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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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Cambridge Discovery Days, 4 and 11 Aug 2012

On 4 and 11 August, the city of Cambridge will once again celebrate Cambridge Discovery Days with free walking tours, house tours, and other events at historic sites. This year’s theme is “Power and Politics,” inspired by the centennial of Cambridge’s own Tip O’Neill.

For that theme, I’m once again breaking out this tour of Tory Row:

The Powder Alarm of 1774 and the End of British Power in Massachusetts

On September 2, 1774, Cambridge was the site of a massive confrontation between the friends and foes of the royal government of Massachusetts, fueled by anger over new laws passed in Parliament. Thousands of New England farmers massed on Cambridge Common and used their numbers to intimidate royal appointees into resigning their posts. That protest precipitated a seismic shift in Massachusetts politics, bringing on independence and war. This tour will visit several sites linked to the confrontation, including the homes of the province’s attorney general and lieutenant governor, and the militia general who started it all.
The meeting-point is outside 42 Brattle Street, one of the buildings of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education. There’s a fair amount of walking, and those August days can be hot!

I’m leading this tour on only one Saturday this year: 11 August, starting at 3:00 P.M. But there’s plenty of colonial history from other folks, as well as insights into politics and power from the 17th through the late 20th centuries. Download a brochure for all the possibilities.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Boston Riots in Memory and Myth

Being in the opposite corner of the country, I’m quite sorry I won’t be able to attend today’s brown-bag-lunch seminar at the Massachusetts Historical Society at noon.

The researcher is Nichole George of the University of Notre Dame, and the society describes her research topic as:
Riots and Remembrance: America’s Idols and the Origins of American Nationalism

This project focuses on popular celebrations and the use of “celebrities” as symbols of the changing dynamics of American nationalism from settlement through the Civil War. Nicole’s research focuses on three main idols: the Pope, Benedict Arnold, and Crispus Attucks, each representing a major transition in American national identity.
As I’ve noted before, processions vilifying Benedict Arnold late in the Revolutionary War and into the early republic bear a startling similarity to New England’s prewar Pope Night festivals. How long did the Arnold parades go on? Was that style of pageantry adapted further to attack other public villains? What was the thinking behind the reenactment of Pope Night in Boston in 1821, as reported in the Boston Daily Advertiser?

I’m not sorry to have missed a talk at the West End Museum last week whose description says:
The famous “Boston Massacre” was not an isolated event, but an outpouring of riots on the ropewalks of a man named John Grey. His brother Samuel was a “Son of Liberty” and also one of the first people gunned down on the Rope walks.
John Gray did own the ropewalks where fights broke out between workers and royal soldiers on 2 March 1770. Samuel Gray did work there, and was killed in the Boston Massacre. However, those two men weren’t brothers. John was a very wealthy manufacturer, brother to the province’s Treasurer Harrison Gray. Samuel was a mechanic, and not even an independent one; if he was any sort of close relative to his genteel employer, that would have been reported at the time. I also don’t know of any evidence outside of these fights for Samuel Gray’s political activity. Finally, the Massacre didn’t occur on or near the ropewalks.

(The image above, courtesy of Colonial Williamsburg, shows an 1865 political cartoon of Arnold, the Devil, and Jefferson Davis. New cartoons linking Arnold and the Devil continued to appear at least through the Bicentennial.)

Sunday, July 29, 2012

“Take one Young fatt puppy”

Not everyone will enjoy Lisa Smith’s posting at Wonders & Marvels that begins:
At first I thought it was a joke when I read a recipe for “The Puppy Water” in a recipe collection compiled by one Mary Doggett in 1682. “Take one Young fatt puppy and put him into a flatt Still Quartered Gutts and all ye Skin upon him”, then distill it along with buttermilk, white wine, pared lemons, herbs, camphire, venus turpentine, red rosewater, fasting spittle, and eighteen pippins.
Among the several puppy-related early modern medical treatments that Smith describes, I doubt we’d find much objection today to one: Thomas Sydenham’s advice in Praxis Medica (1707) that “for iliac passion (intestinal obstruction),…a live puppy should be laid to the patient’s naked belly for two or three days.” A warm puppy certainly couldn’t make anything worse.

But as for the rest, well…

Saturday, July 28, 2012

“Redcoats & Rebels” at Sturbridge, 4-5 August

Old Sturbridge Village’s “Redcoats & Rebels” weekend is coming up on the weekend of 4-5 August. The museum village boasts:
See the largest military re-enactment in New England with approximately 800 soldiers portraying British, Irish, Spanish, Scottish, French and Colonial troops. The Village is transformed into a military camp from the time of the War for Independence, as it was known in early New England. Come see what it was really like for those who fought to win America's freedoms.

Daytime events include a mock battle each afternoon, cannon-firing demonstrations, fife and drum music, and marching and drilling demonstrations.

On Saturday, stay for special extended hours. The Village will be open until 8:00 p.m. for a special evening program, “Twilight Encampment,” when visitors can mingle with troops in their camps from 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m. There is no additional charge for the evening program.
Which of course means that regular village admission charges apply.

Old Sturbridge normally interprets New England rural life in the late 1830s, which makes the appearance of Revolutionary War redcoats as much of an anachronism as, say, World War 2 soldiers today. But the landscape offers a wonderful setting, and the turnout is excellent.

[Lee Wright’s photo of a past Redcoats & Rebels weekend comes via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.]

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Rebirth of Anti-Federalism?

Yesterday’s posting discussed how four Supreme Court justices had, perhaps unthinkingly, adopted Alexander Hamilton’s dismissive version of how Anti-Federalists caricatured the Constitution. In other words, they accepted the attitude of the Anti-Federalists expressed in the broadest, most sneering form.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo sees a larger reemergence of Anti-Federalism in today’s politics:
If you read about how the federal constitution came about, one thing is crystal clear: it was devised by people who wanted to create a strong federal government and saw the states as obstacles to doing so. The people who believed in states rights and an anemic federal government — the ancestors of today’s Tea Party — were the Anti-Federalists. And they lost.

But especially in recent decades, these modern day Anti-Federalists hatched a massive bamboozle in which they projected the the aims and values of the losers — the Anti-Federalists — on to the winners of the debates — Hamilton, Madison, Washington, Franklin and the rest of them.

This hasn’t simply been an effort on the terrain of political argument. It’s dominated the high-toned theory of the conservative legal academy as well.

But now it seems that anti-federal government thought has become so powerful and accepted that it’s finally ready to come out of the Anti-Federalist closet and embrace its true heritage: The Articles of Confederation, the failed union of sovereign states the federal constitution was hatched to replace.

In her latest column (thanks to Jon Chait for flagging it), Amity Shlaes proposed a major reversion to the Articles of the Confederation model: removing the federal government’s ability to tax individuals and replacing it with a claim on states. In other words, devolving the taxing power to the states. 
Because that worked so well in the 1780s.

Of course, it’s possible to maintain intellectual consistency by arguing that the Federalist Founders wanted a stronger national government for their time but would have opposed the powers that the federal government has taken on since; that the Anti-Federalists’ fears were overblown for their time but have come true since.

But there’s no way to prove or disprove that. We have no idea what James Madison (pictured above) or his opponents in 1787-89 would have thought about the Fourteenth Amendment, or mileage rules for automobiles, or necessary powers for the executive branch in a world with nuclear-tipped missiles.

We can say, however, that Madison and Thomas Jefferson, who both became President declaring their support for a smaller, weaker national government, ended up using the executive branch powers in unprecedented ways. And that’s one reason I have no faith that most of today’s “Anti-Federalist” or “states’ rights” politicians and activists would stick to that philosophy if they found a chance to institute what they want from the federal level.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

That Wasn’t Hamilton’s “Hideous Monster”

I’m traveling for the next two weeks, so for a while most Boston 1775 postings will be pointers to interesting material elsewhere on the web. I can’t guarantee timeliness, either of that news or of the morning updates, but I do hope to share something each day.

As a start, History News Network, journalist and professor Ian Mylchreest offered an essay on “How Four Supreme Court Justices Misquoted Alexander Hamilton”:
Americans have always used the Revolutionary era as a cabinet of historical curiosities. When we need authority for our beliefs, we rummage around in the cupboard and pull out some suitable analogy or quotation to bolster the argument we want to make. . . .

Given how ingrained this national habit is, it seemed pretty routine that the four conservative Supreme Court justices who found the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional would include in their judgment a quotation from Alexander Hamilton. Washington’s lieutenant duly makes an appearance as the judges are warming up to denounce the individual mandate as constitutional overreach because it dragoons healthy young individuals into buying health insurance they do not want.

If Congress can do that, the dissenting justices write, “then the Commerce Clause becomes a font of unlimited power, or in Hamilton’s words, ‘the hideous monster whose devouring jaws ... spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane.’”

Those are indeed the words of Alexander Hamilton, but, as they’re quoted here, it seems that he must have been warning against the ever-present tyranny of the federal government. But that was not what he was saying.

The image of the devouring monster in Federalist 33 is, in fact, Hamilton sarcastically denouncing the scare tactics of the Anti-Federalists—the men who opposed the Constitution. Hamilton wanted to assure the voters of New York that far from the tyrannous monster they had been warned about, the broad power of taxation in the Constitution was perfectly consistent with republican government.
Indeed, that number of the Federalist states:
The last clause of the eighth Section of the first Article of the plan under consideration authorizes the National Legislature “to make all laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the powers by that Constitution vested in the Government of the United States, or in any department or officer thereof;” and the second clause of the sixth Article declares, “that the Constitution and the laws of the United States made in pursuance thereof, and the treaties made by their authority, shall be the supreme law of the land; anything in the constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.”

These two clauses have been the source of much virulent invective, and petulant declamation, against the proposed Constitution. They have been held up to the people in all the exaggerated colors of misrepresentation; as the pernicious engines by which their local Governments were to be destroyed, and their liberties exterminated; as the hideous monster whose devouring jaws would spare neither sex nor age, nor high nor low, nor sacred nor profane; and yet, strange as it may appear, after all this clamor, to those who may not have happened to contemplate them in the same light, it may be affirmed with perfect confidence, that the constitutional operation of the intended Government would be precisely the same, if these clauses were entirely obliterated, as if they were repeated in every Article. They are only declaratory of a truth, which would have resulted by necessary and unavoidable implication from the very act of constituting a Fœderal Government, and vesting it with certain specified powers. This is so clear a proposition, that moderation itself can scarcely listen to the railings which have been so copiously vented against this part of the Plan, without emotions that disturb its equanimity.
As Mylchreest goes on to point out, in truth Hamilton was one of the early American republic’s champions of a stronger and more active national government:
Hamilton was the big government conservative in 1787. Unlike many others in Constitution Hall, he wanted a powerful national state to emerge from the deliberations and he believed it should carry a sizeable public debt. Hamilton wanted an active federal government to build the nation.
Specifically, Hamilton hoped a bigger, stronger national government could help American business. His understanding of the constitutional structure in general and the commerce clause in particular aren’t the only authorities on their meaning, then or now. But the justices and their clerks could have found much more appropriate dead spokesmen for their view of a limited commerce clause.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Defining Mr. President with Ray Raphael

Last month the Washington Post reviewed Ray Raphael’s new book Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive:
Article II’s description of the president’s powers was spare. He was commander in chief. He could, with the Senate’s advice and consent, make treaties and appoint ambassadors, judges and other officials. Most sweepingly, he held the nation’s “executive power.”

These unlikely materials have produced the most important job on Earth. In “Mr. President,” historian Ray Raphael explores the birth and early molding of the presidency. The journey is an illuminating one, with wisdom that resonates as the nation prepares to choose its president again.

Raphael incisively explains how damnably difficult the problem was. Revolution-era Americans knew British monarchs and royal governors. They knew foreign kings and emperors. They knew their own flaccid state governors and presidents. They knew the Articles of Confederation of 1781, which created a very weak central government without any executive branch, only a few administrative officials who reported to Congress.

But the world afforded no model of what the convention delegates wanted: an executive with “vigor” who would not threaten republican self-rule. Some wanted multiple executives, some a single president with a long term in office. Others pressed for short terms, with Congress choosing the president. Political conflicts between North and South, between large states and small, complicated the problem. No one much liked the final version of Article II, but time ran out.
And everyone knew who the first chief executive was going to be, anyway: the man chairing the constitutional convention, George Washington.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Washington and Knox: When Harry Met George

After my “Washington’s Artillery” talk earlier this month, Marty Ganzglass raised an interesting question:

You mentioned that General Washington took a liking to Henry Knox who was about half the General’s age. I wonder why a patrician planter from Virginia would befriend Knox who, while educated, would have been considered a tradesman and not of the educated class. I would appreciate your views on their relationship.
On the class issue, I think Knox had already risen into the genteel ranks. Bookselling was indeed a trade, but one that catered to an upper-class clientele, displayed a man’s learning, and involved importing goods from London, thus making Knox a merchant of sorts. A generation earlier, Thomas Hancock had built himself up from a bookseller to one of the richest men in Boston. A florid letter that Knox sent to the doctors who cared for his hand after a hunting accident showed how he was striving for genteel manners.

Knox’s 1774 marriage to Lucy Flucker cemented his class rise locally. He was now part of one of the most prestigious families in the province, even if Thomas Flucker hadn’t been particularly pleased with his daughter’s choice.

And then Knox put that status at risk by supplying useful information to the Patriots and joining them during the siege. He walked away from the patronage possibilities of being the provincial secretary’s son-in-law and perhaps (it didn’t turn out this way) from the family fortunes. I’m sure gossip about Knox’s choice reached Washington, and such willingness to sacrifice comfort for the cause would have pleased him.

As for the age difference between the two men, I think that may actually have helped their relationship. With Washington in his forties and Knox in his twenties, there was a clear distinction between them. Washington couldn’t feel any threat to his authority as he might have with older, experienced officers like Artemas Ward and, later, Horatio Gates.

Psychologically, Knox had lost his father at an early age. Washington had no son of his own (and Jack Custis wasn't proving very impressive). So each man might have been looking for someone like the other in his life. That could have made it easy for the two to slip into a mentor-protégé relationship. They were also both big, strong, physical men.

For much of his career, and especially in these early years as commander-in-chief, I don’t think Washington liked men disagreeing with him. He had to put up with it when all his generals voted against his plans to attack Boston (and chose Ward’s plan instead!), or when the Congress hinted that he wasn’t working quickly enough. But he chafed at those moments. Knox and the general tended to see eye-to-eye on both policies and methods. Washington learned he could rely on Knox not only to agree with his general planning but also to get things done.

Finally, lots of sources say Knox was a charming man. He met Washington on 5 July 1775. At the time he was working on the fortifications at Roxbury, but so was Lt. Col. Rufus Putnam. Knox waited on the general on 9 and 12 July, and on 8 August he dined was Washington’s headquarters. In late September (before his own wife’s arrival), the commander invited Lucy Knox to dine at his headquarters as well. All that face time suggests that the Knoxes were just fun to be around. It’s hard to quantify that quality, but it wouldn’t have hurt when Washington considered what to do with the artillery regiment the next month.

Monday, July 23, 2012

“Our armament here was a great curiosity.”

A couple of Boston 1775 readers have asked me whether Col. Henry Knox took any precautions to hide the artillery he moved from New York to eastern Massachusetts in 1775-76. Did he guard against Loyalists or British spies watching those cannon?

I’ve seen no indication in Knox’s or Gen. George Washington’s papers that they worried about secrecy on this mission. At that time the American cause was very popular in the New England and northern New York countryside. Few people had experienced serious deprivations from the war, the British forces were almost all confined to Boston and Québec, and drastic steps like declaring independence and allying with the French Empire were off in the future.

Furthermore, western Massachusetts was especially radical. The farmers there had been the first in the province to close their courts in 1774 to protest the Massachusetts Government Act, and they kept them closed through the whole war. Local friends of the Crown had decamped for Boston or were keeping quiet.

Even if Loyalists did see the cannon on the move, it’s unclear what they could have done with that information. They would have had to carry the news through the winter landscape and across the siege lines into Boston, or up to Québec, or perhaps to Newport. The British garrison in Boston was already holding out against some cannon; would more old guns really make a difference?

Young teamster John P. Becker’s reminiscence indicates that, far from keeping their cargo secret, Knox’s men welcomed attention in the towns along the way. About Albany, for example, Becker recalled: “Our appearance excited the attention of the Burghers.”

And in Westfield:
We then reached Westfield, Massachusetts, and were much amused with what seemed the quaintness and honest simplicity of the people. Our armament here was a great curiosity. We found that very few, even among the oldest inhabitants, had ever seen a cannon. They were never tired of examining our desperate “big shooting irons,” and guessing how many tons they weighed; others of the scientific order, were measuring the dimensions of their muzzles, and the circumference at the breach. The handles, as they styled the trunnions, were reckoned rather too short, but they considered on the whole, that the guns must be pretty nice things at a long shot.

We were great gainers by this curiosity, for while they were employed in remarking upon our guns, we were, with equal pleasure, discussing the qualities of their cider and whiskey. These were generously brought out in great profusion, saying they would be darned, if it was not their treat.

One old mortar, well known during the revolution, as the old sow, and which not many years since, was the subject of eulogy on the floor of our own Legislature, by no less a personage than Gen. [Erastus] Root, was actually fired several times by the people of Westfield, for the novel pleasure of listening to its deep toned thunders.

Col. Knox was surrounded by visitors at the inn that evening. And the introductions that took place gave to his acquaintance, hosts of militia officers of every rank and degree. Every man seemed to be an officer. What a pity, said Colonel Knox to some of us who stood near him, what a pity it is that our soldiers are not as numerous as our officers.
That sounds like Knox, but it doesn’t sound like he was trying to keep stuff quiet.

As for Becker’s memory of the “old sow,” he might have mixed up a big mortar that Knox brought east with the big mortar of that nickname that Gen. Richard Montgomery was using in the invasion of Canada at the same time. Or there might have been two “old sows.”

TOMORROW: Col. Knox and Gen. Washington.

[The photograph above shows the Henry Knox Trail monument in the center of Westfield (look on the lower right side). The big stately building was a post office but is now a restaurant. The photograph, by Henry W. Ohlhous, comes courtesy of the Historical Marker Database.]

Sunday, July 22, 2012

“A heavy plunge to the bottom of the stream”

In 1833, John P. Becker looked back on his experience as a eleven-year-old helping his father haul heavy cannon for Col. Henry Knox in a book called The Sexagenary. In particular, Becker remembered a frightening moment crossing the Hudson River at Lansing’s or Half Moon Ferry north of Albany:
As the ice was not uncommonly strong, some precautions were taken to get across with safety. The method adopted was this: A rope forty feet long was fastened to the tongue of the sleigh, and the other end was attached to the horses. The first gun was started across in this way, and my father walked along aside the horses with a sharp hatchet in his hand, to cut the rope, if the cannon and sled should break through.

In the centre of the river the ice gave way, as had been feared, and a noble 18 [pounder] sank with a crackling noise, and then a heavy plunge to the bottom of the stream. With a desperate hope of overcoming its downward tendency, and just as the cracking of the ice gave the alarm, the horses were whipped up into a full jump, but to no purpose. The gun sank, fortunately not in very deep water.

The horses kept their feet, and the rope was used to secure a buoy over the place where the cannon was lying, and afterwards materially aided its recovery. In this dilemma, we had no alternative but to abandon the idea of getting on the east side of the Hudson. It began to rain, the weather was changing, and we were forced to retrace our steps in some measure, and seek a passage across the Mohawk.
The men managed to pull that cannon out of the water. But a few days later, another heavy gun broke through the ice east of Albany. Becker didn’t mention that one, so I suspect he and his father had gone ahead.

Col. Knox wrote in his journal for 8 Jan 1776:
Went on the Ice about 8 o’clock in the morning & proceeded so cautiously that before night we got over three sleds & were so lucky as to get the Cannon out of the River, owing to the assistance the good people of the City of Albany gave, in return for which we christen’d her—The Albany.
Knox pressed on. By 11 January, as I quoted two days ago, he found the lead teams stopped in Blandford, Massachusetts. The teamsters “refus’d going any further, on accot. that there was no snow beyond five or six miles further.” Once again, Col. Knox’s biggest problem in hauling heavy guns to the siege lines wasn’t a harsh winter but a mild one.

TOMORROW: Spectators along the way.

[Image above of the historical marker noting Knox’s journey through Alford, Massachusetts, from M. McCormack’s Who’s Henry Knox? blog.]

Saturday, July 21, 2012

“A fine fall of snow which will…make the carriage easy”

As Derek Beck observed at his blog for 1775, most images of Col. Henry Knox’s trek from Fort Ticonderoga to Cambridge show men using ox teams to drag cannon through snow. But, Derek’s recent American Revolution article points out, most of Knox’s teams were horses.

Furthermore, the young artillery colonel wanted snow and cold. A layer of smooth packed snow made dirt roads much better for hauling heavy loads. New England loggers tended to wait for winter to bring big timber to the coast. After snowfalls, farmers loaded their major crops onto sleighs and headed for market towns. On 17 Dec 1775, Knox wrote to Gen. George Washington about his plans for the guns:
I expect to begin to move them to Saratoga on Wednesday or Thursday next trusting that between this and then we shall have a fine fall of snow which will enable us to proceed further and make the carriage easy.
For a while, the weather looked like it was going to cooperate. It was probably Christmas 1775 when Knox described traveling:
on foot about 6 miles in the midst of an exceeding fine Snow. . . . sat off about three o’Clock it still snowing exceeding fast & it being very deep after the utmost efforts of the horses we reach’d Ensign’s about 8 Miles beyond Saratoga where we lodged.

26 [December]. In the morning the snow being nearly two feet deep we with great trouble reach’d about two miles we then procur’d Saddles & went to Stillwater, where we got a Sleigh to go to Albany, but the roads not being broken prevented our getting farther than New City, about 9 miles above Albany, where we lodged.

In the morning we sat out & got about 2 miles, when our horses tir’d and refused to go any farther. I was then oblig’d to undertake a very fatiguing march of about 2 miles in snow three feet deep thro’ the woods, there being no beaten path. Got to Squire Fisher’s who politely gave me a fine breakfast & provided me with horses which served me as far as Col. Schuyler’s, where I got a sleigh to carry me to Albany, which I reach’d about two o’Clock, almost perish’d with the Cold.
As cold as Knox felt, however, the weather didn’t stay cold enough to make it easy for his teams to cross the Hudson River. Knox spent the first four days of 1776 “employ’d in getting holes cut in the different crossing places in the river in order to Strengthen the Ice.”

Despite those efforts, on 4 January one cannon fell into the river at Half Moon Ferry. The next day, Knox found the Mohawk River “very weak Ice indeed for horses.” He had to send bad news to Gen. Washington from Albany:
I was in hopes that we should have been able to have had the cannon at Cambridge by this time. The want of snow detained us some days, and now a cruel thaw hinders from crossing Hudson river which we are obliged to do four times from Lake George to this town. The first severe night will make the ice on the river sufficiently strong; till that happens the cannon and mortars must remain where they are.
Knox started off again on 7 January, but a bigger gun “fell into the River notwithstanding the precautions we took, & in its fall broke all the Ice for 14 feet around it.”

TOMORROW: Losing and recovering those cannon.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Knox’s Oxen

Still on the broad topic of Henry KnoxDerek W. Beck has shared news of his article “No Ox for Knox?” in the July/August issue of American Revolution magazine. He writes:
My “No Ox for Knox?” article questions the famous story of Col. Henry Knox leading a team of ox-drawn sleds laden with artillery through the snowy mountains of western Massachusetts. This story is a staple of both history books and the American subconscious, and has been immortalized in at least two artworks. . . . But could it be wrong? Read the article to see my argument that Knox had no oxen after all.
I haven’t seen the magazine yet, but I assume that Derek focuses on the particular leg of Knox’s trek from Lake Champlain to Cambridge in the winter of 1775-76.

The colonel definitely used oxen to move the heavy guns south from Fort Ticonderoga, as shown by a receipt that the New England Historic and Genealogical Register published in 1876:
Recd. of Henry Knox twenty six dollars which Capt. John Johnson paid to different Carters for the use of their Cattle, in dragging Cannon from The Fort of Ticonderoga to the North Landing of Lake George
The heavy guns were then floated down the lake. Knox planned to use more oxen for the overland journey, as he wrote in his journal in mid-December (published at the same time):
I sent an Express to Squire [George] Palmer of Stillwater to prepare a number of Sleds & oxen to drag the Cannon presuming that we should get there, & on Wednesday the 13th he came up & agreed to provide the necessary number of sleds & oxen & they to be ready by the first snow.
17 December Knox wrote to Gen. George Washington about having “provided 80 yoke of oxen to drag them as far as Springfield where I shall get fresh cattle to carry them to camp.”

But then on 28 December, Knox recorded that Palmer and Gen. Philip Schuyler were still at odds on the price for those ox teams. Instead, the next day Schuyler “Sent out his Waggon Master & other people to all parts of the Country to immediately send up their slays with horses suitable.” Thereafter Knox’s journal mentions horses. John P. Becker’s memoir, The Sexagenary, briefly describes the ensuing trek from the perspective of an eleven-year-old driver, son of the man who supplied most of those horses.

But then Knox’s train came to Blandford, Massachusetts, on the eastern edge of the Berkshire Mountains. On 11 Jan 1776 he wrote:
At Blanford we overtook the first division who had tarried here untill we came up, and refus’d going any further, on accot. that there was no snow beyond five or six miles further in which space there was the tremendous Glasgow or Westfield mountain to go down. But after about three hours persuasion, I hiring two teams of oxen, they agreed to go.
Those teams are probably connected to the second receipt published with the journal:
Blanford Jany 13. 1776 Recd of Henry Knox eighteen shillings lawful money for Carrying a Cannon weighing 24C. 3 from this Town to Westfield being 11 Miles
That was signed by Solomon Brown (1737-1786). Above is his gravestone, courtesy of Find-a-Grave.

So Knox, contrary to his initial plans, didn’t need any oxen to get the cannon up the Massachusetts mountains, but he hired four to get them down. By then, the colonel was convinced of the value of horses. The Gilder-Lehrman Institute displays a 13 January letter in which Knox tells a colleague what to offer teamsters: “offer them 14/ York currency today for each Span of horses that is after they leave Springfield—After they get down the next Hill they will be able to travel much farther than Oxen.”

TOMORROW: Knox’s weather reports.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Henry Knox and Paul Revere: Pretending to Quarrel?

I seem to be on a roll with Henry Knox, so I might as well continue. A while back, I laid out my argument that Knox’s 1774 marriage into the family of Thomas Flucker, royal Secretary of the province of Massachusetts, prompted some people to assume he’d favor the Crown like his father-in-law.

Knox’s name doesn’t appear on the lists of Whig activists from before the war. His most prominent public activities—testifying about the Boston Massacre and helping to found a militia grenadier company—give no good clues about his leanings in the context of the town. We have few papers from Knox before his marriage, and their few political comments are middle-of-the-road for a Boston businessman.

So authors filled the vacuum. Margherita Arlina Hamm’s Builders of the Republic, published in 1902, states:

Governor [Thomas] Gage had started a system of espionage and surveillance upon all suspected rebels, in which category was the young bookseller. . . . with a group of patriots [he] established a counter espionage upon the officials and their spies. With him in this work was his friend Paul Revere the engraver.

At the time Revere was not suspected, and on account of his business relations with Knox could come and go from the latter’s store without arousing suspicion. He took the precaution however, always to bring a plate when he visited the bookseller, and if there were any spies or British officers about, to have a make-believe quarrel in regard to imaginary work. Time and again when they had the wrong kind of an audience, he would denounce Knox at the top of his lungs, and Knox would give as good as he received, until they were alone. They carried out this comedy so successfully that on several occasions Revere was asked by British spies for information respecting the rebel bookseller.
Unfortunately, Hamm’s book didn’t include any citations at all. There’s no equivalent for this story in Noah Brooks’s biography of Knox, published two years earlier, or Elbridge H. Goss’s biography of Revere, published in 1891. Nor is there any contemporaneous document to support Hamm’s statement that the royal authorities were watching Knox or sought information about him from Revere.

In fact, Revere advertised his print of the Massacre in 1770, one of many harsh Whig political cartoons he engraved and sold. In 1771, newspapers reported, he hosted a commemoration of the Massacre at his house. John Adams’s diary shows that Revere attended political organizing meetings at the Boston Gazette office. The records of the North End Caucus show he was active in that political organization.

In November 1773 Revere was second man in line to volunteer to patrol the docks and ensure nobody unloaded the tea ships. In September 1774 he carried the Suffolk Resolves to the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. All told, it’s very hard to imagine that “Revere was not suspected” of being a radical Whig. In fact, he should have been high on the royal authorities’ list.

Furthermore, in 1798 Revere wrote a detailed account of his intelligence and counterintelligence activity before the war, and it didn’t mention Knox. (I contend Revere hid Knox’s help in November 1774—help that was possible only if Knox still had his father-in-law’s confidence.)

Hamm’s anecdote fits the common picture of Knox as a stalwart Whig well before the war. It has the “fool the silly British officers” structure that American have long loved. It continues to appear in Knox biographies, including those by North Callahan and Mark Puls (neither of whom cites Hamm specifically). But there’s no reason to believe it.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Henry Knox’s “Grand machine”

Here’s another striking entry from Col. Henry Knox’s earliest regimental orders, preserved in the Gershom Foster orderly book at Anderson House in Washington, D.C. These words come from a long entry on 11 Feb 1776:

Whereas there have been some misapprehentions how far an officer of Artillery is under the command of an officer of Superiour Rank in any other Regt. while on duty in In the beginning of a war disputes of this kind may arise owing to a very Obvious reason, (viz) the want of experience but then a good Officer will endiver immeadiatly to be better informd and never assert [?] a dispute where a little honour is to be Obtained and which will always expose his want of knowledge.

In the nature of military discipline there cannot be two separate commanders in one Army every Order must be implissitly Obeyd from the Commander in Chief down to the Lowest Sentinal. All parts must perform their proper officers [sic] like a Grand machine when good regulation depends on a A number of nice wheals the Least of which being wrong disorders the whole. So in an army if the orders issued by the commander in Chief are interrupted by ignorance wrong instructions Casuality [?] from being communicated to the parts intended the whole must suffer in a vary total manner.

That the Regt. of Artillery may not Lay under the imputation of not properly understanding their connection with the Army, The Colo. desires them to attend to the following directions.

That no officer of artillery on duty presume to dispute the command of any other officer of Superiour Rank excepting in case of notorious cowardice in said officer.

That in a post all guards are under the immeadiate direction of the officer who commands in that post It is not to be supposed that an officer so commanding will take upon himself the direction on pointing the cannon—this is none of his business It is the perticular duty of the Artillery the Purpose for which they were selected Although he has the undoubted right to Order when they shall begin or when they shall seace to fire

The above is to be understood only when on duty the Oeconomy and discipline of the Regt. are under the special direction of the commander of the Artillery.
Knox’s strict order indicates that he had learned about artillery officers defying nearby colonels and other superiors, insisting that they answered only to their own colonel. He didn’t want to hear any more complaints of that sort.

This passage also shows how Knox viewed the ideal army: as “a Grand machine” with “A number of nice wheals” working in sync. I don’t think of Knox as the best engineer or field-artillery commander in the Continental Army, but he proved to be an excellent military administrator who could keep that machine running.

To my knowledge, Knox’s regimental orders on taking over the Continental artillery have never been published. The Gershom Foster orderly book, just one item of the Society of the Cincinnati’s collection of Revolutionary War military documents, is a vital resource for anyone studying that transition.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Generational Tension within the Artillery Regiment

The change at the top of the Continental artillery regiment that Gershom Foster’s early-1776 orderly book documents may have brought up some generational friction.

In his first regimental orders on 28 Jan 1776, the new colonel, Henry Knox, made a point to say:
The Colnl. is fully persuaded the officers of the Artillary Regt. will not loose the present opportunity. He wishes harmony to prevail in Every Company that the officers of Experience would Chearfully communicate their Knnowledg to the Younger and unexperienced Breathen that all the officers in their Respective spheres would inculcate to the noncommisioned officers & Soldiers the duty of their Stations & the advantage & necessity of a proper Subordination.
This message to “officers of Experience” came from a man in his mid-twenties who had just replaced a sixtysomething veteran of two wars, Col. Richard Gridley.

Furthermore, Knox now commanded Lt. Col. William Burbeck, who would turn sixty in 1776, and Lt. Col. David Mason, who would turn forty. Both those men had fought in wars against the French. Knox’s only military experience before 1775 was as a junior lieutenant in Boston’s militia grenadier company. Of course, he had won Gen. George Washington’s favor by helping to design fortifications in Roxbury and then cemented it by bringing more heavy artillery from Lake Champlain.

On 29 January, Knox’s regimental orders said, “the posts at prospect and Winter hills...are to be fired and directed by Colonel Mason.” Two days later Knox designated told all the artillery officers on the northern wing of the siege to report on their ordnance to Mason. The officers elsewhere in Cambridge were to report directly to Knox, and those at Roxbury to Maj. John Crane.

So where was Lt. Col. Burbeck in that arrangement? The Foster orderly book doesn’t mention the regiment’s second-highest ranking officer after the one regimental order he issued on 3 January. (It does mention “Capt. Burbeck at the Laboratory” on Cambridge common; that must have been one of the lieutenant colonel’s sons.)

Burbeck left the Continental Army when it moved south in April 1776, insisting that his contract was with Massachusetts. But perhaps he was already withdrawn from the regiment, or at least stopped behaving “Chearfully” around the new commander.

That’s another question scholars can investigate with the Gershom Foster orderly book, part of the archive at the Society of the Cincinnati’s Anderson House in Washington, D.C.

TOMORROW: Artillery officers versus infantry officers.

[The thumbnail above is Sharon Zingery’s photograph of William Burbeck’s gravestone in the Copp’s Hill Burying-ground, courtesy of Find-a-Grave.]

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Peek at Gershom Foster’s Orderly Book

While I was at Anderson House in Washington, D.C., last week, I spent a couple of days in the Society of the Cincinnati’s library. Like the David Library of the American Revolution in Pennsylvania, it’s tightly focused on Revolutionary America and its cultural legacy. There’s a solid endowment for acquiring books and hiring helpful staff, an excellent collection of published material, and an archive of rare books and manuscripts that scholars should be aware of.

One of the items I looked at was the orderly book of Gershom Foster from the Continental artillery regiment in early 1776. This document shows the arrival of Henry Knox as the regiment’s new colonel; the Continental Congress had voted on his appointment in the fall of 1775, but he was away from the siege lines in New York until the end of January.

Each daily record in Foster’s orderly book starts with the orders coming down from Gen. George Washington’s headquarters. Every day, Foster left space to write the parole and countersign words, but about half those entries are blank—i.e., the security information never seems to have reached him.

Orderly books are also supposed to record the brigade or regimental orders from the officers overseeing the company. On 3 January, Foster recorded this directive from Lt. Col. William Burbeck, acting commander:
That every orderly Sergent of the Artillary Quarterd in or near Cambridge do attend at the Ajudants Room at 2 oClock every day there to Receive Orders.
There’s no further word from Burbeck. It’s not clear how the lieutenant colonel expected orders to reach the artillery companies spread out in the southern wing of the siege lines.

Everything changed on 28 January. Foster penned a big headline: “Regimental Orders.” And we hear the voice of Col. Knox:
It is of the utmost Importance the Regt. of Artillary in the Service of the United Colonies Should be well Regulated & well disciplined. The great number of [sites] which we are Oblge to occupy: necesary occasion the Regt. to be dispersed or detached in consequence of this, the Commanding officers of the artillary at the Differnt posts have a much greater Call for the exercise of every Millitary abillity then if the Regt. was together they will have the praise if their detachments are perfect in their proper Exercise & they will have the blame if on the Contrary they either neglect their duty or behave in an unsoldierlike manner.

Perhaps their never was a period of time in which a good officer could better obtain the greatefull applause of his Country then the present—
Knox’s emphasis on order, hierarchy, and discipline matched Washington’s priorities. The remarks on praise, blame, and “greatefull applause” seem to reflect his own aspirations to gain honor and rise in society. I don’t believe those regimental orders from Knox have ever been published.

TOMORROW: More of Col. Knox’s new orders.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dropping in on the Andersons

This is the ballroom at Anderson House, the headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati in Washington, D.C. It’s the largest room of the Gilded Age mansion that Larz and Isabel (Weld Perkins) Anderson built for entertaining during winters while they were in the capital.

Larz Anderson was active in the Society of the Cincinnati, whose members are descendants of officers in the Continental Army (and allied French forces). After he died, Isabel gave this Washington mansion to the society. In addition to this ballroom, it has space for museum galleries and a specialized library on the Revolutionary War.

Last week I gave a lecture in the Anderson House ballroom; that photo shows my view of the room, more or less. Hanging above the fireplace behind me was a portrait of George Washington. Off camera to the left was a portrait of Henry Knox. I joked that those must have been put up for my talk, since it was about how Washington came to ask the Continental Congress to make Knox the head of its artillery regiment. But they’re fixtures; Knox was the chief founder of the society, and Washington its first president.

Around Boston, a lot of us know the name of Larz Anderson from the bridge across the Charles River at the old center of Cambridge. (There’s been a bridge at that site since the late 1600s: militiamen pulled up its planks on 19 Apr 1775, and Gen. Washington remonstrated with his troops about jumping off it naked that August.) The same Larz Anderson as in Washington funded the current bridge in 1913-15. Its official name is actually the Anderson Memorial Bridge, and the Anderson being memorialized was Larz’s father.

Larz and Isabel Anderson also commissioned a mansion and estate in Brookline and assembled a collection of vehicles, now the basis of the Larz Anderson Auto Museum in Larz Anderson Park. They left the Larz Anderson collection of bonsai trees at Arnold Arboretum, a souvenir of Larz’s very short tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Japan.

The real source of all those funds was the fortune that Larz’s wife, the former Isabel Weld Perkins, had inherited. At the age of five, she had become the richest female in America. Her fortune allowed the couple to commission three mansions at once (there was another in New Hampshire), to collect, to travel, and to fund public works. So maybe we should unofficially refer to the Isabel Anderson bridge.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gleanings from the Ipswich Journal

I recently stumbled across this webpage of items from the Ipswich Journal in 1775-76, maintained by the Foxearth and District Local History Society. It’s part of bigger series archiving items from newspapers the east of England.

There are a few dispatches from the American war, but most of the items are about local crime, wagon accidents, notable deaths, &c. Of course, without context it’s impossible to tell how typical that mix is.

The transcriptions have some glitches. For example, I suspect that the item for 1 July 1775 originally read:
We hear that the Senecas, one of the six Indian nations, are determined to supply the Americans against the arbitrary exactions of the British Parliament and if desired will lend their help in this day of distress expected if the Colonies are subjected. They shall also fall a sacrifice to Gt Britain.
The webpage concludes “fail a sacra file to Gt Britain.” The Seneca nation actually ended up supporting the Crown.

We can see the delay in news from North America. It took until 17 June for the Ipswich Journal to report this news of the siege of Boston:
Letter received by a family in Colchester from their son dated — Boston, April 23rd. Boston is now in a terrible situation and I am at a loss to describe the troubles, last Tuesday, the Governor ordered a party of men to March to Concord and seize a magazine that he had information on etc etc.
There was even significant delay within England. On 23 Aug 1775, George III officially proclaimed that “divers parts” of the colonies were in open rebellion. The Ipswich Journal stated on 9 September:
Yesterday the proclamation declared the Americans in open avowed rebellion and absolutely forbids all persons carrying on correspondence with them was read in Ipswich Market place.
But we can also see rural England becoming more modern—slowly:
At Farnham, Suffolk on Monday last a poor man suspected of being a wizard was swam (as tis called) in the river Deben in the presence of a great number of spectators who had assembled from different parts of the county of Suffolk on the occasion, he was put upon his watery trial about 7 in the evening with his feet and hands tied but to the surprise of the whole company he sunk to the bottom and had it not been for the assistance of a humane spectator the experiment would have terminated in a manner shockingly to it’s protectors, mortified and disappointed the company soon dispersed, ashamed of themselves and angry at their own weakness and credulity.
That crime report came from the Ipswich Journal for 20 July 1776. Andrew Clarke, one of the people maintaining the Foxearth Historical Society site, offered a link to A. R. Gomm’s detailed account of a similar event twenty-five years earlier at Tring, which ended in two deaths.

Friday, July 13, 2012

John and Abigail Adams’s “Love Letters”

Last month the Boston Globe highlighted the letters between John and Abigail Adams and a theatrical presentation based on them. The article may now be behind a paywall for most folks, but it said:
Tom Macy and Patricia Bridgman…will step into the roles of John and Abigail for readings of their letters on three afternoons this summer in the Buttrick Garden, on a hillside above the North Bridge in Concord [in Minute Man National Historical Park].

At 1 p.m. …on July 28 and Aug. 26, the Adams scholars and living-history performers will present “Love Letters: The Intimate Correspondence of John and Abigail Adams.”

The 20 or so letters featured in the free presentation span from the early years of their courtship, which began in 1759, to early 1778, when John and son John Quincy sailed to France.

The letters feature lighthearted teasing, the joys of children and farm, optimism on the eve of the birth of a nation, and steadfast love and respect for each other. They also reflect human concerns that are familiar today.

“People will be hearing a married couple talking about things in their marriage, and they’ll be hearing parents talking about their kids,” Macy said. “Some real typical everyday stuff between two married people, but it’s happening at an insane time in our history.”

The presentation takes about 40 minutes. “And what we like to do is at the conclusion ask if anybody has any questions,” Macy said. “And we get into some conversation with the audience, some back-and-forth. We’re going to be underneath a beautiful big old maple tree.”
It would be impossible to do a similar “Love Letters” program with most other couples from eighteenth-century America. The Adamses were not only both intelligent and lively writers, but they were keenly aware of their potential place in history, so they saved most of their papers.

In contrast, only four letters between George and Martha Washington survive. Two of those are just a paragraph long, and the other two George wrote to Martha from Philadelphia just after he accepted the post of commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

“A few artillery cartridges were discovered…”

As I wrote back here, during the Battle of Bunker Hill the two provincial artillery companies ordered to the redoubt on Breed’s Hill in Charlestown discovered a problem with their supplies. The cloth or paper packets of gunpowder in their carriage boxes were too big to fit inside their cannon.

In the course of the battle those artillery companies just sort of melted away. Gen. Israel Putnam led a few of those companies and some infantrymen in trying to use the cannon, but to limited effect.

Inside the redoubt, Col. William Prescott made use of the artillery regiment’s abandoned powder, according to his son. The story picks up after the soldiers in the redoubt had repelled the second British advance:
Nearly the whole front rank was swept away by the first fire of the Americans, so that General [William] Howe was seen standing almost alone, two of his aids having fallen by his side, if my recollection serves me. This was a triumph, and was felt as such by the soldiers; but it was destined to be short-lived.

The interval was now longer, and Colonel Prescott again went among his men, encouraging and assuring them their enemies could never be rallied again if they were once more driven back. They cheered him; said they were ready for the red coats again. . . . Colonel Prescott, however, foresaw with great concern that their ammunition must be nearly exhausted, and, on conferring with his officers, found his worst apprehensions confirmed. He learned from them that the men had little, almost no, ammunition left, and he knew that they were destitute of bayonets. A few artillery cartridges were discovered, which he ordered to be opened, and the powder distributed among the soldiers, exhorting them not to waste a kernel of it, but to make it certain that every shot should tell. . . .

The [British] artillery was directed to the opening between the breastwork and the rail fence, and. from the position they took, they raked the breastwork, drove the men into the redoubt, and did much execution within it. The grenadiers and infantry advanced under the command of Generals Howe, [Henry] Clinton, and [Robert] Pigot upon the southern and eastern sides of the redoubt, making the attack on three sides of it at the same time. A few straggling muskets only were discharged as they advanced.

The Americans having, some only one, and none more than three or four, rounds of ammunition were now directed to reserve their fire till the enemy were within twenty yards, when they poured on them a deadly volley, which made them waver for an instant, and then they sprang forward without returning it. The fire from the redoubts was continued for a few minutes, but soon slackened for want of ammunition, and the British advanced to the wall, which then served as a cover to the front ranks of their columns against the fire of the Americans. Those of the latter who had no bayonets were ordered to retire to the back part of the redoubt, and fire on the enemy as they shew themselves on the parapet.

The redoubt was entered at the southern side or angle. The first officer and whole front rank were shot down as they mounted, among them the gallant Major [John] Pitcairn, as I have always understood. [British sources say Pitcairn had already been fatally wounded by this point and never mounted the redoubt.]

By this time, the ammunition of the Americans was wholly exhausted. The discovery of another cannon cartridge furnished powder for the last muskets that were fired. The Americans, destitute of bayonets, had nothing but the butts of their guns to resist the entrance of the enemy with, and many of them used the barrels after the stocks were broken. The British had entered the redoubt, and were advancing, when Colonel Prescott ordered a retreat.
Prescott’s son composed this account based on his father’s comments and his own reading at some point before he died in 1844. (William, Jr., was only twelve in 1775 and not at the siege.) The document was published in the 1870s by historian Richard Frothingham and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

(The image above accompanies this behind-the-scenes essay from the National Park Service about statue conservation, using the Prescott statue beside the Bunker Hill Monument as an exemplar.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Gen. Putnam’s Cannons

During the Battle of Bunker Hill, Gen. Israel Putnam didn’t just order an artillery officer back into battle. He actually took over the operation of an abandoned cannon or two.

When I first read about that incident in histories by Thomas Fleming and Richard Ketchum, it seemed somewhat outlandish, but it turns out there were quite a few witnesses. In his History of Bunker Hill Battle, published shortly after the fiftieth anniversary of the fight, Samuel Swett quoted the deposition of Ezra Runnels of Middleborough about the event:
I belonged to Capt. [Samuel] Gridley’s artillery company. Went on to the Hill with the company, and 2 small pieces, the evening before the battle; and was at and near the redoubt during the battle, until our party retreated. I well remember of seeing Gen. Putnam at the breastwork during the battle. Before that time, residing in Groton, Connecticut, was personally acquainted with him. I repeatedly saw him during the action walking upon the breastwork and animating the men to exert themselves.

Capt. Gridley, having received some [gunpowder] cartridges which were too large for our pieces, said that nothing could be done with them, and left his post, and our company was scattered. General Putnam came to one of the pieces, near which I stood, and furiously inquired where our officers were? On being told our cartridges were too big, and that the pieces could not be loaded, he swore, and said they could be loaded, taking a cartridge, he broke it open, and loaded the pieces with a ladle, which was discharged; and assisted us in loading two or three times in that manner.
A couple of other recollections from the same book appear to refer to the Gridley company’s cannon in the redoubt:
Joshua Yeomans, Norwich, Putnam’s own regiment: I saw Gen. Putnam split a field-piece in the fort; he could not get the ball into the piece. He went to his saddle-bags [haversack] and took a canvas bag of musket balls [grape], loaded the cannon, and fired it at a number of officers who were consulting under a row of trees.

Amos Foster, Tewksbury: Two of our field-pieces were near me and fired a number of times. Hill, a British deserter, said we fired too high. The pieces were lowered; he said, with an oath, “you have made a furrow through them.” He watched British field-pieces, and, when they were about to fire, we all laid down. One man was burned very badly by a cannon cartridge.
I wish I could identify that deserter.

Other veterans said that Putnam also brought a cannon from Capt. John Callender’s company forward to the rail fence on the American left and had Capt. John Ford’s men operate it:
Alexander Davidson, Edgecombe, Ford’s company: Putnam ordered our company to carry the cannon, deserted by Callender, to the rail fence; he accompanied the pieces himself, saw to the placing them and until they commenced firing them. I well recollect his expression at the second firing of one of the pieces, it was loaded with cannister and seemed to make a lane through them [i.e., the enemy].

Israel Hunt, Dunstable, Bridge’s regiment: Gen. Putnam and Capt. Ford brought an iron field-piece to the rail fence, and fired it a number of times.

William F. Wade, Ipswich, captain in Little’s regiment: One of our cannon, deserted by Callender, was fired a number of times at rail fence very near me; two men in our Regt. Halliday and Dutton, of Newburyport, fired one of the cannon 3 or 4 times and hurraed very loud.

Benjamin Peirce, Hillsborough, Ford’s company: went on to the Hill about 11; Putnam requested our company to drag Callender’s cannon down Bunker Hill; at Capt. Ford's persuasion, drew them to rail fence; thinks he saw Gen. Putnam at that place, looking for some part of his sword
What had happened to Putnam’s sword? According to the general’s son, he broke it swiping at a non-commissioned officer in Callender’s company.

Benjamin Pierce
was an eighteen-year-old soldier during the battle. He grew up to be governor of New Hampshire (as shown above) and father of President Franklin Pierce.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

“Sam Trevett under an arrest. For what?”

Shortly after the Battle of Bunker Hill, Gen. Israel Putnam demanded that the army court-martial the artillery officer he had met pulling back from the fight. The general even threatened to resign if he didn’t get his way. Based on Putnam’s identification, the authorities detained Capt. Samuel Russell Trevett of Marblehead.

Unfortunately, as a committee from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress reported on 23 June, “by a mistake in the name, the wrong officer was confined.” Putnam, a Connecticut general, didn’t know the artillery officers from the other colonies. Trevett was actually the only commander of a provincial artillery company to keep fighting to the end.

Trevett’s arrest caused some consternation, particularly among his Marblehead matrosses, who had stuck out the battle with him. Back in their home town, the mariner Ashley Bowen wrote in his diary for 19 June:
A grand muster with our Regiment. We cannot hear the particular at Charlestown. Some rain. Captain Sam Trevett under an arrest. For what?
Within a couple of days the army brass had discovered the mistake. The congress’s committee reported on who really pulled back: “These Officers' names are, Captain [Samuel] Gridley and Captain John Kallander.” Callender was set up for court-martial instead.

But by then it was too late. Trevett and his men had gone home to Marblehead. On 29 June, the Massachusetts Committee of Safety tried to catch up to events through this resolution:
Mr. [Richard] Devens and Colonel [Azor] Orne, appointed to draw up a Vote relative to Captain Trevet and Company, reported the following, which was accepted, viz;

Whereas, from a mistake made by one of the General Officers, Capt. Samuel Russell Trevet has been put under arrest, which mistake is set forth in a Certificate by order of the General [Artemas Ward]; and upon examination it appears that said Trevet has approved himself a good officer, but said mistake has unhappily operated to the dispersion of his Company; therefore

Resolved, That said Captain Trevet be directed to collect his said Company as soon as possible, and then apply to this Committee in order to be commissioned.
Trevett declined the invitation and never rejoined the American army. Some of his men did, including his first sergeant and brother-in-law, Robert Wormsted. But Trevett had apparently had enough.

What happened to Callender, Gridley, and Gridley’s relatives in the regiment after Gen. George Washington arrived will be part of my talk tonight at Anderson House, the national headquarters of the Society of the Cincinnati. Come on by if you’re in the neighborhood!

Monday, July 09, 2012

Samuel Russell Trevett’s Story of Bunker Hill

As I’ve been describing, in the Battle of Bunker Hill the field officers of the American artillery didn’t cover themselves with glory:
The latter two pulled back, one even after Gen. Israel Putnam had met him and ordered him forward again at gunpoint.

The exception to that pattern was Capt. Samuel Russell Trevett of Marblehead. He was assigned to follow Maj. Gridley, but when he realized his superior wasn’t budging he defied orders and advanced to Charlestown on his own. Trevett and his company were the only American artillerists active in the thick of the battle.

Trevett described some of his experience in a letter he wrote on 2 June 1818:
I commanded a company of artillery from the town of Marblehead, attached to Col. Richard Gridley’s regiment, stationed at Cambridge. About one o’clock in the afternoon of the 17th of June, 1775, I left Cambridge with my company, for Bunker’s Hill. When about a quarter of a mile from the Colleges, I saw Gen. Putnam pass upon a horse towards the town of Cambridge, and in 15 or 20 minutes I saw him pass in like manner towards Charlestown.

When I arrived at Bunker’s Hill, on the north west side, I there saw Gen. Putnam dismounted, in company with several others. I halted my company, and went forward to select a station for my pieces, and on my return, saw Gen. Putnam as before; the American and English forces being then engaged.—

I proceeded on with my company, and soon after joined that part of the American force at the rail fence, towards Mystic river, the Americans commenced a general retreat. As I was descending the north west side of Bunker’s Hill, I again saw Gen. Putnam in the same place, putting his tent upon his horse. I asked him where I should retreat with the field piece I had brought off, he replied to Cambridge, and I accordingly marched my company to Cambridge.
Unfortunately, Trevett wrote that letter to answer questions about whether Putnam was in command during the battle—a consuming issue for authors in the early 1800s. Trevett didn’t leave a full account of the battle, which means we’re missing his memory of the most interesting parts.

We don’t have Trevett’s experience of the fighting, when apparently he and his men fired grapeshot at the advancing British troops from the rail fence. We don’t have his full description of the retreat, in which his company dragged off a four-pounder cannon—the only American field-piece in Charlestown not captured by the enemy. We don’t know if Trevett agreed with Gen. Putnam that backward artillery officers were responsible for losing the peninsula, and that “one of these officers ought to be punished with death.”

Worst of all, we don’t have Trevett’s memory of how he felt when Putnam reported that the artillery officer who had refused orders to go back into the fight was named Trevett.

TOMORROW: The Massachusetts government tries to clean up this mess. And have I mentioned that I’ll be speaking about the new commander-in-chief’s response to the whole situation on Tuesday at 7:00 P.M. at Anderson House?

[The photo above shows the house in Marblehead where Samuel Russell Trevett was born in 1751, as photographed by Daniel Sterner of the Historic Buildings of Connecticut and Massachusetts blogs. Sterner has a new book out: A Guide to Historic Hartford, Connecticut.]

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Gen. Putnam Meets an “Officer in the Train”

The provincial plan for the Battle of Bunker Hill called for Capt. Samuel Gridley and Capt. John Callender to take their artillery companies, each with two four-pounder cannon, into the redoubt that infantrymen had built on Breed’s Hill. Gridley was a New Hampshire blacksmith and nephew of the artillery regiment’s commander. Callender was a Boston mechanic trained in that town’s militia artillery company.

In a letter to his mother, a private named Peter Brown described what he saw one of those artillery captains do:

Our Officers sent time after time for Cannon from Cambridge in the Morning & could get but four, the Captn of which fir’d a few times then swung his Hat three times round to the enemy and ceas’d to fire
One problem was that the American guns weren’t powerful enough to answer the Royal Artillery‘s fire from Copp’s Hill in Boston. Another was a problem with supplies: as a committee from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress found a week later:
An officer of rank affirmed to your Committee that he absolutely knew that some of the [gunpowder] cartridges and balls were too large for the cannon, and that it was necessary to break the cartridges before they could be of use.
That committee was formed to investigate “a report which has prevailed in the Army, that there has been treachery in some of the Officers.” The legislators interviewed American commanders and reported back:
General [Israel] Putnam informed us, that in the late action, as he was riding up Bunker’s Hill, he met an officer of the Train drawing his cannon down in great haste; he ordered the officer to stop and go back; he replied he had no cartridges; the General dismounted and examined his boxes, and found a considerable number of cartridges, upon which he ordered him back; he refused, until the General threatened him with immediate death, upon which he returned up the hill again, but soon deserted his post and left the cannon.

Another officer, who had the direction of another cannon, conducted much in the same manner. The relation of this matter from General Putnam was confirmed by several other officers of distinction, as to what is most material relative thereto. . . .

General Putnam declared to your Committee, as his opinion, that the defeat of that day was owing to the ill-behaviour of those that conducted the artillery, and that, one of these officers ought to be punished with death, and that unless some exemplary punishment was inflicted, he would assuredly leave the Army. That upon the defeat of the officers of the Train, the re-enforcements ordered up the hill could not be prevailed upon to go; the plea was, the Artillery was gone, and they stood no chance for their lives in such circumstances…
In his History of Bunker Hill Battle (1827), Samuel Swett cited a letter from Putnam’s son to say that in his encounter with the retreating artillery company the Connecticut general had ”entreated, threatened, and broke his sword over them knocking down a non-commissioned officer.”

But one thing Putnam hadn’t done was get the name of the artillery officer he met. (This story and the consequences of it will be part of my free talk at the Society of Cincinnati museum in Washington, D.C., on 10 July.)

TOMORROW: Capt. Samuel Trevett of Marblehead.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

The Gridley Legacy: From Louisburg to Cobble Hill

Continuing my quotation from Alexander H. Everett’s 1836 oration on the Battle of Bunker Hill, here’s how he described the action of Maj. Scarborough Gridley of the Massachusetts artillery:
Major Gridley had been ordered to proceed with his battalion from Cambridge to the lines; but had advanced only a few yards beyond the neck, when he made a halt, determined, as he said, to wait and cover the retreat which he considered inevitable.—At that moment Colonel [James] Frye [1709-1776], whose regiment was in the redoubt, but who, being on other duty, as I remarked before, had not yet joined it, was riding towards the hill, and found Major Gridley with his artillery in the position I have described. Frye galloped up to him and demanded what it meant.—

“We are waiting to cover the retreat.”—

“Retreat?”—replies the veteran, “who talks of retreating?—This day thirty years ago I was present at the taking of Louisburg, when your father with his own hand lodged a shell in the citadel. His son was not born to talk of retreating. Forward to the lines!”—

Gridley proceeded a short distance with his artillery, but, overcome with terror,—unequal to the horrors of the scene,—he ordered his men back upon Cobble Hill to fire with their three pounders upon the Glasgow and the floating batteries.

The order was so absurd that Captain [Samuel Russell] Trevett refused to obey it, and proceeded with his two pieces. He lost one of them by a cannon shot on Bunker Hill: the other he brought to the lines. This little fragment of Major Gridley’s battalion, was the only reinforcement of artillery that came into action.
At another point Everett explained, “In the war of 1745, when Massachusetts alone raised an army of three thousand two hundred men for the expedition against Cape Breton, he [Richard Gridley] commanded the artillery, and with scientific accuracy pointed the mortar which on the third fire threw into the citadel of Louisburg a shell that occasioned its surrender.”

Everett later incorporated his oration into the short biography of Dr. Joseph Warren published in Jared Sparks’s Library of American Biography. It’s the earliest mention I’ve found of either Richard Gridley’s mortar marksmanship at Louisburg or his son’s excuses at Bunker Hill. Everett didn’t state his sources, but from then on those statements were in the American historical record.

The picture above is Bernard Romans’s “Exact View of the Late Battle at Charlestown,” published in Philadelphia in September 1775 and provided by the National Archives. The artillery commander in the foreground shooting toward a warship, labeled “8,” is identified by the key atop the color version  (available at the John Carter Brown Library) as “Broken Officer.” However, Romans wasn’t on the scene, and that figure might be confused with a different American artillerist, not Scar Gridley.

The performance of the American artillery corps at Bunker Hill is a major part of my talk at Anderson House in Washington, D.C., next Tuesday: “Washington’s Artillery: Reengineering the Regiment Between Bunker Hill and Dorchester Heights.”

TOMORROW: Three artillery captains and one general on Bunker’s Hill.