J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, October 23, 2020

“Dr. Lincoln and his Lady”

Earlier this month I discussed how John Adams, the Rev. Anthony Wibird, and Dr. Bela Lincoln of Hingham competed for the attention of Hannah Quincy in north Braintree.

Sometime in the spring of 1759 John wrote that he almost proposed to Hannah, only to be interrupted before he could speak by her sister Esther and his friend Jonathan Sewall—who were becoming a couple.

That “gave room for Lincolns addresses,” Adams wrote, clearly indicating that the doctor had won the contest.

But in the summer of 1759, Adams quoted Lincoln in his diary as saying:
My father gave me a serious Lecture last Saturday night. He says I have waited on H.Q. two Journeys, and have called and made Visits there so often, that her Relations among others have said I am courting of her. And the Story has spread so wide now, that, if I dont marry her, she will be said to have Jockied me, or I to have Jockied her, and he says the Girl shall not suffer. A story shall be spread, that she repelled me.
Evidently Dr. Lincoln and Miss Quincy weren’t as sure about their engagement as all their relatives and neighbors.

On 1 May 1760, however, the nuptials were celebrated. Just seven months later, on 2 December, Adams described what he considered a horrifying display of rudeness at the house of Col. Josiah Quincy, the bride’s father:
About the middle of the Evening Dr. Lincoln and his Lady came in. The Dr. gave us an ample Confirmation of our Opinion of his Brutality and Rusticity. He treated his Wife, as no drunken Cobler, or Clothier would have done, before Company. Her father never gave such Looks and Answers to one of his slaves in my Hearing. And he contradicted he Squibd, shrugged, scouled, laughd at the Coll. in such a Manner as the Coll. would have called Boorish, ungentlemanly, unpolite, ridiculous, in any other Man. . . .

His treatment of his Wife amazed me. Miss[tress] Q. asked the Dr. a Question. Miss[tress] Lincoln seeing the Dr. engaged with me, gave her Mother an Answer, which however was not satisfactory. Miss[tress] Q. repeats it. “Dr. you did not hear my Question.”—“Yes I did, replies the Dr., and the Answer to it, my Wife is so pert, she must put in her Oar, or she must blabb, before I could speak.” And then shrugged And affected a laugh, to cow her as he used to, the freshmen and sophymores at Colledge.—She sunk into silence and shame and Grief, as I thought.—

After supper, she says “Oh my dear, do let my father see that Letter we read on the road.” Bela answers, like the great Mogul, like Nero or Caligula, “he shant.”—Why, Dr., do let me have it! do!—He turns his face about as stern as the Devil, sour as Vinegar. “I wont.”—Why sir says she, what makes you answer me so sternly, shant and wont?—Because I wont, says he. Then the poor Girl, between shame and Grief and Resentment and Contempt, at last, strives to turn it off with a Laugh.—“I wish I had it. Ide shew it, I know.”—

Bela really acts the Part of the Tamer of the Shrew in Shakespear. Thus a kind Look, an obliging Air, a civil Answer, is a boon that she cant obtain from her Husband. Farmers, Tradesmen, Soldiers, Sailors, People of no fortune, Figure, Education, are really more civil, obliging, kind, to their Wives than he is.—She always is under Restraint before me. She never dares shew her endearing Airs, nor any fondness for him.
Adams felt the smart, flirtatious woman who had beguiled him two years before was being beaten down psychologically.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

[The picture above shows the actor Henry Woodward (1714-1777) costumed as Petruchio for the play Catharine and Petruchio, adapted from Shakespeare by David Garrick in 1754. In Britain it became far more popular than the original. But Adams, as a young Massachusetts man, had read Shakespeare and never seen either version on stage.]


Andrew Noone said...

I wonder....a likely relation of Levi Lincoln of Hingham, Jefferson’s attorney general and defense counsel for Bathsheba Spooner in Worcester, instigator of the most sensational crime of eighteenth-century America. All detailed in my upcoming book, Bathsheba Spooner: A Revolutionary Murder Consoiracy.

J. L. Bell said...

The brothers Benjamin and Bela Lincoln and the brothers Levi and Amos Lincoln had a common ancestor in the original settler Samuel Lincoln, I believe, but I don't think the lines were closely connected by the mid-1700s.