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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Thursday, July 13, 2017

John Pigeon’s Petulance and Property

I was tracing the political career of John Pigeon, a Boston merchant who retired to Newton a few years before the Revolution. In the early months of 1775 he went from clerk of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress’s committee of safety to commissary of stores to commissary general of the Massachusetts army.

And within two months Pigeon decided that job was too much for him. On 20 June he petitioned to be allowed to resign. The congress instead adopted this recommendation from a committee:
Resolved, That Mr. John Pigeon, commissary general, requesting a dismission from his said office, being under a mistake, have liberty to withdraw his petition; that the conduct of said commissary general in his office, has been such as to merit the approbation of this Congress, and of the public in general; and that said John Pigeon be desired to attend his business as commissary general in the service of this province.
The legislature agreed to assist Pigeon by appointing a deputy commissary for every regiment, adding considerably to its payroll. On 25 June Pigeon told the committee of safety that he also needed a “supervisor” near each of the main camps of the American army, in Cambridge and Roxbury. Men
whose duty it shall severally be, constantly to attend said camps and examine into the supplies of each Regiment, to see that such supplies are properly delivered out in time, quantity, and quality, and timeously to advise the Commissary-General when and what articles of supplies are wanted at the respective camps, and also to take care that the empty casks are saved and returned to the Commissary-General’s office for further service.
Gotta collect those empties.

Three days later, at Pigeon’s request, the congress appointed a committee to examine his account books. This was a common way to respond to accusations of malfeasance or other criticism.

And Pigeon was getting criticism. After the Battle of Bunker Hill the army had spread out, putting more men on Prospect and Winter Hills to prevent any redcoats from charging off the Charlestown peninsula. That made it harder to supply every regiment. On 30 June Gen. Artemas Ward wrote to Pigeon:
There, are now on Prospect Hill nearly four thousand men, who at present are obliged to come to the store in [Harvard] college, for all the provisions they stand in need of. If they can be supplied with provisions at the hill, it will tend much to the safety of the lines there, for a great number of the men are now obliged daily to leave the lines that they may convey provisions to others upon the hill; and the milk especially, when it is conveyed from the store in college to the hill, is unfit for any person in camp to eat; therefore, if possible, it must be altered.
The next day, the commissary general gave the congress a list of twenty-six men he wanted appointed deputies.

But by then, apparently, Pigeon had damaged his reputation with his colleagues. On 9 August James Warren, president of the congress, told John Adams, “his temper is so petulant, that he has been desirous of quitting for some time, and, indeed, I have wished it.”

The Continental Congress’s takeover of the New England army offered a way to resolve this situation. On 19 July the Congress in Philadelphia appointed Joseph Trumbull, politically well connected and already in camp as commissary for the Connecticut troops, to be commissary general of the whole army. On 12 August the Massachusetts General Court responded by passing this resolve:
all Contracts made by our Committee of Supplies, for Victualling said Massachusetts Army, are terminated; and the Commissary General of said Continental Army, is to be considered at Liberty to purchase Supplies for Victualling said Army, of such Persons, and in such Way and Manner as he shall see fit.
Pigeon might have stayed on as Trumbull’s deputy or the Massachusetts government’s liaison to his office. Members of his staff continued to work for the army. But his accounts for the Cambridge and Roxbury stores and his ledger stop abruptly in early August, even before the legislature’s vote. (Thanks to Stephanie Dyson at the Massachusetts Archives for sending those links.)

By November 1775 the Massachusetts government was treating Richard Devens, a reliable member of the committee of safety from Charlestown, as its head commissary. No one’s found a date for his official commission; Devens seems to have slid into the office after working on other assignments, but by the end of the year he had the title.

And on 9 December, the legislature had to resolve:
Whereas, John Pigeon, the late Commissary of the Forces raised by this Colony, keeps his books at some distance from the Army, by reason whereof the Officers of the Army are prevented from settling their Rolls as ordered by this Court:

Therefore, Resolved, That the said Pigeon be, and he hereby is directed to furnish the Officers of said forces with such Accounts as said Pigeon is possessed of, necessary to the making up their Rolls at Cambridge, and that he be desired to attend there, to settle said Accounts, as long as his presence there may be necessary.
That order might be why the state archives now contains some of Pigeon’s accounts. Then again, a couple of later resolutions suggest that the legislature had to guess about what to pay men for work in the commissary department, so Pigeon may not have turned over all his records.

John and Jane Pigeon’s only daughter, Patience, died in Newton in 1777 at age twenty-four. Their sons John, Jr., and Henry both married in 1790 and started having children. Then Henry died in 1799; John, Sr., in 1800; and John, Jr., in 1801. Widow Jane Pigeon passed away in 1808.

Pigeon’s estates in Newton became the town’s poor farm for a while. But one grandson born in 1799, the Rev. Charles Dumaresq Pigeon, remembered that property fondly. He bought land in the “Riverside” area in 1846, convinced a railroad to build a stop there, and recruited other clergymen to retire nearby. The result was the genteel suburb that the Rev. Mr. Pigeon dubbed Auburndale.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

". . . Being under a mistake" -- I love it. That happens so often to me and my friends --