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, June 30, 2017

Questions Raised by Lunenburg’s Cannon

Yesterday’s posting, thanks to Eileen O’Brien, quoted from the town records of Lunenburg as its citizens voted to mount a nine-pounder cannon and then offer it to the provincial army.

Of course, the town didn’t make that offer until after 13 June 1775, almost two months after the war began. The gun might not have been fully mounted and equipped until then; the effort didn’t start until March. But the records imply that Lunenburg didn’t even alert the Massachusetts Provincial Congress that it might have a cannon until June.

The man given the most responsibility for managing this cannon was Abijah Stearns (1724-1783). He was put on the committee to collect money to mount the cannon, and he was in charge of the guard that trucked it to Cambridge in the summer of 1775.

That makes sense because Stearns had been one of Lunenburg’s representatives to the first Provincial Congress in October 1774, and he became a colonel in the state militia in 1776. His gravestone, complete with rhyming verse, appears above.

During the months when Lunenburg was discussing the cannon, however, the town’s sole representative to the second and third Provincial Congresses was Dr. John Taylor. He wasn’t linked to the gun directly, but he was the medical mentor of Dr. Abraham Haskell, who was added to the cannon committee on the same day as Stearns. So Taylor probably knew about the gun.

In early June 1775, shortly before the decision to turn over the cannon, Dr. Taylor convinced the Provincial Congress that Lunenburg should be allowed to deliver half a barrel of gunpowder instead of the one or two barrels the congress had asked for. Was that arrangement related to the cannon?

As for Lunenburg’s request to the Massachusetts General Court to pay for the cannon, I haven’t found a record of that payment coming through. (The legislature did compensate the town for some costs from April 1775.) If the Continental Army had taken that nine-pounder down to New York in the spring of 1776, the state probably passed Lunenburg’s bill on to the Continental Congress.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Cannon in Lunenburg

Eileen O’Brien kindly shared the following extracts from the records of the Lunenburg town meeting. They add Lunenburg to the list of Massachusetts towns which in the months before the Revolutionary War officially began were discussing how to arm themselves with artillery—the focus of my book, The Road to Concord. Thanks, Eileen!

In the “Town of Lunenburg Minute & Report 1763-1796” (which is unpublished) are the following entries:
At a Legal annual Town meeting on monday ye 6th of March 1775 being Legally assembled at the publick meeting house in Lunenburg

Voted to open a Subscribtion to mount the Cannon now in town

Voted & Choose Capt Aaron Willard Lt Philip Goodridge & Mr Zebulon Dodge a Committe to forward sd Subscribtion & to See to the mounting [of] sd cannon . . .

March ye 9th: the town being meet agreeable to the adjournment—

Voted that Capt Abijah Stearns & Docr. Abraham Haskel be added to the Committe that was Choosen to open a Subscribtion for mounting the Cannon and that the Sd Committe Receve any article in the Subscribtion and turn the Same to the best advantage for Sd purpos . . .

At a Legal town meeting at the meeting hous in Lunenburg on Tusday the thirteenth Day of June 1775...

Voted that whereas there is a peace of ordnance viz a cannon carrying a Shot of 9# well mounted & fit for Service now in the town of Lunenburg the property of sd town which the Said town are willing Should be made use of for the Defence of the province or otherwise as the Committe of Safty or Congress for Sd province Shall think proper, & will convey the Same to Cambridge on there Desire or order, and also that the Select men of the Sd. town give proper notice that their is Such a peice of ordinance now at Lunenburg fit for Service, to the Said Congress or Committe of Safty for Sd province

Voted that Capt. Abijah Stearns be an officer of four men for a gard & a teamster to See that the Cannon be Safely Conveyd as above prescribed

Voted that if Capn Stearns Delivers Said Cannon that he take a proper Recipt . . .

the town being [met] December ye 11th: 1775 agreeable to the adjornment

Voted that the Selectmen be a Committe to petition the General assembley for the Chargeses of procuring & mounting a Canon for the Continential army
As Eileen O’Brien noted, the men of Lunenburg were very careful to get a receipt for their property and to ask for payment. After all, cannon don’t grow on trees, and town meetings don’t like to spend money.

TOMORROW: Some observations and questions about this situation.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Upcoming Boston By Foot Tours

Boston By Foot offers three walking tours this coming weekend focused on heroes of Boston’s Revolution—most of whom are even non-fictional. Here are the descriptions.

Sunday, 2 July, 10:00-11:30 A.M.
Johnny Tremain’s Boston
Relive the adventures of Johnny Tremain in Colonial Boston based on Esther Forbes’ prize-winning coming-of-age novel featuring a young boy who gets caught up in the whirlwind of events that led up to the American Revolution.

Johnny’s story unfolds in downtown and North End locales, many of which are today’s Freedom Trail sites including the Old State House, Copp’s Hill Burying Ground, Paul Revere’s House, and the Old North Church.

On this tour, hear of Johnny’s fictional friends, like Rab and Cilla, but also of the actual patriots he met along the way, such as Dr. Joseph Warren, John Hancock, William Dawes, and Paul Revere. Get acquainted with the bustling and political town of Johnny’s Boston that has become the great American city of today.

Sunday, 2 July, 3:00-4:30 P.M.
Ben Franklin: Son of Boston
Celebrate and learn about the life of Benjamin Franklin by walking among the sites of his homes and haunts in Colonial Boston.

In his day, Franklin was America’s greatest scientist, inventor, diplomat, humorist, statesman, and entrepreneur. Ben was born in Boston, came of age in Philadelphia, and was the darling of Paris. From his many inventions, creations of civic, philanthropic, and educational institutions, to his roles in the founding of America, his legacy is immeasurable.

Monday, 3 July, 5:30-7:30 P.M.
Adams Family in Boston
“My Eyes are so diverted with Chimney Sweeps, Carriers of Wood, Merchants, Ladies, Priests, Carts, Horses, Oxen, Coaches, Market men and Women, Soldiers, Sailors, and my Ears with the Rattle Gabble of them all...” —John Adams, diary, March 18-19, 1759

Follow the words and history of four generations of Adamses, from their experiences at the Old State House, through Beacon Hill, and into Back Bay. John, Abigail, and their descendants were prolific writers. The trove of documents they left behind intimately describe their lives, public service, and Boston from the eve of the Revolution to the turn of the twentieth century.

General admission for each tour costs $15, or $5 for members; tickets are available through the links above. Boston By Foot also offers these tours on a private basis.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Birth of “Brown Bess”

Last month the Royal Armouries blog posted curator Johnathan Ferguson’s detailed article about the term “Brown Bess” as slang for a British infantryman’s musket.

The article cited three appearances of the term before its first entry in a slang dictionary.
  • John Grose, letter dated 17 Oct 1763: on joining the militia he received a “Coat, Pair of Breeches and musket (alias Brown Bess).”
  • The Adventures of a Kidnapped Orphan, 1767: “he began to handle Brown Bess with tolerable dexterity.”
And the 1771 article about Hannah Snell that I quoted yesterday, which portrays her as saying, “if you are afraid of the sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulders, and march.”

All those items show that the term “Brown Bess” was established in British society during the Revolutionary War. And there’s no indication it applied to some types of army firelocks and not others; it meant a soldier’s musket.

As for the origin of the phrase, Ferguson neatly disposes of several guesses: that “Bess” alluded to Queen Elizabeth, that “brown” referred to browning the musket barrel to protect it, that the whole phrase comes from German.

Instead, English authors were using “Brown Bess” by the late 1500s and early 1600s to mean a common woman or prostitute. In this context, “brown” meant ordinary, nothing special. That adjective was also applied to regular soldiers’ muskets by the early 1700s. So when people started to use “Brown Bess” in the context of the army, they implied that a soldier and his gun were a couple linked for life.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Hannah Snell and the Press Gang

Hannah Snell (1723-1792) was a native of Worcester in England. In 1747, her husband having deserted her and their child having died in infancy, she borrowed a brother-in-law’s clothes and name and enlisted in the British marines.

Over the next three years Snell participated in an abortive expedition to Mauritius and then a long campaign in India. Reportedly she was wounded multiple times to her legs and groin, and at one point whipped on her bare back. Nonetheless, Snell maintained her identity as a male until the ship returned to London, when she revealed her secret to her shipmates.

And then Snell made a deal with a London publisher for her story. The Female Soldier turned Snell into a celebrity. Engravers issued prints of her in her uniform. Prince William, the Duke of Cumberland, ensured that she received a military pension.

With Britain at war off and on throughout the century, Snell’s story was frequently republished to encourage martial patriotism from all British subjects. Isaiah Thomas put a version into his almanac for 1775 as Massachusetts prepared for armed rebellion, reusing an old cut of a woman holding a musket. (For more about that image, see my article here.)

In January 1771 the Oxford Magazine published a new anecdote about Hannah Snell, by this point in her mid-forties, a pub owner, and a mother of two new children by a new husband. The item appears to have come from a British newspaper dated 2 January:
Friday last a press gang was very busy at Newington-butts, and having impressed a poor countryman from his wife and children, the distressed woman followed her husband with lamentations, which induced many women to sally from their houses; among the Amazons was the famous Hannah Snell, who immediately demanded the captive from the Lieutenant; he refusing, and bad words ensuing, she collared and shook him; two sailors advanced to rescue their officer, whom she beat, and challenged to fight any of the gang with fists, sticks, or quarter-staff, only let her be permitted to pull off her stays, gown and petticoats, and put on breeches, declaring she had sailed more leagues than any of them; [“]and if they were seamen, they ought to be on board, and not sneak about as kidnappers; but if you are afraid of the sea, take Brown Bess on your shoulders, and march through Germany as I have done: Ye dogs I have more wounds about me than you have fingers. By G—d, this is no false attack; I’ll have my man[”]; and accordingly took the poor fellow from the gang, and restored him to his wife.

Thus did the long petticoats, headed by a veteran virago, overcome the short trowsers.——

Mrs. Snell has a pension of 50 l. per annum left by the late Duke of Cumberland, for her many manly services by sea and land.
That story was soon circulating in America as well. It appeared in the 25 Mar 1771 New-York Gazette, the 28 March Pennsylvania Journal, the 2 April Connecticut Courant, the 11 April Massachusetts Spy by Thomas, and the 19 April New-Hampshire Gazette.

In addition to giving us another glimpse of Snell, that article is notable for being one of the earliest print appearances of the phrase “Brown Bess” (or “brown Bess,” as the Pennsylvania Journal rendered it).

TOMORROW: But it wasn’t the very earliest appearance.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Two Maps of Eighteenth-Century Native America

A couple of stories about maps created or co-created by Native Americans in contact with British settlers recently caught my eye.

At Atlas Obscura, Sarah Laskow wrote about a map drawn on deerskin, now lost, in South Carolina in the early 1720s:
It depicted geographic and social relationships among the Native American nations in the surrounding area. Squares represent European settlements, with Charleston at one end and Virginia at the other, and circles in between represent Native American communities, connected by double lines that resemble paths.

This map, now known as the “Catawba Deerskin Map,” is one of the only examples of a map created by a Native American and given to Europeans. Colonial settlers reported that native tribes regularly made maps—etched in ash or on tree bark—and that this local cartographic knowledge helped the settlers develop their own maps of areas they wanted to occupy. . . .

This particular example combined geography with information about the relations between people living in the area, and some scholars argue that the paths drawn between the communities represent social and political distance, rather than geography. “This was a map that was meant to illustrate a trade relationship,” Max Edelson, a historian at University of Virginia, told BackStory radio. Edelson’s new book, A New Map of Empire, explains that the center of the map is the Catawba community of Nasaw, and Edelson compares it to the famous “View of the World From 9th Avenue” map, in which New York City takes on a disproportionate amount of space to represent its inhabitants’ view of the world.

There is some question, though, about who actually made the deerskin map. . . . Historian Ian Chambers, for instance, has argued that the map is of Cherokee origin. One of the keys to his assertion is the path that runs across the top of the map, which connects the Cherokee directly to Charleston. Trade along this connection, Chambers writes, had been logistically challenging, and a Cherokee leader had once promised a trader that “they would make a new path” to ease the way. The central position of the Catawba communities, in this theory, highlights their position as an obstacle to direct trade between the Cherokee and the British, much like a British map might put the Atlantic Ocean at the center of a map of the North American colonies and the British Isles, the center of power, in one corner.
Meanwhile, the Cornell University library spotlighted a recent acquisition “showing Seneca and Cayuga villages and native footpaths in addition to natural features” in what is now upstate New York:
It consists of three maps: a finished map of Hudson County, and sketched maps of Schoharie Creek and Seneca and Cayuga territory.

The Seneca-Cayuga map depicts Cayuga and Seneca lakes as well as six small triangles representing indigenous villages. Five of these villages are named, and all are connected by a network of dotted lines indicating footpaths.

“It’s one of the most detailed early European reconnaissance of what we now call the Finger Lakes, and what’s striking about that from a colonial/historical perspective is how late that is,” said Jon Parmenter, associate professor of history.

The map was likely created between 1760 and 1770. By then, the Finger Lakes region was well known to European colonists, but they had limited access for detailed surveying. . . .

For example, a spot on Cayuga Lake labeled “Tarry” on the map was probably a spot where people waited for canoes to come and ferry them across to the other shore. A spot near what is now Montezuma, N.Y. is labeled, “The resort of gees and ducks of all sorts all the year.”

Saturday, June 24, 2017

The Literary Legacy of Joseph Strutt

Joseph Strutt (1749-1802) was an English engraver and antiquarian. Most of his career was taken up with researching, drawing, and publishing artifacts of the British past: pictures of kings from old manuscripts, clothing of different periods, and so on.

I’m using Strutt’s Sports and Pastimes of the People of England, published in 1801, as a source in my paper at the Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife today. The paper is titled “Political Football,” and Strutt described the game as played in his time this way.
When a match at foot-ball is made, two parties, each containing an equal number of competitors, take the field, and stand between two goals, placed at the distance of eighty or an hundred yards the one from the other. The goal is usually made with two sticks driven into the ground, about two or three feet apart. The ball, which is commonly made of a blown bladder, and cased with leather, is delivered in the midst of the ground, and the object of each party is to drive it through the goal of their antagonists, which being achieved the game is won. The abilities of the performers are best displayed in attacking and defending the goals; and hence the pastime was more frequently called a goal at foot-ball than a game at foot-ball. When the exercise becomes exceedingly violent, the players kick each other’s shins without the least ceremony, and some of them are overthrown at the hazard of their limbs.
Strutt also wrote poetry and fiction, including a novel set in the fifteenth century that he hadn’t finished when he died. The publisher John Murray asked a young lawyer and poet named Walter Scott to complete the story, which he did rather perfunctorily. But that book gave Scott the idea of writing historical novels of his own.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Raise the Spitfire?

Earlier this month the Associated Press reported on the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s proposal to raise, preserve, and display a gunboat that sank in 1776.

The boat is the Spitfire, one of Gen. Benedict Arnold’s fleet during the Battle of Valcour Island. The dispatch says:
The Spitfire was found during a 1997 sonar survey of the lake. Museum divers check on it yearly. Its mast is still erect and the bow cannon still in the firing position. The ammunition and other artifacts from the battle are buried in mud.

For almost 250 years, the Spitfire has been protected by the cold water of the lake. But Cohn said its future is in danger because of the expected arrival in the lake of quagga mussels, an invasive species that has reached the Great Lakes and could potentially destroy metal fastenings that hold the vessel together.
Back in the 1930s another gunboat, the Philadelphia, was pulled up from the lake. The museum made a replica that sails on Lake Champlain today, shown above.

Raising the Spitfire is a huge undertaking. The plan being proposed would take twenty-two years and cost an estimated $44 million. The steps involved:

  • two years of planning at a cost of $1 million.
  • building a facility to house the boat in Burlington, Vermont.
  • bringing the Spitfire to the surface around 2025.
  • preserving the boat by strengthening the cells of the wood with chemicals over fifteen years.
  • building a museum to display the boat near Plattsburgh, New York.

If all goes according to plan, the Spitfire would be ready for its close-up around 2039.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Declaring Independence , 27 June–July 4

In connection with other historical organizations and venues, the Freedom’s Way National Heritage Area and the American Antiquarian Society are presenting a series of public performances of “Declaring Independence—Then & Now.”

These are presentations about forty minutes long in which a narrator and five costumed re-enactors bring to life the Declaration of Independence as seen from the local level in the community where they are speaking.

Each presentation includes voices from the host town or city in 1776. That spring, the Massachusetts legislature invited town meetings to discuss whether it was time to declare independence from Great Britain. Those responses, as well as newspaper essays and letters, create the tapestry of public debate.

“Declaring Independence” presentations then proceed to a complete reading of the Continental Congress’s Declaration of July 1776 (with the obscure bits explained). Finally, the presenters and audience engaged in a moderated discussion of the issues that the Declaration raises today.

The upcoming performances of “Declaring Independence” are:

27 June, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
American Antiquarian Society, Worcester

29 June, 6:00-8:00 P.M.
Longfellow’s Wayside Inn, Sudbury, with the Sudbury Historical Society

1 July, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
First Parish Church, Fitchburg, with the Fitchburg Public Library & Fitchburg Historical Society

1-4 July, 10:00 A.M. & 12:00 noon
Old Sturbridge Village, Sturbridge

2 July, 1:00, 3:00 & 5:00 P.M.
Old North Church, Boston, with Boston’s Harborfest

4 July, 7:00-8:30 P.M.
The Depot, Lexington, with the Lexington Historical Society

Contact the host organizations for more information about each event. “Declaring Independence” is an outgrowth of the Patriots’ Paths project, in which Freedom’s Way historian Mary Fuhrer works with members of a community to explore its primary documents about America’s move toward independence. If you want your local historical organization to help create and host a future presentation, contact Freedom’s Way.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Upcoming Events at Paul Revere House

The Paul Revere House in Boston’s North End has a busy summer of special events coming up. All of these take place on Saturdays unless described otherwise.

27 June, 1:00, 1:45 & 2:30 P.M.
John Adams: The Colossus of Independence
Hear from John Adams himself as he discusses his earliest beginnings in Braintree through his days as delegate of the Continental Congress and foreign ambassador. Hear his opinions of his contemporaries and how he longs to be home with his “dearest friend,” Abigail, and their children. Mr. Adams’ singular wit is appealing to children and adults!

Friday, 30 June, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
A Visit with Paul Revere
David Connor brings Boston’s favorite patriot vividly to life. Ask him about the details of his midnight ride, inquire about his 16 children, or engage him in conversation about his activities as a member of the Sons of Liberty.

1 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Patriot Fife and Drum
Enjoy a lively concert of music that accompanied colonists as they marched, danced, wooed their beloveds, and waged war. David Vose and Sue Walko provide fascinating insight into each selection they perform.

Monday, 3 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Colonial Dance Tunes and Love Songs
In the guise of itinerant musicians, Al Petty & Deirdre Sweeney perform popular 18th-century tunes such as “Mr. Isaac’s Maggot” and “Jack’s Health” on the penny whistle, flute, fife, & other instruments.

8 July, 1:00, 1:45 & 2:30 P.M.
Fife and Drum Concert by the Boston Alarm Company
Treat yourself to a sprightly concert of fife and drum music! Dressed in civilian clothing reproduced from period originals, alarm company members play marches and beat out cadences used to warn citizens of impending attack.

15 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Glass Harmonica Concert
Vera Meyer plays early American melodies on the intriguing instrument that Ben Franklin invented. The ethereal, haunting tones Meyer creates as she places her wet fingers on the rims of rotating glass bowls will mesmerize all who listen!

22 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Colonial Basket Weaving
Rather than in plastic bags or cardboard boxes, colonists stored cheese, chickens, and candles in specially designed baskets. Fred Lawson weaves and sells reproductions copied from period originals.

29 July, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
The Tailor’s Craft
Clothing historian Henry Cooke takes on the role of an early Boston tailor. Watch as he “takes the measure” of visitors, then sits cross-legged, fashioning waistcoats from luxurious fabrics and “slops” from coarse weaves.

5 August, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Hammered Dulcimer
Award-winning musician Dave Neiman plays jigs, reels, and Baroque and Renaissance tunes that Paul Revere and his family may have enjoyed.

12 August, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Colonial Leather Working
Find out how colonial era leather workers fashioned scabbards, sword belts, and harnesses. Fred Lawson demonstrates and invites visitors to try their hands at punching holes and sewing leather.

19 August, 1:00-3:00 P.M.
Tinsmithing Demonstration
Who made the ubiquitous lanterns, sconces, and other tin wares of the 18th century? A tinker! Larry Leonard produces and sells examples of his craft while describing the techniques, tools, and materials used since the Reveres’ era.

26 August, 1:00, 1:45 & 2:30 P.M.
A Revolution of Her Own!
The captivating story of the first woman to fight in the American Military: in 1782, Deborah Sampson bound her chest, tied back her hair, and enlisted in the Continental Army. Experience her arduous upbringing, active combat, and success as the first female professional soldier (in part, due to the assistance of Paul Revere). Deborah’s passion takes you back in time! Length: 30 min.

All events are included the price of admission, which is for adults $5, for seniors & college students $4.50, and for children aged five to seventeen $1. Members and North End residents are admitted free at all times. The house is open daily 9:30 A.M. to 5:15 P.M. to the end of October.

(The picture above, courtesy of North End Waterfront, shows the Paul Revere House around 1900, before it was restored and turned into a historical museum. Cigars are no longer available inside.)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Hesse on the Founders’ Thinking in Exeter, N.H., 22 June

On Thursday, 22 June, the American Independence Museum in Exeter, New Hampshire, will host a talk by Richard Hesse on the topic “Founding Fathers: What Were They Thinking?”
In 1787 delegates gathered in Philadelphia to address a wide variety of crises facing the young United States of America and produced the charter for a new government. In modern times, competing political and legal claims are frequently based on what those delegates intended. Mythology about the founders and their work at the 1787 Convention has obscured both fact and legitimate analysis of the events leading to their agreement called the Constitution. The program explores the cast of characters called “founders,” the problems they faced and the solutions they fashioned.
Hesse is Professor Emeritus at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, concentrating on state and federal constitutional law and international human rights. He was previously a community lawyer in Philadelphia heading a police community-relations project, and later head a Boston-based national project on consumers’ rights. Hesse twice received the Bill of Rights Award from the New Hampshire Civil Liberties Union.

This program is scheduled to start at 12:00 noon, and attendees are welcome to bring lunch. The American Independence Museum is at 1 Governors Lane in Exeter. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

This lecture is made possible by support from the New Hampshire Humanities Council, which in turn receives about half of its operating budget from the National Endowment for the Humanities. On the topic of “What were they thinking?” the current administration has proposed eliminating the N.E.H.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wright on “Pedagogues and Protesters” in Boston, 20 June

On Tuesday, 20 June, Conrad E. Wright will speak at the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston about the confrontation at the heart of his new book, Pedagogues and Protesters: The Harvard College Student Diary of Stephen Peabody, 1767-1768.

The publisher explains:
On April 4, 1768, about one hundred angry Harvard College undergraduates, well over half the student body, left school and went home, in protest against new rules about class preparation. Their action constituted the largest student strike at any colonial American college.

Many contemporaries found the cause trivial and the students’ decision inexplicable, but in the undergraduates’ own minds it was the culmination of months of tensions with the faculty.

Pedagogues and Protesters recounts the year in daily journal entries by Stephen Peabody, a member of the class of 1769. The best surviving account of colonial college life, Peabody’s journal documents relationships among students, faculty members, and administrators, as well as the author’s relationships with other segments of Massachusetts society.

To a full transcription of the entries, Conrad Edick Wright adds detailed annotation and an introduction that focuses on the journal’s revealing account of daily life at America’s oldest college.
Peabody (1741-1819) was in his late twenties in this academic year while most undergraduates of the time were in their mid- to late teens. Peabody was also six feet tall, recalled as “large and commanding.” (Here’s his portrait in 1809, painted by John Johnson because Gilbert Stuart was too expensive.) So it’s no wonder he was one of the leaders of the students’ protest.

Conrad Wright is the Worthington C. Ford Editor and Director of Research at the Massachusetts Historical Society. Among his duties there is editing Sibley’s Harvard Graduates, a series of detailed biographical profiles of every person to be admitted to Harvard in the seventeenth and (so far) eighteenth centuries. He’s also the author of Revolutionary Generation: Harvard Men and the Consequences of Independence, a study of the men who left the college in the crucial war years. Wright is thus a prime source of information about life at Harvard during the tumult of the Revolution.

This event will begin at 5:30 P.M. with a reception. Wright will speak at 6:00 and sign books afterward. The talk is free, but the M.H.S. asks people to register in advance.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

“Henry Knox’s First Mission” in Framingham, 20 June

On Tuesday, 20 June, I’ll speak at the Framingham History Center’s annual meeting, debuting a new talk on “Myths and Realities of Col. Henry Knox’s First Mission.”

As recounted in almost every history of the Revolutionary War, in the winter of 1775-76 young Boston bookseller Henry Knox traveled northwest to Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York to gather large cannon and haul them back to Gen. George Washington’s army besieging Boston.

By 25 Jan 1776, Knox had brought fifty-eight pieces of artillery as far as Framingham. We don’t know that from his own papers since the young colonel had stopped keeping a journal of the journey. Instead, we have John Adams’s detailed report of what he saw in Framingham that day.

In this talk I’ll address these questions and more:

  • What sort of artillery did the Massachusetts provincial army start with?
  • Who had the idea of fetching cannon from the Lake Champlain forts?
  • How and when did Knox get out of Boston?
  • What were Knox’s main qualifications to become colonel?
  • How did the weather affect Knox’s mission?
  • What does the stop in Framingham tell us about Knox’s route?
  • What happened to the fifty-ninth cannon Knox started out with?
  • What effect did Knox’s cannon have on the British army’s plans?

This event will take place at the Edgell Memorial Library, 3 Oak Street in Framingham. It’s for Framingham History Center members and donors, so if you wish to attend you can join the organization and support local history. The evening will start at 7:00 with some organization business, and there will be refreshments and books for sale afterward.

(The photo above, courtesy of Wikipedia, shows Framingham’s marker along the Henry Knox Trail, tracing his documented or likely route from New York to the siege lines.)

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Mildred G. Burrage’s “Attack on Bunker Hill”

This map of the Charlestown peninsula in 1775 and the Battle of Bunker Hill comes from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at the Boston Public Library, courtesy of the Digital Commonwealth. It is made of “Painted gesso plaster, with land features shown in relief.”

The creator was Mildred G. Burrage (1890-1983) of Maine. Last year the University of New England Art Gallery in Portland had an exhibit on Burrage’s seventy-year career, which extended from studying Impressionist in Paris as a teenager to pursuing Abstract Expressionism between the world wars in the form of “mica paintings,” incorporating local minerals into her pictures, to promoting artist networks and historic preservation in her later decades.

Regional history was a big subject for Burrage. She recalled receiving drawing lessons from “a lady descended from John Hancock who had me draw one of his chairs, and cut off a piece of the red brocade to go with my drawing!” When Burrage was seventeen, her father, formerly a newspaper editor and minister, became Maine’s state historian. Later she “made recruiting posters for World War I and worked in the shipyards of South Portland during World War II,” the Portland Press Herald reported.

That newspaper article said:
The mica paintings may be the most unique work Burrage attempted, but they are not the most remarkable elements of the show. That distinction belongs to a small series of highly detailed and beautifully crafted maps that Burrage copied and displayed, rather successfully, as artwork. She began making maps after her return to Maine from Paris, and continued doing so among her other art projects into the 1930s.

They are the earliest examples in the exhibition of Burrage’s self-reinvention, [curator Earle G.] Shettleworth said. The maps spoke to both her interest in art and history, he said.

With its detail and near-perfect rendering, the most interesting of the maps is a watercolor copy of Samuel de Champlain’s engraving of “New France,” published in 1613. It includes what is now Maine and Canada. There also are copies of maps of old Portland, Cape Ann and Washington, D.C.
This map of Bunker Hill, which the library dates the sesquicentennial of American independence in 1926, is likewise based on older images. But the gesso plaster seems to be one of Burrage’s many artistic experiments, pushing her work into new areas.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Secrets of Gen. Clinton’s Map of Bunker Hill

Here’s an intriguing document from the maps collection at the Library of Congress.

It’s Gen. Henry Clinton’s hand-drawn map of the Battle of Bunker Hill.

One eye-catching detail is that Clinton sketched a small fortification on top of Bunker’s Hill, at the left of this image. (The redoubt on Breed’s Hill is at the center, as usual.)

There are even lines indicating that one of the warships in the Charles River fired at that site.

On the night of 19 Apr 1775, British troops had dug in a little on Bunker’s Hill to protect the soldiers who had exhausted themselves marching out to Lexington and Concord and back. They abandoned that area by the next morning. After retaking the Charlestown peninsula in June, the British built a much larger, stronger fortification on that site.

But evidently on 17 June, Clinton perceived the provincials as having fortified themselves there as well. Maybe New England men were taking advantage of what the British had left from April. We know there was a great deal of reluctance to leave that high ground and go down to the redoubt and fence where a man could get killed.

Also interesting is that Clinton drew this map on the back of a sheet printed with the lyrics of two drinking songs, “John Barleycorn Is Dead” and “O Good Ale, Thou Art My Darling,” and an engraved line of music.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

EXTRA: Celebrating “Grand Union Flag” Day in Somerville

Somerville usually celebrates the flag-raising on Prospect Hill on the anniversary of that event. Unfortunately, that’s on 1 January—not always the most comfortable time to be outside on a New England hilltop. So this year the city is celebrating that event on the Saturday after Flag Day, or 17 June.

Now that date happens to be the anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill, the major historical event in neighboring Charlestown. Which Somerville split off from 175 years ago—an event the city is celebrating all this year. But Charlestown had its Bunker Hill parade last weekend because that ceremony is always on the Sunday before the exact anniversary. So 17 June was up for grabs.

The Somerville celebration is scheduled to take place from 10:00 A.M. until 12:00 noon. Vexillologist Byron DeLear will speak about the significance of the “Grand Union Flag.” There will be tours of Prospect Hill Tower, colonial-era music, and other happenings. The event is sponsored by the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission and Historic Somerville.

[ADDENDUM: In addition, DeLear will speak in more detail about his research and conclusions on Sunday, 18 June, at the Somerville Museum. That event will start at 2:00 P.M., and a reception will follow at 3:00. The museum’s address is 1 Westwood Road.]

Byron DeLear also spoke about the flag on Prospect Hill a few years back, but that was, you know, in January. He argues that the “Grand Union Flag,” more formally the American naval flag, was not only “flown atop Somerville’s Prospect Hill in 1776” but was also “not just the first flag of the united colonies, but the first flag of the United States.”

Another vexillologist, Peter Ansoff, has expressed doubts about the standard [get it?] story of the “Grand Union Flag,” noting that contemporary accounts are far from clear that it was a single banner with a new design. Supporting that hypothesis is the lack of any document from the Continental Congress informing Gen. George Washington about the naval ensign it had just adopted or enclosing a flag for him to fly near Boston.

One of the most likely candidates for sending that flag to Washington was Joseph Reed, the Philadelphia lawyer who had served as his first military secretary. Reed had shown an interest in flags, proposing that the army schooners fly the “Appeal to Heaven” banner. On 4 Jan 1776 Washington wrote back to Reed about how the army had “hoisted the Union Flag in compliment to the United Colonies.” So should we look for evidence of the Congress’s new flag in Reed’s letters to Washington?

Unfortunately, those letters don’t survive. For late 1775 and early 1776, we have only Washington’s side of the correspondence. He alluded to many letters from Reed that must have been mislaid or destroyed sometime after their falling-out at the end of 1776. So what, if anything, the Congress told its commanding general about a new flag remains a mystery.

A Coffin at Bunker Hill

Nathaniel Coffin (1725-80) was a merchant in Boston who in November 1768 took the job of Deputy Cashier to the American Board of Customs.

That shifted Coffin politically onto the side of the royal government. He would even report to his employers about Boston town meetings and private conversations with Whig leaders, but he never hid his distaste for protest and thus wasn’t really undercover.

With Coffin came his sons, John (1756-1838) and Isaac (1759-1839). They both joined the British military during the Revolutionary War and had long and distinguished careers. John became a general, judge, and legislator in New Brunswick. Isaac became an admiral, baronet, and Member of Parliament in England. Since this branch of the Coffin family still had relatives back in Massachusetts, they corresponded and visited with people in the U.S. of A. between and after the wars.

At the start of the war, it appears, John Coffin was a teenager helping to sail a troop transport ship. On 9 Jan 1819, Josiah Quincy (after he served in Congress but before he was elected mayor) recorded a story about Coffin in his diary:
In conversation with William Sullivan. He dined yesterday in company with General Coffin of the British army. Coffin said, that he had the command of the first boat (being then Lieutenant of a transport ship) which landed the advance of the first regiment of British grenadiers at the attack of Bunker’s Hill. As the boat touched the shore, a three-pound shot from the American lines passed lengthways over the boat, touched not a man, and beat out her stern.

Further service with his boat being thus rendered impracticable, Coffin took a musket, joined the assailants, and was in the midst of the battle. He said that he had been since that time in many engagements, but never knew one, for the time it lasted, so hot and destructive.
Quincy evidently wrote this down because “The anecdote proves what has been denied,—that artillery was used on the American side in the battle of Bunker’s Hill.” There’s ample evidence of such artillery from other sources, but American chroniclers had preferred to portray their side as total underdogs. In fact, the diary of Lt. Richard Williams tells us that the provincials were firing five-pound balls, even bigger than what Gen. Coffin described whizzing past him.

The biography of John Coffin published by his son in 1874 goes into more detail, though not necessarily more reliable detail. It said:
John…was sent to sea at a very early age, and served his time in a Boston Ship; being an active young man he soon rose in the estimation of his Captain: in due time became Chief-mate, and soon after was placed in command of the ship, at the early age of eighteen.

In 1774, Mr. John Coffin brought his ship to England; the following year the Government took her up amongst others for the conveyance of troops to America, where the war had commenced. He had on board nearly a whole Regiment with General Howse (in command of the troops), who was ordered out to supersede General [Thomas] Gage, at Boston.
We know Gen. William Howe actually arrived in Boston on 25 May 1775 aboard the Royal Navy ship Cerberus, along with Gen. John Burgoyne and Gen. Henry Clinton. Other ships and soldiers arrived around the middle of June, and Coffin may well have been working on one of those ships instead.
The vessel arrived at Boston, on the 15th of June, Mr. Coffin landed the Regiment immediately under Bunker’s Hill, and the action having already commenced (17th June, 1775), he was requested by the Colonel “to come up and see the fun;” the only weapon at hand being the tiller of his boat, he immediately (to use a nautical phrase) unshipped it, and with equal determination commenced laying about him, and shipped the powder and belt, and musket of the first man he knocked down, and bore an active part during the rest of the action.
This is even more dramatic than the anecdote Quincy recorded, but the only men who would have been within reach of Coffin’s tiller as he was really “laying about him” would have been British soldiers.
In consideration of his gallant conduct, he was presented to General Gage after the battle, and made an Ensign on the field; shortly after he was promoted to a Lieutenant, but still retained the command of his ship.
There’s no documentary support for any of that. John Coffin was commissioned as a captain in the Orange Rangers, a Loyalist corps, in 1777.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Looking at Ben’s Revolution

This spring brought us a new book from Nathaniel Philbrick, author of Bunker Hill and Valiant Ambition, and Wendell Minor, jacket designer for John Adams and 1776. Unlike those books, Ben’s Revolution is written for young readers.

In its format, Ben’s Revolution is a rarity among recent children’s books, almost a unicorn. It’s a “picture storybook.” At sixty-four pages it’s twice the length of a typical picture book today (through a lot of picture books used to be that length). That means the publisher invested in about twice as many illustrations, and paid twice the printing and paper costs. The book’s word count is similarly supersized, far above the 500 words aspiring picture-book authors are told to limit themselves to.

Penguin was no doubt willing to go beyond the normal parameters of a modern picture book because of the names involved: Philbrick, a bestselling author; Minor, a highly respected artist; and the Revolutionary War, a staple of American school curricula. In fact, that probably wasn’t a difficult calculation at all. But picture-book authors without such a track record shouldn’t take Ben’s Revolution as a model.

In content, Philbrick built this book around the experiences of Benjamin Russell, subject of several Boston 1775 postings. Young Ben starts the book as a schoolboy in Boston, serves time as an off-the-books clerk for a provincial military company in the first months of the war, and finishes as an apprentice to printer Isaiah Thomas. Russell actually witnessed some of the fighting on 19 April and 17 June 1775, and those stories provide the backbone of the book.

Philbrick also uses two anecdotes of unnamed boys from this time, casting Ben Russell as the protagonist. He becomes one of the boys who demanded that Gen. Frederick Haldimand preserve their coasting run down School Street. He’s the boy who hears Col. Percy’s musicians playing “Yankee Doodle” and tells the earl that he’ll dance to that tune by sundown. In addition, the book gives us a look at such events as the Tea Party, the shots on Lexington common, and the British evacuation of Boston without straining to put Ben on the scene.

All those moments are handsomely painted by Minor, who in addition to designing iconic jackets has also illustrated many children’s books, specializing in Americana and nature. A few years back Minor illustrated a biography of Henry Knox which I found beautiful but riddled with errors. This time my only big quibble about the art is that Minor depicts Ben and his young friends with the haircuts of today’s boys—a fairly common approach to portraying the period, whenever an artist works. As I’ve noted, the fashion for boys in the 1770s was suspiciously close to a mullet.

The nature of Ben Russell’s actions, and of how he and others through Philbrick and Minor chose to tell his story, means there are no female characters in the story. Even Ben’s mother is mentioned only from afar. And there are very few females visible in the art. Likewise, Russell didn’t say anything about the black or Native soldiers in the provincial camp, and I spotted only two darker faces in the pictures’ backgrounds, one in the redoubt on Breed’s Hill.

I should note that Nat Philbrick and I have shared conversations and manuscripts about Revolutionary Boston for a while. Ben’s Revolution therefore reflects the argument I made in The Road to Concord that Gen. Thomas Gage triggered the war by sending troops “on a secret mission to seize the cannon that the patriots had hidden in Concord.” I now have hopes that the next generation of Americans will grow up with that story instead of the assumption that the British were hunting John Hancock and Samuel Adams.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Remembering Moses Parker

As described yesterday, Lt. Col. Moses Parker of Chelmsford died as a prisoner of war on 4 July 1775 from a leg wound he suffered in the Battle of Bunker Hill.

On 21 July the New-England Chronicle published an unusually long death notice, showing how much esteem people had for Parker. It said:

…through the several Commissions to which his Merit entitled him, he had always the Pleasure to find that he possessed the Esteem and Respect of his Soldiers, and the Applause of his Countrymen. In him Fortitude, Prudence, Humanity and Compassion, all conspired to heighten the Lustre of his military Virtues—

He also, at this important Day, when the Parent is stretching the Iron Hand of Power over her Children, and threatening them and their Posterity with Slavery; being possessed of the most sacred Veneration for the inestimable civil and religious Privileges of his native Country, again “unappalled by Danger,” with equal Firmness and Intrepidity, steps forth to meet her restless Enemies, and thus offers himself a Victim to the Shrine of Freedom.

God grant each Individual that now is, or may be, engaged in the American Army, an equal Magnitude of Soul; so shall their Names, unsullied, be transmitted in the latest Catalogue of Fame; and if any Vestiges of Liberty shall remain, their Praises shall be rehearsed through the Earth “till the Sickle of Time shall crop the Creation.”
But that’s not all. The Gilder Lehrman Institute owns a handwritten poem (or perhaps words to a hymn) by Samuel Richardson of Chelmsford lamenting Parker’s loss:
Col. Moses Parker of Chelmsford, In Newengland Who Died in Bostone on June 1775 of the Wound he Receivd. in the Bloody battle on Bunkers-Hill in Charlestown while he was Gloriously Fighting in the cause of Liberty and his Country,

Come all who have skill and Lament
and let your hearts and eys have vent
While you to memory do call
The Valiant Colonel Parkers fall

He bravely did with courage go
To Charlstown fight to meet his foe
And in his place was Valient found
And with great boldness kept his ground

But fighting for his Countrys goods
What Dangers roled like a flood
A Wound Rea[d]er in his thigh
Of which in Boston he Did die

While he was in Captivity
Before he of his Wound did die
We he[ar] was Com-mended high
By his Relations enmy

He was a Valant offiser
In the last Canadian war
And in this present war Did go
To face his Countrys bloody foe

Brave Parker their must bled and Die
To Save his friends from Slavery
Its with great grief we view they fall
When thee to memory we call

His Townsmen Do Lamet his fate
His nearer friends and Living Mate
With Sorow do condole his loss
And need Support to bear their cross

God grant this Loss may be their gain
May they not murmer nor complain
But with Submission kiss rod
And know that it is the hand of God

As they find creature screams Dry
O may their minds arise more high
To God in whome is perfat peace
And Solid joy that cannot cease

God is th joy of those mourn
That do to him through Christ return
And rest by faith upon his grace
Shall find relief in all Distress

His officers and Soldiers all
Who mourn their Valiant Leaders fall
May God inquire with courage Still
And giv Submission to his will

May Gods protection them Surround
And all their bloody foes confound
May they possess the gates of those
That Do our city now inclose

God Sanctify this Loss at all
Who Saw this noble Hero fall
And while his courage they relate
May they his virtue emitate

May oficers that yet Servive
Who by their God are kept alive
By courage and good conduct Shew
Their hearts to Liberty are true

May they be kept from Sinful way
Least they Should fall with foul Disgrace
And Sink beneath the tyrants rod
And feel the Vengeance of God

May they their Soldiers govern well
And in their places all excel
That Honour on their heads m[a]y ly
Both while, they Liv and when they Die

But British troops Digrace must Share
How can their Valour honour bear
Since they their flesh and blood Do fight
To rob them of their proper right

The greater Victories they gain
The more the Doth their honour Stain
Since God oppressors will pull Down
That the oppressor may wear the crown

Tho for a time they may rise high
And Kings and Nations terrify
Yet time will bring their Shamefull fall
Their crimes Shall be exposd to all

They may think they Shall have peace
And by this war their welth increase
Yet wealth thats got unlawfully
Like chaff Shall from the owner fly

Welth that men Do obtain by blood
Tho it increaseth like a flood
It will against the owner cry
And end in endless misery

The Stone Shall cry out of the wall
And timber from their Buildings call
For wrath from God Which Shall Distress
All Such as do the poore oppress
In 1786, there must have been some legal need to document Parker’s death. The Boston Public Library holds two documents from that effort:
Finally, John Trumbull included Parker in his painting of “The Death of Warren.” Parker is the figure seated in the dark area on the far left, clutching his knee.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Moses Parker and His Comrades in the Redoubt

As I said yesterday, Col. Ebenezer Bridge’s regiment was one of the New England units ordered onto the Charlestown peninsula on the night of 16 June 1775. Maj. John Brooks and three companies stayed behind at first for other duties, but Bridge, Lt. Col. Moses Parker, and the rest of the regiment crossed the isthmus to Bunker’s Hill.

That meant those men helped to dig the redoubt on Breed’s Hill during the morning of 17 June. The soldier usually said to be first killed in the battle was a member of the regiment: Asa Pollard of Billerica. Men from Bridge’s regiment were presumably those who wanted to give their comrade a religious burial while Col. William Prescott insisted they keep digging.

In the same regiment, Capt. Ebenezer Bancroft’s company used a cannon to widen embrasures in the redoubt, as discussed here. Capt. John Ford and his men fired another of the cannon left behind by members of the Massachusetts artillery regiment.

During the battle Col. Bridge suffered wounds from a sword, indicating close combat at the end of the battle. Nonetheless, some junior officers accused him of “misbehaviour and neglect of duty,” saying he had cowered behind the walls of the redoubt. On 20 August, Gen. George Washington ordered “A Court of enquiry to sit this day, at three in the afternoon, to examine into the Reasons for a complaint exhibited against Col. Ebenezer Bridge.” On that board was Col. Prescott, who knew more than anyone about the conditions in the redoubt.

That board of officers recommended a general court-martial to adjudicate Bridge’s case. On 11 September, Washington’s general orders announced “The Court are of opinion that Indisposition of body, render’d the prisoner incapable of action, and do therefore acquit him.” Ebenezer Bridge remained with the army until December, then held military posts in Massachusetts for many years.

In that battle Bridge’s regiment suffered 16 or 17 men dead and 25 wounded. Lt. Col. Parker was shot in the thigh (or knee, according to one source) and left wounded in the redoubt. As the British troops swept over the fortification and up to Bunker’s Hill, they made Parker and the other wounded provincials into prisoners of war.

Reporting rumors from inside Boston, Abigail Adams wrote on 5 July:
Our prisoners were brought over to the long wharff and there laid all night without any care of their wounds or any resting place but the pavements till the next day, when they exchanged it for the jail, since which we hear they are civily treated. Their living cannot be good, as they can have no fresh provisions.
Later American accounts declared that the conditions inside the Boston jail were terrible, though no jail at that time was healthy. This period was when Boston suffered the worst food shortages since the British government’s supply ships hadn’t yet started to arrive.

Parker’s wound apparently became infected. Surgeons amputated his leg, probably a desperate measure. On 4 July 1775, he died.

TOMORROW: Remembering Moses Parker.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Moses Parker, “the most prominent military character”

Moses Parker was born on 13 May 1731 in Chelmsford. Seven years earlier, his father Joseph had served as a “Lieutenant of a company of snowshoe-men” in what would be called Dummer’s War. Once back home, Joseph Parker served on committees and boards for both his meetinghouse and his town.

In 1738, when Moses was seven years old, Joseph Parker died. According to a Parker family genealogy he “perished, with his whole command, in a terrible battle with the Oneidas.” However, I can’t find any other mention of such an event. And his body was buried in Chelmsford, not a frontier battlefield. Joseph Parker’s gravestone appears here, courtesy of Find a Grave.

As an adult, Moses Parker followed his father into the provincial military service. A Chelmsford company set out for northern New York in March 1755 and stayed until January. Moses Parker went out as a sergeant and evidently came back as an ensign.

Wilkes Allen’s 1820 History of Chelmsford then says of Parker:
In 1758, he was honored with a lieutenant’s commission in a company commanded by Capt. Jona. Butterfield, and raised for the express purpose of a general invasion of Canada. He was promoted to a captain in the succeeding year, and in 1760, commanded a company at Fort Frederick, St. John’s. In this expedition he distinguished himself as a brave soldier, and as an intrepid and dauntless officer, he was endeared to those under his care by his assidiuous [sic] attention to their wants and constant endeavors to render their situation as pleasant as circumstances would permit.

Such was his reputation that when Governour [Francis] Bernard in 1761, was selecting from a multitude of applicants, thirty captains for that year’s service, Capt. Parker stood forth the most prominent military character on the list. Col. [Nathaniel] Thwing [1703-1768] and Col. [William] Arbuthnot [1726-1765] declared, that “they would not go without him, that he was the only Captain they had insisted upon.” So great was his popularity, that his friends assured him, that if he would accept of a captainship, “fifty men might be immediately raised to serve under him.” [Footnote citation: “M.S. Letter of Oliver Fletcher, Esq.”]
According to the Rev. Wilson Waters’s 1917 history of Chelmsford, Parker’s farm was 150 rods south of where “the Middlesex turnpike [now Turnpike Road]…crosses River Meadow brook.”

In May 1774, Moses Parker was named as one of Chelmsford’s committee of correspondence. In April 1775, he commanded a company that responded to the Lexington Alarm. And on 19 May 1775 he accepted a commission from the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, with Dr. Joseph Warren presiding and signing the paperwork, as a lieutenant colonel.

Parker was in the regiment of Col. Ebenezer Bridge, a thirty-one-year-old Harvard graduate and son of Chelmsford’s minister. The major was twenty-three-year-old Dr. John Brooks of Reading. At age forty-four, with four military campaigns under his belt, Lt. Col. Parker was the regiment’s veteran officer.

On the night of 16 June 1775, Col. Bridge’s regiment was ordered to march onto the Charlestown peninsula under Col. William Prescott and fortify Bunker’s Hill.

TOMORROW: In the redoubt.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Two Unconquered Canadiens

This title on the short list for the Wilson Institute for Canadian History’s book prize caught my eye:
Joseph Gagné’s Inconquis: Deux retraites françaises vers la Louisiane après 1760 tells the captivating story of two French military officers – Pierre Passerat de La Chapelle and Louis Liénard de Beaujeu – that chose to march to Louisiana after the abdication of the French in Montreal in 1760 rather than suffer the embarrassment of surrendering to the British.

These men, one leaving Fort Detroit, the other Fort Michillimakinac, eventually met, by chance, in Illinois country. . . .

Both men came from very different backgrounds: Pierre Passerat de La Chapelle was a young French professional solider and a provincial nobleman, while Louis Liénard de Beaujeu was a Canadian military officer that benefitted from the fur trade. Upon meeting, Beaujeu, the more senior of the two, tried to submit La Chapelle to his leadership. La Chapelle, the noble born, refused, citing that Beaujeu – the Canadian that gained a title solely through the fur trade – was not his superior. This was the beginning of a quarrel that eventually led to La Chapelle’s imprisonment after Beaujeu accused him of deserting.
The prize committee said, “Gagné offers a glimpse into the social and class politics of 18th century French military society during a time of extreme crisis [as] the chain of command disintegrated.” They also praised the book’s production with “numerous (colored!) images and maps” and said it’s “written in a very engaging style, making it very accessible to non-academic audiences.”

Non-academic audiences who can read French, of course.

Gagné, a graduate student at Université Laval, has spoken about these men at Fort Ticonderoga and other venues. He created the Electronic New France and Curious New France websites. So we can hope Inconquis is picked up and translated for American readers; after all, it’s a story about Illinois and Louisiana as well as Québec.

Friday, June 09, 2017

More Colonial Newspaper Advertising Rates

After my posting on colonial newspaper advertising rates, Caitlin G. DeAngelis alerted me to some additional data inside Charles E. Clark’s The Public Prints: The Newspaper in Anglo-American Culture, 1665-1740.

Then I found more examples quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr.’s New England Quarterly article on “The Colonial Newspapers and the Stamp Act.” And in confirming those I came across other items in newspapers.

So here are yet more prices for colonial newspaper ads:
  • John Peter Zenger’s New-York Weekly Journal, 1733: “three Shillings the first Week, and one Shilling every Week after.”
  • Jonas Green’s Maryland Gazette, 1752: “Advertisements of a moderate Length are taken in and inserted for Five Shillings the first Week, and a Shilling per Week after for Continuance.”
  • Benjamin Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, 1754: “In the Gazette, small and middling Advertisements at 3/ the first Week, and 1/ per Week after, or 5/ for 3 Weeks. Longer ones to be valued by Comparison with the foregoing; as if 20 Lines be a middling Advertisement, Price 5/ for 3 Weeks, one of 30 will be 7/6d, etc. judging as near as you can, by the Light of the Copy, how much it will make.” (It seems characteristic that Franklin’s prices would come in the form of a word problem about ratios.)
  • Newport Mercury, probably around 1765: 3s.9d. for three appearances of an ad of 12 lines or fewer, plus 1s. for each additional appearance.
In addition, Clark’s Public Prints reports that in the late 1750s Thomas Fleet billed the Massachusetts government 4s. for each notice in the Boston Evening-Post.

And in the early 1770s, Benjamin Edes and John Gill charged shopkeeper Ebenezer Hancock (John’s little brother) 4s. for advertisements in the Boston Gazette.

And there’s a political dimension to this topic—which brings us back to the Stamp Act! Among the many provisions in that law was:
For every advertisement to be contained in any gazette, news paper, or any other paper, or any pamphlet which shall be so printed, a duty of two shillings.
That basically doubled the cost of a typical ad, it appears—cutting the number of ads people would buy. For printers, that loss of business came on top of the cost of the stamped paper that they had to print the newspaper on—a penny for each full sheet. And, as Carl Robert Keyes explains in this essay, “this put printers in the position of collecting duties” for the stamp agent.

UP AHEAD: What about subscription rates?

Thursday, June 08, 2017

James Otis, Jr., and Slavery Revisited

Back in 2006, this blog’s first year, I wrote a couple of essays describing James Otis, Jr., as a slaveholder.

For those postings I relied on and quoted a passage from John J. Waters’s The Otis Family in Provincial and Revolutionary Massachusetts (1968):

Inconsistencies certainly marked most of James’s actions. He rejected both slavery and the belief in Negro inferiority, arguing [in Rights of the British Colonies] that as the “law of nature” made all men free it must be applied equally to “white or black.” Yet he never freed his own colored “boy.”
Waters didn’t provide a citation for that statement. However, his book was and remains the best study of Otis and his relatives, getting beyond the hagiographies of the nineteenth century. And anyone looking at Revolutionary America finds a lot of men who wrote about the blessings of liberty, the evils of the slave trade, and even the problems and immorality of slavery itself without actually detaching themselves from the slavery system.

Recently David Hurwitz asked about the evidence behind Waters’s statement because he’s looking into whether James’s sister Mercy and her husband, James Warren of Plymouth, owned slaves. So I went back to primary sources to see what evidence I could find on the question.

To begin with, it’s clear that James and Mercy’s father, James Otis, Sr., of Barnstable, did own slaves. The vital records of that town list the marriages of “Amaritta and Primus, servants to Col. Otis,” in 1748 and “London, servant to James Otis Esqr and Bathsheba Towardy, an Indian,” in 1760. What’s more, the elder James Otis had a number of Mashpee people indentured to him, as cited in detail by Waters; while legally that was a different situation, in practice it was a lot like slavery.

But what about James Otis, Jr., who left Barnstable to become a leading attorney in Boston? Some of the province’s 1771 tax records survive, and in the years since my original postings they’ve been digitized at Harvard. The entry for James Otis, Esq., of Boston doesn’t list any “Servants for Life” as taxable property. That was Massachusetts’s legal euphemism for slaves. (Likewise, James Warren’s 1771 tax valuation doesn’t list any “Servants for Life.”)

Another place to look for evidence of slaveholding is in people’s wills or estate inventories. David found Otis’s will transcribed in this book. That document is dated 31 Mar 1783, just a few weeks before Judge William Cushing began to declare in court that the new Massachusetts constitution had made slavery illegal. Therefore, if Otis did own slaves in March, he would still have considered them his legal property and could have bequeathed them to heirs. He didn’t.

However, the fact that Otis didn’t mention slaves in his will doesn’t mean he didn’t own any. He didn’t have to list all of his property. Otis devoted most of his will to criticizing his daughter Elizabeth for marrying a British army officer, Leonard Brown, bequeathing her only five shillings. (Here’s more about that couple.) Otis left almost his whole estate to his wife Ruth and daughter Mary, also making them his executrices in charge of dividing it as they chose. They could have dealt with any slaves in the estate without filing an inventory with the probate court—especially since Cushing would soon rule slavery null and void anyway.

This evidence still doesn’t prove that James Otis, Jr., never owned slaves. He could have done so as a young man, before 1771. He could even have inherited slaves from his father, who died in 1778. But historians don’t have the burden of proving a negative, given the gaps in the historic record. Rather, our responsibility is to assemble evidence for the statements we make.

And in this case, based on all I’ve seen, I now revise my 2006 remark. James Otis, Jr., and his siblings grew up in a slaveholding family, but I’ve seen no evidence that as an adult he owned slaves, and in 1771 he definitely didn’t.