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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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

The Case against Capt. Preston

In 1770, 28 October was a Sunday—the Sunday right in the middle of Capt. Thomas Preston’s trial for murder.

The fact that this criminal trial stretched over multiple days was unprecedented in Massachusetts. Courts always got through seating a jury, hearing testimony, and summations by the attorneys and judges within a day.

Sometimes a jury had to deliberate late into the night, as at the murder trial of Ebenezer Richardson earlier in 1770. But common-law rules dictated that no food or firewood could be delivered to the jurors, prodding them to quicker decisions.

Everyone knew Capt. Preston’s trial was exceptional and had to be handled with rigorous fairness. The jury selection involved a lot of challenges, and there were dozens of witnesses called to testify.

On 24 October Samuel Quincy, Advocate-General but younger than and thus junior to special prosecutor Robert Treat Paine, opened for the Crown. The first prosecution witness was a child, probably in his teens: barber’s apprentice Edward Garrick, described how he had argued with the sentry outside the Customs office, Pvt. Hugh White. But the boy said nothing about Preston.

Next came Thomas Marshall, tailor and colonel of the Boston militia regiment. Deploying his military experience, Marshall declared, “Between the firing the first and second Gun there was time enough for an Officer to step forward and to give the word Recover if he was so minded.” That was the sort of testimony the prosecution needed to establish Preston’s responsibility for the deaths.

Among the six other witnesses that day, Peter Cunningham said, “I am pretty positive the Capt. bid ’em Prime and load. I stood about 4 feet off him. Heard no Order given to fire.”

According to Paine’s notes, ship’s captain William Wyatt testified that Preston “Stampt and said damn your blood fire let the consequence be what it will.” However, the next witness, John Cox, quoted Preston saying the same thing after the soldiers had fired, apparently threatening them with retribution if they fired a second time. An unsigned summary of the testimony sent to London quoted that line from Cox but not from Wyatt.

In sum, the night of the shooting on King Street was often a confusing mess, and so are our inexact sources on what the witnesses said.

The next day, the prosecutors called fifteen more witnesses, including town watchmen Benjamin Burdick and Edward Langford, selectman Jonathan Mason, blacksmith Obadiah Whiston, bookseller Henry Knox, and Jonathan Williams Austin, law clerk to John Adams, one of the defense attorneys. Several of those men testified that they hadn’t seen or heard Capt. Preston give an order to fire; some were sure he hadn’t.

Only one man, Robert Goddard, stated that Capt. Preston definitely did tell the soldiers to shoot:
The Capt. was behind the Soldiers. The Captain told them to fire. One Gun went off. A Sailor or Townsman struck the Captain. He thereupon said damn your bloods fire think I’ll be treated in this manner. This Man that struck the Captain came from among the People who were seven feet off and were round on one wing. I saw no person speak to him. I was so near I should have seen it. After the Capt. said Damn your bloods fire they all fired one after another about 7 or 8 in all, and then the officer bid Prime and load again. He stood behind all the time.
Goddard had said the same thing at a coroner’s inquest, even going to the Boston jail to identify Preston. He had said the same thing in a deposition for Boston’s Short Narrative report. He was clearly the most dangerous witness for the defense.

TOMORROW: The captain’s argument.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

“Finding a Voice without the Vote” Panel, 29 Oct.

On Thursday, 29 October, I’ll be part of an online panel discussion on “Finding a Voice without the Vote: 18th Century,” presented by Revolutionary Spaces, custodian of the Old South Meeting House and Old State House in Boston.

“In this contentious election year,” the event description says, “we’re reminded voting has never been the only way to make your voice heard. Join us as we reflect on ways some 18th-century New Englanders built power and shaped priorities both within and outside of their communities.”

The panel will be:
  • Amanda Moniz, the David M. Rubenstein Curator of Philanthropy, Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of American History, discussing how women and African Americans shaped public priorities through philanthropy.
  • Kerima Lewis, an early American historian with a focus on slavery in New England, exploring “Negro Election Days” and how they helped build power within enslaved communities.
  • J. L. Bell, talking about how poor men and youth affected public policy through service in militia organizations.
The organizers invite people registering for this event to share other “under-told stories of exercising leadership and power to inform priorities within communities outside of typical government power structures.”

This discussion is scheduled to start at 6:30 P.M. (That means people can switch over after watching Peter Onuf and Annette Gordon-Reed discuss the changing image of Thomas Jefferson for the Massachusetts Historical Society, starting at 5:30.) To register, please start at this page.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Miss Quincy, Mrs. Lincoln, Mrs. Storer, and the Adamses

In the fall of 1761, Hannah (Quincy) Lincoln (shown here, courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums) struck up a correspondence with Abigail Smith, the seventeen-year-old daughter of the minister of Weymouth.

At the time, Lincoln was twenty-five years old and had been married a little over a year. She apparently set out to mentor the teen-aged girl in finding a beau.

On 5 October, Abigail wrote back (in a version probably regularized in spelling and punctuation before being published in 1840):
You bid me tell one of my sparks (I think that was the word) to bring me to see you. Why! I believe you think they are as plenty as herrings, when, alas! there is as great a scarcity of them as there is of justice, honesty, prudence, and many other virtues. I’ve no pretensions to one.
Back in 1759, a young lawyer named John Adams had accompanied his friend Richard Cranch on a visit to the Smith household. Cranch would eventually marry the oldest daughter, Mary. But Adams had come away unimpressed by the Smith girls—“Not fond, not frank, not candid.” In his eyes then, they didn’t compare to “H.Q.,” whom he thought “Tender and fond. Loving and compassionate.”

As I quoted back here, Adams came close to proposing to Hannah Quincy, but didn’t. Which of course meant that she may have had no idea how interested he was. She married Dr. Bela Lincoln instead.

On 30 Dec 1761, a little less than two months after Abigail had told Mrs. Lincoln she had no beaus, John Adams wrote with Cranch to her older sister to say, “our good Wishes are pour’d forth for the felicity of you, your family and Neighbours.—My—I dont know what—to Mrs. Nabby.” He was trying to flirt. Within three years, John Adams and Abigail Smith were married.

Both the Adamses remained friendly with Hannah Lincoln—she was, after all, a cousin of Abigail’s; a sister of John’s legal colleagues Samuel and Josiah Quincy, Jr.; and a neighbor back in Braintree after the death of her first husband.

In October 1777 Abigail was pleased to report to John that “our Friend Mrs. L——n of this Town” was engaged “to Deacon S——r of Boston, an exceeding good match and much approved of.” Everybody liked and respected Ebenezer Storer.

As Abigail Adams traveled away from Massachusetts in the 1780s and 1790s, Hannah Storer continued to correspond with her on topics like social events, children, and fashions. Her political comments were general, though she expressed indignation at John Adams being turned out of the Presidency.

Ebenezer Storer died in 1807. Abigail Adams died in 1818. Their widowed spouses lived on in Boston and Braintree, evidently not seeing each other regularly if at all.

Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1802-1882), Hannah Storer’s great-nephew, wrote in his memoir Figures of the Past about bringing them together sometime in the 1820s:
Among my boyish recollections [of Braintree] there is distinctly visible a very pretty hill, which rose from the banks of the river, or what passed for one, and was covered with trees of the original forest growth. This was known as Cupid’s Grove; and it had been known under that title for at least three generations, and perhaps from the settlement of the town. The name suggests the purposes to which this sylvan spot was dedicated. It was the resort of the lovers of the vicinage, or of those who, if circumstances favored, might become so. The trunks of the trees were cut and scarred all over with the initials of ladies who were fair and beloved. . . .

I, a young man, just entering life, was deputed to attend my venerable relative on a visit to the equally venerable ex-President. Both parties were verging upon their ninetieth year. They had met very infrequently, if at all, since the days of their early intimacy.

When Mrs. Storer entered the room, the old gentleman’s face lighted up, as he exclaimed, with ardor, “What! Madam, shall we not go walk in Cupid’s Grove together?”

To say the truth, the lady seemed somewhat embarrassed by this utterly unlooked-for salutation. It seemed to hurry her back through the past with such rapidity as fairly to take away her breath. But self-possession came at last, and with it a suspicion of girlish archness, as she replied, “Ah, sir, it would not be the first time that we have walked there!”
Mrs. Storer could still flirt. And President Adams, he was still trying.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Ebenezer Storer, at Your Service

In December 1774, a few months after Hannah (Quincy) Lincoln’s husband Bela died, a Boston merchant named Ebenezer Storer was also widowed.

Storer appears here in a pastel portrait rendered by John Singleton Copley in the late 1760s, now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Ebenezer Storer was known for his piety, his meticulous attention to business, and his willingness to do committee work.

After earning degrees from Harvard, he had joined his father’s firm and married Elizabeth Green in 1751. They had at least six children between 1752 and 1764.

In business, Storer became his father’s partner in 1754 and inherited the firm five years later. Storer also followed his father as a deacon of the Brattle Street Meeting from 1759 to 1773, and people referred to him as “Deacon Storer” well after that.

For the town of Boston, Storer served at various times as a warden, selectman, Overseer of the Poor, and member of many town committees. In 1770 he was in the delegation that visited Capt. Thomas Preston in jail and the group of merchants who tried to cajole towns in Essex County back to non-importation.

Other organizations Storer helped to run included the Hopkins Foundation, the Massachusetts Society for Propagation of Christian Knowledge, the New England Company, the Company for Promoting Good Order (Religious), and the Society for Encouraging Trade and Commerce.

A few months after Elizabeth Storer died, the war broke out and Boston was besieged. Ebenezer found refuge in Needham but in February 1776 went back into Boston under a flag of truce. People didn’t doubt his loyalty, though. The town made him a selectman and Overseer again for another year as it recovered.

Another institution that called on Storer’s talents at this time was Harvard College. John Hancock had neglected his work as college treasurer under the heavy, and enticing, responsibilities of politics. Storer took over that job in July 1777 and stayed at it through the currency fluctuations of the 1780s and all the way to 1807.

Four months later, Storer married widow Hannah Lincoln at her father’s house in Braintree. In the following years she gave birth to her only children—daughters Hannah (1779), Anna (1780), and Susan (1783).

The family settled into the Storer mansion on Sudbury Street in Boston. Ebenezer continued to keep the books for all sorts of enterprises, including the Second Massachusetts Regiment, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Society for Propagating the Gospel in North America.
Meanwhile, the Storer business was failing. Ebenezer couldn’t keep up his usual trade with London. He invested in Continental bonds, then had to turn them over to creditors in the 1780s for a fraction of their value. The result, he told President George Washington, was “almost a total loss of my property.” However, he kept his father’s big house and his social standing.

Eventually the John Adams administration found Ebenezer Storer a job and steady income as a regional inspector in the U.S. excise office. After Thomas Jefferson became President, he shifted over to be treasurer of the town of Boston.

The Storers hosted many gatherings of relatives and friends. Future mayor Josiah Quincy described his aunt and uncle as “a hospitable, pleasant family, entertaining their friends most agreeably,” with regular parties on Sunday nights. (He met his wife at one of those events.) 

Ebenezer and Hannah Storer were known as a generous, genteel, and happy couple until he died in his sleep in January 1807.

TOMORROW: A widow once more

Saturday, October 24, 2020

The Career of Dr. Bela Lincoln

When Bela Lincoln was growing up in Hingham in the 1740s, his father—a wealthy farmer, town official, and militia colonel—insisted on sending him to Harvard College.

Some people didn’t think Bela had the smarts for it. Others felt that his talent was merely hidden by "a natural bashfulness.”

Bela Lincoln did fine at Harvard. After graduating in 1754, he returned to Hingham to study medicine with Dr. Ezekiel Hersey. In 1756 he took a province job as doctor for the community of Acadian exiles (“French neutrals”) resettled in Sherborn.

Young Dr. Lincoln was building his practice during the time he became engaged to Hannah Quincy, from a similarly upper-class family in Braintree. Most of our information about their courtship comes from the diary of John Adams, who also entertained thoughts of proposing to Quincy and therefore wasn’t a neutral observer.

Bela Lincoln and Hannah Quincy married on 1 May 1760. Yesterday I shared Adams’s alarmed description from that December of how rudely the doctor behaved toward his wife, her parents, and the entire gathering. Whatever bashfulness Lincoln had shown as a child, he didn’t show it that night—though perhaps he was overcompensating.

I don’t know of other evidence of strains in the Lincolns’ marriage, though, unless their lack of children counts. I haven’t found anyone else writing of Bela Lincoln as such an obnoxious, overbearing man.

Dr. Lincoln’s career seemed to advance steadily. In 1761, Gov. Francis Bernard appointed him a justice of the peace for Middlesex County. The men of Sherborn elected him to the Massachusetts General Court.

In late 1764 Lincoln sailed to Britain for more medical training, also carrying messages from speaker of the house Thomas Cushing to the province’s agent. He came back the next year with an M.D. from King’s College in Aberdeen, which reflected some combination of study and payment.

Now looking even more prestigious, Dr. Lincoln returned to Hingham to resume his practice. The governor made him a justice in Suffolk County. He trained younger doctors, including the hapless schemer Amos Windship, whom he set up in practice in exchange for a mortgage on an inheritance.

Then Dr. Lincoln fell ill. In the summer of 1771 Edmund Quincy described him as “in a very dangerous State.” At the time he and Hannah were on Georges Island in Boston harbor, perhaps for his health. They had been married more than a decade.

Dr. Bela Lincoln finally died in Hingham on 16 July 1774, leaving his wife Hannah a widow at age thirty-five. (His older brother Benjamin went on to have a distinguished political and military career.)

TOMORROW: A better prospect?

Friday, October 23, 2020

“Dr. Lincoln and his Lady”

Earlier this month I discussed how John Adams, the Rev. Anthony Wibird, and Dr. Bela Lincoln of Hingham competed for the attention of Hannah Quincy in north Braintree.

Sometime in the spring of 1759 John wrote that he almost proposed to Hannah, only to be interrupted before he could speak by her sister Esther and his friend Jonathan Sewall—who were becoming a couple.

That “gave room for Lincolns addresses,” Adams wrote, clearly indicating that the doctor had won the contest.

But in the summer of 1759, Adams quoted Lincoln in his diary as saying:
My father gave me a serious Lecture last Saturday night. He says I have waited on H.Q. two Journeys, and have called and made Visits there so often, that her Relations among others have said I am courting of her. And the Story has spread so wide now, that, if I dont marry her, she will be said to have Jockied me, or I to have Jockied her, and he says the Girl shall not suffer. A story shall be spread, that she repelled me.
Evidently Dr. Lincoln and Miss Quincy weren’t as sure about their engagement as all their relatives and neighbors.

On 1 May 1760, however, the nuptials were celebrated. Just seven months later, on 2 December, Adams described what he considered a horrifying display of rudeness at the house of Col. Josiah Quincy, the bride’s father:
About the middle of the Evening Dr. Lincoln and his Lady came in. The Dr. gave us an ample Confirmation of our Opinion of his Brutality and Rusticity. He treated his Wife, as no drunken Cobler, or Clothier would have done, before Company. Her father never gave such Looks and Answers to one of his slaves in my Hearing. And he contradicted he Squibd, shrugged, scouled, laughd at the Coll. in such a Manner as the Coll. would have called Boorish, ungentlemanly, unpolite, ridiculous, in any other Man. . . .

His treatment of his Wife amazed me. Miss[tress] Q. asked the Dr. a Question. Miss[tress] Lincoln seeing the Dr. engaged with me, gave her Mother an Answer, which however was not satisfactory. Miss[tress] Q. repeats it. “Dr. you did not hear my Question.”—“Yes I did, replies the Dr., and the Answer to it, my Wife is so pert, she must put in her Oar, or she must blabb, before I could speak.” And then shrugged And affected a laugh, to cow her as he used to, the freshmen and sophymores at Colledge.—She sunk into silence and shame and Grief, as I thought.—

After supper, she says “Oh my dear, do let my father see that Letter we read on the road.” Bela answers, like the great Mogul, like Nero or Caligula, “he shant.”—Why, Dr., do let me have it! do!—He turns his face about as stern as the Devil, sour as Vinegar. “I wont.”—Why sir says she, what makes you answer me so sternly, shant and wont?—Because I wont, says he. Then the poor Girl, between shame and Grief and Resentment and Contempt, at last, strives to turn it off with a Laugh.—“I wish I had it. Ide shew it, I know.”—

Bela really acts the Part of the Tamer of the Shrew in Shakespear. Thus a kind Look, an obliging Air, a civil Answer, is a boon that she cant obtain from her Husband. Farmers, Tradesmen, Soldiers, Sailors, People of no fortune, Figure, Education, are really more civil, obliging, kind, to their Wives than he is.—She always is under Restraint before me. She never dares shew her endearing Airs, nor any fondness for him.
Adams felt the smart, flirtatious woman who had beguiled him two years before was being beaten down psychologically.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

[The picture above shows the actor Henry Woodward (1714-1777) costumed as Petruchio for the play Catharine and Petruchio, adapted from Shakespeare by David Garrick in 1754. In Britain it became far more popular than the original. But Adams, as a young Massachusetts man, had read Shakespeare and never seen either version on stage.]

Thursday, October 22, 2020

A Memorial to a Mother

Jane Cave, later Jane Winscom (1752-1812), started writing poetry as a teen. Her first datable poem is about the death of the Rev. George Whitefield in September 1770.

When the American War for Independence broke out and there was a general fast declared in Britain, Cave wrote about, “When armies after armies prostrate lie, / And brother, by his brother’s hand must die.”

Years later, in the early 1800s, Winscom published a large collection under the pen name “Mrs. Rueful.” Those poems detailed the troubles of her marriage and her migraine headaches.

Today I’m quoting an extract from Jane Cave’s poem later titled “On the Death of a Beloved Mother, Who died February 6, 1777”:
She gave me birth, and twenty fleeting years
I’ve been the object of her anxious cares.
Thro’ belpless infancy she sav’d from harms
And nurs’d, and bore me in her tender arms.
She sympathiz’d in every pain and grief.
And would have borne it all for my relief.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Investigating the Jason Russell House

The Arlington Historical Society just provided an interim report on various investigations into one of its historic properties, the Jason Russell House.

This building was the focus of the deadliest skirmish on 19 Apr 1775. Russell and eleven militiamen, mostly from Danvers, were killed in and around the house after being caught by a flanking guard of regulars protecting the main British column.

Joel Bohy has assembled a team to study the bullet holes preserved in the fabric of the house. They found more holes than had been previously identified, some at trajectories indicating they were ”fired through the [upper] windows from the street below, either as a preventative measure or to target a person shooting out of them.”

The dispatch describes how those bullet holes are being studied:
The team examined every hole and strike and measured with calipers to determine the caliber, which can often determine whether the projectile was discharged by a British soldier or provincial. They used metal detectors and a video scope to investigate within the walls. Scott swabbed each hole to detect for lead residue, and the team used ballistics rods and laser lights to determine the trajectory of each musket ball.
Other ongoing investigations include 3-D laser mapping of the building and grounds, a scan of the grounds by ground-penetrating radar, and even experiments firing flintlock muskets at targets built to mimic the house’s walls.

In addition, the society is still hunting for the house’s bullet-riddled door, which the Russell family sold to a collector in the late 1800s.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Taylor Looks Back on William Cooper’s Town, 22 Oct.

On Thursday, 22 October, the American Antiquarian Society is hosting an online talk by Alan Taylor about his book William Cooper’s Town.

This is the latest in a series of annual A.A.S. lectures featuring leading historians looking back on important works. And in early American history you can’t get more leading than Taylor. As for the book, it won both the Pulitzer and Bancroft Prizes, so that’s pretty important.

The event descoption says:
When the book William Cooper’s Town: Power and Persuasion on the Frontier of the Early American Republic appeared in 1995, it deftly combined social history, biography, and literary analysis to explore the business and political career of James Fenimore Cooper’s father and the development of the western New York frontier region of Otsego County.

The book charts the rise and fall of the elder Cooper’s financial and political fortunes and examines how these impacted the literary ambitions and career of his son. It also describes the shifting political landscape as the nascent nation developed and then redefined ideals of republican gentility and democratic power.

In this talk, Alan Taylor will examine the genesis of this book and its impact on scholarship and society since it was first published.
Taylor is currently the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Professor of History at the University of Virginia. His other books include Liberty Men and Great Proprietors: The Revolutionary Settlement on the Maine Frontier 1760–1820 (1990), which follows Henry Knox after the war; Writing Early American History (2005); The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (2006); The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels, and Indian Allies (2010); The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia (2013); Thomas Jefferson’s Education (2019); and the ongoing series of overviews American Colonies (2001), American Revolutions (2016), and American Republics (2021).

Among his colleagues, Taylor is known for his plentiful output of books and his choice not to use social media. These things may well be related.

One aspect of William Cooper’s Town that really struck me came toward the end when Taylor argued that Cooper’s success in establishing his New York community and becoming famous for it was all a matter of lucky timing. Other men had tried to found towns in the same region before him, but the area hadn’t had the economy and infrastructure to support their settlements.

Cooper’s own scheme depended on Native removal, plenteous land titles, and a thick growth of hardwood trees to harvest for potash. With the new republic and New York growing around him, he looked like a genius. Once those resources were gone, his enterprise didn’t sustain itself. Cooper’s fortunes were falling when he died under murky circumstances, which Taylor did his best to unravel.

In other words, William Cooper’s Town takes the general shape of a biography, but in the end it undercuts a basic premise of the genre—that an individual’s character and choices are the defining force in his or her life. Maybe that’s why Taylor’s Pulitzer came in the History category while the winner of the Biography prize that year was Jack Miles’s God: A Biography.

This event is scheduled to start at 8:00 P.M. on Thursday. Register in advance.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Seminar on John Dickinson and the Constitution, Starting 21 Oct.

Back in 2012 I made a point about the steady flow of books on Thomas Paine by comparing that output to the sparse number of books on John Dickinson.

I counted over a dozen recent books on Paine and only two on Dickinson—one published by an outfit co-founded by William F. Buckley to promote conservative politics on college campuses and one written by Jane E. Calvert, who became a professor at the University of Kentucky.

Calvert formed the John Dickinson Writings Project to produce a scholarly edition of this Founder’s output, which will ease further research and publications on his work.

That enterprise has now published the first volume of The Complete Writings and Selected Correspondence of John Dickinson, covering the man’s legal training in London and early law practice in the 1750s. The editorial staff is forging ahead on more.

This autumn Prof. Calvert is leading a three-session seminar on “John Dickinson and the Making the the U.S. Constitution, 1776-1788” through the Library Company of Philadelphia.
This seminar will consider the innovative contributions of John Dickinson to the creation of the United States Constitution through his work on the Articles of Confederation (1776), the Annapolis Convention (1786) that met to consider the shortcomings of the Articles, the ensuing Federal Convention (1787), and the debate over ratification (1788).

As the only leading figure to contribute substantially to every phase of the American Founding beginning with the Stamp Act resistance, Dickinson also played a key role during the constitutional era. This timely seminar will explore drafts, notes, and essays, along with selected secondary source readings, to understand Dickinson’s contributions to the U.S. Constitution, reflecting on both what he offered and what his colleagues rejected.
Calvert’s seminar guests will include Liz Covart of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast, John Kaminski of the Study of the American Constitution at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jack N. Rakove, emeritus W. R. Coe Professor of History and American studies at Stanford University.

The conversations will take place online over three Wednesday evenings, 5:30–7:00, two weeks apart: on 21 October, 4 November, and 18 November. Register here. Registrants will receive a syllabus and readings for the three sessions.