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

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Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Joseph Pope’s Own Orrery

All the talk in the 1770s about David Rittenhouse’s orreries and the honor they brought to America might have inspired a young Boston watchmaker named Joseph Pope (1748-1826).

Pope married Ruthy Thayer, daughter of a tallow-chandler, on 13 May 1773. She died on 22 Aug 1775 in Braintree, at a relative’s house. Apparently the couple had evacuated there during the siege of Boston. I don’t see a record of Joseph serving in the army.

After the British military evacuated in 1776, it appears, Pope returned to Boston and started to build an orrery. At least, he later said he had started that year. But his project didn’t attract any print attention for a long time.

Pope’s plan for the orrery was ambitious. It was to show not only the Sun, the Earth, the Moon, and the known planets from Mercury to Saturn, but also all the known moons of those planets and Saturn’s rings.

In 1781, after the watchmaker had already put in years of work, astronomer William Herschel announced the discovery of Uranus (which he called Georgium sidus, after George III, who in return named him King’s Astronomer). Pope ignored that and kept to his original plan, working in his shop on the west side of Orange Street.

Then on 20 Apr 1787, as the Massachusetts Gazette reported four days later:
About sun-set,…a fire broke out in the malt house of Mr. William Patten, in Beach-street, a little to the north-east of Orange-street, at the south part of the town; and it is with real sorrow we announce, that the devastation which ensued, within about three hours time, was never equalled in this place, excepting in the years 1711 and 1760, since its settlement. . . .

The wind blowing fresh from the Northward, the coals of fire, burning shingles, &c. were, however, carried, in great quantities, and lodged on the roofs of many of the houses in Orange-street, some of which were instantly on fire, while a number of the interjacent buildings were preserved. It raged on both sides of the street, with awful fury, as long as the current of wind was nearly parallel with the direction of it; but coming to that part which inclines a little more south-easterly, and the wind tending something more to the eastward, the fire was stopped in this street, but raged on the west side of it till an opening of vacant land towards the bay, on the west side of Boston neck, prevented farther destruction. . . .

The place where the fire commenced being remote from most of the engines—the driness of the weather—10 or 15 buildings being in flames in a few minutes after the fire began, which greatly divided the attention of the inhabitants—the scarcity of water, the tide being down, and but few pumps near at hand—were circumstances which baffled the utmost efforts of the citizens for putting a stop to the devouring element for the space of upwards of three hours.
Two days later, the Continental Journal ran a list of inhabitants who had been burned out—including Joseph Pope and his brothers.

TOMORROW: And Mr. Pope’s orrery?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An ancestor of mine, Aaron May, lost his home on the west side of Orange Street in that fire. He's also on the list of Sons Of Liberty who met at the Liberty Tavern in August, 1769.