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 William Bentley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label William Bentley. Show all posts

Saturday, June 07, 2014

“‘Illuminati Morse’ as he is now called”

New England Federalists were happy to link Jeffersonians with the democratic, anti-religious, and French Illuminati (no matter that the order was actually Bavarian). At the end of his article on the birth of the Illuminati myth, Mike Jay writes:
In an overheated political milieu where accusations of treason were hurled from both sides, [John Robison’s] Proofs of a Conspiracy was seized on eagerly by the Federalists as evidence of the hidden agenda that lurked behind fine-sounding slogans such as democracy, the abolition of slavery and the rights of man. Robison’s words were repeated endlessly in New England pulpits and pamphlets through 1798 and 1799, and [Thomas] Jefferson was publicly accused of being a member of [Adam] Weishaupt’s Order.
One of the loudest voices promoting this idea was the Rev. Jedidiah Morse (1761-1826, shown above) of Charlestown, who was also a leading textbook author. A strong Federalist and Congregationalist, he seized on Robison’s book as proof of a worldwide conspiracy against traditional politics and religion.

On the national fast day of 9 May 1798, Morse preached a sermon based on Robison’s book. He returned to that topic for Thanksgiving on 29 November and for the next national fast on 29 Apr 1799, publishing all three sermons for wider consumption. (It’s notable that Morse didn’t deliver these messages during his regular church services. It’s also notable that in between those dates, on 25 June 1798, he spoke to the Massachusetts Grand Lodge of Freemasons, not mentioning the Illuminati, at least overtly.)

Other speakers pushed back against Morse’s charges, particularly men already in the Jeffersonian camp, such as the Rev. William Bentley of Salem. But the most effective response to Morse came from John Cosens Ogden (1751-1800), an itinerant Episcopal priest with the zeal of a convert (from Presbyterianism).

In 1799 Ogden published a pamphlet titled A View of the New-England Illuminati; Who are Indefatigably Engaged in Destroying the Religion and Government of the United States, under a feigned regard for their safety, and under an impious abuse of true religion. It wasn’t the Jeffersonians who were secretly Illuminati, Ogden wrote—it was the New England Federalists who were pointing fingers at other people.

On 31 Jan 1800, Vice President Jefferson wrote to James Madison—not his political ally but the Episcopal bishop of Virginia with the same name—about the conspiracy theories:
I have lately by accident got a sight of a single volume, (the 3d.) of the Abbé [Augustin] Barruel’s ‘Antisocial conspiracy,’ which gives me the first idea I have ever had of what is meant by the Illuminatism, against which ‘illuminati Morse’ as he is now called, and his ecclesiastical & monarchical associates have been making such a hue & cry.

Barruel’s own parts of the book are perfectly the ravings of a Bedlamite. but he quotes largely from Wishaupt whom he considers as the founder of what he calls the order. . . . Wishaupt seems to be an enthusiastic Philanthropist. he is among those (as you know the excellent [Richard] Price and [Joseph] Priestly also are) who believe in the indefinite perfectibility of man. he thinks he may in time be rendered so perfect that he will be able to govern himself in every circumstance so as to injure none, to do all the good he can, to leave government no occasion to exercise their powers over him, & of course to render political government useless. this, you know is Godwin’s doctrine, and this is what Robinson, Barruel & Morse have called a conspiracy against all government
With both sides of the political divide using the term “Illuminati” to tar the other, it became part of the American political lexicon. It survives in many conspiracy theories, still reading like the ravings of Bedlamites.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Rev. Bentley Returns to Salem, 15 Feb.

Last week I sat in a Dublin Seminar meeting with Donald Friary, former director of Historic Deerfield and now a consultant to historical organizations. As usual, he was knowledgeable, helpful, and wise. I had no idea that Donald also does first-person history interpretation.

Which is to say, he’ll be holding forth as the Rev. William Bentley (shown here, looking rather little like Donald) at Salem’s Old Town Hall on Wednesday, 15 February, starting at 7:30 P.M.

Bentley was minister in that town’s East Parish from 1783 to 1819. He left an extensive diary full of gossip, opinions, and observations about life in Salem, which was then reaching its economic and cultural peak. It’s a terrific source that I’ve never explored in depth, but keep being led back to. There’s no doubt he’d be an interesting evening companion.

Tickets for this event are $10 for general admission, and $5 for students. You can buy them in advance at Old Town Hall Lectures or at the door.

This presentation is the first of the 2012 Old Town Hall Lecture Series in Salem. Upcoming events include:
  • 21 March: Bonnie Hurd Smith on her new book, We Believe in You: 12 Stories of Courage, Action, and Faith from Massachusetts Women’s History
  • 18 April: Maryellen Smiley, curator, on the history of Brookhouse Residence for Women in Salem.
  • 16 May: public-television producer Andrew Giles Buckley on the 1787 Columbia Expedition, the first American trade voyage around the globe.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

“Suspected by Gen. Gage”

Yesterday I quoted Ezekiel Price recording a rumor of information slipped out of besieged Boston in August 1775 by John Carnes, a retired clergyman and grocer who was working for Gen. George Washington.

On 13 November, Ezekiel Price recorded another tidbit of information that may have come by the same route:

Mr. Carnes (a son of the parson’s) was here this afternoon: he says that it is reported at Cambridge, &c., and believed, that twenty-five hundred Regulars have lately arrived at Boston; he also says that the Regulars, last Saturday, intended to land a number of them at Chelsea,—having their boats, &c., ready,—but the wind blowing fresh against them prevented their setting off.
That rumor might not have come from the parson inside Boston, however. A Carnes family tradition that appears to have hit print first in an 1898 volume of American Ancestry says:
lived in Boston during the siege 1775. corresponded with Gen. Washington, was suspected by Gen. [Thomas] Gage, had his house and papers searched, and was ordered to leave, which he did
Gage sailed away from Boston on 11 Oct 1775, leaving the command to Gen. William Howe. If the family lore is correct about Gage ordering Carnes to leave, that must have happened before October, and Price’s November rumor had a different source. Alternatively, the family might not have remembered the right general’s name.

John Carnes was definitely outside the besieged town by 1 Mar 1776 when he took the job of chaplain to a regiment in the Continental Army. He didn’t remain in Boston throughout the siege.

The entry on Carnes in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates calls the lore “an unsubstantiated family tradition,” but I think the man’s name in Washington’s papers and Ezekiel Price’s August diary offers a fair amount of substantiation for his espionage work. I wonder if there’s more to be found in the papers of Gen. Gage or Gen. Howe.

After serving several months as a chaplain, at one point taking over his colonel’s correspondence with Gen. Horatio Gates, Carnes returned to Massachusetts. By the late 1770s he had settled in Lynn, his wife’s home town. The Rev. William Bentley wrote that “by the prosperity of his children [Carnes] rose to competence, was in the General Court & became justice of the peace.” He was also part of the Massachusetts convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution.

And apparently no one outside of the Carnes family suspected the man of having been a spy. In fact, he appears to have come across as an easy mark, which might be why he had so much trouble as a minister. After Carnes died, Bentley wrote:
His talents were small & his manners displeasing but his simplicity had no vice in it. . . . His poverty returned again towards the close of life tho’ not in extreme. We used often to laugh at Carnes, but there was many a worse man in our wicked world.
That harmless impression might have saved Carnes from imprisonment—because his little spy network had been infiltrated from the start.

TOMORROW: The British army’s moles behind the American lines.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mrs. Tinkum and Madam Jenkins: one school-mistress or two?

When we last left John Jenkins, a public crier of Boston, he had fallen down dead in his yard in May 1767. I’m hoping to find out more about his family because they might offer clues to the most common and least documented aspect of education in colonial Boston: how children learned to read before boys were old enough for the public schools.

In 1835, Benjamin Bussey Thacher published Traits of the Tea Party, based on interviews with George R. T. Hewes (1742-1840). Of Hewes’s schooling, Thacher wrote:

The education he was able to get during these few years of his errantry, consisted, so far as literary matters were concerned, in learning to read and write tolerably well. For these accomplishments he was in the first instance indebted to “Miss Tinkum,” the worthy spouse of the town-crier, who lived and labored at the bottom of Water Street, in what was called Oliver's Dock,—having a school for both boys and girls in one of the rooms of her own domicil.
The Oliver’s Dock area was close to the center of town, in an area later called Liberty Square.

There was a Susannah Tinkum who had children baptized at the First Meeting-House (also near the center of town) from 1726 to 1740. She might have been Hewes’s teacher. But I’ve found no record of her husband, John Tinkum, being a public crier. Then again, as I’ve written before, once the job stopped being an elected office, the record of who filled it becomes incomplete.

Or could “Mrs. Tinkum” be how Thacher transcribed Hewes’s memory of the wife of John Jenkins, licensed to be a public crier in 1757? That was after Hewes’s childhood, but Jenkins’s prominent role in the town might have cemented his job in Hewes’s mind.

The Rev. Dr. William Bentley (1759-1819—shown above, courtesy of SalemWeb) recalled learning to read from a Boston widow named Jenkins. On 25 June 1816, musing at age sixty about people who had lived to a very old age, Bentley wrote in his diary:
My School Mistress, Madam Jenkins, died after 96 y. of age. . . . Madam Jenkins lived with her son in Law next door to the North [Latin] School, Boston, when I kept it [1778-80].
Two years earlier Bentley had also written about “My schoolmistress, Madam Jenkins.”

In 1791, a man named John Jenkins published a book called The Art of Writing; in the Boston Gazette he advertised that many prominent Bostonians had endorsed it. Here’s a look at that part of one. Was he a son of “Madam Jenkins,” carrying on his father’s name and his mother’s business?