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 31, 2015

More Woes for Cyrus Baldwin

Guest blogger Chris Hurley finishes up his look at the merchant Cyrus Baldwin.

This series so far has revolved around one incident: how Cyrus Baldwin’s 26 pounds of (technically non-odious) Bohea tea was stolen from his brother’s cart near Winter Hill on 4 Jan 1774 and dumped in the river by some who “tho’t it an Insult to be sent through their Town.” The Charlestown Committee of Correspondence refused to involve themselves in the matter.

Baldwin continued to have difficulties as the war approached. His 24 Oct 1774 ad in the Boston Gazette carried a postscript assuring people he was “neither Addresser, Protester, nor Roman Catholick”—suggesting some were saying he was a Loyalist or worse. A 6 Mar 1775 ad in the same newspaper saw him distressed, selling his English and Scotch goods at “50 per cent from the Sterling Cost.”

On 2 May 1776, after the siege of Boston, Baldwin’s ad in the New-England Chronicle indicates that his Boston shop had been looted by the evacuating British troops (and Crean Brush likely). It said that “he once more requests all those who are indebted to him on note, book or otherwise to make speedy payment to him at Woburn, where”—being the indefatigable merchant he was—he was selling sugar, rum, coffee, and “sundry other articles.”

But those setbacks were nothing compared to what Cyrus Baldwin suffered back at Winter Hill in 1784. That was still a sparsely settled stretch on the road between Charlestown and Medford, all but unavoidable if one was traveling to Woburn. Boston’s Continental Journal of 29 July reported:
Mr. Cyrus Baldwin of Woburn, crossing Winter Hill, was attacked by three foot pads who robbed him of his watch and money and, after abusing him very much, made off.
Boston’s Independent Ledger for 26 July had more detail. In addition to robbing Baldwin of 14 shillings and his pinchbeck watch—which this article described very thoroughly—the criminals had beaten Baldwin badly:
during the greatest part of the time they were stripping him, one of the villians was dealing very heavy blows with a club on the left side of his head, and cut his scalp in several places: ’tis hoped they will not prove mortal
The wounds did not prove mortal. And in a stroke of good luck for justice, the theives were apprehended after a subsequent unsuccessful attack on another man. The Continental Journal stated:
At the house where they were concealed was found the watch, purse, pocket-book, &c. of which Mr. Baldwin was robbed.
This time, unlike 1774, the law prosecuted the attack on Winter Hill. The 23 Nov 1784 Connecticut Courant of Hartford reported:
Boston, November 15. Thursday next Barrack and Sullivan, who robbed Mr. Cyrus Baldwin on Winter-hill, and who attempted to rob Major John Swan on Boston neck, as lately mentioned, are to be executed at Cambridge—
(The 27 July Salem Gazette and other Massachusetts papers had reported the second victim was James Swan, shown above.)

The 24 November Massachusetts Spy confirmed the sentence was carried out:
On Thursday last were executed at Cambridge, pursuant to their sentence,…Richard Barrack and John Sullivan for highway-robbery.
Six years later, Cyrus Baldwin died of drowning in Dunstable; that day, 5 Nov 1790, was his fiftieth birthday.

Samuel Thompson of Woburn wrote in his diary two days afterward: “Cyrus Baldwin, Esquire’s, corpse brought to Woburn.” In all the news items and advertisements examined for this story, I never saw Cyrus Baldwin honored with the sobriquet “Esquire” until his death. But that was how the Herald of Freedom reported him on 9 November:
Died]—at Dunstable, the 4th inst. CYRUS BALDWIN, Esq. formerly of Boston.—His funeral will be this afternoon, at two o’clock, from the house of his brother Loammi Baldwin, Esq. at Woburn—where the friends and acquantence of the deceased are desired to attend.
And thus ends the luckless story of Cyrus Baldwin. Thanks for sharing his ups and (mostly) downs, Chris Hurley!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Cyrus Baldwin Can’t Get No Satisfaction

Chris Hurley continues the story of Woburn’s own Baldwin brothers and their unsellable tea.

The story to date: Three weeks after the dumping of the tea in Boston harbor, Cyrus Baldwin, merchant of Boston, and his brother Loammi, gentleman farmer of Woburn, tried to smuggle safely transport tea through Charlestown. A shady “Committee of Suspicion” confiscated and destroyed the tea. In a letter now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Cyrus sought redress from the Charlestown Committee of Correspondence.

His letter wasn’t the only one. Four of the five members of Woburn’s Committee of Correspondence also wrote to their counterpart committee in Charlestown, all on behalf of their fifth member—Loammi Baldwin (shown here). After a bit of circumlocution framed in patriotic rhetoric, their letter starts to get specific:

Som* violent measures we know have been rendered necessary, in order to make a proper Stand against those incroachments that have been made upon our Liberties—But the measures that we would now draw your attention to, we look upon as violent, unjust, & cruel.
The Woburn writers then relate the attack on Loammi Baldwin’s ox-cart and teamster, and the confiscation of Cyrus Baldwin’s tea, but pointedly omit Cyrus Baldwin’s name and sibling relationship to Loammi. In fact, they attempt to distance Loammi, themselves, and Woburn as a whole from the tea itself.
[Loammi Baldwin’s] Team was stopped on the King’s highway, in sd Town; his Teamster abused—his Cart robed of several articles, belonging to him, And at the same time about 26 lbs of Tea, not belonging to him, nor any man in this Town—but only to be conveyed for a Gentleman, by his favour, to some distant place.
Ah, so the tea may not have been bound for Woburn after all. It could have been going anywhere. The letter tries to play off the privileged status of the gentility as exempt from interference by commoners. The Woburn letter ends framing their desire for compensation to the Baldwin’s as being one with the cause of liberty, declaring:
We Trust you will by no means encourage or connive at such Conduct as this, which is so dishonorary and predudicial to the Cause in which we are engaged—but will use your influence to detect & punish the aggressors—and will indeavour that proper compensation be made to the Sufferers.
Charlestown replied—first to the Woburn committee, then to Cyrus—with polite “get lost” letters. Here are excerpts from the Charlestown committee’s copies of those two letters:
We conceive, when the Town appointed us to this honorable Trust, they expected that we should attend to such Grievances of a publick Nature only as there was no legal Remedy for. . . . We can no Means suppose ourselves authorized to interfere in private Matters, where the legal Remedy is plainly pointed out. As to the Fact refer’d to in your letter, this is the first authentick Intelligence we have had of it, a Rumour has prevailed, that something of that kind had taken Place.
They then cast doubt on the honesty of Loammi’s teamster and chided Loammi:
It is generaly doubted whether the Teamster was ever assaulted or not. Nay if he was assaulted there is no reason to suppose any of the Inhabitants of this Town were concerned in it.

But this we dare affirm, that either the Teamster Who relates the Matter, or the Persons who are said to have attacked him, were guilty of an infamous Falsehood, in declaring that they were employed in this Business by Charlestown. . . . We are extremly sorry, that Mr. Baldwin at this trying Time after the Body of the People at Boston had resolved “that the Use of Tea was improper & pernicious” should become a Carrier of that detested Article.
Concluding with:
We can take no Notice of this Matter. Whenever the Committee of Correspondence for the Town of Woburn have any thing to communicate to us, which falls within our Province, we will chearfully attend to it. ———— And with sincere Attachement to the Cause of Liberty, your humble Servants
And be sure not to let the door hit you on the way out, Woburn.

What about that asterisk in Woburn’s letter, shown in the first quoted passage above? It led to a footnote which read simply, “Ed. Andrus.” Edmund Andros had been deposed as governor of the Dominion of New England in a popular rebellion in 1689. Interesting that Woburn went back as far as that as an illustration of necessary “violent measures.” I take that as a signal that in early 1774 the town was ready to support another insurrection, if called for. But obviously the Charlestown committee thought that destroying a barrel of tea was acceptable as well.

TOMORROW: More woes for Cyrus Baldwin.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

"This side Winter Hill": Cyrus Baldwin Tells his Story

Yesterday guest blogger Chris Hurley promised untold details about the dumping of a barrel of tea in Charlestown in January 1774. That incident was reported in Massachusetts newspapers with no names attached. This posting picks up the story.

From the Massachusetts Historical Society’s Miscellaneous Bound Manuscripts, a letter from Cyrus Baldwin to the Charlestown Committee of Correspondence:
Boston Jany 25 1774


On the 4th Instant I was sending a quantity of Goods to my brother Mr Loammi Baldwin at Woburn & pack’d a bag containing 26 lb. Bohea Tea into a Barrel not for secrecy but for safety of conveyance. In the evening the Team was stoped just on this side Winter hill and the driver interogated by three or four men who called themselves a Commitee of Suspiscion for Charlestown: what goods he had & whether any Tea? To which he answered generally that he knew nothing what goods were in the Cart. Upon which they insisted upon probing, & abused and drove off the Teamster, broke open the cask that contained the Tea, carry'd off the bag with the Tea—& some other articles are missing.
Cyrus Baldwin’s property had been stolen. But because his property was tea, who would be sympathetic to his complaint?
I cannot harbour the least suspicion that any Gentlemen of Charlestown, much less any of the respectable Committe of Correspondance were knowing to or any way incouraging such high handed Villany, yet as they assumed the character of a Committee from the Town of Charlestown I think it my incumbant duty to the Inhabitants of Charlestown to inform you of the above particulars, not doubting but you will properly resent such Wickedness perpetuated in the name of the Town, & if it is in your power, promise me satisfaction for my loss.
Why ask the Charlestown Committee for redress? Why not go to the Law?
I think it not proper or advisable to make a public stir about it just at present, least the Enemies to the good cause which we have imbarked in should triumph in our Divisions. But unless a speedy & intire stop be put to such attacks upon private property we shall fall into a greater Evil than we are endeavouring to avoid.

All which is submitted to your wisdom and confidence.

Your most respectfull and obediant Humble Serv't,
Cyrus Baldwin.

I shall inteem it a favour you'd return an answer as soon as convenience will permitt.
The Charlestown Committee did answer quickly.

TOMORROW: Cyrus Baldwin can’t get no satisfaction.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tea “not intended to be smuggled”

This “guest blogger” posting continues Chris Hurley’s story of Cyrus Baldwin and his surplus tea.

We left Cyrus Baldwin sitting on a stockpile of tea in January 1774, weeks after the Tea Party. Other Boston dealers in tea were likely in a similar situation.

Early that month, one tea dealer realized there was no future in selling Bohea tea in Boston and tried to move his supply out of town. As reported on page one of the 13 January issue of the Massachusetts Spy:
Last week a barrel of Bohea tea which was attempted to be smuggled into some of the country towns, was detected and stopped at Charlestown, soon after it crossed the ferry, and the whole contents emptied into the river.
And the Spy was late to the story; the Essex Gazette and the Boston Evening-Post had it before them. In fact, the same day as the Spy item, the Boston News-Letter published an update:
We hear that the Barrel of Tea which was emptied into the River at Charlestown last Week, was not intended to be smuggled, as reported; it being Part of some that had been imported here before the East India Company’s Tea arrived, and publickly advertised for Sale: The Tea it is said belonged to Persons who are esteemed Friends to Liberty, and was sent, with other Goods, to a Trader in the Country: But the Inhabitants of Charlestown having resolved against the Use of that Article. and burnt their own, some of them tho’t it an Insult to be sent through their Town, and destroyed it as reported.
Clearly some people knew the names of the “Persons who are esteemed Friends to Liberty” who owned that tea, but that secret did not appear in the newspapers.

There were dozens of tea dealers in Boston, and any of them might have wanted to move their supply out of town. The route across the ferry to Charlestown suggested that the intended destination was north of the Charles River; otherwise, that barrel would probably have been shipped out by the Neck. But otherwise those reports offer no information about who owned this tea.

It’s rare to read a news item like this and have a chance to flesh out the story. In this case, though, more details are available.

TOMORROW: Cyrus Baldwin tells his story.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tea Merchant Cyrus Baldwin Has Too Much Tea

Longtime Boston 1775 readers might recognize the name “Chris the Woburnite” in the comments, usually attached to choice observations and  stories from that old Middlesex County town. 

In real life that’s Chris Hurley, Revolutionary reenactor and researcher. And he generously offered a series of “guest blogger” articles sharing a story of Woburn’s Baldwin family. So let’s get started.

There were three kinds of tea in Boston near the end of 1773, here listed in decreasing level of unacceptability to the Boston Whigs:
  • Detested, new-duty British East India Company tea. Not available, due to premature steeping in the harbor.
  • Old-duty British East India Company tea. Tolerated for years, despite (unenforced) non-use agreements.
  • Smuggled (often Dutch) tea. Free of the taint of duty, but still tainted somewhat, by it being, well, tea.
At the very end of 1773, popular Whig sentiment simplified things by characterizing all tea as odious, which was bad news for Cyrus Baldwin, a Boston merchant of, among other things, tea. His advertisement in the 1 November Boston Gazette had proudly proclaimed in bold type: “Choice Souchong and Hyson Tea.”

Even though he was from a Whig-leaning family, Baldwin continued to advertise tea as the tea crisis deepened that fall. After all, he was not one of the hated new-duty consignees, and selling tea was his livelihood. Some Boston merchants had openly opposed the landing of the new-duty tea.

Some citizens in Boston accused those merchants of plotting to create scarcity, corner the tea market, and raise prices. They could have been talking about Cyrus Baldwin. He appears to have increased his stock of tea that season: when he advertised in the Boston Evening-Post on 20 December, he now included additional tea, some “Choice Bohea.”

In an attempt to render this offering acceptable, this new ad included a disclaimer: “The above Teas were imported before any of the East India Company’s tea arrived.” That continued to run into early January 1774.

Baldwin priced his tea at 18 shillings per pound. That was more than triple the price set on 29 December by the “principal dealers of teas in Boston”—those dealers being anxious to refute any charge of price gouging (as reported the 30 December Massachusetts Spy). But Baldwin’s 18s. price may have applied only to the high-class Hyson tea, and perhaps he priced his Bohea more reasonably.

In any event, those dealers also agreed not to sell any tea at all after 20 Jan 1774. Whether Cyrus Baldwin was then willingly in step with the association of tea dealers or not, his 20 January ad in the Massachusetts Spy no longer boasted tea.

But Cyrus Baldwin still had tea—too much tea. Even in early January 1774 he knew he couldn’t sell all the Bohea he had. What then to do with it? It did him little good in Boston. This valuable property could even have been in danger from the radical tea-burning element of the Patriot faction [Are you listening, Lexington and Charlestown?]. Where then to safely store it?

Luckily for Cyrus, he had a younger brother, Loammi, who lived on a farm in the nearby countryside town of Woburn. Loammi was a gentlemen of position there and on the town’s committee of correspondence, thus putting him beyond reproach. What better person to store the tea until it was marketable again? The brothers might also have been able to transport the tea to somewhere it could be readily sold. Loammi’s farm had at least one team of oxen and probably a number of wagons or carts. But first, could Cyrus get the tea out to Woburn?

TOMORROW: “Not intended to be smuggled”.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Two Different Samuel Adamses

This is Samuel Adams. In 1773 he was fifty-one years old. His father had been a selectman, merchant, and church deacon. He had gone to Harvard College and earned a master’s degree. As a young man he had helped to found a short-lived newspaper, which honed his writing skills, and discovered that he had no interest or luck in business. He turned to the public sector.

As a collector of taxes for the town and province from 1756 to 1765, then one of Boston’s representatives in the Massachusetts General Court from 1765 on, Adams became the town’s leading political organizer. With the salary that came from being chosen Clerk of the House of Representatives and frugal living, Adams was one of the first Americans to support his family in genteel style as a full-time elected official.

Politically Adams was implacably opposed to new royal measures and the men appointed to carry them out, but more hotheaded colleagues like James Otis and Josiah Quincy trusted his judgment to keep them out of trouble.

Adams was a devout Congregationalist, known for his love of psalm-singing (and for recruiting young men to his political cause at psalm-singing practices). In 1749 he had married Elizabeth Checkley, daughter of his minister. She died in 1757, and in 1764 he had married again to Elizabeth Wells, who helped to raise the surviving children. By 1773 his son Samuel, Jr., had also graduated from Harvard College and was training to be a physician.

Samuel Adams had a striking physical trait, described this way in a biography written by a descendant:
Mr. Adams, from about middle life, was more or less affected with a constitutional tremulousness of voice and hand, peculiar to his family, which sometimes continued for several weeks together, and then disappeared for as long a time.
The Rev. William Gordon wrote of Adams confronting Lt. Gov. Thomas Hutchinson after the Boston Massacre “with his hands trembling under a nervous complaint.” John Adams referred to his cousin’s “quivering, paralytic hands.” In recent years this condition was diagnosed as essential tremor.

This is a fictional character named Samuel Adams, who appears in the Sons of Liberty television entertainment. He shares a few traits with the historical figure. Both are white men living in Boston, both have worked as tax collectors, and both in their ways oppose the royal government.

As for that hand tremor, I definitely hope this character doesn’t have one if he’s carrying around two pistols like that.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Upcoming Events at the Royall House

The Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford will host a series of book talks on the history of slavery in America over the next three months.

Thursday, 5 February, 7:00 P.M.
Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites
This event will launch a new collection of articles edited by Kristin Gallas and James DeWolf Perry from the Tracing Center on Histories and Legacies of Slavery. They will speak about how historic sites and museums can facilitate the sharing of the history of slavery, and how those stories tie into vital contemporary public debates. This event is free. A book signing will follow. (The museum can accept only cash or checks for purchases.)
[ADDENDUM: Because of the weather, this event has been rescheduled to Monday, 23 February. FURTHER ADDENDUM: This event has been rescheduled to Wednesday, May 6.]

Wednesday, 18 March, 7:30 P.M.
Boston: Origin of American Slavery
Journalists Lisa Braxton and Alex Reid will speak about their upcoming book about the ship Desire. Built in Marblehead, the Desire was the first American-built slave ship. In February 1638 William Pierce piloted it into Boston harbor, carrying people captured and bought in Africa to serve the Puritans of the ”City on a Hill.” Though slavery was not written into law until 1641, it thus became part of Massachusetts’s economy and society and would remain so until the Revolutionary War.

Wednesday, 15 April, 7:30 P.M.
The Logbooks: Connecticut’s Slave Ships and Human Memory
Journalist Anne Farrow, coauthor of Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged and Profited from Slavery, will discuss her new book, based on records kept by a New London merchant‘s son starting in 1757. His first voyage was to the tiny island of Bence off Sierra Leone, and The Logbooks uses his records to unearth new realities of Connecticut’s slave trade. A book signing will follow. (The museum can accept only cash or checks for purchases.)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

William Russell’s Toasts on Offer

Last month I quoted an 1874 profile of William Russell that contained a description of a “Sons of Liberty” medal, worn by Boston activists on public occasions. Noting that no example of such a medal survives and no other source describes one, I expressed skepticism about that statement.

That same profile also quoted from a small document said to have been written by William Russell, a document being auctioned on 31 January by Seth Kaller and Keno Auctions. One side appears to have arithmetic exercises, perhaps from Russell’s work as a school teacher. The other reads:
May the Sons of Liberty
Shine with Lustre


Wilks & Liberty

August the 14th. 1769.

Liberty without
End. Amen.

Americans Wilks
92         45
This appears to be notes for two or three toasts delivered at a celebration of the fourth anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act protest. American Whigs saw themselves in league with John Wilkes, a leading political reformer in London. The numbers 45 and 92 gained great symbolic importance in 1760s Massachusetts for reasons which are easy to explain, hard to fathom.

The phrase “liberty without end. Amen” also appears as a refrain in a pamphlet titled Britannia’s Intercession for the Deliverance of John Wilkes, Esq. from Persecution and Banishment, first printed in London in 1763. Daniel Kneeland reprinted that in Boston in 1769, so the phrase was current in the town then.

Both the 1874 article and the auction house’s webpage for this document link it to the Boston Sons of Liberty banquet on 14 Aug 1769, held at the Liberty Tree tavern in Dorchester. However, the 21 August Boston Evening-Post printed all the toasts offered that day—fourteen at Liberty Tree itself in Boston’s South End and forty-five at the tavern—and they don’t include the phrases on this document.

So that left me with a picture of William Russell carefully writing out toasts in case he might be called on, and then watching as other men got invited to voice their thoughts, and the number of those men inexorably climbed to the magical forty-five, when no one else would be called. And then Russell sadly taking his little slip of paper home.

But then I checked the list of gentlemen who attended that Dorchester banquet. William Russell’s name doesn't appear on it at all. He had just turned twenty-one that year and probably wasn’t prominent enough to warrant an invitation.

So my new, cheerier theory is that Russell got together with some other young men in Boston and had their own banquet with their own toasts. Including these.

In any event, this document helps to confirm that, even if there was no Sons of Liberty medal, William Russell was involved in that movement as early as 1769. He’s also linked to the Tea Party and served in the war.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Discovering Prince Demah, an African-American Artist

Back in 2006 and 2008 I wrote about a young black artist mentioned in the letters of Christian Barnes, a Marlborough merchant’s wife (shown here). All I knew about him was the given name “Prince.”

Paula Bagger, working with the Hingham Historical Society, has found out a lot more. The society owns portraits of Christian Barnes and her husband Henry, and we know that she sat for Prince to paint her. Then it turned out that the Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a portrait of William Duguid in the same style that’s signed on the back “Prince Demah Barnes.”

Bagger just wrote an article about the artist for the historical society’s blog. And in the January 2015 issue of The Magazine Antiques, she and Amelia Peck of the Metropolitan Museum of Art discuss all three known oil portraits by Prince.

On the blog Bagger filled in more about the artist’s life:
Prince enjoyed a short professional painting career before the Revolution changed the lives of Christian, Henry, and Prince. Christian and Henry fled [as Loyalists,] and Prince enlisted in the Massachusetts militia as a free man–Prince Demah (no more “Barnes”)–and served as a matross. He died, likely of smallpox or other disease, in March 1778. As “Prince Demah, limner,” he wrote his will, leaving all he had to [his mother] Daphney.
Christian Barnes’s letters show that Prince Demah practiced with both oils and pastels. She tried to line up friends to sit for him, and there are several years between when she first mentioned his talent and the disruption of the war. So there might well be more portraits by this newly identified African-American artist and Continental soldier, perhaps in private hands or historical society collections. Bagger and her colleagues are on the hunt!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reading the Smiles of 18th-Century Art

The 12 January New Yorker includes Jonathan Kalb’s article “Give Me a Smile,” which describes in personal terms the importance of being able to smile.

Kalb writes, “The spontaneously joyful smile is the facial expression most easily recognized from a distance—as far as a hundred metres, researchers say.” Since the late 1800s, scientists have claimed and amassed evidence that the smile is a universal human expression.

I was struck, therefore, by this Boston Globe interview with Colin Jones about his new book, The Smile Revolution in Eighteenth Century Paris. According to this book, through the early 1700s “smiling widely in portraits meant that you were probably destitute, indecent, or mentally ill.” Here’s more detail:
JONES: The type of facial regime which is prevalent in France in the early 18th century is more negative about the smile. It tends to see the smile as a gesture of superiority over some misfortune, rather like laughter at that time is seen in very negative terms—you’re somehow rejoicing in the suffering of others. So when people smile, they smile, first of all in a restrained way which doesn’t show teeth...but also very often in ways which are seen as sardonic or contemptuous or disdainful.

IDEAS: What changed?

JONES: There are two principal factors....One is the emergence of something which is clearly, for the first time, close to modern scientific dentistry, which highlights good, healthy, and hopefully white teeth, and methods of care which are not simply, as they had been in the past, extraction of bad teeth but also a regime of prevention of mouth ailments and sickness....

Secondly, I try to tie it up with...the emergence of a cult of sensibility. I associate this particularly with the emergence of the novels of sentimentality and sensibility by Samuel Richardson and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who emphasize the overt and public expression of feelings, rather than their repression or distortion. People who look at the cult of sensibility often stress that people are always weeping in the 18th century—weeping with pleasure, weeping with ecstasy, weeping with anything, if you like. But actually part of that is this new smile, which somehow sends a transcendent message of selfhood and generosity and fellow-feeling.
Of course, the open-lipped smile remained rare in formal portraits. And later, Jones says, portrait photography followed that style for decades, even after better chemistry and quicker exposures could capture natural smiles.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Real Story of the Fake Sarah Munroe Letter

Last week I noted a letter describing George Washington’s Presidential visit to Lexington in 1789. And I said it looked like a fake.

Polly Kienle of the Scottish Rite Masonic Museum helpfully commented on that post confirming that young Sarah Munroe didn’t write that letter. Rather, it came from the pen of James Phinney Munroe (1862-1929), president of the Lexington Historical Society. And he spent years trying to live it down.

On 5 Nov 1889, J. P. Munroe wrote, he was invited to speak about the hundredth anniversary of Washington’s visit at a public dinner. He recalled, “Wishing only to be informal, to avoid the conventions of after-dinner speaking, to relieve the solemnity of history with a touch of human nature, in an evil hour I forged the name of a great-aunt (dead these many years) to a letter that she did not write, that (kindly soul) she would not have written, that so circumstantial is it she could not have written, had she tried…”

And then he placed the letter in the inaugural issue of the Proceedings of the Lexington Historical Society. That magazine also printed his prefatory remarks:
When I was asked to assume the honorable task of representing my great-grandfather here to-night, I, naturally, searched the old Munroe tavern for memorials of him, but without success. A hunt through the garret of the old Mason house, was, however, more fortunate, as it resulted in this letter. The original, of which this is a copy, bears the date Nov. 7, 1789, and is indorsed, in a fine Italian hand, “Miss Sarah Munroe, Lexington, to Miss Mary Mason, New York.” Sarah was the second daughter of Colonel William Munroe, the other children being William, Anna, Jonas, Lucinda, and Edmund. Mary was the only daughter of Mr. Joseph Mason, a famous pedagogue, and for many years, including 1789, town clerk. Of the reason of Miss Mason’s sojourn in New York, we are not informed.
Later J. P. Munroe wrote, “the Mason house having no garret worth mentioning, the non-existence of that attic suggested a manufactured letter.”

But clearly not enough people picked up that clue. Over the next few years, Munroe saw the letter cited as an authentic source in publications like the Boston Evening Transcript. It was reprinted in the program for an 1898 banquet of the California Sons of the American Revolution (who obviously hadn’t explored deeply enough in the Mason house). Munroe insisted that “Real historians” weren’t fooled, but, as Kienle commented, he was “caught up in a ‘viral’ whirlwind before the days of instantaneous online dissemination.”

Munroe wrote at least two letters to the Transcript proclaiming that the letter was a fake. In 1900 he published a pamphlet titled A Sketch of the Munroe Clan with an appendix all about the letter. In that he wrote, “The fraud seemed to me so patent, the possibility of belief by any one that a half-educated young girl would prepare a narrative so straightforward and circumstantial appeared to me so remote, that I had no thought of the skit being taken seriously.”

Two years later, the Dedham Historical Register published the letter again as a genuine document. In 1917, the Journal of American History did the same. In 1924, it even appeared in St. Nicholas magazine for young readers. And now, will the internet bring it back?

(Hear genuine stories of President Washington’s visit to New England in 1789, and his interactions with Gov. John Hancock, when you come to the Cambridge Forum tonight.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Honors from the Journal of the American Revolution

The Journal of the American Revolution just announced its 2014 Book of the Year Award.

The winning title is Dangerous Guests: Enemy Captives and Revolutionary Communities During the War for Independence, by Ken Miller. The Continental authorities housed 13,000 British and Hessian prisoners of war around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and this is an in-depth study of how that affected the community. I haven’t read this book myself—without a New England connection, other titles keep going higher on my list—but I’ve heard good things.

Shortlisted and receiving honorable mentions are:
Nick Bunker, An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America. I shared my complimentary thoughts on this book here.
John J. Duffy and H. Nicholas Muller, III, Inventing Ethan Allen. I’m reading this now and enjoying it—but of course I’d like a book that compares a New England legend to contemporaneous sources.

Monday, January 19, 2015

“Made by Hand” at Old South

The Old South Meeting House is hosting a series of midday events on the theme of “Made by Hand in Boston: The Crafts of Everyday Life,” cosponsored by Artists Crossing Gallery. These sessions explore the cross between artistry and commerce in the pre-industrial economy.

This Friday, 23 January, the historian of science and technology Robert Martello will speak about “Benjamin Franklin, Tradesman.” The event announcement says:
Follow Franklin’s footsteps from the time he ran his brother’s press as a young apprentice, through the many life adventures that shaped his life as a wordsmith, statesman, and printer. Printing was a tricky business in the 18th century, and Franklin’s combination of business acumen and intellectual prowess contributed to his success and versatility in the trade. Don’t miss this chance to learn how Franklin changed printing, and how printing changed Franklin.
On Friday, 6 February, Boston City Archaeologist Joe Bagley will speak on “From Pewter to Pottery: The Archaeology of Boston's Colonial Craftspeople”:
[Bagley] will offer an overview of the city’s archaeological collections as a rich source of data, then explore in depth what archaeological research has revealed about two mid-18th-century Boston professional craftspeople—Grace Parker, who had a redware ceramic business, and John Carnes, who ran a pewter workshop.
That was the father of the Rev. John Carnes who spied during the siege.

On Friday, 13 February, historical tailor Henry M. Cooke (shown above) will speak about “William Waine: Tailor to the Common Man”:
With a shop in Boston's South End, Waine tailored to working-class Bostonians—including longshoremen, and perhaps some participants in the Boston Tea Party! This illustrated talk will open your eyes to the tailor’s craft as a window into economy, social stratification, and everyday life in 1770s Boston.
These sessions will all take place from 12:15 to 1:00 P.M., with guests welcome at noon. They are free to Old South members, $6 for others. To make reservations, use this webpage.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

T. H. Breen on BackStory

As another sort of preparation for T. H. Breen’s talk at Cambridge Forum on Wednesday, I’ll point to this episode of BackStory, the public-radio show on American history. I enjoy that show as a podcast.

This particular episode, ”Counter Culture,” is about shopping in American life. Cohost Peter Onuf interviews Breen about the topic of his book The Marketplace of Revolution, which argues that the boycotts of non-essential goods from Britain starting in the mid-1760s helped to bond the North American colonies more tightly than they ever had been. In listening to the show, it’s important to remember than “consumerism” means something different to social historians than it does to shoppers today.

BackStory is cohosted by three historians representing early America (Onuf), the nineteenth century (Ed Ayers), and the twentieth century (Brian Balogh). Each episode therefore covers a wide swath of time and offers multiple perspectives on its theme. The episode I linked to, for example, also includes segments on the advent of the big discount department store chains in 1962 and L. Frank Baum’s work promoting shop-window displays at the same time he started his career writing for children.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

President Washington and Major Gibbs

Here’s a final glimpse for the week of President George Washington’s visit to Massachusetts in 1789.

On Friday, 30 October, Washington left Boston for the north shore and New Hampshire. His diary entry for that day was all about the bridges along the way, such as the one over the Charles River, shown above courtesy of the John Carter Brown Library.

The 19 July 1823 Columbian Centinel added this anecdote:
It will be recollected by many, that when he visited Boston, in 1789, he appointed 8 o’clock in the morning, as the hour when he should set out for Salem, &c. and that while the Old South clock was striking 8, he was crossing his saddle.

It will also be remembered, that the company of cavalry which volunteered to escort him, not anticipating this strict punctuality, were parading in Tremont-street after his departure; and it was not until the President had reached Charles river bridge, (where he stopped a few minutes to examine the draw) that the troop of horse overtook him.

On passing the corps, the President, with perfect good humor, said to the Commander, “Major ———, I thought you had been too long in my family not to know when it was 8 o’clock.”
That anecdote was reprinted in later years (without citation) in the Literary Register, various anecdote collections, and eventually by authors back in Boston who identified the mounted major as Caleb Gibbs (1748-1818).

Gibbs had indeed been in Washington’s military “family” through most of the Revolutionary War. He started in the Continental Army as adjutant of John Glover’s Marblehead regiment, but on 12 Mar 1776 Washington appointed him head of the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard. In that job Gibbs was responsible for transporting and guarding the headquarters papers, organizing the general’s living quarters, and sitting in as an aide-de-camp when necessary. He was a popular member of the headquarters staff, known for his easygoing temperament and fondness for singing.

Gibbs officially transferred to the 2nd Massachusetts Regiment in 1781 but seems still to have worked at headquarters. He suffered a wound at Yorktown and left the army in 1784. Gibbs settled in Boston and married Catherine Hall in 1787. That was his situation when President Washington came through town in 1789.

Unfortunately, Gibbs did poorly in business. He invested a lot of money with the merchant Nathaniel Tracy, who then went into bankruptcy. In 1790 Gibbs wrote to Washington that he had sold most of his furniture at auction and was moving from Boston to Barre, Massachusetts, which he called “the wilderness, incompassed by an uncooth neighbourhood, and to occupy a house prehaps not tennantable.”

From that town Gibbs wrote to Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, another old colleague from headquarters, about money the federal government supposedly owed Tracy and about federal job openings. It struck me how often in that surviving correspondence Gibbs mentioned his wife:
  • 16 Jan 1791: “Mrs. Gibbs would go with me almost any where if a Comfortable competence offers (even with the strictest oeconomy) and can be obtained. Perhaps something within your own sphere can be found. Think of me My good Sir and notwithstanding the Presidents forgetfulness of me a hint from you I know would answer every purpose.” 
  • 16 May 1791: “And what is still more effecting to me, to see my amiable wife looking over the Letter and exclaiming is it possible, is it possible Mr. Gibbs that you have lost that hard earned money you friendly lent that wicked man [Tracy]. Indeed my friend it was too much for her to bear.” 
  • 10 Sept 1792: “Mrs. Gibbs cannot no longer content herself in this wilderness. Her seperation from her dearest connections, the great distance and extreem bad roads to Boston, and what is still more trying is the Education of her Children and an innumerable number of difficulties to incounter, has brought me to a Resolution to Linger out the cold Inclement winter at this place and return to Boston Early in April next if possible to get there.”
In 1794 the administration made Gibbs a clerk at the Boston Navy Yard. (Oddly, at the time the U.S. of A. did not have a navy.) That job did not, however, end Gibbs’s letters to the capital seeking better jobs. After eighteen years, during the Madison administration, he became superintendent of the yard.

Friday, January 16, 2015

President Washington in Sickness and in Lexington

Having spent many autumn days outdoors meeting lots of American citizens, on 26 Oct 1789 President George Washington…got sick.

He wrote in his diary:
The day being Rainy & Stormy—myself much disordered by a Cold and inflamation in the left eye, I was prevented from visiting Lexington (where the first blood in the dispute with G. Britn.) was drawn. . . . in the Evening I drank Tea with Govr. [John] Hancock & called upon Mr. [James] Bowdoin on my return to my lodgings.
(The President’s encounters with Gov. Hancock will be the focus of T. H. Breen’s talk at the Cambridge Forum next Wednesday evening.)

According to the editors of the Washington Papers, the President might have been suffering from the “widespread epidemic of respiratory ailments” spreading in the central and southern states. In fact, Washington and his retinue may have carried the virus north. Certainly a lot of the people who had crowded onto the Boston streets to see him came down with a big, and local newspapers began to refer to the “Washington influenza.”

Washington eventually made it to Lexington, visiting the town on his swing south after seeing New Hampshire.
Thursday 5th. About Sun rise I set out, crossing the Merimack River at the Town over to the Township of Bradford and in nine Miles came to Abbots Tavern in Andover where we breakfasted, and met with much attention from Mr. [William] Philips President of the Senate of Massachusetts, who accompanied us thro’ Bellarika to Lexington, where I dined, and viewed the Spot on which the first blood was spilt in the dispute with great Britain on the 19th. of April 1775.
The President dined at William Munroe’s tavern, now a museum of the Lexington Historical Society (shown above).

In 1917, the Journal of American History published “A Young Woman’s Sprightly Account of Washington’s Visit to Lexington in 1789,” said to be written by Munroe’s daughter Sarah. It looks like a total fake. But sprightly.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Schoolboy Views of President Washington in 1789

When President George Washington finally reached Boston on 24 Oct 1789, he found that the town had planned a huge celebration for him. Huge.

The young architect Charles Bulfinch had designed a triumphal arch, shown above. (For more about that structure, see the Massachusetts Historical Society’s recent posting about it.) Townsfolk turned out in a big parade, organized by their professions.

Among those groups were Boston’s schoolboys. The town was in the midst of reorganizing its public school system to allow girls to attend as well (for half the year), but boys were still considered the model scholars.

William H. Sumner was one of those boys, and his recollections of the day appeared in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1860:
I, then a boy of between nine and ten years of age, was a pupil at Master [Oliver Willington] Lane’s West Boston writing-school. Washington entered Boston on Saturday, the 24th of October, 1789. The children of the schools were all paraded in the main street, and stood in the gutters in front of the long rows of men whose strength was required and exerted to protect them from the crowd on the side-walks as the procession passed along the street. The General rode on a noble white charger with characteristic erectness and dignity. Colonel [Tobias] Lear and Major [William] Jackson accompanied him as his aids. Washington was in uniform, and as he rode, his head uncovered, he inclined his body first on one side and then on the other, without distinctly bowing, but so as to observe the multitude in the streets, and the ladies in the windows and on the tops of the houses, who saluted him as he passed.

Master Lane’s boys were placed in front of Mr. Jonathan Mason’s hard-ware store, near the bend in Washington Street (then Cornhill) opposite Williams Court. I well remember the laugh which our salute created, when, as the General passed us, we rolled in our hands our quills with the longest feathers we could get.

Mr. N. R. Sturgis, who was at school with me at that time, remembers this circumstance. From our position at the angle of the street, we had a fair view of the procession as it approached and after it passed us. A select choir of singers, led by [Daniel] Rhea, the chorister of Brattle Street Church, was placed on the triumphal arch under which the procession was to pass, and which extended from the Old State House to the stores of Joseph Pierce and others at the opposite side of Cornhill. The arch was decorated with flags, flowers and evergreen, so that the musicians were not seen until they rose up and sang the loud paean, commencing as Washington first came in sight at the angle where we stood, swelling in heavy chorus until he passed from our sight under the triumphal arch and took his station upon it.
And Edward G. Porter’s Rambles in Old Boston (1887) reported:
Isaac Harris…was born in 1779, one of ten children of Samuel Harris, mast-maker. . . . At the reception of President Washington, in 1789, Samuel Harris was chosen to carry the mast-makers’ flag, which is still preserved in the family. On the same occasion the young Isaac participated with the boys of the public schools in doing honor to the distinguished visitor. They were ranged in two lines on the mall through which Washington passed on horseback. Each boy held a quill pen in his left hand, and was to take off his cap with the other when the President approached. Harris agreed with the boy next him that, as soon as they had made their bow, they would stroke their pens across the President’s boot. They did it successfully, and kept the pens as mementos of a famous event.
Anne Haven Thwing reports, “Harris was one of the six boys to receive the first Franklin medal in 1792,” endowed by Benjamin Franklin and still given to top scholars today. In 1810 he helped to save the Old South Meeting-House from a fire, receiving a silver cup from the congregation as thanks.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Washington’s Return to the Vassall Estate in Cambridge

Yesterday I quoted President George Washington’s description of his return visit to Cambridge on 24 Oct 1789, when he viewed Middlesex County militia troops under the command of militia general John Brooks (shown here later in life). Washington noted that those troops formed up late but “made however an excellent appearance.”

But let’s explore what the President reportedly didn’t see. In the 26 July 1862 Boston Transcript a correspondent using the initial “C.” shared this tale:
The late Judge Joseph Hall and his cousin, the late Col. Fitch Hall, were the aids of Gen. John Brooks, when Washington visited New England. The former was despatched to Worcester…; and the latter stated to the writer that he (then being quite a young man), was struck with awe when he went to Washington’s headquarters, now occupied by Prof. Longfellow, and after being ushered into his presence, asked at what time it would be his pleasure to pass the troops in review. Washington, taking him by the hand, replied, in five minutes. The aid mounted and ran his horse at full speed to Cambridge common, and the troops were barely in line, before Washington, with his suite, appeared, having kept his word, and evidencing the promptness which characterized all his movements.
That passage was quoted in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register in 1862.

Two years before, the same periodical had printed William H. Sumner’s reminiscences of the day, which offered even more detail, reportedly also based on conversations with Fitch Hall:
…an arrangement was made that on his way to the capitol, Washington should stop at Cambridge and receive a salute from the militia under General Brooks, then commander of the third division, the cavalry, artillery and light infantry of which he had ordered to parade on the common, to present arms to the General as he passed their lines. The house provided for his reception at Cambridge was the same old Vassal House which had been his headquarters while the army was encamped in that town at the commencement of the Revolutionary War. . . .

The time appointed for the review was 12 o’clock, and this hour having arrived, Gen. Brooks’s aid, Colonel Hall, who was stationed at that house to receive General Washington, knowing the punctuality of his commander, but without special orders at the moment, informed Washington as he was dismounting that the hour of twelve had arrived and that the line was formed. Taken somewhat by surprise that time had passed so rapidly, and still unwilling to be outdone in punctuality, a prominent trait in his own character, the General, without alighting, immediately threw his leg back again across the saddle, and directed Colonel Hall to conduct him to the field.

Fearing he had been too precipitate in telling Washington that the line was actually formed and ready to receive him, and seeing him remount, Colonel Hall left his co-aid, Major Joseph Hall (who had accompanied the General from Marlborough) to perform the remainder of his duty, and putting spurs to his horse galloped with the greatest rapidity to the common, and informed Gen. Brooks that Washington was on his way and close at hand. Col. Hall had ventured to tell Washington that the line was formed, as he saw him actually dismounting, and naturally supposed that the General would occupy a few minutes in refreshing himself after his morning’s long ride.

Nothing could have surprised Gen. Brooks more than Col. Hall’s announcement. His troops were scattered over the field; but glancing at his watch, and finding that the appointed time had in truth arrived, although noted for his great deliberation in times of great moment, he lost no time in bringing his troops into line, which was done while the artillery was firing the national salute.

This was scarcely accomplished when Washington appeared on the right of the line, and immediately heard from the lips of his old friend and companion in arms all through the war, the command never before so thrillingly given, “Present arms.” . . . Gen. Brooks, who was an elegant horseman and sat as proudly erect as a martinet, rode down the line in company with Washington, who most particularly noticed its beautiful appearance. Riding back with rapidity in the rear, and observing that not a single man looked around, but that all (although excited with the greatest possible curiosity) kept their faces steadily to the front, he remarked to Gen. Brooks, in allusion to the seven years’ war in which they had both been engaged, “Ah, General, if we had had such troops as these, we should have made short work of it!”
To which Brooks might well have replied, “Phew!”

There are some discrepancies among those three accounts—Washington’s written on that day, and the two stories based on what people had heard from Fitch Hall years later. According to Washington, the troops were supposed to be ready at ten o’clock and didn’t form up until eleven—not ready and formed just at twelve, as Sumner wrote. And the President was obviously not fooled that the troops were drawn up when he arrived. Indeed, it looks like Fitch Hall improved on what likely happened when he told the story years later, giving himself a central role in a last-minute saving of the day.

Another question, especially burning for me, is whether on this visit Washington went into the mansion confiscated from John Vassall that he’d used as his headquarters in 1775 and 1776. According to Sumner’s retelling, he never even got off his horse. But the account from “C.” suggests that Fitch Hall met him inside that house. Washington’s own diary makes no mention of the house or who was living in it then—another mystery, not answered by property records.

TOMORROW: Boston schoolboys and President Washington.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On the Road with President Washington

As I announced yesterday, on 21 January Prof. T. H. Breen will speak at the Cambridge Forum about President George Washington’s visit to New England in the fall of 1789, and the political issues it raised.

As newly elected President of a new nation, Washington was trying to thank the American people and also to bind them together. On his trip through the northern states he avoided entering Rhode Island since it hadn’t yet ratified the Constitution or sent representatives to Congress.

In some ways I think the President’s visit was like a royal progress, full of pomp and celebration. But Washington was trying not to appear too kingly. Even though as President he was the commander-in-chief of the federal forces, and had also commanded the nation’s army during the war for independence, he didn’t want to be seen as claiming any power over state militia troops.

And yet, as his diary entry for 23 October shows, those state militia troops kept coming out to show off to him:
Here [in Worcester] we were received by a handsome Company of Militia Artillery in Uniform who saluted with 13 Guns on our Entry & departure. At this place also we met a Committee from the Town of Boston, and an Aid of Majr. Genl. [John] Brooke of the Middlesex Militia who had proceeded to this place in order to make some arrangements of Military & other Parade on my way to, and in the Town of, Boston; and to fix with me on the hours at which I should pass through Cambridge, and enter Boston.

Finding this ceremony was not to be avoided though I had made every effort to do it, I named the hour of ten to pass the Militia of the above County at Cambridge and the hour of 12 for my entrance into Boston desiring Major [Joseph] Hall, however, to inform Genl. Brookes that as I conceived there was an impropriety in my reviewing the Militia, or seeing them perform Manoeuvres otherwise than as a private Man I could do no more than pass along the line; which, if he thought proper might be under arms to receive me at that time.

These matters being settled the Committee and the Aid (Colo. Hall) set forward on their return and after breakfast I followed; The same Gentlemen who had escorted me into, conducting me out of Town.
At the border of Worcester and Middlesex Counties a militia troop of light horsemen awaited the President.

Then came Jonathan Jackson, the state’s first U.S. marshal (shown above), who insisted on accompanying the President throughout the state. Jackson was a federal employee, so Washington could have told him to get back to his job—but who’s to say that the U.S. marshal’s job was not to escort a visiting President?

Washington slept that night in Weston before pressing on. He had lived in Cambridge for nine months during the siege of Boston, so he was probably interested in seeing it again. In a letter dated 21 October, Brooks had promised “a body of about 800 men, will be under arms at Cambridge on the day of your entering into Boston. The troops will occupy the ground on which the continental army was formed for your reception in the year 1775.” (Memories of that “reception” in 1775 were probably the seed of the “Washington Elm” legend in the next century.)

Here’s how Washington described the next morning in his diary:
Dressed by Seven o’clock, and set out at eight—at ten we arrived in Cambridge, according to appointment; but most of the Militia having a distance to come, were not in line till after eleven; they made however an excellent appearance, with Genl. [John] Brooks at their Head. At this place the Lieut. Govr. Mr. Saml. Adams, with the Executive Council, met me and preceeded my entrance into town—which was in every degree flattering and honorable.
President Washington was probably not happy about the hour’s wait between his arrival in Cambridge and the militia parade he hadn’t wanted in the first place. But at least those troops made “an excellent appearance.”

TOMORROW: What the President didn’t see?

Monday, January 12, 2015

Breen on the President and the Governor, 21 Jan.

On Wednesday, 21 January, Prof. T. H. Breen will speak at Cambridge Forum on “Duel Over Dinner: President Washington’s Clash with Governor Hancock Over State Sovereignty.”

In 1789 George Washington returned to Massachusetts for the first time since 1776, as part of his tour of all the states that had adopted the Constitution and elected him President of the United States. Most places welcomed Washington with pomp and ceremony. Boston organized a grand parade. Yet Washington found himself at odds with his old colleague John Hancock, oft-elected governor of Massachusetts.

Who was the higher authority, the governor of a state or the chief executive of this new federal union? Was the Presidency the highest office in the land or more like being Secretary-General of the United Nations, beholding to the body’s constituent states? What did the arrangement that Washington and Hancock worked out mean for the conflicts over states’ rights that persist till today?

This talk is based on research for Breen’s upcoming book George Washington’s Journey: The President Forges a New Nation, to be published by Simon & Schuster later this year.

T. H. Breen is the William Smith Mason Professor of American History Emeritus at Northwestern University and a James Marsh Professor at Large at the University of Vermont. He has written for the New York Times Magazine, the London Review of Books, and other publications.

Among Breen’s books, the latest are The Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence and American Insurgents, American Patriots: The Revolution of the People, about the uprising in New England in 1774. Copies of both titles will be available at the event for purchase and signing, courtesy of Harvard Book Store.

This talk will take place at First Parish Church, located at 3 Church Street in Harvard Square, Cambridge. It will start at 7:00 P.M., and is free to all. The talk and question-and-answer session afterward will be recorded for the radio and the web, and as moderator I’ll have the job of making sure we all follow the right protocols for recording.

Breen’s talk is co-sponsored by the Cambridge Forum, Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Friends of Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, with support from the Massachusetts Society of the Cincinnati.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Peter Pelham from Boston to Williamsburg

Here’s another podcast of interest, from Colonial Williamsburg. Harmony Hunter interviews Michael Monaco about the historical figure he portrays: Peter Pelham (1721-1805), church organist and jailer.

Pelham was probably the inhabitant of Williamsburg, Virginia, in the 1770s with the closest ties to Boston. During the pre-Revolutionary turmoil, Pelham’s brother Charles was teaching school in Newton, and his stepbrother John Singleton Copley was training their half-brother Henry in the basics of being an artist.

Pelham had been born in London, son of an artist of the same name. The elder Peter Pelham had learned the advanced engraving technique of mezzotint; among his portraits was one of Massachusetts governor Samuel Shute, who spent most of the 1720s not in Massachusetts.

It’s unclear why Peter, Sr., brought his growing family to Boston in 1726 or 1727. A letter from his father in 1739 suggests there had been some family estrangement. The mezzotint artist may have had bad timing. In June 1727 George I died, and a change in court meant shuffling of appointees and favored artists. But instead Pelham was angling for customers in Boston with a portrait of that town’s biggest celebrity, the Rev. Cotton Mather.

Peter, Jr., was the eldest son of the family, and his talents leaned toward music. He became an apprentice to Charles Theodore Pachelbel, traveling to Newport, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina. In 1739 his grandfather wrote to his father:
I am heartily Pleasd to hear, by Lady D:Lorain that Came from Charlestowne in Carolina about a year ago, that my Grandson Peter was a very Genteel Clever young man being very well acquainted with him by teaching Miss Fenwick her sister to play on the Harpsicord which he Performs very well.
In 1743 Pelham returned to Boston and became organist at Trinity Church. But around 1750 he left for a smaller town and more limited prospects, just as his father had. Again it’s unclear why. But in Williamsburg, the younger Peter Pelham built the organ for the Bruton Parish Church and then played it for many decades.

Here’s another Williamsburg podcast from five years ago featuring Monaco as Pelham on the organ.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Another Side of the Chevalier d’Eon

I’m recommending this podcast lecture from the National Archives in Britain:. It’s titled “The Chevalier d’Eon: Transgender Diplomat at the Court of George III, 1763-1777,” but it’s really about that French nobleman’s career in Britain before he decided to live as a woman full-time (which is the part of his life everyone talks about).

The speaker, Jonathan Conlin from the University of Southampton, draws parallels between D’Eon and the British politician John Wilkes. In 1763, each man fell afoul of his own country’s government and took refuge in the other. For Wilkes, life in France was only a short-term exile. For D’Eon, Britain would be his home for another decade, and the refuge where he returned for good during the French Revolution.

As Conlin explains, D’Eon first arrived in London as a diplomat helping to negotiate the end of the Seven Years’ War, and then in early 1763 became France’s highest diplomat in London—as well as the coordinator of a ring of spies scouting for vulnerabilities in British shoreline defenses for when the next war came.

After only a few months the French government appointed someone in D’Eon’s place, and he simply refused to come home. What’s more, the chevalier started a pamphlet war in London, arguing that his government was treating him unjustly. He published some of the diplomatic correspondence he possessed, an implicit threat to publish even more sensitive documents.

Conlin describes how D’Eon, though writing only in French, adopted the Wilkesite rhetoric of justice threatened by a corrupt government. And Wilkes’s followers in London protected the French aristocrat from capture by his countrymen.

This lecture stops when D’Eon and the French monarchy reached an accommodation in the late 1760s. Later they’d make another deal that allowed him to return to France and adopt a female identity. Only then, it appears, did the chevalier rewrite his/her earlier career to claim that he/she had been a woman all along.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Seymour on the Woolwich Weapons Tests in D.C., 16 Jan.

On Friday, 16 January, Anderson House, the Society of the Cincinnati’s museum and library in Washington, D.C., will host a program of its American Revolution Institute on the Woolwich ballistic test charts.

The Royal Arsenal at Woolwich was the British military’s artillery training ground and laboratory east of London. In 1779 its experts compared the accuracy of a musket, a carbine, and a rifle in the most scientific manner possible in the period. Joseph Seymour, historian for the U.S. Army Center of Military History, will discuss the results and what they say about period weapons.

This talk is linked to the museum’s current exhibit “Homeland Defense: Protecting Britain during the American War,” describing Britain’s response to France entering the war:

For the first time in a generation, Britain faced the threat of invasion. With most of the regular army in North America, the ministry recruited militia “for the internal defence of this Country.” The army established special camps in southeastern England to train the militia along with regular soldiers, to protect the coastline, and to provide for the defense of London. A distant and increasingly unpopular war suddenly reached the British homeland.

Contemporary novels and plays about military themes, new songs and poems celebrating British strength, and popular prints depicting the camps reflected public anxiety about the threat of invasion. They also reflected contemporary British opinion about the army at a moment when failure in America exposed it to satire and ridicule. The camps had a wide-ranging influence on popular culture. Fashionable ladies, for whom visiting the camps was a part of the social whirl, sported riding habits modeled on regimental uniforms. Cartoonists, meanwhile, took delight in poking fun at preparations for a foreign invasion that never came.
Joseph Seymour’s talk is one of Anderson House‘s “Lunch Bite” midday presentations, starting at 12:30 P.M. and lasting about half an hour. The event is free and open to the public (but you have to be nice to the receptionist at the door).

Thursday, January 08, 2015

But Who’s Counting?

In all the coverage of the opening of the Massachusetts State House “time capsule” this week, including this Boston Globe story, I haven’t seen a discussion of the biggest mystery.

Not what the Globe called “an extra coin in the box,” beyond the inventory published in 1855.

Not which 1855 newspapers were folded inside, and whether they lean one way in the politics of that year.

No, why does the silver plate created for the original 1795 cornerstone ceremony call 4 July 1795 “the 20th Anniversary of American Independence,” as shown above?

The Columbian Centinel newspaper also called that date “the XXth Anniversary.”
And the 24 June Philadelphia Gazette called it “the XXth BIRTH-DAY OF AMERICAN INDEPENDENCE” in an item that several other newspapers picked up.

However, on 9 July the Boston Courier called the day “The XIXth ANNIVERSARY Of American Independence.” And other publications agreed with that way of counting years:

  • New York Argus, 10 July 1795: “Saturday last completed the XIXth year of American Independence.”
  • Gazette of the United States, 9 July 1795: “the Completion of the XIXth year of American Independence.”
  • The United States Almanac for the Year of Our Lord 1796, compiled by Gabriel Hutchins: “1796, being BISSEXTILE or LEAP-YEAR, and the XXth of American Independence, ’till 4th July.” 

So it looks like American printers hadn’t yet reached a consensus on what an “anniversary” meant—the beginning or start of a year.