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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Monday, May 31, 2010

Of a Sentimental Nature

In examining the story of Hezekiah Wyman as it first appeared in The Boston Pearl and Literary Gazette, one detail that stands out for me is context. The Pearl was a literary magazine.

The first item in the 22 Aug 1835 issue was “A Love Tale” about a nice woman named Susan Black who finds a husband at age forty. The Wyman story is followed by the third letter in a series from “A Buckeye,” this one headed “Western Poets—Otway Curry.” After a couple of Curry poems the magazine prints a new poem called “The Unforgotten” from a Portsmouth writer signing herself Rebecca.

That content confirms how one bibliographical database has described the Boston Pearl:

A literary miscellany edited by Isaac Pray which pirated a good deal of its material. It published original and selected tales and poems, many of them of a sentimental nature, moral and humorous essays, legends, literary notices, and historical, biographical, and travel sketches. In addition, it contained much miscellaneous material and music for piano.
Thus, though the Pearl published “historical” sketches, they were a small part of its content. Its readers expected the magazine’s items to be literary foremost.

And indeed “The White Horseman” doesn’t present Hezekiah Wyman’s story in historical terms. Aside from the credit “By a Soldier of the Revolution,” the text offers no clue about sources or authenticity—no indication that the writer has spoken to witnesses or descendants, no quotations from documents, no explanations of how the writer came to know the story’s details.

Furthermore, the piece is in high literary style, starting in medias res:
The heavy tramp of the regulars, as their solid columns moved amid the darkness toward Concord, was heard with indignation by the waking inhabitants of the country.
At first the tale centers on “a large building a few miles below Lexington,” where “The girls assisted their brothers in putting on their equipments, and the old men saddled the horses for his sons.” In comes a local militia officer, “apparently, under thirty years of age; of middling stature, and dark eyes, which now gleamed with fire.” At his entrance, “one young and blooming lass…hung her head, and sighed deeply.”

The officer turns to go. The young woman sighs, “Not one word has he spoken to me.” But then—
Quick as thought, the young Captain sprung to the ground, and giving her a hearty embrace, promised to be with her in a few hours. No answer was returned by the despondent fair one, but she clenched her hands and raised her palid [sic] face to Heaven, as if engaged in inward prayer.—

There she stood in statue-like silence until the sound of the departing horses’ hoofs had died away. Then turning to her mother, who had remained at her side, she softly said, ‘I shall never see him more!’
And the lass turns out to be right. According to “The White Horseman,” this officer positions his company in Lexington “behind the village church” to be in position for “harrassing the enemy if they should attempt any damage.” Other companies rush past to join their comrades at Concord, but these Lexington men stand their ground.
Just as the morning dawned, the hasty tramp of men was heard by the little band, and in a moment afterward, the British commander wheeled his steed upon the plain where they stood, and waving his sword, commanded them to throw down their arms and disperse. The Americans were not fast in acknowledging the authority of the epauletted caitiff, and, in an instant, a shower of British balls cut down nearly half of the little company, and put the rest to flight. Captain Roe was among the slain.
TOMORROW: Captain Roe?!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Bringing Up the Boston Pearl

Investigating what Hezekiah Wyman did on 19 Apr 1775 meant finding the story about him published in the Boston Pearl sometime before 1840. That’s all that Henry Smith Chapman’s History of Winchester could say about the tale’s earliest source.

Not very long ago, that would have required someone to find every issue of the Boston Pearl from that period and read through them, hoping not to miss anything. This was time-consuming work with limited rewards. Usually it was left to the class of people called “grad students.”

Nowadays, digital archives make searching much, much quicker—though still not perfect, the quirks of rare publications, old type, and optical character recognition software being as they are.

In this case, a couple of years back I used Readex’s Archive of Americana service to find an item about Hezekiah Wyman in the Vermont Gazette for 6 Oct 1835; it was titled “The White Horseman” and said to be reprinted “From the Boston Pearl.” More recently I found the same article in the 14 Oct 1835 Rhode Island Republican.

Since then, Google Books digitized the first volume of the Army and Navy Chronicle, which reprinted “The White Horseman” on 8 Oct 1835. That cluster of reprints suggests that the story had appeared in the Pearl some weeks earlier.

Then it was up to Charles Bahne, using another database at a local university library, to find the original. “The White Horseman” made its debut on pages 398-9 of the 22 Aug 1835 issue of the Boston Pearl and Literary Gazette, credited to “A Soldier of the Revolution” and labeled as “Original” to that magazine. Charlie and I have gone through those early texts and found no significant differences among them.

TOMORROW: But there are some telling details.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hunting for Hezekiah Wyman

The last tale of the Battle of Lexington and Concord I’ll address this season is one I first came across in David H. Fischer’s Paul Revere’s Ride. That book says:

Many on both sides remembered a middle-aged militiaman named Hezekiah Wyman, from the outlying hamlet of Woburn that is now the town of Winchester. This day was his birthday. On the morning of April 19, 1775, Hezekiah Wyman turned fifty-five. His wife told him he was too old to fight, but he saddled his “strong white mare” and galloped away. He collided with the British column on the Road east of Lexington, fired at an advancing Regular and brought him down.

Hezekiah Wyman became highly visible on the battlefield—a “tall, gaunt man” with long gray locks, mounted on a white horse. The British infantry saw him many times from Lexington to Charlestown, and grew to dread the sight of him.

Wyman was a crack shot. Again and again he rode within range of the British vanguard, jumped off his horse, and laid the long barrel of his musket across the saddle. As the Regulars approached he took careful aim, and squeezed off a shot with slow deliberation. Then he remounted and rode ahead to a new position—a grim, gray-headed messenger of mortality, mounted on death’s pale horse.
I remember being struck by how cinematic this episode was. Imagine the scene through the eyes of British soldiers: a white horse with its tall rider galloping across the hillsides parallel to the road. The soldiers anxiously watch the man bend his course slightly until he comes within the range they know will be fatal to one of them.

At that time, I wasn’t tracing footnotes, and there weren’t so many great digital resources to consult as there are now. Fischer offered one citation for this paragraph, to Henry Smith Chapman’s 1936 History of Winchester.

Chapman, in turn, cited as his main source a newspaper article reprinting an item about Wyman from an issue of the Boston Pearl published sometime before 1840. Woburn/Winchester records confirm that Hezekiah Wyman existed, but say nothing about his activities on 19 Apr 1775. For that, we need to find and evaluate the earliest accounts.

TOMORROW: Diving deep for the Boston Pearl.

Friday, May 28, 2010

“I Told Them My Errand”

Soon after his ride on the night of 18-19 Apr 1775, Paul Revere wrote out a deposition describing his experiences. This is how his first draft characterized the message he carried from Boston to Lexington:

I was sent for by Docr. Joseph Warren about 10 oClock that evening, and desired, “to go to Lexington and inform Mr. Samuel Adams, and the Hon. John Hancock Esqr. that there was a number of Soldiers composed of the Light troops and Grenadiers marching to the bottom of the common, where was a number Boats to receive them, and it was supposed, that they were going to Lexington, by the way of Watertown to take them, Mess. Adams and Hancock or to Concord.”
The second draft has somewhat different wording but the same sense. Revere wrote nothing in either version about carrying a written message.

Furthermore, there are significant differences between what Revere recalled that Dr. Warren knew when he left Boston and what the Rev. Jonas Clarke of Lexington wrote a year later. Clarke said the message from Boston included an estimate (much too high) of the number of soldiers, a different location for their landing across the Charles River, and a definite statement that they were headed to Concord. Those discrepancies indicate that Clarke was not quoting a message Dr. Warren had written before Revere began his journey, but working with additional information and perhaps some hindsight.

Revere also didn’t mention carrying a written message in his 1798 letter to the Rev. Jeremy Belknap about the start of the war. In fact, in that account the silversmith wrote: “I found Messrs. Hancock and Adams at the Rev. Mr. Clarke’s; I told them my errand,” implying that he delivered the warning from Boston orally.

Revere was nearly stopped by a British mounted patrol as he left Charlestown, but in none of his accounts did he describe worrying about being caught with an incriminating document. (After officers stopped him on his way from Lexington to Concord, Revere wrote, “they first searched me for Arms.”)

The Rev. William Gordon of Roxbury, who appears to have been close to Samuel Adams, didn’t mention a letter from Dr. Warren in his early account of the day. The traditions passed down in William Dawes’s family, published in 1878, say nothing about a written message.

Instead, the evidence indicates that Dr. Warren, Revere, and their colleagues worked to set up a network of messengers whom leaders could trust without needing written confirmation. Revere had worked with Adams, Hancock, and Warren for years. Hancock knew Dawes as adjutant of the Boston militia regiment, and Dawes was somewhat active in politics.

Revere visited Lexington a few days before 18 April to prepare the ground. On his way home, he arranged for colleagues in Charlestown to send a rider west based on a signal from the Christ Church tower; obviously, that rider starting on the other side of the river couldn’t have carried a letter from Dr. Warren. But with signals arranged and relationships established, he didn’t need to. At least that’s my interpretation of the evidence.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

“It Was Shrewdly Suspected”

On Tuesday I quoted the Rev. Jonas Clarke’s 1777 account of events in Lexington on 19 Apr 1775, including this passage:

Between the hours of twelve and one, on the morning of the NINETEENTH OF APRIL, we received intelligence, by express, from the Honorable JOSEPH WARREN, Esq.; at Boston, “that a large body of the king’s troops (supposed to be a brigade of about 12, or 1500) were embarked in boats from Boston, and gone over to land on Lechmere’s-Point (so called) in Cambridge: And that it was shrewdly suspected, that they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores, belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord,” in consequence of General Gage’s unjustifiable seizure of the provincial magazine of powder at Medford, and other colony stores in several other places.
As I noted yesterday, in 1825 local historian Elias Phinney repeated most of the words Clarke had put between quotation marks. He left out a few:
  • “land on”
  • “(so called)”
  • “shrewdly”
The latter two are phrases that stand out of Clarke’s passage because they don’t seem to belong to the night of 18-19 Apr 1775. Would Dr. Warren, racing to send crucial information to his colleagues, have been so scrupulous as to add “(so called)” to the common name of Lechmere’s Point? Would he have patted himself on the back by inserting “shrewdly”?

In the same vein, and even more tellingly, what timeframe could the word “then” refer to in the phrase “then deposited at Concord”? Clarke must have written that word in 1776 or 1777 to remind his audience of the situation back in April 1775. It wouldn’t have been part of any note Warren wrote for Samuel Adams and John Hancock to read while the troops were still marching and the stores were still deposited.

And yet the word “then” appears inside Clarke’s quotation marks, as well as Elias Phinney’s. So at the very least, we know those writers weren’t quoting an original document exactly. And it appears even more likely that Phinney got his words from Clarke, not from any note from Warren now lost.

I also think Clarke used his quotation marks to signal that he was approximating the message from Dr. Warren, not reproducing it word for word. And, since the parson never actually stated that he’d seen a written message from Boston, we have to consider the possibility that he was paraphrasing the news that Warren’s messengers had conveyed out loud.

TOMORROW: Listening to Paul Revere.

(The photograph above showed the Lexington Historical Society’s Hancock-Clarke House, where Paul Revere and William Dawes rendezvoused with Adams and Hancock, and where Clarke wrote his sermon and narrative.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

“Written Communications from Gen. Warren”?

In 1825, Elias Phinney published his History of the Battle at Lexington: on the Morning of the 19th April, 1775. Until then, Americans had remembered the men on Lexington common as being shot down without offering any threat or resistance to the British army; they were martyrs. Phinney still insisted that the redcoats had fired first, under orders from Maj. John Pitcairn, but he argued that the Lexington men had fired back, making them stalwart heroes and the event a “battle.”

Along the way, Phinney wrote:

Gen. [Joseph] Warren, ever watchful and active in devising, as he was undaunted in executing, the best measures for the safety of the country, had despatched two messengers, Col. Paul Revere and a Mr. Lincoln, with information to [John] Hancock and [Samuel] Adams. Revere passed over the ferry to Charlestown, procured a horse of the late Deacon [John] Larkin, and rode with all speed to Lexington, where he arrived a little after midnight. . . .

Shortly after, Mr. Lincoln, who had come by the way of Roxbury, arrived. They both brought written communications from Gen. Warren, “That a large body of the king’s troops, (supposed to be a brigade of twelve or fifteen hundred,) were embarked in boats from Boston, and gone over to Lechmere’s Point in Cambridge, and it was suspected, they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord.”
“Mr. Lincoln” is Phinney’s mistaken identification of William Dawes (shown above), based on the mistaken recollection of Lexington militia sergeant William Munroe fifty years after the fight. Obviously, Phinney wasn’t working with sources that named Dawes, such as Revere’s own accounts.

Phinney’s words echo what the Rev. Jonas Clarke published in 1777, quoted yesterday, but not exactly. Did both Clarke and Phinney copy from a document that doesn’t survive? If so, the differences between the two transcriptions raise questions. Either Clarke added words, or Phinney removed them. Was the estimate of British soldiers written as “12, or 1500” or “twelve or fifteen hundred,”?

I think it most likely that Phinney relied on Clarke’s published narrative, quoting the words he thought had come from “written communications from Gen. Warren,” cutting those that seemed out of place, and applying up-to-date rules for style. In other words, Phinney’s statement that Revere and “Lincoln” had carried written messages was his interpretation of Clarke’s statement, not based on actually seeing one of those documents or other independent evidence.

TOMORROW: Going back to the Rev. Mr. Clarke’s words from 1777.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

“We Received Intelligence, by Express”

It’s been over a month since the anniversary of the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and I’m still working through questions related to that event. In the comments on this posting about Isaac (a.k.a. Israel) Bissell, I wrote, “Revere and Dawes didn’t take written reports out to Lexington, but Hancock and Adams knew and trusted them already.”

Charles Bahne emailed to ask about that because other researchers have written that Paul Revere and William Dawes did carry written messages from Dr. Joseph Warren. So I realized I should review the evidence and explain my conclusion.

On 19 Apr 1776, exactly one year after the battle, the Rev. Jonas Clarke of Lexington preached on the event. He was an eyewitness, had hosted Samuel Adams and John Hancock in the parsonage the night before, and was a figure of learning and authority in the town.

The following year, the Boston printing firm of Powars and Willis published Clarke’s sermon in a pamphlet subtly titled:

The Fate of Blood-thirsty Oppressors, and GOD’s tender Care of his distressed People.

A Sermon, preached at Lexington, April 19, 1776. To commemorate the MURDER, BLOODSHED and Commencement of Hostilities, between Great-Britain and America, in that Town, by a Brigade of Troops of George III, under Command of Lieutenant-Colonel SMITH, on the Nineteenth of April, 1775.

To which is added, a brief NARRATIVE of the principal Transactions of that Day.
That narrative has been published several times since.

Clarke’s narrative began:
On the evening of the eighteenth of April, 1775, we received two messages; the first verbal, the other by express, in writing, from the committee of safety, who were then sitting in the westerly part of Cambridge, directed to the Honorable JOHN HANCOCK, Esq; (who, with the Honorable SAMUEL ADAMS, Esq; was then providentially with us) informing, “that eight or nine officers of the king’s troops were seen, just before night, passing the road towards Lexington, in a musing, contemplative posture; and it was suspected they were out upon some evil design.”
(What’s boldface here was italicized in the original publication.)

A few paragraphs later, Clarke wrote:
Between the hours of twelve and one, on the morning of the NINETEENTH OF APRIL, we received intelligence, by express, from the Honorable JOSEPH WARREN, Esq.; at Boston, “that a large body of the king’s troops (supposed to be a brigade of about 12, or 1500) were embarked in boats from Boston, and gone over to land on Lechmere’s-Point (so called) in Cambridge: And that it was shrewdly suspected, that they were ordered to seize and destroy the stores, belonging to the colony, then deposited at Concord,” in consequence of General Gage’s unjustifiable seizure of the provincial magazine of powder at Medford, and other colony stores in several other places.
The phrase “by express” meant a messenger sent particularly to carry that news. Both passages use quotation marks, implying that Clarke was copying words directly from the messages he described. The first says that the Committee of Safety in Cambridge sent two messages, but only one was in writing. Did the “express, from the Honorable JOSEPH WARREN,” also bring a letter?

TOMORROW: Interpreting Clarke’s words in 1825.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Twitter Feed, 13-22 May 2010

  • RT @unionparkpress: "Milch Cow" returns to Boston Common ht.ly/1KdRm #BostonCommon #Cows #
  • RT @dancohen: Facebook's privacy policy is now longer than the U.S. Constitution, with 170 options: nyti.ms/ctwKJB (via @nickbilton) #
  • From @lucyinglis, the street cries of Georgian London: bit.ly/c0vKx7 Probably far fewer in 1700s Boston. #
  • Two Revolutionary War veterans in western Massachusetts turn to crime in 1783: bit.ly/a9899k #
  • RT @jimhill: Time to paint a young Ben Franklin. #
  • Photo tour of Philadelphia neighborhood with 18th-century roots: bit.ly/ay6wca #
  • Thomas Jefferson's famous mammoth cheese, and its political significance: bit.ly/c603xt #
  • NPR coverage of Jack Rakove's book REVOLUTIONARIES: n.pr/brOp4G #
  • Tim Abbott traces the path of Henry Knox and ordnance from Fort Ticonderoga to Boston: bit.ly/drNHR2 #
  • RT @bostonhistory: Just Added at Teach History: The Edwards Family Home Site in Boston's North End. tinyurl.com/36a94rd #
  • "Handful of children's gravestones that name a mother, but no father. All of these are the gravestones of slaves": bit.ly/cbR8mL #
  • Photos and link for Caitlin G D Hopkins's paper on Newport gravestone carver Pompe Stevens: bit.ly/9mqcZD #
  • The PR campaign for Michael Bellesiles's new book is astonishing in its effrontery: bit.ly/dzgMUd #
  • More on historian Stephen Ambrose's relationship with subject DD Eisenhower (via @ToddHouse via @sally_j): bit.ly/bcWBdC #
  • Looking Backward waves to Dr John Jeffries, 1st US aeronaut: bit.ly/9f9aaf Long version of his life starts here: bit.ly/a7B4IV #
  • .@publichistorian: Related: should I reread Archer's Goon for the thirtieth (fiftieth?) time? #yes // Of course. #
  • RT @LizB: about to start SONS OF LIBERTY #comics: Revolutionary War, 2 runaway slaves...w/ superpowers. #
  • .@chasingray Take care w/SONS OF LIBERTY comic. Two of that title. Marshall Poe's has no superpowers, mistaken history. bit.ly/cxdSDq #
  • Reporter Joe Mozingo's search for family name takes him back to colonial Virginia slave (via @ToddHouse @InnerCompass): bit.ly/cO1HcX #
  • Unskillfully but doggedly carved gravestone for a 5-yr-old child, Brooklyn, CT, 1754: bit.ly/cFmnzy #
  • Conference on historical prints, fact and fiction, at Worcester in Nov 2010: bit.ly/9vmtrt #
  • Exploring the engravings of Paul Revere at the American Antiquarian Society: bit.ly/cO42ux #
  • RT @CLTcurator: irked that I can't find digitized version of a particular 18th c. legal manual. O the lofty expectations we have nowadays! #
  • RT @PaulRevere1734: May 19th - 1766 saw Fireworks marking repeal of Stamp Act, 1780 Sky so dark by Noon I could hardly see my way h ome. #
  • RT @history_book: Wellspring of Liberty: How Virginia's Religious Dissenters Helped Win the American Revolution bit.ly/b4OMJM #
  • Anti-abortion movement seizing Susan B. Anthony as their own on dubious historical grounds: bit.ly/9xeE3V #
  • Coming to your TV this fall—Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier, the Marquis de la Fayette: bit.ly/dooP6K #
  • "18th-c image that suggests that sexual humiliation of detainees may have deep roots in the American psyche"? bit.ly/co84Gj #
  • Recent papers on tea protests, John Q. Adams's courtship, feuding Continental Navy captains & Essex County furniture: bit.ly/csxJIF #
  • RT @Jurretta: History conferences can be dishwater dull. I'm willing to bet this one will be the opposite bit.ly/9EMy3E #
  • @opheliacat I don't think anyone's image of Columbia in Native dress inspired disguises at Tea Party. Men just wanted to hide their faces. #
  • @opheliacat Then newspapers emphasized "Mohawks" as a way to talk about tea rioters as somehow separate from town. Image stuck and grew. #
  • @opheliacat Upcoming book by @bencarp will say more about Native symbolism at Boston Tea Party, and what led to what. #
  • Families invited to bike in Minute Man Park, 20 June: www.friendsofminuteman.org/blog/?p=748 #
  • George Washington Book Prize winners, via @jbd1: philobiblos.blogspot.com/2010/05/beeman-wins-george-washington-book.html #
  • Some colonial Americans' libraries, via probate records and @jbd1: philobiblos.blogspot.com/2010/05/new-lea-libraries-added.html #
  • Another redcoat soldier unlucky enough to get into a fight with an officer--guess who wins every time: bit.ly/azxEmD #
  • Michael Kenney reviews Marla Miller's new bio of Betsy Ross in BOSTON GLOBE: bit.ly/bMLt38 #
  • "What may be America's oldest silver dollar" from 1794 reported to sell for ~$8 million: bit.ly/bXBR0n #
  • In Pennsylvania today! Local news on commemoration of Oney Judge, escaped from President's mansion in 1796: bit.ly/9yhv5N #
  • Report on fatal explosion at New Hampshire black powder factory: bit.ly/bvnsvE Old-fashioned gunpowder is still mighty powerful! #
  • In Brandywine River valley, ran across flyer for self-published historical thriller called LAFAYETTE'S GOLD: lafayettesgold.com/ #

Sunday, May 23, 2010

New Book about Maine in the Revolutionary War

Mike Cecere has just announced the publication of To Hazard Our Own Security: Maine’s Role in the American Revolution. Publisher Heritage Books says:

Maine’s role in the American Revolution has traditionally been obscured by the fact that it was part of Massachusetts during the conflict and did not become a state in its own right until 1820. Thousands of men from what is now Maine served in the Revolutionary War, but they did so alongside men from Massachusetts and in units identified as Massachusetts regiments.

Together these men fought in nearly every key engagement of the war, including: the siege of Boston, invasion of Canada, and defense of New York in 1775-76, and the battles of Trenton, Princeton, Hubbardton, Saratoga, Monmouth, Rhode Island, Newtown, Stony Point, and finally, Yorktown.
The book also touches on the seizure of the Margaretta in Machias, the Royal Navy’s destruction of Falmouth (Portland), Benedict Arnold’s 1775 march to Quebec, and the Penobscot expedition of 1779—all events taking place within modern Maine.

But I get the sense that while James S. Leamon’s Revolution Downeast (1993) focuses on what happened in Maine, particularly political and cultural change, this book has more about what happened to fighting men from Maine.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Youngest Americans to Be Executed

The youngest person executed in U.S. history was Hannah Ocuish (1774-1786) of Norwich, Connecticut. A poor household servant, she had confessed to killing a six-year-old girl named Eunice Bolles.

The Executed Today blog shares the details, most of them taken from the pamphlet that contained the Rev. Henry Channing’s execution-day sermon. The only other mentions of the case that Google has found in nineteenth-century books are two local histories and a genealogy of the Bolles family. Apparently the fact that Hannah was only twelve years old didn’t worry American authors in that century.

In this article, Prof. Karen Halttunnen describes how the account published with Channing’s sermon was structured like a mystery, even though the writer clearly knew where the story would lead. This was apparently one of the first American examples of the whodunit approach to reporting crime.

In 1828, New Jersey hanged a thirteen-year-old named James Guild. Like Hannah Ocuish, he had confessed to killing someone who lived near the house where he worked. The legal process in James’s case took longer, several months before conviction and several more for review. The state judges examining the sentence cited the case of William York, described yesterday. But while the British government actually pardoned York in his late teens, New Jersey proceeded to hang James a year after the crime.

The American executed for an act committed at the youngest age was James Arcene (1862-1885). Reportedly he was only ten years old when he participated in a robbery and murder, but escaped and remained at large through his adolescence. He was recaptured and hanged at Fort Smith, Arkansas.

The youngest American executed in the twentieth century was George Stinney (1929-1944). At fourteen years old, he was accused of rape and murder in South Carolina. He got a perfunctory trial and died in an electric chair that was too large for him. It appears that George was the victim of, as Justice Clarence Thomas said in very different circumstances, “a high-tech lynching.”

Some sources say that in 1927 Florida electrocuted Fortune Ferguson at age thirteen, but others say he was sixteen or seventeen at the time of conviction.

Hannah Ocuish was of Pequot and African ancestry. James Arcene was Cherokee. James Guild, George Stinney, and Fortune Ferguson were all black. In no century has American society executed a white child as young as they were.

Friday, May 21, 2010

William York: ten-year-old murderer

Yesterday I mentioned a 1965 study by B.E.F. Knell that expressed doubt about the reported hanging of a seven-year-old child in 1708, sometimes cited as an example of the strictness of the eighteenth-century British legal system.

The main focus of that study was the early 1800s. Knell surveyed all the death sentences handed down for children under age fourteen by a well documented court in London. (None of those children was convicted of murder.) In every case—over 100 in all—the initial death sentence was eventually changed to transportation, imprisonment, and/or whipping. No child criminal was actually put to death.

That pattern matches a case related in William Oldnall Russell’s 1824 A Treatise on Crimes and Misdemeanors. In 1748, at age ten, William York was jailed for killing a five-year-old girl named Susan Mayhew. They both lived in the workhouse at Eyke. (The town’s Church of All Saints shown above, courtesy of Roger Miller via Wikipedia under a Creative Commons license.)

Authorities reported of William: “All he alleged was that the child fouled the bed in which they lay together, that she was sulky, and that he did not like her.” His arrest made The Gentleman’s Magazine, which stated that “Judge Hales order’d a boy of the same age to be hang’d, who burnt a child in a cradle.” In fact, Sir Matthew Hale had determined the boy in that arson case was “above fourteen and near fifteen years of age” before sending him to the gallows—and that was back in the mid-1600s.

The Newgate Calendar later reprinted that early report on the killing, dwelling on the grisly details and even illustrating them in some editions. But it left out the details of the eventual legal outcome.

The court convicted William, and under British law that required the death penalty. The judges in Bury St. Edmunds even agreed that not handing down that sentence might encourage other ten-year-olds to kill little girls they disliked and found sulky. Nevertheless, those judges put off the execution by one order after another until 1757. At age eighteen or nineteen, William York received a royal pardon and went into the Royal Navy. (There was a war on, after all.)

The judicial system’s way of dealing with William York in the mid-1700s thus matches what Knell found in that survey of London cases from the early 1800s. Though British law allowed for a ten-year-old to be convicted of murder and sentenced to die, officials weren’t ready to follow through on that penalty.

The disparity between what the law says and how society actually applies it was also part of this week’s Supreme Court decision. The main dissent, written by Justice Clarence Thomas, argued that a majority of American states allow for juveniles to be condemned to life in prison for crimes less than murder. The majority opinion from Justice Anthony Kennedy pointed out that very few states actually do so. So which is the better indicator of what society considers “cruel and unusual”—what we say we can do, or what we usually do?

TOMORROW: Connecticut executes a twelve-year-old in 1786.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

“Unusual and Excessive Rigour on the Part of the Magistrates”?

As I quoted yesterday, in 1989 Justice Antonin Scalia noted that British common law at the time of the U.S. Constitution allowed for the execution of children as young as age eight under particular circumstances. (Justice Clarence Thomas just pulled that down to age seven through careless quoting.) However, actual examples of such punishments are exceedingly rare.

Legal reference guides like the 1800 edition of The History of the Pleas of the Crown and William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England noted that an eight- or nine-year-old named John Dean was hanged for burning barns—but that was in 1629. Boston hadn’t even been founded yet.

Closer to the time of the Constitution is a case from King’s Lynn, England. William Richards’s The History of Lynn, published in London in 1812, reported:

In 1708, according to one of our MS. accounts of that time, two children were hanged here for felony, one eleven, and the other but seven years of age; which if true, must indicate very early and shocking depravity in the sufferers, as well as unusual and excessive rigour on the part of the magistrates in the infliction of capital punishment.
A footnote adds:
The circumstance is thus stated in the MS.—“1708—Michael Hamond and his Sister, both children—one seven and the other eleven, were hanged for felony on the gallows out of South Gates [shown above].” What the particular crime was does not appear.
Richards mentioned the same incident in a timeline at the back of his book. It clearly struck him hard, and he even characterized the judges’ strictness as “unusual,” a word also used in the Eighth Amendment.

William White’s History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk, published in 1836, briefly mentions the execution of “Michael Hammond, and his sister,” at King’s Lynn in 1708. This book says nothing about their ages, and it’s unclear whether White got his information from Richards’s book or from an independent source.

Notably, Benjamin Mackerell’s 1738 History and Antiquities of the Flourishing Corporation of King’s-Lynn doesn’t mention any notable event thirty years before, though it does record the executions of other people before and after 1708. In addition, if either Hamond child was only seven, that death sentence would have set a precedent in English common law, but no eighteenth-century legal scholars appear to have noted it.

In a 1965 study of British justice, B. E. F. Knell stated that there was no evidence beyond Richards’s quotation to confirm that the Hamond children had actually been hanged—or even tried.

TOMORROW: A ten-year-old murderer from 1748.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

“The Moral Commitment Embodied in the Eighth Amendment”

Standards of eighteenth-century British criminal justice came up in the Supreme Court this week. The issue was whether a life sentence for a seventeen-year-old convicted of two armed robberies, or for any juvenile offender who hadn’t committed murder, was “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. From Adam Liptak’s coverage in the New York Times:

As usual in cases involving the Eighth Amendment, the justices debated whether the Constitution should consider, in a one common formulation, “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.”

Justice [Clarence] Thomas said the court should look to the practices at the time the Bill of Rights was adopted. Given that capital punishment could be imposed on people as young as 7 in the 18th century, he said, Mr. [Terrance] Graham’s punishment would almost certainly have been deemed acceptable back then.

Justice John Paul Stevens, in a concurrence joined by Justices [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and [Sonia] Sotomayor, said Justice Thomas’s “static approach to the law” did not allow for societal progress and would entail unacceptable human consequences.

“Justice Thomas would apparently not rule out a death sentence for a $50 theft by a 7-year-old,” Justice Stevens wrote. “Knowledge accumulates,” he wrote. “We learn, sometimes, from our mistakes.”
I’m not surprised to see Stevens and his colleagues reminding us how British law once allowed seven-year-olds to be hanged; that fact is a reminder about just how cruel past societies could be.

What seems remarkable is that Thomas actually brought up hanging seven-year-olds first. He appears to accept execution of children of that age as just if allowed by a legislature. Thomas’s allusion comes in footnote three of his dissent, which Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito joined. That note points to an opinion that Scalia wrote for the court in 1989—a decision overturned in 2005.

Thomas’s dissent also misquotes the Scalia opinion, which no one seems to have noticed. Thomas wrote that British common law allowed “capital punishment to be imposed on a person as young as age 7.” Scalia actually, and correctly, had written that the punishment was allowed for “anyone over the age of 7”—i.e., eight or above.

The “evolving standards of decency” formulation is over half a century old now, coming from Trop v. Dulles in 1958, which in turn cited Weems v. United States in 1910. In sum, the belief that courts shouldn’t define “cruel and unusual punishment” by eighteenth-century standards has been U.S. law for a century.

Stevens’s two-paragraph response to Thomas’s dissent concludes:
Punishments that did not seem cruel and unusual at one time may, in the light of reason and experience, be found cruel and unusual at a later time; unless we are to abandon the moral commitment embodied in the Eighth Amendment, proportionality review must never become effectively obsolete. . . . Standards of decency have evolved since 1980. They will never stop doing so.
TOMORROW: Did the British justice system of the 1700s actually execute young children?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lecture Series on “Massachusetts in the British Empire”

The Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury is hosting a special series of lectures on the theme of “Massachusetts in the British Empire.”

Massachusetts started as one of England’s first colonies in North America, but it was also settled by religious separatists with a troubled relationship to their home kingdom. For a while Boston was the largest and richest British settlement on the continent. Eventually, of course, the Bay Colonists rose up against the royal army and moved toward independence.

Prof. Robert J. Allison of Suffolk University will trace the complex story of Massachusetts and the Mother Country in a series of three talks:

  • 19 May: “Massachusetts and the Beginnings of Empire,” introduced by British Consul General Dr. Phil Budden.
  • 2 June: “Massachusetts and the Expanding Empire.”
  • 9 June: “Massachusetts and the End of Empire in North America.”
All three talks are on Wednesdays starting at 5:00 P.M. Each will be followed by “a convivial reception featuring Anglo-American refreshments of the period.” Admission is $10, but free for members of the Shirley-Eustis House Association, and folks can buy memberships at the door.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Lydia Barnard: “She Captured a Redcoat”?

The first printed version of the legend of Lydia Barnard of Watertown grabbing a British soldier off a horse on 19 Apr 1775 struck me as entirely dubious. The second, said to be taken down in her own words, is more credible. At least two more versions appear to have been published by William Barnes Dorman around the turn of the last century; I suspect he was related to Benjamin S. Barnes, source of the second account, but I can’t prove that.

Dorman’s articles were titled “She Captured a Redcoat.” One appeared in the Magazine of the Daughters of the Revolution in October 1893, and the other in the Boston Herald and then Watertown’s Military History.

According to both of Dorman’s articles, Lydia Barnard noticed that the soldier had empty holes in his cartridge box—i.e., he’d been shooting his gun. Since he might have been shooting at her brothers, she gave him a good shaking until he surrendered.

One of Dorman’s articles quotes Lydia Spofford (her name after her third marriage) as recalling, “He begged like a Trooper for his life”; the other, “that she never saw a man that she thought she could not have handled.”

The Barnes version says that the soldier had stolen the horse from a Patriot named Col. Stedman, who got it back. One Dorman version says that the horse wasn’t Dorman’s, but British officers had taken his own the night before, so he got this one in recompense. Curiously, given that there was a war on, Dorman said the saddle “was thrown on the potato heap in the cellar.”

There are still holes and cracks in this tale. The earliest version said Lydia Barnard was a widow; her family account says her husband was still alive, and indeed Watertown records refer to him as late as January 1775. But he must have died before she remarried the next year.

The Barnes account says she claimed to have five brothers in the fight; The Hastings Memorial lists only four brothers—but she could have counted brothers-in-law as well.

(Incidentally, The Hastings Memorial says one of those brothers, Josiah Warren, “was Captain of Artillery in the Battle of Bunker Hill”; he was actually a lieutenant in Col. Thomas Gardner’s regiment, which performed better than the artillery.)

Nevertheless, this story seems to have come down only through Lydia Warren Barnard Wood Spofford’s descendants and their neighbors in Boxford. I’ve found no mention of it in earlier histories during the century between the battle and that town’s history. Its author was clearly wrong in claiming this soldier was the first prisoner of the Revolution; the Americans had captured other redcoats to the west, starting with some who lagged behind in Lexington, apparently taking the opportunity to exit the British army.

I’m generally skeptical of tales grandmothers and other relatives tell their grandchildren with no supporting evidence. Such caregivers might tell stories as moral lessons, not expecting them to be taken as history, but grandchildren are always such a trusting audience. So while I’m not ready to dismiss Lydia Spofford’s tale outright, I’m far from accepting it as authentic.

But I wouldn’t want to tell her that!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lydia Barnard: “a woman of strong mind and massive physique”

Yesterday I continued this year’s exploration of the stories of the Battle of Lexington and Concord with the story of Lydia Barnard (born Lydia Warren and died Lydia Spofford), as first set down in an 1880 history of Boxford, Massachusetts.

Another version of this tale appeared in Jeremiah and Aphia Tenney Spofford’s 1888 genealogy of the family. This book calls Lydia Spofford “a woman of strong mind and massive physique,” and quotes what it says is her own account of 19 Apr 1775, “transcribed by her grandson, Benjamin S. Barnes, of Boxford”:

The day of the battle of Lexington, I was living in Watertown. The able-bodied men had all gone to the battle, leaving only women, children, and a few old men, at home, anxiously awaiting the result. Toward night several women came running to my house, crying, “Mrs. Barnard, the Regulars are coming!”

I looked up the street, and saw a redcoat riding toward us on a horse. He came up and inquired if that was the road to Boston. I stepped to his side, took the horse by the head with one hand, and the soldier by the collar with the other, saying, “You villain; you’ve been killing our folks, and deserve death yourself” (my husband and five brothers had gone to the fight). I pulled him to the ground, while he begged piteously for his life.

I then gave him up to some old men, who took him to the tavern and kept him till the proper authorities had him exchanged for one of our men. It was asserted that he was wounded, and was trying to find his way to Boston, having stolen the horse from the roadside, where it had been tied by its owner, Col. Stedman, of Cambridge, who had ridden him to Lexington that morning, whither he had gone to fight for his country. He was made glad, a few days after, by the recovery of his valuable horse.
I don’t know of any colonel named Stedman in Cambridge, but Capt. Ebenezer Stedman (1709-1785) was a selectman and important Patriot activist in that town. Local historian Lucius Paige wrote: “He kept a tavern many years on the southerly side of Mount Auburn Street, about midway between Brighton and Dunster streets.” We know from contemporaneous notes that Stedman sent express riders up to Woburn between midnight and dawn on 19 Apr 1775, so he got word of the British march early. Still, he was in his late sixties that day, and might have left the actual riding and fighting to younger men.

This version of the tale offers an explanation of how a Watertown woman could have grabbed a redcoat when the main British column never passed through that town: this particular soldier was separated from the rest, and lost. He also seems to have been wounded, and not carrying a gun—easy prey for “a woman of strong mind and massive physique.”

TOMORROW: Apparently, yet more details of Lydia Spofford’s tale.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Lydia Barnard: “a woman of strong mind and body”

Sidney Perley’s History of Boxford (1880) includes this ungraceful sentence in a footnote:

When the British drove the General Court from Boston in 1775, Mr. [Aaron] Wood and some of the representatives boarded with Mrs. Lydia Barnard,—daughter of Phineas and Grace (Hastings) Warren of Waltham, Mass., and widow of David Barnard—(who was born Jan. 18, 1745), in Watertown, where, it will be remembered, many of the members of the General Court took refuge.
Already we’ve veered off the historical track. The royal authorities didn’t “drive the General Court from Boston in 1775.” Gov. Thomas Gage had used his constitutional power to dissolve the legislature in mid-1774 while it was meeting in Salem. The towns elected a shadow legislature called the Massachusetts Provincial Congress late that year, and Aaron Wood was the first representative from Boxford, though he didn’t attend all the later sessions.

In mid-1775, after the war had begun, Massachusetts towns decided they could resume electing a General Court. The legislature then met in Watertown, and Wood was once against a Boxford representative. And, since his wife died on 15 June 1775, he was also available.

Perley’s footnote continues:
Mr. Wood fell in love with his buxom hostess, married [on 8 May 1776 in Cambridge], and brought her to Boxford. After the death of Mr. Wood, who died childless, she married Benjamin Spofford of Boxford, Nov. 14, 1792. She was a woman of strong mind and body, weighing over two hundred pounds, and died Sept. 6, 1839, aged ninety-five years [actually ninety-four].

When the British retreated after the battle of Lexington, they passed by her house. One of the privates stole a horse, and was making his retreat in better style. He said something to Mrs. Barnard that was not acceptable to her patriotic mind, and she pulled him from his horse, and took him prisoner; and, it is said, this was the first prisoner taken during the Revolution.
But the British column didn’t withdraw from Concord through Watertown, so they couldn’t have “passed by” the Barnard house.

TOMORROW: Lydia Spofford’s own story?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Breen Spreads Rumors in Worcester, 3 June

On Thursday, 3 June, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will host a free public lecture by T. H. Breen, one of the country’s leading historians of the Revolutionary period, on “A Rumor that Almost Sparked a Revolution in 1774.” The event description says:

This presentation explores the complex relation between the members of the First Continental Congress and the insurgents of New England. It argues that at a key moment almost two years before the Declaration of Independence the people were prepared to resist Great Britain, with arms if necessary.
(Psst. That rumor was the Powder Alarm. Breen discusses it in his new book American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People. Pass it on.)

Breen is the William Smith Mason Professor of History at Northwestern. His previous books include Tobacco Culture: The Mentality of the Great Tidewater Planters on the Eve of Revolution and Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence.

This lecture takes place in the A.A.S.’s main building at 185 Salisbury Street, starting at 7:30 P.M.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Twitter Feed, 5-12 May 2010

  • RT @history_book: Lafayette: Hero of the American Revolution - by Gonzague Saint Bris - Pegasus. amzn.to/bcrThx #
  • RT @SecondVirginia: Tips on hand stitching for reproduction clothing bit.ly/cUjLGI #
  • RT @CivicEducation: Today on the podcast: whether a president should be eligible for reelection. ow.ly/1GZdA #USHistory #civics #
  • Arlington, Mass., citizen wants town to promote itself as birthplace of Samuel (Uncle Sam) Wilson in 1766: bit.ly/aue1yh #
  • RT @history_book: The Story of Historic Fort Steuben (OH) (Landmarks) - by John R. Holmes et al. amzn.to/9DaZDw #
  • RT @history_book: World of Thomas Jeremiah: Charles Town [SC] on the Eve of the American Revolution—William R. Ryan amzn.to/cdb1bh #
  • From @RagLinen, clippings from the start of the American tea crisis in 1773: bit.ly/bfCbrt #
  • RT @Thos_Jefferson: RT @elecray7k: An open letter to the gentleman who gave us a tour of Monticello - bit.ly/cInyVH #
  • Dispute between teenage lieutenant & fortysomething corporal in British army, 1779 — rank wins: bit.ly/9Wlqss #
  • Hard to interpret gravestone from 1749 Providence: bit.ly/bmHxD3 #
  • NY TIMES review of UMass professor's biography of Betsy Ross by Pulitzer-winning Harvard professor: nyti.ms/9DAkVs #
  • Oregon's Tea Party Bookstore to change name: bit.ly/ccPwhL Would sympathize more if store gave right date for Boston Tea Party. #
  • Joseph Ellis on why the notion of the US founders' "original meaning" is a historical fallacy: bit.ly/cqmOCV #
  • @jmadelman We know from examples of Marshall, Chase, Story &al. that Jefferson preferred justices who supported HIM. As do all Presidents. #
  • @jmadelman Knowing what the Founders thought has been Joe Ellis's schtick for several books now. #
  • RT @footnote: The Second Continental Congress met today in 1775. See the actual transcript here fnote.it/22 #history #ushistory #
  • RT @rjseaver: posted transcription of RevWar Pension affidavit of Mary Row for Amenuensis Monday - see tinyurl.com/RSAMrwp #genealogy #
  • RT @magpie: J. Q. Adams had lovely penmanship. // His parents chided him about neatness in his early letters. #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: Though we don't "celebrate" it, 10th is the anniversary of Paul Revere's death in 1818. bit.ly/9dxQuC #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Tim Talbott asks "How Much History is Lost to Bad Handwriting?" bit.ly/dzjo5V #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Finding Franklin: A Resource Guide from the @librarycongress bit.ly/azsk6U #
  • RT @SecondVirginia: Examination of Washington's life through paintings in the Virginia Historical Society exhibition bit.ly/amvTqX #
  • RT @PaulRevere1734: This day 1761 in court charged w assault on Thos. Fosdick-I plead not guilty. A fine of 6/8 and expenses. #

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Fishy Tale about Salmon

Yesterday I described the unsuccessful hunt for hard evidence that workers in colonial Massachusetts got sick of being fed so much lobster that they sought legal protection. In that search, I came across many mentions of a very similar tale in the British Isles. The Irish novelist Charles Robert Maturin alluded to it in his Gothic novel Melmoth the Wanderer, published in 1820:

There was the slink-veal, flanked with tripe; and, finally, there were lobsters and fried turbot enough to justify what the author of the tale asserts, “suo periculo,” that when his great grandfather, the Dean of Killala, hired servants at the deanery, they stipulated that they should not be required to eat turbot or lobster more than twice a-week.
There’s an even more widespread story about servants in Scotland insisting that their contracts guard them from being fed salmon more than three times a week. Discussing British salmon in his Natural History of the Fishes of Massachusetts (1833), Jerome V. Smith stated:
Salmon are known to change their haunts; in many rivers in which they were formerly so abundant, that “farmer’s servants stipulated to have them only twice a week as food,’ not one is now to be found.
Other authors also invoked this factoid to show how much more plentiful salmon had once been. The story made it into the records of Parliament in 1838 and many other publications. The abundant salmon didn’t remain on one side of the Atlantic Ocean. George Wingate Chase's History of Haverhill, Massachusetts, published in 1861, declared:
It is well authenticated, that at one time it was nowise uncommon to stipulate in the indentures of apprentices, that they should not be obliged to eat salmon oftener than six times a week! As the streams and outlets of the ponds became obstructed, and their waters defiled, by dams, mills, and bridges, the supply of salmon rapidly diminished, and at the present time but few are annually taken in the Merrimack, while the quality of these is much inferior to those of former times.
Like the similar statements from the past quarter-century about colonial workers eating lobsters, no author ever quoted or cited an actual document. They were all passing on what older generations had told them. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, British authors began to challenge the authenticity of this tale. They asked for evidence. After all, the burden of proof should be on the authors who make a historical statement; it’s not the skeptics’ responsibility to refute it. The editor of the Worcester Herald offered a reward for anyone proffering an old indenture with a clause limiting salmon meals. Some authors claimed to have seen contracts with that fishy stipulation, only to have to draw back and acknowledge they hadn’t. By the end of the century, the salmon legend was officially the stuff of folklore studies. And so apparently is the tale of Massachusetts workers complaining about having to eat so much lobster. Of course, if anyone does find an apprenticeship contract, or a law in Maine, or a petition in the Massachusetts archives that limits the number of lobster meals, I’d be happy to quote it here on Boston 1775.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Lobster Legend

As long as Boston 1775 is discussing shellfish myths, I might as well proceed to lobsters. Last month Eric Menninger, a student at Suffolk University, asked if I’d come across anything about “a strike by dock workers in Boston about being forced to eat lobster for too many meals” in the early 1700s.

Something like that appears in Richard Adams Carey's Against the Tide: The Fate of the New England Fisherman (1999):

There was even an eighteenth-century petition to the General Court of Massachusetts that indentured apprentices not be served lobster more often than twice a week.
Carey then quoted Francis Hobart Herrick’s 1911 Natural History of the American Lobster on how lobsters used to be so common that no one appreciated them. But Herrick didn’t write anything about people complaining they had to eat too much lobster.

George Wuerthner’s Maine Coast (1989) makes a different claim:
An old Maine law even stated that prisoners could not be fed lobster more than twice a week, for to do so was inhumane treatment.
A law should be easy to verify, and Maine didn’t exist separate from Massachusetts until 1820, cutting down the timeframe. But the book cites no source.

Greg O’Brien’s A Guide to Nature on Cape Code and the Islands (1990) sets a similar story considerably to the south:
There is a record of a group of Virginia indentured servants who, in the early 1700s, petitioned the colonial government that they “should not be fed lobster more than twice a week.” The petition was granted in mercy.
That statement even comes with a quotation—but it’s not a quotation that appears in any other book Google has yet come across.

In fact, all the statements I found on Google Books about colonial American workers complaining about too much lobster date from the last quarter-century. Antiquarians of earlier decades would have loved to put that factoid into print if they’d come across evidence for it, and they didn’t.

Furthermore, none of these books and none of the websites that make similar statements cites a verifiable historical source.

TOMORROW: Tracing the story across the Atlantic.

Monday, May 10, 2010

“A Dish of Fryed Clams”

I’m grabbing the chance to quote William Pavlovsky’s letter in Saturday’s Boston Globe because it fits right in with Boston 1775, it saves me from coming up with own material, and I think more people should hear about Dr. Alexander Hamilton of Annapolis.

Pavlovsky told the paper and its readers:

I would like to lay to rest, once and for all, the myth that fried clams were “invented” in Essex in 1916.

As proof of my contention, I offer the following from the “Itinerarium of Dr. Alexander Hamilton,” an account of a journey through the northern colonies in 1744 by a physician from Annapolis, Md., and published as “Gentleman’s Progress” by the University of North Carolina Press. From the entry for June 15, 1744, at the Narrows Ferry on Staten Island, N.Y.: “I dined att one Corson’s that keeps the ferry . . . upon what I never have eat in my life before — a dish of fryed clams, of which shellfish there is in abundance in these parts.”

Hamilton adds that the diners stuffed them down with rye bread and butter, and that they “took such a deal of chawing that we were long att dinner, and the dish began to cool before we had eat enough.”
Dr. Hamilton’s delightful description of a journey from Annapolis to York, Maine, is in print at a reasonable price in the Penguin Classics volume Colonial American Travel Narratives.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Henry Hulton in Print at Last

While I was at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts on Friday, I got a glimpse of its latest publication, Henry Hulton and the American Revolution: An Outsider's Inside View, edited by Neil Longley York. The publisher’s copy explains this book’s significance:

Henry Hulton was an Englishman who moved to Boston in 1767 as a member of the new American Board of Customs Commissioners. The board was supposed to curtail smuggling and bring greater efficiency to the administration of empire. It failed, and Hulton fled Massachusetts in 1776, joining an exodus of the politically displaced.

Hulton eventually wrote a never-published history of the American rebellion as he experienced it. Although his complaints about the “demagogues” who dominated Massachusetts politics echo those made by other Loyalists, Hulton adds another dimension to our understanding. As an Englishman, he could be more detached from the problems of empire than Loyalists who had been driven from their native land. . . .

Hulton’s history, his letters, and the letters of his sister, Ann, who lived with him outside Boston—all of which are reproduced here—provide an unusual glimpse into the onset of the Revolution in Massachusetts.
Back in 2006, Boston 1775 discussed why the manuscript of Hulton’s history, in the collection of Princeton University, has the bookplate of a man named Thomas Preston. (Here’s another book with the same bookplate.) Was this the army captain tried for murder after the Boston Massacre? No, it was probably Hulton’s son, who took his mother’s family name to gain an inheritance.

I took notes on that manuscript a few years ago, and on letters from Hulton in libraries around here, and it’s great to see those sources in print. The book isn’t a casual purchase—a small print run and high production values raise the price—but I probably won’t be able to resist saving up for a copy. After all, a used copy of Ann Hulton’s book alone costs significantly more.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

“Compelled by College Laws”

On Friday afternoon I attended the Colonial Society of Massachusetts’s annual graduate student forum, when a dozen of the region’s grad students studying colonial New England share their works in progress.

One of the panelists this year was Rachel Smith of the University of Colorado, who looked at the disciplinary records of Yale College students during the war years.

One major factor in the college culture was that upperclassmen could order freshmen to run errands—any “proper” errands outside of class time. This system must have been a lot of fun for the upperclassmen, since they got to haze the little guys (college freshmen were typically fourteen years old), and they got their errands done. For the freshmen, it was usually no fun, but they only had to hold out a year and then they could inflict the same torment on someone new.

A few freshmen apparently figured out ways to torment the older guys. In Sketches of Yale College (1843), Ezekiel Belden recorded this anecdote:

A Freshman was once furnished with a dollar and ordered by one of the upper classes to procure for him pipes and tobacco, from the farthest store on Long Wharf, a good mile distant.

Being at that time compelled by college laws to obey the unreasonable demand, he proceeded according to orders, and returned with ninety-nine cents worth of pipes and one penny worth of tobacco.

It is needless to add that he was not again sent on a similar errand.
Benjamin Homer Hall’s A Collection of College Words and Customs (1859) says that five freshmen who entered Yale in 1781 “claimed the Honor of abolishing” the rule on errands. (The Yale Literary Magazine of 1856 disputed that, but also got their dates wrong.)

Why did those five freshmen stand up to custom? One factor might have been their ages. Three of them (William Bradley, John D. Dickinson, and M. J. Lyman, whose name gets misspelled as “Lyon” in most versions of this anecdote) were born in 1766 or 1767, and thus entered Yale at the typical age. But two—Matthew Marvin (born 1764) and Amasa Paine (b. 1762)—were already in their late teens, as old as most upperclassmen. That wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, but these guys might have had less patience and more muscle.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Bank of America: The Story of US?

I subscribe to email lists from two slightly overlapping groups that research the history of Revolutionary America: academic historians and reenactors. And both have been aghast at the History Channel’s America: The Story of US series.

I’ve read complaints about major simplifications and omissions (perhaps unavoidable in boiling any major historical shift down to an hour), inaccuracies, lack of perspective, use of network celebrities and politicians as commenters with no expertise in the subject, beards on eighteenth-century faces, Continental Army uniforms on Lexington common, and muskets missing the parts that actually make them fire.

I haven’t seen the show myself. When I have time, I might watch the Revolution episode and “live-blog” it here. Given the advance word, I can’t say I’d go in with high hopes.

The New York Times business pages just offered another reason to be dubious about this series: overlap between content and advertising.

Early in the first installment of “America: The Story of Us,” the 12-hour documentary series on the History cable channel that began on April 25 and covers 400 years of United States history, an actor depicting a British soldier bumps into another depicting Paul Revere, and the narrator Liev Schreiber says, “When revolution comes to North America, Revere will be at the center of it.”

Viewers might be momentarily confused when the screen goes dark, signaling a commercial break, only to light up again with men dressed in colonial garb on the cobblestone streets of Boston. The scene cuts to a bow-tied historian named K. C. Johnson [whose specialty is the Lyndon Johnson administration], who tells an interviewer, “American colonies before the revolution existed for the economic good of the mother country,” and then to another historian, Steve Gillon [who also specializes in 20th-century politics and works for the History Channel], who adds, “The British used money as a way of keeping the Americans down.” Then, to a triumphant flourish of music, the Bank of America logo appears, along with the screen text, “Fueling progress, creating opportunity, building on our heritage.”

The first half of the two-minute spot, produced by the History Channel for Bank of America, the sponsor of the series, reveals the historical significance of the Massachusetts Bank, founded in 1784 and counting among its customers Paul Revere and John Hancock (and, owing to a series of acquisitions, part of Bank of America’s historical DNA). . . . The History Channel is producing 12 two-minute videos for Bank of America, each beginning in the same era as the episode, then jumping to a current example of the bank’s civic-mindedness.
So actors appear in and narrate the series while historians appear in the commercials. Isn’t that the wrong way around?

The same article reports that the series premiere drew “the largest audience in the network’s history.” No doubt fueled by the bank “highlighting it on the Bank of America Web site and by showing trailers on video monitors in more than 1,000 bank branches.” For folks following the money:

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Freemasons Stepping in at Fort at No. 4

Earlier in the year I mentioned how the rebuilt Fort at No. 4 in Charlestown, New Hampshire, has been closed because of economic problems. This week I received a press release saying that the Olive Branch Lodge #64 of Freemasons, located in Chester, Vermont, is stepping in to help. The lodge’s efforts will include “Fund raising, marketing and volunteers.”

There was already apparently some overlap between the museum board and this Masonic lodge. One board member, Thomas Johnston, IV, is also Masonic Grand Master for Vermont. He noted, furthermore, that “the first Masonic Lodge for Vermont was chartered in Charlestown during 1781.” Olive Branch Lodge #64 is inviting other Masonic groups to join the effort, starting with Faithful Masonic Lodge #12 in Charlestown.

The press release says, “The Board intends to host events at the Fort this summer while preparing for a full reopening of the Fort at No. 4 in the spring of 2011.”

(Photo of the Fort at No. 4 grounds by Slabcity Gang, via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Twitter Feed, 25 Apr-4 May 2010

  • N. C. Wyeth's illustrations for KIDNAPPED, set in 1700s Scotland: bit.ly/bMsuhr #
  • Following a British redcoat soldier's paper trail, document by document: bit.ly/axpFTw #
  • No Paine, no gain—quotations from Thomas Paine via scholar Ken Burchell: bit.ly/cOuvnF #
  • Links for two magazines focused on American Revolutionary War. 1) bit.ly/b8TCQq 2) bit.ly/9AU9Lf #
  • Latest issue of EARLY AMERICAN STUDIES has a lot about Newport, RI, in 1700s: bit.ly/aixSu7 #
  • Review of TIES THAT BUY, book on businesswomen in Revolutionary US: bit.ly/8X65WN Author's thoughts on review: bit.ly/dppIFX #
  • RT @2palaver: I'm at New England Mobile Book Fair (82 Needham St, Newton). 4sq.com/7a8Vgb // A great place to be! #
  • RT @teachinghistory: Prof. Develop. workshop on George Washington & Harry Truman, offered by Truman Library: bit.ly/d1YAoK // Hunh. #
  • RT @NewYorker: Who owns the American Revolution? The Tea Partiers? by Jill Lepore bit.ly/aJoXsU #
  • RT @CapitolHistory: Today in 1782 a committee of Congress recommended establishing armories in MA, NY, PA, and VA. // Springfield! #
  • RT @paperspaints blog in Country Life today: 'Period houses: choosing paint' bit.ly/arZ4Sh #
  • RT @Boy_Monday: How does lecture about motivations of Civil War soldiers end up being about the memory of the American Revolution? #
  • RT @SarahBrannen: Watching a video about the USS Constitution for an illustration job. It is very interesting! #
  • RT @RicardoCP: Reading JEFFERSON, I'm reminded how grateful I am for handsome editions from @LibraryAmerica. #USHistory (via @roncharles) #
  • This morning broke news to Mom that her grad-school advisor had died at 93. Good man, came late to academe because of anti-Semitism. #
  • How to read a scholarly book well enough for graduate school, per @larrycebula: bit.ly/aa8rBU #
  • Good news in Philly, 2006: we dug the foundation. Bad news: we found bodies of 16 poor children from late 1700s. bit.ly/9kP8V9 #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: I posted 9 photos on Facebook in the album "Photos of the Paul Revere House" bit.ly/ccebhs #
  • RT @RedCoatCat: #art Updated RedCoatCat.com with new art.www.redcoatcat.com/?p=201 #
  • RT @classroomtools: The right lies about historical fact to make its points. Examples in Tim Hodson's FLUNKING HISTORY. bit.ly/9OhoOG #
  • RT @2palaver: Vermont towns settle centuries-old boundary dispute bit.ly/9kstUo #
  • Museum of Underwater Archeology exhibit on British sloop INDUSTRY, foundered in 1764: bit.ly/c05fOa #
  • Yale opens a research portal focused on American slavery and abolition: slavery.yale.edu/ #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Little Known Battle Cries of the American Revolution, and a look-a-like you might not expect: bit.ly/doJaDf #
  • RT @classroomtools: Read @WilliamHogeland's terrific post (bit.ly/aTsTmN) on President's endorsement of America: The Story of Us. #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Jefferson Today debates Thomas Jefferson's ideas and applies them to the present www.jeffersontoday.org/ #
  • Boston Public Library's Annual Meeting on Tues, 11 May, 8:30am, at the Copley Square Library. Setting priorities for branches, depts. #
  • Colonial America's busiest burglar—Isaac Frasier, born in Rhode Island, hanged in Connecticut: bit.ly/bRKH5E #
  • A Pennsylvania Anglican minister's resignation letter in 1776: bit.ly/9TYsDl #
  • Parsing John Adams's words to Thomas Jefferson in 1825 about "that great Principle" and "this awful blasphemy": bit.ly/c92vAa #
  • RT @sharon_howard: RT @history_geek Mary Toth gives birth to rabbits. Wellcome Library Item of the month, April 2010 ow.ly/1EFgc #
  • RT @franceshunter: "Tea-party politics at its most contentious" - Meriwether Lewis and the Whiskey Rebellion ht.ly/1EKLI #
  • John Adams contemplates extraterrestrials and their religious implications: bit.ly/9Q1rGD #
  • @PatriotCast Visited Andrew Craigie's postwar house in Cambridge this morning. Now Longfellow Nat'l Historic Site. #
  • RT @colonialwmsburg: Turns out role of Lady Dunmore is right up Mamie Gummer's alley! Find out how in this interview. bit.ly/byKtGO #
  • RT @gordonbelt: A Gentle Reminder to Special-Collections Curators... Don't be this librarian: bit.ly/99pFfp h/t @lynnemthomas #
  • RT @history_geek: AHA Today: Historical Maps Roundup ow.ly/1EFL2 Great stuff! #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: Paul & Rachel's son Joseph Warren Revere was born 30 Apr 1777. Can you guess who he was named for? bit.ly/antGPD #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: Witness the delicate 18th-c art of gilding by Nancy Dick-Atkinson bit.ly/bIg3Q0 #
  • Tomorrow's weather looks ideal for fife & drum muster in Lexington, Mass. bit.ly/9Nbc0X #
  • RT @gordonbelt: Gutenberg 2.0: What is the role of libraries and librarians? The future is clearly digital: bit.ly/bNztHL #
  • Spent morning visiting Washington's headquarters, afternoon reading Baroness Riedesel's letters, evening…shopping for milk. #
  • On anniversary of Washington's inauguration in 1789, old blog post probing 1852 description of the event: bit.ly/b3pOqf #
  • Went three places in Lexington before finding William Diamond Jrs' fife & drum muster today. Should've read the link I posted yesterday. #
  • How Boston 1775 blog would have looked if I'd started it 10 years earlier on Geocities: bit.ly/dsL47p (thx to @FuseEight) #
  • RT @history_book: The Liberty Tree: A Celebration Of The Life and Writings Of Thomas Paine (PM Audio) - Rosselson &al. amzn.to/9sxoes #
  • First heard about #aquapocalypse from a man in colonial garb. Is that more or less appropriate than reading about it in a tweet? #
  • Remember a month ago when everyone in eastern Massachusetts was complaining about having too much water around? #aquapocalypse #
  • RT @2palaver: Shakers gone, but "whipping tree" flourishes- Harvard, MA bit.ly/906bY5 // Shakers looked very suspicious in 1780s. #
  • Intricately carved gravestone of Martha Green in Waltham, Mass., 1768: bit.ly/9zxJlj #
  • Some of N. C. Wyeth's heroic images of American history: bit.ly/a7WTea #
  • Review of Wood's AMERICANIZATION OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: bit.ly/aggOpB #
  • RT @hallnjean: "Planting the Imperial Postal System in British North America 1760-1840" online exhibit bit.ly/cY58jm #
  • RT @2palaver: History buffs zero in on Marshfield MA's Hatch Mill as a link to the town's past bit.ly/9yrcVm #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: Boiling water? Now we know why so much cider and beer were consumed in the... bit.ly/aLSJfY #
  • BOSTON GLOBE slide show of proposed extra states associated with New England, some dating to 1700s: bit.ly/d8risV #
  • Gordon Wood traces how US founders wrestled with term limits: nyti.ms/dlV4ii (Spoiler: men liked idea till they were in office.) #
  • Pvt William Johnstone wriggles out of a court-martial in 1777: bit.ly/9DINNe #
  • British Embassy in DC proudly posts video of redcoat reenactors at Battle of Lexington & Concord: bit.ly/dBQ5fo #
  • RT @inhuggermugger: 2day 1765, the 1st US medical school is established at the College of Philadelphia. #hhrs #ushistory #
  • RT @2palaver: Portsmouth's Black Heritage Trail hosts 6th annual symposium 5/8 @ Discover Portsmouth Center bit.ly/9UsTqK #
  • RT @rjseaver: posted will of Jonathan White (1730-1804) of Westport MA for Amanuensis Monday in tinyurl.com/RSAM0503 #genealogy #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: The largest artifact on display is a Georgian, 2 1/2 story timber-framed house: ow.ly/1GiBC // From Ipswich! #
  • RT @aimeeburpee: RT Oldest surviving engine. RT @thehenryford: steam engine, c1740 twitpic.com/1kot1a #museumfactmonday #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: We update our Flickr page as spring works her magic in our garden - click on the photo badge bit.ly/aqsfsz #
  • Local review of Al Young's THE SHOEMAKER & THE TEA PARTY, study of poor man in the Revolution and our public memory: bit.ly/bhc7Qk #
  • Grandson of Col William Prescott of Bunker Hill sustains severe bread-crust injury at Harvard: bit.ly/auRRwE #
  • Where New England gravestones give different last names to husbands and wives—because they were enslaved: bit.ly/asfzkq #
  • RT @amhistorymuseum: Today in 1776: Rhode Island declares independence. More about the Revolutionary War: ow.ly/1GQ5A #
  • RT @lucyinglis: The Kissing Girls of Spitalfields: Being a Lesbian in Georgian London post.ly/eoBj #
  • NY Public Library's showing off its book-sorting machine: bit.ly/cQADWg #
  • .@WilliamHogeland: The #black #TeaParty crowd (yes) speaks: tiny url.com/28bacod // Is two a crowd? #
  • RT @PaulRevereHouse: only Tuesday, but we're already looking ahead to Saturday's visit from Revolutionary War Doc bit.ly/dcirrv #
  • RT @Boy_Monday: I rather wish that Cadwallader Colden understood the virtue of the unexpressed thought. #
  • Revolutionary War imagery + Hollywood trailer soundtrack / Pennsylvania politician = hilarious grandiosity: bit.ly/9COHXL #
  • .@jmadelman: A little postal history! bit.ly/aDGtyD // But we gotta get the names and addresses right: bit.ly/bbW sb8 #
  • RT @samryan: @Boston1775, your chapter in Marten's "Children in Colonial America" is fantastic for my undergrad thesis research… #
  • @samryan Great to hear. Always pleased to know people are studying that 60% of colonial America's population! #
  • Freemasonry exposés in the 1700s, coming from the local Freemasonry museum: bit.ly/bLKc4w #