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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Thursday, September 21, 2023

Informed Discussion of Peter Faneuil and His Legacy

This month the Boston Globe published Brian MacQuarrie’s article, many months in the making, about Peter Faneuil, the Atlantic slave economy, and what that might mean for Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

It’s a long and thoughtful article, presenting recent primary-source research and including many voices. The web version includes animated maps.

I hadn’t known this:
A 2021 survey suggested that Bostonians support renaming the hall, with 51 percent in favor, 36 percent opposed, and 12 percent undecided or declining to answer, according to the MassINC Polling Group. Black voters overwhelmingly backed the change, while white voters were nearly evenly split.
Of course, support for renaming would probably divide if people were asked about different possibilities instead of a generic change. But the minority strongly opposed to renaming are certainly overrepresented in this article’s comments section.

I wrote a series of postings about the name of Faneuil Hall back in 2020 (starting here), and in June reported on the site’s exhibit about slavery in Revolutionary Boston. My thinking, including the value of visible iconoclasm and highighting the many people involved in the building, hasn’t changed.

Renaming landmarks is something all societies do, of course. Revolutionary Boston included King Street, Queen Street, Hutchinson Street—all changed for political reasons in the new republic. For a while King’s Chapel was called the Stone Chapel. Prolonged public discussion of such issues highlights divisions in society, but being able to resolve those questions collectively should be a sign of health.

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Preparing for the Battle Road Sestercentennial

The staff at Minute Man National Historical Park is already planning for the Sestercentennial of the Battle and Lexington and Concord in 2025.

And that means planning for the battle anniversary in 2024.

The park is alerting Revolutionary reenacting groups who want to participate in 2025 that they must sign up for and participate in the 2024 so they’ll know how to navigate the park and its rules before the crowds get huge.

Furthermore, in order to maintain the Battle Road standards for accuracy, units must register for the 2024 event between this month and 13 January.

The park explains here:
Q: Does my group really need to attend Battle Road prior to the 250th in order to attend in 2025?

A: Yes. Battle Road is unique for its complexity and physical demands. Also, in 2025 we are expecting possibly tens of thousands of visitors and even a Presidential visit. Park volunteers and staff can expect large crowds and even heavy traffic getting to the site. It is important for units to experience Battle Road in a more quiet year so they know where they need to go and what is expected of them so to avoid confusion in 2025. . . .

The entire unit does not have to participate in the 2024 event. Three or four members, preferably officers and NCOs, can attend and adequately represent a unit with the assumption that they can report back to the other members and help them make sense of the important information.

Q: I can't make it to the inspection, how do I get approved?

A: In 2024, the Battle Road Muster will be held on Saturday, March 30th. The main purpose of the muster is, primarily, to provide safety briefings, to drill and rehearse the tactical demonstrations. Also, it is a good opportunity to get eyes on participants and identify any last minute, hopefully minor, issues with drill, clothing, or equipment and take steps to correct them before the event on Saturday, April 13th.

However, in 2023 we learned that for groups with multiple or major issues, identifying these at the muster is too late. Therefore, we will open registration for 2024 in September of 2023 and will close it on January 13, 2024. Units must submit photographs no later than January 13th. New units may be asked to also provide a drill video if requested.

If sending group photos, please have the unit formed in one rank and provide front and rear photographs and a list of names (from right to left) of those in the photo. Any member not present must submit a photograph solo, through their unit commander, to the committee no later than January 13th.
Note the date for the 2024 commemoration: Saturday, 13 April. There will, of course, be a plethora of other events around that date, and an even larger number of celebrations, or even larger celebrations, in 2025.

(The image above is a screen capture of Grayson1Video’s recording of the 1975 parade, filmed on Super 8. It’s not meant to show current standards.)

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

O’Brien on Loyalists via Old North, 21 Sept.

On Thursday, 21 September, Old North Illuminated will host a virtual talk by G. Patrick O’Brien on “‘This Perilous Hour of Trial, Horror & Distress’: Loyalist Exile and Return.”

The event description says:
Between April 1775 and the early months of 1783, more than 75,000 colonists fled the upheaval of the Revolution for the protection of the British Empire. Nearly half of these refugees, including many New Englanders, landed on the rocky shores of Nova Scotia.

The most prominent of these exiles called themselves “loyalists,” a label they fashioned to accentuate their own unwavering fidelity, and the broader collective’s shared dedication to maintaining Britain’s empire in North America. . . .

Concentrating on a few loyalist families from the greater Boston area, including that of Rev. Mather Byles Jr., the rector of Old North Church until 1775, Dr. G. Patrick O’Brien of the University of Tampa will explore what it meant to be a loyalist during the American Revolution.

The talk will pay special attention to how marginalized loyalists, including women and enslaved people, grappled with the hardships of wartime exile and the role these figures had in bringing families back to their American homes after the war.
It’s notable that although the Rev. Mather Byles, Jr. (shown above), left with the British troops, his father, the Rev. Dr. Mather Byles, Sr., remained in Boston, as did his two half-sisters. The Boston Byles family continued to profess loyalty to the king, even in the new republic. While some Loyalists came back to the U.S. of A., or tried, these Byleses never left.

G. Patrick O’Brien is professor at the University of Tampa. He is working on a book about the experiences of loyalist women and families during the Revolution, their exile in Nova Scotia, and the social networks repatriating loyalists created between British Canada and the United States.

This online event will run from 7:00 to 8:30 P.M. Register for the link through this Eventbrite page; make a donation of of any amount to Old North Illuminated to support the preservation and interpretation efforts at Old North Church in the North End.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Taking a Scrap of History

Earlier this month Independence National Historical Park shared the photo above on Facebook.

That posting stated:
This scrap of newspaper was excavated from a privy at the National Constitution Center site where it had likely been used as toilet paper. That's right - this piece of paper likely wiped a bottom in ye old outhouse sometime following November 5, 1790, the day it was published. Sometimes the most fascinating objects are those that capture the most private moments of the past.
The clipping might also have come from the 8 Nov and 12 Nov 1790 Pennsylvania Packet, and Daily Advertiser. Before and after those days, wine merchant Benjamin W. Morris’s advertisement differed slightly.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

The Case of the Adapted Anecdote

Today is Constitution Day, declared to commemorate the date on which the delegates at the Constitutional Convention signed off on their work.

Not the day on which that proposed constitution for the new U.S. of A. was ratified by a supermajority of the people’s representatives, nor the day on which it went into effect. But that’s another story.

Speaking of stories, I’m continuing to investigate the anecdote that James McHenry wrote and then rewrote about Benjamin Franklin telling Elizabeth Powel that the convention provided for a “a republic—if you can keep it.”

Two Supreme Court justices have written books using that phrase as their title. The more recent is by Neil Gorsuch, who alluded to the story only in passing.

The earlier was by Earl Warren in 1972, after he had retired from the bench. It offers this page at the start:

After a detailed description of Franklin encountering a woman outside the meeting hall, Warren cited the “Notes of Dr. James McHenry, one of the delegates,” adding, “Adapted from Documents Illustrative of the Formation of the Union of the American States, Government Printing Office, 1927.”

When I looked up that government publication, however, I found only the transcription of what McHenry wrote at the end of his convention notes, as published in Max Farrand’s The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 in 1911.
A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.

The lady here aluded to was Mrs. Powel of Philada.
Warren accurately quoted Elizabeth Powel’s question about “a republic or a monarchy.” He didn’t insert the word “Madam” into Franklin’s response as some authors did.

However, none of the emotional detail in Warren’s anecdote—how the “delegates trudged out,” the “anxious woman in the crowd waiting at the entrance”—came from the source he cited. The phrase “Adapted from” shows that Warren must have realized how his telling differed from the original. Most likely, he had been influenced by other detailed retellings and imagined the scene that way.

American authors had been setting this exchange on the street for at least thirty years by then. (McHenry wrote that it happened indoors, and Powel insisted that it had happened in her salon if it had happened at all.)

Previous writers had described the questioner as “eager,” “concerned,” and “inquisitive.” This is the earliest version that I’ve found using the word “anxious,” an adjective repeated in reviews of this book and in later narrations. (Powel would have hated that characterization.)

This version of the anecdote appeared in a book by a former Chief Justice of the United States, with what appears to be a citation to a highly authoritative source. But tracing back that citation shows how many details of this tale were spun out of nothing.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

“A Sett of Controversial Discourses agreed upon by the Society”

In October 1722, almost a year after being inoculated against smallpox, Ebenezer Turell found a new use for his notebook.

He wrote out what he called “An account of a Society in Har: Colledge.” This was a more serious endeavor than the Telltale essay exchange the previous year.

Ten young men from the Harvard College class of 1721 plus four from nearby classes pledged to meet regularly for intellectual pursuits. One might share “a Discourse of about Twenty minuits,” or the group could engage in philosophical disputations, readings, and epistles.

They also promised “That if we see or hear of any Extraordinary Book, we will give ye best account we can of it to ye Society.”

As an example of what this society (formally) talked about, Turell’s two lectures were:
1 Upon Light, a Phisico-Theological Discourse
2 Upon Providence.
The group was still meeting in October 1723 when Turell took the lead in a new format, combining the discourse and the disputation into a single discussion:
E T read a Lecture to show that it is a point of Prudence To prove & Try all Doctrines in Religion, wch was to serve as an Introduction to a Sett of Controversial Discourses agreed upon by the Society to be successivly carried, one every week.
The last record is from January 1724 when the group agreed on topics for upcoming lectures and discussions. There’s no record of those meetings, however. It’s possible Turell switched to another notebook since he was coming close to the pages he’d already filled with the Telltale material, and that second document didn’t survive. It’s also possible this extracurricular activity just petered out in the winter of 1724 as members moved on.

In 1909 William C. Lane pointed out to the Colonial Society that nearly all the young men in that society went on to be ministers. Those included the Rev. Dr. Charles Chauncy and the Rev. Ebenezer Pemberton of Boston and the Rev. John Lowell (shown above) of Newburyport, ancestor of the celebrated Lowell family.

Ebenezer Turell himself started to train for the pulpit under the Rev. Benjamin Colman of the Brattle Street Meeting in Boston. He became the minister in Medford in 1724, and Colman’s son-in-law two years later. Jane (Colman) Turell shared Ebenezer’s love of writing, though she had a religiously anxious life until she died in 1735.

Turell remarried twice, each time to women in the upper class. As a minister he was a firm Old Light and later a supporter of the Whigs. The Medford congregation granted him a pension in 1773, the year before he preached his last sermon, and he died in 1778. In all, the current church says, Turell oversaw the construction of two church buildings, admitted 323 communicants, baptized 1,037 people, and married 220 couples.

Friday, September 15, 2023

“Argumentive dialogue concerning inoculation”

The Telltale essays by Harvard College students in Ebenezer Turell’s notebook come to a stop on 1 Nov 1721.

In the preceding month, 411 people in Boston had died of smallpox. The epidemic had been spreading and killing since April.

People at Harvard were contracting the disease, including the maid of undergraduate Samuel Mather (1706–1785).

Samuel’s father, the Rev. Cotton Mather, had heard about inoculation against smallpox from his enslaved servant Onesimus and then from reading accounts of the procedure in Turkey. He urged Dr. Zabdiel Boylston to try this approach infecting people with a mild case of the disease in hopes of immunizing them for life.

In June 1721, Boylston inoculated his young son, an enslaved man, and that man’s son. When they didn’t die, he and Mather went public. Boston’s selectmen told him to stop. Boylston didn’t, inoculating young Samuel Mather among others.

Dr. William Douglass opposed inoculation with his pen and his authority as a Scottish-educated physician. The Rev. Benjamin Colman (shown above) supported Boylston and Mather with his Narrative of the Method and Success of Inoculating the Small-pox in New England. Other doctors and ministers divided on the question.

In that atmosphere, around the start of November Ebenezer Turell opened his Telltale notebook from the other end and wrote out a fourteen-page “Argumentive dialogue concerning inoculation between Dr. Hurry and Mr. Waitfort.” Dr. Hurry was, of course, eager for the new procedure, and Mr. Waitfort was still hanging back.

The dialogue consisted of exchanges like this one:
W[aitfort:…] He that bring sickness upon himself Voluntarily Breaks one of the divine Commandment (the 6th)…

H[urry:] I never heard yt the Bringing Sickness upon our selves was a Breach of ye Divine Law Absolutly for by vomitting Purging letting of Blood &c We make our selves sick and that voluntarily too
In the end Dr. Hurry prevailed. The essay concluded with this verse:
Theres none but Cowards fear ye Launce,
Heroes receive ye Wound
With rapturous joy they Skip & Dance,
While others hugg ye Ground.
According to Dr. Boylston’s published account, on 23 November he “inoculated Mr. Ebenezer Pemberton, and Mr. John Lowel, each about 18.” Both those young men were in Turell’s college class and in his circle. (Indeed, I suspect this John Lowell was the student he started the Telltale with.)

The next day, he administered the procedure to a Harvard professor, a tutor, and seven students, including “Mr. Ebenezer Turil.”

Turell went back into his notebook and added that his “Argumentive dialogue” was “Compos’d about three weeks before I was inoculated.”

TOMORROW: Ebenezer Turell’s Society.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Theophilus Evedropper and the Chair Lifters

As I wrote yesterday, on 9 Sept 1721 a Harvard College student—quite possibly Ebenezer Turell—using the signature “Telltale” wrote a short essay inviting a friend to write back about “The shamfull impertinences & monstrous inconsistencies yt daily perplex us.”

Instead, someone else found that note and wrote back. Turell didn’t record the reply.

“Telltale” then wrote directly to his target reader, “J. L.”—perhaps John Lowell, like Turell in the Harvard class of 1721. (The president of the college then was John Leverett, but he seems a less likely addressee.) That second letter said: “If you have any inclination for an epistolary correspondence with me you may deposit your Letters in that Famous tree call’d the Pliable Crotch on Monday Ev’ning.”

J. L. did write back, and other authors joined in the exchange, sharing essays over such pen names as Blablonge and Courage. Telltale himself also used the name Theophilus Evedropper. He collected the essays in a notebook under date headings with classical or literary mottos underneath, imitating British magazines like the Spectator.

Evidently someone else at Harvard was circulating similar essays under the title “The Censure or Muster Roll.” The 30 September offering from Telltale was devoted to criticizing this rival, as in: “The Subject he would treat of is Learning wch I entirly forgott before I had finish’d the first Page.”

Other essays appear to lampoon fellow students, and it’s not clear whether those were friendly joshing within the group or snaps at rivals. By October, the articles veer toward setting up a group called the Spy Club (and sniping at something called the Mock Club).

The Harvard Archives has called the Telltale material “the first student publication” at the college. However, there’s no suggestion the material was ever printed, and I’m not convinced it counts as a publication without more copies. It definitely appear to be an extracurricular activity, however.

John Lowell and Ebenezer Turell were in the college class of 1721, which meant they had graduated by September when these essays started to circulate. They were probably still in Cambridge, reading for their master’s degrees. It’s possible that the greater freedom accorded graduates empowered them to write and share these essays.

On the other hand, the Telltale articles do offer some glimpses of life that seems undergraduate (and remember that at this time most college students were what we think of as high-school age):
There [are] a number of Persons in Colledge who delight in nothing so much as in doing Mischief. This is what they call clean, showing their Parts &c. The great Number of these Persons adds to the Vexation. They are of very different inclinations & each of ym has his particular Art wherin he excells.

I was t’other Day in Company with some of them who go by the Name of Chair Lifters. These Cowards attack you while you are sitting in a Chair (a most defenceless Posture) flinging you to the Ground with Great Violence. For wch Sometimes you[r] Head, arms and Posteriors curse them a fort night after. . . .

There a[re] Divers other Troblesome Fellows of other Species…as rappers, clappers, Trippers, nippers, Thigh Duffers, Stroakers, Pokers, &c all of them when I have opportunity shall be satyrically animadverted upon.
All in all, the Telltale appears to have been motivated by a wish to chide others into proper behavior rather than the satirize the powerful. In that respect, among Boston-area writing it was more like the establishment Boston News-Letter and Boston Gazette than the cheeky New-England Courant.

TOMORROW: Serious matters.

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

“Essay’d on the following Saturdays”

The Boston News-Letter was launched in 1704, the first ongoing newspaper in British North America.

The Boston Gazette followed in 1719. Like the News-Letter it was a weekly licensed by the province and indeed funded by government officials.

On 7 Aug 1721 James Franklin began the New-England Courant with the support of several gentlemen opposed to Boston’s Puritan orthodoxy. That meant poking fun of government officials, Congregationalist ministers, and their public concerns, such as the Rev. Cotton Mather’s ludicrous support for smallpox inoculation. 

Slightly more than a month after the Courant began running, a group of Harvard College students started “a Paper call’d the Telltale, or Criticisms on the Conversation & Beheavour of Schollars to promote right reasoning & good manner.”

The text of this “Paper” survives because Ebenezer Turell (1702–1778, shown here) from the Harvard class of 1721 copied the contents from Saturday, 9 September 9, to Wednesday, 1 November, into a little notebook. Indeed, Turell might have been the organizer of the Telltale to begin with.

That document came to the Harvard University library almost two centuries later, and it’s now digitized. Back in 1909 William C. Lane did a presentation on the manuscript to the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, and we can read his text here, including transcriptions of some parts of the Telltale.

As the Telltale told its own history, the first item was a little handwritten essay titled “The Preface”:
Tis a common observation, he yt remarks ye Folly of others has his own severly remark’d upon. However abjiciendus Timor quoties urget necessitas [throw away disgrace whenever necessity urges]. The shamfull impertinences & monstrous inconsistencies yt daily perplex us must have their career obstructed by some seasonable animadversions wch (Divino anuente numine [with God’s divine approval]) shall be essay’d on the following Saturdays.

Perhaps your enquiries will run more after my Person than the reason of my Discourses. But take this Caution. I am so envelop’d with clouds & vizards yt the most piercing eye can[not] distinguish me from Stoughton’s Hall. In this I am happy. What I intend is for the benefit of the Society & tho in some passages I may seem pritty facetious (wch erroneously call light & vain) It must be attributed to my natural constitution. I hope ther’s no Gentleman (I know ther’s none of worth) will be my antagonist in so laudable an undertaking. But if any man will appear so vain & foolish I defy his strength & Laugh att his attempt.

I would propose and desire ye Gentlemen of Witt & good Sense (of whom we have a considerable number) would unite in the Servasable affair & assume their rights in the other 5 Days. The time yt would be taken up in this matter would not amount to above an hour in a week, & yet how great the advantage!

Sign’d Telltale
The author of that notice left it “upon a pair of Stairs.” Someone picked it up and wrote something underneath in reply. But that someone wasn’t the person that Telltale wanted to hear from.

TOMORROW: “that Famous tree call’d the Pliable Crotch”.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

The Boarding of the Betty in Great Detail

Earlier this year the Cowper & Newton Museum in England posted an article headlined “John Newton, Tide Surveyor, and the boarding of the Betty.”

The authors are Darren White and Glen Huntley, who collaborate as Bygone Liverpool.

They begin:
When the Cowper & Newton Museum shared with us a photograph of a small paper exhibit from its collection—a boarding docket from John Newton’s time as a tide surveyor (1755–1764) in Liverpool—we didn’t think we would be able to unlock its secrets because there wasn’t that much information listed in it.
But they then proceed to assemble a long, detailed, and richly illustrated examination of the circumstances behind that document.

Through newspapers White and Huntley were able to confirm that the ship Betty had come from Virginia, and that it carried tobacco. They discuss Newton’s duties [see what I did there] as a Customs officer, and how the River Mersey looked to arriving ships.

American sources provided information on the Betty’s captain, Thomas Brereton. British sources illuminated the ship’s several owners.

Then it turns out the Betty was made into a privateer in 1761. The authors even found a diagram showing how it had sailed out of Chesapeake Bay that September in a protective convoy of tobacco ships.

The article traces the Betty to its demise off the coast of Ireland in 1763, with a final conflict between different groups fighting for the spoils of the wreck.

It’s a long read that goes in many directions, but it’s a wonderful example of what one can learn just by pulling on a few threads of historical evidence.

In 1764 Newton was ordained within the Anglican church, leaving the civil service and becoming curate for Olney. He’s best known as the author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” and the rueful pamphlet Thoughts on the Slave Trade.

Monday, September 11, 2023

“William Dawes” and Other History Camp Boston Videos to Watch

History Camp Boston has now posted videos from its conference at Suffolk University Law School early last month.

That means you can see me talk about “William Dawes Before and After His Ride” (a/k/a “William Dawes’s Secret”).

One of the details I noticed while updating my notes for this talk is the timing of this item from the Boston Gazette published on Monday, 9 May 1768:
Last Tuesday was married, Mr. William Dawes, Jun. to Mrs. Mehitable May, both of this Town, and Yesterday made a handsome Appearance, dress’d wholly in the Manufactures of this Country, wherein he did Honor to himself, and merits the Respect of the Province, agreeable to their unanimous Vote passed the last session…
I hadn’t processed before that Dawes dressed up in his new suit not on his wedding day but on the first Sunday after his wedding, when he and Mehitable went to their church, Old South, for the first time as a married couple.

Weddings were usually small family affairs in colonial New England, but now I’m curious if there are other examples of the first Sunday after a wedding being the public.

History Camp Boston included many more talks about eighteenth-century and Revolutionary topics, so there are plenty of videos to sample, on topics like the Salem witch trials, James Otis, the Tea Party, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, John Hancock, and more. And of course some sessions considered other periods of history as well.

Some of these videos, including mine, were produced with a grant from the Americana Corner Foundation.

Sunday, September 10, 2023

Carp on Land, Colonial Ports, Global Trade…

The Economic History Association’s EH.net site has shared Benjamin L. Carp review of Jeremy Land’s Colonial Ports, Global Trade, and the Roots of the American Revolution, 1700–1776.

Land is currently Postdoktor in the Department of Economy and Society at the University of Gothenburg and a visiting scholar at the University of Helsinki. He received Ph.D. at Georgia State University in 2019.

Carp summarizes Land’s argument this way:
First, he argues that scholars should understand Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia, as well as the smaller towns in their orbit, as a complex, integrated “port complex” or “port system” rather than fetishizing them as entrepôts for distinct regions (15). . . . Together they formed a “nodal center” that was independent of the British metropole (3).

Second, with that in mind Land argues that these cities’ mercantile interests developed and deployed their own resources, rather than acting as handmaidens to British sources of capital. Indeed, he argues, the metropole often stumbled as an inadequate manager of colonial economic interests. By contrast, since American merchants owned a third of the empire’s merchant marine tonnage, “colonial investment was quite capable of sustaining itself without being dependent on British capital” (51). . . .

Third, the British didn’t actively opt for a policy of “salutary neglect” toward the colonies (151). Imperial officials went through earnest phases of trying to enforce mercantilism, particularly after incurring debts during the Seven Years’ War, but these officials also went through phases of accommodating local merchants or leaving them alone. Ultimately, a lack of imperial capacity to enforce customs laws or provide sufficient specie forced the American cities to go outside the British Empire for circulating currency, specie, and trade routes.

Trade with the Caribbean and outside the empire was on the whole more important to American merchants than was trade with Great Britain. By referring to “trans-imperial trade networks,” Land avoids any romantic, Han Solo-esque associations we might have with smuggling and takes a clearer look at American trading networks outside the British Empire (2). While illegal trade can be difficult to document, Land finds plenty of suggestive evidence. As perhaps the best example, he draws from an earlier co-authored article to demonstrate that Lisbon records show 73% more trade with Philadelphia than the Philadelphia customs house records (Land and Dominguez, 2019, 148–49).
(That’s “Illicit Affairs: Philadelphia’s Trade with Lisbon before Independence, 1700-1775,” published in Ler Historia in 2019 and available here.)
By trading outside the empire, northern merchants had mounted a “resistance” to British mercantile policy long before the 1760s, and the customs service was essentially powerless to enforce its Navigation Acts (2). Although the British Empire ramped up its enforcement efforts after 1763, these efforts backfired. American merchants decided that “membership in the British Empire … was not worth the effort” (3).
At the end of the Revolutionary War, however, many American merchants were shocked to discover that they could no longer trade with those British Caribbean islands, or with the metropole (i.e., London and other British ports). There followed a painful adjustment as the nation tried the China trade, feelers into other empires, and finally a trade pact with Great Britain. Membership in the British Empire may not have been worth it, but independence wasn’t easy either.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

“So much disturbed by a Number of unruly People”

Two hundred fifty years ago today, on 9 Sept 1773, Jacob Bates ran this advertisement in the Boston News-Letter:
Is extremely sorry that the Ladies and Gentlemen were so much disturbed by a Number of unruly People on Wednesday last when he performed, and so much Mischief done to the Fence: —
He is determined for the future, to prosecute to the full Extent of the Law, any Person that shall attempt any thing of the Kind.

He performs again on SATURDAY next, the 11th Instant. The Doors open at 3 o’Clock.

*** TICKETS to be had at Col. Ingersoll’s, in King-Street, Mr. Bracket’s, in School-Street, and at the Place of Performance.

As Mr. BATES is willing to do every thing in his Power to oblige the Ladies and Gentlemen, he has lower’d the Price to Three Shillings each.

Mr. BATES is allowed by the greatest Judges in the Manly Art he professes, to excell any HORSEMAN that ever attempted any Thing of the Kind.
Apparently there had been some sort of disturbance at Bates’s first performance.

Or had there? Back in Philadelphia in September 1772, Bates had likewise posted how he was “extremely sorry that the Ladies and Gentlemen were disturbed by the MOB.” Such apologies might just have been a way to spread the word that his show was extremely popular, like restaurants taking out ads to apologize for running out of food last night.

As for Bates’s new lower price, three shillings was already his minimum price for tickets. He was discounting only the premium admission, perhaps admitting that he wasn’t selling a lot at the higher price.

(I’d like to provide a solid explanation for Bates’s distinction between “Tickets for the First Place” and “for the Second” beyond the obvious that the first were more expensive and therefore presumably better in some way. However, he was the only person to use that phrase in American newspapers in the quarter-century before the war.)

And speaking of those tickets, in addition to Bates’s enclosure at the bottom of the Mall, Bostonians could buy them at two long established taverns:
Taverns with enclosed courtyards were a common venue for traveling performers like Bates. Obviously he needed more space, but those publicans were probably comfortable with handling ticket sales for entertainers.

Friday, September 08, 2023

Bates “at the Bottom of the Mall in Boston”

When we last checked in with equestrian Jacob Bates, on 27 Aug 1773 the Boston selectmen denied his request “to erect a Fence in the Common which will inclose about 160 feet of Ground in order to show his feats in Horsmanship.”

Nonetheless, on 6 September, the Boston Gazette ran this notice:

Mr. BATES, (allowed by the greatest Judges in the Manly Art he professes, to excel any HORSEMAN that ever attempted any Thing of the Kind) on Wednesday next, if good Weather, if not the Friday following, will perform on one, two, and three Horses, at the Bottom of the Mall in Boston.

TICKETS for the first Place at one Dollar each, and for the second Three Shillings, to be had at Col. Ingersol’s, Mr. Bracket’s, and at the Place of Performance.
An even larger advertisement appeared the same day in the Boston Post-Boy:
The Original PERFORMER;
Who has had the Honour of performing before
THE Emperor of Germany, the Empress of Russia, and King of Great-Britain, the French King, the Kings of Prussia, Portugal, Sweden, Denmark, and Poland, and the Prince of Orange; Also, at the Courts of Saxony, Bavaria, Brunswick, Mecklenburgh, Saxe-Gotha, Hilbourghausen, Anspach, and every other Court in Germany; at all which he received the greatest APPLAUSE, as can be made manifest by the Certificates from the several Courts, now in his Possession, and is allowed, by the greatest judges in the MANLY ART he professes, to excel any Horseman that ever attempted any Thing of the Kind.

the 8th September Instant,
If good Weather, if not, the Friday following,
He will perform on ONE, TWO, and THREE HORSES, at the Bottom of the MALL, in BOSTON.

The Doors will be opened at Three o’Clock, and he will mount precisely at Four.

The Seats are made proper for LADIES and GENTLEMEN.

He will take it as a particular Favour, if Gentlement will not suffer any Dogs to come with them.

TICKETS for the First Place at One Dollar each, and for the Second, Three Shillings Lawful Money, to be had at Colonel INGERSOL’s, in King-street, Mr. BRACKETT’s in School-street, and at the Place of Performance.

No Money will be taken at the Doors, nor Admittance without Tickets.
Obviously Bates had found a place to erect his fence anyway. The Mall was part of the Common, defined since the early 1700s by two rows of trees planted by the selectmen’s order along Tremont Street (then also called Common Street). The “Bottom of the Mall” was most likely privately owned land at the southern end of those trees in an area of town still not densely populated.
On Wednesday, 8 September, two and a half centuries ago today, the weather in Boston was good. Bates and his horses performed their show.

TOMORROW: Mr. Bates apologizes.