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, January 04, 2014

“I at one time came across a letter”

As I described yesterday, in the early 1900s the Deborah Champion Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which had been formed in Adams, New York, was the proud owner of a copy of a letter from its namesake describing her adventurous ride during the Revolutionary War.

The text of that letter was published at least three times in the early 1900s and continues to be reprinted. Its story caught the eye of Samuel Forman, biographer of Dr. Joseph Warren, because first-person accounts of any element of the siege of Boston from women are rare. Before publishing the story on his website, however, Sam asked a handful of research colleagues to help him assess the letter and find out more about it.

The earliest text of the Deborah Champion letter that we found appeared in the book The Pioneer Mothers of America (vol. 2, 1912), by Harry Clinton Green and Mary Walcott Green. Those authors implied it had been supplied by the Deborah Champion Chapter of the D.A.R. That chapter has now been inactive for decades, and no one knows where its document might be.

I also found the 29 Dec 1926 Jefferson County Journal, which served the town of Adams. In an article titled “Deborah Champion’s Famous Ride,” it printed the same letter and indicated that it had come to the chapter from Mary Rebecca Adams Squire, a descendant of Deborah Champion living in Pennsylvania. She described her discovery this way:
Searching among some long neglected archives (I had almost said rubbish) belonging to our family, I at one time came across a letter written in the long ago time. As there seems to be an interest attached to old records just now, I have thought it might possibly interest those, who, like ourselves, had ancestors whom they are proud to acknowledge, and whose memories are held in reverence. The letter seems to be a copy of one written at the age of 17, by Deborah Champion, daughter of Commissary General [Henry] Champion of the Continental Army, to her dear friend, Patience Gilbert of East Haddam [Connecticut].

I will herewith transcribe the same.
The newspaper printed the transcription that Squire had sent. Note that she didn’t claim to have the original, only “a copy,” but we don’t know where her property might have gone.

Sam found an item in the Yale Daily News for 16 May 1916 that also mentions the letter. An article headlined “Meeting of Historical Society” says:
A meeting of the New Haven Colony Historical Society will be held this evening at 8. . . . Mrs. Henry Champion will read a letter written by Deborah Champion, describing her ride from Westchester, Connecticut, to Boston, carrying dispatches to General Washington.
The historical society’s annual report states that the letter “gave a graphic description” of Deborah Champion’s ride but offered no more details.

The person who read that letter in New Haven was Sarah Elizabeth Booth Champion, widow of Henry Champion (1838-1867), leader of the Mary Clap Wooster Chapter of the D.A.R. (member #3392), and author of Our Flag: Its History and Changes from 1607 to 1910.

The letter published in 1912—apparently in Adams by this time—doesn’t mention Westchester as the start of Deborah Champion’s ride. Sarah might have read the published letter and added that detail based on her knowledge of the Champion family. Or she might have read from another copy of the letter.

TOMORROW: Another copy of the Deborah Champion letter, of course.


Dudley1675 said...

Looking forward to your next posting.
Dan Ellis Dudley, Putnam Branch
CT Society of the Sons of the American Revolution

J. L. Bell said...

I can't help saying that I love how Adams, New York, is in Jefferson County.