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, 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.

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