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, May 14, 2021

Fifteen Years of Boston 1775

Fifteen years ago today, the first Boston 1775 posting appeared on the web.

(I later went back and added a couple of introductory posts with earlier dates, but the 14 May 2006 entry was the first to hit the web.)

I’d been planning a website for sharing some of the little stories I was finding about Revolutionary New England, and my friend and fellow author Greg Fishbone told me how blogging software could be the platform for such a site.

Then I went to a writers’ conference workshop by another friend and fellow author, Mitali Perkins, and she encouraged everyone to just share their expertise and ideas with the world, focusing on content instead of website architecture. So I found a template and started blogging.

That was fairly early in the blogging wave, which has now passed. A lot of discourse about history, both among academics and the public, has moved to social media and podcasts. Lately the chattering class is excited about Substack. Yet I’ve stuck with a daily blog.

I had no idea what the effects of Boston 1775 would be. It became my bona fides when I didn’t have institutional credentials to point to, and it opened doors for new projects. It also led me into many topics I hadn’t considered exploring. That’s probably why I enjoy writing new essays every day—I keep being drawn into learning new things.

One example is the series earlier this month on Abijah Brown of Waltham. I’d never heard of him before. Those posts grew from my longer-term project on the first months of the Continental artillery regiment, what I hope is the eventual follow-up to The Road to Concord.

A few years back, I noticed a letter from Samuel Adams in which he referred to Scarborough Gridley with the rank of colonel. Since I knew that the Continental Army had cashiered Scar Gridley out of the artillery regiment in the fall of 1775 while he was still only a major, that mistake amused me. Last year I tracked down the letter again and wrote a couple of postings about what Scar was up to.

Researching that episode led me to the petitions that Gridley’s father, Richard, who really was a colonel, sent to the Continental Congress. I didn’t want those documents to go to waste, so I started what I thought would be a short series on them. One of those was about a debt to “Major Brown,” so I took my usual approach and tried to identify who that could be.

All I initially wanted to find was a given name to insert in brackets in the middle of the phrase “Major Brown.” I had no idea that Abijah Brown would turn out to have gotten into so many disputes, received special (disapproving) mention in Gen. George Washington’s general orders, or inspired Massachusetts General Court resolutions. Before I knew it, Lt. Col. Brown had taken over a week.

The freedom to go off on tangents like that is one reason I’ve resisted monetizing Boston 1775 with ads. If I get intrigued by a man like Abijah Brown, I’d rather not worry, even a little bit, about whether he’ll keep the numbers up.

I do have a Ko-fi account for tips, but I don’t push it. I’m trying to figure out whether the Patreon model could work, offering something extra to financial supporters. Ideas are welcome, but I expect to continue chasing rabbits on this site for a while yet.


Randy Seaver said...

Hurray! Well done. don't stop! I read it every day - wonderful research. What happened in 2016 to cause the spike in views?

Charles Bahne said...

Congratulations, John, on a job very well done! Your blog is an essential part of my daily routine and I hope to be reading it long into the future. Best of wishes in your continued endeavors. (And thank you for your support of my efforts.)

Charlie Frye said...

Boston 1775 has proven to be an essential resource time and time again for me. Thank you!

Mary Fuhrer said...

Congratulations on 15 well-spent years, and here's to many more to come. I start each morning with Boston 1775, both for what I learn, and for the pure enjoyment of watching the consummate history hound hunt down those rabbits!

Bill Welsch said...

Thanks, John. I've enjoyed Boston 1775 for most of those years. Please keep your posts coming. Bill

Byron DeLear said...

Kudos -- beautiful body of work, John. We are transported, daily and as best readers can, to the dawning of our national identity birthed in the Boston environs...thank you. What was the spike in traffic on your pic? Did I miss the story behind that?