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.

Subscribe thru Follow.it


Sunday, June 30, 2013

Another American Revolution Miniseries in the Works

This month Deadline reported on another upcoming television miniseries set during the American Revolution:
Production on The Book Of Negroes…will begin in the fall on the project written [by] Clement Virgo and [Lawrence] Hill. It will air stateside on BET and on CBC in Canada.

The story centers on Aminata Diallo, who is taken by slave traders from West Africa to South Carolina. It follows her through the American Revolution in New York, the isolated refuge of Nova Scotia and the jungles of Sierra Leone, before she ultimately secures her freedom in England in the early 1800s.
The Book of Negroes miniseries is based on Lawrence Hill’s novel of the same name, first published in Canada in 2007. It won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize the next year. If you’ve never heard of it, that might be because it was published in the U.S. of A. and elsewhere under the title Someone Knows My Name.

Hill’s original title referred to the list of free blacks evacuated with the British military from New York at the end of the war. That list is an important element in the book, and a valuable historical source for such studies as Cassandra Pybus’s Epic Journeys of Freedom.

In 2008 Hill wrote in the Guardian about why his American publisher had, probably after feedback from major retailers, asked to change the book’s title:
In my country, few people have complained to me about the title, and nobody continues to do so after I explain its historical origins. I think it’s partly because the word “Negro” resonates differently in Canada. If you use it in Toronto or Montreal, you are probably just indicating publicly that you are out of touch with how people speak these days. But if you use it in Brooklyn or Boston, you are asking to have your nose broken.

When I began touring with the novel in some of the major US cities, literary African-Americans kept approaching me and telling me it was a good thing indeed that the title had changed, because they would never have touched the book with its Canadian title.
I suspect that when the miniseries airs in the U.S., it will be called Someone Knows My Name.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Abigail Adams Birthplace Open House, 30 June

On Sunday, 30 June, the Abigail Adams Birthplace in Weymouth is reopening after a two-year restoration, the Quincy Patriot-Ledger reports. The 1685 house has been structurally reinforced, equipped with climate control to allow year-round programs, and spruced up with new clapboards.

I should note that this birthplace isn’t quite in the same place as it was in 1744, when baby Abigail Smith was born there, or 1764, when she married John Adams in the parlor. The house was moved to a new site by oxen in the early 1800s. After World War 2, it was sawed in half, moved back to its original neighborhood, and reassembled. The Boston Globe shares a photo of the latter move as well as the image above.

Three of Weymouth’s ministers lived in the house, with the Rev. William Smith being the second. But apparently it wasn’t officially the town parsonage—it appears to have been the property of the ministers themselves, and each family sold to the next. The building is now the property of the Abigail Adams Historical Society.

The newspapers disagree, but the society’s website says that after a members’ reception it will host a reopening ceremony for the public from 1:00 to 5:00 P.M. The house will then be open for visits this summer on 13 and 28 July and 10 and 25 August. Admission will be $5 for adults and teens, $1 for children under age twelve.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Royal Irish Artillery at the Revere House, 29 June

On Saturday, 29 June, from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M., the Paul Revere House in the North End will host Fred Lawson, a founder of the Royal Irish Artillery reenacting group. He will show off sample artillery tools and discuss the use of those weapons in battle (though the chance of setting off cannon in downtown Boston is very small).

Revere was an artillerist, eventually commanding Massachusetts’s regiment during the 1779 expedition to Maine. He was never in the Royal Irish Artillery, of course. Instead, the site reports, “The Royal Artillery fought against Paul Revere at the Siege of Castine in Penobscot Bay.”

Histories of the Royal Irish Artillery, including David Dooks’s article on the reenacting unit’s site, say that most of the unit remained in Ireland throughout the war. Seventy men were drafted (i.e., transferred) into the Royal Artillery to accompany Gen. John Burgoyne’s thrust down from Canada in 1777. Those artillerists were captured after Saratoga.

William L. Calver’s 1922 article “The British Army Button in the American Revolution” reported that a Royal Irish Artillery button had been found in Somerville, where some of the prisoners of war from Burgoyne’s army were housed. Dooks quotes a letter saying the Irish artillerists, unlike many of their fellow captives, were to be exchanged by the end of the year. So were those men among the British forces in Maine?

Wikipedia says another Royal Irish Artillery button was found at Fort George in Castine, Maine. However, Calver wrote that such a button was found at the Fort George out on the Niagara River, so that might be a false lead.

Regardless, Lawson’s demonstration of artillery tools and tactics will be technically correct. Artillerists who don’t know their craft don’t last as long as his unit has.

And there are many more summer events at the Paul Revere House. Saturdays in July will feature music, including fife and drum, dulcimer, Benjamin Franklin’s glass harmonica, and colonial dance tunes. In August, experts will demonstrate weaving, tailoring, tinsmithing, penmanship, and other useful arts.

These events are free with admission to the museum: adults for $3.50, seniors and college students $3.00, children aged 5 to 17 $1.00. (Members and North End residents get admitted free.) For more information, check the house’s website.

(For the record, the Military Campaign dates the Royal Irish Artillery button shown above to after 1785.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Declaration of Independence and Big Capital

The folks at Seth Kaller, Inc., and the Robert A. Siegel Auction Galleries sent a report on a big sale:
The rare first newspaper printing of the Declaration of Independence we auctioned yesterday brought $632,500—a record price for any historic newspaper. . . . The July 6, 1776, edition of the Pennsylvania Evening Post was only the second printing of the Declaration in any form. The copy sold yesterday is one of just four issues of the Post’s Declaration printing that have appeared at auction in the past 50 years.
The purchaser was David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group. Six years ago he bought an antique copy of the Magna Carta, then loaned it to the U.S. National Archives while funding a large display facility for the agency. He’s also made multimillion-dollar gifts to benefit Monticello and the Washington Monument.

In its booklet announcing this sale, with good photographs of the newspaper for sale and other 1776 printings of the Declaration, the firm noted the typographical differences between Benjamin Towne’s Post printing and the earlier official broadside issued for the Continental Congress by Pennsylvania Packet printer John Dunlap (shown above).
Both versions capitalize the beginning of sentences, proper names, and words such as “God,” “King,” “Prince,” etc., but excluding those, Dunlap capitalzes an additional 291 internal words (within sentences). However, Towne capitalizes only two internal words.

This observation led us to compare two June 1776 working drafts of the Declaration, one in Thomas Jefferson’s hand, and one copied from Jefferson’s draft by John Adams. The Adams copy follows the same pattern, with Adams capitalizing many words that Jefferson has in lower case.
The firm suggests that there might have been multiple manuscripts of the Declaration in July 1776, one used by Dunlap and one by Towne—one perhaps from Adams and one from Jefferson.

I think this analysis is missing an important factor. Almost all the words capitalized in Dunlap’s broadside but not in Towne’s newspaper are nouns. The rest are adjectives preceding important nouns. In eighteenth-century English it was still common, though old-fashioned, to capitalize all nouns and noun phrases (while capitalizing and italicizing proper nouns). Dunlap followed that rule of style for his Declaration broadside; Towne chose the more modern style for his newspaper reprint. The differences between the two printings could thus arise from each printer applying a systematic rule to the same text.

Was Dunlap guided by John Adams’s style? I doubt that since Dunlap also published Adams’s Thoughts on Government in 1776, and that pamphlet didn’t capitalize most nouns, as this careful transcript shows. (I also checked images of the pamphlet, but I can’t link to them.) Adams did capitalize many nouns, though irregularly, in the letters leading up to that pamphlet. Thus, I conclude:
  • Dunlap didn’t conform to Adams’s capitalization when setting his manuscripts.
  • Dunlap didn’t always capitalize all nouns, even in serious publications like Adams’s pamphlet.
Dunlap also didn’t capitalize most nouns in his newspaper, and neither did Towne.

On the other hand, when the Congress issued a broadside on 10 Dec 1776 (about “the Army that now threatens to take Poessession of this City”), Dunlap reached into the capital case again. So it appears that someone important at the Congress in 1776 liked Big Letters for its major announcements.

I haven’t done a systematic survey, but I did see that when the Congress issued its “Address to the Inhabitants of the United States” in May 1778, with Henry Laurens as presiding officer, Dunlap did not use the extra capitals. And John Hancock had gone home.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Benjamin Vaughan, Franklin Fanboy

The Englishman who edited Benjamin Franklin’s essays for the press in 1779 was his admirer Benjamin Vaughan (1751-1835). Like Franklin, he had family in Boston.

Born in Jamaica, Vaughan was a grandson of the Massachusetts merchant captain Benjamin Hallowell, Sr. (The captain’s namesake son became one of the most hated of the royal Customs Commissioners in Boston.)

Vaughan’s immediate family were Unitarians, not fitting in with either New England Congregationalists or the established church in Britain. He attended dissenting grammar schools in Britain, and his faith limited the possibilities of a university degree.

Vaughan studied science under the Quaker scholar Joseph Priestley, then law, and finally medicine when he was trying to impress his future wife’s father that he could earn a steady living. But what really excited him was politics. He became a radical, which in Britain meant a republican. Vaughan stood somewhere between activists like John Horne and more establishment figures like the Earl of Shelburne. All that was going on while he collected Franklin’s older books and circulating manuscripts and prepared them for the press in 1779.

When Shelburne became prime minister in 1782, he asked Vaughan to go to Paris and use his relationship to Franklin to create a sort of back-door channel for news and reassurances. He wasn’t officially part of the British diplomatic delegation but seems to have contributed to the peace of 1783.

Vaughan served in Parliament from 1792 to 1794. Despite coming from the left, he opposed the idea of ending slavery in the British West Indies (his own family’s fortune was of course based on slave labor). When the old rivalry between Britain and France heated up again, this time with France as a militant republic, Vaughan came under suspicion of being a French sympathizer and fled the country.

Unfortunately, he arrived in France just as the “Terror” gave way to the “Thermidor” reaction, consuming one set of leaders after another. Vaughan was locked up on suspicion of being a British spy—I can’t tell exactly when and how his treatment fit with the swift changes in the French government at the time. But after a brief stretch in prison Vaughan made it out to Switzerland, then sailed for Boston in 1795.

Vaughan soon settled for life in Hallowell, Maine, where he had inherited land through his mother. His personal library was said to contain 10,000 books, one of the largest in the country. In American politics Vaughan became a firm Federalist, thus on the right. He finally started practicing medicine and promoted the use of Francis Jenner’s smallpox vaccine. He also built up his area of Maine with mills, wharfs, and stores.

There are papers related to Vaughan and his family at the Massachusetts Historical Society, the American Philosophical Society, the Clements Library, and elsewhere, given his correspondence with many early American statesmen. Vaughan’s house in Maine is now a historic site, though it’s not open to tours this summer. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Benjamin Franklin’s “Present Hostile Character”

Yesterday’s posting mentioned almost in passing that Benjamin Franklin’s Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces was published in London in 1779. Think about that.

At that time, Franklin was the rebel American states’ minister to Paris, doing his best to increase French aid, recruit Continental military talent, and thwart British espionage. His last major public appearance in London was being castigated in front of the Privy Council for helping to leak confidential letters on Massachusetts politics.

Yet Dr. Franklin’s major essays were collected and published in the capital of the British Empire. And with his participation: he reviewed the early printed pages and provided an appendix of “Addenda & Corrigenda.”

Many eighteenth-century books came out anonymously, but this collection didn’t hide its author’s identity or status. A profile of Franklin appeared opposite the title page, the author bio identified him as “Minister Plenipotentiary at the Court of Paris for the United States of America,” and the contents listed essays on “American Politics before the Troubles” and “American Politics during the Troubles.”

The 1779 collection was not an inexpensive venture: it filled nearly 600 pages, and the editor commissioned special type to reproduce Franklin’s phonetic alphabet in print for the first time. That required a type cutter to carve the new symbols and cast them, and the printers to go to extra trouble in setting those pages.

The editor’s preface addresses Franklin’s status in the British Empire directly:
Can Englishmen read these things and not sigh at recollecting that the country which could produce their author was once without controversy their own!—Yet he who praises Dr. Franklin for mere ability, praises him for that quality of his mind which stands lowest in his own esteem. Reader, whoever you are and how much soever you think you hate him, know that this great man loves you enough to wish to do you good:

His country’s friend, but more of human kind.
The Monthly Review reprinted those words about Franklin in a positive review of the book that started by acknowledging “the present hostile character he bears to this country.”

TOMORROW: Who edited and published Franklin’s essays in 1779?

Monday, June 24, 2013

A Peek at Franklin’s Improved Alphabet

Last mont Smithsonian Magazine’s Design Decoded blog highlighted a story on Benjamin Franklin’s phonetic alphabet.

The posting left me confused when it said:
Franklin developed his phonetic alphabet in 1768 but it wasn’t published until 1789, when Noah Webster, intrigued by Franklin’s proposal, included its description in his book Dissertations on the English Language. However, because, Webster lacked the type blocks to illustrate Franklin’s changes, the alphabet wouldn’t be seen until Franklin had new blocks cast to print the alphabet for his 1779 collection of writings, Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces.
No matter how I look at things, 1779 comes before 1789, so Franklin’s alphabet, explanations, and examples appeared in print ten years before Noah Webster reprinted the correspondence—translating it back out of the phonetic spelling into familiar form. I think the passage above must mean that Franklin’s scheme wasn’t published in the U.S. of A. until 1789, and even then the actual lettering couldn’t be reprinted.

But copies of Franklin’s Political, Miscellaneous, and Philosophical Pieces had undoubtedly been shipped into America in the 1780s. Many American authors, including the Rev. Cotton Mather, Prof. John Winthrop, Phillis Wheatley, and the Rev. William Gordon, had their books published in London even as they expected American sales. Webster probably found Franklin’s letters in one such imported copy. Incidentally, the American printer who didn’t have the typeface to replicate the London printing for Webster was Isaiah Thomas.

TOMORROW: What’s really remarkable about Franklin’s 1779 collection.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The English Prize: Quite a Capture

The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmorland, an Episode of the Grand Tour is a lavish, oversized, and no doubt highly priced art book. (I found a copy at my local library.) It’s unusual in that it catalogues not the work of a particular artist, school, or period, but the collecting activity of a particular class of people at a particular time, preserved by chance like Pompeii or Wolstenholme Town or some other archeological site preserved all of a piece and precisely dated.

The story of this collection began with the Grand Tour, an almost necessary part of the education of male English aristocrats in the late 1700s. Young gentlemen such as Francis Bassett (1757-1835), inheritor of copper mines in Cornwall, and George Legge, Viscount Lewisham (1755-1810), eldest son of the Earl of Dartmouth, would travel to Italy in the company of a mentor, described variously as a tutor, governor, companion (so as to allow him entry into the top social events), or “bear leader.” There the young aristocrats would socialize with others of the same class while studying art, fencing, language, and other genteel skills.

It was common for those Tourists to have their portraits painted, and some Italian artists, such as Pompeo Batoni, specialized in such commissions. They had a variety of poses and motifs available for choosing, showing the young man holding a map of Italy or standing in front of ruins so no one could miss the point that they were now cultured. Some of the more aesthetically ambitious Tourists would buy other artwork, classical artifacts, books, and other cultural items to ship home.

Dozens of chests from such young men, including Bassett and Lewisham, were loaded onto the English ship Westmoreland in the port of Livorno (Leghorn) in 1779. Then came news that the French and Spanish had declared war on Britain, turning what had been a civil war within the British Empire into a worldwide conflict. The captain of the Westmoreland armed his ship with cannon and obtained a letter of marque, allowing him to capture French and Spanish ships as a privateer.

At first this worked out well. The Westmoreland took a French cargo vessel. Then the tables turned, and two French ships stopped the Westmoreland in the eastern Mediterranean. The ship was sent to the Spanish port of Malaga, its perishable goods sold and its passengers exchanged. For four years the rest of the cargo sat in a warehouse.

With the arrival of peace in 1783, some of the British art patrons began to ask for their goods. Meanwhile, the Spanish prime minister learned about the captured artwork and decided to obtain the best pieces for King Carlos III and most of the rest for the new Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando in Madrid. Most of the English prize’s cargo thus remained in Spanish state museums.

Fortunately, because of the legalities of condemning those goods and good archival work by the institutions involved, there’s a very good record of what items came from what chests in that English prize. Further research allowed the scholars behind this book to locate correspondence connected with some of those works, especially the portraits, with individual Britons. The result was an exhibit and this book, capturing almost completely a moment in the collecting of British Tourists in 1779.

Personally, I’m not taken with the eighteenth century’s depictions of mythological subjects and landscapes, but I like most of the portraiture, and this book has a lot of it, in both painting and sculpture. The front cover shows Batoni’s portrait of young Bassett, leaning against a statue with a map of Rome in his hand. (How cultured!)

Bassett tried for years to get that painting back from Spain, and may even had commissioned a Spanish artist to make a copy. But Britain and Spain kept going to war against each other, so his portrait remained at the Real Academia, identified simply as a “Young Man” until the research behind this book connected all the dots.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Prince’s Gift for the Late President

To close off my poking around in the record of the Braddock sash, I found more information about how and when it came (back) to Mount Vernon.

The published records of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for 1920 include this passage:
Prince Yoshihisa Takugawa’s gift to Mount Vernon in 1919, “to be used for the purpose of purchasing some Washington relic appropriate to be placed in Washington’s home,” has enabled the Association to have returned to Mount Vernon the sash worn by General [Edward] Braddock at the time of his defeat, and upon which he was borne mortally wounded from the field of battle by his aide, Colonel George Washington, and two soldiers. General Braddock gave the sash to Colonel Washington who brought it to Mount Vernon in 1755; here it was kept until after his death, when it passed into the possession of his nephew who married “Nelly” Custis. In 1846 Colonel Butler, of Louisiana, who married their daughter, presented the sash to General Zachary Taylor after his victories on the Rio Grande, and, while General Taylor was President of the United States, the sash was in the White House. His daughter, Mrs. Bliss, brought it to Virginia after President Taylor’s death, and last summer it was purchased from one who had inherited it.

The request made by the Japanese Prince, that “his name might be associated with the relic, as this act on his part is but an expression of sentiment,” should be complied with.
Thus, by 1920 the association had “purchased” the sash “from one who had inherited it.”

The Japanese donor’s family name is usually spelled “Tokugawa” now. As I understand it, Yoshihisa Tokugawa was a son of the last shogun and a nobleman but not a member of the imperial family. For folks who can read Japanese, here’s his Wikipedia entry in that language.

Evidently the ladies of Winchester, Virginia, appear to have preferred to think of the sash being “a perpetual loan” to Mount Vernon, as Katherine Glass Greene wrote in her 1926 local history, rather than sold outright. But money and property changed hands by 1920, so that looks like a sale to me.

Friday, June 21, 2013

How Many Sashes Are at Mount Vernon?

Some recent books on Mount Vernon refer to a “Washington sash” in its holdings. For example, The George Washington Collection (2006) shows a woven sash and posits that it might be one that eager young George Washington bought near the start of his military career in 1754, as discussed here. We also know his Philadelphia supplier sent him another sash in late 1774, as quoted here.

The funny thing is that the photos of the “Washington sash” appear to show the same sash that other books (such as George Washington Remembers) identify as the sash of the late Gen. Edward Braddock.

George Washington: The Man Behind the Myths expresses doubt both that Washington wore that sash in his 1772 portrait and that it’s really connected with Braddock. But the date woven into the sash, 1709, has no apparent link to Washington and a possible link to Braddock, as I suggested earlier this month.

At this point, I’m guessing that:
  • Washington ordered a crimson sash in 1754 and probably had himself painted in it eighteen years later.
  • He accepted a second sash from the dying Braddock in 1755 and preserved that as a relic instead of wearing it. (It’s apparently still stained with the general’s blood—hardly what one should wear while commanding new troops.)
  • He ordered a third sash in 1774, but didn’t make that part of his Continental Army uniform.
The second is probably the one and only historic sash preserved at Mount Vernon today, returned after a trip to the White House. The other two probably don’t survive.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Washington’s Canceled Order

As I described yesterday, in the fall of 1774 and spring of 1775, George Washington was busy ordering sashes and other officers’ insignia for the independent Virginia militia companies. But his favored supplier in Philadelphia, William Milnor, was having trouble securing those sashes.

In early April, Washington’s contact in the Prince William County militia told him, “it is the desire of our Officers, that if they can’t be furnished with such sashes, as are proper; they would not incline to have any.” But he left the decision up to Washington.

Our next clue about that endeavor comes from Milnor’s letter dated 18 April, the same day that up in Boston Lt.-Col. Francis Smith was preparing to lead a column of British soldiers to search Concord. The merchant told Washington:

I have acted exactly agreable to your directions, respecting the Sashes, as I forbid the Maker to proceed any farther with them, immediately on seeing the first he made, which I sent to Mr. [George] Gilpin…
So Col. Washington had canceled the order.

It’s possible to read too much into this little exchange (or aborted exchange), so I’ll do just that. As an eager young officer in the 1750s, Washington had treated military sashes as an almost necessary part of an army’s officers look. He knew that British officers wore such garments, and he wanted Virginia officers to do the same wherever possible so as to impress their skeptical comrades from across the Atlantic.

In 1775, Washington and his fellow Virginians weren’t so concerned about mirroring the standards of the royal army.

Washington’s June 1775 accounts include a payment of £6 “for a Sash had of you by Mr W. Milnor.” But, in contrast to his 1772 portrait, Washington didn’t wear a sash as an American general. On reaching the Boston siege lines in July, Gen. Washington instead bought a blue “ribband to distinguish myself,” as shown in his second Charles Willson Peale portrait. That band of cloth was reminiscent of a traditional military sash but not the same.

Uniforms and rank were still very important to the new commander-in-chief, but in 1775 he was willing to come up with a new system of insignia.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Washington Orders More Sashes

In the fall of 1774, as they heard about the crisis in Massachusetts, George Mason and his Fairfax County neighbors organized an “independent” militia company outside Gov. Dunmore’s control. For their commander they naturally chose Col. George Washington, then away at the First Continental Congress.

When he received this news (probably not altogether unexpected), Washington bought new clothes. In a letter that appears to be lost, he sent to the Philadelphia merchant William Milnor for some of the insignia that a military officer needed. On 29 November, Milnor wrote back:

your favour of the 17th. Inst. [i.e., this month] came to hand on fryday last, I have made the strictest search, after a Sash and have sent the only one, that is to be had in this City, I am sorry to inform you, tis not intirely New tho’, not much changed. I have bought it Conditionally if not approved of, to be sir returned by the first post & taken again, I had no Alternative, as no Other Could be had…
It looks like Washington kept that “not intirely New” sash. Over the winter other Virginia counties also started to organize independent companies, and several applied to Washington to be their colonel and/or to order supplies for them. On 23 Jan 1775 he wrote to Milnor about muskets, cartouche boxes, and more:
I have lately received a request from the Officers of the Prince William Independant Company, for the following Articles;

4 Officers Sashes like the one you sent me...
But in Philadelphia those supplies were still hard to find. Having visited Mount Vernon early in the month, Milnor wrote back on 21 February:
As to Sashes, the Maker tells me, he thinks, he cannot get Silk Enough, for more than three, those he will have done in three weeks, they will come at Nine pounds each perhaps by the time they are done we may find more Silk—. The Gorgets, Shoulder Knots &c I have bespoke & will send all, as soon as possible—
But on 7 March:
I have Just to mention that the Sashes are all like to be done soon, Silk enough for the whole is procured, the Gorgets will be done about the same time the shoulder Knots are all finished, I hope I shall have them all to send by Peter Jones, he leaves this place on the 19th. Inst:
Jones probably didn’t bring the good news (or sashes) that Washington hoped for, and in early April  he evidently passed on the news of the shortage to William Grayson of Dumfries, Virginia, in Prince William County. On 5 April Grayson replied:
it is the desire of our Officers, that if they can’t be furnished with such sashes, as are proper; they would not incline to have any; but this matter is altogether left to yourself, as the person most capable of determining…
So everything was up to Col. Washington.

TOMORROW: What did Washington decide?

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Winthrop Chandler’s Bunker Hill

This is Winthrop Chandler’s representation of the Battle of Bunker Hill, painted probably in 1776 or 1777 as a firescreen for the house of a cousin in Pomfret, Connecticut. It’s now in the collection of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and you can get a closer look at the museum’s website.

I say “representation” because Chandler didn’t depict the battle or Boston harbor accurately. As the museum explains:
Although Chandler may have spent time in Boston during the 1760s, the Connecticut-based artist was not present at the battle of Bunker Hill. Nor, apparently, was his composition inspired by a print. This depiction is instead Chandler’s own notion of the military engagement, one of the most costly British victories of the war.

While Chandler’s view is not accurate from either a military or a topographical standpoint (the spectator seems to be looking down over Charlestown from Breed’s Hill, where the battle actually took place), it conveys the drama of the event through telling detail. Wounded soldiers and riderless horses are scattered across the foreground. British ships blast the shoreline with cannonfire, while tiny figures cling to the rigging or flail in the water. At right, a house bursts into flame, a prelude to the bombardment of Charlestown. And, spaced neatly throughout the picture are the three forts that guarded the harbor, each proudly flying the Grand Union flag.
That flag isn’t documented in the Boston theater until at least six months after the battle, and maybe not even then. It certainly didn’t fly inside Boston’s forts, as Chandler depicted. Those were, after all, held by the British. But this painting does show how, only a couple of years after the battle, it had already become a patriotic touchstone.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Ashley Bowen and the News of Bunker’s Hill

On 16 June 1775, mariner Ashley Bowen (1728-1813) of Marblehead wrote in his diary: “General [Israel] Putnam is a-trenching on Bunker’s Hill at Charlestown.”

Bowen seems to have known everything that happened in his home town, and on that evening he even apparently knew about the provincial army’s big move down the coast. Yet that action surprised the British commanders in Boston the next morning.

Here’s what Bowen recorded on 17 June:
This day the Merlin [a Royal Navy ship patrolling Marblehead harbor] firing on a target. This morning the King’s troops set fire to Charlestown and came under cover of the smoke and attacked the intrenchments on Bunker Hill and caused them to retreat. Sail small brig for Boston.
And on Sunday, 18 June:
This day much firing at Boston &c. Tis said a great number of men are killed on both sides.
On 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?
Trevett was a Marblehead man, captain of the only American artillery company to remain on the field throughout the battle. Here’s his story of the fight, and the story of his arrest. Bowen’s sudden lack of clear information from the siege lines reflects the confusion and recriminations splashed up by that battlefield defeat.

The Marblehead regiment, commanded by Col. John Glover, marched for Boston later that month to reinforce the provincial lines, which suddenly seemed more stretched and vulnerable.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sashes in Washington’s Early Military Career

I decided to use the Founders Online to further explore a topic I addressed earlier in the month: George Washington’s military sashes. In the mid-eighteenth century, a long sash was viewed as part of the necessary insignia of a genteel army officer.

When Washington threw himself into a military career in his early twenties, he ordered a “Rich Crimson ingr[ained] silk Sash,” as specified on this 23 Oct 1754 invoice.

The next year, as a volunteer aide de camp, Washington accompanied Gen. Edward Braddock’s expedition into the Pennsylvania wilderness—an expedition that reportedly ended with the commander being carried away, mortally wounded, in his sash. After his performance under fire, Washington was commissioned colonel of the Virginia troops.

Washington’s regard for the details of an officer’s uniform comes through clearly in his regimental orders for 6 July 1756, when he was commanding those provincial troops at Fort Cumberland:

Colonel Washington expressly orders, that no Officer do provide himself with any other kind of Clothes than those ordered the 17th of September last: as they will not be allowed to appear in them. Every Officer who has not complied with that order, to do it immediately—and they are all to procure Sashes, if to be had—They may be supplied with Hats, and waistcoat-lace, at Mr [Robert] Peters’s, Rock-Creek—and sword-knots…
Those orders treated sashes as not required but nonetheless very desirable. The young colonel was no doubt gratified that his attention to such details had earned the respect of regular British officers, as his friend George Mercer wrote him on 17 Aug 1757:
…we have been told here by the Officers that nothing ever gave them such Surprize as our Appearance at entering Hampton, for expecting to see a Parcel of ragged disorderly Fellows headed by Officers of their own Stamp (like the rest of the Provincials they had seen) behold they saw Men properly disposed who made a good & Soldier like Appearance and performed in every Particular as well as coud be expected from any Troops with Officers whom they found to be Gent. to see a Sash & Gorget with a genteel Uniform, a Sword properly hung, a Hat cocked, Persons capable of holding Conversation where only common Sense was requisite to continue the Discourse, and a White Shirt, with any other than a black Leather Stock, were Matters of great Surprize and Admiration & which engaged Them all to give Us a polite Invitation to spend the Evening, & after to agree to keep Us Company which they had determined before not to do—agreeable to what they had practised with the other Provincial Troops. We have lost that common Appellation of Provincials, & are known here by the Style & Title of the Detachment of the Virga Regiment.
Fifteen years later and happily retired from the field, Washington had Charles Willson Peale paint him with a military sash over his shoulder in 1772, as shown above.

COMING UP: Ordering sashes for another war.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Founders Online Live—Will Its Parent Agency Die?

This week the Founders Online website went live in beta form. This is a big deal, something I’ve been awaiting for years. I’ll let the site explain itself:
The National Archives, through its National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), has entered into a cooperative agreement with The University of Virginia Press to create this site and make freely available online the historical documents of the Founders of the United States of America.

Through this website, you will be able to read and search through thousands of records from George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and see firsthand the growth of democracy and the birth of the Republic. . . .

Founders Online also includes transcriptions of thousands of documents that have not yet appeared in the published volumes, provided via our Early Access program.
The John Adams Papers have been available online freely for years through the Massachusetts Historical Society’s website. The Library of Congress made an older version of Washington’s papers available for free, but the University of Virginia’s newer, larger edition required a subscription. For the Franklin Papers, I believe that all one could read for free were the indexes. But now anyone can read and search every document that’s available in digital form.

Our tax dollars have long funded the scholarly projects to collect, edit, and publish important historical documents, including the papers of these national founders, for the benefit of the public and the world. The National Historical Publications and Records Commission is the agency that makes those grants, not just for Founders Online but for many smaller projects around the country. And for the past several years that agency has been targeted by congressional budget-cutters.

The National Humanities Alliance explains the situation:
For FY 2014, we urge Congress to provide at least $5 million (level funding) for the grants program of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The Administration’s FY 2014 budget requests only $3 million for the NHPRC, an amount that will not support the ongoing programs and mission of the Commission at even a minimal level. It is up to the Congress to preserve this program, which has already been cut substantially in previous fiscal years.

Under the sequester, NHPRC’s funding declined to $4.75 million from $5 million under the CR [continuing resolution], which was a $2.0 million cut from the FY 2011 level of $7.0 million (and a decrease of $8.0 million from the FY 2010 level of $13.0 million).
Again, in 2010 the agency that’s bringing us Founders Online was funded at $13.0 million. In the current fiscal year (after sequestration), its budget is at $4.75 million, or far less than half. And there are further declines possible next year. If historical projects like this are a priority for us as a nation, we have to be ready to pay for them.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Lafayette at the Water Works in Philadelphia, 15 June

Two of the nice people I met at the “American Revolution Reborn” conference in Philadelphia earlier this month were Joe DiBello of the Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail (W3R-NHT) and Ursula Reed of the non-profit group that supports that trail, the National Washington Rochambeau Revolutionary Route Association, Inc.

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route is a relatively new twig on the tree of the National Park Service, designated in 2009. As its website says, it
commemorates the over 680 miles of land and water trails followed by the allied armies under General Washington and General Rochambeau through Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and what is now Washington, D.C. The NHT will identify, preserve, interpret, and celebrate the French and American alliance in the War for Independence.
Together with the American Friends of Lafayette, those two organizations are sponsoring a free talk in Philadelphia at 4:00 P.M. on Saturday, 15 June. Alan Hoffman will speak on “Lafayette Visits Philadelphia and the Fairmount Water Works in 1824 & 1825: Odyssey of an American Icon.” There will be a book signing and reception afterward. All this tales place at the Fairmount Water Works Interpretive Center, 640 Water Works Drive. But the National Heritage Trail has events all over and all year long.

(The photo above shows Philadelphia’s statue of the young Lafayette, located between the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the old water works.)

Thursday, June 13, 2013

“Ephraim Moors’s Powder Horn” talk in Boston, 14 June

The Massachusetts Historical Society has just opened an exhibit called called “The Object in History.” The society is known mainly as a repository of manuscripts, but it also looks after many three-dimensional artifacts and curiosities, including “Portraits, needlework, firearms, clothing, furniture, silver, scientific instruments,…and books.” Back when the society was founded, such curiosities went into its “cabinet,” which no doubt expanded beyond one piece of furniture.

Among the artifacts on display is the powder horn shown above, carved with the name of Ephraim Moors. The records of the society’s May 1876 meeting say:
The monthly list of donors was read by the Librarian, who reported for the Cabinet a gift of a powder-horn from Captain Samuel Clarke, captain of the ship “Edith Warren.” The powder-horn was inscribed, “Ephraim Moors his Horn, Made at Temples Warf, Dec. 29, 1775;” and there was engraved on it, with some skill, the representation of Boston, Bunker Hill, Prospect Hill, Winter Hill, Charles and Mystic Rivers, &c.
There was no other information about this particular horn on file.

On Friday, 14 June, I’ll speak at the M.H.S. about “Ephraim Moors’s Powder Horn” and what it might tell us about the life of a provincial soldier during the siege of Boston. My illustrated talk will run from 2:00 to 3:00 P.M. and is free to all. The horn itself will be on display with the rest of the exhibit through the first week of September, Monday through Friday.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Paul Revere and the Sociologists

Multiple people have sent me links to Prof. Kieran Healy’s satire “Using Metadata to Find Paul Revere,” which is also available at Slate. With all the talk about the U.S. government collecting metadata on our electronic communication, this case study of social networking in pre-Revolutionary Boston is getting extra attention. So, before more links show up in my inbox, I figured I should comment.

This paper has its roots in David Hackett Fischer’s fine 1994 book Paul Revere’s Ride. In an appendix Fischer and his grad students laid out seven lists of Whig activists in pre-Revolutionary Boston, such as the anti-Stamp Act Loyall Nine, the North End Caucus, and the town’s Committee of Correspondence. Their analysis was very simple: Dr. Joseph Warren appeared on more lists than anyone else, and Paul Revere appeared the second most often. Therefore, Fischer wrote, it made sense for those two men to be at the nexus of Patriot information-gathering and dissemination in Boston in 1775.

Furthermore, Fischer argued that Revere’s networking habits also extended outside town. He supposedly knew the militia officers of the country towns, so he knew whom to rouse on the night of 18-19 April. In contrast, William Dawes didn’t wake up anyone on his parallel ride to Lexington, and thus the south side of the “Battle Road” responded later than the north side.

I’m no longer convinced that personal habits are the whole explanation. Dawes was also a networker. He kept the records of the Boston militia regiment before the war and was secretary of the private Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company afterwards. His wife had family in Roxbury. Most sources speak of Dawes as a gregarious man. I think he didn’t wake up people because he didn’t think that was his mission.

Malcolm Gladwell picked up on the Revere case study in The Turning Point. Fans of that 2000 bestseller spread the word further, as in this essay at Search Engine Watch.

As Healy notes, he’s not the first social scientist to work with Fischer’s data. Shin-Kap Han wrote a similar, more serious paper (P.D.F. download). Both scholars apply far more sophisticated techniques for analyzing social networks than Fischer’s head count, but they get pretty much the same results: Warren and Revere had links everywhere.

However, any analysis is only as good as its data. And some of the info Fischer used isn’t as reliable as one would hope. Han recognized this when he used only five groupings:
The other two—the list of men known to have participated in the Boston Tea Party and the list of Whig leaders on a Tory enemies list—are not used, for those were not membership groups.
In fact, the “enemies list,” transcribed here, is the committee of men that Boston’s town meeting appointed in late 1774 to enforce the Continental Congress’s Association, or boycott on goods from Britain. The nasty gossip written beside those names, possibly by printer John Mein, make it a more interesting document, but the list of men itself is a significant group selected by the Patriots themselves.

The Tea Party list, on the other hand, is indeed problematic. It comes from Francis Drake’s Tea Leaves, published in 1884. Drake was quite credulous in accepting local and family traditions about which men participated in the Tea Party, so he listed David Kinnison (a minor living well outside Boston), Thomas Machin (still a soldier in His Majesty’s 23rd Regiment in New Jersey), and Dr. Thomas Young (seen by eyewitnesses at the Old South Meeting-House during the tea destruction).

Furthermore, the Long Room Club is another retrospective list. The first book to mention this group seems to be Samuel A. Drake’s Old Landmarks and Historic Personages of Boston in 1873, and he offered no source for his list of members. Fischer lists those same members in a footnote without citing Drake or any other source. But there seems to be no period confirmation of a political club that met above Edes & Gill’s print shop.

Finally, Fischer chose to include the members of the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons, where both Warren and Revere were leaders. That’s the only nonpolitical group on the list. There’s no doubt its members were involved in Whig activities, but including that group in the analysis and no similar groups (the St. John’s Lodge? the Boston bar? the Brattle Street Meeting? the state artillery regiment?) tilts the scale toward Warren and Revere.

In sum, I think Fischer’s analysis is probably accurate: Warren and Revere were among the most active political networkers in pre-Revolutionary Boston. Their contacts were important. But treating those seven lists as valid sociological data is a mistake, and a waste of good methodologies.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Children’s Clothing Talk at Otis House, 13 June

On Thursday, 13 June, Historic New England will host a talk by Associate Curator Laura Johnson on “Skirts, Stays, and Skeleton Suits: Clothing Children in New England.” The lecture description says:

When did children wear corsets? When did boys stop wearing skirts and girls begin wearing pants? Learn about the surprising ways we clothed our children from the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries at this illustrated lecture by Associate Curator Laura Johnson, using images of many interesting and rare items from Historic New England’s collection of children’s clothing and portraits.
Registration is required. Admission is $5 for Historic New England members, $10 for others. Johnson will start speaking at 6:00 P.M., and the venue is the society’s Otis House at 141 Cambridge Street in Boston.

And as long as this event is in one of Harrison Gray Otis’s houses, I’ll quote what his descendant Samuel Eliot Morison wrote about the clothing Harry wore as a boy in the 1770s:
Every year, on Guy Fawkes’ day, a new pair of leather breeches was given him, and reserved for “best” so long as the breeches of the previous vintage held out.
That November date seems to have been an Otis family tradition, not a general one. Joshua Green, Harry’s classmate at the South Latin School, recorded receiving a pair of leather breeches on 16 Mar 1773.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Tying Up the Twisted History of the Braddock Sash

As I said yesterday, Katherine Glass Greene’s 1926 local history Winchester, Virginia, and Its Beginnings, 1743-1814 contains a confused history of Gen. Edward Braddock’s sash. Greene credited that part of her book to Mary Spottiswoode Buchanan (1840-1925). Genealogy sites reveal that Bettie Taylor Dandridge, Zachary Taylor’s daughter and owner of the sash from 1850 to 1910, had married Buchanan’s uncle.

Buchanan’s history of the sash explains for the first time fully how it traveled from Gen. Braddock to Gen. George Washington to Gen. Edmund Gaines to Gen. Taylor. However, it doesn’t explain how Buchanan came by that knowledge. Had she consulted Wills De Hass’s 1851 history? Had she picked up some lore from her aunt—and if so, how had her aunt learned anything about the sash before it reached her father? Had Dandridge or Buchanan learned more about the sash through conversations with old families in Virginia? There’s no way to tell.

Buchanan’s narrative starts with the dying Braddock (illustrated above) giving his sash to Washington, a young volunteer aide, and saying that it had belonged to his father before him. To my knowledge, that detail hadn’t appeared in any previous printed source. And there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to confirm it.

Weaver Carol James reports that the date “1709” is woven into the sash and suggests that Braddock’s father graduated from military school in that year. In fact, the elder Braddock was already in the Coldstream Guards as a lieutenant colonel (with the brevet rank of major general, just to confuse things). Instead, 1709 was one year before the younger Braddock joined the Coldstream Guards himself as a fifteen-year-old ensign. Thus, the sash might have been a sort of graduation gift for young Edward as he was about to embark on his own military career.

Buchanan then wrote that Washington gave the sash to his nephew Fielding Lewis (1751-1803), whose daughter married a “Colonel Butler of Louisiana,” and Butler asked Gaines to send it out to Gen. Taylor after his early victories in the Mexican-American War. But that doesn’t match the genealogical details of Fielding Lewis’s family.

However, I found another family line that matches some of Buchanan’s details, suggesting she received information that was garbled but originally well founded. I suspect the sash went to Washington’s step-granddaughter Eleanor Parke Custis (1779-1852), who married his nephew Lawrence Lewis (1737-1839), brother of Fielding. They had a daughter named Frances Parke Lewis (1799-1895). She married Edward G. W. Butler (1800-1888). His middle initials stood for “George Washington,” of course. After his father’s death he had become a ward of Andrew Jackson, just in case this story didn’t have enough generals and Presidents already.

According to the finding aid for his family’s papers (P.D.F. file), Edward G. W. Butler served as an aide de camp to Gen. Gaines, settled in Louisiana, and retired from the U.S. Army with the rank of colonel. He thus matches all the clues to the man who sent the Braddock sash off to Gen. Zachary Taylor’s army:
  • his wife was a direct descendant of Martha Washington, thus a plausible owner of a garment from Mount Vernon.
  • his wife’s father was one of Gen. Washington’s Lewis nephews.
  • he was “Colonel Butler of Louisiana,” as Buchanan said.
  • he was “a gentleman at New Orleans,” as De Hass understood.
  • he had a close connection to Gen. Gaines.
So I suspect the Butlers, pleased with the early American success against Mexico, decided to pass on a precious family relic to a new hero of the American army.

One mystery that the different sources raise is whether the Butlers wanted their relic to go to Taylor himself or to a soldier whom that general deemed particularly worthy. Some of the stories hint at the latter. But Taylor thought the gift was meant for him, and it might have been too awwwkward to tell him otherwise.

In any event, the sash is back at Mount Vernon now, having spent decades in the custody of Taylor’s daughter. And though some of the stories told about it seem poorly supported and others garbled, I think the evidence suggests it’s an authentic artifact owned by Edward Braddock from 1709 to 1755 and by George Washington from 1755 probably to his death.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The Braddock Sash on Display

As I quoted yesterday, in 1894 Bettie Taylor Dandridge rediscovered Gen. Edward Braddock’s military sash amid her father’s old things. Her father was Zachary Taylor, President in 1849-50, and Dandridge was remembered for serving as his White House hostess.

There was another part of Dandridge’s life that she didn’t celebrate, but which shows up in the public record. After Reconstruction she petitioned Congress for financial support on the grounds that her father and first husband had given the U.S. of A. valuable military service, that in the Civil War she had lost a lot of property (probably slaves), and that she was in need—or at least in more need than the daughter of a President was supposed to be.

In 1880 Congress granted Dandridge and her daughter a pension. In 1890 they asked for more. And four years later, she found herself in possession of a historical relic which a famous British general had stained with his blood before bequeathing it to George Washington.

Given all that context, I suspect that the mention of two museums in the initial newspaper story reporting her find was Dandridge’s way of signaling that she was open to reasonable financial offers for her unique property.

They didn’t come, at least at the level Dandridge was looking for. In 1909, T. K. Cartmell wrote in Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and Their Descendants:

The sash, which was large and of perfect weave, carefully preserved as one of the many relics of this disastrous war, was presented to Genl. Zachary Taylor in 1846, when he was engaged in the Mexican War, with the understanding that he should present it to the bravest man in the army. The General, however, never understood it that way, and deemed it best to retain and endeavor to preserve it. At this writing it is in the possession of his daughter Mrs. Bettie Dandridge (formerly Mrs. Maj. Bliss). The Author has seen it; and feels safe in pronouncing it the sash used on the occasion mentioned [i.e., after Braddock’s death].
Later that year, on 25 July, Dandridge died.

In 1926 Katherine Glass Greene published Winchester, Virginia, and Its Beginnings, 1743-1814, which gives a confused history of the sash, which I’ll analyze tomorrow. That book says that “London newspapers became clamorous” about the artifact. Members of Braddock’s regiment, the Coldstream Guards, reportedly offered to buy it from Dandridge for $3,000, and she had turned them down. Given that she herself had raised the prospect of “disposing of” it to a British military museum in 1894, I have to wonder if the offer wasn’t high enough.

Greene’s book also describes how a “General Codrington” reacted to seeing the sash when he attended a ceremony dedicating a monument to Braddock. The 16 Oct 1913 Gazette Times of Pittsburgh confirms that Lt. Gen. Sir Alfred E. Codrington led the British delegation at that dedication ceremony.

By 1926, Greene stated, the Braddock sash was “on perpetual loan” from Taylor’s descendants to Mount Vernon. Her book showed the photograph above of the sash draped over six little girls “at George Washington’s Office Museum,” a site in Winchester. How that information squares with the statement on Mount Vernon’s website that it bought the Braddock sash in 1918 with Japanese money I can’t say. Perhaps the sash came back to Washington’s home that year but the transaction wasn’t finalized till later.

Or did it come back? None of the stories I’ve quoted about the Braddock sash explained how it went from Gen. Washington to the “gentleman at New Orleans” who had it sent off to Gen. Taylor.

TOMORROW: The last twists in the thread.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

“The missing sash of Gen. Braddock”

Yesterday I quoted Wills De Hass’s 1851 account of how Gen. Edward Braddock’s sash passed through George Washington’s hands into the possession of Gen. Zachary Taylor in 1846. Taylor took the sash to the White House when he was elected President in the wake of the Mexican-American War. And suddenly he died in 1850.

De Hass’s remarks about the Braddock sash were repeated in various nineteenth-century histories, but no one added new information. But in 1894 a report appeared in the Winchester (Virginia) News, picked up in the 31 May Baltimore Sun. After a dramatic description of Braddock’s death (which I haven’t tried to confirm), the article said:

This red silk sash, stained and stiffened with his blood, was carried by General Washington to Mount Vernon, and by him given to Major-General Gaines. It was given by Maj.-Gen. Zachariah Taylor in 1848 [?] by Major-General Gaines after the Mexican War. It was only the other day, after great search, found by his only surviving daughter, the estimable Mrs. Betty Taylor Dandridge, of Winchester, who as Mrs. Bliss was so well known whilst presiding over the White House in the short year her father was President.

The history of the sash seems to be that on General Taylor’s sudden and unlooked-for death all of his personal effects were placed in his army chest and remained there until at the death of his widow they were sent to this city, the home of Mrs. Dandridge, his only surviving daughter then. There was no memoranda or inventory and no especial thought given it. The civil war coming on they were forgotten, and it was only the other day, her attention being called to the subject, that search was had and it was found, carefully wrapped up in linen and labeled “Braddock’s sash,” together with her father’s two military sashes. It is of very dark red, soft silk, some 13 feet long by 4 in width. At either extremity, near the heavy silk tassels, wove into a horizontal band, is the date of 1709, and near the center are three dark black stains as large as a man’s hand, the marks of his life blood.
The article notes that the sash was discussed in De Hass’s book and in the history of Braddock’s retreat by Winthrop Sargent (misspelled). The article doesn’t mention the New Orleans gentleman who De Hass said gave the sash to Gen. Edmund P. Gaines (shown above), however. It concludes:
The sash being of no value to the lady other than as a relic of the French and Indian war of 1740 [sic], will be in all probability disposed of by her either to the United Service Museum, Horse Guards, London, or to the Braddock Museum in Pittsburg.
The item doesn’t state what or who had prompted Dandridge to look for the sash among her father’s possessions. One possibility is an inquiry from that London military institution—why else would she have named it as a possible recipient?

That news from Virginia was retold in various American papers and in the September 1894 issue of The United Service: A Monthly Review of Military and Naval Affairs. Curiously, a year and a half later the 20 Oct 1895 Knoxville Journal ran an article citing the Washington Post that said:
A private letter from Winchester, Va., mentions the interesting fact that Mrs. Bettie Taylor Dandridge…has just discovered, after long search, the missing sash of Gen. Braddock, which was long supposed to have been lost.
Had the Knoxville paper just gotten the news? Or was Dandridge publicizing the story again? That article also went on to cite the “Ed Journal” in saying:
The sash in which the British General Braddock was carried from the field of his defeat and death, was presented to Gen. Gaines after his brilliant victory at Fort Erie, in 1814. In this battle the American forces, under our East Tennessee General, Gaines, killed and wounded more Englishmen than were killed and wounded in the war of 1812-15, except under Jackson, at New Orleans.
Obviously, that statement highlighting Gaines’s career came out of east Tennessee. This article didn’t even say anything about Washington and his ownership of the Braddock sash. I don’t think this report is reliable; it conflicts with what De Hass wrote in 1851, apparently based on speaking with someone personally involved in delivering the sash from Gaines to Taylor, and De Hass said Gaines were merely a conduit for the New Orleans gentleman. So that 1895 news story confirms how little solid information was still attached to the sash.

It also indicates that the sash, though “being of no value” to Dandridge, was still in her hands.

TOMORROW: Bringing the story full circle?

Friday, June 07, 2013

“General Taylor took the sash”

Yesterday’s posting showed Carol James’s recreation of a sash that Gen. Edward Braddock reportedly gave to young George Washington in 1755, as the British commander was dying of wounds in western Pennsylvania. [That action became part of the Seven Years’ War, the end of which is the subject of the “1763 and the Americas” symposium in Boston and Providence today and tomorrow.]

Braddock’s original sash is now in the collection of Mount Vernon, and its website says, “In 1846, the sash was presented to another war hero and future President of the United States, Zachary Taylor.” Mount Vernon also says it bought the sash in 1918 with funds donated by Yoshihisa Tokugawa (1884-1922), who was a son of the last shogun of Japan.

That leaves a lot of questions about provenance. Assuming Washington kept possession of the sash from 1755 to his death in 1799, who “presented” it to Zachary Taylor in 1846, when he was the American general in command of the Mexican-American War? And what happened in between?

The earliest answers I’ve found appear in The History of the Early Settlement and Indian Wars of Western Virginia by Wills De Hass, published in 1851. After describing Braddock’s death (which he attributes to friendly fire from a specific American soldier), De Hass wrote:

The identical sash worn by Braddock at the time of his defeat, and in which he was borne from the field bleeding and dying, recently passed into the hands of one of America’s greatest and most successful generals.

It appears that the sash referred to, some years since became the property of a gentleman at New Orleans. After the brilliant achievement on the Rio Grande in 1846, the owner of the relic forwarded it to Genl. [Edmund P.] Gaines, with a request that it might be presented to the officer who most distinguished himself on that occasion. The old general promptly sent it by special messenger, to the Commander-in-Chief.
Gen. Gaines had been Taylor’s commander for some time during the War of 1812. At the start of the Mexican-American War he was based in New Orleans and summoned volunteers for Taylor’s army before receiving any orders from the capital. In addition, Gaines was Taylor’s first cousin once removed.
The person who bore it, thus speaks of the presentation and interview. “General Taylor took the sash and examined it attentively. It was of unusual size, being quite as large, when extended, as a common hammock. In the meshes of the splendid red silk that composed it, was the date of its manufacture, ‘1707,’ and although it was one hundred and forty years old, save where the dark spots, that were stained with the blood of the hero who wore it, it glistened as brightly as if it had just come from the loom.

“Upon the unusual size of the sash being noticed, Gen. [William J.] Worth, who had joined the party in the tent, mentioned that such was the old-fashioned style; and that the soldier’s sash was intended to carry, if necessary, the wearer from off the field of battle. It was mentioned in the conversation, that after Gen. Ripley was wounded at Lundy’s Lane [in 1814], his sash, similar in form, was used as a hammock to bear him from the field, and that in it he was carried several miles, his body swaying to and fro between the horses, to which the ends of the sash were securely fastened. To a wounded soldier, no conveyance could be more grateful, or more appropriate.
The American general Eleazer Wheelock Ripley wasn’t wounded at Lundy’s Lane, but he was wounded at York (Toronto) and Fort Erie during America’s invasion of Canada.

To return to America’s invasion of Mexico:
“Gen. Taylor broke the silent admiration, by saying he would not receive the sash. Upon our expressing surprise, he continued, that he did not think he should receive presents until the campaign, so far as he was concerned, was finished. He elaborated on the impropriety of naming children after living men, fearing lest the thus honored might disgrace their namesakes. We urged his acceptance of the present; and he said, finally, that he would put it carefully away in his military chest, and if he thought he deserved so great a compliment, at the end of the campaign, he would acknowledge the receipt.”

The stirring events that have transpired since he made that remark, have added the laurels of Monterey to those he then wore; and the world, as well as the donors of that sash, will insist upon his acceptance of it.

Since writing the above, the old chieftain himself has passed from the living to the dead. He died—a singular coincidence, on the anniversary of that terrible event—the defeat of Braddock. But a few weeks previous to his death, the author, then on a visit to Washington, freely conversed with the distinguished chieftain upon the very subject about which we have been writing. He said, that the sash referred to, was still in his possession, and at any time we desired it, would have it shown. Knowing that matters of state pressed heavily upon him, we did not ask it at that time; and thus, perhaps, the opportunity has been lost forever;—certainly deprived of one of its most interesting features—to be seen in the hands of General Taylor. During the interview referred to, he spoke much and frequently of Washington’s early operations in the west, and inquired whether any of the remains of Fort Necessity could be seen.
Taylor’s death in office meant De Hass couldn’t say where the sash had gone. In fact, no one laid eyes on it for more than forty years.

TOMORROW: The sash resurfaces.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Respranging Gen. Braddock’s Sash

The Summer 2013 issue of Spin-Off magazine offers an article by Carol James about her work recreating a sash that the dying general Edward Braddock reportedly gave to his volunteer aide, George Washington, in 1755. The sash is made from silk with a weaving technique called sprang.

The recreation sash is shown here, courtesy of the Cuyahoga Spinners Guild. Mount Vernon displays a photograph of the original.

James’s blog offers several entries about the sash as a work-in-progress, including a test of whether such a sash could actually carry a wounded man.

A sash was a standard part of the uniform of an army officer in the British Empire during the mid-1700s. In 1772 Washington had Charles Willson Peale paint him with a sash over one shoulder. Around the same time Gen. Thomas Gage wore his sash around his waist, as shown here. Other portraits of British officers show both styles.

Here’s an example of an American sash reportedly worn by Thomas Wheat (1723-1822) and now owned by the Charlestown Historical Society.

I decided to look into the history of the Braddock sash. It turns out to involve four generals and every major American war from the Seven Years’/French & Indian War through the Civil War (at least). But, like the sash itself, there are a lot of holes in it.

TOMORROW: The Braddock sash goes to the White House.