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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Saturday, January 18, 2020

Capt. Samuel Lockwood at War

Samuel Lockwood (1737–1807, gravestone shown here courtesy of Find a Grave) of Greenwich, Connecticut, became a second lieutenant in the Continental Army in April 1775.

That fall, he joined Gen. Richard Montgomery’s invasion of Canada. On 5 November Lockwood’s commanders made him an assistant engineer with the rank of captain. The Continental Congress never recognized that rank but later voted to pay Lockwood a year’s salary as an engineer.

Lt. Lockwood’s specialty was really maneuvers on the water. He reconnoitered ahead of the army by boat during the march north and helped to capture eleven Crown vessels and Gen. Richard Prescott at Sorel.

The Battle of Québec didn’t work out so well for Lockwood, however. He was wounded, captured, and not released on parole until late in 1776.

As soon as Lockwood was formally exchanged in early 1777, the Congress commissioned him as a captain in Col. John Lamb’s artillery regiment. He served two years, resigning in 1779.

Capt. Lockwood was then done with the Continental Army, but he wasn’t done with the war. He remained active in his state’s military. In 1779 he commanded an armed vessel on Long Island Sound, attacking British ships in the Oyster Bay harbor in November.

On 17 Jan 1780, Capt. Samuel Lockwood led “forty volunteers from Greenwich” alongside Capt. Samuel Keeler and an equal number of Connecticut militiamen on a raid into New York. Their target was the home in Morrisania of Lt. Col. Isaac Hetfield, Loyalist commander of the Westchester County militia.

Gen. William Heath reported to New York’s Gov. (and Gen.) George Clinton about the Lockwood and Keeler raid a few days later:
they arrived at the place a little after one the next morning, attacked the picket, killed 3 and drove the others in, march’d to the House where Hatfield was, who, with his men took to the chambers [i.e., bedrooms] and kept up a fire down stairs and out at the windows; the militia behaved with great Bravery, call’d to Hatfield to Surrender or they would Set fire to the House…
TOMORROW: The view from inside Hatfield’s house.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dublin Seminar to Look at “Living with Disabilities”

The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife has announced the subject of this year’s conference: “Living with Disabilities in New England, 1630–1930.”

The conference will be held in Deerfield, Massachusetts, on the weekend of 19-21 June 2020. The Dublin Seminar strives to be a meeting place for scholars, students, and committed avocational researchers. Professional development points are available for public school teachers who participate.

The Dublin Seminar is now accepting proposals for papers and presentations at this conference that address the history of people living with disabilities in New England and adjacent areas of New York and Canada from the seventeenth to the early twentieth centuries. The principal topic examined by this conference is how children and adults with disabilities experienced disability in everyday life.

Proposals might address the following questions:
  • How was disability defined during this period?
  • How did gender, race, and class intersect with the experience and meaning of disability?
  • What was the relationship between the law and disability?
  • How did people with disabilities interact with institutions ranging from religious organizations to state-sponsored hospitals to schools?
  • What is the history of disability within the context of military or industrial settings?
  • How did people with disabilities interact with material culture and technology, including but not limited to assistive technologies such as artificial limbs and hearing aids; clothing; landscapes and buildings; and service animals?
  • What is the relationship between medical history and disability history?
The Seminar encourages papers that reflect interdisciplinary approaches and original research, especially those based on material culture, archaeological artifacts, letters and diaries, vital records, federal and state censuses, as well as newspapers, visual culture, business records, recollections, autobiographies, and public history practice or advocacy at museums, archives, and elsewhere.

The “Living with Disabilities in New England, 1630–1930” conference will consist of approximately seventeen lectures of twenty minutes each. Selected papers will appear as the 2020 Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar to be published about eighteen months after the conference.

To submit a paper proposal for this conference, please submit (as a single email attachment, in Word or as a pdf) a one-page prospectus that describes the paper and its sources and a one-page vita or biography by 10 Mar 2020. Send proposals to dublinseminar@historic-deerfield.org.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Shays Rebellion Symposium in Springfield, 25 Jan.

On Saturday, 25 Jan 2020, the Friends of Springfield Armory National Historic Site is hosting a symposium titled “Shays Rebellion: Perspectives on History.”

This event will take place on the campus of Springfield Technical Community College, and is co-sponsored by the National Park Service and the Pioneer Valley History Network.

There will be a day of presentations and discussion about the “regulation” in western Massachusetts in 1786 and 1787, the suppression of it, and the far-reaching effects.

The event description says:
While “Shays’ Rebellion” is often seen through an elite perspective of agrarian unrest by western Massachusetts farmers in 1786 and 1787, other viewpoints saw “Regulators” and their long campaign against unjust taxes. This crisis was by no means simple. It has a complex relationship not only with the history that preceded it, but also had a profound effect on the young United States moving forward. From the French and Indian War and the American Revolution to the Constitutional Conventions; from populist resistance movements to the exercise of a powerful centralized government, we may find that Shays’ Rebellion is not simply a local story with local meanings.
Scheduled presentations include:
  • “The Final Fight at Sheffield,” Tim Abbott, Regional Conservation Director, Housatonic Valley Association
  • “Shays Kerfuffle: A People’s Perspective,” Daniel Bullen, Ph.D.
  • “Archeology of the Shays Settlement,” Stephen Butz, Shays Settlement Project
  • “Three Men in Debt,” Tom Goldscheider, farrier, David Ruggles Center 
  • “More than a Little Rebellion,” Barbara Mathews, Ph.D., Public Historian and Director of Academic Programs, Historic Deerfield
  • “The Contested Meanings of ‘Shays Rebellion Day’ 1986,” Adam Tomasi, Northeastern University
Each bank of speakers will be followed by panel discussions and question and answer sessions.

The symposium will be held in the first-floor auditorium of Scibelli Hall (Building 2) at Springfield Technical Community College, One Armory Square in Springfield. That’s near the site of the largest clash of the uprising, where the Shaysites clashed with Massachusetts militia on 25 Jan 1787.

Presentations will begin at 9:00 A.M. with doors opening half an hour earlier. The program is scheduled to end at 4:00 P.M. Admission is $6 per seat, and box lunches are available for $10. Food options nearby are limited, so attendees should either order a box lunch or bring their own. In case of very bad weather, the event will be postponed to Sunday, 26 January.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Legends of Sandy Flash Drive

The Philadelphia Inquirer just published an article about how two roads in the region—in areas where I’ve traveled, in fact—are named after a Revolutionary turncoat and highwayman.

This circumstance raises interesting questions about how we remember the past with public names and monuments.

Here’s a link to Rosemary S. Warden’s article “‘The Infamous Fitch’: The Tory Bandit, James Fitzpatrick of Chester County.”

James Fitzpatrick served with the Continental forces in 1775 and 1776, but then resisted further militia call-ups. In late 1777 he threw in with the British, serving as a scout around the time of the Battle of Brandywine and the seizure of Philadelphia.

For the next year, Fitzpatrick fought for himself as “Captain Fitz,” head of a band of highwaymen who targeted Whig officials, particularly tax collectors and militia officers. Chester County was a no-man’s land during the British occupation of the capital.

When Gen. William Howe withdrew to New York City in the summer of 1778, however, Fitzpatrick lost his refuge. He was captured in August, tried in September, and hanged—though not without special effort by the executioner.

Stories about Fitzpatrick grew into legends in the nineteenth century. In 1866 the novelist Bayard Taylor wrote The Story of Kennett based on those tales. Taylor called his recurring highwayman character “Sandy Flash.” In the romantic and credulous style of the Colonial Revival, the fictional tales of Sandy Flash soon became amalgamated with the real history of James Fitzpatrick.

Fitzpatrick’s crimes (and his treachery, when seen from an American point of view) thus became part of the exciting tableau of the American Revolution. Authors treated him as a Robin Hood, as an example of gallant bravado. There were rumors he’d left behind buried treasure. His story was deemed suitable for children’s literature.

As reporter Joseph A. Gambardello writes, in 1972 Pennsylvania laid out Ridley Creek State Park (which includes the Colonial Pennsylvania Plantation, a living-history museum, shown above) just in time for the Bicentennial. The state chose to name a main artery in the park after a man hanged for being a traitor to the state—Sandy Flash Drive. Later a new development in Kennett Square got streets named after Taylor’s characters, including another Sandy Flash Drive.

The issue of historical place names never fully goes away, but we’re at a moment of extra attention to those things. Do they always honor the people whose names they preserve? Do those people always deserve that honor? Here’s an example where the real figure, entwined with a fictional character and legends that might or might not be real, wouldn’t seem to merit official esteem.

But James Fitzpatrick’s history isn’t touching raw nerves—southeastern Pennsylvania isn’t being plagued by highwaymen. It may help that both Fitzpatrick and Sandy Flash were punished, providing a satisfyingly moral end to his tale. Still, we might ask why we like to overlook some historical figures’ misdeeds yet celebrate others.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The First David Center Research Fellowships

As discussed back here, the David Library of the American Revolution closed its facility in Washington’s Crossing, Pennsylvania, last year and merged with the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

This week the new David Center for the American Revolution at the A.P.S. invited applications for its inaugural short-term resident research fellowships. The announcement says:
David Center Fellowships continue the 30-year tradition of the David Library awarding over 200 fellowships to scholars who have gone on to write hundreds of dissertations, academic articles, academic papers and books, and to teach at major institutions of higher learning worldwide, about the American Revolution and Founding Era. These funding opportunities provide one month of support for researchers in residence and are open to scholars in all fields who show a demonstrated need to use the collections for their project.

The David Center for the American Revolution integrates the rich manuscript, microfilm, and print collections of the David Library with the Early American history collections of the APS to create a one-stop-shop for the study of the American Revolution. . . . Comprehensive, searchable guides and finding aids to these collections are available online at www.amphilsoc.org/library and http://amphilsoc.pastperfectonline.com/.

Successful applicants are awarded a stipend of $3,000. The stipend is paid after the awardee arrives at the APS Library & Museum to begin their fellowship. The purpose of the stipend is to defray the costs of working in Philadelphia. Awards are taxable income, but the Society is not required to report payments. It is understood that recipients will discuss their reporting obligations with their tax advisors.

Fellowships may be taken starting any day no earlier than June 1, 2020 and must be completed by May 31, 2021. Fellows are required to be in residence for four consecutive weeks. Fellows do not have to decide on the dates of their fellowship right away; they have one year to decide, although most take their fellowships during the summer period.
Researchers who have already applied for an A.P.S. Library & Museum Short-Term Resident Research Fellowship will be automatically considered.

Applicants may be:
  • Holders of the Ph.D. or its equivalent.
  • Ph.D. candidates who have passed their preliminary examinations and are working on their dissertation research.
  • Degreed independent scholars (without current academic affiliation).
  • U.S. citizens or foreign nationals.
Candidates who live 75 or more miles from Philadelphia receive some preference.

All Applicants must submit:
  • A cover letter.
  • Curriculum vitae.
  • A research proposal (2 pages double-spaced) that outlines the status of your work and what you will research at the American Philosophical Society Library & Museum. Special attention must be made to specific collections that will be of use during your fellowship.
  • Two confidential letters of reference.
The application deadline is 6 Mar 2020. Notifications will be sent in April.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Glimpses of Early Blandford

As long as we’re out in Blandford with Henry Knox, we might as well enjoy the town’s eighteenth-century history.

Most of the first British settlers in the area were Scotch-Irish, moving west in a bunch from Hopkinton in 1736. They named their new community “Glasgow” or “New Glasgow.” The town’s first meetinghouse was Presbyterian rather than New England Congregationalist.

However, when the Massachusetts government formally incorporated the town in 1741, the new governor, William Shirley, insisted on naming it after the ship that he had just arrived on—the Blandford. Reportedly he had leverage because the town proprietors had claimed more land than they were entitled to, so they needed the governor’s approval more than the inhabitants’.

The name “Glasgow” survived in a few geographic names such as the “Glasgow or Westfield Mountain” that Knox referred to in his diary. The town reportedly lost a church bell that the city of Glasgow, Scotland, had promised if it kept its original name.

Blandford was on the Massachusetts frontier, thus at risk from the French and their Native allies. During 1749, almost every household fled to other towns for safety. In 1755, as war loomed again, the town petitioned the Massachusetts General Court for a swivel gun, a type of small cannon. It was stored at the house of the Rev. James Morton.

The town straddled one of the few roads through the Berkshire Mountains, so it saw a lot of traffic. In 1762 a tavern keeper named Joseph Clark petitioned the legislature to be forgiven for selling alcohol without paying the excise tax. His excuse:
That in the Year 1760 He purchased a licensed House and purchased a barrel of Rum, but being sick in August when he should have applied for a license, and his House lying in the Road used by Soldiers sold the same, out to them: and he boght the said Rum of a Retailer who had paid the Duties of excise thereon—
The Massachusetts House bought that argument. The Council disagreed.

Blandford grew quickly after the Revolutionary War. Growth brought change, as preserved in this family anecdote from local historian William H. Gibbs. He said that around 1791 Isaac Gibbs (1744-1823)
brought into town the first single wagon used here. The neighbors regarded it as a curiosity, and their horses as he drove to church the first Sabbath, being affrighted, fled with as much precipitation as they do in our own day at the sight of the steam engine. It was a matter so strange to the people, that they actually proposed to call a town meeting to prohibit the use of wagons.
But the problems of growth didn’t last long. In the 1800 U.S. Census, Blandford had a population of 1,778—the largest the town ever was.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Henry Knox “after about three hours perseverance”

Here’s a link to the podcast recording of my conversation with Bradley Jay of WBZ last month about Col. Henry Knox and his mission to Lake Champlain to obtain more cannon for the Continental siege lines.

And here’s a timely question about Knox: Was 12 Jan 1776 the last day that he kept his diary of his mission to bring back cannon from the Lake Champlain forts?

The diary pages are visible on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website. The last entries (pages 24-26) show Knox dealing with the Berkshire Mountains:
10th [January] reach’d [No 1,?] after have Climb’d mountains from which we might almost have seen all the Kingdoms of the Earth —

11th [January] went 12 miles thro’ the Green Woods to Blanford

It appear’d to me almost a miracle that people with heavy loads should be able to get up & down such Hills as Are here with any thing of heavy loads —

11th at Blanford we overtook the first division who had tarried here untill we came up—and refus’d going any further On accott that there were no snow beyond five or six miles further in which space there was the tremendous Glasgow or Westfield mountain to go down—but after about three hours perseverance & hiring two teams of oxen—they agreed to go
On the next page are a couple of receipts, the second apparently about those “two teams of oxen” that Knox hired:
Blanford Jany. 13. 1776—
Recd of Henry Knox eighteen shillings Lawful money for Carrying a Cannon weighing 24.3 p from this Town to Westfield being 11 Miles —

Solomon Brown
It looks to me like Knox arrived in Blandford on the 11th, catching up with men and horses he’d sent ahead. That evening or the 12th, he learned that those teamsters didn’t want to proceed because the lack of snow on the ground meant the road would be rough. In addition, they faced the steep slopes now in the town of Russell.

Knox overcame that problem with “three hours” of arguing plus two ox teams from Solomon Brown (1737-1786), a war veteran and a committee member for Blandford. Brown’s gravestone appears here at Find a Grave. I’m guessing that took place on 12 January, Knox remained in Blandford awaiting another set of men, and Brown returned to sign the receipt on 13 January.

And there are no more dated entries in that notebook.

TOMORROW: Blandford in the eighteenth century.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

When Boston Cracked Down on Drivers

On 11 Jan 1775, the selectmen of Boston sent an order to the Constables of the Town Watch to do what they could to curb “the driving of Slays thro’ the Town, with beat of Drum & other Noises at unseasonable times of the Night.”

That same meeting produced this order:
The following Advertisement was sent to Mr. [Isaiah] Thomas for a place in their Paper — vizt. —

Complaints have been made to the Selectmen that numbers of the Inhabitants have been greatly disturbed by the driving of Slays thro’ the Town, with the beat of Drums & other noises, at unseasonable Times of the Night; To prevent such Disorders for the future, Orders have been given the Constables of the Town Watch to stop such offenders and make Report of their Names, that they may be dealt with as the Law directs.

By Order of the Selectmen
William Cooper Town Clerk
Boston Jany. 11. 1775.
I don’t think that first line is an example of “their” taking a singular antecedent. Rather, Cooper was used to writing such orders for Edes and Gill, who had been the town’s preferred printers for many years. But in these months they were giving business to Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy.

So far as I can tell, the selectmen’s notice didn’t appear in the Spy. Instead, on 12 January Thomas reprinted the town’s traffic by-laws, as Edes and Gill had already done in the 9 January Boston Gazette. Here’s the text of those laws, as confirmed in 1757:
4. And it is further Ordered that henceforth no Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, drawn by either Horse or Horses, Horse & Oxen shall be suffered to pass through any of the Streets and Lanes of this Town but with a sufficient Driver, who shall during such Passage keep with his said Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, and carefully observe & attend such Methods as may best Serve to keep said Horse or Horses or Oxen under Command, and shall have the Thill-horse by the head; and whatsoever Carter or others undertaking to drive any Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, shall during such passing through the Streets and Lanes as aforesaid either ride in said Cart Dray Trucks or Sled, or otherwise neglect to observe and attend the Rules prescribed in this Order, such Carter Driver or Owner of such Cart Dray Trucks or Sled shall forfeit and pay the Sum of eight shillings for every such Offence.

5. And it is further Ordered that no Slay shall be drove in the Streets of this Town without Bells fastned to the Horses that draw the same, and whoever shall offend herein shall forfeit the Sum of ten shillings for every Offence. Great Dangers arising oftentimes from Coaches Slays Chairs and other Carriages on the Lord’s days as the People are going to or coming from the several Churches in this Town, being driven with great Rapidity, and the Public Worship being oftentimes much disturbed by such Carriages driving by the sides of the Churches with great force in time thereof.

6. It is therefore Voted and Ordered that no Coach Slay Chair Chaise or other Carriage shall at such time be driven at a greater rate than a foot pace, on Penalty of the Sum of ten shillings, to be paid by the Person driving, or if he be a Servant or Slave by his master or Mistress. . . .

9. And it is further Ordered that no Person whatsoever shall at any time hereafter Ride or drive a Gallop or other swift Pace within any of the Streets Lanes or Alleys of this Town, on Penalty of forfeiting the Sum of five shillings for every such Offence.
Was all this interest in traffic a response to the sailors’ procession with a plow on 6 January? Or perhaps the target was rowdy British army officers riding in and out of town. Either way, the “beat of Drum” shows that the selectmen saw a different type of nuisance from what their predecessors had dealt with.

Friday, January 10, 2020

“The notion of Vampyres” in Early America

The 1784 Connecticut Courant report about Isaac Johnson having the bodies of his children dug up, hoping to save other members of his family from consumption, didn’t use the word “vampire.”

Two years before, the Connecticut poet John Trumbull had used that word in the fourth canto of M’Fingal while discussing British prison commissary Joshua Loring:
Aloft the mighty Loring stood,
And thriv’d like Vampyre on their blood.
But Trumbull also included a footnoted explanation for his readers:
The notion of Vampyres is a superstition, that has greatly prevailed in many parts of Europe. They pretend it is a dead body, which rises out of its grave in the night, and sucks the blood of the living.
Clearly the concept of vampires wasn’t yet common knowledge for Americans, even those who read satirical poetry.

The word “vampire” appeared more often in American newspapers during the following decades. One source was European literature. In 1786, for example, the French author Louis-Sébastien Mercier published a collection titled Mon Bonnet de nuit, soon translated into English as The Nightcap.

On 24 Nov 1787 the Pennsylvania Evening-Post published one piece by Mercier called “Opulence: A Vision.” Its narrator described obtaining the philosopher’s stone, which leads to wealth and a pretty young wife. Then, when everything seems to be going well—
a crowd of Vampires entered the room, and began to unfurnish my apartment. In vain did I make signs to them to desist; they carried every thing away, making many low bows. . . .

Then I turned to my dearly beloved, and, in the effusion of my soul, said to her, “The Vampires have stripped me of all I had; but still I have thee.” She wept—I thought it proceeded from tenderness; but my wife so mild, so open, sprang from my arms, ran over the apartment with the looks and gesture of a fury, and, seeing it was stript, seized on a purse the Vampires had forgot in one of my waistcoat pockets, came to me, and, applying a vigorous stroke to my cheek, disappeared.

Stunned with this scene, I got up in bed, in order to run after my wife, for I loved her. I had grown fat from living well; but a little Vampire, thinner still than the others, sprang upon me, and began to suck me alive. He swelled on my body as I grew lank; he dried me up from head to foot, gorging himself with my blood, and I became so light, that the wind carried me off my magnificent bed with rich curtains through the window.
(Spoiler: It was all a dream.)

American newspapers also printed extracts from Dr. Erasmus Darwin’s Botanic Garden (composed 1789-1793), which made a poetic hero of Benjamin Franklin and included such lines as this:
So, born on sounding pinions to the West,
When Tyrant-Power had built his eagle nest;
While from his eyry shriek’d the famish’d brood,
Clenched their sharp claws, and champ’d their beaks for blood,
Immortal FRANKLIN watch’d the callow crew,
And stabb’d the struggling Vampires, ere they flew.
Darwin used vampires, sucking blood from innocents, as a political metaphor. American authors couldn’t resist doing the same:
  • Joel Barlow: “Courts and Kings, / These are the vampires nurs’d on nature’s spoils” (Gazette of the United States, 14 July 1792)
  • “The Versifier”: “You’ll foil that Treasury Vampire who from spite, / Sucks from our coin its blood night after night” (Connecticut Courant, 4 Feb 1793)
The word appeared in prose as well, such as this line from the 7 Mar 1800 Salem Gazette: “AMERICANS—Will you permit a few Democratic Vampires, which infect the United States, to lull you into a state of slumbering security, that they may suck the dearest blood of your country?”

In fact, one of the earliest uses of ”vampires” as a political metaphor in English had a link to the American Revolution. It appeared during debate over how Parliament should respond to the Boston Tea Party in April 1774, as reported in London newspapers and eventually the 9 June 1774 Massachusetts Spy:
Mr. [Edmund] Burke rose to explain, that he did not mean to cast the least slur upon the character of Mr. [George] Grenville; and concluded with saying, he would not raise the bodies of the dead, to make them vampires to suck out the virtues of the living.
That line isn’t as well remembered as the two-hour speech Burke had given earlier that day, usually titled “On American Taxation.” But it shows how the idea of vampires had penetrated British culture on its way to America.

Of course, poets and propagandists could write about vampires without believing that they actually existed. And New England farmers didn’t need to know the word “vampire” to hold out hope that digging up bodies and burning those that seemed too well preserved might cure the dying. But as the word became more common in the 1800s, the belief might have spread along with it.

Thursday, January 09, 2020

America’s First Vampire Investigators

The Connecticut Courant article I quoted yesterday named three men in addition to Isaac Johnson, the paterfamilias so distraught by tuberculosis in his family that he had two of his children’s bodies dug up in 1784.

One was the man who wrote the article for the newspaper, attesting to what he saw. Moses Holmes (1727-1811?) was an important figure in Willington, Connecticut. He deeded to the town some of the land that became the common. Holmes held multiple public offices and had represented the town in the Connecticut state legislature starting in 1776.

Holmes mentioned two doctors who examined the remains of the corpses: “Doctors Grant and West.” I set out to identify those men and found them on the list of men who founded the Connecticut Medical Society in 1792.

One impetus for chartering such medical organizations was to differentiate their members from “quacks” (though, given the state of eighteenth-century medicine, I’m not sure quacks were necessarily worse for patients than establishment doctors). Holmes’s letter likewise complained about a “Quack Doctor.”

The first of the two doctors at the exhumation was Miner (or Minor) Grant (1756-1828) of Willington. He appears to have been more of an apothecary than a surgeon, and is remembered for the shops he ran. The one in Willington, built in 1797, is now a private residence near the center of the town. Another he built for his son in Stafford in 1802 has been moved to Old Sturbridge Village—which means that outdoor museum can say it owns a building constructed for one of America’s first vampire investigators.

The other doctor was Jeremiah West (1753-1806, gravestone shown above) of Tolland, the larger town to the west of Willington. West graduated from Yale College in 1777, served as a Continental Army surgeon during the Revolutionary War, might have taken a little more training in Boston, and settled in Tolland shortly before the exhumations.

J. R. Cole’s 1888 History of Tolland County quoted an unidentified source saying:
In stature, Dr. West was full six feet, with a large and well proportioned frame. He became exceedingly corpulent during the latter part of his life, and is represented as being unusually large and heavy. Tradition says that he weighed about three hundred and fifty pounds, and that his step as he walked seemed to shake the ground. In social life he was cheerful, humorous and pleasant.
All three of these men—Holmes, Grant, and West—were politically active. In fact, they would all serve in the Connecticut house in 1786, a couple of years after the exhumation. Dr. West later participated in the Connecticut ratifying convention for the U.S. Constitution.

Thus, when Dr. Miner Grant and Dr. Jeremiah West came to witness the exhumation of the Johnson children, and Moses Holmes added his own observations about their graves and reported all that to the Courant in New Haven, that was the Willington authorities assembling to make a strong statement about the idea of vampirism. They didn’t like it. They wanted to stamp out that false belief before it spread.

But we know that didn’t work. There are scores of reports of similar exhumations from New England in the nineteenth century, with a bit of archeological evidence as well. At the S.H.E.A.R. panel I attended last summer, Michael Bell theorized that the persistence of that practice despite legal and print hostility means it was periodically reinvigorated with new believers from Europe. But we can trace the roots of the belief in America back to right after the Revolutionary War.

TOMORROW: Vampire vocabulary.