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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Sunday, August 07, 2011

George R. T. Hewes Becomes a Celebrity

In 1833 Niles’ Weekly Register reprinted an article from the Otsego Republican about an old man named George Robert Twelves Hewes:
It is not known perhaps to but few, if any, of the American people, except to some of the inhabitants in the county of Otsego, in the state of New York, that a man is still living in that county, who was born in Boston in the year 1734 [actually 1742], and that he is one (supposed to be the last survivor [not quite]) of the little band of patriots who drowned the British tea in Boston harbor sixty years ago. Although now ninety-nine years old, he is generally occupied with some object that requires him to be standing or walking. The average distance which he walks daily, unless prevented by the badness of the weather, is from two to three miles.

On the 4th of July last, he was invited, as has been usual on such occasions, to dine with some gentlemen who met to commemorate the jubilee of our independence; on which occasion he walked to the place where he dined, and home to his place of residence, a distance of between five and six miles. Among the several toasts given during that festival, this venerable veteran of the revolution was noticed by the following.—

George R. T. Hewes, who drowned the British tea in Boston harbor sixty years ago, the noise of whose tomahawk was to tyrants throughout the world as the knell of their departing hour—may the gratitude of his country be commensurate with the glory of that memorable event,” which was echoed with enthusiastic applause.

When it is considered that this man by one memorable deed, has entitled himself to more substantial fame and durable glory than the conquest of the world should confer on its hero, and witness bis present depressed condition, pressed down as he is by the iron hand of poverty, and secluded from the usual civilities of social intercourse, we cannot but be deeply impressed with a deplorable sense of the forgetfulness to which great and glorious achievements may be consigned by the thought less ingratitude of the world.

Mr. Hewes has been always distinguished for his integrity, and for his habits of temperance and industry. Besides being an actor in the memorable enterprise of stopping the progress of British imposition, by the destruction of the tea, he was engaged in the service of his country most of the time during the revolutionary war [actually only some of the time], whilst he had a family to support, and received nothing for his services but paper money, a little better than rags.

A few years ago he lost his wife, with whom he had lived about seventy years, and is now a solitary boarder in the house of a stranger. The destruction of the British tea, an event so interesting in the history of the civil state, as well as the memory of a man so well deserving the esteem and gratitude of his country, well entitles him to a place in the historic page; and it must be gratifying to the friends of American liberty to learn, that a biography of this venerable veteran of the revolution is preparing for the press, with the perusal of which, it is hoped, the public will soon be indulged.
That book was James Hawkes’s Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party, published in 1834. It brought Hewes an invitation to be an honored guest in Boston, where he was interviewed for another book, Traits of the Tea Party. His portrait was also painted—a very rare event for a poor man—and is in the collection of the Bostonian Society.


DebbieLynne said...

How grand that, in his later years, he could be a celebrity of sorts!

Charles Bahne said...

There have been lots of references to George R. T. Hewes in books and publications over the years, but I've never seen any explanation of his unusual middle names.

Robert Twelves was apparently a prominent Bostonian in the early 1700s. Some sources have credited him with the design of the Old State House building, erected in 1713.

I'm guessing that someone in George Hewes' family was related to Robert Twelves, or wanted to honor him for some reason.

J. L. Bell said...

Hewes certainly enjoyed becoming celebrated!

J. L. Bell said...

Braintree town records say that the Robert Tweld (Twelves, Twells) who “erected the South Church at Boston” died in 1697. The current Old South Meeting House went up in 1729, but his name is nonetheless associated with it. The Town House/Old State House went up in 1713, so it’s unlikely that Twelves had anything to do with it.

Though Hewes spent most of his life as a member of the working poor, his family had some aspirations to gentility when he was born—hence the middle names, which were an upper-class novelty then. (He also recalled his mother buying a slave.) But even then some people didn’t believe that was his real name.