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.

Follow by Email


Sunday, April 07, 2013

The Patriots Day Season Has Begun

This is a photo of the Paul Revere Capture Ceremony yesterday in Lincoln, an event produced by the Lincoln Minute Men. People portraying participants in the actual capture correct the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It’s one of the first events of Massachusetts’ Patriots Day season.

But only one. Also yesterday was the Merriam’s Corner Exercise in Concord and the Liberty Pole Capping in Bedford—the first a commemoration of another part of 19 Apr 1775, the second a more modern local tradition but honored nonetheless. Today at 2:00 Lexington folks practice for their reenactment of the skirmish on the town common, a chance to actually see the action instead of the back of someone’s head, and at a civilized hour of the day.

Keeping track of all the different events related to Patriots Day is a huge challenge. A few years back I tried it on this blog and wore myself out. Now BattleRoad.org offers a round-up of events in Middlesex County. But there are others in Boston and nearby towns, a talk at the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, and more. I’ve come to look at that multitude of separate events, some coordinated and some operating on their own, as emblematic of New England town culture.

The History List has taken up the task of listing every Patriots Day event from as many websites as its staff could find. But it could use some help. This site is a “Web 2.0” enterprise that allows users to register, list events, and update those listings. Organizations can spread the word about their upcoming lectures, ceremonies, reenactments, exhibits, and so on. Visitors can get a broad overview of opportunities. But only if folks list their own events!


Susan said...

Cool, so are you one of those dressed in Patriot brown? or British red? Nowhere is Patriot's Day celebrated with more fervor than in the towns surrounding Boston. Back in the old days, such fervor was a point of honor that could (and did, at times)require legal intervention. It was from some such feud between the towns of Acton and Concord in 1825 that identified for posterity one of the tunes played by the Acton company's fife and drum as they approached the bridge, "The White Cockade," this according to a deposition sworn before Josiah Adams, a Justice of the Peace ("the witness whistled the tune, which was known to me by that name"). There is another fife tune known to have been played at and after the skirmish,that being the ubiquitous 'Yankee Doodle.' This was widely reported in the newspapers, much to the chagrin of the humiliated British, who had to endure not only the indignity of being picked off, one by one, by a highly unorganized citizenry hiding behind trees and stone walls but also the wry and pointed satire inherent in the tune, which plagued their ears on the return march to Boston. But I digress. Hope you had a fun day!

J. L. Bell said...

I wasn't on the stage; I was taking the photo!

You're right that one effect of local pride and local feuds was that a lot more local lore got sworn to and published. The most important are the depositions by men from Lexington and Concord over who first fired back at the redcoats. But of course those historical documents reflect the pressures of their time just as much as the original accounts.

There are a number of legends about the music played on 19 Apr 1775. I'd have to check on whether British sources complained, or even noticed.

Susan said...

Oh, I have no doubt the British noticed--and cared, too. Music at this time had a language all its own. The late Arthur Schrader called this "emotional baggage," a term best explained in a new publication from Keller and Hildebrand, "Music of the War of 1812 in America" (I know, wrong war, but it really explains this concept well), and Yankee Doodle is a prime example of that.

In any event, if the British heard "Yankee Doodle" during their hazardous return to Boston (and according to period newspaper accounts, they did indeed), I have no doubt they were quite bitter about it.

Also, while 100% proof remains sealed in the graves of Rev War fifers (and drummers), it is quite plausible that Josiah Adams and his deponent were onto something, even 50 years after the fact. It was a tune that had certainly been around for at least 20-odd years before the war, and in identifying, collating, and cataloging the fife music (not fiddle or flute music)that survives from the Rev War, this would have been one of the "Top Ten Tunes of the Revolution," if counting the number of times it appears in surviving fifers' manuscripts has any value.

J. L. Bell said...

I'm wondering about evidence if British response to provincial martial music on 19 Apr 1775. That might appear in British accounts if the day, and conceivably in contemporaneous provincial accounts of conversations with British prisoners. But American newspaper stories about what their musicians played don't tell us how the British forces reacted to their tunes, only how the provincials hoped the British had reacted.

One famous anecdote about Col. Percy and "Chevy Chase" gained new, improved details as the Rev. William Gordon repeated it, leading me to suspect it was more about provincials having a laugh together than an accurate rendition of an exchange between a British earl and a Roxbury boy.

Robert S. Paul said...

John, I'm surprised you let that "highly unorganized citizenry hiding behind trees and stone walls" go without comment!

Susan said...

I agree that the Chevy Chase thing was likely an anecdote and nothing more. The ballad (song) never caught the ear of Rev War fifers--at least, not long enough to be copied into a manuscript or otherwise preserved for future scrutiny. But it did carry a lot of denunciatory baggage (Child reports a very early text that refers to the "unhorsing" of Lord Percy at the battle of Otterbourne, 1388), making it highly suitable as a barb directed at the unfortunate Colonel Percy and thus making good copy ;-)

Worse than even Rev. Gordon was the story's adoption by none other than Charles Goodrich, of "Peter Parley" fame. Nothing guarantees the the transformation of legend-to-fact more than teaching it to children, which is exactly what the didactic, well-meaning, but misinformed "Peter Parley" did. ;-)

Haven't read Gordon in a while, but was he the one that mentioned the pre-war tar-and-feathering of a Boston farmer?(was it a man by the name of Ditson? Sorry, don't have access to my library right now)--I think it was a rather simple story that was propagandized by the press into a heinous event that, BTW, involved our favorite tune (Yankee Doodle)... ;-)

Susan said...

P.S. not to belabor a point, but this is a subject dear to my heart.

I think the Keller/Hildebrand book goes a long way towards an understanding of the power of music in the 18th (and early 19th) century, including military music and British reaction to it, but if you wish to stay within the primary source literature, certainly there is data available. Check out their bibliography, and feel free to contact me offline if you want further references, which I can assemble for you once I am done working.

Offhand, I'm thinking the papers of Christopher French would be a lot of fun, but these are post L&C. Briefly, he was an Irish officer sent to assist the British during the siege of Boston but was arrested the moment he stepped off the ship that brought him there. He was sent CT to await his parole but was a cranky sort of guy and eventually wound up in Newgate Prison. He spent a lot of time there writing, most of which were essays scoffing at the rebels. He also pestered General Washington, seeking relief from his forced living amongst the colonial rabble. I recall some opinions about rebel music and dance as well as some song-texts that he himself wrote and set to well-known tunes. He eventually escaped the confines of Newgate, leaving his papers behind, some of which are at CT Hist Soc, the others at DLC.

J. L. Bell said...

I'm trying to stick to the topic. Or a topic.

Susan said...

Maybe I'm just looking at things from the Tory point of view...!

Sorry :-) (I'm a music historian, not a combat historian...wrong list, maybe?)

J. L. Bell said...

I believe the Rev. William Gordon is also our earliest source for the British reinforcement column playing "Yankee Doodle" as it marched out of Boston on the morning of 19 April. So if he can't be trusted on "Chevy Chase," can he be trusted on that earlier part of the anecdote? Or was that an accurate detail he elaborated on? There are definitely other reports of British forces playing "Yankee Doodle" during the run-up to the war.

Did British army musicians do so during the Thomas Ditson incident? Isaiah Thomas recalled the soldiers stopping outside his newspaper office and playing "The Rogue's March." I'm not sure if contemporaneous sources say the musicians played "Yankee Doodle." Of course, during the whole event they could have played both (or, if Thomas isn't reliable, neither).

I don't think of the Ditson incident as minor, and Patriot propagandists didn't have to do a lot of work to make people mad about it. Their main effort was playing down the half-dozen previous tar-and-feather incidents, one far more violent, inflicted on Customs employees.

I know of Christopher French’s correspondence with Washington, not his musical work. But, as you say, his papers wouldn't offer information on (a) what tunes either side played during the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and (b) how the British responded to such music, as opposed to how the provincials wanted to believe the British responded.

J. L. Bell said...

Robert Paul's comment on the phrase "a highly unorganized citizenry hiding behind trees and stone walls" was, I believe, not directed at whether that shows a "Tory" or "Patriot" point of view but whether it's historically accurate.

The provincial forces that engaged the British on 19 April were at times highly organized citizenry, and they sometimes attacked using regular battlefield tactics, as at the North Bridge. At other points they did shoot from shelter, and when the British had enough fresh men (after reaching Lexington again) they deployed flankers to make such shooting a lot harder.

In their early reports, British commanders did make some complaints about the irregular tactics of the locals. In subsequent decades, American historians and popular authors blew those up into a myth of wily Yankees shooting at stiff redcoats who couldn't adapt. That's the myth that I think Mr. Paul detected behind your phrase and thought should be addressed.

It ties to my main point about the music, which is that for a long time the history of the Battle of Lexington and Concord was written almost entirely by Americans for Americans using American sources. Some of those sources ascribed motives, reactions, and remarks to the British, but those statements appear to have been based mostly on hope and speculation. Several accounts from British officers were published in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and we should check those if we really want to know what those men thought of events.