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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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Mystery of Captain Smythe

When Frank Moore compiled his Diary of the American Revolution volumes in the 1850s, most of his sources were newspapers, but he also listed ten manuscript sources—five sets of letters and five diaries. Moore identified all those writers by full name except for one diarist he called “Captain Smythe, of the Royal Army.”

That man’s diary was the source of the anecdote about Martha Washington naming a tomcat after Alexander Hamilton, an obviously satirical passage that doesn’t carry weight as historical evidence for anything besides British army officers telling jokes about their American rivals.

Moore quoted several other passages from “Smythe’s Journal.” Writing for an American audience, he was primarily interested in passages about the American side of the war. Thus, Moore quoted Smythe at length on “little Hamilton, the poet and composer to the Lord Protector Mr. Washington,” but nothing about life in British-occupied New York.

There’s more than enough to make one wish to know who the man was and where the rest of the journal is. But Moore didn’t say. Apparently, nobody knows. Some people have even suggested the writer was a pseudonym.

As for internal clues, the first passage that Moore quoted from Smythe was dated 17 June 1776, about a letter from John Hancock to the Patriot authorities in New York that appeared in the New-York Gazette that day. At the time, the British army was sailing from Halifax to New York harbor, so it’s unlikely that an officer in the royal army could have seen that letter on 17 June. The date in the journal may have been the publication date, which Moore kept attached to that item.

The other items Moore quoted from “Smythe’s Journal” are linked to these dates and places:
  • 1 Mar 1777 in New York.
  • 1 Apr 1777 in New York.
  • 29 May 1777, around New York.
  • 1 July 1778, no place clues.
  • 8 Nov 1778, around New York.
  • 13 Aug 1779, no place clues.
  • 1 Jan 1780, no place clues.
  • 10 Mar 1781, around New York.
  • 16 Sept 1781, in New York.
Again, no personal remarks about participating in battles, travel, or other activities that could help to identify the diarist. All the diary entries tells us is that this British captain spent a lot of time in New York and thought the British army was classier and likely to win. That doesn’t really help narrow down the pool.

TOMORROW: One candidate.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

“Such a charge made upon such authority is monstrous”

Yesterday I quoted a passage from Frank Moore’s 1859-1860 compendium The Diary of the American Revolution which stated, among many other things, that Martha Washington had “a mottled tom-cat (which she calls in a complimentary way ‘Hamilton’).”

In 1879, George Shea published The Life and Epoch of Alexander Hamilton: A Historical Study. He cited that page from Moore when he wrote:
Hamilton’s name is not free from reproach for libidinousness. It appears to have been observed afterwards by Mrs. Washington when he was at Morristown.
However, Shea didn’t quote the passage in question.

That left open the door for a person using the name “Columbia” to complain in the Magazine of History the next year:
Judge Shea, in his Life and Epoch of Hamilton, makes an assertion, all the more extraordinary as coming from one whose profession is supposed to train to careful statement and a proper weighing of evidence.

In Moore’s Diary of the Revolution, Vol. II., 250, is published one of the numerous Tory squibs recorded in the manuscript diary of Captain Smyth of the Royal Army. The point is that the number thirteen was peculiar to the rebels. After charging that the army rations were thirteen dried clams per day, that Lord Stirling took thirteen glasses of grog every morning, and in consequence had thirteen rum bunches on his nose, that General Washington had thirteen toes on his feet, and thirteen teeth in each jaw, and other similar absurdities about Putnam, Schuyler and Wayne, he concludes by saying, that “Mrs. Washington has a mottled tom-cat (which she calls in a complimentary way ‘Hamilton’) with thirteen yellow rings around his tail, and that his flaunting it suggested to the Congress the adoption of the same number of stripes for the rebel flag.”
As to Hamilton’s libidinousness, “Columbia” concluded, “Such a charge made upon such authority is monstrous.”

And of course it would be. In fact, given the satirical purpose of the passage and how it was written by a British officer, not confirmed by anyone in the American army camp, to state on that authority that Martha Washington even had a cat is a stretch. Much less to state confidently that she named it after her husband’s lustful aide.

On the other hand, in discussing Hamilton’s “libidinousness” Shea also cited Hamilton’s own confession to his extended extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds. Personally, I find it hard to believe, as some Hamilton fans seem to, that the one time the man had a sexual affair he was caught and forced to confess publicly.

In 1777, Hamilton told Catherine Livingston, “you know, I am renowned for gallantry.” He joked with other officers on Washington’s staff about pursuing women, sometimes in romantic terms (“I have no invincible antipathy to the maidenly beauties & that I am willing to take the trouble of them upon myself”) and sometimes in anatomical terms (“mind you do justice to the length of my nose and don’t forget, that I [cut out by a descendant]”). Some modern biographers even suggest Hamilton had an affair with his sister-in-law, Angelica Church.

So although the passage Moore quoted is weak evidence for the tomcat, and weak evidence that Martha Washington thought Hamilton was anything like a tomcat, there’s other evidence about Hamilton’s libido for historians to consider.

TOMORROW: Who was Moore’s source?

Monday, February 08, 2016

A Tomcat Named Hamilton?

Given certain events in New York, particularly along its main thoroughfare, this factoid has been getting a lot of use:
Martha Washington named a tomcat after Alexander Hamilton.

Back in 2008, this Hamilton fan complained that the story came from a passage in George Henry Preble’s 1882 History of the Flag of the United States of America, quoting a New York newspaper.

When I saw that, I got suspicious. Preble could be a terrible transcriber. In that same book he came up with the phrase “Grand Union Flag” by messing up the words “Great Union Flag” in a letter from Gen. George Washington. So I decided to dig into this story as far as I could go.

As it turned out, that blog post didn’t quote Preble correctly. To his credit, Preble quoted his source correctly. But his source, which was Lippincott’s Magazine in July 1876, misstated the source it was quoting. And neither Preble nor the magazine was the genesis of that factoid. So let’s start at the beginning, or as close as I can get.

In 1860, Frank Moore published a two-volume compendium of material from the Revolutionary War, arranged chronologically, titled Diary of the American Revolution. On page 250 of volume 2, Moore quoted one source from 1780 this way:
Thirteen is a number peculiarly belonging to the rebels. A party of naval prisoners lately returned from Jersey, say, that the rations among the rebels are thirteen dried clams per day; that the titular Lord Stirling takes thirteen glasses of grog every morning, has thirteen enormous rum-bunches on his nose, and that (when duly impregnated) he always makes thirteen attempts before he can walk; that Mr. Washington has thirteen toes on his feet, (the extra ones having grown since the Declaration of Independence,) and the same number of teeth in each jaw; that the Sachem Schuyler has a topknot of thirteen stiff hairs, which erect themselves on the crown of his head when he grows mad; that Old Putnam had thirteen pounds of his posterior bit off in an encounter with a Connecticut bear, (’twas then he lost the balance of his mind;) that it takes thirteen Congress paper dollars to equal one penny sterling; that Polly Wayne was just thirteen hours in subduing Stony Point, and as many seconds in leaving it; that a well-organized rebel household has thirteen children, all of whom expect to be generals and members of the High and Mighty Congress of the “thirteen United States” when they attain thirteen years; that Mrs. Washington has a mottled tom-cat, (which she calls, in a complimentary way, ‘Hamilton,’) with thirteen yellow rings around his tail, and that his flaunting it suggested to the Congress the adoption of the same number of stripes for the rebel flag.
Moore’s volumes were reprinted a number of times over the following decades, sometimes with different pagination but always including this quote. It looks like the Lippincott’s Magazine passage was pulled from the centennial edition.

Now what does that passage really tell us about Alexander Hamilton?

TOMORROW: A century of debate.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Matthias Buchinger’s Micrography at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is featuring a small exhibit about a small eighteenth-century celebrity, Matthias Buchinger (1674-1739).

Buchinger was from the German margraviate of Brandenburg-Ansbach. He was only twenty-nine inches tall. He was born without hands or feet.

Despite those physical limitations, Buchinger became a skilled sleight-of-hand artist, musician, and visual artist. He traveled northern Europe displaying his talents, eventually settling in Ireland with his fourth wife.

The Met’s exhibit highlights one facet of Buchinger’s art: micrography, or writing very, very small. In 1764 Horace Walpole recalled that Buchinger “used to write the Lord’s Prayer in the compass of a silver penny.” Later, after he became afflicted with gout, Walpole would compare himself to Buchinger “writing with his stump!”

Shown here is a print of one of Buchinger’s self-portraits. If one looks very, very closely in the engraving at the pattern that defines his wig, one can see that it consists of the words of seven Biblical psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. (Don’t strain yourself here; the resolution isn’t good enough.)

The exhibit contains over a dozen Buchinger drawings from the collection of modern conjurer Ricky Jay, who has also written the new book Matthias Buchinger: “The Greatest German Living”. It will be on display until 11 April.

Here are articles about Buchinger and his micrography, with more illustrations, from The New Yorker, Hyperallergic, and The New York Times.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Judith Sargent Murray’s “Love Notes” in Salem, Feb. 6

Tonight the Bridge at 211 Bridge Street in Salem is presenting an evening of words and music recalling a love story from the early years of the U.S. of A.

“Love Notes” features the letters from Judith Sargent Murray to the Rev. John Murray, her friend for fourteen years and then her husband for twenty-seven, set to music on the organ and harp. John is known as the Father of Organized Universalism in America. Judith was a pioneering female essayist. They were an early example of an “eqalitarian” marriage in the new American republic.

Bonnie Hurd Smith, author of Mingling Souls Upon Paper: An 18th-Century Love Story about this couple, will read from that correspondence. Catie Canale will play the harp, as she has with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, and New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, among others. Patricia Clark, Director of Music Ministries at the First Church in Swampscott, will play the organ.

“Love Notes” will take place on Saturday, February 6, from 5:00 to 6:30 P.M. Light refreshments and non-alcoholic beverages will be served. There is a suggested donation of $10. This is one of many events in Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival this weekend, which appears to be designed to help couples get a jump on Valentine’s Day.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Joanna Cleveland’s “Leap in the Dark”

Over the past two days I quoted dueling advertisements from issues of the New-London Gazette in January 1766, documenting the failed marriage of Robert and Joanna Hebbard.

I learned about those notices from the Twitter feed of Carl Robert Keyes and his Adverts 250 Project. (The first also shows up in the Runaway Connecticut database.)

Figuring out a little more about that marriage meant, among other things, delving into the affairs of the Cle(a)veland family of New England. They were fairly prominent, which usually provides good documentation, but they also moved around a lot. That means their vital milestones appear in the records of a lot of different towns. With the guidance of professional genealogist Liz Loveland, here’s what I found out.

According to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Robert Hebbard was born 30 Apr 1706 in Windham, Connecticut. (His surname is also spelled Hebard and Hibbard.) At the age of twenty-four, he married Ruth Wheelock, sister of the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, eventually the founder of Dartmouth College.

Josiah Cleveland and Joanna Porter married in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in January 1735, according to The Genealogies and Estates of Charlestown. Josiah’s younger brother Aaron was a minister who married Joanna’s sister Susannah; he filled the pulpit in Haddam, Connecticut, from 1739 to 1746, giving the family a connection in that colony. (Later the Rev. Mr. Cleveland switched to the Church of England; he then traveled to London, Nova Scotia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, where he died.)

Josiah and Joanna Cleveland had a son named Aaron baptized in Medford, Massachusetts, in December 1736. They had a daughter named Joanna in East Haddam, Connecticut, in June 1739, where the couple had evidently moved to be near their siblings/in-laws.

In 1757, Ruth Hebbard died, leaving her husband Robert with several children, the youngest aged five. (The oldest were already married and having children themselves.)

Three years later, on 12 May 1760, Robert Hebbard married Joanna Cleveland. She was about to turn twenty-one, the niece of a minister. He, having already married into another ministerial family, was of the same social class. He might have had money or land. He probably needed a wife to look after the home and children. No matter that he was thirty-three years older than she was.

That’s the marriage that didn’t last. By the end of 1765, he was in Amenia, New York, where his eldest son had settled with his wife and children. She was in Norwich, Connecticut, perhaps with her brother Aaron. (Unfortunately, another Aaron Cleveland, ten years older, was a prominent man in Canterbury, Connecticut, at this time, confusing matters.)

Thus, when Robert Hebbard took out an ad in New London to declare his wife had eloped and he wasn’t going to honor any of her debts, the Connecticut gentleman who came to her defense—Aaron Cleaveland—was her older brother. He called the marriage “a Leap in the Dark,” regretting that she didn’t know her husband better before they wed.

Hebbard died in 1771. His son was a militia captain during the Revolutionary War. Aaron Cleaveland of Norwich was a Connecticut legislator in that period, advocating an end to slavery. I haven’t found a record of Joanna Hebbard’s later life. She would have been only thirty-two when her husband died, able to remarry if she wanted to take another leap.

(The photo above shows, for want of anything better, the pre-1740 Edmund Gookin House in Norwich’s Bean Hill district, where Aaron Cleaveland lived.)

Thursday, February 04, 2016

“To make a just return to his injurious Advertisement”

Yesterday I quoted Robert Hebbard’s advertisement from the 17 Jan 1766 New-London Gazette. That same ad appeared last month at Prof. Carl Robert Keyes’s new Adverts 250 Project, which runs one advertisement from a 250-year-old American newspaper every day. You can read more about that project in Keyes’s conversation with the Junto.

Adverts 250 also featured the advertisement that appeared in the New-London Gazette on 24 January in response to Hebbard’s notice:

Norwich, Jan. 12, 1766.

WHereas Robert Hebbard, of Amena, in the Province of New York, has of late in the New-London Gazette, advertised his Wife Mrs. Joanna Hebbard, as an Eloper, &c. I have thought proper (being well acquainted with her Person and Character) to make a just return to his injurious Advertisement, in as public a Manner as his ignoble Spirit (by which he is ever conducted) has led him to Advertise, tho’ in few Words, for a multiplicity will be taking too much Notice of his Littleness.———

Mrs. Hebbard’s Marriage with this Man was truly a Leap in the Dark, as she had not that Opportunity for Acquaintance which is so very necessary in a Transaction so important: However finding herself deceived on all Accounts, by her unworthy Consort, used all possible Prudence in her Carriage towards him; which from first to last was approved of by all her Friends and Acquaintance; and instead of her Eloping as he asserted, he utterly refused her Maintenance and after repeated Instances of Disrespect and Inhumanity towards her sent her from his House.

She now resides in this Town, in good Credit, and has never contracted the least Debt on his Account, the fear of which said Hebbard pretends as a motive to his Advertisement; but this cannot be, for he knows too well for that the Insufficiency of his Credit in these Parts. From the whole it appears that his Advertisement was the invidious product of Malice, and not of Prudence.

AARON CLEAVELAND.
The date of Cleaveland’s letter, 12 January, indicates that Robert Hebbard’s advertisement about his estranged wife had appeared in the New-London Gazette by that date. Norwich was about eleven miles from New London, so Cleaveland probably could have delivered this text to the newspaper in time for its 17 January issue. Perhaps it was only after the ad ran again in that issue that Cleaveland went through with printing what he had written. Neither man’s notice appeared the following week.

Obviously, Aaron Cleaveland didn’t think much of Robert Hebbard. And he thought well of Joanna Hebbard. But why was he getting involved in this marital quarrel?

TOMORROW: The background of the Hebbard marriage.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

“Joanna Hebbard, hath for some time past Eloped from me”

As the new Adverts 250 blog featured last month, on 17 Jan 1766 the New-London Gazette published this advertisement:

Amenia, in Dutches County, in the Province of New-York, December 4th, 1765.

WHEREAS my Wife Joanna Hebbard, hath for some time past Eloped from me, and gone into some Parts of the Colony of Connecticut; These are therefore to warn and forbid all Persons whatsoever trusting, trading or dealing with the said Joanna; hereby declaring that I will never pay any such Debt contracted by her.

ROBERT HEBBARD.
Those sorts of advertisements were not uncommon in colonial newspapers. In fact, there were common enough for them to follow a formula, so only a few are really interesting in themselves.

In this case, the placement and timing of the ad are more notable than the content. Amenia was a sparsely populated area of New York, not yet an incorporated town. It butted up against the border of northwestern Connecticut. Its name, meaning “pleasant looking,” had been coined just a few years earlier by Dr. Thomas Young, who would later apply his branding talent to the state of Vermont.

Amenia was eighty miles from New London. That’s probably why about a month passed between the date of Hebbard’s announcement and when it appeared in print. (The 3 and 10 January issues of the New-London Gazette are not in the Readex database and therefore probably lost; as we’ll see tomorrow, this notice must have appeared in one or both of them.)

Hartford and New Haven were both closer to Amenia, and both had newspapers. So the fact that Robert Hebbard advertised in New London suggests that he knew his wife was living not just in “some Parts of the Colony of Connecticut” but in that region.

Another notable detail about this advertisement is that it attracted a response.

TOMORROW: Sometimes I ask, Can this marriage be saved? But this one is over.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

“Creativity in Bondage” Discussion in Hingham, 7 Feb.

On Sunday, February 7, the Abigail Adams Birthplace and the Hingham Public Library will present a program on “Creativity in Bondage: Slave Artist Prince Demah and Writer Briton Hammon.”

The event description says:
Prince Demah’s portraits of his owners, Christian and Henry Barnes, now in the collections of the Hingham Historical Society, are among the earliest known paintings by an African-American. Demah, who lived in Boston but had ties to the South Shore, received training in London and was described as a creative “genius.” Hingham resident Paula Bagger, who recently co-authored an article on Demah for The Magazine Antiques, will discuss her research into his life and work. Ms. Bagger is a member of the board of directors of the Hingham Historical Society and a practicing attorney.

Briton Hammon, an eighteenth-century slave belonging to General John Winslow of Marshfield (later of Hingham), is considered the author of one of the first published American slave autobiographies. His 1760 narrative recounts his confrontations with Native Americans and capture by Spanish sailors while on a sea voyage, and the ensuing thirteen-year ordeal in which he faced battle, torture, and imprisonment. Aaron Dougherty, executive director of Marshfield’s 1699 Winslow House and Cultural Center, will speak about Hammon’s life experiences and writings, and will discuss how narratives such as his eventually helped fuel the abolitionist movement.
The event’s moderator will be Michelle Marchetti Coughlin, author of One Colonial Woman’s World: The Life and Writings of Mehetabel Chandler Coit.

This program is scheduled to run from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. in the the Whiton Room of the Hingham Public Library, 66 Leavitt Street. That will include time for audience questions and discussion. Admission is free and open to the public.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Mad about the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Collections

The Massachusetts Historical Society is celebrating its 225th anniversary this year with, among other things, this online exhibit of 225 notable objects from its collection.

Those objects don’t appear to include the broadside titled “Wolfe’s summit of human glory” which I wrote about here and is one of my personal favorites.

But they do include the Samuel Selden powder horn and many other treasures from the Revolutionary period:
And much more. Some of the material even comes from other historical periods.

Starting today, the M.H.S. is hosting some sort of bracket competition involving 64 of those objects, designated by red dots on the collection page. Since that hasn’t started yet, I don’t know how it works, but I’m sure the webpage will be happy to explain.

In addition, the society’s exhibit on “The Private Jefferson” has opened and will be free to visitors Monday through Saturday until 20 May. There’s also a new illustrated book highlighting Thomas Jefferson documents in the society’s collections.