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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sybil Ludington: the legend’s beginning

I can't help but notice that one of the searches that commonly makes Boston 1775 pop up on Google is "Sybil Ludington," even though I've written only one posting about her, and that a skeptical one. So in the interests of completeness and a shameless grasp for ratings (it is still November, after all), I'm posting the text on which her legend is based and some more commentary.

The crucial passage is from Willis Fletcher Johnson’s Colonel Henry Ludington: A Memoir, published in New York by Lavinia Elizabeth Ludington and Charles Henry Ludington in 1907. Of the British raid on 26 Apr 1777, Johnson wrote:

At four o’clock Danbury was fired. At eight or nine o’clock that evening a jaded horseman reached Colonel Ludington’s home with the news. We may imagine the fire that flashed through the veteran’s veins at the report of the dastardly act of his former chief. But what to do? His regiment was disbanded, its members scattered at their homes, many at considerable distances. He must stay there, to muster all who came in. The messenger from Danbury could ride no more, and there was no neighbor within call.

In this emergency he turned to his daughter Sibyl, who, a few days before, had passed her sixteenth birthday, and bade her to take a horse, ride for the men, and tell them to be at his house by daybreak.

One who even now rides from Carmel to Cold Spring will find rugged and dangerous roads, with lonely stretches. Imagination can only picture what it was a century and a quarter ago, on a dark night, with reckless bands of “Cowboys” and “Skinners” abroad in the land. But the child performed her task, clinging to a man’s saddle, and guiding her steed with only a hempen halter, as she rode through the night, bearing the news of the sack of Danbury.

There is no extravagance in comparing her ride with that of Paul Revere and its midnight message. Nor was her errand less efficient than his. By daybreak, thanks to her daring, nearly the whole regiment was mustered before her father’s house at Fredericksburgh, and an hour or two later was on the march for vengeance on the raiders.
Already we see the poetic language, the dire details, the emphasis on a lone young female, and the comparison to Paul Revere—all hallmarks of the Sybil Ludington legend in the decades to come. But we don't see any sources specified for this episode, anywhere in the book. Furthermore, as I discussed before, Johnson was a journalist for hire, his book was published by the Ludington family itself, and this first version of Sybil’s story dates from 125 years after the event it describes. So as a historical authority, this passage is the equivalent of me telling you about something very heroic one of my relatives did in 1881 with no documentation.

Many descriptions of Sybil Ludington claim that her ride had a significant effect. For instance, the article at About.com says that the men she summoned “were able to stop the British advance and push them back to their boats, in the Battle of Ridgefield.”

That reveals a misunderstanding of the British goals and outcome. The Danbury raid, like several other raids by the British military on southern Connecticut during the war, was designed to destroy American military supplies, disrupt shipping, and discourage raids on Long Island, but not to take and hold territory. As this Connecticut SAR page describes, the British troops landed, marched north to Danbury and set American supplies ablaze, then marched south to Ridgefield to rendezvous with their boats. Continental troops under Gen. David Wooster (above) and Benedict Arnold tried to cut off the British raiders, but didn't succeed.

Thus, the Ludington regiment would not have been “able to stop the British advance”; the raiders were already withdrawing. The Americans actually tried to keep the British from their boats, not “push them back to their boats.” And the Americans lost. Although the British took more casualties, they achieved their goals, Wooster died, and the Danbury raid is considered a British victory. But a legend shouldn’t end that way, so we rewrite the history a bit to make Sybil’s ride produce an American victory.

The 30 April 1777 Connecticut Journal printed a detailed account of the Danbury raid, also stressing American accomplishments to keep up the wartime spirit. However, that article didn’t mention troops from Dutchess County, New York—Col. Ludington’s militia regiment. (In contrast, “Col. Luttington” is mentioned in the New England Chronicle's account of a British raid on the Tarrytown area on 5 October; “they endeavoured to surround him, which he perceiving, ordered his men to retreat.”) Maybe the New York militiamen were there; maybe they were on their way but didn’t make it in time for the serious fighting; maybe the whole story is a myth. In any event, we still don’t have any sources on the Ludingtons’ roles from before the twentieth century.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Williamsburg Travel Grants for Teachers

The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History is funding small grants for high-school teachers to attend the joint conference of the Society of Early Americanists and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture in Williamsburg, Virginia, in 7-10 June 2007.

The SEA's announcement says:

These mini-grants are available on a first-come, first-served basis, subject to the following criteria: 10 grants of $300 each will be available to high school teachers, with preference given to applicants who live outside the northeastern seaboard area and who receive little or no funding from their institutions. For more information and grant application forms (PDFs), please visit the SEA's website.

(Please note that we are looking into the possibility of offering in-service credits for teachers who attend this conference.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

James Otis, Jr., and Slavery

Jonathan Coats kindly writes:

Thank you for your blog. It's nice to see someone with obviously high intelligence write in a style which includes humor without the cutting edge so often associated with, well, writers of high intelligence.
(To which I can only surmise that Mr. Coats caught me on a nice day.)
I did not know that James Otis owned slaves until I read it on your site. Considering Otis' strong writing on the subject, I was shocked to learn that bit of information. Can you provide anything further concerning his slave holdings?
James Otis, Jr., did indeed write some very powerful arguments against slavery as he discoursed on inalienable natural rights, particularly in his 1764 pamphlet The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved:
Does it follow that 'tis right to enslave a man because he is black? Will short curled hair like wool instead of Christian hair, as tis called by those whose hearts are as hard as the nether millstone, help the argument? Can any logical inference in favor of slavery be drawn from a flat nose, a long or a short face? Nothing better can be said in favor of a trade that is the most shocking violation of the law of nature, has a direct tendency to diminish the idea of the inestimable value of liberty, and makes every dealer in it a tyrant, from the director of an African company to the petty chapman in needles and pins on the unhappy coast. It is a clear truth that those who every day barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own.
John Adams recalled Otis speaking against slavery even earlier, during his argument against the writs of assistance in 1761. Adams recalled the moment this way:
He asserted that these rights were inherent and inalienable. That they never could be surrendered or alienated but by idiots or madmen and all the acts of idiots and lunatics were void and not obligatory, by all the laws of God and man. Nor were the poor Negroes forgotten. Not a Quaker in Philadelphia or Mr. Jefferson in Virginia ever asserted the rights of Negroes in stronger terms. Young as I was and ignorant as I was, I shuddered at the doctrine he taught...
However, Adams wrote that half a century after the event, there is no contemporaneous confirmation of his memory, and some of his details are clearly wrong. I've previously written about how Adams's memories aren't any more accurate at that remove than anyone else's. (Except maybe George R. T. Hewes.) So I suspect Adams was thinking about Otis's 1764 pamphlet, or his general arguments during the 1760s, rather than that specific event.

In any case, Otis was the first American politician in decades to attack the institution of slavery. He also changed the basis of the argument from Christian compassion (as in Massachusetts Chief Justice Samuel Sewall's The Selling of Joseph in 1700) to natural rights. Sylvia Frey, author of Water from the Rock, states in her essay "Antislavery Before the Revolutionary War" at HistoryNow.org:
it was the intriguingly strange James Otis whose intellectual originality brought the secular antislavery argument into sharper focus.
Nevertheless, the Otis household continued to include slaves. I base that comment on John J. Waters's The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts (1968):
Inconsistencies certainly marked most of James’s actions. He rejected both slavery and the belief in Negro inferiority, arguing that as the "law of nature" made all men free it must be applied equally to "white or black." Yet he never freed his own colored "boy."
Why the contradiction between words and deeds? Well, Otis certainly wasn't alone in demanding liberty for himself in the most forceful terms while continuing to enjoy the benefits of being a wealthy upper-class man in a slaveowning society. What made him unusual was his intellect and his willingness to describe the outcome of his logic, which in the context of his times was sometimes so far-reaching that he could just as well have been arguing ad absurdum. As another example, in 1764 Otis also argued that natural rights applied to women:
Are not women born as free as men? Would it not be infamous to assert that the ladies are all slaves by nature?
Yet he never suggested political rights for his wife Ruth or other females.

In fact, Otis's rhetoric often reveals a genteel snobbishness. For example, one of his arguments against the writs of assistance was:
by this writ not only deputies, etc., but even their menial servants, are allowed to lord it over us. What is this but to have the curse of Canaan with a witness on us: to be the servants of servants, the most despicable of God's creation?
That appeal is based less on due process than on social hierarchy. In another example, Otis's first biographer quotes him as saying in 1769:
The council are governed by his excellency [Gov. Francis Bernard], his excellency by lord Hillsborough [the Colonial Secretary], lord Hillsborough by his majesty, his majesty by lord Bute [former tutor and first minister to George III], and lord Bute by the Lord knows who. This recalls to mind what used to be said when I was a student at this place [Harvard]. It was observed at that time, that the president directed the scholars how they should act, madam directed the president, Titus their black servant governed madam, and the devil prompted Titus!
Again, Otis's argument was based on his hearers' shared conviction that there was something wrong when a "black servant"—i.e., a slave—made decisions for white gentlemen. There's no hint of natural rights and equality in that passage.

In sum, James Otis, Jr., came from an elite family in Barnstable and was a top lawyer in Boston. As long as he remained rational, he never gave up the prejudices or the privileges of a gentleman, even as his political philosophy led the way for the Patriot movement.

[ADDENDUM: Update here.]

Monday, November 27, 2006

John G. W. Hancock: governor's son

The Smithsonian Institution's website offers a look at the silver and coral rattle that John and Dolly Hancock bought for their son, John G. W. Hancock, when he was born in 1778. He remained their only child. (The couple also had a daughter in 1776, but she died the following year.)

In 1787, when little John was eight, his father was reelected governor. (With his keen instincts for the electorate's mood and for avoiding tough decisions, Hancock had served in that office from 1780 to 1785, sat out the year in which the Shays Regulators closed down Massachusetts's courts and were then closed down themselves, and then returned to state politics with his popularity undiminished.)

In January, father and son were walking with a family friend in Milton. The boy saw a pair of skates in a store window and asked his father to buy them. The governor refused, so the friend said he'd make young John a present of the skates.

John G. W. Hancock soon tried out his new toys on a small patch of ice, fell, and hit his head. He died of the injury shortly afterwards, on the 27th.

The American Herald newspaper wrote:
This amiable child gave every indication of future eminence; and while his sweetness of temper, his strength of memory, and brilliancy of genius, led his parents to hope, that he would be not only the staff of their age, but eminently useful in the world!—Their hopes are suddenly blasted, and they feel the deepest affliction:
Why falls the budding flower? why dies the youth?
Presumptuous reason crys. 'Tis not for us
To search the ends of fate nor fault its means;
Religion answers and our breasts are calmed.
In fact, some friends said that John Hancock, son and grandson of ministers, never recovered emotionally from this loss. He died six years later, only fifty-six years old.

(Well, that was terribly sad, wasn't it? One aspect of this episode that strikes me is how the Hancocks and others of the time obviously knew who that well-meaning family friend was, but I've never seen an account of the boy's death that names him.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Prince: Mrs. Barnes's "Black Limner"

Christian Barnes was a merchant’s wife in Marlborough. She was good friends with Elizabeth Smith, a wealthy widow who had started out as an immigrant shopkeeper and worked and married her way into a large estate in Milton. Apparently the two households' enslaved workers had family links as well.

On 20 Nov 1769, Barnes wrote to Smith, who was on a trip home to Great Britain, about a slave named Prince, who was showing unusual artistic talent:

Daphneys Son Prince is here and I am siting to him for my Picture he has taken a Coppy of my Brothers extreemly well and if mine has the least resemblance I shall have a strong inclination to send it to you purely for the curiosity tho it is nothing but a Daub for he has not proper materials to work with.
Three days later, Barnes added that her husband had bought Prince
not solely with a View of Drawing my Picture but I believe he has some design of improving his Genius in painting and as soon as he has procured material you shall have a sample of his performance. . . .

Daphney appears to be much better reconciled to a State of Slavery since her sons arrival upon the whole I believe there is not a Happier Set of Negros in any Kitchen in the Provence and so much for my Domesticks of the lower order.
Barnes continued to mention Prince and his drawing in letters to Smith, saying that friends “would Esteem it as a Curiosity.” In March 1770 she wrote:
my Limner…is a most surprizing instance of the force of natural Genius for without the least instruction or improvment he has taken several Faces which are thought to be very well done he has taken a Coppy of my Picture which I think has more of my resemblance then Coplings
Barnes obviously meant painter John Singleton Copley, whose portrait of Smith is now at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts. Barnes's words imply that Copley had painted her as well, but I can't find any confirmation of that. (Copley's portrait of a black man, probably painted in England after the war, appears above, for lack of anything better.) Back to Prince:
He is now taking his own face which I will certainly send you as it must be valued as a curiosity by any Friend you shall please to bestow it upon. . . .

We are at great Loss for proper materials. at Present he has worked only with Crayons and them very bad ones and we are so ignorant as not to know what they are to be laid on. He has hetherto used Blue Paper but I think something better may be found out.

If you should meet in your Travils with any one who is a Proficient in the art I wish you would make some inquerys into these perticulas for People in general think Mr. Copling will not be willing to give him any instruction and you know there is nobody else in Boston that does any thing at the Business. . . .

You Laugh now and think this is one of Mr. Barnes Scheems, but you are quite mistaken it is intirely my own, and as it is the only one I ever ingag’d in I shall be greatly disapointed if it does not succeed, I cannot dismis this Subject without acquainting you that this this surprizing Genius has every qualification to render him a good Servent, Sober deligent and Faithfull and I believe as he was Born in our family he is of Tory Principle but of that I am not quite so certain as he had not yet declar’d himself.
Prince finished Barnes’s portrait in early May, and on 11 May she shipped it to England with Capt. James Scott. Again, she wrote with a mix of what seems like genuine admiration but also utter condescension for this young artist she had come to own:
I freely own that my expectations are rather heightened then deminished tho I am not so far determin’d to be at any expence on his account till I find other Peoples Judgment concur with mine tis for this reason I have desired you to give your opinion freely and you may depend upon it I will be govern’d by your advice. for supposing he is not qualified for a Painter he may be otherwise made a very usefull Servant.
Perhaps there are more Barnes letters (these come from the Library of Congress) that finish this story. When the war began, the Barnes family left Massachusetts. Smith, then remarried to Ralph Inman, remained. I have no idea what happened to Prince, his mother Daphney, or his artistic work.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Larkin on Loyalist Culture at Clark, 30 Nov

On Thursday, 30 November, at 4:30, Edward Larkin, professor at the University of Delaware, will speak at Clark University in Worcester under the auspices of the American Antiquarian Society on the topic of "The Loyalist Origins of United States Culture," or (depending on the website one looks at) "Cooper’s Loyalism and the Question of the American Nation."

That first title intrigued me, so I dug around the web for more information. When he was researching at the John Carter Brown Library, Larkin's topic was listed as “Tory America: Loyalists and the Creation of U.S. National Identity.” At a 2004 conference at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, his presentation was titled "American Loyalists and National Identity in the Early Republic."

In January 2006, Larkin spoke at the University of Texas on "Cooper's British Americans; or, Was Natty a Loyalist?" A cached description of that talk reads:

This paper is drawn from Professor Larkin's new book in progress, entitled The Loyalist Origins of American Culture, which begins from the observation that most of the canonical literature and art of the early United States was the work of loyalists or loyalist sympathizers.
Is that so? Certainly artists Benjamin West, John Singleton Copley, and Mather Brown were Loyalists, and Gilbert Stuart also sat out the war in London—but John Trumbull was a Continental Army officer, and Charles Willson Peale and Ralph Earl were enthusiastic Patriots. Among our canonical writers, Philip Freneau and Royall Tyler were in the Continental Army or state militia, and Benjamin Franklin was a Congress member and minister.

Of course, the American canon really starts rolling along in the next generation with Washington Irving and Larkin's focus, James Fenimore Cooper (above right). Since Cooper wasn't born until 1789, after the war, at best he could have been a Loyalist sympathizer. His father (above left) was apparently a Quaker neutral, and the family was Anglophile—like most Federalists. However, Cooper's first literary success was The Spy, a novel with an undercover Patriot as hero and Gen. George Washington making a cameo appearance to endorse his secret service.

Late in life, Cooper got into a vituperative dispute with his Cooperstown, New York, neighbors over picnics on an island in lovely Lake Otsego, and wrote many anti-democratic, anti-populist rants. Similarly, one of the first true giants of the American canon, Nathaniel Hawthorne, was also very suspicious of popular movements; some of his stories about colonial Boston, particularly "My Kinsman, Major Molineux," depicted crowds as dangerously out of control.

But that doesn't mean Cooper or Hawthorne aligned themselves with Loyalism. They didn't praise British officials of the Revolutionary period or criticize American icons like Washington. Among the luxuries of living after a revolution is that one doesn't have to choose sides, that one can criticize excesses while enjoying benefits. In Hegelian terms, "Loyalism" was the antithesis of the Revolutionary thesis, but Cooper and Hawthorne lived in the synthesis.

As for Prof. Larkin's seminar, the AAS "deeply appreciates" people making reservations in advance.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Benjamin Lincoln: general, narcoleptic

Benjamin Lincoln of Hingham, Massachusetts, was another of the Continental Army's top generals from New England. He was neither as successful nor as celebrated in later years as Nathanael Greene and Henry Knox, but he retained the respect of Congress throughout the war, even after such reverses as being captured at Charleston, South Carolina, in 1779. In fact, Gen. George Washington made Lincoln second-in-command for the Yorktown campaign, and he accepted the sword of surrender when neither force's commander chose to appear at the ceremony.

Lincoln's medical handicap was narcolepsy. As David B. Mattern explains in Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution:

A contemporary wrote that, "in the midst of conversation, at table, and when driving himself in a chaise, he would fall into a sound sleep." Lincoln would fall asleep while dictating dispatches, wake, and carry on as if nothing had happened.

While disconcerting to others, this condition did not seem to slow him down. It provided the substance for more than one jest and many occasions in which Lincoln was warmly defended by those who knew him well. Once a gentleman disparaged Lincoln in the presence of Major William Jackson by saying that the general was always falling asleep. Jackson, who had served as Lincoln’s aide during the war, retorted, "Sir, General Lincoln was never asleep when it was necessary for him to be awake."

Lincoln himself "considered this as an infirmity, and his friends never ventured to speak to him of it."
And that ends this week's short series on high-ranking Continental Army officers and the infirmities they had to overcome.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Politics of Thanksgiving

These days we treat Thanksgiving as a family holiday for all Americans, regardless of political or sectarian divisions. But in pre-Revolutionary Boston, Thanksgiving was associated most strongly with the Congregationalist tradition, and thus with the Patriot cause. Royal governors issued Thanksgiving proclamations, but in practice Anglicans and friends of the royal government seem to have paid less respect to the holiday and, in times of political turmoil, even defied it.

In his unpublished manuscript The Bay-Boy, a novel set in the pre-Revolutionary Boston where he had grown up, Royall Tyler composed this conversation between his Congregationalist narrator and an Anglican doctor, quite possibly modeled on Dr. Silvester Gardiner:

Author. “...hoping you will permit me to spend Thanksgiving day with my Grandmother.”

Doctor G. “By all means. That Yankee festival is not in our calendar. Eat your pumpkin pudding wherever you please. I hope, however, you will take your Christmas pie with me.”
Thus, at least in this depiction, Congregationalists celebrated Thanksgiving with food and piety while Anglicans waited to feast on Christmas.

In late 1769, the Whigs were putting pressure on a few merchants and shopkeepers to sign on with the rest and stop selling British goods. This "non-importation" was intended to protest the Townshend duties. Among the remaining importers were Henry Barnes of Marlborough and Elisabeth Cumings of Boston, and their supporters included justice of the peace James Murray.

On 29 Nov 1769, Henry's wife Christian Barnes wrote to her friend Elizabeth Smith (who was also Justice Murray's sister) in London about the untraditional way her circle had observed Thanksgiving:
Last thursday which was thanksgiving Day a Ball was given by Mrs. [Elizabeth] Murray [the justice's wife] at Brush Hill [in Milton] to a number of Gentlemen & Ladys from Boston Miss E Cumings was one of the Party

their Goods and ours are arrived in very good order which has caused a Commity from the Well disposed [i.e., the Whig activists] to wait upon them and write to Mr. Barnes with a desire that the Goods may be stored till further orders and so they are to better purpose I hope then they design’d them for they are well Charg’d and I dare say will have a quick Sail [i.e., sale]
Political tensions were even higher on Thanksgiving Day in 1774. The few Sandemanian shopkeepers in Boston kept their shops open to show loyalty to the Crown and were “taken notice of,” as Samuel Adams wrote the next 31 January. (There was an ethnic component to these divisions as well: Cumings, Murray, Smith, and Sandeman were all Scottish immigrants.)

On the other hand, some Anglican families did adopt the Thanksgiving celebration. On 4 Dec 1770 Charles Pelham, a private schoolmaster in Newton, wrote to his half-brother Henry in Boston:
The bearer brings 1 1/2 busl. Malt for our Mama, and 3 buss. for Bror. [John Singleton] Copley, which being good, will afford you a great deal of wholsome Liquor. . . .

Its now very find wholsome weather and a little Tour into the Country would promote any one’s health, especially the Sedentary Persons; I therefore strenuously recommend your keeping the approaching Thanksgiving with us, but take me right; I do not invite you to a sumptuous feast, but to good wholsome Country Fare with undissembled friendship.
SEE ALSO: The politics of football in colonial Boston.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Washington's Asymmetric Generals

Yesterday's posting about John Crane put me in mind of some other important Continental Army officers who had what we now term physical disabilities—even before they went to war. In both cases, those disabilities made them stand out while marching with their prewar militia companies.

Henry Knox blew off two fingers of his left hand in a hunting accident on an island in Boston harbor in July 1772. William Sullivan wrote of the general later in life:

When engaged in conversation he used to unwind and replace the black silk handkerchief which he wrapped around his mutilated hand, but not so as to show its disfigurement.
In his portrait of the general (shown here, courtesy of Montpelier in Maine), Gilbert Stuart posed that hand to conceal the injury.

Knox's bandage actually helped him enter genteel ranks after he paraded as a lieutenant of Boston's new militia grenadier company in late 1772. His bandage and his bearing caught the eye of Lucy Flucker, oldest (legitimate) daughter of the province's Secretary. They married in 1774 and slipped out of Boston together after the war began. Lucy Knox never saw her Loyalist family again, but the couple settled on the extensive lands in Maine that she inherited from her father.

Another of the Continental Army's top generals, Nathanael Greene, limped through most of his life. John Howland recalled watching a Rhode Island militia company parade before the war:
I viewed the company as they marched up the street, and observed Nathanael Greene with his musket on his shoulder, in the ranks as a private. I distinguished Mr. Greene, whom I had frequently seen, by the motion of his shoulders in the march, as one of his legs was shorter than the other.
Other writers say that Greene's legs were of equal length, but his right knee was chronically stiff.

There's also disagreement on how this condition arose. Some sources favor the theory that young Greene injured his leg while sneaking out of his Quaker household to attend a dance. Others suggest that he suffered a repetitive-strain injury from pumping the bellows at the family forge. I can picture young Nathanael telling his dad that he'd hurt himself at work in order to conceal his nocturnal entertainment. But I can also picture Greene or his genteel family later emphasizing the romantic explanation instead of the one that involved manual labor.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

John Crane's Wounded Foot

Yesterday I had a tetanus shot, and that put me in mind of Col. John Crane of the Continental Artillery. [Yes, this will eventually make sense.]

John Crane (1744-1805) was a house carpenter in Boston. In the early 1770s, he became a sergeant in the town's militia artillery company. Like several other men in that company, he participated in the Boston Tea Party, reportedly being knocked cold by accident and hidden in a pile of wood chips. Probably fearing arrest and seeking better business prospects, Crane and his friend Ebenezer Stevens left Boston for Providence a few weeks later.

Crane returned to the Boston area in 1775 as a captain in the Rhode Island Artillery, stationed in Roxbury and then at a forward position on Boston Neck. He showed such skill in commanding his battery and aiming his guns that by the end of the year he was commissioned a major in the Continental Army's artillery regiment, much to Thomas Crafts's mortification.

In the 1820s, William Eustis cited Crane as an example of an excellent officer who came from the ranks of craftsmen, not gentry. Eustis wrote:

After the evacuation of Boston, he marched to New York. Whenever a British ship of war appeared in the East, or North river, or any firing was heard, Crane was on horseback, and galloped to the scene of action. Being reproached on an occasion when he exposed himself alone, riding through Greenwich street, under the constant broadsides of a passing ship, he replied, “The shot is not cast which is to kill me.”

Not long after, a frigate run up the East river, and anchored on the Long Island side, near Carlaer’s hook. Four field pieces were ordered to annoy her. They were only six pounders. Crane, as usual, was present and pointed the pieces. His sight was remarkably true, his aim was sure.

He had from habit and the acuteness of his vision, the faculty of seeing a cannon ball on its passage through the air. A falling shot from the ship he kenned in a direction to strike, as he thought, the lower part of his body, not having time to change his position in any other way, he whirled himself round on one foot, the ball struck the other foot while raised in the air, carrying away the great toe and ball of the foot. Thus ended his usefulness for the campaign.

He was afterwards removed to New Jersey, and surviving the perils of a partial jaw lock, so far recovered as to go home on furlough.
There's the tetanus connection! Crane's immune system was strong enough to fight off lockjaw. He returned to service under Gen. Henry Knox and ended the war as a colonel.

At that time, Crane was among the Continental Army officers who were upset at Congress's slow pay—an effort that led them to create the Society of the Cincinnati. Crane also indignantly refused a disability pension at that time, declaring, "No, sir; they never shall say that I eat their bread when I have done serving them." He followed Knox and other artillery colleagues in becoming a landowner in the part of Massachusetts that became Maine. Crane's businesses didn't flourish, however, and his wounded foot became disabling. He tearfully accepted a federal pension a few months before he died.

(Now that I look again at what Eustis wrote, reprinted in Dr. James Thacher's Military Journal During the American Revolutionary War, I suspect that Crane's "friend and brother-officer, who well knew the nature of his wound," and later arranged for that pension, was Eustis himself. Eustis was a doctor trained by Dr. Joseph Warren. He served as surgeon for the artillery regiment in 1775, then as a hospital surgeon. In the early republic he was a Democratic-Republican politician, rising to be Secretary of War and Massachusetts governor.)

[CORRECTION: I originally typed 1807 as the year of Crane’s death instead of 1805. ADDENDUM: Narrowing down the date when Crane was wounded.]

Monday, November 20, 2006

Revolutionary History Makes the Boston Globe

A couple of articles touching on Revolutionary history have appeared this month in regional sections of the Boston Globe.

On 9 November, the paper reported on The Encyclopedia of the American Revolutionary War, a five-volume set co-edited by Lexington resident Richard A. Ryerson, formerly of the Adams Papers and now affiliated with the David Library in Pennsylvania. The publisher’s catalog copy states that the encyclopedia offers

hard-to-find documents such as Anne Hulton’s “Letter from a Boston Loyalist” and Joseph Martin Plumb’s account of the mutiny on May 25, 1780
Uh, guys, that Continental private’s name was Joseph Plumb Martin. And folks can find a passage from one of Hulton’s several letters, published in 1927, here at Boston 1775.

On the front page of the Globe’s 12 November City Weekly section was an article about discussions in Cambridge on whether to preserve the Lechmere name for the square and T station at the east end of the city. Developers of the nearby NorthPoint BuilDings had lobbied for “Lechmere at NorthPoint,” which sounds like an email address. In October the city council voted to retain the historical name.

Then someone—who? the article doesn't say—pointed out that Richard Lechmere was a Loyalist and a slaveholder. So why should his name remain? Some councilors still prefer the traditional name for tradition’s sake. A couple have suggested that the area be named after James, an enslaved worker who sued Lechmere for his freedom in 1769. (Of course, “James Square” would sound like a tribute to Harvard’s William James and his family, and perhaps not all parts of the city would like that.) It’s not clear whether this issue really has legs, or whether the newspaper correspondent was simply raising a provocative question about our history.

Lechmere isn’t the only T stop named for a neighborhood that, in turn, was named for a slave-holding family. In mid-1700s Massachusetts, owning a very big estate went together with owning enslaved workers, and folks used the names of those big estates to designate local landmarks. It’s easy to dig up connections to slavery in the Boylston, Quincy, and Ruggles families, for example.

Probably the T station with the starkest connection to slavery is Maverick on the Blue Line. Samuel Maverick was a very early settler on Boston's harbor islands. He kept slaves in 1639, even before Massachusetts law recognized the institution. In Two Voyages to New-England, John Josselyn wrote that an African woman
came to my chamber window, and in her own Countrey language and tune sang her very loud and shrill…and willingly would have expressed her grief in English. . . . Mr. Maverick was desirous to have a breed of Negroes, and therefore seeing she would not yield by persuasions to company with a Negro young man he had in his house, he commanded him, will’d she nill’d she, to go to bed with her.
Lechmere appears to have been far less tyrannical. He and James worked out a settlement that gave the worker his freedom and £2. (Some later writers treated the argument filed by James’s lawyer, Jonathan Sewall, as a precedent for Massachusetts’s ending of slavery in 1783, and thus as evidence of Massachusetts’s moral high ground on slavery altogether, but no provincial court had actually adopted that argument or its language. The parties came to an agreement themselves.)

On the question of institutions named for slaveholders and their defenders, such as Calhoun College at Yale, I’ve long felt it wise to keep those names as a reminder of how pervasive and seductive slavery was.

Thanks to Graeme Marsden and Robert C. Mitchell for calling these articles to my attention.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Colonial Boston Vocabulary: "loar Garding"

Quincy Thaxter was born in Hingham in 1762, the son of a gentleman farmer. His older brother John went to Harvard and in August 1774 headed to Braintree to learn the law from John Adams. Since Adams soon set off for the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia and Patriot protests closed the Massachusetts court system, John Thaxter had no way to see the law in action. He ended up working as John Quincy Adams's tutor—a not insignificant contribution to American history.

Back home in Hingham, twelve-year-old Quincy Thaxter was spending most of his days going to school and working on the family farm. We know that because he was also keeping a diary, which the family seems to have saved simply because it included the fateful day of 19 Apr 1775 ("in the forenoon Civil War begun"). That document is now at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

Quincy had, let's say, an unorthodox writing style. For a number of months after he started the diary he referred to himself as "my Self," not "I." He crossed out a lot of words halfway through. Nearly every entry is punctuated as a single sentence no matter how many subjects and verbs it has. And his spelling is often phonetic, though only in the sense that "the brown heffar carved" means that the brown heifer had a calf. (And compounding those oddities are the challenges of deciphering any handwritten document, so "heffar" might just as well be "hessan".)

I had particular difficulty deciphering something Quincy wrote on 16 June 1774:

myself Went to school all the day to Jacob weaded the loar Garding in the forenoon and in the aftenoon Cato and Jacob hoed behind the house after Sch School was done Fathe Fa FATHER and my self went dowon to the Worldend to see the cattle an get some strawberries.
What was this "loar" that Quincy was "Garding"? Or was the "loar" something that Jacob "weaded" while Quincy did something called "Garding" that morning? No, Quincy was at school all day until he went with his father to "Worldend," a term that shows up repeatedly in the diary as part of the family farm. Perhaps "loar" and "Garding" are archaic agricultural terms, I thought; but, not being a farmer or even a gardener, I'd never recognize them.

Finally I decided to assume Quincy Thaxter was the worst speller in the world, but was doing his best to spell out a common phrase...
loar Garding
lo-ar Gardin'
lower garden!

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Colonial Boston Vocabulary: "Sejani"

Dr. Thomas Young is one of the least-known of Boston's top Patriot leaders. He moved into town from the Albany area only after the Stamp Act confrontation of 1765, and left in September 1774, before the war started, because his family feared he might be attacked by soldiers. He was also an outspoken deist, principal author of Reason the Only Oracle of Man, which became notorious in the late 1700s as "Ethan Allen's Bible." All those factors meant that he didn't get as much attention in early histories and memoirs of the political revolution in Massachusetts as primary sources indicate he should have.

Dr. Young was involved in almost every political development from 1766 to 1774, always pushing for radical change. He was a most enthusiastic man. His letters, now scattered in many different collections, overflow with optimism; he treats all bad news as signs that the people will soon react and overwhelm their enemies.

Young was enthusiastic about democracy, suggesting that legislatures should meet in buildings like theaters so popular audiences could give them immediate feedback on their decisions. He was enthusiastic about his medical theories, so much so that even Dr. Joseph Warren declared that "Self-conceit, vain-boasting, and invincible impudence are frequently expressed by the word Youngism." He was enthusiastic about the breakaway republic west of New Hampshire, and offered it the name Vermont.

A few years ago I was reading Dr. Young's 15 Sept 1770 letter to Hugh Hughes of New York, among the Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts at the Massachusetts Historical Society. What had the doctor all excited that day was a plan to increase local employment and manufactures, thus improving the economy and lessening reliance on imports from Britain. He wrote:

Our Manufacturing Scheme was yesterday reported, and met with so universal an approbation that every word and sentiment was received without so much as a syllable’s objection. It is so well calculated that it must succeed for every man who can spare a shilling a year may be interested in it.

[Capt. James] Scott has brought seven weavers, and a wire drawer, and I hear one or more paper makers. Mr. [John] Hancock generously gave the Manuf’ors their passages free. These moves must affect our . . .
And then I couldn't figure out the next word. It started with a capital S, but looked like no English word. The sentences that followed, about the governor turning over a fort to the army and naval ships being in the harbor, clearly showed that the mystery word was a reference to Crown officials.

After several minutes I realized what Dr. Young was probably saying:
These moves must affect our Sejani tho divine vengeance should harden their hearts to seven times the pitch that Pharaoh’s ever arrived at.
The doctor had taken the name of the ambitious and corrupt Roman official Sejanus, and made it plural. Then he mixed his metaphor with a Biblical allusion as well.

Young was self-educated while several of his Boston colleagues had graduated from Harvard. As a teenager he had taught himself Latin with books borrowed from a local landholder, and had picked up just enough Greek to handle medical terminology. I suspect that he put classical references like "Sejani" into his letters to show that he was a learned gentleman, too.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Colonial Boston Vocabulary: "little-house"

Here's a bit of the transcript of the trial of soldiers for the shootings known as the Boston Massacre. Ropemaker Nicholas Ferreter was asked about trouble three days before at Gray's rope-making factory, on 2 Mar 1770.

...there was one of our hands while I was coiling a cable, said to a soldier do you want work, yes, says the soldier I do faith; well said he to the soldier, go clean my little-house, he damned us and made a blow at, and struck me, when I knocked up his heels, his coat flew open, and out dropt a naked cutlass, which I took up and carried off with me. He went away, and came back with a dozen soldiers with him
Off-duty British soldiers were allowed to work for pay, and historians believe they charged less for their labor than locals because the army was providing their basics. This economic competition exacerbated the resentment that many Bostonians already felt toward the soldiers.

As for the term "little-house," there are more clues about what that meant in this July 1770 deposition from Thomas Walker, drummer for the 29th regiment:
...he met Patrick Walker Soldier in sd. Regiment, in the Street cut & bleeding very much, that he asked sd. Walker Who had used him so, that he told him that he was served in that manner by the Rope Makers, that he then asked him What was their Reason for so doing, upon which he informed Him that as he Wint for a Buckett of Water to a Yard Adjacent to the Rope Walk he was asked by one of the Rope Makers if he would Work he reply'd he would, asking him What he was to Work at.

To whom the Rope maker reply'd to Empty his Necessary House.

To which sd. Walker reply'd, that if he had no other Work he might Empty it himself, as he thought it beneath a Soldier, to be Guilty of so Scandalous & Servile an Office upon which they argued for some time, but at Length fell to blows.
And in more earthy terms, we have an account of the insult from Samuel Bostwick, dated 19 March:
...three soldiers of the 29th regiment, came up Mr. Gray's ropewalk, and William Green, one of the hands, spoke to them, saying, "soldier, will you work?"

The soldier replied, "yes."

Green said, "then go clean my s--t-house."

The soldier swore by the Holy Ghost that he would have recompense, and tarried a good while swearing at Green, who took no further notice of him, and then went off, and soon after returned to the ropewalk with a party of thirty or forty soldiers, with a tall negro drummer [Thomas Walker], and challenged the rope makers to come out.
The ensuing brawl led to two more days of running fights between locals and soldiers (with Sunday off for the Sabbath, of course). Those fights in turn became one of the triggers for the shootings on King Street on the 5th. One ropemaker was shot dead, and two soldiers who had been at the ropewalk were tried for murder.

Ferreter's testimony appears in the transcript of the soldiers' trial, reprinted in The Legal Papers of John Adams. Walker's deposition is filed in the British National Archives. Bostwick's account, strategically placed hyphens and all, is in Boston's report on the shootings, titled A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Colonial Boston Vocabulary: "pompions"

Yesterday I published a paragraph from one of merchant John Andrews’s delightfully gossipy letters about life in Boston during the British military occupation of 1774-76. Here's another extract with a curious vocabulary word, written on 4 Oct 1774.

At the time, the British military forces in Boston were on fairly high alert, fearing an attack by provincials. On 3 October, the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company held one of its regular drills. Since the local men couldn’t exercise on the Common because His Majesty’s 4th Regiment of Foot was encamped there, they headed for Copp’s Hill in the North End—which brought them close to a warship in the mouth of the Charles River.

Andrews tells the tale:

Yesterday afternoon our honorable and ancient artillery turned out, and for want of a better place, they march’d down to Cop’s hill, where they went through their several manoeuvres to the satisfaction of every one, and really made a much more respectable appearance than they formerly us’d to.

Their fifes and drums, when near the hill, alarmed the [Royal Navy ship] Lively, which lays near the ferry; and when they had got upon the hill, in sight of the ship, the Boatswain’s whistle call’d all hands upon deck, the marines with their firelocks were fix’d upon the quarters. . . .

Such was the terror they [the naval officers] were in, from the appearance of about fifty pompions in arms. At about five o’clock they remarched into King street, where they perform’d their evolutions with the greatest propriety and exactness.
“Pompions” was a synonym for “pumpkins.” It was also slang for “fat men”; in The Merry Wives of Windsor someone calls Falstaff a “Pompion.” The Oxford English Dictionary says the term is now obsolete, alas.

In 1774 the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company was no longer an artillery company. Rather, it was a private militia organization that officers and would-be officers from the county’s official militia joined in order to practice and improve their drill. The company’s upper-class leadership was politically split, so it went into abeyance during the Revolution. In 1786, a group that included William Dawes revived the company, and it continues to occupy the top floor of Faneuil Hall today.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Colonial Boston Vocabulary: "coasting"

Today’s vocabulary word is "coasting," which is what Boston boys used to call sledding. Their "coast" was the slope they chose to sled on, which for the South Latin School students in the winter of 1774-75 meant down from part of Beacon Hill onto School Street.

John Andrews, a Boston merchant, wrote to a correspondent in Philadelphia on 29 Jan 1775:

Shall close this by giving you a small anecdote, relating to some of our school lads—who as formerly in this season improv’d the Coast from Sherburn’s hill down to School street. General [Frederick] Haldiman, improving the house that belongs to Old Cook, his servant took it upon him to cut up their coast and fling ashes upon it.

The lads made a muster, and chose a committee to wait upon the General, who admitted them, and heard their complaint, which was couch’d in very genteel terms, complaining that their fathers before ’em had improv’d it as a coast for time immemorial, &ca. He order’d his servant to repair the damage, and acquainted the Governor [Gen. Thomas Gage] with the affair, who observ’d that it was impossible to beat the notion of Liberty out of the people, as it was rooted in ’em from their Childhood.
John Elliott wrote out the same story for the Rev. Jeremy Belknap the next day:
You may remember there is a declivity from the lane opposite School Street, which is the winter season the boys make use of as a coasting-place. Here not long since a number of boys were assembled for the purpose aforesaid. A servant of General Haldiman’s (whose stables were in that lane), being displeas’d by the slippery walking their amusement occasioned, maugre their pleadings & threatnings, scattered ashes over the place, & spoiled their fun.

With the true spirit of the sons of Boston, they chose a committee to wait upon the General to remonstrate against the proceedings, & complain of the maltreatment they had received of his servant. When the servant came to the door, he asked their business; they replied it was with the General. The servant was ordered to wait upon them into the parlour. The chairman informed the General that they were a committee from the boys, sent to make complaint of the invasion of their rights made by one of his servants; that he had spoiled their sport by tossing a quantity of ashes over a spot of ground which they & their fathers before them had taken possession of for a coasting-place.

The General at first did not understand what they meant by the term coasting. When informed of its meaning, he called all his servants, and, being told which was the offender, ordered him to go & throw water on the place sufficient to rectify the damage caus’d by the ashes. He treated the committee with a glass of wine, & they took their leave.

General Haldiman with great good humour told the story at General Gage’s table, which afforded the company great diversion. The Governor observed that they had only caught the spirit of the times, & that what was bred in the bone would creep out in the flesh.
This anecdote was fondly, though not accurately, remembered in Boston for decades. There are some stirring mid-1800s depictions of the schoolboys' committee in books, paintings, and engravings, mostly with the wrong location, date, or general. The publication of these two letters by the Massachusetts Historical Society in the late 1800s provide our only contemporaneous sources for the incident.

As for "coast" and "coasting," my Oxford English Dictionary lists these letters as the first recorded uses of the words with this meaning. It remained Bostonians' term of choice for decades. In a paper on a New England boy of the mid-1800s delivered at the 2002 Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, Prof. Rebecca R. Noel reported that Ned Wright consistently described himself as "sledding" in Montpelier but "coasting" on Boston Common. And the usage survives in such terms as "roller coaster."

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Colonial Boston Vocabulary: "improved"

To start off a little series of entries about the language of Revolutionary Boston, I'll quote a letter from one of the town's departed sons, Benjamin Franklin, to future lexicographer Noah Webster on 26 Dec 1789.

Webster was just starting his career in printing and publishing, and had contacted the older man about his early efforts to regularize American style. Franklin noted changes in how people spoke, wrote, and set type, differences between England and America and differences between the new U.S. of A. and the culture he remembered from his youth. From Philadelphia he wrote:

I cannot but applaud your Zeal for preserving the Purity of our Language, both in its Expressions and Pronunciation, and in correcting the popular Errors several of our States are continually falling into with respect to both. Give me leave to mention some of them, though possibly they may have already occurred to you. I wish, however, in some future Publication of yours, you would set a discountenancing Mark upon them.

The first I remember is the word improved. When I left New England, in the year [17]23, this Word had never been used among us, as far as I know, but in the sense of ameliorated or made better, except once in a very old Book of Dr. [Increase] Mather’s, entitled Remarkable Providences. As that eminent Man wrote a very obscure Hand, I remember that when I read that Word in his Book, used instead of the Word imployed, I conjectured that it was an Error of the Printer, who had mistaken a too short l in the Writing for an r, and a y with too short a Tail for a v; whereby imployed was converted into improved.

But when I returned to Boston, in 1733, I found this Change had obtained Favour, and was then become common; for I met with it often in perusing the Newspapers, where it frequently made an Appearance rather ridiculous. Such, for Instance, as the Advertisement of a Country-House to be sold, which has been many years improved as a Tavern; and, in the Character of a deceased Country Gentleman, that he had been for more than 30 Years improved as a Justice-of-Peace.

This use of the Word improved is peculiar to New England, and not to be met with among any other Speakers of English, either on this or the other Side of the Water.
Other American neologisms or new usages that Franklin had noted after returning from France were the verbs notice, advocate, and progress. He disliked how Printers were no longer using capital Letters to designate each Noun in a Sentence. And he thought questions should begin with an upside-down question mark, as in Spanish, so readers would know how to inflect the words. ¿Should we have done that in 1789?

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Spinning Season for Social Studies

In each of the past two Novembers, America has seen headlines about a public school preventing a teacher from discussing Revolutionary history. In both cases, that formulation of the dispute turned out to be a distortion created by the teacher's politically conservative supporters. Will that pattern recur this month? Or have news reporters learned to be more skeptical of such claims?

In each case, the teacher and his supervisors were in the midst of a older, more complex disagreement which wouldn't have provided much red meat for newspapers, radio hosts, political websites, and the like. By describing a teacher as muzzled from talking about the Revolution, however, advocates turned an individual dispute into a national issue—all Americans have an interest in the U.S. of A.'s founding! Eventually, each dispute was settled with the teacher's departure, though not before administrators had been deluged with angry phone calls.

In 2004, an organization called the Alliance Defense Fund filed suit against the Cupertino, California, school district on behalf of teacher Stephen Williams. By filing papers on 22 November, the Monday before Thanksgiving holiday, and issuing a press release, the ADF ensured that the story would appear in the local newspaper the next day and then go out on news wires just before the holiday, giving school officials a hard time responding.

The ADF headlined its press release on the case "Declaration of Independence banned from classroom," and initial news coverage echoed that spin on the case, as in this Reuters report preserved at MSNBC:

School bans history materials referring to God
Calif. teacher prohibited from giving Declaration of Independence

A California teacher has been barred by his school from giving students documents from American history that refer to God — including the Declaration of Independence.

Steven Williams, a fifth-grade teacher at Stevens Creek School in the San Francisco Bay Area suburb of Cupertino, sued for discrimination on Monday, claiming he had been singled out for censorship by principal Patricia Vidmar because he is a Christian.
(As a historiographical note, this dispatch's misspelling of the teacher's first name as "Steven" makes it easy to determine which people writing about the case had seen only the early article and which had done their own reporting.)

The New Yorker ran an article about this case in May 2005, and on its website journalist Peter Boyer reporter described how the story had developed:
The first, great burst of attention came from...Web sites, such as the conservative Free Republic. . . . Sean Hannity had Williams on his radio show "Hannity & Colmes" at least twice, and he moved his Fox News television show to Cupertino for a special hour-long live broadcast that he called "Take Back America".
However, as reporters outside Fox News easily discovered, the ADF's complaint was greatly exaggerated. The school was still teaching the Declaration of Independence. And, even as the school taught about various religions, for at least two years Williams's students and their parents had complained about how he had inserted references to Jesus and Christianity into his lessons. The documents the lawsuit claimed he had been barred from using were selective or simply bogus, such as a "George Washington prayer journal" that was revealed as a fake decades ago. Even a Wall Street Journal oped essay concluded, "For those who worry about the way faith is treated in our public institutions, Mr. Williams may not be the best candidate for a hero."

Eventually, Williams chose to resign, drop his suit, and say nothing more. A San Jose Mercury News editorial called this "a total victory by the district over conservative lawyers who drummed up a bogus claim of religious persecution." More details can be found at the website started by parents of children at the school.

A year later, Fox News was in Carson City, Nevada, to cover the case of Joe Enge, a teacher at Carson High School. Postings to Free Republic.com and blogs from Enge's supporters document that Fox News had contacted the school in the week before Thanksgiving to film him in front of a class. The school refused permission, so the network taped its interview with him somewhere else on 22 November. In 2005, Thanksgiving was on the 24th.

How had Fox News learned of Enge's story? The teacher's political champion was Chuck Muth, a former head of the American Conservative Union and manager of such political websites as COPAC Nevada, CitizenOutreach, and CampaignDoctor. Muth had posted his first article about friction between Enge and his supervisor on the NVconservatives.com website on 22 April. That article said nothing about a dispute over teaching Revolutionary history; it described a disagreement between Enge and his supervisor over educational methods and classroom management.

In early November, however, Muth was airing a new complaint on a new website devoted to the case, The Enge Files. Muth left off his April article about teaching methods and instead wrote that Enge had been barred from teaching about the nation's founding:
You see, Joe has this crazy idea that American history should include our colonial period, as well as the Revolutionary War period. You know, where the Founding Fathers fought for independence from England and wrote the greatest governing document the world has ever known - the United States Constitution. You know, that period of time which gave us patriot heroes such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Tom Paine, Benjamin Franklin, Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, John Paul Jones, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Hancock.
(That's two John Hancocks, by the way.)

At the same time, Muth's dispatches from the Enge Files popped up on conservative websites across the country, such as The Common Voice, normally devoted to South Carolina, and eventually on FreeRepublic.com. That got the buzz going for other online opinion writers. The nearby Reno Gazette-Journal ran a story on 23 November—the day before Thanksgiving. It started:
A veteran history teacher at Carson High School said he's being targeted for dismissal because administrators have questioned his determination to thoroughly cover America's colonial period and the Revolutionary War and his teaching methods.
Fox News used its footage the following week, after Thanksgiving. Once again, the school in the case became the focus of phone calls and nationwide political criticism.

But Muth's spin on the case didn't take, at least in part because Enge maintained his own focus on pedagogy. On 21 November, he posted an editorial on the History News Network focusing entirely on the question of teaching facts. The next day, the Washington Post's education columnist commented on the case in a skeptical article titled "Fired for Teaching Too Much?"

Technically, Enge had indeed been told not to teach the Revolutionary War in detail. He would also have been told not to teach the English Civil War, the Punic Wars, algebra, and driver's ed since his assignment was to teach a course in U.S. history since Reconstruction. Enge apparently felt that his colleagues had done a poor job of preparing his students, so he wanted to reteach the Revolutionary period using a different pedagogical method.

Enge has a more impressive teaching record than Williams. I found no mention of complaints from students or teachers. None of his teaching materials is obviously problematic; indeed, he's written a couple of curriculum guides for the Teaching Point organization. But I suspect the dispute between him and his school administrators was as much about interpersonal relations as about educational methods.

In the end, Enge and the Carson City school district came to a confidential settlement, and he left teaching. Muth claimed victory even though his campaign had not actually achieved its stated goals: saving Enge's job or changing local teaching methods. Enge now describes himself as "Owner, translation agency; writer and researcher." He's chairman of a website called Edwatch Nevada, a "project of Citizen Outreach"—which is run by Muth. And this story's not really over: last week Enge won a seat on the Carson City school board.

Will a similar dispute flash across the internet this month? If so, reporters can do their jobs by calling schools before they file their stories. Ask the principal or the head of the social studies department if it's true that the curriculum no longer includes the American Revolution, the Declaration of Independence, or whatever iconic element of the founding is at issue. I would be astonished if that actually turned out to be true.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

New Look for Boston 1775

Boston 1775 looks different today because I've upgraded it to Blogger's "Beta" programming. Blogger will require all its content providers to make that shift sooner or later, and I decided to try sooner because I've always wanted to give visitors the chance to navigate through postings by "labels" (called "tags" if you're not the Blogger company).

Now there's a long list of labels in the column to the left, under the archive of past postings. They turn out to be especially useful since the "Search This Blog" function seems less precise in the new programming. I'm still refining the tags (“handcrafts” or “handwork”? Or “fiber arts”? "Continental soldiers" or "American army"?) and adding them to existing messages. I hope they prove useful.

Another advantage of the new template styles is that it's easier to add to lists of links. For too long I neglected to list the blogs, websites, and real places that I like to visit and might be useful for people looking into Revolutionary Boston. Again, I'm still working on those lists, and every hour or so think of another item to add, but at least they're there.

Blogger tells its content providers that the jump to a new level will preserve messages' basic formatting, leaving behind only one’s individual modifications. The changes are actually more significant, particularly for the template I'd chosen (called Scribe). Furthermore, a glitch in the overall coding affects line spacing in text after a blockquote or bullet points. That's why Boston 1775 now looks even more dense than usual.

The new template uses a different programming language, which I know even less well than the old one, so making hanging indents in the sidebar column, labeling the permanent link, adding the special Scribe headers to the lists, &c., was a wrestle of several hours. So now I shall go and put a cold cloth over my eyes.

ADDENDUM: Some versions of Internet Explorer cut off parts of the left side of the column to the left. Others do even odder things. Either I can fix the code or the giant Microsoft corporation will make its browser compliant. We'll just see who blinks first.

ADDENUM 2: Okay, so I blinked. But I also discovered the problem, which was largely of my own making, and I did that work in the course of hacking yet another new design for Boston 1775—now with three columns!

Talk on George III in Waltham, 14 November

From the Waltham Historical Society via Paul O'Shaughnessy comes this news:

On Tuesday evening, November 14th, the Waltham Historical Society is presenting Dr. Anthony Howes with his lecture "George III, The King who lost America." The meeting will begin at 7:00 pm, and will be held in the Community Room at the RTN Federal Credit Union building, 600 Main Street in Waltham. Parking and entry is at the rear of the building.

Please arrive between 6:30 pm and 7:00 pm. Credit Union policy demands that the doors not open earlier, and that they will be locked shortly after the lecture begins.
From the historical society's website comes this additional information:
George III was only 22 years old when he acceded to the British throne in 1760 following the death of his grandfather. Despite his young age, he was confident of his ability to rule and immediately set about choosing ministers who would support his views. He believed that he could restore the active role of the monarch in politics that had been neglected by his Hanoverian ancestors.

When he turned his attention to the American Colonies he did not understand how the effects of over 100 years of benign neglect could not be lightly dismissed. His refusal to listen to advice from many experienced and learned parliamentarians resulted in a series of blunders that resulted in the Revolutionary War and American Independence. We will look at events taking place in England at that time, and how these events were impacted by George III himself. The talk will be illustrated by prints and illustrations of the period.

Dr. Howes is a retired radiation oncologist who is also a re-enactor with the Sudbury Companies of Militia and Minute. He was born in London, England and is particularly interested in the connections between British and American history.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

The Beaver, the Dartmouth, and the...Santa Maria?

Today's Boston Globe offers an important lesson on the value of Boston's Revolutionary history. Local graduate student Ogi Ogas knew the names of the three ships raided for their cargos of tea in December 1773—but he didn't know the names. And the price of that missing confidence was $500,000.

Talk on an African-American Veteran in Natick, 12 November

On Sunday, 12 November, at 2:00 P.M., Bruce Harris will present "Peter Salem—Fighting in the Hope of Freedom," the story of an African-American veteran of the Revolutionary War, at John Eliot Memorial Hall in Natick, Massachusetts. This is a free event sponsored by the Natick Historical Society.

Bruce is the Executive Director of the Literary Trail of New England. He combines the skills of a historical researcher, actor, and teacher. Last spring I had the pleasure of performing the Longfellow National Historic Site's presentation on George Washington and slavery with him; he, having worked at Mount Vernon, took the part of Washington.

As for Peter Salem, he was in arms during the Battle of Lexington & Concord. He fought in the Battle of Bunker Hill, and one tradition says that he killed Maj. John Pitcairn as the British Marine officer entered the provincial redoubt near the end of that battle. (Other traditions point to other shooters, and Pitcairn may of course have been hit multiple times.) There is indubitable evidence that Salem served steadily in the Continental Army from 1775 to 1780 in units that were at Saratoga, Valley Forge, Monmouth, and Stony Point.

Friday, November 10, 2006

How Pope Night Died and Was Reborn

Pope Night was a—perhaps the—major holiday in colonial Boston, especially for working-class teenaged boys. After 1765 it became an occasion to protest Crown officials, thus squarely within the Revolutionary movement. But by the end of the 1770s it was gone. What happened to this elaborate celebration?

After all, New England anti-Catholicism deeply entrenched, especially after decades of fighting the French. Paranoid Whigs suggested that the French king was behind the whole political conflict (as did paranoid Loyalists). Colonial governments used the threat of a French attack to justify building up their militias. Whigs shared rumors that London was recruiting francophone soldiers in Canada to sweep down on New England. In the Suffolk County Resolves of September 1774, one grievance was how the Quebec Act guaranteed French Catholics the freedom of worship.

But that same year, with Boston's port shut and folks expecting war between the troops and the populace, town fathers leaned on the young men to forgo Pope Night. The times were too serious for such revelry. And then public attitudes and values started to change.

In November 1775, a New England army was preparing to invade Canada, expecting the francophone population would help them drive out the British authorities. Gen. George Washington issued these general orders:

As the Commander in Chief has been apprized of a design form'd for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the Effigy of the pope—He cannot help expressing his surprise that there should be Officers and Soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step at this Juncture; at a Time when we are solliciting, and have really obtain'd, the friendship and alliance of the people of Canada, whom we ought to consider as Brethren embarked in the same Cause. The defence of the general Liberty of America: At such a juncture, and in such Circumstances, to be insulting their Religion, is so monstrous, as not to be suffered or excused; indeed instead of offering the most remote insult, it is our duty to address public thanks to these our Brethren, as to them we are so much indebted for every late happy Success over the common Enemy in Canada.
The holiday enjoyed a last gasp in 1776 and 1777, after the British military had sailed away. It might have been politically awkward to commemorate a British king's deliverance at the same time the town was reviling a British king and celebrating a republic. But in Boston the ideological fuel for Pope Night was anti-Catholicism anyway, and locals could still get into that.

Until the French fleet arrived. In 1778 Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane negotiated an alliance in Paris. Eventually the French king's money, weapons, fleet, and soldiers decided the war. (There were more French soldiers at Yorktown than American.) The ports of Portsmouth, Boston, and Newport were the main conduits for that aid.

With a little trepidation at first, New Englanders welcomed the same Frenchmen they had feared a few years earlier. Rich householders in Boston and Cambridge fêted French officers. In 1783, a priest established Boston's first Catholic parish in what had been the Huguenots' church at the corner of School Street and Cornhill (now Washington Street, where the godawful Irish Famine Memorial now stands). In that atmosphere, it became politically incorrect to revile the Catholic Church—at least as publicly and crudely as the Pope Night gangs had done.

But Pope Night wasn't entirely dead. One element of the celebration survived, and continues in altered form today. That element appears in many reminiscences of the holiday, but overshadowed by the giant effigies and rolling wagons and (in Boston) brawling gangs. A writer in the 9 Nov 1821 Boston Daily Advertiser recalled:
boys in petticoats...swarmed in the streets and ran from house to house with little Popes in their hands, on pieces of board and shingle, the heads of which were carved out of small potatoes.
Harrison Gray Otis told his granddaughter that "A few days before the anniversary [of 5 November], boys ran around to every front door in town ringing handbells and singing:
‘Don’t you hear my little bell
Go chink, chink, chink?
Please to give me a little money
To buy my Pope some drink.’”
This was the local equivalent of English children's "Penny for the guy?"

That part of Pope Night kept going: young boys dressing up and going door to door, asking for coins. So did bonfires; teens didn't need a papal effigy to have fun burning things. In the late 1800s, folklorists spotted children in old New Hampshire towns following these rituals on what they called "Pork Night," with no knowledge of the holiday's older name and roots. These traditions also shifted a few days on the American calendar—from the fifth of November to the last of October.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Where Was the Pretender on Pope Night?

Earlier in the week, I posted a woodcut showing Boston's Pope Night from the early 1760s. And earlier in the year, Al Young sent me an email asking why that picture shows the Pope and the Devil but not the third main figure in the night's pageantry: the Pretender, the Catholic claimant to the British throne.

The Pretender was prominent, and distinctively dressed, in London's 1713 Guy Fawkes Day procession, according to a newspaper description transcribed at Rictor Norton's great site on 18th-century England: "the Pretender on his [the Pope's] left, in a French dress, with a wooden shoe hanging on his left arm, and in his right hand a candle." (The same article renders the crowd's cries as: "No Popery, No Slavery, No Pretender, No Wooden Shoes." Were the shoes really that bad?)

I haven't found a Pope Night Pretender matching that description in New England sources. Scott McIntosh suggested one explanation in his Princeton undergraduate thesis in 1979: "it is not clear that [the Pretender] was featured in every procession; many accounts refer only to ‘Popes, Devils, &c,’ and a detailed account of the 1761 Pope’s Day is notable for its silence on the subject of the Pretender."

But three witnesses to the 1767 Pope Night do mention various Pretender effigies:

  • Ann Hulton, sister of Customs Commissioner Henry Hulton
  • Lord Sackville (later Lord Germain), apparently relying on an account from Customs Commissioner Charles Paxton
  • Pierre E. du Simitière in the captions for the drawings I mentioned yesterday wrote "the Pretender with a drum" beside his picture of the North End wagon
But I don't see anybody in du Simitière's pictures with a drum! So where were those Pretenders? Back after this important message.


Just arrived at my house this afternoon is Alfred F. Young's Liberty Tree: Ordinary People and the American Revolution. This NYU Press title collects updated versions of papers that Young has published over the course of his career, along with two new essays on the symbolism and memory of the Revolution.

The articles are "The Mechanics of the Revolution"; "'Persons of Consequence': The Women of Boston and the Making of the American Revolution, 1765-1776"; "Tar and Feathers and the Ghost of Oliver Cromwell"; "Conservatives, the Constitution, and the 'Genius of the People'"; "How Radical Was the American Revolution?"; "The Celebration and Damnation of Thomas Paine"; "The Freedom Trail"; and "Liberty Tree: Made in America, Lost in America."

Click on the cover image for more information from NYU Press.


Du Simitière's drawings of the 1767 Pope Night wagons do show men hanged in effigy. And William Tudor, Jr., in his 1823 biography of James Otis, Jr., described the Pope Night Pretender this way: "Next to the lantern, was a small figure meant for the Pretender, suspended to a gibbet."

So here's a theory. In Boston, the Pretender was always displayed hanged in effigy, not getting excited about wooden shoes. And in later years, on the big North End and South End wagons that hanged man—though still generically called the Pretender—was associated with other, more recent and closer enemies.

The earliest such enemy to enter the records was Admiral John Byng, executed (by firing squad, actually) for "not having done his utmost" in battle in 1757. (A hanged effigy of Admiral Byng also appeared in one of the earliest recorded scripts for a mummers' play around the same time.) A few years afterwards, the hanged figure became one of the Whigs' local foes. In 1767 it was Customs Commissioner Paxton. In 1769 it was printer John Mein. Later it was Judge Peter Oliver, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, eventually Lord North.
But in local parlance any man hanging in effigy and carried around on Pope Night was a "tender" or "Pretender." Does that work?

TOMORROW: The End of Pope Night.