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 24, 2018

Barbier on Occupation at Old South, 26 Apr.

On Thursday, 26 April, the Old South Meeting House will welcome Brooke Barbier to speak on the topic “Boston in the American Revolution: Occupation 1768.”

This is a Sestercentennial event, examining the 250th anniversary of the arrival of royal troops in Boston in the fall of 1768. It’s part of a series of events Old South is hosting this season titled “Occupation.”

The event description says:
In 1768, British Parliament enacted a military solution to what was not yet a military problem by dispatching thousands of British troops to Boston. Many Bostonians feared standing armies and struggled with the presence of these armed men in their streets and buildings. Brooke Barbier, author of Boston in the American Revolution: A Town Versus an Empire and founder of Ye Olde Tavern Tours, will discuss the bewildering and curious ways the two groups interacted with one another – It will surprise you!
This event is free and open to the public, but Old South asks people to register for a seat at this site. There will be book sales and signing after the talk.

Monday, April 23, 2018

“Dr. F. with a number of boys of his age”

Last year I discussed how the experiences of Pvt. Jacob Frost had inspired and informed the Rev. W. B. O. Peabody’s 1829 sketch “The Young Provincial”—though that account changed significant details for dramatic effect.

Peabody heard about Jacob Frost through the veteran’s younger brother, Dr. Joshua Frost, according to an article in the 25 Nov 1829 Springfield Republican.

That same newspaper also put into print Dr. Frost’s own anecdote about the beginning of the war. Jacob was then “about nine years old” and living in Tewksbury:
We cannot help here adding an anecdote related to us by Dr. F. as it illustrates so well the feeling which prevailed even among children at the time to which the story relates. His parents lived not many miles [actually fifteen] from Lexington, and on the morning of the memorable 19th of April, when every person capable of bearing arms had gone to the theatre of action, it was feared by the women and small boys that a certain “old tory” in the neighborhood would communicate such information to the enemy, as would injure the cause of liberty, or bring destruction upon their heads. Accordingly Dr. F. with a number of boys of his age, went to the house of this tory, and pinioned him down in his bed.
I haven’t found any other version of this tale or identified a notorious “old tory” in Tewksbury. But I can’t help but sympathize with a man who, simply because of political differences, was suddenly attacked in his own bedroom by a riled-up bunch of ten-year-olds.

[The picture above doesn’t actually illustrate this anecdote. It’s from Bill Nye’s History of the United States (1894) and reflects that humorist’s version of the moment in January 1775 when Boston schoolboys protested to Gen. Frederick Haldimand about not being able to sled outside his house on School Street.]

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Another Robert Newman Story

As a postscript to last week’s discussion of the stories of hanging lanterns in Old North Church, I have to acknowledge yet another version of that tale from Robert Newman.

This version was preserved by Edward Everett—later a governor, senator, Secretary of State, and president of Harvard University—in a footnote to the published edition of the oration he delivered in Concord on 19 Apr 1825, the fiftieth anniversary of the battle there.

Carefully following Paul Revere’s own account of that day, Everett mentioned the signal lanterns hung in the Christ Church spire. His note added this anecdote:
A tradition by private channels has descended, that these lanterns in the North Church were quickly noticed by the officers of the British army, on duty on the evening of the 18th. To prevent the alarm being communicated by these signals into the country, the British officers, who had noticed them, hastened to the church to extinguish them.

Their steps were heard on the stairs in the tower of the church, by the sexton, who had lighted the lanterns. To escape discovery, he himself extinguished the lanterns, and passing by the officers on the stairs, concealed himself in the vaults of the church.

He was, a day or two after, arrested, while discharging the duties of his office at a funeral, tried, and condemned to death; but respited on a threat of retaliation from Gen. Washington, and finally exchanged.

This anecdote was related to me, with many circumstances of particularity, by one who had often heard it from the sexton himself.
That sexton had to be Robert Newman. And that story had to be balderdash.

First, there’s only one way up or down to the upper windows in the steeple, and those stairs are narrow. There’s no way people can “pass” each other unnoticed. Perhaps a man who knew the building well could hide on the second or third level while others climbed past him, but could he go down to the vaults without being sure there weren’t more soldiers waiting on the ground floor? Plus, Newman’s family later stated that he had locked the church doors so British troops couldn’t easily enter. And escaped out a back window.

Second, there’s no evidence from British sources of them catching Newman, let alone trying him and condemning him to death.

Third, George Washington didn’t arrive to take command of the Continental Army until 2 July, more than two months after Newman’s supposed arrest and conviction. And there’s no evidence in the general’s papers that he ever heard of the sexton, much less made “a threat of retaliation” to get him freed.

It seems significant that the outlandish details of this story weren’t part of what Newman’s son told the rector at Christ Church around 1870. If Robert Newman told this hair-raising tale in the early republic, and I rather suspect he did, he reserved it for tourists.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Wilkes on the “Parker’s Revenge” Study in Marlborough, 25 Apr.

On Wednesday, 25 April, archeologist Meg Watters Wilkes will speak about “Parker’s Revenge Revealed: Archaeology on a Revolutionary War Battlefield” at the Skinner Marlborough Gallery in Marlborough.

Here’s the event description:
On the morning April 19th, 1775, British troops marched from Boston to Concord, Massachusetts, to destroy supplies stockpiled in the town to form a provincial army. As the British soldiers reached the town of Lexington, militia had formed on the common. A shot was fired, and the British regulars fired into the militia killing eight and wounding ten. The regulars then proceeded to Concord. After taking care of their dead and wounded, the Lexington men formed and marched towards Concord to lay in wait for their return back to Boston. A brief engagement ensued.

Primary accounts of this event placed it on the Lexington/Lincoln town lines, but where was it? Join Dr. Watters as she explains the methodology and results of finding a battlefield from the first day of the American Revolution.
Meg Watters Wilkes has over twenty years of experience as a remote sensing specialist in archaeology. She holds a B.A. in Classical Studies from Trinity College in Hartford, an M.A. in Remote Sensing and G.I.S. in Archaeology from Boston University, and a Ph.D. in Archaeological Landscape Remote Sensing and 3D Visualization from the University of Birmingham.

This event will take place at the Skinner auction house’s Marlborough facility, 274 Cedar Hill Street. Refreshments will be served starting at 5:00 P.M. The lecture will begin at 6:00. The event is free and open to the public.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Conceptions of Medicine and History at the A.A.S.

Here are couple of interesting programs coming up at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester in the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday, 24 April, 7:00 P.M.
“The Medical Imagination in the Early United States”
Sari Altschuler

The checklists and clinical algorithms of modern medicine leave little space for imagination, and yet we depend on creativity for the advancement of medicine—to diagnose unusual conditions, to innovate treatment, and to make groundbreaking discoveries. We know a great deal about the empirical aspects of medicine, but we know far less about what the medical imagination is, what it does, how it works, or how we might train it. It was not always so.

Sari Altschuler will return to A.A.S. to discuss her new book, The Medical Imagination: Literature and Health in the Early United States. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, American doctors understood the imagination to be directly connected to health, intimately involved in healing, and central to medical discovery. Literature in particular provided physicians and other health writers important forms for crafting, testing, and implementing theories of health. Reading and writing poetry trained judgment, cultivated inventiveness, sharpened observation, and supplied evidence for medical research, while novels and short stories offered new perspectives and sites for experimenting with original medical theories.

Sari Altschuler is assistant professor of English and associate director of the Humanities Center at Northeastern University. Her research focuses primarily on American literature and culture before 1865, literature and medicine, disability studies, and the health humanities, broadly understood. Her talk is cosponsored by the Franklin M. Loew Lecture Series at Becker College.

Tuesday, 1 May, 7:00 P.M.
“Antiquarian America: Isaiah Thomas and the Ends of History”
Peter S. Onuf

Isaiah Thomas intended for the A.A.S. to play a critical role in promoting the future progress of the new American nation’s epochal experiment in republican government. Thomas and his colleagues were convinced that the success of that experiment depended on comprehensively collecting any evidence—from Indian antiquities and other “curiosities,” portraits, maps, manuscripts, and anything in print—that would illuminate the life of present as well as past for their future successors. The American Antiquarian impulse was cosmopolitan and progressive, eschewing the didacticism and patriotic exceptionalism of nationalist historiography and so anticipating the contemporary turn toward scientific, “objective” accounts of social and cultural development.

Peter S. Onuf is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation Professor of History Emeritus at the University of Virginia, and also senior fellow at Monticello’s Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies. He is the author, co-author, and editor of numerous books, including Jefferson’s Empire: The Language of American Nationhood, The Mind of Thomas Jefferson, “Most Blessed of the Patriarchs,” and Jeffersonian Legacies. This year Onuf is the A.A.S.-Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence.

These programs take place in Antiquarian Hall, 185 Salisbury Street in Worcester. There is on-street parking available on Regent Street and at the lot at 90 Park Avenue. They are open to the public free of charge. Books will be available for sale and signing after the program.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Shedding Light on the Lanterns Debate

There are two big reasons I think the late-1870s debate over whether sexton Robert Newman or vestryman John Pulling hung the lanterns in the Old North Church steeple on 18 Apr 1775 didn’t amount to much.

The first is that the two family traditions which finally saw print in that decade weren’t really contradictory. Of course each set of children born after the Revolution grew up hearing about how their own daddy or granddaddy had done something very important in the war, paying little attention to other people in the story. But two traditions actually fit together.

Here’s the Newman lore, as expressed in 1873:
That evening the sexton of Christ Church, Robert Newman, sat quietly in his house on Salem street, opposite Bennett street, assuming an unconcerned look and manner to avert the suspicion of the English officers who were quartered upon him, but impatiently expecting the arrival of a friend, a sea captain, who was watching the movement of the regulars. 
Newman’s son recalled him awaiting “a sea captain,” and Pulling was a mariner whom everyone called “Captain.” Significantly, the Newmans didn’t recall the sexton hearing news directly from Paul Revere.

Meanwhile, Pulling’s relatives were clear that the first thing he did after learning about the British plans from Revere was to go to Newman:
As soon as he received his notice, he left his house, and, watching his time, went over to the sexton’s, in the same street, and asked for the keys of the church, which, as he was a vestryman, the sexton could not refuse to give him.
In sum, the two accounts are complementary. The only contradiction between these stories is that each family felt that their relative alone took two lanterns to Christ Church.

But it makes more sense if both men went to the church. That way one could keep watch and run interference. Pulling may well have seen himself as supervising while Newman recalled doing most of the physical work.

Both family traditions also hold that the royal authorities seized Robert Newman on 19 April or soon afterward. That leads us to the next big disagreement between the accounts. The Newman family said the sexton was released because the army didn’t have enough evidence to hold him. The Pulling relatives believed that Newman was released because he snitched on the captain—but they offered no evidence for the words they put in Newman’s mouth. The sexton remained in the North End for years after the war, and no one else accused him of being an informer.

These days, almost all historians say Robert Newman and John Pulling put up the signal lanterns together. The Pulling relatives’ suspicion about Newman gets swept aside. So as of now both sides of the debate won, and both sides lost.

But that’s only the first reason I say the debate over who hung the lanterns doesn’t matter much. The other reason is that hanging those lanterns probably had zero effect on history.

The lantern signal told William Conant, David Cheever, and other Patriots in Charlestown that the British troops were going to cross the Charles River. They dispatched a messenger on horseback to carry that news to Committee of Safety and Supplies members Elbridge Gerry, Azor Orne, and Jeremiah Lee in west Cambridge and to John Hancock and Samuel Adams in Lexington.

That messenger never made it. He was probably stopped on the west side of the Charlestown neck by British officers on horseback. Revere later ran into such officers and had to gallop off to a northern road. We don’t know who the original Charlestown rider was or what happened to him, but we know he didn’t get through.

That means the signal from the Old North tower played no role in alerting Provincial Congress leaders or countryside militia officers about the British march. Thus, if the two lanterns had never shone, the events of 19 April would have played out the same way. (Mind you, I’ve even questioned whether Revere’s ride mattered.)

So why did people care so much about the lanterns in the 1870s? Why do we care today, reenacting that event and idolizing the lanterns supposedly involved? The answer goes back to Henry W. Longfellow. He recognized the poetic power of that moment when the twin lanterns were lit—it’s focused, dramatic, visual. He made it a vital part of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” distorting history to depict it as crucial to Revere’s actual ride. And we’ve had it embedded in our national consciousness ever since.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Debate Over Newman and Pulling

The Rev. John Lee Watson was pretty relentless in arguing his claim that John Pulling, not Robert Newman, had hung the lanterns in Old North Church on 18 Apr 1775.

On 20 July 1876, Watson published his letter in the Boston Daily Advertiser. In November he sent an updated and corrected version of that letter to Charles Deane, corresponding secretary of the Massachusetts Historical Society, who endorsed his conclusion and entered the letter into the society’s Proceedings.

The following year, a pamphlet titled Paul Revere’s Signal: The True Story of the Signal Lanterns in Christ Church, Boston appeared. That reprinted Watson’s letter and the M.H.S. discussion of it. Watson published an expanded edition in 1880. (In addition to arguing for Pulling’s participation, he also disputed the mistaken belief that the signal had been sent from the Old North Meeting-House instead of what had become known as the Old North Church.)

Most of the evidence to support Pulling’s participation was indirect, based on his documented role in other Patriot activism. Pulling was a member of the North End Caucus. He was elected to town offices: clerk of the market, warden, fireward, committee to supply the poor, committee to enforce the Continental Congress’s Association. After the siege, he served on the town’s wartime “Committee of Correspondence, Safety & Inspection” alongside Paul Revere.

In 1777 Pulling was a captain and conductor or commissary of ordnance in Col. Thomas Crafts’s Massachusetts artillery regiment. Basically that regiment was how middle-aged Sons of Liberty from Boston’s mechanics class helped to fight the war. (Revere was second-in-command.) In addition, starting in 1761, Pulling intermittently attended events of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons.

Pulling’s Whiggish work was somewhat unusual in that he was an Anglican, even at times a warden and vestryman of Christ Church. But of course his access to that church’s tall steeple would have made him valuable on 18 Apr 1775.

In 1878, a defender of the Newman family claim hit back at the pro-Pulling argument. William W. Wheildon published his History of Paul Revere’s Signal Lanterns, April 18, 1775, in the Steeple of the North Church from his press in Concord. He listed more than a dozen people who had lived in the North End before and after the war and testified that it was common knowledge that Newman had hung the signal lanterns. (Like Watson, Wheildon also spoke up for Old North Church, not Old North Meeting-House, as the source of the signals.)

There’s clear evidence that Newman was indeed the sexton at Christ Church in 1775 and for years afterward (until he was criticized for charging visitors money to see the body of Maj. John Pitcairn in the crypt). And who besides the sexton would have the church keys and knowledge of the stairs to the steeple?

In this historical debate, Newman was the inside candidate. His family had remained in the North End and first got the attention of the Christ Church rector. Though Pulling had returned to the North End after the siege, by the 1870s his descendants were more scattered.

On the other hand, the Pulling faction had the advantage of class. The Newmans didn’t publish their own accounts. Pulling’s relatives did, the most vocal being clergymen. Pulling had been a respected merchant. In contrast, church sextons like Newman were seen as poor, menial, and dependent. “Are sextons, as a class, so intelligent and so reliable as to have been chosen for and intrusted with such an important affair?” Mary Orne Jenks sniffed. In this period the M.H.S. was at its most Brahmin, and it’s no surprise that institution lined up on the Pulling side.

Both parties in the debate claimed that their man was the “friend” that Revere asked to send the signal. Neither was actually able to provide evidence for friendship aside from all three men living in the North End in the same years. But Pulling was in his late thirties, closer to Revere’s age, while Newman was only twenty-three.

Both sides had dramatic stories to tell of their man carefully hanging the lanterns on 18 April, evading the royal authorities that night, and then being hunted down. But there’s no documentary evidence from 1775 to support either of those traditions.

And in the end, this whole debate was over very little.

TOMORROW: Why the Newman-Pulling dispute really doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Another Version of the Story of John Pulling

I’ve been quoting the letter published in the 20 July 1876 Boston Daily Advertiser that first publicly credited John Pulling with having hung the signal lanterns in Old North Church at the start of the Revolutionary War.

It’s striking evidence of the speed of communications possible then that an evening reprint of that newspaper item reached Malone, New York, by 22 July, and a man there was able to have his reply published back in the Boston Journal on 24 July.

Henry F. Lane (1825-1897) was the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Malone. He wrote:

“WHO SIGNALED PAUL REVERE. . . .

Under this caption in your evening edition of Friday I learn that a correspondent of the Advertiser from Orange, N.J., answers the question by giving the name of John Pulling.

John Pulling was the grandfather of my mother, the late Mrs. Charles Lane, Jr., of Boston. The wife of John Pulling, my mother’s grandmother, died in Abington, Mass., about thirty years ago in her ninety-ninth year.
That elderly widow was Sarah (Thaxter McBean Pulling) Reed (1746-1843). Her daughter Sarah (1773-1817) married Isaac Reed of Abington in 1793, and their daughter Sarah (1797-1871) married Charles Lane in 1815. (The first Sarah's third husband was the father of the second Sarah’s only husband.)

Henry F. Lane told the family lore this way:
When I was a lad I remember distinctly hearing from her that her husband hung the lights in the steeple of the Old North Church to give the alarm to the country people. His residence at the time was on the corner of what was then called Ann and Cross Streets. The British at the time made diligent search for him, and I have heard my great-grandmother give a very vivid description of their searching the house to find him, and how he avoided capture by her concealing him under an empty wine-butt in the cellar.

He escaped with her from Boston in a small skiff while the British had possession, by disguising himself as a fisherman, was challenged while passing under the hawser of a British man-of-war, and landed on Nantasket beach. He was in concealment for a while in an old cooper shop near the beach, and in that lowly place my mother’s mother was born. At the time John Pulling was a shipping merchant. All his vessels and goods were confiscated and his house was occupied by British ofiicers. . . .

I will also add that John Pulling was one of the number that destroyed the tea in Boston Harbor. He was not disguised as an Indian, but was in his usual garb, even to the three-cornered hat. My great-grandmother, upon his return, took from the rim of his hat a small quantity of the tea that had been lodged there, and preserved it in a glass vial. Many of her descendants besides myself who are yet living will recall how vividly the old lady used to describe the event as she brought forth the precious memento. During the last year of her life that vial mysteriously disappeared.
In broad outline this is the same story passed down by the sisters and daughter of Pulling’s first wife to the Rev. John Lee Watson—sought by the royal authorities, Pulling snuck out of Boston by boat to Nantasket and lived there with his family during the siege of Boston, enduring privations. Many of the details differ, however, from the location of the Pullings’ North End home to the boat they escaped on.

In one important respect, Henry Lane’s understanding of his family history was wrong. He believed his grandmother was born at Nantasket during the siege. In fact, she was born on 19 Oct 1773, according to Boston records, and baptized at Christ Church five days later. It’s notable that Henry Lane didn’t know his grandmother, who died before he was born, but clearly did know his long-lived great-grandmother and her vivid stories of the Revolution.

In the end, the existence of two versions of the tale of John Pulling hanging lanterns from two branches of the family who clearly weren’t in touch shows that story goes back well before those lanterns became a celebrated part of American lore. But where does that leave Robert Newman?

TOMORROW: The debate over Newman and Pulling.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Pulling on the Run

Yesterday we left merchant captain John Pulling (1737-1787) in Boston’s North End with the royal authorities seeking to question him about the signal lanterns hung in the Old North Church steeple on 18 Apr 1775.

At least, that’s the way the Rev. John Lee Watson told the story in a letter published in the Boston Daily Advertiser on 20 July 1876. Watson went on:
In the meantime, a Mrs. Malcolm, a Scotchwoman, and wife of a near neighbor of Mr. Pulling,—who was under obligations to him for some service he had rendered him,—came to him with a message from her husband, “that he had better leave the town as soon as possible, with his family.”

And this he did, disguised as a laborer, on board of a small craft loaded with beer for the man-of-war lying in the harbor. In some way, one of the sailors belonging to the craft had known Mr. Pulling, and to him he confided his wish to escape from Boston with his family. The sailor said “if the skipper of the craft should be on board, he would not allow of any delay; but if the mate, who was a good-natured fellow, should have the command, he would be willing to put him ashore on his return.” This proved to be the case, and Mr. Pulling and his family were landed at Nantasket.

How long he remained there is not known, probably not long; but his wife and family continued to live there for some time, suffering from want of all the necessaries of life; for they had carried nothing with them,—every thing had been left behind.

And when Mr. Pulling returned to Boston,—after the siege was raised,—he found his dwelling-house, and stores, and abundant means, all so injured or destroyed that, at the end of the war, all his property was gone. He died soon after, and the family at once removed to Hingham, Massachusetts.
Boston newspapers show John Pulling holding offices in the militia and town government during and after the war, and advertising imported cloth and other goods for sale before his death in January 1787. But his family passed down a perception of him as impoverished.

Watson said the story he told was “derived principally from the letters of my kinswoman, the grand-daughter of John Pulling.” When the minister expanded his newspaper letter into a pamphlet, he named his correspondent as Mary Orne Jenks (1800-1886) of Salem.

Jenks had told her cousin: “The story of the lanterns I heard from my earliest childhood, from my mother, and from my step-grandmother.” John and Annis (Lee) Pulling (1743-1771) had only one daughter, also named Annis. In 1773 John remarried Sarah (Thaxter) McBean of Hingham, who helped to raise Annis and her brother from the first marriage. Thus, the mother and step-grandmother whom Jenks referred to must have been Annis (Pulling) Jenks (1769-1837) of Salem and Sarah (Thaxter McBean Pulling) Reed (1746-1843) of Abington.

In addition, Watson stated he heard the same story from “my mother and my aunt—both of them sisters of Mrs. Annis Pulling.” The minister’s mother was Lucy (Lee) Watson (1759-1840), Annis (Lee) Pulling’s youngest sister. There are multiple candidates for the aunt, but this is clearly an example of the women of the family maintaining the family lore and passing it on to the next generations.

TOMORROW: Another branch of the family heard from.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

John Pulling and the Lanterns in the Old North Steeple

In 1875 Old North Church celebrated the centennial of the start of the Revolutionary War and the role that its steeple had played in that event.

The rector, the Rev. Henry Burroughs, credited Robert Newman, the church’s sexton, with hanging the two lanterns that H. W. Longfellow’s poem had made famous.

That prompted a response from the Rev. John Lee Watson (1797-1884), who had four years before moved from Massachusetts to Orange, New Jersey:
Knowing that this statement could not be correct and having my attention called to the matter by a kinswoman of mine, who furnished me with additional reasons for believing that the honor of aiding Paul Revere on that “night much to be remembered,” belonged rightfully to a member of our own family, I addressed a letter to the reverend rector, asking for the authority on which he had made such a statement.
The rector pointed to the informants named yesterday, all descendants of Newman or people who had known him and/or Revere in Boston’s North End earlier in the century.

Watson, however, had grown up hearing a different story. In a long letter to the Boston Daily Advertiser published on 20 July 1876, he wrote, “I claim ‘the honor of raising the signal-lanterns’ for Captain John Pulling.”

Watson quoted Revere’s own account of the events of 18-19 Apr 1775, declaring that the “friend” the silversmith referred to was Pulling—indeed, that Pulling “had been, from boyhood, his most intimate friend.”

Like the Newman family, Watson shared dramatic details of that night:
Major [John] Pitcairn’s regiment was drawn up nearly in front of the church, and not only was there a risk of the light being observed in that quarter, but also, as Pulling said, “he was afraid that some old woman would see the light and scream fire.”
(When Watson republished this letter as a pamphlet, he silently replaced the clause about “Pitcairn’s regiment…nearly in front of the church” with the more vague and defensible “The soldiers were in the streets, at no great distance from the Church.”)

Here’s what Watson understood Pulling to have done:
As soon as he received his notice, he left his house [footnote: in Salem Street], and, watching his time, went over to the sexton’s, in the same street, and asked for the keys of the church, which, as he was a vestryman, the sexton could not refuse to give him. He then went into the church, locking himself in; and, “climbing to the upper window of the belfry,” he there waited patiently, until—
And here Watson inserted five lines of Longfellow’s poem.
…and then he hung out the signal of “two lanterns,” by which those on the opposite side would understand that the British “were going by water.”
Watson wrote that Paul Revere saw that signal from Charlestown (he didn’t) and quoted two more lines of Longfellow. We can see that poet’s cultural dominance in how people were trying to align their family stories with his verses rather than the historical record.
When it was discovered by the British authorities that the signals had been made from Christ Church, “a search was immediately set a-foot for the rebel who made them.” The sexton of the church was suspected and arrested. He protested his innocence; and, when questioned, declared that “the keys of the church were demanded of him, at a late hour of the night, by Mr. Pulling, who, being a vestryman, he thought had a right to them; and, after he had given them up he had gone to bed again, and that was all he knew about it.”

This answer was sufficient to procure his release, and turn the search towards Mr. Pulling.
Watson thus declared that not only had Robert Newman not hung the lanterns as his descendants and neighbors believed, but that he had actually pointed the royal authorities to the man who deserved the credit.

TOMORROW: Pulling on the run.