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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Thursday, March 05, 2015

“Snowballs covering stones” at the Massacre

In his 1789 History of the American Revolution, the South Carolina physician and historian David Ramsay (1749-1815, shown here) wrote that the crowd at the Boston Massacre was “armed with clubs, sticks, and snowballs covering stones.”

I believe that’s the first printed statement that Bostonians packed snow around rocks to throw at the soldiers. Earlier I’ve said that the earliest place I’d found that detail stated was in Sgt. Roger Lamb’s Journal, published twenty years later. It appears Lamb picked up the detail from Ramsay.

Or from intervening authors. The “snowballs covering stones” also appeared in Jedidiah Morse’s The American Geography (London: 1794), “History of the Rise and Fall of the British Empire in America” in The Britannic Magazine (1795), and William Winterbotham’s An Historical, Geographical, Commercial and Philosophical View of the American United States (London: 1795).

The snowballs with stony cores became a standard detail of descriptions of the Massacre in the nineteenth century. Even though that detail can’t be traced back to anyone who was at the event. Following the standards of his time, Ramsay didn’t specify his source, and the many authors who copied his language (at much greater length) didn’t even cite him.

A lot of eyewitnesses to the Massacre left testimony about it, and none described people packing snow around rocks. Lots of people said there was snow and ice on the ground, and in the air. Thomas Hall and Daniel Cornwall testified to seeing people throw oyster shells at the soldiers. An enslaved man named Andrew testified that people threw “pieces of sea coal” (i.e., coal imported from Cape Breton). So there’s better evidence that the locals didn’t even bother padding their stones with snow.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

A Civilian Casualty in the Bombardment of Boston

A few months back Boston 1775 reader Boyan Kurtovich sent me a question about whether any civilians were killed or wounded during the American artillery assault on British-occupied Boston in March 1776.

Early in the bombardment, on 3 March, Lt. John Barker of the 4th Regiment wrote, “Very remarkable no hurt was done as the most of their Shot and Shells fell in the Town.” (Back on 23 Sept 1775 Barker had noted Capt. William Pawlett of the 59th being wounded during breakfast.) Likewise, selectman Timothy Newell wrote, “tho’ several houses were damaged and persons in great danger, myself one, no one as I can learn received any hurt.”

But that luck didn’t hold the next day. Newell recorded:
4th March. Monday — soon after candle light, came on a most terrible bombardment and cannonade, on both sides, as if heaven and earth were engaged. Five or six 18 and 24 lb. shot struck Mr. Chardon’s house, Gray’s, Winnetts,—our fence &c.—

Notwithstanding, the excessive fire till morning, can’t learn any of the Inhabitants have been hurt, except a little boy at Mr Leaks, had his leg broke—it is said some of the soldiery suffered.
The merchant Peter Chardon’s house appears to have been on the corner of what became Chardon and Cambridge Streets. (Chardon was reconfigured into New Chardon Street in the Government Center development of the 1960s.) Those cannonballs probably came from the Continental battery at Lechmere’s Point. That house burned down in January 1778.

The next day the merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary:
All night Both sides kept a Continuall Fire. Six men of the 22nd. are wounded in a house at the So. End. One Boy lost his Leg.
That’s probably the same unfortunate boy, and we can hope Rowe heard an exaggerated rumor about the extent of his injury.

In his 1849 history of the siege of Boston, Richard Frothingham wrote that “one shot wounded six men in a regimental guard-house.” He didn’t cite a source for that statement, but it fits with Rowe’s remark and probably referred to the men of the 22nd. Frothingham didn’t mention the boy, and I haven’t found a trace of him elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

What’s Up with Minute Man Park This Month

Today the North Bridge Visitor Center of Minute Man National Historical Park is scheduled to reopen for the season.

It will be open through the end of the month on Tuesday through Saturday, 11:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. In April, with the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord coming up, the park’s facilities will surely open for longer hours.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Minute Man Park is sponsoring two lectures this month.

Sunday, 15 March
“Parker’s Revenge Project: Notes from the Field”
Principal investigator Margaret Watters, Ph.D., will give an update on the Friends initiative to study and interpret the site traditionally associated with the afternoon assault on the withdrawing British army column by Capt. John Parker and his Lexington militiamen.

Sunday, 29 March
“War and Slavery in Revolutionary Massachusetts, 1775-1783”
John Hannigan, Rose and Irving Crown Fellow in the History Department at Brandeis, will share his research on how men of color participated in the opening of the American Revolution, and the effects of their activity on the institution of slavery in Massachusetts.

Both talks will take place in Bemis Hall, 15 Bedford Road in Lincoln. They will start at 3:00 P.M., and are free and open to the public.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Talk on Washington’s Black Soldiers in Cambridge, 12 Mar.

On Thursday, 12 March, I’ll again speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge honor of the upcoming Evacuation Day anniversary. This year’s talk is titled “When Washington Changed His Mind: The Question of African-American Soldiers in the Continental Army.”

In his first report back to the Continental Congress after taking command in Boston, Gen. George Washington wrote on 10 July 1775 that they shouldn’t expect quick results. The New England recruiters, he said, had already scraped the bottom of the barrel for soldiers:
Upon finding the Number of Men to fall so far short of the Establishment, & below all Expectation I immediately called a Council of the general Officers whose Opinion as to the Mode of filling up the Regiments; & providing for the present Exigency, . . . From the Number of Boys, Deserters, & Negroes which have been listed in the Troops of this Province, I entertain some Doubts whether the Number required can be raised here…
For a Virginia planter like Washington, whose entire life depended on managing enslaved people of African descent, the sight of black soldiers in fighting regiments wasn’t just a surprise. It was a profound contradiction of the social order.

That day Washington’s hand-picked adjutant general, Horatio Gates, issued recruiting orders that barred “any Stroller, Negro, or Vagabond” from enlisting. The Massachusetts legislature, which had approved all the existing regiments with black soldiers, reversed itself and told officers to stop signing up such men, whether free or enslaved.

At a council of war in October, Washington quizzed his generals on the issue. All but two agreed with the policy of excluding African-Americans from the army. So did the committee of the Continental Congress who met with Washington soon afterwards. Which wasn’t a surprise when the agenda for that meeting expressed the question this way:
Ought not Negroes to be excluded in the New Inlistment? especially such as are Slaves—By a Council of Officers both are.
On 31 October Washington’s general orders put that policy into practice by inviting all American soldiers around Boston to sign up for another year in the army—“(Negroes excepted, which the Congress do not incline to inlist again).”

And yet on 30 Dec 1775 Washington wrote in his general orders that recruiting officers could sign up “Free Negroes.” The next day he took responsibility for that new policy in a letter to the Congress:
I have presumed to depart from the Resolution respecting them, & have given Licence for their being enlisted, if this is disapproved of by Congress, I will put a Stop to it.
As he anticipated, the Congress did not overrule that policy.

In this talk I’ll explore the factors that pressed the commander-in-chief change his mind, and the repercussions of that decision for the Continental Army and for Washington personally.

I’m scheduled to begin speaking at 6:30 P.M. in the Longfellow carriage house. Parking restrictions ease up along Brattle Street to the west at 6:00—not that this winter is making parking easy. This event is free, but because of limited seating the site asks people to make reservations by calling 617-876-4491.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Big Plans for the Massacre in Boston

This is the time of year that Boston 1775 starts pinging the Department of Homeland Security servers by talking about our big plans for the Massacre.

That’s the Boston Massacre, of course, which took place on the 5th of March in 1770. This year the event will be reenacted on the evening of Saturday, 7 March, outside the Bostonian Society’s Old State House Museum—assuming that the snow has been cleared from the area. Here’s the schedule of events for that day.

10:30 A.M.
Little Redcoats and Little Bostonians
This interactive program for children explores what life was like for Bostonians and British soldiers in Boston in the months leading up to the Boston Massacre. Free; in front the Old State House.

11:00 A.M.
Blood on the Snow
Delve into the stark choices that faced the acting governor Thomas Hutchinson in the aftermath of the Massacre as shocked Bostonians demanded immediate action to prevent further bloodshed. Actors will present a scene from Patrick Gabridge’s original drama Blood on the Snow. Free with museum admission; inside the Old State House.

11:30 A.M.
Trial of the Century
Watch lawyers John Adams and Josiah Quincy defend the British soldiers accused of murdering Bostonians. Audience members are invited to act as witnesses and jurors for this celebrated case. For all ages. Free with museum admission, but space is limited; tickets go on sale at 9:00 A.M. at the Old State House Museum front desk.

1:30 P.M.
Little Redcoats and Little Bostonians reprise

2:00 P.M.
Blood on the Snow reprise

2:30 P.M.
Trial of the Century reprise

Weather permitting, volunteers may be recreating other scenes of historical conflict that afternoon outside Faneuil Hall, at the Old State House, or in other public spaces. Keep your eyes open.

7:00 P.M.
Boston Massacre Reenactment
The big event! Witness the argument, riot, and shooting reenacted in front of the Old State House, in the very area where it took place in March 1770. Before the action unfolds, hear from Patriots, Loyalists, and moderates who will talk about the events and attitudes that led to that fateful night. Free; in front of the Old State. (Once again I’ll be there as narrator.)

And if that’s not enough, on Wednesday, 11 March, from 6:00 to 7:30 P.M. the Old South Meeting House will host an event called “The Fifth of March Anniversary Orations–Speak Out!” From 1771 to 1783, the town of Boston invited prominent gentlemen to speak in memory of the Massacre at Old South Meeting House. Among the men thus commemorating the anniversary were James Lovell, Dr. Joseph Warren, Dr. Benjamin Church, and John Hancock. Hear selections from their speeches performed by an intergenerational group. Co-sponsored by the History Department of Suffolk University. This event is free and open to the public, but registration is requested.

(And if you are from the Department of Homeland Security, come to these events! You may have some time to fill.)

Saturday, February 28, 2015

New Database of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Petitions

Yesterday saw the official debut of the Digital Archive of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions. This online database is a collaboration between the Massachusetts Archives and Harvard’s Radcliffe Institute, Center for American Political Studies, and Hutchins Center for African and African American Research.

Two years in the making, the collection offers views of 3,500 documents filed with the Massachusetts General Court from the 1600s to the 1800s. I saw a Twitter message saying that some of those petitions appears to have never been opened before being digitized.

Boston 1775 reader Nicole Topich, who worked on the project, alerted me to a number of items from the database relating to people discussed on this blog. For example, I’ve been passing on news about the identification of a young African-American portrait artist named Prince Demah. His mother Daphne appears in several documents because she was part of the estate confiscated from the Loyalist merchant Henry Barnes.

The state told the men it appointed to administer that estate to pay her from its earnings. The second of those men, Simon Stow, ended up suing his predecessor with the state’s encouragement. In June 1789 Stow complained to the legislature that he was still paying Daphne and thought she could live more cheaply in the countryside, but she was refusing to leave Boston. The legislature excused Stow from that responsibility. Two years later, Daphne petitioned directly, describing herself as having been “born in Africa,” “purchased by Henry Barnes, Esqr.,” and too old to support herself. The legislature authorized Joseph Hosmer to pay for her expenses on the state account.

Similar issues arose in the case of Tony (Anthony) and Cuba (Coby) Vassall, who had been enslaved to different members of the Vassall family in Cambridge. (As a child, Cuba had worked at the Royall House in Medford.) In 1780 the couple petitioned the legislature to be granted land from the John Vassall estate so as to support themselves. Tony stated that since the war began:
he and his family have since that time occupied a small tenement, with three quarters of an Acre of land, part of Mr. John Vassall’s estate in Cambridge and has paid therefor a reasonable rent, and all the taxes that were assessed upon him. . . .

the earlier part & vigour of their lives is spent in the service of their several masters, and the misfortunes of war have deprived them of that care & protection which they might otherwise have expected from them—

the land Your Petitioners now improve is not sufficient to supply them with such vegetables as are necessary for their family use, and their title is so precarious that they can’t depend on a continued possession of the same—

they might however promise themselves a tolerable subsistence by their industry & attention, if this Honble Court would grant them a freehold in the Premises and add one quarter of an acre of adjoining land to that which they now improve.
The following February, the legislature responded by voting Anthony Vassall a £12 annual pension but no more land. After his death, in 1811 the widow “Cuby” requested that the pension continue; her plea eventually succeeded, but she died the next year. Their son Darby, who reportedly met Gen. George Washington when he arrived at the John Vassall house to use it as his headquarters, lived long enough to sign a petition against the Fugitive Slave Law in 1861.

The database also contains digitized documents that don’t appear to have a direct connection with slavery. For instance, there are several petitions from Samuel Adams the wire-worker in the 1850s asking for compensation from the state for losses he sustained in the Shays Rebellion over sixty years before. They show Adams gathering pages of signatures in support of his cause, just as the opponents of the Fugitive Slave Law would do.

Friday, February 27, 2015

“God Save the People!” Exhibit Opens in Boston

Today the Massachusetts Historical Society opens its “God Save the People!” exhibit about the political conflict in Boston that grew from 1765 to 1775 and exploded into war. Last night I attended a preview, and can happily recommend a visit for anyone interested in American history. The exhibit will be up through the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference and into September. It’s open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M., and free.

In designing an exhibit worthy of the sestercentennial, the M.H.S. staff tackled a few challenges. One is the size of the exhibit space: three rooms (though one can also peek into the Treasures Room with its semi-permanent display of portraits of James Bowdoin, George Washington, young John and Abigail Adams, and old Lafayette). Any exhibit is a fraction of the available material, but, given the size of the M.H.S. holdings, this exhibit had to show a very small selection indeed.

Another challenge was that the society chose long ago to focus on documentary material. Most of its holdings are letters, diaries, and other writings. Multiple pages plucked from the John Rowe’s extensive (if suspiciously incomplete) diary and Harbottle Dorr’s newspaper collection provide continuity over the decade. But such writings are best read while sitting down at length instead of gazed at.

To enhance the exhibit’s visual dimension, the society has drawn on its fine collection of portraits—though those of course show only the very top of society. The engravings of Paul Revere and other cartoonists, usually shown both in original form and enlarged for easier examination, illustrate stages of the conflict. And we get to see some of the grab-bag of artifacts that the society has accumulated over the years, such as:
The family of those officers also loaned other items to illustrate the courtship of Capt. John Linzee of the Royal Navy and local miss Sukey Inman.

The tent poles of the exhibit are the most famous Boston events: the Stamp Act protests, the conflict over non-importation leading up to the Massacre and succeeding trials, the Tea Party, and Bunker Hill. Ironically, conflicts that were played out largely in documents, such as the argument over judicial salaries, are less visible.

There was, of course, a parallel struggle for liberty in those years, by blacks both free and enslaved. The exhibit represents that history through the figure of Phillis Wheatley; it shows her portrait, one of the few surviving documents in her own handwriting, and her writing desk. Beside them is the Bucks of America medal, though I think that’s really a relic of the African-American community’s strive for acceptance in the early republic of the 1780s rather than of the Revolutionary War.

Among the exhibit’s strengths is being able to see some of the same figures at different times. Thus, one of the first items is shopkeeper Cyrus Baldwin’s 15 Aug 1765 letter to his brother Loammi describing “an effigy of the honorable stamp master of this province” hanging from a big tree in the South End. (That was weeks before that tree was designated Liberty Tree.) Among the later items is Cyrus Baldwin’s complaint about losing a chest of tea to Charlestown Patriots, as Chris Hurley narrated earlier this year. We see Samuel Quincy telling his legal colleague Robert Treat Paine that prosecuting Customs official Edward Manwaring for the Massacre will be “another Windmill adventure,” and later Quincy exchanging letters with his dying Patriot brother Josiah.

Perforce, the exhibit focuses on the top of society, the class involved in formal politics, the class most likely to save their papers. That stratum offers a variety of stories—even, in the portrait of Customs commissioner Charles Paxton, a silent bit of queer history.

The dimension of pre-Revolutionary Boston I think this exhibit can’t capture so easily is the everyday life of most Bostonians and how that intersected with the political developments. But there are glimpses—in, for example, Isaac Vibird’s newspaper protest that his wife had visited a proscribed importer’s shop just to pick up some locally made shoes. So when you go, take some extra minutes to read the newspaper pages and see what else was going on.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Peter Oliver Explains the “Black Regiment”

Peter Oliver was the last Chief Justice of Massachusetts under royal rule. His brother was Lt. Gov. Andrew Oliver, and their family was connected by marriage to Gov. Thomas Hutchinson.

Massachusetts Whigs saw the Hutchinson-Oliver faction as apologists for the London government, far too quick to excuse encroachments on the colony’s traditional freedoms in exchange for lucrative appointments. Later the Whigs accused those men as having actually encouraged the ministry in its policies through recommendations and lies.

For his part, after the siege of Boston Oliver went into exile in England and spent the war writing an account of the political conflict in Massachusetts that he titled “The Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion.” It was finally published in 1961, and I don’t think it’s been out of print since. It’s a delightfully nasty, sarcastic, gossipy, and ad hominem narration of the years from 1760 to 1775.

Oliver and Hutchinson dated the start of their troubles from James Otis, Jr.’s break with the royal patronage system, and they blamed him for fomenting the unrest against them. Among other things, Oliver accused Otis of politicizing much of the Massachusetts clergy, as he laid out in a section titled “The Black Regiment”:
It may now be amiss, now, to reconnoitre Mr. Otis’s Black Regiment, the dissenting Clergy, who took so active a Part in the Rebellion. The congregational perswasion of Religion might be properly termed the established Religion of the Massachusetts, as well as of some other of the New England Colonies; as the Laws were peculiarly adapted to secure ye Rights of this Sect; although all other Religions were tolerated, except the Romish.

This Sect inherited from the Ancestors an Aversion to Episcopacy; & I much question, had it not been for the Supremacy of the British Government over them, which they dared not openly deny, whether Episcopacy itself would have been tolerated; at least it would have been more discountenanced than it was & here I cannot but remark a great Mistake of the Governors of the Church of England, in proposing to the Colonies to have their consent to a Bishop residing among them for ye purpose of Ordination. It was the direct Step to a Refusal for all such Proposals from the Parent State, whether of a civil or a Religious Nature, were construed into Timidity by the Colonists & were sure of meeting with a Repulse.

The Clergy of this Province were, in general, a Set of very weak Men; & it could not be expected that they should be otherwise as many of them were just relieved, some from the Burthen of the Satchel; & others from hard Labor; & by a Transition from Occupations to mounting a Desk, from whence they could look the principal Part of the Congregations, they, by that acquired a supreme Self Importance; which was too apparent in their Manners. Some of them were Men of Sense, and would have done Honor to a Country which shone in Literature; but there were few of these; & among these, but very few who were not strongly tinctured with Republicanism.

The Town of Boston being a Metropolis, it was also the Metropolis of Sedition; and hence it was that their Clergy being dependent on the People for their daily Bread; by having frequent Intercourse with the People, imbibed their Principles. In this Town was an annual Convention of Clergy of the Province, the Day after the Election of his Majestys Charter Council; and at those Meetings were settled the religious Affairs of the Province; & as the Boston Clergy were esteemed the others an Order of Deities, so they were greatly influenced by them.

There was also another annual Meeting of the Clergy at Cambridge, on the Commencement for graduating the Scholars of Harvard College; at these two Conventions, if much Good was effectuated, so there was much Evil. And some of the Boston Clergy, as they were capable of the Latter, so they missed no Opportunities of accomplishing their Purposes.
Oliver proceeded to name some ministers who he thought had been particularly useful to Otis and his allies: “Dr. Jonathan Mayhew, Dr. Charles Chauncy & Dr. Samuel Cooper.”

The Olivers and Hutchinson weren’t members of those men’s meetings, but they were Congregationalists from families who came to Massachusetts in the early Puritan migration. They ended up finding disproportionate support from Massachusetts Anglicans whose families had arrived after the 1600s. However, the Congregationalist minister Mather Byles, Sr., was another Loyalist. In short, religion was a political dividing-line among the clergy, but not a neat one.

Oliver had some more to say about the “black Regiment,” which I’ll quote and analyze after catching up with events.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The Roots of the “Black Robed Regiment” in 2010

Yesterday’s look at Oklahoma legislator and minister Dan Fisher showed how he’s active in the “Black Robed Regiment,” a movement among some Christian pastors to be more militantly involved in politics.

I’m sure the “Black Robe(d) Regiment” phenomenon is worthy of deeper study. The short version, as summarized at Media Matters and at Wikipedia, is that it arose from a conversation between author David Barton and broadcaster Glenn Beck (shown here) in 2010 and was quickly picked up by like-minded ministers eager to become more involved in political affairs.

Barton’s Wallbuilders site includes an page promoting the movement while the National Black Robe Regiment website includes an article by Barton it titles “The Original Black Robe Regiment.” This being the internet, there are other domains using the “Black Robe” trope and no way to tell if some are more “official” than others.

Barton has become notorious for distorting historical evidence to support his Christianist view of the American Revolution and early republic. Given the place of religion in eighteenth-century society, especially in New England, it should be hard to overstate its importance, but Barton has done so habitually. He’s also ventured into topics unrelated to Christianity but embedded in modern right-wing politics, such as gun ownership, and proved equally unreliable.

Barton’s article on the “Original Black Robe Regiment” appears to be typical of his approach. It proffers an impressive number of footnotes—101 in all. On closer examination, however, those citations don’t add up to so much.

Footnote 66, for example, is simply a repetition of footnote 1 when Barton returns to the phrase “black regiment.” But that set of sources doesn’t actually offer evidence for the essay’s first sentence:
The Black Robed Regiment was the name that the British placed on the courageous and patriotic American clergy during the Founding Era (a backhanded reference to the black robes they wore). [1]
In fact, Google Books can’t find the phrase “black robed regiment” from any source prior to this century. It appears that Barton made it up, inadvertently or on purpose, based on the actual period phrase “Black Regiment,” which I’ll discuss tomorrow.

My favorite footnote in the article is attached to this passage:
When Paul Revere set off on his famous ride, it was to the home of the Rev. [Jonas] Clark in Lexington that he rode. Patriot leaders John Hancock and Samuel Adams were lodging (as they often did) with the Rev. Clark. After learning of the approaching British forces, Hancock and Adams turned to Pastor Clark and inquired of him whether the people were ready to fight. Clark unhesitatingly replied, “I have trained them for this very hour!” [47]
The note:
[47] Franklin Cole, They Preached Liberty (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1941), p. 34. Only source we can locate is Cole’s.
I doubt that second sentence was meant to be left for us to see. It indicates that Barton and his research team had enough questions about whether “Pastor Clark” really said those words to look for a better source than a book published by a Christian evangelical press 166 years after the event. But they failed to find any other source to support Cole’s quotation, despite the many accounts and histories of the Lexington alarm—which should have made them skeptical about that book. Instead, Barton cited it in this essay seven more times.

In those hundred footnotes I count seven primary sources from the eighteenth century: Peter Oliver’s account of the Revolution from shortly after the war, two citations of 1770s Boston newspapers taken from a note in the 1961 edition of Oliver, letters of John Adams and Benjamin Rush, a 1789 newspaper report, and a collection of sermons.

Some other contemporaneous writing no doubt appears in the nineteenth- and twentieth-century books that provide the bulk of the citations and quotations, but those books also contain unsupported traditions and fables like the one quoted above. That’s why I think it’s important to go back to the earliest documents, consider them fully and skeptically, and not just quote what I like uncritically because I can’t find anything more solid.

It’s easy to find primary sources on eighteenth-century American religion. The problem is that those sources present a much more complex, multi-faceted, and unfamiliar picture of religious life and thought than the Black Robe(d) Regiment would apparently like.

COMING UP: What Peter Oliver really wrote.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

“Fisher is pushing for Christian-based governance”

The Oklahoma legislator who introduced the bill I quoted at such length yesterday is the Rev. Dan Fisher, pastor at Trinity Baptist Church in the city of Yukon.

The Tulsa World newspaper provided more background on how Fisher views the intersection of politics and religion:
As a member of the Black Robe Regiment, Fisher is pushing for Christian-based governance and challenging religious leaders to get political in the pulpit. The group also promotes Christian themes in education, including in history, civics and economics classes.

For years, Fisher has been giving public presentations in costume with his version of American history, which centers on the role ministers played in American independence. He wears an 18th century pastor’s black robe, then takes it off to finish the speech wearing an American Revolution military uniform. A musket and pistols are used as props.
That bit of business appears to be based on a legend of the Rev. Peter Muhlenberg first published in 1849—a literalization of how Muhlenberg left his pulpit to lead a Virginia regiment. After the war, he served in political and governmental offices.

The newspaper continues:
In a 35-minute presentation found online, Fisher uses quotes from preachers of the time to argue that America’s founding was based on Judeo-Christian principles.

On Fisher’s website — called “Bringing Back the Black Robed Regiment” — he argues that “without a resurgence of biblical patriotism in the pulpit, America cannot survive much longer.” . . .

In Fisher’s online presentation, he recommends “The Patriot Preachers of the American Revolution” by Frank Moore, published in 1862, and the 1860 book “The Pulpit of the American Revolution” by John Wingate Thornton.

“If you really want to read about the true history of America, you generally can’t read modern books,” he says on the video. “You have to go back many years.”
On that last point I agree, but Fisher stops nearly a century after the Revolution with books that focus on only one side of that conflict. Reading more widely and deeply reveals how ministers preached on both sides of the political and military divide.

Fisher’s website also includes a page titled “Black Robed Regiment Museum.” It’s full of weaponry. Among the few documents is a pamphlet from Boston labeled “Sermon by Thomas Powell October 16th, 1759,” though, as its title page clearly states, it was preached before Gov. Pownall by the Rev. Samuel Cooper. Why does that look like a metaphor for the overeager mix-up of politics and religion?

TOMORROW: The roots of the “Black Robe(d) Regiment.”