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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Thursday, December 02, 2010

“Just as the Curtain was drawn”

I’m now past the turn of the year in flipping through William Cheever’s diary of the siege of Boston, now online at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Here’s his entry for 9 Jan 1776:

Last Evening between 8 & 9 oClock a Party of the Provincials cross’d the Dam at Charlestown & set fire to a few Houses that remain’d at the upper End of it & afterw’ds carried off a Serjeant & about 10 Men without any Loss.

It is worthy of Note, that the above happen’d just as the Curtain was drawn for acting a farce called “the Blockade of Boston;” which was adjourned by the Report of the Actack of Charlestown.
This is a small but fascinating incident during the siege that I narrated back in 2008. As I wrote then, New Englanders timing an attack to disrupt the British officers’ theatricals in Faneuil Hall (shown above) seemed like too good a story to be true, but I kept finding first-hand accounts. In fact, the only major detail I think a Hollywood scriptwriter would change is that Gen. John Burgoyne was no longer in town to see his farce turned into a, well, farce.

In another way, though, the amateur performers did have the last laugh. According to merchant John Rowe’s diary (also held by the M.H.S.), the British officers and their ladies finished performing The Blockade of Boston on 22 January along with Tamburlane, and on 23 February presented The Wonder of Wonders.

TOMORROW: Gen. Howe makes a decision.


Charles Bahne said...

I'm curious about the illustration of Faneuil Hall you used for this post, John. I've never seen this particular image before. I see that your source is a website for the Maine Secretary of State's office (!?). It's based on an engraving that first appeared in The Massachusetts Magazine for March 1789; but it's been redrawn in another medium.

J. L. Bell said...

Here’s a bigger image of the same engraving at Ben Edwards’s Teach History site. (Click the picture to make expand.)

I agree that it’s based on the Massachusetts Magazine engraving, with a little more technical skill and a better printing process. But as to when that work was done and where it was published, I don’t know.