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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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Lincoln Lecture and Some Links

Tonight the Lincoln Minute Men will host an illustrated lecture by Concord Museum Curator David Wood and Skinner militaria expert Joel Bohy on the museum’s new exhibit about 19 Apr 1775. I understand the talk will be organized around the theme of how the artifacts on display, some for the first time in years, illuminate the timeline of that day. That event starts at 7:30 P.M. in Bemis Hall, 15 Bedford Road, Lincoln, and is free and open to the public.

Alas, I have to miss that talk because of a prior commitment. If you’re in the same boat, the meager substitute I can offer are links to some online articles I’ve written elsewhere this month:

Monday, April 21, 2014

Sgt. Monroe on Capt. Parker

Yesterday I quoted the Rev. Theodore Parker telling the story of his grandfather John Parker’s words to his Lexington militia company on 19 Apr 1775: “If they want [or mean] to have a war, let it begin here.”

In 1858 Parker told the historian George Bancroft his sources for that quotation:
They were kept as the family tradition of the day, and when the battle was re-enacted in 1820 (or thereabout), his orderly sergeant took the Captain’s place, and repeated the words, adding, “For them is the very words Captain Parker said.”
We know from other sources that the reenactment occurred in April 1822. Theodore Parker was then eleven years old.

The men Parker identified only as his grandfather’s orderly sergeant was William Munroe, who by 1822 had obtained the rank of colonel in the Massachusetts militia. He was a major figure in town whose house and tavern is now operated as a museum by the Lexington Historical Society.

In 1825, three years after that reenactment, Munroe provided a detailed deposition about the fight. He stated:
Between day-light and sunrise, Capt. Thaddeus Bowman rode up and informed, that the regulars were near. The drum was then ordered to be beat, and I was commanded by Capt. Parker to parade the company, which I accordingly did, in two ranks, a few rods northerly of the meeting-house.

When the British troops had arrived within about a hundred rods of the meeting-house, as I was afterwards told by a prisoner, which we took, “they heard our drum, and supposing it to be a challenge, they were ordered to load their muskets, and to move at double quick time.” They came up almost upon a run. Col. Smith and Maj. Pitcairn rode up some rods in advance of their troops, and within a few rods of our company, and exclaimed, “Lay down your arms, you rebels, and disperse!” and immediately fired his pistol. Pitcairn then advanced, and, after a moment’s conversation with Col. Smith, he advanced with his troops, and, finding we did not disperse, they being within four rods of us, he brought his sword down with great force, and said to his men, “Fire, damn you, fire!” The front platoon, consisting of eight or nine, then fired, without killing or wounding any of our men.
In fact, Lt. Col. Francis Smith was not on the common to converse with Pitcairn (not that Munroe would have recognized either officer at that time), and most historians now agree that no British officer gave an order to fire. But for the purpose of this inquiry, what matters most is that in 1825 Munroe did not quote Capt. Parker as saying anything stirring at all.

That 1825 volume by the Rev. Elias Phinney quoted several other Lexington veterans as well. Ebenezer Munroe said, “Capt. Parker ordered his men to stand their ground, and not to molest the regulars, unless they meddled with us.” Joseph Underwood stated:
Capt. Parker gave orders for every man to stand his ground, and said he would order the first man shot, that offered to leave his post. I stood very near Capt. Parker, when the regulars came up, and am confident he did not order his men to disperse, till the British troops had fired upon us the second time.
But no one remembered Capt. Parker saying something like, “If they mean [or want] to have a war, let it begin here.”

In 1835 the famed orator Edward Everett spoke in Lexington, giving a detailed account of the battle, and he didn’t quote Parker saying that, either. If Munroe had indeed repeated those words at the ceremony in 1822, they hadn’t become part of the town lore. They didn’t see print until Theodore Parker told the story in 1855.

In the 1880s the Rev. Carlton A. Staples prepared a “Report of the Committee on Historical Monuments and Tablets” for Lexington and a paper for the Lexington Historical Society. Both appear to quote Parker quoting Munroe quoting Parker. And Staples’s research was the authority for carving “If they mean to have a war, let it begin here” onto the boulder on Lexington green.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Capt. John Parker’s Words on Lexington Green

A few weeks back, tour guide and author Ben Edwards asked me about the words ascribed to John Parker on Lexington common as the British regulars approached.

Did Parker say, “if they want to have a war, let it begin here,” or, “if they mean to have a war…”? Some authors quote the first version, others (and a carved boulder on the green) quote the second.

It appears that our first printed source for either quote dates from 1855, or a full eighty years after the event. The Rev. Theodore Parker was then on trial in Boston for resisting the Fugitive Slave Act. In his defense, he told an anecdote about the confrontation in Lexington that included the quotation:
One raw morning in spring—it will be eighty years the 19th of this month—Hancock and Adams, the Moses and Aaron of that Great Deliverance, were both at Lexington; they also had “obstructed an officer” with brave words. British soldiers, a thousand strong, came to seize them and carry them over sea for trial, and so nip the bud of Freedom auspiciously opening in that early spring.

The town militia came together before daylight “for training.” A great, tall man, with a large head and a high, wide brow, their Captain,—one who “had seen service,”—marshalled them into line, numbering but seventy, and bad “every man load his piece with powder and ball.”

“I will order the first man shot that runs away,” said he, when some faltered; “Do n’t fire unless fired upon, but if they want to have a war,—let it begin here.” Gentlemen, you know what followed: those farmers and mechanics “fired the shot heard round the world.”
Parker didn’t state outright that the militia captain he described so intently, John Parker, was his own grandfather.

Some details of Parker’s story were off. He was mistaken about the aim of the British march—Gen. Thomas Gage had given no orders to seek out and arrest Hancock and Adams. There were probably about 700 regulars, not “a thousand.” Parker promulgated a fiction in saying that the Lexington militia was out at night “for training” rather than in response to news of the British march. And Ralph Waldo Emerson coined the phrase “shot heard round the world” about the fight at his home town of Concord, not in Parker’s home town of Lexington.

Three years later, Parker wrote down the story again in a letter to the historian George Bancroft, eventually published in 1863:
One fact or two let me give. At the battle of Lexington, when Capt. P. drew up his men as the British were nearing, he ordered “every man to load” his piece with powder and ball. “Don’t fire unless fired upon; but if they mean to have a war, let it begin here!” I think these significant words ought to be preserved. They were kept as the family tradition of the day, and when the battle was re-enacted in 1820 (or thereabout), his orderly sergeant took the Captain’s place, and repeated the words, adding, “For them is the very words Captain Parker said.” Besides, some of the soldiers, when they saw the flash of the British guns, turned to run: he drew his sword, and said, “I will order the first man shot that offers to run!” Nobody ran till he told them, “Disperse, and take care of yourselves.”
As you can see, Theodore Parker wrote “want to have a war” in 1855 and “mean to have a war” in 1858. Both versions of the quotation thus rest on the same man’s memory.

Theodore Parker was born in 1810, thirty-five years after his grandfather had died. He based on his quotation on “family tradition” and an affirmation by the captain’s former orderly sergeant, speaking in a folksy manner: “For them is the very words Captain Parker said.”

TOMORROW: What did that orderly sergeant himself tell us?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Remembering the Revolutionary War Veterans of Cincinnati

At 1:00 today, the Cincinnati chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution will have a public ceremony honoring Revolutionary War veterans at the Spring Grove Cemetery, as described on the Cincinnati Enquirer’s website.

In 1976, the Daughters of the American Revolution installed a marker at Spring Grove listing 35 Revolutionary veterans known to have been buried there. However, further research has added 25 more names. Some were interred there but not recognized as veterans before. Others were buried at another cemetery in the city before it was turned into a park in the 1850s; their descendants were invited to move their remains, if any, to Spring Grove, but not every family had relatives or resources to do so.

Among the Cincinnati veterans to be added to the marker is Cambridge native Joshua Wyeth (1758-1829). In his case, it’s just a guess that he was even in the first cemetery since there’s no record or description of his burial.

However, Cincinnati’s newspapers recorded Wyeth’s passing in 1829 because he was the city’s link to the Boston Tea Party. (His Find-a-Grave page shows one obituary, along with the wrong year for his death.) In fact, Wyeth was the first participant in the destruction of the tea to recount the event for public consumption and one of the first people quoted in print using the term “Tea Party” to describe it.

In 1773, Joshua Wyeth was working in Boston as an apprentice of blacksmith Obadiah Whiston, a fervent Son of Liberty. Four years earlier, Whiston had charged into the ranks of a British army squad and slugged a soldier for accidentally firing a musket ball into the doorway of his forge. In 1770, Whiston was on the scene of the Boston Massacre. In 1774, Whiston hid two brass cannon stolen from a militia armory inside his shop for several weeks.

But in early 1775, Dr. Joseph Warren began to suspect Whiston was ready to switch over to the Crown and reveal what he knew about those cannon. The Patriots quickly moved the guns to Concord and cut Whiston out of their network. In March 1776 he left Massachusetts with the British military. Though his family was back in Boston within a few years, I’ve found no evidence of Obadiah Whiston’s return.

That shift was probably confusing to young Joshua Wyeth. He remembered it as, “Western, at the time [of the Tea Party], was neutral, but afterwards became a tory.” According to his pension application, Wyeth had left his master and was out of Boston in time for the Battle of Bunker Hill. Family genealogy says he also got married in 1775 to Pauline or Emaline Jones, when he was no more than seventeen. Later he married twice more, fathered twenty-one children, and moved to Ohio.

(Today is, of course, the anniversary of the first full-scale battle of America’s Revolutionary War. By coincidence, it also marks a smaller milestone: this is the 3,000th posting on Boston 1775.)

Friday, April 18, 2014

The “No King But Jesus” Myth

Here’s a myth about the fighting at Lexington in April 1775 that’s become popular on the American far right over the last thirty years.

What might be the earliest telling comes from Charles A. Jennings, a Christian Identity speaker who operated the ironically named “Truth in History” website and wrote:
On April 18, 1775 John Adams and John Hancock were at the home of Rev. Jonas Clarke, a Lexington pastor and militia leader. That same night Paul Revere arrived to warn them of the approaching Redcoats. The next morning British Major Pitcairn shouted to an assembled regiment of Minutemen; “Disperse, ye villains, lay down your arms in the name of George the Sovereign King of England.” The immediate response of Rev. Jonas Clarke or one of his company was: “We recognize no Sovereign but God and no King but Jesus.”
Fake History tackled this myth in 2010, pointing out the myriad problems:
  • Samuel Adams had been in Lexington earlier that morning, not John.
  • Jonas Clarke was town minister and thus by law not a “militia leader.”
  • Clarke wasn’t on the common during the confrontation with the British.
  • Most important, there’s no evidence for this exchange.
We have dozens of first-hand descriptions of the confrontation on Lexington common from 1775 and afterwards, coming from men on both sides of the conflict. Not one includes the words “No king but Jesus.”

“No king but Jesus” was actually the title of a pamphlet that the English republican Henry Haggar published in 1652. Some historians have called it a slogan of the Levellers, a radical faction in the English Civil War. But British society had repudiated that idea, installing kings again.

That meant those words weren’t really a respectable motto, even in eighteenth-century New England. The one contemporaneous report of Americans adopting the slogan during the Revolutionary period came from an angry British appointee trying to discredit the anti-Stamp movement in Pennsylvania in 1765. Reviving that call in 1775 would have undercut the provincials’ cause because they were proclaiming their loyalty to King George III and the British constitution.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

William Dawes Tells a Good Story

On 17 June 1875, Harriet Newcomb Holland wrote down the stories she’d heard about her grandfather, William Dawes (shown here in a portrait by John Johnson).

Holland had heard those tales from her mother, Dawes having died ten years before she was born. Her recounting was published by her son Henry Ware Holland in a book printed in limited numbers for members of the family—in other words, not a critical audience.

Holland’s description of William Dawes’s ride on the night of 18-19 Apr 1775 was brief though, she said, “specific”:
I do not remember ever hearing that he was made a prisoner; but I know he thought himself pursued by two horsemen who were following him, and rode rapidly up to a farm-house, slapping his leather breeches, and stopping so suddenly that his watch was thrown from his pocket, and shouting “Halloo, my boys! I’ve got two of ’em.”

His pursuers turned their horses and rode off; but he did not stop to pick up his watch, though he found it there some days afterwards in safe keeping.
It’s a great story, and it fits right into a beloved American narrative of fooling the British through clever tricks. For that reason, I wondered whether Dawes might have constructed that story for his relatives’ entertainment. I wanted it to be true, but I had to wonder.

I was therefore pleased to find that on 3 May 1775 Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy (P.D.F. available through Teach US History) published a report of the Battle of Lexington and Concord that included this story about the riders from Boston:
When the expresses got about a mile beyond Lexington, they were stopped by about fourteen officers on horseback, who came out of Boston in the afternoon of that day, and were seen lurking in bye-places in the country till after dark.

One of the expresses immediately fled, and was pursued two miles by an officer, who when he had got up with him presented a pistol, and told him he was a dead man if he did not stop, but he rode on until he came up to a house, when stopping of a sudden his horse threw him off; having the presence of mind to hollow to the people in the house, “Turn out! Turn out! I have got one of them!” the officer immediately retreated as far as he had pursued:

The other express after passing through a strict examination, by some means got clear.
The “other express” was, of course, Paul Revere.

Thomas had just relocated his newspaper to Worcester. Dawes must have been there as well. He settled his family in that town during the siege and was still there as a shopkeeper when British P.O.W.s passed through after Saratoga. (They complained he overcharged them.) Obviously Dawes was describing how he’d scared off his pursuers within two weeks of the ride, providing a solid basis for the family tradition.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

See a Piece of Concord’s North Bridge

I grew up in suburban Boston around the time of the Bicentennial. In fact, I was in fifth grade, when the Massachusetts social-studies curriculum focuses on colonial and Revolutionary history, during the 200th anniversary of the first year of the War for Independence. So between geography, chronology, and ordinary lesson plans I got a triple dose of Revolutionary history.

But I didn’t grow up in the iconic towns of Lexington or Concord. What was that like? Joel Bohy of the Skinner auction house recently described one highlight of that period for him:

I was a 9-year-old attending the Ripley School in Concord. During a bicentennial ceremony, I received a small block of wood, and so did all of the other students at the school. Our teacher told us that these pieces of wood were remnants of the North Bridge. Even then, I wondered what happened to the original bridge, and how did these pieces survive? . . .

According to town of Concord records, the bridge at which the famous fight took place was built in 1760, replacing an earlier one. By the early 1790s, new roads and bridges provided alternate routes that rendered the famous bridge useless. In 1793, it was disassembled and moved to the site of the current Flint bridge. Since the town was not paying for the removal work, the crew reused most of the wood and stone buttments from the North Bridge site at the new Flint bridge.
Skipping ahead, in 1955 the Massachusetts Department of Public Works decided to build a new bridge at the site of the North Bridge that would resemble the span that had been there in 1775.
As construction commenced, the crew brought draglines to work the bottom of the river, and discovered pieces of the original bridge from 1760. These pieces must have been left behind in 1793 because they were too difficult to remove from the river bed.

With modern technology, of course, this removal process was much easier. The town of Concord received the wooden beams that were recovered. They cut some of the beams into pieces and mounted the blocks of wood on plaques or gave them to schools – including mine – for bicentennial celebrations. I’ve held on to my memento of the bridge ever since.

The town left a few of the best beams intact and donated them to the Concord Antiquarian Society, now the Concord Museum. One of those pieces, a witness to the events of April 19, 1775, is a large side brace of the original bridge with a tenon on the end that had been pegged into a mortise on the main frame of the bridge.
That beam helped to support the British search party that crossed the bridge on its way to James Barrett’s farm, and the British companies that lingered around the bridge to secure the position, and the militiamen who marched down on those companies and just across the bridge when they decided to confront the regulars. (It also supported the search party as those men marched back across the bridge after both sides of the fatal skirmish had pulled back.)

Along with a lot of other artifacts, that beam will be part of an exhibit at the Concord Museum titled “The Shot Heard Round the World: April 19, 1775,” which Joel has been working on for years now. It will open on Friday, 18 April, and stay open until 21 September. If you’re anywhere around here this spring or summer, you won’t want to miss it.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Joseph Green, John Hamock, and the Freemasons

Yesterday I shared a bit of a scatological attack on Freemasonry published on the front page of the Boston Evening-Post on 7 Jan 1751. That attack included not only a poem but a woodcut illustration obviously commissioned for that poem. Who went to all that trouble?

By that time, Boston’s first Freemasons lodge had been established for nearly two decades. I’ve read conflicting reports of whether they had had public marches, but clearly they had one on St. John’s Day near the end of 1749.

The next year, a local wit named Joseph Green (1706-1780, shown here in a 1767 Copley portrait) published two editions of a pseudonymous pamphlet titled Entertainment for a Winter’s Evening…, satirizing the very notion of Freemasons going to church and poking fun at individual members. Those lines closed with a scene of the Freemasons entering their temple, out of public view. The author, invoking the muse Clio, promised to “tell the rest another time.”

Therefore, it was logical for people to read the Boston Evening-Post poem as the next installment of that series, describing the Freemasons’ secret rituals in scatological terms while professing to be a “Defence of MASONRY.” A merchant named Benjamin Hallowell (father of the highly unpopular Customs official with the same name) said the new poem definitely came from Green. According to Steven Bullock’s Revolutionary Brotherhood, the Freemasons met, threatened a boycott of the Evening-Post, and asked Lt. Gov. Spencer Phips, the province’s highest royal official, for permission to sue.

Then on 21 January the Evening-Post published Green’s denial that he’d written the “Defence of MASONRY” poem, criticizing Hallowell for spreading a “scandalous and malicious lie.” To be fair, the “Defence” wasn’t up to Green’s standard. He really was a good poet, and his allusions far more subtle—his pamphlets included helpful footnotes so readers could see how clever he was. Furthermore, the “Defence” was addressed “To Mr. CLIO,” or Green, rather than by him.

So who did write the “Defence”? David S. Shields’s Civil Tongues and Polite Letters in British America points to a wine merchant named John Hamock (or Hammock). He was in business from 1735 to his death in 1769. He was a warden of Christ Church, raising money for its bells in 1744, and in 1758 he rented the space under the Town House as his wine cellar.

In the 15 Jan 1750 Boston Post-Boy Hamock had advertised his wines by implying that other merchants’ wares were unhealthy and signing himself “John Hamock, V.D.” Other ads showed that meant “Vini Doctor,” a claim for special authority, though more often a joke appellation college students bestowed on each other. Hamock didn’t have a college education, but he seemed to have pretensions—and for the snobbish Green that was a provocation.

A poetic critique titled “To V.D.” appeared in the 30 July Post-Boy. The author took the opportunity to swipe at another of Green’s frequent targets, the Rev. Dr. Mather Byles, Sr.:
Whist---softly---for fear
Doughty B**** should hear;
If he does, with his pen he’ll chastise you.
I know you will cry,
Scar’d by B****! Not I,
Do your worst, Sir, for H****k defies you.
Thus, “To V.D.” was both addressed to Hamock and put words in his mouth.

Hamock might then have published the “Defence of MASONRY” poem in early 1751 to get Green in trouble. And it did: for the only time in his career Green had to publicly discuss his writing, if only to deny he’d written this item. Hamock might also have been trying to show “Mr. CLIO” that he could satirize the Freemasons in verse, too.

It looks like Boston’s Freemasons just happened to be caught in the crossfire between two men feuding for their own reasons. The movement and many local members had ties to Europe instead of old Puritan families, so they made an easy target in Boston. In fact, Green went back to satirizing the Freemasons four years later with a pamphlet titled The Grand Arcanum, Detected.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Fleets Get N.S.F.W.

I’ve been writing about the Fleet family, enslaved to Thomas Fleet and trained in the printing business. Isaiah Thomas recalled that in the 1750s a black man named Peter Fleet carved woodcuts for ballads, and the initials “P.F” appear in a small book called The Prodigal Daughter.

On 7 Jan 1751, Thomas Fleet’s Boston Evening-Post featured a woodcut with what looks like Peter Fleet’s typical hatching as its very first item—a rare example of new art in a colonial newspaper. That image illustrated a poem titled “To Mr. CLIO, at North-Hampton, In Defence of MASONRY.”

Though nominally written in the voice of a Freemason, that poem wasn’t much of a defense. It suggested that the organization was just a cover for sodomy. Referring to treenails, or wooden pegs, instead of masons’ trowels, the verse said:

I’m sure our TRUNNELS look’d as clean
As if they ne’re up A–se had been;
For when we use ’em, we take care
To wash ’em well, and give ’em Air,
Then lock ’em up in our own Chamber,
Ready to TRUNNEL the next Member.
And lest anyone miss the sexual reference, the picture made it very clear. (Click on the image below if you want a closer look.)
In addition to the two well-dressed but half-dressed Masons, the woodcut also showed an ass braying, “Trunil Him well brother,” echoing the several references to asses in the poem.

It took work to create a woodcut with this level of detail, and it’s not an image that Thomas Fleet could have used again on broadsides. Someone probably paid the Fleet print shop a hefty sum to create this block and print it and the poem. Again, this explicit bit of gay-baiting was on the front page of a weekly newspaper.

Ironically, Peter Fleet’s younger son Caesar became a Freemason in Boston’s African Lodge in 1779.

TOMORROW: Who was behind that attack?

Sunday, April 13, 2014

The Craft of Caesar Fleet

Yesterday I described the travels of Pompey Fleet, a printer born into slavery in Boston around 1746 who ended up in west Africa by the end of the century. He was part of three mass migrations of Loyalists: from Boston in 1776, from New York in 1783, and from Nova Scotia to Sierra Leone in 1792.

What about Pompey’s younger brother, Caesar Fleet? His life took a different course. He stayed in Boston. The town’s 1780 tax assessments, published several decades ago by the Bostonian Society, list Caesar Fleet as a “Negro” living in Ward 10. The fact that he was tallied as a taxpayer indicates that he was no longer considered a slave, even before Massachusetts’s high court made slavery unenforceable in 1783.

Caesar Fleet’s name appears in another interesting source from the Revolutionary years. One of the earliest documents from Boston’s African Lodge of Freemasons, founded by Prince Hall, shows that “Sesar Fleet” joined in 23 June 1779. That was one of several civic organizations Hall and his circle founded during and after the Revolution in their bid as black men for an equal place in Boston society.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found Caesar Fleet in any other local records or newspapers. I don’t know if he lived long enough to be involved in the printing of Prince Hall’s 1797 oration, shown above. But there might be more sources out there.

Last year Caitlin G-D Hopkins wrote an article for Common-place that mentioned Pompey and Caesar’s father, Peter Fleet. She added thanks to “Gloria McCahon Whiting, whose pioneering work on the life and work of Peter Fleet, woodcut illustrator, has informed and enriched my own research.”

As it happens, Gloria Whiting is sharing a paper this Tuesday on “‘How Can the Wife Submit?’: African Families Negotiate Gender and Slavery in New England” as part of the women’s history seminar series co-sponsored by the Massachusetts Historical Society and the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe. That conversation will take place at 5:30 P.M. on 15 April at the Schlesinger Library, 10 Garden Street in Cambridge. It’s free to the public, but to reserve a seat contact the M.H.S.

TOMORROW: Should I show Peter Fleet’s cartoon about Freemasonry from 1751? It’s “not safe for work,” as the kids say.