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, October 16, 2021

I Am This Place at Old South This Month

Starting today, the Old South Meeting House will host eight performances of a new play inspired by Crispus Attucks.

Written by Miranda ADEkoje and directed by Pascale Florestal, I Am This Place imagines nine characters, played by actors Maria Hendricks and Dominic Carter, representing Attucks’s parents and ancestors through a century of life in colonial New England.

The contemporaneous record of 1770 has left us very little information about Attucks. In 1860 the abolitionist and historian William Cooper Nell shared a letter about the Attucks family from an unnamed correspondent in Natick, identifying his parents as Jacob Peter Attucks and Nanny.

Later authors linked, however, Attucks to Prince Yongey and Nancy Peterattucks instead, though the dates of their marriage don’t match his reported age.

It’s clear from how people of 1770 described him that Attucks had both Native American and African ancestors. In recent years scholars and genealogists have done a lot of work on how people from those backgrounds, under various pressures from British colonists, formed communities in New England. In other words, Attucks’s heritage was by no means unusual in his time, especially in the area of Natick and Framingham.

I Am This Place creates fictional individuals to explore the lives of black and indigenous people living through wars, slavery, epidemics, religious revival, and other changes in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Massachusetts. It also, director Florestal says, shifts Attucks’s own “narrative from martyr to a man with hopes, dreams, ambition and most importantly family.”

Hendricks and Carter will perform I Am This Place at 11:30 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. this weekend and next for anyone visiting Old South. I expect there might be more performances scheduled in the future if the play gets a good reception.

Revolutionary Spaces plans more public art productions like this “to bring people together to reimagine what it means to be a part of America’s Revolutionary story.” Here’s the recording of a panel discussion last fall featuring playwright ADEkoje, Patrick Gabridge of producer Plays in Place, and others on the challenges and rewards of creating such site-specific drama.

Friday, October 15, 2021

From William Fitzmaurice to the Marquess of Lansdowne

William Fitzmaurice was born in Dublin in 1737 and grew up in rural southern Ireland. His parents were from aristocratic families, though neither had titles. William’s father John was a grandson of the Earl of Kerry through a younger son, and his mother Anne was daughter of a knight and brother of the first Earl of Shelburne.

Both those titles—Earl of Kerry and Earl of Shelburne—were in the Irish peerage. The men holding them were entitled to seats in the Irish House of Lords but not the British House of Lords, which covered England, Wales, and Scotland. Even though people in Great Britain addressed Irish peers by their noble titles, they were technically not British lords. I get the sense that British lords could look down on them a bit, but British commoners were supposed to look up.

In 1743, the year William turned six, his father John Fitzmaurice won a seat in the Irish House of Commons, which he held for the next eight years. At that point, in 1751, the status of the family began to change.

First, William’s uncle the Earl of Shelburne died, leaving his extensive property to John Fitzmaurice on the condition that he adopt his wife’s family name, Petty. John Fitzmaurice accepted the name John Petty Fitzmaurice, in later generations hyphenated as Petty-Fitzmaurice to make the alphabetization easier to remember.

Thus, in 1751 William Fitzmaurice, now in his teens, became William Petty Fitzmaurice.

Later in 1751, the Crown granted John Petty Fitzmaurice two noble titles: Viscount Fitzmaurice and Baron Dunkerton. It was very common for a peer to have subsidiary titles under his main one, moving down the ladder of peerages (duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron). Those titles for John Petty Fitzmaurice came in the Irish peerage, and the new viscount became a member of the Irish House of Lords.

Furthermore, in the British aristocratic system, the eldest son and heir of a peer is by courtesy addressed by his father’s second-highest noble title. Thus, in late 1751 William Petty Fitzmaurice became Lord Dunkerton.

In 1753 the Crown gave Viscount Fitzmaurice a promotion within the Irish peerage by recreating his late brother-in-law’s title of Earl of Shelburne for him. He was thenceforth addressed as Lord Shelburne.

That meant that in 1753 young Lord Dunkerton gained the courtesy title of Lord Fitzmaurice. That’s how he was addressed when he went off to Oxford University two years later.

As I said before, the Earl of Shelburne wasn’t entitled to a seat in Great Britain’s House of Lords because he was an Irish peer. Likewise, Lord Fitzmaurice, despite being able to use that courtesy title, wasn’t a British peer. As such, they could stand for seats in the British House of Commons. And that’s what Lord Shelburne did in 1754, winning a seat he held until 1760.

In that year, the Crown gave the Earl of Shelburne a title within the British peerage: Baron of (Chipping) Wycombe. That moved him out of the British House of Commons into the British House of Lords. People continued to call him Lord Shelburne because, even though the British peerage was more powerful than the Irish peerage, an earldom was more prestigious than a barony.

As for Lord Fitzmaurice, after his years at college he joined the British army and served under Gen. James Wolfe in the 20th Regiment of Foot. He saw action at Rochefort, Minden, and Kloster-Kampen. Good service and noble background allowed Fitzmaurice to become a military aide-de-camp to King George III in 1760, with the rank of colonel. Within the army he was thus Col. Fitzmaurice. (This rank was controversial since more senior officers were passed over, but it stuck. Furthermore, even though the man stopped being active in the army, he was by protocol promoted to major general in 1765, lieutenant general in 1772, and general in 1783.)

Also in 1760, Lord Fitzmaurice stood for his father’s seat in the British House of Commons and won. The next year he was elected to the Irish House of Commons representing County Kerry. But before he could take those seats, the situation changed again.

In 1761 the Earl of Shelburne died. Lord Fitzmaurice became the Earl of Shelburne within the Irish peerage and Baron Wycombe within the British peerage. He was no longer eligible to serve in either country’s House of Commons. (His successor in Britain was Col. Isaac Barré, a political protégé and fellow veteran of Gen. Wolfe’s regiment.)

It was as the Earl of Shelburne that the former Lord Fitzmaurice, former Lord Dunkerton, former William Petty Fitzmaurice, born William Fitzmaurice, became a player in British-American politics. Prime Minister George Grenville appointed him First Lord of Trade in 1763, but Shelburne decided to ally with William Pitt and resigned a few months later. When the Marquess of Rockingham and Pitt (now Earl of Chatham) formed a government in 1766, Shelburne became Southern Secretary, but was pushed out after two years.

After 1775, Shelburne sided with Chatham, Rockingham, Barré, and others in opposing Lord North’s war policies. (Lord North was in the House of Commons, not the House of Lords, because his courtesy title came from being son and heir of the Earl of Guilford.) When news of the defeat at Yorktown arrived, Lord North’s ministry fell and was replaced with a government led by the Marquess of Rockingham. Shelburne was named one of two Secretaries of State—the first Home Secretary, in fact.

Then Rockingham died after only a few months, and the Earl of Shelburne became Prime Minister in July 1782. He and his envoys handled most of the negotiations with France, Spain, and the U.S. of A. to create the Treaties of Paris. However, before those documents were signed, Shelburne’s coalition fell because of internal wrangling. Rockingham’s other Secretary of State, Charles James Fox, made an alliance of convenience with Lord North to oust Shelburne in April 1783.

The next year, young William Pitt the Younger took over the Prime Minister’s office. Rather than bring his father’s old ally Shelburne back into government, he arranged for the man to gain a British peerage higher than his Irish one: Marquess of Lansdowne. That was the former William Fitzmaurice’s main title from 1784 until his death in 1805.

The marquess stayed out of politics, but he did do something significant in American culture: he commissioned Gilbert Stuart to create a full-length portrait of George Washington. Stuart delivered that picture in 1796. The artist also produced copies of what became known as the “Lansdowne portrait,” including one hung in the White House since 1800. The marquess’s descendants sold the original to the U.S. National Portrait Gallery in 2001 for $20 million.

The seed for this posting was my realization that mentions of Lord Shelburne and Lord Lansdowne in the late 1700s referred to the same man. I started to wonder whether his name and status had changed at other times in his life. I had no idea how complicated the answer would be.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Tilly Merrick, at Home and Abroad

Yesterday’s posting introduced Tilly Merrick (1755-1836), who grew up in Concord before the Revolutionary War and died in that town decades later, telling stories about the Revolution.

In between those periods, however, Merrick had a farflung business career.

When the war began, Merrick was home, working as a schoolteacher, drilling with the militia, and earning his master’s degree from Harvard.

His widowed mother Mary’s second husband, Duncan Ingraham, was considered a Tory, but he grudgingly cooperated with the rebel government after the war began.

Merrick went to work for a mercantile firm whose partners included his stepbrother Duncan Ingraham, Jr. (1752-1802). That meant traveling to Europe. The first sign of this appears to be an entry in Benjamin Franklin’s diary for 17 Feb 1779: “Gave a Pass to Mr Tilly Merrick, going to Nantes.”

He next pops up in the diary of John Adams for 21 May, during a long voyage home to Boston after his first, truncated diplomatic mission: “Mr. Ingraham and Mr. Merrick dined with me, in the Cabbin.”

In his later years, Merrick left his Concord neighbors with the impression that he was actually part of Adams’s staff: “During the Revolutionary War, Mr Merrick was connected with the embassy of John Adams to France and Holland, as an attaché, and was secretary while abroad…,” wrote a town chronicler.

In fact, that one dinner was the only time Adams mentioned him. As the author of Merrick’s entry in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates wrote in a footnote: “It is troubling that his name does not appear in the published correspondence of any of the era’s principal diplomats.”

On 18 Jan 1781 Adams was in Amsterdam on his longer and more successful mission. He wrote to the Massachusetts Board of War:
There are three Gentlemen, in the Mercantile Way, Mr. [Charles] Sigourney, Mr. Ingraham and Mr. [Henry] Bromfield, who are now in this City, and propose to reside here and establish a mercantile House. These Gentlemen are very well known in the Massachusetts, and therefore it is unnecessary for me to Say any Thing concerning their Characters.
These partners helped Adams find quarters, shipped supplies to his wife, and showed up often on social occasions in his diary.

In May 1781 Tilly Merrick arrived in Amsterdam as well to continue working for his stepbrother. He wrote back to a friend, Nathan Bond:
It was your opinion & that of many others in Boston, that it was impracticable for any stranger to do business here, & that it was confined to those who were brought up & fix’d in the business of the Country, & that an effort of settling here would be fruitless on act. of the Combination of the Merchants. . . . I would say that a person who can do business any where & understand the principles of Trade, can do business here. . . . The difficulties, common to a stranger in a place, have been combatted, & are removed.
From that period on, Merrick’s work is well documented in his own papers, now at the Concord library. Richard Lowitt studied them for an Atlantic Studies article titled “Tilly Merrick, Merchant in a Turbulent Atlantic World.”

Soon Merrick was trading on his own account, investing in any number of goods: cloth, Bibles, beaver hats, pen knives, tableware, hinges… Bond wrote back: “You will please in Future to examine more perfectly the goods you put up. I think that every Invoice as yet has had its errors.”

Throughout 1782 Merrick followed the peace negotiations between Britain, France, and the U.S. of A. closely, looking for business advantages. When the war finally did come to a close, he sailed for America—but not for Boston. Instead, Merrick decided to set himself up at some port in the south in partnership with another American named Isaac Course and use the commercial contacts he’d built up.

By summer 1783 Merrick was in Charleston, South Carolina (map shown above). Massachusetts governor John Hancock sent a certificate of his good standing. Soon the partnership was trading with Bond in Boston; Ingraham in Amsterdam and then Hudson, New York; Sigourney in Hartford, Connecticut; Bromfield in Bordeaux; his brother Augustus in North Carolina; and so on. In 1787 Mary Ingraham wrote from Concord, “Dear Child, I think you have for Got you have a Mother.”

Over the next decade Merrick did business in lots of goods, including enslaved Africans. He was successful enough to buy his own slave-labor plantation outside of Charleston. In lean times, however, he considered moving to another port, and even tried out Philadelphia in 1792. Since Pennsylvania had laws limiting slavery, that would have meant quite a change.

Back in Charlestown by 1795, Merrick co-signed $40,000 worth of notes for another merchant. That man went bankrupt in 1797, and Merrick had to liquidate his property. Around the same time, his younger brother John died, leaving him land in Concord. After nearly twenty years away, Tilly Merrick chose to return to his home town.

In midlife, Merrick shifted to a different lifestyle. No longer interested in global trade, he opened a country store and then paid little attention to profiting. Having been a bachelor into his forties, he married his cousin Sarah Minot on Christmas Day in 1798 and started a family. He became active in local civic organizations and represented Concord in the Massachusetts General Court four times between 1809 and 1816, siding with the Federalists.

And, of course, Tilly Merrick told stories about the first day of the Revolutionary War.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

“Many were the disputes” with Duncan Ingraham

As part of my ongoing investigation of the cannon in Concord in April 1775, I’ve been gathering information about the merchant Duncan Ingraham, a recent arrival in the town.

Ingraham had made his fortune in business in Boston, then married the widow Mary Merrick and moved into her house in Concord. (A detail of her gravestone appears here.)

Back in Boston, Ingraham had left four iron cannon in his stable. His sold them to the aggressive Patriot William Molineux in early October 1774 without Ingraham’s approval. A few months later, two of those guns were brought out to Concord to be mounted on carriages.

By that time, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson had made Ingraham a justice of the peace for Middlesex County. His neighbors suspected him of supporting the Crown. Indeed, as related by George M. Brooks in Memoirs of Members of the Social Circle in Concord (1888), Ingraham’s stepson Tilly Merrick (1755-1836) recalled arguing over politics: “many were the disputes on the issues of the day with his Tory father-in-law [i.e., stepfather].”

Merrick even described Ingraham welcoming British army officers into his wife’s home on the fateful 19th of April in 1775. The Ingraham/Merrick family lived at the corner of what became Main and Sudbury Streets, with a house, store, warehouse, and other outbuildings.

According to Merrick, when the British column arrived in Concord on 19 April, Maj. John Pitcairn called on Ingraham, leading to this anecdote:
During his call, the major went out of the back door of the house, and seeing one of Mr. Ingraham’s negroes standing by the large pear-tree in the rear of the house, with his hands behind him, commenced on him, as he did on the rebels at Lexington Common a few hours previously, by pointing a pistol at his head, and, in a loud tone of voice, ordering him to give up his arms; but as the unfortunate bondsman replied to order by holding up both his hands over his head, and saying, “Dem is all the arms I have, massa,” the serious consequence of the Lexington order was not repeated in Mrs. Ingraham’s back yard.

At this moment the report of the firing at the North Bridge was heard, and the major precipitately left, having more important business to attend to the remainder of the day than making social calls and bullying half-scared negroes.
For nineteenth-century audiences, this was mainly an entertaining story that bridged two genres: arrogant British officer thwarted and black slave too stupid (or too sly?) to answer a question correctly. Quite early Pitcairn became the subject of stories about British officers getting their comeuppance, even when the evidence points to other men. Need this anecdote have much basis in fact?

Examined against the background of the secret activities in Concord that spring, Pitcairn’s questioning might take on more significance. James Barrett was collecting cannon, gunpowder, and other military supplies for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Barrett’s family and some of his Concord neighbors were helping in that effort.

At the same time, someone in Concord was sending Gen. Thomas Gage secret notes detailing where those supplies were being hidden around the town. In March 1775 Gage dispatched two army officers in disguise, Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere, to Concord to confirm that information. The intelligence that Gage gathered guided his orders to Lt. Col. Francis Smith and Maj. Pitcairn about searching the town.

Because of Ingraham’s political leaning, personal interest in provincial artillery pieces, and genteel standing (Gage’s first intelligence reports from Concord arrived in French), he’s a leading suspect to be the Concord spy.

It might make sense, therefore, for Pitcairn to visit Ingraham on arriving in Concord and collect up-to-the-minute information on where his neighbors were holding the provincial weapons.

Or does it? Going to Ingraham’s house while the whole town was watching would make the neighbors even more suspicious about the squire than they already were. And if Ingraham was ready to share information, why interrogate his human property at pistol point?

I can concoct scenarios in which this story makes perfect sense. For example, imagine the enslaved man had grown up in the household of Mary Ingraham and was plugged into the Concord gossip network. He might have gleaned information about where folks were hiding weapons and talked about that at home, and his new master Ingraham might have collected all that intelligence and sent it to Gage. When the redcoats arrived, Pitcairn sought out Ingraham for the latest, and he answered, “You’ll have to ask my man.”

Conversely, I can also imagine a scenario in which Tilly Merrick simply made up this story to entertain people in Concord in the early 1800s. Or one in which he took an actual visit to his parents’ house by British army officers and tacked on a fictional encounter between Pitcairn and the enslaved man for the sake of a laugh.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

“Old Mr. Thompson” and Charlestown Cannon

For this posting I’m indebted to a tip from Chris Hurley, whom one can see at colonial reenactments demonstrating cider-making, among other skills.

Timothy Thompson (1750-1834) was a carpenter in Charlestown. He married Mary Frothingham in January 1775, and their first child arrived eight months later. By that point Thompson was a sergeant in the provincial army, Mary was a war refugee in Woburn, and their home was in ashes.

Charlestown rebuilt after the British left, so those years were probably a good time to be a carpenter. Thompson bought real estate, built on it, then expanded. He built two Federal houses for himself and his son Benjamin that today help to anchor the “Thompson Triangle.”

On 26 July 1830, Edward Everett, then a member of Congress, wrote in his diary:
Visited old Mr Thompson & received from him an account of stealing the Cannon from the Battery in the Navy Yard.—

He said that for ten years there had not been a new house added to the town prior to the Revolution.—
(So that decade before the war was not a good time to be a carpenter.)

Thompson’s story of “stealing the Cannon” took place on 7 Sept 1774, shortly after the “Powder Alarm” had pushed people on both sides of the political dispute into looking for military solutions.

At the time, Charlestown had a battery guarding its waterfront, cannon pointing out at where enemy vessels might round the Boston peninsula. In 1770 Capt. John Montresor had counted five iron eighteen-pounders in that battery.

According to the Boston merchant John Andrews, Gen. Thomas Gage heard rumors that the locals planned to move those guns out of his control. On the morning of 7 September, he sent an army officer across the river to scout out the site. By the time a squad of artillerymen arrived that evening to seize the ordnance, the five guns were gone.

That was one of the earliest moves in what The Road to Concord calls an “arms race” all around Boston in September 1774. Everett had heard about Thompson’s story at least once before. In 1878 the president of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, Richard Frothingham, reported:
…the account of the proceedings of the Standing Committee of August 2, 1824, has the following in the handwriting of Edward Everett, the Secretary: “An account of the carrying off and secreting some heavy artillery from a fort in Charlestown, in the year 1774, by Timothy Thompson, one of the persons engaged in that exploit, was presented by Col. [Samuel D.] Harris, and ordered to be filed.” This paper cannot be found.
In his own local history published in 1845, Frothingham had included the names of three men he believed had participated in that action: William Calder, William Lane, and Timothy Thompson.

Monday, October 11, 2021

“I found moreover a liveliness in my whole frame”

Sometime between 1764 and 1767 Benjamin Franklin met a Dutch physician named Dr. Jan Ingenhousz (1730–1799). They were part of the same scientific circle in London.

In 1768 Sir John Pringle, head of the Royal Society, sent Ingenhousz to Vienna to inoculate the imperial family against smallpox. That worked so well that Ingenhousz became physician to Emperor Joseph II and his mother, Queen Maria Theresa of Austria.

Later, when Franklin was representing the U.S. of A. in Paris, he used his correspondence with Ingenhousz to promote the cause of America in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ingenhousz continued his scientific and medical investigations in Vienna. On 15 Aug 1783 he wrote to Franklin, recalling the American’s report about accidentally electrocuting himself instead of a turkey, quoted back here, and building on it.

Ingenhousz said:
As the effect of a Similar stroke by which I was struk, was followed by some remarcabel particularities I should like to compare them which those you have experienced.

The jarr, by which I was Struck, contained about 32 pints, it was nearly fully charged when I recived the explosion from the Conductor supported by that jarr. The flash enter’d the corner of my hat. Then, it entred my fore head and passed thro the left hand, in which I held the chaine communicating with the outward Coating of the jarr.

I neither saw, heared, nor feld the explosion, by which I was Struck down. I lost all my senses, memory, understanding and even sound judgment. My first Sensation was a peine on the forehead. The first object I saw Was the post of a door. I combined the two ideas togeather and thaught I had hurt my head against the horizontal piece of timber supported by the postes, which was impossible, as the door was wide and high.

After having answered unadequately to some questions, which were asked me by the people in the room, I determin’d to go home. But I was some what surprised, that, though the accident happened in a hous in the same street where I lodged, yet I was more than two minutes considering whether, to go home, I must go to the right or to the left hand.

Having found my lodgings, and considering that my memory was become very weak, I thaught it prudent to put down in writing the history of the case: I placed the paper before me, dipt the pen in the ink, but when I applyed it to the paper, I found I had entirely forgotten the art of writing and reading and did not know more what to doe with the pen, than a savage, who never knew there was such an art found out. This Struck me with terror, as I feared I should remain for ever an idiot. I thaught it prudent to go to bed.

I slept tolerably well and when I awaked next morning I felt still the peine on the forehead and found a red spot on the place: but my mental faculties were at that time not only returned, but I feld the most lively joye in finding, as I thaught at the time, my judgmement infinitely more acute. It did seem to me I saw much clearer the difficulties of every thing, and what did formerly seem to me difficult to comprehend, was now become of an easy solution. I found moreover a liveliness in my whole frame, which I never had observed before.

This experiment, made by accident, on my self, and of which I gave you at the time an account, has induced me to advise some of the London mad-Doctors, as Dr. [Thomas] Brook, to try a similar experiment on mad men, thinking that, as I found in my self my mental faculties improoved and as the world well knows, that your mental faculties, if not improoved by the two strooks you recieved, were certainly not hurt by them, it might perhaps become a remedie to restore the mental faculties when lost: but I could never persuade any one to try it.
Some medical authors suggest that Ingenhousz has stumbled into electroconvulsive therapy. The confusion and memory loss followed by more “liveliness” correspond to what some people suffering from deep depressions report from the modern treatment.

Back in the late 1700s, scientists like Franklin, Ingenhousz, and Pringle were reporting on electricity and its spooky powers. Such doctors as James Graham and Franz Mesmer claimed, too eagerly, to be using those powers to heal and strengthen the body. Those reports and claims fed into the delusions of Lt. Neil Wanchope and James Tilly Matthews, as quoted yesterday. But ironically, there really were mind-altering properties of electricity to discover.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Jacobin “Air Looms” in London

James Tilly Matthews (1770-1815) came to London from Wales to work as a tea broker in the early 1790s.

He became an acolyte of the Rev. David Williams (1738-1816), a reformist minister and philosopher who had hosted Benjamin Franklin back in 1774 when the American needed a refuge from the political pressure over his leak of Thomas Hutchinson’s letters.

In the early 1790s, Williams was active in promoting peace between Britain and Revolutionary France, but the execution of Louis XVI discouraged him. Matthews kept at that campaign, though, working through Girondist contacts.

Then a change of government in Paris brought the Jacobins to power and Matthews under suspicion. He was locked up for three years as a possible British spy. Eventually a new French government concluded Matthews was insane and sent him back to Britain.

On 30 Dec 1796 Matthews went into the House of Commons and started shouting that the Home Secretary, Lord Liverpool, was a traitor. The British government also decided Matthews was insane, and by January 1793 he was in the Bethlem or Bedlam Hospital, where he spent the next two decades.

In 1809 there was a dispute among doctors over whether Matthews was rational. The Bethlem apothecary, John Haslam, supported his position with a book describing Matthews’s delusions in detail, complete with pictures. The Public Domain Review shares Mike Jay’s article about that book.

In particular, Matthews said, he was tormented by a gang of people operating a nearby “Air Loom”:
The Air Loom worked, as its name suggests, by weaving “airs”, or gases, into a “warp of magnetic fluid” which was then directed at its victim. Matthews’ explanation of its powers combined the cutting-edge technologies of pneumatic chemistry and the electric battery with the controversial science of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. The finer detail becomes increasingly strange. It was fuelled by combinations of “fetid effluvia”, including “spermatic-animal-seminal rays”, “putrid human breath”, and “gaz from the anus of the horse”, and its magnetic warp assailed Matthews’ brain in a catalogue of forms known as “event-workings”. . . .

The machine’s operators were a gang of undercover Jacobin terrorists, who Matthews described with haunting precision. Their leader, Bill the King, was a coarse-faced and ruthless puppetmaster who “has never been known to smile”; his second-in-command, Jack the Schoolmaster, took careful notes on the Air Loom’s operations, pushing his wig back with his forefinger as he wrote. The operator was a sinister, pockmarked lady known only as the “Glove Woman”. The public face of the gang was a sharp-featured woman named Augusta, superficially charming but “exceedingly spiteful and malignant” when crossed, who roamed London’s west end as an undercover agent.
Similar machines were at work in other parts of the capital, Matthews said, and Prime Minister William Pitt was under the gang’s control.

James Tilly Matthews is now considered one of the earliest well documented cases of paranoid schizophrenia. He’s also notable because he interpreted the voices and impulses he experienced not through supernatural or spiritual factors but through newly emerging science. Matthews is thus also one of the earliest examples in Jeffrey Sconce’s 2019 study, The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity.

Back in 2010 I wrote about another such example. In 1776 Lt. Neil Wanchope of the Royal Navy’s marines began to alarm fellow officers aboard H.M.S. Thetis, “knocking against the 1st Lieutenant’s cabin desiring him to leave off electrifying and murdering him.” Like Matthews, Wanchope understood his mental experiences using one of the period’s most advanced scientific concepts.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Tracking Down Diaries of the Québec Expedition

Earlier this week I mentioned Stephen Darley’s 2011 book Voices from a Wilderness Expedition, a bibliography of all known diaries and first-person accounts of Col. Benedict Arnold’s trek to Québec in 1775 and a listing of all the men on that march.

That book also included the transcripts of five diaries not previously published or noted in the last edition of Kenneth Roberts’s March to Quebec.

This year Darley published a new collection, Voices Waiting to Be Heard, with transcriptions of nineteen accounts of the expedition, some discovered in the last decade. The earliest actually appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet in March 1779.

In 2013, Darley and Stephen Burk published an article in Early American Review, which can be read here. It tackled the question of who wrote a diary of the expedition published in The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal in 1900 without a name, still anonymous at the time of Darley’s first book.

Burk and Darley wrote:
From the pages of his journal it is apparent that the anonymous author was a Massachusetts soldier and that he had been in a Captain Smith’s company prior to transferring to Captain Hubbard’s company for the March to Quebec. He also mentions having a brother on the March although it is not evident whether both men were in the same company. The journal states that the author’s brother died “with fever and flux” on Dec. 28, 1775 near Quebec. Also, journal entries make clear that the author was not among the many that were taken prisoner during the Dec. 31 assault on the walled city of Quebec.
Using the listing of men in Darley’s book, the researchers found three named Pierce (or Peirce) in Capt. Jonas Hubbard’s company. David Pierce died during the march. John and William Pierce avoided both death and capture. But did either of them keep a diary?

In fact, they both did. Ens. John Pierce’s journal was published in Roberts’s compilation. One entry reads: “David Peirce…was taken again all on a sudden and died in a few days he had no senses after he was taken the last time –Adiu to my Friend and Namesake.” That doesn’t sound like a brother, just a man with the same last name.

Furthermore, Ens. Pierce was from Worcester, but David and William Pierce enlisted together from Hadley. They both served in Capt. Eliakim Smith’s company starting with the Lexington Alarm.

Those details confirmed William Pierce as the anonymous diarist first published in 1900. Knowing his name, Burk and Darley could fill out more details of the brothers’ lives. William was born in 1752, David two years later. Their father, a Harvard graduate, represented Hadley in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

David Pierce died just before Gen. Richard Montgomery led his doomed attack on Québec. William Pierce was sick that day, thus unable to fight. He remained with the Continental Army during its withdrawal in 1776 and was back in Hadley that summer. Pierce never married, dying in Hadley in 1832. Burk and Darley even found his gravestone.

All told, there are now thirty-eight known first-person accounts of the Arnold expedition, making it one of the most individually documented campaigns of the war. All the more striking since we usually hear about it as an event that took place in the wilderness under conditions that don’t seem conducive for keeping a diary.

Friday, October 08, 2021

The Road to Concord through the Other Quincy

The latest episode of the History Ago Go podcast features host Rob Mellon and me talking about The Road to Concord and the Battle of Lexington and Concord that followed.

Here are links to this episode through various platforms:
Rob Mellon is the executive director of the Historical Society of Quincy & Adams County, Illinois. This Quincy has the last syllable pronounced “see” and not “zee,” as we do here in Massachusetts.

After we finished recording, I told Rob about how I’d tried to visit Quincy during one of my first vacations as a working adult, when I attended Tom Sawyer Days in Hannibal, Missouri. Quincy is just across the river. But in that year of 1993, the river was in flood, and the bridges were all closed. So it’s still on my list.

Rob informed me that Quincy was named after John Quincy Adams. In fact, when the settlement originally called Bluffs took that new name in 1825, the people honored the incoming President in three ways. They named their county Adams, their town Quincy, and their central intersection John Square.

Since then, though, they renamed the town square after Washington. The Adams family would no doubt say that was typical.

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Solving the Mystery of “Lilley P.”

I’m taking the liberty of sharing a collaborative exchange between two Revolutionary War reenactors dedicated to studying the daily lives of Continental Army soldiers.

Earlier this year, John U. Rees, author of ‘They Were Good Soldiers:’ African-Americans Serving in the Continental Army, 1775-1783 and many detailed articles, posted on Facebook:
This is for the New England foodies out there. I was asked what “Lilley P.” was…and have come up short. I’ve checked the Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, the book Saltwater Foodways, and tried Google search in various forms.

The quote comes from Lt. Samuel Armstrong [1754-1810], 8th Mass. Regiment, who wrote on 19 December 1777, the day the army marched to Valley Forge, “our Boy[s] went to work to Bake Bread and of this we Eat like Insatiate Monsters ’till they had made some Lilley P., of which we [eat?] ’till our Guts began to Ake…”
The Armstrong diary was transcribed and published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography in 1997. The New England Historic Genealogical Society has digitized it here, and the page with the passage in question is here with a detail shown above.

A fellow researcher and reenactor, Steve Rayner, soon provided Rees with the answer from the journal that Dr. Isaac Senter (1753-1799) wrote out to record Col. Benedict Arnold’s expedition against Québec. It was first published by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania in 1846, and the manuscript is now at Fordham University.

Dr. Senter wrote:
Wednesday, Nov. 1st. – Our greatest luxuries now consisted in a little water, stiffened with flour, in imitation of shoemakers’ paste, which was christened with the name of Lillipu.

Instead of the diarrhea, which tried our men most shockingly in the former part of our march, the reverse was now the complaint, which continued for many days.
The use of the same term (in two forms) two years apart in different campaigns suggests that this soldiers’ slang had staying power. Perhaps almost as long as the Lillipu itself.

I should note that there’s another diary manuscript from Dr. Senter, now at the Rhode Island Historical Society, first transcribed and published by Stephen Darley in Voices from a Wilderness Expedition. It appears to be part of the manuscript that Senter actually wrote during the expedition and later copied and expanded into the journal published in 1846.

Those surviving pages don’t cover 1 November. Therefore, we can’t confirm Senter wrote “Lillipu” in 1775. It’s possible that he added the term to his original entry while expanding the text. However, since Dr. Senter wasn’t in the army after 1776, he was unlikely to have picked up short-lived Valley Forge soldiers’ slang.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

The Secret of Sir Barrington Beaumont

While reading about Count Axel von Fersen for yesterday’s posting, I saw some intriguing anecdotes in his Wikipedia entry, quoted from The Reminiscences of Sir Barrington Beaumont, Bart., published in 1902.

I followed those up, finding a text with a lot about Von Fersen and a little about Horace Walpole, Charles James Fox, Marie Antoinette, and other famous figures that was much too good to be true.

Indeed, the reviewers of 1902 quickly caught on to that book as a fictional memoir of the eighteenth century.

The Irish Monthly reviewer wrote:
It pretends to be a real diary, the writer of which arranged that it should not be read till seventy years after his death; but one perceives at once that it is in reality a novel, bringing in such real persons as George Selwyn, Horace Walpole, Count Fersen, Marie Antoinette, and others. The writer has evidently studied the period well, though we suspect that Macaulay or Abraham Hayward would detect sundry inaccuracies and anachronisms. There is plenty of incident, lively conversations, epigrams original and selected, and a clear and correct style that is never dull.
Other readers, however, were not so pleased with the book. The Spectator stated:
No one, we imagine, is likely to be deceived by Memoirs of Sir Barrington, which profess on the title-page to be “now, by permission of his great grandson, published for the first time.” In spite of a serious preface, some notes by an editor, and the information that the names of the writer and the two chief personages have been altered, the imposture (if it deserves such a grave title) is so crudely and clumsily carried out that one scarcely thinks the writer or his publisher can expected it to be taken seriously. . . . [These pages] tell us little which was not well known, and that which is not well known in them is of little interest. The truth is they do not bear even upon the surface the stamp of genuineness.
And the critic in The Academy and Literature groused:
If the public greedily swallowed bogus love letters, the author probably argued, why should it not revel in bogus reminiscences? And we can only echo, Why not? The taste would not be more remarkable than that which finds savour in the Shakespeare-Bacon controversy. But to be successful the literary practical joke requires to be played with a nice combination of dash and dexterity. The creator of Sir Barrington Beaumont is not wanting in audacity,…but his attempt to imitate the style and reproduce the atmosphere of his chosen period is almost ludicrous in its inadequacy. . . .

This biographical joke might have been amusing if it had been better played, but unfortunately the author had no qualifications for his self-imposed task beyond a superficial knowledge of his period, and he has neglected to use use such simple devices as might have given his work external resemblance to a genuine memoir. He should have clothed the volume in imitation calf, and provided an elaborate index, copious foot-notes, and an appendix.

If a conscientious attempt had been made to imitate the style of 1812, and if the wits had been made to discuss contemporary tittle-tattle instead of paraphrasing their printed witticisms, the work might have mystified a section of the public. As it is, the author will probably fall between two stools, for his book is not a sufficiently good imitation of a last-century memoir to appeal to lovers of biography, nor a sufficiently good imitation of a novelette to appeal to lovers of light fiction.
The British Library now credits the book as a novel by Michael J. Barrington, a name that doesn’t appear anywhere in the printed volume.

Of course, some copies of this book got into larger library collections. Google Books scanned them. The Hathi Trust and Internet Archive took up one of the imperfect Google scans. Automated publishers of “classic” (i.e., public-domain) literature have vacuumed up the files and offer the book through online retailers.

As a result, The Reminiscences of Sir Barrington Beaumont, Bart. is more widely available today than it’s ever been, and most forms of the text carry no warning that it’s fiction. It is not and has never been a historical source about the eighteenth century.

Tuesday, October 05, 2021

Elements of Marie Antoinette’s Letters

The Swedish count Axel von Fersen (1755-1810) came to Rhode Island in 1780 to serve as an aide-de-camp to Gen. Rochambeau, commander of the French troops in North America. He met the American commanders and took part in the Yorktown campaign.

Unlike some European officers, Von Fersen wasn’t motivated by republican leanings. Instead, he had to leave France because his close friendship with the young queen, Marie Antoinette, was becoming close to a scandal. The two had meet in 1774 as teenagers, then renewed the acquaintance in 1778. Advisors felt it wiser for the count to go to another continent for a while.

Count Von Fersen returned to Europe in 1783 and was soon back in France as a diplomat for the king of Sweden. In 1787 that king appointed the count as his secret personal envoy to Louis XVI, which also gave him more time with Marie Antoinette. When the French Revolution broke out, Von Fersen became a close advisor to the royal couple.

By June 1791 the French government was holding the royal family in Paris, with Lafayette in charge of the guards. Count Von Fersen organized an escape plan, personally driving the family in a carriage out of the city.

Then the party split up. Louis and his family made it as far as Varennes before a crowd recaptured them and returned them to the Tuileries Palace in Paris. What little trust the government and people had in the royal family evaporated. Von Fersen fled across the border.

The count continued to correspond with Marie Antoinette in the months that followed. In 1982 his descendants sold a cache of those letters to the French national archives. Someone had scribbled over parts of fifteen letters, rendering phrases impossible to read.

In recent years scientists have developed new ways to analyze such cross-outs by mapping how they respond to types of radiation. These methods mean analysts no longer need to destroy samples of the paper or chemically alter the ink.

One example reported in 2013 involved the original score of Luigi Cherubini’s 1797 opera Médée. Large sections of the final pages were blotted out. According to tradition, Cherubini disliked critics telling him the opera was too long and bluntly cut it short.

Because Cherubini had written his score using standard iron gall ink and marked it over with charcoal, X-ray sensors could easily distinguish the elemental signatures of those two types of black.

The letters between Marie Antoinette and Axel von Fersen were a bigger challenge, though, because both the original writing and the scribbles were made with iron gall ink. That meant both layers were full of iron and sulfur.

However, as Anne Michelin, Fabien Pottierand, and Christine Andraud just reported in the journal Science Advances, the chemical composition of eighteenth-century inks could vary; “additional metal elements—that are present as impurities in the vitriol (iron sulfate) used to prepare the ink—are also found in diverse amounts.”

In particular, they found that on eight of the letters the upper layer of ink has a lot more copper than the lower layer. By mapping where the less cupric ink lay, they revealed enough of the underlying writing to decipher such phrases from Marie Antoinette as “ma tendre amie” (my tender friend) and “vous que j’aime” (you who I love).

The next question was who had made those changes. The authors write:
The most common hypothesis was that redaction was carried out in the second half of the 19th century by the great-nephew of the Count of Fersen, the Baron of Klinckowström, or perhaps by a different member of the Fersen family, before the publication of this correspondence to preserve their reputation.
However, the analysts were able to match the elemental signature of the scribbles to the ink that Von Fersen used to write his letters. In other words, he probably crossed out those sensitive phrases himself after reading them to protect the queen.

King Louis XVI was sent to the guillotine in January 1793, charged with conspiring with France’s foreign enemies. Marie Antoinette followed nine months later.

Count Von Fersen never married. He became active in Swedish politics, rising to be Marshal of the Realm, the highest non-royal official in the government. In 1810, during a heated public dispute over the royal succession, a mob stomped him to death.

Monday, October 04, 2021

“There to pursue their Studies of Latin and Greek”

John Adams wasted no time in reacting to Benjamin Waterhouse’s 13 Dec 1780 letter about educational opportunities in Leyden, quoted yesterday.

Five days later, the American diplomat packed his eldest sons, John Quincy and Charles, off to that Dutch university town with their occasional tutor, John Thaxter.

Even before knowing that they had settled in, Adams wrote home to his wife Abigail in Braintree:
My dearest Portia

I have this morning sent Mr. Thaxter, with my two Sons to Leyden, there to take up their Residence for some time, and there to pursue their Studies of Latin and Greek under the excellent Masters, and there to attend Lectures of the celebrated Professors in that University. It is much cheaper there than here: the Air is infinitely purer; and the Company and Conversation is better.

It is perhaps as learned an University as any in Europe.

I should not wish to have Children, educated in the common Schools in this Country, where a littleness of Soul is notorious. The Masters are mean Spirited Writches, pinching, kicking, and boxing the Children, upon every Turn.
The last paragraph looks like a comment on the Latin School on the Singel, where John Quincy had had such a poor experience in September and October.

This letter is our first sign that part of the pedagogy, and part of the problem, at that school was corporal punishment. Or, probably more accurately, even more corporal punishment than a New England family like the Adamses thought was just.

As Adams wrote, he and his wife were staying on friendly terms with James Lovell, a former usher at Boston’s South Latin School whose method of beating boys on the hand with his ruler was legendary. But whatever happened in Amsterdam was supposedly worse.

Another implication of this letter is that John Adams had not told Abigail anything about John Quincy’s problems at the Latin School. She may never have learned about those difficult fifty days and how her eldest son reportedly misbehaved to force his removal.

Fortunately, John Quincy liked the new arrangements in Leyden. The day after the party arrived, he told his father, “we went to hear a Medicinal lecture by Professor Horn, we saw several experiments there. In the afternoon we went to Hear a Law lecture by Professor Pessel.” The next day he reported
I have this day seen the master who is to teach us greek and Latin. He is to come to us twice a day; from twelve to one oclock and from five to six in the afternoon, so that I shall be two hours occupied with our master an hour at each lecture is two more and the rest of my time I shall be writing from Homer, the Greek testament, of Grammar, and learning lessons for our Master.
Thaxter engaged this man, an usher at the town’s high school, for thirty Guilders per month. The lessons were in French, as the boys had prepared for.

In addition, in January 1781 the university registered Thaxter, John Quincy, and Charles as students, the first two to study law and the youngest to study letters. Thaxter reported: “Ils travaillent avec beaucoup d’ardeur, et ils avancent très bien.” They work with lots of ardor and they progress very well.

Thus ended the only significant blot on John Quincy Adams’s scholastic career.

Sunday, October 03, 2021

“Send my Children to me this Evening”

As I quoted yesterday, on 10 Nov 1780 Latin School rector Heinrich Verheyk sent American diplomat John Adams a letter stating that his eldest son, John Quincy Adams, was misbehaving in an attempt to get expelled.

John Adams responded immediately:

I have this moment received, with Surprise and Grief, your Billet.

I pray you Sir, to send my Children to me this Evening and your Account, together with their Chests and Effects tomorrow. I have the Honour to be, with great Respect, Sir, your humble servant,
He whisked both John Quincy and younger son Charles out of the Latin School at the Singel.

We don’t know what conversations took place in the Adams house that night. We do know that Adams already disagreed with how the school was placing John Quincy in a class with younger boys instead of letting him study Greek. So, while he may have been mortified at his son’s reported misbehavior, he sympathized with the motive behind it.

Adams cast about for a way for his boys to continue their education. John Quincy was thirteen, a year away from the age when many elite Massachusetts boys went to Harvard, and Charles was ten. They needed Latin and Greek for college. Adams was too busy trying to convince the Dutch republic to recognize the U.S. of A. to teach them himself. John Thaxter, who had tutored the boys in Braintree and aboard the ship to Europe, was still in Paris helping the American diplomats there.

Somehow Adams learned about another possible source of information: a young man from Newport, Rhode Island, named Benjamin Waterhouse (1754-1846, shown above as painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1775). He had started studying medicine as an apprentice at age sixteen and then sailed to Britain for more advanced training in March 1775, just before the Boston Port Bill took effect. Though Waterhouse spent the next three years in wartime Britain, he supported the independent U.S. of A.

In 1778 Waterhouse went to study at the University of Leyden, reportedly disconcerting the authorities by declaring himself a citizen of the free American states, which Holland had yet to recognize. After finishing a medical degree in 1780, he went back to Britain to visit his mentor there, then returned to Leyden to attend lectures on law and history. Perhaps on that trip he passed through Amsterdam, a little over twenty miles north of Leyden, and met the American minister.

Sometime in November or early December Adams asked Waterhouse if there were educational opportunities for his sons in Leyden. On 13 December the young doctor wrote back:
It so happened that I could not see the persons of whom I wished to enquire concerning the Schools, mode of education &c. untill yesterday, otherwise I should have written before.—

The Gentlemen from whom I have my information have each of them a young person under their care about the age of your eldest, and are well acquainted with every thing appertaining to education in this City, from conversing with them I am able to inform you that besides the publick-school which is a good one, there are private masters in the latin and greek, who at the same time they teach these languages, teach the greek and roman History. With boys who are far advanced in greek they read and explain Euripides, Sophocles and others.

The same person will if required repeat any of the Law-lectures to the pupil, and that indeed is what they are principally employed for, by those whose wives are to be Mevrouws [i.e., ladies].— There is a teacher of this kind in Leyden who is both an elegant schollar and a gentleman, such a one asks 20 ducats a year. . . .

In regard to living I am persuaded they can live here for much less than at Amsterdam. Three furnished rooms would probably cost 20 guilders a month. We find our own tea, sugar, wine, light and fire, and give one ducat a week for dinner, it is always the same price whether we go to the public-house, or have it brought from thence to our own rooms . . .

In respect to their being Americans or Sons of Mr. Adams they will never meet with any thing disagreeable on that head, where any profit is like to accrue little do the Dutchmen care for their political, or even religious principles—Turk, Jew, or Christian make no difference with them. I beleive we may say of them as they said of themselves at Japan when the Japonese enquired if they were christians—they answered, they were Dutchmen.

If the Gentlemen should come, I can insure them an agreeable Society and a genteel circle of acquaintance. If they should not, I hope at least they will come and pay us a visit, and I think I need not add how ready I should be to render them any service in my power.
Meanwhile, Adams had summoned Thaxter from Paris.

TOMORROW: A new arrangement.