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, January 22, 2012

The End of Gov. Bowdoin’s Dinner Party

Boston saw its first worthwhile snowstorm of the season this weekend, so I’m pulling out an anecdote that real-estate lawyer Nathaniel Ingersoll Bowditch (1805-1861) published under the pseudonym “The Gleaner” in the Boston Daily Transcript in 1855. It concerns Gov. James Bowdoin and his mansion on Beacon Hill:
The house [was…] placed back from the street, being approached by a high flight of stone steps. At a dinner party once…a rain occurred, and the weather becoming cold the steps were found to be entirely covered with ice.

Under any circumstances there would have been almost a certainty that life or limb would be put in jeopardy by an attempt to walk down; and the guests had probably done justice to the generous wines of their host,—a circumstance which tended to increase the difficulty. At last they all concluded to sit down on the upper step, and so hitch along from step to step in a perfectly safe, though, it must be confessed, in a somewhat ungraceful manner.

Probably, indeed, there never was an occasion where so many of our first citizens voluntarily took such low seats; or where the dignity of small clothes, silk stockings, and cocked hats was sacrificed to necessity or expediency in a more amusing manner.
Bowdoin was governor in 1785-87 and died in 1790, so this event—or whatever gave rise to the memory—probably occurred in that decade.


Unknown said...

Oh my--what a visual! Too funny!

Anonymous said...

I have had to do that myself on occasion when encountering icy steps... sometimes involuntarily and at a slightly higher speed than first planned.

randomlou55 said...

To think that such a story came from a real estate lawyer! Love the anecdote! I also have to wonder that we needed real estate lawyers back in the 1800's. Interesting what you learn every day.

J. L. Bell said...

That last comment has an embedded advertisement, but the writer obviously read the article instead of being a spambot, so I let it through anyway.