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, December 12, 2018

A Master Teachers Seminar in Washington, July 2019

The American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati will offer a weeklong Master Teachers Seminar in Washington, D.C., on 8-12 July 2019. The theme is “The American Revolution and the Cause of Independence: ‘Between Submission and the Sword.’” Independence is, the seminar description says, “one of the four major achievements of the American Revolution and a central concept of the American Revolution Institute Curriculum.”

This Master Teachers Seminar is a week-long residential program for middle- and high-school teachers focusing on the American Revolution. It is held each summer at Anderson House, the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati near Dupont Circle. The seminar includes morning lectures and discussions about teaching the Revolution and afternoon sessions working with the resources of the Institute’s library and museum. The best lesson plans that participating teachers develop during the session are published on the Institute website with credit to their authors.

Teachers chosen to participate in the seminar will receive a stipend for travel to and from Washington, D.C., and be treated to meals and lodging at Anderson House. Since Anderson House is a Gilded Age mansion, those quarters are not spartan. (The photo above of one of my talks there reveals the difficult conditions under which I sometimes have to work.) Each participant will also receive a letter documenting sixty hours of professional development.

The institute will be accepting applications for the 2019 Master Teachers Seminar until 22 February.
The application must include a cover letter describing how students will benefit from one’s participation in the program, a résumé, and a draft Revolutionary War lesson plan dealing with the idea of independence and spanning two class periods. For more detail, see this webpage. Applications will be judged on the potential of the lesson plans with preference given to those that include a preliminary bibliography on the chosen topic that uses the Institute’s collections.

Applicants should upload their material through this webpage by 22 Feb 2019. Questions can be sent to Stacia Smith, Director of Education at Anderson House.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

What Ticked Off William Claggett

On Thursday, 13 December, the Newport Historical Society will have its annual meeting. Dr. Elaine Forman Crane will speak on “The Vintner and the Indian,” and the society staff will unveil the revamped NewportHistory.org website. That starts at 4:00 P.M. at the Colony House in Washington Square.

That Thursday evening, the society will celebrate the opening of a new exhibit titled “‘My small Ability’: The Life and Work of William Claggett,” inspired by the new book Claggett: Newport’s Illustrious Clockmaker by Donald L. Fennimore and Frank L. Hohmann III.

Claggett made clocks in Newport from 1716 until his death in 1748, and also trained other craftsmen. The exhibit features tall case clocks by Claggett and his trainees, clothing, maps, a mahogany board, and the Claggett wall clock in the society’s Seventh Day Baptist Meeting House. Also included are copperplates that Claggett engraved to print Rhode Island currency. And there are more Claggett clocks on display at the Redwood Library.

As a good New Englander, Claggett also got involved in religious disputes. The society recently ran a blog post by scholar Margaret Hanson about his 1721 book A Looking-Glass for Elder Clarke and Elder Wightman And the Church under their Care, about a controversy at the Second Baptist Church:
The trouble began when the church Elders, Daniel Wightman and James Clarke, suspended church member John Rhodes from communion following a complaint regarding his business practices. Claggett felt that Rhodes’s dismissal was unfair. In response, he and another congregant, Captain John Rogers, withdrew from communion.

This led to further disagreements: while Claggett and Rogers protested the church Elders’ decision to suspend Rhodes, others defended them and reprimanded Claggett and Rogers for withdrawing from the communion. The dispute continued over the next 21 months, as Claggett, Rogers, Rhodes, the church elders, and various other congregants argued during church meetings, in private conversations, in publications, and through written correspondence.

Recently, we discovered a folder among Second Baptist Church records in the NHS archives containing exciting materials related to the Looking-Glass dispute. The newly discovered materials include letters (both originals and manuscript copies) exchanged among the disputants in 1720 and 1721, several of which are reproduced in A Looking-Glass.

The folder also contains a booklet titled A Just Vindication (1721) which outlines the church’s defense of the elders and complaints regarding Claggett. While Claggett’s Looking-Glass does not include a full reproduction of A Just Vindication, this document was important in motivating him to write and publish his own version of the dispute. Furthermore, the final section of Claggett’s book, titled A Reply to Your Un-just Vindication, is dedicated to refuting the church’s arguments and narrative.

The folder also contains several letters written between 1723 and 1725, after the publication of Claggett’s Looking-Glass, which comment on its contents, as well as its author.
Not surprisingly, Claggett ended up leaving that church.

The exhibit opening starts at 6:30 P.M. at the society’s Resource Center, 82 Touro Street in Newport. Like the annual meeting, it is free and open to the public. Register for space here.

Monday, December 10, 2018

“He ordered powder casks to be filled with sand”

Here’s one last story of gunpowder and sand supposedly getting mixed up during the siege of Boston. It comes from the recollections of William H. Sumner (shown here), who wasn’t even born until 1780. He later became adjutant general of the Massachusetts militia, so he got to hear a lot of older men’s stories.

Sumner wrote down this account of the end of the siege about 1825, and it appeared in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1858:
In the following year, we took possession of Dorchester heights ourselves. At the time they were taken possession of, as I have received the impression from some person—whose name I do not now recollect—[Gen. George] Washington had but little ammunition. In order to conceal from the soldiers the true state of the army in that respect, he ordered powder casks to be filled with sand, and that several loads of them should be carried to the heights by the way of Roxbury, where the right wing of the army, under Gen. [John] Thomas, was posted. By this deception, the soldiers were satisfied that the army was in a condition to defend itself, notwithstanding the reports that the supply of ammunition was nearly exhausted.

After possession was taken of the heights, hogsheads were filled with earth, and so placed that they could be rolled down upon the enemy to break the columns, if they should dare attempt to march up the hill.
Again, this has no support from contemporaneous sources. Washington felt himself well supplied with powder by early 1776. Gen. Artemas Ward was overseeing the right wing of the army from Roxbury, with Thomas under him.

The Continental plan to defend their quickly built fortifications on Dorchester Heights definitely  involved barrels full of rocks, dirt, and/or sand. Washington even wrote a special note to Ward about that: “Remember [the?] Barrels.” Author and early-photography collector Joe Bauman just sent me an email quoting the aged veteran Simeon Hicks’s pension application as stating that “he assisted in filling Hogsheads & Barrels with sand to roll upon the British should they attempt to ascend.”

It’s conceivable, therefore, that some Continentals or members of the militia companies mobilized for that final push saw wagons moving barrels toward or onto the Dorchester peninsula and assumed they were full of gunpowder, only to learn later they were (to be?) filled with sand. But that’s not the same as Washington ordering barrels of sand to be trucked around to fool his own men.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Ezekiel Price: “Sand was mixt with the powder”

I don’t trust Elkanah Watson’s story of a Continental Army powderhouse stocked with barrels of sand to make the gunpowder supply look bigger than it was. And I completely discount Edward Everett Hale’s statement that Gen. George Washington was taken aback by such a subterfuge by Gen. Artemas Ward. But there was a moment during the siege of Boston when Americans worried about such a mix-up.

That moment was right after the Battle of Bunker Hill, before the provincials realized how much damage they had inflicted on the British troops. In those early days, people were looking around for someone to blame for losing the Charlestown peninsula.

Ezekiel Price was a Boston court officer and insurance broker who had taken up residence in Milton after the war broke out. He kept a diary recording lots of the gossip he picked up, including this news on Monday, 19 June 1775, two days after the battle:
Further reports relating to the unfortunate action at Charlestown,—that the Continental Army fought like lions, and mowed down the Regular Army as they approached the entrenchments, until their ammunition was expended, and until a fatal mistake (as I call it) was discovered,—that the cartridges and shot for the artillery proved wholly unfit for them, and could not be used; besides which, an opinion prevails among the Continental Army, that treachery was in some of the Continental officers. A suspicion also arises among them that sand was mixt with the powder, and that the cartridges and ball being thus sent was with design: all which creates great uneasiness in the camp.
This rumor appears to have confined the problem of sand and gunpowder just to the cartridges, or bags of powder, supplied to the New England artillery, not to the entire army’s powder supply.

There had indeed been problems with the cartridges for Capt. John Callender’s artillery company: the cartridges sent out with his cannon were too large to fit into the barrels. But once provincial soldiers broke open those cartridges, the powder inside proved quite explosive.

The next day, Price discounted all those rumors on the basis of new rumors:
Heard that the Continental Army had received a fresh supply of powder, and that they were in high spirits; . . . that all the reports of treachery were entirely without foundation, and propagated by the enemies to the cause, and weak, discontented men, and by some cowards who fled from the engagement, and formed these lies to favor their escape from danger.
Those counter-rumors might protest too much, but that would only confirm that we can’t treat all the tales Price recorded as reliable fact. Most likely, the suspicion about sand and gunpowder grew from an early attempt to explain why the provincial artillery regiment had performed so badly overall. Once more information spread, blame focused on Callender and other specific officers.

TOMORROW: One last mix of sand and gunpowder.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Hale’s “barrels of sand marked as powder”

Elkanah Watson told a nifty story about the Continental Army using barrels of sand to disguise its lack of gunpowder during the siege of Boston. Several authors in the late nineteenth century repeated the tale, despite the lack of supporting evidence.

The most interesting way that story resurfaced was in the books of the Boston chronicler Edward Everett Hale (shown here). This is from The Life of George Washington, Studied Anew (1888):
The history of those months is indeed dramatic. First of all, there comes in the terrible revelation that he [Washington] and his army were almost entirely without powder. It is said that he was silent for a long time after this revelation was made to him, and well may it have been that none of the gentlemen around him dared to break this silence.

It is not yet fully explained how the misunderstanding took place, by which he and the other officers in chief command had been deceived. It would appear that an effort had been made to conceal from the guards themselves, the small amount of powder in the storehouses. This was an effort dictated by the finest military insight and is highly creditable to [Artemas] Ward, or whoever carried it into effect. In the execution of this plan, barrels of sand marked as powder, had been delivered with the proper amount of parade, from time to time, and had been entered by the unconscious clerks in charge, as if they were the powder which they should have been. The secret was so well maintained that it deceived even those who ought not to have been deceived. And when, for his own use, Washington had an accurate statement of the amount of real powder and of the amount of sand, which he had in store, he was literally struck dumb by the revelation. He had not nine cartridges for each man in his army.
And from Memories of a Hundred Years (1902):
It is only a few years since the old stone powder-house was removed which stood, in Revolutionary days, surrounded with salt marsh, where the Cottage Farms bridge now crosses the Charles River. When General Washington was first making his rounds to the various posts of the Continental Army besieging Boston, he visited this powder-house. The day of the visit is to be found in the “American Archives.” As he came out, the officer in charge called him aside and said that he supposed he understood that the kegs of powder which they had been inspecting were filled with black sand. This had been one of the precautions of General Ward, who had deceived even his own staff as to the amount of what is called, in the letters of that time, “the essential article.” It is of this visit that the tradition is that Washington did not speak for an hour afterward.
This series started with a recent Atlantic article crediting Washington with knowingly using barrels of sand to hide his army’s gunpowder shortage from the British. Edward Everett Hale presented events the other way around, saying that the barrels of sand had confused Washington and led to that sudden shortage. (There’s a little irony in how Hale’s most famous piece of fiction appeared in The Atlantic Monthly in 1863.)

In fact, neither of Hale’s descriptions of events match the contemporaneous accounts of how Gen. Washington heard about the gunpowder shortage at a meeting with Massachusetts officials on 3 Aug 1775. Nor would it make the least sense for any commander to fill his powderhouses with barrels of sand marked as gunpowder and believed by the supply clerks to be gunpowder when there was a war on. The problem was a bureaucratic error, not a too-clever conspiracy.

TOMORROW: Contemporaneous rumors about sand and powder.

Friday, December 07, 2018

John Brown’s Gunpowder for Sale

Yesterday I quoted a story from Elkanah Watson describing a trip to Medford with gunpowder for the Continental Army during the siege of Boston.

Watson’s memoir didn’t specify a date for that mission. We know from contemporaneous sources that Gen. George Washington was confident about his army’s gunpowder supply until 3 Aug 1775. Then suddenly Massachusetts officials told him that their reports showed what gunpowder they had collected without subtracting the powder that the army had used.

Immediately after that bad news, Washington wrote to the Continental Congress and regional governments asking for more powder. He issued sharp orders that Continental soldiers should not to fire their guns unnecessarily. (He did not, however, spread rumors to British informants of having 1,800 barrels of gunpowder on hand, as biographer James T. Flexner claimed.) More powder started to arrive, enough so that by September the commander was ready to propose an attack on the British Boston.

Elkanah Watson’s employer, the Rhode Island merchant John Brown (shown here), entered this story with a letter dated 3 November:
I having a Vessel arrived at Norwich [Connecticut] from Suranam which having brought a Small Quantity of Powder Viz. Forty four Cask Containing a Half hundred Each, I thought it proper to acquaint you thereof, but I am at a loss to determin which may be best for the General Cause for it to go to the Camp or to be Sold out here, so that People in General may be better quallified to Defend the Sea Coast…
With a postscript written the next day:
Since the above, Our General Assembly has applyed for the Refusel of the Powder. and if they Give the price which will make it as Good to me as tho the money had bin Layd out in mello. Viz. 6/ per ¶ Ct, must Give them the prefference.
The response came from Stephen Moylan, the Continental mustermaster general just elevated into the role of Washington’s acting military secretary. He wrote on 8 November: “As the powder you mention to have Imported, is disposed of, I have nothing to say thereon.”

More than two weeks later, on 21 November, Brown wrote again to say he hadn’t heard back from the general. Either Moylan’s letter never arrived or Brown decided to pretend it hadn’t since he still had powder to sell after all: “This is to Offer you One Ton of good Pistol Powder at Six shillings per pound here.” That was 50% more than Washington had paid for powder from another supplier in late October.

Moylan responded:
in your Letter of the 21st you make an offer of one ton of good Pistol powder at 6/per pound The General Will take it tho it is a most exorbitant price, he is willing to encourage the importation of that necessy article.

P.S. There are two Companys orderd from your quarter to this place, Governor [Nicholas] Cooke will inform you when they march you will please to Send the powder under their Guard in a Coverd Waggon shoud they have Set out before this reaches you must get a few of the minute or militia men of your Colony to guard it to this place
Brown presumably sent that gunpowder in December. It’s conceivable that he entrusted the shipment to his teen-aged apprentice Watson, who recalled having made such a journey with “six or eight recruits.“ Indeed, an escort of militiamen, if they were indeed men, might have made Brown more comfortable sending young Watson.

However, even if this was the mission Watson described, it’s clear that he exaggerated the details in his memoir. The army’s gunpowder supply never dropped to “four rounds to a man,” even at the crisis point in August, and that crisis was well past by December. Brown offered a ton of gunpowder, not “a ton and a half.” And the merchant didn’t “immediately forward” the powder to Cambridge once his ship arrived; he played two potential customers off against each other for a couple of weeks in order to get his high asking price.

Elkanah Watson may well have delivered gunpowder to the American lines for his master. But as to whether he supervised the shipment, met the commander-in-chief at his headquarters, or learned anything about barrels of black sand in the powderhouse, I suspect some of those details were embellishments to make the memory more interesting.

TOMORROW: A myth built on top of a myth.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Elkanah Watson’s Story Built on Sand

This week The Atlantic published Amy Zegart’s article “George Washington Was a Master of Deception.”

Most of the examples are from the Revolutionary War when Washington was trying to fool the British commanders about his military capacities and plans. That was, of course, normal behavior for eighteenth-century generals, not to mention generals today. Even people who want to believe Mason Weems’s “cannot tell a lie” myth don’t begrudge Washington those untruths.

One particular example caught my eye:
After a summer of skirmishes around Boston, rebel gunpowder was nearly gone; Washington’s soldiers had enough only for nine bullets per man. To hide this potentially fatal weakness from the British while he scrambled to get supplies, Washington ordered that fake gunpowder casks be filled with sand and shipped to depots where they would be spotted by British spies.
The citation for this claim points to Elkanah Watson’s memoir Men and Times of the Revolution, published posthumously in 1856. This anecdote comes a passage in which Watson (shown above) discusses his apprenticeship to the Providence merchant John Brown:
On the 3d of July, 1775, Gen. Washington assumed the command of the forces then besieging Boston. He found an army animated with zeal and patriotism, but nearly destitute of every munition of war, and of powder in particular. Mr. Brown, anticipating the war, had instructed the captains of his vessels to freight on their return voyages with that article. At this crisis, when the army before Boston had not four rounds to a man, most fortunately one of Mr. Brown’s ships brought in a ton and a half of powder. It was immediately forwarded, under my charge, to headquarters at Cambridge. I took with me six or eight recruits to guard it.

I delivered my letter to Gen. Washington in person, and was deeply impressed with an emotion I cannot describe, in contemplating that great man, his august person, his majestic mien, his dignified and commanding deportment, the more conspicuous, perhaps, at that moment, from the fact that he was in the act of admonishing a militia colonial with some animation.

He directed a young officer to accompany me, and superintend the delivery of the powder at Mystic [Medford], two miles distant. Whilst delivering it at the powder-house, I observed to the officer, “Sir, I am happy to see so many barrels of powder here.”

He whispered a secret in my ear, with an indiscretion that marked the novice in military affairs, “These barrels are filled with sand.”

“And wherefore?” I inquired.

“To deceive the enemy,” he replied, “should any spy by chance look in.” Such was the wretched appointment of that army upon which rested the hopes of American liberty.
Like a lot of stories in Watson’s memoir, this one makes him look important. He was entrusted with ferrying a ton and a half of desperately needed gunpowder to the Continental lines. He had an audience with Gen. Washington himself (and weathered it better than that “militia colonel”). He was privy to the vital secret of the fake powder, but also wise enough to realize that telling the secret was “an indiscretion that marked the novice.” And all when he was only seventeen years old!

Then Zegart paints Washington as even more tricky than Watson did. The memoir said the powderhouse was kept full “should any spy by chance look in.” The Atlantic article says the commander knew the barrels of sand “would be spotted by British spies.”

The result is a great little story, but I haven’t found any support for Watson’s claim. Filling many barrels with sand and transporting them to powderhouses would have required a lot of people. The army would have needed a way to tell the barrels of sand apart from the barrels of genuine powder. And none of the people involved in this operation would have had any reason to keep that secret after the end of the war. Yet no one mentioned it until Watson wrote fifty years later.

TOMORROW: The contemporaneous record.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

“Likewise This Day Published”

As I reported yesterday, in February 1769 the printer Ezekiel Russell advertised the publication of Pvt. William Clarke’s play The Miser in the Boston Gazette and Boston Post-Boy.

On 6 March Russell had the Edes and Gill shop expand that ad to promote another pamphlet as well. I was amused by the juxtaposition of the two titles. The second part of the expanded notice read:
(Price Eight Pence,)
And Sold at the above Place,
ANOTHER High Road to Hell,—An ESSAY on the pernicious Nature and destructive Effects of the modern Entertainments from the PULPIT.—Occasioned by a Pamphlet, entitled, The Stage the High Road to Hell, &c.——Said to be wrote by the learned Mr. PIKE, one of the Author of the Twenty Six Cases of Conscience, and an eminient Sandemanian Speaker in LONDON. 

The Russell print shop was thus simultaneously marketing both a theatrical comedy and a pamphlet built on a denunciation of the theater as the quickest path to damnation.

You might think that Boston’s orthodox Congregationalists would have been in accord with English authors denouncing plays and “modern Entertainments from the PULPIT” since they also disliked theater and high-church Anglicanism. They certainly wouldn’t have favored Henry Flitcroft’s response to the first pamphlet, titled Theatrical Entertainments Consistent with Society, Morality, and Religion.

But the Russell shop presented The Stage the High Road to Hell as the work of the Rev. Samuel Pike, a convert to Sandemanianism. (I don’t see any bibliographers echoing that credit, so I don’t know how reliable it is.) Likewise, Another High Road to Hell is thought to have been written by another Sandemanian: John Chater, one of the first edition’s publisher who was also a former minister.

The Sandemanian sect was a recent arrival in New England. They weren’t yet seen as allies of the royal government, but the descendants of early Puritan settlers were nonetheless suspicious of their ideas. Another High Road to Hell is thus another example of the Russell print shop printing something unusual—and they advertised it in the radical Whigs’ favored newspaper.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

“A Comedy of Three Acts, Never Before Printed”

When I read the broadside seeking money to print William Clarke’s play The Miser: or, The Soldier’s Humour in 1768, I thought the (very few) published interpretations of this artifact were all wrong.

This wasn’t a sincere solicitation for a new play, I theorized. It didn’t really come from Pvt. William Clarke of the 29th Regiment. Elisha Brown didn’t print it, as many bibliographers had guessed. Instead, it was a satire using the format of a play proposal to comment on the recent Manufactory siege. In early 1770 the Boston Chronicle played the same game, running an advertisement for a tragedy called The Witches to criticize the non-importation protests roiling the town.

In the case of The Miser, I theorized, the broadside preserved some jokes that the people of Boston recognized but which are lost to us today. “The SOLDIER’S HUMOUR, A Comedy of Three Acts, As it is acted by his Majesty’s Servants,” had to refer to the actions of the king’s soldiers in town. Pvt. Clarke, named on the sheet, must have made himself notorious in some way. And the last paragraph’s reference to “ELISHA BROWN, at the Manufactory-House,” drove home the joke. After all, it was silly to think that a private soldier would be publishing a three-act comedy in Boston, selling copies through a cloth weaver whose family had just been fighting off the army.

But on 27 Feb 1769, a notice appeared in both Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette and Green and Russell’s Boston Post-Boy (this version of the text from the latter):
This Day Published,
(Price Eight Pence, covered in blue Paper,)
And sold by Ezekiel Russell, at the New Printing-
Office, a few Doors Northward of Concert-Hall,
Hanover-Street: The
Or, The
Soldier’s Humour.
Of Three Acts,
Never Before Printed:
By WILLIAM CLARKE, of the 29th Regiment.
Non possum placeto Omnibus.
Ezekiel Russell and his wife Sarah were printers who had no newspaper in pre-Revolutionary Boston but kept busy printing two other things: crowd-pleasing ballads about recent events and whatever authors or sponsors were willing to pay for. Isaiah Thomas, who worked briefly for Ezekiel Russell as a runaway apprentice in 1766, had little praise for the shop’s publications in his history of printing.

But the Russels actually issued a lot of interesting material—they were bold or desperate enough to take chances. Ezekiel Russell was the printer, though not the publisher, of the Censor magazine supporting the royal administration in the early 1770s. The Russells issued Phillis Wheatley’s first proposal for a collection of poems and James Swan’s argument to abolish slavery. They partnered with Joseph Greenleaf when he decided to go into printing. They published the disabled young almanac-maker Daniel George and the female poets Hannah Wheaton and Jenny Fenno.

And the Russells evidently published Pvt. William Clarke’s comedy, The Miser, exactly as proposed in December 1768. Clarke must have raised enough money through Elisha Brown and other people passing out his broadside proposal (no doubt printed at the Russell shop, not in the Manufactory). Maybe the customers were British military gentlemen—that seems more likely than Bostonians investing in an unproduced play by a soldier.

It’s still a mystery how Elisha Brown came to be soliciting advance orders for Clarke. I suspect an important factor is that, just as Clarke was an unusual redcoat with literary ambitions, Brown wasn’t a typical Boston craftsman. I believe the Browns were English by birth, bringing their weaving skills to Massachusetts. Elisha Brown might therefore have been more open to working with a soldier and peddling a play than the sons of Puritans.

Unfortunately, no copies of The Miser are known to have survived. That comedy wasn’t the end of Pvt. William Clarke’s literary ambitions, however, or of his adventures in Boston. It looks like he’ll play a notable role in Serena Zabin’s upcoming book Occupying Boston: An Intimate History of the Boston Massacre.

Monday, December 03, 2018

“An incitement for the Author,” Willilam Clarke

In December 1768, the same month that John Brown advertised for customers at the Manufactory as quoted yesterday, his relative Elisha Brown appeared in another plea for business.

That plea took the form of a broadside, a tattered copy of which is visible courtesy of the Library of Congress. It says:
Boston, December, 1768.

For printing by Subscription,
Or The
Of Three Acts,
As it is acted by his Majesty's Servants.

By William Clarke,
Soldier in His Majesty’s XXIXth Regiment.

Non possum placeto Omnibus.

No more Libels shall in my Works be found,
I’ll gently tickle whilst I probe the Wound.

As this new and ingenious Pamphlet was never before printed (though the Author has been often importuned to grant a Copy of the same) it is hoped it will meet with that Applause from the Publick, the Merit of the Performance so justly deserves, which will be an incitement for the Author further to gratify the Curiosity of his Readers in this Way.

The Price to Subscribers will be Eight Pence, L.M. each Book, which will be nearly printed on a good Type, and fine Paper, and will be covered with blue Paper.

Those Persons who subscribe for Six Books shall have a Seventh gratis.

Subscriptions are taken in by ELISHA BROWN, at the Manufactory-House, and by those Gentlemen who are possessed of these Proposals.
Such a proposal was a standard way of raising money to print something when the author didn’t have the funds to pay up front—basically running a Kickstarter campaign, selling copies in advance. The offer of seven for the price of six was an attempt to interest booksellers in carrying the title.

Several details made this proposal unusual, however. First, it was for publishing a play in a town that banned theater. To be sure, Bostonians read plays, and booksellers sold them. But this was said to be a new play, never before printed, and not a respectable, established drama like Addison’s Cato.

Second, the playwright was a private soldier. The name of “William Clark” appears on the rolls of Capt. Ponsonby Molesworth’s company in the 29th. Many men in that regiment couldn’t sign their own names, and William Clarke had written a three-act comedy. His notice even included a Latin motto and a quotation in verse. Now that Latin, apparently meant to say, “It’s not possible to please everyone,” wasn’t accurate Latin. And half the verse, but only half, came straight from one of John Dryden’s translations of Persius. But Clarke was clearly making a claim to be learned.

Finally, the one man named as collecting money for this endeavor was “ELISHA BROWN, at the Manufactory-House”—one of the cloth weavers who had been forcibly resisting the British army just two months before. Brown’s role was even immortalized on his tombstone in 1785. How had Clarke and Brown gone into business together like this?

In October 1923, the Massachusetts Historical Society took note of this broadside. A short article in its Proceedings titled “An Unpublished Comedy” said that nothing was known about “Clarke and his unpublished comedy. . . . No copy of the pamphlet is known and it is doubtful if the response to the ‘Proposals’ were such as to warrant its printing.”

TOMORROW: But Clarke’s play was published.