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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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Visiting Moll Pitcher, the Fortune-Teller of Lynn

To visit the fortune-teller Mary “Moll” Pitcher, chroniclers of Lynn wrote, people looked for the house of Dr. Henry Burchstead. He was the [grand]son of a physician from Silesia, and he built a large house on what is now Essex Street.

More notably, Burchstead set up two large whale bones in the form of a “gothic arch” as his front gate. Alonzo Lewis, followed by other authors, said that visitors to Lynn embarrassed to have people know they were consulting Pitcher would instead ask for directions to “the bones of the great whale.”

There’s one problem with those directions, however. According to a genealogy published in the Massachusetts Magazine in 1910, Dr. Henry Burchstead died in 1755, five years before Moll Pitcher married and decades before Lewis and those other chroniclers lived. [CORRECTION: The Dr. Burchsted who died in 1755 was succeeded by his son, another Dr. Henry Burchsted, who lived to 1807. The younger man set up the whalebone gate.] James R. Newhall’s 1897 expansion of Lewis’s history of Lynn said other doctors took over that house: Dr. Peter G. Robbins in 1805 and Dr. Richard Hazeltine in 1817. But it’s not clear who lived there from 1755 to 1805, covering the bulk of Moll Pitcher’s career. In any case, people looked for the whale bones.

Lewis described “the humble dwelling of Molly Pitcher, which stood on what was then a lonely road, near the foot of High Rock.” A less flattering, secondhand description of Pitcher published in the 12 July 1879 Boston Traveller and reprinted in the 15 July New York Times said the house was

a black two-story hovel, which stood in a large field, familiarly called in those days the Pitcher field. There was a well-beaten pathway running from the old rickety gate up to the single door. Before the door, was placed an irregular block of stone, and even that, to the superstitious, had its terrors. . . .

The field where the cottage stood has been filled with nice dwellings, and there is not a sign left of the mysterious dwelling-place…except the remodeled hovel which stands in the rear. It has been materially changed and would scarcely be recognized.
In the March 1899 Essex Antiquarian, Sidney Perley published a picture of the Pitcher house “as it formerly appeared.” It looks like it had one story and an attic, four windows in front, and a small extension on the left side. That picture shows a standard Georgian center door while the 1879 article stated the “single door…stood to the extreme left of the house and opened into a small entry-way, which, in turn, opened into a rather larger room, where Moll received her visitors. There were two small rooms adjoining this large one, where were used for various purposes.” Those two reports seem incompatible.

Perley included three other relics of Mary Pitcher: her signature from some 1770 document, a black bonnet she was known to wear, and a table.
The Essex Institute, owner of this table, is now part of the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem. I wonder if Moll Pitcher’s table is still in its inventory, and if it gets brought out during Salem’s witch tourism season.

TOMORROW: The exposé.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Seeking a Clear Image of Moll Pitcher

To figure out what sort of fortune-telling Mary “Moll” Pitcher of Lynn did requires getting around the romanticized descriptions and legends that grew over the nineteenth century.

For example, in Moll Pitcher’s Prophecies; or, The American Sibyl (1895), Ellen M. Griffin claimed that Maj. John Pitcairn visited Pitcher on 17 Apr 1775, and she took information about the march to Concord that she gained from him to the Marblehead Patriot Elbridge Gerry. (Who was actually out of town that week.)

Likewise, there was a widely commonly reprinted picture of Pitcher, shown here. People who had actually seen her in life said it was a terrible likeness. Authors wrote that she was thin, with “a long Athenian nose,” and as she aged “Her nose became peaked and her features seemed to lengthen.” An 1879 profile said, “Her most habitual mode of covering her head, and one perhaps peculiar to herself, was to bind a black silk handkerchief about her forehead.” Nothing of the sort shown in the picture.

That mythologizing process started even in Pitcher’s lifetime. The only reference to her fortune-telling that I’ve found from before her death in 1813 is a series of letters published in the Boston Weekly Magazine. These started as a debate between the fashionable Boston woman Mary Ann Smartly and the Lynn Quaker Rebecca Plainly. The 26 Feb 1803 Smartly letter says:
And now to address you in your own shocking style.—Good Rebecca, (lord, what an old fashioned name) how knowest thou that my wig is red? Hast thou been to Moll Pitcher, to know what colour it is of? Pray thee, how much did it cost thee and the old witch to ascertain the colour of my wig? For I suppose it is some trouble to Mrs. Pitcher, to conjure up her infernal agents.
A Plainly letter dated 6 March likewise alluded to “Moll Pitcher.” And then on 2 April the magazine published a letter dated from Lynn on 17 March with Moll Pitcher’s name at the bottom. That was a protest against her being misrepresented, using Christian language and allusions. It also mentioned having read Hannah More’s Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education, published in England four years before.

For all of this Moll Pitcher’s protests against people misusing her name, I can’t help but suspect that the real Mary Pitcher of Lynn wasn’t involved in that debate at all. The correspondents and their letters all appear to be literary creations. Smartly and Plainly were voices for an ongoing philosophical debate, and whoever wrote the Moll Pitcher letters appears to have treated her as equally symbolic, even though the real woman was still active.

When Pitcher died, the Rev. William Bentley of Salem wrote in his diary for 19 May 1813:
The death of Widow Mary Pitcher, aet. [aged] 75, in Lynn furnishes two facts to the World. This woman has been commonly resorted to by this neighbourhood as a fortune teller & died in the full reputation of her skill. Some dared to insinuate she was a Witch, but there was no fire or halter in the Law for her. Superstition in this sort is still general among seamen & even among such as are not of the lowest order of them. It is a more pleasing circumstance attending the death of “Mother Pitcher” as she is commonly named by those who call upon her, that her death is said to be the only one in Lynn, for five months past from a population exceeding 4 thousand.
The basic source about Mary Pitcher is Alonzo Lewis’s history of Lynn, published in 1829, revised in 1844, and re-edited by later scholars. Lewis saw Pitcher personally as a child, and his attitude toward her was neither credulous nor disdainful. I quoted what he first wrote about Moll Pitcher a couple of days ago. According to him, “Her only ostensible means of obtaining secret knowledge” was reading tea leaves.

Lewis described people coming to Pitcher with three main questions:
  • “affairs of love.” Yet I haven’t come across a single anecdote about this sort of prophecy.
  • “loss of property.” In his History of the Town of Groton (1848), Caleb Butler wrote that Pitcher was “employed in the search” for valuable millstones lost when a flood destroyed a gristmill around 1700; however, the stones were never found.
  • “surmises respecting the vicissitudes of their future fortune,” particularly ocean voyages. Many sailors visited Pitcher, as did eccentric leather-dresser and merchant “Lord” Timothy Dexter after his first fortune-teller of choice, Jane Hooper of Newburyport, died in 1798.
Pitcher’s pronouncements could affect the maritime labor market. In the first volume of his Narrative of Voyages and Travels (1817), Amasa Delano wrote about the grand ship Massachusetts, launched from Quincy in 1789 to trade with China under captain Job Prince and supercargo Samuel Shaw. It didn’t actually set out until the following year. Why?
It is worthy of remark that the Massachusetts had more than three crews shipped before she sailed from Boston. The greatest part of them left the ship in consequence of a prediction by an old woman, a fortune teller, Moll Pitcher of Lynn, that the Massachusetts would be lost, and every man on board of her. Such was the superstition of our seamen at that time, that the majority of them believed the prophecy, and were actuated by it in their conduct.
Ten years later George Whitney wrote in Some Account of the Early History and Present State of the Town of Quincy, “It is commonly reported that this ship was lost in her first voyage. This, however, is not true. The report probably arose from a prediction, of Moll Pitcher of Lynn, a fortune-teller, that she would be lost and every man in her.” And from the fact that the Massachusetts never did return to America; Shaw sold the ship to some even more desperate Danish merchants in the Pacific.

TOMORROW: Visiting Moll Pitcher.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Fleeting Facts of Moll Pitcher’s Life

Authors disagree about Mary (Moll) Pitcher’s family background. When she died in 1813, she was said to be seventy-five years old, meaning she was born around 1738. No birth or baptism records have been found to match or confirm that.

In his 1844 revision of his History of Lynn, Alonzo Lewis wrote: “Her grand-father, John Dimond, lived at Marblehead, and for many years exercised the same pretensions [to foretelling the future]. Her father, Capt. John Dimond, was master of a vessel from that place, and was living in 1770.”

However, James R. Newhall wrote in his description of Lynn in the 1888 History of Essex County that Mary Pitcher’s father was named Aholiab Diamond while her grandfather was “Captain John Diamond, of Marblehead.” Newhall later edited and revised Lewis’s book, reproducing Mary Pitcher’s signature but leaving out most details about her.

Samuel Roads, Jr.’s The History and Traditions of Marblehead (1880) hints in yet another direction. It suggests that “the famous ‘old Dimond’ of whom such fabulous stories were told and believed” was named Edward Diamond. “It was said that he was a wizard, and possessed the ‘black art’—which enabled him to foretell coming events, to avert disasters from his friends, and bring distress upon his enemies.” Subsequent authors identified Edward Diamond as inhabitant of the house shown above and Moll Pitcher’s fabled grandfather. More recently, John Hardy Wright’s Marblehead says he was her great-uncle. Or he could have been her great-grandfather by that name, who reportedly lived until 1732.

Writing in the Essex Antiquarian in 1899, Sidney Perley agreed with Newhall that Mary’s father was Aholiab Diamond. The vital records of Lynn say that Aholiab Dimond, “cordwainer, s[on of]. Aholiab, of Marblehead, shoreman,” married Lydia Sillsbee on 11 Dec 1735. The groom was then twenty-five years old, his birth having been recorded in Marblehead.

Perley appears to have rested his case for this paternity on real estate records. In 1738 Lydia’s father conveyed to Aholiab Diamond some land in Lynn in an area known as Wood-end Rocks. Aholiab built a small house there on what would become Essex Street, and Mary inherited that house around 1768. That’s where she received clients for decades until her death.

On 2 Oct 1760 Mary Dimond married Robert Pitcher in Lynn, according to the town’s vital records. Lewis identified Pitcher as a shoemaker, and Perley speculated that he had been one of Aholiab Diamond’s apprentices. Lewis stated that the couple had “one son, John, and three daughters, Rebecca, Ruth, and Lydia.” They don’t appear in town vital records, however, until the daughters start to marry in 1785.

A John Pitcher of Lynn married Lydia Twison of Marblehead in 1799 and died of consumption at the age of twenty-five in 1803. If that was Robert and Mary’s son, he was born in 1778 when his mother was about forty. The couple might well have had other children who didn’t survive.

In his 1844 book Alonzo Lewis, who was born in Lynn in 1794, described Mary Pitcher this way:
She was of the medium height and size for a woman, with a good form and agreeable manners. Her head, phrenologically considered, was somewhat capacious; her forehead broad and full, her hair dark brown, her nose inclining to long, and her face pale and thin. There was nothing gross or sensual in her appearance—her countenance was rather intellectual; and she had that contour of face and expression, which, without being positively beautiful, is, nevertheless, decidedly interesting—a thoughtful, pensive, and sometimes down-cast look, almost approaching to melancholy—an eye, when it looked at you, of calm and keen penetration—and an expression of intelligent discernment, half mingled with a glance of shrewdness.
By that point John Greenleaf Whittier had promulgated a much less flattering description in the poem Moll Pitcher. Whittier wasn’t from Lynn and had never known Pitcher; he was simply replicating the stereotype of a witch, and Lewis wanted to correct that notion.

Lewis also justified Mary Pitcher’s profession, writing, “She took a poor man for a husband, and then adopted what she doubtless thought the harmless employment of fortune-telling, in order to support her children.” And, “She supported her family by her skill, and she was benevolent in her disposition. She has been known to rise before sunrise, walk two miles to a mill, purchase a quantity of meal, and carry it to a poor widow, who would otherwise have had no breakfast for her children.”

TOMORROW: What did people ask Mary Pitcher to do?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Original Molly Pitcher

As quoted yesterday, two publications from 1835—one in English and one in German—appear to be the first print appearances of the name “Molly Pitcher” in stories about a female artillerist at the Battle of Monmouth.

But that name had already appeared in print attached to a completely different person: a fortune-teller active in Lynn in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.

An article about “Witchcraft” in the October 1825 issue of the Boston Monthly Magazine, edited by Samuel L. Knapp, mentioned “Moll Pitcher, of Lynn,” and stated: “she was so well known to most persons, that their recollections will be better than any description.” Pitcher was such a celebrity, at least locally, that she needed no introduction.

In 1829 Bernard Whitman published A Lecture on Popular Superstitions in Boston. He wrote:
Not many years ago, a man was suddenly missing from a certain town in this commonwealth. The church immediately sent one of her members to consult the far famed fortune telling Molly Pitcher. After making the necessary inquiries, she intimated that the absent person had been murdered by a family of negroes, and his body sunk in the deep waters behind their dwelling. Upon this evidence, the accused were forthwith imprisoned, and the pond raked in vain from shore to shore. A few days previous to the trial, the murdered man returned to his friends safe and sound; thus giving the naughty skeptics occasion to say, that the fortune teller, instead of receiving from the devil information of distant and future events, had actually played the very devil with the superstitious church.
I have no clue about the accuracy of that story, which Whitman told with a frustratingly low number of specifics that can be tracked down.

In that same year, a more complimentary description of Pitcher appeared in the first edition of Alonzo Lewis’s History of Lynn:
The celebrated Mary Pitcher, a professed fortune teller, died on the ninth of April, 1813, at the age of 75 years. Her grandfather, John Diamond, lived at Marblehead, and was for many years celebrated for the exercise of the same pretensions. She was married to Robert Pitcher of Lynn, in 1760, and had several children.

This person has been more celebrated than any individual of her class in modern times. Not only was her name known in most towns throughout the United States, but probably there is not a port in Europe, visited by American ships, that has not heard of the skill of “Moll Pitcher.” Many persons came from places far remote, to consult with her on affairs of love or loss of property, or to obtain her surmises respecting the vicissitudes of their future fortune. Every youth who was not assured of the reciprocal affection of his fair one, and every maid who was desirous of anticipating the hour of her highest felicity, repaired at evening to the humble dwelling of Molly Pitcher, which stood on what was then a lonely road, near the foot of High Rock, with a single habitation nearly opposite, at the gate of which stood two bones of the great whale, which the waves of ocean, in the liberality of their power, had cast upon the beach.

To that place also were seen repairing sailors from the neighboring commercial towns, who were desirous of ascertaining the probable success of their future voyages. Many a reputable merchant too, of whose treasures on the faithless waves, the courier of intelligence had not brought the expected information, and being fearful of betraying the nature of his business by inquiring directly for “Moll Pitcher,” has raised a smile by asking in what part of the town he should find the bones of the great whale.

Her skill was principally exercised for the discovery of things lost, either material objects which had been mislaid or purloined, or the affections of some disconsolate fair one, which had taken the advantage of some favorable opportunity to elope. Her power of evil, if she possessed any, was never exerted, unless to punish such delinquents as refused to pay her for the knowledge which she pretended to impart. Some instances have been related, in which she has evinced an unusual degree of discernment; while in others her assertions have had no relation to facts, but appear to have been the result of mere guess work and presumption.

Her only ostensible means of obtaining secret knowledge, was the simple use of tea-grounds poured into a cup; and as the grains were disposed in a peculiar manner, or assumed a particular form, so she judged of the things to which she fancied a resemblance. She also availed herself of every ordinary mode of information, particularly by causing one of her domestics to talk with her visitors, to elicit the nature of their business, while she remained in an adjoining room, pretending to be absent. These arts, added to her natural shrewdness, and readiness to seize the slightest hint which might assist her in her surmises, appear to have constituted the whole amount of her power.

Her sagacity bore no proportion to the infatuation of those who trusted to it. She seems even to have admitted this, especially in one instance, when some gentlemen offered her a large sum, if she would inform them what ticket would draw the highest prize in a certain lottery. “Do you think,” said she, “if I knew, I should not buy it myself?”

Whatever may have been the witchcraft recognised in the Hebrew law, whether an actual communication with evil spirits, or the practice of deception by the means of false pretensions, an impartial investigation of the facts respecting “Moll Pitcher,” justify the conclusion, that her skill had no other foundation, than the practice of uncommon arts, assisted by an unusual degree of shrewdness and discernment.
In the next decade other authors appropriated Mary Pitcher for literary creations. In 1832 John Greenleaf Whittier published a poem, Moll Pitcher, which described her as stereotypical old witch. (The image above comes from a copy of that book owned by the University of Texas; in it someone has drawn several pictures of Pitcher talking back to Whittier.)

Two years later Samuel G. Goodrich’s Token and Atlantic Souvenir included a fictional story called “The Modern Job” with Pitcher as a character: “Moll Pitcher, or, as she is still called in the neighborhood where she resided, Molly Pitcher, was no ordinary woman. . . . In short, poor Molly, by degrees, was made to be a fortune-teller, and a diviner, in spite of herself.”

Thus, when American authors referred to the Monmouth artillerist as “Molly Pitcher” in 1835, they were echoing a name already well known among American sailors and New Englanders in general. Was that echo some kind of inside joke or allusion lost on us? Or had Revolutionary soldiers nicknamed the artillerist after the fortune-teller from Lynn, and why?

Again, Ray Raphael already noted this curious concatenation of Molly Pitchers in his book Founding Myths and in this Journal of the American Revolution article. Because Pitcher lived in Revolutionary New England, I’m going to dig a little deeper into her curious career.

TOMORROW: Moll Pitcher in the flesh.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Legend of Molly Pitcher—A New Source

Since I was on a Battle of Monmouth kick, I’ll jump to one of the most enduring American legends to come out of that fight: Molly Pitcher.

As Ray Raphael wrote in Founding Myths and this article for the Journal of the American Revolution, there’s solid evidence of a woman helping her husband in the Continental artillery at that battle. In his memoir, first published in 1830, army veteran Joseph Plumb Martin wrote:
A woman whose husband belonged to the artillery and who was then attached to a piece in the engagement, attended with her husband at the piece the whole time. While in the act of reaching a cartridge and having one of her feet as far before the other as she could step, a cannon shot from the enemy passed directly between her legs without doing any other damage than carrying away all the lower part of her petticoat. Looking at it with apparent unconcern, she observed that it was lucky it did not pass a little higher, for in that case it might have carried away something else, and continued her occupation.
There’s also contemporaneous documentation of the state of Pennsylvania awarding a pension to Margaret Corbin, who took her husband’s place at a cannon during the defense of Fort Washington in 1776.

But the specific legendary figure we’ve come to know as Molly Pitcher first showed up in the second volume of Freeman Hunt’s 1830 collection American Anecdotes:
Before the two armies, American and English, had begun the general action of Monmouth, two of the advanced batteries commenced a very severe fire against each other. As the warmth was excessive, the wife of a cannonier constantly ran to bring him water from a neighbouring spring. At the moment when she started from the spring, to pass to the post of her husband, she saw him fall, and hastened to assist him; but he was dead. At the same moment she heard an officer order the cannon to be removed from its place, complaining he could not fill his post by as brave a man as had been killed. ‘No,’ said the intrepid Molly, fixing her eyes upon the officer, ‘the cannon shall not be removed for the want of some one to serve it; since my brave husband is no more, I will use my utmost exertions to avenge his death.’ The activity and courage with which she performed the office of cannonier during the action, attracted the attention of all who witnessed it, finally of Gen. Washington himself, who afterwards gave her the rank of Lieutenant, and granted her half pay during life. She wore an epaulette, and every body called her Captain Molly.
Five years later the story was in print again, in two sources, one of which I don’t think has been discussed before. A Popular Cyclopedia of History, an oft-reprinted reference book compiled by Francis Durivage, stated:
In the beginning of this battle [of Monmouth], one Molly Pitcher was occupied in carrying water from a spring to a battery, where her husband employed in loading and firing a cannon. He was shot dead at last, and she saw him fall. An officer rode up, and ordered off the cannon. “It can be of no use, now,” said he. but Molly stepped up, offered her services, and took her husband’s place, to the astonishment of the army. She fought well, and half pay for life was given her by Congress. She wore an epaulette, and was called Captain Molly, ever after.
And here’s a source I don’t think anyone has spotted before, also from 1835: Allgemeine Beschreibung der Welt [General Description of the World] published in Philadelphia. This book was credited to E. L. Walz with editing by Heinrich Diezel of Lebanon County, Pennsylvania. It was printed in old Gothic type, and I’ve never studied German. I’m therefore at the mercy of Google’s O.C.R. transcription and translation services, but this is what I think that book says:
In Monmouth County siel im Revolutionskriege eine Geschichte vor, welche noch immer häufig in N. I. erzählt wird: Die Amerikaner unter Washington, und die Engländer unter Henry Clinton, schlugen sich hier wasser herum. Es war an diesem Tage heiß und schwühl. Mitten in der Schlacht sah man eine Frau, Molly Pitcher, die einigen Artilleristen Wasser zutrug, unter denen auch ihr Mann sich befand. Von einer Kanonenkugel getroffen, stürzte er leblos nieder. Molly that nun, was 1000 andere Weiber nicht gethan haben würden. Statt zu weinen, stellte sie sich an die Stelle des Gefallenen und versah mit wahrem Heldenmuthe seine Dienste. Sie kam glücklich davon. Von dieser Zeit an behielt sie bis zu ihrem Tode den Namen: Major Molly.

[From Monmouth County in the revolutionary war fell a story which is still frequently told in N.J.​​: The Americans with Washington, and the English under Henry Clinton, this also reflected around water. It was hot and schwühl on this day. In the midst of the battle some artillerymen saw one woman, Molly Pitcher, that was happening water in which her ​​husband was. From a cannonball hit, he fell down lifeless. Molly now did what 1000 other women would not have done. Instead of crying, she stood in the place of the dead man and adorned with true heroism his services. She got off lucky. From that time on she kept until her death the name: Major Molly.]
It’s notable that the story penetrated the German-American community so early. That might lend credence to the interpretation that the real Molly Pitcher was Mary (Ludwig) Hays, the daughter of German immigrants to Philadelphia. On the other hand, Mary Hays settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, after the war, and lived until 1832, a local character who also received a state pension. So it’s a little surprising that this book’s source for the story seems to come from New Jersey rather than two counties away.

Clearly this anecdote grew in the telling. Mary Hays was supposedly called “Sergeant Molly” after the battle and later in life. In these early sources the corresponding detail became “the rank of Lieutenant” and “Captain Molly,” then “Major Molly.” There’s no documentation to support the claims that this woman received such a rank or a pension from “Gen. Washington himself” or the Congress. But clearly by the 1830s Americans of many sorts were telling the story of Molly Pitcher.

TOMORROW: But there already was a famous Molly Pitcher.

Friday, August 26, 2016

The Road to Concord Goes Through Washington, D.C.

Next week I’m traveling to Washington, D.C., for a couple of talks about The Road to Concord.

On Wednesday, 31 August, at 6:00 P.M. I’ll speak at Anderson House, the museum and library of the Society of the Cincinnati in Dupont Circle.

The museum’s website says:
In the early spring of 1775, on a farm in Concord, Massachusetts, British army spies located four brass cannon belonging to Boston’s colonial militia that had gone missing months before. British general Thomas Gage had been searching for them, both to stymie New England’s growing rebellion and to erase the embarrassment of having let cannon disappear from armories under redcoat guard. Anxious to regain those weapons, he drew up plans for his troops to march nineteen miles into unfriendly territory. The Massachusetts Patriots, meanwhile, prepared to thwart the general’s mission. There was one goal Gage and his enemies shared: for different reasons, they all wanted to keep the stolen cannon as secret as possible. Both sides succeeded well enough that the full story has never appeared until now.
Okay, that’s actually the jacket copy for my book, which I drafted, so I like it. At Anderson House I’ll focus on the Patriots’ effort to gather cannon for their nascent army—buying old guns wherever they could, dragging them out of shore batteries, and even stealing them out from under British sentries. And how did the Boston Patriots get their cannon out of town with the king’s soldiers and sailors everywhere?

This is a public lecture in a setting so luxurious that even this year’s Republican Presidential nominee would feel at home. It’s free and open to the public, with light refreshments and the chance to have copies of The Road to Concord signed.

The following Wednesday, 7 September, I’ll speak to the American Revolution Round Table of D.C. at its usual meeting-spot, the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant in Alexandria. The group’s website says, “RSVPs should be submitted at least one week before the meeting. As usual, payment for the meal may be made ‘at the door’.” The event starts at 6:00 P.M.

The same well-written description of The Road to Concord appears on the D.C. Round Table’s website. But in the hopes that some people may wish to attend both talks, on that second evening I’m going to talk about the other side of the conflict in early 1775: Gen. Gage’s increasingly risky moves to stymie the Patriots, spy out their secrets, and recover the stolen cannon.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A James Wilson Memorial Award for Gen. Charles Lee

When I saw the movie musical 1776 during the Bicentennial, it left me with a strong impression of James Wilson. He was the Pennsylvania delegate to the Continental Congress shown casting the decisive vote for independence. In the movie Wilson, played by Emory Bass, is a dithering, insecure man who finally chooses sides because he prefers to be in the crowd rather than be remembered for standing up to it.

In real life, Wilson was a highly respected Pennsylvania judge who in 1774 published an important pamphlet on the limits of Parliament’s authority over the colonies. In the Congress he advocated independence early on, withholding his vote only until he felt sure the people of Pennsylvania were behind it.

At the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Wilson was one of the leading theorists of government and a member of the committee of detail, which produced the first draft. After the federal government was in place, President George Washington nominated him to be one of the first Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.

None of those contributions to the country are in 1776. The movie Wilson is simply a pawn in the dramatic conflict between the hard-driving John Adams and the more reluctant revolutionary John Dickinson. I knew that the real Wilson wasn’t part of a singing chorus, of course, and that the conversations in the Congress didn’t proceed precisely as shown. But I didn’t expect the creators of 1776 would distort a historical figure so much.

How did Wilson become vulnerable to such distortion? He had stopped being a household name, even in Pennsylvania. That allowed the playwright Peter Stone to sacrifice Wilson’s real career for the cause of drama.

In the twenty-first century, the Revolutionary figure most deserving of a James Wilson Memorial Award for being misrepresented in historical drama seems to be Gen. Charles Lee. Versions of Lee are supporting characters in both the first two seasons of the television series Turn: Washington’s Spies and the Broadway musical Hamilton. But both stories bend the facts of Lee’s life.

Turn depicts Lee’s capture at the end of 1776, portraying him (played by Brian T. Finney) as caught during a sex game. That’s not so far off as there have been rumors that Lee was visiting a mistress at the New Jersey tavern where British dragoons found him.

In the second season Lee becomes a British secret agent, trying to throw the Battle of Monmouth. Again, there’s a historical inspiration for that plot twist—the captive general did offer Gen. Sir William Howe ideas on how to defeat the colonists—but Lee never tried to undermine the Americans as Turn shows. Instead, as the book discussed yesterday argues, he performed well on the battlefield, causing trouble off of it, mostly for himself.

Even so, that depiction of Lee as a treacherous villain is nothing compared to how he appears as an incompetent buffoon in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. That show features the duel between Lee and Col. John Laurens, with Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton as their seconds. (Burr gets inserted into a number of events to increase dramatic unity.) That scene serves to set up the duel everyone knows is coming at the end.

In the play Hamilton refers to Lee as a Virginian, classifying him with his adversaries Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. While Lee did buy land on the Virginian frontier in 1775, he was English by birth and upbringing.

In the musical number “Stay Alive,” Hamilton complains of Washington, “Instead of me, he promotes Charles Lee, makes him second-in-command.” To which Lee, most often played by Jon Rua, memorably responds, “I’m a general. Whee!

Lee could have responded that the Continental Congress had made him its third-ranking general in June 1775, when Hamilton was still a private in his college militia company. The next spring, with Artemas Ward staying in Massachusetts, Lee became second-in-command. He and Hamilton were never up for the same job.

Later, Hamilton asks, “How many died because Lee was inexperienced and ruinous?"

Lee was the Continental general with the widest military experience when the war began. He had been a professional soldier since his teens and actually studied military science. He had fought in major campaigns and sieges, in the American wilderness and on European plains. Americans were delighted that Lee brought all that experience to their army.

As with Judge Wilson, not many people know about Gen. Lee these days. That’s left dramatists free to reshape the details of his career to serve their stories. Given Hamilton’s popularity, a generation of young people is being introduced to Charles Lee as an inexperienced rival to Hamilton from Virginia.

The irony is that there’s no need to change anything about Charles Lee to create drama. He was drama on horseback, roving restlessly through the nascent U.S. of A. with his Italian manservant and his portable Shakespeare and his dogs. The man was a larger-than-life character: smart, slovenly, hot-tempered, witty, eccentric, and self-defeating. Someday I hope we’ll see a more accurate representation of Lee, writing political pamphlets and military plans and indiscreet letters, Washington’s most experienced officer and his biggest headache. Now that would be a show.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Charles Lee on a Fatal Sunday

Mount Vernon just shared an interview with Mark Edward Lender and Garry Wheeler Stone about their recently published book, Fatal Sunday: George Washington, the Monmouth Campaign, and the Politics of Battle.

Here’s the authors’ positive appraisal of how Gen. Charles Lee behaved as a battlefield commander on 28 June 1778:
Charles Lee had a difficult assignment. He had to lead a vanguard of some 3,500 to 4,000 men of mixed commands, led by officers he didn’t know, into terrain he didn’t know, against an enemy whose strength and intentions were unknown. He had to do this in the face of conflicting intelligence reports and without adequate cavalry or other scouting capabilities.

Nevertheless Lee executed a nearly perfect movement to contact, quickly assessed the enemy situation, and formulated a reasonable plan to cut off what he thought was a relatively small British rear guard. It would have been exactly the limited blow and victory [George] Washington had in mind. When faced with an overwhelming British counter-attack, and an unauthorized retreat by a sizable part of his command, Lee pulled back in fairly good order, looking for a place to make a stand until Washington brought up the main army.

When he met the commander-in-chief—and the two generals had their famous contretemps—Lee in fact was headed for the very ground on which Washington organized the main American line. Lee then fought an admirable delaying action at the Hedgerow, buying the time Washington needed to form the main army. Charles Lee certainly made some mistakes—lots of officers did that day—but all in all he fought a good battle at Monmouth.
Of course, after quarreling with Washington, Lee demanded a public vindication which took the form of a court-martial. He thus destroyed his American career, turning a battlefield draw into a permanent defeat as surely as Washington had turned it into a victory.

TOMORROW: Charles Lee in the 21st century.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Celebrating the National Park Service Centennial

On 25 August the National Park Service is celebrating the hundredth anniversary of the law that founded the agency. Parks are charging no fees on 25-28 August. In addition, many N.P.S. sites have special events planned.

Not all those events relate to the Revolutionary period, even in greater Boston. Boston National Historical Park, for instance, is focusing on World War II. But here’s a selection that fit our period:

Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters, Cambridge—
In addition to family activities, a teddy bear tea, a 1916 jazz concert, a poetry slam, and a teen centennial celebration on different days, the site will host a showing of the movie 1776 on the evening of Saturday, 27 August. This musical was part of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inspiration for Hamilton; his book even quotes a line from its opening number. The showing will be outside after sunset, so hope that day’s weather is like Philadelphia in the summer of 1776: no rain and warm.

Minute Man National Historical Park
At the visitor center near the Lexington-Lincoln border, activities scheduled all weekend include “Junior Ranger Centennial Activity Books.” There will also be a Battle Road Trail Walk starting at the visitor center at 12:30 P.M. on Saturday; “Bring plenty of water and wear comfortable shoes!” And there will be cake.

At the North Bridge in Concord, on Saturday at 2:30, there will be a presentation on “Sculpting an American Icon: Daniel Chester French and the Minute Man” by Donna Hassler of Chesterwood and David Wood of the Concord Museum. Rep. Niki Tsongas, N.P.S. Deputy Regional Director Rose Fennell, park superintendent Nancy Nelson, and local officials will also speak. And there will be cake.

On Sunday, the world-famous Middlesex County Volunteers Fife & Drum Corps will perform at the North Bridge at 11:00 A.M. No cake promised.

Adams National Historical Park, Quincy
On Thursday from 10:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. the park will host visits from a young John Adams (as portrayed by Michael Lepage) and a matriarchal Abigail Adams (Patricia Bridgman), as well as John Quincy Adams (Jim Cooke) and his wife Louisa Catherine Adams (Judy Bernstein, 1:00-2:00 only).

For more details on each of these events and others, please visit the N.P.S.’s own websites.

Finally, Oxford University Press is honoring the Park Service by launching a webpage that “has brought together, and made freely available, some of its best online, scholarly content related to the National Park Service.” I can’t say I’m impressed with the range of resources so far, but I found the O.D.N.B. biography of Lord George Germain.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Jackson on Calhoun and Clay

One Presidential candidate’s recent suggestion of a “Second Amendment” response to losing the election prompted a Twitter discussion of Presidents threatening violence to their opponents. I noted the precedent of a reported remark from Andrew Jackson: “My only regrets are that I never shot Henry Clay or hanged John C. Calhoun.”

And then I realized that I was repeating a story without checking its sources, something I chide others for doing when it comes to the Revolutionary period. The Jackson administration is well past the period I research, to be sure. But as a teenager he did fight in the Revolutionary War, as shown in the print above. So I figured I could stretch a little.

The anecdote about Jackson’s regrets is quite widespread. Robert V. Remini, the leading Jackson biographer of our time, cites the story in his biography of Henry Clay. Harry Truman told it multiple times, including at a public dinner in 1951.

On the other hand, I found that authors split on when Jackson made that remark. Some say he said it on leaving the White House in 1837. Others date the statement to Jackson’s final illness in 1845. So that’s a red flag.

The earliest recounting of the remark that I could find through Google Books is an address titled “Precedents of Ex-Presidents,” delivered to the Nebraska Bar Association by George Whitelock in 1911. He said, “Old Hickory had had his drastic way, except, as he sadly lamented when departing for the Hermitage near Nashville, old, ill and in debt, that he had never got a chance to shoot Henry Clay, or to hang John C. Calhoun.” It’s notable that that’s not a direct quotation, just an expression of sentiment.

And there are some fairly authoritative sources for Jackson’s sentiment as far as Calhoun is concerned. James Parton’s three-volume biography of Jackson, published in 1860, includes this passage:
The old Jackson men of the inner set still speak of Mr. Calhoun in terms which show that they consider him at once the most wicked and the most despicable of American statesmen. He was a coward, conspirator, hypocrite, traitor, and fool, say they. He strove, schemed, dreamed, lived, only for the presidency; and when he despaired of reaching that office by honorable means, he sought to rise upon the ruins of his country—thinking it better to reign in South Carolina than to serve in the United States. General Jackson lived and died in this opinion. In his last sickness he declared that, in reflecting upon his administration, he chiefly regretted that he had not had John C. Calhoun executed for treason. “My country,” said the General, “would have sustained me in the act, and his fate would have been a warning to traitors in all time to come.”
In 1886 the journalist Benjamin Perley Poore published Perley’s Reminiscences of Sixty Years in the National Metropolis. Now Poore started counting those sixty years from his first visit to Washington, D.C., as a six-year-old. He didn’t enter journalism until after the Jackson administration. Nonetheless, he was a nationally known correspondent and Washington insider; indeed, Poore founded the Gridiron Club. So his stories carried weight.

Like Parton, Poore presented Jackson’s extreme dislike of Calhoun as a matter of hanging:
During the last days of General Jackson at the Hermitage, while slowly sinking under the ravages of consumption, he was one day speaking of his Administration, and with glowing interest he inquired of his physician:

“What act in my Administration, in your opinion, will posterity condemn with the greatest severity?”

The physician replied that he was unable to answer, that it might be the removal of the deposits.

“Oh! no,” said the General.

“Then it may be the specie circular?”

“Not at all!”

“What is it, then?”

“I can tell you,” said Jackson, rising in his bed, his eyes kindling up—“I can tell you; posterity will condemn me more because I was persuaded not to hang John C. Calhoun as a traitor than for any other act in my life.”

This was in accord with an earlier answer made by “Old Hickory,” before he had so far succumbed to disease and prior to his union with the Presbyterian Church. When his old friend and physician, Dr. Edgar, then asked him, “What would you have done with Calhoun and the other nullifiers, if they had kept on?”

“Hung them, sir, as high as Haman!” was his emphatic reply.
John Todd Edgar—a doctor of theology, not of medicine—had also been a source for Parton. He converted Jackson to Presbyterianism near the end of his life, though only after some brinksmanship involving an unbaptized child. So it looks like we’re on solid ground to say that Edgar, who was close to Jackson in his last years, told the story of the former President expressing regret for not having hanged Calhoun as a traitor.

That said, Parton’s 1860 Life of Andrew Jackson also includes this statement about the President’s departure from the White House:
It appears to rest upon good testimony that, during his stay at Cincinnati, he expressed regret at having become estranged from Henry Clay. Clay and himself, he said, ought to have been friends, and would have been, but for the slander and cowardice of an individual whom he denominated “that Pennsylvania reptile,” and whom he said he would have “crushed,” if friends had not interceded in his behalf.
For this information Parton cited, “N. Y. Evening Post, March 21st, 1859. Communication.” (I haven’t had a view at that newspaper for any more clues.)

So the part of the famous anecdote that involves shooting Clay not only doesn’t appear to have nineteenth-century backing, but there’s actually evidence that Jackson’s major regret toward Clay was not being friends.

On the other hand, we seem to be on fairly safe ground in saying that Andrew Jackson felt John C. Calhoun deserved to hang. So much so that none of the anecdotes portrays him as wanting to put Calhoun on trial first.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Finding Stuff on Boston 1775

As Boston 1775 has grown to contain so many stories and articles, it’s become harder to find postings about particular topics simply by glancing around the front page. So here are some tips for more efficient searching.

Instructions for that task are complicated by how Blogger websites can appear differently on small mobile devices, and sometimes in different browser programs. So these tips are based on the standard desktop version of the site.

1) Use your browser program’s function for finding text on the current webpage (usually “Find”) to search for the name of a person, place, battle or other event, or for a broad topic like “riots” or “animals.” If I’ve used that name or phrase as a label on Boston 1775, your browser will highlight that label in the column on the right side of the page. Then you can see how many postings I’ve tagged with that label—a number that might seem manageable or daunting.

2) At the upper left of the screen, next to Blogger’s trademark orange B, is the service’s own search box. Enter a word or phrase there, and the service will search Boston 1775 for any posting with that text. Put quotation marks around a phrase if you want to narrow down the search. The top results will be posts with the text in their titles, followed by posts with the words in their interiors.

3) Go to Google (Blogger’s parent company) and use its search function. Type “site:boston1775.blogspot.com” and the words you want to search for to restrict the results to Boston 1775 postings. This method could be especially useful if you’re seeking a particular quotation (put a distinctive phrase in quotation marks) or you want to narrow down the many Boston 1775 posts on, say, John Adams to only those about John Adams and pudding. (Avoid searching for phrases that are already labels in the right-hand column; since they appear on every blog page, that won’t narrow down anything.) Due to how Blogger/Google archives blogs, the results take two forms: links to specific postings or links to months in which those postings appear.

4) If you end up with a Boston 1775 page that contains many postings, go back to your browser program’s command for finding text on the current webpage (“Find”). Use that to quickly move through the postings to what you want.

Be aware that eighteenth-century spelling was very variable, even for proper names. Transcriptions can also vary, and nineteenth-century books often cleaned up the spelling and grammar of a Revolutionary text. I try to quote sources exactly, strange spellings and all, which affects what text a search will find. Also, people often shared the same names, so postings labeled with, say, “Josiah Quincy” might refer to multiple separate people.

Finally, I hope you have enough time to enjoy the search and check out cross-references. I think of Revolutionary New England as a vast network of relationships. It’s usually eye-opening to follow threads branching off from my initial topic to see who and what else is connected.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

“A British grenadier made prisoner”

In his History of the Rise, Progress, and Establishment, of the Independence of the United States of America, in a section dated to late 1776, the Rev. William Gordon included this anecdote of the war:
It happened, that a garden of a widow woman, which lay between the two camps, was robbed at night. Her son, a mere boy and little of his age, asked leave for finding out and securing the pilferer, in case he should return; which being granted, he concealed himself with a gun among the weeds.

A British grenadier, a strapping highlander, came and filled his large bag; when he had it on his shoulder, the boy left his covers came softly behind him, cocked his gun, and called out to the fellow, “You are my prisoner; if you attempt to throw your bag down I will shoot you dead: go forward in that road.” The boy kept close to him, threatened, and was alway prepared to execute his threatening. Thus the boy drove him into the American camp, where he was secured.

When the grenadier was at liberty to throw down his bag, and saw who had made him prisoner, he was most horridly mortified, and exclaimed—“A British grenadier made prisoner by such a d——d brat—by such a d——d brat.”

The American officers were highly entertained with the adventure; made a collection for the boy, and gave him some pounds. He returned fully satisfied with the losses his mother had sustained.

The soldier had side arms, but they were of no use, as he could not get rid of his bag.
In a footnote Gordon added, “Mr. Vanbrugh Livingston of New York told me, he had this from major Ross of Lancaster in Pennsylvania, who saw the soldier brought in.” That was presumably James Ross (1753-1808), son of Declaration of Independence signer George Ross.

Friday, August 19, 2016

An Impressive Reenactment in Newport, 27 August

Next Saturday, 27 August, the Newport Historical Society is sponsoring another of its fine large-scale reenactments in the center of town: “Naval Impressment: A 1765 Reenactment in Colonial Newport.”

The society explains:
On the afternoon of August 27, 2016, visitors to downtown Newport’s Washington Square, Perotti Park and the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House can “step back in time” to the summer of 1765. From 1pm-4pm, the Newport Historical Society will host a large scale living history event with dozens of costumed interpreters who will recreate a naval press gang incident.

In June 1765, members of the Royal Navy from HMS Maidstone impressed sailors into service from the area that is today Washington Square. In reaction to this incident, citizens stole Maidstone’s longboat which they set on fire. This negative treatment is one incident that prompted many men to participate in the Stamp Act riots in August 1765.
Rhode Islanders would go on to destroy the Customs ship Liberty in 1769 and H.M.S. Gaspee in 1772. (In contrast, Bostonians destroyed Customs Commissioner Joseph Harrison’s personal boat in 1768 and of course those shiploads of tea in 1773 and 1774. So why did the Crown focus so much of its attention on Boston? I get the feeling the ministers in London already knew Rhode Island was ungovernable.)

There will be three distinct areas of reenactment which the public can watch:
  • At Perotti Park (39 America’s Cup Avenue), interpreters will represent life in the Royal Navy as “impressed sailors” train and discuss life at sea. Visitors can also view a reproduction eighteenth-century boat moored in the harbor.
  • At the Wanton-Lyman-Hazard House (17 Broadway), interpreters portraying middle- and upper-class residents will discuss the views on the naval incident and how the loss of sailors impacts their personal economic stance.
  • And Washington Square will be occupied with reenactors portraying many aspects of eighteenth-century daily life including a fish market, a merchant captain, tavern life, a sailmaker, printer, and much more.
There will also be children’s activities and a “family scavenger hunt.”

These activities take place out in Newport’s streets and parks. They are therefore free to all, with the reenactors being hard-working volunteers. Some costs of the event will be defrayed by selling handmade clay tankards which visitors can fill with apple cider at each site. Those tankards cost $25; they can be ordered in advance by calling the Brick Market: Museum & Shop at 401-841-8770 or bought there on the day of the program.

In addition, on 27 August the Newport Restoration Foundation will offer free tours of the William Vernon House, which served as General Rochambeau’s headquarters during the French occupation of the town in 1780-1781. It’s now a private residence, making this thirty-minute tour a rare opportunity to see the interior architectural craftsmanship and and eighteenth-century Chinoiserie parlor panels.

Those tours will run from 11:00 A.M. to 12:30 P.M., starting every half-hour. Tickets are free but must be ordered in advance online or by email to Liz@newportrestoration.org.

To read up on the history behind the Maidstone conflict, visit Timothy Abbott’s “Another Pair Not Fellows” blog. He has a four-part discussion of naval impressment in the eighteenth century starting here, as well as a look at the work behind creating a Royal Navy uniform for the young midshipman in charge of recruiting sailors by any means necessary.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

“Five thousand acres of land from Government”

As I described yesterday, the war separated Thomas and Eunice Hazard of Newport, Rhode Island for more than three years, starting when he left the town with the British military in late 1779.

Thomas had to leave since he was an active Loyalist—raiding New England shores for livestock before the British evacuation, spying on Newport’s defenses and commanding an outpost on Long Island afterward.

But with the end of the war in 1783, Thomas Hazard decided to come back to his home state. The Rhode Island Assembly had assigned Eunice his estate (at least, the part not taken to pay debts). What’s more, his older brother Jonathan J. Hazard, who had supported the Continental cause, was an influential member of that legislature.

I’ve found a couple of accounts of how Rhode Islanders received Thomas Hazard. Based on family tradition, his grandson Wilkins Updike wrote in his History of the Episcopal Church, in Naragansett, Rhode-Island (1847):
After the war, Mr. Hazard returned to this State, and the General Assembly, through the influence of his brother, Jonathan J. Hazard, a leading Whig, were inclined to restore his estates if a satisfactory submission should be made. This he indignantly refused, and the confiscation was consummated.
A couple of years ago the Loyalist Trails newsletter drew on Hazard’s own contemporaneous correspondence to provide this account:
Having successfully settled his financial matters in Martha’s Vineyard, Thomas Hazard returned to his Rhode Island home. He anchored his schooner in a convenient harbour and went ashore to see his family. Rebels arrested him, and imprisoned him for five days. They confiscated his vessel and seized all of its contents. The rebels then threatened to execute Hazard unless he paid “the most extravagant charges” to let him go. Ransoming himself, the loyalist was told never to return to Rhode Island “upon pain of death”. Hazard was furious. He concluded his letter to [Gen. Sir Guy] Carleton by saying “if the friends to Government are to be treated in this manner and no notice taken of it, I should be glad to know how to conduct myself for the future.”
Hazard’s attempt to get Carleton to restart the war on his behalf didn’t work.

His Loyalism reinvigorated, Thomas Hazard sailed to England in 1785 and petitioned the Crown for a reward. He received a large land grant in the new colony on St. John’s, now Prince Edward Island. In 1786 he summoned Eunice and his children to come settle with him there.

The three surviving children of Thomas’s first marriage had married in Rhode Island, however. He wrote to his daughter Abigail Watson, inviting her to emigrate:
I have got five thousand acres of land from Government, and am to settle it in one year, or give up that which will not be settled on. I have for you, if your husband will come and settle on it, five hundred acres of good land that lies on a harbor, where you can catch plenty of all kinds of fish, and there is good timber and hay on it; if you do not come or send and settle on it this summer, you cannot have it in the same place.
Neither Abigail nor her full siblings took up that offer to resettle in Canada.

Eunice made the move with her children, their ages then ranging from early twentysomething to preteen. That branch of the family changed the spelling of their surname to Haszard (which Thomas might have used previously). Reunited as a couple, Thomas Haszard died in April 1804 and Eunice five years later.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

“Left her three years ago in a condition almost helpless”

Yesterday we left Eunice Hazard and her children in Newport, Rhode Island, in 1779 after her husband Thomas evacuated the town with the British military.

In February 1782 she described her situation in a petition to the Rhode Island Assembly:
that she is the wife of Thomas Hazard, late of Narragansett, now a refugee in New York; that the said Thomas Hazard left her three years ago in a condition almost helpless, with seven young children, one of them at the breast, and the rest unable to subsist themselves; and that from that time to this, she has encountered many difficulties in bringing up and supporting the said children, and hath at length exhausted all the resources in her power, and expended not only what remained in her hands of her said husband’s effects, but also nearly the whole of what came to her particular use from the estate of her late honored father; and thereupon she prayed this Assembly to take her unhappy case under consideration, and extend unto her and her children such grace and favor as may seem meet, and in particular to grant her that house and lot of land lying in Newport, which was her said husband’s late estate…
Eunice was a genteel descendant of Rhode Island founder Roger Williams, so she commanded sympathy. Pending their final decision, the legislature ordered the official managing the Hazard estate to give her the current year’s rent.

That vote was striking since the state had decreed in July 1780 that Thomas Hazard had “joined the enemy.” Which he had. He had supported the British army during the occupation of Newport by raiding the New England coast for livestock.

Furthermore, in that same month of July 1780, as Christian M. McBurney reveals in Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island, Hazard had landed back in Rhode Island to gather information on the newly arrived French fleet. After four days stranded behind enemy lines, Hazard escaped back to New York. He then drew a map of the French warships and land defenses that survives in Gen. Sir Henry Clinton’s papers.

In September 1780, Hazard was setting up a military unit at Manor St. George on Long Island. Maj. Benjamin Tallmadge, Continental dragoons officer and spy manager, raided that site in November. The Americans carried off at least one of Hazard’s soldiers—a black man named Misick Parlay.

Despite her husband’s work, in November 1782 the Rhode Island Assembly decided that Eunice Hazard could have his property. But only that part remaining after some was “surrendered to the creditors of the said Thomas Hazard.” And only after she paid the state for “a debt due from the said estate to Martin Howard, Jr.,” apparently the same man who had been colony’s stamp agent in 1765.

Several months later, the war ended. And Thomas Hazard decided to return to his family.

TOMORROW: So how did that go?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Hazards of Thomas Hazard

Thomas Hazard was born 22 Feb 1727 on the west side of Rhode Island’s Narragansett Bay. He was the descendant of a man of the same name who had come to Boston in the 1630s Puritan migration, then helped to found Newport in 1639.

Hazard inherited a large farm in an area of Kingstown called “Boston Neck.” (Why Rhode Islanders called the western side of Narragansett Bay “Boston Neck” I don’t know, but it’s very confusing.) But Hazard was more interested in the mercantile trade.

About the time he turned twenty, Hazard married Mary Bowdoin. Her grandfather was a Huguenot emigré to Maine; her father moved to Virginia while her uncle James settled in Boston. Mary Hazard was thus a cousin to the James Bowdoin who helped to lead the Boston Whigs and later became governor of Massachusetts.

By marrying a Virginia woman, Thomas Hazard became known as “Virginia Tom,” which distinguished him from his cousin “College Tom” and several other Thomas Hazards living in Rhode Island at the time. The Puritans and their descendants tended to keep reusing the same names.

Thomas and Mary Hazard had nine children, but only three survived to adulthood. The youngest was born Susannah in 1758. When she was a little over a year old, her four-year-old sister Mary died. Susannah was then renamed Mary after her sister and mother, who died in early 1760. Like I said, reusing the same names.

In 1761 Thomas Hazard married nineteen-year-old Eunice Rhodes, a descendant of Rhode Island’s founder, Roger Williams. The next year, she bore her first child. Thomas and Eunice had eight children in all, and seven grew to adulthood. By the last two the family had apparently run out of family first names and had to reuse the surnames of Thomas Hazard’s two wives, Bowdoin and Rhodes.

In 1760, Thomas Hazard and Henry Wall had financed a privateer (possibly the Success, captained by Abel Mincheson) to fight in the Seven Years’ War. It captured a French ship, burdening the investors with “eleven Frenchmen” as prisoners of war. Hazard and Wall secured permission from the Rhode Island Assembly to exchange those men in the Caribbean for “so many English prisoners to be brought back into Newport as the vessel will carry.”

When the Revolutionary War began, Rhode Island was split in two. The British seized Aquidneck Island in December 1776. The rest of the state remained independent. Thomas and Eunice Hazard were in occupied Newport along with their children, ranging from two twentysomethings from Thomas’s first marriage to little Rhodes, born in September 1777.

Soon, as Christian M. McBurney describes in Spies in Revolutionary Rhode Island, Thomas Hazard was participating in raids on the New England coast to collect meat for the Newport garrison. With “sixteen Refugees” he first “brought off a flock of sheep,” outracing ”two privateers” to get back into harbor.

Hazard then signed up under George Leonard, a Plymouth Loyalist who had been one of Lt. Col. Francis Smith’s guides out to Concord on 18-19 Apr 1775. Leonard was organizing Newport Loyalists into military units for both naval and land operations.

Working under Leonard’s command in May 1779, Hazard reported, “We went by my advice to Point Judith and brought off eleven hundred sheep (one hundred of which was my own property). Also brought off sixty head of cattle.” On another they “took a Rebel guard of sixteen men and some inhabitants,” though at the cost of “a Negro man (his property).” Then Hazard “bought a share in an armed vessel” for more raids and scouting missions.

Then the British military pulled out of Newport in October 1779. Hazard sailed with them to New York, leaving Eunice and the children behind.

TOMORROW: Can this marriage be saved?

(Map of Narragansett Bay from 1777 courtesy of Graham Arader.)

Monday, August 15, 2016

Rhode Island Furniture in Connecticut, Opening 19 Aug.

On Friday, 19 August, The Yale University Art Gallery will open a new exhibit titled “Art and Industry in Early America: Rhode Island Furniture, 1650-1830.”

The exhibit’s website says: “Drawing together more than 130 exceptional objects from museums, historical societies, and private collections, the show highlights major aesthetic innovations developed in the region.”

The New York Times reported:
Patricia E. Kane, the lead curator of American decorative arts at the University Art Gallery here, has overseen a team that is attributing thousands of antiques and fragments of architectural ornament to Rhode Island carvers. The workers’ biographies are traceable partly because of the sheer volume of legal paperwork, which tells of unpaid bills, stints in prison and abandoned wives. . . .

Her team has connected chalk and pencil lettering on the undersides of furniture to particular artisans and patrons mentioned in deeds, wills, invoices, family correspondence and memoirs. The information has been organized into a database, the Rhode Island Furniture Archive.

Ms. Kane has helped debunk family legends about provenances, corrected typos in the historical records and resolved disagreements among dealers and scholars. She has deciphered looping handwriting and decoded cryptic numbering systems that were used by families of carvers who intermarried and worked in similar styles, including the Goddards and Townsends in Newport and the Spencers in Providence. . . .

The artisans — who had job titles like joiner, turner and upholsterer — and their clients also profited from owning and trading slaves. The Africans and African-Americans helped in the woodworking shops. Still, Ms. Kane said, no names of any Rhode Island slaves who made furniture have surfaced.

The catalog describes reversals of fortune and tragic fates. Apprentices at workshops that went bankrupt ended up in rags and in court with their former employers. Eunice Hazard, one of the Goddards’ regular customers, was left impoverished after the Revolutionary War with seven children; her husband [Thomas] had sympathized with the British and eventually fled to Canada.
For more information on the region’s furniture production, see the Boston Furniture Archive, managed by Winterthur. That Delaware museum owns the clock shown above, made about 1750, which will be in this exhibit.

TOMORROW: Eunice Hazard and her husband.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

But Enough about Me—Let’s Talk about My Book

Laura Beach of Antiques and the Arts recently interviewed me about how I got into researching and writing history and then creating this blog. Here’s a taste of that exchange:
How broad is public interest in American history?

American history at this level is a niche interest, but, like any niche, it has fervent followers. The way media is going, it’s all niches and fervent followers. Americans are interested in parts of history they see as significant to the nation: the settlement period, the founding, the Civil War, for instance. People who write about these periods in a dramatic fashion, which doesn’t necessarily mean poorly researched, really grab a nerve.
Go here for the rest.

If that’s not enough of me, Lee Wright of The History List archived my session at the Pioneer Valley History Camp earlier this summer. My talk, drawn from The Road to Concord, was titled “How the British Empire Lost New England Seven Months Before the Revolutionary War.” That video is here.

Lee shared two more talks as well:
Speaking of The Road to Concord, it’s received some nice reviews on Amazon, for which I’m very grateful. One reader called for a movie adaptation. Another felt the book has too much information for his taste, and I’m just going to have to live with that. I do load it on.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

A Split in the Merchants’ Club in 1771

On Tuesday, 13 Aug 1771, John Adams went into Boston for a weekly meeting of one of his gentlemen’s clubs and discovered that most of the club wasn’t there.

He wrote in his diary:
Spent the Evening at [Hannah] Cordis’s, the British Coffee house.—In the front Room, towards the long Wharfe, where the Merchants Clubb has met this twenty Years. It seems there is a Schism in that Church—a Rent in that Garment—a Mutiny in that Regiment, and a large De­tachment has decamped, and marched over the Way, to [Joseph] Ingersols.

This Evening The Commissary and Speaker, and Speaker and Commissary, Mr. [Thomas] Cushing was present. The Clerk of the House Mr. [Samuel] Adams, Mr. [James] Otis, Mr. John Pitts, Dr. [Joseph] Warren, Mr. [William] Molineux, Mr. Josa. Quincy, and myself were present.
The men left at the British Coffee House were the most politically aggressive members of the Merchants’ Club. In fact, most of those men weren’t even merchants—they were lawyers (Otis, Quincy, John Adams himself), a doctor (Warren), and a full-time politician (Samuel Adams).

Of the remainder, Cushing was pretty busy with the two high provincial offices Adams tagged him with. (Did Adams’s repetition of “Commissary and Speaker, and Speaker and Commissary” hint at some disapproval of dual office-holding?) Molineux appears to have supported himself by managing Charles Ward Apthorp’s local property while setting up a cloth factory. That left only John Pitts concerned full-time with imperial trade. (He would become a selectman in 1773-1777.)

John Adams’s other diary entries for August 1771 show that Otis’s behavior was becoming erratic. He had acted “quite wild at the Bar Meeting” the previous week. Otis had been reelected to his old seat in the Massachusetts General Court in May, but by November the authorities were stepping in. So some members of the Merchants Club might have decamped to get away from Otis.

In general, there was not much support for radical, confrontational politics in late 1771 simply because there was less to confront. The tariff on tea was the only remaining Townshend duty. There were no troops stationed in the center of town. The issues of judicial salaries hadn’t surfaced.

My big question is whether John Hancock was at Ingersoll’s Bunch of Grapes tavern with the “large Detachment” of merchants or had skipped both meetings. In this period Gov. Thomas Hutchinson perceived enough daylight between Hancock and Adams to believe he could win the young merchant over to his side. That didn’t happen, but maybe evenings like this suggested it might.