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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Showing posts with label Thomas Kempton. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Thomas Kempton. Show all posts

Friday, May 31, 2013

Kempton Called Back to Service

Walter Spooner (1723-1803) was a representative to the Massachusetts General Court from the town of Dartmouth, which contained what’s become New Bedford. On 24 Jan 1776 Spooner wrote from Watertown, where the legislature was meeting, to Capt. Thomas Kempton of Dartmouth:


It is with pleasure that I have it in my power to informe you that you are appointed a Lieut Colo. of a Regiment of Men to be raised as temporary reenforcement of men to continue for the Space of two months or until the first day of April next (if needed so long.) Jacob French is appointed Chief Colo. 50 men are to be raised in the County of Bristol, the other part are raised in the County of Cumberland, the Majr of F’[s] Regiment is appointed in the County & the Adjitent also, the other officers time would fail me to give you a perticuler account off.

Esqr. Baylies is appointed by the Court to come into the Town of Dartmouth in order to raise men. He will furnish you with more particular accompts. I also expect to be at home this weak and shall be glad to see you before I return again. Tho this appointment may be unexpected, yet I hope it will not be disagreeable. I wish your conduct may anser the expectations of your friends, for in your appointment I have taken no small part.

I with truth subscribe my Selfe

Your Friend,
W. Spooner.
Kempton had just finished eight months of service as a captain at the siege of Boston. He hadn’t reenlisted in the Continental Army at the end of 1775. But Gen. George Washington had asked the New England colonies to raise some militia regiments for a short period—two months in this case—to augment his depleted Continental forces. So the General Court gave Kempton a promotion from captain to lieutenant colonel and told him to report again.

Yesterday I quoted how Kempton’s grandson understood the way his Revolutionary War service started, as opposed to the slightly different story that documents from the time suggest. When Daniel Ricketson wrote his 1858 History of New Bedford, Kempton’s son told him that his father had “left service at the evacuation of Boston by the British troops” because of “a failure of health.” In fact, Lt. Col. Kempton’s term was up in April 1776.

It’s possible that health concerns played a role in Thomas Kempton’s decision not to reenlist in the Continental Army at the end of 1775 and later, though he was only in his mid-thirties and lived another thirty years. It’s also possible that Kempton had other reasons: a feeling that he’d done his part, pressure to be home with his family, better opportuntities in privateering (he had been a whaling captain years before) or civil government. But he did serve again in early 1776. When he died in New Bedford in 1806, the Columbian Centinel newspaper called him “Col. THOMAS KEMPTON, an aged and respectable inhabitant of that town.”

Today at 12:30 I’ll speak at Anderson House in Washington, D.C., about one of Thomas Kempton’s souvenirs of his military service in 1775: an engraved powderhorn now owned by that museum.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Capt. Kempton Answers the Call

Tomorrow afternoon I’ll speak at the Anderson House museum of the Society of the Cincinnati about this powder horn, inscribed with the name of Capt. Thomas Kempton.

In 1775 Kempton commanded a company raised mostly in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. His part of that town became New Bedford in 1787, and his family remained there for at least two generations.

Leonard Bolles Ellis’s History of New Bedford (1892) drew on that family’s documents about their Revolutionary forebear, and on their lore:

“I well remember,” says John K. Cushing, grandson of the commander, Capt. Kempton, “hearing my mother tell the story as she heard it from my grandfather’s lips, how, when the news arrived in town, he was at work upon his new house, situated on what is now Thomas street. He was at work on the outside of the building when the alarm was brought to him (and it must have been conveyed to him by the swift rider) as the chief military man of the village. ‘You must take care of everything now, for I am going to camp at Roxbury,’ he said to his family, as he hastened away to muster his company of minute men. One of the neighbors took grandfather’s horse, and away he went carrying the startling news into Rhode Island.”
This is an example of what I call a “grandmother’s tale,” passed down to a child who then grows up with it as one of the bases of his understanding national history. The story presents Thomas Kempton as immediately answering the call of duty.

In fact, Ellis’s book also quotes a pay roll of “the minute company which marched from Dartmouth April 21, 1775,” commanded by Capt. Kempton. That was two days after news of the shooting at Lexington had started to spread. And it makes sense for Kempton to have taken a day to gather his men and ensure they were well equipped.

But any intervening time, enabling more humdrum preparation for the call of duty, got shaved off when Kempton’s daughter told her son about the alarm and he later told Ellis. The essence of the story remained valid: the captain left his family, quite possibly with an unfinished house, in order to take part in the first campaign of the Revolutionary War. But the details became just a little more dramatic and heroic.

TOMORROW: Capt. Kempton called back to service.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Tooting the Horn for Two Talks

In the next three weeks I’ll give two talks in two different cities about two different powder horns from the siege of Boston.

On Friday, 31 May, I’ll speak at Anderson House, the museum of the Society of the Cincinnati, in Washington, D.C. The topic will be “Thomas Kempton’s Engraved Powder Horn.” One of the curiosities of this horn is that it was first labeled as engraved by Capt. Kempton, and then that line was changed to for Capt. Kempton. What were Kempton and the carver trying to say? And what other stories does that object tell us about the siege of 1775-76?

That talk is part of a program that Anderson House calls “Lunch Bites,” designed for people to enjoy on their lunch break or while sightseeing in the capital. The session starts at 12:30 P.M. I’ll speak for no more than half an hour, leaving time for questions and looking at the horn itself. That talk and the museum are free and open to the public.

Back in Boston, on Friday, 14 June, I’ll speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society about “Ephraim Moors’s Powder Horn” (shown above). This talk is connected to the society’s exhibit called “The Object in History,” featuring some of the treasures and curiosities in its collection, including “Portraits, needlework, firearms, clothing, furniture, silver, scientific instruments, documents, and books.”

I spoke about the Moors powder horn at the Concord Museum last year, but since then I’ve learned more and have developed a new theory about its creation. This talk starts at 2:00 P.M., will be about an hour long, and is free to all. The society’s exhibit runs through the first week of September, Monday through Friday, and is also free to all.