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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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Ropewalks in the West End

The West End Museum has just opened a new exhibit on ropemaking in the area from the mid-1700s through the late 1800s. Less than a hundred yards from the museum’s building at 150 Staniford Street is the site of Boston’s earliest recorded “ropefield,” set up by John Harrison in 1642.

Because sailing ships needed rope, the cordage industry was a very important part of Boston’s economy through the Age of Sail. Rope factories required long stretches of land and employed many people, making them (along with shipyards) among the first businesses in town that operated much more like big factories than family workshops.

On 2 March 1770, ropemaker William Green insulted Pvt. Patrick Walker as he passed John Gray’s ropewalk, near modern Post Office Square. Their argument led to a series of brawls that culminated three days later in the Boston Massacre. Gray had fired Green after he heard about the trouble. But an experienced ropemaker was valuable, and I found in the accounts of John Box and Benjamin Austin’s ropewalk that Green found work there in the West End before the end of the year.

A West End ropewalk supplied the anchor cable for the U.S.S. Constitution during the War of 1812. A couple of decades later, engineers applied the technology of mechanized spinning to ropemaking and truly industrialized the process; the Charlestown Navy Yard became the U.S. Navy’s principal source of cordage.

The museum’s press release says:
The new exhibit in the Main Exhibit Hall at the West End Museum, traces the history, vitality and economic significance of the rope-making industry in colonial and federal Boston with graphic and model renderings, interactive displays, artifacts, videos, and more.
Events linked to this exhibit include:
  • Thomas K. Burgess’s walking tour “Ropewalks of the West End and Beyond,” 2 June starting at 10:30 A.M. at the museum, $15 ($7 for members).
  • showings of Steve Fetsch’s documentary Ropewalk: A Cordage Engineer’s Journey Through History, 5 June and 19 July at the museum, 6:30-8:00 P.M., free.
  • Duane Lucia’s walking tour “The Marriage of Wharf and Waterfall,” 7 August starting at 6:30 P.M. at the museum, $15 ($7 for members).
This exhibit will be on display until 18 August. (The thumbnail photo above, though taken by Lucia in connection with this exhibit, shows the Plymouth Cordage Company’s equipment now at Mystic Seaport.)

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Alex Cain on Burgoyne’s Loyal Volunteers, 2 June

On Saturday, 2 June, the group that reenacts McAlpin’s Corps of Loyal Volunteers, a Loyalist military unit formed in 1777, will drill at the Oaks Mansion in Worcester, starting at 11:00 A.M. As part of that event, Alex Cain, also author of We Stood Our Ground: Lexington in the First Years of the American Revolution, will speak about the Loyalist units in Gen. John Burgoyne’s army.

Daniel McAlpin was a retired British army captain just settled in Stillwater, New York, when the war began. In September 1776 he received a secret commission from Gen. William Howe and began recruiting a regiment to support the Crown. Patriot neighbors caught on, and he had to escape and go into hiding.

McAlpin joined Burgoyne at Fort Edward in 1777 as the British thrust downward from Canada. His corps, numbering fewer than 200 men, formed that August. The Online Institute for Advanced Loyalist Studies shares several documents related to McAlpin’s command.

Most of Burgoyne’s army consisted of British regulars and troops sent from Germany. The relatively few Loyalists were at extra risk if captured, in danger of being treated as traitors to the new U.S. of A. rather than ordinary prisoners of war. So how did the general look out for those men when he surrendered after the Battles of Saratoga? That will no doubt be part of Cain’s talk.

The Oaks is located at 140 Lincoln Street in Worcester. Judge Timothy Paine (1730-1793) began its construction in 1774, then ran into trouble as his Loyalist leanings made him unpopular. It took about twenty years before the mansion was completed in its first state.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Samuel Williams: minister, astronomer, fugitive,…

Along with future physician Isaac Rand (profiled yesterday), Prof. John Winthrop took a young man named Samuel Williams (1743-1817) up to Newfoundland in 1761 to help observe the transit of Venus.

After that experience Williams, son of a Waltham minister (and former young captive from the Deerfield raid of 1704), set out on a rather conventional career path. He became minister at Bradford, Massachusetts. But he also kept up his scientific interests. In 1769 Williams observed the decade’s second transit of Venus from Newbury, publishing his observations through the American Philosophical Society seventeen years later.

In 1780 Williams succeeded Winthrop as Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Harvard. That year he wrote about New England’s famous “Dark Day” and led a small college expedition to Maine to watch the Moon eclipse the Sun.

That trip was hampered by the fact that Williams decided that the best place to make his observations was an island in Penobscot Bay which the British military had just defended from a large Massachusetts attack. As with the 1761 transit of Venus, however, warring governments were willing to let gentlemen make observations for the sake of science.

Later in the 1780s, Harvard student John Quincy Adams wrote: “Mr. Williams is more generally esteemed by the students, than any other member of this government [i.e., college faculty]. He is more affable and familiar with the students, and does not affect that ridiculous pomp which is so generally prevalent here.”

But in 1788 Prof. Williams suddenly had to depart Harvard—and the U.S. of A. He was charged with forgery for falsifying a receipt from a trust he administered. Williams rode north, leaving his family in Cambridge to await word of where to find him.

Williams settled in Rutland, Vermont, and found work as a legal copyist and minister, first fill-in and then full-time. He brought his family north and rebuilt a respectable life. Williams launched the Rutland Herald newspaper and edited it for three years. He published a history of the state and a short history of the Revolution for use in schools. Williams helped found the University of Vermont and in 1806 used his astronomical knowledge to settle the state’s northern boundary with Canada.

One of the telescopes Williams reportedly used is shown above courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution. The museum’s webpage says Williams used this one to observe the 1769 transit of Venus, but also implies he was a Harvard professor at the time. Soon I’ll share links to more of Williams’s equipment.

In 2009 Robert Friend Rothschild published Two Brides for Apollo, a sympathetic biography of Williams. I believe the title refers to the two types of astronomical events Williams studied: the transit of Venus and the solar eclipse.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Dr. Isaac Rand and the “Important Branch of Obstetrics”

After reading that Prof. John Winthrop took two recent Harvard graduates with him to Newfoundland in 1761 to observe the transit of Venus, as described yesterday, I wondered what had become of those young men. What do you do with your life after having seen “the Savage coast of Labrador”?

Isaac Rand (1743-1822) went into medicine. He trained with Dr. James Lloyd, and like his mentor he sided with the Crown when war broke out and stayed in Boston through the siege. However, both men opted not to leave with the British military.

Within a few months of the evacuation, Rand was managing a smallpox hospital for the local authorities. He overcame suspicions about his political leanings by staying out of the fight and working hard for his patients.

After the war, Rand became a founding member of the Humane Society of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Medical Society, and the Massachusetts Bible Society.

Dr. James Thacher wrote of Rand:
Previous to this period strong efforts had been made by the physicians of Boston, and more particularly by the late Dr. James Lloyd, to rescue from the hands of unqualified females, the important branch of obstetrics, and to raise it to an honorable rank in the profession. So great was considered the necessity of changing the practice in this respect, that Dr. L., even while engaged in the most extensive and lucrative business in the town, made a visit to Europe partly for the purpose of qualifying himself for the exigences which the practice of this highly responsible and important branch of obstetrics continually furnishes. His efforts succeeded; that business gradually fell into the hands of the physicians, and Dr. Rand and his contemporaries completed what had been begun by Dr. Lloyd. In this branch Dr. R. acquired a high and deserved reputation.
That of course reflects a physician’s professional bias about who’s best at birthing babies.

The engraving of obstetrical forceps above originally appeared in André Levret’s Observations sur les causes et les accidens de plusieurs accouchemens laborieux, published in 1750. The image comes from this National Institutes of Health history of cesarean sections.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Prof. Winthrop Gets a Good Look at Venus

Prof. John Winthrop of Harvard College (portrayed here by John Singleton Copley, in an image that comes courtesy of the university’s Collection of Historical Scientific Instruments) was among the many scientists who scrambled to observe the transit of Venus in 1761.

His report on the event to the worldwide scientific community included praise for “His Excellency FRANCIS BERNARD, Esq. Governor of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay, inspired with a just zeal for the advancement of Literature, which he demonstrates on every opportunity.”

In 1761 Bernard was newly arrived in Massachusetts, and that April he helped secure government support for Winthrop’s research. In just a few years the governor would become very unpopular, with Winthrop quietly supporting that Whig opposition.

As the professor knew from Edmund Halley’s calculation years before, “Newfoundland was the only British Plantation in which one [observation] could be made, and indeed the most western part of the Earth where the end of the Transit could be observ’d.” Therefore, he set out for “the Savage coast of Labrador” with two recent Harvard graduates, Samuel Williams and Isaac Rand, both eighteen years old. They took along most of the college’s astronomical equipment, viz.:
an excellent Pendulum clock, one of Hadley’s Octants with Nonius divisions and fitted in a new manner to observe on shore as well as sea, a refracting telescope with cross wires at half right angles for taking differences of Right Ascension and Declination, and a curious reflecting telescope, adjusted with spirit-levels at right angles to each other and having horizontal and vertical wires for taking correpondent altitudes, or differences of altitudes and azimuths.
Winthrop and his assistants arrived in Newfoundland on Massachusetts’s provincial ship in late May 1761. They set up their equipment and checked and rechecked it, Winthrop wrote, “with an assiduity which the infinite swarms of insects, that were in possession of the hill, were not able to abate, tho’ they persecuted us severely and without intermission, both by day and by night, with their venomous stings.”

The morning of 6 June was “serene and calm.” Prof. Winthrop wrote:
at 4h 18m we had the high satisfaction of seeing that most agreeable Sight, VENUS ON THE SUN, and of showing it in our telescopes to the Gentlemen of the place who had assembled very early on the hill to behold so curious a spectacle. The Planet at first appear’d dim thro’ the cloud, but in a short time became more distinct and better defined.
Winthrop recorded the time of transit and sketched what he saw, telling his readers:
The above observations gave me so many differences between the Sun’s and Venus’s altitudes and azimuths, from whence by spherical trigonometry I deduc’d the Planet’s right Ascensions and Declinations and, from them, in the last place, her Longitudes and Latitudes. It would be neither of entertainment nor use to the Reader to insert the particulars of such tedious calculations. . . .

The comparison of the observations made in the N.W. parts of the world with those in the S.E., when all of them come to be laid together, will give the true path of Venus, abstracted from parallax, by which means the quantity of the parallax will at length be discovered. The right determination of which point will render this year 1761 an ever-memorable era in the annals of astronomy.
Those quotations comes from this edited version [P.D.F. download] of Winthrop’s report.

Winthrop planned to view the 1769 transit from Newfoundland as well, but a fire at Harvard destroyed the astronomical instruments. He asked Benjamin Franklin to send a new set from London, as this Dutch Transit of Venus website describes.

Unfortunately, there was a heavy demand for astronomical devices all over Europe as the second transit approached. Then telescope-maker James Short died before delivering Winthrop’s order. On 11 March 1769, Franklin wrote to Winthrop that he’d managed to get that brass reflecting telescope from Short’s estate, but he was still waiting for the other tools from another craftsman. During the 1769 transit, Winthrop was stuck in Cambridge.

(Thanks to Boston 1775 reader Robert C. Mitchell for some of the links used in this posting.)

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Chasing Venus with Andrea Wulf, 29-30 May

Historian Andrea Wulf will speak about her new book, Chasing Venus: The Race to Measure the Heavens, at two local sites next week. On Tuesday, 29 May, she’ll talk to the Lexington Historical Society at 7:30 P.M. That event will take place in the Lexington Depot, and is free.

The next evening at 7:00, Wulf will speak at the Arnold Arboretum—an appropriate locale since her previous books include Brother Gardeners and Founding Gardeners, about horticulture in the eighteenth century. This talk will cost $10 for Massachusetts Historical Society and Arnold Arboretum members or fellows, $20 for others, and pre-registration is required (call 617-384-5277). Wulf will speak in the Weld Hill Research Building. (Boston 1775 readers may recall that Weld Hill was our best guess for the location of the Continental Army’s fallback position in the summer of 1775.)

Chasing Venus describes the international scientific endeavor to observe the transit of Venus in 1761 and 1769, as predicted decades earlier by astronomer Edmund Halley. On those occasions the planet moved in front of the Sun, appearing as a small black dot against the light.

Earlier this spring the Boston Globe’s review of Chasing Venus described the scientists’ efforts:
The obstacles confronting the platoon of observers were formidable. Britain and France were at war, but this did not deter fellow astronomers from linking up with each other. Indeed, a Frenchman, Joseph-Nicolas Delisle, took the lead. With contacts in Amsterdam, Basel, Florence, Vienna, and St. Petersburg, Delisle was a whirlwind planner and a hub of scientific back and forth. A skilled surveyor, his “mappemonde,” which highlighted the best spots around the globe to glimpse the transit, became an essential document for astronomers.

The theory of the transit was fine and good, but setting up the viewing stations proved a challenge. Getting to far-flung locations was dangerous work. For the 1761 transit, the British sent a man to St. Helena island, a tiny isolated speck in the south Atlantic. A colleague of Delisle’s, Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche trekked 4,000 miles from Paris to the depths of Siberia, only to be attacked by villagers who thought his fancy scientific instruments had magical powers: They blamed him for bringing on devastating floods. Two British fellows named [Charles] Mason and [Jeremiah] Dixon (surveyors of the famous line) were nearly smashed to bits by a French warship as they attempted to get to Sumatra. They nearly quit in fear and frustration.

But surely the most star-crossed (literally) of the Venus observers was the extravagantly named Frenchman Guillaume Joseph Hyacinthe Jean-Baptiste Le Gentil de la Galaisière. His name notwithstanding, Le Gentil’s odyssey would be anything but nice. His was a story of tragic near misses. For the 1761 transit, Le Gentil was to journey to Pondicherry, then a French possession in India. War got in the way — the British laid siege to the town, and Le Gentil instead went to Mauritius, where he was waylaid by dysentery. On June 6, the day of transit, he was on a rolling ship, and he could not get an accurate fix on the planet. Eight years later, he made it back to Pondicherry for the 1769 transits, but weather marred the viewing. Poor Le Gentil had come so far “only to be the spectator of a fatal cloud.”
Wulf’s book and talk are timely because there will be a transit of Venus visible in Massachusetts on 5-6 June—assuming the weather cooperates. The Harvard Observatory has set up a viewing time for the public on the evening of 5 June.

TOMORROW: A Massachusetts scientist in 1761.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Boston N.H.P. Welcomes Visitors Real and Virtual Today

This morning Boston National Historical Park opens its new visitor center in Faneuil Hall—the reason I’ve been exploring stories of that landmark this week. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who oversees the National Park Service, will be in town for the public opening at 11:30 A.M., along with elected officials.

Yesterday the park released an “NPS Boston” app for mobile devices, produced with GuideOne and available through iTunes. (An Android version is on the way.) I downloaded this to my iPad and tried it out.

The app is designed to help people plan their visit to the historic sites in Boston linked to the park and find their way from one site to another. It also augments such a visit with a little background information.

At least in its iPad form, the app has to be used in landscape mode. It starts with a map of Boston, the relevant sites marked with blue teardrop pins and little diagrams. “Sites” under the top menu choice have two or more photographs each. Some points in the Charlestown Navy Yard even come with short videos, but those show industrial ropemaking and the like, so they might not satisfy visitors looking for Revolutionary history.

“Sites” covers all the locations on the Freedom Trail, the Black Heritage Trail, landmarks of the Charlestown Navy Yard, and Dorchester Heights. Most are clustered in central Boston, with another concentration in Charlestown. Dorchester Heights remains off on its own, but at least it has equal billing.

The Boston Harbor Islands and Longfellow House-Washington’s Headquarters sites are parts of different national parks, and are therefore noted only on the Massachusetts map and at the end of the F.A.Q. list, though they also have Revolutionary significance and are within reach for people visiting the city for a day. Other maps show all the country’s other national parks, including Minute Man, Adams, Salem Maritime, Springfield Armory, and so on.

The “Tours” section of the app starts with the complete Freedom Trail, a shorter version for people who don’t want to spend “4-8 hours,” the Black Heritage Trail (now starting from Faneuil Hall rather than the monument to the U.S. 54th Regiment), and a “Create Your Tour” feature that will highlight the sites the user chooses. The last checks those pins on the map, but doesn’t calculate a route or walking time.

There are also “Thematic Tours,” all starting from Faneuil Hall. These include “Paul Revere’s Boston” and two tours of different lengths that combine sites on the Freedom Trail and Black Heritage Trail under the theme of political activism and rights. Another tour focuses on the Navy Yard only. All these thematic tours include very short audio recordings.

The app works best when one has a good wireless or cell connection. It appears to download elements as requested, so simply downloading the app and then going out of range means you might well be missing images, recordings, or the F.A.Q. It can use your own location information, though I’m not sure how that works since I was well off the map while testing.

I hope the programming contains room for expansion. For example, one question describes how much Boston has been expanded by landfill; a link to the peninsula’s original dimensions on the main map could show that more powerfully. A timeline could remind users of how the major events in Boston history line up. And the keyword “restroom” is nowhere to be found, though I have to believe it appears in a frequently asked question.

Free and up-to-date, the “NPS Boston” app is a useful program for iPhone and iPad owners visiting from near or far. For deeper information, visitors should still consult books, guides, and signage at the sites.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Grasshopper on Faneuil Hall

Click on the thumbnail at the right to see a nice photograph of the grasshopper-shaped weathervane atop Faneuil Hall, taken by Steve Borichevsky.

That grasshopper was the work of Boston metalworker Shem Drowne (1683-1774), who also created a rooster weathervane for the New Brick Meeting in the North End, a wavy banner for Christ (Old North) Church, and an Indian figure for the Province House. (Drowne himself was a member of the First Baptist Meeting.)

An Indian appeared on the Massachusetts provincial seal, and therefore an appropriate figure to top the governor’s mansion. A rooster was an old Christian symbol. But what did a grasshopper mean in Boston?

Apparently what mattered was what a grasshopper meant in London. A weathervane in that shape topped the Royal Exchange built by Sir Thomas Gresham in 1571. The insect thus became a symbol of worldwide British commerce.

According to Lucius Manlius Sargent, the mercantile Faneuil family brought that symbol to Boston:
…a gilded grasshopper, as many of us well remember, whirled about, of yore, upon the little spire, that rose above the summerhouse, appurtenant to the mansion, where Peter Faneuil lived, and died. That house was built, and occupied, by his uncle, Andrew; and he had some seven acres, for his garden thereabouts. It was upon the westerly side of old Treamount Street. . . . The selection of a grasshopper, for a vane, was made, in imitation of their example, who placed the very same thing, upon the pinnacle of the Royal Exchange, in London.
Thus, Boston probably commissioned Drowne to make a big grasshopper weathervane for Faneuil Hall to honor Peter Faneuil for funding its construction and to signal arrivals from London that Boston was a commercial center, too.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Peter Faneuil’s Tombstone

On Monday, Boston 1775 reader Daud Alzayer asked me about how Peter Faneuil’s name appeared on his tomb. That turns out to be a rather hard question to answer.

In a Boston Transcript essay published before 1852 and collected in 1856 in Dealings with the Dead, the Boston antiquarian, temperance advocate, and slavery apologist Lucius Manlius Sargent wrote about Peter Faneuil’s tomb in the Granary Burying-Ground:
The remains of this noble-spirited descendant of the Huguenots of Rochelle were deposited, in the Faneuil tomb, in the westerly corner of the Granary Ground. This tomb is of dark freestone, with a freestone slab. Upon the easterly end of the tomb, there is a tablet of slate, upon which are sculptured, with manifest care and skill, the family arms; while, upon the freestone slab, are inscribed, at the top, M. M.—memento mori, of course,—and, at the bottom of the slab—a cruel apology for the old Huguenot patronymic—“Peter Funel. 1742,” and nothing more.
But a few paragraphs later, Sargent wrote that the inscription was “P. Funel,” nothing more. In 1856 Thomas Bridgman’s The Pilgrims of Boston and Their Descendants listed the burial site this way: “TOMB OF P. FUNEL, 1742” over a coat of arms. I don’t know of any drawing or photograph of the tomb from this period to nail down that text and how formal it looked.

Sargent imagined that Andrew Faneuil, Peter’s uncle, originally commissioned the tomb with his own coat of arms, and that years after Peter was interred there Bostonians began to wonder. “Whereabouts was it, that Peter Faneuil was buried?” Sargent’s imagination continued:
Some worthy old citizen—God bless him—who knew rather more of this matter than his neighbors, and was well aware, that the arms would be but a dead letter to posterity, resolved to serve the public, and remedy the defect. Up he goes into the Granary Ground, in the very spirit of Old Mortality, and, with all his orthography in his ear, inscribes P. Funel upon the tablet!
When might that have happened? The Old Style date “1742” suggests the carver worked before the British Empire shifted to the Gregorian calendar in 1752. But Peter Faneuil’s brother Benjamin lived in Boston and Cambridge until 1784, and his sons were prominent Loyalist merchants. Other members of the family remained in Massachusetts in the 1800s. Would a “worthy old citizen” really have done some unauthorized carving on their family tomb? Despite such unanswered questions, lots of people accepted Sargent’s guesses.

By the late twentieth century, however, authors were positing that the real reason for a “P. Funel” inscription was that a stonecutter had scratched that name on the slab in order to identify the customer it was meant for. Which would mean Andrew hadn’t commissioned that tomb; Peter had. So that theory also raises questions.

By then the mysterious inscription was long gone. In 1900, Abram English Brown reported that the top of the Faneuil tomb had been carved with Peter Faneuil’s full name, in the standard spelling, and the New Style date “March 3, 1743,” as well as the surnames of some family members who died later. That’s the way it appears today, as shown above courtesy of Find a Grave or in this Flickr image.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

How Did People Pronounce “Faneuil Hall”?

Peter Faneuil.[1700-1743]. Digital ID: 1233858. New York Public LibraryIn 1740, the New Rochelle-born merchant Peter Faneuil (shown at left courtesy of the New York Public Library) offered Boston money to erect a grand new building with space for town meetings and shops. By a very close vote (367–360), the town accepted his gift. Faneuil died six months after the building went up.

In his 1825 novel Lionel Lincoln, James Fenimore Cooper declared that Bostonians pronounced the name of that building “Funnel Hall.” Other American novelists repeated that phrase: Seba Smith in The Life and Writings of Major Jack Downing of Downingville (1833); Thomas Chandler Haliburton in The Attaché: or, Sam Slick in England (1843); Eliza Leslie in The Young Revolutionists (1845); and so on.

Cooper was from upstate New York, Smith from Maine, Haliburton from Nova Scotia, and Leslie from Pennsylvania. None of them wrote from great personal experience with old Bostonians. Some late-1800s authors from Massachusetts attributed the “Funnel Hall” pronunciation to their grandfathers, but by then the earlier books might have affected how they understood the past.

One clue to how people of the Revolutionary period pronounced the name “Faneuil” is how they spelled it, In particular, people who had less formal education or hadn’t seen the name on paper might have written it phonetically. Eighteenth-century folks weren’t shy about respelling words to their liking.

In looking at period sources, I found most people used the spelling “Faneuil,” but “Fanuel” was also common. I’ve seen that variant in a 1734 Massachusetts General Court resolution, the record of Boston town meetings, reports to Customs officials, an itinerary of the Rev. Ezra Stiles, the orderly book of Gen. William Howe, and letters by Dr. Thomas Young, Henry Pelham, John Adams, Joseph Barrell, Belcher Noyes, and others. In the early 1800s “Fanuel Hall” was printed in guidebooks, town directories, and advertisements, suggesting that it was widely accepted.

I also found some rarer variants:

  • Thomas Chute, record of writs delivered as an Essex County deputy sheriff, 1733-37: “Funel” as the surname of Peter Faneuil and his brother Andrew.
  • John Rowe, diary, 1768: ”Fanewil Hall” and “Fanewill Hall.”
  • Concord town meeting, 1768: “Fannel Hall.”
  • Maj. Francis Hutcheson, 1775: “Fannel Hall.”
  • John Adams, autobiography, written 1802-07: “Phanuel Hall.” (Was he trying to be cute?)
  • scratched on Peter Faneuil’s tomb at an unknown date: “P. Funel.” (More about this variant tomorrow.)
I didn’t find anyone spelling “Faneuil Hall” as “Funnel Hall” except in post-Revolutionary newspaper articles that were obvious political parodies. That’s not to say people didn’t pronounce the name like “funnel,” especially when they referred to the Faneuil brothers decades before the Revolutionary War. But it makes it less likely.

The much more common “Faneuil,” “Fanuel,” “Fannel,” and the like suggest to me that most Bostonians pronounced the first vowel in “Faneuil” as an A, and then disagreed about the rest of the word. The same way we do today.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Boston National Historical Park’s New Location

This is a big week for Boston National Historical Park. Today the park is scheduled to close its visitor center at 15 State Street, across the cobblestones from the Old State House, and by the end of the week its new visitor center will open in Faneuil Hall.

Here’s how Faneuil Hall looked in the late 1700s (courtesy of Boston College).

In 1806 the architect Charles Bulfinch oversaw its expansion to its current dimensions. That produced more space for town meetings on the second floor, and more space for merchants on the ground level—where the visitor center will be.

TOMORROW: How did eighteenth-century Bostonians pronounce “Faneuil Hall”?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

“Hung! Up by the Neck!”

A few days back I quoted Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble’s diary entry for 8 Sept 1775 about an American soldier who deserted into Boston:

another Rifle Man came in, a fine fellow, an Irishman, from Kings County, says…that a report has been spread that one of their Deserters, a Rifle Man, had been Hanged, which checked the spirit of their People coming over to us.
That report of a hanging body appears in the diary of Pvt. Samuel Bixby, stationed in Roxbury, on 2 August:
One of Genl. [George] Washington’s riflemen was killed by the regulars to day & then hung! up by the neck! His comrades seeing this were much enraged, & immediately asked leave of the Genl. to go down and attack them. He gave them permission to go and do as they pleased. The Riflemen marched immediately & began operations. The regulars fired at them from all parts with cannon and swivels, but the Riflemen skulked about, and kept up their sharp shooting all day. Many of the regulars fell, but the riflemen lost only one man.
Some authors, most notably David McCullough in 1776, have treated this report as true.

However, Bixby appears to be the only diarist or letter-writer on either side of the siege lines who reported a rifleman or his body being strung up this way. In fact, Lt. Paul Lunt wrote that the British “killed none upon our side” in skirmishing that day.

Most telling, less than two weeks later Washington complained to Gen. Thomas Gage about the treatment of American prisoners of war but said nothing of a man being hanged or a corpse displayed.

It therefore seems likely that Bixby heard an unfounded rumor. Americans may have deliberately spread the story to incite resentment against the British, or to discourage defections, or both. Or the report could have been a natural exaggeration of the Pennsylvania riflemen’s concern about a comrade captured on 29 July, Cpl. Walter Cruise.

Kemble wrote that the American soldier taken that evening was “an Irish Man from Virginia; says he was forced into the service.” But claiming coercion got Cruise nowhere. The royal authorities put him into the Boston jail, where on 1 August fellow prisoner Peter Edes wrote, “the rifle corporal, Cruise, kept close confined, and allowed nothing but bread and water.”

Cruise was shipped to Nova Scotia as a prisoner during the evacuation and not released until around the start of 1777 in New York. (The rest of his military career mentioned here.) But at least he wasn’t hanged.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Hockey Game Broke Out

Since it’s mid-May, it’s still hockey season. The Canadian news media is bubbling with the news that a couple of Swedish researchers—Dr. Carl Gidén and Patrick Houda of the Society for International Hockey Research—have identified two of the earliest images and descriptions of the game of hockey.

Of course, those scholars are the first to say that hockey evolved out of older ball-and-stick games with other names. But the first recorded time that the word “hockey” was applied to the game was in a 1776 London publication called Juvenile Sports and Pastimes, by “Master Michel Angelo” (a pseudonym for Richard Johnson). That booklet also included the illustration above, showing boys playing a form of what we’d call field hockey.

The book’s description of the game concludes:
…tho’ you are allowed to push either of your antagonists aside, yet it is considered not only as foul play, but as very ungenteel also, to strive either to throw another down, or to trip up his heels. Such proceedings always produce ill-will, quarrelling, and sometimes fighting: but every young gentleman will wish to make his companions as happy as himself, since, without mutual harmony, the finest sport in the world will be rendered dull, insipid, and disgustful.
Gidén and Houda also recently reported that a collector in Maine bought the colored print reproduced below, published in London in September 1797. It shows two young men strapping on skates, one of them holding a hockey stick as in the earlier woodcut with a flat puck or cork “bung” on the ice before him. The collector posits that the spire behind the young men was the obelisk at George III’s Kew Observatory, and that the scene was inspired by the freezing of the Thames in 1796. This is now the earliest visual depiction of ice hockey.
Finally, while looking into this matter I came across this 1835 image of ice hockey by Virginian artist John Toole, held by the U.S. National Gallery and reproduced courtesy of the Windsor Star. Apparently the proceedings have produced ill will, quarreling, and fighting.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Paul Revere’s Iconography

The April 1774 issue of Isaiah Thomas’s Royal American Magazine included this portrait of local politician Samuel Adams engraved by Paul Revere. The full print can be viewed at the American Antiquarian Society website.

Revere wasn’t the most gifted artist in this form, but we have to give him credit for working the iconography. Starting on the left we have Liberty with a Phrygian cap on a staff trampling “Laws to Enslave America.” At top is the figure of Fame blowing a trumpet.

Below Fame is Adams drawn inexpertly but recognizably from the portrait by John Singleton Copley, in an elegant and modern Chippendale frame. At the bottom is the Magna Charta of British rights.

On the right things get really busy. I think the female figure is Britannia, embodiment of traditional British power. She bears the implements of Athena, including a helmet, spear, and shield with the face of Medusa. Britannia has caught a grenadier of His Majesty’s 29th Regiment of Foot (the principal unit involved in the Boston Massacre) as he’s trying to torment a rattlesnake, symbol of America.

The month before, Thomas had published Revere’s companion portrait of John Hancock in the same sort of frame with Fame above. In that image Liberty subdued the rattlesnake-grabbing grenadier with the help of the British lion, and on the left stood a bearded knight in full armor. Honestly I don’t know what he was supposed to be.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Visiting Stone Structures of the Northeast

Earlier this month I posted a couple of times about the milestones in and around Boston, and proposed that someone (else) compile a complete map of them.

In a comment, James Gage reported that his mother, Mary Gage, is at work on a database of milestones all over Massachusetts, and would welcome additions, particularly west of Springfield.

The Gages maintain the Stone Structures website, devoted to all sorts of ways people pile and stand up stone: milestones, gravestones, root cellars, walls, arches, &c. They offer forms for documenting structures, and folks can email them with new reports and questions. The Gages also make their research and photography available through Powwow River Books.

For example, the image above shows the Sherborn town pound, originally built to confine loose animals and preserved as a vestige of the rural past. Another once-common stone building was a root cellar, as the site explains:
Root Cellars have been used since the 18th century to store turnips, carrots, parsnips, cabbage, potatoes, and other crops through the cold winter months. These crops were used for human consumption but more importantly to feed dairy cows, beef cattle, and sheep. The vegetables provided critical vitamins and other nutrition necessary to keep up milk production, fatten cattle, and improve the live birth rate of sheep in the early spring. By the mid-1800’s, root cellars became a means to store crops destined for the markets until mid-winter or later when much higher prices could be commanded. Root cellars became largely obsolete with the introduction of modern refrigeration and switch to feeding livestock with corn and other grains along with silage stored in silos.
James Gage has authored Root Cellars in America, a photographic study of the form.

I was a little wary when I saw that Powwow River Books publishes a couple of titles on “America’s Stonehenge,” the New Hampshire tourist attraction that has all sorts of myths associated with it. For example, in the mid-1900s marine biologist Barry Fell claimed that markings at the site were ancient Eurasian languages, the sort of wild idea that academic archeologists wearily refute.

But Mary Gage’s guides to the site seem more level-headed, arguing that it was used by Native Americans over many centuries until around 1600. Farmers of European descent in the 1700s and 1800s used the stones for practical, prosaic purposes. Only in the early 1900s was it promoted as “Mystery Hill,” a site to visit—perhaps a reflection (like Stone Structures itself) of growing American nostalgia for a rural past vanishing beneath industrialization and mechanized farming techniques.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Who Defected from the Continental Army in 1775?

Continuing British Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble’s diary entries mentioning deserters from the Continental lines during the siege of Boston from yesterday

9 September: “One of the Virginia Rifle Men (an Irish Man) Deserted from the Enemy this morning by pretending to come out to take a Shot at our Sentries, but when at a proper Distance ran into our Post.”

10 September: “This Evening a French Lad Enlisted in the Rhode Island Troops Deserted to us; he set out from their Advanced Posts on a Run; had two Shot fired at him, but escaped. These frequent Desertions have occasioned the Rebel General to remove the Rifle Men to Cambridge.”

23 September: “A Rifle Man came in this Evening, from their Flech under the two Trees, on the Point, says the Minute Men of the Country is called in; supposed with some design, but does not know what; he’s an English Man born in the West of England, near Plymouth.”

24 September: “Nothing extraordinary, but a Deserter from the Rebels came in to General [William] Howe’s whose character appears to be doubtful.”

Out of twelve deserters Kemble described, seven were said to be born in the British Isles and one was “a French Lad.” The British officer described eight either as from Pennsylvania or Virginia or as riflemen, and all the rifle companies were from the Middle Colonies. Those companies, recruited on the frontiers, probably had a larger than average share of recent immigrants to North America. But they were just a small part of the army outside Boston.

The Americans who deserted to the British in those months were disproportionately soldiers far from home. Many had direct ties to the other side of the Atlantic. None was identified by Kemble as a native of New England. (Of course, homesick New Englanders probably deserted in the other direction, heading back to the farms they knew.)

Given those factors, it’s not surprising that the Continental riflemen would defect in larger numbers than troops from the region, but that came as a surprise to their commanders. When the rifle companies started to arrive on the siege lines in the summer of 1775, Gen. George Washington and others were delighted, thinking that they’d be the army’s decisive edge.

Instead, the riflemen turned out to be a disproportionate source of trouble. On top of these desertions, in early September a Pennsylvania company mutinied, and soldiers’ diaries mention lesser infractions. At first the newcomers were exempted from regular duties, which probably caused friction. In mid-September Washington reversed that rule, and at the end of the year stopped designating rifle companies differently from regular infantry.

Less easy to explain was why two of Kemble’s twelve deserters said they were named Johnson. Was that a common name, or a common alias?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Lt. Col. Kemble’s Catalogue of Deserters

I went through Lt. Col. Stephen Kemble’s diary in 1775 for mentions of Continental soldiers deserting to the royal forces. As Gen. Thomas Gage’s Deputy-Adjutant-General, he was in a good position to hear about them all. I found twelve men deserting to the Crown forces.

Here are Kemble’s entries, as published by the New-York Historical Society.

25 July: “A Deserter came in from the Virginia Rifle Men on Winter Hill, says he’s a Virginian born, that he was in a Vessel from Virginia to Salem, Coming out of which place about the 15th. June, She was taken by a King’s Ship, some of the Men Pressed, the rest got on Shore at Marblehead, where he was obliged to enter into the Rebel Service, his backwardness to which was the cause of his being confined; but, being released, he entered into their Artillery, having learnt a little of Gunnery, but finding his Situation more disagreeable every day, and having no liberty of speech, but what was most pleasing to the Rebels way of thinking. He deserted from them on the Night of the 24th. and got off by swimming down the Mystic River to General [William] Howe’s Post [in Charlestown].”

2 August: “On the Night of Tuesday the 1st. a Deserter from the Enemy, a Scotchman, came into General Howe’s.”

17 August: “One Turner, a Rifle Man, taken or Surrendered himself the 14th. suspected of an Intention to Desert the 16th. and Confined in the Provosts Guard.”

22 August: “Last Night a Deserter from the Virginia Rifle Men came in from Roxborough, by name Johnson, an Irish Man.”

2 September: “At 10 o’Clock a Rifle Man came in from them, by Name ———, Servant to Capt. [Michael] Cresap, Captain of the Company, they come from about Fort Pitt and are near 130 strong. He says the Rebels talk of starving us out, but is a Stupid Lad, an Englishman born in Oxfordshire.”

7 September: “A Rebel Artillery Serjeant, by name Johnson, Deserted this Evening from Roxborough, an Irish Man, a smart, sensible fellow.”

8 September: “This morning, very early, another Rifle Man came in, also an Active looking fellow, during the [day] nothing extraordinary; a few shots from our Lines returned by the Rebels. This Evening, about dusk, another Rifle Man came in, a fine fellow, an Irishman, from Kings County, says that General [Charles] Lee is reported to be in Arrest; that a report has been spread that one of their Deserters, a Rifle Man, had been Hanged, which checked the spirit of their People coming over to us.”

TOMORROW: But still the desertions continued.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Drama of the Lady Shore

This week the Daily Mail reported on the auction of a diary by Thomas Millard, carpenter aboard the British ship Lady (Jane) Shore during a fateful voyage in 1797.

I find conflicting details of that trip on the web, but all sources agree on the basics. The main cargo was a shipload of women: one source says sixty-six and another implies there were close to a hundred. Those women had been convicted of crimes in Britain and sentenced to exile in the new penal colony of New South Wales. There were also some male captives, including prisoners from Britain’s ongoing war with France.

Soldiers and marines were guarding those prisoners. However, as the Annual Register told its readers in 1798:
The Lady Shore had on board, besides convicts, eighty soldiers of the New South Wales corps, amongst whom were German, French, and condemned criminals, reprieved on condition of serving, during life, at Botany-Bay.
In other words, the guards weren’t any more happy to be there than the convicts being transported.

On 1 August, the Lady Shore was “four days sail from Rio de Janeiro.” Millard wrote in his diary:
We ware Alarm’d by the firing of Musketts on the deck and to my Great Surpris the Capt falling down the steeridge ladder which woke me out of my Sleep.
Some of the guards and French prisoners had revolted in the name of the republic. In taking over the ship they had chopped off the head of the chief mate and shot Capt. James Willcocks, who soon died.

One detailed account of this mutiny came from young purser John Black’s version, published in 1798. Millard recorded another side of Black, writing that he had tried to commit suicide rather than surrender. Another version of events is in chapter 18 of J. G. Semple Lisle’s memoir; that book has a lot to say about how the author tried to warn his superiors that there would be a mutiny.

Two of the French prisoners had been pilot and helmsman on their own warship, so they quickly steered for the South American territories of France’s ally, Spain. To stave off a countermutiny, on 14 August the ship’s new commanders put the British officers and a handful of soldiers and convicts still loyal to the Crown, along with their wives and children, into a longboat. Those twenty-nine people received food and navigation equipment, and were close enough to shore to land the next afternoon. But Millard the carpenter was too useful to go free.

The Lady Shore sailed into Montevideo, Uruguay, by the end of the month. At first the Spanish authorities locked them all up as mutineers, but the French ambassador argued that his countrymen had captured the ship according to the rules of war. Most of the women went to work for the local gentry. As for the carpenter, the Daily Mail says:
Millard was allowed out to work for a shipwright during the day but returned to prison at night.

He was more fortunate than most; in the summer of 1799 he was allowed to sail in the Liberty to America, where he settled in New Jersey, took a wife and raised two children.

The 320-page journal was auctioned after being put up for sale by Millard’s American descendants.
Gavin Pascoe at South Sea Miscellany writes:
If there was any piratical event crying out for dramatisation in fiction or film it’s this one…
Seriously, this story has female convicts! In tropical locations! With violence! Why isn’t it already on cable?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Viewing Washington’s Letter to the Touro Synagogue

In 1790, President George Washington wrote a letter to the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, which was an early expression of the federal government’s commitment to religious neutrality. The text of that letter appears back here.

Two upcoming events pertain to that letter. First, on 13 June, Ted Widmer, head of the John Carter Brown Library in Providence, will speak about “A Test Case for America: Washington, Longfellow and the Jewish Community at Newport” at the First Parish Church in Cambridge. The touchstones of this talk will be Washington’s letter and Henry W. Longfellow’s poem on the Jewish cemetery at Newport.

Widmer speaks as part of the Cambridge Forum series of lectures and talks. His lecture is free, co-sponsored by the Friends of the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters in Cambridge, The Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati, and fellow organizations. It is scheduled to begin at 7:00.

Second, starting on 4 July Washington’s original letter will be the center of an exhibit called “To Bigotry No Sanction” at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia. Paul Berger at the Jewish Daily Forward reported the background of this display:
As the Forward reported in a series of articles and editorials last year, Washington’s letter spent decades on display in the Klutznick Museum at B’nai B’rith International’s flagship headquarters in Washington. In 2002, when financial pressures forced B’nai B’rith to relocate to smaller offices, the majority of its collection, including the letter, was put into storage. Many scholars did not know where the letter was until the Forward revealed it to be housed in an art storage facility in suburban Maryland.

Several institutions, including the NMAJH and the Library of Congress, have tried for years to pry the letter away. But B’nai B’rith claimed that its hands were tied by the letter’s legal owner, the Morris Morgenstern Foundation, which would not allow the letter to be moved.
The Forward’s website catalogues its reporting and editorials on the matter that resulted in the July display.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Looking at Lexington in 1775

I’m abashed that I’m only now calling attention to Mary Babson Fuhrer’s article “The Revolutionary Worlds of Lexington and Concord Compared” in the March 2012 New England Quarterly. Its jumping-off point is Robert Gross’s The Minutemen and Their World, a highly respected study of Concord published in 1976.

Fuhrer writes:
Gross’s study, grounded as it is in local evidence, has withstood the test of time with few revisions. However, Concord had a partner in rebellion on 19 April. As the oft-repeated phrase “Lexington and Concord” suggests, the two towns have been fused in popular memory, and so the findings of The Minutemen and Their World have generally been taken to apply to Lexington as well.

But Lexington was no Concord. Unlike those in their neighboring town, the citizens of Lexington did not drag their feet on the way to revolution but made the most of every opportunity to assert and defend the hard-won inheritance of their ancestors. Moreover, Lexington was not rent by factions and troubled by the local animosities that so disturbed the peace in Concord. Supported by a community that had longed challenged British authority and fomented rebellion, the militia on Lexington’s common stood in, and for, unity.

Surprisingly long overdue, an analysis of Lexington’s social, demographic, political, religious, and ideological characteristics as against Concord’s sheds light on the communities’ radically different responses to imperial crisis, whereas identifying their commonalities reveals the shared motivations that prompted the inhabitants of both towns, when finally pressed, to take up arms against the forces of their king.
This article is available for downloading as a P.D.F. file. What’s more, Fuhrer and Gross discuss their findings and interpretations in a podcast discussion with William Fowler.

(The photo above, courtesy of Bill Coughlin and the Historical Marker Database, shows Lexington’s recreated colonial belfry.)

Friday, May 11, 2012

Gen. Gage Slept Here

As part of the London government’s program to punish Boston for the Tea Party, Gen. Thomas Gage used his prerogative as new governor in the spring of 1774 to move the Massachusetts General Court to Salem.

The legislature protested, but it was protesting everything those days. The body met in Salem for less than two weeks, from 7 to 17 June. As soon as Gage heard that the lower house was voting to send delegates to the First Continental Congress, he declared the session adjourned.

Samuel Adams as Clerk had arranged to have the chamber locked, so Secretary Thomas Flucker had to read the governor’s proclamation to the closed doors until the legislators had finished their business. (There’s a little more intrigue to that story.)

Gage remained in Salem through the nearly the end of August. Last month, Boston 1775 reader P. J. Curran asked me where exactly he lived during that time. I did some digging, and found that the governor borrowed a mansion built in Danvers around 1754 for Robert “King” Hooper (1709-1790). That Loyalist merchant dominated the trade in Essex County’s fishing catch. His Danvers estate became known as “the Lindens.”

The good news is that the Lindens house has largely been preserved. The bad news, at least for folks touring Massachusetts, is that it was preserved by being dismantled and reassembled on Kalorama Road in Washington, D.C., in 1935. Here’s a Washington Post article about the house, and here’s a Library of Congress collection of photographs taken shortly before the move. In addition, one room’s paneling went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Samuel Bowen Brings Soy to America

Blogger’s new behind-the-scenes design shows me the number of hits on each Boston 1775 posting, and the most viewed of last month by far was “Benjamin Franklin Discovers Tofu for America.” Its numbers are edging up to 1,000 views, far ahead of the next most popular.

Unfortunately, that posting contained an error. I repeated the Franklin tercentenary website’s claim that Benjamin Franklin’s 1770 letter to John Bartram was the first record of someone supplying soy beans to America. After all, Franklin invented everything else in colonial America, right?

Bill Shurtleff of the Soy Info Center alerted me in a comment that another man had brought soy beans to America five years before. So this posting is about that forgotten pioneer, Samuel Bowen of Georgia.

Theodore Hymowitz and J.R. Harlan described in this paper how in 1758 Bowen embarked from London on the large East India Company ship Pitt. He transfered to a smaller ship, the Success, which dared to visit two Chinese ports besides Canton. The interpreter and supercargo on the Success, an old East India hand named James Flint, ended up in Chinese jails for three years.

Bowen later stated that he was also imprisoned in China for years and transported around the interior of the country. He reappeared in London in late 1763. The next year, Bowen was in Georgia. In 1765 he married Jane Spencer, daughter of the Collector of Customs at Savannah. He bought land east of that port and slaves to work it. Bowen called his slave-labor plantation “Greenwich,” perhaps reflecting his background as an English sailor.

Even before setting up his own farm, Bowen asked the colony’s Surveyor-General, Henry Yonge, to plant some “pease or vetch” he had brought from China. In December 1766 letter to London, Yonge wrote that these new seeds
did yield three crops: and had the frost kept off one week longer, I should have had a fourth crop, which is a very extraordinary increase, and must, if attended to and be of great utility and advantage to this and his Majesty’s other southern American provinces.
Yonge therefore gets credit for “planting America’s first soy beans.”

The next year Bowen reported in more detail on the seeds and how Chinese people used them: to “prepare an excellent kind of vermicelli”; “for salad, and also boiled like greens, or stewed in soup”; as sprouts; as “an excellent antiscorbutic”; and as “most excellent fodder for your cattle.” He doesn’t appear to have described tofu.

Bowen made a trip back to London in 1766, receiving a gold medal from the Society of Arts, Manufacturers, and Commerce; an audience with the Earl of Dartmouth; and 200 guineas from George III. The next year the British government granted him a patent for his “new invented method of preparing and making sago, vermicelli and soy from plants growing in America, to be equal in goodness to those made in the East lndies.”

Bowen sent “six bottles of Soy and six pounds of powdered Sago” to the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia, which noted the goods in January 1769 and made Bowen a member in April. Franklin had, of course, co-founded that organization and kept in touch. It’s therefore possible that he heard about soy from America before he sent his own samples to Bartram. When Franklin investigated soy seeds in 1770, he definitely talked with James Flint, who remained friendly with Bowen; the Georgian named a son after Flint and welcomed him to the Greenwich plantation in 1775.

Bowen was back in London again on 30 Dec 1777 when he died. His widow Jane ended up hosting some officers from the fleet of Adm. Jean Baptiste Charles Henri Hector, comte d’Estaing, in 1779. According to this article by Edward Pinkowski, she oversaw the burial of Gen. Casimir Pulaski “between her mansion and the river.” Jane Bowen died in 1782, leaving her four children 26 slaves, 17 cows and oxen, and many items involved in the production of sago powder.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Crowd-sourcing Mr. Bentham and Mr. Madison

Yesterday I used the word “crowd-sourcing,” which seems to be a growing buzzword in digital humanities—especially when funding for traditional, in-house transcription projects is in jeopardy.

One example related to the eighteenth century is Transcribe Bentham, centered at the University College London. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), the only utilitarian philosopher whose taxidermied body I’ve seen, left thousands of pages of handwritten drafts, notes, and other material. This digital initiative invited anyone to sign up and translate that material into digital texts. The “About Us” page introduces the process:
Access the Transcription Desk, where you can create a user account which will give you transcribing privileges. You can then select a manuscript to view and transcribe, save your work, and return to view your own contributions. You can interact with other users by creating a social profile and by sharing ideas in the discussion forum. There is a quickstart guide to using the tool and detailed guidelines on how to transcribe the manuscripts. You can contact us for general advice, help with a specific problem or for further information.
Currently there are over 1,600 registered transcribers. Given that the project says elsewhere that the collective has completed 3,300 manuscripts, that doesn’t suggest high productivity from every registrant. But of course the project just needs enough.

Here in North America, Montpelier recently announced ConText’s crowd-sourcing project to create an extensive commentary on James Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention. That site says:
The Notes of Debates in ConText addresses a real need in our constitutional scholarship. There is currently no systematic, accessible commentary on the Notes that explains the details and context of each decision made at the convention, while also describing the subsequent (and ongoing) debates over constitutional meaning that have stemmed from those decisions. With this site, we are providing the most up-to-date analysis of the Framers’ debates by some of the country’s leading academic voices.
This project too offers registered users a chance to add their own comments. Discussions about the meaning and current importance of the convention’s decisions could conceivably get heated.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Crowd-sourcing Massachusetts’s Milestones

After reading Charles Bahne’s remarks on colonial-era milestones around Boston yesterday, I wondered if the web had a map of all the stones still standing.

Forty milestones erected by 1767 on the route between Boston and Springfield (with, it appears, a few on the road from Boston to Cambridge) were entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. Their Wikipedia entry offers photographs of many and geographic locations for all. That page automatically pumps out a Google Map of those locations.

Another resource, which I learned about from the City Record and Boston News-Letter blog, is this Historic American Buildings Survey publication completed in 1935-36. It includes drawings and maps of the stones then known.

The Stones Structures website catalogues several milestones that didn’t make Wikipedia, and invites folks to send in more photographs. Waymarking offers photos of more in central Massachusetts in its “Milestones” grouping. In addition, the Jamaica Plain Historical Society offers a couple of newspaper articles about the milestones in that area.

According to Boston.com, the state transportation department has catalogued 47 early milestones. How does its list match up with those on these websites? Are there more out there, perhaps removed from busy roads?

Is anyone up for creating a comprehensive map and catalogue of all the markers that exist in Massachusetts or New England today? Perhaps that could be a class project, or a collaboration among schools. It might even preserve the memory of some now-vanished stones known to have stood in 1909 when this Brookline Historical Society paper was written. Anyone?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Milestones of Greater Boston, Then and Now

Last week Matt Rocheleau reported for Boston.com on the state government’s plan to restore a colonial milestone along Harvard Avenue in Allston that was damaged by a truck. I knew that Charles Bahne, author of the just-published Chronicles of Old Boston, has studied milestones and other early road markings around Boston, so I asked him for his reaction. Charlie kindly supplied this guest blogger essay.

I’m glad to see that the Massachusetts Department of Transportation is overseeing the milestones now, and that the Massachusetts Historical Commission is involved in plans for preserving this one. I’m pleasantly surprised that they have a count of surviving stones— 47 known to exist in situ. I’m sure that there were many more than 99 erected in the colonial era.

The article repeats the myth that the stones mark the “distance from a stone near City Hall in downtown Boston”—referring to the Boston Stone on Marshall Street. All of the colonial stones in the immediate Boston area were erected before 1735, thus before the Boston Stone was set in a public place. The actual zero point was the northwest corner of the Old State House, today’s State and Washington Streets.

It also does not appear that the Allston 6-mile stone was ever part of a mail delivery system; it was erected before the establishment of an official colonial post office and was never along any of the established post roads.

Rather, most of the stones in the immediate Boston area were erected by prominent political figures, such as Samuel Sewall, Jonathan Belcher, and Paul Dudley. I’m guessing that those men saw the milestones partly as a public service, and partly as a billboard advertising their beneficence—just as we see signs near highway construction projects that give the names of government officials today.

There were originally eight milestones along the road from Boston to Cambridge (Harvard Square). Of these, the stones at 1, 2, and 3 miles are now lost. I assume that the 1- and 2-mile stones—and possibly the 3 as well—were lost during the siege of Boston, since they were in a hotly contested area with entrenchments on both sides.

The 4-mile stone still stands on Huntington Avenue in Roxbury. The 5-mile stone is on Harvard Street in Brookline. The 6-mile stone is referenced in this article. The 7-mile stone is on North Harvard Street in Allston. And the 8-mile stone is at the corner of Garden Street & Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge (slightly moved from its original location in the middle of Harvard Square).

I’ve seen the 3-mile stone on Centre Street in Roxbury and the 5-mile stone at Monument Square (Centre & Eliot Streets) in Jamaica Plain. And of course the “Parting Stone” (not a milestone, but it indicates which route went where) stands at Eliot Square in Roxbury.

I have a copy of an article from the Brookline Historical Society in 1909 reporting the location of several then-existing stones along other highways in Roxbury, Dorchester, Milton, Quincy, Braintree, Canton, Jamaica Plain, and Walpole, in addition to the ones I just mentioned. There is an old milestone in Arlington, near Arlington Heights, which reads simply “8,” and I can’t figure out where that number refers to.

The stones referred to in the article along the Boston Post Road were indeed set up under the instruction of Benjamin Franklin, and in some cases directly under his field supervision. They were erected much later than the stones mentioned in earlier paragraphs.

The Post Road follows U.S. 20 west (with a few modern bypasses) from Watertown Square to about Northborough. At that point U.S. 20 diverges to the south of the Post Road, which goes directly through Worcester. West of Worcester the Post Road follows Mass. Route 9 for several miles, then some other highways, and then rejoins U.S. 20 west of Palmer. In the Springfield area some of the Post Road has been designated as Route 20A.

There were two other routings of the Boston Post Road, one going southwest from Dedham towards Hartford, and one going south from Dedham towards Rhode Island. And in the early nineteenth-century another set of milestones was erected along turnpikes, including the Worcester Turnpike, now Route 9.

As for the sad story of the Allston stone, until about fifteen or twenty years ago it was fairly well protected simply because the city had installed parking meters in that block. The meters defined the parking spaces so that the stone was relatively safe from “attack” by motorized vehicles. When the parking meters were removed, the parking spaces were no longer defined, so people continued to parallel-park in spaces of random length and positions. As a result the milestone was frequently hit and scratched by cars and trucks, a fact which I observed circa 1999. Thus I wasn’t wholly surprised to see that this accident had happened last August.

The other surviving stones along the Roxbury-Allston-Cambridge route are all set back behind the sidewalk, relatively safe from vehicular incursions.

Thanks, Charlie! Part of the plan for restoring the Allston stone is to move it back from the road by about a foot, which would provide a little more protection.

TOMORROW: Milestones on the web.