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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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Eighteenth-Century Comics from E. J. Barnes

One of the contributors to Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750 is the Cambridge writer-artist E. J. Barnes, who tells the story of Thomas Morton’s short-lived early-1600s colony at what is now Mount Wollaston in Quincy.

She’ll also be on our “History in Comics” panel this Saturday at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (M.I.C.E.).

Among E. J.’s previous history-based comics are two with roots in the eighteenth century.

“A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed” takes the text of Jonathan Swift’s satirical poem from 1734 and illustrates it with scratchboard art. E. J.’s images turn Swift’s snarls about cosmetic beauty into true horror, and the scratchboard effect is reminiscent of the crude woodcuts printers carved quickly for broadsides.

“Caroline’s Catalog” tells the story of Caroline Herschel (1750-1848), a British astronomer. Sister of Sir William Herschel, who discovered Uranus, she started out correcting the standard star atlas of the day and ended up identifying eight new comets and publishing an updated catalog of the Northern Hemisphere sky through the Royal Astronomical Society.

E. J. has a background in science as well as art. (A couple of years back we discovered that she was a student of Leonard Nash, the Harvard chemistry professor who provided the “L.” in “J. L. Bell.”) She wrote “Caroline’s Catalog” to explore Herschel’s experiences in a time when avenues for formal scientific training and recognition were closed to women.

Folks can see E. J. Barnes’s work at M.I.C.E. in Porter Square, Cambridge, this weekend.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Colonial Comics, and a Panel about History in Panels

This blog entry is brought to you in part by Colonial Comics: New England, 1620-1750, a new anthology of historical comics edited by Jason Rodriguez with assistance from A. Dave Lewis and myself.

As yesterday’s Boston Globe reported, this book will be published by Fulcrum next month, and the first copies will debut at the Massachusetts Independent Comics Expo (M.I.C.E.) in Cambridge on Saturday.

What’s more, Colonial Comics is in part brought to you by this blog. Boston 1775 readers know my interest in how the Revolution has been portrayed in comics, including these complaints about schoolbooks on the Boston Massacre, Boston Tea Party, and Paul Revere’s ride. Those essays caught the eye of a local comics creator named Dave Marshall. His website clued me in to the Boston Comics Roundtable. And because I became active in that group, Jason Rodriguez invited me to join his editing team.

The first volume of Colonial Comics covers the British settlement of New England and how those colonies developed. I helped to vet story ideas, identify historians to collaborate with, and collect sources and visual references for some of the contributors.

As a writer I collaborated with artist Joel Christian Gill on this story of the first Samuel Maverick introducing chattel slavery to Massachusetts, based on the account I quoted way back here.

I also got to work closely with three writer-artists and see them bring their stories to life:
Other stories in the book cover the Pilgrims, John Winthrop of New London, the bloody Pequot War, Newport’s early Jewish population, and much more.

The team is now working on further volumes, one covering New England from 1750 to the start of the Revolutionary War (which is of course my favorite period) and another on early Virginia and the mid-Atlantic. The goal is to create entertaining, eye-opening stories that are historically solid enough to introduce students to important themes in this period of American history.

To launch the first volume of Colonial Comics, there will be a panel discussion at M.I.C.E. about history comics. The panelists will be E. J. Barnes, Ellen Crenshaw, Eleri Harris, Dave Ortega, and Jason Rodriguez, and I’ll moderate. That hour-long discussion will start at 11:30 A.M. on Saturday, 4 October, in Lesley’s University Hall, near Porter Square, Cambridge. All of M.I.C.E. is free and open to the public, so please check it out!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A Short Look at the Vita Brevis Blog

Recently I came across the Vita Brevis blog from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, “designed to offer the reader short essays by the Society’s expert staff on their own research as well as news of the greater genealogical community.”

Entries include Alice Kane on “Mapping Vermont”:
Regardless of the jurisdictional dispute between New York and New Hampshire, much of the vital and land records remained with the Vermont towns recording them, while probate records are held by the probate district within the county – Strafford [a town moved from one county to another, based on different colonial grants] is covered by the Bradford Probate District, for which digital images may be viewed at https://familysearch.org/search/collection/1807377.
David Allen Lambert on the families of color in eighteenth-century Stoughton:
By the early eighteenth century, the population of the Punkapoag Indians was diminishing. Marriages between Punkapoag Indians and former slaves were not uncommon. One particular Punkapoag Indian–Elizabeth Will (the daughter of Nuff Will and Sarah Moho)–married former slave Isaac Williams, a Revolutionary War soldier from Roxbury, Massachusetts. This African-American/Native American family would live in the northern part of Stoughton for over half a century. Williams collected a federal pension for his service during the war. His widow Elizabeth lived to be more than 100 years of age, dying in 1848.
And Lindsay Fulton took a look at family customs in the previous century when illegitimate births were rarer: What surname did such a child inherit?

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Constitutional Challenge

A few weeks back Al Carroll, a retired history professor, argued on History News Network that the U.S. Constitution has been an elitist, deeply flawed, and technically illegitimate document from the start.

Certainly there were many more democratic experiments that came out of the Revolutionary War.
After the war, there were early experiments in anarchism, socialism, and other notions very revolutionary for that time. For a year, Pennsylvania tried shutting down the government entirely. Pennsylvania also tried outlawing the collection of debt, a form of wealth redistribution. Slavery ended in seven northern states. One out of eight slaves in the US were freed. New Jersey even gave women the right to vote. Though first done accidentally in 1776, it stayed on the books until 1807. [More on that here.]

Aristocracy and feudalism were ended in the US. Noble titles, primogeniture, and entailment (the wealthy being able to seize public property) all ended. There was enormous confiscation and redistribution of wealth during and after the revolution. (Try telling that to a Tea Party member.) Most British loyalists and many aristocrats, whether they sided with the colonists or with Britain, lost their property. Established state churches in nine of the thirteen colonies were abolished. These were all fairly radical changes, and many Americans wanted to go even further.

American elites’ fear of class warfare created the US Constitution. The most pivotal event was Shays’ Rebellion. Farmers in western Massachusetts tried to stop foreclosures on their farms, so they shut down state courts. [Thomas] Jefferson called this, “liberty run mad.” [George] Washington called it, “anarchy and confusion.” What horrified the founders was not the size of the rebellion. It was minor, with few deaths. The fact that it took so long to break the rebellion worried them. And at the same time, the French Revolution was going on. [No, it didn’t start until 1789, and didn’t turn really radical until the 1790s.] They feared this minor rebellion might grow into a similar class revolution. All the radical experiments in wealth redistribution added to that fear. The founders called the convention in direct response to Shays’ Rebellion.
Carroll followed his analysis by proposing a whole new constitutional blueprint, which is thought-provoking.

Friday, September 26, 2014

“Head for Fashion” Conference at Williamsburg, 14-16 Nov.

Colonial Williamsburg has announced a conference in November titled “A Head for Fashion: Hair, Wigs, Cosmetics, and Jewelry, 1600-1900.” Its announcement says:
Colonial Williamsburg is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the opening of the Kings Arms Barber and Wig Shop by hosting a conference on wigs, hair, makeup, and accessories of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. The program will examine how “fashion from the neck up” changed over time, reflecting changes in taste, the personal images people wished to present, affluence and class, and sheer practicality.

Colonial Williamsburg wigmakers and other tradespeople, historians and interpreters, will be joined by noted guest speakers to present talks on wigs, hairstyles, cosmetics, jewelry, and related topics. These presentations will be interspersed with demonstrations and panel discussions.

As we put this program together, we realized that there is little published information specifically about these topics, and it is difficult to find anything that brings them all together. This conference will help to fill that gap, for scholars, curators, museum interpreters, reenactors, theatre costumers, and anyone who is just plain interested.
Sessions include “Understanding the Oorijzer: Ear Irons of the 17th Century,” which manages to offer two terms for the same thing and yet remain baffling. Fortunately, there is the internet.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Was Going Through That Lion’s Head?

When the Old State House in Boston was built in 1713, it was topped with figures of a lion and a unicorn, heraldic symbols of the then-new United Kingdom of England (plus Wales) and Scotland.

On 18 July 1776, after the new state’s official public reading of the Declaration of Independence, the populace pulled those statues down from the roof and burned them in a bonfire.

When the Old State House was restored to what people decided was its colonial form in 1882, a new lion and unicorn were installed. Those wooden figures didn’t weather well, and the Bostonian Society, owner of the building, took them down for replacement in 1900. As the museum’s blog explains, a new pair of animals was made from copper (but gilded and silvered, respectively) and installed the next year.

This month the metal lion and unicorn were taken down for preservation. And investigation. Because a letter supplied by a descendant of one sculptor described a time capsule inside the lion’s head. The records of the Bostonian Society had nothing to confirm that information, but staff found a story in the Boston Globe indicating the same.

Yesterday the Globe reported that there was indeed a sealed copper container inside the lion’s head.
On Monday, [sculpture restorer Robert] Shure used a fiber optic camera to detect the capsule, which is in a sealed copper box about the size of a shoe box and secured to the sculpture with copper straps, [Bostonian Society spokesperson Heather] Leet said. According to the Globe story, the capsule contains photographs, autographs, and sealed letters from politicians and prominent Bostonians of the time, along with old newspaper clippings.

Leet said Shure hopes to find a way to retrieve the time capsule with minimal damage to the lion by the end of the week. It is hoped that by next week, the Bostonian Society can have a small ceremony at the Woburn sculpture studio to extract the box.

”We’re hoping it didn’t get wet,” Leet said. An “archivist will be on hand to see the condition of the items — papers could be deteriorating, that sort of thing. . . . We don’t want the newspapers to turn to dust.”

The items found in the capsule will be added to the society’s collection and displayed this fall in the Old State House museum, Leet said. The exact dates that the capsule items will go on display depends on their condition and how long they take to process.
Meanwhile, the lion and unicorn will be checked out, fixed up, and restored to their perch. While we wait, I’ve floated the idea of making temporary replacements of some flammable material to be pulled down and burned this July.

The Bostonian Society had the much more responsible idea of inviting the public to suggest what should go into a new time capsule, alongside “facsimiles of the 1901 contents and a photo of Mayor Martin J. Walsh,” to represent Boston in 2014. Send your ideas to the society via email, Facebook, or Twitter. Use the subject or hashtag #LionAndUnicorn.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tracking Another Early American Female Poet

Folks from the American Antiquarian Society alerted me yesterday that its catalog entry for the broadside I’ve been discussing is the source of the credit “Composed by H----h W----n.” I’m not sure how that matches the newsletter article saying the document credits “H---. W---.,” but it does suggest a stronger tie to Hannah Wheaton.

We know that broadside came from the print shop of Ezekiel and Sarah Russell because its last line reads:
Sold next Lib. Pole: Where may be also had, the particulars of the late fire, and a poem composed by Miss J---y F--o, a sufferer.
That line thus offers evidence for another American woman publishing poetry by 1787, though her own broadside apparently doesn’t survive. So who was “J---y F--o”?

The name “Jenny” seems like a good guess, and fortunately it was a lot less common in eighteenth-century Boston than “Hannah.” A quick search took me to this page about Jenny Fenno, which appears to have been plagiarized from this Oxford Reference page behind a paywall. So I read the information, tsk-tsk’ing all the while over piracy.

“Jennet Fenno” was born on 26 May 1765, daughter of John and Katharine Fenno. After the Revolutionary War that John Fenno might have had some tie to the town granary, which stood on the site of the Park Street Church (shown above), and gave its name to the neighboring Granary Burying Ground. The 1787 broadside suggests that by that date Jenny Fenno was living in the South End, where the fire spread.

In 1791, “Miss J. Fenno” published Original Compositions in Prose and Verse on Subjects Moral and Religious from the press of Joseph Bumstead. That book included remarks on the fire of 1787, as well as elegies, pious verse, didactic essays, and praise for the British author Elizabeth Singer Rowe. Some remarks in that book indicate that Fenno was a member of Boston’s Second Baptist Church.

On 11 Nov 1794, that church’s minister married Jenny Fenno to James Ames of Bridgewater, a man six years younger than she and with an even more rhyming name. Nahum Mitchell’s history of Bridgewater (1897) and Ann Theobold Chaplin’s Descendants of William Ames (2004) indicate that James and now Jane Ames had children starting the next September, with sons Leonard (who died as a baby), another Leonard (“killed by the falling of a tree”), Franklin, and James, Jr.

Jane Ames’s book was republished in Wrentham in 1803, still credited to her maiden name. Two years later, the Boston printer and Baptist preacher Ensign Lincoln issued Compositions, Original and Selected, by “Mrs. Jane Ames.” It was a collection of Christian essays and poems. Three years after that, Lincoln and his new partner Thomas Edmands published Compositions, Original and Selected…Part Second.

Thus, Jenny Fenno/Jane Ames wrote for the public from 1787 to 1808, at least, while marrying and raising children. I don’t think anyone has indicated those two authors were the same before. According to Chaplin, the widow Ames died in Mansfield on 16 Sept 1849, aged eighty-four.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Hannah Wheaton, Hard-Working Versifier

Yesterday I noted how the American Antiquarian Society recently found Ezekiel Russell’s 1787 broadside lamenting a fire in Boston’s South End credited the author not just as “H.W.” but as “Miss H---. W---.”

That WorldCat page speculates about those initials:
Possibly by Hannah Wheaton, the author of several poems published during the 1790s. However, there are an insufficient number of dashes to match the name Wheaton and it is not known whether Wheaton was her maiden or a married name.
Hannah Wheaton’s name is preserved on a handful of broadside verses. The earliest one with a date is from December 1793 and starts:
A New Year’s wish.

The author being absent by reason of the small-pox, prevented her addressing her friends the last year.
That suggests Wheaton had issued a similar verse at the end of 1791 and perhaps earlier, but couldn’t do so in 1792. That surviving “New Year’s wish” mentions the death of John Hancock, meaning it was designed for a Massachusetts audience. It’s quite similar to the sheets that newspapers’ delivery boys printed and sold at the end of each year, suggesting that Hannah Wheaton was fitting herself into that tradition.

In 1795 Wheaton published “An independent ode, dedicated to the illustrious president of the United States [George Washington], the governour of this commonwealth [Samuel Adams], and all true patriots of liberty.” She issued elegies after the deaths of Ephraim May (a Boston businessman and father-in-law of the luckless schemer Dr. Amos Windship) in 1797 and of Washington in 1799.

A 1799 broadside from Wheaton is titled “On Taking an Affectionate Farewell of My Kind Benefactors in Boston.” I haven’t been able to find the text for that. Its library record suggests it’s about death, making me wonder whether she was announcing that she was mortally ill. Was she publishing a poetic eulogy for herself?

However, Brown University has a Hannah Wheaton broadside titled “For the commencement of a new century,” dated 1801. So she lived to keep writing and selling her verses.

Nobody has spotted a definite link between Wheaton and the print shop of Ezekiel Russell, known for issuing the same type of poetic broadside at any opportunity. Perhaps a close reading of the verses Wheaton signed would reveal similarities to the unsigned verses that came from the Russell shop near the Liberty Pole (and the 1787 broadside newly discovered to have been credited to “Miss H---. W---.”).

But that analysis would require someone with a stronger stomach for eighteenth-century doggerel.

Monday, September 22, 2014

A Clue to the Poet in Ezekiel Russell’s Print Shop?

The September 2014 issue of the American Antiquarian Society’s Almanac magazine reports on the recent acquisition of a 1787 broadside headlined “A Poem, Descriptive of the Terrible Fire, which Made such Shocking Devastation in Boston.” (The picture here is the Rev. Jeremy Belknap’s diagram of the area of that fire in the South End.)

Ezekiel Russell printed three versions of this broadside, all featuring the same woodcut of a fire but with different type layouts below that. The magazine says:
Two versions (one owned by the Massachusetts Historical Society and the other by the John Carter Brown Library) were documented in early bibliographies. The third version was unrecorded before it was acquired by AAS this April.

The authorship of the poem is credited on all three broadsides to “H.W.” The AAS printing significantly reveals that the author was an unmarried woman by crediting the text to a ”Miss H.--- W.---.” Consequently, all three sheets can be added to the just over 200 texts written by women in the United States before 1788.
When looking into that further, I came across WorldCat’s description of the broadside, which includes the line:
Responsibility: Composed by H----h W----n.
I can’t reconcile those final Ns with the magazine’s commentary, though.

Putting that mystery aside, longtime Boston 1775 readers might recall how Isaiah Thomas, printer and founder of the A.A.S., wrote about a woman writing memorial verses for Russell to publish. In the first edition of his History of Printing in America, Thomas credited those verses to Russell’s wife, who I found was named Sarah. In notes incorporated in that book’s posthumous second edition, Thomas changed that reference to “a young woman who lived in Russell’s family.” Was Thomas referring to “H.W.”?

Personally I suspect that Sarah Russell also wrote verses for her husband. She certainly helped keep the shop running from the early 1770s, and it was issuing those sorts of poetic broadsides back then.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

An Expert in Colonial American Literacy

Last week I was saddened to learn of the death of E. Jennifer Monaghan, author of Learning to Read and Write in Colonial America, a necessary source on the experiences of Revolutionary-era children.

Monaghan was eighty-one years old, an emeritus professor at Brooklyn College, and, like many female scholars of her generation, a latecomer to her specialty.

Prof. Monaghan was born in Cambridge, England. She earned a B.A. in classics at Oxford and, with a grant from the English-Speaking Union, an M.A. in Greek at the University of Illinois. Then she met and married Charles Monaghan, an American journalist, and they had three children.

Her obituary explains:
Spurred by her experience as a volunteer reading teacher at a local public school and a fascination with phonics, Jennifer decided to pursue a graduate degree in reading education, receiving an Ed. D. from Yeshiva Graduate School of Education with a dissertation on Noah Webster, which was later published as A Common Heritage: Noah Webster’s Blueback Speller. The book launched her career as a historian of literacy.

Author of dozens of scholarly papers and invited presentations worldwide, she was the founder of the History of Reading Special Interest Group of the International Reading Association and edited the group’s newsletter for 25 years. Their annual best-book award is named after her.
Monaghan’s collection of antique reading textbooks is now at the University of Kansas.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Today at Minute Man Park

Today the Minute Man National Historical Park is hosting a “Battle Road Open House” from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. Visitors can stop in on some of the restored colonial houses in the park, known as “witness houses” since they were already present during the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Among those houses is the William Smith House in Lincoln, home to the captain of the Lincoln Minute Men and his family. Today’s reenactor Lincoln Minute Men have helped to refurbish and refurnish that house with what a typical eighteenth-century farmhouse held:
the walking wheel, for spinning wool; the infant's cradle with reproduction tick and blanket, the kitchen cupboard stocked with redware and pewter; items for cooking on the hearth, a tilt-top table set for tea, a gate-leg table set for Catharine and William's dinner, a desk where the Smiths could pay bills and write correspondence, and much more!
Members of the Lincoln Minute Men will be present in period clothing to welcome visitors. They plan to provide musket-firing demonstrations at 10:00, noon, and 1:00 P.M., as well as drills for children, fife & drum music, and demonstrations of sewing and spinning throughout the day.

In addition, the park and its volunteers have special activities scheduled at other houses:
  • Jacob Whittemore House: Hands-on 1775, experience life in colonial times
  • Hartwell Tavern: Historic Trades and Colonial Food Preparation
  • Meriam House: Site of the beginning of the 16-mile running battle back to Boston
  • Barrett Farm: British Army Uniforms of the American Revolution with the recreated 63rd Regiment of Foot
There’s no entrance fee for this day. Park in the Hartwell Tavern lot to visit that building and the William Smith House.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Why Charles Lee Loved Dogs

Earlier this year I wrote about how John Adams was discovered to have written some indiscreet comments about Gen. Charles Lee: “you must love his Dogs if you love him, and forgive a Thousand Whims for the Sake of the Soldier and the Scholar.”

On 19 Sept 1775, Lee told Dr. Benjamin Rush his view of the situation:
I am much pleas’d that my laughing at Mr Adams's description of me in his intercepted Letter has met with approbation—but I cannot conceive how any man who has any share of understanding cou’d be offended at it.

I am called whimsical and a lover of Dogs. As to the former charge, I am heartily glad that it is my character, for untill the common rotine of mankind is somewhat mended I shall wish to remain and be thought eccentric—and when my honest quadruped Friends are equal’d by the bipeds in fidelity, gratitude, or even good sense I will promise to become as warm a philanthropist as Mr. Addison himself affected to be—to say the truth I think the strongest proof of a good heart is to love Dogs and dislike Mankind.

I know very well that it is hazarding a great deal to profess a dislike to mankind in general, but if you are generous, undesigning and public spirited yourself, you will naturally expect the same in others; and the frequent disappointments We meet with as naturally sours us against the whole species—it certainly appears paradoxical, but if you will examine history you will find all or almost all the Enthusiasts for general liberty had the reputation of being cynically dispos’d—now I chuse to construe a cynical disposition a love of Dogs, in preference to some other animals who are pleas’d to think their convenience, pleasures, and dignity were the only objects of the great Creator of all things.

So much for Dogs and myself.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Mifflins’ Marriage

Yesterday, when we looked in on the Brattle House in Cambridge in August 1775, Continental Army quartermaster general Thomas Mifflin had taken it as his home and office during the siege of Boston.

Three women were already living there: the widow Katherine Wendell, daughter of the house’s Loyalist legal owner; her thirteen-year-old daughter, Martha-Fitch Wendell; and their eighteen-year-old guest, Abigail Collins of Rhode Island.

After a visit to the house in August, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband in Philadelphia with a hint for Mifflin’s wife Sarah:
tell her I do not know whether her Husband is safe here. . . . You hear nothing from the Ladies, but about Major Mifflins easy address, politeness, complasance &c. &c.
Sarah Mifflin set out for Cambridge in the next month.

The Mifflins lived together in the Brattle house over the winter. They hosted Dr. John and Mary Morgan, another Philadelphia couple. They held dinner parties. In fact, it looks like the Mifflins entertained visiting officials in genteel style while dinner at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters down the street was more of a “pot-luck” military affair.

So did that togetherness fend off any rifts in the Mifflins’ marriage? Not for long. By the end of the war, Thomas Mifflin was known for his sexual affairs. After Mifflin was elected governor of Pennsylvania in 1790, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote:
This man was known to be of a very immoral character. He had lived in a state of adultery with many women during the life of his wife, and had children by some of them, whom he educated in his own family. It is said his wife died last summer of a broken heart in consequence of this conduct towards her.
Rush had other reasons to dislike the man, but everyone seems to agree that Mifflin led a “dissipated” later life while also serving as his state’s highest official.

However, the Brattle House was a happier rendezvous for other couples. Abigail Collins met her future husband, Dr. John Warren, when he was working down the street at the army hospital. Martha-Fitch Wendell later married a tutor from Harvard College nearby. And her mother, by keeping on the good side of both military and local officials, kept the estate from being confiscated as the property of a Loyalist.

I’ll have stories of other women in other mansions along Brattle Street in my “Women of Tory Row” walking tour on Saturday afternoon, part of this year’s Cambridge Discovery Day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

“Women of Tory Row” Tour, 20 Sept.

Saturday, 20 September, is this year’s Cambridge Discovery Day. The city’s historical commission has organized a series of walking tours, exhibits, and lectures, most of them free.

I’m leading a tour of Brattle Street called “The Women of Tory Row.” We’ll start at 3:00 at the Tory Row historical marker on the corner of Brattle and Mason Streets. That means we won’t see the Brattle House, now part of the Cambridge Center for Adult Education, so I’ll talk about the ladies in that house now.

William Brattle was a militia general who triggered the “Powder Alarm” of 1-2 September 1774. As soon as he realized his neighbors knew he’d told Gen. Thomas Gage about gunpowder in the county powderhouse, and that those neighbors saw his action as a betrayal, Brattle fled into Boston.

Brattle’s widowed daughter, Katherine Wendell, remained in Cambridge, and remained determined to keep the family property from being damaged or confiscated. Her method, according to descendants, was to obtain “the favor of men in power civil and military.”

During the siege of Boston, when Cambridge housed thousands of Continental soldiers, Mrs. Wendell hosted two teen-aged girls in that house:
  • Her daughter, Martha-Fitch Wendell (1762-1835).
  • Abigail Collins (1757-1832), daughter of a Rhode Island Patriot and an Avery from Boston.
Collins’s son later described them as “two young ladies whose personal qualities rendered them the centre of attraction among the officers of the army.” Not least because there probably weren’t any other upper-class young women around.

By August, Thomas Mifflin of Pennsylvania had accepted the post of quartermaster-general of the army and chose the Brattle house to be his home and office. I suspect Mrs. Wendell moved herself and the girls into back rooms, accommodating the quartermaster to curry his favor and make sure people understood that she still claimed the house.

That month, Abigail Adams sent her husband in Philadelphia a word to pass on to Mifflin’s wife Sarah (shown with him above): “tell her I do not know whether her Husband is safe here. Belona and Cupid have a contest about[.] You hear nothing from the Ladies, but about Major Mifflins easy address, politeness, complasance &c. &c.”

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Incentives Behind the A.P. Test

Having discussed the economic incentives that might fuel some criticism of the new A.P. U.S. History guidelines, I feel I should acknowledge the other side of the coin: the economics behind that revamping.

Advanced Placement exams are administered by the College Board, the same company that handles the S.A.T. In the last decade, the company lost its dominant place in the market for basic standardized college-entrance exams to the A.C.T., or “Iowa Test.” Last year the College Board’s new president announced an effort to revamp the S.A.T.

The Advanced Placement tests remain a College Board exclusive. They also cost more to take. (There are financial-aid programs.) Thus, the firm has an economic incentive to see more high-school students taking A.P. exams.

Before 2011, U.S. History was the College Board’s most popular A.P. test. Even now, more than 400,000 students worldwide take it each year. At about $80 per test, that represents around $32 million in revenue.

The original design of A.P. classes was to provide high-school students with the equivalent of an introductory college course, so they could gain college credits or move on to higher-level courses. Under that purpose, it makes sense to periodically revamp the curricula to make sure they really do reflect the latest college scholarship.

However, these days students may take A.P. exams not to move through college quicker but to burnish their résumés for getting into college. And schools face pressure to offer more A.P. courses. College-application counselor Nancy Griesemer wrote on the Examiner website:
…instead of pushing students forward to complete college faster (an expensive proposition for institutions losing tuition revenue from early graduates), the AP has become the “gold standard” for proving academic excellence in high school and for measuring college readiness. . . . colleges use AP’s as a measure of course rigor. . . .

…ranking of high schools based on number of AP (and IB) classes offered, how many students take the exams and how well they do, feeds this frenzy by suggesting to school administrators that AP’s need to be increased—sometimes in place of more appropriate honors classes—and students need to be pushed into taking these classes earlier in their secondary school careers. . . .

Outside of the classroom and in a measure of self-motivation as well as academic excellence, colleges reinforce the message by appearing to reward students who appear to go beyond course offerings at their schools by studying for and taking AP exams on their own. As a result, a cottage industry of online classes and specialized tutors has developed targeted to preparing students to take AP exams without going through the rigor of taking the AP class.
All of those incentives nudge the associated enterprises away from what should be their goal: that students actually learn the subjects they’re being tested on at an advanced level.

U.S. History, like nearly every topic I know, requires knowledge both of many specific facts and techniques and understanding of concepts and principles. It’s important to know about significant events that led up to the American Revolution; it’s also important to be able to see the conflict from both sides, and to recognize how each group saw the other as escalating the conflict and thus felt justified in escalating as well.

Knowledge of facts is easy to gauge through a standardized test. The College Board’s S.A.T. or achievement test for U.S. History is an hour long and consists entirely of multiple-choice questions. (A little over 100,000 students take that per year.) That sort of test is also easier to cram for.

Understanding is much harder to assess on a massive scale, at least economically. The College Board has designed its A.P. exam to achieve that goal, using document-based questions and essays. The company has every incentive to convince us its methods work. Those methods may well be the best available. I’m just not sure that goal is really achievable.

Monday, September 15, 2014

“Will This Be on the (A.P. U.S. History) Test?”

Larry Krieger, the educator most voluble in his criticism of the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course guidelines, has a quick answer to the fact I documented yesterday: that most of the topics he and his allies say are missing from the new guidelines weren’t in the older, shorter guidelines either.

Krieger has argued those topics indeed didn’t appear in the older guidelines, but they did appear in other documents from the College Board—namely, the A.P. tests themselves. In that online essay he wrote:
In fact, all of the omitted people and events listed above and in my analysis have generated numerous questions on released AP U.S. History exams. For the record, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is one of the most frequently tested APUSH items.
Why would Krieger know that? Because he built a business called Insider Test Prep by analyzing past tests to find out what topics are most likely to appear on future exams.

In 2012, Krieger used CreateSpace to publish The Insider’s Complete Guide to AP US History: The Essential Content. Its approach promises that “students do not need to memorize long lists of names, dates, places, events, and terms.” Instead, they can memorize shorter lists: “65 key terms that are regularly tested on the APUSH exam”; “Over 100 sidebar tips that tell students what to ignore and what to study”; “20 Top Ten list of key people, events, Supreme Court cases, reformers and books.”

Krieger based his book on the College Board’s existing guidelines and samples, with “40 chronological chapters that follow the College Board’s AP US History Course Description outline” and “Over 25 references to specific essays and DBQ’s found at the College Board’s authoritative AP Central website.” He promises customers that his guide “ignores topics that rarely generate questions while focusing on topics that generate the overwhelming majority of test questions.” He has argued that “This predictable clustering of questions on key figures and events enabled teachers to efficiently prepare their students for the APUSH exam.” If the course changes significantly, his book becomes less valuable.

The same change might make the next edition more valuable. Tax lawyers know that any significant change in the tax laws generates more income for them because their clients need new advice. Publishers know that a new software release is an opportunity to issue new primers on that software. And a guide to the radically new A.P. U.S. History course would probably do better than an old one.

If, that is, the same approach can work. But what if it can’t? Back in April, Trevor Packer of the College Board responded to Krieger’s complaints by saying:
Krieger is a prolific author of “Crash Course” guides to a number of AP courses, the SAT, and the SAT-II. As someone deeply invested in the test preparation industry, Krieger cannot be expected to welcome the way that AP courses and exams are being revised to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization. His perspective only makes sense once one recalls that Krieger’s publications emphasize a test-prep, memorization mentality that will no longer be privileged in revised AP exams.
The new course’s emphasis on “Historical Thinking Skills” and “Thematic Learning Objectives” is evidently the company’s attempt to “to emphasize inquiry and depth at the expense of memorization.”

Whether that’s possible within the confines of a standardized national annual exam is another question. As I wrote before, I don’t have the relevant experience teaching or taking A.P. U.S. History courses to answer that. The exam will still have multiple-choice questions and essays to be evaluated in bulk, like a lot of other tests American students take these days. People may well discover ways to take advantage of that system—identifying what to memorize and what to ignore, as Krieger says he did.

But to get back there, Krieger would need to build up a new database of exam questions. Which might explain why one of his repeated complaints is that the College Board isn’t letting people like him know exactly what will be on the test. And the R.N.C. has echoed him with an official complaint: “the College Board is not making its sample examination available for public review, thus maintaining secrecy about what U. S. students are actually being tested on”.

Again, I’m not a classroom teacher, but my strong impression is that good educators don’t like students to ask, “Is this going to be on the test?” with an obvious plan to tune out if it isn’t. And if, say, a big city school department demanded to be told in detail what parts of American history would be on an upcoming national test to ensure that its curriculum “ignores topics that rarely generate questions,” I’d expect Republicans to deplore that as a sign of falling educational standards. But that’s exactly what Krieger and the R.N.C. seem to demand.

Krieger’s economic interest in seeing the A.P. U.S. History test stay the same for another few years is apparent, but that’s not necessarily what motivates his animus toward the new guidelines. Similarly, all evidence suggests that Thomas Hutchinson would have supported enforcing the Tea Act of 1773 even if he didn’t have thousands of pounds invested in his sons’ tea-importing business, and that George Washington would have supported U.S. expansion to the west even if he didn’t own vast tracts of land in those territories. Still, the conflation of public good and personal economic interests never looks good.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Looking for the R.N.C.’s “Critical Topics” in A.P. U.S. History

Having found the 2006-07 version of the College Board’s guidelines for the Advanced Placement U.S. History test (P.D.F. download), I decided to test it against the objections listed in the Republican National Committee’s resolution from last month.

The R.N.C. based its complaint on the claim that the new guidelines (P.D.F. download) omitted “critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course,” though without specifying evidence for that assertion. “Always” is an easily tested claim.

The committee’s specific complaints about the new guidelines (as opposed to hard-to-measure value judgments) are:
little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history, and many other critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course.
The 2006-07 booklet doesn’t mention “the Founding Fathers.” It doesn’t include the phrases “Continental Congress” or “Constitutional Convention.” The names of Washington, Hamilton, and Jefferson appear in connection to the early Presidency but not the founding moments. The booklet doesn’t mention Franklin, Adams, Madison, and most other political leaders of the period at all.

That booklet includes the Declaration of Independence only as an example of “familiar classics” that might be part of the test’s document-based essay questions. It doesn’t discuss the Declaration’s “principles.”

The older booklet lists “Religion” as one of the “Themes” in American history to be considered. The word “religion” appears 7 times in that 54-page booklet, as opposed to 29 times in the new 142-page booklet; in sum, that word appears significantly more often in the new guidelines.

the Framework excludes discussion of the U. S. military (no battles, commanders, or heroes)
The old guidelines mention “the attack on Pearl Harbor” but no other battle. Washington, Jackson, and Kennedy appear, but as Presidents, not as “commanders, or heroes.” I saw no individual wartime commander or hero named.

Variations on the word “military” appear 5 times in the older booklet, thrice in the sample multiple-choice questions. Again, that word appears significantly more often in the new booklet: 32 times.

the Framework…omits many other individuals, groups, and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history (for example, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen, the Holocaust)
Not one of those “individuals, groups, and events” appears in the 2006-07 guidelines.

The R.N.C.’s complaint thus appears to be that the old course guidelines were better even though they didn’t include those “critical topics” because the new guidelines, while including much more material (and therefore being much longer), don’t include every topic that critics can think of.

That objection doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. As I wrote before, it’s obvious the College Board isn’t trying to limit A.P. class teachers to only the topics specifically mentioned in the new booklet. It states themes and explicitly gives teachers flexibility to choose how to cover those themes while naming a few examples. If teachers “always” covered subjects that weren’t explicitly mentioned in the guidelines before, there’s no rational reason to conclude they won’t cover those same subjects now.

Second, at the same time the R.N.C. was making the complaints above, it was also complaining that the new guidelines don’t “respect the sovereignty of state standards.” In other words, the committee said there should be no national standards, but also that advanced U.S. history courses are fatally flawed if they don’t include the names, topics, and messages its members prefer.

Like most people who have argued for “state sovereignty” in U.S. history (like the Vice President pictured above), the R.N.C. would actually like to apply its own policies to the whole nation at once if it only could.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The “5-Page Topic Outline” and the “98-Page Framework”

One of the common complaints about the new Advanced Placement U.S. History Course guidelines is that they’re so much longer than they were before. For instance, World Magazine reported:
The new framework is 98 pages long, compared to the five-page topic outline teachers used previously, [critic Larry] Krieger said.
That criticism from Krieger, founder of Insider Test Prep (shown here), has been echoed on a lot of websites; just look for the phrase “five-page [or 5-page] topic outline” and the mention of “98 pages.”

That struck me as another claim about the College Board’s new course guidelines (P.D.F. download) that could be objectively tested. So I looked for the older guidelines, and found a set labeled for May 2006 and May 2007 (P.D.F. download). And I looked at them side by side. Does that comparison hold up as accurate and fair? Not really.

To start with, I can’t figure out why Krieger describes “the new framework” as “98 pages long.” The entire booklet is 142 pages, including title page, contents, index, and those pages paradoxically printed “This Page Is Intentionally Left Blank.” The Framework starts on page 9. Ninety-eight pages later takes us to page 106, which is in the middle of the sample questions. The page header “The AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework” continues until page 119. So that actually looks like 111 pages of Framework material, not including the index for it.

The pages under the “AP U.S. History Curriculum Framework” header include sections titled “Introduction,” “Historical Thinking Skills,” “Thematic Learning Objectives,” “The Concept Outline,” “The AP U.S. History Exam,” and “Sample Exam Questions.” So if we want to fairly compare the Framework’s length to the older version, we have to include all the equivalent sections in the older booklet.

Turning to that older booklet, I find that the “five-page Topic Outline” actually takes up five and half pages, so that count is off by 10%. Furthermore, that “Topic Outline” looks like the equivalent of the “Concept Outline” section in the new booklet—i.e., just one of the relevant sections. The earlier booklet also contains sections titled “Introduction,” “The AP U.S. History Exam,” “Themes in AP U.S. History,” another page about teaching the course, and “The Exam” with sample questions. Those total to 33 pages.

Obviously the expansion of 33 pages into 111 is significant—the new guidelines are more than three times as long as the old ones. But Krieger and everyone parroting his figures (without apparently checking them) have transformed that into an explosion from 5 pages to 98—more than nineteen times longer! That doesn’t show a great concern for accuracy or fairness.

Turning from quantity to quality, the older booklet’s “Themes in AP U.S. History” simply lists topics. Here’s one section as an example:
4. The American Revolutionary Era
The French and Indian War
The Imperial Crisis and resistance to Britain
The War for Independence
State constitutions and the Articles of Confederation
The federal Constitution
There’s no exact equivalent to that section in the new guidelines, but to show how they treat some of the same ideas, here’s Key Concept 3.2.II on the transition from the Articles of Confederation to the new Constitution.

Obviously, the new treatment has a lot more words. It’s not just a short list of concepts and buzzwords, but a series of complete sentences connecting those concepts. And it offers more concepts to consider, as well as possible examples for discussion.

In fact, if one were interested in educating young people about the historical transition from the Articles to the Constitution, one might even say the information in the new guidelines is important, pertinent, and useful.

But apparently it’s too long.

TOMORROW: The missing names.

Friday, September 12, 2014

What Lies Behind Complaints about the A.P. U.S. History Test

One of the hot topics is American historiography lately has been an attack on the new Advanced Placement U.S. History course and test guidelines (P.D.F. download).

Last month the Republican National Committee passed a resolution calling for those guidelines to be both rewritten and investigated.

The National Council for History Education, the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians have dismissed such attacks as unfounded and politically motivated. (I was interested in what the right-leaning Historical Society might say, but it’s out of action.)

I’ve never been a classroom teacher. I haven’t taken an A.P. U.S. History course in more than thirty years, and I didn’t take the exam back then because I didn’t think my class had been adequate. So I don’t feel qualified to speak to how the new guidelines will affect those high-school classes compared to what teachers had to work with before this summer.

But I can read two documents and compare them, and I’ve concluded that the R.N.C. resolution on the College Board’s guidelines is based on false statements and double standards. I don’t know whether the committee member who proposed the resolution, Tamara Scott of Iowa (shown above with party chair Reince Priebus), was responsible for those deceptions or was duped by someone else. But it’s obvious that her description of the College Board guidelines is inaccurate—so inaccurate that it’s hard to believe that a rational person acting without malice came up with it.

Before getting to the specifics, it’s valuable to consider what those guidelines are meant to be. The College Board says it’s revised the A.P. test to focus on historical thinking. The guidelines start with sections on “Historical Thinking Skills” and “Thematic Learning Objectives.” Then there’s a chronological “Concept Outline”; after stating each concept in a sentence or two, those sections say, “Teachers have flexibility to use examples such as the following:…”

Those examples are obviously not supposed to be exclusive—i.e., the only examples teachers should cover. They’re not even presented as requirements that all teachers should cover. At best, one might say that the College Board strongly suggests that A.P. U.S. History teachers include those topics in their lessons. But the guidelines clearly and repeatedly stress “flexibility.”

The guidelines’ critics have instead chosen to read the concepts and examples in the most narrow-eyed way, deciding that if the document doesn’t mention a particular person or topic by name, it has been omitted from the course and the test. Thus, the R.N.C. claims: “the Framework includes little or no discussion of the Founding Fathers, the principles of the Declaration of Independence, the religious influences on our nation’s history,…”

That contention doesn’t survive a moment’s examination. Key Concept 3.2.I.B says:
The colonists’ belief in the superiority of republican self-government based on the natural rights of the people found its clearest American expression in Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and in the Declaration of Independence.
Key Concept 3.2.II is:
After experiencing the limitations of the Articles of Confederation, American political leaders wrote a new Constitution based on the principles of federalism and separation of powers, crafted a Bill of Rights, and continued their debates about the proper balance between liberty and order.
How could anyone teach about the “American political leaders [who] wrote a new Constitution” without discussing the “Founding Fathers”?

As for “the religious influences on our nation’s history,” variations on the word “religion” appear in the guidelines twenty-nine times. The document refers to “Bartolomé de las Casas,” “converts to Christianity,” “the Great Awakening,“ “the Second Great Awakening,” “Protestant evangelism,” the “Women’s Christian Temperance Union,” and “the growth of religious fundamentalism” in recent decades. That is not “little or no discussion.”

Likewise, the word “military” appears thirty-two times, yet the R.N.C. resolution states:
the Framework excludes discussion of the U. S. military (no battles, commanders, or heroes)…
The possible examples for teachers include the “Battle of Fallen Timbers,” “Gettysburg,” “Little Big Horn,” and “Pearl Harbor,” which are all battles. The R.N.C.’s statement is factually wrong, and since a simple keyword search for “military” and “battle” would have been enough to check that, I can only conclude that someone lied.

As a sign of how badly the Republican National Committee was stretching to justify its complaint, its resolution refers to ”the College Board (a private organization unaccountable to the public).” Of course, the same description applies to any business, any private school, and the R.N.C. itself. When exactly did the Republican Party decide that private institutions were ipso facto suspicious, and how long after last month’s meeting did that feeling last?

It’s mildly amusing to note how the committee’s examples of “other individuals and events that greatly shaped our nation’s history” yet don’t appear in the guidelines have been carefully chosen not to include any white Christians: “Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King, Tuskegee Airmen, the Holocaust.” What are the odds of that?

In fact, that game of pointing to left-out names can be endless. The guidelines discuss the post-World War II civil rights movement in detail, and if the R.N.C. believes teaching that topic means excluding Martin Luther King, they can try to make that argument to the public. Meanwhile, I’ll ask why the committee didn’t note the inclusion of David Walker, Robert Smalls, Fannie Lou Hamer, and several other African-American activists. Perhaps its members didn’t recognize their names? Did the committee’s choice not to list W. E. B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and Cesar Chavez among the omitted mean that it feels those people should have no place in U.S. history courses? That’s the same logic its resolution applies to the College Board.

Finally, the R.N.C. resolution puts a lot of weight on how “the APUSH course has traditionally been designed to present a balanced view of American history,” and “critical topics that have always been part of the APUSH course,” in contrast to this new approach. However, it doesn’t do the basic historical work of citing documents to justify those statements—for example, a previous set of guidelines from the College Board listing all the topics the committee complains have been excluded and not listing any it claims have been wrongly added.

In fact, the College Board has never issued guidelines this long and detailed. It did so because the switch to emphasizing historical thinking over memorizable facts is a big one for teachers and students. We can debate whether that goal is possible within our present system of standardized testing. Instead, the R.N.C. (“a private organization unaccountable to the public”) has made up its own incomplete standards of what U.S. history should be, projected them into the past, and called for a Congressional investigation into why the College Board isn’t following them to the letter.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Great Hamilton

Ten years ago Hamilton, Ohio, founded in 1791, installed a statue of its namesake, Alexander Hamilton. (The city has branded itself as a “City of Sculpture.”)

Kristen Visbal won the competition to design and produce the Hamilton statue. As you can see, its most striking feature is the thirteen-star American flag that the Federalist politician is shown wearing as a cape, billowing from his shoulders. In fact, the official name of the statue is “The American Cape.”

At over twelve feet high, this is said to be the largest statue of Hamilton in existence, bigger than Boston’s, the Treasury Department’s, Columbia University’s, or Paterson, New Jersey’s.

However, the marble statue of Hamilton made for the New York Merchants Exchange in 1835 is said to have been fourteen feet high on its base—I don’t know how that compares. That tribute was on display for less than a year before being destroyed when the building burned down.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Smithsonian to Restore Landsdowne Portrait Starting in 2016

The “Landsdowne portrait” of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1796 and purchased by the Smithsonian in 2001, is scheduled to be cleaned and restored starting in 2016. The Associated Press reports:
Conservators wanted to clean and restore the painting for many years, but the museum was reluctant to take it off view. The painting is in good condition but does have problems, including paint losses in Washington’s black coat, said CindyLou Molnar, the museum’s head of conservation [shown above]. The biggest problem is the heavy yellow varnish that disguises details in the painting.

“It will take me quite a while to figure out what it will take to safely remove the yellow resinous varnish and not disturb the actual paint surface,” Molnar said.

In 2001, film X-rays of the painting revealed some changes Stuart made in the picture. In one case, he moved a quill ink pen on the table beside Washington. The images showed how Stuart was having trouble adjusting the figure and objects in his original portrait, Molnar said. New technology will provide a clearer image beneath the surface. It’s not clear, though, whether any new discoveries will be made.
There will also be a “refreshing” of the museum’s galleries of Presidential portraits to tell more about each man and his administration. The U.S. government has long owned a backup copy of this portrait, which could presumably be moved over from the White House to the Smithsonian during the study and conservation period.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

A Sedimental Education

Heather Hoppe-Bruce wrote an op-ed essay in the Sunday Boston Globe about what might be unearthed in a new Boston harbor dredging project. Among the possibilities:
HMS Diana

On May 28, 1775, during the Battle of Chelsea Creek, this schooner was abandoned, captured by provincial forces, then set ablaze and run aground. As this battle was the first naval engagement of the American Revolution, the HMS Diana site would be a major find. Could ship remnants still exist by the creek’s entrance? The state’s Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources thinks so and has requested additional survey work on the site. . . .

The Magnifique

Pilot error may have stranded this 74-gun French war ship on a Lovells Island shoal in 1782. The crew then completely stripped the ship and abandoned it, which was the end of the Magnifique but the start of more than 200 years of rumors and political intrigue regarding how exactly she ran aground. The ship’s remains were allegedly last seen in the mid-1800s.
In other French naval news, a replica eighteenth-century warship is undergoing her first test on the water:
A life-size replica of the Hermione, the French navy frigate made famous when it carried General Lafayette to Boston to help fight in the American War of Independence, embarks on its maiden voyage Sunday, more than 200 years after the original one.

Thousands of spectators lined the port of Rochefort on France’s west coast, where both the original and the replica were built, to watch the reproduced vessel set off on several weeks of sea trials in the Atlantic Ocean.

The moment has been a long time coming – a group of restoration enthusiasts first embarked on the arduous task of recreating the three-masted vessel, using only eighteenth-century shipbuilding techniques, back in 1997.

They were forced to wait a little longer for the new Hermione to take to the seas after the launch, originally planned for Saturday, was delayed due to a build-up of sediment at the port.
If all goes well, the Hermione is scheduled to visit the U.S. of A. in 2015.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Life in Boylston at Turn of the Nineteenth Century

I wanted to note an article from a regional edition of the Boston Globe last month, about a project at the Boylston Historical Society transcribing the diary of Simon Davis from 1796 to 1810.

Most of the journal entries on specific dates record whimsical observations about the weather, as well as casual remarks about the writer’s moods and work. Many of the entries are short and not well punctuated, as if Davis didn’t have much time to write:
“Tuesday 24th. Warm drying day. J.P. returned safe. Nothing special from Paxton, only it seems if sister Patty is on the verge of matrimony.”

“Tuesday 31st. Fair day — Deeply engaged painting of my shop. My paint consists of Cod oil, Spanish brown, Rosin of brimstone — Much of the smell of brimstone. Newton arrived from Brattleboro.”
In other entries, Davis reveals his political inclinations, such as in a diatribe against the town’s decision to purchase a bell for the local church in 1796. Few in his part of town supported the idea, according to Davis, and, akin to many of today’s debates about special interests in government, he rails at the group he believes snuck the purchase through Town Hall.

“Have paid towards it about 2 dollars. I suppose the town of Boylston granted a sum of money to purchase the bell! Another instance of a small or even larger Country Town furnishing themselves with a bell by a tax on its inhabitants at large. . . At this juncture, it seemed that certain designing individuals conceived it good policy in Town to pick the pockets of those who had no part or lot with them while it was in their power.”
In 1808 Simon Davis’s section of town broke away as West Boylston. That showed them.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

At the Salisbury Mansion

This is the Salisbury Mansion in Worcester, where I’ll be speaking today at noon about “The Breakdown of Royal Rule in Massachusetts, September 1774.” This is one of many events in the city commemorating the local events of that month.

Back in 1919 a book called Some Historic Houses of Worcester said:
Of all the notable dwellings in this vicinity of a century past the old Salisbury Mansion alone remains,—a watchful sentinel since the year 1772, when Stephen Salisbury [1746-1829] erected it for his home. Mr. Salisbury, of the commercial house of Samuel and Stephen Salisbury, was a merchant and one of the leading importers of Boston. In order to expand their business, the brothers opened a store in Worcester, Stephen Salisbury coming here for that purpose in 1767 and beginning business in a small building that then stood north of Lincoln Square. For three years Mr. Salisbury boarded at Timothy Paine’s first home on Lincoln Street. Not long after this the young merchant built the mansion in Lincoln Square, where he lived for many years with his mother, to whom he was most devoted.
The store was closed in the 1810s and that part of the building heavily remodeled, so the original Georgian mansion became more Federal.
To-day the mansion of the first Salisbury fronts the steady traffic in Lincoln Square and the streets that branch from it. It is in full view of the site of the school-house where taught John Adams, second President of the United States; of the site of the Timothy Bigelow House, from which Colonel Bigelow departed to join the minutemen at Lexington; of the site of the old Hancock Arms, where occurred Revolutionary events; of Lincoln Street and the old Boston Road, over which have passed so many noted men; and of the equally famous Main Street, down which the old mansion witnessed the march of Washington when he passed through Worcester to take command of the troops at Cambridge in 1775.
Note that all those “sites” no longer have the buildings on them. And that in 1929 the Salisbury Mansion was moved away from Lincoln Square to its present location, 40 Highland Street. It has sequentially been the property of the American Antiquarian Society, the Worcester Art Museum, the Worcester Employment Society, the Salisbury Mansion Associates, and now the Worcester Historical Museum.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Matter “of too small importance to be noticed”

Here’s another snapshot of the situation in Massachusetts in September 1774, from the records of the Worcester Convention.

The Whigs were trying to stop all court proceedings under the Massachusetts Government Act to communicate their belief that law violated the constitution. A court clerk in Worcester County, Samuel Paine (1753-1807), was continuing to issue summons for jury duty, and the convention demanded an explanation.

On 21 September, the convention read this message from Paine:
To the several gentlemen of the committees of correspondence for the county of Worcester, now convened in Worcester,


I thought I gave you all the satisfaction, relative to my issuing the warrants, at your last meeting, which could reasonably be expected: still, you have demanded of me more. As I considered myself, in that matter, as acting merely officially, and, as such, had no right to judge of the propriety or impropriety of the act of parliament, and my issuing the warrants gave the people, who were the only judges, an opportunity to determine for themselves whether they should be complied with or not, upon this representation, I hope I shall stand fair in the eye of my countrymen.

Should not this be a sufficient excuse for me, you must know, gentlemen, that I was regularly appointed clerk of the peace for this county, by the justices, in September last, and, as the said justices of the court of general sessions of the peace, as well as the inferior court of common pleas for this county, whose servant I am, on the sixth day of September current, did give assurance to the body of the people of this county, then assembled at Worcester, that they would not endeavor to put said act in execution, so, gentlemen, I give you the same assurance.

Your devoted servant,
The convention voted that that letter was “not satisfactory” and turned it over to a committee composed of Joseph Henshaw (1727-1794) of Leicester, Timothy Bigelow (1739-1790) of Worcester, and Ephraim Doolittle (d. 1802 at an old age) of Petersham. After “some time,” those men came up with this recommendation:
The letter appears to have been written by a young man, who, by his connections, has lately started into the office of clerk of the sessions and inferior court, through the indulgence of the bench of justices. The letter is affrontive to the convention, and in no respect answers their reasonable requisitions.

Considering the person who wrote it, the committee are of opinion, it is of too small importance to be noticed any further by the convention, and therefore recommend, that said letter be dismissed, and the person treated with all neglect.
Oh, snap!

Friday, September 05, 2014

John and Dorothy Hancock’s Chariot, on display 6 Sept.

On 21 Jan 1778, the New Jersey Gazette published this news item:
The owners of the privateer, Civil Usage, of Newburyport, have made a present to the Honorable John Hancock, Esq., of an elegant coach which was lately taken in one of their prizes, as a token of their respect for that gentleman, who has so nobly distinguished himself in the present contest with Great Britain, as the friend of his country.
Several weeks later, the 11 March Pennsylvania Ledger, published in British-occupied Philadelphia, quoted a less laudatory comment on the same development from a letter:
John Hancock of Boston appears in public with all the pageantry and state of an Oriental prince. He rides in an elegant chariot, which was taken in a prize to the “Civil Usage,” a pirate vessel, and by the owners presented to him. He is attended by four servants, dressed in superb livery, mounted on fine horses richly caparisoned, and escorted by fifty horsemen with drawn sabres, the one half of whom precede, and the other follow, his carriage. So, at present, figures this man, who owes his greatness to his country’s ruin.
The last line was quoting from Addison’s Cato.

That chariot ended up as part of the collection of the Dorothy Quincy Homestead in Quincy, childhood home of Hancock’s wife now owned by the Colonial Dames of Massachusetts. At some point in the 1800s the wheels were removed and replaced with runners, so it became a small sleigh.

This year the city of Quincy provided a grant to restore the chariot. Blackburn Conservation repainted the exterior, upholstered the interior while preserving the original embroidery, strengthened the structure, and put the sleigh on runners that approximate the vehicle’s original height.

The newly restored chariot/sleigh can be seen on “Discover Quincy Days,” 6 September and 4 October. On those Saturdays the Dorothy Quincy Homestead will open for tours between 10 A.M. and 4 P.M. The tours are free, but donations will be welcome.

[Photograph above by Patrick Ronan for the Quincy Patriot-Ledger. Hat tip to Graeme Marsden for alerting me to this story.]