J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, October 31, 2016

Furstenberg on Washington’s Abolitionist Pamphlets, 2 Nov.

On Wednesday, 2 November, the Boston Athenaeum will host a lecture on one highlight of its collection: George Washington’s library.

As explained on this webpage, a nephew of a nephew of the President sold much of the family library to “a flamboyant American bookseller” named Henry Stevens in 1848.

Stevens tried to sell the collection to the U.S. government, then to Harvard University. With no takers, he began to point out loudly that the British Museum had hired him to buy American books, hinting that it might also want Washington’s library.

About seventy Massachusetts men pooled their money to buy the collection and keep it in the U.S. of A. They never managed to hit Stevens’s asking price after sending their first installment. But he’d spent some of that money and couldn’t send a refund, so he had to compromise and send the books. The group then donated them to the Athenaeum.

The full title for this lecture is “George Washington’s Library at the Athenaeum: Transatlantic Dialogues of Slavery and Freedom.” Here’s the description:
Why might an obscure pamphlet collection housed in the Boston Athenæum archives offer new insights on the abolition movement of the late eighteenth century? It's simple: the tract collection belonged to George Washington. In this lecture, Professor of History François Furstenberg will explore the early history of abolitionist debates from the perspective of book history, using these leaflets to link Mount Vernon to a broad transatlantic conversation about slavery and freedom.
Furstenberg, who grew up in Boston, is author of In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation and When the United States Spoke French: Five Refugees who Shaped a Nation.

Admission to this event costs $15 for Athenaeum members, $30 for others. Advance registration is required. The talk is scheduled from 6:00 to 7:00 P.M., and a reception will follow.

Further lectures in this program, “Rookie Republic: Early America and Its Place on the Global Stage,” will include “Black Pepper: Taste a Revolutionary Story” by Sarah Lohman on 16 November and “Muslims in America since 1619” by Shareda Hosein on 13 December.

(Shown above: Washington’s nicely bound 1790 collection of writings by his former aide de camp and secretary, David Humphreys.)

Sunday, October 30, 2016

“ADAMS, greater far than he, Took rigid honour for his guide”

A few days back I shared Susanna Rowson’s paean to George Washington in honor of his birthday in February 1798—an early indication that America would keep celebrating that day even though the man was no longer President.

In October 1799, Rowson got around to writing a similar ode to President John Adams. She was a Massachusetts Federalist, after all. And to make up for missing earlier birthdays, it seems, she made her “On the Birth Day of John Adams, Esquire, President of the United States of America, 1799” extra long.

The poem starts in heroic blank verse:
WHEN great ALCIDES, JOVE’s immortal son,
Attain’d the dawn of manhood, life’s spring tide,
Rushing impetuous through his agile frame,
Light bade his spirits dance, whilst health and joy
Crimson’d his cheek and revel’d in his eye;
And yet restraint the youth had never known.
And it goes on like that for four pages, all about Alcides (a variation on another name for Heracles) rejecting Vice and choosing Virtue. That story finishes, leaving you to wonder what any of it had to do with John Adams, Esquire, and then the poet herself enters the scene.
“Blest was the choice he made,” I eager cried,
As rapt I lay; the volume by my side,
And mus’d on what I had read. It was the hour
“When church yards yawn,” and fancy has the power,
To raise incongruous phantoms to our view,
And almost make us think her airy visions true.
“But where in these degenerate ages,
Can we a mortal find,
Like this recorded by the sages;
Who, when vice tempts and passion rages,
With an unshaken mind,
Will boldly quit without a sigh,
Pleasure’s enamel’d meads;
To mount the path, rugged and high,
Where virtue points, and honour leads?[”]

“Peace,” cried a voice, “ungrateful mortal, peace.”
I rais’d my eyes, a vision stood beside me;
Fair as the tints of opening day,
Her eye was chaste as DIAN’s ray,
Her smile so soft, I knew no evil could betide me.
A cæstus bound her lovely waist,
On which was INDEPENDENCE graven;
Bare were her arms, or only brac’d
By circlets, where these words I trac’d:
In her right hand she held a spear,
And from her left an iron chain depended.
By which, more bound by guilt and servile fear,
Hung lawless ANARCHY and SHAME,
AMBITION, who usurp’d a patriot’s name,
And ENVY slyly seeking to defame
The WARRIOR, by whose arm, her children were defended.

“And who art thou, bright vision?” I enquired;
“My name,” she smiling cried, “is LIBERTY;”
“Oh nymph, by all beloved, by all desired,
And art thou come,” I cried, “to dwell with me?”
“No,” said the goddess, “I am come to chide.”
“Why dost thou wonder at ALCIDES’ worth?
Columbia boasts, and she may boast with pride,
An equal hero’s birth.
The morn which dapples in the east,
And makes all nature gay,
Speaks what should be by all exprest;
Let every face in smiles be drest,
For ’tis his natal day.

“ALICIDES mighty feats has done,
Wonders perform’d and conquests won;
But ADAMS, greater far than he,
Took rigid honour for his guide;
Stern truth and virtue on his side;
And soaring on superior worth,
Trod base detraction to the earth;
Firm to her cause,
Enforc’d the laws,
That made his country free.

“Then rise, and tune the vocal lay,
Invoke the Muse’s aid;
Small is the tribute thou canst pay,
Yet be that tribute paid,
And thousands in that tribute will bear part,
For all conspire to raise the festive lay,
And as they joyful hail his natal day,
Pour forth the offerings of a grateful heart.”
So Rowson’s message was that President Adams was greater than Heracles because he was no fun at all.

And thus Boston 1775 wishes John Adams a happy birthday.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

“The birthday of our beloved President John Adams”

After the controversy over celebrating George Washington’s birthday in February 1798, President John Adams reconciled himself to such ceremonies. Indeed, we’re still celebrating the first President’s birthday today, in a way.

But Adams’s Federalist supporters also appear to have stepped up their efforts to celebrate his own birthday, so long as he was in office. (This whole series of postings started with me wondering whether the U.S. of A. celebrated President Adams’s birthday the way it celebrated President Washington’s, and before him King George’s. And the answer is yes, in a way.)

Balls and banquets weren’t to Adams’s taste, of course. The preferred method of honoring him, particularly during the Quasi-War of the late 1790s, became a militia parade. The Columbian Mirror and Alexandria Gazette reported on a ceremony in Alexandria, Virginia, on 30 Oct 1798:
Tuesday last, being the anniversary of the birthday of our beloved President John Adams, was observed in this town with military honors. The uniform companies of Militia, and the company of Silver Grays, went through a variety of maneuvers and evolutions, under the command of George Deneale. After firing several rounds in evidence of their attachment to this good man, as well as to shew that they approbated his conduct towards the insidious French Directory, they retired in the evening with the utmost decorum and harmony.
Even then, however, Adams’s predecessor hovered over the ceremony. Martha Washington presented a banner (regrettably incomplete) to the company. On it, “The Golden Eagle of America has a portrait of General Washington suspended from its beak.”

And of course Washington’s birthday balls continued. On 20 February 1799, Abigail Adams wrote from Quincy:
I have received an invitation to the Ball in honour of Gen’ll. Washington but my health is so precarious, and sufferd such a Shock last Summer, that I am obliged to be very circumspect and cautious in all my movements. Thomas will go, and that will be sufficient.
Thomas was the couple’s son Thomas Boylston Adams. He liked balls. In fact, one day after he had arrived in Philadelphia following years in Europe, the President reported to his wife, “This Evening he goes with me to the Ball. I had rather spend it with him at home.”

But now President Adams knew what he had to do to maintain party unity. On 22 Feb 1799, Washington’s birthday, he wrote home to Abigail:
To night I must go to the Ball: where I Suppose I shall get a cold, and have to eat Gruel for Breakfast for a Week afterwards. This will be no Punishment.
Adams enjoyed gruel more than balls, it seems.

The picture above shows Boston’s celebration of the President’s birthday in October 1799: “The Boston troops, as reviewed on President Adams’s birth day on the Common by his Honr. Lieut. Governor [Moses] Gill & Major Genl. [Simon] Elliot, under the command of Brigadier Genl. [John] Winslow. Also a view of the new State House.” In fact, this is said to be the earliest printed picture of the new Massachusetts State House designed by Charles Bulfinch.

TOMORROW: Mrs. Rowson’s reprise.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Mr. Jefferson’s Respects on the President’s Birthday

Amid the controversy over the birthday ball for George Washington in Philadelphia in 1798, Abigail Adams wrote home to a relative:
I have heard that there is a design to shift this matter off upon the Vice President, but in Justice to him, he had no hand in it further than to subscribe to it, being told that the President would certainly attend. when he found that he would not go, he refused also, this I am sure of so that let no more be laid upon him than he deserves.
Thomas Jefferson had indeed bought a ticket to support the ball on 2 February. That suggests the Vice President had early word of the event. The organizers didn’t send an invitation to President John Adams for another ten days.

Furthermore, on 15 February Jefferson wrote to his friend James Madison from Philadelphia about the celebration and its political implications:
A great ball is to be given here on the 22d. and in other great towns of the Union. This is at least very indelicate, & probably excites uneasy sensations in some. I see in it however this useful deduction, that the birthdays which have been kept have been, not those of the President, but of the General.
As a republican, Jefferson viewed balls honoring officeholders on their birthdays as monarchical. But he was ready to make an exception for one that tweaked his rival.

By the day of the ball, it had blown up into a big controversy of both politics and politesse. Jefferson ducked out of attending with a note to one of the organizers:
Th: Jefferson presents his respects to mr Willing, and other gentlemen managers of the ball of this evening. he hopes his non-attendance will not be misconstrued. he has not been at a ball these twenty years, nor for a long time permitted himself to go to any entertainments of the evening, from motives of attention to health. on these grounds he excused to Genl. Washington when living in the city his not going to his birthnights, to mrs Washington not attending her evenings, to mrs Adams the same, and to all his friends who have been so good as to invite him to tea- & card parties, the declining to go to them. it is an indulgence which his age and habits will he hopes obtain and continue to him. he has always testified his homage to the occasion by his subscription to it.
From his safe distance, Jefferson seems to have rather enjoyed the turmoil. He wrote again to Madison on 2 March:
The late birthnight has certainly sown tares among the exclusive federals. It has winnowed the grain from the chaff. The sincerely Adamites did not go. The Washingtonians went religiously, & took the secession of the others in high dudgeon. The one sex threaten to desert the levees, the other the evening-parties. The whigs went in number, to encourage the idea that the birthnights hitherto kept had been for the General & not the President, and of course that time would bring an end to them. [Benjamin] Goodhue, [Nathaniel?] Tracy, [Theodore] Sedgwick &c did not attend: but the three Secretaries & Attorney General [Charles Lee] did.
Abigail Adams’s assessment of the event was based on the small number of ladies she heard had attended. Jefferson gave more attention to how President Adams’s Cabinet—which included Secretary of State Timothy Pickering, Secretary of War James McHenry, and Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott, Jr.—was acting more loyal to Washington than to him. Which was indeed a problem.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

“It would mortify Mr. Adams and please Mr. Washington”

The Philadelphia Dancing Assembly planned to honor George Washington’s birthday with a ball on 22 Feb 1798, but then elections were scheduled on that Thursday. So the group postponed their event for a day.

Meanwhile, President John Adams had declined his invitation. On 23 February, the Aurora General Advertiser published that response with some editorial commentary about Adams’s “impolite & arrogant terms.” Its printer, Benjamin Franklin Bache, wrote sarcastically that he did not expect “that the president of the U. States would so far forget the dignity of his station as to mingle with shop keepers.”

Adams had privately written that one problem with such birthday balls was “those Things give offence to the plain People of our Country, upon whose Friendship I have always depended. They are practised by the Elegant and the rich for their own Ends, which are not always the best.” So each side was accusing the other of being elitist.

The dispute also had a personal dimension. Eliza Custis Law, Martha Washington’s eldest granddaughter, was in Philadelphia that month, urging all gentlemen to attend the birthday ball. The Federalists would normally have been happy to do so, but now that seemed disloyal to President Adams. Meanwhile, their Jeffersonian rivals were for once all about having a big party for Washington.

On the evening after the ball, the Swiss-born businessman Albert Gallatin (shown here) wrote to his wife about the situation:
Do you want to know the fashionable news of the day? The President of the United States has written, in answer to the managers of the ball in honor of G. Washington’s birthday, that he took the earliest opportunity of informing them that he declined going.

The court is in a prodigious uproar about that important event. The ministers and their wives do not know how to act upon the occasion; the friends of the old court say it is dreadful, a monstrous insult to the late President; the officers and office-seekers try to apologize for Mr. Adams by insisting that he feels conscientious scruples against going to places of that description, but it is proven against him that he used to go when Vice-President.

How they will finally settle it I do not know; but to come to my own share of the business. A most powerful battery was opened against me to induce me to go to the said ball; it would be remarked; it would look well; it would show that we democrats, and I specially, felt no reluctance in showing my respect to the person of Mr. Washington, but that our objections to levees and to birthday balls applied only to its being a Presidential, anti-republican establishment, and that we were only afraid of its being made a precedent; and then it would mortify Mr. Adams and please Mr. Washington.

All those arguments will appear very weak to you when on paper, but they were urged by a fine lady, by Mrs. Law, and when supported by her handsome black eyes they appeared very formidable. Yet I resisted and came off conqueror, although I was, as a reward, to lead her in the room, to dance with her, &c.; all which, by the by, were additional reasons for my staying at home. Our club have given me great credit for my firmness, and we have agreed that two or three of us who are accustomed to go to these places, [John] Langdon, [Richard] Brent, &c., will go this time to please the Law family.
Gallatin was pleased to have won the respect of his Jeffersonian colleagues, but he seems to have been equally eager to gain credit from his wife for resisting Law’s “handsome black eyes.”

The young, first-term Massachusetts Congressman Harrison Gray Otis explained the Federalist side of the controversy to his wife:
The Birth night ball of last evening was I am told respectably attended, tho by no means equal in splendour & numbers to the last. . . . The President did not attend, & his refusal has given considerable offence, even to some of the federal party.

To be sure his apology was rather formal, but I think he acted rightly upon principle. As President, he ought to know of no distinction among private citizens, whatever may be their merit or virtue; & having never received from the Philadelphians, the slightest mark of attention, he was in my mind quite excusable for declining to be the pageant, to do honor to another.

Many families who usually increase the flutter of the beau monde were absent. The Morrisites of course. The Binghams who have lately lost a relation, & the Chews on account of a Mrs. Pemberton who died last Sunday; I am told too that the whole house was very damp and believe I have not lost much.
Abigail Adams declared that by leaking her husband’s note the Jeffersonians had “defeated their own plans. as soon as it was known, it went through the city like an Electrical shock—and the Ball was meager enough, so much so, that tho it was by subscription I have heard but 15 Ladies were present.”

TOMORROW: What Jefferson himself thought of this all.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

“Celebrating Birth Nights, not of a President, but a Private citizen?”

When we left President John Adams in 1797, he had privately expressed disapproval of the balls that Philadelphians had regularly held on George Washington’s birthday.

“In Countries where Birth is respected and where Authority goes with it, there is congruity enough in such Feast: But in Elective Governments the Question is more doubtful,” Adams wrote; and “those Things give offence to the plain People of our Country.”

As a result, when President Adams’s first birthday in office came on 30 Oct 1797, there was no birthday ball in Philadelphia.

Then February 1798 rolled around. Even in Boston there was another public celebration of Washington—a public dinner with music.

On 12 February the leaders of the Philadelphia Dancing Assembly sent Adams an invitation to the Washington’s birthday ball they had scheduled for the 22nd.

The President quickly responded, in his wife’s words, “that he had received the card of invitation, and took the earliest opportunity to inform them, that he declined accepting it.” That was all he had to say about the subject.

Abigail Adams said more in a private letter to her sister Mary Cranch on 15 February. For the First Lady, whether such a celebration was appropriate in a republic was less important than how it made the second President seem secondary.
These Philadelphians are a strange set of people, making pretensions to give Laws of politeness and propriety to the union. they have the least feeling of real genuine politeness of any people with whom I am acquainted.

as an instance of it, they are about to celebrate, not the Birth day of the first Majestrate of the union as such, but of General Washingtons Birth day, and have had the politeness to send invitations to the President Lady and family to attend it. The President of the united states to attend the celebration of the birth day in his publick Character, of a private Citizen!

for in no other light can General Washington be now considerd, how ever Good how ever great his Character, which no person more respects than his successor, but how could the President appear at their Ball and assembly, but in a secondary Character, when invited there, to be held up in that light by all foreign Nations.

but these people look not beyond their own important selves. I do not know when my feelings of contempt have been more calld forth. . . . that the Virginians should celebrate the day is natural & proper if they please, and so may any others who chuse, but the propriety of doing it in the Capital in the Metropolis of America as these proud Phylidelphians have publickly named it, and inviting the Head of the Nation to come and do it too, in my view is ludicrous beyond compare.

I however bite my Lips, and say nothing, but I wanted to vent my indignation upon paper. you must not however expose it, nor me. it will be call’d pride it will be calld mortification. I despise them both, as it respects myself—but as it respects the Character I hold—I will not knowingly degrade it—
To her son-in-law William Smith, Abigail later added:
In what light would such a step be looked upon by foreign Nations? The President the chief Majestrate of an independant Nation, placing himself in a secondary Character, celebrating Birth Nights, not of a President, but a Private citizen?
However, the organizers of that ball and Washington’s relatives in town were determined to go through with the celebration. And the Adams administration’s rivals were determined to make his response into a political issue.

TOMORROW: Birthday bashing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Call for Papers on “The Adams Family and the American Revolution”

The Sons of the American Revolution has announced that its 2017 Annual Conference on the American Revolution will take place in Quincy. In honor of the 250th anniversary of the birth of John Quincy Adams, the theme will be “The Adams Family and the American Revolution.” The gathering will also honor Lyman H. Butterfield, founding editor of the Adams Papers.

Here’s the call for papers:
John Adams famously wrote that “I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.” The comment seems to describe the story of the family in the generations from John to Henry Adams.

Yet the Adamses, whatever else they did, were political men and women. In 1821, an aging John Adams wrote his grandson George Washington Adams, an aspiring poet, that he must study politics, for “without some knowledge of it you will be always in confusion, blown about by every wind.” Politics were central to the story of the Adams family from the start, and at the foundation of the family’s politics was the American Revolution, a revolution that would create an American republic.

With that in mind, this conference proposes to explore the Adams family’s understanding of the nature, meaning, and significance of the American Revolution over the generations from John and Abigail to Henry and Brooks Adams. It will focus on the way their understanding of the American Revolution shaped their writings and their works from the Writs of Assistance Case in 1761 to Henry Adams’s death in the early 20th Century.

In support of their Congressional mandate to encourage historical research, the Sons of the American Revolution invites paper proposals from graduate students and advanced scholars in history and political science on any topic relating to the Adams family and the American Revolution.
Proposals should include a 250-word abstract of the paper and a short curriculum vitae for the author. They should be submitted to Richard Samuelson, Associate Professor of History, California State University, San Bernardino, by 15 Dec 2016.

The conference is scheduled to take place on 9-11 June 2017. The organizers will cover presenters’ travel and lodging expenses, and offer a $500 stipend. They anticipate collecting the papers in a subsequent printed volume.

TOMORROW: Back to our extended discussion of John Adams and birthday celebrations.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Susanna Rowson’s Birthday Song for Washington

February 1798 was the U.S. of A.’s first February for eight years without George Washington as head of state. As described in recent postings, his birthday the previous year, coming near the end of his second term as President, served as a national send-off.

But in 1798 John Adams was President, and he didn’t think such birthday celebrations were appropriate for a republic. So that February passed quietly, right?

Nope. Americans went on celebrating Washington’s birthday in many ways, as if he were the most important and respected person in the country or something.

Among those celebrants was Susanna Rowson, born in Portsmouth, England, and raised in Hull. After publishing the blockbuster novel Charlotte Temple, she had gone on the stage as an actress and playwright. She made the Federal Street Theatre in Boston her base in 1796, but that business failed the next year. After a brief tour to Rhode Island, Rowson decided to change professions again and start a school for girls.

Thus, it was as a respectable Boston schoolmistress that Susanna Rowson published her “Song. Written for the Celebration of the Birth Day of George Washington, Esq., and Sung on That Occasion, in Boston, February 11th, 1798.” That was the date on the calendar when Washington was born. He’d taken to celebrating the equivalent on the Gregorian calendar, 22 February, but not everyone followed suit.

The song went:
WHEN rising from ocean Columbia appear’d,
MINERVA to JOVE, humbly kneeling, requested
That she, as its patroness, might be rever’d,
And the pow’r to protect it, in her be invested.
Jove nodded assent, pleasure glow’d in her breast,
As rising, the goddess: her will thus exprest
“The sons of Columbia forever shall be
From oppression secure, and from anarchy free.”

Rapture flash’d through the spheres as the mandate went forth,
When MARS and APOLLO, together uniting,
Cried, Sister, thy sons shall be fam’d for their worth,
Their wisdom in peace, and their valour in fighting;
Besides, from among them a chief shall arise,
As a soldier, or statesman, undaunted and wise;
Who would shed his best blood, that Columbia might be,
From oppression secure, and from anarchy free.

Jove, pleas’d with the prospect, majestic arose,
And said, “By ourself, they shall not be neglected;
But ever secure, tho’ surrounded by foes,
By WASHINGTON bravely upheld and protected.
And while Peace and Plenty preside o’er their plains,
While mem’ry exists, or while gratitude reigns,
His name ever lov’d, and remember’d shall be,
While Columbians remain INDEPENDENT and FREE.”
Rowson had written those words to the well-known air “Anacreon in Heaven”—which we’re more familiar with as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

COMING UP: Meanwhile, in Philadelphia…

Sunday, October 23, 2016

President Adams’s Birthday Celebrated—in Lisbon

Though there was no public observation of President John Adams’s birthday in Philadelphia in 1797, one branch of the small U.S. government definitely celebrated it.

William Loughton Smith was a fervent Federalist from Charleston, South Carolina. I was going to say he was one of the few men named William Smith in early America not related to Abigail Adams, but then I found that they were distant cousins; Abigail’s first patrilineal ancestor in America was William Loughton Smith’s great-great-grandfather.

During the election of 1796, Smith wrote (or perhaps collaborated with Oliver Wolcott, Jr., in writing) an attack on Thomas Jefferson signed “Phocion.” (Lately that has been ascribed to Alexander Hamilton, but contemporaries seem largely agreed that Smith was responsible; Jefferson and his circle even referred to him as “Phocion Smith.”)

As a reward for Smith, President Adams made him the U.S. minister to Portugal. On 21 Oct 1797 Smith wrote back from his new posting to James McHenry, the Secretary of War:
I wrote you since my return to Lisbon, & have therefore nothing to communicate but the account of the Dinner I gave on the 19th. to the Americans here to celebrate the President’s birth-day: I was not perfectly prepared for such an occasion having been only a fortnight in my house; thinking however that it was best to do the thing even imperfectly than to let the Day pass unnoticed, I exerted myself, & made out tolerably well. I enclose you an account of the Celebration which Fenno will publish I am sure with pleasure; the Toasts are on a Separate paper for your information; you will think them not worth publishing.

Among my Guests was a Captain Israel who informed me that he was the Son of the famous Israel Israel:—we were the best friends in the world; I have been told that there were two or three Jacobins [Democratic-Republicans?] present, but they all behaved extremely well; they joined in the Toasts with great zeal & we sang & were very merry; at first they were bashful, but when I set them the example of singing, they threw aside reserve & were very convivial.
The item that Smith wanted McHenry to give to John Fenno, the Boston-born editor of the Federalist Gazette of the United States, reported:
Thursday the 19th. October being the Anniversary of the President’s Birth, was celebrated at Lisbon by Mr. Smith, the Minister of the United States at that Court, who gave on the Occasion an Entertainment at his Hotel at Buenos-Ayres to a numerous and respectable Company of American Captains & Citizens. After sixteen patriotic Toasts intermixed with convivial songs, the Company, having spent the day with great good humor and festivity, broke up at nine o’clock, much pleased with the occasion, which had collected together so many Americans at such a distance from home. All the American vessels in the Harbour were gayly decorated during the day & at twelve o’clock a federal salute of sixteen guns was fired by some of them in honor of the day, and at five in the afternoon was repeated. This Anniversary occurring on a day, highly distinguished in the Annals of the American Revolution by the Surrender of York-town, the recollection of so auspicious an event could not fail to increase the happiness of the Company.
Of course, Smith was celebrating the 19th of October while Adams had long before adopted 30 October as his Gregorian-calendar birthday.

(Smith’s letter was undated when published in the Sewanee Review, but he must have written it in 1797 because that’s the only year in Adams’s administration when “the 19th. October” was a Thursday.)

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Celebrating the President’s Birthday One Last Time

On 22 Feb 1797, Philadelphia celebrated George Washington’s last birthday as President. He had declined to serve another term in the office. After the U.S. of A.’s first partisan election, Vice President John Adams had been elected in his place.

Washington furnished the Dancing Assembly of Philadelphia with this toast:
May the members thereof and the Fair who honor it with their presence long continue in the enjoyment of an amusement so innocent and agreeable.
(Well, the Fitzpatrick edition of Washington’s writings assigned that toast to that year. It may have been earlier.)

On 24 February, John wrote home to his wife Abigail, “The Birthday was affecting and the Night Splendid but tedious to those who were too old to dance.” Which no doubt included himself—though Washington, who enjoyed dancing, was older.

On 4 March, Adams became President. Almost immediately he began to tell people he didn’t want people to make such a big fuss about him. For example, six days later he wrote to Thomas Welsh:
The noisy Clamorous praises are not my object. If they come they will come unsolicited and unwished for, nay deprecated, Birth Night Balls and City dinners would be to me the most humiliating thing in the world, the Votes of Lancaster and York in Pennsylvania have to me a divine Charm than all the treats and Shows that Ever Existed, If any of them are bestowed on me it will be much against the inclination of your friend


You must keep these things in perfect Confidence.
And the day after that he wrote to Abigail about the inaugural ceremony and similar celebrations:
The Feast that Succeeded was one of those Things which are not to my Taste. I am glad you went—I went too. —But those Things give offence to the plain People of our Country, upon whose Friendship I have always depended. They are practised by the Elegant and the rich for their own Ends, which are not always the best. If I could have my Wish there should never be a Show or a feast made for the P. while I hold the office.—My Birth day happens when Congress will never Sit: so that I hope it will never be talked of. These are hints entre nous
Though Adams felt strongly about this issue, he wanted his disapproval to remain private. He might have feared that the people who had organized past ceremonies and Washington himself would feel slighted if they knew.

But the message must have gotten through because when 30 Oct 1797 came around there was no ball to celebrate President Adams’s birthday in Philadelphia.

TOMORROW: Traditions are hard to kill.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Abigail Adams at a Birthday Ball in Boston

In February 1797, the U.S. of A. made plans to celebrate George Washington’s last birthday as President. Some parts of the country were also eager to celebrate the new President who would take office in March, John Adams.

On 17 February, Abigail Adams received an invitation to a banquet and ball in Boston, along with one for her niece Louisa Catherine Smith. The next day, Abigail asked her daughter Nabby to pick out a new dress cap, “a good one proper for me, not a Girlish one.”

“I presume yu will have a Splnded Birth Day,” Abigail wrote to John in Philadelphia; “there are preparations making in Boston to celebrate it. . . . the Note from the Managers requested me to honour them with my attendance, which they should esteem a particular favour, as it is the last publick honour they can Shew the President. thus circumstanced I have determined to attend.”

The ball took place at the Federal Street Theatre, converted into “a magnificent saloon; sumptuously decorated with tapestry hangings; elegantly illuminated with variegated lamps; and fancifully embellished with festoons of artificial flowers.”

Gov. Samuel Adams didn’t attend, and I doubt anyone expected him to; he’d already expressed his disapproval of Boston’s flowering post-independence social scene. Lt. Gov. Moses Gill was deputed to escort in Mrs. Adams at noon. She reported, “His Honours politeness led him to stay untill he had conducted & Seated me at the Supper table. he however escaped as soon after as he could.”

All in all, however, Abigail was pleased with the event:
I do the Managers but Justice when I say, I never saw an assembly conducted with so much order regularity & propriety, I had every reason to be pleased with the marked respect and attention Shewn me. col [Samuel] Bradford, who is really the Beau Nash of ceremonies even marshalld his company [of Cadets], and like the Garter King at Arms calld them over as they proceeded into the Grand Saloon, hung with the prostrate Pride, of the Nobility of France.

[James] Swan had furnishd them with a compleat set of Gobelin Tapresty, as the Ladies only could be Seated at Table with about 20 or 30 of the principle Gentlemen the rest were requested to retire to the Boxes untill the Ladies had Supped, when they left the Table & took their Seats in the Boxes whilst the Gentlemen Sup’d all was order and Decency about half after one, the company returnd to the Ball Room, and I retired with those who accompanied me to the Ball. most of the rest of company remaind untill 4 oclock. . . .

the Seat assignd to the Lady of the President Elect was Hung with Gobeline Tapestry, and in the center of the Room, conspicuous only for the hanging, on my Right the manager placed the Lady of Judge [John] Lowel. and on my Left the Lady of Judge [Increase] Sumner. Judge [Francis] Dana, but not his Lady was present, when I was conducted into the Ball Room the Band were orderd to play the President March.

the Toast were only 6 in Number. . . . every toast save one made the Saloon resound with an universal Clap and a united huza. that was the vice President Elect, I was sorry it was so cold and faint,
Despite the Adamses’ political differences with Thomas Jefferson, Abigail still considered him a personal friend. She didn’t make her break with him until 1804 when she read James Thomson Callender’s revelations of how Jefferson had orchestrated press attacks on her husband while assuring the couple he did no such thing.

One lady, Abigail said, didn’t have a good time at the ball, feeling “mortified & placed in the back ground. . . . how could she expect any thing else?” That was “Mrs [Dorothy] Scott,” the remarried widow of the late governor John Hancock, no longer wife of the state’s most acclaimed politician.

TOMORROW: What President Adams thought of the Philadelphia ceremonies.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

“The Birth Day has been celebrated very sufficiently”

Boston 1775 has already explored the early American celebrations of George Washington’s birthday: when the first public ceremonies were reported, what date people chose to celebrate given the shift from Julian to Gregorian calendar since Washington’s birth, and what such celebrations meant for masculinity in Virginia.

When Washington became President, that birthday celebration turned into something very close to a national holiday. On 23 Feb 1796, John Adams reported to Abigail about the previous day’s observation in Philadelphia:
Yesterday was Birth Day and a Parade there was. At Night a magnificent Ball which you will read in the News Papers. A thousand People in a vast Room a Circle of 80 feet Diameter.
On 3 March he added an observation about the celebrations in Massachusetts; he had read about the preparations for them in a newspaper.
I see that at Boston and Cambridge &c. the Birth Day was celebrated with great Splendor as it was here. The old song is verified as I always said it would be. “The more he is envied the higher he[’]ll rise.” Increase of abuse will produce an increase of Salutation.
The editors of the Adams Papers identified the source of that quotation as a song published in London in 1788, the last year John and Abigail lived in Britain. It was “an old song” as John wrote, however. It appeared in The Weekly Amusement for 15 Feb 1735 (N.S.), and thus was older than he was. That version concluded: “Let’s merrily pass life’s remainder away; / Upheld by our friends, we our foes may despise; / For the more we are envy’d, the higher we rise.”

On 28 February, meanwhile, Abigail reported from Massachusetts:
you will see by the Centinel that the Presidents Birth Day Was celebrated, with more than usual Festivity in Boston, and many other places. in the Toasts drank, they have for once done justice to the V P. it is a Toast that looks, I conceive to a future contemplated event.
On 5 March she sent John her report from Quincy:
The Honours done to the President on his Birth Day have been very magnificent. At Boston and Cambridge very striking. Here it was all Dance and Glare. I suppose the Remembrance of the V. P. on those occasions considering that for the most part they forget him is with a View to the Reelection approaching.
Abigail expected Washington to be reelected later that year, and John to remain the party’s choice as Vice President, his talents neglected.

But on 9 March, John had some more observations to share:
The Birth Day has been celebrated very sufficiently. I have much doubt of the Propriety of these Celebrations. In Countries where Birth is respected and where Authority goes with it, there is congruity enough in such Feast: But in Elective Governments the Question is more doubtful. Probably the Practice will not be continued after another Year.
As John hinted, monarchies celebrated the birthdays of their heads of state. The President’s birthday was an echo of the king’s and queen’s birthdays during British rule, and he wasn’t entirely comfortable with that. The last sentence quoted hints at a bigger change: what John called on 1 March ”the Inclination of the Chief to retire,” though he added that Washington might yet be talked out of that plan.

In late February, Washington had spoken with Alexander Hamilton about drafting what became his Farewell Address. To be sure, they were starting with the draft of a similar statement the President had asked James Madison to draft four years before; Washington had then talked about retiring after one term and changed his mind. But this time, he really meant it. President Washington’s next birthday, in February 1797, would be his last in public office.

TOMORROW: The first transition, and what that meant for birthdays.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

John Adams Contemplates His Birthday

John Adams was born in Braintree on 19 Oct 1735, Old Style, which was 30 October, New Style. That shift was the result of the British Empire’s belated adoption of the Gregorian calendar.

Adams adopted the new date, but he remembered the old one, as shown by his diary entry for 19 Oct 1772:
The Day of the Month reminds me of my Birth day, which will be on the 30th. I was born Octr. 19. 1735. Thirty Seven Years, more than half the Life of Man, are run out.—What an Atom, an Animalcule I am!—The Remainder of my Days I shall rather decline, in Sense, Spirit, and Activity. My Season for acquiring Knowledge is past. And Yet I have my own and my Childrens Fortunes to make. My boyish Habits, and Airs are not yet worn off.
At thirty-seven Adams thought he’d lived half his life, and had a little crisis about it. In the preceding year he’d actually suffered a breakdown of his health or spirits. Following a very busy 1770 in Boston, he’d decided to retire from politics and move the family back to Braintree. He even felt bad enough to take some time off work for a trip all the way to the medicinal springs at Stafford, Connecticut.

But within a month after that birthday in 1772, Adams was resolving:
I shall remove my Family to Boston, after residing in Braintree about 19 Months. I have recovered a Degree of Health by this Excursion into the Country, tho I am an infirm Man yet. I hope I have profited by Retirement and Reflection!—and learned in what manner to live in Boston! How long I shall be able to stay in the City, I know not; if my Health should again decline, I must return to Braintree and renounce the Town entirely. I hope however to be able to stay there many Years!
He had more than half a century ahead of him.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Looking at Brooklyn Then and Now

While speaking in Morristown last week, I had the pleasure of meeting Jason R. Wickersty, a National Park Service ranger.

He just wrote an article about the Battle of Brooklyn for the latest issue of Hallowed Ground, the magazine of the Civil War Trust: “Lost Battlefield: The Disastrous Battle for New York.”

Wickersty provides a straightforward account of what led up to that major battle and how it turned out. Here’s a taste:
The opening gambit came on August 22, 1776. Covered by the guns of five men-of-war, 15,000 British and Hessian soldiers made an amphibious landing at Gravesend Bay on the southwestern shore of Long Island. The plan, conceived by General Henry Clinton, was to split the army into three divisions. Two divisions would make feints directly against the Americans entrenched on the wooded hills of the Heights of Guana (in the area of Greenwood Cemetery and Prospect Park today). The largest division, 10,000 men personally under the command of General Clinton, would take an unguarded pass on the left of the American line and turn the flank by surprise.

When battle was joined on August 27, the plan worked perfectly. The British smashed through American positions, sending the mostly raw troops fleeing for their lives. Washington watched helplessly from Brooklyn Heights as a regiment of Marylanders sacrificed themselves in repeated charges to buy time for the routed army to escape, lamenting, “What brave fellows must I lose this day!”
Wickersty also took the photograph above of one place where the Maryland regiment fought, now public basketball courts. That change illustrates the theme of this magazine—that some important American battlefields have already been “lost,” in the sense of not being commemorated as parkland or visible memorials.

Of course, the process of putting those lands back into productive use started early. Most of the earthworks that surrounded besieged Boston were plowed under within a generation or two; the Dana family of Cambridge was unusual in preserving a few in what is now a city park. A few decades after the war, there was new public interest in putting up memorials, such as the big obelisk for Bunker Hill and the smaller obelisk at Concord’s North Bridge. Meanwhile, America’s population, and especially its urban population, was growing tremendously.

The idea of preserving great swaths of landscape more or less as they looked during the time of a battle—our modern idea of “hallowed ground”—is made possible by our move away from an agricultural economy. And it’s worked best in rural or semi-rural areas. A place like Charlestown or Brooklyn has been changed for good. Fort Stanwix is an exceedingly rare example of recreating an eighteenth-century landscape within a city, and that city had to hit hard times first.

Brooklyn, in contrast, has been bustling for decades, and never more vibrant than today. Indeed, Brooklyn has fed far more into American culture than that disastrous battle of 1776, and our image of it probably has a lot to do with public basketball courts.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dedication of Dr. Joseph Warren Graveside Statue, 22 Oct.

On Saturday, 22 October, a local group of Freemasons will host a ceremony to dedicate a new statue of Dr. Joseph Warren at his latest gravesite in Forest Hills Cemetery.

Those Freemasons, working with Warren descendants and the cemetery, commissioned the statue from Robert Shure of Skylight Studios in Woburn. Its general design is inspired by the Paul Wayland Bartlett statue of Warren which Boston originally installed in Warren Square and is now at the Roxbury Latin School, as discussed here.

Warren biographer Sam Forman has shared Robert Vartanian’s article about the creation of this new statue on his website, starting here.

The dedication ceremony will take place at the gravesite, rain or shine. There will be no seating, so anyone who attends will have to be able to stand for up to two hours. There will be remarks by the local Masonic Grand Master and a representative of the Warren family, and “a Masonic carpet ceremony.”

I understand the public is welcome to attend this dedication ceremony. However, the organizers also ask people to register in advance so they can tell the cemetery how many people to expect. Registering starts by going to this site, but the only way to register there appears to require being a Freemason or knowing the movement’s imagery. (Flyers about the ceremony saying “public invited” cycle through the event announcements on the right side of that page.)

ADDENDUM: Here’s the Eventbrite page for registering to attend if one is not a Freemason.

The address of the cemetery for driving purposes is 95 Forest Hills Avenue in the Jamaica Plain section of Boston.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

“How the Cambridge Alarm Led to the Concord Fight,” in Cambridge, 20 Oct.

Last March I spoke at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site about “The End of Tory Row.” That talk was about that Cambridge neighborhood in the early 1770s, defined by one extended family of wealthy Anglican sugar-plantation owners. Their comfortable community came to an abrupt end on 2 Sept 1774.

On Thursday, 20 October, I’m returning to the Longfellow–Washington site to tell the next chapter of that story: “How the Cambridge Alarm Led to the Concord Fight.” Like the story of the “Tory Row” neighborhood, that narrative also involves extended family networks. The Road to Concord includes a dive into the family of young Samuel Gore, including his brothers-in-law Thomas Crafts and Moses Grant, to see why they became ready to rebel. But there are other families I could have traced out the same way.

Let’s take George Trott (1741-1780), a jeweler and goldsmith in Boston. Trott and Crafts were both members of the “Loyall Nine” who organized the public protests against the Stamp Act in 1765. Trott became the second-in-command of the train, Boston’s militia artillery company, while Crafts was the third-ranking officer.

Trott married Ann Boylston Cunningham (1745-1810), daughter of James and Elizabeth Cunningham. Her youngest sibling, Andrew (1760-1829), was the teen-aged assistant to South Writing School master Samuel Holbrook in September 1774. That’s when the train’s four small brass cannon disappeared, two of them from a building right next to the school. Coincidence? I doubt it. (I’ll describe who removed those cannon and how in my talk.)

By early 1775 those four brass cannon had been smuggled out of Boston to Lemuel Robinson’s tavern in Dorchester. Robinson (1736-1776) was an obvious choice to hide those guns. He was the captain of the militia artillery company for Suffolk County outside Boston, and he was active in the Whig movement. He put Liberty Tree on his tavern sign and hosted Boston’s Sons of Liberty at a big dinner in 1769.

Was there a family connection between Trott and Robinson? Robinson was raised in Dorchester by his maternal grandfather, Thomas Trott (1685-1762). George Trott’s father was also named Thomas Trott (1705-), a blacksmith of Boston. Genealogists have had trouble sorting out or connecting those families, though.

Robinson’s wife was born Jerusha Minot in 1734. Her brother named John (1730-1805) had a son he named George—i.e., Lemuel and Jerusha’s nephew—in 1755. A tradition in Roxbury published as early as 1835 credits a George Minot, son of John, with helping to smuggle two of the train’s four cannon out of Boston. Coincidence? Well, I’m not so convinced by the Minot stories, but if he was involved I’m sure the Robinson-Minot family network played a role. (A Dawes-Williams family network was definitely involved in moving cannon, as I’ll explain.)

My talk at the Longfellow–Washington site, 105 Brattle Street in Cambridge, starts at 6:30 P.M. (Stretches of Brattle Street open up for free parking at 6:00.) We’ll have copies of The Road to Concord for sale and signing afterward. To reserve seats in the carriage house, please call (617) 876-4491 or email reservationsat105@gmail.com.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

John Adams Views Trumbull’s Painting of the Congress

In 1818 the Revolutionary War veteran and painter John Trumbull came to Boston to exhibit his depiction of the Continental Congress considering the Declaration of Independence.

Josiah Quincy, son of the Patriot lawyer of the same name, was then between his terms in the U.S. House and his terms as the mayor of Boston. That gave him time on 4 December to accompany Trumbull out to Quincy to dine with John Adams, the figure at the center of that painting.

Quincy’s diary entries, published in his son Edmund’s The Life of Josiah Quincy, described some conversation on that trip:
Trumbull, a gentleman of the old school, greatly delighted at the patronage given by the national Legislature to the series of his paintings commemorating four great national events.

The conversation turned on the character of Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin. Adams said, that the suggestion made against Dr. Franklin, as not being hearty in his support of the Declaration of Independence, was a calumny. To his knowledge, he supported that measure at its earliest period, with energy and perfect devotion.

Adams said, that he was present at the sittings of the Royal Academy of France, when Voltaire and Franklin both attended. As each appeared, the hall rang with acclamations. They approached each other. The cry was, “Let them embrace, let them embrace!” They accordingly began to hug and kiss. The room rang with, “Behold, Sophocles and Solon are embracing each other!”
That meeting occurred on 29 Apr 1778, as recorded in Adams’s diary. Voltaire died one month later.

The next day, Adams made the reverse trip to Boston. Quincy wrote:
President Adams came to town to view the “Declaration of Independence,” by Colonel Trumbull, now exhibiting at Faneuil Hall. President Adams, Trumbull, Prof. Farrar, Wm. S. Shaw, dined with me. Colonel Trumbull said, that every portrait in his picture was taken from a real sitting of the individual, or from some existing picture of him, except that of Benjamin Harrison, which was only from general description, received from his son, the recently distinguished General [William Henry] Harrison.

Adams said, that the portrait bore a general resemblance, but was not sufficiently corpulent. He well remembered, that, when engaged in signing the Declaration of Independence, a side conversation took place between Harrison, who was remarkably corpulent, and Elbridge Gerry, who was remarkably the reverse. “Ah, Gerry,” said Harrison, “I shall have an advantage over you in this act.” “How so?” said Gerry. “Why,” replied Harrison, “when we come to be hung for this treason, I am so heavy, I shall plump down upon the rope and be dead in an instant; but you are so light, that you will be dangling and kicking about for an hour in the air.”
Dr. Benjamin Rush had put this story into a letter to Adams in 1811, as quoted here.

Quincy’s son and biographer Edmund, ten years old in 1818, added:
I well remember being one of the party which accompanied Mr. Adams to see Trumbull’s picture. Faneuil Hall was full of spectators when we arrived, and what impressed the scene upon my boyish memory was the respectful manner in which all the men took off their hats when Mr. Adams entered leaning on my mother’s arm, and remained uncovered while he stayed. Room was made for him by common consent, so that he could see the picture to the best advantage. He seemed carried back to his prime of manhood, and to the most famous scene of his life, and he gave his warm approval to the picture as a correct representation of the Convention. “There is the door,” said he, “through which Washington escaped when I nominated him as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army!”
(I think there’s reason to doubt Adams’s memory on that point, which I’ll write about some day.)
This picture must be always interesting as an authentic collection of portraits, and an accurate representation of the Hall of Independence; and it pretends to be nothing more. At one time a shade of ridicule attached to this painting, because of John Randolph’s splenetic description of it as “a great shin-piece!”—a most groundless sarcasm, as any one may see who will be at the trouble of counting first the heads and then the shins it portrays. That part of the subject is certainly as well managed as possible, if the venerable signers are to be allowed any legs at all.

Friday, October 14, 2016

“Remarks, injurious to the Reputation of General Ward”

Yesterday I described how a sixteen-year-old letter from George Washington was published in 1792, showing the public some less than flattering comments on Artemas Ward, his predecessor as head of the American army outside Boston.

At the time, both Washington and Ward were holding federal office in Philadelphia, the first as President and the second as a Representative from Massachusetts. Awkward.

How did Ward react to that revelation? I think we can be sure that he confronted Washington about the letter because multiple people in the nineteenth century described him doing so. But we can’t be sure of how that confrontation really went because none of those descriptions was first-hand. The two men probably had a frosty exchange of words, of the sort that might have sent younger men to the dueling field, but they were discreet enough to keep their disagreement to themselves.

Here are the three surviving versions of what happened. The first came from a letter that Christopher Gore, then a former governor of Massachusetts, wrote to Ward’s son on 22 Jan 1819:
In conversation with our late Friend Samuel Dexter, and not many months before his Death, He mentioned to me, that your Father, who was a Representative in Congress, at the same time with himself, invariably attended President Washington’s Levees, in Philadelphia, and as invariably declined the President’s Invitation to Dinner, which He occasionally received during the Sessions.

This conduct, on the part of General Ward, was owing, as He Mr Dexter conceived, to a Letter published in the early part of the revolutionary war, which contained Remarks, injurious to the Reputation of General Ward, and purported to have been written by General Washington. On the subject of this Letter perfect Silence was observed by General Washington, until He had retired from public Life, and he had declined any further Election to the Supreme Magistracy of the Union.

He then wrote to General Ward, declaring to Him, in the most explicit Language, that He did not write the Letter, nor ever knew of it until its Publication in the Newspapers. He apologized, at the same time, for not having done this act before, which He considered equally due to General Ward & to Himself, from a Resolution that He judged prudent to adopt at the Commencement of the War, in Respect to every Publication that sought to embroil Him with the Officers civil or military of the U. States.

This Letter at the same Time expressed, in unequivocal Terms, the highest Regard for the character & Conduct of General Ward, in all the Departments of public Duty, in which He had acted. Genl. Washington further stated, that, although He had refrained from having written, or spoken on this Subject, He had always Kept among his Papers a Certificate of like Purport with the Communication then made, to be used in case of his Death, before the Circumstances of his Life prevented his doing what He had then done.
Having inferred from some Conversation with you, that this Fact was unknown, I have taken the Liberty to relate it precisely, according to my Recollection, as I had it from Mr Dexter.
No such letter or certificate survives in either the Ward papers or the Washington papers.

The second comes from the Reminiscences of the Reverend George Allen, published soon after his death in 1883:
Ward was a man of incorruptible integrity. Of his bravery there is no question, although Washington accused him of cowardice in leaving the service before Boston. Benjamin Stone, the first preceptor of Leicester Academy [and a correspondent of Ward who died in 1832], gave me the following account of Ward’s misunderstanding with Washington. Soon after the establishment of the Government at New York, Ward, then a member of Congress, came into possession of a letter written by Washington, in which the offensive charge was made. He immediately proceeded to the President’s house, placed the paper before him, and asked him if he was the author of it. Washington looked at the letter and made no reply. Ward said, “I should think that the man who was base enough to write that, would be base enough to deny it,” and abruptly took his leave.
And the third is from the not-always-reliable local historian Samuel A. Drake in Historic Fields and Mansions of Middlesex (1874):
It is well known that Washington spoke of the resignation of General Ward, after the evacuation of Boston, in a manner , approaching contempt. His observations, then confidentially made, about some of the other generals, were not calculated to flatter their amour propre or that of their descendants. It is said that General Ward, learning long afterwards the remark that had been applied to him, accompanied by a friend, waited on his old chief at New York, and asked him if it was true that he had used such language. The President replied that he did not know, but that he kept copies of all his letters, and would take an early opportunity of examining them. Accordingly, at the next session of Congress (of which General Ward was a member), he again called with his friend, and was informed by the President that he had really written as alleged. Ward then said, “Sir, you are no gentleman” and turning on his heel quitted the room.
Drake offered no source for who told this story.

If I had to guess, I’d say Ward did confront Washington privately, one senior gentleman to another, and told him what he wrote in 1776 was rude and hurtful. Washington, knowing that was correct, did not argue. Whether he later wrote a letter or certificate attesting to Ward’s good qualities but never sent it seems less likely; Washington preferred to let things lie.

The two men remained distant colleagues. Ward, despite being older and suffering from paralytic strokes, outlived Washington by ten months.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Ward and Washington

When George Washington arrived in Cambridge on 2 July 1775, he took over command from Gen. Artemas Ward. The Continental Congress made Ward its second-ranking general.

There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that Ward resented having Gen. Washington installed over him. He was a politician as well as a military man, and he was probably aware of the Massachusetts delegates’ hope to secure the other colonies’ support for a Continental Army by letting them name its commander-in-chief.

During the siege of Boston Washington gave Ward command of the southern wing of the American line. The Massachusetts general had overseen the Battle of Bunker Hill, the event that convinced the British army commanders there was nothing to be gained by staying in Boston. (Gen. William Howe stayed over the winter only because it took so long for the government in London to agree with that strategy.) Ward was also the chief voice for putting cannon on Dorchester Heights, the move that eventually made Howe sail away. So Ward’s contributions were crucial to the success of that first campaign.

Yet he rubbed Washington the wrong way. I sometimes wonder if Washington didn’t get along with Ward because they were too similar in some ways and too different in others. Most of the other generals were significantly older (Spencer, Putnam, Thomas) or younger (Sullivan, Heath, Greene). But Ward was in his forties, just a few years older than Washington. Both men had been provincial colonels during the French & Indian War, seeing major British campaigns in a subordinate capacity. Both were highly respected gentlemen and legislators in their home colonies.

Yet Ward had the qualities that New England respected: a Harvard education, Calvinist piety. He was conscientious and cautious, moving carefully to be certain he was moving in the right direction, a leader through finding consensus rather than bold strokes. Washington was a Virginian. He had no college education, and he was more philosophical than religious. Especially in those early years of the war, he liked bold strokes. He kept proposing bold strokes against the British inside Boston. And all the other generals, with Ward speaking first as the highest-ranking, kept voting him down.

By the end of the siege, Washington didn’t have much respect for his second-in-command. On 1 Apr 1776 he told his former military secretary Joseph Reed that “Nothing of Importance has occurr’d—in these parts” except perhaps for Ward resigning and then rescinding his resignation:
on Acct, as he says, of its being disagreeable to some of the Officers—who those Officers are I have not heard. I have not enquired—When the Application to Congress & notice of it to me, came to hand, I was disarm’d of Interposition because it was put upon the footing of Duty, or conscience, the General being perswaded, that his health would not allow him to take that share of Duty that his Office required. the Officers to whom the resignation is disagreeable have been able, no doubt, to convince him of his mistake, and that his health will admit him to be alert and Active—I shall leave him till he can determine Yea or nay, to Command in this Quarter.
Washington was even more caustic in comments to Gen. Charles Lee on 9 May:
General Ward, upon the Evacuation of Boston, and finding that there was a probability of his removing from the smoke of his own Chimney, applied to me, & wrote to Congress, for leave to Resign—A few days afterwards (some of the Officers, as he says, getting uneasy at the prospect of his leaving them) he applied for his Letter of Resignation, which had been committed to my care; but behold! it had been carefully forwarded, and as I have since learnt judg’d so reasonable—want of health being the Plea—that it was instantly complied with.
Lee evidently brought out the cattiness in the commander-in-chief.

As it turned out, the Congress accepted Ward’s offer to stay on—though it kept him away from Washington. Gen. Ward oversaw the “Eastern Department,” or New England, until March 1777, when he reported that the region was so quiet that he didn’t deserve his salary and stepped down. Later, in 1780-82, Ward represented Massachusetts in the Continental Congress itself.

Meanwhile, at the end of 1776 Washington learned that Lee and Reed were writing about him critically behind his back. He never wholly trusted either man again. As a result, his later letters to those men aren’t nearly so fun.

Ten years after Lee died in 1782, a former Congress delegate from Georgia named Edward Langworthy published Memoirs of the Life of the Late Charles Lee. That book included some of the late general’s correspondence—including Washington’s May 1776 letter that referred to Ward in less than flattering terms.

When that letter became public in 1792, Ward was serving the first of his two terms in the new U.S. Congress. Generally he voted with the Federalists and President Washington. But now they had a personal matter to sort out.

TOMORROW: Two former generals in one room.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Goddard Boys and the Convention Army

Nathaniel Goddard was born in 1767, son of a Brookline farmer who would serve as wagon-master of the Continental Army during the siege of Boston. Nathaniel grew up to be a merchant in Boston and left recollections published in a 1908 biography by Henry G. Pickering.

Here’s a choice extract about how he and his brothers got to see the only British army to march through Massachusetts after April 1775:
About the middle of October, 1777, I being about ten years of age, news came of [John] Burgoyne’s surrender of his whole army to General [Horatio] Gates. Burgoyne’s army consisted in part of Hessians hired by England from a petty prince of Germany to fight her battles. We learned the day on which they were to pass through Watertown to Cambridge, where some of our troops were stationed.

Joseph, Benjamin, myself and Jonathan were digging potatoes in a piece of land called Woodward Meadow, when our father came out and told us that if we wished we might leave the potatoes and go to Watertown and see them pass. Joseph was about sixteen years old, Benjamin was eleven, I ten, and Jonathan seven. We were principally barefoot with long jackets and long trousers, and mostly had straw hats.

We started at the moment with all expedition for Watertown, and certainly we lost no time, but on arriving there we were informed that they had passed. We started again, running much of the way, Joseph ahead, Benjamin next, I next, and Jonathan in the rear almost out of sight but never quite so, with his straw hat in his hand, having little if any rim to it; he held on by the crown and certainly ran well for one of his age.

We followed the road down towards Cambridge and soon came up with the troops. They were sitting by the side of the road on the wall, the officers on horseback, and all guarded by American soldiers, some on the flanks, some in the rear, and, I believe, a few in front. Here was the greatest sight we had ever witnessed. When we came up with them they were eating their dinner, after which they again moved on and we followed them, passing through the lines and then waiting again for them to come up. There did not appear to be many lookers on till we reached Cambridge.

After the troops and prisoners had passed and got to their barracks, we started for home, following the road from thence to Brookline. . . . I never was so tired as when mounting Bradlee’s Hill. Suffice it to say that we all reached home safe, but tired enough. I well remember that on questioning us which road we took and where we went, the folks at home summed up the several distances and concluded that they amounted to between fifteen and sixteen miles, during which time we had nothing to eat and our breakfast had been very early.

The next day to our potatoes again.
After rereading that, I had to look up what happened to Jonathan, the littlest brother.

Jonathan Goddard was born in November 1769, so he was about a month short of eight years old when the prisoners came into Cambridge. But he survived that day to grow up and manage “a commodious hardware store” in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in a brick building owned by his oldest brother John (who in the fall of 1777 was already up in that town studying medicine). Jonathan married in Portsmouth, but he died four years later, in 1807, without having had children.