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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Friday, October 31, 2008

Young James Lovell Makes His Move

Yesterday, when we left James Lovell, the illegitimate son of the South Latin School usher of the same name, he had stormed out of that school, angry that his grandfather, Master John Lovell, had whipped him so much. Young James said he would attend Master John Proctor’s Writing School instead.

According to the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Homer, James then “met one of Master Proctor’s boys, who asked him whither he was going, and when informed, warned him not to go, for he would fare worse.”

So the younger James Lovell eventually returned to his grandfather’s and father’s school and completed the course there. In the expected fashion, he moved on to Harvard College, where he graduated in 1776.

In 1777, at the age of nineteen, Lovell became an ensign (equivalent of second lieutenant) in Col. Henry Jackson’s regiment of the Continental Army. In 1780 he was with Lt. Col. Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee’s battalion of light dragoons. (The picture above shows Lee, courtesy of Stratford Hall.) Lovell usually served as adjutant, or administrative officer. He spent considerable time in South Carolina.

According to Southern Womanhood and Slavery, by Leigh Fought, Lovell claimed to have been “the favorite secretary of General George Washington” when he wooed and married a wealthy Orangeburg, South Carolina, widow named Ann Reid. (Some people heard even wilder tales about “Major Lovell.”)

Some of Ann Lovell’s relatives remembered that James ran through her fortune quickly, “leaving her poor and with several children.” However, Fought notes that tax records showed that Ann Lovell remained rich, and actually became richer, from 1790 to 1810. Other family traditions confirm that the plantation flourished. The source of marital trouble was not that James got his hands on her property, but that he couldn’t.

By 1806, the couple’s children had all died, and James Lovell lit out for New Orleans, where he remained until 1811. On James’s return, Ann took legal steps to preserve her property outside his control. The couple quarreled over an inheritance in 1826, and James left again. Ann died in 1834 while James lived on, returning to Cambridge for Harvard commencement in 1846. He died in Orangeburg in 1850.

(As far as I’ve seen, sources in Massachusetts have nothing but good things to say about James Lovell while sources from South Carolina have almost nothing good to say.)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

James Lovell’s Cambridge Secret

So here’s the scoop on James “Jemmy” Lovell (1737-1814) and “the CONJUGATION copulative.” When he graduated from Harvard College in 1756, he was already following his father John Lovell’s profession by teaching at the Cambridge Latin School. He boarded on the north side of the town’s common with Jonathan Hastings, whom different sources call a “substantial tanner” or the college steward. Hastings had a daughter Susanna, seven years Jemmy’s senior.

On 9 July 1758, Susanna Hastings died giving birth to a son. She was unmarried. The child was baptized on 6 August as James Hastings. Lovell apparently denied being the baby’s father for a while, but in April 1759 the Harvard faculty recorded his “penitential Confession” and ordered him to repeat it publicly in the college chapel.

In 1760 James Lovell went into Boston to become usher at the town’s South Latin School, working for his father. In November he married Mary Middleton, from a genteel Anglican family, and they started to have children together:

  • James Smith Lovell, born in 1762.
  • John Middleton Lovell (1763-1799?).
  • Joseph, died in 1784?
  • William, died in 1798 at sea.
  • Mary, born in 1769.
That information comes from Lovell’s entry in Sibley’s Harvard Graduates.

In 1766, when Samuel Waterhouse wrote of a “young grammarian” and “his very notable performance, on the feminine GENDER” in the Boston Evening-Press, he was bringing James Lovell’s illegitimate son, probably still living across the river in Cambridge, to public attention.

At some point, James Lovell agreed to take that young James into his household, allowing him to attend the prestigious South Latin School. This might have been in 1769 when the teachers’ notes list a “James Lobdell,” otherwise unidentified, as the last boy admitted that year. In later life young James definitely used the Lovell surname.

Master John Lovell (shown above) might not have appreciated his illegitimate grandson’s arrival at the school. The Rev. Dr. Jonathan Homer, who entered the school in 1766, later recalled: “James Lovell was so beaten by his grandfather John, that James the father rose and said, ‘Sir, you have flogged that boy enough.’” This was the only recorded example of anyone in Boston criticizing either Lovell for punishing a boy too harshly.

It’s possible that the boy in Homer’s anecdote was James Smith Lovell, who entered the South Latin School in 1771 along with his next younger brother. However, Homer was close in age to the James from Cambridge, and thus far more likely to notice him than a small lad in the first or second form.

Homer remembered: “The boy went off determined to leave school, and go to Master [John] Proctor’s” Writing School nearby. Such a transfer would not only repudiate the Lovell family heritage of learning Latin, but would also wipe out the boy’s chance of going on to Harvard.

TOMORROW: What happened next? Plus an extra dollop of gossip from South Carolina.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The End of “Gloria Mundi”

On 6 January, the same day that Samuel Waterhouse threatened in the Boston Evening-Post to publicly scrutinize James Lovell’s private life as part of their argument in Boston’s newspapers, the Boston Gazette published another letter on the brouhaha. This letter was signed “Thy Friend,” addressed “Friend Samuel,” and written in the voice of a Quaker.

It was not, however, particularly peaceable:

Thou was once esteem’d as a Man of some Learning, some Sociability, some Integrity, some Honor, some Honesty, and some Humanity; but verily of late thou seemest to have lost all Claim to those Virtues, and art grown a sowre, unsociable, jealous, malevolent pityful, pedantick scribler. . . .

Surely Friend Samuel, thou art not Ignorant that Sammy will sound full as well as Jemmy in a late whimsical but invenom’d Song...
That was an allusion to Waterhouse’s notorious “Jemmibullero” song about James Otis, Jr.

One week later, the Monday newspapers printed no fewer than four pieces on the controversy:
  • Unsigned letter in the Gazette suggesting “Gloria Mundi” be sent to “the Ok-um Manufactory [workhouse], as in that Employ to render himself more serviceable to the Community and his Family, than he has ever been in any other Way.”
  • Acrostic in the Gazette spelling out Waterhouse’s name in sixteen insulting lines.
  • “Y. Z.” in the Evening Post, insisting, “notwithstanding what you affirm, 7 out of 8 think Samy is Gloria and Gloria Samy.”
  • Another Evening Post letter, signed “X.,” saying of Waterhouse’s denials: “how unnatural is it, for him in such a public manner to disown his own offspring, & refuse the indulgence and kind offices of a father to the Brats he had sent into the world.”
But at the end of that second letter the Fleet brothers, printers of the Evening Post, wrote:
The Printers hope the above Pieces will finish the Controversy: as they are determined to insert no more upon either Side; and are heartily sorry, that in order to maintain their Impartiality, they have been obliged to publish so much already of what neither themselves or few others understand.
The next week, Edes and Gill at the Gazette followed suit:
The Friend’s Letter to Sammy, and one from his Opponent, are come to Hand; but we hope they will excuse our not publishing them; especially as the other Printers have dropt the Affair, and we can see no Benefit that will accrue to any-one from continuing their Publications.
The Boston Post-Boy of 3 Feb 1766 printed documents showing that Andrew Oliver, who had been Stamp Act agent for Massachusetts before the Sons of Liberty forced him to resign the previous August, swore before magistrate Belcher Noyes that he’d never recommended that Waterhouse as his replacement. Waterhouse likewise swore that he’d never asked for that job. And that was the last of this controversy—until June, when there was a smaller spurt of satirical letters alluding back to these.

As I watch how this dispute developed in the newspaper, I was struck by how much it looked like many arguments on internet discussion boards. Everyone was using pseudonyms (screen names) and occasionally assumed identities. A political disagreement quickly shifted so far into personal invective that it was impossible to tell what the original issue was. Rhetorically, there was a lot of quoting of each other’s words (which I’ve spared you) and sarcasm. People accused one debater of creating another identity and lying about it (sock puppetry). People brought up unrelated personal matters. And finally the moderators—in this case, the printers of the Evening Post—moved to shut the discussion down.

Sometimes experts say that the lack of face-to-face contact make internet arguments more vituperative than other sorts. We say things online that we’d never say in person, and many of us become unusually nasty when we’re anonymous. The speed of communication is also a factor; we send messages that we might well omit if we’d taken another day to consider.

This dispute casts some doubt on that thinking. In eighteenth-century Boston, gentlemen could argue with the same level of nastiness—perhaps more—even though:
  • The postings were only semi-anonymous, as everyone seemed confident of the identities of “Gloria Mundi” and “H.”
  • The men involved were apt to meet face to face any day on the small peninsula.
  • A full week passed before each reply, giving the writers plenty of time to rethink.
The internet may have made nasty arguments more common, but nasty arguments have always been around.

TOMORROW: Hang on. If Boston 1775 promises “unabashed gossip,” what was all that Waterhouse wrote about James Lovell’s “very notable performance, on the feminine GENDER, and the CONJUGATION copulative?

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Samuel Waterhouse Gets Personal

Having expressed his strong opinions about a newspaper essay signed “H.” in the 6 Jan 1766 Boston Evening Post, as I quoted yesterday, Samuel Waterhouse went on to write of the essayist:

It would, doubtless, be a very kind, a very timely office, in some of this man’s real friends, to advise him to consideration, and a steady, and thorough reviews of himself.—To consider his real character and situation; and instantly, by all fit means, to purge his boiling, malignant passions; and heal his distemper’d soul!——The man is truly pitied; and all but his base intention is forgiven!—

But yet, it must be added, that should ever this rude, and younger grammarian, usher into public notice any more of his curious and most astonishing pieces, and should he be found in the same active voice, and indicative mood; the invited freedom will be taken, particularly, and pleasantly to remark him: and, at the same time, to scrutinize his very notable performance, on the feminine GENDER, and the CONJUGATION copulative.
Waterhouse’s phrases “younger grammarian” and “usher,” and his references to various grammatical terms, hinted at who he thought “H.” was. John Adams (above, courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society) picked up those hints with dismay, writing in his diary on 7 Jan 1766:
Sam. Waterhouse and has made a most malicious, ungenerous, Attack upon James Lovell Jur. the Usher of the Grammar school, and insinuated about feminine Gender and Conjunction Copulative—as Y.Z. and H. had attacked him, about Idleness and familiar Spirits, and Zanyship, and Expectancy of a Deputation &c.

This Way of reviling one another is very shocking to Humanity and very dangerous in its Consequences. To pry into a Mans private Life, and expose to the World, all the Vices, and Follies of Youth, to paint before the Public Eye, all the Blotts and Stains, in a Mans private Character, must excite the Commisseration of every Reader, to the Object, and his Indignation against the Author of such Abuse.
James Lovell was the usher, or assistant teacher, at the South Latin School, working under his father, John Lovell. The younger Lovell is thus the connection between this series of newspaper essays and the paper I read at the New England Historical Association meeting last Saturday, about that school in 1765-75. I had a little bit about this controversy in the long version of my paper, which I had to cut, so you’re getting that and more. Lucky you.

Though Adams noted that charges had been flying in both directions, he didn’t get upset until the mud started to land on one of his political allies. He then expressed the hope of many critics of “negative campaigning,” that criticism perceived as unfair ends up hurting the “Author of such Abuse” most of all.

TOMORROW: The moderators finally step in.

Monday, October 27, 2008

“Such Illiberal Grubstreet, Such Raving Billingsgate”

On 30 Dec 1765, the Boston Gazette printed the essay from “H.” that it hadn’t received in time for its previous edition. The page I have available from the America’s Historical Newspapers online database (available to anyone holding a Boston Public Library card—get yours today) is ragged along one edge. One doesn’t need to read the whole essay, however, to get the gist.

“H.,” like “Y. Z.,” insisted that the man who had written to the newspapers under the pseudonym “Gloria Mundi” was Samuel Waterhouse, despite his public denials. “H.” repeated the accusation that Waterhouse had wanted a position distributing the dreaded stamps under the Stamp Act. He went on:

Such low-bred, low liv’d, idle, restless, unprincipled wretches, as Gloria has proved himself, being as tired of the world as the world is of them, would deride and mock at their punishment even on the gallows, and the dying speech would be, Come one swing for it with a wry neck and a p—t pair of breeches, and all will be over.

I would therefore rather propose that Gloria might be put to work, a much greater punishment, and more dreaded by such miserables than death. . . . [I] have a high opinion of the policy of the Hollanders, who send such objects to the rasp house, to be there worked for like, rather than to the gibbet, to be there hanged, till they are dead, dead; and have other wished that our workhouse was furnished with a machine, called in Dutch a Waterhoose...
Just in case readers didn’t understand what Bostonian he was talking about. (I suspect “a p—t pair of breeches” was “a pist pair...,” the result of a sudden jerk at the neck.)

On the first Monday of the new year, it was Waterhouse’s turn to answer, though he still wasn’t using his name. The 6 Jan 1766 Evening-Post ran two pieces on this controversy. The second was yet another denial that he was “Gloria Mundi” or had seen the essays published over that name before they had appeared in the newspaper. The first was a direct reply to “H.”

Waterhouse acknowledged the possibility that the person who wrote the 9 December “H.” letter wasn’t the same as the person who wrote the “H.” letter published on 30 December. And then he laid into the latter:
Of all the foul mouth’d, dirty Drabs, that ever, to the disgrace of human nature, bolted forth and affronted the public Eye, certainly [this]...appears the most coarse, the most impotently spiteful and unexceptionably despicable! . . .

A performance, where such ridiculous inability, such illiberal grubstreet, such raving billingsgate, together with the most flagrant, as well as the most injurious, and atrocious calumnies maintain throughout a perpetual contest for superiority; and completely evince to the public, the folly, stupidity, solecism, meanness, falsehood, and envy, as well as the most abandoned impudence of it’s aukward, petulant, and every way contemptible Paper-scratcher.
If only Waterhouse had let us know how he really felt.

TOMORROW: And then Waterhouse’s reply to “H.” got personal.

[The thumbnail above, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows London’s Billingsgate Fish Market in the first decade of the 1800s. The area was already notorious for coarse language.]

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Three Scrawlers

Yesterday I quoted from a letter signed “Gloria Mundi,” published in the Boston Evening Post in late November 1765. That letter was a satirical attack on a call for a political boycott from a person calling himself “Y. Z.” In the 9 Dec 1765 issue of the newspaper, “Y. Z.” delivered a pointed reply:

Never was a man more surprized than I was to observe the product of a mad-man (whose wickedness had made him so) in a piece in last Monday’s papers, to which with a very great degree of arrogance was affix’d your name. . . .
Having thus expressed his level of respect for his opponent, “Y. Z.” went on to imagine him:
in a large open space with Water on each side of you, and Monsieur Jack Catch with a hempen neckcloth in his right hand. . . . We shall then be favor’d with your dying speech, in which among many other enormous vices, I shall hear you confess your hatred of America and your fitness for slavery, which induced you thus to attempt to villify those who rejoice at the good of society. . . .
Just as “Gloria Mundi” had implied that “Y. Z.” deserved a public whipping, “Y. Z.” answered that “Gloria Mundi” deserved to be hanged. “Jack Ketch” was slang for the hangman, and Boston’s gibbet was on the Neck, a narrow isthmus leading out of town “with water on each side.”

What’s more, another man had entered the argument. That same day, the Boston Gazette ran this notice:
Mr. H—— presents his respectful Compliments to Mr. Gloria Mundi, and acquaints him that...he should readily furnish him with a Recipe for turning Cyder into Wine...; but as the Ingredients therefor require Cash, and the Process a little Care and Labour, as well as Continence, he thinks him the most improper Person to take up the Vintner’s Business—
Oh, snap.

Something in those letters—perhaps the prominent appearance of the word “Water,” perhaps other allusions we don’t get—caused people to think that “Y. Z.” and “H.” were hinting that “Gloria Mundi” was a Boston man named Samuel Waterhouse, known for his satiric writings about James Otis, Jr. “Y. Z.” even challenged his opponent to “give your name with all its ‘guts,’...; as you might then more easily have been found out a lying r–sc–l, and your well known pen been imployed by the enemies of their country to write nonsense.”

The 16 December Evening-Post carried a reply to both “Y. Z.” (“A Discerning, very ingenious, most humorous, and tremendously satirical, tho’ somehow heavy-brain’d gentleman”) and “H.” (“a political and ghostly gentleman, [who] makes his complaisant appearance, almost anonymously, in Edes and Gill’s Gazette”). This essay claimed that both writers had “taken a false aim” by implying that Waterhouse was “Gloria Mundi.” Rather, it said, that gentleman “looks down with equal and ineffable contempt on all the three pieces and their three scrawlers!” Though that piece was unsigned, its contents made clear that it had come from Waterhouse himself.

Nevertheless, on 23 December, “Y. Z.” returned to the Evening-Post, insisting that he’d correctly guessed the identity of “Gloria Mundi.” That letter also accused Waterhouse of wishing to be “deputy distributor” under the hated Stamp Act. Carefully guarding the moral high ground, “Y. Z.” concluded:
This sharp-edg’d truth will show the villain’s part,
That lies conceal’d within your little heart;
Then, nameless critic, then, thou seeking tool,
Thou shalt appear a villain and a fool.
As for the Gazette, that day its printers wrote: “The Piece directed to GLORIA MUNDI, sign’d H, came too late for a Place in this Paper.” It would have to wait another week.

TOMORROW: But you have to wait only one more day.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sic Scripsit Gloria Mundi

In connection to the paper I’m reading at the New England Historical Association meeting this morning, over the next few days I’m going to post some newspaper writing from 1765-66.

As 1765 neared its end, the town was in an uproar over the Stamp Act. In August crowds had forced stamp agent Andrew Oliver to resign. Rioters had attacked his house and others, culminating in the near-destruction of Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s mansion in the North End. Town officials worked hard to curtail that year’s Pope Night celebration on 5 November, basically by bribing the young men involved. Crown officials gave up on trying to enforce the Stamp Act.

On 25 November the Boston Evening-Post printed a long letter signed “Y. Z.” advocating a continental boycott of imports from Britain as a way to pressure Parliament into repealing the Stamp Act. One week later, on 2 Dec 1765, the following letter appeared in the Evening-Post:

Mr. Y—Zany,

Never was a man more sensibly struck with a patriotic zeal than I was at reading your nervous essay of last Monday, signed Y. Z. I had scarce read it before I jump’d up, ran into my house, and told my wife she must take care of herself and children, for I was so violently seized with the distemper of the times, that I had order’d my shop to be shut up and intended to make use of what Goods I had by me to pay such r-sc-ls as I could find to write for me.

I instantly set about my laudable work with a zeal becoming a true patriot; and no sooner had I got out of my house than I saw a man preaching about Liberty and Property. I took him aside and acquainted him with my design, he immediately replied, if I proposed to make any figure that way, I must begin an acquaintance with your honor:
The letter then describes that “friend” being interrupted with a demand that he pay his debts. Boston had been hit by a wave of bankruptcies earlier that year, so this was a sensitive topic. The writer resumes his address to “Y. Z.”:
Now Sir, I am willing to start fair, if you will give me a true receipe of your method of turning Cyder into Wine, I will write you a treatise upon the efficacy of Molasses, Turnip-Juice and Cyder. And as I in my youthful days took a notion at painting, and knowing you to be a true friend and lover of arts and sciences, I shall take the liberty of drawing your picture in miniature. . . .

Mr. Zany adorned in beautiful nature erect, his hands and eyes in the same position, as if thanking kind providence for giving him such a strong immoveable and beneficial post as he holds, Sir Thomas M-tch-ll, aid de camp to Gen. L-s-nby, with a parcel of wrought hemp in his hand, this country manufacture, and a Cooper with a parcel of well made hoops on his arm, admiring the attitude and gratitude of Zany, a seeming motion, as if saying one to the other, what better man can be rendered to him for his patriotic zeal to us ward; with some other lively devices. . . .

I will furnish you with an able pen peculiarly adapted to write nonsense on religion, or any other subject that may suit you. If you should publish this, please to gut your name, lest some wag should put a bad construction on it, and you be thereby treated accordingly. This from your humble servant,

So what was that all about? I have very little idea. The conspicuous mention of a “post” and “wrought hemp” might refer to a whipping. The capitalized word “Cooper” was probably an allusion to the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper, minister of the Brattle Street meeting, or his brother William Cooper, Boston’s town clerk. They were both part of the coalition against the Stamp Act. But the other names? The remark about “Molasses, Turnip-Juice and Cyder”? I’m baffled.

But at the time people found those references so full of meaning that this letter set off a cascade of other letters to the newspapers as personal and nasty as any of the time.

TOMORROW: “Y. Z.” and his friend “H.” strike back. And what does this possibly have to do with my paper, which is about the boys of the South Latin School?

[P.S. Corrections to my Latin are welcome.]

Friday, October 24, 2008

What Exactly the V.P. Does Every Day

Last July, when Alaska governor Sarah Palin was a long shot at being chosen for the Republican Vice Presidential nomination, she said this on C.N.B.C.’s Kudlow & Co.:

As for that V.P. talk all the time, I’ll tell you, I still can’t answer that question until somebody answers for me what is it exactly that the V.P. does every day? I’m used to being very productive and working real hard in an administration. We want to make sure that that V.P. slot would be a fruitful type of position, especially for Alaskans and for the things that we’re trying to accomplish up here for the rest of the U.S., before I can even start addressing that question.
After John McCain picked Palin as his running mate, some opponents criticized her question “what is it exactly that the V.P. does every day?” as showing ignorance about the position she was seeking. But in fact that question has bedeviled every American Vice President.

Discussing the start of two-party politics in the U.S. of A., Vice President John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail on 19 Dec 1793:
I am very apprehensive that a desperate Antifederal Party, will provoke all Europe by their insolence. But my Country has in its Wisdom contrived for me, the most insignificant Office that ever the Invention of Man contrived or his Imagination conceived: and as I can do neither good nor Evil, I must be born away by Others and meet the common Fate.
And three days later:
My office renders me so compleatly insignificant that all Parties can afford to treat me with a decent respect which accordingly they do, as far as I observe, or hear or suspect. They all know that I can do them neither much good nor much harm.
Indeed, for many decades Vice Presidents were widely thought to do “neither much good nor much harm”—unless they actually succeeded to office. Becoming President because of the death of one’s predecessor was usually the end of a political career; not until 1904 did a party or voters think that such a President should remain in office. And when Woodrow Wilson was incapacitated because of a stroke, his wife and aides bypassed the Vice President to govern in his name.

That pattern changed with Walter Mondale in 1977. He understood Congress better than his President, and he became a significant voice in the Carter administration. In the last thirty years, only one Vice President has fit the previous mold of an ineffectual placeholder chosen for political reasons. Mondale, Bush, and Gore were important advisors to their Presidents who oversaw particular agencies or initiatives, and Cheney reshaped the executive branch to consolidate great power beneath him, as Barton Gellman’s book Angler shows.

We should therefore interpret Palin’s July question as asking what responsibilities McCain expected to assign to his Vice President, especially if she were to take that office. What exactly would the Vice President do in a McCain administration?

Having accepted the nomination, Palin has been cramming on a lot of subjects. Unfortunately, the role of the Vice President isn’t one of them. In an interview on Monday with the Colorado television station KUSA, Palin gave this answer to a third-grader’s question:
A vice president has a really great job, because not only are they there to support the president’s agenda, they’re like the team member, the teammate to that president, but also they’re in charge of the United States Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better...
Video here.

That’s a profound misunderstanding of what the U.S. Constitution states about the Vice President and the Senate in Article I, Section 3:
The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no vote, unless they be equally divided.
Being President of the Senate doesn’t mean that the Vice President is “in charge of the United States Senate.” The framers’ model for a presiding officer was George Washington chairing the constitutional convention: he said almost nothing about the issues, but simply used his authority to ensure delegates respected the process and rules.

The framers didn’t anticipate the quick rise of political parties, which changed everything. Originally the Vice President was elected independent of the President, but the Twelfth Amendment reflected how parties were pairing candidates for the two offices. Meanwhile, as Adams and every succeeding Vice President found out, the number-two job brought no control over the Senate’s rules or agenda. Senators—especially senior ones like John McCain—are very protective of their privileges and independence.

“President of the Senate” quickly became a courtesy title. Vice Presidents rarely even attend Senate sessions anymore. Even third-graders can understand the difference between a ceremonial role and being “in charge.”

So we’re back to the question of what exactly the V.P. would do every day in a McCain-Palin administration. If Vice President Palin really would help “make a lot of good policy changes,” she’d do that through responsibilities granted by President McCain, not through her courtesy post on Capitol Hill. Palin’s misguided and non-specific answer to KUSA implies that McCain hasn’t informed her of any role beyond being “a team member.” And the running mates’ differing statements on other matters (e.g., increasing funds for special education, campaigning in Michigan) imply that they have yet to discuss a lot more things.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

New England Historical Association, 25 Oct 2008

Here’s the schedule for this Saturday’s meeting of the New England Historical Association, at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts. I’m giving a paper in seesion 8:

Students, Soldiers and Exiles—Experiences of the American Revolution

Chair: Robert Imholt, Albertus Magnus College
  • J. L. Bell, “Latin School Gentlemen in Revolutionary Times: The Culture of Boston’s South Latin School under the Lovells”
  • Greg Walsh, Boston College, “‘We Want Men, Not Money’: Military Service in Revolutionary Essex County, New Jersey”
  • Emily Iggulden, University of New Hampshire, “America’s Internal Exiles: ‘Disloyal Citizens’ or ‘Illegal Aliens’: The Loyalists and American Citizenship, 1783-1790”
  • Comment: Jim Leamon, emeritus Bates College
Other papers on the Revolutionary period include Jess Parr’s “Patriot or Pilferer? Privateers and the Bounds of Republican Virtue in Revolutionary Massachusetts,” and Harvey Whitfield’s “New England Migrations and Slavery in Maritime Canada to 1783.”

Jeremy Dibbell of the Massachusetts Historical Society and Philobiblos is speaking on “John Eliot’s Indian Bible: The Provenance of Certain Surviving Copies,” in a session with Melissane Parm Schrems (“Preaching to the Converted: Gideon Hawley and the Re-construction of Eighteenth-century Mashpee Identity”) and Cheryl Boots (“Eighteenth-Century Indian Community and the Cultural Work of Protestant Hymns”).

As you can tell from the wide range of topics on the program, N.E.H.A. isn’t devoted to New England history, but rather provides a forum for discussing history of all periods by people who happen to be in New England.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Burning Almost All of Benedict Arnold in Effigy

Gen. Cornwallis surrendered his forces at Yorktown to the Continental and French armies on 19 Oct 1781. The news traveled quickly up the North American coast. On 31 October Gen. William Heath, stationed outside New York, described various ways his troops celebrated, including this anecdote:

the company collected had determined to burn Gen. [Benedict] Arnold in effigy for his treachery at West Point; just as they were going to commit the effigy to the flames, one of the company observed that one of Arnold’s legs was wounded when he was fighting bravely for America, that this leg ought not to be burnt, but amputated; in which the whole company agreed, and this leg was taken off and safely laid by.
Arnold didn’t have anything to do with Yorktown, of course. But these soldiers apparently wanted to burn something. It was mid-autumn, after all, and that’s when the British had enjoyed their Guy Fawkes bonfires for generations.

It was probably just a coincidence of when the Yorktown news arrived that this New York bonfire took place on 31 October. However, that celebration was a forerunner of how several of the British Empire’s 5th of November traditions eventually shifted to Halloween in America. The Bostonian Society’s online exhibit traces more of the shift.

In 1887, acting on impulses similar to Heath’s soldiers, the Saratoga Monument Association erected a monument to the leg where Arnold had been badly wounded in battle before he defected to the British.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Burning Benedict Arnold in Connecticut

In its last issue for the year 1780, the Connecticut Journal carried a letter from the town of New Milford dated 31 October. It described yet another example of Americans converting customary Pope Night imagery into a condemnation of the recently revealed traitor Benedict Arnold:

On the evening of the 26th ult. [i.e., last month] the Infamous Traitor ARNOLD was carried through this town in effigy: He made his appearance sitting on his coffin, in a horse cart, hung round with several pair of splendid lanthorns; behind the Traitor stood the devil, who seemed however ashamed of so unprofitable a servant; the traitor being dress’d in uniform, pinioned, and properly accoutred for the gallows, having made the tour of the town, was brought under strong guard to the place of execution, where, in the view of some hundred spectators, he was formally hanged, cut down, and buried.

The numerous populace, express’d their universal contempt of the Traitor, by the hissing, explosion of a multitude of squibs and crackers with which they graced his exit; as well as their joy at the timely discovery of his hellish treason, by a beautiful illumination of the town. The whole procession and execution, with all things pertaining to the exhibition, were conducted with the greatest decency and good order. Thirteen vollies were fired by the guards, and three cheers given by the people in testimony of their joy that the States were rid of the traitor, which closed the scene.

On the breast of the traitor was fix’d a label, expressive of his real character; the justice of his condemnation; and a bequest of his soul to the Devil. A label from the Devil’s mouth announced his acceptance of the bequest, in regard to the traitor’s intentional service; but, on account of his motly performance, assigned him a place below every devil of enterprise and principle.
The printers added:
’Tis hoped the ever memorable 25th of SEPTEMBER, (the day when the blackest of crimes was unfolded) will be observed yearly throughout the United States of America, and handed down to the latest posterity, to the eternal disgrace of the TRAITOR.
People in Connecticut probably felt particularly betrayed by Benedict Arnold because he’d come from that state, and been one of its military heroes. But they hadn’t seen anything yet. The following September, Arnold led a devastating British raid on New London and Fort Griswold, shown above.

The online exhibit about colonial Boston’s 5th of November that I assembled for the Bostonian Society notes how New London commemorated Arnold’s raid for years. The boys of that town converted the traditional “Remember, remember, the 5th of November” chant into:
Don’t you remember, the 6th of September,
When Arnold burnt the town,...
TOMORROW: Burning almost all of Benedict Arnold in 1781.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Benedict Arnold Procession on Paper

Yesterday I quoted a long description of the procession in Philadelphia in September 1780, condemning Benedict Arnold for his recent attempt to betray Gen. George Washington and the fort at West Point to the British. Confirming that a picture is worth a thousand words, some Philadelphia printers issued an engraving of that event, which appears in the Bostonian Society’s online exhibit about the 5th of November in colonial Boston. The original is in the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

The engraving of Philadelphia’s procession with a two-faced effigy of Arnold looks a lot like the earlier woodcut of Pope Night parades in Boston. One new detail was that the Arnold effigy had two faces, symbolizing his treachery. Another version of the same scene appears here, titled “The Bizarre Procession”; I’m not sure of its source or date.

In December 1781 Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy newspaper, based in Worcester, offered such an engraving for sale:

A humorous Representation of the triumphal Procession, of Brigadier-General Arnold, and his friend and councellor, through the streets of Philadelphia in effigy.
New Englanders immediately understood that the “friend and councellor” was the Devil; before independence, that figure had counseled the Pope.

Colonial Pope Night parades on the 5th of November have been documented from Savannah, Georgia, up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire. However, I don’t think they were nearly as popular in Philadelphia, with its tradition of religious tolerance, as in New England.

That makes me wonder if New England soldiers stationed in Philadelphia took the lead in designing the Arnold procession. By moving colonists around, and giving them a common cause, the Revolutionary War created a more unified national culture.

TOMORROW: Connecticut condemns Arnold.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Benedict Arnold in Effigy

As the 5th of November approaches, I invite new Boston 1775 readers to check out the Bostonian Society’s online exhibit about how New Englanders celebrated that holiday, which they called “Pope Night.” The day featured a wagon carrying effigies of the Pope and the Devil, along with the latest political enemies.

After independence, it was no longer politically appropriate for Americans to get excited about Parliament and a British king being preserved from a bomb. And with Catholic French allies helping to win the war, it was awkward to say that the Pope was in league with the Devil, even if many Americans still believed it.

But folks missed the Pope Night fun: parades, costumes, noise, burning someone in effigy! Fortunately, in 1780 Gen. Benedict Arnold (shown here, courtesy of the National Park Service) revealed himself as a traitor to the U.S. of A. So Americans had a new villain!

On 30 Sept 1780, Philadelphians held an anti-Arnold parade that borrowed a lot of the Pope Night imagery and customs. Here’s a detailed description from Boston’s Independent Chronicle, published on 19 Oct 1780:

A Concise DESCRIPTION of the FIGURES exhibited and paraded through the streets of this city on Saturday last.

A STAGE raised on the body of a cart, on which was an effigy of General ARNOLD sitting; this was dressed in regimentals, had two faces, emblematical of his traiterous conduct, a mask in his left hand, and a letter in his right from Belzebub, telling him that he had done all the mischief he could do, and now he must hang himself.

At the back of the General was a figure of the Devil, dressed in black robes, shaking a purse of money at the General’s left ear, and in his right hand a pitch-fork, ready to drive him into hell, as the reward due for the many crimes which his thirst of gold had made him commit.

In the front of the stage and before General Arnold was placed a large lanthorn of transparent paper, with the consequences of his crimes thus delineated, i. e. on one part General Arnold on his knees before the Devil, who is pulling him into the flames—a label from the General’s mouth with these words, “My fear Sir, I have served you faithfully;” to which the Devil replies, “and I’ll reward you.”

On the other side two figures hanging, inscribed, [“]The Traitor’s Reward,” and wrote underneath, “The Adjutant General of the British army, and Josh. Smith; the first hanged as a spy, and the other as a traitor to his country.” And on the front of the lanthorn was rote the following:...


“He has deserted the important post WEST-POINT, on Hudson’s River, committed to his charge by his Excellency the Commander in Chief, and is gone off to the enemy at New-York.

“His design to have given up this fortress to our enemies has been discovered by the goodness of the Omniscient Creator, who has not only prevented him carrying it into execution, but has thrown into our hands ANDRIE, the Adjutant General of their army, who was detected in the infamous character of a spy.

“The treachery of this ungreatful General is held up to public view, for the exposition of infamy; and to proclaim with joyful acclamation, another instance of the interposition of bounteous Providence.

“The effigy of this ingrate is therefore hanged (for want of his body) as a Traitor to his native country, and a Betrayor of the laws of honour.”

The procession began about four o’clock, in the following order:
Seated Gentlemen mounted on horseback.
A line of Continental Officers
Sundry Gentlemen in a line.
A guard of the City Infantry.
Just before the cart, drums and fifes playing the Rogue’s March.
Guards on each side.

The procession was attended with a numourous concourse of people, who, after expressing their abhorrence of the Treason and the Traitor, committed him to the flames, and left both the effigy and the original to sink into ashes and oblivion.
(Jacqueline Carr’s After the Siege says this parade took place in Boston, but the newspaper report was datelined Philadelphia. Another clue to the location is the word “city”; Boston was proud of still being a “town.”)

TOMORROW: Engraving this event.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

New Revolutionary Literature for Young People

I don’t want to pass over the other book just nominated for the National Book Award that touches on the period of America’s founding. It appears in the Young People’s Literature category: Chains, by Laurie Halse Anderson. The publisher has described its story thusly:

As the Revolutionary War begins, thirteen-year-old Isabel wages her own fight...for freedom. Promised freedom upon the death of their owner, she and her sister, Ruth, in a cruel twist of fate become the property of a malicious New York City couple, the Locktons, who have no sympathy for the American Revolution and even less for Ruth and Isabel.

When Isabel meets Curzon, a slave with ties to the Patriots, he encourages her to spy on her owners, who know details of British plans for invasion. She is reluctant at first, but when the unthinkable happens to Ruth, Isabel realizes her loyalty is available to the bidder who can provide her with freedom.
I’m guessing that any characters named “Lockton” aren’t really into that freedom thing.

Anderson is also the author of Fever 1793, about the devastating yellow fever epidemic in the U.S. of A.’s capital, and the nonfiction Independent Dames. We were corresponding about the phrase “Year of the Hangman” back here.

And speaking of Revolutionary War Novels about Enslaved Young People by Authors Named Anderson Nominated for a National Book Award in the Category of Young People’s Literature, folks might recall M. T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume One: The Pox Party from a couple of years ago.

This fall has brought us The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume Two: The Kingdom on the Waves. Octavian experiences more of the siege of Boston, this time from the inside, and takes off for Virginia. Publishers Weekly interviewed Anderson alongside a photo of him with some redcoat reenactors on Boston Common this summer. Anyone you recognize?

Friday, October 17, 2008

Sally Hemings in History and Fiction

Yesterday I linked to several reviews of Annette Gordon-Reed’s new book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. Here’s one more. Last month Prof. Jill Lepore reviewed the book for The New Yorker.

Lepore spent a lot of her review on how the reports of Jefferson’s enslaved mistress made their way from rumors and newspaper articles into nineteenth-century literature:

  • Thomas Moore’s less than poetically titled poem “To Thomas Hume, Esq., M.D., From the City of Washington” (1806).
  • Frances Trollope’s travel memoir Domestic Manners of the Americans (1832), surprisingly accurate about Jefferson freeing his enslaved children.
  • an allusion in Charles Dickens’s novel Martin Chuzzlewit (1844), inspired by an unfounded rumor in Abolitionist newspapers that the President’s enslaved daughter had been sold in New Orleans.
  • William Wells Brown’s novel Clotel (1853), inspired by the same report.
This pattern resumed in the late twentieth century, especially after scholars started to consider the matter seriously again:
  • J. C. Furnas’s novel Goodbye to All That (1956).
  • Gore Vidal’s novel Burr (1973).
  • Barbara Chase-Riboud’s novel Sally Hemings: A Novel (1979).
  • the Merchant-Ivory film Jefferson in Paris (1995).
  • the television miniseries Sally Hemings: An American Scandal (2000, after the D.N.A. findings); the photo above shows that production’s stars, courtesy of the University of Virginia magazine.
Those fictional works probably reached more Americans than the nonfiction books examining the evidence.

Lepore notes that the popularity of melodramatic stories of Jefferson’s enslaved mistress served to undercut the credibility of the same story as nonfiction. The publication of Clotel made it possible for people who wished to deny the evidence to claim that Madison Hemings’s statement of 1873 had been inspired by fiction, rather than the other way around. Even Thomas Paine, earning his living in the early 1800s as a Jeffersonian journalist, tried to discredit a complaint of dishonorable behavior by the President by comparing that account to the legend of the Trojan War.

In an essay published after his death in Fame and the Founding Fathers, historian Douglass Adair wrote, “Madison Hemings’s account of his own life, and those of his mother and grandmother, reads like the plot of a lurid novel.” In fact, Hemings’s statement is remarkable for its calm tone, especially since he was describing what must have been deeply emotional circumstances and experiences.

Ironically, Adair then spun out a much more melodramatic tale about Sally Hemings:
While Sally was faithful to her lover, Peter Carr, she could not as a slave ask him to be faithful to her. . . . Carr seemingly loved his wife, and he was certainly a devoted father to the four children Hetty bore him, but his marriage did not erase his affection, his desire, his deep emotional involvement with Sally Hemings. All of Sally’s last three children were born after Peter Carr’s marriage. Despite his wedding vows, despite his affection for his wife, he found that for at least ten years after his marriage he could not divorce himself from Sally. . . .

All of the evidence points to the notion that Sally’s connection with Peter Carr was a genuine love match, exhibiting deep and lasting emotional involvements for both partners.
Oh, the drama! Actually, there’s no credible evidence pointing to any connection at all between Hemings and Peter Carr. While complaining that Madison Hemings had outlined “a lurid novel,” Adair was coming up with complete fiction to refute him.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

National Book Award Nomination for Hemingses

The nominations for the National Book Awards were announced yesterday, and among the nonfiction nominees is Prof. Annette Gordon-Reed’s new book, The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family. It looks like this thick volume assembles just about all the evidence we have about Sally Hemings and her family. Thomas Jefferson inherited those people through his wife, apparently expanded the family by taking Hemings as his mistress, and freed them in his will.

The Hemingses of Monticello has already been widely noted:

Most of that press is highly complimentary. One partial dissent came from Prof. Eric Foner in the New York Times Book Review:
Gordon-Reed acknowledges that it is almost impossible to probe the feelings of a man and a woman neither of whom left any historical evidence about their relationship. [Their son] Madison Hemings’s use of the words “concubine” and “treaty” hardly suggests a romance. But Gordon-Reed is determined to prove that theirs was a consensual relationship based on love.

Sometimes even the most skilled researcher comes up empty. At that point, the better part of valor may be simply to state that a question is unanswerable. Gordon-Reed’s portrait of an enduring romance between Hemings and Jefferson is one possible reading of the limited evidence. Others are equally plausible. ­Gordon-Reed, however, refuses to acknowledge this possibility.

She...is adamant in criticizing anyone who, given the vast gap in age (30 years) and power between them, views the Jefferson-Hemings connection as sexual exploitation.
After Gordon-Reed published her first book on Sally Hemings, some critics accused her of attacking Jefferson and insisted the President could not have had any sort of sexual relationship with his slave. (Actually, not that many people noticed until after D.N.A. testing vindicated her arguments.) Many of those diehards styled themselves “Jefferson defenders.”

Now, according to Foner, Gordon-Reed has become a “Jefferson defender,” untenably insisting on the most benevolent picture of the relationship between him and Hemings. Ironic, no?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Tea Party Rumor Reaches Brookfield

Today I braved the roads outside the American Antiquarian Society again—twice!—to look at documents and attend a lecture. And what have I learned? Well, if one asks a question from underneath the center of the dome above the reading room, the lecturer can barely hear it. However, questions asked more softly from seats further away, on the edge of the dome, are perfectly audible.

Oh, yeah, there was an interesting document, too. It came from Joseph Gilbert (1733-1776), a farmer in Brookfield, Massachusetts, who was active in town government and the local militia. When he died, he held the rank of colonel.

Daniel Waldo (1724-1808) was a Boston merchant until 1775. (This is a different Daniel Waldo from the one who told a story about George Washington.) After the war, he moved to Worcester, probably because his wife was a Salisbury, from one of that town’s leading business families. His portrait shown here, by Denmark-born artist Christian Gullager, is now in the Worcester Art Museum. In 1773, it appears Waldo might have been one of the principal purveyors of goods out to Gilbert and his neighbors, their contact with Boston’s merchant community.

On 22 Dec 1773, Gilbert wrote to Waldo—or “Waldow,” as he rendered it in his frequently phonetic spelling. Brookfield had heard big news about the Boston Tea Party, but some disturbing rumors had followed:

We have a Current Report that the Past friday teas is all throd into the Dock By a Number of Indians from Diffrint parts of the Countery and all Destroyed &C[.] if true We are very glad———

But of Late there is a Nother Report which Surprises us that Is the marchents of Boston has privately Convaied sd Tea a whay and are Determind to sell the same & have filled thee same Chists whith thare old mustea tea hay Chafe & such Like on purpos to mak a profitt to them selves & Decve the Cuntrey.

Can this Be so[?] I Cannot Belive it[.] if true I say no more In your favr nor Can any But Bid a Due to you and all your prosidings[.] pray send me a Line By the next post the Truth of the matter Dont faill & you oblige your frind & homil S[ervan]t

Joseph Gilbert

PS. This Last Report is Indousterisly spreding By your Enemyes throw the Cuntery that it stands you In hand to Clear up the matter for if true the Cuntery will not stand by you[;] if not true they Will Resque thear Lives & fortuens in your Care
And Gilbert wrote yet another postscript vertically beside the letter:
We Have a Town meating Worned to be on nex mondy at one O Clock that make it [word ripped away but obviously something like “important”] that Wee should know the Sartinte of this matter Befor that
Which confirms that it’s not just a modern tactic to spread completely false rumors when it looks like your political opponents are winning. Since the friends of the royal government were in the minority and controlled few newspapers or town meetings, we don’t see as many of their rumors as we see from the Whigs. But obviously they resorted to the tactic as well.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Rhode Island’s Last Gaspée

In his History of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, former Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson wrote of the American response to Parliament’s “act for the better preserving his majesty's dockyards, magazines, ships, ammunition, and stores”:

Through inattention to dates, this act was supposed to have been occasioned by an assault upon the officers and men of his majesty’s armed schooner Gaspee [in 1772], and the burning of the schooner in the harbour of Rhode Island. This act did not arrive in America until some months after the fact, but it passed in parliament before the fact was committed; and the setting fire to the storehouses in the king’s yard at Portsmouth [in England] seems to have given rise to it.

This fact at Rhode Island, and the consequences of it, had a great tendency to strengthen the attempts making in Boston to raise a fresh spirit in the colonies. A vessel in the king’s commission and service had been attacked by a great number of armed men, the commander grievously, and, it was supposed, mortally wounded, and the vessel, and all that was combustible, burnt. Many of the persons concerned were known, and little, if any attempt was made, by authority in the colony, to bring any of the offenders to justice.

It was therefore thought fit, in England, that a special commission should issue from the crown, to authorize and direct an inquiry into the affair, and to grant the necessary powers for that purpose. The governor of the colony, though elected annually by the people, was named at the head of the commission. An authority to grant such commission is indisputably in the crown. . . . Such a commission, however, became an additional article of grievance.

The commissioners met, and sat some time to no purpose, and, after an adjournment of some months, met a second time, but with no better success. Such persons as had been groundlessly suspected, they found no difficulty in convening; but the persons really concerned in the fact, they either were never able to apprehend, or, if any such were apprehended, no witnesses would appear to give testimony against them.
Gaspee.org is a fine website of material about the burning of the Gaspée, drawn largely from the records of this commission. Click on the site’s spinning logo above and immerse yourself in the event.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The “Transporting Us Beyond Seas” Mystery

Among many other things, the Declaration of Independence complains that bad, bad George III has harmed his American subjects by “transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offenses.” The standard line is that this is a reference to the Administration of Justice Act, which Parliament passed in 1774.

However, when I looked at the wording of that law, I saw that it applied only to employees of the royal government. It said nothing about any other criminal defendants. So it wasn’t designed to deprive colonists of fair trials by moving them far from their homes. Instead, it was designed to give Crown employees fair trials by moving them away from supposedly prejudiced juries.

So where, I asked, did the “transporting us beyond seas” complaint come from? And I still had no idea until earlier this month, when at the American Antiquarian Society I came across the Concord town meeting’s instructions to its General Court representative, James Barrett. His fellow citizens identified this as a grave threat to their liberty:

...and whereas an act was Passed in the Last Sisson of the British Paliment Entitled an act for the Preserving his Majesties Dockyards Magazines Ships ammunition & Stores, by which act we in this Countrey are Exposed to the Rage of some Malicous Persons who out of Complasance to Some Court Sycophant may accuse any Person, and thereby Cause him to be hurried out of the Countrey and Carried to some Distant Place, from all his friends & acquaintance, and thereby Deprived of the advantage of his Common Charicter, to be judged by Strangers & Perhaps by Foraners (and whether Inocent or Guilty[)] is in Danger of being Ruined in Person & Estate, which we Look upon to be a great infringement of our Rights and Priviliges, and Contrary to the true Sence of Magna Charta and Spirit of Law
A ha! There’s the worry about “transporting us beyond seas, to be tried for pretended offenses,” without the pithy language. One might ask why the farmers of Concord were worried about being tried for damaging dockyards and ships.

In fact, this complaint echoed one from Boston, which had a lot of dockyards and ships, as well as a reputation for hampering royal officials in their duties. In November 1772, Boston’s town meeting had objected to the same law. In a “List of Infringements” appended to an essay on “the Rights of the Colonists” drafted largely by Samuel Adams, the tenth item is “The Act passed in the last Session of the British Parliament, intitled, An Act for the better preserving his Majestys Dock Yards, Magizines, Ships, Ammunition and Stores”. The town complained:
By this Act any one of us may be taken from his Family, and carried to any part of Great Britain, there to be tried whenever it shall be pretended that he has been concerned in burning or otherwise destroying any Boat or Vessel, or any Materials for building &e. any Naval or Victualling Store &c. belonging to his Majesty.

For by this Act all Persons in the Realm, or in any of the places thereto belonging (under which denomination we know the Colonies are meant to be included) may be indicted and tryed either in any County or Shire within this Realm, in like manner and form as if the offence had been committed in said County, as his Majesty and his Successors may deem Most expedient.

Thus we are not only deprived of our grand right to tryal by our Peers in the Vicinity, but any Person suspected, or pretended to be suspected, may be hurried to Great Britain, to take his tryal in any County the King or his Successors shall please to direct; where, innocent or guiltv he is in great danger of being condemned; and whether condemned or acquitted he will probably be ruined by the expense attending the tryal, and his long absence from his Family and business; and we have the strongest reason to apprehend that we shall soon experience the fatal effects of this Act, as about the year 1769 the British Parliament passed Resolves for taking up a number of Persons in the Colonies and carrying them to Great Britain for tryal, pretending that they were authorised so to do, by a Statute passed in the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which they say the Colonies were included, although the Act was passed long before any Colonies were settled, or even in contemplation.
Other Massachusetts towns which, like Concord, mentioned this law in their instructions to elected representatives include Lancaster, Groton, Mendon, and Hingham.

Now the next mystery is: Why did Adams and his fellow citizens think that “about the year 1769 the British Parliament passed Resolves for taking up a number of Persons in the Colonies and carrying them to Great Britain for tryal”?

TOMORROW: Why Rhode Islanders were especially alarmed by that new law.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Concord Instructs Its Representative, 1773

Here’s one fruit of my visit to the American Antiquarian Society this month, apart from the hole in my rear bumper. In the United States Revolution collection there are a number of documents associated with James Barrett of Concord. One is his neighbors’ instructions to him after they chose him as their representative to the Massachusetts General Court. That document starts:

To Capt. James Barrett


We his Majesties most Dutifull & Loyal Subjects the Inhabitants of the Town of Concord in Town meeting assembled this Eleventh Day of January 1773 after Expressing our most firm attachment to and ardent Love for our most Gracious Soverand King George, in the Support and Defense of whose Person and Dignity we are always ready not only to Spend our fortune But Lives, (whilst we are in the Injoyment of our Invaluable Priviliges Granted us by Royal Charter) But Cannot in this time of General Concern throughout the Province Do otherwise then Espress our Sentiments that Some of our Invaluable Priviliges are Infringed upon by those heavy Burdens unconstitutionally (as we think[)] already laid upon us that by Some Late Lawes and Inovations from home other of our Libertys and Priviliges Equaly Dear are in Danger of Being affected & Curtailed.
After discussing two of the offending issues—royal salaries for judges and one of Parliament’s recent laws—the Concord letter winds up:
We therefore think Proper to Instruct you our Representative in the General assembley of this Province that you in a Constitutional Manner Endeaviour to Prevint those innovations we too Sencabley feel & those we fear by using your influence in the Present Sesson of the General assembly for an humble Remonstrance to his Majestiey that all those Voloations of our Rights and Priviliges which we are Justly Instilled too by the British Constitution and made over to us and Succesors by the Royal Charter may be Redresssed. . . .

Relying on your loyalty and Respect for his sacred Majesty your love & affection for your Countrey we trust that you will in all matters that may Come before you Conduct with that wisdom & Prudance that Integrity & Coolness that curcomspection & firmness which so well becomes the Senator & the Patriot
The letter was then signed by seven members of the committee.

But the eighth member, Daniel Bliss, evidently objected to a phrase in the letter. The committee had warned that someone might be falsely accused under that new parliamentary law “out of Complasance to Some Court Sycophant.” That was too much for Bliss, a lawyer and friend of the royal government.

But town meetings tried to reach consensus on difficult issues, so the committee apparently worked out a compromise. They underlined that offending phrase and added the footnote “excepted to by D Bliss.” Then he squeezed his signature in among the rest.

This document has some other phrases crossed out and added, and those changes don’t look like the results of someone was copying a previous draft too quickly. Rather, this document appears to have been written out while the committee talked out what it should say. “‘In danger’ sounds better than ‘exposed’.” “Let’s move the salaries stuff down to here.” “‘Important’ or ‘exalted’?” It’s town government in action!

Special thanks to Boston 1775 reader Judy Cataldo for encouraging me to check out that A.A.S. collection.

TOMORROW: This very same document helps to solve a mystery. Well, a mystery for me, at least.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Worcester “Instructs” Its Representative

The latest issue of the online history magazine Common-place, devoted to elective politics, includes an article by Ray Raphael on instructions to elected officials. After a town or county meeting chose a delegate to a colonial legislature or Congress, the voting body would often appoint a committee to draft “instructions” on how their representative should vote on the big issues of the day. These documents went into the official records of the electing bodies, and sometimes were meant to be published as well.

Ray highlights what he calls an “Instruction War” in Worcester during the summer of 1774:

At the town meeting on May 16, citizens selected Joshua Bigelow to represent them in the General Court and appointed a committee to prepare a draft of his instructions. Six of the seven committee members belonged to the town’s radical caucus, the American Political Society (A.P.S.), and these men utilized the genre of “instructions” to hurl invectives against British imperial policies as liberally as they would in a political broadside.

They also minced no words in demanding that Bigelow (also an A.P.S. member) carry the good fight on their behalf. “We, in the most solemn manner, direct you, that whatever measures Great Britain may take to distress us, you be not in the least intimidated...but to the utmost of your power resist the most distant approaches of slavery.”

They placed Bigelow under “the streckest injunction” not to approve compensation for the tea dumped into the Boston harbor; they directed him to conclude the impeachment proceedings against Chief Justice [Peter] Oliver for accepting a salary from the Crown; they “earnestly require[d]” him to use his “utmost endeavors” to convene “a general Congress” of the committees of correspondence from throughout the colonies. (This convention, four months later, would evolve into the Continental Congress).

Although the town’s Tory opposition vehemently opposed this political diatribe, the instructions carried the day, unaltered.

But opponents did not concede. They gathered forty-three signatures on a petition that called for a special town meeting to reassess the previous vote, and according to law, the selectmen were required to honor this petition. So on June 20 both sides mustered their forces for a showdown.
Ray’s article describes more back-and-forth politicking, and the final outcome is preserved graphically in the records of the Worcester town meeting.
Ray also writes about this political dispute in his book The First American Revolution.

TOMORROW: Concord’s instructions in 1773.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Updates to Past Entries

Remember the small controversy in Philadelphia over whether tour guides operating in the historic district needed to pass a test of knowledge before they could earn licenses? This week the city agreed not to put that new rule into effect for six months while a judge consider the free-speech lawsuit from three guides. Plus, as the city acknowledged to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “neither the written examination for tour guides nor a review of a scoring process had been finalized.”

And we had the car checked out after I was rear-ended last week. (I was fine, though irked. Irked, I say.) The auto has only cosmetic damage—a small hole in the rear bumper. So all we might need is an appropriate seal. This one’s from Progressive Bumper Stickers. Any others out there?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

From a 1737 Canting Dictionary

tipplerThe From Old Books website offers a transcription of Nathaniel Bailey’s Canting Dictionary, a lexicon of British underworld slang published in 1737. Here’s an image of one page spread, and some samples:

BAWDY-HOUSE-BOTTLE, a very small one.

EQUIPT, rich; also having new Cloaths. Well equipt, plump in the Pocket, or very full of Money; also very well drest. The Cull equipt me with a Brace of Meggs, The Gentleman furnish'd me with a Couple of Guineas.

HUM-Cap, old, mellow, and very strong Beer.

, an emty Fellow, a meer Gods-head.

SHRED, a Taylor.

THUMMIKINS, a Punishment (in Scotland) by hard squeezing or pressing of the Thumbs, to extort Confession, which stretches them prodigiously, and is very painful. In [military] Camps, and on Board of Ships, lighted Matches are clapt between the Fingers to the same Intent.
I wouldn’t assume that all these terms were current in North America forty years later. Slang is peculiar and quickly changing, after all. But the dictionary does offer a heady whiff of eighteenth-century culture.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Adams Household “Dangerously Sick with a Dysentery”

Last August, guest blogger Judy Cataldo wrote about the epidemic of dysentery, or “bloody flux,” behind the American lines during the siege of Boston. One family that was affected was the Adamses of north Braintree.

On 10 Aug 1775, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband John in Philadelphia:

Tis with a sad Heart I take my pen to write to you because I must be the bearer of what will greatly afflict and distress you. Yet I wish you to be prepaired for the Event. Your Brother Elihu lies very dangerously sick with a Dysentery. He has been very bad for more than a week, his life is despaired of. Er’e I close this Letter I fear I shall write you that he is no more.

We are all in great distress. Your Mother is with him in great anguish. I hear this morning that he is sensible of his Danger, and calmly resigned to the will of Heaven; which is a great Satisfaction to his mourning Friend's. I cannot write more at present than to assure you of the Health of your own family.

On 8 September, the disease had reached Abigail’s own household:
You may remember Isaac [Copeland, a farmhand] was unwell when you went from home. His Disorder increasd till a voilent Dysentery was the consequence of his complaints, there was no resting place in the House for his terible Groans. He continued in this state near a week when his Disorder abated, and we have now hopes of his recovery.

Two days after he was sick, I was seaz’d with the same disorder in a voilent manner. . . . The next person in the same week was Susy [a housemaid]. She we carried home, hope she will not be very bad. Our Little Tommy [Thomas Boylston Adams, born 15 Sept 1772] was the next, and he lies very ill now—there is no abatement at present of his disorder. I hope he is not dangerous. Yesterday Patty was seazd and took a puke. Our House is an hospital in every part, and what with my own weakness and distress of mind for my family I have been unhappy enough.

And such is the distress of the neighbourhood that I can scarcly find a well person to assist me in looking after the sick. . . . So sickly and so Mortal a time the oldest Man does not remember.
Patty, apparently another servant, died in early October. On 22 October things were looking better enough for Abigail to write:
Your Mother...is always anxious for you, and is so apprehensive least a fleet should be sent to Bombard Philadelphia that she has not much comfort. Brothers family are well except young Crosby who had the dysentery very bad, and has left him Bereaved of his reason. Isaac is so far recoverd as to return after six weeks and Susy is returnd to me again. Our neighbours are now all getting well.
John Adams answered on 4 November:
My Duty to my Mother. I wish she would not be concerned about me. She ought to consider that a Dissentery can kill as surely as a Cannon. This Town is as secure from the Cannon and Men of War as the Moon is.
John also devoted rather little time to his mother in his autobiography.

All these quotations can be found on the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Adams Electronic Archive.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Talk on Andrew Brown’s Newspaper, 14 Oct 2008

On 14 Oct 2008 at 7:30 P.M., the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will host a talk by David Paul Nord titled “A City and a Newspaper: Citizen Journalism in Philadelphia during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1793.” The Federal Gazette was the only paper to publish all during the outbreak. Nord, professor of journalism and adjunct professor of history at Indiana University, will discuss what that newspaper meant to its readers, and how both elites and ordinary people used the press.

The Federal Gazette was edited by Andrew Brown (1744-1797), an intriguing figure. In the nineteenth century people said that he “came to America in 1773 as an officer in the British army, but left that service and settled in Massachusetts. He fought on the patriot side at Lexington and Bunker Hill.”

In fact, Brown came to America as an enlisted man in His Majesty’s 47th regiment. From Steve Gilbert, via Don Hagist, I understand that the regiment’s rolls state that Brown deserted on 2 Feb 1775. Samuel Adams wrote of Brown:

Immediately after the Battle of Lexington he joynd the American Army in which his Zeal & Activity was signalizd—In July 1776 he servd as Major in the Militia of this State at Ticonderoga under Genl [Horatio] Gates—In 1777 he was appointed Depy Muster Master by Col. [Joseph] Ward, and when the Convention Troops arrivd at Cambridge he was employd by Genl [William] Heath as Town Major
As town major in 1778, Brown was in charge of supplies and housing for the large number of prisoners of war captured from the Saratoga campaign. British officers, recognizing Brown as a deserter—and a lower-class Irish one at that—objected to following his instructions and depending on him for supplies. Lt. Thomas Anburey wrote:
The fellow, conscious of his baseness, when he meets an officer of that [47th] regiment, rides hastily away, but you must allow it is rather grating to be in the power and under the command of such a villain.
Gen. Heath obliquely acknowledged that problem in a letter to Gen. William Phillips, ranking British officer:
His former situation and some other Circumstances may have rendered him disagreeable to the officers, and I shall give the matter a proper Consideration.
In turn, Brown was more lenient toward prisoners from Germany than those from England, according to a couple of German sources.

After the war, Brown moved to Pennsylvania, first running a girls’ school and then going into the newspaper business. He was obviously educated and ambitious, and probably found much more opportunity in American society than he would have had in Britain. But his story ended unhappily in Philadelphia. I’ve collected more information about Andrew Brown, but there are still a lot of holes to fill, and I look forward to this lecture.

Monday, October 06, 2008

The “Maverick” Heritage

At last week’s vice-presidential debate, one point of disagreement was over the term “maverick.” That was one of the many terms Sarah Palin dropped repeatedly, and toward the end Joe Biden jumped on it and disputed John McCain’s claim to the label, given his overall voting record. Yesterday’s New York Times reported yet another dispute over the term:

“I’m just enraged that McCain calls himself a maverick,” said Terrellita Maverick, 82, a San Antonio native who proudly carries the name of a family that has been known for its progressive politics since the 1600s, when an early ancestor in Boston got into trouble with the law over his agitation for the rights of indentured servants.

In the 1800s, Samuel Augustus Maverick went to Texas and became known for not branding his cattle. He was more interested in keeping track of the land he owned than the livestock on it, Ms. Maverick said; unbranded cattle, then, were called “Maverick’s.” The name came to mean anyone who didn’t bear another’s brand.
Indeed, the Mavericks of Texas have been making this complaint for a month, noting the progressive twentieth-century politicians in the family. Their statements acknowledge S. A. Maverick’s slaveholding and support for secession, but skip how some of his neighbors and political opponents suggested his cattle-friendly policy was designed to let him claim any unbranded wandering cow as his property. Other internet folks argue that “maverick” didn’t become a compliment until Americans started to associate it with charming James Garner in 1957.

I’m going to address the Boston side of the Maverick heritage. There are two significant Samuel Mavericks in colonial history. One was an apprentice killed at the Boston Massacre in 1770.

The other was one of Massachusetts Bay’s earliest English settlers, proprietor of trading posts and farms on islands in Boston harbor and then along the Piscataqua from 1624 to about 1676. That Samuel Maverick was also one of New England’s earliest slaveholders. Even before Massachusetts law explicitly allowed slavery, he was keeping people from Africa imprisoned on his island and forcing them to have children. In Two Voyages to New-England, Maverick’s visitor John Josselyn wrote:
The Second of October [1638], about 9 of the clock in the morning, Mr. Mavericks Negro 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.
Boston’s first Samuel Maverick was undoubtedly a maverick: adhering to the Church of England in the midst of Puritans, defending Thomas Morton’s rules-breaking Mare Mount settlement, complaining to London about the local government. He spoke up for the rights of a religious minority (which he belonged to). But I can’t find how Maverick championed the “rights of indentured servants,” and he obviously oppressed enslaved servants.

I think being a political “maverick” matters only if one is serving the people and the country well; there’s no honor in standing out just for the sake of one’s self-image as a contrarian. And, as Maureen Dowd wrote in the same issue of the Times, “True mavericks don’t brand themselves.”