J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Paying attention to black Loyalists

Sunday's Boston Globe featured an interview with historian Simon Schama on the occasion of his book Rough Crossings, about the experience of Loyalists of African ancestry before, during, and after the Revolution. It's interesting to compare the press this book is getting in the U.S. to what British reviewers had to say about it last fall. The North American media has focused on how it will rile American readers by supposedly breaking the news that most wealthy founders owned slaves and were upset at the prospect of losing them. In Britain, reviewers paid more attention to the book's latter half, which covers the Crown's broken promises to the black Loyalists in Canada and Sierra Leone. For instance, the Guardian's reviewer wrote

When the defeated British withdrew, thousands of former slaves found themselves herded on to British ships and relocated to Nova Scotia and London. Their miserable fate and protracted sufferings form the core of Schama's gripping new book.
The book's Amazon.co.uk page shows how the original publisher played up the post-Revolutionary story for British readers. But of course Americans have short attention spans for Canadian history and Sierra Leone, so the U.S. publisher's copy emphasizes the Revolution.

Rough Crossings is one fruit of a huge (by historians' standards) book-TV deal Schama made a few years ago. The Wikipedia article about him states:
In 2003, Schama signed a lucrative new contract with the BBC and HarperCollins to produce three new books and two accompanying TV series. Worth £3 million (around $5.3m), it represents the biggest advance deal ever for a TV historian. The only confirmed project lined up as part of the deal is a book and TV show provisionally entitled Rough Crossings, dealing with stories of migration across the Atlantic Ocean and including chapters/episodes on Pocahontas, freed slaves, and the Irish famine
Apparently Schama found enough material on black Loyalists to build a series and book about them alone.

Such a large deal puts pressure on the publisher and author to produce large sales, and one route to that is to declare that the book tells a story that's never been told before. To his credit, in the Globe interview Schama demurs, saying his work adds "almost nothing" to the record, only public attention. And in fact it's easy to find other authors writing about black Loyalists today:

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Nathanael Greene: published at last

This weekend the Rhode Island Historical Society will celebrate the publication of the thirteenth and final volume of the Papers of General Nathanael Greene with a festive (and fundraising) dinner featuring David McCullough, author of 1776.

Publishing the complete papers of any significant historical figure is a long undertaking—thirty-four years in Greene's case. It usually requires government funding, exacting standards, and management skills. At some point, I understand, participants start to suspect that the project will never end. So the RIHS deserves to feel proud about bringing this ship into port.

Unfortunately, Greene's papers shed limited light on the biggest mystery of his career: how he vaulted from being just one of several founders of the Kentish Guards militia company to being named general of the Rhode Island troops early in the siege of Boston. In that position he gained the respect of George Washington, and the rest was history.

The first volume of the Greene Papers does contain a marvelous example of eighteenth-century American spelling standards in the form of his orders for 14 Aug 1775, as transcribed by an unknown company captain into an orderly book:

The Camp Coloman of Each Ridgment to Clean the Spears three times a week against there Several alarm posts. The Corl are Requested to see it Don. There appears to be a Grate negtlect of the people Reparing to the Neserys agreeable to General orders but to Void there Exerments about the field pernishously and Dont fill the Vaults that are Dug as Directed by his Excelentsy. As the healths of the Camps is greatly Dangred by these Neglects it is Recomended to the ofisers of the Several Ridgments to pay due attention to futer transgresion and Let the Transgresor be ponished with the Utmost Severity. Generals Lee Gard to be furnished with Camp Cittels and to Draw provisions by them selves. The Cort marshal for Coln mansfield is agorned tomorow at 9 Clock as appointed in General orders. The Cort and the partis are to attend at the time and place appinted. Coln Gridly to Draw out a fetege party and to widen and Depen the Ditches Round these Linds at Lest 2 feet and from glaised 16 or 18 inches higt.
Got that?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Edward Barber: teenaged casualty of war

The 1775 broadside titled "Bloody Butchery by the British Troops," available in a keyword search through the Library of Congress's magnificent "American Memory" site, lists all the American casualties along the Battle Road from Boston to Concord and back. From the town of Charlestown, two names appear:

Mr. James Miller.
Capt. William Barber's son, aged 14.
Obviously, the printers who created that broadside had limited information about the Barber boy. Charlestown genealogies published by Thomas Bellows Wyman in 1879 offer a bit more. Capt. William Barber was a mariner who owned waterfront property and a wharf. He married his second wife, Anne Hay, in 1745, and she bore his children until 1770. Edward Barber, baptized on 1 November 1761, was the ninth of the captain's thirteen children. The boy was probably thirteen years old when he died on 19 April 1775.

Abram English Brown's Beneath Old Roof-Trees (1896) quoted the memoirs of Mercy Tufts Boylston on the circumstances of Edward Barber's death:
General Gage sent a message to Hon. James Russell [of Charlestown], to the effect that he was aware that armed citizens had gone out to oppose his Majesty's troops, and that if more went he would lay the town in ashes. . . . The dread reality was apparent at about sunset. The troops came in haste and confusion into the town. The first of her sons to be sacrificed was a boy, Edward Barber, who was standing in a house, and was there shot. He was my cousin,...and would have escaped if our people had obeyed orders. We were told that no harm would befall us if the army was not fired upon. A careless, excited negro discharged his musket, and the return fire killed the inoffensive boy.
This would not have been the first time that nineteenth-century New Englanders used the excuse of a "careless, excited negro" to explain away impulsive actions by local whites. In 1821-22, the Columbian Centinel newspaper published "Recollections of a Bostonian" that blamed the fights before the Boston Massacre on a black man who insulted a soldier; in 1770 ropemaker William Green had acknowledged delivering the insult in question. Some people blamed the Emerson family's enslaved worker Frank for killing a wounded British soldier in Concord; Frank wasn't nearby at the time, and the attacker was most likely a local carpenter named Ammi White. So it probably was with the death of Edward Barber. There was general confusion in Charlestown, some locals might have shot at the British column, but no one could be sure who.

Twentieth-century historians suggest Edward was reckless in looking out a window as the British soldiers arrived. Those soldiers had marched all the way back from Concord (or, in the case of Percy's relief column, Lexington) under occasional attack from houses and farm-buildings along the road. Commanders had sent flankers out to break into houses and clear out yards, with most of the Crown "atrocities" that Massachusetts politicians and printers complained about coming during those actions. Edward Barber's face in a twilit window might have looked threatening to a British soldier. And I don't think we can rule out anger as a possible factor in making the regulars quicker to shoot.

I choose to write about Edward Barber on Memorial Day because he's the first example of a child killed in the Revolutionary War—and on the first day, too. He's a reminder that wars always end up killing children, whether as "collateral damage" or deliberate targets, whether in Haditha or Grozny or thousands of other places across history.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

John Adams: the many faces

Only a very small fraction of people alive in 1775 ever had their portraits professionally painted or drawn. John Adams was one of those few. In fact, because he became so prominent in the Revolutionary War and early American republic, we have many portraits of him over several decades. Those images let us watch him mature—and watch changes in how gentlemen presented themselves.

Lawyer John Adams bought pastel portraits of himself and his wife Abigail from Benjamin Blyth about 1766, when he was thirty-one years old. These pictures are small, and the medium was less expensive and prestigious than oil paintings. But buying portraits at all showed how the Adamses sought to fit into a genteel and sophisticated level of society. John's plump, unwrinkled face looks out from under the bushy white powdered wig of an attorney, perhaps trying not to smile too proudly. This portrait and its mate are displayed by the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.

When he was involved in politics before and during the Revolutionary War, Adams had less time to sit for artists. But he grew prominent as an American statesman and diplomat, becoming the sort of man whose portrait other people asked for. In Europe, painters were better trained and more numerous than in colonial America, but the artists who took Adams's likeness were all American expatriates, many of them Loyalist. (Benjamin Franklin, in contrast, was highly popular with French artists.)

In 1783, when Adams was in London helping to negotiate the end of the Revolutionary War, Boston-born artist John Singleton Copley painted a full-length portrait of him—the most elaborate he ever posed for. In this painting Adams gestures to maps and a globe, symbols of the treaty he had just negotiated. Copley's original is now owned by Harvard University. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York owns Copley's sketch of Adams in this pose.

Another interesting image from this period is Benjamin West's unfinished painting of the commissioners who negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1783. All five of the American diplomats posed for West, but the British ministers chose not to, and the painting was never finished. It now hangs at the Winterthur Museum in Wilmington, Delaware, which has more beautiful things than it can possibly display. The U.S. State Department offers online visitors a closer look at a copy of West's painting; Adams is seated to the left.

The Boston Athenaeum has a fine portrait of Adams by Mather Brown, a British court painter born in Boston, from around the same time.

Connecticut artist John Trumbull painted Adams in 1793, when he was Vice President. In this image Adams looks remarkably placid, which to me means it's not a very good likeness. This may have been the statesmanlike calm that Adams wanted to exude, but he rarely achieved that demeanor in his writings or his discussions with other people; that's what makes him so interesting. This portrait was donated to Harvard by merchant Andrew Craigie, then the owner of Longfellow House in Cambridge. A similar portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

Trumbull also included Adams, as he imagined him looking about twenty years before, in his monumental "Declaration of Independence" for the U.S. Capitol. (In fact, despite writing about his care for accuracy, Trumbull seems to have imagined quite a bit about that painting.)

In the same period, Adams sat for Philadelphia artist Charles Willson Peale. This portrait is at Independence National Historic Park, but for a full-color web preview we have to go elsewhere. The vice president had started to wear his hair (what he had left) in a different style. Adams still had his hair curled and dressed, but he had stopped wearing a wig. Republican values had made the powdered wigs of his earliest portraits unfashionable.

Silhouettes and profiles were fashionable during Adams's administration. Around 1800, the French emigré artist Charles Balthazar J. F. Saint-Mémin drew a "grayscale" profile of the president in crayon, charcoal, and chalk. Saint-Mémin used a physiognotrace, a device that made it easy to trace a person’s silhouette onto paper and thus to create a close, if somewhat stiff, likeness now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. (The Smithsonian offers more information about Saint-Mémin. Wendy Bellion at MIT discusses his physiognotrace and similar inventions.)

Around the same time, Raphaelle Peale, one of the many sons of Charles Willson Peale, reportedly produced the silhouettes of John and Abigail Adams in the Peale Family Papers.

Gilbert Stuart painted Adams starting around 1800, in the final years of his presidency. This was one of the most bitter periods of Adams's life, analyzed by Joseph Ellis in Passionate Sage. I see a little of that shock and suspicion in Adams's face. As he did with his famous portrait of George Washington, Stuart kept working on his original while he produced several copies for sale to other customers. This painting can be viewed at the National Gallery in Washington, DC.

Stuart used his original to paint Adams in an uncharacteristically bright red suit for one of a series of presidential portraits, also at the National Gallery. In this image, I think the ex-president's face looks a bit more relaxed. Though Stuart was still working from his original sketches, in an odd way this later portrait manages to depict Adams after he had made peace with his electoral defeat.

Stuart returned to Adams in 1823 and painted another portrait of the former president as he neared ninety. He was obviously a man in retirement, no longer dressing his hair or dressing up. His face had developed more wrinkles. He was now a widower, Abigail having died in 1818. But his expression exudes intellectual vigor. This image is at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

French sculptor J. B. Binon created a bust of Adams for Boston's Fanueil Hall around 1818. It was thought to be a good likeness, which makes me think how portly the ex-president must have been at this time. Plaster copies were sold to admirers, and Thomas Jefferson's is on display at Monticello. This is the irascible face that greeted some visitors to Adams's house in Braintree.

One of my favorite images of John Adams—indeed, one of my favorite manmade objects in the world—is the bust of the ex-President created by sculptor J. H. I. Browere in 1825. It's on display at the New York State Historical Association's Fenimore House Museum in Cooperstown, New York, alongside similar busts of Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams, Henry Clay, and other American notables of that decade. (See the photo above.)

Because Browere developed his bust from a life mask—a plaster cast of Adams's actual face—it's remarkably vivid. You can see how the president had lost some teeth on the right side of his mouth, for instance. (That may be why Stuart put that side of his face in shadow in his 1823 painting.) Overall, the face is so lively that looking at the bust feels almost like visiting the old man himself. Seeing these busts is worth the trip to Cooperstown, which is a beautiful place, anyway. C-SPAN offers an expensive video on this collection. All the books about it have gone out of print.

Finally, there have been many posthumous depictions of Adams, all necessarily based on the paintings and sculptures above. Some of the notable ones:

ADDENDUM: Another John Adams portrait, this one by Samuel F. B. Morse.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

George Washington: turnaround manager

A couple of months back, NPS ranger Paul Blandford of Longfellow House gave me a copy of Fred Anderson's article "The Hinge of the Revolution: George Washington Confronts a People's Army, July 3, 1775." It's available at HistoryCooperative.org, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society, which published it in the first volume of the Massachusetts Historical Review. I actually have a copy of that magazine in my home, but I hadn't gotten around to reading it and would need about a week to find it from a sitting start. So I'm grateful to Paul for saving me such trouble.

Anderson is the author of A People's Army, Crucible of War, and The War That Made America. In other words, he's one of our top experts on the Seven Years' War in North America (or French & Indian War as we who are not French or Indian like to call it). Which gives Anderson a fine vantage-point for discussing how New Englanders, the British military, and George Washington saw themselves as the Revolutionary War began.

It's part of the human condition to prepare for the last war (if one prepares well for any war at all). And Anderson's article made me realize how different experiences of the Seven Years' War colored men's expectations for the first campaign of the Revolution.

  • New Englanders by and large had been shut out of the fighting during the Seven Years' War. Instead, they proudly remembered the last last war: King George's War (1744-48). Colonials had managed the North American theater of that conflict without the regular British army. And the New England troops triumphed: they conquered the French fortress at Louisburg, only to see it returned to Louis XV as part of the peace settlement. So they thought their militia and command system could work well if it was given a chance. And in some ways it did. After the fall of Fort William Henry in 1757, that system put well over 10,000 armed men on the march in just a few days. Could the Crown in London do that?
  • The British military officers who had served in North America during the Seven Years' War had come away with a different, and much worse, impression of the New England troops. British regulars were expected to serve as long as they remained alive and healthy. In contrast, New Englanders saw military service as a contract, not a career. The British officers used to commanding the first group had a hard time managing the second, and came to see them as malingerers or cowards—even though New England culture was among the most strait-laced and fervent in the British Empire. As a result, the regular army commanders kept New England militiamen in minor service roles during the Seven Years' War (i.e., "by and large shut out of the fighting"—see above).
  • Finally, there was Washington. He had had terrible experiences in the French & Indian War: Fort Necessity, Braddock's retreat, and never getting a regular commission, perhaps not in that order. He didn't share New Englanders' high regard for themselves, in part because of aristocratic prejudices (as in his famous complaint about seeing an officer shave an enlisted man) and in part because he knew how dangerous the British military could be and what a long campaign required. Washington also represented the best hope of turning the middle and southern colonies' short-term response to the outbreak of war into sustained commitment to drive the royal army off the continent.
That's why Anderson sees Washington taking command of the Continental—formerly New England—Army in July 1775 and then taking control of it through reorganization in later 1775 as a crucial turning-point in the entire conflict.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Newton Prince: civil rights lobbyist

I plan to pay my first visit to the New-York Historical Society today, so it seems appropriate to post about a document there which reveals a bit about lobbying for civil rights in Boston just before the Revolution.

The NYHS owns a leaflet reprinting a letter datelined "Boston, April 20th, 1773," and signed by four men who identify themselves as slaves: Peter Bestes, Sambo Freeman, Felix Holbrook, and Chester Joie. They ask for their liberty, in the same spirit that the province was then demanding political liberties from the Crown. According to their letter, after becoming free those four men planned

to leave the province, which we determine to do as soon as we can, from our joynt labours procure money to transport ourselves to some part of the Coast of Africa, where we propose a settlement.
The printed leaflet was part of a legislative lobbying effort, as shown by the address line printed on it: "For the Representative of the town of". The town name "Thompson" was written in by hand on the NYHS copy. Presumably there was one leaflet prepared for every sympathetic lawmaker.

Who delivered these leaflets on behalf of the four slaves, who had neither the liberty nor the standing to speak for themselves? More than twenty years later, a former member of the Massachusetts legislature's upper house recalled being approached by a free black businessman with a pamphlet. Samuel Dexter, former Council member from Weston, wrote to the Rev Jeremy Belknap on 26 Feb 1795:
I took up a pamphlet which I had not looked into for several years, and found I had noted upon the outside leaf that it was given to me by Mr. Newton Prince, lemon merchant, in the name and at the desire of a number of negroes, then petitioners to the General Court. At the head of these was Foelix Holbrook.

While the petition remained undecided upon, I was called out of the Council Chamber, and very politely presented with the pamphlet by Newton, who, after making his best bow, said that the negroes had been informed that I was against the slave-trade, and was their friend. He had several more to give to particular members of the House of Representatives. Upon my returning into the chamber, I boasted, as I have since, that I was distinguished from all the other members of council by this mark of respect.
What was the outcome of Newton Prince's effort? This Massachusetts legislature voted to prohibit the slave trade from Africa, but did nothing to end slavery within the province. And then the royal governor vetoed the law against importing new slaves, anyway. Slavery did not end in Massachusetts until the high court decided in 1783 that such inequality went against the state constitution (the same basis for the court's 2003 marriage-equality decision).

And what happened to Newton Prince? I'll discuss his past and future in future posts.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Boston's population in 1765

In reading about Revolutionary Boston, I've found it incredibly important to know the scale of the town. And it was still a town, both legally (not a city) and in size. Here are the population figures for Boston in 1765, from the last surviving census before the Revolutionary War:

  • houses: 1,676
  • families: 2,069
  • white males under age sixteen: 4,109
  • white females under age sixteen: 4,010
  • white males above age sixteen: 2,941
  • white females above age sixteen: 3,612
  • negroes and mulattoes, male: 510
  • negroes and mulattoes, female: 301
  • male Indians: 21
  • female Indians: 16
  • French neutrals under age 16: none
  • French neutrals over age 16: none
  • TOTAL: 15,520 people
These figures come J. H. Benton, Jr., Early Census Making in Massachusetts, 1643-1765, published in 1905. They probably didn't change much in the decade that followed. The categories for counting might prompt some questions:
  • Why the dividing line at age sixteen? The legal age of majority for men was twenty-one; that's when they could vote and make contracts, and when apprenticeships usually ended. But sixteen was when white males had militia duties, and one reason for the census was to tell the government how many potential soldiers lived in each part of the province.
  • Why not divide non-whites by age? The militia was again a big factor. Free men of color were supposed to fulfill their public duties in other ways, such as by cleaning and repairing streets. By the 1760s that traditional system had broken down in Boston. As George Quintal, Jr., has documented for Boston National Historic Park, there would also be many men of African and Native American descent in the militia army outside Boston in 1775. But the 1765 census-takers were still using the traditional categorizations.
  • What's a "French neutral"? Those were Acadians driven out of eastern Canada. A significant number were living in Maine. The government didn't expect them to serve in the militia, particularly since that militia would be expected to fight Frenchmen (this was only two years after the end of the Seven Years' War, which in turn came less than a decade after King George's War...).
Analyzing the numbers brings up some fairly mind-twisting ways that this colonial society differed from our own.
  • Boston had far more children than adults. So did the whole British Empire, and most other societies of the time. Our mental picture of Revolutionary America probably involves groups of men: the Continental Congress, the Boston Tea Party, companies arrayed for battle, ships at sea. But demographically the colonies were more like Disneyland. (I play this up for all it's worth in my contribution to Children in Colonial America, coming this December from NYU Press.)
  • The town had far more white women than white men because of losses in the wars and at sea. On the other hand, there was an even bigger imbalance of black men to black women, a consequence of the slave trade's preference for young males.
  • There were more families than houses, and far more adult males or females than families. Households were bigger than what most of us are used to, and extended well beyond the nuclear family.
  • Though Boston contained only as many people as a small town today, it was still the third largest metropolitan area on the coast of North America. Only Philadelphia and New York were larger.
  • When the British government stationed 4,000 soldiers in Boston in early 1775, that was more than one soldier for every local male of military age. No wonder it felt like a "garrison town."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Christopher Seider: shooting victim

If you go to the Old Granary Burying-Ground along the Freedom Trail in Boston, as John Hedtke did when he took this photo, you'll see a stone memorializing the five victims of the Boston Massacre. The local Sons of the American Revolution erected it in 1906.

After naming the men shot on 5 March 1770, the stone goes on to say:

Here also lies buried the body of
Christopher Snider,
Aged 12 years,
Killed February 22nd. 1770.

This boy was the first American killed in the political strife that became the American Revolution—eleven days before the Boston Massacre. The only problems with the memorial stone's statement about young Christopher are that his body does not lie there, his name was not Snider, and he wasn't twelve years old.

Most corpses were removed from this burying-ground in the 1800s. The remaining headstones were reportedly moved around to look neater, so by 1906 no one could be sure where anybody lay buried.

As for the boy's family name, it was most often spelled Seider, particularly in legal records. Spelling wasn't a big concern for Englishmen in the eighteenth century, and even people as famous as John "Handcock" could see their names rendered in novel ways. Various documents and accounts refer to the Seider family by the variant spellings Sider, Siders, Syder, and, indeed, Snider. But Seider appears most often in official records and accounts from people who seem to know the boy's family.

Statements about Christopher's age had political ramifications in 1770. Shortly after he was wounded, the Boston Chronicle, which supported the Crown (and was supported by funds from the Customs office), estimated his age as fourteen. Anti-Crown papers later reported he was eleven. No source said Christopher was twelve. Perhaps that number was derived from an average of the ages reported in 1770. Perhaps historians of the early 1900s couldn't believe a mere eleven-year-old had been caught up in a violent political demonstration.

But now we have solid records about Christopher Seider's family from two sources:
We now know that Christopher's parents were German immigrants who came to Maine with their families in 1752, then moved to Braintree, Massachusetts, and married. Christopher was their third child recorded in Braintree; three more siblings were born in Boston after 1761.

Christopher Seider was baptized in Braintree on 18 March 1759. The times between his older sisters' births and their baptisms were ten and thirteen days; if the family followed the same timing with Christopher, he was born in the first week of March. Since he was shot and killed on 22 Feb 1770, he was most likely still ten years old when he died.

ADDENDUM: Christopher Seider's work and reading habits in 1770.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Wills takes on Pickering taking on Jefferson

Garry Wills is one of my favorite writers on American history, though I can't keep possibly up with his output. The latest I've read is Negro President: Jefferson and the Slave Power, which focuses on arguments in the early republic over the effects of the "three-fifths compromise" in the Constitution. The "slave power" of the title is the disproportionate influence in the House and the Electoral College for voters from slaveholding areas, created by that constitutional provision.

Wills wrote about Jefferson before in Inventing America, a phrase-by-phrase parsing of the Virginian's draft of the Declaration of Independence against the background of the Scottish Englightenment. (Never heard of Francis Hutcheson? You will have by the end of this book.) Inventing America also took a swipe at Fawn M. Brodie's biography of Thomas Jefferson, drawing on Wills's critical review in the New York Review of Books. Brodie had made the first historical attempt to amass and judge evidence that Jefferson fathered children with his enslaved servant Sally Hemings; although she relied too much on psychoanalytical arguments, her basic conclusions have been borne out by new evidence and fairer examination of the old. Early criticism (including Wills's) now looks like knee-jerk dismissals resting on double standards. In some ways Negro President, with its emphasis on slavery in Jefferson's thought, appears to be penance for that earlier misjudgment.

Negro President isn't really about Jefferson, however, despite his picture on the cover and his name in the subtitle. Jefferson did succeed through and defend the "slave power," and he did usually compromise his beliefs in liberty when enslaved blacks were concerned. But Jefferson worked in too much in secrecy or denial on that issue for his words to drive this inquiry.

Instead, the main "protagonist" of this history, the man whom Wills follows as he expresses his ideas and tries to change the status quo, is a vocal opponent of the "slave power," Timothy Pickering. Some historians reviewing the book thought this was a weakness. For over a century historians have treated Pickering as intemperate, conspiratorial, and unlikable—which makes one wonder how he ever got to be Secretary of State when that was the second most powerful position in America.

But the book also makes one wonder how many Americans Pickering spoke for on the slavery issue. Wills devotes pages to explaining the arguments of Pickering and his Congressional allies, only to reveal that they lost votes by huge margins. It's also unclear how much he supported Abolitionism for its own sake and how much because it was an argument against the Jeffersonians. Does Pickering deserve more respect that historians have given him (like the long-dismissed Madison Hemings)? Or did he just happen to be right on one issue (by our modern standards), which is the one issue Wills wants to discuss?

I know Pickering primarily as head of the Essex County militia at the outbreak of the Revolution, squabbling with the Derby brothers of Salem over how strongly they should defy the royal governor. Pickering's account of their arguments on 19 April 1775 is in his papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Based on what I've read before, my prejudice has been to see him as unreliable. But Wills's treatment, even if it's not fully convincing, has made me give Pickering's view of the world a second thought.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Ebenezer Richardson: Customs informer and killer

In April 2005, Hiller B. Zobel, author of The Boston Massacre, gave a lecture at the Old South Meeting-House on the killing of Christopher Seider, eleven days before the Massacre, and the trial of Ebenezer Richardson for that act. Thanks to our local public television station, you can listen to that lecture. (I'm now hearing the part at the end when Judge Zobel answers inaudible questions from the audience; it probably wasn't so mysterious or funny at the time.)

Near the start of his lecture, Judge Zobel had kind words to say about my article on Richardson, published in the winter 2005 issue of New England Ancestors. That study was titled "'A Wretch of Wretches Prov’d with Child': From Local Scandal to Revolutionary Outrage," and you can read the complete text online. I missed the event at Old South because I found the wrong date on a webpage, which once again reminds us that you can't believe everything you read on the web (except maybe here on Boston 1775).

In a nutshell, Ebenezer Richardson of Woburn (born in 1718) married a local widow with children and a comfortable estate, then got her sister pregnant, kept quiet while a local minister was blamed for the illegitimate child, waited until his first wife died, billed her estate for the care of her kids, and went to Boston with the sister to get married. In the middle of those events he was put in jail and escaped; I don't know how or why. It's not surprising that Richardson became unpopular in Woburn.

Moving to Boston, Richardson worked as a confidential informer for the Attorney General and then for Customs officials, getting caught up in the intraoffice politics discussed at the start of Smugglers and Patriots, by John W. Tyler of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. With his cover blown in the mid-1760s, Richardson became an official Customs employee, enforcing the laws against smuggling and helping to collect the new Townshend duties. Because of this work, Richardson became very unpopular in Boston.

In 1770, Richardson tried to break up a picket line of boys outside a shop in his North End neighborhood. The boys turned their hostilities on his house, so he shot a musket out his window, wounding a teenager named Samuel Gore and killing a younger boy named Christopher Seider. Richardson became immensely unpopular in Massachusetts.

Richardson was tried and convicted of murder, but the royally appointed judges delayed sentencing him because they felt he should and would receive a pardon from London. Indeed, the pardon arrived years later and the judges let him go, as Judge Zobel's talk and the article describe. Richardson quickly traveled to Philadelphia, where the Customs service tried to employ him. But by now Richardson was extremely unpopular up and down the North American coast.

My article describes some documents I found in Britain's National Archives which reveal what Richardson did next, bringing his story up to January 1775.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The shoemaker's memory

Mid-month, Prof. Al Young, author Ray Raphael, and I carried out a three-way investigation by email into a mysterious remark about the Boston Massacre from shoemaker George Robert Twelve Hewes.

As Al describes in his book The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, Hewes was a poor working-man in pre-Revolutionary Boston. At the end of the war for independence he moved to upstate New York. Hewes lived until the 1830s, when two writers discovered him and his store of patriotic anecdotes. Back in the Boston of 1773, he had been just one face in the crowd. (Well, he did inspire his own riot in 1774, but that's another story.) In 1834 and 1835, Hewes was one of a very few men claiming first-hand knowledge of what had happened at the Boston Massacre, the Boston Tea Party, and other events. But how reliable were his statements?

The question for us concerned a passage from Traits of the Tea Party, the second of the two books based on Hewes's memories. On the night of 5 March 1770 Hewes was in the crowd on King Street, surrounding a squad of British soldiers, when those soldiers started firing. Writer Benjamin Bussey Thatcher described how young sailor James Caldwell was shot and fell into Hewes's arms. Then the crowd supposedly carried Caldwell

up to Mr. Young’s, the Jail-House in Prison Lane. He had lived, formerly, next door to old Mr. Sumner’s, but was at this time second mate of a vessel commanded by Capt. Morton. This man lived in Cold Lane, and Hewes ran directly to his house. . . . The corpse soon followed him. . . . Morton…looked upon the dreadful object, and shouted like a madman for a gun, to run out "and kill a regular."
Very dramatic, but how accurate? Hewes was speaking of the Boston Massacre sixty-five years after the event. Did he really remember whom Caldwell worked for and even where that man lived? Did he and the crowd really take a wounded man to "the Jail-House," of all places? Perhaps they took Caldwell not to "Mr. Young," whoever he was, but to Dr. Young—physician Thomas Young, a top radical leader. Hiller B. Zobel's The Boston Massacre, still the most definitive study of the event, describes the confusion after the shooting but doesn't say what happened to Caldwell's body.

So we checked original sources, and the picture started to come together. First, I spotted the deposition from merchant Richard Palmes in Boston's report on the event, A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre. (As you can tell from that title, the town took a position against the shooting.) Palmes said:
I ran down Exchange lane, and so up the next into King street, and followed Mr. Gridley with several other persons with the body of Capt. Morton's apprentice, up to the prison house, and saw he had a ball shot through his breast.
So the crowd did take a wounded man to the prison. I also found a couple of references to Alexander Young as a jail-keeper in the 1760s. So there was our confirmation of "Mr. Young’s, the Jail-House in Prison Lane."

Ray checked his files and located this correction from the 19 Mar 1770 Boston Gazette:
In the account of the funeral procession in our last, it should have been said, James Caldwell was borne from the House of Capt. Morton in Cold-Lane, instead of Faneuil Hall.
That let us identify Caldwell as "Capt. Morton's apprentice," whose body Palmes saw taken to the jail. Hewes called him "second mate of a vessel commanded by Capt. Morton"—and indeed the Gazette had earlier identified Caldwell as "mate of Capt. Morton's." So even decades later Hewes was more accurate about another working-class man's employment status than Palmes was at the time. The newspaper correction also put Morton's house on Cold Lane—exactly as Hewes had remembered.

Score another point for the little shoemaker's memory.

ADDENDUM: Identifying Capt. Morton.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Soldier's diary at Longfellow House

The Friends of the Longfellow House (a non-profit organization that I work with) has posted a Revolutionary War soldier's diary on its website. Along with the complete text of the diary and pictures of the document is Frances Ackerly's downloadable essay describing how she identified its author as Moses Sleeper of Newburyport, Massachusetts.

Frances's essay describes the manuscript's scope:

In the diary the soldier writes of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the Siege of Boston, the threatened bombardment from Dorchester Heights, the British evacuation of Boston, Washington's army's march to New York, the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Long Island, and the beginnings of Washington’s long retreat from New York to Pennsylvania.
Longfellow House, built in 1759 by the Vassall family and now a site of the National Park Service, was George Washington's headquarters during most of the siege of Boston, July 1775 to March 1776. It later became the home of Washington's biographer Jared Sparks, who lived there as a boarder in the early 1800s, and then of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, author of "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere," and his family. A Longfellow relative seems to have purchased this diary as a collectible.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Betsy Ross & other storytelling grandmothers

In February 2006 I delivered a paper at the "Heroism, Nationalism & Human Rights" conference at the University of Connecticut. My paper was "Listening to the Old Lady in the Kitchen: How Grandmothers' Tales Became Legends for a Nation." It looked at several examples of episodes in the American Revolution that we can trace back to a grandmother telling stories to children, but no further.

I proposed that the storytelling grandmothers, with a couple of exceptions, were not trying to shape the nation's history in their families' favor. They were trying to entertain, inspire, and, yes, shape the children they helped care for. Yet those children grew up believing fervently in the stories they'd heard, and in the mid- to late 1800s got them into print and into the history books. Drawing on my interest in children's books, I pointed out how many surviving grandmothers' tales match the qualities of good fiction for kids. (That paper was available for downloading through the U. of Conn., but no more.)

Seeking an uncontested example of a Revolutionary story that every American knows yet every American historian knows is poorly supported, I used the legend of Betsy Ross sewing the first American flag. After all, even the American National Biography entry on Ross concedes that she's included because of her latter-day fame, not her documented accomplishments. The Independence Hall Association's USHistory.org website still argues for the Ross legend, but its logic is less reliable than its transcriptions of the family accounts.

Shortly before the conference, and too late for me to do anything about it, Al Young alerted me to the discussion of the Betsy Ross story in David Hackett Fischer's tome Liberty and Freedom. (I say "tome" because of the book's weight and cost, not because of its style; it's hard to afford but not hard to read.) Fischer argues that Ross did sew a flag for George Washington, as her descendants said she'd told them—but not the flag she's credited with. Instead, Fischer posits that she sewed Washington's headquarters flag. I find some parts of that argument persuasive, others weak. In any event, I now see enough reason for not doubting the Betsy Ross legend that it can't be my uncontested example anymore. Proposals for alternatives are welcome!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Boston as the Cradle of Violence

Last month Wiley published Cradle of Violence: How Boston's Waterfront Mobs Ignited the American Revolution, by Russell Bourne, and I'm still waiting to see it reviewed in the local press. Or anywhere else, for that matter. Full disclosure rules require that I admit Russ bought me off with some Thai food and fine conversations while he was researching the book, and some kind acknowledgments within it. So this is a shout-out, not a review.

As Russ describes, the decade before the Revolution in Boston was punctuated with riots: against royal appointees, against Customs law enforcers, against troops who seemed to defy local authority, against tea imports. There were also riotous moments in the decades before, and in the decades afterward. As Pauline Maier pointed out in From Resistance to Revolution, eighteenth-century political theorists expected periodic "mobs" and "riots" because they knew that, in a society which still viewed "democracy" as pejorative, the bulk of the populace had few other ways to express their political priorities. If a gentleman agreed with the mob's cause, he saw the uprising as an unfortunate symptom of bad government. If he disagreed, he complained that the unthinking vulgar were being misled by devious troublemakers.

Of course, riots make people uncomfortable; that's what they're supposed to do. During the 1760s and 1770s, Boston's genteel Whigs worked hard to separate themselves from mobs' actions while usually supporting their cause; it was a "good cop, bad cop" approach to demanding change from the appointed authorities. In the 1780s, Bostonians of most classes united against the Regulators in rural Massachusetts in the unrest that came to be called "Shays' Rebellion." And in the 1830s, as Al Young discusses in The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, local politicians and publishers celebrated the destruction of East India Company tea in Dec 1773 because that had been a safe riot: planned, controlled, limited, and about an issue that was never going to come up again.

As for today, basically we are all genteel by 1770s standards. Our homes are more luxuriously appointed than even wealthy gentlemen enjoyed then, and our attitudes reflect that level of comfort and property. The most successful "founders' chic" books of recent years have focused on elite politicians like John Adams and George Washington. They were vital to the Revolution, but they weren't the whole story.

Relatively few Americans today have experienced having no political voice. (Not having every election go your way is not the same thing.) A lot of folks tsk-tsk the excesses of the Stamp Act riots, yet would object to the "taxation without representation" that those stamps embodied. Many blame Crispus Attucks and the rest of the crowd at the Boston Massacre, yet would resist having the army patrol their own towns. Whether we actually believe in "democracy" today or simply pay lip service to it, we've come close to enjoying it only because of mobs and rioters who didn't have it. And that's why Russ Bourne's book deserves to go alongside those handsome founders' biographies.

William Diamond Jrs step out

Early this month I attended the Lexington Fife & Drum Muster at the Museum of Our National Heritage, hosted by the William Diamond Junior Fife & Drum Corps and (let's be honest here) their hard-working adult helpers.

It was a fun event, and not just because I got to drag along a friend from New York City to show her some old-fashioned New England culture—that culture being to pretend we're even more old-fashioned than we already are.

I first saw the William Diamond Juniors three years ago at the Sudbury Muster, when I took this photo. As you can see, they were still working hard on keeping in step as they marched. This year at Lexington, in contrast, they unveiled a rather fancy formation with lines of musicians weaving in and out. I also admired the bass drum soloes.

And as long as I'm being honest, both at Sudbury and last week, the young kids performed with much more poise than I could have at their age.

Their next gig: with the Fyfes & Drumms of Olde Saratoga. (Hey, I don't spell 'em; I just report 'em.)

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

How Boston looked under siege

Ed St. Germain at AmericanRevolution.org alerted me to a website showing effects shots for a History Channel movie called Washington the Warrior. From this link, the fifth example (bottom row, second from left) portrays an explosive moment in the siege of Boston, Apr 1775-Mar 1776.

Our best images of besieged Boston actually come from inside the town because of the all the British officers who had been trained in taking surveys and drawing and had little to do. One of those officers was Lt Richard Williams of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. Some of his sketches were auctioned quite nicely at Bonham's last November. Here's a copy of one of those views, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society. And here's a engraved map published in London based on his drawing, courtesy of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. (Note the name "Mount Whoredom" for the part of Boston now known as the Mount Vernon neighborhood.)

Display at Minute Man NHP

After reading my profile above, you might ask, "What 'display at Minute Man National Historic Park'?"

Why, this one.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

John Hancock's five-o'clock shadow

On 24 May, Sotheby's will auction a John Singleton Copley portrait of John Hancock. According to the auction house's description, this painting came down from the family of Gov. Hancock's nephew. The governor's only son died at a young age in a skating accident, so he made his nephew his main heir, just as he'd been his own uncle's main heir.

You can't see the painting at Sotheby's without registering with the site, but I took the risk. It closely resembles the Copley portrait you can see courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society (thumbnail detail shown here). Hancock's cheeks and chin are a little less swarthy in the new offering, but it's clear from both portraits that he had thick, dark facial hair as a young man. One significant difference in the family portrait is a curtain and a window behind the merchant, instead of a plain background—more ostentatious symbols of wealth.

Hancock also had Copley paint a full-figure image of himself, now owned by Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, and commissioned a portrait of his uncle Thomas for Harvard College. In the early 1770s both Hancock and Copley owned property on the same side of Beacon Hill overlooking Boston Common, but they were on opposite sides of the political issues.

Jeduthan Baldwin loses his clothes and his temper

Here are spicy excerpts from The Revolutionary Journal of Col. Jeduthan Baldwin, 1775-1778, published in 1906. Baldwin was a farmer with a big estate in Brookfield, Massachusetts, born in 1732. At the start of the Revolution he joined the Massachusetts artillery regiment, which became part of the Continental Army in June 1775.

Around the time of Congress’s Declaration of Independence, Baldwin was in upstate New York as an engineer and artillery commander. He had recently recovered from smallpox. The American army was in retreat from Canada. And on 16 July 1776 Baldwin woke up to a bad surprise:

in the morning between day and sunrise I heard some persons say that how come that Chest open, another person answerd sombody has robd it they have pulld up the tent pins & taken the chest out, upon which I arose in my shirt & went out & found that I was robd of my Hatt, a Camblet Cloak a Surtoot, a blieu Coat & Jacoat full trimd with a narrow Gold lace, a pair of Silk breeches, a Snuff colourd Coat turnd up with white, a Velvet Jacoat, 3 cotton & 3 Wollon Shirts, 3 Stocks, 2 linen Handkfs, 2 pair of linen & 2 pair of woolen Stockings, a pair of Silver Shoe & knee buckels, a Surveyors Compass or theodiler, & between 35 & 40 Dollars in paper money, an ink pot, a knife, key & a Number of papers, & other articles.

I immediately sent to all the Commanding officers present, & at the landing, acquainting them with my loss, the Army was all turnd out & a genl. Sirch made but none of my things found. I borrowed of a friend, a Coat & Jacoat & hatt, for I had none lift, I was Stript to the Shirt, my breeches & watch that lay under my head were saved only.

Just at evning I heard that my coat turnd up with white & Velvet Jacoat was found with the buckles &c. in the pockets, hid in a blind place.
The next day brought more bad news, and Baldwin lost his temper:
in the Morning a part of my Compass was found break to pieces & soon after the rest of it except the Needle. this Day I wrote to Genl. Sullivan to remind him of the request I had made of a discharge from the Army, desiring him to use his intrest in my behalf while at the Congress, as I am heartily tired of this Retreating, Raged Starved, lousey, thevish, Pockey Army in this unhealthy Country.
In addition to being a fine show of emotion, these extracts are interesting as:
  1. a nearly complete inventory of what clothing a genteel but not especially wealthy New England officer took on campaign in the army.
  2. a taste of how even gentlemen of that class spelled words in the eighteenth century.

ADDENDUM: Does Col. Baldwin find his clothes?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Spinning bee in Chelmsford, 21 May

The annual spinning bee at the Garrison House in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, will take place on Sunday, 21 May, from 1:00 to 5:00. (As with everything in Massachusetts right now, weather permitting.) Judy Cataldo has posted photos of past bees here, and I believe the photo accompanying this notice came from the webpage of an even earlier event.

In honor of this year's spinners, I quote a description of a spinning bee that Boston-born playwright, novelist, and judge Royall Tyler (1757-1826) wrote in his manuscript The Bay-Boy, published first in The Prose of Royall Tyler (Vermont Historical Society, 1972):

In due season on some appointed day might be seen groups of young maidens accompanied by their younger brothers bearing on their shoulders spinning wheels great and small, the distaffs of the latter well replenished with well hatchetted flax, and with hand reels and clock reels and all other appurtenances of the spinning bee. So in every apartment of the house was heard the buzz of the small and the mimic thunder of the great wheel, every damsel animated with the design of compleating her skein or run in time to present it to madam before supper.

Toward sunset appeared the matrons of the parish, everyone bearing a basket of crockery including various delicacies for the table, not omitting the nut cakes, cymbals which bear a homelier name, the apple and plum tart, custards, whitpot and the indispensable pumpkin pie. Suddenly the ample table was spread, covered with a fair profusion of rural dainties, but ere the repast began the fair spinners presented madam with the produce of their labors and while receiving from her the tribute of well earned praise the delighted mothers stood by eyeing with complacency the manufacture of their daughters which gave such certain presage that they in their day would be fitted to fulfill the duties of good wives. The repast was then eaten with abundance of kind criticism on the production of the bee, while each of the young women as they retired from the table crossed her hands upon her apron string and making a low curtsey gravely thanked madam for the goodly treat, and the knot of provident matrons in a snug corner in committee were discussing ways and means to have the yarn bucked, woven, bleached, and prepared for family use.

Portrait in black and white

The 15 May New Yorker has a very interesting "Talk of the Town" piece about a portrait of a Revolutionary-era black mariner in uniform. Here's a black and white reproduction, showing the painting before it was sent for restoration. At that time, the owner planned to loan it to the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York for its exhibit on "Fighting for Freedom: Black Patriots and Loyalists."

But the painting won't be in that show after all. It turns out the sailor's face and brown-skinned chest were painted over what seems to be a rather ordinary portrait of a British naval officer. Since formal portraits of black men in the eighteenth century are truly extraordinary, this naturally increased the value of the object in both monetary and historical terms. The forging was apparently done shortly before the Bicentennial, when interest in Revolutionary history had exploded and interest in Afro-American history was growing.

One detail of the New Yorker article that I like, though it has nothing to do with Revolutionary history, is that the painting's owner asked for the black sailor's image to be put back on. (The naval officer's features were apparently unsalvageable.) Though the owner knew that face had no historical authenticity, over the years he had come to be fond of this fictitious man on his wall.

ADDENDUM: The New Yorker article is no longer available online, but here’s an even better link to N.P.R.’s coverage of the story, including a color image of the painting and before-and-after images of the restoration detail.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Doctor's note in New England Ancestors

The spring 2006 issue of New England Ancestors, the magazine of the New England Historic Genealogical Society, has provided a nice home for my article "Note from a Doctor: A Story of the American Revolution." The online version contains the article's full text, but the printed version has more illustrations and a handsome layout. [ADDENDUM in 2012: Page images are now available online.] My thanks to all the folks at the NEHGS who worked on it.

This article starts from a single document written on 22 Apr 1775, at the start of the Revolutionary War. One doctor was desperately trying to treat wounded British POWs after the Battle of Lexington & Concord. Another was trapped in Boston with the British military. And a third was volunteering to sneak across the lines. But what was really going on?

I've had versions of this article burning a hole in my hard drive for a few years. One reason I wanted to publish it was to set down more information about one of those doctors, Joseph Gardner. As I note in my notes, some authoritative studies have confused him with other men:

  1. Dr. Silvester Gardiner, a wealthy Loyalist physician
  2. Justice of the Peace Joseph Gardner, a less politically active man
  3. his younger brother Samuel Gardner, a physician in Milton
Dr. Joseph Gardner was the first physician recorded as examining victims of the Boston Massacre. He later served in the first independent session of the Massachusetts General Court, and he was a cofounder of the Massachusetts Medical Society. Since he was bachelor with no children, Gardner's main legacy was his work, so it's a pity that his work is getting mixed up with other men's.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

About This Blog

This blog is a miscellany of information about New England just before, during, and after the Revolutionary War, and about how that history has been studied, taught, preserved, politicized, mythologized, lost, recovered, discussed, described, distorted, and now digitized.

Boston 1775 grows out of my research, which started with the idea for a novel about the Boston Massacre. Since then I’ve published or delivered papers on the Battle of Lexington & Concord, the Massacre, the town’s public schools, the Pope Night holiday, and the politicization of its youth. I became a Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 2008 and a Member of the American Antiquarian Society in 2011. (The novel is still a work in progress.)

I quote material exactly as I've found it, with the original spellings and punctuations, except for two aspects:

  • I don’t indicate text that the writer added or crossed out unless it’s relevant to the rest of the article.
  • I often break long paragraphs into shorter ones to make them easier to read on screen. Eighteenth-century sentences are long enough already.
For all those quotations, I try to include enough information for people to track down the source: the date of a letter, the author and title of a book, a link if the material is online. However, I rarely include a full scholarly citation, with edition and page number. My reasons:
  • That’s too much trouble for a blog.
  • I don’t want to do anyone’s homework.
  • Boston 1775 isn’t meant to be anyone's final source for information. It’s meant to help us all think about interesting historical events in different ways. (Half the time I end up learning something or changing my mind as I write an entry.)
In addition to the links lists below, the entries often include links to other online sources. In many cases, the thumbnail image I’ve used to illustrate an article connects to another relevant website. So please poke around. Other graphics come from Walden Fonts' Minuteman Printshop, based on period woodcuts and engravings.

The design of Boston 1775 is based on Todd Dominey's handsome Scribe template for Blogger, updated by "the Blogger team" in the shift to Blogger Beta, and then hacked by me to produce the three-column layout and other details you see. (That hacking was inspired and guided by the examples of Hackosphere and Custom Templates, but I came up with my own solutions for some of the ticklish problems and kept away from some of their more advanced offerings.) The design looks best in a window size larger than 800 x 600 pixels, but the right-hand column is still usable at that size.

For subscription information, see the bottom of most pages (but not, apparently, this one). Beyond that, for making subscriptions work for your system you're on your own.

I come from a publishing background, and therefore take care to remain within “fair use” guidelines in reproducing any and all material, and to give credit where it’s due. Please do the same if you choose to quote from Boston 1775. Thank you!

Contacting J. L. Bell

I welcome all feedback on Boston 1775.

In theory, of course. In practice, I may become giddy or sulk.

If you have something to say about a particular posting on Boston 1775, please feel free to use each entry’s comment function. There’s a little character-recogition puzzle before posting a comment to discourage spambots. And since that doesn’t always work, I have to approve all comments before they appear on the site, so please be patient.

If you must use the “anonymous” toggle on a comment, please sign the comment with your name or pseudonym. (Choose one in eighteenth-century style, like "Lapidus" or "A Countryman"!) I’m a bit dubious about anonymous postings in general, but having several anonymous people at once gets confusing.

To send messages or questions about Revolutionary Boston and this blog, email Boston 1775 (no spaces) at Earthlink dot net. I write the address that way in order to keep the spam to a manageable roar.

I’m delighted to hear what folks are looking for when it comes to Revolutionary Massachusetts. I can’t promise I’ll have anything to say in response, though. Please bear in mind:

  • I'm happy to receive news about upcoming events, TV shows, books, &c., but I don’t have a firm schedule for announcements or reviews.
  • Genealogical questions intrigue me if they’re significant in Revolutionary history. I don’t get excited about tracing ancestral lines, even my own, for their own sake.
  • Yes, I comment on modern politics when I see connections or parallels to Revolutionary history. Being able to comment on politics is part of what the Revolution was all about.
  • I’ve done enough homework in my life; I don’t plan to do yours.