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 21, 2018

The Evolution of the “New Massachusetts Liberty Song”

In February 1770, as I’ve described, the musician Josiah Flagg and the printers Edes and Gill brought to the Boston public new lyrics to the tune of “The British Grenadiers.”

The following month, most of the soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre were British grenadiers—men in the 29th Regiment of Foot.

We might think that would make Bostonians happier about replacing lines praising the grenadiers with lines praising “brave America.” But the shooting could have had the opposite effect, rendering anything to do with the grenadiers, even a tune, less popular.

In any event, “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” wasn’t printed again (so far as I know) until 6 Jan 1774, when Alexander Purdie and John Dixon of Williamsburg ran the verses in the “Poets Corner” section of their Virginia Gazette. They headlined it “A Song on LIBERTY, made by a Bostonian, to the Tune of The British Grenadiers.” The text wasn’t precisely what Edes and Gill had printed in 1770, but close enough that the changes might have come in the typesetting.

The 28 April New-York Journal from John Holt likewise gave “Poets Corner” space for “A Song on Liberty.” But this version (shown here) had more changes, small and large.

In the original, every verse ended with “brave America.” This version had “brave America,” “North America,” and “free America” each twice—the first time that last phrase appeared in the song. And the ending of the fourth verse changed from:
The World shall own their Masters here, then hasten on the Day,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza, for brave AMERICA.
to:
The world shall own we’re freemen here, and such will ever be,
Huzza! huzza! huzza! huzza for love and liberty.
There were other tweaks.
And blast the venal Sycophant, who dares our Rights betray,
Preserve, preserve, preserve, preserve my brave AMERICA.
became
And blast the venal sycophants who dare our rights betray;
Assert yourselves, yourselves, yourselves for brave America.
The awkward “And shout, and shout, and shout, and shout, for brave AMERICA” turned into “And shout huzza! huzza! huzza for brave America.”

But the biggest change occurred in the final verse. Here’s how the 1770 version ended:
Some future Day shall crown us, the Masters of the Main,
And giving Laws and Freedom, to subject FRANCE and SPAIN;
When all the ISLES o’er Ocean spread, shall tremble and obey,
Their Lords, their Lords, their Lords, their Lords of brave AMERICA.
The song already started by reminding Britons that they had been conquered by “many Masters” while Americans had “never fell a prey.” And here it ended with the prediction that in “Some future Day” Americans would be the “Masters of the Main” with “all the ISLES”—which by implication must include the British Isles—bowing to “their lords of brave AMERICA”! That’s a remarkable public position, especially for 1770.

In the 1774 version, that verse was rewritten to make a better fit with the American Whigs’ message:
The land where freedom reigns shall still, be masters of the main,
In giving laws and freedom to subject France and Spain;
And all the isles o’er ocean spread shall tremble and obey,
The prince who rules by freedom’s laws in North America.
Americans, the song now said, still trusted King George III to uphold traditional British liberties. Who would claim anything different?

COMING UP: More versions as war approaches.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

“In Bedlam’s lofty Numbers discordant Yankies Sing”

On the back of the sheet of paper giving the earliest lyrics of “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song,” which I believe is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, someone has written another set of verses.

This side is headed “Massachusetts Liberty Song Paradized, April 1770,” which is helpful in showing not only when the parody appeared but also how early the lyrics must have been printed.

The parody of John Dickinson and Arthur Lee’s “Liberty Song” that appeared in 1768 had nothing good to say about the Boston Whigs opposing the royal government, but it treated them as a bunch, not naming names.

Whoever wrote this new parody quickly got personal:
In Bedlam’s lofty Numbers discordant Yankies Sing,
And twang in awful Ditty, God save our Gracious King
May they leave off their Canting, and with Devotion pray,
Have Mercy, Mercy, Mercy Lord on poor America.

Their Patron J——y O—s, that Sage of great renown,
Like Sheep he led the Rabble of this Siditious Town,
The Rostrum then he mounted, where he did loudly pray,
Defend, Defend, Defend my Boys, Defend America.
The initials leave no doubt the target of this verse is “Jemmy” or James Otis. At the time, he was in poor shape after his fight with Customs Commissioner John Robinson. But Otis was still the top enemy of the friends of government.
Next Independent Sammy, a Scribble in the cause,
An Enemy to Britain, to George and to his Laws,
Whose Rebel dictates all the Sons of Liberty obey
The Fools, the Fools, the Fools, the Fools of weak America.
“Sammy” is obviously Samuel Adams, already criticized for wanting to be “Independent.”
The Penman Great Humanus is ready at their call,
To sacrifice his Neighbour the Ministry to mall,
On him they blindly pin their Faith & great Dependance lay,
To purge, to purge, to purge, to purge oppress’d America.
In the Sparks Manuscripts at Harvard is a letter from innkeeper Richard Silvester identifying “Humanus” as a pen name for Dr. Benjamin Church. The doctor was indeed known for his writing, and his profession fits with the verb “purge.”
The puff’d Determinatus the mock-bird of the Throng
With rapture boasts the Power of his loquacious Tongue
Which tickles so the Vulgar they ready Homage pay,
This prating Oracle the pride of dup’d America.
“Determinatus” has long been identified as a pseudonym of Samuel Adams. Harbottle Dorr even appears to have written “S. Adams” atop Determinatus’s letter in the 8 Aug 1768 Boston Gazette. It’s curious, therefore, that this Loyalist writer treats “Determinatus” and Adams as separate newspaper essayists. There must be some confusion somewhere.
Great William their Commander, that Bully in disguize,
That well known bite of Yorkshire and Magazine of Lies,
That truly patriotic Man, who bellows Night and Day,
Confirm’d, Confirm’d, the Knave, the Knave of weak America.
This is definitely William Molineux. Printer John Mein called him “William the Knave” in pamphlets criticizing the non-importation movement in 1769. Molineux had come to Boston from Wolverhampton—not Yorkshire but only about a hundred miles away.
There’s busy Master Aaron, and many Worthies more,
As factious as the Gentry we’ve mention’d just before
Who strive with all their Mimic Might Old England low to lay,
And cry Rebel, Rebel, Rebel, Rebel America.
I’ll take a guess that “busy Master Aaron” is a reference to William Cooper, town clerk. He was brother to the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, just as the Biblical Aaron was brother to Moses. But that’s a guess.
To scourge such disobedience, and crush these Mushroom Lords,
Let British Grenediers gird on their conjuring Swords,
Bra Donald frae, the Highlands, his Muckle Wanger Play
Adieu, Adieu, Adieu, Adieu, to lost America.
(I suspect the parodist meant “Hanger” instead of “Wanger.”)

Speaking so favorably of Scottish Highlanders was very unusual in Boston, even for people who opposed the local Whigs. That might indicate the author of this parody was Scottish himself, like Mein. By April 1770 he had been driven out of Boston by violence and lawsuits, so he had a lot to complain about.

TOMORROW: New lyrics on the eve of war.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Are You Ready for a Cabinet Meeting?

For Presidents Day, we look in on George Washington’s meetings with his cabinet on 1-2 Aug 1793.

The issue on the table was what to do about Edmond-Charles Genet, the French diplomat who was stirring up support of Revolutionary France, resentment of Britain, and friction within the U.S. of A.

The cabinet members—Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph—all agreed to ask France to recall Genet. They differed on how peremptorily to do so. They really differed on whether to report the decision and the reasons for it to the American public.

Hamilton liked the idea of an official “appeal to the people,” despite not usually being interested in public opinion, because it offered an opening for a full-throated critique of Revolutionary France. According to Jefferson’s notes:
Hamilton made a jury speech of 3/4 of an hour as inflammatory and declamatory as if he had been speaking to a jury. E.R. opposed it. I chose to leave the contest between them.
The President adjourned that meeting until the next day. “Hamilton spoke again 3/4 of an hour,” Jefferson wrote then. “I answered on these topics.” He kept minimal notes on Hamilton’s remarks and detailed notes on his own, indicating that he didn’t write those notes at the time but afterwards, and he really didn’t care about Hamilton’s opinion.

Eventually it became clear which way Washington was leaning:
The President manifestly inclined to the appeal to the people. He said that Mr. [Robert] Morris, taking a family dinner with him the other day went largely and of his own accord into this subject, advised this appeal and promised if the Presidt. adopted it that he would support it himself, and engage for all his connections.—The Presidt. repeated this twice, and with an air of importance.—

Now Mr. Morris has no family connections. He engaged then for his political friends.—This shews that the President has not confidence enough in the virtue and good sense of mankind to confide in a government bottomed on them, and thinks other props necessary.
Jefferson distrusted campaigns for public opinion by his political opponents. He was, of course, promoting his own ideas with allies like James Madison. He had also recruited Philip Freneau to come to Philadelphia and start the anti-Federalist National Gazette, giving the writer a sinecure in the State Department.

Then the meeting took an awkward turn.
Knox in a foolish incoherent sort of a speech introduced the Pasquinade lately printed, called the funeral of George W—n and James W[ilso]n, king and judge &c. where the President was placed on a Guillotin.

The Presidt. was much inflamed, got into one of those passions when he cannot command himself. Run on much on the personal abuse which had been bestowed on him. Defied any man on earth to produce one single act of his since he had been in the government which was not done on the purest motives. That he had never repented but once the having slipped the moment of resigning his office, and that was every moment since. That by god he had rather be in his grave than in his present situation. That he had rather be on his farm than to be made emperor of the world and yet that they were charging him with wanting to be a king. That that rascal Freneau sent him 3. of his papers every day, as if he thought he would become the distributor of his papers, that he could see in this nothing but an impudent design to insult him. He ended in this high tone.

There was a pause. Some difficulty in resuming our question—it was however after a little while presented again, and he said there seemed to be no necessity for deciding it now: the propositions before agreed on might be put into a train of execution, and perhaps events would shew whether the appeal would be necessary or not.
It took another three weeks for the cabinet to complete their dispatch to the American minister in Paris, Gouverneur Morris, telling him to ask the French government to withdraw Genet. Meanwhile, it became clear to Washington that most informed Americans disapproved of the French diplomat’s behavior, so he no longer saw any need for a public appeal.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Was Bentham on the Autism Spectrum?

Last year I relayed the news that British philosopher and social reformer Jeremy Bentham’s body was coming to America for a museum exhibit.

To be exact, Bentham’s clothed skeleton will be in display in New York at the Breuer branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His head was mummified poorly and is therefore not usually shown to the public. But it was on display this winter in London.

A Telegraph story told me some other news about the head:
…scientists have taken samples of Bentham’s DNA to test theories that he may have had Asperger’s or autism, both of which have a strong genetic component. . . .

he was notably eccentric, reclusive and difficult to get hold of. He called his walking stick Dapple, his teapot Dickey, and kept an elderly cat named The Reverend Sir John Langbourne.

In 2006, researchers Philip Lucas and Anne Sheeran suggested his unique character was driven by Asperger’s syndrome, after studying biographies which described a young Bentham as ‘having few companions his own age’; and being ‘morbidly sensitive.’
Lucas and Sheeran’s study was “Asperger’s Syndrome and the Eccentricity and Genius of Jeremy Bentham” in the Journal of Bentham Studies; a P.D.F. file can be downloaded here.

There are some obstacles to a genetics test of that hypothesis. First, while autism has a heritable aspect, nobody has identified specific genes as switches or markers. Instead, at least sixty-five genes have been linked to the condition, so it would be at least complex and perhaps impossible to say Bentham had the combination of genes that gives rise to autism.

Second, so far it’s been hard to isolate Bentham D.N.A. from, well, other D.N.A. The Telegraph quotes the curator who looks after Bentham’s head that “99 per cent of the DNA taken has come from bacteria in his mouth.” But at least the geneticists haven’t announced that Bentham was in fact a bacterium.

(Click on the Telegraph link for photos of Bentham’s head today. It’s not pretty.)

Saturday, February 17, 2018

“And shout, and shout, and shout, and shout, for brave AMERICA”

This broadside shown on the website of the Library of Congress could be the first printing of the words to “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song.” (I think the original is at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.)

The sheet might even have been created for Josiah Flagg’s 13 Feb 1770 concert, the first time we know that song was publicly performed. The printing was definitely done by April (as I’ll discuss next week).

The printers Edes and Gill included the same lyrics in their North-American Almanack for 1770, published around the start of March.

Like “The British Grenadiers,” which provided its tune, “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” began with allusions to the classical world but praised contemporaries as even more admirable. Not because they stood up to modern weapons like grenadiers but because, as good self-protective Whigs, they hadn’t fallen to tyranny and decay:
That seat of science ATHENS, and Earth’s proud mistress ROME,
Where now are all their Glories, we scarce can find their Tomb:
Then guard your Rights, AMERICANS! nor stoop to lawless Sway,
Oppose, oppose, oppose, oppose,—thy brave AMERICA.

Proud ALBION bow’d to Caesar, and num’rous Lords before,
To Picts, to Danes, to Normans, and many Masters more:
But we can boast AMERICANS! we never fell a Prey;
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza, for brave AMERICA.

We led fair FREEDOM hither, when lo the Desart smil’d,
A Paradise of Pleasure, was open’d in the Wild;
Your Harvest bold AMERICANS! no Power shall snatch away,
Assert yourselves, yourselves, yourselves, my brave AMERICA.

Torn from a World of Tyrants, beneath this western Sky,
We form’d a new Dominion, a Land of LIBERTY;
The World shall own their Masters here, then hasten on the Day,
Huzza, huzza, huzza, huzza, for brave AMERICA.

GOD bless this maiden Climate, and thro’ her vast Domain,
Let Hosts of Heroes cluster, who scorn to wear a Chain:
And blast the venal Sycophant, who dares our Rights betray,
Preserve, preserve, preserve, preserve my brave AMERICA.

Lift up your Heads my Heroes! and swear with proud Disdain,
The Wretch who would enslave you, shall spread his Snares in vain;
Should EUROPE empty all her Force, wou’d meet them in Array,
And shout, and shout, and shout, and shout, for brave AMERICA.

Some future Day shall crown us, the Masters of the Main,
And giving Laws and Freedom, to subject FRANCE and SPAIN;
When all the ISLES o’er Ocean spread, shall tremble and obey,
Their Lords, their Lords, their Lords, their Lords of brave AMERICA.
This is not exactly the song I’ve seen in modern collections. For one thing, “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song” has often been retitled “Free America” because that phrase became part of its refrain. But the words “free America” don’t appear anywhere in this early version. I’ll discuss other ways the song evolved in a future posting.

COMING UP: But first, the inevitable parody.

Friday, February 16, 2018

“With a tow row, row row, row row, to the British Grenadiers”

Just as “The Liberty Song” and “The Massachusetts Liberty Song” were written to a popular and patriotic tune, the song that Josiah Flagg debuted in February 1770 also consisted of new lyrics to an established melody.

The source was “The British Grenadiers,” referred to as “The Granadeer’s March” by 1706. The first known printing of the song came in about 1750, and here’s one version of the lyrics from that period:
Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules,
Of Conon and Lysander, and some Miltiades;
But of all the world’s brave heroes
There is none that can compare
With a tow row, row row, row row, to the British Grenadiers.
Chorus: But of all the world’s, &c.

None of those ancient heroes e’er saw a cannon ball,
Or knew the force of Powder to slay their foes withal;
But our brave boys do know it, and banish all their fears,
With a tow row, row row, row row, the British Grenadiers.
Chorus: But our brave boys, &c.

Whene’er we are commanded to storm the Palisades,
Our Leaders march with Fusees and we with hand Granades;
We throw them from the Glacis about our enemies’ ears,
With a tow row, row row, row row, the British Grenadiers.
Chorus: We throw them from, &c.
And so on. That third verse refers to the grenadiers throwing grenades, something they hadn’t actually done for decades, so those lines were undoubtedly older.

The 29 June 1769 Boston Chronicle included this advertisement from Josiah Flagg:
For the Benefit of Mr. FLAGG.
This Evening,
A public Concert of
Vocal and Instrumental MUSIC,
Will be performed at Concert Hall in Queen-street.
The Vocal part to be performed by Four Voices, and to conclude with the BRITISH GRENADIERS.——N.B. TICKETS to be had at the Printers, or at the London Bookstore, at HALF a DOLLAR each.—To begin precisely at half after seven.
*** The last Concert this Season.
Flagg therefore knew “The British Grenadiers” well. His earlier advertisements for this concert hadn’t mentioned that tune, but he must have thought it had appeal.

At the time there were actual grenadiers in Boston—men of the 14th, 29th, 64th, and 65th Regiments. The latter two regiments would move to Halifax the next month, but the British government’s decision to station soldiers in Boston since October 1768 was a political sore spot. Even though “The British Grenadiers” was a patriotic song, and the Boston Whigs were busy proclaiming their patriotism, there were undeniable implications to singing praise for soldiers then.

Might that have inspired “a Son of Liberty” to pen new lyrics?

TOMORROW: New words to an old tune.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Workshop on New England Slavery and Freedom, 26-27 Mar.

The Center for Reconciliation has announced a two-day workshop on “Interpreting Slavery and Freedom in New England,” to be held in Providence, Rhode Island, on 26-27 March.

The organization says this event is designed to let participants:
  • Explore the history of African and Indigenous/Native American peoples in New England.
  • Be able to distinguish between different forms of forced labor, and how and when they were used.
  • Discuss the history and usage of America’s most important and problematic race-related terminology. This includes how to use these terms appropriately in programs and exhibit labels.
  • Learn about the development of racial ideologies in America and how that impacts the work of front-line interpreters and museums as a whole today.
  • Gain or refine race dialogue strategies with colleagues from around New England.
  • Draft and practice leading a brief tour or program on the racial history of your site. Receive real-time feedback on your draft.
  • Receive immediate feedback on your ideas or current projects from local experts and new colleagues during the unconference.
  • Locate local resources including interpreters, trainers, scholars, and books to help you or your organization progress in your work interpreting the racial history of New England.
The conference program is still in development. The host committee invites proposals for panels and sessions that address these topics:
  • Creating or leading programs on slavery or local racial narratives for kids and teens
  • Exhibiting artifacts related to the slave trade
  • Strategies for partnering with descendants, local communities, neighbors/property owners, other institutions or across racial lines
  • Attracting new audiences
  • Other ways to help museums, historic houses or independent tour guides improve the way they engage New England’s history of slavery and/or Black and Indigenous narratives
The deadline for making a proposal is 20 February. Submit proposals through this site or by email to info@cfrri.org. Panelists will receive half-off admission to the workshop.

There will also be “unconference” sessions in the afternoons. Those are scheduled but informal discussions on such topics as “frustrating visitor comments, problematic objects, confusing terminology, thorny questions, ‘Aha’ moments, big discoveries and fresh research.” A week before the event, registered attendees will be invited by email to propose topics for an unconference session.

The scheduled speakers include:
  • Elon Cook Lee, Program Director and curator for the Center for Reconciliation, a consultant on interpreting slavery and race for historic sites around the country.
  • Joanne Pope Melish, Ph.D., author of Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780-1860
  • Marjory O’Toole, Managing Director of the Little Compton Historical Society.
  • Maria Madison, Ph.D., Board President and co-founder of the Robbins House in Concord, Massachusetts, and Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Brandeis University.
The workshops will take place inside the Cathedral of St. John on North Main Street in Providence. A box lunch option will be available. Additional information about the event, including information on scholarships for people who could not attend otherwise, can be found on the Eventbrite page.

(The picture above shows Elizabeth Freeman, also called “Mumbet,” a crucial figure in the ending of legal slavery in Massachusetts.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine’s Notes for Martha Washington

In the Washington Papers is a document dated 25 Oct 1759, about a year and a half after George had met Martha and nine and a half months after they married.

It’s headed “An Account of the Sail of the Estate of Colo. Custis Decst in WmsBurg.”

“Colo. Custis” was Daniel Parke Custis, Martha’s first husband, who had died in 1757. With the help of her plantation manager, lawyer, and now her new husband, Martha was settling his estate.

This particular document was written out by manager Joseph Valentine. It lists more than £58 worth of property in eighty-six lots, starting with “Pewter Dishes and 6 Plates” and ending with “210 pounds oald Iron.” Beside each lot Valentine noted who had bought it, either on credit or for cash.

This part of Custis’s estate included 129 “Picturs,” not to mention “A parcel of old Broken picturs.” Unfortunately, Valentine provided no detail about what most of those pictures showed. He simply labeled them small or large or old. The exception was “1 picture of an horse,” purchased by Thomas Craig.

Craig also bought the “Large Looking Glass,” the most expensive item in the sale at £4.10.

John Greenhow bought “15 Picturs & a Bull Dogg,” plus fifteen more pictures, “5 Woodin Immageis,” “1 Tin Basket & other Lumber,” “1 Brass Gun & Close Stool Chear,” “15 Pains Large Glass,” “1 Case & Bottles & mose Trap,” “2 Bell mettle skillets 4 wheat stones 2 sullinges [?],” and “1 Large Press” (probably for clothing) at £2.12.

Valentine himself took “8 Low Leather Chears” and “3 maps.”

Why was Martha Washington having this yard sale? Because she had moved into George’s mansion at Mount Vernon and didn’t need all that stuff from her husband’s house. By liquidating his property, she could divide its value as the law required between herself and her children.

George Washington took over the task of settling John Parke Custis’s estate in 1759 and finally completed the task in 1761. The surviving documents comprise a discrete section of the Washington Papers.

John Valentine (who wrote his own name “Vallentine”) continued to work for the Washingtons until his death in 1771.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Yet Another “Liberty Song” in 1770

On 13 Feb 1770, Josiah Flagg gave a concert in Boston. According to his newspaper advertisements, Flagg had a house near the Old North Meetinghouse and a store on Fish Street. Having started as a silversmith, he got into engraving, publishing, and selling music, particularly religious music. One of his ads added that he “teaches Psalmody, on Monday and Thursday Evenings.”

Flagg didn’t advertise his February 1770 concert, so far as I can tell. We know about it only because the printers Edes and Gill referred back to that event in their North-American Almanack and Massachusetts Register, for the Year 1770. That almanac offered readers the lyrics to “A New Song, compos’d by a Son of Liberty, and Sung by Mr. Flagg at Concert-Hall, Boston, February 13, 1770.”

Of course, those lyrics were just one item in that almanac. In advertisements that appeared in multiple Boston newspapers starting the week after Flagg’s concert, Edes and Gill laid out its full contents in detail:
CONTAINING, A Prospective View of the Town of Boston the Capital of New-England; and of the Landing of Troops in the Year 1768, in Consequence of Letters from Gov. Bernard, the Commissioners, &c. to the British Ministry—Eclipses—Extract from the Life of Publius Clodius Britano Americanus, continued—A List of the Importers and Resolves of the Merchants &c. of Boston—A Table in Sterling, Halifax, Massachusetts L.M. & O.T. [Lawful Money and Old Tenor,] Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New-York Currencies—Courts in Massachusetts-Bay, New-Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode-Island—Judgment of the Weather, Suns and Moon’s Rising and Setting, Time of High Water, Feasts and Fasts of the Church of England, &c.—A List of the Hon. His Majesty’s Council, and the Honorable House of Representatives—Judges of the Superior and Inferior Courts, Judges of Probate, Registers of Deeds, High Sheriffs and their Deputies—Officers of the Admiralty and Custom-House—Notaries Public—Post-Office—Justices of the Peace thro’out the Province, and for each County—Barristers at Law—President, Overseers, &c. of Harvard College—Ministers, Churches and Religious Assemblies thro’ the Province—Officers of the 14th & 29th Regiments in Boston—Officers of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, with the Names of the Captains of said Company, from its Incorporation—Officers of the Troop of Horse Guards—Officers of the Boston Regiment—Field Officers of the several Regiments through the Province—Officers of Castle William, and the Batteries in Boston—Coroners—Officers of the Town of Boston—Fire-Engine Men—List of Commissioners and other Officers of the Revenue, WITH THEIR SALARIES!——Liberty Song—Parody Parodiz’d—A New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier, by a Son Of Liberty—Public Roads, with the best Stages or Houses to put up at—Quakers Yearly Meetings in New-England—Difference of the Time of High Water at several Places on the Continent, &c.
The “Prospective View of the Town of Boston,” shown above, was a woodcut that Paul Revere made for Edes and Gill based on the larger cityscape that he and Christian Remick had created.

The “New Song, to the Tune of the British Grenadier” was the song that Flagg had introduced a few days before the almanac’s publication. As the contents list shows, it came after “The Liberty Song,” with lyrics by John Dickinson and Arthur Lee; and the “Parody Parodiz’d‚” also known as “The Massachusetts Liberty Song,” with lyrics by Dr. Benjamin Church.

Eventually the song debuting in February 1770 got the title “The New Massachusetts Liberty Song,” just to confuse matters further.

COMING UP: The lyrics and the lyricist.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Reconnoitering the Dorchester Peninsula with the Generals

As I discussed yesterday, in early February 1776 Gen. George Washington and his engineers were discussing whether it was feasible to move onto the Dorchester peninsula and mount cannon there to threaten British shipping.

On 12 February, the commander-in-chief took some of his top advisors to look at the ground themselves. We know that from a letter written the next day by Capt. John Chester of Connecticut:
Yesterday the Generals went on to Dorchester Hill & point to view & plan out the works to be done there, Knox and Gridley were with them.—Their plan I cannot as yet find out.—
Col. Richard Gridley was the Continental Army’s Chief Engineer, in charge of planning and building fortifications. Until the fall he had also been in charge of the artillery. But after being wounded at Bunker Hill, he had gone home to recuperate, lost operational control of that regiment, and lost the confidence of the new commander.

In October, Washington had convinced the Continental Congress to kick Gridley upstairs with his new title. The new artillery colonel was Henry Knox, a full forty years younger than the veteran he replaced.

Since he was stationed in Cambridge, Chester didn’t see what happened in Dorchester, but he got some word about the planning from a man who had gone onto the peninsula, Gen. Israel Putnam:
Gen. Putnam says Gridley laid out works enough for our whole army [to build] for two years if the frost was to continue in that time & in short thinks we cannot do much to purpose there while the frost is in ye ground.
The ground on the heights was still so winter hard that it would take days or weeks of digging to construct fortifications there. And of course the British military would strike back as soon as they saw what their enemy was up to. The Royal Artillery had cannon and mortars mounted on Boston Neck easily able to hit the low ground that led on to the Dorchester peninsula. Plus, there were thousands of soldiers in town.

Chester continued:
Something droll Happen’d as they were on the Point & within call of the Enemy. They observed two [British] officers on full speed on Horses from the Old to the New lines & concluded they were about to order the Artillery levelled at them. Just that instant they observed a fellow Deserting from us to them. This set em all a running & Scampering for life except the lame Col. Gridley & Putnam who never runs & tarried to wait on Gridley. They had left their Horses 1/2 a mile back & feard the Enemy might attempt to encompass them.
Fortunately for the Continental cause, this scouting mission didn’t end with the commander-in-chief, third-in-command in the theater, chief engineer, artillery commander, and perhaps other generals being captured or torn apart by artillery fire.