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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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Does “Dude” Derive from “Doodle”?

In the Chronicle of Higher Education last month, Allan Metcalf reported that etymologists Barry Popik and Gerald Cohen had established that the word “dude” arose out of the Revolutionary-era figure of “Yankee Doodle.”

Popik and Cohen’s work appears in the latest issue of Comments on Etymology, edited and published by Cohen at the Missouri University of Science and Technology. That study, 129 pages long, contains many reprints of articles that document the sudden flowering of the word “dude” (also spelled “dood”) in early 1883. However, these three webpages reprint some of Popik and Cohen’s earlier articles on the word, showing that their work goes back twenty years.

The hypothesis is not altogether novel. In 1891 Henry Dudley Teetor published an essay about “Yankee Doodle” in the Magazine of Western History that said:

A “doodle” in the old English dictionaries, is defined to be “a sorry, trifling fellow,” perhaps the ancestor of the modern “dude,”…
(Teetor was cribbing from Benson J. Lossing’s Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution, first published in 1850. I can’t find an old English dictionary with the definition Lossing quoted, but Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, 1823 edition, defines “doodle” as “A silly fellow, or noodle. . . . Also, a child’s penis.”)

But a “dude” in the late 1800s wasn’t just “a sorry, trifling fellow,” as Teetor suggested. He was a particular type of fellow, one who dressed too fashionably to be masculine. There are two citations from the late 1870s. A teen-aged Frederic Remington wrote to fellow artist in 1877 with whom he was swapping sketches, “Don’t send me any more women or any more dudes. Send me Indians, cowboys, villains, or toughs.” (That quotation was published as early as 1910, but I don’t know if any manuscript survives.) Ami Frank Mulford’s Fighting Indians in the 7th U.S. Cavalry (1879 edition shown here) refers to “dude soldiers, pets of dress parade officers.”

But the word exploded into the public eye in early 1883, as shown in Popik and Cohen’s many citations, such as this from the New-York Mirror of 24 February:
…a new and valuable addition has been made to the slang vocabulary. . . . We refer to the term “Dood.” For a correct definition of the expression the anxious inquirer has only to turn to the tight-trousered, brief-coated, eye-glassed, fancy-vested, sharp-toes shod, vapid youth who abounds in the Metropolis at present.
And the May 1883 issue of Clothier and Furnisher:

In answer to a correspondent, the editor of the New York Journal of Commerce says that it is impossible to give an “exact definition” of the word “dude” that shall express the various ideas in the minds of those who use it. It is not exactly slang, but has not rooted itself in the language and has not, therefore, a precise and accepted meaning. The word pronounced in two sylla­bles as if spelled “dood-y” has been in occasional use in some New England towns for more than a score of years. It was probably-born as a diminutive of dandy, and applied to the feeble personators of the real fop. . . . In the last year or two the name, now generally sounded to rhyme with rude, has been applied to one who, in addition to the characteristics we have described, makes a feeble attempt to imitate the manners of some effeminate young nobleman about whom he has read in a foreign novel, but turns out to be only an emasculated penny edition of the despica­ble character he is trying to copy.
Older terms for an overly fashionable young man included “fop,” “dandy,” and “macaroni”—the latter two appearing in the best-known lyrics of “Yankee Doodle.” If we read that verse literally, its subject tried to dress fashionably and failed, becoming only a “Doodle Dandy.”

Popik and Cohen suggest that around the Centennial, with its celebration of the Revolution, Americans tapped the memory of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” to create a term for modern dandies who also came off looking silly. The fact that “dude” could be spelled “dood” at first strengthens that case. However, in all the discussion of that hip new term from 1883, no one appears to have connected it explicitly to “Yankee Doodle.”

Was there indeed an intermediary form pronounced “dood-y”? To add to the discussion, I cite Robert D. Petty’s “Censor” oration printed in the Nassau Herald, Princeton’s yearbook, for 1883:
Our last story is about “that sort of an animal,” as General says, “which they call a dudee.” Robertus, let your aesthetic countenance smile upon the audience. . . .

Robertus began his career of dudee young. It is said at the age of seven he set a house on fire to burn out some rats, because it was so “clevah, you know.” Early, also, he showed the dudeean characteristic of being susceptible to the charms of the fair sex. In Fresh year he went to Rocky Hill, as member of that Fresh Glee Club which passed off for Soph. Our dudee at once became smitten by a rustic maid—not an “onion-eater,” but one of those, as the poet says, ”who waste their sweetness on the desert air.” Bob insisted in monopolizing the “desert sweetness” for the dance. Landy Green, a Southern fire-eater, protested, and they tossed for the “desert sweetness.” Bob lost and claimed a foul, whereupon Landy, with true Southern “chivalry,” kicked our aesthetic friend under the table, and lead the dance with the aforesaid “desert sweetness.” . . .

At first we thought it would be a suitable memento if the class would buy up your debts, such as bets, etc., and present you with the receipts. How could you have the heart to defraud that verdant son of “My Maryland,” Frank Woods, out of so many creams and oysters? But since the purchase of these receipts would bankrupt the class, and as they would be of no use to an aesthetic young man, we have procured more suitable presents. . . . We will not present you with gloves, for you bought a pair the other day, when you asked the bewildered clerk for a pair of “six and a hawf” gloves, and, after a severe struggle, managed to get on a pair of “eight and a hawf.” This is an improved eye-glass, especially for a dudee. If you had possessed this, that little prep. school charmer of Glendale, O., would not have said “nary wilt,” when on your knees you asked, “fairest maiden, wilt thou?” But here is a little present, which will ever protect you from the “vulgah.”

Our final admonition is, Robertus, if you do not wish to die young, as G. Bruce and other great men, cast off thy susceptible heart, even if you have to buy a bottle of “beah,” and make a night of it with the “fellahs.”
This roasting appears to be directed at Robert F. Shanklin of Evansville, Indiana, who was leader of the glee club and whose class prophecy appeared next in the publication. According to a chart later in the book, Shanklin was a willowy chap: 6'2" and 170 pounds. His supposed speech patterns, concern with dress, eye-glasses, and “aesthetic” delicacy (mixed with skirt-chasing) all match the stereotype of the “dude” discussed at such length in the New York press that year.

Since 1883, of course, the term “dude” lost most of its connotations of foppishness and became an all-around term for young men, with no pejorative sense. Perhaps Yankee Doodle got the last laugh after all.

Friday, November 29, 2013

“Such a boring account of such an epic war”

As long as I’m quoting Sgt. Joseph Plumb Martin’s memoir of fighting in the Revolution, I can’t resist passing on this assessment of the book from April on Goodreads:
The author said in the beginning of the book that this was his story and it was not remarkable, I very much agree with him. I had to read this book for history class but nevertheless I was excited to hear about a real account of the revolutionary war. Throughout the book it was a constant repetition of procuring piece of salt pork, stopping to rest, marching. I expected some action, but was thoroughly disappointed. One has to wonder why he even bothered writing down such a boring account of such an epic war.
Lest we think that April missed the point of the book, in this essay at Common-place William Huntting Howell argues that she identified Martin’s point exactly. The veteran, he argues, was writing an “anti-narrative” to counter the heroic depictions of the war. Of course, Howell uses many more words and goes into much more detail to make that point, viz.:
Martin’s prior descriptions of military engagement pale in comparison with his descriptions of the beef, its preparation, and its consumption; measured in terms of detail, the emotional (and extra-narrative) weight of the dinner far exceeds the emotional (and narrative) weight of the fighting. Only as an afterthought does he add the following: “We had eight or ten of our regiment killed in the action, and a number wounded, but none of them belonged to our company.”

Moments like this one proliferate: whenever the text threatens to fall neatly into a standard military story, Martin’s appetite drags it back out.
The main point of Howell’s provocative essay seems to be that Martin didn’t expect his memoir to be the first and only history of the Revolutionary War that people would read. But it might have to be the second.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

“Upon a Leg of Nothing and No Turnips”

In the fall of 1777, Gen. William Howe defeated Gen. George Washington’s army at Brandywine, Paoli, and Germantown and took Philadelphia, the young republic’s capital. But up north another American army captured Gen. John Burgoyne after Saratoga. From its new headquarters in York, Pennsylvania, the Continental Congress put the best face on things by declaring 18 December to be a day of “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise.”

One of the soldiers in Washington’s army, Pvt. Joseph Plumb Martin, later wrote of that holiday:
While we lay here [in “the Gulf”] there was a Continental thanksgiving ordered by Congress; and as the army had all the cause in the world to be particularly thankful, if not for being well off, at least that it was no worse, we were ordered to participate in it. We had nothing to eat for two or three days previous, except what the trees of the fields and forests afforded us. But we must now have what Congress said—a sumptuous thanksgiving to close the year of high living we had now nearly seen brought to a close. Well—to add something extraordinary to our present stock of provisions—our country, ever mindful of its suffering army, opened her sympathizing heart so wide, upon this occasion, as to give us something to make the world stare. And what do you think it was, reader?—Guess.—You cannot guess, be you as much of a Yankee as you will. I will tell you: it gave each and every man half a gill of rice, and a table spoon full of vinegar!!

After we had made sure of this extraordinary superabundant donation, we were ordered out to attend a meeting and hear a sermon delivered upon the occasion. We accordingly went, for we could not help it. I heard a sermon, a “thanksgiving sermon,” what sort of one I do not know now, nor did I at the time I heard it. I had something else to think upon; my belly put me in remembrance of the fine thanksgiving dinner I was to partake of when I could get it.—I remember the text, like an attentive lad at church, I can still remember that; it was this: “And the soldiers said unto him, And what shall we do? And he said unto them, Do violence to no man, nor accuse any one falsely.”

The preacher ought to have added the remainder of the sentence [from Luke 3:14] to have made it complete: “And be content with your wages.” But that would not do, it would be too apropos; however, he heard it as soon as the service was over, it was shouted from a hundred tongues.

Well—we had got through the services of the day and had nothing to do but to return in good order to our tents and fare as we could. As we returned to our camp, we passed by our Commissary’s quarters; all his stores, consisting of a barrel about two thirds full of hocks of fresh beef, stood directly in our way, but there was a sentinel guarding even that; however, one of my messmates purloined a piece of it, four or five pounds perhaps. I was exceeding glad to see him take it; I thought it might help to eke out our thanksgiving supper; but, alas! how soon my expectations were blasted! The sentinel saw him have it as soon as I did and obliged him to return it to the barrel again. So I had nothing else to do but to go home and make out my supper as usual, upon a leg of nothing and no turnips.
In his diary Lt. Ebenezer Wild recorded hearing no sermon, since his regiment had no chaplain, and a marginally better meal:
we had but a poor thanksgiving,—nothing but fresh beef & flour to eat, without any salt, & but very scant of that.
Shortly afterward Martin, Wild, and their regiments entered Valley Forge to spend the winter.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Cannon Taken and Retaken at Saratoga

Earlier this month the New York Times reported on an artillery piece associated with the Saratoga battlefield:
The cannon is one of only three known remaining “six-pounders” — artillery that fired six-pound cannon balls — used by the British general John Burgoyne’s army. It was surrendered to the American colonists after the Battles of Saratoga in 1777.

Despite its weight and historical significance, the cannon somehow disappeared around 1961. No one seems to know for certain whether it was stolen, misappropriated or simply forgotten. In any event, it was gone, and life went on. . . .

And then, a conversation overheard by chance four years ago led to its eventual return.

Joseph Craig, a ranger at the park, heard a tourist from Alabama compare the borrowed cannon to one he had recently seen in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Mr. Craig grew curious, and an investigation began.

National Park Service law enforcement officials in Atlanta were dispatched to Alabama. They found the cannon in question at the Westervelt-Warner Museum of American Art in Tuscaloosa, now called the Tuscaloosa Museum of Art.

That’s when a new battle began.
The rest of the article details the findings of N.P.S. curator Christine Valosin, tracing the cannon from its manufacture in 1756 through display at various New York sites in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The gap between 1961 and four years ago is still foggy, but the gun’s present location is solid.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

American Revolution Conference in Williamsburg, 21-23 March

Next March, America’s History, L.L.C., is hosting its third annual American Revolution conference in Williamsburg, Virginia. From the evening of Friday, 21 March, through the morning of Sunday, 23 March, the Colonial Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel will be the site of presentations like these:
  • Edward G. Lengel, editor of the George Washington Papers: “Philadelphia is the Object in View”: George Washington at the Battle of Brandywine, 1777
  • James Kirby Martin: Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians’ Contribution to the American Revolution
  • Andrew O’Shaughnessy: First in War or First in Peace: Sir William Howe as Commander-in-Chief
  • Glenn Williams: Revenge and Reprisals: Irregular Warfare and the Sullivan-Clinton Campaign against the Iroquois
  • Todd Andrlik: Reporting the Revolutionary War: Colonial Newspapers as a Historical Record
  • Don Hagist: Sixty Men at Yorktown: A British Light Infantry Company
  • David Mattern: Major General Benjamin Lincoln and the American Revolution
  • James L. Nelson: The Best General on Either Side: Benedict Arnold’s Naval Operations on Lake Champlain and the Chesapeake Bay
Two panel discussions will address the questions “Could the British Have Won the American Revolution? Where and How?” and “What Revolutionary War Personality Would You Like to Have Dinner with and Why?”

Speaking of which, dinner is not included in the $225 conference registration fee, but lunch on Saturday is, and a breakfast buffet is included in the conference’s hotel room rate of $86 per night. For more information, including how to register, visit the conference webpage.

On the landscape between history academics and history buffs that I mapped out earlier in the year, this event is definitely designed for buffs. Almost all the presentations are about military topics, with an emphasis on leaders, as opposed to, say, sociological change. But the quality of the research and analysis on those topics promises to be top-notch.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Do You Want to Play on the Dublin Seminar Team in 2014?

Next year’s Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife will have the theme “Let the Games Begin: Sports and Recreation in New England,” and organizers are now seeking proposals for papers and presentations about sports and games of all kinds.

Here’s the 2014 Dublin Seminar’s call for papers:

The Seminar is now accepting proposals for papers and demonstrations on the history of sports, games, and recreations practiced in New England from 1620 to 1930. The organizers hope to attract a broad spectrum of topics that includes hunting and fishing, hiking, and mountain climbing; marathons and races, dance contests, and competitive sailing; the rise of organized sports like hockey, lacrosse, softball, baseball, golf, football, basketball, and bowling; and the evolution of semiprofessional and professional leagues within each sport.

The conference encourages papers on early college sports such as sculling, swimming, diving, tennis, and skiing; displays of strength and skill such as boxing, wrestling, marksmanship, horsemanship, horseracing, and dog sledding; youth events such as soapbox derbies; and bicycle and motorized racing competitions as well as aerial events. The conference also hopes to receive submissions on activities involving animal competitions in betting games such as cockfighting, bull- and bear-baiting, hawking, and pigeon races, as well as outmoded and English games like wicket, cricket, cats, and fives, and indoor or board games such as cards, backgammon, chess, checkers, cribbage, and mah-jongg. Finally the conference will also consider sports record keeping and statistics, the language of sports, and the evolution of sports apparel.

The Seminar seeks papers that present a clear argument and are analytic rather than descriptive and frame the subject within the established context of sports and recreation history and the New England environment. These include origins (for example, European, Native American, African American, or Asian); the effect of time and technology; the participation of men, women, and children of all ages; shifts in human physiology; the increase of immigration and industrialization; and the growth of audiences.

The Seminar encourages papers that reflect original research, especially those based on primary or underused resources like letters and diaries, vital records, federal and state censuses, naturalization records, newspapers, portraits, prints and photographs, business and banking records, material culture, oral histories, and autobiographies.
Organizers aim to select about seventeen lectures or presentations of twenty minutes apiece. To submit a proposal, send a one-page prospectus citing sources and a one-page vita or biography (as attachments) to seminar director Peter Benes by 15 Feb 2014. For certainty, please print and fill out and form at right and mail it with a paper copy of your prospectus and vita to:

Peter Benes, Director
The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife
Historic Deerfield, Inc.
P.O. Box 321
Deerfield, MA 01342

In 2015 the Dublin Seminar will explore the topic of “Living with Disabilities in New England’s Past.”

Sunday, November 24, 2013

“So Sudden an Alteration” Conference’s Call for Papers

Earlier this year I shared news of the “American Revolution Reborn” conference in Philadelphia, an attempt to reinvigorate the study of the Revolution in advance of its Sestercentennial.

On 2-4 9-11 Apr 2015, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host another conference in the same series, organized with Boston University, the David Library of the American Revolution, and Williams College. The theme will be “‘So Sudden an Alteration’: The Causes, Course, and Consequences of the American Revolution,” and here’s the call for papers:
This conference aims to break out of the well-worn grooves of historical inquiry that have defined the study of the Revolution for the past fifty years. The program is designed to promote two types of conversations, shaped by: 1) traditional questions of origins and consequences addressed from new perspectives; and 2) questions of intersection—how the Revolution either affected or redirected longer-term patterns of change. We hope that the conference will bring into focus key themes that will inspire future scholarship.

In particular, the organizers are seeking papers that address issues of politics and ideology, the impact of military developments and military actions on society, and the course of Revolution in New England. Scholarship need not focus on Massachusetts or New England and may address the impact of the Revolution on the broader Atlantic world. The conference organizers seek papers that speak to these themes and questions in an innovative way and may reserve some slots for invited scholars.

Aside from the keynote speaker, presenters will not deliver their papers aloud; the papers under discussion will be available at the Society’s website to registered attendees approximately one month before the program. Submissions should include a one-page description of up to 500 words and a short c.v. with current contact information.
The deadline for proposals is 21 Feb 2014. Send proposals to Conrad Edick Wright, Director of Research, Massachusetts Historical Society, 1154 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02215.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Who Was the Father of the Filibuster?

With the U.S. Senate’s filibuster in the news, this Washington Post article by Ezra Klein from 2010 caught my eye. Senate traditionalists often invoke the name of Thomas Jefferson when they praise their unusual rules; he wrote up an early version of those rules. But the rules allowing some sort of minority to block passage of a bill go back to another Founder: Aaron Burr.

Klein quotes at length from political scientist Sarah Binder, author of Politics or Principle: Filibustering in the United States Senate. Using the historical present tense, Binder starts with the established rule of the “previous question motion.” That was the mechanism in Jefferson’s original rules, based on precedents from Britain’s Parliament and common sense, for ending debate and moving to an actual vote:
In 1805, Aaron Burr has just killed Alexander Hamilton. He comes back to the Senate and gives his farewell address. Burr basically says that you are a great body. You are conscientious and wise, you do not give in to the whims of passion. But your rules are a mess. And he goes through the rulebook pointing out duplicates and things that are unclear.

Among his suggestions was to drop the previous question motion. And they pretty much just take Burr’s advice. And once it’s gone, it takes some time for leaders to realize that they can’t cut off debate anymore. But the striking part to me was that we say the Senate developed the filibuster to protect minorities and the right to debate. That’s hogwash! It’s a mistake. Believe me, I would’ve loved to find the smoking gun where the Senate decides to create a deliberative body. But it takes years before anyone figures out that the filibuster has just been created.
Of course, that wasn’t the only time Aaron Burr fathered something without realizing it.

Binder’s analysis rings true to me. It matches what I’ve noticed about other rules and procedures from the early decades of the republic, such as the Electoral College and recess appointments, that are hard to justify on a democratic basis. Almost always it’s impossible to find a record of the Founders discussing those arrangements in advance. There’s no indication that they considered the possible drawbacks to those decisions, the way people could take advantage of them or they could lead to controversy.

Once some part of the political world has benefited from one of those procedures, however, it becomes hard to remove. And after officials from both parties have used the procedure, change is almost impossible. Because by then it’s acquired the force of precedent and “tradition,” not to mention powerful advocates with an interest in maintaining legitimacy.

Sometimes lawyers and politicians invent arguments to justify a tradition they’ve benefited from. Thus we have the irony of the mid-20th-century Senate filibuster rule, used most famously by Sen. Strom Thurmond to stall a mild civil-rights bill in 1957, held up as a protection for “minority rights.” But such noble ideals don’t seem to have been on the minds of the men who instituted such rules.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Word Problems

The University of Pennsylvania library holds a notebook created in Southampton County, Virginia, between 1786 and 1791, according to the notations inside. It shows someone learning practical arithmetic through word problems like these:

An Overseer and 28 Negroes made 37660 lb. Tobacco, I Demand the Overseers Part, who was to have 1 1/2 Shares?

An Overseer and 50 Negroes made 1575 Barrels of Corn — 42000 Pounds of Tobacco — 3150 Bushels of Peas. I demand the Overseers Part, and what was left for the Employer, allowing the Overseer 2 1/2 Shares?
A little thought reveals that the “Negroes” are irrelevant to the calculations. Which was the real problem, wasn’t it?

A page in the back of the book has “Southampton County” written on it several times. It also has the words “Hamilton County, Northwestern Territory” and, at top, possibly the name “Bennet.” James Bennett was one of the first members of the “Legislative Council” elected in the Northwest Territory in 1799. Had he come from Southampton County, Virginia? Was the student who used this notebook a member of his family? If so, by moving into the Northwest Territory the family gave up direct participation in America’s slavery system. But as the arithmetic problems show, that system pervaded nearly all parts of life.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Benjamin Franklin and “the bad Effects of Lead taken inwardly”

Earlier in the year I introduced Benjamin Franklin’s fan Benjamin Vaughan, who arranged for the printing of his Works in London during the war and later emigrated to Maine.

Here’s another product of Vaughan’s admiration for Franklin: the older man’s suspicions about lead poisoning, written on 31 July 1786 and quoted here:
I recollect that when I had the great Pleasure of seeing you at Southampton, now a 12 month since, we had some Conversation on the bad Effects of Lead taken inwardly; and that at your Request I promis’d to send you in writing a particular Account of several Facts I then mention’d to you, of which you thought some good Use might be made. I now sit down to fulfil that Promise.

The first Thing I remember of this kind, was a general discourse in Boston when I was a Boy, of a Complaint from North Carolina against New England Rum, that it poison’d their People, giving them the Dry Bellyach, with a Loss of the Use of their Limbs. The Distilleries being examin’d on the Occasion, it was found that several of them used leaden Still-heads and Worms, and the Physicians were of the Opinion that the Mischief was occasion’d by that Use of Lead. The Legislature of the Massachusetts thereupon pass’d an Act prohibiting under severe Penalties the Use of such Still-heads & Worms thereafter. Inclos’d I send you a Copy of the Act, taken from my printed Law book.
Specifically, the law was “An Act for Preventing Abuses in Distilling of Rum and Other Strong Liquors, with Leaden Heads or Pipes,” passed on 3 Sept 1723. Here’s the text from a law book published by Isaiah Thomas. It required every Massachusetts town with distillers to appoint “Assay-Masters” to inspect those stills and ensure they weren’t made with lead.

It’s noteworthy that the Massachusetts General Court didn’t expect distillers to upgrade their equipment just because of market pressure. For the sake of public health, and the good reputation of “New England Rum,” they instituted a government solution. Of course, colonial New England was a highly regulated society.

Back to Franklin:
In 1724, being in London, I went to work in the Printing-House of Mr. [Samuel] Palmer, [in the neighborhood of] Bartholomew Close, as a Compositor. I there found a Practice I had never seen before, of drying a Case of Types, (which are wet in Distribution) by placing it sloping before the Fire. I found this had the additional Advantage, when the Types were not only dry’d but heated, of being comfortable to the Hands working over them in cold weather. I therefore sometimes heated my Case when the Types did not want drying. But an old Workman observing it, advis’d me not to do so, telling me I might lose the Use of my Hands by it, as two of our Companions had nearly done, one of whom that us’d to earn his Guinea a Week could not then make more than ten Shillings and the other, who had the Dangles, but Seven & sixpense. This, with a kind of obscure Pain that I had sometimes felt as it were in the Bones of my Hand when working over the Types made very hot, induc’d me to omit the Practice. But talking afterwards with Mr. James, a Letter-founder in the same Close, and asking him if his People, who work’d over the little Furnaces of melted Metal, were not subject to that Disorder; he made light of any Danger from the Effluvia, but ascrib’d it to Particles of the Metal swallow’d with their Food by slovenly Workmen, who went to their Meals after handling the Metal, without well-washing their Fingers, so that some of the metalline Particles were taken off by their Bread and eaten with it. This appear’d to have some Reason in it. But the Pain I had experienc’d made me still afraid of those Effluvia.

Being in Derbishire at some of the Furnaces for Smelting of Lead Ore, I was told that the Smoke of those Furnaces was pernicious to the neighboring Grass and other Vegetables. But I do not recollect to have heard any thing of the Effect of such Vegetables eaten by Animals. It may be well to make the Enquiry. . . .

I have of a Case in Europe, I forgot the Place, where a whole Family was afflicted with what we call the Dry-Bellyach, or Colica Pictonum, by drinking Rain Water. It was at a Country Seat, which being situated too high to have the Advantage of a Well, was supply’d with Water from a Tank which receiv’d the Water from the leaded Roofs. This had been drank several Years without Mischief; but some young Trees planted near the House, growing up above the Roof, and shedding their Leaves upon it, it was suppos’d that an Acid in those Leaves had corroded the Lead they cover’d, and furnish’d the Water of that Year with its baneful Particles & Qualities.

When I was in Paris with Sir John Pringle in 1767, he visited La Charite, a Hospital particularly famous for the Cure of that Malady, and brought from thence a Pamphlet, containing a List of the Names of Persons, specifying their Professions or Trades, who had been cured there. I had the Curiosity to examine that List, and found that all the Patients were of Trades that some way or other use or work in Lead; such as Plumbers, Glasiers, Painters, &c. excepting only two kinds, Stonecutters and Soldiers. These I could not reconcile to my Notion that Lead was the Cause of that Disorder. But on my mentioning this Difficulty to a Physician of that Hospital, he inform’d me that the Stonecutters are continually using melted Lead to fix the Ends of Iron Balustrades in Stone; and that the Soldiers had been emply’d by Painters as Labourers in Grinding of Colours.
This letter was published in The American Museum, or, Universal Magazine in May 1790, one month after Franklin died at the age of eighty-four. Working with lead had evidently not slowed him down too much.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Join This Year’s Boston Tea Party Reenactment

The annual reenactment of the Boston Tea Party is coming up on Monday, 16 December. Tickets are available through this link.

The event description from the co-hosting organizations, the Old South Meeting House and the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, says:
Travel back in time and relive one of the most iconic public protests in American history—the Boston Tea Party! Gather at Old South Meeting House, the actual historic landmark where the colonists met in 1773, with Boston’s infamous rabblerousers like Samuel Adams, Paul Revere—and even some crown-loving Loyalists—to debate the tea tax and demand liberty from the British crown! Join the procession to Griffin’s Wharf accompanied by fife and drum and scores of colonists! Then, line the shores of Boston Harbor to witness the daring destruction of the tea firsthand as the Sons of Liberty storm the Brig Beaver, tossing the troublesome tea into the sea!
Just don’t think too hard about what the word “rabblerousers” means to you as a member of the crowd.

The event depends on accurate eighteenth-century reenactors portraying the citizens of Boston, but the organizers ask interested people to register in advance through info@osmh.org. “Preference will be given to those who have previously volunteered, are local, or have experience with similar events.”

The museum has also put out a call for dependable people to help with crowd control as the attendees move from Old South to the ships. If that interests you, contact Dan at doneill@bostonteapartyships.com.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Washington Lecture and “Paul Revere” Reading This Week

On Thursday, 21 November, at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, National Park Ranger Garrett Cloer will speak on the topic “‘Town Devourer’: George Washington, Native Americans, and a Revolutionary War.” The site says:
Join us as we celebrate Native American Heritage Month with an illustrated ranger talk centering on the relationship between George Washington and Native Americans during the American Revolutionary War. To put the war years in context, we will take a quick trip back to Washington’s youthful experiences as surveyor and commander of the Virginia Regiment during the Seven Years War and conclude with a brief examination of Indian policy during the Washington Administration.
Gen. Washington was living in that Cambridge mansion in 1775-76 when he met several times with delegations of Native Americans from different communities. At the time, those meetings were focused mainly on the invasion of Canada. In addition, a company of Native soldiers from Stockbridge was part of the New England army assembled before Washington arrived and remained with the Continental Army during the campaigns that followed.

Cloer is a specialist on Revolutionary history who has previously worked at Minute Man and Independence National Historical Parks. He prepares the essays on Revolutionary history that appear regularly on the Longfellow–Washington Facebook page.

This talk is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. in the Longfellow Carriage House. It is free and open to the public. To reserve a seat, please call (617) 876-4491.

On Saturday, 23 November, the staff of Longfellow–Washington will participate in a marathon reading of Henry W. Longfellow’s Tales of a Wayside Inn, an 1863 collection of poetic stories that includes “Paul Revere’s Ride.” Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, a pre-Revolutionary tavern in Sudbury that inspired Longfellow and later took its name from his book, will host this free event.

The reading starts at 11:00 A.M., and folks can sign up to take a turn. But be aware that “Paul Revere’s Ride” comes early in the book. If you arrive later, you’ll end up with something like “Torquemada” or “The Birds of Killingworth.”

(The image above shows a statue of young Washington and Seneca leader Guyasuta near Pittsburgh, courtesy of Mount Vernon’s “Washington Wired” site.)

Monday, November 18, 2013

“Our excellent and venerable Father John Wise”

Yesterday I quoted a 1745 item from the Boston Evening-Post that appears to be a satirical commentary on the enthusiastic reception the Rev. George Whitefield was getting in Boston.

That item suggested Whitefield’s fans might “cordially approve of the well-known Churches Quarrel espoused, wrote by our excellent and venerable Father John Wise, Anno 1715.” Which sounds like an allusion every reader should recognize, and I didn’t.

So I Googled and Wikipedia’ed and otherwise caught up a bit to 250 years ago. I learned that the Rev. John Wise (1652-1725) was a minister in the part of Ipswich, Massachusetts, now called Essex. He gained a reputation for never shying away from controversy.

Wise first became prominent when he went to jail for leading protests against Gov. Edmund Andros in 1688. That act would have been widely respected in eighteenth-century Massachusetts, but the newspaper specifically referred to his activity in 1715.

In 1710 Wise published a pamphlet called The Churches’ Quarrel Espoused. It was a reply to proposals from the Rev. Cotton Mather and other big-congregation clergymen for stronger “associations” among New England’s Congregationalist meetings, presumably to hold off the growing influence of Anglicanism.

Wise answered by declaring that it was important for congregations to maintain their independence not just from the Church of England but from any higher authority. His pamphlet suggested that Mather and his “association” proponents were “gentlemen inclined to presbyterian principles.” Though the Presbyterian Kirk of Scotland was just as Calvinist as the Congregationalists, Wise distrusted its hierarchical structure.

I suspect the style Wise chose for his argument made him appear more radical. The Churches’ Quarrel Espoused was “A Reply in Satire,” and it got biting at times. In addition, Wise came from a working-class background while Mather and most of the other ministers recommending an “association” grew up in the elite. Mather wrote in his diary:
A furious Man, called John Wise, of whom, I could wish he had, Cor bonum [a good heart], while we are all sensible, he wants, Caput bene regulatum [a well-ordered mind], has lately published a foolish Libel, against some of us, for presbyterianizing too much in our Care to repair some Deficiencies in our Churches. And some of our People, who are not only tenacious of their Liberties, but also more suspicious than they have cause to be of a Design in their pastors to make abridgments of them; they are too much led into Temptation, by such Invectives. But the Impression is not so great as our grand Adversary doubtless hoped for.
That was in 1715, when Wise’s pamphlet was reprinted. I bet that whoever wrote the newspaper item was looking at that edition rather than the original from five years before.

In 1717 Wise published a more sober argument for the same position titled Vindication of the Government of New England Churches. One of his intellectual innovations was to base ecclesiastical independence on English liberties as well as scriptural precedents.

William Allen’s American Biographical and Historical Dictionary (1809) said about Wise:
In the beginning of his last sickness he observed to a brother in the gospel, that he had been a man of contention, but, as the state of the church made it necessary, he could say upon the most serious review of his conduct, that he had fought a good fight.
In 1745 the Evening-Post writer appears to have remembered Wise mainly as an anti-authoritarian, thus an inspiration for Whitefield’s “New Light” followers. Decades later, in 1772, Wise’s two anti-association pamphlets were reprinted, which might have reflected more interest in his ideas of liberty. And after the U.S. of A. was established, some authors have looked back at Wise as a forerunner of the country’s fight for independence.

[The image above shows the John Wise House in Ipswich, photographed by Elizabeth Thomsen and available through Flickr under a Creative Commons license. The house is apparently now for sale.]

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Mystery of the Meeting “at West-Corcus in Boston”

On Friday the Journal of the American Revolution at AllThingsLiberty.com featured my article on the word “caucus,” which surfaced in Boston in 1760, became increasingly accepted over the next decade and a half, and took final form in the history that the Rev. William Gordon published in London in 1788.

People have puzzled over the origin of that word since 1763, when it was still spelled “Corcas” or “corkus.” A lot of the theories about its derivation are based on the “caucus” spelling, and though that might well be how Bostonians pronounced the word, that’s not how they saw it. Instead, we have to look for roots of “Corcas.”

Around 1940, Craigie and Hulbert’s Dictionary of American English on Historical Principles reported that an article in the 19 Aug 1745 Boston Evening-Post referred to a neighborhood in Boston called “West-Corcus.” Other language reference books have repeated that fact as a possible clue, but I don’t see any sign that their authors went to look at that reference in context. I just did. Of course, the Early American Newspapers database makes that task a lot easier today.

The newspaper item does indeed call for a meeting “at West-Corcus in Boston.” However, the whole piece appears to be one of those sarcastic eighteenth-century essays pretending to be someone on the opposite side of a controversy in order to lampoon that side’s views. That makes it very hard to parse out what details, if any, readers were supposed to recognize as relating to real life and what were obviously satirical.

In this case, the controversy was prompted by the visit of the Rev. George Whitefield (shown above, courtesy of NNDB.com) to Boston in early 1745. His “New Light” style of open-air preaching had set off a split and long debate with the “Old Lights” of traditional Congregationalism. (A century later a religious historian would dub this period “the First Great Awakening,” but at the time it seems to have felt more like people who were already religious staying up late arguing fine points of theology when what really mattered was who was in charge.)

This Evening-Post item takes the form of “A Layman” asking the publisher to run a “NOTIFICATION” that says:
WHereas the Association of Lay-Brethren, lately convened at Boston, to take into their serious Consideration the Conduct of those Reverend Clergymen, who have encouraged the Iteration [i.e., departure] of Mr. George Whitefield, whereby the Liberties of the Laity have been invaded, Peace and good Order in many of their Families destroyed, and Reason given for the Report of an unhappy spread of dangerous Doctrines and Divisions, as well as Clerical Encroachments and Usurpations; judge is highly seasonable, that all the Laymen in the Country, who lament the said Disorders, dangerous Doctrines, Divisions and Clerical Usurpations, and cordially approve of the well-known Churches Quarrel espoused, wrote by our excellent and venerable Father John Wise, Anno 1715. should have a general Meeting in order to declare their united Approbation of and Adherence to the great Truths of the Gospel, as exhibited in said Book, and recommend the same, and to consult of proper Methods to maintain them, as an happy Band of Union and special Means to prevent those Disorders, Divisions and Encroachments, and recover and preserve the Gospel Order and vital Piety they lead to; as also to make Enquiry, and bring Accounts of the State of said Ministers in the several Churches, both as to their Doctrine and Behaviour, and to bear proper Testimony against such Errors and evil Practices of theirs as may appear to have any threatening Aspect on Religion and good Order among us.

It is accordingly proposed, that there be such a general Meeting, and that it be held on the last Wednesday of September next, at WEST-CORCUS in Boston aforesaid. Published at the Desire of the abovesaid Association, by
Z. T. Clerk to the Association.
The item closed with a couple of “important Questions” for that gathering to consider:
Whether Christ, after his Resurrection, promised his Presence and Blessing to any other but ITINERANT Preachers? And if not,

Whether the standing Ministry ought not to be dismissed to make way for those Apostolical Preachers? Which will save this Province at least 50,000 per Annum.
Read literally, this item suggested doing away with all the settled ministers and meeting-houses in Massachusetts in favor of traveling preachers like Whitefield. But I don’t think the author expected folks to read the piece literally.

Rather, it’s an attempt at a reductio ad absurdum of Whitefield’s popularity over the long-established ministers of Boston and surrounding towns. The writer was basically sneering, “If all you people want to stand outside and listen to some guy who just arrived in New England last year, then maybe you don’t want to have meeting-houses at all! Maybe you’ll listen to just anyone passing through town!”

What might the phrase “at WEST-CORCUS in Boston” mean in that context? It doesn’t appear to be the real name for a Boston neighborhood, as Craigie and Hulbert assumed; there’s no other reference to such a place in the newspapers of the day. But beyond that I’m not at all sure.
  • Was there already a political “Corcas” operating under that name, fifteen years before the next mention of it in the newspapers, and were its leaders known to be fans of Whitefield?
  • Was “Corcus” a glancing reference to the Scottish kirk, which in 1745 might imply that Whitefield and his followers were somehow less loyal than adherents of established meetings, as well as less respectable?
  • Was “West-Corcus” a reference to a tavern in the western part of town? Again, there’s no other reference to such an establishment in the newspapers.
  • Was “Corcus” just a nonsense word, suggesting that anyone who’d want to attend this meeting should go to the ends of the earth?

TOMORROW: And what’s all that about “our excellent and venerable Father John Wise, Anno 1715”?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Servant Left Behind

I’ve been discussing the Chinese businessman Punqua Wingchong, who arrived in Nantucket in 1807 and left New York the following year under controversial conditions. When Punqua came to America, he traveled with a servant. What happened to that man?

According to Frances Ruley Karttunen’s The Other Islanders: People Who Pulled Nantucket’s Oars, Punqua left his servant Quak Te behind on Nantucket. That man kept “a sleeping bag and a very large wardrobe,” and as of November 1809 still had over $40 in cash. But Quak Te evidently despaired of adjusting to life on the island or getting home, and he hung himself in his rented room.

The probate record referred to him as “Quak Te, of Nantucket, a Black man deceased.” Another record labeled him as “colored.” I wondered if that opened the possibility that Punqua’s servant was actually of African descent; Quaco is an Akan name meaning “male born on Wednesday,” and its derivative Quock was not an uncommon name for enslaved men in America.

However, Karttunen quotes an 1809 entry from the Nantucket Atheneum: “Quack Te a Chinese hung himself it is supposed.” I therefore conclude that the island authorities probably had so little experience with Asian men in 1809 that they didn’t know if “Chinaman” was a legal category. They knew Quak Te wasn’t white or Indian, so they classified him with Negroes. Some laws in the early republic required racial classification, but the boundaries of those classes were slippery.

As for Punqua Wingchong, he returned to his business in China despite the imperial laws forbidding him from traveling abroad. Then again, those laws barred him from trading with westerners outside the authorized area of Canton, and he did that in his shop anyway. Perhaps the Chinese authorities were willing to look the other way if he brought back useful information about the young U.S. of A.

Punqua Winchong kept up his good relations with America. He sent a thank-you letter to the new President, James Madison, and a gift for his wife, followed by two more letters over the next couple of years. In 1811, Punqua advertised his Canton shop in New York newspapers. Dael Norwood concludes that he was in America at that time, but I suspect he was still in China and had an agent place that ad targeting American sailors.

Punqua definitely returned to Nantucket in 1818; Karttunen reports his name is on a boarding-house register. That year the Edinburgh Magazine and Literary Miscellany also reported:
A Chinese merchant, Punqua Wingchong, of Canton, was lately in New York. The Tuscarora natives, who saw him, were so struck with his physiognomy, that they insisted he was one of their people. They made earnest inquiry who he was, and were astonished on being told that he was a Chinese. Such is the physiognomonical resemblance of these races of Americans and Asiatics.
Other Americans recognized Punqua from the political controversy of the previous decade.

I don’t know if Punqua once again went home to China, or if there are any Chinese sources to fill out his life. But he and his servant exemplify the expanding international trade of the early nineteenth century.

Friday, November 15, 2013

“He is no more a Mandarin than one of our shopkeepers”

Yesterday I noted Dael Norwood’s article about a Chinese businessman named Punqua Wingchong, who got special permission from Thomas Jefferson’s administration to sail home during the embargo. Jefferson’s critics complained that Punqua was just a front man for John Jacob Astor.

Punqua had come to the U.S. of A. on his own, however. In 1807 he arrived on Nantucket on the Favorite, accompanied by a servant. In The Other Islanders: People Who Pulled Nantucket’s Oars, Frances Ruley Karttunen writes that the local diarist Keziah Fanning described him as: “a Chinaman that came with Mr. Whitney last fall from Canton. He is a merchant there. He is the color of our native whites.”

After Punqua’s return voyage in August 1808 became a political controversy, a New Yorker wrote to Secretary of State James Madison under the pseudonym “Columbus” to warn the administration that they had made a mistake:
Mr. Winchong who is represented as a China Mandarin I know well and knew him before he left Canton. He is no more a Mandarin than one of our shopkeepers is for that is his occupation. That he came away from China and must return by stealth I am sure of, as it is the only way a Chinese can visit a foreign country in a foreign vessel and Mr. Winchong has frequently told me that he came away from Canton without any Mandarin knowing it and he expected to return the same way, and I believe that should the Mandarines become acquainted with his visit to this country when he returns they would strip him of every cent he is worth. . . .

Since I left NewYork (my place of residence) on my Journey to this place I have had continual enquiries respecting the great Chinese Mandarin and I have in several instances related what I knew concerning him and I have just learnt that the Ship Beaver of near 500 Tons is permited to carry him and his property to Canton. This the Feds & Tories with a sneer observe is another proof of the wisdom of Mr. Jeffersons administration. I have sir now only to add that the Ship Beaver belongs to the bitterest opposers of the present administration and should they succeed with their tool Winchong in accomplishing their object they will laugh at those that granted the favor by way of showing their superior wisdom.

That Winchong does not possess 5000 Dollars in this country is my opinion for some time ago I recievd a letter from Mr. S. Whitney the gentleman that bro’t Winchong to this country stating that he wished me to be friendly to Winchong as he had not exceeding $500 Dollars with him and surely he ought to know. That Winchong holds notes of Shaw & Randall’s to a large amount and that he came to this country for the express purpose of collecting the same, is certain, but that House became bankrupts several years ago. Shaw is since dead and Randall with hard labour can scarcly support his indigent family. Therefore not a cent has been collected from them.

It would be cruel to the highest degree for any person to object to Mr. Winchong and the other chinese having permission to return to their native country but why is a ship of five hundred Tons necessary to carry them (and to return with a full Cargo). A small vessel certainly would be more expeditious (and particular at this season when they will have to take a circuitous and difficult route) and perhaps equally as comfortable.
By the time this letter reached the capital, Punqua’s ship had already sailed. But it points out some more connections between Punqua and Massachusetts.

When “Columbus” wrote, “the Ship Beaver belongs to the bitterest opposers of the present administration,” Norwood says he probably meant brothers James Perkins (shown above, courtesy of the Boston Athenaeum) and Thomas Handysyd Perkins, who were partners in that ship with Astor. The Perkinses were indeed Federalists—which is probably why they kept quiet and let Astor handle arrangements with his friends in the Jefferson administration.

Punqua’s “notes of Shaw & Randall’s” also have New England roots. Samuel Shaw had grown up in Boston and become an artillery officer during the Revolutionary War. He helped open the China Trade, first as supercargo on the Empress of China in 1784 and then as a trader and first American consul in Canton from 1786 to his death in 1794.

Thomas Randall’s background is harder to pin down, in part because there’s a prominent New York merchant of the same name. He was a lieutenant in the Continental artillery regiment as early as October 1775, when he was court-martialed for stabbing an enlisted man. (The panel recommended a reprimand.) In 1784 Shaw insisted that “Captain Randall, with whom he had formed an intimate friendship in the course of the American war, and who was as destitute of property and employment as himself, should be united with him and share with him the profits of the agency” in China.

That enterprise failed after Shaw’s death at the age of thirty-nine, and the notes Punqua hoped to collect on were worthless. No wonder he needed help to get back home.

TOMORROW: But what about his servant?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Return of Punqua Wingchong

The Readex Report just published a very intriguing article by Dael Norwood about a political controversy in 1808. President Thomas Jefferson had imposed an embargo on American trade as a way to keep the country’s ships from being caught up in the wars between Britain and Napoleon’s France. But he made a special exception for one of John Jacob Astor‘s ships bound for China so that it could return a Chinese businessman who would otherwise be stranded in America.

But who was the man called Punqua Wingchong, who had come to Washington asking to be allowed to sail home? Norwood writes:
The terms used to refer to Punqua lay at the crux of the matter: was he a mere shopkeeper, an important merchant, or a powerful mandarin? In his letter of introduction, Senator Samuel L. Mitchill proclaimed Punqua a “Chinese merchant,” a term that implied both means and gravitas—but no diplomatic status. Secretary of the Treasury [Albert] Gallatin used the same construction in his orders authorizing the Port of New York to allow the Beaver’s voyage to proceed. Jefferson, however, promoted Punqua, naming him a “mandarin”—an official of the Qing Empire. It was the exalted rank bestowed by Jefferson that public supporters and critics alike picked up on when the Beaver’s voyage became more widely known.
Many of those critics and subsequent historians said Astor was behind Punqua’s petition to President Jefferson, grabbing an excuse to send a ship to China when everyone else was stuck on domestic voyages. Astor’s Beaver sailed with large amounts of specie, said to belong to Punqua, and Astor reportedly netted £200,000 after it returned with Chinese goods.

Perhaps Astor (shown above) was sincerely trying to help a fellow immigrant. He himself had been born in Germany, emigrated to Britain, and arrived in New York in 1784 as a flute salesman. But if he could make incredible profits while doing that good deed, Astor would have been all the happier.

TOMORROW: The Massachusetts connections.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

The Inaugural Issue of Action Presidents!

The first issue of the new Action Presidents! comic debuts today on ComiXology, and it naturally tackles the towering figure of the first President, George Washington.

This comic book comes from Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey, the team behind Action Philosophers! and (a series I like even more) The Comic Book History of Comics. The Action Philosophers! series dissected the lives and ideas of famous thinkers in comic-book form, the tropes of superhero action often satirizing the subject matter. In contrast, some of the Action Presidents!, including Washington, really were quite active men.

Van Lente structures the story around Washington’s quest for self-control, at first for himself and then for the Continental Army and ultimately for the young U.S. of A. Washington undoubtedly had great ambitions, and he struggled to maintain the calm that his culture demanded of gentlemen.
As you see, Dunlavey’s approach to the art owes a lot to the satiric approach of the 1960s “underground” comics and Larry Gonick’s Cartoon History books. His undisciplined American soldiers, for example, look much like a certain trio of mid-20th-century movie comedians. Because Action Presidents! is being published first in digital form, we see Dunlavey’s art in color, not just black and white as in the previous series.

Naturally, a 20-page comic has to skip a lot of Washington’s life. Among the major aspects left behind was his support for a new Constitution in the late 1780s. Readers would never know from these pages that he chaired the Constitutional Convention, providing its product with far more legitimacy than if he had stayed home. Instead, the comic emphasizes Washington’s wish that someone else could lead the country and let him stay home at Mount Vernon—not that he ever suggested any other man take the job of first President.
The lower panel above shows one repeated lapse of the comic: facial hair on eighteenth-century American men. This is a common mistake among cartoonists trying to produce a variety of male faces in yore; at least Dunlavey’s style means no reader can take those portrayals as realistic.

The comic starts with Washington’s birth in Virginia’s slave-owning aristocracy, noting how upper-class his family was; it could have said more about how precarious his own perch in that upper class was after his father’s death. We see some of Washington’s challenges in the French and Indian War, though not what a grasping young man he was until he married Martha Custis. Overall, however, it does a good job of highlighting the tensions between Washington, the ideal gentleman he wanted to be, and the paragon that American culture has often portrayed him as.

The Action Presidents! narrative of the Revolutionary War is the standard popular American account: New York to Trenton, Valley Forge and the Fabian strategy, the French alliance and Yorktown. That of course leaves out a lot of events, including the Boston campaign, the loss of the nation’s capital in 1777, the long warfare outside New York, and the campaigns Washington oversaw from afar in the north and south. But again, Van Lente and Dunlavey have only twenty pages, and they still have to get to the Presidency.

In that Presidency, the comic focuses rather narrowly on Alexander Hamilton’s fiscal policy, the Whiskey Rebellion, and Washington’s personal response to that unrest. Again, many other aspects of the first administration go unexplored. But that series of episodes raises interesting questions about President Washington and how he interpreted his job. It fits well into the overall theme of this short and, to be sure, active biography.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

John Adams and “Uncle Fairfield”

I’ve been reviewing the Boston 1775 postings related to the caucus, starting with this one from 2008. That quoted John Adams’s 1763 description of what he’d heard about the “Caucas Clubb” that met in Thomas Dawes’s attic. His list of members was: “Uncle Fairfield, Story, Ruddock, Adams, Cooper, and a rudis indigestaque Moles of others.”

I spotted local office-holders William Story, John Ruddock, Samuel Adams, and William Cooper, but for the first name on that list all I could write was:
I haven’t identified “Uncle Fairfield,” who was presumably one of John Adams’s uncles. [How’s that for historical detective work?]
Back in 1961, the editors of the first volume of the Papers of John Adams could only guess at that relationship and wrote, “JA frequently used ‘Uncle’ or ‘Aunt’ for an older person vaguely related to himself.”

In a 1970 New England Quarterly article titled “The Caucus and Democracy in Colonial Boston,” G. B. Warden identified that man as William Fairfield (1692-1770), elected as one of Boston’s property assessors from 1742 to his death. Fairfield wasn’t John Adams’s uncle, said Warden—he was Samuel Adams’s uncle. He was a brother of Samuel Adams’s mother Mary, whose original surname is often rendered as “Fifield” or “Fyfield.”

But was that John Adams’s only relationship to “Uncle Fairfield”? On 30 May 1771 he wrote in his diary:
I rode this forenoon from little Cambridge [i.e., modern Allston-Brighton] to Brewers [tavern in Waltham], with Mr. Ruggles of Roxbury, the Butcher, and I find him my Relation.—His Mother, who is still living above 70, is Sister to my Grandmother, Aunt Fairfield, Aunt Sharp, and Aunt Ruggles of Rochester, and Parson Ruggles of Rochester, and the Butchers Father were Brothers, so that Tim and he are very near—both by fathers and Mothers side.
Decoded, that passage means that “Aunt Fairfield” and the butcher’s mother were both sisters of John Adams’s grandmother Ann (White) Boylston. And indeed, records show that in 1727 Elizabeth White (1697-1769) married William Fairfield of Boston. Thus, “Uncle Fairfield” was also John Adams’s great-uncle by marriage.

Furthermore, that conversation reveals that the butcher’s mother, “still living,” must have been Joanna (White) Ruggles (1701-1778). She had two sons, the younger one named Nathaniel—and what do you know? The Boston selectmen’s minutes show that an out-of-town butcher named Nathaniel Ruggles leased a stall in or beside Faneuil Hall market in the 1760s, and got into an ongoing dispute over whether he would sell hides to Boston tanners at a set price as his lease required.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lecture on the Library Patrons of Colonial Newport, 18 Nov.

On Monday, 18 November, the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester will host a lecture by Sean Moore titled “The Redwood Receipt Books and Newport Slavers: A Bio-Bibliographical Inquiry into the Borrowing Records of Early America's Premier Slave-Trading Port.”

That title doesn’t really make clear what this talk is about unless you’re already into the history of the book. “The Redwood” is a circulating library founded in Rhode Island in 1747. Its “Receipt Books” and “Borrowing Records” preserve some of the patrons who were looking at its books. That’s allowed Moore, a professor of English at the University of New Hampshire, to profile some of colonial Newport’s most eager readers.

Or, as his lecture description says:
Rarely do scholars find evidence of the reception of works, but the Redwood Library’s receipt books from eighteenth-century Newport, Rhode Island, present the opportunity to do a bio-bibliographical analysis of some of the Redwood’s readers and perhaps move us towards an understanding of readers’ tastes.

The surviving receipt books are records of what books were borrowed from the library during a five year period from 1756-1761, and were kept by Ezra Stiles, the librarian of the Redwood and future president of Yale University. These printed forms list three blanks per page, and are filled in cursive handwriting with the title of the book, the cash deposit to borrow it, the name of the borrower, and the librarian’s signature. Most of the names have been torn out of them, the custom at the time being to tear out the name of the borrower after the book was returned. Whether this was done to protect the privacy of readers is an open question, but the important thing for my research is that many of the names were not torn out, or at least not completely.

This evidence of who was reading what books is not only of interest to book history, however, but also provides the chance to do what D.F. McKenzie and Jerome McGann described as a “sociology” of the text that considers the possible motives of the readers who were wealthy enough to pay the deposit on a book within what some historians have called early America’s premier slave shipping port. This paper, accordingly, will explore the role of the philanthropy of slave traders and owners in financing the library’s collection and argue that the receipt books give us insight into the financial interests of readers and the possible reasons why they might have been borrowing particular books.
This seminar will take place at 5:00 P.M. in the A.A.S.’s Goddard-Daniels House, 190 Salisbury Street in Worcester. Refreshments will be provided afterwards. If you plan to attend, please reserve a space with Ann-Cathrine Rapp by this Friday.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

“The frothing Tory comeing for his Hog”

From the memoir of Boyrereau Brinch, an African-American dragoon in the Continental Army:
From thence we marched to West Point, and took up winter quarters. While we remained here the soldiers played many boyish pranks. One Samuel Shaw, a brave soldier, but as complete a petty thief as ever graced a camp; not that I would represent him a thievish character; as honesty was never more predominent in any human being, than it was in him, when he pledged himself to any fellow soldier. However he with myself and some others from our camp, the day before we were to be reviewed, by his Excellency, Gen. George Washington, concluded we would have a soldier-like frollick.

Accordingly we secretly stole from the lines, went to a Farm not many miles distant, which was occupied by a Tory. From him we stole a shoat [i.e., young pig]. Shaw was the principle manager in this affair, and we got into camp just before day. We laid the Shoat in the middle of the camp, and sat down, and in the language of gratitude, began conversing upon our success; but short was our confab. As we soon saw the frothing Tory comeing for his Hog.

We immediately covered ourselves with our blankets and effected to be asleep. He recognized his property; he went to the Col. to whose regiment we then belonged, and reported that we had stolen one of his shoats. Col. [Return J.] Meigs, came immediately to our company, and with a countenance, that plainly bespoke a determination of punishing us if guilty.

He asked how we came by that Shoat; I answered immediately that the owner had brought it for sale, but that from his manner of conversation (knowing him to have been a tory) we unanimously suspected him to have come as a spy, and were determined to keep the Shoat until the officers might have an opportunity of being acquainted with his designs.

My fellow soldiers were glad of the opportunity of confirming the truth of my assertion—which so completely satisfied the Col. of our innocence, together with the circumstance of its lying in fair view, in the middle of the Camp—that he severely reprimanded the man for his insult on him and his soldiers. The man a little frightened at so unexpected a charge of guilt that he really had the appearance of a condemned culprit, and was glad to escape with his dead pig upon his back.
Lots of other stories about soldiers’ “pranks” that I’ve seen involve stealing food from a Tory, or a Quaker, or someone else who, the storyteller suggests, deserved to be stolen from because he didn’t support the American cause enough. But I think the real point was the food.

(The picture above shows Col. Meigs later in life, courtesy of Wikipedia. The Samuel Shaw in this anecdote is assuredly not the young artillery officer from Boston.)

Saturday, November 09, 2013

The Legend of the Long Room Club

Yesterday I quoted Samuel A. Drake’s 1873 description of the “Long Room Club” of pre-Revolutionary Boston and asked what was missing.

My answer is that Drake didn’t mention any source(s) for his information. He stated that a hundred years earlier some men met regularly in a large room over the Edes and Gill print shop, and readers had to take his word for that. Many authors did; the “Long Room Club” became a staple of descriptions of pre-Revolutionary Boston, and many books repeated Drake’s list of members. Repetition gave the statement the air of unimpeachable authority. I accepted it until a few years ago when Ben Carp asked me if I’d found any contemporaneous support.

So far as we could tell, no source before Drake had ever mentioned the “Long Room Club.” No contemporaneous document describes the group. A 1772 entry in John Adams’s diary shows that there was a room above the print shop. But a big room? With regular meetings of a club with a name? And those particular members? Drake’s statement was the only support for that idea.

We also have an account from Benjamin Edes’s son Peter describing a secret gathering before the Tea Party in his father’s house, not in the print shop. Under the influence of the “Long Room Club” meme, some authors shifted that gathering to the print shop.

Also missing from Samuel A. Drake’s description are the names of William Molineux and Dr. Thomas Young. All the usual, well-remembered suspects are listed: Samuel Adams, John Hancock, James Otis, Dr. Joseph Warren, Dr. Benjamin Church, the Cooper brothers, Josiah Quincy, Paul Revere, & al. But contemporaneous documents tell us that Molineux and Young were Boston’s most important crowd leaders of the late 1760s and early 1770s. Both men were gone by the end of 1774—Molineux dead and Young to the south. Both were radical and religiously unorthodox. As a result, nineteenth-century Bostonians didn’t remember them so well.

Drake’s “Long Room Club” list includes some names that don’t show up in many other lists of Boston Whig leaders, some from out of town and others a generation younger than the men listed above:

  • Samuel Dexter (1726-1810) was an officeholder from Dedham, not visible in Boston and not among the province’s active Whigs. (His grandson had the same name, and would be a big politician in the early republic, but was only fourteen years old when the war began.)
  • Thomas Fleet (1732-1797) printed the Boston Evening-Post with his brother John; they were known for their “impartiality,” as Isaiah Thomas wrote, rather than their political activism.
  • Samuel Phillips (1752-1802) was a politician from Andover and is best remembered for founding the academy there during the war.
  • John Winslow (1753-1819) was a young businessman who became prominent in federal Boston and was a big source of information about Bunker Hill.
  • Thomas Melvill (1751-1832) was another young merchant, a Tea Party participant and official in post-Revolutionary Boston.
Those men don’t seem to have been part of the innermost circle of Boston Whigs at all. Rather, those were names that Bostonians of the early or mid-1800s probably recalled as connected in some way to Revolutionary times.

As for the “Long Room,” I suspect Samuel A. Drake or his informants might have gotten the Edes and Gill print shop mixed up with the Green Dragon Tavern. Taverns did often have long rooms for banquets and other meetings, and we know that the Green Dragon, which the St. Andrew’s Lodge of Freemasons had bought and turned into their headquarters, was one of the places where Revere convened his “committee of observation” shortly before the war.

Another possible root of the meme is Thomas Dawes’s garret, as described back here. Dawes was another name on Drake’s list, not as prominent in Revolutionary politics as the other men but definitely part of town politics before and after the war. But either way, the “Long Room Club” story seems so poorly sourced and probably garbled that I no longer think it’s reliable at all. (And now I have to go back to all the early Boston 1775 postings that referred to that group and update them.)