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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Sunday, February 28, 2010

Answers to Spot the Actual British Aristocrats!

On Saturday I challenged folks to identify, from a group of four men’s names, which were actual high-born friends of Gen. Charles Lee, and which were inventions of the comic novelist P. G. Wodehouse. I promised an answer on Sunday, and it’s still Sunday.

Three of the names were real, found in John R. Alden’s biography of Lee, and one fictional.

Clotworthy Upton (1721-1785) was made the first Baron Templetown on 3 Aug 1776, having served as clerk comptroller to the Princess Dowager of Wales. (Another Clotworthy Upton served as a captain in the Royal Navy during Britain’s wars with Napoleonic France.)

Capt. Primrose Kennedy of the 44th Regiment of Foot had the dubious distinction of being wounded on two of the British Army’s worst days in North America: Gen. Edward Braddock’s disastrous march to Fort Duquesne in 1755, and the Pyrrhic victory at Bunker Hill twenty years later. He left the army in early 1779.

Godfrey “Biscuit” Brent, formally Viscount Biskerton, is one of the male leads in Wodehouse’s Big Money. He’s a member of the Drones Club, but doesn’t appear in any other stories.

Constantine Phipps (1744-1792, shown above) was a captain in the Royal Navy and a Member of Parliament. In 1773 he set out for the North Pole in the ship Racehorse, accompanied by the Carcass, commanded by Skeffington Lutwidge. The ships got to within about ten degrees of latitude of the Pole before ice forced them back. In his report on the voyage, Phipps was the first European to describe seeing a polar bear.

In 1775 Phipps succeeded his father and became the second Baron Mulgrave, but he continued to serve in the Navy. He participated in the Battle of Ushant in 1778, defending the British coast from the French. At the end of the American war he retired from active service.

Surviving Morristown

Tonight at 10:30 P.M., WGBH in Boston will broadcast the documentary Morristown: Where America Survived. Other public broadcasting stations are airing the show at various times.

While Valley Forge has become part of most Americans’ understanding of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army encampment at Morristown, New Jersey, in 1779-80 faced worse weather and equally desperate political straits.

The documentary’s website offers background information and some educational materials for teachers to use in conjunction with the show.

Twitter Feed, 16-27 Feb 2010

  • Edward Rothstein reviews new NYC African Burying Ground Museum for NY TIMES: nyti.ms/cZSQ0A #
  • Went out tonight in storm for event. GAHHHHHH! But pretty good, long discussion of Phillis Wheatley at BPL. #
  • Terrific illustrated intro to forensic anthropology of early British America—WRITTEN IN BONE, by Sally M. Walker bit.ly/cfZKow #
  • RT @LooknBackward: Letter from a Revolutionary War spy, Written in invisible ink. bit.ly/cbm4a3 || Woburn's own Benjamin Thompson. #
  • .@PaulRevereHouse: Feb 25 1775 found Paul Revere DETAINED on Castle Island. // Whoa! Probably a misinterpretation: bit.ly/9J8UKi #
  • How did the American Revolution affect the Cape Cod fisheries? Talk on Wed, 3 Mar, in Concord, MA: bit.ly/94iBTp #
  • RT @lucyinglis: Mystery Item #3 post.ly/Pj8u // Not for coffee, tea, or chocolate, sez our hostess. #
  • RT @magpie: American Experience (PBS) this week is Dolley Madison - partly filmed at Montpelier, and looks to be entertaining. #
  • RT @odellmuseum: Last night's blog post bit.ly/97ScTH - Bringing 1759 powder horn back to Nova Scotia. We are very excited. #
  • RT @universalhub: 150th anniversary of the poem that made Paul Revere famous bit.ly/cATVW6 #
  • RT @2palaver: Lecture series offers views on the American Revolution & Civil War in New Canaan, CT bit.ly/cJK7ik #
  • RT @Gozaic: Check out Portsmouth's Black Heritage Trail. Walking and driving tour with 24 sites. ow.ly/1beVK #BlackHistoryMonth #
  • RT @publichistorian RT @lindabnorris: New post: When should you close down your historic house? bit.ly/94TAsk #
  • RT @rjseaver: thanks Tom Champoux for news and pix from NEHGS/Ancestry Family History Day in Boston - see tinyurl.com/NEHGSfhd #
  • Two news items on George Washington and books from @JBD1: bit.ly/binZYS #
  • RT @history_book: A Brief Narrative of the Case & Tryal of John Peter Zenger: with Related Documents - by Paul Finkelman j.mp/91L95u #
  • @odellmuseum Indeed, Halfax had Stamp Act protests in 1765, so the 13 lower colonies were still hoping for support 10 years later. #
  • @odellmuseum Looking at Washington's plan to raid Halifax garrison for gunpowder in Aug 1775 with 300 men. Plan faded after 6 weeks. #
  • Profile of British light dragoon, 1736-1781, at British Soldiers, American Revolution: bit.ly/afAZMs #
  • BOSTON GLOBE gives op-ed space to DC correspondent to highlight history behind his book FLIGHT FROM MONTICELLO: bit.ly/9aylp1 #
  • WALL ST JOURNAL review of Michael Kranish's FLIGHT FROM MONTICELLO, on Jefferson's response to British march thru VA: bit.ly/9JVHh3 #
  • RT @magpie: Blog commenter asks about the progress public historians have made showing "behind the scenes" to public bit.ly/czfHp0 #
  • RT @TJMonticello: Jefferson in spaace! Early evidence of UFO? bit.ly/arNWiC NASA/Monticello/Han Solo connection nyti.ms/agbDCY #
  • RT @history_book: Defying Empire: Trading with the Enemy in Colonial New York - by Thomas M. Truxes - Yale UP bit.ly/9RsTva #
  • .@RagLinen A detail of Paul Revere's "View of the Year 1765" engraving using #comics technique: bit.ly/9ZQO62 #
  • RT @RagLinen: New Rag Linen blog post: [advertisement for] Paul Revere's "View of the Year 1765" - tinyurl.com/yzl5nqn #
  • RT @2palaver: John Brown House slave tunnels: Fact or fantasy? Providence, RI bit.ly/cgePPq #
  • RT @ezraklein: This might be the single best thing I've read on Yoo, Bybee, & Bush admin's approach to torture. bit.ly/ccOQeU #
  • Wednesday's Friends of the Minute Man Park lecture is on changes in fauna and flora in Concord since 1775: bit.ly/cKPHbM #
  • Large majority of Americans believe George Washington told a lie or two as President: bit.ly/aETIR6 #
  • Four great African-American migrations? BOSTON GLOBE review of Ira Berlin's MAKING OF AFRICAN AMERICA: bit.ly/9yS6m9 #
  • RT @GeoWashington: Found in NY home: Gilbert Stuart portrait of me. Never liked it! Auction estimate is $300k. bit.ly/biOBbQ #
  • RT @SecondVirginia: @GeoWashington was actually born 11 Feb 1732. Switch in 1752 from Julian to Gregorian calendar... bit.ly/b4UPOL #
  • Considering Hester Bateman, London silversmith—did she make everything that bears her mark? Anything? bit.ly/cZ9dJp #
  • Tomorrow in the snow—Richard Katula talks Edward Everett, George Washington & the lyceum movement: bit.ly/9rwSNx #
  • Boston's Museum of Fine Arts rehangs monumental painting of George Washington at Delaware: bit.ly/cjDia4 #
  • France buys the manuscript of Casanova's memoirs as national treasure: bit.ly/cEP7or Would USA ever buy Warren Beatty's memoirs? #
  • Song from 1776: "And a Privateering we will go, my boys…" Song titled "Manly," which could launch 1000 SNL skits. bit.ly/bqU12z #
  • WASH POST covers slaves and early Presidents at the White House: bit.ly/d4eZHl #
  • RT @rjseaver: posted Bible pages from RevWar Pension File for Treasure Chest Thursday - see tinyurl.com/RSTT0218 #genealogy #
  • Printed trade cards, invoices, other documentation // RT @lucyinglis: London Tradeswomen, Part 1 post.ly/OWV3 #
  • RT @DedhamHistory: Story on Boston.com about the old Village Ave cemetery, one of the oldest in the country. bit.ly/cRA5A2 #
  • RT @history_book: Inglorious Rebellion: The Jacobite Risings of 1708, 1716 & 1719 - Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson j.mp/cEpzzT #
  • Food historian Sandy Oliver on how Washington dined, from the BOSTON GLOBE: bit.ly/drPR1a #
  • RT @hallnjean: Black Revolutionary seamen 1775-1783 bit.ly/KzDfP from PBS 'Africans in America' resource bank // But image is forgery #
  • RT @wceberly: Feb 17, 1782, French & British battle in Indian Ocean; begins 14-month-long series of 5 battles bit.ly/9PVdN4 #
  • RT @lucyinglis: RT @artful_bodger: RT @elecmonk: 18th Century Theives' Cant bit.ly/d2kYxx #
  • Ged Carbone's book on George Washington launches at Rhode Island Hist Socy tomorrow (Thurs) at 6:00: bit.ly/8Yfnle #
  • Assessing the Revolutionary memoir of John Polhemus at Walking the Berkshires: bit.ly/dmV9yr #
  • "Listen, my children,…" This year is 150th anniversary of Longfellow's "Paul Revere's Ride". Upcoming commemorations: bit.ly/aVhWLG #

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Spot the Actual British Aristocrats!

Quiz time! Of the four names below, some were friends of Charles Lee, the British army lieutenant colonel who became the Continental Army’s second most celebrated general before flaming out.

And some are characters created by P. G. Wodehouse.

Can you sort these men into the proper categories?

  • Clotworthy “Tatty” Upton, formally Lord Templetown.
  • Capt. Primrose Kennedy of the 44th Regiment of Foot.
  • Godfrey “Biscuit” Brent, formally Lord Biskerton, heir to the Earl of Hoddesdon.
  • Arctic explorer Constantine Phipps, later Lord Mulgrave.
While you cogitate, take inspiration from this portrait of Sir Gregory Page-Turner in 1768, from the Manchester Art Gallery. Yes, like Wodehouse’s best novels, it’s a real Page-Turner. Answers on Sunday.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Three Lectures on Slavery in Newton in March

I grew up in Newton, where, as a schoolmate once observed, you can go on so many field trips to the Jackson Homestead (shown here in a photo by Michael Femia, via Flickr) that you end up thinking that it rivals Independence Hall and the White House as the most historically significant building in the U.S. of A.

Historic Newton is headquartered at that colonial home on Washington Street, which is a documented spot on the Underground Railroad. We grew up hearing about the site’s history of anti-slavery activism, but the history of slavery in Newton and elsewhere in Massachusetts got less discussion. Not no discussion, but there weren’t so many stories to latch onto. Historic Newton is co-sponsoring a series of lectures about slavery in other local buildings in March. Its announcement says, “This lecture series will consider slavery as a societal force that has echoed throughout every century of American history.”

Monday, 1 March, 7:00 P.M.
C. S. Manegold, the author of Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North, will speak about the five generations of colonial New England slaveholders who owned Ten Hills Farm (the Winthrops, Ushers, and Royalls). At Myrtle Baptist Church, 21 Curve Street, West Newton.

Thursday, 11 March, 7:00 P.M.
Screening of documentary film Traces of the Trade: A Story from the Deep North, in which producer Katrina Browne confronts her family legacy of slave-trading. After the screening James DeWolf Perry, a member of the family and Newton resident, will lead a discussion of the history it discusses. At Boston College Law School, Stuart House, Room 315, Center Street.

Monday, 22 March, 7:00 P.M.
“...some cotton, and tobacco, and negros...Pray have you heard nothing of my black guard Peter...” State Representative and historian Byron Rushing will reflect on the first two centuries of Africans in New England by comparing the origin story of Africans in the Massachusetts Bay colony recorded in Winthrop’s journal with the visit of South Carolinian John Rutledge’s enslaved servant to Boston in 1803. Held at Myrtle Baptist Church, 21 Curve Street, West Newton.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of one of the most important events in determining how Americans remember the start of the American Revolution: Henry W. Longfellow wrote and published “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Before then, Revere was recalled locally; now more people probably know his name and what (Longfellow wrote that) he did than know what Samuel Adams did for independence.

There are going to be a bunch of events examining and commemorating that poem in various ways, including lectures at the Boston National Historical Park and the Cyrus E. Dallin Art Museum (bet you didn’t know there was one of those, eh?), and poetry discussions at Longfellow’s house in Cambridge and his birthplace in Portland.

This Saturday three organizations are celebrating Longfellow’s 27 February birthday with free events tied to “Paul Revere’s Ride”:

  • Longfellow National Historic Site is hosting a celebration at Mount Auburn Cemetery from 10:00 A.M. to noon. Nick Littlefield and Charles Ansbacher of the Boston Landmarks Orchestra will offer a multimedia presentation on how the late Sen. Edward M. Kennedy recorded “Paul Revere’s Ride” to the orchestra’s musical setting. There will be tea, coffee, birthday cake, and for hearty bodies a wreath-laying ceremony at the Longfellow family plot.
  • The Maine Historical Society (489 Congress Street, Portland) is also celebrating from 10:00 A.M. to noon. They expect Irwin Gratz of the Maine Public Broadcasting Network, Mayor Nick Mavodones, and State Representative Herb Adams reading from Longfellow's poetry, along with performances by puppeteer Blainor McGough and musical act Over A Cardboard Sea. There will also be craft activities, prizes, cake, and a birthday card to sign.
  • The Wayside Inn in Sudbury, where Longfellow eventually set the telling of “Paul Revere’s Ride,” has its own celebration from 3:00 to 5:00 P.M. This will launch the town’s Longfellow Big Read, with free books for everyone signing up for book discussion groups. And of course cake.
I’m helping the effort by building the 150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride” website with announcements of more events, and resources for teachers and readers. For example, the text originally published in The Atlantic Monthly turned out to be missing several lines from Longfellow’s draft—and he had no one to blame but himself.

Scholar Charles Bahne has unearthed other lines that Longfellow cut before publication, which pertain to a particular legend of 19 Apr 1775; we’ll share those details soon. The 150 Years of “Paul Revere’s Ride” site will grow over the next few months, just as the poem grew from April to November 1860.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Captains Confront Their Commander in Cambridge

Yesterday I left Capt. Nicholasson Broughton and Capt. John Selman, the first officers to command schooners for Gen. George Washington, on their way to confront the commander-in-chief about their voyage north in the fall of 1775. They had captured seven ships, spiked the guns in the fort at Charlottetown, and brought back two royal officials from that town.

Yet Washington saw nothing but headaches in those actions. On 7 December he wrote to John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress:

My fears that Broughton and Selman would not effect any good purpose were too well founded: they are returned and brought with them three of the principal inhabitants from the Island of St. John’s [now Prince Edward Island]. Mr. [Philip] Callbeck is President of the Council and acted as Governour. They brought the Governour’s commission, the Province seal, &c. As the captains acted without any warrant for such conduct I have thought it but justice to discharge these gentlemen, whose families were left in the utmost distress.
Twelve days later the commander’s secretary made a terse note of a message to Jonathan Glover, Continental Army agent for the port of Marblehead: “Ordered to deliver up the vessels sent into Marblehead by Broughton and Selman to their owners.” (Jonathan Glover was brother of Col. John Glover, who commanded the regiment that the captains came from.)

Broughton and Selman felt they and their crews had served the American cause, and probably wanted to make their case to the commander-in-chief. In addition, their commissions were due to run out at the end of December, so they needed to know if they were going on other naval missions. This is how Selman remembered the discussion many years later:
This year being nearly up Commodore Broughton and myself went to Head-Quarters at Cambridge to see the General,—he met us on the steps of the door—we let his Excellency understand we had called to see him touching the cruise,

he appeared not pleased—he wanted not to hear anything about it and broke off abruptly to me, Sir, says he will you stand again in Col. Glover’s Regiment [i.e., return to the army, with no chance of the privateering profits, or the independence of commanding your own ship]—

my answer to him was, I will not, sir.

He then accosted Commodore Broughton—You sir—have said that you would stand;

Com. Broughton said, I will not stand,

thus ended the matter relative to the cruise.
Funny thing is, when a general has a difference of opinion with a captain (or even with two captains), the general gets to decide.

(Photo of Washington’s headquarters in winter by j-fi, available through Flickr under a Creative Commons license.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

“Supposing we should do essential service”

Yesterday I quoted a complaint from Philip Callbeck and Thomas Wright, royal officials from Charlottetown, St. John’s (Prince Edward) Island, about how American schooner captains had treated them in November 1775.

Gen. George Washington had sent those officers, Capt. Nicholasson Broughton and Capt. John Selman, up into the Gulf of St. Lawrence to intercept British military shipments. The commander’s orders had said nothing about landing at towns along the way or seizing officials.

As Callbeck and Wright noticed, Broughton and Selman felt totally justified in arresting them and grabbing their property, and in going after anyone else who seemed unfriendly. While the captains were motivated in part by profit, they also seem to have been sincere about seeing neutrals as enemies of the American cause.

Here’s how Selman described the cruise decades later in a letter to Elbridge Gerry:

…the people on short allowance [i.e., reduced rations] willing to do something, boarded two Jersey-men [ships from the Isle of Jersey? from New Jersey?], took the pilots out of them which was acquainted with the Island St. Johns.

Understanding by them that a number of cannon was there in the fortress and recruiting was going on for Quebeck, we with the advice of the officers, supposing we should do essential service by breaking up a nest of recruits intended to be sent against [Gen. Richard] Montgomery, who commanded our forces at Quebeck,

the winds came southerly, we went through the Gut of Canso with the two pilots aforesaid declaring to them should they run us ashore death to them would be inevitable, they behaved true and honest. The fall weather carried us safe into the harbour by the lead and anchored us about a mile and a half from the shore,

Broughton armed his boat with six men and took a southerly and westerly direction to the shore. I was to proceed to the northward, six men in my boat armed including the pilot, the people assembled on the Bank, the Pilot let me know the Governor Colbeck by a sign.

I went and took him and sent him on board the Franklin with Judge Wright, which as we were informed was the official officer, swearing those men in behalf of George the 3d for Quebeck. There were woollen goods &c. in the stores.

Commodore Broughton called the officers together for the purpose of their opinion—where the articles were for the recruiting service it was answered in the affirmative, they were taken and sent on board Broughton’s vessel and mine; the people being alarmed sent expresses over the Island. Governor Colbeck and Wright intercession to be restored to their families, had worked up the human pashions in the breast in their behalf they were allowed to go on shore that night and come on board the next morning; I verbally remonstrated against such conduct giving them the advantage, but on the morning they came on board and we put to sea. . . .

[Selman added this paragraph later in his letter:] at the island of St Johns there was a number of cannon in the Fortress, what with the alarm given and the weakness of our boats, having only one each from 13 to 14 feet long—could not obtain any scows or we should endeavored to brought them away at any risk, it was judged prudent to spike them and come away. . . .

Arrived at Gut of Canso, here another attempt by Colbeck and Wright for their return endeavoring to insinuate that we should be blamed by the Government, I tell them I would never give my consent they should go back. I think it was Wright said to me if we come acrost a Brittish Frigate I will have you hung to the yard arm. I let him know I would venter [i.e., venture, or take my chances], that (take care you are not hanged) our aim was to break up this recruiting business and the next was to such men as Governor Colbeck and Judge Wright might answer to redeem Montgomery or some others of his army provided he met with a defeat on the walls of Quebeck which he did, these were our reasons for their detention and bringing them to America. . . .

We arrived at Beverly with these goods brought in the two vessels Broughton’s and mine; when landed near Col. [John] Glover’s dwelling, Colbeck and Wright went to Head Quarters at Cambridge where they and their goods were released.
Released! After all their work! As Broughton, Selman, and their men saw the situation, they had stopped royal officials from sending more fighting men to Québec, disabled “a number of cannon,” and brought home some valuable prisoners. Even Callbeck and Wright’s long complaint indicated that the men from Marblehead had ransacked only the houses of royal officials.

True, Broughton and Selman hadn’t caught those ships from Britain, but those vessels had probably already gotten into the St. Lawrence before they arrived, so they had improvised other ways to support Gen. Montgomery’s invasion. And that was what the mission was all about, right?

Washington didn’t see it that way. He quickly released Callbeck, Wright, and their property. Furthermore, the generalissimo had already ruled that all of Broughton and Selman’s captured ships were illegitimate. So they and their crews saw no profit at all from this voyage.

At the end of December, the two captains went to Washington’s headquarters in Cambridge to have a serious talk about this situation.

TOMORROW: Oh, yeah, that’ll go well.

(Photo of cannon at Charlottetown, P.E.I., by Martin Cathrae, posted at Flickr with a Creative Commons license.)

Monday, February 22, 2010

“Not yet satiated with wanton depredations”

Last week I quoted Gen. George Washington’s orders to schooner commander Capt. Nicholasson Broughton to intercept two British supply ships headed for the St. Lawrence River, as a way of gaining more ordnance for the Continental Army around Boston and supporting the American march on Montréal and Québec.

On their voyage Broughton and his colleague, Capt. John Selman, started seizing private cargo ships, an effort that involved less danger and more potential for personal profit. They never got to the mouth of the St. Lawrence.

Instead, on 17 Nov 1775 Broughton and Selman landed at Charlottetown, the main town on St. John’s Island, now called Prince Edward. The highest official on the island came to meet them: Attorney General Philip Callbeck, a royal appointee. Selman arrested Callbeck and ordered him onto his ship.

On 24 December, Callbeck and another island official, Surveyor General Thomas Wright, were still detained in Massachusetts. They wrote a complaint to Gen. George Washington about what the Marblehead captains had done in Charlottetown:

That as soon as Mr. Callbeck was conveyed on board he received a message from Selman to send the keys of his house, stores, &c., otherwise he would break the doors open. On receipt of the message, Mr. Callbeck sent the keys with one of his clerks (who was detained a prisoner). . . .

That Broughton and Selman with their party immediately proceeded to a store in which there was a very large and valuable assortment of goods, all of which, except some very insignificant articles, they sent on board Selman’s vessel. After which, although they had the keys of the doors they broke open two other stores, out of which they took the most valuable articles, together with the entire stock of provisions that Mr. Callbeck had provided for his family’s Winter support and the inhabitants immediately about him.

That they next went into Mr. Callbeck’s dwelling-house, where they examined all his private papers, broke the bed chambers, closets and cellar doors open. In Mrs. Callbeck’s bedroom they broke open her drawers and trunks, scattered her clothes about, read her letters from her mother and sisters, took the bed and window curtains, bed and bedding, Mrs. Callbeck’s rings, bracelets and trinkets, also some of her clothes. They then took the parlour window curtains, looking glasses, carpets, and several articles of plate and household furniture, &c., &c.: also all the porter, rum, Geneva and wine (except one cask which they stove the head into and drank the whole out).

At the same time they plundered the whole of Mrs. Callbeck’s little stores of vinegar, oil, candles, fruit, sweetmeats, bacon, hams &c. Not yet satiated with wanton depredations they next went to Mr. Callbeck’s office from which they took some of his clothes &c., the Province silver seal Governour Patterson’s commission, two trunks full of goods, his clerk’s desk and wearing apparel; opened Mr. Callbeck’s bureau and desks, read all his papers, some of which were of great importance in his private connections.

That after they had ravaged Mr. Callbeck’s house and out-houses, they broke into Governour Patterson’s house (in which no person resided) out of which they took the window curtains, carpets, looking glasses, cases of knives and forks, silver spoons, table linen, sheets, bedding, his wearing apparel, and the church furniture which was deposited in his house, &c., &c., broke a quantity of his china and drank what liquors were in the house.

That after they had accomplished thus far of their cruelty, they made Mr. Wright a prisoner, and with insulting language laughed at the tears of his wife and sister who were in the greatest agony of distress at so cruel a separation from their husband and brother…
All in all, this sounds like those early scenes in Pirates of the Caribbean when the crew of the Black Pearl invades the island. Except the temperature was probably lower.

On Selman’s ship, Callbeck and Wright demanded to know under what authority the captains were acting. Broughton and Selman read them Washington’s orders. The officials pointed out that the general hadn’t written anything about invading Charlottetown. To be sure, Washington hadn’t written anything about not invading settlements, but he had told Broughton how to treat Canadian cargo ships:
Should you meet with any vessel, the property of the inhabitants of Canada, not employed in any respect in the service of the Ministerial Army, you are to treat such vessel with all kindness, and by no means suffer them to be injured or molested.
Washington was trying to conquer the British army and royal officials in Canada, and to do that he wanted to win over the Canadian people, or at least keep them neutral.

TOMORROW: So what were Broughton and Selman thinking?

(Photo of Prince Edward Island by Mark Hodder on Flickr, through a Creative Commons license.)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

“One Instance of Courage”

I can’t resist quoting from Don Hagist’s British Soldiers, American Revolution blog, a report on an 8 June 1776 incident from Captain Sir Francis Carr Clerke, an aide-de-camp to Gen. John Burgoyne who died at the Battle of Saratoga:

Before I close my letter I must not omit telling your Lordship of one Instance of Courage that was shown at Trois Rivieres by a fair Country woman of ours, that deserves to be recorded. The wife of [Robert] Middleton Soldier in the 47th Regt. Quite alone took & disarmed six Provincial Soldiers, & was the means of two more being taken also.

The Circumstances are thus, which [she] related to Genl. Burgoyne in my Presence. She said she went to a House about a quarter of a Mile from the River near the Wood, for some Milk to carry to her Husband the 8th of June during the Engagemt.

That on opening the Door she saw six Rebel Soldiers armed, that this daunted her a little, however she took Courage, & rated them saying, “Ay’nt ye ashamed of yourselves ye villains to be fighting agst. Your King & Countrymen” that they looked sheepish, therefore she said, you are all Prisoners give me your Arms, that two more remained at the Outside of the back Door, which she was more afraid of than all the rest, that however standing between them, & their Arms, she called to some Sailors at the River Side, to whom she delivered the Prisoners, & who presently took the other two.

This is exactly true, & she is, contrary to what you wou’d imagine her, a very modest, decent well looking Woman.
Don tracked down paperwork revealing more about Pvt. Middleton, but it looks like we don’t even know the given name of his bold and “very modest, decent well looking” wife.

For more on British soldiers’ wives and sweethearts, here’s Don’s article on “The Women of the British Army in America.”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

“The spirit of equality which reigns through this Country”

In October 1775, muster master general Stephen Moylan went to Beverly to assist Col. John Glover in fitting out schooners with artillery and crews for the Continental Army. Back in Cambridge, the commander-in-chief’s military secretary, Joseph Reed, was impatiently waiting for word those schooners had sailed.

After Reed sent Glover a particularly harsh letter, suggesting that he was exploiting the contract, Moylan replied a week later with a list of the challenges involved:

You cannot conceive the difficulty, the trouble, and the delay there is in procuring the thousand things necessary for one of these vessels. I dare say one of them might be fitted in Philadelphia or New-York in three days, because you would know where to apply for the different articles; but here you must search all over Salem, Marblehead, Danvers, and Beverly, for every little thing that is wanting.

I must add to these, the jobbing of the carpenters, who are, to be sure, the idlest scoundrels in nature. If I could have procured others, I should have dismissed the whole gang of them last Friday—and such religious rascals are they, that we could not prevail on them to work on the Sabbath. I have stuck very close to them since, and what by scolding and crying shame for their tory-like disposition in retarding the work, I think they mend something.

There is one reason, and I think a substantial one, why a person born in the same Town or neighbourhood, should not be employed on publick affairs of this nature, in that Town or neighbourhood; it is, that the spirit of equality which reigns through this Country will make him afraid of exerting that authority necessary for the expediting his business.

He must shake every man by the hand, and desire, beg, and pray, do brother, do my friend, do such a thing; whereas a few hearty damns, from a person who did not care a damn for them, would have a much better effect, (this I know by experience,) for your future government. Indeed, I could give other reasons, but I think this sufficient.
In fact, Moylan, Glover, and their workers managed to launch four armed schooners by the end of that October. I think Reed was extraordinarily impatient because a committee of Continental Congress delegates had arrived in Cambridge, and he wanted to impress them by reporting that the schooners were already sailing.

This afternoon I’ll say more about this episode and others in my talk “Cambridge: Birthplace of the American Navy?”, at Longfellow National Historic Site.

Friday, February 19, 2010

“Brave Manly’s Commodore”

Of all the captains Gen. George Washington ordered to sea in late 1775 and early 1776, one found spectacular success: John Manley (c. 1733-1793).

His schooner, the Lee, captured a string of British cargo ships in the fall of 1775, including the ordnance brig Nancy, as described back here. In February, Washington promoted Manley to commodore, telling all the other captains to follow his orders.

Manley became a national hero even before there was an official American nation. This image of him appeared on a broadside published in Salem above the following song. Join in if you know the tune!

Most humbly Addressed to all the JOLLY TARS who are fighting
By a SAILOR.—It may be sung to the Tune of WASHINGTON

BRAVE MANLY he is stout, and his Men have proved true,
By taking of those English ships, he makes their Jacks to rue;
To our Ports he sends their Ships and Men, let’s give a hearty Cheer
To Him and all those valiant Souls who go in Privateers.
And a Privateering we will go, my boys, my Boys,
And a Privateering we will go.
O all ye gallant Sailor Lads, do’nt never be dismay’d,
Nor let your Foes in Battle ne’er think you are afraid,
Those dastard Sons shall tremble when our Cannon they do roar,
We’ll take, or sink, or burn them all, or them we’ll drive on Shore.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
Our Heroes they're not daunted when Cannon Balls do fly,
For we’re resolv’d to conquer, or bravely we will die;
Then rouse all you NEW-ENGLAND Oaks, give MANLY now a Cheer,
Likewise those Sons of Thunder who go in Privateers.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
Their little petty Pirates our Coast shall ne’er infest,
We’ll catch their sturdy Ships, Boys, for those we do like best;
Then enter now my hearty Lads, the War is just begun,
To make our Fortunes at their Cost, we’ll take them as they run.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
While Shuldham he is flying from WASHINGTON’s strong Lines,
Their Troops and Sailors run for fear, and leave their Stores behind
Then rouse up, all our Heroes, give MANLY now a Cheer,
Here’s a Health to hardy Sons of Mars who go in Privateers.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
They talk of Sixty Ships, Lads, to scourge our free-born Land,
If they send out Six Hundred we’ll bravely them withstand;
Resolve we thus to conquer, Boys, or bravely we will die,
In fighting for our Wives and Babes, as well as LIBERTY.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
While HOPKINS he is triming them upon the Southern Shore,
We’ll scour our Northern Coast, Boys, as soon as they come o’er;
Then rouse up, all my Hearties, give Sailor Lads a Cheer,
Brave MANLY, HOPKINS, and those Tars who go in Privateers.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
I pray you Landsmen enter, you’ll find such charming Fun,
When to our Ports by Dozens their largest Ships they come;
Then make your Fortunes now, my Lads, before it is too late
Defend, defend, I say defend an INDEPENDENT STATE.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
While the Surf it is tossing and Cannon Balls do fly,
We surely will our Foes subdue, or cheerfully will die,
Then rouse, all you bold Seamen, brave MANLY’s COMMODORE
Should we meet with our desp’rate Foes, bless us, they will be tore,
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
Then cheer up, all my hearty Souls, to Glory let us run,
Where Cannon Balls do rattle, with sounding of the Drum;
For who would Cowards prove, or even stoop to Fear,
When MANLY he commands us in our bold PRIVATEER.
And a Privateering we will go, &c.
“Shuldham’ was Adm. Molyneux Shuldham (c. 1717-1798) of the Royal Navy. He was the top-ranking British naval officer in America in the first half of 1776, between Admirals Samuel Graves and Richard Howe, which suggests this verse was written in those months, before Massachusetts had legally become “an INDEPENDENT STATE.”

“Hopkins” was Esek Hopkins (1718-1802) of Rhode Island, commander of the small Continental navy from February 1776 to January 1778. Legally, neither Manley nor Hopkins commanded privateers at this point in the war; Manley had an army commission from Washington, and Hopkins a naval commission from the Continental Congress. But everyone, even Washington himself, was casual about the line between privateers and publicly-funded warships.

More about that line, and Comm. John Manley, in my talk at Longfellow House on Saturday afternoon: “Cambridge: Birthplace of the American Navy?”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Washington Sends His Captains on an Important Mission

On 16 Oct 1775, Gen. George Washington issued special orders to Capt. Nicholasson Broughton. (That officer’s first name is most often printed as Nicholson, but his signature says Nicholasson, and I figure he should know.)

Broughton held an army commission in Col. John Glover’s Essex County regiment, drawn mostly from Marblehead. But for the previous several weeks he and volunteers from that regiment had been stationed at sea, cruising the coast in the schooner Hannah and then the Lee to disrupt the British military’s supply chain into besieged Boston.

Meanwhile, the Continental Army was attempting a two-pronged invasion of Canada, with Gen. Richard Montgomery leading some troops from northern New York and Col. Benedict Arnold leading others through Maine. On 5 October, the Continental Congress had sent Washington an alert that Quebec was about to receive more guns and gunpowder from Britain. The commander hoped to capture that shipment, thus both supporting the invasion and adding to his own army’s limited supply.

Writing from his Cambridge headquarters, Washington said:

The honourable Continental Congress having received intelligence that two north country brigantines, of no force, sailed from England some time ago for Quebeck, laden with six thousand stands of arms, a large quantity of powder, and other stores, you are hereby directed to make all possible despatch for the River St. Lawrence and there to take such a station as will best enable you to intercept the above vessels.

2d. You are also to seize and take any other transports, laden with men, ammunition, clothing, or other stores, for the use of the Ministerial Army or Navy in America, and secure them in such places as may be most safe and convenient.

3d. The other armed schooner, named the Lynch, and commanded by Captain [John] Selman, is to be under your general command; but you are to advise and concert with him the proper station and the proper lime to continue this service.

4th. You are to endeavour, if possible, to discover whether the above vessels have passed by; if they have, you are not to return, but keep the station as long as the season will admit. As there is a great probability that Quebeck will fall into our hands in a very short time, it may be expected that not only the above ordnance vessels, but others from Quebeck and Montreal, may come down and fall into our hands.

5th. As there may be men of war at Newfoundland, you are so to conduct as to prevent being discovered by them, or any intelligence given of your station.

6th. Whatever vessels you may meet, bound in or out of the River St. Lawrence, which you have reason to believe are in the service of the Ministerial Army, or conveying any stores to them, of provisions, or of any other nature, you are to endeavour to seize, though they should not be transports regularly engaged by Government.

7th. For your encouragement, and that of the officers and men under your command, you will receive one third part of the value of any prizes you may take, as well military stores as the hulls of such vessels, nothing being excepted but the wearing apparel and private stock of the Captains and other officers and passengers of such prizes.

8th. Should you meet with any vessel, the property of the inhabitants of Canada, not employed in any respect in the service of the Ministerial Army, you are to treat such vessel with all kindness, and by no means suffer them to be injured or molested.
So how did that go? Broughton and Selman never saw the “two north country brigantines” that they were supposed to hunt down, nor any “other transports” carrying war material from Britain to North America. In fact, they never got close to the St. Lawrence.

Instead, the two captains focused on the sixth and seventh points of their orders: they stopped unarmed ships and interrogated their masters about whether they were supplying the British military. If those captives gave Broughton and Selman any reason to be suspicious, even chuckling at jeers about New England “Yankeys & Punkings,” then the two captains decided they were enemies. In fact, it looks like Broughton and Selman decided all the unarmed ships they met were unfriendly.

The Americans seized those vessels as prizes and sent them to Beverly, where they expected the ships and cargos to be sold. As Washington’s seventh point promised, the captains and their crews would pocket a third of the proceeds from any legitimate seizure. That “encouragement” was similar to the incentive for privateers, but privateers were privately funded.

In contrast, Capts. Broughton and Selman were supposed to be on a mission to the Gulf of St. Lawrence—a mission expressly ordered by the Continental Congress and the commander-in-chief. But one part of their orders became a big distraction.

When Broughton and Selman made it back to Massachusetts, they went to talk to Gen. Washington. I’ll discuss his response to them, and his effort to manage the rest of his small fleet, in my talk on Saturday afternoon: “Cambridge: Birthplace of the American Navy?”

[ADDENDUM: Or you can pick up the story here.]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Twitter Feed, 9-15 Feb 2010

  • Chris Klein, author of DISCOVERING THE BOSTON HARBOR ISLANDS, to be interviewed on NECN at 7:45 AM, Thurs, 18 Feb. #
  • RT @TJMonticello: Fantastic! RT @thatwoman: Replica of Jefferson's Monticello, Monticello, IN - www.roadsideamerica.com/tip/7931 #
  • Medium Large gives us "George Washington: First Generation Cyborg": bit.ly/dD371o #
  • The Concord Minuteman statue: representative of all the embattled farmers or just one? And isn't he cold? bit.ly/cQhXXL #
  • Revolutionary War novel CHAINS by @halseanderson wins Cybils Award for bloggers' best 2009 middle-grade kids' fiction: bit.ly/bRHyBJ #
  • How to annoy a redcoat sentry? Tell him, "Kiss my arse, you bougre." From British Soldiers, American Revolution: bit.ly/9VT7Mc #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Even presidents misplace things sometimes. Washington's pistol from Gen. Braddock: ow.ly/16UxS #
  • Washington lost three pistols during the siege of Boston—two stolen, one mislaid while inspecting Dorchester heights. #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Presidents get to relax after they retire! Washington's easy chair: ow.ly/16Uz9 #
  • RT @MisterHistory: Atlantic Slave Trade Estimates bit.ly/aYvROX via www.diigo.com/~davidhilton #
  • RT @universalhub: Imagine lots of naked men frolicking on the Larz Anderson Bridge bit.ly/atkr5v #
  • NY TIMES MAGAZINE reports on Texas school authority debate over how to portray founders' religious thinking: nyti.ms/clHPAf #
  • Review of Woody Holton's ABIGAIL ADAMS bio from the WORCESTER TELEGRAM: bit.ly/bqy7EN #
  • RT @besthistoryweb: "Geography and Maps 2.0" summer workshop for teachers in Boston: bit.ly/S66bC #
  • Baldwin's Book Barn in West Chester, PA, to be sold: nyti.ms/9pJMec Excellent book barn; deserves the "bookbarn.com" URL. #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Learn why the Jefferson Bible is considered an irreplaceable treasure and why its future is at risk: ow.ly/16MFo #
  • RT @HistoricNE: What's your favorite Historic New England property in Mass.? Vote at tiny.cc/7dbyo to add to 1000 Great Places list! #
  • Warming debate over new theory of pioneering British obstetricians as murderers/bodysnatchers: post.ly/NVFb #
  • RT @aimeeburpee: RT @smithsonian Roof collapses at Smithsonian warehouse. No artifacts damaged. No injuries. bit.ly/cnXhhs #
  • RT @SecondVirginia: A look at winter cabins at Valley Forge National Historical Park (@ValleyForgeNHP) bit.ly/9pjS6G #
  • RT @readlongfellow: 2/10/1862: Sailors say a vessel has a bone in her mouth when she goes fast enough to raise the foam above her bows. #
  • RT @FakeAPStylebook Avoid footnotes by not having any footnotes. #
  • RT @ValleyForgeNHP: bit.ly/9pjS6G Think the cabin experiment would have held up in this storm? | Cabins worked at Morristown! #
  • Alex Goldfeld's talk at Boston Public Library about black Bostonians since 1638 postponed from today because of weather. #
  • "Congregational Boston in the Colonial Era" – Brown bag lunch postponed to noon, 17 Feb at Congregational Library in Boston, 14 Beacon St #
  • RT @BaltHistory: George Washington Didn't Have Wooden Teeth! See his choppers Feb 13-14 at Nat'l Museum of Dentistry bit.ly/6vISra #
  • Subscriber and bookstore owner buys/rescues KIRKUS REVIEWS: nyti.ms/aEjvwK Oh yeah, he also owns the Pacers. #
  • .@JBD1 on auction of stuff from Tobias Lear and (maybe) George Washington, including million-dollar map of Yorktown: bit.ly/9GivpZ #
  • George Lippard, one of America's most successful mythologizers of the Revolution: bit.ly/d8xTvG #
  • First fatal duel in America, in Boston in 1728: bit.ly/9lsjac Also covered in new @bostoncomics anthology, INBOUND 4. #
  • Sewing, children & guns—what Revolutionary America was all about? In any event, reenactors meet at Hive on Sunday: bit.ly/9AnHIr #
  • Via @JBD1, project for new edition of Jeremy Bentham Papers thru online volunteers, crowdsourcing. (I visited his body; that was enough.) #
  • @LooknBackward Wikis are crowdsourced, and I rely on some of them for basic info, but haven't seen any advanced project beyond early stage. #

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

“Account of the Declaration being read upon Prospect-Hill”

Yesterday I quoted a description of the flag that Gen. Israel Putnam (shown here) had raised in July 1775 from David Humphreys’s short biography of the man, published thirteen years afterwards. I knew I’d seen a contemporaneous report in a newspaper, though, so I tracked that down.

This quotation comes from the 25 July 1775 New Hampshire Gazette. The same item was printed in several other papers, and this might not have been its first appearance. The “Declaration of the Continental Congress” that it refers to is not the Declaration of Independence, but the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, drafted mainly by John Dickinson and issued on 6 July 1775.

A Gentleman has favoured us with the following Account of the Declaration being read upon Prospect-Hill.

Last Tuesday Morning, according to Orders issued the Day before, by Major-General Putnam, all the Continental Troops under his immediate Command assembled on Prospect-Hill, when the Declaration of the Continental Congress was read, after which an animated and pathetic Address to the Army was made by the Rev. Mr. [Abiel] Leonard, Chaplain to General Putnam’s Regiment and succeeded by a pertinent Prayer; when General Putnam gave the Signal, and the whole Army shouted their loud Amen by three Cheers; immediately upon which a Cannon was fired from the Fort, and the Standard lately sent to General Putnam was exhibited flourishing in the Air, bearing on one Side this Motto, AN APPEAL TO HEAVEN--- and on the other side, QUI TRANSTULIT SUSTINET.

The whole was conducted with the utmost Decency, good Order, and Regularity, and to the universal Acceptance of all present.----And the Philistines on Bunker’s Hill heard the Shout of the Israelites, and being very fearful, paraded themselves in Battle Array.
Humphreys’s account complements this one by stating that the flag came from Connecticut and bore that colony’s symbols. This report is less parochial, but still reflects New England culture in its easy allusion to the enemy as “Philistines” and the writer’s own side as “Israelites.”

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Englanders’ “Appeal to Heaven”

Paul Lunt, lieutenant of a company from Newburyport at the siege of Boston, wrote in his diary for 18 July 1775:

This morning a Manifesto from the Grand Continental Congress was read by the Rev. Mr. Leonard, chaplain to the Connecticut forces upon Prospect Hill in Charlestown, to those troops encamped upon and near said hill.

Our standard was presented in the midst of the regiments with this inscription upon it, “Appeal to Heaven;” after which Mr. Leonard made a short prayer, and then were dismissed by the discharge of a cannon, three cheers, and a war whoop by the Indians.
In his essay on the life of the Honorable Major-General Israel Putnam, former aide David Humphreys later described this flag as:
the new Standard, lately sent from Connecticut. . . .

On one side was inscribed in large letters, of Gold “An Appeal To Heaven,” and on the other were delineated the armorial bearings of Connecticut, which without supporters or crest, consist unostentatiously of three Vines: with this motto, “Qui transtulit, sustinet” [He who transplants, sustains]
By the fall, other New England units had adopted this flag, or at least the English motto on it. On 20 Oct 1775, Gen. George Washington’s military secretary, Joseph Reed (shown above, courtesy of the U.S. Army’s Center for Military History), wrote to the colonels who were in Beverly arming schooners to attack British supply ships with this instruction:
Please to fix upon some particular color for a flag, and a signal by which our vessels may know one another. What do you think of a flag with a white ground, a tree in the middle, the motto “Appeal to Heaven”? This is the flag of our floating batteries.
The ships those men were equipping did adopt that flag. We know that from sources in London reporting on the capture of one such ship, the brig Washington, out of Plymouth. The descriptions were:
  • Sir Hugh Palliser to the Earl of Sandwich, First Lord of the Admiralty, 6 January 1776: “Captain Medows has brought the American vessel’s colours, it is a white field with a green pine tree in the middle: the motto, Appeal to Heaven.”
  • London Chronicle: “In the Admiralty office is the flag of a provincial privateer. The field is white bunting; on the middle is a green pine-tree, and upon the opposite side is the motto, ‘Appeal to Heaven.’”
  • Almon’s Remembrancer, item dated 6 Jan 1776: “Captain Meadows has likewise brought her colours, which are a pale green palm-tree, upon a white field, with this motto, ‘We appeal to heaven.’”
(I have to think an error crept into that last description; would New Englanders have taken pride in a “pale green palm-tree”? Or were palms and pines interchangeable?)

No actual period examples of this flag survive, to my knowledge. All the designs in flag books are guesses at what they looked like.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

As Washington Slept

Today’s Boston Globe Travel section contains an article by past Boston 1775 guest blogger Christopher Klein on historic houses in New England where George Washington really did sleep, as either general or President.

These include:

At the last, Chris reports, the local historical museum is restoring Washington’s room:
The museum is concluding a state-of-the-art restoration of the second-floor bedroom where Washington spent five nights. The renovation will give visitors the best opportunity in New England to see one of Washington’s bedchambers in a state similar to that when the towering founding father first ducked through the doorway. The restoration included stripping the floorboard stain to reveal the bare wood, returning the faux cedar graining to the woodwork, re-creating the original paint finishes, and installing a reproduction of the room’s 1760s wallpaper to highlight its original vivid colors.
Of all these New England sites, Washington lived the longest at Longfellow House, from July 1775 to early April 1776. The National Park Service staff there are offering free guided tours of the mansion focused on Washington on Friday and Saturday, 19-20 February. After the last tour comes my talk on the general’s choice to launch a small navy during the siege of Boston.

(Photo of Washington’s and Longfellow’s study above by Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe. If I recall right, the bust left of center is Longfellow’s friend George Washington Greene, grandson and biographer of Gen. Nathanael Greene.)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

“Many men, lost to all sense of decency”

Even before Gen. George Washington ordered some of his soldiers onto armed schooners to attack British shipping, his men were venturing into the waters that nearly surrounded and protected Boston. The Continentals made raids in whaleboats, attacked enemy positions from floating batteries, and, as shown in this oft-quoted extract from his general orders for 22 Aug 1775, used the Charles River for bathing and recreation:

The General does not mean to discourage the practice of bathing whilst the weather is warm enough to continue it, but he expressly forbids any person’s doing it at or near the bridge in Cambridge, where it has been observed and complained of that many men, lost to all sense of decency and common modesty, are running about naked upon the bridge, while passengers, and even ladies of the first fashion in the neighborhood, are passing over it, as if they meant to glory in their shame. The guard and sentries at the bridge are to put a stop to this practice, for the future.
New England can get hot in August.
This map from one of the National Park Service’s Bunker Hill lesson plans shows how close the bridge was to the center of Cambridge and the college. The Anderson Memorial (a.k.a. “Larz Anderson”) Bridge spans the same place now.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Lt. Champion Couldn’t Hold a Candle to Washington

Yesterday I quoted a letter from Capt. William Coit, commander of one of the armed schooners that Gen. George Washington ordered out of Beverly, Plymouth, and Newburyport to try to intercept British supply ships.

In early November Coit’s ship, the Harrison, did just that, capturing ships named the Industry and the Polly. They were headed for Boston, loaded with what the besieged British needed for the winter: vegetables, fish, cheese, butter, cattle, hogs, sheep, forage for horses, and forty cords of firewood.

On 8 Nov 1775, Coit’s lieutenant Henry Champion, Jr. (1751-1818), hurried from Plymouth to Washington’s Cambridge headquarters with news that those two captured ships were safe at Plymouth. The commander-in-chief knew that he should be pleased—other captains hadn’t been so successful, or in some cases even left port yet. But something about the lieutenant and captain’s personal style appears to have rubbed Washington the wrong way. He complained at the end of a letter to his just-departed military secretary, Joseph Reed:

I had just finished my letter when a blundering Lieutenant of the blundering Captain [William] Coit, who had just blundered upon two vessels from Nova Scotia, came in with the account of it, and before I could rescue my letter, without knowing what he did, picked up a candle and sprinkled it with grease; but these are kind of blunders which one can readily excuse. The vessels contain hay, live-stock, poultry, &c., and are now safely moored in Plymouth harbor.
Champion eventually impressed Washington enough that in 1779 he became acting major of the Light Brigade organized to attack Stony Point. The picture above, which comes courtesy of Wikipedia, shows him as a substantial landowner and militia commander in postwar Connecticut.

I’ll be talking about Washington and his splendid little naval war at Longfellow National Historic Site in Cambridge on Saturday, 20 February, at 4:00. This talk is sponsored by the site and the Friends of the Longfellow House. It’s free, but the space is limited, so the site asks folks to R.S.V.P. by calling at 617-876-4491, or through this Eventbrite page I just set up.

On that Saturday and the preceding Friday there will also be guided tours of the House focused on how Washington used it as his headquarters from July 1775 to April 1776. Again, call 617-876-4491 to make reservations. Within those walls Washington met with the men he put in charge of those schooners: Reed, Col. John Glover, muster master general Stephen Moylan, and the ships’ officers. As we can see from this letter, some of those meetings went better than others.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Capt. William Coit Describes His Ship

Capt. William Coit was a Connecticut lawyer with a supersized personality. He arrived at the siege of Boston as a militia captain, and in the fall of 1775 Gen. George Washington made him commander of an armed schooner renamed Harrison, sailing out of Plymouth. This was part of the fleet that I’ll discuss on 20 February at Longfellow National Historic Site in my talk “Cambridge: Birthplace of the American Navy?”

On 7 Nov 1775 Coit wrote to his friend Samuel Blachley Webb, then an aide-de-camp to Gen. Israel Putnam in the American camp:

Since I parted with you, I have made a blackguard snatch at two of their [i.e., the British military’s] provision vessels, and have them safe at Plymouth, and if you were where you could see me and did not laugh, all your risible faculties must perish.

To see me strutting about on the quarter-deck of my schooner!—for she has a quarter-deck—ah, and more than that too—4 four pounders [cannon], brought into this country by the company of the Lords Say and Seal, to Saybrook when they first came [Saybrook was settled in 1635]. A pair of cohorns that Noah had in the Ark; one of which lacks a touch-hole, having hardened steel drove therein, that she might not be of service to Sir Edmund Andros [in 1689]—Six swivels, the first that ever were landed at Plymouth [in 1620], and never fired since.

Now, that is my plague; but I can tell you somewhat of my comfort. My schooner is used to the business, for she was launched in the spring of 1761, and has served two regular apprenticeships to sailing, and sails quick, being used to it.

Her accommodations are fine; five of us in the cabin, and when there, are obliged to stow spoon fashion. Besides, she has a chimney in it, and the smoke serves for bedding, victuals, drink and choking. She has one mast too, which is her foremast; she has a mainmast, but it was put in so long ago, that it has rotted off in the hounds. She has a deck, too. When it was first made, it was new; and because it was ashamed of being old, the first time we made use of a clawed handspike, it broke a hole through; notwithstanding the wench knew it was directly over the magazine.

Upon the whole, if there comes peace, I would recommend her and her apparatus, to be sent to the Royal Society; and I dare eat a red-hot gridiron if ever they have had, or will have, until the day of judgment, any curiosity half equal to her.

I haven’t time to give you her character in full, but, in short, she is the devil. But while I can keep the sea, and light only on unarmed vessels, she will do very well. But if obliged to fire both guns of a side at a time, it would split her open from gunwale to her keelson.
The Harrison was fast on the water, and maneuverable, and even managed to survive running aground several times. But Washington soon found Coit and his men hard to bear.

Here’s Coit’s house in New London, from Historic Buildings of Connecticut.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Washington Book Launch in Rhode Island, 18 Feb.

Gerald M. Carbone will launch his new book, Washington: Lessons in Leadership, with a talk at the Rhode Island Historical Society on Thursday, 18 February. The event is scheduled to take place at Aldrich House, 110 Benevolent Street, in Providence, from 6:00 to 8:00 P.M. Books will be available for purchase and signing after the presentation.

Ged Carbone wrote me:

The book is basically a biography of George Washington’s military career from his firing of the opening salvo to the Seven Years’, through the Battle of Yorktown and his stirring Newburgh Address, in which Washington saved the American Revolution from devolving into a military coup.
The book is in Palgrave Macmillan’s Great Generals Series, for which Ged has already written a book on Nathanael Greene.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Twitter Feed, 30 Jan-8 Feb 2010

  • Brian Donahue to speak Wed, 10 Feb, about farming in Minute Man National Park: www.friendsofminuteman.org/blog/?p=643 #
  • New resource from NEHGS on African-American genealogy: bit.ly/cRpZao #
  • Most New Hampshire state senators are female—but state constitution from 1783 speaks only of "all men." Amendment time? bit.ly/cPxhif #
  • RT @LooknBackward: Newer approaches to writing history by Drake Bennett in BOSTON GLOBE: shar.es/aNNjn #
  • NPR interview about BIRTHRIGHT, history of James Annesley, young heir kidnapped to America in 1700s: bit.ly/9Uyn1l #
  • Profile of Revolutionary Concord tour guide & author Joseph L. Andrews from BOSTON GLOBE: bit.ly/94HrCO #
  • DAR to rededicate recovered plaque on Lexington common on Patriots Day, marking site of Old Belfry in 1775. #
  • RT @BorowitzReport: People talk about an "unruly mob," but is a mob ever ruly? // See 1774 court closings & Powder Alarm in Massachusetts? #
  • RT @lucyinglis: bit.ly/aXiReQ // Did Britain's pioneering obstetricians also murder pregnant women to study their anatomy? #
  • Review of Boston exhibit of Luis Melendez, 18th-c Spanish still life painter: bit.ly/9ga46y #
  • RT @Harvard_Press: Abigail Adams teaches you about e-mailing: bit.ly/9XP8Dc #
  • RT @DedhamHistory: 1733: Eleven prominent men purchase a plot of land to build an Episcopal Church. It won't be constructed until 1758. #
  • RT @bencarp: Video of "Teapot in a Tempest: The Boston Tea Party of 1773 (Part 1)" from Old South on Forum Network [link] #
  • RT @bencarp: "Teapot in a Tempest: The Boston Tea Party of 1773 (Part 2)" on Forum Network forum-network.org/node/23536 #
  • RT @PaulRevere1734: Feb 1764 my family among those visited with Small-Pox, reported to selectmen but would not remove my child to Pesthouse. #
  • New online exhibit about Silence Dogood (aka young Benjamin Franklin) from the Massachusetts Historical Socy: bit.ly/c99bwz #
  • Got to hear C. S. Manegold speak on TEN HILLS FARM at 6:30, but couldn't get to Concord to hear Bill Fowler speak on Newburgh at 8:00. #
  • A redcoat private who escaped from Continental captivity and made it back to the British army for life: bit.ly/9NnH0C #
  • Plan for Boston history museum on Rose Kennedy Greenway loses state support: bit.ly/cYy9PV Tough fundraising time already. #
  • RT @HistoryNet: AmH: America's Worst Winter Ever: Forget Valley Forge. The Morristown winter of 1779-80 bit.ly/bdvYcZ #
  • Beverly church raises $200K for roof by selling Paul Revere ewer: bit.ly/azxssn More detail: bit.ly/5ss13a #
  • David Waldstreicher reviews Michael Kranish's FLIGHT FROM MONTICELLO in BOSTON GLOBE: bit.ly/a9f6HP #
  • .@JBD1: perfect LT profile pic for John Jeffries - is.gd/7Drg1 // For more on Jeffries's adventures: bit.ly/a7B4IV #
  • RT @FakeAPStylebook: When composing the church newsletter, be careful not to confuse 'sexton' with 'sexting.' #
  • Boston Area Early American History Seminar invites paper proposals for upcoming year: bit.ly/b78SqA #
  • RT @magpie: "In The 18th Century" - twlol.com/tw/?v3-30327 #lol // It's hard out there for a baron. #
  • New British literary prize for historical fiction: bit.ly/aqS139 #
  • NEHGS's NEW ENGLAND ANCESTORS magazine to become AMERICAN ANCESTORS. Cuz, like, we rule. #
  • Researching African-Americans in Pre-Civil War New England, lecture at NEHGS, Boston, 24 Feb: bit.ly/99ugl2 #
  • A quick history of Boston's State House dome from Looking Backward: bit.ly/dgKJh7 #
  • Researching early American crime through the Readex newspaper database: bit.ly/bLqi66 #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: We've just linked our flickr photostream to our facebook page. bit.ly/d1tt6p #
  • RT @teachinghistory: In a new lesson plan, EdSITEment looks at the founding fathers' views on slavery: bit.ly/bKmCKc #
  • RT @Jurretta: How do today's students do research? Some interesting--and sobering--data: bit.ly/8XjDBK #
  • RT @HistoryNet: America's Disastrous Invasion of Quebec: Washington's plan to invade Canada in 1775 ended in disaster. bit.ly/aDMKAu #
  • RT @wcaleb: UPenn Press announces SHEAR Prize awarded yearly (w/contract) to book manuscript on N. America 1776-1861 bit.ly/ceYPSm #
  • RT @lucyinglis: Princess Serafina: London's First Recorded Drag Artist post.ly/Lfdi #georgianlondon #
  • The word "southpaw" predates organized baseball by about three decades: bit.ly/98cPj8 #
  • RT @history_geek: Me: "I need get these old slides digitized." Undergrad: "Wow, I've never seen one of these before." #
  • Patriots Day pageant in Lancaster, Mass., 1912: bit.ly/9jFiDl #
  • Slowly growing collection of online historical resources about Massachusetts: bit.ly/cuzc0P #
  • Hardcore History podcast considers if violent child-rearing methods contributed to brutal societies: bit.ly/9SqN4q #
  • RT @TJMonticello: Pictures from today's snowstorm at Monticello: bit.ly/cb2iH5 Current temperature in Charlottesville: 17F. #