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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Sunday, January 26, 2020

An “Extraordinary Proposal” from Lt. Gov. Hutchinson

The political prospects of non-importation veered wildly back and forth in the middle of January 1770.

As I’ve been tracing, the month opened with the town’s initial public agreement not to import goods from Britain expiring, a few shopkeepers openly defying the boycott, and some wealthy merchants decidedly lukewarm on it.

Of the top merchants on the original non-importation committee, rumors said that John Hancock and John Barrett had become “cool in the cause.” Thomas Cushing and Edward Payne had “deserted” it. John Rowe had trimmed his sails so much he was dining with Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson.

To regain control, the town’s political organizers called a big public meeting, taking the movement away from the merchants and bringing in the wider public. In a show of popular support, hundreds of men massed outside one of the importers’ shops. At the end of 17 January, the acting governor’s sons, Thomas Hutchinson, Jr., and Elisha Hutchinson, told representatives of the meeting that they were once again willing to cooperate.

Just one day later, however, the Hutchinsons were back to being defiant. Their father told the crowd in the king’s name to disperse from outside his house. The people then visited six other importers, but they all refused to yield their goods. That evening, supporters of the royal government thought the boycott would soon fall apart.

But then the acting governor shifted his stance. On the morning of 19 January, according to a Crown informant, Hutchinson sent for William Phillips, the moderator of those public meetings (shown above), and a member of the merchants’ inspection committee. He “told them that upon consideration he was now ready to make his Sons deliver up to the Committee what they had in their store and the Cash for the part they had sold.”

The Crown source, who appears to have been reporting to Customs Collector Joseph Harrison, called the acting governor’s change an “extraordinary proposal,” a “sudden and unexpected step” that “struck every person with astonishment.” According to that observer:
it was well known that the most zealous partizans of the faction had given up all hopes of carrying their point the Night before, and that their only intention of meeting this day was to pass a few resolves to publish in the Newspapers as a justification of their Conduct to the other Collonies.
The informant might overstate how little hope the top Whigs had felt, but the governor’s cooperation was still an overnight reversal.

Bernard Bailyn’s Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson says nothing about this moment, which would soon be overshadowed by many other events of 1770. The best analysis seems to be in John W. Tyler’s Smugglers and Patriots.

It looks to me like Lt. Gov. Hutchinson felt that honor required his sons to cooperate with the non-importation committee for two reasons. First, Thomas, Jr., and Elisha had reached some sort of agreement on 17 January to turn over their tea. Their father reviewed the notes of that discussion. I suspect he felt that the young men were now duty-bound to stick to those terms.

Second, the acting governor knew he was vulnerable to charges of conflict of interest. If he took any steps to support the town’s importers, the Whigs could complain he was abusing his office to benefit his sons. Indeed, Hutchinson had invested a large chunk of money in his sons’ business. By taking Thomas, Jr., and Elisha out of the dispute, Lt. Gov. Hutchinson later explained, he had more leeway to protect the remaining importers.

Of course, the immediate effect the Hutchinsons’ cave-in was that the other importers got nervous. They saw the acting governor and his well-connected sons yielding to the Whigs. It was all very well for Lt. Gov. Hutchinson to say he would support them more strongly now—but would he really? Meanwhile, the “Body of the Trade” in Faneuil Hall continued to grow, amounting to “more than Twelve Hundred Persons” on 19 January, according to the Boston Gazette.

That morning, Nathaniel Cary sent the public meeting a letter to say he was turning over his imported goods to the committee. Late in the day Benjamin Greene followed suit. Deacon Phillips had moved quickly to take the Hutchinsons’ tea inventory. That left only four importers still in defiance: William Jackson, Theophilus Lillie, John Taylor, and Nathaniel Rogers.

The “Body of the People” and their leaders recognized victory. They quickly accepted those merchants’ offers and adjourned the meeting until Tuesday.

COMING UP: The battle rejoined.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Confrontation at Governor Hutchinson’s House

When we left the “Body of the Trade” in Faneuil Hall yesterday, Whig leader William Molineux had just threatened to storm out of the meeting and kill himself.

Molineux wanted to lead the body to Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion in the North End (shown here) and confront the lieutenant governor’s sons, Thomas, Jr., and Elisha, about their plan to leave the non-importation agreement.

Josiah Quincy, Jr., warned that marching on the acting governor’s house was tantamount to treason. Molineux’s radical colleagues disagreed, but the rich merchants and town officials—even John Hancock—were still reluctant. Or maybe they just disliked Molineux’s confrontational approach.

Molineux’s dramatic gesture was met by an equally dramatic response from the radical Dr. Thomas Young, according to a Crown report now in Harvard’s Houghton Library:
Dr. Young call’d out stop Mr. M[olineu]x stop Mr. M[olineu]x for the love of God stop Mr. M[olineu]x. Gentlemen, If Mr. M[olineu]x leaves us we are forever undone, this day is the last dawn of liberty we ever shall see.

Mr. M[olineu]x was upon this prevail’d upon to return and the following Persons agreed to serve on their Committee vizt. Mr. M[olineu]x Deacon [William] Phillips, [James] Otis, S[amuel]. Adams and Saml Austin
That group was still mostly politicians, not merchants, but they were all upper-class. And they weren’t going alone.
about 1/2 past 2 o’Clock the above persons attended by upwards of 1000 people of much the same stamp of those who waited upon [William] Jackson the day before, set out for the Lt. Govr’s house, when they came before the door the Lt. Govr. open’d one of his Windows and ask’d of them what they wanted;

M[olineu]x replied that it was not him but his Sons that they desired to see—

the Lt. Govr. addressing himself to the whole spoke to the following purport, Gent. do you know that I am the representative of the King of Great Britain the greatest monarch on earth, and in his name require you to desperse—
Which is of course the exact thing that Quincy had warned could happen. But Molineux wasn’t deterred.
about this time his Sons came also to the window when M[olineu]x read to them the vote No. 1 and the demand which immediately follows it [as quoted yesterday]—

the Sons answer’d that they had nothing to say to them—

the Lt. Govr. asked for a Copy of the vote but was told by M[olineu]x that he was intrusted with only the original and was not at liberty to give a copy.
That document could, of course, have been evidence in a trial.
The Lt. Govr. also observ’d to Otis that he was greatly surprised to see him there, who cou’d not be ignorant of the illegality of such proceedings, and further added that he had there in his Eye six or seven People who had been accessory to the pulling down of his house—
That was back in August 1765 during the Stamp Act riots. Hutchinson, who was also a historian, never forgot.

The crowd retired from that house but visited the other defiant importers: Jackson, Nathaniel Cary, Benjamin Greene, Theophilus Lillie, John Taylor, and the governor’s nephew Nathaniel Rogers. They “receiv’d no satisfactory answer from any one of them.” Most didn’t even open their doors. Lillie said that “he had nothing left but his Life, which he would deliver up if they pleas’d.”

Molineux and the “Body of the Trade” seemed to be stymied. According to the Crown informant:
This Evening the friends of Government thought they had gain’d a compleat victory, and numbers of the most considerable Merchts. in the British trade who had hitherto been silent could not help publickly declaring that they now hoped they were releas’d from their bondage as they were convinced should the Hutchinsons, Jackson, and others mention’d before, stand out for a few days that great numbers would join them
Was this the end of non-importation?

TOMORROW: A private deal.

Friday, January 24, 2020

William Molineux and “the legality of the proceedings”

On the morning of 18 Jan 1770, Boston’s Whigs thought that Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s sons, Thomas, Jr., and Elisha, had agreed to put their inventory of imported tea into the hands of the committee enforcing the non-importation boycott.

That would be a big win for the radicals who were pushing non-importation as a way to oppose the Townshend duties. It looked like their big public meeting in Faneuil Hall had worked.

But then the Hutchinsons shifted. According to an anonymous Crown informant, “This morning Trucks were sent down by the committee to the Governors house to bring up the Tea, but the sons by this time had alter’d their mind and refused delivering it up.”

Back in Faneuil Hall, the Whigs were continuing the previous day’s meeting by adjournment—“and the number was larger than before,” the Boston Gazette claimed. Around noon they heard about the Hutchinsons’ new stance. Other merchants were already defying the committee. This trend had to be stopped.

The radical leader William Molineux read a motion condemning the Hutchinsons and other merchants defying the boycott:
by this their unjustifiable and perfidious conduct, [they] have forfeited all confidence, esteem and favour, from the Merchants & others their fellow-citizens and countrymen,…[and] have acted in conjunction with placemen, pensioners, and other tools and dependants, upon a firm and settled plan to entail upon the present and future generations, BONDAGE, MISERY and RUIN.
The “Body of the Trade” approved that language unanimously.

The meeting then turned to appointing a committee to “orderly and decently repair” to those importers’ shops, read the resolution, and demand that they turn over their goods. And things got heated.

In 1770 Josiah Quincy, Jr. (shown above), was a rising young lawyer from Braintree. Just three months before, he  had married Abigail Phillips, daughter of the meeting moderator, William Phillips. Quincy was usually a strong advocate for Whig policy. But this afternoon he saw danger. According to that Crown informant:
[Quincy] stood up and declared that their going in a Body to the Lieut. Governors house to demand the Goods from his Sons was an Act of high treason and that the Hutchinsons whose name they had long had reason to dread had laid this trap in order to ensnare them.
Confronting the Hutchinsons at their father’s house was legally different from how Molineux had led men to the shop of William Jackson the day before, Quincy warned. Lt. Gov. Hutchinson was now the acting governor, and thus the representative of the king in Massachusetts. Confronting him in a crowd was tantamount to open rebellion against the Crown.

Other men at the meeting disagreed:
M[olineu]x and [Samuel] Adams insisted on the legality of the proceedings: the former observing that he could compare the Signers of the Non Importation agreement to nothing but a flock of sheep, six of whom had broke out of the fold, and that he was sorry to say that unless these were brought back all the rest were ready to follow their example, that they seem’d to wish for an opportunity—

[Town clerk William] Cooper next spoke as follows, that the people of New England had all along taken the lead, and should they now give up their name which had hitherto been highly esteem’d, not only throughout the Colonies but throughout the whole world, would be for ever detested & abhorred—

Quincy still persisted in his opinion, and offered to support what he had said by the best authorities in the Law—also appealing to Justice [Richard] Dana & Mr. [James] Otis; the former gave no answer, the latter made a speech upon the occasion, but no body could understand from what he said whether he condemned or approved of the measure—

M[olineu]x at last seem’d to give up the point of Law but insisted be that as it would, that as there was no other way of getting redress they ought therefore to prosecute their scheme—

Doctor [Thomas] Young next spoke to the follg. effect, that such people as counteracted the general measures should be depriv’d of existence, and that it was high time for the People to take the Govermt. into their own hands, to whom it properly belong’d.
The most aggressive Whigs thus insisted on confronting the Hutchinsons in the name of the people, whatever the legal niceties. But they still needed support from wealthy merchants and officials to look as respectable as possible. And those gentlemen were wary.
Quincy’s speech seem’d to alarm almost every person of the meeting insomuch that it was with the utmost difficulty they could get any person to serve on the committee to go to the Lt. Governors house—several persons were voted by the populace but declined acting: amongst these were John Hancock and Henderson Inches. Philips and Otis also at first refused but were afterwards perswaded to accept—

M[olineu]x who little expected this opposition, and finding matters likely to go against him, stood up upon a Bench an exclaim’d to the following effect, is this the way I am to be serv’d; I am surprised, greatly surprised to see you Gent. so backward, for my part I could spend the last Drop of my blood to save the liberties of my Country; but as I find those very People who were bound to support me now about forsaking me, I will no more interest myself with your Affairs; and jump’d down from the Bench on which he stood seemingly in a violent aggitation declaring he would go home, and he did not know what might be the consequences, insinuating that he would cut his throat:
Molineux had trouble distinguishing his own interests from the public good. This made him throw himself into what he thought were worthwhile causes. It also meant he took any opposition or obstacle to those causes as personal affronts, as on this afternoon. And he was apparently willing to suggest he might kill himself.

TOMORROW: Everybody calm down.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

“The whole Body consisting of about 1000 Men”

On 16 Jan 1770, the Boston Whigs circulated handbills for a new public meeting about non-importation. In Faneuil Hall, no less.

The town’s merchants had launched the non-importation boycott back in 1768, as a response to the Townshend duties, and kept it going all through 1769. However, this meeting wasn’t confined to the merchants—i.e., the men who traded with other ports.

Instead, the gathering on 17 January was open to “the Body of the Trade,” or everyone doing business in Boston. The Whigs’ Boston Gazette said the merchants needed to be “properly supported in their generous, self-denying and patriotic agreement,” so the meeting included “all others who were concerned in or connected with trade.”

The wealthy merchants were now well outnumbered by shopkeepers and craftsmen. A Crown informant attended and reported “the meeting was very numerous, but consisted chiefly of the lower sett of people.” Basically, this event was a town meeting without the name or official sanction—and with double the normal attendance because of public interest.

Business proceeded as in a town meeting. The first act was to elect a moderator: William Phillips, a respected merchant, deacon, and staunch Whig.

The meeting then heard from the “Committee of Inspection” set up to police the boycott. Those men reported that five merchants “had open’d and sold a part of their Goods which they had agree’d to keep in their Stores till the general importation should take place”: John Taylor, Theophilus Lillie, William Jackson, Nathaniel Cary, and Nathaniel Rogers. All five importers declined invitations to join the gathering.

If those men wouldn’t come to the meeting, the body decided, the meeting would go to them. According to the informant, whose report is now among the Sparks Manuscripts at Harvard:
[William] M[olineu]x was chose the person to speak in behalf of the whole. . . . the whole Body consisting of about 1000 Men of the very refuse of the town march’d from Faniuel Hall up King Street to the Shop of Mr. Jackson—they were headed by their chairman Phillips, Jonathan Mason & H[enderson]. Inches both select men, Wm. Dennie & Wm. M—x—

Jackson had previously shut his doors but spoke to them from an upper window. M—x demanded that he should open his doors and admit him and som other Genl. to take possession of his Goods, which he said they had an undoubted right to—

Jackson answer’d that he would not open his door at present nor give up his Goods.

M—x then spoke to him as follows, Sir, do you know that I am at the head of 2000 Men, and that it is beneath the dignity of this committee to be parlied with in the street; and then turn’d about and march’d in the same procession with his retinue to Faniuel Hall as he came from it.
Well, that was productive. I should mention that William Jackson was calling out a window above his hardware shop at the Sign of the Brazen Head.

Meanwhile, back in Faneuil Hall a committee was dealing with good news from acting governor Thomas Hutchinson’s sons, Thomas, Jr., and Elisha, who imported tea:
Capt. [Nathaniel] Greenwood a mast maker at the Northend came into the meeting and told them that he was just come from Mr. Hutchinsons who had authoriz’d him to tell them that they were ready to deliver up what Tea remain’d in their Store, and the cash for what was sold—a committee was immediately order’d to wait on them and take their answer in writing—
The Whigs were excited about the Hutchinsons’ cooperation, “it being universally believ’d that if they stood out [i.e., stopped defying the non-importation movement] all the others would follow their example.”

The Crown informant identified the main speakers at this meeting as “M—x their general, Dr. [Thomas] Young, [Samuel] Adams & two or three others”—radical Whigs rather than merchants. (Molineux had been a merchant, but these days he was making his money mostly by managing properties for Charles Ward Apthorp of New York while running a publicly subsidized spinning and weaving enterprise.)

The informant concluded, “The Sons of Liberty were this evening in high spirits at the victory gain’d over the Hutchinsons.” But “it is said Jackson, Lillie & Taylor sent a message to the Hutchinsons finding fault with their promising to submit to the committee, and at the same time acquainting them that they were determined to stand out.”

TOMORROW: Confrontation in the North End.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Non-Importation in the New Year

At the end of 1769, the Boston merchants’ non-importation agreement ran out. But the Townshend duties were still in effect, so the Whigs insisted on maintaining that boycott into the new year.

That required leaning on people who wanted to resume regular business. After John Mein’s 1769 publications accused leading merchants of importing goods, the Whigs couldn’t allow any exceptions.

One threat to the town’s united front came from two Glasgow ships’ captains who wanted to commission new vessels from local shipyards, producing lots of jobs. They asked the merchants’ committee to approve importing what was necessary for those ships. A Crown informant reported:
A petition to that effect was immediately sett on foot by some of the tradesmen, and in a few hours was subscribed by upwards of 70 people. In the evening they met to fix the manner in which it was to be presented, when [John] Ruddock a Justice of the Peace and one of the Select Men of the town went to them and assuring the person who had been most active in promoting the subscription that he was ruining himself & his Country insisted on his delivering up the Petition which he immediately destroy’d, and such was his influence amongst these people that not one of them made any objections to his violent proceedings.
So much for those seventy signatures.

The merchants’ committee had pressured almost all of Boston’s importers into storing any goods that had arrived from Britain in 1769 under lock and key until… Well, there was a dispute about how long that commitment was for. The committee insisted the promise should last until they called off non-importation. Some tradespeople said they had promised only until the end of the year.

Benjamin Greene and his son had received a large order of dry goods in October. In December the committee learned he had shipped some of that material, packed in fish barrels, to John Chandler in Worcester. Under questioning, the Greenes admitted to making that sale. They declared they’d kept it secret only to preserve the image of a unified non-importation movement.

Then another merchant named John Taylor used a skeleton key to get into his locked storeroom and start selling imports. “You see, Gentlemen, how it is,” he told the committee, “and I always designed to do so.”

Theophilus Lillie put some of his imported stock on display and, he acknowledged, sold it to people who asked for it. How much of his inventory was gone? Lillie refused to let the inspection committee into his shop. He recalled: “Captain [Samuel] Dashwood was in a great rage, challenging me to come out of my house and he would break my neck, my bones, and the like.”

In the 11 Jan 1770 Boston News-Letter Lillie and Taylor publicly announced they no longer felt bound by the non-importation agreement. In fact, they declared that they had been intimidated into signing it in the first place, violating the spirit of liberty that the Whigs supposedly championed. Lillie got off one of the great lines of the entire pre-Revolutionary debate:
I had rather be a slave under one master, for if I know who he is, I may perhaps be able to please him, than a slave to an hundred or more who I don’t know where to find or what they will expect of me.
The most vociferous Whig merchants were actually hurting their cause. In particular, on 12 January a Crown informant wrote that William Molineux was turning off potential supporters:
Many were disgusted at Mollyneaux’s violent proposals particularly at a speech made at the meeting at which the vote against Green Lillie &c was pass’d, wherein he declared that were it not for the Law he would with his own hands put to Death any person who should presume to open their goods
Reportedly the two Boston merchants who held the highest political offices, speaker Thomas Cushing and selectman and representative John Hancock, were souring on the movement.

It was time for a meeting.

TOMORROW: The “Body of the Trade.”

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Ens. Eld Stops into a New York Coffeehouse

After participating in the skirmish over prisoners in the Westchester “neutral ground” on 18-19 Jan 1780, as I’ve been describing, Ens. George Eld of the Coldstream Guards went into New York City.

He might have expected a respite from fighting. Instead, this is what he wrote in his diary:
21st. Rode to New York. At twelve at night entering the Coffee house I was accosted by Lt. [Kenneth] Callender of the 42d. Regt., (with whom I had no acquaintance) who insolently asked me if I would drink some punch—I declined the offer, on this he observed, “ubi periculum ibi est gloria” [where there is risk of glory] & asked me if I wanted a translation—

I told him, no, but requested an explanation—

on this he drew a small sword—

I also drew mine which was a very short couteau [dagger]—

he perceived the superiority he possessed from the difference of the weapons, which seemed to stimulate his cowardice to the attack which he began by two lunges, which having parried, with all the fury & vigor I possessed I returned by cutting at him, without paying any attention to a guard—

he retreated the length of the Coffee house—I had now beat the point of his sword down & intended to have killed him, but was prevented by Capn. Peerie, who seized hold of my wrist & arrested the stroke—

I told him his interference was unmanly & ungentlemanlike as the contest was not finished—by this time some officers had taken Capn. Callenders sword from him—I declared if any person presumed to touch my sword I would run him thro’ the body.—

Capns. Peerie & Callender next morning asked my pardon.—I afterwards was informed that Capn. C.— being an uncommon good swordsman often insulted strangers in a similar manner.—

The disgrace he experienced from this contest, in some measure cured him.
I can’t identify “Capn. Peerie.” It’s possible he was another British army officer, a British naval officer, a privateer commander, or a Loyalist officer.

Adding to the uncertainty is how Ens. Eld didn’t know the other officers’ ranks—he referred to Callender as both a lieutenant and a captain, but the only officer of that surname in the 42nd Regiment was an ensign. That reflects how British army company officers didn’t wear insignia showing their rank. Fellow officers were just supposed to know.

After the war, Eld had a copy Lt. Col. Banastre Tarleton’s book about his southern campaign rebound with extra blank pages. Eld started to write his own commentary in that volume, as well as extracts from a journal. That book came to the Boston Public Library in 1879, and Eld’s writings were published by the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1880 and the Boston Public Library in 1892.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Fighting Ground “between the Enemy & the American force”

Asa Lord was born on 29 June 1760 in Saybrook, Connecticut. Around the time he turned sixteen, he signed up for a few months of military service, and he continued to do short-term stints as the war continued.

Lord was eighteen years old in April 1779 when he enlisted in a Connecticut regiment for nine months. He was sent to Horseneck or Greenwich, on Long Island Sound, “employed in guarding the lines between the Enemy & the American force & in preparing materials for entrenchments.”

In January 1780 Lord was one of the Connecticut militiamen who raided the Morrisania, New York, house of Isaac Hatfield, Jr., a lieutenant colonel in the Loyalist militia, as I’ve been describing. Decades later Lord’s pension application stated:
On the 17th day of January, About one hundred & ten of their Soldiers, volunteered to go down to Morisena & Attack a British Guard Stationed there. They put themselves under Capt. Samuel Lockwood. They started about noon of the 17th—And about one oclock the next morning, attacked the Said Guard in front of their quarters. A hot engagement ensued & they finale killed most of the British guard, took nine or ten prisoners & Started on their retreat
However, one of the Loyalist officers who had been staying with Hatfield, Maj. Thomas Huggeford (also spelled Huggerford and Hungerford), slipped away from the Connecticut men. Someone who knew him after the war described Huggeford as “a large, fleshy, middle-aged man, active and humane,” but evidently he could move with stealth and speed.

The story continues in James Rivington’s Royal Gazette:
Major Huggerford soon after effected his escape, and returning, formed a small body of Refugees, consisting of thirty-five Dragoons, and twenty-eight Infantry, under the command of Capt. [Henry] Purdy, instantly pursuing the rebels with this detachment.

The Infantry took post upon the heights, beyond East Chester, and the mounted, consisting of Cornet Hilat, Adjutant [John] Pugsley, two Serjeants, and twenty-nine privates, under the command of Lieut. [Samuel] Kipp, continued the pursuit, and came up with their rear between New-Rochelle and Mamarroneck…
Because the Loyalists in that militia all came from the same communities, they had many ties. For example, captured with Isaac Hatfield was his sister Mary’s husband, Moses Knapp. The lieutenant who led the pursuing light horsemen, Samuel Kipp, was a brother-in-law of another of Isaac Hatfield’s sisters, Abigail. And eventually Samuel Kipp married Mary Knapp, daughter of Moses and Mary—i.e., his brother’s sister-in-law’s daughter.

Despite that strong motivation to rescue their friends and relatives, the pursuers were too late to free the men whom the Americans had taken captive. Isaac Hatfield stated that he was “carried to New England; [and] remained Prisoner about 3 months.”

But others in the raiding party moved more slowly, as Gen. William Heath wrote:
The militia after conducting this enterprize with much address and gallantry imprudently loitered in their retreat, were pursued & overtaken by a party of light Horse, a number of them shockingly cut
Rivington’s newspaper reported that the Loyalists had “killed 23, and took 40 prisoners, some of whom are wounded.” Furthermore:
We are assured that the only weapon used by Major Huggerford and his determined band of Refugees, in their attack and defeat of Capt. Lockwood’s party, was the Sabre,---and had not their horses been jaded to a stand-still, every one of the enemy would have fallen into their hands.
Among the prisoners was Asa Lord, who recalled in his 1832 pension application:
Between nine & ten oclock in the morning of the 18th Jany. they were overtaken by a detachment of Queens Guards, many of the Americans killed & the Declarant & Eight others taken prisoners, carried to New York & confined in The Old Sugar House. The Declarant was confined there ten months & three days.—He was then exchanged.
Yet another view of this clash comes from George Eld, who had joined the Coldstream Guards as an ensign—the equivalent of a second lieutenant—in March 1776. A copy of his diary is owned by the Boston Public Library.

The Coldstream Guards were sent to New York in 1779. Since Eld was born in America, that was some sort of homecoming, but unfortunately we don’t seem to have any information about exactly where or when he was born.

Ens. Eld was stationed on the British lines outside New York City, and at the start of 1780 he was put in command of a light infantry company. In his diary he wrote:
The two Light Infantry Companies of the Guards with the mounted refugees were ordered out under the Command of Colo. [Francis] Hall—after a march of 25 miles fell in with their [the enemy’s] rear guard—a trifling but general contest ensued—nine rebels were killed, sixteen taken prisoners, many wounded.—The rebels now appeared to the amount of 800, when on our taking an advantageous situation they retired—

we returned 12 miles & remained the night in some log houses & returned to the lines on being joined by a detachment sent out to Cover Our retreat.
That was the end of this seesaw skirmish in the “neutral ground” of Westchester County. Because there was so much territory between the army lines, such raids meant long marches—the Connecticut lieutenant colonel Matthew Mead wrote of his men marching “30 miles out,” and Ens. Eld recorded a 25-mile march and an overnight stop on the way back. And at the end of all the fighting, both sides had seen some men killed and more taken prisoner.

TOMORROW: Ens. Eld in the city.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Raid on Isaac Hatfield’s House

As I described yesterday, in January 1780 Capts. Samuel Lockwood and Samuel Keeler of the Connecticut militia attacked the home of Isaac Hatfield, Jr., in Morrisania, New York.

Hatfield (1748-1822) had been born in America to a substantial farming family and raised in Westchester County. The notes of what he later told the Loyalists Commission say:
On breaking out of Troubles, from the first took part with Brit. Was required by rebels to serve in their Militia, & to sign their Association, which he refused. In consequence Of this he made himself Obnoxious. They fin’d him which he refused to pay, & he was obliged to quit home.
While he was away, Hatfield said, “he lost 18 Head Cattle, 4 Horses, farm horses, 50 Sheep.” He “Heard Of some being taken by one person, some by another, some for fines.” In other words, his neighbors were stripping away his property.

When the Crown forces landed on Long Island in the fall of 1776, Hatfield volunteered for the Queen’s Rangers, commanding a company in that Loyalist regiment. In 1777 he joined Gen. Oliver De Lancey’s Brigade. Then came commissions from Gov. William Tryon to be an officer in the Westchester County militia, ultimately a lieutenant colonel.

On 18 January, the Connecticut militia came for Hatfield. The raiders shot three sentries and killed his horse—“a very fine horse,” worth 40 guineas, Hatfield’s lieutenant, Thomas Kipp, recalled.

Hatfield and the men stationed with him raced to the upstairs chambers of the house. There, Lt. Col. Matthew Mead of Connecticut wrote, “they had prepared a number of Casks of salt, of Flour & other lumber” as barricades.

In his memoir Gen. William Heath described the fighting inside Hatfield’s house:
The Colonel and his men took to the chambers, and fired out at the windows and down stairs at those who had entered the house; it appeared difficult, if possible, to dislodge them, the house was instantly set on fire, by putting a straw bed into a closet [i.e., small room], which compelled the enemy to jump out at the chamber windows, to avoid the flames.
On 22 January, James Rivington’s Royal Gazette reported inside New York:
Early on the morning of the 18th instant, a detachment of Rebel Militia, collected from the neighbourhood of Horseneck [i.e., Greenwich], under the command of a Captain Lockwood, attacked ahouse between Kingsbridge and De Lancey’s Mills, in which Lieut. Col. Hetfield, Major [Thomas] Huggerford, Captain [Moses] Knap, a Quarter-Master, and ten private Refugees of the Lieutenant-Colonel’s corps, were quartered:

The house being bravely defended for fifteen minutes; the Rebels were enabled to set fire to it, from the having gained possession of the ground floor; in consequence of which, this small party were reduced to the necessity of abandoning their post, and laying down their arms; they were in course taken prisoners, and the enemy immediately began their retreat.
The Connecticut men had fifteen prisoners of war in all. They triumphantly headed back north to the Continental lines.

But then Maj. Huggeford escaped.

TOMORROW: Rearguard action.

[The photo above, from Find a Grave, shows the headstone of Mary (Bayeux) Hatfield, whom Lt. Col. Isaac Hatfield married in 1786 after settling in Digby County, Nova Scotia.]

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Capt. Samuel Lockwood at War

Samuel Lockwood (1737–1807, gravestone shown here courtesy of Find a Grave) of Greenwich, Connecticut, became a second lieutenant in the Continental Army in April 1775.

That fall, he joined Gen. Richard Montgomery’s invasion of Canada. On 5 November Lockwood’s commanders made him an assistant engineer with the rank of captain. The Continental Congress never recognized that rank but later voted to pay Lockwood a year’s salary as an engineer.

Lt. Lockwood’s specialty was really maneuvers on the water. He reconnoitered ahead of the army by boat during the march north and helped to capture eleven Crown vessels and Gen. Richard Prescott at Sorel.

The Battle of Québec didn’t work out so well for Lockwood, however. He was wounded, captured, and not released on parole until late in 1776.

As soon as Lockwood was formally exchanged in early 1777, the Congress commissioned him as a captain in Col. John Lamb’s artillery regiment. He served two years, resigning in 1779.

Capt. Lockwood was then done with the Continental Army, but he wasn’t done with the war. He remained active in his state’s military. In 1779 he commanded an armed vessel on Long Island Sound, attacking British ships in the Oyster Bay harbor in November.

On 17 Jan 1780, Capt. Samuel Lockwood led “forty volunteers from Greenwich” alongside Capt. Samuel Keeler and an equal number of Connecticut militiamen on a raid into New York. Their target was the home in Morrisania of Lt. Col. Isaac Hetfield, Loyalist commander of the Westchester County militia.

Gen. William Heath reported to New York’s Gov. (and Gen.) George Clinton about the Lockwood and Keeler raid a few days later:
they arrived at the place a little after one the next morning, attacked the picket, killed 3 and drove the others in, march’d to the House where Hatfield was, who, with his men took to the chambers [i.e., bedrooms] and kept up a fire down stairs and out at the windows; the militia behaved with great Bravery, call’d to Hatfield to Surrender or they would Set fire to the House…
TOMORROW: The view from inside Hatfield’s house.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dublin Seminar to Look at “Living with Disabilities”

The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife has announced the subject of this year’s conference: “Living with Disabilities in New England, 1630–1930.”

The conference will be held in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on the weekend of 19-21 June 2020. The Dublin Seminar strives to be a meeting place for scholars, students, and committed avocational researchers. Professional development points are available for public school teachers who participate.

The Dublin Seminar is now accepting proposals for papers and presentations at this conference that address the history of people living with disabilities in New England and adjacent areas of New York and Canada from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. The principal topic examined by this conference is how children and adults with disabilities experienced disability in everyday life.

Proposals might address the following questions:
  • How was disability defined during this period?
  • How did gender, race, and class intersect with the experience and meaning of disability?
  • What was the relationship between the law and disability?
  • How did people with disabilities interact with institutions ranging from religious organizations to state-sponsored hospitals to schools?
  • What is the history of disability within the context of military or industrial settings?
  • How did people with disabilities interact with material culture and technology, including but not limited to assistive technologies such as artificial limbs and hearing aids; clothing; landscapes and buildings; and service animals?
  • What is the relationship between medical history and disability history?
The Seminar encourages papers that reflect interdisciplinary approaches and original research, especially those based on material culture, archaeological artifacts, letters and diaries, vital records, federal and state censuses, as well as newspapers, visual culture, business records, recollections, autobiographies, and public history practice or advocacy at museums, archives, and elsewhere.

The “Living with Disabilities in New England, 1630–1930” conference will consist of approximately seventeen lectures of twenty minutes each. Selected papers will appear as the 2020 Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar to be published about eighteen months after the conference.

To submit a paper proposal for this conference, please submit (as a single email attachment, in Word or as a pdf) a one-page prospectus that describes the paper and its sources and a one-page vita or biography by 10 Mar 2020. Send proposals to dublinseminar@historic-deerfield.org.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Shays Rebellion Symposium in Springfield, 25 Jan.

On Saturday, 25 Jan 2020, the Friends of Springfield Armory National Historic Site is hosting a symposium titled “Shays Rebellion: Perspectives on History.”

This event will take place on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College, and is co-sponsored by the National Park Service and the Pioneer Valley History Network.

There will be a day of presentations and discussion about the “regulation” in western Massachusetts in 1786 and 1787, the suppression of it, and the far-reaching effects.

The event description says:
While “Shays’ Rebellion” is often seen through an elite perspective of agrarian unrest by western Massachusetts farmers in 1786 and 1787, other viewpoints saw “Regulators” and their long campaign against unjust taxes. This crisis was by no means simple. It has a complex relationship not only with the history that preceded it, but also had a profound effect on the young United States moving forward. From the French and Indian War and the American Revolution to the Constitutional Conventions; from populist resistance movements to the exercise of a powerful centralized government, we may find that Shays’ Rebellion is not simply a local story with local meanings.
Scheduled presentations include:
  • “The Final Fight at Sheffield,” Tim Abbott, Regional Conservation Director, Housatonic Valley Association
  • “Shays Kerfuffle: A People’s Perspective,” Daniel Bullen, Ph.D.
  • “Archeology of the Shays Settlement,” Stephen Butz, Shays Settlement Project
  • “Three Men in Debt,” Tom Goldscheider, farrier, David Ruggles Center 
  • “More than a Little Rebellion,” Barbara Mathews, Ph.D., Public Historian and Director of Academic Programs, Historic Deerfield
  • “The Contested Meanings of ‘Shays Rebellion Day’ 1986,” Adam Tomasi, Northeastern University
Each bank of speakers will be followed by panel discussions and question and answer sessions.

The symposium will be held in the first-floor auditorium of Scibelli Hall (Building 2) at Springfield Technical Community College, One Armory Square in Springfield. That’s near the site of the largest clash of the uprising, where the Shaysites clashed with Massachusetts militia on 25 Jan 1787.

Presentations will begin at 9:00 A.M. with doors opening half an hour earlier. The program is scheduled to end at 4:00 P.M. Admission is $6 per seat, and box lunches are available for $10. Food options nearby are limited, so attendees should either order a box lunch or bring their own. In case of very bad weather, the event will be postponed to Sunday, 26 January.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Legends of Sandy Flash Drive

The Philadelphia Inquirer just published an article about how two roads in the region—in areas where I’ve traveled, in fact—are named after a Revolutionary turncoat and highwayman.

This circumstance raises interesting questions about how we remember the past with public names and monuments.

Here’s a link to Rosemary S. Warden’s article “‘The Infamous Fitch’: The Tory Bandit, James Fitzpatrick of Chester County.”

James Fitzpatrick served with the Continental forces in 1775 and 1776, but then resisted further militia call-ups. In late 1777 he threw in with the British, serving as a scout around the time of the Battle of Brandywine and the seizure of Philadelphia.

For the next year, Fitzpatrick fought for himself as “Captain Fitz,” head of a band of highwaymen who targeted Whig officials, particularly tax collectors and militia officers. Chester County was a no-man’s land during the British occupation of the capital.

When Gen. William Howe withdrew to New York City in the summer of 1778, however, Fitzpatrick lost his refuge. He was captured in August, tried in September, and hanged—though not without special effort by the executioner.

Stories about Fitzpatrick grew into legends in the nineteenth century. In 1866 the novelist Bayard Taylor wrote The Story of Kennett based on those tales. Taylor called his recurring highwayman character “Sandy Flash.” In the romantic and credulous style of the Colonial Revival, the fictional tales of Sandy Flash soon became amalgamated with the real history of James Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick’s crimes (and his treachery, when seen from an American point of view) thus became part of the exciting tableau of the American Revolution. Authors treated him as a Robin Hood, as an example of gallant bravado. There were rumors he’d left behind buried treasure. His story was deemed suitable for children’s literature.

As reporter Joseph A. Gambardello writes, in 1972 Pennsylvania laid out Ridley Creek State Park (which includes the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, a living-history museum, shown above) just in time for the Bicentennial. The state chose to name a main artery in the park after a man hanged for being a traitor to the state—Sandy Flash Drive. Later a new development in Kennett Square got streets named after Taylor’s characters, including another Sandy Flash Drive.

The issue of historical place names never fully goes away, but we’re at a moment of extra attention to those things. Do they always honor the people whose names they preserve? Do those people always deserve that honor? Here’s an example where the real figure, entwined with a fictional character and legends that might or might not be real, wouldn’t seem to merit official esteem.

But James Fitzpatrick’s history isn’t touching raw nerves—southeastern Pennsylvania isn’t being plagued by highwaymen. It may help that both Fitzpatrick and Sandy Flash were punished, providing a satisfyingly moral end to his tale. Still, we might ask why we like to overlook some historical figures’ misdeeds yet celebrate others.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The First David Center Research Fellowships

As discussed back here, the David Library of the American Revolution closed its facility in Washington’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, last year and merged with the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

This week the new David Center for the American Revolution at the A.P.S. invited applications for its inaugural short-term resident research fellowships. The announcement says:
David Center Fellowships continue the 30-year tradition of the David Library awarding over 200 fellowships to scholars who have gone on to write hundreds of dissertations, academic articles, academic papers and books, and to teach at major institutions of higher learning worldwide, about the American Revolution and Founding Era. These funding opportunities provide one month of support for researchers in residence and are open to scholars in all fields who show a demonstrated need to use the collections for their project.

The David Center for the American Revolution integrates the rich manuscript, microfilm, and print collections of the David Library with the Early American history collections of the APS to create a one-stop-shop for the study of the American Revolution. . . . Comprehensive, searchable guides and finding aids to these collections are available online at www.amphilsoc.org/library and http://amphilsoc.pastperfectonline.com/.

Successful applicants are awarded a stipend of $3,000. The stipend is paid after the awardee arrives at the APS Library & Museum to begin their fellowship. The purpose of the stipend is to defray the costs of working in Philadelphia. Awards are taxable income, but the Society is not required to report payments. It is understood that recipients will discuss their reporting obligations with their tax advisors.

Fellowships may be taken starting any day no earlier than June 1, 2020 and must be completed by May 31, 2021. Fellows are required to be in residence for four consecutive weeks. Fellows do not have to decide on the dates of their fellowship right away; they have one year to decide, although most take their fellowships during the summer period.
Researchers who have already applied for an A.P.S. Library & Museum Short-Term Resident Research Fellowship will be automatically considered.

Applicants may be:
  • Holders of the Ph.D. or its equivalent.
  • Ph.D. candidates who have passed their preliminary examinations and are working on their dissertation research.
  • Degreed independent scholars (without current academic affiliation).
  • U.S. citizens or foreign nationals.
Candidates who live 75 or more miles from Philadelphia receive some preference.

All Applicants must submit:
  • A cover letter.
  • Curriculum vitae.
  • A research proposal (2 pages double-spaced) that outlines the status of your work and what you will research at the American Philosophical Society Library & Museum. Special attention must be made to specific collections that will be of use during your fellowship.
  • Two confidential letters of reference.
The application deadline is 6 Mar 2020. Notifications will be sent in April.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Glimpses of Early Blandford

As long as we’re out in Blandford with Henry Knox, we might as well enjoy the town’s eighteenth-century history.

Most of the first British settlers in the area were Scotch-Irish, moving west in a bunch from Hopkinton in 1736. They named their new community “Glasgow” or “New Glasgow.” The town’s first meetinghouse was Presbyterian rather than New England Congregationalist.

However, when the Massachusetts government formally incorporated the town in 1741, the new governor, William Shirley, insisted on naming it after the ship that he had just arrived on—the Blandford. Reportedly he had leverage because the town proprietors had claimed more land than they were entitled to, so they needed the governor’s approval more than the inhabitants’.

The name “Glasgow” survived in a few geographic names such as the “Glasgow or Westfield Mountain” that Knox referred to in his diary. The town reportedly lost a church bell that the city of Glasgow, Scotland, had promised if it kept its original name.

Blandford was on the Massachusetts frontier, thus at risk from the French and their Native allies. During 1749, almost every household fled to other towns for safety. In 1755, as war loomed again, the town petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a swivel gun, a type of small cannon. It was stored at the house of the Rev. James Morton.

The town straddled one of the few roads through the Berkshire Mountains, so it saw a lot of traffic. In 1762 a tavern keeper named Joseph Clark petitioned the legislature to be forgiven for selling alcohol without paying the excise tax. His excuse:
That in the Year 1760 He purchased a licensed House and purchased a barrel of Rum, but being sick in August when he should have applied for a license, and his House lying in the Road used by Soldiers sold the same, out to them: and he boght the said Rum of a Retailer who had paid the Duties of excise thereon—
The Massachusetts House bought that argument. The Council disagreed.

Blandford grew quickly after the Revolutionary War. Growth brought change, as preserved in this family anecdote from local historian William H. Gibbs. He said that around 1791 Isaac Gibbs (1744-1823)
brought into town the first single wagon used here. The neighbors regarded it as a curiosity, and their horses as he drove to church the first Sabbath, being affrighted, fled with as much precipitation as they do in our own day at the sight of the steam engine. It was a matter so strange to the people, that they actually proposed to call a town meeting to prohibit the use of wagons.
But the problems of growth didn’t last long. In the 1800 U.S. Census, Blandford had a population of 1,778—the largest the town ever was.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Henry Knox “after about three hours perseverance”

Here’s a link to the podcast recording of my conversation with Bradley Jay of WBZ last month about Col. Henry Knox and his mission to Lake Champlain to obtain more cannon for the Continental siege lines.

And here’s a timely question about Knox: Was 12 Jan 1776 the last day that he kept his diary of his mission to bring back cannon from the Lake Champlain forts?

The diary pages are visible on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website. The last entries (pages 24-26) show Knox dealing with the Berkshire Mountains:
10th [January] reach’d [No 1,?] after have Climb’d mountains from which we might almost have seen all the Kingdoms of the Earth —

11th [January] went 12 miles thro’ the Green Woods to Blanford

It appear’d to me almost a miracle that people with heavy loads should be able to get up & down such Hills as Are here with any thing of heavy loads —

11th at Blanford we overtook the first division who had tarried here untill we came up—and refus’d going any further On accott that there were no snow beyond five or six miles further in which space there was the tremendous Glasgow or Westfield mountain to go down—but after about three hours perseverance & hiring two teams of oxen—they agreed to go
On the next page are a couple of receipts, the second apparently about those “two teams of oxen” that Knox hired:
Blanford Jany. 13. 1776—
Recd of Henry Knox eighteen shillings Lawful money for Carrying a Cannon weighing 24.3 p from this Town to Westfield being 11 Miles —

Solomon Brown
It looks to me like Knox arrived in Blandford on the 11th, catching up with men and horses he’d sent ahead. That evening or the 12th, he learned that those teamsters didn’t want to proceed because the lack of snow on the ground meant the road would be rough. In addition, they faced the steep slopes now in the town of Russell.

Knox overcame that problem with “three hours” of arguing plus two ox teams from Solomon Brown (1737-1786), a war veteran and a committee member for Blandford. Brown’s gravestone appears here at Find a Grave. I’m guessing that took place on 12 January, Knox remained in Blandford awaiting another set of men, and Brown returned to sign the receipt on 13 January.

And there are no more dated entries in that notebook.

TOMORROW: Blandford in the eighteenth century.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

When Boston Cracked Down on Drivers

On 11 Jan 1775, the selectmen of Boston sent an order to the Constables of the Town Watch to do what they could to curb “the driving of Slays thro’ the Town, with beat of Drum & other Noises at unseasonable times of the Night.”

That same meeting produced this order:
The following Advertisement was sent to Mr. [Isaiah] Thomas for a place in their Paper — vizt. —

Complaints have been made to the Selectmen that numbers of the Inhabitants have been greatly disturbed by the driving of Slays thro’ the Town, with the beat of Drums & other noises, at unseasonable Times of the Night; To prevent such Disorders for the future, Orders have been given the Constables of the Town Watch to stop such offenders and make Report of their Names, that they may be dealt with as the Law directs.

By Order of the Selectmen
William Cooper Town Clerk
Boston Jany. 11. 1775.
I don’t think that first line is an example of “their” taking a singular antecedent. Rather, Cooper was used to writing such orders for Edes and Gill, who had been the town’s preferred printers for many years. But in these months they were giving business to Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy.

So far as I can tell, the selectmen’s notice didn’t appear in the Spy. Instead, on 12 January Thomas reprinted the town’s traffic by-laws, as Edes and Gill had already done in the 9 January Boston Gazette. Here’s the text of those laws, as confirmed in 1757:
4. And it is further Ordered that henceforth no Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, drawn by either Horse or Horses, Horse & Oxen shall be suffered to pass through any of the Streets and Lanes of this Town but with a sufficient Driver, who shall during such Passage keep with his said Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, and carefully observe & attend such Methods as may best Serve to keep said Horse or Horses or Oxen under Command, and shall have the Thill-horse by the head; and whatsoever Carter or others undertaking to drive any Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, shall during such passing through the Streets and Lanes as aforesaid either ride in said Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, or otherwise neglect to observe and attend the Rules prescribed in this Order, such Carter Driver or Owner of such Cart Dray Trucks or Sled shall forfeit and pay the Sum of eight shillings for every such Offence.

5. And it is further Ordered that no Slay shall be drove in the Streets of this Town without Bells fastned to the Horses that draw the same, and whoever shall offend herein shall forfeit the Sum of ten shillings for every Offence. Great Dangers arising oftentimes from Coaches Slays Chairs and other Carriages on the Lord’s days as the People are going to or coming from the several Churches in this Town, being driven with great Rapidity, and the Public Worship being oftentimes much disturbed by such Carriages driving by the sides of the Churches with great force in time thereof.

6. It is therefore Voted and Ordered that no Coach Slay Chair Chaise or other Carriage shall at such time be driven at a greater rate than a foot pace, on Penalty of the Sum of ten shillings, to be paid by the Person driving, or if he be a Servant or Slave by his master or Mistress. . . .

9. And it is further Ordered that no Person whatsoever shall at any time hereafter Ride or drive a Gallop or other swift Pace within any of the Streets Lanes or Alleys of this Town, on Penalty of forfeiting the Sum of five shillings for every such Offence.
Was all this interest in traffic a response to the sailors’ procession with a plow on 6 January? Or perhaps the target was rowdy British army officers riding in and out of town. Either way, the “beat of Drum” shows that the selectmen saw a different type of nuisance from what their predecessors had dealt with.

Friday, January 10, 2020

“The notion of Vampyres” in Early America

The 1784 Connecticut Courant report about Isaac Johnson having the bodies of his children dug up, hoping to save other members of his family from consumption, didn’t use the word “vampire.”

Two years before, the Connecticut poet John Trumbull had used that word in the fourth canto of M’Fingal while discussing British prison commissary Joshua Loring:
Aloft the mighty Loring stood,
And thriv’d like Vampyre on their blood.
But Trumbull also included a footnoted explanation for his readers:
The notion of Vampyres is a superstition, that has greatly prevailed in many parts of Europe. They pretend it is a dead body, which rises out of its grave in the night, and sucks the blood of the living.
Clearly the concept of vampires wasn’t yet common knowledge for Americans, even those who read satirical poetry.

The word “vampire” appeared more often in American newspapers during the following decades. One source was European literature. In 1786, for example, the French author Louis-Sébastien Mercier published a collection titled Mon Bonnet de nuit, soon translated into English as The Nightcap.

On 24 Nov 1787 the Pennsylvania Evening-Post published one piece by Mercier called “Opulence: A Vision.” Its narrator described obtaining the philosopher’s stone, which leads to wealth and a pretty young wife. Then, when everything seems to be going well—
a crowd of Vampires entered the room, and began to unfurnish my apartment. In vain did I make signs to them to desist; they carried every thing away, making many low bows. . . .

Then I turned to my dearly beloved, and, in the effusion of my soul, said to her, “The Vampires have stripped me of all I had; but still I have thee.” She wept—I thought it proceeded from tenderness; but my wife so mild, so open, sprang from my arms, ran over the apartment with the looks and gesture of a fury, and, seeing it was stript, seized on a purse the Vampires had forgot in one of my waistcoat pockets, came to me, and, applying a vigorous stroke to my cheek, disappeared.

Stunned with this scene, I got up in bed, in order to run after my wife, for I loved her. I had grown fat from living well; but a little Vampire, thinner still than the others, sprang upon me, and began to suck me alive. He swelled on my body as I grew lank; he dried me up from head to foot, gorging himself with my blood, and I became so light, that the wind carried me off my magnificent bed with rich curtains through the window.
(Spoiler: It was all a dream.)

American newspapers also printed extracts from Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s Botanic Garden (composed 1789-1793), which made a poetic hero of Benjamin Franklin and included such lines as this:
So, born on sounding pinions to the West,
When Tyrant-Power had built his eagle nest;
While from his eyry shriek’d the famish’d brood,
Clenched their sharp claws, and champ’d their beaks for blood,
Immortal FRANKLIN watch’d the callow crew,
And stabb’d the struggling Vampires, ere they flew.
Darwin used vampires, sucking blood from innocents, as a political metaphor. American authors couldn’t resist doing the same:
  • Joel Barlow: “Courts and Kings, / These are the vampires nurs’d on nature’s spoils” (Gazette of the United States, 14 July 1792)
  • “The Versifier”: “You’ll foil that Treasury Vampire who from spite, / Sucks from our coin its blood night after night” (Connecticut Courant, 4 Feb 1793)
The word appeared in prose as well, such as this line from the 7 Mar 1800 Salem Gazette: “AMERICANS—Will you permit a few Democratic Vampires, which infect the United States, to lull you into a state of slumbering security, that they may suck the dearest blood of your country?”

In fact, one of the earliest uses of ”vampires” as a political metaphor in English had a link to the American Revolution. It appeared during debate over how Parliament should respond to the Boston Tea Party in April 1774, as reported in London newspapers and eventually the 9 June 1774 Massachusetts Spy:
Mr. [Edmund] Burke rose to explain, that he did not mean to cast the least slur upon the character of Mr. [George] Grenville; and concluded with saying, he would not raise the bodies of the dead, to make them vampires to suck out the virtues of the living.
That line isn’t as well remembered as the two-hour speech Burke had given earlier that day, usually titled “On American Taxation.” But it shows how the idea of vampires had penetrated British culture on its way to America.

Of course, poets and propagandists could write about vampires without believing that they actually existed. And New England farmers didn’t need to know the word “vampire” to hold out hope that digging up bodies and burning those that seemed too well preserved might cure the dying. But as the word became more common in the 1800s, the belief might have spread along with it.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

America’s First Vampire Investigators

The Connecticut Courant article I quoted yesterday named three men in addition to Isaac Johnson, the paterfamilias so distraught by tuberculosis in his family that he had two of his children’s bodies dug up in 1784.

One was the man who wrote the article for the newspaper, attesting to what he saw. Moses Holmes (1727-1811?) was an important figure in Willington, Connecticut. He deeded to the town some of the land that became the common. Holmes held multiple public offices and had represented the town in the Connecticut state legislature starting in 1776.

Holmes mentioned two doctors who examined the remains of the corpses: “Doctors Grant and West.” I set out to identify those men and found them on the list of men who founded the Connecticut Medical Society in 1792.

One impetus for chartering such medical organizations was to differentiate their members from “quacks” (though, given the state of eighteenth-century medicine, I’m not sure quacks were necessarily worse for patients than establishment doctors). Holmes’s letter likewise complained about a “Quack Doctor.”

The first of the two doctors at the exhumation was Miner (or Minor) Grant (1756-1828) of Willington. He appears to have been more of an apothecary than a surgeon, and is remembered for the shops he ran. The one in Willington, built in 1797, is now a private residence near the center of the town. Another he built for his son in Stafford in 1802 has been moved to Old Sturbridge Village—which means that outdoor museum can say it owns a building constructed for one of America’s first vampire investigators.

The other doctor was Jeremiah West (1753-1806, gravestone shown above) of Tolland, the larger town to the west of Willington. West graduated from Yale College in 1777, served as a Continental Army surgeon during the Revolutionary War, might have taken a little more training in Boston, and settled in Tolland shortly before the exhumations.

J. R. Cole’s 1888 History of Tolland County quoted an unidentified source saying:
In stature, Dr. West was full six feet, with a large and well proportioned frame. He became exceedingly corpulent during the latter part of his life, and is represented as being unusually large and heavy. Tradition says that he weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds, and that his step as he walked seemed to shake the ground. In social life he was cheerful, humorous and pleasant.
All three of these men—Holmes, Grant, and West—were politically active. In fact, they would all serve in the Connecticut house in 1786, a couple of years after the exhumation. Dr. West later participated in the Connecticut ratifying convention for the U.S. Constitution.

Thus, when Dr. Miner Grant and Dr. Jeremiah West came to witness the exhumation of the Johnson children, and Moses Holmes added his own observations about their graves and reported all that to the Courant in New Haven, that was the Willington authorities assembling to make a strong statement about the idea of vampirism. They didn’t like it. They wanted to stamp out that false belief before it spread.

But we know that didn’t work. There are scores of reports of similar exhumations from New England in the nineteenth century, with a bit of archeological evidence as well. At the S.H.E.A.R. panel I attended last summer, Michael Bell theorized that the persistence of that practice despite legal and print hostility means it was periodically reinvigorated with new believers from Europe. But we can trace the roots of the belief in America back to right after the Revolutionary War.

TOMORROW: Vampire vocabulary.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

A Double Exhumation in 1784 Connecticut

On 22 June 1784, the Connecticut Courant ran an article which has become highly significant for hunters of vampires and vampire lore. It read:
WHEREAS of late years there has been advanced for a certainty, by a certain Quack Doctor, a foreigner, that a certain cure may be had for a consumption, where any of the same family had before that time died with the same disease; directing to have the bodies of such as had died to be dug up, and further said that out of the breast or vitals might be found a sprout or vine fresh and growing, which, together with the remains of the vitals being consumed in the fire, would be an effectual cure to the same family:----

And such direction so far gained credit, that in one instance, the experiment was thoroughly made in Willington, on the first day of June instant, two bodies were dug up which belonged to the family of Mr. Isaac Johnson of that place, they both died with the consumption, one had been buried one year and eleven months, the other one year, a third of the same family then sick---

on full examination of the then small remains by two doctors then present, viz. Doctors Grant and West, not the least discovery could be made; and to prevent misrepresentations of the facts, I being an eye witness, that under the coffin was sundry small sprouts about one inch in length then fresh, but most likely was the produce of sorrel feeds which fell under the coffin when put in the earth.

And that the bodies of the dead may rest quiet in their graves without such interruption, I think the public ought to be aware of being led away by such an imposture.

June 1784.
The Connecticut Courant had mentioned vampires back in 1765, as described here. Sometime around then, printer Thomas Green brought on little George Goodwin (1757-1844) as an apprentice, and by 1784 Goodwin was co-publisher of the paper. However, Green and his first partner, Ebenezer Watson, had died, and there’s no indication that anyone in the print shop remembered the earlier article. It’s significant that this item did not include the word “vampyre,” though the belief in the value of digging up, examining, and burning a body was the same.

Moses Holmes’s report was reprinted in the Pennsylvania Packet and Salem Gazette on 29 June, and possibly in other American newspapers. It’s the earliest evidence that any New Englanders seriously entertained a belief in vampires of the sort described by European authors earlier in the century—as dead people who sapped the lives of those close to them from within their graves.

In the expanded edition of Food for the Dead, Michael Bell described finding records of Isaac Johnson of Willington, Connecticut. This man was born in Windham in 1735, married in Willington in 1756, and died in Hadley, Massachusetts, in 1808. His gravestone appears above, courtesy of Find a Grave.

Isaac and his wife Elizabeth had two children die within the specified period: Amos (1760-1782) and Elizabeth (1764-1783). There may have been other children sick at the time; this genealogy page for Isaac doesn’t include all the names that appear in Willington baptismal records published in the New England Historic and Genealogical Register in 1913.

Amos Johnson was the right age to have fought in the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, there were multiple men of that name in Connecticut records, so I can’t connect him with any particular company.

Bell reported that he couldn’t find the Johnson children’s graves in Willington. He did, however, find that on the 1790 U.S. census the household included two white males over age sixteen, no white males under sixteen, two white females, no slaves, and seventeen “other free persons”—far more than any other home in the town. That’s unusual, but what it means is unclear.

This newspaper article also offers evidence for Brian Carroll’s thesis that the vampirism belief was brought to America by Hessian military surgeons. As The Travels of three English Gentlemen, from Venice to Hamburgh account shows, belief in such vampires was established in Hesse by 1734. Hessian prisoners of war were housed in Tolland, next to Willington, during the war. Was the unnamed “Quack Doctor, a foreigner,” mentioned in the article one of those Germans?

TOMORROW: The other doctors on the scene.