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

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Israel Remmington: five-foot-tall giant

In late 1772, "Ezra Gleason, a Student in Physick," issued The Massachusetts Calendar, an almanac for the coming year. Its cover featured a crude woodcut picture of a stout barefoot boy with a cane. By turning the page curious readers found this explanation:

A short account of the very remarkable BOY, or young GIANT, whose amazing size as well as strange features has attracted the attention of multitudes that have beheld him, who is thought by them to be the greatest curiosity of the kind ever seen in America.

ISRAEL REMMINGTON was born in the town of Hingham, about 20 miles distant from Boston, in the year 1758 which is the place of his residence; he is about five feet of heighth, and is remarkably strong, weighs upwards of 200 weight, has five fingers and a thumb on each hand, and six toes on each foot. It is thought if this Lad should continue to increase in heighth and size at such an amazing rate as he has within these few years, he will be ten feet high, and will weigh 4 or 500 weight by the time he is 21 years of age. One remarkable circumstance relating to the Mother of this youth ought not to be omitted here, as it is given by herself, Mrs. Remmington says she has had five children, three of whom were born with five fingers and a thumb on each hand, and six toes on each foot. A figure of said Boy may be seen in the first page

Hingham, Nov. 1772
J. T.
He is expected at Concert-Hall in a few days.

On 7 Dec 1772, the Boston Evening-Post picked up most of this text, starting, “We hear there is a very remarkable young Boy,..,” and ending, “It is said he is expected in Town in a few Days.” That report in turn was reprinted word for word in the 10 Dec 1772 Boston News-Letter, the 21 Dec 1772 New-York Gazette and Weekly Mercury, and 21 Dec 1772 Newport Mercury. However, no newspaper ever reported that people in Boston had actually seen young Remmington.

I came across a copy of the 1773 Massachusetts Calendar yesterday at the New England Historic Genealogical Society, so I used the resources there to find out more about Israel Remmington. The only person of that name recorded in Hingham, according to George Lincoln's town genealogies, was born 16 Aug 1754—not in 1758. His parents, Elisha and Leah, did have five children as of 1772. The record is silent on their fingers and toes.

If Israel Remmington was born in 1754, he was eighteen years old in late 1772, making his height and weight less impressive. He would have had to grow at an even more "amazing rate" to be ten foot high by age twenty-one. Indeed, however round this teenager was (at an estimated 200 pounds), being "about five feet of heighth" doesn't really seem to warrant the label "giant."

But there are those fingers and toes to factor in. With their Puritan heritage, New Englanders well knew the biblical verse 1 Chronicles 20:6:
There was again war at Gath, where there was a man of great stature, whose fingers and toes were twenty-four, six on each hand, and six on each foot; and he also was born to the giant.
So for them having twenty-four digits might well have turned a five-foot-tall boy into a "giant."

Israel Remmington of Hingham died on 19 Feb 1800, age forty-five.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

I am a professional genealogist in Salt Lake City and have an interest in Israel Remmington. Though my name is Remington, the connection of the Hingham Remingtons to the other Remingtons in New England, if any, is not established.

I give a lecture on colonial newspapers and use Israel Remington as an example of how a story travels. The story was also published in Philadelphia in late December and in Richmond in mid January. It was not published in Savannah.

Gordon Remington

Thanks for providing the copy of the woodcut!