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, July 12, 2020

The Speakman Brothers at War

When we left the Barnes and Speakman families in Marlborough in the fall of 1770, they appear to have arrived at some sort of truce.

Henry Barnes continued to run a potash manufactory and general store. Older brother William Speakman probably managed the farming land while younger brother Gilbert Warner Speakman set up a tannery.

Four years later, in the summer of 1774, Parliament’s Coercive Acts radicalized the Massachusetts countryside far more than it had been before. Marlborough held a town meeting to endorse the Solemn League and Covenant, the strictest boycott yet on British goods and people selling them in America.

On 8 July, John Rowe, uncle and mentor of the Speakman brothers and then trimming toward the Crown, wrote in his diary:
I heard of the bad behaviour of the people at Marlborough; its said the Speakmans were concerned; if it proves so, they have not only behaved ill, but contrary to my sentiments, and forfeited my regard in future for them.
Then came the “Powder Alarm” of 2 September, when thousands of Middlesex County militiamen poured into Cambridge, spurred by Gen. Thomas Gage’s seizing of gunpowder from a provincial storehouse and false rumors of British military atrocities. The Marlborough militia companies were prominent in that action according to Boston merchant John Andrews:
Though they had an account at Marlborough of the powder’s being remov’d, last Thursday night, yet they were down to Cambridge (which is thirty miles) by eight o’clock Fryday morning, with a troop of horse and another of foot, both under the command of Gib. Speakman, a young fellow who serv’d his time with John Rowe.
When the real war came in April 1775, William Speakman marched with the Marlborough militia infantry. (That is, in fact, the last record I’ve found of him.)

Gilbert Warner Speakman became a captain in Col. John Glover’s regiment, drawn mostly from Marblehead, at the start of 1776. On 17 March, the British military evacuated Boston, taking many Loyalist families with them, including Henry and Christian Barnes.

The Speakmans’ uncles, John Rowe and Ralph Inman (shown above, courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum), stayed behind to tough out the change in political power. Just one week after the evacuation, with the British fleet still massed off shore, Rowe wrote in his diary:
I dined at Mr. Inman’s with him, Mrs. Inman, Genl. [Nathanael] Green, Mrs. [Catherine] Green, Tuthill Hubbard, Mrs. Forbes, Mr. Lowell [?], Mrs. Rowe, and Capt. Gilbert Speakman.
Rowe had regained his regard for his nephew, now that that nephew was now on the winning side.

In May 1776, Capt. Gib Speakman advertised for deserters from his regiment. Those newspaper notices provide valuable descriptions of how Marblehead soldiers were dressing.

The next year, Capt. Speakman transitioned to being commissary of military stores at Springfield and then commissary of ordnance for the ill-fated Penobscot expedition of 1779. He offered damning testimony in the court-martial of Paul Revere. Revere was acquitted while Speakman was still petitioning the Massachusetts legislature for reimbursement for that mission in 1798.

The Speakmans expected to marry within the same class and religion, as their aunts had done by marrying Rowe and Inman. That became more difficult after the evacuation of so many genteel Anglican families as Loyalists. Gib Speakman and his sisters Hannah and Sarah all ended up marrying siblings in the Minot family of King’s Chapel, including historian George Richards Minot.

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