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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Tuesday, October 26, 2021

“A large Collection of interesting Papers”

In 1843, the London bookselling firm of Thomas Thorpe issued its catalogue of manuscripts for sale, “Upon Papyrus, Vellum, and Paper, in Various Languages.”

Among those items was “A large Collection of interesting Papers, formed by the late George Chalmers, Esq., relating to New England, from 1635 to 1780, in 4 vols. folio, neatly bound in calf, £21.”

Chalmers (1742-1825, shown here) was born in Scotland and at age twenty-one settled in Maryland as a young lawyer. In early 1776 he published Plain Truth, a point-by-point riposte to Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. That went over so well that Chalmers soon moved back to Britain.

In 1780 Chalmers published Political Annals of the Present United Colonies from Their Settlement to the Peace of 1763. Or rather, he published the first volume of documents about the colonial governments, tracing the history up to 1688, but never produced the second.

In 1786 Chalmers became a secretary to Britain’s privy council, and he kept that postion for decades. It provided him with the income and access he needed to collect manuscripts and write books and pamphlets about the history of Scotland, Shakespeare, other authors, controversial issues of the day, and much more.

In 1796, as Britain fought Revolutionary France, the government paid Chalmers to write a critical biography of Paine. He issued that under the pseudonym of Francis Oldys, supposedly a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. Otherwise, he focused mainly on British topics, particularly the long history of Scotland.

Nevertheless, Chalmers’s manuscript collection shows that he never gave up on accumulating material about the old North American colonies. After his death, his papers went to a nephew, and two years after that man died in 1841, they were on the market.

Here’s a sample of what the collection included from the Revolutionary years, according to the bookseller’s catalogue:
  • Various papers relating to the paper currency in the colonies, 1740-60.
  • Account of the dispute at New London, at the burial of a corpse, 1764.
  • List of graduates in Harvard College, who have made any figure in the world.
  • Part of Mr. Otes’s speech in the general assembly at Boston, in 1768.
  • Autograph letter from W. Molineux, relating to the riots at Boston, 1768.
  • Letters relating to the seizure of the sloop Liberty, 1768, very curious.
  • Information of Richard Silvester, of the speeches of the Boston leaders, 1769.
  • Declaration of Nathaniel Coffin to Governor J. [sic] Bernard, on the designs to drive off the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, 1769.
  • Key to the characters published in the Boston Chronicle of Oct. 26, 1769, (The Boston patriots characterized.)
  • Autograph letter from George Mason, containing an account of the riot and attack of Mr. Mein’s house, 1769.
  • Copy of a curious letter from Boston, relating to Franklin’s duplicity, &c. 1769.
  • Autograph letters from John Mein and George Mason to Joseph Harrison, concerning the riot at Boston, 1769.
  • Papers relating to the outrage on Owen Richards, an officer of the customs at Boston, 1770.
  • Copy of a letter from Lord Dartmouth to Dr. Benjamin Franklin, about presenting a remonstrance of the court to the king, 1773.
  • Account of the proceedings of Governor Hutchinson, relating to Massachusetts, &c., 52 pages, 1774.
  • Account of an attack that happened on His Majesty’s troops, by a number of the people of the province of Massachusetts Bay, 1775.
It looks like Chalmers obtained many of those documents from Joseph Harrison, a Boston-based Customs official, or his estate.

Prof. Jared Sparks (1799-1866) of Harvard College must have seen the bookseller’s listing. He apparently arranged for the college library to buy some of Chalmers’s papers in 1847 while he bought others for himself, leaving them to the library on his death. Thus, the papers listed above are now at the Houghton Library and digitized as part of the university’s Colonial North America project.

Monday, October 25, 2021

More Podcast Pickings

Here are a couple more podcast reports from this weekend’s listening.

At Mainely History, Ian Saxine welcomed Sara Georgini of the Adams Papers for a discussion of John Adams’s work in the 1760s and early 1770s as an attorney. During those years Adams regularly traveled to the county courts in Maine and represented the powerful Kennebec Proprietors in their many lawsuits.

The Pownalborough Court House, built in the late 1760s and shown here, was one of the places Adams argued. It was also, Saxine states, an artifact of the Proprietors’ bid for influence and profits.

I’ve taken the liberty of transcribing something Saxine said in this conversation because it speaks to the interpretation of legal sources, with their particular rules and rituals:
One aspect of the writs that I thought was worth mentioning, especially since listeners who haven’t seen these sources would be surprised and confused, is that a lot of the way the writs work is that if you’re going to allege that something happened or accuse somebody of something you can’t bring up the evidence later on, and so these writs initially will just accuse the object of everything under the sun within this general umbrella.

So if you’re charging somebody with trespassing, you have to say, “And Sara Georgini did with force of arms did forcibly and willingly trespass, breaking down my fences…” Even if I know you did none of those things, but you still trespassed, just in case we find out that any of those things happened in the case, we need to go out and say it in the writ because otherwise we can’t bring it up. . . .

I know as a grad student I was thinking like, “Oh, my gosh! This is such a violent place! Everybody’s ‘through force of arms’ everythinging” because I was looking at a lot of trespass suits. And then I learned, no, no, this is just the language they used.
Georgini reports that Adams was conscientious about protecting his clients’ privileges and privacy. Therefore, as open as his family letters and diaries were, he rarely complained about the people he was working for or the weakness of their cases. More’s the pity.

Another interesting perspective came through in History Extra’s conversation with Ian Keable on his book The Century of Deception: The Birth of the Hoax in Eighteenth-Century England.

Keable is not just a historical researcher (and not just a chartered accountant), but a professional magician and mindreader. He thus brought a practiced eye to interpreting the witnesses who declared that, for example, Mary Toft couldn’t possibly have deceived anyone about giving birth to rabbits since they were watching her the whole time. Keable knows all too well how easily those people could be misdirected and fooled.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Mysteries of Marie Antoinette and Her Family

Yesterday I listened to this episode of the History Extra podcast, an interview with Nancy Goldstone about her new book, In the Shadow of the Empress: The Defiant Lives of Maria Theresa, Mother of Marie Antoinette, and Her Daughters.

Although the episode title focuses on Holy Roman Empress Maria Theresa, a large part of the conversation was about the empress’s youngest daughter, Marie Antoinette of France. In that section, Goldstone posited that:
  • Louis XVI was on the autism spectrum.
  • Marie Antoinette might have been dyslexic.
The latter theory didn’t appear in her book, she said. The former is a major argument, and her publisher is marketing that as part of what’s new.

Another element of Goldstone’s portrait of Marie Antoinette, not so new, is that she had a long emotional and sexual relationship with the Swedish count Axel von Fersen. I discussed the recent reading of their letters earlier this month.

Goldstone has written or co-written quite a range of books, including previous biographies of royal women, memoirs of the book trade, and murder mysteries. She hasn’t written about the eighteenth century before, however. I’ve seen some reviews complain that she’s overlooked sources that have come to light in the last few decades, which specialists would certainly use.

That said, Goldstone’s status as a non-academic historian writing for a popular readership has probably freed her to acknowledge the usual caveats about the impossibility of making any sort of sophisticated diagnosis when a subject has been dead for centuries and share her ideas anyway.

Autism and dyslexia may be like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, homosexuality, and other human conditions with genetic components that appear in individuals in all sorts of societies in all eras. Those societies understand and respond to the conditions differently—accepting, denying, punishing—leaving different evidence in the historical record. Our present understandings of those conditions may be more advanced than in previous centuries but are undoubtedly still limited. Nonetheless, I think these possible diagnoses are worth at least considering.

In the podcast Goldstone also raised the possibility of genetic testing to see if, as she suspects, Marie Antoinette’s two younger children were fathered by Count von Fersen rather than King Louis. I don’t know if there’s enough genetic material available to make that possible; both children died young, though one became the doomed Dauphin, whose heart is reportedly preserved.

Saturday, October 23, 2021

“Questioning Our Storied Past,” 26 Oct.

On Tuesday, 26 October, there will be an online panel discussion on the theme “Questioning Our Storied Past: A Discussion on America’s Founding Narratives.”

This event is organized by Unfinished: America at 250, a “partnership of historical and cultural institutions, National Park Service sites, historians, and changemakers,” mostly based in New England.

This group “harnesses the stories of the past and activates historic spaces to provoke community conversations about the ongoing American Revolution.”

The description for this particular discussion is:
As the nation approaches its 250th anniversary, Americans continue to grapple with ongoing social injustice and political conflict rooted in our nation’s founding stories. This program will explore how these stories have been made, shared, and passed on and what to make of the gaps and intentional erasures.

Together, the panelists will question how national narratives are built, why they exist, who they serve, and how to transform them. This program will also discuss the importance of creating spaces that dignify diverse stories and difficult truths to reexamine how we see ourselves and our shared past.
Those panelists are:
  • Philip J. Deloria, professor at Harvard University, author of Playing Indian, moderator
  • Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, professor emerita at California State University, Hayward, author An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States and, most recently, Not “a Nation of Immigrants”: Settler Colonialism, White Supremacy, and a History of Erasure and Exclusion
  • Elon Cook Lee, director of interpretation and education at the National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Nat Sheidley, president of Revolutionary Spaces, which cares for the Old State House and Old South Meeting-House
The program is scheduled to end with a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” arranged by Berklee College of Music student Amanda Bradshaw.

This discussion will start at 6:30 P.M. Register through this page.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Revolutionary Events on Saturday, 23 Oct.

Here are two outdoor Revolutionary events happening in New England tomorrow.

At Minute Man National Historical Park’s Hartwell Tavern site in Lincoln, two knowledgeable volunteers will lead a walking tour of a crucial corner along the Battle Road back from Concord:
Elm Brook Hill (formerly known as “Bloody Angle”) was the site of a violent ambush against the British column on the afternoon of April 19, 1775. Edmund Foster, a volunteer from Reading, Massachusetts (portrayed by Park Volunteer Ed Hurley, shown above), will lead a tour to this battle site where he fought in 1775. Learn about this action from the words of one who was there! Ed will also be accompanied by local historian and author Don Hafner of the Lincoln Minute Men.
That tour will happen twice, at noon and 1:15 P.M. The walk is less than a half mile along a hard-packed dirt surface.

It looks like Frank Coburn was the first author to apply to label “Bloody Angle” to this area and the fight that took place there. In his 1912 The Battle of April 19, 1775, he used the phrase first without capital letters, then with them. But he was borrowing the term from parts of the Gettysburg and Spotsylvania battlefields during the Civil War.

Coburn’s coinage of “Parker’s Revenge” for the skirmish at a site on the Lexington border has been vindicated by archeological evidence, so it will probably stick, even though nobody used that label before him. So he can afford to lose “Bloody Angle.”

Up in Rollinsford, New Hampshire, the Association for Rollinsford Culture & History is hosting a “Colonial Market Fair and Militia Muster” at the Col. Paul Wentworth House. This event will includes artisans in eighteenth-century attire demonstrating such crafts as joinery, coopering, lacemaking, and blacksmithing. A militia unit will perform musket firings and military drills, explain their equipment, and raise a Liberty Pole and flag.

That gathering will happen from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. with cannon firings at 11:00, 1:00, and 3:00. Admission is $5 for adults, free for children.

For folks from outside the region or staying inside, American History TV is broadcasting two lectures recorded in 2019 on C-SPAN2:
Those two lectures will be shown back to back starting at 8:00 A.M., 11:00 A.M., 8:00 P.M., and 11:00 P.M. And one can watch them anytime on the web.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

“Two Perspectives” Debate between Wood and Holton, 23 Oct.

On Saturday, 23 October, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host an online and in-person debate between the historians Gordon Wood and Woody Holton on “The American Revolution from Two Perspectives.”

Both Wood and Holton are senior scholars—in Wood’s case, quite senior, since he won the Bancroft Prize for The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 in 1970 when Holton was a grade-school kid living in the Virginia governor’s mansion. In 1993 Wood won the Pulitzer Prize for The Radicalism of the American Revolution, and he’s written and edited many other titles.

But Holton has written significant books, too, including Forced Founders: Indians, Debtors, Slaves and the Making of the American Revolution in Virginia; Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution; and the biography Abigail Adams, which won the Bancroft Prize in 2010.

Wood was born in Concord, studied at Tufts and Harvard, and spent most of his career at Brown University, where he is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus. Holton, as I said before, grew up in Virginia, studied at the University of Virginia and Duke, and is the McCausland Professor of History at the University of South Carolina. So they are literally coming at the Revolution from different places.

Wood is a leading figure in the school that analyzes the Revolution through ideology, focusing on printed arguments that perforce reflect mostly elite views. Holton prefers to look at class conflict within American society pushing both the mass of people and the elite in unexpected ways.

Both authors have new books out, reflecting those contrasting approaches. Here’s how the publishers describe them:

Power and Liberty: Constitutionalism in the American Revolution: Americans explored and debated all aspects of politics and constitutionalism—the nature of power, liberty, representation, rights, the division of authority between different spheres of government, sovereignty, judicial authority, and written constitutions. Gordon Wood illuminates critical events in the nation’s founding and discusses slavery and constitutionalism, the emergence of the judiciary as one of the major tripartite institutions of government, the demarcation between public and private, and the formation of states’ rights.

Liberty Is Sweet: The Hidden History of the American Revolution: Using eyewitness accounts, Liberty Is Sweet explores countless connections between the Patriots of 1776 and other Americans whose passion for freedom often brought them into conflict with the Founding Fathers. Woody Holton looks at the origins and crucial battles of the Revolution, always focusing on marginalized Americans—enslaved Africans and African Americans, Native Americans, women, and dissenters—and on overlooked factors such as weather, North America’s unique geography, chance, misperception, attempts to manipulate public opinion, and (most of all) disease.
Holton and Wood have made joint appearances like this before, so expect to hear well-practiced arguments.

This discussion will take place in person at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, and will also be live-streamed to people who sign up in advance to watch. Catherine Allgor, president of the M.H.S., will moderate.

The on-site event will start with a reception at 2:30 P.M. on Saturday, 23 October, and the hourlong debate is scheduled to begin at 3:00. The cost is $20, free to M.H.S. Members and Fellows and people with E.B.T. or Connectorcare cards.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Gen. Gates’s Articles of Convention

As I said yesterday, on 23 Oct 1777 John Gill’s Continental Journal printed the “ARTICLES of CONVENTION between Lieutenant-General [Horatio] GATES and Major-General [John] BURGOYNE.”

Gates must have hurried that document to Boston, not simply because the Battle of Satatoga was big news but also because the state of Massachusetts had to prepare for the arrival of thousands of prisoners of war.

The full text of the surrender terms is here. I’ll quote the most important passages, those involving substance rather than details of implementation, as they appeared in the Continental Journal.

ARTICLE I. The troops under Lieutenant-General Burgoyne, are to march out of their camp with the honors of war and the artillery of the intrenchments, to the verge of the river where the old fort stood, where the arms and artillery are to be left; the arms to be piled by word of command from their own officers.

Art. II. A free passage to be granted to the army under Lieutenant-General Burgoyne to Great Britain, on condition of not serving again in North America during the present contest, and the port of Boston is assigned for the entry of transports to receive the troops, whenever General [William] Howe shall so order. . . .

Art. IV. The army under Lieutenant-General Burgoyne, to march to Massachusetts-Bay by the easiest, most expeditious and convenient route; and to be quartered in, near, or as convenient as possible to Boston, that the march of the troops may not be delayed when transports arrive to receive them.

Art. V. The troops to be supplyed on their march, and during their being in quarters, with provisions by General Gates’s orders, at the same rate of rations as the troops of his own army, and if possible, the officers horses and cattle are to be supplyed with forage at the usual rates.

Art. VI. All officers to retain their carriages, batt-horses and other cattle, and no baggage to be molested or searched, Lieutenant General Burgoyne giving his honor that there are no public stores secreted therein.—Major-General Gates will of course take the necessary measures for the due performance of this article; should any carriages be wanted during the march for the transportation of officer’s baggage, they are if possible to be supplyed by the country at the usual rates. . . .

Art. IX. All Canadians and persons belonging to the Canadian establishment, consisting of sailors, batteaumen, artificers, drivers, independent companies and many other followers of the army, who come under no particular description, are to be permitted to return there . . .
Gates was a veteran of the British army. He and Burgoyne had enlisted as young officers at the same time, and he had served under Burgoyne earlier in their careers.

The American general knew what supplies and housing a large army, including families, would need. He was also sensitive to the honor of British officers; one of the thirteen articles guaranteed those gentlemen the privilege of walking around greater Boston wearing their arms. 

About 5,900 Crown troops surrendered at Saratoga. On 8 November they started to arrive in Cambridge, which in 1776 had an official population of 1,586.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

“Receiving confirmation various ways of the surrender”

The army around Philadelphia wasn’t alone in waiting anxiously for news from northern New York in October 1777. The publisher of the Massachusetts Spy was gleaning every bit of information that came through Worcester for his readers.

That publisher wasn’t Isaiah Thomas, who had co-founded the Spy in Boston in 1770 and moved it out to Worcester just before the outbreak of war.

In the middle of 1776 Thomas stepped away from day-to-day operations in order to tend to family business—namely, divorcing his wife, finding care for their children, and helping his mother at her home in Cambridge.

Thomas leased the Massachusetts Spy to other printers as a (barely) going concern. Starting in mid-1777 the publisher was Anthony Haswell, a former Thomas apprentice who turned twenty-one that year.

On 23 October Haswell’s Massachusetts Spy printed extracts from a Continental officer’s letter dated eleven days before, reporting that Gen. John Burgoyne’s army had attacked and been pushed back:
Friday [10 October] the whole army marched with three days provision, and we found the road strewed with baggage of all kinds; horses killed in the waggons, and all their sick and wounded, with Burgoyne’s chief surgeon
Then came another letter from the same officer, dated 14 October:
We have now entirely surrounded the enemy, and it is common to have forty or fifty deserters and prisoners come in per day. The Canadians we are informed have mutinied, and decline having anything further to do in the matter, and that the General had promised they should go home in a few days.
Then a letter from Saratoga dated 14 October:
Last night General [Horatio] Gates received a card from General Burgoyne, requesting to know when it would be agreeable to him to have a field officer of his army wait on him with proposals of great consequence to both armies. . . . General Gates sent the articles on which he would agree . . .

P.S. I believe that General Gates rather than not get Burgoyne and his army, will soften his terms a little.
In the next paragraph the publisher lamented receiving “many different” reports raising doubt about what had really happened next. But then a seemingly reliable witness arrived:
A Gentleman who passed through town yesterday informed, that General Burgoyne was arrived at Albany, on his way to Boston, where it is said he is to take ship for England, according to the capitulation said to be entered into between him and Gen. Gates.

In consequence of receiving confirmation various ways of the surrender of Gen. Burgoyne, a number of the sons of liberty in this town, met on the common and expressed their joy by thirteen discharges of cannon, and drinking several toasts. The whole was conducted with a decency suitable to the occasion, and truly characteristic of the supporters of the glorious cause in which we are engaged.
On the same day that Haswell was printing these bare tidbits, in Boston John Gill was printing the entire Articles of Convention, or terms of surrender, for readers of his Continental Journal. That document must have been couriered to Boston by a route that bypassed Worcester.

Monday, October 18, 2021

Joyful News from Saratoga

On 18 Oct 1777, Gen. George Washington issued joyous general orders to the Continental Army outside Philadelphia:
The General has his happiness completed relative to the successes of our northern Army. On the 14th instant, General [John] Burgoyne, and his whole Army, surrendered themselves prisoners of war

Let every face brighten, and every heart expand with grateful Joy and praise to the supreme disposer of all events, who has granted us this signal success—The Chaplains of the army are to prepare short discourses, suited to the joyful occasion to deliver to their several corps and brigades at 5 O’clock this afternoon—

immediately after which, Thirteen pieces of cannon are to be discharged at the park of artillery, to be followed by a feu-de-joy with blank cartridges, or powder, by every brigade and corps of the army, beginning on the right of the front line, and running on to the left of it, and then instantly beginning on the left of the 2nd line, and running to the right of it where it is to end—The Major General of the day will superintend and regulate the feu-de-joy.
According to Col. Timothy Pickering, the chaplains’ sermons were forestalled by a report that “the enemy were marching towards us,” so the soldiers had to muster for battle instead. But “the enemy pretty soon went back to their quarters.”

The evening celebration went on. Over on the British side, Maj. John André wrote in his journal, “at sunset firing was heard in the direction of the Rebel Encampment. This was a feu-de-joie on account of the taking of General Burgoyne and the Northern Army.”

(A feu-de-joie involved soldiers firing their muskets in rapid succession to make a long ratatat-tat-tat sound.)

Washington was especially pleased with that news because his own army was still reeling from losses at Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown. He had just heard from Gen. Israel Putnam about British forces storming up the Hudson. The last letter he’d received from Gen. Horatio Gates indicated that Gen. Burgoyne’s campaign was still a threat.

Thus, the commander-in-chief was delighted when Putnam passed on a note from Gen. George Clinton in Albany dated 15 October:
Last Night at 8 OClock the capitulation whereby Genl Burgoyne and whole Army surrenderd themselves Prisoners of war was sign’d, and this morning they are to march out towards the river above fish Creek with the honors of war (and there ground their Arms) they are from thence to be marched to Massachusets Bay. We congratulate you on this happy event, and remain yrs &c.
In fact, that report was premature. Burgoyne and Gates started talks on 14 October, but it took three days before the British and Hessian soldiers actually surrendered. All the while, Gates was worrying about whether Crown reinforcements might arrive and change Burgoyne’s mind.

Now technically we could say Washington’s army didn’t jump the gun because the British army did surrender on 17 October, one day before the celebrations in Pennsylvania. But Washington was still operating on false information.

Discussing Saratoga gives me leave to note that the national park there has a new Chief of Interpretation starting today. Garrett Cloer previously worked at Minute Man National Historical Park, Independence National Historical Park, and Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historical Site, all places with serious Revolutionary history, in addition to his latest posting at the Herbert Hoover Birthplace in Iowa. He’ll be a real asset to Saratoga.

The photo above shows the Saratoga surrender site, which will soon also become part of the national park there. For the past two years that landscape has been managed and upgraded by the Friends of Saratoga Battlefield.

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Maj. Moses Ashley’s Line of Battle Restored

Historic Deerfield just announced that it had conserved a line of battle for Gen. George Washington’s Continental forces drawn up around 1780.

Maj. Moses Ashley (1749-1791) of Westfield was a Yale graduate who joined the fight as a lieutenant in April 1775. In May 1780 he wrote to his commander-in-chief from “the Highlands” in New York asking about a promotion from captain to major. Washington replied that he had to ask his state government.

Heitman’s Register of Officers of the Continental Army says Ashley was major of the 5th Massachusetts Regiment from January 1780 on, so he got his promotion—and got it backdated.

At some point, Maj. Ashley used his time to draw up a contingency plan for a large battle that might happen along the Hudson River. He sketched in each regiment with the name of its colonel and its accompanying cannon. He drew dragoons at the top, as shown above. On the other side he wrote in a decorative hand:
Moses Ashley Esq.
Major Brigade to the 2d
Massachusetts Brigade
in Service United States of
Historic Deerfield acquired the Ashley document at auction three years ago. Having been folded for many years, the paper was creased and split, and one segment was lost.

Paper Conservator Rebecca Johnston of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center reconnected the pieces, reduced the staining, and stabilized the document for the future. Her work was supported by the Massachusetts Society of Cincinnati, of which Maj. Ashley was an original member.

Historic Deerfield will display this document with care to preserve it. A full-size facsimile will be available for researchers at the Society of Cincinnati Library in Washington, D.C. There are also detailed images of the document here, though that site might need its security certificate updated.

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.