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, March 31, 2016

A New Look at Saratoga

At the American Revolution Conference two weeks ago I met Larry Arnold, an expert guide to the Saratoga battlefield.

During a drive to the Green Spring battle site, Larry told us about a recent discovery he’d made on eBay. He saw a letter that mentioned Saratoga offered with a scan big enough to actually read. And when he read it, he realized it offered a new look into the fight.

This week the Daily Gazette of Schenectady broke the story:
The letter was written by New Hampshire militia adjutant Nathaniel Bacheller to his wife, Suzanna, and is dated Oct. 9, 1777. . . . He wrote that his regiment was told to join [Benedict] Arnold’s brigades on the uplands around the Nielsen house, and soon afterward Arnold went out on horseback with an aide to try to determine how large the British force was.

“General [Horatio] Gates Soon arived to our Lines & Inquired for General Arnol & was Told he was out of the lines to View the Enemy,” Bacheller wrote in the letter, which is full of the misspellings and punctuation errors typical of many 18th century writings.

Gates ordered one of Arnold’s regiments forward, and sent word forward to Arnold not to have his men fire on the nearly deployed unit.

Arnold soon returned, in Bacheller’s account, and told Gates the “Enemy Design was To Take Possession of a hill about a Quarter of a mile To the west of our lines.”

“General Arnol says to General Gates it is Late in the Day but Let me have men & we will have some fun with them before Sun Set,” wrote Bacheller, who incorrectly spells Arnold’s name throughout the letter.

The battle then commenced, and the British withdrew in defeat that evening. . . .

Bacheller’s account runs counter to standard narratives that say Gates stayed in his own headquarters and left others to do the fighting, or that Arnold angrily charged into the fighting after Gates deployed Arnold's men without Arnold’s involvement.
The document itself went to an unknown buyer for nearly $3,000, but the staff at Saratoga National Historical Park downloaded a digital copy for transcription. It should presumably be part of any new account of the battle.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Omohundro Institute Conference in Worcester, 23-26 June

On the same weekend as the Dublin Seminar, the Omohundro Institute for Early American History and Culture will hold its 22nd Annual Conference in Worcester. This year’s conference themes are “Native American Transformations” and “Early America at Work.”

The conference starts on the evening of Thursday, 23 June, with an informal social gathering at the Goddard Daniels House of the American Antiquarian Society. The formal sessions start at 9:00 A.M. on Friday at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and run through 12:30 P.M. on Sunday. Here’s one of the many paper panels as an example:
Session 9—Taming Early America: Human-Animal Relationships Along the Blurred Line of Domestication

Chair: Virginia DeJohn Anderson, University of Colorado, Boulder

Whitney Barlow Robles, Harvard University, “‘Liberty Rendered Him Insolent’: Raccoon Pet-keeping as a Laboratory in Early America”

Strother E. Roberts, Bowdoin College, “‘Their Wealth is in Proportion to Their Dogs’: Dogs as Livestock Among Indian Communities of the Seventeenth-Century Northeast”

Tom Wickman, Trinity College, “Yoked for Winter: Oxen, the Anglo-Wabanaki Wars, and the Little Ice Age”

Anya Zilberstein, Concordia University, “Poor Creatures: Corn Feed for People and Other Animals”

Comment: Audience
In addition to the plenary addresses, panels and roundtable discussions, there will be hands-on workshops about the digital tools Omeka and TEI and demonstrations of two ongoing digital humanities projects, the Georgian Papers Programme and the Thomas Broadside Ballads. There will also be an app for the conference made available in May.

Visit the conference page for information about registration and much more.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Down to the Sea in Deerfield with the Dublin Seminar, 24-26 June

On the weekend of 24-26 June, Historic Deerfield will host the annual Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife, this year’s topic being “New England at Sea: Maritime Memory and Material Culture”:
Focusing on how the region remembered its maritime past, the weekend begins with a keynote address by the historian W. Jeffrey Bolster on the pivotal role that Gloucester, Massachusetts, played in the memory of its fishing industry.

It continues with individual topics such as chart making, the keeping of ship logs, and ship-design technologies. Later sessions address subjects such as whaling, slaving, privateering, and maritime family life; the rise of marine societies and efforts to preserve old ships; and the growth of maritime antiques businesses. The conference concludes with minorities’ experience of seafaring and maritime laboring and the material culture of sailors’ (and diplomatic) dress.

An optional workshop presented on Friday afternoon will examine the history of celestial navigation including a detailed exploration of the sextant, and Mystic Seaport’s digital resources used in genealogical and maritime-related research.
The main program of nineteen lectures (with discussion periods after each grouping) will begin in the Deerfield Community Center at 7:00 P.M. on Friday evening and will continue until around noon on Sunday. The conference registration fee includes lunch and dinner on Saturday, June 25, plus coffee and (really good locally made) doughnuts each morning.

The Dublin Seminar casts a wide net for researchers and for attendees, including university scholars, other educators, curators, collectors, librarians, preservationists, students, and the general public. Selected papers from this event will be published in a couple of years as the 2016 Annual Proceedings of the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife.

For more information and to register, visit this webpage.

Monday, March 28, 2016

A Plagiarized Puzzle

On N.P.R. Weekend Edition yesterday, Will Shortz announced this as the puzzle for the week:
The University Press of New England has just published a book by Boston College professor Paul Lewis, called The Citizen Poets of Boston: A Collection of Forgotten Poems, 1789-1820. It has a chapter devoted to puzzles in poetic form. Most of the puzzles are explained—but one puzzle never had a printed answer.

I’d like to see if the collective brainpower of NPR listeners can be brought to bear to clear up this mystery. It’s a two-line verse from the Nov. 12, 1803, issue of the Boston Weekly Magazine:
I am both man and woman too,
And go to school as good boys do.
If you can solve this riddle, let us know. I’ll select what I think is the best answer that’s submitted. If no one sends what I judge to be the intended answer, then I’ll pick what I consider the most ingenious one, whether it’s “correct” or not.
Headlined “A Rebus,” that puzzle was published as “For the Boston Weekly Magazine” and credited to “R. S. G.”

However, the same puzzle had appeared in the London Magazine, or Gentleman’s Monthly Intelligencer in December 1759, as shown below.
So “R. S. G.” might have some explaining to do.

Samuel Johnson defined a rebus as “a word represented by a picture.” However, this magazine and popular culture used the term to mean a puzzle-poem challenging readers to identify a word based on its parts, either syllables or letters. Here’s an example that Paul Revere wrote for his soon-to-be second wife, Rachel. This London Magazine page has another example.

So what was the original solution to this rebus? It appeared in the March 1760 issue of the London Magazine. If you want to know, click on the box below to enlarge the image.
Frankly, I think N.P.R. listeners can do better.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Lectures in Boston and Waltham, 7 April

On Thursday, 7 April, the Skinner auction house in Boston is hosting ceramics expert Robert Hunter speaking on “The Art and Mystery of Early English Pottery: The Troy D. Chappell Collection.”

Since 2001 Hunter has been editor of the annual journal Ceramics in America, published by the Chipstone Foundation of Milwaukee. Here is a gallery of examples from the Chappell Collection, courtesy of Chipstone in 2001.

Hunter has more than thirty-five years of experience in prehistoric and historical archeology. He was the founding director of the College of William and Mary’s Center for Archaeological Research and served as Assistant Curator of Ceramics and Glass in the Department of Collections at Colonial Williamsburg. He received the 2007 Award of Merit from the Society for Historical Archaeology and is an elected Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London.

Hunter’s talk will begin at 6:00 P.M. at the Skinner Boston Gallery, 63 Park Plaza. This event is free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served. Reserve a space here.

On the same night, the Lyman Estate in Waltham, owned by Historic New England, and the Waltham Historical Society are co-sponsoring a lecture by local historian Jack Cox on “Waltham in the Early Republic: A Time of Transition, 1789-1825.”
When George Washington was inaugurated as our nation’s first president in 1789, the Town of Waltham was a small agrarian village located along the Great Country Road just nine miles west of Boston.

Over the next forty years, economic and social developments fundamentally transformed Waltham, creating a community inhabited by yeoman farmers, factory workers, small business owners, and wealthy Boston families.
This talk will examine those changes and the forces behind them.

Cox is scheduled to speak from 7:00 to 8:00 P.M. The Lyman Estate is at 185 Lyman Street in Waltham. Admission is $5 for members, $10 for others. Registration is recommended. Waltham Historical Society members must call 617-994-5912 to register.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Gunpowder and William Gamage

In my talk on Thursday, I related the Powder Alarm of 2 Sept 1774 from the point of view of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver.

He was in Boston when that town’s radical leaders arrived out at the gathering of thousands of Middlesex County militiamen on Cambridge common. Therefore, Oliver didn’t hear, and I didn’t get to describe, how those gentlemen tried to take control of the situation.

The Boston committee was anxious to prevent the crowd from becoming violent about how Gov. Thomas Gage’s regulars had removed gunpowder from the storage house in Charlestown. So William Cooper, Boston’s town clerk, told the assembled men that the powder was so old and caked that it hadn’t been any use anyway. William Molineux repeated that message.

Of course, those gentlemen had no connection to the Middlesex County militia regiment and its supplies. They were politicians saying what they wished were true and hoping no one in the crowd would call them on it.

In the 5 September Boston Gazette, however, this letter appeared:
As it is publickly reported that the Powder which was taken out of the Powder-House at Charlestown last Thursday Morning is a consolidated Body, and of no Consequence—I think it my Duty, (as I have for a Number of Years had the Care of it as to sunning and turning it,) to declare, that it appeared to me to be as good and free from Dampness, or any Damage, as any could be. The last Time I sunned it, was last June.

Wm Gamage.

William Angier, Stephen Palmer, James Read, Samuel Gamage, the Names of those who assisted the last Time it was aired, are ready to testify to the above-written.

Cambridge, September 3, 1774.
The Gazette didn’t report who had “publickly reported” that falsehood about the powder. Printers Edes and Gill were, after all, on the same political side as Cooper and Molineux. But Gamage and his friends clearly wanted to restore his own reputation for diligent care of the public powder.

Friday, March 25, 2016

“At distance, thou, Columbia! view thy Prince”

Here at last is the poem whose authorship I’ve been considering, the one numbered XXIX in the Boston publication Pietas et Gratulatio Collegii Cantabrigiensis apud Novanglus.

As you recall, the two goals of that book were to:
  • praise King George III and his bride, Queen Charlotte (shown here), and
  • demonstrate how Harvard College graduates could create poetry in Latin, Greek, and English at the same level as scholars from Oxford or Cambridge.
Unfortunately, the result was still pre-Romantic, non-satirical eighteenth-century poetry.
Tho’ from thy happy shores, Britannia! far
Remov’d, where Phoebus slopes his golden orb
Down western sky, to Europe; while high Noon,
From midst his radiant path, on us he pours:
Yet, sharing in the noble British vein,
We feel, and, feeling, sing the common bliss;
Bliss wide diffus’d thro’ Britain’s wide domain,
And swelling in each breast to ecstasy.

Hence, jarring discord, tumults, carnage, wars;
Embattled nations! cease a while to deal
Destruction; Peace! on balmy wings, descend;
Let Hymen and the Paphian Goddess hold
Imperial sway, soft’ning each heart to love.

Behold, Britannia! in thy favour’d Isle;
At distance, thou, Columbia! view thy Prince,
For ancestors renown’d, for virtues more;
At whose sole nod, grim tyranny aghast,
With grudging strides, hies swift from British climes;
While liberty undaunted rears her head:
Whose mind superior bears, as Atlas Heav’n,
The weight of kingdoms; and with equal ease,
As some Intelligence, of order high,
Directs yon circling orbs, by laws exact,
Th’ unweildy empire guides thro’ mazy paths:---
Made happy.--How? By nuptial tie.--With whom?
Thy Pride, Germania! whom to form combine
The Graces all, and all fair virtue’s train.
Whate’er ennobles or adorns the Fair,
Of line, of form, of wit, of sense, unite
Their lovliest charms, and centre all in Her.
For such a Prince the only Princess meet;
Of such a Princess worthy only He!
Can heart conceive, imagination paint,
Or fancy frame more finish’d happiness
Below?—Ye Powers above! your blessings shed,
And genial influence, on the royal Pair.
From such embrace, a progeny of kings
Shall rise, to rule the world, and bless mankind.

Long let Britannia’s Prince, in wisdom's lore
Deep read, with sapient hand her sceptre wield;
Long may his other self, with converse mild,
With looks with air, with port, that whisper love,
Speak sweetness to his heart ineffable,
Sooth all his cares, and foretaste give of Heav’n.
A number of literary scholars say this poem was the earliest English use of “Columbia” as a term for America.

I’ve found a couple of earlier examples of “Columbia” in the Archive of Americana database, but they’re not so straightforward as this one. On 30 Nov 1741 the Boston Evening-Post reprinted an item from the Gentleman’s Magazine:
The SPEECH of his Grace the Duke of A[rgy]le, on the Motion made in the H[ou]se of L[or]ds, for addressing his Majesty to dismiss the Rt. Hon. Sir R. W[alpol]e; for as it relates to the Management of the War. Note, Columbia must be taken for America, Lilliput for Eng[lan]d, Iberians for Spani[ar]ds, and Grablitra for Gibr[alta]r.
Publishing Parlimentary addresses, especially any that contained critical remarks, was still legally iffy then. The word “Columbia” offered pseudonymous protection for the printers and/or the duke, much like the letters replaced with hyphens. And that term was still unfamiliar enough to readers that the article required a key for understanding.

The term’s next American appearance came in 1749 when Dr. William Douglass (best known for opposing Dr. Zabdiel Boylston and the Rev. Cotton Mather’s effort to introduce smallpox inoculation to Boston) published A Summary, Historical and Political, of the First Planting, Progressive Improvements, and Present State of the British Settlements in North-America. That book suggested that “Columbia” would be a better name for the continent than “America” since Columbus had discovered it for Europe. Again, the term came with an explanation, not just appearing as a parallel to “Britannia” and “Germania.”

So whoever wrote Pietas et Gratulatio’s poem XXIX indeed introduced a term into the American language.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Mystery of Poem XXIX

Yesterday I described the 1761 collection of poems titled Pietas et Gratulatio, designed to show off the learning of Harvard College in praise to King George III.

Although the college announced a competition for students and recent graduates, surviving copies of the book with handwritten notes indicate that many of the poems came from men well past their undergraduate days. That list included grammar-school master John Lovell, merchant and scholar James Bowdoin, the Rev. Samuel Cooper, and Dr. Benjamin Church. To be fair, those men all had received Harvard educations.

Several of the poems, particularly those in Latin and Greek, came from Stephen Sewall (1734-1804), who was a recent Harvard graduate. He was also on his way to becoming the college’s professor of Hebrew and other languages.

In 1809 the Monthly Anthology magazine of Boston used Prof. Sewall’s own copy of Pietas et Gratulatio to attribute the poem numbered XXIX to “Thomas Oliver, afterwards judge and lieutenant governour.” Thomas Oliver (1734-1815) would have qualified as a recent Harvard graduate, and he did become the last royal lieutenant governor.

However, Oliver was never a judge. In fact, no one matches that magazine’s description. The other candidates are:
  • Andrew Oliver, lieutenant governor but not judge.
  • His brother Peter Oliver, judge but not lieutenant governor (shown above).
  • Their brother-in-law Thomas Hutchinson, judge and lieutenant governor—and more prominent as governor.
I’ve seen different authors identify all four of those men as the author of poem XXIX.

But there’s more. Soon after publishing that article, the Monthly Anthology received letters from two people in Maine disputing and filling out its attributions. One was the Rev. Dr. Samuel Deane of Portland, the last surviving contributor to Pietas et Gratulatio. The other, left unnamed, said he (or she) had a copy of the book with poem XXIX attributed to Prof. Sewall.

The magazine’s editors accepted what that letter said, even though that reattribution created another question: If Sewall had composed that English poem, why didn’t his own copy of the book say so? Why did it evidently name some other man as author?

In an 1879 issue of the Harvard Library Bulletin, Justin Winsor tallied up the evidence from all the copies of and reports on Pietas et Gratulatio he could find. He wrote that copies owned by the Rev. Jeremy Belknap, Samuel A. Eliot, the Rev. John Lowell of Newbury, college president Edward Holyoke, and Prof. John Winthrop all named the author of poem XXIX as Stephen Sewall. However, five other copies named either Peter or Thomas Oliver.

Sewall definitely wrote poetry, though he was best known for work in Greek and Latin, not English. Peter Oliver wrote newspaper essays and a delightfully sarcastic account of the coming of the Revolution. In contrast, I’ve never come across Thomas Oliver writing anything but justifications for his actions on 2 Sept 1774 (the topic of my talk at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters tonight).

Therefore, though I’m still unsure about who wrote that poem, Thomas Oliver is one of the least likely of the named candidates.

TOMORROW: Poem XXIX at last.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Gov. Bernard’s Book of Poetry

In 1760 George III ascended to the throne of Great Britain, and the following year he married Princess Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz.

Also in 1760, Francis Bernard (shown here) became governor of Massachusetts, coming from the same post in New Jersey.

His career dependent on making a good impression in London, Bernard started sucking up to the king and the new royal establishment. He proposed that Harvard College run a contest for the best poems about George III, his new bride, and the death of his grandfather, George II.

According to the 1855 Cyclopaedia of American Literature:
A proposal was set up in the college chapel inviting competition on these themes from undergraduates, or those who had taken a degree within seven years, for six guinea prizes to be given for the best Latin oration, Latin poem in hexameters, Latin elegy in hexameters and pentameters, Latin ode, English poem in long verse, and English ode.
Oxford and Cambridge had similar competitions, which was no doubt where Bernard got the idea.

The resulting best poems were collected with some prose addresses as Pietas et Gratulatio Collegii Cantabrigiensis apud Novanglos. The print shop of Green and Russell produced a handsome volume at quarto size, and in early 1762 the college corporation voted to send a presentation copy to the king himself. The Cyclopaedia says George III “does not appear to have made any special acknowledgment of it.”

There was a generally positive review of Pietas et Gratulatio in the July 1763 Monthly Review in London, though the praise was sometimes faint:
It must be acknowledged, after all, that this New England collection, like other publick offerings of the same kind, contains many indifferent performances; but these, though they can not be so well excused when they come from ancient and established seats of learning, may, at least, be connived at here; and what we could not endure from an illustrious university, we can easily pardon in an infant seminary.
The original volume didn’t identify any authors of the poems, but a number of copies with credits written in by hand circulated around Massachusetts. A detailed retrospective in the Monthly Anthology for June, 1809, used a copy owned by Harvard professor Stephen Sewall to identify the poets, including himself.

That article stated that the English poem numbered “XXIX.” was by “Thomas Oliver, afterwards judge and lieutenant governour.” A number of literary reference books repeated that information over the next century.

Since I was studying Lt. Gov. Oliver for my talk on Thursday, I was struck by this attribution. Because nothing else I’d read about Oliver suggested he was at all interested in poetry.

TOMORROW: Digging deeper.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Powderhouse: Public Resource or Private Property?

One of the places that plays a significant role in “The End of Tory Row,” as I’ve entitled my free public lecture on Thursday evening, is the gunpowder storehouse that still stands on a hill in Somerville.

Originally that spot was in Charlestown, and in 1703 John Mallet bought the hilltop and built the cylindrical stone structure that still stands there. In A Century of Town Life, James F. Hunnewell wrote:
Its walls, built of rough broken stones, perhaps 30 ft. high, form, as measured by the writer (April 15, 1886), a nearly exact circle 60 3/4 feet in circumference on the outside. At the one door (towards the north) they are 2 1/3 feet thick, and the diameter of the interior directly thence is 14 ft., 2 in. Both outside and inside they curve slightly inward towards the top, which is covered by a tall conical wooden and shingled roof with curved outlines. Across the interior, until recently, there were heavy beams, and flooring, all of late broken, but these have been removed, leaving the whole space clear; the floor is the earth; the doorway unclosed, as also is a window opposite; and the interior is dirty. Otherwise the structure is in tolerably good condition. Its roof was painted, and its walls were whitewashed on the outside, a few years ago.
The structure Mallet built was a windmill for grinding grain. It had four big sails and a roof that turned to face the wind. According to Wikipedia, it’s the oldest stone building in Massachusetts.

In 1747 the province of Massachusetts bought the “stone edifice, formerly a windmill,” and the quarter-acre of surrounding land from Mallet’s heirs. The government converted the structure into a gunpowder storehouse, replacing the windmill and grinding apparatus with a relatively light wooden roof. If the gunpowder inside ever blew up, the thick walls would direct most of the explosion up into the air, away from nearby buildings or people.

The powderhouse remained part of Massachusetts’s militia infrastructure until 1818. At that point, New England culture was probably less excited about military readiness. Massachusetts no longer faced the danger of invasion from inland. The region had soured quickly on the last war and wouldn’t get excited about another one for almost forty years.

The state therefore sold the quarter-acre and the powderhouse to Peter Tufts, a local farmer. He kept the building, probably because it was too solid to tear down and possibly because he could use it. The Tufts family eventually became merchants and professionals. In the 1870s, according to a brochure from the city of Somerville, they leased the stone tower to pickle maker George Emerson, who used it as a storehouse and marketed an “Old Powder House Brand.”

Hunnewell’s description above indicates the building was deteriorating by 1886. Four years later, it once again become government property as the Tufts family donated the land and building to Somerville. The city officially named the site Nathan Tufts Park, landscaped it with paths and plantings, and added benches and statuary. And everyone calls the neighborhood Powder House Square.

Monday, March 21, 2016

“The very Time of the Convulsion” in Shrewsbury

On Thursday I’ll speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site about “The End of Tory Row,” the events that led to drastic changes in that neighborhood in September 1774. (Here’s more information.)

Here’s part of a description of that day, which the Rev. Ezra Stiles of Newport took down from an Irish businessman named McNeil a few days afterward:
Mr. McNeil told me he proceeding from Springfield journeyed towards Boston and on Thursday the first Day of Sept. reached Shrewsbury in the Evening and lodged there. I asked him where he met the public Tumult? he said at Shrewsbury a few miles nearer Boston than Worcester.

He went to bed without hearing any Thing. But about midnight or perhaps one oClock he was suddenly waked up, somebody violently rapping up the Landlord, telling the doleful Story that the Powder was taken, six men killed, & all the people between there & Boston arming & marching down to the Relief of their Brethren at Boston; and within a qr. or half an hour he judges fifty men were collected at the Tavern tho’ now deep in Night, equipping themselves & sending off Posts every Way to the neighboring Towns. . . . The Men set off as fast as they were equipt.

In the Morning, being fryday Sept. 2, Mr. McNeil rode forward & passed thro’ the whole at the very Time of the Convulsion. He said he never saw such a Scene before—all along were armed Men rushing forward some on foot some on horseback, at every house Women & Children making Cartridges, running Bullets, making Wallets, baking Biscuit, crying & bemoaning & at the same time animating their Husbands & Sons to fight for their Liberties, tho’ not knowing whether they should ever see them again.

I asked whether the Men were Cowards or disheartened or appeared to want Courage? No. Whether the tender Destresses of weeping Wives & Children softened effeminated & overcome the Men and set them Weeping to? No—nothing of this—but a firm intrepid Ardor, hardy eager & couragious Spirit of Enterprize, a Spirit for revenging the Blood of their Brethren & rescue our Liberties, all this & an Activity corresponding with such Emotions appeared all along the whole Tract of above fourty Miles from Shrewsbury to Boston.

The Women kept on making Cartridges, & after equipping their Husbands, bro’t them out to the Soldiers which in Crowds passed along & gave them out in handfuls to one and another as they were deficient, mixing Exhortation & Tears & Prayers—spiriting the Men in such an uneffeminate Manner as even would make Cowards fight. He tho’t if anything the Women surpassed the Men for Eagerness & Spirit in the Defence of Liberty by Arms. For they had no Tho’ts of the Men returning but from Battle, for they all believed the Action commenced between the Kings Troops & the Provincials.
Remember, this was 2 Sept 1774, more than seven months before the Battle of Lexington and Concord, but the people of central Massachusetts “believed the Action commenced” already.

Many of those armed men with “a Spirit for revenging the Blood of their Brethren” ended up on the road from Watertown into Cambridge, passing the house of Lt. Gov. Thomas Oliver at the southwestern end of “Tory Row.”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

“Small woodin and paper houses & Towers”

Last month I wrote about a wooden model of ancient Jerusalem that toured the colonies in 1764 and 1765. The first posting quoted the diary of a young Philadelphia woman who saw the model in Germantown in 1762 and described it as “done by an illiterate shoemaker.” I also noted another possible clue to the creation that I couldn’t follow up.

Sandra G. Hewlett, a certified genealogist in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, kindly decided to check out that lead, and this is her report.

In your 24 February 2016 post you mentioned a footnote in Stephanie Grauman Wolf’s Urban Village, in which she cited a 1761 Philadelphia probate file for Anthony Sultser that held a clue to this story.

Yesterday I visited the Philadelphia Register of Wills office at City Hall where I obtained a copy of Anthony Sultser’s estate inventory dated 17th September 1761. The last line reads:
…..small woodin and paper houses & Towers: a shew to Represent the City and Tempel of Jersusalem £20
This item had the greatest value of anything mentioned in this inventory.

Anthony Sultser’s will mentions only his wife Barbara, no children, so we don’t learn much about him from his probate file.

Some of the inventory appears above. In addition to the model, it notes “some joiners tools,” “some saws Chisels and other old tools,” and “some wooden figures” that might be related to that project. The inventory also lists “all the shoemakers tools” and “some Leather,” indicating that Sultser was the shoemaker the diarist wrote about who carved this Jerusalem. Interestingly, his estate also included (not shown in the section above) some old books, so perhaps he wasn’t illiterate after all. Or maybe he just looked at the pictures for artistic inspiration.

(Another item in the inventory is “a marvell Stone” worth two shillings. I couldn’t find that as a common phrase, so it might just have been a chunk of marble.) 

As I wrote earlier, in 1765 the Boston selectmen found that “—— & his Mother” had brought the model to Boston. Was that Sultser’s widow Barbara and her son? Or had his heirs sold the model to a family who decided to travel and display in other seaports? 

Thanks, Sandi Hewlett!

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Forums on Parlors and Slavery, 2 Apr.

Here are a couple of disparate history events coming up on 2 April.

Historic Deerfield is hosting a forum on the theme “Company's Coming!: Artifacts and Rituals of Early New England Parlors.”
The New England parlor, designed for the reception and entertainment of visitors, communicated the social position and aspirations of the family. No other space received as much concentrated attention and economic outlay in its decoration, design, and furnishings. The use of parlors gradually evolved over the 18th century. Beginning as multipurpose spaces for sleeping, cooking, working, and eating, by the end of the century only the dining and entertaining functions remained. The goal of a well-furnished parlor was to impress guests through a display of possessions, while providing a center for refined activities and rituals such as tea drinking, card playing, dancing, and above all, conversation.
This event will take place from 8:30 A.M. to 6:15 P.M. in the Deerfield Community Center. The registration fee is $115, or $95 for members.

On the same day, Essex Heritage and Salem State University are hosting a day of conversation on “Invisible Injustice: Discovering & Disseminating the Story of Slavery in the North.”
Keynote speaker Joanne Pope Melish joins scholars, educators, regional historic and cultural site staff, and other community members in conversations about effective interpretation of northern slavery and its legacies. What are the stories that our institutions are not telling? What are best practices for approaching these topics with visitors, students, and the public? We will explore these topics and other questions via scholarly presentations, break-out sessions, and facilitated activities.
That event will take place from 8:30 A.M. to 3:30 P.M. in Marsh Hall on the Salem State campus. It is free, but registration is required. As of today, this event is full, but there is a wait list in case space opens up.

Finally, if you’d prefer to be outdoors on that Saturday, 2 April, Minute Man National Historical Park is hosting a Park Day clean-up to prepare for the busy Patriots Day season.
Needs range from clearing invasive plants and undergrowth to trail clean up and maintenance. Refreshments will be provided free of charge thanks to the Friends of Minute Man NHP. A local historian may also be available to describe the park’s significance.
Volunteers can gather at the visitor center in Lincoln starting at 9:00 A.M. For more information, contact Phil Lupsiewicz at 978-318-7833.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Stamp Act Meets the Bottom Line

On 18 March 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act for its American colonies. That was one week short of the law’s first anniversary.

Of course, the Stamp Act had already failed. How badly? Alvin Rabushka’s Taxation in Colonial America has a couple of tables that sum up the situation.

The British government shipped £102,050.8s.11d. (plus one more half-pence) worth of paper to the thirteen colonies that would form the U.S. of A. In those colonies the empire’s stamp agents collected a total of:
All in Georgia.

From all of North America and the Caribbean, which included twenty-six British colonies, the Crown collected £3,292. Most of that came from Jamaica, the only colony where the law was really in force for any time at all.

The government also lost a lot of the paper it had bought and had stamped. About £61,000 worth was returned while £41,000 worth was lost or destroyed. Only South Carolina returned its consignment intact. Nearly all of New York’s paper was destroyed, as was most of New Hampshire’s and Rhode Island’s. In Massachusetts, where riots intimidated Andrew Oliver into resigning as stamp agent more than two months before the law was to take effect, about two-thirds of the paper was preserved. But the law had clearly ended up costing the government money, even without accounting for the riots.

At the same time as the repeal, Parliament approved the Declaratory Act, reaffirming its role as the sovereign authority in the British Empire. That law said the legislature “had hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America…in all cases whatsoever.”

King George III granted official assent to the Declaratory Act immediately but didn’t approve the Stamp Act repeal for another four days. That timing didn’t really matter, but it showed his personal commitment to the idea of Parliamentary rule, even when the government no longer consisted of his favorites.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Changes at Colonial Williamsburg

On this Evacuation Day, I’m evacuating Boston for a weekend in Williamsburg, Virginia, and the American Revolution Conference.

Earlier this month the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported at length on that history site’s adjustment to a new director with new ideas:
For Halloween weekend last fall, Colonial Williamsburg rolled out “Blackbeard’s Revenge,” a slate of spooky events that included free trick-or-treating; costume contests; “pirate games”; pumpkin decorating; tours of the jail, where interpreters portrayed imprisoned “undead” buccaneers; and a grave digger who related “tales of burying Blackbeard’s crew.”

Mitchell Reiss, the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s president and CEO and the architect of a series of overhauls since he took over in late 2014, said the weekend was an unqualified success, drawing 10,000 people over two nights.

Roughly 80 percent of first-time visitors surveyed said they would return.

“Unless you can get people to come, you can’t engage them. You can’t educate them, and you can’t inspire them,” Reiss said. “The Blackbeard story was fun, it was accurate-ish. But you know, it got people here and they had a great time.” . . .

Reiss also has presided over major changes to staffing and programs and green-lit the foundation’s first-ever Super Bowl ad, which featured footage of the Twin Towers during the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ignited a wave of social media backlash and negative news coverage. It was the first of a new three-part ad campaign.

The cumulative effect has some critics questioning whether the foundation is losing sight of its educational mission and historical focus in favor of chasing what may prove to be a more fickle type of tourist. Others see encouraging strides in a new direction. . . .

Visitation peaked at 1.2 million a year in the mid-1970s, partly the result of bicentennial fervor but also for less tangible reasons.

“It was a different America. We took more vacations. We taught more history in schools. We didn’t have iPads and iPhones to distract us and reduce our attention span to nanoseconds. We maybe even were more patriotic in a way and more aware of history,” Reiss said.

“All of these have combined to place some challenges in front of us and in front of other historic sites and museums across the country. We have to address them head-on. We can’t pretend that they don’t exist.”

Individual ticket sales, not including promotional tickets that were given to groups and counted in the past whether or not they were used, rose from 474,299 in 2014 to 480,007 in 2015, a modest increase but one that reverses a years-long downward trend, the foundation said. . . .

For 2015, expenses were down $300,000 compared with 2014, and revenue was up nearly $7 million in the same period, along with hotel occupancy, which increased by 7 percentage points, and meals served, up 4 percent.
I hadn’t realized till reading this article that Reiss isn’t a historian, though he has a doctorate (in international relations) and an academic background (as president of Washington College in Maryland). That might be why he’s so eager to win over a larger constituency, and comfortable with the term “accurate-ish.”

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

“The Fictional Portrait” in Display in New York, 18 Mar.

Earlier this month the New York Times reported on an exhibit of two portraits in New York. The Jewish Museum received those paintings in the 1950s from an owner who understood them to be paired portraits of Judah and Jochabed Mears painted around 1740 by Jeremiah Theus of Charleston, South Carolina.

The paper reported:
Experts have concluded — based on recent tests including infrared scans, X-rays and pigment analysis — that the artworks were not painted by Mr. Theus, not produced in America and not originally a pair. The show’s curator, Stephen Brown, said scientific confirmation of the paintings’ dubiousness was not a surprise, since staff members “had questions about them for a long time.”

The provenance documents suggest that the paintings changed hands in the 1920s or ’30s under the auspices of Frank W. Bayley, a dealer and historian in Boston. He sometimes obtained inventory from the Manhattan dealers Augustus and Rose de Forest, who sought “family portraits over 70 years old” via newspaper want ads. The couple are now notorious for having created false family trees for people who had supposedly passed down particular paintings for generations. Mr. Bayley committed suicide in 1932 after learning that he had unwittingly sold fakes.
The Jewish Museum’s exhibit, “The Fictional Portrait,” will open on 18 March. In addition to these paintings, it includes other portraits and the paperwork involved in the case.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Gentlemen at the Shirley-Eustis House, 24 Mar.

Here’s one more history event for the busy night of Thursday, 24 March.

The Shirley-Eustis House in Roxbury will play host to “The League of Most Interesting Gentlemen,” or at least to professional men portraying them.

These gentlemen consist of Benjamin Franklin, President James Madison, President Thomas Jefferson, and a Natural Philosopher with unorthodox medical ideas. They will share “commentary on political and social issues of their times, and give their personal remarks regarding the intellectual spirit of the Enlightenment.”

William Shirley, the Massachusetts governor who built that house, “had much conversation” with Franklin in the winter of 1755 over the “Albany Plan” to unite the colonies. A later owner of the mansion, Dr. William Eustis (shown here), was Secretary of War under Madison and did just fine until there was, you know, a war. So those visiting gentlemen will surely have things to say about their hosts.

The doors will open at 5:30 P.M., and the presentations are scheduled to begin at 6:00. The League of Most Interesting Gentlemen will remain to have further conversation and answer further questions afterward. Refreshments will be served. Admission is $10 per person. To reserve spaces, call 617-442-2275.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Lanterns, Laws, and Legend

As I quoted back here, on 1 Nov 1769 Boston town clerk William Cooper wrote out instructions on behalf of the selectmen to Thomas Bradford, temporarily promoted to Constable of the South Watch. Among other things, the letter told Bradford:
You are to take up all Negroes Indian and Molatto Slaves that may be absent from their masters House after nine o’Clock at Night and passing the Streets unless they are carrying Lanthorns with light Candles and can give a good and satisfactory Account of their Business that such offenders may be proceeded with according to Law.
As I noted before, this amounted to license to stop every black or Native American person the watchmen met on the street at night since there was no way to tell by sight if they were slaves.

At the time, Boston was occupied by British regiments. An army captain named John Willson had reportedly asked in a tavern why the town’s enslaved population had never risen up, which locals took (sincerely or not) as instigation to revolt. The result was that discriminatory addition to the watchmen’s instructions, probably modeled on a measure in effect in New York since 1713.

Almost a century after Cooper’s letter, Edward H. Savage published a history of the Boston police force. It seems to have appeared under different titles, including A Chronological History of the Boston Watch and Police: From 1631 to 1865. Using racist language and outrageous dialect, Savage spun an amusing story off that regulation from 1769:
It was said soon after the order was given, “an old darkie was picked up prowling about in total darkness.” Next morning, when asked by the magistrate if guilty, he replied “No, sa, I has de lantern,” holding up before the astonished court, an old one, innocent of oil or candle. He was discharged, and the law amended, so as to require “a lantern with a candle.” Old Tony was soon up again on the same complaint, and again entered a plea “not guilty,” and again drawing forth the old lantern with a candle; but the wick had not been discolored by a flame. The defendant was discharged with a reprimand, and the law was made to read, “a lantern with a lighted candle.” Old Tony was not caught again, having been heard to remark, “Massa got too much light on de subjec.”
Marietta Lois Stow repeated the same anecdote about “old Caesar” and his empty lantern in Probate Chaff: Or, Beautiful Probate (1879).

I’ve seen other racist jokes like this from nineteenth-century Massachusetts, looking back on pre-Revolutionary slavery times. They usually come with a thick coating of dialect and white supremacy, but half the time the story is about a black man as clever trickster.

There’s a problem with relying on this anecdote as history, however. As the quotation above shows, the selectmen had required “Lanthorns with light Candles” all along. So it’s just a joke.

In a new book titled Dark Matters: On the Surveillance of Blackness, Simone Browne discusses the series of New York laws requiring blacks to carry lanterns after dark through 1784 as a presage of modern surveillance of non-white communities. That book calls those “lantern laws,” seemingly a generic term. It’s true that in 1998 Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace’s Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 referred to that city’s 1713 ordinance as a “new lantern law.” However, Google Books uncovers the phrase “lantern law” earlier only in turn-of-the-20th-century discussions of bicycling.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

History Camp 2016 Coming Up, 26 Mar.

History Camp Boston 2016 will take place on 26 March at the Harriet Tubman House, the same place we met last year.

This event has been sold out for a while, so I haven’t promoted it since that would probably lead to disappointment. But there is a waitlist, and the program of presentations looks really good. Many of the speakers would, I’m sure, also be available to talk about their topics at local organizations and schools.

The talk I’ll deliver is:
The False Lessons of the Stamp Act Crisis

Two hundred fifty years ago this spring, Boston—and the rest of North America—celebrated Parliament’s repeal of the Stamp Act. Thus ended the first act of the British imperial crisis. Both sides came away with misconceptions that led them into replicating the same conflict within two years. This talk explores those mistaken ideas, some of which still affect our understanding of the coming of the Revolution today.
In addition to this annual gathering, Lee Wright at the History List and History Camp participants have been organizing a series of monthly outings to local sites which folks can sign up for.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

“The End of Tory Row” in Cambridge, 24 Mar.

Among the historical talks on Thursday, 24 March, here’s the one I’ll attend: “The End of Tory Row,” at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge.

I’ll be there because I’ll be doing the speaking. This is the latest of a series of lectures I’ve given at the site about how that house was used by the Vassall family and Gen. George Washington.

Here’s the description we came up with for this year’s talk:
On September 1, 1774, the estates along the road from the center of Cambridge toward Watertown comprised a prosperous community, linked by bonds of family, religion, and politics. By the end of the month most of those families had moved out of their mansions, and the royal government no longer had authority over most of Massachusetts. Drawing on new research for his upcoming book The Road to Concord, J. L. Bell describes the dramatic confrontation that led to those changes. 
For this evening I plan to focus on the experience of Thomas Oliver (1738-1815), the first owner of the nearby mansion now known as Elmwood (shown above).

On 8 Aug 1774, Oliver was sworn in as the new royal lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. He was probably as surprised as anyone about that commission; as I discussed back here, he had never been politically active. Newspapers speculated that officials in London had appointed Oliver because of a family connection, or because they thought he had a family connection, or simply because someone  filled in the wrong given name on a form.

Less than one month after becoming lieutenant governor, Oliver and his family had been driven from their stately home into Boston. Most of his wealthy neighbors (almost all of them related to his wife Elizabeth) soon moved behind the British army lines as well. By the end of September 1774, the country neighborhood that was later dubbed “Tory Row” was almost entirely empty of Loyalists.

This talk will discuss what happened in that month, and the ramifications of those events on the overall political situation in New England. It is scheduled to start at 6:30 P.M., after on-street parking spaces become available in the neighborhood. Seating in the Longfellow Carriage House is limited, so please reserve seats through this Facebook page, by calling (617) 876-4491, or by email. Thanks!

Friday, March 11, 2016

O’Malley on the Slave Trade in Framingham, 24 Mar.

On Thursday, 24 March, Framingham State University will host two events with Prof. Gregory O’Malley of the University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America, 1619-1807.

At 2:30 P.M. O’Malley will lead a roundtable discussion on balancing empirical quantitative research with a humane approach to writing about people, particularly those who were oppressed or marginalized. The debate over how to manage these issues is central to writing about the history of enslavement and many other issues where evidence is available largely in only quantitative form. O’Malley wrote about that balance in this essay for the Omohundro Institute’s blog about a discussion among scholars of the Atlantic slave trade:
Many were particularly troubled by the sources of the numbers—port records, insurance documents, and merchant accounts that treated enslaved people as commodities, abstracting human beings as mere tally marks in ledgers. In playing what critics often critiqued as the “numbers game,” were slave trade historians perpetuating the dehumanization of the slave trade by using these shipping records to count the captives crossing the Atlantic?
That roundtable discussion will take place in Framingham State’s Center for Inclusive Excellence on the upper mezzanine of the Henry E. Whittemore Library.

At 4:30 O’Malley will give a public lecture in the Heineman Ecumenical Center entitled “Beyond the Middle Passage: Slave Trading from the Caribbean to North America, 1619-1807.” This talk reflects the topic and approach of his book, the university says:
In Final Passages, O’Malley explores the origins, evolution, and decline of the trade in enslaved Africans within and among American colonies between 1619 and 1807. Most Americans are now familiar with the Middle Passage, the transatlantic crossing that brought enslaved people to the Western Hemisphere, but as O’Malley demonstrates, that was far from the end of the journey for many of them. O’Malley’s visit will provide an opportunity for us to explore the ways in which people of African descent have worked to forge communities in the Americas despite the enduring legacies of slavery and racial discrimination.
O’Malley’s presentation will particularly explore the role of New Englanders in the North American slave trade. A reception open to all attendees will follow.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Hagist on the Stamp Act in Newport, 24 Mar.

This week the New York Post called The Revolution’s Last Men: The Soldiers behind the Photographs, Don Hagist’s latest book, “An astonishing piece of American history.”

Don will be speaking on Thursday, 24 March, at the Newport Historical Society on the topic “The Stamp Act in Newport: How the World Heard the News as Reported in American and British Newspapers”:
This spring marks the 250th anniversary of the repeal of the Stamp Act, one of the first direct taxes imposed on American colonists. This tax sparked a series of riots in colonial cities, including Newport, and is considered one of the first conflicts in the American Revolution.

This talk will explore how newspapers reported the tension and turmoil in Newport from the time the Stamp Act was passed in 1765 until it was repealed in 1766. Most Rhode Islanders are familiar with the burning of the Gaspee, but they are not aware that Rhode Island’s vehement opposition to Parliamentary policies actually began a decade earlier when colonists refused to abide by laws that violated their colonial charter. By presenting extracts from 18th-century newspapers in Rhode Island, other colonies, and England, Hagist will illustrate how news of this opposition traveled and how other people learned what was happening in Newport.
Don Hagist is an editor for the Journal of the American Revolution and maintains the British Soldiers, American Revolution blog. In addition to his books, he’s published a number of articles in academic journals, including Newport History.

This talk will start at 5:30 P.M. at the society’s Resource Center, 82 Touro Street in Newport. Admission is $5 per person, only $1 for society members and active or retired military personnel with identification. Because space is limited, the society suggests people make reservations by calling 401-846-0813 x110.

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

A Short Video of the Horrid Massacre

For folks who missed last Saturday’s reenactment of the Boston Massacre, or those who want to relive it, here is the video.

This is the streaming video from the event from a single camera with no editing or overdubbing. But the narrator is very clear, isn’t he?

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Naming a Massacre

Bostonians started to call the killings on King Street on 5 Mar 1770 a “massacre” almost immediately, according to the official record. The minutes of the emergency town meeting that started the next day begin:

At a Meeting of the Freeholders and other Inhabitants of the Town of Boston at Faneuil Hall on Tuesday the 6th. Day of March 1770 – 11 O’Clock A:M; occasioned by the Massacre made in King Street, by the Soldiery the preceeding Night . . .

Upon a Motion made it was Voted, that if any of the Inhabitants present could give information respecting the Massacre of the last Night, that they be desired to do it in Meeting, that the same might be minuted by the Town Clerk
That clerk was William Cooper, and it appears he was the person who started to apply the term “massacre” as he took notes at that meeting.

By the end of that town meeting that afternoon, Cooper was writing the phrase “horrid Massacre.” On the afternoon of the 12th, that had become “the late horred Massacre.” The latter meeting had chosen a small committee headed by James Bowdoin to write Boston’s official report on the event, which had the title A Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre in Boston.

In choosing that word, Boston Whigs strengthened the links they perceived between them and government reformers in London. The term echoed the Massacre of St. George’s Fields, which had taken place in London in May 1768. A crowd had turned out to show support for the radical politician John Wilkes. Magistrates “read the Riot Act,” ordering the people to disperse. When they didn’t, soldiers fired at the crowd, killing six to eleven people.

A related question is when the term “Boston Massacre” arose. At the end of 1770, Isaiah Thomas published his first Massachusetts almanac, to cover the following year. He had Paul Revere produce a new version of the image he’d taken from Henry Pelham, this time as a woodcut rather than an engraving. Harbottle Dorr pasted that picture in his newspaper collection beside the first reports of the shootings. That example is discolored by glue, but we can see the label “BOSTON MASSACRE” at the top. That phrase also appeared in advertisements for the almanac.

Another label, John Johnson of Minutemen and Their World has pointed out, was “Preston’s Massacre,” after Capt. Thomas Preston, acquitted in late 1770 of having ordered soldiers to fire into the crowd. That phrase appeared in the 5 Mar 1771 issue of Salem’s Essex Gazette, exactly one year after the event. A week later, Edes and Gill reprinted that text in their Boston Gazette, filled out with large display type, dark borders, and a description of Boston’s first-anniversary memorial events.

The war that followed a few years later brought several more events labeled as “massacres”: the Paoli Massacre, Baylor Massacre, Waxhaw Massacre, Cherry Valley Massacre, Sugarloaf Massacre, Pyle’s Massacre, and Gnaddenhutten Massacre. Most of those events were actually fights between the two armies in which one side was really successful at wiping out the other. Only a couple involved attacks on unarmed civilians, with the Gnaddenhutten attack the worst atrocity.

Monday, March 07, 2016

Another Early Image of the Boston Massacre

Extending our latest Boston Massacre week, here’s a look at a powder horn decorated with an image of the shooting. It comes from the American Antiquarian Society’s Past Is Present blog last November.

The carver was Jacob Gay or Guay, who created a lot of other striking horns from the Seven Years’ War through the Revolutionary War, working out of New Hampshire or on the Boston siege lines. This one is dated 1772 and bears the name of Hamilton Davidson.
The Davidson powder horn in the collections of Historic Deerfield was made by Jacob Gay in 1772 and depicts the historic Boston Massacre scene in reverse. The horn is one of Gay’s finest (he was a prolific carver of horns) and its detail suggests how this inciting image may have inspired a soldier in battle. Gay has reversed the scene, with the British soldiers shooting from the left, and depicts the men in his cartoon-like style. Whether he adapted the scene from a print by [Paul] Revere or [Henry] Pelham or [Jonathan] Muliken, Gay’s rendering is impressive, especially when you recognize that he was engraving the scene on a curved horn surface rather than on a copper plate!
Gay depicted eight soldiers with their guns pointed at the crowd, which was exactly how many enlisted men were on King Street that night. But that accuracy might just be coincidence since he carved six more soldiers behind them.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

A Visit to the Massacre Site in the 1970s

The photo above shows one family’s own little reenactment of the Boston Massacre in 1974 or so. A few years back Josh King, political aide and proud son of Newton, told the full story. This is just a taste:
Charlestown, Massachusetts was the site of “The Whites of Their Eyes” at now-dismantled the Bunker Hill Pavillion, an epic multi-media show and diorama that brought the American Revolution, depicted mostly in oil-on-canvas, to life.

Bunker Hill Monument is a stop on Boston’s famous Freedom Trail, willed into existence in 1951 by Bill Schofield, an editor and columnist for the old Boston Herald Traveler. Another stop on the Freedom Trail is the Old State House, which was the center of Boston’s civic life in the 18th Century. Over 35 years ago, that kid grabbing his gut on the streets of my hometown, circa 1974, is me, recreating the seminal moment of the Boston Massacre which happened outside the front door of the Old State House on March 5, 1770.

My dad and brother are playing the part of British troops and rebellious colonists, clogging the thoroughfare with some theatrics. For someone who as a young fellow dressed at Halloween as Patrick Henry and who now continues to read new biographies issues by the likes of Joseph Ellis, David McCullough, and Walter Isaacson, Boston around the time of the Bicentennial was the place to be, hanging out in the footsteps of the Founding Fathers.

But Boston in ‘76 had a dark irony not so visible, or understandable, to a 10-year old whose most valuable possession was his replica Civil War musket bought at a souvenir store somewhere near Gettysburg. Beneath the veneer of its storied heritage, the cradle of liberty was home to a searing racial divide over forced busing.
Once during those years, busing opponents coopted the reenactment to stage a “die-in” protest. In 1999 people in the crowd were shouting about the police killing of Amadou Diallo, which was a closer parallel. More recently it’s hard not to see the experiences of both the soldiers and civilians through the lens of our overseas military occupations. Such thoughts show how the event continues to resonate.

King’s book Off Script: An Advance Man’s Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle and Political Suicide will be published by St. Martin’s Press in April.

Saturday, March 05, 2016

How to Prepare to Have Your Head Shot Off

Today’s the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, and this evening we’re reenacting the event outside the Old State House Museum, as close to the original site as it’s safe to get (since there’s a big, busy road there now).

Among the reenactors will be Timothy Abbott, author of the Walking the Berkshires and Another Pair Not Fellows blogs (shown here). He’ll portray Samuel Gray, one of the men killed at the front of the crowd.

Abbott has written a five-part series on his research into Gray—overall methodology, his family, his role in the ropewalk brawl and other fights that followed, how he made his way to King Street,
and what he was doing just before being killed.

Gray was a ropemaker, but for the famous 1770 engravings Henry Pelham depicted him wearing the short jacket and trousers of a sailor. That allows Abbott to adapt the clothing and depiction he’s prepared for the persona of an American merchant seaman of the era. Abbott has shared his process publicly, but lots of other historical reenactors put the same amount of research and work into their portrayals. We’ll get to enjoy the sights and sounds of those efforts at tonight’s event.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Hammond Green on Trial

Most people who follow early American history know that after the Boston Massacre the British soldiers were put on trial for murder. People who study the topic more closely know that there were separate trials for Capt. Thomas Preston and the eight enlisted men.

At those trials John Adams and Josiah Quincy, Jr., handled the defense alongside future Loyalists Robert Auchmuty and Sampson Salter Blowers. They won acquittals for most of the accused, convictions for manslaughter instead of murder for two. Americans remember the Whig lawyers’ work for the soldiers as a touchstone of every defendant’s right to a vigorous legal defense.

But there was a third murder trial after the Massacre which we hear very little about. While the record of the soldiers’ trial was reprinted multiple times in the 1800s, the publishers left out the description of that third trial which was originally printed with it.

That trial grew out of the claims of Charles Bourgate, a teenager of French extraction who worked for Customs official Edward Manwaring. For reasons of his own, Charles accused his master of having fired a gun out of an upper floor of the Customs house at the crowd on King Street.

When the teenager first made this accusation, Manwaring quickly refuted it by bringing in a friend, notary John Munro, to testify that the two of them had been somewhere else at the time. In addition, Hammond Green and Thomas Greenwood testified that they had been in that room of the Customs House during the violence, not seeing Manwaring or anyone else shoot out the windows.

Bourgate then revised his testimony to say that both Manwaring and Munro had been up in the room with guns. And that Hammond Green had yanked him into the Customs House to shoot a gun as well. This made no sense, but it allowed the Boston Whigs to arrest all four of those men and discount their testimony—after all, one should expect accused murderers to lie to protect themselves. Soon the town was proclaiming that it had evidence for a Customs service conspiracy against the people.

It looks like the judicial system recognized the relative weaknesses of this case. While Capt. Preston and the soldiers remained in jail until their trial, Green was released on bond on 7 April, as this document from the Boston Public Library collection shows. It identified Green as a “Boat builder.” His sureties were fellow boatbuilder Thomas Hitchbourn and the printers Richard Draper of the Boston News-Letter and John Green and Joseph Russell of the Boston Post-Boy.

The Customs men’s trial finally started on 12 December, after the soldiers’ ended. Samuel Quincy (shown above) had the difficult task of prosecuting. Bourgate repeated the latest version of his story under oath. Another youth (“Some people thought him foolish”) described seeing flashes from the Customs House windows. Then the defense called its witnesses.

Four merchants stated they had seen no shots from the windows. One of those men, Edward Payne, had been wounded in the Massacre, so he had no reason to cover up anything. Elizabeth Avery testified that she had watched the shooting with Hammond Green:
There was no other people in this room, (except them I have mentioned) during the whole time of my being there, but Thomas Greenwood who came in and went out again in a minute. Nor was there any gun or pistol, or candle in the room. Nor was the door of the balcony or any of the windows of the chamber opened that evening to my knowledge, and I verily believe they were not. The French Boy, who has just been sworn in this Court was not there that evening, nor did I ever see him there in my life. Nor was Mr. Manwarring or Mr Munroe there on that evening.
Hammond’s sister Ann stated the same.

Later the defense attorneys called a man who had spent time in the Boston jail with Charles Bourgate and said the boy had boasted of the reward he would get for perjuring himself. Charles denied that, but the jury cleared the Customs men of murder without getting up from their seats. The acquittal even made the London Chronicle.

I can’t tell if Hammond Green worked for the Customs service in 1770 or simply lived with his father who did. But by the time the war broke out, he was on the payroll as a tidesman. In March 1776 Hammond Green evacuated to Halifax with the British army, leaving behind his wife, Mary, and their child. In July 1777 the Massachusetts legislature granted permission for them to join him in Nova Scotia. Mary died in the following years, and in 1785 Hammond married Elizabeth Mott, young daughter of a former Royal Artillery mattross. Green was still working as a tidesman at Halifax in 1807, thirty-seven years after being tried and acquitted for the Boston Massacre.