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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Monday, February 24, 2020

The Life and Death of Christopher Seider

The younger boy hit by “Swan shot” from Ebenezer Richardson’s musket on 22 Feb 1770 was named Christopher Seider (although that last name also showed up as Snider and in other forms).

Christopher’s story starts with an effort to settle Maine. Around 1740, Massachusetts land speculators recruited German-speaking immigrants to live in the area around Broad Bay now called Waldoboro. At first this community was very small, but immigrant-laden ships arrived in Boston harbor beginning in November 1751.

The 25 Sept 1752 Boston Evening-Post reported:
a ship arrived from Holland with about 300 Germans, men, women and children, some of whom are going to settle at Germantown [in Braintree] and the others in the Eastern parts of the Province [i.e., Maine]. . . . a number of very likely Men and Women, Boys and Girls, from Twelve to twenty-five years old, will be disposed of for some Years according to their Ages and the different Sums they owe for their Passage.
In other words, some of the younger immigrants were to be indentured servants.

On that ship, the St. Andrew, came Heinrich Seiter, a farmer from Langensteinbach, and his family. Their home country was ruled by Charles Frederick, Margrave of Baden-Durlach. He was among the more enlightened of Europe’s noble despots, but Seiter was “very poor” and sought better opportunities. In that family, it appears, was a young man named Georg Frederich Seiter, born in 1727.

Around the same time, a woman named Christine Salome Hartwick, born about 1723, arrived with several of her relatives. That family’s name showed up in New England records as Hardwick, Hartig, and other forms.

Heinrich Seiter settled in the Waldoboro area. George Seiter may have lived with him for a while or gone directly to Braintree, where locals were trying to develop a little manufacturing center. Some of the new Germans were said to be glassmakers, and Joseph Palmer and Richard Cranch were building a glass factory.

We know that Georg Frederich Seiter married Christine Salome (soon Sarah) Hartwick on 20 Mar 1753 at Germantown. They had three children in Braintree:
  • Christina Elizabeth, born 26 Dec 1754.
  • Sophia, born 29 June 1756.
  • Christopher, baptized 18 Mar 1759.
By then the family name was written as “Sider.” If Christopher was baptized a week or two after birth, like his sisters, then he was born in early March 1759.

In 1755, the glass factory was struck by lightning and burned. Palmer and Cranch tried to keep the venture going, but in 1760 they gave up and mortgaged the land to Thomas Flucker. Some of the German workers went to Maine, some to a new town soon called Ashburnham—and George and Sarah Seider moved their family to Boston, where their daughter Mary was baptized at King’s Chapel on 10 June 1761.

The Seiders lived in a little house at the bottom of Boston Common on Frog Lane, later gentrified to Boylston Street. On the other side of the street was the giant elm that in 1765 the Sons of Liberty dubbed “Liberty Tree.”

As the 1760s came to a close, Christopher was no longer living with his family, however. He was in the household of the very wealthy widow Grizzell Apthorp, most likely working as a servant. Apthorp was a pillar of the King’s Chapel congregation, which was probably how she came to know the Seiders.

There’s evidence that Christopher also attended a school of some sort. In the 1840s a woman named “Mrs. Preston” told a writer that she had gone to school with him, probably a reading school when they were younger. The Boston News-Letter reported that Christopher “was going from School” on 22 Feb 1770.

It’s quite clear that Christopher Seider was a reader. The Boston Evening-Post reported that he carried “several heroic pieces” or broadsides “in his pocket, particularly Wolfe’s Summit of human glory.” A broadside titled Major-General James Wolfe, who reach’d the summit of human glory, September 13th, 1759 is now on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society. It’s a 17" by 24" sheet describing the the taking of Québec in 1759 and illustrated with a large colored woodcut of the general.

On the morning of 22 February, Christopher was among the boys outside Ebenezer Richardson’s house. It’s not clear how much he participated in the young mob’s attack on that house. Prosecutor Robert Treat Paine took notes that a witness named Jonathan Kenny said, “Syder threw nothing stood looking,” and “I was by Syder 5. minutes. Saw him throw nothing.” But Charles Atkins testified, “Syder was stooping to take up a Stone as I thought.”

Christopher must have been toward the front of the crowd when Richardson pulled his trigger because his torso was hit by eleven lead pellets. In addition, said the Boston Evening-Post, “The right hand of the boy was cruelly torn, whence it seems to have been across his breast.” Christopher fell and was carried into a nearby house.

The Evening-Post reported, “all the surgeons, within call, were assembled and speedily determined the wounds mortal.” Among the doctors we know examined the boy were the radical Dr. Thomas Young, the apothecary Dr. John Loring, and Dr. Joseph Warren, who afterward conducted an autopsy.

In addition, there were “clergyman who prayed with” Christopher. The newspaper praised “the firmness of mind he showed when he first saw his parents, and while he underwent the great distress of bodily pain, and with which he met the king of terrors.”

Christopher Seider died “about nine o’clock that evening.” Some reckonings say he was the first person killed in the American Revolution. He was probably just a few days short of his eleventh birthday.

TOMORROW: The older boy.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

“The first thought was to hang him up at once”

When Ebenezer Richardson fired his musket out of window of his house on 22 Feb 1770, as recounted yesterday, that gun was loaded with “Swan shot.” Those were lead pellets ”about the bigness of large peas”—larger than “Goose shot” and “duck shot” and similar to a typical pistol bullet of the time.

Several slugs of swan shot were enough to knock down one of the young boys mobbing his house. The Boston Evening-Post reported, “The child fell, but was taken up and carried into a neighboring house, where all the surgeons, within call, were assembled.” Another boy, nineteen years old, was wounded in the hand and thigh.

The men gathered on that North End street had largely been standing back, watching the boys attack Richardson’s house. Now they took action. Again from the Evening-Post:
The people, on hearing the report of the gun, seeing one wounded and another as they thought killed, got into the new brick meeting house and rang the bell; on which they soon had company enough to beset the house front and rear…
According to an anonymous letter sympathetic to Richardson, the “vast Concourse of people…broke down the side of his house & when they had made a breach wide enough several entered.”

Two witnesses testified that when the crowd yelled at Richardson that he had killed a boy, he answered, “I don’t care what I’ve done.” Edward Procter said, “He had a Cutlass drawn, and resisted. He said he would resign himself to proper Officer.” But there was no magistrate on the scene, and no police officer in Boston. People expected to band together to capture criminals, just as they all fought fires or trained for war. They pressed in.

Some men “wrenched a gun” from George Wilmot, the Customs service sailor who had come to help Richardson. They found it “heavily charged with powder, and crammed with 149 goose and buck shot.” Wilmot protested that “he could not have fired for the Screw pin was gone.”

Soon the crowd dragged Richardson out to the street. According to acting governor Thomas Hutchinson, “The first thought was to hang him up at once and a halter was brought and a sign post picked upon,” even though both of the wounded boys were still alive.

But by then William Molineux had arrived on the scene. He was normally the most aggressive of the Whig leaders, but at this moment he saved Richardson from lynching. Even Hutchinson acknowledged, “one who is supposed to have stirred up the tumultuous proceedings took great pains and prevented it.”

Molineux convinced the crowd to carry the two men to John Ruddock, justice of the peace and boss of the North End. The Evening-Post stated that Ruddock
was pleased to send them to Faneuil Hall, under a sufficient guard, where three other magistrates, Richard Dana, Edmund Quincy and Samuel Pemberton, Esquires with Mr. Ruddock, took their examination before at least a thousand people and and committed them.
All those magistrates were solid Whigs, of course.

The Boston News-Letter and Boston Chronicle both published issues that Thursday. Their printersRichard Draper and John Fleeming, respectively—scrambled to add the latest news to the bottom of the local round-ups. The 22 February News-Letter stated:
This Instant we hear that one Richardson having attempted to destroy some Effigies in the North End, the Lads beat him off into his House, and broke his Windows, upon which he fired among them, mortally wounded one Boy, & slightly wounded two or three others. Richardson is now under Examination.
The Boston Chronicle leaned more to the Crown:
This forenoon, a boy of about 14 years of age, was mortally wounded, and two others slightly wounded by a shot from a musket, fired out of a house at the north end.—Two persons, who were in the house from whence the gun was fired, are now under examination at Faneuil Hall.
The Chronicle was printed at 2:00 P.M., meaning the magistrates’ proceeding extended well into the afternoon. Already people expected one of the boys to die.

Eventually those justices determined there was enough evidence to charge Richardson and Wilmot with a crime—whether assault or murder depended on whether that badly wounded boy lived or died. The next step was to convey the prisoners from Faneuil Hall to the jail on Court Street.

According to an anonymous Crown report, “when the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf] was carrying them to Goal, several attempts were made to gett a Rope round Richardsons neck.” The Evening-Post report obliquely admitted the same: “The numberless affronts and abuses both these persons had heaped on the inhabitants, exasperated them to such a pitch that, had not gentlemen of influence interposed, they would never have reached the prison.”

At the end of the afternoon, Ebenezer Richardson and George Wilmot were finally in the Boston jail. People turned their attention back to the house where doctors had come to treat the young boy.

TOMORROW: “The king of terrors.”

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Riot at the Richardson House

By 22 Feb 1770, 250 years ago today, the anonymous informant reporting events in Boston to Customs Collector Joseph Harrison judged that the Sons of Liberty had “seemed greatly to gain ground” over the previous week.

One piece of evidence was that “a subscription was sett on foot amongst the females in town to discontinue to Drinking of Tea.” The newspapers also featured a spinning meeting in the North End. (I’ll get back to that.) On the night of 21 February, another anonymous letter said, someone “besmeared…the Importers windows with feathers & tar & feathers.”

In another sign of Whig strength, on 22 February the boys doubled their picket lines enforcing non-importation. According to the letter to Harrison: “The Exhibition at [William] Jacksons [was] the same as Last week—there was likewise an Exhibition at Theopiluis Lillie.” Jackson’s Brazen Head hardware store was in the center of town, but Lillie’s dry-goods shop was up in the North End on Middle Street (now Hanover Street).

Another person living in that neighborhood, “about fifty or sixty paces away,” was Ebenezer Richardson, a Customs service land-waiter. Richardson was a notorious outcast. While living in Woburn in the 1750s, he’d gotten his wife’s sister pregnant, then kept quiet for over a year as people blamed one of the town’s ministers. Once the truth came out, Richardson, now widowed, and his sister-in-law had to move to Boston, where they married at King’s Chapel.

In Boston, Richardson began to supply confidential information to the province’s attorney general, Edmund Trowbridge, and then to Customs official Charles Paxton. That work stopped being confidential after some documents leaked from London in the early 1760s. The Customs office then hired Richardson officially, but Bostonians continued to refer to him as “the Informer.”

During the anti-Stamp Act riots of 24 Aug 1765, a crowd attacked the Richardsons’ house, and a few days later the Overseers of the Poor paid to have the family removed back to Woburn, perhaps for their own safety. By 1766 Richardson was back in Boston. After Capt. Daniel Malcom defied Customs officials, boys went over to Richardson’s house to taunt him for not gaining a reward—and it’s not even clear he was involved in that case.

Not that Richardson was quietly minding his own business in the political disputes of the period. According to William Gray, “Some mention of Effigies” had come up on 21 February, and Richardson said “he hoped if these was before Importers Doors there be a Dust beat up, wish’d the 14. Regiment there. They would Cut up the d——d Yankees.” (Richardson came from an old Puritan family himself, so here “Yankees” was a political epithet.)

According to the next week’s Boston Evening-Post:

Soon after it [the non-importation pageantry] was set up, Ebenezer Richardson, the famous Informer, came by and endeavored to persuade a countryman to overturn it with his wagon; which he refusing, he applied to a charcoal man to drive his cart against it; but he said he had no business with it, and would not concern himself about it.

Richardson (as the boys say) pressed him to it, saying he was a magistrate in the town and would bear him out in it. The man still denying to meddle therewith, Richardson laid hold on the horses and endeavored to shove them upon the pole which supported the pageantry; the cart, however, passed without disturbing it.
Frustrated, Richardson started to stomp off. But by this point some Whig men had arrived “to see Pagentry before Lilly’s Door,” as one of them, Edward Procter, later testified. Richardson saw them, perhaps laughing at him, and shouted, “Perjury! Perjury!”

Nobody’s sure what Richardson meant by that. Was he saying that calling Lillie an enemy of the country was perjury? Was he accusing those men of having perjured themselves in the past? Was he denying what they might have shouted at him (and, as shown above, Bostonians had a lot of stories to tell)? The men challenged Richardson to explain, and he replied that he was directing his comment not at Procter but at another man, Thomas Knox—which doesn’t help.

A neighbor named Deborah Warner said Richardson “Went into his house, and then…he came out in a great Rage, doubling his Fists and challenged the Gentlemen to the Door. Said it should be hot enough before night.” Sarah Richardson, one of the land-waiter’s daughters, testified that Knox and Capt. John Matchet responded, “come out you damn Son of Bitch, I’ll have your Heart out your Liver out.”

The yelling outside of Richardson’s door caught the attention of the boys. They left the signs and shoppers in front of Lillie’s shop and ran over to Richardson’s to “call him Informer,” in the Evening-Post’s words. Richardson and his wife Kezia—the woman who had once been his sister-in-law—tried to shoo the boys away, “flourishing their arms and advancing out into the street, with high threatenings.” That didn’t work. As the newspaper reported, “the children would retreat and on their return, advance, with the squealing and noise they usually make on such occasions.”

Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson later wrote that he “gave express directions to the Sheriff [Stephen Greenleaf] to go and suppress this unlawful assembly…but he did not think it safe to attempt it nor is there a J[ustice]. of P[eace]. in the town who will appear upon such an occasion.”

Outside the Richardsons’ house, the young mob started throwing “light rubbish.” Ebenezer came out “with a stick” and ordered the boys to go away. Invoking traditional British liberty, the children “said they would not, Kings high Way”—i.e., they had the right to be in the street. They threw more garbage. Kezia Richardson threw some back and was in return struck by an egg.

At some point a sailor who worked for the Customs service named George Wilmot came to the Richardsons’ house and offered to help his colleague. According to Sarah Richardson, “Wilmot said he would stand by him as Long as he had breath. Wilmot asked if he had any Gun. R[ichardson]. said he must get his Gun.”

Becoming desperate, “Richardson opened the door and snapped a gun” at the crowd—showing that he had a working musket but not firing anything. He reportedly threatened, “if you dont go away I’ll blow a hole thro you enough to Drive a Cart and Oxen” or “as sure as there was a G— in heaven, he’d blow a Lane thro ’em.” After a moment of fright, the young mob just started flinging things more ferociously.

Multiple witnesses said that someone threw a stick or brickbat out of the house and hit a passing soldier. He threw it back, smashing a window. That got the boys even more excited. Witness Andrew Tewksbury stated, “They threw Limon Peels then Stones. Some Men looked on Boys and they threw faster. Men shew’d no signs of Approbation but laughing.” Ebenezer, Kezia, and Sarah Richardson were all hit by stones.

Soon most of the windows in the house were broken. Sarah Richardson testified, “I staid till no Lead, no Frame, and then went away.” Ebenezer Richardson and George Wilmot retreated to an upper story. The active Whig tailor David Bradlee testified, “I saw one or two Men in the Room with Guns in their hands. R[ichardson] put a Gun on edge of Window.”

Finally, Richardson fired his musket. This time it was loaded.

TOMORROW: Rough justice.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Peale’s Portrait of an Elderly Black Man

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, people believed this painting by Charles Willson Peale was a portrait of William Lee, enslaved at Mount Vernon for the last thirty years of George Washington’s life.

Peale and Lee did cross paths. Peale first visited Mount Vernon in the early 1770s, when Lee was a teenaged house servant. Peale returned thirty years later, as his biographer Charles Coleman Sellers wrote in 1947:
The travellers made a pilgrimage to Mount Vernon [in 1804], Peale full of reminiscences of his visits there in the General's lifetime. All that remained now of the family was one slave, old Billy Lee, Washington's body servant through the war, whom Peale found in an outbuilding, a cripple now, cobbling shoes. The two sat down alone together and talked of past days and of the important subject of good health.
Lee became free on Washington’s death, but he was disabled by bad knees and remained on the estate for the rest of his life.

Peale kept a diary in 1804, so I presume that was the basis of this vignette. It would be nice to know exactly what Peale himself wrote of his conversation with Lee.

C. W. Peale died in 1827 at the age of eighty-five. The museum he‘d assembled on the upper floor of what is now Independence Hall was broken up in 1854. In the ensuing sale a man named Charles S. Ogden bought a Peale painting of the young George Washington and what he thought was “a portrait in oil, by the same artist, of Bill Lee, familiarly known as ‘Billy,’ Washington’s favorite military servant during the war for Independence.”

That identification reflects how Washington’s celebrity made Americans fascinated in his former slaves—or supposed former slaves. In 1835 an elderly enslaved woman named Joice Heth played the role of Washington’s former nursemaid, over 160 years old, for paying audiences in New York. Until recently, a painting in a Spanish museum was widely but not wisely identified as showing Washington’s cook, Hercules Posey.

Sometimes those stories were more accurate. In 1845, a New Hampshire journalist interviewed Oney Judge, who had escaped from the President’s Philadelphia mansion in 1796.

In that atmosphere, people appear to have decided that the elderly black man Peale painted must have had some connection to Washington. Or maybe the exhibitors realized that making that claim made their painting and the museum more valuable. William Lee, by then mentioned in memoirs and popular histories as “Billy Lee,” was the most famous elderly black man from Mount Vernon, so people attached his name to the picture.

In 1892, Ogden donated the two paintings to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. At some point, and I’m not sure when, scholars realized that the painting that Ogden believed showed William Lee was actually Peale’s 1819 portrait of a man named Yarrow Mamout. Peale described the sitting in detail in his diary.

Mamout had been born in Guinea, brought to Maryland as a slave, and freed around age sixty. He became a well known businessman and property owner in Washington, D.C. in the early republic. He maintained his Islamic faith, making this the first portrait of an individual Muslim American. In his eighties, Mamout claimed to be even older—140 years old, which was probably why Peale painted him.

In concentrating its holdings on documents, the H.S.P. transferred the Mamout painting to the Philadelphia History Museum and then recently assented to its sale to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which owns other Peale portraits. But none of William Lee.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

“He was Billy, and the old servant of General Washington”?

In 1777 a London printer issued a pamphlet titled Letters from General Washington, to Several of His Friends in the Year 1776.

James Rivington, New York’s leading Loyalist printer (shown here, courtesy of the New-York Historical Society), soon reprinted those letters in his Royal Gazette newspaper. He issued a pamphlet of his own, adding a couple of genuine American letters to fill out the pages. Other Loyalist printers issued a particularly embarrassing private letter on handbills.

The preface to the pamphlet offered this explanation of how the person publishing the documents had come by them:
Among the prisoners at Fort-Lee, I espied a mulatto fellow, whom I thought I recollected, and who confirmed my conjectures by gazing very earnestly at me. I asked him, if he knew me. At first, he was unwilling to own it; but when he was about to be carried off, thinking, I suppose, that I might perhaps be of some service to him, he came and told me, that he was Billy, and the old servant of General Washington. He had been left there on account of an indisposition which prevented his attending his master.

I asked him a great many questions, as you may suppose; but found very little satisfaction in his answers. At last, however, he told me that he had a small portmanteau of his master’s of which, when he found that he must be put into confinement, he entreated my care. It contained only a few stockings and shirts; and I could see nothing worth my care, except an almanack, in which he had kept a sort of a journal, or diary of his proceedings since his first coming to New-York:

there were also two letters from his lady, one from Mr. Custis, and some pretty long ones from a Mr. Lund Washington. And in the same bundle with them. the first draughts, or foul copies, of answers to them. I read these with avidity; and being highly entertained with them, have shown them to several of my friends, who all agree with me, that he is a very different character from what they had supposed him.
The letters were addressed to Martha Washington, her son Jack Custis, and Lund Washington, the cousin managing Mount Vernon at the time. They portrayed Washington as disillusioned with the Continental Congress and hoping for a negotiated peace. They were entirely fake.

Whoever wrote those letters was familiar enough with life at Mount Vernon to have been in the Washingtons’ circle in Virginia. The general suspected John Randolph, the Loyalist father of his former and future aide, Edmund Randolph. Scholars have theorized that the Rev. John Vardill guided this and other propaganda efforts.

Describing the letters as having been captured with an enslaved servant also reminded readers that Washington and many of his biggest American supporters were slaveholders. That was a big talking-point in British political writing at the time, not out of any abolitionist sentiment but to undercut the Continental claim to be fighting for “liberty.”

In 1795, as domestic political disputes heated up, American printers opposed to President Washington’s policies pulled out this pamphlet and reprinted its contents, not necessarily claiming the letters were authentic but just stirring the pot.

Eventually Washington wrote to several of his associates in the war reminding them that these “spurious letters, [were] known at the time of their first publication…to be forgeries,” as he told Benjamin Walker. He asked them to remind other people, too.

The President added:
But of all the mistakes which have been committed in this business, none is more palpable, or susceptible of detection than the manner in which it is said they were obtained, by the capture of my Mulatto Billy, with a Portmanteau. All the Army, under my immediate command, could contradict this; and I believe most of them know, that no Attendant of mine, or a particle of my baggage ever fell into the hands of the enemy during the whole course of the War.
To that we can add that in 1776 William Lee was not an “old servant” of the general but only in his early twenties.

Those letters from the 1790s are the only time that Washington referred to his former body servant William Lee as “Billy” after 1771. And he wasn’t really referring to Will—he was referring to the fictional version of his servant described by a British propagandist using that name.

Washington hoped that Rivington, who appears to have become an American intelligence source by the end of the war, would be able to reveal the author of the letters. That didn’t happen. Rivington probably knew as little about their origin as anyone else in America.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

“Calling himself William Lee”

In October 1767, George Washington bought two “Mulatto” boys named Will and Frank and two “Negro” boys named Adam and Jack from Mary Lee, widow of Col. John Lee of Westmoreland County.

John Lee (1724-1767) had married the young widow Mary (Smith) Ball in 1749. They had no children together before he died. Given how the enslaved mulatto boys were Col. Lee’s property and later took his surname, he’s the man most likely to have been their father. In any event, his widow sent them off with another master soon after the colonel’s death.

Mary went on to wed John Smith in August 1768, and Washington dined with that couple the day after their marriage. There were so many Smiths, Lees, and Balls in Virginia that I can’t tell if John or Mary Lee was related to Washington’s mother’s Ball family or the Lee family his descendants married into, but they were in the same social circle.

Washington paid £61.15s for Will and Frank, more than three times the £19 he paid for the other two youths. All four slaves were probably teenaged males with many productive years before them, but the brothers’ lighter skin made them particularly valuable as domestic servants.

The Washington Papers include lists of “tithables” on his lands each June for many years. High among the “Ho[use]. Servants” on those lists from 1768 to 1771 was “Billy.” On 8 Oct 1770, Washington wrote in his diary about “my boy Billy who was taken sick.”

In September 1771, however, Washington recorded paying for a “pair of Boots for Will.” The editors of the papers wrote that there were enslaved men named Will on different farms, but those boots mostly likely went to the house servant he had bought in 1767, now close to manhood.

After that point, Washington stopped referring to the young man as “Billy,” at least in writing (except indirectly in connection with one incident I’ll discuss tomorrow). On the tithables lists “Will” appeared starting in 1772. His brother “Frank” had arrived on those list of house servants in 1771, along with “Herculas,” most likely Hercules Posey.

When Washington rode off to war in 1775, he brought Will with him as a body servant. The young man, then probably in his twenties, was at the commander’s headquarters in Cambridge, where on 22 Feb 1776 the steward recorded this expense in his: “Paid Margaret Thomas for making three shirts for William.”

Ten years later, on 18 Feb 1786, Washington made a comprehensive list of his human property. At the top was “Will Val de Chambre,” followed by waiter “Frank” and soon after cook “Herculus.” In that decade Will suffered two falls that injured his knees badly so he was no longer able to wait on Washington as had trained to do. He became a shoemaker at Mount Vernon.

In his 1799 will, Washington granted freedom and a pension to “my Mulatto man William (calling himself William Lee)”—the first time he referred to his wartime companion with a surname.

In a memoir first extracted in the American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine in 1829, Washington’s step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, referred to “his huntsman, Will Lee.” But he also wrote that that servant “was better known in Revolutionary lore as Billy.”

Indeed, while Washington himself never wrote of his body servant as “Billy” after 1771, other people referred to him by that diminutive. For example, on 27 Apr 1789 Clement Biddle wrote to the new President from Philadelphia, “I have frequently called to see Billy.” William Lee continued to live at Mount Vernon until his death around 1824, and nineteenth-century articles and memoirs about visiting there, such as the one by Elkanah Watson, called him “Billy.”

Nineteenth-century authors therefore developed a new way of referring to Washington’s body servant Will—as “Billy Lee,” a combination of names the general himself never used in writing. That’s become a standard reference. It shows up in, for instance, this month’s History Channel series about Washington, at least from some commentators.

But is that how historians should refer to the man, especially during the war years? We don’t know what Gen. Washington called him in conversation, but in writing it was always “William” or “Will.” We also know that William Lee kept the surname of his first owner (and father?) more than thirty years after coming to Mount Vernon.

“Billy” is of course a diminutive, and American slaveholders and racists used such nicknames to belittle black men. Yet we also use such names for friends; it’s possible that Washington’s valet was happy to answer to that name from people he knew well. It’s also conceivable that when Will Lee became disabled, still only in his late thirties and enslaved, he was reduced to such a state of dependency that people started to infantilize him as “Billy” again.

All those are conjectural possibilities, however. We know from Washington’s will that in middle age his former valet was “calling himself William Lee,” and that’s the name I use.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

The First President’s Last Years

This is the day after Presidents’ Day, so it seems appropriate to think about life after the first Presidency.

Jonathan Horn, formerly a White House speechwriter, has just published Washington’s End, about George Washington’s retirement from the White House. Here’s an interview on the website of his alma mater, Yale:
How did Washington envision his retirement?

When Washington retired in March of 1797, he imagined himself returning to Mount Vernon and not straying far from the estate’s boundaries for the rest of his life. He imagined himself occupying his time as a farmer, renovating his house, and arranging his papers. History turned out differently.

How did the public react to his decision to leave public life?

Washington retired at a time when heads of state usually only relinquished power upon their deaths. His successor, John Adams, recalled looking around the room during his inauguration and seeing people in tears. He knew those tears weren’t for him, but that everyone was so moved by Washington surrendering power. They knew they were witnessing history.

Editors of opposition newspapers were delighted to see Washington return to Mount Vernon. They had attacked him throughout his second term, sometimes in quite personal terms. They celebrated his retirement in a way that I think would surprise people today.

Did Washington keep abreast of politics during his brief retirement?

He very much stayed informed. He read newspapers voraciously. Adams had retained Washington’s cabinet secretaries, and the former president pressed them to send him updates of what was happening behind the scenes.

Today, we’re accustomed to assuming presidents become less partisan when they leave office. The opposite happened in Washington’s case. He despondently concluded that people had to choose between the Federalists or Jeffersonian Republicans, and he was a Federalist. He favored the infamous Alien and Sedition acts, which were aimed at suppressing the political opposition, and favored excluding Republicans from high-ranking positions in the new army.

There were some Federalists who hoped to persuade him to run for a third term in 1800. Washington tried to silence these discussions, and, of course, he didn’t live to see the election.
Washington was a great one for retirements. He understood that the difference between a republican general and a military dictator, between a President and a king, lay in relinquishing power. He established the norm for almost all subsequent Presidents that was eventually written into the Constitution.

Horn also did an interview with Time magazine and published an op-ed at Politico in this auspicious window between the anniversaries of Washington’s birth.

Monday, February 17, 2020

“Boys insulting Every body who went in”

We don’t have inside information on the protests in front of the shops of people who defied Boston’s non-importation agreement in February 1770.

Instead, we have the reports of an unfriendly observer reporting to a Customs official. That person wasn’t privy to the Whigs’ planning. He (or she) was apt to ascribe bad motives to local political leaders. She (or he) might have been mistaken about what acts were planned and what were spontaneous.

All that said, within those reports I see evidence that top Whigs began those protests but then events went beyond those organizers’ direct control. Boys took over, making themselves visible participants in the movement.

The action started on 8 February, as described here, with a single sign erected beside the town pump. A painted hand pointed accusingly at William Jackson’s shop, identifying him as an “Importer.”

The informant noted that “a Number of Idle people…were standing by, with Clubs and Sticks in their Hands” and “a Number of considerable Merchants Stood at a Little distance, and seemed highly pleased with what was going on.” In particular, this witness named the radical merchant and protest leader William Molineux. So top Whigs closely supervised that initial action.

Protesters put up that sign at 10:00 A.M. and took it down at 1:00 P.M. The result was a brief, limited action on a busy Thursday when farmers brought their goods to market and the town schools let out early. That timing worked: “boys, and Country people,” came to watch.

Children had very little buying power, so they couldn’t participate in the boycott of the importers’ shops as the Whigs asked of adults. But they could show their support by making others obey the boycott. On that first day, the informant saw “Boys insulting Every body who went in, or out of the Shop, by Hissing and pelting them with Dirt.” Then more shops were vandalized over the following week.

The big question is how much those young people decided on their own to enter the political arena and how much they were used as tools by the adult Whigs.

Years later, the Rev. William Gordon wrote of this time in his history of the Revolution:
Boys, small and great, and undoubtedly men, had been and were encouraged, and well paid by certain leaders, to insult and intimidate those who had avowedly counteracted the combination, and still persevered.
But we don’t have further evidence of this, and Gordon didn’t arrive in Roxbury until 1771.

I think the evidence suggests that boys pushed into the political action, and in doing so pushed the political action further than the Whigs had planned—though Molineux and other radicals might well have encouraged the boys as they saw the result.

On 15 February, the picket line became more elaborate. The informant reported that the sign with the hand was joined by “the Effegies of some of the Importers.” Those effigies were the hallmark of the Pope Night processions, Boston’s annual eruption of youthful patriotic misrule (shown above). The town’s teen-aged boys brought out their political paraphernalia.

To be sure, there were probably still men watching over the protest. When four soldiers from the 14th tried to take down the sign and effigies, whoever pushed them away had to be fully grown. But the form of the protest was shaped by the youth culture.

Another sign that this protest was no longer fully coordinated with top Whigs was the threat on 15 February that effigies would “make their appearance on Liberty Tree the week following.” That didn’t happen. The adult Whig leadership kept control over that protest spot, taking down an unauthorized effigy in March 1768.

But there was still a clear threat of larger protests the next Thursday.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

“The Effects of Junius’ Letter”?

Throughout 1769, British politics was roiled by a series of public letters signed “Junius,” attacking the ministry of the Duke of Grafton and promoting William Pitt, by then the Earl of Chatham.

The letters combined erudite arguments, apparently inside knowledge of British politics, and personal attacks. The author’s identity has never been confirmed, but most evidence points to the Irish bureaucrat and politician Philip Francis, shown here.

The “Junius” letters made their way across the Atlantic to Boston, where the Whigs were already fans of Pitt and trying to form alliances with reformers in London.

In May 1769, Boston newspapers started to reprint letters from the “Junius” debate. Curiously, the first and, for a long time, only newspapers to do so were those closest to the royal authorities: Richard Draper’s Boston News-Letter and John Mein and John Fleeming’s Boston Chronicle. Other newspapers reported on the debate in London, passing on the occasional speculation about who “Junius” was.

On 16 October, the Boston Gazette joined in the fun by reprinting a letter from “Junius Americanus,” a pseudonym of the Virginia-born Arthur Lee. He wrote about issues that affected North American colonists directly.

In the 16 December London Evening-Post, “Junius” published a letter addressing George III. Such a direct public message to the king was a breach of traditional etiquette, arguably even illegal. The author presented this letter as a hypothetical letter written if the monarch had asked for frank and honest advice—and who could complain about that?

“Junius” expressed what the British Whigs saw as wrong with current London politics. There were several slaps at Scotsmen for supposedly being less loyal than Englishmen. There was a long defense of John Wilkes for attacking Scotsmen. There was support for the printers then taking the radical action of making the proceedings of Parliament available to the public. (Later in 1770 the first printer of the “Junius” letters was himself prosecuted, but the government lost that and similar cases.)

Toward the end of his letter to the king, “Junius” wrote: “The same pretended Power which robs an English Subject of his Birthright, may rob an English K[ing] of his C[rown].” That was as obvious a warning of justified rebellion as the British press could handle in those days.

Customs Collector Joseph Harrison’s anonymous informant reported that on 7 Feb 1770 “Capt. [Isaac] Cazneau arrived from London and brought with him Junius Letter to the K--g, which was published the next day in Drapers paper,” the Boston News-Letter. Draper also printed a much shorter reply from a “Junius” opponent signing himself “Modestus.”

Edes and Gill then reprinted the “Junius” and “Modestus” essays as a two-page supplement to their 12 February issue of the Boston Gazette, the same that included the expanded list of importers that I showed yesterday.

Three days later, the anonymous informant wrote: “Between the 8th & this date, most of the Importers had their Windows broke their Signs defaced, and many other marks of Resentment—in short the Effects of Junius’ Letter was Visible which way so ever you turned yourself.”

This was a top-down view of politics, all too typical of upper-class Loyalists. According to this perspective, a verbose, educated, well connected but unaccountably radical gentleman in London wrote a provocative letter. Once reprinted in Boston, it provoked common subjects who would otherwise be peaceful and content into violent attacks on supporters of Parliament’s new taxes.

Of course, Boston’s non-importation movement was over a year old by the time the “Letter to the King” came to town. The “Body of the Trade” meetings and the decision to call importers public enemies took place in January, before that letter arrived. Is it really believable that a long essay published in the News-Letter on 8 February prompted the “Importer” sign that went up at William Jackson’s shop that morning (possibly even before the newspaper came out)?

Both the Boston Whigs and the Boston Loyalists saw their cause as parallel, or even part of, the political conflicts in Britain. They were eager to draw connections between their struggles and the imperial capital. But in this case the cause-and-effect is more than tenuous.

It’s conceivable that the “Junius” letter and its reprint in the 11 February Boston Gazette, the town’s most popular Whig newspaper, fueled the larger demonstration four days later. But I think the energy was really coming from the bottom up.

TOMORROW: The shrill voices of the voiceless.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Naming and Shaming the Importers

Last month I related how the “Body of the Trade” in Boston met over several days in January 1770 and wound up reenergizing the non-importation movement.

That meeting ended by naming certain merchants and shopkeepers as “importers” who refused to join the boycott of goods from Britain. Organizers had the resolves of the meeting printed as a broadside, about 14" by 5". Here’s a peek at that broadside.

The bottom of that sheet urged supporters “to paste this up over the Chimney Piece of every public House, and on every other proper Place, in every Town, in this and every other Colony, there to remain as a Monument of the Remembrance of the detestable Names above-mentioned.”

In addition, on 22 January Edes and Gill printed six importers’ names in big type at the top left of the front page of their Boston Gazette. On 12 February they ran an expanded list, as shown above. (For some reason, the first version had left out the locals who were the original focus of that public meeting: Nathaniel Rogers, William Jackson, Theophilus Lillie, and John Taylor.)

On 8 February, as described here, the Boston Whigs found another way to designate an “Importer”: with a sign in the shape of a hand set up outside Jackson’s shop. Schoolboys, let out early on Thursdays, formed a picket line under the Brazen Head, trying to keep customers away.

On 15 February, two and a half centuries ago today, Customs Collector Joseph Harrison’s anonymous informant told him: “Between the 8th & this date, most of the Importers had their Windows broke their Signs defaced, and many other marks of Resentment.” The public demonstration in the street became more elaborate that Thursday:
The Exhibition the same as last week with addition of the Effegies of some of the Importers, and below was wrote, that the Effegies of four Commissioners, five of their understrappers, with some people on the other side the water where [sic] to make their appearance on Liberty Tree the week following—
People “on the other side the water” meant officials in Britain.

There were still two army regiments in town, and that day “four soldiers of the 14th. Regt. attempted to take…down” the display. The informer stated those men were “bear of[f] and one of them much Hurt.” However, I don’t recall any soldier of the 14th Regiment complaining about this incident in the depositions they gave to Loyalist officials later that year. But the conflict was becoming more violent.

TOMORROW: What fueled those confrontations—“Junius” or juniors?

Friday, February 14, 2020

The Great 1770 Quiz Answers, Part 4

Here are answers to the final questions from the Great 1770 Quiz.

X. Match the following men to their experience of tarring and feathering in 1770.

1) John Adams
2) Robert Auchmuty
3) Henry Barnes
4) Theophilus Lillie
5) Patrick McMaster
6) William Molineux
7) Owen Richards
8) Jesse Savil

A) tarred and feathered by a mob in Gloucester
B) tarred and feathered by a mob led by a Connecticut captain
C) found his horse tarred and feathered
D) threatened in writing with tar and feathers while visiting Salem
E) found the outside of his shop tarred
F) carted around by a mob with tar and feathers but not tarred and feathered
G) filed suit against half a dozen people for tarring and feathering someone
H) defended a man accused of tarring and feathering someone

I discussed George Gailer’s lawsuit against the people who attacked him with tar and feathers in October 1769 back here. Robert Auchmuty was his lawyer (thus G) while John Adams defended David Bradlee (thus H).

Ben Irvin’s 2003 New England Quarterly article “Tar, Feathers, and the Enemies of American Liberties, 1768-1776” lists all the other incidents in its appendix. Other historians mention them as well. Owen Richards and Jesse Savil were low-level Customs officers. Henry Barnes, Theophilus Lillie, and Patrick McMaster were businessmen who defied the non-importation movement.

The threat to tar and feather William Molineux was an anomaly. Instead of enforcing the Customs laws or defying non-importation, he defied Customs laws and enforced non-importation. But that threat is recorded on the front page of the 20 Aug 1770 Boston Gazette, as shown here, right under a mention of tar and feathers being readied for importers in Woodbridge, New Jersey. By the sestercentennial of that news item, I hope to understand it a little better.

The correct answers are thus Adams (H), Auchmuty (G), Barnes (C), Lillie (E), McMaster (F), Molineux (D), Richards (B), and Savil (A). Once again, both Kathy and John got all the answers right.

XI. One of the most famous men in the British Empire visited Massachusetts in August and September 1770 and never left. Who was he?

This question offers so few specifics that I don’t think it’s Googlable. It’s a test of knowledge of the British Empire in 1770 and Massachusetts trivia.

The man was the Rev. George Whitefield. The popular British evangelist made many preaching tours through America. According to his 1877 biography and the 1903 edition of John Rowe’s diary, Whitefield’s final New England tour saw him preaching at:
  • Rhode Island: Newport (4-8 Aug), Providence (9-12 Aug).
  • Massachusetts: Attleboro (13 Aug), Wrentham (14 Aug), Boston at various churches (15-18 Aug), Malden (19 Aug), Boston again (20-24 Aug), Medford (26 Aug), Charlestown (27 Aug), Cambridge (28 Aug), Boston again (29-30 Aug), Jamaica Plain in Roxbury (31 Aug), Milton (1 Sept), Roxbury again (2 Sept), Boston again (3 Sept), Salem (5 Sept), Marblehead (6 Sept), Salem again (7 Sept), Cape Ann (8 Sept), Ipswich (9 Sept), Newburyport (10-11 Sept), Rowley (12-13 Sept), [laid low by diarrhea, 14-16 Sept], Boston again (17-19 Sept), Newton (20 Sept), [ill again, 21-22 Sept].
  • New Hampshire: Portsmouth (23-25 Sept).
  • Maine: Kittery (26 Sept), York (27 Sept).
  • New Hampshire: Portsmouth again (28 Sept), Exeter (29 Sept).
Whitefield returned to Newburyport, but he died at 6:00 A.M. on 30 September. Per his wish, the minister was buried in the crypt of the Newburyport meetinghouse, shown above.

Both John and Kathy answered this question correctly.

XII. Young servant Charles Bourgate accused his master Edward Manwaring, a Customs official, of shooting at the crowd during the Boston Massacre. At Manwaring’s trial in December, however, a jailhouse informant testified to hearing Bourgate say that Elizabeth Waldron had induced him to tell that lie. What did Waldron allegedly offer Bourgate for his testimony?

This question helpfully pointed to a specific moment of testimony, but of course the challenge is finding a record of that moment. A report on Edward Manwaring’s trial was printed alongside the transcript of the Rex v. Wemms et al. trial of the soldiers for the Boston Massacre—but not in every copy.

The copy of the trial record that Harbottle Dorr must have bought early and bound with his newspapers ends with an index of witnesses. But later copies like this one on archive.org have an appendix reporting on Manwaring’s acquittal.

I’ll discuss Charles Bourgate’s accusations next month. For now, I’ll just quote what a debtor named James Penny testified that the French boy had told him:
That what he testified to the Grand Jury and before the Justices…was in every particular false, and that he did swear in that manner by the persuasion of William Molineux, who told him he would take him from his master and provide for him, and that Mr. Molineux frightened him by telling him if he refused to swear against his master and Mr. Munro the mob in Boston would kill him: and farther that Mrs. Waldron, the wife of Mr. Waldron a taylor in Back-street, who sells ginger bread and drams, gave him the said Charles gingerbread and cheese, and desired him to swear against his master.
The answer to this question is thus “gingerbread and cheese.”

And it’s further evidence that William Molineux was everywhere in 1770 Boston.

Once again, Kathy and John both knew the putative bribe.

XIII. Three brothers from Massachusetts, two of them prominent in one of 1770’s most famous events, are said to have died at the same place, yet they were thousands of miles apart. Who were they, and how is this possible?

One of 1770’s most famous events was the Boston Massacre trial, and reports of that proceeding often note that Samuel Quincy (1735-1789) was one of the prosecutors while his younger brother Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1744-1775), was one of the defense attorneys.

Did they have a third brother? Yes, Edmund Quincy (1733-1768), who was a merchant rather than a lawyer.

And where did the three men die? They all died “at sea,” but in different corners of the north Atlantic. Edmund was on a voyage to the Caribbean for his health. Josiah was returning to Massachusetts after meeting with British Whigs in the crucial winter of 1774-75. And Samuel, having become a Loyalist and taken a Customs service job in Antigua, was sailing to Britain with his second wife, again in hopes of restoring his health, and died off the African coast.

The Quincy brothers’ deaths was the tricky bit of trivia that got me thinking about making another quiz. I’m pleased that fact wasn’t too obscure for people to find. Or at least not too obscure for both John and Kathy.

By the narrow margin of a single question, John provided the most correct answers. Congratulations to him, to Kathy for an impressive performance, and to everyone else who puzzled over this quiz.

(John, please comment on this posting with your mailing address, which I’ll keep private, and I’ll send you a copy of The Atlas of Boston History provided by the University Press of Chicago.)

Thursday, February 13, 2020

The Great 1770 Quiz Answers, Part 3

Here are answers from the start of the second part of the Great 1770 Quiz.

VII. What were the real names of people in Boston behind these nicknames or pseudonyms used in 1770?

A) Determinatus
B) The Irish Infant
C) Michael Johnson
D) Paoli
E) Philanthrop
F) Shan-ap-Morgan
G) Vindex
H) William the Knave

One site to find almost all of these names is Boston 1775. Use the search box in the upper left corner of the screen (on the desktop design). I’ve discussed everything but “Paoli.” Of course, one should still confirm what I’ve written, but this site offers a quick start.

Three of those names are pen names used in newspaper essays. Samuel Adams wrote as “Determinatus” and “Vindex,” among many other pseudonyms. Jonathan Sewall signed himself “Philanthrop.” Many newspaper readers knew the identities behind those signatures; they weren’t actually concealing much.

Two other nicknames are examples of how people attacked their political enemies in newspaper essays. Adams called Customs Commissioner John Robinson “Shan-ap-Morgan” because he came from Wales. Boston Chronicle printer John Mein called William Molineux “William the Knave,” along with my favorite, “Admiral Renegado.”

It’s not clear which category “Paoli” belongs in. In 1769 the unsuccessful Corsican revolutionary Pasquale Paoli (1725-1807) was celebrated in Britain, where it was easier to cheer people rebelling against the French king than rebelling against one’s own. American Whigs toasted Paoli, Ebenezer Mackintosh named a child after him, and a Pennsylvania tavern with his name grew into a township (and 1777 battle site).

In an 18 Feb 1770 letter Thomas Hutchinson wrote about Molineux, “whom the Sons of Liberty have given the name of Paoli.” The Censor magazine for 14 Mar 1772 likewise referred to “the Bostonian who assumes the name of Paoli.” But those are Loyalist voices, not actually Molineux’s friends. In fact, they were his enemies, eager to make him seem conceited or alarming.

So did Molineux and his colleagues really use the nickname “Paoli” regularly and unironically? I’m not sure. But many historians have accepted Hutchinson as an accurate reporter and repeated that Molineux seized on the Corsican’s name.

On to “Michael Johnson.” In the week after the Boston Massacre, newspapers and coroners referred to one dead victim under that name. Then suddenly they started calling that tall mulatto man Crispus Attucks—without, unfortunately, offering any explanation for the change. Most historians suspect Attucks was living under an alias, but that’s still a guess.

Finally, in his autobiography John Adams recalled how the merchant James Forrest, “then called the Irish Infant,” asked him to defend the soldiers after the Massacre. Adams used the same nickname in an 1816 letter to Jedidiah Morse. He described Forrest in tears, so people have interpreted the nickname to mean Forrest, an Irishman, cried as easily as a baby.

That said, I haven’t found any other source describing Forrest by that name or trait. When Forrest told the Loyalists Commission about the services he’d rendered to the Crown, he didn’t mention securing the soldiers’ defense attorney. And the younger Abigail Adams used the phrase “the Irish infant” to describe a little person she saw in London in 1785. So there’s still a little mystery there.

Both Kathy and John matched all the nicknames to the right people.

VIII. After approving the Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, Boston voted to send a copy to about two dozen potentially sympathetic readers in Britain. Who was the only woman on that list?

Boston’s Short Narrative report can be found at many websites, and in multiple editions. The first printing, as shown by the copy Molineux sent to Robert Treat Paine and the Massachusetts Historical Society later digitized, ends with an index of witnesses. The town meeting authorized a committee to send copies to “the Duke of Richmond, General [Henry Seymour] Conway, and such other Gentlemen as they may think proper” in Britain.

On 16 May, the printers produced more copies with some new pages at the end listing the people in Britain that committee had chosen. A footnote explained, “This list and the following letter, are annexed to such copies only of this pamphlet, as are intended for publication in America.” Then more material was added for later printings. The longer copies were the basis of reprints in 1849 and 1870.

There’s one female name on that long list of recipients: the Whig historian Catharine Macaulay (shown above during her 1784-1785 visit to the U.S. of A.).

Both John and Kathy identified that supporter of the American cause.

IX. What site on the Freedom Trail came under new management in 1770?

There are a limited number of sites on the Freedom Trail, some of which didn’t even exist in 1770. So that narrows down the possibilities.

The Freedom Trail Foundation’s own webpage about those sites includes an entry that begins: “Built around 1680, the Paul Revere House, owned by the legendary patriot from 1770-1800…” A-ha!

A little research in biographies confirms that Paul Revere bought the North End house now named after him in late 1770. It was his home and place of business for several years, though he moved out for grander quarters well before he sold it.

Both Kathy and John correctly landed on that site.

TOMORROW: Tar, feathers, and death.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Great 1770 Quiz Answers, Part 2

Here are the answers to the questions remaining from part 1 of the Great 1770 Quiz, along with the background and sources for each answer.

III. Match the person to the weapon he reportedly carried at the Boston Massacre.

1) catstick
2) cordwood stick
3) firelock and bayonet
4) Highland broadsword

A) Crispus Attucks
B) Benjamin Burdick
C) John Carroll
D) Christopher Monk

There are two ways to tackle this on Google, I think: pairing the phrase “Boston Massacre” with the men’s names, and pairing “Boston Massacre” with the weapons.

The first search shows that of these four people, John Carroll was a defendant in the trial—i.e., a soldier. We know those grenadiers were armed with firelocks (muskets) and bayonets.

From the other direction, “Highland broadsword” points to several sources naming Benjamin Burdick; “cordwood stick” to several naming Crispus Attucks; and “catstick” to this Boston 1775 posting about Christopher Monk.

One further comment on Burdick and his broadsword. Boston records show he was “Constable of the Town House Watch,” head of the nighttime patrol in the center of town. However, he never identified himself as such in his testimonies on the Massacre—I assume everybody at the time already knew.

As a result, until I wrote about Boston’s watchmen in a paper titled (after a quote from Burdick) “I Never Used to Go Out with a Weapon,” most people didn’t analyze his behavior through that role. The Highland broadsword wasn’t evidence of a man out for trouble; it was evidence of a man out to do his job of keeping the peace.

All four people commenting on this question—kmjones234, Kathy, Justin C, and John—put the weapons in the right hands.

IV. Followup: Who used “wouldring sticks” as weapons in March 1770?

Google the phrase “wouldring sticks,” and the only references that come up point to the ropemakers of Gray’s ropewalk during their brawl with redcoats on 1 March. The phrase appears in Boston’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in 1770 and in many accounts based on that source.

Those tools were also called “wouldering sticks” and “way sticks.” Ropemakers used them to help twist large cables tighter. But a thick, tapered stick could be useful in other situations as well.

Again, kmjones234, Kathy, Justin C, and John all answered this question correctly.

V. Which of the following men did the Boston town meeting elect to the Massachusetts house in May 1770?
  • John Adams
  • Samuel Adams
  • James Bowdoin
  • Thomas Cushing
  • John Hancock
  • James Otis, Jr.
  • William Phillips
According to Massachusetts’s charter, Boston could elect four men to the lower house of the General Court. Every other town could elect only two. (That meant Boston’s population, more than twice the size of any other town, was underrepresented. However, its representatives could easily attend sessions in Boston, and they had outsized influence.)

From 1766 to 1769 the town meeting elected the same four men to the legislature each year: Thomas Cushing, James Otis, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. But the effects of his coffee-house brawl in September 1769 had addled Otis so much that in April he shot a pistol out of his window on School Street. He therefore needed to be replaced.

Over those same years James Bowdoin had served on the Massachusetts Council, but in 1769 Gov. Francis Bernard “negatived” or vetoed him along with a bunch of other troublemakers. That meant Boston had an active Whig politician without an official seat, and a seat needing someone to fill it. People sensed a solution.

Here’s the published record of Boston’s town meetings from 1770 to 1777. The election on 8 May 1770 is on page 21. That shows the four men elected that day were Hancock (511 votes out of 513), Cushing (510), Samuel Adams (510), and Bowdoin (439).

Those weren’t Boston’s representatives for the legislative year, though. When the Massachusetts General Court chose its new Council later in May, members once again named James Bowdoin to that upper chamber—and acting governor Thomas Hutchinson decided to accept him. That left his legislative seat vacant. On 6 June Boston had another town meeting (page 33), and Bostonians chose a young lawyer originally from Braintree to represent them: John Adams (418 votes out of 536).

In 1771 John Adams declined to run again, and Otis was reelected (page 53). Then Otis had another bout of insanity and lost the support of voters. In 1772 the town chose William Phillips as its fourth representative (page 78).

Kathy, Justin C, and John answered this question completely.

VI. Followup: In what building did the Massachusetts house meet in 1770?

To punish Boston and reduce the influence of its representatives, Gov. Francis Bernard convened the Massachusetts General Court in Cambridge in May 1769. That of course produced a lot of arguments about whether he was right to do so. Acting governor Thomas Hutchinson followed that lead and also convened the General Court in Cambridge.

The Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office has a webpage linking to the journals of the Massachusetts house as reprinted by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Those volumes have handy introductions about each year’s legislatives tussles. The title page of the 1770 volume states where the legislature was convened: “at Harvard-College in Cambridge, in the County of Middlesex.”

It takes a little more digging to determine in what building the house met. The 1770 minutes contain many references to messages or people going back and forth between the house and the Council. Gov. Hutchinson and the Council were in “the Philosophy Chamber,” and the lower house was in “the Chapel.”

There’s some debate in the literature as to whether “the Chapel” meant Holden Chapel, built in 1744, or the ground-floor chapel of Harvard Hall, rebuilt in 1766. We know the Philosophy Chamber was in Harvard Hall. We also know the legislature had met in the previous Harvard Hall during the smallpox epidemic of 1764; in fact, a fire that started during that session was why the hall had to be rebuilt. Most important, we know the architect of the new building was none other that Gov. Bernard, who got to choose where the legislature met.

Thus, the consensus now, as this guide to Massachusetts legislators specifies, is that the Massachusetts house met on the ground floor of Harvard Hall.

Justin C and John both identified “Harvard College,” earning at least partial credit for this question.

TOMORROW: Pseudonyms and more.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

The Great 1770 Quiz Answers, Part 1

Thanks to everyone who puzzled over the Great 1770 Quiz, whether or not you entered answers in the comments!

It looks like the competition is down to John and Kathy since they answered both parts. If I try this again I hope to remember the bunch all the questions in one posting.

In this Age of Google, it’s increasingly easy to find information—as long as one knows how to ask and how to assess sources. That means it’s also increasingly difficult to come up with trivia questions that can’t be answered with a few keystrokes.

This week I’ll share the answers to the questions and point to sources where people could find those answers. So let’s go!

I. Lord North became prime minister of Britain in January 1770. On March 5, the date of the Boston Massacre, what motion did he make in Parliament?

The answer is that on 5 Mar 1770 Lord North stood up and proposed in the House of Commons that Parliament repeal the duties on glass, paper, lead, and painter’s colors instituted by the Townshend Act.

Simply Googling the phrases “Lord North,” “Parliament,” and “March 5, 1770” (each phrase within quote marks, of course) brings up that answer in this essay at History Is Fun.

But of course an online tertiary source should be confirmed, ideally with period references that would pass muster in scholarship. The Annual Register for 1770 describes North’s proposal and the debate next to the date “March 5.”

Notably, that account doesn’t use Lord North’s name. It simply refers to “the government,” which he headed. British printers in this period were still testing the water of reporting Parliamentary debate, so they often didn’t identify speakers by name.

A few years later, however, an anonymous author rewrote the Annual Register into A View of the History of Great-Britain, during the Administration of Lord North, and that book was explicit about Lord North’s action:
One of the first acts of the new minister, was the bringing in a bill [footnote: March 5, 1770] for the repeal of so much of a late act of parliament as related to the imposing of a duty on paper, painters colours, and glass, imported into America; the tax upon tea, which was laid on by the same act, was still continued.

This repeal was made in compliance with the prayer of a petition, presented by the American merchants to the house of Commons, setting forth the great losses they sustained, and the fatal effects produced by the late laws, which for the purpose of raising a revenue in the colonies, had imposed duties upon goods exported from Great-Britain thither.
Both books report that some Members of Parliament proposed repealing the tea tax as well. Again, the names of those politicians don’t appear. But in a 1908 biography Charles A. W. Pownall credited his ancestor, former Massachusetts governor Thomas Pownall, with forcing a vote on that issue. Pownall lost, and the tea tax remained.

All four people who responded to this question—kmjones234, Kathy, Justin C, and John—answered correctly!

II. According to the records of King’s Chapel, which of the following events did NOT occur in that church in early 1770?
  • the funeral of Christopher Seider, killed by Ebenezer Richardson
  • the funeral of Patrick Carr, killed in the Boston Massacre
  • the baptism of Ebenezer Richardson, on trial for killing Christopher Seider
  • the marriage of John Murray, representative to the Massachusetts General Court from Rutland
Last November I featured the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s online publication of the records of King’s Chapel, which inspired this question. The second of those two volumes contains the records on baptisms, marriages, and funerals.

In those webpages we can find mentions of all four of the events listed above: John Murray’s wedding on 24 January, Christopher Seider’s funeral on 26 February (though his name is spelled “Sider”), Patrick Carr’s funeral on 17 March, and Ebenezer Richardson’s baptism on 14 April.

The funerals included processions through the streets, but some religious service evidently took place in King’s Chapel or else they wouldn’t be recorded here. However, the listing for Richardson’s baptism says it took place “In Prison” rather than in the church, so that’s the correct answer.

Richardson’s was an unusual “Adult” baptism in the Anglican church. The man’s birth in 1718 is listed in the records of Woburn’s meetinghouse, indicating that he’d been baptized as an infant there, but in April 1770 he apparently wanted more salvation. Since he was about to go on trial for killing a child and none of the lawyers in Boston wanted to represent him, Richardson evidently felt he could use all the help he could find.

This question may have been too tricky by half because no one got it entirely right, but John noted all four events are in the King’s Chapel records while Kathy discerned that Richardson was in jail.

TOMORROW: Weapons and the legislature.