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, August 14, 2007

Analyzing the Children of the Revolution

The book reviews from the July 2007 issue of the William & Mary Quarterly aren’t online yet, so you’ll have to take my word for it that Barry Levy of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst says:

J. L. Bell persuasively analyzes the central role that independent children played in patriotic Boston mobs before the Revolution.
That’s in response to my article “From Saucy Boys to Sons of Liberty: Politicizing Youth in Pre-Revolutionary Boston,” in Children in Colonial America, a book of essays and readings assembled by James Marten for New York University Press. It appears in Prof. Levy’s review of that book alongside Emmy E. Werner’s In Pursuit of Liberty: Coming of Age in the American Revolution, from Greenwood Press.

[ADDENDUM: Levy’s review is now available for downloading from this page.]

Back in 2002 I corresponded with Dr. Werner about sources on children at the Tea Party and Lexington and Concord, and I look forward to seeing what she’s chosen to discuss as part of her theme of psychological resilience.

Alas, a peek on Google Books indicates Werner fell for the “Dorothy Dudley” diary of Cambridge in 1775-76, actually composed one hundred years later by Mary Williams Greely and published as Theatrum Majorum: The Cambridge of 1776. Mary Beth Norton discussed this source in a 1976 letter to the William & Mary Quarterly and a 1998 Journal of Women’s History article titled “Getting to the Source: Hetty Shepard, Dorothy Dudley, and Other Fictional Colonial Women I Have Come to Know Altogether Too Well.” One of the giveaways that the “Dudley” diary is fictional is that it spends too much space on political and military developments that a teenage girl wouldn’t have been privy to, and too little space on her personal life. That could limit the damage to Werner’s conclusions if she’s used the “Dudley” account simply to move events along rather than to discuss a girl’s response to them.

On Friday morning, I’ll take my “From Saucy Boys to Sons of Liberty” show on the road to the Paul Revere House, where I’ll lead a workshop for elementary-school teachers. My two biggest challenges will be boiling down my material and getting up early.


Anonymous said...

Given the implausibility of the diary's content mentioned by John, the addition of a page to the second edition "confessing" that Dudley was an invention of Mary Williams Greenly who wrote the diary expressly for The Cambridge of 1776, and the fact that most library catalog records for this book include this information as a note, why is Dorothy Dudley still treated as a genuine person and contemporary diarist by the occasional scholar and perhaps by the more than occasional student? Why, to give a specific example, are the diaries of Elizabeth Drinker, Dorothy Dudley, and Baroness von Riedesel "invaluable in bringing forward the female perspective on the war" (Volo and Volo, Daily Life During the American Revolution, 2003).

The answer lies in the presentation of the "diary" and how it is treated in some bibliographic sources.

Thanks to Google Books, the reader may see for him/herself how the diary is presented in the first edition of the volume published by the Cambridge Ladies Centennial Committee in 1876:

From the cover and the title page of the volume to the last page of the excerpts, the "diary" is presented straight as if it is real, "now first publish'd." Miss Dudley is treated as a historic personage. To be sure the Cambridge ladies had their tongues firmly in their cheeks but only their friends could be sure that there was no Dorothy Dudley. Those responsible for The Cambridge of 1776 immediately realized this and added a disclaimer in the second edition (1876). Similarly, 124 years later, someone added a note to the front page of the Google Books version explaining that the diary of Dorothy Dudley was written by Miss. Greely.

The second reason why some people innocently treat Dorothy Dudley diary" as a contemporary source for the event of 1775 is that some bibliographic sources omit the necessary warning or present the diary in such a way that the warning falls to the wayside. A prime example of the missing warning is the Making of America's online version of the book at http://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/b/bib/bibperm?q1=AFJ7579. This is the same first edition one can obtain through Google but without the disclaimer. (Strangely, "Dorothy Dudley" is identified in the reference as born in 1848!).

Should students eschew the internet for the library they may well discover The Cambridge of 1776 in an edition published In 1971 in The New York Times' Eyewitness Accounts of the American Revolution Series III. To be sure some, but not all, library catalog records for this book contain the note identifying M. G. Greenly as the diary's author. But the unwary reader who missed the fine print, as it were, may be excused if he or she assumes that the diary's inclusion in the Times' estimable Eyewitness Accounts series means that it is just that.

Robert Cameron Mitchell

lemming said...

On a different note, just got my WMQ and was thrillled to see the good news - how often are any of us desribed as persuasive? Congratulations.

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks! When I first started getting WMQ, I never imagined being reviewed in it. Much less so "persuasively"!