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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Monday, February 29, 2016

Commemorating the Fifth of March, 5 Mar.

This is the time of year I start posting so much about a Massacre that it’s a wonder the F.B.I. isn’t trying to decode my iPhone. But that’s because the anniversary of the Boston Massacre is coming up on the 5th of March.

This year that date falls on a Saturday, so the annual reenactment hosted by the Bostonian Society outside the Old State House Museum will take place on the exact anniversary. There’s a whole passel of activities planned for the day.

11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M.
Little Redcoats and Little Bostonians, interactive program for children
Learn what life was like for Bostonians and British soldiers in Boston in the months leading up to the violence on King Street. Free; at massacre marker in front the Old State House.

11:30 A.M. and 2:30 P.M.
Trial of the Century, interactive program for all ages
Watch lawyers John Adams and Josiah Quincy defend the British soldiers accused of murdering Bostonians. Audience members take on the roles of witnesses and jurors in this celebrated court case. Free with museum admission; in Representative Hall, Old State House. (Space is limited; tickets available with museum admission starting at 9:00 A.M.)

7:00 P.M.
Boston Massacre Reenactment
Witness the shootings reenacted in front of the Old State House by some of the country’s most dedicated Revolutionary-era reenactors in the very place where the event took place in 1770. Before the action unfolds, hear from radicals, friends of government, and moderates who will talk about the events and attitudes that led to that fateful night. (You can also hear me narrating the action.) Free; in front of the Old State House.

In addition, there are a couple more Massacre-related events in the days that follow.

Sunday, 6 March, 1:00 to 2:30 P.M.
Reading of Blood on the Snow
Join the Bostonian Society for a behind-the-scenes preview of the new play Blood on the Snow on the 246th anniversary of the day that political drama takes place, as acting governor Thomas Hutchinson, his Council, Lt. Col. William Dalrymple, Samuel Adams, and others debated about how the government should respond to the violence. This free reading is open to the public. With limited seating available, please sign up for tickets here. (This play will be fully staged at the Old State House in May.)

Wednesday, 9 March, 6:00 P.M.
At Old South Meeting House
Boston Massacre Orations
Each year from 1771 to 1783, Bostonians gathered by the thousands at Old South to hear commemorative speeches from such politicians as John Hancock and Dr. Joseph Warren. Come hear selected excerpts of those orations performed in the same space by an inter-generational group. This program is co-sponsored by Old South, the Bostonian Society, and the History Departments at Suffolk University and Northeastern University. It is made possible by funding from the Lowell Institute. Free and open to the public, but please register for a seat.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

American Revolution Conference in Williamsburg, 18-20 March

On the weekend of 18-20 March, America’s History, LLC, will host its 5th Annual Conference on the American Revolution in Williamsburg, Virginia. There’s a stellar lineup of speakers, plus me.

This conference will take place two months before the one in central New York that I described yesterday. I’m writing about it second only because I understand that it’s already sold out. So this is pretty much for the record.

Speakers and presentations include:
  • Edward G. Lengel, “‘The Action was Warm in Every Quarter’: The Battle of Germantown
  • Nathaniel Philbrick, “‘Stand Secure Amidst a Falling World’: The Battle of Bunker Hill
  • Daniel Krebs, “The King’s German Auxiliaries during the American War of Independence”
  • Kathleen Duval, “Spain’s Unsung Hero: Bernado Galvez and the Capture of Pensacola 1781”
  • Peter Henriques, “America’s Atlas: The Leadership of George Washington
  • James Kirby Martin, “Through a Howling Wilderness: Benedict Arnold’s March to Quebec
  • Todd Braisted, “The Grand Forage of 1778: The Revolutionary War’s Forgotten Campaign”
  • J. L. Bell, “The Road to Concord: How Four Small Cannons Set Off the American Revolution”
  • Molly Fitzgerald Perry, “‘The Lowest of the Mob’: Exploring the Actions of Sailors and Slaves during the Stamp Act Crisis”
There will also be panel discussions with all the speakers and an update on Campaign 1776 from the Civil War Trust.

The entire conference will take place at the Colonial Williamsburg Woodlands Hotel. For comparison, the package, including lunches and refreshment breaks, costs $225. Featured sponsors are Westholme Publishing, Tim Sampson’s Battlemaps.us, and White Historic Art.

Aside from some speakers, I doubt there will be many people at this conference as well as the Fort Plain Museum’s. But I’ll have different presentations for each.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Fort Plain Museum’s American Revolution Conference, 9-12 June

The 2016 Conference on the American Revolution in the Mohawk Valley will take place on 9-12 June. I’ll be one of many speakers at this event, organized by folks at the Fort Plain Museum in New York. It’s designed both to introduce visitors to the Revolutionary War sites of central New York state and to bring in speakers on the whole conflict.

On Thursday, 9 June, there will be a “Western Frontier Bus Tour” taking registrants to many historic sites in western Mohawk County: Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer, the General Herkimer Home, the 1747 Nellis Tavern, the Van Alstyne Homestead & Tavern, Fort Klock, the Palatine Church, the Stone Arabia and Klock’s Battlefields, the Stone Arabia Churches, and the grave of Colonel John Brown.

On Friday, 10 June, a second tour covers the “Sites of Eastern Mohawk Country”: Fort Johnson Historic Landmark, Fort Hunter (Schoharie Crossing State Historic Site), Johnson Hall State Historic Site, the Drumm House, the Tryon County Courthouse, the Colonial Cemetery, the Fort Johnstown Jail, the Johnstown Battlefield, the Montgomery County History & Archives, and the Kateri Indian Museum (Liberty Pole Site).

The conference presentations will take place over the weekend at Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnston, New York.

The program on Saturday, 11 June, includes:
  • Bruce Venter, “The Battle of Hubbardton: The Rear Guard Action that Saved America”
  • James Kirby Martin, “Benedict Arnold, Revolutionary Hero: An American Warrior Reconsidered”
  • Edward G. Lengel, “First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His and the Nation’s Prosperity”
  • Lois Huey, “Molly Brant: A Legacy Of Her Own”
  • Todd Braisted, “Grand Forage 1778: The Battleground Around New York City”
  • J. L. Bell, “The Road to Concord: How Four Stolen Cannon Ignited the Revolutionary War”
Don Hagist of British Soldiers, American Revolution will deliver the keynote presentation during that evening’s banquet at the Historic 1765 Goose Van Alstyne Tavern in Canajoharie.

On the morning of Sunday, 12 June, the presenters will be:
  • Darren Bonaparte, “Colonel Louis Cook, Oneidas at Oriskany”
  • Philip D. Weaver, “The 3rd New Jersey in the Mohawk Valley”
The last event will be a panel discussion of archeology at New York’s Revolutionary War fortifications featuring Dr. Amy Roache-Fedchenko on Fort Stanwix (Fort Schuyler), Dr. Susan Maguire on Fort Niagara, Dr. Douglas Pippin on Fort Haldimand, Aaron Gore on Fort Oswegatchie, and Wayne Lenig on Fort Plain/Fort Rensselaer.

Registration for the conference (including Saturday lunch) and the Saturday banquet are each $50 per person. The bus tours are each an additional $35. For more information and registration forms, please visit the host’s Facebook page.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Jerusalem Banned in Boston

I haven’t found any newspaper notices of the model of ancient Jerusalem in Boston the way it was advertised in Philadelphia, New York, Newport, and Providence (as quoted over the past two days).

But we know it was on display at the White Horse Tavern in the South End by 26 Oct 1764 because the merchant John Rowe (shown here) went to view it. And he was not impressed. In his diary he wrote:
Went after dinner to see a Show at the White Horse wh. was a very faint Representation of the City of Jerusalem, in short ’tis a great Imposition on the Publick. I dont Remember to have seen so much Rainfall in so short a time
The phrase “imposition on the public” was a common idiom for a fraud.

Almost two weeks later, on 8 November, the Boston selectmen’s records contain this item:
Complaint having been made to the Selectmen by a number of the Inhabitants, that ——— & his Mother are entertained at Mr. Moultons Tavern at the sign of the White Horse, at which Place he exhibits the City Jerusalem in Wood work whereby he draws considerable sums from the Inhabitants and as upon enquiry the Representation is not esteemed by Judges to be the work of Art & ingenuity, but rather an imposition on the public.

Voted, that Mr. Adams be directed to warn them to leave this Town immediately, and also to acquaint Mr. Moulton that the Selectmen expects he will not suffer any more exhibitions of the same in his House.
Unfortunately, the selectmen didn’t record the name of the exhibitor and his mother, who were apparently traveling around with the model. Maybe town employee Robert Love wrote it down; he made regular stops at the White Horse Tavern asking about new arrivals from Providence, but people who were obviously passing through town may not have caught his attention.

The innkeeper at the White Horse Tavern was Joseph Morton, not Moulton—though this wasn’t the only time his name was misspelled that way. His teenage son Perez would grow up to be a noted and somewhat notorious attorney.

The “Mr. Adams” the selectmen sent to close this exhibit was Abijah Adams, a young men elected Clerk of the Market the previous month. He was chided the following January for “great neglect in the Warning Strangers to depart this Town.”

But let’s look at the selectmen’s own neglect. Even if Rowe had gone to see the model city on the day it opened, the exhibit had drawn “considerable sums from the Inhabitants” for fourteen days before the town fathers acted. This little Jerusalem had spent about three weeks in each of Newport and Providence. If the exhibitors had planned to spend about the same time in Boston, they were through most of their planned run when the selectmen ordered them “to leave this Town immediately.”

Perhaps, as I suspect happened in the case of rope-flyer John Childs, Boston’s selectmen were making a show of shooing something theatrical out of town only after people had had a chance to enjoy it if they chose.

Newspaper ads show that the Jerusalem model traveled back through New York, and on 6 June 1765 it was once again on display in Andrew Angel’s Green Tree Tavern in Philadelphia. “This Curiosity has been seen by a great Number of Gentlemen, Ladies, and others, with great Satisfaction,” the Pennsylvania Gazette advertisement assured readers. The price was one shilling, “but to the poorer Sort, and Children, an Allowance will be made.”

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Jerusalem on the Road

Yesterday I quoted a couple of sources from Philadelphia about a model of ancient Jerusalem built by “an illiterate shoemaker” in Germantown.

On 7 May 1764 the New-York Gazette announced that “JERUSALEM, a View of that famous City, after the Work of 7 Years,” was “To be seen (opposite the Honourable John Watts’s, Esq; and near the Exchange,)” downtown. Watts was a prominent merchant and member of the Council; you can read his business letters from this period here.

Viewing hours were 8:00 A.M. to 10:00 P.M. with an hour off for supper. Admission was a straight shilling at all times. The advertisement stated that this exhibit, “worthy to be seen by the Curious” would be in New York for only “Three Months.”

Sure enough, on 30 July the Gazette warned that the model’s last day in New York would be on 3 August. That notice also revealed that the man hosting it was “Thomas Evans, Clock and Watch-Maker.”

Jerusalem’s next stop was in Newport, Rhode Island. The 13 August Newport Mercury announced that it could “be seen at the House of Mr. [William] EARL, at the Sign of the White Bear, in Broad-Street” until 6 September. Earl had moved his tavern “above the Court House” or Colony House (shown above) in April. The admission was now “Twenty Shillings each Person.” Otherwise, the ad used the same language to describe the model as in New York.

The model city then moved north to “the House of Mr. Noah Mason, in Providence.” The 22 September Providence Gazette also clarified that that higher admission price of twenty shillings was “Old Tenor”—devalued local paper currency instead of specie. Mason (1729-1791), a carpenter who had become a constable and trader, had started to keep a tavern in 1762. Once again, the exhibit was going to stay in the town for three weeks.

The next logical place to exhibit was Boston, third largest settlement in British North America. But Boston had both policies and traditions against theater and similar displays. Would the town fathers view this model as a work of piety or an idle distraction?

TOMORROW: An “imposition on the public.”

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Jerusalem on Display in Germantown

In 1888 the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography published some extracts from the diary of Hannah Callender (1737-1801), a Quaker woman who evidently grew up in a comfortable mercantile family.

Here’s part of Callender’s entry for 2 June 1762:
1762, 6th mo., 2d day.— . . . In afternoon [with several others] set out for Germantown by the falls. Some mirth on the road by female fears. Passed Pemberton’s place and the new college. Arrived safe at Maconet’s. From thence to a neighboring house to see some models in architecture done by an illiterate shoemaker, intended when put together as a representation of Jerusalem. . . .

I shall mention the houses of most note. The Temple of Solomon about one yard high, three quarters long and half a yard deep. Noble entrances on both fronts and sides, all different orders with their proper embellishments. In the balcony of the first battlement are four Priests blowing trumpets. It has a fine steeple and is enclosed by three courts, having twelve gates adorned with cherubim and angels. twelve magnificent towers at the corners of the courts, the whole a yard and a half square.

Solomon’s house in the forest, built on a high green hill ascended by one hundred steps, is a noble looking pleasure house. It joins the first battlement of the temple by a balcony supported by large columns. King David’s Palace with its towers.
The magazine editors then inserted the note “Then follows brief mention of models of thirteen other buildings in Jerusalem.” Which isn’t helpful if you’re intrigued by how an illiterate shoemaker imagined ancient Jerusalem.

(A footnote in Stephanie Grauman Wolf’s Urban Village, a 1976 study of Germantown, suggests that there may be a link between this model and the probate inventory of Anthony Sultser or Sulzer, who died in that town in 1761. Anyone want to follow that lead?)

The 22 Mar 1764 Pennsylvania Gazette offered another description of this creation in an advertisement:

A View of that famous City, after the Work of seven Years, which is newly repaired, in a better Manner than it has been before,
IS yet to be seen at Mr. Andrew Angel’s, at the late House of Mr. Butler, deceased, between Second and Third-street, next Door to the Green Tree Tavern, in Race-street, Philadelphia, from Six o’Clock in the Morning till Six in the Afternoon, and from Seven till Ten at Night, at Ninepence each Person coming by Day, and One Shilling at Night, and for others and Children accordingly.———

It represents Jerusalem, the Temple of Solomon, his Royal Throne, the noted Houses, Towers and Hills; likewise the Sufferings of our SAVIOUR from the Garden of Gethsemane to the Cross, on the Hill of Golgotha, an artful Piece of Statuary, in which every Thing is exhibited in the most natural Manner. It will be shewn no longer than the 16th Day of April, or a few Days after, according as Shipping suits to New-York.
I’m struck by the different prices for viewing the model in daylight and at night. Was the latter more valuable because it was more convenient for people or because the model was more impressive by firelight?

The last line reveals that the model was about to go on tour.

TOMORROW: Jerusalem on the road.

[The illustration above is a map of Jerusalem published in London in 1752 and featured in this online exhibit from the Osher Map Library at the University of Southern Maine.)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

A King’s Chapel Anniversary

This photo and the following come from Boston tour guide and educator Ben Edwards.

This 2,437-pound Paul Revere bell at King’s Chapel was installed on February 23, 1816—exactly 200 years ago.

On October 16, 2011, we saw an 1801 Paul Revere bell raised with the aid of a giant crane into the tower of Old South. I believe that bell is 876 pounds. I attended that day, and it made me imagine what it might have been like back in 1816 raising a bell that weighed nearly three times as much!

I read that this bell replaced an earlier one that was even slightly heavier. So eighteenth-century technology got those bells up there.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Friends of Minute Man Lectures, 28 Feb. and 13 Mar.

The Friends of Minute Man National Park will present two historical lectures over the next month.

Sunday, 28 February
Taylor Stoermer
Graduate School of Arts & Sciences Fellow & Instructor of Public History at Harvard University

Formerly a political aide, Stoermer was educated at the Tulane University School of Law, the Johns Hopkins University, and the University of Virginia. Having served as chief historian at Colonial Williamsburg, he now counsels heritage sites and organizations. Stoermer is working on a book titled Dangerous Persuasions: The Loyalist Experience in Revolutionary America and will speak about the king’s supporters.

Sunday, 13 March
Bruce H. Mann
Carl F. Schipper, Jr., Professor of Law at the Harvard University School of Law

Mann received both a law degree and a Ph.D. in history from Yale. His publications include Neighbors and Strangers: Law and Community in Early Connecticut and Republic of Debtors: Bankruptcy in the Age of American Independence, and he is co-editor of the collection The Many Legalities of Early America. Mann will speak on the topic of “Revolutionary Justice: Law and Society in the American Revolution.”

Both talks will start at 3:00 P.M. in Bemis Hall at 15 Bedford Road in Lincoln. They are free and open to the public.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

“First in the hearts of his fellow-citizens” first?

Yesterday I quoted the famous praise for George Washington that appears in the House of Representatives’ record for 19 Dec 1799: “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

Those words were entered into the record by Rep. John Marshall. However, Marshall always insisted that the credit belonged to his fellow Virginian, Rep. Henry Lee (often called “Light-Horse Harry” Lee and shown here).

In 1832 Marshall set down this recollection in a letter:
As the stage passed through Philadelphia, some passenger mentioned to a friend he saw in the street the death of General Washington. The report flew to the hall of Congress, and I was asked to move an adjournment. I did so.

General Lee was not at the time in the House. On receiving the intelligence which he did on the first arrival of the stage, he retired to his room and prepared the resolutions which were adopted with the intention of offering them himself.

But the House of Representatives had voted on my motion [to adjourn], and it was expected by all that I on the next day announce the lamentable event and propose resolutions adapted to the occasion.

General Lee immediately called on me and showed me his resolutions. He said it had now become improper for him to offer them, and wished me to take them. As I had not written anything myself and was pleased with his resolutions which I entirely approved, I told him I would offer them the next day when I should state to the House of Representatives the confirmation of the melancholy intelligence received the preceding day. I did so.
Marshall also wrote about that moment in his overly long biography of Washington, published in 1804-07. Circumspectly not naming himself, he wrote that the following “resolutions were prepared by general Lee, who happening not to be in his place when the melancholy intelligence was received and first mentioned in the house, placed them in the hands of the member who moved them”:
Resolved, that this house will wait on the president in condolence of this mournful event.

Resolved, that the speaker’s chair be shrouded with black, and that the members and officers of the house wear black during the session.

Resolved, that a committee, in conjunction with one from the Senate be appointed to consider on the most suitable manner of paying honour to the memory of the MAN, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow-citizens.
Sharp-eyed readers will note that these clauses differ from what appears in the House record, quoted yesterday. The official resolutions spelled out “President of the United States” and called the event a “national calamity” instead of a “mournful event.” The third resolution is worded differently, and there’s a fourth about adjournment.

And when it comes to the most famous phrase, “first in the hearts of his countrymen” appeared in Marshall’s biography as “first in the hearts of his fellow-citizens.”

The authors I’ve read don’t seem to know what to make of this. Some suggest that Marshall was simply wrong in his Washington biography, even though he wrote about an event that had happened only eight years before and the official House records were available to him (he was by then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, after all).

Another possibility is that in the biography Marshall quoted the actual draft that Lee had handed him. In that case, “fellow-citizens” was the first version of “countrymen,” and Marshall or the House revised Lee’s language.

Within a couple of days the “countrymen” phrase had become official in both House and Senate resolutions, and Lee incorporated that into the public eulogy he delivered on 26 December.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Celebrating Washington in Cambridge and South Boston, 22 Feb.

George Washington’s Birthday is on Monday, February 22. I was going to spotlight the special tours of the general’s headquarters in Cambridge that day, led by Garrett Cloer of the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site.

However, this afternoon I heard that those tours are all booked up. If you want to take a chance on cancellations, call 617-876-4491 to hear if spaces have opened up.

Meanwhile, over at the South Boston Library, the South Boston Historical Society will host Prof. William M. Fowler of Northeastern speaking on “First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of his Countrymen!” That salute to Washington will run from 6:30 to 7:45 P.M. The library branch is at 646 East Broadway, and the event is free to the public.

The title of Bill Fowler’s talk comes from the resolutions that the U.S. House passed on 19 Dec 1799 after receiving news of President Washington’s death. The official record of the House offers this text of the resolutions:
1. That this House will wait on the President of the United States, in condolence of this national calamity.

2. That the Speaker’s chair be shrouded with black, and that the members and officers of the House wear mourning, during the session.

3. That a joint committee of both Houses be appointed to report measures suitable to the occasion, and expressive of the profound sorrow with which Congress is penetrated on the loss of a citizen, first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.

4. That when this House adjourns, it will adjourn until Monday next.
When the Senate responded to the House, it too used the phrase “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” And when John Marshall read a eulogy written by Gen. Henry Lee in front of Congress a few days later, he said of Washington: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and endearing scenes of private life.”

TOMORROW: But what was the first form of that phrase?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Three Hundred Years of Speed Limits for Boston Drivers

If we can believe Wikipedia, Boston drivers have required strict measures for over two and a half centuries:
First Speed Law in America

The first speed limit in the United States was set in Boston in 1757 by the board of selectmen (similar to a city council). The speed limit for wagons, carriages, horses, etc. on Sunday was set at a walking pace. Anyone exceeding this limit would be fined 10 shillings (equal to £59.89 today).
Wikipedia isn’t the source for that statement, however. The factoid has appeared in many publications over the past century. But it’s off by more than fifty years.

We can find Bostonians instituting speed limits in their 1702 bylaws:
Ordered, That no person whatsoever Shall at any time hereafter ride or drive a gallop or other extream pace within any of the Streets, lanes, or alleys in this Town on penalty of forfeiting three Shillings for every such offence, and it may be lawfull for any of the Inhabitants of this Town to make Stop of such horse or Rider untill the name of the offender be known in order to prosecution
At that time Boston was the most populous port in British North America, thus the most likely to have a traffic problem that required governmental intervention.

Where did the date of 1757 come from? In that year the town revised its bylaws and came up with this:
Great Dangers arising oftentimes from Coaches Slays Chairs and other Carriages on the Lord’s days as the People are going to or coming from the several Churches in this Town, being driven with great Rapidity, and the Public Worship being oftentimes much disturbed by such Carriages driving by the sides of the Churches with great force in time thereof.

It is therefore Voted and Ordered that no Coach Slay Chair Chaise or other Carriage shall at such time be driven at a greater rate than a foot pace, on Penalty of the Sum of ten shillings, to be paid by the Person driving, or if he be a Servant or Slave by his master or Mistress.
While the 1702 law was in effect “at any time,” the 1757 law applied only to Sundays. It carried a heavier penalty (ten shillings instead of three). It’s also notable that the town felt the law needed to address the actions of enslaved drivers.

(This question was raised by Lee Wright, organizer of next month’s History Camp in Boston.)

Thursday, February 18, 2016

“I do not like Madme. le Brun’s fan colouring”

Yesterday I mentioned the exhibit in New York about the French portraitist Elisabeth Vigée Le Brun. I wondered if any of the American diplomats in Paris had crossed paths with her, so I looked up her names in Founders Online.

In 1787 Thomas Jefferson went to an exhibit at the Académie Royale and reported on it to the American painter John Trumbull, then studying in London:
The Salon has been open for or five days. I inclose you a list of it’s treasures. The best thing is the Death of Socrates by David, and a superb one it is. A crucifixion by Roland in imitation of Relief is as perfect as it can be. Five pieces of antiquities by Robert are also among the foremost. Many portraits of Madme. Le Brun are exhibited and much approved.
Three years later, Jefferson was in New York starting work as Secretary of State. He wrote a letter to William Short, his former secretary who had succeeded him as the U.S. of A.’s top diplomat in Paris, about obtaining a portrait of Lafayette:
My pictures of American worthies will be absolutely incomplete till I get the M. de la fayette’s. Tell him this, and that he must permit you to have it drawn for me. I do not like Madme. le Brun’s fan colouring, and of all possible occasions it would be worst applied to a hero. This therefore is an additional reason to that of her extravagant price
Jefferson’s “fan painting” phrase appears to be an allusion to how Vigée le Brun’s father had painted fans as well as portraits and served as her first teacher. Jefferson evidently thought she retained too much of that style.

Vigée le Brun painted Lafayette’s mistress, the Countess de Simiane, but I don’t see mention of her painting the marquis himself. Eventually Jefferson received a portrait of Lafayette by Joseph Boze, which is now in the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society. I’ve always found it…awfully pink.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Visiting Vigée Le Brun in New York

In addition to that little exhibit on Mathias Buchinger, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is also hosting a rare major retrospective of the portraits of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755-1842), one of pre-Revolutionary France’s leading artists.

The New York Times review by Roberta Smith explained how she launched her career:
Vigée (pronounced Vee-ZHAY) Le Brun was born with a surfeit of natural talent and ambition as well as beauty, charm, a head for business and making connections, and a gift for conversation that kept her sitters entertained. Her father, a successful artist of pastel portraits, recognized his daughter’s gifts and taught her to paint but he died when she was 12.

To distract her from her grief and from a step-father she loathed, her mother, a hairdresser of some reputation, chaperoned her daughter on visits to private and public collections around Paris. Vigée briefly attended a small drawing academy run by a fan painter, and received informal instruction from the landscape painter Joseph Vernet. The best of her early portraits depicts her mother as a woman of refinement with a gentle but appraising gaze; a 1778 portrait of Vernet holding brush and palette in beautifully painted hands is similarly sensitive.

Mostly, Vigée taught herself by looking and copying and starting to work. Even in her late teens she was helping to support her family — so productively that in 1774, when she was 19, the authorities sealed her studio until she joined a guild. (She was operating without a license.)

To escape home life, she made a marriage of convenience in 1776 with Jean Baptiste Pierre Le Brun (1748-1813), a painter and prominent art dealer, who wooed Vigée by lending her paintings to copy. He took her to Holland and Flanders to see those of Rubens and the Dutch masters, promoted her work and partly lived off her money. Soon Madame Le Brun, as she was known, became one of the most sought-after portraitists of her moment. Her position was solidified by Marie Antoinette, whose favor included helping the painter gain entry into the Royal Academy, which excluded artists married to art dealers, in 1783.
When the Revolution came, Vigée Le Brun was so closely associated with Marie-Antoinette and her court that she went into exile for her safety. She traveled to other European courts, working particularly in Russia, before returning to France under Napoleon. Vigée Le Brun remained in demand as a portraitist into her fifties. She published her memoirs in the 1830s.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

“Lapping a spot of dry blood on his sleeve”

Before leaving the diary of the mysterious Capt. Smythe, I must highlight a passage that Frank Moore quoted from that document in 1860.

Smythe was a British army officer stationed around New York. In his entry for 8 Nov 1778, he wrote:
This afternoon a party of our horse brought in two rebel privates from Powles Hook. One of them is very intelligent and communicative; but the other is the most whimsical tony I ever have seen. Wherever he goes, he carries with him a large gray cat, which he says came into the rebel camp on the night after the battle at Freehold Meeting-House [better known as Monmouth], and which he first discovered lapping a spot of dry blood on his sleeve, as he lay on his arms expecting another dash at the British. His affection for the cat is as wonderful as hers is for him, for they are inseparable. He says if we don’t allow him extra rations for his cat, he shall be obliged to allow them out of his own.
A New Complete English Dictionary from 1760 defines “jack-pudding” as “a tony; a merry andrew”—all types of fools.

[Portrait above by Jean-Baptiste Perronneau in 1747, as featured here.]

Monday, February 15, 2016

The House of Lords Considers the Declaratory Act

The Rockingham government’s strategy to extricate itself from the unenforceable Stamp Act and yet maintain Parliament’s authority was to couple the repeal of that law with the Declaratory Act.

That act stated outright that Parliament’s laws were binding in British colonies. No other legislature in the empire could be more powerful than the Parliament in London. That would become part of the constitution of the British Empire.

In an undated letter to Lt. Gov. Cadwallader Colden of New York, Maj. Thomas James, who went to London after an anti-Stamp mob destroyed his house on 1 Nov 1765, described the Lords’ debate on the law this way:
the House of Lords in point of Question; whether the Mother Country has a Right to lay an Internal Tax upon the Americans? and whether the Colonies are not subject to the Decrees of King Lords and Commons.

Given by 125 to 5 That the Colonies are subject to the Laws of Great Britain; and that the Acts of the House of Commons are binding throughout all the Colonies of America

The 5 in favour of America were CambdenPauletTorringtonCornwallisShelburn — The first made a very Good Speech upon a Wrong Cause But the Lord Chancellor [the Earl of Northington] Cut Him to pieces; and observed; He wonderd how Lord Cambden could attempt to support so bad so dangerous and so unjust an Argument, with so serene a Countenance;

The Commons have resolved that the Colonies ought to be subject to the Laws and Decrees of Great Britain; they are softening all Resolves with a firmness, that they shall be permanent. The Repeal of the [Stamp] Act will be the last Resolve. I believe it will be softened—
Of the five peers who voted against the Declaratory Act, Baron Camden succeeded his nemesis Northington as Lord Chancellor later that year. Camden continued to advocate for American rights even more than his colleagues in the short-lived Chatham administration. His speech against the Declaratory Act indirectly led to the phrase “No Taxation without Representation.”

Charles Powlett, the Duke of Bolton, committed suicide in July. Not even Horace Walpole knew why. His brother succeeded him, switching from the opposition in the House of Commons to supporting the government until 1778, when he got sick of how the American War was going.

Viscount Torrington was a young man, only twenty-four. He married a daughter of the Earl of Cork in July, and they had several children. He voted for less strict policy toward America at a couple of other important moments but doesn’t appear to have been a vocal political leader.

The Earl of Shelburne became prime minister late in the American War and completed the 1783 Treaty of Paris to end it. Under his next and higher peerage, Marquess of Lansdowne, he was the recipient of Gilbert Stuart’s famous full-length portrait of George Washington.

And finally there’s Earl Cornwallis (shown above), in 1766 a lieutenant colonel in the army as well as a peer. We know what he had to do in the Revolutionary War. Afterwards, Cornwallis went on to a more successful career building the British Empire in India.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Franklin’s Questioning Continued

Here’s more of Benjamin Franklin’s testimony before Parliament about the unfavorable American reaction to the Stamp Act.

These questions come from a stretch of the recorded questions that Franklin identified as asked “chiefly by the former Ministry”—i.e., George Grenville and his supporters, who had enacted that law and were still trying to argue that it was the best option:
Q. You say the Colonies have always submitted to external taxes, and object to the right of parliament only in laying internal taxes; now can you shew that there is any kind of difference between the two taxes to the Colony on which they may be laid?

A. I think the difference is very great. An external tax is a duty laid on commodities imported; that duty is added to the first cost, and other charges on the commodity, and when it is offered to sale, makes a part of the price. If the people do not like it at that price, they refuse it; they are not obliged to pay it. But an internal tax is forced from the people without their consent, if not laid by their own representatives. The stamp-act says, we shall have no commerce, make no exchange of property with each other, neither purchase nor grant, nor recover debts; we shall neither marry, nor make our wills, unless we pay such and such sums, and thus it is intended to extort our money from us, or ruin us by the consequences of refusing to pay it.

Q. But supposing the external tax or duty to be laid on the necessaries of life imported into your Colony, will not that be the same thing in its effects as an internal tax?

A. I do not know a single article imported into the Northern Colonies, but what they can either do without, or make themselves.

Q. Don’t you think cloth from England absolutely necessary to them?

A. No, by no means absolutely necessary; with industry and good management, they may very well supply themselves with all they want.

Q. Will it not take a long time to establish that manufacture among them? and must they not in the mean while suffer greatly?

A. I think not. They have made a surprising progress already. And I am of opinion, that before their old clothes are worn out, they will have new ones of their own making.

Q. Can they possibly find wool enough in North-America?

A. They have taken steps to increase the wool. They entered into general combinations to eat no more lamb, and very few lambs were killed last year. This course persisted in, will soon make a prodigious difference in the quantity of wool. And the establishing of great manufactories, like those in the clothing towns here, is not necessary, as it is where the business is to be carried on for the purposes of trade. The people will all spin, and work for themselves, in their own houses.

Q. Can there be wool and manufacture enough in one or two years?

A. In three years, I think, there may.

Q. Does not the severity of the winter, in the Northern Colonies, occasion the wool to be of bad quality?

A. No; the wool is very fine and good.

Q. In the more Southern Colonies, as in Virginia; don’t you know that the wool is coarse, and only a kind of hair?

A. I don’t know it. I never heard it. Yet I have been sometimes in Virginia. I cannot say I ever took particular notice of the wool there, but I believe it is good, though I cannot speak positively of it; but Virginia, and the Colonies south of it, have less occasion for wool; their winters are short, and not very severe, and they can very well clothe themselves with linen and cotton of their own raising for the rest of the year.

Q. Are not the people, in the more Northern Colonies, obliged to fodder their sheep all the winter?

A. In some of the most Northern Colonies they may be obliged to do it some part of the winter.
They were literally getting down into the weeds there.

Despite Franklin’s confidence, America didn’t stop importing cloth from Britain for decades. At the same time, Parliament never attempted a cloth tax; most likely the Englishmen involved in that business would have complained.

Franklin’s distinction between types of taxes did not mean that he endorsed the idea that Parliament could levy external taxes and not provoke protests from America. But his words did suggest to the lawmakers that there were fewer argument against external taxes.

The next time Parliament tried to raise revenue in North America, therefore, it avoided internal taxes but enacted Customs duties on some imported goods, particularly tea.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Benjamin Franklin on the Stamp Act

On 13 Feb 1766, two hundred fifty years ago today, Parliament questioned Benjamin Franklin about the American colonists’ response to the Stamp Act. Franklin was in London as agent for the Pennsylvania legislature, and he had been picking up other lobbying assignments as well.

The Founders Online website has the whole text of that examination as published by Franklin’s printing partner, David Hall, in September 1766. Because it was still illegal to publish transcripts of parliamentary sessions, Hall stated merely that Franklin had spoken “before an August Assembly.”

Franklin recalled that the following questions came from Grey Cooper (c. 1726-1801), M.P. and secretary to the Treasury, and “other Friends with whom I had discoursd, and were intended to bring out such Answers as they desired and expected from me.” I was struck by how some of those questions were aimed at the issue of unfairly taxing the poor:
Q. Is the American stamp-act an equal tax on that country?

A. I think not.

Q. Why so?

A. The greatest part of the money must arise from law suits for the recovery of debts, and be paid by the lower sort of people, who were too poor easily to pay their debts. It is therefore a heavy tax on the poor, and a tax upon them for being poor.

Q. But will not this increase of expence be a means of lessening the number of law suits?

A. I think not; for as the costs all fall upon the debtor, and are to be paid by him, they would be no discouragement to the creditor to bring his action.

Q. Would it not have the effect of excessive usury?

A. Yes, as an oppression of the debtor.
Members of Parliament probed for ways of raising money in North America that the North American colonists would accept. The debate over the Stamp Act had given rise to a distinction between internal taxes, as with the Stamp Act, and external taxes, such as Customs duties. Franklin acknowledged the difference but avoided saying the colonists would accept tariffs as a way for the central government to raise money:
Q. Was it an opinion in America before 1763, that the parliament had no right to lay taxes and duties there?

A. I never heard any objection to the right of laying duties to regulate commerce; but a right to lay internal taxes was never supposed to be in parliament, as we are not represented there.

Q. On what do you found your opinion, that the people in America made any such distinction?

A. I know that whenever the subject has occurred in conversation where I have been present, it has appeared to be the opinion of every one, that we could not be taxed in a parliament where we were not represented. But the payment of duties laid by act of parliament, as regulations of commerce, was never disputed.

Q. But can you name any act of assembly, or public act of any of your governments, that made such distinction?

A. I do not know that there was any; I think there was never an occasion to make any such act, till now that you have attempted to tax us; that has occasioned resolutions of assembly, declaring the distinction, in which I think every assembly on the continent, and every member in every assembly, have been unanimous. . . .

Q. You say they do not object to the right of parliament in laying duties on goods to be paid on their importation; now, is there any kind of difference between a duty on the importation of goods, and an excise on their consumption?

A. Yes; a very material one; an excise, for the reasons I have just mentioned, they think you can have no right to lay within their country. But the sea is yours; you maintain, by your fleets, the safety of navigation in it; and keep it clear of pirates; you may have therefore a natural and equitable right to some toll or duty on merchandizes carried through that part of your dominions, towards defraying the expence you are at in ships to maintain the safety of that carriage.
Franklin, at least in the printed records, always spoke of tariffs intended “to regulate commerce” as acceptable to Americans—but by implication other sorts of tariffs would not be. However, a Member of Parliament named Nathaniel Ryder came away from this session with this understanding about the colonists: “That they would not object to duty laid upon importation as considering the sea as belonging to Great Britain, and anything passing that sea would be subject to Great Britain.”

TOMORROW: The questions keep coming.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Lectures on Washington in Washington, 19 and 23 Feb.

The American Revolution Institute of the Society of the Cincinnati is sponsoring a couple of free programs at the Anderson House library and museum in Washington, D.C.

Friday, 19 February, 12:30 P.M.
Ellen Clark, “Washington’s February 1783 Letter to Rittenhouse”

The Society of the Cincinnati Library Director presents George Washington’s letter to David Rittenhouse, written from Newburgh, New York, on February 16, 1783, thanking the Philadelphia inventor and instrument maker for a set of spectacles. Just three weeks later, General Washington would famously pull out his newly acquired reading glasses during a speech to a group of officers, effectively quelling their threatened mutiny.
In his recent talk at the Lexington Historical Society, Bill Fowler described how Washington had written out his prepared remarks to the restive officers at Newburgh in his large round hand; the Massachusetts Historical Society has preserved that document. But when on the fly the general chose to read another document as well, he had to pull out those spectacles.

Tuesday, 23 February, 6:00 P.M.
Wendy Wick Reaves, “Washington’s Face: What Did the Average Citizen See?”

At the start of the Revolutionary War, almost any fictitious image could pass as a portrait of an American hero, but George Washington as commander-in-chief warranted extra efforts. From the start of the Revolution, American printmakers searched for an accurate likeness of the Washington. So what did the average farmer, frontiersman, housewife, or child see of his countenance? Reaves, curator emerita of prints and drawings at the National Portrait Gallery, discusses these amateur print images of Washington that circulated around the country in the late eighteenth century.
The image above is an equally fictitious portrait made for the French market. The Philadelphia Print Shop offers it and others.

These talks are, of course, linked to the anniversary of Washington’s birth on 22 February.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Career of Capt. the Hon. Lionel Smythe

As I described yesterday, the identity of the “Captain Smythe, of the Royal Army” whom Frank Moore quoted several times in the Diary of the American Revolution compilation is a mystery. The manuscript diary Moore said he worked with has not been found since.

The Army List for 1778 shows only one Captain Smythe in the royal army, though there were plenty of Smyths and Smiths who might have attained that rank by the end of the war.

That one candidate for the diarist was the Hon. Lionel Smythe (1753-1801), younger son of Viscount Strangford. He started the war as a lieutenant in the 49th Regiment. In May 1776, Smythe became an aide de camp to Gen. Percy, who made himself the young man’s patron. In fact, in Fusiliers: The Saga of a British Redcoat Regiment in the American Revolution, Mark Urban wrote that Smythe was one of a couple of handsome young officers that Percy had crushes on.

Percy paid the £550 Smythe needed to buy Smythe the rank of captain of the light infantry company in the 23rd Regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, in October 1777. In return, Smythe wrote “monthly” letters home to his benefactor, which Urban used as sources for his history of that regiment during the Revolutionary War.

I therefore hoped that we could line up what Urban reported from Capt. Lionel Smythe and what the diarist wrote and decisive evidence that they were or weren’t the same man. Unfortunately, the published sources just don’t offer enough material to confirm or eliminate that possibility. Maybe the additional letters contain more evidence.

According to Urban, Lionel Smythe “eschewed army politics or gossip” in his letters to Percy, “confining himself to factual accounts of what he had seen.” In contrast, many of the diarist’s entries are consumed with gossip about the Americans. But that could simply reflect what Moore and Urban were looking for in their respective sources. Lionel Smythe referred to the American commander as “Mr. Washington” in a letter during that winter, and the diarist also referred to Washington without a military rank. But that was also the British commanders’ policy, so it may not be a useful clue.

Going back to the summer of 1776, Lionel Smythe was an aide to Percy during the British reconquest of New York City. Smythe the diarist wrote about John Hancock’s exhortations to the New York defenders in June and added a remark about Hancock’s “gouty legs, that were so shamefully overworked on the morning the gallant Percy marched to Lexington.” So there’s some connection.

Lionel Smythe was presumably with Earl Percy when he helped to take Newport, Rhode Island, that December. Percy remained in Newport into the spring of 1777 while the diarist was in New York by 1 March. Yet it’s possible that Percy had sent Smythe back to Gen. Sir William Howe with news of the victory in hopes the general would reward the young aide. We know that by March there were rumors in New York about Percy and Howe being at odds.

Percy quit in a huff and returned to England by the middle of the year. Lionel Smythe presumably returned to the 49th Regiment. Debrett’s Peerage states that the young officer was “severely wounded at the battle of Brandywine” on 11 Sept 1777. I haven’t found any other mention of this, even in a family biography, but the 49th was in that battle. Capt. Lionel Smythe was in Philadelphia that winter, sending Percy a description of the Mischianza. Meanwhile, Moore didn’t quote any diary entries from his Capt. Smythe for over a year after May 1777.

On 1 July 1778, the diarist complained about the Continental Congress. On 29 July, Capt. Lionel Smythe and his light infantrymen went on board the Isis to sail back to Newport, where the British expected an attack from the French fleet. On 11 September he wrote to Percy about the British victory. The 23rd was back in New York a few weeks later. The diarist’s next entry, from greater New York, is dated 8 November.

On 13 Aug 1779, the diarist wrote about Alexander Hamilton reportedly penning an epic poem to preserve the memory of the Revolution “in case Clinton’s light bob should extirpate the whole race of rebels.” Capt. Lionel Smythe was, of course, a commander of “light bobs” under Gen. Sir Henry Clinton.

The next month, on 5 September, the young captain married Maria Eliza Phillipse, from an upper-class Loyalist family. (Urban dated the marriage to 5 August, but New York and family records agree that it happened in September.) As explained in Lives of the Lords Strangford, Smythe’s family was titled but no longer wealthy. In fact, his father had taken holy orders and become dean of Derry. Urban treated this as a classic example of American money marrying a handsome European aristocrat, but there was a catch: a lot of the Phillipse wealth was behind enemy lines and at risk in the event of an American win.

In October 1779 the 23rd Regiment, including the light infantry company, sailed for Charleston. The regiment was in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia all through 1780 and 1781 until Yorktown. Meanwhile, the diarist wrote twice from the New York area in 1781, on 10 March and 16 September. So is that the proof we want that the two men aren’t the same? Unfortunately, not all the 23rd’s officers went south. Capt. Frederick Mackenzie, for example, remained in New York as one of Clinton’s staff officers. Urban didn’t quote any letters from Capt. Lionel Smythe about the southern campaign or anything else after his marriage, so we can’t be sure where he was.

Capt. Lionel Smythe retired from the army after the war and followed his father into a clerical vocation. Two years later, the older man died, and as the only surviving son Lionel Smythe became the seventh Viscount Strangford. He continued to hold “the living of Kilbrew, in the diocese of Meath,” in Ireland. He also had a royal pension to make ends meet, though he lost it for a while after voting in the Irish House of Lords against a bill the government favored.

In 1801 the Gentlemen’s Magazine reported that the seventh Viscount Strangford died on 1 October “At Bristol hot wells, in his 48th year.” He and his American wife had four children, the eldest of whom became the new viscount. (A couple of years later, he published a volume of translations of poetry from the Portuguese.)

As I said, it’s possible that Capt. Lionel Smythe’s letters to Percy contain more information that could give a clear answer to whether he was Moore’s “Capt. Smythe.” It’s also possible that research on the career of another British officer whose name was almost Smythe could make a better match for the diary entries. But right now it’s still a mystery.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Mystery of Captain Smythe

When Frank Moore compiled his Diary of the American Revolution volumes in the 1850s, most of his sources were newspapers, but he also listed ten manuscript sources—five sets of letters and five diaries. Moore identified all those writers by full name except for one diarist he called “Captain Smythe, of the Royal Army.”

That man’s diary was the source of the anecdote about Martha Washington naming a tomcat after Alexander Hamilton, an obviously satirical passage that doesn’t carry weight as historical evidence for anything besides British army officers telling jokes about their American rivals.

Moore quoted several other passages from “Smythe’s Journal.” Writing for an American audience, he was primarily interested in passages about the American side of the war. Thus, Moore quoted Smythe at length on “little Hamilton, the poet and composer to the Lord Protector Mr. Washington,” but nothing about life in British-occupied New York.

There’s more than enough to make one wish to know who the man was and where the rest of the journal is. But Moore didn’t say. Apparently, nobody knows. Some people have even suggested the writer was a pseudonym.

As for internal clues, the first passage that Moore quoted from Smythe was dated 17 June 1776, about a letter from John Hancock to the Patriot authorities in New York that appeared in the New-York Gazette that day. At the time, the British army was sailing from Halifax to New York harbor, so it’s unlikely that an officer in the royal army could have seen that letter on 17 June. The date in the journal may have been the publication date, which Moore kept attached to that item.

The other items Moore quoted from “Smythe’s Journal” are linked to these dates and places:
  • 1 Mar 1777 in New York.
  • 1 Apr 1777 in New York.
  • 29 May 1777, around New York.
  • 1 July 1778, no place clues.
  • 8 Nov 1778, around New York.
  • 13 Aug 1779, no place clues.
  • 1 Jan 1780, no place clues.
  • 10 Mar 1781, around New York.
  • 16 Sept 1781, in New York.
Again, no personal remarks about participating in battles, travel, or other activities that could help to identify the diarist. All the diary entries tells us is that this British captain spent a lot of time in New York and thought the British army was classier and likely to win. That doesn’t really help narrow down the pool.

TOMORROW: One candidate.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

“Such a charge made upon such authority is monstrous”

Yesterday I quoted a passage from Frank Moore’s 1859-1860 compendium The Diary of the American Revolution which stated, among many other things, that Martha Washington had “a mottled tom-cat (which she calls in a complimentary way ‘Hamilton’).”

In 1879, George Shea published The Life and Epoch of Alexander Hamilton: A Historical Study. He cited that page from Moore when he wrote:

Hamilton’s name is not free from reproach for libidinousness. It appears to have been observed afterwards by Mrs. Washington when he was at Morristown.
However, Shea didn’t quote the passage in question.

That left open the door for a person using the name “Columbia” to complain in the Magazine of History the next year:
Judge Shea, in his Life and Epoch of Hamilton, makes an assertion, all the more extraordinary as coming from one whose profession is supposed to train to careful statement and a proper weighing of evidence.

In Moore’s Diary of the Revolution, Vol. II., 250, is published one of the numerous Tory squibs recorded in the manuscript diary of Captain Smyth of the Royal Army. The point is that the number thirteen was peculiar to the rebels. After charging that the army rations were thirteen dried clams per day, that Lord Stirling took thirteen glasses of grog every morning, and in consequence had thirteen rum bunches on his nose, that General Washington had thirteen toes on his feet, and thirteen teeth in each jaw, and other similar absurdities about Putnam, Schuyler and Wayne, he concludes by saying, that “Mrs. Washington has a mottled tom-cat (which she calls in a complimentary way ‘Hamilton’) with thirteen yellow rings around his tail, and that his flaunting it suggested to the Congress the adoption of the same number of stripes for the rebel flag.”
As to Hamilton’s libidinousness, “Columbia” concluded, “Such a charge made upon such authority is monstrous.”

And of course it would be. In fact, given the satirical purpose of the passage and how it was written by a British officer, not confirmed by anyone in the American army camp, to state on that authority that Martha Washington even had a cat is a stretch. Much less to state confidently that she named it after her husband’s lustful aide.

On the other hand, in discussing Hamilton’s “libidinousness” Shea also cited Hamilton’s own confession to his extended extramarital affair with Maria Reynolds. Personally, I find it hard to believe, as some Hamilton fans seem to, that the one time the man had a sexual affair he was caught and forced to confess publicly.

In 1777, Hamilton told Catherine Livingston, “you know, I am renowned for gallantry.” He joked with other officers on Washington’s staff about pursuing women, sometimes in romantic terms (“I have no invincible antipathy to the maidenly beauties & that I am willing to take the trouble of them upon myself”) and sometimes in anatomical terms (“mind you do justice to the length of my nose and don’t forget, that I [cut out by a descendant]”). Some modern biographers even suggest Hamilton had an affair with his sister-in-law, Angelica Church.

So although the passage Moore quoted is weak evidence for the tomcat, and weak evidence that Martha Washington thought Hamilton was anything like a tomcat, there’s other evidence about Hamilton’s libido for historians to consider.

TOMORROW: Who was Moore’s source?

Monday, February 08, 2016

A Tomcat Named Hamilton?

Given certain events in New York, particularly along its main thoroughfare, this factoid has been getting a lot of use:
Martha Washington named a tomcat after Alexander Hamilton.

Back in 2008, this Hamilton fan complained that the story came from a passage in George Henry Preble’s 1882 History of the Flag of the United States of America, quoting a New York newspaper.

When I saw that, I got suspicious. Preble could be a terrible transcriber. In that same book he came up with the phrase “Grand Union Flag” by messing up the words “Great Union Flag” in a letter from Gen. George Washington. So I decided to dig into this story as far as I could go.

As it turned out, that blog post didn’t quote Preble correctly. To his credit, Preble quoted his source correctly. But his source, which was Lippincott’s Magazine in July 1876, misstated the source it was quoting. And neither Preble nor the magazine was the genesis of that factoid. So let’s start at the beginning, or as close as I can get.

In 1860, Frank Moore published a two-volume compendium of material from the Revolutionary War, arranged chronologically, titled Diary of the American Revolution. On page 250 of volume 2, Moore quoted one source from 1780 this way:
Thirteen is a number peculiarly belonging to the rebels. A party of naval prisoners lately returned from Jersey, say, that the rations among the rebels are thirteen dried clams per day; that the titular Lord Stirling takes thirteen glasses of grog every morning, has thirteen enormous rum-bunches on his nose, and that (when duly impregnated) he always makes thirteen attempts before he can walk; that Mr. Washington has thirteen toes on his feet, (the extra ones having grown since the Declaration of Independence,) and the same number of teeth in each jaw; that the Sachem Schuyler has a topknot of thirteen stiff hairs, which erect themselves on the crown of his head when he grows mad; that Old Putnam had thirteen pounds of his posterior bit off in an encounter with a Connecticut bear, (’twas then he lost the balance of his mind;) that it takes thirteen Congress paper dollars to equal one penny sterling; that Polly Wayne was just thirteen hours in subduing Stony Point, and as many seconds in leaving it; that a well-organized rebel household has thirteen children, all of whom expect to be generals and members of the High and Mighty Congress of the “thirteen United States” when they attain thirteen years; that Mrs. Washington has a mottled tom-cat, (which she calls, in a complimentary way, ‘Hamilton,’) with thirteen yellow rings around his tail, and that his flaunting it suggested to the Congress the adoption of the same number of stripes for the rebel flag.
Moore’s volumes were reprinted a number of times over the following decades, sometimes with different pagination but always including this quote. It looks like the Lippincott’s Magazine passage was pulled from the centennial edition.

Now what does that passage really tell us about Alexander Hamilton?

TOMORROW: A century of debate.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Matthias Buchinger’s Micrography at the Met

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is featuring a small exhibit about a small eighteenth-century celebrity, Matthias Buchinger (1674-1739).

Buchinger was from the German margraviate of Brandenburg-Ansbach. He was only twenty-nine inches tall. He was born without hands or feet.

Despite those physical limitations, Buchinger became a skilled sleight-of-hand artist, musician, and visual artist. He traveled northern Europe displaying his talents, eventually settling in Ireland with his fourth wife.

The Met’s exhibit highlights one facet of Buchinger’s art: micrography, or writing very, very small. In 1764 Horace Walpole recalled that Buchinger “used to write the Lord’s Prayer in the compass of a silver penny.” Later, after he became afflicted with gout, Walpole would compare himself to Buchinger “writing with his stump!”

Shown here is a print of one of Buchinger’s self-portraits. If one looks very, very closely in the engraving at the pattern that defines his wig, one can see that it consists of the words of seven Biblical psalms and the Lord’s Prayer. (Don’t strain yourself here; the resolution isn’t good enough.)

The exhibit contains over a dozen Buchinger drawings from the collection of modern conjurer Ricky Jay, who has also written the new book Matthias Buchinger: “The Greatest German Living”. It will be on display until 11 April.

Here are articles about Buchinger and his micrography, with more illustrations, from The New Yorker, Hyperallergic, and The New York Times.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Judith Sargent Murray’s “Love Notes” in Salem, Feb. 6

Tonight the Bridge at 211 Bridge Street in Salem is presenting an evening of words and music recalling a love story from the early years of the U.S. of A.

“Love Notes” features the letters from Judith Sargent Murray to the Rev. John Murray, her friend for fourteen years and then her husband for twenty-seven, set to music on the organ and harp. John is known as the Father of Organized Universalism in America. Judith was a pioneering female essayist. They were an early example of an “eqalitarian” marriage in the new American republic.

Bonnie Hurd Smith, author of Mingling Souls Upon Paper: An 18th-Century Love Story about this couple, will read from that correspondence. Catie Canale will play the harp, as she has with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Cambridge Symphony Orchestra, and New Bedford Symphony Orchestra, among others. Patricia Clark, Director of Music Ministries at the First Church in Swampscott, will play the organ.

“Love Notes” will take place on Saturday, February 6, from 5:00 to 6:30 P.M. Light refreshments and non-alcoholic beverages will be served. There is a suggested donation of $10. This is one of many events in Salem’s So Sweet Chocolate & Ice Sculpture Festival this weekend, which appears to be designed to help couples get a jump on Valentine’s Day.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Joanna Cleveland’s “Leap in the Dark”

Over the past two days I quoted dueling advertisements from issues of the New-London Gazette in January 1766, documenting the failed marriage of Robert and Joanna Hebbard.

I learned about those notices from the Twitter feed of Carl Robert Keyes and his Adverts 250 Project. (The first also shows up in the Runaway Connecticut database.)

Figuring out a little more about that marriage meant, among other things, delving into the affairs of the Cle(a)veland family of New England. They were fairly prominent, which usually provides good documentation, but they also moved around a lot. That means their vital milestones appear in the records of a lot of different towns. With the guidance of professional genealogist Liz Loveland, here’s what I found out.

According to the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Robert Hebbard was born 30 Apr 1706 in Windham, Connecticut. (His surname is also spelled Hebard and Hibbard.) At the age of twenty-four, he married Ruth Wheelock, sister of the Rev. Eleazar Wheelock, eventually the founder of Dartmouth College.

Josiah Cleveland and Joanna Porter married in Charlestown, Massachusetts, in January 1735, according to The Genealogies and Estates of Charlestown. Josiah’s younger brother Aaron was a minister who married Joanna’s sister Susannah; he filled the pulpit in Haddam, Connecticut, from 1739 to 1746, giving the family a connection in that colony. (Later the Rev. Mr. Cleveland switched to the Church of England; he then traveled to London, Nova Scotia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania, where he died.)

Josiah and Joanna Cleveland had a son named Aaron baptized in Medford, Massachusetts, in December 1736. They had a daughter named Joanna in East Haddam, Connecticut, in June 1739, where the couple had evidently moved to be near their siblings/in-laws.

In 1757, Ruth Hebbard died, leaving her husband Robert with several children, the youngest aged five. (The oldest were already married and having children themselves.)

Three years later, on 12 May 1760, Robert Hebbard married Joanna Cleveland. She was about to turn twenty-one, the niece of a minister. He, having already married into another ministerial family, was of the same social class. He might have had money or land. He probably needed a wife to look after the home and children. No matter that he was thirty-three years older than she was.

That’s the marriage that didn’t last. By the end of 1765, he was in Amenia, New York, where his eldest son had settled with his wife and children. She was in Norwich, Connecticut, perhaps with her brother Aaron. (Unfortunately, another Aaron Cleveland, ten years older, was a prominent man in Canterbury, Connecticut, at this time, confusing matters.)

Thus, when Robert Hebbard took out an ad in New London to declare his wife had eloped and he wasn’t going to honor any of her debts, the Connecticut gentleman who came to her defense—Aaron Cleaveland—was her older brother. He called the marriage “a Leap in the Dark,” regretting that she didn’t know her husband better before they wed.

Hebbard died in 1771. His son was a militia captain during the Revolutionary War. Aaron Cleaveland of Norwich was a Connecticut legislator in that period, advocating an end to slavery. I haven’t found a record of Joanna Hebbard’s later life. She would have been only thirty-two when her husband died, able to remarry if she wanted to take another leap.

(The photo above shows, for want of anything better, the pre-1740 Edmund Gookin House in Norwich’s Bean Hill district, where Aaron Cleaveland lived.)