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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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Lepore and Kamensky in Lexington, 6 Feb

And as long as I’ve been drawing on Prof. Jill Lepore’s recent New Yorker article about printers, I should mention that she and Prof. Jane Kamensky will discuss their historical novel Blindspot at the Lexington Depot on Friday, 6 February, at 8:00 P.M. This is part of the Cronin Lecture Series hosted by the Lexington Historical Society, and is free and open to all.

Here’s the Blindspot website, which has more information on the novel’s historical background. But be aware: these historians set out to write entertaining fiction, so they were actually making stuff up. They write:

Blindspot is a twenty-first century novel in eighteenth-century garb. It plays with the conventions of eighteenth-century novels, newspapers, portraits, and histories. It’s dripping with history; in fact, it’s something closer to a mock eighteenth-century novel than to a modern work of historical fiction. This, inevitably, raises questions, especially because we are history professors and, in our historical work, writing and teaching, we’re sticklers for accuracy.

Readers often ask us whether anything in Blindspot is true. People asked eighteenth-century novelists this question, too. Their answer? Yes and no. Novels look for a different kind of truth than history books, and Blindspot is a novel. Which is to say, we made it up. That was the whole point, and more than half the fun.
One character in the novel is based on James Otis, Jr. The fictional Samuel Bradstreet’s Rights of the British Colonies Demonstrated derives from Otis’s Rights of the British Colonies Asserted, with a crucial difference. In the novel, Bradstreet removes his critical comments on slavery and publishes them separately. In 1764, Otis left his comments in. Sometimes truth is more outrageous than fiction.

Friday, January 30, 2009

John Gill: Luckless Printer

Continuing my comments on Prof. Jill Lepore’s essay about eighteenth-century American newspapers in The New Yorker, I think the Boston printer John Gill deserves a little more love. Lepore calls him Benjamin Edes’s “lacklustre partner.” The word “luckless” might be more fitting.

Gill was less politically active than Edes, who was probably one of the “Loyall Nine” who organized the first anti-Stamp Act protests. But that doesn’t mean Gill was politically tepid. The pair’s friendly young rival Isaiah Thomas recalled:

Gill was a sound whig, but did not possess the political energy of his partner. He was industrious, constantly in the printing house, and there worked at case or press as occasion required.
John Adams left a verbal picture of how the Gazette, which appeared each Monday, was assembled on Sunday, 3 Sept 1769:
Spent the Remainder of the Evening and supped with Mr. [James] Otis, in Company with Mr. [Samuel] Adams, Mr. Wm. Davis, and Mr. Jno. Gill. The Evening spent in preparing for the Next Days Newspaper—a curious Employment. Cooking up Paragraphs, Articles, Occurences, &c.—working the political Engine!
So where was Mr. Edes that night when there was work to be done?

Ironically, Gill actually seems to have suffered more than Edes for the paper’s political stands. I’ve already described how the British military authorities came looking for Edes in 1775, after he’d slipped out of town. The soldiers had to content themselves with jailing Edes’s teen-aged son Peter (which Lepore mentions) and then Gill (which she doesn’t).

And then there was a little matter of an assault in January 1768. John Mein, co-owner of the Boston Chronicle, was furious that Edes and Gill’s Gazette had printed an essay attacking him. He came to the rival shop two successive days demanding the identity of the essayist “Americus.” The Gazette printers, with Edes doing most of the talking, refused to cooperate.

Mein said then he’d hold the printers themselves responsible for the essay and asked them to step outside. They refused to do that, too. So Mein promised that the next time he met either Gazette printer, he’d thrash him. And of course Mein met Gill first.

Mein smacked Gill with his cane, which was not only assault but also a way of signifying that Gill was no gentleman. Gill then sued Mein, with Otis as his principal attorney. (Mein suspected Otis was “Americus” all along.) Calling his client no “Boxer, Bruizer, Man of the sword or any Prowess whatever,” Otis argued in court that he’d never take on Mein, but “I would beat 2 of Gill,” thus portraying Mein as a bully. Eventually Mein had to pay a 40-shilling fine for criminal assault, then £75 plus costs to Gill.

During the war, Edes got custody of the Boston Gazette. Gill started The Continental Journal in May 1776 and ran it nearly until his death in 1785. The newspaper ran this obituary:
Capt. John Gill, for disseminating principles destructive of tyranny, suffered during the siege of this town in 1775, what many other printers were threatened with, a cruel imprisonment. He, however, was so fortunate as to survive the conflict; but had the mortification, lately, of seeing the press ready to be shackled by a stamp act fabricated in his native state; he, therefore, resigned his business, not choosing to submit to a measure which Britain artfully adopted as the foundation of her intended tyranny in America. His remains were very respectfully entombed last Monday afternoon.
At the time, the Massachusetts General Court was debating whether to levy a small tax on some printed goods—part of the economic crisis that led to Shays’ Rebellion. Critics in the press were quick to point out the irony of that measure. Neither Edes nor Gill was ever fully satisfied with the new republic they’d helped bring about.

The thumbnail image above shows an issue of Gill’s Continental Journal from 1782, on sale through the New York Times store.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Dying Cries of the Newspapers

Harvard professor and novelist Jill Lepore looked at the struggle for freedom of the press in eighteenth-century America in a New Yorker review of Marcus Daniel’s Scandal and Civility: Journalism and the Birth of American Democracy.

I don’t think the review’s main hook really works. The American printers lamenting the death of a free press in 1765 were all upset about the Stamp Act, and thus about government control as well as costs. Today’s newspaper people are again keening that newspapers may not survive, and again talking about costs, but now the threats come from the marketplace and new technologies.

In fact, Lepore recognizes that the full history of the early American newspaper is more complex than the pleasing free-press narrative her article offers:

To tell the story this way, as a struggle between tyranny and liberty, between King and Gazette, or even between John Adams and Benjamin Edes, is to write a Whig history, something that historians generally sniff at, mainly because eighteenth-century Whigs (and Whig printers) saw their world in just this way, with themselves on the side of liberty, and people aren’t to be trusted in accounting for their own place in history.

Whig history is suspect, in other words, for much the same reason that Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography is suspect. It’s too tidy. Most struggles, like most lives, are messier. Newspapers aren’t always on the side of liberty. Not everyone agrees on what liberty means. Some struggles never end. And it’s not the newspaper that’s forever at risk of dying and needing to be raised from the grave. It’s the freedom of the press.
Lepore notes a moment in 1755 when Edes and Gill’s Boston Gazette did something which offended the selectmen, and they printed an apology. Those two printers had set themselves up as the favored press of the Boston government, and depended on the income from printing town notices and legal forms. So no wonder they were quick to print an apology. Radical though they were when it came to opposing royal appointees and parliamentary taxes, Edes and Gill were nonetheless the voice of the local political establishment.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Where Did Major Pitcairn Die?

Here’s another old North End structure from the Boston Public Library’s Old Photographs gallery at Flickr. It’s labeled the “Major Pitcairn House.”

In his History of the Siege of Boston, first published in 1849, Richard B. Frothingham described the death of Maj. John Pitcairn of the British marines in a single sentence:

His son bore him to a boat, and then to a house in Prince-street, Boston, where he was attended by a physician. at the special request of General [Thomas] Gage, but soon died.
Frothingham cited a “Ms. Letter” as his source.

By 1887, Edward G. Porter’s Rambles in Old Boston offered far more detail:
When Major Pitcairn was mortally wounded at Bunker Hill, he was brought over in a boat and taken to a house not far from the ferry at the foot of Prince Street. . . .

As soon as General Gage heard of it, he sent to Dr. Thomas Kast [1750-1820], a well-known Boston physician who sympathized with England in the struggle, and requested him to call on Pitcairn, as the regular surgeons were overwhelmed with work.

The Doctor proceeded at once in his gig, taking with him a friend whom he met on the way.

It was now late in the afternoon. Entering the chamber where the Major was lying on a bed, the Doctor announced that he had come at the request of General Gage, who wished to have everything done that was possible to help the Major in his distress. Pitcairn, with his usual courtesy, asked the Doctor to thank the General for remembering him at such a time, and added that he feared he was beyond all human aid. On being asked where he was wounded, he laid his hand on his breast and said, “Here, sir.” The Doctor proceeded to remove the sheet in order to examine the wound, but the Major objected and said: “Excuse me; it is useless; my time is short. You cannot do anything for my relief; my wound must cause death immediately; I am bleeding fast internally.”

“But let me see the wound,” said the Doctor; “you may be mistaken in regard to it;” and again he attempted to raise the sheet.

The Major kept his hand upon it, and said: “Doctor, excuse me; I know you can do nothing for me; do not argue the matter with me. . . . Let me say a few words to you about my private concerns.” The Doctor yielded for a moment, and listened to such messages as the dying man had to give. This seemed to relieve his mind, and soon after he allowed the Doctor to open his vest and loosen the matter which had collected about the wound, when suddenly the blood spurted out with great force upon the floor. The stains remained a long time, and the room was called “Pitcairn's chamber” for many years.

After doing what he could for the sufferer, Dr. Kast returned to the General and reported the case; but before he could reach Prince Street again, the brave officer had died of his wounds.
Later accounts said Dr. Kast was Gen. Gage’s personal physician, but that seems to be a late addition to the story. Kast was the medical officer on the Royal Navy ship Rose in 1770-72, but he wasn’t enough of a Loyalist to leave Boston with the British military. Dr. Ephraim Eliot later wrote that Kast built “a large practice among the lower and middling class of people…making every one pay him something.”

After relating that story of Pitcairn’s noble demise, Porter goes on to say, “It would be an interesting fact could we know what house it was in which this scene occurred.” So obviously, despite the doctor and his companion, despite the blood staining the floor, no one recalled the major’s death reliably at all.

Instead, Rambles offers some alternative venues:
  • “the late Timothy Dodd and others” insisted that Pitcairn died in what became 130 Prince Street, shown above—third building from the left, behind a barrel. According to Porter, its occupant in 1775 may have been boat builder Thomas Stoddard. (A boat builder of that name was living in the eastern part of the North End in 1780.)
  • As late as 1851, locals pointed out “the third house from Charlestown bridge” on the other side of the street as where Pitcairn died. But then that house was torn down, making it a more challenging tourist attraction.
  • Yet other Bostonians said Pitcairn died in “the Phips mansion, afterward known as the Asylum for Boys, on the corner of Salem and Charter Streets.” But Porter didn’t believe that.
And don’t get me started on the stories of what happened to Maj. Pitcairn’s body.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The “No Stamp Act” Teapot

I rather like the irony of this 1766 teapot, which the Smithsonian acquired for the National Museum of American History two and a half years ago. Similar teapots survive in the collections of Colonial Williamsburg and the Peabody-Essex Museum in Salem.

The Smithsonian’s press release said:

The fact that the teapot, at only five inches tall, was made in England for the American market to celebrate the repeal of an official Act of the British government illustrates how important trade with the American colonies was to British industry.
Everything is all right now, the words on the pot seem to say. With no Stamp Act, your American liberty is safe, so you can go on providing raw materials and buying our finished goods! After all, that’s what colonies were for in a mercantile economy.

What nobody in 1766 realized was that the next year the British Parliament would put an import duty on tea, meant to raise money for the same expanded colonial administration as the Stamp Act was supposed to support. And eventually tea would become not a beloved commodity that united the British Empire from one side of the globe to the other, but the central focus of the American resistance to taxation without representation.

One wonders if the colonists who had bought these teapots in 1766 quietly moved them to the back of the cupboard a few years later.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Boston “reduced to about 3500” Civilians in Jan 1776

On 26 Jan 1776, as the siege of Boston was in its tenth month, Thomas Oliver, acting royal governor of Massachusetts, reported to the Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for North America:

The Town of Boston, which in its most flourishing state might contain about 15000 Inhabitants, is now reduced to about 3500. Of this number I presume there may be one thousand [adult] males. Two hundred and fifty of which are refugees from the Country, 750 of its original male inhabitants, and 2500 women and children.

Of the 1000 males I have no doubt that 500 are truly loyal subjects, and such as have exhibited the strongest proofs of their attachment to Government. Of the remaining 500 I believe one half, viz. 250 to be as strongly attached to the Rebel interest; the other half to be mere indifferent. I should here observe that the women and children are for the greatest part families of the loyal subjects, the others having more generally sent their families out when they could not go themselves; so that the Loyal and their connections may amount to upwards of 2000.
Boston had indeed contained over 15,500 people in 1765, but fewer than 7,000 civilians in July 1775, after the siege began. By the latter date, the number of British army troops and their dependents was over 13,000, so despite the drop in civilian population the town needed even more than food than in peacetime.

Oliver’s estimate of “truly loyal [adult male] subjects” in Boston was probably on the mark. The preceding November, 480 men in Boston had signed up for the Association, a Loyalist patrol. Oliver then wrote that number contained “some few whose characters had been doubtful,” but only a few.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Profile of Tea Party Historian

This month the Tufts Journal ran an article on the university’s early American historian Benjamin Carp (also one of the earliest and most supportive readers of Boston 1775). Ben’s working on a book about the Boston Tea Party.

The article highlights the global reach of that local topic:

While the Tea Party took place in Boston, Carp sees it as a demonstration of how the world was interconnected even several hundred years ago. The tea itself, he points out, was grown in East Asia, sweetened with sugar harvested by Afro-Caribbeans, and poured and savored by East Asians and Europeans.

He also notes the connections between a British company with financial stakes on the other side of the world and the American colonists. The British East India Company was the main purveyor of tea to Europe and to the American colonies. The company did business in Bengal, where it was blamed for making a devastating famine worse by hoarding rice, resulting in price increases.

“The company was getting rich off Bengal and behaving poorly,” Carp says. “Americans knew about this and worried they would be next.”
I hadn’t considered this aspect of the tea crisis before hearing Ben talk about it, but Customs records show that in the early 1770s Boston merchants were legally importing, and thus paying the tax on, more tea than their counterparts in Philadelphia and New York.

Many histories of the Revolution present Bostonians as inveterate smugglers; certainly that’s how Loyalists like Peter Oliver described them. In this case, however, the Boston merchants might have been in trouble for not smuggling. In the eyes of Philadelphians and New Yorkers, they were helping the London government raise revenue even as they complained about Parliament’s taxes and where that money was going.

Ben suggests that in 1773 the Boston Whigs felt pressure to make no compromise over refusing to land the tea. Meanwhile, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson and the North American Customs Commissioners, based in Boston, were more insistent than the royal authorities elsewhere that the tea must be landed. (Hutchinson also had financial and family interests in the tea business.) That set the stage for a direct, all-or-nothing confrontation in Boston harbor while merchants and officials in other ports found ways around the issue.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Workshop at the Massachusetts Archives, 18 Feb

John Hannigan, a Reference Archivist at the Massachusetts Archives, has sent this announcement to local lists:

On Wednesday, February 18, 2009, there will be a military records workshop at the Massachusetts Archives. The workshop will run from 10 A.M. to 12 P.M., and will cover a wide variety of topics. It will focus primarily on records of Massachusetts soldiers in the American Revolution and the Civil War, but will also touch King Philip’s War, the French and Indian Wars, the War of 1812, and the Massachusetts State Militia.

We will examine some original manuscript records, and talk about the kinds of records the state kept and didn't keep. Most importantly, we will discuss what these records can tell us about an individual's military service, and how to go about filling in the gaps.

We would like to focus as much on colonial and Revolutionary-era records as possible, and the more like-minded individuals who sign up, the easier that will be to do! If this workshop is moderately successful, we will consider holding another one on a Saturday so more people can attend.

Space is limited to 15 people, so sign up as soon as possible.
Email Hannigan to sign up, or ask questions about this session.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Looking in on the Loyalists in London

I had a fine time talking about Capt. John Gore and his family at Old South Meeting House yesterday afternoon. I want to thank the folks from Old South, the Bostonian Society, the Friends of the Longfellow House, Boston by Foot, and Loyalty & Liberty who came to listen, as well as all the individuals and the poor folks who just wandered in.

Next Thursday at 12:15 P.M., Prof. Brendan McConville of Boston University will wrap up Old South’s series of talks on Loyalists. Eventually all four of the month’s presentations will be available on the web.

The handout I created for that program offered a look at this item from Isaiah Thomas’s Massachusetts Spy for 25 Dec 1777 (though it might have appeared in a Boston newspaper two days before). It shows how bitter New Englanders felt about Loyalist absentees at that difficult stage of the war:

By a gentleman lately arrived from London, (Old-England) we learn, that a number of those miserable devils called tories, who fled with the British troops from this town, have received a pension from the English King, for their firm attachment to his crown and dignity.

Among this despicable class, are, Capt. Adino Paddock, and John Gore, late of this town, (who our informant very well remembers) with a large train of etcaetera’s. The tyrant’s pension settled on these wretched creatures, is, one hundred pounds sterling only per annum.
Just to rub it in, the paper referred to Paddock with the title captain even though he’d been promoted to major in the Massachusetts militia before the war, and I think to colonel during the siege.

Who, I wondered, was the gentleman arriving from London in the middle of the war between Britain and America? He must have come from Boston originally since the paper said he “very well remembers” Paddock and Gore, a coachmaker and a paint merchant who were sharing a house in London to save expenses.

Gore had a nephew and apprentice named George Searle. In September 1777, Searle had recently arrived in London, according to Samuel Cutler’s diary about being a prisoner of war at Plymouth. Searle’s address during his visit was “Mr. Paddock’s, No. 8 Charlotte Street, Buckingham Gate, London.” The editor of that diary suspected Searle as having supplied the money Cutler used to bribe his guards and escape on 26 September.

So did Searle visit his uncle John Gore in London, use the occasion to smuggle money to Cutler, and then return to Boston with the news of Loyalists receiving a “pension”? (It was really more like a welfare allowance.) I didn’t have enough hard facts about this situation to gossip about it yesterday, but I hope to uncover more.

Eventually Paddock got a royal appointment on the Isle of Jersey, Gore returned to his family in Boston, and Searle went mad. But that’s another story.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Old Boston Photographs on Flickr

After my recent postings on the now-demolished Galloupe House in the North End, Boston 1775 reader Richard De Fonce alerted me to the Boston Public Library’s Flickr set of Old Boston Photographs.

The collection includes a photograph of the Galloupe House on Hull Street, from the same perspective as its nineteenth-century engravings. I guess there was only one way to get a good look at it since it was hemmed in by other buildings.

De Fonce noted that the nearby Hart House (shown here) is also identified as “Headquarters to General Thomas Gage during the Battle of Bunker Hill” in its online caption. However, this is clearly a case of “memory creep”; all the information about the Galloupe House in MacDonald’s Old Copp’s Hill and Burying Ground, including its construction date of 1724, has been assigned to the Hart House as well. Rambles in Old Boston shows and discusses what it calls the Hartt House without noting any Revolutionary significance.

The B.P.L.’s online collection includes a picture of Province House, official residence of the royal governors—where Gage definitely had his main headquarters. This is not a photograph but an engraving which was printed in many histories.

Province House remained standing until 1922, so why don’t we have good photographs of it? By the time photography was invented, the house had been hemmed in on all sides by other buildings. It no longer looked stately, as it did in the eighteenth century. In fact, it probably looked like what it had become: a dark, rundown commercial building.

I’m going to pull up and discuss other images from the B.P.L.’s collection as it strikes me, but here are some random highlights to check out:

Not all the buildings pictured in the collection go back to the Revolutionary War, and not all of them were significant in how that war turned out, but together they offer a glimpse of lost Boston.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Gossip from Daniel Leonard, part 2

Yesterday I quoted from John Adams’s diary entry from 20 Jan 1766, as he gossiped with Daniel Leonard. But enough, those men apparently decided, about what Boston lawyers think about each other! What do other people think about Boston lawyers?

Here’s the rest of Adams’s notes, as Leonard described his recent visit to Rhode Island:

Leonard gave me also a Relation of his going to Providence Court and Spending an Evening with the Political Clubb there. The Clubb consists of Governor [Stephen] Hopkins, Judge [Daniel] Jenks, [Silas] Downer, [John] Cole and others. They were impatient to have the Courts opened in this Province not choosing to proceed in Business alone.
As in Boston, the big legal issue of early 1766 in Providence was the Stamp Act. That tax law required all legal proceedings to be submitted on stamped paper. Colonists responded by closing their courts until judges agreed not to enforce that part of the law. These Rhode Island attorneys and judges wanted to start holding court sessions again, without stamped paper, but wished to do so alongside the jurists in the bigger colony to their north rather than stick their necks out alone.
Were very inquisitive concerning all our Affairs. Had much to say of [Lt. Gov. Thomas] Hutchinson, [James] Otis, &c. Admired the answer to the Governors [Francis Bernard’s] Speech. Admired the Massachusetts Resolves. Hopkins said that nothing had been so much admired there through the whole Course of the Controversy, as the Answer to the Speech, tho the Massachusetts Resolves were the best digested and the best of any on the Continent. Enquired who was the Author of them.
The man who wrote the Massachusetts legislature’s resolves against the Stamp tax was Samuel Adams—the first time his political activity attracted notice outside the province.

Then the Rhode Islanders’ talk turned to less elevated forms of argument: satirical poems published in the newspapers.
Enquired also who it was that burlesqued the Governors Speeches? Who wrote jemmybullero [about Otis], &c. Thought Hutchinsons History [of Massachusetts] did not shine. Said his House was pulled down [on 26 Aug 1765], to prevent his writing any more by destroying his Materials. Thought Otis was not an original Genius, nor a good Writer, but a Person who had done, and would continue to do much good service.

Were very inquisitive about [Ebenezer] McIntosh [the shoemaker who led Boston’s public protests against the Stamp Act]. Whether he was a Man of Abilities, or not? Whether he would probably rise, in Case this Contest should be carried into any Length.

Jo[seph]. Green, [Samuel] Waterhouse and [Benjamin] Church were talk’d of as capable of Bullero and the Burlesques.
So gentlemen in Rhode Island had a good idea of which Bostonians were in the habit of writing satirical verse. Local consensus settled on Waterhouse as the author of the “Jemmibullero” attack on Otis, with Church responsible for “These Times,” attacking Bernard.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Nothing But Hope and Virtue

That lawsuit about how Chief Justice John Roberts would administer the presidential oath of office failed. But then Roberts misplaced a word in reciting or reading the oath to Barack Obama. Which word? “faithfully.” Here’s Ann Althouse’s analysis of the moment, and the conspiracy theory passed on by Wonkette.

And for the important stuff, the Revolutionary War allusion in President Obama’s speech:

In the year of America’s birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by nine campfires on the shores of an icy river.

The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood.

At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

“Let it be told to the future world that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet it.”

America, in the face of our common dangers, in this winter of our hardship, let us remember these timeless words...
The quoted words are from the first number of “The American Crisis” by Thomas Paine, published on 23 Dec 1776. Now in fact the U.S. capital at the time, if we could say there was one, was Philadelphia. The Congress was still there [ADDENDUM: Whoops! Congress had bugged out after all. See comments section], and the Continental Army hadn’t abandoned it. That army had, however, been driven out of New York and across New Jersey, and things were looking grim for the Patriots. This moment, just before the battle of Trenton, was indeed one of the low points of the Revolutionary War from the American point of view.

Gossip from Daniel Leonard, part 1

Prof. Ben Carp at Tufts pointed me to this gossipy scene from John Adams’s diary on 20 Jan 1766. Adams recorded a talk with a man he called “Leonard,” probably Daniel Leonard (1740-1829) of Taunton:

Leonard gave me an Account of a Clubb that he belongs to, in Boston. It consists of John Lowell, Elisha Hutchinson, Frank Dana, Josiah Quincy, and two other young Fellows, Strangers to me.
Most of these young men were studying the law on their way of becoming attorneys. Adams was five to ten years older than all of them, but was about to move from Braintree to Boston and try to grow his practice in a bigger town. So he was eager to learn about the legal scene in the capital.

These are the club members Adams named:
  • John Lowell (1743-1802) had come from Newbury to Boston to study under the attorney Oxenbridge Thacher—who died suddenly in 1765. Lowell would go back to Newbury and practice there until the war had started, then return to Boston and become one of the town’s richest attorneys and founder of the town’s famously upper-crust Lowell family. (The portrait of him above comes courtesy of Wikipedia.)
  • Elisha Hutchinson (1745-1824) was Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson’s younger son. He never practiced law, but with his older brother Tommy would become one of the East India Company’s designated tea consignees in 1773.
  • Francis Dana (1743-1811), son of one of Boston’s leading justices of the peace. As the U.S. of A.’s first minister to Russia, he would take young John Quincy Adams to St. Petersburg as secretary and French translator.
  • Josiah Quincy, Jr. (1744-1775), son of a leading Braintree property-owner, would become Adams’s colleague in the Boston Massacre trial and in Revolutionary politics. He would die of tuberculosis on the eve of the Revolutionary War.
Leonard and his friends were debating the issues of the day—which in early 1766 meant the Stamp Act. Adams described the talk:
Leonard had prepared a Collection of the Arguments, for and against the Right of Parliament to tax the Colonies, for said Clubb. His first Inquiry was whether the subject could be taxed without his Consent in Person or by his Representative? 2d. Whether We Americans are represented in Parliament or not?

Leonard says that Lowell is a Courtier, that he ripps about all who stand foremost in their opposition to the Stamp Act, at your [James] Otis’s and [Samuel] Adams’s &c. and says that no Man can scribble about Politicks without bedaubing his fingers, and every one who does is a dirty fellow. He expresses great Resentment against that Line in Edes & Gill[’s Boston Gazette], ”Retreat or you are ruined,” and says they ought to be committed for that single stroke.—

Thus it seems that the Air of Newbury, and the Vicinage of Farnham, Chipman &c. have obliterated all the Precepts, Admonitions, Instructions and Example of his Master Thatcher, and have made him in Thatchers Phrase a shoe licker and an A—se Kisser of Elisha Hutchinson. Lowel is however very warm, sudden, quick, and impetuous and all such People are unsteady. Too much Fire. Experientia docet [experience teaches].
When Charles Francis Adams published his grandfather’s diaries in the 1860s, he left out the phrase “and have made him in Thatchers Phrase a shoe licker and an A—se Kisser of Elisha Hutchinson.” Pity.

Adams’s remark about “the Vicinage of Farnham, Chipman &c.” refers to leaders of the Essex County bar, where young Lowell would practice: Daniel Farnham (1719-1776) and John Chipman (1722-1768, died from a seizure he suffered while arguing a case in Maine). For some reason, Adams was always suspicious of attorneys from that part of Massachusetts. Years later he would elevate such a group into the “Essex Junto,” a label that took the men themselves by surprise.

Back in 1766, I suspect that Adams was a little jealous of those young men’s connections in Boston. They came from rich, established families. Despite his seniority, they threatened to become his professional rivals. Plus, despite his protests against wishing popularity, Adams disliked being left out of anything.

As the political turmoil heated up in the following decade, two of the young men in that club became firm Loyalists: Leonard and Hutchinson. In fact, Leonard would debate Adams in the newspapers in 1774-75—the widely reprinted Novanglus-Massachusettensis exchange. Two of the young men became Patriots: Dana and Quincy. The fifth, Lowell, first proclaimed his loyalty to the Crown and then repudiated it. Curiously, his career worked out best of all.

TOMORROW: Leonard’s stories about another club Adams probably wished he were in.

Monday, January 19, 2009

J. L. Bell Speaks on the Gores, Old South, 22 Jan

This Thursday, 22 January, I’ll be speaking on Revolutionary Boston at Old South Meeting House. My talk is part of this month’s “Middays at the Meeting House” series on Loyalists. These events run from 12:15 P.M. to 1:00, so bring your lunch and your questions. The admission is free for Old South members, $5 for others.

Depending on which brochure you look at, my talk is titled “The Gores: One Family Divided” or “Gossiping about the Gores.” Whichever turns out to be official, I won’t be able to stay away from the juicy gossip. This is, after all, a family whose members:

  • secretly helped to organize America’s first public protests against the Stamp Act.
  • hosted a spinning bee for women objecting to new Customs regulations.
  • suffered a wound in a riot eleven days before the Boston Massacre.
  • patrolled the docks before the Boston Tea Party—and on that dramatic night.
  • snuck cannons out of an armory under British army guard.
  • were split by the war, with some family members going to Britain and others staying in Boston.
  • included two sisters who married the same man, and one sister-in-law who married a married man.
  • helped launch the Industrial Revolution in Massachusetts, and suffered a sudden bankruptcy.
The thumbnail picture here is John Singleton Copley’s portrait of the oldest four surviving Gore children in about 1755. From left, they are Frances, Elizabeth, John, and Samuel (in the pink). The painting is now in the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, and this snapshot comes from Jay Glenn’s Flickr site.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Galloupe House Fades from Public Memory

This is a late-1800s engraving of Benjamin Galloupe’s house in Boston’s North End, identified in 1887 as where Gen. Thomas Gage set up a staff headquarters during the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Earlier histories, such as Richard Frothingham’s History of the Siege of Boston, didn’t mention this house. After 1887 many books about Boston said Gage used it, perhaps the latest being Annie Haven Thwing’s Crooked and Narrow Streets of Boston (1925), which was all about local landmarks.

The Galloupe house was taken down in the early 1900s, and its historical significance (if indeed it had any) soon disappeared as well. Two recent histories of the Battle of Bunker Hill don’t mention Gage making any North End building his headquarters for the day. Richard Ketchum’s Decisive Day (1962) says:

It must have been about nine o’clock [A.M.], with the council of war finished, orders issued, and subordinates off attending to preparations, when Gage left Province House to view the situation in broad daylight. (It was the one time he left headquarters, apparently; the rest of the day he was there to receive reports from Charlestown and from the lines at Boston Neck.)
Ketchum’s evidence for Gage leaving Province House at all is the terrific anecdote about Abijah Willard. However, as I discussed back then, that anecdote doesn’t seem to be 100% reliable, more’s the pity.

In contrast, Thomas J. Fleming’s Now We Are Enemies (1960) says:
In the North Church tower, from which the fateful signal to [sic] Paul Revere has been flashed sixty days before, Thomas Gage watched through a field glass. He had planned to direct the battle from Province House. But not even his natural talent for patience could bear the suspense...
General Gage in America by John Richard Alden (1948) doesn’t mention the Galloupe house at all. A. J. Langguth’s Patriots (1988) says Gage had an “advance headquarters,” location unspecified, but I’ve found that book less reliable than Ketchum’s.

So there we have it. Gage oversaw the battle from Province House, from the Galloupe house, from Old North Church—or maybe somewhere else entirely. That level of uncertainty is about what I expect when it comes to Bunker Hill. We’re much more eager to read about details than the chroniclers of the time were to write it down, so the intervening years have provided them.

I suspect Gage kept his headquarters at Province House while making a couple of trips to the North End to observe the fighting as much as he could. (The fire and smoke from Charlestown obscured much of the action.) He left the battlefield command to Gen. William Howe. Meanwhile, Gage had to worry about the possibility of a provincial attack over the Boston Neck, or a civilian uprising in the town, while so many of his troops were occupied to the north. (Similarly, in Cambridge Gen. Artemas Ward was keeping alert for a possible British attack down the Neck.) For that reason, sticking to a central headquarters makes sense.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

House Occupied by “Old Gage”?

Yesterday I described how a Boston 1775 reader asked about a picture of a wooden colonial house identified as Gen. Thomas Gage’s “military headquarters.” But the book with that picture offered no further information.

I did some digging in Google Books and got lucky by finding a similar view in Rambles in Old Boston, by Edward Griffin Porter (1887). That book also offers a description of how Gage had used the Hull Street house on 17 June 1775:

In 1775 this house was occupied by British troops, the Gallop [or Galloupe] family retiring to Saugus. During the Battle of Bunker Hill General Gage made this his staff headquarters,—a convenient place for the purpose, being near his battery yet somewhat under cover of the hill. Mr. William Parkman remembers hearing his grandmother, who lived near by at the time, often speak of this house as having been occupied, on that eventful day, by “old Gage,” as she called him. Several other persons have confirmed the tradition.
Now as to whether there’s stronger evidence for that tradition than a grandmother’s tale and neighborhood memories, I don’t know. It seems possible that people remembered British army officers moving into the empty house sometime during the siege of Boston, or staff officers using it during the battle, without Gage himself setting up an office there. I call that phenomenon “memory creep”—stories edging toward the more famous names and events.

In any event, that book seems to have been the anecdote’s earliest appearance in print. Other authors soon picked up on it. Colored engravings of Province House, which was the governor’s usual headquarters, and the Galloupe house appear side by side in Homes of Our Forefathers in Boston, Old England, and Boston, New England, by Edwin Whitefield (1891).

Edward MacDonald’s little guide to Old Copp's Hill and Burial Ground (1891) added more detail, again without specifying its sources:
The Galloupe House was erected nearly one hundred and sixty years since—in 1724—by a Mr. Clough; it was purchased by a Mr. Benjamin Gallop (afterward called Galloupe) in 1772; he died in 1776, just after the Declaration of Independence. The estate then became the property of his youngest son, Richard, and, at his death, it descended to his youngest daughter, who married Mr. William Marble, a well-known decorator of Boston, and was sold by him in 1877, a short time after the death of his wife, to the present owner.

This house was occupied by British troops in 1775, and was the headquarters of General Gage on the day of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Its timbers were cut in the vicinity.

The Snelling House, now standing on Hull Street, was occupied by British troops, who covered the cellar floor with tombstones taken from the Cemetery; the Snelling House on Salem Street was similarly used, but it has been demolished and replaced by a handsome brick building.
The fact that two Snelling Houses in the North End had the same story attached to them makes me wonder if people got them mixed up.

A final mystery: Histories from the mid-1900s say nothing about the Galloupe house.

TOMORROW: Out of sight, out of mind, out of history.

Friday, January 16, 2009

“Military Headquarters of General Gage”?

Last month Boston 1775 reader John C. Beasley sent me a query about this picture of a house from Old Boston Days and Ways, written by Mary Caroline Crawford and published in 1909. It appears on page 86.

The caption identifies that building as Gen. Thomas Gage’s “military headquarters,” which raises two questions:

  • What’s the basis for that statement? Old Boston Days and Ways doesn’t mention this building anywhere else.
  • How does this caption square with Crawford’s statement on another page that Gage used the Province House as his Boston headquarters?
The Province House (often called simply “Province House”) was a large brick house on a spacious lot across from Old South Meeting-house, a couple of blocks from the center of town. Massachusetts maintained that house as the official residence of royal governors. Most histories agree Gage lived and worked there. Crawford’s book includes a picture of the Province House, so she clearly knew this was a different building. But what building was it?

TOMORROW: House hunting in colonial Boston.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Was the Presidency a Mistake? Or Merely Flawed?

The latest Atlantic Monthly brings Maryland law professor and novelist Garrett Epps’s article “The Founders’ Great Mistake,” about flaws in the U.S. Constitution—specifically, the document’s vagueness in defining the role of chief executive in a government that was supposed to be led by the legislative branch.

Some thought-provoking extracts:

  • “One important reason for the [Constitutional Convention] delegates’ reticence was that George Washington, the most admired man in the world at that time, was the convention’s president. Every delegate knew that Washington would, if he chose, be the first president of the new federal government—and that the new government itself would likely fail without Washington at the helm. To express too much fear of executive authority might have seemed disrespectful to the man for whom the office was being tailored.”
  • “Under the pen name ‘Pacificus,’ [in 1793 Alexander] Hamilton wrote a defense of Washington’s power to act without congressional sanction. . . . Hamilton seized on the first words of Article II: ‘The executive power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.’ He contrasted this wording with Article I, which governs Congress and which begins, ‘All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States.’ What this meant, Hamilton argued, was that Article II was ‘a general grant of…power’ to the president. Although Congress was limited to its enumerated powers, the executive could do literally anything that the Constitution did not expressly forbid. Hamilton’s president existed, in effect, outside the Constitution.” The picture of Hamilton above comes from the Library of Congress.
  • “Some members of the founding generation believed that a duly elected president would simply be reelected until his death, at which point the vice president would take his place, much like the Prince of Wales ascending to the throne.”
  • “When George Washington became president, he left a large organization (the Mount Vernon plantation) to head a smaller one (the federal government).” [Smaller in terms of employees, possibly, but not in geographic reach or potential influence on Americans.]
Among Epps’s proposed reforms are direct popular election of the President and an independent U.S. Attorney General, specified executive powers, a sort of a “no confidence” measure after midterm election reversals, and a shorter period between a national election and the next inauguration. It would be interesting to see Epps revisit these proposals at another time besides right now and decide if they all still look as valuable.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Samuel Adams Has a Message for John Wilkes

In the early 1770s, John Hancock—who I think had the best political instincts of any Bostonian, including Samuel Adams—backed away a little from the radical Whigs. At least he didn’t seem inclined to push so hard against the royal government. A lot of the issues that had galvanized the public were gone: Gov. Francis Bernard had left, British troops were no longer patrolling central Boston, only the tea tax remained of the Townshend duties, and the economy was improving. Plus, the Crown had dropped its weak attempt to prosecute Hancock for smuggling.

For a while, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson entertained the thought that he could win Hancock over to the side of the Crown. That was probably always a vain hope—Hancock loved being popular more than he loved honors from the elite. Meanwhile, Samuel Adams was eager to keep Hancock, his money, and his popularity linked to the Whig cause.

On 10 Apr 1773, Adams wrote to Arthur Lee, a Virginian representing Massachusetts’s interests to Parliament as a sort of lobbyist:

Mr. [John] Wilkes was certainly greatly misinformed when he was told that Mr. H[ancock]. had deserted the Cause of Liberty. Great pains had been taken to have it thought to be so; and by a scurvy Trick of lying the Adversaries effected a Coolness between that Gent[lema]n. & some others who were zealous in that Cause. But it was of short Continuance, for their falshood was soon detected.

Lord Hillsbro [the Secretary of State for the colonies] I suppose was early informd of this imaginary Conquest; for I have it upon such Grounds as I can rely upon, that he wrote to the Govr. telling him that he had it in Command from the highest Authority to enjoyn him to promote Mr. H. upon every Occasion. . . . But he [Hancock] had Spirit enough to refuse a Seat at the Board [i.e., the Council], & continue a Member of the House.
And then on 22 April Adams had a thought:
When I mentioned Mr. Hancock in my last, I forgot to tell you that he is colonel of a [militia] company, called the governor’s company of cadets. Perhaps in this view only he was held up to Mr. Wilkes, when he was informed that he had deserted the cause. But it should be known it is not in the power of the governor to give a commission for that company to whom he pleases as their officers are chosen by themselves. Mr. Hancock was elected by the unanimous vote; and a reluctance at the idea of giving offence to an hundred gentlemen, might very well account for the governor giving the commission to Mr. H.
In 1774 Gov. Thomas Gage removed Hancock as colonel of the Cadets, and the company voted to disband in protest. That post was Hancock’s sole military experience before the war began. Which didn’t stop him from talking a big game.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Do What You Will?

Last Sunday, the Boston Globe ran Katherine A. Powers’s review of The Hell-Fire Clubs: Sex, Satanism, and Secret Societies, by Evelyn Lord. The original Hell-Fire Clubs (something happened to the hyphen on the book jacket) were formed in the 1720s. Later that name was slapped onto a group active in the 1750s and early 1760s, led by Sir Francis Dashwood and the fourth Earl of Sandwich; apparently they preferred to call themselves the Brotherhood of St. Francis of Wycombe, and other lofty and parodic names.

Lord writes:

The violation of virgins and summoning of the devil were not on the agenda, though the Enlightenment's elevation of happiness as a virtue and its questioning of traditional religion encouraged a modicum of sex of one sort or another, as well as the drinking of vast quantities of booze out of obscene glasses, and a good deal of heterodox theologizing.

Lord runs through the influences, varieties, and members of various Hell-Fire Clubs and their increasingly louche predecessors. The most notorious of the latter was the Medmenham Friars, or Knights of St. Francis, often erroneously considered the original Hell-Fire Club. Its motto was “Fay ce que vouldras” (“Do what you will”), and its members’...pursuits were far more priapic.

Still, the Friars’ reputation for obscene and diabolical rituals is, according to Lord, exaggerated, not only because of the public’s prurient speculations about a club so secret and top-drawer, but because of John Wilkes’s vendetta against it.

Crusader for freedom of the press and the rights of American colonists, Wilkes was also a confirmed libertine and enthusiastic participant in club activities. But he fell out with his fellow members over politics and turned on the club, bringing tales of sordid goings-on to Charles Johnstone, who incorporated embellished versions of them into his novel Chrysal: Or, the Adventures of a Guinea.
Apparently enough people in Britain’s elite could recognize members of the club in that novel, perhaps having heard the same tales in the form of gossip, that Chrysal was successfully embarrassing.

One of the more curious political alliances of the 1760s was that between Wilkes and the Boston Whigs. They were all on the same side as far as democratic political reform within the British Empire. But the descendants of Puritans on this side of the Atlantic would have been aghast at the details of Wilkes’s private life.

TOMORROW: Samuel Adams’s message for John Wilkes—about John Hancock.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Spreading Skepticism about Presidential Oath Add-On

One facet of the upcoming presidential inauguration is a lawsuit concerning the form of the oath of office. Dr. Michael Newdow, the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, and other secularist organizations have filed suit to stop Chief Justice John Roberts from prompting Barack Obama to say, “So help me God,” after he finishes the oath written in the Constitution.

Prof. Howard M. Friedman links to the documents in the suit. The plaintiffs say that they don’t object to Obama adding “So help me God” as his own expression of faith or promise, but for the Chief Justice to demand them would amount to a government official insisting on an expression of religious belief. Which of course it would be.

Prof. Eugene Volokh has written that the lawsuit is likely to fail because of a precedent from 1983 about legislatures’ prayers. U.S. courts have decided that the founders didn’t really mean all they wrote in the Constitution against mixing religion and government because they mixed those practices themselves. However, while the precedent Volokh cites had direct bearing on Newdow’s 2005 suit about inauguration remarks from clergymen, neither that precedent nor the 2005 case addressed the oath of office.

The historical side of this question is that for many years people have written that George Washington added the words “So help me God” to the end of the constitutional oath at his first inauguration. For example, in a New Yorker article on inaugural addresses (summary here), Prof. Jill Lepore repeated that belief without examination. Government lawyers have defended the custom by claiming the precedent was that old. However, as I’ve described, that tradition actually goes back only to Washington Irving and his circle in the 1850s.

Prof. Peter Henriques is writing an amicus brief on this case, addressing the historical side only. He plans to argue:

  • The Comte de Moustier, a French diplomat, took careful notes on the first inauguration ceremony, and didn’t note down “so help me God.” Neither did any other witness.
  • It would have been out of character for Washington to change the oath from what was in the Constitution—a Constitution he had, after all, helped to write.
  • With the oath for the Vice President and members of Congress under discussion at the time, people would have been especially sensitive to a precedent from the President, yet no one mentioned him adding “So help me God.”
Henriques is author of Realistic Visionary, The Death of George Washington, and a National Park Service biography of Washington. He is a member of the editorial board for the George Washington Papers, and member of the Mount Vernon committee of George Washington Scholars.

One positive outcome of this discussion is wider acknowledgment that there’s no good evidence for the extended oath in 1789. Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today interviewed Beth Hahn of the Senate’s Historical Office:
Although the website and video produced by the official committee in charge of the inauguration say Washington set this precedent, experts at the Library of Congress and the first president's home, Mt. Vernon, now say otherwise.

Beth Hahn, historical editor for the U.S. Senate Historical Office, concurs. “The first eyewitness documentation of a president saying ‘So help me God’ is an account of Chester Arthur’s Sept. 22, 1881, inauguration in the New York Times,” she said Wednesday.

Unfortunately for Hahn, she puts the phrase in George Washington’s mouth in the video called So Help Me God, posted on the website of The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.

“When I made the video, it was common wisdom that he said it, and I did not check it,” Hahn said. “After investigating this, I would say there is no eyewitness documentation that he did—or did not —say this.[”]
Hahn deserves credit for acknowledging the error.

ADDENDUM: At the American Creation blog, Ray Soller posted a report about a 2007 discussion of Washington’s religious and constitutional beliefs at the National Constitution Center, with Prof. Henriques as one of the panelists. It includes a link to a podcast recording of the event. In addition, Henriques’s article reflecting his brief is available here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Samuel Adams and Slavery: The Private Man

Though Samuel Adams was cautious about pushing for the abolition of slavery as a politician, as I discussed yesterday, he seems to have been firm in his private behavior. At least, that’s how his descendant and biographer William V. Wells described him.

When Samuel remarried, his second wife Elizabeth was given an enslaved woman named Surry. He reportedly insisted that “A slave can not live in my house; if she comes she must be free.” It’s unclear whether the family formally freed Surry at that time; they were apparently still writing out emancipation papers many years later.

However, Adams’s letters showed that he cared about Surry as a member of his household. When he was in Philadelphia in 1775 and worried about his family getting out of British-occupied Boston, he remembered her in his letters to his wife:

  • 17 June: “I wish to hear that my Son and honest Surry were releasd from their Confinement in that Town.”
  • 28 June: “Let me know where good old Surry is.”
  • 30 July: “Tell Job and Surry that I do not forget them.”
Some authors say Samuel Adams was one of the few American founders who never owned a slave, but he and his wife did hold title to Surry for at least a while. In contrast, John and Abigail Adams and Alexander Hamilton never owned anyone else. The elderly Benjamin Franklin and Dr. Benjamin Rush were active Abolitionists. But even if Samuel Adams didn’t push hard for the end of slavery in public, he seems to have practiced his values at home.

[ADDENDUM: In 2020, eleven years after this blog post was published, the Schuyler Mansion in New York published a report documenting how Alexander Hamilton did own slaves, contrary to assertions of recent biographers. See the discussion and links here.]

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Samuel Adams and Slavery: The Public Man

Back in November, biographer Ira Stoll published an opinion essay in the New York Daily News about Samuel Adams’s views on slavery, drawing a contrast between him and some of his Revolutionary colleagues on the issue. I think Ira might have overstated the case a little in proposing that “of all our founding fathers, he is the one perhaps most likely to have” dreamed of a black President.

Adams expressed a distaste for slavery and supported an end to the transatlantic slave trade (which was different from wanting to end slavery in the colonies or U.S. of A. themselves). But he was far from alone among American politicians in doing so. Even Continental Congress members whose entire lives depended on enslaved labor nevertheless tsk-tsked about the institution. Only a few ever took practical steps to limit it in their own states and estates.

Adams supported mild anti-slavery measures in Massachusetts. In May 1766, Boston’s town meeting—where he was an important organizer—instructed its representatives to the General Court to propose a law against buying and selling slaves in Massachusetts. This was, the town noted, a first step to ending slavery in the province altogether. The legislature (where Adams had just become Clerk of the lower house) instead enacted laws against importing slaves. That law wouldn’t have affected the slaves already in Massachusetts—except perhaps by making them more valuable. And the government in London vetoed the law anyway.

On 8 Jan 1774 Adams, still Clerk, wrote to John Pickering, representative from Salem:

As the General Assembly will undoubtedly meet on the 26th of this month, the Negroes whose petition lies on file, and is referred for consideration, are very solicitous for the Event of it, and having been informed that you intended to consider it at your leisure Hours in the Recess of the Court, they earnestly wish you would compleat a Plan for their Relief. And in the meantime, if it be not too much Trouble, they ask it as a favor that you would by a Letter enable me to communicate to them the general outlines of your Design.
Peter Bestes, Felix Holbrook, and two other black men had submitted a petition the previous fall, seeking their freedom. Adams and Pickering were on the committee that had recommended that it be held over. Eventually the House passed another bill—not to answer those men’s plea but again to prohibit the import of slaves. And to no one’s surprise, it too was vetoed.

Adams served for years in the Continental Congress, but never pushed on the slavery issue when it would harm the alliance of the states. During the debate over the U.S. Constitution, Abolitionists objected to the clause preserving the slave trade until at least 1808. Adams, once he came over to the Federalist side, argued that it was good that the document talked about ending the slave trade at all.

Overall, it seems clear that Adams opposed keeping African people and their descendants in bondage for life, but he never pushed that cause at the expense of others he thought were more important. When he wrote newspaper essays against “slavery,” he almost always meant the metaphorical slavery of white propertied men losing their political rights.

Might Samuel Adams have dreamed of a black President? I doubt the idea occurred to him, or to most other politicians of his time.

Friday, January 09, 2009

“By You and Them I Mean to Be Cared For”

Yesterday I quoted Samuel Adams’s descendant William V. Wells on an African-American woman named Surry, who came to the second Elizabeth Adams as a slave and remained with the family after emancipation. Wells wrote that when the Adamses gave Surry freedom papers, she “threw them into the fire, indignantly remarking that she had lived too long to be trifled with in that manner.”

That story put me in mind of some anecdotes in William D. Piersen’s book Black Yankees: The Development of an Afro-American Subculture in Eighteenth-Century New England. Piersen pored through many sources, particularly local histories, for clues to how black New Englanders lived in the late colonial and early republican periods.

In particular, he described other resisting attempts to free them:

Slaves who became old in service to a white family often refused a “reward of freedom because they felt at home in their master’s household and because they could have assurance there that they would be cared for in their old age. Prince Jonar [also called Prince Yongey], an African-born slave owned in succession by Joseph Buckminster and his son Thomas, managed a farm in Framingham, Massachusetts, where he lived in a small cabin overlooking a meadow he had picked for cultivation because it reminded him of the soil of his native country. Offered freedom in his old age, Jonar refused by sagaciously citing a proverb common to Yankee slaves in this situation: “Massa eat the meat; he now pick the bone.”

As William Brown, the son of a Rhode Island slave, explained, “The old bondsmen declared their master had been eating their flesh and now it was the slaves’ turn to stick to them and suck their bones.” Mose Parson’s slave avoided the African proverbial intricacies by commenting more bluntly: “You have had the best of me, and you and yours must have the worst. Where am I to go in sickness or old age? No, Master, your slave I am, and always will be, and I will belong to your children when you are gone; and by you and them I mean to be cared for.”

Domestic slaves were especially apt to remain with their masters or return shortly after gaining freedom. The refusal of freedom was, as might be expected, more common among older women since they would have greater difficulties outside the family and because they usually retained close bonds to the white children they had helped raise.
Wells dated his story to after “the institution of slavery was formally abolished in Massachusetts,” or 1783. He also said that Surry had arrived in the household about 1765 as a “servant girl” and remained “for nearly half a century,” or well into the 1800s. So Surry was apparently only in early middle age when she destroyed the freedom papers. But she felt “she had lived too long to be trifled with.”

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Samuel Adams’s Servant Surry

William V. Wells’s The Life and Public Services of Samuel Adams, published by Little, Brown in three volumes in 1865, offers this description of one member of the Adams household:

The black servant girl, Surry, was presented to [the second] Mrs. [Elizabeth] Adams by Mrs. Checkley [the first Elizabeth Adams’s mother or sister] about the year 1765, and, having been freed by Mr. Adams, lived with the family for nearly half a century. Surry never left Boston but twice, which was during the British occupation, and when the small-pox prevailed in town during the administration of Governor Adams.

She served every member of the household with an affectionate devotion, which nothing could change. When the institution of slavery was formally abolished in Massachusetts, though she had long been free, additional papers were made out for her: but she threw them into the fire, indignantly remarking that she had lived too long to be trifled with in that manner.
So what does this portrait say about Samuel Adams’s views on slavery? The challenge is that Wells isn’t unbiased: he was an Adams descendant, writing at the end of the Civil War when slavery had become very unfashionable, so he had every reason to downplay his ancestors’ participation in that system.

Wells probably thought the story of Surry destroying her emancipation papers reflected well on Samuel and Elizabeth Adams—they were such nice people their once-enslaved servant never wanted to leave. But it can also prompt us to ask why they gave Surry emancipation papers after 1783 if they’d already legally freed her.

TOMORROW: And why would Surry have destroyed those freedom papers?

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

“The Importation of Germans”

In a recent Boston Globe, Stephen Kenney described how our country’s conflicting attitudes toward immigrant labor—both “Stay Out” and “Come Do Our Dirty Work”—have deep roots:

In the mid-18th century, the Province of Massachusetts Bay recruited German immigrants to work as printers and glassmakers. A lottery was established to finance the project, and skilled workers were exempted from military service. . . .

In 1750, the Massachusetts General Court crafted an immigration reform measure: “An Act to prevent the Importation of Germans and other Foreign Passengers in too Great a Number in one Vessel.” It reflected a fear of disease. “Through want of necessary room and Accommodations,” aboard ships, “they may often Contract Mortal and Contagious Distempers [and infect others] on their arrival.” . . .

Today, records of this German immigration remain in the Massachusetts Archives. During the Great Depression they were taped into notebooks as part of a WPA project. A grant from the National Foundation for the Humanities funded their conservation, preserving them from the corrosive effects of brown, oozing tape and iron gall ink.
Among those Germans coming into the Broad Bay area of northern Massachusetts (now Maine) in 1752 were Georg Frederich Seiter, born 1727 in Langensteinbach, and Christine Salome Hartwick. The following year, they moved down to Braintree, when Joseph Palmer and Richard Cranch were trying to establish a glass factory and other early industrial facilities in an area still called Germantown. George and Sarah, as the young immigrants came to be known, got married on 20 Mar 1753.

The Seiders (another name change) had three children in Braintree, the last being a son they named Christopher, baptized 18 Mar 1759. After the glass factory burned, the family moved to Boston, where they had three more children. Around the time of his eleventh birthday, Christopher became the first person to die in a Boston riot against the new Crown policies. (Here’s what happened.) So there’s a direct link between this wave of immigration at mid-century and the Revolution a generation later.

Most of the preceding genealogical information comes from Wilford W. Whitaker and Gary T. Horlacher’s Broad Bay Germans: 18th Century German-Speaking Settlers of Present-Day Waldoboro, Maine, published in 1998 by Picton Press.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Clues to a Lost Sampler

Boston 1775 reader Judy Cataldo alerted our vast editorial staff to this post at Independent Needlework News, challenging people to find a particular sampler. Heather wrote:

Cynthia Cotten states in her Afterword that Abbie in Stitches was inspired by the story of Patty Polk, whom I wrote about recently in a similar vein, and whom she first read about in a 1921 book by Ethel Stanwood Bolton and Eva Johnston Coe called American Samplers which, “…mentioned a sampler stitched around 1800 that said, ‘Patty Polk did this and she hated every stitch she did in it. She loves to read much more.’” Cynthia, too, was, “intrigued by this girl’s outspokenness at a time when most samplers dealt seriously, and often depressingly, with duty and death.”

Unfortunately, at least in my opinion, Cynthia also says, “Nobody I contacted knew the whereabouts of this sampler. Today, many people doubt its existence, saying it might just be a needlework legend.” I choose to believe in certain fairy tales, and if this is one of them, then so be it.

But I have a challenge for you … Help me locate Patty Polk’s sampler. If it ever existed, then it is out there somewhere in some lucky collector’s hands. Let’s find it! Post anything you know about her sampler here!

Here’s what I could find about the Patty Polk sampler. The appendix to American Samplers listed it this way:
Polk, Patty. [Cir. 1800. Kent County, Md.] 10 yrs. 16" x 16". Stem-stitch. Large garland of pinks, roses, passion flowers, nasturtiums, and green leaves; in center, a white tomb with “GW” on it, surrounded by forget-me-nots. “Patty Polk did this and she hated every stitch she did in it. She loves to read much more.”

Mrs. Frederic Tyson
The “GW” on the tomb would appear to refer to the death of George Washington in late 1799, hence the estimated date. That book was published by the Massachusetts Society of the Colonial Dames of America, which had solicited information about samplers from antiquarians all over America.

Various Google archives of materials from the Daughters of the American Revolution offer clues to “Mrs. Frederic Tyson” and how she might have known of the sampler. She was Florence McIntyre Tyson, active in the Maryland chapter. According to the D.A.R.’s American Monthly Magazine, she was living at 251 Preston Street West in Baltimore in 1906. Tyson’s mother was Martha E. Polk, and may thus have been related to Patty Polk. Tyson also supplied the description of another sampler credited to Martha Surburough Polk; Patty was a common nickname for Martha.

However, Tyson is also linked to a famously misleading historical document. In 1898, the D.A.R. magazine identified her as the current owner of the earliest copy of the Mecklenburg Declaration, supposedly a source for the Declaration of Independence but actually created decades later out of hazy memories and hopefulness. Thus, Tyson may not have been the best judge of genuine early American artifacts.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Discovering the Discoverer of Oxygen

Last weekend in the New York Times, Barry Gewen reviewed Steven Johnson’s book The Invention of Air: A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America. It follows the career of Joseph Priestley (1733-1804), the British-American scientist and political reformer. Here’s a sample of the review:

Arriving in London from the provinces in 1765, he quickly joined a group of freethinking intellectuals known as the Honest Whigs, which included James Boswell and Benjamin Franklin. (Priestley’s history of electricity established the popular image of Franklin flying a kite during an electrical storm.) When he relocated to Birmingham some years later he joined another remarkable circle, the Lunar Society, with members like James Watt, Josiah Wedgwood and Erasmus Darwin, Charles’s grandfather; they called themselves the Lunaticks.

During his Birmingham period Priestley devoted most of his energies to religion and politics. His unorthodox beliefs, along with his enthusiastic support for the French Revolution, turned him into a very public target for nationalist zealots. Conservatives like Samuel Johnson called him “an evil man,” and despite his many accomplishments he was refused an audience with King George III.

Priestley, Steven Johnson says, had made himself “the most hated man in all of Britain.” In 1791 a mob burned down his house and, more tragically, his laboratory. Soon he and his family were off to that new, more open-minded country, the United States.

In America as in England, Priestley seems to have become acquainted with everyone who was anyone. He had tea on several occasions with George Washington. John Adams urged him to settle in Boston. He was especially close to [Thomas] Jefferson. Mr. Johnson calls him “a kind of Zelig of early American history.” Yet, as in England, his religious and political views got him into trouble. During the repressive time of the Alien and Sedition Acts, it was only the personal intervention of President Adams that kept him out of prison.
Here’s a webpage from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission about Priestley’s home. And here’s a digital version of his Essay on the First Principles of Government, a very far-seeing and thus entirely uninfluential book.