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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Friday, September 30, 2016

A Look at Boston’s Lost and Found

Last month at the African American Intellectual History blog, Jared Hardesty wrote about a surviving scrap of colonial Boston town records and what they reveal about the town’s black population.

The story starts in the Boston Public Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts room:

Pasted onto the pages of the nineteenth-century bound volume were eighteenth-century town crier documents kept by Arthur Hill. Hill’s records consist of lists of goods lost and found, or “taken up,” by Boston’s residents between 1736 and 1748. . . .

Hill made fairly meticulous notes as to who found what goods. He recorded occupation and relationships. He also recorded race, often using the term “Negro” to describe people of African descent who took up lost items. Under that or related terminology (“Negro Fellow,” etc.), Hill recorded 36 items found by black Bostonians. That would mean they found 9.8% of the total items recovered, similar to Boston’s black population during this time period, which was roughly 10-12% of the total population. . . .

A wide range of goods appear throughout the records, but one category stands out. Of the 368 total items reported, 87 or 23.6% related to maritime activities and included naval stores, ship pieces, and, the largest in this category, small watercraft such as canoes. This trend should not come as a surprise as Boston was a bustling port city with a daily flurry of maritime activity. Other goods reported in large numbers were bulk amounts of cloth, hand tools, and livestock.

What is interesting, however, is that in the records concerning black men and women do not reflect the larger record. Only one, “Martha Grover’s Negro” found a small boat. Another found a handsaw. All of the others either found consumer goods such as gold buttons, jewelry, pocket books, and clothing items, or cash. . . .

Take for example “Joseph Williams Negro” who found “One Gold Ring” in June 1738. Did he report his find because he was attempting to be a good community member? Perhaps. Yet, we also have to consider he told Hill about the ring because, as an enslaved black man, owning a piece of gold jewelry would have brought suspicion about where and how he acquired it, forcing him to go to Hill to protect himself and his reputation.
Hardesty is the author of the new book Unfreedom: Slavery and Dependence in Eighteenth-Century Boston.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

“Several of us dress’d in woman’s clothes”

At the end of September 1780, Lt. Enos Reeves (1753-1807) and his company of the 11th Pennsylvania Regiment were in Haverstraw, New York, on the Hudson River.

They didn’t have much to do. On 4 October Reeves wrote to a fellow officer about what they had done to keep themselves amused:
We make ourselves very Merry at this place and as there is but few of the inhabitants worthy our notice we enjoy ourselves without them.

The evening of the 29 ultimo [i.e., 29 September] several of us dress’d in woman’s clothes and had a genteel Country Dance—spent the evening in great glee.

The 30 all our officers with one from each of the other Regts dined elegantly together, and spent the day pleasantly—in the evening had a dance.

The 2 instant made a visit to see the officers of Colonel [Oliver] Spencer’s Regt—cross’d the River to Verplank’s Point, from there proceeded down and got most excellent Peaches. Several large droves of Cattle cross’d the River, while we were there—a boat overset and three or four of the cattle lost.

On the evening of the 3, we had a genteel Family Dance at a Major Meurys. Some young Ladies of his relations being there on a visit—we spent the evening, (and as it rained) the most of the night in our amusement.

We are fixing our encampment and tents as if we were to take Quarters here for the Winter—as building chimneys to the tents &c.
One supposes all the practice dancing within the regiments on 29-30 September prepared the young officers for the “genteel Family Dance” on 3 October.

Reeves’s letterbook was published in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography in 1896.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Issue of Naturalization Laws, and What Really Mattered

Steven Pincus’s new book The Heart of the Declaration raises the question of how British imperial policy on migration into North America after 1763 pushed thirteen of the empire’s colonies toward independence. I hadn’t seen much about that issue, so I did some background reading.

There’s no question that population policy was one of the grievances against the king that the Continental Congress listed in its Declaration of Independence in 1776:
He has endeavored to prevent the population of these states; for that purpose obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migration hither, and raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands.
The phrase “obstructing the laws for naturalization of foreigners” refers to an instruction that the London government sent to all the royal governors over King George III’s signature on 29 Nov 1773:
Whereas We have thought fit by our Orders in our Privy Council to disallow certain Laws passed in Some of our Colonies & Plantations in America for conferring the Priviledges of Naturalization on persons being aliens, and for divorcing persons who have been legally joined together in Holy Marriage: And whereas Acts have been passed in other of our said Colonies to enable Persons who are our Liege Subjects by Birth or Naturalization to hold and inherit Lands Tenements and real Estates [which] had been originally granted to or purchased by Aliens antecedent to Naturalization; It is our expressed will and Pleasure that you do not upon any pretence whatsoever give your assent to any Bill or Bills that may have been or shall hereafter be passed by the Council and Assembly of the Province under your Government for the naturalization of Aliens, nor for the divorce of persons joined together in Holy marriage, nor for establishing a Title in any Person to Lands, Tenements & real estates in our said Province originally granted to, or purchased by Aliens antecedent to Naturalization.

G. R.
(This same instruction limited the colonies’ power to pass new divorce laws, as you can see, but that didn’t make it into the Declaration.)

Most people settling in the British colonies came from other parts of the British Empire. Another big chunk came, against their will, from Africa. Europeans affected by naturalization laws were a small portion, but colonies and landowners promoting new settlements wanted to offer them the possibility of full citizenship.

Many of the American colonies passed their own naturalization laws to give non-British settlers rights in their new communities once they were rich enough—rights to own land, vote in local elections, and so on. From the central government’s perspective, those laws were also a back door into having the privileges of a British subject under the empire’s trade laws.

Parliament wanted its Plantation Act of 1740 to be the basis for how people from outside the British Empire became subjects of the king. And by 1773 the ministers in London were wary on principle of any colonial laws that appeared to challenge the authority of Parliament’s sovereignty throughout the Empire.

How big a deal was the dispute over naturalization laws in New England? Hardly at all. Colonial New Englanders were never exactly welcoming to newcomers who weren’t Congregationalist and English, even those from within the empire. Massachusetts passed its naturalization law in 1731; it accepted all of eleven French and German men in the next year and a half, and then only four more arrivals between 1741 and 1767 under the imperial law. Connecticut’s first naturalization law came in 1773, covering a Spaniard named Don Gabriel Sistera. New Hampshire never passed such a law at all.

So that leaves Rhode Island. That colony, founded to be more open than its neighbors, was more active in naturalizing newcomers for much of its history. In 1762 its high court also ruled that the Plantation Act didn’t apply there, a direct challenge to Parliament’s authority. However, Rhode Island did so in order to exclude a couple of Jewish merchants from full rights. Thus, that colony challenged Britain’s control over naturalization to make immigration less appealing, not more.

Naturalization laws were probably a bigger deal in colonies southwest of New England, which had a more welcoming history. But of course that’s not where the Revolutionary War started. Furthermore, I think we can see the real issue behind this dispute over migration by looking at the other verbiage of the 1773 royal instruction and the Declaration’s complaint about it:
  • “Acts have been passed in other of our said Colonies to enable Persons who are our Liege Subjects by Birth or Naturalization to hold and inherit Lands Tenements and real Estates [which] had been originally granted to or purchased by Aliens antecedent to Naturalization”
  • “raising the conditions of new appropriations of lands”
The crux of this dispute was lands. The Proclamation of 1763 restricted colonial settlement to the west. The imperial government wanted to reward its Native American allies for their loyalty and to avoid disputes between them and European settlers. But colonists, especially wealthy men who invested in western claims, wanted to maximize settlement there.

As I’ve said before, that restriction wasn’t a big deal in New England since those colonies were already blocked from expanding west. But for a growing colony like Pennsylvania, or an investor with lots of land claims like George Washington, it was a big deal.

I’m interested in seeing how it was that “throughout the 1760s and 1770s the British government tries desperately to stop immigration into North America,” as Pincus says. The Declaration does indeed claim that the royal government “endeavored to prevent the population of these states,” but it looks like a lot of that endeavor was simply not passing laws which certain powerful Americans wanted “to encourage [foreigners’] migration hither.” Not trying to accelerate the movement of people isn’t the same as trying to stop it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Issue of Immigration—Running the Numbers

Yesterday I quoted from the Course of Human Events blog’s posting about The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government, a new analysis of the forces behind the Revolution by Yale history professor Steven Pincus.

Specifically, I discussed how Pincus’s book links the imperial debate of the 1760s and 1770s with the issues of economic stimulus and governmental austerity today, wondering how well the analogy works. Given the limitations on what the central British government did and could do in the eighteenth century, what sort of stimulus could Parliament cut back on?

Pincus’s answer relates to an even hotter hot-button issue of our day, immigration. Once again, from the Course of Human Events blog:
The British government had heavily subsidized immigration to North America. The colony of Georgia was even set up specifically so that Parliament could subsidize immigration of tens of thousands of people—including Scottish Highlanders, Italians, Germans, and the poor of England—to come to America. As Pincus explains, “All of that comes to a grinding halt in 1763, and throughout the 1760s and 1770s the British government tries desperately to stop immigration into North America.” The patriots argued that immigrants provided skills and were good consumers, which would drive the economy. Those against immigration argued that these individuals were polluting culture and providing competition that took jobs away from other people. “That strikes me as an interesting parallel to today’s debates”, says Pincus.
Here I have questions about what the American colonists perceived about immigration policy in the pre-Revolutionary period. Because they were actually seeing a growing influx of arrivals from Britain and northern Europe.

In Voyagers to the West (1986), Bernard Bailyn wrote:
…migration figures to mainland British North America before 1760—far greater than those to any other area of European colonization—pale next to the figures for the decade and a half that followed.

People flooded into North American between 1760 and 1775, first of all from the British Isles. Between the end of warfare and the disruption of the Empire in 1775, over 55,000 Protestant Irish emigrated to America; approximately 40,000 Scots, and over 30,000 Englishmen—a total of at least 125,000 from the British Isles alone. . . . But the British and Irish contributions together constituted only half the whole number of immigrants. In the same years at least 12,000 German-speaking immigrants entered the port of Philadelphia…
Other scholars have reached different conclusions about the numbers of immigrants, but they seem to agree on the upward trend. Carl L. Bankston III has written:
Northern Irish migration peaked between the 1750’s and the early 1770’s, with an estimated 14,200 people from northern Ireland reaching America from 1750 to 1759, 21,200 from 1760 to 1769, and 13,200 in the half-decade leading up to the American Revolution. Most of the Scots migration took place from 1760 to 1775, when about 25,000 new arrivals came to the colonies.
In “Migrations to the Thirteen British North American Colonies, 1700-1775” (Journal of Interdisciplinary History, Spring 1992), Aaron Fogleman estimated the number of Europeans coming into the thirteen North American colonies that broke away as:
  • 1740s: 51,500.
  • 1750s: 70,900.
  • 1760s: 75,500.
  • 1770s: 49,700 in the first five years, thus on pace for 99,400 for the whole decade until the war intervened.
Though these scholars’ estimates differ on the number of arrivals from Europe, they all agree that immigration to the North American colonies was up significantly during the 1760s and early 1770s. That’s the same period when Pincus says the imperial government’s support for such movement “comes to a grinding halt.”

So whatever the government in London was doing in those decades to “stop immigration into North America,” it wasn’t working. Maybe it kept the numbers down from where they would have been. But the colonists could see more people arrive from Europe every decade.

TOMORROW: Looking at the naturalization laws.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Austerity and Stimulus in the American Revolution?

A few weeks back, the Course of Human Events blog highlighted a new book about the American Revolution coming from Steven Pincus, the Bradford Durfee Professor of History and co-director of the Center for Historical Enquiry and the Social Sciences at Yale University. His previous books have been about Britain in the turbulent 1600s.

About The Heart of the Declaration: The Founders’ Case for an Activist Government, the blog explains:
Pincus maintains that the American Revolution was a major turning point in not just British or American history but global history, because it was a response to the huge debt crisis that had overtaken the European empires. The patriots and their opponents had differing opinions on how best to respond to a debt crisis. One side wanted to stimulate economic growth “in the most dynamic part of the empire, and that was the American colonies.” The other side argued for pursuing austerity measures and shifting the tax burden away from the English and onto those who couldn’t vote (the American colonists, for example).

The various acts passed in the 1760s and 1770s demonstrate which side won out in this fight between austerity measures and stimulus measures. The Sugar Act (1764) and Stamp Act (1765) taxed the colonies in order to raise revenue, and the first of the Townshend Acts was even called the Revenue Act (1767). Instead of stimulating economic growth in the American colonies, the colonists refused to purchase or even to import British goods because of the taxes imposed upon them. As Pincus explains, “The 1770s saw the first time austerity measures pursued in response to a debt crisis generated revolution, but it wasn’t going to be the last time.”
I read about this thesis a couple of years ago, and on first blush it struck me as too relevant for its own good. “Austerity measures and stimulus measures” have been a huge debate in western polity since 2009. But do those terms (or does that analogy) fit the situation of the 1760s?

There’s no question that the imperial government in London sought to collect more revenue from the North American colonies through various tariffs and the failed Stamp Act. But “austerity” seems like more than paying down the debt, especially when contrasted with an economic “stimulus.” Austerity also means freezing or cutting services, and I can’t think of significant services that the British imperial government provided to the colonies that could be cut.

With peace in 1763, the imperial government did shrink its military, which meant it wasn’t shipping specie into the colonies to pay its soldiers and sailors and mount campaigns. There was no doubt less expended on fortifications. But can we equate those with the sort of investment in infrastructure or other public projects we now consider “stimulus”? Furthermore, the colonists who protested imperial policy of the 1760s usually objected to seeing more soldiers in their cities on the grounds that those troops required local spending as well (the real problem with the Quartering Act).

In one area, Parliament definitely increased spending after the Seven Years’ War: the payroll of the Customs office. The Treasury Department also started to pay gubernatorial and judicial salaries instead of relying on colonial governments to come through with that money. Again, the American Whigs and their allies in Britain objected to that new imperial spending because the money ultimately derived from the new tariffs and went toward enforcing those tariffs.

So what austerity/stimulus does Pincus argue was significant?

TOMORROW: Another of today’s hot-button issues.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

“All the Province Stores Sent to Col James Barretts”

Sometime in the early spring of 1775, James Barrett of Concord, a Massachusetts Provincial Congress delegate and militia colonel, wrote down “An account of all the Province Stores Sent to Col James Barretts of Concord Partly in His Own Costody & Partly Elsewhere all under his Care.” That undated document is now at the American Antiquarian Society.

The top of the list begins with the most valuable, dangerous, and risky-to-be-caught-with items:
Two peices of Cannon Brought From Watertown to ye Town
Eight Peices of Cannon Brought to ye Town by Mr Harrington
Four Peices of Brass Cannon & Two Mortar from Col Robertsons
That last name should be Lemuel Robinson, proprietor of the Liberty Tree Tavern in Dorchester. Massachusetts Committee of Safety records confirm that Robinson had those four brass cannon and two mortars in his custody early in 1775.

Barrett was thus in possession of sixteen pieces of artillery, on top of the handful of cannon that Concord itself had bought and mounted. Such weaponry had no use other than warfare, and there was no other foe on the horizon but the royal government.

Barrett’s account also listed a great many other military supplies, including musket cartridges, musket balls, flints, gunpowder, entrenching tools, medical chests, tents and tent poles, dishes and spoons, and “Four Barrels of Oatmeal containing 20 Bushels.” He was helping to equip an army.

Barrett clearly didn’t expect this account to fall into the hands of royal agents since he listed the names of men who had sent him those illegal supplies, including:
  • Jeremiah Lee of Marblehead (“thirtyfive half barrels of powder,” tents).
  • Moses Gill of Princeton (tents, “axes & pick axes & hatchetts”).
  • David Cheever of Charlestown (“Two Barrels of Musquit ball containing 2100 weight,” another “2900 of ball,” another “2000,” &c.).
All those gentlemen were members of the congress’s Committee on Supplies.

Barrett also kept notes of where he was storing different supplies: at the homes of his son James, Ethan Jones, Joshua Bonds, Willoughby Prescott, Abijah Brown, Thomas Hubbard, Ephraim Potter, James Chandler, Joseph Hosmer, Jonas Heywood, and so on. Again, Barrett seems to have felt that information was secure, almost twenty miles from Boston.

But Crown agents found out about those military supplies in March 1775. They gave Gen. Thomas Gage detailed information about where things were in Concord, including those four brass cannon. And on 19 April three companies of the king’s soldiers arrived at Barrett’s farm.

How all that came about, what happened next, and what mysteries remain will be the topics of my talk this Thursday, 29 September, at Minute Man National Historical Park: “Cannons in Concord, and Why the Regulars Came Looking.” That event will start at the park’s Lexington/Lincoln visitor center at 7:00 P.M., and I’ll be happy to sign copies of The Road to Concord afterward.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Searching for the “Senatorial Saucer” Source

Yesterday I quoted the story of the “senatorial saucer” as it appeared in Harper’s magazine in 1884.

However, that wasn’t the first appearance of the story, nor an accurate reflection of its earlier appearance. Back in 1871 the German-born law professor Francis Lieber had put the tale in writing in a letter to Rep. James A. Garfield. Here’s that passage from The Life and Letters of Francis Lieber, published in 1882:
The student had heard [law professor Edouard] Laboulaye lecture in Paris just before the war. When Laboulaye spoke of the bicameral system, recommending it, he concluded his remarks with relating that [Thomas] Jefferson one day visited [George] Washington, and, full as Jefferson was of French views, he zealously attacked the system of two Houses.

Washington replied that Jefferson was much better informed than himself on such topics, but that he would adhere to the experience of England and America. “You yourself,” said the General, “have proved the excellence of two houses this very moment.”

“I,” said Jefferson; “how is that, General?”

“You have,” replied the heroic sage, ”turned your hot tea from the cup into the saucer, to get it cool. It is the same thing we desire of the two houses.”

There is not the least doubt in my mind that Laboulaye told this, but whence has he the delectable anecdote? I should give much to know.
As a proud tea drinker, I note that the earliest form of this story is about tea, not coffee as in the Harper’s version.

Lieber kept seeking information until his death in 1872. The following year, a number of periodicals, including the 1 Feb 1873 College Courant, ran this item:
A Berlin correspondent writes to the Christian Union: “A while ago the late Dr. Lieber published a card calling for the origin of an anecdote of Washington, which one of the Professor’s law students had heard from Laboulaye. . . . Your correspondent remembers telling this anecdote to Laboulaye, at his table, several years ago, and my authority for it was the late Judge [David] Daggett, who told it with inimitable gusto in his law lectures to the senior class in Yale College. His authority was probably the former Senator Hillhouse, of New Haven; and any survivor of the Daggett or the Hillhouse family should be able to verify so good an anecdote of Washington, and to put it on record beyond a question.”
It’s notable that the College Courant was published across the street from Yale. The Hillhouse and Daggett families remained in New Haven. Yet that magazine never published a follow-up with the confirmation of the anecdote Lieber had sought, nor have I found it anywhere else.

So the oral transmission of the story goes back like this:
  • Francis Lieber (1798/1800-1872)
  • an unnamed student 
  • Edouard Laboulaye (1811-1883)
  • unnamed correspondent in Berlin
  • David Daggett (1764-1851, shown above)
Why did the correspondent suggest the story came from “Senator Hillhouse”? James Hillhouse (1754-1832) represented Connecticut in Congress from 1791 through 1810. He was thus at the capital as a Federalist during Washington’s administration. He and Daggett later knew each other through Yale and the New Haven bar.

But the trail really stops with Daggett telling the story in his lectures. Only supposition leads on to Hillhouse. And Daggett didn’t serve in Congress until President Washington was long dead, so the story’s provenance stops short of the men involved in the conversation.

It’s worth noting that the “senatorial saucer” anecdote contrasts the wisdom of Washington with the “zealous,” francophile, and slightly hypocritical Jefferson. In other words, it reflects and reinforces how Federalists viewed those two men.

Given how little evidence there is of Jefferson actually objecting to bicameral legislatures, this legend seems dubious. Perhaps it’s a useful understanding of the Senate, but not one we should confidently ascribe to Washington himself.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cooling Down a Washington Quotation

When I was at Mount Vernon earlier this month, my eye fell on these coffee cups in the gift shop.

Over George Washington’s signature they say (within quotation marks), “Decision making, like coffee, needs a cooling process.”

These cups were shelved with lots of other paraphernalia displaying Washington quotes, such as:
But the words about coffee didn’t sound like Washington.

And indeed, I haven’t found them in any published edition of Washington’s papers, in the material now available at Founders Online, in the Library of Congress’s online papers, or at the Washington Papers project. In fact, Google Books doesn’t find the quotation in any book at all, though it does appear on internet quotation sites.

The phrase “decision making” didn’t really take off until the mid-1900s. The phrase “cooling process” made it into a 1799 issue of The Critical Review, just within Washington’s lifetime, but it’s not in Washington’s own writings.

The source of this ersatz quotation is probably the legend of the “senatorial saucer” which recounted a supposed conversation between Washington and Thomas Jefferson. As printed in Harper’s magazine in 1884, that story quoted the first President explaining the need for a Senate this way:
“Why,” asked Washington, “did you just now pour that coffee into your saucer, before drinking?”

“To cool it,” answered Jefferson, “my throat is not made of brass.”

“Even so,” rejoined Washington, “we pour our legislation into the senatorial saucer to cool it.”
However, Monticello’s website points out that Jefferson was in France when the Constitutional Convention discussed and decided on a bicameral legislature, and his writings show he supported the idea before he returned. Back in 1776 he had mapped out a bicameral legislature for Virginia. Monticello therefore has the story filed under “Legends.”

Mount Vernon likewise has a webpage devoted to “Spurious Quotations” of Washington. I believe the line about decision-making and coffee should be on it, but perhaps the coffee cups have to sell out first.

TOMORROW: The search for the source of the senatorial saucer.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Political Science in Fever-Stricken Philadelphia

H-Net just ran Jan Golinski’s review of Feverish Bodies, Enlightened Minds: Science and the Yellow Fever Controversy in the Early American Republic by Thomas A. Apel.

As Golinski explains, no one in 1790s Philadelphia understood the cause of the epidemic that emptied the new national capital, but that didn’t stop two schools of thought from forming:
Broadly speaking, the “localist” side of the dispute traced the disease’s origins to bad air in the affected area, due to the presence of corrupt or putrefying matter or to a change in what they called the “atmospheric constitution.” Against them were ranged the “contagionists,” who believed the disease had originated elsewhere, brought by migrants—such as the refugees who fled to Philadelphia from the revolution in Haiti—and subsequently communicated from one individual to another.

From a modern perspective, one might be inclined to dismiss the whole debate as founded on ignorance and mistaken assumptions. Nobody at the time had any knowledge of the virus that causes yellow fever, and nor did anyone recognize the role of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito in transmitting it from person to person. We now know that the disease is not directly infectious, though it is so through the medium of the insect vector; it is not caused by putrefying organic matter, but stagnant water does provide an environment in which the mosquito can easily breed. Both localists and contagionists could therefore muster facts to support their case, but neither side could decisively disprove the other’s claims.
Like many medical controversies in the eighteenth century, therefore, we don’t really want to take either side. It would be so much easier if any of the debating doctors of the period just washed his hands.
In his final chapter, Apel examines the political dimension of the controversy. He rightly declines to map the two sides directly onto the political divisions of the time. On the other hand, he suggests that the fierceness of the dispute did reflect the political factionalism of the 1790s. This was the era when the Enlightenment public sphere fissured into contending groups, and when conspiracy theories abounded on both sides of the Atlantic. Participants in the yellow fever debates frequently alleged their opponents were lying or conspiring against the public interest.

[Dr. Benjamin] Rush, in particular, exhibited a high degree of paranoia, likening himself to the early Christian martyrs persecuted under the Roman Empire. Simultaneously, he insisted that his opinions were the undeniable outcome of reason and truth. Apel reminds his readers that twentieth-century critics of the Enlightenment identified this combination of paranoia, conspiracy theories, and dogmatic insistence on one’s own rationality as symptomatic of the last phase of the movement.
The epidemic occurred at the same time as the French Revolution, after all, and the harsh British reaction to its radicalness.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wheatley and Attucks “Against All Odds” Advertisements

On his Black Quotidian website, Matt Delmont shares material from African-American newspapers—the news stories, opinion pieces, and advertisements that black Americans in larger cities were reading in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Earlier this week the site featured a comics-style advertisement for Black and White Ointment and Skin Soap from the 17 Sept 1938 Pittsburgh Courier. That ad featured the Boston poet Phillis Wheatley—shown as a little girl coming of a slave ship at left.

Another ad in the same “Against All Odds” campaign highlighted Crispus Attucks, shot and killed at the Boston Massacre. It looks like twelve such pages might have been combined to create the Against All Odds booklet one could buy with three Black and White Beauty Creations labels and 25¢. I haven’t found any trace of that booklet today.

I can pick holes in the history that both ads relate. Wheatley didn’t meet King George III or, as far as the contemporaneous evidence tells us, Gen. George Washington. (But she did meet the Earl of Dartmouth, Secretary of State for the colonies, and Washington did invite her to visit him at Cambridge.)

Likewise, no witness spoke of Attucks making a “speech” that incited opposition to the British troops on 5 Mar 1770, though he was at the front of the crowd that confronted the soldiers on King Street.

Still, these ads are valuable evidence of how the memory of Wheatley and Attucks was preserved and shaped in popular culture—not just in schoolbooks and formal histories but also in commercial communications. At a time when mainstream America was openly hostile to citizens of African ancestry, they upheld the memory of “the terrible ‘Middle Passage’” and of blacks’ role in the nation’s origin.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Clark-Pujara on the Slave Trade in Salem, 26 Sept.

On Monday, 26 September, the Salem State University History Department and Salem Maritime National Historic Site will host Christy Clark-Pujara speaking on “The Business of Slavery in Colonial and Revolutionary New England.”

Clark-Pujara, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is the author of Dark Work: The Business of Slavery in Rhode Island. In an interview with John Fea, she described the message of that book this way:
There is no comprehensive history of slavery in Rhode Island even though the business of slavery was central to the development and economic success of the colony and state. Moreover, a full accounting of the institution of slavery in the Americas necessitates a full accounting of the business of slavery, which was concentrated in the northern colonies and states. I also hope that my work contributes to scholarly literature combating the myths that northern slaveholding was rare, that slavery was mild or that emancipation was quick and free blacks were fully incorporated into the new nation.
This talk will take place in the Salem Regional Visitor Center at 2 New Liberty Street. It is free and open to the public, and he doors will open at 7:00 P.M. Books will be available for purchase and signing.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Cannon to Reappear at Grotonfest, 24 Sept.

One of the events of this Saturday’s Grotonfest will be the Groton Historical Society’s unveiling of a Revolutionary-era cannon.

The Groton Herald and Nashoba Valley Voice have both run stories about local curator Earl Carter’s work restoring that iron cannon and building a (naval) carriage for it. The Herald’s online story includes a photograph of the markings on the gun, including the royal monogram.

However, in relaying Carter’s understanding of the cannon’s history, the Herald story raises questions:
The cannon was captured when the British gunboat H.M.S. Diana, fitted with four cannon and swivel guns, sailed up Chelsea Creek from Boston Harbor to engage Colonial forces. Exposed to heavy gunfire, the British were forced to abandon Diana at about 10 pm. When British Lieutenant [Thomas] Graves abandoned Diana, he transferred his men to HMS Britannia, which was successfully towed to deeper water. Unmanned, Diana drifted and ran aground on the Mystic River side of the Chelsea coast, tipping onto one side.

American forces, including the eight Groton Minutemen, commanded by Asa Lawrence, boarded the Diana and removed four cannon, one of which is pictured on the front page of the paper. Other American forces rapidly removed everything of value, including other guns, rigging, sails, clothing, and money. They laid hay under the stern to serve as kindling, and the vessel was set on fire at about 3 a.m. to prevent it from falling back into British hands.

Twenty days later, these same four captured cannon were deployed at the Battle of Bunker Hill. Three of the four cannon were lost in the battle, with this one cannon remaining in American hands. Immediately following the battle, a great amount of the armament and gunpowder, including this cannon, were taken to Col. [James] Barrett’s farm in Concord for safe hiding from the British. But, soon, the British learned of this hiding place and sent a large contingent to confiscate these military stores.
The same narrative appears in the video accompanying the Valley Voice article.

However, the “large contingent” of British soldiers sent to confiscate weapons at Barrett’s farm arrived on 19 Apr 1775, one month before the fight over the Diana and two months before the Battle of Bunker Hill.

In addition, the Massachusetts artillery regiment got six cannon onto the Charlestown peninsula during Bunker Hill and lost five—all “4 pounders,” according to Lt. Richard Williams of His Majesty’s 23rd Regiment.

Neither newspaper story lays out the historical documentation for that narrative—which, of course, is not what newspaper stories usually do. But I hope there are clear answers to these questions:
  • What size is this iron cannon? What other physical evidence does the gun itself carry? 
  • What paper trail traces the cannon from the Diana into the New England army and through the war? In researching The Road to Concord I found that Col. Richard Gridley’s Massachusetts artillery regiment did a lousy job with paperwork, and the Continental Army not much better when it came to tracking individual guns.
  • When does this particular cannon surface in Groton records? The town had an unusually active, document-loving local historian in Samuel Abbott Green (1830-1919). I found no mention of a local Revolutionary cannon in his books, even in the section of his Groton during the Revolution that discusses how the Massachusetts Committee of Safety assigned “four six-pounders” to the town on 15 Apr 1775. (It’s not clear the committee had time to ship those guns to Groton before the war began.)
There were cannon in Groton as early as 1808 because the town had its own militia artillery company. In that year (according to Green in his Natural History and the Topography of Groton) the Federalist Columbian Centinel reported that the town’s Independence Day celebration had been spoiled by partisan feuding within the company:
Capt. [James] Lewis [1761-1828], of the Groton Artillery, (a demo[crat].) tho’ courteously invited to appear with his company to celebrate the day, which gave our country birth, not only meanly denied Lieut. [Solomon] Carleton [1773-1856] and his company the use of the cannon on the occasion, but unsuccessfully endeavored to dissuade many from the celebration.
That gathering toasted the “Concord Artillery” instead. Even more specific, at a Lawrence Academy ceremony in 1854, Abbott Lawrence (1792-1855) shared a youthful memory of “the Groton artillery, with their two enormous guns—three pounders.”

According to the Valley Voice, “In 1972, the Groton Historical Society re-discovered [the cannon] behind a building near Lawrence Academy. Someone had built a miniature outdoor display…[but] the barrel was covered in vines ‘30 to 40 years old’.” So the cannon’s provenance seems clear for the last fifty years, at least.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

American Apotheoses

I do like me some political apotheosis art.

As discussed at the Unemployed Philosophers Guild and Princeton’s Graphic Arts Collection, these were prints that honored a dead political figure by showing him ascending to heaven.

After George Washington’s death at the end of 1799, the Irish-born artist John James Barralet produced a print, shown here, of the late President being received into heaven by Genius, Immortality, Faith, Hope, and Charity while Liberty and America mourn below.

That was such a popular image in America that after Abraham Lincoln’s murder in 1865 there was an apotheosis image copied from it.

S. J. Ferris portrayed Lincoln and Washington in heaven together with different degrees of slashiness.
In the same year, another “Apotheosis of Washington” was painted on the U.S. Capitol ceiling.

The earliest example of an American political apotheosis that I’ve spotted actually came from Revolutionary France in 1790: “L’Apôtre de le Liberté Immortalisé (The Apostle of Liberty Immortalized),” by Baricou Montbrun. This was a Parisian a response to the death of favorite diplomat Benjamin Franklin. The Newport Historical Society recently located a copy in its collection.
I have to say, Franklin’s body language makes this action look more like Titian’s “Rape of Europa” than a cheerful apotheosis.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Elizabeth Chapman’s Revolution

This afternoon I’m leading my new “Children of the Revolution: Boys & Girls in Cambridge During the Siege of Boston” walking tour for Cambridge Discovery Day, as described here.

One of the young people I’ll speak about is Elizabeth Chapman, born in Charlestown in March 1758 and thus seventeen years old when the war broke out. When she was seven, Eizabeth’s father had died while sailing to Surinam, leaving eight children with his widow Jemima.

I don’t know how the family supported themselves for the next decade, but Elizabeth’s older brother Jonathan went to sea four days before his nineteenth birthday, sailing in May 1775 from Gloucester. He returned a month later to find Charlestown “in Ashes” after the Battle of Bunker Hill.

Elizabeth, her other siblings, and their mother had “fled (with some little furniture to the Country)”—specifically to the house of Jonas Green in Malden. Massachusetts’s rebel government was scrambling to find homes for war refugees and ways they could support themselves.

Around the start of October 1775, Elizabeth Chapman went to work in a household in Cambridge. Not just any household—she became a maid at Gen. George Washington’s headquarters in the mansion left behind by the Loyalist John Vassall, shown above. Elizabeth reported to the household steward Timothy Austin, his wife, and the other women he had hired to cook the meals and clean the building.

On 4 April 1776, the day Gen. Washington headed south to New York, Austin paid “Eliza. Chapman 6 months wages” amounting to £2, 3s., and 4d. Not much cash, but Elizabeth had found food and shelter through the winter and relieved some of the burden on her family.

Eight years later, in 1784, Elizabeth Chapman married a Hartford-born sea captain named Ozias Goodwin. The couple settled in Boston and raised a family. Ozias became a merchant and served as an Overseer of the Poor, a respected public office. He died in 1819, and Elizabeth on 18 December 1831, fifty-five years after she had helped to look after the Washington household.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Guns from Governor’s Island and the Old Gunhouse

On the morning of 15 Sept 1774, Bostonians were buzzing about the action inside their North Battery the night before.

As I described yesterday, British soldiers and sailors had entered that harborside fortification and spiked all the cannon inside. That ensured  that those guns, normally used by a local militia company, could not be fired at the Royal Navy ships in the harbor—at least not for a while.

Whig activist Joseph Palmer assured Robert Treat Paine that those cannons’ touch-holes were soon “drill’d” so they could be used again.

However, within hours Bostonians learned that the maneuver at the North Battery had been only part of the British military’s work the previous night. The Boston Post-Boy had to report, “the Cannon in the Batteries back of Governor’s Island were removed by the General’s Order.”

Gen. Thomas Gage had thus secured ten larger guns from a hard-to-patrol harbor island. Even with the North Battery cannon back in working order, British soldiers patrolling the North End made it hard for the locals to do anything with those guns. The general definitely seemed to come out ahead in that leg of the “arms race” to control local artillery.

However, another development that night never got into the newspapers. Merchant John Andrews explained in a letter to a Philadelphia relative:
Ever since ye. cannon were taken away from Charlestown, the General has order’d a double guard to ye. new and old gun houses, where ye. brass field pieces belonging to our militia are lodg’d:

notwithstanding which, the vigilance and temerity of our people has entirely disconcerted him, for We’n’sday evening, or rather night, they took these from the Old house (by opening the side of the house) and carried [them] away through Frank Johonnot’s Garden.
Those two brass field-pieces were small cannon—probably only two-pounders, compared to six-, nine-, and twelve-pounders in the North Battery and on Governor’s Island. But because they and the Boston train’s other pair were bronze, they stood out from all the other militia cannon in Massachusetts. The Patriots prized them. Gage wanted them back.

Eventually, as I claim in the subtitle to The Road to Concord, those militia guns became the Four Stolen Cannon that Ignited the Revolutionary War.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Cannon Spiked in the North Battery

The night of 14-15 Sept 1774 was a very busy one in the “arms race” that I detail in The Road to Concord.

That was the competition between the New England Patriots and the British military to control all the artillery-pieces in the region as the political conflict moved toward war.

If you couldn’t seize guns for your side, you could at least make sure the other side couldn’t use them.

As I said yesterday, a bunch of cannon sat in the  battery that jutted out from Boston’s North End, as shown in this prewar engraving that Paul Revere made for Maj. John Ruddock’s militia company. After Ruddock’s death in 1772 Nathaniel Barber, another strong Whig, became the battery commander.

On 15 September, the merchant John Andrews described in a letter what had happened at the North Battery the night before:
what engrosses the attention of the public this morning is the mighty feat perform’d by the General [Thomas Gage] last night, having order’d two ships near the North battery, with a spring upon their cables, ready for an engagement, while a number of Soldiers were spiking up all the guns: in which measure he has anticipated the intentions of a number of ye. inhabitants, who have had it some time in contemplation to remove, or treat them in ye. same manner least they might be made use of to fortifie the Neck: though am told they had such a tremor upon their spirits while about it, as to do them very ineffectually. . . .

But what occasions some small diversions is, that a captain of an arm’d schooner and the lieutenant of the Preston went between ten and eleven o’clock p.m. to inquire for ye. keys, to see if the business was done properly, when a woman waited upon ’em, unlock’d the door and let ’em in, and watching their motions, she observ’d when they had got far enough forward, and came out hastily and lock’d the doors upon ’em,—where they remain’d a long while, calling to the ships to take ’em off (in view of a vast concourse of people on the shore, enjoying the jest), as they could not scale the walls without a ladder, nor indeed could they get off by water, as the tide was low and they must have dropped above twenty feet from ye. port holes into a boat.
John Rowe, though more supportive of the Crown than Andrews, called this a “Ridiculous Maneuvre.”

Andrews wrote of the North Battery’s spiked cannon, “One man, who had been to view ’em, told me he would engage to reinstate ’em all, in the course of a day.” The Boston Post-Boy also reported the cannon were “cleared again the next Day without much Difficulty.”

But that wasn‘t all that had happened that night.

TOMORROW: The island and the gunhouse.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Cannon All Around Boston

In 1770 Capt. John Montresor, the highest-ranking British army Engineer in North America, came to Boston to assess its defenses. Those fortifications had been designed over time to prevent an attack by sea, most likely by the French but perhaps by the Spanish.

The main protection was a harbor island called Castle William. It included a big fort, the Royal Battery and Shirley’s Battery along the eastern shore, and a couple more fortified and armed positions. Here’s a modern diagram of the island, based on work by Ens. Henry DeBerniere in 1775.

There were also artillery batteries on other spots in the harbor, such as Governor’s Island, which, Montresor wrote, “anno 1744, was fortified when Duc D’Anville was expected.” That French admiral’s armada actually reached North America in 1746, and its approach to Boston inspired Longfellow’s “Ballad of the French Fleet.”

In addition, Montresor wrote, “There are 3 Batteries—two at Boston and one of Charleston all directed to the water, all in very bad repair. The North Battery the best, though bad, the South Battery the next, and the Charleston one irreparable.” Since the end of the last war, Massachusetts hadn’t seen maintaining those fortifications as a spending priority.

This is Montresor’s count of cannon in and around Boston, as published in his papers by the New-York Historical Society.

I don’t recommend trying to add all those rows up, or sorting out the right hand columns. The takeaway is that there were several dozen cannon around Boston in the early 1770s.

For many years, Massachusetts had the responsibility to staff those fortifications through its militia system. But in October 1770, Gov. Thomas Hutchinson announced that as military commander of the province he was removing local troops from Castle William and turning it all over to the British army regiment stationed there since the Boston Massacre. Whig legislators objected, but they couldn’t do anything to reverse that. (After all, they had demanded that Hutchinson send the army regiments out to the island in the first place.)

Then British soldiers returned to Boston in May 1774. The Royal Artillery took over the town’s South Battery to store its supplies. That left the North Battery still in local hands, as well as the Charlestown battery across the river.

As I describe in The Road to Concord, during the first week of September 1774, the people of Charlestown took all the cannon and supplies out of their battery and hauled them inland. Those guns—Montresor had counted five eighteen-pounders—became the start of the Massachusetts Patriots’ secret artillery force.

TOMORROW: A busy night in Boston.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Reviews of American Revolutions

Probably the biggest Revolutionary War book out this year, in terms of its scope and the professional status of its author, is Alan Taylor’s American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750-1804. Here are extracts from four reviews I’ve seen.

Matthew Price in the Boston Globe:
Stretching from Nova Scotia to New Orleans, Taylor’s account proceeds chronologically through a series of themed chapters (“Colonies,” “Partisans,” “Slaves,” and so on) showcasing the author’s mastery of the period. He has synthesized work old and new, especially scholarship from the last 30 years that reflects his interest in Native American history and the role of slaves and women in the period. . . .

The last third of Taylor’s book details the political maneuvering that followed the peace settlements of 1783. There was little unanimity in what course to follow, and the new nation’s leaders were bedeviled by the same problems that proved unmanageable to British authorities. For one, to pay off war debts, they had to enforce higher taxes. (Loyalists, the so-called losers of the war, enjoyed lighter taxes in Canada, where the British instituted reforms to show up the upstart republic to the south. There is a suggestion throughout that the empire, typically caricatured as tyrannical, was more enlightened than its rebel offspring.)
Eric Herschthal at Slate:
As long ago as the Progressive era, historians argued that the Founding Fathers’ war against Britain was waged not for lofty democratic ideals but rather to suit their own material interests. In recent decades, academic historians have exposed the critical role women, blacks, and Native Americans played in the War of Independence, as well as the larger imperial struggles of which the Revolution was just a bit part. In American Revolutions Taylor synthesizes this more recent scholarship but astutely combines it with the Progressive-era argument about the way the Founding Fathers manipulated populist anger to their own ends. Written with remarkable clarity and finesse, this will be the gold standard by which all future histories of the period will be compared. . . .

Taylor rightly underscores that slavery—its protection and extension—was a central fact of the Revolution and its aftermath. But he tends to downplay the simultaneous restructuring of black life that happened in the war’s wake. As he notes, enslaved blacks in the North, often with the help of white allies, petitioned their new state governments to ban slavery. Elizabeth Freeman, enslaved in Massachusetts, used the new state constitution’s language, which stated that “All men are born free and equal,” to sue for and win her freedom in 1781. Her victory set the precedent that abolished slavery in Massachusetts, and by the end of the century, all the Northern states would abolish slavery. In focusing on the contradictions, indeed the hypocrisies, of the white Patriot elite, Taylor inadvertently overshadows this quieter revolution in freedom that that was growing up alongside it. The truth is that when we talk about liberty and equality for all today, we mean it in the way these black founders meant it, not the Patriot elite. It is a point worth emphasizing.
Brendan Simms in the Wall Street Journal:
Britain’s attempt to tax the North American settlers without their consent did indeed play a major role in the rise of a revolutionary spirit, but so did the western question, too often overlooked in its full significance. Building on recent work by historians such as François Furstenberg and Paul Mapp, Mr. Taylor places the 13 colonies within a “continental” context, in which the French most of all—but also the Spanish, the Russians (briefly) and of course Native American tribes—battled with British colonists for supremacy in the vast territories west of the Appalachian Mountains. . . .

What infuriated the settlers, as much as London’s proposed taxes, was the British government’s determination not to provoke the French and Spanish or the Indians. The policy was encapsulated in the Royal Proclamation of 1763, which forbade the colonists to move beyond the Appalachians. The British settlers perceived that some of the money extracted from them by the crown would be used to enforce this line of demarcation.

Insult was added to injury when London tried to appease the Catholic French-speaking colonists of Canada by awarding them considerable autonomy through the Quebec Act of 1774. This law horrified the colonists not only because it promoted the toleration of Roman Catholicism (inherently tyrannical, in their view) but also because it awarded a vast tranche of the western lands to the province of Quebec. In effect, though Mr. Taylor does not quite put it this way, the colonists were threatened by ideological and geopolitical encirclement. Mr. Taylor rightly speaks of the revolution having “western roots”: The imperial crisis was a product of “western land as well as eastern taxes.”
The 1763 Proclamation was not a big issue here in New England because New York (and, for Connecticut, northern Pennsylvania) already claimed the land to the west. But the Quebec Act was a very big deal, given the region’s fundamental anti-Catholicism. Which makes the pivot to the French alliance all the more striking.

Gordon Wood in the New York Times Book Review:
In a prodigious display of historical research, Taylor has drawn on nearly a thousand books and articles, listed in his 55-page bibliography. Because he has expanded the chronology of the Revolution into the 19th century and has included so much beyond the well-known headline events, he has some difficulty fitting everything in. He often packs so many incidents into each paragraph, with actions succeeding and crowding in upon one another, that there is no space to expand and develop any one of them. Consequently, they tend to get bunched up and leveled, and the narrative often comes to seem unusually compressed and flattened.

Insofar as anything is highlighted in Taylor’s narrative, it is the many Patriot hypocrisies and contradictions. Southerners, Taylor suggests, engaged in the Revolution principally to protect their property in enslaved Africans, but “implausibly blamed the persistence of slavery on the British.” The Patriots’ talk of liberty was very limited. They “defended freedom for white men while asserting their domination over enslaved blacks.” Occasionally the Patriots were not very patriotic. Following the surrender of the American forces trying to take Quebec in 1775, “a quarter of the captured Patriots switched sides to enlist with the British.”

Sometimes Taylor’s emphasis on irony and contradiction slips into anachronism. Because the colonial legislatures denied women, free blacks and propertyless white males the vote, he concludes that “colonial America was a poor place to look for democracy.” But where in the 18th century was there a better place to look for democracy? Despite restrictions on the suffrage, the colonies still possessed the most democratic governments in the world at that time.
But isn’t the question whether the state and national governments that followed the American Revolution were more democratic? Or were they just better designed to serve the “ordinary white men” whose “bad behavior” Wood says Taylor emphasizes?

Monday, September 12, 2016

“Children of the Revolution” Tour, 17 Sept.

Saturday, 17 September, is this year’s Cambridge Discovery Day. The city’s historical commission is promoting free walking tours in several neighborhoods, as laid out in the schedule here.

I’m going to lead a tour called “Children of the Revolution: Boys & Girls in Cambridge During the Siege of Boston.” The description explains:

Hear the stories of children caught up in the start of the Revolution as political refugees, members of the army, servants in generals’ houses, and more.
This is a new tour, though still focused on the territory around Harvard Square. That was the center of Cambridge in the 1770s, after all. We’ll start at the Tory Row marker on the corner of Brattle and Mason Streets at 3:00 P.M.

One child I plan to talk about was John Greenwood, who grew up in Boston’s North End. When the war broke out, he ran away from his uncle in Maine to make his way back down toward Boston, hoping to get into the besieged town to see his parents. But the ferry from Charlestown was cut off. He later wrote:
Charlestown was at the time generally deserted by the inhabitants, and the houses were, with few exceptions, empty; so, not knowing what to do nor where to go and without a penny in my pockets, if I remember rightly, I entered a very large tavern that was filled with all descriptions of people. Here I saw three or four persons whom I knew, and, my fife sticking in the front of my coat, they asked me, after many questions, to play them a tune. I complied forthwith, but although the fife is somewhat of a noisy instrument to pay upon, it could hardly be heard for the din and confusion around.

After I had rattled off several tunes, there was one Hardy Pierce [Boston man, corporal of Capt. T. T. Bliss’s company] who, with Enoch Howard [Boston man, enlisted as private in Capt. Lemuel Trescott’s company, 24 May 1775] and three or four others, invited me to go up to Cambridge to their quarters, as they called it. When there they tried to persuade me to enlist as a fifer, telling me it was only for eight months, and that I would receive eight dollars a month and be found in provisions; moreover, they calculated to quickly drive the British from Boston, when I would have an opportunity of seeing my parents.
Greenwood’s name as fifer appears on the roll of Capt. Bliss’s company dated 1 Aug 1775, which records his service so far as two months and six days—i.e., since the last week of May. He ended up serving almost two years.

[The photograph above shows the William Diamond Junior Fife & Drum Corps about fifteen years ago at the Sudbury Muster. That event is coming up again on 24 September.]

Sunday, September 11, 2016

“The most stupendous sight we poor mortals are allow’d to see”

In the summer or autumn of 1806, Susan Bulfinch of Boston wrote a letter to her brother Thomas Aphthorp in Britain with news of a recent family event:
Now, my dear Brother, I will attempt to give you some account, but by no means a description, of the most stupendous sight we poor mortals are allow’d to see, a total eclipse of the Sun, which took place the 16th of June, more apparent to us, the inhabitants of Boston, than those of any other part of the Globe.

It was progressing an hour, during which we watch’d it with Smoak’d glasses. Total darkness, three minutes and a half, when many stars were perfectly brilliant, particularly in the West. It was truly sublime and magnificent, notwithstanding the chill, which equall’d that of night. Myself and children assembled in the yard, as we wish’d to observe it in every stage of its progress, which we could with common window glass, smoak’d in different degrees. My little Grandchildren were at their Aunt [Anna] Storer’s, of whom they are very fond, each accommodated with a glass, their countenances quite philosophic, their minds fully engag’d, and their noses partaking of the smoak in contact with them.

When the darkness was evident, but not total, the effect upon Animal nature was wonderful. The pigeons precipitately flew to their homes, the little birds, of which we have many nests in our trees, ceas’d to sing, and the more domestic animals compos’d themselves for the night, and when the Glorious Luminary again broke forth, with his refulgent brightness, they each in their several ways hail’d the return of day with animated joy. Indeed, it was so stupendous a sight, it was worth living seventy years to see, and now if I was as good as old Simeon I should be apt to say, “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy Servant depart in peace.”
The “Smoak’d glasses” that Bulfinch wrote about were just that—pieces of glass covered with smoke. An 1888 pamphlet titled Instructions for Observing the Total Eclipse of the Sun, January 1, 1889 tells how to make them correctly:
This can be made of a small pane of good window-glass by holding it over the flame of a lamp or candle until a black film is deposited on it. If possible, it should be smoked so that the tint will be so dense at one end that the full light of the sun seen through it will not dazzle the eye; while at the other the film should be so thin that objects in an ordinarily lighted room may be seen distinctly through it. Smoke the glass as evenly as possible from one end to the other. Paste a narrow strip of thick paper across each end of the glass, on the smoked side, and lay on it a sheet of unsmoked glass of the same size. Then secure the two sheets together by a strip of paper pasted around the edges of both plates.
Boston was indeed an ideal location for viewing this eclipse, according to N.A.S.A. Others who wrote about it included the West Springfield minister Joseph Lathrop; the young printer Andrew Newell, writing as an anonymous “Inhabitant of Boston”; and “A number of gentlemen in Boston, who had furnished themselves with proper instruments,…at the house of Mr. Benjamin Bussey.”

This anecdote is a little outside the period I ordinarily cover, but I couldn’t resist the image of those well-bred children all watching the solar eclipse, “quite philosophic,” with black dots on the ends of their noses.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Tracking Down Thomas Apthorp

To prepare yesterday’s post I poked around in the evidence about Thomas Apthorp, who as a little boy appears to have lost his whizzer toy near Faneuil Hall.

Thomas was born in Boston in 1741 and baptized in King’s Chapel, the town’s upper-class Anglican church. Which makes sense, since he was from one of the town’s most upper-class Anglican families.

Along with most of his brothers, Thomas Apthorp left Boston with the British military in March 1776. Several of his sisters remained in town with their husbands, however. That meant Boston chroniclers of the next century had no records on his later life but could ask relatives about what they had heard.

This was the local scoop on Thomas Apthorp that appeared in Thomas Bridgman’s Memorials of the Dead in Boston (1853):
Thomas, b. 19 October, 1741. He continued paymaster of the British forces after his father’s death, from 1758 to 1776, when he went to England, and lived several years at Ludlow, Wales. He visited Lisbon for health, where he married. He returned to Ludlow, where he died, leaving a widow and one son.
That information was repeated almost word for word in James L. Stark’s 1907 Loyalists of Massachusetts.

But it’s not entirely reliable. That profile says Thomas inherited his father’s job as paymaster for all the British army in North America in 1758. But Thomas was only seventeen years old when Charles Apthorp died. The Crown would never have given that important and coveted position to a minor. Instead, as a young man Thomas Apthorp went into business as a merchant. According to the Rev. Nicholas Hoppin in 1858, he owned a country estate in the part of Cambridge that’s now Brighton, attending the town’s Christ Church.

In 1768 the Crown deployed four army regiments to Boston, and Thomas Apthorp probably then called on old ties to become a deputy paymaster. That seems to be what he told the Loyalist Commission in 1784, according to Peter Wilson Coldham’s American Migrations. By then he was in his late twenties and established, though he gladly set aside a lot of his import business for the paymaster post.

As late as 6 May 1776, after the British forces and officials had left for Halifax, Thomas Apthorp’s official position was “Acting Deputy Paymaster General,” according to this Treasury Department document.

As for the statement that Apthorp settled “at Ludlow, Wales,” that’s dubious because Ludlow isn’t actually in Wales. Thomas Apthorp did go to Wales, his ancestral country, during or after the war. We know that because of an inscription that Alice Hadley transcribed in The First Volume of the Conway Parish Registers, in the Rural Deanery of Arllechwedd, Diocese of Bangor, Caernarvonshire, 1541 to 1793 (1900). According to Hadley, one memorial tablet at Arllechwedd reads:
uxori Thomas Apthorp Armig
que annum tricessimum agens
decessit Septr. 28: MDCCLXXXIV.
maritus americanus
ob fidem regi debitam
morens [mœreus?]
P. [posuit?]
Which I’ve done my best to translate as:
wife of Thomas Apthorp gentleman [“armiger,” someone worthy of a heraldic crest]
in the thirtieth year of life [?]
died 28 Sept 1784
[her] American husband
due to loyal faith to the king
grieves [?]
I’m guessing this is imperfectly transcribed because descriptions of the same tablet in two more recent books give Anne Apthorp’s date of death as 1786. Which certainly fits better with the burial record that Hadley also transcribed: “Buried Anne, the wife of Thomas Apthorp Esqr., an American . . Octr 3rd [1786].”

One of Thomas’s older sisters was Susan Apthorp (1734-1815, shown above in 1757, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts). She married Dr. Thomas Bulfinch of Boston, and some of her correspondence was published in The Life and Letters of Charles Bulfinch, Architect: with Other Family Papers (1896). In 1803 she told the Rev. Dr. East Apthorp, “I wish also to have an account of my Brother Thomas and his family.” The minister appears to have put the siblings in direct touch because Bulfinch wrote to Thomas in 1806.

In her last letter, dated 13 June 1814, Susan Bulfinch told a brother and sister in Britain that she felt a fatal illness coming on. She wrote, “When you have an opportunity mention me affectionately to my Brother T. and wife and little Son, of course.” Bulfinch died eight months later.

Thus, it appears that at age seventy-two Thomas Apthorp was still alive in Britain (possibly even in Ludlow), had recently remarried, and had a young son. This was no doubt the wife he met in Lisbon, as the Apthorp descendants in Boston understood the story. But I haven’t found any more.