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.

Follow by Email

•••••••••••••••••

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

“My hair rose on end, and seemed to lift my hat from my head”

Since this is Hallowe’en, I’ll relay a story from the newspaper publisher and politician Benjamin Russell (1761-1845), who grew up in Boston before the Revolutionary War.

The printer Joseph T. Buckingham set down and published Russell’s story “as near as can be recollected”:
It was a part of my duty as an assistant in the domestic affairs of the family, to have the care of the cow. One evening, after it was quite dark, I was driving the cow to her pasturage,—the common. Passing by the burial-ground, adjoining the Stone Chapel, I saw several lights that appeared to be springing from the earth, among the graves and immediately sinking again to the ground, or expiring. To my young imagination, these lights could be nothing but ghosts. I left the cow to find her way to the common, or wherever else she pleased, and ran home at my utmost speed.

Having told my father the cause of my fright, as well as I was able, while in such a state of terror and agitation, he took me by the hand and led me directly to the spot, where the supposed ghosts were still leaping and playing their pranks near the surface of the ground. My hair rose on end, and seemed to lift my hat from my head. My flesh was chilled through to my very bones. I trembled so that I could scarcely walk. Still my father continued rapidly marching towards the spot that inspired me with so much terror.

When lo! there was a sexton, up to his shoulders in a grave, throwing out, as he proceeded in digging, bones and fragments of rotten coffins. The phosphorus in the decaying wood, blended with the peculiar state of the atmosphere, presented the appearance that had completely unstrung my nerves, and terrified me beyond description.

I was never afterwards troubled with the fear of ghosts.
So nothing to worry about, kids! Just the sexton digging up old bones and glow-in-the-dark coffins to make room for new bodies.

And since I’ll speak at Old North Church tomorrow about Revolutionary Boston’s schools, here is Buckingham on Russell’s education:
When quite a child Russell was noted for a remarkably retentive memory and more than ordinary facility in learning the tasks prescribed by his teacher. He was placed at the public school taught by Master [James] Carter, whose aptness in teaching and mildness of discipline were somewhat celebrated. Nothing was then taught in the common schools of Boston but the simplest elements of education. The tasks, that Russell had to perform, embraced nothing but easy lessons in reading, writing, and arithmetic.
No science, history, geography, or other subjects.

Monday, October 30, 2017

“Then let Adams be sung by each patriot tongue”

Today is John Adams’s birthday (under the Gregorian Calendar, as he observed most of his life).

In his honor, here are the lyrics that Jonathan Mitchell Sewall (1748-1808) wrote in President Adams’s honor in 1798. Sewall followed the tune of “Hail, Columbia,” composed in 1789 and originally titled “The President’s March.” (It’s now the entrance music for the Vice President.)
SONG FOR JOHN ADAMS’ BIRTHDAY.

AMERICA, shout! thy own Adams still lives!
The terror of traitors and pride of our nation!
’Mid clouds of detraction, still glorious survives,
Sedition’s dread scourage, and his country’s salvation
Let his fame then resound
The wide universe round,
’Till Heaven’s starry arch the loud chorus rebound!
Such honors, pure worth must from gratitude claim,
Till the Sun is extinct and the Globe all on flame!

As bright Sol, whom the planets exulting obey,
Darts thro’ clouds those glad beams that enliven creation,
So Adams, midst tempests and storms, with mild sway,
Of our system the centre and soul, holds his station.
Tho’ dire comets may rise,
Let them meet but his eyes.
And in tangents they whirl, and retreat thro’ the skies.
Our Sun, Regent, Centre! then ever extol,
Till yon Orb cease to shine and those Planets to roll.


As gold try’d by fire leaves the dross all behind,
So, slander’d by Jacobin sons of sedition,
Adams bursts forth refulgent as Saints are refin’d
From the furnace of Satan, that Son of perdition!
Then let Adams be sung
By each patriot tongue,
And Columbia’s loud lyre be to exstacy strung!
These honors such worth must from gratitude claim
Till the Sun is extinct and the heavens on flame!


On Neptune’s vast Kingdom where oceans can flow,
Display’d is our Standard, our Eagle respected,
This change to great Adams and wisdom we owe—
Now our Commerce rides safe, by our Cannon protected.
Then three cheers to our Fleet!
May they never retreat
But with prize after prize their lov’d President greet!
And ne’er may Columbians grow cold in his praise
Till the Sun is extinct and the Universe blaze! 


But while our young Navy such rapture excites,
Our heroes by land claim our warm admiration.
With manhood and youth, ev’n the infant unites,
Sons of Heroes! boast, pride and defence of our Nation!
Such a spirit’s gone forth
Of true valor and worth,
’Twould be arduous to tame it, all pow’rs upon earth!
’Twas Adams inspir’d it—to him be the praise
Long as Cynthia shall shine or the Sun dart his rays!


But turn us to Europe—how fares it with France?
What! confounded, amaz’d, such astonishment ne’er rose!
From the North bursts Suwarrow! I see him advance,
That Victor of victors, that Hero of heroes!
Hardy Russian, Mon Dieu!
If this course you pursue
You will leave Mighty Washington nothing to do.
At that name the Muse kindles, and twining fresh bays
Blends with Adams’s glory, great Washington’s praise!


Not a nation on earth would we fear with such aid
(Heav’n save us alone from internal commotion!)
Not Britain, France, Europe—Columbia would dread
Their forces by land, their proud fleets on the ocean,
Our Heroes prepar’d
Would their progress retard,
Sage Adams to guide and great Washington guard.
Their Glory increasing as nature decays
In Eternity’s Temple refulgent shall blaze!
Sewall was raised by his uncle, Massachusetts Justice Stephen Sewall, and started his legal training under his cousin Jonathan Sewall, once a close friend of Adams but later a Loyalist opponent. The young man then moved to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, for further training with John Pickering. He was an ardent Federalist in the early republic, best known for his verse “War and Washington.”

Sunday, October 29, 2017

“The Devil and the Crown” at Faneuil Hall, Nov. 4

On Saturday, 4 November, Faneuil Hall will host a reenactment of the Boston town meeting I described yesterday, setting up a non-importation boycott against the Townshend duties.

Meanwhile, in the surrounding marketplace volunteers will reenact an outdoor public demonstration against the royal officials who came to Boston to collect those duties. That protest took place on 5 Nov 1767.

Boston 1775 readers will recognize the Fifth of November as when Boston youths enjoyed raucous processions, with giant effigies representing the British Empire’s Catholic enemies and the political scapegoats of the day.

By coincidence, on 5 Nov 1767 three new Customs Commissioners, including Henry Hulton, William Burch, and the already unpopular Charles Paxton, disembarked from London. Lord George Sackville, later Secretary of State Germain, described how that worked out:
They landed on the 5th of November, and the populace were then carrying in procession the Pope, the Devil, and the Pretender, in order to commit them to the flames in honour of Protestantism. Mr. Paxton’s name being Charles, it was fixed in large letters upon the breast of the Devil, and these figures met the Commissioners at the water side and were carry’d before them without any insult through the streets, and whenever they stopped to salute an acquaintance, the figures halted and faced about till the salutation was over, and so accompany’d them to the [Lieutenant] Governor [Thomas] Hutchinson’s door…
The combined reenactment will be called “The Devil and the Crown.” Here’s the full schedule:

11:00 A.M. to 2:00 P.M.
Goods for Your Master, Taxes for Your King
Come try your luck as a young apprentice in this colonial marketplace game. Whether you buy, barter, or smuggle, the goal’s the same: bring all your goods back to your employer and get promoted! This drop in program is best for ages 6-10, Faneuil Hall, Education Space, basement.

1:00 to 4:30 P.M.
Talk of the Town
Meet reenactors portraying Bostonians of different social classes in Samuel Adams Park, directly in front of Faneuil Hall, and learn about why they are protesting the new laws.

2:30 and 4:00 P.M.
Revolutionary Town Meeting: Stand Up! Speak Out!
Join a lively meeting to debate Boston’s response to the hated Townshend Acts. Character cards are available. Free, 30 minutes, Faneuil Hall, Great Hall, second floor.

4:30 P.M.
Procession
Join a rowdy street protest and process around Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market to the Old State House.

5:30 to 6:30 P.M.
Museum Open House
Dive into Boston’s Revolutionary past and explore the galleries inside the Old State House. Admission is free to all.

The program will thus explore the formal politics of a town meeting and the informal politics of the street, the economy of transatlantic trade and the choices of local consumers, particularly women. (Recall how the list of goods that Bostonians were supposed to boycott included a lot of women’s garments and household items.)

This reenactment is being organized through Revolution 250, the coalition of local organizations commemorating the sestercentennials of events in Massachusetts leading up to the break with Britain. In this case, the sponsoring organizations are Boston National Historical Park, Minute Man National Historical Park, The Bostonian Society, and the Massachusetts Historical Society.

I started pushing for this event last year, saying that Revolution 250 shouldn’t miss the anniversary of a big political event involving giant puppets. But Jim Hollister of Minute Man Park really got the wagon rolling, along with such dedicated reenactors as Niels Hobbs, Matthew Mees, Ruth Hodges, and many others. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime anniversary!

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Boston’s Urgent Town Meeting 250 Years Ago

On 28 Oct 1767, two hundred fifty years ago today, Boston held a special town meeting in Faneuil Hall to discuss an urgent threat. As stated in a broadside issued after the meeting:
the excessive Use of foreign Superfluities is the chief Cause of the present distressed State of this Town, as it is thereby drained of its Money: which Misfortune is likely to be increased by Means of the late additional Burthens and Impositions on the Trade of the Province, which threaten the Country with Poverty and Ruin:
In its post-Puritan way, Boston had made such official pronouncements against spending money on luxuries and “Superfluities” for a long time. Town leaders also promoted local manufacturing capability so people would spend less on cloth and other material shipped from Britain. Both campaigns dated back well before conflicts with the British government had started to grow in the mid-1760s.

Thus, the men at this town meeting promised they would
adhere to the late Regulation respecting Funerals, and will not use any Gloves but what are Manufactured here, nor procure any new Garments upon such an Occasion, but what shall be absolutely necessary.
But there was a bigger threat at this time. The phrase “the late additional Burthens and Impositions on the Trade of the Province” referred to how Parliament had imposed tariffs on the import of tea, glass, lead, paper, and painters’ colors into the North American colonies. Those new taxes came to be known as the “Townshend duties.” So private transactions were no longer the only thing taking hard money out of Boston; the government in London was about to do so as well without Massachusetts having a say in the decision.

Therefore, this town meeting went beyond issuing yet another call to do without “foreign Superfluities.” It sought to cut down on all imports from Britain as a strategy to pressure London merchants into lobbying Parliament to repeal those new tariffs. After all, that boycott strategy had worked against the Stamp Act.

The meeting appointed a committee to draft terms for a boycott. Those men included many of the town’s leading merchants: John Rowe, William Greenleaf, Melatiah Bourne, Samuel Austin, Edward Payne, Edmund Quincy tertius, John Ruddock, Jonathan Williams, Joshua Henshaw, Henderson Inches, Solomon Davis, Joshua Winslow, and Thomas Cushing. Leading politicians who weren’t in trade, such as James Otis, Jr., and Samuel Adams, didn’t make the list. At this moment the merchants were steering Boston’s political course.

That committee followed the meeting’s instructions and drew up a subscription for people to sign, pledging not to import any of these goods after the end of 1767:
Loaf Sugar, Cordage, Anchors, Coaches, Chaises and Carriages of all Sorts, Horse Furniture, Men and Womens Hatts, Mens and Womens Apparel ready made Houshold Furniture, Gloves, Mens and Womens Shoes, Sole-Leather, Sheathing and Deck Nails, Gold and Silver and Thread Lace of all Sorts, Gold and Silver Buttons, Wrought Plate of all Sorts, Diamond, Stone and Paste Ware, Snuff, Mustard, Clocks and Watches, Silversmiths, and Jewellers Ware, Broad Cloths that cost above 10s. per Yard, Muffs Furrs and Tippets, and all Sorts of MillenaryWare, Starch, Womens and Childrens Stays, Fire Engines, China Ware, Silk and Cotton Velvets, Gauze, Pewterers hollow Ware, Linseed Oyl, Glue, Lawns, Cambricks, Silks of all Kinds for Garments, Malt Liquors and Cheese.
The committee also called on people to use glass and paper made in North America, not Britain—though the supply of either commodity manufactured in America was still very small.

Friday, October 27, 2017

“Religious Spaces” at the 2018 Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife

Next year’s Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife will take place on 22-24 June 2018 at Historic Deerfield. The subject will be “Religious Spaces: Our Vanishing Landmarks.”

Here’s the call for papers and similar material in that program:
The Dublin Seminar is now accepting proposals for papers, presentations, tours, exhibits, and workshops on New England meetinghouses, churches, and other religious spaces of all denominations in the period 1622 through 1865.

We are interested in theoretical approaches to the region’s architectural and religious history, specifically questions dealing with houses of worship as an Atlantic phenomenon; European, North American, or Caribbean building styles; design, construction, and furnishing techniques; private versus collective worship; the decline of the “parish” system; issues involving seating, legal jurisdiction, and musical events; and the influence of Anglican, Catholic, Quaker, Baptist, Unitarian, and Mormon sects.

Additional subjects of interest include camp meetings, campgrounds, cemeteries, convents, and intentional communities like the Shakers. A principal focus of this conference is how communities and scholars can take advantage of new digital resources, new approaches to historical archeology, and new gateways to the region’s social, cultural, and ecclesiastical history.

Simultaneously, the conference will address the continuing survival of extant structures. As these buildings’ original religious functions become less sustainable, their future is imperiled. The Seminar plans to offer a historic preservation workshop that will also examine adaptive reuses of these buildings. Many survivals have come to serve their communities as museums, libraries, town halls, schools, fire stations, granges, barns, and performing arts centers. To help place meetinghouses, churches, synagogues, and other religious spaces on track to permanent survival, the Seminar invites church groups, communities of faith, civic associations, architectural preservationists, and the general public to share their stories of successful conservation and multiple-use approaches to securing their future.

The Seminar encourages papers that reflect interdisciplinary approaches and original research, especially those based on primary or underused resources such as material culture, archeological artifacts, letters and diaries, vital records, federal and state censuses, as well as newspapers, portraits, prints and photographs, business records, church records, recollections, and autobiographies, some of which have recently become available online.
The Dublin Seminar committee hopes to assemble a program of approximately seventeen lectures of twenty minutes each, with related tours and workshops. There will be professional development points for public school teachers. The best papers will be printed in an upcoming volume of the seminar’s annual proceedings series.

To submit a paper proposal, please send a one-page prospectus that cites sources and a one-page vita to the seminar director by February 10, 2018. He would prefer emails with attachments sent to pbenes@historic-deerfield.org. For paper proposals the address is:
Peter Benes, Director
The Dublin Seminar for New England Folklife
Historic Deerfield
P.O. Box 321
Deerfield, MA 01342

Thursday, October 26, 2017

“Military Theaters” Symposium in Schenectady, 11 Nov.

The American Revolution Round Table of the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys is hosting a free symposium in Schenectady, New York, on Veteran’s Day, 11 November.

The symposium is on the topic of “The Military Theaters of the American Revolution” and will feature the editors and most of the contributors of the recent book on that topic.

There are presentations scheduled from 8:30 to 4:15, with a break for lunch. The speakers and their topics are:
  • David L. Preston, Professor of History, the Citadel, opening remarks.
  • James Kirby Martin, Ewing Visiting Professor, U.S.M.A., West Point, on “The Northern Theater.”
  • Mark Edward Lender, Emeritus Professor of History, Kean University, on “The Western Theater.”
  • Charles Neimeyer, Director and Chief of U.S. Marine Corps History at Marine Corps University, Quantico, on “The War at Sea.”
  • Jim Piecuch, Professor of History, Kennesaw State University, on “The Southern Theater.”
  • Lender and Martin together on “The Middle Theater.”
  • All presenters in a discussion about “Which theater was most crucial to the outcome of the American Revolution?”
The event will take place at the Schenectady County Community College, located at 78 Washington Avenue. Specifically, participants will gather in the lecture hall of the Stockade Building.

Space is limited, so attendees must register in advance by sending an email to arrthudsonmohawkvalleys@gmail.com or by phoning 518-774-5669. Visit the website of the Fort Plain Museum for further details. The event is free, and attendees must provide their own lunch.

The symposium is co-sponsored by Siena College’s McCormick School of the American Revolution, S.U.N.Y. Schenectady County Community College’s Community Archaeology Program, the PastQuest Research Group, Westholme Publishing, and Alpin Haus. The Hudson and Mohawk Valley Round Table is supported by the Fort Plain Museum, the Friends of the Saratoga Battlefield, the Mohawk Country Association, the Pundits Military Association, the Saratoga National Historical Park, the Washington County Historical Society, and the Recreated 34th Regiment of Foot.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Abigail Adams Birthplace Tour in Weymouth, 4 Nov.

On Saturday, 4 November, the Abigail Adams Historical Society will welcome visitors for “Behind the Scenes at the Abigail Adams Birthplace,” a tour of the building with preservation carpenter Walter Beebe-Center.

The organization says:
The Abigail Adams Historical Society concludes its year-long commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the rescue of the ca. 1685 Abigail Adams Birthplace from demolition with this special behind-the-scenes tour. Led by Walter Beebe-Center, owner of Essex Restoration, the program will feature an overview of the 2012–2013 restoration which Beebe-Center oversaw and which confirmed the building’s 17th-century construction date. It will also include a structural tour of the home from basement to second floor, sites usually not shown to the public.
There will be two tours, the first from 10:00 A.M. to noon and the second from 2:00 to 4:00 P.M. Each tour is limited to fifteen people. Tickets are $25 per person, or $20 for members.

Tickets must be reserved in advance through AAHS1947@yahoo.com. People who register will receive a reply email stating whether they have a reservation or are wait-listed. All attendees receiving a confirmation should be prepared to pay by check or cash at the door.

The Abigail Adams Birthplace is at 180 Norton Street in North Weymouth. Its last day this year open for regular tours is Sunday, 12 November, from 1:00 to 4:00 P.M.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

False Anniversaries for Equiano and Wheatley


Earlier this month, on 16 October, Google’s doodle of the day featured the eighteenth-century author Olaudah Equiano, as shown above.

Which was great, except that the company said it was doing so to celebrate Equiano’s 272nd birthday. Many websites and Twitter feeds picked up that factoid and repeated it around the globe.

But we don’t know that Equiano’s birthday was on 16 October. We don’t know what year he was born. Indeed, there’s a historical debate about whether Equiano was born in western Africa, as he stated in his memoir, or in South Carolina, as two documents from earlier in his life say.

Equiano’s memoir never states the year or day of his birth, and the chronology of his early life is fuzzy. Look at his Wikipedia page, and [as of right now] it says he was born around 1745, kidnapped into slavery around the age of eleven, and sold to a particular master in 1754—so the numbers aren’t adding up.

Sure, we can celebrate Equiano on 16 October, or any other arbitrary day. But to declare that’s his birthday isn’t just a claim without evidence. It normalizes Equiano’s life by modern standards when the whole point of his anti-slavery writing was that he was wrenched away from his life, family, and home. He was renamed multiple times and shipped around the globe. He had legally become property, and we don’t make a big deal about property’s birthday.

Celebrating Equiano’s birthday as if we had records about his early life the way we have records about, say, Oliver Ellsworth (born 29 Apr 1745) glosses over a huge difference between those two people’s lives. Indeed, it glosses over a crime.

Likewise, two days later on 18 October, a number of Twitter accounts tweeted that that date was the anniversary of Phillis Wheatley becoming free. The year they gave for that event ranged from 1773 to 1778, which should cast doubt on the dating.

In fact, we don’t know when exactly the Wheatley family of Boston freed their young slave Phillis. Instead, we know that on 18 Oct 1773 she wrote a letter that described herself as having become free. So Phillis Wheatley was free by that date; she wasn’t freed on that date.

That’s closer than what some other tweets have claimed about the poet—that she was born in 1753 or even on 21 Jan 1754. The sad fact is that she was kidnapped as a small child, so young as to still be losing teeth, and therefore came with no knowledge of her age and birthday.

Again, we can celebrate Phillis Wheatley’s accomplishments and the fact that she won her freedom through sheer intellectual accomplishment. The 18th of October seems like an appropriate day to do that because of the evidence we have. But we don’t have clear documentation of when the Wheatley family restored her freedom, and that in itself is significant. Such an emancipation was entirely up to the owners, reflecting the slavery system. The family may have given Phillis Wheatley a document declaring her freedom, but most of her later papers vanished after she died, a reflection of her relative poverty. We shouldn’t fog over those facts about her life.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Call for Papers on “Monumental Narratives”

The Grace Slack McNeil Program for Studies in American Art at Wellesley College and Historic Deerfield are teaming up to sponsor a one-day symposium on “Monumental Narratives: Revisiting New England’s Public Memorials.”

This event will take place on Saturday, 10 March 2018, at Wellesley College.

The symposium’s call for papers is out, asking for proposals by 10 November. It says:
As southern Civil War memorials have become a flashpoint for politics and protest, it is vital that we turn the same critical gaze to New England’s public monuments. This day-long symposium will explore commemorations of people, places, and events in New England’s past, with attention to design, construction, naming/renaming, reception, preservation, destruction, and/or reconfiguration. How do these public acts of memory tell a particular story of New England? What histories might they celebrate or, whether explicitly or implicitly, conceal, devalue, or erase? How can historians recast these monumental narratives without simultaneously sweeping aside uncomfortable histories of colonialism and discrimination?

We invite papers that critically examine memorials in New England from the 17th century to the present. We look for explorations of a diverse range of media including (but not limited to) sculpture, mural programs, buildings, and landscapes. Discussions of proposals for contemporary commemoration or for interventions in existing monuments should explicitly address the ways in which these activities fit into a broader historical context.

Papers should be theoretical or analytical in nature rather than descriptive and take approximately 20 minutes to present.
Scholars interested in presenting at this symposium should submit a 250-word proposal and a two-page c.v. via electronic mail to Martha McNamara (mmcnamar@wellesley.edu) and Barbara Mathews (bmathews@historic-deerfield.org). Proposals should include the title of the paper and the presenter’s name.

The call says, “Speakers invited to present papers are expected to participate fully in the symposium program.” Which means you’re not supposed to deliver your talk and then duck out for some other event. The symposium will offer overnight accommodation for people delivering papers.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

“Washington Slept Here” Symposium at Mount Vernon, 3-4 Nov.

On 3-4 November, Mount Vernon will host the 2017 symposium of the Washington Library, which has the theme of “George Washington Slept Here: Travel, Rest, and Memory of the First President.”

The speakers include:
  • Philip Levy, “Where George Washington Slept: The Early Years”
  • John Maass, “Soldier and Surveyor: George Washington on Virginia’s Frontier”
  • Ed Redmond, “George Washington’s Manuscript Maps and Surveys, 1747-1799”
  • Joseph Stoltz, “Washington’s World Interactive Map”
  • Warren Bingham, “The People and Places of George Washington’s Southern Tour”
  • Natalie Larson, “Battlefield to Bed Chamber: Exploring George Washington’s Beds
  • Karl Watson, “‘Hospitality and a Genteel behaviour is shown to every gentleman stranger’: George Washington’s Impressions of Barbados and Barbadians in 1751”
  • Thomas Reinhart, “‘Got into Annapolis between five & Six Oclock’: George Washington among Maryland’s Architectural Trendsetters”
And toward the end of the two days I’ll speak about “General Washington’s First Headquarters and What He Learned There.” Here’s the description of that talk:
George Washington took command of the Continental Army in Cambridge, Massachusetts in July 1775. Soon he moved into a mansion that served as his headquarters for nine months – longer than any other site until Newburgh, New York. This talk explores why the general chose that house, now a National Park Service site; how he used it; and what he learned about leading the Continental cause while inside those walls. It will also discuss how later owners – the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family – helped to preserve the public memory of the Revolution and Mount Vernon in particular.
This is, of course, quite an honor. It grows out of a historic resource study I wrote a few years back for the National Park Service. I’ll try to speak about the Longfellow House–Washington’s Headquarters National Historic Site as enthusiastically as the N.P.S. staff there does.

Registration for the 2017 Washington Symposium is available starting here.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

“Colonial Boston’s Public Schools” at Old North, 1 Nov.

On Wednesday, 1 November, I’ll speak at the Old North Church on “Classes and Forms: The Landscape of Colonial Boston’s Public Schools.”

This talk is part of the Old North Foundation’s Speaker Series focusing on the ordinary people of Boston. The event description explains:
Colonial Boston took pride in its free public schools, which educated young Benjamin Franklin, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere, and thousands of other boys before the Revolution. But a close look at those five grammar and writing schools reveals that they provided only limited opportunities for middling-sort boys, not to mention no place for girls or non-white boys. Colonial Boston’s schools thus reflected and reinforced the town’s social and economic divisions. The creation of a new nation spurred major reforms in 1789, eventually leading toward today’s public education.
This talk is based on research I’ve presented at different scholarly conferences, most of which will appear in an upcoming volume from the Dublin Seminar on New England Folklife.

I started to look into Boston’s public schools to understand how the town’s pre-Revolutionary children spent their days. That effort soon forced me to give up a lot of assumptions I’d had about those schools, such as what they taught—they didn’t cover reading and writing, history, geography, science, or other standard modern topics.

Likewise, I had to discard idea about who went to those schools—only about half of the eligible white boys. And about how long those scholars lasted—two-thirds of more of the seven-year-olds entering the South Latin School taught by John Lovell (shown above) dropped out before finishing.

Thus, while Boston can pride itself on having the oldest public school system in the U.S. of A., legally open from the start to (white male) students from all classes, that pre-Revolutionary system didn’t provide equal opportunity as we might think. In 1789 the town had its first major debate on school reform since adding writing schools to the grammar or Latin school—reform explicitly driven by new republican ideas.

This talk is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. Register for the program here; the price is a “pay what you will” donation to the Old North Foundation.

Friday, October 20, 2017

“Advise and Dissent” Panel in Boston, 23 Oct.

On Monday, 23 October, the Massachusetts Historical Society will host a panel discussion on the topic “Advise and Dissent? The Role of Public History in Modern Life.”

The society asks:
What is the role of historical organizations in a politically polarized environment, a world of “alternative facts” and a social fabric that is being torn apart by political and class divides?

Many historians and public historical organizations are changing the way they work, offering their talents and skills as advocates and healers. Yet, they face a complex public. Some audience members embrace the opportunity to engage in dialogue over difficult issues. Others seek a more entertaining, escapist experience. Still others are alert to activities that appear to overstep the traditional role of museums or to signal that their own perspectives might be unwelcome. Some visitors yearn for the inclusion of minority viewpoints but consider museums too inherently biased to present these narratives.

It is all a challenging prospect for organizations that are seeking to be truly inclusive and build broad public support. Join us for a compelling conversation.
The panelists will be:
  • Karilyn Crockett, Office of Economic Development, City of Boston
  • Brian W. J. LeMay, consultant specializing in museum projects and operations, former head of the Bostonian Society
  • Richard Rabinowitz, American History Workshop and author, Curating America: Journeys through Storyscapes of the American Past
  • Katheryn P. Viens, director of research at the Massachusetts Historical Society and moderator of this discussion
There is a $10 registration fee for this discussion, but it’s waived for all “Historical Colleagues” working or studying in the field.

The event begins at 5:30 P.M. with a reception. The discussion is scheduled to last from 6:00 to 7:30.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Lauding “the Trajan of America”

In looking at accounts of John Hancock’s funeral in 1793, I was surprised at the praise that newspaper writers heaped on him.

Today we think of Hancock as a lightweight compared to the Adams cousins, the Virginians, and most other Revolutionary politicians who remain household names. But those laudatory essays show how his contemporaries—at least some of them—esteemed the man.

For example, here’s a taste of the 9 October Columbian Centinel:
To record, with precision, the virtues of his mind—the philanthropy of his heart—his patriotism, or his usefulness, were to insult the judgment of every American.

If we ascend into the Senate of the Union, we there find his name first on that MAGNA CHARTA, which ascertained, vindicated, and declared the Independence of AMERICA—and the repeated suffrages of his fellow-citizens to sustain the important office of First Magistrate of this Commonwealth, shew how highly he was esteemed as capable to guard their rights in the Cabinet of Massachusetts.

If we search our Municipal Records, we shall see him sustaining with honour the most important and arduous stations.

Look we into the Temples dedicated to the Most High, we shall there view numerous marks of charity and benevolence.

But if we explore the hearts of the indigent and distressed—the Widow—and the Orphan—we shall see those lively emotions—which emphatically say,—our friend and our supporter is gone.
The 11 October Massachusetts Mercury praised Hancock for restoring civic peace after the Shays Rebellion and for spending down his inherited fortune:
we are bound in duty to remark that upon his Excellency’s assumption of the supreme command, he bent every effort of a philanthropic mind to close the wounds of a bleeding republic; and instantly smoothed the rough waves of opposition. Indeed, he was the Trajan of America, who counted every day lost that was not marked by active goodness, and thousands of his momentarily deluded fellow citizens in the western countries, dwell with transport on his name.—Hancock and humanity are synonymous.

Of an immense fortune, he has made the noblest sacrifices. Seminaries dedicated to Science, Temples inscribed to Religion, bear honorable witness to his munificence. Our Gallic brethren were distinguished by the polite attentions at the expence of decreasing affluence; and many individuals, who seized the opportunity of a fluctuating currency, to pay hard money bonds, have effected their dishonest purposes, at the loss of thousand to this patriotic Magistrate, who nobly resolved to support the credit of his country, tho’ he sank every farthing of his own patrimony.
And here’s the 17 October United States Chronicle, published in Providence:
The suavity of his manners, and the politeness of his deportment, portrayed him the Gentleman; the classic purity and chaste elegance of his language announced him the Scholar; and the undeviating stability of his principles, the charity of his heart, and the beneficence of his hand, marked him the Man of Virtue.

He was the Patriot [that’s probably supposed to be“Patron”] of Literature; and the records of our university have ranked the name of Hancock among the foremost of her generous donors. . . .

When the new Federal Constitution was proposed to the people of Massachusetts, he canvased it thoroughly, and after long deliberation, though convinced that it had some imperfections, yet as the door of amendment was left open, and the necessity of a more firm union was obvious, he finally threw the whole weight of his influence into the scale of its adoption:—And it is believe by many, that had not Hancock come forward in the unequivocal manner he did—the Federal Government would never have existed. Though convinced of the propriety of its adoption, he has always been a watchful centinel against its encroachments;…
All three of those newspapers supported the Washington administration, and the Federalist press was more rapturous than the opposition press.

Hancock wasn’t really part of either nascent national party, though. He steered for whatever policy kept his voters happy and himself elected. He came out for the new U.S. Constitution only at the last stage of the state’s ratification debate, and after that he worked hard to uphold the standing of states—especially Massachusetts and especially its governor.

COMING UP: More encomia.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

“Marks of respect paid to the memory of our deceased Governour”

Here are some additional details from Gov. John Hancock’s funeral on 14 Oct 1793.

First, the 21 October Columbian Gazetteer of New York reported on the response of the new acting governor:
A correspondent who cast his eye at the present Commander in Chief, the venerable SAMUEL ADAMS, was sensibly affected with the appearance of this hoary Patriot. His feelings were too mighty for the infirm state of his health. He was in reality a sincere mourner.—

It was scarcely possible for the aids who accompanied him, to support his debilitated frame, till he reached Perez Morton’s, Esquire.
Adams was seventy-one years old, born fifteen years before Hancock. The funeral procession started at Hancock’s house, near where the Massachusetts State House now stands, went south along the Common, turned east at Frog Lane (Boylston Street), turned north onto the main street through town (now Washington Street), went up to the Old State House, then west on Court Street, and finally south again to the Granary Burying Ground.

Adams made it nearly all the way. Perez Morton lived in the house his wife Sarah had inherited from her Apthorp ancestors at the end of Court Street where the land starts to rise toward Beacon Hill.

Adams ran for the governor’s seat himself in 1794 and held it until he retired in 1797. During the last years of his life, his essential tremor worsened so that he couldn’t write—ironic given that his political activism was based on writing. Adams outlived Hancock by ten years, dying in October 1803.

The Haverhill Guardian of Freedom newspaper I quoted yesterday included this remark:
Among the individual marks of respect paid to the memory of our deceased Governour, that of Mr. Duggan, near the market, arrested the attention of our correspondent. The finely finished sign of his excellency which is suspended from his house, was covered with a mourning crape; and exhibited a very decent tribute of regard and gratitude.
John and Mary Duggan had opened the Hancock Tavern on Corn Court in 1790. Mary Duggan had inherited the house from her family, the Keefes or Keiths. She deeded the property to her husband in early 1796 and died soon afterwards. He then married another woman named Mary (there were a lot of those, to be fair), had three children with her, and died in 1802.

Another tribute to Hancock was created shortly before his death. In the 10 October Columbian Gazetteer Daniel Bowen advertised a display of waxworks in New York that included:
The late and venerable American Statesman and Philosopher, Dr. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN, sitting at a Table, with an Electrical Apparatus. JOHN HANCOCK, Esq. Present Governor of Massachusetts, and ALEXANDER HAMILTON, Esq. Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, at a Table, and the Figures of Peace and Plenty advancing to crown them with wreaths of Laurel.
It’s striking that of all the politicians living in America at that time, Hancock and Hamilton were the two featured in this display. But Bowen rotated figures to bring customers back; he’d already advertised President Washington earlier in the year. In addition, he was in the process of moving his operations from New York to Boston, and Hancock would be a big draw in his new home.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Gov. Hancock’s Funeral Procession

At sunrise on Monday, 14 Oct 1793, all the church bells in Boston began to ring. They tolled for an hour in tribute to Gov. John Hancock, who had died the previous Tuesday and was being buried that day.

All the flags “in town, at the Castle, and on the masts of the shipping in the harbour, were half hoisted.” At one o’clock, all the shops closed.

All morning local militia units, both official and independent, were gathering in the town. Everyone knew that Hancock, colonel of the Cadets before the war, loved military pomp.

Newspapers and broadsides announced the order of the funeral procession, often with a coffin ornament in the middle of the column of text, as shown here. The most detailed listing of the participants that I’ve seen was printed in Haverhill’s Guardian of Freedom newspaper on 18 October. It listed those mourners as:
Company of horse (from Stoughton) under Capt. Crane,
Company of horse (from Braintree) under Capt. Thayer,
Company of horse (from Middlesex) under Capt. Fuller, who commanded the horse.

A detachment from the Boston artillery, under Capt. Bradlee——(With this detachment was the “Hancock” piece of artillery, reversed, with a pall of black velvet over it.)
That cannon is one of those at the center of my book, The Road to Concord. The same gun is now on display at the North Bridge Visitor Center of Minute Man National Historical Park, with no black velvet.
Artillery Musick.
(All the drums in the procession were muffled, and covered with crape. The field musick played the dead march, and the band a solemn dirge.)

The first battalion of infantry, Composed of the Boston Regiment, in complete uniform, commanded by Col. [William] Schollay; and led by Lt. Col. Wood.
Music of the 1st battalion.
The second battalion of infantry, Composed of the Medford light-infantry, under Capt. Hall,
The Braintree light-infantry, under Capt. Baxter,
The Concord light-infantry, under Capt. ——
The Westown light infantry, under Capt. ——
Boston independent fusiliers, under Capt. Laughton,
The Middlesex fusiliers, under Capt. Willington
Independent Cadets, under Major Elliot.
Musick.
(This battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Bradford.)
Brigadier General [William] Hull, Commanded the whole of the military parade.
Aids to Gen. Hull.

Col. [John Steele] Tyler, Marshal of the unarmed procession preceding the Corpse.
Platoon, and field-officers, of the third division of Militia.
Major Gen. [John] Brooks, of the third division.
Aids to Gen. Brooks.
Platoon and field officers of the second division.
Major Gen. [John] Fisk, and aids
Platoon and field-officers of the first division.
Major General [Henry] Jackson and aids.
(All the above officers were in uniform, with side arms.)

Justices of the Peace,
Judges of various courts,
Attorney General [James Sullivan] and Treasurer [Thomas Davis],
Members of the house of Representatives,
The speaker of the house [Edward Robbins],
Members of the Senate,
Judges of the Supreme Judicial Court,
Sheriff of Suffolk with his wand,
Quarter-Master-General, and Adjutant-General,
Secretary of the Commonwealth [John Avery],
COUNSELLORS;
His Honour the Lt. Governor [Samuel Adams].

Pall Supporters.
Hon. Mr. [James] Warren, Hon. Mr. [Oliver] Wendell,
Hon. Mr. [Eleazer?] Brooks, Hon. Mr. [Thomas] Durfee,
Hon. Mr. [Azor] Orne, Hon. Mr. [Moses] Gill.

Relations,
Col. [Josiah] Waters, marshal of the procession, following the corpse.
Vice-President of the U. States [John Adams].
Members of the Hon. Senate, and House of Representatives of the U. States.
Judges of the U. States Courts,
Secretary at War [Henry Knox],
Gentlemen heretofore Counsellors and Senators of Massachusetts,
The President, professors and other instructors of Harvard College,
Clergy of all Denominations,
Municipal Officers,
Members of the Ancient and honorable Artillery, in uniform, with their side arms,
Citizens four and four.
The Foot closed by Captains of vessels, and seamen, with flags furled.
Carriages.
As the procession moved through town, a cannon was fired every minute from Castle Island and a squad of the artillery militia stationed on Beacon Hill. After Hancock’s corpse was interred at the Granary Burying Ground, the troops under arms fired three times.

TOMORROW: Particular tributes.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Reactions to Gov. John Hancock’s Death

The 14 Oct 1793 Boston Gazette reported this response to Gov. John Hancock’s unexpected death on the 8th:
Tuesday last, agreeably to previous orders, the several Independent Companies and the several Companies of Militia in this Town, paraded early in the Morning, in complete Uniform, in order for Inspection, &c. But immediately upon the Death of His Excellency being announced, counter-orders were issued by the Commander in Chief, to the Major General, and the several companies were dismissed, some on their march to the common, and others at their place of parade.—

This measure gave general satisfaction to the Citizens of Boston, who willingly gave up the pleasures which they previously anticipated, and with countenances fully expressive of the sorrow of their hearts, retied, to mourn the lose of Governor HANCOCK,

Their Country’s Savior, and Columbia’s pride,
The Orphan’s father, and the widows’ friend.
May future HANCOCKS Massachusetts guide;
HANCOCK!—The name alone with time shall end.
The “Commander in Chief” who called off that militia muster was the new acting governor, Samuel Adams. After bumping heads during and after the war, the two pre-Revolutionary colleagues had allied on a political ticket in 1787.

Bostonians were thus all excited for a big militia parade when they heard about Hancock’s death, and then they had to go home. I suspect that was an additional reason for the big turnout at his funeral six days later. If they couldn’t march one week, then they could march the next.

The community quickly began to respond to the governor’s passing. The next day, the Suffolk County court, “on motion of Judge [Thomas] Crafts, adjourned till after the Funeral.”

In Thursday the news reached Portland, Maine. The Eastern Herald reported, “The colours of all the vessels in the harbour were immediately placed half mast high, and the bell was tolled from that time till the close of the day.”

Then the town government acted:
At a legal Meeting of the Inhabitants of this Town on Friday last, to take into consideration the measures proper to be taken by them, for attending the Funeral of His Excellency JOHN HANCOCK, that every mark of respect may be paid by his fellow-citizens to the remains of so illustrious a Patriot and Friend to Mankind; the following Votes passed unanimously, viz.

In order to pay that respect to the funeral solumnities of his Exellency the late Governor HANCOCK, which is suitable to the feelings of the Inhabitants on the occasion,

Voted, That it be recommended to the Inhabitants, that they shut their Stores and Shops, at One o’Clock, P.M. on Monday next, and continue the same shut until the Funeral Solemnities shall be performed.

Voted, That the Selectmen be requested to cause the Carriages, Trucks, and other Obstructions, to be removed from State Street and other Streets where the Procession may be on Monday Afternoon.
That was as close to declaring an official holiday as a town of that time could do.

In his 2000 biography of Hancock, Harlow Unger wrote that Gov. Adams declared the day of the funeral to be a holiday, and other books have repeated that statement since. I don’t see any evidence for that, however. A gubernatorial proclamation would have been an official, widely published document—like the Thanksgiving proclamation that ran in the 9 October Columbian Centinel. (That announcement, dated 28 September, was still in Hancock’s name.) So I don’t think Hancock’s funeral day was an official state holiday.

TOMORROW: But no work got done that day.

(The picture above is a 1797 engraved portrait of Samuel Adams based on a painting that John Johnson had made two years earlier. The painting itself was destroyed in a fire a few years after that.)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

“His death was unexpected, although he has been indisposed”

John Hancock was in poor health for the last decade of his life. Political opponents, and even some friends, muttered that he exaggerated his medical problems to get out of difficult situations.

The most famous example of that was when he lost a war of wills with President George Washington in 1789 over which man would call on the other, thus implying political inferiority. Hancock had himself carried in to meet the President with bandages on his legs to excuse his not coming earlier.

Hancock also pled illness in stepping down from the governorship in 1785, shortly before the economic crisis that led to the Shays Rebellion came to a head, and in keeping quiet on the proposed new Constitution for as long as he could in 1788.

The historian James Truslow Adams summed up this view by writing in Harper’s: “his two chief resources were his money and his gout, the first always used to gain popularity, and the second to prevent his losing it.” Adams’s article was titled “Portrait of an Empty Barrel.”

But Gov. Hancock did have health problems, and they prevented him from doing not only what he didn’t like but what he liked. On 18 Sept 1793 he prepared a speech to the Massachusetts General Court about a landmark legal case (which I’ll get to later). But he was too weak to deliver it, and had to watch the secretary of the commonwealth, John Avery, read it instead.

Hancock died less than a month later on 8 Oct 1793, aged fifty-six. A letter relaying that news to New York said, “Governor HANCOCK died this morning; his death was unexpected, although he has been indisposed for some time past.” People had gotten so used to the governor being ill that no one expected him to actually die.

The 11 October American Apollo reported:
On the morning of his death, he expressed no unusual complaints, till about seven o’clock, when he suddenly felt a difficulty in breathing; his physicians were immediately sent for, who gave him some temporary relief, but the dissolution of nature made such rapid progress, than before eight o’clock, he resigned his soul into the hands of HIM who gave it.
TOMORROW: How Boston heard the news.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

“The concourse of spectators was greater than we ever remember”

Earlier in the week I wrote about the funeral of Christopher Seider. The merchant John Rowe stated in his diary, “I am very sure two thousand people attended his Funerall.” That would have been one of every eight people in Boston.

John Adams watched that event with Rowe and wrote:
a vast Number of Boys walked before the Coffin, a vast Number of Women and Men after it, and a Number of Carriages. My Eyes never beheld such a funeral. The Procession extended further than can be well imagined.
But within a couple of weeks came the funeral of the first four victims of the Boston Massacre, and that was even bigger. “Such a Concourse of People I never saw before—I believe Ten or Twelve thousand,” wrote Rowe. That was more than twice the reported capacity of Old South Meeting-house.

A report printed in several newspapers guessed:
It is supposed that there must have been a greater Number of People from Town and Country at the Funeral of those who were massacred by the Soldiers, than were ever together on this Continent on any Occasion.
However, back in 1740 Boston newspapers estimated that on several days the Rev. George Whitefield had preached to crowds of 15,000 to 23,000 people on Boston Common. The siege of Fort Carillion in 1759 also involved more than 20,000 people.

Be that as it may, the grandest if not the most crowded funeral that eighteenth-century Boston ever saw took place on this date in 1793: the send-off for Gov. John Hancock. The Guardian of Freedom, published in Haverhill, stated: “The concourse of spectators was greater than we ever remember to have seen on any occasion.”

The main reason for that turnout was fond feelings for Hancock. Most people in Massachusetts admired their governor. Many authors have written that Hancock accomplished little in his final years, but that assumes he went into politics to make changes. Once independence was achieved, and perhaps even before, I think Hancock’s main aim was to increase and preserve his own popularity by keeping most people happy, and in Massachusetts he achieved that.

Another reason for the big occasion on 14 Oct 1793, I think, arose from the circumstance of Hancock’s death on 8 October.

TOMORROW: How the governor died.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Local Militia Muster in Westboro, 14 Oct.

On Saturday, 14 October, the Westborough Rotary Club and the Westborough Historical Society will present a re-creation of a town militia muster.

Specifically, this event commemorates the 243rd anniversary of the Westborough militia’s September 1774 march to Worcester to help close the county court in protest of the Massachusetts Government Act.

Reenactors portraying Westborough militiamen will perform the manual of arms, the standard military drill from 1774. There will be musket-firing demonstrations throughout the day. A colonial market will display a variety of colonial trades and crafts while citizens of Westborough will make items for barter or sale to the assembled militiamen. Westborough’s own Rev. Ebenezer Parkman will harangue and inform the crowds.

There will also be food trucks and vendors for attendees, displays of artifacts and documents, and eighteenth-century children’s games.

This event is scheduled to take place from 10:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M. in Veteran’s Freedom Park, 169A West Main Street.

See the town library’s collection of Revolutionary documents here through Digital Commonwealth. Parkman’s diaries have been published, with some pieces freely available and others only in print.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

“A Monument over the grave of young SEIDER”?

On 5 Mar 1770, the Boston Gazette reported on the grand funeral for little Christopher Seider, shot by Ebenezer Richardson on 22 February, and added:
We can assure the Publick, that a Monument will be erected over the Grave of young Snider, with an Inscription, to perpetuate his Memory; A Number of patriotic Gentlemen having generously subscrib’d for that Purpose——It is said it will be done in an elegant Simplicity, and that the Overplus Money, if any, will be given to the Parents.
However, over a year later the 21 Mar 1771 Massachusetts Spy ran this item on the same matter:
For the MASSACHUSETTS SPY.
Mr. [Isaiah] THOMAS,

As there was a collection made some time ago by a Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past, for the professed purpose of erecting a Monument over the grave of young SEIDER; if the above Gentleman will condescend to inform the Public, why the Money so collected, has not been approproiate to the avowed design, he will oblige a number of your readers, as well as your humble servant,

The TRIFLER.
The Spy had published another item signed “The TRIFLER” on 10 January. It was a snide attack on Jonathan Sewall, identified by his own newspaper pseudonym “Philanthrop.” It said he should be “satisfied with his 600l. sterling per annum, and no longer prostitute his pen.”

That presents a political mystery. The “Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past” had to be one of Boston’s Whigs. But Sewall was a friend and vocal supporter of the royal government. Would the same newspaper writer attack both sides?

One possible explanation is that the Trifler supported the Crown but resented how Sewall was hogging two lucrative government appointments: Massachusetts Attorney General and Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court. Several letters and even newspaper reports from that period show how royal officials wanted Sewall to hand over the judgeship to Customs Commissioner John Robinson. (In the end, Sewall clung to both jobs.)

So who was the “Gentleman who had a considerable share in the popular transactions of the year past”?  I think the most likely candidate is William Molineux. He was definitely the Whigs’ leader in street demonstrations. He was close to Madam Grizzell Apthorp, who had employed Christopher Seider as a house servant, and he was on the scene when people arrested Richardson.

Molineux was also in need of money. On 1 May 1771 he was supposed to repay the town of Boston £300 it had loaned him to kickstart a cloth-weaving enterprise that would employ the poor. He never did pay that back. By 1774 Molineux had probably applied money he was supposed to manage for Charles Ward Apthorp of New York to the weaving scheme. So it’s not hard to imagine that the funds collected for a monument to Christopher Seider went into the same hole.

Then again, the first report from 1770 said merely that some gentlemen had “generously subscrib’d” or promised money for a monument. The Trifler may have been wrong to say that funds had actually been collected. After all, in the evening after the Gazette reported on the possibility of a monument, the Boston Massacre took place. Suddenly everyone had something new to focus on and argue about.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

“All interred in the same grave with him”

Yesterday I started to look into the question of whether Christopher Seider, memorialized on a stone in the Granary Burying-ground, was actually buried there in 1770.

Celebrate Boston’s page on grave-robbing [perhaps an odd topic to celebrate] says:
Christopher Snider, 1st Martyr to the Noble Cause, was likely buried at Central Burying Ground, and not at Granary as commemorated.
As evidence, the page points to a statement about little Seider that Gov. Thomas Hutchinson put into his history of Massachusetts:
A grand funeral was, however, judged very proper for him. Young and old, some of all ranks and orders, attended in a solemn procession from liberty tree to the town-house, and then to the common burying ground.
The Seider family lived near the south end of Boston Common on Frog Lane (now Boylston Street). So it might make sense to place his body in the cemetery nearest their house—what we now call the Central Burying Ground (shown above, courtesy of Wikipedia).

The problem with that analysis is that the phrase “common burying ground” didn’t rule out the Granary Burying Ground because that, too, had been carved from land originally assigned to Boston Common. Nathaniel B. Shurtleff’s A Topographical and Historical Description of Boston confirms that the cemetery beside the Granary was sometimes called by the Common Burying Ground. Hutchinson might also have used the word “common” to mean not the Boston Common but the tombs and graveyard space that Boston owned collectively.

Likewise, at different times Bostonians referred to both the Granary Burying Ground and the Central Burying Ground as the South Burying Ground and as the Central or Middle Burying Ground. As more cemeteries were opened to the south, the labels shifted. In 1770 the middle cemetery was the one beside the town granary.

We have clues from period newspapers about where Christopher Seider was buried. We start with the report of the funeral for the first four victims of the Boston Massacre, published on 12 Mar 1770 in both the Boston Gazette and Boston Evening-Post:
The Bodies were deposited in one Vault in the middle Burying-ground
Furthermore, the 19 March Gazette said Patrick Carr was interred in the same vault:
His Remains were attended on Saturday last from Faneuil-Hall by a numerous and respectable Train of Mourners, to the same Grave, in which those who fell by the same Hands of Violence were interred the last Week.
A year later, the 7 Mar 1771 Massachusetts Spy reported:
On Tuesday last the anniversary of the Boston Massacre, at noon, and after nine in the evening, all the bells in town tolled; and at dark was exhibited in the chamber window of Mr. [Paul] Revere in the Old-North square, a set of transparent paintings, representing, in the fourth window a monumental obelisk, bearing in front the bust of young Seider; and on the front of the pedestal, the names of the five persons murdered by the soldiery on the fifth of March, and all interred in the same grave with him:
Thus, contemporaneous newspapers stated that all the Massacre victims and little Christopher Seider were interred in the same vault in the Middle or Granary Burying Ground. Which means the 1906 stone in that cemetery today doesn’t have to move. (Phew!)

TOMORROW: The missing monument.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Where Was Christopher Seider Buried?

After young Christopher Seider was killed on 22 Feb 1770, where was he buried?

A marker in the Granary Burying Ground (shown here) bears his name under those of the five people who died the following month after the Boston Massacre. But that’s not a contemporaneous marker. It was erected by the Sons of the American Revolution in 1906.

(The stone lists the boy’s name as “Christopher Snider,” a variation which did appear at the time but doesn’t match most family records. It also gives his age as twelve. As I wrote here, Christopher was probably killed shortly before his eleventh birthday.)

Some people have suggested that Christopher’s body was buried somewhere else. In his recent book First Martyr of Liberty, Mitch Kachun posited that the boy was buried under Liberty Tree. That’s based on the description of his funeral as published in multiple Boston newspapers, including the 5 Mar 1770 Evening-Post:
The Remains of young Snider, the unfortunate Boy who was barbarously murdered the 22d of February last, was decently interred the Monday following. His tragical Death and the peculiar Circumstances attending had touched the Breasts of all with the tenderest Sympathy, a few only excepted, who have long shown themselves void of the Feelings of Humanity. The little Corps was set down under the Tree of Liberty, from whence the Procession began. About Five Hundred School boys preceded; and a very numerous Train of Citizens followed, in the Estimation of good Judges, at least Two Thousand of all Ranks, amidst a Crowd of Spectators, who discovered in their Countenances the evident marks of true Sorrow.
I disagree with Kachun’s reading. The report mentions “the Tree of Liberty” as the start of the funeral procession, not the end. To be sure, this article didn’t state where the boy’s body ended up.

But under Liberty Tree would have been a very unorthodox spot, likely to be clearly mentioned in other sources. Despite that elm’s public symbolism, it wasn’t on public land; it was in the yard of bookbinder John Eliot. No later description of the tree mentioned that it was also a gravesite.

Furthermore, the tree was on a well-traveled corner. There was a old British custom of burying people who had committed suicide at such crossroads instead of in designated graveyards; Parliament finally outlawed that practice in the reign of George IV. In 1770 Boston’s Whigs wanted to present Christopher Seider as an innocent young martyr to liberty, and burying him on unconsecrated land at a crossroads would have undercut that message.

TOMORROW: So if Christopher Seider was interred in a burying-ground, which one?

Monday, October 09, 2017

Conde on Historic Gravestones in Boston, 11 Oct.

As part of Massachusetts Archaeology Month, the New England Historical Genealogical Society is hosting a free lecture on 11 October by Ta Mara Conde, founder of Historic Gravestone Services.

The society’s description of “Stories in Stone: America Through Its Early Burial Grounds” says:
Burial grounds are outdoor museum: accessible and open to all. The stones reveal the history of the town and its people. Join Ta Mara Conde, a monument conservator with Historic Gravestone Services, for a visual tour of America through its early burial grounds. Discover the meaning behind symbols adorning historic gravestones, understand society’s changing attitudes toward death, and learn about the geology found in your local burial ground. Unearth the stories hidden in the stones.
Conde began restoring historic gravestones in 1998 as an apprentice to Fred Oakly, head of conservation for the Association of Gravestone Studies. She provides professional restoration services for grave markers, monuments, sculpture, and other stone works using historically accurate materials and standard conservation techniques. Ta Mara studied with the National Park Service and Cathedral Stone Products Certification Program, and has taught conservation workshops through Greenfield Community College and private organizations.

This event is scheduled to start at 6:00 P.M. on Wednesday, 11 October, in the N.E.H.G.S. building at 99-101 Newbury Street, Boston. Register for a seat here.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

The Museum of the American Revolution Hosts a Film Premiere, 9 Oct.

In August I visited the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia, which opened to great fanfare earlier this year.

Like the American Revolution Museum at Yorktown, which I wrote about here, the Philadelphia museum combines the historical artifacts of an older, traditional collection with new technology. For the M.O.A.R., the parent institution was the Valley Forge Historical Society.

The museum also inherited the site of a visitor center built for the Bicentennial, close to Independence Hall and other historic sites in old Philadelphia. Like the Yorktown museum, it pays particular attention to the events that happened in the region. It thus offers the best treatment of the Trenton and Princeton maneuvers that I’ve seen as well as some about Brandywine, which didn’t turn out so well for the Continentals.

But the M.O.A.R. aims to tell the full story of the Revolution, starting with the 1763 Treaty of Paris, the political disputes of the late 1760s and early 1770s, and the campaigns all over eastern North America. The exhibit designers took pains to include the perspectives and choices of poor men and women, African-Americans free and enslaved, sailors, and other people not always included in the narrative. It becomes hagiographic, I thought, only in the final exhibit, the unveiling of Gen. George Washington’s campaign tent. And that really is a neat artifact.

One hallmark of the M.O.A.R. are life-size figures recreating dramatic moments, such as Israel Trask’s memory of the snowball fight in Harvard Yard, the tearing down of George III’s statue in New York in July 1776, and a charge by Col. Banastre Tarleton’s horsemen. But there are also plenty of electronic interactive exhibits and genuine artifacts to intrigue all sorts of visitors.

I felt some special jolts of recognition. Some folks in the films and dioramas looked quite like reenactors I’ve had the pleasure of meeting. The introductory film shows the “No Taxation without Representation” phrase printed as I wrote about it here. And the museum has a large portrait of Capt. William Crosbie, the likely owner of the pistols captured at Lexington that I wrote about here.

The M.O.A.R. has a gallery dedicated to explaining the Oneida contribution to the Continental cause. The Oneida Indian Nation was also one of the institution’s major benefactors. That space may feel out of proportion to the influence the Oneida had on the war, but it serves as a metonymy for all the Native American groups on both sides, for whom the War for Independence proved terribly significant.

Tomorrow, in commemoration of Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the museum will host the first showing of “People of the Standing Stone,” a film about the Oneida nation in American history. Directed by Ric Burns and narrated by Kevin Costner, the 25-minute film explores the Oneida alliance with the Continental Congress and what followed in the early republic—the unjust appropriation of much of the nation’s land.

This weekend, ahead of the movie, Darren Bonaparte of the Mohawk community at Ahkwesáhsne is performing in the museum’s Patriots Gallery. On Monday at 11:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. dancers from the Oneida Indian Nation will perform traditional Haudenosaunee social dances there.

The movie will be shown at 6:00, followed by “a panel discussion on how the roles of many of our country’s multiethnic ancestors have often been misrepresented in—or altogether excluded from—the telling of our nation’s history.” The panelists will be:
  • Kevin Gover, Director of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.
  • Ray Halbritter, Oneida Nation Representative, Nation Enterprises CEO, and a M.O.A.R. Board Member
  • Rosalyn J. McPherson, president of The ROZ Group, which managed community relations and oversaw historical content for The President’s House Project in Philadelphia
  • R. Scott Stephenson, the M.O.A.R.’s Vice President of Collections, Exhibitions and Programming
Tickets to the special screening and discussion are $15 for general admission, or $5 for Museum members and students.