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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Sunday, February 23, 2014

“It was thought proper to enliven the occasion by discharges of cannon”

Yesterday I quoted a 1779 newspaper from Williamsburg, Virginia, briefly describing an “elegant entertainment” in honor of Gen. George Washington on the 22nd of that February.

Decades later, in 1835, the Southern Literary Messenger published a longer, franker account of the same event:
We are permitted by RICHARD RANDOLPH, ESQ. to publish the following extract, from a Journal kept by his father, the late David Meade Randolph, when a Student at William & Mary College in 1779 under the patronage of PROFESSOR [Robert] ANDREWS. It is a curious anecdote and will be read with interest.

Washington’s Birth Night. On the 22d February, 1779, the students of William & Mary College, and most of the respectable inhabitants of Williamsburg, prepared a subscription paper for celebrating Washington’s birth night; and the pleasure of presenting it, was confided to certain students immediately under the patronage of Professor Andrews.

Governor [Patrick] Henry was first waited on, and offered the paper: he refused his signature! “He could not think of any kind of rejoicing at a time when our country was engaged in war, with such gloomy prospects.” Dudley Digges [1729-1790], and Bolling Starke [1733-1788], members of the Council, were both waited on by the same persons, and received less courteous denials, and similar excuses.

The ball, nevertheless, was given at the Raleigh. Colonel [James] Innis [1754-1798], more prominent than any other member of the association, directed its proceedings. It was thought proper to enliven the occasion by discharges of cannon. There were two pieces at the shop of Mr. [Josias?] Moody that had lately been mounted. There was a Captain commanding a company of soldiers, under the orders of Governor Henry; but the cannon were under no other care or authority at the time, than that of Mr. Moody the mechanic. Colonel Innis, with a party seconded by Colonel [William] Finnie [1739-1804], brought the two pieces before the door of the Raleigh. On the way from the shop to the Raleigh, not two hundred yards, Colonel Innis saw Captain Digges passing up the street. Whilst the party concerned were collecting powder, and preparing for firing, Lieutenant [William?] Vaughan appeared before the Raleigh with a platoon, demanding possession of the cannon. He was carried in; took some punch; and said that he was ordered by Captain Digges to take away the pieces, by force, if they were not surrendered peaceably. This was refused. Vaughan repeated his orders: He was prevailed upon to return to his quarters, and report to Capt. Digges. Captain Digges waited on the Governor, and reported the state of things; and soliciting instructions how to proceed. The Governor referred Captain Digges to his own judgment.
Southern gentlemen! Cannon! Punch! Surely this disagreement will be resolved through rational discussion unaffected by questions of relative honor and masculinity.

TOMORROW: So how did this evening turn out?

[Gov. Patrick Henry observes the proceedings above.]

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