subject unto Death even as other men.”

The doctor’s death left an opening in his town. Two young physicians soon moved into Marlborough, hoping to establish their own practices.

One was Amos Cotting, born in Waltham in 1749 (under the name Cutting, which would have been apt for a surgeon). He graduated from Harvard College in 1767 and then earned his M.A., presumably while studying medicine. Charles Hudson’s history of Marlborough said Cotting came to that town “On the death of Dr. Ebenezer Dexter, 1769,” but he wasn’t on the list of men paying the poll tax in 1770, so he may have arrived later.

The other young doctor was Samuel Curtis, eldest son of the Rev. Philip Curtis of Stoughton. He graduated from Harvard a year before Cotting and also gained an M.A. Curtis was apparently starting to practice medicine in Roxbury when he learned about the sudden opportunity in Marlborough. Hudson quoted from the town’s warning-out records to reveal what happened next:
Dr. Samuel Curtis came to town, June, 1769; came last from Roxbury. Taken in by widow Dexter.
The following month, the Rev. Mr. Parkman rode to Marlborough to see a sick relative, and he also recorded: “Visit Mrs. Dexter and Dr. Curtis who lodges there.”

Curtis had advantages over Cotting in any competition to become the town’s favorite physician. He was slightly older, and as son of a minister instead of a farmer he was probably more genteel. But the big edge appears to have been that he was now living in Dr. Dexter’s house, thus endorsed by Dr. Dexter’s wife, all ready to see Dr. Dexter’s patients.

The widow Dexter was still only in her early thirties, with four young sons to care for and an estate to maintain. Then, in early 1771, Lydia Dexter became pregnant.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Dr. Ebenezer Dexter Practicing Medicine in Marlborough

Ebenezer Dexter was born in 1729, son of the Rev. Samuel Dexter of Dedham.

Ebenezer chose to go into medicine, and after marrying Lydia Woods, daughter of a selectman in Marlborough, he set up his practice in that town. In 1754, the year of their marriage, Ebenezer was twenty-five and Lydia was eighteen.

We can glimpse Dr. Dexter at work in the diary of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman in nearby Westborough. That minister is shown here, and his diary is fully transcribed and annotated at this website.

Westborough’s northern precinct, which would eventually split off as Northborough [stay with me here], had its own meeting and minister, the Rev. John Martyn. On 13 Aug 1756, Parkman wrote about his colleague’s fifteen-year-old son Nathaniel being ill:
Sarah and Suse undertake to go to Mr. Martyn’s: they return at Eve Well. They tell me Natty Martyn, tis feared, grows bad.
Twelve days later, the father traveled to see Dr. Dexter:
Mr. Martyn has carryed down his Son Natty, to Marlborough to Dr. Dexter’s, who gives great Encouragement concerning the Sore, that he Shall effect the Cure of it.
And indeed, almost a year later Parkman mentioned the son again, apparently healthy: “Natty Martyn brought a Letter from Leominster.” Nathaniel Martyn survived and eventually became a doctor himself.

(The trouble in Leominster was that the Rev. John Rogers had turned into an Arminian, or what a later generation would call a Unitarian. This required a council of other ministers and eventually an approval to allow the Leominster congregation to split. But I digress.)

Dr. Ebenezer and Lydia Dexter had four sons between 1755 and 1762: William, Samuel, John, and Jason Haven, the last named after the minister who had succeeded the doctor’s father in Dedham. Dexter also served Marlborough as the town clerk starting in 1768.

But in May 1769, Dr. Dexter, still only thirty-nine years old, fell seriously ill.

TOMORROW: Opening for a young doctor.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

An Acquittal and a Conviction

On 29 Aug 1775, Gen. George Washington told Richard Henry Lee, “I have at this time one Colo., one Major, one Captn, & two Subalterns under arrest for tryal.”

The colonel was John Mansfield of Lynn, originally scheduled to be tried in early August. The major was Scarborough Gridley of Stoughton, in the artillery regiment. As I described yesterday, Gridley had stayed out of the main fighting at Bunker Hill and ordered Mansfield (who had a higher rank) to keep his infantry regiment nearby.

The captain was another artillery officer, Capt. Edward Crafts (1746-1806). He was a younger brother of Thomas Crafts, one of the Loyall Nine who organized the first public protest against the Stamp Act and then remained active in Whig politics. Thomas was an officer in Boston’s militia artillery company, and Edward trained in that unit as a young man.

Edward Crafts was a tinner by profession. He was still in Boston in 1770, when he supplied a deposition for the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. But back in 1768 he had married a country girl, Eliot Winship of Lexington. In 1771 the growing family moved to Worcester. At the end of 1773 Edward became a founding member of the American Political Society, his new town’s new club for Whig politics.

As the province moved toward military conflict in 1774, Worcester put Crafts on a committee to acquire and mount four cannon. He started to train a militia regiment to use those guns. Both Massachusetts Provincial Congress records and spy reports to Gen. Thomas Gage describe a large number of artillery pieces in the town by the spring of 1775.

When war broke out, however, Edward Crafts marched as a private in the town’s minuteman company. Then he returned home and recruited an artillery company to serve through the rest of the year. According to most listings of the Massachusetts artillery regiment under Col. Richard Gridley, Crafts was the senior captain.

That might have given him the stature, and the boldness, to challenge Maj. Scar Gridley. The colonel’s son was nominally fourth in command of the regiment, but in practice he was the colonel’s main aide and protégé. Sometime in the summer of 1775, after Maj. Gridley had behaved so ineffectually at Bunker Hill, he and Capt. Crafts exchanged words and accusations.

That led to the first of a series of court-martial proceedings, starting 1 September. The next day’s general orders announced the verdict:
Capt. Edward Crafts of Col. Gridley’s regiment of Artillery, tried yesterday by a General Court Martial, is acquitted of that part of the Charge against him, which relates to [“]defrauding of his men,” and the Court are also of opinion, that no part of the Charge against the prisoner is proved, except that of using abusive expressions to Major Gridley; which being a breach of the 49th Article of the Rules and Regulations for the Massachusetts Army; sentence the Prisoner to receive a severe reprimand from the Lt Col. of the Artillery in the presence of all the Officers of the regiment and that he at the said time, ask pardon of Major Gridley for the said abusive language.
The lieutenant colonel of the regiment was William Burbeck. I have no idea if he made Capt. Crafts perform this ritual before the end of the month because there was still more legal business to get through.

According to the diary of Lt. Benjamin Crafts (an Essex County cousin of the Crafts brothers from Boston), Col. Mansfield’s court-martial started on 8 September. A week later, on 15 September, the commander’s general orders declared the outcome:
Col. John Mansfield of the 19th Regt of foot, tried at a General Court Martial, whereof Brigdr Genl [Nathanael] Green was president, for “remissness and backwardness in the execution of his duty, at the late engagement on Bunkers-hill”; The Court found the Prisoner guilty of the Charge and of a breach of the 49th Article of the rules and regulations of the Massachusetts Army and therefore sentence him to be cashiered and render’d unfit to serve in the Continental Army.

The General [Washington] approves the sentence and directs it to take place immediately.
Notably, although the Continental Army kicked Mansfield out, the voters of Lynn chose him for their town committee of correspondence, inspection, and safety almost every year until the end of the war, and also voted to have him moderate town meetings.

Likewise, the voters of Newbury sent Samuel Gerrish to the Massachusetts General Court in 1776, the year after the army cashiered him the same way. Those gentlemen’s neighbors felt they still deserved leadership responsibilities.

COMING UP: The trial of Scarborough Gridley.

[The photo above shows the modern marker on Edward Crafts’s grave in Potter, New York, where the family moved in 1792, courtesy of Find a Grave. The original stone also survives there.]

Monday, September 14, 2020

“Remissness and backwardness” at Bunker Hill

On 13 Aug 1775, Gen. George Washington issued orders for a court-martial to take place the following day with Gen. Nathanael Greene presiding.

The defendant was Col. John Mansfield (1721-1809) of Lynn. Three junior officers in his regiment had accused him “of high Crimes and Misdemeanors”—namely “remissness and backwardness in the execution of his duty, at the late engagement on Bunkers-hill.”

But there was a delay. On 17 August, Washington told Greene and the other officers to try Col. Samuel Gerrish instead. There were also hearings on officers of lesser rank in that month. As I discussed last month, Gen. Washington was happy to remove a bunch of officers from the Continental ranks.

On 20 August the commander-in-chief told his cousin and overseer Lund Washington, “there is two more Colos. now under arrest, & to be tried for the same Offences.” One was Mansfield.

Why the delay? The charge against Mansfield also involved Maj. Scarborough Gridley of the artillery regiment, who was a protégé of his father, Col. Richard Gridley. The colonel was highly respected in Massachusetts because of his service in the last two wars, particularly the 1745 siege of Louisbourg. With a half-pay pension from the Crown, he was seen as the equivalent of a British army artillerist. The Massachusetts government had even moved to promote Col. Gridley to major general on 23 June.

Gen. Washington and particularly Gen. Charles Lee were not at all impressed with Col. Gridley’s fortifications and other work when they arrived in Cambridge in July. Washington informed the Continental Congress of Gridley’s new Massachusetts rank but pointedly didn’t endorse it. The Congress commissioned him as a Continental colonel instead. But people still didn’t want to totally alienate Col. Gridley.

What’s more, for a significant time that summer the colonel was home in Stoughton recovering a wound he’d suffered at Bunker Hill. His son Scar was the only liaison between him and the army. So both politically and practically, Maj. Scar Gridley was almost untouchable for a while.

That’s where the incident with Col. Mansfield came in. Mansfield’s failing at the Battle of Bunker Hill was to listen to Maj. Scar Gridley. As Richard Frothingham explained the situation in his History of the Siege of Boston, both officers had been ordered onto the battlefield on the Charlestown peninsula but stopped before crossing the neck:
Major Gridley, of the artillery, inadequate to his position, with part of the battalion, marched a short distance on Cambridge road, then halted, and resolved to cover the retreat, which he thought to be inevitable. Col. [Joseph] Frye, fresh from the battle, urged him forward; but Gridley, appalled by the horrors of the scene, ordered his men to fire at the [Royal Navy ship] Glasgow, and batteries from Cobble Hill. He also ordered Colonel Mansfield to support him with his regiment, who, violating his orders, obeyed.
To convict Mansfield of disobeying higher orders, cowardice, or incompetence would imply that Scar Gridley was guilty of the same charges. And how would his father respond? That might have been why Mansfield’s court martial took so long to get started.

In early September 1775, however, the court-martial proceedings started again. The logjam might have been broken from below as officers in the artillery regiment fired accusations at each other.

TOMORROW: Two trials in two weeks.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Peter Faneuil’s Disability and What It Might Mean

In my recent discussion of Peter Faneuil and the meeting hall still named after him, I referred to him as disabled. That produced some questions. So here’s more on what Faneuil’s contemporaries wrote about his body.

On 3 Mar 1743, Benjamin Walker put in his journal:
Peter Faneuil Esqr, between 2 & 3 o’clock in ye afternoon dyed of a dropsical complyca[tion], he was a fat, squat, Lame, hip short, went with high heeled shoe (In my opinion a great loss too This Town, aged 42, 8m.) & I think by what I have heard has done more charitable deeds than any man yt, ever liv’d in this Town & for whom I am very sorry.
A week later, William Nadir wrote in his almanac:
Thursday 10 [March], buried Peter Faneuil, Esqr., in 43th. year of age, a fatt, corpulent, brown, squat man, hip short, lame from childhood, a very large funeral went round ye Town house; gave no gloves at ye funeral, but sent ye gloves on ye II day, his Cofin cover with black velvet, & plated with yellow plates.
These quotations appear in Abram English Brown’s Faneuil Hall and Faneuil Hall Market, or, Peter Faneuil and His Gift, published in 1900. [I took it upon myself to edit “gave us gloves” to “gave no gloves” because that makes more sense in context.]

I couldn’t find the term “hip short” anywhere else, but it must be the Boston spelling of the eighteenth-century term “hipshot,” defined in different dictionaries as:
  • “is said of a Horse, when he had a wrung or sprain’d his Haunch or Hip, so as to relax the Ligaments that keep the Bone in its due Place.” 
  • “when the hip bone of a horse is moved out of its right place.” 
  • “Sprained or dislocated in the hip.”
The last definition comes from Samuel Johnson’s dictionary and is the only one not explicitly equine.

Thus, putting together the two diary entries (and assuming those men knew what they were writing about), Peter Faneuil was born with one leg shorter than the other. His family was wealthy enough to have shoes made for him with a higher heel for the shorter leg, and for him to go into an office job rather than one that required physical labor. 

Brown and other nineteenth-century authors suggested that Faneuil remained unmarried into his forties because he was “lame,” as well as squat and swarthy (an interpretation of “brown”). There’s also a story that his uncle Andrew Faneuil insisted that his two nephews and heirs remain unmarried. Peter’s brother Benjamin Faneuil definitely married around 1730, and Uncle Andrew definitely left Benjamin all of five shillings in his will. But that story didn’t appear in print until a century and a half after Peter Faneuil’s death as authors tried to arrange the known facts into a meaningful narrative.

It’s quite possible that Peter Faneuil didn’t marry because he just wasn’t interested in marrying. His uncle died in 1738, and he quickly started spending money on himself (wine, chariot, latest London cookbook) and his community (the market building, unspecified other charitable giving). At that point he was one of the richest men in North America. But he was still a bachelor five years later when he died. 

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Upcoming Programs from the Marblehead Museum

The Marblehead Museum’s upcoming online events include two about the Revolutionary period.

Thursday, 17 September, 7:00 P.M.
A Furious Sky: The Five-Hundred-Year History of America’s Hurricanes

Marblehead author Eric Jay Dolin discusses his new book, a history of the American hurricane, or, more specifically, the hurricanes that have hit what is today the United States. It follows the intriguing and at times rather nasty history of meteorology, with advances by gifted amateurs and skilled experts alike. It recounts the death, destruction, and despair caused by hurricanes as well as stories of charity, kindness, humor, and resilience. Finally, it considers how hurricanes have influenced the course of empire, the outcomes of war, and the fortunes of individuals.

Access to this event costs $15, or $12 for Marblehead Museum members. Register through this page.

Thursday, 1 October, 7:00 P.M.
Revolutionary Networks

Prof. Joseph Adelman explores the influence of printers on political ideology in the Revolutionary period. Adelman argues that printers—artisans who mingled with the elite but labored in a manual trade—used their connections to shape political thinking and mobilize the masses. Using a database of 756 artisans to peer into the print shops of colonial America, Adelman shows how those businesspeople balanced their political beliefs and interests against their commercial interests, the customs of the trade, and the prevailing mood of their communities. He details how printers developed networks that helped to create first a revolution and then a new nation.

Access to this event costs $15, or $12 for Marblehead Museum members. Register through this page.

Friday, September 11, 2020

“The Struggle for Freedom” Webinar, 15 and 24 Sept.

The National Parks of Boston and two of the city’s historic house museums, the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury and the Gibson House Museum in the Back Bay, have teamed up to offer a free online presentation on “The Struggle for Freedom: Patriots of Color at Bunker Hill.”

Gabriella Hornbeck and Merrill Kohlhofer of the National Parks of Boston will share their archival research exploring the lives of Barzillai Lew, Jude Hall, Cuff Whittemore, and Cuff Blanchard-Chambers—four black men, some enslaved, some free—and their varied reasons for choosing to fight against the British at the Battle of Bunker Hill in the Revolutionary War.

At the time, the presenters note, the rebel governments offered no explicit promise of increased liberty for black men in return for military service. Nevertheless, over one hundred men of color are documented as serving in the New England army in June 1775.

After the presentation there will be a question-and-answer session, and there will be more information on the resources available for others wanting to explore this thread of American history.

This program will be presented twice:
  • Tuesday, 15 September, at 12:00 noon
  • Thursday, 24 September, at 7:00 P.M.
To sign up for either session, visit this site.

This program is sponsored by the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

“When Washington Went to War at Sea” at Historic Beverly, 14 Sept.

On Monday, 14 September, I’ll deliver an online presentation through Historic Beverly on “When Washington Went to War at Sea: How Beverly Became the General’s Naval Base.”

Our teaser:
In the fall of 1775, Gen. George Washington adopted a new strategy to drive the British army out of Boston—attacking its supply ships at sea.

The semi-secluded cove of Beverly was the first base for those missions, and soldiers from Essex County sailed out on armed schooners to hunt British ships. This talk looks at the ups and downs of America’s first naval campaign, overseen by a general who never saw the ships he commissioned.
I’m drawing this talk from the National Park Service study I wrote about Washington’s work in Cambridge.

The online session is scheduled to start at 7:00 P.M. A Historic Beverly membership or $10 donation provides access to it. Sign up through this page before 5:00 on Monday the 14th.

This talk is moored to Historic Beverly’s exhibit of paintings of the Revolutionary War created for Henry Cabot Lodge’s 1898 book The Story of the Revolution. Lodge commissioned a select group of American illustrators to paint images of crucial moments in the war. Those pictures are all now owned by Historic Beverly.

Interestingly, while some of those artists worked in full color, others created their images in black and white, or what today we’d call “grayscale,” sometimes with splashes of red for the British army uniforms. That made those pictures easier to reproduce in Lodge’s book. Above, for example, is a detail of a picture of Gen. Washington reviewing his troops by Hugh W. Ditzler (1871-1949).

Historic Beverly is displaying at its 1781 John Cabot House two dozen of those paintings and additional period artifacts, including one of the first copies of the Declaration of Independence printed in Massachusetts, commissioned by the state government from Ezekiel Russell. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, the society couldn’t welcome visitors to its sites for some months this year, but folks can visit this exhibit in its final weeks.

In addition, on Thursday, 24 September, at 4:00 P.M. curator Abby Battis will offer an online peek of the exhibit, walking through the display space, discussing the artists, and showing several paintings in the collection that didn’t make it into the main exhibit except for this final week. That online event will be live on Historic Beverly’s Facebook page, and it’s free to all.

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

The Cradle of Liberty’s Doorways into the Past

In the early designs of Faneuil Hall, I believe, the bottom level of the building was surrounded by a series of arches open to the air. In the 1800s some of those arches were turned into windows, others into doors.

I once heard Massachusetts Historical Society president Bill Fowler say to members on a tour of the fire-suppression system, “Each of these tanks represents a naming opportunity.” In the same way, I propose, each of those doors is a chance to honor more Bostonians who contributed to the Cradle of Liberty and to tell the public more about its history.

Now here’s where not being able to visit the hall easily these days gets in my way. I’m not sure how many doors there are and which offer public access. Photographs indicate there are three doors on the west side (facing Congress Street) and five on the east side (facing Quincy Market), plus a ramp to a door on the north for people with limited mobility. There are probably other doors on the north and south sides, but perhaps not for the public.

So here’s a proposal on designating those doors in the Hall Formerly Known as Faneuil.

We can name the three central entrances on the east side “The Freeholders’ Entrance,” “The People’s Entrance,” and “The Inhabitants’ Entrance.” That would reflect the three types of meetings that took place in Faneuil Hall when it was the seat of Boston’s government:
  • ordinary town meetings, described in official records as “a Meeting of the Inhabitants of the Town of Boston, at Faneuil Hall,…”
  • meetings of inhabitants meeting a higher property requirement (“freeholders”) to elect Boston’s representatives to the Massachusetts General Court.
  • meetings of “the Body of the People” with no legal authority but expressing popular sentiment on non-importation, tea, slavery, and other issues. 
For visitors, the different designations on those doors could spur questions about who had a voice in Boston’s government.

The remaining two doors on the east side could be named to honor the selectmen and the town clerk (and other employees) who kept Boston’s government running. Ideally, those portals would be close to the selectmen’s and clerk’s chambers, but I don’t know if that’s possible. I’m tempted to name the entrances in specific honor of:
  • William Cooper, town clerk from 1761 to 1809, or more than half the time Faneuil Hall was the seat of Boston’s government.
  • Harbottle Dorr as representative of all the selectmen in that period, if only so we could refer to “the Dorr Door.”
Over on the west side, I propose to call the central door, right behind the statue of Samuel Adams, the Adams Entrance. The Boston town meeting was Adams’s main base of support. Of course, his surname prompts thoughts of his relatives from Braintree, but they had much less to do with Faneuil Hall.

Another west door would become the Nell Entrance in honor of William Cooper Nell, Boston historian and civil rights activist. In response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision, Nell organized a commemoration of the Boston Massacre inside the hall in 1858, one of many protests he led in the ante-bellum period. Nell also wrote two books about African-American soldiers in the Revolutionary War, arguing that black men had always contributed to the nation and deserved equal rights within it.

The third door on the west side would be the Stone Entrance in honor of Lucy Stone, advocate not only for racial equality but for extending the vote to the half of the population who are women. She organized and spoke at the New England Women’s Tea Party held in Faneuil Hall on 15 Dec 1873, timing the event to the centenary of the most famous Boston Tea Party. Like Nell, Stone used the building’s Revolutionary fame to advance rights for more Americans.

Along the sides, I’d call one door the Peter Faneuil Entrance (or Exit), acknowledging his original gift to Boston. This could be in the portion of the building that he originally funded. That designation would allow signage to discuss both his gift to Boston and the businesses that money came from.

I’d name another side doorway as the Bulfinch Entrance, recognizing Charles Bulfinch, the local architect who expanded the hall to its present dimensions in 1806.

If there are more side doors, there are other historic figures associated with the Cradle of Liberty. James Otis, Jr., was very active at Boston town meetings during the 1760s, and the city may lack monuments that reflect his importance. Wendell Phillips came to prominence with anti-slavery speeches in Faneuil Hall. Boston politics owes a lot to Elisha Cooke, Sr., and Elisha Cooke, Jr., organizers of the town’s first political machine, though neither lived to see Faneuil Hall.

And there may well be other figures I haven’t thought of. There may be convincing arguments besides historical inertia for retaining the building’s original name and set-up. This proposal is just my attempt to communicate through public memorials at a prominent civic site how:

  • Our society no longer overlooks the enslaved people who suffered for Peter Faneuil’s wealth.
  • We maintain the memory of local slavery and the efforts it took to correct it.
  • We recognize historical change and the possibility of change in the future.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

A Call for the Cradle of Liberty

Having laid out the history of the name “Faneuil Hall” and my principles for changing historic memorials, I’m going to share my thoughts on whether to rename that building because of Peter Faneuil’s slave-dealing.

First off, I think naming the whole complex “Faneuil Hall Marketplace” gives the man too much credit. I was actually surprised to find that was the official name and that “Quincy Market” applied to only the central 1820s building. Mayor Josiah Quincy did a lot more to develop Boston than Peter Faneuil did.

But what about the original building that Faneuil paid for? (Or, rather, the much expanded successor to that building, as shown in this photo from Archipedia New England.)

If the community decides to rename that building, I feel strongly that the Faneuil Hall name shouldn’t completely disappear. And not just because so many history books and tourist guides have used it. If we New Englanders really cared about tourists knowing where they are, we’d put up more street signs.

Rather, the change should remain visible for the reasons I listed back here: the overlap of old and new names would more clearly communicate the change, the reasons behind it, and the process of historical change, hopefully for the better. To answer Mayor Marty Walsh’s 2018 objection to renaming the site, people would know why the city did it.

And let’s face it—even with a new official name we’ll still call the site “Faneuil Hall” a lot of the time until we die. We’re not good at giving up names here. Just look at “Bell Circle” in Revere; that local name endured for decades after the eponymic tire dealership nearby closed, despite not appearing on any signs or maps. Eventually it lasted so long a new development adopted it, and Bell Circle became official.

For another example, here’s a 2012 article providing directions to the Massachusetts Historical Society via the “Auditorium Stop,” which had been officially renamed twenty-two years earlier. In five years naming rights for the T.D. Garden, formerly FleetCenter, will be up for bid again, but we’re all going to keep calling it “the Garden,” right?

What should the new name be? To gather proposals, I looked at news articles about the renaming campaign and even took the risk of reading the comments.

Kevin Peterson, an early advocate of the change, has suggested renaming the hall after Crispus Attucks, killed in the Boston Massacre. Attucks’s body, along with James Caldwell’s, lay in Faneuil Hall before their funeral in March 1770. Attucks is far from forgotten in Boston, however. There’s a large monument to the victims of the Massacre on Boston Common, a prominent stone in the Granary Burying-Ground, and a wide marker in the sidewalk near the Old State House. Of the five or six people killed, Attucks is the one whose name is most familiar to Americans today.

Another suggestion that I’ve seen is “Douglass Hall,” after Frederick Douglass. He indeed spoke against slavery in the meeting hall several times. But Douglass spoke a lot of places—he spent years as a professional orator. Douglass lived in New Bedford; Lynn; Rochester, New York; and Washington, D.C., but never in Boston. To me seizing on his name looks too much like an attempt to claim a celebrity just when he’s getting recognized more and more. There are abolitionists with stronger ties to Boston.

I saw one suggestion coming from multiple people: “The Cradle of Liberty.” Authors have applied that sobriquet to the building since 1835 at least. (Previous to that, as I traced in this posting, the term was used to mean Boston, Massachusetts, and even Great Britain.) “The Cradle of Liberty” is boastful, to be sure, but historic and recognizable. It also highlights the question of freedom at the heart of the famous debates within Faneuil Hall and this debate about its name. So far that strikes me as the best possibility.

So my starting point is “The Cradle of Liberty (formerly Faneuil Hall).” But I wouldn’t stop there. I think the building offers the chance to recognize more people and more history.

TOMORROW: Doorways into the past.

Monday, September 07, 2020

The Long History of the Faneuil Hall Name

Boston’s Faneuil Hall is different from most other landmarks and monuments bearing slaveholders’ names because in most cases those sites arose from a later generation choosing to honor a person.

Sometimes that act is meant to elevate a local hero, as in Albany’s statue of Gen. Philip Schuyler. Sometimes it’s a way for a locality to bask in the celebrity of an established hero, as in George Washington High School in San Francisco. And sometimes it’s an attempt to vindicate a particular ideology, as in the big statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, erected in 1890.

But none of those approaches apply to Faneuil Hall. Peter Faneuil was a wealthy Boston merchant with no wife or children who in 1740 offered to pay for a new marketplace and meeting hall. Since a crowd of protesters had destroyed the market building at Dock Square only three years before, that offer required some discussion. The space for town meetings was obviously an attempt to make the market stalls acceptable. Bostonians barely voted to accept Faneuil’s money.

The new building opened at the old space in September 1742. By this time the town meeting was happy to have it. Future governor Thomas Hutchinson moved that the hall be named after its donor, “at all times hereafter.” The town approved that proposal, also commissioning a portrait by John Smibert and a Faneuil coat of arms to hang inside.

Peter Faneuil died unexpectedly the following year. He was a major player in Boston’s business community in the 1730s, and at his death people said he had been charitable. But he played no role in the local historical developments that get the most attention: not the Puritan settlement, not the Revolution, not even the witchcraft trials or first smallpox inoculations. Most Faneuil family members became Loyalists.

Aside from funding the hall, I don’t see evidence of Peter Faneuil doing anything else of importance. The Faneuil Hall name is thus more like how Gillette Stadium hypes the highest corporate bidder than like how the Washington Monument honors the first President.

That name might even give Peter Faneuil too much credit. In January 1761 the building burned. (This was less than a year after the great fire that started at the Sign of the Brazen Head.) The town decided to rebuild within the surviving walls, this time adding a slate roof. For funds, the province authorized a lottery; advertisements for the periodic ticket sales and prize drawings appear throughout the Revolutionary period. But the building was still called Faneuil Hall.

In 1806, that meeting hall was greatly expanded from the 1761 design shown above to its present dimensions, growing both up and out. But the building was still called Faneuil Hall.

In the 1820s the first Mayor Josiah Quincy pushed for Boston—now a city—to build new stone buildings to the east of the hall, creating much more market space. The central domed building is called Quincy Market. But the whole collection of buildings is called Faneuil Hall Marketplace.

In sum, Peter Faneuil funded the first version of one corner of the smallest of four buildings in the complex, but his name is on the whole thing.

Or is it? We probably don’t remember his name accurately. The Faneuil originally pronounced their name with French vowels. The British, or more particularly Yankee British, changed that, as I discussed back here. Smibert, Robert Love, and other Boston contemporaries wrote it out as “Funnel.” In the nineteenth century people rediscovered some version of the French original, but its spelling and pronunciation remain a special challenge.

We thus use the Faneuil Hall name not out of admiration for Peter Faneuil and all he was—native New Yorker, child of Huguenot refugees, disabled bachelor, Anglican convert, merchant trading with the Caribbean, slave trader. We use the name simply because that’s what we all grow up calling that building. And the building has become much more famous than its namesake.

Since important Revolutionary events occurred inside that space, the name of Faneuil Hall is in American history books. The site is on the Freedom Trail. It’s an anchor of Boston National Historical Park. And the civic building continues to fulfill its original purpose—drawing customers to the nearby shops.

TOMORROW: So what can we call it?

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Dr. Charles Hall, Regimental Surgeon, and Cleft Lips

On 6 Sept 1770, 250 years ago today, the Boston News-Letter carried this news item:
A few weeks since the Operation for the Hare-Lip was performed to great Perfection on a young Man in Milton near Brush-Hill; and a Child in Boston has received as much Benefit from the Operation as the Case would admit of, by Mr. HALL Surgeon to the 14th Regiment.——

The Impression these unhappy Sights are apt to make on married Women, should be an Inducement to have this Defect in Nature rectified early in Life, as there are numerous Instances of the Mother’s Affection having impressed her Offspring with the like Deformity.
This event shows up in histories of plastic surgery as the earliest recorded American examples of operations to repair cleft lips. It’s striking how that medical breakthrough was still accompanied by an antique warning that the condition was contagious—pregnant women might see people with cleft lips and pass the trait on to their babies!

The surgeon who did these operations was Dr. Charles Hall. He had cared for the men of the 14th Regiment at least since 1758, when he was in his late twenties. In 1768, while the regiment was in Halifax, Hall treated one soldier for a compound fracture of the arm, sawing off “between two and three inches of the whole substance of the Tibia” but reporting that after about five months that limb was “but very little shorter than the other.” Eighteenth-century medicine was not for the faint-hearted.

Dr. Hall presumably came to Boston with the regiment in October 1768. He shows up in the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, in the deposition of leather-dresser Ephraim Fenno:
on Friday the ninth instant [i.e., of March], as I was going home by the hospital in the Common, I saw Doctor Hall, surgeon of the 14th regiment, looking out of his window, who said to me, dirty travelling, neighbour!

Yes, Sir, returned I.

He asked me what news in town?

I told him I heard nothing but what he knew already, that the talk was about the people that were murdered.

He then asked me if the people of the town were not easier?

I replied, I believed not, nor would be till all the soldiers had left the town.

He then asked me, if I heard whether the 14th regiment was going?

I answered, yes—for the people would not Be quiet till they were all gone.

He said, the town’s people had always used the soldiers ill, which occasioned this affair; and said, I wish, that instead of killing five or six, they had killed five hundred, damn me if I don’t.
Weeks after the Boston Massacre, the 14th Regiment moved to Castle William, and Dr. Hall probably went with them.

The Boston News-Letter article about Hall’s surgeries on cleft lips provided a little positive press for the army. The reference to “Brush-Hill” is notable; that was acting governor Thomas Hutchinson’s country estate.

The 14th Regiment remained at Castle William until 1772, then went to St. Vincent. In 1775, at the start of the Revolutionary War, its men fought at the Battle of Great Bridge in Virginia. The next year, the 14th was part of Gen. William Howe’s force at New York, and in 1777 the regiment returned to Britain to recruit more men.

Toward the end of the war, in 1782, the Crown sent the 14th Regiment to Jamaica. Dr. Charles Hall was promoted from the regiment to the army hospital on that island on Christmas Day. One year later he retired, going on half-pay. In 1795 the doctor wrote a letter from Nantwich, a small town in central England. Hall died in 1805 at the age of seventy-six.

(The picture above comes from a 1748 French manual of surgery, shown in Blaire O. Rogers’s “Treatment of Cleft Lip and Palate during The Revolutionary War,” downloadable as a P.D.F. file.)

Saturday, September 05, 2020

The Power of Preserved Iconoclasm

Back in December 2015 I wrote several postings on incorporating the power of iconoclasm—the destruction of images—into historical monuments and commemorations.

Those thoughts were provoked by a talk by Wendy Bellion, author of Iconoclasm in New York: Revolution to Reenactment, who started with New Yorkers pulling down a statue of King George III after their first public reading of the Declaration of Independence.

Then, she noted, the city kept that plinth empty for decades, reenacted the destruction in ceremonies (which entailed creating new statues of George III), and collected and displayed the surviving bits of statuary. The remnants and recreations kept that destructive act and its meaning fresh in people’s eyes.

Incorporating the power of such iconoclasm is more than the one-time, permanent destruction of a statue or monument. It means finding a way to preserve the act of iconoclasm itself, thus recognizing the original object, the popular objections to it, and how society changed.

One of my favorite examples of this approach is in the Memorial Hall Museum in Deerfield, where updated cloth panels now hang over the original stone panels on a memorial to the 1704 raid on the town. Visitors can thus learn about that event, about how it was understood in the late 1800s, and about how we can view it today with added knowledge and multiple perspectives.

There are spontaneous examples of such iconoclasm, as when college students feathered a statue of Thomas Jefferson with Post-It notes registering their distaste with some aspects of his life. The result recognizes both Jefferson’s lasting importance and how he exploited other people. This year the plinth of the giant statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond was likewise turned into an expression of community rejection of what Confederate general fought for.

Lasting iconoclasm can even be built into a monument from the start, as in the Saratoga Battle Monument, which has niches for four statues of American commanders but only three statues (of Horatio Gates, Philip Schuyler, and Daniel Morgan). Nearby is the Boot Monument, erected in 1887 in honor of an American general wounded in the Battle of Saratoga but never named on the stone. The missing man is Benedict Arnold, and the way he’s erased shows the national distaste for how he betrayed the Continental Army.

Vulture just highlighted another example of monumental iconoclasm from Australia, an outdoor exhibit that ends this weekend. This year is the Sestercentennial of Capt. James Cook’s first landfall on Australia. Statues of him have become controversial not so much for what he himself did on that continent but for the imperial conquest that his arrival launched and the idea that he “discovered” and “claimed” an already populated continent.

As a response to that 250th anniversary, Nicholas Galanin, an Alaskan artist, dug a hole in a field on Cockatoo Island (shown above) that matches the prominent statue of Capt. Cook elsewhere in Sydney. The work is called “Shadow on the Land.” It’s also a symbolic grave for the monument. This work certainly doesn’t celebrate Cook, of course, but it can’t help but acknowledge his historic significance. Imagine it dug permanently at the foot of the actual statue.

Closer to home, the city of Charleston removed its large statue of slavery advocate John C. Calhoun and more recently pulled down the towering pillar it rested on. Segments of the granite column buried themselves in the ground. I believe the city has already started moving those stones away, but I think for a moment the spontaneous ruin formed a more powerful monument to historical change than anything the city could build in that spot.
COMING UP: What do we do with a problem like Faneuil?