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, September 30, 2006

Corporal Punishment in Colonial Schools

With corporal punishment in schools on the front page of today's New York Times, it seems timely to share more of Harrison Gray Otis's memories of going to the South Latin School on School Street just before and during the Revolution.

The practice of beating children in American schools goes back a long time, and has even been viewed as humorous, as in this Norman Rockwell illustration for Tom Sawyer. But today adults aren't allowed to beat unrelated children in schools in most of the U.S. of A., just as they aren't allowed to beat those children on the streets, in cinemas, or other places where they might be sorely tempted to.

Among the states that allow corporal punishment in schools, the Times reports, it's most common in Mississippi (over 9% of all students struck at some point in 2002), Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, Oklahoma, and Louisiana (fewer than one in forty students). Those six states also rank at #40 or below among American states on national test scores in elementary public education.

Corporal punishment was probably more common in colonial Boston's schools, based on memories of former scholars like Otis. For one thing, beating children was more common across society. Furthermore, with teacher-student ratios of up to 100:1 and lessons quite boring, physical punishment was probably the only way that teachers could keep the boys in order.

Harry Otis and his classmates started at the South Latin School under Master John Lovell (1710-1778) and his "usher," or assistant teacher, who was also his son: James Lovell (1737-1789). The boys called their teacher "Old Gaffer" (behind his back), and looked out for his "ferule"—a wooden stick like a thick ruler without any of those distracting measurements etched on it. Otis wrote:

Gaffer’s ferule was a short, stubbed, greasy-looking article, which, when not in use, served him as a stick of sugar candy. The lightest punishment was one clap, the severest four—the most usual, two, one on each hand. The inflictions of the old gentleman were not much dreaded; his ferule seemed to be a mere continuation of his arm, of which the centre of motion was the shoulder. It descended altogether with a whack, and there was the end of it, after blowing the fingers.

But Master James’s fashion of wielding his weapon was another affair. He had a gymnastic style of flourishing, altogether unique—a mode of administering out experimentum ferules that was absolutely terrific. He never punished in Gaffer’s presence, but whenever the old gentleman withdrew, all began to contemplate the "day’s disaster," and to tremble, not when he "frown’d," for he did not frown, nor was he an ill-tempered person, but rather smiled sardonically, as if preparing for a pugilistic effort, and the execution as nearly resembled the motion of a flail in the hands of an expert thrasher as could be acquired by long practice.
Otis also told his granddaughter about an "old Latin School ditty" that linked the punishments to the grammar lessons:
Hic haec hoc, strap him to the block;
Noun and pronoun, pull his breeches down,
Verb and participle, the rod begins to whistle.
Another Latin School alumnus recalled how another boy "pronounced the P in P-tolemy, and the younger Lovell rapped him over the head with a heavy ferule.” But the boys also told each other that the town's Writing School masters beat their pupils just as much.

TOMORROW: How effective was this pedagogical method?

Friday, September 29, 2006

Fox and Goose Story

I must be getting hungry for lunch because I feel an urge to share this culinary anecdote from The Revolutionary Adventures of Ebenezer Fox, of Roxbury, Massachusetts, published in 1838. At about age sixteen, Fox volunteered for service with the Massachusetts troops in the Revolutionary War. He and his comrades marched south to the New York theater. They did little damage to the British army, but probably didn't help relations with civilians along the way:

One afternoon some geese were discovered enjoying themselves in a pond near the road; and one of the soldiers, thinking that a little poultry would not be an unacceptable addition to our bill of fare, threw a stone among them and killed one of the largest of the flock.

The prize was secured and concealed by taking off the head of a drum and putting the goose into it, and then restoring the instrument to its former appearance. The owner of the poultry followed and complained to the commanding officer of this depredation of his property. We halted long enough to have the wagons searched, but the goose was not found; and we were allowed to march on.

When the camp fires were kindled at night, the goose was roasted, and our captain did not hesitate to eat a leg, wing, and a piece of the breast without troubling us with any questions regarding our right of possession.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Schoolyard Insults from Revolutionary Boston

The recent kerfuffle over a book distributed to every kindergartner in Maine, discussed on Oz and Ends, reminded me of the deep roots of the American tradition of insulting schoolyard rhymes.

In an 1844 letter, Harrison Gray Otis (1765-1848), the Federalist politician who kept building mansions so Historic New England would have something to catalogue, recalled one such rhyme from his time at the South Latin School, ancestor of today's Boston Latin School.

The nearest School to the Latin School was on the east end of Scollay’s building, forming a part thereof, and since cut off to open the communication from Tremont St. to Cornhill. It was a public Town School, called Proctor’s School though in my time kept by Master Carter. The boys of the two Schools often met in Tremont St. and dealt out their gibes in passing each other—for example:—

Carter’s boys shut up in a pen
They can’t get out but now and then;
And when they get out they dance about
For fear of Latin School gentlemen.
Here are some annotations for full appreciation of this fine verse.

Scollay's building later gave its name to Scollay Square. It touched what before the Revolution was Queen Street, so the school in the end of that building was also called the Queen Street Writing School. Newly republican Bostonians changed the name of that road to Court Street.

Cornhill was part of the main north-south street through Boston, renamed Washington Street in the early republic.

Town School: Boston's public-education system is the oldest in the U.S. of A., the basis of universal schooling in this country. I estimate that only about half of all eligible boys in Boston actually attended town schools in the pre-Revolutionary period, however.

Carter was James Carter, successor to John Proctor as master of the Queen Street Writing School. He served from 1773 to 1790. The town's three Writing Schools prepared boys for careers in business; the two smaller but better funded Latin Schools sent a few boys each year to college.

boys: Until 1789, only boys were eligible for public education in Boston. The South Latin School poet distinguishes between the "boys" of the Writing School and the "gentlemen" of his own institution, thus cleverly implying that the writing scholars were both less mature and less genteel.

pen: The main lessons at the town's three Writing Schools were in calligraphy, and the quill pen was the emblem of a writing scholar. When George Washington visited Boston in 1789, the Writing School boys turned out to greet him, holding their feathered pens proudly. The punning poet turns the word "pen" from an object of pride into a form of confinement, referring not only to the scholars' long hours but perhaps also to their more limited economic prospects.

fear: One of the oddest elements of this schoolboy taunt is that Boston's Latin School boys were greatly outnumbered by Writing School boys, especially as they grew bigger. More than half of each Latin School class dropped out before the end of their studies, many transferring to Writing Schools. So a young South Latin boy chanting this rhyme:
  • had a good chance of becoming one of "Carter's boys" himself.
  • had a good chance of getting beaten up.
Perhaps class deference, school solidarity, and good nutrition gave the Latin School boys enough advantages that they could hold their own. Perhaps they were at the mercy of the Writing School boys. (Henry Adams certainly described such a situation in a snowball fight between the Latin scholars and all comers on the ante-bellum Common in chapter 3 of his Education.) Whatever the case, through Harry Otis the South Latin School boys got one of their taunts into print while the writing scholars' replies, if any, are lost to us.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Reminder: McConville at Old South

And here's a quick reminder that tonight Boston University professor Brendan McConville speaks at Old South Meeting-House, under the auspices of the Paul Revere Memorial Association, about radicalism in pre-Revolutionary America.

As of a couple of weeks ago, Brendan told me that he hadn't settled on what he was going to talk about, but it's bound to be provocative. He's written one book on disturbances in New Jersey, and has another soon to arrive on what the British king meant to colonial Americans. And when Brendan gets excited about a topic, he talks very fast. Sure to be lots of good information!

Samuel Adams: for one day only?

Blogger has apparently lost the carefully researched, wittily written entry on schoolyard insults that I prepared for today, so I'm taking advantage of a timely message from Al Young that the American National Biography's website's free entry for the day is about Samuel Adams, written by MIT history professor Pauline Maier. Maier's essay collection The Old Revolutionaries contains a clear-eyed assessment of Adams, free of the caricatures that dominated popular writing about him in the mid- to late 20th century.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Class Consciousness in Mr. Revere and I

This entry continues my comments from yesterday on Robert Lawson's historical novel for children, Mr. Revere and I.

In his earlier Ben and Me, Lawson told the story of a mouse who lives with Benjamin Franklin. Amos the mouse is a lot like the famous Philadelphia printer: independent, ingenious, hard-working, fond of the ladies, pleased with himself. The result is almost a parody of Franklin's autobiography, with some mouse-sized swashbuckling at the end.

Lawson took a different approach in Mr. Revere and I. Its narrator, the horse Scheherazade or Sherry, starts out as the steed of a British army officer, and a snob. She looks down her long nose at the "bumpkins" of New England, including silversmith and jack-of-all-trades Revere. Sherry is a foil for Revere, not a parallel. "No haughtier stepper in the regiment" the original dust jacket calls her, and the text follows that up with: "Naturally, the fall of this mare was equally great, even to the glue factory."

Yes, Sherry loses her place in the army and suffers the snobbery of her former stablemates. She thus goes through a character-building exercise that Amos, Ben Franklin's little mouse, never has to suffer. Humbled and yet warmed by her experiences with the Revere family, Sherry feels a sudden change in sentiment. On page 103 she declares:

I was a free horse! I was a Colonial! I was a Patriot, my life dedicated to the ideals of Liberty and Freedom!
To strengthen that contrast between old order and new, Lawson plays up the aristocratic qualities of the British officers and plays down the gentility of Boston's Whigs. Samuel Adams, who had an M.A. from Harvard, a seat in the assembly, and the legal label of a "gentleman" all his life, gets portrayed as a threadbare, hungry, street-corner orator. The historical Lt. Col. William Dalrymple of the 14th regiment becomes Col. Sir Dagmore Dalrymple. Most exaggerated of all is Lawson's portrait of Sherry's first owner, Lt. Sir Cedric Noel Vivian Barnstable, Bart. Early in the book, the horse offers these admiring words:
Just turned twenty-one, tall and slender (not spindly, as some said), he had the true proud nose of the conqueror, rather like that of a puffin, but less elaborately colored. He was blessed with splendid strong teeth not greatly different from my own. These were quite prominently displayed, because his mouth was usually partly open and his chin was merely a slight ripple in the flesh, a highly prized characteristic of the Barnstable family.

A fall from his nurse's arms at the age of two had resulted in a continual and somewhat copious watering of his pale blue eyes and had left him with a slight speech impediment. It was not quite a stammer or a stutter but more a combination of the two.
Lawson's caricatures are usually amusing, but they have an odd effect: Mr. Revere and I, though published in Cold War 1953, portrays the American Revolution as a class conflict. Paul Revere, his working-class comrades, and the yeoman farmers of Massachusetts throw off the oppression of the aristocracy!

Even John Hancock, as the richest of the Patriots, gets more ribbing than the working-class Bostonians. But I must admit I love Lawson's picture, in words and lines, of Hancock at Lexington, storming out of the Clark parsonage with his sword strapped on over his nightshirt. I got to see the original of his drawing a couple of years ago at the National Heritage Museum in an exhibit created by the Brandywine River Museum. That was before I reread Mr. Revere and I, and seeing the image brought me right back into the book. And the more I read about Hancock at Lexington, blustering and stubborn and completely unprepared for combat, the more that picture rings true for me.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Going Over Old Ground with Mr. Revere and I

In the middle of the last century, author-illustrator Robert Lawson created three novels for kids about the eighteenth century in the voices of animals accompanying famous men: Ben and Me (1939), Mr. Revere and I (1953), and Captain Kidd's Cat (1956). (He also wrote and illustrated I Discover Columbus in 1944.)

The only title of that bunch that I actually bought (or wheedled) for myself as a child is Mr. Revere and I, and hindsight says that was a clue that I'd end up studying the outbreak of the American Revolution in Massachusetts.

Mr. Revere and I has lasted in libraries and bookstores as most other novels for young readers about Revolutionary Massachusetts have faded. The main exception is, of course, Esther Forbes's stirring Johnny Tremain (1943). In fact, as I reread both books in recent years, I realized that my mind had amalgamated some scenes from them, melding Lawson's whipped British soldier with Forbes's executed one.

Forbes researched and wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, as she wrote Johnny Tremain, so it's no surprise that her novel's research by and large holds up. I can't say the same for Mr. Revere and I, though I know it's foolish to be picky about historical accuracy in a novel narrated by a horse.

Still, I was surprised at how much Lawson shuffled historical events, especially given how well Forbes had sorted them out for him a decade earlier. For example, the novel skips the death of Revere's first wife, Sara, and his remarriage to Rachel Walker in 1773. The 14th Regiment arrives in Boston, presumably in 1768, and then stays straight through 1775; there's a mere mention of the little event called the Boston Massacre, which caused commanders to remove that regiment from the heart of the town in 1770. Chapter 11 begins, "Now Mr. Revere began the slow and difficult task of removing his family to Charlestown" before the war began. In fact, Revere's wife and children were trapped in Boston for a while.

As a storyteller I can see reasons for most of these deviations from the record. In the novel, Revere's big, happy family is a warm contrast to life in the British army. It probably wouldn't seem so warm to 20th-century children if Mother dies halfway through the book and Father remarries less than six months later—as really happened. Removing the family from Boston in early April 1775 allows the equine narrator to carry Mr. Revere out to Lexington, a task actually handled by a horse the silversmith borrowed in Charlestown.

But Lawson's most significant detour from the historical record is...what I'll write about tomorrow.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Samuel Adams: pet owner

According to a descendant writing in 1865, Samuel Adams owned:

a famous Newfoundland dog, named "Queue," a creature of immense strength and almost human intelligence. . . .

"Queue" was noted for his antipathy to British uniforms; and he bore on his shaggy hide the scars of wounds received from soldiers, and even officers, who repelled his attacks by cutting and shooting at him. But the dog seemed to bear a charmed life.
I've found no contemporaneous references to Queue, in either Adams's correspondence or complaints of British officers. The big dog makes an appearance in We Were There at the Boston Tea Party, a 1956 historical novel for kids by Robert N. Webb.

This canine fact came to mind after I saw an article in the latest Colonial Williamsburg magazine about a set of thirteen silver buttons engraved with the pictures and names of thirteen hunting dogs, presumably commissioned by a wealthy Tidewater planter in the first half of the 1700s. The magazine's website offers a slide show with a closeup of each button. For anyone seeking authentic colonial dog names, they are:
  • Trumpiter
  • Piper
  • Trumpiter (yes, again)
  • Noisey
  • Ringwood
  • Juno
  • Rover
  • Caesar
  • Tinker
  • Loiterer
  • Blossom
  • Tanner
  • Rainger

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Colonial Americans Didn't Wear Tricorns

I spent much of this afternoon at the Sudbury Fife and Drum Muster, enjoying the music and marching of the Middlesex County Volunteers, the Middlesex 4-H Corps, the William Diamond Juniors, the Ancient Mariners, and other groups.

The plethora of headgear on display reminded me that I wanted to post a note about the type of broad-brimmed hat cocked at three points to make a triangle, as shown here, thanks to Morristown National Historical Park. It’s often called a “tricorn” or “tricorne”—i.e., something with three horns. And that might be a useful term to distinguish it from other ways of wearing such hats.

Even though colonial Americans wore hats cocked that way, as well as in other styles, the term “tricorn” doesn’t date from eighteenth-century English. The Oxford English Dictionary and Merriam-Webster’s trace “tricorn” as a type of hat back only to 1876, when Americans were awash in Centennial nostalgia and sought a term for the out-of-fashion headgear of their forebears. The adjectival form of the word was applied to hats three decades earlier, but in the late 1700s the only documented use for “tricorn” meant an animal like a unicorn, except more so. Not a good thing to wear on one's head.

Friday, September 22, 2006

John Adams's Notes on Display at BPL

Today's Boston Globe brings news of the "John Adams Unbound" exhibit at the Boston Public Library of John Adams's personal library, with many books opened to show the president's marginal notes. Adams was the best read American politician of his generation—even Thomas Jefferson was in awe of the number of books he consumed in his retirement—and he was rather poor at keeping his feelings and opinions under wraps. So he read lots of authors, and he argued with them.

The Globe article includes a photo (click above) of one page from a French book with comments like these:

So I hope.
Sub modo.
Hons? Hindoo!
But 9/10ths [illegible, at least to me]
found silly.
And that's all on the bottom of one page.

At some point it might be possible to view Adams's commentary without making the serpentine journey through the BPL's old building to the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department. The Globe says:
with 30 volumes digitized from the Adams collection, an ambitious project has been launched to put as many of the president's books on the Internet as funding and technology will allow. The plans also include an electronic cross-referencing of Adams's reflections.

The Globe also reports on the exhibit, "There's a forensic map, drawn by Paul Revere, that Adams used at trial in his defense of British soldiers in the Boston Massacre." Actually, that trial is the best documented of the period, and the record contains no mention of a map. Nor do Revere's business records. The map didn't come from the Adams estate, but seems to have been bought from Revere's descendants in the mid-1800s. So really we can only guess at why he drew the map. Perhaps it was part of an investigation, or meant for the town report, or perhaps it was Revere's first stab at an engraving for public consumption, before he copied Henry Pelham's far more dramatic drawing of the shootings. (The labels are in Revere's handwriting, and some figures resemble those that Pelham drew.)

The only web image of the Revere map that I know of is a tiny one in the Bostonian Society's Boston Massacre game (an attempt to create "CSI: Colonial Boston," but actually focusing on the history of imagery as much as the event itself). But there are reproductions in several books on the subject, and at the Old State House Museum.

The "John Adams Unbound" exhibit runs from today through 1 April.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Hulton-Preston Connection

On Wednesday, I quoted a manuscript memoir written by Henry Hulton, one of the Commissioners of Customs stationed in Boston from 1767 to 1776. That document is in the Princeton University library. The University of New Brunswick has a copy on microfilm.

At the start of that document is the bookplate of one "Thomas Preston," along with a heraldic shield and the motto “Lucem Spero Clariorem.” The British army captain who was put on trial after the Boston Massacre was named Thomas Preston. Back in 1969, as he was researching his magisterial book The Boston Massacre, Hiller B. Zobel wrote to the Princeton staff, asking if they had any clues about the previous owners of the Hulton memoir. Could the Commissioner have sent this copy to Capt. Preston himself? Could the Customs staff and the army captain have been in close touch with each other—as Boston's Whigs had hinted all along?

The library staff couldn't shed any light on that question thirty-odd years ago. But now we can, thanks to:

According to this genealogical website, Henry Hulton's wife was born Elizabeth Preston, and she had a younger half-brother named Thomas Preston. Furthermore, this other website states that the Hultons' eldest son, Thomas (born 1767), inherited an estate from a maternal relative in the early 1800s, and legally changed his surname to Preston. (In 1815 the Crown made him a baronet, so he gets into Debrett's Peerage and other reliable printed sources; the internet makes it simpler to find that information, but we don't have to rely on the web alone.)

So the easiest explanation for the Hulton manuscript's provenance was that the Commissioner left it to his son, who later became Sir Thomas Preston (Bart.). And there's another relative of the same name. Either man is therefore a more likely owner than the British army captain.

But could Capt. Thomas Preston have been related to Henry Hulton's wife? That seems unlikely. Elizabeth Preston's family was from Norfolk. The captain was said to come from and retire to Ireland (though John Adams recalled seeing him in London in the 1780s). In his memoirs and letters, Hulton never mentioned a family connection, and neither did the Whigs, who would surely have hollered if they had evidence of such ties. Rather, the same name popping up in two or three different places is evidence that (as in my investigation of Capt. Thomas Morton) eighteenth-century British parents didn't choose from a wide range of names.

Surfing for Sir Thomas Preston brought me to this website about the Jermy family, related to the Norfolk Prestons and Hultons. It offers a delicious mid-1800s murder scandal complete with pictures of Sir Thomas Preston's estate, true-crime books, and Staffordshire pottery souvenirs (click on the photo above).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Attack on Henry Hulton's House

Yesterday's post described the arrival of Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton (1731-1790) in Boston in 1767, and his opinion of the locals in early 1770. His attitudes weren't improved by the attack on his house later that year. The following account comes from a memoir that Hulton wrote after returning to England, which is now in the manuscripts library at Princeton.

That same night of the 19th. June 1770, after my family were all in bed in my house at Brooklyn [i.e., Brookline] (which was a dwelling in the Country, at some distance from any other) I was waked out of my sleep, with a gentle tapping at the Door of the house, on which I got up, & enquired who was there, a voice answered, I have a letter from Mr. H., from the Grenades [i.e., the Grenadines islands], which came by the express from New York this Morning, upon which I desired him to wait a little, & I wou’d come down.

Having slipt on my breeches and waistcoat, I took my Sword in my hand, & being cautious of opening the House door, I went to the parlour Window, & having opened the shutter a man stood there.

I asked him for the letter, & opened the Window a little. He said I have a letter indeed & advanced, puting his Hands out, with an intent to lift up the sash, upon which I clapt it down, & he instantly struck two violent blows at me, with a bludgeon, which broke the upper part of the Window, frame & all, but resting on the middle part did not touch me.

No sooner had he given the first blow, then all the windows round were broke in the same manner, by people placed at each of them. The family immediately rose in the greatest consternation, and Mrs. H opening the Window shutter in her room, had a large stone thrown at her which happily missed her.

Imagining the people wou’d break into the house, & seek to murther me, I ran to the Servants room, at the head of the back Stairs with my sword in my hand, leaving two Servant Men at the bottom. The People without, kept uttering Oaths & execrations for some time, swearing, "dead or alive we will have him," but at length they withdrew, and I soon after retired to a Neighbours house till day light, and passed the following day at Mr. John Apthorps at Little Cambridge [i.e., Allston].

Mrs. H and myself not thinking it safe to return home, we remained at his house for two nights, and hearing that Mr. Burch with his family was gone to the Castle, we came home the following morning, & carried the Children & part of the family from Brooklyn to the Castle [i.e., Castle William, a fort in Boston harbor].
Henry and Elizabeth Hulton had two young sons at the time, Thomas (about to turn three) and Henry, Jr., (thirteen months).

Hulton's sister Ann blamed another Customs Commissioner, Sir John Temple, for instigating the attack, and one of Boston's most eminent clergymen for excusing it:
I believe its very true, that the Sunday after my Bror was attacked in his own house, wth apparent design upon his Life, after we were gone to the Castle—Dr. Ch—cy [Rev. Dr. Charles Chauncy, minister at Boston's First Meeting] preached a Sermon on that occasion & told his people plainly out of the Pulpit, that the Commissr broke his own windows, to cast an odium on the Country & the next day this Rev Dr went all about, impressg this opinion on the People. . . .

...it was actualy believed by two thirds of the People in Boston, Untill those of our Township of their own accord, exerted 'emselves to bring the matter to light, Several Evidences before a Justice of Peace, who swore to meeting the Villains disguised upon the Road & that they enquired the way to Mr H: house, nay the Evidences went so far as naming particular persons upon which they were Stop’d & privately threatned that if they proceeded further in Information they sho’d suffer, so there the enquiry ended.
Personal attacks on high-born royal officials were rare in pre-Revolutionary times—the infamous tar-and-feathers attacks were almost all aimed at lower-level, lower-class Customs employees. But there was a long tradition of mobbing unpopular gentlemen's houses. Was that what this mob originally set out to do? Or did they actually aim to assault Hulton personally?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Henry Hulton Meets the Locals

Henry Hulton was an English bureaucrat who arrived in Boston as one of the new Commissioners of Customs in 1767, responsible for collecting the Townshend duties. He happened to debark on 5 November, known in Boston as "Pope-Night" because of the raucous anti-Catholic processions that consumed the day and night. Lord George Sackville (later Germain, and minister in charge of the colonies during the Revolutionary War) recorded this secondhand description of the Commissioners' reception:

They landed on the 5th of November, and the populace were then carrying in procession the Pope, the Devil, and the Pretender, in order to commit them to the flames in honour of Protestantism. . . . these figures met the Commissioners at the water side and were carry’d before them without any insult through the streets, and whenever they stopped to salute an acquaintance, the figures halted and faced about till the salutation was over, and so accompany’d them to the Governor Hutchinson’s door, where the Devil, &c. took their leave with loud huzzas from the mob...
That quote is from a letter printed in the 49th volume from the UK's Historic Manuscripts Commission. I quoted a bit more in my essay on Pope-Night in the Dublin Seminar's Worlds of Children volume.

According to Hulton's sister Ann, whose reports were published in 1927 as Letters of a Loyalist Lady, "the Mob carried twenty Devils, Popes, & Pretenders, thro the Streets, with Labels on their breasts, Liberty & Property & no Commissioners," but Commissioner Hulton "laughed at 'em with the rest."

Hulton became less pleased with the locals' attitudes as time went on. This is from a letter he wrote in February 1770, now kept at the Houghton Library at Harvard:
The servant will not call the person he lives with, Master; and they have the utmost aversion to wearing anything in the shape of a livery, or performing any office of attendance on your person, or table; We have however a Coachman, who had the fortitude to drive us in spite of the ridicule of his Countrymen, who point & look at him, with contempt, as he passes by.

The people are very inquisitive, and what we should call impertinent; they never give one a direct answer, but commonly return your question, by another; and if you fall in with them on the road, or at a public house, they will directly inquire of you, who and what you are and what is your business.

One day I overtook a country man on the road; and after saying something to him about the weather, he began, Are you from Boston? what is the news? Are you a Merchant? me hap you are going into the Country to get in your debts? Can you lend a body a hundred or two of pounds? no. you can if you would.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Benjamin Kent's "speedy Provincial Encampment"

This is another extract from the third volume of The Papers of Robert Treat Paine, issued last year by the Massachusetts Historical Society. Benjamin Kent (1708-1788) was a Boston lawyer, a solid Whig but not a political leader or a radical. Indeed, after the war, Kent retired and moved in with his son-in-law in Canada. Which makes it all the more interesting to see Kent suggesting in the fall of 1774 that the best solution to the crisis in Massachusetts would be a show of armed force by the locals.

On 16 October, Kent wrote to Robert Treat Paine at the First Continental Congress about the situation in Boston. The month before, it had become clear that royal governor Thomas Gage had no authority past Boston neck. Gen. Gage began to fortify that narrow route into town, all the while assuring both inhabitants and neighbors that the cannons pointing out at the province were for their own good. The first Massachusetts Provincial Congress met in early October and protested the general's action. Here is what Kent suggested should happen next. (I've once again broken up the block of text into shorter paragraphs.)

You will see our Provincial Address to the Genrl. & next Monday or Tuesday we expect his Ansr. but are as satisfied, as if he had told us, that it is out of his power to demollish the Fortifications, therefore after a day or two, it will be peremptorily demanded of him by our Provincial Congress. I suppose he will pay no regard to it.

The Consequence will be, a speedy Provincial Encampment. without any Intention of Coming to Blows, & we are well assured the Regulars will not begin hostilities, but it’s probable they will continue to fortify; & if they should; I believe it will be impossible to keep our hands off from 'em.

Many members of our Provl. Congress think we cannot carry on an Encampmt. before we have some Established form of civil Government: & that can’t be done but by the Grand Congress. I tell 'em an Encampmt. may & I think must be made, by all the Towns and Districts, Enlisting their Quota of men & voting 'em pay.

If that should be our Case: Their Deserters, will know where to run, then the Genrl. will immediately send Home & a Cessation of Arms will take place. The Grand Congress must not rise or adjourn before they have settl’d a form of Governmt. for all the Colonies, & know what will be finally done by Britain.
So Kent was suggesting that the Massachusetts militias gather and take positions outside Boston—starting a siege immediately, as it were. He didn't believe the provincials would actually start shooting, and he didn't think the regulars would, either. Still, an encampment outside the town gates would have been a sign of open armed rebellion. No wonder Kent made sure not to sign this letter.

Yet it's also telling that Kent felt that such an encampment would actually avoid a war, not start one. In his mind, such a response to the governor's actions would signal the provincials' resolve, and make the situation untenable for the regular army. It would force Gage to advise the government in London to capitulate. Many other American gentlemen seem to have shared this view: that if they just didn't back down before ministerial measures, eventually the London government would relent or change with no war or split in the Empire. Things didn't work out that way.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Robert Treat Paine Loses His Purse

Last week at the Massachusetts Historical Society, I spent some time perusing the third volume of The Papers of Robert Treat Paine, published last year. Paine, a lawyer from Taunton, was one of Massachusetts's delegates to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.

Returning to Massachusetts in the winter of 1774-75, Paine left behind a delicate task for Stephen Collins, a Quaker merchant born in Lynn with whom he often dined while in Philadelphia. Collins wrote to Paine about his progress, or lack of it, in a letter dated 14 January 1775. To understand the problem he was trying to solve, we have to know that "vault" meant not the back part of a bank but the lower part of an outhouse. (I've added paragraph breaks to make this passage easier to read online.)

Esteemed Friend, Soon after thy departure from this City, I called on, and sent to that Man whoe attempted gitting thy Purs out of the Vault, and endeavoured to prevail with him to make a further Tryal, which on the whole he absolutly refus’d, and declair’d he would have nothing more to do with it, and pretends he was not well treated in the first attempt.

I told him his now refusing to to any thing more at it might create a suspicion that he allready got it, at which he was very outragious and went directly off, and have not seene him since.

I made Inquiry for some other suteable person for that purpose, but could find nothing incouraging, and therefore thought best to wate thy coming here in may next, when thou will have an opportunity of Judging whether it is worth another tryal or not.

To me it seems very doubtfull.

On 25 February, Paine wrote back:
I am much obliged to you for the Care of my purse; I wish our endeavours to recover it had succeeded, for the scituation of our public affairs, makes Cash very scarce, as well as much wanted; respecting any suspicion that the Goldfinders have got it, perhaps an enquiry of their circumstances since the affair might be serviceable, at least so far as to know if it were worth while to try again.
Note that neither gentleman suggested that he might have a look himself.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Touring Boston's Most Important Landfills

I've written before about how the geography of Revolutionary Boston differs drastically from the city's footprint today. The current expert on the physical growth of Boston land (which took place mostly in the 1800s) is Nancy Seasholes, author of Gaining Ground: A History of Landmaking in Boston and the new Walking Tours of Boston's Made Land.

This month Nancy's leading walking tours of the newer acres of Boston sponsored by different historical organizations. So far I've been offered—

In case it rains or you're on another stretch of land entirely, MIT Press offers an hour-long video of Nancy speaking on the topic a coupla years ago. So does WGBH.

And remember—unless you go into Boston along Washington Street, you're traveling into the city over ground that was underwater in colonial times. And you were worried about a few drips in a tunnel!

Friday, September 15, 2006

More Delightful Digital Databases

A while back I wrote about two fine online resources for researching Revolutionary America. Here are three more databases specific to Boston that come in CD-ROM form. They all have their baffling limitations, but compared to leafing through hundreds of pages of rare newspapers or city reports, searching these disks is delightfully user-friendly.

Annie Haven Thwing (1851-1940) was an upper-class Bostonian who set out to create a database (or, as it was called then, a "card file") covering every inhabitant of pre-Revolutionary Boston. She gathered information mostly from city reports and real estate records. Thwing didn't achieve her initial goal, but she left behind a book titled The Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston and over 125,000 index cards at the Massachusetts Historical Society, a resource usually called the "Thwing File." This century, the MHS and New England Historic Genealogical Society transcribed those two items and combined them on a single CD-ROM. The "Thwing Index" is a secondary source that contains errors, but it's largely reliable and an excellent pointer for further research. Plus, it's just fun to say "Thwing." Len Travers wrote a profile of Thwing for the Massachusetts Historical Review. Ancestry.com offers a review of the disk.

The baptism, marriage, and death records of Boston's meeting-houses and churches have been published piecemeal over the years: by the city itself, by churches, by the Colonial Society of Massachusetts, &c. Robert J. Dunkle and Ann S. Lainhart transcribed all the available material into a single electronic file for the Records of the Churches of Boston CD-ROM, published by the NEHGS. It contains data from sixteen of Boston's twenty-one active churches from 1630 to 1810, along with three congregations from Roxbury. Again, here's the Ancestry.com review. As with the Thwing disk, the program works on Windows and Mac OS 9, but not Mac OS X except in emulation mode (I use Virtual PC).

Heritage Books published Andrew W. Pollock's index of advertisements in the Boston News-Letter, often officially called the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston News-Letter. This newspaper appeared weekly from 1704 to 1776. This CD-ROM holds a searchable PDF file over three thousand pages long. It doesn't contain the complete texts of the advertisements, but keyword searching in this database is more reliable than in the online newspaper database I wrote about before. After locating the right ads with this file, you can find them fast in the newspaper database (should you have access to that).

I bought my copy of the News-Letter index from the Boxers and Books store on eBay, which also stocks the Churches CD and many other genealogical resources. These databases helped me piece together information about the families of Christopher Seider, Pvt. John Moies, Capt. Thomas Morton, and others.

So Thwing! Thwing! Thwing!

Thursday, September 14, 2006

What Was the British Coffee-House Serving?

On Tuesday I mentioned the British Coffee-House, a landmark in pre-Revolutionary Boston where the Long Wharf met King Street. James Otis, Jr., and Customs Commissioner John Robinson had a violent tussle there in September 1769 which left Otis bleeding from a severe head wound.

Folks might wonder what a Boston coffee-house served in 1769. Kenyan dark roast? Shade-grown Colombian? Capuccino with a sprinkle of cinnamon? What did colonial Bostonians expect to find when they went into the British Coffee-House?

The short answer is:

My source for these remarks is a book by Boston-area historian David W. Conroy: In Public Houses: Drink and the Revolution of Authority in Colonial Massachusetts. It's a terrific study of a single aspect of eighteenth-century New England life—drinking establishments—that comes up with insights on changes in social policy, centers of political influence, and commerce.

David looked at two major sources to assess how much liquor coffee-houses served:
  • province records of who paid the most excise taxes, therefore who had sold the most alcohol.
  • probate inventories of the major coffee-house and tavern owners.
In particular, he examined records related to the Crown Coffee House, the most elaborately appointed tavern in Boston in the early 18th century. The owner from 1714 to 1725 was a man from Britain named Thomas Selby. At his death he owned two periwigs, “a number of coats and waistcoats, one of silk damask and one with gold buttons,” twelve shirts, and three pairs of silk stockings. So the Crown was one classy joint.

Excise taxes show that "Selby sold more distilled alcohol in the 1710s than any other tavernkeeper in Boston," David writes. Furthermore, “Selby’s inventory of alcohol, as opposed to coffee, is evidence that even genteel coffeehouses sold far more rum and wine than coffee.” At his death in 1725, he owned more than £1000 worth of wine, rum, brandy, and other liquors. Selby owned no fewer than eight silver punch bowls. In contrast, he owned only 38 pounds of coffee, a single copper coffee pot on a stand, and 32 "coffee dishes." We have to be careful about comparing applejack and oranges because we have the monetary value of the alcohol and the weight of the coffee, but it's obvious that Selby's coffeehouse sold a lot of liquor, and really functioned as a tavern for the upper class.

As for the later British Coffee-House, at his death proprietor Cord Cordis left 100 gallons of rum and 184 gallons of Madeira wine, plus 72 beer and wine glasses. There's no comparable figure on coffee, but it's obvious that "coffee-house" really meant "fancy and expensive bar." No wonder Robinson and Otis started swinging at each other's heads.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Samuel Adams: voice of moderation

Yesterday's post about James Otis, Jr., put me in mind of his relationship with Samuel Adams, his successor as the principal voice of the Boston Whigs and the prime "incendiary" to friends of the royal government.

Among my peeved complaints about the way many historians have treated Adams is they paint him as the most extreme radical in Boston, a congenital troublemaker. In fact, Adams was often a moderating force; he kept his eye on the big goal in the distance, and kept his tongue while less temperate men like Otis and William Molineux said things they later regretted.

Otis and Adams served several terms alongside each other in the Massachusetts General Court, or provincial assembly. In 1860, Andrew H. Ward wrote that Otis once

declared from his seat, that he would not allow any member of the House to call him to order, save——SAMUEL ADAMS.

Such was the compliment paid by the more eloquent to the more sagacious Patriot. Thereafter Mr. Adams took a seat behind Mr. Otis, which he continued to occupy; and whenever he thought him getting upon too high a key, privately and gently pulled his coat tail, by way of a friendly caution, which, like an electric rod, quietly disarmed the rising tempest of its fearful power.
Andrew stated, "The above anecdote was related to me some fifty years since by Joshua Henshaw, Esq., who was Registrar of Deeds for the country of Suffolk previous to the Revolution.” It appeared in volume 14 of the New England Historical & Genealogical Register.

Otis also trusted Adams as an editor. (And having been one myself, I take that as the highest praise.) About the General Court's Circular Letter of 1768 and other public correspondence, Otis reportedly told a friend, “I have written them all, and handed them over to Sam, to quieuvicue them.”

Another Patriot lawyer who trusted Adams the same way was Josiah Quincy, Jr.; on some manuscripts of his newspaper essays is this line to the printers: “Let Samuel Adams Esq. correct the press.”

Obviously, Otis and Quincy didn't fear that Adams would insert language that would get them in trouble. You wouldn't know that from the way some modern writers go on.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

What Was James Otis's Problem?

James Otis, Jr., was a brillant attorney from an upper-class family in Barnstable. He formulated the first arguments against taxation without representation in the early 1760s, even before the Stamp Act, and was Boston's foremost voice for resisting new British taxes for the rest of the decade. By the Revolutionary War, however, Otis was widely recognized as insane. For instance, in August 1771 John Adams wrote in his diary:

Mr. Otis's Gestures and Motions are very whimsical, his Imagination is disturbed—his Passions all roiled. His Servant, he orders to bring up his Horse, and to hold him by the Head at the Stone of his Door, an Hour before He is ready to mount. Then he runs into one Door and out at another, and Window &c. &c. &c.
Although Otis had periods of calm in the early 1770s, he soon became so disabled that he had to retire from politics and from Boston.

The Patriots constructed a narrative to explain this: Otis was so detested and feared by Crown appointees that in 1769 they lured him into the British Coffee-House and assaulted him with canes, causing a brain injury that affected his mental stability. That was the basic thrust of The Life of James Otis, of Massachusetts, written by William Tudor, Jr., in 1823, and remained the standard story in America for another century.

Then scholars began to notice references in John Adams's diary to Otis behaving erratically before his injury, starting on 3 Sept 1769:
Otis talks all. He grows the most talkative Man alive. No other Gentleman in Company can find a Space to put in a Word—as Dr. Swift expressed it, he leaves no Elbow Room. There is much Sense, Knowledge, Spirit and Humour in his Conversation. But he grows narrative, like an old Man. Abounds with Stories.
And the following day:
Otis indulged himself in all his Airs. Attacked the Aldermen, Inches and Pemberton, for not calling a Town meeting to consider the Letters of the Governor, General, Commodore, Commissioners, Collector, Comptroller &c. charged them with Timidity, Haughtiness, Arbitrary Dispositions, and Insolence of Office. . . . No general Conversation, concerning the Continental Opposition—Nothing, but one continued Scene of bullying, bantering, reproaching and ridiculing the Select Men.—Airs and Vapours about his Moderatorship, and Membership, and Cushings Speakership.—There is no Politeness nor Delicacy, no Learning nor Ingenuity, no Taste or Sense in this Kind of Conversation.
And on the 5th, Otis got into the brawl at the British Coffee-House. And it was a brawl, involving two men with canes, not an ambush. At the time, Otis was clearly in a fighting mood.

A more critical examination of Otis's political writings and statements shows that he often made radical arguments, then pulled back and insisted on deference to the king and governor. Colleagues wrote of feeling frustrated and betrayed. As an example of his revolutionary thinking, Otis was one of the first Patriots to point out that the doctrine of natural rights meant that Africans shouldn't be enslaved—but he never gave up his own slaves. Even Tudor's book contains some anecdotes about Otis behaving erratically as a young man.

It appears, therefore, that Otis might have had a mood disorder or other mental condition long before 1769, which his head injury worsened but didn't cause. Indeed, his extravagant behavior in September 1769 might have led to the brawl rather than the other way around.

At the Old State House a few years ago, someone asked, what exactly was Otis's injury or condition? What would doctors or psychologists term it today? No one can be sure. But I piped up, that whatever the problem, alcohol made it worse. As Tudor wrote:
Even a glass or two of wine had an immediate effect, and created a feverish action on the brain, that prevented self-control, and tended to reproduce itself.
The Boston audience understood that very well.

[ADDENDUM: Update here.]

Monday, September 11, 2006

Early American History Seminars at MHS

One of my favorite resources on the latest thinking in history is the Boston Area Early American History Seminar series at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Aside from a pronounceable acronym (BAEAHS?), it has everything I could wish for in an advanced history seminar. It's cheap (or even free, if you pick up the papers beforehand). It's open to all. It covers a broad range of topics and approaches. And there's never a final exam.

All seminars start on Thursday evenings at 5:15. A week or two before the date, the MHS makes a paper (30-60 pages long, usually) available to subscribers or anyone who visits the building at the end of Boylston Street. At the seminar, the author of the paper makes a few comments, and another expert in the field responds with details commentary, critique, and suggestions for further study or questions. Then the discussion becomes general. Professors, grad students, teachers, MHS employees, and the public (i.e., folks like me) all participate. Sandwiches and further discussion follow.

Since "early American" encompasses a lot of history, I'm listing just the sessions in the next academic year that touch on the Revolutionary era. For the full line-up, see the MHS page.

  • 14 Sept 2006: Cornelia H. Dayton, University of Connecticut, and Sharon V. Salinger, University of California at Irvine, “Pre-Revolutionary Boston’s Residents and Strangers as Seen Through Robert Love’s Warning Book”; comment by Jacqueline Jones, Brandeis University.
  • 5 Oct: Lisa Wilson, Connecticut College, “Cinderella in the News: The Codification of Stepfamily Stereotypes in Eighteenth-Century New England”; comment by Irene Q. Brown, University of Connecticut.
  • 5 Nov: Ruth Wallis Herndon, University of Toledo, “Children of Misfortune: The Fates of Boston’s Poor Apprentices”; comment by Bruce Mann, Harvard Law School.
  • 11 Jan 2007: Robert M. Krim, Boston History and Innovation Collaborative, “Using Economic History and an Innovation Perspective to Reinterpret Greater Boston’s History from 1629 to 1860: Methodology, Drivers of Innovation, and the Social-Scientific Interplay”; comment (and, I hope, translation into simple English) by James Anderson, Boston College.
  • 1 Feb: Margot Minardi, Harvard University, “Movements and Monuments: The Politics of Commemoration in Abolitionist Boston”; comment by Len Travers, University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. Should there be a monument to Crispus Attucks or not? This was a nasty argument in Boston until the late 1800s.
  • 1 Mar: Marty Rojas, University of Rhode Island, “Codifying Friendship: The Plan of Treaties 1776”; comment by a player to be named later.
  • 5 Apr: Stephen Marini, Wellesley College, “The Transformation of American Religious Culture, 1750-1790: Patterns and Process”; comment by Richard D. Brown, University of Connecticut.
  • 21 June: Amanda Moniz, University of Michigan, “The Necessity and Practicability of Good-will”; comment by Peter Dobkin Hall, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Content Lists from the Dublin Seminar

For the first time, the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife website now lists the titles of all the papers in each of its Proceedings volumes. Some of the items that have stood out for me over the years (by no means a complete list):

  • From Foodways in the Northeast, "Wholesome, Toothsome, and Diverse: Eighteenth-Century Foodways in Deerfield, Massachusetts," Daphne L. Derven. "From a seasonal perspective, the lamb, mutton, and veal [transaction] categories peaked in the spring and summer months. These meats did not keep well, but the carcasses were small enough to permit timely consumption in the warmer months. Beef had two major peaks in the fall and late winter with minimal representation in the summer. . . . The year-round availability of pork in contrast to beef was probably related to pork’s ease of preservation and smaller carcass size." I'd never considered this dimension of the colonial diet before.
  • From Families and Children, "'Girling of it' in Eighteenth-Century New Hampshire," Laurel Thatcher Ulrich and Lois K. Stabler, and "Nursing and Weaning in an Eighteenth-Century New England Household," Ross W. Beales, Jr. The first analyzes a New Hampshire man's grumpy infatuations and sexual gossip. The second uses a clergyman's diary to analyze how that family dealt with breast-feeding; one infant was weaned early so that the diarist himself could have the health benefit of his wife's milk.
  • From New England Music, "Military Music and the Roots of the American Band Movement," Raoul F. Camus. All American brass bands seem to go back to Crane's artillery regiment during the Revolutionary War. Which means, I suspect, they go back either to Paddock's artillery company in pre-Revolutionary Boston or to an artillery band from Rhode Island, where Crane moved in 1774.
  • And of course "Du Simitière’s Sketches of Pope Day in Boston, 1767," J.L. Bell, in Worlds of Children.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Coming of Age with Octavian Nothing

This month, Candlewick Press of Cambridge will publish a truly original novel about the American Revolution: The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation—Volume One: The Pox Party, by M. T. Anderson. This first half of the saga is set in and around colonial Boston from the late 1760s through the first months of the war. (Full disclosure: Last year I vetted the manuscript for historical accuracy, so I read this book quite early, yet haven't read the final text.)

As cultural historian Michael Kammen noted in A Season of Youth, the most successful and lasting popular fiction about the American Revolution consists of coming-of-age novels: namely, Esther Forbes's Johnny Tremain and the Collier brothers' My Brother Sam Is Dead. That's not just because we study the Revolution in school, and students relate to novels about young people. It's also because our national understanding of the War for Independence is a coming-of-age story. Like the heroes in those books, the American nation supposedly woke up to its rights and responsibilities, threw off the illusions and strictures of childhood (under the "mother country"), and took its rightful place in the society of nations.

Octavian Nothing is also the story of a boy growing into a man, but Octavian's both more and less than a boy—he's precious property. At first he doesn't know that. But he comes to see that he's caught in an Enlightenment gone berserk, portrayed in full gothic style. And, as the "traitorous" subtitle hints, this is not a story of easy patriotism. Octavian feels caught between two nations, British and American, both claiming his loyalty without promising much in return.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Who Was Caldwell's Capt. Morton?

Earlier this week, BCaldwell wrote:

As a Caldwell, I've always been interested in Boston Massacre victim James Caldwell (aka "a mate on Capt. Morton's vessel"). Accounts of the event (including the famous Gazette account) refer to "Capt. Morton" as if he were a well known figure to Bostonians of the day. Does anyone know who Capt. Morton was, what the name of his vessel was, or how I can find out more about him?
I don't usually take requests because they so often involve work. But by happy coincidence, I wrote about James Caldwell (or, rather, about his body) and about Capt. Morton's response to his killing in one of my earliest entries, titled "The shoemaker's memory." So I already had an idea about who "Capt. Morton" was. How simple and impressive it would be simply to drop that information, I thought.

And this is why I don't take requests.

The Capt. Morton I had in mind was Capt. Dimond Morton, who died in Littleton, Massachusetts, on 2 Feb 1792 at the age of forty-nine. He was a witness in the trial of Capt. Thomas Preston. However, a little more research showed me that in 1770 Dimond Morton was running a tavern and stable with his father Joseph, not working as a sea captain and living on Cold Lane like Caldwell's master. Morton didn't acquire the title of captain until late 1775, when he was in Henry Knox's artillery regiment. (His younger brother Perez Morton was an attorney who delivered the oration over Dr Joseph Warren's body and then got into a sex scandal with his wife and sister-in-law. But that's gossip for another day.)

So I was back to the beginning with "Capt. Morton." Newspapers referred to lots of sea captains and militia captains only by their title. Since Boston had only about 16,000 people, over half of them children, most readers knew the major authority figures in town. And indeed, looking through the colonial newspaper database shows a great many references to Capt. Morton from Boston, sailing back and forth to Britain's Caribbean islands and mainland colonial ports. But was there one captain with that name or more? And what was his first name?

I started trawling in those newspapers for items with both "captain" and "Morton" as keywords. In 1765, a man named Morton captained the brig Hawk. So I looked for combinations of "hawk" and "Morton." On 9 April 1770, the Pennsylvania Chronicle reported that "T. Morton" was the captain of the Young Hawk from Boston. He had arrived in Boston from Hispaniola in early February, according to the 8 Feb Boston Chronicle. (That seemed to put him in Boston during the Massacre, a good sign.) From Philadelphia T. Morton and the "Young Hawke" headed to Newfoundland, per the 23 April Pennsylvania Chronicle.

Since eighteenth-century Bostonians didn't value a lot of variation in given names, I guessed Capt. Morton might be named "Thomas." Indeed, the 20 June 1768 New-York Gazette identifies the master of the Hawk from Boston as Thomas Morton. So does the 11 Jan 1762 Boston Post-Boy. The 12 Dec 1768 Boston Gazette describes a brig sailing from the West Indies home to Boston, "Thomas Morton, Master," being driven ashore "on the Rocks near the Light-House" in Boston Harbor. So that could explain why Morton was sailing the Young Hawk a year and a half later.

So, with more work than I expected behind me and no claim to a definite answer, I suggest that the ship's captain James Caldwell served in early 1770 might have been Thomas Morton of the Young Hawk. Was he also the Thomas Morton who joined the Charitable Irish Society of Boston in 1761? The Thomas Morton who owned a house near the Town House in 1798? Hey, do I have to do this all myself?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Sit Down, John! — 1776 Revived

Tomorrow the Lyric Stage Company of Boston opens its season with the musical 1776, the all-singing, rather-little-dancing portrayal of the Second Continental Congress's debate on independence. Songs by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone. (I much enjoyed the Lyric Stage's production of Noises Off a coupla years ago.)

Back in the bicentennial year of 1976, my elementary-school class took a field trip into Boston to see the movie of 1776. We also did a little presentation based on the musical at the end of the year. The part of John Adams was taken by a pretty Japanese-American girl named Karen. Hey, she had the ponytail, and she could carry a tune.

Impressionable youth that I was, I accepted the musical's portrayal of the Contintental Congress debates as basically accurate. Oh, I knew that John Hancock and friends didn't actually sing, and that some important figures (such as Samuel Adams, who actually could sing) got little screen time. But I thought the conflicts dramatized on screen matched the real disagreements over declaring independence.

Oh, what disillusionment lay in store! To start with, 1776 depicts a debate over slavery that never happened at that Congress. It presents Thomas Jefferson as writing an anti-slavery clause into the Declaration and planning to free his own slaves when he returned to Virginia. In fact, Jefferson never suggested concrete steps to end slavery, and freed very few of his slaves.

The language at issue in the draft Declaration was about the transatlantic slave trade—about bringing new enslaved people into the colonies, not about freeing any who were there already. Virginia, Massachusetts, and a couple of other colonies had voted to prohibit slave imports in the decade before 1776. The royal authorities had vetoed those laws. Jefferson and his committee put that grievance into the Declaration, and it was deleted. But their language never objected to the continuance on slavery within the colonies. (In fact, if I wanted to be very cynical, I'd point out that any prohibition on an import benefits the domestic producers—who in this case would be owners of many male and female slaves, like Jefferson.)


In the end, the plot of 1776 comes down to an argument within the Pennsylvania delegation: Benjamin Franklin, John Dickinson, and James Wilson. Franklin wants the colony to vote for independence, Dickinson against. Throughout the play Wilson has meekly sided with Dickinson. But Wilson doesn't want to be remembered for standing in the way of independence, so at the last moment he chooses to vote with Franklin and the Congress's majority. Meaning that American independence rested on a Profile in Lack of Courage, as it were. This article on EarlyAmerica.com transcribes the crucial dialogue among the three characters, as well as portraying Wilson exactly as the musical does.

In fact, James Wilson was strongly pro-independence all along. He argued that Parliament should have limited authority over the colonies in a pamphlet titled "Considerations on the Nature and Extent of the Legislative Authority of the British Parliament," published in 1774 but drafted as early as 1768. In Congress, Wilson was among the radicals, noted for his oratory and debating skills. He asked for a delay in voting on independence only to be sure his constituents agreed with him on the need for that drastic step. (Better capsule biographies of Wilson are at USHistory.org and UPenn Law School.)

Furthermore, there were more than three delegates from Pennsylvania at the Second Continental Congress. Look at the Declaration, and you'll see nine signers from that state. (They're the top of the column to the right of Hancock's name.) Pennsylvania credits delegate John Morton with casting the decisive vote among the seven delegates present. Franklin, Wilson, and Morton voted for independence. Two other men voted against. Dickinson and the seventh man, Robert Morris, refused to vote at all. (And yet Morris signed the Declaration.) But that mishmash of politics and egos would have been even harder to put to music.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hector McNeill: young immigrant from Ireland

Hector McNeill was a ship's captain during the Revolutionary War, listed third among American captains of privateers on a list drawn up in October 1776. His loyalty to the Continental cause was remarkable considering how Bostonians treated him when he had arrived in the country about forty years earlier.

McNeill was born in County Antrim, Ireland, on 10 Oct 1728, of parents whom late-nineteenth-century historians would carefully label as "Scotch-Irish," to distinguish them from Irish Catholics. The McNeill family arrived in Boston on 7 Sept 1737. In a memoir he wrote in 1773 for his "children, and Freinds," he wrote:

Here we met with a verey indifferent reception from the People of the country, who seem’d to have a contempt for Strangers, of what denomination soever; more Especially those who came from Ireland (whom they took for granted were all Roman catholicks). . . .

On our Landing at Hubbards Wharf, my father was accosted by that churlish old man himself. He ask’d in an angry tone, from whence we came; who sent for us; why we came there; and why we did not stay in our own country. To all these questions, my father answered him in few words, telling him with some heat and firmness, that ’twas not him who sent for us, nor were we accountable to him in any respect whatsoever. The Vile wretch snarled as he went and shut his window, growling out something about takeing the Bread out of childrens mouths, etca., etca. This verey uncouth Salutation from the first man we met at Landing, lookd verey discouraging and wrought so deeply on my fathers spirrits, that he did not recover himself for some moments. At length the Tears running freely over his manly cheeks, gave Way to that Passion he could no otherwise vent, and he became calm before we reached the house of our Benefactors.

A Little Lad who lived next door Observeing me a Stranger, fell into conversation with me, and being highly diverted with my manner of Pronounceation, (whither to amuse himself or some of his comrades to whom he intended to introduce me) led me out into the streets where we soon met with other Boys who were going to see a Ship Launched. Thither I accompany’d them where were gathered togeither great numbers of Spectators among others many small boys, some of whom began to make remarks on my dress and appearance.

At length one more Audacious then the Others, singled himself out, and endeavour’d to Provoke me by his Scurrilous Language, which I for some time bore with christian Patience, (considering my self a Stranger, and haveing taken great notice of the reception my father had just received from Old Hubbard I expected little favour from those who were now round me). At length this unmannerly boy most unhappily for himself, call’d me Irish. The word was scarcely out of his mouth, before he had my little fist—dab—in his Eyes. A Battle ensued and he was beaten most unmercyfully; for tho I had but just come on shore from a fateaguing half starved Passage, the Agitation of Spirrits into which I had been thrown by that days Adventures supply’d my want of Strength and Experience too. For I had never been bred to a fighting or quarelsome life.

I returned to our Lodgings highly Extol’d by the Spectators for my courage and dexterity, little thinking of the train of Mischiefes and hardships, which began to follow me from that moment forward. For dureing the whole time of my Boy-hood in the town of Boston my life was one continued State of warfare. Scarcely ever did the day Pass, but one, two, or more Battles, was my sure lot. As the country boys were verey apt to cast reflections on me or my country, so never did I let them Pass unpunished. Even those who were much too old, and too Strong for me, I never Permitted to insult me with impunity. Untill at last I became such an Adept at Boxing, that they became civil and Complisante to me for theire own sakes. . . .

On my first appearance at a Publick School, where we were upwards of two hundred boys, (our Masters name was Allen,) I happened to be the only Stranger (for not being country born in those days made one an Alien to all intents,) here to theire everlasting Shame, I was cruely treated. For they Seldome contented themselves with threshing me one at a time, but would frequently shew me foul-play, and get at me two or more at once, untill they had master’d me for that time. This I allways revenged singley whenever an Oppertunity offer’d, untill at last, being brought by custom, to suffer a great deal of Bruseing and in my turn to Pay as well, they let me alone in peace.

Here I would not be understood to glory in haveing been the cock of the school. Nor would I have any body think, that I approve of a quarelsome fighting life, in Either Boys or Men; but I reather mention theese things (tho meer childish triffles) to Shew Posterity how hard the fate of Strangers was in those days in New England; and of all Strangers none so disliked as those whom they called Irish, of whom they thought as the Jews of Old, with respect to the Galileans (can any good come out of Ireland). But blessed be god the times are much alter’d; the People of New England, have now a better Oppinion of us; they haveing found by Experience, that the Protestant Settlers from the North of Ireland, are the most invaluable Set of People theire New country can boast of, they being in generall industrious, Sober, honest, people; and Valiant in theire Wars with the french and Indians, from which incumbrance this country has not been long Exempted. This more than can be said of the People of any Other country whatever who have yet come among the New-Englanders.
This passage is from McNeill's memoir, published in the Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings in 1922. I added some paragraph breaks to make it easier to read on screen.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Rocks on My Mind and Hopestill Capen

Yesterday the Boston Globe ran a story about what happens to the items confiscated at security checkpoints in Logan Airport. Eighty percent of those things are lighters—"as many as 10,000 a week." Other objects we're not allowed to take into airplane cabins now include gassed-up chainsaws (though, to be fair, have you ever seen a sign saying those aren't allowed?), "Little Red Sox baseball bats," and, of course, toothpaste.

The lighters are incinerated. Knives and other tools are shipped to the White Farm in Concord, New Hampshire, and sold through the state's surplus property sales office.

What does any of that have to do with Revolutionary-era Boston? This passage in the article caught my eye:

The most recent jaw-dropper: a 15-pound cobblestone a tourist from Iowa tried to carry on his flight home.

"I asked him," [TSA manager Patrick] O'Connor said, "where the heck it came from, and he said he found it on one of the streets over behind the Union Oyster House, and he wanted to take it back home because it looked so historic. I said, 'For crying out loud, if every visitor did that, we'd have no more history!'"

And so the cobblestone joined the next load bound for the White Farm.
So how exactly does shipping a cobblestone to New Hampshire preserve Boston's material history?

For a more portable artifact of the Union Oyster House building, on 22 September heritageauctions.com starts accepting bids for a broadside printed for Revolutionary-era owner Hopestill Capen. He was a small merchant and shopkeeper who converted to the Sandemanian sect and thus became a Loyalist—but he didn't leave Boston in 1776. As a result, suspicious authorities put Capen in jail for nearly a year after independence; he commissioned this broadside to make his case to the public that, even though he refused to renounce his loyalty to the king, he was no threat to the state. On the back of his personal copy, Capen wrote notes about his imprisonments and religious tenets.

Not enough gossip for today? Capen was landlord for printer Isaiah Thomas and the Massachusetts Spy newspaper in the early 1770s. For a brief and unfruitful time in 1769 he employed Benjamin Thompson of Woburn, later Count Rumford, as a shopboy. And in 1775, Thompson had an affair with Thomas's wife.

Monday, September 04, 2006

John Moies, Boston retailer

Pvt. John Moies of the 14th Regiment was convicted of robbing a shop in 1769, as I described in my last two postings. He was sentenced to be whipped and sold into servitude for three years—and his commanding officer got the distinct impression that Pvt. Moies was pleased to get out of the army, even in such a painful way.

Moies probably went to work in Dorchester, then a town just outside Boston. He married Ruth Davenport there on 19 Sept 1771, and town records show "John Moies & his Family" settling in Dorchester that year.

On 3 March 1773, John Moies and Ruth Davenport showed up at Trinity Church, shown here thanks to Julie L. Sloan. It was one of Boston's three Anglican churches (Dorchester had none). The Moises brought two children they wanted baptized: John, born 16 Feb 1772 (or five months after the couple's marriage), and Mary Davenport, born 9 Dec 1772 (a surprising ten months after her brother).

Between 1774 and 1780, John and Ruth Moies had five more children baptized at Trinity. One, named James, died a day afterwards, only ten days old. Two others were named John, indicating that the couple's first two sons of that name did not live long, either. That leaves four children who might have grown to adulthood. John Moies also acted as sponsor at the baptism of another family's baby, Joshua Convers Hyde, in 1777.

Moies's name shows up as a taxpayer on Boston's 1780 "Takings" list, and in 1781 the town granted him a license to sell liquor as a retailer (as opposed to a tavern-keeper) at "the Head of Long Lane." Furthermore, in 1783 John Moies made out a deposition that stated:

in the month of March 1776 I was desired of John Andrews to go into Mr. Samuel Elliot's Store in Wilsons Lane and to watch there in order to prevent the British Soldiers then in town from plundering the goods in the store. When I first entered I found the floor covered near two feet deep with bound books, pamphlets, and books in sheets, very much torn and defaced. The books appeared to have been taken out of four or five trunks of boxes then standing on the floor, other boxes and bales of goods marked with Mr. Elliot's mark were broke open and scattered about the store
Thus, within seven years of Moies's sentence for theft, Boston shopkeepers trusted him to stop British soldiers from looting. (Not that he actually managed to do so.) Other records indicate he lived on Milk Street and, in 1789, served in fire engine company #7. A decade after being arrested in a British army uniform, Moies was an American citizen, working and raising a family in Boston even while the U.S. of A. was at war with Britain.

Moies died in Boston on 12 May 1789, aged forty-nine, his death recorded at Trinity Church. It looks like his son John moved back to Dorchester by 1798, having children there with his wife Mary.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

John Moies, British private and prisoner

In May 1769, John Moies was about twenty-nine years old, a private in His Majesty's 14th Regiment of Foot, stationed in Boston. He was also one of six soldiers brought up on charges for (as I described yesterday) robbing the shop of John Carnes. The indictment listed these stolen goods:

  • 40 shillings in coins
  • 22 pairs of men's shoes
  • 36 woolen stockings
  • 3 pairs of black mitts
  • 20 watch seals
  • various amounts of fabric, ranging from "25 yards of holland" worth £6 to "one yard of cambric" worth 8 shillings
The editors of The Legal Papers of John Adams point out that "the minutes [of the case] contain no direct evidence of theft, only the circumstantial evidence of possession of the stolen goods." Since the list above differs from what Carnes advertised as missing, however, I think the indictment probably described what goods the prosecution could prove thieves had taken—i.e., what people had recovered or testified to.

In any event, there was enough evidence for the Boston jury to convict Moies of theft. (Of the other five soldiers, four were never tried and the last acquitted.) Moies was sentenced to a whipping of "20 stripes on the naked back" and ordered to pay Carnes triple damages—a whopping sum of £78.13s.6d.

Since Moies couldn't possibly pay that amount, the court quickly ruled under an old Massachusetts law that Carnes was "fully authorized and impowered to sell and dispose of said John Moyse to any of His Majesty's subjects for the space and term of three years." British commanders fumed about a soldier being sold into servitude this way. From New York, Gen. Thomas Gage suggested that a soldier in that situation should be rescued by force and hidden on a navy warship, writing:
Such an infamous piece of Tyranny, savours more of the Meridian of Turkey than a British Province. It is a trite Remark, that these Bawlers against Government under the pretense of Liberty, are always the greatest Tyrants. It is not Tyranny they dislike, they only Squabble for the Power to become Tyrants.

Back in Boston, Gen. Alexander Mackay tried to arrange a settlement between Moies and Carnes, as he had managed to do for another soldier convicted of theft. But his talk with this private shocked him: Moies didn't want to be redeemed. He was apparently glad to go into some sort of servitude. It was "a connivance," Mackay wrote Gage, "in order to secure him his Discharge, or in other words a sort of Legall Dismission from the Regiment." Mackay declared Moies was "a Rascall."

I must add that the muster rolls of the 14th Regiment, which I examined in Britain's National Archives, show that officers continued to list John Moies as in "Prison" until at least May 1772. And during those years the War Office in London continued to send his pay to the regiment's colonel.

The trial of Pvt. Moies is discussed in the second volume of The Legal Papers of John Adams, the commanders' response in The Boston Massacre. I thank Hiller B. Zobel, co-editor of the first and author of the second, for bringing those sources to my attention last year.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to John Moies?