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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Friday, March 24, 2023

“Genl. Putnam & Some Troops came into Town”

In his diary, the merchant John Rowe noted that Sunday, 17 Mar 1776, was “St. Patricks Day” with “Pleasant Weather.”

He appears to have started his entry in the wee hours of the morning, perhaps before second sleep, then added to it later:
The Provincials are throwing up a Battery on Nook Hill on Dorchester Neck, which has occasioned much Firing this night.

This morning The Troops evacuated the Town & went on board the Transports at & about Long Wharff

they sailed & got most part of them into King Road

about Noon Genl. [Israel] Putnam & Some Troops came into Town to the Great Joy of the Inhabitants that Remained behind

I din’d at home with Mr. [Ralph] Inman Mrs. [Elizabeth Murray Campbell Smith] Inman, Mr. [Jonathan] Warner Mrs. Rowe & Jack Rowe—

I Spent the Evening at home with Major Chester Capt. Huntington Mr. [Samuel] Parker Mr. Warner Mrs. Rowe & Jack Rowe.
Once again, Rowe was distancing himself emotionally from “the Inhabitants that Remained behind,” though he undoubtedly was part of that group.

The Inmans had been separated by the siege lines, which strained their marriage. Back in July 1775 Ralph and the Rowes were talking about sailing to Britain together, and Elizabeth had responded with “pointed remarks.” This was the Inmans’ first dinner together in about a year, and it might have been tense.

Maj. John Chester (1749–1809, shown above) and Capt. Ebenezer Huntington (1754–1834) were Continental Army officers from Connecticut. They were also brothers-in-law, Chester having married Huntington’s sixteen-year-old sister Elizabeth in 1773.

Rowe’s diary gave no hint about how much pressure he felt to host officers from the conquering army, but he was making a quick transition to being friendly to the Revolutionary cause.

The first full day of independent Boston, 18 March:
Major Chester and Capt. Huntington Lodgd at Our house

The Town very quiet this night. Severall of my Friends came to see Mee from the Country
And the second:
Numbers of People belonging to Boston are dayly coming in—

Genl. [George] Washington & his Retinue were in Town yesterday I did not hear of it otherways Should have paid my Respects & waited on him—

This afternoon the King’s Troops burnt the Blockhouse at the Castle & the Continental Troops A throwing up a Battery on Forthill

Most all the Ships are gone from King Road into Nantasket Road—
TOMORROW: Royal Navy off the coast, Continental generals in the town.

Thursday, March 23, 2023

“Twas Expected The Troops would have embarkd this night”

On 15 March 1776, merchant John Rowe was expecting the British military to sail away from Boston. Any minute now.
This night my Store on the Long Wharff broke open & almost A hhd of Sugar & A hog head of Ware Stole—

Twas Expected The Troops would have embarkd this night but they still Remain in Town

I din’d at home with Genl. [James] Robertson Colo. Clark Richd. Green An Officer of the 5th Regt. Mrs. Rowe & Jack Rowe—

after dinner Capt. [John] Haskins gave me Notice that several officers were in Mrs. [Mary] Hooper’s House committing Violence & breaking Everything Left they Broke a Looking Glass over the Chimney which cost Twenty Guineas such Barbarous Treatment is too much for the most Patient man to bear.
Mary Hooper was the widow of the Rev. Dr. William Hooper (1702–1767, shown above), an Anglican minister Rowe admired. She was also the mother of the William Hooper who represented North Carolina in the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

“Rainy Weather” came on 16 March, and the preparations for departure went on.
The Troops are getting every thing in order to depart.

My store on Long Wharff broke open again this night—the Behaviour of The Soldiers is to bad—tis almost Impossible to believe it

I din’d at home with Mrs. Rowe & Capt. [John] Gore & Spent the Evening at home with Richd. Greene Mr. [Samuel] Parker Mr. [Jonathan] Warner & Mrs. Rowe & Jack.

Two officers of the 5th: came to Mee for Wine they wanted to be Trusted I Refused them since I have heard nothing only they Damned me & swore they would take it by Force—One of them nam’d Russell of the 5th. Regmt. the Other I dont know
There was a Boston paint merchant and official, about to evacuate, called Capt. John Gore for his militia rank. Just to make things fun, there was also a captain named John Gore in His Majesty’s Fifth Regiment of Foot. Rowe could conceivably have dined with either.

As for Russell of the Fifth Regiment, no officer of that name appears in the Army Lists of 1773 or 1778. Then again, Rowe forgot the name of the officer from that regiment whom he hosted at dinner the day before. So he didn’t know them that well. Certainly not enough to extend credit for wine.

TOMORROW: The country people come in.

Wednesday, March 22, 2023

“Plundering of Houses &c. Increasing”

By 12 Mar 1776, the British military’s evacuation of Boston was dissolving into chaos in the eyes of merchant John Rowe, and the cannon were going off again:
A Continual Fire from Both sides this night

They are hurrying off all their Provisions & destroying & Mangling all Navigation

also Large Quantitys of Salt & other things they heave into the Sea & Scuttle the stores

I din’d & spent the Evening at home with—
The Revd. Mr. [Samuel] Parker Mr. [Jonathan] Warner & Richd. Green also Mrs. Rowe & Jack Rowe—

The Inhabitants are greatly terrifyed and Alarm’d for Fear of Greater Evils when the Troops Leave this distressed Place

I got Crean Brush Rect. for the Goods taken from Mee, but dont expect much Good from it tho severall Gentlemen Say they will be my Friend in this affair
By “be my Friend” Rowe meant those gentlemen would testify about his losses—though now he had a receipt as well.

Rowe dated his next entry “13 March Wednesday,” getting the date wrong—a sign of his distress:
I have Staid at home most part of this day—

The Confusion still Continues & Plundering of Houses &c. Increasing

Genl. [James] Robinson paid Me a Visit & Eat a Morsell of Provisions together with Richd. Green Mrs Rowe & Jack Rowe

The Sailors from the Ships have Broke Open my Stores on my Wharff & plunderd them— this was done at Noon this day—

This morning A house was burnt at the North End, whether Set on Fire on Purpose or from Accident Seems Uncertain—

a Considerable Number of Cannon fir’d in the night from Both Sides—

The Country People throwing up more Entrenchments &c on Dorchester Neck—

(I dind at home with Genl. Robertson—Mr. Richd. Green Mrs. Rowe & Jack—) and spent the Evening at home with the Revd. Mr. Saml. Parker Mr. Warner Mr. Richd Greene & Mrs. Rowe
On Thursday, 14 March, Rowe realized he’d made the dating error and corrected himself. This day brought “Snow & Sleet” and a cold wind:
This night much damage has been done to Many houses & stores in this Town & many valuable Articles stolen & Destroyed—

Stole out of Wm. Perrys Store a Quantity of Tea Rum & Sugar to the value of £120 Sterling

Mr. Saml. Quincys house broke & great Destruction The Revd. Mr. Wm. Walters also the Revd. Dr. [Henry] Caners & many others
Samuel Quincy had left Boston months before, so his house was vulnerable. But the ministers had stayed out the siege and presumably didn’t have mercantile goods to carry away.

The picture above shows the Rev. William Walter, Anglican minister at Boston’s Trinity Church (1767–1776) and Christ Church (1791–1800). It was sold at auction in 2021.

TOMORROW: The expected departure date.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

“They Stole many things & plunder’d my Store”

John Rowe reported that Monday, 11 Mar 1776, brought “Gloomy heavy Weather,” and his mood wasn’t any better.

The day before, as quoted yesterday, Gen. William Howe issued a proclamation requiring everyone with “Linnen and Woolen Goods” to turn them over to the evacuating army lest they fall into Continental hands.

That proclamation promised that the New York merchant Crean Brush (shown here) “will give a Certificate of the Delivery, and will oblige himself to return them to the Owners.” But if people didn’t comply, they risked being treated as rebel sympathizers.

Rowe appears to have been surprised that this proclamation applied to him, too. His 11 March diary entry says:

This morning I Rose very Early and very Luckily went to my Warehouse

when I Came there I found Mr. Crian Brush with an Order & party from the Genl. who were just going to Break Open the Warehouse which I prevented by Sending for the Keys & Opening the Doors—

They took from Mee to the Value of Twenty Two hundred & Sixty Pounds Sterling According to the best Calculation I Could make in Linnens Checks Cloths & Woollens—

This Party behaved very Insolently & with Great Rapacity & I am very well Convinc’d exceeding their orders to a Great Degree They Stole many things & plunder’d my Store. Words cannot Describe it

This Party consisted of Mr. Blasswitch who was one of the Canceaux people [i.e., an officer on H.M.S. Canceaux] Mr. Brush the Provost Mr. [William] Cunningham A Refugee Mr. [James or Peter] Welch The Provost Deputy—A Man nam’d [William] Hill & abo. fifteen Soldiers—with others—

I Remained all Day in the store but Could not hinder their Destruction of my Goods This day I Got a piece of Bread & one Draft of Flip

I Spent the Evening at home with Mr. [Samuel] Parker Rich’d Green Mr. [Jonathan] Warner of Portsmouth who assisted Mee very much with Mrs. Rowe & Jack Rowe

They are making the Utmost Speed to get away & carrying Ammunition Cannon & every thing they Can away taking all things they meet with never asking who is Owner or whose Property making havock in Every house & Destruction of All kinds of Furniture

There never was Such Destruction & Outrage committed any day before this Many other People have suffer’d the Same Fate as Mee— Particularly—
Mr. Saml. Austin Mr. John Scolly Capt. [Samuel] Partridge Capt. [Samuel] Dashwood Mr. Cyrus Baldwin The Widow [Mary] Newman
In May 1776, Austin, Scollay, Partridge, Dashwood, and Rowe petitioned the Continental Congress to speak up for them about their confiscated goods. But there was a war on.

Nine years later, in 1785, Rowe, Partridge, Dashwood, and Austin sought help from Gov. James Bowdoin and American minister John Adams in gaining redress from Britain. (I don’t know why Scollay dropped out; he was still alive at the time.)

Responding to a similar claim from Dr. Thomas Bulfinch, Adams wrote back on 13 Oct 1786:
I have not yet presented any of these Claims at Court, because there is not even a Possibility of their being regarded— . . . I frankly own I do not think, that the Dignity or the faith of the United States ought ever to have been compromised in these Matters—
If those Boston merchants had left with the British military, they might have regained their property after landing in Halifax. But they did, after all, show themselves to be rebel sympathizers.

TOMORROW: A receipt, and more disorder.

Monday, March 20, 2023

“Utmost Endeavors to have all such Articles convey’d from this Place”

Here’s merchant John Rowe’s diary entry for Sunday, 10 Mar 1776:
Capn. Dawson is Returnd with Two Vessells—he has had a severe Brush with four Privateers.
George Dawson commanded H.M.S. Hope, a schooner with four guns and thirty crewmen. On 30 January he had nearly caught or killed the first Continental naval hero, John Manley, as described here.

Rowe seems to sympathize with Dawson rather than the Patriots on the two ships he had captured, or the four “Privateers” that had tried to capture him. He went on:
I staid at home all Day—

A Proclamation came Out from Genl. How this day a very severe one, on Some People
In writing he stayed home, Rowe meant he didn’t go to church, though he did have the Rev. Samuel Parker over that evening.

That proclamation from Gen. William Howe appears here at the Journal of the American Revolution:
As Linnen and Woolen Goods are Articles much wanted by the Rebels, and would aid and assist them in their Rebellion, the Commander in Chief expects that all good Subjects will use their utmost Endeavors to have all such Articles convey’d from this Place:

Any who have not Opportunity to convey their Goods under their own Care, may deliver them on Board the Minerva at Hubbard’s Wharf, to Crean Brush, Esq; marked with their Names, who will give a Certificate of the Delivery, and will oblige himself to return them to the Owners, all unavoidable Accidents excepted.

If after this Notice any Person secretes or keeps in his Possession such Articles, he will be treated as a Favourer of Rebels.
So now we know what happened to the Minerva, the ship that Rowe had noted the army had impressed the day before.

When Rowe called Howe’s proclamation “very severe…on Some People,” he was downplaying how that could be severe on him. As a merchant, he owned a lot of cloth. But perhaps he thought he could get away with keeping most of it.

The general’s order not to leave any cloth in Boston sheds light on the rest of Rowe’s diary entry for 10 March:
John Inman Went on board this day—with his Wife he has in his Possession three Watches of mine & Sundry Pieces of Checks which was to be made into Shirts—

Jos Goldthwait Mrs. Winslow went on board this day—he has Carried off Capn. Linzees horse witho. Paying for him
John Linzee was a captain in the Royal Navy who had married Rowe’s niece and remained a good friend. Goldthwait wasn’t just a horse thief; he was commissary for the king’s troops, and undoubtedly wanted to preserve that animal from the rebels as well.

TOMORROW: A brush with Brush.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

“Nothing but Cruilty & Ingratitude falls to my Lot”

With Continental cannon pointing at Boston from Dorchester Heights, the merchant John Rowe realized that the siege was coming to an end. But what did that mean for him?

In his diary Rowe wrote on 6 Mar 1776:
This morning the Country People have thrown a Strong Work on Another Place on the Neck at Dorchester Nick. Gen. [William] Howe has order’d the Troops ashore again & tis now out of Doubt that Gen Howe will Leave this Town with his Troops &c—which has put The Inhabitants of This Town into Great Disorder Confusion & much Distress. . . .

The Firing has Ceas’d this day—
7 March:
The Troops & Inhabitants very Busy in Getting All the Goods & Effects on board the Shipping in the Harbour—

tis Impossible to describe the Distresses of this unfortunate Town

I din’d and spent the Evening at home with my Dear Mrs. Rowe Mr. [George] Inman & Jack Rowe—

Genl. Robinson Pd. Mee a Visit
Rowe hadn’t described his wife as “my dear” for a while, possibly since the summer of 1774 when she was injured in a carriage accident. That’s a measure of the stress he was feeling now.

I believe the man Rowe referred to in this week as “Genl. Robinson” was Maj. Gen. James Robertson, barrack master general of the British army in North America. (Other documents, including selectman Timothy Newell’s journal and even Gen. Howe’s orderly book, also referred to him as “Robinson” at times.)

Back in 1768 Rowe had called Robertson a “Gentleman of Great Abilities & very cool & dispassionate.” He handled a lot of the army’s logistics, which at this moment meant safely moving the troops.

8 March:
My Situation has almost Distracted Me [i.e., driven me insane]

John Inman Archy McNeil and Duncan are determin’d to Leave Mee—God Send Me Comfort in My Old Age—I try to do what Business I Can, but am Disapointd and nothing but Cruilty & Ingratitude falls to my Lot.

I Spend the Day & Evening with my Dear Mrs. Rowe Richd. Green & John Haskins—
John Inman was a young relative of Mrs. Rowe. There were multiple men named Archibald McNeil or McNeal in Boston in the 1770s, and this appears to have been the baker, perhaps working for the Rowes as a cook. Duncan also seems to have been a household servant, perhaps enslaved. They were all evidently ready to sail away with the troops, and Rowe felt they were deserting him personally—which means he had already made up his mind to stay.

9 March:
I dind at home with the Revd. Mr. [Samuel] Parker [shown above] Mrs. Rowe & Jack & Spent the Evening at the Possee

This day Genl. Robinson pressed the Ship Minerva into the Service—nothing but hurry & confusion, Every Person Striving to get Out of this Place

A Great Deal of Firing on both Sides this night
As I wrote yesterday, I suspect that Rowe had a financial interest in the Minerva since he mentioned that ship and not others, but I can’t confirm that. Perhaps Gen. Robertson’s visit two days before was about the army’s need for that getaway vessel.

TOMORROW: Worse and worse.

Saturday, March 18, 2023

“We Perceived A Battery Erected On the Hill on Dorchester Neck”

As I continue to recount merchant John Rowe’s experience of the end of the siege of Boston, I’ll skip his diary notes on the weather, socializing, and sermons unless they offer some unusual or pertinent detail.

Rowe had apparently gotten comfortable with life inside the besieged town, but that changed on Sunday, 3 Mar 1776:
This night The People from the Battery at Phipps Farm thro many Shells into Town which put the Inhabitants into great Fear—and they have done Damage to Many Houses Particularly [Joseph] Sherburne [shown here] [Samuel?] Fitchs Geo Ervings & [Thomas] Courtney the Taylor— . . .

afternoon I went to Church Mr. [Samuel] Parker Read prayers & Mr. [William] Walter preached . . . this was a serious Sensible Sermon & Well adapted to the Situation of our Present Disturbed Situation . . .

This Evening Capt. Johnson was burried.
Rowe’s habit of referring to “the People” outside town and “the Inhabitants” within avoided political labels. Writing “the Inhabitants” also distanced himself from the danger and emotion of the siege.

I haven’t been able to identify “Capt. Johnson of the Minerva” who had killed himself on 2 March. Rowe had an interest in the Minerva since he mentioned that ship multiple times in his diary, but how big a financial interest I can’t tell.

4 March:
All the Preceding Night The Town has been fir’d at by the People witho. from Every Quarter. I dont hear of Much Damage being done

The Guns from Cobles Hill on Charlestown Side have thrown there shot the farthest into Town one of them Struck [John] Wheatleys in Kings Street
5 March:
Southerly Wind & Warm—

This Morning We Perceived A Battery Erected On the Hill on Dorchester Neck—this has alarmd us very Much—

abo. 12 the Generall sent off Six Regiments—perhaps this day or to morrow determines The Fate of this truly distressed Place

All night Both Sides kept a Continuall Fire

Six Men of the 22d. Are Wounded in A house at the So. End—one Boy Lost his Leg— . . .

A Very Severe Storm WSo.So.E—it Blew down My Rail Fences Both Sides the Front of the House
It’s remarkable that Rowe’s fences had survived this long with firewood being a precious commodity in town.

Rowe’s bald line “abo. 12 the Generall sent off Six Regiments” referred to how Gen. William Howe ordered an amphibious attack on the Dorchester peninsula. But once he saw the stormy weather was making that mission even more impossible than it already was, Howe called it off and sped up his original plan.


Friday, March 17, 2023

John Rowe Near the End of the Siege

On 17 Mar 1776, the last ships carrying British soldiers and Loyalists pulled away from Boston’s docks.

John Rowe wasn’t on one of those evacuation vessels. That might have surprised some people because that merchant was a native of England, an Anglican, and, according to the crowd inside Old South Meeting-House on 30 Nov 1773, “a good Tory.”

But Rowe was what people called a “trimmer,” adjusting his political stances to what seemed popular and advantageous. On 16 Mar 1775 he wrote disapprovingly in his diary about a Thanksgiving called by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and then at some point he went back and wrote in new words to make it look like he was fine with that, as I quoted here.

That said, I come away from reading Rowe’s diary with the feeling that whatever he wrote at the time he really meant. Maybe he’d change his position in a few weeks, but when he sat down of an evening to record the day’s events he was sincere. Rowe’s emotions come through when he wrote about himself, even as he tries to suppress them like a good eighteenth-century gentleman.

So I’m going to recount the evacuation of Boston through John Rowe’s eyes. His journal has been published in edited form twice, in the Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings in 1895 and again with more accurate misspellings in 1903. It’s now available in full digitally through the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website.

Rowe almost obsessively recorded whom he dined with at midday and whom he spent the evening with. He often described the weather, and every Sunday included details about the church service he attended. A lot of that detail was repetitive and left out of the printed editions. Here, for example, is Rowe’s full entry for 1 Mar 1776, with the words printed in the published editions in boldface:
Primo March 1776 Fryday very Cold WNW—blows fresh

My Brigg Sukey went down in Order to Proceed to Oporto—

I dind at home with Mrs. Rowe & Spent the Evening at home with Richd. Green & Mrs. Rowe
Rowe was still trading across the Atlantic—and not just within the British Empire since Oporto was in Portugal.

The next daily entry doesn’t appear in either of the printed editions despite—or probably because of—how it recorded an interesting event:
2d. March 1776 Saturday A Pleasant morming WSo.W—

This morning Capt. Johnson of the Minerva drown’d himself

I dind at home with Mr. [Ralph] Inman Mrs. Rowe & Jack Rowe—

& Spent the Evening at home & at the Possee
The “Possee” was Rowe’s usual club or circle of friends.

So far that month, life was going on normally—or not going on, in the case of Capt. Johnson. Despite the fact that Rowe was living in a besieged town during a civil war.

TOMORROW: The shooting starts.

Thursday, March 16, 2023

“The duchess’s trial for bigamy commenced…”

I recently enjoyed the History of Parliament’s recounting of the 1776 trial of Elizabeth Chudleigh (1721–1788, shown here) for bigamy.

The legal issue, which determined where a couple of large inheritances would go, was: Had Chudleigh been legally married to (though long estranged from) the third Earl of Bristol in 1744? Or, based on a marriage in 1769, was she the legal widow of the second Duke of Kingston?

Because this matter involved the wife of at least one peer, it was tried before the House of Lords.

The webpage says:
…the duchess’s trial for bigamy commenced in Westminster Hall on 15 April 1776. It quickly became the event of the season. Horace Walpole was expectant, as he was sure ‘her impudence will operate in some singular manner’, and he provided his correspondents with detailed and mocking commentary. He had to admit though that ‘The Duchess-Countess has raised my opinion of her understanding… for she has behaved so sensibly and with so little affectation’. . . .

The moralist Hannah More was less impressed by the spectacle. ‘You will imagine the bustle of five thousand people getting into one hall’, she wrote to a friend. ‘There was a great deal of ceremony, a great deal of splendour, and a great deal of nonsense’. Of the duchess’s performance, More pronounced ‘Surely there never was so thorough an actress’, and her friend the actor David Garrick even commented that the duchess ‘has so much out-acted him, it is time for him to leave the stage’.
The House of Lords reached a unanimous verdict on Lady Bristol or Lady Kingston. However, as Lord Chief Justice Mansfield had predicted, she pled her privilege as a lady and escaped punishment, beyond having to travel Europe with a large fortune.

The History of Parliament page comes to a fitting close: “She died in France on 26 August 1788, from bursting a blood vessel while in a rage after hearing she had lost a legal action.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Sampling the Massachusetts Spy

The Library of Congress just announced that is Chronicling America database of American newspapers has added images of the Massachusetts Spy from 1770 to 1774—the earliest papers yet included.

The agency credited the Boston Public Library with help. Presumably that was the source of the issues that have been digitized here, some of which show distinct cuts and fraying.

There are gaps in the series, especially early on. The first issue included is volume 1, number 9, followed by number 13. That makes it harder to track Isaiah Thomas’s development of the newspaper from two pages three times a week to a typical four-page weekly.

The last issue now available digitally is at the end of 1774, before the war and Thomas’s relaunch in Worcester.

Searching this site can therefore generate interesting leads for research, but it doesn’t produce comprehensive results.

On the other hand, the Chronicling America database offers some advantages, starting with the fact that it’s free and easily searchable. It’s easy to move around from one page or issue to the next, and the images are crisp.

One feature I haven’t seen elsewhere is a display of a newspaper’s front pages in chronological order. Applying that to Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy in 1774 (Chronicling America is a stickler about formal periodical titles) shows how the “Join or Die” serpent joined its masthead on 7 July.

And then slithered off the masthead two weeks later, for no reason I can see, before returning for the rest of the year. That July, one issue came out on a Friday rather than the usual Thursday, while the next said it came out on Thursday but carried the Friday date. So the shop staff may just have been struggling to keep up and forgot the snake. [ADDENDUM: See comments for the real explanation for why the July issues in this display looked so odd.]

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

“No one could find the law in question”

Last month at Stolen Relations Zoe Zimmerman wrote about a legal case in Virginia tried in 1807 that hinged on the preservation or loss of historic documents.

A man named Pallas sought his freedom in court, invoking his descent from an indigenous woman named Beth. She came into Virginia as a slave in 1703. The question was whether she became free at that moment because the colony’s laws forbade indigenous enslavement. If so, her descendants born after that year were also free.

The problem was that no one was sure about the colony’s laws, and the slave-owning elite always got the benefit of the doubt in their courts. Zimmerman wrote:

Because legal records were poorly maintained, no one really knew exactly when Indigenous enslavement had been outlawed in Virginia. Pallas’ attorneys supposed that it was in 1691, but the opposing counsel denied that. Neither side could be proven right, though, because no one could find the law in question.
Pallas appealed to the state’s highest court, joined by five other descendants of Beth.
At the trial, Pallas’ attorney, the prominent Virginia lawyer George K. Taylor, finally produced evidence of the 1691 act. In order to find it, Taylor had traveled to Monticello, the home of President Thomas Jefferson, to procure a manuscript version of the act.

Nevertheless, the court still doubted the law’s authenticity and went as far as to analyze the handwriting in order to figure out if it had ever been officially enacted. It was not until the following year that yet another copy of the same law, also from 1691, would be discovered. At that point, the court determined that it would be too much of a coincidence to find two fraudulent acts from the same year, and thus finally ruled that the 1691 act was legitimate.
Pallas and his relations won their freedom.

However, Zimmerman closed with a note about a “horrible irony”: this law had been cited in another case “just a few decades prior.” The system had conveniently forgotten that precedent as well.

George Keith Taylor (1769–1815) was one of the Federalist judges President John Adams appointed in 1801 after losing the election to Jefferson. The new Jeffersonian Congress then eliminated the new circuit court Taylor sat on, sending him back into private practice.

In 1796, Taylor had formally proposed St. George Tucker’s plan for a very gradual emancipation of slaves in Virginia to the state legislature. Not only did the legislators vote against the idea, some voted against even considering it.

Monday, March 13, 2023

“Frenchmen at the Siege of Boston,” 23 Mar.

On Thursday, 23 March, I’ll speak at the Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site on the topic “Frenchmen at the Siege of Boston.”

This is the site’s annual Evacuation Day lecture, presented in partnership with the Friends of the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters. It honors the successful end of the siege of Boston, which Gen. George Washington oversaw from that Cambridge mansion.

Our description of this talk says:
Histories of the French government’s support for the American Revolution usually begin with Lafayette, the secret supply chain organized by Beaumarchais, and the formal alliance in 1778.

But French gentlemen were actually at the siege of Boston in 1775—observing the armies, meeting Gen. George Washington at his headquarters, and even briefly overseeing the provincial artillery force. Washington and his generals were also trying to win over the francophone subjects of Canada.

In this talk, author J. L. Bell will explore the first secret and tentative steps toward French-American friendship in Cambridge in 1775.
I’ll share some of my research about French noblemen and merchants who visited Massachusetts in 1775. I’ll also rely on Rick Detwiller’s excellent research about two more men who went beyond visiting to participate in the siege itself. As shown above, they left their mark on the landscape, or at least on Henry Pelham’s map of Boston: a fortified site labeled “French redoubt.”

I’ll speak in the Longfellow carriage house. Seating is limited, so please reserve seats through this link. This will also be our first attempt at livestreaming a talk through the site’s YouTube page.

Sunday, March 12, 2023

Bob Thompson and Revolutionary Roads on History Author Talk, 14 Mar.

On Tuesday, 14 March, History Author Talks will host Bob Thompson answering questions about his new book, Revolutionary Roads: Searching for the War That Made America Independent...and All the Places It Could Have Gone Terribly Wrong.

That online event starts at 7:00 P.M. Register here.

Revolutionary Roads is a road trip to scores of historical sites important in America’s move toward independence to explore how they’re being remembered today as we move toward the Sestercentennial. The publisher calls it “In the ride-along tradition of Sarah Vowell, Tony Horwitz and Bill Bryson.”

In the Berkshire Eagle Bill Everhart writes:
Readers soured on history by leaden textbooks will appreciate Thompson’s breezy style and dry humor. He is wonderfully sardonic, if not caustic, about the foibles and blunders of the Great Men on both sides whose actions and — quite often — inactions determined the course of the war and of history.
But this book doesn’t stop in 1783 with the end of the war. Thompson also explores how people are keeping its stories alive today. And that’s how I come in. Literally.

On page 11 Thompson writes:
The first thing one notices about the proprietor of Boston 1775—a blog with the tagline “History, analysis, and unabashed gossip about the start of the American Revolution in Massachusetts”—is the pair of nineteenth-century sideburns that threaten to rendezvous under his chin.

Otherwise, he looks like a well-groomed graduate student: jeans, blue-and-white checked shirt, thick dark hair, and a youthful face that made me surprised to hear he was forty-nine when I met him.
Not only is that accurate, but it’s prescient. As of December, when I had to recover from Covid-19, the sideburns I grew when I was sixteen years old have indeed met in a full beard.

This passage goes on to lay out the origin story of my avocation as a writer of Revolutionary history and Boston 1775. So if you’re interested in that, along with conversations with other Revolutionary investigators and lots of observations about the past and present, check out Revolutionary Roads by Bob Thompson.

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Waldstreicher and The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley

The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley is a new study of the Africa-born, Boston-educated poet that focuses on her as an anti-slavery voice in Revolutionary America.

Author David Waldstreicher is a professor at the City University of New York Graduate Center. His previous books include Slavery’s Constitution: From Revolution to Ratification and Runaway America: Benjamin Franklin, Slavery, and the American Revolution.

In the New York Times Book Review, Tufts professor Kerri Greenidge calls The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley “at once historical biography at its best, literary analysis at its sharpest and a subversive indictment of current political discourse questioning the relevance of Black life in our country’s history.”

Waldstreicher is being interviewed at several events, online and in-person, in the next couple of weeks.

Sunday, March 12, 2:00 P.M.
Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, online
Interview with an institute host.
Free to students and educators. Weekly Book Breaks available to others subscription. Register here.

Monday, March 13, 6:00 P.M.
Massachusetts Historical Society, Boston
Conversation with Kellie Carter Jackson, Wellesley College.
Register to attend online or in person here.

Wednesday, March 22, 7:00 P.M.
Harvard Bookstore, Cambridge
Conversation with Annette Gordon-Reed, Harvard University.
In person at the store in Harvard Square. Masks required for public health.

Monday, March 27, 6:00 P.M.
GBH Forum, online
Conversation with L’Merchie Frazier, SPOKE Arts.
Register here.

And if that’s not enough chances to hear about this book, here are: