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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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The John Howe Hoax Finds Another Victim

In yesterday’s Boston Globe, H. D. S. Greenway closed an opinion piece titled “‘Surge’ doomed to final failure” with a Revolutionary anecdote. It began:

In early April 1775, the British governor of Boston sent John Howe out to gather intelligence in that hotbed of insurgency now called the western suburbs, but then the Anbar province of its time.
The analogy is fairly solid, but the anecdote is not. “John Howe” was the putative author of a pamphlet published in 1822, but it was a hoax, a rewrite of an authentic British spy report with more exciting stories and better jokes. See more detail from Mass Moments.


Anonymous said...

I am surprised to see that this is your only mention of John Howe. It is true that the document you refer to is a hoax, but the name of John Howe should figure somewhat more prominently in a site about newspapers during the revolutionary period. John Howe, born Oct. 14, 1754, began as an apprentice at the Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News Letter in 1766 or 67, he became a partner with Margaret Draper upon completion of his apprenticeship by October 13, 1775, and he continued as her partner to their last issue on February 22, 1776.

Howe went to Halifax as part of the evacuation of British troops and loyalists of March, 1776. After the British took New York in late 1776, General Clinton took Newport, RI, on December 1, 1776, after which John Howe printed the Newport Gazette between January 16, 1777, and October 6, 1779. He went to New York on October 26, 1779, when the British abandoned Newport, but left New York for Halifax sometime in 1780, after which he became a printer and Postmaster of Halifax. He did take two trips back to the US in 1808-09 where he was asked to "observe whatever may be agitating", but the document referred to in your article was quite possibly written to besmirch his character. He was, however, an elder of his church (a Sandemanian), and later became a Magistrate of the colony. For more on the real John Howe, please see John Howe (loyalist) on Wikipedia, or read his biography on the Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online.

J. L. Bell said...

I have a fair amount of research on the real John Howe, but haven’t broken it down into blog posts yet. This site is about more than Revolutionary newspapers, but I do like stories about Revolutionary youths, and Howe qualifies as one.

I wonder whether Howe was an apprentice for Mein and Fleeming before he joined Margaret Draper. He was a Sandemanian, after all. There’s a story about such an apprentice firing out a window of the print shop during the 1769 Pope Night parade.

I think some authors have made too much of Howe as a “spy” in the early 1800s. He traveled to the U.S. of A. under his own name, visiting relatives, and his loyalty to the Canadian government was clear. The reports he filed don’t contain many secrets; they’re really about public sentiment.

I recall finding two or three scandalous pamphlets about men named John Howe published in America from the 1820s through 1850s, all of them contradictory. The real John Howe doesn’t appear to have been prominent enough to warrant such attention from Americans, but his son Joseph became important in Canadian politics. Were those pamphlets really aimed at Joseph Howe? Or was “John Howe” just a convenient common name?