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 29, 2012

My “Marital Infidelity and Espionage” at the M.H.S., 7 February

On Tuesday, 7 February, the Boston Area Early American History Seminar will meet at the Massachusetts Historical Society to discuss my paper “Marital Infidelity and Espionage in the Siege of Boston.”

The description:
This paper will examine patterns in the popular linkage between marital and political infidelities over a range of espionage cases from the start of the Revolutionary War. Drawing on new findings about such spies as Dr. Benjamin Church, Benjamin Thompson, and the Rev. John Carnes, it will address the topic from multiple perspectives, including actual cases, the use of marital disloyalty as a metaphor for political disloyalty, and how stories of family splits were hidden, preserved, or retold.

Each side of the political conflict tried to portray the other’s leaders, up to and including Thomas Gage and George Washington, as unfaithful husbands. Betrayal in the home, such reports suggested, led to betrayal of the public. Some men involved in espionage did indeed make a habit of extramarital affairs, but others appear to have undertaken their risky ventures to support their wives and children. Both at the time and in later generations, Americans have been selective about which family splits they recorded, and thus which side’s agents appeared most treacherous.
In addition to the names dropped above, the paper discusses Henry Knox (shown above) and his in-laws and the shadowy past of the American artillerist Thomas Machin. And in the final version I focused just on people secretly providing intelligence for the American side, so Benjamin Thompson, always a slippery fellow, escaped into a footnote.

As usual in this seminar series, the paper will be available at the M.H.S. for reading in advance. The seminar begins at 5:15 P.M. with Prof. Robert Allison of Suffolk University commenting on my draft. Then there will be a more general discussion with everyone invited to participate, followed by sandwiches. The society asks people to email if you plan to attend so they know approximately how many sandwich fixings to put out. I look forward to chatting with folks there!


Anonymous said...

I would love to hear this because John Carnes was the minister at Stoneham, where I live. I can't make it,unfortunately. Is your paper available to read elsewhere, or for sale?

Charles Bahne said...

February 7 isn't a Thursday, John. Is this on Tuesday the 7th, by any chance?

J. L. Bell said...

Thanks for the correction, Charlie! (Made above.) Until this year the seminar met on Thursdays, and I'm still making the mental adjustment.

Most of what the paper says about the Rev. John Carnes has appeared on Boston 1775 tagged under his name, though in a different order than in the paper.

John L. Smith said...

I have just finished reading Robert Allison's "The American Revolution: A Concise History" and enjoyed it very much. I would love to be at the seminar to meet Dr. Allison and you, J.L. Too bad I live in Florida! I always envy you Bostonians so much!