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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Thursday, October 21, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Gen. Gates’s Articles of Convention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

“Receiving confirmation various ways of the surrender”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 18, 2021

Joyful News from Saratoga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 17, 2021

Maj. Moses Ashley’s Line of Battle Restored

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, October 16, 2021

I Am This Place at Old South This Month

Starting today, the Old South Meeting House will host eight performances of a new play inspired by Crispus Attucks.

Written by Miranda ADEkoje and directed by Pascale Florestal, I Am This Place imagines nine characters, played by actors Maria Hendricks and Dominic Carter, representing Attucks’s parents and ancestors through a century of life in colonial New England.

The contemporaneous record of 1770 has left us very little information about Attucks. In 1860 the abolitionist and historian William Cooper Nell shared a letter about the Attucks family from an unnamed correspondent in Natick, identifying his parents as Jacob Peter Attucks and Nanny.

Later authors linked, however, Attucks to Prince Yongey and Nancy Peterattucks instead, though the dates of their marriage don’t match his reported age.

It’s clear from how people of 1770 described him that Attucks had both Native American and African ancestors. In recent years scholars and genealogists have done a lot of work on how people from those backgrounds, under various pressures from British colonists, formed communities in New England. In other words, Attucks’s heritage was by no means unusual in his time, especially in the area of Natick and Framingham.

I Am This Place creates fictional individuals to explore the lives of black and indigenous people living through wars, slavery, epidemics, religious revival, and other changes in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Massachusetts. It also, director Florestal says, shifts Attucks’s own “narrative from martyr to a man with hopes, dreams, ambition and most importantly family.”

Hendricks and Carter will perform I Am This Place at 11:30 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. this weekend and next for anyone visiting Old South. I expect there might be more performances scheduled in the future if the play gets a good reception.

Revolutionary Spaces plans more public art productions like this “to bring people together to reimagine what it means to be a part of America’s Revolutionary story.” Here’s the recording of a panel discussion last fall featuring playwright ADEkoje, Patrick Gabridge of producer Plays in Place, and others on the challenges and rewards of creating such site-specific drama.

Friday, October 15, 2021

From William Fitzmaurice to the Marquess of Lansdowne

William Fitzmaurice was born in Dublin in 1737 and grew up in rural southern Ireland. His parents were from aristocratic families, though neither had titles. William’s father John was a grandson of the Earl of Kerry through a younger son, and his mother Anne was daughter of a knight and brother of the first Earl of Shelburne.

Both those titles—Earl of Kerry and Earl of Shelburne—were in the Irish peerage. The men holding them were entitled to seats in the Irish House of Lords but not the British House of Lords, which covered England, Wales, and Scotland. Even though people in Great Britain addressed Irish peers by their noble titles, they were technically not British lords. I get the sense that British lords could look down on them a bit, but British commoners were supposed to look up.

In 1743, the year William turned six, his father John Fitzmaurice won a seat in the Irish House of Commons, which he held for the next eight years. At that point, in 1751, the status of the family began to change.

First, William’s uncle the Earl of Shelburne died, leaving his extensive property to John Fitzmaurice on the condition that he adopt his wife’s family name, Petty. John Fitzmaurice accepted the name John Petty Fitzmaurice, in later generations hyphenated as Petty-Fitzmaurice to make the alphabetization easier to remember.

Thus, in 1751 William Fitzmaurice, now in his teens, became William Petty Fitzmaurice.

Later in 1751, the Crown granted John Petty Fitzmaurice two noble titles: Viscount Fitzmaurice and Baron Dunkerton. It was very common for a peer to have subsidiary titles under his main one, moving down the ladder of peerages (duke, marquess, earl, viscount, and baron). Those titles for John Petty Fitzmaurice came in the Irish peerage, and the new viscount became a member of the Irish House of Lords.

Furthermore, in the British aristocratic system, the eldest son and heir of a peer is by courtesy addressed by his father’s second-highest noble title. Thus, in late 1751 William Petty Fitzmaurice became Lord Dunkerton.

In 1753 the Crown gave Viscount Fitzmaurice a promotion within the Irish peerage by recreating his late brother-in-law’s title of Earl of Shelburne for him. He was thenceforth addressed as Lord Shelburne.

That meant that in 1753 young Lord Dunkerton gained the courtesy title of Lord Fitzmaurice. That’s how he was addressed when he went off to Oxford University two years later.

As I said before, the Earl of Shelburne wasn’t entitled to a seat in Great Britain’s House of Lords because he was an Irish peer. Likewise, Lord Fitzmaurice, despite being able to use that courtesy title, wasn’t a British peer. As such, they could stand for seats in the British House of Commons. And that’s what Lord Shelburne did in 1754, winning a seat he held until 1760.

In that year, the Crown gave the Earl of Shelburne a title within the British peerage: Baron of (Chipping) Wycombe. That moved him out of the British House of Commons into the British House of Lords. People continued to call him Lord Shelburne because, even though the British peerage was more powerful than the Irish peerage, an earldom was more prestigious than a barony.

As for Lord Fitzmaurice, after his years at college he joined the British army and served under Gen. James Wolfe in the 20th Regiment of Foot. He saw action at Rochefort, Minden, and Kloster-Kampen. Good service and noble background allowed Fitzmaurice to become a military aide-de-camp to King George III in 1760, with the rank of colonel. Within the army he was thus Col. Fitzmaurice. (This rank was controversial since more senior officers were passed over, but it stuck. Furthermore, even though the man stopped being active in the army, he was by protocol promoted to major general in 1765, lieutenant general in 1772, and general in 1783.)

Also in 1760, Lord Fitzmaurice stood for his father’s seat in the British House of Commons and won. The next year he was elected to the Irish House of Commons representing County Kerry. But before he could take those seats, the situation changed again.

In 1761 the Earl of Shelburne died. Lord Fitzmaurice became the Earl of Shelburne within the Irish peerage and Baron Wycombe within the British peerage. He was no longer eligible to serve in either country’s House of Commons. (His successor in Britain was Col. Isaac Barré, a political protégé and fellow veteran of Gen. Wolfe’s regiment.)

It was as the Earl of Shelburne that the former Lord Fitzmaurice, former Lord Dunkerton, former William Petty Fitzmaurice, born William Fitzmaurice, became a player in British-American politics. Prime Minister George Grenville appointed him First Lord of Trade in 1763, but Shelburne decided to ally with William Pitt and resigned a few months later. When the Marquess of Rockingham and Pitt (now Earl of Chatham) formed a government in 1766, Shelburne became Southern Secretary, but was pushed out after two years.

After 1775, Shelburne sided with Chatham, Rockingham, Barré, and others in opposing Lord North’s war policies. (Lord North was in the House of Commons, not the House of Lords, because his courtesy title came from being son and heir of the Earl of Guilford.) When news of the defeat at Yorktown arrived, Lord North’s ministry fell and was replaced with a government led by the Marquess of Rockingham. Shelburne was named one of two Secretaries of State—the first Home Secretary, in fact.

Then Rockingham died after only a few months, and the Earl of Shelburne became Prime Minister in July 1782. He and his envoys handled most of the negotiations with France, Spain, and the U.S. of A. to create the Treaties of Paris. However, before those documents were signed, Shelburne’s coalition fell because of internal wrangling. Rockingham’s other Secretary of State, Charles James Fox, made an alliance of convenience with Lord North to oust Shelburne in April 1783.

The next year, young William Pitt the Younger took over the Prime Minister’s office. Rather than bring his father’s old ally Shelburne back into government, he arranged for the man to gain a British peerage higher than his Irish one: Marquess of Lansdowne. That was the former William Fitzmaurice’s main title from 1784 until his death in 1805.

The marquess stayed out of politics, but he did do something significant in American culture: he commissioned Gilbert Stuart to create a full-length portrait of George Washington. Stuart delivered that picture in 1796. The artist also produced copies of what became known as the “Lansdowne portrait,” including one hung in the White House since 1800. The marquess’s descendants sold the original to the U.S. National Portrait Gallery in 2001 for $20 million.

The seed for this posting was my realization that mentions of Lord Shelburne and Lord Lansdowne in the late 1700s referred to the same man. I started to wonder whether his name and status had changed at other times in his life. I had no idea how complicated the answer would be.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Tilly Merrick, at Home and Abroad

Yesterday’s posting introduced Tilly Merrick (1755-1836), who grew up in Concord before the Revolutionary War and died in that town decades later, telling stories about the Revolution.

In between those periods, however, Merrick had a farflung business career.

When the war began, Merrick was home, working as a schoolteacher, drilling with the militia, and earning his master’s degree from Harvard.

His widowed mother Mary’s second husband, Duncan Ingraham, was considered a Tory, but he grudgingly cooperated with the rebel government after the war began.

Merrick went to work for a mercantile firm whose partners included his stepbrother Duncan Ingraham, Jr. (1752-1802). That meant traveling to Europe. The first sign of this appears to be an entry in Benjamin Franklin’s diary for 17 Feb 1779: “Gave a Pass to Mr Tilly Merrick, going to Nantes.”

He next pops up in the diary of John Adams for 21 May, during a long voyage home to Boston after his first, truncated diplomatic mission: “Mr. Ingraham and Mr. Merrick dined with me, in the Cabbin.”

In his later years, Merrick left his Concord neighbors with the impression that he was actually part of Adams’s staff: “During the Revolutionary War, Mr Merrick was connected with the embassy of John Adams to France and Holland, as an attaché, and was secretary while abroad…,” wrote a town chronicler.

In fact, that one dinner was the only time Adams mentioned him. As the author of Merrick’s entry in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates wrote in a footnote: “It is troubling that his name does not appear in the published correspondence of any of the era’s principal diplomats.”

On 18 Jan 1781 Adams was in Amsterdam on his longer and more successful mission. He wrote to the Massachusetts Board of War:
There are three Gentlemen, in the Mercantile Way, Mr. [Charles] Sigourney, Mr. Ingraham and Mr. [Henry] Bromfield, who are now in this City, and propose to reside here and establish a mercantile House. These Gentlemen are very well known in the Massachusetts, and therefore it is unnecessary for me to Say any Thing concerning their Characters.
These partners helped Adams find quarters, shipped supplies to his wife, and showed up often on social occasions in his diary.

In May 1781 Tilly Merrick arrived in Amsterdam as well to continue working for his stepbrother. He wrote back to a friend, Nathan Bond:
It was your opinion & that of many others in Boston, that it was impracticable for any stranger to do business here, & that it was confined to those who were brought up & fix’d in the business of the Country, & that an effort of settling here would be fruitless on act. of the Combination of the Merchants. . . . I would say that a person who can do business any where & understand the principles of Trade, can do business here. . . . The difficulties, common to a stranger in a place, have been combatted, & are removed.
From that period on, Merrick’s work is well documented in his own papers, now at the Concord library. Richard Lowitt studied them for an Atlantic Studies article titled “Tilly Merrick, Merchant in a Turbulent Atlantic World.”

Soon Merrick was trading on his own account, investing in any number of goods: cloth, Bibles, beaver hats, pen knives, tableware, hinges… Bond wrote back: “You will please in Future to examine more perfectly the goods you put up. I think that every Invoice as yet has had its errors.”

Throughout 1782 Merrick followed the peace negotiations between Britain, France, and the U.S. of A. closely, looking for business advantages. When the war finally did come to a close, he sailed for America—but not for Boston. Instead, Merrick decided to set himself up at some port in the south in partnership with another American named Isaac Course and use the commercial contacts he’d built up.

By summer 1783 Merrick was in Charleston, South Carolina (map shown above). Massachusetts governor John Hancock sent a certificate of his good standing. Soon the partnership was trading with Bond in Boston; Ingraham in Amsterdam and then Hudson, New York; Sigourney in Hartford, Connecticut; Bromfield in Bordeaux; his brother Augustus in North Carolina; and so on. In 1787 Mary Ingraham wrote from Concord, “Dear Child, I think you have for Got you have a Mother.”

Over the next decade Merrick did business in lots of goods, including enslaved Africans. He was successful enough to buy his own slave-labor plantation outside of Charleston. In lean times, however, he considered moving to another port, and even tried out Philadelphia in 1792. Since Pennsylvania had laws limiting slavery, that would have meant quite a change.

Back in Charlestown by 1795, Merrick co-signed $40,000 worth of notes for another merchant. That man went bankrupt in 1797, and Merrick had to liquidate his property. Around the same time, his younger brother John died, leaving him land in Concord. After nearly twenty years away, Tilly Merrick chose to return to his home town.

In midlife, Merrick shifted to a different lifestyle. No longer interested in global trade, he opened a country store and then paid little attention to profiting. Having been a bachelor into his forties, he married his cousin Sarah Minot on Christmas Day in 1798 and started a family. He became active in local civic organizations and represented Concord in the Massachusetts General Court four times between 1809 and 1816, siding with the Federalists.

And, of course, Tilly Merrick told stories about the first day of the Revolutionary War.

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

“Many were the disputes” with Duncan Ingraham

As part of my ongoing investigation of the cannon in Concord in April 1775, I’ve been gathering information about the merchant Duncan Ingraham, a recent arrival in the town.

Ingraham had made his fortune in business in Boston, then married the widow Mary Merrick and moved into her house in Concord. (A detail of her gravestone appears here.)

Back in Boston, Ingraham had left four iron cannon in his stable. His sold them to the aggressive Patriot William Molineux in early October 1774 without Ingraham’s approval. A few months later, two of those guns were brought out to Concord to be mounted on carriages.

By that time, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson had made Ingraham a justice of the peace for Middlesex County. His neighbors suspected him of supporting the Crown. Indeed, as related by George M. Brooks in Memoirs of Members of the Social Circle in Concord (1888), Ingraham’s stepson Tilly Merrick (1755-1836) recalled arguing over politics: “many were the disputes on the issues of the day with his Tory father-in-law [i.e., stepfather].”

Merrick even described Ingraham welcoming British army officers into his wife’s home on the fateful 19th of April in 1775. The Ingraham/Merrick family lived at the corner of what became Main and Sudbury Streets, with a house, store, warehouse, and other outbuildings.

According to Merrick, when the British column arrived in Concord on 19 April, Maj. John Pitcairn called on Ingraham, leading to this anecdote:
During his call, the major went out of the back door of the house, and seeing one of Mr. Ingraham’s negroes standing by the large pear-tree in the rear of the house, with his hands behind him, commenced on him, as he did on the rebels at Lexington Common a few hours previously, by pointing a pistol at his head, and, in a loud tone of voice, ordering him to give up his arms; but as the unfortunate bondsman replied to order by holding up both his hands over his head, and saying, “Dem is all the arms I have, massa,” the serious consequence of the Lexington order was not repeated in Mrs. Ingraham’s back yard.

At this moment the report of the firing at the North Bridge was heard, and the major precipitately left, having more important business to attend to the remainder of the day than making social calls and bullying half-scared negroes.
For nineteenth-century audiences, this was mainly an entertaining story that bridged two genres: arrogant British officer thwarted and black slave too stupid (or too sly?) to answer a question correctly. Quite early Pitcairn became the subject of stories about British officers getting their comeuppance, even when the evidence points to other men. Need this anecdote have much basis in fact?

Examined against the background of the secret activities in Concord that spring, Pitcairn’s questioning might take on more significance. James Barrett was collecting cannon, gunpowder, and other military supplies for the Massachusetts Provincial Congress. Barrett’s family and some of his Concord neighbors were helping in that effort.

At the same time, someone in Concord was sending Gen. Thomas Gage secret notes detailing where those supplies were being hidden around the town. In March 1775 Gage dispatched two army officers in disguise, Capt. William Brown and Ens. Henry DeBerniere, to Concord to confirm that information. The intelligence that Gage gathered guided his orders to Lt. Col. Francis Smith and Maj. Pitcairn about searching the town.

Because of Ingraham’s political leaning, personal interest in provincial artillery pieces, and genteel standing (Gage’s first intelligence reports from Concord arrived in French), he’s a leading suspect to be the Concord spy.

It might make sense, therefore, for Pitcairn to visit Ingraham on arriving in Concord and collect up-to-the-minute information on where his neighbors were holding the provincial weapons.

Or does it? Going to Ingraham’s house while the whole town was watching would make the neighbors even more suspicious about the squire than they already were. And if Ingraham was ready to share information, why interrogate his human property at pistol point?

I can concoct scenarios in which this story makes perfect sense. For example, imagine the enslaved man had grown up in the household of Mary Ingraham and was plugged into the Concord gossip network. He might have gleaned information about where folks were hiding weapons and talked about that at home, and his new master Ingraham might have collected all that intelligence and sent it to Gage. When the redcoats arrived, Pitcairn sought out Ingraham for the latest, and he answered, “You’ll have to ask my man.”

Conversely, I can also imagine a scenario in which Tilly Merrick simply made up this story to entertain people in Concord in the early 1800s. Or one in which he took an actual visit to his parents’ house by British army officers and tacked on a fictional encounter between Pitcairn and the enslaved man for the sake of a laugh.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

“Old Mr. Thompson” and Charlestown Cannon

For this posting I’m indebted to a tip from Chris Hurley, whom one can see at colonial reenactments demonstrating cider-making, among other skills.

Timothy Thompson (1750-1834) was a carpenter in Charlestown. He married Mary Frothingham in January 1775, and their first child arrived eight months later. By that point Thompson was a sergeant in the provincial army, Mary was a war refugee in Woburn, and their home was in ashes.

Charlestown rebuilt after the British left, so those years were probably a good time to be a carpenter. Thompson bought real estate, built on it, then expanded. He built two Federal houses for himself and his son Benjamin that today help to anchor the “Thompson Triangle.”

On 26 July 1830, Edward Everett, then a member of Congress, wrote in his diary:
Visited old Mr Thompson & received from him an account of stealing the Cannon from the Battery in the Navy Yard.—

He said that for ten years there had not been a new house added to the town prior to the Revolution.—
(So that decade before the war was not a good time to be a carpenter.)

Thompson’s story of “stealing the Cannon” took place on 7 Sept 1774, shortly after the “Powder Alarm” had pushed people on both sides of the political dispute into looking for military solutions.

At the time, Charlestown had a battery guarding its waterfront, cannon pointing out at where enemy vessels might round the Boston peninsula. In 1770 Capt. John Montresor had counted five iron eighteen-pounders in that battery.

According to the Boston merchant John Andrews, Gen. Thomas Gage heard rumors that the locals planned to move those guns out of his control. On the morning of 7 September, he sent an army officer across the river to scout out the site. By the time a squad of artillerymen arrived that evening to seize the ordnance, the five guns were gone.

That was one of the earliest moves in what The Road to Concord calls an “arms race” all around Boston in September 1774. Everett had heard about Thompson’s story at least once before. In 1878 the president of the Bunker Hill Monument Association, Richard Frothingham, reported:
…the account of the proceedings of the Standing Committee of August 2, 1824, has the following in the handwriting of Edward Everett, the Secretary: “An account of the carrying off and secreting some heavy artillery from a fort in Charlestown, in the year 1774, by Timothy Thompson, one of the persons engaged in that exploit, was presented by Col. [Samuel D.] Harris, and ordered to be filed.” This paper cannot be found.
In his own local history published in 1845, Frothingham had included the names of three men he believed had participated in that action: William Calder, William Lane, and Timothy Thompson.

Monday, October 11, 2021

“I found moreover a liveliness in my whole frame”

Sometime between 1764 and 1767 Benjamin Franklin met a Dutch physician named Dr. Jan Ingenhousz (1730–1799). They were part of the same scientific circle in London.

In 1768 Sir John Pringle, head of the Royal Society, sent Ingenhousz to Vienna to inoculate the imperial family against smallpox. That worked so well that Ingenhousz became physician to Emperor Joseph II and his mother, Queen Maria Theresa of Austria.

Later, when Franklin was representing the U.S. of A. in Paris, he used his correspondence with Ingenhousz to promote the cause of America in Vienna.

Meanwhile, Dr. Ingenhousz continued his scientific and medical investigations in Vienna. On 15 Aug 1783 he wrote to Franklin, recalling the American’s report about accidentally electrocuting himself instead of a turkey, quoted back here, and building on it.

Ingenhousz said:
As the effect of a Similar stroke by which I was struk, was followed by some remarcabel particularities I should like to compare them which those you have experienced.

The jarr, by which I was Struck, contained about 32 pints, it was nearly fully charged when I recived the explosion from the Conductor supported by that jarr. The flash enter’d the corner of my hat. Then, it entred my fore head and passed thro the left hand, in which I held the chaine communicating with the outward Coating of the jarr.

I neither saw, heared, nor feld the explosion, by which I was Struck down. I lost all my senses, memory, understanding and even sound judgment. My first Sensation was a peine on the forehead. The first object I saw Was the post of a door. I combined the two ideas togeather and thaught I had hurt my head against the horizontal piece of timber supported by the postes, which was impossible, as the door was wide and high.

After having answered unadequately to some questions, which were asked me by the people in the room, I determin’d to go home. But I was some what surprised, that, though the accident happened in a hous in the same street where I lodged, yet I was more than two minutes considering whether, to go home, I must go to the right or to the left hand.

Having found my lodgings, and considering that my memory was become very weak, I thaught it prudent to put down in writing the history of the case: I placed the paper before me, dipt the pen in the ink, but when I applyed it to the paper, I found I had entirely forgotten the art of writing and reading and did not know more what to doe with the pen, than a savage, who never knew there was such an art found out. This Struck me with terror, as I feared I should remain for ever an idiot. I thaught it prudent to go to bed.

I slept tolerably well and when I awaked next morning I felt still the peine on the forehead and found a red spot on the place: but my mental faculties were at that time not only returned, but I feld the most lively joye in finding, as I thaught at the time, my judgmement infinitely more acute. It did seem to me I saw much clearer the difficulties of every thing, and what did formerly seem to me difficult to comprehend, was now become of an easy solution. I found moreover a liveliness in my whole frame, which I never had observed before.

This experiment, made by accident, on my self, and of which I gave you at the time an account, has induced me to advise some of the London mad-Doctors, as Dr. [Thomas] Brook, to try a similar experiment on mad men, thinking that, as I found in my self my mental faculties improoved and as the world well knows, that your mental faculties, if not improoved by the two strooks you recieved, were certainly not hurt by them, it might perhaps become a remedie to restore the mental faculties when lost: but I could never persuade any one to try it.
Some medical authors suggest that Ingenhousz has stumbled into electroconvulsive therapy. The confusion and memory loss followed by more “liveliness” correspond to what some people suffering from deep depressions report from the modern treatment.

Back in the late 1700s, scientists like Franklin, Ingenhousz, and Pringle were reporting on electricity and its spooky powers. Such doctors as James Graham and Franz Mesmer claimed, too eagerly, to be using those powers to heal and strengthen the body. Those reports and claims fed into the delusions of Lt. Neil Wanchope and James Tilly Matthews, as quoted yesterday. But ironically, there really were mind-altering properties of electricity to discover.

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Jacobin “Air Looms” in London

James Tilly Matthews (1770-1815) came to London from Wales to work as a tea broker in the early 1790s.

He became an acolyte of the Rev. David Williams (1738-1816), a reformist minister and philosopher who had hosted Benjamin Franklin back in 1774 when the American needed a refuge from the political pressure over his leak of Thomas Hutchinson’s letters.

In the early 1790s, Williams was active in promoting peace between Britain and Revolutionary France, but the execution of Louis XVI discouraged him. Matthews kept at that campaign, though, working through Girondist contacts.

Then a change of government in Paris brought the Jacobins to power and Matthews under suspicion. He was locked up for three years as a possible British spy. Eventually a new French government concluded Matthews was insane and sent him back to Britain.

On 30 Dec 1796 Matthews went into the House of Commons and started shouting that the Home Secretary, Lord Liverpool, was a traitor. The British government also decided Matthews was insane, and by January 1793 he was in the Bethlem or Bedlam Hospital, where he spent the next two decades.

In 1809 there was a dispute among doctors over whether Matthews was rational. The Bethlem apothecary, John Haslam, supported his position with a book describing Matthews’s delusions in detail, complete with pictures. The Public Domain Review shares Mike Jay’s article about that book.

In particular, Matthews said, he was tormented by a gang of people operating a nearby “Air Loom”:
The Air Loom worked, as its name suggests, by weaving “airs”, or gases, into a “warp of magnetic fluid” which was then directed at its victim. Matthews’ explanation of its powers combined the cutting-edge technologies of pneumatic chemistry and the electric battery with the controversial science of animal magnetism, or mesmerism. The finer detail becomes increasingly strange. It was fuelled by combinations of “fetid effluvia”, including “spermatic-animal-seminal rays”, “putrid human breath”, and “gaz from the anus of the horse”, and its magnetic warp assailed Matthews’ brain in a catalogue of forms known as “event-workings”. . . .

The machine’s operators were a gang of undercover Jacobin terrorists, who Matthews described with haunting precision. Their leader, Bill the King, was a coarse-faced and ruthless puppetmaster who “has never been known to smile”; his second-in-command, Jack the Schoolmaster, took careful notes on the Air Loom’s operations, pushing his wig back with his forefinger as he wrote. The operator was a sinister, pockmarked lady known only as the “Glove Woman”. The public face of the gang was a sharp-featured woman named Augusta, superficially charming but “exceedingly spiteful and malignant” when crossed, who roamed London’s west end as an undercover agent.
Similar machines were at work in other parts of the capital, Matthews said, and Prime Minister William Pitt was under the gang’s control.

James Tilly Matthews is now considered one of the earliest well documented cases of paranoid schizophrenia. He’s also notable because he interpreted the voices and impulses he experienced not through supernatural or spiritual factors but through newly emerging science. Matthews is thus also one of the earliest examples in Jeffrey Sconce’s 2019 study, The Technical Delusion: Electronics, Power, Insanity.

Back in 2010 I wrote about another such example. In 1776 Lt. Neil Wanchope of the Royal Navy’s marines began to alarm fellow officers aboard H.M.S. Thetis, “knocking against the 1st Lieutenant’s cabin desiring him to leave off electrifying and murdering him.” Like Matthews, Wanchope understood his mental experiences using one of the period’s most advanced scientific concepts.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Tracking Down Diaries of the Québec Expedition

Earlier this week I mentioned Stephen Darley’s 2011 book Voices from a Wilderness Expedition, a bibliography of all known diaries and first-person accounts of Col. Benedict Arnold’s trek to Québec in 1775 and a listing of all the men on that march.

That book also included the transcripts of five diaries not previously published or noted in the last edition of Kenneth Roberts’s March to Quebec.

This year Darley published a new collection, Voices Waiting to Be Heard, with transcriptions of nineteen accounts of the expedition, some discovered in the last decade. The earliest actually appeared in the Pennsylvania Packet in March 1779.

In 2013, Darley and Stephen Burk published an article in Early American Review, which can be read here. It tackled the question of who wrote a diary of the expedition published in The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal in 1900 without a name, still anonymous at the time of Darley’s first book.

Burk and Darley wrote:
From the pages of his journal it is apparent that the anonymous author was a Massachusetts soldier and that he had been in a Captain Smith’s company prior to transferring to Captain Hubbard’s company for the March to Quebec. He also mentions having a brother on the March although it is not evident whether both men were in the same company. The journal states that the author’s brother died “with fever and flux” on Dec. 28, 1775 near Quebec. Also, journal entries make clear that the author was not among the many that were taken prisoner during the Dec. 31 assault on the walled city of Quebec.
Using the listing of men in Darley’s book, the researchers found three named Pierce (or Peirce) in Capt. Jonas Hubbard’s company. David Pierce died during the march. John and William Pierce avoided both death and capture. But did either of them keep a diary?

In fact, they both did. Ens. John Pierce’s journal was published in Roberts’s compilation. One entry reads: “David Peirce…was taken again all on a sudden and died in a few days he had no senses after he was taken the last time –Adiu to my Friend and Namesake.” That doesn’t sound like a brother, just a man with the same last name.

Furthermore, Ens. Pierce was from Worcester, but David and William Pierce enlisted together from Hadley. They both served in Capt. Eliakim Smith’s company starting with the Lexington Alarm.

Those details confirmed William Pierce as the anonymous diarist first published in 1900. Knowing his name, Burk and Darley could fill out more details of the brothers’ lives. William was born in 1752, David two years later. Their father, a Harvard graduate, represented Hadley in the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

David Pierce died just before Gen. Richard Montgomery led his doomed attack on Québec. William Pierce was sick that day, thus unable to fight. He remained with the Continental Army during its withdrawal in 1776 and was back in Hadley that summer. Pierce never married, dying in Hadley in 1832. Burk and Darley even found his gravestone.

All told, there are now thirty-eight known first-person accounts of the Arnold expedition, making it one of the most individually documented campaigns of the war. All the more striking since we usually hear about it as an event that took place in the wilderness under conditions that don’t seem conducive for keeping a diary.

Friday, October 08, 2021

The Road to Concord through the Other Quincy

The latest episode of the History Ago Go podcast features host Rob Mellon and me talking about The Road to Concord and the Battle of Lexington and Concord that followed.

Here are links to this episode through various platforms:
Rob Mellon is the executive director of the Historical Society of Quincy & Adams County, Illinois. This Quincy has the last syllable pronounced “see” and not “zee,” as we do here in Massachusetts.

After we finished recording, I told Rob about how I’d tried to visit Quincy during one of my first vacations as a working adult, when I attended Tom Sawyer Days in Hannibal, Missouri. Quincy is just across the river. But in that year of 1993, the river was in flood, and the bridges were all closed. So it’s still on my list.

Rob informed me that Quincy was named after John Quincy Adams. In fact, when the settlement originally called Bluffs took that new name in 1825, the people honored the incoming President in three ways. They named their county Adams, their town Quincy, and their central intersection John Square.

Since then, though, they renamed the town square after Washington. The Adams family would no doubt say that was typical.