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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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Susan Mason: secret seamstress/weapons supplier

In 1774, Susan Mason was a twelve-year-old girl living in Salem. In mid-November her father, David Mason (1726-1794), was secretly commissioned by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to gather and prepare artillery in case the people had to confront the royal army in Boston. Mason had been the founding captain of Boston's militia artillery train, but had moved out to Salem for better business prospects in the mid-1760s.

The small cannons that Mason gathered were useless until they were mounted on carriages and equipped with all the tools and supplies needed to fire them, including the cloth sacks of gunpowder called "cartridges." Susan remembered how her father recruited all the seamstresses in the family to supply those:

My father…engaged my mother, tho in feeble health, to cut out 5,000 of these cartridges, and set my eldest sister and myself to make them, and I well remember being lock’d up in a chamber while at work for fear our prying mates or Neighbors should discover our employment.
That's from a memoir that Susan Mason, later Susan Smith, wrote out for her nieces and nephews in 1842; it was published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections in 1912.

Later that year an antiquarian interviewed widow Smith, and the notes from that conversation are now part of the Shaw Family Papers at the Library of Congress. They tell the same story this way:
My father fearing to let more into the secret than was absolutely necessary engaged my mother to cut 5000 of these cartridges & set my sister & myself to make them, and we were often locked up in a chamber, for fear some of our prying mates or neighbors should find out the nature of our employment & undoubtedly the first (of such) instruments for the defence of our national liberty was made by my sister & myself.

Halloween? Bah, humbug!

Revolutionary Boston didn't celebrated Halloween; the society was too busy getting ready, with excitement or dread, for "Pope Night" on the 5th. But here's an earlier posting about Boston boys and their ghosts.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Mercy Warren: mother who does everything

I've come to think of Mercy Warren as eighteenth-century Massachusetts's Lady Who Does Everything More Beautifully Than You.

She was from the top class of colonial society, sister of James Otis, Jr., and Samuel A. Otis, and wife of Plymouth County politician James Warren. She wrote and published Patriot propaganda before and during the war, and afterward wrote one of the first American histories of the Revolution, now available on CD-ROM. The Pilgrim Hall Museum in Plymouth has a card table with a top she embroidered intricately to look like a game is being played. Even Abigail Adams was intimidated by her when they first started to correspond.

And, of course, her children adored her. Here is Mercy's letter to her husband James from Plymouth on 21 Sept 1775. He was probably away from home presiding over the Massachusetts Provincial Congress.

I found Charles & Henry sitting on the steps of the front door when I arrived—they had just been expressing their ardent wishes to each other that mamah would come in before dinner when I turned the corner having our habitation. One of them had just finished an exclamation to the other "Oh what would I give if mamah was now in sight," you may easily judge what was their rapture when they saw their wishes instantly compleated.

The one leaped into the street to meet me—the other ran into the house in an extacy of joy to communicate the tidings, & finding my children well at this sickly season you will not wonder that with a joy at least equal to their I ran hastily into the entry; but before I had reached the stair top was met by all the lovely flock. Winslow half affronted that I had delayed coming home so long & more than half happy in the return of his fond mother, turned up his smiling cheek to receive a kiss while he failed in the effort to command the grave muscles of his countenance.

George’s brow was covered with pleasure & his grave features not only danced in smiles but broke into a real laugh more expressive of his heartfelt happiness than all the powers of language could convey and before I could sit down and lay aside my riding attire all the choice gleanings of the Garden were offered each one pressing before the other to pour the yellow produce into their mamah’s lap.

Not a complaint was uttered—not a tale was told through the day but what they thought would contribute to the happiness of their best friend; but how short lived is human happiness. The ensuing each one had his little grievance to repeat, as important to them as the laying an unconstitutional tax to the patriot or the piratical seazure of a ship & cargo, after much labour & the promising expectation of profitable returns when the voyage was compleat—but the umpire in your absence soon accommodated all matters to mutual satisfaction and the day was spent in much cheerfulness encircled by my sons.
This letter is from Alice Brown's Mercy Warren, published in 1896.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Elizabeth Hartigan: newlywed

I’ve felt like I’ve been neglecting half of colonial Boston’s population. Not the children (who were more than half, and whom I spend extra time on). I mean the females. So between now and “Pope Night,” I’ll try to focus on a few women’s stories.

Of course, those stories often come to light because of the women’s relationships with men, who conducted most of the public business of the times and therefore got into documentary records more often. And that’s the case with my first subject: Elizabeth Henderson.

On 2 Sept 1769 at Trinity Church in Boston, Elizabeth Henderson married “James Hartigan a Soldier of the 29th.” I don’t know where or when she was born, or how the couple had met.

Had Elizabeth come down from Halifax with that army regiment? Was she a Massachusetts woman who fell in love with a soldier? Did she grow up in Boston, or move to the town from the countryside or Britain? Was she part of the mainstream English, Congregationalist society, or was she already in some ways an outsider? She did, after all, marry an Irish soldier in an Anglican church. Was this her first marriage?

The following 5 March, Pvt. Hartigan was sent by Capt. Thomas Preston to reinforce the sentry outside the Customs office on King Street. An angry crowd was throwing snowballs because that sentry had clubbed an apprentice earlier in the evening. By the end of the night, Hartigan and most of his comrades had fired their muskets, and five civilians were dead or dying. The next day, Hartigan and his colleagues were arrested for what locals called a "Massacre."

Hartigan remained in jail through spring and summer. His regiment was withdrawn to Castle William in the harbor and then redeployed to New Jersey. On 4 May a Boston official “warned out” Elizabeth. The record of that warning appears in The Legal Papers of John Adams:

Elisabeth Hartick a Soldiers Wife Lodges att Mr Hiklans in Kings Street he is one of the 29 Rajment Now in Goal in Boston to be tryed for the murder of the people in Kings Street the Last March Warned in his Majestys Name to Depart this town of Boston in 14 days.
“Warning out” wasn’t quite as unwelcoming as it sounds. Officials didn’t actually force anyone to leave. But by telling a head of household to do so, they absolved the town of financial responsibility if that family became too indigent or sick to take care of themselves.

In the case of Elizabeth Hartigan, this notice tells us that she did not have any children or other relatives living with her in mid-1770. Otherwise, they would have been listed as well.

I suspect that the “John Hiklan” she was lodging with was John Hickling, who left a deposition about what he'd seen at the Massacre and was mentioned by a couple of other witnesses. For example, Joseph Hillyer told the court during the soldiers’ trial, “A little boy, at Mr. Hicklings told me People were kill’d.” If Elizabeth had been in Hickling’s house in March, therefore, she would have been within earshot of the riot and shootings.


Pvt. Hartigan was acquitted of all charges in Nov 1770, and rejoined the 29th in New Jersey. The last record of him is on the regiment’s muster roll dated 30 April 1772 in St. Augustine, Florida. It lists James Hartigan as “Deceased 4th. Nov 1771.”

What happened to Elizabeth? Again, I don’t know. But I’ll note that at St. John’s Church in Essex, New Jersey, an Elizabeth Hartigan married James Brown on 5 Jan 1772. They were both said to be “of New York.” I wouldn’t even suggest that this was the soldier’s widow, quickly remarrying, except that the very next wedding on that church register is “John Burnet to Margaret Weeks, both of 29th Regt.,” on 16 Feb, and a man from the 29th had married there in the previous March as well. So that was where people associated with the 29th went to marry, and a new marriage for Elizabeth is a nice possibility to contemplate. But good luck to anyone trying to track down an "Elizabeth Brown" in New York!

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Oliver M. Dickerson and Where the Money Went

This morning the New York Times reported that the Bush-Cheney administration plans to ask for $121 billion for the U.S. Army in fiscal year 2008, rather than the $138 billion the Army sought. (Last year’s budget was $112 billion.) However, the same story also said the administration was expanding “what costs can be included in so-called supplemental spending bills,” which until recently were emergency measures only. Such bills are still kept out of the normal budgeting process and not counted as part of the U.S. government’s deficit. So we really don’t know what the administration's Army funding plans are, or where the money's coming from.

Earlier in the week, the newspaper broke the story that the commission of the I.R.S. told staff in Louisiana and Mississippi that “He prefers that we do not resume any enforcement actions until after Dec. 31 due to the upcoming elections, holiday season, etc.” The paper noted, “four former I.R.S. commissioners, who served under presidents of both parties, said that [easing off tax collections] because of an election was improper and indefensible.”

All of which put me in mind of an article I read about tricky government budgeting and revenue-collecting during the pre-Revolutionary period. The article is Oliver M. Dickerson’s “Use Made of the Revenue from the Tax on Tea,” which appeared in the New England Quarterly in 1958.

I find Dickerson's work hard to evaluate. On the one hand, he probably spent more time studying the U.K. Treasury Office papers about the North American Customs office than anyone else. He published several other provocative articles and the book The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution based on that research.

On the other hand, Dickerson was almost hostile to the British government of the 1760s-70s, and his theories leaned toward the conspiratorial. He presented the Customs establishment as a corrupt “racket,” and even took seriously Bostonians' flimsy accusations that its personnel had participated in the Massacre of 1770.

So Dickerson’s articles offer lots of fascinating information about how the British colonial administration worked—subsidizing friendly newspaper printers, for instance—but then the last couple of pages make me feel like I’ve been steered off a cliff. That leaves me less confident about all that interesting information that came before.

For instance, the article I cited above says that after the Townshend Act of 1767, which put new duties on tea, glass, lead, paper, and painter's colors shipped to North America, “Total collections on articles other than tea were so unimportant that they were repealed in 1770.” Dickerson had access to these numbers. But is his interpretation reliable? Or was he putting the worst possible spin on the British government's choice to repeal all but the tea tax?

Dickerson does seem to have the goods on where the Townshend Act revenue actually paid for. It was widely said in 1767, and often since, that the British government imposed those new duties in order to pay for the Seven Years’ War and the costs of defending the colonies. Dickerson argued that that's not where the money went. He wrote:

Under previous acts all revenue arising from parliamentary taxation applicable to the colonies was collected by the Customs Commissioners in London, and paid into the Treasury to be expended by Parliament for the defense of the colonies. The Townshend Revenue Act…set up the innovation that revenue arising under this act should first be used “to make a more certain and adequate provision for the charge of the administration of justice and the support of civil government in such of the colonies as it shall be found necessary.” . . .

The net effect was to impose the vast charges incident to the operation of the new system upon the receipts from the Navigation and Sugar acts and to open the entire American revenue to the political patronage system.
Thus, the older Navigation and Sugar Acts revenues were tapped to pay for an expanded Customs bureaucracy, leaving less for London to put toward defense. The new Townshend Act revenues instead covered the salary of certain royal appointees:
Four classes of colonial officials were selected as coming under the provisions of the act. These were governors, lieutenant governors, attorneys general, and chief justices, and other provincial judges. In addition some of the admiralty judges were paid all or part of their salaries in the same way, apparently without color of law. Payments were limited to officers in the three provinces of Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York.
Gov. Thomas Hutchinson (shown above) received £1,500 a year after 1771, for example; the governors of New York £2,000.

Previously, the colonies’ legislatures had set and paid those governors’ salaries. We might assume that locals were happy to be relieved of that cost. In fact, being able to limit and delay salaries for royal appointees was the only leverage that the legislature, and thus the people, had over those men. They couldn’t be voted out of office, after all. By providing governors, judges, and other officials with salaries, the London government both gave them a personal interest in seeing Customs laws enforced and insulated them from local opposition.

Furthermore, when Dickerson totaled up all the salaries and other expenses drawn from the Townshend Act revenues, he came out with £36,200. But he found the total revenue collected was £33,155. The difference, he wrote, was made up from the older duties. So the new system was actually draining away money that had previously gone in part to colonial defense, and putting it toward more salaries for Customs officers and other royal appointees.

At least, that's what Dickerson found. Now I don't particularly feel like spending decades rooting through Treasury Office files at the U.K.'s National Archives to confirm his numbers. But I don't want to dismiss them out of hand, either. It's always worth thinking about how the government's collecting money and where it's really going.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Simons Speaks on Witches and More

D. Brenton Simons, author of Witches, Rakes, and Rogues: True Stories of Scam, Scandal, Murder and Mayhem in Boston, 1630-1775, will speak at the Waltham Public Library on Monday, 30 October, at 7:30 PM.

I know this is the season for witches, but I like the rogues in Brent's book best. One of the finest is Dr. Seth Hudson. Here are four entries from young printer John Boyles's "Journal of Occurrences in Boston" that give a flavor of the man.

10 Sept 1761: “Jeremiah Dexter, lately detected in passing counterfeit dollars stood an hour in the Pillory in the presence of great number of Spectators, many of whom were very liberal in bestowing Rotten Eggs upon Mr. Dexter, particularly Dr. Seth Hudson.”

8 Oct 1761: “Dr. Seth Hudson, and Mr. Joshua How were committed to Goal, being charged with forging Treasurer’s Notes.”

10 Mar 1762: “Doctor Seth Hudson, having been convicted on four several Indictments of Counterfeiting the Treasurer’s Notes, was sentenced by the Superior Court, to be set in the Pillory one hour, to be whiped 20 Stripes, to suffer one year’s Imprisonment, and to pay a fine of £100 to the King, upon each Conviction.”

10 Sept 1767: “Lately died of the Small-Pox in Albany, Dr. Seth Hudson, famous for the particular Marks of Distinction some years since conferred on him by the Superior Court of this Province for his ingenious Practice.”
In addition, Maureen Regan will lead a "Witches, Sex, and Scandal in Colonial Boston Walking Tour" on Saturday, 28 October, starting at Faneuil Hall at 10:30 A.M. and ending about noon with Brent signing his book. Registration is limited; $20 for adults, $16 for children under twelve. Contact the New England Historic Genealogical Society to reserve a space. Rain date: 11 November.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Newton Prince: London pensioner

A while back I promised to complete the story of Newton Prince, a black businessman in Boston—at least as much as I’ve been able to find out. My earlier entries on him:

In his personal life, Prince married Phillis Binn, a free black woman, on 26 March 1767. The Rev. Dr. Joseph Sewall married them in the Old South Meeting-House, where Prince was a member.

Gilbert Deblois, a prominent merchant and part-owner of the building called Concert Hall, wrote on 10 Mar 1781:
Mr. Newton Prince & his Wife, where [sic] for many Years, Inhabitants of Boston, New England, and Supported themselves there with Reputation in the Pastrycook branch by attending & Cooking at most of the Public Entertainments &c.
Prince himself wrote that “during a series of Years [he] supported himself & family in a decent & comfortable way.”

In his new book Rough Crossings, Simon Schama presents Prince as a contrast to Crispus Attucks, now often celebrated as an American hero:
But the story of Newton Prince, the black barber who testified on behalf of the redcoats is, unsurprisingly, much less well known. For his temerity, Prince was tarred and feathered by infuriated Patriots, so naturally in 1776 he opted for General Howe and as evacuated with the British.
I think Schama’s in error. And not just because Prince wasn’t a barber. (That was a common profession for black men.) I suspect Schama read too much into what Newton Prince told the British government in September 1780.

At that time, Prince was applying for financial support from the Crown as a Loyalist. That process required presenting evidence that one had been loyal to the royal government before and during the Revolutionary War, and suffered for that loyalty. Prince described himself as having been
a principle Evidence on behalf of the Crown, wherein Captn. Preston of the 29th: Regmts of Foot was plantiffe [actually, defendant]; the Inhabitants, (such as were not attach’d to Government) deserted him, & Enter’d into associations, to utterly destroy him, by Tarring & Feathering him, a mode of punishment peculiar to themselves.
[This quotation and the one from Deblois above come from Prince's file at the British National Archives/PRO: Audit Office 13/75, 282-7.]

I suspect Schama or his researchers saw that passage and interpreted it to mean that a mob had actually tarred and feathered Prince. But I think crowds threatened Prince, along with other people they perceived as working-class servants of the royal government. I have three reasons for my conclusion:
  • Prince doesn't actually describe suffering a physical attack, as other tar-and-feathers victims did.
  • His character witnesses, including Deblois and Sir William Pepperell, Bart., don't describe him as suffering such an attack, either.
  • Tar-and-feathering was a public punishment. Crown officials and even newspapers took notice of it, but there's no documentation of such an attack on a black man in Boston.
Prince instead emphasized his economic losses from leaving Boston: his shop, his stock, and the value of debts that he’d never be able to collect. In March 1776, the Prince family had gone to Halifax, along with the rest of Boston’s evacuees. There Newton supported himself by working for Deblois, probably as a cook or other house servant.

Later the Princes sailed to London. By the early 1780s, Prince was running a coal and chandler’s shop in the capital of the British Empire. (The word “chandler” can mean either "candlemaker" or "retailer of provisions and supplies," usually for ships. Prince was probably the latter.)

His wife was in poor health in 1783 when he applied for temporary assistance—though again, he might have emphasized that detail to bolster his need for assistance. This wife may have been Phillis, or he may have remarried; the file does not state her given name.

The Loyalists Commission granted Newton Prince an annual pension of £10. Not a large amount, as those grants went, but a steady supplemental income for a working man. According to Alfred Jones’s The Loyalists of Massachusetts, Prince collected his pension until he died in 1819.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Brown College Tackles Slavery in its Past

Seth Rockman, professor of history at Brown University, recently posted on the H-Net list devoted to the study of slavery about Brown's recent report on its "historical relationship to slavery and the transatlantic slave trade." The Brown family that helped endow that college soon after its founding included both slave traders and Abolitionists. After the Civil War, the institution naturally emphasized the latter connections, but it's now used its resources to explore how slavery and slave imports helped support its early years.

Prof. Rockman wrote:

For one thing, you can download the report [PDF, 6 MB], which contains an excellent narrative of the eighteenth-century Atlantic economy, the history of reparations, and the connection between slavery and how race is lived in America today.

Also at this site, you'll find some amazing classroom resources for teaching the eighteenth-century slave trade. Some stunning documents from the Brown Family Business Papers (housed at the John Carter Brown Library) have been digitalized and transcribed.

Most relevant are those pertaining to the 1764-65 slave-trading voyage of the brig Sally. The entire logbook is available, making it possible to watch Capt. Esak Hopkins negotiate the price of every single man, woman, and child he purchased along the West African coast. The records also document a shipboard rebellion during the Middle Passage. You'll also find all the papers pertaining to the outfitting of the vessel, the hiring of the crew, the sailing instructions from the Browns, letters from Caribbean factors, and so forth. The scans are incredibly clear.
There's also a classroom curriculum. (Postings at Boston 1775 addressing slavery in eastern Massachusetts include items about a legless escapee, civil rights lobbying in 1773, and how activist judges ended slavery after the war.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Teaching All the Malignity of Vice

Carnivalesque, a blog carnival from Denmark, recently took note of Boston 1775's entry on Josiah Quincy, Jr., and in turn alerted me to a discussion on Earmarks of Early Modern Culture of what one British critic had to say about novels in 1778:

Every corner of the kingdom is abundantly supplied with them. In vain is youth secluded from the corruptions of the living world. Books are commonly allowed them with little restriction, as innocent amusements; yet these often pollute the heart in the recesses of the closet, inflame the passions at a distance from temptation, and teach all the malignity of vice in solitude.
That sort of rhetoric would have resonated in Revolutionary Boston, with its Puritan roots, but the war and the coming of the republic seems to have shaken up the culture. The town got its first (underground) theater in 1792, and it had connections with many of America's earliest novels:

Monday, October 23, 2006

John Adams Perceives "Obloquy Enough"

One very important element of John Adams’s decision to defend the soldiers after the Boston Massacre of March 1770, especially as he described it while looking back from the next century, was that he did so in the face of public disapproval. He was "hazarding a Popularity very general and very hardly earned," he wrote in his Autobiography more than thirty years later.

In fact, Adams’s political popularity went up shortly after he agreed to take the case. As Adams recalled, “A Town Meeting was called for the Choice of a Successor to Mr. [James] Bowdoin” in the General Court in June 1770. “I was chosen by a large Majority.” (Indeed, 418 votes out of 536.) This was the highest office he'd held up to that time. Adams’s public career didn't suffer because of his military clients.

But agreeing to defend the soldiers was one thing. Actually helping to get most of them acquitted and the last two convicted of manslaughter rather than murder might have been more than Adams’s supporters had wanted. Perhaps he suffered from popular resentment after the verdicts in late 1770.

Again, Adams’s own words imply otherwise. According to his diary, on 29 Dec 1772 selectman Samuel Pemberton and town representative Samuel Adams (also John’s second cousin) asked him to “deliver an Oration in Public upon the ensuing 5th. of March.” This was an honor reserved for leaders among the Whigs.

Adams declined on two grounds. First, “that the feeble State of my Health rendered me quite willing to devote myself forever to private Life.” He was feeling ill and trying to retire from politics. (In 1998, Profs. John Ferling and Lewis E. Braverman suggested he was suffering from a thyroid condition.)

Adams’s second reason was also the earliest evidence of his concern for the public disliking how he defended the accused:

the Part I took in the Tryal of the Soldiers. Tho the Subject of the Oration, was quite compatible with the Verdict of the jury, in that Case, and indeed, even with the absolute Innocence of the Soldiers yet I found the World in general were not capable or not willing to make the Distinction. And therefore, by making an Oration upon this Occasion, I should only expose myself to the Lash of ignorant and malicious Tongues on both Sides of the Question.
As I read that passage, Adams was not saying that people had already criticized him, but rather that they would start criticizing him if he attacked the soldiers’ actions in an oration after having defended them in court.

The Boston committee found someone else to orate on 5 March 1773. Here’s what John Adams wrote in his diary that day:
Heard an Oration, at Mr. Hunts Meeting House [i.e., Old South], by Dr. Benja. Church, in Commemoration of the Massacre in Kings Street, 3 Years ago. That large Church was filled and crouded in every Pew, Seat, Alley, and Gallery, by an Audience of several Thousands of People of all Ages and Characters and of both Sexes.

I have Reason to remember that fatal Night. The Part I took in Defence of Captn. Preston and the Soldiers, procured me Anxiety, and Obloquy enough. It was, however, one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the jury was exactly right.

This however is no Reason why the Town should not call the Action of that Night a Massacre, nor is it any Argument in favour of the Governor or Minister, who caused them to be sent here. But it is the strongest of Proofs of the Danger of standing Armies.
To me it looks like Adams was subconsciously feeling a little regret for not being the center of attention in Old South; he always did fancy himself an orator. He also seems to have been reassuring himself, perhaps a little too vigorously, that he’d done the right thing in 1770.

Adams’s 1773 remark about “Obloquy enough” is the earliest sign we have of anyone blaming him for defending the soldiers, and it's not a very strong sign. The diary doesn’t offer specific names or dates for that criticism. Probably there were some people who thought Adams made the wrong decision, just as Josiah Quincy, Jr., had to explain himself to his father in 1770, but there's no evidence that either attorney's practice, political standing, or person suffered as a result.

Nevertheless, by 1802, Adams wrote about his decision producing “a Clamour and popular Suspicions and prejudices, which are not yet worn out and never will be forgotten as long as History of this Period is read.” What had produced such a strong perception? By then he'd run for President twice in nasty partisan races; the Jeffersonians may well have used Adams's defense of the soldiers as evidence that he'd always been too pro-British.

But Adams had started to build up his perception of popular resentment about thirty years before, before he ever met Jefferson. In his desire to perceive himself as a "gallant, generous, manly and disinterested" servant of his country, Adams might simply have let his memories grow more stark.

None of this takes away from the principled decisions that John Adams made in 1770. He believed in the value of a fair trial—not just for the defendants' sake, but for society's sake. Despite opposing the presence of army regiments in Boston, and knowing most of his friends and neighbors did as well, he defended the accused soldiers with vigor and competence. Though he wrote about making his choice with "no hesitation," that decision was probably not easy.

And the loudest critic might really have been in the back of Adams's own mind.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

John Adams's Tale of the "Irish Infant"

As John Adams described it in his Autobiography, the man who convinced him to defend the soldiers after the Boston Massacre was “Mr. Forrest...who was then called the Irish Infant.” Who was this man, and what did he say about the case?

James Forrest was a merchant from Ireland who brought his family to Boston in 1761. Like most (but not all) recent immigrants to Massachusetts, he sided with the royal government rather than the Whigs during the political disputes of the following years.

In October 1768, after four army regiments arrived in Boston, newspapers reported, “Mr. Forrest from Ireland had let them a house lately purchased for about £50 sterling, at the rate of £60 sterling per annum.” The army was still using this building in “New Boston” (also called West Boston or, later, the West End) for a barracks in 1770.

Forrest was at the British Coffee-House on 5 Sept 1769 when James Otis, Jr., and Customs Commissioner John Robinson had their fight. He was there again on the night of 5 March with a captain from the 29th regiment. On hearing the fire alarm, the men went up to the roof and saw the shootings on King Street from above.

According to Adams, the next morning Forrest came to him in tears, desperately seeking a lawyer to represent the army captain accused of murder after those shootings. Adams said Forrest was known around town as the “Irish Infant,” possibly because he cried a lot, but I haven’t found any independent confirmation of that nickname or the lachrymose tendency.

Forrest remained loyal to the British government. In December 1775, during the siege of Boston, he organized a militia company called the Loyal Irish Volunteers. It never saw a battle, however, and might simply have helped patrol the town or given its genteel members a way to keep busy that winter. Forrest evacuated Boston with the British army in March 1776. The Massachusetts government banned him from returning two years later, along with many other prominent Crown appointees and supporters.

At the end of the war, the British government formed a “Royal Commission on the Losses and Services of American Loyalists” to compensate subjects who had remained loyal to the Crown. Claimants had to submit evidence of their “losses and services” in the form of sworn statements and testimonials from officials and other people. These documents are filed in the U.K.’s National Archives (formerly the Public Records Office), and they’ve been the basis of many books and studies.

According to Hiller B. Zobel’s The Boston Massacre, Forrest submitted a stack of documents to support his claim to have been an energetic servant of the king. However, he didn’t write a word about finding legal counsel for Capt. Preston in 1770. Neither did his character witnesses, including Gen. Thomas Gage. Other Loyalists mentioned the Massacre case and their roles in the trial, so there was no reason for Forrest to leave it out.

Furthermore, no one before John Adams in 1802 connected Forrest to the Massacre trial. Josiah Quincy, Jr., was evidently approached by an army sergeant, not a merchant. Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson sent detailed reports on the situation to London, mentioning several men as helpful but not Forrest. So the "Irish Infant" offers no corroboration for Adams's memory, and some additional questions.

TOMORROW: How Adams's perception evolved over time.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Checking John Adams's Numbers

Yesterday I quoted John Adams's recollection of how he agreed to defend Capt. Thomas Preston and the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre, and then wondered if that account was accurate. Adams wrote his Autobiography starting in 1802. Do documents from 1770 bear out its statements?

We know more about John Adams’s private life than we do about most of his "Founding Father" colleagues because his diaries and letters to his wife Abigail are unusually candid. Unfortunately, those sources offer no clues about how he came to take the Massacre case. Adams was so busy in 1770 that he wrote nothing in his diary between Christopher Seider’s funeral (26 February) and late June. He also wrote nothing about the Massacre trials in November and December. And when he and Abigail were living together, they didn’t need to send letters to each other.

So Adams probably wrote the passage in his Autobiography based on his memory alone. We therefore shouldn’t expect accuracy in all the details, but we should also keep in mind that Adams’s memory of March 1770 was colored and shaped by subsequent events, how he wanted others to see him, and (most important) how he wanted to see himself.

One issue is the timing. Adams wrote that he agreed to represent Capt. Thomas Preston the day after the shootings—but then he added “I think it was,” leaving a little wiggle room. According to Col. Josiah Quincy’s letter from later in the month, a British sergeant did seek lawyers on the captain’s behalf on 6 March. So it’s reasonable to accept that someone asked Adams that day as well.

But the exchange between Col. Quincy and his son Josiah also implies that it took more than a day for the soldiers to line up their defense team. Young Quincy assured his father that he consulted with many Boston Whigs before making up his mind (though, significantly, he didn't include among those reassurances that he held out until John Adams agreed to take the case as well). The elder Quincy seems to have written to his son soon after hearing about that decision, and his letter was dated 22 March. So what Adams recalled as a quick decision on 6 March may well have taken more than a week.

And what about the money Adams earned from the case? He recalled receiving one guinea as a retainer, ten more from Capt. Preston, and eight from the soldiers. A golden guinea was worth 21 shillings, so overall he said he took in £19.19s.

We have an account of what the royal army paid to defend its men, prepared in late 1770 by Lt. Col. William Dalrymple and reprinted in the The Legal Papers of John Adams. The figures are:

  • £10.10s. for a retainer in Preston’s case
  • £10.10s. for a retainer in the soldiers’ case
  • £63 for the work of Preston’s trial
  • £42 for the work of the soldiers’ trial
  • £10.10s. for an assistant lawyer (Quincy?)
  • £3.12s. “To an Attorney for taking some Affidavits” (Sampson Salter Blowers? This young lawyer investigated jurors, according to a confidential letter from Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson.)
So in all, the army paid more than £140 to its lawyers. Either Robert Auchmuty, the most senior attorney, took over three-quarters of that total, or Adams actually earned a lot more from the case than he recalled.

TOMORROW: What did the “Irish Infant” have to say about convincing Adams to take the case?

Friday, October 20, 2006

John Adams Takes the Case

Earlier this week, I quoted a letter from young Boston lawyer Josiah Quincy, Jr., explaining why he had agreed to represent Capt. Thomas Preston and the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre. Here's the equivalent account from Quincy's colleague John Adams.

The next Morning I think it was [i.e., 6 March 1770], sitting in my Office, near the Steps of the Town house Stairs, Mr. [James] Forrest came in, who was then called the Irish Infant. I had some Acquaintance with him. With tears streaming from his Eyes, he said I am come with a very solemn Message from a very unfortunate Man, Captain Preston in Prison. He wishes for Council, and can get none.

I have waited on Mr. [Josiah] Quincy, who says he will engage if you will give him your Assistance: without it possitively he will not. Even Mr. [Robert] Auchmuty declines unless you will engage. . . .

I had no hesitation in answering that Council ought to be the very last thing that an accused Person should want [i.e., be without] in a free Country. That the Bar ought in my opinion to be independent and impartial at all Times And in every Circumstance. And that Persons whose Lives were at Stake ought to have the Council they preferred: But he must be sensible this would be as important a Cause as ever was tryed in any Court or Country of the World: and that every Lawyer must hold himself responsible not only to his Country, but to the highest and most infallible of all Trybunals for the Part he should Act.

He must therefore expect from me no Art or Address, No Sophistry or Prevarication in such a Cause; nor any thing more than Fact, Evidence and Law would justify. Captain Preston he said requested and desired no more: and that he had such an Opinion, from all he had heard from all Parties of me, that he could chearfully trust his Life with me, upon those Principles.

And said Forrest, as God almighty is my judge I believe him an innocent Man. I replied that must be ascertained by his Tryal, and if he thinks he cannot have a fair Tryal of that Issue without my Assistance, without hesitation he shall have it.

Upon this, Forrest offered me a single Guinea as a retaining fee and I readily accepted it. From first to last I never said a Word about fees, in any of those Cases, and I should have said nothing about them here, if Calumnies and Insinuations had not been propagated that I was tempted by great fees and enormous sums of Money.

Before or after the Tryal, Preston sent me ten Guineas and at the Tryal of the Soldiers afterwards Eight Guineas more, which were all the fees I ever received or were offered to me, and I should not have said any thing on the subject to my Clients if they had never offered me any Thing.

This was all the pecuniary Reward I ever had for fourteen or fifteen days labour, in the most exhausting and fatiguing Causes I ever tried: for hazarding a Popularity very general and very hardly earned: and for incurring a Clamour and popular Suspicions and prejudices, which are not yet worn out and never will be forgotten as long as History of this Period is read.

For the Experience of all my Life has proved to me, that the Memory of Malice is faithfull, and more, it continually adds to its Stock; while that of Kindness and Friendship is not only frail but treacherous. It was immediately bruited abroad that I had engaged for Preston and the Soldiers, and occasioned a great clamour which the Friends of Government delighted to hear, and slyly and secretly fomented with all their Art.
This is an inspiring picture of a lawyer speaking up for both the right of counsel and the power of a trial to determine the truth—in spite of both popular resentment and the insinuations of political enemies. It's become the standard U.S. illustration of both how important the right of counsel is, and how admirable Adams was. But is it accurate?

Adams wrote this account in his Autobiography more than thirty years after the event he described. (In contrast, Quincy's comments came within three weeks of the shootings, well before the trial.) Adams was still smarting from having been voted out of the presidency in 1800, his bitterness obvious in his remarks on “the Memory of Malice.” He was also, his biographers have noted, psychologically attracted to the idea of standing up for one's principles in the face of popular disapproval.

Furthermore, I can't help but note how this story portrays Adams in comparison to his colleagues. It says that no lawyer in Boston would take the case unless he agreed to. Not Auchmuty, an older Boston attorney with close ties to the royal governors and a safe appointment as a Vice-Admiralty judge. Nor Quincy, known for his boldness. Whatever else we think about this story, it sure makes John Adams look good.

TOMORROW: Checking John Adams's facts.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Newton Prince: Massacre witness

Newton Prince was among the most valuable witnesses for the defense in the trials that followed the shootings on 5 March 1770, called the "Boston Massacre." Prince was a businessman in the North End of Boston. He was also unusual in being a black businessman with his own shop. Sources from a few years' apart label him a pastry-cook and a "lemon merchant." In any case, he was definitely not enslaved.

Trial notes by special prosecutor Robert Treat Paine and someone working for Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson, along with Prince's own later petitions to the government, preserve some more details. He identified himself as a member of the “South Church”—probably the very large Old South Meeting. Paine apparently wrote down that Prince was from the West Indies, but a 1781 document in the British National Archives says he was “a native of Boston in America.” He was born in 1733, making him about thirty-seven years old in the year of the Massacre.

Prince testified in the two separate trials of Capt. Thomas Preston and the British soldiers under him. The anonymous notes on his evidence at Preston's trial can be found on this page. Here's what Newton Prince had to say at the soldiers' trial, taken down by a shorthand expert, John Hodgson, working for Loyalist printer John Fleeming. (Paragraph breaks added for easier web reading.)

When the bells rung I was at my own house, I run to the door and heard the cry of fire, I put on my shoes, and went out, and met two or three men, asked where the fire was; they said it was something better than fire.

I met some with clubs, some with buckets and bags, and some running before me with sticks in their hands; I went to the Town-house, looked down the street, and saw the soldiers come out with their guns and bayonets fixed: I saw Capt. Preston with them; there were a number of people by the west door of the Town-house, they said lets go and attack the Main Guard, some said for God’s sake do not meddle with them; they said by God we will go, others again said do not go.

After a while they huzzaed and went down King-street; there was a number of people came down Prison-lane, and some from the Post-office; they went down to the Custom house, and I went down.

The soldiers were all placed round in a circle with their guns breast high. I stood on the right wing, when the Captain came the people crouded in on him to speak to him, and I went behind them, I went next to the Custom-house door, there were people all round the soldiers.

Q. How near were the people to the soldiers?

A. About three or four feet from the point of their bayonets, the thickest part was by Capt. Preston. When I got to the corner I saw people with sticks striking on their guns at the right wing. I apprehended danger and that the guns might go off accidentally. I went to get to the upper end towards the Town house, I had not got to the center of the party, before the guns went off; as they went off I run, and did not stop till I got to the upper end of the Town-house.

Q. How many did you see strike upon their guns?

A. I cannot tell how many of them did it.

Q. Did you hear at that time they were striking, the cry of fire, fire?

A. Yes, they said fire, fire damn you fire, fire you lobsters, fire, you dare not fire.

Q. Did you see any thing thrown at the soldiers?

A. Nothing but snow balls, flung by some youngsters.
My earlier posting on Newton Prince catches him three years later, lobbying a legislator for civil rights. Sooner or later I'll post on what happened to him during and after the war.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Needlework and Other Material Culture

The Concord Museum in Concord, Massachusetts, is hosting an exhibit on American needlework titled "Needles & Haystacks." It includes several pieces by young women and girls from New England. I suspect that some of them studied at Elizabeth Murray's school in Boston; as this page from Radcliffe says, she was a leading tutor in the needle arts and mentor to other businesswomen. (Detail from her Copley portrait to the left.)

The needlework exhibit was organized by the Winterthur Museum, which is an amazing testament to what happens when a crazed collector has all the money in the world.

In other material culture news, the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the Center for Historic American Visual Culture at the American Antiquarian Society have issued a Call for Papers for a conference titled "Fields of Vision: The Material and Visual Culture of New England, 1600-1830." This will be held on 9-10 November 2007 in Boston and Worcester.

The conference write-up states:

It has been twenty-five years since the path-breaking exhibition "New England Begins" opened at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. The exhibit, and its comprehensive three-volume catalogue, brought new scholarly attention to the art, artifacts and built environment of early New England. Since that time, the discipline of material culture has matured, while the emerging field of visual culture has brought new methods and genres to bear on the study of images, objects, landscapes and the technologies that shaped them.

This two-day conference...will assess new approaches to the material and visual culture of New England. Reflecting the scholarly trends that have emerged in the past quarter-century, the conference will extend the chronological scope of inquiry to embrace the eighteenth and early nineteenth century and will explicitly address the innovative work being done in the field of visual culture. We particularly welcome proposals that address Native American and African-American material and visual culture as well as proposals that engage broad theoretical, methodological, and historiographical approaches. The conference committee will consider individual submissions as well as panels with three papers and a moderator/commentator.
Two-page proposals accompanied by a two-page c.v. for each presenter should be sent via electronic mail to Georgia B. Barnhill, curator of graphic arts at the American Antiquarian Society. For further information, please contact her or Martha McNamara. The deadline for submissions is 1 December 2006.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Revolutionary Novel Up for National Book Award

M. T. Anderson's novel The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation—Volume One: The Pox Party has been nominated for a National Book Award. This volume is set in eastern Massachusetts, starting a few years before the Revolutionary War and ending a couple of months into the fighting.
Blogger beta: Boston 1775 - Edit Post "Revolutionary Novel Up for National Book Award"
Anderson's done a number of interviews in conjunction with the book's release, despite being in Nepal. The most lively (so far) was with a Bay Area blog called Not Your Mother's Book Club. Anderson, who grew up here in Middlesex County, describes his inspiration this way:

One time I was watching a historical recreation of that first morning of battle. Lines of redcoats were advancing – never mind the myth about this seeming somehow inept, it is and was completely terrifying – the brilliance of the scarlet coats – the bewildering smoke – their war-scream as they charge with their bayonets … Anyway, I was watching a battle recreation, and watching the awful approach of the redcoats, and suddenly, I thought, My God. If this were this morning two hundred and twenty-five years ago, I’d really be standing here confronting them. I’d be holding my fowling-piece or a rake, facing the most powerful army in the world.
So all you folks out reenacting for us on Battle Road in 2000, you bear some responsibility for this book!

More choice excerpts:
Over the eight years of the Revolutionary war, roughly 4,400 were killed in battle; 6,200 were wounded; and 60,000 – yes, sixty thousand – died from starvation or diseases such as smallpox and dysentery. That final statistic is astounding to me. I believe I am right in saying that more died of dysentery alone than died in battle. We look back on the Revolution and see chiseled men in wigs struggling heroically, illuminated by shafts of celestial light. In fact, this war was long and terrible and full of desperate, senseless, ugly deaths. The wretchedness of the conditions under which it was fought only highlights the bravery and sacrifice of those who fought in it.
And for those young not-mothers in the book club:
...can I make a recommendation specifically to fans of Jane Austen? There is an American girl, Sarah (Sally) Wister, who left an absolutely incredible letter-journal of her time during the Revolution. It is amazing.

She’s this sixteen-year-old sent off into the countryside because the British have taken Philadelphia. She’s staying with her aunt and uncle, as I remember it. And suddenly one day, this Patriot regiment shows up at their door and says they’ll be housing several of the young officers in her house. You can almost see Sally and her cousin’s eyes sliding sideways toward each other.

What follows is an absolutely phenomenal real-life novella as the two meet the officers, flirt, try to understand these men, develop crushes on some, note down their weird habits, play pranks on them, and finally, in the end, try to deal with the death of some of them in battle.

Sally Wister’s ear for dialogue is simply amazing. Her ability to sketch character through observation is incredible. I feel securely that if she had decided to write a novel, she would have been our first great American novelist.
The Foundation for Children's Books will host a conversation with Anderson about Octavian Nothing and his earlier books on 24 October at Boston College. That starts at 7:30 PM in Vanderslice Hall. It costs $15 at the door if you're not an FCB member, $5 if you're a college student with ID. I expect he'll be back from Nepal by then.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Josiah Quincy, Jr., Takes the Case

In the current race for governor of Massachusetts, Republican candidate Kerry Healey is running ads that attack Democratic candidate Deval Patrick for serving as attorney for people who turned out to be guilty. Healey's ads ask, "While lawyers have a right to defend admitted cop killers, do we really want one as our governor?" and, "What kind of person defends a brutal rapist?"

Despite her claim of being an expert on criminal justice, Healey apparently doesn't understand the protections our Constitution provides us. It's not that "lawyers have a right" to defend the accused or even the convicted during their appeals; defendants have the right to that adequate counsel, and the legal system has an obligation to provide it.

In fact, for major crimes this legal tradition predates the U.S. Constitution, as many historians and attorneys in Massachusetts have pointed out in response to Healey's ads. Most editorials on this matter have cited John Adams's decision to represent Capt. Thomas Preston and the soldiers tried for the Boston Massacre on 5 March 1770. I suspect Adams gave himself a little too much credit there, as I'll discuss in a future post.

But we have solid evidence that Adams's younger colleague, Josiah Quincy, Jr., was criticized for agreeing to defend the soldiers, and his response. As discussed in the Colonial Society of Massachusetts's new volume, Portrait of a Patriot, Quincy was an energetic advocate for the Whig party in the pre-Revolutionary political debates. He died of tuberculosis on the eve of the Revolution but was remembered widely because he fathered the first Josiah Quincy to become mayor of Boston. Quincy's father, Col. Josiah Quincy of north Braintree (later called, like almost everything else in this paragraph, Quincy), wrote to Josiah, Jr., on 22 March 1770:

My dear Son,

I am under great affliction, at hearing the bitterest reproaches uttered against you, for having become an advocate for those criminals who are charged with the murder of the fellow citizens. Good God! Is it possible? I will not believe it.

Just before I returned home from Boston, I knew, indeed, that on the day those criminals were committed to prison, a sergeant had inquired for you at your brother’s house,—but I had no apprehension that it was possible an application would be made to you to undertake their defence. Since then I have been told that you have actually engaged for Captain Preston;—and I have heard the severest reflections made upon the occasion, by men who had just before manifested the highest esteem for you, as one destined to be a saviour of your country.

I must own to you, it has filled the bosom of your aged and infirm parent with anxiety and distress, lest it should not only prove true, but destructive of your reputation and interest; and I repeat, I will not believe it, unless it be confirmed by your own mouth, and under your own hand.

Your anxious and distressed parent,...
Even John Adams recalled that the military had approached Quincy first. Ironically, the brother in whose house the sergeant had found him, Samuel Quincy, became one of the prosecutors in the case.

Four days later the young lawyer replied to his father from Boston:
Honoured Sir,

I have little leisure, and less inclination either to know, or to take notice, of those ignorant slanderers, who have dared to utter their "bitter reproaches" in your hearing against me, for having become an advocate for criminals charged with murder. But the sting of reproach when envenomed only by envy and falsehood, will never prove mortal.

Before pouring their reproaches into the ear of the aged and infirm, if they had been friends, they would have surely spared a little reflection on the nature of an attorney’s oath, and duty;—some trifling scrutiny into the business and discharge of his office, and some portion of patience in viewing my past and future conduct.

Let such be told, Sir, that these criminals, charged with murder, are not yet legally guilty, and therefore, however criminal, are entitled, by the laws of God and man, to all legal counsel and aid; that my duty as a man obliged me to undertake; that my duty as a lawyer strengthened the obligation; that from abundant caution, I at first declined being engaged; that after the best advice, and most mature deliberation had determined my judgment, I waited on Captain Preston, and told him I would afford him my assistance; but, prior to this, in presence of two of his friends, I made the most explicit declaration to him, of my real opinion, on the contests (as I expressed it to him) of the times, and that my heart and hand were indissolubly attached to the cause of my country; and finally, that I refused all engagement, until advised and urged to undertake it, by an Adams, a Hancock, a Molineux, a Cushing, a Henshaw, a Pemberton, a Warren, a Cooper, and a Phillips.
Samuel Adams, John Hancock, William Molineux, Thomas Cushing, Joshua (probably) Henshaw, Samuel Pemberton, Dr. Joseph Warren, William (or the Rev. Dr. Samuel) Cooper, and William Phillips made up the bulk of genteel Whig office-holders and activists in Boston. They all agreed that Quincy should take the case and ensure the soldiers received a fair trail.

The young lawyer continued:
This and much more might be told with great truth, and I dare affirm, that you, and this whole people will one day REJOICE, that I became an advocate for the aforesaid "criminals," charged with the murder of our fellow-citizens.

I never harboured the expectation, nor any great desire, that all men should speak well of me. To inquire my duty, and to do it, is my aim. Being mortal, I am subject to error; and conscious of this, I wish to be diffident. Being a rational creature, I judge for myself, according to the light afforded me. When a plan of conduct is formed with an honest deliberation, neither murmuring, slander, nor reproaches move. For my single self, I consider, judge, and with reason hope to be immutable.

There are honest men in all sects—I wish their approbation;—there are wicked bigots in all parties,—I abhor them.

I am, truly and affectionately,

your son,

Josiah Quincy Jun.
A few weeks later, Quincy also agreed to represent Ebenezer Richardson, an even less popular defendant charged with killing young Christopher Seider and already notorious for impregnating his wife's sister.

I think Quincy's letter provides a fine answer to the Republican question: What kind of person defends an unpopular defendant accused of a serious crime?

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Timothy Pickering Oversees the Essex Militia

Timothy Pickering, later U.S. Secretary of State, was colonel of the Essex County militia at the start of the Revolutionary War. He was also the author of An Easy Plan of Discipline for a Militia (available from King's Arms Press) and a Whig activist, though by no means the most radical leader in Salem. Pickering's papers at the Massachusetts Historical Society include some documents from before the war that offer clues about how the militia trained and what equipment men came with.

On 26 February 1775, Lt.-Col. Alexander Leslie and 250 British soldiers entered Salem to search of cannons said to be in a shop north of town. David Mason, secretly employed by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress to gather and prepare those weapons, forced a stand-off at the North River by having the drawbridge hauled up.

Pickering called the first militia drill of the year less than three weeks later, on Tuesday, 14 March. Obviously, war with the Crown army was a serious possibility, and he wanted his men prepared.

Pickering's drill manual listed the equipment for every militiaman as "A firelock, bayonet, waistbelt, a cartridge box, cartridges, and a knapsack." However, in reckoning what his own companies had at hand, he had his officers count the following:

  • firelock
  • bayonet
  • pouch
  • flints
  • cartridges (and loose gunpowder)
  • sword
  • cartouche box
  • balls
  • knapsack
  • screwdriver
Every man in the regiment apparently came with a musket, but far fewer had bayonets or swords. And at least one of the seven companies in the regiment didn't bother to provide an inventory at all, just the men's names.

Pickering's papers also offer insight on the work of the regimental musicians: the drummers and fifers who were the signal corps of the unit. For example, what did the regiment pay a drummer to play at training musters? On 11 Dec 1767, regimental clerk Samuel Derby paid David Hillard “fifteen Shilling Lawfull money for my Son Druming 4 Day in Sd: year.” That was the same amount Derby paid on 12 May 1769 to James Barr, Jr., for “my Last years Druming.” On 14 Feb 1769, Thorndick Dellano provided a receipt for “Six Shilling for Druming in 1768.” Either Dellano didn't work as many days as the other drummers or he ate more. Pickering himself paid for the drummers’ “dinners at the Tavern,” but then deducted the cost from their wages.

The collection also includes a bill for “2 Months Schooling, for John Archer Fifer” and “1 months Schooling for Benja. Thomson on the Fife.” Was this the Benjamin Thompson who became Count Rumford? He worked in Salem from Oct 1766 to sometime after Nov 1768 as a teenaged assistant to merchant John Appleton, and he'd be just the sort of clever, ambitious lad to attach himself to the regiment.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Swearing into Office "So Help Me God"

This week, the H-OIEAHC email list had a discussion, prompted by a query from historians at the Smithsonian Institution, about when and how presidents started to end their oath of office with the phrase "so help me God." This weighty question is, of course, a stalking-horse in the U.S. of A.'s ongoing debate about protecting church from state and vice versa.

The Constitution specifies the oath of office that the President must recite on taking office:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.
A tradition has grown up that George Washington added "So help me God" after he took the oath. The Library of Congress's website on presidential inaugurations says so, but without a source. And as of yesterday no one on the email list had found contemporaneous evidence to back up that statement.

Instead, the Smithsonian folks shared the detailed eyewitnesses account of the ceremony from the Comte de Moustier, which says in part:
A bible was brought out on a crimson pillow on which the President placed his hand and pronounced after the Chancellor [Robert R. Livingston] the following words: “I solemnly swear to faithfully uphold the duties of the President of the United States and to do all that is in my power to preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States.” Whereupon the Chancellor, making a sign to the crowd with his hat, cried “Long live George Washington, President of the United States.”
The count wrote in French, which explains the variation in wording from the Constitution's language.

EyewitnesstoHistory.com quotes Sen. William Maclay's description of that first inauguration, which has its own amusements:
The Vice-President rose and addressed a short sentence to him. The import of it was that he should now take the oath of office as President. He seemed to have forgot half what he was to say, for he made a dead pause and stood for some time, to appearance, in a vacant mood. . . . [Washington] was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket. He trembled, and several times could scarce make out to read, though it must be supposed he had often read it before.

He put part of the fingers of his left hand into the side of what I think the tailors call the fall of the breeches, changing the paper into his left hand. After some time he then did the same with some of the fingers of his right hand.

When he came to the words all the world, he made a flourish with his right hand, which left rather an ungainly impression.
Maclay was either too distracted by the president's hands to record his oath (or keep the hands straight), or he didn't think the recitation of the oath was worth recording. The same webpage says Livingston hadn't thought to bring a bible, so someone had to run to the nearby Masonic lodge to fetch one—a detail that doesn't indicate officials had the religious aspects of the ceremony uppermost on their mind.

The Constitution says nothing about the oaths of lower officials, so one of the first pieces of business the new Congress members had addressed when they met earlier in 1789 was how they and other officials would be sworn in. On 6 April, the House of Representatives came up with this:
That the form of the oath to be taken by the members of this Houses, as required by the third clause of the sixth article of the Constitution of Government of the United States, be as followeth, to wit: "I, A B a Representative of the United States in the Congress thereof, do solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) in the presence of Almighty GOD, that I will support the Constitution of the United States. So help me GOD."
However, by the time that law became the first statute of the first Congress under the new federal system on 1 June, the oath had been cut down considerably. Its final form was:
I, A. B. do solemnly swear or affirm (as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States.
On 3 June, Vice President Adams and members of the Senate took time to administer this oath to each other.

The Government Printing Office says, "The oath was revised during the Civil War, when members of Congress were concerned about traitors." The current Vice-Presidential oath, says the Senate's website, made its appearance in 1884. It now officially ends with "So help me God"—but of course that wasn't the full Congress's "original intent" in 1789.

ADDENDUM: Ongoing research has found the earliest statements that Washington added "So help me God" after taking his presidential oath of office date from the late 1850s, almost seventy years after the event. Oddly enough, that's also decades before Chester A. Arthur was first noted as doing so by a contemporary. (It might be noteworthy that he did not have a formal inauguration, but succeeded to office after James A. Garfield's death.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Jeduthan Baldwin's Luck Gets Worse, Then Better

Back in May I quoted from the diary of Continental Army artillery officer Jeduthan Baldwin of Brookfield, discovering on 16 July 1776 that most of his clothing had been stolen. He was not happy.

Colleagues provided him with enough clothes that he could continue to appear respectable in their camp up near Fort Ticonderoga. But shortly afterwards Baldwin's bad luck transfered to his guns. Here is his diary entry for 1 Aug 1776, spelled and punctuated as he wrote:

at Sunset one howet[zer] was fired on board a large Gundalow by way of experiment, the Shell brok in the air, one 13 inch Bomb was also thrown from the same Gundelow on bord of which were about 20 men, when the Bomb went of the Morter split & the upper part went above 20 feet in the Air over the mens heads into the water & hurt no man. the peice that blowd off weighd near a ton, I was nigh & saw the men fall down when the morter burst, & it was a great wonder no man was kild.
2 August:
this morning I went early to Independent Point where we Charged the other 13 inch morter, by way of tryal, when she was fired she burst Just in the same manner (only this was on land, & the other was upon the warter) that the other did near about the middel the whole length, so that we have no large Morter here now, these 2 morters were carried from this place to Cambridge & brought back & went Down to Canada & then back to this place, at an immence cost, altho they were worth nothing.
Yes, these big mortars were among the artillery pieces that Col. Henry Knox had famously hauled down from Fort Ticonderoga to the siege of Boston in the winter of 1775-76. And the only damage they were doing was to Americans. On 5 August:
in clearing the guns on bord of one of the gundelows one of the cannon went of as they were charging it & Killd the gunners mate he was blown into many peices & scatterd on the water. this afternoon I found in an old thiefs pack, who was discharged & going home my Sartoot, silk breeches & 2 pair of Stockings, the thif is now confind in Irons in the dungeon.
As shown in the end of that entry, however, Baldwin's luck had begun to turn: he found a man carrying some of his stolen clothing. The next day:
this morning I found my Hatt with a Serjant, in the afternoon a lad discoverd a pack in a Chimney which contained my Cloak, Laiced Coat & Jacquet, so that I have my Cloathing, except my Shirts, 3 pair of Stockings & som Necks. the Needle to my Compass, & Cash I have not found.
And on 7 August:
this morning 2 of my shirts were found and some evidence apeard with the finding of the Hatt & shirts, against Serjant Majr. O’briant who desarted yesterday, & Genl. Gates this Day sent an officer down to fort Edward or albany to apprehend & bring back the desarter of whome I hope to get the money & all those Stolen goods I have lost. I let Lt. have 12 Dollars to bair his expense in his Journey after the thief.
8 August:
2 of my Cotton Shirts were found & a fair prospect of finding the rest.
So this little story has a happy ending after all.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Visiting Gen. Artemas Ward and Family

A while back, Graeme Marsden alerted me to an article in Artdaily.com about an interesting exhibit called "'A Public Patriotic Museum': Artworks and Artifacts from the General Artemas Ward House," opening on 14 October at Harvard's Fogg Art Museum. That article is gone, so I'm reduced to quoting a press release:

The exhibition is drawn from the holdings of the General Artemas Ward House, a Harvard-owned museum in Shrewsbury, Massachusetts. Artemas Ward commanded the Patriot militia beseiging British-held Boston from April 1775 until the appointment of George Washington in July. Subsequently he served in the Provincial and Continental Congresses, the second and third U.S. Congresses, and as chief justice of the Court of Common Pleas of Worcester County.

On display will be a variety of extraordinary late 18th- to early 20th-century artworks and artifacts from the Ward homestead, including paintings, furniture, textiles, ceramics, glassware, and domestic and agricultural tools. . . .

The exhibition is organized by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, 300th Anniversary University Professor and James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard, and Ivan Gaskell, Margaret S. Winthrop Curator in the Department of European Painting, Sculpture and Decorative Arts and senior lecturer on history at Harvard.

The organizers seek to establish that art museums can and should encompass a range of disciplinary viewpoints, including philosophy and history, which border the aesthetic. In turn, they propose that historians can address aspects of artifacts other than the purely instrumental.

"We acknowledge that aesthetics played a role not only in the uses to which the Wards put their possessions, but also in our choice of objects for this exhibition," said Ulrich. "Although the objects we have chosen for the exhibition have served many purposes over time, they function as artworks on this occasion."

Gaskell adds, "The objects we have chosen are varied. They include paintings that none would refute as artworks, as well as furniture, ceramics, and quilts that could enjoy a place within any art museum's decorative arts collection. In contrast, some of the objects in the exhibition would once have been relegated to the realm of craft or that of amateur work. Intrinsic value as well as cultural equity now prompts art museums to accept as artworks objects such as these that might previously have been overlooked or left to anthropologists."

"A Public Patriotic Museum" focuses on a small selection of objects associated with General Ward himself, kept and displayed as signifiers of his public eminence. These are presented in counterpoint with objects owned or made by his female descendants. Unlike the general's, their lives remained entirely private, yet it was through their efforts that his memory was in large part preserved. Successive generations of women had preserved the general's personal items—including his cloak, tricorn hat, snowshoes, razor and strop, an inkwell, and books—and had accorded them the status of relics.

The maintenance of the house and the general's possessions assured that his posthumous reputation remained intact, and also served to preserve the standing of the family. Following his death, the women fostered a domestic culture in which no artifact could be dispensed with, passing down their own possessions along with the general's to future generations. The exhibition reveals an aspect of women's roles in the creation of family, local, and national mythology.
Gen. Ward's reputation also benefited from namesakes in the media. Descendant Artemas Ward (1848-1925) was a pioneer in advertising (particularly on street cars and subways) who published Charles Martyn's biography of the general and a genealogy of the Ward family. Non-relative Charles Farrar Browne, said to be Abraham Lincoln's favorite writer, used the similar pseudonym "Artemus Ward," which helped keep the general's name nationally familiar in nineteenth-century America. Otherwise, I think he'd be a footnote: the Massachusetts general who stepped aside as commander of the provincial forces when the Continental Congress and George Washington took over.

The Harvard Gazette offers an early look at the college course that led to this exhibit. Scroll down on this page for a video of students at the Artemas Ward House in 2003. For many years, it appears, Harvard didn't know what to do with this awkward bequest of a historic house in Shrewsbury. Now the college is using it to explore the nature of museums themselves.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Fischer to Speak on Liberty in Lexington

In my recent posts on the Battle of Lexington and Concord, I mentioned David Hackett Fischer's book Paul Revere's Ride more than once. It's by far the best recent study of that event. Fischer has written several other interesting books as well, including the scary Historians' Fallacies.

On Sunday, 16 October, Prof. Fischer will deliver the the 2006 Massachusetts History Lecture, titled "Liberty and Freedom: Many Ideas, One Tradition." This event is sponsored by the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities and the National Heritage Museum in Lexington, which is also hosting the traveling exhibition “American Visions of Liberty and Freedom”, based on Fischer’s book Liberty and Freedom: A Visual History of America’s Founding. (This is a big $50 book; the little image from Oxford University Press above doesn't do it justice.)

The material on this lecture says:

Liberty and freedom have long been central to American experience and identity. Fischer will explore the different meanings of "liberty" and "freedom" and discuss how these ideas have changed throughout the nation's history.
The lecture, which starts at 2:00, is free and open to the public. There are also guided tours of the exhibition at 1:00 and 3:30, but you need to register for those in advance (call 617-923-1678).

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Was the Provincial Congress Illegal?

Yesterday I wrote about how the Massachusetts Provincial Congress took on functions of a government in the several months before the Battle of Lexington & Concord. Today's posting tackles how historians describe that effort. This isn't so much a "myth" as a question of semantics, but I think it gets to the core of the political dispute that led to war.

Some writers describe the Provincial Congress as acting as a government, but imply that it shouldn't have. For example, a Portland, Maine, school offers this definition of the congress: "started in 1774, illegal government that controlled all of Massachusetts except Boston..." The WPI military science program uses the more delicate term "extra-legal."

I don't like either label is necessary, or necessarily wise. Americans in particular should bear in mind how the Declaration of Independence defines a government's legitimacy: "...Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed..." By that standard—"the Consent of the Governed"—how does the Provincial Congress compare to the authority of the Crown?

Here's how Massachusetts usually elected the lower house of its legislature. Each spring, a typical town would have a meeting to choose two representatives to send to the General Court. Very small towns, with fewer than 120 votes, could send only one representative, and didn't have to send any. Boston, being so large, was allowed to send four—though that still left its citizens underrepresented according to their population. (Click on the map above for a larger image of New England at the start of the war, brought to us by the University of Georgia library, to see where towns lay in Massachusetts. Remember the province then included Maine.)

In some towns, especially those farthest from Boston, the inhabitants either couldn't convince anyone to leave his farm to attend the legislature, or didn't think it was worthwhile paying a gentleman's expenses. Towns that could send two men often sent only one. Towns of moderate size were supposed to pay a fine if they sent no one, but in practice that penalty never seems to have been levied. After all, the fewer towns represented in the Assembly, the more clout fell to each representative who did attend, so no one had a real incentive to enforce the law. As a result, only about two-thirds of the towns participated in a typical General Court, according to John J. Waters, Jr., in The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts.

In the summer and fall of 1774, Massachusetts towns chose delegates to the First Provincial Congress in much the same way they elected representatives for the General Court, by gathering and voting in town meetings. There were no ground rules for a congress, so towns elected different numbers of men. Some chose the same gents to go to the legislature and the congress; others chose separate delegations in case the bodies met simultaneously, and all those men ended up at the Provincial Congress.

And here's the detail I think is crucial: More towns sent delegates to the Provincial Congress than had sent representatives to the recent General Courts. According to the congress's records of its first session in Salem on 7 Oct 1774, over 180 towns were represented while only 21 had no delegates. Furthermore, more men were there overall. As Stephen E. Patterson describes in Political Parties in Revolutionary Massachusetts, there were 293 delegates to the first congress in Concord, about twice the legislature's usual crowd.

In other words, even though towns had been legally obligated to represent themselves in the General Court, many chose not to. Even though towns had no legal obligation to this new Provincial Congress, and were defying the royal governor by supporting it, more chose to participate. And rather than representing only a political elite who always made up General Courts, the congress included more men (albeit also from the elite). The Provincial Congress was thus a more representative, broader-based body than the preceding legislatures.

In contrast, Gov. Thomas Gage, his lieutenant governor, and his "new-fangled" Council (the upper house of the legislature, redefined in 1774 by Parliament) were all appointed by the king and ministers in London. Those ministers were pulled from Parliament, which (vaguely) represented the views of British voters. The king came by his authority by being the oldest male patrilineal descendant of George I, who was chosen because he was the closest Protestant relative of Queen Anne, who in turn was the oldest surviving child of James II, who had been kicked out...and so on, back through all those history plays by Shakespeare.

Of course, most ethnically British people in Massachusetts and elsewhere in the British Empire still believed in the legitimacy of that London government. They still believed that a Parliamentary system under a monarch was their best chance of preserving their natural rights. American Patriots felt that Parliament had become corrupted, hence their decision to defy its appointees in New England, but few were ready to break away and create an entirely new system. The Provincial Congress still proclaimed its loyalty to the king.

Therefore, I think the best description of the situation in Massachusetts in April 1775 is that the province had two rival governments, one created by the local people without approval from the king and Parliament, and one created by the king and Parliament without approval from the local people. Congress supporters controlled the countryside through sheer numbers; the royal governor controlled Boston and a couple of outposts through armed force. The congress had natural-rights philosophy on its side; the Crown had the important force of tradition. So which government had a better claim to legitimacy?

Well, that was what all the fighting was about, wasn't it?