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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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Revolutionary Lectures at the Boston Public Library

As part of its Local and Family History lecture series, the Boston Public Library will host some notable free talks on Revolutionary topics over the next several months.

Wednesday, 6 May, 6:00 P.M.
Robert Love’s Warnings: Searching for Strangers in Colonial Boston
Cornelia Hughes Dayton

In colonial America, warning out was a way for a community to regulate those to whom it would extend welfare. Between 1765 and 1774, an indefatigable town employee named Robert Love warned out four thousand new arrivals, including immigrants, newcomers from rural towns, and demobilized British soldiers. The records he left offer a unique insight into Boston’s population just before the Revolutionary War. Dayton, Associate Professor of History at the University of Connecticut and coauthor with Sharon V. Salinger of the first study of those documents, will discuss why so many people were on the move throughout the British Atlantic and why they came to Boston. In the Abbey Room.

Monday, 1 June, 6:00 P.M.
Boston and the American Revolution
Robert J. Allison

Why did the Revolution begin in Boston? What caused Bostonians to be more rebellious than other British subjects in North America? What were the Revolution’s consequences in Boston and beyond? Allison will examine these questions and discuss the consequences of the Revolution in Boston and beyond. He is chairman of the history department of Suffolk University, teaches at Harvard Extension School, and is vice president of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts. His many books include The Boston Massacre, A Short History of Boston, and The American Revolution: A Concise History. He teaches the online History of Boston course. In the Abbey Room.

Monday, 13 July, 6:00 P.M.
Thursday, 9 July, 6:00 P.M.
Lafayette and the Farewell Tour: Odyssey of an American Idol
Alan R. Hoffman

On the same week as the historic arrival of Lafayette’s frigate Hermione to Boston harbor, Hoffman shares expert insight into the Marquis and his farewell tour of America. Hoffman, the translator of Lafayette in America in 1824 and 1825: A Firsthand Account of Lafayette’s Farewell Tour of America, describes the French nobleman’s reputation and explores its origins. In the Commonwealth Salon. [ADDENDUM: The day after seeing this talk announced, I got a report that the Boston Public Library will be closed on 13 July for lack of electricity, perhaps as part of its renovation. So I wasn’t surprised to learn that Hoffman’s talk is rescheduled.]

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Celebrate with the Journal of the American Revolution, 8 May

On Friday, 8 May, the Journal of the American Revolution plans to celebrate the publication of its second printed volume of articles with its second Revolutionary War Schmoozer in Boston.

The online journal’s 2015 collection can be ordered through IndieBound, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powells, and other booksellers.

Published by Westholme, this hardcover includes 53 articles from 36 different writers covering many aspects of the American Revolution, including:
I’m represented with an article about how Samuel Adams really recruited Sons of Liberty, and I assisted with the editing. The cover shows an anecdote about Francis Marion that I discussed here.

The J.A.R.’s RevWar Schmoozer will take place on Friday, 8 May, at The Point, 147 Hanover Street in Boston. That upstairs space is reserved from 4:30 to 7:30 P.M. Everyone involved in studying and interpreting the history of the Revolutionary War—historians, tour guides, museum professionals, N.P.S. rangers, publishing personnel, reenactors, students, genealogists, enthusiasts, and more—will be welcome. There will be a cash bar and plenty of conversation.

The next day, up to forty lucky people will have a special viewing of the new “We Are One: Mapping America’s Road from Revolution to Independence” exhibit at the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center in the Boston Public Library. There are still a few spaces open for that event; click here for more details and to reserve a space.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Going Back to School with the Dublin Seminar, 19-21 June

The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife will hold its fortieth annual conference on Friday through Sunday, 19-21 June, at Historic Deerfield.

This year’s theme is schools and education in early New England, and I’ll start off the papers with a look at the competitive culture of Boston’s pre-Revolutionary public schools.

Here’s the conference description:
Schooldays in New England, 1650-1900 is a three-day conference of nineteen lectures and related field trips on the culture of education in New England and adjacent areas of New York and Canada from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries.

The lecture program begins Friday evening with talks on the larger objectives of New England’s common schools; it continues Saturday morning with special purpose education for religious minorities and abolitionists and for blind, deaf, and disenfranchised students. Saturday afternoon will address the teaching experience and school architecture. After-dinner talks will cover one-room schoolhouse museums and “pen-pictures” of New England schools and schooling. Sunday morning will address curriculum standards and female education.

The Seminar is designed for educators, historians, collectors, authors, scholars, librarians, groups who preserve historic schoolhouses, and museum curators, as well as students and the general public. A selected and edited transcript of this conference will appear as the 2015 Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, to be issued about two years after the conference.
For a complete schedule and registration information, you can download a P.D.F. file of the brochure.

This year the conference is also scheduling a field trip on Friday afternoon to four historic schoolhouses in the Pioneer Valley:
  • The original Deerfield Academy building, designed by Asher Benjamin and dedicated in 1799—now known as Memorial Hall, shown above.
  • The Wapping Schoolhouse, built on the outskirts of Deerfield in 1839 and moved in 1968 to Old Main Street by Historic Deerfield.
  • “The Little Red Schoolhouse,” or North Center School, built as a model school in 1810 in Whately and moved in 1930 to the Storrowton Village Museum in West Springfield.
  • The Hockanum School House in Hadley, built in 1840 and in active use until 1936.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Forum about Concord’s Wright Tavern, 18 May

Last month Dr. Melvin Bernstein, organizer of this area’s American Revolution Round Table, published an essay in the Concord Journal about one of the town’s lesser-known historic sites:
No historic building in Concord is more important to the American Revolution than the Wright Tavern. Yet the story of the Wright Tavern is little told, under-appreciated, and largely taken for granted. Although the building is designated a National Historic Landmark, there are no visitor hours posted, no contact person, no information guides you would commonly find at major historic sites.

What makes the Wright Tavern special are two pivotal revolutionary events that took place there in 1774 and 1775. First, the new Provincial Congress of Massachusetts convened in Concord on Oct. 11, 1774 in defiance of the Crown’s authority. Key committees met at the Wright Tavern to hammer out resolutions on the military, safety, and tax collections to prepare for the looming confrontation with the British. The full assembly of the Congress, amounting to nearly 300 representatives, debated the resolutions next door at the town Meeting House.

Rev. William Emerson, the eloquent and fiery patriot minister of First Parish in Concord, grandfather of Ralph Waldo Emerson, opened the sessions with a prayer and officiated as chaplain.

The second event occurred in the wee hours of the historic morning of April 19, 1775 when Concord’s Minute Men assembled at the Wright Tavern ready to defend their town against an advancing 700-man British Expeditionary Force. By 7:30 a.m., the Minute Men had cleared out of the Tavern to join a larger patriot force and soon afterward the British troops moved in to establish their own headquarters under the command of Lt. Col. Francis Smith.
The next meeting of the Round Table will be a forum on “The Future of Concord’s Wright Tavern.” It will feature a panel discussion with some of the town’s leading historical voices:
  • Jayne Gordon, whose long career in public history has ranged from being a teen-aged guide at the Orchard House to directing educational programs at the Massachusetts Historical Society.
  • Robert Gross, author of The Minutemen and Their World and Draper Professor of Early American History at the University of Connecticut.
  • Leslie Wilson, Munroe Curator of Special Collections at the Concord Free Public Library, to be represented through a written statement since she will be traveling.
The meeting will be held on Monday, 18 May, at the main visitor center of Minute Man National Historical Park, reached off Route 2A in Lincoln, starting at 7:00 P.M. Email Mel Bernstein to reserve a place.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

“Shot“ Exhibit Now Heard Around the Internet

If you’ve enjoyed the past few days of anecdotes from the Battle of Lexington and Concord, check out the website for the Concord Museum’s “Shot Heard Round the World” exhibit.

This exhibit, mounted last year, brought together artifacts from the museum itself, local historical societies, and private collectors to create an unprecedented gathering of relics from the first day of the Revolutionary War. As the website explains, it
followed an hour-by-hour account of the actions of British Regulars and Patriots on April 19, 1775, presenting a chronological and geographical timeline of the day and representing many of the communities surrounding Boston—Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Arlington (Menotomy), and Cambridge—whose militias played a prominent role in the day-long engagement. Organized by Concord Museum curator David Wood and militaria expert Joel Bohy, the exhibition explored the objects on view and the part they played in the events of the fateful day that began an eight-year fight for independence.
The online exhibit not only preserves images of many of those artifacts but also ancillary videos and outside links. Plus, there’s a page for teachers and students.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

After John Jupp Came Home to Shirley

Yesterday I introduced the couple of John and Mary Jupp—he a deserter from the British army who had made his way to Shirley, she a woman in her late thirties who apparently had some property but no husband.

They married in late 1774 and had a daughter the following year. But in March 1777 John Jupp enlisted in the Continental Army for three years. Given that separation, could their marriage last?

Legally it did, but Pvt. John Jupp didn’t. He was discharged on 9 May 1780, recorded as having served 33 months and 22 days. (Presumably the army had deducted some time from his three years when he was away from the army recovering from illness.)

Jupp returned to Shirley and died there half a year later on 17 November. The vital records label him as an “Englishman.” James Parker’s diary records plowing and other occasional chores for Mary Jupp in the following years.

In 1785, Mary Jupp remarried to Nathan Smith, whose first wife had died the year before. Smith had seven children, his oldest sons only a few years younger than Mary. Four of those sons had served in the same regiment as John Jupp. Two, Nathan, Jr., and Sylvanus, had become captains.

On 11 Sept 1786, Parker wrote in his diary: “Nathan Smith [Jr.] marched some men to Concord In order to stop the Court Seting.” This was part of the Shays Rebellion. Though Capt. Smith made a fiery speech and was named in an arrest warrant issued that November, he didn’t emigrate from Massachusetts as other members of the movement did. Instead, he died in Shirley in 1834 at the age of ninety-six. A local historian stated that he was “coarse in habit and undisciplined in temper,” and “lost an eye in a rencounter with one of his neighbors.”

After the elder Nathan Smith died, Mary bought a new farm for herself, which she eventually passed down to the daughter of her first marriage and her grandson, Samuel Hartwell. Presumably that land eventually became the Hartwell Farm dairy in Shirley. Mary Smith died in 1826, aged 91.

Friday, April 24, 2015

John Jupp “found his way to Shirley”

Among the men from Shirley who marched during the Lexington Alarm of 19 Apr 1775 was John Jupp, a private in Capt. Henry Haskell’s company, Col. William Prescott’s regiment.

Jupp had more recent military experience than most of his companions. According to Seth Chandler’s History of the Town of Shirley, Massachusetts, he
was an Englishman by birth, and a soldier of the British army that came here to enforce colonial obedience. He was connected with the military department under Governor [Thomas] Gage at Boston, previous to the outbreak of the American Revolution. He deserted from the service of the king and found his way to Shirley…
Jupp and Mary Simonds recorded their intention to marry on 12 Nov 1774 in the Shirley meeting-house (shown above in its present form).

If her death listing from 1826 was accurate, Mary Simonds was born about 1735, making her close to forty years old when she wed. I suspect she had property since Jupp was said to have “owned a small farming estate, situated near the center of the town,” and a recently deserted soldier wouldn’t have been able to buy such land.

On 16 Jan 1775, Jupp sold a silver watch for cash and three dollars on credit to James Parker (1744-1830), who was teaching school in Haskell’s shop. Again, this doesn’t seem like the sort of property a deserting soldier would have on his own, but who knows?

Jupp served with the town militia company for ten days in April 1775. Shirley’s vital records say John and Mary Jupp had a daughter on 26 September. (However, another transcription of those records indicates that the child born that day was named John; I assume that was a misreading.)

In January 1776, John Jupp was 74 miles away in the camp at Cambridge, once again serving in a militia company under Capt. Haskell. Massachusetts had called those men up to ensure the lines around Boston didn’t collapse while Gen. George Washington strove to rebuild his forces.

Then on 9 Mar 1777, John Jupp enlisted as a private in the Continental Army for three years. He was in Capt. Sylvanus Smith’s company, Col. Timothy Bigelow’s regiment—a unit that was at Saratoga and Valley Forge. Though military records state that John Jupp was “sick at Shirley” in January 1779, his wife and daughter saw little of him in those years.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Mansplaining about Dr. Joseph Warren

The first book devoted to Dr. Joseph Warren was Stories about General Warren: in Relation to the Fifth of March Massacre, and the Battle of Bunker Hill, a biography for young readers published in 1835. The anonymous author was the doctor’s niece Rebecca Brown (1789-1855), shown here courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts.

Stories about General Warren took the form of a dialogue between a mother and two children named William and Mary, who say things like, “Did not all the boys like him, mamma? I am sure I should have liked him.”

The book was reviewed that year in the Southern Literary Messenger, mainly to give the reviewer a chance to write about Warren. He (and the tone almost requires one to assume the anonymous reviewer was a he) devotes a long column to “the book’s childishness of style” and “many offences far more atrocious in a critic’s eyes—sins against grammar, idiom, and good taste.” That part of the essay ended:
Let the author be entreated to get the aid of some friend who is master (if she is not mistress) of grammar and taste enough, to reform these and the other errors of her little work, and then give us a new edition, calling in all the copies of the first, that are within her reach.
Not the type of notice an author wishes to receive.

The reviewer then launched into his own version of Warren’s life. Many points of that biography are unreliable, as when it gives Warren the rank of a general months before the Massachusetts Provincial Congress did. Here’s his telling of Warren’s activity during the Battle of Lexington and Concord:
Scouts of his had notified him on the 18th of April, that a detachment of troops was to march that night towards Concord: and then, remaining himself upon the watch, he saw Colonel [Francis] Smith and 8 or 900 men embark for Charlestown [sic]. Knowing the stores and ammunition at Concord to be their object [he didn’t really], he instantly sent messengers over the surrounding country, to give the alarm; and himself rode all night [no, Warren left Boston near dawn]—passing so near the enemy, as to be more than once in great danger of capture. . . .

Warren, sleepless and in motion throughout the night, hurried to the scene of action: and, when the enemy were retreating from Concord, he was among the foremost in hanging upon their rear, and assailing their flanks. By pressing them too closely, he once narrowly escaped death. A musket ball took off a lock of hair, which curled close to his head, in the fashion of that time.

When his mother first saw him after the battle, and heard of this escape, she entreated him with tears not again to risk a life so precious. “Where danger is, dear mother,” he answered, “there must your son be. Now is no time for any of America’s children to shrink from any hazard. I will see her free, or die.”
Rebecca Brown had written something similar, but not the same:
When his mother first saw him after this escape, she entreated him, with tears in her eyes, not again to risk a life so dear to her, and so necessary to his country. “Wherever danger is, dear mother,” was his reply, “there must your son be, now is no time for one of America’s children to shrink from the most hazardous duty. I will either see my country free, or shed my last drop of blood to make her so.”
Presumably the reviewer rewrote Brown’s quote to minimize the “sins against grammar, idiom, and good taste.” He did not indicate having any better source of information.

Not that either version of the quote is probably accurate. But at least there’s a chance that Rebecca Brown had heard about that meeting from her grandmother Mary Warren, who lived until 1803.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Legend of Betsey Hagar

In his History of Bradford County, Pennsylvania (1891), Henry C. Bradsby set down this unusual anecdote of the aftermath of the Revolutionary War’s first day:
Betsey Hagar…was born in Boston in 1750, and at nine years of age was left alone in the world to shift for herself. She grew up on a farm, was of a strong muscular frame, and learned to do all rough farm work, as well as being an expert at the loom.

When the Revolution broke out she was at work for a man named Leverett, in his blacksmith shop; he was very ingenious, and he and Betsey were secretly busy fixing the old match-lock guns for the patriots. She would file and grind and scour the work, and fit it as fast as he would turn it out. The two, it should be remembered, were working gratuitously—solely for the cause of freedom.

At the battle of Concord the British fled, and left six nice brass cannon, but all spiked. They were taken to Leverett’s shop, where he and his helper drilled holes opposite the spikes and then they could punch them out and stop up the hole with a screw. She worked hard at these cannon six weeks. She also made cartridges, and when her supply of flannel for this purpose gave out, she took off her underclothes and used them. At night, after the battle, she helped care for and nurse the wounded. Thus she helped during the seven years’ war.

In 1813 she married John Pratt, and they were on a rented farm at the time the “Shay rebellion” broke out, when she said: “John, you go and help kill Shay, and I will look after the crop.” John went, and she made a fine crop. Her son was Thomas Pratt.

In 1816 the family came to Burlington township [Pennsylvania], and settled on the G. A. Johnson farm. Among her other gifts was much knowledge of medicine—the herbs, roots and flowers of the country, and she often ministered to the sick, and was as much respected and “looked up to” as any person in the settlement. She lived to a green old age, dying in Granville in 1843, aged ninety-three years.
Two decades later, Harry Clinton Green and Mary Wolcott Green were looking for stories for The Pioneer Mothers of America. They put Betsy Hagar into their second volume, right before Molly Pitcher. That version added some details:
  • Young Betsy was “bound out” at an early age.
  • The blacksmith was named Samuel Leverett.
  • John Pratt marched during the Lexington Alarm, carrying a gun that Samuel Leverett and Betsy Hagar had repaired.
  • Betsy was caring for the wounded after the Battle of Lexington and Concord when she spotted the six spiked cannon.
  • Betsy and John married “shortly after the close of the war.”
  • In Pennsylvania, Betsy was a vocal opponent of “an English doctor named Lee” offering smallpox vaccinations in 1813. (The county history mentioned Dr. Ira Lee, but not in connection to the Pratts, who it said didn’t settle there until three years later.)
The Greens thus appear to have had additional sources for their telling—but they didn’t say what those sources were, leaving no way to evaluate them. And, as I discussed in the case of Deborah Champion, the Greens tended to smooth out contradictions in their sources instead of acknowledging reasons for doubt.

Elizabeth Pratt’s Find-a-Grave page (source of the image above) offers yet another contradictory detail, saying she died “died July 12, 1843, aged 88 years, 1 month and 4 days,” meaning she was actually born in June 1755. Those words seem to come from a more recent local history.

Alas, I’ve found no documents to confirm any of the story of Betsey Hagar. I’ve looked in Boston records for her birth or her binding out by the Overseers of the Poor. I’ve looked for a blacksmith named Samuel Leverett. Massachusetts Soldiers and Sailors, volume 12, pages 691-5, lists multiple John Pratts who served in the American military during the Revolutionary War as shown by one contemporaneous document or another. That group includes at least four who marched in April 1775: from Chelsea, Dorchester, and two from Reading. But none was from Concord or a town nearby.

Most important, the part of the story that makes Betsey Hagar most significant, the repair of “six nice brass cannon” left behind by the British, is clearly a myth. The British army didn’t bring any cannon all the way to Concord, nor leave any of its own artillery behind. While in Concord, the troops did damage some cannon that the town had mounted, but those guns were made of iron. Such sources as the Massachusetts Provincial Congress records and the recollections of Dr. James Thacher show that the province had only four brass cannon at the first months of the war, none of them found by the British and spiked.

The story of Betsey Hagar, though repeated many places in the last fifty years, thus seems to be a legend that can be traced only as far back as the Pennsylvania towns where her descendants lived in the mid-1800s.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Mary Sanderson and the Man in Her Bed

Mary Munroe was born in 1748 in a “part of Lexington called Scotland” for the number of Scottish immigrants who had settled there. She reportedly kept “a little of the Scottish accent…all her life.”

In October 1772, Mary Munroe married Samuel Sanderson, a cabinetmaker who had moved into town from Waltham four years before. A man who knew her later wrote that Sanderson was “reputed an excellent workman, and a man of strong, native, good sense, but of a rather phlegmatic and desponding temperament, with whom the world never wagged so cheerily as with many.”

The Sandersons had a boy named Amos in July 1774. Samuel’s brother Elijah also lived and worked with him in his house (shown here, courtesy of the Boston Public Library’s Flickr collection).

In April 1775, Samuel Sanderson was a corporal in the Lexington militia, standing on the common as the British column arrived. Local historian Michael J. Canavan recorded this story about how Mary Sanderson experienced the outbreak of war:
When he heard that the British were coming he piloted his wife over to her father’s carrying his babe, and accompanied by a little girl who was at their house. Over at Scotland they found the mother getting breakfast and the brothers at first did not believe the report.

After the British retreated Mary returned home and found a good many things had been stolen. Her cow (which was a good part of her marriage portion) had been killed; and a wounded British soldier was stowed away in her bed. She cried out “I wont hae him there. Why didn’t you knock him on the head?”

But the town authorities insisted he be taken care of. . . . The soldier begged for Tea but she refused. “what for should I gae him tae for? He shall hae none.”

The wounded man refused to eat or drink unless the food was tasted by some of the family.
Smart man.

Despite crippling arthritis, Mary Sanderson lived to be a centenarian. On 23 Sept 1852 the women of Lexington organized a “levee” in her honor at the town hall, with refreshments and music. It raised $300. She died less than a month later at the age of 104.

Monday, April 20, 2015

“Shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous”

On 19 Apr 1775, two companies of militiamen marched from Andover. Anticipating that the British column was headed to Concord, where the Massachusetts Provincial Congress had collected supplies, they marched toward that town, but kept adjusting their course as they received more news.

Here’s the account of Sgt. Thomas Boynton from Capt. Benjamin Ames’s company:

This morning, being Wednesday, about the sun’s rising the town was alarmed with the news that the Regulars was on their march to Concord. Upon which the town mustered and about 10 o’clock marched onward for Concord. In Tewksbury news came that the Regulars had fired on our men in Lexington, and had killed 8. In Bilricke news came that the enemy were killing and slaying our men in Concord. Bedford we had the news that the enemy had killed 2 of our men and had retreated back; we shifted our course and persued after them as fast as possible, but all in vain; the enemy had the start 3 or 4 miles. It is said that their number was about 1500 men. They were persued as far as Charlestown that night; the next day they passed Charles River. The loss they sustained as we hear were 500; our men about 40. To return, after we came into Concord road we saw houses burning and others plundered and dead bodies of the enemy lying by the way, others taken prisoners. About eight at night our regiment came to a halt in notime. The next morning we came into Cambridge and there abode.
The Andover men never made contact with the enemy that day, but they did become part of the army besieging Boston.

Another man on that march was James Stevens, a carpenter born in 1749 who was in Capt. Thomas Poor’s company. His diary was published in the Essex Institute Historical Collections in 1912, offering a vivid picture of the aftermath of battle:
April ye 19 1775 this morning a bout seven aclok we had alarum that the Reegerlers was gon to Conkord we getherd to the meting hous & then started for Concord we went throu Tukesbary & in to Bilrica we stopt to Polords [Solomon Pollard’s tavern, burned in 1977] & eat some bisket & Ches on the comon. we started & wen into Bedford & we herd that the regerlers was gon back to Boston

we went through Bedford, we went in to Lecentown. we went to the metinghous & there we come to the distraction of the Reegerlers thay cild eight of our men & shot a Canon Ball throug the metin hous. we went a long through Lecintown & we saw severel regerlers ded on the rod & som of our men & three or fore housen was Burnt & som hoses & hogs was cild thay plaindered in every hous thay could git in to thay stove in windows & broke in tops of desks we met the men a coming back very fast we went through Notemy & got into Cambridg we stopt about eight acloke for thay say that the regerlers was got to Chalstown on to Bunkers hil & intrenstion we stopt about two miles back from the college

Thursday ye 20 this morning we had alarum about day we imbodied as son as posable & marcht into the comon we herd that the regrelers was gon to Boston we staid on the Comon a spel & then retreted back to the hils & exspected them out on us we herd severl small canons & one or two swevels from a tender we staid while ten or a leven aClok & then come down & got some refreshment & men come in very fast
Stevens’s idiosyncratic spelling probably gives a good sense of what he sounded like. It’s also clear that even then people had trouble spelling “Billerica.”

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Reuben Brown, the Link Between Lexington and Concord

Reuben Brown was born in Sudbury in 1748. In 1770, soon after coming of age, he moved to Concord and established himself as a saddler. Three years later, on 12 May 1773, he married a girl from his old town, Mary (Polly) How. Their daughter Hepzibath arrived four months later on 15 September, and their second daughter Sally on 9 Mar 1775.

Also in early 1775, according to Concord historian Lemuel Shattuck, Brown made “cartouch-boxes, holsters, belts, and other articles of saddlery” for local militiamen. The town’s Liberty Pole stood in a field behind his shop.

But those weren’t Brown’s most significant contributions to the Battle of Lexington and Concord. He had a unique perspective on the action, as described in his highly wrought obituary in the 3 Oct 1832 The New England Farmer (reprinted from the Boston Courier):
Died at Concord, Mass. on the 25th ult. [i.e., of last month] Mr Reuben Brown, a rare specimen of that hardy, industrious, intelligent and fearless yeomanry which, fifty years ago, was the glory of the Commonwealth and the bulwark of the Union.

Mr Brown, who was a native of Sudbury and a grandson of the first minister of that ancient settlement, removed to Concord about the year 1771, and was of course just in season to witness the earliest scenes of the great Drama of the Age. He did witness them literally, indeed, for on the eventful morning of the 19th of April, long before day-break, he was on his way, alone, at the request of some of the Concord authorities, to reconnoitre the advance of the British to Lexington.

He reached the “Common” just as they were seen marching up the Boston road. He advised the American officers, who were wholly unprepared to meet an enemy, to withdraw; but they declined, chiefly from the firm belief, which their men shared with them, that the British would never think of firing upon them at all events.

Mr Brown waited to see the issue of the meeting—the blood of the first martyrs of American liberty—and he then returned rapidly to Concord and reported progress.

His work had now but commenced. His shop was closed—a large saddler’s establishment in which he had already fitted out several companies of cavalry and infantry—and then his house—standing on the main road in the village—and his wife with her infant children instructed to manage for herself in the woods north of the town, with many other females and infirm people of the place—

Mr. Brown then mounted his horse again, it being now about day-break, and commenced the task of alarming the neighboring country. And his efforts will need no comment when we say that he rode that day about 120 miles in the performance of this noble duty. The result of the exertions in which no single man probably bore so active a part as himself, is well known to all readers of a history which “the world has by heart.” On many other occasions he was equally efficient, though he did not happen to be at any time engaged in fighting the enemy in the field. Two of his brothers were at Bunker Hill.

Universally respected by his fellow citizens for his sound judgment, his energy, his industry, his public spirit, his cordial benevolence, and, above all, for that staunch old fashioned honesty which knew no shadow of turning—his gray hairs were crowned with the praise of a Patriot, and his death with the peace of a Christian. He came to his grave at the venerable age of 84.
Brown was thus the communication link between Lexington and Concord at the start of the fight. His report that the British troops were willing to shoot warned his own neighbors to be cautious about confronting those soldiers, putting off the confrontation in Concord for a few hours until more militia units arrived.

Reportedly, before leaving town the regulars took a chaise from Brown’s shop, perhaps to transport a wounded man. That man might well have been Lt. Edward Thoroton Gould—at least, men in Cambridge later took control of both Gould and Brown’s chaise. Reuben Brown also had a connection to another prisoner, Lt. Isaac Potter of the Marines: the provincials held him for a while in Brown’s house.

Here is an old photograph of that house from the collection of the Boston Public Library. Brown’s account books from a couple of decades later are at the Concord library.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Jeremiah Lee’s Very Bad Night

Jeremiah Lee was a non-battlefield casualty of the fight on 18-19 Apr 1775. On the one hand, that’s appropriate because he was central to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s effort to build up an artillery force, which prompted the British army march tp Concord. On the other hand, Lee’s death was probably unnecessary.

Lee was a Marblehead merchant, militia commander, and member of the congress’s Committee on Supplies. He was the conduit for its payments to the Salem painter David Mason as he collected and mounted cannons.

On 18 April, Lee attended a joint meeting of the Committee on Supplies and the Committee of Safety at a tavern in Menotomy, the western village of Cambridge that’s now Arlington. When the meeting broke up, he and two other men from Marblehead, Elbridge Gerry and Azor Orne, decided to stay the night. Richard Devens of Charlestown later wrote:
After we had finished the business of the day, we adjourned to meet at Woburn on the morrow,—left to lodge at Newell’s [the tavern], Gerry, Orne, and Lee. Mr. [Abraham] Watson and myself came off in my chaise at sunset.

On the road we met a great number of B[ritish]. O[fficers]. and their servants on horseback, who had dined that day at Cambridge. We rode some way after we met them, and then turned back and rode through them, went and informed our friends at Newell’s. We stopped there till they [the officers] came up and rode by. We then left our friends, and I came home, after leaving Mr. Watson at his house.
Likewise, Gen. William Heath wrote of himself in the third person: “on his return home, soon after he left the committee, and about sun-setting, he met eight or nine British officers on horseback, with their swords and pistols, riding up the road towards Lexington.”

The province was abuzz with rumors that the London government had ordered Gen. Thomas Gage to arrest leaders of the rebellion—and those rumors were pretty much true. The committee men were naturally nervous. Gerry sent a warning west to John Hancock and Samuel Adams, then staying at Lexington. Nonetheless, Devens and Watson had passed through the British officers twice with no trouble.

Later that evening, a long column of British troops passed by the tavern on the way to Concord. Lee, Gerry, and Orne got out of bed to watch. Suddenly they perceived some soldiers from that column coming toward the front door. Half-dressed, the three men dashed out the back and threw themselves down in a field, hoping the stalks of the previous year’s crop would hide them. Heath wrote that he heard they suffered “some injury from obstacles in the way, in their undressed state.”

The three men remained on the ground for about an hour before they decided it was safe to return to the building. Lee, who had just turned fifty-four, took sick from the cold and stress. He died on 10 May, his family and friends blaming the events of that night.

Here’s the sad irony: those British troops weren’t seeking to arrest anyone on the Committee on Supplies. Gen. Thomas Gage’s orders for that march say nothing about arresting Provincial Congress members or searching buildings before the column reached Concord. None of the several British officers who left detailed accounts of the night wrote about such a search on the way west. Heath wrote that he’d heard the troops “halted” outside the tavern, which they might have done just to get water from a well, but he didn’t say they went inside.

In his 1828 biography of Gerry, James T. Austin wrote that British troops had searched Newell’s tavern on the night of 18 April. Of course, saying that made Gerry’s decision to hide outside in the fields seem more smart than scared. And although Austin claimed, “even the beds in which they had lain were examined,” he had to acknowledge that nothing, not even “a valuable watch of Mr. Gerry’s, which was under his pillow,” had been disturbed. No eyewitness accounts from 1775 said troops had gone into the tavern, and the Massachusetts Patriots hadn’t shied from complaining about British actions that day.

I therefore suspect that Lee, Gerry, and Orne could have stayed inside their bedroom the whole night without being disturbed. And Lee might have lived for many more years.

Friday, April 17, 2015

John Goddard Carts Supplies to Concord

On 24 Febr 1775, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s Committee of Safety and Committee on Supplies voted to procure these items and store them in Concord:
1000 candles; 100 hhds. [hogsheads] salt; a suitable supply of wooden spoons; 20 casks of raisins; 20 bushels of oatmeal; 1500 yards Russia linen; also 2 barrels Lisbon oil; 6 casks of Malaga wine, and 9 casks of Lisbon wine, to be lodged at Stow.
The committees had already started to amass other supplies, including some with no other purpose but to wage war. The congress needed someone to move all that stuff around, so on that same day the committees
Voted, unanimously, that Mr. John Goddard, of Brookline, be waggon master for the army, and that Capt. [Benjamin] White inform him of his choice by the province.
Goddard (1730-1816) had been one of Brookline’s three representatives to the first Massachusetts Provincial Congress, convening in October 1774, but for the February session the town had sent only White.

In 1898 the Brookline Historical Society printed John Goddard’s expense book, listing these entries for the beginning of the year 1775:
The Committee for Supplies to John Goddard of Brookline Dr. for his Expense of Time —

March 4th 1775 to one day going to Boston & engaging Team £0.. 5 .. 4
[etc. etc.]

March 8th 1775.
The Committee for Supplies to Sundry Persons under ye Direction of John Goddard Dr. —
To carting fifty five Barrels of Beef from Boston to Concord @5/ Pr Barrel £3..15..0

to carting two Hogsheads of Flints & other articles from Boston to Brookline 0..6..6

20th to carting 74 C:3/4 of Rice from Boston to Concord @1/2d pr C 4..19..8

22. to carting 15 C:1/4 of weights 1..0..2
to carting sheet Lead and three Barrels of Linen 0..8..0

24. To carting 2 casks of Leaden Balls 0..2..8

April 10th 1775. to carting two Ox Cart & two horse cart loads of canteens to Concord £3..6..8
to ye assistance of 3 Men in removing canteens 0..3..0

14th to carting 1 ox cart & 1 horse cart load of Canteens to Concord 1..13..4
In Nathaniel Goddard: A Boston Merchant, 1767-1853 (1906), Henry G. Pickering wrote that on the trips to Concord, “One of these teams was driven by John Goddard himself, and another by his son Joseph, then a lad of fourteen.”

Thursday, April 16, 2015

“A humorous story told about town of one of the deserters”

On 20 Aug 1774, the young lawyer John Trumbull sent the following to his legal mentor John Adams, then on his way to the First Continental Congress:
There is a humorous story told about town of one of the deserters, though I cannot say it is absolutely to be depended upon as a fact: a soldier, whose name is Patrick, deserted sometime ago and settled in a country town at some distance, and there undertook to instruct a company of about fifty men in military exercises.

A sergeant and eight men were sent to apprehend deserters, got intelligence of him, and agreed with a countryman, for a couple of guineas, to conduct them to him. Patrick, it seems, was at that time exercising his company; however, being called by the sergeant and his men, he immediately came up to them. The sergeant demanded what he did there, told him he was his prisoner, and ordered him to return and join his regiment.

Sir, said Patrick, I beg your pardon, but I don’t think it possible for me to obey you at present. The sergeant repeated his orders in a very peremptory style. Patrick still assured him of the great improbability of his being able to comply with the command; but told him, as it was not absolutely certain, he would see what could be done about it.

You must know, said he, that we determine every thing here by a vote—and turning to his company, which had by this time come up,—gentlemen, says he, if it be your mind that I should leave the town and return to my regiment, please to manifest it. Not a single hand appeared in favor of the motion. He then desired that those who were contrary-minded should manifest it, which passed nem. con. [i.e., no dissenting votes]

The sergeant and his men, finding themselves in so small a minority, and seeing it in vain to oppose the general voice of the meeting, were about to return again in peace, when one or two of his men were desirous to have it put to vote whether they should not stay also. Patrick, as moderator, immediately put the question, which it was not difficult to carry in such an assembly, and the sergeant, knowing it vain to resist, returned with six men to his regiment.
It seems significant that not even Trumbull suggested this tale was factual. But it reflects how he and other New Englanders liked to see themselves in 1774: committed to traditional voting and group solidarity, capable of using force but preferring to use calm reason and numbers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Paul Revere House during School Vacation Week

With Patriots Day and Massachusetts school vacation coming up, the Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End has a slate of activities for families and younger kids.

Unless otherwise noted, these events are free with museum admission, which is $3.50 for adults, $3.00 for seniors and college students, $1.00 for children ages 5–17. Members and North End residents get in free. The house is open daily 9:30 A.M. to 5:15 P.M.

Saturday, 18 April, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
Patriot Fife and Drum
Enjoy a lively concert of music that accompanied colonists as they marched, danced, wooed their beloveds, and waged war. David Vose and Sue Walko provide fascinating insight into each selection they perform.

Tuesday, 21 April, 1:00 to 3:00 P.M.
A Visit with Paul Revere
David Connor brings Boston’s favorite patriot vividly to life. Ask him about the details of his midnight ride, inquire about his sixteen children, or engage him in conversation about his activities as a member of the Sons of Liberty.

Wednesday, 22 April, 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 noon
Midnight Ride Storytelling Program
Find out what really happened on Paul Revere’s ride! Separate the facts from the myths, then retrace Revere’s route from his home to the banks of the Charles River. Participants don hats and carry props as they go, taking on the roles of Paul and Rachel Revere, their children, British soldiers, rowers, John Hancock and Samuel Adams. Particularly appropriate for kids in grades K-4. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 617-523-2338. $4.50 for each adult and child age 5 and up.

Thursday, 23 April, 2:00 to 4:00 P.M.
Drop-In Colonial Kids Activities
We encourage families with kids of all ages to stop by to try on clothes like Paul Revere’s kids wore, play 18th-century games in an informal setting, and write with a quill pen. This program is included with admission to the house and reservations are NOT required.

Friday, 24 April, 10:30 A.M. to 12:00 noon
Midnight Ride Storytelling Program
See Wednesday above.

Saturday, 25 April, 10:30 A.M.
Kids-eye-view Tour of the Paul Revere House
Take a tour designed especially to answer kids’ most pressing historic house questions like: where did sixteen children sleep? How did they bathe and where did they go to the bathroom? Why didn’t playing cards have numbers? And who was this Paul Revere guy anyway? This program is limited to twenty people. Reservations are required and may be made by calling 617-523-2338. $4.50 for each adult and child age 5 and up.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

A Book Launch Where You Can Pop Up on 16 Apr.

Last May I noted a Kickstarter campaign for a pop-up book about Boston’s Freedom Trail, created by paper engineer Denise D. Price.

The Freedom Trail Pop Up Book of Boston has now been produced and printed, and Price is inviting people to a launch party on Thursday, 16 April, at the Old North Church.

The book contains pop-up versions of ships, church spires, Charles Bulfinch’s expanded Fanueil Hall, the soldiers from the Boston Massacre engraving, and more—sixteen scenes in all.

This event begins at 5:30 P.M. Book sales will benefit the church.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Places to Go, People to Read

Greater Boston’s Patriots Day season has already started. For information about reenactments and commemorations in Middlesex County, check out the Battle Road site.

And don’t forget about next week’s Colonial Comics events, which got some ink from the Boston Globe yesterday.

Looking back, the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference last Thursday through Saturday benefited from excellent wi-fi at the Massachusetts Historical Society, so there was a lot of tweeting during the sessions. That produced a parallel discussion that brought in resources and voices from outside the room, as well as the usual strictly limited paraphrases of what people said and snarky comments about it.

Two members of the Junto have collected the tweets marked #RevReborn2 in separate formats. Joe Adelman used the experimental tool at Hawksey.info to create this archive of #RevReborn2 tweets. The site also produced graphs and an unintelligible map.

Michael Hattem fed tweets and photos into the established Storify site:
If you want to comment back on Twitter, use the #RevReborn2 label, and your remark may appear in a future update.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

“Poor Mrs Brown, who was Betsy Otis”

James Otis’s 1783 will didn’t exactly brim with love for his oldest child, Elizabeth, who toward the end of the siege of Boston had married a British army officer, Leonard Brown.

As I quoted yesterday, Otis wrote that he’d heard his daughter’s husband had left her, and that she was suffering from consumption, and then he bequeathed her five shillings. And that was supposed to be in a moment of sanity.

I haven’t found any indication that those rumors were true. Elizabeth Brown lived for decades. And while I can’t confirm the Browns lived together happily, they remained a couple.

In October 1785, after John Adams became the U.S. of A.’s minister to Britain, Elizabeth Brown contacted him, saying, “my Comp[limen]ts: attend Mrs: Adams and inform her I still retain a pleasing remembrance of the agreeable Week I pass’d with her at Plymouth.” She said that she was living “at Leonard Browns Esqr. Sleaford Lincolnshire”—probably her father-in-law’s house.

The biggest problem Elizabeth Brown faced then was not the lack of money from her father but lack of access to bequests from other relatives. Two months later Brown laid out her difficulty for Adams:

my Grandfather at the Decease of my much’d Hond: Father Bequeath’d me one Thousand pound Lawfull Money which his Executors M: J— and Mr: A— Otis were to pay me, and I expected to receive the interest. untill it was convenient to them, to pay the principal
“M: J— and Mr: A— Otis” were Brown’s uncles Joseph Otis and Samuel Allyne Otis. Her uncle by marriage, James Warren, was supposed to be her attorney in Massachusetts, receiving and passing on the money. But the Otises’ business had failed in the tough postwar American economy, so they didn’t have any cash to send. And Warren wasn’t representing Elizabeth Brown’s interests well.

In May 1786, Abigail Adams wrote from London to her sister Mary Cranch about the case:
Poor Mrs Brown, who was Betsy Otis, had all her Grandfather left her, in the Hands of Mr Allen otis and Genll Warren. She has written several Letters to mr Adams upon the subject requesting his advice what to do. Her Father left her nothing. It is very hard she Should lose what her Grandfather left her.
The case hung on. In 1789, Elizabeth’s mother, Ruth Otis, died, leaving her more wealth.

Finally, in February 1790 the Massachusetts legislature passed a law allowing “Leonard Brown and his Wife” to take possession of land belonging to Samuel Allyne Otis as he went through bankruptcy and to sell it to satisfy a debt to them. The attorneys in that settlement were Harrison Gray Otis, Otis’s son, and William Tudor, Adams’s former clerk and father of James Otis’s future biographer.

According to William Tudor, Jr., Elizabeth Brown made “a short visit in 1792” to Massachusetts, perhaps to wrap up those bequests. He also wrote that her husband, “coming into possession of a handsome property, resigned his commission” in the army and retired to a genteel life in the British countryside. That might have been in 1796, when the Monthly Magazine reported the death “At Sleaford, aged 82, Leonard Brown, esq. of Pinchbeck, for many years a magistrate for the district of Kesteven.”

As I wrote yesterday, St. Mary’s church in Pinchbeck contains an inscription about the death of Capt. Brown in 1821. Tudor wrote that Elizabeth Brown was still alive at that time. According to Lincolnshire Pedigrees (which names her father as “Thomas Otis of Boston”), Elizabeth Brown died 18 Apr 1839 at age eighty-two.

That same genealogical book says that Elizabeth and Leonard Brown had a son, also named Leonard, born around 1777. He lived until 1848 and was survived by his widow, Anne. I found gossip about them in Letters of James Savage to His Family, privately printed in 1906. Savage was a genealogist, and in 1842 he went to Britain, determined to track down James Otis’s descendants. Writing from the other Boston, he told his wife what he’d heard about this Leonard Brown: “he was domineered over by his mother, after father’s death, and had only within a short time married his housekeeper or cook, and had no children.” And that was the end of that branch of the Otis family.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

“Elizabeth went from hence with the said Leonard Brown”

Elizabeth Otis was born in Boston on 28 Mar 1757, the oldest child of James Otis, Jr., and his wife, the former Ruth Cunningham. Betsy was a small child when her father broke with Massachusetts’s “court party” and the royal patronage system in favor of championing Boston’s Whig merchants through electoral politics. She was twelve years old when her father had his first serious bout of insanity.

As I discussed way back here, Ruth Otis remained politically Loyalist. And as her husband became non compos mentis, she naturally took an even bigger role in raising the children. Ruth and Betsy Otis remained in Boston during the siege while James was outside under doctor’s care.

On 25 Feb 1776, Betsy Otis married Lt. Leonard Brown of the King’s Own (4th) Regiment. According to an inscription in the church in Pinchbeck, Lincolnshire, Brown was born in 1749. He might have been in the Battle of Lexington and Concord, and he was definitely wounded at Bunker Hill.

Boston town records of this marriage identify Brown as a gentleman (“Esq.”), but not an officer. The officiating minister was the Rev. Moses Badger, not one of Boston’s pastors but perhaps acting as a Royal Navy chaplain. Badger was a Harvard graduate from Haverhill who had converted from New England Congregationalism to the Anglican Church years earlier.

According to family traditions, Ruth Otis supported Betsy’s marriage, but James Otis was upset when he learned about it. Within a month, the couple evacuated with the royal army to Halifax. During the war, Brown was promoted to captain and reportedly “placed in command of one of the fortresses on the coast of England.”

In 1782, Betsy’s cousin Harrison Gray Otis later recalled, he brought James Otis down from his asylum in Andover to Boston, “at a period when my father [Samuel Allyne Otis] and his friends thought he was recovered.” During this journey, James Otis shared “delightfully instructive” observations about the law and as an exercise for his nephew started to compose his will.

That will, completed the next year, had little to offer his oldest child:

whereas the said Elizabeth went from hence with the said Leonard Brown at the evacuation of Boston to Halifax & thence for England & with him settled at Steaford [actually Sleaford] in Lincolnshire, and as I hear he has left his wife & joined the British Arm[y] again, and the last I hear is that she was in a consumption I give the said Elizabeth five shillings if alive.
James Otis died later in 1783, leaving the rest of his property to his widow, who had remained in Massachusetts, and his younger daughter, Mary, who married a son of Gen. Benjamin Lincoln. But what about Betsy?

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

Friday, April 10, 2015

Did Gouverneur Morris Slap Washington on the Shoulder?

A footnote in Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington, written largely by George Washington Parke Custis and edited by Benson J. Lossing in 1861, passes on this story:
It is related of the Honorable Gouverneur Morris, who was remarkable for his freedom of deportment toward his friends, that on one occasion he offered a wager that he could treat General [George] Washington with the same familiarity as he did others. This challenge was accepted, and the performance tried. Mr. Morris slapped Washington familiarly on the shoulder, and said, “How are you, this morning, general?” Washington made no reply, but turned his eyes upon Mr. Morris with a glance that fairly withered him. He afterward acknowledged, that nothing could induce him to attempt the same thing again.
No source is stated, and both Custis and Lossing were “print the legend” guys, often unreliable on both details and broad strokes. However, in this case there seems to be a stronger basis for the tale.

In Inquiry into the Origin and Course of Political Parties in the United States, written by Martin Van Buren and published after his death by his sons in 1867, a letter dated 1857 passes on a story that Jacob Burnet (1770-1853) told in 1852:
He related an anecdote of Washington which he had from the lips of Alexander Hamilton.

When the Convention to form a Constitution was sitting in Philadelphia in 1787, of which General Washington was President, he had stated evenings to receive the calls of his friends. At an interview between Hamilton, the Morrises, and others, the former remarked that Washington was reserved and aristocratic even to his intimate friends, and allowed no one to be familiar with him. Gouverneur Morris said that was a mere fancy, and he could be as familiar with Washington as with any of his other friends. Hamilton replied, “If you will, at the next reception evening, gently slap him on the shoulder and say, ‘My dear General, how happy I am to see you look so well!’ a supper and wine shall be provided for you and a dozen of your friends.”

The challenge was accepted. On the evening appointed a large number attended, and at an early hour Gouverneur Morris entered, bowed, shook hands, laid his left hand on Washington’s shoulder, and said: “My dear General, I am very happy to see you look so well!” Washington withdrew his hand, stepped suddenly back, fixed his eye on Morris for several minutes with an angry frown, until the latter retreated abashed and sought refuge in the crowd. The company looked on in silence.

At the supper which was provided by Hamilton, Morris said: “I have won the bet but paid dearly for it, and nothing could induce me to repeat it.”
That story went into James Parton’s Life of Thomas Jefferson (1874), and from there into Max Farrand’s Records of the Federal Convention of 1787 (1911). That’s one of the most authoritative sources in American historiography, which might mean it deserves more scrutiny.

Farrand also noted another version of the same anecdote. In his Life and Correspondence of George Read (1870), William Thompson Read said he’d received the same story from “Mrs. Susan[ne] Eckard [1776-1861], of Philadelphia, daughter of Colonel James Read [1743-1822],” who administered the Continental Congress’s Marine department in the 1780s:
Gouverneur Morris, a very handsome, bold, and—I have heard the ladies say—very impudent man. His talents and services are part of American history. He wore a wooden leg. He was not related to the great financier, who was said to be a natural child. The office of Mr. [Robert] Morris was only divided from papa’s by a small entry, and was constantly visited by Mr. Gouverneur Morris, and papa’s also.

One day the latter entered, and papa was so struck by his crest-fallen appearance that he asked, “Are you not well?”

He replied, “I am not,—the devil got possession of me last night.”

“I have often cautioned you against him,” said papa, playfully, “but what has happened to disturb you?”

“I was at the President’s last night; several members of the Cabinet were there. The then absorbing question, (‘I forget,’ Mrs. E. writes, ‘what it was’) was brought up. The President was standing with his arms behind him,—his usual position,—his back to the fire, listening. Hamilton made a speech I did not like. I started up and spoke, stamping, as I walked up and down, with my wooden leg; and, as I was certain I had the best of the argument, as I finished I stalked up to the President, slapped him on the back, and said, ‘Ain’t I right, general?’ The President did not speak, but the majesty of the American people was before me. Oh, his look! How I wished the floor would open and I could descend to the cellar!

“You know me,” continued Mr. Morris, “and you know my eye would never quail before any other mortal.”
In fact, Gouverneur Morris wasn’t in the U.S. of A. during Washington’s terms as President, so that version of the story could not be true. But it’s quite plausible that Eckard misunderstood a reference to Washington as president of the Constitutional Convention, as in the Burnet version of the tale.

We thus have what appear to be three strands of an oral tradition, one put to paper in 1857, another printed in 1860, and a third, independent version written down before 1861. Each of the two letters describes a short chain of storytellers leading back to Hamilton and Morris. So even though this incident didn’t get set down in any form until seven decades after it supposedly happened, it looks credible.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ebenezer Richardson as a Cause of the American Revolution

This afternoon and for the next two days I’ll be attending the “So Sudden an Alteration” conference at the Massachusetts Historical Society. (Follow along on Twitter via #RevReborn2.)

This conference is a sequel to the “American Revolution Reborn” conference in Philadelphia in 2013. And we remember what fun that was.

This installment is subtitled “The Causes, Course, and Consequences of the American Revolution.” The series is charged with reinvigorating the scholarly study and interpretation of the Revolution. So after the call for papers, I offered a radical proposal for a minor but nonetheless notable cause of the American Revolution:
Ebenezer Richardson

As I related in a series of articles beginning here, Ebenezer Richardson was an unremarked Woburn farmer until he married his late wife’s sister and had children by her. Those acts were common enough in eighteenth-century Massachusetts. What set Richardson apart was that he did them in the wrong order: his sister-in-law Kezia Hincher gave birth to his child in 1752, his wife Rebecca died by 1753, and he and Keziua married in Boston in January 1754.

In between the child’s arrival and the Richardson’s departure for Boston, Ebenezer and Kezia had let suspicion of paternity fall on her employer, the Rev. Edward Jackson. That was part of a larger schism and feud between Woburn congregations. Once the baby’s true father was revealed, Jackson’s chief accuser and rival moved out of town in embarrassment.

Meanwhile, Richardson went to work in Boston as an informer for the authorities. That work was exposed in the early 1760s by legal papers that leaked during a dispute within the Customs office. James Otis, Jr., was quick to link Richardson’s willingness to turn in his fellow Bostonians for smuggling to his sexual misbehavior, calling him “a person of the most infamous character,…as was never encouraged under any administration but such as those of Nero or Caligula.”

Customs officials evidently felt some debt to Richardson, however, because they gave him a full-time job as a “land waiter.” (Locals continued to refer to him as “the informer.”)

Then came the confrontation on 22 Feb 1770 when Richardson tried to break up a non-importation protest outside a shop. Not for the first time, a crowd mobbed his house. Fearing for his wife and daughters, Richardson fired birdshot out a window and killed a young boy, Christopher Seider. That spring, a Boston jury convicted Richardson of murder.

If Richardson had been hanged, his behavior might have remained a local political grievance. Instead, the royally appointed judges, convinced his trial was unfair, put off sentencing him for years until the ministry in London sent a pardon. And then the Customs service found Richardson another job, this time in Philadelphia.

To the people of Massachusetts, I argue, Richardson had come to symbolize all that they detested about London: he behaved licentiously, degraded a religious man, betrayed his neighbors’ interests for personal gain, and violently oppressed the innocent. And instead of condemning Richardson, at every turn the royal authorities protected him more closely.

Boston’s Whigs sent information about Richardson to their Philadelphia colleagues, going all the way back to the scandal in Woburn. That made one colony’s grievance into a continental issue. Philadelphians made sure that their local Customs office didn’t become a haven for Richardson.

News of Richardson’s tawdry behavior thus helped to shape popular sentiment against the Crown government. His actions created a moral grievance that united his rural Massachusetts home and the big port he came to patrol. And Americans who never had direct experience with Parliament’s new duties could still see something wrong in royal officials sheltering an adulterer, a sneak, and a child murderer.

As for Ebenezer Richardson himself, in 1774 he fled to London, accepted £10 from the Secretary of State’s office, and slipped out of the historical record. But had he done as much as any other individual to bring on the American Revolution?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Bonnie Hurd Smith on Judith Murray in Boston, 14 Apr.

On Tuesday, 14 April, the Congregational Library in Boston will host a talk by Bonnie Hurd Smith titled “From the Writing Desk of Judith Sargent Murray.”

Murray was an essayist, poet, and playwright in the early American republic. She was among the country’s earliest champions of female equality, education, economic independence, and political engagement. She was also an advocate, with her husband John, for the more open “Universalist” approach to Christian theology.

Here’s a passage from Murray’s 1790 Massachusetts Magazine essay “On the Equality of the Sexes,” about the frustrations that an intelligent but uneducated woman can face:
At length arrived at womanhood, the uncultivated fair one feels a void, which the employments allotted her are by no means capable of filling. What can she do? to books she may not apply; or if she doth, to those only of the novel kind, lest she merit the appellation of a learned lady; and what ideas have been affixed to this term, the observation of many can testify. Fashion, scandal, and sometimes what is still more reprehensible, are then called in to her relief; and who can say to what lengths the liberties she takes may proceed. Meantime she herself is most unhappy; she feels the want of a cultivated mind.
Bonnie Hurd Smith has written six books about Murray. She also created women’s history walking tours in Boston and Salem, and served as Executive Director the Boston Women’s Heritage Trail and board president of the Sargent House Museum.

This event will start at noon. It is free, and the library asks that participants register through Eventbrite.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

“Meanings of Liberty” Events at Old South in April

This month the Bostonian Society and Old South Meeting House are presenting a series of Friday lunchtime events at the latter venue on the theme “Meanings of Liberty.” These presentations commemorate the 250th anniversary of the month when Americans learned that the new Stamp Act would come into effect in November. That law, aa tax enacted by Parliament rather than the colonies’ own legislatures, provoked transatlantic debate on the bounds of liberty within the British imperial system. Of course, American independence didn’t end conflicts between central and local authority, or community and individual liberty.

Friday, 10 April 10, 12:15 to 1:00 P.M.
Liberty Hall: Popular Politics in the Shadow of Boston’s Liberty Tree
Boston’s Liberty Tree—a stately elm located at the corner of Essex and Orange streets—rose to prominence during the tumultuous Stamp Act protests of 1765-66 and quickly became both an important symbol and gathering place for the Boston crowd. Discover the forgotten story of “Liberty Hall,” the name that Bostonians gave to this public space. Liberty Hall’s elaborate rules and rituals invite new ways of thinking about popular politics during the Revolutionary era. Don’t miss this lecture and discussion led by Nathaniel Sheidley, Historian and Director of Public History at The Bostonian Society.

Friday, 17 April, 12:15 to 1:00 P.M.
Symbols and Meanings of Liberty
Come to the Old State House to meet Stephen Greenleaf, Suffolk County’s Sheriff in 1765. As sheriff, Greenleaf endeavored to keep the peace in Boston during the tense days and months that followed the passage of the Stamp Act, but often failed. Greenleaf will even share the particularly harrowing tale of his attempt to remove protest symbols from the Liberty Tree! Stay after the talk to reflect on the meanings of liberty today as you make your own liberty symbol in the form of a lantern or “liberty leaf” to add to our Liberty Tree.

Friday, 24 April, anytime 11:30 A.M. to 1:30 P.M.
Liberty Verses, Liberty Tree!
Stop by Old South Meeting House and add your own “Liberty Leaves” to the growing tree. Choose from a selection of short poems and stanzas about liberty and freedom (some by poets connected with Old South) or write your own “liberty poem”! This activity will be one of several available as part of the site’s celebration of April School Vacation Week and National Poetry Month.

The first and third events will take place at Old South, the second at the Old State House. They are free with admission to each site, and come with a one-day pass to the other museum as well. All are of course free to members of the Old South Meeting House and Bostonian Society.