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, December 03, 2011

Liberty Bell Curiosities

Gary B. Nash’s The Liberty Bell, published by Yale University Press last year as part of a series on American icons, offers these intriguing facts:
  • In 1828 the city of Philadelphia commissioned William Meredith to make a new bell for the old Pennsylvania State House. That building’s damaged pre-Revolutionary bell was stuck on the fourth floor of a tower, and the city told the bell-maker that for $400 he could have it for scrap. After looking at the situation, Meredith decided it wouldn’t be worth the trouble of hoisting the bell down and hauling it away. And that’s why we still have the bell that, seven years later, abolitionists in New York dubbed the Liberty Bell.
  • In 1893, the Daughters of the American Revolution collected copper coins from the Roman Empire, the heads of pikes used by John Brown’s raiders, a silver spoon from John C. Calhoun, hinges from Abraham Lincoln’s house, links of George Washington’s surveying chain, a copper kettle from Thomas Jefferson, and Lucretia Mott’s silver fruit knife, and had them all melted down to make the Columbian Liberty Bell, a 13,000-pound tribute to the Liberty Bell at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago. (Hey, cheer up! Most of those artifacts probably had horrible provenances.)
  • The Liberty Bell has been on display in Boston only once, for two days in 1903 around the 128th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill. (Boston had asked for the bell three years earlier, but Philadelphia decided to keep it—perhaps to be present at the 125th anniversaries of the creation of the Continental Army and the naming of Washington as commander-in-chief.) After the bell arrived in Boston by train, it was carried on “a float drawn by thirteen bay horses and escorted by the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company” to the Bunker Hill monument for its brief display.
  • The bell rang to summon “eight thousand Philadelphians to the State House to hear the portentous news in April 1775—brought by Paul Revere after a five-day dash on his magnificent mare, Brown Betty, from Boston to the Quaker City—about the firefights at Lexington and Concord.”
Ooh! Ouch! Reading that last sentence is like watching a pig fall down a flight of stairs—getting both more awful and more risible with each bump. It mixes up Revere’s ride to Philadelphia with the Suffolk Resolves in the fall of 1774 with the series of express riders who carried news of shots at Lexington (but not yet Concord) in April 1775. The name of Revere’s horse was Brown Beauty, at least according to a 1930 genealogy. I don’t know about the eight thousand people, but Nash is an expert on the social history of Philadelphia, so on that detail I trust him.


mary said...

Oh my, the DAR did that? I would have thought they would have appreciated the historical significance of keeping things in tact?

J. L. Bell said...

Simpler times.