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, January 18, 2019

“Then was beheld a perfect torrent of fire”

The 24 Mar 1760 Boston Evening-Post, the first issue after the great fire that started in the Brazen Head, reprinted the Boston News-Letter’s account of how the flames spread. The Fleet brothers then tried to communicate the emotional experience of the blaze:
We have thus mark’d the course of those flames which in their progress consumed near 400 dwelling houses, stores, shops, shipping, &c. together with goods and merchandize of almost every kind, to an incredible value;—but it is not easy to describe the terrors of that fatal morning, in which the imaginations of the most calm and steady, received impressions that will not easily be effaced:

At the first appearance of the fire, there was little wind, but this calm was soon followed with a smart gale from the N.W. then was beheld a perfect torrent of fire, bearing down all before it—in a seeming instant all was flame; and in that part of the town were was a magazine of powder—the alarm was great, and an explosion soon followed, which was heard and felt to a very great distance; the effects might have been terrible, had not the chief part been removed by some hardy adventurers, just before the explosion; at the same time cinders and flakes of fire were seen flying over that quarter where was reposited the remainder of the artillery stores and combustibles, which were happily preserved from taking fire:

The people of this and the neighbouring towns exerted themselves to an uncommon degree, and were encouraged by the preference and example of the greatest personages among us, but the haughty flames triumphed over our engines, our art, and our numbers.—

The distressed inhabitants of those buildings, wrapp’d in fire, scarce knew where to take refuge from the rapid flames; numbers who were confined to beds of sickness and pain, as well as the aged and the infant, demanded a compassionate attention,—they were removed from house to house, and even the dying were obliged to take one more remove before their final one.

The loss of interest cannot as yet be ascertained or who have sustained the greatest; it is said that the damage which only one gentleman has received, cannot be made good with £5,000 sterling. It is in general too great to be made up by the other inhabitants, exhausted as we have been by the great proportion this town has born of the extraordinary expences of the war, and by the demand upon our charity to retrieve a number of sufferers by a fire not many months past; a partial relief can now only be afforded to the miserable sufferers, and without the compassionate assistance of our christian friends abroad, distress and ruin may quite overwhelm the greatest part of them, and this once flourishing metropolis must long remain under its present desolation.—

In the midst of our present distress we have great cause of thankfulness, that notwithstanding the falling of the walls and chimnies, divine providence has so mercifully ordered it, that not one life has been lost, and only a few wounded.
Edes and Gill’s 24 March Boston Gazette added:
The Light of the Fire was plainly seen at Portsmouth [New Hampshire], which is the farthest Place we have as yet heard from; and the Explosion occasion’d by the South Battery’s blowing up, was heard at Hampton-Falls, and other Places, and was tho’t to be an Earthquake.
TOMORROW: The list of sufferers.

[The picture above, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg, shows the New York fire of 1776, not a Boston fire.]

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Two Images of the Boston Massacre at Auction

The next Seth Kaller auction of manuscripts and printed Americana includes a print of Paul Revere’s engraving of the Boston Massacre. The auction is scheduled for 24 January, and the price estimate is up to $200,000.

This is a second-state copy, shown by the clock on the Old Brick Meetinghouse tower. Its hands point to 10:20 P.M. while the earlier copies say 8:00. (The shooting probably occurred around 9:30.)

This copy is hand-colored, a luxury touch that customers paid extra for. That coloring offers further support for one of my arguments about this engraving.

Some people complain that Revere either didn’t show Crispus Attucks or portrayed him as white. That’s based on interpreting the figure lying face down in the center foreground as Attucks, and on seeing uncolored images.

I think that central victim is ropemaker Samuel Gray. In the colored prints, that man often has blood coming from wounds on his head, and Gray was indeed shot in the head.

There are multiple victims in the crowd at the left, as shown in the detail above. One face is colored to be darker than the others. That face is even more dark in the Philadelphia library’s copy. In addition, that victim is often painted with two bloody wounds in his chest, which is how Attucks was shot. At least in this colored print, it’s easy to identify Attucks and recognize him as a person of color.

If an original Revere engraving is beyond your price range, Boston 1775 friend Charles Bahne alerted me to a variation on that image being sold closer to home.

CRN Auctions of Cambridge is offering a hand-drawn copy of Revere’s print for sale on 27 January. It came from the Doggett family, who moved from Boston to Maine in the early twentieth century.

Above the drawing is the same title that Revere engraved on his copperplate, minus the word “Bloody.” At bottom is the rhyming verse from the Revere print. That text wasn’t written to match the lettering on the print. Instead, it’s in an eighteenth-century business hand, using the long s.

All in all, I’m baffled at why this picture was made. Was it a drawing and handwriting exercise for a teenager? A patriotic memento? An attempt to replace Grandpapa’s beloved picture after it got damaged (“Quick, Judah, make a copy and he’ll never notice!”)?

The auction house’s description seems to hold out the possibility that this painting was produced by Christian Remick and served as the model for Revere’s print. But we know that Revere copied the image from Henry Pelham, whose perspective and figure drawing was better than both Revere’s and this unknown artist.

In addition, the hand-drawn copy shows the clock at 10:20, meaning it was based on Revere’s second state.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Lt. Henry Barry: “sappy looking chap” or “calm, worthy man”?

The British army officer who asked Henry Knox to publish a political pamphlet in January 1775, as discussed yesterday, was Lt. Henry Barry (1750-1822), shown here as J. S. Copley painted him about ten years later.

We know about Barry’s authorship because John Andrews mentioned him again in a letter on 29 January:
a pamphlet…wrote in answer to General [Charles] Lee’s by one Barrey, an officer in the 52nd Regiment, whose performance is pretty much like himself, being an awkward sappy looking chap, the more so I think than any officer I have seen among all that’s here.
Others were more complimentary about Barry, and he did manage to get his pamphlet published by the end of that month. The title was The Strictures on the Friendly Address Examined, and a Refutation of its Principles Attempted, and the first edition named no publisher or printer.

On 31 January, the young painter Henry Pelham sent a copy to Charles Startin, a brother-in-law. (To be exact, Startin was Pelham’s half-brother Copley’s wife’s sister’s husband.)
I also inclose you a pamphlet wrote by a young Gentleman, a Lieutenant in the Army here. I believe it will please you as a sensible dispassionate and polite answer to another filled with invective attributed to Gen’l Lee.
Of course, Pelham had become a decided Loyalist after the Boston Tea Party.

Another admirer of Barry was John Eliot, who leaned toward the Whigs. He sent the lieutenant’s pamphlet to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap on 30 January and followed up on 18 February to say:
The author of the “Strictures Examined” is a young gentleman of my acquaintance, an officer in the fiftysecond, now station’d with us, an ingenuous, calm, worthy man. The enclosed is another production of his, which asks your acceptance.
Lt. Barry’s second pamphlet was The Advantages which America Derives from Her Commerce, Connexion, and Dependence on Britain. It doesn’t have a printer listed, either. Some bibliographers guess it was printed in New York, but Barry probably went to the same Boston print shop as before. He also wrote a reply to a Patriot sermon by the Rev. William Gordon of Roxbury.

James Rivington, the New York printer who had first published the Friendly Address and started the back-and-forth, reprinted Barry’s response to Lee’s response under the title The General Attacked by a Subaltern—i.e., a junior officer had answered the (Polish) general. We can assess Barry’s argument here.

(The portrait of Lt. Barry above is now at the Saint Louis Art Museum.)

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

“An Officer carried a manuscript to Henry Knox”

I step away from The Saga of the Brazen Head at a moment of calamity to consider a passage in merchant John Andrews’s letter to a Philadelphia relative on 15 Jan 1775:
A few days since an Officer carried a manuscript to Henry Knox for him to publish; being an answer, as he said, to General [Charles] Lee’s pamphlet (which you sent me). He told him he did not mean to confute every part, as the principal of it was unanswerable.

Knox perus’d a few pages of it and found it to be rather a weak performance, and therefore declin’d undertaking the publishment—excusing himself as its being out of his way.
In November 1774, the New York printer James Rivington published A Friendly Address to All Reasonable Americans by Thomas Bradbury Chandler (1726–1790), a Yale graduate who had become an Anglican minister. That pamphlet argued for conciliation with the Crown. The Mills and Hicks print shop issued a Boston edition. Replies came quickly from John Adams (apparently never published), Philip Livingston, and, most successfully, Charles Lee.

Lee’s Strictures upon a “Friendly Address to All Reasonable Americans” was first published in Philadelphia and then reprinted in New York, Newport, New London, and twice in Boston. It was one of the most widely read pamphlets of the year. Among other points, Lee argued that the British army was not really that formidable; the 17 Jan 1775 Essex Gazette suggested that he had erased New Englanders’ fear of the redcoats. We can therefore understand this officer’s wish to respond to Lee.

More interesting is what this story tells us about Henry Knox (shown here). As far as I can tell, no biography of Knox has discussed this incident. Authors have generally echoed Charles Savage, writing in 1856, in portraying Knox as an active Whig before the war: “he discovered an uncommon zeal in the cause of liberty.” But there’s actually little evidence of political activism by Knox.

In fact, this anecdote shows that a British military man expected Knox to support the royalist perspective by publishing and selling his pamphlet. That belief was no doubt due to Knox’s recent marriage to Lucy Flucker, daughter of the province’s royal secretary, Thomas Flucker. Why would a poor man with ambition marry into such a family and not be or become a Loyalist?

I think this is part of a pattern of evidence showing that in the crucial months of late 1774 and early 1775, Knox let Loyalists believe he was one of them. That made him privy to their gossip, which could be useful to the Patriots.

This anecdote also shows Knox concealing his true assessment of the pamphlet (“rather a weak performance”) by giving the author a different reason for not publishing (“its being out of his way”). But that was just being polite.

TOMORROW: The author.

Monday, January 14, 2019

“A most terrible Fire” Starting at the Brazen Head

The 21 Mar 1760 Boston News-Letter reported two significant fires in Boston in the preceding week and then proceeded to this hastily composed yet lengthy report:
Since the above Accounts were compos’d, for this Paper, a most terrible Fire happened in the Town, suppos’d to be greater than any that has been known in these American Colonies, far exceeding what was generally called, the great Fire, which happen’d here October 2. 1711.—

It began about II [i.e., two] o’Clock Yesterday Morning, Thursday March 20th, and broke out in the Dwelling-House of Mrs. Mary Jackson, and Son, at the Brazen-Head in Cornhill, by what Means is uncertain, tho’t by Accident:

The flames catch’d the Houses adjoining in the Front of the Street, and burnt three or four large Buildings, a Stop being put to it there, at the House improved by Mrs. West on the South, and Mr. Peter Cotta on the North; but the Fire raged most violently towards the East, the Wind blowing strong at N.W. and carried all before it; from the Back Sides of those Houses:—

All the Stores fronting Pudding-Lane, together with every Dwelling-House, from thence, excepting those which front the South side of King-Street, and a Store of Mr. Spooner’s on Water-Street to Quaker-Lane, and from thence only leaving a large old wooden House, and the House belonging to the late Cornelius Waldo, Esq; it burnt every House, Shop, Store, out-House, &c. to Oliver’s Dock:

And an Eddy of Wind carrying the Fire contrary to it’s Course, it took the Buildings fronting the lower Part of King-Street, and destroyed the Houses from the Corner opposite the Bunch of Grapes Tavern, to the Warehouse of Mess’rs. Box and Austin, leaving only the Warehouse of the Hon. John Erving, Esq; and the Dwelling-House of Mr. Hastings, standing; the other Brick-Warehouses towards the Long-Wharf were considerably damag’d.—

On the South-East Part, the Fire extended from Mr. [William] Torrey’s, the Baker, in Water-Street, and damaging some of Mr. Dalton’s new Shops, proceeded to Mr. Hall’s working-House, and from then to Milk-Street, and consumed every House from the next to Mr. [Joseph] Calfe’s Dwelling-House, to the Bottom of the Street, and the opposite Way from Mr. [Joseph] Dowse’s included, it carryed before it every House to Fort-Hill, except the Hon. Secretary [Andrew] Oliver’s, and two or three Tenements opposite; as also every House, Warehouse, Shop and Store, from Oliver’s Dock along Mr. [Benjamin] Hallowell’s Ship-Yard, Mr. Hallowell’s Dwelling House, the Sconce of the South-Battery, all the Buildings, Shops and Stores on Col. [Jacob] Wendell’s Wharf, to the House of Mr. Hunt Ship-builder.—

So that from Pudding-Lane, to the Water’s Edge, there is not a Building to be seen, excepting those on the Side of King-street and those mention’d above, all being in Ashes.—Besides which, a large Ship, Capt. Eddy late Master, lying at Col. Wendell’s Wharf, and two or three Sloops and a Schooner were burnt, one laden with Wood, and another with Stores of a considerable Value.—
COMING UP: More about Boston’s great fire of 1760.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Three Decades of Historical Context

The Saga of the Brazen Head started in 1730 with the first appearance of brazier James Jackson in the Boston newspapers, and it’s reached the year 1759.

What else was happening in New England in three decades? If we look at readily available timelines of Massachusetts history from FamilySearch.org or the World Atlas, we find the answer was: Nothing.

Of course, plenty did happen in those years. There weren’t dramatic changes in political constitutions, empire-ending wars, life-changing inventions, and the like, but there were events for Mary Jackson and her family to worry about and celebrate. So here, after some quick cramming, is the historical context for the saga so far.

The first of those decades occurred under the government of Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745) in Britain and Gov. Jonathan Belcher (1682-1757, shown here) in Massachusetts. Walpole used European alliances to maintain international peace. That produced a lull in Britain’s wars with France and other Catholic powers of Europe, and thus relatively easy trade, fishing, and frontier settlement for British colonists in New England.

Belcher wasn’t as dominating as Walpole, but he was able to remain governor of both Massachusetts and New Hampshire for over a decade starting in 1729. Being a royal governor was a tough job. One answered to the Crown and its demands while feeling pressure from the colony’s politicians and people to serve their interests instead. And British society being what it was, governors also kept an eye out for their own economic well being.

Belcher had some advantages in being a Congregationalist merchant born in Boston and thus like his most wealthy constituents. But he couldn’t keep everyone happy forever. The royal government thought Belcher should do more to stop people felling New England tree trunks reserved as masts for the Royal Navy. (Some of Belcher’s friends benefited from this harvest.) In addition, the shortage of hard cash produced local pleas for more paper currency while the Crown wanted control over the money supply.

In 1739, Walpole couldn’t hold back the clamor for Britain to enter the War of Jenkins’ Ear. After three further years of declining popularity and military failures, he resigned.

That same war opened an opportunity for William Shirley (1694-1771, shown here), an Englishman who had moved to Massachusetts and become a critic of Gov. Belcher. He recruited troops for an early campaign in the Caribbean and so impressed London that the Crown made Shirley governor of Massachusetts in 1741. (Belcher eventually won the post of governor of New Jersey instead.)

Both Belcher and Shirley had to deal with the local campaign for the Massachusetts Land Bank. In 1740 the General Court overrode their opposition and authorized that private organization to issue bills of credit, which functioned as paper currency. Then Parliament outlawed the bank. With the Massachusetts economy in danger, Shirley and the legislature managed to bring about a soft landing for the former bank’s managers and creditors.

Those developments affected Mary Jackson and some of the people around her. All the dispute over paper money brought in papermaker Richard Fry, of course. And all those bills of credit meant Massachusetts currency was losing value.

Mary’s husband James died in 1735 while returning from a visit to Samuel Waldo’s development in southern Maine, which grew during that peaceful decade. Waldo also had a contract to supply masts to the Royal Navy, so he wanted Gov. Belcher to protect the navy’s exclusive rights. When that didn’t happen, Waldo started promoting Shirley for higher office. However, once war broke out, the Maine frontier became vulnerable to attack from both sea and land, and Waldo’s settlements shrank.

In the early 1740s, Britain’s war with Spain expanded beyond Jenkins’ Ear to become the War of the Austrian Succession or, as North Americans called it, King George’s War. In 1745 Gov. Shirley organized an attack on the French fortification at Louisbourg. The British army and navy gave only lukewarm support to that effort, but it succeeded—Massachusetts’s greatest military triumph. Decades later, the province’s Patriots still pointed to that moment as proof that they could defend themselves against the royal army.

Another effect of King George’s War was the Royal Navy impressing more sailors in Boston. In 1747, Commodore Charles Knowles (shown here) seized dozens of sailors, setting off days of riots. Huge crowds surrounded Gov. Shirley, twice at his house and once at the Town House in central Boston, close to the Brazen Head. He tried to call out the militia against the crowd, only to realize that the militia regiment and the crowd were the same men. The Massachusetts Council had to resolve the crisis, with Knowles releasing the sailors and the crowd releasing the naval officers they had grabbed.

When King George’s War ended in 1748, Britain returned Louisbourg to France. Massachusetts was still trying to get the royal government to reimburse the costs of its military campaign. One of the men who had funded that expedition was Samuel Waldo. He decided that Shirley wasn’t working hard enough to pay back his inflated expenses, so Waldo joined the governor’s political enemies. Among those foes were Dr. William Douglass, who decades before had opposed smallpox inoculation, and young political journalist Samuel Adams, son of a Land Bank director.

In 1749 Gov. Shirley sailed for London in order to deal with Waldo’s complaints. Shortly afterward, a large amount of gold and silver coin arrived in Boston harbor—the Crown had finally reimbursed the province with specie. Thomas Hutchinson, then Speaker of the Massachusetts House, wrote a law to use that hard cash to retire paper currency that had lost value. That put Massachusetts’s economy on a sounder footing. Henceforth, businesspeople like Mary Jackson distinguished between current pounds, which kept close to face value, and inflated “Old Tenor” money.

Gov. Shirley resumed his post as governor of Massachusetts in 1753. He seems to have been happiest as a war governor, and was soon preparing for another fight against France. After the death of Gen. Edward Braddock in 1755, Shirley was even commander-in-chief of British forces in North America for a while. But the Seven Years’ (or French and Indian) War brought the governor no military miracle like the Louisbourg expedition. He feuded with other commanders like Sir William Johnson, his own western campaign failed, and officials in London took against him. In 1756, Gov. Shirley was sacked. (Like Belcher, he did manage to become governor somewhere else—in the Bahamas.)

Also in 1756, hundreds of French Acadians came ashore in Boston, expelled from Nova Scotia. Their ships had actually arrived in the harbor in December 1755, but Gov. Shirley refused to let them land, and half those refugees died on their ships that winter. For the next decade, the population of Massachusetts contained a category of “French neutrals.”

This was also the period of religious fervor in colonial America later dubbed the “Great Awakening.” The Rev. Jonathan Edwards led revivals at his meetinghouse in Northampton starting in 1733 and published Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God in 1741. The Rev. George Whitefield preached up and down the North American coast in 1740, 1745, 1751, and 1754. Many New England Congregationalist meetings were roiled by splits between “New Light” and “Old Light” ministers and congregations. As Anglicans, the Jackson family was probably less affected by those disputes.

In 1757 a new royal governor arrived from London: Thomas Pownall (1722-1805). He had close contacts—i.e., his younger brother John—in the Secretary of State’s office, and a lot of big ideas about how the empire should run. He viewed the British constitution as subordinating the military power to the civil, even in wartime. He wanted to balance imperial needs and local rights. Pownall became a favorite of the Massachusetts merchants and Whigs but had a standoffish relationship with the man appointed lieutenant governor under him—Thomas Hutchinson.

Early in 1759, Pownall led a new campaign to conquer and settle the Penobscot region. Samuel Waldo came along and died that May, back on his Maine holdings. The previous year, British military forces had retaken Louisbourg. In July 1759, Gen. Jeffery Amherst finally took Fort Ticonderoga. In September, Gen. James Wolfe defeated Gen. Montcalm at Québec. Together with British and allied victories at Guadeloupe, Madras, Minden, and Quiberon Bay, these victories made 1759 an “annus mirabilis.” Boston celebrated along with the rest of the British Empire.

TOMORROW: Calamity at the Brazen Head.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A Firmer for Molding Your Square Butts

The Jackson family of the Brazen Head advertised a lot of hardware that was unfamiliar to me—not that I do much metalworking or woodworking.

I looked up a bunch of those terms while confirming my transcription and got curious about others. So here’s what I learned about the unfamiliar inventory at the Brazen Head.

close-stool pans: Close stools were cabinets with chamber pots inside.

coffin bullions: Lumps of metal used to decorate coffins, it looks like.

double and single spring chest locks, stock locks: Edward Hoppus’s Builder’s Dictionary said, “LOCKS for Doors are of various Kinds; as for outer Doors, called Stock-locks; for Chamber-doors, call’d Spring-locks, &c.”

egg nob locks: Apparently locks built with doorknobs shaped like eggs.

H & HL hinges: Door hinges distinguished by their shapes. H hinges looked like the letter H. HL hinges, as illustrated a couple of days ago, looked like an H mashed with an L; some professional guides therefore called them IL hinges instead.

firmers: Merriam-Webster says a “firmer chisel” is “a woodworking chisel with a thin flat blade,” and dates the two-word phrase to 1827. The Jacksons’ ad is considerably earlier, of course. The word comes from the French “fermoir,” meaning to form.

gimblets: Now spelled “gimlet,” a T-shaped tool with a screw-tip for boring holes.

hallow and rounds: The first type often spelled “hollow,” these are planes for molding wood, shown here.

splinter and black pad-locks: A splinter padlock had four springs, according to a nineteenth-century reference. A black padlock was presumably black.

post pepper-mills: The sort of cylindrical pepper grinder we’re used to.

handles & scutcheons: Scutcheons were small metal plates, often shaped like shields (escutcheons), to protect part of a wooden surface from handling.

prospect hinges: These seem to be hinges for the “prospect door” in a desk, which was a “single, hinged portal fashioned with a keyhole,…for private or secret documents.”

brass & iron table ketches: Even Luke Beckerdite’s American Furniture could only guess that a “table Ketch” was “possibly a tea table,” but it sounds like it was part of a table—maybe a metal reinforcement of a table leg or foot.

rule joint table hinges: Diagram of a rule joint for a table leaf here.

square butts, dovetails: I think these were metal pieces to reinforce types of joints for two pieces of wood.

girt web: Usually called “girth web,” heavy canvas straps used to strap on saddles and other things.

jobents: A specialty nail with a thick shank, made for attaching iron straps.

dutch spectacles: Spectacles that perched on one’s nose without earpieces, like pince-nez.

bath metal thimbles with steel tops: Bath metal was an alloy of zinc and copper.

aul-hafts: Handles for awls.

spinnel: Sometimes this is a term for a mineral, more usually spelled “spinel.” The phrase “short spinel” is defined as “bleached yarn” or “unwrought inkle” in nineteenth-century references. But I can’t figure out why the Jacksons would be selling either of those things, and why they would list it between “punches” and “white wax.”

Box Irons, Flat Irons: Flat irons were solid, and box irons had a metal part that could be removed and placed in the fire, then replaced in the hollow of the iron to keep it heated.

And finally…

A Quantity of large brown Paper fit for sheathing Ships: In the 1730s, there were two ways to protect ships’ hulls against shipworm. One was attaching sheets of lead to the hull, which of course didn’t help with buoyancy. The other was to plaster the hull with tar, stick on a layer of hair, and then attach a thin sheath of wood that could be replaced as it was eaten away. It looks like thick rag paper could substitute for or supplement the hair.

(When copper sheathing became standard in the late eighteenth century, paper was one way to keep different metals from touching each other in the salt water and suffering galvanic corrosion. But Mary Jackson’s 1736 ad was too early to refer to that use.)

TOMORROW: Historical context for The Saga of the Brazen Head so far.

Friday, January 11, 2019

The Brazen Head and a Bridge in Newbury

An item one could buy at the Sign of the Brazen Head in 1759, but which Mary Jackson didn’t list in her advertising, was a lottery ticket.

We know that from an ad that appeared in the Boston Evening-Post on 30 April:
The Drawing of Newbury Lottery
(the Second Part) will punctually commence at the Town-House in Newbury, on Thursday the last Day of May next, there being a Subscription for the Tickets then unsold, if any there shall be.———

[pointing hand] Tickets to be had of Ebenezer Storer, Esq; Messrs. Timothy Newell, William Jackson and James Jackson, in Boston; Capt. Bowen and Mr. Chipman in Marblehead; Mr. Pyncheon in Salem; Mr. Symonds in Danvers; Daniel Gibbs, Esq; and Mr. Daniel Sargent in Gloucester; Major Epes, Capt. Staniford, and Mr. William Dodge in Ipswich; James M’Hard Esq; and Mr. Joseph Badger in Haverhill, and of the Managers in Newbury.

Note, But two Blanks to a Prize.
What was all that about? The town of Newbury wanted to build a bridge over the Parker River to replace a ferry that had operated for over a century. In fact, the town had wanted to build such a bridge since 1734, according to John J. Currier’s “Ould Newbury” (1896). In that year the town meeting had voted to approve such a bridge on certain conditions:
  • It had to be wide enough for coaches.
  • Its main arch had to be tall and wide enough for boats laden with hay to pass through.
  • It wouldn’t cost the town of Newbury anything.
  • It would be free to use.
  • It had to be built within ten years.
It may not be surprising that no one undertook to fulfill all those conditions.

But the idea remained. In 1750 the Newbury town meeting and the Massachusetts General Court again approved of the idea of building a bridge. The legislature was involved because this time the planners proposed financing the bridge with a lottery, and the law needed provincial approval. The development team received authority to raise £1,200 that way.

In 1758 Ralph Cross finished building the bridge. It was 26 feet wide, 870 feet long, and had eight wooden arches. That structure no longer exists, but the present Parker River Bridge, built mainly in 1853 with stone arches, stands at the same spot.

Even after the bridge opened, however, the men behind it were still raising money. In fact, in April 1760 the legislature authorized a second lottery, and in February 1763 a third, to finish paying for the bridge and then to pay for its maintenance. Ads in the Boston newspapers for lottery tickets continued to direct customers who felt lucky to William and James Jackson, especially William.

When managers announced such lotteries, they had to be open about the terms. For example, the 1760 Newbury lottery stated that there were 5,000 tickets costing $2 apiece. One ticket would win $500, four would win $100, five $50, six $40, ten $30, fourteen $20, forty-five $10, seventy-five $8, and 1,495 tickets $4. The remaining 3,345 tickets were “blanks,” meaning their holders won nothing.

In all, just under one-third of all the tickets in the Newbury Lottery gave back more than a ticket-buyer had invested. That’s what the ad above meant by “Note, But two Blanks to a Prize.”

The goal of the 1760 lottery was to bring in $10,000. Of that sum, $9,000 was earmarked for prizes and the rest for the bridge. But raising a full £1,000 meant selling through the whole run of tickets, and that was a challenge. The 1759 drawing advertised above depended on some people promising “a Subscription for the Tickets then unsold.” As of March 1761 there were still unsold tickets for the second lottery, and the Newbury town meeting was asked what the town should do about it.

Today’s state lotteries operate under different rules, but one thing hasn’t changed: the expectation value of a ticket is still less than its price.

TOMORROW: Technical info.

[Above: A 1765 ticket from the long-running Faneuil Hall lottery signed by one of the managers, John Hancock.]

Thursday, January 10, 2019

“To be sold by Wholesale and Retail, By James Jackson”

As I research Mary Jackson and her family, I must say it would be a lot easier if they weren’t named Jackson. And if they hadn’t kept choosing first names like James, William, and Mary. But of course they weren’t the only family in eighteenth-century New England who set traps for researchers that way.

As I reported before, James and Mary Jackson had their second son baptized James at King’s Chapel on 8 May 1735. Boys named Jackson were admitted to the South Latin School in 1740 and 1742. Unfortunately, those school records don’t include full names. It’s possible that those boys were William and/or James Jackson, who would have been aged nine and seven respectively. If so, like most boys who started at a Boston grammar school in the 1700s, they never graduated, probably shifting to a writing school for better education in business skills.

This is just a guess based on their later paths, but I suspect William spent his adolescence helping Mama at the Brazen Head while James clerked for another import merchant. I’m even ready to guess that businessman was William Rand (1716-1758), who sold cloth and other dry goods “in Cornhill, The Corner Shop on the North side of the Townhouse,” per the 24 June 1751 Boston Evening-Post. In other words, very close to the Brazen Head.

This shopkeeper William Rand is often mixed with Dr. William Rand (1689-1759), who was an apothecary and a town tax collector. To confound matters further, that doctor had a namesake nephew, who in this period was a Harvard student and medical trainee and later was a counterfeiter. But I digress.

James Jackson came of age in May 1756. Already the town’s ministers were reading a notice that he intended to marry Sarah Rand—possibly the baby sister of shopkeeper William Rand, born in Charlestown in 1729. On 27 May, the couple wed at King’s Chapel. (The record there gives Sarah’s first name as Mary, just to add to the genealogical muddle. But that’s clearly an error, judging by the intention of marriage and later records of the couple.)

James Jackson thus married at an unusually young age, perhaps to a woman six years older. However, there’s no indication Sarah Rand was pregnant when they married, as many New England brides were. Instead, he seems to have been mature for his years.

James and Sarah Jackson had their own little baby James baptized at King’s Chapel on 26 June 1757, with his mother Mary standing as one of the sponsors. Five years later, on 10 Mar 1762, their son William was baptized in the same church; grandmother Mary and uncle William Jackson were sponsors.

On 26 Feb 1759 the Boston Evening-Post ran this advertisement:
Just Imported from LONDON, in the Brigantine Hannah, John Ayers Master, and to be sold by Wholesale and Retail,
By James Jackson,
At his Shop opposite Ebenezer Storer, Esq; and Son’s Warehouse in Union-street, BOSTON, very reasonable for ready Money,

A Great Variety of European and India GOODS, consisting of such a Number of Articles as would be tedious to the Reader. Likewise, a fine Assortment of Cutlery Ware, English Shoe Soles, Writing Paper, Looking Glasses, Raisins, Currants, Starch and Spices.
A similar ad followed in the Boston Post-Boy. Young Jackson had opened his own shop in the North End and was importing from Britain and beyond.

In March, the Boston town meeting elected James Jackson as one of twelve Clerks of the Market, alongside such peers as the silversmith Nathaniel Hurd. That was an entry-level elected position which the community usually gave to a young man seen as reliable and on his way up.

TOMORROW: Taking a chance with the Jackson brothers.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

A New Owner at the Brazen Head

By 1756, Mary Jackson had been running her shop at the Sign of the Brazen Head in central Boston for over twenty years.

She had started as a suddenly widowed mother of two young children and for a few years had a male business partner, but then he died, too. For over a decade, Jackson had been the sole proprietor.

On 23 August, Mary Jackson’s Boston Gazette advertisement disclosed big news about the business. She had a new partner: her son William.

For folks who love historic hardware and retailing, here’s a full transcript of that ad. For anyone else, feel free to skip down to the discussion of the Jackson family.
Imported from LONDON and BRISTOL, and to be sold by
Mary and William Jackson,
At the Brazin-Head in Cornhill, by Wholesale and Retail. And as ready Money is a great Inducement, they will sell cheap for Cash. Viz.

BRASS kettles, skillets, warming-pans, frying-pans, iron dripping-pans, iron pots, kettles & skillets, powder, lead & shot of all sizes, London dishes, plates and cream-pots, spoons, pewter measures, porringers, bed and close-stool pans, turrenes, tea-kettles, & copper coffee-pots, kettle-pots, brass & copper sauce-pans, copper drinking pots, andirons, shovel and tongs, fire-pans, brass & iron candlesticks, iron chafin-dishes, flat-irons, skimmers, ladles, bellows & box-irons, nails, brads, tacks & hob nails of all sorts, coffin bullions, tin tax, double and single spring chest locks, stock locks, egg nob locks and other door locks, H & HL hinges, pew hinges, hooks and hinges, and garnets, chest hinges, door latches, compasses, hammers, firmers, gimblets, hand-saws, plows, hallow and rounds, sugars, rules, plastering & brick trowels, splinter and black pad-locks, brass nails, post pepper-mills, brass cocks, an assortment of files, desk & book-case furniture, viz. handles & scutcheons of various sorts, desk and book-case locks, book-case hinges, scutcheons and bolts, prospect hinges, schutcheons and locks, desk buttons, brass pins, clock case hinges, furniture for tea-chests, brass & iron table ketches, London glue, screws, brass & iron desk hinges, rule joint table hinges, square butts, dovetails, three barr’d, plain and crooked stirrup irons, women stirrup irons, white setts, black buckles, saddle heads, turf nails, bridle kitts, rings and staples, girt web, saddler’s billions, jobents, spurs, tinn’d curry-combs, &c. case-knives and forks, jack-knives & pen-knives, coat and sleeve buttons, swords & belts, brass and leather ink-pots, shoe & knee buckles, scissars & shears, London needles, pocket-compasses, ivory & horn combs, razors & hones, dutch spectacles, brass & iron thimbles, bath metal thimbles with steel tops, fountain pans, brass, iron, steel & japann’d snuffers, black glass necklaces, stay-hooks, snuff-boxes, powder-flasks, pewter tea-spoons, flints, money-scales and weights, jews-harps, fish-lines and hooks, gun-locks, an assortment of shoemakers tools, knives, hammers, sowing & pegging and blades, aul-hafts, rasps & knippers, tax, punches, spinnel, white wax, with a great variety of other London, Birmingham, and Sheffield cutlery wares.

Also, Good Connecticut PORK and BEEF.

N.B. Any Person in the Country, by sending a Letter, shall be as well used as if present themselves. Old Brass, Copper, Pewter, Lead and Bees-wax, will be taken in Exchange the same as Cash.
The timing of this advertisement raises a couple of questions. William made his debut in the very first installment of The Saga of the Brazen Head, when he was baptized on 13 July 1731 at King’s Chapel. That meant he came of legal age in 1752. But it took another four years before William’s mother made him her legal partner.

In fact, William arrival in the newspaper advertising coincided with his little brother James coming of age in the late spring of 1756. I’m not sure what to make of that. Was it just coincidence, or was Mary sorting out both her sons’ futures at once?

It also seems significant that Mary Jackson continued to be the senior partner in the family firm, her name listed first in the advertisements. Indeed, after 1758 the Brazen Head ads usually appeared under the name of “Mary Jackson & Son,” not even naming William.

TOMORROW: How was the younger James Jackson keeping busy?

[The photo above shows an HL hinge, courtesy of Williamsburg Blacksmiths.]