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, August 14, 2009

“The Seeds of Rebellion Are Allready Sown”

In the spring of 1774, Nicholas Cresswell was a gentleman from Derbyshire in his early twenties who had long dreamed of visiting America. In fact, though he hadn’t told his parents (who still bankrolled him), he even wanted to move to the New World. But Cresswell arrived to look for frontier land just as the Massachusetts Government Act and Boston Port Bill were widening the split between the North American colonies and the government in London.

Cresswell kept a journal about that trip as he watched the colonies split from his native country. That cranky account was first published in 1924. This year Harold B. Gill, Jr., and George M. Curtis offered a new edition titled A Man Apart: The Journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1781.

Cresswell made his initial base near Alexandria, Virginia. He met George Washington, who didn’t leave a big impression at first; the early part of the diary barely mentions that planter and militia colonel. But later, when Washington appeared to have a good run as commander of the Continental Army after the Battle of Trenton, Cresswell wrote about dining at Mount Vernon and devoted several pages to describing the man. Despite fiercely opposing the rebellion, Cresswell found Washington personally impressive.

Here’s a taste of the first part of the book, as Cresswell starts to grasp the extent of American anger at the government in London on 1 Nov 1774:
This evening went to the Tavern to hear the Resolves of the Continental Congress read[,] A petition to the Throne and an address to the people of Great Britain. Both of them full of Duplicity and false representation. I look upon them as insults to the understanding and Dignity of the British Sovereign and people. Am in hopes their petitions will never be granted.

I am sorry to see them so well received by the people and their sentiments so universally adopted, it is a plain proof that the seeds of rebellion are allready sown and have taken very deep root, but am in hopes they will be eradicated next summer.

I am obliged to act the Hypocrite and extol these proceedings as the wisest productions of any assembly on Earth. But in my heart I Despise them and look upon them with contempt.
TOMORROW: How well did Nicholas Cresswell do at acting “a little Whigifyed”?

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