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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Monday, August 07, 2006

Naphtali Daggett: professor with a gun

Judy Schiff of Yale Library's Manuscripts and Archives Department (where, twenty-odd years ago, I worked a few hours each week) has written a pithy article about the Revolutionary War experiences of the Rev. Dr. Naphtali Daggett for Yale Magazine. This link to the article should be good for another month.

Daggett (1727-1780) was a Yale College professor and past acting president in July 1779, when the British military raided New Haven. This was one of a series of British raids on New England's southern coast during the middle years of the war. The professor turned out with other locals to protect the town, though he didn't accomplish much before being captured.

Schiff's article notes how this brief episode became romanticized in local histories. Writers eventually added over two decades added to Daggett's age, turned his musket into a more picturesque antique fowling piece, substituted his marching with a hundred men for a brave solo ride forward on horseback, and said he had proved a dangerous "sniper."

Daggett's deposition, dated 28 July 1779 and published in the 4 Sept Pennsylvania Packet (as well as other American newspapers), is slanted in its own way. "An account of the cruelties and barbarities which I received from the British soldiers after I had surrendered myself a prisoner into their hands," it's titled. Daggett begins, "It is unnecessary to relate all the leading circumstances which threw me in their way"—as if out of nowhere the British army had decided to take him prisoner.

Then and now, people are much better at remembering and bringing up their own grievances than acknowledging those of their foes.

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