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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Saturday, July 21, 2018

“A Woman of Good Understanding” at Faneuil Hall

On 21 July 1769, Eunice Paine wrote to her brother, Robert Treat Paine, about a preacher she had just seen at Boston’s Faneuil Hall.

The speaker was Rachel Wilson (1722-1775) from Kendal, England. Wilson was a Quaker, evangelizing a faith that a century earlier would have exposed her to capital punishment. But times had changed. Boston now had a small permanent Quaker meeting, and people were more curious about what a traveling preacher had to say.

The merchant John Rowe estimated the audience who came out to hear Wilson as “at Least Twelve hundred people.” Paine was impressed by how the visitor maintained her composure in front of so many:
’Twas a very crouded assembly but Perfect order maintain’d. Everything was Novel to me—the approach of a woman into a Desk Dash’d me I cou’d hardly look up but I soon found She felt none of those perturbations from the Gaze of a Gaping multitude which I pity’d.

Shes a Gracefull woman & has attain’d a very modest assurance. She spoke clear & Loud Eno’ to be heard distinctly into the Entry. Her Language is very Polite & no doubt her mind is Zealously bent on doing good, her Exhortations to seek the Truth & Court that Light which Evidenith the truth were Lenthy & towards the close workt up to Poesy & produced a tune Not unlike an anthem—her fluency gains the applause She receives for these, nothing like method, & many are her repetitions to my Ear tiresome.

I learnt but one thing new which was an Exposition on the Parable of the woman who hid her Leaven in 3 measures of meal till the whole was Leavened this she says represent the Compound of man Soul, Body, and mind in which the spirit of God is hid & shou’d be kept Close, the man being inactive as meal till animated by the spirit as the meal with Leaven.

After the Exhortation she rested, rose to Conclude with Prayer which was short & pertinent. She then thanked the Audience for their Decent attendance & reprove’d the Levity she observed in some few faces in a very Polite & kind manner & in the Apostles words Blessed the assembly & dismissd us.

A great Number of the Gentlemen of the town with their Ladys shook hands with her. Mr. [James] Otis Desire’d the men to go out to Leave room for the women to retire Comfortably & that they woud be orderly for the Honour of the town, twas done to his mind and Saving the Excessive heat of so crouded a place there was no inconvenience.
Rowe was also favorably impressed: “She seems to be a Woman of Good Understanding.” On 27 July, Robert Treat Paine followed his sister’s example and went to hear Wilson preach.

Rachel Wilson had been speaking to crowds about the Quaker faith since she was a teenager. She and her husband back in England had also raised nine children. In 1768 and 1769 she traveled through the North American colonies; her diary of that experience is now at Haverford College. Wilson died near London on 18 Mar 1775.

Wilson appears in many books about Quaker missionaries in the eighteenth century, and there’s also a book just about her.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Beggar’s Opera Comes to Lexington, 11 Aug.

In December 1750 the New-York Gazette announced performances of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera at the Nassau Street Theatre. That was, theater historians say, the first musical play staged in America. It had already been popular in Britain for twenty-two years.

On 6 May 1751, the New York players announced their “last Time playing the Beggar’s Opera this season” on the upcoming Monday. In the same advertisement they asked if anyone had a copy of a comedy called The Intriguing Chambermaid which they could borrow.

New England, with its Puritan roots, was much more resistant to theater. Opera had to sneak in under the guise of uplifting musical concerts, not full-fledged productions. On 16 Sept 1769 the Providence Gazette announced a “reading” of The Beggar’s Opera in which “All the songs will be sung.”

In Boston, the Deblois family—Anglican and Loyalist—pushed the boundaries for musical entertainment, especially after the arrival of a large number of British army officers in 1768. On 23 Mar 1770 the merchant John Rowe wrote in his diary:
In the evening I went to the Concert Hall to hear Mr [James] Joan read the Beggars Opera & sing the Songs. He read but indifferently but Sung in Taste. there were upwards one hundred people there.
That provides a precedent of sorts for an event at the Lexington Historical Society on Saturday, 11 August. The organization will host “a bawdy singalong and a presentation of The Beggar’s Opera,” as abridged by Diane Taraz, founder of the society’s Colonial Singers.

This concert will take place starting at 7:00 P.M. at the Depot in the center of town. Tickets cost $15-20. There will be snacks, non-alcoholic beverages, and an open bar, so attendees must be over age 21.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

A Taste of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman’s Diary

Here’s another nifty new online resource on eighteenth-century New England: the diary of the Rev. Ebenezer Parkman (1703-1782) of Westboro, Massachusetts.

It’s part of a larger Westborough Public Library project to make Parkman’s church and family papers available. The diary, which covers sixty-five years, was transcribed by Holy Cross professor Ross W. Beales, Jr., who’s written many papers on it. (Versions have also been published by the Westborough Historical Society and in the American Antiquarian Society Proceedings.)

The other members of the project team include James Cooper of New England’s Hidden Histories and Anthony T. Vaver of the Westborough Library and Executed Today (not that Parkman ever was).

The diary website appears to be built on a blogging platform, with a day for each entry and its footnotes. That allows one to search for names and to look at an entire month of entries at once.

I went to find the month of August 1752, which I’d read about in one of Ross Beales’s articles for the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife.

That was a bad month for the Rev. Mr. Parkman because he was ill. “I had an exceeding poor Night. Feverish, profusely Sweating, and extreme faint,” reads the first diary entry he managed to write that month, on 16 August. Indeed, Parkman felt so sick that he wasn’t able to preach that Sunday or the next (and the replacement he had lined up finked out on him).

On 22 August Parkman wrote:
A pritty good Night for Sleep, and yet this morning full of pain chiefly in my left Hip, Shoulder and Foot. Great Frost last Night. Dr. [Samuel] Scammell came while I was at Dinner.

P.M. pains increase exceedingly especially in my left Shoulder. May God almighty sustain me and prepare me for his sovereign Will. My little Samuel a Twelve Month old. May he be born again in the Blessed Spirit of God!

The Evening and night were most distressing with pain that ceased not, no not in any Situation whatever, a Circumstance which I have not, I think, at any Time had till now. I put on a Blister upon the upper part of my arm
Parkman’s doctor diagnosed both rheumatism and gout. Aside from the blisters he applied, the minister reported taking “A portion of Rhubarb,” which seemed to do some good. Later, he wrote, “My wife stills a miscellany of Meat, Herbs, Roots, seeds etc. by the Doctor’s Direction.” A fellow minister sent an unnamed “remedy,” and a neighbor brought “some bak’d Bear with Sauce which I could Eat of.”

There was another remedy as well. Remember “little Samuel,” who turned one year old on 22 August? Two days later, his father wrote, “Child carry’d away to be wean’d at t’other House.” New England families often physically separated a mother and child to make weaning easier, or at least more certain. The Parkman family tended to wean babies between twelve and eighteen months, so this was a little on the early side.

Hannah Parkman, the minister’s second wife, stayed home to treat her husband. In addition to distilling that mix the doctor prescribed, on 26 August Ebenezer wrote: “My wife tends me o’nights and supply’s me with Breast-Milk.” So that was why they had to send the baby away.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Thoughts on the Powdered Wig

When we picture Europe or its North American colonies in the 1700s, we usually think of men in white wigs. Such men appear in most of the images we have from that period (which of course lean toward showing the upper class as they wanted to appear).

What’s more, the fashion for white wigs got confined to the eighteenth century, not evolving the way the modern three-piece suit traces back to the gentlemen’s garb of the 1700s. So white wigs now seem not only emblems of an antique style but very, very strange.

Having one’s perfectly good hair shaved in order to wear an expensive wig covered in white powder was not only common but practically required in the mid-1700s. People like George Washington had their natural hair powdered to achieve the same look for formal appearances. Upper-class boys got their heads shaved for wigs as they came of age. (One reason this habit is so alien to us is that our culture values looking young and back then people were trying to look like distinguished older men.)

The style didn’t affect only upper-class males. The most fashionable women also powdered their hair. Middling men with social aspirations invested in wigs, though I think they tended to avoid the white powder to avoid appearing too uppity. And British soldiers comprised a large class of working-class men also powdering their hair on a regular schedule.

At Regency History Rachel Knowles traced the story of white hair powder:

Louis XIII (1601-1643) also had a hair problem—he started to go bald at a young age. To hide his baldness, he started to wear a long haired wig and, unsurprisingly, his courtiers soon followed suit. The fashion spread to England and was adopted by Charles II (1630-85) and his court.

The rarest and most expensive wigs were white. As a result, people put white powder on their wigs in order to make them look as white as possible. People also used white powder on their hair. It intensified the blondeness of very fair hair but made darker hair look grey, the shade depending on the natural hair colour. . . .

Hair powder was made from flour or starch and varied considerably in quality, with the best powders being made from highly refined starch.

Although white was the most popular colour, other shades were also used, including brown, grey, orange, pink, red, blue and violet. . . .

In 1795, [the younger William] Pitt introduced a new tax on hair powder. Those wishing to use hair powder had to obtain an annual certificate for the privilege at a cost of one guinea. There was an outcry against the expense of this licence and the tax did not have quite the effect that Pitt had hoped for.

There was already a move toward more natural hairstyles and many people chose to abandon their hair powder altogether rather than spend a guinea on a licence. The tax never brought in the anticipated revenues; it simply hastened the demise of the fashion for hair powder.
Lots more detail at that post.

As for the wigs themselves, Geri Walton offered a taxonomy of styles that evolved over the decades:
Besides the tie-wig, the bob-wig (minor and major) also became popular in the 1700s. It arrived on the scene during George II’s reign. What made this wig popular was it “was a direct imitation of the natural hair, and was used chiefly by the commonalty. The ’prentice minor bob was close and short; the citizen’s bob major, or Sunday buckle, had several rows of curls.”[4]

The macaronis similarly introduced a toupee that was supposed to be natural. It had “a large queue, which required the hair to be very long to be fashionable. The wig, having been made to imitate natural hair, became in its turn the model, and the natural hair was [soon] arranged to imitate the wig.”[5]

In France, bag wigs were called Peruqes à la Regencé. They came into fashion when the Duke of Orléans was serving as regent (1715-1723) to King Louis XV. Bag wigs came into vogue in England [a] little later, around 1730. When they first appeared there, they were not as popular as other style of wigs because these wigs were claimed to have originated with French servants, “who tied up their hair in a black leather bag as a speedy way of dressing it, and keep it out of the way, flowing curls being thought out of place for a man waiting at table.”[6] Bag wigs got their name because they were exactly that, a bagged wig. In England, the long hair at the back of the wig was placed in a black silk bag. Then the ribbons attached to the bag were pulled to the front and tied in a bow, known as a “solitaire.”

Various wigs remained popular throughout the 1700s, and almost every profession had their own peculiar wig, with “the oddest appellations … given to them.”[11] One author noted, that each profession seem to chose a perwig that best expressed its function. For instance, “The caricatures of the period represent[ed by] full-fledged lawyers with a towering frontlet and a long bag at the back tied in the middle; while students of the university … [sported] a wig flat on the top, to accommodate their stiff cornered hats, and a great bag like a lawyer’s at the back.”[12]
Again, more detail at that site.

All told, an eighteenth-century person could look at a bewigged man and pick up information about his profession, wealth, and personal style. Which of course was the point. We no longer understand that visual language, making the habit all the more strange.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Dr. Thacher’s Diagnoses

On 7 June 1780, Dr. James Thacher served as a Continental Army surgeon during the Battle of Springfield, New Jersey. In his diary, published decades later, Thacher described one casualty like this:
In the heat of the action, some soldiers brought to me in a blanket, Captain Lieutenant [Alexander] Thompson of the artillery, who had received a most formidable wound, a cannon ball having passed through both his thighs near the knee joint. With painful anxiety, the poor man inquired if I would amputate both his thighs; sparing his feelings, I evaded his inquiry, and directed him to be carried to the hospital tent in the rear, where he would receive the attention of the surgeons. "All that a man hath will he give for his life." He expired in a few hours.
After the battle, Gen. Nathanael Greene reported to the commander-in-chief: "The Artillery under the command of Lt Colonel [Thomas] Forest was well served—I have only to regret the loss of Capt. Lt Thompson who fell at the side of his piece by a cannon ball."

Dr. Thacher recalled having to leave another casualty of the British artillery fire:
While advancing against the enemy, my attention was directed to a wounded soldier in the field. I dismounted and left my horse at a rail fence, it was not long before a cannon ball shattered a rail within a few feet of my horse, and some soldiers were sent to take charge of the wounded man, and to tell me it was time to retire.

I now perceived that our party had retreated, and our regiment had passed me. I immediately mounted and applied spurs to my horse, that I might gain the front of our regiment. Colonel [Henry] Jackson being in the rear, smiled as I passed him; but as my duty did not require my exposure, I felt at liberty to seek a place of safety.

It may be considered a singular circumstance, that the soldier above mentioned was wounded by the wind of a cannon ball. His arm was fractured above the elbow, without the smallest perceptible injury to his clothes, or contusion or discoloration of the skin. He made no complaint, but I observed he was feeble and a little confused in his mind. He received proper attention, but expired the next day. The idea of injury by the wind of a ball, I learn, is not new, instances of the kind have, it is said, occured in naval battles, and are almost constantly attended with fatal effects.
As for other soldiers, Thacher noted another curious condition:
Our troops in camp are in general healthy, but we are troubled with many perplexing instances of indisposition, occasioned by absence from home, called by Dr. [William] Cullen nostalgia, or home sickness. This complaint is frequent among the militia, and recruits from New England. They become dull and melancholy, with loss of appetite, restless nights, and great weakness. In some instances they become so hypochondriacal as to be proper subjects for the hospital. This disease is in many instances cured by the raillery of the old soldiers, but is generally suspended by a constant and active engagement of the mind, as by the drill exercise, camp discipline, and by uncommon anxiety, occasioned by the prospect of a battle.
As at summer camp, staying busy helped alleviate homesickness. As did the prospect of being hit, or even nearly hit, with a cannon ball.

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Confiscation of John McWhorter’s Gun

On 16 July 1775, the Taunton Patriot leader David Cobb (shown here, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society) wrote to his brother-in-law, Robert Treat Paine, about the Battle of Bunker Hill, smaller skirmishes, and a local conflict:
John McWhorter from a trifling incident that happen’d in the Weymouth Alarm, in which I was oblig’d to take his Gun by force, has wag’d an eternal war with the Neighbourhood and now lives in a surly, morose, malicious, damn’d Scotch looking manner without conversing with his Family or Friends.
John McWhorter was a big man in Taunton. He owned a tavern where John Rowe visited (calling him “McQuarters”), the local Sons of Liberty reportedly met, and attorney and near neighbor Daniel Leonard supped after his wife died. It contained upscale tea tables and was still referred to as “McWhorter’s Inn” years after his death—probably because his wife kept it running most of the time. McWhorter also owned at least one slave, and he had interests in shipping.

Most important for the war effort, McWhorter was part-owner of an ironworks in Stoughton. (David Cobb’s father had also been in the iron business.) Responding to a resolution of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in February 1775, Stoughton’s committee of inspection
stopped upwards of a Ton of Iron, the Property of John McWhorter of Taunton, by seizing and storing the same in the Town of Stoughton, which Iron they had every probable Reason to suspect was designed for the Use of the British Army.
Whether or not that suspicion was accurate, as war approached people clearly regarded McWhorter as a potential Loyalist. And he no doubt perceived Patriot officials as infringing on his property.

That was the situation when there was an alarm about the Royal Navy threatening Weymouth in the summer of 1775. With many of the region’s fighting men off at the siege of Boston, the task of defending the coast fell to militia companies, including the men of Taunton. A “trifling incident” during that tense time prompted Cobb to confiscate McWhorter’s musket.

In December 1776 Taunton’s militia commander noted that McWhorter was one of twenty men on the town’s “alarm list” who hadn’t turned out to protect Rhode Island from the return of the British military. Of course, McWhorter couldn’t have turned out for militia service if Cobb still had his gun.

McWhorter’s feuds continued. On 5 May 1777 the town’s committee of correspondence considered “the verbal complaint of Mr. [John?] Porter [a committee member] respecting the abuse he received from Mr. McWhorter[;] after hearing both parties, the Chairman was desired to give Mr. McWhorter a reprimand which was accordingly done.”

Back in 1776 the Stoughton committee had sold the confiscated iron, offering McWhorter “24s. per Hundred for said Iron, and Interest from the Time it was seized and stored.” But he refused and sued the committee members for “£486, Lawful Money.”

Just before the case was to be tried in June 1779, the committee brought the Massachusetts General Court into the dispute. In September the legislature ordered the Stoughton committee to pay £30.7s.4p. for the iron—basically the initial offer, nowhere close to what McWhorter had demanded.

John McWhorter stayed in Taunton through the war and died in 1800. By then he had probably reconciled himself to his neighbors and they to him, but people might still have been surly and morose.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A Call for Studies of Biography and Celebrity in the 1700s

Prof. Kristina Straub of Carnegie Mellon University and Prof. Nora Nachumi of Yeshiva University have issued a call for contributions to a scholarly volume entitled "Making Stars: Biography and Eighteenth-Century Celebrity."

They say:
A celebrity is not a person, exactly, but a construct established through the public discourse and representation that we now think of as celebrity culture. During the long eighteenth century, biography was key to an earlier form of celebrity culture that anticipates what we experience as modern celebrity.

This volume proposes to explore the relationship between biography and celebrity in the long eighteenth century. In inviting essays, we keep that relationship open to definition: are biography and celebrity mutually constitutive? Does one drive the other? Are there contradictions as well as connections between biography as a genre and the celebrity culture that is manifest in a wide range of print, visual materials, and embodied performances? Similarly, we maintain an open definition of celebrity to include the many different variations in the period: theatrical, criminal, aristocratic, royal, and even the freakish.

We welcome work that clarifies and gives nuance to the prehistory of the celebrity bio as a genre and that thinks about ways in which particular material and ideological conditions shaped the formal and experiential effects of celebrity during the period roughly between 1660 and 1830. Essays might focus, for example, on comparing biography’s relationship to celebrity representation in other genres and media; a specific challenge or problem posed by a person or text or a particular form of representation; or contested representational forms.

We also are interested in work that grows out of or reflects on the process of writing a modern biography of an eighteenth-century celebrity. How do biographies create celebrity? How do various rhetorics of biographical discourse contest or refuse celebrity? How might attention to the formal rhetorics of biographical studies provide us new ways to think about celebrity culture in the long eighteenth century and conversely how might the terms of celebrity studies allow us new insights into biography? What case studies allow us to see the constitutive work of celebrity and biography in action?
The editors invite abstracts 300-400 words long, accompanied by capsule biographies of the authors no more than 150 words long, by 15 Sept 2018. Material should be sent to both ks3t@andrew.cmu.edu and nachumi@yu.edu.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Online Collections of Engravings and Samplers

Here are a couple of online databases of visual interest.

The Anderson House library of the Society of the Cincinnati in Washington, D.C., has created an online collection of engravings and prints from and relating to the Revolutionary War. The website explains its contents:
Works of art on paper featuring engravings of Revolutionary War battle scenes, allegorical and commemorative prints, and portraits of original members of the Society of the Cincinnati. A significant collection of satirical prints includes caricatures of major figures on all sides during the Revolutionary War and political cartoons of relevant events of the longer Revolutionary era from the Seven Years' War through the War of 1812.

Highlights include: an extremely rare wartime mezzotint of George Washington by Charles Willson Peale; a pair of rebus letters skewering the Carlisle Peace commission; and images of leaders such as George III, John Wilkes, the marquis de Lafayette, and Louis XVI.
The website format lets viewers magnify the images to study details.

Turning from warfare to the domestic sphere, the Sampler Consortium unveiled the Sampler Archive, an online searchable database of American schoolgirl samplers and related embroideries. The archive begins with material from the Winterthur Museum, the D.A.R. Museum, and the Rhode Island Historical Society. Images from a dozen other collections and recent events will follow.

The samplers are catalogued with detailed information on their physical characteristics, history of the maker and her family, and provenance. The collection can be browsed according to the contributor, type of object, maker's age, place, and date.

As an example, the sampler shown above bears the name of "Nancy Tucker aged 8 1791." Curators at the D.A.R. Museum think it may have been made in Essex County, Massachusetts. Below an alphabet it bears the motto:
This Work In Hand my Friend may hav
When I am Dead And in My Grave
Which may have been meant well but rather reminds me of the dire warnings against theft that schoolboys used to write in their schoolbooks.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Watching the Native Northeast Portal Grow

The Native Northeast Portal is still in early development but offers great promise. It addresses the challenge of how many primary-source documents about New England Native communities are unpublished, scattered, and difficult to access. As the website explains:
The Portal represents a scholarly critical edition of New England Native American primary source materials gathered presently from the partner institutions into one robust virtual collection, where the items are digitized, transcribed, annotated, and edited to the highest academic standards and then made freely available over the Internet, using open-source software. By providing annotated transcriptions, the Project’s editors provide the Series users with useful information within a well-researched and balanced context necessary to understand the complexities of the historical record.
As an example of this portal's resources, here's a petition from Jonathan Capen seeking the release of Isaac Williams from the Suffolk County jail in December 1776. Crisp images of the document with the Council's response written on it are accompanied by a transcription and a map showing the pertinent location.

Other sources fill out the story. Williams was "a Molatto" from Dedham who enlisted in Capt. Joseph Guild's company in May 1775 and served until the end of the year. Early that November Williams married Elizabeth Will, a member of the Punkapoag community in Stoughton.

Williams must have reenlisted in the Continental Army or was drafted for it in some way because on 14 Aug 1776 he was listed as a deserter from Guild's company. He was then said to be twenty-three years old and 5'10" tall. The army still listed him as coming from Dedham.

Apparently Williams had gone to his wife in Stoughton because the selectmen of that town had him arrested as a deserter and put in the Suffolk County jail. (That didn't mean the jail in Boston since Suffolk County then included all of modern Norfolk County.)

Capen was the agent for the Punkapoag community in its dealings with the government, so he petitioned on behalf of Elizabeth Williams. Capen wrote that her young husband was "in a very poor State of Health," which might well be why he had left the army. The Massachusetts Council approved that petition and ordered the selectmen to release Williams.

As for the end of Williams's story, I'm pleased to report that he recovered. According to genealogists David Allen Lambert and Jennifer Pustz, he lived until 1831. The Stoughton Historical Society owns the pieces of his gravestone. Elizabeth Williams lived until 1848, long enough to apply for a pension as a Continental Army widow. (Her application doesn't mention any service or arrest in 1776.) Among the people supporting the Williams pension claim with a shaky signature was Jonathan Capen, evidently the elderly son of the man who filed the 1776 petition.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

A Free Peek into the American Ancestors Databases

Since I'm on the road this week, I'm going to highlight some online databases that have caught my eye.

The New England Historical Genealogical Society has announced that all the databases at its American Ancestors website will be free through Tuesday, 17 July. People need to sign in as guest members to access the back issues of the New England Historic Genealogical Register, the Suffolk County probate records, biographies of the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, the world's largest database of Mayflower descendants, Boston's Catholic records starting in 1789, and much more.

This is of course a push to induce people researching their ancestors to get hooked on those N.E.H.G.S. databases and become regular members. And that online access really is useful. Just this month I looked up the probate inventory of a Continental Navy veteran, discovering that he owned no real estate but a quarter of a ship and 3,000 pounds of coffee. He was, I conclude, a merchant captain who died unexpectedly before that last cargo was sold.

Among the N.E.H.G.S. databases available is the Early Vermont Settlers, 1700-1784 project directed by Scott Andrew Bartley. This week the society added 74 new profiles of heads of families from Hartland, Springfield, Hartford, and other towns in Windsor County, Vermont. For info on exactly who those people are, see these blog posts.