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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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Fifty-two Words, One Diagram

For some reason, nothing will do today but to pick up this image of the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution “diagrammed,” found on the delightful Separated by a Common Language blog, and originally from Hartford’s own Capital Community College Foundation.

No, I never had to learn how to diagram a sentence in school. And this approach to analyzing sentence structure and grammar was unknown in the eighteenth century. But the formal prose of that era required long, complex, cascading sentences, and diagramming can help show how those sentences make sense.

Eugene Montoux has diagrammed an even longer and more complex sentence—the opening of the Declaration of Independence—as well as several Amendments.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Capt. Alexander McDonald Raises a Regiment

In November, Ed St. Germain added a nifty primary source to the resources available at AmericanRevolution.org: the letterbook of Alexander McDonald, a British army captain who had retired on Staten Island. He married Susannah Livingston of the important New York political family, and remained on the British army half-pay-pension list.

In October 1774, McDonald recognized that a rebellion was imminent in New England, and indeed had already started, so he set off to recruit a Loyalist regiment from among his fellow Scotsmen. In late 1775, McDonald sent letters to top army commanders reviewing his work. Those letters advanced his other purpose: to compete with rival officers in seniority.

Here’s some of McDonald’s 30 Nov 1775 missive to Gen. William Howe in Boston:

Last October was a year when I found the people of America were determind on Rebellion, I wrote to Major [John] Small desiring he would acquaint General [Thomas] Gage that I was ready to join the Army with a hundred as good men as any in America, the General was pleased to order the Major to write and return his Excellency’s thanks to me for my Loyalty and spirited offers of Service, but that he had not power at that time to grant Commissions or raise any troops; however the hint was impproved and A proposal was Sent home to Government to raise five Companies and I was in the mean time ordered to ingeage as many men as I possibly Could.

Accordingly I Left my own house on Staten Island this same day year and travelled through frost snow & Ice all the way to the Mohawk river, where there was two hundred Men of my own Name, who had fled from the Severity of their Landlords in the Highlands of Scotland, the Leading men of whom most Chearfully agreed to be ready at a Call, but the affair was obliged to be kept a profound Secret till it was Known whether the government approved of the Scheme and otherwise I could have inlisted five hundred men in a months time, from thence I proceeded straight to Boston to know for Certain what was done in the affair when General Gage asur'd me that he had recommended it to the Ministry and did not doubt of its Meeting with approbation.

I Left Boston and went home to my own house and was ingeaging as Many men as I Could of those that I thought I Could intrust but it was not possible to keep the thing Long a Secret when we had to make proposals to five hundred men; in the Mean time Coll McLean arrived with full power from Government to Collect all the Highlanders who had Emigrated to America Into one place and to give Every man two hundred Acres of Land and if need required to give Arms to as many men as were Capable of bearing them for His Majestys Service.

Coll [Allan] McLean and I Came from New York to Boston to know how Matters would be Settled by Genl Gage: it was then proposed and Agreed upon to raise twenty Companies or two Battalions Consisting of one Lt Colonl Commandant two Majors and Seventeen Captains, of which I was to be the first, or oldest Captain and was Confirmed by Coll McLean under his hand writeing in the beating order he gave me. I now See by a List that came here of ten Companies that Coll McLeans, Major Smalls and Wm Dunbars Commissions are dated the 13th June and all the rest of the Captains dated the 14th, I suppose to Settle their Ranks when they Come together by a throw of the dice and I may have the good Look to be the youngest in place of the oldest Captain in the Regt

Captn Dunbar Sold his Company Som’time agoe and of Course his rank of the Army the same time and I think it hard that he should be now put over my head after all my Services, and the trouble I have taken from first to Last about this Regiment. I am now going on to fifty Years of Age and if my Loyalty and Long Services are to be rewarded In this Manner I have but a poor Chance of dying a field officer. I am far from blaming Major Dunbar for accepting of the oldest Company I know he has merit to deserve Every promotion that Can be given him. without prejudice to others, there are few people I wish better than he but if it were my own brother I Could not help Complaining this time.
McDonald complained more directly to Gen. James Grant on 3 Dec 1775:
Besides my Long Services of about one & thirty years, I have taken more pains about the raising of this Chore than any other person Concernd in it. I have Sacrificed my wife & four Children & all I had in the world to Contribute all in my power for the Service of my King & Country.

I was promised to be the oldest Captain in this Regiment and now I find that Major Wm Dunbar is put over my head, a Gentleman who a few years agoe Sold his Company and of Course his Rank and I think it very hard and very unjust that he should take rank of me, notwithstanding I have a Sincere Reguard for him and think him worthy of every Step that can be given him without prejudice to others; this is the Grievance that I Complain of, and You’re the only officer of rank in the Army that I have the Least dependance upon I hope you’ll Use your Intrest to See me Redressed.
On 27 Jan 1776, McDonald hinted to Gen. Gage, “I am almost fifty years of Age and if Your Excellency thought proper its almost time I was A Major.” Of course, Gage was no longer in any position to help, having been superseded by Howe.

And Capt. McDonald wasn’t just looking out for himself. On 29 Dec 1775, he wrote to Maj. Small:
I gave you a hint before of my Eldest boy being twelve years of age and that I have seen Officers Children even bastards get Commissions at three years of age, witness Lt Colonel Alexander Campbell at the havannah and I think it would Not be adoeing a great deal of injustice either to the Regiment or the Army to give My Child an Ensigncy [the lowest officer rank].
McDonald’s 15 Jan 1776 letter to his wife Sukey implies that this boy had been at Princeton until a short time before: “Pray Let me know whether Mr Weatherspoon refuse to keep the boy in the College or whether it were your own Choice that he should remain at home...”

(As usual, I added a few paragraph breaks to these passages to make them easier to enjoy online. Please go to AmericanRevolution.org to check out more exact transcriptions. The thumbnail picture shows an officer of the 42nd Regiment of Foot in full dress uniform, courtesy of Parks Canada. This uniform resembles that of McDonald’s regiment, the Royal Highland Emigrants, after 1776. But the men may well have worn trousers or breeches while on the march.)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Comics and Crispus Attucks

I learned about an upcoming Revolutionary War comic book from Publishers Weekly today. It’s part of a push at Simon & Schuster’s Aladdin paperbacks imprint into comics, led by editors Ginee Seo and Liesa Abrams.

My hopes weren’t raised by the news that one wing of this advance will be “fictionalized” comics-style adaptations of the Childhood of Famous Americans series. I devoured those books when I was in third grade, but at the time I was living in Bakersfield, California, and there really was nothing else to do. All the volumes have about ten chapters on their subjects’ childhood, the various episodes prefiguring their adult careers, and a final chapter showing them doing whatever has made them famous. The series includes volumes about Abigail Adams, Paul Revere, Betsy Ross, Benjamin Franklin, Molly Pitcher, &c.

Dharathula Millender’s biography of Crispus Attucks is a most interesting example from the C.O.F.A. series. Millender was a teacher and librarian active in the civil rights movement in Indiana, the home state of Bobbs-Merrill, which then published the series. In 1965 she convinced the firm to add a book about Attucks, one of the first (if not the first) about an African-American.

Like all the other authors contributing to the series at the time, Millender filled out the historical record with anecdotes, conversations, and other details that have no basis in documented history. She had to describe Attucks’s childhood, of course, so she described his mother and father and gave them the names of Prince and Nancy. Her final chapter cast Attucks as a political activist, orating from a platform before the Boston Massacre. (He was at the head of the crowd that approached the soldiers at the height of the confrontation, but there were no public speeches of that sort.)

Because there’s so little solid information about Attucks, and the C.O.F.A. books weren’t labeled as “fictionalized” until about a decade ago, some people have taken Millender’s story as factual. The Wikipedia entry on Attucks puts those details in a section headed “Folklore,” but NNDB.com treats them as accurate. The statements have even shown up in a recent Dublin Seminar volume. So far as I can find, those details go back no earlier than 1965.

Alongside the new C.O.F.A. books, Simon & Schuster plans another series of comics called Turning Points, “placing fictional kids in adventure stories set in the midst of important and well-researched historical events.” The idea for the series came from agent Bob Mecoy. [Peek inside.] “It’s historical fiction that places kids in the center of big events,” editor Liesa Abrams told Publishers Weekly.

That series will launch with Sons of Liberty, “a story introducing the reader to the major battles of the Revolutionary War”—which was a span of seven years, longer than most children’s stories cover. The writer of record is historian Marshall Poe, who wrote some interesting articles for The Atlantic but, as far as I can tell, nothing about the Revolutionary War. The art is by Leland Purvis. The book hits the shelves in June.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The New Discussion of Olaudah Equiano

Tonight I’m quoting from Douglas B. Chambers’s review for H-Net of Vincent Carretta’s Equiano, the African: Biography of a Self-Made Man. I read this review a while back, but then it appeared two years after the book was published, so I don’t think I’ve been dilatory.

Olaudah Equiano (1745?-97), who for much of his adult life used the name Gustavus Vassa (apparently taken from an English play about a Swedish king), was an interesting man to begin with: at various times slave, world traveler, missionary, political activist, and autobiographer. But Carretta’s research has made him even more interesting by arguing that he wasn’t what he said he was. Chambers explains:
In fourteen chapters, and reflecting meticulous research following the 1995 edition [of the autobiography] he so ably edited, Carretta follows Equiano through his story of enslavement, transportation, maritime slavery in a time of European war (and Christian baptism), kidnapping a second time into slavery (from London to Montserrat), his travels, and his freedom, winding up back in London in 1767, when he was about twenty-two years old.

Carretta then discusses his adventures at sea through the 1773 Arctic Expedition on the royal navy ship the Racehorse, and his rebirth as an ardent Anglican, which ironically was followed by participating in a scheme to create a slave-based plantation on the Miskito Coast (Caribbean Central America).

In the end, Equiano (universally still known as Vassa) turned to anti-slave trade agitation, living as he did in England in the mid-1780s, which led to his official service in the 1786-87 effort to “repatriate” (perhaps better thought of as to deport) Africans in Britain to Sierra Leone, a royal service that made him a controversial public figure. Equiano clearly was inspired by his activism to write and publish and popularize the “interesting narrative” of his life. . . .

The problem, however, is that Carretta thinks (or at least strongly suspects) that Equiano was actually a liar, and one perhaps rising to being a notable fraud. In his archival research, Carretta discovered two separate documents: Equiano’s 1759 London baptismal record and the 1773 royal navy’s ship muster list for the famed Racehorse, both of which state that Vassa was born in (South) Carolina. And on the basis of these two documents, albeit two as interesting and problematic as these are for complicating an already busy life, Carretta has called into question Equiano’s putative African origins, and therefore the credibility, reliability, and authenticity of Equiano as an enslaved African.

Based on these two documents, Carretta goes so far as to judge that Equiano’s accounts of his early life—and all the interpretive weight they are now given as a kind of substitute for ethnographic-historical material on what he called “Eboan Africa,” as well as his wrenching description of being enslaved and transported across the Atlantic, his extended and harrowing Middle Passage—are all “probably fictitious” (p. xvi). As one might expect, Carretta’s use of these two anomalous sources, and his consequent contention of Equiano’s possible birth not in Africa but in North America, have garnered the most notice and disputation. . . .

Carretta’s biography represents an important opening in Atlantic history, and the case of Equiano’s ultimate origins is far from closed. But whereas Carretta would have us see Equiano primarily as Gustavus Vassa, that is, as an “Atlantic creole” and “almost an Englishman,” Vassa himself demanded that we remember him as Olaudah Equiano, that is, as “the African” and “a native of Eboe.” Though reasonable people can reasonably differ, I choose to believe Vassa's Equiano over Carretta's Equiano.
Chambers eventually concludes that Carretta, while having written a very important and interesting book about Equiano, hasn’t fully made the case that the man was born in North America and later claimed birth in Africa to strengthen his authority to speak against the transatlantic slave trade.

I think it’s significant that even before Carretta’s archival discoveries some scholars had raised questions about the authenticity of Equiano’s written memories of Africa. Paul Edwards’s 1988 edition of the autobiography for Longman, for example, notes similarities between Equiano’s descriptions of West Africa and other Abolitionist books. Until recently, people assumed those similarities arose from Equiano supplementing his childhood memories. Now we must consider that his first glimpse of Africa might have come from a ship’s rail.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Lion, the Unicorn, and Didacticism

Today’s Boston 1775 posting is a call for papers from a scholarly journal on children’s literature, with my footnoted comments.

The Lion and the Unicorn, a journal committed to a broad investigation of children’s literature, is inviting submissions for a special issue devoted to the varieties of the didactic in the long eighteenth century.* Didacticism, often considered the dominant literary form of much European and American eighteenth-century children's literature, has been undertheorized.† Possible topics might include:
  • What was the relationship between eighteenth-century pedagogy and didacticism?
  • How did children and adults read didactic texts as quintessentially eighteenth-century readers?
  • What was the relationship between didactic children’s literature and other didactic eighteenth-century genres such as the novel, the sermon, and the conduct book?
  • How were political ideologies, economic theories, and cultures shaped by didacticism during the eighteenth century?
  • What constituted an aesthetics of didacticism during the eighteenth century?
Articles of 12-15 pages should be submitted by March 1, 2008, to the editors for consideration for inclusion in the April 2009 special issue of The Lion and the Unicorn. Essays should be submitted in PDF format using MLA style. Documents should be sent as an e-mail attachment.

Send submissions to:
Pamela Gay-White
Department of Languages and Literatures
Alabama State University


Adrianne Wadewitz
Department of English
Indiana University

* “Long eighteenth century”? C18-L, an academic email list I used to belong to, defined its scope as “the ‘long 18th century,’ which extends roughly from 1660 to 1830.” In other words, from the Restoration in London to the fall of Louis XIV in Paris. Just as the eighteenth century spills over onto either side, that email list spilled over into a blog named Long 18th. In August 2006 its members discussed “How and why do we define the long eighteenth?” Most notable about that interchange is that, out of eighteen comments, only one person actually tried to answer the question. And he ended up deferring to a Norton Anthology.

† Only you can help the undertheorized children of the eighteenth century. Won’t you help?

The picture above shows the unicorn from the Old State House; there’s also a lion, naturally. Clicking on that thumbnail takes you to Prof. Jeffery Howe’s page on eighteenth-century architecture in Boston.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Washington and the Cherry Tree

Every American “knows” the story of young George Washington and the cherry tree, and knows that it has no basis in fact. But how many of us have had a chance to read the original version of that story?

Here’s Mason Weems’s fable as it was published in 1809, transcribed by the George Washington Papers at the University of Virginia.

The crucial point:

The next morning the old gentleman finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him any thing about it.

Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance.

George, said his father, do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?

This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment...
What will our young hero say?

(Today’s picture, also courtesy of the Washington Papers at Virginia, shows Grant Wood’s painting Parson Weems’ Fable.)

Friday, January 25, 2008

Capt. Moses Brown and the Beverly Company

Boston 1775 reader Tom Macy sent a link to his handy online edition of the orderly book of Capt. Moses Brown of Beverly from January to May 1776. Brown’s company was part of the 14th Continental Regiment, stationed in Beverly to guard the first American privateers’ wharfs, supplies, and captured vessels.

Here’s what the regiment’s commander, Col. John Glover (shown here), issued as general orders on this date in 1776:

It is Coll’s Orders that the Captains see that the Soldiers under their Command be disciplined [i.e., trained] twice a day at least, and that they keep their Arms clean and fit for Use, also to divide them into Messes of Six Men each, and to visit their Barracks three times a week & order them to be swept clean, and that the Soldiers keep themselves Neat & Clean, shave once a Week at least – as their Health & Reputation much depends on this, it’s expected this Order is punctually obeyed.

And it is further ordered and directed that the Non-Commissnd Officers & Soldiers attend divine Service at the house of publick Worship, and that no one will presume to go to the house of God in an indecent rude or disorderly manner, or behave so while their, on penalty of being punished therefore agreeable to the Nature of his Offence, and in order to encourage and stimulate the Soldiers, Commissioned Officers will set the Example by going themselves.
Macy’s annotations explain the location of the barracks, the nearest meeting-house, and the local ministers who were paid as chaplains. He also wisely writes, “There must be a good story behind the order that no one should behave ‘in an indecent rude or disorderly manner’ at church.” Almost every time someone writes a rule against certain behavior, we can assume that someone else has been behaving in just that way. Likewise, some officers had probably not been setting the example the colonel wanted.

The website also includes Brown’s breakdown of his company by age, height, home town, and whether they brought their own muskets. Almost all these soldiers came from Beverly, so they were serving in their home town. One, Esop Hales, was African-American, confirming that Glover’s regiment was integrated.

Capt. Brown’s orderly book is on display with his sword at the Beverly Historical Society.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

David Library Lectures View the War from Five Angles

The David Library of the American Revolution in Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, is, so far as I know, the only library in the U.S. of A. devoted exclusively to that war. It’s a quirky place. Founder Sol Feinstone named it after his grandson David, and the books are shelved in order of his acquisition rather than, oh, logically. Its holdings include lots of published materials, including books, microfilms, and digital resources, though not much in the way of manuscripts and other original documents.

This winter and spring the David Library’s lecture series is called “Five Views of the Revolutionary War,” and the views are:

Thursday, February 7, 2008 — 7:30 PM
Christopher L. Brown, Ph.D., Professor of History, Columbia University, “The British Are Coming: The Politics of Black Loyalism in the American Revolution and After” — Swept up in war, often but not always unwillingly, were America’s African slaves, whom most white Americans would not allow to fight or leave their place of bondage. Thousands, both men and women, responded to the war’s disruption by escaping to the British Army wherever possible, especially in Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia, and declaring their loyalty to the British Crown. At the war’s end, many departed from the United States for various parts of the British Empire, where they formed new and diverse settlements.

Thursday, March 13, 2008 – 7:30 PM
Scott N. Hendrix, Ph. D., Instructor, Cuyahoga Community College, Cleveland, Ohio; David Library Fellow, “Upright Men Who Entered for Steady Advancement: The Centrality of Military Honor and Reputation for the Eighteenth-Century British Army Officer” — Seeing the war as both a duty and a career opportunity, thousands of officers of the British Army ordered their conduct and defined their role in the conflict according to strict rules of honor. This concept of honor largely determined their behavior both in victory and in defeat, from the war’s outset until their departure from America.

Sunday, April 13, 2008 – 3:00 PM
Maj. Jason Palmer, Assistant Professor of History, United States Military Academy (West Point), “George Washington’s Disillusionment: Learning to Command ‘Such Men,’ 1775-1776” — When he took command of the Continental Army, George Washington imagined that he could shape and lead his army much as a British general would do. But he quickly discovered that the Yankee farmers and artisans under his command, both officers and common soldiers, would not be led in traditional ways, and in a difficult first year he devised a new system of command, which he carried through the next five years to victory over a quite different British army.

Thursday, May 15, 2008 – 7:30 PM
Holly Mayer, Ph. D., Professor of History, Duquesne University, “Congress’s Own: French Canadian Continentals and Camp Followers” — In 1775 Congress hoped to bring French Canada into the war on the American side. This largely failed as Britain’s Quebec Act, the determined resistance of the British army, and a smallpox epidemic in America’s invading forces kept most of Canada loyal to the Crown. But by late 1776, Congress had acquired a regiment of soldiers that were uniquely its own: not raised by any rebelling state, but formed entirely of rebellious French Canadian men, accompanied by their families and other civilians, who were willing to march south to fight in America’s war.

Sunday, June 8, 2008 – 3:00 PM
John Rees, Independent Historian, “The Pleasure of Their Number, 1778: Crisis, Conscription, and Revolutionary Soldiers’ Recollections” — Most Revolutionary War soldiers were volunteers or members of local militias, but not all. In 1778 several states, including New Jersey, instituted a draft, (the first, and last, draft in America before the Civil War). This drastic measure underlines a basic truth about the War for Independence: in both the proportion of the population under arms and the number of casualties, it was, along with the Civil War and World War II, one of the three largest wars in American history.
These lectures are all free, but there’s limited seating, so the library asks folks to call 215-493-6776 x100 to make reservations.

Thanks to John Maass of A Student of History for the info. The photo above comes from a guide to Bucks County, Pennsylvania, which has useful information for anyone visiting the library from out of town.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Voting for the Consent of the Governed

Yesterday’s Boston Globe ran two opinion pieces about the National Popular Vote bill now under consideration in the Massachusetts and other state legislatures. Both writers support the idea of ensuring the U.S. President is elected by a majority, or at least plurality, of American voters. “Consent of the governed,” the Declaration of Independence called that, and folks disagree with the notion only when they’ve noticed that it would block their preferred candidate from taking office.

The two opinion writers disagree on how the country should enact change to the Electoral College’s operations, whether through constitutional amendment or state laws. Pam Wilmot, executive director of Massachusetts Common Cause, wrote:

The National Popular Vote bill uses the states’ existing constitutional authority to choose the manner of selecting its presidential electors and the states’ existing authority to enter into legally enforceable joint agreements with other states to reach the goal of electing the president using the popular vote in all 50 states.

Under National Popular Vote, the agreement would take effect only when identical enabling legislation has been enacted by states collectively possessing a majority of the electoral college—that is 270 of the 538 electoral votes, roughly equal to half of the population. These states agree to give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in all 50 states, thereby guaranteeing the popular vote winner a supermajority in the Electoral College.
Martin G. Evans, a retired Canadian business professor who has a lot of other opinions as well, argued:
Although the Constitution reserves to the states the procedures that they use to select their representatives in the Electoral College, there are a number of other constitutional issues that would have to be decided by the courts:

For a state in the compact, it could be argued that the due process rights of voters were being violated if the electors went against the state's own balance of party strength.

For a state outside the compact, it is clear that voters' rights are diminished because they would not have an equal right to affect the selection of the president in the Electoral College.

Finally, if a state decided to withdraw at the last minute—something forbidden by the compact—and instruct its electors to cast their votes for the winner of the state rather than for the winner of the national popular vote, it is possible that its action would be sustained by the courts because the Constitution gives the states autonomy to decide the manner of choosing and instructing its electors.
I don’t think Prof. Evans’s first two arguments hold up, while the last is an unlikely contingency. The Electoral College was never designed to ensure an “equal right” for voters or (as he wrote before this quoted passage) to provide “checks and balances.” The Electoral College has always been a thumb on the scale in favor of states with fewer voters; it has thus always given voters unequal rights and thrown the voting system off balance.

The Electoral College was also a way of removing the choice of President two or three steps from ordinary citizens. But since it was never a deliberative body (each state’s electors meet separately), it doesn’t offer the benefits of representational democracy.

Even so, the Electoral College never worked as the men of the Constitutional Convention expected in a contested election. The formation of political parties undermined the original system as soon as George Washington retired. In 1796 the Electoral College seated rivals as President and Vice President. Four years later, the man most electors wanted to be President nearly didn’t get that office. Before the next election, the states passed the Twelfth Amendment to fix the system.

But that still didn’t make the consent of the governed paramount in choosing a President. By then some states (including Massachusetts) were passing laws to assign all their electors to the local winner rather than proportionately, giving some voters even less influence than before. Combine that with the disproportionate Electoral vote for small states, and four Presidents and four Vice Presidents have taken office clearly lacking the consent of the governed.

Supreme Court decisions have held that state governments can choose electors however they choose. The National Popular Vote plan would take that undemocratic aspect of the system and put it to good use at last by ensuring that the consent of the governed matters. Yes, it would be more permanent to change the Constitution by amendment, and we could do that as well. But time’s passing. We’ve given the current, flawed system two hundred years. It’s time we made the Electoral College an empty ritual.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Ministers Telling Stories About Each Other

Boston 1775 promises gossip about the people of Revolutionary Boston, so for new material I’ve gone to a rather gossipy bunch: New England clergymen. Both of these tales involves descendants of the most imposing New England clergymen of all, Increase and Cotton Mather.

The Rev. Dr. James Freeman Clarke (1810-1888) passed on an anecdote from his namesake, step-grandparent, and guardian, the prominent early Unitarian minister James Freeman (1759-1835, shown here, courtesy of the Unitarian Universalist Association):

I was once walking with Dr. John Clarke, and we met Mather Byles. He took my arm and said,—“Now we have the whole Bible here. I am the Old Testament, you, Mr. Clarke, are the New Testament, and as for Mr. Freeman, he is the Apocrypha.”
The Rev. Dr. Byles’s inability to resist a witticism was one reason he dropped out of favor with his congregation during the Revolutionary War.

The Rev. Samuel Mather (1706-1785) was Cotton’s son and biographer, and thus at the very top of the region’s Congregationalist orthodoxy. In an 1847 letter printed in the Annals of the American Unitarian Pulpit, the Rev. Dr. Charles Lowell (1782-1861) passed on this picture of the man:
Dr. John Lathrop, of Boston, related to me the following anecdote of Dr. Samuel Mather, whom he knew well, being a member of the same Ministerial Association with him for many years:—At a certain meeting of the Association, Dr. Mather talked nearly the whole time; and, when the members were about to disperse, the Doctor said very emphatically,—“Well, Brethren, I don’t remember that I ever knew a pleasanter meeting of the Association than this.”

I understood the anecdote as pointing to the prominent infirmity in Dr. Mather’s character.
Mather also had difficulty with his congregants. He presided over the North Meeting-House for a decade until 1742, when the worshipers “New Light” leanings conflicted with his “Old Light” sensibility. Mather and a quarter of the congregation then formed a new meeting, Boston’s tenth, on North Bennet Street.

Mather and Byles were two of the three Congregationalist ministers who remained in Boston through the siege of 1775-76, the third being the Rev. Dr. Andrew Eliot (1718-1788). Only Byles was a political Loyalist, however, and even he refused to leave the country.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Records from Col. Scamman’s Regiment

A Boston 1775 reader has alerted me to Seth Kaller’s offering of documents from Capt. Samuel Leighton’s provincial company during the siege of Boston. The document dealer’s description says:

The present papers primarily illustrate the administration and supply of Captain Samuel Leighton's Company in the 30th Regiment of Foot commanded by Colonel James Scamman. They include a 44 page Book of Accounts kept by Leighton, recording pay receipts and meetings with soldiers, 3 “Returns,” 4 muster rolls for the company in July–September 1775, 15 receipts for guns, and 12 pay receipts for the company.
Leighton’s company was involved in the fight for Hog Island.

Col. Scamman (also spelled Scammon) interests me because of what he did during the Battle of Bunker Hill—or rather what he didn’t do. He was ordered to take his regiment into action on the hill. Instead, he stopped on Lechmere Point in east Cambridge, where Maj. Scarborough Gridley of the artillery was trading ineffectual shots with a British warship in the Charles River and Col. John Mansfield was also holding his regiment.

On 12 July 1775, Gen. George Washington’s general orders included this item:
A General Court Martial of the Line to sit at Head Quarters, in Cambridge, to morrow morning at Nine OClock, to try Col. Scammons of the Massachusetts Forces accused of “Backwardness in the execution of his duty in the late Action upon Bunkers-hill”. The Adjutant of Col. Scammon’s regiment, to warn all Evidences [i.e., witnesses], and persons concern’d to attend the court.
Scamman argued that he had thought his orders to march “to the hill” meant Cobble Hill on Lechmere Point, not Bunker Hill, and he had sent a message to Gen. Israel Putnam asking if his men were needed in Charlestown.

On 18 July, Washington announced that Scamman had been acquitted. The colonel then accused Ens. Joshua Trafton of “abusive Language, to the said Colonel Scammons while under Arrest,” but Trafton was also acquitted. Gridley, Mansfield, and other American officers weren’t so fortunate in their courts-martial. However, Washington and his command didn’t bring Scamman into the Continental Army when they reorganized at the end of 1775.

In February 1776, Scamman had the record of his trial published in the New-England Chronicle, apparently to uphold his reputation. That November, he petitioned the Massachusetts Council this way:
whereas his conduct has been called in question respecting the Battle of Charlestown in June 1775 wherein the Disposition made was such as could render but Little prospect of success and he being willing to shew his Country that he is ready at all Times to risque his Fortune and Life in defence of it would readily engage again in the service thereof and begs leave to inform your Honours that he has no doubt that he can raise a Regiment immediately for the service of the Continent and therefore prays to be indulged with a Commission for that purpose...
It doesn’t look like Scamman’s request was ever granted.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Basely Deprived Him of the Whole

It’s been a while since we checked in on John Morrison, the minister from Peterborough, New Hampshire, who marched with his town’s militia company to the siege of Boston and then, shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill, deserted to the British.

The Pennsylvania Packet for 1 Jan 1776 printed a dispatch datelined “Cambridge, December 21”:

That one Morrison, who officiates as a Presbyterian Minister, being appointed searcher of those people who were permitted to leave the town, promised, on receiving a bribe, to let a person bring out 240l. sterling in cash and plate; but afterwards basely deprived him of the whole of it.
Such a shame when you can’t trust the people you bribe.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Legacy of Little Dams

This week the New York Times ran an article about how environmental history is changing the way geologists consider natural river flow. It turns out that many waterways that scientists thought were natural may have already been shaped by human industry in the eighteenth century. Reporter Cornelia Dean wrote:

The researchers [at Franklin and Marshall College] examined historical records and maps, geochemical data, aerial photographs and other imagery from river systems in Pennsylvania and Maryland. They discovered that beginning in the 1700s, European settlers built tens of thousands of dams, with perhaps almost 18,000 or more in Pennsylvania alone.

In a telephone interview, Dr. [Dorothy J.] Merritts described a typical scenario. Settlers build a dam across a valley to power a grist mill, and a pond forms behind the dam, inundating the original valley wetland. Meanwhile, the settlers clear hillsides for farming, sending vast quantities of eroded silt washing into the pond.

Years go by. The valley bottom fills with sediment trapped behind the dam. By 1900 or so the dam is long out of use and eventually fails. Water begins to flow freely through the valley again. But now, instead of reverting to branching channels moving over and through extensive valley wetlands, the stream cuts a sharp path through accumulated sediment. This is the kind of stream that earlier researchers thought was natural.

“This early work was excellent,” Dr. Merritts said, “but it was done unknowingly in breached millponds.”
Merritts’s paper with Robert C. Walter, “Natural Streams and the Legacy of Water-Powered Mills,” appears in the 18 Jan 2008 issue of Science. Its abstract reads:
Gravel-bedded streams are thought to have a characteristic meandering form bordered by a self-formed, fine-grained floodplain. This ideal guides a multibillion-dollar stream restoration industry.

We have mapped and dated many of the deposits along mid-Atlantic streams that formed the basis for this widely accepted model. These data, as well as historical maps and records, show instead that before European settlement, the streams were small anabranching channels within extensive vegetated wetlands that accumulated little sediment but stored substantial organic carbon. Subsequently, 1 to 5 meters of slackwater sedimentation, behind tens of thousands of 17th- to 19th-century milldams, buried the presettlement wetlands with fine sediment.

These findings show that most floodplains along mid-Atlantic streams are actually fill terraces, and historically incised channels are not natural archetypes for meandering streams.
I have no idea whether geologists have thought the same model applied in New England, but British-American farmers and small mill-owners were undoubtedly shaping that landscape even longer than in Pennsylvania.

(Aerial photo of the Assabet River in Concord above by Steve Dunwell, creator of Massachusetts: A Scenic Journey and other books from Back Bay Press.)

Friday, January 18, 2008

Historic Deerfield’s “Art of the Gentleman”

On 12 Apr 2008, Historic Deerfield will host a one-day symposium on “The Art of the Gentleman: Clothing and Accessories of the Elegant Elite in 18th-Century America.”

The program will deliver a full day of lectures, presentations, and workshops, including:

  • “Starting Young: Boy’s Dress Suits” – Lynn Edgar
  • “Whigs in Wigs: A Mid-18th Century Wigmaker in Deerfield” – Edward Maeder
  • “A Family History of Elegant Attire: The Storer Family of Boston” – Henry Cooke IV
  • “From Bookseller to Library: What Colonial Gentlemen Read”
  • “Genteel Accessories: Buckles & Jewelry, Swords, and Canes” – Bill Hettinger
  • “The Best Stuff: Fashionable Textiles for Gentlemen” – Mark Hutter
  • “Striking a Pose: Proper Posture as the Key to Sartorial Success” – Mark Hutter & Henry Cooke IV
The symposium, which costs $100, will include lunch. For an additional $65, participants can enjoy “A Genteel Assembly,” an evening of entertainment with food and music at Historic Deerfield’s Hall Tavern, from 6:00 to 9:00. Participants are encouraged to wear period attire for the entire day if they desire.

Early registration is imperative. The deadline is 8 Feb 2008. For a registration form and other information, including accommodation options, contact Julie Marcinkiewicz, Coordinator of Special Events, at (413) 775-7179.

This symposium is organized in conjunction with Historic Deerfield’s display of men’s fashions titled “Clothes Make the Man,” at the Flynt Center of Early New Life, which opens on 29 March.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Even Earlier “Corcas”

I started my longer-than-expected series of postings about the Boston caucus with what I said was the earliest surviving written use of that word, from John Adams’s diary in 1763. I was wrong about that. So was my Oxford English Dictionary.

The word first appeared three years earlier in the form “corcas.” One usage on 12 May 1760 was spotted by Richard Frothingham in his Life and Times of Joseph Warren (1865), though he didn’t provide an exact date, and by Henry M. Brooks in the fourth volume of his Olden Time Series of miscellany from Boston’s colonial newspapers (1886). Those references bubbled up to me through some lucky Googling. Then I used the newspaper database I described back here and found an example even older—by one week.

This notice appeared in the Boston Gazette on 5 May 1760:

Whereas it is reported, that certain Persons, of the modern Air and Complexion, to the Number of Twelve at least, have divers Times of late been known to combine together, and are called by the Name of the New and Grand Corcas, tho’ of declared Principles directly opposite to all that have been heretofore known:

And whereas it is vehemently suspected, by some, that their Design is nothing less, than totally to overthrow, the ancient Constitution of our Town-Meetings, as being popular and mobbish; and to form a Committee to transact the whole Affairs of the Town for the future; which hath greatly alarmed the Minds of sober Housholders, as well Merchants as Tradesmen and others;

And whereas it is further reported, that this Combination of Twelve Strangers, having no Prospect of bringing about this ever-to-be-dreaded Revolution, without the Aid and Authority of the General Assembly, do intend to employ their whole Strength, to obtain such a Choice of Representatives, at the ensuing Election, as will best serve their grand Purpose; which can be by no Means effected, but by leaving out two Gentlemen, who they have Reason to believe will strenuously and constantly oppose, all violent Invasions of our civil or religious Rights:—

And whereas it is confidently asserted by some, and many are verily persuaded of the same, that this said new and grand Corcas, have with many Asseverations engaged, to make a Point or carrying an Election, for any Manner of Persons, and by all Manner of Ways and Means whatever, in Opposition to the two Gentlemen above refer’d to; and particularly of detering all Tradesmen, and those whom in Contempt they usually term the Low lived People, from appearing to vote against their Designs, by strict Scrutinies, by Threatnings of Arrests, by turnings out of Employ, and other Methods of Violence, too many to be here enumerated.

THIS is to give Notice, that the Committee of Tradesmen, have taken into cool and deliberate Consultation these Reports and Suspicions, and admitting that there be such a combining together, and that their Principles and Designs be such as is represented, The said Committee of Tradesmen do mutually judge and determine, their Principles to be pernicious, and their Designs and Efforts to be of no Sort of Significancy.—

And the said Committee of Tradesmen, do hereby exhort their good Friends, the Members of the old and true Corcas, who have from Time immemorial been zealously affected, to our ancient Establishment in Church and State, to behave at the ensuing Town Meeting with their usual Steadiness, and like honest Freeman to vote for WHOM THEY PLEASE.

At our Meeting at the Sign
of the Broad Ax, near
the North Star,
May 2, 1760
So as of 1760, Gazette readers were expected to recognize “Members of the old and true Corcas” as representing the interests of tradesmen, as opposed to the “new and grand Corcas.” The latter, this notice warned, was about to engage in voter-suppression efforts to win seats in the General Court for the candidates they preferred.

The issue here might have been an attempt to change Boston’s constitution from a town-meeting system to a city with a mayor and aldermen. That more efficient, more elite system of governance didn’t take hold until the early 1800s. Of course, the writer tossed in the additional incendiary issues of religion, class, and whether the advocates of a new system were “Strangers.”

A week later the committee returned to the Gazette with more sarcasm:
The Committee of Tradesmen hereby advise their Constituents and others, to set apart a decent Portion of Time (at least one Hour) previous to the Opening of the Town-Meeting To-Morrow, to shift themselves and put on their Sabbath Day Clothes; also to wash their Hands and Faces, that they may appear neat and cleanly; Inasmuch as it hath been reported to said Committee of Tradesmen, that Votes are to be GIVEN AWAY, by the delicate Hands of the New and Grand Corcas; and they would have no Offence given to Turk or Jew, much less to Gentlemen who attend upon so charitable a Design.—

Nothing of the least Significancy was transacted at a late Meeting of the said new and grand Corcas to require any further Attention of said Committee.
Again we see the custom of handing out prepared ballots with the name of one caucus’s candidates.

I’d thought that “Corkass” from March 1763 was a very rude corruption of “Caucas,” but it might be a merely slightly rude spelling of an older form of the word, “Corcas.” As Boston 1775 commenters have noted, when locals had a tendency to swallow their Rs, words can be spelled with or without them.

Putting these notices alongside the 1763 complaints about the more popularly-based caucus shows the value of this old adage (which I just thought up): When my friends and I organize to elect the candidates we like, that’s democracy in action; when our rivals organize to elect the candidates they like, that’s a grave threat to democracy that must be stopped.

I welcome even earlier appearances of “caucus,” however it’s spelled.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Old North Meeting-House Pulled Down

One of the many false notes in The Patriot, the Mel Gibson movie about the Revolutionary War, was the scene of British soldiers burning a church with American civilians inside. No such atrocity took place in that war, though some American attacks on Native American towns in upstate New York became quite vicious.

However, the British army did burn one prominent house of worship in occupied Boston. On 16 Jan 1776, selectman Timothy Newell recorded the start of what he probably thought counted as an atrocity:

The Old North Meeting house, pulled down by order of Genl. [William] Howe for fuel for the Refuges and Tories.
Yes, the army burned this church only after dismantling it, with no one killed or even injured.

Old North Meeting-house is on the left in this 1768 picture, marked B. The taller, grander steeple to the right is Christ Church, which inherited the “Old North” nickname after the war and is now commonly called Old North Church.

The Old North Meeting was the second oldest in Boston, preceded only by the “Old Brick” Meeting in the center of town. By the Revolution, there were two other Congregationalist meetings in the North End. The New North meeting had split from Old North in 1714, and then the New Brick had split from New North in 1719. In the years before the war, most Bostonians called Old North “Mr. Lathrop’s meeting,” after the Rev. John Lathrop (1740-1816), who became its minister in 1768.

Decades later, the congregation ascribed the destruction of their meeting-house to a particular enmity of a British general. An 1899 church history quoted the Rev. Thomas Van Ness this way:
I am not surprised to learn that as early as 1774 Lathrop, from this pulpit, said, “Americans, rather than submit to be hewers of wood or drawers of water for any nation in the world, would spill their best blood”; nor does it seem strange that the British general, in speaking of The Second Church, should call it “a nest of traitors.”
Lathrop did indeed say in a Thanksgiving sermon in late 1774:
Americans, who have been used to war from their infancy, would spill their best blood, rather than “submit to be hewers of wood, or drawers of water, for any ministry or nation in the world.”
The latter phrase was a direct quotation from the First Continental Congress’s address to the people of Great Britain, carefully cited in the printed edition of Lathrop’s sermon. The Congress in turn alluded to the Book of Joshua. So this sentiment wasn’t particular to Lathrop.

Lathrop definitely supported the Patriot cause. In 1771, he preached a sermon on the Boston Massacre subtly titled “Innocent Blood Crying to God from the Streets of Boston.” The 1842 History of the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company, by Zachariah G. Whitman, stated:
In June, 1774, the Ar. Co. held their election, when the late Dr. John Lathrop delivered an excellent and patriotic discourse. It is related, that while Dr. Lathrop preached, British troops were in the vicinity, and a sentry was placed on the pulpit stairs, lest any thing rebellious should be expressed. One fact the compiler remembers, viz: to have heard Dr. L. say, when he was accused of advancing sentiments inimical to his country [i.e., the U.S. of A.], that no one certainly could doubt his patriotic spirit, for he had preached republicanism with a British sentry, armed, on the pulpit stairs, to watch what he said; but he did not mention the occasion.
As for the “nest of traitors” line, however, I haven’t found any source for that quotation earlier than the church’s 1899 history. Other writers in the same book use the phrase “nest of hornets” instead, and authors disagree about whether Gen. Howe or Gen. Thomas Gage uttered those words.

It’s possible that the British authorities really didn’t like Lathrop and the Old North Meeting. It’s also possible that those authorities pulled down the meeting-house simply because it was an old, deserted wooden building, and they needed firewood in the middle of winter. The 1 Jan 1776 Pennsylvania Packet printed a dispatch from Cambridge dated 21 December which said:
That on the 14th instant [i.e., this month] Gen. Howe issued orders for taking down the Old North Meeting House, and one hundred old wooden dwelling houses and other buildings, to make use of for fuel.
Lathrop and many of his congregants had moved out of town and were no longer in a position to object.

In 1849, the Rev. Dr. John Pierce of Brookline wrote a letter about Lathrop that was later printed in the Annals of the American Unitarian Pulpit:
In 1775, when Boston was in possession of the British army, he set out to find a refuge in his native place [Norwich, Connecticut]; but, as he was passing through Providence on his way to Norwich, proposals were made to him to supply a destitute congregation there, to which he consented.

Upon the opening of Boston, in 1776, however, he returned; and, in the mean time, the ancient house in which he had been accustomed to preach had been demolished and used as fuel. It was ninety-eight years old; but was considered, “at its demolition, a model of the first architecture in New England.”

Mr. Lathrop accepted an invitation from the New Brick Church, to aid their Pastor, Dr. [Ebenezer] Pemberton, then in a declining state. And, after Dr. Pemberton’s death in the following year, the two Societies united; and, on the 27th of June, 1779, he became their joint Pastor. In this relation he continued during the remainder of his life.
So a good thing came out of the destruction of the Old North Meeting-House: its minister and congregation doubled up with one of the nearby meetings, and eventually the two became one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The North End Caucus Mobilizes Against the Tea

So yesterday the North End Caucus—a group of more than sixty politically minded Bostonians—started meeting in 1772 to choose candidates for town offices. This appears to have been an outgrowth of an earlier, smaller, wealthier “Caucas Club.” That first year, the only times the North End Caucus met were just before town meetings in March and May, when Bostonians elected their officials and representatives to the General Court. The same pattern applied in early 1773. But then in late October a dire threat to British liberties loomed on the eastern horizon: tea.

On 23 Oct 1773 the North End Caucus assembled, elected shipwright Gibbons Sharp their moderator, and then:

Voted—That this body will oppose the vending any Tea, sent by the East India Company to any part of the Continent, with our lives and fortunes.

Voted—That there be a committee chosen to correspond with any Committee chosen in any part of the town, on this occation; and call this body together at any time they think necessary.—Paul Revere, Abiel Ruddock and John Lowell the Committee.
Revere was a well connected silversmith with some talent in engraving and dentistry. Ruddock was secretary of the caucus and heir to a late shipyard owner, John Ruddock. Lowell was a young lawyer (unless that was a different John Lowell). They thus represented the cross-section of their group: a well-established craftsman, a major employer, and a professional gentleman. [ADDENDUM, Dec 2008: I now believe this John Lowell was a thirty-three-year-old merchant from a Charlestown family, not a young lawyer. He had been part of a Boston town committee to promote a tea boycott in 1770.]

The North End Caucus met again on 2 November, for the first time gathering at the Green Dragon Tavern (shown above). This building had become the property of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons a few years before, but it continued to function as a tavern. The group chose merchant Nathaniel Holmes as their moderator and then began issuing demands:
Voted—That a committee be chosen to wait upon the Committee of Correspondence of this town, and desire their attendance here. Committee, B[enjamin]. Kent, E[dward]. Proctor, and G[abriel]. Johonnot.

Voted—That a committee be chosen to wait on John Hancock, Esq. and desire him to meet with us. Committee, John Winthrop, Capt. [John] Matchet, and G. Johonnot.

Voted—That this body are determined that the Tea shipped or to be shipped by the East India Company shall not be landed.

Voted—That a committee be chosen to draw a resolution to be read to the Tea Consignees to-morrow 12 O’Clock, noon, at Liberty Tree: and that Dr. Thos. Young and [Dr. Benjamin] Church, and [Dr. Joseph] Warren, be a committee for that purpose, and make a report as soon as may be.
To deliver its messages to town officials and rich merchants, the caucus called only on its more genteel members: other merchants and professionals.

The next day the group gathered again at noon and voted to accept the recommendation of its committee of three doctors:
And the Committee reported as follows. viz. that Thos. and Elisha Hutchinson [the governor’s sons], R[ichard]. Clark & Sons, and Benjamin Faneuil [the tea consignees appointed in London], by neglecting to give satisfaction as their fellow-citizens justly expected from them in this hour, relative to their acceptance of an office destructive to this Community, have intolerably insulted this body, and in case they do not appear, forthwith, and satisfy their reasonable expectation, this body will look upon themselves warrented to esteem them enemies to their Country; and will not fail to make them feel the weight of their just resentment.
The caucus had lined up support from other activists, the town’s standing Committee of Correspondence, and the most popular young merchant around. It had given the tea consignees a chance to resign. Now the North End Caucus took their crusade “out of doors.” Instead of meeting privately, they summoned the people of Boston to a public meeting:
Voted—That Capt. Proctor, John Lowell, G. Johonnot, James Swan, John Winthrop and T[homas]. Chase be a committee to get a flag for Liberty Tree.

Voted that Thos. Hichborn and John Boit be a committee for posting up said notification.
Boston’s Whigs had made a habit of flying a flag at Liberty Tree to gather crowds in the late 1760s, but apparently that practice had fallen into abeyance since the North End Caucus needed to roust up another flag. Thomas Chase owned the distillery under Liberty Tree, and the rest of the men on his committee were merchants and professionals. In contrast, Thomas Hichborn was a boatbuilder and John Boit a shopkeeper—probably seen as more fitting for the actual work of putting up notices for this public meeting.

The North End Caucus thus started mobilizing against tea imports in October and was calling meetings in early November—weeks in advance of the arrival of the first tea. It appears that the caucus was pushing other local groups and institutions along. In addition, the first group to patrol the wharf where a tea ship docked was led by the caucus’s Capt. Proctor, and the first four volunteers and eight of the first eleven on his list were also members of the North End Caucus.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Listening in on the North End Caucus

I’ve been tracing the development of Boston’s caucus system, and am now pleased to come to actual records from the “North End Caucus” from 1772 to 1775. A century ago these papers were in the hands of Boston publisher A. O. Crane. They were printed as Appendix C in Elbridge Henry Goss’s Life of Colonel Paul Revere, volume 2 (1891). As of today, alas, Google Books has scanned only the first volume of this biography.

Richard Frothingham had seen such documents when he wrote his History of the Siege of Boston (first published 1849), and one of his footnotes adds some details:

  • The word caucus was actually spelled “caucos”—another clue to its etymology?
  • “On the first leaf is the memorandum, ‘Began 1767—records lost.’”
  • “On the cover, under the date of March 23, there is a list of sixty persons, probably the members of the caucus.”
  • The documents originally extended to 17 May 1774, though the surviving transcript ends on 9 May.
The vote to define the duties of a secretary (quoted below) make me think the 23 Mar 1772 meeting was when the North End Caucus was founded and organized, and the 1767 date refers to an earlier or parent group. That also fits with John Eliot’s 1809 statement that the members of an existing caucus decided to expand in 1772.

The North End group’s first recorded meeting took place at the Salutation Tavern on North Street. That tavern’s sign showed two gentlemen conversing, which inspired an alternative name for the establishment: the Two Palaverers. The thumbnail picture up top shows a 1773 London print called “The Salutation Tavern,” by Henry Bunbury (1750-1811), inspired by a public house of the same name in Holburn. This print is part of the digital images collection at Yale University Libraries.

The list of sixty caucus members starts with William Molineux, Samuel Adams, Gibbons Sharp, and John Adams. Was this John Adams the lawyer, one-term town representative, and future President? At the time, he was living in Braintree, not Boston. Then again, Molineux lived on Beacon Hill (where the State House now stands) and Samuel Adams lived in the South End. So the North End Caucus wasn’t confined to men from Boston’s North End.

The family of selectman John Ruddock, which was the biggest man in the neighborhood, was represented by his son Abiel Ruddock, who became the caucus’s secretary, and his son-in-law, Dr. Elisha Story. Dr. Joseph Warren and Dr. Thomas Young were both present. Men from the Loyall Nine of 1765 included Thomas Chase, Henry Bass, and Benjamin Edes.

As far as the meeting goes, its records are about as exciting as the records of any other meeting whose goal is to build and demonstrate consensus rather than to record divisions or disagreement. The secretary noted the group’s decisions without preserving any hint of the debate or, if the vote wasn’t unanimous, saying how close it was. Thus, the first meeting’s business was:
At a meeting of the North End Caucus, Boston, held at Mr. William Campbell’s March 23, 1772. . . .
Gibbens Sharp, was Moderator.
Abiel Ruddock Secretary.

Voted—That the Secretary be desired to record the proceedings of the Caucus.

Voted—That we will use our endeavours for Oliver Wendell, Esq., to be Selectman, in the room of Dr. Jon Greenleaf, resigned.

Voted—That Capt. Cazneau and Nathaniel Barber, be a Committee to write votes for the body, and distribute them, accordingly.

Voted—That Messrs G. Sharp, N. Barber, T. Hitchborn, Capt. Pulling, H. Bass, Paul Revere, J. Ballard, Dr. Young, T. Kimball, Abiel Ruddock, and John Lowell, be a committee to examine into the Minority of the town, and report to this body. And, also, that this Committee notify the body when and where to meet.
I believe “to write votes for the body” meant writing out ballots with the names of the caucus’s preferred candidates that voters could use in a town meeting and not have to write their own. I don’t know what the “Minority of the town” might mean: the rest of town, the outvoted group, the younger set?

The North End Caucus met again on 5 May to decide their preferences for Boston’s representatives in the General Court. Unstated in that record is how James Otis, Jr., was no longer up to that job, so the caucus wished to replace him with William Phillips. Most of the time, the caucus endorsed all the incumbent office-holders.

The May meeting also appointed committees “to wait upon the South End Caucus, and let them know what we have done, and that we shall be glad of their concurrence with us in the same choice,” and the same for the “Caucus in the Middle part of the town.” Again, these caucuses springing up all over seem to have been part of the expansion that year. The North End records have more references to those other two caucuses, but so far as I know we have no documents from those groups themselves. The North End Caucus never recorded receiving messages or advice from those other groups. Perhaps it was the most influential caucus, or perhaps it was simply fast off the mark.

There are some tantalizing gaps in the record, left either by the original secretary or by someone transcribing the document later. On 19 May 1772 the caucus:
Voted—unanimously—That in consequence of the past misconduct of ——— Esq. this body will oppose his appointment to any office of trust of the tow[n]
On 9 May 1774, the caucus got into the affairs of an unidentified church:
Voted—That the prayer of the Rev. ——— Congregation’s petition be supported.
Most of the few other non-election items seem mundane. On 4 May 1773, the caucus agreed “That this body will use their influence to have Kilby st. paved, if they petition according to the ancient custom of the town.” That looks like ordinary neighborhood politics. But when the caucus decided on 9 May 1774, “That this body oppose letting the granery being appropriated to another purpose than it is at present,” I bet that refers to the possibility that the government-owned granary (where Park Street Church now stands) might be turned into barracks for the troops that the London government had ordered into Boston.

In his Biographical Dictionary John Eliot recalled that the expanded caucus “always had a mechanick for moderator.” Gibbons Sharp was a shipwright, though also respectable enough to be a church deacon. However, the group chose insurance broker Nathaniel Barber, merchant Nathaniel Holmes, and physician Thomas Young as moderators on other days. Eliot wrote, “After the destruction of the tea, the place of assembling was known, and they met at the Green Dragon in the spring of 1775.” The North End Caucus actually met at the Green Dragon Tavern first in November 1773, before the Boston Tea Party, and returned to the Salutation Tavern for one meeting in March 1774. So Eliot must have been working off people’s memories rather than the written records.

TOMORROW: The North End Caucus and the Boston Tea Party.

"Where Mark was hung in chains”

Last April I quoted some of Paul Revere’s account of his ride: “After I had passed Charlestown Neck, and got nearly opposite where Mark was hung in chains,...” I wrote parenthetically that Mark had been executed in 1755 for committing rape. Boston 1775 reader Carl Zellner, formerly of the Charlestown Historical Society, reminded me that Mark was executed for helping to kill Capt. John Codman, so I’ve corrected that entry.

Because Mark and his fellow defendant, Phillis, had been enslaved to Codman, the legal charge against them was worse than murder. It was “petit treason,” on the grounds that slaves harming their master was tantamount to subjects attacking their king. Petit treason carried worse penalties than hanging. Phillis was burned to death, a very rare legal punishment in Massachusetts. Mark was hanged, and then his body was displayed near Charlestown common as a warning to others. That’s how Revere came to know “where Mark was hung in chains” twenty years later.

In 1883 Abner Cheney Goodell, Jr., wrote a study of the case for the Massachusetts Historical Society which is available through Google Books. It prints many of the legal documents from the trial, including interrogations of the ill-fated defendants.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Boston’s Caucus Expands in 1772

One of Boston’s political changes in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, according to John Eliot’s A Biographical Dictionary (1809), was an expansion of the caucus to include craftsmen as well as genteel officials and businessmen.

In his entry on Dr. Joseph Warren, Eliot (1754-1813) wrote:

From the year 1768 [actually much earlier], a number of politicians met at each other’s houses to discuss publick affairs, and the settle upon the best methods of serving the town and country. Many of these filled publick offices. But the meetings were private, and had a silent influence upon the publick body.

In 1772 they agreed to increase their number, to meet in a large room, and invite a number of substantial mechanicks to join them, and hold a kind of caucus, pro bono publico. They met in a house near the north battery, and more than 60 were present at the first meeting. Their regulations were drawn up by Dr. Warren and another gentleman, and they never did any thing important without consulting him and his particular friends.

It answered a good purpose to get such a number of mechanicks together; and though a number of whigs of the first character in the town were present, they always had a mechanick for moderator, generally one who could carry many votes by his influence. It was a matter of policy likewise to assemble at that part of the town. It had the effect to awake the north wind, and stir the waters of the troubled sea.

By this body of men the most important matters were decided—they agreed who should be in town offices, in the general court, in the provincial congress, from Boston. Here the committees of publick service were formed, the plan for military companies, and all necessary means of defence. They met about two years steadily at one place. After the destruction of the tea, the place of assembling was known, and they met at the Green Dragon in the spring of 1775, with as many more from the south end, and the records of their proceedings are still preserved.

The writer of these memoirs has been assured by some of the most prominent characters of this caucus, that they were guided by the prudence and skilful management of Dr. Warren, who, with all his zeal and irritability, was a man calculate to carry on any secret business; and that no man ever did manifest more vigilance, circumspection and care.

In every country there are politicians, who are the mere cymbals of the mob, and answer some good purpose, when they are not left to themselves. In this country, through all stages of the revolution, we had many such, who, to their own imagination, appeared to direct the affairs of the publick. Such men were never admitted to be members of the caucus here mentioned; many of them never knew the secret springs, that moved the great wheels, but thought themselves very important characters, because they were sons of liberty, and excelled others in garulity, or made a louder cry upon the wharves, or at corners of streets.
Eliot seems to have had someone in mind when he wrote the last paragraph. I just wish I knew who it was.

TOMORROW: Actual minutes from colonial caucus meetings.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Jemmy’s in the Caucas, and Jemmy’s with the Reps

Yet another early mention of the Boston caucus! As the 1765 Massachusetts General Court elections approached, James Otis, Jr., was in political trouble. He’d been the Boston merchants’ most aggressive advocate and representative since 1761, when he argued the writs of assistance case. But in early 1765 his father had received a royal appointment, and Otis suddenly toned down his rhetoric.

Otis’s apparent flip-flopping was too easy a target for his old critic Samuel Waterhouse to pass by. The 13 May 1765 issue of the Boston Evening-Post included “Jemmibullero: A Fragment of an Ode of Orpheus,” ostensibly by “Peter Minim, Esq.” With a title alluding to the popular song “Lillibullero,” the verse went a little something like this:

And Jemmy is a lying dog, and Jemmy is a thief,
And Jemmy is a jury-mouther,—Jemmy spouts his brief,
And Jemmy is a grammar-smith, and Jemmy is a grub,
And Jemmy is a Cooper’s vessel—Jemmy is a tub.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee.
And Jemmy’s a town-meeting man, & Jemmy makes a speech,
And Jemmy swears that LIBERTY and LIBERTY he’ll preach,
And Jemmy’s in the CAUCAS, and Jemmy’s with the REPS,
And all who’d rise as Jemmy rose must tread in Jemmy’s steps.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee. . . .
As Jemmy is an envious dog, and Jemmy is ambitious,
And rage and slander, spite and dirt to Jemmy are delicious,
So Jemmy rail’d at upper folks while Jemmy’s DAD was out,
But Jemmy’s DAD has now a place, so Jemmy’s turn’d about.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee.

Now Jemmy varies scrawl and talk, as answers Jemmy’s ends,
And MARTIN’s far-stretcht LIBERTY, COURT JEMMY reprehends,
And Jemmy is of this mind, & Jemmy is of that,
And Jemmy’d fain make something out, but Jemmy can’t tell what.
Sing tititumti, tumtititi tititumti, tee,
And tumtititi, tititumti, tumtiprosodee.
The name Orpheus might allude to an odd episode in Otis’s college days, thought to be his first episode of irrationality, when he compared himself to the legendary Greek musician. “Cooper’s vessel” probably refers to William Cooper, Boston’s town clerk. I don’t get the second line of verse VIII at all.

This attack on Otis actually seems to have benefited him. According to John Adams, writing in 1818, the Boston Whigs had been ready to withhold their support from Otis.
The public opinion of all the friends of their country was decided. The public voice was pronounced in accents so terrible, that Mr. Otis fell into a disgrace, from which nothing but Jemmibullero saved him.
The poem made Otis sympathetic again, and probably convinced voters that he would never find a home among friends of the royal government.

After yet another Evening-Post attack on Otis in 1766, he wrote to his sister, Mercy Warren (shown above), ostensibly addressing a concern of her husband, James (even though she was just as politically savvy):
Tell him to give himself no concern about the scurrilous piece in Tom Fleet’s paper; it has served me as much as the song did last year. The Tories are all ashamed of this as they were of that. The author is not yet certainly known, tho’ I think I am within a week of detecting him for certain. If I should, shall try to cure him once for all by stringing him up, not bodily, but in such a way as shall gibbet his memory to all generations in Terrorem.
It’s thought that the 1766 attack, like “Jemmibullero,” came from Samuel Waterhouse.

Friday, January 11, 2008

"We Therefore Request Your Votes..."

Boston’s Caucas Club was “outed” in the spring of 1763, with Thomas and John Fleet printing satirical remarks about that political gathering in a pamphlet and in their Boston Evening-Post newspaper.

It’s interesting, therefore, to find this notice, apparently from the club itself, in the Evening-Post of 14 May 1764:

To the Freeholders, &c.
MODESTY preventing a personal Application (customary in other Places) for your Interest to elect particular Persons to be your Representatives. WE therefore request your Votes for those Gentlemen who have steadily adhered to your Interest in Times past, especially in the Affair of Trade, by sending timely Instructions, requested by our Agent, relative to the Acts of Trade late pending in Parliament.
Your humble Servants,

N.B. Nothing further need be added here, as one of our Writers, will, as usual give something in OUR Paper of this Day, preparatory to the Election To-Morrow, shewing the Expendiency of such a Choice.
That same day, Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette—long associated with the town’s political leaders rather than the royal government—ran a two-column article signed “Nov-Anglicanus,” which seems to be the writing this notice alluded to. That essay made one of the first public arguments that Parliament had no right to lay taxes on American colonists without the consent of their own legislatures. It also praised representatives who had wanted to instruct the colony’s agent (lobbyist) in London to argue against such expanded Customs duties:
It was indeed mov’d and urg’d by some friends to liberty in the late house of representatives, whose names, would it not give them offence, should be mentioned, and who I hope will for ever be supported by their constituents, that an humble remonstrance should be sent home, professedly to set forth, how hard these schemes would bear upon our civil constitutions and our rights as britons, as well as upon our trade—what a grievance it would be for us to be depriv’d of that inestimable privilege of taxing ourselves

A committee was appointed and a remonstrance was drawn up in decent manly terms, and with great force of argument; but the subject truly was so delicate, that the majority of the committee it seems under pretence of touching it more more delicately in some future time, gave it the go by and never touched it at all; nor did the house that I can learn ever call upon them after—

Does this not look as if it was the disposition of the last assembly, under what influence let any man judge, instead of affording aid to our agent, to keep him in the dark and without support?
After that month’s elections there was a new Massachusetts General Court, and in October it sent Parliament a petition asking for several Customs duties to be repealed.

The 14 May Evening-Post notice above appears to be the first time the word “caucus” ever appeared in print as people thought it was really spelled (as opposed to “Corkass”). John Adams had written it the same way in his diary, with an A before the final S. That early spelling might be a hint about where the word came from: it looks less and less like a Latin derivative.