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, March 31, 2017

“The story is told…”

As I’ve been discussing, James McHenry recorded in his diary an anecdote about Benjamin Franklin, Elizabeth Powel, and the results of the Constitutional Convention of 1787. And then he changed that story when he published it over a decade later.

McHenry wasn’t the last author to reshape the anecdote. His original notes were published in 1906 and reprinted in 1911, both times in authoritative publications. The tale those notes told was stark and simple:
A lady asked Dr. Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it. [Footnote:] The lady here aluded to was Mrs. Powel of Philada.
But when authors retold that story in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, they added unsubstantiated details which gave new coloring to the exchange. Here’s a sampling of reteilings culled from Google.

The University of Chicago Magazine in 1940:
When the delegates were going out onto the cobble streets of Philadelphia, prepared to celebrate on “capon and wine,” as the record reads, Ben Franklin walked ahead. A window opened and a lady put her head out and said, “Dr. Franklin, what is it—a monarchy or a republic?” He stopped and said, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
At the 1940 Republican Convention:
As soon therefore as the sage appeared upon the steps of this historic building a woman stepped out of the watching crowd, approached him eagerly and asked “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?”
[In 1940 Franklin D. Roosevelt’s decision to run for a third term raised the specter of monarchy again. Ironically, Powel was the person who had convinced George Washington to serve more than one term as President in 1792.]

Sarah Watson Emery, Blood on the Old Well (1963):
When a lady asked Benjamin Franklin as he left the Convention, “What have you given us, Mr. Franklin?” he replied, “A republic, Madam, if you can keep it!”
At the 1968 Republican National Convention:
When they got ready to go home, Benjamin Franklin, over eighty years old, was the first to leave Constitution Hall. A concerned citizen was there and said to him, “Dr. Franklin, what have we got—a monarchy or a Republic?” Without hesitation that venerable old sage said, “A Republic—if you can keep it.”
Michael P. Riccards, A Republic, If You Can Keep It (1987):
Legend has it that as the aged statesman shuffled down the streets of Philadelphia, an inquisitive woman stopped him and asked, "What have you given us?” And Franklin is supposed to have responded, “A Republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”
Richard Labunski, James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights (2006):
The story is told that when Franklin left the Assembly Room, a woman approached him and asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” To which Franklin replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
Walter Isaacson, Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003):
According to a tale recorded by James McHenry of Maryland, he [Franklin] made his point in a pithier way to an anxious lady named Mrs. Powel, who accosted him outside the hall. What type of government, she asked, have you delegates given us? To which he replied, “A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”
Eric Metaxas, If You Can Keep It (2016):
McHenry wrote that when Benjamin Franklin emerged from the building that day, he was accosted by a certain Mrs. Powell of Philadelphia. Whether she was a young women or a dowager we don’t know. He was then eighty-one years old, the oldest delegate. . . . for all we know, he knew this now-mythical and otherwise forgotten Mrs. Powell, who has come to stand for all of America since the day when she spoke to Franklin in a tone that seems to bespeak some degree of familiarity.

According to McHenry, Mrs. Powell put her question to Franklin directly: “Well, doctor,” she asked him, “what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?“

Franklin, who was rarely short of words or wit, shot back: “A republic, madam—if you can keep it.”
What are the major trends in these retellings?
  • Powel’s position as wife of a Philadelphia politician, host of important political discussions, and trusted advisor to Washington is erased. She instead appears as a “concerned citizen,” “inquisitive woman,” or “anxious lady”—plus “now-mythical.”
  • The exchange, rather than happening in Powel’s salon, takes place out in the street, sometimes with a crowd watching. The woman’s role is often transgressive. In one case, she calls out her window. In two others she “accosted” the elderly Franklin with her question.
  • In a couple of versions, Powel doesn’t ask, “What have we got?” but “What have you given us?” That suggests a top-down grant to the nation from the delegates rather than a milestone in an ongoing political process.
  • Powel’s original worry about “a republic or a monarchy” is dropped, as in McHenry’s own retellings, in favor of worry about the fragility of republics.
All in all, I’m inclined to believe that the exchange between Powel and Franklin happened as McHenry first recorded it, with the additional detail he published in 1811 that it happened on Franklin “entering the room”—most likely a room where Powel was hosting a political conversation. I think Elizabeth Powel deserves to be remembered a bit more. And I think we have to be careful about all the other things we’ve probably read about this oft-told story.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

“The all important Subject was frequently discussed at our House”

On 21 May 1814, Elizabeth Powel wrote to a relative named Martha Hare, commenting about an exchange with Benjamin Franklin from twenty-seven years before.

I haven’t seen this letter in full, only the phrases that David W. Maxey quoted in his article “A Portrait of Elizabeth Willing Powell (1743-1830),” published in Transactions of the American Philosophical Society in 2006. So I don’t know what Powel was responding to—what question or version of the story.

Maxey wrote:
Elizabeth Powel admitted embarrassment in denying “a conversation supposed to have passed between Dr. Franklin and myself respecting the goodness, and probable permanence of the constitution of these United States.” A similar version of the tale had been published to her knowledge “in Poulson’s Paper, I forget of what date,” while another she traced to “the late secretary of War.”
Powel was right in linking the story to a “late secretary of War”—that was James McHenry’s role in the Adams administration, and he was the author of The Three Patriots, an 1811 political pamphlet that featured the anecdote. I haven’t found the story reprinted in Zachariah Poulson’s Daily Advertiser, but it did appear in at least one other Philadelphia newspaper eleven years before Powel wrote, so she might easily have misremembered.

Maxey’s summary resumed:
Though she had no memory of accosting Franklin in this manner or of his memorable rejoinder, if indeed he delivered it, she retained a clear recollection of having “associated with the most respectable, influential Members of the Convention that framed the Constitution, and that the all important Subject was frequently discussed at our House.” If so, a hostess always intrigued by political matters may have been complicit in a breach of the rule of strict secrecy that bound the delegates in their deliberations. And if such indiscreet disclosures had occurred in her drawing room, what need would there have been to descend in the public street on “the justly venerated patriotic, philanthropist Dr. Franklin” for information already obtained at home?
I’m not sure whether Powel was really addressing the idea of a conversation “in the public street” or if that was Maxey responding to how the story was told in the 1900s. Likewise, Maxey appears to have been more concerned with the Convention’s “rule of strict secrecy” than Powel.

McHenry’s 1811 telling of the story said the exchange started with Franklin “entering the room.” (His 1803 version specified no setting.) That fits just fine with Powel’s recall of conversations “at our House.” McHenry set the anecdote after the Framers had voted to publish their proposal for a new Constitution at the Convention’s close. Secrecy was therefore no longer an issue.

All in all, Maxey’s presentation suggests the exchange with Franklin never happened. Maybe there are sentences in Powel’s letter to confirm that point. But the quoted lines say simply that she didn’t remember that conversation because she had been part of so many discussions with so many delegates.

It’s also possible that Powel didn’t recall the exchange because the version she had been presented with was so different from the conversation that actually took place in 1787. As I’ve noted, McHenry originally recorded a question of whether the new Constitution would turn the American republic into a monarchy; that had morphed into a question of whether the American people could withstand the temptations of a democracy.

Another possible factor in Powel’s response was her own political positioning. She had been a close friend and advisor of President George Washington. McHenry probably knew that, and may therefore have expected her to share his Federalist understanding of the exchange with Franklin. But Powel tried to keep the President above the sniping between the Hamiltonian and Jeffersonian factions of the 1790s. And in the way McHenry had published the story, he was pulling her onto one side.

Because Powel’s letter wasn’t published until Maxey’s article in 2006, it probably didn’t affect discussion of the anecdote in the preceding century. But Powel would indeed have been displeased by how authors have portrayed her.

TOMORROW: The anxious lady.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

“Dr. Franklin…met with Mrs. Powel”

In 1811, an anonymous pamphlet appeared in Baltimore titled The Three Patriots, Or, the Cause and Cure of Present Evils: Addressed to the Voters of Maryland. It was an attack on Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe.

Sixty-five years later, Frederick J. Brown’s Sketch of the Life of Dr. James McHenry identified the author of The Three Patriots as James McHenry, Secretary of War in the Federalist administration of John Adams. As I’ve discussed in the past few days, McHenry also appears to have written a series of newspaper essays in 1803 titled “The Mirror.”

And, just as in “The Mirror,” in The Three Patriots McHenry pulled out the anecdote he’d written in his 1787 journal about Benjamin Franklin commenting on the Constitution. And the story had changed yet again:
The day the convention finished their labours, and before the constitution was promulgated, Dr. Franklin, who was a member of that body, met with Mrs. Powel, of Philadelphia, a lady remarkable for her understanding and wit.

“Well, Doctor,” said the lady on his entering the room, “We are happy to see you abroad again: pray what have we got?”

“A republic, madam, if you can keep it.”

“And why not keep a good thing,” said the lady, “when we have got it?”

“Because madam,” replied the Doctor, “there is in all republics a certain ingredient, of which the people having once tasted, think they can never get enough.”
The twenty-six-word anecdote that McHenry had written into his journal of the Constitutional Convention had, after nearly a quarter-century, grown into a firmly spelled out warning against popular democracy. This version gave more words to both Franklin and the lady from Philadelphia.

Most striking, The Three Patriots publicly named “Mrs. Powel” as a figure in this exchange for the first time, and politically savvy readers would have immediately recognized that to mean Elizabeth Powel, widow of a Philadelphia mayor.

What’s more, that story didn’t just stay in The Three Patriots. The 1 Nov 1811 Salem Gazette reprinted the anecdote (with slightly different wording and punctuation, and the name spelled “Mrs. Powell”). Other newspapers might also have picked it up. Which meant Elizabeth Powel could not ignore it.

TOMORROW: The lady from Philadelphia responds.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

“We pronounce it to be an impudent forgery”

Two days ago I quoted an article signed “The Mirror” from the 15 July 1803 Republican newspaper of Baltimore.

Over the next month the same essay was reprinted in other Federalist periodicals:
  • Middlebury (Vermont) Mercury, 3 Aug 1803.
  • Spectator (New York), 7 Aug 1803.
  • Alexandria Advertiser, 8 Aug 1803.
  • Newburyport Herald, 9 Aug 1803.
(Five years later, on 18 Aug 1808, the piece reappeared in Baltimore’s North American and Mercantile Daily Advertiser, possibly pulled out of a leftover copy of the original newspaper.)

The target of the essay, the Aurora of Philadelphia, was not so positive about it, of course. On 18 August it published the third in the series titled “A Vindication of the Democratic Constitutions of America.” This was probably the work of the newspaper’s editor, William Duane (1760-1835, shown here). The essay’s main point was, “there is no disagreement on the fact that a democracy is a republic.” [And indeed, even today people have difficulty defining the difference between a republic and any form of democracy that’s not a pure democracy.]

The “Mirror” essayist had foolishly claimed those were different, the Aurora stated, and:
The writer who could be capable of such disingenuity and fraudulent misquotation, is open to the reasonable suspicion of every other fraud which would tend to serve his purpose. Of this character we consider an anecdote, which the Anti Democrat gives in the paper of the 15th June [sic], and which we shall copy here at once to protest against it as spurious and to show that its hostility is aimed at republican government, and, at the reputation of the man above all others least likely to belie the principles and political pursuits of his whole life.
The Aurora then quoted the Republican’s anecdote about Benjamin Franklin and the lady at the end of the Constitutional Convention before responding:
The republic here alluded to is the constitution of the U. States now existing. It is well known that Dr. Franklin tho he approved of the constitution altogether, would have preferred a variation in its parts. He held that the president should be elected directly by the people, in the same mode as members of congress are elected; and that the senate should have been chosen not by the filtration of the state legislature, but that an extra number of members, from each state should be chosen to the house and representatives and that the senate should be elected out of that house.

Any man who refers to the former constitution of Pennsylvania, will find that Dr. Franklin did not think a free people could have too much or more than would do them good of republicanism. The anecdote has no foundation, we pronounce it to be an impudent forgery. But it shews that the Anti Democrat is as hostile to American republicanism under one name as under another.
The Aurora had some claim to know what Franklin would have said since it had been founded by his grandson and protégé, Benjamin Franklin Bache. Duane himself wasn’t a Franklin descendant, but he had married Bache’s widow.

The Aurora’s attack on “The Mirror” essay, and the anecdote about Franklin in particular, produced this defense in the 9 December Republican:
This anecdote “The Editor” pronounces to be “without foundation, and an impudent forgery;” though no more than a mere concurrence with the universally received opinion, that men are more inclined to extend than to shorten the line of the liberty.

Who is this “Editor”? and how did he come by this information? The Doctor [Franklin] is dead, but the lady who related the anecdote is yet living, and of unsullied veracity. We should mention her name were it proper for us, to bring it into collision with his. We feel, however, assured, that she will, of her own free motion, confirm the anecdote, should accident at any time, bring to her knowledge that it had been questioned.

It is foreign to the nature of our subject to discuss the merits or demerits of Doctor Franklin’s politics. We shall only observe, that the Doctor was often happy in the adaptation of short and pithy sayings to passing events; and that the one in question, was not the only good thing the constitution drew from him. We still remember his story with the French lady, related in the convention, who, like “the Editor”, was, some how or other, always in the right.
That response was clearly from the same author as the 15 July article—Dr. James McHenry. Like the original essay, it carried the headline “The Mirror” and was festooned with classical footnotes.

Furthermore, McHenry came close to dropping the façade of pseudonymity to invoke personal authority. By writing, “We still remember his story with the French lady, related in the convention,” he hinted that he had been at the Convention himself. And he was publicly inviting Elizabeth Powel to “of her own free motion, confirm the anecdote.” But at this point, the argument was a draw.

TOMORROW: The story evolves again.

Monday, March 27, 2017

How Dr. McHenry Operated on His Anecdote

As Dr. James McHenry first recorded the story of Elizabeth Powel, Benjamin Franklin, and the new Constitution in his journal, it was only twenty-six words. This was the entire exchange he wrote down (exact words, different formatting):
Powel: Well, Doctor what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?

Franklin: A republic, if you can keep it.
However, when McHenry made the story public in the 15 July 1803 Republican, or Anti-Democrat newspaper, it had evolved. Now the exchange was:
Powel: Well, Doctor, what have we got?

Franklin: A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.

Powel: And why not keep it?

Franklin: Because the people, on tasting the dish, are always disposed to eat more of it than does them good.
In 1787, Powel was concerned that the new Constitution, with its new national executive, would produce a “monarchy” instead of a republic. But by 1803 the word “monarchy,” which critics had thrown at the Washington and Adams administrations in the 1790s, had vanished from McHenry’s story.

The new version also added a lot more words: an explicit warning that “the people” could ruin the republic if they “eat more of it than does them good.” Again, that reflects Federalist thinking. A story of Powel worrying about monarchy had become a story about Franklin (now conveniently dead) worrying about democracy.

Now it’s true that eighteenth-century political thinkers, especially those who favored more aristocratic government, perceived a slippery path from democracy to monarchy. With too much power, they warned, the people would become prey to a demagogue who would then become a dictator and eventually set up a new dynasty. They saw examples of that danger in classical republics.

But in this case, it looks like McHenry was projecting his anti-Jefferson worries onto the story he remembered from up to sixteen busy years before. I suspect he was working off memory instead of digging out his old journal. But he may have knowingly reshaped the anecdote to what he thought it should say.

Either way, that story was now out in the political arena.

TOMORROW: Pushback in the press.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

“This prophetic answer of the Doctor”

Yesterday I quoted a short anecdote from Dr. James McHenry’s diary of the Constitutional Convention. That diary was first published in 1906, becoming part of the twentieth century’s understanding of the Constitution. But it doesn’t appear in any books before then.

I recently found, however, that the story also appeared in significantly different form in the short-lived Baltimore newspaper called The Republic; or Anti-Democrat.

In June 1803 George L. Gray became that newspaper’s owner and publisher. From the begining this paper opposed President Thomas Jefferson’s administration and politics—a little confusing since Jefferson’s party was also claiming the mantle of “republican.”

Gray’s 15 July issue included a long essay headlined “Thoughts on the essential qualities of a Democracy recommended to the serious consideration of the sober and thinking part of the community.” A subhead said “For the Republican, or Anti-Democrat,” showing that this was the first publication of that essay. That in turns suggests the writer probably came from Maryland.

At the end of the essay was the label “The Mirror,” which looks like a signature. However, later essays from the same author were headed “The Mirror,” so that was probably meant to be the name of the whole series.

At the end came twenty-five endnotes—a rare sight in newspapers then or now. Most of those notes cited classical sources: Aristotle, Xenophon, Demosthenes, and so on. One pointed to the target of the essay: the Jeffersonian newspaper in Philadelphia called the Aurora. Another cited the Tenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. So the pseudonymous author was educated and wanted readers to know it.

The essay began:
The deepest thinker of all antiquity, after examining and comparing the theory and practice of upwards of two hundred commonwealths, the justly celebrated Aristotle, whom the great [John] Locke acknowledged “a master in politics,” speaking of the different kinds of government, observes, of the republic, that it is “prone to degenerate into democracy.”

Doctor [Benjamin] Franklin, our countryman, who was certainly well read in human nature, held on this point the same opinion as the Stagirite [i.e., Aristotle]. Being asked by a lady of Philadelphia remarkable for wit and good sense, on the dissolution of the convention which frames the constitution—“well Doctor what have we got?”

“A republic, Madam, if you can keep it.”

“And why not keep it?“ rejoined the Lady.

“Because,” replied the Doctor, “the people on tasting the dish, are always disposed to eat more of it than does them good.”

Sixteen years have not elapsed since this prophetic answer of the Doctor, and what do we behold! Men openly and voluntarily affirming the name of Democrat, and loudly proclaiming “the constitution of the United States is a Democracy, the American governments are in every respect completely and perfectly Democracies,” and those who will not so consider them, “fools, despicable knaves, or imposters.”

Such is the dogma and language of the Aurora.
The author of this essay was almost certainly James McHenry. In 1803 he was living in Baltimore, retired from active politics after a contentious stint as John Adams’s Federalist Secretary of War. He is the only person we can be sure already knew the anecdote about Franklin. And his papers at the Library of Congress include a file labeled as “Drafts of articles for The Mirror, undated.”

TOMORROW: How the anecdote had changed.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

“A republic…if you can keep it.”

This is the launch of a deep dive into one of the most popular and portentous anecdotes from the Constitutional Convention of 1787. I wrote about that story before, but a prodding tweet from Zara Anishanslin sent me further into the depths.

The earliest appearance of the anecdote is on the last page of Dr. James McHenry’s journal of his experience as a convention delegate. Here’s the text, as transcribed at Yale Law School’s Avalon Project:
A lady asked Dr. [Benjamin] Franklin Well Doctor what have we got a republic or a monarchy. A republic replied the Doctor if you can keep it.
To which McHenry added this footnote:
The lady here aluded to was Mrs. Powel of Philada.
As I wrote back here, that meant Elizabeth Powel, host of a political salon and wife of the city’s once and future mayor.

We can even see the story in McHenry’s own writing courtesy of the Library of Congress (from which I cribbed the image above).

This is the last entry in McHenry’s journal. The Convention had broken up on 17 Sept 1787, and delegates were heading home. If the story had appeared in the journal between two dated entries, we could be sure of when McHenry wrote it down. But as it is, all we know is that he wrote it down after 17 September—perhaps the next day, perhaps when he got home to Maryland and put his papers away, perhaps years later.

And then at some further moment in time, McHenry went back into this document and added the footnote naming Powel. His writing was a little larger then. The reference to her as “Mrs. Powel of Philade.” suggests he had left that city.

I suspect that McHenry wrote down the anecdote in 1787, soon after the Convention ended. There’s no clue as to whether he witnessed the exchange himself or simply heard about it from Franklin or Powel or another direct witness. It seems unlikely that McHenry wrote down a story that lots of people were circulating because there don’t seem to be any other tellings.

As for the footnote, that might well date from years later when the anecdote and its source were being questioned.

McHenry’s diary was published in the American Historical Review in 1906. Five years later, Max Farrand quoted his stories in The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787. That made the anecdote close to canonical in our national history of the Convention, and many authors have quoted it since—though often with some unexplained doubt that it really took place.

There are some interesting points to consider about how authors retold and used the story in the 1900s, but first I want to discuss the preceding century. Google Book turned up no versions of the story from book published in the 1800s, leading me to think it was buried in McHenry’s papers until 1906.

But I found it was actually deployed—almost certainly by McHenry himself—in political debate during the Jefferson and Madison administrations.

TOMORROW: The anecdote resurfaces.

Friday, March 24, 2017

“Here lies ye Body of Dr Enoch Dole”

Earlier in the month I quoted a diary that mentioned the death of Dr. Enoch Dole during the final days of the siege of Boston.

Dr. Dole’s widow erected a striking gravestone for him in Littleton (shown in a photo by Carol A. Purinton, here courtesy of Wikipedia). At the top is a relief of a hand wielding a sword, an angel’s head, and the motto “Memento Mori.” Below that is this text, some words squeezed in by the carver:
Here lies ye Body of Dr Enoch Dole of Lancaster AE. 33 Years 5 months & 3 days, he unfortunately fell with 3 others ye 9th of March 1776, by a Cannon Ball from our cruel & unnatural Foes ye British Troops, while on his Duty on Dorchester Point.

No warning giv’n! Unceremonious fate!
A sudden rush from Lifes meredian joys.
A wrench from all we are! from all we love!
What a change
From yesterday!* Thy darling hope so near,
Long labourd prize!) O how ambition flushd
Thy glowing cheek! ambition truly great,
Of virtuous praise.
And Oh! ye last, last, what (can word express
Thought reach?) ye last, last silence of a friend.
Those lines of poetry are cobbled together, not always accurately, from Edward Young’s The Complaint, or Night-Thoughts on Life, Death, and Immortality, a very popular poem in the late 1700s.

This is a rare gravestone that contains a footnote, attached to the asterisked phrase “What a change from yesterday!” The stone’s last line explains: “Meaning his Entrance into Boston which so soon took Place & on which his Heart was much sett.”

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Fame of the Virginia Riflemen

As I discussed at an event last week, the Continental Congress voted to raise rifle companies for the Continental Army in June 1775 even before it chose a commander-in-chief.

The first plan called for two companies from Virginia, two from Maryland, and six from Pennsylvania. The response from western Pennsylvania was so strong that by the end of the month, the Congress added two more companies from that colony.

Thus, about two-thirds of the riflemen who came to Cambridge in the summer of 1775 were Pennsylvanians. That surprised me because I’d read so much about Virginia riflemen.

So I went to Google Book’s Ngram viewer to see if my impression was off. I searched for the frequency of the phrases “Virginia riflemen,” “Pennsylvania riflemen,” and “Maryland riflemen” in literature between 1775 and 1860, stopping the search then so it wouldn’t be confused by results from the U.S. Civil War.

As you can see from the results, “Pennsylvania riflemen” showed up more often soon after those companies were formed. But then “Virginia riflemen” took over. The next century brought a printing boom, and in the 1820s and from 1840 on those Virginian troops were marching far ahead of the men from the other two colonies.

I’m not sure what to make of that. Certainly the most successful and famous rifleman of the initial regiments was Gen. Daniel Morgan of Virginia. But Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, was known for producing the actual rifles. Of course, John Adams would explain it by saying, “Virginian geese are always swan.”

In other riflemen research, at the Journal of the American Revolution Ian Saberton shared some sources about the marksmanship of those soldiers compared to British infantrymen. And here’s Hugh Harrington’s article on the work by David Rittenhouse and Charles Willson Peale to mount a telescopic sight on a rifle.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Bullock on Polite Politics in Boston, 29 Mar.

On Wednesday, 29 March, Steven C. Bullock will speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston on “Tea Sets and Tyranny: The Politics of Politeness in Early America.” This presentation is based on his new book of the same name.
Even as eighteenth-century thinkers from John Locke to Thomas Jefferson struggled to find effective means to restrain power, contemporary discussions of society gave increasing attention to ideals of refinement, moderation, and polished self-presentation.

These two sets of ideas have long seemed separate, one dignified as political theory, the other primarily concerned with manners and material culture. Tea Sets and Tyranny challenges that division. In its original context, Steven C. Bullock suggests, politeness also raised important issues of power, leadership, and human relationships. This politics of politeness helped make opposition to overbearing power central to early American thought and practice.

Tea Sets and Tyranny follows the experiences of six extraordinary individuals, each seeking to establish public authority and personal standing: a cast of characters that includes a Virginia governor consumed by fits of towering rage; a Carolina woman who befriended a British princess; and a former Harvard student who became America’s first confidence man.
Steven Bullock is a professor of history at Worcester Polytechnic University. His previous work includes Revolutionary Brotherhood, a study of Freemasonry in the Revolution and early republic.

This event will take place from 6:00 to 7:00 P.M., with a reception beforehand starting at 5:30 P.M. There is $10 registration fee per person, with no charge for M.H.S. Members or Fellows. But of course all are expected to be on their best behavior.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Anishanslin on “A Woman in Silk” in Boston, 23 Mar.

On Thursday, 23 March, Zara Anishanslin will speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society on the topic of her new book Portrait of a Woman in Silk: Hidden Histories of the British Atlantic World. This event is part of the society’s series of lectures on “The Politics of Taste.”

As its title suggests, the starting point of this book is a portrait of a woman in a silk dress. Anishanslin explores that object through four people involved in creating it. In reverse order, they are:
  • painter Robert Feke of Newport.
  • sitter and patron Anne Shippen Willing of Philadelphia.
  • master silk weaver Simon Julins of Spitalfields, London.
  • pioneering fabric designer Anna Maria Garthwaite, also of London.
The painting thus connects four people on either side of the Atlantic. By exploring the worlds they moved in, the book lays out the commercial warp and aesthetic woof that helped to define genteel taste in the British Empire.

Zara Anishanslin is Assistant Professor of History and Art History at the University of Delaware. She specializes in the study of material culture or, as her website says, she has “a thing for things.” Liz Covart discussed that approach to historical research with Anishanslin on this episode of the Ben Franklin’s World podcast’s “Doing History” series.

Admission to this lecture is $10, or free to M.H.S. Members and Fellows. The event starts at 5:30 P.M. with a reception. Prof. Anishanslin will speak at 6:00 and sign copies of her book afterward.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Colonial Comics at the Royall House, 22 Mar.

On Wednesday, 22 March, I’ll be part of a panel discussion with comics creators E. J. Barnes and Jesse Lonergan at the Royall House and Slave Quarters in Medford.

We’ve all contributed to the two volumes of Colonial Comics: New England, whose main editor is Jason Rodriguez. Volume I told stories from the years 1620-1750, and the new Volume II brings the history up to 1775.

Both books feature an array of writing and illustration styles from many talented creators. They focus on lesser-known events that expose the fault lines of colonial society—“stories about Puritans and free thinkers, Pequots and Jewish settlers, female business owners and playwrights, gravedigging medical students, instigators of civil disobedience, college students, rum traders, freemen, and slaves.” Here’s a recent review of the first volume from Comics in the Classroom.

In volume 1, E. J. Barnes wrote and watercolored the story of Thomas Morton, an English settler in what’s now Quincy who was at odds with the Massachusetts Bay Puritans. She created portraits of historic figures for volume 2. She’s also the author of “Caroline’s Catalog,” about astronomer Caroline Herschel, and “A Beautiful Young Nymph Going to Bed,” based on a poem by Jonathan Swift.

Jesse Lonergan is the author of the graphic novels All Star, Flower and Fade, and Joe and Azat, as well as many short stories in comics form. For the second volume of Colonial Comics he and I created a story about watchman Benjamin Burdick working to solve a mystery about one of the victims of the Boston Massacre.

We’ll talk about how we created these stories, the choices we made historiographically and artistically, and the potential of the comics form, especially in schools.

This event is scheduled to start at 7:30 P.M. It is free for Royall House members, $5 for others. There will be copies of Colonial Comics and other publications available for purchase and signing afterward.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Rifleman in New York

When we left Sgt. Henry Bedinger in mid-March 1776 yesterday, he and his company of Virginia riflemen had been ordered to march from Boston to New York.

He continued his diary, preserving information about how many miles the riflemen could cover in an early spring day and about the stops along the way. (When Bedinger noted a person’s name instead of a town, that was the tavern where the company stayed overnight.)
16th. Marched off to Deacon Ben. Woods the Hartford Road. 20 Miles, the roads were so Excessive Bad the Teams Could Not follow us. Staid awhile in Westborough. Saw Some warlike Stores, viz 17 pieces of fine Canon, two Mortars & 1 Cohorn—
Gen. George Washington had also ordered some of his artillery force to New York.

The relatively short distance that the riflemen marched on 17 March might have been because that was a Sunday. Or they might simply have taken time to resupply themselves.
17th. Drawed 6 Days allowance of Beef & Pork. Thence Marched to Mr. Sherman’s—7 Miles. Rec’d Intelligence that the Enemy had evacuated the town of Boston on Saturday after we Left Cambridge. Left a number of Canon Spiked up and Many other Stores. Left the town in Great Haste.

18th. Marched to Shumway’s—15 1/2 Miles.

19th. Marched to Woodstock—12 Miles.

20th. Marched to Wilson’s—25 Miles.

21st. Marched from Wilson’s to Hartford—17 Miles. This being the Metropolis of Conecticut, a seaport Town, Situate on Conecticut River. Very pretty place. Saw Some Regular officers [i.e., British prisoners of war] Taken at St. John’s, &c.

22nd. Took in fresh provisions, &c—112 Miles to Boston.

23rd. Marched from Hartford to Wethersfield, 4 Miles, thence to Wallingsford 22 Miles—26 Miles.

24th. Marched to New Haven, a large Seaport Town Beautifully Situated on the Sound, a Number of Vessels in the Harbour, a Brigg of 14 Guns on the Sound, and a Schooner fitting out of 12 Ditto.—13 Miles. Thence Marched to Millford, a small seaport Town Just fifty Miles from Hartford.

25th. Thence Marched to Stratford River—4 Miles, thence to Fairfield, a County Town, a place of Trade and Seaport.

26th. Marched to Norwalk, a small Seaport Town—12 Miles, thence to Stamford, fresh provisions. &c—14 Miles.

27th. Marched through Horseneck to Rye—10 Miles, thence to East Chester in New York Government—10 Miles—20 Miles.

28th. Marched Over Kingsbridge to New York—20 Miles.

29th. Viewed the City, the Numerous Canon Ready fixed. Every Street Towards the Water in all parts of the Town fortified with Breastworks, &c. East, West, North, and South of the Town are Forts.

Saw the King’s Effigy on a Horse in his proper Size on a large Marble Pillar Beautifully Gilded, Stands in Broad Street Near the old fortification in a Yard that is all picketed in with Iron palisadoes. Likewise Lord Pitt, the Earl of Chatham, in Broadway Enclosed in Like Manner. Saw all the Large Buildings, the City Hall, Royal Exchange, all the Beautiful Churches.
I love the thought of Bedinger, soldier from western Virginia, sightseeing on Manhattan.

That “Beautifully Gilded” statue of George III would last less than five more months. After the Declaration of Independence was read in New York on 9 July, the crowd pulled it down and converted most of it into musket balls. A few parts of the statue survive at the New-York Historical Society, as does the remnant of that statue of William Pitt, first Earl of Chatham.

At the end of June 1776, the Virginia rifle companies’ first enlistment period ended. Sgt. Bedinger volunteered to stay on, promoted to lieutenant. But he was captured at the Battle of Fort Washington in November and kept prisoner for four years. In March 1779, Bedinger reassured his mother, “I am much hardened and Can undergo almost Anything.” He was right; he lived over sixty more years.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

“Rec’d orders to be Ready to March tomorrow at 10 O’Clock”

Here’s more of Sgt. Henry Bedinger’s diary of the last days of the siege of Boston.

As I described yesterday, Bedinger served in one of the Virginia rifle companies. Those troops were rotated on and off the Dorchester peninsula in early March 1776 to defend against possible British landing parties.

The Royal Navy approached on 5 March, but a ship ran aground and a big storm stopped that foray.
6th. Nothing appeared as If we were going to be attacked, Capt. [Hugh] Stephenson Ordered us to March off the point About Two O’Clock in the afternoon in View of the Enemy. About 5 O’Clock came two Companies of Riflemen from Cambridge and Relieved those Who had been on the point with us, the Enemies fired a few Shott Towards the New forts but to no purpose only Hurt 3 Guns and then Quit Firing Entirely—

7th. This Day is appointed a Day of Prayer by the Legislature of this Colony. All the Riflemen are ordered on the point by 9 Oclock in the forenoon, &c. Came off at 3 O Clock.

8th. This Day a Flagg of Truce Came from the Enemy with a petition from the Select men of Boston to Gen’l [George] Washington, & By the Consent of General [William] Howe, the purport of which was that if our forces kept firing on the Town or Bumbardin it he would move off and Burn the City—but If he Did not Fire he (General Howe) will not Burn the Town. It Seems he is Determined to Move off at Any Rate.
I discussed that message from the selectmen and Gen. Washington’s response to it here, here, and here. Bedinger’s diary entry shows that even though the general refused to acknowledge the message as a point of protocol, everyone understood the unspoken understanding it communicated.

A couple of days after that exchange, however, Washington decided the British weren’t moving fast enough. He ordered his men to fortify and arm the corner of the Dorchester peninsula nearest to Boston to create a bigger threat. That prompted more maneuvers and firing.
9th. Orders Came that the riflemen Should hold themselves in readiness to March at an Hour’s warning—

10th. about 2 Hours after Dark the Enemy Began to fire on a party of our men who were throwing up a Breastwork on the Nearest point to Boston on Dorchester. They fired from a Small Vessel from Boston Neck, from the wharf, from Fort Hill, &c. Supposed they Fired 1000 Shott as it Lasted the whole Night. Our people Fired into Boston from Roxberry. The Firings Continued all Night. We had 1 Surgeon [Dr. Enoch Dole] & Three men Kill’d.

13th. Rec’d orders to be Ready to March tomorrow at 10 O’Clock.

14th. Set off with our whole Company for Cambridge.

15th. Friday. Were ordered to March to New York. The whole Battalion of riflemen were Ordered to March Ditto. Marched 9 Miles to one Flagg’s.
Once it became clear that the British army would not try to break through the Continental siege lines, Gen. Washington had to think about what territory to protect next. Sending the rifle companies to New York meant they would be ready to defend that city’s shores from a similar assault. That meant Sgt. Bedinger never got to see the actual evacuation of Boston.

TOMORROW: The riflemen on the road.

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Rifleman’s View of the End of the Siege

I’ve been writing about the Continental riflemen, and this is the anniversary of the British evacuation of Boston in 1776. So here is a rifleman’s view of the end of the siege.

Henry Bedinger (1753-1843) of Shepherdstown, Virginia (now West Virginia), was a sergeant in one of the Virginia rifle companies. Those and the Maryland riflemen were stationed on the southern wing of the Continental Army in Roxbury. And fortunately for us, Bedinger kept a diary.

March 2d In the Night of the 27th of Feb’y John Curry, one of our Riflemen Deserted to the Enemy, Took with him his Messmates Gunns, Shot Pouch &c, &c. This Day was two more Canon Fired at the Enemy Nearer Roxberry Street—

3d Last Night were thrown Bumbshells Into Boston the first Time, first from Lechmore’s point, thence from Roxberry Fort, Two Mortars were Brought into the fort, the one By Great Misfortune was Broke to pieces in throwing the first Shell, and unfortunately wounded Two Men, tho’ not Very Bad—Orders Came out to prepare for an Engagement—

4th Orders Came out to go on Dorchester Point and Intrench, two Rifle-Companies from Cambridge were ordered here. In the Evening as soon as Sun Down our Teams Began to Load with Intrenching Tools, Spears, Canon, about 100 Teams to Carry Facines and pressed Hay, accordingly 2000 men and upwards went and Began the work and about 1 O’Clock our five Companies of Riflemen Marched on, when the Others had already made Two Compleat Facine forts on the Top of the Two Hills, made Two Redoubts and a Cover along the Neck with hay.

We marched a Little Beyond the Forts and posted ourselves behind a hill Near the water Edge where we Remained as Silent as possible. Mean Time our Forts Fired Shot and Threw Bombs into Boston from Brookline, from Lichmore’s point & Cobble Hill. They were no Less busy In throwing as many Bomb Shells and Shott as we, which made no Small Noise, one Canon Ball Struck a Lieutenant [John Mayo] in the Back part of the thigh Next to his knee as he Stept out of the Door of a house in Roxberry from which wound he Died in about 4 hours—

5th. About 3 O’Clock the first 2000 men were Relieved by 3000 & upwards, who all Began to work at Intrenching and made Great progress: before 8 In the morning the Canon were fixed In Both the Forts and Redoubts, a Vast number of Barrels of Dust and Sand were Set around Each fort on the Top of the Hills in order to Roll Down to Break the Ranks of the Enemy If they offered to attack us, the Riflemen Lay Still at the hill.

(The) General Requested they should (remain) another Night and Untill the Tide went out on the Next Day which Capt Stephenson Consented to who Commanded the five Companies provided the Gen’l would send us another Day’s provision which he did Next Morning.

Towards the Evening a Schooner went out of the harbour toward the Castle But Run a Ground & the Tide Left her there pretty Near the Shore. Some of the Artillery Men with a small Brass Field piece went Down from the Hill to fire upon her, Accordingly they fired three Shott when through Great Misfortune the piece went off too soon, and Took off One Man’s hand and put out one Eye—At the Same Instant there Came Down to her Relief Two Brigs of war, so that put an End to our firing on the Schooner.

This Night we Expected an Attack but there arose Such a storm Towards Day that it was Impossible for them to Land, the men worked on Bravely and we Lay Still.
Shifting fresh troops onto the Dorchester peninsula to relieve those who had built and defended the fort was one reason that operation went more smoothly than the move onto the Charlestown peninsula the previous June. But the Continentals also had the good luck of that storm stymieing the counterattack. As of 6 March, the British command had decided on leaving.

TOMORROW: The riflemen move.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

“The rifle company divided and executed their plan”

Here’s a description of one of the Pennsylvania riflemen’s first actions in the Revolutionary War, as described in a letter written from Cambridge on 31 July 1775.

Indeed, there’s reason to believe this letter was written from the commander-in-chief’s headquarters, where I’ll speak about the riflemen tonight, by either Joseph Reed or Thomas Mifflin.

This letter was extracted along with others in the 9 August Pennsylvania Journal:
In the evening orders were given to the York county rifle company, to march down to our advanced post on Charlestown Neck, to endeavour to surround the enemy’s advanced guard, and to bring off some prisoners; from whom we expected to learn the enemies design in throwing up the abbates on the Neck.

The rifle company divided and executed their plan in the following manner: Capt. [Michael] Dowdle with 39 men filed off to the right of Bunker’s Hill, and creeping on their hands and knees, got into the rear of the enemies centries, without being discovered.—

The other division of 40 men, under Lieut. [Henry] Miller, were equally successful in getting behind the centries on the left, and were within a few yards of joining the division on the right, when a party of regulars came down the hill to relieve their guard, and crossed our rifle men under Capt. Dowdle, as they were lying on the ground in an Indian file.

The regulars were within 20 yards of our rifle men before they saw them, and immediately fired. The rifle men returned the salute; killed several, and brought off two prisoners and their musquets, with the loss of Corporal Crouse, who is supposed to be killed as he has not been heard of since the affair.
Cpl. Walter Cruise had actually been taken alive. He was locked up in the Boston jail, then taken to Halifax when the British evacuated, and kept prisoner until early 1777. For his trouble Cruise got a promotion in the Continentals, eventually becoming a captain.

The photo above, from Waymarking, shows a plaque in York, Pennsylvania, commemorating the muster of Capt. Doudel’s rifle company before they set out for Boston.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

“Remarkably stout and hardy men”

On Thursday, as I announced earlier, I’ll speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site about “Washington’s Riflemen: Heroes or Headaches?”

Here are extracts from two journals in the summer of 1775 showing both sides of those Continental soldiers from Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland.

First, Dr. James Thacher, then a surgeon’s mate, under the date of August 1775:
Several companies of riflemen, amounting, it is said, to more than fourteen hundred men, have arrived here from Pennsylvania and Maryland; a distance of from five hundred to seven hundred miles. They are remarkably stout and hardy men; many of them exceeding six feet in height. They are dressed in white frocks, or rifle-shirts, and round hats.

These men are remarkable for the accuracy of their aim; striking a mark with great certainty at two hundred yards distance. At a review, a company of them, while on a quick advance, fired their balls into objects of seven inches diameter, at the distance of two hundred and fifty yards.

They are now stationed on our lines, and their shot have frequently proved fatal to British officers and soldiers who expose themselves to view, even at more than double the distance of common musket-shot.
Second, Pvt. Aaron Wright of Pennsylvania, a rifleman himself, on 10 September:
Great commotion on Prospect Hill among the riflemen, occasioned by the unreasonable confinement of a sergeant by the adjutant of [Col. William] Thompson’s regiment; and before it was over, 34 men were confined, and two of them put in irons at headquarters in Cambridge; on the 12th, they were tried by a court-martial, and one was whipped 17 lashes, for stealing, and drummed out of camp.
Tomorrow night, we’ll look at both sides of those troops.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Asa Copeland’s Revolution

Yesterday I introduced Asa Copeland as a “young lad” apprenticed to the Boston carpenter Amos Thayer.

He opened his master’s door to a redcoat the night before the Boston Massacre and heard that soldier offer a warning to Thayer to keep safe off the streets for the next couple of days.

I wondered what happened to Asa Copeland in subsequent years. One of my interests is how the children of Boston were shaped by the political turmoil of the ten years before the war.

Tracking this Asa Copeland isn’t certain because there were other youths of that name. One was born in Braintree in 1756, son of Seth and Lydia Copeland, neighbors of John and Abigail Adams; that lad would have been a good candidate to be Amos Thayer’s apprentice in 1770 since Thayer was also from Braintree. But that Asa Copeland remained in Braintree after the war, long enough to apply for a pension.

Instead, I think the Asa Copeland who became an apprentice carpenter in Boston was the man described by descendants in volume IV of Genealogical and Memorial History of the State of New Jersey, edited by Francis Bazley Lee and published in 1910. That entry is based on a blend of family tradition and research in genealogical sources available at the time.

The descendants were certain this Asa was the son of Jacob and Abigail Copeland, who hailed from Braintree but were living in Boston when they had him. But they didn’t know when he was born. The profile describes Asa as “at the age of seventeen” during the Tea Party of late 1773 and “about nineteen” at the start of 1777, which doesn’t add up. Descendants understood that Asa was “present at the ‘Boston Tea Party’” (which this book misdates). He may well have been present; hundreds of Bostonians were, watching but not participating.

That profile gets on more solid ground when it discusses Copeland’s military service. In January 1777, Copeland joined Maj. Ebenezer Stevens’s artillery battalion of the Continental Army. Like Copeland’s master, Stevens had been a carpenter in Boston before the war. The artillery needed skilled craftsmen. Soon Asa Copeland was a sergeant, and then a sergeant-major.

In April 1779, Copeland was appointed a conductor of military stores, caring for the army’s weapons. Thus, in 1781 Gen. Henry Knox sent him instructions “to procure 1500 muskets, 3 tons of lead, and all of the pistols at New Windsor” and to send some stores to Philadelphia.

In September 1782, as the army wound down, Gen. Knox listed Copeland among the personnel “proper to compose the department of field commissary” in a letter to Gen. George Washington. Copeland reportedly produced “a survey or inventory of ordnance at West Point, New York, dated April 20, 1783” for Knox.

After the war, Copeland settled in Philadelphia rather than returning to Massachusetts. On 27 Feb 1783 the Rev. William White married Copeland to Amelia Price. Eventually the couple had eight children, four girls and four boys. The veteran appears to have gone into business trading goods, using the skills and contacts he developed during the war.

In the 30 Aug 1793 Pennsylvania Gazette Copeland advertised “the schooner Milley” for charter to the West Indies. In October 1794 the U.S. of A. was undertaking to build frigates, including the Constitution. Revenue commissioner Tench Coxe wrote to Knox, then Secretary of War:
in pursuance of the Idea entertained by you and my self in a late conference, I have engaged Mr. Asa Copeland a trader in this town, To go to Georgia for the purpose of assisting Mr. J. T Morgan in expediting the hauling &c. of Timber & dispatching the Vessels.
The country needed strong live oak for the frigates. Coxe told his boss Alexander Hamilton, “Mr. Asa Copeland…is expected to be very useful. He has been accustomed to the Coasting trade and to the procuring of ship Timber.” (But Coxe also had to tell Knox that Copeland, not being a shipwright, couldn’t simply take over Morgan’s job.) According to a Navy Department report at the end of 1794, Copeland’s pay was “three and one-third dollars per day.”

Asa Copeland completed that job for the federal government and returned to Philadelphia, but unfortunately he died on 23 Sept 1797. His family understood the cause to be yellow fever, even though the city’s big epidemic had occurred four years before. The Copelands’ last child was born the following month and died within a year.

So far as I know, we have no personal or political statements from Asa Copeland that preserve his thoughts about the Massacre, the Tea Party, and other events from his teen years in Boston. But it’s clear he committed years to the Continental Army and the United States, and that service gave him the standing to build a new life as a businessman in America’s capital city.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Pvt. Malone at the Thayers

On the evening of Sunday, 4 Mar 1770, a private soldier in the 29th Regiment of Foot knocked on the door of Amos Thayer.

Thayer was twenty-four years old, 5'7", a native of Braintree. He was a carpenter, as stated in town records from 1775 when he joined an augmented town watch, or housewright, as stated in a 1769 deed from his father.

Thayer didn’t open the door. Instead, his apprentice Asa Copeland did. According to Asa, the soldier
asked for the young man that lived in the house. I asked him what young man he meant; he said, the young man a carpenter. I supposing he meant my master, told him he was up stairs. He then asked me to go and call him, and said he wanted to speak with him:

I then went up and told my master that Malone was below and wanted to speak with him. My master told me to tell him he was engaged and could not go down, and said if he had any thing to say he must say it to his sister Miss Mary Thayer.
Mary Thayer, two years older than her brother, confirmed what the “young lad” Asa described: her brother “refused to come down or have any thing to say to” this visitor. But she was “going down on other occasion,” so she “said she would hear what the soldier had to say.”

Malone told Mary Thayer, “your brother as you call him is a man I have a very great regard for, and came here to desire him to keep in the house and not be out, for there would be a great deal of disturbance and blood between that time and Tuesday night at 12 o’clock.”

By this time Asa was back downstairs, and he and a second woman named Mary Brailsford later said that they heard the same warning.

Malone went on to say that “he had a greater regard for Mr. Thayer than any one in Boston, and on that account came to desire him to keep in the house, which if he did there would be no danger.” He repeated that advice, went to the door, and then turned around again. “My name is Charles Malone,” the soldier declared; “your brother knows me well.” According to Asa, Malone added that he “had drank with” Amos Thayer.

The following evening, other soldiers of the 29th Regiment fired into a violent crowd on King Street—what we now call the Boston Massacre. Twelve days later, Asa Copeland, Mary Thayer, and Mary Brailsford all testified about that conversation before magistrates. (In addition, Mary Brailsford’s husband John described hearing another soldier of the 29th Regiment provide another warning on the 5th.)

For the Boston officials assembling the town’s Short Narrative of the Horrid Massacre, such encounters were evidence that the soldiers had been planning to attack townspeople. The shooting on King Street was not self-defense or a brawl that got out of hand, they argued, but a concerted attack.

However, such stories are also evidence of friendly relations between individual soldiers, like Charles Malone, and individual Bostonians, like Amos Thayer. Or at least good enough that Malone stuck his neck out a bit to warn the young carpenter about possible violence (more likely thinking of brawls than shooting).

Though there’s a lot of mystery in Malone and Thayer’s behavior. The soldier evidently knew where that “young man a carpenter” lived, but not his name. No one else in the Thayer family recognized Malone, so he couldn’t have been a regular coworker. And Thayer, for whatever reason, really didn’t want to speak to the private that night. We could come up with all sorts of scenarios, but the secrets remain buried.

TOMORROW: Whatever happened to Asa Copeland?

Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Map of the Massacre to Explore

I mentioned this in a comment a few days back, but thought it deserved more space.

The Boston Public Library’s Rare Books and Manuscripts department has just made a digitized image of its overhead view of the Boston Massacre, credited to Paul Revere, available to everyone here.

The Town House (now called the Old State House) is at the upper center. The arc of circles at the right middle represents the soldiers in front of the Customs house.

As for the victims, they are laid out and labeled, with full sketches for the first four:
In addition, there’s one circle marked M without a number, a possible circle at upper right with neither number nor initial, and three victims without locations: Patrick Carr, John Green, and John Clark.

It might seem to make more sense for “4, G” to be John Green and one “M” or an unlabeled circle to be Samuel Maverick, but we know Maverick was shot at the back of the crowd where that “4, G” body is shown. Revere knew the Greenwood family in the North End, so he surely heard of the apprentice’s death on the morning of 6 March. On the other hand, he used the boy’s own initials, not the master’s, when he engraved a woodcut of four coffins for the Boston Gazette a few days later.

(For Charles Bahne’s analysis of this image in 2013, see this post.)

This diagram also labels the streets and alleys leading off of King Street, plus many of the shops and houses in that part of central Boston. We can thus get a sense of this neighborhood, with the homes of some high-powered businessmen like Edward Payne and Thomas Marshall, and shops that catered to them.

One theory suggests that Revere created this picture for use in one of the trials that followed the Massacre. There’s no mention of such a map in the court records, however, and we have unusually good documentation of those proceedings. Furthermore, by the time those trials started, Patrick Carr had died, so he should have been shown as well.

Another interesting detail is that some of the sketches of dying people resemble figures in Henry Pelham’s engraving of the Massacre, which we know Revere got his hands on and copied by the end of March. Did Pelham or Revere sketch miniature versions of the those figures on this view to create more drama than circles could impart?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

“Thare went 2100 on Dogster hill”

Joshua Gray (1743-1791) was born in North Yarmouth, in what is now Maine. His mother died when he was two, so he was raised in Yarmouth, Massachusetts, by his father’s sister, Hannah Mallett—supposedly because that town on Cape Cod was safer from attacks by aggrieved natives.

In 1766, Joshua married a local girl, Mary Hedge (1745-1822). A couple of years later the uncle who helped raise Joshua married Mary’s mother, both having been widowed. The uncle died a short time later, but for a while it was a tight little family. [Mary and I share common ancestors, so I’m part of the very extended family.]

When the Revolutionary War began, Joshua and Mary Gary had five children: Thomas, born in 1766 less than seven months after the couple’s marriage; Hannah; Sarah; Mary; and Phebe, born 10 Mar 1775 in the neighboring town of Barnstable.

That fall Joshua Gray was back in Barnstable, captain of a Massachusetts company guarding the town from attack by sea from July to December. In the winter of 1776, his militia company was called up to strengthen the siege lines around Boston. Capt. Gray was on duty during the Continental Army’s final push onto the Dorchester peninsula, which he described in letters to his wife:
Roxbaury Camp March 5: 1776

My Dear I Recevd your Letter 29 of Febury which in it I under stand that you and the children are all well which I Desiar to Beless god for and now Taken this opportunity to Let you No that Through marcy and Goodness of god I am a Live and well and I Desiar to Bless god for so gate a favur

march th 2 Day at night we Begain to fire Shot and Bumbard the Town of Borston and a Sunday Night Keep up the same fire

Munday morning I went on main Guarg In Roxbury Fort and at 7 at night Thair Begain a have fire and Bumbard on Both sides Bumbs and shot flue 6 and 7 at a time

the same Night Thare went 2100 on Dogster hill and att three aClock Nigt thay was Releved with 3000 and But a littel Damege Dun thare 2 men killed 5 or 6 wounded in the Whole of our Camps this Ends the 5 Day of march

march the 8, 1776 and Now we have got fortifyed on Dogster hill verey strong have Bulte to forts on Dogster hill and Cannan and Mortes Plast thair all Readey to Bumbard
(Ahem. That would be, “We have got fortified on Dorchester hill very strong; have built two forts on Dorchester hill, and cannon and mortars placed there all ready to bombard.”)
my Dear Keep up good Courrige hoping we shall Return home in Due time

I have some sick in my Company the men Names are as followes Lewies Thacher: Benoni Studley: Nathal. Hallet Miller Whilden has got a Bad Cofe/ at this Time

Dutey is werey Hard half of my People are on Dutey at a time —

and Now my Dear hoping these Lines will find you and The children all will and all friends give my Love to mother and Brother and Sister and all frinds Brother Hedge is well Brother hedge from Plymouth is hear Now and being in hast I must conclude you Loveing husband untill Death
And a few days later:
Roxbuary Camps March 11: 1776

My Dear The Tender Regards I have for you and the children wont Let me mis a oppertunity of Righting to you to Let you know that I am in health which I Desiar to Bless god for and hoping these Lines will find you and children the same my Dear

I understand by mr Baker That Thomas had the mumps and one of the Gales had Burnt her But Boath was Better

my Dear keep up good Corauge I hope I shall Return home in Due time

I would have Thomas see to things and not Let them sufer and Ezra [apparently a slave] and make him mind and Due his Dutey

Their was a havey Cannading Last Saturday Night which was 9[?] Instant thay firing to Dogster hill they kill four of our men at one shot and that was the most Damage we Recevid

our People Pickup [?] five or six hundred cannon Balls the Next Day

the shiping in Boston seems to be in a moving Postour one half is Gown Down Bilow the Castal

my Dear Right as ofen as you can couvantley so as I may hear from you so conclud your kind and Loving husband till Death

Joshua Gray

P.S. Remimber me to mother and to all frinds That Take Pains to aske after me.
On 17 March the British fleet sailed away. Four days later, Capt. Gray received orders to take his company onto the Dorchester peninsula to relieve others. He wrote to Mary that he expected to be discharged in early April and hoped she could “come you self” to meet him in Plymouth.

The Grays’ daughter Mary died in October 1776 at age three. They had two more girls and two more boys, all of whom lived well into the nineteenth century.

Friday, March 10, 2017

“Washington’s Riflemen” in Cambridge, 16 Mar.

On Thursday, 16 March, I’ll speak at Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site in Cambridge. This is the latest in a series of annual talks about some aspect of Gen. George Washington’s work there in 1775 and 1776.

This year my topic will be “Washington’s Riflemen: Heroes or Headaches”:
Soon after Gen. George Washington came to Cambridge in 1775, a new kind of Continental soldier started to arrive: the rifleman. Recruited in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland, the rifle companies did more than signal how those colonies were committed to New England’s war. They were touted as deadly marksmen, the key to quickly driving the British out of Boston. But those newcomers were also frontiersmen, many recent immigrants, far from home and rebellious. Soon Gen. Washington realized the riflemen were not his biggest weapon but one of his biggest problems to solve.
To show what sort of high expectations those riflemen engendered, here’s part of a letter that appeared in the Pennsylvania Gazette on 16 Aug 1775. It came from a gentleman visiting Frederick, Maryland, at the start of that month, who had watched the company commanded by Capt. Michael Cresap put on a shooting demonstration:
Yesterday the Company were supplied with a small Quantity of Powder from the Magazine, which wanted airing, and was not in good Order for Rifles; in the Evening, however, they were drawn out to show the Gentlemen of the Town their Dexterity in shooting;

a Clapboard, with a Mark the Size of a Dollar, was put up; they began to fire off hand, and the Bystanders were surprised, few Shot being made that were not close to or in the Paper; when they had shot for a Time in this Way, some lay on their Backs, some on their Breast or Side, others ran 20 or 30 Steps and firing, appeared to be equally certain of their Mark—

With this Performance the Company were more than satisfied, when a young Man took up the Board in his Hand, not by the End but the Side, and holding it up, his Brother walked to the Distance and very coolly shot into the white; laying down his Rifle, he took the Board, and holding it as it was held before, the second Brother shot as the former had done.—By this exercise I was more astonished than pleased.

But will you believe me when I tell you that one of the Men took the Board and placing it between his Legs, stood with his Back to the Tree, while another drove the Center.

What would a regular Army, of considerable Strength in the Forest of America do with 1000 of these Men…?
Of course, not everyone was equally impressed. A correspondent to Alexander Purdie’s Virginia Gazette on 15 November noted that report from Maryland and responded, “it is no more than what has been frequently done by the Virginia riflemen.” (As John Adams was fond of saying, “Virginian geese are always swan.”) One company of the Virginian riflemen was commanded by Capt. Daniel Morgan, shown above.

This talk is scheduled to start at 6:30 P.M., after on-street parking becomes available nearby. It is free and open to the public.