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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Sunday, December 10, 2023

The Resources of the Royal Governor

Andrew Roberts’s Spectator essay about the Boston Tea Party, discussed yesterday, ends with the line:
One wonders what would have happened if only Governor [Thomas] Hutchinson had put an adequate armed guard on the ships.
This facile suggestion reflects popular depictions of Boston in 1773 showing redcoats pushing around civilians (e.g., Assassin’s Creed III, Deryn Lake’s Death at the Boston Tea Party, &c.). So it’s worth explaining the reality Hutchinson faced.

The only British soldiers in greater Boston in late 1773 were the 64th Regiment out on Castle Island. They were too far away to quell a disturbance and too few to patrol the whole port.

Hutchinson did order that regiment’s commander, Lt. Col. Alexander Leslie, to be ready to fire Castle William’s guns on any ship that tried to leave the harbor without unloading and being authorized to sail.

Hutchinson could also call on, though not command, the resources of the Royal Navy. Adm. John Montagu stationed warships in secondary channels of Boston harbor, also preventing the tea ships from leaving with their cargo. Thus, the governor did act rather strongly with military power.

What civilian authorities did Gov. Hutchinson have at his disposal? Not many. Inside Boston, the royal government had one arm of law enforcement: the Customs service. That department’s administrators took the same hard line Hutchinson did, refusing to bend the rule that required ships to be unloaded within three weeks.

But then top Customs officials lay low, staying at Castle William or their country homes. Lower-level officers carried out their job of watching the ships at the wharf but put up no resistance when scores of men showed up on 16 December and started destroying the tea. There were too few of them to stand up to the united populace.

Boston had no police force yet. It had about a dozen watchmen who walked around town at night, looking for trouble and fires. Those men were employed by the town, not the colonial government, and therefore answered to the selectmen rather than the governor.

Hutchinson could give orders to Stephen Greenleaf, the appointed royal sheriff of Suffolk County. However, in Massachusetts the sheriff wasn’t an active law enforcer with armed deputies, like in western movies. His job consisted mainly of delivering writs and warrants.

On 30 November the governor actually sent Sheriff Greenleaf to the Old South Meeting-House with a declaration that the gathering there was illegal and the people must disperse. Instead, the people there voted unanimously to go with their meeting. And then they had that vote published. Clearly the populace wasn’t cowed by that expression of royal authority.

Then there were the magistrates—justices of the peace and of the quorum. Royal governors appointed these men, too, and theoretically commanded their loyalty. But many had commissions for life from past governors, and they tended to act, or not act, independent of Hutchinson.

One magistrate, Nathaniel Hatch, was in the Clarke family warehouse when a crowd attacked it on 3 November. Hatch tried to invoke the Riot Act. Hutchinson’s described what happened:
Mr. Hatch a gentleman of Dorchester & a Justice of peace commanded the peace & required them to disperse but they hooted at him & after a blow from one of them he was glad to retreat. It had no effect.
How did British law expect magistrates to enforce such orders? By calling on a larger group of people to help enforce the law against the lawbreakers, either in a “hue and cry” emergency or in the form of a mobilized militia. Obviously, this system didn’t work when most people supported the behavior in question.

In fact, there was a “guard on the ships” in the weeks leading up to the Tea Party. It was set up at the 28 November meeting of the people in Old South. Those patrols were composed of fervent volunteers; eventually Boston’s militia companies took turns supplying the men. That guard carried out the orders of the people, not the royal government. Its job was to ensure the tea wasn’t officially landed, and it succeeded.

Thus, the counterfactual that Roberts proposed is unrealistic. Under British and Massachusetts law the governor had no way to put armed guards on the tea ships strong enough to hold off an assault.

Another counterfactual that could actually have happened is:
One wonders what would have happened if only Governor Hutchinson had let the ships sail back to England with the tea.
Obviously the imperial government wouldn’t have been pleased with that outcome. Lord North might have responded with actions similar to what he and Parliament enacted in 1774: replacing Hutchinson with a stricter governor like Gen. Thomas Gage, rewriting the Massachusetts constitution, even sending in troops to patrol the port—but to protect free trade (i.e., the unloading of tea ships) rather than to stop all trade.

The next question would be how that situation would have played out differently in Boston and in the other North American colonies.

Saturday, December 09, 2023

“A well-organised assault by smuggler-barons and their henchmen”?

The Spectator just published an article about the Boston Tea Party by Andrew Roberts, a British historian and journalist who was made a life peer a year ago.

In “The Myth of the Boston Tea Party,” Roberts resurrects a hypothesis about the event that most eighteenth-century Americanists discarded decades ago: the idea that the protest was directed by “the smuggler-barons of Boston, New York and Pennsylvania who employed the ‘Patriots’ who attacked the vessels.”

This article owes a lot, including one unacknowledged direct quotation, to Caleb Crain’s 2010 New Yorker article “Tea and Antipathy,” which I discussed back here.

According to Roberts’s take, for “a quarter of a millennium,” “A central part of the American founding story” has been that the destruction of the tea was “a spontaneous uprising of ordinary Americans angry at high taxes and prices.” In fact, all serious authors have described the Tea Party as planned and disciplined, organized by Boston’s top political activists.

Those leaders wanted to keep men focused on destroying only the taxable tea and not let resentments boil over onto people or other things, harming the reputation of the movement and the town as earlier riots had done. In other words, they exercised control to keep people’s anger focused, not to rile it up.

How many of those politicians or the powers behind them were actually in the tea-smuggling business, their wealth threatened by the new Tea Act? Roberts provides no evidence any of them were. In fact, he doesn’t name any of those men, even while referring to “one radical Boston merchant-smuggler” who reportedly employed eight of the scores of people involved in the destruction.

This approach seems to rest on the assumptions that all the Boston merchants were smugglers, all the smugglers imported tea, and their economic motivations dictated their politics. Yet Roberts doesn’t mention two elements of the tea crisis in Boston that bear on this thesis:
  • The Tea Act wasn’t simply “a government attempt to halve the price of one of New England’s major commodities,” as the article has it. That law was designed to help the politically connected, too-big-to-fail East India Company and make it easier for the London government to collect the tea tax and thus to manage North America through appointees. American Whigs had objected to that tax for over five years.
  • Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, mentioned twice in the article, was the father of two tea merchants granted the contract to sell East India Company tea. The governor himself was investing about £1,000 a year in the tea trade, according to biographer Bernard Bailyn. He was receiving a salary from the royal government’s tea tax revenue. If we want to look for economic motives behind how the tea crisis played out, surely that’s not an example to overlook.
Instead, Roberts paints all the Tea Party participants with a broad brush as puppets employed by a coterie of tea smugglers.

Let’s set aside the need for evidence and assume that the tea-smuggling merchants of Boston—and Charleston, Philadelphia, and New York—directed their maritime and waterfront employees to riot against the local tea consignees and then to destroy the tea, as Roberts describes.

How did those smugglers also motivate silversmith Paul Revere, carpenter John Crane, painter Samuel Gore, blacksmith’s apprentice Joshua Wyeth, and other land-based craftsmen to risk arrest by destroying the tea? How did they prompt a tea-burning in rural Lexington? How did the movement reach Williamsburg, Virginia, inland capital of a colony without a major trading port?

In “Tea and Antipathy,” Crain came round to acknowledging that the “no taxation without representation” argument had taken hold in colonial minds, producing a political opposition to the Tea Act not driven by direct economic motives. Yes, the new law promised lower tea prices. But many people, rightly or wrongly, saw problems ahead. Especially when they perceived that law being used to benefit political insiders like the Hutchinson clan.

Roberts, on the other hand, offers only recooked iconoclasm.

TOMORROW: Government resources.

Friday, December 08, 2023

Fichter on Tea in Lexington and Boston

In this sestercentennial season of the Boston Tea Party, I like to remind people how tea came to North America from the other side of the world.

To get to a colonist’s breakfast table, that tea traveled across trade routes negotiated by diplomats, managed by merchants using a worldwide credit system, backed up by a navy. Of all the commodities the British Empire might tax to pay for the benefits it brought British subjects, tea is a logical choice.

Another thing coming from the other side of the world is James R. Fichter, professor at the University of Hong Kong and author of the just published Tea: Consumption, Politics, and Revolution, 1773–1776.

And as long as he’s in Massachusetts this month, the logical choice is for him to speak in as many venues as he can.

I’ve already mentioned Fichter’s appearance at Revolutionary Spaces’ Old South Meeting House on 11 December and in the Grand Lodge of Massachusetts Masons symposium on 16 December. (I’m on that second bill as well.)

Here are three more chances to hear Prof. Fichter talk tea.

Thursday, 14 December, 7:00 to 8:30 P.M.
Lexington Historical Society
Lexington Depot

The Boston Tea Party we think we know is a product of post-independence public memory and propaganda. The real Boston Tea Party was divisive, and it did not even destroy all the East India Company’s tea. A shipload survived from the William, safely stored in Castle William in Boston Harbor, where it warped Boston politics until it was consumed in 1775.

Tickets are $15, $10 for society members. Register here.

Sunday, 17 December, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
Paul Revere House
North Square, Boston

Paul Revere’s first documented political ride happened on 17 Dec 1773 as he set off with local news for other ports. Michael Lepage will give three performances as Revere, describing that mission as “the Express that went from hence...after the Destruction of the Tea.” Fichter, whose book describes how those other ports dealt with their own tea shipments, will be signing copies. Both events are accessible with regular museum admission. 

Thursday, 21 December, 3:00 P.M.
Colonial Society of Massachusetts
87 Mount Vernon Street, Boston

Fichter will present his book’s thesis, tracing how the power of consumerism (as the term is used by eighteenth-century historians) outlasted the boycott of tea that North American Whigs promoted for political reasons.

This is a regular monthly meeting of the society, and the public can attend or tune into the C.S.M. live stream.

Tea: Consumption, Politics, and Revolution, 1773–1776 is published by Cornell University Press at a university press price. For a limited time folks can receive a 30% discount by ordering online direct from the press and using the promotion code 09BCARD.

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Learning about the “Oxford Army”

Here’s one more detail about the Locke family, whose retreat to Sherborn in December 1773 I’ve been discussing.

The youngest child was John Locke, born in 1765. He had a peripatetic life after the Revolution, not marrying and moving north to Maine and west to Northampton before his death at age thirty-four.

The family history, Book of the Lockes, also stated he “was a soldier in the Oxford army.”

What the heck was that? I wondered. Most of the references to the phrase that I found went back to the English Civil War, when the college city of Oxford was the military stronghold of the Royalists. But it turns out that Massachusetts hosted its own “Oxford army.”

In the late 1790s the U.S. of A. went through some friction with France, then governed by the Directory. Eventually this low-level conflict was called the “quasi-war.” At the time, however, some people wanted to get ready for real military action.

One product of this period was the U.S. Navy, recommissioned after the Confederation Congress had done away with this form of national military to save costs. The U.S.S. Constitution was one of the frigates launched in that push, and it’s still with us, along with the larger navy.

In May and July 1798 Congress authorized President John Adams to beef up the army as well. One measure increased the still-authorized U.S. Army by over 10,000 men, these new soldiers for a while called the Additional Army. But enough citizens were worried about the army becoming too large that the government needed to assure them with a different approach.

Thus, Congress founded a parallel force of 10,000 men, the Provisional Army of the United States. Later this was superseded by the Eventual Army of the United States, which could be as large as 30,000. This force was authorized to last only as long as the crisis with France—that was the provision or event that defined it.

As further reassurance to the populace, George Washington was brought out of retirement to be the nominal commander of all the U.S. armies. The regular army already had its command structure. But for the new Provisional Army, operational command fell to inspector general Alexander Hamilton. He brought in William North as his adjutant general.

It took a while for the Provisional/Eventual Army to commission officers, so those officers didn’t start recruiting men until May 1799. In the next several months, before Congress decided that peace with France was at hand, that force grew to a little more than 4,000 soldiers. That army had three sites for training: Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in the south and Plainfield, New Jersey, for the middle states.

And the third Provisional Army campsite, for troops hailing for the New England states, was in the Massachusetts town of Oxford.

Wednesday, December 06, 2023

“Ye. uncommon size & penetration of his genius”

When the Locke family returned to Sherborn, after the Rev. Dr. Samuel Locke resigned as president of Harvard College (because he’d fathered a child with his housekeeper), they had a nice home waiting for them.

The Lockes owned a “large convenient Dwelling-House” situated “near the Northerly side of the Common on the road to Holliston” and “opposite the Meeting-House.”

The attached estate included “two Barnes, and other Out-Houses,” and ninety-two acres of land, including “Pasturage, Arable land, Meadow, &c with a large quantity of good Fruit Trees; as also a valuable Lot of Wood.”

There had been some hurt feelings when Locke had left Sherborn’s pulpit in 1769, but the congregation found a replacement within a year, with the college providing some settlement money. The townspeople didn’t seem to hold a grudge against Locke personally.

In fact, Locke’s neighbors continued to refer to him with the honorifics “Reverend” and “Doctor.” In March 1774 they voted to put him on the committee of correspondence, which after the war started became the committee of public safety.

To supplement his income, Locke prepared boys for Harvard, having them board at his house. One student, John Welles, recalled him as “the most learned man in America,” and “a perfect gentleman, dignified.”

The Continental Journal for 22 Jan 1778 reported: “Thursday morning last [i.e., 15 January] died suddenly of an apoplectic fit, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Lock of Sherburn.” According to John Goodwin Locke’s Book of the Lockes, “He died from the bursting of a blood-vessel, when aiding in driving some cattle from his field.” (Sherborn’s published town records say the date was 15 Jan 1777, but apparently someone forgot to start writing the new year. That error confused later people, like the person who carved the headstone shown above.)

Contemporaries glossed over Locke’s adultery. A neighbor wrote: “Some domestic troubles embittered the last years of his life, but he was never known to make a complaint, but bore them with Christian resignation.” His successor at Harvard, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Langdon, is credited with this eulogy:
In Memory of ye. Revd. Samuel Locke D. D. [sic]

As a Divine he was learned and judicious—In ye. pastoral relation vigilant and faithfull—as a christian devout & charitable—In his friendships firm & sincere—humane affable & benevolent in his disposition—in ye. conjugal & parental relations kind, & officious—ye. uncommon size & penetration of his genius—ye. extensiveness of his erudition—yt. fund of useful knowledge wh. he had acquired—ye. firmness & mildness of his temper & manners—his easiness of access & patient attention to others-join’d with his singular talents for government, procur’d him universal esteem, especially of ye. governers & students of Harvard College over wh. he PRESIDED four years with much reputation to himself & advantage to ye. public—after wh. he retired to ye. private walks of Life, entertaining & improving ye. more confined circle of his friends until his Death wh. was very sudden on ye. 15th: day of January 1778—aged 45.
For the president of a college Locke had embarrassed by having an affair to say he was in “conjugal & parental relations kind, & officious” suggests that some contemporaries shared John Andrews’s opinion that his wife had somehow driven him into the arms of his housekeeper. But Mary Locke left no account herself, and no one else commented on her.

Be that as it may, Locke left an estate worth over £3,600. The widow Locke continued to live in Sherborn and to raise their three children. There’s an advertisement for settling her estate in the 11 June 1789 Independent Chronicle.

Of Mary and Samuel Locke’s children, Samuel, Jr., became the local doctor. He married Hannah Cowden, and they had four daughters, one dying in infancy. He died in 1788, aged twenty-seven, thus probably before his mother.

In 1792 the Locke family farm was put up for sale. The sellers were the couple’s daughter Mary, the doctor’s widow Hannah, and Samuel Sanger, the same man who had administered the widow’s estate. It evidently did not sell because in 1794 the widow Hannah Locke advertised it again, now on her own.

Mary Locke the daughter died in 1796, aged thirty-three. The family historian wrote: “She had been an invalid for some years before she died.” He also stated: “She was a lady of considerable personal and mental attractions, and if we may judge from the wardrobe which she left, not inattentive to that personal adornment to which many of her sex are addicted.” That judgment seems to be based entirely on the number of gowns in her probate inventory.

The youngest sibling, John Locke, moved from Sherborn to Union, Maine, and then to “Northampton, where he died, as it is said, by drinking cold water when heated.” That death wasn’t so sudden, however, as to preclude seeking medical attention and writing a will. John Locke was only thirty-four years old, continuing the family tradition of dying young.

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Locke’s grave went unmarked for decades. A sexton found his skeleton in 1788 when he was burying the eldest son. By 1853 the former minister’s remains had been dug up and reinterred in a new town cemetery. At the time his skull was judged to show “those phrenological developments which indicate great mental powers.”

When the younger Mary Locke died in 1796, both the Sherborn town records and the local Moral and Political Telegraphe newspaper described her as the minister’s “only daughter,” making a point. According to Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, however, the child Samuel Locke fathered in 1773 was also a girl, named Rebecca Locke. Clifford K. Shipton wrote that “she became a well-known figure in Boston and Worcester,” but I haven’t unearthed any sign of her.

Tuesday, December 05, 2023

The Lockes in Wedlock

Three years ago I wrote about the sestercentennial of the Rev. Samuel Locke’s inauguration as president of Harvard College.

Normally I wouldn’t find such a ceremony interesting, but that was all in service of the really juicy 250th anniversary that I can finally discuss this month: Locke’s departure from that job after people discovered he’d impregnated his housekeeper.

The earliest surviving source on that affair is the letter of John Andrews that I quoted here. That’s a mostly sympathetic account, dwelling on Locke’s religious crisis: he had mystified his colleagues by holding back from taking communion and leaving chapel suddenly during prayers. He exhibited “most sincere grief,” earning the “ye. compassn. of all.”

Yet Andrews also described Locke offering his housekeeper £150—for what, it’s not clear. A doctor who graduated in the Harvard class of 1782 told Harvard librarian John Langdon Sibley that he’d heard Locke had summoned his own physician, Dr. Marshall Spring of Watertown, but then couldn’t express his request. Was he trying to ask for an abortifacient?

Most striking, Andrews blamed Locke’s wife for the trouble, writing that her “vices, has been ye. means of drivg. him to it.”

Mary (Porter) Locke was born in 1738, daughter of the Rev. Samuel Porter of Sherborn. Her mother Mary, a Coolidge from Cambridge, died in 1752. Her father the minister died in 1758. At the age of twenty, therefore, she was left an orphan with a fair amount of property in her home town.

Samuel Locke came to Sherborn in 1759, having taught school and preached in Lancaster and Plymouth. Within a few months the congregation offered him the job of minister. In January 1760, less than two months after being ordained, Locke married Mary Porter in Natick.

On 11 February Locke wrote a letter to Edward Wigglesworth in Boston, having apparently heard that that young merchant was getting married:
It seems to be ordained by Providence in ye. oeconomy and constitution of all created, animate nature we are acquainted with that each individual of ye. several species should be drawn by some secret attraction to those of its own kind; and indeed it appears to be a necessary precaution for ye. preservation of order amidst ye. immense variety of creatures that people ye. world and for ye. regular conservation and increase of ye. several classes into which they are divided.

But man has a nature peculiarly adapted for society and friendly intercourse and is directly urged to it by ye. great difficulties, if not utter impossibility, of subsisting alone independent of and inconnected with others of ye. same nature with himself,—his wider capacities demand more gratifications, and he feels in himself innumerable wants which a life of sollitude cannot supply, and many powers to which it cannot give employment.

Hereupon he is naturally led by some affections amost peculiar to our kind to select some from among ye. many individuals of human nature for peculiar intimacy and tenderness in order to improve the condition of his existence and refine ye. common principles of benevolence into a peculiar affection for some individuals.

And I apprehend in particular with regard to ye. nuptial tie (ye. closest of any) we are not only directed to it by ye. constitution of our nature and ye. many miseries which a forlorn individual must necessarily suffer while he stands alone without any prop to support him, but also by ye. continued course of Providence in preserving in all ages such an apparent equality between ye. sexes.

This, I think is an additional call to every one to be up and doing. You will therefore, Sr., I trust, find a complyance with your duty in ye. respect a solid foundation of ye. most substantial happiness which this world affords,—and that it will be a happy medium of improvement in sosial virtue, and of increasing to you that felicity which I cannot describe but heartily wish to be ye. portion of every human creature in a way consistent with ye. wise designs of ye. great Father and governor of ye. universe.
Locke’s language was highly philosophic, but the bottom line was that he believed a man needed a wife for his “innumerable wants’ and “many powers.”

The Lockes had three children in regular fashion:
  • Samuel, Jr., in 1761.
  • Mary in 1763.
  • John in 1765.
Then they didn’t have any more. That’s an unusual pattern for a New England couple of this period. Sometimes a husband and wife had no children, suggesting a fertility problem. More typically, the wife was pregnant every two or three years for up to two decades. For a couple to have a few children and stop suggests that something came between them, medically or interpersonally.

At first Locke resisted recruitment by Harvard College, but in late 1769 he finally agreed and moved his family to Cambridge. Samuel and Mary were both familiar with that town, him from his college days and her from living with her maternal relations.

In his profile of Locke, Clifford K. Shipton wrote that “Mrs. Locke was a feeble, sickly woman,” but he cited no evidence to support that. Andrews was nastier, saying Mary’s unspecified “vices” had driven Samuel to adultery. Either way, the implication was that the college president turned to his housekeeper for sex that he couldn’t have with his wife.

The one female commenter I’ve found, Hannah Winthrop, made no remarks about Mary Locke but wrote that she hoped the post of president would “be filld with a person who may do Honor to the Station.”

In December 1773, 250 years ago this month, the Locke family returned to the town of Sherborn. The town’s pulpit had been filled by another minister, and no doubt some people no longer saw Samuel Locke as fit to preach. But Mary still owned property there, and Samuel had bought 120 more acres in 1772. The Lockes also had three children to raise, aged twelve to eight.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Monday, December 04, 2023

Three Talks on the Tea Party

People are talking about the Boston Tea Party more and more. Here are three upcoming talks tied to its sestercentennial, all featuring history professors who have written books on the event.

Wednesday, 6 December, 1:00 P.M.
Online via the Congregational Library & Archives
Boston Tea Party at 250: Congregationalists and the American Revolution

Prof. Robert J. Allison of Suffolk University and Dr. Tricia Peone, director of the New England’s Hidden Histories Project, discuss documents in the host institution’s collection related to the Tea Party.

The destruction of the tea was one of the greatest acts of civil disobedience of all time, and the event that precipitated the Revolution. What was the political and religious background to the event?

Register here to tune in to this online discussion here.

Monday, 11 December, 6:00 P.M.
Old South Meeting House
Tea: Consumption, Politics, and Revolution, 1773–1776

Prof. James Fichter of the University of Hong Kong marks the publication of his new book Tea with a conversation with Dr. Nathaniel Sheidley, President and CEO of Revolutionary Spaces.

Fichter challenges the prevailing wisdom around the tea protests and boycotts by showing that tea and British goods continued to be widely sold and consumed in North America, and even a significant portion of the tea that the East India Company shipped in 1773 wound up in American teapots.

Books will be available for purchase an signing. This program is free and open to the public, but registration is required. Doors will open at 5:30, and light refreshments will be available.

Wednesday, 13 December, 6:30–8:30 P.M.
via the American Revolution Institute
Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America

In 2010, Prof. Benjamin L. Carp of Brooklyn College published the first full study of the Boston Tea Party in a generation. He returns to the event, examining the actions of those who carried out the raid in the context of the global story of British interests in India, North America, and the Caribbean.

People in Washington, D.C., can attend this event at the deluxe Anderson House on Massachusetts Avenue. Folks elsewhere can sign up to watch online.

Sunday, December 03, 2023

“A See becoming Vacant in a Sudden Surprising manner”

As I quoted yesterday, in December 1773 the Rev. Ezra Stiles was worried by rumors from Cambridge about the sudden resignation of Harvard College president Samuel Locke.

On 20 December the Newport minister finally heard the cause, as he set down in his diary:
Mr. [William?] Ellery left Cambridge last Friday: he tells me that the Week before, President Locke resigned the Presidency of Harv. College, alledging two Reasons.

1. Ill state of Health.

2. That his Usefulness was ruined by the evil Report raised & spread abroad about him. This was that his Maid was with Child by him.

He sent in this Resigno. from Sherburn, whereto he is removed. A most melancholly Event, & humbling Providence!
Despite the nod to a claim that Locke was resigning only because of an “evil Report” about him, Stiles seems to have accepted that the president really had impregnated his maid.

I’ve found one comment about this incident from a woman. Hannah Winthrop was wife of the college professor delegated to secure college property in the president’s house. On 1 Jan 1774, she wrote to her friend Mercy Warren as quoted here:
I have no news of a domestick kind to tell you, we go on in the same little peacefull Circle as usual Varied with alternate sickness & health, sometimes Amused, sometimes astonishd with Viewing Events which happen in the great World. Here, beholding a See becoming Vacant in a Sudden Surprising manner. but it is best for one so near the seat where Candor ought to Reign, to draw a Veil over what the Delinquent tenderly Calls Human imperfections. I know you join me in earnest wishes that it may be filld with a person who may do Honor to the Station.
Harvard was already drawing a veil over a painful subject. Indeed, the college and its supporters did such a good job of keeping the “Sudden Surprising” news about Locke out of print that it wasn’t until Stiles’s diary entry was published in 1901 that historians knew about it.

Well, the Harvard librarian John Langdon Sibley (1804–1885) filed a recollection of the event from a Harvard student. And Winthrop Sargent (1792–1874) must have read John Andrews’s postscript about it, quoted yesterday, when he published other parts of the same letter. Surely other researchers had seen those sources and others. But nothing about the affair appeared in print.

No evidence appears to have survived about Locke’s housekeeper. The vital records of Cambridge list a girl named Hannah Lock, baptized at some unspecified time in 1773, with no named parents. Was this the president’s newborn daughter? Likewise, a Hannah Lock died of consumption in Cambridge on 19 Nov 1809, with no further information about her in that record.

COMING UP: Wedlock.

Saturday, December 02, 2023

“A child Laid to him by his housekeeper”

Though the Harvard College corporation kept quiet about the reason for president Samuel Locke’s resignation in December 1773, news was already seeping out. Tea wasn’t the only thing people around Boston were talking about 250 years ago.

One of the finest sources on Revolutionary Boston is the collection of letters that the businessman John Andrews wrote to his brother-in-law William Barrell in Philadelphia in the 1770s.

Andrews was a gossip sponge, and apparently uninhibited when writing to someone out of town. His letters were discovered during the Civil War, sent back north to the Massachusetts Historical Society, and published in the society’s Proceedings in 1866.

Not entirely, though. The transcriber, Winthrop Sargent, focused on political developments and conflicts with the royal authorities. And of course there was this thing called the Victorian sensibility.

One bit left out of print came from a letter Andrews dated 29 Nov 1773. Most of that letter was about money issues, followed by a paragraph about the arrival of East India Company cargos. (Andrews was working under the impression that two ships had arrived, not one.)

Then came a long postscript in small writing along the left side of the page:
P.S. I have a secret to tell you, which not only affects ye. direction of our Colledge, but brings great dishonor upon it:

after sufferg. the most poignant distress for two months past, and repeatedly leavg. ye. Sacraments, with frequently leavg. off, while in Prayer at ye. Chappel in a most abrupt manner, & going out; it has come out that no less a man than P—i—t L—ke has a child Laid to him by his housekeeper: after trying every method compromise to ye. mattr. wth. her, without effect, even to ye. offerg. her £150 Sterlg., he has retird to ye. Country, [???] wth. ye. most sincere grief, his situation excites ye. compassn. of all, as he is curs’d wth. a wife, whose vices, has been ye. means of drivg. him to it
Clifford K. Shipton quoted two clauses out of that passage in his Sibley’s Harvard Graduates biography of Locke, but I think this is the first time the whole thing is out in the world.

Andrews’s letter tells us that two days before Locke wrote out his resignation from the college presidency, people in Boston were already talking about the sex scandal behind it.

By 9 December, the Rev. Ezra Stiles down in Newport wrote in his diary: “More melancholy news about President Locke of Harvard College Camb.” And a week later: “The Corporation of Harvard College met last Week, & sent a Committee to wait on President Locke, & on return, voted his Answer not satisfactory.”

The Rev. Nathaniel Appleton of Cambridge was the corporation member who forced Locke to stop dithering and resign. His grandson, recent Harvard graduate Nathaniel Walker Appleton, wrote to his classmate Eliphalet Pearson on 14 December:
The unhappy affair concerning the late Pr-s-d-nt remains as yet something in the dark, perhaps Time may discover it. He resigned on 6th. Inst & went off to Sherburne the next Day. We Hope that the Corporation will make Choice of a Person to fill the vacant Chair who by his exemplary VIRTUE will remove the Blemish which now lays upon the College.
But only Andrews’s letter was straightforward about what that blemish was.

TOMORROW: And it was all Mrs. Locke’s fault?

(Incidentally, lately I’ve seen some items identifying John Andrews as a lawyer. He’s labeled “Merchant” in the 25 Feb 1771 Boston Post-Boy report of his marriage to Ruth Barrell. He was later a selectman and helped to set up the Boston Sail-Cloth Manufactory, the Massachusetts Fire Insurance Company, the Boston Dispensary, and other organizations.)

Friday, December 01, 2023

The Resignation of Samuel Locke

On 1 Dec 1773, two and a half centuries ago today, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Locke resigned as president of Harvard College.

I wrote about how the college had come to choose Locke back in 2020, on the sestercentennial of his installment.

Locke had been a star student at the college, where John Adams considered him the second-best classical scholar. He then had a quiet career as a minister in Sherborn, where he married a daughter of his predecessor (whose dowry included some good farmland) and started a family.

Locke wasn’t the Harvard corporation’s first choice to be president in 1770, and he took a long time to accept the job. It looks like the governing board wanted someone clearly different from the Rev. Dr. Edward Holyoke, who had served more than thirty years as president before dying at age seventy-nine. Locke would be the youngest Harvard president ever, and the board hoped he would modernize the teaching and scholarship.

Things appeared to have started off well. In 1772 the college gave Locke an honorary doctorate in sacred theology. The following June, the Rev. Ezra Stiles wrote good things about him, while wishing he would be more supportive of local resistance to the Crown.

And then suddenly Locke was gone. The official college records about his departure come from the minutes of a corporation meeting on 7 December:
Dr. [Nathaniel] Appleton communicated a Letter from President Locke dated Dec. 1st 1773, signifying his resignation of the Office of President of this College. Voted. that the Revd Dr. Appleton, Professor [John] Winthrop and Mr. [Andrew] Eliot be a Committee to receive and take into their Care the Books Papers and other Things in the President’s house, that belong to the College and to receive the Keys as soon as the late President has removed his Family & Effects.
Appleton was the Congregationalist minister in Cambridge, his meetinghouse right next to the college campus. Prof. Winthrop lived nearby. Eliot was a minister in Boston, someone who had turned down the office of president back during the last search. Now they had the task of tidying up after President Locke.

TOMORROW: “The unhappy affair.”

Thursday, November 30, 2023

Celebrations of Phillis Wheatley’s Boston Pub Date

At the end of November 1773, the ship Dartmouth was moored in Boston’s inner harbor, watched by a militia-style patrol of volunteers to ensure the tea it carried was not unloaded and taxed.

The Rotch family’s vessel, under the command of James Hall, brought other cargo as well. Among those items were copies of Phillis Wheatley’s Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.

Wheatley had recently become legally free, and she was counting on sales of those books for her income.

Fortunately, by 1 December the local Whigs made clear that everything could be unloaded from the Dartmouth except the East India Company tea, so the books came ashore.

Historians only recently recognized the connection between Wheatley’s book and the Boston Tea Party because no one mentioned it at the time. Wheatley may have been worried 250 years ago today, but by the time she was writing the letters that survive she had her books on dry land and was busy promoting orders.

Wheatley wrote that her books would arrive “in Capt. Hall,” using the common way of referring to a ship by its master rather than its name. About ten years ago Wheatley biographer Vincent Carretta, researcher Richard Kigel, and others realized that the captain of that name arriving in Boston around that time had to be James Hall on the Dartmouth.

The sestercentennial of the Tea Party thus coincides with the sestercentennial of the publication of Phillis Wheatley’s book in America, and both events are being commemorated this season.

Ada Solanke’s play Phillis in Boston will have its last performances for the year in Old South Meeting House, the poet’s own church, on Sunday, 3 December. That site-specific drama depicts the poet, her friend Obour Tanner, her husband-to-be John Peters, her recent owner Susannah Wheatley, and abolitionist Prince Hall. Order tickets here.

The next evening, 4 December, the Boston Public Library will host “Faces of Phillis,” a free program discussing the poet from various perspectives. It will start with a staged reading of parts of Solanke’s plays about Wheatley. Then there will be a panel featuring Solanke, sculptor Meredith Bergmann, and Kyera Singleton of the Royall House & Slave Quarters museum. The evening will conclude with Boston’s Poet Laureate, Porsha Olayiwola, performing a dramatic reading of her own work and one of Wheatley’s poems.

“Faces of Phillis” is scheduled to last from 6:00 to 7:30 P.M. Register for that event here.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The Lexington Tea-Burning, in 1773 and 2023

As I recounted yesterday, on 13 Dec 1773 a town meeting in Lexington voted unanimously to resist the Tea Act, pledge not to help unload any East India Company tea, and condemn the consignees who were trying to import that tea.

That was the easy part. None of the people at the meeting were consignees, or Boston waterfront workers.

Then someone proposed a further measure: Any head of household in Lexington who would “Use or consume any Tea in their Famelies” should be treated with Neglect & Contempt.”

Even though all tea in town was by definition not imported under the Tea Act. Even though that tea might not even have been subject to the Townshend duties (if it had been smuggled in from Dutch islands).

No tea at all. As a gesture of solidarity with the people in Boston trying to stop the new tea cargoes from being landed, and a protest against Parliament’s revenue acts in general. Talk about giving up caffeine!

As I said before, Lexington was a strongly Whiggish community. We can see that in the fact that the meeting actually went through with this proposal, approving it without recorded dissent.

Furthermore, on 16 Dec 1773, Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy reported:

We are positively informed that the patriotic inhabitants of Lexington, at a late meeting, unanimously resolved against the use of Bohea Tea of all sorts, Dutch or English importation; and to manifest the sincerity of their resolution, they bro’t together every ounce contained in the town, and committed it to one common bonfire.

We are also informed, Charlestown is in motion to follow their illustrious example.
As it turned out, Charlestown took longer to act (I’ll get to that story). When the Boston Gazette and Boston Post-Boy (newspapers on opposite political sides) reprinted the item days later, they left out that last sentence.

About a decade ago, Lexington began to reenact that tea-burning each year a few days before the Boston Tea Party commemoration. The town will have a sestercentennial reenactment on Sunday, 10 December, in and around Buckman Tavern, which faces the common and the site of the meetinghouse where the events of 1773 took place.

The schedule of events:
  • 9:30 A.M. – 4:00 P.M.: Pop-up exhibit on historic hot drinks upstairs at Buckman Tavern
  • 12:00 noon – 3:00 P.M.: Drop-in activities upstairs at Buckman Tavern
  • 12:30 P.M.: The Lexington Minute Men practice military drill
  • 1:00: 18th-century townspeople (and local Boy Scouts) begin to build a fire 
  • 1:20 – 2:00: Music from the William Diamond Jr. Fife and Drum Corps and the Lexington Historical Society Colonial Singers
  • 2:00: Concluding musket salute from the Lexington Minute Men
All outdoor activities are open to the public to watch. The tea has been provided by the Mark T. Wendell Tea Company.

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Lexington and the “subtle, wicked ministerial plan”

Last week I analyzed the accounts of tea burning in Marshfield 250 years ago and concluded that I found no strong evidence for the exact date of this event.

Marshfield was notable for being split between Whigs and Loyalists. It had an Anglican church as well as the Congregationalists. The control of town meeting teetered back and forth between factions. The tea-burning, whenever it happened, wasn’t an official act.

In contrast, the town of Lexington was militantly Whig. Its minister, the Rev. Jonas Clarke, supported that stance. Early on, the town voted to create a committee of correspondence to share news and views with Boston and elsewhere—a litmus test for radicalism.

On 13 Dec 1773, as the crisis over the East India Company cargoes in Boston heated up, Lexington called a town meeting. Charles Hudson’s town histories published the record, and Alexander Cain, author of We Stood Our Ground: Lexington in the First Year of the American Revolution, has shared more exact transcriptions at Untapped History. I drew the quotations that follow from a combination of those sources.

Lexington’s committee of correspondence produced a blistering statement about the Tea Act:
…the Enemies of the Rights & Liberties of Americans, greatly disappointed in the Success of the Revenue Act, are seeking to Avail themselves of New, & if possible, Yet more detestable Measures to distress, Enslave & destroy us.

Not enough that a Tax was laid Upon Teas, which should be Imported by Us, for the Sole Purpose of Raising a revenue to support Taskmasters, Pensioners, &c., in Idleness and Luxury; But by a late Act of Parliament, to Appease the wrath of the East India Company, whose Trade to America had been greatly clogged by the operation of the Revenue Acts, Provision is made for said Company to export their teas to America free and discharged from all Duties and Customs in England, but liable to all the same Rules, Regulations, Penalties & Forfeitures in America, as are Provided by the Revenue Act. . . .

Once admit this subtle, wicked ministerial plan to take place, once permit this tea, thus imposed upon us by the East India Company, to be landed, received, and vended by their consignees, factors, &c., the badge of our slavery is fixed, the foundation of ruin is surely laid; and, unless a wise and powerful God, by some unforeseen revolution in Providence, shall prevent, we shall soon be obliged to bid farewell to the once flourishing trade of America, and an everlasting adieu to those glorious rights and liberties for which our worthy ancestors so earnestly prayed, so bravely fought, so freely bled!
The committee proposed six resolves to steer the town away from this horrible fate. These included:
2. That we will not be concerned either directly or indirectly in landing, receiving, buying, or selling, or even using any of the Teas sent out by the East India Company, or that shall be imported subject to a duty imposed by Act of Parliament, for the purpose of raising a revenue in America.

3. That all such persons as shall directly or indirectly aid and assist in landing, receiving, buying, selling, or using the Teas sent by the East India Company, or imported by others subject to a duty, for the purpose of a revenue, shall be deemed and treated by us as enemies of their country.
Other resolves endorsed everything the Bostonians were doing and condemned the tea consignees, even naming Richard Clarke and the Hutchinson brothers.

After the meeting unanimously approved those statements, someone proposed another:
That if any Head of a Family in this Town, or any Person, shall from this time forward; & until the Duty taken off, purchase any Tea, Use or consume any Tea in their Famelies, such person shall be looked upon as an Enemy to this town & to this Country, and shall by this Town be treated with Neglect & Contempt.
Now they were getting personal.

TOMORROW: What happened next.

Monday, November 27, 2023

“Liberty or Death: Boston Tea Party” Now Streaming

A few months back, an invitation came to me through Revolution 250. Was I up for answering questions about the Boston Tea Party for a television show?

I said yes, trimmed my beard, put on a blazer, and showed up at History Cambridge as directed. The local production crew there was very nice, as was the producer asking the questions via a feed from New York.

Later I found out the program would be on Fox Nation, a subscription service. And only this past week did I learn that it’s titled Liberty or Death: Boston Tea Party and features Rob Lowe as the host and main narrator.

Hey, if I'd known that this production would be so star-studded, I might have asked for twice the money. (Really, I did this as a volunteer for Revolution 250.)

Liberty or Death: Boston Tea Party combines dramatized scenes with talking-heads interviews. It comes in four episodes, each about half an hour long. Here’s the trailer. To watch the whole thing this fall, one has to subscribe to Fox Nation.

I’m confident about the accuracy of what Benjamin L. Carp, Robert J. Allison, Hannah Farber, and any other historians on screen have said. I’m reasonably sure I didn’t embarrass myself with misstatements.

I can’t promise anything about the dramatized scenes or narration since we didn't see a script. And I have little doubt that if one of us talking heads said something that contradicted a dramatic scene, the interview would have been trimmed, not that footage. That’s show biz.

Ben Carp points out that since we appear in a show with Rob Lowe, we are now just three degrees of separation away from Kevin Bacon.

(Thanks to Adam Hodges, Ben Carp, and Bob Allison for alerting me that this show was now streaming away and that I wasn’t jettisoned before the final cut.)