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, July 01, 2015

Daniel George, Teen-Aged Almanac Maker

Daniel George was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on 16 Dec 1757, son of David and Anne (Cottle) George. He was the second boy named Daniel born to that couple, indicating that the first had died young. He had both older and younger siblings of both sexes.

From infancy Daniel was “a Cripple,” possibly having cerebral palsy. That made life as a farmer almost unthinkable. But the boy’s mind was sharp, and he took to mathematics and then astronomy. In 1775, Daniel prepared an almanac for the upcoming year, calculating the movements of the Sun and Moon and the tides for eastern Massachusetts.

On 26 August, Daniel George and his father visited the Rev. Samuel Williams (1743-1817) of Bradford. Williams was known for his scientific investigations, including two trips to observe the transit of Venus in the 1760s.

Williams talked with the teenager and wrote a recommendation of him to the printer Ezekiel Russell, then in Salem:
Mr. David George, of Haverhill, is now with me; he has brought his son Daniel, who appears to be a singular object of pity and compassion. But with all the disorders of body under which he labors, his mind does not seem to have been at all affected. He has composed an Almanack, which, as far as I have inspected it, seems to be equal to other compositions of that kind; and perhaps from the singular situation of the Author, bids fair to engage the popular attention. If it would be consistent with your business and interest to print it, it would be an act of kindness to the distressed, and a great encouragement to a rising Genius, in early years laboring under uncommon disadvantages, but yet bidding fair for very considerable improvements.—

I write this from motives of compassion to the unhappy Cripple, and because I really think his talents may be of use to mankind if encouraged. How far this will be consistent with your interest is not for me to say. But if you can favor the productions of a Cripple, in the seventeenth year of his age, it must not only give pleasure to him, but to the benevolent and humane who wish success to the ingenious, and comfort to the wretched.
Russell was open to new authors: he was the first printer to engage to issue Phillis Wheatley’s book, before she went to London, and he routinely published other female poets, such as Hannah Wheaton. In part that was because Russell was never a very successful printer, so he and his wife were often scrounging for business.

Russell engaged to print George’s Cambridge Almanack; or, the Essex Calendar. For the Year of our Redemption, 1776. Being Leap-Year, the Sixteenth of the Reign of George III. To make sure customers realized what a remarkable production it was, he credited it “By Daniel George, a Student in Astronomy at Haverhill, in the County of Essex, who is now in the Seventeenth [sic] Year of his Age, and has been a Cripple from his Infancy.” And he printed Williams’s letter at the front.

In his own introduction, dated September 1775, Daniel added:
This, however, my public-spirited Friends and Countrymen, you will be certain of, by becoming a Purchaser of my Almanack, you are helping one who is not able, or perhaps ever will have it in his power to help himself; which motive alone may be a sufficient incitement to a generous mind, even should your expectations with regard to my calculations, be in some measure disappointed.
But he then turned to the patriotic material he’d chosen to include, such as “A Narrative of the excursion and ravages of the King’s troops, under the command of Gen. [Thomas] Gage, on the 19th of April, 1775; . . . This concise and much admired narrative is said to be drawn up by the reverend and patriotic Mr. G——n, of the third parish in Roxbury.” (I believe that’s one of our earliest pieces of evidence that the Rev. William Gordon drafted that report for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.)

The calendar pages inside highlighted such anniversaries as:
  • “Feb. 21 [actually 22]. Christopher Snyder, aged 14 [actually about eleven], cruelly massacred in Boston, by Ebenezer Richardson, the noted informer. He was the first Martyr to American Liberty.”
  • “March 5. Boston massacre.”
  • “April 19. Concord Fight, 1775, when began the bloody civil war in America, by the British Troops.”
  • “June 17. Bloody battle of Charlestown, where were killed and wounded 324 provincials, 1,450 regulars; there were destroyed in Charlestown by the latter 1 meeting-house, 350 dwelling-houses, and 150 other buildings.”
  • “Dec. 16. E. I. Tea destroyed in Boston, 1773.”
And all for only “6 cop.”

George’s Almanac sold well enough that Russell issued a second edition with added content: a “Narrative of the Bunker-Hill Fight” and “A Poem On The Late Gen. [Joseph] Warren.” But wait—there was more! The extra page also included “An Acrostic On Gen. Warren” (the same one I quoted here) and a woodcut portrait of the late doctor (shown above).

The next year Daniel, still a teenager, prepared an almanac for 1777 for new printers in Boston and Newburyport. Having established his name, he continued to publish almanacs into adulthood. Sometime in the mid-1780s he moved to what is now Portland, Maine, and eventually became a newspaper publisher.

In The History of the Press of Maine (1872), H. W. Richardson wrote:
George was a remarkable character. He is described as a man of genius, but so exceedingly deformed that he had to be moved from place to place in a small carriage, drawn by a servant. He came here in 1784 or ’5 from Newburyport, where he had published almanacs, as he afterwards did here. He was a printer, but kept school in Portland, and had also a small bookstore in Fish, now Exchange, street. In 1800 he became the sole owner of the Herald.
George “died suddenly at Portland” on 4 Feb 1804, age forty-six, having seen and accomplished much more than anyone expected back in 1758, the year when the George family probably realized that their new baby had a physical disability.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Washington, Lee, and “tinsel dignity”

Yesterday I quoted Gen. Charles Lee’s letter to Gen. George Washington after the Battle of Monmouth, complaining that the commander-in-chief had spoken too harshly to him on the battlefield.

On 30 June 1778, Washington replied to that letter, rejecting the charge of using harsh language but leaving no doubt that he was sticking with the substance of his criticism:
I received your letter (dated thro’ mistake the 1st of July) expressed as I conceive, in terms highly improper. I am not conscious of having made use of any very singular expressions at the time of my meeting you, as you intimate. What I recollect to have said, was dictated by duty and warranted by the occasion. As soon as circumstances will permit, you shall have an opportunity, either of justifying yourself to the army, to Congress, to America, and to the world in General; or of convincing them that you were guilty of a breach of orders and of misbehaviour before the enemy on the 28th Inst. in not attacking them as you had been directed and in making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.
Aide-de-camp Lt. Col. John Fitzgerald delivered that letter to Lee.

As most historians read the correspondence, Lee replied to Washington twice that same day. Lee was still struggling with the dates of his letters, and he dated his first reply 28 June instead of 30 June even as he apologized for misdating the letter that started this all. He wrote:
I beg your Excellency’s pardon for the inaccuracy in misdating my letter—you cannot afford me greater pleasure than in giving me the opportunity of shewing to America the sufficiency of her respective servants—I trust that temporary power of office and the tinsel dignity attending it will not be able by all the mists they can raise to affuscate the bright rays of truth, in the mean time your Excellency can have no objection to my retiring from the army—
Finally, Lee sent a third letter after the second, this time dated 30 June:
Since I had the honor of addressing my letter by Col. Fitzgerald to your Excellency I have reflected on both your situation and mine, and beg leave to observe that it will be for our mutual convenience that a Court of inquiry should be immediately ordered—but I could wish it might be a court martial—for if the affair is drawn into length it may be difficult to collect the necessary evidences, and perhaps might bring on a paper war betwixt the adherents to both parties—which may occasion some disagreeable feuds on the Continent—for all are not my friends, nor all your admirers—I must intreat therefore from your love of justice that you will immediately exhibit your charge—and that on the first halt, I may be brought to a tryal—
A court-martial was a more serious forum than a court of inquiry; Lee was taking the risk that he might be punished, not just deemed at fault. A talented political writer, Lee was also warning Washington that he might prevail in the court of public opinion. Indeed, a couple of days later, Lee was unable to resist the temptation to make his case in the newspapers as soon as he saw an item critical of his movements at Monmouth.

A court-martial was convened on 4 July. The first two charges against Lee took language directly from Washington’s letter above, including the phrase “making an unnecessary, disorderly, and shameful retreat.” As for the third charge, that was for sending two disrespectful letters to Gen. Washington.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Charles Lee and “those dirty earwigs”

In the middle of the Battle of Monmouth, Gen. George Washington chided Gen. Charles Lee for his decision to withdraw from the Continental Army’s first encounter with the British forces (an incident recently dramatized in the season finale of Turn: Washington’s Spies). Indeed, one later author cited Lafayette as saying Washington called Lee “a damned poltroon.”

Whatever the commander-in-chief said, Lee was so upset that he couldn’t date his letters of protest correctly. He labeled the first “July 1st 1778,” but he must have written it on 29 or 30 June because Washington replied to it on the latter date.

Let’s say Lee wrote that letter on 29 June 1778 so the anniversary of that date offers an excuse to read its magnificent vituperation in full:

From the knowledge I have of your Excys character—I must conclude that nothing but the misinformation of some very stupid, or misrepresentation of some very wicked person coud have occasioned your making use of so very singular expressions as you did on my coming up to the ground where you had taken post—They implyed that I was guilty either of disobedience of orders, of want of conduct, or want of courage.

Your Excellency will therefore infinitely oblige me by letting me know on which of these three articles you ground your charge—that I may prepare for my justification which I have the happiness to be confident I can do to the army, to the Congress, to America, and to the world in general. Your excellency must give me leave to observe that neither yourself nor those about your person, could from your situation be in the least judges of the merits or demerits of our measures—And to speak with a becoming pride, I can assert that to these manouvers the success of the day was entirely owing—I can boldly say, that had we remained on the first ground, or had we advanced, or had the retreat been conducted in a manner different from what it was, this whole army and the interests of America would have risked being sacrificed.

I ever had (and hope ever shall have the greatest respect and veneration for General Washington) I think him endowed with many great and good qualities, but in this instance I must pronounce that he has been guilty of an act of cruel injustice towards a man who certainly has some pretensions to the regard of every servant of this country—And I think Sir, I have a right to demand some reparation for the injury committed—and unless I can obtain it, I must in justice to myself, when this campaign is closed, [(]which I believe will close the war) retire from a service at the head of which is placed a man capable of offering such injuries.

But at the same time in justice to you I must repeat that I from my soul believe, that it was not a motion of your own breast, but instigaged by some of those dirty earwigs who will for ever insinuate themselves near persons in high office—for I really am convinced that when General Washington acts from himself no man in his army will have reason to complain of injustice or indecorum.
TOMORROW: Washington’s reply.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Massachusetts Stamp Act of 1755

As I trace the developments of Parliament’s Stamp Act of 1765 in this year of its sestercentennial, I have to acknowledge that ten years before then, the Massachusetts General Court enacted its own stamp act, or tax on paper.

On 1 May 1755, during the second administration of Gov. William Shirley, the Massachusetts Stamp Act went into effect. It was based on a British act from 1698.

The Massachusetts law passed when it looked like war with the French was inevitable, with Gov. Shirley (highly respected after victories in the last war) recommending new forts in Maine.

The province issued four types of stamps, all circles a little more than an inch across:
  • the half-penny, printed in ink, as shown above; the words “Half Penny” were inscribed at top and bottom with a flying dove in between.
  • the two-penny, embossed; the text says “II Pence” and “Staple of the Massachusetts,” referring to the figure inside, a codfish.
  • The three-penny, embossed; “III,” “Pence,” and “Province of the Massachusetts,” around a pine tree.
  • The four-penny, embossed; “IV Pence” and “Steady” above and below around a schooner under sail.
Over the next two years Massachusetts’s stamp commissioner, James Russell, passed on about £897 in 1756 and £467 in 1757, keeping an additional £260 for his expenses and recompense.

The tax remained in effect for only two years. By then, the war had widened, and Massachusetts expected the Crown to pay more of the defense costs. Like other provincial stamp acts, it never produced big controversy because the colonists’ own representatives passed them and because the money stayed in the colonies. Ten years later, Parliament’s Stamp Act prompted a continent-wide campaign against what became known as “taxation without representation.”

Examples on this collectors’ auction page shows some examples of stamped paper from Massachusetts. Of course, the printed stamp shows up much better in a photograph than an embossed one.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Fate of the Rev. John Martin?

I promised more of the story of the Rev. John Martin, whom we left during the siege of Boston, preaching to the riflemen about how he’d taken command at Bunker Hill and perhaps marrying deserter George Marsden to young bride Wilmot Lee in Medford without recording their marriage.

Martin disappears from sight for many months, but in May 1777 he resurfaced in the diary of the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles (shown here):
12. I went to Providence, where this day where Rev. Mr. Martin of Ireld. was taken up by Gen. [Joseph] Spencer for a Spy & as havg a Commission from G. [William] Howe.

13. At Providence waited on Gen. Spencer who told me Mr. Martin had been over to the Enemy in the Jerseys & returned. One Dennison of Stonington informed the General that Mr. Martin had a Majors Commission & offered him a Captaincy. The General sent him off to Windham.
Joseph Denison (1707-1795) was head of the Stonington, Connecticut, committee of safety during the war, and the town had other men of that name.

Martin’s detention also appeared in newspapers of the time, such as the Pennsylvania Evening Post of 3 June 1777:
PROVIDENCE, May 17. Sunday last one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended here, and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for General Howe in Connecticut, to which state he has since been sent, under a proper guard.
The Freeman’s Journal of New Hampshire, 31 May 1777:
HARTFORD, May 26.
A few days since one Martin, a well known itinerant preacher, was apprehended at providence and committed to close keeping, being charged with attempting to retail commissions for Gen. Howe in this state: He has since been brought to Windham goal.
And the Independent Chronicle of Boston, 22 May 1777, was almost gleeful:
Last week a certain Rev. Mr. Martin, who is well known in this Town for boasting of his Exploits at Breed’s Hill, on the 17th of June, 1775, on the Part of the Americans, was taken up at Greenwich, State of Rhode-Island, recruiting for the Enemy.
I haven’t come across more about Martin’s case. I’m not convinced that the evidence against him was necessarily strong, given the atmosphere in New England after the Danbury raid. But he did get locked up.

In 1777, according to what he’d told Stiles, Martin was only twenty-seven years old. Therefore, if he survived the war in the U.S. of A., he might be the aged Rev. John Martin, a former itinerant preacher from Ireland, who lived in Otsego County, New York, in the 1810s. That Martin published an anonymous pamphlet titled Union the Bond of Peace in 1811.

The next year, that Rev. Martin got arrested for trying to bribe state legislators to approve the Bank of America. After a legislative hearing and a trial, he was sentenced to ten years. But the governor, who supported the bank, pardoned Martin after fourteen weeks. And then he slipped back out of the record.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Hogeland on Hamilton on the Ten-Dollar Note

U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew recently announced a plan to add a notable American woman to the next redesign of the ten-dollar bill. It’s been more than a century since Martha Washington appeared on a U.S. silver certificate.

The Los Angeles Times reported:
Alexander Hamilton will still appear on the note even after the yet-to-be-selected woman makes her debut. The Treasury either will design two bills or Hamilton and the woman will share the same bill.
Somehow I think Hamilton would like the space-sharing solution. (Ladies…) Nonetheless, Lew’s plan has been decried as “replacing” Hamilton.

This announcement followed a campaign to put an American woman on the twenty-dollar bill in place of Andrew Jackson, a very important President with repressive policies and an antipathy to a national bank. But the ten-dollar bill happens to be the next up for redesign.

Fans of Hamilton (now appearing on Broadway) came to his defense, making the obvious argument that the Treasury Department owes loyalty to its founder. Some, such as Steven Rattner in the New York Times, added that Hamilton’s political views are better in tune with today’s values than Jackson (who hasn’t been the lead character in a Broadway musical in, what, two years).

William Hogeland, author of The Whiskey Rebellion, agrees on the irony of reducing Hamilton’s place on Treasury notes, but he thinks that Rattner’s comparisons are fallacious. The whole essay is a delight, but here are a couple of choice bits:
Jackson was a slaveowner, and he defended the institution. While there is ample evidence to suggest that Hamilton at times owned slaves, Hamilton opposed the institution, so Rattner repeats a familiar fallacy: “Hamilton was an abolitionist.” Hamilton’s biographer Ron Chernow says that about Hamilton too; most of the biographers do, and why not? it’s a lovely thought. But it’s not true.

Readers interested in that subject will want to start with this balanced, scrupulous paper by the historian Michelle DuRross. Hamilton the “staunch abolitionist” (Chernow) is such a longstanding biographical fantasy, with such a tangled history, that a certain kind of graduate student would have a ball unraveling it. Readers may be forgiven for believing that young Hamilton had the horrors of the slave markets of the Caribbean so painfully seared on his brain that in adulthood he was inspired to oppose slavery: most of the major and not-so-major Hamilton biographies — Lodge’s, Miller’s, Mitchell’s, Randall’s, McDonald’s, Brookhiser’s and Chernow’s — tell that story. Literally none can cite a primary source. Some cite one another: Randall cites Mitchell, Miller cites Lodge, e.g. The story is such common knowledge that I don’t think Chernow even gives it a citation. Its origin is unclear. But it’s made up.
DuRoss reminds us of the difference between promoting manumission (encouraging slave owners to free their human property) and campaigning for abolition (using the law to end slavery).

And as for Hamilton being more appropriate for a printed bill:
Hamilton’s entire career, before and after becoming Secretary, was based on demolishing paper finance, the depreciating populist currencies of his day that built debt relief into money. With the entire lending-and-investing class that he represented and promoted, Hamilton liked specie, metal. Big notes like those written on the Bank of the United States were not, to Hamilton, a “national currency,” as Rattner tortures history to assert. The federal government did not print paper currencies as long as (and well after) Hamilton had anything to say about it.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

“Perspectives on the Boston Massacre,” 7-9 July

On 7-9 July, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a multi-day workshop investigating “Perspectives on the Boston Massacre.” It’s designed for teachers, librarians, and members of the public interested in exploring the Massacre in depth through primary-source documents.

The workshop description says:

On the evening of March 5, 1770, a confrontation between British soldiers and a boisterous crowd in front of the Custom House on King Street in Boston turned deadly. Five men were killed and nine soldiers were tried for their murder. Why and how did this confrontation come to pass? In the days after the event, the men who lost their lives became martyrs for the Patriot cause, and propagandists labeled the event a “massacre.” Using letters, depositions, newspapers, and engravings, we will explore how participants, onlookers, residents, authorities, and outsiders made meaning of the “massacre” and its aftermath.
Highlights include:
  • Touring the Bostonian Society’s Old State House and other sites associated with the Boston Massacre with Dr. Robert Allison, Professor of History at Suffolk University.
  • Viewing original documents and artifacts of the pre-Revolutionary era from the M.H.S. collections, and exploring more on its website on the Massacre.
  • Discussing various perspectives on the Massacre, the role of propaganda, and public memory of the event with the M.H.S. staff and me.
Yes, I’m on the bill for the last day. Current plans call for participants to spend the first two days coming up with questions and issues to discuss, and I’ll try to shape my presentation around those. Let’s not make this too hard, though.

Because of generous support from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, the cost of those three days is only $35 per person, and that includes two lunches, admissions to all the sites visited, and copies of the readings. Educators can also earn 22.5 P.D.P.’s. Find the link of the registration form here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Virginia Resolutions “of an extraordinary Nature” in Newport

Two hundred fifty years ago today, on 24 June 1765, the Newport Mercury carried an item about the Stamp Act. That wasn’t unusual—American newspapers were starting to fill with essays warning about Parliament’s new law. The Mercury story was unusual for two reasons:
  • It printed resolutions that the Virginia House of Burgesses had debated, adopted, and in one case retracted at the end of May. Under pressure from Gov. Francis Fauquier, the Virginia newspapers hadn’t reported any of that story. So the Rhode Island paper had a scoop.
  • The Rhode Island paper got the story wrong. 
The article began:
Extract of a Letter from a Gentleman in Philadelphia, to his Friend in this Town, dated last Tuesday.

“I have inclosed the Resolves of the Virginia Assembly, on debating the Stamp Act. The Governor, as soon as he heard what they were about, sent for them, and without Preamble, told them, he would dissolve them; and that Minute they were dissolved. As they are of an extraordinary Nature, thought they might not be disagreeable. They are as follows.”
Then came the six resolves.

Six? The Burgesses had approved five resolves, then pulled one back. So how did the Mercury report six? To start with, the newspaper omitted the third of the passed resolutions (“That the Taxation of the People…”). It did print the fifth, which the Burgesses passed on 30 May and then repealed on 31 May.

But the letter from Philadelphia also included two resolutions that the Virginia legislature had never passed, and apparently never officially considered. They read:
Resolved, That his Majesty’s liege People, the Inhabitants of this Colony, are not bound to yield Obedience to any Law or Ordinance whatever, designed to impose any Taxation whatsoever upon them, other than the Laws and Ordinances of the General Assembly aforesaid.

Resolved, That any Person, who shall, by speaking or writing, assert or maintain that any Person or Persons, other than the General Assembly of this Colony, have any Right or Power to impose or lay any Taxation on the People here, shall be deemed an Enemy to this his Majesty’s Colony.
Those resolutions were even more confrontational toward Parliament and its appointees and supporters than the one that got repealed.

What happened? Recall that Gov. Fauquier reported to London:
I am informed the gentlemen had two more resolutions in their pocket, but finding the difficulty they had in carrying the 5th which was by a single voice, and knowing them to be more virulent and inflammatory; they did not produce them.
But those gentlemen might have been unable to resist sending the drafts to friends in Philadelphia, who in turn passed them on to other friends in other colonies. Patrick Henry didn’t record those last two resolutions in his personal papers, as he did the previous five, so it’s unclear whether he wrote them or someone else did.

In any event, the gentleman who wrote to Newport from Philadelphia, and the people who read the Newport Mercury, apparently believed that the Virginia Burgesses had approved all six of the resolutions that appeared in the newspaper. So did the readers of the 1 July Boston Post-Boy, which reprinted the item from Newport.

And gradually the story spread across the British Empire, making people believe that Virginia, the oldest and largest of the British colonies in the New World, had taken an even firmer stand against the Stamp Act than it ever had.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Mysterious Minister, Mr. Martin

As I described yesterday, the widow Wilmot Marsden based her plea for a federal pension on her memory of having married her husband George in Medford on 25 Nov 1775, when he was an officer in the Continental Army. She recalled the minister who officiated at their wedding as “a professor in the Harvard University” named Martin. Alas, the college had no record of such a man.

But there was a clergyman in the area who seems a likely candidate for marrying the Marsdens: the Rev. John Martin, born (as he told the Rev. Dr. Ezra Stiles) in the west of Ireland in 1750 and coming to Nova Scotia in 1772.

The earliest sign of Martin in North America that I’ve found is an advertisement in the 21 Oct 1774 New-Hampshire Gazette stating that “JOHN MARTIN, Minister of the Gospel,” had lost a silver watch somewhere between the meetinghouse of Rochester, New Hampshire, and Berwick, Maine.

Shortly afterward this notice appeared in the 7 November Boston Gazette and 16 and 23 November Essex Journal of Newburyport:
L O S T.
An old Sea-Chest, (supposed to be taken out of Captain [Jonathan] Mason’s Store on the Long Wharf in Salem,) broad at the Bottom, painted blue but much wore off. If it has any Mark, it’s J. M. Should it be opened, it contains Weston’s Stenography, some Books of Physick, and some of Divinity, and considerable Writings, and both Men and Womens Cloths. Whoever shall give Information of the said Chest to the Rev. Dr. [Nathaniel] Whittaker in Salem, or the Rev. Samuel Stillman in Boston, so that the Subscriber may have it, they shall be well rewarded, and all reasonable Charges paid by
JOHN MARTIN.
Martin appears to have been a very unlucky traveler indeed. On the other hand, these ads might have been a way to announce to the region that one is the sort of learned gentleman to travel with a silver watch and a trunk full of books even if one doesn’t actually have those goods with one. Another notable point: The ministers Martin designated as his local contacts weren’t the orthodox Congregationalists but a Presbyterian and a Baptist.

Martin preached in place of the Rev. Dr. Stiles in Newport on 16 Apr 1775. Stiles went to see him speak again on 19 April and quizzed him about his background. Martin described religious peregrination from a Catholic school through the Episcopal Church and Deism to some form of Calvinist Protestantism that Stiles found acceptable. But the Rhode Island minister was suspicious of Martin’s tale of having been a chaplain to the Pretender in Ireland in 1771. Stiles was a sucker for stories he wanted to believe, and he didn’t want to believe Bonnie Prince Charlie was genuinely Protestant.

Meanwhile, the war was starting. Martin evidently went to the siege lines. He returned to Rhode Island after the Battle of Bunker Hill, reporting that he’d served as a chaplain on the battlefield and had taken part not only in the fighting but also in overseeing the redoubt, deploying troops, and more. Fanfiction critics would recognize the story Martin told as a “self-insert,” in which he was the bravest, most perceptive, and indispensable man on the American side of the battle lines.

As outlandish as Martin’s story was, this time people wanted to believe him. On 28 June, the Rhode Island Assembly appointed “John Martin” surgeon of its army brigade at a salary of £9 per month. There were other, better established men named John Martin in that colony, but I suspect this new surgeon was the young minister because he’d claimed to own “some Books of Physick” and because of a newspaper statement the next month that he’d been “appointed to a post in the Rhode Island regiment.”

On 30 June, Martin returned to Stiles’s doorstep in Newport, telling his story of the battle, and the minister wrote it all down. That evening he listened as Martin preached “a high Liberty Sermon.” On 18 July, the New-Hampshire Gazette reported briefly how Martin had “fought gallantly at Bunker-Hill.” Presumably he headed back to the war zone.

On 28 September and 28 December 1775, the New-England Chronicle newspaper reported that letters for John Martin were waiting in the Cambridge post office. Again, this may be another man of the same name (he’s not identified as a minister or a surgeon). But it’s quite clear who Sgt. Henry Bedinger of the Virginia riflemen heard preach in Roxbury on 3 Oct 1775:
We had also a Very Good Sermon preached to us by the Reverend Mr. Martin, Who Took part of the Command on Bunker’s Hill In that Battle.
This is clearly the same Martin who visited Stiles, and he was once again acting as a clergyman in the fall of 1775.

Thus, the Rev. John Martin seems like an excellent candidate to be the minister who married George Marsden and Wilmot Lee in Medford in November. He would have no qualms about breaking the Massachusetts law against traveling clergy performing marriages. And, just as he left the riflemen and others with the idea that he’d been a commander at Bunker Hill, he could easily have left Wilmot Marsden convinced he was a “professor at Harvard University.”

COMING UP: What happened to the Rev. John Martin?

Monday, June 22, 2015

Widow Marsden’s Marriage Claim

I’ve been writing about George Marsden, who went from a deserter from the British army in early 1774 to a lieutenant in the Continental Army in January 1776. He served a couple of years, including service at Saratoga, before retiring at an uncertain date. Marsden died in 1817.

His widow was born Wilmot Lee, reportedly in Nova Scotia on 21 Jan 1757, to Edward and Ann Lee or Leigh. She may therefore have been named after the British army commander Montague Wilmot. She probably met George Marsden while he was stationed in Halifax from 1769 to 1774, and she might even have been the reason for his desertion just before the 59th Regiment sailed for Boston.

Wilmot Marsden died in 1850, and she spent her last three decades trying to secure a federal pension as the widow of a Continental Army officer. The issue for the U.S. government was whether Wilmot and George had married before or after his army service. If they were legally a couple when he was an active officer, then she qualified for a pension. If not, then the government owed her nothing.

Unfortunately for Wilmot Marsden, she couldn’t provide documentary proof of their wedding on 25 Nov 1775 “at the house of Henry Putnam” in Mystic, as she wrote. Mystic was an old word for Medford, and Henry Putnam was a prominent landowner there, but that town’s records had no mention of the Marsdens’ marriage.

On 10 Oct 1839, Wilmot Marsden filed an affidavit describing her wedding in more detail. She said:
both her husband & herself came to Massachusetts, from Nova Scotia, Just previous to the revolutionary war, that she had resided but a few months at Mystic (now Medford) at the time of her marriage, & had few acquaintances, & not known out of the immediate neighborhood in which she lived, that her husband was with the army, and as little known at Mystic as herself,

that the persons present at the wedding are reported to have died long since, their names were Roger & Eli [?] Putnam & wives, Capts. Darby & Nowell from Cambridge, of Col Scammons Regiment, Edward Lee, Watson, Pool, Hall, Bracket, Gallop, Temple & Fisk [?].—
(Curiously, although Wilmot Marsden’s signature appears on her previous affidavit of 16 April, on this document she simply put her mark.)

Samuel Darby was indeed a captain in Col. James Scamman’s regiment at that time. In January 1776, Marsden became a lieutenant under him in Col. William Prescott’s regiment. Some other surnames in this affidavit also appear on the list of men in Scamman’s 1775 regiment. In addition, the alleged host Henry Putnam had younger brothers named Roger and Elijah Putnam.

Most interesting is the name of Edward Lee. Wilmot had a brother of that name (as well as a father). Had he accompanied his sister from Nova Scotia? The Medford town records include the death of a woman surnamed Lee, wife of “a Soldier in Army,” on 30 Sept 1775. Was that Edward Lee’s wife, and thus Wilmot Marsden’s sister-in-law?

Marsden clearly recalled her wedding as occurring during the siege of Boston. But there was still the problem of there being no legal record of that marriage to confirm her memory. A man from Rome, New York, looked into Marsden’s claim for her and offered an explanation for why the marriage may not have been recorded locally. At the time Massachusetts law recognized only marriages performed by ministers resident in that town; preachers without settled pulpits didn’t have the authority to marry couples. The New York man wrote:
the marriage of Mrs. Marsden was in the parish of the Revd. Doct. David Osgood, who was pertinacious of his priviledge, & was in the habit of exacting fines when he learned by the record of the town or otherwise, that a marriage had been consummated in his parish by a non-resident minister, & that such marriages were seldom recorded.
The minister who married her, Wilmot Marsden recalled, was not connected to the town of Medford. Rather, he was “the Revd. Mr. Martin of Cambridge a professor in the Harvard University.” She couldn’t say “to what denomination he belonged.”

Unfortunately for the widow Marsden, Harvard archivists told the federal government that the college had no professor or other official named Martin in 1775.

TOMORROW: Tracking down Mr. Martin the minister.