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, September 17, 2011

Peter Tulip: Lexington musician

Yesterday I quoted a description of a notebook recently sold at auction as part of the military papers of Gen. Henry Burbeck, in which someone had penciled on the inside front cover:
Peter Tulip
What’s that all about?

Peter Tulip was born in Lexington on 8 Jan 1754. His parents, Robin and Margaret Tulip, were enslaved. Robin was a servant of John Bridge (1737-1806), who during the Revolutionary War became a major. (The thumbnail above shows Bridge’s house, courtesy of the Harriette Merrifield Forbes photography collection at the American Antiquarian Society.) That meant Peter Tulip also began life as a slave.

In 1783, slavery became legally unenforceable in Massachusetts. That November, the records of Holliston say, Patty Oxford of that town became engaged to Peter Tulip.

Peter and Patty Tulip (who was also known as Martha) had two daughters who grew to adulthood: Olive, born in October 1784, and a younger Patty, born in September 1786. For some reason, many months passed between those girls’ births and when they were baptized in the Lexington meeting-house.

People in Lexington remembered the Tulip family for serving and entertaining at dinners. The daughters would wait on people, and the father would play the fiddle. Albert W. Bryant’s article “Lexington Sixty Years Ago,” written in 1890, states:
Adjoining Harrington’s estate was the famous Dudley Tavern. This house, in its palmy days, evidently had more patronage from townspeople than any other public houses. On certain occasions it served as a rendezvous for free hilarity. One of those occasions was the evening after town meeting, when eating, drinking, dancing and making merry was the rule. Peter Tulip, a negro, with his fiddle, composed the orchestra, and many a joke was played on him. Peter’s fiddle at one time refused, in a very inexplicable manner, to give forth its usual sounds; but if one had seen Uncle Jonas [Munroe] standing behind him touching a candle to his fiddle-bow when it was drawn back, he would have discovered the reason.
Town records show that Peter Tulip died in the Lexington almshouse at an advanced age.

Why was Tulip’s name written inside that notebook? I have no idea. William Burbeck evidently started to use it to keep his account with the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, and then someone else copied a military manual onto its pages. I don’t know of any Burbeck connection to Lexington, or any Tulip connection to the American artillery.

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