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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Friday, August 31, 2012

Washington “holding aloft a large stone”?

On the night of 29-30 Aug 1776, the Continental Army evacuated almost all of its troops from Long Island to Manhattan Island as the bigger and stronger British military closed in.

Some authors continue to treat the success of this evacuation as a sign of Providence looking out for the American cause. Of course, Providence hadn’t seen fit to give the Continentals a victory in the preceding Battle of Brooklyn, and wouldn’t offer many more victories for quite a while. In 1776 the evacuation was seen mostly as a desperate and ignominious retreat.

Among the anecdotes of the evacuation is this about Gen. George Washington, from Henry Stiles’s History of the City of Brooklyn, published in 1867:
It is related, on the authority of Col. Fish, one of Washington’s aids, Judge Daggett of New Haven, and others, that the crowd and confusion among the troops who were, at this juncture, huddled on the beach, was extreme, and bordered on a panic; and that Washington, annoyed and alarmed at its probable consequences, sprang to the side of a boat into which the men were crowding, and, holding aloft a large stone with both hands, ordered them, with an impassioned oath, to leave the boat instanter, or he would “sink it to hell.” It is needless to say that the towering figure and wrathful eye of their revered general restored the scared troops to their senses, and the embarkation proceeded with more order than before.
That dramatic story shows up in many subsequent histories of the event, including recent ones. But is it reliable? Would Gen. Washington have risked either a precious boat or his even more precious credibility in case his threat didn’t succeed? Was he so upset as to lose his temper in front of his men?

As his first authority, Stiles cited “Col. Fish, one of Washington’s aids.” The commander didn’t have any aides de camp named Fish, but Nicholas Fish (1758-1833, shown above, courtesy of the New York Society Library) was part of the Continental Army administration later in the war.

However, when Fish died, the Knickerbocker, or New York Magazine, stated:
Colonel Fish was Aid-de-Camp to Brig. Gen. John Morin Scott, and he and his corps went into service, “as six months’ men,” on the 21st Nov. 1776…
Thus, according to his obituary Fish wasn’t in the American army until almost three months after the evacuation from Brooklyn.

Stiles’s second authority is “Judge Daggett of New Haven.” I think that’s David Daggett (1764-1851), a Connecticut jurist and Congressman. Daggett was only eleven years old during the Battle of Brooklyn. He was growing up in Attleboro, and never served in the Continental Army.

Stiles said Fish, Daggett, and “others” told the same story, so the anecdote was evidently widespread. However, none of the many men who were supposedly present at the moment appears to have left a firsthand account.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Don Hagist on Redcoats at Fort Montgomery, 13 Sept.

Don Hagist of the British Soldiers, American Revolution blog will speak at Fort Montgomery, New York, on Thursday, 13 September. He’ll track the career of one soldier in the 57th Regiment of Foot who participated in the British attack on that location in 1777.

The lecture description says about Pvt. James Simpson:
From the time he enlisted to the time he left the army over ten years later, he participated in military campaigns all over the eastern seaboard. The audience will hear some remarkable information about him that turned up years later.
Seating is limited to the first fifty people to make reservations. Call 845-446-2134 and leave your name, phone number, and number of people in your party if you want to attend.

For those who can’t make it, Don just posted a profile of another British soldier involved in the same operation, Cpl. John Russell. In 1781 the New York Gazette ran this advertisement:
John Russell, some time a corporal in the grenadier company of his Majesty’s late 26th regiment of foot, is desired to apply as soon as possible to James Inglis, vendue master, in New York, who has letters and instructions for him respecting a valuable freehold, and other estate fallen to him by the death of his father Mr. — Russell, of West Craigs, between Glasgow and Falkirk, in Scotland. . . .
Cpl. Russell had been a prisoner of the Americans early in the war and later a corporal in two different companies. But in 1781 the army evidently didn’t know where to find him. Might probate records from Scotland offer information on who actually inherited the late Mr. Russell’s estate? Or were there too many Russells living between Glasgow and Falkirk (which are by no means neighboring cities)?

The photo above comes courtesy of New York History’s description of the reenactment of the battle at Fort Montgomery and Fort Clinton in 2010, and must show an earlier reenactment.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Sudden Death of Frantizek Kotzwara

At Writing Women’s History, Jen Newby laid out the facts of the death of the Czech composer Frantizek Kotzwara (also Kotzwarra and Koczwara) in London in 1791.

Kotzwara was a patron of prostitutes, a type of masochist (a term not coined until 1886), and a fan of erotic asphyxiation—which turned out to be a very bad idea for the sexagenarian artist and for prostitute Susannah Hill.

Newby writes:
Susannah was tried for Kotzwara’s murder at the Old Bailey. The victim being foreign and sexually peculiar, the jury sympathised with the traumatised young harlot and acquitted her. The court records on the case were allegedly suppressed, and, as I discovered, they are not to be found in the Old Bailey records.
In 1791 a London publisher claimed to use Hill’s statements as material for the pamphlet Modern Propensities, subtitled “an essay on the art of strangling, &c. Illustrated with several anecdotes. With Memoirs of Susannah Hill, and a summary of her trial at the Old-Bailey, on Friday, September 16, 1791, on the charge of hanging Francis Kotzwarra, At her Lodgings in Vine Street, on September 2nd.”

What’s the connection to Boston (as if we needed one)? Wikipedia says (citation needed, but evidently this webpage) that “A 2005 radio competition organised by the Radio Prague station led a listener to reveal that these court records had in fact not been destroyed, and somehow found their way to the Francis Countway Library of Medicine in Boston.” I can’t confirm that with a look at the library’s website or Harvard’s larger library catalogue. Any inside information, anyone?

Kotzwara’s “Battle of Prague” was a popular musical piece for a century after that 1757 event. There are eighteenth-century prints that could illustrate Kotzwara and Hill’s encounter (Newby shares one from 1752), but I’m showing an American edition of Kotzwara’s “Prague” composition that featured a portrait of George Washington. Though I doubt he’d be pleased at the association.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Seeking a Mass Grave in Brooklyn

In other news tied to the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776, the New York Times reported on Sunday about local historian Bob Furman’s attempts to locate the grave(s) of the 200+ Maryland soldiers who died resisting the British advance.

However, one recurring theme of that article is skepticism from other historians about the feasibility or importance of that quest, given how much Brooklyn has changed over the centuries:
The Marylanders’ story is among the more underappreciated chapters of the Revolutionary War. Vastly outnumbered, they launched a series of counterattacks that stymied rapidly advancing British forces, enabling thousands of American soldiers to evade encirclement and certain death or capture. Had the British not been checked, it is possible that the Continental Army would have been smashed, forcing Washington to surrender and effectively bringing the war to an abrupt, inglorious end. “These soldiers saved the Revolution,” Mr. Furman maintains.

Other experts don’t go as far but agree that many historians have shortchanged the Marylanders. . . . As many as 256 Maryland soldiers, almost two-thirds of the regiment, were killed. According to several accounts, the British forced local civilians to gather the bodies shortly after the battle and bury them at a site near what was then Gowanus Creek.

The mass grave has long been a source of fascination for amateur archaeologists and Revolutionary War enthusiasts. In the 1940s and ’50s, city officials considered mounting a comprehensive search, and Robert Moses even drew up plans for a memorial park. Ultimately, the park never materialized because of a lack of money, and the one dig undertaken, in 1957, found no remains.

Various archaeologists say geography is the main reason the grave’s location has remained a secret. In 1776 the area featured marshland and millponds surrounding Gowanus Creek. Only a few dots of high ground would have been suitable for a grave.

The area was transformed beginning in the mid-19th century. The canal itself was dug in the 1860s, followed by industrialization along its banks. The neighborhood was made level, and both sides of the canal were lined with landfill. “Historically speaking, it’s like night and day,” said Alyssa Loorya, owner of Chrysalis Archeological Consultants Inc., which has surveyed the area.

Grave hunters’ attention in recent decades has focused on a stretch of Third Avenue between Seventh and Eighth Streets, because Revolutionary War-era maps show hills in the area. Written reminiscences, compiled mostly in the 1950s but dating as far back as the 1890s, also tell of bones being found when basements were dug.

Many archaeologists are skeptical.
New mapping software, ground-penetrating radar, and other technology may turn up things where older techniques failed. Then again, this might be a reminder that we’re much more concerned about preserving ordinary graves than most people of past centuries have been.

The photo above, from mikkime via Flickr under a Creative Commons license, shows one of the existing, weathered memorials to the Maryland soldiers. There are other signs in the borough, but it’s not clear how close they are to any identifiable graves.

Monday, August 27, 2012

“A good way to check in on the invading force”

At the Awl, Robert Sullivan is sharing a series of discursive articles on “how the trail of the Battle of Brooklyn would pass across modern-day New York.”

For example, the British military’s crossing from Staten Island to Long Island:
A good way to check in on the invading force from your apartment right now—which assuming the time-space continuum allowed it—would be to watch the MTA’s live bridge cams, specifically the ones set up on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which are spotty and always under repair (like the bridge itself) but eventually would give you some idea of how things were going, invasion-wise. . . .

On August 24, 1776, the Constitutional Gazette would report that the “ministerial troops” had landed “between New-Utrecht and Gravesend on Long Island to the number of 7000 men.” A later report noted that there were a little over 12,000 British “on the Shore by 11 o’Clock.” As far as military logistics go, Brooklyn was a good place to invade; the farms in Brooklyn could feed an army, and the Dutch settlers in the area do not have a political dog in the fight. It was a big landing. The statistic that is invariably mentioned in post-World War II accounts of the 1776 British invasion is this: it was the largest invasion by military forces until D-Day.
And the day of the battle approaches:
The city itself, the rocks of it, are, grossly put, a combination of two big geologic stories—one that is a vertical story as you look down at the map (see the northeast trending valleys that create the East River the Harlem and Bronx rivers or the Palisades along the Hudson) and one that is a horizontal story: see the glacial moraine as it runs through Brooklyn and Queens, a miniature two-borough mountain range, usually invisible unless, say, you go to Ridgewood Reservoir in the fall and take in the amazing view of Manhattan on the one side, most of Long Island on the other. The vertical geology is the result of stresses and fractures that are related to the very old Appalachian Mountains; the horizontal geology is related to the not-as-old Wisconsin glacier, which pushed a lot of junk to New York from elsewhere and left the forward hills as if marking how far it had gone. . . .

In the days between the first British landing on Brooklyn and the face off itself, Washington and his staff could only make guesses as to what the British were thinking, as to whether the war would be fought in the glacial landscape, you might say, or the Appalachian one. Washington seems to have thought maybe the British were faking a Brooklyn battle, getting ready to swing in on the East River, or the Hudson. He had did not yet realize that there were upwards of 32,000 Redcoats preparing to march against his 10,000 poorly trained, gunshot-happy men. The Americans had built forts all along the moraine; the idea was to hold the Redcoats back at the passes, the cuts in the glacial hills.
Today’s the anniversary of the big battle, so check in on the sites of the fighting.

Sullivan appears to have taken a similar approach in his new book, My American Revolution: Crossing the Delaware and I-78. (Unaccountably its marketing copy begins, “Americans tend to think of the Revolution as a Massachusetts-based event orchestrated by Virginians…” Don’t people know the Virginians were working for us?)

TOMORROW: Another attempt to rediscover the landscape of the Battle of Brooklyn.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

“The NEH folks are our guys”?

Ira Stoll, a recent biographer of Samuel Adams, published an essay at Reason questioning Mitt Romney’s campaign promise to “eliminate” the National Endowment for the Humanities. It strikes me, too, as unlikely that Romney thought through that program’s costs and benefits as opposed to, say, just tossing out a name he thought his audience at that moment would like to hear and wouldn’t get too upset about.

Stoll argues for a deeper consideration of the N.E.H. because, well, it funds programs he likes. And he thinks that other people who invoke the Founders for their political ideas should, logically, like them, too.
  • “Well, to start with, at least for those of us on the center-right of the political spectrum, the NEH folks are our guys. The list of NEH Jefferson Lecturers looks like the bylines in Commentary or on the Wall Street Journal editorial page:…”
  • “With the possible exception of the National Park Service, no federal agency has done more to raise consciousness of the American Revolution than the National Endowment for the Humanities. . . . NEH grants have financed weeklong workshops run by the Massachusetts Historical Society that teach schoolteachers about the battles of Lexington and Concord. NEH grants help fund Colonial Williamsburg, financed a PBS program on Alexander Hamilton, and underwrite the projects to publish the papers of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in comprehensive and careful modern scholarly editions.”
Check the comments on the essay to see how well that argument went over with the Reason crowd.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Reflections on Mahogany

Yesterday’s New York Times Design column featured Jennifer L. Anderson’s new book Mahogany: The Cost of Luxury in Early America:
In a recent interview Ms. Anderson emphasized that she did not want readers to begin recoiling in horror from mahogany antiques, despite the material’s origins in cruelty. Her goal, she said, was to reveal the human dramas and real estate battles behind the objects.

She researched the subject at former mahogany plantations, piecing together how whites and blacks had coexisted and sometimes formed blended families. The Rhode Island-born merchant Jonathan Card ended up on an island in Belize, secretly married to Dorothy Taylor, his former housekeeper, who was black. His brother James joined him in the mahogany trade, supplying carpenters in Newport, R.I., whose work sells for millions of dollars today.

Slave rebellions and unrest sometimes delayed timber harvests. The business eventually failed, and James Card’s paltry estate after his death included two mahogany tables. “Such were the vagaries of frontier life,” Ms. Anderson writes.

George Washington decided to grow his own grove of this desirable crop, and had 48 seeds planted at Mount Vernon. When the saplings shriveled away, Ms. Anderson writes, “Washington did a lot of hand-wringing and blamed his horticultural losses on his slaves’ failure to water enough.”
This book grew out of Anderson’s doctoral thesis, which won the Society of American Historians’ 2007 Allan Nevins Prize for best written dissertation. Anderson is now a professor at S.U.N.Y.–Stony Brook.

Friday, August 24, 2012

That’s Some Green Beret

From the NEREV email list I learned of the comic book Tod Holton, Super Green Beret! This magazine, published by Lightning Comics, lasted all of two issues in 1967. But those issues are preserved in full on Ethan Persoff’s website.

They include the story “Dawn of American Freedom,” which starts with young Tod at the local “teen canteen,” the Stomp and Chomp (also called the Chomp and Stomp, and for some reason having its name painted on its window so it reads backward from the outside). Tod recalls that he has to prepare a report on the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Instead of cracking a book, however, Tod dons his special green beret—the one which allows him to turn into an adult soldier with untold superpowers. It may not be a surprise that Super Green Beret was co-created by Otto Binder, who a quarter-century before had provided the origin of Captain Marvel.

In this version of Boston in 1775, the first people Tod meets are two men driving a wagon full of gunpowder out of town—without, however, going through the army fortifications at the Neck. So right away you might wonder if the storytellers were making a priority of historical accuracy.

The comic’s depiction of the Bunker Hill battle continues along those lines, with:
  • easy entrances and exits from Boston for rebel raiders. 
  • Gen. Israel Putnam commanding the entire American army instead of Gen. Artemas Ward
  • a British officer wearing checkered underpants at a time when men’s long shirts were their usual underwear.
  • no long British cannonade onto Breed’s Hill.
  • Putnam expecting Washington to arrive soon when news of his appointment hadn’t reached Massachusetts.
But the best moment is when the Super Green Beret volunteers to serve as a gun carriage.

He shouldn’t have been able to do that, of course—Super Green Beret turns back into young Tod Holton whenever he takes off his beret.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Why Are Some Founders Forgotten?

At the Imaginative Conservative, Daniel L. Dreisbach shared an essay (originally published by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute) on “Founders Famous and Forgotten,” exploring why we remember some politicians and military men from the Revolutionary period but not others.
Consider the political career of Roger Sherman of Connecticut (1721-1793), a largely self-taught man, devout Calvinist, and lifelong public servant. He was one of only two men who signed all three of the great documents of American organic law: the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution. He was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses. He was a member of the five-man committee formed to draft the Declaration of Independence and a member of the committee of thirteen formed to frame the Articles of Confederation. At the federal Constitutional Convention of 1787 he delivered more speeches than all but three delegates and was a driving force behind the Great (Connecticut) Compromise. He was a member of the first U.S. House of Representatives (1789-1791) and later of the U.S. Senate (1791-1793), where he played key roles in deliberations on the Bill of Rights and the creation of a national bank. If any man merits the mantle of “founding father,” surely it is Roger Sherman.

Yet few Americans recall, let alone mention, Sherman’s name when enumerating the founding fathers; even among those familiar with his name, most would be hard pressed to describe his role in the founding. Why is it that a man of such prodigious contributions to our country is today an all but forgotten figure? The same question could be asked about many other patriots—John Dickinson, Elbridge Gerry, John Jay, Richard Henry Lee, George Mason, Gouverneur Morris, Charles Pinckney, Benjamin Rush, John Rutledge, James Wilson, and John Witherspoon, just to name a few—who labored diligently to establish an independent American republic.
Examining six undoubtedly famous Founders, Dreisbach notes some commonalities:

  • “strong, memorable, and (with the possible exception of Madison) colorful personalities.”
  • homes in “influential power centers in the new nation.”
  • “a voluminous paper trail of public and private documents.”

Yet some other men shared some or all of those qualities. Dreisbach suggests they’ve been forgotten because they:

  • retired or died before becoming involved in the federal government.
  • focused their energies on state and local governments.
  • were on the losing side of debates over the Declaration or Constitution.
  • left few papers about their American statesmanship.
  • developed an unsavory personal reputation by nineteenth-century standards.

Finally, being a conservative, Dreisbach claims that modern academics are uncomfortable with the piety of some Founders. Indeed, the last section of his essay is basically an argument that recent jurisprudence and legislation (not historiography) pays too little heed to most traditionally religious of the Founders. Of course, some of those men aren’t mentioned in the essay for any significance but their religiosity.

Is “devout Calvinism” really why we don’t remember Roger Sherman as well as John Adams? I doubt it. I think it was the Adams family’s massive paper trail and national offices. Plus, the limited capacity of the human brain to remember everyone and everything, even if experts in the field want them to.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Stories from Old Homes

This month the Boston Globe published a couple of articles in its local sections that might be of wider interest for folks interested in eighteenth-century history.

From Plymouth came word of an archeological dig that might include evidence about the lives of enslaved people of African descent:
An excavation this summer in a small shed and nearby grounds on North Street has yielded more than 30,000 artifacts dating back 1,000 years. But the prized finds have been the bits and pieces that “might point to an African origin and [dwellers’] desire to maintain a physical, spiritual, and [m]ental connection with their origins,” said archeologist Craig Chartier. . . .

The project began in April, with a $15,000 Community Preservation Fund grant spurred by historian Rose T. Briggs’s typewritten reference to Colonel George Watson’s slave house in a 1967 Massachusetts Historical Inventory Form that she submitted on behalf of the Pilgrim Society. . . .

In addition to slaves named Cuffee and Esack, the household had Quassia, said to be “full of fun and drollery.” His owner, Judge Peter Oliver of Middleborough, had been driven out of town by residents for his Tory sympathies, according to a passage in Thomas Weston’s “History of the Town of Middleborough,” written in 1906.
From the western suburbs came a story about people living in historic houses as caretakers, to maintain them and their furnishings.
It is an arrangement played out in historic houses across the state, one that can benefit both caretakers, who pay little or no rent, and the groups that own the properties but have little money to pay for upkeep.

In Milton’s Suffolk Resolves House, Steve Kluskens walks past a letter from Thomas Hutchinson, a Colonial-era governor of Massachusetts, on his way to the kitchen every morning. When he types on his Macintosh laptop, it sits on a 200-year-old table, near an 1823 Springfield musket propped up against a wall.

As caretakers, Kluskens and his wife, Sheila Frazier, eat at a table beside a display of delicate dishes that were ordered from China in 1775. The house also holds a 1641 Bible written in classical Greek, a Jacobean oak chest more than 300 years old, and assorted dour portraits of prominent, but deceased, Milton residents.

Kluskens and Frazier, like other caretakers in historic houses, cannot change the house to fit their lives. They don’t remodel or paint or add media rooms. They must adapt themselves to fit in the house.

“It gives you a unique perspective on how short a life span is,” said Kluskens, who is also curator. “We’re just passing through this house.”
The Suffolk Resolves House, owned by Daniel Vose in 1774, is shown above.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

“A Gentleman lately sent to Philadelphia”

Among the published manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth is the summary of a letter from Brigadier General James Robertson, datelined 13 June 1775 in Boston. It described the situation in the besieged town and enclosed another note: “A Gentleman lately sent to Philadelphia brought me the inclosed, which I consider as the best Intelligence he brought.”

That enclosure was dated 25 May and said to be written in Philadelphia. The published collection summarizes it as follows:

The affair at Lexington has given such ideas of New England prowess that the Americans will listen to no terms but such as they themselves shall dictate. Delegates from the New England colonies declare openly against any Law of Parliament binding them in any respect. Congress proceedings. “It was said, and I believe truly, that Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin came out as an agent from Lord Chatham, to propose certain Terms, which he would push at home . . . We fear Lord Chatham: he is for having the supremacy acknowledged. . . . Lord North’s Motion would be slavery.” The taking of Ticonderoga has given great spirit to the Americans. New York has out-heroded Herod; its delegates are still the ablest in Congress. They hate the New Englanders. Strange and fabulous stories told of the provincials and the troops.
Who sent this intelligence?

My first thought was Dr. Benjamin Church, Jr., who was “A Gentleman lately sent to Philadelphia” by the Massachusetts Provincial Congress in May 1775. But the timing doesn’t quite seem to fit. He left Massachusetts on 20 May and evidently returned after 16 June, which makes him unlikely to have arrived in Philadelphia in time to gather intelligence and write the letter by 25 May, or to have “brought” it to Robertson by 13 June.

Furthermore, the phrase “sent to Philadelphia” probably refers to someone the Crown authorities sent there.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Simeon Lyman’s Sunday Shirt—and a Crazy Man

In the summer of 1775, Simeon Lyman of Sharon, Connecticut, was part of a company sent to guard the colony’s coast. Here’s his diary entry for Sunday, 20 August:

Sunday morning we got ready for to go to meeting, and the officers came and said that we must not go to meeting without breeches, and it was so hot that I could not bear to wear them, and I did not go meeting in the forenoon. I went to see a crazy man and there was a man that he knew him, and he got mad, and I think I never saw such a sight in my life. He was chained and he would spring at us and hallo at us. There was one stout man that said that he never saw a man that he was afraid of before. In the afternoon I went to meeting.
Presumably Lyman and his friends wanted to attend meeting only in their shirts. Those garments would have been long enough for modesty—as long as there were no wind gusts. Shirts were usually people’s first and only layer of underwear.

Incidentally, Lyman writes about washing his clothes more than any other Continental soldier that I remember. Not that he does it a lot, but it matters to him more than his fellow soldiers. Or maybe, at age twenty-one, he was expecting to share his diary with his mother when he got home.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Two Looks at Rhode Island’s Continental Soldiers

On Wednesday, 29 August, the African Meeting House on Nantucket will host a talk by Louis Wilson on “Rhode Island’s Black Patriots in the Revolutionary War.” This is the Museum of African American History’s annual Frank and Bette Spriggs Lecture. Wilson is Professor of African and African American History at Smith College; he studies African-Americans in the Revolutionary War and free blacks in ante-bellum Rhode Island.

The museum’s event description says:
The American Revolution was a defining moment in the formation of what became the United States of America. The men and women who fought in that conflict have, for the most part, been memorialized. Unfortunately, this history gives little account of the many black soldiers who fought in the war. Through his research, Dr. Louis Wilson, has captured the names of over 800 men who served in Revolutionary War army units from Rhode Island. In his talk, Dr. Wilson will share the personal stories of these men who fought to liberate their country from tyranny while their own personal freedom was not guaranteed.
Prof. Wilson’s talk begins at 2:00 P.M., and is free and open to the public. The African Meeting House is at 29 York Street in Nantucket.

In related news, the Rhode Island Society of the Sons of the American Revolution has published Bruce C. MacGunnigle’s transcription of the Regimental Book, First Rhode Island Regiment for 1781 &c. That document preserves the names, origins, and physical descriptions of the men in the regiment in that year.

In 1778 the 1st Rhode Island enlisted a large number of men of African and Native American ancestry, including slaves—a controversial move. For a while more than half the regiment’s soldiers were men of color, and the racially segregated companies left people with the impression of a “Black Regiment.” By 1781, however, the 1st Rhode Island was recruiting white men and no longer separated its recruits by race. This book therefore lists an unusually varied set of Revolutionary American soldiers. Here’s a P.D.F. file of a brochure about the book and order form.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Debate Over the Proper Role of Government

In his first address to Congress, on 8 Dec 1801, President Thomas Jefferson stated:
Agriculture, manufactures, commerce, and navigation, the 4 pillars of our prosperity, are the most thriving when left most free to individual enterprise. Protection from casual embarrassments, however, may sometimes be seasonably interposed. If in the course of your observations or inquiries they should appear to need any aid within the limits of our constitutional powers, your sense of their importance is a sufficient assurance they will occupy your attention.
Jefferson was quite vague on specifics, but his attitude toward government intervention in economic matters was clear: he didn’t think it was wise or proper, and implied that there were only a few exceptional circumstances.

The President’s rival in George Washington’s cabinet, Alexander Hamilton, replied to that message with a pamphlet that included this passage:
In France, England, and other parts of Europe, institutions exist supported by public contributions, which eminently promote agriculture and the arts; such institutions merit imitation by our government; they are of the number of those which directly and sensibly recompense labor for what it lends to their agency.

To suggestions of the last kind, the adepts of the new school have a ready answer: Industry will succeed and prosper in proportion as it is left to the exertions of individual enterprise. This favorite dogma, when taken as a general rule, is true; but as an exclusive one, it is false, and leads to error in the administration of public affairs. In matters of industry, human enterprise ought, doubtless, to be left free in the main; not fettered by too much regulation; but practical politicians know that it may be beneficially stimulated by prudent aids and encouragements on the part of the government. This is proved by numerous examples too tedious to be cited; examples which will be neglected only by indolent and temporizing rulers, who love to loll in the lap of epicurean ease, and seem to imagine that to govern well, is to amuse the wondering multitude with sagacious aphorisms and oracular sayings.
While nodding to the free-market ideal, Hamilton argued there were far more occasions, and far more opportunities, for the national government to “beneficially stimulate” business than Jefferson (an “indolent and temporizing ruler”?) believed in.

Within a few years, Jefferson’s embargo policy showed he was ready to intervene quite strongly in the economy—though to shut down trade he thought was dangerous rather than to aid industries or enterprises. By then Hamilton was dead. But his vision for the economy of the U.S. of A. ultimately proved more accurate, or perhaps more self-fulfilling, than Jefferson’s arcadian ideal.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Québec Act Conference Planned for Oct. 2013

The Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture and the Groupe d’histoire de l’Atlantique français, with the support of the Bibliothèque nationale du Québec, are organizing a conference on the 1774 Québec Act in Montréal on 3-5 Oct 2013. Here’s the call for papers:
Widely remembered in United States history as one of the “Intolerable Acts” [see posting on that term] that led to the American Revolution, the Québec Act outraged British mainland colonists for two reasons. First, the measure granted civil liberties to Catholic French Canadians. Even more galling, the legislation linked the Ohio Valley to the now British province of Québec, an arrangement that gave the Americans’ former enemies access to the very territories for which they had so recently waged a long and bitter war.

In Canada, colonial authorities saw the Québec Act as a pragmatic solution to the problems of governance. Despite the vocal objections of certain Anglophone merchants, it was obvious the British government would need the support of Francophone residents if it was to endure. Although the new political alliances forged by the constitutional provisions of the Act make it appear to have arisen from a local context, it was in reality the first of many inherently unstable compromises that were imposed to permit the Franco-Catholic population to develop under British institutions. In practice the Québec Act emerged as the initial manifestation within colonial society of the major religious, social, ethnic, and political tensions that would define the history of Québec in the centuries to follow.

From Great Britain’s imperial perspective, the Québec Act marked the first time that a Protestant empire had granted its French Catholic population civil privileges. More than another half century would pass before Parliament enacted Catholic emancipation in the United Kingdom, a statute it never fully implemented in Ireland. However selectively realized, was the Québec Act a first step toward the formulation of nineteenth-century British imperial ideology and policy? Did it envision, however dimly, an empire that was multiethnic and potentially universal rather than Protestant and Anglo?

Initially, the Québec Act appeared to offer North America’s indigenous population a more promising future by pledging that Britain would defend the Ohio Valley and its Native inhabitants from encroachment by settlers pushing westward from the seaboard colonies. Policies such as removing the sovereignty of the Ohio Valley from individual colonial governments and placing it firmly in control of Québec’s British imperial authorities were designed to strengthen commercial and cultural ties between the peoples of the Ohio and St. Lawrence valleys. Although the emptiness of this promise had become painfully obvious twenty-five years later, the possibilities first raised by the Québec Act—objectives pursued on the ground through continued Native warfare supported by British authorities—remain a fruitful site of exploration.

In these and in many other ways the Québec Act proved seminal for the peoples and nations within its ambit. The foremost objective of this conference is to explore, examine, and bring greater clarity to the contexts, meanings, and legacies of the Québec Act as perceived from a multiplicity of national and transnational angles of vision. A variety of historical approaches—political, diplomatic, social, constitutional, cultural, and religious—are encouraged.
Actually, such a long description leaves me wondering how much more there is to say. But I’m sure folks who work in this field are thinking of lots.

The call asks for scholars to submit “a proposal of a one-page description of the paper and a brief c.v. containing telephone and email contact information” via this page. The deadline is 15 Oct 2012.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

George Washington on “veterans of earlier wars”?

Boston 1775 reader Peter Ansoff recently asked me about this quotation:

The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.
The earliest appearance I found on Google Books is from an April 1999 Congressional hearing; the witness who quoted those words said that he didn’t know who had originally coined them.

Within a couple of years, however, authors announced the author of that line: George Washington! Chicken Soup for the Veteran’s Soul, published by Jack Canfield and Mark David Hanson in 2001, credited the quote to the general and first President, and there it’s stuck.

Barack Obama, then a U.S. Senator, used the quotation in a speech to the American Legion on 15 July 2005. John McCain, then and now a U.S. Senator, carried a copy of it in his pocket during the 2008 Presidential campaign to quoted from. The Congressional Record shows that many other legislators and witnesses at hearings have repeated it before and since.

Writers from National Review Online asked editors of the Papers of George Washington where those words appeared in the first President’s writings. In February 2008 the website announced that Washington never said it.

The editor-in-chief of that project, Edward Lengel, listed the quotation among several other spurious quotations and myths in his book Inventing George Washington, noting both the N.R.O. posting and how the misquotation remained widespread.

The thought behind that line isn’t at all surprising. Though the words offer a useful argument for preserving or increasing veterans’ benefits, even people who oppose such actions or oppose wars wouldn’t argue with their logic. The fact that our culture has added Washington’s name to the statement shows how much we desire individual and historical authority.

Here’s a challenge for Boston 1775 readers: Can anyone find an appearance of this quotation (or one very much like it) printed before 1999? Any attribution to Washington before 2001? Any version written by or credited to another individual?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

House of Paine

On 19-20 Oct 2012, Iona College in New Rochelle, New York will host the International Conference of Thomas Paine Studies. Its announcement says:
Iona College will host a gathering of national and international scholars for presentations and discussion on the life, legacy and ideas of a long neglected Founding Father of the United States, Thomas Paine. In addition to 34 papers delivered in 12 sessions of scholarly presentations, the conference will feature a keynote speech by Lewis Lapham and a presentation of the play Citizen Paine, as well as receptions at the Thomas Paine National Historical Association Building and the Thomas Paine Cottage. The conference is open to scholars, students, and the general public.
The link above offers more information on the conference, including schedule, possible accommodations, and registration forms.

There’s a meme among Paine scholars and fans that he’s been “long neglected” or “forgotten.” I don’t buy it. There’s been a steady stream of Paine biographies, studies, and collections for decades. Only a handful of Revolutionary figures have more name recognition than Thomas Paine, especially when we consider that he played no major role in the run-up to the Revolution, the military victories, or the federal government.

In the past decade alone, we’ve seen the following books about Paine:
  • Kenneth W. Burchell, Thomas Paine and America, 1776-1809 (London: Pickering & Chatto, 2009).
  • Joyce Chumbley and Leo Zonneveld, Thomas Paine: In Search of the Common Good (Nottingham: Spokesman Books, 2009).
  • Gregory Claeys, Thomas Paine: Social and Political Thought (London: Routledge, 2003).
  • Paul Collins, The Trouble with Tom: The Strange Afterlife and Times of Thomas Paine (New York: Bloomsbury, 2005).
  • Seth Cotlar, Tom Paine’s America: The Rise and Fall of Transatlantic Radicalism in the Early Republic (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2011).
  • Jack Fruchtman, The Political Philosophy of Thomas Paine (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009).
  • Christopher Hitchens, Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2006).
  • Jane Hodson, Language and Revolution in Burke, Wollstonecraft, Paine, and Godwin (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007).
  • John P. Kaminski, Citizen Paine: Thomas Paine’s Thoughts on Man, Government, Society, and Religion (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002).
  • Harvey J. Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (New York: Hill and Wang, 2005).
  • Ronald Frederick King and Elsie Begler, Thomas Paine: Common Sense for the Modern Era (San Diego: San Diego State University Press, 2007).
  • Edward Larkin, Thomas Paine and the Literature of Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005).
  • Scott Liell, 46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to Independence (Philadelphia: Running Press, 2004).
  • Craig Nelson, Thomas Paine: Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations (New York: Viking Press, 2006).
  • Mark Philp, Thomas Paine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).
  • Sophia A. Rosenfeld, Common Sense: A Political History (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2011).
  • Vikki J. Vickers, “My pen and my soul have ever gone together”: Thomas Paine and the American Revolution (New York: Routledge, 2006).
  • Bernard Vincent, The Transatlantic Republican: Thomas Paine and the Age of Revolutions (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005).
Not to mention a dozen or more titles for young readers.

Let’s compare Paine to, say, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, the most influential American political essay before Common Sense. In addition to writing that book and “The Liberty Song,” Dickinson was an important delegate to the Continental Congress, top official of Pennsylvania’s wartime government, and a delegate to the Constitutional Convention. Dickinson was on the losing side of the debate over the Declaration of Independence but on the right side of the debate over slavery.

In the past decade only two new books focused on Dickinson: Jane E. Calvert, Quaker Constitutionalism and the Political Thought of John Dickinson (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008); and William Murchison, The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson (Wilmington, Del.: ISI, 2012).

So where’s the stronger case for a Founder being “neglected”?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Radio Boston 1775

Yesterday I went into WBUR, Boston’s top-ranked public radio station, to share my impressions of the preview of Assassin’s Creed III, a videogame being released at the end of October.

Here’s a link to the radio segment, and here’s the preview video from UbiSoft that we refer to.

My thanks to host Anthony Brooks, special correspondent Rachel Gotbaum, and all the staff I met for a fun time. Once the game comes out, I invite folks who actually play videogames to send me a review.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Rakove on Reductive Founderism

Last month Jack Rakove reviewed Michael Lind’s Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States, taking a swipe at founderism:
Perhaps Lind is right, and sometime soon the challenges that our political system is now mishandling so badly will reach their apotheosis. In the meantime, the skeptical historian can offer a few reservations about his argument. The first has to do with the very concept of lessons. Historians hate them for many reasons, not least because they defy the underlying fundamental premise of historical thinking: that we study the past not merely to understand how the present emerged from it, which is the simpler part of our work, but more importantly, because it was so different from what we have become.

In the special case of the founders of our Republic, nothing could be zanier than naïvely assuming that we can pluck Hamilton or Jefferson or Madison or Franklin from their era, plop them down in ours, and apply their wisdom to our problems. The absurdity lies in this: the founders were deeply empirical in their thinking, deeply responsive to their experiences and observations, and deeply aware of the contingencies under which they acted. To apply their ideas to the present without giving them the same information we have—and thus exposing them to the same differences that perplex us—would turn their creative intelligence into a caricature of itself.
Lind isn’t a historian; his academic training was in law and international relations, and for the last two decades he’s been a political journalist and think-tanker. Rakove, in contrast, is a professor of history at Stanford, in addition to having appointments in the departments of political science and law. Their perspectives on Hamilton and how to write about him are necessarily different.

I agree with both of Rakove’s main points in this passage. Historians aren’t drawn to study the past in order to learn practical lessons but because it’s really, really interesting.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Newfangled Displays at Pluckemin and Concord

Last month Boston 1775 reader Bill Welsch sent me an interesting link to a virtual recreation of the Continental Army artillery park in Pluckemin, New Jersey. The website explains:
The Friends of the Jacobus Vanderveer House announced the release of the 3D Visualization of the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment, the lost 1778-1779 winter cantonment of General Henry Knox’s artillery in Pluckemin, New Jersey. While no buildings survive on the site except General Knox’s Headquarters at the Jacobus Vanderveer House, significant archeological work and other historical records permitted the creation of the first of its kind 3D virtual renderings of the buildings and area that made up the cantonment.

This 3D visualization is an interpretive guide for visitors who now can come to General Knox’s Headquarters at the Jacobus Vanderveer House Museum and understand the Pluckemin Artillery Cantonment’s importance to American Revolutionary War history.
Knox had about a thousand troops under his command at Pluckemin. Gen. George Washington’s infantry, about 8,000 strong, camped nearby at Middlebrook.

Closer to home, the Minute Man National Historical Park has revamped the display in the visitor center at Concord, above the North Bridge. The Boston Globe reported:
Until recently, the centerpiece of the three-room space was a glass-encased diorama showing soldiers dotting the hillside on both sides of the Concord River and over the bridge.

Along with the new video, produced by Northern Light Productions of Boston, which brings the Battle of Concord to life by filming historical reenactors on location, the exhibitions area now contains displays of archeological artifacts, documents, and weaponry, including an original cannon.

“We focus on three men who played key roles in the Revolutionary War: Captain David Brown, whose house foundation is visible from the park; Colonel James Barrett; and Major John Buttrick,” [chief of interpretation Leslie] Obleschuk said. “Those are names that may be fairly well known in Concord, but definitely are not known to visitors from across the country and around the world.”
The “Hancock” cannon is still on display, but it’s been taken off its carriage to make room for other artifacts and exhibits.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Talk on Indian Treaties at Shirley-Eustis House, 12 Aug.

Tomorrow, 12 August, the Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury presents a lecture titled “Diplomacy in Early New England: Treaty Conferences as a Window on Native and Non-Native Cultures.”

The speaker is Jay Adams, Director Emeritus of Old Fort Western in Augusta, Maine. Here is the Shirley-Eustis House’s description of his talk:
During his administration, Governor William Shirley served as Captain-General (Commander-in-Chief) of Massachusetts forces during two wars: King George’s War, 1744 to 1748, and the French and Indian War, 1754 to 1763.

The majority of the fighting in both wars took place in Europe, but each also resulted in Massachusetts declaring war on the Indian tribes on its Eastern frontier in Maine. European treaties ended the fighting on the continent, but Massachusetts signed separate treaties with the Indians, either to end the hostilities or to gain Indian permission for an expansion of Massachusetts military presence in the Kennebec River valley.

Using the transcripts of three conferences conducted by Shirley, Jay Adams…will compare and contrast key English and Indian cultural concepts, examine selected exchanges in the transcripts for cultural clues, and discuss why cultural differences made it so hard for Natives and non-Natives to achieve lasting peace.
This lecture begins at 2:00 P.M. Admission is $5 for adults, $4 for students and seniors; and nothing for those paying for regular tours. Refreshments will be served afterward.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pamphlets and Prints at Princeton

In 2009 Sid Lapidus’s collection of Revolutionary books and pamphlets came to the Princeton University library, which explains:
The Sid Lapidus ’59 Collection on Liberty and the American Revolution features more than 150 recently gifted important books, pamphlets and prints representing the major themes of Lapidus’ collecting: the intellectual origins of the American Revolution; the Revolution itself; the early years of the republic; the resulting spread of democratic ideas in the Atlantic world; and the effort to abolish the slave trade in both Great Britain and the United States.
Those publications are now available for viewing online.

Also online are portions of the library’s “illustrated color-printed 200 page catalogue” of the collection, and selected scans with curricular materials from the Gilder Lehrman Insitutue for American History.

Princeton has also digitized its prints of the British cartoonist James Gilray (1757-1815). Above from 1783 is “A block for the wigs - or - The new state whirligig,” a satire on the rapid changes in the British government that year.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Something to Take Pride In

I’m back in greater Boston after my trip to California, including the Monterey peninsula, and catching up on news, including an impressive tale out of Monterey, Massachusetts.

As reported by the Berkshire Eagle, fifteen-year-old Shelby M. Sebring tackled the mystery of the Rev. Adonijah Bidwell’s surviving papers while working as a paid intern at the Bidwell House Museum. The first impressive thing is Sebring’s accomplishment. The second is that a small history museum could offer a paid internship.

The Rev. Mr. Bidwell (1716-1784) left only a few “sermons in a private code: a mixture of early forms of English, Greek, Latin, symbols and shorthand.” (Descendant Edwin M. Biddle described seeing a diary with accounts of his service as a chaplain and fill-in minister in the 1740s, before he settled in what became Monterey.) Bidwell’s Wikipedia entry, last updated in March, says, “his shorthand code is too complex to gain more than the basic feel of a sermon.”

Using Fred B. Wrixton’s Codes, Ciphers and Other Cryptic and Clandestine Communication: 400 Ways to Send Secret Messages from Hieroglyphs to the Internet, which she had received as a Christmas gift, Sebring set out to fill in the gaps of the Bidwell manuscripts. The Eagle stated:
She also used an online guide to 18th-century shorthand and penmanship, Biblical references and “common sense” to chart the four-page sermon, titled “Proud.” It is labeled with three dates: 1759, 1761 and 1783.

Sebring filled three notebooks, first by writing down all the recognizable English, then mapping the numbers and symbols, and then trying to substitute words for the symbols in a way that made sense.

“There was a lot of guess and check,” Sebring said, noting that she has no background in Greek, Latin, middle English or the Bible.

Eventually, she figured that the numbers in the sermon referred to Bible verses. Ultimately, Sebring revealed an eight-page typed sermon about why people should be wary of exhibiting pride.
I suspect the three dates indicate when Bidwell preached that sermon. A chaplain on the Louisbourg expedition of 1745 and other campaigns, he might have responded to the British military victories of 1759 and the Treaty of Paris in 1783, but I’m not sure what could have prompted the 1761 call. A local history says that the minister’s infirmities meant he needed assistants during the last two years of his life.

This fall Sebring will be a sophomore at a military prep school in Virginia. The Bidwell House Museum is hosting a colonial garden party on 11 August.

[Image of the Bidwell House Museum above courtesy of Passport Magazine, which features lifestyle in the Berkshires and Litchfield County.)

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

“No man…was so hated and despised as Matthew Lyon”

Federalist journalist William Cobbett’s 1798 poem “The Pig and the Lion,” quoted yesterday, didn’t compare William Frederick Pinchbeck’s trained pig to an actual lion. After all, wearing a wooden sword, spitting in people’s faces, and carrying a candle in one’s buttocks isn’t typical leonine behavior.

Rather, Cobbett was comparing the beast to Rep. Matthew Lyon (1749-1822, shown here) of Vermont, a radical Democratic-Republican who became the Federalists’ biggest rhetorical target that year.

Lyon was born in Ireland and came to Connecticut in 1764 as a teen-aged “redemptioner”—meaning he worked as an indentured servant on a farm for a while to pay for his passage. Lyon moved north to the “New Hampshire Grants” in 1774 and was an adjutant and a lieutenant under Col. Seth Warner.

In 1776 Gen. Horatio Gates ordered Lyon to be cashiered. Lyon later claimed that this was because he had failed, despite his best efforts, to prevent his men from mutinying, and that he retained respect locally, which appears to be true. Lyon’s political enemies said he had been condemned to wear a wooden sword as a sign of cowardice, but there doesn’t seem to be evidence for that.

In independent Vermont, Lyon founded the town of Fair Haven, built mills, and started a newspaper. He served in the legislature and in 1796 was elected to represent Vermont in the U.S. Congress. At that time American politicians were openly forming two parties, each blaming the other for factionalism, and the bounds of accepted political behavior were being worked out.

Lyon was from the radical wing of the Democratic-Republican Party. On 30 Jan 1798, he claimed on the House floor that Connecticut Federalists weren’t representing the interests or desires of their constituents. One of those Federalists, Rep. Roger Griswold (1762-1812), replied by asking Lyon if he’d fight for them with his wooden sword. Lyon spat in Griswold’s face. Hence Cobbett’s poetic allusions to a wooden sword and spitting in Christians’ faces.

On 15 February, Griswold ran up to Lyon’s desk and started beating him with a cane. Lyon stumbled to a fireplace and grabbed the tongs to defend himself. The two men grappled before other members pulled them apart. Eventually the House decided not to take action against either Lyon or Griswold since both had behaved badly and both claimed to have won. That episode might have something to do with Cobbett’s candle allusion, though that would be more of a stretch.

In his History of the People of the United States (1914), John Bach McMaster wrote: “No man in the whole Republican party, not Benjamin Franklin Bache, nor Albert Gallatin, nor Thomas Jefferson, nor James Thomas Callender, was so hated and despised as Matthew Lyon.” In October 1798 Lyon was convicted and jailed under the Sedition Act for lambasting President John Adams’s policies toward France, but his constituents overwhelmingly reelected him anyway. He got to cast a decisive vote for Thomas Jefferson during the disputed election of 1800.

The next year, Lyon moved to Kentucky, which he and later his son also represented in Congress. J. Fairfax McLaughlin’s 1900 biography of Lyon is available on Google Books, and there have been more recent studies as well.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Porcupine’s “The Lion and the Pig”

Yesterday I quoted an advertisement from William Frederick Pinchbeck announcing the appearance of his learned pig in Salem in 1798. A couple of months before they had appeared in Boston.

In the 1790s, William Cobbett was another immigrant from England in America. He was publishing a high Federalist newspaper in Philadelphia called Porcupine’s Gazette. In addition to promoting pro-British policies, the newspaper also commented, usually acerbically, on public entertainments.

This is what Cobbett had to say about the wonderful pig in March 1798:
The LION and the PIG.

To Mr. Pinchbeck, Proprietor of the Learned Pig now in Boston.

“Corpora magnanimo satis est prostrasse LEONI.” Ovid.

Tell us no more of your learned little pig,
In size a mere runt, though in science very big.
Tell us no more of your little pig of knowledge,
Who can cipher and spell like a sophomore at college.
Can the grunting little thing, which you set so very high on,
Be compared to our beast, the GREAT AND MIGHTY LION?
You boast your little pig can spell the hardest word;
But did your little pig ever wear a wooden sword?
Your bonny pig may dance jigs, round-abouts, and reels;
But did he ever prance with rogue’s march at his heels?
I’ll allow your bristled beau can count and tell his letters;
But can he name and shew, his gammons to his betters?
Spades, diamonds, clubs, and hearts, your piggy well can handle;
But did his hinder parts ever hold a lighted candle?
Though your piggy screws his snout in such learned grimaces,
I defy the squeaking lout to spit in Christians’ faces,
And if the thing could be, is such the hoggish fashion,
That one third of the fly would applaud him for the action?
Then tell us no more of your little grunting creature,
But confess that the LION is the GREATEST BEAST in nature.
Cobbett returned to Britain in 1800 and eventually became a radical Member of Parliament, particularly interested in agricultural reform. (The portrait above comes from that period of his career.) Cobbett had another chance to comment on learned pigs in 1817 when yet another Toby made its London debut, but I don’t think he did so.

TOMORROW: But what the heck was that poem about?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Pinchbeck’s Pig in Salem

William Frederick Pinchbeck brought his learned pig from Britain to New York in 1798. After some successful performances there, the pair traveled north, and Pinchbeck ran this notice in the Salem Gazette dated 4 May:

For ten days only.

Mr. PINCHBECK Respectfully informs the Inhabitants of SALEM, that he has just arrived in this town with that great natural curiosity, the
Pig of Knowledge,
And flatters himself, after exhibiting before the President of the United States with unbounded applause, and in every principal City in the Union, to have the honour of gratifying such Ladies and Gentlemen in this place, as may favour him with their Company.

This extraordinary Animal will actually perform the following surprising particulars, viz.
He reads print or writing, spells, tells the time of day, both the hours and minutes, by any person’s watch in the company, the date of the year, the day of the month, distinguishes colours, how many persons there are present, ladies or gentlemen, and to the astonishment of every spectator, will answer any question in the four first rules of Arithmetics

To conclude, any Lady or Gentleman may draw a card from a pack, and keep it concealed, and the PIG without hesitation will discover the card when drawn.

Those who doubt the truth of the above are informed in case it don’t answer every expectation the advertisement can excite, and prove a real living Animal, shall have the Money returned, or be at liberty to pay after they have convinced themselves by seeing him perform.

To be seen in a convenient room under the western side of Concert-Hall, Market-Street.
Admittance, for grown persons, one Quarter of a Dollar. Children half price.
N. B. Strict attention paid to keep the place fit for the reception of Ladies.
The “President of the United States” whom Pinchbeck claimed had seen the pig was John Adams. I don’t know of any document from the Adams Papers to confirm that—but if Abigail was with John in New York at the time, their discussion wouldn’t have been on paper. However, Pinchbeck was from a family of British showmen, and was quite capable of hyping his act.

(Russell Potter, author of Pyg, left a comment on yesterday’s posting quoting another of Pinchbeck’s advertisements, which he quoted at greater length here.)

Seven years later, in 1805, Pinchbeck published a volume titled The Expositor, explaining the basic secrets behind automata, ventriloquism, optical illusions, stage magic, and of course training a performing pig.

TOMORROW: The lion, the pig, and the porcupine.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

The Adams Family and the Wonderful Pig

The Pyg blog I quoted yesterday stated that Thomas Jefferson was among the Americans who saw William Frederick Pinchbeck’s learned pig in America after 1798. But it appears that the swine Jefferson paid a shilling to see was the original Toby, performing in London in the spring of 1786.

Toby had made his London debut the year before, as the Duchess of Devonshire’s blog relates. He was soon the talk of the town. Among the folks talking about him was the family of John Adams, then the American minister to the Court of St. James.

The younger Abigail Adams wrote to her brother John Quincy Adams on 11 Aug 1785:
…the People of our Country have a Wonderfull liking to those who can say, “I have been in St. Pauls Church. I have seen the Lions, Tigers, &c. in the Tower. I have seen the King, and what is more have had the extreme honour of being saluted by him. What the King? Yes by George the Third King of Great Britain France and Ireland, defender of the Faith &c. And I have seen the Dancing Dogs, Singing Duck, and little Hare which beats the Drum, and the Irish Infant, [blank] feet high, but not yet the Learned Pig.[”]

The Tumblers of Sadlers Wells, have made great objections that the Learned Pig, should be introduced upon the Stage and have I beleive left it.
As a novelty, and one who might not have left the stage in pristine state, Toby represented a threat to older acts.

On 3 Sept 1785 the older Abigail Adams wrote to her aunt Lucy Tufts:
I know Madam that you Live a Life so retired and are now so frequently seperated from your worthy companion that I flatter myself a few lines from me will not be unacceptable to you: tho I were to amuse you with what is the Ton of London, The learned pig, dancing dogs, and the little Hare that Beats the Drum. It is incredible what sums of Money are nightly lavishd upon these kinds of Amusements, many of them fit only to please children.
Neither Adams woman wrote about actually seeing the pig, however, and the elder Abigail clearly disapproved of paying to do so. Nonetheless, Jefferson took in the spectacle during his brief visit to Britain. And left no comment about it.

TOMORROW: Did John Adams ever see the learned pig? Any learned pig?

[The image above is Thomas Rowlandson’s print of Toby the learned pig in action.]

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Pig in the City

Publishers Weekly offers an interview with the title “How Do You Write a Book Narrated by a Pig?”:
Pyg: The Memoirs of Toby, the Learned Pig is Russell Potter’s wildly imaginative new novel told from the perspective of a pig in eighteenth-century England that begins in a sideshow and ends up in Oxford and Edinburgh, where Toby studies. Along the way, he meets the likes of Samuel Johnson, Robert Burns, and William Blake. How did Potter write such an clever, charming novel? We talked with him to find out.

Who was the real “learned pig” who formed the basis of the novel?

The original pig, named (as were nearly all his successors) Toby, first appeared in England in 1783, spelling out answers to audience questions using letters printed on cards. By 1785, he had made his way from the provinces to London, where he quickly became a subject of considerable interest, inspiring political cartoons and satirical poems, as well as a slew of rival pigs. In 1787, he made a Scottish tour, ending his days in Edinburgh, while a series of latter-day “sapient pigs” kept the act going in Britain and the United States well into the nineteenth century.
The book has its own blog, which stated this week:
In 1798, a “Learned Pig” first arrived in America under the proprietorship of a certain Mr. William Frederick Pinchbeck. Much as had his British forebears, Pinchbeck’s pig read and spelled words, told the time of day by consulting a watch, and answered questions freely from the audience on arithmetic and any other matters. 
Pinchbeck eventually published instructions on raising a learned pig, which that blog quoted here, in case anyone wants to reenact this element of eighteenth-century life. (Maybe a 4-H project?)

Friday, August 03, 2012

“Myths in History” from Colonial Williamsburg

The latest issue of Colonial Williamsburg magazine offers an article by Gil Klein about “The Use of Myths in History.” Klein discusses the power and possible inevitability of historical myths:
In the view of professional historians, these myths should be punctured. But historians do so at their peril. The myths are more beloved than the cold facts, and they are hard to kill.

Many of them are designed to explain us as we wish to see ourselves. They establish the national character and set the standard for coming generations. . . .

The Past and history are different things, wrote British historian J. H. Plumb. People have always used The Past to explain the origins and purpose of human life, to sanctify government institutions, to validate class structure, to provide moral example. Only in the past two or three hundred years, he said, has historical study developed “to see things as they really were.”

Said historian John Thorn, “Historians have an obligation to embrace myth as the people’s history.”
That last statement seems to miss the fact that historical myths are often created to keep “the people” from questioning existing structures of power. And the whole article seems to flirt with the idea that national myths are not only an inescapable fact of life but a Good Thing. I’m not sure an accurate, cleared-eyed understanding of history and a rejection of myths is necessary for a successful society, but I still like to believe such awareness is a Good Thing.

The online edition of the article also includes the magazine’s illustrations of its myths, a selection of additional images, and a podcast interview with Klein.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Stan Mack’s Revolting Rebels

A couple of years back I featured Stan Mack’s light-hearted adventure comic for kids, Road to Revolution!

Stan’s now republishing his earlier sequential-art work on the Revolution, titled Taxes, the Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels: A History in Comics of the American Revolution. That first came out in 1994.

Here’s some of Stan’s commentary from Michael Dooley’s interview at Imprint, about both the Revolution book and a similar volume titled The Story of the Jews:
I am very careful to triple-check my historical facts and motivations—not that original documents necessarily agree with each other in the first place. In both books the fun came when I was able to put words into the mouths of some of the greatest names in history: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and John Adams, not to mention Moses and the God of the Jews. The books being the work of a cartoonist, they do all kinda speak out of the side of their mouth, wiseguy-style. Waddaya expect?
Dooley’s interview also appeared at Salon. Fishbowl N.Y. and San Diego Jewish World published more articles about Stan and Taxes, the Tea Party, and Those Revolting Rebels.